Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Best Ultra Mainstream Songs of the 2000s

I think I've ranted enough about various popular songs in this blog, so it's time to man up and admit to liking some of the biggest radio staples of the decade. Because the truth is, not every pop song is bad -- in fact, the good to bad ratio probably is the same as any other genre of music: a whole lot of crap, but occasional gems that make all the crap kind of worth it.

Whether most music dorks want to admit it or not, there is a definite art to making a quality pop song that appeals to the masses. Songs that succeed in this are just as refreshing to hear as any great indie song: the choruses are catchy, the hooks are meticulously crafted, and the production is top notch. Songs that pull this off are rare, but they do exist.

With this in mind, here are some songs that pull that off:

10. Justin Timberlake - Cry Me a River

I'll just kick off the list by getting it out in the open: I kind of like Justin Timberlake. Free from the teenybopper exploits of NSYNC, he's become a real pop star with songs like this. For pop song standards, the lyrics are very good (and let's face it, how can you not like a song dissing Britney Spears?), and Timbaland - possibly the greatest contributor to pop music this decade - gives his usual excellent production. The result is possibly the best dis song of the decade.

9. Nelly Furtado - Say It Right

Already a pattern is emerging with many Timbaland songs on this list. Expect it to continue, since this decade was mostly about production and he was the best producer. "Say It Right" is one of the more unusual songs to get big from this decade. It's basically just a beat in the background and eschews the typical verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus format. What mostly makes it great is the vocal delivery of Furtado, the beats, and the well written lyrics.

8. Britney Spears - Toxic

As I mentioned, pop music this decade was mostly about the production. Nobody is going to mistake Britney Spears for a great singer, but she sells this song (mostly with her skankiness) thanks to the production. The chorus is extremely catchy and I'm a sucker for that high pitched hook.

7. Christina Aguilera - Beautiful

This song is ultra corny, but it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside (and these songs usually make me gag in terror). The obvious message of the song is one heard a lot, but also one worth repeating in my opinion. I think what I like the most about it is that in an era full of production and HOT BEATZ, it's a simple piano song completely sold by Aguilera's amazing voice. Also, that gay guy singing it in "Mean Girls" was funny.

6. Eminem - Lose Yourself

As you can probably guess, I'm not usually a big fan of the rippity rap or whatever you kids are calling it these days. But "Lose Yourself" is one of those great songs (like most on this list) that defy these types of barriers and are just plain great. While I know next to nothing about who is actually good at rapping and who isn't, Eminem seems to be pretty adept at it on this track. But what makes Eminem better than just about any other rapper is his ability to craft that piano hook and the chorus around his rapping.

5. Justin Timberlake - My Love

Justin Timberlake/Timbaland appear on the list again. The futuristic synthesizer sounds downright cool, especially when combined with Timbaland's trademark beats and Timberlake's falsetto voice. And, for once, a rap interlude (by TI) actually seems to have a place in the song and doesn't ruin the entire thing.

4. Rihanna - Umbrella

While I could do without Jay-Z's pointless rap at the beginning, the rest of this song is pure pop perfection. The whole "you're my umbrella" thing is admittedly corny, but for whatever reason I find the lyrics of this song really poignant and authentic, and of course it has a chorus that gets stuck in your head for days (along with the ella-ella-ella part).

3. Beyonce - Crazy in Love

This song mostly makes the list because of that horn hook, which was constantly stuck in my head before I even knew what song it was from (I wasn't keeping to up to date with the pop music in 2003). It doesn't get much lamer than just having a horn thing stuck in your head, but I and many other Americans were cursed with it thanks to this song. That's really all the analysis of this I have, sorry.

2. Outkast - Hey Ya!

Outkast has become sort of the official hip hop/rap band for dorky white guys, and songs like this are why. Even an eternal pessimistic and cynic like me has to admire how ridiculously upbeat and happy this song is. Throw in the experimental techniques Outkast is famous for and their penchant for surprisingly good lyrics and you have the recipe for a song that is just fun to listen to.

1. Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone

It should become apparent by looking at my favorite artists list that I am a big fan of chick rockers. Kelly Clarkson made chick rock cool again with this endlessly catchy staple that made her a true superstar, not one just created by American Idol. This song probably rocks harder than any other pop song this decade (and a lot of popular "rock" songs, right Nickelback?), and Clarkson's vocals are top notch as usual. Anyone who says they don't like this song is a liar.

Does anyone else have favorite songs that got a lot of radio play? Don't be afraid to admit it!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Most Horrifying Pop Culture Trends of the 2000s

The 2000s decade is almost in the books, so it seems like now is a fitting time to take a look back at some of the events that shaped our time. Perhaps the biggest change in culture came in the form of pop culture: the rapid innovation in media and the internet brought widespread change to how media was delivered, and it now saturates our society than it ever has before. Of course, with all this media saturation, it was inevitable that there would be some obnoxious trends that developed that would drive me (and possibly only me) insane. These are some of the pop culture phenomenons from the last decade that I would rather forget:

5. The Rapid Decline of "SportsCenter"

Did any TV show this decade start out as must-see TV and devolve into unwatchable I-want-to-stab-my-eyes-out garbage faster than "SportsCenter"? Possibly Heroes, but other than that I'm stuck. "SportsCenter" began the decade as a must see show for me and has rapidly declined into a typical sports media screaming fest devoid of any real sports content.

It's hard to tell what caused the precipitous decline of "SportsCenter". It's possible that as I grew older, I just got tired of the catch-phrasey shtick of most of the anchors and was able to notice their spotty analysis easier. Perhaps it was caused by overexposure, since "SportsCenter" is on at least 11 times a day. While these are both potential causes, I think it's pretty clear that the show went way downhill through the decade.

For one thing, does "SportsCenter" even show highlights anymore? The original point of the show was to catch you up on all of the sports happenings of the day, usual via well edited highlight packages. The anchor would throw in their personality a bit but for the most part, the show was about the sports.

"SportsCenter", despite its name, is no longer about the sports now. It's merely a platform for annoying personalities to be... annoying. Any sports content from the highlight packages are now drowned in an intolerable deluge of catch phrases ("BOO YA! HE JUST RAMSHACKALACKA'D THAT PLAYA HATA WHEN HE SAW HIM ON THE STREET. COOL AS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW!"). Any semblance of analysis has been replaced by idiotic former players yelling at each other about things they don't know anything about, and you can count on basically any sports story being handled in the most reactionary and moronic way possible. Real analysis is generally considered not good enough for TV and replaced by empty suits like Trent Dilfer.

"SportsCenter" went from being about the glory of sports to being a second rate CNN that reminds us of everything bad about sports. Attempting to watch a highlight now is like trying to enjoy a live sporting event while a drunk idiot constantly yells and attention-whores behind you. Thankfully most of us can get our sports news from the internet now.

4. Disney Channel Stars Crossing Over Into the Mainstream

For the first part of the decade, the Disney channel and I had a pretty solid, understanding relationship: you keep your business to yourself, and I'll keep mine to myself.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the road, Disney decided to break the code. "Stars" like Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers began appearing on my television programs and interfering with my way of life. Everything was going so well between us, but Disney just couldn't help themselves.

Now I'm not normally one to hate on music or movies that I am clearly not the target demographic for, but at some point one has to take the stand. When the Jonas Brothers began appearing on "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live" as if they're actual rock stars and not Disney manufactured mannequins; when "High School Musical" started getting released in theaters and actually becoming extremely popular as something other than campy pre-teen garbage; when Hannah Montana somehow became one of the biggest stars in America despite not having a shred of talent. These were all signs that the line had been crossed. These formerly untouchable Disney products now deserved all the hate they got.

However, even worse than all of these, Disney is also at least partially responsible for the frankly disturbing rise to super-stardom of Shia LaBeouf. Who is this idiot, and why is he suddenly on TV all the time? Does it really take a whole lot of star power and charisma to play the main character in a Michael Bay vehicle about transforming robots? Why is he in that Indiana Jones movie? These were questions that I and many others pondered as Shia inexplicably rose to stardom. One can only hope he is a flash in the pan, but given his future IMDB credits, it looks like we're not going to be safe for quite some time.

3. Increased Popularity of 24 Hour News Networks

Possibly the most influential form of media in the last decade were the 24 hours news networks. While CNN existed for a long time, the emergence of Fox News brought their popularity and influence to an all time high in the 2000s.

Normally competition is good for quality, but in the case of CNN and Fox News the opposite somehow seems to be true. When faced with their competitors, the channels instead chose to see who could yell the loudest and provide the most noise to grab the viewer. When covering live events, any kind of journalistic integrity was thrown out the window in favor of loud, attention seeking television.

If you're somehow in need of evidence, all one has to do is look at the balloon boy scandal from a few weeks ago. The family decides to run a huge publicity stunt by throwing up the balloon, and the news networks are all too happy to indulge them. We get interviews with the family, Wolf Blitzer proclaiming that he "saw the boy fall out of the balloon", and then embarrassingly not noticing when the kid throws his family under the bus on live television.

The question on everyone's mind of course was "why would this family pull a hoax like this?" The answer? 24 hour news networks. For anyone seeking publicity, all you have to do is a stunt like this and you will be on the news every hour of every day. While they end up facing charges, the family still got exactly what they wanted. Their name is out there now, and it always will be, all made possible by these networks.

While these news channels may serve a purpose, it is too frequently lost under layers of noise, stupid graphic overlays and scrolls, and poor reporting by the anchors. I don't think anyone really needs 24 hours of news a day, and if they do they can get it on the internet. All these news networks do is play the same tired stories ad nauseam and put a scare into the entire country.

2. The Death of Originality in Television

Television has admittedly not ever been the most original medium, but it seemed like this decade in particular was spectacularly bad. With the multitude of CSI and Law and Order shows along with their knockoffs, the 2000s was a great decade for unoriginality.

Most of the unoriginality comes from CBS, "America's Number One Network." "JAG" became "NCIS" which became "NCIS: Los Angeles", "CSI" became "CSI: New York" which became "CSI: Miami". Even their shows that aren't blatant spinoffs are unoriginal in their own right (just take a look at their cliche-fest Monday night sitcom lineup).

It's particularly amazing to me how seemingly every show is either about someone from the police/detective force or a doctor. Does America really need 30 shows about tough cops trying to solve difficult cases? It seems like despite the length it has been around, there's still a lot of ground left uncovered for TV series.

Unfortunately (and predictably), the graveyard of TV shows from this decade is littered with originality. Shows like "Freaks and Geeks", "Arrested Development", and "Pushing Daisies" were canceled fairly quickly. The sad truth is that unoriginality works, and the CBS studio executives are smart enough to know it. A spinoff of NCIS is far more likely to succeed than whatever original idea they put in its place.

Fortunately, some original shows managed to find audiences and take off. Most of them are on premium channels like HBO and Showtime, but a show like "Lost" with convoluted science-fiction elements was able to find a home on a major network, perhaps giving hope to original TV in the future (as long as it has a massive budget).

1. Wussy "Rock" Music

As anyone who has seen "School of Rock" knows, rock music is first and foremost about stickin' it to the man. Even former mainstream acts stuck it to the man with great vigor, and the tradition generally held form even into the 90s with bands like Nirvana and Radiohead finding mainstream success with challenging and innovative music.

Unfortunately, the mainstream "rock" (I put it in quotation marks because I refuse to equate this drivel with actual rock music) of the 2000s was basically the opposite of what our rock pioneers imagined. This was the decade where rock music turned from stickin' it to the man to being the man.

The primary culprits of this were Nickelback. Nickelback gets a lot of hate already, but it's really difficult to overstate how much of a blight they are to music in general. Inexplicably they've churned out hit after hit this decade, despite having little musical ability and relying on an odd combination of misogyny and mawkish sentimentality in their lyrics. The fact that Nickelback passes themselves off as a rock group while singing a song called "If Everyone Cared" basically tells the entire story here.

Nickelback's unoriginal, bland music was only the beginning though. After this we've been stuck with Nickelback imitators. Ripping off a band that doesn't have a shred of originality in them is a difficult task, but bands like Daughtry and Hinder were eager to take up the challenge. "Lips of an Angel" attempted to sound like a macho rock song while having lyrics that could easily be mistaken for the latest Hannah Montana song. Daughtry took a similar route, making a huge hit out of the insanely bland "It's Not Over" with the same type of little girl lyrics. When did everything get so soft? Don't any rock groups party all day and do tons of hard drugs anymore?

Sadly enough, these are some of the most successful "rock" groups/songs of the decade. What happened? Even as recently as the 90s it seemed like real rock groups were having the success they deserved. Now the only place to find actual rock music is on college radio stations or (god forbid) buying CDs. The even scarier part is that Nickelback isn't really showing any signs of going away. For whatever reason, the public just loves these unoriginal horse-faced Canadians.

My end of decade writing spree is only beginning, so stay tuned for more! Next one will probably be something more positive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

JJ Hardy to the Twins

The Twins made a great step towards improving their 2010 playoff chances today by acquiring shortstop JJ Hardy from the Brewers in exchange for entertaining center fielder Carlos Gomez.

Gomez was a fun player to watch, occasionally unintentionally thanks to his ineptitude at the plate. While he obviously sucked at hitting, he was an extremely elite defensive center fielder and was actually worth a surprising 2.3 WAR (wins above replacement level) in 2008.

Unfortunately his game took a step down this year, and he began to lose playing time thanks to the emergence of Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer staying healthy. After posting a paltry .287 on base percentage and striking out 23% of the time, he was relegated to 4th outfielder status. In an organization with a pretty strong amount of outfield depth, it obviously made sense for the Twins to trade him if they could get a starting player in return.

Which brings us to JJ Hardy. He's coming off a fairly disastrous season with the Brewers, where his performance tanked to a .302 on base percentage and .357 slugging percentage (this is Gomez levels of bad). However, in 2007 and 2008, Hardy was legitimately one of the best shorstops in the game. Thanks to his above average bat (average on base percentage, above average slugging percentage) and exceptional middle of the infield defense, he provided 4.5 WAR and 4.9 WAR in 2007 and 2008 respectively. That was good for 5th in the majors among shorstops in 2007 and 4th in 2008.

Clearly the Twins expect him to bounce back to this level of play, and there's a decent chance he does. Hardy has a pretty good track record of success and it'd be silly to write him off after one bad season. The best part of this trade is that even if he doesn't bounce back, he's still a fine starting shorstop. If he does, he's possibly one of the best 5-10 shortstops in the majors, which is huge for a team that has had an absolute black hole at the position.

To get this commodity, the Twins gave up Gomez, who is basically a 4th outfielder and has not shown he can live up to his "potential". The Twins absolutely crushed this trade, and it makes then one step closer to being a legitimate playoff team in 2010.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NFL Season Predictions

I'm too lazy to actually make this a big writing project, but here is what will happen this season (I've been working on having more confidence):

East - Eagles
North - Vikings
South - Saints
West - Seahawks
Wild Card 1 - Giants
Wild Card 2 - Panthers

East - Patriots
North - Ravens
South - Colts
West - Chargers
Wild Card 1 - Steelers
Wild Card 2 - Jaguars

Super Bowl: Eagles over Chargers

Monday, August 31, 2009

If Joe Mauer Doesn't Win MVP, I Will Be Slightly Peeved for a Couple of Days

Like any self respecting Twins fan, I have a big old man-crush on catcher Joe Mauer. No, it's not just his boyish good looks, those darling sideburns, and his Minnesota nice charm. It has (slightly) more to do with his brilliance on the baseball diamond. This year Mauer is treading historical territory - he's hitting a ridiculous .368/.436/.615 playing the most demanding position defensively. Only Mike Piazza has come close to putting up these types of numbers as a catcher. It's no stretch to say that Mauer is not just having the best season ever by a catcher, but arguably one of the greatest seasons of all-time by any player.

All this being said, it appears that Mauer may get screwed out of another MVP. He arguably should have won last year and clearly should have won in 2006 over teammate Justin Morneau. This year is the biggest slam dunk choice yet. Mauer has almost singlehandedly kept the Twins afloat in the division and is leading the league in on base percentage (the most important stat in baseball probably) and slugging percentage. Oh, and he's a catcher.

Unfortunately, the one thing that Mauer isn't leading the league in is RBIs (runs batted in). Now I could write at least 9-10 blog entries about how terrible RBIs are and why anyone who cites them as an important baseball statistic should probably die in some way involving flame (and I just might if I continue to run out of ideas). It really does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that RBIs are determined largely by the players around you - you can't drive in runs if there's nobody on base. Justin Morneau racks up the RBIs in large part because he has the guy leading the league in on base percentage batting in front of him.

Seems pretty simple right? Unfortunately, our friends in the sports media aren't exactly the brightest crayons in the Crayola 64 box. Every year more deserving candidates are overlooked for the player who racked up a ton of RBIs and home runs. Positional value is rarely ever accounted for, which is why someone like Morneau wins over someone like Mauer. Defense is basically ignored entirely, even though teams like the Rays have proven that defense has a huge part in winning baseball games. They also almost always give it to a guy on a playoff team, using the old "if he didn't get his team to the playoffs, how valuable could he be?" argument. As if somehow Joe Mauer is to blame for Alexi Casilla, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto hitting like little girls in their first tee-ball game.

This year the de facto big RBI slugger on a winning team candidate is Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is not even close to Mauer in any statistics except home runs and RBIs and plays first base, the easiest position to find a good hitter at. However, he has those RBIs, and he has the storyline of "solidifying the Yankees infield" and helping them turn from a bad team last year into the AL East champs this year. Never mind that they added CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett to their rotation and are getting career years out of Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon -- in the media's eyes, it's all about Tex, and how he turned everything around singlehandedly. I won't even bring up the fact that Teixeira plays in the new Yankee Stadium, where I could probably hit a home run if I tried long enough (for reference I had one extra base hit in little league past age 8).

The fact that Teixeira's name (or anyone's really) is being brought in an AL MVP discussion versus Joe Mauer is absurd. Mauer missed a month of the season and has still been way more valuable than Teixeira or anyone else in baseball most likely. Unfortunately when the inevitable arguments begin on Baseball Tonight etc, we're just as likely to hear the analysts suggest that Teixeria or Kevin Youkilis deserve the MVP over Mauer. Believe it or not, these people are paid to analyze baseball and yet will likely get this simple fact wrong. I'm expecting the worst, but if Mauer doesn't win MVP I'm still going to be slightly angry, and may even not have my usual smiling and happy exterior the next couple of days. Now you know why.

Don't Look Back in Anger: A Tribute to Oasis (Pretty clever title, no?)

Yes, almost legendary britpop band Oasis broke up a few days ago. Led by the notoriously erratic Gallagher brothers, they rocketed to the top of the music world with their first two CDs, Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? in the mid 90s. When the Gallagher brothers weren't proclaiming they were the best thing since the Beatles or hoping that rival band Blur would "catch AIDS and die" they were usually fighting with each other and/or doing copious amounts of narcotics (listen to Be Here Now if you don't believe me). Their rampant fighting and self-indulgence caused them to release a steady stream of mediocre music the rest of their careers and finally led to their inevitable demise.

Oasis is a weird band for me. I've liked their music for a long time and think their first two albums are pretty spectacular, but they don't fit in as much with my current tastes since I became an indie rock hipster that is obsessed with female vocalists. Oasis wasn't original - in fact, a lot of their music could almost be considered plagiarism, such as the opening chords to "Don't Look back in Anger" which are ripped straight from "Imagine". Their lyrics often made no sense on any level. Both of the brothers were unmistakably enormous jerks who craved fame beyond anything.

I think what made Oasis great is that the band never tried to hide any of these facts. They didn't act like the lyrics to their songs were amazing or anything, and they were pretty up front about how much of their music was "borrowed" from The Beatles and other groups from the 60s. The brothers and the band had an over the top charm that made them extremely likable, even when they were saying horrible things to the media or smashing glass bottles over each others heads. They seemed like ordinary guys that just wanted to make fun music for people to listen to, and I think that is what got them so big in Britain and a little bit in the US.

There's also no denying how great some of their songs were. "Wonderwall" was a classic before every emo kid who picked up a guitar began playing it for his girlfriend. "Live Forever" will, well, live forever. "Don't Look Back in Anger" has one of the best sing-along choruses and an awesome guitar solo. "Champagne Supernova" is one of the anthems of the 90s, even with the incoherent lyrics. Oasis will certainly be remembered for these songs more than their squabbles and the crappy albums that followed them.

So even though their Wikipedia article reads like an entertaining episode of "Behind the Music", I think Oasis will be remembered for the right reasons. Of course, this probably isn't the end of the band forever, but they'll never come close to what they did on their first two albums. Then again, who will?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top Chef Returns!

The best cooking reality show on TV returns tonight, as a full new slate of cheftestants (don't you just love that word?) battle in Las Vegas for 250,000 dollars and a whole lot of Glad Ware. I fully expect there to be lots of drama, some cooking, and a few awkward moments between Tom Colicchio and the token gay contestants. Overall, this expects to be the strongest season of Top Chef yet.

The other entertaining aspect of Top Chef is seeing how low they can go when it comes to shameless product placements. Last year we experienced the Dr. Pepper Quickfire and the Quaker Oats Challenge intermingled with close up shots of Glad Ware and Monogram ovens. However, possibly the lowest point came when eventual winner Hosea Rosenberg talked to his father who had cancer, and we were treated to a close up shot of the new T-Mobile Sidekick he was talking on. Can Top Chef possibly go any lower? I don't doubt that they can, but we will have to watch to find out.

Short entry, but I'll probably write more after I watch the first episode. I'm very disproportionately excited for this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favre Signs with Vikings -- Let the Fun Begin

News just broke that the Vikings have signed Brett Favre to a one year contract. Yes, it actually happened. The idea of Favre in a Vikings uniform has been a divisive one amongst Vikings fans -- on one hand Favre is a hall of famer, on the other hand he's completely washed up and a total egomaniac who is clearly only returning for selfish reasons so he can get his petty revenge on the team that done him wrong, the Green Bay Packers.

Now I don't think Favre is a very good QB anymore, and might not even be better than Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson. Paying him 10-12 million dollars is an absurd contract that could potentially hamper the team this season. There's a pretty good chance Favre's "just having fun out there" attitude completely throws the Vikings season in the toilet. All this being said, I love this move. Love it love it love it.

Because in case Vikings fans haven't noticed, Brad Childress is our head coach. Yes, Brad Childress, the guy who calls a timeout to consider whether he should challenge a play. The guy whose favorite play is a 2 yard screen to a 260 pound fullback who runs a 5.5 40 yard dash. The guy who still sticks with an embarrassing zone blocking scheme that looks like it was drawn up by a 3rd grader. The guy who I'm pretty sure is a pedophile. That man is our head coach ladies and gentlemen, and anyone who thought we were going to win a Super Bowl with this idiot at the helm is out of their mind.

Which brings us back to Favre, and why this is such a great move. Here are basically the only two scenarios that can happen:

A) Favre returns to his former glory and leads the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Vikings fans everywhere rejoice.

B) Favre is a bust, the Vikings season is a failure (Anything other than the Super Bowl is really) and Brad Childress gets fired 0.5 seconds after the season ends. Vikings fans everywhere rejoice.

Notice how each scenario ends with "Vikings fans everywhere rejoice"? This is a win/win deal folks. We either win a Super Bowl with Favre, or Childress finally gets canned and the team can hire a competent coach who can maybe get us somewhere. The Vikings have nothing to lose in this deal and everything to gain.

Additionally, Favre will make all Vikings games must-see TV. His propensity for interceptions, Adrian Peterson's amazing playmaking ability combined with severe fumbleitis, and Percy Harvin's explosive talent combined with the IQ of a brick makes the Vikings offense by far the most entertaining in the NFL. Sure, some of the games may be frustrating, but if you detatch yourselves from the proceedings you will see how wildly entertaining Vikings games are with Favre at the helm.

So I say just strap yourselves in and go along for the ride. It's going to be a blast.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 Fantasy Football Preview

The NFL preseason kicked off yesterday, which means it's time for people to start thinking about everyone's favorite pseudo strategy game -- fantasy football. Yes, it is almost time for cheering against the running back that is playing against your own home team, hoping for various star players to get injured, and watching mid-season games between the Lions and 49ers with sweaty palms. Fantasy football offers every fan to be a football general manager. Well not really, but it's kind of fun I guess.

I'm coming off a strong fantasy season last year, when I showed my fantasy expertise by picking Tom Brady in the first round and then replaced him by trading for Carson Palmer. I think I've done enough research to at least duplicate that showing this year, and maybe even improve on it. Here are some fantasy tips that should help you in the upcoming season:

- Defense wins championships -- make sure to draft a defense/special teams unit in the first round.

- To try to find sleepers in the middle to late rounds, look for players who have struggled their entire careers and thus have something to prove. I've heard that Vince Young has come to Titans camp rejuvenated and focused, and is certainly worth a pick somewhere around the 6th or 7th round.

- Make sure to avoid prima donna players like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. While they may get a lot of yards and touchdowns, they'll disrupt locker room chemistry and eventually tear your team apart.

- It's no secret that the success of a running back is highly tied to the play of his offensive line. Draft a left tackle in the first round and then pick up the backs later.

- If a wide receiver puts up 60 or more yards week one and is available on the waiver wire, make sure to pick him up. It is almost certain he will maintain that production the entire season.

- To easily follow your fantasy players, get 12 TVs and NFL Sunday Ticket from Direct TV. If you stack them on top of each other you maximize your football viewing time and get the full fantasy experience.

- Make good use of the "handcuff" strategy of backing up one of your top players with a similar player who is currently in jail. Plaxico Burress maybe?

- To lighten up the mood on draft day, steal jokes from that ESPN fantasy ad such as "TJ Who'syomama" or take Adrian Peterson from the Chicago Bears in the last round and say "HEY I JUST GOT ADRIAN PETERSON." These jokes never get old, and your comrades will greatly appreciate the humor.

- Remember the rule of 370 -- don't take any running back that weighs more than 370 pounds. They will be likely see a significant decline in their performance.

- If your first round pick tears his ACL in the first game of the season... well, you're screwed. I can't really help you here.

- When trying to fire up your team on gameday, I find an inspired, Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday type speech usually does the trick. Remember, these players won't perform to their fullest unless you motivate them for your cause.

- If you draft Brett Favre, be prepared for the media circus that will ensue. He also likely won't show up for your team's training camp.

- Make sure to draft players that aren't gunshot prone.

You're welcome for the tips, and good luck in your upcoming fantasy drafts!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Don't Wear Jeans

By now most people are aware that I am insanely anti-conformist -- and not in the cool way. While the right amount of anti-conformity can be edgy and hip, I take it way too far to the point that it becomes ridiculous and actually kind of sad. In my highly liberal Jewish middle school I supported George W. Bush just to piss off my classmates. I wrote a paper in high school about how being in a soma universe would actually be kind of fun. I wrote another paper about how John Proctor from The Crucible wasn't a hero, but actually kind of an idiot. Basically, if there is a logical view-point that a vast majority of people agree with, I will almost always go the opposite way, often for no reason other than to be different.

This phenomenon best manifests itself in my disdain for jeans. Yes, jeans. You know, those comfortable pants that look good, are affordable, durable, and require fairly infrequent cleaning? I don't wear them. I can usually be seen wearing my usual cargo pants, with tons of pockets that I almost never use for anything.

I imagine most people who have met me have wondered why I don't just put some jeans on. They may even occasionally wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering "why doesn't Josh wear jeans?! THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE AND USEFUL." Well, another layer of mystery is about to be removed. Hopefully now you will sleep well.

Like a lot of things I dislike, the reason I don't wear jeans mostly comes down to their popularity. They're a good product that clearly a lot of people enjoy -- and that's the problem. The truth is, anything that is as popular as jeans are kind of freaks me out a bit. It makes me think that we're all close to becoming clones that all dress and act the same. I also don't really think people are particularly smart, so when the majority of the population accepts something, I automatically assume that it is wrong. This is the way my mind works, unfortunately.

The other issue is that I have pretty much lost my chance to ever be a jeans wearer. If I, at age 19, were suddenly to show up wearing jeans for the first time in my life, it would be a pretty wild scene. I can't imagine myself ever wearing jeans, and I doubt anyone else can either. That ship has sailed. It'd be like the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer finally puts on jeans, and all of his friends just laugh at him. I might as well show up with an eye patch or a monocle if I'm going to suddenly start wearing jeans now.

So now I don't wear jeans. Forever. I have made my decision, and now must live with the consequences. Fortunately, I don't think I'm missing out on anything too awesome. And when the entire jeans wearing world have become mindless drones enslaved by an evil race of aliens, I'll be standing on the side with my cargo pants on, laughing at everyone as one of our new alien overlords hands me a whip and welcome me as one of their own. Then we will see who is laughing. Or not, I don't really know what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Popular Things I Hate: Family Guy (Part One of a 5,000 Part Series)

A cursory glance at my "favorite TV shows" section of my profile will reveal a potentially shocking omission: Family Guy is conspicuously absent from the list, making me possibly the only college aged male who doesn't list it. Is that a mistake? Was I in a hurry and just forgot to mention Family Guy? Did I just figure that a 19 year old male liking Family Guy was assumed and feel it was unnecessary to even bother listing it? Nope. It was no accident. Believe it or not, I actually hate Family Guy.

In fact, hate may be a severe understatement. I do not just hate Family Guy -- I loathe it with every fiber of my being. While things like getting good grades and making friends don't really elicit strong emotions from me, just thinking about Family Guy makes me incredibly angry. If the punishment for getting a C in high school was being forced to sit through every episode of Family Guy, it's possible that I would be at Harvard right now.

But what exactly is my problem with Family Guy? Well, there are so many that I could probably get at least a week's worth of entries out of it. But let's start with the obvious: Family Guy is a sad, pathetic ripoff of The Simpsons. Peter Griffin basically is Homer Simpson, except much less funny. Even the Family Guy style of humor involving frequent flashbacks is completely stolen from early Simpsons episodes.

Unfortunately, Family Guy isn't even able to be a good Simpsons knock-off. The things that make The Simpsons great like satire and character depth are noticably absent, instead being replaced by a barrage of sophomoric humor aimed at the ADD generation. While an ending of a Simpsons episode could make you laugh and cry at the same time, the end of a typical Family Guy episode usually makes you wonder if network TV can possibly go any lower. While Homer Simpson is mostly a likable goof, Peter Griffin is a hateful, one dimensional slob. While The Simpsons aims high and usually has intelligent social commentary, Family Guy has a talking dog and an evil baby. To be blunt, Family Guy is The Simpsons for people that are too stupid to get The Simpsons.

There is also nothing more pathetic than when Family Guy attempts a "controversial" episode. Any TV show that goes out of its way to try be controversial is almost guaranteed to be terrible. Shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and South Park were able to be controversial and tackle taboo issues, but it always felt organic. When Family Guy does it, it feels kind of like that teen soap opera that shows two girls kissing and acts like it's a huge deal -- when about 900 shows have done the same thing. Like most of the things on the show, Family Guy's attempts at controversy are not even remotely original or funny, and usually have the subtlety of a guy getting mauled by a rhinoceros.

After all this is when Family Guy supporters usually the bust out the "whatever, it's subjective and I find it funny" card. That's cool, but to be honest, this many people finding Family Guy funny makes me sincerely worry about the future of human civilization. There is absolutely no universe in which Family Guy is ever better than The Simpsons, or pretty much every other animated show ever made. When people say they prefer Family Guy to The Simpsons, it makes me question whether this is a person I can ever have a meaningful, constructive conversation with.

Quite frankly, the success of this show boggles my mind. I consider myself an intelligent person who can usually look at things objectively and see what appeals to people, but Family Guy has left me questioning everything. Perhaps I'm naive to think that people like stuff because it has artistic merit, and not because it has a lot of funny fat jokes and AIDS jokes. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong for thinking that people should seek out original shows that actually challenge the viewer instead of an unoriginal show that offers crass humor that is sure to be understood by anyone with an IQ over 50. Or maybe I'm the only sane person in this crazy world we live in.

Whatever. I'm going to go watch some Simpsons DVDs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Analyzing the MLB Trade Deadline in a Nerdy, Inaccessible Fashion

The trade deadline has come and gone, with a decent amount of high profile players changing into different uniforms. However, many people are still unsure what to make of all the wheeling and dealing. If only someone would look at these deals and arbitrarily award a team a winner or a loser before any of the prospects pan out or the players play more than three games with their new teams! There is no need to fear ladies and gentlemen, it's 2 AM and I'm really bored, so I am your man. Turn off ESPN, those guys in suits don't know what they're talking about.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on some of the bigger deals:

The Padres trade Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell.

I think the Padres destroyed the Sox in this deal. Of course most people are still in "OMG JAKE PEAVY" mode and are ignoring that the White Sox gave up tons of players from their farm system, including top prospect Poreda and Richard, who is already producing in the majors.

A bigger issue I have is with Peavy, the centerpiece of the deal. For one thing he is currently on the DL and has injury problems, and is unlikely to pitch until September. The other issue is that, to put it bluntly, Peavy is just plain overrated.

Peavy has spent his entire career playing in a weak division in a weak league and in Petco Park, the best pitcher's park in baseball. In his career at home, Peavy matches his Cy Young reputation with a 2.83 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Away from Petco? Peavy has a merely solid 3.84 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. When you factor in that Peavy is going to be facing tougher hitters in a new park that favors offense, it's possible that the Sox traded all this for an average 4.00-4.20 ERA starter, and that's not even factoring in his many injury issues. Not exactly worth all those prospects, or Peavy's massive contract.

The Mariners trade Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles

This is another AL Central deal that got a lot of hype, as the Tigers added a solid starting pitcher in Washburn. Looking at Washburn's stats for this season, one would think this was a tremendous coup for the Tigers, when in reality it's not quite that good.

Washburn is so far having the best season of his career, with a superb 2.64 ERA. Unfortunately the Tigers, it looks like things are about to change. For one thing his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is a much more Washburn-like 3.75, so his ERA is already nearly certain to regress a decent amount.

Also working against Washburn is that he will no longer have the best outfield defense in the majors behind him. Much of his strong ERA was because of the great work of his team defensively, particularly Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. Moving to a team with a worse outfield defense (hello Magglio Ordonez), you can expect Washburn's ERA to drop further.

Wasburn's projection for the rest of the season is a 4.50 ERA according to the ZIPS projection system. The Tigers didn't give up that much in the deal so it's still a good trade for them, just not as good as it may look on first glance.

The Twins trade Tyler Ladendorf to the A's for Orlando Cabrera

Time for the obligatory Twins analysis. This is another in a long string of pointless moves made by the Twins, with the intention of making fans think they're busy and actually trying to improve the team.

Cabrera has historically been a decent player, but this year his defense has gone bad (this could be a small sample size, but since he's 34 it's a definite possibility) and he's continued to suck at the plate. While he hits for a decent .280 average, he never walks (a dismal .318 on base percentage) and doesn't hit for much power (.365 slugging percentage). Those are just this year's statistics though, and it's possible Cabrera rebounds to something more like his career .274/.322/.397 line. That's still not particularly good.

For the Twins, Cabrera certainly represents an upgrade over Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. Then again, so does a lamp post with a hat and a baseball glove taped to it. Punto and especially Casilla (who has no business being on an mlb roster) are two of the worst regulars in the game who will continue to receive playing time because they do the little things like bunt, run kind of fast, and slide headfirst into bases which do not require headfirst sliding.

The bigger problem is that there were better alternatives available, who likely would not have commanded a price much steeper than Cabrera. The Jays were desperately shopping their SS Marco Scutaro, who is a vastly better player than Cabrera thanks to a .389 on base percentage. His ability to draw walks and get on base would have been welcome hitting between fellow OBP machines Denard Span and Joe Mauer, right ahead of a solid line of power hitters.

Now I'm not going to pretend like I knew what the Blue Jays were asking for Scutaro, but it's hard for me to believe it was that much considering he's a free agent after this season and the Jays are out of contention. To me it looks like another case of the Twins still being cavemen when it comes to evaluating players, especially hitters. Time and time again, this team manages to pick the worse of two options, usually picking the slappy "fundamentally sound" player over the guy who is actually good at baseball. Instead of getting a legitimate option that could have put this team over the top, we got another typical Twins hitter who won't draw walks or get on base. While this isn't surprising coming from a team that let go of David Ortiz and chose Rondell White over Frank Thomas, it continues to be depressing. While the top teams in the American League are starting to embrace statistics and are evaluating players correctly, the Twins continue to fall behind by not simply looking at the "OBP" column.

Especially after getting thrashed two days in a row by the Angels, this isn't exactly a great time to be a Twins fan. Both of our division rivals upgraded their teams for the present (even if the White Sox sold out their future to do so) while the Twins once again made a minor, borderline pointless move.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Awesome Things from My Childhood: The Wayside School Books

I've been in a nostalgic mood lately, so I thought I'd look back on one of my favorite book series as a little kid: the Wayside School books. Written by Louis Sachar (who later went on to write Holes), these stories offered a lot of humor and surrealism that made them stand out over the normally lame children's books.

Of course the best book of the series was the original, Sideways Stories From Wayside School. Here we are first introduced to the school that was built 30 stories high with one room on each story thanks to an error by the builder. The school was also known for mysteriously not having a 19th floor, because the builder accidentally put the 20th floor right over the 18th.

The stories focus on the group of students on the 30th floor and their various teachers. Nearly all of the stories in this book are so absurd that they make Alice in Wonderland look like a lucid and realistic tale. Most of them were humorous, but some were legitimately scary (the story of Ms. Gorf being turned into an apple and eaten by the janitor immediately comes to mind).

Some of the best stories in this book also include morals or lessons learned by the students included in all the surrealism. While Bebe Gunn churns out an insane amount of art in each class period, it is her sidekick Calvin whose one drawing ends up being the best. Class bully Terrence gets punished for stealing balls at recess by being kicked over a fence. The three Erics are often judged solely by their names and not by their actual character. All of these stories were interesting and funny, but also contained lessons that a kid could subconsciously understand.

For me, the most memorable character is easily Sammy. He comes into the class smelling bad and wearing many raincoats, and after insulting the class the teacher removes his raincoats one at a time, until he is revealed to be a dead rat. It makes no sense, is profoundly disturbing, and also really awesome because of that (far more interesting than reading about a fuzzy caterpillar that eats fruit).

With these books, Sachar was easily able to introduce young children to advanced ideas like surrealism, while also having productive messages hidden in the stories. They were a great way for weird kids like me to unleash their imaginations and learn to think creatively. These are the types of things that should be in every elementary school classroom, instead of boring books that knock kids over the head with morals and values or have no imagination to them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Translating Chris Johnson's Twitter

The explosion of the popular website twitter has truly been a gift upon us all. For the first time ever, regular joes like us are allowed to follow and possibly even converse with some of the biggest stars on the planet.

One such star is Tennessee Titans running back Chris "Every Coach's Dream" Johnson. Thanks to the glory of the internet, we can know what this bright young man is doing nearly all the time every day as he prepares for the upcoming football season. Because some of his twitter messages can be hard to comprehend for the average football fan, I thought I would do a service and translate a few of his memorable entries.


For starters, we can clearly see that Chris is upset, based on his excessive use of the caps lock key. Next, we look for a subject. As you can see, Mike Vick appears to be the topic of this particular entry, and Chris seems to be referring to his recent suspension from the NFL by commissioner Roger Goodell. With some more research, we can see that "THE NFL TRIPPIN" likely means that he thinks the NFL is being unjust towards Vick's situation.

Translation: "The National Football League is really being unfair towards Michael Vick. He has already been in prison for two years, so I believe a suspension of him would be superfluous. This issue angers me greatly."

July 26th, 10:47 PM -- "
Me and mike(sky)walker and @fatnmack44 dex dex big brah dco big cuz wayne and cam.We in club 23 downtown last night before seasonwe goingham"

This one appears to be much more complicated. There are many different subjects and confusing nicknames that need to be sifted through. Mike Walker is another NFL player and it appears that Chris was at a club called "Club 23" with him downtown. Dex dex, big brah, dco, big cuz, wayne, and cam are all likely members of Chris' group of friends. In fact, it appears many people were at the aforementioned club. I'm still unsure on the ham part at the end, but I will make my best effort.

Translation: "Mike Walker, Big Brother, DCO, Large Cousin, Cam, and I gathered last night at Club 23 downtown. Before the season begins, we will eat pork."

July 26th, 1:52 PM -- "
@KennyTurner3 he beat me I want lie but I aint call him out he call me out and I killed him tell him to stick to working out"

This one is somewhat easier as Christopher elects to use "he" instead of a strange nickname. We can see that some sort of trash talking is going on, but it's not clear what exactly he is talking about. "I want lie" seems to imply that he needs to lie down. Perhaps he is ill? Or maybe he wants to lie to someone. This is where we need to look at context to determine the true intended meaning of the sentence. "I killed him" also seems to imply that a murder took place at first glance, but I believe he meant that he defeated the person decisively. This one is very tricky, but once again I'll try.

Translation: "He defeated me, and now I feel ill and want to lie down. I did not call him out, it was he who called me out. I defeated him in a swift and decisive fashion. You should tell him to stick to exercising."

That was a difficult challenge, but I think I've succeeded in spreading the word of Chris Johnson and making it available to people of all ages and creeds. This man needs to be heard, and it would be a shame of anyone missed out on his wisdom.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Disturbing Hidden Messages in Music Videos

The blog-a-day-challenge has already failed -- but hey, five days in a row was pretty good for my standards (plus Sunday is the lord's day, you can't expect me to work then).

With Michael Jackson's recent death, I felt like exploring some music videos. Once the hallmark of MTV and other music stations, now they mostly are seen on youtube and from the hours of 4-6 AM. I always found it an interesting medium, as an artist tries to create a story in such a short time period, and all the while has to be lamely mouthing their words to match the song.

Most music videos don't put a ton of effort into their plot either, which can sometimes pay hilarious dividends. Here are some videos that the artist probably thought was cute or cool, but become extremely creepy once you go beneath the surface.

Justin Timberlake - "What Goes Around Comes Around"

Synopsis: Justin Timberlake meets Scarlett Johansson at a party, they become lovers, Scarlett cheats on him with friend, they fight, and she dies in a car accident.

Hidden message: This one admittedly isn't as subtle, but still deserves recognition. Just follow the chain of events from the synopsis: meet, love, cheating, fight/break up, DEADLY CAR WRECK. Apparently cheating on Justin Timberlake is now an offense that warrants the death penalty. Because you know, what goes around comes around. That is some serious hardcore justice.

However I have to admit, the dialogue in this video is first rate. I love watching this video and laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Taylor Swift - "You Belong to Me"

Synopsis: Taylor Swift is the nerdy girl next door who spends her time studying and reading, while always harboring a big crush on the boy next door. Unfortunately the boy has a cheerleader girlfriend (also played by Taylor Swift) while nerdy girl is stuck playing clarinet in the band watching him play on the football team. On prom night he asks if she's going with a cute note from his window and she says she's studying, but then she shows up and they fall in love.

Hidden message: Drop those books, put down that clarinet, and take off those glasses -- you need to get a boy! What a disturbing message for Ms. Swift to send to the impressionable youth that listen to her music. Maybe her next video will focus on her getting plastic surgery so she can finally be hot enough for that male model she's been eyeing.

On a side note, don't you think that guy would have noticed that nerdy girl looked an awful lot like the cheerleader he was dating? I mean how stupid is he? They really should have just gotten an actress to play his girlfriend instead of skimping like that, as it added a whole new level of disturbing logic to the video. Is nerdy girl actually the same as cheerleader girl and she's been living a sordid double life? Is she an evil twin of nerdy girl? I WANT ANSWERS.

Okay, so there were only two that I could think of because I don't watch that many music videos. But they were a pretty good two!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Five Songs Whose Popularity Helped Destroy My Faith in Humanity

When I say or write something deeply cynical and bitter, people will often ask "what made you this way?" or "why are you so negative?" So much so, that I began to wonder myself. So I traced back to my roots, before I was fully who I am now, to see what events could have caused me to become like this.

After researching, I think I've found at least a large reason. It's no secret that popular music is often incredibly bad -- I can live with that most of the time. However, the following songs are so bad, so irredeemably awful and devoid of any artistic value, that I began to see the world in a different light. Hearing these songs and seeing their videos on MTV is when I finally realized that something was just not right here.

5. The Baja Men - "Who Let the Dogs Out"

What started as stupid fun soon turned into a national nightmare, as "Who Let the Dogs Out" went from joke song to a full blown fad. The first couple times hearing someone say the lyrics in public was almost humorous. Unfortunately the following nine billion times weren't as tolerable.

4. Uncle Kracker - "Follow Me"

While this song isn't ear-bleedingly offensive to the senses like others that will appear on the list, it still manages to be one of the most annoying songs ever. Sometimes a song is so inoffensive that it becomes more offensive than anything you could ever imagine -- this song is a textbook example of that. With its 2nd grade valentine lyrics and one note chorus, this song is appealing to the lowest common denominator at its finest -- and it worked, as it inexplicably soared through the charts.

Possibly the biggest problem with this song and songs similar to it is that the people who enjoy the song always feel some kind of personal connection to it. "Follow me man, things are gonna be alright." That's like, so deep. The fact that these people seem to be taking relationship and life advice from a guy going by the name "Uncle Kracker" is something that severely disturbed me, and still does to this day. While the artist has mercifully disappeared off the face of the earth, this song still can be found tainting the airwaves on various light rock stations.

3. Lou Bega - "Mambo No. 5"

Like a bad rash, Lou Bega came out of nowhere to sweep America and disappeared just as quickly -- thank God. With a combination of jazz, hip hop, and mambo, Bega was admirably able to desecrate several musical genres at once with this gag inducing trainwreck of a song. Dumb pop songs have their place in culture and I respect that, but do they really need to be this dumb?

2. Limp Bizkit - "Nookie"

A fairly large number of Limp Bizkit songs could have made this list -- the band's success in general seems to be a strange abstract argument against evolution. While all of their songs are an insult to music, this one in particular was bad. Featuring Fred Durst's lame-even-for-a-white-guy rapping and crude incoherent lyrics backed by abrasive guitars, this song inexplicably became a huge hit and got heavy rotation on MTV. As a result, we as a nation were subjected to Fred Durst and people wearing their hat backwards. It's safe to say, "you can take that cookie and shove it up your (yeah)" isn't exactly the high point of American civilization.

1. Smash Mouth - "All Star"

This is it folks. The song that officially destroyed my faith in the American public. The most annoying song by possibly the worst band of all time. "All Star" swept the nation like a case of ebola virus, only slightly less painful. When I went to summer camp everyone was singing this song, and all I could think of was "for the love of god, please shut up." When hearing the song, I could actually feel the soul be sucked out of my body.

It's not just the rancid sound of the track or the kindergarden lyrics that make this so bad -- it's the prolonged exposure I've had to suffer from it since. This song simply would not go away. For nearly two years after it came out we were exposed to hearing these clowns perform at every major sport's all star game (obviously a ploy by the band to get more publicity, which makes the song even worse) and every three seconds on the radio. Shrek, a movie that until that point had been pretty good, was almost singlehandedly ruined by this song. Nothing was safe from its contaminating force.

This song singlehandedly turned me from a wide eyed young boy with hope and joy into a cynical critic. I was all set on the path to mindless conformity until I saw people singing this song in public and said "I will not become that." While the song makes me want to commit violent crimes and actually causes cancer with too much exposure, in a way I have to thank it. Without this terrible song, I would have just been a normal optimist like everyone else. And that's not really much fun.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Previewing the New Season of Hell's Kitchen

Last Tuesday the new season of Fox's cooking reality show Hell's Kitchen debuted, and so far many questions remain unanswered. Will Chef Ramsay yell "GET OUT, JUST GET OUT!" and "IT'S STONE COLD!" 25 times or 30 times per episode? Will Cocky New Yorker Who Ain't Gonna Take No Crap From Nobody version 6.0 take Ramsey outside and finally give him the beatdown he's had coming to him? Will one of the aspiring chefs sever their own hand trying to cut celery and be sent to the emergency room? We'll have to watch to find out, as 16 pseudo cooks duke it out for a chance to have their name plastered on a restaurant that Gordon Ramsay barely has any actual connection to. To save time, here are some potential highlights in store for this season:

- Chef Ramsay will finally cross the line when he strangles one of the male contestants and forces the rest of the chefs to devour his corpse.

- People will continue to dine at Hell's Kitchen, despite the rather disconcerting name, the distraction of hearing Ramsey shout obscenities at the chefs, and the fact that the restaurant is known for never getting appetizers out within an hour.

- A big time celebrity (possibly Corey Feldman or that guy from Saved By the Bell) will dine at Hell's Kitchen, only to have his steak be overcooked.

- Chef Ramsey will continue to make the nominations for elimination process irrelevant by simply eliminating the chef he wants to or feels is the worst for ratings.

- Jean Philippe will crack a funny one liner at one of the diners. Man that dude is hilarious.

- A woman will emerge victorious, finally overcoming the age old stereotype that women don't belong in the kitchen.

- One of the chefs will DIE. Or will he? You'll have to tune in next week to find out!

- The chefs will be awoken one morning at 4 AM by clanging trash cans, a college marching band, a 747 jet engine, and a live performance by classic rock group ACDC.

- The answer to the question "WHO COOKED THE RISOTTO?" will finally be answered, and it will surpass all expectations.

- Chef Ramsay will run into controversy with animal rights group PETA after referring to one of the less talented female chefs as a "cow".

Overall, this should be the most exciting and unpredictable season of Hell's Kitchen yet. I mean, didn't you see that montage at the beginning?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Revisiting Daria

Sometimes a TV show we vaguely remember kind of liking from our childhood is seen later and enjoyed on an entirely different level. For me, that show is MTV's cult favorite Daria. It aired from 1997-2002, and I remember occasionally watching it and being amused, but at the same time not entirely understanding what I was seeing.

Now, thanks to the magic of youtube and soon a long awaited DVD release, I've been able to enjoy the show. And now, after going to high school and just in general becoming a more bitter and disillusioned person, the show has instantly become one of my favorites.

The show's bespectacled heroine, Daria Morgendorffer, is an extremely cynical and smart girl. The show chronicles her through her high school years, dealing with her eccentric family (including her popular sister Quinn) and the general absurdity of her suburban town. Daria is famous for wearing the same green jacket and boots, and rarely showing emotion unless it is a smile at the expense of someone else's misfortune.

The show is unflinchingly funny, with most of the humor coming from Daria and her friend Jane's sarcastic quips about the world around them. High school stereotypes, cliques, and impending college doom are all satirized perfectly. The characters are nearly all interesting and well rounded. I'm actually amazed a show this intelligent lasted so long on a channel like MTV (no offense to MTV fans... actually offense to them, what do I care).

For people like me who missed this show the first time around, I can't recommend it enough. It might be the funniest high school show ever on TV. An anonymous hero has uploaded most of the episodes onto youtube, and you can watch them here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Blog-a-Day Challenge

This will come off as a lame post (I preface a lot of my writing with cautionary messages, as if I don't want people to read it), but I think it's time I actually challenged myself and tried to be vaguely productive.

People familiar with me know that I generally prefer not talking to people or adventuring particularly far from my comfort zone. I don't leave the house unless it's absolutely necessary or I'm forced to, and rarely strike up conversations with people. I usually look detached from the world around me. I have a feeling a lot of people perceived me as being weird or antisocial (I always preferred the term "reclusive", since it has more of a genius, Howard Hughes-esque quality to it).

All this is why I've always liked expressing myself through writing. My lifelong dream for the last year or so has been to operate a blog and improve my writing (a fairly pathetic lifelong dream really, I guess president of the United States and astronaut were too unattainable) -- unfortunately I'm incredibly lazy even about things I enjoy doing, so I'd always write one entry and put it off. Often I'd get stuck trying to think of a clever enough name for the blog -- something eye popping and clever that would rake in the readers and make me an internet phenomenon. Ferrets on a tractor was a personal favorite after the short lived Snakes on a Plane sensation.

So, two days ago I joined the rampant internet cocaine binge that is Facebook, and I am already hooked. I feel like Tony Montana from Scarface, constantly in a search for more Facebook power. There is a huge pile of Facebook on my table and I want to stick my nose in it. Even while sporting a tiny list of friends and having a sadly blank wall that doesn't include a picture of me, I can already feel its tempting powers wrapping around my torso like tentacles.

Joining Facebook seems to have sparked something in me. I'm not sure if it's healthy yet, but I've had a sudden proactive urge to do stuff. So with this in mind, I've decided to make my former blog fantasy a reality. I will attempt to write an entry every day for as long as possible, until I either feel like I've accomplished enough or collapse and die from exhaustion. Each entry will be conveniently linked on my facebook wall for your personal enjoyment.

My expectations are rather low -- I don't actually expect people to read this crap. I'm pretty much doing this for myself as a personal challenge, and just to have fun with it. If I accomplish that, it will be a victory for me.

Anyways, I just realized I wrote a really long blog entry about me writing a blog. That's kind of pathetic. But I guess I have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bring on the Robots

Now is a good time to be starting an angry Twins based blog. Two backbreaking losses in a row, one which was caused by Ron Gardenhire's usual terrible managing and another at least partially caused by one of the worst game deciding calls I've ever seen in my life.

After blowing a 10 run lead, I didn't think I'd come in here making excuses -- I created this blog with full intentions of going into a long, possibly profanity laden rant about how terrible Gardenhire and various members of the Twins are. However, given the ridiculous ending of the game, it seems fitting to take it in a slightly different direction.

In case you haven't seen the play yet, the Twins were down a run in the 9th inning when A's pitcher Michael Wuertz threw a wild pitch. Catcher Kurt Suzuki couldn't find the ball, and Michael Cuddyer hustled around third attempting to score the winning run. While the ball got to the plate before Cuddyer did, he quite obviously slid underneath the tag. The game should have been tied. Instead, Cuddyer was called out by the home plate umpire, capping a truly monumental Twins loss.

Basically, the Twins had this game taken away from them by an umpire. Now I know an umpire's job is difficult, but it's amazing to me that baseball won't even review or try to fix a call that is so important. One game like this can make or break a team's season -- just refer to the Twins last year, who fell in a one game playoff with the White Sox to lose the division title. Baseball has gone on too long with this tradition of "human error" interfering with what the players do on the field.

Baseball has a decision to make. To me, it's an absolute no brainer to add instant replay in situations like this that have massive implications on the outcome of the game.

Many people see this as opening a can of worms and eventually doing away with umpires entirely - personally, I don't see a problem with that. Umpires are an archaic, outmoded tradition, and if it were up to me we'd do away with them entirely. They get paid to get calls right and especially this season they haven't even been able to do that correctly. We have the technology to look up and see any call, to map balls and strikes instead of having a human guess if it is one or not. It's time to stop wasting money on umpires because of some outdated notion that baseball needs a "human element".

The game should be decided by the players, not by umpires. Last night's game was an example of far too many this season that have been tainted by inefficient umpiring. It's time for baseball to finally make a change.