Monday, December 31, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: Sports

In: Physical education

For sports fans, learning is in: In 2012 we learned about the dangers of concussions, what “blood doping" is, the difference between sanctions and the “death penalty” in college football, and how many owners and hockey players it takes to settle a contract (lots, apparently). And as a result of those things, helmet-to-helmet contact, cycling, bowl games and hockey are all out. Especially if you’re trying to do them all at once. Multi-tasking is out.

We’ve also learned everything there is to know about Fenway Park, which is in thanks to its 100th anniversary. Fenway stands as a testament to the park’s wonderful and storied history, and to the fact that nobody’s ever been willing to put up the dough to build a new one. As to what goes on INSIDE Fenway Park … More of that below under “Out.”

Football, though, is in: Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated show going, even higher than Monday Night Football, because let’s face it, by Monday night we’re already exhausted. Tom Brady remains the in quarterback, with his supermodel wife, perfect little kids and steely good looks. So what if Eli Manning beat him in the Super Bowl? Winning the Super Bowl is out.

In other Patriots news, tight end Rob Gronkowski is in even though he’s been out: Fortunately, even though he’s been off the field, we’ve had plenty of Dunkin’ Donuts commercials to keep us from going into withdrawal. Oh, Gronk, you’ve done it again! Dunkin’ Donuts is in.

We’ve also learned the ins and outs of fantasy football, which is even more in than real football, at least among people looking for yet another way to distract themselves from their families. You know who you are.

Fantasy basketball is out, but real basketball is in, especially as long as hockey is out – if it weren’t for basketball we’d have to watch professional wrestling. (Professional wrestling is out.) LeBron James is back in despite ticking off all of Cleveland because, let’s face it, nobody is really concerned about how Cleveland feels. Cleveland is out.

And finally, we learned the tearful, inspiring back-stories of hundreds of Olympic athletes, who all had one thing in common: We forgot about them as soon as the Olympics ended. The exception is Michael Phelps, thanks to his 19 medals, and those Subway commercials. Subway is in.

In general, though, the Olympics are also in, because otherwise how could we justify them pre-empting all those episodes of “America’s Got Talent”? Talent is out.

OUT: Cheating and skipping class

Claiming that they weren’t really doing it and besides, everybody else was doing it is no longer the in excuse for dopers, steroid users and people who’ve been injected in their buttock regions by friends, co-workers and acquaintances. You know who you are.

Most out of all of these is Lance Armstrong, who has single-handedly dragged cycling squarely into the out column, much like Tiger Woods did to golf a few years back. By the way, golf: Still out.

They didn’t cheat, but when it comes to baseball teams, you can’t get much more out than the Boston Red Sox, who decided about three-quarters of the way through the season that the best way to deal with their problems was to trade away the entire team and put uniforms on the guys sweeping up peanut shells from the grandstands. So far, so good! By the way, manager Bobby Valentine is WAY out, but peanuts are in.

As for the class-skippers, those would include hockey players – although in their defense, they were actually “locked out,” so couldn’t show up if they wanted to. (Being locked out is in.) And technically they really are working, just in Sweden and Finland. Sweden and Finland: also in, but hockey remains out.

For a while, also AWOL were the NFL referees, until their replacements, in a few short weeks, almost managed to turn the entire institution of professional football into a smoking crater. Maybe now we’ll learn to appreciate the real referees! Naaaaaah.

Tomorrow: All the rest

Friday, December 28, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: Entertainment

Admit it, you want to live with these people.
IN: History
Maybe it’s that we tend to cling to the familiar during tough times, or that nobody’s had an original idea since sometime last century. (Original ideas are out.) But there’s very little in the current world of entertainment that doesn’t seem at least vaguely reminiscent of something that came before, in most cases because it’s EXACTLY THE SAME.

Case in point: Of the top 10 movies of 2012, eight were either sequels, based on books and/or comic books, or, in the case of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a remake of another movie that came out 20 minutes ago. (Ah, 20 minutes ago … those were the days.)

Of the other two, one, “Brave,” is by Pixar – where the last remaining original thinkers have apparently sealed themselves off from the rest of society, like the final survivors of a zombie invasion – and the other, “Ted,” features a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed teddy bear. Sex-crazed teddy bears are in, God help us.

But don’t worry: The most highly anticipated movie event of the coming years is the production of another three “Star Wars” movies by new owners Disney, which are sure to find new and original ways to ruin your most coveted childhood memories. Ruining things is in. (This means you, Disney and George Lucas, not necessarily in that order.)

Judging by the rockers who got trotted out for the high-profile 12/12/12 Hurricane Sandy relief concert, no one born after 1960 has ever blurted out even a note of rock ’n’ roll: Bruce Springsteen, 63, looked like the model of youth in this bunch, which featured The Rolling Stones, The Who and Paul McCartney (combined age: one meeeeeellion). So getting down to music first recorded four to five decades ago is in; hoping you die before you get old is apparently out.

Of the younger artists, a lot of them tend to sound exactly alike – quick, tell us the difference between Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepson! See? But there are some glimmers of hope, such as Mumford & Sons and Phillip Phillips, who sound like each other but not like Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepson, which is a step in the right direction.

Even better, fun., they of the lower-case “f” and unnecessary period, are almost startlingly original, as if they must have escaped from the Pixar compound. Their exact opposite would be One Direction, whom Simon Cowell molded out of clay and animated like an ancient Golem. (Ancient Golems are in.) And Taylor Swift will never, ever, ever find an ex-boyfriend she couldn’t write a hit song about. (Ex-boyfriends are in.)

OUT: Literature

A lot of bookstores (remember them? Bookstores are out) used to separate “Literature” into its own section, primarily to make sure you knew they were the books you had no interest in actually reading. Sorry Nathaniel Hawthorne, but you’re out.

When it comes to books people do read, there are exactly two that are in, neither of which are what you’d call classic literature: “The Hunger Games” and “50 Shades of Grey.” Someday someone will come up with an idea that combines both of those concepts and it will be a huge hit, and also the final sign of the pending apocalypse. Pending apocalypses are in.

A lot of other in entertainment fare isn’t exactly literate either: On TV, the clever and informative shows – such as “30 Rock” and “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” along with any number of other shows with “rock” in the title – tend to be out. Shows featuring “real” people who may or may not have the ability to read, such as the casts of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Dance Moms” and “Moonshiners,” are in. Cue pending apocalypse.

But there are some signs that not all entertainment is aiming at the lowest common denominator. Shows like “Modern Family,” “Downton Abbey” and “Homeland” cater to people with brains, while “The Walking Dead” caters to people with brains who like to watch zombies eating brains, but in an intellectual way. And in theaters, the in release of the season is “Les Miserables,” which is almost exactly like classic literature, except with singing. Singing is in.

And not all lowbrow entertainment is in: Adam Sandler is out after a few recent outings tanked, including “That’s My Boy,” which was so bad it may have dragged Andy Samberg out with it. (Although Sandler will always be in on Boston’s North Shore, where he just filmed “Grown Ups 2,” a movie not expected to break his out streak.) And while Tom Cruise is in when he’s driving fast cars and breaking heads, he’s out when he’s singing, at evidenced by “Rock of Ages.” Singing is out.

Speaking of which, Justin Bieber got (temporarily) dumped by his girlfriend, the inexplicably in Selena Gomez, and flopped in the Grammy nomination department – could this mean he’s on his way out? Ha ha! Just kidding, True Beliebers! Remember, coming after people who make Justin Bieber jokes with tiny little pitchforks is out.

Monday: Sports

Thursday, December 27, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: News & Politics

Another year has come and gone. But what have we really learned about what’s in and what’s out in news, politics, entertainment, sports and life in general? Sit back over the next few days and let us school you on what’s hot and what’s not as we enter 2013. And yes, getting schooled is in.


In: Arithmetic

Former President Bill Clinton – who is, incidentally, perennially in – cited the importance of arithmetic in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention, and it turns out he was right: Sometimes, numbers do add up! Adding up is in.

The primary example of this is President Barack Obama, who will be back in the White House for four more years. The poll numbers said he would win, and then he got a higher number of votes than Mitt Romney – and amazingly, that resulted him being reelected president. At least it was amazing to Mitt Romney and the GOP, who seemed to be basing their entire campaign on imaginary numbers that only they could see. Imaginary numbers are out.

Elsewhere in Washington, crunching numbers to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” is in. By the time you read this, I’m sure our elected officials will have come up with an effective compromise that benefits everyone. Yes, being delusional is in.

Numbers are also playing a role in the weather: As the temperature continues to tick up degree by degree, like somebody lit a Sterno can under it, the weather continues to go progressively insane. As a result, superstorms are in. Plain, old regular storms are out. Going to bed with a reasonable certainty that your house won’t wash away in the night: also out.

Tweets have been multiplying exponentially, meaning Twitter is the in source of information, both from mainstream media sources and Kim Kardashian. Although being able to tell the difference between the two of those is out.

Unfortunately, waiting a second or two before Tweeting whatever pops into your head is out – just ask indiscriminate Tweeters like rich guy/birther Donald Trump and R&B singer/girlfriend abuser Chris Brown. Being rich, being a birther, being a girlfriend abuser: all out. R&B singers are still in, except for Chris Brown.

The number of people supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage and marijuana keeps going up and up, meaning those are both very much in – especially in Washington state, where they’re now BOTH legal. We know that somewhere, state namesake George “Cheech” Washington and his secret lover James Madison are smiling.

OUT: Communications and Language Arts

Actual communication using reasonable language seems to be out, particularly in Congress, where “reaching across the aisle” has come to refer to elected officials attempting to throttle each other. Elected officials are out, but not enough of them.

Mitt Romney failed to speak to people as people, preferring instead to address them like large, pliable focus groups or, in the case of 47 percent of the population, not at all. As a result, Mitt is out and the 47 percent are in. (And still waiting for our “gifts” from President Obama, thank you very much. Gifts are in!)

And many male Republican candidates also eschewed actual, sensible language in attempting to communicate with women, instead apparently opting to rely on an anatomy textbook written in the 1950s by 12-year-olds. They are, mercifully, now out. Women, however, are in: There are 20 of them in the U.S. Senate, and Hillary Clinton is the most popular person, well, anywhere, ever. Hillary may remain in right through 2016.

No matter who’s in Washington, though, talking about the aforementioned climate and weather changes seems to be out – and by the time it comes back in, Washington may be underwater. Water is in a lot of places where it used to be out, whether we want it there or not.

Hostess executives opted to pull the plug on the operation (while taking big, cream-filled bonuses) rather than talking with the unions, so Twinkies are – inconceivably – out. Little Debbie is in, though, and she’ll bring back the white straw cowboy hat with stampede string as a fashion accessory if it’s the last thing she does.

Apparently talking to your wife is out but talking (and doing other things) to your biographer and/or “unpaid social liaison” is in, at least if you’re a decorated general. (Liaisoning is in, and turning nouns into verbs – a.k.a. “verbing” – is also in.) For the non-decorated, un-biographied types, communicating with your spouse is still in. Especially via text message. Texting is still in. ;)

Finally, the one place where it’s still in to communicate your innermost feelings, as well as your every move and those of your children and pets, is on Facebook. But actually paying for a little piece of Facebook is out: Its stock tanked this year, turning Mark Zuckerberg into a multi-billionaire instead of a multi-multi-billionaire. Quantifying your billions is out.

Tomorrow: In and Out in Entertainment

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Where have I been? Writing an eBook, that's where

In case you've been wondering where I've been as my posts slowed to a trickle these last few months -- anyone? -- I actually have an excuse. I was writing Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, my new eBook from Endeavour Press. Yes, it's short, but it still took me a while to fit all the words together.

If you're familiar with my Springsteen blog Blogness on the Edge of Town, you know I'm a big fan of other people’s Springsteen books — I've reviewed Springsteen-centric titles by Peter Ames Carlin, Marc Dolan, Lawrence Kirsch, Louis Masur and plenty of others in recent years. But now I have one I'm really excited about, because if you buy it, I get money.

In "Glory Days," I analyze in depth eight different Springsteen albums I argue deserve to be in contention for the title of Best Springsteen Album Ever — and then in the last chapter, I pick the one I feel rises to the top of the heap. You’ll definitely want to read it, if only so you can get mad about my choices and send me angry emails.

From the introduction:
OK, admit it: You’ve come here to mock me
After all, it’s pretty clear that choosing the “greatest” Bruce Springsteen album is in many ways a fool’s errand. Just look at what I’ve got working against me: a 40-year body of work, most of it highly acclaimed, almost all of it ambitious and socially relevant. It’s tough even to decide where to start, much less pick the one collection that rises above all the others in terms of artistry, impact and cultural significance.
But I figure somebody’s got to do it, fruitless enterprise or not … No matter what, I hope these essays strike a chord with you, and maybe remind you of why these albums, and Bruce Springsteen himself, meant so much to you in the first place. And most of all, I hope they inspire you – to borrow a line from “Mary’s Place” – to put your favorite record on the turntable, and drop the needle and pray.
And the best part is, it’s only $2.99. (Plus $200 give or take if you don’t have a Kindle yet, but we won’t dwell on that. You can always download the Kindle software for PC or the smartphone/tablet app — hold that phone close enough to your face and it’s just like reading a real book!)

So I hope you’ll consider giving it a spin — and letting us know what you think afterward, of course. Don’t worry, I can take it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Column: A happy Christmas is in the cards

Do you remember mail? It came in envelopes and someone would leave it in a box at the end of your driveway? You’re right, it does sound ridiculous.

Anyway, this is the one time of year when real mail makes a comeback. That’s because many people still send Christmas cards: For the price of a stamp (whatever that is), this allows you to share some tangible holiday cheer, not to be confused with the digital holiday cheer that involves putting someone’s head on a dancing elf. As hilarious as that may be.

Of course there are some questions involved with holiday cards, such as whether you should display them prominently around your house, or leave them in an unkempt pile on your kitchen counter until you throw them away on Dec. 26. Neither of these choices is necessarily correct, except for the second one.

Then there’s the question of what kind of card to send. There are several options, some of which even involve using glitter that spills out of the envelope when someone opens it, which is a great idea if you’re planning to send cards mostly to people you hate. If that’s not the case, though, consider one of the following:

1) Kid cards. Somewhere along the line it became a law that if you had a child between the ages of 0 and college, it was required that you stick their picture on your Christmas card. This made some sense back in the pre-Facebook days, but it’s less necessary now that you digitally document your child’s every milestone and achievement, and also all those times when they’re more adorable than all the other kids, which is always.

I’m among those guilty of using this method, partly because there’s now a certain level of Mutually Assured Christmas Card Destruction: Everyone involved agrees to keep proliferating children-centric Christmas cards so as not to be branded as the one set of parents not obsessively proud of their kids’ sparkling photographic charisma. Who knows what the other parents would think if you sent out a card that shunned your own children in favor of say, the baby Jesus, who is much less likely to be posed in a Santa hat in front of a fake fireplace. Which reminds me:

2) Jesus cards. These are cards meant to share in a joyous celebration of the birth of Christ, and to remind you that at some point you became a godless heathen who puts his own kid on his Christmas cards instead of God’s kid. (And are thus implicitly hell-bound, Merry Christmas.) Of course, you also might not be sending a Jesus card because you’re Jewish. Which brings me to:

3) “Seasons Greetings” cards. Since most families these days are made up of people practicing any number of religions, often at the same time, you might be safer with a “Season’s Greetings” card appropriate for Christian, Jew, Muslim, Wiccan, agnostic and atheist alike. Because even if we have differing beliefs, at the end of the day, there’s one thing we can all agree on: that it is currently a season.

4) Cards with side-splitting comical cartoons in which Santa’s butt crack is showing. Please stop sending me these. You know who you are.

5) Spite cards. These are cards sent specifically to arrive on Dec. 24, thus giving the receiver no time to send a card in response. Spite-card senders have been known to spend months mapping out a delivery timetable so as to ensure maximum guilt for the recipients, which is what the holidays are all about.

Wait, scratch that — I read my notes wrong. Perhaps what the holidays are really about, among other things that may or may not involve guilt, is slowing down long enough to appreciate what you’ve got and share some of that aforementioned good cheer — maybe even by writing out an actual card or two. If you manage to spread even a little old-fashioned holiday joy — real, physical joy that you can touch and smell, not eJoy — maybe it makes all the writing and stamping worthwhile.

But if I see my kids in that pile on your counter, next year you’re getting the dancing elf.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Column: Waiting for the end of the world

“Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a ‘collective mass psychosis’ so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.”
New York Times, Dec. 1, 2012


Dear U.S. Citizen:

I am Fred Cranston, associate assistant director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As you have no doubt heard, the world is scheduled to end on Friday, Dec. 21. We know this because the Mayan calendar ends on that date, and the Mayans have never been wrong about anything. This is what makes them so insufferable at dinner parties.

Ha ha! Just a little Mayan humor to help ease the tension that’s bound to go along with knowing the world is coming to an end. I have been asked to write this letter to help prepare Americans for our impending annihilation, partially because of my experience in disaster mitigation, and also because all the other officials are already sequestered on the government’s secret fleet of high-tech flying arks.

Anyway, it is our goal to avoid the mass end-times panic that has already begun in Russia and other areas of the world. Remember, just because the earth is going to open up and swallow us, or we’re going to be incinerated by giant solar fireballs, or the earth’s polarity is going to reverse, propelling us all into space, is no reason to be uncouth. (This means you, Arkansas!)

With that in mind, we ask that you follow the following simple guidelines:

1) Please do not hoard matches, kerosene, sugar and candles, because none of those things will help once you’ve been incinerated by a giant solar fireball (and in the case of kerosene, it will probably just make things worse). Instead, consider using the food and resources you currently have in your home, because they’re bound to spoil quickly after the earth becomes a barren, burning wasteland.

2) Trying to avoid gaping, fiery holes in the earth by driving around them as they open up is not advisable, no matter how feasible that appears in the movies. For one thing, those are typically trained drivers on a closed course; and also, the gaping, fiery holes are added in later using a computer. You’re much better off standing very, very still, and hoping the holes go around you.

3) Please be advised that building tremendous Mayan structures out of ice or other materials is unlikely to stave off the impending apocalypse. That said, I, for one, welcome our new Mayan overlords.

4) We strongly recommend against using your last few weeks on earth attempting to live out your wildest fantasies, particularly if they involve “maxing out” your credit cards, telling off your boss, professing a long unrequited love, or public nudity. On the off chance the world doesn’t end as predicted, any or all of these actions could prove personally detrimental, or at least embarrassing. Consider perhaps some more staid activities, like Jenga.

5) Finally, even though we’ve been unable to pinpoint exactly how the world is going to end on Dec. 21, we feel a need to deny the prevailing rumor that mankind will be wiped out in a zombie apocalypse, which is just silly. However, you should plan to have some sharpened shovels around to chop the tops of their heads off, just in case.

In conclusion, we hope these guidelines will help you adequately prepare for the end of civilization, and if you have any other questions or concerns between now and then, feel free to contact your local FEMA office. A representative who couldn’t fit on one of the arks will be happy to assist you.

Fred Cranston, FEMA