Friday, 14 August 2009

MC GUESTING ON BBC WORLD SERVICE TONIGHT

I'll be a guest on the World Service's News Hour tonight, discussing Michael Vick's return to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles following his serving two years in prison for running a dog-fighting ring....

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

JOHN TOLOS: MY INDEPENDENT OBITUARY

At the risk of being thought when Freddie Blassie would have called a 'pencil-neck geek', let me mention that my obituary of John Tolos, 'The Golden Greek' is in today's Independent. It provides a sequel to the one of Blassie I did for the Indy six years ago; you can find that one here. That's Tolos in the photo on the right, working over Classy Freddie in a cage.

As I said in the obit, their Monsel powder angle was one of the most copied in wrestling; wrestlers were soon being blinded in dozens of innovative ways, most famously when Michael 'BS' Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds threw 'Freebird cream' into the eyes of the Junkyard Dog. This set up a 'dog-collar' match, wrestlers chained together so JYD could wrestle without his sight, before 30,000 fans in New Orleans' Superdome. There was also an infamous angle in Texas' World Class promotion; Gino Hernandez blinded the British-born 'Gentleman' Chris Adams, but died of a cocaine overdose before they could have the revenge match. They opened their next TV show saying 'this week we've have two terrible tragedies, Chris Adams is blind and Gino Hernandez is dead.'

This seems to be quite a week for nostalgia; I recall Blassie, Tolos, Argentina Apollo, Irish Don McClarity, Gorilla Monsoon and the rest wrestling on TV in the golden age when I was, oh, 11 through about 14. It was the WWWF, and I remember for some reason the ring announcer often welcoming us to 'the Capitol Arena in the nation's wrestling capital, Washington DC', which always made me feel Washington was good for something.

Friday, 1 May 2009

MY DOC BLANCHARD OBIT IN THE INDEPENDENT AND AT IRRESISTIBLE TARGETS

My obit of Doc Blanchard is in today's Independent: you can link to it and read about what wasn't included in the printed version at my Irresistible Targets site, here. Although I'd conceived of two separate yet equal blogs when I'd started, I've now decided to devote most of my energy to IT, so this site is probably going to lie dormant for a while. If you haven't been looking regularly at IT, please do.....

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

MIKE ON RADIO FIVE: HOLD THE MAYO, EXTRA MURRAY

I'll be appearing on Radio Five's Simon Mayo programme tomorrow (Wed, 8 April) at about 3:15pm to talk about American sports in this country. Colin Murray will be sitting in for Simon, so expect some of the fun and games of the old Channel Five NFL all-nighters (though not much!). The BBC website should feature the show for a week after broadcast...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

NYUK NYUK NYUK

I've written briefly, because words fail me, about the impending remake of the Three Stooges, over at Irresistible Targets. The picture to the right, minus the fringe, is actually the same one that's the screen saver on my computer.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

WALES VS IRELAND, ALMOST WINNER TAKE ALL

Today Ireland play at Wales, and if they win they will be crowded Six Nations champions with an undefeated Grand Slam season. If they lose, they will find themselves in a tie with Wales, and, in a perfect world, the Welsh would win the title on the strength of the head-to-head victory (not quite perfect, of course, since the home field advantage is so huge in rugby, especially in Cardiff, you know Welsh choirs and all that).

But in international rugby, to the winner the spoils do not necessarily go. The Welsh will have to beat Ireland by 13 points or more, because in the case of ties, the winner is determined by 'points difference' in all five matches. So in reality the Six Nations will be decided by who was able to run up the score against Italy by the most points.

Remember 2001? Due to hoof and mouth in Ireland (among the cows, not the rugby players), the Irish finished their campaign in the fall, and in their final match faced English, who had juggernauted through the other four nations in the spring. An Irish win in Dublin would have left the teams level with 4-1 records, but Ireland had beaten Italy 41-22 away, while the English had enjoyed embarrassing Italy 80-23 at Twickers. They'd beaten Scotland by almost as much, and with a 143 point differential were forcing Ireland to beat them by more than they'd beaten Italy in order to be champions. In the end, Irealdn duly won, 20-14, but there was no suspense in the match, as there would have been had anything been as stake.

The Six Nations is often decided on PD: France over Ireland in both 2006 and 2007, although luckily they beat the Irish head to head both years. Or I should say fortunately they'd amassed a better point differential. Wouldn't be better if titles were decided on the field, and not by some guy in a blazer working a pocket calculator?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

PARENTHOOD: TRAVIS ON THE BACK NINE, BRISTOL PLAYING SINGLES

The sad tale of Travis Henry, who since high school has fathered nine children by nine different women, and despite getting $6.5 million from his last NFL contract is effectively bankrupt, is in today's NYTimes, here. Henry says each relationship was 'cool' until the babies came and then the women 'came after' him. He also says he never had more than three cars at once, and spent only $250,000 on jewellery, which passes for austerity in today's NFL. In fairness, however, unlike certain other running backs, he has never tried to dodge the financial repsonsibility; he just can't meet the bills. He and his fiancee are postponing wedding plans until this can be sorted out, and neither, according to the Times, wants children. Shouldn't that be MORE children?

Meanwhile, there's a different approach to the news that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston's 'engagement' is off, apparently after Bristol refused to let Levi take their daughter to his family's house, calling them 'white trash'. Levi's mother, remember, was busted, though not until after the election, for selling oxycontin, aka hillbilly heroin. No wonder Rush Limbaugh loved them so much. In reality, young Levi (pictured right with Bristol and their marriage counselor) always looked like he wanted to be there about as much as Travis Henry might have. Now, according to the Palins' press release, Bristol is 'devastated'. But according to Levi's sister, Mercede (where in Alaska do they get these names?) it's a different story. As Tom Paxton sang: How do I know? I read it in the Daily News! Here.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

AND HERE'S TO YOU MRS. MYERSON: Julie Battles Light Literary Incontinence

My modest observations on the British media 'controversy' over Julie Myerson's using her son's drug problems, and her banishing him from the family home, as a device in her new book, have been posted over at Irresistible Targets, here.

Friday, 6 March 2009

GOING COAST TO COAST AGAIN...

The first installment of 2009's Coast To Coast column is up now at nfluk.com, you can find it here. Each Friday I'll be looking at one or two NFL teams, assessing their needs pre-draft, and their prospects after it. I started with Detroit, an easy target coming off their 0-16 bizarro-perfect season, with an even easier target in ex-coach Rod Marinelli. There are a couple of typos in the finished product, and a riff on their signing Drew Henson (ex Berlin Thunder) just to confuse me has disappeared, and you were spared my favourite picture of my favourite space-eater, Grady Jackson, so I'll share it with you here. You may recall the NFL tried to ban Grady last season for using a diruetic, presumably to mask his steroid use. As it happened, the banned drug was included, but not listed in the contents, of an over-the-counter diruetic, which the NFL knew, but didn't tell anyone. Grady's lawyer, very smartly, filed suit against the maker of the supplement, a suit the NFL doesn't want to be in the middle of. When you stop giggling, consider why Grady would be using a diruetic in the first place? It's not like he had to make weight. Maybe he gets a bonus if he's under 365? Anyway, unless the NFL starts testing for BBQ, Grady should be OK for the 2009 season.

Monday, 2 March 2009

UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE REDUX: WHICH TEAM WON?

So it turns out there really was a ringer in the Corpus Christi team, but it wasn't 26 year old PhD student Gail Trimble, it was the science wonk Sam Kay, the recipent of Trimble's most dismissive stare when he got one wrong, is actually not enrolled at Oxford at all, but working for Price Waterhouse Coopers, where presumably he is already learning how to cook the books and stretch the rules as an accountant.

Kay was a student when CCO's first two matches were taped, then graduated and took his job. So each time in the remaining shows, when he said he was 'reading' or 'studying' he must have meant he was doing that on his own time at home.

Reports in the Sunday papers indicated that the UC rules were clear, that contestants had to be students for the full-run of the programme, but Kay was quoted as saying that since he had been a student when he started he didn't think he'd done anything wrong. It is a little odd that no one at Oxford noticed he wasn't around town, though, isn't it.

Reminds me of Boris Rankov, who was still rowing for Dan Topolski's Oxford crews even though he was palpably a teacher, not a student.

Although reports on Sunday all screeched that the Manchester University were demanding a rematch, in reality, they conceded gracefully, if not educatedly. Manchester captain Matthew Yeo said he and his teammates were 'firmly of the opinion that the best team won'.

That's BETTER team, Matthew. There were only two of you. Maybe it's time to go back to college, if you're not really there.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

UP ALL NIGHT WITH THE GRAN TORINO

I'll be on BBC Radio Five's Up All Night tonight, around 0230 ayem, talking about Clint Eastwood and Gran Torino with host Dotun Adebayo...you can read my review of the film here.

Update: You can link to the programme last night here. The film segment begins about 1:35 into the show (that's one hour 35 minutes) and runs until the 3 hour mark. That was 0230 ayem until 0400 this morning! Enjoy...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE FIXED? YOUR STARTER FOR AN EASY TEN...

There is a scene in Joyce Carol Oates' novel THEM where a young girl, a mathematical genius, performs her idiot-savant skills while her parents feed her sweets as encouragement. I was reminded of it last night, watching the final of University Challenge, as Gail Trimble of Corpus Christi Oxford swayed back and forth, smashing the buzzer in front of her as she rallied her team to victory. Which led me to a thought I'd had before watching the programme: why were all the questions down the stretch about literary topics, Trimble's specialty? Is University Challenge fixed?

I've watched matches where questions seemed aimed at one team's specialties before, or which capitalised on a lack of knowledge in certain areas by another team. I used to think Bamber Gascoigne would slow down when the university he preferred was in the lead, and speed up when they were behind. Paxman is notoriously fickle in which answers he will accept and which he will not.

Not that UI is infallible. When dealing with general matters I'm familar with, including sports (the Rose Bowl is not the college championship game, the Connecticut River does not empty into Long Island Sound at New Haven, etc) the prgramme has been wrong an amazing number of times, and their pronounciation of anything non-English is often eccentric at best. But stacking the deck to ensure one college, or indeed, one person who's attracted a huge amount of media attention, wins just would not be, uh, cricket would it. Or at least it would not have been before we found out cricket matches are fixed too.

Trimble appears to have divided the nation. She certainly divided the Observer on Sunday, who devoted a full page to her but couldn't decide if it was unusual that a woman should have brains, or that a woman as attractive as Trimble should have brains, or if a woman as unattractive as Trimble better have brains, or if she were attractive/unattractive because she did have brains/couldn't think at all just answer questions on cue. This was all in the same 'analysis'. Are smart women still that much of a problem? If a male student had dominated his team (and believe me, some did) would he have attracted any attention?

As I said, Trimble struck me as the kind of person who performs, and exudes the sort of smugness on each right answer that has characterised teachers pets and swots since school time began. It was instructive to watch her face early in the match, frozen into disbelief when she was wrong, and even moreso to catch the look she gave the poor schmuck on her far right, recruited for the science questions, when he got one wrong. Meanwhile, immediately on her right, the American girl was having a nervous breakdown with every answer.

It was theatre of the academic absurd at its finest. And, Trimble is a ringer: a PHD student, because UC, like the Boat Race or the Varsity Match, allows anyone studying at the college to participate. This never happened in America, where it was undergrads only.

Brits never believe me when I tell them that UC was a direct copy of the GE College Bowl, a show I used to watch when I was young and exactly the kind of know-it-all who stills shouts the answers before these kids today can get the answers wrong. By the time I got to college however, my academic reflexes had been dulled by, uh, college, and I wasnt even aware that Wesleyan fielded a UC team in 1969 until I saw them on TV. They lost by the narrowest of margins, 5 points, to Goucher College, but had been denied points for an answer that was correct, but no one told the host so. When they were brought back, against Davidson, the questions were so obviously slanted in Davidson's favour, Wesleyan was comprehensively humiliated. The college hasn't been the same since.

Gail Trimble, the Fred Housego of her generation, is unlikely to meet the same fate, though she is likely to find that an ability to recall all sorts of hoitsy toitsy facts isn't much use unless she can get into Millionaire or the US version of Jeopardy, where my college friends Steve Berman and Seth Davis have both been champs and argue incessantly over who is superior (I should note that I beat Berms at his Jeopardy board game soon after arriving in LA and being made to watch tapes of each of his appearances--I told you I could identify with Gail Trimble).

SEPARATED AT BIRTH BY THE FICKLE FINGER OF FATE

Have you ever noticed that the more funny former Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly (pictured right with Joe Namath) tries to get for ESPN ('my kids read Bill Simmons') the more he starts to look like Laugh In host and Vegas comedian Dick Martin (pictured left with a showgirl). Are they perhaps related? You bet your espy!

Monday, 16 February 2009

MC--LOCAL HERO?

Football Outsiders has posted their annual poll results, and for the third year in a row I've been one of the contenders in the category of 'local NFL writer who deserves a national profile', based on my work for nfluk.com. Without disputing the definitions of 'local' and 'national'--since in football terms, Britain is decidedly local--it's great to appear in the company of writers like Mike Reiss, last year's winner, whose work is always admirable, and to know that some of the stuff I write is being read and appreciated. Thus the internet makes neighbours of us all. Football Outsiders is an excellent website (well, I would say that, wouldn't I?) whether or not you find their statistical analysis compelling. And apparently there was some ballot-stuffing from Seattle; though not from the UK!
Perhaps that had something to do with it being a good day for Carlsons: Seattle's rookie tight end John 'no relation' Carlson was voted the NFL's most underrated offensive player.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

THE FRUSTRATIONS OF RUGBY: WALES BEATS ENGLAND

I am usually, after more than three decades in Britain, an ABE supporter. That is, Anyone But England. There are exceptions to the rule: certain football matches, say, against Italy, any matches against Australia, and rugby against New Zealand or Wales. The common denominator in all those situations is that the games mean entirely too much to the other side, who are generally willing to sink to any depths of sportsmanship to win, and whose supporters adopt terminal myopia in pursuit of those wins.

So watching yesterday's rugby match in Cardiff I felt a slight sympathy for the English (and great sympathy for Martin Johnson). For the Welsh, getting one back against the English is important, and I have great sympathy for that, but rugby is just about all they have left, just about the only way they have to do that. Thus England's rugby players have to bear the brunt of despair over centuries of wanton domination and exploitation.

When I was in college we played in the Little Three, of which Wesleyan was definitely the littlest. So we would play Amherst and Williams, and have our series wrapped up, before encountering nearby Trinity in our final game of the season. We had played our two big games, and then we would meet up with a squad, and their fans, fired up beyond belief for what was their chance to salvage their season, if not, it seemed, their lives. This, on a small scale, is what England face on a massive level when they go to Cardiff.

Having said all that, England make it hard to support them. For the better part of the three decades I've watched them, they've played plodding, brusing, straight ahead rugby--even when they had the ability or potential to be far more expansive, and so it was yesterday. Watching the ball never get beyond Andy Goode, watching it being kicked constantly back to the Welsh, who when they were willing to run with it did some damage, reminded me of Ireland's near-implosion against France the week before, for the same reasons. Possession is crucial to rugby, and although territory is as well, it seems they are still contemplating the lessons American football learned in the 1940s, when they stopped punting the ball away on third down inside their own territory. Of course reaching touch when you kick for it would also help.

But with the prissy Jonathan Kaplan referring, many of the things I find most frustrating about rugby came to the fore. Having denied Wales a quick-restart try in the first half by turning his back, he then reduced England to 14 men for the second time in the match by penalising Goode for (it has to be said, blatantly) denying the Welsh the ball for a quick-restart after a penalty near the English goal. Two things bother me about this. First is, in a sport that is so dominated by the referee, the idea that he can blow the whistle to award a penalty, but a player can simply pick the ball up and restart, even though the situation causing the penalty (for example, offsides) may not be resolved, is bizarre in the extreme.

Second, forcing a team to play short-handed is a severe punishment, which seems to be reserved for when the referee himself feels his will is being thwarted. Twice in the match Kapland awarded the Welsh an easy three points PLUS ten minutes playing with an extra man for
technical offenses (Mike Tindall seemed to be withholding the ball from play with his face) BECAUSE he knew Johnson had admitted he wanted to slow the game down. In either case, three points was just punishment; if he really thought the Welsh would score from a quick-tap give them a penalty try and listen to the uproar then. The justification is that Kaplan had already lectured the England players: the problem is any sport which demands that referees lecture the players in mid-match needs to rethink its defination of 'free-flowing action'. People are always accusing American football of having too much stop-start, and I agree, but those same people don't seem to mind when a rugby match stops for two minutes while Jonathan Kaplan plays Mr. Chips.

In fact, if Americans prefer their referees to resemble lawyers (if not judges) the English sports demand they be schoolmasters.

But when Lee Byrne cynically took out Delon Armitage's legs while he was in midair fielding a high kick, a blatant attempt to seriously injure him, Kaplan merely blew his whistle for a free kick. The message in rugby is clear: referees are to be protected, not players.

Like most Southern Hemisphere refs, Kaplan dislikes the very idea of scrummaging, and refused to let anyone dominate, usually forcing three or four tries to get each scrum working. His idea of a straight line doesn't transfer to the northern hemisphere; he didn't bother checking on whether put ins were straight: the scrum halves appeared to be playing rugby league. Lineouts weren't much better: Kaplan penalised England for a particularly diagonal throw, but left the Welsh alone, especially in the first half.

Although Kaplan was the dominant figure in the match, he didn't hand the Welsh the victory. The English threw away their opportunities through indiscipline (not just the penalties, but the sloppy kicking) and their reluctance to run the ball. But the spectacle itself, which was involving, was never compelling, and the result left my predomiantly ABE status intact.

Monday, 9 February 2009

IN MEMORIAM: GLENN 'JEEP' DAVIS

My obituary of Glenn 'Jeep' Davis, the two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion, winner of a third gold in the 4X400 relay in Rome, and short-time NFL receiver with the Lions, is in today's Independent, and you can find it here. Writing it reminded me of the days when the nation's top amateur athlete was indeed a star, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and yet still could pursue a career as a high-school mechanical drawing and drivers-ed teacher and coach.

SAY IT AINT SO, AROID

I've done another piece on baseball and steroids for the bbc's website, based on the latest revelations about Alex Rodriguez, though I didn't go into the full story of StrayRod, Cynthia, and Madonna, nor his relationship with his teammates as detailed in Joe Torre's recent memoir, as deeply as I would have liked. You can find it here. This one will run and run. It is interesting how ARod's reputation, even before the steroids, would be as a great accumulator of numbers, but a disappointment, if not liability in the clutch. I wonder if Madonna thought the same thing. For my earlier take on the adventures of the Rod family, see here.

The most interesting part of the story, however, was the allegation that ARod may have been warned about a 'random' test in September 2004 by an official of the players association. Although none of the sources are named, if true, it would put the long-term opposition of the union to testing of its members into a whole new light. Not that they would have been the only ones in baseball turning a blind eye. As I wrote on the same website when the Mitchell report was released, here, even when I worked for baseball, in the early 90s, it was pretty easy to see that there were guys on the juice.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

NO NUDES IS GOOD NUDES: FAREWELL, LINGERIE BOWL

The funniest, I mean saddest, news of Super Bowl week in Tampa was the shocker that Lingerie Bowl VI had to be cancelled, due to a dispute with the game's site, a Florida, uh, nudist colony.
If I were Peter King I would definitely write 'only in America', except I'm not sure the XL SI pundit ever used the phrase ironically.

The game was supposed to take place at the Caliente nudiest resort in Land O Lakes, Florida...no relation to the sticks of Land O Lakes butter we grew up with, and which Marlon Brando could probably have thought of at least some uses for.

I say 'nudist resort', but being this is America, where stewardesses are flight attendants and the blind are sight impared, Caliente is actually billed as a 'luxury clothing-optional resort'. Even so, what was the problem? According to Caliente spokes-nudist and former nude model Angye (yes, with a 'y') Fox (pictured left, and known to her friends as, of course, 'Foxy') 'we ran into conflicts with the Lingerie Football League wanting more areas of our resort restricted to clothing- required than we could accommodate.'

RESTRICTED TO CLOTHING-REQUIRED? What is this, the NFL? Yes folks, only in America could an event which parades women in little clothing (apart from football pads) playing a violent game for the benefit of ogling viewers of all sexes, be offended by a little nudity.

Here's Lingerie Football League spokesman Stephon McMillen 'The league will not place our fans, players, staff nor partners in a less-than-comfortable environment that would ultimately jeopardize the mainstream perception and reputation of the brand that so many have worked diligently over these past five years to build.'

Let me stop laughing. Does anyone in the mainstream actually perceive of the LFL (pronounced 'laffle') as anything but a soft-core sleazy exploitation device? And its reputation? McMillen sounds suspiciously like a maiden aunt, or a Catholic schoolgirl on a first date. What will the boys at high school think?

Somehow, the Super Bowl managed to survive without LB VI. Hopefully, people are already flocking to Caliente Luxury Clothing-Optional resort. Few of them would be the loyal followers of the LFF. They just switched over to Bud Bowl at half-time, and sent out for another pizza. Angye must be disppointed.

COCKUP: HOW TO RATE KICKERS

A few years ago, I was looking for an efficient way of measuring place-kickers, and came up with a formula. Last year, when I wrote a piece evaluating the 2008 NFL kicking season, I named it: Carlson's Original Calibration for Kickers, Un-scientific Program, or COCKUP. Then I refined it, by measuring Cockup per kicking attempt, which became COCKUPPA. Unscientific as it is, it actually works pretty well, and basically threw up Jason Hanson as the NFL's most valuable kicker last year, with Rob Bironas the best in the AFC. Hanson actually registered by far the highest Cockuppa score of anyone since I started this. Of course you have to tweak it, and consider ability on kickoffs, as well as the dreaded 'clutch' situations, but I'm pretty satisfied with it. You can find the CHFF piece here.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

SITTING IN MY MEDIA CENTER: NEW HOPE FOR AMERICA

My distinct thanks to Raheem, a security guard at the Tampa Convention Center, which is the Super Bowl media center. When Raheem saw from my credential that I was 'from' the BBC he got all excited, saying 'I get all my news from the BBC!'. We talked for a while and he reminded me, in the mood delineated in my previous post, that there is still some fertile fields in which the seeds of hope can be sown in my native land. Fitzgerald may have said there are no second acts in American lives, but he was wrong about that (Gatsby notwithstanding) and there have been lots of them for America itself.

SITTING IN MY HOTEL: TV TACKLES REGIME CHANGE

There are two Americas out there: the one that's out there, and the one that's out there on TV, and what is frightening is the sense that, little by little, the latter is taking over the consciousness of the former, especially the former of the younger persuasion (though I am prepared to admit that there is an element of the old fogey about that perception). If I were still prepared to think of the Ed Murrow speech about TV's power to educate, if I wanted to come home this week and get overcome with a sense of at least symbolic hope, fuelled by the image of regime change in Washington, well, in the nightmare world of TV news, nothing has changed.

Because it's when you're watching the news that it becomes most scary, and of course the news is what you watch first when you're in a hotel room. I use the word scary, because it is fuelled by fear; is it really as simple as wanting to keep everyone indoors watching their channel? Local news is the final resting place of hairspray, reporters and 'anchors' with the depth of cutouts reading stuff written by people who frame every story as if it were eviction night on Big Brother.

Then you go to the 'serious' news outlets, and it gets even worse. The decrepitude of the Bush regime, and the attendant success of Jon Stewart on Comedy Central persuaded MSNBC there was a little mileage in a leftish funnyman of their own, former sportscaster Keith Olberman (who proves once again that it's much easier for sports guys to move into 'serious' broadcasting than 'serious' broadcasters to move the other way), but their designated 'left' show, hosted by Rachel Maddow, reminds me of a school of minnows inviting sharks to come over for a fish fry. A sense of fairness and balance is a bad thing to have when you're competing with Fox News.

Amazingly, it seems every time I flick past that channel, the pale balloon of Karl Rove's face, evil Piglet to Bush's evil Pooh, pops up, answering puffball questions from yet another smugly screaming Irish-American. They're oblivious to the eight years of destruction they've left behind around the world, and listening to a steady stream of calls for more deregulation simply boggles the mind. In the 1930s, the failure of laissez faire left its proponents relatively impotent to stop FDR's implanting the New Deal, though their media, papers and radio, certainly tried. But imagine that magnified to the nth degree: a steady stream of political KY being spread over an electorate bending over willingly to find the remote control and turn up the volume.

I mentioned Murrow above, because the movie Good Night And Good Luck was on BBC last week, and watching Bill O'Reilly groping for his pitchfork and Sean Hannity inflating like a blow-fish (fugu you, liberals!) I remembered the thought I'd had when we saw the film for the first time, in Sydney in 2005, It struck me, watching David Straithairn's Ed Murrow battle both Joe McCarthy and William Paley's CBS,that fifty years later, in the space of my lifetime, McCarthy has not just triumphed over Murrow, he has replaced him. We Tailgunner Joe alive today, he would never be elected to the Senate from Wisconsin; he'd be broadcasting on Fox News, scheduled between O'Reilly and Hannity, interviewing Karl Rove, being taken seriously by the Beltway mob, and being parodied on Comedy Central for us cognoscenti to laugh about. In my childhood, such figures existed: I remember watching Joe Pyne or Alan Burke, but they were relegated to the lunatic fringes of entertainment, like pro wrestling, horror movies, and roller derby, that 13 year olds of all ages loved. Now Rupert Murdoch pays them millions, and makes millions more off their fear-mongering and hate peddling. Money talks, and in this case, bullshit walks, right along side, talking even louder.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

WHY I MISSED RICHARD WIDMARK AT THE INAUGURATION

Those touching scenes of Dick Cheney being wheeled out for the inauguration, trying to look sympathetic (see left) reminded me a bit of Limas Sweed of the Steelers faking an injury Sunday after he dropped a sure touchdown pass that was right in his hands. I mean, moving boxes out of your office puts you in a wheelchair? All he needed was a neck brace and a personal-injury lawyer, and he could've been Zero Mostel in The Hot Rock. What was in those boxes anyway, waterboards and car batteries? What's left of the federal reserve? Seriously, though, my first sympathetic thought upon seeing the now-disabled soon-to-be former Veep was, where's Tommy Udo when you really need him?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

QUOTH THE RAVENS 'NEVERMORE': The Legendary Five NFL Highlights Poem Revived For Poe's Bicentennial

Monday January 19th was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, which was probably a lucky break for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who on Sunday defeated the only football team named after a Poe Poem, the Baltimore Ravens, 23-14 to advance to the Super Bowl against another bird-mascotted club, the Arizona Cardinals.

But with the score 15-14 and the Ravens threatening a comeback, I kept looking at my watch and doing the five-hour math, to see if perhaps we were edging toward midnight, at which point the powerful Poe juju might kick in. Note that only in the NFL would the game played in the northeast in January start at 7:30pm local, while the one played under cover in Arizona started at noon.

Anyway, Troy Polamalu, who could've probably found a part in a Poe story (if not a Melville South Seas novel) had he lived 200 years ago, put an end to the Ravens' dreams. But all through the season, I had been commenting about how Baltimore, and their rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, reminded me of the 2000 Ravens, who won Super Bowl 35 in January 2001 over the New York (sic) Giants, using their 'Angie Harmon' strategy (strip Jason Sehorn naked with Brandon Stokeley's fly patterns).

That Ravens team, like this one, had qualified for the playoffs as a wild card, and had endured a streak of five games earlier in the season without scoring a touchdown on offense (they won two of the five).

The fifth game of the streak came against the Steelers that year, as Trent Dilfer took over from Tony Banks as the quarterback, but Pittsburgh managed a 9-6 win. I was scripting the highlights for our Monday Night show on Five, and watching Matt Stover (who's still kicking for them) hit his second field goal, 'nevermore' sprang to mind, and I decided that instead of narrating the highlights I would adapt Poe's poem and make it fit whatever length the edit was in the ten minutes or so I had to write it.

Courtesy of a reprint which appears in the Facebook Mike Carlson Appreciation Society site, here's the script again. Happy birthday EAP, and it's a shame we couldn't do anything with the Ravens' Edgar Jones (he of the bogus roughing the kicker penalty) this year....


Pittsburgh 9 Baltimore 6

Once upon a midnight dreary
As I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious highlight from the day before.

As I nodded, nearly napping,
Suddenly there came a tapping.
Jamal Lewis gently rapping, rapping at the endzone door.

Just a field goal, I muttered.
Only that and nothing more.

Oh how vaguely I remember
It was way back in September
When the stadium scoreboard last put up six points in Baltimore.

And for weeks over and over,
Just the toe of Matthew Stover
Was the story of the offense that, it seemed, would never score.

Quoth the Ravens
‘Nevermore’.

So they called upon Trent Dilfer
But his throws were promptly pilfered
By a Pittsburgh Steeler defense, steel curtained as of yore.

And with Dilfer firing blanks
Just as bad as Tony Banks
They put six points on the scoreboard,
but the Steelers scored three more.

You may question. You may carp.
Get hot quotes from Shannon Sharpe.
But a touchdown’s worth of offense is no closer than before.

And if you wish to know the day
When you’ll hear on the P.A.
That magic incantation “Touchdown Baltimore!”
Quoth the Ravens
‘Nevermore’.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

DAVID VINE AND THE SKI SUNDAY SECRET

I was saddened by the death of David Vine, who was the longtime host of snooker, popping up when I desperately was looking for something to watch late at night. But I remember him best as the presenter of BBC's Ski Sunday. I used to watch them put the show together at some of the events I would do for ABC Sports in the 1980s, and I always got a kick out of seeing the finished product when I was back home in London.

That was because of David's knowing commentary, always added after the programme had been edited together. Remember, this was in the days before continuous splits on screen, but David would always be able to 'sense' that someone was having a 'fast' run: and that person would inevitably wind up one hundredth of a second faster than the fastest down the hill thus far.

The top skiers always go down the hill first, usually the first 15. So you knew that, if the BBC were showing someone who started 26th, or 39th, or 55th, there was a reason. Sort of like when I do the football highlights, and we show a kickoff, you know there's either a great return or a turnover. Except those are acknowledged as highlights.

If, when the coverage jumped from skier 15 to skier 26, and David said 'so and so hasn't had a great season thus far, but I have the feeling he's got a fast race in him today' you knew he would fly down the slope and wind up in (or near) the top three. Then when it jumped from number 26 to number 55, and David said, 'he's had a lot of trouble with this hill in practice' you called in the family to watch the inevitable crash.

Those were the glory days of TV sport, when mainstream channels chased the best events in all kinds of sports, all over the world, rather than throwing all their money at the biggest domestic ones, and relegating the rest to niche channels and occasional Olympics. There were great broadcasters with the knack for translating these sports to general audiences, and David was one of them. Even if the delay to Sundays gave him some help! He'll be missed.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: HOLIDAY FUN FROM THE UK IN ENGLAND

One thing I forgot to do over Christmas was add another incident to my catalogue of what makes living in Britain so great. In the run-up to the holiday, of course, the queues at the Post Office grow to mosntrous sizes, which makes them even more attractive to the English to join in, just for the fun of it. I can't believe that everyone in the queue ahead me is someone who has never posted a letter before, but sometimes it seems that way. For example, this year I got into a 14 person queue, with two clerks at their windows. About 15 minutes later I was first in the queue, with a woman filling out a form, and needing help line by line, at one window, and a gentleman with a bag of Christmas cards at the other.

He pulled one small stack from his bag, took the top one off, and said 'France, please'. The stamp came, he stuck it on, took the next card: 'South Africa, please'. Then 'Australia', 'Holland', ooh another 'France', 'Ireland'...to which the clerk asked 'northern or southern Ireland...'ooh another France' and so on. At no point did it occur to the clerk, much less to him, to actually sort the cards and ask for the necessary stamps all at once. The idea that France and Holland might require the same postage might have blown either of their minds.

It's like it the old days before all the bar staff was foreign, when you were waiting at the crowded bar in a pub, or even worse, during the interval at the theatre. The person ahead of you asks for 'two pints of lager'. The English barman or maid returns with the two pints, asks, will there be anything else, and the person says,'a pint of bitter'. The process repeats, with the person asking for six more drinks, one by one before ending with a large vodka and orange juice with ice and lemon please'. The English barman would come back with the screwdriver, then say, 'anything else' go fetch the crisps, peanuts or whatever, and then try desperately to reconstitute the order in his/her head to ask for money. Finally, after waiting through all this, and somehow maintaining your status as next-to-be-served in the face of haughty elbows and waving twenty-pound notes, bar person approaches you.

Thinking you are being kinder to them, as well as saving time, you say 'two pints of bitter, a pint of lager, half a shandy, a large whiskey, and a pint of Guiness please'. The bar person draws the two pints of bitter, comes back, puts them down and says, 'what was the rest?' You repeat the order, he/she comes back with the shandy and says 'was that a bitter or a lager?' The lager arrives, then 'was there anything else?' And only after fetching the whiskey, which has to be poured through a British automatic measuring system, twice, to ensure no one gets a drop more than the legal minimum, does he/she start the Guiness, which of course takes three times as long as anything else to pour.

Now at this point there are two paths we can take, depending on how English the server actually is. The purist will simply hover lovingly over the Guiness, not serving any of the other people frantically trying to get attention (not to mention drinks), nor taking your payment, but just gazing admiringly at the slowness with which the dark liquid eases its way into the glass. But the slightly more active, or more xenophobic, Englisher will see this as an opportunity to leave you, and the Guiness, hanging, while serving other people. Eventually,having stopped the tap to let the Guiness settle, coming back to top it off, then going away again before delivering it, and taking your money, then finishing off the next customer before returning with your change.

You could try saying 'I'm in a hurry, I've got Christmas cards to post' but it wouldn't have done any good.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

MIKE CARLSON AS POP IDOL? THE POPMATTERS INTERVIEW

I've been interviewed by Robert Collins for his column in the online magazine PopMatters. Makes me a kind of Pop-tart. The full interview is here, though note the Super Bowl in question at the end was in Phoenix, not New Orleans!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

LET US NOW PRAISE INFAMOUS MEN?

When you look up 'fatuous' in a dictionary, there ought to be a picture of Alexander Chancellor somewhere close. If there isn't you could always cut and paste the one on the right. In the column which the Guardian inexplicably (from a reader's point of view) grants him every week--perhaps they felt obliged to soften the blow after he accomplished the rare feat of being a Brit fired by Tina Brown from the New Yorker--Chancellor chose the moment of Sunny von Bulow's death--after 28 years in a coma--to commiserate over the trauma she caused her husband, Claus von Bulow, when he was convicted of her murder, a conviction later overturned on appeal.

'So let us proclaim his innocence,' bleated Chancellor. His logic was somewhat short of Cartesian. Von Bulow's eventual acquital was won by Alan Dershowitz, due primarily to his getting the main piece of evidence against von Bulow excluded on a legal technicality. Dershowitz was one of the team of lawyers dedicated to doing the same, successfully, for OJ Simpson. But according to Chancellor, Dershowitz said recently 'I have been in touch with Claus repeatedly. I have not been in touch with OJ Simpson since his trial.'

'This tells us something,' burps Chancellor. Maybe it tells HIM something, but it doesn't tell me anything except Harvard law professors may find it more comfortable to hang out with socialites than ex-jocks. Dershowitz has called for 'torture warrents' to become part of American law, and also for Israel to begin retaliatory razing to the ground of Palestinian towns. I don't think I'd judge either policy on whether or not he keeps in touch with Dick Cheyney or Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to a famous (but anonymous) quote in Domenick Dunne's profile of Von Bulow for Vanity Fair, he 'does not dwell in the Palace of Truth'. This is in his very essence, as he is hardly more von Bulow than Chancellor. Born Claus Cecil Borberg, he took his mother's family name, Bulow, because his father was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis, and in Denmark Bulow was a respected name, then he added the von because in England it would seem posher to those to whom such things matter.

I met him once, and came to my own conclusion rather quickly about the likelihood of his innocence. But that's irrelevant to the obscenity of using a long-overdue tragic death as an excuse for bigging up your friend. He may well be innocent, but that's not the time to be 'proclaiming' anything, except Chancellor's fatuous bad taste, and the Guardian ought to be ashamed for running it.