Saturday, December 31, 2005

Don't buy this book

This book is the written equivalent of refusing to fold a bad hand even in the face of overhwhelming evidence you are beat. All In: Poker Night Lessons for Winning Big at Your Career ($24.95, HarperCollins) by Geoff Graber with Matthew Robinson is ostensibly a look at how to apply no limit Texas hold 'em strategies in business and vice versa. Not a bad idea, I suppose, but the execution is flawed. Graber just can't find the appropriate analogies to make the book work.

For example, in a chapter on slow-playing (intentionally misrepresenting a strong hand as weak as you try to trap your opponent), Graber does an adequate job discussing the various poker slow-playing strategies. But then he spends page after page explaining why there isn't a good equivalent in business, until finally contriving one. And even then his advice is banal -- that you should keep your cards close to the vest an office setting.

Later, in the chapter on bluffing Graber advises never to bluff in business. It's clear he's trying to indemnify himself in his career against charges of outright lying, but it takes something away from the value of the section. In his defense, he does devote considerable time to discussing the semi-bluff in business, when you tell the truth in advance, so to speak, by playing an incomplete hand (or project or idea) as though it's a complete one. He sums this up by saying you have to up-sell. Of course, you don't need a business degree to know that, nor do you need to spend $25 on his book to learn it.

This book would be worth it if Graber was in your weekly game, and you could get a glimpse into his playing style that you'd later use against him. But unless you know this guy, I say fold'em.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Sojourn to the South

On the occasion of my last day of vacation in South Carolina, I thought it would be funny to make fun of the state, its overall-clad people, its unemployment rate eclipsed only by states plowed through by hurricanes earlier this year.

But instead of taking easy shots at the Redemption Center on Haywood Road, a converted movieplex where you redeem not recyclables but your soul, I've decided to laud South Carolina for the one way it beats all other states -- funny town names.

I am not making these up: Berea, Moonville, Ninety-Six, Cowpens, Travelers Rest, Fair Play. And that's just in the Greenville area.

I will admit that these may not all beat Indian-themed names from the northeast, if you will admit that nearby Bat Cave, N.C., is pretty freaking cool:

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's a 10-year cycle, really

There's no escaping it -- 2005 is coming to a close, and with it a 10-year cultural cycle.

The move from the first half of the decade to the second signifies a major cultural shift. Sure it's easier to divide cultural eras into decades (witness the "I Love the __'s" shows on VH-1), but the dividing line between trends is rarely a year ending in 0, but more often one ending in 5.

For example... Don't 1988 stalwarts "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and prozac line up better with 1993's Beavis and Butthead and Jurassic Park, than with the A-Team, Scarface, and "Just Say No," all from 1983?

Much the same way the highlights of 1998 (There's Something About Mary, Monica Lewinsky, and Viagra) seem closer to the present than they do to 1993's Where's Waldo and Where's John Wayne Bobbit's, well, you know.

So what will I miss the most about these last 10 years? The American Pie movies, reality television, or maybe the opulence of the Internet boom, writ large in $12,000 Sub-zero refrigerators and secretaries who were millionaires on paper.

Maybe the arrival of 2006 means the big goodbye to the culture wars, the northeast's beyond ridiculous run-up in housing prices, and -- dare I say it -- Britney.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How my first car is a good metaphor for me

Automotive awesomeness, thy name is Sammy, my 1987 Suzuki Samurai. Has man ever achieved such vehicular greatness since you rolled off that assembly line in Osaka (or somewhere)? I say no.

I bought you from the father-in-law of my band teacher for about two grand. His step-son called you a "vehicular object," but I just called you cool.

(Pictures from the era when I drove that little car-truck in the mid-90s are scarce, so we'll have to go with Sammy's identical cousin at top right.)

You were not without fault, I admit. No seatbelts in the rumble seat the back. The high rollover risk. The warning on the visor that read (I'm not making this up): "The canvas top provided with this vehicle is meant only to offer some protection against inclement weather and is not designed to keep occupants inside the vehicle in the event of an accident. Always wear your safetybelt."

Fine advice, unless you're riding in the rumble seat.

I never took you offroad, and I'm sorry I didn't. How I wish now I had taken my Latin II classmates up on their offer to go "mud-hogging."

Of course, the one time I did shift you into 4WD (inclement weather), a loading pin dislodged and necessitated a repair worth about half your entire value. So maybe offroading wouldn't have been such a good idea.

But it was your little charms that more than made up for those quirks. Trusty tape deck. Locking glove box. Sweet removable canvas top that would remain folded up for weeks at a time, thanks to the temperate Carolina climate. I know you'd stack up to any other first car.

If only the repair of a failing front wheel axle ("Clicking or popping during tight turns? Call C.V. Master, 910 Laurens Road.") weren't so expensive, you might have lived forever.

But as it was, I signed over your title for a song -- simply the cost of having you towed out of my parents drive. And I did it from 1,000 miles away. I still feel bad, pulling the plug like that.

Where are you now? I like to imagine that the nice tow man took you to a field where you could play with the other Barbie Jeeps. If this isn't true, please don't let me know.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Who's reading? Evidently, everyone.

I was once worried that no one would read the NaturalBlog, but now it seems I've stumbled onto the opposite problem -- everybody's reading, and everybody's taking my jokes.

  • The scalawags at Barstool Sports (a rag you can pick up free in Boston) jumped on my dislike of fitness celebrity John Basedow, in one of their weekly e-mails. Alert reader Sebastian Dangerfield was kind enough to flag the plagiarism. I had them (and their bad spelling) scooped by about a month.

  • Need to figure out which bowl game to make fun of? Read the NaturalBlog from last Thursday, as this sports writer apparently did, before writing his column for Monday.

  • Even the old grey lady is in on the act. See my November news roundup on declining values in Maine, versus this remarkably well-written, well-reported story that appeared in The New York Times Christmas day.
NaturalBlog only hopes that Jessica will take the hint, and actually start calling.


Monday, December 26, 2005

News flash

The NaturalBlog newswatch never stops.

Tree would rather die than live in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island state Christmas shed all its needles, likely in suicidal protest over how bad it is to live in Rhode Island. Or possibly because of a fire-retardent chemical that must be sprayed on all trees displayed indoors in R.I. But probably because it committed suicide.

Account: Cell phone swallowing not voluntary. A Missouri woman says that she did not swallow a cell phone during a fight with her boyfriend on purpose, as was first reported. Police will not say if the boyfriend is a suspect, but they have identified the couple as Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas.

And finally. Fat people have fat baby.


An impartial review of my first season as fantasy football GM

There were only a few bright spots in the up-and-down-but-mostly-down season of Bollinger's Bombers, my entry into the "Nice and Fun League (NFL)" of fantasy football.

The particulars: A 6-7 regular season was good enough for a 6th place finish, and the final spot in the playoffs. I won the divisional playoff round with a stunning upset over the 8-5 Voluntitan Beavers, but fell in the second round to my arch nemesis Chad Painington.

I was led by Elisabeth Filarski Hasselbeck's brother-in-law, whose quiet monster season in Seattle made my moderate success possible. Thanks, Elisabeth, you were really our inspiration.

Despite this connection to The View, I made plenty of rookie mistakes this year, including the classic "over thinking" of matchups, and the over confidence of thinking you had a win wrapped up. The litany:
  • Sitting Steelers WR Hines Ward against the Pats in week 3 because I thought Belichick would scheme him out of the game. Hines had 2 TDs, more than enough to make up my margin of loss to QBert Smith, had I started him. (Coulda been 7-6)

  • I had a huge lead going into Monday Night Football in week 4, until Brett Farve went nuts for 303 yards and 4 TDs, just enough to push the Bronx Wallets by me. (Coulda been 8-5)

  • Sitting Redskins RB Clinton Portis because I was tired of so many lackluster performances, only to have him go ballistic on the 49ers in week 7, rushing for 101 yards and 3 TDs. I could have crushed my opponent that week, but instead lost. (Coulda been 9-4)

  • In week 13, I played K Neil Rackers, not realizing he was hurt. Had I run my backup Josh Scobee out there, I would have had eight points instead of zero, enough to top Painington. (Coulda been 10-3)

  • Then in the playoffs I picked up the red-hot Seattle defense, only to have them lay an egg against the Titans. Had I stuck with the Giants defense, I could have bested Painington to advance to the fantasy super bowl.
But it wasn't all bad. There are some bright spots that I'll use to motivate my fan base for next year.
  • Good midseason pick-ups -- kicking points leader Neil Rackers in week 5, and the sensational Green Bay running back Sam Gado in week 11.

  • And the highpoint of the season -- my blockbuster trade with bottom dweller QBert Smith. I dumped underperforming RB Jamal Lewis and backup QB Byron Leftwich for monster back Rudy Johnson in week 11. Rudy really carried my team, and allowed me to back into the playoffs despite a late-season slide.
So what did I learn? I've got a good eye for talent, a bad eye for matchups. I suppose the most important lesson, though, was that you shouldn't name your team after the Jets third string quarterback, because you doom to mediocrity not only yourself, but also Gang Green.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

No time to blog -- watching TBS


Friday, December 23, 2005

The year in (p)review

You see a lot of news outlets recapping what was big in 2005 this week and next, but few are willing to say what will be big in 2006. Enter the NaturalBlog, here to address what's to come.

Music. British rapper Lady Sovereign is just 5'1", but her lyrics pack the filth of someone 5'8" or 5'9", easy. She's signed on Jay Z's label Def Jam and just finished her first U.S. tour. She smokes, drinks, swears, and has a thing for addidas. White boy rap hasn't had a first lady -- will she be the one?

Sports. If you don't know what curling is now, trust me, you will. It's an addictive cross between shuffleboard, bocce, ice hockey, and household cleaning. Throw in a pair of telegenic blond sisters, Jamie and Cassie Johnson, competing in the winter olympics in Italy later this year, and you have the formula for total media saturation. By the time the world men's championships come to Lowell, Mass., in the fall, not only will you love the game, you'll probably own the equipment.

Politics. Texas Rep. Matthew Santos could be the answer to the question, "Who comes after Howard Dean?" A liberal with broad appeal, his hispanic background could turn back gains republicans have made among Latino voters. Look for him everywhere this fall.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Capital One Bowl Week

It's my favoriate holiday tradtion -- gathering the family around the television on a Thursday and dialing up ESPN2 at 10:30 eastern for the three hours of unadulterated excitement that is the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

And what a treat it will be tonight -- a matchup of two teams that have won 13 games between then, Colorado State and Navy.

Bowl games like this are definitely more exciting than March Madness, so I can see why athletic directors are so reluctant for a football playoff.

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And now a word from our sponsors

Perhaps because my attention span runs about 30 seconds at most, I regard commercials as some of the best entertainment on TV. Yes there are clunkers, but pound for pound they pack more entertainment than 22-minutes of drivel and canned laughs.

Not only do I have favorites ("Wake up with the King"), but I like to keep track of commercial actors, and make up a back story that links together how they ended up in their different ads.

Take for instance David Spade's pudgy friend from the Capital One ads. A lovable foil for an actor past his prime, indeed. And a tragic figure too because he's not earning a decent wage. How do I know? Not only did he have to take a second job for Hillside Farms hawking free samples at a supermarket, but then he had to rent a nicer car for his 10-year high school reunion in an Enterprise ad.

Wonder why the woman in a recent Southwest ad looked so awkward in a smooch session on her boyfriend's couch? Because she's MARRIED, that's why -- in the State Farm ad where she and her husband have to get rid of a bunch of stuff when they move in together. (He got to keep his insurance, but she made him throw out his life-size alien doll.) Her husband should dump her, then go to the dump to get his alien back. Or maybe he already has. This same woman turned up in a Filene's ad, married to someone else and with a kid. What a tramp.

The overly suggestive woman from the ads all but guaranteed herself the O when she bought her husband a Lexus for Christmas in an ad that just started airing. Funny thing is, in the Lexus ad she's surfing the web for golf clubs when she comes up with the idea of buying him a Lex. I'm surprised the ad firm would do this, since she's so recognizable as the pitchwoman for an online company. Will thousands of people go to their computers in the hope of buying a discount Lexus? In case you were wondering, Lexuses are not available on, at least as of this writing.

But wait there's more. The patron saint of my game is this guy (linked and pictured because he's so awesome). You must've seen him -- he's everywhere. Drinks Bud Light, dresses like a French maid. Concerned dad, shops at Circuit City. He has since left that office job at right and he's running his own business, which uses Cisco consulting. He's living the American dream. How can you not love him?

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What Would Johnny Damon Do?

I guess we finally have an answer: Sign with the Yankees.

I don't want to mention what Johnny said in May, which is that he could never play for the Yankees even if they did offer him the most money in his free agent year.

I don't want to mention that he's a hobbled 32-year-old, unable to make a strong throw from center to the cut-off man.

I don't want to mention that his batting average fell 60 points after the all-star break as he nursed a bad shoulder.

So instead I will say that this signing will hurt for about 18 months, when Johnny will live up to his $13 million average annual take in New York. But after that, he'll just be another unmovable overpaid declining New York Yankee.

The more pressing concerns are thus:
  • Who will play centerfield for the Sox next year?

  • Who will lead off?

  • Who's in charge of negotiating contracts right now? The Globe reports that the Sox ownership didn't even know that Johnny had signed with New York until they were told by reporters last night. Is this the beginning of the end for the GM by committee approach?

  • And most important: Who will replace Michelle Mangan Damon as team mom?


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The most stressful time of the year

You'll need two hands to count the number of celebrity and otherwise high-profile break-ups since Thanksgiving or thereabouts. It started with Nick and Jessica. Then Nicole Richie and D.J. AM. Spederline is on the outs. The first couple civilly united in Vermont has split.

The list goes on, and we can only hope that TomKat is soon to follow.

Why? Is it the stress of the holidays? The weight of the media glare? Just a silly coincidence?

No, no and no.

I suggest that celebrities (and approximations thereof) think they can slip their breakups by us in the holiday buying season, when we're focused on greeting cards, Vermont teddy bears, and the like.

Think again, famous people. My ferocious gossip appetite only grows in the holiday season, not unlike my actual appetite. Celebrities, you'd be better off breaking up during the baseball playoffs, or March Madness. Then you could really slip it by me.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Monday Roundup

A couple quick ones for you this morning.

I would have preferred the panda. Time Magazine announced its Persons of the Year: Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono. See picture at right -- so much for the Gates's promise never to let U2 come between them.

Their first choice. Nomar Garciaparra signed an incentive-laden deal worth a reported $6-$8 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He'll play first base, which he's never played before but which should hide his diminishing range as a fielder. I jokingly called the Dodgers "Red Sox West" the other day, but with one or two more signings, the Dodgers will have more members of the 2004 World Series team on their '06 roster than the Sox.

That cheering sound is coming from Miami. Thank you to the San Diego Chargers for ensuring I won't have to issue a public apology to the Colts, their fans, and the entire state of Indiana. And thanks for giving me back that guy I had missed so much, Sad Peyton:

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Schwarzenegger Presidential Library

I caught some of the Sly Stallone vehicle Demolition Man on TV the other day. Embarassing as it is, I will admit to having seen this movie in the theater in 1993.

The plot, briefly: In the future, "San Angeles" (Calif.) has eliminated crime by cryogenically freezing criminals. One bad guy (Wesley Snipes) gets out during a parole hearing, and they unfreeze a former cop (Stallone) to catch him.

So when they're trying to figure out how Snipes escaped, they look at the list of people who were up for parole hearings that day, and one of them is Scott Peterson. Nancy Grace would have a heart attack.

How did the writers, so lacking in ability to write dialogue, accurately predict the future? And should this give us pause?

Later in the film Sandra Bullock's character (Lenina Huxley, a shoutout to Brave New World author Aldous Huxley) explains that Taco Bell is the only restaurant left in California.

But most disturbing, she talks about visiting the Arnold Schwarzenegger Presidential Libary. She explains that his popularity led to the passage of a constitutional amendment allowing foreign born Americans to become president. (Schwarzenegger was actually asked about this on Meet the Press last year. He simply laughed.)

Let's just hope the Demo Man writers went 1-for-3 on predictions.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

NaturalBlog All Stars

The Red Sox are exploring a trade with the Cleveland Indians for an outfielder, as something of an insurance policy in case they need to replace Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon or both.

The Sox would give up a pitcher (likely Bronson Arroyo or Matt Clement) and they would get the major leaguer with perhaps the best name in the bigs: Coco Crisp.

I put Coco Crisp (real name: Covelli Loyce Crisp) on my fantasy team his rookie year, just for the entertainment value of it.

And now for the same reason, I present they All-Best Name All-Star Team. Current players only, both leagues.

CF Coco Crisp -- The best name in the game leads off
RF Ichiro -- One name is twice as cool
3B Aramis Ramirez -- Sounds like a cologne to me
DH Milton Bradley -- A real gamer
1B Nick Swisher -- Sweet
2B Chase Utley -- The field is a litle thin at 2B
C Yadier Molina -- Proven playoff performer
LF So Taguchi -- The answer to "How Taguchi?"
SS Jhonny Peralta -- Jhonny is cq

And my pitching staff:

SP Kenny Rogers -- HUGE NaturalBlog fan
RP Kiko Calero -- Shops at Kiki's in Brighton
CP Ugueth U. Urbina -- The only major leaguer ever with UUU as initials. Too bad he's in a Venezuelan jail on attempted murder charges.

Your additions welcome.


Praise for the quiet giant

If you're a Red Sox fan, then you've probably already cried over the team's loss of third baseman Bill Mueller. But in case you haven't shed your tears yet, I'll tug at your heartstrings.

When he was signed in 2003, I remember making fun of his name with a coworker. Mueller? Mooler? Myuuuu-eller? Muller? Miller? We already had a Millar, I thought Mueller was too much.

How did he win me over during his three years with the Sox? After hitting homers from both sides of the plate one night in August '03, all he could muster for SportsCenter was that he wanted to thank God for giving him the talent. He won the batting title, edging Manny by a point.

For an encore in 2004, he delivered two of the biggest hits in team history, both off the once untouchable Mariano Rivera. (One won the infamous A-Rod fight game July 24 -- I almost scalped my ticket. The other gave the Sox life down three games to none in the ALCS.)

Flawless defense, clutch hitting (.400+ in the World Series), all while quiet in a town where the reporters call for comment when you sneeze.

But this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers, or Red Sox West, did what Boston would not and gave Mueller a two-year deal. This is not a surprise, given that low-cost future All-Star Kevin Youkilis has been waiting in the wings since 2003.

Bill Mueller, if you're reading and I suspect you are, thank you for doing everything right, for the way you charged those slow rollers, the way you preferred to bat eighth, for making Mo beatable, for always trying hard, and for never complaining, even when the team dangled you to Minnesota at the trading deadline.

Please try and talk some sense into Grady out there in L.A.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Separated at Birth II

Popular demand compels me to offer another sampling public and quasi-public figures bearing a resemblance to one another.

One is Marshall Herff Applewhite, the charismatic leader of the doomed Heaven's Gate Cult. The other is Dick Vitale, the charismatic powerhouse behind ESPN's college basketball coverage. Bonus: Both have Nike endorsements.

Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes on the left is paired with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on the right. Both red state staples, they also share a love for the zone defense and God.

Shining-era Shelley Duval, meet your Doppelganger, WCVB (Ch. 5) meteorologist J.C. Monahan.

Dear J.C., This is not a compliment.


Thursday, December 15, 2005


NaturalBlog is on the cutting edge of popular culture.

I was watching poker on TV way back in 2002, when Robert Varkoni came out of nowhere to win the World Series of Poker -- a full year before poker really popped with the arrival of Chris Moneymaker. I was playing the addictive-as-cocaine puzzle game Sudoku out of the New York Post in the spring, before it became a time-wasting sensation in offices everywhere this summer. And I started blogging waaaaay before everybody else.

But my greatest failing as the cultural canary in the mineshaft: Acne.

You see, I had zits back in the 1990s, when they weren't cool. But that's changed, thanks to the tireless marketing efforts of the good people at ProActiv, and their holy trioka of celebrity endorsers: Vanessa Williams, Sean P. Diddy Combs, and my secret girlfriend Jessica Simpson.

Have you seen them? All in a long-form infomercial and in more traditional minute-long TV spots extolling the virtues of ProActiv and its can't miss formula for clearing up "bumps," as P. Diddy terms them. Combs then adds: "The thing about ProActiv -- it moisturizes my situation, maintains my sexy."

I used ProActiv when I was 17, and I don't remember it doing anything for my sexy. Of course, that may have been due to the fact I played trombone and was captain of the Quiz Bowl team (an impressive 22-6 my senior year).

But imagine if I'd had such star power behind me and my acne. Had P. Diddy been famous back then, I might've been class president, maybe prom king, or maybe dare I even dream it drum major.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Whiskey v. Scotch

Boxers or briefs? Ginger or Mary Anne? These are important questions but the best measure of a man is his answer to "Whiskey or scotch?"

Now don't get me wrong, both has its time and place. You have to love a whiskey so well known it goes by just its first name (Jack), not unlike the other objects of our adoration, whether singers (Madonna), athletes (Nomar) or the crushes of aging homosexuals (Cher).

So whither scotch? A more exclusive club, really. (Which is why it is the only choice if your company holiday party has an open bar.) I recommend it only in the winter, which fortunately for people around here means any time from October to June.

Scotch is to be savored, on occasions, with cigars, when you're courting Ginger or Mary Ann (or the skipper, for that matter). And because of its depth, there are many more choices. Eight-, 10-, 12-, 18-year. Blended, single or double malt? When I'm choosing a scotch, I can't behlp but think of reading the Sears Christmas catalog when I was 8, imagining the limitless possibility of receiving all of those toys.

I once explained the difference between these crazy cousins by singing Freebird. It's a little hazy I admit, but I seem to remember it being on the juke box at the bar when the discussion began.

I sang a few lines and explained that was whiskey -- just the lyrics, height and width but no depth.
Cause I'm as free as a bird now/And this bird you'll never change.
Then I let Lynyrd Skynyrd handle a few bars and explained that was scotch. The whole picture. The lyrics, the guitar, the drums. Depth.

So as you can see, scotch is far more complicated than whiskey, and Freebird is clearly the best way to describe that.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hello, my name is ________.

While I don't love Starbucks (it's kind of like the WalMart of beverage retailers), I am addicted to caffeine and I find myself spending upwards of $3 on soy lattes and tall peppermint mochas (no whip) a couple times a week.

Which is why I'm so perturbed that the Starbucks coffee slingers (known in the trade as "baristas") have started to ask my name when I order a drink, so they can write it on my coffee cup.

I guess I should be glad they were able to break away from tending to their piercings and sharing their inside jokes with fellow baristas long enough to take my order. And maybe I should be glad that I'm no longer known by the name of my beverage of choice, "Tall Drip."

But I can't help but feel afflicted by this slight loss of anonymity. (You know how much NaturalBlog likes his anonymity.) I'm sure the new policy makes some people feel welcome in their coffee house, but I can't help but feel creeped out. This likely has to do with a bad set of run-ins with a barista-cum-masseur who was a little too personal in his interest for me. ("Have table, will travel," he said the last time I saw him.)

But whatever the reason, I'll take it no more. From here on out, my Starbucks name is Jack. I encourage you to do the same. No, don't make up a name for yourself, but use Jack. Or Jacques, if you prefer. Jacques one-thousand, Jacques two-thousand -- if we're all using the same name, we'll have foiled Starbucks' false friendliness, and we'll force them to either learn our names for real. Or at least quit being so nosy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gone skiin'

I could try to describe the great calm that comes with riding a ski lift to the top of a mountain or the clarity that comes with the first ski trip of the year (the reason NaturalBlog took the weekend off), but instead I think I'll complain about the bane of any mountain: Snowboarders.

When not dusting off their designer snow-pattern camouflage jackets and pants, they're shouting DUDE as they cut in front of the NaturalBlog's carefully maintained pizza wedge.

Maybe these transgressions aren't so bad, but riddle me this: Why oh why do they plop down on the mountain in little clumps?

I'm not talking about the sit-down at the top of a ski-lift, when boarders reattach their free leg to their snowboard. I'm talking about mid-mountain respites, usually in the middle of the slope. They're like little pinball bumpers, or small pocks of acne scarring a beautiful mountain face.

Is snowboarding that physically strenuous? Are snowboarders prone to boredom? Are they momentarily overcome by the munchies? Your suggestions are welcome.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Who needs a General Manager?

There are still more than three months to go before baseball's opening day, but this much we know is true: The Red Sox will open next year with a completely different infield than the one they had last year. And unless they sign some more players, they're going to have an infield 75 percent comprised of third basemen.

I won't recap each move here (that's what these guys are for), but I will make a couple of observations about the incomplete 2006 Red Sox squad.

First up, I guess having a general manager is overrated. The Sox have been able to get a premier power pitcher and one of the top prospects in baseball by using a GM-by-committee approach. So far it is more successful than the failed closer-by-committee experiment of 2003, but I'm not holding my breath. Hopefully the deals aplenty this offseason will not convince team CEO Larry Lucchino to consolidate the general managership into his duties.

As for the brand new infield, I'm not opposed to this idea at least in theory, considering the paltry power production the Sox got from the corners last year (10 HR from Bill Mueller and 9 from Kevin Millar). But I can't help but think the Sox gave up on Edgar Renteria too soon, especially given that they're eating $11M of the $29M remaining on his deal.

So who will play shortstop? The Sox traded their best SS prospect Hanley Ramirez in the Beckett deal. Minor league 2B Dustin Pedroia isn't ready for the big leagues at second, let alone at short. The free agent market is pretty thin save Royce Clayton and the good Alex Gonzalez.

There is one notable name still available though, a two-time batting champ who still has a place in town:


Thursday, December 08, 2005

The CNN Effect

NaturalBlog has always wanted to coin a word. I've struggled for years to come up with a single word to describe a feeling of surprise at the absence of something, but recently decided that even if I could figure out the word, it probably wouldn't catch on.

So I decided to go with this:


It describes the moth-to-a-flame feeling you get when you see the breaking news logo on your favorite cable news station, the strange lure you have to watching the same video over and over and to hearing ad-libbing news anchors read the same copy again and again. It describes when you're powerless, but transfixed.

Yesterday I was newsmerized by CNN's coverage of an air marshall shooting a passenger on an American Airlines plane in Miami.

Of course, yesterday just showed a fraction of the power of newsmerization. It was nothing compared to the 12 consecutive hours I spent in front of the TV during the run-up to Hurricane Katrina in August, trying to discern even the slightest difference in satellite storm pictures. Or during the granddaddy of all newsmerization, the 9/11 Terror Attacks, or its first ever instance, the first Gulf War.

Newsmerized. Please use it in everyday conversation.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rules of the Road

Urban driving can be a challenge to those of us who don't roll through town in an H2. NaturalBlog drives an Accent, so let me discuss a few finer points of life on the streets.

Even accomplished road warriors disagree on the age old question -- to blinker or not to blinker. Pros: When you put on your blinker, you are indemnifying yourself from being flipped off for cutting someone off -- not because you've asked for permission to change lanes, but because you've taken it. Some are so adept they make blinker-blindspot-wheel turn into one seamless motion.

But the cons: As soon as that blinker goes on, you've sent a signal clear as day to your adversaries. They know what you want to do. It's like giving intelligence to the enemy, only more dangerous. Solution: Signal, but in the opposite direction you intend to go. This confounds your opponents and will keep you ahead of the game.

Question Two. The lane change. Is there a more impotent feeling in the world than drumming your fingers on the steering wheel of your motionless car while lanes of traffic on either side move ahead? This conundrum was eloquently captured in the opening of Office Space.

I compare the question of whether to switch lanes to long-term investing in the stock market. Over the long run, the lanes will even out, just as over the long run, the market appreciates. Switching lanes hapharzardly is the motor vehicle equivalent of jumping in and out of a stock based on yesterday's performance. Take the long view, don't switch lanes, come out ahead.

Except of course unless you've been caught behind the scourge of the streets: The double-parker. Double parkers choke the roads the way gravy coats John Madden's arteries. They slow the flow of traffic with their blatant flaunting of the law. They must be stopped. But what can you do as a driver? Not much. But I promise this. If you ever elect me mayor, I will mobilize the National Guard to tow every double-parked car in the city, on random days of the month. You'll never know when it's coming, but one day, an army of tow trucks, helicopters with powerful magnets, and fat guys with sledgehammers will make you rue the day you elected me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fashion shows? I love fashion shows

If you date Alessandra Ambrosio, then you already know the latest Victoria's Secret fashions available this holiday season.

But if you don't date Alessanda Ambrosio (right, last seen in an ad for Hummers with Regis Philbin), you can pretend you do for an hour tonight, because it's that time of year again. The one true holiday harbiner is here, the never-changing north star of the Christmas season: The annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

Has there been a greater excuse for the celebration of underwear since the pay-per-view Lingerie Bowl during Super Bowl XXXVIII? I think not.

It's tonight at 10 on CBS, in case you were wondering. And I know you were.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Whipping out the plastic

There's a great Web site that keeps track of the new faces in Hollywood. Not new actors, mind you, but old actors with new faces. I'd hate to drive you away from NaturalBlog, but the site -- and it's evil cousin -- are a good diversion.

I've emailed them (twice) to request they explore the many looks of Teri Hatcher, but I've been met with stony silence.

But now I've got a blog, and I don't need them anymore. I present Teri Through the Years.

We start on the left with '80s hair Teri in MacGyver. (You: "I didn't know Teri was in MacGyver." NaturalBlog: "Yes. She played the brunette equivalent of a dumb blonde.") Then Teri as Lois Lane. Hair again -- I can't explain why I love the pageboy cut, but I do.

The third picture is the apogee of grossness and the nadir of her career (the forgettable Circuit City years (ed note: it was actually Radio Shack), when millions of Americans surmised she was married to Howie Long.) That takes us to the present day. Nice, but she's no Bree Van de Kamp.

My trained eye says we're looking at at least two nosejobs (note the changing button-ness of her nose, and the size of her nostrils), cheek work (her bone structure is downright plastic in picture three), and some Botox (but who among us can cast the first stone).

So what does the future hold for Teri? I had the NaturalBlog IT department age her face 10 years, and this is what they came up with:


Sunday, December 04, 2005

What's a curmudgeon to do?

It is with great pain I admit that the football highlight I look forward to the most each week is not the Jacked Up segment on ESPN, but the endzone celebration of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson.

After various TD catches this season, he's done the river dance, performed CPR on the football, putted the ball with an endzone pylon then done a Tiger Woods type fist-pump, and (my personal favorite) run over to a cheerleader and done a mock down-on-one-knee marriage proposal.

This week, Johnson is playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh and is promising to do some sort of gimmick based on ironing, since Pittsburgh is the steel city and the two teams have some busines to iron out.

Usually, I would harrumph with my best Gil Santos impression and root for this jamoke to get embarrased by the Pittsburgh defensive backs. But for some reason I can't explain I'm rooting for a 94-yard reception where he's so far out in front of the defense he has time to do a little celebratory preview before he's even in the endzone.

What's worse is that this offseason, after the Bengals wash out of the playoffs on wild card weekend, Johnson will be shooting his mouth off about how he's the most entertaining receiver in football, demanding a trade, and promising to hold out of training camp.

It'll be tough to criticize him then, because it's people like me who are giving him the capital he'll be expending. Oh well, at least Johnson's making my ride to hypocrisy enjoyable.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Some bathroom humor

Today, NaturalBlog addresses the most pressing bathroom etiquitte questions of our time.

Toilet paper set-up. This is a no brainer. Toilet paper begs to be set up so that the free sheets come down on the outside. Anyone who puts a roll on as illustrated on the right is a barbarian, not fit to be using an inside toilet, but asking to be banished to an outdoor loo, with a little half-moon on the door.

To read or not to read. Only if you must, but remember the lesson from Seinfeld. Anything you take in there is tainted. Forever.

And finally the granddaddy of them all. Toilet seat up or down. (I told you I was tackling the most vexing issues facing humanity today.) This will almost certainly brand me as a traitor to my gender, but I have to say the toilet seat belongs down, at least in a household where the number of men and women is equal. However, tip the balance of power in the household to two men and one woman, and that's enough to necessitate the toilet seat being up. I arrive at this conclusion after a complicated set of calculations based on the likelihood the toilet user will want the seat up or down. If you download that spreadsheet, you'll see that three men and two women is enough to push the seat down.

Well, there you go. Let it never be said that I don't give a crap about this log.


Friday, December 02, 2005

The question is "Who owns the ball?"

The question is "Who cares?"

The Boston Red Sox are suing former first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for possession of the ball that made the final out of the team's 2004 World Series win.

Mientkiewicz lived up to his reputation as a good gloveman that night, so good that he held on to the final out through the on-field celebration, had it certified by Major League Baseball, then put it in a safe deposit box.

Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy (why is it always Shaughnessy?) stirred the pot when he wrote about it last January. Then the Sox traded Mientkiewicz to the Mets. Then Mientkiewicz graciously agreed to let the Sox have the ball for one year so they could parade it around with the World Series trophy.

Now the Sox want a Suffolk Superior Court judge to grant them the ball, saying Mientkiewicz got it only through his employment by the team and that the ball remains Sox property.

So to quote Statler (or is it Waldorf?), "Who cares?"

I'll pay two-to-one the Sox want to put it on display so they can charge you admission to see it. This team doesn't have better things to worry about? Like who's going to play first base next year? Or centerfield? Shouldn't those attorneys be combing through the collective bargaining agreement and Manny's contract looking for a way around his no-trade clause?

It's not like Mientkiewicz is spotless here either. He certainly didn't win any fans when he referred to the ball as "my retirement fund."

What he should have done was give the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the moment Dan Shaughnessy called him for a comment. No fight with the Sox, no lawsuit a year later, and no scoop for the man who not only gave birth to the Curse of the Bambino, but also sounded the death knell in the Theo Epstein contract negotiations.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Taking on a holiday tradition

I've hated this cartoon for as long as I can remember. But because for years I haven't been able to remember why, I decided to watch the 1964 made-for-TV classic "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" last night on CBS.

While I'm pleased to report that my intense dislike of Hermey, Yukon Cornelius and the rest of the gang eased a bit, I will offer a handful of observations on why this cartoon rubbed me the wrong way as a kid.

Dentistry. Right off the bat, we learn that Hermey wants to be a dentist. I'm scared of dentists, so there you go.

The portrayal of Santa. He spends the first 45 minutes thin and whiny. Where's the bowl full of jelly, bud?

Production values. I think this cartoon may have been the forerunner of Japanimation, "Crapanimation." What's more, as if the constant breaking-out-into-song isn't bad enough ("Silver and Gold" comes to mind), the songs sound like they're being played on a hand-cranked phonograph.

Story arc. Even as a youngster, I could see plot holes a mile away. How can Santa gain so much weight in just one scene? Why does a Griffin rule the Isle of Misfit Toys? How does the abominable snow creature suddenly become a good guy at the end? Wasn't it fog, not a snowstorm, that led Santa to ask Rudolph to lead his sleigh?

So there you go. A reasoned defense of why this cartoon sucks. I challenge anyone to defend it.