Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Series

It's been exactly ten years now, so I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on what was certainly the greatest NBA Playoff Series of the decade, and one of the greatest of all time - the 2002 Western Conference Finals, between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers.  They say that the pain of a close loss takes a long time to go away, and for Kings fans, this series was a testament to that notion.

It was the kind of series where you think about individual quarters, even individual plays, and wonder if just that little something had turned out differently, then perhaps the outcome would have been different.  And make no bones about it, this was the real NBA Championship Series in 2002.  With all due respect to the New Jersey Nets, they would have gotten swept by the Kings as well.  That year, the Kings and Lakers were that much better than the rest of the league - and certainly that much better than the Eastern Conference.

Heading into the series, I was skeptical of our chances, even though we had a better record (61-21 vs. 59-23) and therefore held the home court advantage.  The Lakers had handled us pretty well in the regular season, winning 3 out of 4, and as the old saying goes, when it gets down to brass tacks you have to BEAT the champ - the champ isn't going to lay down for anyone.

I have clear, distinct memories of all seven games.

The first two games played in Sacramento were almost unbearably tense, but little did we know at the time that they were nothing compared to what was to follow.  The Kings lost the opener on a Saturday, which meant that they absolutely had to win Game #2 on the Monday night.  They pulled that one off, and then for some reason there was a 4-day break before Game #3.  That game was played on a Friday night, and I remember that we were having dinner at my mother-in-law's house, and that I kept pinching myself because very time I checked the score, the Kings' lead grew.  At one point they led by 27, and even though the Lakers put up a spirited comeback in the 4th quarter, the Kings won by 13 to reclaim home court advantage.

And then things got really interesting.

I can now say with confidence that Game 4, played on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, is the most painful sports loss I've endured in an entire lifetime of watching sports.  And those who know me, know what that means.  This one hurt, and it hurt a lot - even more than the Giants falling to the Cardinals in 1987, or the 49ers being tripped up by the Giants in 1991.  This game was a dagger in the heart. 

In the first half of that game, the Kings picked up right where they left off in Game 3, blowing the Lakers off the court to the point where the fans booed them off of the floor at halftime.  And then, the inexorable comeback began, point by point by point until the lead was down to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, and then to nothing with less than two minutes to play.  Final play, Kings up by 1, missed shot, rebound punched way out towards mid-court, Robert Horry picks up the ball...game over, dagger in the heart.  For months, and I do mean months, after that game, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and see that play, over and over again.  Ball punched out...right to Horry...shot...nothing but net.

But if anything, Game 5 was even more nerve-wracking, and back-and-forth battle that only meant the Kings' season, because after letting Game 4 slip away, you knew darn well that they weren't coming back to Sacramento if they headed down to L.A. down 3-2.  And thanks to a brilliantly executed play by Chris Webber (assist) and Mike Bibby (3, nothing but net) off of an inbounds play with less than 10 seconds remaining, the Kings escaped with a one-point win.

And then, the travesty.  The less said about Game 6, the better.   I don't believe there was a conspiracy, or anything like that.  But I will say, and there are plenty of neutral observers out there who will back me up on this one, that Game 6 of this series was the worst-officiated playoff game in the history of the NBA.  Bad enough that conspiracy theories became semi-believable.  It's a miracle that the Kings came as close as they did to winning the game, given the striped obstacles they faced that night.

And then, Game 7.  My dad and I were there, and even though we lost, it was one of my favorite sports memories.  The intensity inside Arco Arena that afternoon was like nothing I'd ever experienced before.  And unfortunately, the Kings - who had been a great free-throw shooting team all year - picked this game to go 16/30 at the line, far below their season average.  Even with that, the game went into overtime, but when Divac fouled out early, there was no way the Kings were going to prevail.

At the time, we thought we'd be back.  But it never happened, and now we're looking at what will quite likely be the Kings' final season in Sacramento.  If that happens, if nothing else we'll have the memory of having played in one of the greatest series of all time. 

And in some alternate universe somewhere, perhaps that Horry shot does hit off the rim.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Top 50 Albums of All Time, #29 - Songs for Swingin' Lovers

It was sometime during the summer of 1980, a time that I was listening to new albums by The Clash, Warren Zevon, The English Beat, Peter Gabriel, and a newish band called Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. It was a review in Rolling Stone - a review of a Sinatra concert written by Tom Carson, a writer who usually wrote about artists like Lou Reed and The Ramones.  It was called "The Majestic Artistry of Frank Sinatra," and I remember wondering what was up, why RS would suddenly embrace Sinatra as if he were somehow Elvis, Dylan and Springsteen rolled into one.

It was still a couple of years before I would buy my first Sinatra album, but with that review, the hook was sunk.  The first album I bought was "Where Are You?," mostly on the basis of Stephen Holden's recommendation in the second edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide.  Of the album, Holden wrote:

"On Where Are You, their one perfect collaboration ("their" referring to Sinatra and arranger/conductor Gordon Jenkins), Sinatra's singing exuded a towering angst that bordered on the sepulchral."

It's a great album, but it doesn't quite approach the level of Sinatra's work with Nelson Riddle; even Holden calls their collaboration "the summit of his [Sinatra's] recording career."  Songs for Swingin' Lovers may be Sinatra's most famous album, and it is definitely a landmark in one of the great recording careers of the 20th Century.   On the album, Sinatra's singing exudes a confidence that allows him to achieve something that many artists strive for but fail to achieve: he makes it sound easy.

These are uptempo tunes, but they're hardly soft - Sinatra was a genius, but Nelson Riddle wasn't far behind, and the band consistently and brilliantly carries each tune to a new level, challenging Sinatra to reach new heights.  The pinnacle, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded in any genre, is reached with "I've Got You Under My Skin," the classic Cole Porter tune.  But that's hardly the only highlight; the list of classics includes "You Make Me Feel So Young," "It Happened in Monterey," "Too Marvelous for Words," "I Thought About You," and "How About You?".

It's a great, great record, and it's almost 60 years old.  I'm sure it will sound just as good when it approaches its own century mark.

Songs for Swingin' Lovers, Frank Sinatra
Orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle

You Make Me Feel So Young/It Happened in Monterey/You're Getting to be a Habit With Me/You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me/Too Marvelous for Words/Old Devil Moon/Pennies from Heaven/Love is Here to Stay/I've Got You Under My Skin/I Thought About You/We'll Be Together Again/Makin' Whoopee/Swingin' Down the Lane/Anything Goes/How About You?

Memorial Day

"Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death - of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Memorial Day speech, 1884

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Indy 500 - Still the Best

When I was growing up, the Indianapolis 500 was a big deal - one of those sporting events that was guaranteed to make the cover of Sports Illustrated, year in and year out.  Back then, the sport was full of larger-than-life characters - A.J. Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, a handful of others - the men who dominated the race for over a decade, while staging some exciting and entertaining duels along the way.

To this day my favorite 500 remains the 1974 race, in the days before they even showed the event live on television.  I listened to the whole damn thing on the radio, if you can believe that, but it was still the most exciting race I'd ever "seen."  The reasons why escape me, but Johnny Rutherford was forced to start on the back row, even though everyone agreed that he had one of the fastest cars in the race.  He proved that quickly, moving his way up through the field until, by mid-race, he was battling the legendary Foyt for the lead.  Rutherford prevailed, and in time would become a legend himself, a three-time winner.

The race doesn't hold quite the cache it once did, but it's still the only one that I'll happily watch from start to finish.  The reasons for the decline in stature are twofold.  The obvious reason was the split in 1994 between CART and IndyCar, for the usual reasons - greed, and arrogance.  For a while the best open-car drivers didn't even go to Indy, although the siren song of one of the two most famous races in the land (the other being the Daytona 500) drew most of them back over time, until CART went bankrupt in 2003 and its successor finally merged with IndyCar in 2007. 

The other reason is just a theory, but I think NASCAR's overtaking IndyCar in popularity has something - perhaps a lot - to do with the fact that IndyCar has been dominated in recent years by foreign drivers - names like Helio Castroneves, the late Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, and of course, the winner of today's race, Dario Franchitti.

It was a classic race today, with a record number of lead changes.  Franchitti became the seventh  three-time winner in dramatic fashion, staving off a pass on the final lap from Takuma Soto, who proceeded to spin out and hit the wall.  And in a nice gesture in victory lane, Franchitti paid tribute to both Dan Wheldon, who didn't have the chance to defend his title, and Johnny Rutherford - the legend from the past who now will make room for Franchitti in the realm of racing history.

Friday, May 25, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - Freddy Fender


OK, I have to admit that when this song hit the airwaves in the spring of 1975, my 15-year old self hated it.  In fact, it was one of those songs that became an "instant channel-changer" for me.

But with age sometimes comes wisdom, and lo these many years later, I think this is a great song - as was the single that immediately followed it, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."

The late Freddy Fender, the former Baldemar Huerta, with "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" - the #1 song in the land, this week in 1975.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Giants and Dodgers

I'm a lifelong, diehard fan of the San Francisco Giants, but the fact that the Dodgers are tearing up the league this year doesn't really bother me that much.  I'm a firm believer in the notion that it's good for the sport in question when both teams in the great rivalries are good.  In college football, its good when both USC and Notre Dame are good.  In the NFL, it's good when both Green Bay and Chicago are good.  In the NBA, you'd be talking about the Celtics and the Lakers.

The Giants obviously have some issues this year, but as I've been saying for the past 6 years, as long as we've got that pitching staff, we're never going to be far from being a contender.  Indeed, one could argue that the most unlikely World Series champions of this generation were the 1988 Dodgers and the 2010 Giants, both driven to a title by their pitching (and in the case of the Dodgers, a miracle courtesy of Kirk Gibson).

In the last few years, the Dodgers have fallen on tough times as an organization, and for that the blame falls solely on the shoulders of Frank McCourt.  It takes some doing to screw up a franchise as historically successful as the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Frank McCourt pulled it off.  So today, when you look at the crowds at ATT Park and Dodger Stadium, you see exactly the opposite of what you would have seen for much of the history of the two franchises, after they moved to the West Coast.  The Giants are selling out every game, and there are wide swaths of empty seats at nearly every Dodgers game.  Until recently, I never thought that would be possible. 

With new management, that will change in L.A.  And who knows, before long we may be treated to some Giants-Dodgers games with the intensity fans of both teams were lucky enough to see when the players were named Mays, Koufax, McCovey, Wills, Marichal, and Drysdale.

Warm Up Acts

When I was growing up I was a DC Comics kid, probably because it was Batman who got me interested in comics in the first place. About the only Marvel title I read was Spider-Man, so I've never been much of an expert on the Marvel Universe.

So for someone like me, it was important to see "Thor" and "Captain America" before venturing into what looks like will be the blockbuster of the summer (although the Caped Crusader may have a thing or two to say about that).  I found both to be solid stand-alone action flicks, but having now seen "The Avengers" (review forthcoming), it's hard to think about either as anything but the act that warms up the crowd for the headliner.  But then again, I've seen some pretty good warmup acts in my time, including The English Beat for Talking Heads and Kings of Leon for Bob Dylan. 

Of the two, I'd have to give the nod to "Thor" - director Kenneth Branagh brings a sense of humor to the proceedings, and the movie doesn't take itself too seriously.  Chris Hemsworth is just fine as Thor, and Tom Hiddleston shows enough chops to prove that he deserved to become the bad guy in "Avengers."  We can debate the reasons that Natalie Portman was in the movie, but she's certainly a lot better here than she was in any of the Star Wars prequels.

As a hero, Captain America is a bit on the dull side - not unlike Superman in the DC world, he's a bit on the earnest side (although he develops a bit of cynicism after waking up just in time to join his fellow Avengers).  But Tommy Lee Jones makes a good addition as a grizzled old army veteran, and Hugo Weaving is always good for a strong villain, although his work here doesn't quite match his villainy in the "Matrix" movies.

These are not classic comic book adaptations, but they're both good and if you're only a casual fan of the Avengers universe, it's definitely a good idea to see them both before you tackle the behemoth.

Well, he is Mick Jagger, after all...

In his brilliant essay on "Beggars Banquet" for Stranded, Simon Frith wrote:

I don't know how Mick Jagger became the symbol of rock and roll but he did and I've had to think about him and his band and his music more than I've had to think about anything else in rock.

Now mind you, Frith wrote that more than 30 years ago, well before Keith's star rose to the point where it threatened to eclipse Mick's, and well before the Stones would see fit to release a series of albums so unmemorable that even a diehard fan (and I count myself in that group) would be hard-pressed to recall a single song off of them (the exception being "A Bigger Bang," their last effort, which was quite good).

So why did Mick's appearance on the season's last episode of Saturday Night Live lead this old guy to want to stay up until the bitter end?  It's probably been well over a decade since that happened. 

Well, he is Mick Jagger, after all...

And I'm glad I did, because Mick was on his game last night, making solid contributions to several sketches, including one that was really funny - Mick playing a boring business-type guy at a karaoke bar watching guys do horrible Mick Jagger impressions, while all the women around him swooned with comments like "he's a better Jagger than Mick Jagger!"

But the highlights of the evening were the musical performances, and kudos to whoever thought of it because it was a stroke of genius to pair Mick with Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters.  With the former he performed "The Last Time," with the latter he belted out a medley of "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "It's Only Rock and Roll."  Both bands were so obviously delighted to be backing Jagger, it was like a shot of adrenaline being injected into an old warhorse.  And even the silly blues ditty he sang about Mitt Romney was memorable, as Jeff Beck reminded people not to forget him when the conversation turns to guitar gods.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't note the lovely sendoff they gave to Kristen Wiig, which you can find over on Hulu.  I won't spoil it, except to say that it was another great use of Stones music.

All in all, it was a nice way to spend 90 minutes on a late Saturday night.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Donna Summer

To those who might pigeonhole Donna Summer as a "disco queen," I would refer to the 1979 Village Voice "Pazz & Jop" Critics Poll.  Donna's "Bad Girls" checked in at #10 on that year's poll, and it's instructive to take a look at the other albums in that year's Top Ten:

- Graham Parker's "Squeezing Out Sparks"
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Rust Never Sleeps"
- "The Clash," US Edition
- Talking Heads' "Fear of Music"
- Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces"
- Van Morrison's "Into the Music"
- "The B-52s"
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: "Damn the Torpedoes"
- Pere Ubu's "Dub Housing"

With the exception of the last album on the list, I own all of these, and you'll just have to trust me that this is pretty heady company.

There's no question that Summer began her career as a disco queen - "Love to Love You Baby" is about as disco as you can get.

But listen to "Hot Stuff," and tell me that it isn't one of the greatest rock songs of its generation.  Sure, you're not likely to hear it on the radio along songs like Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner" and Tom Petty's "Refugee" (both great songs, don't get me wrong). That doesn't mean that you shouldn't.  Jeff Baxter's guitar solo on the song is one of the best you'll hear anywhere, and better than anything he contributed to Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers.  So don't tell me it isn't rock.

Her time as a valuable contributor to the rock pantheon may have been limited, but it was significant.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012


When I graduated from high school almost 34 years ago, the ceremony was held in our gym.

Tonight we attended Son #2's graduation, and it was held in an Arena where an NBA team plays. 

Well, the Sacramento Kings...they're in the NBA, even if they're not quite NBA quality.

Here, we see the graduates ready to celebrate.  One of the great rites of passage in one's life, methinks.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Specific Tastes

Two that won't appeal to everyone, but would probably be enjoyed a great deal by those with an interest in the subject matter.

The premise of "Captains" is very simple - William Shatner interviewing the actors who have played Captains on "Star Trek" - Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine.  If you don't give a whit about "Star Trek," there's no reason for you to see this movie, unless you have an intense (and probably unhealthy) fascination with the ego and personality of William Shatner.  But if you are a Trekkie, or Trekker, or just casual fan of the show, it's worth spending a couple of hours with.  Shatner is a surprisingly good interviewer, with an interesting technique - he talks about himself a lot, but in doing so creates a conversational atmosphere that makes it easy for the subjects to open up.  It's an interesting mix of people (Christopher Plummer, a memorable villain as a Klingon in "The Undiscovered Country" is also thrown in for good measure), and throughout we learn that Stewart really is as classy as he's always seemed, that Brooks is a bit of strange duck, that Mulgrew is refreshingly open about the costs of success, that Bakula is just as down-to-earth as one might imagine, and that Pine seems to be having fun enjoying the ride.  As is Shatner - after all, he's got to be one of the quintessential "laughing all the way to the bank" stories of our time.

The premise of "elBulli" is equally simple.  For those not into food, cooking, or fine dining, elBulli was a world-famous restaurant in Spain, a Michelin 3-star restaurant renowned for being one of the birthplaces of molecular gastronomy.  It was a very tough ticket - according to the page linked above, the restaurant would receive 2 million requests for the roughly 8,000 dining opportunities available during its six-month season.  If you were lucky enough to be rewarded with a table, you would pay roughly $325 per person for a 35-course meal, and (I imagine) leave quite satisfied.

The movie takes simplicity to a new level - basically, the director and crew just turned the cameras on, and filmed some of the 42 chefs experimenting with new dishes and developing them to a point where they felt comfortable taking them to Ferran Adria, the man in charge.  There's no narration, and no "question and answer" type of scenes - just experimenting, cooking, and preparing the restaurant.  When it comes to running his crew, Ferran is the polar opposite of Gordon Ramsay.  He's soft-spoken, never seems to raise his voice, and simply has to raise his hand and call for quiet to get everyone's attention.  But it's clear that he's a hard man to please - in one example, he simply tells his chefs, "this is not good - please bring me only good things."  Inherent in that simple statement is the notion that Ferran knows they know the difference; he sees no need to explain to them why the dish is not good.

Perhaps not for everyone, but both worth seeking out.

Donald "Duck" Dunn


We've lost another one of the great ones - Donald "Duck" Dunn, bass player extraordinaire for, among others, Booker T. and the MGs.  Ranked by Dave Marsh in "The Book of Rock Lists" (1981) as the third greatest rock 'n roll bass player of all time, behind only James Jamerson (Motown) and Aston Barrett (Bob Marley and the Wailers).


Catching Some Rays

Thursday, May 10, 2012

For Burt and Hal

President Obama honored Burt Bacharach and Hal David at the White House last night, so let's honor one of the great pop songwriting (and producing) duos of all time with one of their greatest hits.  And say what you will, but their greatest work - by far - was done with Dionne Warwick.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday, Willie

"In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won't be able to do this."

- Willie Mays

I meant to do this yesterday, and even had a great picture all picked out from the LIFE Magazine iPad app, but then I was going to have to allow it access to my Facebook page, and who needs that...and then, old guy that I am, I forgot.  Sorry, Willie.  His best days were past by the time I started watching baseball, but I did have the pleasure of watching him in person - and even saw him hit a home run, at Candlestick Park, before they closed up center field - in other words, when it was really cold.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

"I have no need for all this..."

For the past several months, Sheila O'Malley - the best blogger out there, in this blogger's opinion - has been doing some remarkable writing on Elvis Presley.  Remarkable and groundbreaking, because in what she has written she has made it possible to look at Elvis in an entirely new light - something that I didn't think was possible in this day and age.

Today, she posted what may be the best Elvis post yet, which you can read here.  But don't stop there - check out everything she's written about the King, because it's all more than worth your time.

A short but powerful excerpt:

"In December of 1976, in Las Vegas, Elvis lay in his bed in his palatial suite. He wrote the following note on a piece of paper which was later found crumpled up in the wastebasket:
I feel so alone sometimes. The night is quiet for me. I’d love to be able to sleep. I am glad that everyone is gone now. I’ll probably not rest. I have no need for all this. Help me, Lord.
As Seal wrote, “It’s the loneliness that’s the killer.”
It was the loneliness that made him want to reach out and communicate with thousands, not just with one or two. Only thousands (and then millions upon millions) would help him feel less alone. He “always felt that someday somehow something would happen to change everything for [him] and [he'd] daydream about how it would be.” The loneliness was in him and made him wise beyond his years (just listen to his “Blue Moon” again to get a sense of that). Perhaps it came from his striving towards God, his longing for communion, for communication with the Creator. Perhaps it came from his economic status, highlighting the gap between where he was and where he wanted to go, and “all the lonely people” and all that. But perhaps it was just part and parcel of his character, a vein of melancholy and self-awareness that made him able to tap into loneliness, before he had actually experienced it to the degree that he experienced it at the time he wrote that note in 1976."

That note - "...I have no need for all this.  Help me, Lord" - is truly haunting. 

I have this fantasy about Elvis - that in an alternative universe, he survived the demons, the pills, everything - and then it was him who settled down in his old age with Rick Rubin to record, mostly with acoustic guitar and otherwise surrounded by his closest musical friends, the music that meant the most to him.  Reinterpreting old classics; bringing new life to the gospel that was so close to his heart; taking a stab at the contemporary artists who tickled his fancy.

Now that would have been something.

Friday, May 04, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback: The Eagles

Over the course of a two-year period beginning in 1977, the music world saw the release of a number of landmark Punk/New Wave albums, from artists who now find themselves in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.  Artists like The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Blondie (is Blondie in the hall of fame? I can't remember).

Yet, the battle on the charts during the period consisted of a 15-round heavyweight fight between two other bands, bands about as far from punk and/or new wave as one can possibly imagine - Fleetwood Mac, with "Rumours," and The Eagles, with "Hotel California."  Both are great albums, although 35 years later I'm firmly in the "Rumours" camp when the discussion turns to which is better.  Although great, there's something about the Eagles album that commands respect more than active enjoyment.  It's clearly their signature achievement, and I don't mean to damn it with faint praise.  But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the Eagles, I'll stick with the "Very Best of" album, thank you very much.

But they had their day in the sun (and my God, they're still making tons of money today, so it's not as if anyone should feel sorry for them), and they deserved it. 

35 years ago today, the #1 song in the land: "Hotel California," Eagles.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Junior Seau

Junior Seau was a great football player - one of the best of his generation.  But his impact on the game went much further than that.  Unlike some others blessed with unnatural talent, Seau played with a joy, a passion, and an intensity that raised the level of all around him, whether they were teammate or opponent.  It's a cliche, but it is also accurate to say that Junior Seau played the game the way it was meant to be played.

And Seau was much more than that.  He was a genuine hero to an entire community, an entire city - and not just because of his exploits on the field.  Like those he played with and battled on the field, Seau enriched the lives of those in his community.  Again, a cliche - but he served as a role model for everyone in sports.  A role model for how to interact with fans.  A role model for how to work with the community in which you work and live.  A role model for how to give back to those less fortunate than you.

And now, Junior Seau is dead at 43, apparently by his own hand.  It's hard to imagine a greater tragedy, at least in the world of sports.

There are many difficult questions to ponder about Seau's death, many of which can't be answered right now - or perhaps ever.  But as Andy Staples wrote today on SI.Com, we have reached a point where football no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt.  Men who have played football, some of the greatest players we have had the opportunity to watch and cheer, are dying before their time.  Some of natural causes, well before their time, because of the punishment they took on the field.  Others, like Dave Duerson and now Seau, by their own hand.  It is time to have a frank and open discussion about what is happening.

It is eerie that Seau's death occurred on the very day that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down suspensions - harsh suspensions - on some of the New Orleans Saints players who were demonstrated to have participated in the bounty scandal.  On the one hand, it wiped that story right off of the front page of the sports section - but on the other, it accentuated the importance of that story.  Because the NFL Players Association, which not surprisingly immediately announced their intention to defend those who were suspended, now faces the ultimate test on whether they truly care about the welfare of their members.

For the sake of discussion, let's assume that football played a role in the mindset that led Seau to take his own life.  Also, let's consider the number of players who have joined in lawsuits against the NFL for the injuries they have incurred over the course of their careers - many of them great players, Hall of Fame players.  If the Players Association is really sincere about the working conditions of its members, then how in good conscience - especially in the light of Junior Seau's death - can they defend players who went out of their way to harm others, well beyond the requirements of the game? So a death that seems meaningless today may have enormous meaning over time.

But for now, let's celebrate the accomplishments of one of the great ones.  Let's feel sympathy for those who loved him as a player and a person.  Let's think of his family and loved ones.


"Margin Call"

Well, so much for keeping up with the posting.  But you can't force the words to come out; they're either there or they're not.  Also, I find that the more writing I have to do that is work-related, the less able I am to come up with anything even marginally entertaining for the ol' blog.

But that changes today!  At least, for today.

The first item to come off the backlog is "Margin Call," a movie released last fall that didn't receive anywhere near the amount of attention that it deserved.  A thriller of sorts, "inspired by real events," the movie unfolds over the course of one 24-hour period at a major financial firm in New York City - the kind that we all know so well and love so much in this day and age.

Let's start by talking about the cast.  It's a powerhouse cast with a lot of hardware up on the mantel, names like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Zachary Quinto (plus, the added bonus of Quinto's eyebrows).  That's a great cast for what appears to have been an unknown director - one J.C. Chandor, unknown at least to me - and Chandor gets the most out of his team.

The story begins with a scene reminiscent of "Up in the Air," which depicts the layoff of Stanley Tucci, the firm's risk manager.  Unbeknownst to his superiors, Tucci has been doing some research on the firm's recent investment strategies, and he leaves his work with Quinto, with the ominous warning, "be careful."  That evening, while most of what remains of the staff are out celebrating the fact that they didn't get laid off, Quinto digs into the research, and quickly realizes that the firm is built on a house of cards, one that is about to come tumbling down.

One by one, he shepherds this information up the ladder - to Bettany, to Spacey, to Baker and Moore, and then finally to the firm's CEO, Irons - who plays the role with a gusto equal to his voice portrayal of Scar in "The Lion King."  In the wee small hours of the morning, a strategy is worked out, heads roll, and the next morning, the traders go into action.  It's probably not much of a spoiler to say that the solution for the firm isn't exactly in the best interest of the other trading firms, the consumer, or the public at large.

All in all, this is excellent work by a great team.  I look forward to seeing what Mr. Chandor has to offer in the future.