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.