30 December 2012

Victory Weighting: Liveblogging NFL Week 17

If it's the last week of the NFL regular season, then it's time to look at how Victory Weighting would affect the playoff races.

13:03 CST:  Here are the deviations going into today's action.  Early games launched an hour ago; late games start in the 15:25 window.  Dallas and Washington meet in the season finale, which kicks off at 19:30.
  1. The biggest change impacts the NFC East and wild-card races.  Officially, they're messily linked, as two NFC East teams can qualify for the playoffs.  With Victory Weighting, though, the two races are separate:
    • Only one team will qualify from the NFC East.  While the New York Giants (31 Strength) and Dallas (30 Strength) can each win the division, neither can catch Chicago (37 Strength) for the last wild-card slot.  Washington (35 Strength) can, but doing so would first earn the NFC East title.  Tonight's Dallas-Washington game will still determine the NFC East champion, but if the Giants win today, then Dallas becomes their proxy tonight.
    • Consequently, the second wild-card race is between just Chicago and Minnesota (35 Strength).  The Bears would clinch with a win, rendering the later Minnesota-Detroit game academic.
  2. Houston (Strength 46) can secure one of the AFC first-round byes with a win in the early stage, but in Victory Weighting, that wouldn't be enough to clinch the top seed.  For that to happen, Denver (Strength 48) would have to lose in the late state.  [The official standings give Houston the inside track.]
  3. New England (Strength 43) can't win the AFC top seed (as is officially possible), but can still secure the #2 seed and its associated first-round bye.
  4. The San Francisco-Seattle race in the NFC West race is the same, with one wrinkle:  Victory Weighting would lock Seattle into a first-round game.  The Seahawks (Strength 39) would then be fighting just to stay at home next week.
  5. Finally, Victory Weighting would leave Indianapolis (Strength 39) and Cincinnati (Strength 36) fighting for wild-card position.  [Officially, the Colts are locked into the #5 position, and the Bengals are locked at #6.]
14:56:  (New York Giants 42-7 Philadelphia) The Giants' regulation win eliminates Dallas from the Victory Weighted playoffs.  If Dallas wins tonight in regulation, the Giants would win the NFC East title (and its sole playoff spot).

15:02:  (Indianapolis 28-26 Houston) The plummeting Texans' loss hands Denver the AFC high seed, and puts New England in position to steal a first-round bye with a win.  Meanwhile, Indianapolis cements the #5 seed.  [Officially, the Broncos would still have to win to secure the high seed, as New England remains eligible for that honor.]

15:07:  (Detroit 24-26 Chicago) It's almost all over in the NFC, as the Bears wrap up the second NFC Victory Weighted wild card.  The Vikings-Packers game would have meaning for only Green Bay, as Minnesota would be out of the playoffs.  [Officially, this eliminates the Giants, while the Bears remain on the bubble.]

15:24:  (Cincinnati 23-17 Baltimore) This result locks both teams' Victory Weighted playoff positions.  Because the Ravens and Bengals (both Strength 40) own the #4 and #6 seeds, respectively, they wouldn't meet next week in the first round.  Instead, the Ravens will host Indianapolis in the first round, while the Bengals wait to see where their punched tickets will lead them.

18:14:  (Denver 38-3 Kansas City) The Broncos clinch the AFC high seed... .

18:22:  (San Francisco 27-13 Arizona) The 49ers wrap up the NFC second seed, forcing Seattle into a road date next week.  Meanwhile, Green Bay will host a first-round game as the NFC's #3 seed.

18:31:  (New England 28-0 Miami) ... and the Patriots grab the other AFC bye.  Houston is stuck with the #3 seed and a home game next week against Cincinnati.  [At this point, the standard and Victory Weighted AFC playoff scenarios are identical.]

18:44:  (Minnesota 37-34 Green Bay)  Under Victory Weighting, this wouldn't affect the NFC playoffs, as Chicago would have already clinched the last playoff bid.  In the real world, though, these two teams meet again next week in Wisconsin, the Vikings having eliminated the Bears.  [Jon Gruden to Chicago, maybe?]

18:48:  (Seattle 20-13 St. Louis)  The Seahawks, as NFC fifth seeds are headed to the East Coast for the first round, but they don't know exactly where, yet.

Final update, 00:17, 31 December 2012:  (Washington 28-18 Dallas)  A Dallas win would have created a second Victory Weighted deviation in the playoff schedule (the officially eliminated Giants would have won the division).  But Washington won instead, so there's only one change in either the lineup or the seedings.

Here, then, are the playoffs.  The sole officially-sanctioned deviation is scratched out.

Byes: (1)Atlanta, (2)San Francisco
First round: (5)Seattle at (4)Washington; (6)Minnesota Chicago at (3)Green Bay


Byes: (1)Denver, (2)New England
First round: (5)Indianapolis at (4)Baltimore; (6)Cincinnati at (3)Houston

05 December 2012

Tuesday Night Football: Outrages big and small

On the Belcher-Perkins incident:  Unless the Kansas City Star completely made up this account of Saturday's murder-suicide, there's not much to be said.  It affected not only two families, but also the Kansas City Chiefs.  [Jovan Belcher played for them, but had he married Kassandra Perkins, he would have become an in-law to a much better known Chief, running back Jamaal Charles.]

Take the names away, though, and the murder-suicide becomes just another domestic-violence case gone horribly wrong.  Take away the guns and the entitled-jock mentality, both of which factored into the incident, and what's left is this:

Where did Jovan Belcher get the idea that he could "resolve" domestic dispute by shooting his way out of it?

There's another question about the lesser offense that followed Saturday's shootings:  What on Earth made the Chiefs decide to play on Sunday?  Was there a ripped-from-the-headlines script that just had to be sold to Hollywood producers?  Were they just hoping to avoid dealing with the fact that on of their own had become a murder (and a cowardly one, at that)?  Or were they just hoping to avoid having to deal with grief, full stop?  Whatever the excuses, it would have been better to postpone the game for at least a few days.

And now, something even more predictable than The Walking Dead:  Here in my corner of the world, there was also amusement at the possibility that the Northern Illinois gridiron team would actually get invited to one of the five major bowl games this season.  For kicks, I decided to watch ESPN's BCS selection show to see if NIU got in.  The Huskies did, indeed, win an invitation to play Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

The outrage among the ESPN college-football commentariat was incredible, but I still can't decide why.  Was it incredible because the reaction was so (a) intense or (b) asinine?

Naw, check that.  I can decide, and the answer is (b) -- because everyone who's criticizing NIU's selection should have seen it coming.  For its entire existence, the whole BCS selection process has rested on the assumption that there were exactly six conferences that were automatically worthy of consideration for either the national championship or one of the elite bowl games.  That presumption never worked, because the Big East was never elite, but the administrative eliminations of Ohio State and Penn State also made the Big Twelve Fourteen Ten irrelevant this year.  Of course spots would be open for two lesser programs to reach a BCS bowl.  After Wisconsin took one of them, the only outstanding question was whether that lesser program would be Northern Illinois or Nebraska.

By the way, if the Huskies (good luck to them) do somehow win the Orange Bowl, it will be their greatest victory, but not their greatest upset.

12 November 2012

Tuesday Morning Football: Midseason rotisserie review

The short version:  Excuses line up here; explanations, there.  The season has sucked for all three teams, except for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and the Houston defense, which are keeping both my NFL.com teams in the top half of their respective league tables.

The Fluttering Horde (4-6):
Office of Secret Intelligence offense,
Orange County Liberation Front defense.
Whose job was it to feed the butterflies?  You'd think that a team that has Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Wes Welker, Darren Sproles and Denver's Manning-to-Decker combination would dominate its 16-team league.  Yahoo! thought as much of my flagship team, The Fluttering Horde, projecting it to finish 11-2.

With just a bit of luck, the Horde would be on track for an easy division title.  In fact, just one 11-yard touchdown pass between Peyton Manning and Eric Decker would be enough to give the Horde an 8-2 mark.  Instead, the Horde -- losers by 1, 2, 4 and 5 points in four failures -- is stuck at 4-6.  Only its season total score, third highest in the league, is keeping it in playoff contention.

The Ghost Grey Cats (6-4):
Fully recovered from
their trip to the pet hospital.
Meee-ouch!  Injuries have hobbled The Ghost-Grey Cats, who spent three weeks without a first-tier running back and four more without my best receiver, Danny Amendola.  The Cats' higher-profile receivers -- Calvin Johnson, Marques Colston and TE Antonio Gates -- haven't helped with their inconsistency.  If they can stay out of the hospital, the Cats can still win a title.

Time and Again (5-5):
Against expectation,
winning on occasion.
Tick, tick, tick...  I'm actually pretty proud of Time and Again, whose personnel (particularly Demaryius Thomas) have individually exceeded expectations.  In a stunning midseason turn, the Timers saw Jason Witten go online just as they also picked Owen Daniels off waivers.  At the beginning of the year, I expected no more than six wins, but the Timers have made it to 5-5.  They're the best managed of my teams.

That mark should be even better, but the Timers' has almost as bad as the Horde's.  In three of their losses, they caught Jamaal Charles, Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck on their best weeks.  No such problem cropped up this past week, as the Timers romped to a 70-point win.

02 November 2012

Friday Double: (13) Stormy baseball edition

There's so much to say about Hurricane Sandy, but apart from the new tagline in this blog's header, I'll limit myself to a couple of comments.
  1. Any elected official who's acted the way leaders should in a disaster like this gets a big win this week.  President Obama and New Jersey governor Chris Christie (whom I otherwise don't like) get high marks for dropping the party labels and just getting to work.
  2. On the other hand, Mitt Romney can add "loser" to an impressive list that already includes "liar," "thief," and "biohazard disposal bag."  Smooth move with those cans from Walmart, Money Boo Boo.
  3. In the middle, where he always looks comfortable as a cat in a box, sits another bag of money, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Ordering shelters and cabbies to let evacuees take their pets was cool.  Keeping the New York Marathon going this weekend when so much of the city needs that event's resources?  Not so much.

Sergio Romo and the Giants win the National League pennant,
in glorious San Francisco rain.
[Getty Images/Ezra Shaw]
On a much smaller scale, baseball had a couple of notable events this week, and they're the focus of this Friday Double.

Yay! Giants!  There's something exhilarating about watching bad weather roll in just as your favorite outdoor team wraps up a convincing semifinal victory.  Back in early 1986, at the end of the NFC Championship, that incipient snow that fell on Soldier Field was the best part of the fumble recovery that Bears used to finish off the then-Los Angeles Rams.  A couple of weeks ago, I felt the same warmth as the Giants reveled in the rain that helped them dismiss the St. Louis Cardinals.

As I keep telling friends and family here in exurban Chicago, my ten-year stay in California led me to, among other things, defect from the Cubs to the San Francisco Giants.  The only bad thing about their Game 4 win in Detroit last Sunday -- and the World Series title that came from it -- was that the ninth inning conflicted with The Venture Brothers Halloween special.  Lots of unnecessary clicking took place.

Key to my eventual conversion to a Giants fan was the construction of the their waterfront stadium in 2000.  Back when it opened, it was called "Pacific Bell Park," but then PacBell went through so many mergers.  Every acquisition caused the official name of the venue to change, so by the time it became "AT&T Park," I just gave up.  Because it's so compact, I've taken to calling it just "The Phone Booth of Doom."

The real charm of attending Giants home games is getting to The Phone Booth of Doom.  Sure, you can drive, but it's a lot more fun to take BART to either the Embarcadero or Montgomery stop.  From there, the quickest way is to take the N-Judah.  The most fun way, though, is to walk the dozen or so blocks to the park.  That way, if my friends and I decided we were thirsty, we could stop off at any of the numerous watering holes on the way.  If not, the exercise is always useful.

This aspect of going to the game wasn't lost on the Giants organization, which put out a memorable ad that managed to sell both The Phone Booth itself and the experience of walking through San Francisco's South of Market district to get there.  Petula Clark's "Downtown" provided the background music, and it fit like a glove:

¡Felicidades a los Gigantes!

Remembering Pascual "Perimeter" Pérez:  It was sad to hear of his murder this week.  I remember him less for his actual Major League Baseball career (which ended up being riddled with drug problems) than for the timing of his arrival in the majors 30 years ago.  Cable television was becoming the norm throughout the U.S., and Atlanta's Channel 17, WTBS, was turning the Braves into everyone's second team.  To believe announcer Skip Caray was to buy into the notion that Pérez would lead the Braves into either the Promised Land or the NLCS, whichever was closer.

The Braves had just called Pérez up, and he was scheduled to start at grand old Fulton County Stadium.  Still unfamiliar with Atlanta-area geography, he missed a freeway turn, and ended up taking a couple of trips around the city.  It was comical. [Not least because I doubt that, were someone to suddenly teleport me to Santo Domingo one morning and tell me to get to the stadium by 13:00 that day, I'd do a whole lot better.]  From then on, he became Pascual "Perimiter" Pérez.

Anyway, this 1980s classic form Dead or Alive came to mind when I heard the news about him.

25 September 2012

Tuesday Football: No rules, no peace

There is nothing they can do to hurt the demand of the game.  So the bottom line is they don’t care. Player safety doesn’t matter in this case. Bring Division III officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end you’re still going to watch the game. 
-- Steve Young, criticizing NFL owners on an ESPN post-game show
The scabs who've been blowing call after call at NFL games for weeks went too far for the elebenty hundreth time last night, awarding the Seahawks a victory that rightfully belonged to the Packers.  The army of critics calling for the return of the real officials keeps growing.  Even noted union-busters Scott Walker and Paul Ryan have called for the return of the union refs.

When I heard the news about those two Republicans today, my first instinct was to dismiss their calls as the cries of two more aggrieved Packer fans.  That might be the case for Walker and Ryan, but what about their supporters?  Their ranks include fans of every NFL team -- including the Seahawks -- so team loyalty can't explain their newfound support for the locked-out NFL Referees Association (NFLRA).  Yet, that support is unlikely to extend to other labor unions.

The difference, I think, is that unlike most other unionized workers, the men of the NFLRA are in the business of regulation.  Sporting bodies may set rules for their games and competitions, but it's referees whose job it is to enforce them.  To do their job, referees work as teams, usually in opposition to the two teams that are actually playing.  [See:  Laimbeer, Bill; Klinsmann, Jürgen; or most recently, Harbaugh, Jim.]  Referee teamwork is always critical, but it's especially so in the NFL, where seven-official crews must coordinate their actions tightly.

The replacements who are calling NFL games these days may know the rules, but it's clear that they haven't learned to work together.  If they had, they would have long ago figured out what qualifies as pass interference, or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact, or even, apparently, a touchdown.  What we have here isn't just a failure to communicate, nor is it just a case of greedy owners refusing to pay the actual referees.

It's what happens when regulation itself is weakened to the point of irrelevancy.

Not that we're short of examples from other industries.  Recent history is full of examples of disasters could have been prevented with proper regulation.  Instead, affected industries have talked governments into reducing regulatory staffs -- referees, if you will -- to bare minima.  The regulators are still there, but there aren't enough around to enforce the laws.

And that's the way some industries like it.  The same dynamic drives the outsourcers of the world.  A decade ago, IT workers like myself railed against our replacement by less competent programmers who lived abroad.  We could prove that our replacements' work was so much worse that they had to work twice as long (or longer).  No matter.  The replacements were cheaper, any way.  Even when our immediate bosses agreed with us, and their bosses did too, it didn't matter.  The corporate head office wanted the cheaper labor, even if quality went down.

Which is why NFL owners won't budge yet.  The scabs do their job badly, and they're ruining the game.  But they don't care, because expenses are being cut.  Better yet, the rules of the game itself have now come under assault.  I can think of more than a couple of owners who might not mind that, either.

24 September 2012

Tank Officer Mitt

There's been some hilarious photoshopping done on Money Boo Boo's dreadful Univision appearance last week.  The disastrously applied lighting makeup, which looked an awful lot like brownface for a Hispanic audience, is at least as devastating a visual as Michael Dukakis in a tank 28 years ago.  Surely by now, I thought, someone had thought to replace Dukakis's face with Rmoney's.

Allow me to correct this oversight:

12 September 2012

Really, Mitt? Srsly?

Congratulations, Mitt Romney.  You did something no one else ever had before.  You inspired me to actually post a comment on the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the American East Coast.

While I could tick off quite a few memories about that 9/11, the one that stands out now is the silence that followed for about 36 hours.  No one started blaming other Americans for the attacks.  Even Jerry Falwell waited waited until the morning of 13 September to make his infamous remarks from Jerry Falwell on Pat Robertson's show.  The fact was that it took about that long just to figure out what had happened in Manhattan, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Here in 2012, Money Boo Boo couldn't wait.  Even before the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, he decides to attack the Obama administration for being "disgraceful" and suggests that the President would "sympathize with those who waged the attacks."  Sure, it's another neatly packaged set of lies, designed to please the racists and Dominionists in his base -- but that's not my point.  Why couldn't this wait a day or two?  Why couldn't Romney and the GOP respectfully mourn Steven's passing (and those of at least three other American diplomats), then launch the outrageous attack?

Why should I bother even asking those questions?  To make sense, you'd have to assume that Mitt Romney and his supporters had some decency.  That assumption is questionable, to say the least.

09 September 2012

Bonus Tuesday Football: They're back. Except for actual referees.

Illegal use of scabs, 15 yards.  No, 15 yards the other way:  This season, the NFL owners have decided to lock the referees out instead of the players.  Today, I counted at least two instances, in two different games, where the officials could barely figure out where the ball even belonged.  As much as we love to curse officials, it's better when they're the real articles instead of the subs scabs we have babysitting now.  Ugh.

Introducing the Cat's three fantasy teams:  A funny thing happened to The Ghost-Grey Cats while they migrated from Yahoo! to the official NFL game.  On Monday, I set a draft order for the Cats and waited for the NFL servers to assign them players and a league.

And I waited.  And waited.

And waited until about late Tuesday, when I lost patience and told the NFL to just put the Cats in a live draft.  In a 10-team league, I got stuck with the tenth position, which should have shut me out of any chance for a superstar headliner.  Thanks to a couple of opponents who used exotic drafting strategies1, Calvin Johnson fell to me in the first round, then I nabbed Matt Forte with the next pick.

Besides Forte, five other players return from last year's semifinalists, including my entire tight-end battery of Antonio Gates and Brandon Pettigrew.  Matt Ryan, another returnee, has two capable backups2.  The trick will be to avoid the cockiness that sank the Cats last season.  If I can, the Cats should be champions come late December.

With the live draft over, I thought I was through.  I wasn't.  Rather than just moving the Cats into one new league, the NFL servers submitted my draft order again, and ran it through the autodraft for which I had originally signed.  When I woke up Wednesday, I discovered that I had not one, but two teams on NFL.com, in two different leagues.

Suddenly gifted with a new team, I decided to name it Time and Again, after a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode that I've reviewed on this blog.  New team, new colors, new logo, but, oddly, four players who also play for the Cats.  The Timers drafted third, so they also nabbed Ray Rice.

Of course, they also drafted the likes of Cedric Benson and Santana Moss.  That's like successfully casting a "summon wolves" spell, only to have to deal with two Yorkshire terriers who inevitably appear along with the grey wolf.  Time and Again is solid at QB, RB and defense, but patchy elsewhere.  I can get to the playoffs with this team, but it will take work.

The Fluttering Horde might be as weak as it's ever been, but that's largely because the family league expanded to 16 teams for 2012.  Also, I had the first pick, which I spent on Ray Rice; so Darren Sproles ended up being the only survivor of the expansion carnage.  Peyton Manning, who made league finalists of the 2010 Horde, does return, backed up by Jay Cutler.  Wes Welker and Eric Decker, who served short tours with the Horde in the past, return as my top two wideouts.  It's not much, but that's the cost of having at pick at an extreme slot (first) rather than the middle slot (eighth or ninth) the Horde usually gets.  Yahoo! expects an 11-2 mark from this squad.  It's playoff-worthy as is, but that prediction is a stretch.

1. One rival spent three top picks on defenses.  Another drafted three quarterbacks in the first four rounds.  They can keep whatever they were ingesting.
2. Dudes, those early picks aren't going to help you, not even as trade bait.  But thanks for handing me Cutler and Roethlisberger.

05 September 2012

Late Tuesday Football: Well, I had to post sometime

Bored.  Busy.  Or maybe just outrage fatigued.
Via reallycuteanimals.co.uk.
There isn't a really good reason why I haven't posted for a while.  Yes, family matters are keeping me busy, but even those should have allowed time for posting.  I just haven't felt like saying anything -- at least not anything that someone else hasn't expressed more eloquently.

So it's football to the rescue again.  Whichever form you watch, it's all going in full swing.  This week, gridiron gets the blog love.

Signs point to Gig'em:  I don't plan on discussing much college football this year1, but Texas A&M's2 move to the SEC has generated lots of smack in my family.  In particular, my oldest sister and I have spent all summer chanting "S-E-C!" at our Longhorn-loving relations.  It feels great, actually.  Now I know why Republicans feel compelled to shout "9-11" whenever they start losing arguments.

Yep, it's been every bit as clean as Jackie Sherill.
Alas, a fellow Aggie has taken the mocking to another level -- and for once, a university other than Texas-Austin is the target.  I think this sign is very funny, but my alma mater itself doesn't agree.  Hopefully, the Florida offense will be as inept this weekend as it was last week against mighty, mighty Bowling Green.

To be explained later this week:

  • Another NFL season, another year of the standings the way they should be tabulated.  I've refreshed the Victory Weighting tab for the new season.
  • Both my fantasy-football teams are back in action.  The Fluttering Horde is still in my family league, and still on Yahoo!, but the league is now a 16-team joint.  Despite their move to nfl.com, the Ghost-Grey Cats have stayed amazingly intact from last year.

1.  Don't blame Penn State.  I was losing patience with the college game long before that school's scandal broke out.
2.  You suck, Blogger.  Thanks for not letting me use "A&M" as a label.  Dolts.

01 July 2012

I didn't expect this Euro 2012 final

What I expected to see today in Kiev:

What I actually saw on the field:

By the time La Fúria Roja scored its second goal, I think Ian Darke had described its standard passing tactic as series of "little triangles" about 137 times.  That wasn't quite as often as this Spanish team actually passed the ball every 20 minutes, but it was enough to put a character from Angry Birds into my mind.  Indeed, in the first half, the Spaniards shredded Italy's normally stout defense the way Yellow Bird tears through wooden structures.  A hearty congratulations to Spain for its amazing feat!

ESPN is swearing up and down that the just-repeated European champions are the best national team ever.  To support that claim, the network claimed that Spain just became the first nation to win three major soccer titles in a row.  Far be it for me to point out that (a) Copa América, the South American continental tournament, also qualifies as "major," and (b) Brazil wrapped two Copa América titles around its 2006 World Cup victory.

In any event, there's still a case to be made that the 1970 Seleçao is still better.  With the 4-0 win today, though, Spain made the comparison a lot tighter.  I'm going to have to start tracking down video from Mexico '70.

Italy also deserves congratulations, especially coach Cesare Prandelli and Andrea Pirlo.  Keeping the team together despite yet another match-fixing scandal at home (and the presence of notorious bad-boy Mario Balotelli) was impressive by itself, but even reaching the finals constituted an incredible feat.

This just wasn't the Azurri's night.  As they fell behind 2-0, they were also losing players to serious injuries.  Giorgio Chiellini went down 21 minutes into the action, then Thiago Motta's hamstring pull forced him out of the game at the hour -- only minutes after he was inserted as Italy's final substitute.

At that point, down to ten men, the Azurri was no longer a contender; it was Wile E. Coyote, passing a massive rock as he plummets to a canyon floor after yet another botched attempt to catch the Road Runner.  The Italians hit the ground first, then, in the form of two late Spanish goals, the boulder landed on top.

Not. Italy's. Night.

15 June 2012

Friday Double: (12) Odd notes from Euro 2012

It's been interesting to watch the amazing amount of influence that the English-speaking world has wielded at the Euro 2012 tournament.  Stadium announcements in English have been a FIFA standard for several World Cup cycles, so hearing those again in Poland and Ukraine came as no surprise. On the other hand, as the Russian national anthem played before the Russia-Poland match, there was this:

'Cause racist taunts and marches on Warsaw weren't provocative enough.
[Reuters/Pascal Lauener]
Never mind the 45th-level D&D warlord, who, Russian state network RT tells us, is a heroic figure from Russian history. The important part here is the caption. I can understand why PA announcers are using English, but why would a group of Russian fans use English on that banner? Why not regular Russian, or even Russian transliterated into Latin characters? Are that many Americans blowing off Miami-Oklahoma City for this?

And how about the music?

You may have not heard "Kernkraft 400" referenced by name, but if you've watched East Coast college football at any time during the Obama administration, you've probably heard fans singing caterwauling along with it.

Alas, it's made its way to the PA systems at Euro 2012, and through to the fans. "Kernkraft 400" isn't just about the worst fight song ever, it's one of the worst techno tracks I've ever heard.  Heck, it's not even original; the appropriately named Zombie Nation, a German group, stole it from a Commodore 64 game.  How Canadian hockey fans (yes, Canadians) managed to turn this German annoyance into a global one is beyond me.

Anyhow, here's a sports mix, because my alternative today was the was the Hymn of the Russian Federation.  Feel free to gong this at any time.

Even more interesting than chants imported from eastern North America is what plays when the contestants enter the field for the first time. The first time I paid attention to the background music, before the Germany-Portugal match, I thought immediately of Mass Effect 2, perhaps the first video game to ever run a Super Bowl ad. A little digging confirmed my suspicion: the score for that trailer was original to that ad, and it's what the Euro 2012 honchos are using to introduce teams to the playing field:

"Heart of Courage" is a nice, simple tune that does exactly as composer Two Steps from Hell intended: it builds dramatic tension just quickly enough to create an appetite. It works the same for Euro 2012 games as it did for that video game. And like the English-captioned Russian banner and the ridiculous fight tune, it points to increasing American influence on non-American events.

Back in business

To mix Firefly with a Christian proverb, the 'verse works in mysterious ways.

I'd be lying to claim that I had stopped posting just because Scooter passed five weeks ago.  Given that posting had already slowed to a crawl, that would have been a nice, self-pitying pretext.  Fortunately, the rest of May helped the mourning go more easily.

The actual reason for the pause was all the road travel (Nebraska for one weekend, Houston for the next and barbeque-famous Lockhart, Texas, for the following week), and lots of time with the siblings.  All four of my sisters and I spent the turn of the month together with my dad, for the first time in six years.  Good times, actually.

Anyway, I'm just saying 'hi,' here, hopefully to start posting more regularly.  After the sun comes up again:  an Euro 2012-related Friday Double.

06 May 2012

Scooter Blogging: (0) So long, old friend

When my household in suburban Oakland had two cats, neither one would ask me to refill their food bowls until one was empty.  By that time, the other bowl had only a few kibbles left, so I refilled both.  Once Galadriel passed away, though, Scooter changed her habit.  She still finished off her bowls, but after every refill, she came to me to ask for new food.  It took me a while, but I figured out that even a dozen new kibbles satisfied her demand.  Scooter wasn't really hungry; she just wanted the attention.

About six weeks ago, her odd little requests stopped.  This had happened before, only to resume later; so I thought nothing of it.  Sadly, it turned out to be the harbinger of something far worse.  Her liver was failing, and her eating itself was steadily slowing.  By the time anyone noticed something was wrong, it was too late; the only option was to keep her comfortable as her appetite vanished completely and her body shut down.

Tonight, about seven weeks shy of her 15th birthday, Scooter crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  She had lost the ability to jump to or from her corner of my bed, and the pain had become just too much.  At about 21:15 Central time, a veterinarian performed the euthanasia.  In her final minutes, she wanted nothing but ear scratches from me, and those were probably the last things she felt.

So long, Scooter, you Cat of Many Colors.  And thanks for being my friend for 14 years.

05 May 2012

If Portal is as funny as its Internet promos, ...

... I might have to start playing first-person shooters.  The Internet is full of funny stuff (not all of which involves cats), but it's been a while since I've laughed so hard as I did when I saw the stuff Valve puts out for its Portal franchise.  Here's my favorite.

10 April 2012

Tuesday Football: Victory Weighting housekeeping

It's time for the 32 NFL teams to decide which collegiate stars they want for their team.  Accordingly, it's also time to post the draft order as though Victory Weighting were in effect.  Except for Denver and San Diego, no one changed its position by more than two spots.

Details are on the 2012 draft page, marked on the page bar at the top.  Enjoy.

30 March 2012

Friday Double: (11) Remember these

Elmer Bernstein is another of my favorite film composers, and his theme from the 1962 movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird has recently gotten quite a bit of play on the Streaming Soundtracks site.  While some of the folks who've requested it might have also been mulling the Trayvon Martin case, it's more than pretty enough to stand on its own.

Here's an odd thought I've always had about Bernstein:  Even though his résumé covered a much wider range of movie genres, I tended to associate him with action films like The Ten Commandments (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1960), or later comedies like Animal House (1978) and Ghostbusters (1984).  It fell to TCM host Robert Osborne, only a few years ago, to notify me that Bernstein also penned To Kill a Mockingbird.  It still surprises me, even though Bernstein himself considered this one of his most important works.

Walter Schumann is best remembered as the composer of the Dragnet theme, but it's another, completely different work of his that's always come to my mind.  When I was very young, The Night of the Hunter (1955) was my favorite movie.  It aired on local television when I was two or three, at the age when most of us start keeping memories.  Its signature scene, as young John and Pearl Harper first escape the clutches of Reverend Powell*, is one of the first things I actually remembered.

Part of that has to do with the way the escape is shot.  Even casual inspection exposes elements of the scenes as unrealistic.  Spider webs don't hang this way, the sun doesn't rise or set like that.  But the sequence remains convincing despite all the unreality, because Schumann's music meshes so well with the visuals.  Now that I've had several chances to watch this as an adult, I still feel as though I'm witnessing the escape, not through John's eyes or Pearl's, but through those of a spectral third child.

What makes the movie truly great, though, is the "Lullaby."  Weary, scared, and still desperate to avoid capture, John and Pearl hide in a barn for the night.  All the while, a voice tries to sing them to sleep.  Here's the end of the escape, my first cinematic memory.

* Here's one reason why neither Palpatine nor Darth Vader made it past Episode XI of the Star Wars cycle:  they didn't bother to study Robert Mitchum's portrayal of Rev. Powell.  I'm hard put to imagine a villain as monstrous, clever or effective as Powell, but I'd bet a few credits that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi both got hold of a Night of the Hunter DVD.

16 March 2012

I should've done Bricketology this year...

...because my NCAA men's bracket set a new personal low.  Thanks for nothing, Missouri.

Actually, I made three brackets, but this one's the best, because it's the only one with a significant upset picked correctly.  I'd thank the well known bracketologist whose numbers inspired me to make to send Lehigh past Duke, but the rest of the bracket is such a mess, it would embarrass him.  Here it is, after the second round.

Click for Zim and all those glorious Nyan Cats.

08 February 2012

Move over, Maru. Hello, Anfield Cat.

Maru, King of the Kittehs, the adorable Scottish fold with the doting Japanese owner, got upstaged by a cat in England.

This guy wandered onto the pitch at Anfield, 11 minutes into a match between homestanding Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur.  "You'll Never Walk Alone" certainly applied to "Anfield Cat," who ended up providing the sole highlight of a goal-free draw.

This isn't the first small, furry creature to wander onto a soccer pitch during a match, but he may be the tamest.  I'm not sure what scared Anfield Cat more, U.S. keeper Brad Friedel's attempt to shepherd him, or the 45,000 fans who decided to serenade him.  He was only too happy to end up in the arms of the steward who escorted him to safety.

If his behavior doesn't convince you that he's no feral cat, perhaps his "official" Twitter feed will.  Or maybe one of its emulators.  My guess is that Anfield Cat is a community cat, someone who lives outdoors but gets fed, petted and possibly sheltered by people who live near Anfield.  At least one of his daily handlers has stepped forward.

Oh, and here's a better call of the same event from Ian Darke.  Who said Darke couldn't call games?

05 February 2012

How Eli Manning can become 'elite.' And a Super Bowl prediction

What happens tonight in Indianapolis won't change my opinion of New York Giants QB Eli Manning, whose career has been no less a scramble than the one he pulled on that famous pass to David Tyree four years ago.  The Giants can win by 30 points, and he can throw for 500 yards and four touchdowns -- but even that won't make him an elite quarterback.  On the other hand, a loss won't make me think less of him.

What will put Manning among the elite is a 12-4 regular-season mark next year, followed by a win in next year's playoffs.  The Giants have done each during his tenure, but not in the same season.  If Manning does both next year, I'll call him elite.  If he keeps playing like he has recently, his chances are good.

But I can't call him elite just now.

As for tonight's game: the Giants have looked like one of those "teams of destiny," but in the last two weeks, they've been too busy talking about it.  Shut up and play, already.  Patriots, 24-16.

03 January 2012

Tuesday Football: Well, it's a start

It's been interesting to see which NFL clubs have been issuing pink slips this week.

Some gridiron pundits have expressed surprise at the Indianapolis Colts' firing of the Polian lads, but evidently, they stopped paying attention when the Colts won the Super Bowl five years ago.  Peyton Manning had covered up so many of the Colts' problems by himself, a disaster like their 8-Strength (2-14) season this year was inevitable.  All it took was an injury through which even Manning couldn't possibly play.

Here's an interesting, little noted aspect of Monday's management purges in Tampa Bay (16 Strength, 4-12) and Saint Louis (9 Strength, 2-14)  the Buccaneers, Rams are related by ownership to English soccer teams.  By that, I don't mean little third-division outfits -- I mean Manchester United and Arsenal.  The Cleveland Browns (17 Strength, 4-12) are similarly tied to a third Premier League side, Aston Villa.  It's probably a nasty coincidence, but all three NFL teams just finished horrible seasons.

As for the Chicago Bears, whose collapse lef them to fire general manager go and lose vaunted OC Mike Martz, Yahoo!'s "Shutdown Corner" column pretty well encapsulated their problem:
Maybe Martz wanted capable, productive wide receivers, while the Bears organization wanted Roy Williams. [Or Sam Hurd, who turned out to be as incompetent at dealing drugs as catching Jay Cutler passes.]
Trust me, Chicago and its environs are celebrating.  I'm celebrating, too, as evidenced by the haiku now gracing this blog's title bar.

Victory Weighting update: With two big exceptions, this year's Victory Weighting tracked the official standings exceptionally well.  11 of the 12 playoff teams showed up in the correct order, as did the top six draft picks.  Overall, Victory Weighting needed only five tiebreakers, including three for draft order.  The exceptions are two teams I've already covered at length:

  • Denver would miss the playoffs.  San Diego would host the Steelers in their place.  It's too bad, really; I'd like to have seen a stake put through Tebowmania™ a year early.
  • Despite a better winning percentage than Seattle, Arizona would finish third in the NFC West behind the Seahawks, because the Cardinals have a lower Strength.