Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rankings in parenthesis; BCS rankings in brackets
1.  Oregon (1) [1]
2.  TCU (3) [3]
3.  Auburn (5) [2]
4.  Boise State (4) [4]
5.  Utah (7) [5]
6.  Stanford (10) [13]
7.  Nebraska (11) [7]
8.  Missouri (2) [12]
9.  Oklahoma (8) [8]
10. Alabama (13) [6]
11. Arizona (12) [15]
12. Ohio State (9) [11]
13. LSU (15) [10]
14. Oklahoma State (17) [17]
15. Wisconsin (16) [9]
16. Iowa (19) [16]
17. Nevada (18) [23]
18. Michigan State (6) [14]
19. Florida State (14) [24]
20. Arkansas (23) [18]
21. South Carolina (22) [19]
22. Mississippi State (24) [20]
23. Baylor (25) [21]
24. Virginia Tech (UR) [22]
25. North Carolina State (UR) [25]
Dropped out: Southern California; Miami, Fla.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An election letter from Michael Moore

Friends,

There she was, thrown to the pavement by a Republican in a checkered shirt. Another Republican thrusts his foot in between her legs and presses down with all his weight to pin her to the curb. Then a Republican leader comes over and viciously stomps on her head with his foot. You hear her glasses crunch under the pressure. Holding her head down with his foot, he applies more force so she can’t move. Her skull and brain are now suffering a concussion.

The young woman’s name is Lauren Valle, but she is really all of us. For come this Tuesday, the right wing—and the wealthy who back them—plan to take their collective boot and bring it down hard on not just the head of Barack Obama but on the heads of everyone they simply don’t like.

Teachers union? The boot!

Muslim-looking people? The boot!

Thinking of retiring soon? The boot!

Living in a house you can no longer afford? The boot!

Doing a bit better with your minimum wage? The boot!

Stem cell research, the bullet train, reversing global warming? Ha! The boot for all of you!

What? You like your kids being covered by your health plan ‘til they’re 26? The boot for them and the boot for you!

In love with someone of your own gender? A double boot up the ass for every single one of you sick SOBs!

Hoping there’s a few jobs left here in the U.S. when you graduate? How ‘bout just a nice boot to your head instead?

And most importantly, the last boot is saved for the black man who probably wasn’t born here, definitely isn’t a Christian and possibly might be the Antichrist sent here to oversee the destruction of our very way of life. A boot to your head, Obama-devil!

Yes, one big boot is poised to stomp out whatever hopey-changey thing we might have had two years ago and secure this country in the hands of the oligarchs and the culture police.

And if they win on Tuesday, they plan to show no mercy. They will not speak of bipartisanship or olive branches or tolerate any filibuster threats. They will come in and do the job with a mandate they’ll perceive the electorate will have given them. They will not fart around for two years like the Democrats did. They will not “search for compromise” or “find middle ground.” They will not meet you halfway on the playing field. They know that touchdowns aren’t scored at the 50-yard line. Unlike our guys, they’re not stupid or spineless.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. A perfect storm has gathered of racists, homophobes, corporatists and born agains and they are on fire. Two years of a black man who secretly holds socialist beliefs being the boss of them is more than they can stomach. They’ve been sick to death since the night of 11/04/08 and they are ready to purge. They won’t need a rope and tree this time to effect the change they seek (why bother when a nice shoe on another’s skull will do just fine, thank you).

They simply need to get their base to the polls (done), convince enough people Obama is responsible for the fact they don’t have a job or a secure home (done), and then hope enough of us Obama-voters are so frustrated, disappointed and downright mad at the Dems (done) that we’ll either stay home Tuesday or, if we vote, we won’t be carpooling with 10 others to the polls.

Done? Or not?

These Republicans mean business. Their boots are all shined and ready. But they’ve got one huge problem:

The majority of Americans don’t agree with them.

The majority want the troops home. The majority want true universal health coverage. The majority want the thievery on Wall Street to be stopped. The majority believe that global warming is happening, that social security shouldn’t be privatized and that unions are a good thing.

Too bad the majority party has done precious little to bring about the change for which the majority voted. Yes, change takes time. But try telling that to someone who hasn’t worked in two years. Or who hears the knock of the foreclosure sheriff at the door. The booted-up minority knows how to make hay in a situation like this. All they need is us, the disappointed, dismayed, disgusted us.

What say you? Stay home and punish the weak-kneed, sell-out Democrats? Or spend every free moment you have between now and Tuesday trying to protect what little progress has been made so we can live to fight another day (even if it is with “allies” like a Democratic Party that will more than likely still not get the message of what they need to do—and has, in fact, spent much of the past two years giving progressives the boot)? Perhaps our job, post-election, is to provide a gentle but swift boot in the bee-hind of the party whose mascot is an ass.

Right now, we’ve got 112 hours. Seems like enough.

Yours,
Michael Moore

Who should vote Tuesday

Currently available on DVD: "The Girl Who Played With Fire"

That Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has gone a bit Hollywood. With The Girl Who Played with Fire, the anti-heroic heroine of Stieg Larsson’s series of thriller novels has a Hollywood-paced story, but also tidbits of Hollywood melodrama tossed in.

There are coincidences and cleverly timed “shocking” revelations. Characters are conveniently knocked out by villains who don’t quite finish this or that “job.” There’s lots of gun-play, even a car chase, through the Stockholm streets, on the sidewalks, the works.

A bit conventional, as far as thrillers go. But a little Hollywood doesn’t hurt this sequel, which has a different director (Daniel Alfredson). He sees to it that the story rushes by at a much faster clip, delivers its first jolts moments after the opening credits and serves up surprisingly tender moments amidst the suspense and heart-pounding action.

A brief memory sequence re-acquaints us with Lisbeth Salander, still played with feral, cigarette-sucking glee by Noomi Rapace — 28 years old, 88 pounds of bitter, paranoid fury. A year has passed since the missing person case she helped Mikeal Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) solve, by hook or by crook. Her computer “research” skills have made her wealthy, but there’s still that beastly “guardian” in her life, still has issues with one and all that keeps her distant, in hiding.

Blomqvist’s magazine is about to publish a story on sex trafficking when the reporter and grad student who wrote it are murdered. Another death has the cops sure it’s Lisbeth. She hides and starts to sniff around. And Blomqvist, without ever making contact, starts sniffing around himself. As in Dragon Tattoo, their digging turns up skeletons from Sweden’s past. The twist here is that Lisbeth’s troubled back story — foreshadowed in both films — begins to come to light.

The performances have a crusty shell to them. Lisbeth has sex, but never love. She uses people, but regrets it. Blomqvist has an affair with a colleague, but he won’t let it get serious. And as he tries his tricks of the journalistic trade to get people to talk, he lets us in on what a hardcase he is.

“Do you realize my life with be destroyed if you publish this?”

“Yes.”

Yes, it’s pretty much a must to have seen the first film. Where Dragon Tattoo felt like fall, Played with Fire was shot in the Swedish summer, which suits the faster pace, ramped up violence and fresh collection of supporting players — cops, a kickboxer, and a couple of borderline Bond villains. But just as in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire (in Swedish and French with English subtitles) boils down to two characters, their parallel quests and those magic moments these two very different people make contact, physical or electronic.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What a director adds to a movie


There are many wonderful scenes in The Social Network, but this one really stands out and illustrates what an accomplished director like David Fincher can add to a movie. I have never been a big fan of American remakes of foreign films but I reallty do expect David Fincher to improve on the Millenium trilogy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A view tidbits on upcoming movie sequels

  • The next Batman movie will be called The Dark Knight Rises and will begin shooting next year with a release scheduled for July 20, 2012. And contrary to previous reports, the main villain will not be the Riddler. Director Christopher Nolan has confirmed this, but little else about the film, except that it will not be shot in 3-D. Nolan told the Los Angeles Times “We’ll use many of the same characters as we have all along, and we’ll be introducing some new ones.” I assume that means Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Tom Hardy has also been cast and one must assume he will play the lead villain, whoever that may be.
  • In what I think is a terrible decision, James Cameron has announced his next two film projects will be Avatar 2 and Avatar 3. This, to me, reduces Cameron to a George Lucas wannabe. The first sequel is scheduled to hit theaters in December 2014 with the Numero Tres coming one year later. Most of the action in  Avatar 2 is supposedly going to take place in Pandora's oceans (Who knew?) and there is no word about what the third edition in the set is supposed to be about. One source has told me that one of the films will be a sequel to the original and the other a prequel. Sure. Fine. Whatever.
  • Speaking of prequels, writer Nicholas Pileggi has confirmed he is writing one for Goodfellas as a pilot for a possible HBO series. He also said the film's director Martin Scorsese will be involved but he didn't say in what capacity.

Little Leppert

In one of its preview stories on the baseball World Series, The New York Times paralleled the cities of Dallas and San Francisco through their contrasting mayors, Tom Leppert of Dallas and (someone I believe has a bright political future) Gavin Newsom of San Francisco. You can read the entire story here, but the editors also came up with pictures of the two in their younger days dressed in baseball uniforms. In Newsom's case, it was a shot from his high school days in Larkspur, Calif. What you see here is the picture the paper ran of Da Mayor.

Here's my favorite paragraph from another one of the paper's Series preview pieces:
"One ballpark sells T-shirts with the team logo superimposed over the symbol of the Grateful Dead. The other sells photos of the team owner wrapping Robin Ventura in a headlock. If you need to be told which is which, you’re probably not interested in this World Series, anyway."

An interesting piece of pre-World Series baseball trivia

The very first interleague baseball game was played June 12, 1997, in Arlington between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. The Rangers' starting pitcher that night was none other than Darren Oliver. The Giants won that game 4-3.

Currently available on DVD: "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg"

“The Oprah of her day” is one talking head’s description of the broadcasting pioneer Gertrude Berg in Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, Aviva Kempner’s engrossing documentary portrait of a once-beloved radio and television star who died in 1966 and today is barely remembered. The film could be described as Exhibit A in a study of media celebrity and collective forgetfulness in the age of information overload.

On Nov. 20, 1929, less than a month after the stock market crash, The Rise of the Goldbergs, a 15-minute family sitcom Berg wrote, produced and starred in, was first heard on the radio. With its name later shortened to The Goldbergs, the show, chronicling the domestic life of a struggling Jewish family in a Bronx tenement, remained on the air for the next 17 years and earned its creator the nickname the First Lady of Radio.

When it moved to television in 1949 in a time slot later taken over by I Love Lucy, it established the character-driven domestic sitcom as a staple television genre and won Berg the first Emmy for best actress.

At the show’s peak of popularity in its radio incarnation, Berg, who adopted a Yiddish accent to play the malapropism-spewing Bronx Jewish matriarch Molly Goldberg, was voted the second-most-admired woman in America, after Eleanor Roosevelt, according to the film. The signature gesture of the homey, gregarious Molly was to lean out her apartment window and call out “yoo-hoo” to neighbors with whom she exchanged the urban equivalent of back-fence gossip.

Before and during World War II, the show had its serious moments. In one episode a rock was thrown through the window as the family held a Passover Seder. Other shows included references to overseas relatives threatened by the Holocaust.

Berg, who was born Tillie Edelstein in 1898, was not at all like her character. Elegant and well dressed, a workhorse and a taskmaster with a home on Park Avenue, she wrote 12,000 scripts for the show, which consumed her life to the point that in a Person to Person interview with Edward R. Murrow, excerpted in the documentary, she muses that she spent more time researching, writing and playing Molly than being herself.

The daughter of a Catskills hotelier, Berg developed her talents writing and directing sketches to entertain guests during rainy weather. At 18 she married Lewis Berg, an older Englishman and chemical engineer, with whom she had two children.

The Goldbergs flourished until the publication in 1950 of Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television named Philip Loeb, who played Molly’s husband, Jake, as a Communist sympathizer. When the show’s sponsor, General Foods, delivered an ultimatum that Loeb be fired within two days, Berg stood by him and threatened to persuade the public to boycott the company. Although General Foods backed down, the show was canceled several months later.

Berg went so far as to appeal for help to Cardinal Francis Spellman, who agreed only on the condition that she convert to Roman Catholicism, which she refused to do. A broken man, Loeb committed suicide in 1955. Although a replacement was later found, and The Goldbergs returned to television, it was never the same, and when its setting was moved to the suburbs, it lasted for only one season.

Forging on, Berg joined a cast of blacklisted actors in a TV presentation of The World of Sholom Aleichem, a show that helped break the blacklist, and went on to triumph on Broadway, winning the 1959 Tony Award for best actress in a play for A Majority of One. She was heartbroken when Rosalind Russell got her role in the movie adaptation.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg has a generous helping of old kinescopes of The Goldbergs and respectful recollections of grandchildren, acquaintances and admirers, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But the only significant footage of Berg not playing her character is her Person to Person interview, in which she comes across as a gracious grande dame with a dry sense of humor.

Describing a real mother’s creation of a fictional one, she declares: “Molly learned everything from me. I taught Molly everything she knows.”

Currently playing in theaters: "The Social Network"

David Fincher's extraordinary The Social Network opens with a simple scene that serves as a template for everything that is to follow. In a crowded restaurant, two college kids are out on a date. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) goes to Harvard, while his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) attends Boston University. Over drinks, Mark prattles on about having gotten a perfect score on his SAT and the difficulties of getting into final clubs (Harvard's oldest and most elite fraternities).

Erica moans about having a lot of homework to plow through, but Mark dismisses her complaint ("You don't have to study because you go to B.U."). "Dating you is like dating a StairMaster," Erica observes about Mark's rat-tat-tat thought process and is left agog at his capacity for casual, thoughtless cruelty. The scene ends with an angry Erica breaking up with Mark, eviscerating him with an observation so cutting it sets in motion events that will lead to the creation of Facebook - and make Mark the youngest billionaire in the world.

The Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Sports Night), who packs two movies' worth of dialogue into two hours at a rollicking, dare-you-to-keep-up speed. Directed in plain, unobtrusive style by Fincher, the film consists mostly of people talking as it cuts back and forth between Harvard in 2003-04 and the legal depositions that take place several years later.

But despite the ceaseless yammering, The Social Network delivers the heady, rib-tickling rush of an action picture, and it gradually builds to an emotional wallop that blindsides you. When it's over, you immediately want to watch it again to figure out how the filmmakers pulled off the trick.

Initially, the movie seems to be a detailed recreation of the motivation that led Zuckerberg - an intensely awkward, fiercely intelligent kid with perhaps a touch of Asperger's and a restless ambition - to create a website for Harvard students to chat and interact. According to the movie, Zuckerberg stole the idea for the site from the twin jocks Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer in a wonderfully witty, entertaining manner), who rowed crew for Harvard, and their frat brother Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The three first approached Zuckerberg for his computer skills and later successfully sued him for $65 million.

To fund his website, which was initially called thefacebook.com, Zuckerberg turned to his only true friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who became his business partner and tried to monetize the enterprise as the website's popularity grew. But Saverin, too, ended up suing Zuckerberg, settling for an undisclosed amount rumored to be in the hundreds of millions.

The story behind the creation of Facebook is interesting enough, but what makes The Social Network soar - what makes it easily the best movie of the year thus far - is its insights into human behavior. Harvard is depicted as a privileged microcosm with a set of rigid social and class delineations mirroring those of the outside world. When lonely, bitter Zuckerberg holes up in his dorm room, the film cuts to decadent parties across campus (are they real, or are we seeing what he imagines popular kids are like?). His alienation and longing to belong curdle into disdain.

Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a genius incapable of suffering fools. He only maintains eye contact with people he looks up to or respects: Eduardo, visiting lecturer Bill Gates (playing himself) or Napster founder Sean Parker (an exceptionally suave Justin Timberlake), who eventually secures the funding necessary for Facebook to expand globally. Zuckerberg is a prickly, secretive outcast - a nerd smarter than everyone else in the room - and through his story, The Social Network captures the way society casts people in roles that are often difficult, if not impossible, to escape without radical action. There is no small irony in the fact that Zuckerberg decided to build a network for interacting with the world the way in which he was most comfortable - via a computer keyboard - and 500 million people followed him.

The Social Network doesn't take sides on the ethics or morality of what Zuckerberg did, although Saverin, played with great empathy and likability by Garfield, could be considered the film's true hero - a man who stood by his friend when no one else did and trusted him, only to be stabbed in the back when his services were no longer needed. Because of the subject matter, The Social Network has the feel of a zeitgeist movie: "You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that's what the angry do," Zuckerberg's ex-girlfriend snarls at him, essentially defining - and decimating - much of the contemporary blogosphere. In cyberspace, the lonely and unloved have an outlet for their rage and pain. Zuckerberg just happened to figure out a way to get rich voicing his.

The Social Network is a snapshot of our brave new world and its permutations of eternal human emotions, and, in Zuckerberg, it finds a perfect poster child for its message. "I'm not a bad guy,'' he says at one point in his own defense. By the end of this rich, dense, dazzling movie, you agree with him

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Romo's injury not to blame

The so-called-experts have it wrong. The injury to Tony Romo is not going to be what dooms the Cowboys. If you recall, the Cowboys were leading 13-7 when Romo was injured and then increased that lead to 20-7 after he was in the Cowboys locker room.

Besides Romo is possibly the most overrated player in the NFL these days anyway and Jon Kitna is not that much of a downward step. Cowboys receiver Roy Williams had his best professional season with Kitna throwing him the ball in Detroit.

No, what is dooming the Cowboys is a pathetically poor running game and a defense that I could score on.

But who really gives a damn anyway. THE RANGERS ARE IN THE WORLD SERIES and it all begins tomorrow night.

Whatever happened to Robert Hall's

This must be a big deal to a lot of folks, but its significance escapes me entirely.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I guess it's never too late to make a sequel

Nearly a quarter of a century after he directed the original, Tony Scott has confirmed he has agreed to direct a sequel to Top Gun, the film that made Tom Cruise a superstar (although the producers orginally wanted Matthew Modine for the part but he was busy filming Full Metal Jacket at the time). No word yet on whether Cruise will reprise his role as Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, although chances are good because his favorite screenwriter Christopher (Valkyrie) McQuarrie is also reportedly involved. However, it appears Cruise will only agree to do the gig if Maverick is not the film's main character. The project apparently has the financial backing of Larry Ellison, who, I am told, is the sixth richest man in the world. I do know Ellison is an aviation and film buff (he financed and starred in Flyboys) and he apparently put together a package of $350 million for Paramount to make the sequel.

Which reminds me. Has anyone heard from Meg Ryan recently?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hey Guv: What are you so proud of now

The day of reckoning has finally come. It probably won't affect the upcoming gubernatorial election because Texas voters continue to have their collective heads buried in South Padre sands, but this isn't going to be pretty and the worst part is that it could have been avoided with any kind of actual leaders holding political office in this state.

If you haven't heard, Guv Hair's fiscal policies have resulted in a budget shortfall of between $24 and $25 billion, almost 25 percent of the state's current spending. And that means Texas school children, our future, will be shortchanged once again. According to former Republican legislator Talmadge Heflin of Houston: "They'll have to cut. When you look at the big numbers, I just don't think there's any way that you make it match without making some reduction in education, both higher [education] and public education," or grades K-12.


This, from the Dallas Morning News story in today's editions:

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, the House's chief education budget writer, said he sees no way public schools will be spared if the GOP majority rules out raising new revenue.

Hochberg said no-tax-hike pledges by many Republican colleagues ignore Texas' dire need to improve high school and college graduation rates, so it can capture higher-paying jobs.

"We've been following a path of trying to be the cheapest state to do business in," Hochberg said. "To the extent we continue ... we're destined to be behind not only the rest of the world, but other states in our ability to be economically prosperous."
Of course, if you see any of Guv Hair's campaign commercials everything is fine. If you see any of Lew Guv David Dewhurst's commercials, it's all President Obama and his health care plan's fault. The man is pathological. But that may give you a hint of why Hair and Dewhurst want to keep Texas education at such low levels: If the masses start gaining some intelligence, they'll see through Hair's and Dewhurst's mismanagement and lies.

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's ranking in parenthesis, BCS ranking in brackets

1.  Oregon (1) [2]
2.  Missouri (5) [6]
3.  TCU (3) [4]
4.  Boise State (4) [3]
5.  Auburn (6) [1]
6.  Michigan State (8) [5]
7.  Utah (9) [8]
8.  Oklahoma (2) [9]
9.  Ohio State (15) [11]
10. Stanford (11) [13]
11. Nebraska (16) [14]
12. Arizona (13) [15]
13. Alabama (14) [7]
14. Florida State (12) [16]
15. LSU (7) [12]
16. Wisconsin (18) [10]
17. Oklahoma State (10) [17]
18. Nevada (19) [24]
19. Iowa (17) [18]
20. Miami, Fla. (22) [22]
21. Southern California (20) [UR]
22. South Carolina (21) [20]
23. Arkansas (25) [19]
24. Mississippi State (24) [21]
25. Baylor (UR) [25]
   Dropped Out: Texas

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kiera as Diana?

According to one source, a film biography of Princess Diana will be released next year to coincide with what would have been her 50th birthday. The film supposedly will star Kiera Knightley as the Princess of Wales and Helen Mirren has her mother (Shouldn't she be reprising her role as Diana's mother-in-law instead?). The movie is going to cover Diana's early life, her marriage to Charles, their separation and her death in 1997 in Paris.

The Contender


As of today, The Social Network, is the favorite to win the Oscar for best picture. But this movie is going to receive a lot of support. Not only that, Colin Firth is the current favorite to win the best actor tropy and Geoffrey Rush will be in the running for the supporting actor Oscar.

Watching the Rangers win the pennant while thinking about Joe Lovitto

I wish Joe Lovitto could have lived to see this day. I really do.

I was working for UPI in 1972  when the Texas Rangers opened their first season in Arlington. Man, was that a miserable year for baseball in North Texas, a season of 100 defeats. I always knew if a team got a two-run lead on the Rangers, the game was over, Texas couldn't come back. That was a miserable offensive team: Dick Billings behind the plate, Ron Howard (long past his prime) at first, Dave Nelson at second, Len Randle at short, Toby Harrah at third, Tom Grieve in left, Elliott Maddox in right and Lovitto in center.

Lovitto was one of those "can't miss" prospects who did -- miss, that is. He had blazing speed and was a career .300 hitter in the minors. He was being groomed to be the first superstar of Texas' newest sports franchise. And, as Billy Martin wrote in his autobiography, he might have become just that if not for the injuries. In his rookie season of 1972, however, he hit only .224 with 19 RBI and 13 stolen bases. But for us covering the Rangers, he was usually the sacrificial lamb the team used to speak for the team in the locker room after every home game. Night after night we had to try to force meaningful words out of Joe Lovitto who was, to put it kindly, not the brightest intellectual light in the locker room.

Because of injuries he only played in 26 games in 1973. In 1974 he played he played in 113 games but hit only .223. He was on the disabled list for most of 1975 and then at the beginning of the 1976 season he was traded to the New York Mets, who cut him during spring training.

Lovitto settled in Arlington where he died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 50.

For the overwhelming majority of the time the Rangers have made Texas their home, they were more Joe Lovitto than they were Josh Hamilton. That, as the world now knows, is no longer true. The Rangers are going to the World Series and I really don't care what happens to any other area sports team -- even my beloved Texas Longhorns -- for the rest of the year and into a goodly portion of next. The Rangers are going to the World Series. I was seriously concerned I would never live long enough to write those words.

And they did it not by beating the best team in the American League -- they had already done that earlier when they eliminated Tampa Bay. But they did by beating baseball's gold standard -- the New York Yankees. And they beat them in just about every phase of the game -- hitting, pitching, playing more aggressively, out-managing the Yanks. The only area I would call a push would be defense. And because they completely dominated the team all others usually genuflect before, I'm convinced the Rangers can take either the Giants or the Phils in less than seven games, if they can continue to play at this level. And I see no reason why they shouldn't, especially now that Cliff Lee is set up to pitch the opener. This team doesn't know the meaning of pressure. They aren't daunted by your pedigree.

I also think this series finale wrapped up the American League Most Valuable Player Award for Josh Hamilton. His only serious contender was Robinson Cano, but the Yankee second baseman had a donut at the plate in his season finale and made that critical throwing error in the first inning that allowed Elvis Andrus to score the Rangers' first run.

The World Series begins Wednesday night in either Philadelphia or San Francisco (personally, I would prefer San Francisco) and the Rangers are going to be in it. For some strange reason, I wished Joe Lovitto could have been around to witness this memorable day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A new low in campaign advertising

Conservative Republican Robert DePosada, a former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee, is sponsoring a series of television commericials aimed at Hispanics encouraging them not to vote. That's right. Figuring that most Hispanics would probably cast their ballots for Democrats, the ads say “Aren’t you tired of politicians playing games with your future? Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message.” The Republican Party's exploitation of the immigration issue, of which this ad is just one more example, is horrific. But I guess in this day, there's no level too low for some campaigns, no mud too deep to wade into.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SI and the Mavs

In its NBA preview edition, Sports Illustrated is picking the Lakers to cool the Heat in the NBA finals this season and the Mvaericks to finish fourth in the Western Conference behind the Lakers, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Why the Spurs over the Mavs? It seems SI likes San Antonio's import, 6-11 center and Spanish League MVP Tiago Splitter, and believes the Spurs have more depth behind their aging trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan than we do behind Jasons Terry and Kidd. We'll see.

Watch out for this film with the ungainly title


No one's talking too much about this movie right now, but it has a superb cast and a story worth telling. I'm thinking you might be hearing a lot more from it come awards time.

Now this would be worth a trip to New York

Philip Seymour Hoffman will play Willy Loman on Broadway next season in director Mike Nichols's take on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Ever wondered what it feels like to parachute into a football stadium packed with more than 100,000 spectators?

I know you have, which is why I offer the above.

More of that lying Stefani Carter


Apparently, I'm not the only one upset with her campaign tactics.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All those Bill White campaign signs

I'm afraid Gov. Hair is going to win the governor's race. I say "I'm afraid," because under Hair's leadership:
  • Texas is facing a massive budget shortfall approaching $23 billion
  • Texas has more uninsured children -- 1.15 million -- than any state in the country
  • Texas is at the bottom nationwide in the number of adults with a high school diploma
  • Texas has twice as many at-or-below minimum wage jobs than any other state in the country, and in the last month we lost more jobs than any state in the country except Michigan
  • Texas has a high school graduation rate of 61 percent, and approximately 60 percent of community college students require remedial work
But I have noticed something strange while motoring around the area. Although Bill White yard signs do not dominate, they are out there. I have yet to see even one Hair sign. It's like people are going to quitly vote for him even if they are not happy about it.

 

That lying Stefani Carter

Of course, all politicians lie, especially when they are campaigning, but there is one campaign ad by Stefani Carter who's running for the state legislature that really irritates me. It begins with shots of all these supposed residents who claim they've lived in the area for so many years. But the part that really gets me is when they begin talking about the "Obama/Pelosi" tax increases instituted to fund their "massive" spending. WHAT??? The truth is Obama instituted a tax cut for 95 percent of the American taxpaying population, a cut that decreased taxes last year by $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples.

True, as some recent news stories have illustrated, too many people are suffering from short-term memory loss when it comes to these tax cuts, but that's still no reason for Carter to lie. Not only that, what is a state legislator doing even bringing up the subject? It's not like she could do anything about it even if she is elected. I guess if you don't have a platform of your own on which to run, you attack the easiest available target.

Upon further review, it turns out this campaign ad is only the tip of the Carter dirty iceberg. For all her railings against Obama in her campaign ads, she plagarized one of his 2004 speeches and now her bosses at the lawe firm where she works have endorsed her opponent.

The joke's on Jean-Jacques

Dallas Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor is the latest to leap off the Dallas Cowboys caboose, writing "These Cowboys have become an NFL joke." That may be true, but who's laughing? The truth is the entire NFC has become a joke, a collection of 16 teams each trying to see who can look the most pathetic.

No team in the entire conference has less than two losses. That's two less then the Cowboys with 11 games left to play. The Cowboys defense has allowed 111 points this season, the best scoring defense of any team in the NFC East.

In any normal year, the Cowboys would probably be toast by now. But this is not a normal year. The Washington Redskins, for crying out loud, have the best division record at 2-0. How long you think that's going to last? In Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings, the top 5 teams all play in the AFC. The top NFC team is Atlanta, No. 7, which got pounded 31-17 by the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. If that's the best team in the NFC, I don't think the Cowboys should be too worried right now.

Having said that, however, next Monday night's game at home against the Giants is huge for the Cowboys. If the Boys lose that one, I'll be asking Taylor to make room on the side of the tracks.

In the meantime, however, why doesn't everyone spend a lot more time celebrating the feats of the Texas Rangers instead of fretting about the sorry state of the pro football's NFC? How about handing the Bronx Bombers their worst post-season shutout defeat in the team's storiede history? How about this: the two teams have played 27 innings in this ALCS and the Rangers have had the lead over the Yankees in 27 of them. Yes, Cliff Lee was magnificent again Monday night, but let's give the Rangers offense some credit as well. They are simply out-bombing the Bombers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Climate change denial

From the editorial page of today's New York Times:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has to be smiling. With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate — including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning — accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming.

The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy.

Some candidates are emphatic in their denial, like the Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, who flatly rejects “the man-caused climate change mantra of the left.” Others are merely wiggly, like California’s Carly Fiorina, who says, “I’m not sure.” Yet, over all (the exception being Mark Kirk in Illinois), the Republicans are huddled around an amazingly dismissive view of climate change.

A few may genuinely believe global warming is a left-wing plot. Others may be singing the tune of corporate benefactors. And many Republicans have seized on the cap-and-trade climate bill as another way to paint Democrats as out-of-control taxers.

In one way or another, though, all are custodians of a strategy whose guiding principle has been to avoid debate about solutions to climate change by denying its existence — or at least by diminishing its importance. The strategy worked, destroying hopes for Congressional action while further confusing ordinary citizens for whom global warming was already a remote and complex matter. It was also remarkably heavy-handed.

According to Congressional inquiries, White House officials, encouraged by Mr. Cheney’s office, forced the Environmental Protection Agency to remove sections on climate change from separate reports in 2002 and 2003. (Christine Todd Whitman, then the E.P.A. administrator, has since described the process as “brutal.”)

The administration also sought to control or censor Congressional testimony by federal employees and tampered with other reports in order to inject uncertainty into the climate debate and minimize threats to the environment.

Nothing, it seemed, could crack the administration’s denial — not Tony Blair of Britain and other leaders who took climate change seriously; not Mrs. Whitman (who eventually quit after being undercut by Mr. Cheney, who worked for the energy company Halliburton before he became vice president and received annual checks while in office); and certainly not the scientists.

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most definitive statement on the human contribution to climate change, Mr. Cheney insisted that there was not enough evidence to just “sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that’s going to try to solve the problem.” To which Mrs. Whitman, by then in private life, said: “I don’t see how he can say that with a straight face anymore.”

Nowadays, it is almost impossible to recall that in 2000, George W. Bush promised to cap carbon dioxide, encouraging some to believe that he would break through the partisan divide on global warming. Until the end of the 1990s, Republicans could be counted on to join bipartisan solutions to environmental problems. Now they’ve disappeared in a fog of disinformation, an entire political party parroting the Cheney line.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Top 25 College Football Teams

(BCS ranking in parenthesis)
1.  Oregon (2)
2.  Oklahoma (1)
3.  TCU (5)
4.  Boise State (3)
5.  Missouri (11)
6.  Auburn (4)
7.  LSU (6)
8.  Michigan State (7)
9.  Utah (9)
10. Oklahoma State (14)
11. Stanford (12)
12. Florida State (17)
13. Arizona (18)
14. Alabama (8)
15. Ohio State (10)
16. Nebraska (16)
17. Iowa (15)
18. Wisconsin (13)
19. Nevada (UR)
20. Southern California (UR)
21. South Carolina (21)
22. Miami, Fla. (UR)
23. Texas (19)
24. Mississippi State (24)
25. Arkansas (23)

Friday, October 15, 2010

And we'll root, root, root for the home team

I was born and spent most of my early childhood in New York City, back when the city had three baseball teams (as well as three pro football teams, but no one paid any attention to them). The city was divided into specific geographic areas. Mine was where you loved the Yankees, tolerated the Giants and hated the Dodgers. My family, especially my dad, took that seriously.

I don't know how he did it -- I was way too young to ask at the time and he died before I could find out later -- but my dad got to know a number of the Yankees personally. The Yankee lineup during this time consisted, for the most part, of Johnny Mize at first, Billy Martin at second, Phil Rizutto at short, Bobby Brown at third, Gene Woodling in left, Joe DiMaggio in center and either Tommy Henrich or Hank Bauer in right. A rookie named Yogi Berra was the new Yankees' catcher and the starting rotation consisted of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat.

My dad was in the construction business and I remember parties at our Lower East Side apartment that were attended mostly by New York Yankee players and gangsters I later saw portrayed as much younger thugs on the television program "The Untouchables." One of the wildest of those parties was one thrown in honor of my little brother's christening. My mom and dad worried about either my safety or my ability to get some sleep (possibly both) in that environment and convinced our neighbors down the hall to let me spend the night there. Those neighbors were the Dunphys. That name might not mean anything today, but back then Don Dunphy was considered "the voice of boxing," the man who did the radio and later the television punch-by-punch announcing for the matches emanating from Madison Square Garden as well as the heavyweight championship fights wherever they occurred. This was also back in the day when the milkman delivered his product right to your front door. Anyway, on this particular evening I was racing down the hall to the Dunphy's apartment and slipped on a piece of glass from a broken milk bottle and fell into the bulk of the shattered bottle. I was bleeding profusely, and Don Dunphy, on his way to the job at MSG, opened the door of his apartment, saw me and wrapped his tuxedo jacket (he always wore a tuxedo to announce the fights) to fashion a tourniquet before the ambulance came to take me to the hospital. For many years after we left the city, I received a holiday card annually from Don Dunphy that included the words "You still owe me a tuxedo."

Back then there were eight American League teams and eight in the National League and the winner of each played in the World Series. There was no wild cards or playoff games. In the American League, the pennant race consisted of the Yankees against the Ted Williams-led Boston Red Sox. The two teams would be neck- and-neck until around Labor Day when the Yanks would sweep a series from the Sox and then win going away. I felt like Yankee Stadium was my second home. My dad worked in Rockefeller Center and commuted by subway. Just about every night I would wait at the end of the block where we lived for my dad to come home from work and on most of those nights when the Yanks were at home we would head for the Bronx after he changed out of his dress suit. This was back when the left and right field walls at Yankee Stadium were only three-feet high and the monuments were in the field of play.

And once each season we would make a road trip to a series in Boston, always staying at the same hotel as the Yankees. This hotel had a restaurant with a bar at one end, a circular bar with seats all around the perimeter. Once my dad and I were having dinner in the hotel restaurant and we spotted Martin, Rizzuto and Bauer at the bar. About 15 minutes after we sat down, Yankee manager Casey Stengel walked in along with Frank Crossetti and other coaches. He saw the players at the bar and firmly told them that sitting in a bar in public on the road that early in the evening violated team rules. The players seemed to oblige Stengel. However, when the manager turned to go to his dinner table, the players simply moved around to the far side of the bar, figuring Stengel couldn't seem them there, since this pillar in the middle of the bar obscured the view of the far side. What they players didn't realize, however, was that the bar was slowly revolving. As the trio came back into Stengel's line of sight, the Yankee manager jumped from his table, stormed over to the bar and unleashed a torrent of words plenty loud enough for me, my dad and everyone else in the restaurant to hear, even if we didn't understand them. (Stengel often spoke in an indecipherable language all his own that the New York media dubbed "Stengalese"). The players just looked at him dumbfounded and when the outburst ended, sheepishly left the bar.

We later moved to the San Francisco area, a couple of years before the Giants made a similar move. The local team then was the minor league San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. The highlight of my dad's week was the televised "Game of the Week" (featuring play-by-play by Dizzy Dean). The GOTW featured the Yankees more often than not. Those telecasts would turn my dad into a nervous wreck. He would pace back and forth in front of the television, alternately praising a Yankee play and cursing a Stengel strategy move. Too often, however, the games would run long. It would be the bottom of the ninth, the score tied, runners on first and second, my dead hanging on every pitch and the local station would interrupt the telecast to begin the San Francisco Seals pre-game show. At that moment my dad would make Stengel in the bar seem like a piker. "What's going on?" he would scream. "Interrupting the New York Yankees for some bush league's pre-game show???" He would then vow retaliation like firebombing the station and, in some cases, the entire city.

I moved to Dallas in 1968 to take a position with the wire service United Press International and when the Washington Senators relocated here as the Texas Rangers two years later, I was assigned to cover most of their home games. UPI's Southwest Division sports editor at the time worked from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., so any sporting event that occurred after 3 (which, of course, was most of them) was covered by another staffer, most of them by the great Mike Rabun. For some reason, however, I got the bulk of the Ranger games. One year the Rangers opened their season at home against the Yankees. Not only that, the Rangers had a new manager, former Yankee Billy Martin. For that reason, UPI's national sports desk in New York wanted to make sure I obtained a number of quotes from Martin after the game. So after I filed my story and the box score, I trotted from the press box to the Rangers clubhouse, walked up to Billy Martin and introduced myself: "I'm Pete Oppel of UPI." Martin stared at me. "Oppel ... Oppel," he said. "You're dad isn't Bill Oppel, is it?" I said that it was, but that my dad had died eight years earlier. He grabbed a clubhouse phone and called what I later learned was the Yankees broadcast booth and said "Hey, guys. I've got Bill Oppel's son down here." That night I wound up in a room at the Inn of Six Flags, which used to be located across the Turnpike from Arlington Stadium, playing poker with Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Don Drysdale, simply because I was my dad's son.

For the past week I have been dreading a matchup of my beloved Yankees against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. I actually got caught up in the Rangers this year -- in the Josh Hamilton saga, his run for the MVP trophy, the acquisition of Cliff Lee, the sale of the club to Nolan Ryan et al. Who was I going to root for? I didn't know. I emotionally could not make a choice.

Tonight my son decided he wanted to cook out on the grill in the back yard and then watch the opening game of the series. My grill rack was rusty so I went to a neighborhood store to get a replacement. The store had all kinds of Rangers and Yankees baseball paraphernalia and without even thinking I decided to buy three shirts, one for me, one my son and one for my granddaughter. Her's sports Michael Young's number, my son has Ian Kinsler's last name and number on the back. And mine? Mine is also fire engine red, with the name Lee and the number 33 on the back.

Stay cool, dad.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The early Oscar buzz

Listed in order of most likely to be nominated

Picture
1. The Social Network

2. The King’s Speech
3. Black Swan
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit
6. The Kids Are All Right
7. Inception
8. Toy Story 3
9. The Fighter
10. For Colored Girls

Director
1. David Fincher, The Social Network

2. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
3. Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
4. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
5. Christopher Nolan, Inception

Actress
1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
3. Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
4. Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Actor
1. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

2. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
3. James Franco, 127 Hours
4. Jeff Bridges, True Grit
5. Javier Bardem, Biutiful
(Personally, I think Firth has this Oscar nailed.)

Supporting Actress
1. Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

2. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
3. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
4. Miranda Richardson, Made in Dagenham
5. Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Supporting Actor
1. Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

2. Ed Harris, The Way Back
3. Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
4. Christian Bale, The Fighter
5. Sam Rockwell, Conviction
(Could this possibly be Harris's long overdue year?)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mr. Lee

Wow! What a masterful pitching performance yesterday by Cliff Lee in the Rangers' playoff opening victory! The only thing that could have knocked Lee off the front page of the nation's sports pages was somone pitching a no-hitter.

Want to know exactly how gawd-awful this NFL season is?

The only undefeated team in the entire NF of L is also this week's biggest underdog. The Indianapolis Colts are an 8-point favorite over the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. The next biggest dog is Denver, seven points to Baltimore.

Monday, October 4, 2010

College football season: Let's call the whole thing off

I've been watching a lot of college football for the past month or so -- an average of seven games a week -- and the one thing I've learned after this past weekend is that we can stop it right here and now. There's really no need to do anything more than schedule the national championship game, wait until next year, and hope things get better then.

This year's crop of college football teams can be classified as either really horrible (Kansas, New Mexico, the entire Big East), somewhere between poor and mediocre (all the Big 12 teams with the possible exception of Nebraska, the ACC, 70 percent  of the PAC 10, 80 percent of the SEC, all the teams in those lesser conferences except Boise State and TCU) and then you have some OK teams like TCU and Boise State along with, perhaps, Auburn, Nebraska, Stanford, and Ohio State -- in other words, every other team except the two who should be playing in the BCS championship game: Oregon and Alabama.

That's the game I want to see -- Oregon's innovation vs Alabama's traditionalism. A dream contest. No other matchup is even worthy of watching the rest of the year.

Of course, that's better than the NFL which doesn't even have an Alabama or an Oregon to brag about. Parity has resulted in overall mediocrity there. It's a sorry state of affairs when a 1-2 Cowboys team looks to be the equal of any team in the league. Everyone is winning ugly and losing uglier.

But all is not lost. It won't be long until the NBA season starts and the entire civilized world outside of southern Florida can start rooting against the Miami Heat.