27 December 2011

Tuesday Football: Victory Weighting in Action, Week 17

The AFC West scenario generated by Victory Weighting this season got even more dramatic, thanks to the, um, re-humanization of Tim Tebow last Saturday in Buffalo. The most obvious evidence is reflected in the standings:

San Diego7-8
Kansas City6-9
Victory Weighted
AFC WestStrengthW-L
San Diego307-8
Kansas City246-9

In the official playoff scenario:

  • Oakland can still qualify as an AFC wild card (but Denver cannot).
  • San Diego is eliminated, because the Chargers would lose any tiebreaker with Oakland or Denver.
  • Denver wins the division with a win or tie, or an Oakland loss or tie.

Under Victory Weighting, though, the situation is far different, in large part because everyone in the NFL is engaged in divisional play this week.

  • Oakland could not qualify as a wild card, because it cannot match sixth-seeded Cincinnati's 36 Strength.
  • The San Diego-Oakland game would essentially function as a play-in game, with the winner capturing the AFC West. A tie favors the Raiders unless Denver wins in regulation.
  • Denver would qualify only with a regulation win and a Charger-Raider tie. Any other combination would eliminate the Broncos.

With Oakland removed from it, the Victory Weighted AFC wild-card race would also simplify. Cincinnati qualifies outright with even an overtime loss to Baltimore.

If the Bengals do lose in regulation, then Tennessee and the New York Jets become eligible with regulation wins.

  • Neither the Titans or Jets wins in regulation: Cincinnati advances outright.
  • Only the Titans win in regulation: The Bengals defeated the Titans, 24-17, in Week 9. Cincinnati advances.
  • Only the Jets win in regulation: The Bengals and Jets did not meet, but the Jets would have 28 Strength over AFC games, while the Bengals would have only 24. New York Jets advance.
  • Both the Titans and Jets win in regulation: The Bengals are eliminated with the lowest Strength over AFC games (24). The Titans and Jets, who did not meet this season, would each have 28 Strength (7-5) over AFC games. Then, the Titans win the common-opponent tiebreaker over the Jets. Tennessee advances.

20 December 2011

Tuesday Football: Victory Weighting in action. Plus: All-Gigli!

I know that not many people have been viewing my Victory Weighting posts, but this is the best time of year for one.  This year is pretty quiet, with only four teams directly affected, but my little standings system would wreak the most havoc about right now.

To quickly review:  Victory Weighting assigns up to four points per game to each team, depending on whether

  1. the team won, lost or tied and 
  2. the game required overtime (indeed, it's overtime that the system weights.)

Teams are then ranked by total Strength over the season, with winning percentage providing the first tiebreaker.  A full explanation of the system appears on the Victory Weighting page.

Who's being affected the most?

Denver (Strength 29, 8-6) and San Diego (Strength 30, 7-7)

Officially, the Broncos lead the AFC West with the division's best winning percentage.  Most 8-win teams have Strength 32, but three of the Broncos's wins -- all under the new Tim Tebow regime -- came in overtime. That reduces the Broncos' Strength score to 29.

By contrast, San Diego stands at 7-7, officially second in the AFC West. Two Charger losses, including one to Denver, also came in overtime, so the Chargers's Strength score has increased from 28 to 30. Since Victory Weighting ranks teams by Strength, the Broncos would actually be trailing the Chargers. Maybe Tebow wouldn't be getting so much worship over on ESPN. This may seem wrong, but remember: it's the four overtime games involved here that are being "weighted."  Tebow-Fascist Zombie Brigade™ protests notwithstanding, Victory Weighting is working as I intended it.

Arizona (Strength 25, 7-7)

Like the Broncos, the Cardinals are 3-0 in overtime games. That reduces their Strength from 28 (the standard for 7-win teams) to 25. Unfortunately, it also means that the Cardinals can end the season with (at best) Strength 33, two less than current sixth-seed Detroit. Victory Weighting would thus eliminate the Cardinals, who are still officially in contention for a wild-card bid, from the playoffs.

Atlanta (Strength 37, 9-5)

Officially, the Falcons haven't secured a playoff bid. Victory Weighting wouldn't qualify them right now, but it would make their life much easier. Right now, Chicago, Seattle, the New York Giants and Arizona -- all 7-7 -- all threaten the Falcons' playoff position. Under Victory Weighting, Arizona is eliminated, and neither Seattle nor the Giants (both Strength 28) can overtake the Falcons. That would leave the fading Bears (Strength 29) as the only team that can still eliminate the Falcons. Even another overtime result in New Orleans this weekend would clinch a playoff bid. Merry Christmas, Atlanta.

Introducing the All-Gigli Team!  Believe it or not, there are fantasy-football leagues where the object is to create the worst team possible.  Unfortunately, I didn't play in such a league, so where could I put players who absolutely, positively failed my teams at critical times?  Why, in a team named after one of the worst box-office flops ever.  My tight ends and defenses all did a great job when called to duty, so two extra spots opened for more players who hurt the Fluttering Horde and/or the Ghost-Grey Cats.  The more detailed excuses appear in the newly added All-Gigli page (click on the tab at the top of this page), but here's the quick list.  Decide for yourself which of these suspects requires as much maintenance as Jennifer Lopez.

  • Quarterbacks:  Curtis Painter (Ind)
  • Wide receivers:  Pierre Garçon (Ind), Greg Little (Cle), James Jones (GB)
  • Running backs:  Marion Barber (Chi), Ryan Grant (GB)
  • Tight ends:  None; WR Julio Jones (Atl) awarded empty spot
  • Kicker:  Shaun Suisham (Pit).
  • Defense/special teams:  None; QB Mark Sanchez (NYJ) awarded empty spot

06 December 2011

Tuesday Football: Why I still can't oppose the rotten BCS

On the surface, this year's Bowl Championship Series selection has provided plenty of reasons to scrap the BCS:

The championship game itself: I'm so bitterly disappointed that Alabama and LSU will have a rematch, I plan on finding something else to watch one month hence, like a Squidbillies marathon.  You could point to Oklahoma State's loss at lowly Iowa State -- but then you'd have to forget that the OSU community had suffered a major tragedy that morning.  The Cowboys deserved extra credit for even showing up on the field in Ames, not scorn for losing.  Even with that loss, OSU outpointed Alabama in five of the seven computer polls.  No amount of honest voting should have overridden that.  Score another one for big money.

The Hokey Hokie Sugar Bowl:  What on Earth are Virginia Tech and Michigan doing in a BCS bowl game, much less the same one?  The BCS boys just invited a team that (a) lost the ACC final, 38-10, to overrated Clemson and (b) wasn't even as good as the Hokie squad that lost at (essentially) home to Boise State a year ago.

As for the Wolverines, I suppose that QB Denard Robinson deserved to play in a BCS bowl, and their case for BCS inclusion was stronger than VaTech's.  But Boise State (Kellen Moore) and Baylor (Robert Griffin III) could make the same argument, and either would have been more convincing than the Maize and Blue.

The excuse we're being given is that Virginia Tech and Michigan both bring lots of supporters.  The common buzz-phrase is "to travel well," but that's just yet more code for "these guys are richer" than the likes of BSU and Baylor.  Yep, big money wins again.

But why not playoffs?  So I've joined the thousands, if not millions, who've pointed out that big money has corrupted the BCS.  But as the case of Penn State is showing us, big money has corrputed the whole of college athletics, especially the Football Bowl Subdivision.  Playoffs for the FBS wouldn't solve that problem -- and I'm not convinced that they wouldn't exacerbate it.

A helpful miscue:  It's funny how, in fantasy football, something that looks like a mistake turns out to be a brilliant move.  Several weeks ago, I missed out on the chance to add Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham to the Fluttering Horde.  With trepidation, I claimed Dallas rookie DeMarco Murray instead.

Boy, howdy, did that ever work.  On the same day Graham suffered a season-ending injury, Murray turned in a 253-yard, one-touchdown performance.  He hasn't sat on the Horde bench since.  With no downside remaining, I added Murray to the Ghost-Grey Cats the next week.

That mistake, missing out on Earnest Graham, has boosted both teams.  Now back from an injured foot, Ahmad Bradshaw rejoins the Horde's powerful rushing troika with Murray and Darren Sproles.  The Cats just lost Matt Forte, but because Murray's there to take his place alongside Arian Foster, they're likely to purr their way into the playoffs.

22 November 2011

Tuesday football: Potpourri

Caleb Hanie, the (unknown) future of the Bears.
Something I never thought I'd say:  "I miss Jay Cutler."

And, "We shouldn't have wished so hard for that."

To be fair, when we were booing, flaming, and otherwise disrespecting him, Jay Cutler hadn't been playing well.  We couldn't tell which was worse, Cutler or the linemen who were supposed to protect him.  After some nice preseason performances and a near-miracle in last year's Super Bowl semifinal, Caleb Hanie looked like a great alternative.

But then offensive coordinator Mike Martz finally justified the salary the Bears are giving him.  Finally abandoning his dream of recreating The Greatest Show on Turf, Martz shifted his emphasis onto workhorse running back Matt Forte, while convincing Cutler and his line to work much more closely.  It wasn't the machine Aaron Rodgers is running in Green Bay, but the Bears had finally generated an efficient offense.  For the first time, Bear fans could admit to actually liking Cutler.

Now that Cutler is out through the winter solstice, the Bears now depend on Hanie to see their run through to the playoffs.  Yes, he looked good when Cutler didn't, but he hadn't had to run an offense for two games that counted.  That changes this Sunday in Oakland.  Fingers are crossed from the Indiana exurbs of Merrillville and Michigan City all the way around to the Wisconsin line.  Brrrrr.

Outlook not so bad:  Congratulations to the Los Angeles Galaxy on their latest Major League Soccer crown.  The latest question for the league comes from the status of David Beckham:  will he stay, or is it back to Europe for him?  Some columnists think that MLS still needs Beckham, but I disagree.

The problem with arguments like this one made by NBC Sports' Michael Ventre is that it assumes that the sport hasn't made any advances in the U.S. since Beckham joined the Galaxy five years ago.  Both the U.S. men's and women's teams made nice runs in their respective World Cup tournaments.  Well known (if aging) stars like Thierry Henry, Freddy Ljungburg, Rafael Márquez and Roy Keane have made real contributions in their new MLS homes.  Most importantly, expansion franchises have succeeded spectacularly in Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver and especially Seattle.  All of that isn't going to suddenly disappear just because one particularly glamourous Englishman left his club in Los Angeles.

Attention, SEC West woofers:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know that LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are 1-2-3 in the BCS standings.  I can understand why you SEC West fans are whooping it up, trying to mock the rest of us.

And I hope this makes up for the fact that, in men's basketball, your little division completely missed March Madness last year.  Not a single SEC West team made the field of 68.

No, you can't count Texas A&M or Missouri.  Try again next year.

15 November 2011

Tuesday Football: F#¢kin' mee-owwww

Joe Paterno's last public act as a "legendary" football coach was to essentially beg the Penn State Board of Trustees for his job.  Had he kept his mouth shut a week ago, he might have at least coached last Saturday's game against Nebraska.  Instead, the trustees fired him and PSU president Graham Spanier for their role in the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal, which may now be spreading all the way to Texas.

Penn State was right to fire Paterno and Spanier, but the consequences shouldn't stop there.  If even a fraction of what I have heard and read about this incident in the last week is true, then the university effectively harbored a serial sex offender while he was still committing crimes.  The NCAA has imposed its vaunted "death penalty" on specific programs at specific schools for lesser violations, so Penn State would certainly be eligible for some form of that punishment.  I'm not sure SMU-style sanctions are necessary -- those took out the entire Southwest Conference as collateral damage -- but it would be a good idea for 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium to sit idle for a season or two.

Also, a head or two should roll at a sports-media outlet or two.  Jerry Sandusky was defensive coordinator for a team that won a national championship.  Why didn't anyone ask out loud why he never became a head coach?  On that count alone, this story should have broken out years ago.

A lot of people have wondered how this could have happened under Joe Paterno's vaunted watch.  It's not my place to call Paterno a tyrant, but his power on the PSU campus did bring to mind something I heard on Chicago Public Radio's This American Life the Friday before the scandal broke.  [So far, I can only comfortably call Paterno an arrogant fool, like Bobby Knight.]  The crimes and victims are, of course different, but the media and police are just as clueless. Listen to "Petty Tyrant" below, and see the parallels between the Steve Raucci and Penn State stories for yourself.

01 November 2011

Tuesday Football: Praise be to Suh!

As I noted last Friday, the English language allows nouns, even proper ones, to double as verbs.  Of course, anyone with Internet access can google Google, and when 3-D printers become advanced enough, it should be possible (and with Xerox's permission, legal) to xerox a Xerox.

Now we can add "Tebow" to this list.  The Tebow-Fascist Zombie Brigades™ have declared that ostentatiously praying in public is "tebowing," because Tim Tebow has done it so often on the football field.  As it turns out, ...

... it is possible to tebow Tebow.  Somehow, I suspect that this amuses Tim Tebow more than it offends him.  Whatever floats your boat.

And there I sat, hoping to get a decent wideout for Tebow:  To be fair, Colo Colo had its toughest lineup of the year.  Even with one good receiver, the Ghost-Grey Cats would have struggled to win.  But I really needed a good game from Tim Tebow.  Instead, his value went down, taking my hopes for a decent receiver with it.  Despite getting Michael Vick and Antonio Gates back, the Kittehs' receiving woes continued, causing a 97-87 loss.

While the Cats fell to 4-4, the Fluttering Horde rose to the same level.  Kevin Walter continued to solidly spell Andre Johnson, the Buffalo Bills' kicker and defense performed brilliantly as bye-week substitutes, and the rest of the Horde starters (and Ahmad Bradshaw) kept being bad-asses.  Only Dwayne Bowe's strong effort for Flying Hawai'ian prevented the Horde from doubling up yet another opponent.  Instead, I had to "settle" for a 115-63 win.

Both teams are sit at .500, but only the Horde is set for a playoff run.  The Horde is a serious threat even with Andre Johnson on the mend.

31 October 2011

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (9) Time and Again

Episode 22:  Time and Again
First aired:  27 January 1974
Author:  Ian Martin
A clock maker times the time:

And the last thing I heard that night... was the triumphant beat of the clock, sounding my inner ear.  Or was it the sound of my heart?  -- Ethan Vigil

Back in 2000, I was thrilled to learn that someone at a Pacific 12 university had posted almost the entire run of CBS Radio Mystery Theater.  As a relatively affluent and experienced Internet user, I was happy to have an ultra-fast 56k modem with which to download.  Sure, it took 45 minutes to pull in one episode; but at two (maybe even three!) a night, I could have the whole set loaded onto Zip cartridges sometime in 2003.  Woo-hoo!  Progress!

Well before then, I had downloaded my favorites, and even put a few of them on a CD I took to Chicago as 2000 came to a close.  As usually happened every Christmas holiday season until 2003, my sisters brought their kids (and one grandchild), and we had a family reunion.  My original plan was to listen to my freshly downloaded episodes on my father's computer his den, by myself.  Now that the kids were also in town, I came up with a better idea.

One night just before the New Year, at a few minutes to midnight, I convinced three cousins -- aged 8, 8 and 6-1/2 -- to join me.  While I sat at the computer, they formed a small arc behind me.  As second- and third-graders, my nieces and nephew were too young for most horror stories, but "Time and Again" held exactly the right amount of terror and excitement for supervised kids that age.  They shook and fidgeted with fear, combined with a grim, shared determination to stay until the end.  To their credit, they stayed -- and then they asked me to play "Time and Again" for them again.

The youngest of them will graduate from high school next May, but all three still cherish the memory of that amusing night.

So far as I know, "Time and Again" is entirely original, but the if teaser has brought a Twilight Zone episode or two to mind, that would be easy to understand.  Like the hyperlinked teleplays, Ian Martin's play, his fourth for Radio Mystery Theater, centers on someone who finds an object that can stop time.  But only in "Time and Again" does the using that object exact a price.

Oddly enough, this story about time doesn't specify when the action takes place.  It's certainly in the past, because host E.G. Marshall tells us that he's reading a note left behind from one Ethan Vigil (John Beal).  The note quickly tells its reader that Ethan ekes out a living by making and repairing clocks.  His work, in fact, doesn't pay the bills -- he has to share expenses and his home with his chronically ill wife Henrietta (Grace Matthews) and her hard-nosed sister Harriet (Bryna Raeburn).  Even then, they've been able to wire a telephone into their residence, but must still rely on kerosene lanterns to fulfill their lighting needs.  Some people have cars, but not the Vigils.  All the clues point to a Prohibition-era urban setting, but nothing more definite.

As the story begins, Ethan has closed his shop for the night when a derelict barges in with an unusual clock with several unusual features -- including the number 13 at the top of its face.  His decision to buy the clock draws Harriet's ire, not least because he's been burning too much kerosene for her comfort.

No matter how much Ethan tinkers with it, the clock itself refuses to work -- until sickly Henrietta sticks her hand in its hourglass-shaped case.  The moment she pricks her finger inside the case, the clock starts.  It runs, all right, but with a bizarre rhythm.

Like all the other working clocks, this one eventually strikes midnight, as Ethan and his doctor are playing chess.

For everyone but Ethan, time stops.

Ethan finds himself able to move about freely, but for exactly one hour, the world stops frozen around him.  That hour passes for him and him alone, and he can now explain the number 13 on his clock's face.  It happens again at noon, then at midnight, and so on.  Twice a day, the rest of the world freezes, leaving Ethan to do whatever he wishes, unopposed.

It all seems like harmless fun until Henrietta falls ill again.  Whatever is ailing her this time proves unstoppable, sapping her life force until she's finally too tired to take another breath.  Although it doesn't happen right away, Ethan eventually discovers a connection between his extra two hours a day, his wife's passing and "that damnable machine."  Meanwhile, we listeners get to observe the destructive power of Ethan's new addiction -- something that proves well beyond the reach of any twelve-step program.

One of my big objections to horror stories is that so many of them require stupid protagonists to work.  "Time and Again" comes awfully close to that cliché, but much of its suspense comes from watching Ethan finally "get it."  Anyway, it worked out for my nieces and my nephew when they were grade-schoolers.  They got to experience the creepiness, while avoiding the gore that had become too common in horror movies even in 1974.  It would work as well in a Goosebumps novella as it did for adults 37 years ago.

29 October 2011

Friday Double: (10) They might be edifying

Sorry I'm late.  This year's last two World Series games made me care about baseball (beyond the Giants and Athletics) again.  Congratulations to both the Cardinals and the Rangers for two determined, resilient efforts.  Anyway, here's a roundabout way to introduce this week's selections.

I really like soccer commentator Jorge Ramos's* English-language work.  He knows both North American and South American fútbol really well, and ESPN's coverage since August (when he crossed over from ESPN Deportes) has improved as a result.  As an English speaker, he can easily hold conversations, and his diction has improved dramatically, but his phrasing style makes it clear that (a) Spanish is his native language and (b) he didn't grow up in North America.  [He's Uruguayan.]

That little annoyance reminded me that English, especially its American dialects, has a lot of weird rules that don't occur in other languages.  For example, in English, several words can be used as both nouns and verbs.  That rule even applies to really popular brand names, like "Xerox" and "Google."

While I doubt that Pete Townshend ever intended to create a song just for ESL students, "Face the Face" would be a great song to hear for someone who's learning English as an adult.  Besides its snazzy music and lush instrumentation, its lyrics are full of words being used as both nouns and verbs.  Here's part of a verse:
We've got to judge the judge
We got to find the finds
We've got to scheme the schemes
We got to line the lines
We got to fight the fight
We got to fall the falls
We got to light the light
We got to call the calls
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
Educational and fun!  Here's the whole of "Face the Face," including the preamble that didn't get much radio play. 

* Not to be confused with Jorge Ramos Ávalos, the Univisión news anchor.

On the other hand, we have They Might Be Giants, who've made whimsical songs about school subjects a habit.  I like their work, too, but "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is still my favorite from them after all these years.  Something about "nobody's business but the Turks'" just appeals to my inner pedant.  Cheers!

25 October 2011

Tuesday Football: Tebow Zombie Edition

Yep, The Walking Dead just got renewed.  Congrats, AMC.

For someone who only started his first NFL game two days ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become an amazing cause celébre.  The coverage of his exploits in the last two weeks has reached such a level that people are complaining about its sheer volume.  It actually is amazing to see how many sports fans have pinned their hopes on Tebow.  But why?

Tebow is unconventional, and he likes to run a lot.  He's hardly the first quarterback, or the best, with those characteristics.  [His contemporary Cam Newton, for one, is better.]  Anyway, many of Tebow's (and Newton's) fans today are the same ones who glommed onto Michael Vick six years ago.  Before that, their attention turned to the likes of Randall Cunningham and even Donovan McNabb.

Of course, Tebow is the only white man on that list, so it's tempting to consider race as a factor.  But Vick was only a little less popular when he wore red and black in Atlanta.  Also, even though I didn't include Aaron Rodgers in that list (his style is more conventional), some fans do.  In those lights, the racial theory loses some of its force.

Race doesn't lose all its force, though -- and that might be because evangelical Christians can count Tim Tebow as one of their own.  To them, he may, indeed, be a great white hope.  I suspect that, as a group, they're following Tebow they way African Americans rooted for Joe Gilliam and James Harris back in the 1970s.  I watched my elders pull just as passionately for fellow Mexican Americans Joe Capp, Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores.

In short:  Tim Tebow isn't popular for his quirky quarterback style, or because he's white, or because he wears his religion on his sleeve.  It's because they're all in effect at the same time.

Almost perfect:  With both starting quarterbacks and Ahmad Bradshaw all on bye weeks, and my receivers beyond Devin Hester struggling, I needed to make a perfect set of waiver-wire pickups and roster moves to win both my games.

It almost worked.  Between them, the Fluttering Horde and the Ghost-Grey Cats started four of the five best running backs this week.  Almost.

For no reason other than pure shock -- no one else in my public league wanted him -- I added Tim Tebow, and he started for the Cats (4-3) this week.  I could have started the miserable Curtis Painter and still picked off one of the league leaders.  Arian Foster and Matt Forte combined for 66 points as the Cats rolled to a 29-point win over The Pack.

Meanwhile, the Fluttering Horde nabbed Dallas rookie DeMarco Murray, who rewarded them with a team-record 253 rushing yards.  He and Darren Sproles contributed 58 more points.  Unfortunately, the miserable Curtis Painter did start, and his disaster cost the Horde (3-4) a 16-point loss to the Southside Hitmen.  A full-time NFL quarterback would've won it.

Next week, I'm going to have to decide who sits on the Horde bench:  Murray, Sproles or Bradshaw.  It's a nice dilemma to have.

Needless to say, I dropped Curtis Painter.

For a kicker.

And finally:  J-E-T-S! Suck! Suck! Suck! Suck!

18 October 2011

Tuesday Football: Wascally wabbit scores!

Well, I was going to post something about the recent talk of making the English Premier League membership permanent, but the arguments I've formed to date are really very fuzzy.  Maybe later, I'll have something to post besides "damned Yank money-grubbers," but by then, the English FA will have put this silly idea to rest.

In the meantime, enjoy this moment from CBS and TNT announcer Kevin Harlan, who was calling a Purdue-Michigan game in the early 1990s.  The things some announcers have to do to advance their careers... .

Imaginary teams go level again:  Both the Fluttering Horde and the Ghost-Grey Cats went 1-1 in the last two weeks, so both sit in marginal playoff position at 3-3.  The bad news is that both teams have to face league leaders this week.

The Cats' receiver struggles continue, but Matt Forte continues to keep them in the games.  Forte led a dramatic Week 5 rally a week ago, and would have led another two nights ago had the Bears not wrapped up an easy win so early.  Instead, Forte and nominal WR1 Percy Harvin both got the fourth quarter off, leaving the Cats 21 yards short of a comeback.  Unless one of my receivers dramatically improves, I may have to trade Arian Foster away; but that decision is still a couple of weeks off.

On the other hand, the Horde has barely missed injured WR1 Andre Johnson, as his Texans teammate Kevin Walter has managed to keep up the pace in a substitute role.  WR3 Eric Decker's disastrous performance undid Walter's Week 5 work, sending the Horde to a loss.  In Week 6, though, Walter had the team's weakest performance... which was still good for 8 points.  Ahmad Bradshaw and Devin Hester (5 touchdowns combined) carried the load, as the Horde scored a team-record 146 points, doubling its opponent for the second time in three weeks.  Unfortunately, both Bradshaw and QB Tom Brady have byes, so I'm expecting a loss this week.

14 October 2011

Friday Double: (9) Herman Cain's perpetual gift

I'm so happy about GOP presidential hopeful (and master crap marketer) Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax scheme.  It's made this Friday Double so much easier to compose than usual.  Thanks, Pizza Guy!

Leave aside the fact that even other Republicans hate 9-9-9; just note that it might have been stolen from a video game.  One of Cain's rivals, Michele "Corn Dog" Bachmann, even poked fun at his plan by insinuating a connection to the number 666, that well known symbol of the Antichrist.

Naturally, then, my first selection today comes from Omen III: The Final Conflict.  This 1981 mess was (fortunately) the last* of the Omen movies, which centered on one Damien Thorn, who is meant to be Antichrist.  This selection contains both the main title and a second track ("The Second Coming").  Combinations like this aren't uncommon in modern films, but Jerry Goldsmith made it a habit.

I could have picked the better known "Ave Satani" from the first Omen movie, which Goldsmith also penned.  Since Herman Cain is running for President, just like Damien Thorn did, this choice made better sense.

The best thing about Cain's 9-9-9 scheme is that it's so easy to mock.  The folks over at Stephanie Miller's talk-radio show have taken to calling it "Nein! Nein! Nein!" and that inspired me to come up with another renaming:  "Plan 999 from Outer Space."

Oh, well.  I might as well just give you the theme to the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).  I'm not sure who wrote it.  Wikipedia credits someone named Frank Worth, but IMDB claims that it's Emil Asher, who didn't get the credit.  Neither man sported a long film résumé.

On the other hand, I could just follow the lead of these stupid birds from Finding Nemo (2003) and just call Cain's scheme the "Mine! Mine! Mine!" plan.

It's at least as stupid as those birds.

*There was a 2006 remake of the first Omen movie.  It was so forgettable, I forgot about it.

27 September 2011

Tuesday Football: The buh-byes of Texas

Like most extended families in Texas, mine has divided its collegiate sporting loyalties between Texas and Texas A&M.  I grew up a Longhorn fan, but then became a student at A&M, so now I'm an Aggie.  I'm also what my fellow Ags like to call a "two-percenter," a liberal (or even a moderate) in a student body that's been historically conservative.  It probably won't be a surprise to learn that I've never had any real animus towards UT-Austin.

Then again, no one at UT had ever signed of on an idea as stupid and destructive as the Longhorn Network.  Many mid-tier cable and satellite packages include the wildly successful Big Ten Network, so it's not hard to see how Texas, or any other Big 12 school, might want to have its own network.  Other conferences have implemented their own solutions, but somehow, the Big 12 allowed UT to strike out on its own.

What an incredibly stupid, shortsighted idea.

If a member of a conference creates a network for its own sports teams, and keeps all the proceeds to itself, doesn't that defeat the entire point of belonging to a conference?  Answer:  apparently, the other members are now to be mere props to serve the Longhorns, the way the Washington Generals serve as props to the Harlem Globetrotters.  Small wonder that Nebraska, Colorado and now Texas A&M left.  They saw their Big 12 futures in their crystal balls, and they didn't like it any better than Missouri does.

Since A&M left for the SEC, we've seen the defection of two Big East universities to the ACC, talk of the same at a third, and an SEC run at Missouri.  Only the Pacific 12's refusal to take on new members is holding the Big 12 together.  As the price for staying, Oklahoma has extracted the dismissal of commissioner Dan Beebe, but the Big 12 is still UT's plaything.

Unless the State of Texas itself intends to annex Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Missouri, it's hard to see how this new situation is any more stable than the one that Nebraska and Colorado escaped.  Maybe Kansas and Kansas State keep some independence as basketball powers, but which athletes are going to commit to schools like Iowa State and Texas Tech, whose dreams of nationwide status have just been reduced from slim to none?  The Big XII X IX may replace its departed members, but those replacements will probably be schools for which life as a vassal for UT Athletics would be an improvement.

Even that assumes that the Longhorn Network succeeds.  If it fails, well, it's going to really, really suck to be the University of Texas come 2020.

Victory Weighting administrivia:  Once again, I'm keeping Victory Weighted standings for the NFL.  Also, I've given my little system a logo, which appears on both the Victory Weighting main page and the standings page.  Click on the buttons on the purple bar at the top.

Let's get lolcatty:  Speaking of suck, life has turned nasty for the Ghost-Grey Cats, who have devolved into a fantasy veterinary ward.  Let's review the team's top picks.  [Thanks, Yahoo!]
  1. Arian Foster:  Bad hammy.  Might lose his starting spot when he heals.
  2. Michael Vick:  Bad hand.  Concussed two weeks ago.
  3. Matt Forte:  Healthy, but now he's the whole of the Bears' offense.
  4. Antonio Gates:  Bad foot.  Out for weeks now.
  5. Nate Kaeding:  Bum knee.  Gave out on the first play of the season.
  6. Receivers:  What receivers?
This team has turned into mush -- the kind of mush that turned in one of my worst fantasy performances ever this week.  They lost 79-57 to a team called Let's Smoke Crack.  It gets worse this week, as the Cats face the league-leading Gridiron Heroes.  Frequent, the begging and meowing for ball-carrying treats will be.

The Fluttering Horde, on the other hand, delivered lots of Africanized bee stings to the Purple Dragons, romping to a 117-56 win.  I just love, love, love me some Darren Sproles.  Next up:  one of my winless nephews, Svelte & Vexatious.

16 September 2011

Friday Double: (8) With thunderous applause

The Star Wars prequels are collectively so bad, I hesitate to call descriptions of any of their scenes "spoilers," but this post contains some.  It's worth the trouble to finally introduce John Williams, the best American orchestral composer of the late 20th Century, to my Friday Double feature.  He is to the prequels as the great Walter Payton was to the Chicago Bears 30 years ago:  it's not the former's fault that the latter sucked so hard.

So this is how liberty dies:  with thunderous applause. -- Senator Amidala
The crowd reactions at the two latest Republican presidential debates brought this line to my mind.  It's rather terrifying to realize that large crowds of Americans are now openly cheering RIck Perry's love of the death penalty, or the thought of leaving the poor to die for simple lack of money.  People like that have always existed, but now they've lost even the decency to keep their vile sentiments to themselves.

So, yeah, Amidala's lament, probably the single most famous line from the three Star Wars prequels, has crossed my mind recently.  In Chapter III: Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine, having just defeated an attempt by the Jedi to arrest him for treason, is using the incident as an excuse to appoint himself as Emperor.  The Senators cheer, prompting Amidala to complain to her few remaining allies.  Of course, the Emperor has neglected to tell his adoring Senate of his other recent creation -- Darth Vader, who, as the following track plays in the background, has just committed one heinous crime and is now working on a second.  [Amidala's line comes at about the 1:50 mark.]

It isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with "thunderous applause."  A reaction like that is entirely appropriate, for example, after everybody's favorite benchwarmer ends a victorious game with, well, as much emphasis as possible.  The first couple of minutes of this Jerry Goldsmith joint make a lot more sense if you watch the actual final scene.  To skip that preamble, skip to about the 2:10 mark.

Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy!

13 September 2011

Tuesday Football: FOX Sports' oddly sensible programming trick

Last Sunday, FOX Sports used its NFL telecasts to pitch next week's Manchester United-Chelsea match, which it plans to show on tape delay.

Wait.  Back up.  Scratch that needle back across the vinyl.  FOX ran ads promoting a taped soccer game on its flagship network, and nobody's head rolled?  Apparently, everyone got out without so much as a paper cut.  In all seriousness, though, this coming weekend is already a major milestone in U.S. soccer history.  Think about it a bit:  One of the U.S.'s major English-language broadcast networks now feels comfortable not merely counter-programming live NFL games with a foreign soccer match, but proudly announcing the move to the general public.

FOX Sports has made the correct calculation:  American sports fans may not be watching American soccer clubs, but they are watching soccer.  ESPN2 has been airing live English Premier League matches for years, and it appears that this season, one will air on that channel every week the EPL is playing.  Both the News Corp and DIsney syndicates are showing live Champions League games.  Last season, either ESPN or ESPN2 broadcast live matches from Spain, sometimes directly opposite NFL games.  [All that is before we even get to the big Spanish-language channels.]

Mind you, it's only five games, and the first four are on tape.  What's interesting is the timing:  FOX will air the taped EPL games on those weekends when CBS is running NFL doubleheaders.  Where I live, the Chicago Bears will play at New Orleans at 12:00 on FOX, then the MUFC-Chelsea tape will run at about 3:15, after the Bears' game has finished.  [The same goes for Saints fans.]  In the Metroplex, the situation will be the opposite.  Since the Cowboys are away to San Fransico, the soccer match will show up at 12:00, while the 'Pokes-49ers game starts at 3:15.  Either way, viewers will choose between the MUFC-Chelsea match on FOX and an NFL game on CBS.  The honchos at FOX Sports think that fans will blow off the CBS game for the taped soccer -- and in a sizable minority of cases, they will be right.

FOX Sports will air three more EPL matches this way.  Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, it will air the return Chelsea-Manchester United match live from London.  That will probably get impressive numbers, too.

While this development doesn't suddenly make soccer America's Number One Sport™, it should put to a permanent rest the notion that soccer is not a major spectator sport in the United States.

Slow starts win races, anyway:  Both my fantasy football teams lost Nate Kaeding, their shared kicker, on his opening kickoff, but both muddled through to win their openers.

Tom Brady blew open a tight opener against Flying Hawai'ian, handing the Horde a 106-92 win, but there will be serious changes, as Darren Sproles has run past Ryan Grant for the RB2 spot.  Danny Amendola may or may not return this season, but fortunately, I have kick-return emperor Devin Hester handy to take his WR3 position.  Finally, Robbie Gould becomes the third Chicago Bear to join the Horde, replacing Kaeding.

Meanwhile, the Ghost-Grey Cats saw Patriot RB Danny Woodhead provide adequate relief for the injured Arian Foster.  The Cats struggled without Kaeding, but their opponents were just bad.  Kittehs 88, Super Steeler Fan 77.

08 September 2011

Game on!

Submitted for your approval:  my fantasy football teams for the 2011-12 season.  Week 1 starters are listed in italics.  Returning players get a star after their name; returning MVPs get two.

The Fluttering Horde
Slogan:  We've built a machine to kick your ass.  We will build an empire to house the machine to kick your ass.
QuarterbacksTom Brady (NE), Mark Sanchez (NYJ).
Wide receiversAndre Johnson* (Hou), Anquan Boldin (Bal), Danny Amendola** (StL), Devin Hester (Chi), Johnny Knox (Chi), Randall Cobb (GB).
Running backsAhmad Bradshaw* (NYG), Ryan Grant (GB), Darren Sproles (NO).
Tight ends Jason Witten (Dal), Tood Heap* (Ari).
KickerNate Kaeding (SD).
Defense/Special teamsGreen Bay.

The Ghost-Grey Cats (formerly the Middlemen)
Slogan:  We iz kittehs.  Heer us rowr!
QuarterbacksMichael Vick* (Phi), Josh Freeman (TB).
Wide receiversPercy Harvin (Min), Austin Collie (Ind), Julio Jones (Atl), Jordy Nelson (GB), Braylon Edwards (SF).
Running backsArian Foster (Hou), Matt Forte** (Chi), Grant, Danny Woodhead* (NE).
Tight endsAntonio Gates* (SD), Visanthe Shiancoe(Min)
Defense/Special teamsGreen Bay.

05 September 2011

Tuesday Football: Unsportsmanlike fashion, offense, loss of down

College football has apparently opened some jobs for fashion designers. On this opening weekend, we saw several teams wear innovative new designs. I've graded some of the most striking new kits.

WIN:  Boise State.
(Scott Cunningham/
Getty Images)


Last year, Boise State sported an innovative design that was also obnoxious.  This year, the designers replaced most of the gaudy silver with blue-to-white gradients.  The improvement is dramatic.  Were the Broncos to adapt this kit permanently, I wouldn't mind.  But first, per Mountain West diktat, they'll have to learn to win their home games on green turf.




MEH:  Maryland.  (AP)
Maryland actually sported two new helmets as part of the new Terrapin kit.  One has just a tortoiseshell pattern plastered all over it, while the other plays on the Maryland state flag, with the checkerboarded Calvert crest on the right side and the red-and-white Crossland crest on the right.  The jerseys have the signature crests, too, one on each sholder.

Unlike Boise State, Maryland plans to use the general design all year, the way Oregon has for several years now.  The variant I saw against Miami looked good, but I'll wait to see other versions before issuing a grade.  Hopefully, the Terps won't commit as many fashion crimes as Oregon.

FAIL, from left to right:  Georgia [Scott Cunningham/Getty Images], Oklahoma State [AP], Romulus Oregon [AP].


WTF was the brain trust thinking at Georgia?  Those overly metallic silver-and-red kits should only be worn by Cylon centurians.  Maybe Cybermen might benefit from them.   Human beings, however, should just stay away from what the Bulldogs wore.

Hey, Oklahoma State:  Grey jerseys are a potentially good idea, but not when they're combined with bright orange numerals and lettering.  Switch the numbers to white, and it might work better.

Finally, Oregon has used the meta-uniform scheme for a few years now, and the results have been so miserable, I'm spending three paragraphs to complain about it.  Saturday's kit was a new low that disgusted casual fans while completely failing to impress opponents.

Look: if the object of your black-and-90-percent-grey uniforms is to intimidate the other team, then you should choose an accent color that doesn't evoke (1) a major highway reconstruction project, (2) a stomach illness induced by chugging a bottle of cheap tequila or (3) or some combination of those two unforunate events.  Otherwise, you're just inviting the other team to laugh as they run all over you.

And what is with the feathers?  Yes, they're supposed to look like duck wings, but they only remind me of treacherous Star Trek antagonists.   Sorry, Oregon, but I can't call your team "the Ducks" anymore.  "Romulan National Team" will have to do.

In other news, I have two promising fantasy-football teams staffed, and am mulling adding a third for this season.  If I do, it won't be on Yahoo!, which lets individuals use only one custom helmet design.  More on the Fluttering Horde and the (renamed) Middlemen later this week.

19 August 2011

Friday Double: (7) Kon'nichiwa (Part 1)

Fall, 1973:  My family had just moved 2000+ clicks north from Texas.  Since we were now in suburban Chicago, the TV now picked up eight -- count 'em, eight! -- channels, not just the three I got before.  Before the move, the nearest pro sports teams were Houston, three hours away by car, and Dallas (way too far!).  Now, there were five teams just an hour away.  The whole experience was a culture shock I was enjoying.  On top of all that, I had never seen anything like Speed Racer, something to which I became addicted.  Eventually, I outgrew that anime, but it's remained a keystone for me, a reminder of some very happy days.

Shouldn't that red car have about
400 endorsements plastered on its sides?
Yes, the storylines in Speed Racer suck, and so does the animation.  The animators, I suppose, can blame it on the 1960s, but it turned into a really bad movie just two years ago.  Nobuyoshi Koshibe's soundtrack music, happily, has held up much better over the decades.  It borrowed from the West Coast style of jazz that was popular then.  I'm still looking for one commonly used piece that would fit in beautifully in an NFL Films video, but my other favorite Koshibe track is the theme for "The Mammoth Car" (1967; still shown at right).  The episode is one of the most ridiculous of the entire series, and the Mammoth Car itself makes Aruba's World Cup dreams look downright credible.  Nevertheless, its theme carries a tone of menace worthy of a major villain from a series that's actually worthwhile.

Alas, I'm not allowed to embed this video, so you'll need to click on a link.   Go ahead; it's worth the effort.

These days, it's Yoko Kanno who's been scoring some of the better Japanese anime out there.  Her best known pieces Stateside come from Cowboy Bebop, a program that's decent, but not as enjoyable as another anime she's scored, Ghost in the Shell.  On the other hand, I do like the music on Bebop better; in particular, it has a really snazzy theme.  Enjoy.

15 August 2011

The Bachmanns' unfunny corn-dog joke

Yeehaw!  You go, Optimus!
With Texas governor Rick Perry coming on board as a GOP Presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann's campaign will probably fade.  Perry's a gun-totin', macho man from Texas (just like his predecessor, George W. Bush), so conservative evangelicals will probably fall behind him.  For now, though, Bachmann still holds the Dominionist banner.  However quickly Perry's campaign overtakes hers, those corn-dog pictures that have won such attention last week still hold a lesson for those of us who would like to keep her like out of power.

I've wondered why Michele hasn't more forcefully defended her husband Marcus against all the questions and jokes about his sexuality.  It's not that he doesn't deserve criticism regarding his counseling of gays.  Those "pray away the gay" tactics Marcus has used in his practice are offensive.

The Bachmanns, unlike fellow fundamentalist-Christian favorites Perry, Bush and Sarah Palin, are hard-core Dominionists.  I don't think Bush has even wondered whether he is one, but he did appeal to them.  Palin is one, but she's more like the lead choir singer at Sunday services than an actual church official.  Perry isn't one, yet, although he has quite consciously moved into their corner.  Unlike any of them, the Bachmanns know what they are preaching.

Given that the Bachmanns's beliefs include "complementarian theology," which boils down to the notion that wives must submit their husbands, you'd think that Michele's candidacy contradicts itself.  How, after all, can a woman rule a nation is she is subservient to her husband?  Shouldn't Marcus be the one running for the White House?  What's wrong with him, anyway?  At face value, it's Michele's Dominionist supporters who should be going at her in weapons-free mode.

Michele can answer that:  wifely submission serves the larger goal submitting to God.  I would imagine that some of her supporters also think that Marcus's counseling would be much better served with Michele running the Oval Office.  Not all Dominionists buy those arguments; some would still feel obligated to attack the Bachmanns.  But even then, why bother, when their common enemies are doing all the hard work for them?  This way, Dominionists (and the rest of the Fox News set) can yet again pretend the victims of the godless pinko Muslim pagan Communist socialist heathen mutants who supposedly dominate the mainstream media.

Enter these photos of the foot-long corn dog:

A starburst in every bite.  Oh, wait:  this isn't Caribou Barbie, is it?

You know what they tell me?  The Bachmanns have decided to stop fighting all the questions about Marcus's sexuality.  If they really cared about quelling the rumors once and for all, they would have just stayed away from the corn-dog lines in Ames.  They've seen all the phallic jokes, and now they're just playing along.

Sometimes a corn dog is just a corn dog.  And sometimes it's a big, fat middle finger to the world.

29 July 2011

Friday Double: (6) The intransigent black hole

First, a quick observation on media coverage of the debt-ceiling hostage situation:  the word "intransigent" describes a driver who crawls down the road at 20 mph below the speed limit and then refuses to let anyone else pass.  Technicaly, it's possible to use "intransigent" to describe the Osama bin Ladens, Agosto Pinchets and Anders Breviks of the world -- but that seems woefully inadequate, doesn't it?  Given their grim determination to shove the United States through an event horizon, House Republicans shouldn't be described as "intransigent," either.

Event horizons, as suggested by the teabaggers, were my initial excuse for this week's Friday Double picks.  These are the parts of black holes from which neither matter nor light can escape.  My original plan for today was to just post a couple of pieces of music with black-hole motifs.

Leave it to U.S. Soccer hand me a new excuse to pile on top of the first.  Men's national team coach Bob Bradley, whose firing I had been hoping to see following last month's Gold Cup debacle, got the sack yesterday.  No word on whether Bradley chose paper or plastic.

Click to hear how I feel about this development.

This pretty overture is exactly that -- the overture to The Black Hole (1979).  For a barely watchable piece of unintentionally funny science fiction, it's an enormous part of Hollywood film history.
  • It was the first movie Disney ever produced for an audience that didn't include younger children.  The movie succeeded well enough to eventually spawn the Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures studios, and, from there, the Disney empire we know and love.
  • Its John Barry score was the first to ever be digitally recorded.
  • After this and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, no mainstream Hollywood movie ever includes an overture.

Jürgen Klinsmann (Wikipedia)
Back to U.S. Soccer.  Today, the federation named former German head coach Jürgen Klinsmann to succeed Bradley.  If the deal leaves Klinsmann the control over the men's program he wanted five years ago, this could be a good thing.  But his actual coaching resume is mixed.  He did take the Germans into the 2006 World Cup semifinals at home, and he did lead Bayern Munich deep into the UEFA Champions League.  But both terms were short, and Bayern didn't do so well in the Bundesliga under his reign.

As it turns out, the main title to John Barry's Black Hole score expresses my feelings about Klinsmann's hiring.  Bradley left the men's program in worse shape than many of my fellow U.S. soccer fans seem to think, so I'm only willing to give him a 2-in-3 chance of success.  If he fails, it won't be all his fault.

Either way, click and enjoy the main title.

18 July 2011

Early Tuesday Football: Easy Comfort

Golden Ball winner Homare Sawa lifts the
Women's World Cup trophy for victorious Japan. 
(Frank Augstein, Associated Press)
Well, I could complain about all those missed first-half opportunities, or the defensive lapses towards the end, or the shocking penalty-kick misses in the shootout.  It certainly was a disappointment to see the U.S. lose the Women's World Cup final Sunday night in Frankurt.  Still, there's plenty of comfort to be had.

The Japanese needed the Cup a lot more than the U.S. did -- a lot more.  That would be the Japanese nation, still in the early stages of its long recovery from the March earthquake that devastated it.  I'd hate to think about the reaction in Japan had the Americans held on, but that didn't happen.  For now, the Rising Sun is a little brighter; and that's a good thing, indeed.

This was an American letdown, not a fiasco.  Over at the New York Daily News, Frank Isola completely missed this question.  Not only wasn't this "simply the worst loss in the history of the national team," it wasn't really even a loss.  The correct answer to that question is (b) that 4-0 thrashing Brazil gave the U.S. four years ago in China.  You know, the one that got Hope Solo thrown off the team, led to the furious dismissal of coach Greg Ryan, and might have destroyed the U.S. program had his successor, Pia Sundhage, not stepped in to rescue it.

Japan spent the first half Sunday dodging more bullets than Ghost in the Shell's Section 9.  In non-anime terms, the Japanese had the luck to survive a deadly barrage that should have finished them -- and then, they had the skill and persistence to take advantage of that break.  The U.S. didn't lose the World Cup; Japan won it.

Disappointed, but not grieving:  U.S. keeper Hope Solo chats
with Japan's Ana Miyama after the match.
(Kevin C. Cox/FIFA via Getty Images)
This was an amazing World Cup tournament.  Japan won with brilliant passing and incredible discipline.  The Americans and the Swedes also looked very good when they didn't have to deal with Japan (or each other).  France turned out to be for real.  Down the ladder a rung or two, Australia, England and Mexico all provided pleasant surprises.  Finally, as Germany and Brazil learned to their sorrow, the era of a free pass to the semifinals has ended.

9-0 and 7-1 blowouts didn't happen this time.  Alas, they may return in four years, as the Canadians  host an expanded field of 24 teams.  On the other hand, some traditional powers that missed out (most notably China and Denmark) should easily find room to return to the field.

It's one of the greatest tournament upsets in sporting history.  No World Cup has produced such as massive upset winner as this edition of Nadeshiko Japan.  Outside soccer, and in the U.S., there are  few examples:  the Super Bowl III champion New York Jets; the North Carolina State squad that stunned the 1983 Men's Final Four1; and, of course, the U.S. hockey team that famously beat the Soviets en route to Olympic gold in 1980.  There's also a case to include the 1966 Texas Western hoops team in this list.  Japan's win this week is notable because, like those other teams, no one took them seriously at the start of the campaign.  Just the road win at Germany in the quarterfinal was a monumental upset, yet the Japanese improved on that.

Hey, at least we're not Brazil.  Last Sunday in the quarterfinals, Abby Wambach put paid to the Samba Queens' embarrassing, cynical, overly theatrical performance, then Hope Solo blocked their World Cup hopes away in the penalty-kick shootout.  This Sunday, the Brazilian men matched that "historical imcompetence2," missing all four penalty kicks in their Copa América quarterfinal exit at the hands of the Tholians Paraguay.  At last report, Seleçao coach Mano Menezes was pleading for his nation not to panic.  Considering how badly the Brazilian men played in this Copa, that might take a little effort.

Anyway, congratulations to Nadeshiko Japan, Champions of the World!

1.  In a sad update that only came to mind now, Lorenzo Charles, whose buzzer-beating dunk propelled the Wolfpack past prohibitive favorite Houston, perished in a car accident just three weeks ago.  Belated condolences to his family, his friends and the North Carolina State community.
2.  Thanks for that hyperbolic description of Coach Menezes, O Globo.

14 July 2011

Behold! the Black Widows

There's really not much more to say about the American women's magnificent comeback win over Brazil last Sunday in Dresden.  It only had a few things going for it:
  • A referee who gave both teams so much cause to complain, she booked eight players and ejected a ninth to cover her officiating crimes;
  • One team dominating play despite spending 52 minutes one player down;
  • The other team scoring both goals on bad calls;
  • Brazilian star Marta getting constantly jeered despite doing nothing especially wrong; and
  • Oh, yeah, this immaculate little reception:

Apart from all that, it was a pretty ordinary game.  Check that: today's 3-1 win over France in the Women's World Cup semifinal was ordinary.  Les Bleus certainly belong at this level, but I felt as though I were watching another NCAA basketball tournament game in which a high seed struggles for 30 minutes before putting away the mid-major upstart.

And there was another fault Sunday besides the officiating:  those black kits the U.S. women were wearing.  I've made my ill feelings about the overuse of black in sports uniforms known as recently as two posts ago, and this would seem to fit that depressing pattern.  The thing is, in international soccer, a national team's uniform doesn't always match the national flag.  Italy (blue) and the Netherlands (orange) and Spain (dark blue) all break that rule, and their men's soccer traditions have hardly suffered.  Japan (blue), whose ladies have earned the right to face the U.S. in the World Cup Final next Sunday, is the latest success story.  Slovenia (green) and Venezuela (crimson) haven't become world powers as a result, but they're both doing just fine these days.

In that light, maybe I won't have a problem if the U.S. women decide to go with black road kits on a permanent basis.  For one thing, they're winning.  For another, the kits themselves already have a name:  "Black Widows."  That sounds like it could double as a suitable nickname for a U.S. program that's proven itself to be as dangerous as ever.

My prediction for Sunday:  the Black Widows beat Japan, 2-1, but they'll need the extra half-hour.

01 July 2011

Birthday kitteh!

Here is Scooter, sleeping in a new spot.  That blue comforter Scooter loves is now serving as an everyday bed cover, so she now sleeps everywhere on the bed, not just the corner where her blanket lives.

I don't really care where she sleeps, actually.  I'm just grateful she made it through a rough winter that included two illnesses and a pair of huge guest dogs that (shockingly) didn't submit to her will.  It all left her a bit traumatized, but she's slowly started to reclaim her old napping spots outside my bedroom.  As of two days ago, she's graced my life for thirteen years.  She was about a year old when I adopted her, so now she's 14 years old.  Here's hoping she has quite a few more left with me.

Happy 14th birthday, Scooter.

26 June 2011

A few remarks about the Gold Cup final

Mexico midfielder Giovani Dos Santos.
That's with one 'n,' spell checkers.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Hats off to the Mexican soccer team for their 4-2 comeback win over the U.S. tonight.  El Tri has had its share of controversy during this Gold Cup, but coach José María de la Torre has done a great job healing a squad Howard Cosell* would have called "a team in disarray."  The emergence of Gio Dos Santos (Tottenham) and Javier "Chicarito" Hernadez (Manchester Utd.) as English Premier League superstars has helped, but I'd bet Javier Aguirre wouldn't have done as well with this talent.

U.S. keeper Tim Howard.  (AP)

It's the Stars and Stripes who are experiencing disarray now.  The defense has taken a couple of giant steps backward in the past year.  Tim Howard's play in goal has seriously slipped.  He needs to stop worrying so much about his sucky defenders and start worrying about himself.  Carlos Bocanegra -- the U.S. captain -- was just awful tonight, losing track of Pablo Barrera on the go-ahead goal at 50', then setting up Dos Santos's spectacular goal with a poor clearance in the 76th minute.  As often as they overran the U.S. defensive midfield, I started wondering whether the Mexicans would get tired.  [They didn't.]

Oh, yeah:  does Bob Bradley want to explain the logic to me again?  He sat his best players for the first half against Spain, and ended up losing 4-0 at home... so his team could then lose at home to Panama?  I understood his need to build the bench, but that was ridiculous.  More generally, Freddy Adu's emergence notwithstanding, I'm seeing way too much backsliding on the team as a whole.  Qualification for Brazil three years hence is now looking much harder.  The 2009 Confederations Cup helped the U.S. tremendously as it prepared for the World Cup, but Bradley won't have that aid this time.

I'd call for Bradley's dismissal, but then I'd have to suggest a replacement -- and I can't think of one.  Part of the trouble is that coaching the U.S. men isn't exactly a plum position.  It's like being the gridiron coach at Kentucky:  you'd be working in the glamorous SEC, but at a place where your sport isn't king.  [Text me when UK wins a BCS bowl game.]

Back to the CONCACAF champions.  Mexico has looked great, but frankly, Honduras and the fading U.S. are the strongest teams they've seen in a long while.  El Tri does have a guest appearance in the Copa América, the South American championship, coming up, so more serious tests are coming in a hurry.

And would it be too much to ask el Tri to leave the black kits in North America?  The only teams that should be wearing black uniforms are the ones that actually have black as a team color.  Like the basketball teams at Duke, Gonzaga and Butler, and almost any team at Oregon, the Mexican soccer team doesn't qualify.  They all should dump the all-black kits, because they're wrong, wrong, wrong.  On top of that, they're wrong.

On second thought, this kit actually looks decent.  Since it doesn't have any green on it, maybe the FMF could license it to a side that could really use it, like Germany.

* Not aging yourself much, are you, Abu?

18 June 2011

Friday Double: A little bit of this...

[Hey, it's still Friday in Pac-12 country.  That counts, doesn't it?]

One of the really neat things about HBO's best series is their collective attitude towards original music.  Some series, like Rome and Band of Brothers, have their own soundtracks.  Others, like The Wire and The Sopranos, use tracks only for the main and end titles; any music in between is purely incidental.

Deadwood fell somewhere in between.  It had an original opening title, and lush performances of 19th-century songs accompanied the credits.  What little soundtrack music producer David Milch saw fit to use was adapted -- and it was also very effective.  "Iguazu," a stunning 1998 guitar piece written and performed Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla, backgrounded some of the series' most tense and dramatic action scenes -- including a desperate pursuit of a runaway horse that turned the entire series.  Here, it serves as the basis for a simple music video featuring some pretty desert scenery.

This is one of my favorite pieces of adapted soundtrack music, but Santaolalla has since written soundtracks of his own, including Oscar-winning scores for Brokeback Mountain and Babel and a terrific score for The Motorcycle Diaries.  He's probably best known to casual moviegoers for "The Wings," the signature theme for Brokeback.  As it turns out, I dislike "The Wings" because it fits that movie almost too well.  Had it fit any better, it would have distracted from the movie instead of enhancing it.

That particular line has been crossed, and other great film composers have committed that turnover.  Not for the first time, I present Jerry Goldsmith; and once again, it's for work he did for the Star Trek franchise.  Here's  "The Cloud" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).  As this music plays in the movie, the starship Enterprise is entering a vast, mysterious object that turns out to be much more than just a cloud.

The problem wasn't the music, which is gorgeous; nor was it the vast grandeur of this particular flight of the Enterprise.  Either one, taken alone, is mesmerizing.  It's the combination of the music and the visuals that caused me, and the movie, such grief.  The whole composition was so hypnotic, it put my oldest sister and at least one of her friends, with whom I saw it, to sleep -- and they were hardly alone.  Even though no one actually brought (let alone smoked) a joint into the movie room, I found myself nevertheless wondering where I could get some more of that bad-ass weed.

The moral, of course, is that soundtrack music can sometimes be too good.  Critical plot turns shouldn't become their own drinking games, but that's what Goldsmith accidentally accomplished here.

11 June 2011

Fantasy trade rejected...

Trade scheme, as "reported" by thechicagodope.com

...because it's way too broad.  Anyway, I have Baja California Sur playing defense/special teams for the Fluttering Horde next season.  Maybe just trade the Texas GOP for Acapulco?

Anyway, here's some amusing snark from the Chicago Dope: Texas traded to Mexico in four-state deal.

08 June 2011

Wearing number two for New York: Anthony Weiner

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) Colombian defender Andrés Escobar
It's weird how the human mind works sometimes.  Or maybe it's just my mind.  ¿Quién sabe?

I've been trying to figure out exactly what to make of the case of Anthony Weiner.  At first, I dismissed Andrew Breitbart's charges that the New York City congressman had sent pictures of his crotch to complete strangers.  I figured that it was another sleazy Breitbart mind trick.  Rep. Weiner first claimed that someone hacked his Twitter account and sent the offending picture.  Since I don't use Twitter enough to know much about it, that claim seemed reasonable.  When Weiner later refused to deny that the picture was of his crotch, well, I stopped believing him.

What we have, then, is a congressman who sent a picture of his own genitals to women who may or may not have wanted to see it and lied about it.  In the process, Rep. Weiner didn't prance like a chihuahua puppy into Nancy Pelosi's doghouse.  He didn't just jepoardize own career and possibly his marriage.  He has probably deprived the progressive movement of a voice -- his -- that it could really use in the House of Representatives.

And of what other spectacle did this sorry episode remind me today?  An own goal in soccer.  Check that:  a specific own goal, scored almost 17 years ago.

SB Nation's World Cup Blog has an excellent overview of the tragedy of Andrés Escobar, but here's a short version.  Colombia came to the U.S. as a dark-horse favorite to win the 1994 World Cup, only to open with a shocking 3-1 loss to Romania.  Needing to defeat the host Americans to keep their hopes alive, Colombia instead allowed an overwhelming U.S. counterattack at minute 35.  Escobar, an emerging superstar as a defender, tried to deflect John Harkes's pass out of danger -- only to do this instead:

The ensuing 2-1 loss to the Americans eliminated Colombia, and Escobar got the blame.  [Not fair! The U.S. would have found some other way to win that day.]  Ten days later, some angry Colombian shot him dead outside Medellín.

Colombian football has yet to recover.

The more I think about, the more eerie the parallel appears.  Like Andrés Escobar, Anthony Weiner was a rising star in his field.  Like Escobar's mistake in Pasadena, Weiner's miscues may end in severe damage to his cause.  I just hope some crazy person doesn't decide to make the comparison complete.

It will be bad enough for the progressive movement if Anthony Weiner's career (or his marriage) is all that dies.