Sunday, August 31, 2008

Darling Nikki

Chris Rock is not going to win an Oscar for his acting.

Or his directing.

But he may win one for casting. That is, if he had any hand in choosing the female lead of his second adventure in directing, I Think I Love My Wife.

(If he didn't, then tall props to Victoria Thomas.)

That's Kerry Washington. Chewing up scenery as Nikki Tru.

If you've not seen the movie--and most of you probably haven't--here's the 40-word synopsis:

Married banker reconnects with smokin' hot acquaintance (SHA). SHA asks favor. Banker delivers. SHA asks more favors. Banker keeps delivering. Emotional experience of an affair transpires, but no sex is involved. Nonetheless, banker's marriage threatens to disintegrate.

Interesting premise. Some very funny bits that feel as if they come from one of Rock's stand-up films. And...this is a KRS-ONE-sized AND...a whole lot of Kerry Washington.

Rather, of Nikki Tru.

I've met Nikki Tru. A couple versions of her. She is always stunningly attractive. Immaculately attired in a way that invites you--commands you--to stare at her. She flirts with you in a way that feels much more like actual foreplay than playful banter. If she doesn't know everyone in the room, then everyone in the room certainly wants to know her. She carries no money because she is her own currency. She lives in every major US city. And there are small posses of her preying on the unsuspecting (willing?) men who live in (or visit) LA and NYC imparticular. You might call her--every her--a muse. You might call her a shatterer of the ordinary. You might even call her a drug. You'd definitely call her "Yes."

That type of woman--for whom sex is a semi-commercial enterprise--affects a man in a way that defies explanation. Your moral fibre may be rich with things like logic, loyalty and temperance. But once a Nikki Tru locks eyes on you, you're gonna do whatever she wants you to do. For the better. (Or what feels like it ought to be called better.) Until something worse occurs. (Something really, really worse.) When the worse hits the fan, Nikki Tru will probably leave you. And if she doesn't, then you might find yourself standing in line at the courthouse trying to file papers to get a restraining order.

This isn't to say that a Nikki Tru is generally a bad human being. Just that she's so good, she tends to be unaware that bad exists. So she does her good thing to you and whatever happens...well, it happens.

I've watched I Think I Love My Wife a half dozen times now. And I'm reminded of that phenomenon every time I see it.

To be honest with you, I envy Chris Rock's character. Well, I envy his character to a point. He makes some decisions I probably wouldn't have were I in his situation.

Which is probably why I'm in my situation. Thinking I need to find me a new Nikki Tru.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still Isaac Hayes

Death is a difficult thing to digest.

The gag reflex of the heart (or is it the soul?) tends to produce a vomitous outpouring of sadness, anger and the most profound of all human vulnerabilities: that we are merely human after all.

Somewhere in some Parisian apartment--in the moments just before either of Daft Punk were a glint in their father's eyes--there was, probably, a record spinning on a turntable. This record would have helped spark that glint in their father's eyes. This record would have served as the soundtrack to the session that conceived either of Daft Punk. This record, of course, would have featured the voice of Isaac Hayes.

It's both easy and predictable to say that Isaac Hayes was a bad mother--shutyermouth. It's also true.

A week (two?) has passed since Black Moses suddenly escaped planet earth. I'm sure there have been a dozen kadrillion fitting eulogies for him. Each of them celebrating the epochs that comprised his career. Some of them exploring the man and his choices of faith. And, I'd guess, that a fair amount of them included the phrase "chocolate salty balls."

Ultimately, there's nothing tragic about the death of Isaac Hayes. There is only tragedy in the timing and/or the circumstances of his exit. This is true for all of us. We all finish the human race in the exact same place.

While I know that everyone mourns differently--digesting death individually--I feel a bit dismissive of the whole process where someone of Isaac Hayes' stature is concerned. He became something. Rather, he became several somethings. Equal to the expectations of different people depending on what role he performed in at the different plot points that comprised his career.

I suspect that some of those people feel as if one of their icons has fallen. Truth is, he could never fall. Once he came to stand for something, he would forever stand for that thing. If there's any doubt whatsoever, then put your head phones on and journey back to that day when that bad mother--shutyermouth took center stage at the Los Angeles Memorial Coleseum. The day he performed at Wattstax. Live. Put that CD on. Or pop the movie in. And there he. Still standing. Still the icon. Whatever happened in addition to that moment, there always will be that moment.

Maybe a better example of the permanence of iconography is Michael Jackson. For a lot of people, he's a crazy child molester and that's it. (Which is much more extreme than Isaac Hayes being reduced to Chef.) But, if Thriller or Heartbreak Hotel or A-B-C ever meant something to you, I'd bet that you could listen to those records and still connect with that thing. No matter how far the icon seems to fall, there is still that place where he once stood. And, for whatever reason he stood there, there is always some relic to transport those who bore witness back to that place.

So, there was Isaac Hayes. And there is Isaac Hayes.

Wherever his spirit is traveling to right now, that doesn't change.

He still stands accused. And he's still a bad mother--shutyermouth.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Future of Team USA

The first half of the Battle of Beijing is now over. (Getting to the Gold Medal Game)

The second half of that battle will probably be as awkward as the quarterfinal game against Australia. (The looming rematch with Spain.)

Once that game is over--regardless of who wins--then what?

For all the talk about the importance of the short-term mission tasked to this iteration of Team USA, the larger takeaway may be the strategic groundwork that has been laid to re-envision the way our national men's basketball program is run.

(There's also no shortage of talk about Jerry Colangelo's leadership, but humor me here as I break out the crystal ball.)

Assuming that the new permanent rule is to require a multi-year commitment from a pool of 25 or so players who will be eligible to compete for a spot on the national team, what might we be looking at come 2010? Or 2012? Or 2016?

Well, we can expect that at least 4 and as many as 8 (more?) of the guys ballin' in Beijing will suit up in the red, white and blue in London. Certainly for the next World Championships in Turkey.

It's hard to project whom that would be, but you have to assume that Jason Kidd won't be one of them. And you have to hope--or pray--that LeBron James will be.

(Sacrifice 40 goats if you have to, just do whatever is necessary to make sure LeBron plays. And let's pencil in Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, too.)

The key thing is the pool of players who would even be invited. Right now, the bulk of those players would presumably be younger than 30. And, each would have either proven to be capable as an NBA starter or be widely thought to be a franchise-calibre player.

If we throw the names of most of this year's roster into that pool (excluding Jason Kidd), we would probably add the following guys to the short list of possible, future Team USA team members:

Gilbert Arenas
Michael Beasley
Caron Butler
Andrew Bynum
Kevin Durant
Monta Ellis
Danny Granger
Devin Harris
Josh Howard
Andre Iguodala
Joe Johnson
Kevin Martin
OJ Mayo
Greg Oden
Rajon Rondo
Dereck Rose
Brandon Roy
Amare Staudemire
David West

(Actually, that's not a very short list at all. It safely covers, like 70% of the best US-born NBA players under 30. Naturally, it omits people like Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand who might also be part of the pool. But those guys are the very, very, very-near future. At best. And that's it.)

I don't know about you, but when I think about those players--and consider them alongside the current Team USA--what jumps out to me is that all of the possible combinations of US-born NBA players moving forward look pretty much the same.

Lots of stupidly freakish athleticism. Most guys somewhere between 6'6" and 6'9". Very few with etched in stone positions on the court. And, most importantly, not much in the way of classic pass-cut-shoot basketball that every other country on Earth seems to play.

(It's almost as if all the best American players learned their games on the streets of Chicago. Too much wind to worry about shooting any Js. So just get out and run and try to jump over the other guy.)

All of this to say that the style of basketball we have watched in the 2008 Olympics (the swarming perimeter defense and the offensive acrobatics) is what we're going to get plenty of during the next 10-12 years. At least. And unless some major revolution takes place in the way teenage basketball talent is developed, (Stephon Curry, please save us!) it's entirely possible that US basketball has forever committed itself to that style. (Forever = until David Stern retires.)

Frankly, as we've seen in these games, that's not entirely a bad thing. Our guys can still perform some amazing basketball feats. And the generations coming up after them will presumably be capable of more of the same. And, clearly, the best American ballplayers can generally still kick the crap out the best players any other country can throw together.

We just need to be sure that we stick to what we're good at. And hope that amazing will always be enough to bring home the gold.

Rather, that controlled acts of the amazing will be enough. 'Cause amazing by itself didn't do too well in '02. Or '04. Or '06.

Which means that the coach (whether his name is Krzyzweski, Popovich, D'Antoni, McMillan, Howland or Izzo) is just as important a choice as the players.

The common thread when forecasting the future players and the coaches of Team USA, I s'pose, is that the fundamental challenge facing USA Basketball is to overcome our own predilections for vanity. Which is basically the thing that caused the semi-final game against Argentina to be so close.

'Cause we really are bigger, stronger and faster. (Mostly 'cause we have LeBron and Superman.) What ails us--if anything does--is a queasy gut. It's just too easy to marvel at our own natural brilliance and neglect the little bits of willful effort that yield great champions.

Maybe that's why some people in some countries hate America. Or, maybe it's just basketball and I'm one member of the sad, but likable mass of hoop fans who cares a little bit too much.

Either way, we have met the future. And it is us. As we are now. And will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The New Silk Road

On the new Silk Road, they don't trade much silk. (That I know of.)

And, it appears, that there isn't actually much trading going on.

Just "the most bare-knuckled resource grab the world has ever seen."

If I've emailed you or talked to you during the last 2-3 months, there's a good chance I've referenced the series that follows or even shared these links with you. It is, quite simply, the finest piece of journalism I've come across in 2008.

It is long. But reading it represents a great investment of your time. Whether or not you were curious about the relationship between China and the African continent before you poked your head into this post.

Without further ado...

China in Africa Part 1

China in Africa Part 2

China in Africa Part 3

China in Africa Part 4

China in Africa Part 5

China in Africa Part 6

There is something very pyrrhic about how the people of those African countries have entangled themselves with the Chinese government and the Chinese business community.

Mutually assured destuction is too hyperbolic, but I don't think there's a more fitting phrase to project the outcome for both China and the Continent. It just can't end well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Open Letter #003

Dear Lolo Jones,

I, like the rest of America, don't mind that you nipped a hurdle in Beijing.

I, like any reasonable Pac-10 fan, am not particularly bothered that you chose to attend an SEC school.

I, unlike a lot of other curious people, don't really care how many or even which ingredients make up the pretty gumbo that is you.

Mostly, I care that your name is Lolo. Which might be the coolest thing about any person on earth at this point in history. have that going for you.

That and the perfect URL.

Keep your head up, Lolo. And keep running.



Wednesday, August 06, 2008

She Said "JaJaJaJa"

An email huddled in a long line of unread messages in my inbox when I logged in at work this morning. It was a response from a colleague based in Puerto Rico. She was following up on an interview we were working on. She, the subject. Me, the interrogator. I mean, inquisitor. I hell...I was the guy asking questions.

In that message, she commented about one line of questioning and typed "jajajaja" in one conspicuous place that looked like a typo. Which made sense given that she was writing in her second language. Even though she spoke and wrote her second language quite well.

After initially raising a curious brow, I forgot about it and dug into what was a crazy ambitious schedule.

In the afternoon, she and I continued our dialogue on the phone. She does some really interesting work with furniture, space and architecture. Which is cool. But not quite as attention-grabbing as the way she spelled out the URL for her home page.

She said "blank blank blank blank blank blank punta com."



"Punta" = "point." Or "dot."

And "jajajaja" = "hahahaha."

I get it now.

I think I'll be boarding the small yellow bus today. You s'pose they'll let me have the same seat I sat in yesterday?

Friday, August 01, 2008

I Have a Theory About Cheerleaders

Whether you read Deadspin or not, stories of cheerleaders "behaving badly"* are probably not new to you. (*FTR..." behaving badly" is an easy headline that really means "having harmless fun.")

It has happened at the professional level.

At the collegiate level.

And, since high school is the place where everyone learns to behave badly, I presume it has happened there, too.

(I, for one, am not googling "teen cheerleader" or posting any pics yielded by an image search. You can if you want. But I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing that got Pete Townshend in trouble.)

This entry is, probably not so clearly, more than a gratuitous exercise. There's also a point. And it's on it's way.

Where my own volume of experience with women is concerned, I would never claim to be Hugh Hefner. Or Wilt Chamberlain. Or Bill Clinton. But I have known a couple of women in my life. So, I'd like to think I know a couple of things about them.

Rather, I think I know something. Maybe just one thing. And this thing will be called "The Cheerleader Theory."

Remember when I blathered on about The Origin of Yay? Well, this theory is a build on that.

Whereas Deadspin posits that cheerleaders are just a bunch of brazen exhibitionists, I figure cheerleaders are actually a hyperbolic expression of one of the most basic tenets of femininity. Affirmation.

In English, that means any woman--to some degree--is a natural born cheerleader. More importantly, any woman--to some degree--needs to be the subject of cheers. Which is probably why cheerleadering comes so easily to a woman. Because she wants affirmation, she's inclined to give affirmation. The inherent expectation being that giving will lead to receiving. And not just receiving any old thing. But the exact same thing that was given because that thing--affirmation--is assumed to be very high in the remixed version of the hierachy of needs.

It's kinda like what Rosie Perez was getting at here:

It's also a promient theme of Sex and the City. Or in Stuart Smalley's work. Which means that The Cheerleader Theory is much less about men v. women than it is about understanding femininity. Rather, one element of it.

Masculinity is, in part, about confirmation. If you think you can do something or if you claim to be capable of it, then you go out and do it. To confirm to yourself and whomever else might be interested that you can.

Femininity, is in part, about affirmation. If you think something or feel a certain way, then you express it. Once you've done so, you expect someone else to affirm that thing to be so. Or, less likely, to have them argue in the contrary so you can externally elaborate on your position.

In English, that means the masculine thing to do is to get it in while the feminine thing to do is to get out that which is already in.

Which is, reductively, what cheerleaders do. They yell. They yell out positive, motivational things. They affirm.

Just as there are both male and female cheerleaders, affirmation is a pursuit for either a man or a woman.

But, just like there are about a jillion more female cheerleaders than male cheerleaders, femininity is more likely to be exhibited by a woman than by a man. Which means that women are more likely to seek out and give affirmation. More likely to be cheerleaders. Possibly programmed by nature to be.

What exactly does any of that have to do with half naked women posing provocatively?

Umm....I'm not sure. But girls going wild is a good thing, don't you think?