Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day

I won't get a chance to say this again for four years, so ... Happy Leap Day!

Dolly and Chris Trickle

Here's that Dolly Parton review -- kind of a fun one to write because it gave me a chance to take a couple pot-shots at the Music City morons who program stations like K102 in the Twin Cities.

Also, this week's edition of the Las Vegas Weekly features an amazing story about former up-and-coming NASCAR driver Chris Trickle (nephew of Dick), whose life was cut short by an unknown shooter here in Vegas 11 years ago. I knew nothing about this kid, but was fascinated by the story. Plus, it's interesting to read about how Trickle's tragic death opened the door for Kurt Busch's rise on the NASCAR circuit. Give it a look.

Man Bites Dog: Knight to ESPN

Of all the unlikely marriages (Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, Dennis Kucinich and Mrs. Dennis Kucinich, George W. Bush and the English language), Bob Knight and ESPN has to take the cake.

I mean, there's never been a public figure who's held more disdain for the media than Knight, unless you're a member of the media who fawns over him and licks his boots and defends his every move like you're his own personal press secretary. Then again, I'm sure Knight doesn't see himself as a member of the media, per se. He's just cashing a fat paycheck from the boys at Bristol and looking forward to a chance to use their bully pulpit to lecture the audience on the finer points of the pick-and-roll, the chair toss, and hunting etiquette.

Still, I'd pay good money to see him share the studio desk with Jeremy Schaap just once. Make it happen!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shameless self-promotion, part III

The third leg of my Wild troika in the Rake was a feature on Roger Godin, another character among characters (hockey seems to have a way of attracting or developing them). How many expansion teams hire a curator to capture the history of the sport in their state within their first couple of years? The Wild may be a little too enamored with themselves at times, but this is one decision that has paid off in spades.

Hockey Laureate
The NHL’s only professional curator keeps Minnesota history on ice.
December 20, 2002 (from the January 2003 Issue)

The other night, two-dozen hockey fans milled around the Iron Range Grill. They were biding their time. Across the corridor, in a half hour, the puck would drop on the big sheet of ice at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild, enjoying a hot streak early in the season, would be facing the Vancouver Canucks, a flourishing new rivalry.

The wait staff in the Grill was decked out in T-shirts featuring the names of Iron Range cities. AITKIN brought an acrid tray of buffalo wings and a schooner of macrobrew to a table situated under a photo-mural of World War II-era hockey teams from the Range. EMBARRASS poured a stiff rum and Coke for a man in an NHL “Original 6” hat. COLERAINE cleared a table whose party gathered around a display case featuring a vintage Chicago Black Hawks jersey—worn when the Hawks held training camp in Hibbing in 1935. The cash register rang again and again.

A cynic might arch an eyebrow at the thought of a third-year franchise peddling history as a commodity like so many giant foam fingers. But that cynic has not met Roger Godin. Godin is the Wild’s official team curator, and as far as anybody can tell, the only curator employed by a professional sports organization in North America. The team’s desire to reconnect with Minnesota’s rich hockey tradition is palpable when you walk into “the X.” And they’ve got the perfect man for the job in Godin, a spry 60-something with twinkling eyes, a keen attention to detail, and a droll smile that suggests he knows something you don’t.

“He just has this remarkably perfect background,” said Matt Majka, the team’s vice president of marketing. “When we were talking about filling this position, we found out that the former director of the Hall of Fame was living two blocks away and was interested in the position.” Indeed, Godin was the first director of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, serving in that capacity from 1971 to 1987. A self-proclaimed “museum guy,” the New York native eventually moved back to his roots on the East Coast, but his road wound back to Minnesota and he became one of the first hires of the fledgling hockey franchise.

Touring the concourses at the X, Godin is in his element. His handiwork is the spearhead of the team’s various initiatives intended to reclaim Minnesota’s status as “The State of Hockey.” From the high school hockey jerseys ringing the arena to the artifacts in the Iron Range Grill, Godin is responsible for curating and maintaining these exhibits.

There are vitrines protecting rare Golden Gopher and U.S.A. Olympic jerseys. There’s an informative exhibit on the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier awards, given annually to the nation’s top male and female players. There’s even an homage to the dear, departed Minnesota North Stars. Near the entrance to Section 109 sits Zamboni No. 37 — yes, the 37th such machine ever built by Frank J. Zamboni & Co. This unit was first used at the old St. Paul Auditorium in 1956. Most of the memorabilia at the X is on loan from the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and the collections of hockey buffs who want to share their love of the game and its history.

The lasting impression created by a tour of the X is that Wild folks relish Minnesota’s rich hockey heritage and traditions. Godin’s work might be dismissed as window-dressing in other buildings, but to the Wild, these artifacts are as crucial as the ice itself.—Patrick Donnelly

Shameless self-promotion, part II

Here's the Rake article I wrote about the "robo-cam" -- one of the most interesting pieces to research, because I got to hang out in the bowels of the X with a couple of true characters.

All In The Wrist
Where do video-gamers go when they grow up? FOX-TV. Duh!
January 23, 2004 (from the February 2004 Issue)

To all those people whose mothers told them, “You’ll never amount to anything sitting on your ass all day playing those damn video games!”—this one’s for you.

The “Robolounge” is in a dank corner of the Xcel Energy Center. Its denizens, Michael “Buddha” Novak and Tim Dufour, run the robotic cameras used to dramatic effect in telecasts of Wild hockey games on FOX Sports Net. These are cameras that go where no human camera operator could realistically go. Novak and Dufour are a pair of thirtysomething photojournalists who get paid to fiddle with their joysticks for three hours a night, certainly the dream of any PlayStation-addled adolescent who enjoys a dose of hockey to break up the monotony of a Grand Theft Auto marathon.

The robotic cameras—or robocams, as the knowledgeable call them—have been used in one form or another for a decade, bringing fans so close to the action that they’re ducking every Marian Gaborik slapshot or Matt Johnson haymaker in their rec room. Novak operates the camera stationed behind the net in the west end of the arena, while Dufour’s robocam is mounted above the glass at center ice between the penalty boxes.

From those vantage points, the two cameras, each with a lens about the size of a puck, capture the speed and fury of Wild games from an angle impossible to replicate with any of the other seven cameras throughout the building.

“The secret is to try to make it look like it’s not on a motor, that it’s smooth and steady,” Dufour said. He and Novak are both trained on stationary and handheld cameras, and they operate the more standard equipment for KMSP-TV (Channel 9) telecasts. But when the game’s on FSN, you’ll find the two in the Robolounge—actually, just a couple of tables tucked under the seats, hidden behind a maze of room dividers that provides a buffer from fans stumbling to a nearby restroom.

The cameras are controlled by a three-piece console that features a zoom wheel, a focus mechanism, and a joystick that dictates its 360-degree movements, not unlike your standard video game setup. In fact, Novak insists his experience as a gamer is crucial to his ability to master the robocam.

“It sounds weird, but I think I shoot better if I play PlayStation,” he said. “When I play video games, I’m just grooving on hand-eye coordination, because these are really subtle movements. Gaming is great practice. I wish I could write that off—I haven’t found a way to do it yet.”

Since the images captured by the robocams are most often used in replays, the guys must have a steady hand. (They’ll cut to the goal cam for live shots only during power plays.) “If we’re jerky at all, when they slow it down in a replay, it amplifies anything we don’t like about a shot,” Novak said. Both men frequently mentioned the importance of being “in the flow” of the game in order to perform at peak levels. And peak performance is a must with hockey. “In basketball, if you miss a basket you’re going to get plenty of others,” Novak said. “Sure, if you miss a big slam-dunk, that’s unfortunate. But in hockey, if you miss a goal, you’re screwed. You’re hosed. You’re the goat. So, it’s a challenge because of the speed.”

But the speed of the game is what makes the robocams such a valuable tool to FSN director Dave Dittman. “It’s one thing to sit on a wide shot and show all the ice. But we try to get down close and show the speed, the action of the game, the hard hitting, and that’s what having the robos right on top of the glass has done,” Dittman said.

Robocams are used in other sports, including baseball and basketball. In drag racing, they literally save lives. Running a track-level stationary camera in that sport puts the camera operator in great peril. “I only ran it once, and it’s the scariest camera in all of sports,” Novak said. “It’s right on the wall two hundred feet down from the starting line, and the cars are going three hundred miles an hour past you. If there’s a problem…we call it the suicide cam, because you have less than a second to react or it can take you out. Two cameramen got killed using that camera when it was farther down the track.”

When ESPN took over the drag-racing package, they replaced the track-level stationary camera with a robocam, where technology not only protects the operator but helps fans track the dragsters better, because with a flick of the wrist, the robocam can pan 180 degrees in less than a second.

As the pregame skate continued, and the sound system fittingly cranked out U2’s “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” Mike Miller, who runs the robocam for the Gopher hockey telecasts at Mariucci Arena, strolled into the Robolounge. Miller said operating the robocam is fun, though it can lead to the ultimate game over. “It’s like a video game,” Miller said. “Except if you lose, you’re fired.”—Patrick Donnelly

Shameless self-promotion, part I

Let's post a few of my Rake articles, starting with the first one I wrote for them way back in May 2003 ...

“It’s A Wild!”
Minnesota’s amazing hockey team. We’re so proud of it! (Them?)
May 23, 2003 (from the June 2003 Issue)

All those late nights in April and May spent watching the Minnesota Wild’s astonishing West Coast playoff run left many bleary-eyed observers across North America rubbing their eyes and wondering the same thing: What the hell is it? On fleet forward Marian Gaborik, it looks like a cheetah. On plodding veteran Andrew Brunette, maybe more like a three-toed sloth. Of course, it could be a meerkat, a chinchilla, or a bloodthirsty panda.

We’re talking, of course, about the Wild logo, that mammalian Rorschach test that adorns the jerseys of the State of Hockey’s favorite underdogs. Its actual identity is… well, let’s hear it from Matt Majka: “We’ve never said what it is,” explained the team’s vice president of marketing. “It’s a Wild.” Well, of course it is. How could we have doubted it?

“The question we get most is, ‘What is it? Is it a cat? A bear? A wolf?’” Majka said. “It’s a Wild, and it’s whatever you see in there. It was purposely designed to be interpretive.” A female hockey fan with whom I am closely acquainted said, “It’s got to be some kind of a cat. It’s not a wolf or a dog—wrong ears, wrong head shape.” And I thought, Ears? Man, I thought those were the eyes…

“We get the ‘a-ha’ factor a lot,” Majka said. “People step back and see things they hadn’t seen before. Some don’t even see the animal head at first.” True, there’s plenty to see in the pictogram: pine trees, the northern lights, a full moon, all icons of the Minnesota wilderness. And the team surely gilded the lily with the official, regionally inspired name of each color, too: “Forest Green,” “Minnesota Wheat,” “Harvest Gold,” and “Iron Range Red.”

After Minnesota was awarded an expansion franchise in 1997, one of the first steps was to settle on a nickname. At the time, “Wild” drew some criticism, but now it feels like a comfy old sweatshirt, especially compared to the other clunkers that comprised the final five: Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, and White Bears.

Majka said the fans were instrumental in the next step, too: developing the team’s brand—the logo and colors. With the help of the marketing agency Hall Batko and creative firm SME Design, the team conducted some 300 fan interviews, and the top choice quickly became obvious. “It was a landslide,” Majka said. “The fans led us right there.”

It was the beginning of a torrid affair; the fans love what they see. The Wild’s jersey was the top-selling NHL sweater in the country for the team’s first two years in the league. The numbers aren’t all in yet, but this year it’s bound to make another strong showing. “NHL jerseys are generally popular locally and regionally,” said Majka. “It’s unusual to attract national attention. But we’ve got a unique logo and it’s really been a mysterious attraction.”

Now the only mystery is the design of the team’s third jersey, which will be unveiled this fall and worn in select home games. Majka, who is, after all, a marketing professional, wouldn’t give many advance hints. “We’re going to keep it simple. It will honor the heritage and tradition of hockey in Minnesota,” he said cryptically.

Due to a change in NHL rules, road teams will wear their white jerseys next year, so the Wild will don their fetching green sweaters at home when they’re not wearing the new alternate jersey. The league stipulates that teams with third jerseys shall wear them 15 to 18 times per year, but given the superstitious nature of hockey guys, head coach Jacques Lemaire (who went sockless for much of the playoffs) likely will make the final call. “If Jacques wants to wear the third jersey every night, I’m sure we’ll wear the third jersey every night,” Majka said with a laugh.—Patrick Donnelly

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


One of my favorite monthly magazines -- and a former home to some of my crimes against journalism -- is ceasing publication. The Rake has been folded, with the March issue pegged as its last.

The spirit of The Rake will carry on at (which suddenly becomes an ironic URL), but web-only publications often find themselves in the unenviable out-of-sight, out-of-mind position all too quickly.

There was a lot of good writing at The Rake, and a lot of good people working there. I'll post links to a few of my stories later if they're still in the archive -- but for now, here's a 40 on the virtual curb to my homiez at The Rake. You'll be missed.

Jesus & Gravity

Just reviewed the new Dolly Parton album, "Backwoods Barbie." I'll give it the full WHIH treatment when the review is posted, but here's a sneak preview -- it's pretty good.

I didn't even mention this song in the review, but check out the video for "Jesus & Gravity," which must have taken its name from the two most influential forces in Dolly's life.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A great night for the Irish

I admit, I'm a big fan of Irish cinema (not a contradiction in terms, despite what you might have been led to believe). From "The Secret of Roan Inish" to "Waking Ned Devine," "The Commitments" to "In the Name of the Father," movies made in Ireland or about Ireland have given me plenty of pleasure over the years.

So it was fun to see a couple of Irishmen getting their due at the Oscars tonight. Daniel Day-Lewis pulled in the best actor award for his performance in "There Will Be Blood," while the best song award went to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for "Falling Slowly."

If you're an Oscars fan, check out "The Carpetbagger," the excellent Academy Awards blog written by David Carr (who, incidentally, is a Minnesota native and the brother of Henderson's own Jim Carr, a friend of the Gopher family). In the blog, Carr mentions a classic Irish reaction from Hansard (who played guitarist Outspan Foster in "The Commitments" some 17 years ago, and now fronts the rock band The Frames), who got a special text message after his big win.

Fair play to ye, boys!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Finally, something happened!

I named this blog "What Happens in Henderson" because it's a play on the famous (or, around here, infamous) line about Las Vegas. Basically, I like to joke about my new hometown because compared to its neon-addled neighbor, nothing really does happen here.

Except finally, I have something to write about -- something that actually happened, right here in Henderson! On Saturday night, my friend Spencer and his wife Kate held a house party to celebrate their 10th year here in the valley. They live in a cozy, typically suburban neighborhood of Henderson called Anthem. Now, before you say, "What's the big deal about a house party?" let me point out that they actually had a live band, right there in the living room of their typically suburban home in their typically suburban neighborhood.

And it wasn't just any band, either. No, it wasn't The Killers, but an up-and-coming young Vegas band called A Crowd of Small Adventures. I had heard about them because Spencer wrote a pretty cool article about them in the Weekly last fall, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a chance to see them up close and personal -- like, very up close and personal. It was kind of like a show at the Entry, minus the spilled beer on the floor, the mysterious gunk dangling from the ceiling and the drunk guy screaming in the back of the room.

Oh, and he had a keg of Fat Tire out back. What more could a guy want?

I liked the music -- they have a cool 80s rock sound, with a violin thrown in for good measure. I told Spencer afterwards that it sounded like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, in a good way. I think these guys are going somewhere. This could be a chance for me to say, "I saw them before they made it big."

In honor of the party, check out their My Space page (link above) and read the article Spencer wrote that got the ball rolling.

I'm so excited! Something happened in Henderson!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Won't get fooled again

The Vikings are back at the scene of the crime -- the NFL Combine, where three years ago they were so dazzled by the speed of an unknown wide receiver from South Carolina that they ignored his pedestrian college stats and drafted him with the No. 7 overall pick.

Well, we've come full circle, as the StarTribune is reporting that the Vikes have given Troy Williamson's agent permission to seek a trade. Never mind the fact that all these other NFL teams have scouts, and they've seen Williamson drop pass after pass (see right) over the last three seasons. The Vikes are convinced that "eight to 10" teams are interested in TW and his shaky hands.

According to the article, in fact, trade offers have already been exchanged. I can only imagine they've gone something like this: "We'll give you Williamson. You give us a bag of used footballs and two kicking tees. One tee? Hmm ... we'll have to get back to you on that."

The fact that this has come to a head at the Combine is perfect symmetry, because the Vikings wouldn't be in this mess if they hadn't fallen for the same trap that snares a few teams every year -- namely, they're so impressed with "measurables" that they ignore past performance on the field. A lot of football guys like to think they're mavericks, they're smarter than everybody else and they're just dying for a chance to prove it. Choosing a diamond in the rough is a great way to pad the egos of these personnel geniuses if it happens to work out. And if it doesn't? There's always somebody to take the fall.

In the Vikings' case, that was head coach Mike Tice -- even though it was pretty clear at the time that Tice wanted to draft Shawne Merriman, who has become the exact player the Vikings most desperately need, a lights-out pass rusher. Merriman went five picks later to the San Diego Chargers, and they're pretty happy with how that's worked out.

Of course, Williamson still might have been the best wide receiver of the class (after Braylon Edwards, who went to the Browns at No. 3). Here's a list of the rest of the WRs who were drafted in the first round that year: Mike Williams (No. 10, Detroit), Matt Jones (21, Jacksonville), Mark Clayton (22, Baltimore), and Roddy White (27, Atlanta). This points to another flaw in the Vikings' draft plan that year -- the No. 7 pick was compensation for Randy Moss, and there was pressure from fans and some in the front office to use that pick to replace Moss.

So Williamson became a symbolic pick, and he never came close to filling Moss' shoes. But hey, he sure looked good in shorts and a t-shirt running in a straight line.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Raveonettes: Lust Lust Lust

I wish I liked this album more -- I really do. Because I like what the Raveonettes have contributed to the musical scene over the last five years or so. Very cool, retro stylings in both their music and their album artwork, which I think is a subtlety so often overlooked in the digital age. A couple of great, catchy singles on each of their last two albums -- "That Great Love Sound" and "Love in a Trashcan" rising above the rest.

But "Lust Lust Lust" just didn't cut it for me. The music all seemed to blend together, with no great standout tracks to catch my ear. Maybe it's not that different from their other work, and I've just reached my own personal tipping point with their music. I could listen to that argument. But honestly, I just don't see it approaching their past two albums in either creativity or quality.

Read the review here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dems: Can't stand prosperity

The phrase "circular firing squad" should be a registered trademark of the Democratic National Committee and its subsidiaries, because it seems like every day I hear or see further evidence that the Democrats just can't stand prosperity.

Today I was clicking around the dial and landed on AM-1230, KLAV ("The Talk of Las Vegas!") -- check out their first-class web site here. It's a real mishmash of political, business and sports talk shows, and apparently they pimp themselves out (sorry, David Shuster) to the highest bidder in order to pay the bills and keep a full slate of shows running throughout the day.

The snippet I heard today was from a "progressive" morning talk show, and the hosts were whining (go figure) about how the mainstream media is missing the boat by covering the presidential nomination process as a horse race rather than focusing on the issues. I'll buy that to a point, but the evidence they pointed to almost made me drive off the road.

"Look at Iowa," whined the host. "After the Iowa Caucus, all the news was focused on Obama winning and Hillary finishing third. But John Edwards finished second. He beat Hillary too. And nobody was talking about him."

Really? We're still whining about Edwards, who's been out of the race for four weeks now? I mean, I liked the guy too -- I even caucused for him in 2004 -- but he had his chance. His vision just didn't resonate with enough Democratic voters, and that had nothing to do with the media.

This anecdote points out a frustrating flaw in the liberal/progressive/Democratic mindset. I love the fact that somebody is out there looking out for the little guy, for the underdog, for the people who don't normally have a voice. So liberals typically speak out for anybody whom they think has been wronged. In this case, it's manifested itself in wistful daydreaming about John Edwards -- but I guarantee you, if Edwards and Hillary were fighting it out and Obama had dropped out already, this same radio host would have been whining about how Obama never got a fair shake.

The thing is, at some point liberals have to move on, accept the facts and rally behind a candidate. They've got a winning ticket staring them in the face with Barack Obama, and right now too many people can't see fit to put their petty differences behind them. The party insiders are clinging to Hillary because "it's her turn," while those on the edge are still sticking up for Edwards.

Keep it up, and we'll get four more years of Republican rule. And the Dems will have only themselves to blame.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the other hand ...

... Nyquil. Sweet, sweet Nyquil. If only I could get a script for some cough syrup with coedine, I'd be in business. Most of this OTC stuff couldn't knock out a salamander.

More e-bola frustration

I'm starting to think that there's a lot more to this virus than meets the eye. It seems like everybody I talk to either knows somebody who had it, or had it themselves and are still shaking off the effects.

As I mentioned yesterday, when I called the doctor's office, the receptionist told me that one of their doctors had it for three weeks. Tonight at the kid's soccer practice, two of the moms confided that they had it as well. One said she was in bed for a week, while the other said the doctors told her this thing has been known to linger for four to six weeks!

I just can't get over the idea that there's nothing you can do for this -- that medical professionals are basically throwing their hands in the air and surrendering. I know, it's a virus, but still ... this is a bit ominous. I don't want to get all sci-fi on you, but if this is the future we're facing -- crazy-ass new viruses that drag you down for six weeks -- I'm not sure I want to be a part of it. It won't be long before I turn into another Howie Mandell, wearing a surgical mask 24/7 and washing my hands 12 times an hour.

All I can say is that right now, it's ugly.

Monday, February 18, 2008

MMM: The e-bola virus

Last week, we missed the Monday Morning Meltdown because I had contracted the e-bola virus. This week, the MMM will center on said virus, which has worn out its welcome in this house like a stoner brother-in-law who lays on the couch all day eating Funyons and watches CineMax until dawn.

Yes, the nasty little bug is still hanging on, and we're now officially on Day 9 and counting. Most of the worst symptoms have abated -- the chills, the body aches, the fever -- but I've still got the sore throat, runny nose and stuffy head. But worst of all is the chest congestion and cough that make every reasonably deep breath a potential adventure in technicolor.

Thanks to this country's fine, effed-up healthcare system, we once again had to switch doctors on Jan. 1, and I've yet to meet my new medico. I've got an initial consult set for next Tuesday (an appointment that has already been pushed back once by the office staffer who realized that she made the original appointment for me on a date when the doc won't be in the office), but I thought I'd call in today to see if there were any same-day appointments available.

Guess again. The nurse/receptionist/phone monkey I talked to this morning couldn't have been less sympathetic to my cause. Yeah, it's a virus, and yeah, you've just gotta let it run its course. Oh, you say you've had it for a week? One of the doctors here had it for three weeks. Life's rough -- wear a helmet.

So, Day 9 and still counting. If that's not meltdown-worthy, I don't know what is.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Strange bedfellows

It will be an interesting day on sports talk radio Monday. I know I wouldn't want to be a host charged with discussing the two big sporting events of Sunday -- the Daytona 500 and the NBA All-Star Game.

I can't imagine two sporting events with a smaller potential crossover audience. Allow me to dip into the world of stereotypes here for a moment -- it would seem that the typical NBA fan thinks NASCAR drivers and fans are a bunch of racist, toothless hillbillies, while a NASCAR fan might feel nothing but disdain for the thug-infested rap culture that defines the NBA, especially at its biggest events like the All-Star Game.

Thus, picture an ESPN Radio host on Monday trying to cover both of these events. You just know that you're going to lose half of your audience, at least, when you change from one topic to the next. How do you make NASCAR relevant to an NBA fan, or the NBA interesting to a NASCAR enthusiast? I don't see how you can.

If you hear anybody who's able to strike that balance on Monday, let me know.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bob Mould -- District Line

Well, for some reason the Weekly hasn't posted my Bob Mould review from two weeks back, so I guess I'll do it myself. In short, I liked the album -- not loved it, but liked it. Smooth Jimmy and T-Bone will probably like it better because they're bigger Mould fans than I, but this one bears further investigation for sure. It's already No. 3 on my Top Ten of 2008, so that's a good start!

Bob Mould
District Line 3 stars

It's been quite a ride for Bob Mould. His seminal punk band Husker Du helped launch the grunge era, while power trio Sugar blasted eardrums in the early 90s. But as a solo artist, he's been all over the board – from earnest, acoustic stem-winders to disco-infused electronica, he's tried it all. He even quit the music biz to write professional wrestling scripts for a time, but returned with the bracing Body of Song in 2005.

Now, the 47-year-old Mould is back with another pretty conventional effort – hook-laden, guitar-driven, and filled with lyrics that sound like the transcript from a therapy session. Mould's never been afraid to lay his heart bare on the ground for all to see, which he does convincingly on the haunting "Again and Again," a painfully effective breakup song for grownups. "I never found the trust I needed from you/Everything you did was making me wonder," he sings, "My biggest mistake was taking you in again and again."

There's some catchy up-tempo action here, most notably "Who Needs to Dream," "Return to Dust," and "Miniature People," which showcase the drumming of Fugazi's Brendan Canty. But Mould falters a bit when he returns to his electronica phase on the uneven "Shelter Me," which underscores that his best work comes against a backdrop of guitars, not keyboards. -- PATRICK DONNELLY

Why we hate them

Minnesotans have long made sport of ridiculing Wisconsinites, specifically Packers fans, for their over-the-top, delusional support of their teams. Dan Barreiro's "Dairyland Diaries" and phone calls to Carl Gerbschmidt on KFAN are equally entertaining and insightful. Sure, some of the stories are taken out of context a bit, and Gerbschmidt is basically a cartoon character, but none of this would ring true if Packers fans didn't keep giving us ammunition.

To wit: in the Feb. 11 issue of Sports Illustrated, I came across this letter to the editor:
As a mom I had tears in my eyes when I read the opening of your story on the Packers (Winter Wonderland, Jan. 21). The vignette of the Favre family saying grace together certainly contrasts with the Hollywood imaged of Tony (oh, how far you've fallen from your Wisconsin roots) Romo. What a great competitor, athlete, dad and husband Brett Favre is. -- Karen Schick, Muskego, Wis.
So, because 27-year-old Tony Romo dates Hollywood starlets, he's apparently a poor role model, especially compared to the 38-year-old Favre. But wait a minute ... let's take a look at Breffarve as a 27-year-old (and even beyond). Super Bowl champion, yes, but also wild party animal (check), unwed father (check), Vicodin addict (check), alcohol abuser (check), etc.

Apparently, five years of exposure to those fine Wisconsin family values weren't enough to get Breffarve on the straight and narrow. I truly admire the man for the life that he's living right now, but like most of us, it takes some time to get it right. And the list of Breffarve's struggles dwarfs Romo's dalliances with Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson.

But in the minds of Packers fans like Karen Schick of Muskego, Wis., if Romo would return to his Wisconsin roots, he could restrain his wayward tendencies and become the paragon of moral virtue like Breffarve.

Or maybe Mark Chmura. Or Mossy Cade. Or James Lofton. Or Latrell Sprewell. Or any number of Wisconsin running backs suspended for a variety of infractions. Or Ed Gein. Or Jeffrey Dahmer.

Over the top? Perhaps, but not as much as the Karen Schicks of the world.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day second chance

Fellas, did you blow it on Valentine's Day this year? Did your wife have to settle for a Whitman Sampler and a Snoopy card from Walgreens? Or a single rose from a hastily constructed roadside stand (which tells your woman not "I'm a classy romantic" but rather "I'm a cheap-ass procrastinator")? Or a bowling ball with your name on it?

Fear not. Those of you who are of the married persuasion, take this tip: sign up for a Marriage Encounter weekend. Allow me to be serious for a moment here. Mrs. Gopher and I made a weekend two years ago and it changed our marriage. We always thought we had a good marriage, and we did -- but as they say at ME, why settle for a good marriage when you can have a great marriage?

We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we joined the local community and became a presenting couple. We just gave our first weekend, and it was another amazing experience.

As you'll note from the cross in the logo above, it's a Christian organization, although couples from all faiths (or even no faith) are welcome. It's not about indoctrination or evangelization -- it's all about you and your spouse rediscovering that spark that brought you together in the first place.

The link above takes you to the WWME web site, where you can find information on local chapters in your area. If there isn't a group close to where you're living, come on out to Vegas and join us for one of our upcoming weekends. Trust me, your wife will love you for it, and you'll find something worthwhile in the experience.

Plus, it beats the heck out of a bowling ball every time.

Paging Dennis DeYoung

From the "Too Much Time On My Hands" Department, it seems somebody at Consumer Reports has their undies in a bunch because Hannah Montana and Hillbilly Ray Cyrus weren't wearing their seatbelts during a scene from the recent Hannah Montana concert movie.

Please. I'm as safety-conscious as the next guy, but they were in the back seat for crying out loud. Maybe it's a nice safety tip to buckle up in back, but it's not illegal. Hey, they weren't wearing Life Helmets and mouthguards either -- somebody call Child Protective Services!

Maybe this issue hit a little close to home for me because I'd recently dropped $45 to take the two little Gopherettes to said movie (which, admittedly, beats the $4500 it would have taken to see the live version at the Thomas & Mack last month), or maybe it's because my 10-year-old has turned our house into a Hannah Montana shrine of sorts.

But it really irked me to read these Consumer Reports dipwads saying that she's setting a bad example for kids because she didn't have her damn seatbelt on. Not to get too preachy here, but I'm keenly aware of who is and is not a good role model for young girls in today's society, and Hannah Montana (a.k.a. Miley Cyrus) definitely outshines 99 percent of the other starlets and divas you'll come across on a given day. Her songs are filled with positive messages, they're empowering (sorry for that buzzword) for girls, and they're even halfway listenable. And the TV show is pretty darn funny.

No, your kids could do worse than watching Hannah Montana on TV or listening to her music. If they start patterning their lives after the pencil-necked, fussy-pants do-gooders at Consumer Reports? Then you've got something to worry about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Back on my feet

Regular readers of WHIH (both of you) might have noticed that I've been missing in action for awhile. I'm glad to say that I am back on my feet after a fight to the death with a particularly nasty virus.

After three days of chills, fever, aches, exhaustion, a hacking cough, a tight chest and a sore throat (I think that's all), I was finally able to get up and check my e-mail, do a little writing and update the blog. I'm not back to full speed yet -- my energy comes and goes, and I still get frequent unwelcome visits from the disgusting little guy on the right.

(By the way, I still say if Mucinex is going to gross us out with their ads, they owe us a spot that ends with the green Archie Bunker phlegm guy lying in the gutter, where he usually ends up in real life. Just sayin' ...)

So, no Monday Morning Meltdown this week, but I'll make it up to you with double the usual posts the rest of the week. So you've got that going for you ... which is nice.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Proud moment for Nevada

The libertarian atmosphere of Nevada brings all types to our fair state. One recent newcomer is noted Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, who two and a half years ago announced plans to open a brothel for women -- not employing women, but for women -- outside of Las Vegas, in the outlying areas where prostitution is legal. (That fact that Fleiss' announcement coincided with my arrival in town was purely coincidental. As far as you know.)

Well, it appears the desert air has not been kind to the 42-year-old Fleiss, who was arrested this morning in Nye County on charges of drunken driving. Yes, she was nabbed at 9 a.m. for drunken driving. What the hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere, right? Like, Kurdistan?

I hate to crack wise about the demise of a young actor, but if the producers of the new Batman movies need a replacement for Heath Ledger as the Joker in their next picture, it appears that Fleiss could pull it off, sans makeup. Yikes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eat your heart out, Luther Darville

It was a little disorienting to wake up this morning and find out that my alma mater has come up with a top-20 recruiting class. No, not among chemical engineering recruits, or hairy-legged women's studies recruits, or snowblower management recruits.

Football recruits.

Time was, the Gophers would be happy to crack the top 10 in the Big Ten. Now Tim Brewster has backed up his reputation as a glad-handing salesman with the "highest-rated recruiting class Minnesota has attracted in decades" according to ace reporter Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.

There's still a little angst that Brewster didn't close the borders -- only one of the top five in-state recruits signed with the Gophers -- but this could be a case of familiarity breeding contempt. If you were a stud high school football player from the Land o' Lakes, would you really want to sign on to a program that's topped out at mediocre over the last, oh, 40 years?

As soon as this team starts to show some real signs of improvement -- and especially after they move into the new stadium in 2009 -- Minnesota kids will once again dream of strapping on the maroon and gold to defend their home state's honor against the pillaging hordes from Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

I have to admit, I've been as hard on Brewster as anybody, and the jury is still out on his coaching ability, but if this is any indication, the talent level could take a huge leap forward, and Gophers fans could realistically expect significant improvement without having to rely on Luther Darville handing out car keys and wads of cash all over Dinkytown.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Good riddance

It's a happy day in the sports world, because there's one fewer jackass around that fans, players, and the media have to deal with. Bob Knight has retired.

Sure, a lot of people love the guy, and if he was on your side (or if you were on his side), apparently Knight is capable of being an absolute prince of a fellow. He also didn't cheat (as far as we know, and given the number of enemies he created, I'm sure we'd have found out by now if he cut corners or took any moral shortcuts). So that's a good thing.

But I've long said that the mark of a man is how he treats somebody he doesn't need to treat well. Ladies, if you're dating a guy and he harasses a waitress or bad-mouths the cab driver, run fast in the other direction.

The same can be said of how Knight treated the media. I'm not saying we ink-stained wretches deserve flowers and candy for our work, but it would be nice to be treated with respect. And if I've been disrespectful to a certain person, then I accept the chance that I'm going to be disrespected right back (see Mariotti, Jay and Guillen, Ozzie). But Knight didn't see it that way. If one person stepped on his toes (or even if he perceived it that way), then anybody in his path was fair game.

So to all Puerto Rican cops, press-row phones, and sore-necked Hoosier guards (see photo above), I say, "Huzzah! The dick is dead!"

In honor of this great day, I will rerun a column I wrote in the fall of 2000, shortly after his long-overdue firing from the University of Indiana. As a special bonus, you get to see my old column photo, about seven years and 40 pounds ago, sadly.

Knight: Alpha Male, Phi Beta Kappa Jerk
Class Of The Crass Delivers His Final Lecture At IU
Patrick Donnelly
Staff Writer

Tuesday night, class was in session in Bloomington, Indiana. The professor was Bob Knight, fallen hero. The student was Jeremy Schaap, son of a legend. And Knight put on a clinic in arrogance and denial that constituted a proper and fitting final lecture as deposed basketball coach/unquestioned despot of Indiana University.

Knight is basically a walking, talking, 6-foot-4-inch middle finger, fully extended at all times in a show of defiance to the world's norms of civility. So when IU president Myles Brand finally stopped at the local Backbones-R-Us outlet and fired Knight last weekend, you knew that somehow, some way, the man they call "The General" would bully his way onto the airwaves to "give his side of the story" -- i.e., publicly deflect all blame toward everybody but the man in the mirror.

ESPN was apparently first in line to grab the ratings bonanza that accompanied this rant. Knight has been painted in a positive light in the past by the boys in Bristol, whose interviewers have tossed him more softballs than Eddie Feigner. But Digger Phelps and Roy Firestone were evidently too busy swapping interviewing tips with Ahmad Rashad, and since Landon Turner isn't actually employed by ESPN, they had to look elsewhere this time around.

Of course, he would have preferred no interviewer at all -- just a podium, a teleprompter, and a 30-minute treatise on truth, justice and the Hoosier way, no questions please. But he knew that setup wouldn't draw the bright lights of television, just a few sycophants from the local media corps. So he agreed to a rare compromise.

Knight, who is a longtime friend of journalist-for-all-seasons Dick Schaap, hand-picked Schaap's 31-year-old son Jeremy to conduct the interview. Maybe he thought he was doing an old pal a favor. Maybe he thought he could browbeat, intimidate and terrorize a reporter nearly half his age. Either way, Knight didn't quite get what he expected.

He got an interviewer who went after Knight the way he himself goes after referees. Schaap asked the tough questions. He wouldn't let Knight stray off course. He even called Knight on statements that appeared to be contradictions -- that he cancelled his basketball theory class because he feared he'd violate the zero-tolerance clause, yet he had no qualms with grabbing a student in the hallway to lecture him on manners.

And when challenged, Knight flashed his infamous temper. Sure, there were times when Schaap's interruptions were a bit annoying. But hey, interruptions are a Gen-X hallmark, not unusual for a generation whose attention span was crafted by fistfuls of Ritalin, whose media exposure has graduated from Saturday morning cartoons to music videos to TV news sound bites and the Internet.

And more often than not, Schaap merely cut off digressions that were gratuitous or self-serving, such as when Knight tried to paint his son, Pat, as the biggest victim of this whole debacle. Schaap pointed out that Knight had come to do an interview, and he was merely trying to get answers to his questions.

But because Knight is the ultimate alpha male, he simply cannot abide by doing anything on anybody else's terms -- which, of course, is how we got here in the first place. For awhile, he tolerated Schaap's intrusions the way a bull tolerates a fly buzzing around his hindquarters. But as soon as he found an opening, Knight's traditional mean-spirited ways surfaced to belittle the source of his annoyance.

After one tense exchange, Knight fell silent, and you could tell as his sneer melted to a smirk that he was weighing a particularly snide insult. You could practically see the little angel and devil wrestling on his shoulder, but soon the angel was down for the count and the devil was smoking a Cuban cigar and proudly showing off his championship belt to all his devil friends.

"You've got a long way to go to be as good as your dad -- you'd better keep that in mind," Knight seethed. Of course, the statement was about as relevant to the conversation as a trombone solo at a Dr. Dre concert, because 99.98% of sports journalists have a long way to go to match the class and r?sum? of Dick Schaap.

To his credit, Jeremy Schaap would not allow Knight to shame him. "I appreciate that," was his only response, before returning to his previous line of questioning.

But Knight's insults and intimidation eventually achieved their desired goal. Toward the end of the interview, Schaap stumbled all over what was already a rather tortured metaphor -- Knight's saga as a dramatic tragedy. You know, heroic figure and great man is brought down by a conspiracy or a fatal flaw, that whole Oedipus Rex/Julius Caesar/Othello thing.

Knight's eyes flashed and he launched into a bitter retort about how losing a job is not a tragedy, but that his wife's friend dying of breast cancer is. Jaws clenched, neck reddened, his summary -- "I just wanted to define tragedy for you" -- was the most condescending remark of the evening.

The problem is, Knight knew exactly what Schaap was getting at. He's extremely well-read and highly educated -- my God, he'd earlier dropped a St. Thomas Aquinas reference into the discussion, as though he were auditioning to replace Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. He clearly knows the difference between dramatic tragedy and human tragedy.

But he also knew that the interview was coming to an end, and that it hadn't been the cakewalk he'd expected. He saw one final opening to display his sanctimonious nature at Schaap's expense, one last chance to belittle the cub reporter and put him in his place. And because self-control has never been Knight's strong suit, he ground his heel into Schaap's big toe one last time before fading into the darkness.

Now, I'll admit that I've never been a big fan of Jeremy Schaap's work in the past. The word "nepotism" sometimes flashes through my head when I see him on the screen. But I will be eternally grateful that on this night, he helped illustrate that if Brand had any misgivings about firing his basketball coach, they were unfounded.

The professor can take his textbooks and teach his class somewhere else next year. After 29 years, Indiana University is finally ready to turn its basketball program over to a coach who's both a scholar and a gentleman. And it's about time.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Monday Morning Meltdown: Super Bowl edition

Hard to believe that I'd have anything to rant about after scoring with a big Giants-under parlay (thanks, Smooth Jimmy!), but of course there are a few things to get off my chest regarding the action that transpired in Glendale, Ariz., last night.

First off, there was the postgame actions of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which actually weren't postgame so much as they were prepostgame because he couldn't wait until Eli Manning had taken a final knee before he ran across the field to congratulate Tom Coughlin, then ran off the field.

Belichick is a noted jackass -- no point in recounting the spying allegations, the marital infidelity allegations, the smug press conferences, the irrational retaliation against his former assistant coaches, the tattered hoodies -- so nothing he does should surprise me. But I still was taken aback by the utter chutzpah he displayed when he refused to give the Giants their moment.

Like all megalomaniacs, Belichick has to do everything on HIS terms, and HIS terms alone. The script he wrote for this game didn't include him standing on the sidelines, watching the Giants celebrate as the clock ticked down to 0:00. So, he had to insert himself into the ultimate moment of the game, when it should have been about Coughlin, Manning, that phenomenal defensive line, and all the rest of the G-Men. Instead of talking about them, Belichick ensured that people also had to talk about his actions, whether he thought the game was over or knew there was one second left, and why he did what he did.

Memo to Belichick: IT'S NOT ALWAYS ALL ABOUT YOU!!! Thankfully, his players showed much more class and dignity as the game ended. Even Randy Moss, who knows a thing or two about leaving the field early when his team is about to lose, stuck around. Too bad the teacher never learns from the pupils in New England.

Another craw-sticker: I've heard numerous commentators breathlessly call the Giants' win last night "the biggest upset in Super Bowl history!" Ummmm ... usually, that kind of thing is subjective, so you'd have to qualify that by mentioning that it's your opinion, not a statement of fact.

But thanks to my adopted hometown, we have documented proof that this wasn't the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. The 2001 Patriots were 14-point underdogs when they beat the Rams. And in Super Bowl III, the Colts were anywhere from 17- to 22-point favorites, depending on who you're talking to, when they lost to Broadway Joe and the Jets.

Maybe it's the biggest loss in Super Bowl history, because it prevented the Pats from becoming the first 19-0 team in league history. But nothing will ever top the Jets' win over the Colts, because they were representing the upstart AFL, which most of the NFL establishment considered a minor league at the time. It's the football equivalent of USA 4, USSR 3; of Hickory High knocking off Indianapolis Central; of the Miracle Mets of 1969. You can't call it the biggest upset of all time when a number of prognosticators -- from SI's Dr. Z to Fox's Frank Caliendo (in a brilliant John Madden cameo) and even KFAN's Paul Allen -- were predicting a Giants win.

Finally, on the other side of the equation, anybody who suggests that Eli Manning's critics now owe him an apology is smoking some high-grade crack. I know I've said in the past that the Giants fans mistreated Eli when they booed him after his first incompletion, and that his superb road record at least makes a case for the argument that he feels less pressure when he's not faced with their unrealistic expectations.

But that's not the same thing as saying he's above criticism. Anybody who watched his debacle against the Vikings this year, when three of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns, had plenty of reason to cast aspersions on the youngest Manning. It's not hypocritical to now state that he had a great playoff run and deserves all the kudos he's getting.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Screamboat Annie hearts Hillary

Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the real world, for clearly there are forces in effect that continue to create news that's far more surreal than anything created by the finest satirists in the land.

This story is not from The Onion. It's from
Editor and Publisher, a respected journalism industry magazine. And it might seem too good to be true, but it's not.

That's right, Republican spokesperson Ann Coulter has all but endorsed Hillary Clinton, not just in the race for the Democratic nomination but in the general election if she's going up against John McCain, a noted thorn in the side of right-wing demagogues from coast-to-coast. Her reasons? Hillary is a hawk, McCain is a closet liberal, and "she lies less than John McCain. And she's smarter than John McCain so when she lies she knows it."

I only wish I'd seen her Adam's apple bobbing like a yo-yo as she explained her reasoning. You think McCain's campaign will put out a press release pointing out Coulter's support for Hillary?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Seacrest in

Read a pretty funny article today from SI's media columnist, Richard Deitsch, regarding the Fox Network's plans for covering the Super Bowl. Normally, Deitsch is a pretty with-it guy, so it kind of surprised me to read this dog-bites-man piece about how Fox is going to treat the Super Bowl pregame show like an Oscars telecast, complete with Ryan Seacrest interviewing celebrities on the red carpet as they enter the stadium.

Sports and entertainment have been intertwined for years, and I thought the angle had been pretty much beaten to death in the last five years or so. Whether it's hip-hop stars at the NBA All-Star Game, movie stars at the Super Bowl, or David Hasselhoff at the NBA Finals (watching his close, personal friend Dirk Nowitzki), is it news anymore that celebrities and pro athletes go together like Roger Clemens and B-12 shots?

And even though I'm pretty much a sports curmudgeon, the news of Fox's plans strikes me as perfectly rational. The Super Bowl pregame show is notoriously excruciating anyway, and who can spend six hours breaking down Xs and Os on the old telestrator? Certainly not Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long.

Plus, we all know that millions of viewers tuning in on Sunday will have little to no interest in the game itself. It's a party, it's social, it's an excuse to drink in the afternoon. Why not give the non-fans a little red meat to chew on before kickoff, when the bulk of their attention will turn to the commercials and glimpses of Tom Brady's girlfriends past and present in the stands?

Never thought I'd say this, but kudos to Fox.