Saturday, March 29, 2008

LeBron James/Vogue Magazine: Which Side Are You On?

I suppose I should have an opinion on the latest polarizing racial dust-up.

The cover of the latest issue of Vogue magazine is the center of this week's storm. On it, LeBron James is bouncing a basketball in one hand and clutching Tom Brady's old lady, Gisele Bundchen, in the other.

Unfortunately, it's way early out here in Cali, so I'm going to have two of the usual suspects make their cases for me – pro and con. In the blue corner, it's's Jemele Hill. She argues that the cover was "distasteful" and likens LeBron's image here to "King Kong enveloping his very fair-skinned lady love interest". In the red corner, it's white America's most quotable Negro this side of Dr. Cosby…Jason Whitlock of His position, in a nutshell, is that this entire hubbub is much ado about nothing. Ladies first:

[LeBron] is widely considered one of the best-dressed guys in the NBA -- perhaps even in all of sports. LeBron's mentor is Jay-Z, the rapper-turned-mogul who dropped throwbacks for Armani suits years ago. – Jemele Hill

TBG Sez: Oooooooh, way too early to play the Jay-Z card, Jemele. You've almost instantly lost whatever white supporters you might've won over with that one. Y'see, to a lot of them, all rappers are "gangsta rappers" and their music (sorry, "music") is contributing to the downfall of society. Sure, society survived slavery and the Holocaust…but, Black guys cussing to the beat? F*ckin' apocalypse now, yo. -1, Jemele. Your turn, Jason.

Would someone please write a handbook? "What Will and Won't Piss Black Folk Smooth the **** Off" would be an international bestseller.

I'm black, and I'm pissed off most of the time, but I wouldn't leave home without the handbook. Not in these racist-ly confusing times. I can barely keep up with when I'm supposed to be disappointed as opposed to offended as opposed to being pissed smooth the **** off. – Jason Whitlock

TBG Sez: BAM! See what he did there? Whitlock took Fox News' critique du jour (that us spooks are a hyper-sensitive, self-pitying lot) and used it on himself! He took the "power" from the word(s)! It's like the inane n-word debate all over again! Jason Whitlock is the new n-word! +2, Jason.

[Gisele] looks like she's on her way to something fashionable and exciting. [LeBron] looks like he's on his way to a pickup game for serial killers. – JH

TBG Sez: Sorry, Jemele…as I'm sure you know, the universally acknowledged, one-size-fits-all media appellation for scary African-American athletes with tattoos is "thug". Thug. We were looking for "thug". Here's a little trick I use to help me remember: tattooed recovering drug addict, repeat f*ck-up and $4 million dollar signing bonus bandit Josh Hamilton = hero. Bron-Bron…thug. -1, Jemele.

The photographer captured [LeBron] exactly as he is. You know, when he covered his body in tatts years ago, mimicking a death-row inmate, LeBron invited people to jump to the conclusion that he's dangerous. Yeah, that's the way the image-is-everything game is played. Ink is a prison and gang thing. Don't act like you don't know the origin of the current fad.

TBG Sez: Way to negate your first round win, Ruben Studdard. May I borrow your analogy? What if your "death-row inmate" was in prison for raping and murdering a woman (let's call her, oh, I don't know…"Becky") who happened to be wearing a short skirt and low-cut top. Isn't Becky "inviting people to jump to the conclusion" that she's a slut? Wasn't she "asking for it"? Well, probably not the murder, but definitely the rape. And, tattoos are "a prison and gang thing"? That's how the fad began? It started in the NBA with this guy. Crip or Blood? It's been nearly 15 years, I can't remember. -4, Jason.

LeBron is just the third male ever to appear on Vogue's cover, but it's hard to believe Vogue would have made Brett Favre, Steve Nash or even David Beckham strike his best beast pose. And even if Vogue had, it wouldn't carry the same racial undertones as having a fear-inducing black man paired with a dainty damsel. – JH

I'm intrigued. A quick trip through Google Images produced the Brett Favre "beast pose". Personally, I can't get past the crow's feet, the dentures or the Peter King vacuum seal that the camera lens must've missed. Next up is Steve Nash. JESUS! Too bad Gisele is three feet taller than Wee Steve. It's like someone shaved a Mogwai, then fed him after midnight. +1, Jemele.

When David Stern insisted on helping these players with their image by implementing a dress code, many of the players and their media groupies screamed racism. You see, showing up to work in a white T and iced-out (heavy jewelry) was their way of showing loyalty to their boys in the 'hood, a shout-out to the corner boys and girls. – JW

TBG Sez: Wait, wait, wait…David Stern instituted that NBA dress code to serve the players? It wasn't to quell, uhh…"certain demographic concerns" that Stern's league was spooking(!) those who can actually afford to buy season tickets, luxury boxes and sponsorships? Stern works for the players' best interests, now? That will come as quite the shock to the Cream of Wheat man. -5, Jason.

In fact, the shirtless black male athlete cover is pretty much a staple, reinforcing the idea that black athletes were blessed with physical characteristics, not mental ones. – JH

TBG Sez: I thought Nike and ESPN invented Tiger Woods to shatter these myths and end racial ignorance once and for all? Of course, no one could've known that Woods would go all "I, Robot" on his creators and run from who he is, but February 2009 will be here before you know it. He'll stop by the studios for a "Black History Minute". Singular, I'm certain. Still, Jemele makes a good point. +1

Just look at how much heat the NFL takes for trying to stop Chad Johnson from bojangling. When Johnson slaps in his gold teeth, dyes and cuts his hair into a blonde Mohawk, dances a jig in the end zone and makes life absolute hell on his black coach that is fun and good for the game. - JW

TBG Sez: I will never tire of the use of "bojangle" as a verb. Never. "Jalen, quit bojangling and get in the car!" +6, Jason.

It's like Barack Obama said in his much-talked about speech on race Tuesday. We know so little about one another. Even scarier, we know even less about the fallout of racist history. – JH

TBG Sez: Barack Obama?! That Muslim?! He's who you reference at the end of your column after starting out with Jay-Z? Oh, Jemele. -1.

Would we be having this discussion if LeBron struck the same pose on the cover of Ebony while holding Selita Ebanks? Think about it. And if we wouldn't be having the discussion, what does that say about us? Are we only bothered by negative images of black men when the primary/sole consumer of the image is white people? – JW

TBG Sez: Well, Jason…I think the whole point of this controversy – and correct me if I'm wrong – had to do with LeBron's image juxtaposed with a white woman. So, I'm gonna have to say "no" to your first question. I don't have to think about it. Besides, Ebanks is dating New York Giants star defensive end, Simon Adebisi. And, to your last question…isn't that the whole concept behind your own "bojangling" example? Why do people keep hiring you? -1, Jason.

Final score: Jemele: 0, Jason: 0.

Friday, March 28, 2008

All Good Things…

Brand new policy at eBay:

Due to the nature of magazine subscription services and the general inability for ordered items to be delivered within 30 days of the purchase date, eBay does not permit the sale of magazine subscriptions on the site.

Hope y'all got in when I did. That four year subscription to ESPN: The Magazine only cost me $11 total and will pay for itself the second I start reading it.

48 months of a bi-weekly magazine in the 24/7 internet age? Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

That (Comic) Book-Leg Guy - Superman: Doomsday

Well, it took 15 months on That Bootleg Blog beat, but I'm now finally ready to explore a side of myself I rarely discuss publicly. I'm a superhero geek.

Yeah, that was about as painful as I thought it'd be.

It began with those 1960s Spider-Man cartoons, continued through various incarnations of Super Friends on Saturday mornings, then peaked during the Bruce Timm-created Batman, Superman and Justice League series that ran, off an on, from 1992-2006.

Yeah, I said "peaked". While I was either in college or a college graduate.

During all those years, I also had a relationship with the comic book industry. I collected for most of the 1980s, before stopping cold turkey. My brother picked up the baton and made the weekly comic shop stops until 1993, so between the two of us, we followed pretend adventures for more than 10 years.

These days, I'm still a sucker for a superhero story. To that end, Warner Bros. has released the direct-to-DVD adaptation of 1992's "Death of Superman" storyline.

In summary, for those of you who've read this far: DC Comics' "Superman" title was at odds with the early '90s ABC television show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. A Lois Lane/Clark Kent marriage arc for the comic book was tabled so that the TV show could do it first and a gaping creative hole opened up. To fill it, the comic book guys decided to "kill" Superman.

I watched this new movie version online last weekend via Netflix Direct on my laptop and it was decidedly…OK.

Superman's nemesis is an unstoppable monster called "Doomsday", who is released from his underground imprisonment by a team financed by Lex Luthor. The monster runs amok, kills (on camera!) everyone in his way, then faces the Man of Steel for a final showdown that ends badly for ol' Supes. The rest of the movie revolves the impact of his death, the emergence of a "new" Superman and the never-ending character development of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.

My biggest gripe is with the animation. Everything seems…stiff and little off. Superman is given what I think are supposed to be defined cheekbones, but it just makes him look like he's got lightning bolts under his eyes. Luthor is outfitted in an all-white get-up and rocking the mock turtleneck. He looks like a stick of roll-on deodorant. Lois is wearing a skirt that looks more like a belt. I mean, not to get all fanboy, but when Radioactive Man got injected with shrinking serum in issue 234, how come his costume shrinks too?

I'm sure I don't know.

The comic book storyline ran for 52 weeks, introduced four "new" Supermen and was able to more deeply explore concepts of Superman's death and (spoiler alert!) return. In about 80 minutes, the movie does its best, but this streamlined, made-for-TV version seems more concerned with showing off its PG-13 rating ("Supes killed a guy!") than following any continuity. Although, points for the credit "Anne Heche as Lois Lane". Those words, alone, are unintentionally eight kinds of awesome.

Here's your surprise verdict of the week: Kinda fun, but for us hardcore fanboys only.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The ONLY Major League Baseball Preview You Need to Read

I received an e-mail from That East Coast Bias Guy a few weeks ago, asking if I'd be interested in participating in the baseball preview over at Tailgate Crashers.

In 2006, I coordinated their preview write-up…and correctly predicted the St. Louis Cardinals would win The World Series. In 2007, I wrote my own preseason piece…and correctly predicted the Boston Red Sox would win The World Series. Pretty sure I'm the only analyst (and guaranteed to be the only Black one) that hit the WS winner two years running.

Now, with that bit of self-congratulatory backslapping claptrap out of the way, I have to direct y'all to my old employer – where you'll find a week-long preview of the 2008 Major League Baseball season. We've resurrected the "25 Questions" feature where the most anticipated queries are answered (spread over the next five days), there are individual division-by-division write-ups and – later this week – we'll have our division winners and World Series predictions (although, consider mine a "proclamation").

Do I like the Johan Metropolitans? Maybe the DoucheSox will repeat? How 'bout the Indians or Tigers or Yankees? Keep checking in all week at Tailgate Crashers, wait for my pick, place your bet and then get rich.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lost - "Meet Kevin Johnson"

What Aaron Liked: I'm actually OK with the return of Harold Perrineau's "Michael" character. I've always thought the writers mishandled his storyline in the immediate aftermath of the first season finale, when his son Walt was abducted. He went from playing a moderate role in the evolution of Jin and Sun's relationship, as well as an occasional foil for Locke, to being written as an annoyance to the castaways – for the unforgivable sin of wanting to find his son. I dug a lot of last night's smaller moments, like when Michael challenged Tom to "prove it" with regards to his claims about Widmore (see "What Aaron Didn't Like" for more on that). I thought Ben's incredulous "you detonated the bomb?" line was terrific, as was the performance by Ken Leung who wore his living room humiliation really well, before dropping the line of the night about, of all things, pound cake.

What Aaron Didn't Like: After almost four full seasons, here's what we know about the Rousseau character: she doesn't trust anyone and that goes double for Ben. Yet after about 10 seconds of "run, b*tch, run" persuasion from Ben, she suddenly believes his claims about an imminent attack?! Weak. Really weak. Why anyone on the island would take anyone else's word at face value – at this point in the narrative – is just beyond any realm of believability. And, while it's admittedly too early too make judgments, Rousseau's episode-ending fate sure seems like a sh*tty payoff for a character who was written to be a lot smarter over the years. Similarly, I was surprised to see Sayid give Michael up so quickly. When, Sayid isn't all torturing n' stuff, he's a pretty cerebral guy and it seems like he overplayed his hand there.

For the first time that I can remember, the flashback device was used as a straight-up exposition. OK, I guess they all are, but if you saw last night's episode, you know what I mean. I thought the Michael story was told as well as it could be, but it sure felt like someone hit the brakes right in the middle of a good ride as the flashback ended up overstaying its welcome a bit.

And, the wife and I argued this well into the night: Who was that wee Negro in the upstairs window of Michael's mother's house? We both agree that it was supposed to be Walt, but there is no way in hell that was Malcolm David Kelley, right? Mrs. Bootleg swears it was, but I sure seem to remember a 7'4", 41-year-old Walt towering over the fallen Locke in the season three finale before climbing back up his beanstalk. Assuming I'm right, I say "boo" you Lost writers for assuming you could stick any ol' child out there like that.

Verdict: Well, it wasn't the absolute clunker that Kate's episode was last month, but it was certainly an abrupt end to the previous three weeks of eeeeeeexcellence.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Upcoming Travel Diaries – The Prequel

Where: San Francisco, CA

Trip Dates: April 5 – April 10

Is the Cam Fam Coming With?: Yes

Potential for Blog Fodder: High…with the boy on spring break from his preschool – and who doesn't need time to recharge their batteries after months of snack time and nap time? – we're taking advantage by spending five nights in Aaron's favorite American city.

Of course, it earned this appellation after all the nights I spent there without my family. In fact, this'll be my first time in The City while the sun's up since 1997.

We'll be renting an SUV while we're there, which in itself is an act of insanity. I've braved the roads of Boston at rush/happy hour and San Francisco is a kajillion times worse, kids. But, we've got friends and family to visit, so I'm content to take an airbag or two to my mug, if it means something to write about.

The only certain destinations are an A's/Indians game in Oakland on April 6 and a stop to see some of my wife's family during the week.

Guess which one I'm looking forward to.

My hope is to get about two hours out of Jalen at the baseball game, before he turns on the sport's, uh…"methodical" pace. He loves the legendary "Homer at the Bat" episode of The Simpsons and the possibility of Darryl Strawberry serving up my Mr. Pibb and chicken strips behind Section 116 is…wait, don't wanna jinx it. Currently, Jalen's most excited about seeing this guy, which is understandable since I can't name much of the 2008 roster, either.

Meanwhile, a visit with Mrs. Bootleg's side of the family looms. Who are these people? Well, we had one of her cousins at our wedding – open bar that wifey and I paid for. Early in the evening, I glanced over and found several barely-sipped beverages in front of him. Turns out, he was ordering Courvoisier and other libations he couldn't otherwise afford just to test them…to see if he liked them. That night, the results of my identical test on him came back.

Another cousin – female, but at our wedding, too – bowled over every single woman to catch Mrs. Bootleg's bouquet. Then, there's her aunt who CAN'T CONTROL THE VOLUME OF HER VOICE! Sweet, sweet lady and a phenomenal cook, but she can't say anything without YELLING. Right about now, is where I'd make the comparison to Sinbad, but it's been 15 years since he's been in the news and…wait, what's that you say?

Sinbad's beefin' with the Clinton campaign?!

And, there's your convenient blog conclusion.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flippin' Thru – The ESPN Shop Catalog (March 2008)

If you ever buy one thing from any online sports apparel shop, you become the weekly recipient of catalogs from every sports apparel shop.

Let's do this thang…

Page 02: The results of an poll break the initial sticker shock of Nike's College Twill Jerseys ($74.99) and matching shorts ($59.99): voters sized up the all-time NCAA Tournament Underdogs

1.) George Mason (2006)

2.) Villanova (1985)

I think I'll stop here, since no one needs any further proof that voters are morons. Wait…you do need more proof? Then, just read the user comments that they've incorporated at the end of every story on their website. Bonus points if the story has anything even remotely to do with race.

Page 04: Crocs Collegiate Beach ($34.99) – According to the catalog, Crocs are "the original, cool, comfort design that sparked a phenomenon". Oh, white consumers…is there anything you won't turn into a phenomenon?

Page 07: Nike Lacrosse Reversible Practice Jersey ($34.99) – Perfect for the sports fan in your life who's had it up to here with the well-to-do and disconnected douchebags of professional sports.

Page 11: Fashion has officially passed me by. At least, that was my first thought when I discovered that this wasn't for women ($99.99). And, neither was this or this ($89.99 and $124.99, respectively). Pretty sure that Will Smith's fashion sense from the first season of Fresh Prince will hold up better than any of these. And, he wore denim shorts, people. Denim!

Page 13: Majestic Hardwood Classic Player Image Tee ($19.99) – I know this subject's been beaten to death on infinitely funnier blogs than mine, but can a Black man really wear the Larry Bird shirt? Wouldn't Bird's legendary grit, court sense and basketball intelligence cancel out the whole athleticism-and-only-athleticism of the Black guy wearing it? Plus, the whole "Black Boston fan" thing. Does such a Negro exist?

Page 13: adidas NBA Championship Banner Tee ($25.99) – Really, New York Knicks, I'm not sure what's worse: seeing your shirt alongside the multiple, more recent championships of the Lakers (boo!) and Bulls or the fact that there's actually room for all two titles that you've won (none since 1973).

Page 23: Majestic MLB Scoring Streak Ringer Tee ($24.99) – Pass. Aaron can't wear "ringers" as I've discovered that the "rings" around the sleeves and collar draw far too much attention to my bony girl arms (and accompanying elephant's butt smell) and my roll-of-dimes neck. I'm 180 pounds and 96% of that is my head. Only former Phoenix Sun Kevin Johnson knows my pain.

Page 23: Majestic MLB Intersection Stadium Tee ($17.99) – I've been an A's fan for over 25 years and I'm just now discovering that their ballpark is not on the corner of "CripBlood Boulevard" and "Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue". Would've lost a bet on that one.

Page 24: Majestic Cooperstown MLB Laser Jersey ($74.99) – I nearly leapt out of the ass-crater I've created in our couch when I saw the A's were represented by former ace and Roger Clemens-killer, Dave Stewart! Then, I discovered numerous jersey rules violations that brought me back down to earth. For one, Stewart was an Athletic from 1986-1992 (much like Rocky V, 1995 is not recognized) and never wore the 1970s colors on this jersey. Two, this is a cheap knockoff of replica jerseys, which are – themselves – less expensive imitations of the more awesome "authentic" ones. Still, I left the catalog opened to page 24, atop the snoring corpse of Mrs. Bootleg this morning. I'll let'cha know how it goes.

Page 24: Majestic MLB Impact V-Neck ($44.99) – The Montreal Expos are featured prominently, which is depressing on several levels, but none more than this: Major League Baseball is attempting to make money off of a franchise that they, themselves, killed off with the strike in 1994, shady back-alley ownership agreements and, of course, the original Mr. Bojangles. Good to know that rappers will have something cool to wear in their videos, though.

Page 25: Majestic MLB Banner Pride Tee ($17.99) – For all the sh*t they get, I can honestly say that I've never known one of those stereotypical a-hole Yankee fans. Sure, I saw lots of 'em when I went to Yankee Stadium last summer, but I've never known one. That said, if Nick or Joe or NYJon were to ever start rocking the "26 World Championships, B*tches" shirt… Full disclosure: I own the A's version of this shirt, but since it only features the four championships won in Oakland, it's more "modestly historic" and less "look, I'm a d*ck!".

Page 26: Majestic MLB Momentum Women's Tee ($17.99) – Mrs. Bootleg's owns a few A's and (sigh) Padres t-shirts and jerseys. I'm proud to say that none of them are pink. She's a keeper…unless someone wants to make an offer for her. The boy and the cat go, too. Package deal. This is non-negotiable.

Page 27: Reebok MLB Clubhouse Lining Shoe ($69.99) – I own more A's personalized jerseys and t-shirts than anyone in their 30s should ever admit. Yet, it's still comforting to know that the crown to the Loser Kingdom sits atop the head of anyone who'd wear these.

Page 33: ESPN SportsCenter Boo Yah Tee ($17.99) – I stand corrected.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Title: Lost - "Ji Yeon"

What Aaron Liked: The evolution of the Sun and Jin characters over the course of these four seasons has been a kick to watch. Yunjin Kim's performance, especially, has been equally convincing as the docile wife from the first year to the strong, confident presence she exudes now. So, it goes without saying that I enjoyed the hell out of pretty much everything that involved Sun this week, with her slow-turn reaction to the reveal of her adultery as my far and away favorite. Jin's "Wherever Sun goes, I go" declaration to Juliet was also a wonderful moment and one that inadvertently highlights how poorly developed some of the other characters are despite receiving 10x the screen time. Finally, after boring y'all to tears with my obnoxious declarations of "I saw that coming" in previous weeks, I can honestly say that I whiffed on the whole flash-forward/flashback mash-up Sun/Jin twist. I did let Mrs. Bootleg know that I thought something was up, but that was 50 minutes in and after the Sun pregnancy was resolved. No partial credit for me. You've won this round, Lost.

What Aaron Didn't Like: Michael's back. Of course, it's too early to draw any conclusions, but for reasons that escape me, this wasn't the surprise it really should've been. He return was first announced last August by the show's creators. A wave of the white flag to those intent on spoiling these things or a manufacture of buzz for a show that needed a spark after an uneven third season? Discuss. Oh, and please tell me I wasn't the only one creeped out by Hurley's "goooooooooood" line, when Sun informed him that none of the other Oceanic Six would be coming to, uhh…"visit" Jin. I was just waiting for "at last…we're alone" and the bestiality to begin.

Verdict: Three straight strong episodes have finally taken the taste of that Kate-based hour from a month ago out of my mouth. And, I do believe I detected the stench of plot forwarding and question answering, so I'm good.

"So, you're not good at sports. It's a very small part of life."

"Sports, sports, sports, sports, sports…" - Homer Simpson in response

I read Bill Simmons' extended piece on the murder of Los Angeles-area prep football star, Jamiel Shaw. Honestly, I'm torn on this one. I was stunned to see ESPN give the story as much coverage as they did, in light of the network's attempt to shoehorn the tragic Eve Carson murder into the Duke v. North Carolina basketball game. (Do we really need someone to die just to "put sports in perspective"?) That said, I'm a little offended at Simmons' juxtaposition of the Shaw murder and the real-life inner city environment with the fictitious HBO series The Wire. Did I miss Simmons' point? Did he have a point?

These days I get a lot more out of than the self-proclaimed WWL's website. In a follow-up to their excellent ranking of all 32 NFL stadiums, they're gathering reader input for their baseball version. (Which, admittedly, ESPN did an excellent job on a few years ago.) I did my civic duty and filled out a survey for San Diego's Petco Park – an antiseptically sterile baseball experience, but not without its charms.

The Brett Favre retirement coverage will not go down as the sports media's finest hour(s). I haven't come across too much balanced coverage, but Paul Zimmerman's look back is as close to accurate as you'll read on this subject. I especially enjoyed his follow-up column as he responded to a heap of negative reader responses. There's also a guy at the San Francisco Chronicle who has his own spin. Not sure I entirely agree with the racial element he raises, but I'm glad that someone is at least suggesting it.

My favorite baseball blog has nothing to do with my favorite team. The guys over at USS Mariner are passionate Seattle fans, but provide a perspective that can be applied to any Major League team. They're probably a little too sabermetric for most, but this post on "replacement level players" is an excellent read.

Speaking of baseball, I'm stunned that anyone actually has a negative opinion of Billy Crystal getting his swing on yesterday. Hell, I can't believe anyone even has an opinion on this. I can remember exactly two spring training "events" in all the years I've been a fan: (1) Michael Jordan's 1994 stint with the White Sox and (2) A's rookie 2B Jose Ortíz hitting on then-Girlfriend Bootleg. Every other year is a blur of split squads, uniform numbers in the 80s and 90s and sh*tty handheld camera "highlights" 56 minutes into Sportscenter.

Monday, March 10, 2008

TBG Reviews: Snoop Dogg's Ego Trippin'

2008 marks the 15th anniversary of Snoop Dogg's solo career. While I'm one of the few people left who was there from the beginning, I was really hedging on whether or not to buy Ego Trippin' - his ninth studio album. The first single ("Sexual Eruption/Sensual Seduction") was released last fall and I christened it Snoop's worst single ever. Not surprisingly, public response was the opposite of my own as Singin'-Ass Snoop scored a surprisingly decent (albeit, regional) hit.

This was still shaping up to be the first Snoop Dogg album I didn't buy until our friends at Geffen Records sent me an advance copy.

Now, we can all agree that 1993's Doggystyle was his finest effort (and the standard he'd unsuccessfully chase for the rest of his career). I'd personally put 1999's No Limit Top Dogg a distant second, with 2002's Paid Tha Cost to be Tha Boss album winning the bronze.

The remainder of Snoop's discography, quite simply, isn't very good. The Rhythm & Gangsta album spawned the biggest hit of his career, but not much else. Blue Carpet Treatment featured several Dr. Dre-produced cuts, but ended up as one of the disappointing albums in recent memory. Tha Last Meal was ruined by rampant bootlegging of the original version.

And, then there's the 1-2 punch that Snoop Dogg's career never really recovered from: 1996's Tha Doggfather and 1998's Da Game Was to be Sold…. Thanks to Ego Trippin', the trinity is complete.

Let's just get it out of the way: this is unquestionably the worst album of Snoop Dogg's long career.

It's rare that I'm moved to openly express dissatisfaction with an album while I'm in the middle of my first listen, but by the halfway point, my scrawny arms were aloft – gesturing at no one in particular – and making faces like a Black Malcolm.

Snoop Dogg – my n-word – what the f*** were you thinking?

None of the beats – not one – work. Snoop's co-conspirators here are DJ Quik and Teddy Riley, among others. Their inexplicable insistence on '70s soul samples and cheesy '80s synths are overused, out-of-place and, oftentimes, unlistenable.

Hey, I think it's great that Kurupt can dust his Black azz off for a cameo on "Press Play", but what it boils down to are a pair of almost 40-year-old rappers spitting over a sound that's almost 40 years old. And, the DeLorean is set for a similar timeframe on "SD is Out". C'mon, Snoop…I miss Roger Troutman as much as the next guy who barely remembers him, but do we need to hear an imitation of his fake computer voice in 2008? Thankfully, Charlie Wilson's still around to drop his ubiquitous "shabba dabba tweet tweets" on the track. Can't get enough of those.

Snoop keeps the guest spots to a minimum, as he drags Too Short in for the hyphy/down South mash-up "Life of Da Party". Equally irrelevant has-been Raphael Saddiq must work pretty cheaply these days, as his cameo on (wait for it) "Waste of Time" shows.

We go "international" for a few minutes on "Sets Up". It's got an ersatz Latin feel to it (like a knockoff of R. Kelly's "Fiesta") and, lyrically, comes across as a Snoop Dogg gangsta dance song. "Let it Out" sounds like it's India-influenced on the opening and the bridge, but it's all on cruise control from the moment Snoop opens his mouth.

The door is forever closed on that old Snoop sound here. He channels David Banner on "Staxx in My Jeans" (featuring the hook: "I got staxx in my jeans/Phantom up in my garage/My pockets look like Rerun/Your pockets look like Raj"). Then, Snoop does his best Bonecrusher on "Ridin in My Chevy". These ones still weren't as bad as the unapologetic sell-out anthem "Deez Hollywood Nights" or the country-western twang of "My Medicine" (dedicated to Johnny Cash).

From beginning to end, Ego Trippin' in exercise in Snoop Dogg's own self-indulgence. It's a vanity record within a vanity genre that plays more like a giant middle finger to anyone whose ever been on board his bandwagon. This one's worse than Doggfather and worse than Da Game is to be Sold…. It's a failure of cataclysmic proportions. Make God have mercy on your soul, Calvin Broadus.

TBG Reviews: Unhitched

One of the first lines of dialogue uttered by Rashida Jones' "Kate" character during last week's pilot episode was something to the effect of:

"I gotta get back to the office…"

True dat, Rashida. True dat, indeed.

Fresh off a stint as "Jim Halpert's" love interest on NBC's The Office, Jones is part of the cast for the new FOX sitcom, Unhitched. The premise revolves around a quartet of longtime friends who've recently divorced their respective spouses, including Craig Bierko as "Gator" – the neurotic one, Johnny Sneed as "Tommy" – the idiot freeloader, Shaun Majumder as "Freddy" – the naïve/heart-of-gold guy and Jones, who plays the hot chick who is inexplicably bad at dating.

Executive produced by The Farrelly Brothers, it became immediately clear that their, uh, "broad" cinematic comedy style might not play as well on the small screen. The opening moments from the pilot involved an absurdly unfunny sex scene with Gator and a blind date imitating the mating rituals of gorillas.

I'm sure someone like Joe Reid or Tom Daniels can tell me which modern sitcom popularized the single camera/no laugh track approach, but now all of them think that this style can make "stupid" look "inspired".

We're only two episodes in and Kate has been on two dates that have gone horribly awry, as she's fallen for guys whose careers aren't what they seem. Last night's air guitarist was, admittedly, funnier than the prior week's "leprechaun", but come on. We're expected to believe that this bi-racial inferno of fine can't land a decent man? I mean, I'll grant you that the show is based in Boston, but still…

Meanwhile, Majumder's clichéd character gets conned by a hooker and her pimp in the opener and became BFFs with a taciturn African-American bouncer in last night's episode. The over-the-top Indian accent is really a bit much in 2008 and the whole "childlike innocence" schtick is already old. Anyone wanna take bets on how soon he misinterprets a meaningless gesture from Kate and then falls in love with her?

The Gator and Tommy characters seem to solely serve as the gross-out components. If it ain't gorillas in heat, then one of them is enlisting the other to remove a "skin tag" from the back of a prospective girlfriend.

FOX ordered up 13 episodes, but it'd be a minor miracle is all of 'em ever see the light of day. These are four mostly unlikable, annoying characters and no amount of midget-inspired pratfalls or intentionally latent gay storylines can cover that fact for long. Still, Rashida might keep me watching for a few more weeks. She wore boots last night. Yum.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lost - "The Other Woman"

What Aaron Liked: I can't say that I'm the biggest fan of Elizabeth Mitchell's "Juliet" character. Her zombie-like line readings and perpetually catatonic expression belie the universal love she seemingly gets from Lost fans. So, I'm as shocked as anyone at just how much I enjoyed her performance last night. And, who knew she was a whore?! "Go back to your home on Whore Island!" Wait, she's already there! Quite the clever mini-twist in the first few minutes (We're doing flashbacks again?) and credit to the writers for crafting a nicely layered piece of storytelling that kinda-sorta explained Juliet's often emotionless mannerisms. I suppose there's nothing left to say about the abject awesomeness that is Benjamin Linus. His string pulling of Locke is wonderful to watch, even if his eventual intentions are obvious. Spoiler alert: Ben's in it for himself.

What Aaron Didn't Like: Well, I could've done without the house-husband Ben scenes and all his ham-baking and Juliet-pining. Wayyyyyy too late to try'n humanize the guy who gassed his father and most of the island's population. Harper Stanhope's jilted shrink was pretty much paint-by-numbers…which reminds me: enough with the characters appearing/disappearing out of thin air. It's believable when it's Batman, not from a 40-something white girl in the middle of the frickin' jungle. Still not crazy about the "Faraday" and "Charlotte" rescuers, but at least they did more than play three-card memory monte this week.

Verdict: Solid episode, as we get a satisfying backstory and a single self-contained arc that's told in just one show. Plus, the wheels are at least in motion to teardown the absurd set-up of Locke's horseshoe-playing, baby-raising community so, for now, Aaron approves.

TBG Reviews: Burger King's BBQ Bacon Tendercrisp

So, last night was "Father's Night" at Little Boy Bootleg's preschool.

Thursdays are especially long days for Jalen, so Mrs. Bootleg often bypasses his mandated midday nap in favor of a 5 o'clock bath, 6 o'clock dinner and 6:30 PM bedtime. As luck would have it, most Thursday nights I'm stuck at work until 6:21, which, when you factor in my 10 minute drive home, means I miss out on a lot of special moments. Darn.

Quick quiz: There were two evening sessions at Jalen's preschool, yesterday. The first from 5:30-6:15 PM and the second from 6:30-7:15 PM. Which one d'ya think we got stuck with?

And, of course, Mrs. Bootleg thought this should be the ONE Thursday where she lets the boy nap after school. My son inherited a lot of things from his old man. OK, well, mostly his head…but, while I'm a fitfully light and restless sleeper, that boy can sleep through anything. Earlier this week, at 12:30 AM, he climbed atop my sleeping corpse and laid his entire body across my face. In a girly state of panic ("Mrs. Bootleg is trying to suffocate me with a brown fleshy pillow!") I threw the boy/pillow to the ground. Pretty sure he bounced off the carpet, but he didn't wake up.

Wait, I'm supposed to be reviewing a sandwich here, aren't I?

OK…we got the boy up after almost 15 minutes of trying. How'd we do it? Sorry, no time to explain. We hit the shower, the wife got Jalen dressed and we were off. Upon arrival, I discovered that the wife forgot to (1) brush the boy's hair and (2) lotion him up. As if it wasn't already uncomfortable enough for me to be at his mostly white school, fielding questions like, "Wait, Jalen has a mother…and a father?", I had to drag this ashy, unkempt kid with me.

Right, right…the sandwich, the sandwich…

All the kids were spooked by the dozen or so strange smelly men who weren't their familiar septuagenarian women instructors. By the time we'd collectively amputated the kids from our hips, it was time to go home. But, before we got home, it was dinner by BK.

I've previously affirmed my affection for Burger King's Tendercrisp line of chicken sandwiches. I'm not all that big on barbecue sauce on anything other than pig parts, but since it's scientifically proven that "bacon makes it better", I thought I'd give it a shot.

For what it's worth, this was the first ever Tendercrisp I'd eaten that was actually crisp. I hope someone didn't get fired over this, since the usually soft, mushy breading has always led me to believe that I was eating irony. Unfortunately, the rest of the ingredients couldn't keep up. The barbecue sauce was thin and off-tasting (think watery ketchup mixed with Splenda) and the bacon texture was predictably "boiled".

Lettuce, tomato and mayo finish things off and, while not a particularly exceptional meal, this one's still about average for fast food fare. Stick with the Firecracker Tendercrisp or, if you're all about real BBQ, hit up the local rib shack in whatever sketchy neighborhood is closest to your home. Make sure to order in your best Chris Rock voice.

Trust me, it always kills 'em behind the counter.

Well, if the bullet wounds…wait, what am I reviewing again?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Your Oakland A of the Day – Ariel Prieto

It's not hard to find hundreds of casual, bandwagon A's fans who've sworn off the team for good because one of their favorite players was recently traded.

These people are morons with short memories.

While the plan may blow up in GM Billy Beane's Moneyball mug, at least there is a plan – restock the farm system with high-risk/high-yield minor leaguers at the expense of some established talent that wasn't going to take the A's to playoffs, anyway.

Back in 1995, the A's had no plan.

Y'see, three years prior, they were an aging outfit hanging on to their (ultimately underachieving) Bash Brothers days. They were a very good – not great – team in an insanely competitive division. The A's caught a few breaks and milked Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley and an excellent bullpen to the 1992 AL West title.

That off-season, management forked out top dollar to retain McGwire and OF Ruben Sierra, then watched in horror as injuries, age and incompetence plunged the squad to 94 losses in 1993. The A's were still old, the farm system had failed them (wither Todd Van Poppel?) and by 1995 they were reduced to trotting out trash like Mike Harkey and Craig Paquette on a nightly basis.

With all that build-up – and, believe me, it was a LOT worse than what I've explained above – I still can't understand why the A's made Ariel Prieto the fifth overall selection of the 1995 Amateur Draft.

Prieto defected from Cuba in the spring of 1994. At the time, Rene Arocha – who'd defected a few years earlier – had become a serviceable arm with the St. Louis Cardinals. According to the Baseball Cube website, Prieto signed with Palm Springs in the independent Western League for what was ostensibly a glorified audition heading into the '95 draft. His stats were, admittedly, eye-popping:

W-L: 4-0 ERA: 0.97 IP: 37 K: 48 WHIP: 0.81

Now, it's easy to b*tch in hindsight, so you'll have to trust me when I say I was b*tching back then. Here was a 25-year-old with God knows how many innings on his arm, dominating at a level that was somewhere between Single-A and Double-A. (My hometown of Long Beach had a team in the Western League and I caught a few games…this was bad, bad baseball, kids.)

Even if we ignore the very real possibility that Prieto wasn't born anywhere near the vicinity of 1969, why would a terrible team like the A's want a supposedly Major League-ready pitcher just so he could throw for terrible teams for the foreseeable future?

There were strong indications at the time that the A's had targeted the University of Tennessee's Todd Helton for their first pick in the draft that year. Understandable, since then-first baseman Mark McGwire had missed virtually all of 1993-94 with a foot injury that was feared to be career-ending (six years later, it turned out it was). Instead, the A's, with the fifth overall pick, chose Prieto.

(Just for grins, check out the whole first round that year. Oh, and be sure to read the ridiculous quote comparing Darin Erstad to Kirk Gibson. Save for their scowls, the two were nothing alike. Erstad's legendary fluke 2000 season was accomplished by Gibson SIX times in the 1980s.)

Prieto made his Major League debut less than a month after being drafted, with two innings of mop-up relief vs. the Angels. His first start came five days later versus the Toronto Blue Jays. In what would be something of a microcosm for his entire career, Prieto was dominant in the small sample size of the first three innings. He didn't give up a hit and only one ball (barely) reached the outfield.

In the fourth inning – the second time around the Toronto order – Prieto was roughed up for two runs, two hits, two walks and a wild pitch. A two-run home run in the sixth by Joe Carter chased Prieto from the game.

Prieto had his moments in 1995, but would finish the year with two wins in eight decisions, an ERA close to 5.00 and just five more strikeouts than walks.

The A's put Prieto on the Opening Day roster in 1996, but he made just nine starts before being demoted to the minors. Prieto would yo-yo back and forth to the bigs for the remainder of his career. For whatever reason, he'd dominate Triple-A lineups and then completely fall apart whenever he was brought back up. After shoulder and elbow injuries cost him most of 1998 and all of 1999, Oakland finally cut bait on Prieto, releasing him prior to the start of Spring Training in 2001.

And, how awesome was it to be fan for the two years when Prieto and Van Poppel were on the A's at the same time?

Answer: not very.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

That Bootleg Family in "Circus Jerkus"

The email came late last week:

The circus is in town! Do you think we should take Jalen? Let me know.


Mrs. Bootleg

PS: Are you EVER going to post Jalen's birthday pictures on your blog???

The circus is still alive? Wow, this blows my mind. I've only been once. My brother and I were four – maybe five – as our grandparents took us one year. The only thing I remember from that was a blue flashlight glow-in-the-dark thingie that stopped working the second the show was over.

Damn, carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.

Anyways, I wasn't really feeling the wife's suggestion for a Saturday afternoon.

Our son, Jalen, is a wonderful little boy with the most earnest eyes you'll ever look into, an infectiously scratchy faux-smoker's laugh and a deep, deep appreciation of early episodes of The Simpsons. He's also an uncontrollable force of nature in closed quarters, whose full name becomes "Goddammit, Jalen get back here!" (with apologies to Dr. Bill Cosby, DDS) out in public.

It didn't help that the circus tent was going up in a small San Diego community called Mira Mesa. Anything that's a really big deal in this town is held in one of three places:

Downtown: Petco Park, House of Blues, 4th & B (think House of Blues II)

Mission Valley: Qualcomm Stadium (swap meets, RV shows and that football team I hate, hate, hate)

San Diego Sports Arena: Concerts, exhibition NHL/NBA games and, I'm told, WWE

Mira Mesa, on the other hand, is known for three things:

(1) A large Filipino and Vietnamese population.

(2) Two enormous ethnic supermarkets – one that caters to Filipinos and one that caters to Vietnamese.

(3) The Black Angus and Red Lobster – maybe 50 yards apart on the same lot – for the rest of us.

I was further disheartened by the fact that there were maybe 100 people in attendance for the 4:30 PM show. I knew we were in for a low-budget evening, when I returned to my recycled elementary school seat only to find that all of the kids had been escorted down for some audience participation.

And, for those scoring at home, my 4'8" midget wife was NOT invited down to be mocked and gawked at. C'mon, circus people…she needs a step stool to stir big pots on our stove. She's her own act!

The show eventually began and you can read right here to see what we saw:

The Esquedas Juggling Troupe - I can induce fits of laughter in Jalen simply by attempting to juggle. Obviously, I can't juggle, but dropping the balls and bouncing them off my head sends the boy into stitches. To that end, he was decidedly unimpressed by people who know what they're doing. In fact, he…wait, we have a dropped juggling pin! Jalen was pleased. Then, he laughed some more when another pin was dropped. Then, another…and another. Umm, these guys aren't very good. And, we're only on the first act.

The Torreblanca Clown Family - Much to my dismay, the clowns didn't come out to my favorite clown music of all time. And, I can't help but notice that everyone we've seen so far has been either Black or Hispanic. No doubt the quota system got these guys through Clown College, as their schtick relies mostly on a Chihuahua dressed as a bull, lion, elephant, etc. and the ol' no-pants pratfall. HAW! His boxers have hearts on them! Ugh.

Ted McRae, Snake Whisperer - Unfortunately, Ted couldn't be there, so to appease the dozens in attendance, his snake (an albino python) was trotted out for our amusement. The Ringmaster (who actually looked and talked like me, of all people) threatened to toss the snake into the stands. Oh, no! Here it comes! Here it comes! Here it…oh, he was just fooling us. He had me for a minute there.

Pas de Deux - Literal translation: chick on a horse. So far, the highlight of the evening for me as these skimpy circus outfits were not intended for the ample backsides and voluptuous curves of ethnic women. Seriously, this is like watching one of those Brazilian children's variety shows. I know it's for kids, but(t)…

The Flying Tabares - After intermission, we're treated to the trapeze artists. Not to belabor the point, but the female performers are spending more time trying to pull their awesomely low-cut leotards back up over their boobs. Odd, since their only role appears to be "put right hand on hip, hold left arm out at 45-degree angle, bend at the knee and grin". One of the guys actually falls off the trapeze and audibly cusses on the way down. Ear muffs, Jalen, ear muffs.

The Sky Riders - The grand finale! Take two motorcyclists, put 'em inside one of those American Gladiator "battle balls" and ride! This was the single coolest thing I've ever seen. (Sorry, "toilets at O'Hare Airport that automatically replace their paper seat covers when you stand up"…you'll have to settle for the silver…forever.)

OK, OK…the show wasn't as bad as I'm letting on. In fact, the sh*tty juggling and falling acrobats kind of humanized these freaks and weirdoes. Three hours of cheap entertainment that substituted for any apparent parenting from me and the wife?

Thumbs up in my book.