Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My ten fave Christmas albums

Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year. Oh, sure, there are no white Christmases for me now that I live in Southwest Florida. And yes, Christmas happens to be only the third-most important Christian religious day of observance (Easter and Epiphany are first and second, respectively)... but everyone loves a birthday party, especially when everyone BUT the birthday boy gets gifts! And so, every year, for as long as I can remember, the family and I go crazy with Christmas music from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. Throughout the years, I've ended up with quite a few personal favourites. In honour of Christmas, then, here are my "Top Ten Christmas Albums."

The only rule: the albums must be easily available, so that if the fancy strikes you, you're not stuck special-ordering a long-lost import from Poland for upwards of $75 like I did for Mozart's last 6 symphonies with Chrissy VD and the Cleveland Orchestra (well worth it, by the way). And since the spirit o'Christmas dictates that I not be my usual lazy, uncaring self, I've added amazon.com links for each of the albums.

Boogie Woogie Christmas (The Brian Setzer Orchestra)

A very tough choice over Setzer's other groovy Christmas album, Dig That Crazy Christmas, but I went with "Boogie Woogie" solely on the strength of Setzer's phenomenal, infectiously snappy version of "Jingle Bells."

Christmas Spirit (Donna Summer)

Yes, Disco Donna. Never mind the crappy days of disco and their inevitable downfall -- Summer could always sing, and she really shines in this selection of Christmas songs. I can still remember watching her belt out "O Holy Night" live on an old 80's music show called "Solid Gold." Just awe-inspiring.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album (Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer)

I went to see this movie at the theatre when I was a little kid, I've owned LP, cassette, CD, and DVD versions of it, and was lucky enough to see a live revival with the original motion picture cast at the Blossom Music Festival back in the early 90's. The only goal left for me to accomplish with this musical is to actually take part in some local production of it. I know this bad boy by heart from start to finish, so any measly part will do...

Little Drummer Boy: Christmas Favourites by the World Renowned Vienna Boys' Choir

Very solid selection of songs, beautifully sung by Michael Jackson's fave musical act.

Messiah (George Frideric Handel, composer) -- Battle, Quivar, Aler, Ramey, soloists; The Toronto Symphony, Andrew Davis, conductor

This is but one of many excellent versions of Handel's Messiah. What sets it apart is Samuel Ramey's phenomenal rendition of "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

Rejoice, O Indestructible Fortress and Stronghold of Orthodoxy

A plethora of lovely Russian sacred songs... and the best album title ever.

Donadzar: New Year's and Christmas Songs in Armenian for Children and their Families (Nvair Kadian Beylerian)

And so, we segue from an imposing, regal album title to an awkward, goofy album title that's eerily reminiscent of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. But to hell with the Russkies. The Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Religion has the distinction of being the first nationally accepted and instituted Christian religion (301 AD -- read it and weep, bitches). As for the music in this album, it's a charming mix of traditional Armenian and Western European Christmas songs.

Classical Christmas (The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

Wonderful orchestral arrangements of many well-known Christmas classics, as well as some truly classical and grossly overlooked compositions, including my personal fave, Mozart's indescribably joyful "Sleigh Ride."

O Holy Night (Luciano Pavarotti)

Christmas 1981 was a memorable affair for me, and not because it was my first Christmas in the States, but because it was the first time I saw Luciano Pavarotti's epoch-making Christmas concert from the Notre Dame Cathedral (thank you, PBS!!!). Although no audio recordings of that live performance exist, at least to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, Decca did get studio recordings of most of those Christmas and Sacred Oratorio songs, as well as some bizarre out-of-place selections ("Chè farò senza Euridice," while an absolutely wonderful aria, has absolutely zero bearing on Christmas). The album is solid from start to finish, and was thankfully recorded during Pavarotti's prime. In my humble opinion, no one has ever sung Schubert's "Ave Maria" and "Mille cherubini in coro" as well as the late Luciano. The requiem pieces are also noteworthy: Verdi's "Ingemisco" showcases Pavarotti's resplendent upper register, and Rossini's "Cujus animam" is capped off by a ringing high D. But for me, the highlight of the program is Pavarotti's sublime rendition of Alessandro Stradella's beautiful "Pietà, Signore."

Joy to the World (Joan Sutherland)

As phenomenal as Pavarotti's "O Holy Night" is, it comes in second to La Stupenda's astounding "Joy to the World." I haven't superlatives enough to describe this album, so I won't bother. The only negative, at least for me, is the fact that, as was the case throughout her entire singing career, Sutherland didn't exactly go to great lengths to enunciate every word clearly... but who gives a tin shit about diction when, with all apologies to Handel, the bright seraphim blows its loud, uplifted trumpet?

Merry Christmas, all !!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's been an up and down week

More like down, then up.

I finally gave up on the old washer and dryer, because it had gotten to the point where it took literally over four hours just to wash my customary two loads a week. Money, of course, is as tight as a nun's, er, habit, so this was an unwelcome expense. Bummer. Luckily, though, one of my friends had a practically new washer and dryer set that he wasn't using, and he was kind enough to sell it to me for a very low price. Nice.

While trying to unload the washer and dryer from the rampless U-Haul pick-up truck I ended up stuck with, I dislocated my left shoulder for the fourth time in ten years. Bummer. I guess the ligaments there are pretty loose by now, though, because it only took me one try to pop that sucker back in. Nice.

I was vacuuming the house last Saturday, when my gazillion-year old Hoover blew up. Bummer. That same afternoon, my AT&T rebate card arrived, giving me a much-needed scarole infusion that allowed me to purchase a replacement vacuum cleaner. Nice.

A series of events too bizarre and long-winded to recount here made it painfully clear to me that my career is going absolutely nowhere, and that all the sacrifices I made over the past three years while wrestling with graduate school will have ultimately been pointless. Bummer. Then again, I finally received my Certified Diver card, so I can at least benefit from my extensive but useless knowledge of marine geobiology when I go on my first open water dive. Nice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

On Disney, Scratch & Dent World, and tipping etiquette

My friend D-Wright still works at the same northeast Ohio technical translation company where we met some twelve years ago – at this rate, he’s only a couple of years away from tattooing a permanent “L” on his forehead. If it’s any consolation, I got my own “L” a few months ago when I realized I might as well have majored in Elizabethan poetry, for all the good my stellar college education is doing towards my train-wreck of a career… but I digress. Last month, the company sent him down to Orlando for a military gadgets and weaponry conference in the hopes of drumming up some translating business. The war-mongers conference, as D-Wright christened it, was held smack down in the middle of DisneyTown, or whatever the hell it’s called. I guess if I was a war profiteer looking for a good place to hold a weapons conference, I’d pick the Magic Kingdom, too!!!
Disney and weapons of mass destruction – a match made in Hades.

Since I’ve got a handful of vacation days left and have zero travel plans because I’ve resolved to finish my thesis before it goes into its fourth year of ineptitude and procrastination, I took a little time off from work and drove up to DisneyTown to hang out with D-Wright Warbucks. Getting up to Orlando wasn’t a problem, since I’ve driven up there quite a few times. Once in DisneyTown, however, finding my way was an absolute nightmare. I had detailed Mapquest instructions, but they were absolutely useless. Mapquest lists the streets by their supposed name (East 160th, etc.), but DisneyTown ignores this and lists the streets with colourful but idiotic names like “Parking Lot 2: where the magic happens!” or “The Wild Kingdom.” After driving a complete circuit around DisneyTown, I finally did the unthinkable and stopped at a Hess gas station to ask for directions. The attendant there was kind enough to translate the Mapquest street names into DisneyTown lingo, and I was then able to find the hotel easily.

The hotel in question is The Coronado Resort, an utterly ridiculous hodgepodge of Conquistador/Mayan/Aztec décor and nomenclature. The buildings, for example, were referred to as “Casitas” and “Cabañas,” while the convention center was termed “El Centro.” Why Disney chose to glorify western Europe’s exploitation and subsequent near-annihilation of indigenous Americans is beyond me. Then again, I shouldn’t be overly critical, since I have a Chief Wahoo logo tattooed on my shoulder. I guess I have no point.

The pseudo-Aztec hotel room mirror – I would have checked to see whether it was real copper, but I didn’t have my Mohs hardness kit handy.

Disney did, thankfully, stick to native plants when landscaping the grounds. Here’s a beautiful flowering cluster of Sagittaria lancifolia bordering one of the ponds (yes, the college education can come in handy every now and then):

While channel-surfing in the hopes of finding TBS (the hotel didn’t have a channel guide – I guess since neither the Conquistadores nor the Aztecs had a channel guide, the powers-that-be decided hotel guests don’t need one either) so we could watch the Cavs, we came across a repeating loop of ads for something called Scratch & Dent World, featuring a trailer-trash spokeswoman with a plaid dress, a knee brace, a mullet, and an overly exuberant disposition. It’s difficult to describe the lunacy of these ads. Luckily, someone was kind enough to post a YouTube clip of the same ads for the Daytona branch:

As mesmerizing and inexplicably enjoyable as the Scratch & Dent World ads were (admit it: you want to watch them again!), the highlight of my two-day stay in DisneyTown was a Tarantinoesque discussion D-Wright and I had regarding the propriety of tipping a hotel chambermaid. We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure this out – we really needed D-Wright’s better half to help us, but she was back in Hiram burning her bras. For me, the tipping issue is pretty simple. If the person providing whatever service is paid commensurately with the value of the service, no tip is needed. This is why, for example, tipping 20% when going to a restaurant here in the States is not only common but actually expected – if I get a $50 check after a meal, very little of that money goes to the waiters and waitresses that work at the restaurant, because their wages are laughable. In Europe and South America, on the other hand, tipping a waiter 20% is unheard of, because their wages are actually quite good. I use this criterion whenever I try to figure out whether to tip someone. Waiters and waitresses = yes; girl who cuts my hair = yes; nurse who fondles my bean bag while asking me to cough = no (she should pay ME for the “privilege”). My problem with the chambermaid tipping issue is that I have no idea how much chambermaids are paid. I explained this reasoning to D-Wright, and he promptly settled the problem by surmising that chambermaids made horrible wages because of, and I quote, “their highly probable non-legal immigrant status.” Man, I’m still laughing over that description. Oh-by-the-way, I ended up leaving a $10 tip.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

All hail The Sweater Vest

As one who lived through the all-too-painful John Cooper years, I haven't the words to describe my delight. Since The Sweater Vest took over the coaching reins at THE Ohio State University, we've won a National Championship (an outright championship, might I add, and not some pathetic, mythical, "shared" championship) and dominated The Greatest Rivalry In American Sports by going 6-1 versus the hated Michigan Wolverines. The Sweater Vest's run of success is nothing short of a-maize-ing, and next year's team promises to be ridiculously loaded. Michigan, on the other hand, can be thankful that neither Mike "I'll come back my senior year because I promise to beat the Buckeyes" Hart nor Chad "11-for-34 passing" Henne will be with the team next year.

Here's a little celebratory ditty by my fave Columbus band:

O...H...I...O !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thirteen random things I've learned from watching the NFL

  • Puffing cheeba is infinitely more rewarding than making millions of dollars for playing a game.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A primer on the Boston Red Sox

So it's wait 'til next year, again, for yet another member of the Holy Quaternity... my favourite one, to tell the truth. Cleveland may be a football town, but I will always be a baseball guy. I adore all members of the Holy Quaternity, but I practically live and die with the Tribe. This year was especially rewarding, because a young, exciting, unheralded Indians team had an almost magical run when everything seemed to go right, culminating in their first postseason appearance since 2001 and their first postseason series win since 1998, against the "mighty" Yankees, no less! Alas, the overachieving greatness of my beloved Tribe came to a pathetic, whimpering end last night when they were clobbered by the Boston Red Sox in the deciding game of the ALCS.

But why be bitter? It's a new day, it's a new life, and even though I'm not really feelin' good, I'm going to do the unthinkable and actually be gracious in defeat. So, I won't rant and rave about how the Red Sox and their bitchy, PMS-suffering fan base whine about the Yankees being evil overspending douche bags who sully the game by fielding the best teams that money can buy, all the while conveniently ignoring the fact that the Sox are pretty much a less competent version of the Yankees (they spend a teensy weensy little less money but have only two championships over the past 80 or so years to show for their freewheeling assholishness -- I always think of the Sox as the "Yankees JV"). I'll also refrain from pointing out that everyone from New England sounds like a mentally retarded child trying to speak through a very large mouthful of peanut butter. Instead, I'll simply give a little primer on the Red Sox -- after all, they get so little coverage from the media, it's a wonder anyone knows anything at all about them.
  • Like the Tribe, the Red Sox are a charter member of the American League. The team was founded in 1901 as the Boston Americans. The team's name was changed to Red Sox in 1908 to commemorate the following riddle: "How can you tell when a Boston woman is on her period? She's only wearing one sock!" Owner John Taylor wanted to pay tribute to the "missing" sock by changing the team's name to Orange/Red Sox, but decided that adding the requisite yellow shades of urine, yeast, and/or pus to the blood colour would be too expensive, so he forsook accuracy for dollars and shortened the name to Red Sox.
  • Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has exceptional plate coverage. He achieves this by diving over the plate every time he swings at a pitch, then crying like a little bitch with a skinned knee every time an opposing pitcher has the gall to back him off the plate by throwing high and inside at him. The Indians should bean his faggoty ass at least once a game next season.
  • First baseman Kevin Youkilis is frighteningly intense, sweats copiously during every at-bat, and exhibits more twitches and nervous ticks than a crack addict on the DTs... but you didn't hear the words "steroid rage ticking time-bomb" from me.
  • Designated hitter David Ortiz goes by the nickname "Big Papi" in public. Behind closed doors, though, his teammates refer to him as "La Hormona."
  • Left fielder Manny Ramirez is an exceptional hitter, but he may very well be the dumbest human being on the planet. How dumb is he? The Kids of Widney High offered him an honorary spot in their band, then rescinded it after meeting him on the grounds that he was "too much of a retard."
  • Third baseman Mike Lowell is originally from Puerto Rico and looks like the villain in one of those cheesy Mexican soaps. He is currently under investigation for several fondling incidents during the past dozen Puerto Rican Day parades. He has denied the charges vehemently, insisting that "those bitches be lying."
  • Right fielder J.D. Drew is a legitimate five-tool player whose career has been marred by his dispassionate, uninterested, lazy disposition. At the end of the 2006 seasons, the Dodgers let him walk, becoming the third team to give up on him. The Red Sox stepped in and promptly signed him to a $70 million contract. But no, it's the Yankees who are evil overspenders. Idiots.
  • Catcher Jason Varitek is the team's captain and unquestioned leader. He earned the respect of his teammates by smacking Alex Rodriguez during a confrontation. Apparently, guys who beat up women automatically become folk heroes in Boston.
  • Center fielder Coco Crisp was actually a likeable, hustling player when he broke in with the Tribe. Two seasons in Boston have turned him into an underachieving hot dog who dives during every catch, even when the ball is hit right to him. He also sports the ugliest, most uneven braids I've ever seen.
  • Shortstop Julio Lugo does more crotch grabbing in one game than Jenna Jameson, Traci Lords and Marilyn Chambers managed over the course of their collective careers. Other than that, he's an unremarkable "stiff."
  • Staff ace Josh Beckett was dating country whodat Danielle Peck, but dumped her when his sister became available. I guess if she was good enough for Josh Beckett, Sr., then... well, you know how the rest goes.
  • Curt Schilling is mercifully nearing the end of his career, but that hasn't stopped him from bringing up his "I pitched with a broken foot," fake-blood-on-sock red paint bonanza "heroic" deed every chance he gets.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka was the hot commodity du jour going into the past offseason. In an effort to out-Yankee the Yankees, the Red Sox bid $51 million just for the right to negotiate with this fur-lined tool. Well done, Yankees JV.
  • Tim Wakefield is a knuckleball junkmeister who has redefined the term "journeyman pitcher." He's also third in all-time Red Sox wins and strikeouts. What a glorious, storied franchise.
  • Closer Jonathan Papelbon goes by the nickname "Pap Smear," but in an attempt to win over the female demographic, he has decided to develop a rising fastball and changing his nickname to "The Yeast Man."
The 2007 Boston Red Sox team photo:

I hope that little intro to the Red Sox was edifying. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put the last five minutes of "The Departed" on a loop so I can watch a half-dozen or so Boston retards get shot in the fucking face over, and over, and over...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Payback (sort of)

The Indians close out the Yankees and send their sorry arses packing... on Columbus Day! Fantastic irony. Too bad for the media, who were so looking forward to yet another Yankees-Red Sox series. Sorry, boyos, but those of us outside of New England are sick of the Evil Empire and the Evil Empire Junior Varsity. Time for some fresh blood, preferably from an organization that doesn't just field the best team that money can buy, but rather trots out an exciting, hard-nosed crop of homegrown youngsters.

F*ck the Yankees! F*ck the Red Sox!

Go Tribe!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hell hath no fury like a goalie scorned

Why should female athletes be any different? The backstory going into this past Thursday: US Women's soccer team goalkeeper Hope Solo had been playing extremely well during the current World Cup, single-handedly preserving a tie against North Korea and providing some much-needed stability and calm to a US defense that has, at times, shown a remarkable lack of composure. In addition, the US was coming off their best performance of the tournament, a 3-0 domination of an excellent England team during the quarterfinals. Thursday's semifinal match paired the US against Brazil. For those of you not familiar with soccer, Brazil has completely dominated the sport on the men's side over the past fifty or so years, winning five of the last thirteen World Cups, and consistently playing the best overall soccer of any country, featuring an aggressive but extremely elegant and crowd-pleasing style. Up until the last eight years, the Brazilian women were serviceable at best... but man, they've really turned on the jets since then, progressing by leaps and bounds. This year, they've been absolutely phenomenal, playing like the soccer equivalent of this year's New England Patriots. In other words, they've not only won their matches, but looked well-nigh unbeatable in the process and, much like their male counterparts, have won the adoration of all the bandwagon f*ckheads. For the record, I like Brazilians, but absolutely loathe their soccer team; I'm bitter, remember?

Anyhoo, US women's coach Greg "Lenny" Ryan decided to pull Hope Solo in favour of Briana Scurry for the match against Brazil. Scurry was, at one time, an outstanding goalkeeper, quite possibly the best the US has ever produced... but she's entering her late thirties, and had received no playing time over the past few months (rust! rust!). Why the switch, then? Coming into Thursday's match, Scurry was undefeated against Brazil. Unfortunately, she hadn't faced the Brazilian squad since 2004 and, as mentioned previously, Brazil has improved dramatically since then. Coach Lenny's move was not only exorbitantly idiotic, but also smacked of panic, and so gave the Brazilian squad an enormous shot of confidence and momentum going into the game. In addition, it completely disrupted the US team's defensive alignment and chemistry -- Solo was an attacking midfielder back in high school, so she's comfortable receiving passes from overwhelmed defenders; Scurry, on the other hand, has always had enormous trouble with her possession game, so as an outlet, she's a major liability. But hey, coach Lenny played his idiotic hunch, and Solo was benched for an aging, way-past-her-prime, rusty goalkeeper... smooth move, Ex-Lax!

The result of coach Lenny's blunder was entirely too predictable: Brazil scored their first goal on a defensive miscommunication that led to a US defender heading the ball into her own net while Scurry did an uncanny impersonation of Venus de Milo; the second goal was the result of a blazing run by Marta, the breakout star of the tournament, but the shot itself could have/should have been stopped (Scurry's former teammate-cum-homer announcer Julie Foudy even admitted this); a few minutes later, US defender Shannon Boxx was sent off thanks to an egregious error by the referee (Brazil ALWAYS gets these ridiculous calls -- is it any wonder I detest them?), and the rout was on; the third goal was not Scurry's fault at all, but the fourth goal, again coming after an astounding series of moves by Marta, was also preventable -- Scurry even got a piece of the ball, but not enough to prevent it from dribbling in. And so, both Solo and Scurry were placed in extremely unfair positions by coach Lenny and his moronic tactics, and now it's on to the meaningless third-place game. I won't take the time to address coach Lenny's non-existent tactical adjustments following Boxx's expulsion, because there just isn't enough cyberspace to store my contemptuous venom... but if coach Lenny is retained beyond this tournament, the US soccer governing bodies shan't be receiving invitations to join MENSA anytime soon.

The real fireworks came after the game, when a downcast Solo was walking past a group of reporters. She was asked a question, and when a US press officer practically forbade her from answering... MEOW!

Ah, how I love fiery girls with arching eyebrows... Miz Solo just skyrocketed into the top ten of the "Future Mrs. Clevelander" charts. Unlucky her!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

2K7 Division Champs !!!

Ladies and gents, your 2007 American League Central Division Champs, my beloved Cleveland Indians!

Back to the playoffs after a six-year drought... let's kick some ass, Tribe!


Friday, September 14, 2007

Soccer chicks

One of my biggest weaknesses, probably second only to chocolate, is an obsession with sporting events, especially those that involve whole countries and therefore allow me the opportunity to root rabidly for and against teams in sports that would otherwise not even merit a nanosecond's worth of thought. Case in point: women's soccer. I pay absolutely no attention to it until the World Cup rolls around, then follow the tournament religiously. Unlike men's soccer, where the US is woefully behind most of the world when it comes to player talent and skill, the US women's squad is a powerhouse, having won two of the last three events, and having produced arguably the greatest two soccer girlies of my lifetime: Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm. This year's World Cup takes place in China, and the US team played its first game on Tuesday at 5:00 in the morning, against a surprisingly tough North Korean squad. Since Tuesday marked the 6-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, I decided to show my patriotism by getting up at 4:45 to cheer on the US chickadees. A few random observations from the game:

  • The lovely Heather Mitts is out with an injury. Without her on the team, the only decent-looking player is the goalkeeper, Hope Solo. What a terrific name! I wonder if Springs Vader and Eternal Skywalker are on the bench?
  • While we're on the subject of names, the Ironic Nomenclature Award goes to US defender Shannon Boxx, who appears to be more of a man than I'll ever be. How manly is she? Let's just say Sam Elliott's on the phone to her 'cause he wants his mustache back.
  • Speaking of ugly players: the entire North Korean squad is so unattractive, they make the Firecat cheerleaders look sponge-worthy by comparison.
  • Play-by-play announcer John Paul Dellacamera (translates into "Of the camera" -- more irony!) informs us that the North Korean squad is the youngest in the field of qualifying nations, averaging just under 22 years of age. This is very surprising news to me, since they all look like the 900-year old incarnation of Lo-Pan in "Big Trouble in Little China."
  • The US coach appears bent on playing the size advantage card -- the American girls tower over the Lo-Pans. Unfortunately, the size advantage is a moot point, since our giants are too slow and plodding to maintain possession of the ball against the ridiculously agile Lo-Pans. After a heart-attack paced first-half in which the Koreans held a 75% to 25% edge in ball possession and therefore generated many more scoring chances, Coach Greg Ryan makes no line-up or tactical adjustments for the second half. He obviously suscribes the the Karl Smesko school of crash-and-burn coaching.
  • The game was played under a light but steady rain, and both goalies had a horrible time controlling airballs. The first Korean goal, in fact, consisted of an innocuous cross that slipped right through Hope Solo's hands and somehow ended up in the back of the net. Solo's reaction was priceless. She looked shocked for about a second, then threw an epoch-making hissy fit, punching the air, screaming like a banshee, and actually smacking herself in the face.
  • The rain also exposed Hope Solo's beauty secret: she's wearing make-up!!! This wouldn't have been a problem under normal circumstances, but the drizzle and monsoon-season humidity took their toll on Hope's cosmetic embellishments. At the end of the first half, she looked like a chronic insomniac. By the time the second half was coming to a close, she had developed an uncanny resemblance to King Diamond. Not good.
  • Colour commentator Julie Foudy was one of my favourite players when she captained the US squad some five years ago. As an announcer, however, she's a shameless homer. As the Lo-Pans ran circles around us, she maintained that this was good for the US, for it would "toughen them up" for their subsequent games. When the Lo-Pans took a 2-1 lead in the second half, Foudy stated that this wasn't necessarily bad, because it would give the US a chance to prove their mettle by overcoming a deficit. When it looked like the game was lost for good, Foudy insisted that this was one of the best things that could happen, because the US would actually benefit from "getting a loss out of the way so they can concentrate on winning the cup" -- I'm still trying to comprehend that rationale. Hey, maybe if the US get knocked out of the tournament in the first round, it would be a good thing so they can concentrate on preparing for the NEXT world cup...right, Julie?????? Mon Dieu.
  • Foudy's also a bird of ill-omen: with the US up 1-0, Abby Wambach collided with one of the Lo-Pans and cracked her head open. Since she was bleeding, she had to leave the pitch, forcing the US to play a woman short for about eight minutes. Foudy pulled her "this is a good thing for the US, because now they can implement one of the coaching drills to see how to cope with playing short-handed." Of course, the US switched from a 4-4-3 to a 4-2-4 (a WTF tactic if I ever saw one), and the Lo-Pans took advantage of the suddenly open middle of the field to set up various dangerous attacks and score two quick goals. Way to go, Cassandra!
  • After the US miraculously tied the game on a gorgeous goal by Heather O'Reilly, King Diamond came up huge, preserving the tie almost single-handedly thanks to a couple of remarkable saves. It was good to see King Diamond redeeming herself after the slipped ball snafu. As a bonus, her smeared make-up qualified her as an honorary member of the Insane Clown Posse.
And so, I breathed a sigh of relief once the game was over, with the US barely hanging on for a 2-2 draw. Our girlies looked very shaky, were outplayed for a great deal of the game, and the coaching staff never came up with an answer for the Koreans' speed, whether by tactical or roster adjustments. To tell the truth, it's a good thing the weather was awful -- the game-long constant drizzle bogged down the pitch. If the game had been played under normal conditions, I fear the Koreans would have run circles around us. Our midfielders are tough but kind of slow, and the defense is a sieve. Up next for the US squad: Sweden. Look alive, girlies!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

This past Thursday, Luciano Pavarotti died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. When I heard the news, I immediately remembered the first time I ever heard Pavarotti sing, some thirty years ago. Thirty years is a long time, but this particular memory is still fresh, as though it had happened yesterday. It was a Sunday morning at my Aunt Yvonne’s house. She had taped the weekly Opera Hour radio show for me the previous evening, because she knew I’d be spending the night at my Uncle Julian’s, and that particular grid was scheduled for a night-long power outage. (Ah, the joys of dictatorship… may every member of the Junta rot in hell!) The floor had just been mopped, and so was a little humid, giving off a peculiar but pleasant smell, a mixture of bleach and lemon soap, that I still associate with Uruguay. The tape player had a reoccurring squeak, a byproduct of my having dropped it a few months before, and because it was a one-speaker model, the sound had a tinny quality that made every tape played on it sound like it was recorded in the 1920’s.

We never knew what we were going to hear during Opera Hour, but the host, Barrett Puig (he and my Aunt Blanche had been college classmates – I don’t know why that’s worth mentioning, but there you go), was meticulous about playing a healthy mixture of old and new recordings. The new recordings that day consisted of the phenomenal Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov’s rendition of “Oh, chi piange?” from Verdi’s “Nabucco” (it’s an astounding tour-de-force performance that may warrant its own entry in the not-too-distant future) and Pavarotti’s rendition of “Ah mes amis, quel jour de fête… Pour mon âme” from Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment.” Although I was familiar with Donizetti’s work, having already learned “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “L’elisir d’amore” by heart (I was and still am a dork), I was completely unfamiliar with this particular opera, and was furthermore puzzled by the fact that an Italian composer would produce an opera in French. Regardless, the aria in question is notable for requiring the singer to hit nine high C’s – yes, nine! Vocal pyrotechnics aside, what impressed me the most about Pavarotti was the quality of his voice. It was unique, unlike any tenor voice I had heard before or since, with a fluidity that belied its enormous breadth and power.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Pavarotti’s voice was the beauty of his timbre, pretty much throughout his register. His low notes were full and didn’t possess that unpleasant, “breathy” quality that’s pretty common among lyric tenors. His high notes had plenty of that most desired of all qualities, squillo – it’s a kind of pinging resonance, and it’s sorely lacking amongst most current-day singers. Pavarotti’s strident squillo allowed him to excel in heroic rôles usually reserved for dramatic tenors; his “Di quella pira” is, in my opinion, among the five best versions ever sung. But the middle register is where the beauty of Pavarotti’s voice really shone through, especially during his prime, when his legato was astonishingly smooth, on a par with those of Lauri-Volpi and Vanzo, my measuring sticks for all questions regarding tenors’ legato. If I were to take things a step further (my specialty) and dissect Pavarotti’s voice further, I would say that my favourite subsection is the upper portion of his middle register when articulating the vowel “e” – in English, it’s the “eh” sound. The criminally forgotten masterpiece aria “Angelo casto e bel,” from Donizetti’s “Il Duca D’Alba,” showcases that glorious “e” sound. Listen for it when he sings, “Angelo casto e bel” or “A lei le gioie” – it is unique, beautiful, and unmistakable:

During the second half of his long and illustrious career, Pavarotti branched out into the commercial mainstream, making a few cheesy but enjoyable movies, holding myriad benefit concerts in which he sang with the likes of Bono, Sting, Mariah Carey (ggggrrrrrroooowwwwllllll !!!), Bryan Adams, and even the Spice Girls (yikes!), and participating in the enormously successful “The Three Tenors” concerts with fellow operatic giants Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. These concerts illustrate the seldom-matched musicality of Pavarotti’s voice – while both Domingo and Carreras are phenomenal singers, every time the three tenors sang the same song in polyphonic sequence, Pavarotti’s voice shone out, being much more resonant, crystalline, and mellifluous.

Opera singers tend to abuse their voices over the course of their careers, so it’s very common for their voices to develop a wobble and an astringent, foghorn-like asperity as they get on in years. Although Pavarotti lost quite a bit of his phenomenal range, especially in the upper register, his voice retained most of its beauty until the very end of his career. I had the privilege of seeing him in concert in 1985 and again in 2001, and aside from having developed a few obnoxious, crowd-pleasing traits (the unnecessary and ridiculously exaggerated trill in the second verse of “O sole mio” comes to mind), he was in glorious form both times. Many purists make it a point to belittle Pavarotti’s enormous popularity – this is somewhat akin to a thriving metal band suddenly achieving mainstream success only to have all the hard-core metalheads accuse them of “selling out” – but in spite of his numerous and oftentimes unfortunate forays into popular music, Pavarotti remained true to his vocation, not giving up his opera career until illness made it impossible for him to maintain his heavy touring schedule. I happen to consider myself a purist, and my opinion is that on Thursday, the world lost a musical giant, and the last Great Tenor we’ll probably ever see.

I’ll close this little tribute blurb by including what I consider to be Pavarotti’s greatest recording, a seldom-heard version of “A te, o cara” from Bellini’s “I Puritani” – his legato is impeccable, his use of glissando is exquisite, and his voice is as sweet and smooth-flowing as golden honey.

Rest in peace, Luciano.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I wipe my ass with Wolverine fur

Down goes Michigan!
To a Division I-AA school!!
In the Big Outhouse!!!
This could be the biggest choke job
by the Wolverines yet!!!!

Bomb Ann Arbor NOW!!!!!

I'll let my favourite Columbus band drive it home:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Demote the Polish Pop-gun NOW!

Another blown save, and a vultured win. This guy will be the death of this team if they make it to the post-season. I hate to think it, say it, and post it, but I'm afraid it will be so. Must the Tribe continue to tempt fate by trotting out their most incompetent pitcher to close out important wins? We're in a bloody pennant race here, damn it! Have the lessons learned in 1997 already faded from the franchise's collective memory? Not so for me, I'm afraid. I can still remember every detail of that nightmare, right down to the debilitating nausea I felt with every pitch thrown by Hoser Mesa. Yet another set of rhetorical questions: What's it going to take to finally demote this train-wreck of a closer? How many more consecutive outings in which he gives up runs? How many more times does he have to practically guarantee the lead-off man will get on base? And what's the threshold on his ERA? It's a staggering 5.60 after tonight's debacle. Does it actually have to balloon over 6.00 before we show this tool the door? Please, no more. I'm sure Blow-rowski is a very decent human being, and I actually feel a tiny shard of guilt pricking my conscience because of the frustration and hostility I'm constantly directing at him... but his closing days for this team must come to an end. Our fan base has suffered enough.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Random images

A few random images from the past couple of weeks; I've really got to get out more!

Bad-ass Vicky Martínez prepares to tee off on the Devil Rays:

Welcome back, Kenny Lofton! Still producing at 40:

Another beautiful rainbow as I cross Alligator Alley on the way to Ft. Lauderdale (I can't chew gum and walk at the same time, but snapping photos while driving at 80+mph isn't a problem -- go figure):

My new tenant, Pepe LeFrog:

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Polish Pop-gun

"Dropped once, never fired." That's the old joke about the seller's description of a Polish rifle. When it comes to the Tribe's closer, Joe Borowski, a better description might read "Throws strikes, mostly meatballs." This is why, from here on in, I'm going to have to refer to him as "The Polish Pop-gun." Yesterday's blown save was yet another example of why, even though he has miraculously racked up 34 saves, The Polish Pop-gun needs to be recalled like a cheap Mattel toy. I was at the game, and was super-excited to catch my beloved Tribe in Tropicana Field. C.C. Sabathia was going for us, we'd won the first two games of the series, and had a chance to widen our lead over the Kittens (they'd eventually lose against the Yankers). Although C.C. was masterful, going 8 solid innings and giving up just 2 runs, our suddenly anemic offense was only able to muster up 2 runs as well, so the game went into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Asdrúbal Cabrera (one of my new faves -- crazy name, unbelievably fugly, and sporting a pair of ears that would put Dumbo to shame) scorched a solid single off Al "El Asesino" Reyes (GREAT nickname!), watched "Cool Papa" Lofton inexplicably strike out looking (Bill Simmons' nickname, not mine -- very fitting, though), took third on Tricky Trot Nixon's pinch-hit single and, after Grady Sizemore was nicked by a pitch to load the bases, scored easily from third on bad-ass Vicky Martínez's towering sacrifice fly to right (missed being a game-icing grand salami by a few feet -- Vicky just got under it). I prayed for the Pronk to come up with a two-out base-hit, because I did NOT want the Polish Pop-gun coming in to close out a one-run game, but his underachieving ass grounded out to end the inning.

If you've followed the Tribe at all this year, you know what happened next, because it's been sickeningly typical of the Polish Pop-gun's performance: he blew away the first two hitters by getting them to look at his meatball BP fastball, then nailing them with his hanging breaking pitches. How he's been able to rack up so many saves with his ridiculously below-average stuff, I'll never know... but I digress. The next hitter was the catcher, Dioner Navarro, who was batting a "scorching" .205 and had looked absolutely helpless in his first four at-bats. The Polish Pop-gun proceeded to fall behind 3-0, threw two meatball strikes, the second of which was JUST missed by Navarro, then bounced a lollipop five feet in front of the plate, effectively walking the worst hitter in the entire ballpark (yes, this included the fans). At this point, I turned to my pal Dr. Vincentstein and said, "I can't believe this arse-wipe just walked that Punch-and-Judy jackass -- the next two hitters are lefties, and lefties have eaten him up all f*cking year!" Sure enough, both Iwamura and Crawford scorched singles, and the game was tied. Long story short: we eventually ended up losing a game we coulda shoulda won in the bottom of the 12th.

The point: the starting pitching has been extremely solid (C.C. and Dr. Fausto are on fire, Westbrook is coming on strong now that he's finally begun locating his sinker, and even Byrd has shown flashes of competence), the bullpen has actually been a pleasant surprise (Betancourt and Pérez have been solid, Fultz and Mastny have been acceptable, and Lewis looks promising), and although our hitting has been pretty disappointing at times (especially the Pronk), the team is still scoring plenty of runs (bad-ass Vicky Martínez and Garko are having excellent years, Sizemore is having a deceptively productive season, and Peralta has really bounced back from his horrible sophomore slump). Hell, even the defense has been pretty solid. Be that as it may, this team will not have a successful post-season run if the Polish Pop-gun is still closing. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. No lead will be safe, the hitters will press, and hitters that press in the playoffs are easy outs. To quote Fat Bastard, "it's a vicious circle." The Polish Pop-gun must be disarmed, and he must be disarmed NOW!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life in Florida, continued

A few cool and a few crazy things to do & see in Florida. I’ll let you decide which is which.

  • The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are an atrociously inept franchise, and they play in a stinking dome named after an even stinkier brand of orange juice… but the Tribe make it down to Tropicana Field at least once a year.
  • Sarasota is a stuffy, rich white geezer kind of town, but it does offer a plethora of cultural opportunities, including an opera company, a museum established by a circus maven, and the Burns Court Cinema, a gentrified warehouse that’s a surprisingly excellent venue for independent and foreign films. Since I discovered it accidentally a few months ago, I’ve seen a French movie (La Môme), an Italian movie (Nuovomondo), and a Swiss movie (Vitus) there. Shades of the Cleveland Film Festival!
  • Theme parks are a dime a dozen, especially in Orlando. For an unusual experience, though, you’d be hard-pressed to top this living biblical theme park and museum, located just minutes from DisneyWorld and Universal Studios.
  • Smack dab in the middle of the Everglades, Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery showcases his phenomenal photography. Butcher himself is around the gallery a lot of the time, and he sometimes leads lucky visitors on guided tours of "his backyard."
More to come when I actually get a life and am able to indulge in a little bit of R&R.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

On superstition

I’m often asked how I can be such an overly rational person, yet at the same time indulge in weird superstitious routines, especially when it comes to sports. The easy answer, of course, is that I’m schizophrenic. While there’s an unfortunate element of truth to that, the reality is a little more ridiculous: it’s because karma plays a huge part in the outcome of sports events! Don’t believe me? Allow me to elaborate why I’m convinced I may have jinxed my beloved Cleveland teams with two little anecdotes. I swear to God these are 100% true.

1. 1997 World Series Game 7, top of the ninth inning, the Tribe leading the fish 2-1, Sandy Alomar on 3rd with one out, Matt Williams due up. Jim “Polesmoker” Leyland makes a pitching change, and there’s a commercial break. A huge insurance run, not to mention a WS win and the end of nearly fifty years of misery, hang in the balance... and yours truly, in an inexplicable and inexcusable moment of shocking stupidity, picks that very moment to call the 1-800 World Series video number to order the tape. Why? I was afraid they’d run out... do you suppose my mother had any kids that lived? I’m still on hold when the game resumes, so I hang up the phone call I thought was so important just minutes before and pray for Williams to come the f*ck through. But Williams, a gutless wonder who will defect to Arizona a few weeks later, hits a routine grounder to third -- that chickenshit bastard couldn’t even lift a medium-depth fly ball, for Christ’s sake. Alomar, who was going on contact, gets easily thrown out at home. Bye-bye, insurance run. Then-manager Mike Hargrove was an absolute idiot to have Alomar running on contact with an overanxious, free-swinging piece of shit like Williams batting, but that’ll be a rant for another day. Anyway, I immediately throw the phone against the wall, shattering it to smithereens, unload about three million oaths at the top of my lungs, and smack myself in the face a few times, but the damage is done. In the bottom of the ninth, Hoser Mesa comes in looking like a deer in headlights, bearing a suspicious brown stain on his cowardly pants, and obviously not ready to close the game. He promptly gives up the lead, the game goes into extra innings, and the rest is another sad chapter in the Tribe’s history. “Wait ’til next year” is STILL the official motto of the Clevelander.

2. Early January, 2003. It’s Sunday morning, and the Brownies, having miraculously made it into the playoffs for the first time in some ten years, will battle the revolting Pukesburgh Squealers in the afternoon. Two nights before, the Buckeyes had won the National Championship. Before the Brownies game starts, I decide to e-mail my Cleveland pals with a celebratory Buckeyes / Go Brownies e-mail, so I put together a little graphic with Buckeye Brutus playing the part of Adam getting touched by God in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” (yes, I’m aware that I’m a total geek), and adding the caption, “One Miracle Down... Three To Go.” Then I decide to get cute and add a graphic of three guys sitting and reading, replace the heads with the Tribe, Brownies and Cavs logos, then label it, “Meanwhile, in God’s Waiting Room...” So far, no damage. But then, I decide to get even more clever/creative (the demise of all graphic designers -- but at least we’re not interior decorators, like the openly gay Squealer nation), and add titles to the reading materials; for the Cavs (and remember, this is pre-LeBron), it’s “Resurrecting a Moribund Franchise.” For the Tribe, it’s “The Idiot’s Guide to Re-signing Free Agents” (dastardly and borderline retard Jim Thome had just bolted for Philly, announcing: “duuuhhh... errrr... duuhhhh... it’s not, like... about the money... duuhhhh... grrrr... duuhhh...” ... and no, I’m not bitter...); I know I should not tempt fate, and for one sane instant, I decide to leave the Brownies’ book blank, but then my obsessive-compulsive, anal retentive idiocy takes over... if the other guys are reading titled material, so should Browniedawg! Ignoring the spine-chilling shrieks from the little voice inside my head, I add “How to Stop Choking in Playoff Games” to Browniedawg’s book, save the file, and promptly e-mail it, along with an unbreakable jinx, to all my Cleveland friends. A time machine, a time machine, my kingdom for a time machine... Anyway, the Brownies jumped out to a huge lead, then played the entire fourth quarter with their collective hands firmly wrapped around their collective necks, and lost the lead for good with roughly 40 seconds left in the game. To this day, I still can’t look back and enjoy the Buckeyes championship because of the enormous Brownies collapse that occurred less than 48 hours later.

Miscellaneous addendum: my then-girlfriend, who was from Pukesburgh and a self-admittedly uninterested Squealers “fan,” tried to console me, but I still dumped her sorry ass with extreme prejudice that same day... but who’s bitter?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I was a teenage headbanger…

… And now, I’m a middle-aged headbanger, because even a persistent and debilitating week-long battle with some weird hybrid food poisoning/flu wasn’t going to keep me away from Friday’s Slayer and Marilyn Manson concert at the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa. At the risk of oversharing some gross info, I would have worn a diaper and carried a handful of barf bags rather than miss the show. Luckily for everyone involved, I didn’t need to.

We arrived at the Amphitheater some 20 minutes before the scheduled starting time. Since I still wasn’t feeling too hot, I decided to improve my mindset by downing a few Jack & Cokes (yes, I’m a grown-up). I only mention this because while buying my drinks, an unbelievably kind bargirl actually carded me! The lesson: if you want to belie your age, develop some sort of brooding general malaise, drop twenty pounds in a few months so that you look emaciated and perennially exhausted, sleep an average of two hours a night so the bags under your eyes look like 35-gallon Hefties, and violà! Instant youthfulness. My only consolation is that since half of the audience was wasted, and the other half were freakish enough to look like extras in a John Waters film, I blended right in.

The opening act was Bleeding Through, a nondescript screamer band whose only noteworthy contributions were: an unbelievably hot keyboard girl, complete with S&M outfit; numerous references to how honoured they were to open for Slayer & Manson; and several unsuccessful attempts to fire up the mosh pit. Their set was mercifully over within half an hour, clearing the stage for the hardest-playing metal band that ever was, is, or will be: Slayer, motherf*uckers!!!

Oh, sure, Manowar may hold the Guiness World Record as the loudest metal band ever recorded, but no band rocks as hard as Slayer. It simply isn’t possible. From the furious opening number, “Flesh Storm,” through their killer encores, “Raining Blood” and the still-redoubtable “Angel of Death,” Slayer’s set was the most phenomenal, hard-core, cathartic blast o’metal that I have ever experienced. My knees were weak when it was over, and I don’t think this was caused by my illness or the booze. There wasn’t a lot of frill to their show – a few background graphics (mostly the cover artwork of whichever album contained the song they were playing at the time and some anti-religion or anti-war imagery), some moving around on the stage, and some headbanging. That’s it. Slayer know they kick ass, so they don’t bother putting on a crazy show. Instead, they just blow you away with their awesome skill, as you can see in the following clip of a seldom-heard little jewel – a thousand apologies for the lousy video/sound quality, my cheap little camera can only do so much:

Marilyn Manson, on the other hand, is not just a terrific musician, but also a consummate showman. My only complaints: his entrance was overly drawn out and theatrical, even for him, and for some reason (possibly to avoid being blown away by Slayer?), the volume was way too loud during his entire performance. I don’t mind loudness, but when it enters Spinal Tap’s “it goes up to 11” territory and the distorsion is so great that the instruments and vocals jumble into a messy cacophony, I can’t help but wish they’d take it easy on the volume and focus more on the music. Nonetheless, Manson’s set was phenomenal, and he really went all out to put on a killer show, cavorting, twisting, and crawling all over the stage, changing clothing between just about every song, making ample use of weird props (a giant chair, a platform that was raised some 40 feet above the stage, a makeshift pulpit, etc.), and whipping the crowd up into an hour-long, “you had to be there to believe it” frenzy. I managed to get a video recording of “Heart-Shaped Glasses” – again, please excuse the shoddy video/sound quality:

And now that you've had a chance to see both bands, please take the time to cast your vote in the "Who rocks harder?" poll in the right column of this page. (Man, I love Blogger gadgets.)

All in all, it was one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever attended, and it reminded me of my “glory days” as a teenage headbanger. Midlife crisis be damned, I think I’m going to scrounge up some money and continue the concert revival – Evanescence and Korn next month, baby!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It ends with a whimper

During the course of my graduate studies at FU, I have had the opportunity to teach several classes. I originally welcomed the opportunity to teach strictly as a means of enhancing my curriculum vitae, but in the process, I have found that I enjoy teaching immensely. Regrettably, I won’t have the privilege of teaching beyond this semester, so today marked the end of the Professor Jorge Era. I’m never good at predicting my feelings, and today was no exception. I expected to feel sadness owing to the fact that it was my last class, as well as bitterness owing to the fact that my teaching days should never have come to an end (that’s a story for another day… probably after I’ve graduated so I can excoriate the powers-that-be at FU without fear of reprisal – the bastards might steal my good pocket protector). What I ended up feeling instead was a jaded ambivalence.

It’s funny how even something you love doing can unknowingly become routine, but that’s exactly what’s happened to me with teaching. I gave the same farewell and good luck speech I’ve given the last day of the four previous semesters, watched a different but remarkably similar group of students struggle with my unbelievable easy exam, and my way of savouring the moment was to do typically mundane things like making a grading key for the exam, entering a few last-minute grades, and checking my e-mail and cell phone messages because one of my students didn’t show up for the exam. Before I knew it, the students were finishing up the exam and beginning to file out. Most of them made it a point to say farewell (I will forever insist I lucked into getting mostly really nice students every semester, especially after hearing the horror stories from other professors who teach the same classes I have taught), bust my chops about the myriad struggles of The Holy Quaternity, or laugh at/with me regarding my obsession with puns and anecdotes that deal with cheesy 80’s music, and that interaction made me feel kind of happy and sad at the same time. Be that as it may, the cynical ambivalence won out again thanks to a couple of whiny jewels.

Whiner 1, whom I’ll call Ditzy Queen, complained about how difficult the exam was, tried to convince me that I hadn’t covered the material in some of the questions, then tried to convince me to drop the lowest exam score, and then actually had the temerity to ask me whether there were going to be any extra credit opportunities. That’s right, Ditzy Queen – I scheduled various extra credit opportunities after the end of the semester! How some of these kids got into college, I’ll never know.

Whiner 2 earned the nickname “Sleeping Beauty” because I constantly had to wake him up throughout the semester. Apparently, Sleeping Beauty slept through every important set of instructions I gave for assignments, because he turned in a paper without reference citations after I spent approximately 30 minutes covering the importance of citing sources and how not doing so was plagiarism. It goes without saying that Sleeping Beauty earned an F for his paper, and he came up to me after the exam to whine about how hard he had worked on the paper, and how he didn’t understand why he got a bad grade. When I explained to him AGAIN about citing sources, he nodded vacantly, then asked about a particular paragraph I’d underlined. The paragraph in question had obviously been cut & pasted from an internet source, because the ink colour was grey instead of black. I pointed this out to him, and his answer was, “It’s grey because the printer was running out of ink.” (I swear to God this is true.) I answered that if this had been the case, the lines below the paragraph in question should also be grey, not black. His answer: “I guess the printer was acting funny.” At this point, I pulled out my wallet and made it a point to squint at my driver’s license until he asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was checking my license to make sure I wasn’t born yesterday, he finally gave up the ghost and left. Priceless.

And so endeth the Professor Jorge Era – not with a bang, but with a whiny whimper.

Friday, July 20, 2007

In honour of Shark Week

A couple of months ago I spoke with my friend Daniel from Connecticut who is, like myself, originally from Uruguay, South America. I called him to let him know that my mother would be traveling to Uruguay this month to visit her siblings. Daniel’s mother still lives in Uruguay, so whenever a member of our family travels there, I ask whether he would like to send his mother any letters, photos of the grandkids, etc., as the postal service to Uruguay is expensive, slow, and extremely unreliable. On this occasion, he asked whether I would mind sending his mom a bottle of shark cartilage pills, since they seemed to help with her arthritis. I had never heard of this product, but Daniel assured me that it could be found at any neighbourhood drugstore or supermarket.

Last month, I finally got around to buying the “shark pills” at Walgreen’s. I jokingly asked the pharmacist about the healing power of shark tissue, and to my shock and dismay, was told that the pills were actually made from shark cartilage – all along, I had naïvely assumed that the product’s name was not indicative of its true contents. When I got home, I did a little bit of research and found a few disturbing facts:

The shark cartilage pill manufacturing industry used to claim that their pills not only help with arthritic and muscular pains, but that they are also effective in treating cancer. These claims were not backed by scientific evidence of any form. Regardless, the industry mass-marketed the pills as cancer miracle cures, with a catchy but totally inaccurate slogan: “sharks don’t get cancer.” (Although cartilaginous fishes have a much lower incidence of disease than humans, sharks do, in fact, get cancer.) Eventually, the FTC stepped in and ordered the companies to stop selling shark cartilage products as cures for cancer. Once actual studies documented that shark cartilage does absolutely nothing to treat or cure cancer or any other ailment, the FDA required that a disclaimer be added to the packaging informing the consumer that the product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease. In spite of these setbacks, the shark cartilage industry is still obscenely successful, totaling millions of dollars in yearly sales in the US alone.

The false claims made by the shark cartilage hucksters are appalling, but they are neither the first nor last enterprise to hoodwink the consumer for their own gain. One might even say that by supplying a harmless placebo for a great deal of people, the shark cartilage industry is actually providing a valuable service. This is true, at least to the extent that the pills cause those taking them no harm, and even this claim is debatable. Unfortunately, the shark pills are exacting a steep price – not from the consumers, but from the sharks and, by extension, the marine environment.

The shark cartilage harvesting industry accounts for millions of killed sharks every year in US waters alone. Because sharks are at the apex of the predatory chain, sharp fluctuations in their numbers unfailingly reverb through the entire ocean ecosystem. For the general public, however, ignoring the senseless slaughter of millions of sharks is probably not difficult – sharks are not charismatic, and are portrayed by the popular media as dangerous and consciously evil. In reality, shark attacks claim less than 15 human lives per year, worldwide. Chances are that one is much more likely to die in a traffic accident while driving to and from the beach than from a shark attack. Chances also are that if sharks were warm, cuddly and fuzzy creatures, their needless butchery would be met with outrage, and not the current ambivalence/tacit approval.

By the same token, simply eliminating a placebo for which there is a huge public demand seems unfair. One possible solution to this conundrum is replacing shark cartilage and other ineffective homeopathic remedies with surrogate substances. What better candidates for this than invasive exotics? If the alternative medicine industry were to undertake the harvest of, say, Brazilian pepper with the same zeal that it slaughters sharks, it would not only provide a valuable service to forest ecology, but it would also mitigate the considerable expense of removing these pests – in the US, the removal of invasive exotics is estimated to cost taxpayers well over $1 billion a year.

Here in Southwest Florida, we have myriad invasive exotics. I can think of no better way to conclude this diatribe than with a few local contenders:

  • Melaleuca has easily resisted just about every plague visited upon it in an effort to eradicate it from our forests. Its remarkable resiliency can be extrapolated as a shark cartilage-like panacea.
  • The water lettuce can also be used as a generic cure-all. Potential slogan: “Water is good for you. Lettuce is good for you. Water lettuce is doubly good for you!”
  • The water hyacinth can double its population in as little as 6 days. As such, it is an obvious candidate for a fertility drug. Potential slogan: “Faster than a randy rabbit!”
  • The Japanese climbing fern can be used to treat acrophobia. Potential slogan: “Sayonara, vertigo!”
  • The Cuban tree frog’s noxious skin secretions make it unpalatable to most native predaceous birds and snakes. The paradox of treating venom with venom can be similarly applied to treat bad taste (in clothing, in behaviour, etc.) with, well, bad taste.

Viability of this tongue-in-cheek solution notwithstanding, one thing is for certain: the world’s shark populations are being devastated at an alarming pace. This trend must be reversed, and pronto.

In sharks we trust.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Life in Florida

Although I still really miss my beloved Cleveland, I’ve got to grudgingly admit that living in Florida definitely has its advantages. Today, for instance, I spent the whole day at the beach, doing a little bit of incompetent snorkeling (visibility: less than a foot), collecting seashells, finding money underwater (a whole buck! I’ll try not to spend it all in one place), and getting roasted like a Kenny Rogers chicken. Beautiful beaches aside, the Florida life can be fascinating, even at its most apparently mundane. Here are a few photographic high/lowlights from the past week (click to enlarge).

On my way to FGCU (new abbreviation: FU) last weekend, I drove past this doozy of a brushfire. I almost caused several accidents by whipping out the camera and taking a few photos while careening down I-75, thereby adding to the “shitty driver” local flavour:

While mowing my lawn a couple of days ago, I came across this beautiful wild lily buried in The Corner From Hell among the palmetto and air-potatoes (a filthy, pesky exotic invasive – kind of like me!):

On my way to FU yesterday, I had to slam on the brakes, get out of the car, and record the apparently simultaneous demise of two huge toads just outside my driveway. I wasn’t dorky enough to place a quarter on the street next to the squished toads for scale (they really stank), but these bad boys were at least eighteen inches long:

While returning from the beach today, we were treated to a spectacular rainbow. Having learned from last week’s brushfire photo near-accidents, I waited until reaching the Coastal Village parking lot to snap a few pics. Here's my favourite:

What, oh what will the next week hold for us? Hopefully a lightning strike sighting…

Monday, July 9, 2007

New socks

My new socks are labeled and ready. OCD? Maybe... but discipline and control make the man, damn it!

Monday, July 2, 2007

How do I love Korn?

How do I love Korn? Let me count the ways.
I love the subtle and creepy synthesizer
That serves, as background, for most of their songs
And gives their music a distinctively ominous ring.
I love Jonathan Davis and his nasal raspiness
That makes him sound like a higher-pitched Pee-Wee Herman.
I love the sneaky melodic beauty of their songs;
I love their obsession with minor keys.
I love their weird progressions where they tend
To focus on dissonance without disregarding harmony.
I love the fact that Brian Welch left the band
Because he found God! -- I love that the band
Never skipped a beat, pun intended! -- and, to this day,
Continues to put out music bettered only by death.

(With deepest apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

Their new song, Evolution:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bumper sticker heaven

Although the traffic in Florida cannot compare to that of Cleveland or Los Angeles, driving in the Sunshine State can still be pretty harrowing. Between nonagenarian daredevils who cruise at a cool 52 mph on the passing lane of the interstate, delusional tailgating hayseeds who think they're channeling the spirit of Dale Idiot Sr., and seemingly narcoleptic 18-wheel truckers, the streets of Florida are not for the faint-hearted. Nonetheless, during my daily drives to and from school, my attention deficit tendencies steer (pun intended) my focus towards the myriad bumper stickers that adorn the vehicles around me. These come in a wide variety, but I tend to lump them into three categories: driving philosophy, personal statements, and religion.

Driving philosophy's greatest hits:
  • Back Off
  • If You Can Read This You're Too Close
  • How's My Driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT
  • If You Can't See My Mirrors, I Can't See You
  • Don't Push (This one's my favourite, especially when it's a truck driving at a crawl on the passing lane while dumping construction materials out of its ass -- it's as if putting that sticker on the truck gives the driver the right to screw over everyone else on the road.)
Personal statements' greatest hits:
  • My Other Car Is A Mercedes
  • My Other Car Is A Piece Of Shit, Too
  • I Brake For Animals
  • Pro Choice
  • Pro Life
  • You Can Have My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Fingers
  • I Don't Call 911 (Usually accompanied by a picture of a gun. I love this one, because the guy driving usually looks like a shy, vestal accountant -- I guess these are the guys you SHOULD be afraid of...)
  • No Fear
  • I'd Rather Be Fishing (Interchangeable with Sailing, Boating, Golfing, and At A Klan Rally -- all right, I made that last one up.)
Religion's greatest hits: I feel like a bit of a hypocrite bringing this one up -- I've got crosses tattooed all over my body -- but I think it's my favourite category. To wit:
  • My Boss Is A Jewish Carpenter
  • Body Piercing Saved My Life (Usually accompanied by a picture of Jesus' puncture wounds; get it???)
  • Any participant in the Jesus Fish vs. Darwin Amphibian sticker/metal icon brouhaha
  • Let Go And Let God
  • Jesus Saves
  • Nuns Do It Out Of Habit (All right, I made THAT one up too... but how is that not a bumper sticker? If it were, it'd be a best-seller! I'm on my way to the patent office as soon as I post this.)
And my personal fave, just glimpsed this week but immediately becoming the runaway winner of the "Gayest Moment of 2K7" award: