Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thumbing My Way Back To Soundtracks

So there's a new movie coming out called Into The Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer about an adventurous young man who abandons his life as he knows it and goes out into the world "to live deliberately," as it were. The soundtrack is by Eddie Vedder - nine new songs and two covers (and, apparently, some iTunes bonus tracks).

Tonight after work, I toddled over to the Castleton Best Buy to see if they had the record and how many United States dollars they were demanding in exchange for one copy. Naturally, I ventured into the aisle containing soundtracks since it is, in fact, a soundtrack. No dice. Not even one of those plastic dividers labeled with the name of the picture.

How silly of me to have expected a soundtrack to be located with other soundtracks. What was I thinking? I had also read that this was being billed as Ed's first solo album (sort of like the soundtrack to The Graduate is thought of as a Simon & Garfunkel album - it is and it isn't), so I wandered down the aisle with the V artists. There seemed at that point not to be any dice anywhere in the store. Of course, I never go into Best Buy looking for My Chemical Romance records, Xbox games, or movies by Judd Apatow on DVD, so I'm usually behind in the count before I even step through the door.

Am I too idealistic? Is it really too much to ask to file a soundtrack with the rest of the soundtracks and not in the fucking Pearl Jam section (which is where you will find the soundtrack for Into The Wild at the Best Buy in Castleton)? Who are the people who are going to know about this record and actually think it's a Pearl Jam record? The band barely went gold with the most recent album, so it's pretty much just real fans of the band buying the stuff. Anyone who wants this soundtrack is going to know first that it's a soundtrack and second that it's Ed's first solo album.

I didn't buy it - went to the Castleton Borders instead to get a couple of books for Ryan and Heather as wedding gifts, and the latest edition of Best American Short Stories (guest-edited this year by Stephen King) for myself. The location of the Into The Wild soundtrack at this store? In the V section of Pop/Rock, filed as an Eddie Vedder solo album. Not entirely correct, but getting warmer.

Dorothy Mae Butts - A Picture!

Dione came by with a picture of little Dot the other day, and Helena took it home and scanned it, and now here I am posting it up in the ol' Blog-O-Rama for the whole world to see! Huzzah! Okay, so it will really be for just the one or two of you out there who are interested and who might not yet have seen it. Here you go...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jackson's First Trip To The State Museum

Finally got some shots of the little guy smiling today. We went to the State Museum after lunch downtown at Bazbeaux (the Basilica pizza with black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, and pesto sauce rather than tomato sauce) and walked around for a bit. The one shot of him smiling here was the best of the three that I got. The other two are just goofy-looking expressions that made me laugh when I snapped them.

Also got some shots of the Foucault pendulum, which was always one of my favorite things to check out when the museum was in the old City Hall building at Alabama and Ohio. It's not the same in the new building - a spiral staircase does not create the same sort of image as four levels of concentric ovals leading the eye up to the stained glass at the top - but at least they kept it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Amusing Sports Anecdotes

Here’s a great quote from Len Pasquarelli, a senior writer for ESPN and one of two guys I always read when I want good quality NFL information (the other is John Clayton). The quote concerns Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who has had his ups and downs with the Bears over the years. Pasquarelli’s latest column discusses the idea that the Bears should finally sack up and bench Rex the Wonderdog, and I have no real opinion about this because it has no bearing on whether the Colts repeat as World Champions Of All Football. The Patriots and Colts are playing so well right now that there aren’t many teams in the AFC that can compete with them, and there is but one single, solitary team in the NFC that has any hope (the Dallas Cowboys).

Pasquarelli notes that Grossman was so bad Sunday night that it seemed as though the Bears were relying on a strategy of trying to hold Dallas to field goals and hoping that return man Devin Hester could run back every kick for a touchdown. Here’s the quote:

“Had Dallas kicker Nick Folk booted the ball into the Shedd Aquarium across the street from Soldier Field, Hester might have dived into the shark tank after it, hoping to swim his way to a touchdown.”

There’s something about quotes that reference landmarks outside the stadium as being potential fields of play that always amuses me. There was one from Keith Olbermann, many years ago now, when he was going through highlights of Morten Andersen, who at the time was kicking for New Orleans. The highlight reel showed Andersen makng a series of very long field goal kicks, and Olbermann narrated it something like this, though this is paraphrased:

“Morten Andersen from the fifty yard line...bang! Morten Andersen from downtown Shreveport...bang! Morten Andersen from an oil derrick in the gulf...bang!”

Can I get away with one more of these? This one was from at least as far back in the day as the previous one, and it was from Brett Haber, the former tag team partner of Craig Kilborn when they hosted the morning “Feel Good Edition” of SportsCenter. The highlights were (I think) of the Oklahoma State (nickname Cowboys) men’s basketball team, and the reel started out with a shot of their sideline mascot, dressed in cowboy garb and mugging for the camera. Haber’s quote, yelled out quite enthusiastically:

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Getting In Touch With My Vegetarian German Patriotic Side

I haven’t decided to give up meat altogether - nor even come to any firm conclusion as to what it means to “give up meat.” Does that mean just red meat? Meat from animals that walk on the ground (as opposed, say, to seafood)? Or does it mean anything you eat that once had a face?

And how far do you go? Just the flesh? Or does beef stock count, too? How about pork rinds (although the very thought of that makes me want to give up eating altogether)?

These are just random thoughts, as I sit back and consider that I haven’t eaten any meat in the last three days (unless the salad shrimp in my antipasto salad from Bazbeaux count as meat), which was a conscious decision rather than an accident. Oh, and the Mexican gumbo I had from Zteca on Friday had chicken stock as a base, I’m pretty sure.

I’m sure that temptation will prove the stronger before too long, in some form or another (the most likely being chicken or sausage in whatever I eat the next time I to go Yats), and that this will wind up being more of a hobby than a real lifestyle choice.

I was noshing on the aforementioned salad this evening during a moment of rare (but quite nice) solitude in my piece of shit house, while watching the Rush R30 DVD, which I purchased today because Josh was kind enough (I think) to mention that the version of “Between The Wheels” on the R30 album was really good. Turns out the deluxe version of the R30 DVD has a 2-CD set of the concert - unlike the Rush In Rio DVD, the CD version was not sold under separate cover.

Any other band and I would not have cared. But this is Rush. If I had to pick one band from which to cull the soundtrack of my dumb little life, it would be Rush - no other band would even be close. Pearl Jam would be a distant second. (No, I’m not going to make a John-O: The Soundtrack list or anything.)

So I was at Borders downtown this afternoon (and almost picked up the new short stories edition of the Best American series, with Stephen King as guest editor) and broke down and got the deluxe edition of the R30 DVD. So there I was, volume jacked up, Bazbeaux salad spread out on the coffee table, meat picked out and set off to one side, except for those shrimp, air-drumming like an idiot and singing along to what turned out to be a really good DVD.

I could have been watching the Cowboys-Bears game on Football Night In America, but I just wasn’t that interested. I’m not super-enthused about this NFL season, even though the Colts are off to a 3-0 start, with two of those wins coming on the road against division teams they lost to on the road last year. I was even less interested because the game was between two NFC teams. The NFC isn’t just bad - it’s awful. The Cowboys are the best team going away, and they’re going to get beat the crap out of in the Super Bowl by the Patriots. (The Bears won’t go back to the Super Bowl because they’re about to have a quarterback controversy, and that’s not good news; and the Colts won’t go back to the Super Bowl because they can’t beat New England.)

I am satisfied that this post is reasonably random, but on the off chance that it is not, please click here to read a story about a guy who was arrested for allegedly beheading a duck at a hotel.

Now playing on iTunes:
“Rollaround” by Rebuilt

Eastern Promises

Director David Cronenberg implored an interviewer not to give away the plot of his new film, Eastern Promises, information provided in Roger Ebert’s review, in which he discusses a number of things about the movie, but mostly avoids the plot. Given that request, I have been trying to figure out how to shape my own comments on the film without giving away too much of the plot - and it has been difficult, which is why these comments have not appeared until now, even though I saw the movie three nights ago.

Eastern Promises is a film about Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the driver for a Russian mob family based in London and doing their family business behind the guise of a fine restaurant. I can’t say for sure that Cronenberg borrowed specifically from The Godfather when he set the Russian family up with a charming, calculating patriarch (called Semyon, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) who vaguely resembles Vito Corleone; a fireball son of the patriarch, whose wild temper seems always to get the best of him and who vaguely resembles Sonny (this one called Kirill, by Vincent Cassel); and someone not of the family in a trusted role, sort of like Tom Hagen (the aforementioned Nikolai) - but the echoes are there.

Naomi Watts plays a midwife who is part Russian but does not speak the language, and she is drawn into the story when a pregnant young girl dies in childbirth on her ward. Among the girl’s possessions is a diary in Russian, which Anna cannot read. A business card inside the diary (a necessary contrivance) leads Anna to the mob family’s restaurant to see if she can get the diary translated (so she can find out how to contact the family, so that the family can take the baby, which survived).

The film then becomes a character study by way of a crime thriller, and it opens slowly (and sometimes painfully). There are elements of things being not as they seem - but since it is David Cronenberg, you must also contend with the possibility that some of the things that are not as they seem are also not as they seem they are not; and what this means is that as the story progresses and Cronenberg throws double-crosses at you, he also throws double-crosses to those double-crosses at you, and by the time you reach the end of the film, they are coming almost non-stop and stacking up so fast that you can barely keep up.

You might even come away from this film, as the credits roll and the house lights come up, thinking that there is more to come, that you have been cheated of a proper ending. Indeed, with so many movies bearing ridiculous running times, it does seem to be a bit of a cheat that this one clocks in at well under two hours - but it’s not a cheat. It is possible to have resolution without showing how every loose end is tied up.

And the reason that such a thing is possible is because the script is very tight and very carefully revealed through impeccable film editing and highly nuanced character interactions. Mueller-Stahl is excellent in his role as the mob patriarch, as cunning and brilliant as Don Corleone, but less romantic. Vito Corleone could, in some ways, be seen as an anti-hero, but this is not the case here. Mueller-Stahl infuses Semyon with very telling facial expressions and a surprising warmth that just barely conceals the malevolence lurking beneath. Cassel is over the top as Kirill - his malevolence is not remotely concealed, and he revels in it. He is impetuous and out of control in ways Sonny Corleone was not. Naomi Watts does a fine job, but there seems to be something lacking in her delivery - she seems to face every new danger with bravado rather than bravery, though she rarely plays Anna as intimidated. There’s a fine line between naïve and fearless, and I’m not sure she toes that line so much as she shuffles around its edges.

And then there’s Viggo Mortensen, who would have stolen the show, except that it was his show to begin with. He plays Nikolai with a cold, brutal control that is almost a sort of morality of its own. The addition of Anna into the plot reveals a new layer of Nikolai’s personality, and it also alters Nikolai’s trajectory in the story - though the degree of the alteration, and its scope, are elements of the plot that I am doing my best not to reveal. Everything good about Mueller-Stahl’s performance as Semyon is at work in Mortensen’s Nikolai, with one difference - Nikolai, unlike Semyon, has multiple dimensions, and Mortensen juggles them with ease.

(This is part of what I wrote about Mortensen and how he plays his character the first time I took a stab at writing this review: It is clear by Mortensen’s portrayal of Nikolai that this is a far deeper character, a far deeper person, than anyone else in the story. Most of the people we pass on the street every day are very, very ordinary - only once in a great while do we cross paths with anyone who is extraordinary. Nikolai is one of those rare souls - seemingly detached from everyone and everything, yet inextricably involved in everything; and you are drawn to this character because he understands everything about human nature and plays to the weaknesses of everyone around him.)

In a perfect world, this is the sort of picture that would rack up lots of major Oscar nominations - Actor, Director, Picture, Original Screenplay; but I suspect that there is a better chance of its being acknowledged on nomination day in smaller ways - Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Score; and that’s not to say that those aren’t fine awards - but it is to say that this is a picture that deserves to have a big Oscar night, except that it might just be a bit too taboo. And that’s a damn shame, because this is a really, really good movie.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How Can Anybody Be Enlightened - Truth Is After All So Poorly Lit

By a vote of 72-25, the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill, an amendment condemning the personal attack against General David Petraeus that MoveOn ran in the New York Times this past Monday.

The no votes on the above amendment were all Democrats, and one Independent. The yes votes were about two-to-one Republican to Democrat. The above amendment mentions General Petraeus, and only General Petraeus, by name - and refers to no one else. This amendment was proposed by Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

By a vote of 50-47, the U.S. Senate on Thursday defeated an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill, an amendment supporting the troops and decrying all personal attacks on those who have served honorably in the armed forces.

The above amendment was defeated along party lines, with a handful of Senators crossing the aisle to vote the other way. The above amendment mentions only Petraeus by name - but also refers specifically to former Senator Max Cleland and current Senator John Kerry, both of whom have previously had their integrity attacked in advertisements. This amendment was proposed by Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California.

American soldiers are still dying in Iraq for no good reason, while the Senate is wasting time passing amendments condemning MoveOn for name-calling. What’s worse is that Democrats were falling all over themselves to vote for the Republican bill that so lustily praised Petraeus for his decorated career in the military and equally lustily condemned MoveOn for having the temerity to call out Petraeus.

And it is sort of ham-handed to direct such venom at a guy like Petraeus, who’s just a puppet, regurgitating to Congress everything he was told to say by Bush and Cheney. It would have been refreshing to hear him go before Congress and tell the truth about Iraq, but no reasonable person still expects anyone propped up by the Bush administration to be honest and forthright with the American people, especially when it comes to something that might just one day get someone’s kid killed.

Things get a little bit better in one province (Anbar), and you’d think we’d won the damn thing. Of course, in a war that has no point, how do you know when it’s over? In a war that has no direction, how can you measure success? Nobody wants to get close to MoveOn, because they all have to run for re-election at some point - even if those clowns at MoveOn are right. I go back and forth on those guys. They’re liberal, which is correct, but they’re so damned confrontational. I sometimes wonder if a softer, subtler approach might not be a better idea.

There's something telling about those proposed amendments. The one proposed by Boxer condemns personal attacks against all those who have served honorably in the armed forces. The one proposed by Cornyn does not use the word honorably; it simply asks that we salute everyone who has ever served in the military - no doubt including people like Lynndie England and William Calley. Now those are model citizens. Of course, they’ll just tell you that the orders came from higher up, which is correct - but that sort of implicates the whole machine as corrupt.

Are we defending our own freedom, or are we trying to Americanize the rest of the world? And what if the rest of the world doesn’t want to be Americanized? Should we leave them alone, or is that too inconvenient for us? Or is this country just the playground bully, puffing out its chest and acting all holier-than-thou to weaker countries?

You’ll notice we’re not picking a lot of fights with countries that have nukes. You have noticed that, right? Bin Laden is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan somewhere, but we won’t go get him because Pakistan has nukes (and an unstable government), and they’re about a shish kabob away from dropping those nukes on India, which also has nukes and would return fire in a heartbeat. We don’t want to get near that. We want all of you to buy into the American Dream (by which I mean invest in the dollar), but we won’t force you to unless you’re too weak to fight back.

We’re not doing a very good job of leading by example, and the general public is not doing a very good job of making our elected leaders understand that. It’s long since time to stop swallowing the bad medicine this failed administration is pouring down our throats.

Mr. Bush, you owe us an apology. And you need to do as much as you can in your last year as president to fix this mess. If you were disgusted by the MoveOn ad, believe me, sir, it is nothing to how disgusted we are with your leadership. General Petraeus did betray us, but not by what he said before Congress. He betrayed us by accepting the appointment to be your stooge.

Now playing on iTunes:
"Travelin' Soldier" by the Dixie Chicks (which, believe it or not, is a coincidence, because I have iTunes set in alphabetical order by album title, and the album this song came from is right after the Rush album Hold Your Fire, which I was listening to because it's where I got the quote for the title of this post)

Friday, September 14, 2007

For Those Lacking Perspective, Bill Belichick And Osama Bin Laden Are Not The Same Person

Here are some thoughts on the Patriots sideline spying story that’s been the talk of the town in NFL circles this week. First and foremost, it’s not that big a deal, and the whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. What was done is not the story - who did it is the story. If Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals had been caught taping defensive signals on the sidelines, no one would have cared. But because it’s the Patriots, those NFL poster boys, it’s news.

They played dirty, but guess what, sports fans? - that ain’t news. They fake injuries to steal timeouts they don’t have the right to. But that’s also not a big deal. Peyton Manning likes to count how many defenders are on the field, and if he catches the other team with twelve guys, he’ll call a quick play to force a penalty. That’s not the same as taping calls on the sideline or faking an injury, but there’s a degree of shady there.

The next thing someone is going to say is that they broke a rule. The only problem with that is that some people see broken rules and then automatically go into black and white penalty mode, without bothering to consider perspective. What about if the guy had been back there without a camera? Is that against the rules, too? Is it against the rules for some guy to sit on the sideline and do nothing else but watch the coach on the other sideline, and then make notes about what he sees? Sure, he may not get as much information in such a permanent way as the guy with the camera - at least not right away. But the guy watching from across the field can spend the whole game doing it without fear of being found out. The guy with the camera has to be careful and covert, and won’t see as much as the guy across the field. At some point the two balance out and the benefit gained is probably a push, or bloody close to it. It’s not necessarily a silly rule - but there’s a real fine line between breaking it, bending it, and not doing anything “wrong” at all.

Plus, it doesn’t matter how many signals you steal from the other team. You could have their whole damn playbook. Your team still has to get the job done on the field. Some of what I have been reading just now about the Patriots and their signal-stealing refers to the fact that sometimes they seem to run a lot of screen plays out of nowhere - theoretically as a result of knowing that a certain defensive scheme is coming. If you’re going to throw a screen because you anticipate a blitz, then you’re going to get rid of the ball as soon as possible - immediately after the snap, or maybe with a one step drop. That screen pass is going to be nearly horizontal across the field, and the receiver will be planning to turn upfield and run with the ball after the catch. In a pressure situation like that, there is always the possibility of a bad snap, especially when the quarterback knows he’s going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. An even more likely scenario is that the receiver will turn upfield before he fully catches the ball, resulting in a drop.

And the screen isn’t a high-impact play most of the time anyway. It’s an escape, as in the previous example, or it’s a last resort, if the quarterback goes through his checks and can’t find a receiver (and in this case the pass usually goes to the tailback). That kind of fishing for an out can help a bad team, but it’s just gravy for the Patriots. For most of the teams in this league, it won’t matter if the Patriots know your signals or not - they’re going to beat you anyway.

But maybe it is a big deal. Maybe signal stealing is really what made the difference for the Patriots. Maybe this is a much more insidious thing than anybody realizes, something that needs to be stopped immediately, and punished in such a harsh way that no one will ever think of doing it again.

If that’s the case, then you need a punishment that will really make people think twice about it. Here’s the punishment - you suspend the head coach for two games, and the team he was caught cheating against gets to pick the two games. Bonus - those two games can be ANY two games, regular season or post-season, including the Super Bowl. The suspensions won’t be announced until game day, so there’s no way to prepare for it.

Here’s another reason it’s not a big deal - and more support for the idea that, regardless of what kind of illicit information you happen to come by, your team still has to go out and make plays. Don’t forget that the ascension of the Patriots had two key components. Belichick arrived as head coach in 2000, at the end of the Drew Bledsoe era in New England - a season in which the Patriots won five games.

Then along came Tom Brady, who inherited Bledsoe’s job early in the 2001 season. Belichick is in his twelfth year as a head coach - half of those with Brady as his starting quarterback in New England. In the six Brady-Belichick years, New England has won 70 regular season games. That means that in the other six years Belichick was a head coach, he won 41 games. That’s a 73% winning percentage with Brady as his quarterback and a 43% winning percentage with someone else as his quarterback. To suggest that Belichick's behavior - however bad it might have been - is the key element in New England's success since 2001 is simply folly. Take Brady out of the equation and I think you have a huge drop-off in the quality of this team. Remove Belichick and there is still a drop - but not nearly as much of one.

Sure, you’d like to see an organization as classy as New England get it done without cheating - and perhaps as a Colts fan I'm just used to seeing personal integrity (other than that of Dominic Rhodes) held up to just as much scrutiny as the win-loss record (of course, the Colts haven't been caught at it yet); but the bottom line is that this is a red herring. You could go ahead and change the rule book to allow sideline taping of signals - and I don’t suspect that much would change. The Patriots/Colts/Bears would still win way more games than they would lose - and vice versa for the Lions/Cardinals/Texans. It’s a non-story - or at least it should be.

By the way...New England hosts San Diego this week. That's a potential AFC title game preview, between two of the three teams that have a legitimate shot at playing in that game (the other team, of course, is the Colts). I'm sure the whole spying thing going down one week had nothing to do with the San Diego game the following week. But hey...what do I know? I thought Greg Oden was going to be the NBA Rookie of the Year this year, too.

(Here's an interesting opinion in support of Belichick, from MSNBC's Steve Silverman. ESPN's John Clayton, however, thinks the punishment was too light.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's All Go To The Lobby, And Grab Ourselves A Snack

Josh, newly arrived in the blogosphere, has a post here that talks about movies he has seen since 1999 that do not suck. Check out the post for his list, which is a good one, at least as far as the movies on it that I have seen.

I came up with a list of my own, though it is certainly not all-inclusive. I cut it down to ten, but even that was difficult. There are five honorable mentions that I’ll go through first, and then on to the big list. With two exceptions, all the films in the big list are ones that play to that which I hold most dear when it comes to cinema - good stories that are well acted. The two exceptions are a documentary and a thoroughly original horror movie.

The honorable mentions are:
Batman Begins - The original Batman movie definitely had more of a comic book feel to it, but this one was darker, which fits more into the theme of both Bruce Wayne and the Batman. And Christian Bale was the best Batman yet.
Little Miss Sunshine - Though a bit contrived, it works because it’s brilliantly written (Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay) and just as brilliantly acted; and though the series of events that drives the story is contrived, the situations as portrayed by the characters feel very real.
Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring - I may be daft, but I think this is the best of the three. My favorite parts of the novel were the bits that told the back story of Sauron and the One Ring and the lore of the elves in Rivendell and Lothlorien, all of which were chapters in Fellowship.
Magnolia - Multiple stories working on multiple levels, with the whole thing wrapped up in allegory. Also one of the best ensembles ever put together (fuck Crash), as well as the best acting Tom Cruise ever did.
Mulholland Dr. - Having seen Lost Highway, I was better prepared to absorb this picture, which is considerably more mind-numbing and complex. It’s the kind of movie you could see a million times and still not get. And yet you sort of do. And David Lynch is either a genius or a lunatic - but I sort of lean toward genius.

The Big List
10. You Can Count On Me - Terrific acting jobs by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, as sister and brother who have to learn how to accept each other’s vastly different lives. Nothing especially edgy or provocative here, just fine acting based in a great screenplay.

9. The Blair Witch Project - Yes, I loved this movie, and the reason I loved it is that it scared the hell out of me. I read ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King over and over again for the same reason - scares the hell out of me. I thought it was original and interesting and extremely well executed. A rare film.

8. Requiem For A Dream - Absolutely the most disturbing movie I have ever seen, this is the story of addicts who try to rise up out of their addictions and survive. They fail, but they try so hard that their ultimate loss, though inevitable and hardly pitiable, certainly has the air of tragedy. Also one of the best editing jobs I’ve ever seen. Ellen Burstyn was amazing in a role for which she was nominated for an Oscar she should have won, and might have if the Academy voters weren’t such prudes.

7. The Last King Of Scotland - A fictionalized account of Idi Amin’s descent into madness during his reign in Uganda. One of the great acting performances of all time turned in by Forrest Whitaker. The film is torridly paced, lurching violently toward an inevitable conclusion that is at turns revolting and oddly satisfying.

6. Shut Up And Sing - One of the best documentaries I have ever seen, this film turned me into a fan of the Dixie Chicks both as people and as a band - and not just because they opposed the war. The music is also very good. They were written off by their ignorant hilljack fans and managed to come back with their best record to date (Taking The Long Way), which sold a million copies without significant radio airplay and won every Grammy for which it was nominated.

5. Eyes Wide Shut - Nicole Kidman’s best performance ever, a haunting score, a great Chris Isaak song (“Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing”), and a really good story about the demons that haunt us. I saw this film at a really cool art deco-style theatre in Oak Park, Illinois, when Amy and I were there for the celebration of Ernest Hemingway’s one hundredth birthday - and though the setting played into how much I liked it, that wasn’t the whole thing. This was also Stanley Kubrick at his painstaking, meticulous best. After Full Metal Jacket, this is easily Kubrick’s best film.

4. Sideways - An excellent adaptation of an equally excellent novel, featuring some fine, fine acting by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Both sad and comic, the theme is redemption - and the backdrop of a week-long bachelor party in wine country is detailed to perfection. Had a fine score, too, if I recall correctly.

3. Far From Heaven - Julianne Moore is one of my favorite actresses, and this is one of her best pictures. Set in every idyllic 1950s suburbia that ever existed in the post-war era, this movie smashes a number of taboos related to who we are in the face of what society expects of us. Beautifully photographed and nearly perfectly acted.

2. Brokeback Mountain - Almost entirely because it’s an amazing film, and only a little bit because it was cheated out of its Best Picture Oscar because of ignorant, prudish Academy voters (once again, fuck Crash). Nearly perfect in every aspect, from photography to editing to the score (really good acoustic guitar work), to the acting - Heath Ledger was just brilliant, and Michelle Williams (Jen!) was really good, too. Also, it was adapted from a really good short story by Annie Proulx - it’s one of those rare instances where the screen version is actually superior to the material from which it was adapted.

1. Felicia’s Journey - Huh? A show of hands, please - who had already heard of this movie (other than Shane, whose DVD list says that he owns it - but has he watched it?) before they read the title a second ago? So, you remember Bob Hoskins, right - the detective who kicks Roger Rabbit in the cartoon rabbit nuts? Well, imagine him gods, almost a Hannibal Lecter kind of cat. This is a working-class horror story set in England, based on a novel by William Trevor. The photography, editing, set design, script, everything, are amazing - Atom Egoyan is a very fine director - but even these elements are nothing to the acting. Bob Hoskins is positively terrifying in the role of a bored catering manager who has a penchant for trying to help desperate young girls who are at their wit’s end. The pace here is not especially torrid - is, in fact, excruciatingly slow, because the devil is in the details, and none of this film’s secrets are revealed hastily. Odds are that you haven’t even heard of this one, and if that’s the case then run, don’t walk, to your local video store and check it out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

If There's A Bright Center To The Electorate, You're In The State That It's Farthest From

I gave up writing letters to the editor some time ago, but I still read them from time to time, though with little expectation that they will contain any sentiments that are reasonable or interesting. But I checked them online just now, and I noticed one from yesterday that actually made me happy. I don't know if this was in the print edition or not - though it would not surprise me if it were not. I'm sure the percentage of conservatives reading the print edition is far higher than the percentage of same reading the online edition - and it's the conservatives and Bushies who would most object to the letter in question. Either way, it was in the online version of yesterday's letters, and this is the link to said letter.

The gist of the letter is that, on the sixth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush should finally sack up and be the patriot he has been claiming (quite falsely) to be since he was selected by the Supreme Court to be President in 2000, despite the wish of the majority of voters in the United States that he, you know, not be. To accomplish this, the letter writer suggests that Bush first demand the resignation of Darth Cheney, then immediately ask the Senate to confirm Senator Richard Lugar to replace Cheney, the fired sithhead. Finally, upon Lugar's confirmation and swearing in, Bush should submit his own resignation.

It's an excellent idea. The reason that no one has ever really talked seriously about impeaching Bush (though he most assuredly deserves it) is that his conviction and removal from office - though enormously unlikely - would install Darth Cheney as President, which would be worse than Bush. But with Cheney's resignation on the table and Lugar sworn in as veep, kicking Bush to the curb would present no problems. Then, as President, Lugar could begin the long overdue withdrawal of our troops from Vietraq - and as a bonus, he could focus even more effort on hunting down and destroying nuclear weapons around the world, something for which he has been discussed numerous times recently in Nobel Peace Prize nomination circles. Lugar could do more good for the United States and its people than Bush has tried and failed utterly to do in six and a half years.

Pretty cool that the Star would print a letter like that on September 11th. Goes against the conservative grain in this hillbilly state, but that's long overdue. If only more freethinking people like that would stand up and make their voices heard, this redneck state might not be such a laughingstock.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some Notes On NFL Week 1

I guess it wasn’t such a good idea for the Chiefs to let Trent Green go, was it? They got shelled - shelled! - by the hapless Houston Texans this afternoon. And remember a couple of years ago, when Houston got such a hard time for taking defensive lineman Mario Williams out of N.C. State instead of tailback Reggie Bush out of USC in the draft? Well, how about this - so far this season, Williams has more touchdowns than Bush. Williams scooped up a turnover in the Texans-Chiefs game and ran it back for a touchdown. Bush’s New Orleans Saints have no offensive or special teams touchdowns - their only trip across the goal line came when cornerback Jason David stripped a ball out of Reggie Wayne’s hands on Thursday night and David ran it back for a touchdown. (Not that Williams will have more touchdowns than Bush for long, of course. It's just sort of mildly amusing. For now.)

Not that the Miami Dolphins did that much better in picking up Green - they lost in overtime to the Washington Redskins. But did you see the end of regulation in that game? Here’s what happened. The Redskins had the ball with one last shot - what’s called the Hail Mary pass, which is when the quarterback sends everybody downfield toward the end zone and then hurls the ball in that direction. I don’t even know why teams still use this play - it turns into an interception every time. Every. Single. Time. Write it down. The reason it’s always an interception is because the guys who are supposed to catch the ball are sprinting downfield toward the end zone with their backs to the ball - and the guys who aren’t supposed to catch the ball are already in the end zone, watching the ball come their way. You don’t have to be a great football analyst to figure out who has the advantage there.

What doesn’t happen every time is what happened today at the end of regulation between the Redskins and the Dolphins. Jason Campbell, the Washington quarterback, heaved the ball, and everybody went for the end zone. When the ball came down, it came down, predictably, in the hands of one of the Dolphins. The Dolphin in question was defensive lineman Jason Taylor, who did what you are taught to do in that situation. He knocked the ball down - sort of. What he actually did was sort of swat the ball horizontally, rather than knock it vertically to the ground.

Almost as soon as Taylor swatted the ball, it was snapped up by the most exciting player in the National Football League. That’s right - I’m talking about flashy punt return specialist and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

Antwaan Randle El FROM?


Now, once Randle El had the ball, he immediately juked right, which was where all the Dolphins were, instead of juking left, which was where none of the Dolphins were and where he could have scored the game-winning touchdown. But that’s not the point - the point is that he was alert enough and quick enough to make an amazing catch. (Randle El's line for the day, by the way, was five catches for 162 yards, which is going to put him second in the league in receiving yards behind Randy Moss, unless Chad Johnson has a monster game on Monday night, which is entirely possible.)

Speaking of amazing catches...did anyone (other than Maiers) see that New England-NYJ game? Randy Moss had nine catches for 183 - count ‘em, 183! - yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a 51-yard bomb from Brady (who I suspect had the cleanest post-game uniform of anyone who played today) that was thrown into (sort of) triple coverage. The J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! had two DBs and a linebacker trailing Moss, and he still caught the ball in stride and loped into the end zone unmolested. The Patriots, ladies and gentlemen, are everything that the pre-season hype promised. The offensive line was simply remarkable. Brady stood like a statue in the pocket and had gobs and gobs of time to go through all his checkdowns and find his guys.

I loves me some Colts, as you all well know. But damn. And the Patriots thrashed NYJ in the Meadowlands. Once they get Seymour and Harrison back, I don’t imagine they’ll be containable. I think the AFC championship game will feature the Colts and the Patriots again, and I think that game will also determine who will win the Super Bowl. No team in the NFC is even close to as good as the Colts and Patriots right now. (And yes, I know that things can change, and that we’ve only played one game. It’s altogether possible that the Colts defense will not play this well every week. It’s also possible that New England’s defense won’t hold up - especially in the next three games - against a team with a high-octane offense. And the unfortunate part for the Patriots is that they have two high-octane offenses in the next three games - next week they host San Diego and game four is at Cincinnati. But even if these two teams don't play every week like they played this week - they still aren't going to lose many games between them. If the porous Colts run defense rears its ugly head again, the Colts have three or four potential losses sprinkled throughout the schedule. Once the Patriots get Seymour and Harrison back, their only remaining potential loss is Indianapolis.)

That’s about the extent of my wrap-up for today. I watched what was, for me, a lot of football today, but it still wasn’t really a lot. And I can’t really start talking about stats yet, since the season is only one week old. But I did manage to watch the Colts and the Patriots in week one, and based on the highlights and scores I saw from around the league on the NBC and Fox tickers, I get the impression that it’s these two teams and then everybody else - and the drop-off is steep. There’s been a lot of off-the-field bad press concerning the NFL lately, but there is still much that is right with the league - and the Colts and the Patriots (or the Patriots and the Colts, whichever you prefer) are the two things that are most right with this league. These are the two best-run, best-respected organizations in the best-run and best-respected major league professional sports organization in the country.

Which is the better team right now? It's almost a toss-up - the Patriots won on the road, but the Saints are a better team than NYJ. The Patriots didn't turn the ball over, which the Colts did once; but the Patriots didn't force any turnovers, either - the Colts got three turnovers from the Saints. The Colts had 21 more yards of offense than the Patriots, and 3 more points; but the Patriots only gave up 167 total yards, and a scant 60 on the ground. But then again, though the New England defense gave up fewer yards, it also gave up 14 points. The Colts defense gave up only 3 points. Actually, the more you look at the box scores (Colts-Saints here and Patriots-Jets here), the more you come to realize that it really is a toss-up. Is there an edge, then? Can either of these teams be considered better than the other at this point in the season? The answer is yes, for one small reason - the Patriots won a division game on the road, and that's a more important win than a home victory against a team from the other conference. The New England Patriots, then, are the best team in the league. For now.

It's too bad these two teams can't play each other in the Super Bowl. That would be an amazing game. Personally, I don't know how you can watch either Indianapolis or New England and feel any kind of animosity toward either team. Sure it hurts if you're a fan of one and the other beats you - but these two teams are professional football at its very, very best, and it's a rivalry that's got years and years left to go. Are you ready for some football?

Friday, September 07, 2007


I started writing this at halftime, and pretty much kept going throughout the second half; and I was concerned at the end of the first half, because there were problems, which I will discuss below. But by the end of the second half, I was more than a little impressed. The Colts used tonight’s national spotlight to serve notice that the team that decimated its four playoff opponents last season is the exact same team that is starting the new regular season.

At the end of the first half, a few things are apparent. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that Manning and his passing offense are not sharp; his pass velocity might even be a bit too fast for this early in the season - but this is likely to change in the second half. I expect the second half to be classic Colts second half football - a takeaway that leads to points and a quick march down the field, to take the fight out of the opponent.

The New Orleans secondary was enormously disrupting in the first half - the New Orleans defense overall was much better than I had thought it would be - but Manning was not quick to make adjustments to busted routes and blown plays. I can’t recall another Colts game I have ever watched where Manning had so many of his passes tipped or knocked away. I counted at least three there in just the first half of tonight’s game.

On the other hand, Freddy Keiaho has introduced a revolutionary new form of rush defense, whereby he will use a tailback’s own offensive lineman (John Stinchcomb) to make the tackle; and then, just for good measure, he’ll reach up and grab Reggie Bush’s shoestrings, just to make sure the play is good and over.

The second obvious thing is that it looks like we’re not going to miss retired left tackle Tarik Glenn nearly as much as I thought we would. Tony Ugoh has performed admirably protecting Manning’s blind side - Manning looked perfectly comfortable in the pocket, and even though his poise has developed enormously over the years, a Manning that did not feel good about his left tackle would have looked more harried in the pocket than this Manning did in the first half.

Third, the pass rush - and perhaps Dwight Freeney? - were not in the building at all, at least until right there at the end of the half. Even with losses in personnel, this is still a dominant defensive line capable of generating a lot of sacks. The Saints have a good O-line, but Brees had way too much time in the pocket. The Colts are not a pressure defense, of course, but there are far too many sacks waiting in the persons of Freeney, Mathis, and Brock for Brees to have been that free and clear for the first thirty minutes.

I liked the play that called Kenton Keith’s number on the play after Addai went down - it gives your unproven tailback a chance to shine in a low-impact high-pressure situation, lets him know that this is the NFL and this is the real thing - and when we call your number, you’d better be ready to play. He answered with a strong 7-yard run. That was good play-calling on the part of the Colts, as opposed to the 52-yard field goal attempt the Saints tried early in the first half, on I think their second drive. You miss that and you give the World Champions Of All Football great field position on their second drive, which the Colts used to burn the Saints and put the first points on the board. I like the idea of that play, which shows that Sean Payton isn’t afraid to make gutsy calls in a hostile environment against an elite team; but the problem is that there’s no upside unless it works, and this one didn’t. The Saints weren’t actually broken until the successive Colts touchdowns to start the second half - but seeing the Colts score a touchdown on a long pass to Harrison was a signal of what was to come; they weren’t broken, but when Harrison’s left foot dragged along the ground, they had to know that they were going to be broken.

Something I noticed in the one pre-season game I saw bits of is something that showed up tonight, too - Antoine Bethea is going to be an impact safety this season. His field vision is developing rapidly, as evidenced by his sharp closing speed and precise tackles. He also has clearly picked up some pointers from Bob Sanders in the hitting department, because Bethea is putting monster shots on guys. Marlin Jackson showed some of this in that same pre-season game (it was one of the two in the middle, I don’t remember which one), and now that he’s going to have a full season at his natural position, I’m expecting good things from the secondary this year.

The Colts forced a three-and-out on the first Saints drive of the second half, with an overall sharper look than they had in the first half; and they tightened up nicely for the second Saints drive, as well. On the third Saints drive, they did cause that turnover that I called for - and it was Freddy Keiaho going high into the air to pick off a pass that Drew Brees threw under the kind of pressure he didn’t have to face in the first half. And then another turnover with about eight minutes left to go in the fourth - Robert Mathis got to Brees a split second before his arm came around, and out came the ball. Mathis fell on it for the second Colts takeaway.

The first Colts drive of the second half was that quick march down the field that I was talking about. The second long pass to Harrison was a well-run route, a smoother-looking play than the touchdown pass in the first half, which was just a little bit ahead of Harrison (though definitely very pretty); the second-half pass caught Harrison right in stride. And even though it wasn’t the turnover and a long drive that I predicted, it was two strong touchdown drives in the first nine minutes of the second half. In fact, on the first play of the Saints drive after the second touchdown, they got to Brees, who barely got an incomplete screen pass off before he went down. The second touchdown pass to Wayne was also right in stride.

And the bottom line tonight is - the Colts did what the Colts do. They made adjustments at halftime based on what they saw in the first half, and those adjustments were exactly what was needed to achieve success. The Saints figured to be one of the better teams the Colts had to play this season (along with the Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots - and though I acknowledge that the Colts might lose a game to both Jacksonville and Tennessee, I don’t think those are good teams - I think those are teams that are a year away), but they presented virtually no challenge. Granted, they are not the Chargers or the Patriots - and I’d be so much less worried about the Patriots if we had been lucky enough to get them in the first four weeks, given the defensive personnel they are not going to have during those weeks - but the Saints are a good team, and they got manhandled tonight.

And hopefully Jason David doesn’t feel too bad about getting burned so much. He looked pretty sloppy, but lots of people have been burned that badly. Elvira. Joan of Arc. The tanning bed girls in Final Destination 3. He’ll bounce back - but he won’t have two Super Bowl rings at the end of this season. His former teammates just might.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

It'll Change Your Life And Break Your Heart

Speaking of books, I started reading a novel called Middle Age: A Romance a couple of days ago. This novel falls squarely (or maybe rectangularly?) into that category of books on my shelves that are destined for one reading and then a trip to Half Price Books. It's by Joyce Carol Oates, who seems to be one of those rare authors who is both prolific and talented. I have never read anything she has written until now, which seems sort of odd, because I am such a book nerd and she is so well thought of.

Some writers are prolific and untalented (Dean Koontz, John Grisham); some writers are prolific and marginally talented (Anne Rice*); some writers are extremely talented but not especially prolific (Jonathan Franzen, Bret Easton Ellis, Tom Perrotta); some writers had talent once but then crossed the line into prostitution and lost their street cred, at least with me (Thomas Harris, Michael Crichton**); and some writers, though they are rare, are both prolific and extremely talented (Stephen King). There are also writers who have written an amazing first novel and clearly need to write more, soon (Elizabeth Kostova and Rex Pickett).

But back to Joyce Carol Oates. Her name first came up recently when I picked up an issue of Salmagundi in large part because its cover trumpeted a new novella by Joyce Carol Oates called "Papa At Ketchum, 1961." This caught my eye a little bit because of her name, but mostly because of the title. (The issue also contains an essay called "Marilynne Robinson & Religion," which sounded vaguely interesting. Marilynne Robinson wrote a book called Gilead, which everybody and their mother seems to think is the greatest thing since communion wafers, but which I thought was ponderous and boring. But then, not being especially open to whatever religious message it might have been trying to send, it's possible that I was not the target market.)

Oates came up again the other night when I found myself needing to start a new book, being more than halfway done with the two books I was already reading, and wanting to start something that I thought had a pretty good shot at being a book that I would read once and then want to get rid of. I'm about fifty pages into it, and I have to admit that it's pretty good, although she throws around sentence fragments like she's getting paid for them. I took a course called College Research And Review my senior year in high school (it was commonly called College Comp), and the teacher, Mr. Neal Shortz, assigned weekly compositions based on reading done in class on Monday. You got an automatic 65 (a bad grade) if your composition contained even one little run-on sentecne OR sentence fragment. I learned a lot about writing from that guy, but he never mentioned that you could pepper a novel with fragments and still be thought of as probably the most important woman of letters ever to emerge from America.

There's not really a point to this. Sometimes these things have no point. It's part of their charm. I'm outta here. (Actually, the point is sometimes to make someone chuckle. I hope that I have succeeded.)

* What I have read of The Vampire Chronicles is really good, and I have heard good things about the Mayfair witches books, though I have not read any of them. But Servant Of The Bones sucked, as did what I was able to get through of Pandora. Oddly, though, Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt was pretty good. Actually, it was really good.

** This is somewhat disingenuous. I actually liked two Thomas Harris novels, although they were essentially the same story told with different characters (Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs). I have only liked one Michael Crichton novel (Jurassic Park), hated one (Sphere), and thought another was an okay read but an act of prostitution (The Lost World.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In The Crannies And The Nooks There Are Books To Read

I ran across this article on MSNBC last week, and it just screamed to be blogged about. I have no good explanation for why I have not gotten around to blogging about it until now, so without further ado - here we go.

An AP-Ipsos poll released last Tuesday shows that just a little over one out of four adults in this country, 27%, did not read one single book last year. Not a single one. The poll shows that the average reader got through four books last year. If you factor out the people who didn’t read any books last year, the average for readers goes up to seven.

I think that’s sort of sad. Actually, I think that’s really sad - but then again, books were my first babysitters. My mom tells me that when I was very young, she would put me to bed in my crib with a stack of books, and there I would be, reading - or perhaps just holding them in my hands and pretending to read, who knows - when she came in to wake me up.

So I’m biased. I love to read. I’ve got oodles of books. When we moved out of our apartment, my buddy Steve helped us, and he said this during the part of the move when we were carting out boxes full of books: “John, stop reading!” (Moving boxes full of books is not fun - they are big and bulky, especially when I pack them.)

And wouldn’t you know it...I keep a reading log. Believe it or don’t. Hard to believe I could ever get girls to associate with me, right? Anyway...after I read that article, I checked my reading log to see how many books I finished in 2006. Turns out it was 42, which does not include the handful of books (6) I started and did not finish (most of which were ones I started but had to return to the library before I could finish them because they were on hold for someone else) and also does not include the small number of books (3) I was in the middle of at the end of last year but did not finish until this year.

So...want to know which books I read last year? (Okay, probably you don’t, but this is my blog, right? Hahahahahaha!) In order of when I finished them, they are:

The Chronicles Of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
Evolution - Edward Larson
Lunar Park - Bret Easton Ellis
Hemingway’s Hurricane - Phil Scott
Who’s Looking Out For You? - Bill O’Reilly
Cell - Stephen King
The Osama Bin Laden I Know - Peter Bergen
The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh - Michael Chabon
Private Parts - Howard Stern
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Acquired Tastes - Peter Mayle
Finding Darwin’s God - Kenneth Miller
To The Limit (The Eagles) - Marc Eliot
Playing For Knight - Steve Alford
Have A Nice Day - Mick Foley
Like A Rolling Stone - Greil Marcus
About A Boy - Nick Hornby
A Good School - Richard Yates
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Going All The Way - Dan Wakefield
The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown
The Rackets - Thomas Kelly
The Truth (With Jokes) - Al Franken
The Wishbones - Tom Perrotta
Chain Of Command - Seymour Hersh
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince - Jo Rowling
An Inconvenient Truth - Al Gore
The Year Of Reading Proust - Phyllis Rose
A Year In Provence - Peter Mayle
Christine - Stephen King
Terrorist - John Updike
Factotum - Charles Bukowski
Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
Letter To A Christian Nation - Sam Harris
iWoz - Steve Wozniak
The Last King Of Scotland - Giles Foden
The Discomfort Zone - Jonathan Franzen
Lisey’s Story - Stephen King
Wetback Nation - Peter Laufer
The Worst Person In The World - Keith Olbermann
Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama
Little Children - Tom Perrotta

Fiction - 19 books (45%)
Biography/Memoir - 10 books (24%)
Other Non-Fiction - 13 books (31%)

Nine of those are books I read so that I could take them to Half Price Books and and pretend that I hadn’t wasted my money on them in the first place (except for the Bill O’Reilly book, which was a gift). Every now and then I go through a phase where I think I need to get rid of some of my books - there are plenty of books on my shelves that I have read once and will never read again and plenty of others I will likely never read even once. And yet they still stack up.

The best of the bunch?

The Kite Runner
• An immensely sad and moving novel about friendship and redemption. Not as controversial as people made it out to be. High literature the likes of which the Grishams, Crichtons, and Clancys of the world can never produce. The best novel I’ve read in a long time.

To The Limit
• A terrific biography of the best American rock band of the 1970s, and maybe of all time - and they only cut six studio records (the seventh is due soon or has perhaps already been released - I don’t know, since it’s only available at Wal-Mart, which means that I will never buy it).

Like A Rolling Stone
• Yep, a whole book about one song (the second-greatest rock song ever recorded), though I suspect such a story has a very narrow audience.

An Inconvenient Truth
• Had the will of the American people been allowed to stand in 2000, when Al Gore was elected President, global warming would not have come to an end; but the White House would not have ignored it for six years, either.

Wetback Nation
• We need to stop discriminating against people who aren’t white. The stories in this book are why.

Little Children
• The second-best novel I’ve read in a long time. Tom Perrotta has a gift for exploring human nature, and is getting better at it. The film adaptation was a disappointment, however - even taking into account the fact that the movie is never as good as the book (except for The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather).

I have 34 books down for this year, so far - with four months still to go.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Hit me with how many books you read last year, which ones were great, which ones weren’t - which ones you’re reading now, which ones you’re going to read next. Anybody done any Kurt Vonnegut reading for that Year Of Vonnegut business? (I’ve read Hocus Pocus, Mother Night, Fates Worse Than Death, and Deadeye Dick. The best of those four is Hocus Pocus.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dorothy Mae Butts

Congratulations to Dione and Tom on the birth of their daughter, Dorothy Mae Butts. She was born today at 2:38am - weighed in at 10 pounds, 3.8 ounces - and was nearly 22 inches long. Dot is healthy and happy - and Mom, don'tcha know, is resting. Dad is proud and boasting...and all is well.

Unfortunately, Dione and Tom don't have electronic contact information - but I will be glad to pass along messages from anyone who would like to leave one.

Football Is Exciting Again In Hoosier Nation

I know, I’s only Indiana State. But there’s a lot more to feel good about this season when it comes to Indiana football than just the fact that they shellacked a Division I-AA team in their first game of the season.

It’s good to know that the enthusiasm former head coach Terry Hoeppner brought to the locker room at Indiana is alive and well - even though Coach Hoeppner, so very sadly, is not. Hep lost his battle with brain cancer this summer, and though he is no longer physically present on the sideline, it’s hardly like he has left the building.

Even though the IU football team has still not been to a bowl game since 1993, Coach Hep made football fun again in Bloomington. His infectious spirit and seemingly endless energy made the guys want to show up every Saturday and give it everything they had. And all of that energy is carrying over to the new season, begun on Saturday with the aforementioned drubbing, 55-7, of Indiana State.

“Play 13” is the motto for the Hoosiers this year - it means that the singular goal for this season is to play thirteen games. There are twelve games on the schedule, and if they can manage to win just half of those games, they will qualify for a bowl game, which would be the thirteenth.

The schedule, as usual, is built to help Indiana achieve that goal, as much as that is possible for a not-very-good team that has to play in the Big Ten. The next two contests are winnable games against Western Michigan and Akron, and then the Big Ten schedule starts when the Hoosiers host Illinois, the other awful team in this conference. A 4-0 start for Indiana is not out of the question, and that would leave only two games that they would need to win in order to qualify for a bowl game. As a bonus, there is a fourth non-Big Ten game buried near the end of the season, a home date with Ball State that is also winnable. Another bonus is that this year’s schedule does not contain Michigan or Ohio State.

And there is simply no telling what an inspired team with tons of drive can get done. The Hoosiers beat Iowa last season - and they can maybe do it again this year. Wide receiver James Hardy seems to have gotten his life on track after the legal troubles he faced last year, and seems ready to shatter most of IU’s receiving records, provided quarterback Kellen Lewis continues to develop. Hardy had three catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday - and Lewis was 12 of 21 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score. The defense will give up a lot of points, but if Lewis and Hardy stay sharp, they will be able to keep Indiana in a lot of games just by themselves.

Coach Hep was only on the sidelines for two seasons at Indiana, but he may have done more in those two seasons to change the face of IU football than any coach since Bill Mallory, a victim of the Myles Brand Inquisition that has forever sullied the face of sports at Indiana University. Coach Hep is gone, but his legacy has yet to be written - though it has a fine beginning. Indiana football is exciting again - and that, all by itself, is a remarkable achievement.

Thanks, Coach.