For Mikey

In which I post a song for your listening enjoyment, even though this is Not A Music Blog.

Today:  Excision & Datsik – Calypso (Original Mix)*

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Since, as previously noted, this is Not A Music Blog, I will not elaborate overlong on these tracks.  That said, you really should listen to this song if you enjoy music that makes you want to drive a Road – Warrior like deathmobile through the decaying, apocalyptic streets of a dark, rain-soaked metropolis, alternately pummeling zombies and stopping to crip walk.  Dirt McGirt.  There must be something in the water in the U.K., that shit like this just sounds normal to them.  Still, their dementia is our gain.  I can’t wait to hear this song in a sci-fi/action movie, seriously.  Peace.

*A brief aside – I have many mp3’s tagged like this – SongName (Original Mix).  I mean, wouldn’t it be assumed that a song is the ‘original mix’ if not otherwise noted?  I think remix culture may have gone too far.  Coming soon – artists releasing remixes of songs without ever releasing the originals.  At what point is a remix simply a new track that samples some short snippets of another track?  Philosophical dillemas of the laptop dj era.

Tacos!

Yes, I’m categorizing this post as both NBA & Vittles just so I can show you this video of D.J. Mbenga.

TACOS!! Honestly, why D.J., already something of a human victory cigar for the Lakers (at least when Bynum and Gasol are healthy), is not involved in some sort of jumbotron schtick where can join Staples Center patrons in chanting “WE WANT TACOS!” during a Lakers win, is beyond me.

Perhaps it is because D.J. knows that eating said free tacos would be a travesty.  The only situations in which anyone should eat Jack in the Box Tacos generally occur after 2 am, and involve dangerous amounts of illegal substance abuse.  Instead, D.J.’s cry of “TA-COS!” strikes me as an entreaty, a desperate request, for someone to find a better taco, a taco worthy of being associated with the Los Angeles Lakers, a taco so good, that it can be eaten both in victory and in defeat.

To paraphrase Dean Wormer, the time has come for someone to put their shitty taco down, and that taco is me.

I am thus going to make it my Quixotic quest to find the best damn taco in all of L.A., from Venice Beach to Boyle Heights, down to El Segundo and up to Altadena.

Of course, how do we define what the “best” taco is?  After all, as the slavering hordes at the Staples Center show, people will eat pretty much anything resembling a taco.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, as delicious as gourmet dining may be, I’m not looking for a Kobe Beef Braised in Foie Gras-Red Wine Reduction In Truffle-Cream Garnished with Seared Ahi Slivers on an Organic Polenta Tortilla-Style Discus.  I’m looking for a down-home, quick and delicious taco, the kind where you can eat 6 of them and, over the groaning protests of your digestive system, cry out for another order, and actually afford to get it.  In order to bring some scientific rigor to this process, I thus proudly present the Dan Siegal Ideal Taco Rubric:

Tacos are graded on a 1-10 scale in each of the following five categories, with a final score being calculated based on a top-secret formula (the secret is that I am just assigned all of these numbers).

1.  Authenticity:

Being as I am a pretty hardcore gringo, I’m not the authoritative judge on these matters, but I do speak Spanish and know many Mexicans.  Basically – how close to a traditional taco – tortilla and meat – does this specific taco come?  How many fucked-up types of cow meat are there to order?  Do I feel slightly afraid for my personage when I eat the taco?  The number of white people seen dining at a taco spot also impacts this score.

2.  Meat

How good is the meat, in and of itself?  Is the carnitas savory, crispy and succulent at the same time?  Is the carne asada tender and flavorful?  Or does it resemble the gray droppings of some unknown sewer-dwelling creature?

3.  Tortillas

An underrated part of the taco.  If they suck, your taco experience is going to suffer, not matter what else is going on up in that bitch.

4.  Salsa/Garnishes

Don’t serve me a taco without some onion, cilantro, salsa roja, and lime, please.

5.  Price

This has a direct correlation to how many of your tacos I can eat, and thus is pretty fucking important.

The current reigning taco place in my heart is Lilly’s Tacos, in downtown Santa Barbara, and my inability to go there is a source of inspiration for this endeavor.  After a delicious cow cheek taco from Lilly’s, the same ol’ meat-in-tortilla just won’t suffice.

If this sounds like something you could be interested in, please leave the names of any taco places I should try in the comments.  If you wish to join me on a taco expedition, we can make that happen.  If you don’t like tacos, get the fuck out of here and never come back.

Crazy Like A Fox: Discussing Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, and My Mom

An Aside on #37 For the Los Angeles Lakers:

By the time Ron Artest signed with the Lakers this summer, his label as an “enigmatic” or, less kindly “unstable” personality had already crystallized into cliche thanks to many well publicized incidents (exhibits A, B, C, et. al.).  And, it must be said, Ron didn’t exactly try to play down his eccentricities – the whole Michael Jackson Saga*, culminating with Ron choosing his jersey number (37) to pay tribute to the number of weeks (37… duh) Jackson’s “Thriller” spent at the top of the charts, was only one example held up by the national sports media (i.e., espn.com, foxsports.com and other such pundits) of why the Lakers had erred in “trading” Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest.  Marc Stein, of the Espn.com “Power Rankings” repeatedly asserted the “Artest as distraction” meme, claiming Ron-Ron’s volatile way would disrupt the delicate chemistry of the Lakers.

*Ahem.  Note:  Ron says ni*** like 60 times in this one, but it’s clearly a term of affection.  Still, probably NSFW.  Though you really shouldn’t be watching or listening to Ron Artest on YouTube at work anyways, regardless of his word choice.

Well, with 10% of the season in the books, and the Lakers sitting at 6-1 despite missing their 2nd best player for all seven games, and their 3rd or 4th best player for the last two, the great Ron-Ron chemistry experiment seems to be going pretty well.  What is interesting, however, is Ron appears to be paying his dividends precisely in the area where he was supposed to be a liability: our team chemistry and effort.

Two Very Tall Millionaires From Different Countries: Neither Of Them Is Playing Basketball Right Now

Neither of these two is playing basketball now. Instead: rehabbing respective injuries by lifting huge bags of their endless supply of cash.

On the court, there is no doubt Ron has looked a bit rusty – or maybe we (Laker fans) simply perceive the differences in his game, and his deficiencies compared to Ariza, as “rust.”  After all, I doubt a 30 year old tank of a man is going to get any better at finishing around the hoop in traffic – I miss the sheer ease, the effortless manner in which Ariza would soar to the hoop, contorting his body for a emphatic slam or acrobatic layup.  Ron, I am sad to say, is significantly more ground-bound – as several blown layups, and one serious rejection of a dunk attempt – courtesy of the rim – have shown.  Even when he does dunk, there is visible effort and strain, an element of unease, where it appears likely Ron might lose a finger or strain an arm.  And we certainly won’t be asking Ron to guard Tony Parker, like we would Ariza – but that is the point of this post – they are different players, and as much as we want to view each in contrast of the other (see: reporters asking Artest how he felt when Ariza dropped 33 points the other night), to do so would be to shortchange the both of them.  Lakers fans, especially, would do well to put on the blinders and ignore Ariza’s boxscores, because as tantalizing as hypothetical situations always are, they have even less of a bearing on LA’s chances of taking home the L.O.B. this year than Adam Morrison.

Instead, what sticks out from Ron’s contibutions to the young Lakers season is not his spot up shooting (not bad, and getting better), his passing (surprisingly good), his on-ball defense (typically excellent), but that very air of straining, pressing.  In a word: determination.  Now, Ariza was certainly a “hustle player,” but that same stoicism and fluidity that made his forays to the hoop so exciting also robbed his game of urgency – even when Trevor was making a huge play, he looked casual.  Now, this can be a good trait, e.g. Tim Duncan, but Duncan is assured of asserting his philosophy, his style, on the rest of his squad, by nature of his being the Pack Leader, the biggest baddest wolf on his team.  Ariza, and Artest, have no such luxury on the Lakers.  Even aside of one Mr. Big Bad Mamba himself (and that is no small aside), The Spaniard and Young Money (a.k.a. Drew) are more essential components from a pure X’s and O’s perspective.  Not to mention the ultimate Alpha Male: the Slovenian Jordan, Mr. Sasharapova….   pause.  Given this arrangement, Ariza was something of a stealth ninja – making plays in the cut, the gifted and willing recipient of opportunities created by the Lakers’ big dogs.  Artest, in contrast, inspires his teammates to make more opportunities for the whole team, through sheer effort, and what an effort it has been so far.

I knew that Ron’s determination was something special when my mom** looked up from the LA Times crossword puzzle with a few minutes left in the anticipated Mbenga – Young Gasol tilt of last week, and remarked, “Wow!  I really like that Artest.  He just tries so hard!”  This was of course answered with my dad and I explaining that Ron was talented, but crazy, liable to beat your ass, etc., but all my mom would say was, “Well, I don’t know about that, but just look at him!  He’s just working so hard out there!  I think that’s what this team needs.”

**one of the gifts of moving home post-college is getting to see my mom try to make sense of all of the sporting events preempting dancing with the stars and desperate housewives on our tv.

Wow.  Check, and Mate.  I had just been shutdown by my mom – and she was right, I realized as I watched the game unfold.  For every blown layup or questionable dribble (of which there were pleasantly few), there was Ron up in Rudy Gay’s grill on the permiter, slamming into Zach Randolph in the post, rolling over Kyle Lowry for a loose ball, hustling into position to can a 3, bull-rushing the hoop for two freethrows, and just generally giving off the vibe of a man possessed.  Although this game provided Ron’s best (or 2nd best) boxscore of the season, it also highlighted his-non-stat-line contributions.  In our first game ever starting D.J. Mbenga, hopefully one of few, Ron made an almost literal impression on the game, a physical stamping of his effort and drive onto the proceedings.  Of course, if Ron really were inspiring his teammates to defend harder, make sharper cuts, get after the ball with his same pitbull mentality, then it would show up in the +/- stats, right?  Plus/Minus, for those unfamiliar, is an NBA stat, rapidly growing in popularity and prevalence, that attempts to measure a player’s overall impact on offense and defense by measuring the difference in their team’s points scored and points allowed when they are on or off the court.  This is a simplification of course, and there’s all sorts of algorithmic figurings going on to try and isolate the impact of one player from the 5-man unit and whatnot, but essentially, if you’re a player who helps his team win on both sides of the floor, you’ll have a good plus/minus score.

Well, Ron Artest has a GREAT plus/minus score.  Best on the Lakers, in fact, according to both the official NBA +/- score and the preeminent independent NBA analysis site, 82games.  By the NBA’s rankings, in fact, Ron has had double the impact of the 2nd best player (guess who? rhymes with Sobe Giant).

Official NBA +/- Ratings For the Lakers

82 Games +/- Ratings For the Lakers

I found it very gratifying to see the numbers confirm what I had already seen with my eyes: when Ron is on the floor, the Lakers defend harder, get after the ball more, and are more likely to run the offense inside-out.  Now, +/- is context dependent, and clearly Ron owes a lot of his success TO #24, and for that reason +/- isn’t the stat for saying who is better than who – but rather for measuring a player’s importance to, and effectiveness within his team.  And suffice to say, in this young season, Ron has shown that his bulldog determination may end up being the championship ingredient the Lakers need to get past a retooled Orlando, rejuvenated Boston, or the resplendent Lebron (is there someone else important on the Cavs? yeah, I didn’t think so either).  And even my mom can see that.

Up next:  Pondering the sources of the Suns’ rejuvenation.

My Night With Marquaveous Jackson

A Brief Aside on Race

Recently, while working as a Production Assistant (read: generalized grunt) on a low-budget commercial for online poker website “UB.com,” which is apparently quite popular in Puerto Rico, I was given the job of taking one of our “actors” to the hospital.  I saw “actor,” because, due to said budgetary restrictions, this football-themed spot was using actual football players to play a football team – in this case, Valencia’s College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita’s preeminent community college since 1969, who knew?) varsity football squad, appearing as themselves as far as I could tell.  This stood in stark contrast to what I saw while working on a Jordan Brand spot in July, where the “high school football team” you see was composed of primarily 25-29 year old actors (although many were former small college players now trying to act, some were just large actors. ).

ANYWAYS, situation thus established, it was around 11pm when I was called on walkie-talkie, and told that I would have to drive Marquaveous to the nearby hospital after his finger had gotten caught between helmets on a tackle.  His finger was cut, not that bad, but for obvious (liability) reasons, Marquaveous had to go to a hospital to see if he needed stitches, and I had to take him there and fill out the worker’s compensation info for the billing.  This was not as easy as it seems, due mostly to the difficulty of trying to remember how to spell Marquaveous each time you received a form.  Marquaveous is a 18 (maybe 19 by now) year old defensive end, from around Clearwater Florida (if I remember correctly), and we got to know each other pretty well in the 2 hours we waited for him to be seen by a doctor.

When the doctor finally arrived, he sized up the two of us in the quick and self-assured manner of the best ER doctors in cable television dramas.  It was clear he had made up his mind about something, but I would be taken aback when he revealed his diagnosis.

Doctor:  “Hi, [looks down at clipboard, makes the face of someone seeing a dog trying to have sex with a cat] Mar..qu..Marquave..ous.”

Marquaveous: [3/4 asleep] “hello”

Firm Hand Shake.

Doctor: [whips around to me]”So, what happened here?  Is he ok?  Is he in a, like a group home, foster home, or something?  What’d he do?”

WOAH.

Now, it was 1 am, this is a busy man, and I’m sure he’s seen plenty of situations to form that assumption, but I instantly just felt distaste and disgust.  It was clear that, despite my own appearance (22, scruffy, jeans and a hoodie, an ensemble shared by M.) the Doctor had seen a White Man and a Black Youth and instantly assumed that: 1.  I was the authority in the situation.  Why the hell are you asking me what happened to M.’s hand?  He can speak for himself.

2.  Marquaveous had injured himself in some sort of misconduct or illegal behavior.  Despite M. being a super nice guy, which the Doctor of course could not know, he looked just like any 18 year old I ever met at UCSB in demeanor and appearance, with the large exception being his blackness.

I was delighted to correct the Doctor, in a stunned tone, that, no, Marquaveous was playing football in a commercial when he hurt his hand.  After that, the Doctor shifted gears, and dealt with M.  directly and completely normally, and so the incident faded from memory at first.  That said, upon further reflection, I just realized how different an experience it must be as a black American, even as many of us pat ourselves on the back for electing Obama.  I’m not calling the Doctor racist, or even bigoted – he honestly did nothing untoward, but he did show how deeply engrained those assumptions are in our society.  For me, I realized how sheltered I had been to race issues at UCSB, due primarily to the lack of diversity at the school (and within my group of friends), and I gained some small understanding of why, say, a Jeremiah Wright is seen as legitimate in the black community.  When society is constantly assuming the worst of you, resentment is bound to grow.  Who really ever wants to go to a party they weren’t invited to?

Inauguration

Given that I now have a desk job, and inspired by the prolific and proficient blogging by friend David Rabie @ his truly fantastic Shanghai Blog I have decided to take up the mantle of blogging once more.  If you enjoy reading long-winded, rambling, but funny and occasionally insightful takes on food, the NBA, and (occasionally) politics, then you are probably me, and thus are already reading this blog.  There is, however, the small chance that you are NOT me, and yet maintain some perverse desire to know MORE of what I think (most people I encounter kindly suggest I verbalize LESS of my thoughts, but perhaps this is a case of the medium overtaking the message), and in that case, this blog will be a treasure trove for you.  Take my wisdom, drink it in.  Oh yes.

QUESTS FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE:

1.  Obtain and analyze the finest taco available in the Los Angeles region.

2.  Obtain and analyze my favorite Laker.  This may have to be done by remote, owing to certain laws regarding “trespassing” and “harassment.”

3.  Try and discover why separation of Church and State seem not to apply to the concept of same-sex marriage.  Backup plan: tilt at windmills.

If I don’t update this blog daily, you have my permission to throw things.

PEACE.