Monday, November 29, 2010

How Bacon Saved Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.

It might be oversimplified to make the correlation between my love of a food-centric celebration and my morbidly-obese adolescence but, this explanation isn't entirely inaccurate. More to the point, however, Thanksgiving has always been the closest thing to a family reunion that I've ever known.

For one day, my Marine Corps father wasn't working the second or third shift and could eat dinner with us. My grandparents could devotedly spoil their grandkids and my always-dialed-in aunt could stealthily share the latest inappropriate jokes for dissemination on the fourth-grade playground.*

* -- "Did you know there were computers in the Garden of Eden? Eve had an Apple and Adam had a Wang!" (I remember laughing uproariously at this in 1984, even though the only word in the punchline that I remotely recognized was "wang" – and not in an electronic sense.)

My most memorable Thanksgiving was in 1995.

I came home from my first semester at San Diego State University. After spending three months trying to feed myself with a no-frills, bare-minimum meal plan; I carried just 155 lbs. on my six-foot frame. The colossal holiday spread remains – 15 years later – the greatest meal I've ever eaten. Everyone from my endearingly dysfunctional family met at my parents' house and I clearly remember regaling them with tales of my new girlfriend.

My grandmother passed away in December 2001, my parents divorced around the same time and – in the blink of an eye – Mrs. Bootleg and I were spending our first Thanksgiving as a married couple alone on a rainy San Diego turkey day in 2002. Believe it or not, this wasn't nearly as depressing as it sounds. We'd barely been married for two weeks, so Mrs. Bootleg broke out some of our wedding china and turned our claustrophobic condo into a romantic nook.

For the past few years, we've hosted Thanksgiving at Stately Bootleg Manor. Since most of you are familiar with
the guest list, let's get right into the events of last Thursday.

12:30 AM -- Thanksgiving cannot officially begin until Mrs. Bootleg pulls a pair of sweet potato pies from the oven. In keeping with both family tradition AND traditional black woman tendencies; she makes as much noise as possible during the late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning mixing, baking and unnecessarily exaggerated oven door opening/closing process. This is her not-so-subtle reminder of my minimal contribution to the preparation process. And, if every Thanksgiving from the previous decade is any indication, Mrs. Bootleg will SWEAR this is her last holiday as head chef before the day is over. It's as predictable as cranberry sauce, y'all.

8:30 AM -- Mrs. Bootleg is baking a small batch of cornbread as part of her homemade dressing.** Several weeks ago, she ruined -- beyond recognition -- a sheet of cornbread that was supposed to be the accompaniment with her secret recipe chili. She found a way to over AND undercook it before the cornbread collapsed on itself like a gritty, gooey shanty. My wife pulled her Thanksgiving batch from the oven and, amazingly, had achieved an identical "black on the outside, batter on the inside" consistency. Turns out she set the oven for 500 degrees, instead of 400 -- no small feat, considering our stove has a digital temperature display. Of course, I took my disappointment
to Twitter.

** -- African-American Fun Fact: We always call it "dressing", never "stuffing". I'm sure there's an explanation for this that dates back to slave days...or at least back to when Big L was still alive.

8:45 AM -- I was genuinely worried that my 15-year streak of making unplanned trips to the supermarket on Thanksgiving morning was in jeopardy. Thanks to Mrs. Bootleg's oven escapades, here I was with all the other unwashed, unshaven men standing a dozen deep in the "15 items or less" line. It was 42 degrees when I left the house and I was forced to brave the cruel, cloudless elements with only a pair of shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Enough already, autumn!

9:45 AM -- Not long after I return, Mrs. Bootleg solemnly shows me the expiration date on a bottle of paprika that's been resting comfortably in our pantry. Since, I'm familiar with the outrageous suggested retail price of spices and have no desire for a one-hour reunion with the supermarket cashier, we agree to use the old exceptionally aged seasoning.

12:15 PM -- My family arrives. My grandfather presents Jalen with two $50 bills that have been bent and folded into a pair of exotic shapes ("Negr-origami"?) and a handful of the shiniest silver dollars I've ever seen. (Thirty years ago, I was happy to get one of those "drummer boy" quarters from him so I could buy a Chunky Bar at the liquor store down the street. I'm just sayin', Grandpa.) Meanwhile, my mother is wheeling a cooler that's roughly the size of our refrigerator.

12:30 PM -- An "appetizer table" has appeared out of nowhere. The sheer amount of "not-the-entree" eats would've been embarrassing if America weren't already the king of superfluous food. My mother's deviled eggs never last more than a few minutes and this year she debuted a deviled filling with finely diced bits of bacon. These would've landed the coveted "500 (out of 5)" in a TBG Eats feature. Salty, eggy and awesome.

3:30 PM --
Damn it, Roy Williams! Don't you realize how far back in the pool I am?!

4:00 PM -- I've previously written about my
contempt for Brussels sprouts. It's one of the few foods that I'd completely given up on. But, my mom whipped out the skillet and tried something different: baby Brussels sprouts (which I'd never had) tossed with baby carrots and sautéed in a butter, onions and bacon bath. Glorious. It reminded me of a mildly-sweet fried cabbage with the bacon perfectly comingled with the mild vegetable flavors. Aaron and Brussels sprouts. This is the most shocking turn in years. Or months. Or, at least since this.

5:00 PM -- I finished the evening with a bomber of Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin Ale. While bacon had saved Thanksgiving, it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if it hadn't shown up. Mrs. Bootleg baked her best batch of dressing ever. Her collard greens killed -- as usual -- and won the approval of my Alabama-born grandfather, who knows a thing or three about African-American southern cuisine. And, her turkey died a heroic and delicious death.

Almost on cue, my wife declared that we'd be spending NEXT Thanksgiving with my in-laws in Utah...presumably so Mrs. Bootleg could be free from kitchen duty.

I'll pack your "road jersey apron", m'dear.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #12 (Now with More Sunday!)

Last Week:

Tom: 13-3
Aaron: 11-5
Joe: 10-6


Joe: 105-55
Aaron: 98-62
Tom: 97-63

New England at Detroit (Thursday)

Joe: One of my top podcast-related pleasures this week (aside from
gabbing about G.I. Joe for 45 minutes) was hearing my friend and yours Bill Simmons get shouted down by one of the Football Outsiders eggheads about whether or not the concept of a "trap game" truly exists. Aaron Schatz, the FO guy, cited evidence and studies and statistics that stated that good teams facing a bad team in between two good opponents don't lose any more often than in other circumstances. Simmons, I believe, cited the evidence of "Nuh-uh!" and "Because it's a better story that way." I'm a man of reason, through and through. Still. I hope to god this is a trap game. Pick: Detroit

Aaron: I read reports that Patriots QB Tom Brady is listed as "questionable" for this game and nursing an injured foot. I can't help but think the NFL is actually in cahoots with the bookies they so publically abhor. "Trap game overtones plus a short week for the road team coming off an incredibly emotional game not enough for you, casual NFL gambler? What if I told you Brady's foot is sore? I mean, I can't say HOW sore it is, but check back at or the sportsbook at the Wynn for more information." Thankfully, I'm still suffering from first and second degree burns after my seat on the Lions' September bandwagon went through the windshield in mid-September. Pick: New England

New Orleans at Dallas (Thursday)

Joe: I guess here's where we see if the Jason Garrett rejuvenation project has really taken hold or not. The Saints certainly seem to have righted a seriously shaky ship, and Dallas's offense let Detroit eat up large chunks of yardage before pulling away last week. I'm betting Drew Brees is even more efficient at that task than Shaun Hill. I know, right? Pick: New Orleans

Aaron: To paraphrase a certain
skirt-wearing thespian, "Just when you think you know the answers, the NFL changes the questions." I don't know if the Saints' three consecutive wins over a terrible Panthers team, a slightly less terrible Seahawks team and a Steelers team that has looked beatable against decent competition constitutes "righting the ship". In fact, this game could be the proverbial coconut to the dome for New Orleans. Pick: Dallas

Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets (Thursday)

Joe: Lost in all the TO/Ocho/colossal choke-job against the Bills talk was that the one receiver on the field who was doing anything for Cincy in the second half was Jordan Shipley. Tiny, white, slot receiver that he is, I'll be shocked if he doesn't become the Wayne Chrebet to TOcho's Keyshawn Johnson as the season wears on. This offseason, remind me to create a pact with NFL GMs to keep the Patriots from signing him for next year. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Aaron: I, for one, welcome the white man's renaissance amongst the NFL's non-QB offensive skill positions. And, I'd be saying that even IF the Browns' Peyton Hillis wasn't single-handedly keeping my money-league fantasy team on life support. Hillis isn't involved in this game, obviously, but for those of you who don't follow football, perhaps you remember him from
his role in a recent summer blockbuster. Pick: NY Jets

Carolina at Cleveland

Aaron: Panthers' QB Jimmy Clausen will be the starter after missing a week with an injury. This franchise should just exhume the corpse of Kerry Collins and hand him the playbook. Fine...YOU try making one of those obscure references to a long-forgotten player when the franchise has only been around for 15 years. It's hard! Pick: Carolina

Joe: While we're on the subject of the short and brutal history of the quarterback position in Carolina, it should be noted that Jake Delhomme assumes the reins in Cleveland this week, with Colt McCoy injured and all other options having been exhausted. I know, I know, it's reminiscent of how attrition in the Oswald State Correctional facility left Morales in charge of the Latinos after the defection of Alvarez and the death of El Cid. I thought so too. Pick: Cleveland

Jacksonville at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: Back in week #17 of the 2001 NFL season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Chicago Bears 15-0 at Soldier Field and broke a 21-game losing streak in games when the temperature was below 40 degrees at kickoff. Yes, this is/was a legitimate statistic. Let's see what the forecast is for East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday...sunny and 48 degrees?! And, the sun will be out? Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I hate you, Jacksonville Jaguars, and I hate your bullshit 6-4 record. Pick: NY Giants

Philadelphia at Chicago

Aaron: Eagles QB Michael Vick got roughed up pretty good in last week's win over the Giants. The Bears don't have the same ferocity on defense as The New New York Sack Exchange, but since Vick appeared on this week's cover of Sports Illustrated, he's sure to fall victim to the 53% infamous/47% irrelevant SI cover jinx. It's science. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Also science is that fact that Andy Reid-coached Eagles teams never seem to hold onto their "King of the Mountain" position for very long. But I'm betting on them stretching this goodwill out for one more week. Pick: Philadelphia

Pittsburgh at Buffalo

Aaron: Shout out to the New England Patriots for pissing off Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Last week, they bullied my Raiders for 75 consecutive minutes. (Yes, halftime included.) This week, the Bills are at home and I'm hoping they can be the proverbial big brother who gets Oakland's proverbial bike back. I...think I know
how this story ends. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Hey, I'm as happy as anyone that the Bills saved their most entertaining game and one real triumph of the year for when I was home for the holiday. But I'm not fool enough to think they can either penetrate Pittsburgh's defense or stop their offense. Pick: Pittsburgh

Green Bay at Atlanta

Aaron: The Packers have seemingly assumed the unofficial midseason title of "best team in the NFC". Did we agree to collectively ignore the fact that if the playoffs started today, the Falcons would be NFC's top seed? There's only
one way to settle this. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Trust me, I know I've made too much of the whole "good team at home, sketchy team on the road" thing with teams like Seattle and Arizona and Kansas City. But Atlanta plays in a DOME! Dome teams! Have vague benefits when playing within those domes! I'm sure of it! Pick: Atlanta

Tampa Bay at Baltimore

Aaron: Credit to the Bucs for playing well enough this season to give their fans hope for the future. Before 2010, the most newsworthy event in recent team memory was the obliteration of Chris Simms' spleen. But, Tampa Bay ain't ready to beat a top-tier defense on the road just yet. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Can't say as I disagree with that, Cam. And kudos for expressing that thought without making it sound like the Bucs are committing an affront to the league by beating bad teams and losing to good teams. They're in the 65th percentile, ESPN's Trey Wingo, get off their ass about it. Pick: Baltimore

Tennessee at Houston

Aaron: The Titans are starting their third-string quarterback. On the road. Against the worst defense in the NFL. And, Titans' RB Chris Johnson -- near as I can tell -- hasn't been hit by a bus. Did I just talk myself into picking Tennessee? Nope. Pick: Houston

Joe: Yeah, for as bad as their defense has been, their offense has been good (great, even) enough to keep pace with teams with much better quarterbacks than Rod Rust or whoever the Titans are trotting out. Pick: Houston

Minnesota at Washington

Aaron: The Vikings haven't won a road game all season and we're approaching the part of the schedule where Brett Favre's assortment of arthritic appendages are exposed to the elements. Oh, stop. An "appendage" could be ANY body part or organ that is joined to the axis, or trunk, of a body. But, yes, I meant his d*ck. Pick: Washington

Joe: And are "The Elements" the Vikings' sideline dance squad? Finish your jokes, Cam! Pick: Washington

Kansas City at Seattle

Aaron: A fresh batch of "the NFC West is a bad division" storylines were written this week. All four teams lost by a combined score of 120-49, so that didn't help. But, Seattle remains one of the most underrated home field advantages in the NFL. And, hey, the Seahawks are at home! Pick: Seattle

Joe: I believe I renounced my "hot home team" shtick earlier in this column. It'd be hypocritical of me to go back on that now. It's a little thing I like to call "integrity." Pick: Kansas City

Miami at Oakland

Yes, the Dolphins had 10 days to prepare, but the Raiders are equally well-rested after taking the last two weeks off. "But, didn't they play Pittsburgh last week?", you ask. "Yes", I answer. "Oh. [Pause.] OHHHH.", you say. Pick: Oakland

Joe: Both of these teams seem to have hit the wall on once-promising seasons. And now, as a callback to several paragraphs earlier, I will note that either one of these teams would take the NFC West title in a walk. Pick: Oakland

St. Louis at Denver

Aaron: The Broncos aren't just 3-7...they're a listless, disinterested 3-7 team. Still, I'll take them at home over a rookie quarterback who has yet to win on the road this season. This has the look of a pick that's gonna bite me in the ass, doesn't it? Pick: Denver

Joe: This has the uncomfortable feel of Cam baiting me into picking a shaky road team. But that road team is still my pick to win the NFC West. Pick: St. Louis

San Diego at Indianapolis

My pick could change depending on the status of Chargers TE Antonio Gates, but for now, it appears that San Diego is making their annual sprint to the AFC West championship. They've played the Colts better than any opponent in recent years and those Indianapolis teams had Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark and/or...ummm...wait, who the hell else has Peyton Manning been throwing to all these years? Pick: San Diego

Joe: That'd be Reggie Wayne, who actually is still there catching passes. The Colts are having a beleaguered letdown of a season, but they haven't slid enough to make me pick against them at home. Pick: Indianapolis

San Francisco at Arizona

Aaron: Have I made my annual, tired "looks like I'll be WILLINGLY working late" Monday Night Football dig this season? No? Well, here you go. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Uch. Brutal. Can't Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald devise some kind of one-on-one skills competition so that the outcome will be decided by the only good players on the field? Pick: San Francisco

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Lousy Review of Whataburger

Back when I was writing my weekly music news column, I was sandwiched between Mathan Erhardt's More Reasons Why Being Deaf Sucks/Rocks on Thursdays and Jeff Fernandez's Saturday Swindle Sheet.

Jeff and Math are tremendously talented writers, but while Math continues to do his thang on the music and
comic book beats, Jeff took a bit of a creative hiatus and moved from Chicago to San Antonio.

A-a-a-a-n-d, he's back!

Jeff's dipping his toes into the lightly-read blog waters with the debut of
Lousy Reviews!

First up, Whataburger's NEW 5-3-1 Burger.

(Next: Taco Cabana's breakfast tacos, maybe?)

2010 Final A'ssessment: Starting Pitchers

Gio Gonzalez -- (15-9, 3.23 ERA)

2010 Grade: A

The Good: Gonzalez enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2010. From 2008-09, Gonzalez threw a combined 132.2 innings with Oakland posting a 6.24 ERA, 1.704 WHIP and per nine inning rates of nearly 10 hits, 5.5 walks and 1.5 home runs. Last year, in just over 200 innings, his WHIP fell to 1.31 while his nine inning rates dropped to 7.7 hits, 4.1 walks and 0.7 home runs. Gonzalez got stronger as the season went along (his opponents' OPS was 70 points less in the second half). For the most part, he cut out the immature moments of petulance on the mound when he either wasn't getting calls or didn't have his best stuff. His
curveball is the best pitch most of you have never seen.

The Not-So-Good: The tradeoff for some improved control was a drop in Gonzalez's strikeout rate. He was down to 7.7 per nine innings after a K/9 number of 9.0 in 2008 and 9.9 in 2009. Gonzalez remains susceptible to especially patient teams who'll lay off his curveball. He had a pair of unwatchable outings against the Yankees' unwatchable offense and a similar slog in one of his starts against the Red Sox.

Trevor Cahill -- (18-8, 2.97 ERA)

2010 Grade: B+

The Good: Bounced back from an inconsistent rookie season (10-13, 4.63 ERA) to become the youngest Oakland SP to win at least 18 games since Vida Blue won 21 in 1971. Cahill's groundball rate was a ridiculous 56% which gave the A's terrific infield defense numerous opportunities to record outs and eradicate rallies. There was a small, but not insignificant uptick in his fastball velocity from 2009 to 2010 and after inexplicably ignoring his curveball in 2009 -- which was considered a plus-pitch for him in the minors -- he threw it much more often in 2010 with effective results.

The Not-So-Good: There is a heated debate between casual fans and sabermetricians as to just how impressive Cahill's season really was. His strikeout rate improved, but remains unimpressive at 5.4 per nine innings. Stat-heads believe a lot of Cahill's success is attributable to his .238
BABIP -- the best in the big leagues and considered to be unsustainable by those who crunch the more esoteric statistics.

Dallas Braden -- (11-14, 3.50 ERA)

2010 Grade: B

The Good: In a season when our geographic rivals won the World Series (and did it with the kind of personality, long hair and poor hygiene that's been an Athletics gimmick for more than four decades), Braden's perfect game on Mother's Day remains an almost-satisfying consolation prize. It's been on my DVR ever since and the tearful postgame hug between Braden and his grandmother is carrying a DiMaggio-like streak of choking me up every time I watch it. Though victimized by poor run support, Braden started a career-high 30 games, reduced his walk rate to 2.0 per nine innings and tossed shutouts against 2010 playoff teams Tampa Bay and Texas. Say what you will about his demonstrative personality, it's made Braden the unquestioned leader of the callow Athletics rotation.

The Not-So-Good: Braden's pitching performance on May 9, 2010 covered up a LOT of nonsense. His contrived feud with Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez over pitching mound etiquette was made more embarrassing when Braden took it upon himself to escalate the one-way war of words in a few subsequent interviews. Later in the season, when the A's used the dust-up to market ridiculous "Get Off My Mound" t-shirts, Braden climbed atop his pious high horse and washed his hands of the gasoline he used to fan the flames. His pedestrian strikeout rate (5.3 per nine innings) is in line with his last two seasons and while he gutted through numerous nagging injuries and ailments, Braden will always be at war with his own body.

Brett Anderson -- (7-6, 2.80 ERA)

2010 Grade: B

The Good: With the caveat that Anderson only pitched 112.1 innings in 2010, he was off to a solid start in April (2.35 ERA, zero home runs allowed in 23 innings) before missing almost all of the next three months with a forearm strain and elbow tendinitis. When he returned for good on July 30, he pitched 81.2 innings in his 13 starts through the end of the season and posted a 2.98 ERA. Anderson reduced his walk and home run rates per nine innings, while increasing his groundball rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also knows how to
crack them hoes like pistachios.

The Not-So-Good: Not long after the A's handed Anderson a four-year, $12.5 million contract (through 2013 with a pair of team options for 2014-15) the 22-year-old starter began breaking down. Most of the media speculation seemed to indicate that the A's were just being extra cautious with Anderson's injuries and that they weren't all that serious. Still, this is a team that's been notoriously injury-prone -- replacing their head trainer twice in the past four years -- so, it's anyone's guess regarding how many innings Anderson will give the team in 2011.

And, the rest... -- In his first start of the 2010 season, Vin Mazzaro threw a first-pitch, get-it-over cookie to the Rangers' Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded. Grand slam. In his last start of the season, Mazzaro gave up a home run on a 3-0 pitch. He finished with a 6-8 record and was traded to Kansas City (for OF David DeJesus -- whose .443 SLG would've led the A's last year...sigh) after the season. Justin Duchscherer made only five starts before hip surgery (again) ended his season. Since returning to the starting rotation in 2008, his velocity has steadily dropped to the low-to-mid 80s. I covered the Ben Sheets fiasco in
January, then again in July. Here's hoping the A's beat writers can find a player on the team's 2011 roster to inexplicably defend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #11

Last Week:

Aaron: 10-4
Tom: 7-7
Joe: 5-9


Joe: 95-49
Aaron: 87-57
Tom: 84-60

Chicago at Miami (Thursday Night)

Joe: Yes, I know Miami is down to its third-string QB, and while I actually think Tyler Thigpen is a fine stopgap for a team that doesn't exactly air it out like crazy, you'd still expect me to make the joke about the various antiquated Dolphins quarterbacks who will be plugged in behind center. I'm here to tell you that I am better than that. (...Scott Mitchell.) (Jay Fiedler.) (Ray Lucas.) (Brock Berlin.) (Almost.) Pick: Chicago

Aaron: I'm going to keep right on picking the home team in these antiquated and unnecessary Thursday night games until they're abolished by the NFL or until the Detroit Lions host their annual Thanksgiving Day disemboweling. Whichever comes first. Pick: Miami

Detroit at Dallas

Aaron: I'm not saying the Cowboys WILL go from 2-7 to a seven or eight win season, but save for their two games still to play against Philadelphia, are there any Dallas opponents left that look like a guaranteed loss for the Cowboys? Home against the Saints on a short week? On the road against a very shaky Colts team? They might win seven or eight games! Pick: Dallas

Joe: This shouldn't be entirely surprising that the Cowboys got a second wind. A talented team worn down by several years of bad coaching gets rejuvenated by a shake-up. It's not something that will last, but if they can get some momentum while they're in this afterglow period, these kinds of things can snowball. Or they could foolishly overlook the Lions and get snaked right here. Which is kind of the 2010 Cowboys thing to do. Pick: Detroit

Arizona at Kansas City

Aaron: So, where does last week's postgame beef between Kansas City head coach Todd Haley and Denver head coach Josh McDaniels rank among the most insignificant feuds of the last 20 years? I've got it coming in just behind
Rocky Balboa v. Tommy "The Machine" Gunn in Rocky V. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: ...But just ahead of
Pumkin v. New York on Flavor of Love. Arizona's really settled into its groove as the dregs of the NFL. Pick: Kansas City

Green Bay at Minnesota

In Brett Favre's defense, his 2010 season is still less embarrassing than every rapper who's over 40. "The Power" won, Chuck D.
The Power won. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Doesn't it seem like the road team is always winning in this rivalry? Except for earlier this year, of course. My point, though, is that Minnesota shouldn't expect too big of a home-field advantage. Pick: Green Bay

Baltimore at Carolina

Aaron: Two weeks ago, Brian St. Pierre was a stay-at-home dad with five career pass attempts over an eight-year NFL career that everyone thought was over. On Sunday, he'll be starting at quarterback for the Panthers. I hope Disney will at least wait a week before signing Dennis Quaid to play St. Pierre in the inevitable cinematic endeavor. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Against any team with a realistic chance of winning, Baltimore's shockingly permissive defense would be the story. We'll wait for a week when they face an NFL offense. Pick: Baltimore

Cleveland at Jacksonville

Aaron: There were actually some NFL experts out there who excoriated Cleveland for not playing for the tie late in last week's overtime loss. For the tie?! Would the Browns still have been invited to a bowl game or would the 1955 Fighting Irish get the nod, instead? Pick: Cleveland

Joe: I'm going to look like an idiot if they lay an egg here, but if you're asking me to pick the six best AFC teams as they're playing right now, the Browns are at worst a tie for sixth. They're digging from too deep a hole right now to actually make the playoffs, but at the very least they're doing the world a service by distracting Cleveland fans from their unbecoming
LeBron Rage Disorder. Pick: Cleveland

Oakland at Pittsburgh

Aaron: My Raiders are getting some national recognition just as everyone's jumping off the Steelers bandwagon. While Pittsburgh's offensive line is in shambles and the season-ending loss of DE Aaron Smith is huge, I just can't pick my team to beat a legitimate playoff contender on the road until they beat a legitimate playoff contender on the road. (Feel free to post this on the bulletin board in the visiting locker room, Raiders.) Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: I'm inclined to agree with all that, Cam. That said, if I'm a Steelers fan, this game scares the crap out of me. Pick: Pittsburgh

Buffalo at Cincinnati

Aaron: Despite his disingenuous denials, I have no doubt that Joe was going with the "reverse jinx" theory when he picked against his hometown Bills last week. With Buffalo's first win out of the way, we can both go back to sincerely picking against them. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: I'm not even sure a reverse jinx scenario benefits my poor beleaguered Bills right now. I'll say this: at the very least, the offense has made then a watchable team at least. Then again, when two heads of your three-headed dragon are named "Fred Jackson" and "Steve Johnson," marketing does become an issue. Watch out, "John Smith" of "State University." Our very, very, very early draft pick is looking at you! Pick: Cincinnati

Washington at Tennessee

When Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's lifeless body is found on the grounds of FedEx Field alongside a blood-covered can of Campbell's Chunky Soup and
Donovan McNabb's mom nowhere to be found... Pick: Tennessee

Joe: What are the odds Randy Moss "defects" to the Redskins after this game, like Soviet winter Olympians of old? It's about the one missing element from Moss's human resources nightmare of a season. Pick: Tennessee

Houston at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: I love when any prognosticator offers up the "if this game was in [the home stadium of the visiting team]..." qualifier before cravenly picking the obvious favorite. Houston's defense is abysmal, but the Jets have let their last few opponents keep the score close on offense. The Texans move the ball well enough to put a scare into the home team. Boy, if this game was in Houston... Pick: NY Jets

Joe: So another Texans season bites the dust with a strong offense deep-sixed by a terrible defense. I can't decide whether their particular brand of near-miss frustration is better or worse than the Bills' decade of putridity. Pick: NY Jets

Atlanta at St. Louis

Aaron: Over the last six games, the Rams have alternated wins and losses...perfectly in sync with alternating home and road games. St. Louis lost last week on the road, therefore they can't lose! Pick: St. Louis

Joe: The Rams losing last week at the Niners really bummed me out. I guess they're another season away from an 8-8 division title. Pick: Atlanta

Tampa Bay at San Francisco

The 49ers haven't scored more than 24 points in a game all season AND have only beaten one team with a winning record. Yes, it was the Raiders. No, they're not playing the Raiders this week. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Much like the Bears, fate and the schedules have been kind to the Bucs at this crucial stage of the season where upstarts either continue to pad their records or get exposed as pretenders. Tampa's probably another season away from being an actual contender, but like I said, the schedule's being kind. Pick: Tampa Bay

Seattle at New Orleans

Aaron: Saints RB Reggie Bush returns! Oh, how New Orleans missed your 80 all-purpose yards per game. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Scoff if you must, but I trust this Saints team FAR more when they have that Bush option to turn to. Pick: New Orleans

Indianapolis at New England

Aaron: TBG reader Elena warned me. "Peyton's going to crash and burn this year, Cam". After a strong start, Peyton Manning's fantasy ju-ju dropped from "exceptional" to "solid" to "I'm THIS close to starting Kyle Orton over him this week". I'm trapped. I want to bench Manning, but I couldn't live with myself if he goes off. Suicide watch in 3, 2, 1... Pick: New England

Joe: New England's defense ought to be the cure for what ails Manning. As for the cure for what ails everybody Manning is supposed to give the ball to? Surgery, mostly. Pick: Indianapolis

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia

Aaron: 45 points in the first half of last Monday Night's game, Michael Vick? And, in front of my six-year-old son? This'll be worse than the dog thing if you turn Jalen against baseball, you son of a bitch. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: So the Giants learned a valuable lesson that no NFC East win is a gimmie. The Eagles learned that touchdowns are pretty easy to come by when the opposing team has taken the week off from tackling. Giants angry. Philly fans overconfident (when they should be petrified that the Giants' QB-killing ways could resurface here). Pick: NY Giants

Denver at San Diego

Aaron: The predictable road to 10-6 begins for the Chargers here. Want some free advice, Chargers fans? If you wait until the three-day Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (or whenever your team is eliminated from the playoffs) you'll get a great deal on those "AFC West Champions" car flags y'all like so much. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Observe as Cam'ron's take on the Chargers exhibits the same combination of "ass-covering pessimism" and "naked hatred" that Joe generally points towards the Patriots. It's a strong defense posture -- low risk, high reward. Anyway, a classic "all our eggs in one basket" last-gasp win by the Broncos last week. San Diddy getting healthy (or healthier at least) at the right time. Division title within reach. Exactly the kind of game those damned Patriots would win. Pick: San Diego

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #11

Chicago at Miami (Thursday Night)

Joe: Yes, I know Miami is down to its third-string QB, and while I actually think Tyler Thigpen is a fine stopgap for a team that doesn't exactly air it out like crazy, you'd still expect me to make the joke about the various antiquated Dolphins quarterbacks who will be plugged in behind center. I'm here to tell you that I am better than that. (...Scott Mitchell.) (Jay Fiedler.) (Ray Lucas.) (Brock Berlin.) (Almost.) Pick: Chicago

Aaron: I'm going to keep right on picking the home team in these antiquated and unnecessary Thursday night games until they're abolished by the NFL or until the Detroit Lions host their annual Thanksgiving Day disemboweling. Whichever comes first. Pick: Miami

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TBG Beats: "Kush" -- Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and Akon

M'man Nick'a e-mails:

"The new Dr. Dre song is the same old piano loop sh*t...and quite awesome."

new Dr. Dre song is called "Kush". Before the above e-mail, I hadn't heard it. Nick nailed the most notable feature, as Andre Young does love those piano keys. As for the "awesome"?

Yeah, I'd say that's spot-on.

The administrators at YouTube have been atypically authoritarian in taking down the unreleased song from their site, so I can't guarantee that the above link will work. If it doesn't, head on over and give one of the other illicit copies a listen.

Dre -- who's never been known for his lyricism -- is helped here by some overt ghostwriting. My guess is that Dre's recent reconciliation with former protégé The Game resulted in the first verse. The growling delivery when Dre spits, "Cross that line..." and the serpentine sentence structure are straight out of Game's playbook.

I can't say I've ever been a fan of Akon, but his hooks are usually solid -- particularly on party cuts -- and he's just here to give Dre a bit of a rub with the young'uns. Snoop Dogg, on the other hand, sounds better here than he has in ten years ("Still I am. Tighter than the pants on") I'm not ready to forgive Tha D-O-double G for his last two or three albums, but his energy in the second verse is worth the return of some goodwill.

The bridge is little bittersweet for me, though, as the Nate Dogg sound-alike ("Hold up, wait a minute...") is an unpleasant reminder of the health woes that have befallen
the genuine article.

Oddly, in an era where ANY album publicity within the music industry is an endangered species, Dr. Dre has gone on the offensive to
tamp down discussions and expectations regarding his long-awaited Detox album. If "Kush" is the first single, I'm ready to put it towards the top half of the singles in Dr. Dre's catalog. And, since you didn't ask, here's the list without "Kush":

Deep Cover -- The definitive west coast track. Instantly legitimized Snoop Dogg and the g-funk genre.

California Love -- Originally slated for Dre's never-released Chronic II follow-up on Death Row Records. The addition of Tupac turned it into the label's biggest hit.

Let Me Ride -- Love, love, love the beat. The remixes with extended Snoop verses are equally phenomenal.

Still D.R.E. -- Famously ghostwritten by Jay-Z. Snoop's "sticky icky icky" throwaway line took on a life of its own.

Nuthin' But A G-Thang -- Overplayed to death on all the old-school rap stations. Unquestionably one of the seminal songs of the 1990s.

Keep Their Heads Ringin' -- I'm in the minority on this, but I've always dug this song. On the soundtrack of my life for the summer of 1995.

Bad Intentions -- Dre's failed attempt to create a new Snoop Dogg. Knoc-turnal had a decent flow, but he always seemed overshadowed by the beats.

Natural Born Killaz -- True story: I was once at a strip club where THIS was one of the songs played.

Tha Next Episode -- The unreleased original version was better, but Nate Dogg's appearance at the end nearly saves this one.

Forgot About Dre -- Mrs. Bootleg LOVES this track. For me, the Eminem hook got old quick.

Dre Day -- The first Death Row Records diss track. It became the template for their over-the-top attack cuts in later years.

Been There, Done That -- This song and this album never happened. Cool? Cool.

TBG TV: FOX Animation Domination – 11/14/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) American Dad! -- "Stan's Food Restaurant": This hasn't been the most entertaining start to a season for FOX's cartoon cavalcade of whimsy. But, Stan Smith and his family rallied big with two stories that were funnier than anything else that aired on Sunday night. The primary plot revolved around Stan and Roger as rival restaurateurs. The "exploding building/body parts" running gag actually worked while the assorted images of Stan and Roger's one-upmanship were effective, as well. The secondary story was about Stan's son Steve (increasingly written with a nod to Bud Bundy of Married…With Children infamy), a crazy nymphomaniac and a child's doll…that may have been alive. Of course, it wasn't. But, someone thought it was. Oh, shut up, it was funny. It was!

(2) Family Guy -- "Baby, You Knock Me Out": columnist Bill Simmons hasn't made me entirely numb to references from the Rocky series of movies. Lois Griffin's adventures in the boxing ring leaned heavily on the major plot points from Rocky III, but the pulverized visage of the color commentator and the image of Lois' comically-triangular nose breaking (in the same way one would dog-ear the page of a book) were nice – albeit grotesque – touches.

(3) The Cleveland Show -- "Little Man on Campus": We're just a handful of episodes into the new season, but this show is continuing its uneven comedic feel from a year ago. The supporting cast is easily the weakest of any show on FOX's Sunday night slate (in fact, save for Tim the bear and his wife, Arianna, I can never remember any of their names) so, an episode that focuses on one of Cleveland's drinking buddies isn't going to do much for me. And, it was a baseball episode! I was still underwhelmed! I did love the final scene with Donna's wet blanket reaction when Cleveland fessed up to his shenanigans.

(4) The Simpsons -- "Lisa Simpson, This Isn't Your Life": I really don't want to keep pointing out all the times The Simpsons seems to repeat previously-aired storylines. After 22 seasons – and an avalanche of fan criticism that's equal parts accurate and hackneyed – no one can reasonably expect every episode to be as fresh as it was 15 years ago. But, didn't Lisa already do the "new school" thing in
The Secret War of Lisa Simpson? And, when Marge is shown to have taken on a second job to pay for Lisa's private school, was I the only one who thought of Homer working at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay off Lisa's pony? Hell, the whole point of this week's episode was that Lisa didn't want to be a Simpson. Come ON, writers!

Lines of the Night

"We're kids! Incorporated! Before your time. OUR time!" – The Cleveland Show

"Soup is NOT a meal, Vera!" – American Dad!

"You couldn't open a French whore's legs with a wheel of cheese!" -- American Dad!

Current Standings

Family Guy -- 17
The Cleveland Show -- 16
American Dad! -- 11
The Simpsons -- 10

Monday, November 15, 2010

TBG Eats: In-N-Out Burger

Current Weight: 171.0 lbs.

"It's all good…from Diego to tha Bay
Your city is tha bomb if your city makin' pay
Throw up a finger if you feel the same way
Dre puttin' it down for Californ-i-a!"

--Dr. Dre,
California Love

I was born and raised in Long Beach, California (about 30 minutes south of Los Angeles) and I've spent the last 15 years living in San Diego. I've toyed with the notion of relocation in the past – being actively courted by my company's Washington DC division on more than one occasion – but, unless my hand is forced, I doubt I'll ever leave California. My home state is far from infallible, but its combination of climate, culture and overall vibe is unlike anyplace else.

But, I'll call bullsh*t when I see it.

If you Google "top things to see in California",
the very first hit is a site that's compiled "thousands and thousands" of reviews from tourists and visitors of the most famous locations in the state. It highlights roughly a dozen places that scored especially favorably. Now, I don't want to sway any prospective visitors one way or the other, but these are the five most overrated tourist destinations in California.

Magic Mountain -- Every theme park in California plays second fiddle to Disneyland, but there was a time when Magic Mountain's array of "real" roller coasters was the preferred destination for a generation of disaffected teenagers. However, in the late 1990s, cleanliness, security and safety no longer appeared to be park priorities. I've seen rival, umm…"
urban youth groups" warily eyeball one another from their respective places in line for a ride, while graffiti and vandalism has become a more frequent occurrence.

Hollywood -- I'll always have a soft spot for Hollywood once the sun goes down. In the year before I moved to San Diego, I spent the kind of time and money in the city's assorted hot spots that belied my secret identity as the assistant manager of an ice cream shoppe at $8.00/hour. If you're going to Hollywood during the day – perhaps to see the Walk of Fame or Grauman's Chinese Theater – enjoy the trash-strewn streets, panhandlers and unofficial public urinals at bus stops, service entrances and in the middle of random intersections.

Pier 39 -- Most of y'all know that San Francisco is my favorite American city. Pier 39 is a great place for kids and maybe first-time tourists. It's also a marked-up tourist trap that's conveniently located in what's already one of the most expensive cities in the country. Of course, I like it for the enormous sporting goods store and homemade doughnut kiosk, but not everyone enjoys Oakland A's officially licensed hodgepodge and bags of sugary cholesterol like I do. Your loss, y'all.

Lombard Street -- It's billed as the "crookedest [sic] street in America". Mrs. Bootleg and I took Jalen there two years ago. His description was more accurate: "Is this all there is?"

San Francisco Cable Cars -- There are a lot of things from the first half of the last century that aren't worthy of revisiting. I wouldn't put "open-air cable cars slowly traversing the city's chilly streets" up there with Jim Crow, but it's certainly falls somewhere within the more lighthearted tier of early African-American
hair care products and/or rotary phones.

Longtime readers of mine – or just anyone who's known me for more than a minute – have heard me refer to California's ubiquitous In-N-Out Burger chain as
overrated. In-N-Out makes a perfectly respectable burger…it's just not worth a 15-minute drive-thru wait or the touristy pilgrimages from out-of-state (fast) foodies.

I hadn't eaten there in quite some time, when Mrs. Bootleg suggested In-N-Out for dinner not long ago. The moment seemed right to give the famous Double-Double the "TBG Eats" treatment. From In-N-Out's website, the Double-Double is "two 100% pure beef patties, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread, two slices of American cheese and grilled onions stacked high on a freshly baked bun".

The "spread" is just thousand island dressing, but its tanginess helps lift the other flavors, while the generous amount on each burger provides an effective diversion from the usually dry meat.
Grilled onions are optional and if you're a fan, order them over raw onions – the grease n' cheese union can be glorious if you catch the cooks on the right day.

When it all comes together, the end result is solid, but the meat seems to always take a back seat to the toppings. In that regard, In-N-Out is no different than the flavor-of-the-month novelty burgers churned out by the larger chains. My position is sacrilege to most of my fellow Californians.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Grade: 3.5 (out of 5) Calories: 670 Fat: 41g

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #10

Last Week:

Aaron: 11-2
Joe: 10-3
Tom: 7-6


Joe: 90-40
Tom: 77-53
Aaron: 77-53

Baltimore at Atlanta (Thursday Night)

Joe: These are two teams with ill-timed losses that made everybody think they're not as good as they are. Baltimore nearly dropping one to the Bills at home couldn't have helped either, but that easy handling of Miami last week -- as well as Atlanta fending off a fierce division rival -- spoke well of both teams. We might just be looking at a matchup of eventual conference runners-up. Which ... means absolutely nothing. Pick: Baltimore

Aaron: Over the past 18-24 months, the general public has learned more about the deleterious effects of professional football on the NFL's rank and file than it ever wanted to know. Concussions, helmet-to-helmet hits, post-career physical and emotional ailments and shortened life spans. Consequently, shouldn't teams have more than three days between killing themselves for 60 minutes? (My opinion is subject to change when and if Time-Warner Cable ever starts carrying the NFL Network, so I can SEE these Thursday night games.) Pick: Atlanta

Minnesota at Chicago

Joe: I'm not going to bore everyone with stories of my knockout pool but -- Picture it! Minneapolis, 2010.
The most hated man in sports brings his team back from 14 points down with five minutes to play, notching what may well be the last big game of his infuriatingly long career and in the process saving the bacon of one worthy Vikings-picker in Manhattan. I could not be happier to not have to root for Brett Favre anymore. Pick: Minnesota (Damn it.)

Aaron: If this week's media reports are accurate, Brett Favre isn't even the most hated man in his own locker room. The anonymous hatchet job that Vikings head coach Brad Childress has endured is positively surreal. His players loathe him for sh*t-canning Decepticon saboteur Ravage
Randy Moss? Ohh-kay. At least Childress will always have his career in personal athlete management to fall back on. Pick: Minnesota

N.Y. Jets at Cleveland

Joe: Okay, NOW we can be concerned about the Jets. Particularly on the road against a Browns team that has now DEMOLISHED two playoff contenders in a row. They probably come back to earth this week, but it'd be pretty cool if they kept it up. Pick: NY Jets

Aaron: I'm with Joe here, but for a different reason.
Earlier in the week, Jets head coach Rex Ryan wore a mullet wig and some Browns gear in an impersonation of his brother Rob -- Cleveland's defensive coordinator -- during a session with the New York media. The same writers who found it refreshing and kissed ass laughed along, will use it to question the coach's focus and commitment if the Jets lose. C'mon, Browns! Pick: NY Jets

Carolina at Tampa Bay

Joe: The Battle of the Budget Spring Break Locales! Tampa may have lost last week, but they looked better hanging in there than they have in some of their wins. Meanwhile, the Panthers will be suiting up Rodney Peete at QB. Pick: Tampa Bay

Aaron: OK...a couple of picks from now, we take a look at the Cincinnati at Indianapolis game. I use the same "Rodney Peete"-style bit, but only because Joe picked the games first and I started at the bottom while working my way to the top of the page. I saw no reason to ask Joe to re-write his hacky gag, so we're leaving them both in. I thought you should know this. Pick: Tampa Bay

Tennessee at Miami

Joe: Oh sure, Bill Simmons, NOW you're looking into Chad Henne's eyes and finding him wanting. Too late, Bub, I was there last week. I suppose the big story this week is Randy Moss coming to the Titans, but given the way Ray Rice trod all over Miami last week, Chris Johnson may make Moss moot. Pick: Tennessee

Aaron: Just to recap -- Moss apologists insisted he'd derive motivation with the Patriots this season as he was playing for his next contract. In Minnesota, he'd be motivated to prove Bill Belichick and the Pats wrong. After crapping all over the "money" and "pride" carrots, why does anyone think he'll be any less cancerous in Tennessee? Not every story out of the Volunteer State ends as inexplicably successful as
Three-6 Mafia's, son. Pick: Tennessee

Cincinnati at Indianapolis

Joe: Make no mistake: Carson Palmer and TO will have a pretty good week against the Colts. But I'm not sure they're in a position to beat any of the playoff contenders. Especially with Indy coming off of a loss. Pick: Indianapolis

Aaron: I need an obscure Colts wide receiver from 20 years ago to make the obligatory "with all the injuries, who's left for Peyton Manning to throw to this week...[obscure Colts wide receiver from 20 years ago]?" joke. Clarence Verdin? Jessie Hester? Manning will be the best player on the field, but the next four or five spots belong to...the Bengals? Pick: Cincinnati

Detroit at Buffalo

Joe: Oh, Bills. I tried to warn you, America. Plucky, Harvard-educated QB or not, this isn't a team built for wins. And, Detroit is suddenly a team that gives good teams fits. What does that mean they'll do to bad teams? The fun continues! Pick: Detroit

Aaron: "And, Detroit is suddenly a team that gives good teams fits as long as the Lions are playing at home and NOT on the road where they've gone 0-4 this season." Fixed. Pick: Buffalo

Houston at Jacksonville

Joe: At 4-4, my inclination is to say don't count the Texans out. But looking at their schedule ahead (at NYJ, Philly, Tennessee; home vs. Baltimore and Tennessee) and their chronic inability to play defense, and it doesn't look good. Look for sports yahoos with national audiences to find a way to blame Matt Schaub despite the fact that I'm pretty sure he can't rush the passer. Pick: Houston

Aaron: I like Houston, too, but since (1) I'm trailing Joe by 100 wins and (2) Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew -- who has a fantasy football column sidebar each week in Sports Illustrated -- has the balls to write an "I told you so" piece on the recent effectiveness of teammate David Garrard AND recommends the Jags QB as a good fantasy play this week...I mean, he would know, right? Right? Pick: Jacksonville

Kansas City at Denver

Joe: Road games within the division are always hell, but for the first time in forever, KC is clearly the better team in this matchup. Pick: Kansas City

Aaron: It'd be fun to imagine the Broncos' passing game merged with the Chiefs' running game. Of course, that's silly. Instead, let's imagine how good the Broncos might be with the Cleveland Browns' running game, since...well,
you know. (And, yes, as a Raiders fan, I hate these two teams. But, since they've each won a Super Bowl, I grudgingly respect them. Unlike, well... you know.) Pick: Kansas City

St. Louis at San Francisco

Joe: Does it feel to anyone else that the Niners stopped playing games about three weeks ago? And yet they've won two games somehow. If St. Louis wants to win the division, they're going to have to win a road game at some point. Pick: St. Louis

Aaron: It won't be here, Joe. If we've learned nothing else from aforementioned columnist Bill Simmons, it's that the 49ers will FEED off the ethereal weed smoke ju-ju that's still in the air after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. The crowd's good vibes will help the Niners be
better at playing football. You'll see it in their eyes. You watch. Pick: San Francisco

Dallas at N.Y. Giants

Joe: Giants fans ... I'm thrilled for you this week. Pick: NY Giants

Aaron: Confidential to m'man Tom -- I laid $50 on the Giants last week, at 12-1 odds, to win the Super Bowl. I'll need a scapegoat to irrationally blame when/if their season ends early. Thanks. Pick: NY Giants

Seattle at Arizona

Joe: Two teams that are fighters at home and awful on the road, plus the bonus of Charlie Whitehurst (who has been summarily written off after one week as a starting QB -- welcome to the NFL in 2010!). Pick: Arizona

Aaron I read this week that the injuries to Seattle's decimated defensive line are "good news" for Cardinals starting QB Derek Anderson. You know what would be better news for Arizona? All together now: if Derek Anderson wasn't your starting QB. Pick: Seattle

New England at Pittsburgh

Joe: I'm not sure if the Patriots' roster of undersized white guys will either be easy pickings for the Steelers defense or a frustratingly effective workaround. I chose to be optimistic. Pick: Pittsburgh

Aaron: Since Ben Roethlisberger reemerged from the bathroom stall, his Steelers have gone 3-1. However, they've struggled in two games against legitimate playoff contenders (losing to the Saints and beating the Dolphins by one point with some shady officiating). The Patriots beat the Ravens (like the Steelers, a top-5 defense and middle of the road offense) earlier this season. Most importantly, can anyone remember the last time a Brady/Belichick team produced two stink-bomb losses in consecutive weeks? Pick: New England

Philadelphia at Washington

Joe: How many different narratives can be wrung out of one quarterback in a lifetime? Donovan, you might not make the NFL Hall of Fame, but if the Sportswriters Hall of Fame has any kind of loyalty, you're a shoo-in. Pick: Philadelphia

Aaron: And, we're only six months away from this lede, America: "Donovan McNabb, after a year of tension and turmoil in Washington, believes he's in the best shape of his life as the 34-year-old signal caller prepares for his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders." F*ck. Pick: Philadelphia

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TBG TV: FOX Animation Domination – 11/07/2010

First, some lightly-read blog housekeeping before we begin the new season of this feature:

A few readers pointed out that I never posted recaps (or the 2009-10 final scores) from the two or three "Animation Domination" blocks at the end of last season. Looking back, The Simpsons clinched the championship around Easter. They've enjoyed a decent – albeit unspectacular – renaissance since The Simpsons Movie was released in 2007. Meanwhile, The Cleveland Show was maddeningly uneven in its first season, but good enough for runner-up.

The 2010 fall TV season started in September; so I'll half-assedly recap the scores for the Animation Domination episodes that already aired at the bottom of this post.

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) The Cleveland Show -- "It's the Great Pancake, Cleveland Brown": FOX rolled out an entire evening of Halloween-themed episodes and this was the best of the four by virtue of being the least mediocre. I dig this show's occasional baseball nods (Cleveland dressed as a spot-on Willie Stargell for Halloween) and it's always fun to see bullies get their over-the-top animated comeuppance. But, enough with "Herbert" character, writing staff. I don't know where "the line" is for Seth MacFarlane, but he's coming awfully close to crossing it.

(2) American Dad -- "Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls": It's telling that when the writers used a "tennis grunt" gag in the opening dream sequence, my first thought was how much funnier it was used in an episode of Cougar Town last season. Credit to this show for marrying off the useless Hayley character and practically excising her from the "cast", but they won't be able to rely on a running
Street Fighter sight gag every week. Don't think I didn't appreciate it, though.

(3) Family Guy -- "Halloween on Spooner Street": How much goodwill has the Family Guy franchise bought from FOX? The network has "banned" a couple of controversial episodes, only to change course at a later date. Conversely, FOX green-lights the infamous "dirty diaper" scene from last season and the brother-sister make-out scene here? Creatively, it sure seems like FG is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Tricking Quagmire into having sex with Joe? Ugh.

(4) The Simpsons -- "Treehouse of Horror XXI": After 20+ seasons, I can accept that the writers will gently massage and re-use certain plots that have already aired. But, the "War and Pieces" segment of the show's long-running Halloween episodes involved dozens of classic (and slightly name-changed for legal purposes) board games come to life. If you're going to ape your own episodes, don't lazily lift from one of your
best Halloween episodes ever. The "Dead Calm" spoof and vampire mini-sode fell flat, too.

Lines of the Night

"Pretty ironic: a cross being used to kill someone." – The Simpsons

"Donna's going as Michelle Obama [for Halloween]…with Oprah's arms." – The Cleveland Show

"Halloween is a bigger letdown than being a Mets fan." -- Family Guy

"And then, tonight, maybe I'll introduce her to THE THICKNESS!" -- American Dad!

Current Standings

The Cleveland Show -- 14
Family Guy -- 14
The Simpsons -- 9
American Dad! -- 6

September 26
Family Guy
The Cleveland Show
The Simpsons

October 3
Family Guy
The Simpsons
American Dad!
The Cleveland Show

October 10
The Cleveland Show
The Simpsons
Family Guy
American Dad!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

TBG Drinks: Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale

Brewed By: Buffalo Bill's Brewery
Brewed In: Hayward, California
Type: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 5.2%

What They Say: "It is believed that George Washington brewed beer using this bright orange squash. In modern times, Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale is a true original microbrew that uses baked and roasted pumpkins. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are added to create what has been described as 'pumpkin pie in a bottle'."

Website: Beginning with the main page and extending into several of the site's links, there's an excessively busy amount of moving text and pictures that accompany almost every mouse click. This really shouldn't annoy me as much as it does, but the cumulative effect on my tired eyes is similar to the hapless victim in this four-second clip. The "Brewery" section includes profiles of Buffalo Bill's five seasonal brews (including brief specifics on the malts and hops used). The obligatory pub menu is a glorious homage to enormous portions -- Jambalaya pizza? Yes, please! -- but, the site's "About" area seems to WAY overstate the brewpub's impact on the national microbrew movement.

Why I Picked It: Ever since I was a morbidly-obese, yet undeniably adorable That Bootleg Boy, I've had a taste for the ubiquitous flavor of pumpkin (pie mix). Like the rest of you, it started with pumpkin pie, but soon expanded to include additional desserts, such as pumpkin bread, pumpkin pudding and Baskin-Robbins pumpkin ice cream. (Of course, real pumpkins aren't especially appetizing. I don't understand the allure of pumpkin seeds and the gourd's squishy insides are the overriding reason why -- in my house -- pumpkin carving is Mrs. Bootleg's duty.)


Presentation (5): I like the cornball "comic book cover" font used on the label. It fits with the back-patting "America's Original" appellation, even though it might've made more sense to feature the brewery's name a bit more prominently on the bottle. The squiggly label art featuring one pumpkin enveloped within a large, leafy pillow appears to have been drawn by this cult-favorite animator. 3

Originality (5): When America's first president is referenced in your product's promotional material, it's safe to assume pumpkin ale isn't an especially groundbreaking brew. In fact, the one constant among commercial brewers who produce pumpkin ale is to highlight the libation's 200+ year history. You're no
Ra's al Ghul, Pumpkin Ale. Not even close. 1

Body (10): I've long been opposed to the "foods as colors" faction in the world of fashion. (That turtleneck isn't "chocolate", it's "dark brown".) But, in keeping with the seasonal theme, I'll concede that Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale pours a light, uhh…pumpkin color with a very thin head. The heavy carbonation keeps the contents agitated, but lacking in substance without any mouthfeel worth mentioning. 4

Taste (10): There are several pumpkin-based beers on the market this time of year. Buffalo Bill's is distinctive in that much more emphasis is placed on the spice flavors (nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves) than on the pumpkin notes. There's a very mild sweetness that successfully undercuts the more pronounced flavors, allowing the company's "pumpkin pie in a bottle" claims to ring true. Not much complexity in the taste, but if you like pumpkin mix… 9

Efficiency (10): The ABV is only 0.2 points higher than Budweiser, Coors or Miller. As a measuring stick, the comparison is pretty accurate. Anyone not turned off by the oversimplified flavors should be able to take on several 12-ounce bottles at the same rate as any of the traditional domestic brews. 6

Versatility (10): This is a basic beer with specific limits. Those of you into food pairings won't find many entrees to tag team with this. As a casual or social beer, Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale is almost certainly going to fall on either side of the love it/hate it fence. There are more nuanced pumpkin brews on the market, but as a starter squash beer, this is plenty acceptable. 5

Grade: 28 (out of 50) -- Good Beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy. Simply Genius.

I'm more than a week late in commenting on the seismic events that affected our country last week. Thankfully, Tommy Craggs and the ne'er-do-wells at Deadspin said it better than I ever could.

A very belated "well played", gentlemen.

The Best Anniversary Gift There Is, The Best Anniversary Gift There Was...Etc.

M'man Jon P. writes:

I noticed that today is November 9, which is the anniversary of a very notable day. On this particular date, many moons ago, a couple of people came together in a memorable way after a long wait. There was some chaos in the immediate aftermath and people's lives would be affected for years afterwards. Because on this date, years ago...

Bret got screwed!!!

Fortunately, a few years later, November 9th would be made notable by a couple of other people. And I think it turned out a little better. So Happy Anniversary to you and [Mrs. Bootleg].

...though a
MISTER CAMERON character would be fun to see come out of it.

THIS is why I blog, Mrs. Bootleg.

Happy anniversary!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Parent/Teacher Conference Report

My son Jalen started first grade just over two months ago.

He's an extreme creature of habit who prefers a familiar routine and is easily shaken up by some of the inevitable changes that accompany a young child's life.

In September 2007, he started preschool after spending three years in home daycare. On Jalen's first day, he set a new physiological record for the human race by filling his eyes with two pints of tears without spilling a drop down his cheeks during the drive over. (Mrs. Bootleg and I were spectacularly less successful.)

The teachers sent him home with pictures taken from his first day – in an attempt to show us how well he'd adjusted. The look on Jalen's face – as he stood petrified on the playground in one snapshot and quietly weeping into his uneaten lunch in another – foreshadowed a long transition period in which I often had to crowbar his backside out of the car seat when we arrived every morning.

Three years later, most of you remember
how that chapter turned out.

This past August, he began first grade at a new school. Jalen would really have to work hard to top the maladjusted moments from his first day at preschool. And – credit where it's due – he did! On his first day of first grade, he got sick and came home early. A short time later, Jalen was diagnosed with migraine headaches. My six-year-old son is bringing the medicinal drama at an 11th grade level, y'all.

The transition to his new school is mostly complete, though. Jalen now sprints to his classroom each morning after spending the first few weeks trying to hide behind my beanpole body when we arrived. His excitement for "Pizza Friday" is palpable. And, Jalen has identified the classmate who'll be his (latest) next wife.
That's how he rolls.

Last Friday, Mrs. Bootleg and I attended our first parent/teacher conference of the new school year. I'd spent the morning at work struggling to push a proposal out the door. By the time our 1:00 PM appointment arrived, we were waiting outside Jalen's classroom in near 100 degree
Santa Ana-inspired heat.

Suffice it to say, I was wound nice and tight. So, with 48 hours to reflect on the discussion, let's try'n find some talking points from Jalen's written report.

Works well without disturbing others -- This is one of nearly three dozen(!) "personal development" categories where the kids are assigned a score of 1 ("beginning"), 2 ("developing") or 3 ("secure"). I'll share a conversation I had with Jalen early Sunday morning in lieu of revealing his actual score:

Jalen: "Daddy, wake up! It's November 7! I'm 6 ¾ years old today!"

Me: "Jalen…[inoffensive expletive] it's 6:00 AM!"

Jalen: "No, it's not. It's 5:55…"

"Jalen shows great enthusiasm when given the opportunity to share his ideas aloud and sometimes requires reminders to raise his hand."

Yup. My son's preferred method of shoehorning himself into ANY conversation is to talk louder and longer than everyone else in the room. He's a little black filibuster.

Standardized Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Score -- Jalen scored a tick above the school district's average in mathematics. I want Mrs. Bootleg to remember this the next time she's giving me s**t about showing our son how to calculate his own batting average.

"Jalen is great in P.E.! We just need to work on his emotions."

Every weeknight, around the dining room table at Stately Bootleg Manor, Jalen will share the events of his day with us. If he had a "great" day, I'll guarantee that P.E. was prominently involved. If he had a "not-so-good" day, I'll guarantee that P.E. was prominently involved. My son likes to control the ball, make the rules (often on the fly) and win. And, each of these three requirements is as important as the next.

A few months ago, Jalen asked if he could take golf lessons and Mrs. Bootleg was actually considering it. This kid would spontaneously combust under the tenets of such an unforgiving sport.

"Jalen is SO articulate!"

And, it begins.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #9

Last Week:

Aaron: 9-4
Joe: 9-4
Tom: 7-6


Joe: 80-37
Tom: 70-47
Aaron: 66-51

Chicago at Buffalo

Aaron: The predictable narrative here has been the possibility that the Bills' first win of the season would come in Toronto -- ostensibly a home game for Buffalo and another punch in the gut for heartbroken Bills fans. The most underreported narrative? The Bears are terrible. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: The Bears may well be terrible, but the 0-7 Bills, feisty as they are, are still an 0-7 team, and one that finds ways to lose (witness last week against Kansas City, in which the world's most depressing confluence of events conspired against them). I was all set to pick the Bills here until I realized this was being played in Toronto, a venue that seems to sap the life from my hometown team. Pick: Chicago

Tampa Bay at Atlanta

The 5-2 Bucs have been needled by pundits for failing to beat any good teams this season. The 5-2 Falcons have just one win in 2010 over an opponent that could be considered a legitimate playoff contender, but lack Tampa Bay's "Cinderella" luster. Expect a low-scoring affair and a possible shanking with someone's glass slipper. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Tampa Bay's defense comes and goes, and against an offense with weapons like the Falcons, I don't think they'll be able to score enough to make up for it. Pick: Atlanta

Miami at Baltimore

Aaron: A 4-0 road record and "could be 6-1, instead of 4-3" theme has allowed Miami to enter the discussion as a second-tier AFC contender -- despite no running game and a barely league-average defense. Miami hasn't seen such an exaggeration of talent since Chris Bosh, y'all. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Plus, where are the Poise Police when it comes to Chad Henne's inability to lead Miami to final-drive comebacks/maintain leads over good teams? Poor Joe Flacco could use a break. Pick: Baltimore

New Orleans at Carolina

Aaron: This begins a relatively soft stretch of games for the Saints. Hopefully, a few wins can mute the next few weeks of "only X more weeks until Reggie Bush returns" reporting. I do, however, enjoy all the media-created Bush-related euphemisms for "overrated" -- like "decoy", "serviceable" and "safety valve". Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Hey, they were winning when he was around. Meanwhile, Carolina probably should have won their earlier matchup this season, and now they're home, so ... no, I can't pick them. But I wouldn't trust any kind of point spread. Pick: New Orleans

New England at Cleveland

Aaron: First in scoring...21st in points allowed...the Patriots' ESPN-celebrated "bend, don't break" style of play will be tested against any of the league's better teams, in any given week. Cleveland doesn't qualify, but with a week to prepare and a healthy Peyton Hillis, Pats fans might have to sweat out a win. Pick: New England

Joe: The Browns are lucky this isn't taking place in New England, because if the short-white-guy-loving Pats fans ever got Peyton Hillis in their house, I'm guessing they wouldn't let him go until he changed uniforms. This has been a trendy upset pick, and why build up a big picks lead if it doesn't let me take some chances. Pick: Cleveland

San Diego at Houston

The Chargers are 0-4 on the road this season and have surrendered an average of nearly 26 points/game over the past four weeks. As for the Texans, it looks increasingly likely that they peaked in their opening week win over Indianapolis. Houston's defense hasn't allowed less than 24 points in a game all season. Do I pick with my heart or attempt the ridiculous "reverse jinx"? Pick: San Diego

Joe: Antonio Gates has been an absolute BEAST for the Chargers this season. Unfortunately, his feet are about as functional as Augustus Hill's this week. ...Oh, ask someone who had HBO back in the '90s. Pick: Houston

N.Y. Jets at Detroit

Aaron: Great job by the sports media on recycling the exact same week one postgame storylines after the Jets' 9-0 loss to the Packers last week. When the Jets lost to Baltimore -- at home -- in the season opener, we heard "QB Mark Sanchez has a long way to go."; "The Jets are as undisciplined as their head coach." and "Where's the running game?" I wish I could say I expected more from...wait, this just in: the Jets' "sterile" new stadium has joined the accusatory triad of pathetic excuses! Welcome! Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Detroit continues to be a dangerous team, especially on the road, but despite the deserved praise for Ndamakung Suh, their defense does tend to allow hefty point totals. That'll be good news for the Jets' scoring drought. Pick: NY Jets

Arizona at Minnesota

Aaron: In Minnesota's first game following the infamous party boat/sex scandal in 2005, they lost to Chicago, 28-3. Now, after the most turbulent week in team history since the Love Boat set sail, there are rumblings that head coach Brad Childress was this close to termination and that he's lost nearly the entire locker room. As long as one of those players isn't RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings will be just fine. This week. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Arizona's putrid road record, shoddy defense, and laughable QB play really are the deciding factors here. All this "bring back Kurt Warner" talk is cute, in a pathetic way, but speaking of cute: couldn't Matt Leinart be losing these games for Arizona instead of nameless losers like Max Hall? Pick: Minnesota

N.Y. Giants at Seattle

Aaron: The Seahawks are so riddled with injuries on the offensive and defensive lines that I'm expecting old-school scribe/vampire
Frank Deford to pen one of his abbreviated back-in-MY-day "essays" on advocating the return of the two-way player in professional football. By the by, the Giants at current 12-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl? Done and done. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Seattle remains ever-dangerous on the road, but probably not when the talent differential is this wide. Pick: NY Giants

Kansas City at Oakland

Aaron: OK, Raiders. You've convinced me. I know this won't end well. Pick: Oakland

Joe: Sure won't. Pick: Kansas City

Indianapolis at Philadelphia

I don't want to hitch my prognostication wagon to Philadelphia until I see how QB Michael Vick looks in his return and/or until the Eagles disclose the availability of WR DeSean Jackson. But, Peyton Manning and the Pips the Dogg Pound the St. Lunatics D12 G-Unit his mediocre supporting cast are no longer automatic in hostile territory. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I'm gonna let Cam keep cycling through hilarious backup band names, just so long as we all agree that Anthony Gonzalez is
Spinderella. Right? Indianapolis

Dallas at Green Bay

Aaron: I undoubtedly enjoyed the World Series demise of the Texas Rangers more than the ongoing immolation of the Cowboys. Even by the trash-talking standards of sports-talk radio and internet anonymity, Rangers fans had gotten too mouthy. I openly rooted for the Giants, who at least have the history to justify the ignorant enthusiasm of their Zima-sipping, fair-weather fans. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I usually think sports commentators are too quick to jump to the tired "that team just plain quit on their coach" observations. But give me a better explanation for Dallas getting pasted at home like they did against the Jags. Wade Phillips, you stupid turd. Pick: Green Bay

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

Aaron: Is there some kind of sub-contract between ESPN and the AFC North that mandates at least one low-scoring, unwatchable intra-division game on Monday Night Football each season? Can we get sh*tty field conditions and two dozen punts or is that asking for too much? Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Well, Cam, it's the Bengals, so at least you'll be able to take in those Ocho Cinco antics of which you're so very fond! Pick: Pittsburgh