Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's Up, Doc: Emrick Has Another Gold Medal Run Calling Olympic Hockey

And You Don't Have To Believe In Miracles to Get Excited

As the USA's 5-3 stunner Sunday over Canada in Olympic men's hockey continues to sink in, thoughts inevitably wander over to the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 30 years ago, and all. Even if it was edited and on tape delay and some of us found out the score too early (thanks, Rene Poussaint), it was still a great moment and one that will define the career of Al Michaels doing the play-by-play.
So, it was pretty classy of him to tell Richard Sandomir in The New York Times how he was hardly wistful about not being behind the mic calling the games in Vancouver.

“Here’s the reality: Mike Emrick might be the best guy to ever call hockey,” he said, referring to NBC’s play-by-play announcer. “I can’t do it one-tenth as well.”
Which tells you all you pretty much need to know about Emrick, who the diminishing number of New York-area hockey fans have been able to enjoy for 20 years in his regular job as the TV voice of the New Jersey Devils.
There have been other stops along the way, but the Devils gave Doc (he has a PhD in broadcasting from Bowling Green) an entree to a much broader canvas on which he paints eloquent word pictures that are at once intelligent, insightful, and in perfect tempo with the pace of the game. He's an exquisite student of hockey, but he's never a show-off. The knowledge is parceled out only when needed. It's always about what's on the ice, not him.
As an example, Sandomir noted that Emrick said following a particuarly frantic period of play: “It’s kind of nice to have it peaceful right now. I hope I’m not yelling too much.”
Not to worry.
More recently, he's been calling Stanley Cup games and the Winter Classic on New Year's Day for NBC, so he's hardly a poorly kept secret. It's not like he only brings his A material for the network. He has no B material.
But viewers who only watch hockey once every four years will notice just how good hockey can be. And Emrick will be a big reason for that, no matter what the final score is.

New Music Channels on DirecTV: Sonic Crap

DirecTV Dumps Sirius XM To Save Dough and Latches on to Pale Imitator

While it's far from perfect, I have always found much to like on satellite radio, particularly what was put out by XM. Even after it merged with Sirius, there was still plenty to keep me listening for the adult album alternative and singer-songwriter tracks I gravitate to most often.
Given that only one of our cars -- the one I'm usually not driving -- has XM, I usually listened via DirecTV. Spectrum, The Loft, and The Coffeehouse were often on in the house. No more. A couple of weeks ago, DirecTV dumped SiriusXM for something called SonicTap, programmed by an outfit called DMX Music that, among other things, puts together music channels for cable systems.
DirecTV never said why it made the switch, so you can assume money was the overriding issue. It can't be because DMX is delivering a better product when just the opposite is the case. It's what happens when you have a computer program a channel instead of a person. Algorithms may work on Pandora, but DMX shows no signs it's invested in R&D to offer an intelligent music mix.
To wit: Spectrum is now called, stultifyingly enough, Adult Alternative. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.
The Loft, which was laden with a very deep playlist and quirky, compelling specialty shows from the likes of David Johansen and Lou Reed, along with New York radio legends Vin Scelsa and Meg Griffin, is now called Singer-Songwriter. Unfortunately, these singer-songwriters are usually heard on adult contemporary stations. Again, no clue.
As for The Coffeehouse, the channel is now called Coffeehouse Rock. But the lunkheads at DirecTV and DMX apparently never heard the channel, which is devoted mostly to acoustic performances and alternative versions of well-known tracks. It was the perfect accompaniment to reading a book chapter before bed. Now it is the aural equivalent of a double espresso rather than the soothing decaf it once was.
So, now I have a good excuse to turn off the TV a little sooner. Time to get reacquainted with the stereo and the CD collection. I'd rather DIY my music choices than DMX them any day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Killing the Tigers in Order to Save Them

Fascinating Wall Street Journal Piece Opens Rare Window to Chinese Tiger Farms

Today's Wall Street Journal has an item about a proposal by two economists to legalize sale of tiger parts in China to combat poaching and reduce the rate that the habitat for wild tigers is shrinking.
And these parts would come from farm-bred tigers. That's right, farm-bred, which is legal in China, where 6,000 tigers are bred in captivity. I was initially in a bit of denial when first wondering why there are tiger farms in the first place.
Were that that many zoos out there that needed to restock? Nah. The article by Beijing correspondent Shai Oster notes that some farms exist for research. After all, wild tigers in China have been virtually hunted to extinction. Then there are those that tourists can visit and feed the tigers live cows and chickens.
But it appears they really exist to harvest parts for use in traditional medicines, parts that can sell for up to $70,000 on the black market when taken from one animal. Yes, these sales have been banned since 1993, but Oster reports some farms have freezers filled with hundreds of carcasses in case the ban is lifted.
It's a fascinating story, one that makes a good case for why newspapers need their own foreign reporters and not rely on wire service reporters who are too caught up in the day-to-day work to do too much enterprise reporting.

Casting a Pall

Death of Luger Nodar Kumaritashvilli Leaves Media at a Loss for Other Words

The papers that came to my door this morning read as follows:

Luger's Death Casts Pall Over Start of the Winter Games--Wall Street Journal

Luge Athlete's Death Casts Pall Over Olympics--New York Times

The death of a Georgian competitor in the luge during training cast a pall over the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.....(opening of refer on A1 of Financial Times)


It actually has several definitions. But the apt one here for the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvilli is "anything that covers, shrouds, or overspreads, esp. with darkness or gloom," according to Dictionary.com.
A pall can also be a cover for a coffin, bier, or tomb. That will come later.
Obviously, the athletes, officials, dignitaries and journalists at the Vancouver Games were shocked and saddened by the crash, which is now being attributed to human error. In other words, Kumaritashvilli didn't have enough experience to handle a challenging curve on a highly technical track while going nearly 90 mph.
But while the tragedy is unmistaken, after watching the opening ceremonies last night -- and no, you didn't need to stay up late to know Gretzky was going to light the flame -- you have to wonder if there was really a pall. It was a deservedly festive affair, understated, dignified and entirely appropriate. Very Canadian indeed.
I didn't sense a pall. It would have been easier as well as more accurate to describe the incident as one that "momentarily tempered" or "muted" the celebration, especially when the Georgian team entered the stadium and, later, when a moment of silence was held for the fallen luger.
And Kumaritashvilli's death doesn't appear to have cast a pall at the luge track either, where today -- aside from a "change in the ice profile -- it's business as usual.
For another interesting take on how papers handled the crash, Charles Apple looks at it from the perspective of a graphics editor, asking whether this really needed to go on A1. The answer he reluctantly comes to, I much less reluctantly come to, is yes.

Monday, February 01, 2010

How Willie Mays Hustled Leo Durocher

Sure, Durocher Was a Father Figure, but Say, What the Hey, It's Just Money

Before he's going, going, gone, Willie Mays finally decided to cooperate with a biographer. It only took him to age 78 to realize this was a good idea, before more baseball fans than not had heard of him. Borderline blasphemy, I know, but these kids nowadays, no sense of history.
Anywhoo, Bruce Weber's story in yesterday's New York Times had an interesting nugget that will make "Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend" (out next Tuesday) a keeper if there are a lot more stories like the one about his first Giants' manager, Leo Durocher, who Mays regarded as a father figure.
To help keep Mays out of trouble, Durocher would have him room with his 7-year-old son Chris and look after him on the road. Chris told Dad he was eating a lot of soul food and Durocher gave wanted his son to eat steak.

"And I said, 'well give me steak money then.' And Leo would whip out four or five hundred and stick it in my pocket. And we'd go somewhere, and I'd ask Chris, 'you want a steak?' and he'd say 'No, I'll eat what you eat.' I never told Leo."

As anecdotes go, that's a home run. Let's hope there are another 659 like them in the book.

Game Change Cover: Prescient or Pretentious

We Know The Heilemann-Halperin Blockbuster is Good, But This Good?

My copy of "Game Change" made a surprise arrival tonight after Borders.com told me it was on backorder and I'd have to cool my heels for at least a couple of weeks.
So, before I started to devour the many political morsels contained within, I noticed at the top of the cover it said "#1 New York Times Bestseller."
That's fairly recent news. And even more remarkable given that I opened the book and discovered that it was a first edition.
So, maybe HarperCollins knew something we didn't. Or maybe they were just cocky.
Either way, they were right.