I’d ask what Pat Robertson’s take is on the earthquake in Chile, except that it would sound like I’m making a really insensitive joke and I have no intention of doing that, as this situation is not one bit funny.  So I’ll leave Robertson to make the an ass of himself — as he will undoubtedly do.

While we’re (not) waiting, please see this link to find out how you can help:  Chile

And don’t forget Haiti

And I’m adding a link to this article and its linked poll only because I can’t resist.

Everything old is new again…

…at least, that seems to be true in elite womens’ figure skating.

I’m in the same general age group as Dorothy Hamill.  I guess that’s why this jumped out at me: Olympic medalists Yu-na Kim (age 19) and Joannie Rochette (age 24 and competing under extremely tragic and trying circumstances) are being lauded for their “maturity” and “sophistication” while the younger Marai Nagasu, who finished in 4th, is noted for her potential only.  Currently her skating lacks refinement and emotional depth because she is, at age 16, just too young.

I remember a similar comment being made about a very young skater in the 1976 Olympics, where 19-year-old Dorothy Hamill had won the gold.  As I just mentioned, 34 years later, the same is being said about Nagasu.  This is remarkable.

Why?  Because for many of the the years in between, ladies’ skaters over the age of 18 were considered “old.”  Nobody ever said anything about immaturity when Oksana Baiul, Tara Lipinski, and Sarah Hughes won gold medals for their jumps at the Olympics.  In fact, back in those days everyone was quite busy discussing how elderly the true phenom Michelle Kwan was (actually she is, I believe, just a little bit older than Lipinski).

The howling fact was that Lipinski and Hughes weren’t very good skaters.  They weren’t just immature — goodness knows that very young skaters had won Olympic gold before — they were unskilled.  That was so obvious that it was a common topic of discussion in the local skating community; in fact, I remember overhearing a coach telling one of her promising youngsters, just after Hughes had won gold, “She (Hughes) is not a very good skater, is she?  So you see, you have to work on all parts of your skating, not just the jumps.”

That’s how far skating had fallen as of 2002.  This was just after the pair controversy erupted when two teams presented almost evenly-matched programs in the 2002 Olympics, but one was awarded gold and the other silver, much to the loud displeasure of the crowd, and media, the skaters, and it seemed just about everyone else in the world.  The clamor was so loud that the silver medal was discarded and two golds were awarded.  This invalidated the ancient 6.0 scoring system, which had finally suffered a complete meltdown at the hands of an idiot judge, and if she is to be believed, some Russian spies who were threatening to kill her.  It was this bald-faced corruption that finally forced change on the world of figure skating.

As previously mentioned, discontent with the state of skating, (mainly with the fact that in 2 of the 3 disciplines, the jumps were taking over) had been simmering locally for years.  It finally bubbled to the surface and the shortcomings of the mini-kid ladies’ Olympic champions were at last being discussed out loud.  At the time a lot of the blame was being placed on training, with many people believing that figure skating had begun its decline a decade before, when school figures were taken out of the competitive arena.  That has since turned out not to be true, although it is true that because of having to practice figures, skaters of long ago could routinely manage footwork maneuvers that many skaters of today probably don’t know and possibly couldn’t even do very well if at all.  After all, with the pressure of having to master triple and quad jumps, today’s skaters can’t afford to devote time to the minutiae of school figures.  Instead, they skate in broad strokes.

The new scoring system (heavily flawed as it may be) is what forced modern skaters to become a bit more accomplished in their overall skating in spite of the jumping pressures.  It did that by taking a tiny bit of the spotlight off the jumps — not much, enough to affect who gets a gold medal and who has to be happy with a silver.  These days, the silver seems to go to those who jump more than skate.

As I discussed a few days ago, not everyone has kept up with the changes; Evgeni Plushenko apparently failed to notice that things were slipping away from him even as the ancient (20 year old) Shizuka Arakawa won the ladies’ gold medal in the 2006 Olympics and he won the men’s.  Not that Arakawa couldn’t jump, because she definitely could.  But she was not a jumper to the exclusion of everything else.  She had that maturity and sophistication that is suddenly so valued once again these days.

And now comes Kim, who is an equally elderly 19.  But nobody has said anything about her being old.  Nobody has said anything about the 16 year old Nagasu possibly upsetting the coronation with the iron nerves of youth and a triple-triple combination.  Heck, Mao Asada couldn’t even do it with 3 triple axels.

As of right now, prime time for Olympic-eligible figure skaters is back in the old-fashioned age range: late teens to early twenties for women; early to mid-twenties for men.

As I’ve been yammering for days now, this is inconvenient news for a skater like Plushenko, who is a throwback to the bad old days.  But to me it’s refreshing.  Figure skating has now given back something for kids to strive for, instead of lauding the last 5 minutes of their prepubescent lives (in the ladies’ field) allowing them to make amazing if technically flawed jumps, or the sheer strength of youth aiding in producing 4 aerial revolutions (in the men’s field).

Long live figure skating if this continues to be the case.  It could not continue the other way.

Wheels: Off

Once again it seems like the last of the wheels on the Sarah Palin caravan should be just about to fall off.  Every week lately seems to be a bad one for her, and in the past week alone, first there was Eargate and now this: Sarah Palin’s attack-dog, Meg Stapleton, has bailed off the careening bus.

Of course, the Stapleton part has been wrapped up in a pretty “retiring to be a full-time mom” package.  But regarding Eargate, which is the work of one of those intrepid Alaskan bloggers, there has apparently been silence.

What’s Eargate?  It’s the stepchild of Babygate.  What’s Babygate?  Sit down, this is going to be a long story.  It’s also one I’ve been trying to avoid repeating because (1) it isn’t proven although it definitely seems more likely to be true than what’s been presented as the truth, and (2) several Alaskan bloggers have been working on this story for a long time now, and although I give them all the credit in the world for their hard work at revealing a story that must be told (as this person they are investigating is trying hard to present herself as a combination perky paragon of personal perfection and soap opera queen, as if that were a qualification to be President), it is their story and not mine.  My only exclusive story about Sarah Palin is that I could smell something through the TV screen the first time I saw her, and was not surprised when a friend of mine with relatives in Alaska informed me that Ms. Palin was in fact not especially popular up there.

Anyway, back to the point…what are Babygate and Eargate?

Babygate — When most of us were introduced to Sarah Palin in the fall of 2008, we learned that earlier that year she had bravely and selflessly given birth to a Down Syndrome child.  It was lost on many that she had named that child after his condition (Trisomy G, which the Palins turned into “Trig”), which is rather cruel and unusual to start with, as if he were forever to be defined by his condition instead of his possibilities.

But then people started comparing pictures and time-lines, not to mention the “wild ride” birth story of Trig. Palin has alternately claimed that she flew across half the country and then some when she was (1) in the late stages of a high-risk pregnancy, and (2) prematurely in labor with a special-needs infant — and that she did not fly across the country while in labor (she has never denied flying while in the late stages of a high-risk pregnancy with a baby who would be in need of special care at birth).  Apparently the pictures show pretty conclusive evidence that she did not look convincingly pregnant at any time during 2008.   There’s more to the story, but I’ll leave it up to you to search the archives of the Alaska blogs (see the link in the second paragraph for a blog with links to nearly all of them, and see the sidebar on this page with links to Palingates and Immoral Minority), and Google.  There’s plenty of information out there.

And so this brings us to the more recent development: Eargate.

Huh? you say.  Well at first, so did I.  But it’s all right there, in pictures: Sarah’s little Trig is not just one baby, but at least two.  Either that, or he’s had some pretty serious plastic surgery.  You see, one of the Trig babies has perfect ears; the other has a very noticeable deformity.

Again, I won’t go into it extensively — read the blogs — but the upshot of these “gates” and many others is that if Sarah Palin didn’t have this weird, trance-like hold on enough people to shield her from reality, reality would have collapsed in on her months ago, leaving her no chance to whine that people were being mean to Trig because Sarah is embarrassed that he is — in her estimation — a “retard.”  In fact when an actress who is actually Down Syndrome-afflicted had the audacity to question Sarah’s handling of Trig, Palin’s well-trained zombie army called that actress a “bitch” and said she was being controlled by someone else.  Now, I ask you…who are the people calling Trig a retard?  Obviously they are not the ones Sarah wants you to think they are.  They are Rush Limbaugh and Sarah herself, as well as those poor blinkered darlings she has under her very Wizard-of-Oz-like spell.

Anyway, something else has now happened: tight on the heels of Eargate, Palin’s mouthpiece Meg Stapleton all of a sudden decided to go off and be a proper Christian full-time stay-at-home mom.  Just like that.  The timing is more than suspicious, but of course I’m sure we’re supposed to think that it is nothing more than coincidence instead of an explosion caused by one exposed lie too many.  Another wheel flying off, if you will.

There have been lot of sudden events like that in the Palin saga that, like I said, should have finished her off in the public eye, and lately they seem to be coming in bucket-loads week after week.  Many of them have been Palin’s own doing, such as her silly speeches and wonky interviews.  Well, come to think of it, all of them have been her doing.

But this latest news and the accompanying silence from the Palin camp gives me new hope that maybe, just maybe, this professional distraction is finally finished, and we can discard her silly self and move on to the real, very serious problems in this country.

Again, I’m grasping at anything I can.  But it gives me hope.

A Lesson in Irony

By ROBIN HINDERY, Associated Press Writer Robin Hindery, Associated Press Writer Tue Feb 23, 9:44 pm ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California lawmakers grilled Anthem Blue Cross executives on Tuesday about their plan to boost individual insurance premiums by as much as 39 percent, only to hear them blame the economy and a broken health care system.

Forget about the punchline because it’s already right there.  You don’t even have to read that paragraph twice to recognize the revolving-door logic, health insurance style: “(We are the problem and) we have to raise premiums because of the problem.”

You can read the full text here.  Feel free to send this article to anyone you know who is against health insurance reform.  Unless they are really stupid, they may just begin to comprehend that there is a huge problem here that we can’t trust the insurance companies to solve because they themselves are a big part of it.

In other words, if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same result.

Taking a short break

This blog has only one writer — me — and inevitably interest and energy ebbs and flows.  Right now is an “ebb,” but be assured I’ll be back and as vicious as ever before you can say “flow.”

For once things went right (2/24/10 update)

I admit it: I’m a huge sucker for figure skating.   And so I watched the Olympic men’s long program on television last night, even though I swore off the Olympics a long time ago.  Worse, I’ll probably watch ice dancing tonight! (Update: I did; see the following paragraphs.)

Mainly I watched because one of the dinosaurs had emerged: Evgeni Plushenko.  Not only had this fossil emerged, but it was talking trash, something about the quad being “the future of men’s figure skating.”

I no longer mind figure skaters not having to make the agonizing and artificial choice between amateur status (staying “Olympic eligible”) or going pro and being committed to spending the rest of their skating lives draped in feather boas and illusion fabric, sleep-skating to bad covers of the latest sappy pop songs.  The Chinese pair team Shen and Zhao are a fine example of a worthwhile emergence from retirement; they were truly the class of the pairs field in this year’s Olympics.  But too often that is not the case.  Such is as it was with Plushenko.

A bit of history before we continue:

Plushenko is not, I believe, that much older than the newly-crowned Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.  Maybe 3 years, maybe 5.  But in singles (not skating with a partner) figure skating, that is sometimes enough to indicate that an era has gone by.  And indeed it has.

Plushenko’s era was not long ago; it was the era in which judges could easily prop up the scores of skaters they wanted to see win.  It is not so easy anymore, even though it still happens too often.

But prior to 2004, and for a few years after during the adjustment period from the old 6.0 system, a skater could indeed win a competition on the strength of one jump.  In women’s skating, it was the triple-triple combination (witness the success of Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes, neither of whom could actually skate very well — but both of whom could land triple-triples in their sleep, and ended up winning Olympic gold medals as a result). Unfortunately for the women, that has not changed; all that has changed is that we will never again see a 14 year old even come close to becoming a World or Olympic champion in the last 5 minutes before puberty hits and puts her career on the skids — and that’s only because of a new age requirement that was born after one too many mini-kid skating stars suffered a career ending hip injury long before her 20th birthday.

In men’s skating, the big thing was the quad.  Some skaters could skate only about as gracefully as gorillas, but it did not matter because they could land quads all over the ice.  The U.S. had only one skater like this (Tim Goebel); Canada had one (Elvis Stojko); Russia had Evgeni Plushenko and a few others, including the long-forgotten Alexei Yagudin, who was the one who truly revolutionized men’s skating because he not only had quads but he could really, really skate between the quads.  His footwork has only been recently equaled by none other than the one Plushenko is today whining about — Evan Lysacek.  Alas, Yagudin’s career quickly collapsed under the weight of nagging injuries and reportedly lax training habits.

There were some from Europe and some from Southeast Asia, but none were as powerful year after year as Goebel, Stojko and Plushenko, and during the reign of the quad a lot of careers ended in jump-induced injury (which is still happening on the women’s side).

For a few years, it was enough.  But then in 2002 there was the big controversy in pair skating, where 2 couples won the gold medal.  The judges had initially given the Russians gold and the Canadians silver.  Everyone should have been happy even though the programs were clearly pretty well tied; it had long been accepted that Russians would win the pairs gold because they always did and everyone knew that.

But not this time.  The audience booed and the Canadians protested. Scandal ensued.  The IOC threatened to remove figure skating from the Winter Olympics (ha ha ha).   A judging controversy erupted.  Spying and death threats were alleged.  Headlines blared all across the globe.  Two gold medals were awarded and the silver went into the wastebasket.

Meantime, in the women’s competition, Irina Slutskaya (another Russian) went all dramatic about a “North American conspiracy” (or maybe that was the pair team that did that; memory fails) after she won only silver behind the very questionable but successful triple-jumper Sarah Hughes, with the famous, but Olympic gold medal-less Michelle Kwan landing flat on her haunches in third.  When that wasn’t enough to change the outcome, Slutskaya flew into a right hissy-fit about Kwan’s choice of music for an exhibition (non-competitive) program: Fields of Gold.  Slutskaya apparently felt threatened by the mention of the word “gold,” never mind that the song is about a dying girl’s last words to her lover.  (Note: the “Fields of Gold” failed controversy may actually have happened at Worlds…again, there’s been so much silly drama that memory fails.)

Anyway, after it all was over, the COP (Code of Points) replaced the obviously corrupt and easily manipulated old 6.0 system.  Trouble is, to this day no one can understand the damn thing; it literally drowns you in numbers.  However, probably because it’s so incredibly complicated, it’s somewhat harder to manipulate.

Plushenko got past it once, in the 2006 Olympics, and sailed to the gold medal in spite of skating like an anemic gorilla — which is something he always did.  Outside of his jumps, which were spectacular at the time, this guy actually had very little to offer in terms of skating.  He did and still does have a cool haircut, and he is a kiss-blowing ham, which apparently goes over big in Russia where he has the status of a rock star (and is also a politician).  But aside from the jumps, the rest of his programs tended to look like he was having some sort of fit.

Still do.  But it’s no matter.  He’s a Russian skater, and there’s drama, drama everywhere.  Yesterday I saw on his website a ‘shopped photo of him with a platinum medal around his neck.  No, there is no such thing, just as there is no longer an Olympic gold medal for landing one jump.

And that is the problem: while he was retired from figure skating, he apparently failed to keep up with the fact that the skating world that he had reigned over was passing from sight.  The quad was proven to be a drain in men’s skating; the COP hardly ignored it, but rewarded the overall accomplishment of a skater’s program rather than awarding a medal for one jump.  And in the end, although Plushenko didn’t do badly at this Olympics (they did manage to prop him up to the extent of a silver medal), his quad wasn’t enough to cover the fact that the rest of his skating — even his jumping nowadays — sucks.  In fact, it wasn’t in the component score  — the “artistry” that Plushenko sneers at — where Plushenko lost to Lysacek, but in technical execution (“Grade of Execution” or GOE in scoring lingo).  That is to say that Lysacek out-jumped Plushenko even without a quad.  In other words, Plushenko’s skating sucked just enough that the judges couldn’t even give him the gold by inflating his component (“artistic”) score.

Plushenko still wasn’t getting it as of this morning and is apparently complaining bitterly about Lysacek being an “ice dancer” rather than a men’s skater.  (Speaking of ice dancing, the Russian team is now whining that they deserved the gold because, you know, they have art.  Not sure what that means, but it may be something about insulting Aboriginal natives and tossing the female member of the team around by ropes attached to her costume.)

I accuse Plushenko of being a one-trick pony, and not a very good one at that.  Clearly his crystal ball is reading retro.  So where does that get us?  Nowhere, except to prove that sometimes one comeback is one too many.  He kind of reminds me of Norma Desmond.

Anyway, this competition showed me that there has been some marginal improvement in figure skating since I last looked, and that’s because someone won the men’s competition without a quad over a formerly perennially over-marked fossil with nothing more to offer than the sloppy remnants of a quad and a big mouth.

However, I have no doubt that this improvement has still not carried over to the women’s side, where the triple-triple combo still reigns.  Figure skating still has a long way to go.

And so do the Olympics, but I already covered that in another post.

(2/25/10 update: the women’s competition is now complete, and in a perfect world the results would make it even harder for Plushenko to continue to pursue his goofy assault on reason.  Once again — and this time, I admit, much to my surprise — the total package won out over a jump; in this case Yu-na Kim’s all-around shining excellence was given preference over Mao Asada’s triple-axel assault.  Mind you the triple axel, along with the triple-triple combination, has long been the holy grail in womens’ figure skating just as the quad jump has been in men’s.  But now all of a sudden, it is apparently not quite enough for gold.  I’ll wager that this fact will prove too inconvenient for Plushenko to notice.)

Note to Bristol Palin:

Why isn’t Rush Limbaugh a heartless jerk, darling?  Or are there two different definitions of the word “satire?”  Or maybe the meaning changes depending on who you’re talking about?  Or maybe it’s just what they’re saying?

If that’s the case, you should know that actually Rahm Emmanuel didn’t call anyone a “retard” but Rush Limbaugh did, and no one on “Family Guy” said anything about “retard.”  Also, “Family Guy” (as much as I actually hate that show), is actually satire, darling — that’s why the show exists.  I wasn’t aware that the same was true of Limbaugh.  I thought he was just an asshole.  Is there a special definition of the word “satire” that applies only to Rush Limbaugh?  Must be.  Ask your mom; she’s the one who came up with that one.

I also fail to understand how depicting an assertive Down Syndrome-affected young woman in a dating situation has anything to do with little Trig.  At all.  No matter how far you try to stretch those two ends, dear, they don’t meet — not even with the goofy “my mom is the former governor of Alaska” comment thrown in.  Come to think of it, I have no doubt that the remark was lost on a large number of people who watched that show.  Fact is that a lot of people out here in the real world don’t know about Trig, and if they did, they’d agree that being afflicted with Down Syndrome is not a thing of shame.

In other words, stop calling Trig a “retard” because that’s what you folks are in effect doing to your own relative.

That’s all I have to say except for this: enjoy your Stupid of the Day Award, cutie.  And do fire your ghostwriter.

Recommended further reading: Palinoscopy and Palingates