October 23, 2011

Leaving Your Spelling Skills in San Francisco

Here's another installment of my ongoing (and probably useless) series lamenting the decline of accurate grammar and spelling in our age of information downpour, especially on the Internet.

With this particular error, The Oregonian won't be able to keep the grammarians of San Francisco, um, at bay:

Top story on The Oregonian's website (Oct. 23, 2011)
It's sad, too, because Portland and San Francisco have so much in common: progressive politics, proximity to the Pacific Ocean and high vegans-per-capita statistics (based purely on observational and anecdotal data). For now, it looks like the two West Coast cities don't 'C' eye to eye.

Who knows? Maybe we'll soon see a story about "Portlin" in the San Francisco Chronicle.

October 22, 2011

Let The Good Times Scroll, Hero Edition


Unfortunately, there's no tried-and-true method for achieving 15 minutes of fame. For 1.5 seconds, though, all you needed in 2011 was a small donation to Comedy Central funnyman Stephen Colbert's Colbert Super PAC. See the straight-faced satirist salute his supporters -- including yours truly -- in this silly Sept. 29 segment:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Super PAC - Ham Rove's Secrets
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Fame is fleeting -- especially considering the Ministry of Internet will eventually remove this clip -- but don't put it on the ThreatDown just yet! Screen shots swoop in to save the day:

Image source: www.colbertnation.com

And hey, if it takes a character like Colbert to educate the American public about the seedy ways in which our politicians' campaigns are financed, so be it. His message this election season is an important one: Turtles don't like peanut butter.

October 16, 2011

PATTY DOWN: Suki's Bar & Grill

Name: Suki's Bar and Grill
Location: 2401 Southwest 4th Ave., Portland, OR 97201 (map)

Angus Burger with fries at Suki's Bar & Grill
When you crave a good hamburger, you don't immediately think of heading out to a dive bar, let alone one that fills the space of a motel's basement.

But there's a nearly religious phenomenon that is happy hour in Portland, and it somehow transforms deal-seekers into explorers of the city's great gastronomical unknowns. For example, it drives a group of twenty-somethings to Suki's Bar & Grill -- which shares its parking lot with a dingy Travelodge -- for a Friday afternoon of cheap eats and fairly priced pints.

Suki's, south of downtown amid a web of busy one-way streets, doesn't seem to mind its less-than-desirable location. It offers weekly karaoke and open-mic comedy nights, and those are only two of the 30 reasons for an outing at the spacious den-like hideaway (free pool, anyone?).

Its happy hour menu should be No. 1 on that list. A third-pound Angus beef burger -- with fries -- for four bucks? That would be an acceptable deal for a bad burger. Granted, this is obviously a pre-made patty without much flair, and the fries are salty even by dive bar standards. Still, the food pairs quite nicely with a lemon-spiked Pyramid Hefeweizen, satisfying palates and wallets. You'll get for $7 what would easily pull at least twice the cash during regular hours at some other establishments.

Suki's is miles from patty paradise, yes, but its overall value means that it suffices as a satisfactory stop along the way.

October 1, 2011

THE SCORE: The Ecstasy of 'The Ecstasy of Gold'

It starts with a slow but powerful buildup, creating a sense of anticipation without revealing the central melody. Then it flows forth, like water after the destruction of a dam, with soaring notes that evoke sadness and hope -- simultaneously. There's somehow grace in its force, depth in its simplicity. Perhaps that's part of the explanation for the survival of "The Ecstasy of Gold," a classical composition that has found safe havens across generations and genres.

It was written by Ennio Morricone, a prolific Italian composer whose credits include hundreds of soundtracks over seven decades. The piece in question -- part of Morricone's score for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," a highly regarded 1966 film starring Clint Eastwood and set during the American Civil War -- accompanies a graveyard search for gold:

Ennio Morricone -- L'Estasi dell'Oro

By the early 1980s, "The Ecstasy of Gold" had become precious metal for Metallica, which injected the song with heavy guitars and pounding percussion (and, later, a full-fledged symphony. Exactly why the band decided to kick off every live show with the Marricone masterpiece is anyone's guess, but it's easy to see why the tradition still exists -- namely, because it is musical euphoria. It sounds something like the inner workings of Einstein's brain at the moment he finalized his theory of relativity:

Metallica -- The Ecstasy of Gold

The tune also made its rounds in the hip-hop world in 2002, when Jay-Z and Nas were engaged in a much-publicized series of spats. Unfortunately, Jay-Z trashes the epic potential of the "Blueprint 2" beat, peppering it with digs at his fellow New York emcee instead of turning it into a rap classic. (If there's any beat that should have stayed above the diss-track fray, it's this one.) Still, the Jay-Z joint is relevant because it reiterated Morricone's far-reaching legacy and inspired other rap renditions of the song. It doesn't complete the classical-to-classic cycle, but it's at least worth a listen:

Jay-Z -- Blueprint 2

September 27, 2011

Almost as Bad as the Dodgers' Season Itself

The Dodgers found their way into the news cycle for all the wrong reasons this season: the unthinkable Bryan Stow beating, the divorce saga of Frank and Jamie McCourt, the seemingly fitting bankruptcy proceedings, the slumping attendance, the overall on-field mediocrity (see: watching the playoffs from home).

Now, when the Dodgers finally have something to celebrate, the Los Angeles Times botches its online coverage with a grammatical nightmare in the subhead (below). You're killing me, Smalls!

September 23, 2011

Why Bill Simmons Gives Me The Manning Face

Well, it's finally here. Brewing for more than two years and brought violently forth as I slogged through The Book of Basketball was an all-in-good-fun tirade against Bill Simmons, the ESPN blogger extraordinaire whose Grantland website launched earlier this year. Now it's written, organized into a list of 33 reasons (the number an ode to The Sports Guy himself) and filled with the stretching-it analogies, random pop culture references and mindless footnotes for which he is famous. Plus, it'll serve as my gift to Simmons because it arrives just in time for his Sept. 25 birthday. And, best of all, its title is based on a popular meme, the Manning Face, that is often attributed to Simmons -- even though it was conceived by a reader.

So what, then, is the Manning Face? It's is a grimace of frustration, a look of angry dejection, an expression of utter hopelessness. It's how a quarterback reacts when his receiver drops a perfect pass with the game on the line, or what a basketball coach is thinking when his player calls timeout after all the team's timeouts have been used. It's also how I feel when I read Bill Simmons' work.

The anticipation is palpable, so here's the rundown (and I know you carefully process every word of Simmons' columns, so the length of this piece won't deter you at all):

33. I Think, Therefore I'm Right

That heading pretty much sums up Bill Simmons' philosophy on writing. Why? He hardly does any reporting, relying instead on other journalists and columnists for angles, stories and quotes. He is to sports what Jay Leno is to news: Leno sits back while journalists uncover the day's news, then takes their collective work and turns it into a humor-laced monologue. The Book might as well have been a copy of David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game with Simmons' notes in the margins; that's how frequently he leans on Halberstam for the meat of his assertions. Yes, there is a space -- even a need -- for outside commentary in sports journalism, but it doesn't have to come from a guy whose son's middle name is Oakley.1

32. When $h!t Hits The Fan

One of the supposed factors in Bill Simmons' meteoric rise is his fan-centric perspective; people enjoy reading his work because he, they say, is like one of us. But is he really? Maybe he was as the Boston Sports Guy, when his audience and ego were much smaller -- when he, too, was an outsider. Now, though, Simmons is a full-fledged media personality with an ESPN paycheck, easy access to the most prominent sports celebrities and connections to the most influential people in the sporting world. Which is all well and good, but let's face it: Fans don't get to interview David Stern or sit poolside in Las Vegas with Isiah Thomas. Fans don't get to direct and produce videos with the backing of the Worldwide Leader. He'd like you to think otherwise, but Bill Simmons is an insider parading as a fan.2

31. Pyramid of Failure

The funny thing about the conceptual Pyramid of NBA legends -- the driving force behind The Book -- is that Bill Simmons rarely follows the complex rubric that he rolls out during its introduction. We learn, eventually, that there isn't much rhyme or reason to it at all. For one, the player profiles are formulaic and bland: Each athlete was some combination of the greatest ever (in his era, at his position, considering his circumstances); or had unrivaled talent but didn't put it to use because of various maladies (drugs, injuries, woeful work ethic, bad timing); or wasn't all that impressive but is nonetheless remembered for one legacy (moment, move, style or off-court incident). Then, in the final segment of his Pyramid chapter, Simmons defends Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time as much via personal anecdote -- Stop the presses! Simmons and MJ were once at the same upscale restaurant! -- as through memorable moments in the highlight-filled career of His Airness. It calls into question any grains of logic that existed between No. 96 and No. 1.

30. Tyranny of Statistics

The purpose of The Book -- to determine the best players and teams in NBA history -- is supposedly based on the premise that statistics cannot capture a player's essence like stories, anecdotes and colleague evaluations can. But what dominates The Book more than anything? Numerical data -- page after page after page of percentages, ratios and averages. In fact, The Book has more numbers than any book I've read save for Introduction to Algebra.3 True or not, it feels as though Simmons uses statistics to accomplish one of the following goals: support previously formed opinions; fill in where stories and anecdotes fell short; confuse the reader into buying a ridiculous argument; or maintain his status as an alleged research guru in the Google age.

29. D'oh! Excessive Homerism, Part I

Did you know that Bill Simmons is from Boston? (Of course you did.) Well, he writes his columns as if he's the protagonist in Memento and needs tangible reminders -- of his birthplace, his favorite teams and his most cherished sports memories -- to survive. His incessant doting on the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins is hard enough to stomach, and he complements that annoying adoration with childish jabbing at the Lakers and other rivals. But karma, as they say, is a boomerang:

28. Attempted Persuasion Through Personal Anecdote

An early example of classic Simmons: "Once upon a time, the Boston Garden fans cheered [John Havlicek] for 510 seconds," he writes. "And I was there. I was in the building. I cheered for every one of those 510 seconds ... " (p. 25). It's composed as if Simmons' presence makes that moment more memorable to the sports world, when in reality it serves as an obstacle. Perhaps Bottom of The Barrel says it best: Bill Simmons "does not believe in the existence of dinosaurs. You know why? If Bill Simmons does not experience something firsthand, then that event did not happen ... " We'll call this the Bill Simmons Test.