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August 2007
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dexter season two premiere

I don't want to look it up to be sure, but I feel like every time I talk about Dexter, I apologize for its existence, adding that no matter how good I think it is, I can't recommend it to anyone. One of my favorite critics, Heather Havrilesky, gets to the point as she explains why she can't watch it:

Even though "Dexter" is a well-written, smart, savvy show, even though it's arguably more sick and twisted to see the same half-naked female victims on "CSI" over and over again, even though this season, the feds are following Dexter's trail in earnest, I can't watch. There's too much blood, Dexter is too crazy, and the whole thing makes me feel sick to my stomach.

So yes, one more time: I understand that people avoid the show, and don't blame them a bit for doing so.

Which doesn't explain why I gave the Season One Box Set to a friend as a birthday present. (Come to think of it, I haven't heard much from her lately.)

And I won't explain it now. Dexter isn't perfect … some of the actors aren't up to the level set by Michael C. Hall, although it's really not fair to hold anyone to that standard, and some of the less Dexter-centric plots lack interest. But the way Dexter (show and character) sucks you into the perspective of a serial killer is impressive, if unsettling. As is the way certain parts are funny in an almost-ha-ha way, so that you want to laugh, maybe even get one going in your throat, but it gets stuck there, because more often than not it's some reference to the titular character's predilections. (Dexter joins a bowling team so that he'll look normal … the team's bowling shirts have their name on the back, "Bowl Till You Bleed.") (If it isn't clear, Dexter's bowling mates have no idea what else he does in his spare time. Get it, "spare" time?)

Dexter makes just the right amount of fuss over the "code" under which he operates. It's there, it allows us to see him as, if not good, then at least an enemy of bad. But the code is really only relevant as something that drives Dexter's psyche, which is why I say the show makes just the right fuss … we may "root" for Dexter when he killss bad people, but in the end, Dexter is one fucked-up human being, and that code ain't helping him any.

Finally, Dexter takes the "something's bubbling under the surface of Paradise" thing a few steps beyond the usual. Weeds, another fine Showtime series, peels away some of the layers under which suburbia hides, and what you find is drinking and fucking and getting high. In Dexter, what you find is an almost soul-less "person" who kills people because it calms him down and establishes order out of chaos. Little wonder that I said of these two that Weeds is easier to like, but Dexter's an even better show. Too bad I can't recommend it to anyone.


and then there’s fantasy baseball

I did a pretty good job of not boring readers with tales of my fantasy baseball team. I mentioned it at the beginning, back in March when he had our draft, and I'm going to mention it now, since the season is over.

Of course, you'll probably guess since I've brought it up here that things worked out well. The official counting needs to be done, but the unofficial figures are up, and I won my league by 3 points after sitting far back in second for much of the season. It was my first time playing Yahoo Fantasy Baseball, and it was OK … I don't like playing with a full MLB draft pool, and I prefer "sabermetric" categories to the more traditional rotisserie ones. But, to be honest, I was thinking of skipping the whole thing this year, which marked my 20th anniversary of playing fantasy ball … in our second year, all the way back in '88, I met the man who did the Sopranos F-Word Count, for what that's worth. Anyway, I accidentally ended up with a Yahoo team, figured what the heck, and now I'm the (unofficial) champ.

I ended up using 49 players, and no, I won't list them all here. But a lineup of the most-regular of my players would look like:

Jorge Posada, Prince Fielder, Orlando Hudson, Adrian Beltre, Hanley Ramirez, Chris Young, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, Corey Hart

My rotation would be:

Jake Peavy, Jeremy Bonderman, Curt Schilling, Tim Lincecum, Joe Blanton

And my bullpen would include:

Jeremy Accardo, Brad Hennessey, Alan Embree, Antonio Alfonseca, Kevin Gregg, Rafael Soriano

The above shows why I find full-MLB leagues less interesting … you end up with an All-Star lineup, filling the last spot on your roster with a good hitter like Corey Hart instead of a crappy backup catcher like Eliezer Alfonzo.


giants post mortem 2007

My first real post on the 2007 Giants came on December 3 of last year, wherein I evaluated the difference between what General Manager Brian Sabean had said a month earlier ("We'll make a concerted effort to get younger") and what Sabean actually did. To note:

Signed Ray Durham for another two years. Durham wasn't the worst possible move, despite his age … he'd been a good hitter for many years and wasn't showing any signs of falling apart. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he did.

Signed free-agent Dave Roberts for three years. Injuries slowed Roberts down early in the year … that'll happen when you stick 35-year-olds in centerfield … and while he hit better in the second half of the season, all of the games count, so Dave's overall contribution was poor. And he's signed for two more years.

Signed ex-Giant Rich Aurilia for two years. You understand these guys were all 35 years old? That's what I call a concerted effort. Aurilia, who'd had one good season in the last five, unsurprisingly made it one in six.

The Giants lost 91 games and finished in last place for the first time in more than a decade. I think you could say that concerted effort didn't quite work out.

I listed some available pitchers who might be useful roster-fillers … turned out the pitching wasn't that bad for the Giants in 2007, so I should have been listing hitters. Of the four I listed, two were crummy, one didn't play in the majors, the fourth won 12 games for the Cubs and will be playing October baseball. Not sure that's better than what Sabean did, so I don't have much room to talk.

Onwards. Next, they re-signed Pedro Feliz for $5 million. Pedro represents everything I hate about the Giants front office, in that he is a truly abysmal hitter, but Sabean doesn't seem to realize this. In Pedro's defense, and that word is properly chosen, his glove work was good enough to raise his overall contributions above the bottom, but he really can't hit.

After that, they signed an out-of-shape catcher in his 30s, Bengie Molina. What you think of Bengie's season depends on … well, it's too simple to say depends on whether or not you like him. On the plus side, he played in more games than he ever had in any previous seasons. His bat, while awful, was about average for a catcher, which is what matters. On the other hand, he allowed 16 passed balls … last year, the entire team only had 5 passed balls. Bengie, you see, has a hard time moving, which might have been OK for Ernie Lombardi, but Schnozz hit .306 lifetime and is in the Hall of Fame, while Bengie will never see .300 and won't see the Hall unless he buys a ticket. And he's signed for two more years, and the track record for catchers of his age isn't good.

Finally, Sabean signed someone who wasn't 30 yet, pitcher Barry Zito. Zito was a Cy Young winner five years ago, and while he hadn't reached those heights since, he was a decent pitcher … not a bad guy to have in the middle of your rotation, although the fact he had led the league in walks in 2006 didn't bode well for the future. So Sabean was very happy to bring Zito to the Giants … for seven years and about $18 million a year. It was, in fact, the largest contract ever given to a pitcher. And a good pitcher, not a great one. Zito lost more games than he won in Year One of that contract, with an ERA a bit above league average, pitching home games in a pitcher's park.

And so, the 2007 season was, to the surprise of no one, a disaster. What was good about it? Well, the pitching, mostly. Matt Cain was terrific, Tim Lincecum made it to the majors, and we all drooled over a Cain/Lincecum duo for the next ten years. Some other pitchers were good (most of the bullpen), some were lucky (hello, Noah Lowry), some hated the fans as much as the fans hated them (hello, Armando, goodbye, Armando) … there was even a LOOGY who couldn't get out lefties.

Ah, but the offense. A couple of the young guys who finally got a chance to play once the season was lost didn't quite stink, and that's about it. Oh yeah, there was a man named Bonds. I'm tired of writing about him … I guess the terrorists have won, because I'm throwing my hands in the air on this one. I'm sure I never convinced any of the Barry Haters that they were donkeys, and I don't really like reading stuff like "I hope Al Qaeda bombs your ballpark so you commie queers can die with Bonds." Barry's chase for the HR record was the only thing outside of the young pitchers that was worth watching this year. So, of course, he'll be gone next year.

I might be encouraged that the team finally believes what they used to say about getting younger. But this is a team with so many problems it will take more than a year to fix them all. Simply put, there is not a single hitter on the Giants roster right now that can be safely penciled into one of the eight offensive slots in the lineup in the expectation that they will be above-average. That isn't to say none of those hitters will blossom … one will, maybe two … but ultimately, this isn't a team needing a fix-it man, this is a team needing a demolition expert. Consider:

The #1 catcher will be 33 next year, isn't much of a hitter now, and is too out-of-shape to play good defense. None of the minor-leagues will be ready in 2008. (I won't keep saying that … for the record, there are no true prospects in the Giants system ready to play in 2008, so the guys you saw in the second half of this season are what you've got in the short term.)

First base was occupied most of the year by journeymen in their 30s. The hope of the future is now converted OF Daniel Ortmeier. Ortimeier showed some nice pop in his bat with the Giants, and he'll be only 27 next year, but the power may be a mirage (when you post a SLG 20+ points higher than anything you did in the minors, you remind us that 61 games isn't a very large sample size), and he's Yet Another Giant Who Won't Walk (even in this "good" beginning, his OBP was only .315).

At second base there's the afore-mentioned Durham, still under contract, and the phenom replacement, Kevin Frandsen, who is in his mid-20s and who hit a bit in the minors, but who hasn't hit much in 150 major-league games so far. Some think he's got potential, I see an MLB career OBP of .318, and I'm not convinced.

At third base, Pedro Feliz is either gone (please, please) or re-signed (in which case, he'll stink at the plate once again). The #1 3B for the Giants AAA club will be 30 years old next year.

At shortstop, Omar Vizquel may be back for his glove. It won't be for his bat … he made Ray Durham look like Joe Morgan. And Omar's in his 40s, so he ain't getting better.

Whoever plays left-field, it won't be Bonds, so unless they sign a stud, the leftfielder won't hit as well as the one they had this year. The outfield spots, based on who is currently on the team, will be filled from Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, veterans in their 30s, one of whom can't hit, one of whom is about average at best, and the young guys Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, and Nate Schierholtz. The latter will only be 24 and may end up back in the minors. Davis is fast, Lewis can hit a bit, and amongst the three of them, maybe one will shine in 2008.

So, there you go … the 2008 Giants, without a single hitter you can be excited about. The Giants need the following: a C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, and RF. Does this look like a good 2008 team?

Molina, Ortmeier, Frandsen, Feliz, Vizquel, Roberts, Davis, Winn

I didn't think so. This team will not contend in 2008 … there is too much to be done. What the Giants should do is put money into the farm system and scouting, finally accept the new paradigms of modern baseball analysis and get a stathead in the front office to advise the GM, and build the team slowly, avoiding for now a quick fix that is bound to fail. Don't trade Cain or Lincecum. Don't make anyone else untouchable. Don't sign any free agents in their 30s unless their first name is A and their last name is Rod. Prepare to lose a lot of 2-1 games at China Basin. Eventually, the team will get good again.

Me, I expect Sabean to begin his youth movement by re-signing Omar Vizquel and Pedro Feliz.


bruce on the tellyvision

If you missed Bruce on the Today Show, you can watch it here:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/20995086/?GT1=10357

As usual, TV commercial needs broke the set up beyond much usefulness, but it was fun seeing Bruce play the streets of NYC in the morning, "Night" was a nice touch, and while his "political" introduction to "Livin' in the Future" was awkward, it was also necessary. As for the band, Clarence, god bless him, remains the weak link, Nils is still wasted (I don't mean he's stoned, I mean they don't really use him for anything), and Bruce seems to have traded in his membership in the Hair Club for Men in favor of sticking a dead meerkat on his head (it wouldn't be so bad but he also dyed the fur black).


friday random ten, 1994 edition

1. Portishead, "Sour Times." I don't know a lot about trip hop, so someone needs to correct me … was this the biggest trip hop song of all time? It sure seemed ubiquitous back in the day, still makes an impact on me when I listen to it, and I figure if it's made that much of an impression on me who's not a big fan, it must have really crossed over. I confess I don't think I can name another Portishead song off the top of my head.

2. The Murmurs, "You Suck." This was a minor hit at the time (with the immortal lyrics "right now there's dust on my guitar you fuck, and it's all your fault. You paralyze my mind and for that you suck"), but it's the after-story that gets interesting. The Murmurs were a female duo that played alternative pop/folk/something. One of the members was Leisha Hailey. Hailey later gained fame as k.d. lang's girlfriend, and then as Alice Pieszecki, my favorite character on The L Word. Wikipedia tells us that Hailey was named the sexiest woman in the AfterEllen Hot 100. They'll get no argument from me … for all the sex and nudity and beautiful women on The L Word, nothing makes me happier than when Alice is involved.

3. Offspring, "Self Esteem." Another classic in the "This Song Is All About Me, Steven Rubio" catalog. "Well I guess I should speak up for myself, but I really think it's better this way. The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care. Right?"

4. Stone Temple Pilots, "Interstate Love Song." Yes, they sound like Pearl Jam. Yes, this song got played to death. You know what? I like this song better than anything Pearl Jam ever recorded. Great guitar line, too.

5. Nine Inch Nails, "Closer." Let's face it. I'm a sucker for songs with ominous music and lyrics like "I want to fuck you like an animal, you get me closer to god." You won't want to miss the video link.

6. TLC, "Creep." "I creep around because I need attention, don't mess around with my affection."

7. Craig Mack, "Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)." Mack's name is on the track, but this is one time when the superstar guests take over the song, most particularly Biggie Smalls. It's also a case where the remix overwhelms the original … actually, I'm not sure I've ever even heard the original.

8. Alison Krauss & Union Station, "When You Say Nothing At All." One of the most beautiful voices of our time, and this is her best song, originally recorded for a Keith Whitley tribute album.

9. Bush, "Glycerine." Not sure why this is, but a lot of the "modern rock" songs of this period feel like guilty pleasures to me, as if I'm not supposed to like songs like this or "Interstate Love Song." Don't let the days go by. The video's an award-winner.

10. Nirvana, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" And we're left with this. Kurt Cobain singing a Lead Belly song as if he'd learned it from Huddie while visiting the bluesman beyond the grave. Hell, Cobain sounds like he's SINGING from beyond the grave. As Wikipedia notes, after playing this song for MTV Unplugged, the producer asked the band to do an encore. "I can't top that last song," Kurt replied.


ugly betty and the office, season premieres

Kinda busy right now, so I'll be brief. If you liked these shows in the past, you probably liked the season openers, because nothing much has changed. Ugly Betty is still effortlessly smooth and still very gay, The Office is still hilarious (I could do an entire blog post of nothing but quotes from tonight's episode, but that would be spoiling for those who haven't watched, so I'll just throw out this one: "PB and J") and excruciating in equal doses. I like Ugly Betty and love The Office … your mileage may vary, as they say, but I think The Office is the best comedy on television today.


usa-brazil (spoilers)

I'll say some non-spoilerish things here in the first paragraph, in case it matters. Yesterday I spoke to the entertainment value of women's soccer compared to men's, noting that the women had the skills, but that their game was slower and that mattered from an entertainment standpoint. Today's game offered a clue to a flaw in my argument. (Gonna get spoilerish now.)

The Brazilian women have a reputation for rough play, and the strategy for the U.S. seemed to be to take them on at their own game. The problem was, the U.S. didn't have but one game: play physical, boring soccer. Brazil, meanwhile, while showing they were capable of physical play, had other dimensions to their game. In fact, they were so good, so "Brazilian," in their individual flair, that questions about the speed of the women's game seemed pointless. OK, so Marta's first goal, which was "blasted" into the near corner, wasn't really all that hard of a shot, but the skills that got her to the place where she took the goal were terrific and a joy to see, no matter which team I was rooting for. And while the second yellow card that saw the expulsion of Shannon Boxx was a truly bad call, it's hard to feel sorry for a team playing "physical" (i.e. dirty) soccer when they lose a player, no matter how bad the call was.

Of course, all anyone wants to talk about is Coach Ryan's decision to replace in-form keeper Hope Solo with the rusty veteran Briana Scurry. To say it didn't work out is an understatement. The first Brazilian goal was an own-goal that looked to many spectators to be caused by a lack of communication in the back by the U.S. (something the goalkeeper is supposed to be in charge of, something that might be a little creaky if your keeper hadn't played for a few months). The second Brazilian goal was well-taken by Marta, and a deflection made it even more difficult for Scurry to stop, but in the end, the sight of Scurry on the ground as the ball rolled through her fingertips into goal was deflating. Scurry couldn't really be faulted for the two short-handed second-half goals, but by then, the damage was done.

Much of this is of interest only to fans of the U.S. team, which got the reality check they've managed to avoid for so long. For fans of the international game ... not just women's soccer, but all soccer ... one thing stands out, and I say this understanding that soccer is a team sport and Brazil has many fine players. Marta is ungodly. She's called the best women's player in the world, and if you didn't believe that before today's game, you'll believe it now. She's only 21, so she's got a long way to go before she even reaches her peak. (Comparisons are made to her countryman Ronaldinho, but a better match would be Argentine Lionel Messi, another brilliant and exciting player who, at 20, is much closer to Marta's age than the comparitively long-in-the-tooth Ronaldinho at 27.) Marta's second goal is already being called the greatest goal in the history of the Women's World Cup, and without looking at every goal from the past, I can only say that it has to be a candidate. Just as important, Marta's goal showed the kind of individual brilliance we've come to expect from Brazilian soccer. And that's just the antidote to donkeys like me who worry that the women's game doesn't have the entertainment value the men can offer.

There will definitely be a video link here to Marta's truly sick goal, as soon as one shows up.