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“Ol’ Blue Eyes” and “Ted” February 18, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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After three years, fans of the Seth MacFarlane comedy “Ted” are about to be relieved from suspenseful waiting, as a sequel, “Ted 2,” is about to debut in theatres come late June.  In case the reader is unaware, the protagonist is a live, talking teddy bear, who is foul-mouthed, lecherous, super-lascivious, and given to bouts of indolence, drunken revelry, and pot-smoking, yet altogether strangely endearing nonetheless.  Basically, he is a modern, crude adaptation of Charlie McCarthy (or, to put it another way, MacFarlane’s Ted is analogous to Edgar Bergen’s McCarthy), and needless to say, it has proven to be most amusing!

This commercial-length preview — which debuted during the Super Bowl, no less — alone is enough to have one rolling in the aisles.  Once the dear reader has recovered from hysterics, though, re-run the ad again and listen to the tune used for background music.  That’s right, they are using Frank Sinatra’s “Can I Steal A Little Love?” which has, er, interesting implications, given the sub-theme this part of the movie explores!

“Can I Steal A Little Love” was released in 1957, and one of Sinatra’s many wonderful swinging singles from that year.  Indeed, that year turned out to be yet another banner one for Ol’ Blue Eyes, who not only had a spate of hit singles, ranging from “Witchcraft” to “All the Way,” to three albums produced as well, such as “Where Are You?”, “Come Fly With Me,” (both title cuts remain famous in his repertoire) and his ever-popular, ever-timeless, ever-wonderful Christmas album. But as a brief summation, “Can I Steal A Little Love” is one of a plethora of great examples of why not only was 1957 a banner year for Sinatra, but also why his body of work at Capitol Records remains so timeless to this day, as is evident by its use in a major movie commercial 58 years later.

‘Sochi Da’? More Like ‘Sochi, Nyet!’! February 5, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics, Sports.
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sochi-russia-palmtrees

Does this look like a winter sports destination to you? Can one think of anything more antithetical to the Winter Olympics than palm trees? Yet this only scratches the surface regarding all the things wrong with Sochi, and it calls the collective judgment of the IOC into serious question.

As a life-long fan of the Olympics, I must concede that I am very excited for the Winter Games to commence this Friday evening.  But this time I am excited with reservations, namely on the very choice of the city and country to host these Games.  It is painfully clear to me that the judgement of the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (henceforth the IOC) was, to put it mildly, severely compromised.

What’s wrong with Sochi?  Let us count the ways.  Start with the fact that it is out-of-the-way.  For the previous three Winter Olympics in a row (Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver), the IOC got it mostly right.  The United States and Canada are commerce-oriented, and have first-rate infrastructures, not to mention the population bases in the bookend cities dictate the size and quantity of hotel rooms to accommodate massive influxes of spectators for gigantic events, like, say, the Olympics.  Torino was not a terrible choice in that they had a solid population base to handle the Games and the many myriads of people.  It’s just that Italy is not exactly commerce-oriented, not when compared to the Anglosphere or even Germany, for that matter.

Another huge problem with Sochi is the geography itself, and in more ways than one.  The most obvious problem is that fact that Sochi is a subtropical resort, hardly the ideal spot for the designated hub of winter sports championship events.  At least the nearby mountains are snowy, though.  The size of the town is not quite up to what is needed for the Winter Games of this modern size.  Gone are the days when a tiny ski resort town like Lake Placid (population:  less than 4,000) could handle the Winter Olympics.  It was fine when you had only 19 countries competing, with a total of about 200 total athletes (as was the case in 1932), and they barely, just barely pulled it off in 1980.  Calgary turned out to be a great choice in 1988, but then small town problems persisted again with Albertville (whose 1992 population was only about 35,000), and also with Nagano (1998:  just too far out of the way), which brings us back to Sochi.  At only about 340,000, it’s not as big as metro Salt Lake City, let alone Calgary, Torino or Vancouver.

Isolation is another issue.  It is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea, way too out-of-the-way compared to major population centers of countries with a sufficient degree of commerce-orientation.  That isolation makes it unduly taxing on the kind of nations that will make the most substantial contributions athletically and in terms of medal counts.

This does not even take into consideration the issue of sticker shock for families trying to make it to Sochi to cheer on their sons or daughters in person as they compete.  Unlike commerce-oriented locales like Calgary, Salt Lake or Vancouver, which have plenty of hotel rooms all over their respective metro areas, Sochi has yet to build up the hotel space designed to handle the major crush of people about to descend on it.   Combine high demand for hotel rooms and low supply thereof, and out-of-the-way air travel, and you have a prohibitively expensive combination that will keep the vast majority of families away, period.

For those who do have hotel rooms, particularly those in the media, there are plenty of issues to contend with that are non-issues in more civilized parts of the world.  The Russian government has had seven, count ’em, seven years to prepare for these games, yet look at the laundry list of issues that members of the media have to contend with regarding their lodging while covering these Games.

There have been twitter-fed reports from journalists of having to climb out of their windows just to leave their hotels.  Also, there are reports of hotel lobbies have no floors; of having to contend with stray dogs in hotels — you know, the stray dogs that the Russian government is not murdering with typical Bolshevik brutality.  Then there is the glaring lack of water at some hotels, and where there is water, that people are advised not to drink it.

Seven years and 51 Billion (with a ‘B’) dollars later, and this is the best they could do?  Actually, why are we not surprised?  This is, after all, Russia, whose people had to make multiple botched attempts to bump off Rasputin.  Never underestimate the power of Russian incompetence — or corruption, for that matter.

Remember, folks, one thing that separates the developed First World from every place else is a more open, transparent government, and relatively minimized corruption.  It is clear that with $51 Billion wasted in Sochi, somebody got paid off.

Now let us consider the not-so-small issue of athlete and spectator safety.  Did the IOC consider Sochi’s close proximity to Chechnya and the fact that that spot of the world is a hotbed for Moslem terror?  Or did that just slip the IOC’s collective mind as they awarded the hosting of the 2014 Winter Games to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy?

The term ‘kleptocrat’ is not used lightly, either.  During a formal reception, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft happened to bump into Putin.  The latter asked to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and Kraft, ever the gentleman, obliged without hesitation in the interests of both classy conduct and international relations.  If only Putin were as much of a gentleman.  Instead of doing the right thing and returning the ring to Mr. Kraft, after the Pats’ owner so kindly handed over such a precious article of jewelry to the despot for his own close inspection and presumed admiration, Putin just put the ring in his suit pocket and immediately surrounded himself with three KGB agents before leaving the party without delay.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the leader of the nation that is about to host the Winter Olympics.

I ask yet again:  did the IOC consider that?  Did they consider anything?  If current hindsight is any indication, they did not.  They did not consider the relative lack of commerce-orientation and the necessary infrastructure that it inevitably entails.  They, apparently, did not consider basic geography, be it climate (remember, the whole subtropical resort deal), nor the human side of geography (Chechnya, Islamic terrorism, etc.) and its obvious security risks that imperil athletes and spectators alike.  Neither did the IOC consider geography in terms of fundamental location, and the fact that it is out-of-the-way compared to many other sites in more civilized locales.  Need we mention the IOC’s lack of consideration regarding the human rights violations and the increased authoritarianism of Putin’s regime?  This is to say nothing of the rampant corruption that has left everybody outside of the teams themselves lacking for basic living necessities in their lodging.

There are really only a small handful of countries that are capable of competently handling the Olympics, given the size to which the Games have grown.  And remember, the words ‘competence’ and ‘Russia’ hardly go together!  Again, the importance of the commerce-orientation in a country is that it has the infrastructure (transportation, hotel accommodations, sanitation/cleanliness, etc.) that can handle such an astronomically massive set of events.  But moreover, this same small handful of governments that are sufficiently free/democratic, and have a free press that can call wayward politicians and government officials into proper account (barring left-wing media malpractice, anyway).  Such openness is a symptom of the proper commitment towards first-world living standards and infrastructure in the first place.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan — to an extent — can all pull it off well.  Why roll the dice with some place so isolated, in a dangerous part of the world, with a non-winter sports climate, in a country with an increasingly dictatorial government?

Of course, one plausible explanation for this gross lack of judgment on the part of the IOC is that maybe part the $51 Billion spent on these Games in Russia was dangled in front of the faces of key IOC members to cast the vote in favor of Putin’s regime.  This is Europe, after all, where such corruption is more commonplace than in the Anglosphere, by and large.

The truth of the matter is, as mentioned before, the vast majority  of countries are not built to handle the Olympics.  Contrary to the feel-good, politically-correct mantra, not everybody deserves a chance to host something so huge.  Not all cultures are equal, hence not all countries are properly equipped to handle such a massive undertaking.  The wise approach would be to cycle the Games around in a handful of cities/countries that have proven that they can handle such events without a hitch.  Why not cycle it from Salt Lake to Munich to Vancouver (or Calgary) and repeat the cycle?  Don’t out-think the room, IOC.

Moving Forward, Remember to not Out-think the Room November 17, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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MetLife Stadium in the winter: does this look like ideal Super Bowl weather? It is a vital reminder to avoid “out-thinking the room!”

One of my favorite bits of advice to give to students and to friends alike is, “don’t out-think the room.”  Trying to come up with something you think nobody else is going to think up might show that you are more creative, but it could lead to an overall worse idea or product in the end.  Moreover, this bit of advice can apply to more basic scenarios, too.  If you go to a restaurant and you are not sure what you want to eat, it is usually wise to order up what the place is known for, not to order up some obscure menu item that is rarely served.  If the place is known for crab cakes, get the crab cakes.  If it is known for its pizza, get the pizza.  Don’t out-think the room.

The NFL was in danger of doing that his past Super Bowl when the 45th “Big Game” was awarded to — Indianapolis?  Traditionally, the Super Bowl is hosted in a warm-weather city that is built to handle big crowds.  Every time the Super Bowl is hosted in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix or San Diego, things always turn out well.  Jacksonville may have relatively warm weather, but it’s not built to handle the big crowds that come in for the big game.  Late January in Indianapolis is hardly the ideal spot, either.  As it was, the city and the fans were very lucky in that the weather for the game was unseasonably mild.  The NFL dodged the bullet in trying to out-think the room, and should have learned their lesson.  Alas, they did not.  They awarded the hosting of the 2014 Super Bowl to…MetLife Stadium, as in, New Jersey, as in, across the Hudson River from New York City, as in, upper Twenties at nighttime in late January or early February.  Brrr!  The Super Bowl was never meant to be played in freezing weather, and yet the NFL foolishly overlooked this basic rule in awarding the hosting of the Big Game to the Meadowlands.  The Super Bowl always works in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, and San Diego, NFL:  do not out-think the room!

The reason I say all this is because, in light of the disappointing outcome for the Republican Party in the recent election (namely, we’ll have to put up with four more years of the incompetent B. Hussein Obama), many luminaries in the party have been calling for this change or that change to quickly occur so that the GOP does not gradually shrink to permanent minor party status.  Given what is at stake for the country, some of these ideas have been offered with considerable urgency, hence with start warnings about the future.  Some, such as veteran Republican strategist and Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman offered his thought at the Republican Governors Association Meeting in Las Vegas:

“We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant,” he said. “The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others.”  This is fine advice when it comes to philosophically complex and deeply emotional issues such as abortion.  But what about others that are less complex, more straightforward, and more salient, such as fiscal issues?

“Republicans have to start understanding that small business and entrepreneurs are important, but the people who work for them are also important,” said Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., who lost his seat to Democrat Ann Kuster. “We’ve got to be compassionate conservatives.”

The first part of Bass’ idea sounds fine:  connect with the average Joe.  But the second part raises a few eyebrows.  Did we already not try this “compassionate conservatism” before?  Under George W. Bush, government spending went up, and that overall action trashed the GOP’s reputation as the grown-ups in the room when it came to fiscal prudence, a reputation the GOP faithful have been laboring ever-so diligently to repair over the past four years.

And of course, there were the calls one has been hearing so often these past ten days of appealing to more minority voters, namely Hispanics.  As I have mentioned before, this is an important issue, and one that must be delved into seriously and with the right ideas in place so that we can broaden our electoral base.

The point in all of this is, many of these issues can be solved in a single, large action by nominating a candidate whom more people believe in from the get-go.  It sounds simplified, sure, but it worked for Obama.  Byron York makes the compelling case that whatever facets of the overall problem party members are bringing up these days, many of them can be effectively addressed all at once with the right candidate in place, somebody whom people want to get around and support.

That is not to say that Gov. Romney was without his die-hard supporters.  The business-oriented among us, yours truly included, recognized that he has just the skill set that we need for a leader in these troubled times.  But sadly, the vast majority of the electorate has no concept of executive skill sets in leaders, hence it was a non-issue to them.  Mitt appealed to his supporters minds in a very big way, but not enough to the overall electorate’s hearts.

The point in all of this is, many party members and operatives seem to try to position themselves as the smartest person in the room in trying to come up with one unique solution to a particular facet of the overall electoral problem the party faced in the past election.  But if one focuses on a few small things among many and fail with their ideas on those fronts, then where will we be?  What York reminds us is that, overall, the solution is much simpler, and much more straightforward.  Find someone who can effectively connect with large swaths of the electorate early on (someone who can win hearts and minds), and much of the problem is solved.  We have less than four years to find that person.