Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Don't Hate James Bond

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: Nooo, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!
~ from Ian Fleming's Goldfinger

I admit I live in a little world all my own most of the time, but I suspect I'm not alone in being a little surprised that the BBC would get all worked up over whether people should hate James Bond. I mean, really now. Ian Fleming started writing those stories in the fifties, and I guess the movies have been around for over forty years. Someone must like them.

Certainly, the Bond franchise has had its critics over the years, what with all that casual sex, blowing up things, and improbable villains. And, yes, are we not all exasperated at those villains, who have been smart enough to create world-wide organizations that appear to have lots of money and brilliant technology achievements, those same villains will try to kill Bond in some Rube-Goldberg fashion that will guarantee Bond's escape? Instead of just shooting the guy, they tie him up to some complicated apparatus that will drop a sixteen-ton weight on him when the six o'clock newscaster says, "Brilliant." Then they walk away and leave him there, but not before they explain their entire plot, divulge their immediate plans, and provide Bond with the names and addresses of all their agents.

So, Mr. Bond wriggles about, finds some handy-dandy device in his pocket that Q gave him and asked Bond pretty please to not destroy this time, and, using it in a manner that completely melts the thing, makes his escape. Alternately, the villain's femme-fatale co-conspirator, who has been captivated by Mr. Bond's suave brand of raw sexuality, simply walks in and releases him.

Personally, I've always preferred the times he melted Q's thingy. Ummm... Perhaps, I could have put that better, but you get the idea.

Let's face it: We love a certain amount of escapism in our lives, and there is little more escapist than imagining that you are the suave spy saving the world from evil people who really don't seem to know what they would do with the world if they got it. Movies have a long history of suave good guys, who wow the ladies, and get the bad guys in the last reel, all the while tossing off clever quips one after the other. Just thinking about it briefly, I can think of several such characters.

The Saint -- George Sanders, who surely would have played Bond if he had been born a couple of decades later, was the suave detective, who skirted the borders of the law, seemed equally comfortable with criminal low-lifes and upper-crust swells, is probably the original prototype for James Bond. I don't know if Ian Fleming has ever said that, but just watch any of the movies in the series and you can't help but detect similarities. Sanders also played a very similar character called the Falcon, although he was killed off around the third movie and replaced by his on-screen and real-life brother, Tom Conway.

Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe -- As played by Humphrey Bogart, these are the same guys. Marlowe might be a little crustier, but the scene in which he is chewing out the DA and suddenly turns to the little guy taking down the conversation and says, "Am I going to fast for you, son?" is a line James Bond would have loved to use. As Sam Spade, in the Maltese Falcon, he is the ultimate in cool, facing down all the baddies in his apartment, setting them up for the fall, then turning over Mary Astor to the cops for killing his partner. Now that's a guy with ice-water in his veins.

A digression: Do you know that no one knows who killed the chauffer in The Big Sleep (the Marlowe movie)? At one point during production, an argument broke out over who did the guy in, so the director, I think it was, called Raymond Chandler, who wrote the story. Chandler thought about it for a while, then admitted that he didn't know either.

Peter Gunn -- He could move from seedy nightclubs to penthouses with ease. One moment, he's calmly explaining how Big Ernie got it, the next he's plugging the bad guy. Always calm and cool, Craig Stevens was in control. And Julie London's character had the hots for him. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

Sherlock Holmes -- Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, and Jeremy Brett all played him with a detached air (although Rathbone could get a little excitable). Conan-Doyle's great detective had the original ice-water-in-the-veins approach to everything. The only thing he lacked was the sex appeal with the ladies. Of course, there was that Irene Adler thing ...

Now Bond had many of the elements of all of the above plus he was a spy, when spies were really cool - as long as they were your spies. Maybe that's what bothers his critics. Because that occupation leads to be another complaint against Bond, that his villains all spoke with foreign accents. Well, let's see, Bond works for the British Secret Service, and, last time I checked the last major spying involving English-speaking enemies of the British would have occurred around 1812. What else are the bad guys going to be, except foreigners?

Let's face it. Our spies are good guys working for truth, justice, and the American Way (or the British Way, if you're James Bond). Their spies are evil double-dealing, unprincipled scoundels bent on the destruction of everything decent people hold dear. Unless, of course, they're making the movies.

Look, all you people worked up about James Bond, he's a fictional character. Real spying doesn't work like that. There are no criminal masterminds out there working to take over the world. So get over it and enjoy the movie.

Besides, think about this. Think of the people who run the governments around the world. Now imagine them faced with a criminal mastermind capable of organizing a world-wide operation, making bags of money and using technology that government military organizations can only dream of.

The only thing that would have stopped Blofeld would have been the aneurysm he'd have gotten laughing at them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One More Time: Replay Doesn't Fix Bad Refs -- Or Umps

The umpire must be quick witted. He may not, like the wise old owl of the bench, look over his gold-rimmed eyeglasses, inform the assembled multitude that he will 'take the matter under advisement,' and then adjourn the court for a week or two to satisfy himself how he ought to decide. No, indeed. He must be johnny-on-the-spot with a decision hot off the griddle and he must stick to it, right or wrong - or be lost. ~ A.G. Spalding

If I were to rank the performance of officials in sports from worst to best, the list would look like this:

Soccer - The world's most popular sport suffers from the world's blindest officials. Every time I watch another schlemiel draw a penalty by taking a dive and writhing on the ground (only to be saved by the trainer's magic sponge), I understand why soccer fans are so violent.

Basketball - Pro or college, it doesn't matter. They can't make up their mind about what constitutes a foul or goaltending. They get confused about the clocks. They make calls to please the home crowd (the imbalance in the NBA is so bad, it was hard to detect a ref who was out and out cheating). And they can watch replays so long that you'd think they took a break to watch Gone With the Wind.

College Football - What is it about the pass interference rule these guys can't get straight? Worse, why do they change their weird interpretation as the game progresses? And don't even get me started about holding.

Professional Football - Only by a whisker, since the pro refs seem to have a consistent pass interference call, and the pro replay rule doesn't allow them to dawdle around waiting to get a buzz from the replay official.

Hockey - I haven't watched a hockey game in a couple of years, since the NHL decided to implode, but hockey is still the fastest paced game of them all and the officials do a creditable job of trying to have eyes in the backs of their heads.

Baseball umpires - For years, network replays have shown them to make accurate calls. Yes, the strike zone wanders around, but you can blame the Lords of Baseball for a lot of that as they try to inject more or less offense in a given year.

Of that bunch, only baseball had held off instituting replay, mostly I think because the spirit of A. G. Spaulding's dictum ruled the game. Now along comes Bud Selig, whose brilliant decisions have included making the All-Star game decide World Series home field advantage and moving the Montreal Expos to Washington D.C. (which hasn't been able to support a baseball franchise since the Truman administration). Despite the aforementioned evidence of replays over the years, based on the results of one game, he decided that we must have the ability to hold up baseball games as we hold up all other sports by having instant replay.

Okay, I vented about all this not long ago. But two things have got me all hot and bothered again. First, the gang on Mike and Mike in the Morning have tried to start the bandwagon rolling to get calls besides home runs and fair/foul calls reviewed. Mike Greenberg, in particular, seems obsessed to have every close call that comes along covered by replay. Which is one of the things I was especially concerned about. Can you even begin to imagine how long a game would take with every close play on the bases being reviewed?

This morning, the local newspaper had a headline saying that the Lords of Baseball have announced that they won't expand the scope of replay. Of course, they instituted replay in the middle of the season (essentially changing the rules of the game in the middle of a pennant run), so we can hardly trust the integrity of that statement.

Once you let the replay genie out, it's only a matter of time. Yes, I know that hockey and soccer have limited replay to judging goals, but I still expect replay to someday be used on offsides calls (as soon as someone can be found who actually understands the arcane interpretations of offsides in both sports). At that point, the average soccer game will last 4 hours; "stoppage time" will be replaced by "replay time." Hockey games will have to be played over several days.

The other thing that got me going was this story by Peter King in which he tells us that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a pep rally to tell his officials what a great job they're doing. Here's a bulletin, Commish: They aren't doing a great job. Replay can be thanked in great measure for this decline in performance.

What really gripes me is that, once again, Ed Hochuli is being sited as being a great official, and isn't it a shame he blew that one call which replay isn't allowed to fix. I beg to differ. Mr. Hochuli is not a great referee. His crew is not a great crew. They are about average in blown calls and lead the league in unnecessary conferences that stretch games out and kill momentum.

Let's put it this way: If Mr. Hochuli and his crew are the best or among the best in the NFL, then NFL officiating is pretty bad, perhaps even worse than Big 10 officials (who frequently appear to be watching some other game than the one on the field).

Hochuli and his crew are simply symptomatic of the general decline in officiating caused by instant replay. We are now reaching the point where the instant replay officials are declining as well. In the Oklahoma-Texas game yesterday, the replay guy (or guys) blew two calls, one that would have helped Oklahoma and one that would have hurt them, so it came out in the wash, but ask Oklahoma about Pac-10 replay guys and see what kind of reaction you get.

Hint: Be ready to run.

Games are played by human beings, people. They should be officiated by humans. We need at least one sanctuary from technology.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Trouble on the Plains

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that. ~ Bill Shankly

Let's begin with a word about Ohio State. I caught the very end of the Wisconsin game last weekend. As anyone who follows college football knows, OSU has had problems, mostly because of Beanie Wells being injured and partly because Todd Boeckman can't figure out that he isn't Craig Krenzel. Coach Tressel seems to have casting about for some offense. Evidently he found it in Terrelle Pryor, who, while rough around the edges, engineered a pretty late touchdown drive to win the game. What was impressive was that the drive was not easy; there were some lost yards, a fumble, some incompletions. But, Pryor just kept coming back.

He's a confident young man.

Ohio State ain't out of the woods yet, but at least one can see hope if Pryor continues to develop.

Auburn isn't so lucky. When Tony Franklin was hired last winter, there was great excitement that the "Tony Franklin System" was coming to the Plains. For those of you who don't know, that means the so-called spread offense.

The reason I say "so-called" is that the spread is just like the "west coast offense" and the "fun and gun" and all those other gimmick named offenses that keep popping up. I've seen a bunch of spread offenses, and they all look like old single-wing or double-wing formations, with a little triple-option stuff thrown in. Some teams run the spread and rush a lot; some run it and pass a lot. It's just another offense.

Unfortunately, at Auburn, Coach Franklin's offense didn't run or throw much. In fact, they are currently ranked number 104 out of 119 Division I schools. That's one reason that, as of this afternoon, he is out of a job. As to the other reasons, you have to go to the rumor mill for the moment, because no one is talking.

Oddly, as recently as yesterday afternoon, head coach Tommy Tuberville was saying they were committed to the spread offense. Now, they may still be committed to the spread; they just aren't committed to having Tony Franklin run it.

I have no idea what caused things to tip over the edge, but I can tell you what has bothered me since early in Franklin's tenure at Auburn. The very first thing he did was get Chris Todd to come to Auburn. It seems that Mr. Todd ran the Franklin System in high school and was committed to Troy, where Franklin used to coach. For whatever reason, he was in junior college when Franklin got him to transfer to Auburn. With a bum shoulder.

Now, whether you're running the spread, the double wing, or Knute Rockne's box, a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery is a scary option. When said quarterback, in spring practice by all reports, throws with all insufficient force to dent tissue paper, alarm bells should go off. When it further becomes clear that said quarterback isn't much of a runner (a must for the spread), the alarms should grow louder.

When it becomes abundantly clear that the offensive coordinator will start this guy ahead of a healthy, potentially talented quarterback, it's time to question his judgement. From all appearances, Franklin would have started Todd even if a young Peyton Manning was on the bench.

I saw Todd play against Tennessee. The announcers began apologizing for continually pointing out that Todd's passes seemed to be lobbed softly. They could hardly avoid mentioning it. On some of his passes, you would think that the ball had "Hindenburg" printed on it instead of "Wilson." His lack of throwing strength was pathetically obvious. Given the absence of a throwing threat, Todd's lack of mobility as a runner made the decision to start him look even stranger.

Now, I don't know. Maybe someone other than Franklin insisted on Todd starting. Given the emphasis Franklin made on getting him and the high praise the coach gave him, that seems unlikely.

Not only does the decision to start Todd look funny, the decision to simply ignore Kodi Burns, which appears to have been Franklin's approach, looks even worse. Okay, you want your guy to do well; once it's obvious he physically can't do it (and that was obvious in spring practice, remember), it's time to bite the bullet and get the other guy ready.

And that's only what I saw. Add to that the fact that players were complaining openly to the media about confusion amongst themselves and amongst the coaching staff and the visible evidence of some of the worst play I've seen by a big-time football program. The wonder is that Franklin wasn't fired before the season started.

The ultimate irony is that Auburn's defense has been spectacular, especially given that they spend the bulk of the team's time on the field. With any sort of offensive output, their record would be perfect, and they'd be ranked in the top 5 at worst. Ironically, Franklin had complained that the offense wasn't running enough plays because they weren't moving fast enough. Apparently, it didn't occur to him that if you are constantly three-and-out that you aren't going to run many plays no matter how fast you get to the line.

So Tony Franklin is gone, and Coach Tuberville, known as a defensive specialist is going to be more involved in the offense, which, at this writing is going to be run by a committee.

This coming weeks could be very rocky on the Plains.