Aug 30, 2012

Alphas is the Show Heroes Should Have Been

I remember the first time I ever heard about the show Heroes coming out.  I was in a theater in Asheville, North Carolina waiting to see Talladega Nights (don't judge me).  There were posters for this television show all over the movie theater.  They had Heroes printed on the popcorn and drink cups.  There were promotional flyers in the theater.  In the pre-movie time killer, they had a little trailer for it.  It looked awesome.  I started hearing more and more about the show and saw more commercials.  I couldn't believe this was actually happening.  There was going to be a weekly, live-action tv show about superheroes!  I couldn't wait. And it seemed like I wasn't alone.

Heroes was, in some ways, going to be a small screen version of X-Men.  It was the tale of what Marvel Comics has always classified as mutants - people who, through a mysterious benevolent mutation, have developed skills and abilities greater than the average human.  As any comic book fan worth his salt knows, X-Men is one of the biggest comic franchises out there.  It has spawned three good movies (and two lousy movies).  The animated X-Men tv show from the 1990s was incredibly popular and well done.  The X-Men arcade game was and is a classic.  So the chance to see something resembling that on primetime television was about all this geek could handle.

When Heroes premiered, it was great.  The whole concept was mysterious.  There was this eclipse that caused all these people to suddenly develop crazy powers.  They could fly or absorb powers or heal themselves or freeze time.  There was an evil government agency that was tracking these people.  There were secrets and twists and turns.  I remember actually writing this at one point early on in the season: "Heroes has officially surpassed Lost as the best show on television."  And I believed it.  It was one of our go-to shows.  Can't miss television.

Then something went wrong.  Maybe it was the crazy inconsistency of plots.  Maybe it was the fact that there were just too many secrets and cover-ups.  Maybe it was the inexplicable network necessity to turn popular bad-guy characters (Sylar, Horn Rimmed Glasses Man) into tragic heroes.  The season started to drag.  It wasn't fun any more.  It became extremely violent.  Characters didn't act in ways consistent with how they were created.  Massive story arcs panned out to be pointless.  Too much attention was paid to Sylar.  But I stuck with it, hoping what every fan of the show hoped for.  The finale was going to be epic.

The whole season was building to massive showdown.  Sylar was accumulating so much power that he had to be stopped.  I remember the last scene in the penultimate episode - Sylar got the radioactive powers and stood there looking at the city.  He just said, "Boom!"  It was evil and set the stage.  It was apparent that the good heroes were going to have to have a massive throwdown with Sylar.  The Petrelli brothers, Hiro, everyone came together for the big battle.  And then when the massive fight happened...  Well, it never happened.  It was the least satisfying climactic battle scene I can remember.  I looked at my wife and she looked at me.  "What?!?"  That was it?  It was the exact opposite of how Lost handled their seasons.  Sure, they may meander and have some clunkers.  But they always delivered the goods in the season finales.  Heroes just flopped.

We watched the first couple of the new season and they were horrible.  A couple of times I considered going back to the show, but everything I was reading was so negative.  I didn't even realize that the show had a third season until I started reading about the upcoming series finale.  I didn't even bother.  How did a show with so much promise, that started off so well, end up fizzling out?  NBC obviously took a big risk on the show and dumped a lot of money into it.  But it just couldn't stand up for the whole season.  Such a disappointment.

Fast forward a few years.  SyFy Channel has been started putting out original series.  They are fun and entertaining.  Eureka was a solid comic, action, sci-fi entry for several years.  Warehouse 13 upped the mystery and at-times creepiness factor, while keeping the humor and homages to sci-fi classics (especially in their guest star casting).  Last year they introduced a new show, Alphas.  I am a pretty loyal viewer and will give networks, movie studios a shot on their new products if they have been consistently reliable.  I'll see every Pixar movie that comes out.  I'll at least try every new USA Network offering (an usually like them).  So I went ahead and watched Alphas.  The synopsis sounded familiar.  A group of people have started to be discovered that have powers greater than normal humans.  There is a government agency involved.  Mystery surrounds the "alphas" and how they came to be.

From the very outset, it became apparent to me that this could be the best entry yet in the "benevolent mutation" genre.  Yes, even, perhaps, better than X-Men.  We are greeted with a person who isn't in control of his actions.  But he knows he is supposed to kill someone.  With his enhanced skills, he is able to use a sniper rifle to shoot a man in a closed off interrogation room through an air vent.  The whole scene was crazy and compelling.  We are then introduced to Dr Rosen - a psychiatrist with sympathies for "alphas" and his special team of "alphas."  They investigate crimes that appear to be caused by other "alphas."  Each member of the team has a power - what would usually be called a superpower.  But, it comes with a twist.

One of the things about Heroes and even X-Men that is hard to deal with is that these supers have these awesome powers that have no explainable origin.  That is something that always bugged me about Superman.  I can understand the yellow sun giving him enhanced strength, super speed, and maybe even the laser eyes.  But how does it give him x-ray vision or super freezing breath.  And how can he fly?  That isn't something that is a natural progression.  A flying person is a cool concept.  But HOW can they do that?  What allows them to completely ignore laws of physics?  Their bodies are not more streamlined than other people.  They don't have wings.  So how can they manipulate air currents when an average person can't?  Like with the Hulk, he can jump insane distances to where you might think he was flying.  But that isn't what Superman does.  He doesn't push off of the ground so hard he breaks gravity's power (or the concrete would crack).  He doesn't jump off a building and catch a current.  Heroes had the same problem with Nathan.  How did he fly?  If someone is going to have a mutation, it should take the form of an enhancement of a normal ability.  Claws shooting out of your hand?  Doesn't qualify.  Neither does turning your skin into diamonds or metal, teleporting, or growing wings.

With Alphas, though, that is exactly what happens.  They take a normal human function and ramp it up.  Bill, one of the leaders of the good guys, has his normal "fight or flight"reflex on supercharge.  Whereas a normal person may be able to run faster in a threatening situation, Bill is able to run faster and hit harder.  But, it doesn't last long.  And he, along with all the others, has a negative side effect.  His heart is wearing out from the pressure of overusing it.  It is a brilliant and "more realistic concept.  Rachel has super senses - she can amplify her hearing, smell, sight to identify things far beyond a normal person.  But that ability brings with it a crushing fear of social settings.  Even a whiff of cologne can give her a headache.  She can see bacteria and germs, so she hates eating out.  Nina can "push" people by staring them in the eye and making them do what she wants through suggestions.  But she has used it so much that she never knows if someone really wants to be with her or if she is making them feel that way.  One of the most interesting team members is Gary - an autistic young man who has the ability to "see" electronic communications.  So he has the ability for unusual communication, but is almost unable to communicate with others.

Every "alpha" we meet fits into this pattern.  Their abilities are amplified versions of normal human functions.  One guy can rub his hands together with the resulting friction causing sparks.  Another's metabolism runs so fast that he can move super fast - only he ages at a ridiculous rate.  One guy can use acid reflux to spit acid at people.  Another can learn virtually anything in a short period of time at the expense of her long term memory.  One of the more fascinating character is played by Summer Glau.  She can see the patterns of how objects piece together, giving her mastery of machinery.  But she has no order in her life.  She keeps moving around, has trouble working with others, seems to be destined to chaos.

The regular people are at first oblivious of the existence of these enhanced individuals.  The government is well aware and are terrified.  They usually banish them to a shady mental institution and try to keep them under control.  Last season ended with Dr. Rosen going public with the existence of these "alphas."  He ended up in trouble for it and the government kicked into overdrive with controlling the "alphas."  A new big bad has arisen, Stanton Parish - someone with enhanced healing abilities.  He sees the rise of the "alphas" as inevitable and is trying to bring it about.  Rosen is trying to get them to live in harmony with the humans and has struck an uneasy peace with the government to keep the peace.  What?  You say that sounds familiar?  You're right.  Parish=Magneto. Rosen=Professor Xavier.  It is almost like we have that realistic version of the X-Men that Heroes was supposed to be.  Some of that could be attributed to the fact that Alphas was created by Zak Penn, writer of Avengers, X-Men 2, and X-Men 3 (maybe that isn't the best example).  Like with X-Men, you can tell a war is coming.  This time, though, there is a slow burn.  But it isn't accelerated like in the first season of Heroes.  There is a story of the week format, with them all fitting into the larger Stanton Parish problem.

I also feel the characters in Alphas are better developed.  We don't just care about their abilities; we care about them.  They are extremely well written and have multiple layers.  Cameron - the assassin from the pilot episode - is now on the team.  He had been under the control of a mind controlling "alpha," so he was released to serve on the team.  He has such a tragic back story.  He used to be a pitcher and had thrown two perfect games, thanks to his ability to see angles and trajectories.  But he was a drunk.  He lost his career, lost his family, was working in a grocery store.  In addition, he had become such a mess that he couldn't even use his abilities.  Now he seems to be getting his life in order, but not in that "everything is better after one season" manner that other shows resort to.  He still makes bad choices and gets waylaid by strong influences.

Overall, I have been very pleased with Alphas.  I like the creativity of the different characters and how they keep coming up with different powers.  I am invested in the recurring characters and their story.  I also want to see where the show goes with everything.  It looks like a war is coming soon.  And I can't wait to see how that looks.  The actions sequences are very good in the show.  Will they be able to come up with the action necessary to reflect a big war?  We'll see.  How do you stop a person who can't be killed?  Also, how can the "good guys" battle Parish's recruitment campaign?  The government has already proven they can't be trusted.  It will be a big challenge to get people to side with them.  It makes for compelling television.

Alphas airs on Monday nights, at 8:00pm, on SyFy.

Aug 10, 2012

Dog Person

I am taking a break from my focusing on the Olympics and fawning over Oscar Pistorius.  Don't worry - there will probably be at least one more post (maybe two, if South Africa medals today with Pistorius running anchor in the 4x400).  I really think the first week of the Games is much better than the second week.  I watched every night of the first week, but I actually have been watching other stuff this week and just flipping back to see the important stuff (Usain Bolt, Beach Volleyball final, anything involving Pistorius).  So I have had time to post something different today.

I have developed a reputation over the years for hating dogs.  I would like to dispute this fact right here.  I do not HATE dogs.  I just don't LIKE most dogs.  First of all, I am a cat person.  Just like with other major showdowns in our world, you can only take one side.  Coke/Pepsi - I choose Pepsi.  Star Wars/Star Trek - I choose Trek.  UF/FSU - well, on that one I hate them both.  So when it comes to the dog/cat showdown, I land on the side of cats.  Why, you may ask?  Fair enough question.

  1. Size - I don't like big dogs.  Cats are the perfect size to sit on your lap and get loved on.  When you have a big idiot dog wanting snuggled, it is annoying.  They lean all over you and knock you over.  Plus it is like having another person in the house.  Cats are small and don't take up a lot of space.  Advantage: Cats.
  2. Bathroom Issue - Cats you send to the litter box IN the house.  You clean that out regularly.  Pretty easy.  Dogs you walk around OUT of the house.  They traipse all over the yard, sniffing every blade of grass and trying to eat whatever they find.  Lizards, bugs, mulch, plastic, turds.  They are disgusting.  If the cats eat turds, at least I'm not watching it while getting soaked by the afternoon storm that ALWAYS is happening RIGHT when the dog needs to go out.  You take a dog out and they start off sniffing, wander around the yard for ten minutes, end up right back where they started and go potty.  The cat just walks off into another room and is done.  Advantage: Cats.
  3. Status - Cats are not people.  They don't think they are people.  They have no interest in being people because they believe in their hearts that they are far superior to people.  Why would they demean themselves?  Dogs, on the other hand, think they are people.  They want to sleep where people sleep, eat where and what people eat, sit where people sit.  They always feel like they need to be in the middle of everything.  They are like extremely insecure children.  "What's going on?  Are you talking about me?  Why wasn't I included?"  Unfortunately, dog people have no problem encouraging this behavior and treating their dogs like people.  Here is part of my problem.  We always had cats growing up and also always had dogs.  The dogs had jobs.  They were guard dogs.  They slept outside, ate outside, drank water out of buckets.  They were not even allowed into the house.  That was until we got one exceptionally stupid dog named Red.  He was a big dope - barked at plastic bags, got scared of airplanes.  He was a big baby.  My mom felt for this big lug, so he got special treatment.  He got to come in the house when it was cold or raining.  My mom used an old purple sweatshirt and made him a shirt for when it was cold.  What a dork (the dog, not my mom).  I'm used to dogs being outside and being, well, dogs.  Cats could care less about any of this.  Advantage: Cats.
  4. Intelligence - Cats are smart.  They are conniving and plotting and planning.  They always look like they are thinking about how to kill you and assume your identity.  I am not threatened by this.  I appreciate it.  Dogs can be very dumb.  Not all dogs are dumb.  I'm sure your dog is a Mensa candidate.  But dogs do dumb things.  They eat their own puke.  They chase cars.  Golden retrievers have been known to hang themselves while tied up outside.  They sit there with their tongues hanging out, which doesn't help their cause.  Advantage: Cats.
So, I have always been partial to cats.  But there has been an exclusion to this - one loophole.  I like small dogs.  In some ways, small dogs are superior to cats.  They fit on your lap. They are sweet. You don't have to deal with the shedding thing most cats do.  You don't have to worry you will wake up chained up in a cellar while the cats eat your fine meats upstairs.  Sure you still have the bathroom issue and the less-than-stellar IQ tests.  But there are some real benefits to a small dog.  Even still, I am not a dog person.

My big problem is that I live with three dog people.  Heather, Josiah, and Natalie LOVE dogs.  They always are drawn to dogs and want to play with them.  They like it when dogs lick them, even their faces.  [Oh, I forgot that in my list.  The face licking.  AND the butt sniffing.  Repulsive.]  Heather grew up with dogs.  Josiah and Natalie have always loved them.  I have known for years we were destined to end up with a dog.  My saving grace came when Gabe came along.  For some reason, he has been terrified of dogs.  Not like me, where he didn't like them.  He was physically terrified of them. So, now I didn't have to ban the canines on my own.  I could just say, "Well Gabe is terrified of dogs." As much as the kids and Heather love dogs, they love Gabe more.  We would try to get him comfortable with them.  He has had a couple that he was okay with.  But he was still jittery.  So we continued to be dog-less.

So this is our dog, Katie Bell.  How did this happen?  Well, the deck was stacked against me, to be honest.  We were at the Oviedo "Mall" the other day and decided to get lunch at the Food Court.  Since everyone has to eat at different restaurants, I went to pull some cash out of the ATM by the Food Court, but it was broken.  (I know it is hard to believe something at the Oviedo "Mall" wouldn't be in perfect working order.)  So we ended up walking over to Dillard's to use their ATM.  On the way, we passed Pet Rescue by Judy, who uses a store front on weekends.  The kids begged to go in, so I kept going to Dillard's and Heather took them in to see the animals.  When I came back a few minutes later, they are all standing in front of the store.  Josiah and Natalie are pleading with Heather (which I expected), and Gabe was standing there crying.  When I got even with them, I asked Heather, "What happened?  Did he get bit or is he just scared?"  She looked at me and said, "No, actually he's upset that we can't bring that one dog in there home with us." 

Well, dang.  I knew the day would come when Gabe was okay with dogs.  But I didn't expect it so soon.  And I certainly didn't think he would be crying because we didn't get a particular dog.  I looked at Heather with a quizzical look on my face.  "Seriously," she said. "There's a little black dachshund mix in there and he loved it."  Now, that's not fair.  Everyone in the family knows that the one kind of dog that I have always been partial to was dachshunds.  I even have a magnet on the refrigerator of one.  I went in to the store with them to check out this miracle dog and see Gabe's reaction.  He was completely terrified of every dog in the store.  Except this one.  

We talked about things at lunch and came up with a plan that could work involving Josiah's birthday and the dog.  But I wanted to see Gabe interact with the dog.  We went back to the store for nearly an hour to let the kids play with the dog.  By the time we left, it was apparent this dog had some kind of special bond with our kids.  So we set the wheels in motion to see what we could do to get the dog.  There was a whole list of things that had to work right for this to happen - the landlord, the owners, the other people contributing to Josiah's birthday stuff.  Each step worked out perfectly.  So now we are dog owners.

Even though this is "Josiah's dog," you already know how this is going.  As I have been typing this post, where has Katie been sitting?  That's right - on my chest.  It is a hard thing to train a dog.  We also have to train kids on how to have a dog.  They don't think to take her out enough or give her enough time outside, so she has had some accidents.  They don't remember to feed her.  They don't get down on the floor to play with her enough.  So I have had to step in while they are learning.  Everyone wants a dog, but they don't always want the responsibility of it.  So they are learning, especially Josiah. He told me the other day, "I'm glad I have her, but I never knew she would be so much work."  I laughed, partly because I completely understood and had said the same thing once we had kids, partly because he has no idea just how much work it is because he isn't doing all of it.  

It has been stressful, to be sure.  Last night I was having a hard time.  I am a pretty big guy (shocker, I know).  The dog is very tiny - she is just six pounds.  When she makes a mess or does something wrong, I have to jump up to correct her and stop it.  That is probably terrifying to a very small dog.  Last night, she was quivering and trying to run away into the bushes after I caught her peeing on the floor and corrected her.  She just sat there, paralyzed in fear.  That makes you feel great.  I hate the fact that she gets scared of me, but she has to learn. From my own history, I have never wanted to have my kids or any small creature fear me.  Of course, as I told Heather last night, if I didn't care so much I wouldn't care.  That is the thing ... I love the dog.  I keep saying I don't, but everyone knows I'm a liar.  I love having a little animal love me and sit on me.  She is very sweet and fun.  She may be Josiah's dog, but she thinks I'm her person.  I can be her person, but I still am not a dog person.  

Aug 7, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Inspiration

We have hit that point in the Olympics where things are not as crazy and exciting.  Instead of spending the last two nights glued to NBC's DVR rebroadcast, I have actually been catching up on some shows on our own DVR.  Sure, there are some cool things here an there.  But once swimming, gymnastics, and the signature track events are over, things slow down considerably.  We still have a lot of team based finales coming up (basketball, volleyball - court and beach, soccer, water polo).  My interest definitely wanes, though.

So what would you say has been the most incredible performance in these Olympics?  As far as a career culmination, most people would point to Michael Phelps.  Usain Bolt's mind-blowing 9.62 in the 100 meters was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.  Mckayla Maroney's vault in the team finals was jaw-dropping - as evidenced by the classic pictures of the judges doing just that.  There were several swimming events that broke records.  Kevin Durant rained three pointers on Argentina like it was a pickup game.  And Jessica Ennis obliterated the field in the heptathlon.  But for me the answer is simple.

Take a minute and look at that picture.  It almost looks Photoshopped.  It looks like someone was erasing the bottom and accidentally removed the guy's legs.  Except it isn't like that at all.  This is Oscar Pistorius, sprinter from South Africa. He was born without tibias in his lower legs, so the doctors amputated his legs when he was eleven months old.  Now, an inspirational story would be that the child learned to walk on artificial limbs and lived a relatively normal life.  That would be an incredible performance.  But, Oscar wasn't content with that and neither was his family.  Instead, he worked really hard and became a sprinter on his artificial Cheetah blades.

Now, his talent for sprinting is indeed great.  He has represented South Africa in the Paralympic Games.  And he has routinely destroyed the competition because he is ridiculously fast.  This would be an incredible performance.  But that wasn't something to be contented with, either.  Oscar is fast enough that his top speeds are comparable to the "able-bodied" athletes in the Olympics.  So he pursued that goal as well.  If someone can qualify for the Olympics and they are following the rules, they should be allowed to compete.

This is where Oscar's story gets strange.  He was banned from the Games because the authorities ruled his limbs gave him a competitive advantage.  To this day, there are people who say he should not be there because he is using attachments to his body to compete.  US track legend, Michael Johnson, is one of the detractors.  Now this is where I take pause in this whole story.

My favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons, has proposed several times that all sports teams and sports ruling bodies should be forced to hire a "VP of Common Sense."  This would be a non-sports related individual that had to make a final approval on all trades, roster moves, and rule changes.  This would be someone like you and me, someone far enough from the situation to think clearly.  A BS detector, if you will.  There have been many times in the sports world where a decision was made where we, the fans, have said, "Who came up with that?  If I ran my business that way, I would go broke."  This is where the VP of Common Sense comes in.

I wish that there had been a VP of Common Sense when this original ruling came down on Pistorius.  I mean, even the announcers at the Olympics - who are not generally considered insightful by any stretch of the imagination - just can't get over how ludicrous this entire train of thought is.  You know this.  I know this.  It is nonsense.  The man does not have legs.  Everyone else does.  What possible steps could be taken - short of mounting him on jetpacks, rockets, or actual cheetahs - could ever made THAT equal, let alone give him an advantage?  Think about this for just a minute.  HE DOESN'T HAVE FEET.  I'm not being crass here.  I just want that to sink in.  Think about all the things you need feet for in your life.  True, most of us are stuck in a sitting position for most of the day and could manage just fine without feet.  But getting up, walking to find a donut in the break room, standing up to pee, driving.  Things get complicated.  Average, boring, menial things get complicated.  But running at an Olympic speed?  In the words of Gus on Psych, "Son, puh-leeze."

I would have overruled them.  I would have said, "Think about it, jack wagon. How could you possibly justify this stance?"  Even with this setback, Pistorius kept training and challenged their ruling. He got a team of experts to testify in his favor.  I read the summaries of the reports by this team.  They couldn't even agree with each other about why the ruling was wrong - but they all said it was wrong.  One of them said that the artificial legs DID give him an advantage when it came to moving his legs faster because the lack of bones made them lighter, meaning they could go faster.  One of them said that the blades gave him a higher rate of return on the leg muscles effort, but a grossly inferior rate of return from the foot itself pushing onto the track.  Supposedly a human foot will return over 200 percent of the force pushed down in a race.  The blade only returned 90 percent.  The final expert - who has artificial legs with robotic elements - said the other guys were all completely daft and none of what they said was true.  His report was more along the line of what I have said.  "You guys are seriously stupid.  Just think for a second what you are saying."

So Pistorius was cleared to compete.  He was named to the South African team for the 400 meter sprint and the 4x400 relay.  On Saturday, as soon as I woke up, I fired up and watched the replay of his qualifying race.  They ran it in the evening as well, with the commentators.  It was bizarre.  This was really the first that anyone had mentioned Pistorius on the NBC coverage.  They were so busy mooning over Phelps and Lochte and Gabby Douglas.  The track team of Tom Hammon and Ato Boldin are usually very good.  But this time, it was almost like they were condescending.  It was like it was a curiosity.  "He isn't expected to do much, but it means so much he is even here."  Now, the crowd in London didn't quite feel the same.  They gave him such a rousing ovation for just standing there, you would have thought he was British.  You could tell he was extremely moved at the reality of the race finally happening.

The gun went off and so did Pistorius.  The announcers were stunned to see that he wasn't loafing in the back.  Instead, he was up near the front.  In fact, he finished his heat second, behind eventual silver medalist, Luguelin Santos, in a time of 45.44 seconds.  Wrap your mind around that.  I am always amazed at how fast the sprinters in the Olympics can run.  I swear, Usain Bolt is just a blur of limbs as his lopes down the track.  But Oscar Pistorius is not your average sprinter.  He shouldn't be able to run that fast.  The story took off, and NBC finally got a clue.  They ran the pre-Games interview between Mary Carillo and Oscar.  He was on the Today Show.  There was a lot of build-up to his semifinal race.

I was rooting for him to win.  But, he came in eighth.  It wats apparent, though, that no one in the stadium thought that was a loss.  This included his fellow competitors.  In a great picture, the eventual gold medalist, Kirani James of Grenada (who just seems like a really cool guy), came up and wanted to switch name bibs with Pistorius in a show of sportsmanship.  You could tell the other guys were deeply respectful.  Oscar didn't just show up - he raced and competed and held his own.  It was incredible to watch, and my most amazing performance of the Games.

It also got me thinking.  Pistorius has had to do so much work to get where he has gotten.  He has trained himself daily to get into the shape necessary to be a competitor on any stage.  But he also has had to fight in the courts to get the right to compete where he has every right to be - the biggest stage.  He has had to listen to people who have held up his biggest disadvantage and dared to say it gave him an unfair advantage.  In one way they are right.  It isn't the blades that gives him an advantage.  It is the commitment to overcome the hand he was dealt.  It is the lifetime of struggling and fighting and overcoming that no person with full use of their limbs can ever know.  He does have an unfair advantage - but it isn't from science or technology.  He had every excuse to NOT do this.  Most of us wouldn't excuse someone like Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin for quitting the pursuit of gold.  It is all consuming and exhausting, more than any person should have to go through if they don't want to.  So no one in their right mind would blame Pistorius for quitting at any point in the process.

Most of us are content to let greatness pass us by.  We aren't committed to see it through.  It just becomes too much work.  I have loved the Nike ads narrated by Tom Hardy through these Olympics, reminding us that greatness is not something born into people.  It is discovered and worked toward.  To say it is born diminishes just how great greatness is.  Sure, someone like Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin or Lebron James may have the genetic package to succeed in their selected sports.  But that doesn't guarantee anything.  Just go look on any playground basketball court in New York City and you'll find dozens of players that had the genetic package to make the NBA.  But some combination of events and choices led them away.

I struggle with this.  I know that I have talents - great talents in some areas.  I am not being a braggart by saying that.  I have a lifetime of trophies and accolades and awards to back this up.  To claim that I don't have talent actually minimizes the gifts that God gave me.  But I am so afraid.  I can be so lazy.  So I just don't follow through.  I love writing.  It is something that is not an effort for me.  My life has happened in such a way that I was prepared to be a writer.  The three hardest teachers I ever had were 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English.  They honed my skills.  But everyone thinks they can be a writer.  That is why there are fifty gazillion blogs out there.  And it is easy to not follow through on something that I want to do out of fear that I won't succeed, or that I am fooling myself.  I have wanted to write a book for so long.  This isn't just a dream that I came up with yesterday.  I have a folder on my computer with book ideas - complete with thumbnails, chapters, intros.  One series I thought up has the floor plan for seven entire books.  They are just sitting there.

When I see someone like Oscar Pistorius, the thought that comes is, "So, what's your excuse?"  Trust me, I have many.  And I usually ignore that question.  It is too uncomfortable.  I have dozens of reasons why I don't do something.  People may not like it.  No one will read it.  Maybe I'm not actually that good.  Maybe I'm actually not that funny.  What about money?  How will I print it?  No publisher will ever buy it.  What about time?  With all the other stuff I am doing or need to be doing, how will I have time to write something that isn't guaranteed to even be bought or read or anything?  The voices of doubt are so loud in my head that I can't even move.  It is frustrating.  And I have a feeling that I am not alone in those thoughts.  I want to move past that fear and paralysis to actually DO something.

I have heard people ask, "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?"  That isn't a great question, I have realized.  There is never a guarantee we won't fail.  And to only do something if we know we won't fail, well then we don't want to do that thing enough.  Pistorius didn't know he wouldn't fail.  There was no guarantee ever for him. We need to ask, "What is it you want to do, even if you might fail?'  Jumping into something because you believe in it and are committed to it, even if the cards are stacked against you is so much better.  That is when greatness happens.  That is something Olympic athletes have realized.  That is something that Oscar Pistorius lives by.  And that is something I hope I can learn too.

Aug 4, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Week One

And before I realized it, the first week of the Olympics were over.  I have failed again in keeping up with a regular diary.  If I was an Olympian, I would have been one of those guys who bombed out in the first qualifying heat.  The one who looked like he was doggie paddling in a freestyle race.  It would have been pathetic.  I'm glad my failure was more private and relegated to my recliner.

It has been an exciting first week.  The Olympics never fails in delivering the goods. There has been more than a fair share of controversy (a lot of it involving NBC), but nothing outrageous like a steroid discovery in a major event ala Ben Johnson.  All in all, I have enjoyed the many many hours I have spent watching people doing things I could not do in my wildest dreams.  While I had intended to be more prolific with my entries, I will have to settle for a recap of some major story lines.

NBC -  It almost seems unfair at this point to take shots at NBC.  They have made a TON of errors in their coverage of these games.  It almost is as embarrassing as the 2000 Sydney Games. One of my friends, Stuart, posted a funny tweet that just about summed up the complaints.  "It is nice of NBC to share their DVR with the world."  I've taken my shots at the coverage as well.  Tape delaying the games for sometimes twelve or eighteen hours is ridiculous.  Packaging and editing to only focus on Americans or to raise tension is obnoxious.  And their dumbo move of running a promo for their own show that spoiled a race outcome was inexcusable.  But I am going to take a different track this time.

-  I read a great post the other day that asked if we were to run NBC, would we do anything different?  He wasn't asking us as fans, but us as businessmen.  NBC paid a huge amount of money for the right to broadcast this event and needs to make their money back.  They need to get eyeballs on the screen.  What exactly could be changed?  It was a good point.  I couldn't answer.  Brings a different perspective.

-  The ratings are not showing a lack of happiness.  If it were offensive enough, wouldn't millions of people abandon the shows?  Instead, they are thrashing everyone.
-  There is a massive amount of coverage available.  I have been stunned to see it.  It's a shame that the live stuff that runs all day is the heats and qualifiers.  But there is a LOT of live coverage on the television.  NBC shows Olympic coverage on the main station from 9am to 5pm.  Then they air again from 8pm to 12am and 1230am to 3am.  In addition to that, their is almost non-stop coverage on CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, and Bravo.  There also is an entire station dedicated to Soccer and another to Basketball.  If that isn't enough, EVERYTHING is available online live and can be viewed after on replay.  That is a mind-numbing amount of coverage.  I have seen every sport that has run at some point. That is admirable.

That all being said, there have been some moments that were very frustrating.  If you are going to delay coverage until 8pm, that's fine.  But then waiting to show gymnastics until 9:30pm or 10pm? Ridiculous.  My daughter wasn't able to watch any gymnastics "live" because she can't stay up that lated.  On the topic of gymnastics, I hated that they didn't show a single rings routine in the men's gymnastics team or all-around competition.  How do you leave out an entire apparatus?  Also, NBC had concocted a massive amount of coverage for John Orozco.  The second he fell off the horse, it was like he didn't exist any more.  They didn't reference him or show him again.  Pitiful.  They started to to the same thing to Aly Reisman in the women's all-around before she clawed back into the medal chase.  Even still, she didn't get a third the coverage of Gabby Douglas.  Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr Riker from Star Trek) tweeted that NBC was very jingoistic in their packaging of sports.  I agree.  If an American wasn't in an event or a final, it didn't happen.  That is annoying, because there are some great foreign athletes with stories just as moving, or more so, that the American reps.  The first female athletes from several Muslim countries?  That is huge.  But they weren't even acknowledged in the Opening Ceremony.  There are teams from countries in turmoil - Tunisia, Egypt, North Korea - what about what it takes for them to get to London?  I am always intrigued when there is an athlete from a non-traditional team in an event final.  What is their story? Good luck finding out on NBC.

There have obviously been some major issues, but some of them stem from things that I don't really know how ANYONE would figure them out.

TWITTER - This is one of those things.  I mentioned the 2000 Sydney Games.  That was the first Olympics that really had to deal with problem of the Internet.  NBC didn't have any clue how to address the fact that people could find out every result twelve hours before they aired.  This year, the problem is Twitter.  This is the first Olympics that had to deal with the obsession with instantaneous information.  The first day of competition, people everywhere were tweeting results.  You had athletes and fans in London, people watching the live feeds on NBCLive, sportscasters from around the world all putting results on their twitter accounts.  And no one was really prepared for that.  My wife and I both got burned independently of each other with a twitter update from someone we follow.  Honestly, I don't know if people would have been so angry with NBC if Twitter wasn't compounding the problem. It didn't take long before we realized we just had to avoid Twitter (and Facebook) on days that we wanted to not know results before the prime time showings.  It is awesome to see the comments from people actually over there.  But, at the same time, the spoilers have been very annoying.  Even today, when gymnastics spoilers were over, I had several swimming events ruined by people I never would have expected to say something.  

DUMB RULES -  Answer me this: Why is it that only two people from a country can compete in the gymnastics individual all-around finals?  No clue?  It isn't consistent, either.  There can be three representatives from a country in the track and field finals.  The US has swept events before.  So why is the rule two in some events and three in others?  It is one thing when you can only BRING two or three athletes in an event.  But why put a cap part way through a competition?  It was ridiculous that Jordyn Wieber wasn't allowed to compete in the all-around.  She finished fourth in the competition and sat home in the all-around.  The same thing happened to another American in an event final.  And I heard today that it happened in another sport.  There is no good reason.  Now, if that all got you irritated, wait until someone gets tossed on the "no mercy" false start rule in sprinting.

STILL HARD TO BEAT SWIMMING - For pure excitement and action, it hard to beat swimming. The races are usually short.  They have a lot going on.  And they are gorgeous on television.  With all the technological innovations, it has gotten even better.  We know who is in each lane.  We get camera angles that make it so exciting.  And the announcers are the best in any event, in my opinion.  The stories are good.  The hidden politics and rivalries are even fun.  And I love to see rising stars emerge that will be involved in several Olympics.  We saw Michael Phelps in Sydney as a precocious teenager.  This year, we met Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky - who will be back in Rio and wherever 2020 lands.  Very enjoyable sport.

PEOPLE NEED TO LIGHTEN UP -  This sound weird coming from a person who blogs and tweets and has a highly developed sense of snark.  But it is true.  One thing that is definitely true about America is that we are ultra-sensitive about anything.  If the events of the past week has shown us anything, it is that Americans can get all worked up about everything.  The thing we don't realize is that not every country in the world is that hyper-sensitive.  Not every country shares our beliefs, our views, or our paranoia.  And we also need to realize that not everything that is said and done is meant as an offense.  When a commercial with a monkey doing gymnastics airs right after Gabby Douglas wins the gold medal, it was not intended as a racist comment.  That commercial had run several times before.  It was part of a huge marketing campaign for NBC's new show Animal Practice.  There also was one of a dog swimming right after Michael Phelps missed the medal in his first race.  That wasn't a comment about him, either.  Gabby Douglas' hairdo isn't worth getting all worked up about, and neither is Serena Williams' hairdo.  When Lolo Jones tweets, wondering when the gun competitions are after the US lost the archery event in heartbreaking fashion, she is not saying she endorses gun violence.  She was saying that we are better at gun events - something that has been proven by our medal victories in them.  When a swimmer comments that Michael Phelps hasn't trained as hard this Olympics, it wasn't "calling him out" or minimizing his talents.  Phelps himself admitted as much.  If a Chinese swimmer puts up a ludicrously fast time, it does not automatically mean she is doping (as NBC went out of the way to claim they were not saying, but by claiming to not say it they were saying it).  And if an underwater camera accidentally catches one player pulling the suit down on another player in a water polo match, it is not the modern equivalent of the Janet Jackson halftime show.  I am a very conservative person.  But I also feel I am a reasonable person.  Let's work a little harder in the second week to lighten up a wee bit.

WHY THE OLYMPICS RULE - Lots of people wonder why the Olympics is so popular.  I have wondered that.  Some of it is the novelty of it.  We don't have to be invested in the process week in and week out like other sports.  We root for things based on our country, which just seems natural.  All the corporate ugliness that sullies so many sports seems to melt away.  Even mega-millionaires take the Olympics seriously.  But I think the real draw of the Olympics comes from the fact that MOST of the sports are very relatable.  Swimming?  I do that.  Running?  When someone with a weapon is chasing me, I do that.  Jumping, throwing stuff, picking things up.  I do those things.  It seems like those sports are the ones that are the most popular.  The simpler it is to put on the event, the more popular it seems to be.  Running is huge.  Swimming is mammoth.  Flipping around on a mat is easy to stage.  So it putting up a volleyball net and hoisting a basketball hoop.  Table tennis, badminton, tennis, soccer.  These are not foreign concepts.  You could argue that shooting guns and arrows, martial arts, boating, and horse riding are some of the older skills in the world.  We can all relate to these things.  Now, it may be true that I can't relate to the rifle events, where the people have Robocop-like attachments all over their body.  But the thought of shooting a gun is not that hard to grasp.  And I think that is what makes the Olympics so powerful, as well.  I can run (sort of).  So when I see someone running down the track so fast that they barely look human, I can really appreciate that.  I swim across our pool, kind of like a whale moving slowly along.  The fact that there are people that can swim 50 meters in 25 seconds is something I can grasp as being freaking ridiculous.  That feeling is worldwide.  I'm actually glad that they have gotten rid of some events, like baseball and softball.  The more accessible the event, the better chance it will rock out in the Olympics.