Archive for January, 2008

Tom Brady: The Movie

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Just look at him. To look at Tom Brady is to catch a glimpse of the whole thing, the collective excellence, an awesome power bordering that of superheroes in both the fictional worlds in which they live, and our own in which we worship them. This is to say Tom Brady is something like a superhero. Except he’s real. But his story feels scripted, starting with looks that would make a jealous Derek Zoolander put his fist through a mirror or two. The man is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Sure. But he isn’t just handsome, man. He towers, even over other star quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, at 6’4″, and carries his 225lbs like it ain’t no thing, just some immaculate washboard abs, a pair of arms Michelangelo couldn’t have chiseled on his best day, teeth from the “after” photos on your Rembrandt Whitening box (bet you didn’t know that was him, but it is). On the street, he’s like the Clark Kent who wised up, lost the glasses and shopped from his new subscription to GQ. On the field, he’s straight up Superman.

And he’s got the story to go along with it. No, Brady hasn’t always been untouchable. And he didn’t grow up an orphan, or in a small town on a farm. But he did come up in San Francisco in the 80s, when there was nowhere else in the world a budding future quarterback would want to be. This was Joe Montana’s era, during which he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships. And a young Brady was there for all of it.

Now, if we were writing a comic book or, more realistically, a film about Tom Brady, this is where we’d start: a wide shot of Candlestick Park, the San Francisco skyline in the background, and the camera flys over the top of the stadium, which is packed to the roof with screaming fans in 49ers red and Cowboys blue, pushing closer and closer to the action on the field, where Joe Montana is behind center on the Cowboys’ six yard line. A quick shot of the scoreboard gives us the situation: third down, goal to go, with :58 left in the fourth quarter. San Francisco is down 21-27.

That’s when we see him: a little boy, wearing a faded 49ers jersey, #16, Montana scrawled across the back in a cracked white print. He’s five years old. The boy tugs at his father’s sleeve and stares anxiously at the field, at Montana, waiting.

Montana takes the snap. He looks for Freddie Solomon, his go-to receiver, but he’s well covered. The Cowboys’ pash rush is fierce. The 49ers offensive line collapses. Montana backpeddles, then breaks for the sideline.

The crowd is out of their seats.

Montana pump fakes. He looks left. He looks right. Montana looking to throw . . . looking to throw. . .The Cowboys defense is closing in fast. Montana throws a pass, high and deep into the corner of the end zone.

The crowd holds its breath.

Dwight Clark leaps, and from his very fingertips, takes the ball and pulls it to his chest. Touchdown.

But this isn’t the 49ers story. Nor is it Joe Montana’s. Not today. The camera pulls back from the field where red jerseys are leaping in celebration, the blue jerseys hanging their heads, and pans to the little boy and his father, who share a celebratory embrace before the father lifts a tearful, smiling Tom Brady to his shoulders. This is where it begins.

And where it began it real life. A five-year-old Tom Brady was present for the 1981 NFC Championship, and he did witness “The Catch”. He grew up worshiping Joe Montana, a guy who was drafted late out of Notre Dame, a storied program, and went on to be the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. It’s a more “storybook” beginning than you’ll find in films like “Hoosiers” or “Rudy”.

In this Tom Brady movie, we’ll flash forward about thirteen years, where Brady is the seventh (Yes. Seventh.) string quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines. A two-shot of Brady and the sixth string QB, a guy whose name I can’t dig up, a guy who is now probably selling cars or insurance somewhere in the Midwest, on the sidelines at practice, kidding with each other.

Brian Griese, Michigan’s starter, throws a wild pass, maybe an interception. Lloyd Carr throws his cap to the turf and yells, “Come on, Griese!”

QB6 says: See, I would’ve made that. Any day of the week.

Brady says: Sure you would.

Brady sighs. The banter continues and somehow it comes out that Brady didn’t give up his budding professional baseball career (he was drafted by the Montreal Expos) to ride the bench for four years. Maybe he cracks wise about Drew Henson and his brief stint as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, foreshadowing their future battle for the starting quarterback position.

This is a perfect lead-in to a montage in the style of the Karate Kid or Rocky. Set against the music of Van Halen’s “Right Now”, we see Brady in the gym, benching more and more weight, doing pushups in his dorm room, a poster of Joe Montana taped to the wall behind him. We see him jumping rope, shirtless of course, sweat coming off him in sheets. We see him making big plays in practice, with cuts to a graphic of the depth chart showing Brady’s name on the rise, one slot at a time. Shot of Lloyd Carr clapping on the sidelines shouting “Keep it up, Brady!” And just as the drums and piano fade, just as Sammy Haggar once more sings, “It means everything…” we see Brady suiting up in the locker room, pulling on his helmet, making brief eye contact with a glaring Drew Henson.

The story has got to keep moving. It’ll blow through a few of Brady’s more impressive regular season games, his biggest plays, and the dramatic conflict between Brady and Henson will continue to escalate until some fictional locker room altercation, which resolves with a shaking of hands, a smacking of shoulders and fraternal smiles. Then we’ll skip ahead to overtime in the ’99 Orange Bowl, and draw a blatant symbolic correlation between Brady’s game-winning drive here and Montana throwing to Clark for “The Catch”.

Now we’re about a third of the way through the film. The on-field celebrating in Miami cuts right to a shot of Brady in plain clothes, at home on the couch surrounded by family, watching the 2000 NFL draft. It’s the second day, the late rounds, and Brady’s name still hasn’t be called. His phone hasn’t rung. Dad says, “Don’t lose hope yet, Son. Even Montana wasn’t taken until the third round.” Sometime about now, someone will make reference to the fact that Tom graduated cum laude, and has plenty of opportunities in life outside of football. That evening, Brady receives a call from the Patriots. Because it’s a movie, the call will be from Bill Belichick himself. He’ll say, “Hey, Tom. Just wondering if you’d like to come play for me here in Boston. Interested?” The family cheers, Brady smiles . . . and we cut to a shot of him getting drilled into the turf on a New England practice field.

Because this is a classic underdog story. And, of course, the point is made that Brady is back where he started; he’s made it to the pros, just like he made it to the storied program at Michigan, but he’s once more deep in the rotation, fourth string. Belichick calls him off the field and sits him back on the bench, in passing says, “Hell’s wrong with you?”

We all more or less know the story from here. By the end of his rookie season, Brady moves to second string. Another montage, set to another inspiring stadium rock anthem, may or may not lead up to the September 23rd matchup against the Jets, not two weeks after the attacks of 9/11, when Drew Bledsoe, the starting quarterback, goes down. But he doesn’t just go down. He gets wrecked. He suffers internal bleeding. And an unprepared Tom Brady is thrust onto the field, only to lose the game.

The fans in New England aren’t pleased. But before long, Brady is winning games, leading the Patriots into the playoffs, and the symbolic correlation to Joe Montana becomes more and more blatant: in the first playoff game, against the Oakland Raiders, Brady brings the Patriots back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit to win. Of course Brady injures his ankle in the next game to create dramatic conflict (which becomes something of a staple for him) but the Patriots eek out a win, go on to the Super Bowl and, of course, win on a heroic fourth quarter drive led by Tom Brady, who is ultimately named Super Bowl MVP.

From here, the story weakens, simply because it’s more of the same. The next six years Brady is dominant, wins a few more Super Bowls, barely misses out on a few others. If this is going to be a pure sports film, it should probably end with Brady’s first Super Bowl victory, a shot of him hoisting the trophy over his head, or perhaps hugging coach Belichick (depending on how well that relationship is developed), followed by a black screen and text explaining what happens in the future. But Brady’s story, particularly in the later years, lends itself to other genres, particularly that of the “Biopic”. He’s dated Hollywood starlets like Bridget Moynahan, and Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bundchen. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live, made a cameo appearance in the Farrelly Brothers film, “Stuck On You”, and lent his voice to an episode of “Family Guy”. He’s on the cover of GQ and Esquire and People.

And there’s no lack of conflict. He and Moynahan had a child together earlier this year, while he was dating Gisele, whom he also recently knocked up. This is serious baby mama drama, and the paparazzi cameras are always flashing. Not to mention his constant ankle trouble, particularly come playoff time. Point is, the Brady movie could transcend sports film conventions down the stretch and morph into something greater, the epic true story of a great American man: a long and painful biopic. Wait long enough and we may even have the classic “rise and fall” element to go on.

Maybe we’ll get the awesome drunken blow out between a married Brady and Bundchen, high in their Manhattan penthouse, Brady with a scotch in his hand, his stubble a little overgrown and unkempt, Bundchen with a new baby on her hip, while their first child is in bed, awake and listening. Gisele confronts Tom about his affair, which she’s known about for months. “You think I didn’t know?” she yells, her accent thick. “You think it wasn’t obvious?” The baby starts to cry, and she rocks him gently.

Tom shakes his head with escalating intensity, saying, “No, no, no, no!” before throwing his cocktail glass hard against the wall. The glass shatters. The baby is screaming. “You think this is easy for me?” He stretches his arms wide, gesturing toward the elegant excess which surrounds them. “Look at this. Look at me. I’m a man, Gisele. Only a man.”

Gisele asks, “Who is she?” And Tom refuses to answer. We come to know Brady has fallen to third string on another team, maybe the Jets. Gisele’s pregnancies have ruined her modeling. Bridget Moynahan won’t stop badgering Tom for child support. They argue and argue until Gisele moves toward the wet bar, takes the bottle of Glenlivitt and carries it to the kitchen, where she pours it down the sink. He chases after her, grabs her shoulder and turns her to face him, slamming her back against the shimmering granite counter tops. He rears back as if to strike her, but their eyes meet. Their faces soften. And just as Tom moves in to kiss his wife, she puts a finger to  his lips and says, “No, Tom. You can’t . . . ” a tear rolls down her face. “You can’t come back this time. It’s over.”

It gets really awful from here and, if I’m right, leads to a scene akin to that in “Anchorman” where a disheveled Ron Burgundy staggers through the streets of San Diego, his clothes dirty and mismatching, a carton of milk in his hand. It’ll be more or less the same thing, except with Tom Brady.

Who knows. Point is, the guy is a superstar off the field and a superhero on. He’s a living myth. And he’s still on the rise. This Sunday, odds are good he’ll push the myth that much further, leading the New England Patriots to another Super Bowl victory, and the first perfect season in the NFL since the Dolphins did it in ’72. And, arguably, it all can be traced back to that one day in Candlestick Park, when a young Tom Brady’s destiny was sealed, just like in the movies.

My Super Bowl pick:  NE 45 — NY 24

Please watch The Wire. Thanks.

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I stumbled over this show a few years back, rented the first disc of the first season, watched two episodes, got bored, took it back. And even now, after becoming one of the show’s biggest fans, when I go back to start the saga over once again, it takes a little work on my part to plow through the first few episodes. This isn’t your average cop drama (viewership doesn’t increase when a fat man shows his ass or somebody says “shit”) or your average television drama for that matter. Season after season, the Wire has consistently offered something fresh, something important, and, above all else, for better or worse, something difficult.

Difficult things you may not want to see, things you may not want to think about, like how many kids are shot dead in the streets, or even in their own homes, every day; how much damage the “war on drugs” inflicts upon our cities, what it costs in terms of lives and tax dollars, without ever improving. The Wire is even difficult to invest yourself in, which was my problem the first time around. One of the show’s veteran writers, Rafael Alvarez, compares each season to a Russian novel, which tend to require readers to “do the work” for a hundred pages or more before momentum carries the story. But the payoff is huge, and remains constant through all five seasons, each more rewarding than the last.

In general terms, two things make this show great.

First, the show’s creator, David Simon, is both a passionate Baltimore native and an incredibly pissed off ex-reporter for the city’s own Baltimore Sun, which is to say his heart for the city is as big as the chip on his shoulder. Massive. He knows Baltimore, he loves Baltimore, and he knows everything that has gone wrong and remains wrong in Baltimore today. Every season the show focuses on one of the city’s pressing social issues, everything from the dying dockworkers unions to the miserable and failing public school system, and all of it ties in with Baltimore’s perennial good guys and bad guys: the city police and the drug crews.

This is what elevates the show to greatness. While Simon pumps the Wire full of social commentary and protest, the show never loses its footing in terms of action, character or pure, effective storytelling. Characters like Omar Little or Marlo Stanfield are borderline mythic, while Det. Jimmy McNulty and Sgt. Ellis Carver are as flawed and compelling as any characters found in the best work of Charles Dickens*. This is due, no doubt, to the stable of thoroughbred writers at the helm, such as George Pelecanos (Hard Revolution, The Night Gardener) , Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), as well as superlative** acting talent. Dominic West, Clarke Peters, Michael Kenneth Williams and the rest of the cast consistently deliver some of the finest performances on television, maybe ever.

I won’t spoil any specific scenes or moments. Just know the best (and maybe some of the worst) are better than anything you’ve probably seen anywhere else. The action sequences rival those of John Woo or Sergio Leone at the top of their game. Note: for all it’s social and artistic merit, the show is damned entertaining.

If you aren’t watching now, you have to start from the beginning. There’s no way around it. Each episode feeds into the next, through each season, first to last. This might explain, at least in part, why the show has struggled to find an audience. Work and television don’t mix well, and this is a show that takes some effort. But if you’re tired of the recent influx of reality shows, and crave some substance, then here’s what you do:

A) Log onto Amazon.com or roll up to Best Buy and purchase seasons 1-4. Watch them, and pay attention. Call your cable provider and subscribe to HBO, preferably with OnDemand, so you can catch up with season 5

 Or, if you’re cheap, or just broke:

B) Subscribe to netflix, load your que up with the Wire, and wait a few months for season 5 to come out on DVD (you can probably put it on your que now, pending release)

The Wire may be the most important television show ever created, and could remain as such for a long, long time. Nothing has capitalized on our freedom of speech so effectively or, in many ways, so mercilessly. And that’s the truth, Ruth. Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Juno still blows.

*A New York Times commentary on the show compared it to the work of Dickens way before I did.

**I’ve used “superlative” on this blog a few times now, and I’m loving it. Great word.

Okay. I have some love for Barack.

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With regard to Barack Obama, I might’ve spoken a little to soon, and a little too definitively. Though I stand by just about everything I said, I think my general implication, that Obama has masterminded some kind of malevolent and intentionally misleading campaign (which I more or less considered, truth be told) is a bit off. Perhaps way off.

The thing is, watching Obama get flustered in the debates, as Clinton and Edwards blatantly team up on him, it seems clear to me that the man really, truly believes what he says. Regardless of how I feel about his vague or flat-out naive plans to bring about the “hope” and “change” he’s campaigning on, my first impression of the man was built on cynicism rather than what I was actually seeing and hearing. Granted, I grew up through three separate Bush Administrations and eight years of a Clinton White House. I’m entitled to some cynicism.

However.

I do believe Obama has more or less deflected the question of his race. In the debate on Monday, when asked about whether or not it should be taken into consideration that the potential first African-American President was in the race, he called Americans to vote not for what divides us, but for those things which unite us. That is, he actually referred to his ethnicity as a divisive element. Upon reviewing his famous address at the 2004 DNC, I discovered he refers to himself not as a black man, but simply as “a skinny kid with a funny name”. I maintain that he is not at all an African American, but believe now that he more or less holds this opinion himself. It is rather those in the media and public arena who have continued to label him, even marginalize him as the “black” candidate.

I’m open to the idea that the man really is this earnest. Maybe he didn’t write his two books to setup his ethnicity and insulate himself from criticism over prior drug use and general bad behavior in his youth. Maybe he just flat-out means what he says, and wants this country to know who he is, all the way. Maybe he felt compelled to join Trinity United for genuine, personal reasons; maybe he found truth there. The frustration in his eyes, and thorough explanations he provides to defend himself against so many allegations, allegations of ties to radical Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan, or an inconsistent record in the Senate with regard to the war in Iraq (a blatant lie from the Clinton campaign — the man has been a model of consistency on the issue) simply cannot be tacked on. It’s just hard to believe that a politician can be so heartfelt, so humane and, quite frankly, so naive.

He’s young. He’s inexperienced. If he’s elected, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to do much good for this nation in practical terms (getting us out of Iraq, fixing the economy, etc.). At best, things won’t be any worse in four years. But in terms of our national morale, in terms of doing something to lessen our contentiousness, the open hostility between our two parties, which every day become more and more alike, I believe he may make a difference or, in his words, a change. Perhaps great change. And someone as cynical as I am about politics and our American government could certainly go for that.

I hate (love) you Heath Ledger

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If I were the center of the universe, then Heath Ledger’s death, even the nature of it (assuming it was an accident) would make absolute sense. Because I was just learning to  love the man. And such was the nature of things between us: unending conflict and bittersweet surprise.

We started off rough.

I was jealous. “10 Things I Hate About You” came out and suddenly every girl  I knew, particularly (or I noticed in particlar) those who had, until then, paid ample attention to me, was in love with this asshole. They called him beautiful. Gorgeous. And my jealousy didn’t stem from a hidden or unwilling agreement. All I saw was a scrawny kid with greasy tangled hair and a smile like one of the Muppets. I thought: it must be the accent. While there was nothing sexual about it (that I was aware of) as a kid I found myself drawn to accents, too, like Paul Hogan’s Aus-Hole drawl in “Crocodile Dundee” or Ralph Macchio speaking North Jersey in the “Karate Kid” films. They just sounded cool. And Heath Ledger, for all his gawky flaws, did sound pretty damn cool. But that was it. He otherwise seemed like the kind of guy who got beat up and had his lunch money stolen on TV shows, a somewhat better-looking version of the guys who dealt with that kind of abuse in real life. Not the kind of guy who could steal a girl’s attention.

“Monster’s Ball” changed things. The summer before, I’d cheered “The Patriot” when Cornwallis stabbed Ledger’s Gabriel Martin through the chest, and yet his understated performance as Sonny Grotowski, the confused and suicidal young man made me feel something different. He was somehow more than just some effeminate Aus-Hole. He was broken and vulnerable and yearning for his father’s love. He was human. And he was giving one hell of a performance. It was something like a chance encounter with someone beautiful, the kind that leaves you asking “what if?” over and over again and, against all reason, leaves you hopeful. Like it could go somewhere. Like you’ll find each other again.

I didn’t find Heath Ledger again for a few years. He made some crappy films. He dated Naomi Watts, which stirred that old bitter jealousy. He was lost to me. A bit of a hack. But then in the fall of 2005, there he was. His performance in “Brokeback Mountain” was superlative and courageous and deserved the Academy Award (I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan, too). His talent was all-the-sudden undeniable. Though I suffered constant grief for it, and was not entirely comfortable with the film’s blatant homosexuality, I openly adored “Brokeback Mountain” and, perhaps to a greater extent, Heath. His performance stirred me the way only the greatest performances, Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”, Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”, Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York”, ever have.

So when he got involved with duck-faced Michelle Williams, once again I was conflicted. It wasn’t a major blow, but it left a mark. I couldn’t understand how he could go from Naomi Watts to the ugly girl from “Dawson’s Creek”. It felt too reminiscent of his following “Monster’s Ball” with bombs like “Ned Kelly” or “The Order”. And so once more, I picked him apart like an insecure lover, exalting his high points, ripping into his lows. I wanted him to be the Heath I wanted him to be rather than the Heath that he was.

When I found out he’d signed on to play Joker in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman sequel, I backed off (this, of course, came after hearing of his separation from Michelle Williams, which helped). Seeing stills of Heath in make-up, and clips of him in character during the film’s trailer, I realized he had again exceeded my expectations, that despite his curious relationships and professional decisions, he was even better, even more versatile and badass than the Heath I wanted.

I learned to let go of judgment and celebrate my love for Heath Ledger.

Then he ends up naked and dead in SoHo. And it seems fitting somehow, that after all these years of highs and lows between us that perhaps the greatest rise (Ledger as Joker. I mean, come on.) would come just before the greatest, most ultimate fall; that we would find each other in that final, knowing look as between Romeo and Juliet, of found happiness between moviegoer and movie icon, right as the curtain pulls shut, never to open again.

This is perhaps a stretch. But my heart is broken nonetheless. I hate him for leaving me, yet love him for all that he gave. And can’t help but feel the weight of fate’s injustice, as Britney Spears will no doubt live on and on, until she’s old, sagging and howling in a wheelchair, while remarkable people like Heath Ledger die well before any of us is ready. Me least of all.

Why I Have No Love For Barack Obama

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Barack Obama might just be the finest politician this country has ever known. He has no business pretending to be a serious candidate, and no ground whatsoever from which to stand and suggest he is qualified, or at all prepared to take this nation’s highest office, and yet he remains at the head of the pack, with perhaps the greatest odds of winning both his party nomination and the American presidency. Obama himself is a brilliant tactician and communicator. He knows (and a tearful Hillary Clinton is learning) that winning the race has nothing to do with concrete plans or progressive ideas, but with charisma and emotional resonance. He’s known it since 1995, just before embarking on a career in politics, when he wrote and published “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, a memoir which provides detailed reflections on American race relations and Obama’s journey in discovering his own ethnic heritage. And his heritage is interesting. No more than my own, or anyone else’s for that matter, but interesting nonetheless.

A quick recap on Barack Obama’s heritage: His mother, Ann Dunham, is a white woman from Kansas, and his late father was a native Kenyan who lived in the United States for a brief period to study at several universities. Barack’s parents divorced when he was just two years old, and his father moved back to Kenya, never to see his son again. After a brief stint in Indonesia, Barack was raised by Dunham with help from her parents, as part of a white middle class American household.

Here’s the thing: Barack Obama is not an African-American. And he knows it. He’s black, sure, and no one, least of all Barack himself, is shy about this. But in terms of American history and culture, the only thing black about Barack Obama is his complexion. He is not a descendent of African-American slavery, or of those who suffered the outcome of Plessy v. Ferguson, but of one Harvard-educated native Kenyan and, of course, a white woman from Wichita.

I mention Plessy v. Ferguson because to lump Barack Obama in with African-Americans is to take the root of Homer Plessy’s case, turn it on end and spin it to a blinding effect. Homer Plessy was chosen as plaintiff in this case because he was one-eighth black, an “octaroon” to use the nomenclature of that time, and the argument, underneath all the lawyering, was simple: race cannot be reasonably defined in fractions. The decision in this case, an unfavorable ruling for Mr. Plessy, created the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, which paved the way for insane “One Drop” legislation and further segregation of our country.

To champion Barack Obama as the probable first African-American President, when he is as much a white man as he is black, when he is no more historically connected with the African-American people than our first “Black President” Bill Clinton, is an appeal to the backwards fractional reasoning of the Jim Crow era. The difference is, now the distinction is positive. We encourage this strong black Presidential candidate to the extent that we will overlook or draw contradictory conclusions about his roots and see not the content of his character as a man or political leader, but the color of his skin, the drop of African blood in his veins.

So he wrote his first book. And he joined Trinity United Church of Christ which is, as its website proudly declares, “Unashamedly Black”. In 2004, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama compared his  “Audacity of Hope” with the hope of “slaves sitting around a campfire singing freedom songs”. Thus on one hand he is open about both his personal and ethnic background, and on the other he is “unashamedly black”, playing on the emotional resonance of the American racial landscape. He’s got Oprah now. He has engaged (without engaging, which is the most impressive part of his political acumen) the Clinton campaign in ongoing hostile dialogue which portrayed both Bill and Hillary as, at worst, bigots or, at best, merely ignorant (without, of course, saying as much). 

Barack is a master of doublespeak. He embodies it. He gives loud and preposterous speeches about national unity, glossing over our most fundamental political differences as if those between Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives are akin to spats between little boys and little girls who need merely grow up and learn to get along. Which, of course, is absolutely true, and yet not true at all. And people love him for it.

In his famous 2004 keynote address, he belittled both John Kerry and John Edwards for “[calling] on us to hope”, implying that this call was one of, as he put it, “blind optimism” and “willful ignorance”. But then he went on to define his particular brand of hope as, “The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!”

This, of course, isn’t blind optimism or willful ignorance. It’s less than either of these and yet, to most who were listening, who were either unable or unwilling to see it for what it was, a shameless and hollow appeal to our emotions, it was everything. It sealed his status as a great man, a great leader of men and a great candidate for the American Presidency.

This extends to his policies. His position in Iraq, for example, is to pull the troops out of Iraq, keeping only enough to continue to ward off Al Qaeda and protect the reconciliation of Iraq’s political infrastructure. Thing is, that’s what the Bush Administration is doing now. That’s what the Surge is intended to accomplish, though it continues to require even more money and more troops. Thus Obama is admittedly going to do the exact same thing while calling it something different. Something more hopeful.

And maybe this is what America needs. It’s certainly what Americans seem to want, a candidate who can rile us out of our collective political funk, who knows how to deliver a speech, who looks good on television and, on top of it all, really, truly knows how to play the game. A president with the intelligence to criticze his opponents for their vague and/or manipulative language, while using both to a far superior effect. Like in Vegas, where Obama refers to “Those kinds of tricks, that kind of approach to politics,” and how they “[have] to stop because what happens is then nobody believes anything . . . The voters don’t believe what politicians say. They get cynical. Folks in Congress, they’ll tell you they’re looking out for you – they’re looking out for somebody else.” He does not follow this by assuring that he, himself one of those “folks in Congress”, is looking out for us, or map out how he will stop these machinations of government. He just says we need change. And that’s, of course, why he’s running. It’s his whole platform.

How about on the tail end of drawing Hillary’s campaign into that sort-of-but-not-really racist squabbling, when Obama spoke favorably of, and compared himself to, Ronald Reagan, with vague references to “changing the trajectory of America”. A black democrat touting Ronald Reagan, a borderline apocalyptic occurrence.

And some poor, foolish Reagnite thought: Wow. I really like this Obama.

It’s the political equivalent of a magic show, the trickery of smoke and mirrors. He makes you believe he’s sawing the woman in half, when he has just hidden two women in the box. It’s sleek and entertaining and innocuous (at least for now) and causes us to marvel rather than to think. It’s audacious and hopeful and certainly, as Obama will famously and predictably remind us all, a change. But it’s a change that won’t change much of anything in the end. Nothing below the surface. And Obama was smart enough to realize that, to most of America, the surface is what matters most, and most are happily and willingly played as fools, so long as they look good and feel good doing so.

This, I’m afraid, will never change.

Joakim Noah is garbage.

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 Something happened recently regarding Joakim Noah that prompted me to join an anti-Noah facebook group. Looking for one, I was overwhelmed with possibilities. There were just so many groups. Groups like “At Least I’m Hotter Than Joakim Noah”, or “Joakim Noah Is About As Cool As AIDS” or “Joakim Noah is a BITCH”, which was the front-runner for me, until I spotted (and chose, despite the grammatically miserable name) “If I Was Joakim Noah, I’d Kill Myself”. Clearly I’m not alone in my assessment of this guy’s human value.

He’s garbage.

We can take a trip back through time, starting with his recent tantrum in practice, where he mouthed off to Chicago Bulls Asst. Coach Ron Adams.  The incident was severe enough (and compounded by Noah’s frequent late arrivals to practice and team meetings) to warrant a one game suspension, doled out by interim Head Coach Jim Boylan, followed by an unprecedented extra game suspension given by his own teammates. Yes, even Noah’s teammates can’t stand him. Before his prima donna fit of retardation, Noah was averaging a paltry 4.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks, entrenching him firmly among the league’s least productive rookies, or players in general so far this season, despite drafting high (9th overall) and taking in more than $2.1 million dollars.

Here is a picture of Noah on draft day.

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 No one in the Bulls organization could’ve been happy to see that. I mean, look at that. He looks like a velociraptor dressed-up as Snoop Dogg.

Despite the fact that Noah was touted for having tremendous potential and athleticism as a member of the Florida Gators, he had weak showings in both the regular season and tournament play. One notable regular season Noah flop happened in December of 2006, when the eventual National Champion Gators lost to my Florida State Seminoles, 70-66 (this game prompted another classic Noah-themed Facebook group, entitled: Al Thornton Made Joakim Noah His Biatch). Even with a considerable size advantage, and stronger teammates, the 6’11” Noah was pushed around all night by FSU’s 6’9″ Al Thornton*. Noah finished with just 11 points and 4 rebounds, while Thornton finished with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 1 monster block. Noah would go on to embarrass himself in the 2007 Championship game against Ohio State, where he was once more outplayed and outclassed, scoring just 8 points and 3 rebounds.

To be fair, Noah was voted Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, certainly due to a decent all-around showing in the championship against UCLA, anchored by a record six blocks. Here’s the thing. When you’re 6’11”, you’re going to block some shots, particularly against a smaller, guard-focused offense like UCLA’s. See how the numbers dropped against Greg Oden and Ohio State one year later, and further still in the NBA, where some of the small forwards are taller than he is.

You know who else was 6’11”? Bill Laimbeer. And Bill Laimbeer, despite a total lack of athletic prowess or coordination, was a four-time all-star, maintains the Pistons’ all-time record for rebounds, and scored more than 10,000 career points. Laimbeer also brought us Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for Super Nintendo.

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 Bill Laimbeer today, at 51-years-old, could outplay Joakim Noah in the post and, short of that, could knock the kid’s face around until it came out looking halfway presentable. Point is, having a natural height advantage often opens the door to the NBA, even for players without much natural athleticism or basketball talent**.

No one can question Noah’s athleticism. The kid is tall, has incredible reach and moves up and down the court as fast as anyone. The thing is, and this is perhaps the root of everything that’s wrong with Joakim Noah, he’s had every natural advantage a kid could possibly have and turned out the way he has. He’s a natural athlete. Okay. It probably helps that his father, Yannick Noah, was a world-class tennis player who won the 1983 French Open. Archie Manning’s kids have gone on to become two of the best quarterbacks currently in the NFL***. Grant Hill, son of 4-time Pro Bowl running back Calvin Hill, is putting the final touches on an incredible (though injury-riddled) career in the NBA. And Noah, despite his roots, coming up in one of the top prep schools in the country****, and spending two years as part of a phenomenal college basketball program, brings little more to the Chicago Bulls than a propensity for acting like a spoiled little bitch. Even Aaron Gray, the Bulls’ second round pick and third-string Center, has slightly better numbers than Noah.

Noah’s mother, Cecilia Rhode, is a former Miss Sweden (1978), and was also third runner-up at Miss Universe that same year. Despite his mother’s internationally-recognized beauty, Joakim came out looking something like a giant shaved pekingese dog. Granted, he does take after his father in looks, but he looks like his father after something went terribly wrong. Something involving a pekingese.

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So Joakim Noah is garbage. He’s been given more opportunities and natural gifts than most and done little more than suck at life, suck worse at basketball, and inspire countless hate-driven facebook groups (and, now, a hate-driven blog entry). I’m happy to know he’ll more than likely fade swiftly into NBA oblivion, play overseas for awhile and never be heard from again. But I haven’t given up hope that some day, a day not far from now, I’ll be fortunate enough to stumble upon a news report about Joakim Noah clinging to life at some University Hospital after being attacked by a pack of wild dogs in an abandoned pool.

*Al Thornton was drafted 14th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers and, despite struggling to find a place in their rotation, recently dropped 25 points on the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.

**Other noteable talentless big men include: Greg Kite, Shawn Bradley and Eric Montross.

***Eli remains to be determined, but looks great for now.

****The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Noteable alumni include former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Malcolm Forbes of Forbes Magazine and Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News.

This Just In: F*#!, We’re dumbasses.

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Turns out Citigroup, America’s largest private bank, is in big trouble thanks to all those unpaid sub-prime mortgages, losing billions and billions of dollars in its last quarter ($10 billion, give or take) which means big trouble for thousands of their employees who will soon be without jobs, and for Citigroup, taking a que from others like Morgan Stanley and Merrill-Lynch, a monstrous international bail-out, involving Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Singapore. Meanwhile, the dollar is shedding weight like it’s on NutriSystem, foreclosures are rampant, credit card debt is stagnant and festering on a national level and oil prices are blowin’ up, y’all. It all amounts to our out-of-control economy spiraling toward unthinkable catastrophe, which is why CNN.com’s top story is the soon-to-be Lifetime Network movie about the murder of pregnant Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach (as well as a special Live link to the Congressional Hearings on steroid use in baseball). FOXNews.com’s top stories include a virulent staph infection spreading among gay men and the happy killing of a terrorist leader’s son by Israeli tanks and helicopters.

Both sites have links regarding President Bush’s efforts to pursuade OPEC to lower skyrocketing oil prices, and something about a US Embassy vehicle exploding in Beirut, sandwiched between links to the ongoing Britney Spears custody saga, a UFO sighting in Texas and a real live turtle who can not only shake hands, but also play dead. The 2008 Presidential Race has some coverage at CNN, including a commentary on whether some candidates are “too good-looking for their own good”, and the volleying of sort-of-racist-but-not-really comments between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, while FOXNews covers the Republican candidates as they “Cruise the Detroit Auto Show”.

Also: American Idol premieres tonight.