Category Archives: Sports

Strat-o-matic Update

Actual vs. Expected Wins for the Raleigh Rockstars

Here’s my Strat-o-matic team’s winning percentage, graphed by date. Actual winning percentage, in blue, is obviously the team’s actual Win-Loss record. The expected winning percentage, in green, is calculated using the Pythagorean Expectation based on Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed.

I’ve loved watching my actual vs. expected records fluctuating together, and gradually converging towards the mean. Though hopefully that mean will get higher.

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Two Challengers, Both Doomed

Heard an advance copy of the new album from The New Pornographers, entitled Challengers, due out on August 21st courtesy of the esteemed Matador Records.

At least the album cover is good…

Someone on the Hipinion board stated their opinion that each consecutive New Pornos album has been half as good as the last, and I more or less agree with that; Twin Cinema was the first mortal album of theirs, as The Electric Version was untouchably brilliant, and listening to Mass Romantic is almost akin to a religious experience. So where does that put Challengers? Continue reading

I Wonder How He Slept That Night

Everything that could possibly be said about last night’s Game 5 of the Cavaliers-Pistons series has already been said by sports writers both amateur and professional across the country. Yet I think we can all agree that it’s still not enough. Last night was one of those transcendent events that lifts sports, in general, from the realm of silly playfulness into the very core of what it means to be Human. Okay, well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I think sports are still inherently pretty ridiculous as a concept, haha. But it’s these kinds of moments that make you forget that!

What you get from moments like these is a glimpse into the extremes of what a human being is capable of, but not in a hey-look-I-can-throw-a-ball-through-a-ring kind of capability; it’s more general than that. Actually, it’s almost the closest we can get to witnessing war first-hand in our suburban American homes these days, with LeBron James as our soldier, vulnerable and human and needing our sympathy, and overcoming tremendous obstacles to singlehandedly dispatch the enemy, in a story that’s almost too awesome to be real at all. Deadspin posted the above photo this morning, and it continues to blow my mind to this very minute. There are five Pistons defenders in the photograph. LeBron James is the only Cavalier. This was the game-winning shot. It encapsulates everything that happened last night, both literally and metaphorically. Then again, if they turned Game 5 into a sports movie, I don’t think I’d like it. It just wouldn’t be the same. ‘Based on a True Story’ absolutely does not compare to the fact that I was there, I saw it, I had no idea what was going to happen next, but What Happened was beyond compare.

I know that I saw the immortal Jordan Flu Game live on tv, as well as his famous final shot to down the Jazz, but I was a little kid back then, and so my memory of those games is extremely fuzzy. Plus, that was almost expected from Jordan at that point in his career, so I don’t remember thinking that his accomplishments were all that amazing at the time. This, then, was quite possibly the most spectacular individual sports achievement that I have witnessed, and can remember vividly. Obviously that’s biased since this happened yesterday, while Jordan had his moment, what, almost nine years ago? When I was only 12 years old? But when I’m 30 years young, I think I might still remember LeBron James knifing through the Detroit defense over and over.

And after all that, wouldn’t it be hilarious of LeBron didn’t have anything left in the tank, and the Pistons won the next two games to win the series? The irony would be incredible. And I can totally see it happening!

In other news, nobody likes the Spurs. Please lose. Thanks. This video continues to crack me up, and also fuel the fury.
Can we at least have a consolation bracket, so we can watch the Suns again?

Fear of Music

Thought I’d dedicate a post to the classic Talking Heads album Fear of Music. I did one of these long reviews for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot about six months ago and promised that I’d make it a regular feature. Turns out, not so much, hah. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start making it regular! Or, at the very least, fit in a new installment to the ‘series’.

Before I dive into Fear of Music, I’ll establish my history with Talking Heads. So after my senior year of high school, I headed to party central at Salt Lake City to attend the Nationals debate tournament. I’d been told that paradoxically, Nationals was the most chill and laid-back debate tournament that I’d ever attend, and surprisingly that truly was the case. All of us had unbelievable amounts of free time to spend exploring the amazing attractions of…Salt Lake City. Oh.

Well, I have fond memories of watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban four times in two days at a mall located a good 30 minutes walk away, just because I had nothing better to do. I’ve mentioned it before, but Ed talking us out of renting Segways is a great regret in my lifetime thus far. I also recall seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the hotel room, watching debate rounds in the absolutely surreal environs of the Mormon tabernacle, the ridiculous yet fascinating Mormon history museums, and many other things but we’re getting really off track here, aren’t we.

Somehow, a group of us ended up a record store in the mall, it was either Tower Records or Virgin Records or something, one of those big chains that we don’t have in my area. Anyways, they were having this sale where you could get three CDs out of a set selection for a total of $10 or something amazing like that. OMG SALE. So I ended up picking up Talking Heads – Talking Heads 77, Wilco – Summerteeth, and Built to Spill – Ancient Melodies of the Future. The latter was without a doubt the weakest record of the three, but I think it was the one I was most pleased about grabbing at the time. Man, my tastes in high school. What was I thinking. I passed up on Live at Leeds for that hipster-lite garbage.

Anyways, I didn’t particularly like Talking Heads 77 at the time. The production is so flat, I could listen through the record without getting hooked by any of the melodies, just because the production is so dull. I listened to it a number of times, because I really wanted to like it, but just couldn’t find the spark. It had some interesting melodies, but that was about it.

Fast-forward one year. The summer after my freshman year, I decided that I really wanted to get into film. So I subscribed to Netflix, just for the summer, and filled my queue with critical favorites and stone-cold classics. I made up for the short time by ripping everything onto my computer and sending back the discs the next day, ending up with dozens upon dozens of movies stashed on my hard drive. Netflix recommended Stop Making Sense to me, Berardinelli loved it too, and I could see some potential for Talking Heads to work themselves more into my life, so I zipped it to the top of the queue for investigation.

The attempt at becoming an overstuffed, pretentious, scholarly film critic didn’t quite work out, I guess I’m just not the type, but I did get to watch some incredible films, with Stop Making Sense being one of the best. It’s not just footage of the band playing live, it’s an actual film, and if you look at the details it’s one of the most immaculately-produced films that I know. Unless you confine your musical tastes solely to Baroque harpsichord music, Tuvan throat-singing, or some other extreme and hardcore niche, I don’t think there’s any way you could not enjoy Stop Making Sense, I practically guarantee that you will be converted into a Talking Heads appreciator, at the very least. I myself got turned into a fanatic, and have been working my way through the Talking Heads discography since then with great zeal.

I fortuitously began with their debut, so it made since to logically progress on to More Songs About Buildings and Food. The production immediately blew me away, but I felt like the songwriting was substantially weaker, which in my book is even more important (Shaw 389*). Over time, I’ve grown to love MSABaF (what a beautiful acronym!) but at the time I was a little disappointed, and delayed my advancement towards Fear of Music.

What a mistake. Fear of Music completely blew me away on the first listen, and by the time I’d gotten through the album four more times, it was completely apparent to me that this was one of the best albums I’d ever heard. Brilliantly written, produced, executed, and everything. Thematically too, the thing is brilliant, and Starostin’s review sums it up nicely:

This is clearly a concept album, and not only that – it’s a real concept album, which is very unusual, since most ‘concept albums’ are in fact pseudo-concept albums, whose main purpose is to leave the listener behind gaping at what the possible ‘concept’ could really be (think Sgt Pepper, eh?). The concept that lies behind all these songs is somewhat similar to the concept of Dark Side Of The Moon: fear and insecurity, madness and desperation at the sight of everything that’s actually mentioned in these songs: their titles speak for themselves – ‘Paper’, ‘Cities’, ‘Mind’, ‘Heaven’, ‘Animals’, ‘Air’, ‘Drugs’, ‘Electric Guitar’… Somebody at the Prindle site suggested that the key to understanding the record is its title: substitute ‘music’ from the title and put in most of these individual song titles, and you get exactly that same message that Mr Byrne wanted to communicate us. I really couldn’t agree more about that.

That sums up my thoughts on the album quite well. Byrne’s nervous energy used to just be a quirky character of the Heads, but here it’s harnessed to perfectly convey the dark paranoia and insanity of the album. The Prindle commenter’s analysis is spot-on, and thinking of each track as conveying the eponymous phobia makes the record that much more brilliant. Fear of Cities, Fear of Paper, Fear of Life During Wartime, it all fits perfectly. Well, except for Fear of I Zimbra perhaps. But even that song is reeling of madness, with its nonsensical verses and complex polyrhythms. And since we’re starting to talk about songs, let’s go track by track again:

  1. I Zimbra – The Opening Statement, and a great one, it really sets the tone for what’s to come. I thought this was an amazing track on the first few listens, but after a while you kinda figure out that it’s not too deep of a track. Really, it’s a bunch of people shouting nonsense words over some drums, there isn’t a whole lot of room for emotional complexity or subtlety there or anything. But it sure sounds cool as hell.
  2. Mind – that slinky guitar line in the opening gives me the creeps every time, and totally makes the song for me, along with the loud and distorted solo later on. The rest of the song isn’t particularly special for me, the chorus is sort of nice, but otherwise it sounds like something that could’ve fit on MSABaF (still a beautiful acronym).
  3. Paper – the guitars on this song are just…plain…ridiculous. This is the shortest song on the album, but it really packs a wallop. The interlocking guitar lines inject so much energy into this thing, I get these mental images of paper flying everywhere and office drones flying through office hallways like in those time-lapse videos, and there’s paper everywhere, and oh man, it’s just a nightmare! Completely, completely incredible song.
  4. Cities – the single repeated piano chord in the verse is what makes this song for me musically, it’s the lone source of clarity within the chaotic noise created by the staccato guitars and Byrne’s clipped delivery. Otherwise, the song seems a little overrated to me, though it’s still great. By the way, what’s up with the line, “Did I forget to mention, forget to mention Memphis? Home of Elvis, and the Ancient Greeks!” Am I totally mistaken on this, or was Memphis an ancient Egyptian city? I don’t recall the Greeks ever being involved with Memphis, Egypt, or at least as much as they were with Alexandria. I could be off base here, but that was just my thought. Historically accurate or not, it’s my favorite line in the song.
  5. Life During Wartime – I think ‘Cities’ is a little overrated, but I think ‘Life During Wartime’ is way more overrated. Nearly every review of this album mentions this song as the centerpiece of Fear of Music; it’s the brilliantly manic song that seems so spiffy and glam on the outside before further investigation reveals its dark thematic undercurrents. I don’t buy it. To me, it’s just a standard pop song that only stands out because of its sequencing within the album, after all the chaos of ‘Paper’ and ‘Cities’. I think that if this song had been put on a poppier, lightweight album such as Speaking in Tongues, nobody would really give it a whole lot of significant praise, because I think it’s just a decent song that’s especially well-framed by its context within Fear of Music. However, I do think it’s a necessary lightweight break to set the stage for…
  6. Memories Can’t Wait – …the song that defines this record for me. The first time I heard it, I sat stunned and just stared at the wall or something, I don’t even know what. The ominous walls of sound, the huge reverb on everything, it’s the darkest atmosphere you can find on the record. The final minute, with Byrne just wailing into the abyss, clutches at my soul every time, and to me it’s just one of the most affecting pieces of rock music.
  7. Air – you really need this break after all the emotional drama in ‘Memories Can’t Wait’. While you’re coming down though, you probably won’t notice how lightweight and innocent this song, but in a sort of forgettable way, unfortunately. For some reason, it sort of reminds me of Pixies, though I hate making huge comparative leaps like that because I know they won’t make sense to anyone else.
  8. Heaven – I kind of prefer the version of this on Stop Making Sense, maybe only because it was the first version I heard. But I don’t really like the piano on this album version, it adds an additional layer of complexity that I don’t feel this simple little song needs, and it drags down a lot of the drama and power that this song could have potentially had, were it kept sparse and simple.
  9. Animals – just plain bizarre and strange, but that’s part of its charm. The completely deranged closing is hilarious and brilliant.
  10. Electric Guitar – far and away my least favorite song on this album, and actually the only song here that I can’t say I like. Everything else, relatively weak or not within the rest of the album, is still great compared to the rest of the rock music wasteland. There’s too many strange noises, there’s not enough structure to help them make sense, the melody’s hook is too dull, and I just don’t like this song, really.
  11. Drugs – The slow, atmospheric closer. I really think this is a beautiful song, and possibly the album’s most underrated track (Starostin had the nerve to list it as his only disliked track, how is that even possible when ‘Electric Guitar’ is on this album?!). The award could also goto ‘Paper’, but in any case, this was the right way to close the album. A rousing crowd-pleaser would have clearly violated the moods built within Fear of Music, and nothing else could have worked other than this sort of contemplative, ambient stuff. It’s a beautiful closer to an incredible album.

And that’s Fear of Music. The album’s concept provides a cohesive framework to interpret each song, and the songs not only deliver on this concept, but stand on their own as well-constructed pieces as well. Musically as well as thematically, it’s gotta be one of the indisputable classics of the rock canon. I know that most people prefer Remain in Light, and I just don’t see it. Maybe I’ll touch on that later. Or, in a more likely scenario, not. To me anyways, Fear of Music is a towering achievement, and is one of the best albums in my collection. Generally I don’t like using ‘best’, I prefer to use ‘favorite’ since it implies personal preference instead of objective quality, but in this case it’s really both. Fear of Music is that good.

Some other things:

Sunday’s conference championship playoff games were the last football games I’ll get to watch until…September?! Sniff. Tear. More than anything, I’ll miss football during my time abroad. Okay, maybe not more than anything, but it’s up there. And it’s true, I’ll probably have to miss the Super Bowl. Because of the time zone differences, I’ll probably be in class or something, and it’s not like I could find a TV anyways, and even if I did, I doubt that any Australian stations would be showing American football. That’s three successive obstacles impeding my wishes to view the champion of the National Football League being crowned, but oh well. I’m not too excited for this matchup anyways. Or maybe I’m just not excited since I know I won’t be able to watch it. Chicken or the egg, you know. Speaking of which, isn’t the answer clearly the egg? Some chicken-ancestor-species laid an egg which contained a series of genetic mutations which caused the offspring to be Pure Chicken, rather than chicken-ancestor-species? Isn’t that how most species ultimately come about, evolutionarily? Somebody needs to refute me on this.

So the family jokingly went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner last night, as sort of a warmup for Australia. Ridiculous. I doubt they have Outback over there, but I wonder if they know about it. I also wondered whether there’s some novelty American restaurant out there, themed on cowboys, tumbleweeds, and ghost towns, but then I realized that, hah, we have those in America already, don’t we. So maybe Australia has those, and some self-mocking Australian restaurants. The novelty does go a bit overboard at Outback though, like how the restrooms are labeled Sheilas and Blokes? Wtf? On a random sidenote, I greatly appreciate restaurants that post the newspaper’s sports section in front of the urinal in the men’s restroom. I started thinking about what section of the newspaper would be in the women’s restroom, before I realized how impractical that would probably be. Or is it? Do they have this? I wouldn’t know, would I.

Also of note, I completely forgot that UNC and Clemson would be playing this evening, my last UNC game before I head abroad too! Fortunately, the game was playing on the big screen TV in Outback, causing the following conversation to occur over and over again:

Mom: I can’t believe my only child is going to Australia in a few days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Lawson just hit his free throws, it’s 69-51 Heels, 8:41 left in the half.
Dad: Good.

And that’s my family in a nutshell.

I really like this year’s UNC team. Normally, I’m a very atypical sports fanboy, in that I’m extremely critical of all my teams. I know them well enough to know their glaring weaknesses, and I absolutely pick them apart for it. I didn’t like the 2005 championship team at all: not enough team play, streaky outside shooters fading down the tournament stretch, no shotblockers or solid interior defense, and I could go on. I was stunned when they won the whole thing, and none of my college friends could understand that. In hindsight, okay, that team was amazing. Sean May and Raymond Felton were consistently reliable, something we really don’t have on this current team, and they had an incredible cast of supporting players to go along with them. But whatever, for some reason, I’m willing to look past this team’s faults. I know those weaknesses are there, and I know what they are, but I don’t care anymore, because I love the team’s tremendous upside potential and where it could take them. I’m going to miss March Madness more than any other sporting event while I’m abroad, so for my bracket I’m just going to pencil in UNC ftw and leave it at that, so I don’t get too emotionally invested in the thing.

And that’s it for me. I doubt I’ll be able to fit in another post before I head out, so the next time you hear from me, I’ll probably be deep in the Australian rainforest! That hasn’t sunk in for me yet, but I guess it will by then, just because hey, it’s reality. So I hope everyone enjoys the rest of your January, and I’ll post here eventually with info on how you can contact me. Warning: letters will probably be delivered by parrot. I can’t wait.

Oh, and one last thing. So the best time for birding is the very early morning, as the birds begin to wake up from their long night’s sleep. I don’t mind these early wake-up calls because I’m just a morning person, but as if I needed an extra incentive to head outside so early, the sunrises are quite beautiful sometimes. I got this photo of the sun rising over Shelley Lake on Tuesday morning. And we’ll leave things there, as a really really corny metaphor for my adventures to come.

Sunrise Over Shelley Lake

*Okay so I don’t really have a book, sue me. But I wish I did. Alas. Perhaps I’ll get started at some point.

Can’t Get That, I’m in a Zone Over Here

One of the best things about being home is the newfound ability to watch sports without any sort of academic distractions hanging over my head. I’ve tried multitasking at school before, and no luck. There is simply no way I can concentrate on words on the page when linebackers are blitzing untouched from the outside on a television screen within 50 feet of my head. I’m starting to think that it’s actually physically impossible, like my retinas have field-goal-upright-shaped sports receptors, which activate a cascade of proteins which eventually shut down my cognitive brain functions, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Here at home though, no distractions, and it’s amazing. Actually, I just remembered that I have a 15 page report on the summer research that still needs writing, and of course there’s the whole packing thing, but there’s no urgency in either (yet), so I don’t feel completely guilty about spending this entire weekend watching playoff games.

Indianapolis 15 @ Baltimore 6

Not a pretty game to watch, but sort of disturbingly engrossing at the same time. Outside of the state of Indiana, and Peyton Manning fanboys who bandwagon with winning teams, doesn’t everyone enjoy watching this guy get picked apart by defenses flying all over the field? Bill Simmons’ “Manning Face” is absolutely crucial towards my enjoyment of a Colts game, and we got to see plenty of it during this game.

In the end, the Colts move on to the AFC Championship, but I wonder why all the talk is centering upon how the defense ‘saved’ Manning. Is it really the Colts defense, or was it more like an incompetent Ravens offense? As good of a leader as he is, nobody can really argue that McNair is a great quarterback anymore, and he just doesn’t have a supporting cast around him to make it work. I think that most defenses in the NFL could probably intercept McNair twice and not give up any touchdowns, the difference for the Ravens being that this time, the Ravens defense weren’t able to get the offense good enough field position off turnovers, and on the rare occasion that it was given to them, some sort of McNair blunder or penalty would push them back.

So now, we get to watch Manning choke in one more round. I will be stunned if he ever wins a Super Bowl, which makes me laugh. Statistically, he’s one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, but he just doesn’t have the right attitude for a championship winner. I’m not picturing any sort of late-career Elway-like resurrection either. Can you picture Peyton as a grizzled old veteran, making tough throws when it counts, and running for the first down on aging legs when the pocket collapses? The answer is no, Peyton the grizzled veteran will sit in the pocket too long until he’s swallowed up by the defensive line, or he’ll lob passes to safeties sitting in coverage. You can just picture it. He’s just that kind of quarterback, and that’s greatly amusing to me.

Philadelphia 24 @ New Orleans 27

I still don’t like Reggie Bush’s play in the NFL. His contributions to this game will largely be remembered by that spectacular 20-yard gain where he completely reversed field, outrunning several Eagles along the way, and for the touchdown run where he got stuffed inside and somehow bounced it outside where he beat Dhani Jones to the pylon. The thing that both plays had in common was that Reggie almost got stuffed by going straight ahead, so he decided to try for the Big Play by heading across the field and turning the corner.

That is not how you play in the NFL. Just look at how Deuce McAllister played this game: he hit his holes hard, and drove through the initial contact, and fought for yardage. I would argue that at this point, Reggie Bush is playing like a coward. He’s afraid of contact, he fights for yards with his fleet feet instead of with his considerable strength, and he doesn’t have the patience to wait for his blocks to develop. The fact that he keeps making these huge plays is kind of cool I suppose, like we’re supposed to be amazed by this kid’s athletic ability and imagination, but they almost seem like accidents to me. And the fact that he keeps succeeding is only going to encourage him to do it more. How much longer can he keep this up? I remain unconvinced that Reggie Bush will make a consistent every-down back in the NFL, he just doesn’t have the ability to run between the tackles like a traditional runningback. He either gets tackled for massive losses, which everyone seems to forget, or he madly dashes past confused defenders and gets praised as a genius on the scale of Leonardo DaVinci or Thomas Edison.

Great game though. Unless you live close to Philadelphia, you just had to root for the Saints on this one. They’re definitely America’s Team at this point. I have to say though: my favorite play of the game was early on, where Brees lobbed a soft toss to Bush in the flat, only for Bush to just..get…destroyed…by Sheldon Brown. That was the hardest hit I have ever witnessed live in a NFL game, it was incredible. I wish I was at a bar in Philly high-fiving everyone in sight, that was just the best hit. I’m glad that it’s on Youtube already. I liked how they went to commercial by playing that ‘Here Comes the Boom!’ song, it made me lol. Also, why the hell did Andy Reid decide to punt on 4th-and-15 on the last drive? Sorry Andy, that false start did not also add 3 minutes on to the clock, it’s just 5 yards, that’s it. Stupid, just plain stupid. Not one of the better coaches in the NFL.

Seattle 24 @ Chicago 27

Of course, all the pregame talk centered on the inconsistent Rex Grossman, and which side of Mr. Grossman we’d see in this game. The last time we saw him, he had a quarterback rating of…0. 0. That is a zero. Not the letter ‘o’ which I believe comes between the excellent letters ‘n’ and ‘p’. That is a 0. He completed more passes to the Packers defenders than he did to his own team. That is correct. Incompetence on a completely historic level. And wait, this team is in the playoffs?!

What most commentators seemed to forget was that we could get both sides of Grossman in a single game, like he’s schizophrenic or something! Incredible! So yeah, he made some amazing throws, for example that excellent deep ball to Berrian on the touchdown, yet there were some inconceivable decisions made under pressure as well. This time then, his inconsistencies were intra-game, rather than inter-game. Amazing.

Oh, and once again we’ve got a close game decided by a late field goal. Shaping up to a be a good round of playoffs so far, I gotta say. Chicago deserved this one, their defense stepped up at just the right times.

New England 24 @ San Diego 21

I have no idea what’s going on in that photo. I know it’s Kevin Faulk celebrating his 2-pt conversion to tie the game, but what is everyone else doing there? I can’t figure out what happened in this celebration at all, there’s just too many possibilities, none of which seem conceivable at all. I may have nightmares about this photo, so I thought I’d share it with you all!

Anyways, New England did not deserve this win. Even my token Patriots-supporting friend agrees! The number of San Diego mistakes is just too long to have allowed the Chargers to pulled it out, through no real intervention on the Patriots’ part. There’s was Parker’s bone-headed attempt to pick up and run with his own muffed punt, McCree’s interception stripped away by Troy Brown, Rivers’ soft lob intercepted by Colvin, and all the drops by those receivers. You can’t win when you make those kind of mistakes, and the Patriots did just enough to capitalize off them.

Meanwhile, this Gostkowski character is a monster. Remember when he got drafted, and everyone was just like, wtfwtfwtf? Mel Kiper didn’t even have the dude on his draft board of kickers or something! Of course, I laughed when one commentator said something to the effect of, “Well, let’s see, Bill Belichick is probably the greatest genius operating in the NFL right now, and he’s won three Super Bowls. How many Super Bowls has Mel Kiper won? Wait, zero? So maybe this Belichick guy knows what he’s doing?” Apparently so, apparently so. I can’t wait until Renaldo Balkman suddenly turns into Gilbert Arenas in five years, and starts dropping 35 on his hapless opponents on a nightly basis. If I were a Chargers fan right now though, I’d probably be all like

Let’s get to a few links then:

You Should’ve Been a Clerk

Man, this past week.

It wasn’t really anything to do with finals. Granted, finals this semester were about 89 times tougher than any finals I’ve had before, but at least I saw that train wreck coming months ago, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Well, maybe there was, but I wasn’t willing to do anything that early, haha.

It’s more about the end of a semester, with the next semester being abroad, and the necessary good byes and good lucks. Friends I won’t see for nine months, seniors I may never see ever again, professors to thank. Add in the unexpected arrival of a wonderful romance, and I’ve been walking around campus for a week with a bleeding heart, completely unlike my usual self. There were so many acquaintances who weren’t aware that I was going abroad, and who told me to have a nice break, and I just didn’t have any heart left to tell them I’d be away. So yeah, if anyone tried to talk with me in the past week about the Iverson trade to Denver, or that Silent Shout album on Pitchfork’s list, and you got some noncommittal grunt or whimper, I apologize, and now you know why I’ve been in that state. We’ll talk later.

Now I’ve settled in at home, and Swarthmore is beginning to recede into the back of my memory; I’m not really the type to really dwell on such things. For some reason, I immediately set up my workspace in the sunroom, an area of the house I’ve never used in my entire life. Maybe it’s because the large windows and views of the woods remind me of Hallowell (I just noticed a Red-shouldered Hawk soaring above the pines, I thought I’d heard it screaming earlier…), but that never entered my conscious thought.

What I have noticed, however, is that for some reason, I feel like a completely different person on this return home. My old computer room seems totally unappealing; I don’t think I’ve spent more than 10 seconds in that room, where I used to spend the vast majority of the day; a move to the sunroom made sense then, as a sort of really lame New Beginning. It would probably be a foolish mistake to try and pinpoint exactly why I feel differently, but it must be a culmination of everything that’s happened in the past week, the past month, and/or the past semester. Best semester ever? You could certainly make the case. I had a blast.

But yeah, it’s nice to be home. I look out these windows, and I know this yard like the back of my hand. It strikes me that I’ve always referred to the small creek that runs through the back as, simply, The Creek. I looked up the actual official name of the creek many years ago, but I never remembered it. It’s always been The Creek to me, and it always will be. Meanwhile, my dad is either reading the newspaper, watching football, or watching incomprehensible kung fu movies, and my mom is either getting some work done, doing Sudoku puzzles, or getting emotional over Korean soap operas. Ah, home.

But now that I’m home, let’s catch up on a few things.

First, the Iverson trade.

I don’t think anyone can make a good argument in Philadelphia’s favor here. You traded away a transcendent superstar, an icon of the city, a beloved rallying point for the fans. In exchange, let’s see what you got.

Andre Miller, a perennially underachieving point guard who’s jumped from team to team over the years, probably indicative of the fact that he’s a clubhouse tumor that nobody wants to work with, talented or not.

I didn’t even realize Joe Smith was still in the league. Was he really the top overall pick in the draft? He was fairly good in his prime, but these days, I’m sure he’ll grab a few rebounds before heading to the bench with a bad back.

Two draft picks? Remember that a draft pick doesn’t necessarily turn into a young stud superstar. The Sixers could use their pick on some like, say, Tyler Hansborough, as much as it pains me to say. The kid’s good at the college level, but I can only envision him being completely bewildered at the professional level. He hasn’t looked all that good this year anyways, while Brandan Wright has literally looked unstoppable. If I wanted to rely on someone in the post in crunch time, I’d goto Wright, not Hansborough at this point. Anyways, I just don’t see how the Sixers can win with this trade. They’ll botch the draft picks, and sign some decrepit veteran with their expiring contract money. For all that, they lost their transcendent superstar.

Meanwhile, a lot of ink has already been spilled on Iverson’s role in Denver. Bijan Bayne wrote a nice article on the topic at nbadraft.net (best website of all time?), basically showing that it’s extremely difficult to accommodate two superstars on one team. They either must have complementary roles (think Stockton and Malone) or they must both be unselfish team players (think Duncan and Robinson). I love how I can just prattle off last names, and every basketball fan knows exactly who I’m talking about, as if they’re kings or gods of some sort, of basketball I suppose. In any case, it’s difficult to create those situations, and more often than not, the experiment fails. That’ll probably be the case here in Denver, as Iverson and Anthony play very similar scoring roles, and since they’re competing for the same limited resources (the ball, shots, attention), both economic and ecological analysis will show that the two cannot successfully coexist.

Also, I’m watching the Falcons-Panthers game, and I can’t stop laughing at the Panthers’ strategy on third down. They’re taking quarterback Chris Weinke completely off the field, and snapping the ball directly to runningback DeAngelo Williams. Why didn’t we think of this earlier? Wienke has been the most incompetent quarterback that I have ever witnessed, and the Falcons have a horrendous run defense. How do the Falcons not see this coming? At this point, the Panthers have run the play 8 times, and picked up the first down 7 of those times. You know the Panthers are going to run, how do you not stop it. It’s not like DeShaun Foster is actually any good, because he’s not. Meanwhile, this has got to be so demoralizing for Weinke. Yeah, we don’t even need you on the field for these critical plays, even though you’re supposed to be the centerpiece of our offense. Why is he even on the field. If he’s just going to hand the ball off, bring in Basanez to at least give some threat of the pass. I’m so sad that the Panthers have slowly crumbled into this lowly state.
Okay, the game just ended, and basically we won by taking time off the clock and relying on our defense. Wienke completed four passes, for 32 yards. Sorry, but we’ve gotta bench this kid. If we don’t have any confidence in him, why even bother?

As for Silent Shout, why don’t we leave that for another day.

Links for today:

  • True Hoop takes a good look at the psyche of Allen Iverson, and what makes him tick as a basketball player. Great read.
  • Another transcendent basketball superstar, Renaldo Balkman, has his own Myspace page. Endless lols.
  • All the slingshots I made as a kid were way too flimsy, I’d love to have my hands on this pro Jack Spade Sling Shot.
  • Someone accidentally put their baby through the airport’s x-ray machine. Oops. Man, I can’t even joke about this, what a terrible thing to have happen.
  • Google has published their year-end Zeitgeist, featuring the most popular searches of the year and lot’s of other cool stats.
  • Not a link, but Steven Jackson just scored a game-winning touchdown in overtime, on a 21-yd run, giving him 250 total yards and two touchdowns on the game. Absolute monster. I still can’t believe that I managed to trade away Cadillac Williams to get him in my fantasy league. Sorry, I’m just really pleased, and had to throw that out there.
  • Here’s a nice article on the most dangerous roads in the world. Unreal.
  • I hope everyone has a great holiday season, keep in touch for realz, we gotta be trill. Missing everyone tons…

Monsters of the Midway, with Intermission Between Acts

Finally, I got to kick back tonight to watch Monday Night Football, for the first time all season. Combinations of orchestra rehearsal and literal piles of homework have taken me away from such a luxury during the schoolweeks, but today I got to stretch out on the couch, bring out the chips and salsa, plus a tall glass of orange juice (Bojangles sweet tea supply already exhausted), and just watch the game.

First off, I’d totally forgotten that the Hank Williams MNF Theme Song even existed. What a terrible song. Seriously, does anybody like the song at all? Obviously we all know the MNF instrumental theme, ESPN even played off that with a series of commercials featuring everyday workers humming it on the way to work, but the Hank Williams song? I don’t know anybody who likes it, yet every week they need to feature footage of him “performing” it live, all intense-like. I get much more excited and pumped up by the instrumental theme, no need to feature an ancient country washup in the pregame. I’ve already forgotten how the song actually goes now, I just have this massive image of Hank Williams’ face filling the camera shot, branded into my skull. What a nightmare, and I mean that quite literally.

As for the game itself, the Cardinals come out and just take care of business, Leinart mechanically guiding the team down the field for two touchdowns and a couple of field goals in the first half. The kid looks incredibly calm and collected, he’s going to be a great quarterback some day for sure. I will note that he didn’t make any long throws, most of the long gains came after the catch, but at least Leinart made the proper reads and delivered the ball accurately.

That’s a huge contrast from Rex Grossman. Two interceptions and two fumbles in the first half would seem to explain the large enclosed circle associated with your team’s name on the scoreboard. Meanwhile on defense, the Bears didn’t do anything particularly poorly, but Leinart just did a good job of picking them apart. Meanwhile, Edgerrin James remains useless. If you drafted him for your fantasy team, you are a fool. Please see my team if you would like to see a model of success. At least, this week.

And so we reach halftime. I was looking for something to do during halftime, and I felt like I’d been doing something fairly interesting before the game started, but I’d forgotten what that actually was. Then I realized: it was the new Jay-Z video.

There are times such as these when I’m really, really tempted to plagiarize. Tom Breihan’s writeup on both the song and video are pretty spot-on, but clearly for ethical/legal reasons I can’t just claim his work as my own, as much as I’d love the fame and glory that comes along with such brilliant blogwork. Anyways, you can find the full post over here, and I’ll attach the Jay-Z segment below (Also please note that the My Chemical Romance section brought incredible lols, but is unfortunately unrelated to the issues at hand):

Jay-Z: “Show Me What You Got.” The song leaked last week, and the internet’s been hating it since then, mostly because Jay’s lyrics are undeniably lazy, the sort of stuff he probably comes up with on the toilet. But it totally works with the video. Just Blaze’s beat sounds lush and expensive, with that “Rump Shaker” horn riff languidly snaking over all those hectic drum-fills and organ-blurts. The video doesn’t have much of a plot: Jay rides around in cars with famous racecar drivers and drives a boat in circles and raps at a casino on the beach where people are dancing with torches or whatever. But F. Gary Gray edits everything really quickly and uses all kinds of split-screen pyrotechnics. The whole thing reminds me of the opening credits to Hawaii Five-O, and that’s my favorite shit ever. Jay Smooth calls it “yet another episode of ‘Hooray! I’m rich! Watch me do rich people things!’,” and that’s true enough, but it’s all done with such breathless verve that I’m really looking forward to seeing it on an actual TV instead of a smudgy-ass YouTube scan.

True enough, I’d been watching the video before the game started. And I totally agree with Breihan, Just Blaze’s production is amazing as usual, but Jay-Z’s rapping is a little uninspired here. The video is, however, really really well done, I agree. I too was looking forward to seeing it on a real tv, outside of the YouTube vid which I now see has been taken down, sadly. I’m sure it’ll pop up elsewhere, do some searching around. Edit: Yeah, do a youtube search, there’s a few copies up again.

But just as I was about to head back to my computer to watch the video again, Stuart Scott came on for the Halftime Report, and things took a turn for the incredible. He’s got a fairly normal sportscaster vocabulary most of the time, but now suddenly Scott was dishing out phrases like, “Jigga’s got a new record droppin in Novembeh, homies,” while making exaggerated hand motions, and I just started loling, and totally missed everything else he said, which I greatly regret. But yeah, turns out ESPN was about to unveil the exact video I was hoping to see, its first airing on national television. Funny how things work like that.

Well, not exactly, as it was an edited version with a bunch of NFL highlights spliced in to make it marginally relevant to ESPN. The screen-splitting now showed the Jigga and Dale Earnhardt Jr. cruisin’, Danica Patrick checking her mirrors, the two cars aerial-view, and Michael Vick diving for the endzone. You’d also get Jay spittin’ at the camera, then a quick cut to Tiki Barber juking out some poor Falcons linebacker. And as the video went on, the editing got heavier, until they cut out the entire second verse with respective boat scene (my favorite scene! those bastards), cutting straight to the casino, which was actually shown less than the football footage. Prominently featured was Jeff Fisher awkwardly celebrating his first victory of the year as if it were the Super Bowl, and the juxtaposition of ecstatic white boy Fisher with coolness personified in Jay-Z was fantastic. The whole thing was short too, probably only two minutes, before we went back to the Time Warner Cable and Verizon commercials. Oh well, a nice enough break, and we continue into the second half.

Edit: I totally forgot, the video came up again during the third quarter, this time in a Budweiser Select commercial. It was a lot of alternate shots taken from the video sessions, except now they’re suddenly drinking Bud instead of expensive wines at the casino party. Closing shot: Jay-Z sitting in this plush chair, cigar smoke snaking through the air, spits out, “The King is back!” They’re really pushing this comeback, aren’t they.

Third quarter, the Bears still can’t get anything going on offense, and the Cardinals are content to sit on their substantial lead. Since the game isn’t going anywhere, we get more and more shots of the ecstatic Cardinals fans, and I became amused at the dedication of some of these fans. One Cardinals fan was wearing this t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan PROTECT THE NEST in a massive font, and he was incredibly intense, pumping his fists and screaming at the camera, and I couldn’t help but laugh. PROTECT THE NEST, what an absurd slogan, is that supposed to pump me up? PROTECT THE NEST. So awesome, I suppose that’s what you get for having a small songbird as your mascot. Somehow, this was topped by a Bears fan who was shown at least three or four times, who wore a normal black t-shirt, except that he’d made a neon Chicago Bears logo sign, somehow attached to the shirt, which he could light up at the press of a button. What. I can’t imagine how you could possibly look like a bigger fool. Despite all this, American football still doesn’t seem to compare to European football in terms of the fans’ fanaticism; do you remember all that World Cup footage of lighted flares being thrown around, the town squares literally packed with fans watching on a projector screen? Not even mentioning hooligan riots, or that Colombian footballer who got shot by angry fans after scoring an own goal against the US. I feel like sports are just simply absurd in general, but so what, they’re still awesome.

So last play of the third quarter, Kornheiser and Theismann are talking about clock management, when suddenly Leinart gets sacked from behind and the football flies out of his hand, a fumble! Mike Brown recovers for a touchdown, and now the Bears are only down 23-10. So what, everyone thought, the Bears have looked completely incompetent on offense, and the Cardinals should be able to sustain drives and run out the clock. Some minutes later, what do you know, Grossman throws another pick. After some mild amusement at the sight of a defensive end rumbling down the field with a convoy of Cardinals celebrating around him, the return is brought back because his knee was down, and Leinart and the offense promptly go nowhere. So Grossman gets the ball back, and throws another interception. I can’t imagine a quarterback having a worse game. Four interceptions, two fumbles, zero touchdowns. Probably hurt your fantasy team somewhat.

Now, the Cardinals try and run the clock down with the run, but then, Urlacher makes a brilliant play and strips the ball away from Edge, and Charles Tillman returns that for a touchdown. And suddenly, the Bears are only down by six. Theismann is starting to panic. Kornheiser is just flipping out. Everyone outside of Chicago wants the Cardinals to win this game, but everyone can smell it: the Bears are somehow on the verge of reeling this game back in, against all odds.

There’s only five minutes left in the game, so if Leinart can just sustain a drive, they’ll be safe. But no luck, a couple of passes batted at the line, and Edge gets stuffed a few more times by Urlacher, and its time to punt.

Devin Hester returns the punt for a touchdown.

The entire state of Arizona melts down, and the apocalypse ensues.

The score was 23-3 with five seconds left in the third quarter, but now the Bears are up 24-23, without even scoring an offensive touchdown, and actually having one of the most offensively incompetent games in recent memory. But there is still some hope, sez Theismann, as Leinart has looked quite good thus far, and this is the sort of environment he thrived in at USC. Remember last year’s unforgettable Notre Dame game? And sure enough, short completions to Boldin, Ayanbadejo, and a few other faceless Cardinals brings them into field goal range for the automatic Neil Rackers, who now has a chance to save face and win the game.

He misses to the left.

That Bears fan gleefully lights up his neon shirt-sign, and the entire world melts down, and the apocalypse ensues.

Good game, good game. But Kornheiser and Theismann stated it pretty well: everyone wanted to see Leinart bring the Cardinals back. And he pretty much did, Rackers just forgot that he gets paid millions of dollars to kick footballs well, and they lost the game. Again, they were up 23-3, and lost to a team who had 6 turnovers and touchdowns coming from defense and special teams. If I were a member of the Arizona Cardinals, or if I was a rabid fan, this is about the time that I would get that ceremonial samurai sword out from storage, and commit ritual seppuku. I’m so glad that all of my teams are competent, except for the Bobcats but at least they have a good excuse.

After the Phillies lost out on the NL Wild Card race on the final day, we asked the fanatical Phillies fan who works in Tarble for his thoughts, he was completely emotionless, he simply looked at us and said, “I’ve been a Phillies fan for over fifty years, I’m not surprised that this happened at all, so I’m not even upset.” I sincerely hope that my Panthers, Tar Heels, Hurricanes, and Bobcats never sink to such a low level, as it would truly destroy my soul. Let’s just conveniently ignore the fact that the Tar Heels just lost to Central Florida in football. I always forget that they have a football team. But for now, I’m very sorry Cardinals fans, the nation mourns with you. Your quarterback has a bright future ahead, just don’t count on anyone else to be decent.

Edit: I really like this stat. In the final 22 minutes of the game, the Bears offense managed…39 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns. Yet they overcame a 20 point deficit to win. Unbelievable.

Show me what links you got:

  • Certainly, as illustrated tonight, sports can be incredibly agonizing, and even a little absurd. But there are times when sports can become absolutely transcendant. The Wharton girls asked me before the break: When was the last time I cried? I said it was a few weeks earlier, watching a replay of the Music City Miracle. I wasn’t lying. I almost choked up again today, watching Magglio Ordonez’s walkoff homer to send the Detroit Tigers into the World Series today. Or David Ortiz’s walkoff single in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. In all three videos, just listen to the call, and look at the fans. Look at the fans. I’m tearing up just typing this. How sad is that, that the only thing that makes me cry is sports, and it’s not even my home teams that we’re considering. Long live sports, and congratulations, Tigers fans.
  • A pretty good compilation of bone-crushing NFL tackles throughout the years.
  • Some great time-lapse footage from the cities, reminds me a lot of Koyaanisqatsi and such.
  • This website has a really fantastic design, lots of fun.
  • The portrait photographer Philippe Halsman asked his subjects to jump, to loosen them up, and here’s a sample of his work, and a nice article too.
  • Kids these days are so spoiled. Now they can get night vision goggles that shoot darts. Srsly guys, you could’ve invented this 15 years ago, get with the program.
  • Instructions for making your own beanbag chair.
  • Useful website where you can print up pdf calendars, graph paper, sudoku puzzles, and all that jazz.
  • Someone compiled a map of the town of Springfield from The Simpsons, with frightening detail.
  • A very mysterious boat has been sighted in the waters off Washington state.
  • And finally, Radar Magazine has listed the 10 dumbest politicians on Capitol Hill, with some pretty great anecdotes for each one.

    McKinney fought back by proudly producing a survey that ranked her as the 277th most effective legislator in the House. In fact the survey, by congress.org, placed her at 408.

  • That’s it and that’s all, have a nice week.