30 March 2010

Tuesday Football: By about a field goal

By a 28-4 rule, the NFL has modified its playoff tiebreaking rules.  A field goal scored on the fist possession in overtime no longer wins the game.  If that first field goal does happen, or the first possession ends with no score, the old sudden-death rules return into force.

This is a little like giving people ordinary flu shots, then telling them that they've been vaccinated against H1N1.  The treatment won't work, because either the underlying diagnosis is wrong, or the doctor is just lying about it.  The trouble with NFL overtime periods isn't that too many of them end with field goals; it's that too many end after only one possession.  Even if it did fix the problem, the new rule currently applies only to playoff games.  In May, the owners may extend the revision to regular-season games, which would be a small improvement.  Either way, this won't make the NFL overtime rules fair; it will just render them less unfair.

By about a field goal.

27 March 2010

Internet weirdness from AT&T

This was not a good day for AT&T's Internet customers in the Midwest.  When I couldn't connect to either this blog or the other Google-based blogs I frequent, I figured it was just another minor Google glitch that corrects itself in a few minutes.  After several hours and a bit of research, it turned out that AT&T had been blocking access to Blogger and Blogspot.  The only affected areas are in the Midwest, where Ameritech used to provide phone service.  As of this writing, the folks who run Blogger were still working on the problem, presumably with AT&T.

I ended up having to reset the DSL modem, and that's when things got really weird.  Usually, service resumes the moment I reset the modem.  This time, though, the modem forced me to go through the AT&T setup process again.  Even worse, when I tried to run the setup through the primary computer (a Windows XP machine), both Internet Exploder and Firefox warned me that the process was taking me to an unsecured site.  To solve the problem, I had to finally call AT&T.  "Andy," the techie on the other end, did a great job, helping me run the setup manually.

The good news is that Andy did a great job.  The bad news is that AT&T has dropped the ball regarding access to Google.  I shouldn't have had to reset the modem, let alone making that tech-support call.  Grrr.

23 March 2010

Tuesday, but not football: 4th and 26

The title of this post has, in recent years, become a favorite phrase in NFL lore.  Trailing the Green Bay Packers in the closing minutes of a 2003 playoff game, the Philadelphia Eagles faced fourth down.  Still deep in their own territory, the Eagles needed to gain 26 yards in one play, just to stay alive.  They converted that fourth down by just inches, but that was enough to lead them to the game-tying score and then, after an overtime period, the win.

In a sense, that's what I think of the impending passage of President Barack Obama's health-care reform.  The proposal sucks, but for the Democrats to have any chance of avoiding disaster this fall -- and for the sake of the Obama presidency itself -- it had to pass.  It did, barely, and while that hardly constitute a touchdown, it does feel an awful lot like the U.S. has just converted its own 4th-and-26.

Out here in exurban Chicago, I see far too many bumper stickers claiming that Barack Obama represents the end of all that is precious.  ("I'll keep my guns and my money..." reads one of the more common ones.)  What President Obama and health-care reform really represent, I suspect, is something the teabaggers truly fear:  the end of the Reagan Era.

Of course, the Reagan Era was supposed to have ended with Bill Clinton's election back in 1992.  But when his own health-care reform failed, it opened the door to the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.  Instead of rolling back the "achievements" of the Reagan administration, the Republicans extended them, and they didn't stop until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had taken the nation to the brink of economic catastrophe.  By 2008, we had long passed the brink of moral catastrophe: Bush and Chaney had taken our moral standing so low, we had literally become the villains in a James Bond movie.

None of that mattered to the Republicans, the racists, the Dominionists or the even more uncouth devotees of Ronald Reagan.  What mattered to them was that, with a corporate-friendly Supreme Court already in place, the election of John McCain and Sarah Palin would have sealed the result of 30 years of Reagan-inspired policies.  A new, partly fascist, partly religious form of feudalism -- the grand dream of much of the Reagan brigade -- loomed in our future.  But McCain-Palin's convincing loss in 2008 split the Reagan coalition.  To the remnants of that coalition, most notably the teabaggers, the realization finally came that most of the U.S. didn't share their rosy vision of the future.

Maybe that evil future still lies before us.  But this win for President Obama, this passage of a weak but critical reform may have, at long last, triggered the end of the pox that is the Reagan Era.  It's hardly the end; the Republicans, the racists, the Dominionists and their friends are still fighting, some of them literally.  For many of us who never liked Ronald Reagan in the first place, the newly passed reforms don't go far enough.  Nevertheless, we just made 4th and 26.  Many, many yards are left to gain, and we're still a lot of first downs away from a real score.

But at least we still have the ball.

14 March 2010

Nailed it!

Well, that went well.

Usually, my final NCAA men's bracket projection misses 5-7 teams.  If I miss only two or three teams, that's a good year.  This year, I correctly predicted the entire field.  All 34 of my projected at-large teams made it through.  Most of them got the wrong seed -- I got the correct one for 24 of the 65 teams -- but they all made it.

I'm purring so hard, it's confusing Scooter.

13 March 2010

A little bracketology

Which 65 teams will make the field for the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament?  Here I venture some guesses, with less than 23 hours until the actual field is selected.

First, some rules.  The Selection Committee uses the first three, then applies additional criteria known only to itself.  The other constraint is mine, but it isn't affecting anything this year.  (It has in past seasons, though.)
  1. Of the 65 bids, 30 are awarded to the winners of the postseason conference tournaments, and one goes to the Ivy League regular-season champion.  The other 34 bids are awarded on an at-large basis.  (Bracketology is, in fact, about picking these 34 teams.)
  2. Conference rivals cannot meet until the regional finals (i.e., quarterfinals), unless more than eight members make the field.   This exception occurred once, in the 2000 Women's Championship.  It's never happened on the men's side.
  3. Until the Final Four, no men's team may play on its home floor, or on a site where it is hosting.
  4. When possible, a team from a smaller conference should always open against one from a larger conference.
As of post time (1700 CST), there are still quite a few games to play, but my bubble is down to seven teams -- Washington, UTEP, Minnesota, Illinois (all in), Seton Hall, Wichita State and Virginia Tech (all out).

Here are the projected multi-bid conferences, with projected seeds.  If New Mexico State upsets Utah State tonight, the Western Athletic would join this list.  20 other conferences are sending only their automatic qualifiers, so I'm not listing them.

Update (0000, 14.03.10):  New Mexico State has won, stealing a bid and turning tomorrow's SEC final into a proxy play-in game.  If Mississippi State wins, it advances as a 12 seed, replacing Florida.  If Kentucky wins, Florida stays in the bracket and MSU bows out.  UTEP and Minnesota are now safe, while Seton Hall, Wichita State and Virginia Tech join Illinois as top seeds in the NIT.  Corrections appear in red.

Big East [8]:  (1)West Virginia, (1)Syracuse, (2)Georgetown, (3)Villanova, (5)Pittsburgh, (7)Marquette, (9)Lousiville, (10)Notre Dame
Big XII [7]:  (1)Kansas, (2)Kansas State, (3)Baylor, (4)Texas A&M, (8)Oklahoma State, (9)Texas, (11)Missouri
ACC [6]:  (2)Duke, (4)Maryland, (9)Wake Forest, (10)Clemson, (10)Florida State, (12)Georgia Tech
Big Ten [6 5]:  (2)Ohio State, (3)Purdue, (6)Wisconsin, (6)Michigan State, (12)Minnesota, (12)Illinois
SEC[4]:  (1)Kentucky, (4)Vanderbilt, (5)Tennessee, (12)(Florida OR Mississippi State)
Mountain West [4]:  (3)New Mexico, (6)Brigham Young, (8)Nevada-Las Vegas, (8 7)San Diego State
Atlantic 10[3]: (4)Temple, (5)Xavier, (10)Richmond
Pacific 10[2]:  (6)California, (12)Washington
West Coast[2]:  (7)Gonzaga, (9)St. Mary's (Cal.)
WAC[2]:  (8)Utah State, (13)New Mexico State
Conference USA[2]:  (13)Texas-El Paso, (15)Houston

05 March 2010

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (5) The Ghost-Grey Bat

Episode 1176:  The Ghost-Grey Bat
First aired:  25 March 1981
Author:  Ian Martin

Meet the bats
I knew it was too good to be true. -- Dr. Alec Grant

Episode 1176 of CBS Radio Mystery Theater is, as you can easily guess, one of the namesakes for this blog.  (The other is Scooter herself, my 12-year-old cat of many colors.)  It's not a particularly innovative horror story, but the plot is an interesting variation on the haunted-house theme.  Without lead actor Don Scardino's outstanding performance, "The Ghost-Grey Bat" would be merely average.  Thanks to Scardino, it's one of my favorite episodes, in that guilty-pleasure sort of way.

At least on RMT related message boards, this episode is a fan favorite.  It actually is well done, but it misses my top-ten list.  To me, it's a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, which had hit movie screens less only ten months earlier.  Without the John Williams soundtrack, it's merely good; with it, Empire is one of my favorite movies.  That's how important lead actor Don Scardino's performance is to "The Ghost-Grey Bat."

Ian Martin, RMT's second most prolific writer, penned this tale of a time-share arrangement gone wrong.  He tells it through the eyes of Dr. Alec Grant (Scardino), a New York City professor.  The time has come for Dr. Grant to take a sabbatical, and with a nudge from his new wife, Maura (Jennifer Harmon), he has arranged to swap living quarters with an Austrian couple.  Even though they never meet the Austrians, they push on with their plans.

Soon enough, the Grants have settled into a comfortable but isolated cabin in the Alps.  Their only companions are Frau Zauber (Joan Shea), a kindly, elderly housekeeper who maintains the cabin, and an odd creature that flies around it.  Frau Zauber first raises Alec's suspicion when, at the end of Act I, he notices that she isn't casting a shadow.

More red flags go up when Alec decides to check how his Austrian time-share partners are doing in New York.  To do this, he must travel several kilometers to the nearest phone; but Frau Zauber keeps insisting that he remain in the cabin.  Meanwhile, the flying bat has attacked Maura, who, in turn, has been rapidly losing energy.  What started as a effort to contact the Austrians has mutated into a rescue effort -- one that Frau Zauber is determined to thwart.  Alec does escape the cabin, and he does get help.  By then, the truth about Frau Zauber, the bat and those Austrians has become all too apparent.  Sooner than anyone, including the listener, realizes, the story becomes a desperate race against time, as Alec must save not only Maura but also himself.

"The Ghost-Grey Bat" works well enough as a suspense story.  Minute by minute, element by plot element, our picture of Frau Zauber and that bat puts itself together.  By the time it becomes clear enough, it's almost too late to save anything.  As a horror story, it doesn't work as well.  Frau Zauber is supposed to emerge as a horrible, monstrous figure, but the timing that provides the suspense is just too slow for that.

What saves the episode is Don Scardino's turn as Dr. Grant, who recounts the incident in narrative fashion.  Scardino's delivery dazzles listeners, keeping them focused on Alec's emotions -- and distracting them from a basic plot hole.  It would've been better for the Grants to verify that their time-share partners actually exist before they shipped off to Austria.  Despite Alec's best efforts, that doesn't happen, and it subtracts enough from the story to keep it off my top-ten list.

Score:  86/100.

Some bits about the lead actors

If Don Scardino showed up in an RMT episode, it was a good sign.  Except for Fred Gwynne and Mercedes McCambridge, no one did a better job of selecting RMT scripts.  Scardino played in just 29 RMT episodes, but most of them are very good.  For a Scardino episode, "The Ghost-Grey Bat" is actually a bit below average.

Time has been kind to him.  These days, he's a director, working mostly on the hilarious 30-Rock.  When he's not putting Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and company through their paces, he's lending his still-youthful voice to TV and radio ads for the likes of Geico and KFC.

Jennifer Harmon, who played in 21 RMT episodes, is also alive as of this posting, but her most recent TV role was on Oz as a counselor.  It's rather easy to mistake her for perennial poker champion Jennifer Harman.  Poker fans insist on spelling "Harman" with an 'o,' confusing Internet search engines to no end.  Looking for the actress (Harmon) often turns up the poker pro (Harman) instead.