Category Archives: Uncategorized

House of Cards

I have eventually gotten around to checking out Netflix’s inaugural show, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Mara, and Robin Wright.

Most of the hype surrounding this show centered on the fact that it was produced by Netflix, but it really could have come out on even the most traditional television channels. Its pedigree is impeccable; supremely written and directed, with a slimy, lo-fi soundtrack, and confident quarterback of a main character capable of carrying extended stretches of show. Kevin Spacey has been great as House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, a perfect fit for a show about Washington DC’s power players ruthlessly backstabbing one another.

There’s also a stable of interesting sub-plot storylines that really carry the water; an addict congressman, a rival back in the home district, and Freddie, a barbecue  restauraneur who seems capable of getting a plate of ribs under Frank’s nose on alarmingly short notice.  But for the most part, all these side characters serve as nothing more than detours to help flesh out the Frank Underwood character.

In one episode, a harried Frank calls on Freddie to take over catering on the day of a critical fundraiser. Good ribs take hours to make, yet Freddie is able to churn out enough ribs to cater a large fundraiser with almost zero notice? And usually in exchange for what appears to be a single bill, that is always elicits a reaction by the restauranteur that Frank paid way too much. The spectacle reeks of class inequality and definitely more than hints at racial showboating. Furthermore, whether intended or not, these exchanges underscore the depressing fact that the people who run Washington DC, are not the people who have to actually have to live in Washington DC. As Frank Underwood slowly builds his castle, Freddie slowly lives in a cloud of smoke in southeast Washington.

Frank’s wife, played by Robin Wright, is a machine that is fueled by the blood of 59 year-old service workers and origami-folding indigents. Every scene feels like she’s luring in a new character in order to drain them of their lifeforce.

Underwood’s protege/lover/confident, Zoe Barnes, is played by Kate Mara. Mara is arguably the more useful of the two female leads as her youth, lifestyle and profession put her on a different path from the Underwoods’ high society back-room proceedings. Zoe Barnes is the show’s wild card, growing from an entusiastic naivete to a strong-willed journalist who holds some ideals.

It’s hard to conclude how long of a shelf-life this show has. The first two seasons cost $100 million to make, which Netflix claims it has already recouped in terms of new subscribers. But will House of Cards keep up its subscription boost by the end of the second season? Maybe by then Netflix will have added more quality shows to its bullpen.

Additionally, Kevin Spacey is clearly hoping that a couple seasons on a critically acclaimed show is going to propel him back onto Hollywood’s A-list, at which it stands to reason that he’s going to leave the show. Of course, the other possibility is that he sticks around a while longer, collects a few more paychecks, and accepts his lot as a very good actor who probably is best suited as a supporting actor in good films, and a lead actor in mediocre-to-crummy films.

But at the moment, you can hang your hat on this show. The immovable characters; the main character, two female leads, are all keepers. There are enough shady Washington DC anecdotes that can be adapted to keep House of Cards standing for the forseeable future.

The Fucking Post Office

As I’m bouncing around the Bay Area, I went into the post office to open a P.O. box, so I have a steady way of receiving mail. Now, it’s no revelation that the post office is a wretched place to be. The line is long, there’s always a whining human child, there’s no consistent average amount of time per transaction so you have no idea how long anything is going to take, and the people working behind the desk are clearly more exasperated than the customers that they serve.

In other words, I wasn’t expecting a smooth ride. Yet regardless, I left the post office so angry that I wanted to come back with a blowtorch to burn through their colossally shitty rulebook.

You see, all I was looking for was a P.O. box. I didn’t have anything to mail, I had my driver’s license to show as ID, and I had already paid for the box online. The only thing i was expecting to leave with was a key to my temporary mailbox.

But staying true to the rule that most public administrators are total failures at life, I was turned away for not having two forms of acceptable identification. Granted, I had a valid driver’s license, credit cards, a social security card, but as the worn out mongoloid behind the counter mentioned, “social security card is not ID”

Failures.

In order to receive a post office box in the United States, an applicant must also furnish one of the following: (1) Current lease, mortgage, or deed of trust, (2) Voter or vehicle registration card, (3) Home or vehicle insurance policy.

So I, who just moved to a new city without a car, am unable to qualify for a post office box. It also means that 90% of the people who actually have a reason to apply for a P.O. box can’t actually get one. Sorry, people who have moved. Sorry homeless people. I’m sure the creator of this policy will tell you from his or her home in Reston, VA that these new policies are a byproduct of post-9/11 concerns. Never mind that any terrorist worth half his salt could create a fraudulent apartment lease. It’s policies such as this that really argue how little public administrators have in common with the people they’re entrusted to serve, and it definitely makes me ashamed to have ever spent any time studying this field.

 

Dumb blonde joke

A blonde driver is pulled over by a blonde police officer for speeding.

“Ma’am, can I see your drivers license, please.”

The driver rummages through her purse, before conceding that she can’t find it.

“Well do you have any form of a photo ID.” the cop asks, growing agitated.

The driver again digs in her purse, pulls out a compact, looks at herself in the mirror, hands it to the officer and says: “Here, this has my picture in it.”

The police officer looks in the compact and hands it back to the  driver.

“I am so sorry Ma’am, if I had known you were a cop I would have never pulled you over.”

Buffalo buffalo

In 1972, a graduate student in the linguistics department at the University of Indiana created what is possibly the zaniest sentence in the English language:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

The inventor of the sentence, Dr. William Rapaport, argues that the syntax of his sentence breaks down to the use of “buffalo” as a place (the city of Buffalo), thing (those furry rhinos who used to carpet the Great Plains), verb (“to buffalo”, which means to bully or overwhelm), and style (e.g. Buffalo-style buffalo wings). So, buffalo who reside in, or at least culturally identify themselves with, the city of Buffalo, NY (i.e. Buffalo buffalo) are engaged in the act of buffaloing other Buffalonian buffalo in a fashion that is stylistically unique to the city of Buffalo.

Dr. Rapaport, who heightens the confusion by now working at the University of Buffalo, has managed to successfully identify a word with enough versatility to serve as an object, verb, and place on the map, all while appearing identical in both singular and plural form. He has argued that last point most vehemently, on the grounds that plural “-s” endings “lack a certain aesthetic simplicity”.

Discriminating tastes aside, I applaud Dr. Rapaport for his discovery, even if it resides entirely on a single page in a dictionary. But let’s face the giant animal in the room; repeating the word “buffalo” seven times doesn’t make any sense. For starters, it fails the most basic of English tests. If I approached a human English speaker on the street and recited Dr. Rapaport’s sentence, he or she would look at me as if I had just tried to offer them a ride on my spaceship.

The sentence also holds no historical value. It was first written in 1972, long after any significant buffalo-related buffaloing could have taken place. Plus, there may not actually be any buffalo who identify themselves as full-time residents of the city of Buffalo, New York. A search of city records yielded no results, although all it takes is one deranged citizen to take a stab at unregistered buffalo ownership. An aggressive door-to-door search of homes for unregistered herds may yield positive results, but it’s unlikely to gain steam, given the current economic conditions.

To this English speaker, however, the confounding element of Dr. Rapaport’s sentence rests not in how it’s read or written, but in the amount of time and effort that took place in order to authenticate his research: The cloudy chalkboard of scribbled variations; The late nights with his academic advisor by his side, peppering it with suggestions  (“Perhaps you could cross out the third “buffalo” in the sentence and attach it to the end”); the nods of approval by faculty members when his paper was published; and the faces of his peers, who were complicit to the entire event.

So maybe William Rapaport has added a valueless sentence to the English language. Maybe this is the first case of a toddler speaking on the same linguistic plane as degree-conferring academics. Maybe his verbal concoction is less than Shakespearean.

But times are tough for the world of wordplay. The English language isn’t as ripe for innovation as it was during William Shakespeare’s time. Nowadays, the only way for a linguistics professor to make a blip on the cultural radar is to repeatedly string together the same word. So, it’s likely for the best that Dr. Rapaport keeps his gold star. Because when there’s not enough low hanging fruit to go around, you have to pick the apples beneath your shoes.

Marcus Camby

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The NBA trading deadline is less than a week away, and with the crazy financial market, there should be a series of moves coming any day now.

Cleveland is in an advantageous position because they have $21 million in expiring contracts to offer around, but due to their better-than-expected record, GM Danny Ferry has been grappling with the idea of bringing in a new guy into a locker room that has been harmonious thus far. Order for Ferry to feel good about making a move, the incoming player can’t disturb Cleveland’s locker room chemistry.

Fortunately for Ferry, the Cavaliers have one of the few stable locker rooms in the NBA. They have an unquestioned franchise player and a respected coaching staff that has the full backing of the front office.  Only the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs can match or top Cleveland in that regard. They could bring Dennis Rodman out of retirement, let him play every game in a wedding dress, and not worry about capsizing the boat.

But considering how well the Cavs have played, Danny Ferry is unlikely to go for the home run, and he probably doesn’t need to. The Cavs just need one more rotation player who can play defense and distract the opposing defense enough for Lebron to get open. It doesn’t matter what position he plays, as long as he’s committed to defense, Coach Mike Brown will put him on the floor.

The most glaring weakness on the team comes when opponents go with a big lineup. Delonte West is a very good shooting guard, but he’s gets posted up by bigger guys. The easy remedy for this is to slide Lebron down to the 2, but it forces Brown to put Sasha Pavlovic into the game. Pavlovic is a big, solid defender on his own, but he’s an offensive liability, and a terrible ballhandler. Upgrading the swingman spot with a big, athletic guard that can hit shots, is ideal, but the market for swingmen is underwhelming. Plus swingmen often demand shots away from the basket, which could disrupt Cleveland’s offensive rhythm.

Instead, it’s probably better to bring in a bigger guy who can defend the 4 and 5 spots, so Lebron doesn’t get worn down banging against guys his size. Given the current market, the best guy for a Cleveland is probably Marcus Camby of the LA Clippers.

Camby is a great defender and rebounder who gets his points off of put-backs and dishes. His teammates have always liked him, and judging by the double-double he’s averaging on a terrible team, plays hard every night. And at age 34, he would likely play as many or as few minutes as needed, as long as it gives him a chance to earn a championship ring.

Mike Brown has publicly stated that he doesn’t want another big man, but a lot of that belief hinges on giving minutes to rookie JJ Hickson. Once the playoffs roll around though, it’s unlikely Hickson will be seeing meaningful minutes.

The main obstacle to making a trade is the overall incompetence of the Clippers’ front office. Owner Donald Sterling dslikes trades, based on the belief that if a team is offering a player, there has to be something wrong with him. But considering that Sterling is a notorious cheapskate, the prospect of saving almost $10 million by trading Camby for Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract might be enough to get the deal done.

A notable kicker about Wally Szczerbiak being the primary trade chip for Cleveland, is that he likes playing for the Cavs, making him likely to demand a buyout from whoever trades for him, and rejoin Cleveland after a month of NBA-mandated rest. So in a way, the Cavs would be trading nothing in order to make a late season acquisition.

This trade, if accompanied by a healthy Cleveland roster, would give the Cavs the best front line in the NBA, and the best chance to win the NBA championship. The Cavs’ major obstacles are Boston, Orlando, and the Los Angeles Lakers, and adding another big man means that Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol would be guarded by a very good defender (the platoon of Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, and Marcus Camby) every minute of the game, while also affording Zydrunas Ilgauskas the opportunity to save his energy for the offensive end.

Bump fouls

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The standout moment of the Cavs-Pacers game came after TJ Ford hit a jumper with .8 seconds left to give the Pacers a 95-93 lead.

Last night was the first time of the season that Cleveland was put in the situation of having to inbound an alley-oop pass 30 feet into a defense that knows the play is coming. Normally, the defending coach will instruct his team to collapse on the guy rolling towards the rim, and start to celebrate because this play fails 99.9% of the time.

But as Mo Williams made his desperation heave towards the basket, it became clear that Lebron could conceivably score off of this play. The physical requirements of outjumping your opponent and muscling ball through the hoop, while your defender is left with no choice but to foul you relentlessly, fall directly into Lebron’s repertoire.

Danny Granger must have made this same realization, because as the ball went up, he knocked his hip hard enough against Lebron’s for the ball to sail through his hands, and out of bounds. Pacers fans were understandably pissed off by the late foul call, but if you check the replay, you can clearly see the hit. Every contender should also watch this replay, because without a foul or a ref swallowing his whistle, I’m not sure if you can stop Lebron from scoring.

The negative side to this revelation comes with the referees calling a foul with so little time left in the game. On the ensuing possession, the Pacers tried the same exact play, and received a practically obligatory foul call that sealed up the win for them. It’s important to note, however, that Lebron didn’t foul Granger. There was no hip contact, and Lebron had the inside positioning on the pass, so any contact should have at least resulted in a no-call. But it’s the home crowd, and many foul calls are subjective with.

One gem that might be overlooked is that Lebron sunk two high pressure free-throws, either one of which would have lost them the game right there. It’s an MVP-prerequisite play, because I believe Kobe and Wade would have made those.

Michael Phelps smokes weed

phelps_watch

Michael Phelps has just earned my respect.

Phelps, the uber swimmer, was caught on film smoking a bong at a house party in South Carolina. But in a display of honesty rarely seen by public figures, Phelps admitted to and apologized for his actions. He did not make any denials about using his monster lung capacity for purposes other than swimming, or even making the easy claim that the tobacco water pipe  he was caught using, was actually filled with tobacco. Instead, Phelps  issued a public apology, acknowledging “regrettable” behavior and “bad judgment”.

But by being honest about making a bad decision, Phelps is being raked through the coals by tiny hypocrites. In a comical cut-and-run decision, USA Swimming, apparantly displaying less short-term than their meal ticket swimmer, has suspended financial support for Phelps, and banned him from US competitions for three months.  And as if operating on an unlimmited administrative budget, the Richland County Police Department has announed that they will consider pursuing criminal charges against Phelps.

“The bottom line is, if he broke the law, and he did it in Richland County, he’s going to be charged,” Lt. Chris Cowan said. “And there’s no difference between Michael Phelps and several other people that we arrest for the same type of a charge everyday.”

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense. Possession of paraphernalia is a $500 fine.

So Columbia, SC is going to put public funding into an investigation against an out-of-state millionaire who could raise an army of lawyers on a whim, with the absolute best case scenario being a recoup of $700 and 30 days in jail? The charges haven’t even been filed and this case already reeks of a pissing contest.

But in general, we as a nation have our priorities completely backwards. Phelps was initially praised for being a tremendously successful American who openly sold his fifteen minutes in the spotlight to any endorsement opportunity available. Why does blatant prostitution recieve praise, while apologizing for smoking pot gets you burned at the stake?

In a way, an incident such as this shows how little Americans actually know what they want. Isn’t honesty supposed to be a characteristic that we look for in our public figures? Isn’t forgiveness a trait that we all hope to recieve when we admit to a mistake?

I have been rather vocal about Phelps being the perfect example of a tremendously successful athlete who does not qualify a hero, because he never showed any courage. He worked his tail off to reach the top of the podium, smiled for the cameras, and cashed the checks, but he never said anything of substance. And now, after showing a side of vulnerability, America has turned its back on him.  But I won’t. Michael Phelps was honest when he could have easily lied. And that takes courage.