Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Five Greatest Fictitious Boxing Matches of All-Time!

A tribute to the most amazing slugfests ever waged by wholly made-up people.

After half a decade of delays, the two best boxers of our generation will finally square off next week. No doubt a match-up that will shatter Pay-Per-View buyrates (thanks in no small part to the mind-numbing $99 ordering fee), Mayweather vs. Pacquiao has all the makings of a Sweet Science classic. If things go right, it very well could be the most important fight since Ali vs. Frazier, potentially kicking off a renewed national interest in the sport -- which, believe it or not, was once more popular than football, basketball and every form of auto racing you can think of combined.

Then again, it could be an absolute debacle and yet another shameful black eye to the sport's reputation, like the infamous second Tyson and Holyfield tilt and, to a much, much lesser extent, the hilarious Money vs. Ortiz kneeslapper from 2011 (a bout, it is worth noting, that remains more famous today for Larry Merchant's post-fight awesomeness than the match itself.)

Alas, whether the fight is every bit as awesome as Hagler/Hearns or Corrales/Castillo I or just a big, fat, stankin' shit fest, it will at least answer a question pugilism fans have been debating since George W.'s second term of office. Yeah, some are already bitching and bellyaching about how the fight would've turned out had the two fought in their alleged "primes," but frankly, we ought to be thanking our lucky stars we're even getting the bout at all. Unlike with MMA "dream match-ups" like Fedor vs. Brock Lesnar or Anderson Silva vs. GSP, we'll never have to wonder "what could've been" after May 2.

With the media limelight firmly focused on boxing for the first time in what seems like ages, that got me thinking about some of the other in-ring classics we've had over the years -- those being, the super-memorable boxing bouts featuring people who don't really exist. Who among us could ever forget Charlie Chaplin's iconic Tramp getting the shit mercilessly beat out of him in "City Lights," or Chuck Bronson's bare-knuckle slobberknobber against Nick Dimitri at the end of "Hard Times," or the exploits of Martel "Too Sweet" Gordone as a prize fighter wrongly imprisoned for murder three separate times across three separate movies, including one where he's mentored by Mr. T and another where he's trained by a subterranean crack-smoking midget rapist?

As such, I've decided to peruse through the wide, world of fictitious film and television pugilism to pluck out what I consider the five greatest make-believe boxing bouts of all time. Some are legitimately riveting facsimiles of actual boxing contests, while others are rather hilarious (if not scornful) parodies of what the industry of boxing has become. The only real requirement here is that the fights themselves have to at least somewhat abide by the normal rules of boxing, so while unsanctioned street fist fights are eligible, I disqualified anything that included any sort of shenanigans that wouldn't be allowed in a "real" bout -- so that means nothing with kicking, choke holds, body slams or use of weaponry makes the countdown. And with those caveats cleared out of our way, who among us are ready to motherfucking rumble?

Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed I
Rocky (1976) - Philadelphia, Penn.

Well, it would be pretty hard to talk about great fictitious boxing matches without talking about the greatest fictitious boxer of all-time, who incidentally, also made up one-half of the greatest fictitious fights in the history of cinema. 

Quite possibly my favorite movie ever, "Rocky" is actually kinda-sorta-but-not-really based on the real-life story of Chuck Wepner, a no-name boxer who got the chance of a lifetime against then-world champ Muhammad Ali and came *this* close to dropping him, before ultimately getting finished in the last round. The concluding fight scene in "Rocky" doesn't necessarily follow that match all that faithfully, but it nonetheless does a pretty good job of dramatizing the bout.

At just barely 10 minutes in length, the first cinematic Apollo Creed/Robert "Rocky" Balboa showdown is, to this day, the most beautifully scripted boxing scene in movie history. Yeah, it's not exactly the most realistic boxing ever portrayed on the screen (it's more inspired by Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots than Roberto Duran, apparently) but compared to the absolute bullshit excuse for pugilism we got in "Raging Bull," the all-offense onslaught on display in the 1976 original is still fairly technical looking, without sacrificing an ounce of excitement. It's really hard for sports movies to capture the magic of real-time sporting events, but "Rocky" comes about as close as I've seen any film to replicating the unreplicable. An expertly shot sequence combining skillfully edited montages and incorporating minimal but meaningful slivers of dialogue (the camaraderie between Balboa and Mick, especially), it also contains what is arguably the single greatest mark-out moment in American film history -- I can only imagine audiences back in '76 literally leaping out of their seats and cheering like it was a real fight when Rocky scored that first, unexpected knockdown. The fights (and the films themselves) may have gotten goofier and goofier as the series progressed, but it's hard to dispute the pure, undiluted greatness of the original Rocky tussle, which is every bit as gripping and pulse-pounding now as it was 40 years ago. 

Bootney Farnsworth vs. 40th Street Black II
Let's Do It Again (1975) - Atlanta, Ga.

To this day, the double-knockdown finale at the end of "Rocky II" is a source of endless debate for hardcore boxing and movie nerds. While some consider it a stroke of dramatic genius, others think it's a pretty corny and forced plot mechanic. Interestingly enough, the first "Rocky" sequel wasn't the first film to utilize that particular ending, ... in fact, it was used in a movie that actually predates the original "Rocky!"

Sidney Poitier is rightfully considered one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history. After breaking the color barrier in the 1950s, he wound up -- irony of ironies -- becoming a pretty prolific director of blaxploitation flicks, starring and producing a series of excellent screwball comedies alongside Bill "No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal" Cosby in the mid-1970s. Released a year before "Rocky," the second film in the unofficial "Uptown Saturday Night trilogy" is a pretty damned fantastic little movie, featuring one of the more creative -- and hilarious -- takes on a boxing thematic you'll ever see in a motion picture.

In the film, Poitier and Cosby play these two Moorehouse graduates who wind up in New Orleans, where they use hypnotism on a no-name prizefighter (played, if you can believe it, by Jimmie "J.J." Walker!) so they can clean up big on a bet. Of course, the mafia (led by a dude named "Biggie Smalls," naturally) track them all the way back  to Atlanta, where they are goaded into setting up a second match between Farnsworth and 40th Street Black. Ingeniously, the two manage to sneak into the opposing locker room and hypnotize the other fighter before placing their money on the fight being a draw -- leading, of course, to the infamous double KO finale. Sure, it's a gimmick that's been copied by a litany of films and television shows since, but as far as I am concerned, no piece of media has ever pulled the hook off as successfully -- and cleverly -- as "Let's Do It Again."

Little Mac vs. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (1987) - Every living room in America

If you grew up in the late 1980s, odds are, you played a whole hell of a lot of Nintendo. As one of the most-beloved NES games ever (and really, one of the unsung pioneers of the rhythm-action sub-genre), "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" remains an iconic -- and MUCH-discussed -- title to this very day.

Kids today will never really understand the appeal of the game, and most certainly, just what it meant to make it all the way to Mike Tyson to begin with. All you whipper-snappers today can just go on your YouTubes and you DailyMotions and watch a few videos and figure out the enemy movement patterns, but back in the day, we had to figure that shit out on our own. That meant, trial, that meant error, and that meant a lot of getting knocked the fuck out by borderline offensive stereotypes. Alas, ever the dedicated joystick handlers we were, we took our time and practiced, practiced and practiced until we finally did figure out, master and exploit the idiosyncratic weaknesses of Soda Popinski, Bald Bull and especially that no good, pants-dropping piece of shit King Hippo.

Unfortunately, our mutual joy was short-lived. The first time I made it to the grand finale bout against Iron Mike, I was ecstatic -- that is, until he took a step back and took my head off with an all but unavoidable uppercut. Yeah, I knew all about the supposed "winking" glitch, but try as I may, I could never make it out of the second round against America's favorite convicted rapist, nor could any of my grade school chums. Even now, this is considered the boss battle to end all boss battles, and for good reason. Then again, maybe it shouldn't be all that much of a surprise -- in the real world, just how well do you think a Carl Winslow-trained Ralph Macchio would do against the Baddest Man on the Planet in his prime, anyway?

Jason Voorhees vs. Julius Gaw
Friday the 13th Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) - New York City, NY

You' ve got to give poor Julius some credit -- it takes a lot of cojones to goad an unkillable psycho-murderer retard-hillbilly zombie slasher into a round of fisticuffs, even if you are rocking the sweetest Harlem Globetrotters windbreaker this side of an LL Cool J video. 

While "Friday the 13th Part VIII" is generally considered one of the weaker installments in the equally beloved and loathed series, it did have some pretty gnarly death scenes in it -- none of which were as memorable as that of Mr. Gaw's. With his skillful amateur boxing put on display early in the film, we knew that when it came time for him to bite the bullet, he wasn't going down without a fight, and the inevitable rooftop barn-barner atop the streets of NYC more than lived up to the hype. 

Sure, sure, there wasn't a whole lot of offense from Mr. Voorhees -- he more or less let Julius wail on him until his hands were just chunks of bloody hamburger meat -- but when the time came for Jason to finally start counter-punching, well ... let's just say that he would probably do just as well as an Ultimate Fighter as he would a machete-wielding mass killer. Oh, and in case you were wondering: the same actor that played Julius was the same dude that played Loco in "South Central" -- although I highly doubt V.C. Dupree is identified as anything other than "that one dude that got his head punched off by Jason" when spotted in public. 

Homer Simpson vs. Drederick Tatum 
The Simpsons (1996) - Springfield, Ky.(*

"The Simpsons," now in what I believe is its 50th year on the air, was once a pretty good TV show. "The Homer they Fall," an episode which originally aired back in 1996, is pretty indicative of what the show did right, presenting a one-joke premise that never really exhausts itself.

After Homer gets attacked by some local ruffians, misanthropic barkeep Moe -- a former boxer himself -- notes the Simpsons' patriarch's incredible ability to withstand cranial punishment. Never one to turn away from a profitable enterprise, he becomes Homer's manager as he slowly works his way up the indie boxing circuit in Springfield. Of course, Homers himself really doesn't have any offensive strategy -- he just lets his foes pound on him until they're exhausted, and then he tips them over. It does him quite well in the ring ... that is, until he's lined up in a fight with Drederick Tatum, a Mike Tyson expy that just got out of prison. The attention to detail here is pretty goddamn impressive -- when Tatum comes to the ring, he does so to "Time 4 Sum Aksion," which was the actual song Tyson used as his entrance music in his big 1995 return bout against Peter McNeely.

You can probably guess what happens next. After being mercilessly pounded by Tatum for several rounds, Homer decides to start fighting back, although his striking efficiency is only slightly better than that of UFC-washup Jake Shields. When it looks like Homer is about to get flatlined, Moe steals the Fan Man's iconic paraglider and carries him away to safety, with a Don King analogue stating that he is deeply disappointed in the fight outcome, before paying Moe an insane amount of money. It's a three ring circus of the absurd that, in many ways, serves as the greatest description -- and deconstruction -- of contemporary professional boxing in any kind of media. It may not be the most reverential depiction of the sport, but it's hard to deny that it isn't one of the most painfully authentic, either.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Chick-Fil-A Breakfast Buffet!?!

Just outside of Atlanta, there's a one-of-a-kind Chick-fil-A restaurant that serves a full breakfast buffet. I went there, and it was every bit as amazing as it sounds.

If you really want to experience the best Georgia has to offer, you really have to get outside of Atlanta. Yeah, yeah, there are some pretty cool sites in A-Town -- drive-ins and superhero-themed pizza places and an entire museum dedicated to soda propaganda among them -- but outside the perimeter is where you will find all of the really, really noteworthy destinations.

For example, in Summerville, there is an outdoor museum dedicated solely to the artwork of Howard Finster, a probably psychopathic pastor whose portfolio consists almost entirely of apocalyptic paintings and sculptures of people with Down Syndrome heads. Similarly, Ashburn is home to the Crime and Punishment Museum, whose exhibits include a replica of electric chairs and authentic KKK apparel. It is adjoined by a local favorite restaurant, named, fittingly enough, the Last Meal Cafe. And under the penumbra of Stone Mountain, you will find Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation headquarters, which is home to a life-size bronzed statute of the beloved rapper/convicted racist.

Nestled in Woodstock is yet another must-stop "what-the?" roadside attraction ... or should I say "event," rather.

This one requires just a bit of a history lesson. You see, Chick-fil-A was not the first restaurant venture undertaken by Truett Cathy. Long before Chick-fil-A was a zygote of an idea, he opened a series of restaurants called the Dwarf House.

I'm not exactly 100 percent, certain but I am fairly sure the concept never made its way out of Georgia. Even now, however, the old buildings dot the outside-the-perimeter landscape, although almost all of them have since been rebranded as "official" Chick-fil-A businesses. Although I recall visiting one of the old-school Dwarf House restaurants as a kid, for the life of me, I can't really remember anything about the menu or even its general ambiance. This being the early 1990s, though, I assure you it was nothing like the modern, sanitary Chick-fil-A experience we all know and love -- I don't recall much about the brand, but I most certainly do recall the restaurants being dirty, dingy and very musty-smelling.

The restaurant in Woodstock is sort of a fusion concept -- basically, it appears to be a fairly new Chick-fil-A restaurant attached to the weathered remnants of an old Dwarf House establishment. I suppose the photographs do a good enough job of describing the general concept, but for the visually-impaired, it's basically just a red-brick facade with a bright red miniature door and something of a medieval cottage motif welded onto a modern-day restaurant space ... or is it the other way around?

The anteroom (that's one 1 percenters call a "lobby," in case you were wondering) is really a site to behold. It's hard to describe, but somehow,they managed to cram a to-scale midget-sized Hobbit house just inside the foyer, complete with min-stained glass windows and an operable door that the wee ones can actually run in and out of. Thankfully, they also put a deadbolt on that sucker, because you just know at some point, some nefarious crook or robber tried to squeeze himself through it during the off hours.

Of course, the entrance also has some of the expected Chick-fil-A signage, but for the most part, it doesn't feel anything at all like the average branded restaurant. I got REALLY excited seeing this castle door mock-up at the double doors, but as it turns out, that's not actually a normal decoration. According to one of the suspiciously well-groomed teenage employees, they put up the display to herald some sort of mother/son function, which, yeah, is just a wee bit on the creepy side.

As for the rest of the restaurant, it is more or less was your standard Chick-fil-A diner, albeit just a teensy bit larger than the average store. I visited the place on an early Saturday morning, and it was quite busy -- apparently, this particular branch also does breakfast buffets on Friday mornings and Thursday evenings, too.

So, after plopping down my $9.49 plus state and local taxes, I hit up the metal queue. If you are not familiar with how buffets work (and judging from just how surprisingly popular my write up on Golden Corral has been in developing countries, I am assuming that's quite a number of you), you pay a flat fee and eat a virtually unlimited amount of foodstuffs, which are constantly being replenished by sweaty chefs at breakneck speeds. So in short ... it's the most American thing that has ever existed, or ever will exist.

Comparatively, there wasn't a whole lot of variety offered this morning. All in all, I counted up nine different foodstuffs in the line-up, which is a pretty thin number, especially compared to competing chains like Shoney's, which generally offer enough all-you-can-eat goods to qualify as a miniature grocery store.

That said, you really can't argue with the quality of the food, though. Pretty much everything on tap was delicious, from the golden-flaky biscuits to the super crispy bacon to little sausage roll thingies. In addition to the home fries and scrambled eggs (the staple of any decent breakfast,) you also get a healthy amount of sides, including grits, chunky gravy and what appears to be apple cobbler. Of course, the big draw, of course, is the endless tray of chicken patties, which is pretty much reason enough to visit this place. No lie, folks: I ate ten of them, and almost throw up on the cashier woman while paying my meal ticket.

To be fair, Chick-fil-A is a pretty contentious business, and I would be telling you a flat out whopper if I said I wasn't just a smidge uncomfortable dining there. For one thing, there were a LOT of people doing scripture readings -- I mean, practice what you feel like practicing and all, but shit, what kind of glances do you think people would give me and my buddies if we decided to have a Koran study at Subway, or a dramatic reading of the Satanic Bible at Taco Bell? Secondly, there were a TON of cops in there. Like, at least three or four squad cars worth, and they were sharing a table with a gaggle of girls who could not have been older than juniors in high school. And also, one of them appeared to be Jewish, as evident by the Hebrew tattoos he had on his arm, which I am pretty sure is against Jewish teachings, now that I think about it. And then, there were the servers, who kept telling me it was "their pleasure" to serve me. Now, I know it's corporate policy and all, but I know you really don't give a hoot if I need a coffee refill -- and by the way, their proprietary brew is kinda' on the crappy side, too.

By their very nature, I think buffets are supposed to be kind of scummy. The waiters are supposed to be distant and despondent, providing you with just the bare minimum amount of interface to facilitate you giving them your credit card. Also, the lighting is supposed to be drab and dreary, to cover up the fact that you're eating food that likely has a bunch of fly eggs and eyelashes embedded in it, and that the utensils are just sorta washed. That kind of runs counterproductive to the entire Chick-fil-A corporate mantra, which is customer service and cleanliness ... the precise two things that buffets attempt to stamp out entirely.

Still, the experience is probably worth a detour if you are ever in the Atlanta area. It's a bit on the pricey side, but as stated before, it's basically your only opportunity to ever drop a dozen Chick-fil-a patties on one ceramic plate and tear into them in public without people thinking you are a feral child or something. And it's also astoundingly, ironically close to a sex toy outlet, which means God really does have a sense or humor (or at least, the planning commission in Woodstock really doesn't care about getting re-elected.)

So, to recap? If you like gluttony, processed poultry and people into Jesus, you'll probably really like this place. And if you're a vegetarian, an atheist, a homosexual, someone who is no longer married to his first wife or an individual ready to storm the offices of the Family Research Council? Well, there is a Del Taco pretty close by, I guess...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Cereal Review!

It's Earth's Mightiest Heroes ... in breakfast form!

I hope you folks are ready, because over the next two weeks, we are going to be getting utterly hammered by "Age of Ultron" hype. The much ballyhooed "Avengers" sequel will no doubt gross at least $15 bajillion dollars at the box office, but that's really only a portion of the revenue Disney stands to make off the movie. Its REAL financial impact, most certainly, will come from merchandising.

The first "Avengers" movie  made $1.5 billion in ticket sales. The year before, Disney made four times that off Marvel-branded merchandise alone. It's clear that the strategy is no longer make goods to supplement the film, but to make films to supplement the merchandising armada.

With "Age of Ultron," Disney is on an absolute promotional warpath. Take a stroll down virtually ANY aisle at your nearest big box store and you will be assailed by "Avengers" junk at every turn. If you walk down the toy section, you are going to be greeted by a horde of plastic Iron Men and Incredible Hulks. If you amble down the clothing aisle, you're going to see Captain America baby tees and XXL Thor regalia. Waltz down the seasonal supply section, and you will no doubt bear witness to Avengers branded beach towels, plastic cups and and beer koozies. But if you want to see just how entrenched this movie is in our communal consumption experience, you're going to have to march down the grocery store aisle.

Without hyperbole, "Age of Ultron" has tie-ins with dozens of products. There's Avengers Dr. Pepper and Avengers Doritos and Avengers frozen pizza and Avengers Corn Flakes and Avengers potato chips and Avengers ice cream. I didn't see any Avengers pregnancy tests or acne wash, but they just could have been out of stock at the local Target.

Among the more interesting items out this year is a new breakfast cereal from Kellogg's. Featuring Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk on the front of the box, the limited-time only "Age of Ultron" cereal describes itself as a special "hero edition" product. Granted, marketing departments are known to use some abstruse and confounding terminology for the offerings, but that one just doesn't make any damn sense to me. Like, are kids supposed to feel like heroes if they eat it, or are you eating what (fictitious) heroes allegedly eat, or is the very product itself supposed to be emblematic of heroism itself?

From a brand psychology perspective, maybe what they're trying to do is the same thing Wheaties does to people who want to feel athletic or what Special K does for women who want to feel like they're doing something healthy. "Hey kids, if you chow down on this shit, it'll make you like Hawkeye" -- a shameless, yet nonetheless effective, appeal to young boys' insecurity and their constant need for reaffirmation of their masculine identity, perhaps?

As for the packaging, it's fairly unremarkable. On the back of the box, half of the space is used to pimp some kind of convoluted online code redemption thingy. While Thor didn't make the cut for the front, he at least gets prominent placement here. As for the rest of the squad, they're not featured anywhere on the product, front, back, sides, top or bottom. And for a product that literally has the word "Ultron" on it, it's just a little peculiar that the villain isn't featured anywhere at all on the box. 

You do, however, get a fairly facile "Junior Jumble" type puzzle to solve, though. And the best part? You don't even need your Ovaltine decoder ring to figure out the secret message!

OK, OK, so it is a fairly anticlimactic message. And why exactly would the Avengers need to encrypt that message, anyway? I'm pretty sure the sentient android trying to take over the world is well aware that the dethawed World War II mega-soldier and the roided up Golly Green Giant are probably going to try to do something to thwart him. I can only imagine Hitler intercepting a similar message from the Brits and Yanks --  boy, was he ever gobsmacked when he learned they wanted to, and I quote, "stop Hitler."

As something you can actually eat, the cereal is both disappointing and satisfying. Let's start with the disappointing side first. The little bits of cereal and marshmallow are really, really uninspired. In fact, the primary, sugary grain chunks are among the most perplexing foodstuffs I have seen in quite some time. They're not really circular, but they are not really square, either -- it's like the first draft a caveman made of the wheel. If these things are supposed to remind consumers of the iconic Avengers "A," logo, I am afraid the folks at Kellogg's faltered, and hard.

But it's the marshmallows that are really going to make you shake your head. If you're like me, you probably expected the marshmallow pieces to at least sorta resemble the insignia of the superheroes. Like, one would be shaped like Cap's shield, one would be shaped like Mjolnir, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the pieces themselves are incredibly lazy -- they are just misshapen circles with dye jobs that are kinda-sorta similar to those of the characters. I mean, they could have at least drawn some eyebrows on the green one, and it at least would have somewhat resembled the Hulk's mug.

While the cereal may look about as aesthetically pleasing as a pair of used bowling shoes, it delivers where it counts, though. Basically, it tastes like Corn Pops, only with Lucky Charms adornments sprinkled in the mix. It wasn't until I started chowing down on a bowl that I realized that little combination had never been attempted -- or at least, that I had been oblivious to such science experiments in the past. So yeah, even if it isn't very fun to look at, it least it tastes pretty good, which I think we can all agree is much-preferred to the antithetical scenario

I'm not sure how long this stuff is going to stay on store shelves, but I reckon it can't be for too much longer. It's the kind of instant nostalgia that you just know people ten years from now are going to be fawning all over -- the same way people in their thirties today will spend actual human people money on quarter-century old boxes of "Ghostbusters" and "Batman" cereal, it's pretty much a sure bet that Gen Z kids a good decade or two down the line will joyously reflect on this offering. Then again, by the time today's kindergartners are twenty-somethings, we'll probably be able to download memories of what discontinued foods tasted like directly to our brains through Google Glass or something.

Anyhoo, you know what you're getting here. It's satisfying, although wholly indistinct mass marketing goodness, that'll fill your belly with completely non-nourishing junk, but since it looks cool and tingles the most unrefined portions of your taste buds, you probably won't complain about it probably poisoning your mind and internal organs.

You know, pretty much the exact same thing you can say about "Age of Ultron" as a motion picture, too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ten Things That Are Probably Worse Than Being Racist

Being a bigoted jerkwad is certainly bad, but is it really the worst thing a person can be?

Let me start off by saying the most obvious thing ever in the history of obvious things: yes children, racism is indeed a very, very bad thing. It’s immoral, irrational, illogical, impractical and ignorant, and those who port about deep racial prejudices, almost without exception, also tend to be among the most ingratiating, infuriating and ironically intolerable people walking God’s green earth.

That said, I have just a few issues with the contemporary, multinational, multicultural debate regarding “racism.” Primarily, the little problem of nobody really knowing what the hell “racism” is, exactly.

Yes, there is indeed a long-winded, legalese-sounding definition of racial discrimination issued by the United Nations, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no solidified governmental explanation of what “racism” is anywhere in the western world. Is it a centralized, far-reaching hatred of all those different from you? What if you only dislike one racial group but are totally cool with all others? Does it instinctively require some sense of racial superiority, or can you still be a racist while admitting the comparative shortcomings of one’s own ethnic group?

Historically, racism is an antiquated pseudo-science practiced by the heaviest hitters of continental philosophy; sure, the aberrant David Dukes and Carol Barneses are still out there claiming their race is the genetic bee’s knees, but it hardly seems like any modern day bigot dislikes other ethnic groups based solely on some perceived DNA supremacy. If we’re being technical and all, you can flat out hate every person outside your specific ethnic group for any number of reasons, but as long as you don’t think yours is innately better than them, you’re not a classical racist.

Personally, I think the issue of racism is a bit more complicated than your rank and file social justice warrior paints it. Clearly, the international problem of race extends far, FAR beyond the mere black vs. white dichotomy -- lest we forget, despite looking virtually identical, the Chinese and Japanese, the Hutus and the Tutsis, the Pakistanis and the Indians and the Jews and the Palestinians have been killing each other for eons. Obviously, there’s something much deeper going on with these conflicts than skin color superficiality.

Alas, here in the States, racism almost seems to be the catchall for all of our cultural ills. No matter what social malady is going on, that darned old “racism” can be blamed for it. You see, that “black/white divide” is SO ENTRENCHED in our collective experience that it serves as antecedent, catalyst, explanation and the occasional exoneration of literally EVERYTHING that happens within our borders. To even think about viewing the issue as nothing more than a subset of a greater problem (which every society in human history has had), surely, is the chatter of racists.

Without hyperbole, the eerily totalitarian leftist quest to exterminate “racism” is the closest thing to McCarthyism our nation has experienced in more than half a century. Those deemed “racist” by the faceless, nameless throngs are subject to complete social and economic death, as the fates of Mel Gibson, Donald Sterling, Bruce Levenson and Anthony Cuomo have demonstrated. We may not be able to put you in jail for believing things different from the status quo, but we can make sure you can’t feed your family -- nothing fascistic about that, no?

The same way I OBJECTIVELY examined rape within the greater pantheon of human miseries, I decided to task myself with placing “racism” along a similar, all-encompassing continuum of negative traits, characteristics and general descriptors. Being an unabashed, hate-filled, prejudicial and bigoted racist is certainly bad … but you know folks, I reckon there might just be ten things worse than that in this delightful little world of ours.


Pretty much every society in human history has considered murder -- the intentional act of taking the life of another human being -- to be the absolute worst thing one person can do to another. Clearly, a non-violent racist who ports about despicable and disgusting ideologies is nowhere close to being as contemptible as a violent, non-racist individual who consciously makes the decision to murder another person, regardless of his or her ideological underpinnings. Alas, it’s not exactly a premise we here in America take to heart; while Jimmy the Greek and John Rocker were forced into exile after making  their racial blunders, Snoop Dogg and Ray Lewis actually became bigger celebrities after their respective murder trials. While the hyper-P.C. zeitgeist will never forgive Paula Deen and Riley Cooper for their comments, that same cultural milieu, for some reason, has totally forgotten about the homicidal exploits of folks like Robert Rozier, Terry Underwood and Gucci Mane -- the latter of whom recorded the heartfelt memorial ,“Truth (Not a Jeezy Diss,)” to commemorate the slaying he was personally responsible for.


I feel quite comfortable calling a sexual criminal a much worse human being than a racist who never physically harms anyone. Sorry, but even a high-powered official or businessman who carries a veiled distrust or dislike of certain categories of people cannot be considered as wrong as anybody who decides to use violence to get his or sexual jollies. Malicious thoughts, as insensitive and mean and wrongheaded as they may be, are still nothing more than disembodied reflections and opinions. Meanwhile, raping and sodomizing is raping and sodomizing -- physical actions that are incontestably more heinous than simply holding ill-founded mass generalizations. Of course, it’s easy to view fellas like Tom Metzger as cultural pariahs for their insensitive, prejudicial beliefs, but by that same moralistic standard, you kind of have to wonder why folks like Tupac, Mystikal, South Park Mexican, Darren Sharper, Tom Payne and Ruben Patterson aren‘t similarly vilified, seeing as how every last one of them were CONVICTED of sexual assault crimes.


Moralistically, this one makes a great deal of sense. What’s worse, someone with an intangible, widespread contempt of the cultural other, or someone who beats the living dog shit out of his wife? We kind of saw this paralleled in the sports world last year, when the owners of the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks were literally forced out of the NBA, at the same time video emerged of Ray Rice cold cocking his girlfriend. To be fair, Rice was indeed suspended for his actions, but he wasn’t banished from the sports world the same way the disgraced NBA owners were. Considering the indelible crossover in the “white privilege” and “patriarchy rape culture” ideologies, you really have to wonder why the domestic abuse arrests of Quinn Johnson, Junior Galette, Devyln Cousin, Tyreek Hill, Isaiah Goldman and Jeff Taylor weren’t bigger stories. But, uh, don’t think too hard, though, because that probably means you’re a racist and whatnot.


In Dante’s Inferno, the absolute deepest ring of hell was reserved for those who betrayed their own flesh and blood. Using a moral Likert scale, it’s quite reasonable to assume that as individuals, we are going to have a greater amount of compassion and concern for our own families than we are those who live on continents far, far away, who speak a different language than us and whom we will almost certainly never meet, nor really know to have existed in the first place. So, what’s worse -- an individual with great love and respect for those closest to him who may just so happen to have a general mistrust or dislike of those different, or a more multiculturally-minded individual who fails to pay child support or completely abandons his kids altogether? Yeah, the hate and filth and venom spewed on the Stormfront forums isn’t doing much for the black advancement movement, but it is indeed deadbeat exemplars such as Allen Iverson, Chief Keef, DMX, Nas, Chad “Ochicinco” Johnson, Terrell Owens, Deion Sanders and Evander Holyfield who demonstrate the greatest cultural setback for African Americans in the modern era. Bicker about microaggressions and dopey fraternity songs all you want -- if you want to talk about REAL barriers to success, let’s start with father absenteeism, why don’t we?


Well, this one seems pretty straightforward. Seeing as how there is no greater cultural boogeyman than the paedo, even the most hardcore social justice warrior would have to consider kid-diddlers a far more insidious cultural menace than even the most grotesque white supremacists, no? Strange, seeing how the rants of Kramer and Dog the Bounty Hunter cost them their respective livelihoods, while Lawrence Taylor getting busted for soliciting a 16-year-old streetwalker hardly gets any news coverage whatsoever. The same can be said of the shameful, shameful misdeeds committed by the likes of Nate Webster, Eddie Johnson and Aswad Ayinde...but hey, at least we got an apology out of Sherrod Brown when he used the term "niggardly," though.


Earlier, we were discussing barriers to black success -- which, fundamentally, means their ability to obtain financial independence and stability. Of course, we COULD talk about growing up in a two-parent home as being the single most important factor in whether one becomes an economically sustainable adult (after all, that’s what the eggheads at Harvard think, anyway), but why not blame that conveniently omnipresent yet wholly indefinable "structural racism" instead? While we can rightly blame any number of social factors for why so many African American youths falter -- crummy schools, terrible local job markets, etc. -- I think it’s wise to also examine the primary reason why so many black people fall into crippling debt. You can drone on and on about particular industries and companies being inherently racist, but from an economic standpoint, the big money woe for blacks isn’t unemployment, but predatory lending and payday loans. The rubes out in the countryside cracking racist jokes, comparatively, aren’t doing a fraction of a percentage of an iota of the harm nefarious title loan businesses are doing to the African American community, and have been doing for more than half a century now.


My, how the times have changed. Not only is substance abuse NOT seen as being at least on par with being prejudicial on the moral turpitude scale anymore, our culture seems to be turning away from viewing drug addiction as a contemptible trait altogether. Sure, I could give you the basic rundown of reasons why even legalized drugs like alcohol create so much cultural havoc, but why bother? We’ve already reached the group consensus that closeted hatemongers are much worse human beings than crack heads, meth junkies and pill poppers, even though on-the-down-low bigots are much more socially responsible than your dime-a-dozen dope fiend. And hey, as despicable as they may be, at least racist folks tend to pay their taxes, which in turn, go to support social service programs … something I am not really sure you can say about the astonishingly large volume of legally-disabled-at-23-methadone-huffers out there.


For a moment, let’s give up the holier than thou shtick. Instead of viewing things as being moral or immoral, let’s just try to view things from the simple lens of true or false. Regardless of one‘s ideologies, not liking races different from one’s own is NOT illegal. In these United States, you can hate anybody and anything you want for any reason you want, and can’t nobody say shit about it because we have this thing called the First Amendment (whose big faulty point, of course, is that it only applies to GOVERNMENTAL restrictions on free expression and not those imposed by the general public.) Conversely, things like drug-running, racketeering, burglaries and mugging are all indeed quite illegal, and result in a lot of economic, psychological and bodily harm. If given the option of living among civil racists and bigots who refrain from criminal activity or living in a pancultural utopia chockfull of hoodlums, dealers and stick-up men, which ZIP code would you prefer?


Of course, hardcore racial ideologies can cause a lot of death and destruction. Just ask the Indians of the Americas, or the African natives during colonization. Or anybody who lived in Asia or Europe in the years between 1931 to 1945. That said, flat out ethnocentric fury alone can’t create genocide … more than anything, it takes a large populace that’s easily fooled, cajoled and manipulated into believing whatever their superiors tell them to. Thinking prejudicial things, surely is not a positive in any regard; not thinking about ANYTHING critically, however, is a much, much more dangerous state of mind.


Simply put, those who lie about racism or overlook the hard evidence that refutes their ideological leanings about race relations are every bit as bad as those who actually are racist. Lest we forget the hordes of folks ready to oh-so-ironically lynch the Duke lacrosse team and Steve Pagones when word got out about the “rapings” of Crystal Mangum and Tawana Brawley. So hungry and single-minded some P.C. warriors are in their quest to personify a narrative of victimization and disempowerment that they are willing to disregard reality itself to fit THEIR “ideals.” The hardcore “anti-racist” platoons out there, ironically, are becoming more and more like the unabashedly racist organizations of yore -- shameless identity-politicking opportunists who feign moral indignation to further their own self-interests. Even in the balls-out racial apocalypse that was Ferguson, Mo. last summer, you could see the in-group dynamics at play; so much outrage over the death of this one sweet little angel, at the hands of those no-good, child-killin’ police officers. The fact that a dozen black kids were killed by other black kids that same weekend in Chicago, or the fact that a middle-aged white man was similarly blown away by cops in a no-knock warrant in Georgia, means Jack Shit to them -- they don’t want real justice or policy changes, they just want to keep the racial embers a burning. As long as you have that narrative, you have a universal excuse for literally every ill in society -- and without that “original sin” to endlessly trot out, fine, outstanding individuals like Al Sharpton would be out of a job.

You know, there’s a term out there for people who ONLY care about people of the same color … although for the life of me, I just can’t seem to recollect what that word is, precisely.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My 100% ACCURATE 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions

(*) WARNING: Actual predictions may not be 100% accurate. 

Ah, that glorious springtime rite known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Such unforgettable experiences we’ve had over the years, no?

The curse of McSorley’s stick. Mark Messier’s guarantee. The blood and guts of the Avs and Red Wings rivalry. Yzerman’s O.T. game winner against the Blues. Brett Hull’s controversial series-clincher in ‘99. J.S. Giguere’s unbelievable run in ‘03, and his agonizing game 7 loss against the Devils. The game 6 no-goal that was a goal in Calgary. The Pittsburgh faithful chanting “Let’s Go Pens!” as the Wings celebrated on their home ice. Vancouver FINALLY getting past Chicago, only to wind up setting their entire city on fire. And of course, last year’s thrilling, high speed Kings and Blackhawks Western Conference Finals, which might just be the best damn seven game stretch in League history.

The 2015 National Hockey Leagues postseason puts us in an unusual position. With Los Angeles underachieving all year round, this is the first playoffs season since 2007 that the reigning Stanley Cup Champions have not returned to defend their crown. Interestingly enough, it's also the first time since 2007 that the ex-Atlanta Thrashers have made the playoffs, and the first time in two decades that the city of Winnipeg will see any kind of playoff hockey whatsoever. Over on the Eastern Conference side of things, we've got your usual cast of perennial contenders -- your President's Cup-hoisting Rangers, Ovechkin's Caps and Sid Crosby and the kids in Pittsburgh -- as well as some fast and furious upstarts (Tampa Bay, Ottawa and the resurgent Islanders) ready to test their meddle against heavy hitters like Detroit and Montreal. Over in the Western Conference brackets, top-seeded Anaheim looks to stave off young, hungry challengers like Winnipeg and Calgary while the surprising Nashville Predators look to hold their own against Chicago and Minnesota. And in the wings wait eternal bridesmaids St. Louis and Vancouver, whom after several seasons of stagnation, look to turn the summer of '15 into the dream season long-suffering fans have fantasized about for decades.

It's how Nate Silver AND the Son of Sam got started, I do believe...
With the second season set to begin shortly, I decided to take my stab at the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, why let dorks and dweebs over at ESPN and Bleacher Report corner the market on guesstimations masquerading as journalism, right? Rest assured, though, that these aren't just shots in the dark on my part. I actually did quite a bit of stats-digging when it came time to make my picks, cross-analyzing all 16 playoff squads across a hefty list of criteria, including the expected stuff (goals per game and goals allowed average) as well more nuanced figures, such as the team's respective win percentage after scoring the first goal AND being outshot throughout the game. A quick and dirty spreadsheet is to the side, if you REALLY care about amateur metrics.

Of course, the great thing about hockey is that the games are played on ice and not paper. Sure, the hard data MIGHT give us a bit of an indication of how things turn out from here until June, but with first round upsets so common, we might as well be working with a blank slate. Thusly, consider my picks a nice amalgamation of numbers-driven observation AND gut instinct -- ostensibly, the ONLY way you can really make Stanley Cup Playoffs predictions, anyway.

Round One Eastern Conference Match-ups

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators

With Carey Price between the pipes, it can be argued that Montreal has the absolute best goaltender in the playoffs. However, the Ottawa Senators have pretty much dominated the Habs all season long, taking three out of their four regular season match-ups. Granted, the Candiens do have a lower goals allowed per game average, but the red hot Sens are actually posting a higher goals-per-game average. Max Pacioretty is a bad dude and all, but Andrew Hammond is looking all shades of  '04 Khabibulan as of late -- with their speedier lines, I envision Ottawa slowly but surely chipping away at Montreal's defense, with the Sens' goalkeeping being just good enough to carry them to the second round. 


Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Red Wings may not be the instant, presumptive champion locks they used to be, but with Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the line-up, they remain constant scoring threats. Unfortunately, the Detroit D isn't exactly a championship caliber unit this year, with Jimmy Howard nowhere near the goaltender Ben Bishop is. Ultimately, its Tampa Bay's potent offense that seals it for me; I just don't see the Wings having enough oxygen in their tanks to win a war of attrition against Stamkos, Kucherov and Johnson. 


New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

First round upsets happen all the time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there's no way I am taking a banged-up Pens squad in this one. Yeah, Malkin and Crosby can still put a lot of pucks in the net, but their defense really concerns me. Overall, Lundqvist has just been a more consistent goalie than Fleury all year round, and the Rangers have had no problem dispatching the Penguins in their regular season match-ups. With quite possibly the best overall defensive unit in the playoffs -- not to mention some front line players who can flatout fly-- I just can't imagine Pittsburgh getting past the Rangers here. 


New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals

This is definitely the most difficult first round game to pick in the Eastern Conference. The Caps have played very well down the stretch, and the numbers -- from goals allowed per game to face-offs won to penalty-killing percentage -- favor Ovechkin and company. That said, the plucky Islanders defense has really made an impression on me, and I think Halak stands a better chance in a seven game series than Holtby. Tavares is no doubt a hell of an offensive player, but at the end of the day, I think it will be the Islanders' roughness and tenacity in the pipes that gives them the advantage here. 


Round One Western Conference Match-ups

Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets

The Cinderella Jets no doubt make for a feel-good story, but across the board, they're just not as good a team as the Ducks. Offensively and defensively, this series favors Anaheim, and while Winnipeg might be able to steal one away, I just don't think Pavelec can hold his own against Getlzaf, nor do I envision Andrew Ladd serving as any kind of series-long threat against Anderson. 


Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames

This year's Flames squad reminds me A LOT of the 2004 team that was one blown call away from taking home Lord Stanley. The trifecta of Hurdler, Giordano and Gaudreau is certainly one of the best front lines in the playoffs this year, and I'd consider Jonas Hiller a much more reliable goalie than Ryan Miller at this juncture. The Sedin brothers and Shawn Matthias are offensive powerhouses, without question, but I think Calgary is just the speedier team, with a stabler defensive core. It should be an entertaining slugfest no matter what, but all things considered, I think it's a bar room brawl that's Calgary's to lose. 


St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild

The Blues are a high scoring unit with one of the best power play goal percentages in the League. The Wild, however, are an excellent defensive team with one of the best penalty killing squads in the playoffs. I see this series playing out a lot like the Flames and Canucks series, with St. Louis having a fair amount of success crowding the net, but not really doing enough damage to take Backstrom out of it. Conversely, I definitely think Suter, Vanek and Parise are fast and ferocious enough to take the wind out of Brian Elliot, and from there, I see the Blues sinking fast. 


Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The Preds have fought hard as hell all season long, only to run headlong into Chicago -- a team that has pretty much blistered them throughout the regular season. Mike Fisher and Filip Forberg have played valiantly, but Pekka Rinne just doesn't have the toolkit to survive an onslaught by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brad Richards. Corey Crawford may not be the best goaltender in the League, but unless he puts on an all-time-classic collapse, he really won't have to do too much between the pipes to escape from the first round. 


Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Match-ups

Ottawa Senators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

This ought to be a hell of a series. Both teams play similar styles of offense, and the defensive cores are fairly well-matched. Ultimately, the decisive factor here is consistent play, and with the Big Three in Tampa Bay, you pretty much know what you're going to get, night-in and night-out. As impressive as the Senators' run has been these last two months, I'm not sure just how much mileage they can get out of Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman. The Lightning O is going to keep the pressure up all series long, and eventually, "The Hamburglar" will crack; unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it looks like it's going to take seven games before they're able to do precisely that. 


New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders

This really seems like a series the Rangers should waltz through, but the Islanders have given them all they could handle during the regular season and then some. With Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, the Rangers are clearly a better offensive squad, but they've played pretty lackluster against the Isles throughout the year. Although the Rangers picked up the last two regular season games, they did not do so easily, and I see the postseason scrum being equally contentious. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see the Islanders take a 2-0 series lead, but ultimately, I just don't think they are deep enough offensively to really best the Rangers in a seven game stretch. The Rangers will take a while to get warmed up, but once they do, the Isles will have little left to respond with. 


Western Conference Semi-Finals Match-ups

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

In years past, the Ducks have had some major second-round difficulties with lightning-quick offensive juggernauts, and this year, I don't see their fortunes changing all that much. Here, I see Andersen slowing down considerably after a fairly facile run against the Jets, and Calgary will surely capitalize on it. Expect no-names like Sean Monahan and Brandon Bollig to shine in this series, while the Ducks' more recognizable front-liners stumble. It won't be the pretty, but at the end of the day, I feel the Flames have enough fuel left to blaze by the Ducks, who falter early in the series and never recover. 


Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks

If the Wild were up against the Ducks or the Flames, I would really like their odds. Unfortunately, they're playing against arguably the best managed team in professional hockey, and while I think they have enough juice and moxie to win a game or two, they're just not on the same level as Chicago. I think Backstrom will record one shutout, but I just don't seeing him being able to hold up in four victorious efforts against the 'Hawks. The first few games should be interesting, but once Backstrom gets broken, it's all over except for the crying in St. Paul. 


Eastern Conference Finals

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers

The Rangers can put a lot of points on the board. The thing is, when they can't find the net, they have an unfortunate tendency to break down defensively, and when they aren't clicking, they end up allowing the opposing team to score five or six goals. Expect the Rangers to win early, low scoring contests, maybe going up 2-1 against the Lightning in 1-0 and 2-1 games. Eventually, however, the Tampa Bay scoring juggernaut will crank up, and from there, I see the Rangers crumbling. I see Lundqvist reaching the point of no return in game 4, with Tampa Bay just pouring on the points in the next two games. And the worst part? They punch their ticket to the Finals center-ice at Madison Square Garden.


Western Conference Finals

Calgary Flames vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Of course, the Calgary carriage has to turn back into a pumpkin at some point, no? As fast and potent as their offense is, the Blackhawks are just as good and defensively BETTER, and while the Flames might be able to steal a game or two away early, this is a series that just favors the Blackhawks across the board. With better goaltending and penalty killing, the Chicago offense won't have to do too much to clinch their third Stanley Cup Finals appearance in six years, even if doubts about the steadiness of Corey Crawford emerge halfway through the series. 


Stanley Cup Finals

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Chicago Blackhawks 

imagine portions of this series will play out very similarly to last year's Western Conference Finals ... all offense, with the team with the LEAST porous goaltending surviving to fight another day. Momentum-wise, I think this series favors Chicago, as Tampa Bay will likely be spent from their hard-fought battles against Ottawa and The Rangers. The turning point will probably be game three, with the 'Hawks blanking the Lightning 4-0. Tampa Bay will return and force an overtime game 4, but despite their best efforts, they won't have the firepower left to surmount the Chicago onslaught. I expect Tampa Bay chalking up a flukey game 5 win, but that's just to give them false hope -- two days later, they get creamed at St. Pete Times Forum, 5-1, as Chicago once again hoists Lord Stanley; a sight all the more heartbreaking when top playoffs goal scorer Stamkos is named the year's Conn Smythe winner. 


So yeah, nothing too adventurous in terms of picks on my part. A lot of people have the Rangers as the odds-on favorite, but  the President's Cup winner almost never wins Lord Stanley, too. The Blues and Ducks always find a way to collapse, and as much as I want to push the button on one of these upstarts like Calgary and Tampa Bay, I reckon I'm just going to have to go with consistency, and really, there isn't a team in the playoffs this year as offensively and defensively reliable as the Hawks. Strangely enough, not that many analysts seem to be picking them this year, which is probably another reason why I selected them -- sometimes, the obvious pick is just so damned obvious, nobody else really realizes how obvious it is.

As a Kings fan, I don't have much of a vested interest in this year's playoffs, but I am nonetheless excited. There are some really interesting match-ups on both sides of the brackets, and it just seems like the upset potential this year is especially high. There's really no telling what to expect out of this year's playoffs, which really makes the annual rite so intriguing and enjoyable ... and hells a popping, would I ever laugh my ass off if it came down to an Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets championship finale.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Taco Bell's All-New CHICKSTARS!

The age-old question has finally been answered: can Taco Bell do fried chicken?

I have it on good authority that the suits at YUM! Brands, Inc. are faithful readers of this blog. The all new Crispy Chicken Chickstars from Taco Bell conclusively proves this.

Last month, I reviewed the fast food franchise's latest and greatest product, the Sriracha Quesarito. I was none too impressed by said product, stating that I felt it was effortless and nowhere near as innovative as some of the brand's most recent offerings.

Well, fast forward a few weeks later, and look what we have here -- not just one, BUT THREE all-new, crispy-chicken-centric Taco Bell product lines.

Note, folks, that I didn't say "products," I meant three full-fledged mini-menus, including a new chicken quesadilla thingy and FOUR different chicken tender grillers. The belle of the proverbial ball, however, is clearly the trifecta of Chickstar Crunch Wraps, which are among the most unique foodstuffs the Bell has pushed out in quite awhile. And this, mind you, is from a company that actually thought people wanted to eat a waffle taco.

Now, these things are important for several reasons. First and foremost, unless I am terribly mistaken, this is the restaurant's first-ever foray into breaded poultry products. Sure, they've been handing out grilled-chicken strip-embedded products for decades, but this is a pretty considerable jump into uncharted territory -- I mean, these dudes be fucking with Chick-Fil-A's bread and butter, and as we all know, theirs is a most wrathful god.

Secondly, the products are a bit more expensive than the usual Taco Bell offering. Granted, it's not Chipotle-priced yet, but at $4.00 USD plus state and local taxes, it's definitely a heftier investment than the trusty uno dinero cheesy bean and rice burrito. Clearly, this things are being used to test the waters for greater portfolio diversity: if successful, expect to see LOTS more non-traditional Tex-Mex fare at the restaurant (the return of the Bell Beefer, we can only pray, is right around the corner.)

Oh, and as for the Crunch Wraps themselves? Well, we've got three to consider. Here are my quick and dirty reviews of each item ...
The Bacon Ranch ChickStar Crunch Wrap!

It's a bit hard to tell, but the Thousand Island dressing-hued sauce is actually some kind of auburn-tinged, smoky ranch sauce. And, if you stare real hard enough, you might even notice a couple of teensy-weensy chunks of bacon in there, too. 

As far as the overall product, I liked it. It had a nice, savory texture, and the chicken strips themselves were a.) very crunchy and flavorful and b.) huge as fuck. Admittedly, it's a bit of a challenge figuring out how to eat the thing at first (you have to be selective with which corner you nibble on, or else you'll wind up with a big ol' perforation for your veggies and chicken chunks to fall out of), but once you pinpoint the structural weak point of the wrap, you'll do just fine. 

The Mango BBQ ChickStar Crunch Wrap!

Now this was a real treat. Ranch dressing and chipotle sauce flavored products are a dime a dozen at the Bell, but when was the last time you chowed down on something there that had a profound BBQ sauce zing to it?

This was far and away my favorite of the triad. It had a very unique texture, and the mouthfeel of the product was really unlike anything you'd find at the restaurant. The salty-lettuce-and-tomato flavor, however, reminded you that you were still eating there, so it  also had a subtle familiarity. This is precisely the kind of item I want to see more of -- a menu offering that legitimately thinks outside the box.
The  Chipotle ChickStar Crunch Wrap

This was probably the most predictable of the menu items. That doesn't necessarily mean it was bad -- actually, I found it quite delectable -- but compared to the other two products, it just felt a bit formulaic.

As with the other two items, you get two salty fried-chicken tenders, cheese, lettuce, tomato and a whole hell of a lot of tortilla to chew through. For whatever reason, I don't think the sauce on this one really gelled as well as it did with the other two -- I mean, it was there, but it just didn't seem to come together as harmoniously as it could've. Overall, it is good, but not exactly something I would consider good enough to drop nearly five bucks on, though.

At the end of the day, I think the Chickstars (a name I can only imagine will somehow draw the ire of womens groups, eventually) is a step in the right direction. Clearly, the products are experimental, but I like the possibilities here. I mean, Taco Bell and KFC are fighting under the same corporate banner, so why not just go ahead and start releasing fusion offerings? You know as well as I do that if they ever made a Colonel's original burrito, people would eat the fuck out of that. If they announced a Double Down Quesarito tomorrow, I'd probably be lining up right now.

But why stop at chicken, guys? Last time I checked, Long John Silvers is a company stablemate, too. Who wouldn't want to be able to waltz into Taco Bell and order a shrimp taco, or a chimichanga loaded with Alaskan salmon? Or, why not take it a step further and start selling a Cantina Bowl burrito featuring Taco Bell beef, KFC chicken and LJS fish inside the same dadgum product? It's the most obvious thing in the world -- crossbranded crossfood. I can't be the only person out there with the occasional hankering for some nachos and mashed potatoes or hush puppies and chalupas, am I?

That's a little something called corporate synergy, fellas. Take it from someone in that coveted (and market-research-mystifying) Millennial target audience ... such is indeed the wave of the fast food future.