Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hard To Spell -- Hard To Dispute

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was recently on PBS' NewsHour and had this to say in response to a question about the costs and benefits of the U.S. invasion and 3-year occupation of Iraq:
I think the benefits have been, in fact, very few, beyond the obvious one: the removal of Saddam Hussein. But we have undermined our international legitimacy. That's a very high cost to a superpower.

We have destroyed our credibility; no one believes anything the president says anymore. We have tarnished our morality with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. These are phenomenal costs. And there's, of course, blood and money and tens of thousands of Iraqi killed.

So, in my view, the time has come to face all of this, to realize that staying for a prolonged period of time until some ephemeral victory is not the solution. It is time to leave.

Zbigniew BrzezinskiAnd I think a four-point program could be implemented that would permit us to leave in a fashion that would not be a debacle: Ask the Iraqi government to ask us to leave, first of all. And some would ask us. Some have already asked us, in fact.

Secondly, concert with the Iraqi government on the date of our departure, so it's a joint decision, I would think in about a year.

Third, the Iraqi government then convenes a conference of neighbors, Muslim neighbors, who are interested in continued stability in Iraq and in helping to prevent a civil war from exploding.

And fourth, arrange a donors conference for the recovery of Iraq. We could do that. I think we'd be better off if we did it; otherwise we're stuck, and this is getting worse and worse. The region is becoming more destabilized and hostile to us.

"No one believes anything the president says anymore." Sad, but true.

Bet On This?

Call it nonsensical, but if you're looking for an edge as the Sweet 16 tips off tonight, remember that Florida runs on a 6-year cycle of Final Four appearances -- 1994 and 2000 are its only other trips to the Final Four.

Those were also the only other times that they have lasted longer in the tournament than UK, with UK bowing in the 2nd round both of those years ... as well as this year (hmmmm).

Something to think about.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Elton John, Earworm From The Future

So the wife and I had this discussion the other day. She claimed that she wakes up just about every day with a song playing in her head. Often it's a song that has no business being there -- it's not like she heard the song just before falling asleep or anything. Maybe she heard it a day or two previously, maybe she hadn't heard it in months.

Regardless, the song takes root and proves all but impossible to dislodge short of replacing it with some other, equally tenacious song.

It turns out that this phenomenon has been studied in some detail by a Dr. James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnnati. He calls it an "earworm," and claims that 98% of the population has experienced (suffered from?) the phenomenon at one time or another.

I guess I hadn't thought about it until the conversation, but I'll be damned if I don't notice now every time I get one of these earworm songs stuck in my head.

And it happens a lot.

As a for instance, this morning in the shower, right after waking up, the song in my head was "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John. No reason for this -- although it did pop up on my iTunes last week, but seriously, that was a week ago. Why would it pop up today out of nowhere?

Well, the reason become clear just a couple of hours later. As I sat in my daughter's orthodonist office, waiting for them to take her braces off, what should come on the satellite radio musak playing in the office?

Yup, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

So having the song pop up in my head was the result of some sort of earworm wormhole -- an earwormhole, if you will -- a message from the future about the musak that lay in wait for me.

Of course, it might have just been a coincidence.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Fat Kid: In Sum

Yoco succinctly describes Patrick Sparks' season:

"Two-thirds of the time Patrick Sparks looks like he has no business being on the floor. The other third of the time he looks like he's the best player on the court."

Word Test

According to the March 15th survey of America by the Pew Research Center, the #1 word used by Americans to describe the President is ...


29 of the 710 respondents describe our incompetent President as "incompetent." Kudos for your perception, Americans!

The #3 word is "idiot" (21), and #4 is "liar" (17).

What is most interesting is that 26 respondents described him as "incompetent" last July -- months before Katrina, Harriet Miers and illegal domestic wiretapping.

The second most interesting thing is that the "incompetent" describers only rose by 3 after those and other episodes of incompetence.

"Honest" fell from #1 (34) to #6 (14).

The real bump came in the popularity of "idiot" -- from 11 to 21.

I guess some just decided to go straight through "incompetent" to get down to their real feelings.

Well, That's It!

So the tournament is over for me.

For the first time since 2000, the Cats and the Illini both flamed out in the first weekend of the tourney, leaving me with no rooting interest for the remaining two weeks.

Except for Duke to lose, of course.

The Cats opened on Friday with a gutty effort against their tourney nemesis UAB. All you need know about the game is that it was won at the line, with a 26-for-30 night from the stripe. Not exciting, but enough to win.

That set up the Sunday second-rounder against the region's top seed, UConn. The comeuppance for a season of diffidence was a date with the best team in the tourney in the first weekend. The bad news was, of course, as bad as it could get -- a season-ending loss.

The good news included a gutty effort all day; a continued ability to play some effective (if often tortuous) offense; some clutch play from The Fat Kid (who now becomes one of the most sought-after players in the history of men's open gym play at the Lexington Y) and from Bobby Perry (who might actually become a valuable part of next year's team after averaging 22.5 points & 7 rebounds in the two tourney games); and continued glimpses of Randolph Morris' value if they can just get him the damn ball!

In the end, the key play of the game was the same as the key play in last year's season-ender vs. Michigan State -- need a defensive rebound, don't get it. Honestly, if Sheray Thomas goes home to Montreal at some point in the summer there must be some way to get the border police on board to not let him back in the country. Guess there's a reason why the point guard was the team's leading rebounder.

Bottom line, an effort like this every night would have resulted in UConn being a regional final opponent, not a second-rounder, and that will be the legacy of this team.

On Saturday it was the Illini's turn to go down, in a second-round matchup with a tough bunch of Huskies. Washington won this game in much the same manner as UK beat UAB -- at the line (39 FTA for Washington, 11 for the Illini).

One game was actually three games.
  • In the first 15:15 it was 28-14 Washington.
  • In the middle 14:18 it was 39-14 Illini.
  • In the final 10:27 it was 25-11 Huskies.
For the difference in the three games, look at James Augustine's points.
  • First 15:15, 3 points.
  • Middle 14:18, 16 points.
  • Final 10:27, 0 points.
That 16 in the middle game included a couple of three-point plays, and basically consisted of living off of the pick-and-roll (3 assists for Rich McBride, 2 for Dee Brown).

The beginning and the end of the game saw none of that, and that proved the difference. Can't say why it happened, but the best pick-and-roll combo in Illini history is now truly history -- and the winningest combo in Illini history as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

March Madness is set to tip-off this morning, and the nation will grind to a halt for 3 weeks in the sincere hope that JJ Redick, Coach K, and the Duke Blue Devils have their asses handed to them (don't worry, they will).

The Wildcats reap the fruits of a disappointing and inconsistent season by drawing an 8-seed. Their accomplishments this season have mostly consisted of ending long streaks for the program.

For example:
  • 15 straight seasons finishing the season in the AP Top 25 -- done.
  • 15 straight seasons with some sort of SEC hardware (Conference title, Division title, SEC Tourney title) -- done.
  • 14 straight seasons of finishing 1st or 2nd in the SEC East -- done.
  • 25 straight seasons of earning conference tourney byes -- done.
It seems that all that is left to accomplish is to end the longest current streak of first round NCAA wins at 15.

UK hasn't lost a first round game since 1987, but could do so tomorrow night against the frenetic Blazers of UAB. Kentucky is 0-2 against UAB in all-time NCAA play, including a second-round loss two years ago as a #1 seed. Furthermore, the game is in Philly, where the Cats are also riding a two-game NCAA losing streak (USC in 2001, Dook in 1992 -- yes, that game).

I look for both of those to go to 0-3 tomorrow, and the first round streak to end as well.

Should they prove me wrong, the booby prize is a Sunday date with UConn's imposing front line and an all-but-assured trip home.

The Illini head to sunny San Diego for a first-rounder against the leaden Falcons of Air Force, followed (probably) by the Washington Huskies. Brandon Roy is a hell of a player for U-Dub, but I look for the Illini to make it to the regional in D.C.

There they will run into ... UConn's imposing front line and an all-but-asssured trip home.

I probably don't need to say it at this point, but I expect UConn to win it all.

Finally, if you are looking for the best in tournament previews, look no further than Deadspin's, where each team gets a thorough breakdown of 3 facts you probably won't get anywhere else.

For instance, here's the lowdown on the West Virginia Mountaineers:
1. They Have Horny Wives. Heather Pittsnogle, wife of handsome Kevin, has been spotted at games and on campus wearing a t-shirt that says, “I Got Pittsnogled” and features an arrow pointing downwards at her girl genitals. Beat that, Jackie Christie.

2. Joe Herber Is Too Smart To Play College Basketball. Herber, a German, is more knowledgeable about American politics than anyone else on the team. No one will sit next to him on the team bus, because he’ll talk their ear off about politics. He learned to play four positions, speaks four languages, tutors other students in German and political science, is a two-time Academic All-American, and was named ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American of the Year. “No one wants to argue with him about that stuff,” says teammate Patrick Beilein.

3. Dan Dakich Is A Moron. When Gale Catlett retired and left the program in absolute shambles in 2002, WVU hired Bowling Green head coach Dan Dakich. After about an hour on the job, Dakich quit and ran back to Bowling Green. The group of guys he could have coached at WVU made it to the Elite Eight last year and spent nearly all of this year in the Top 25. Bowling Green went 9-21. Good call, Coach Dakich.


Tess' BMS Prairie volleyball team swept to their conference championship yesterday, defeating Lake Zurich North in a 3-game nailbiter.

Her team completed a startling transition. After an 0-5 start, the team caught fire to win 12 of their final 13 matches, including 3 straight this week to take the trophy.

Kudos to Tess and the Fillies on their title!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Distilled Scarface

First there was the Deadwood audio curse-a-thon.

Now comes the short version of Scarface.

"Short" meaning one word.

Over and over and over and over.

Guess which word?

And while you're there on YouTube, don't miss this live-action Brit version of The Simpsons opening montage.

Thanks, mates!

Gotta Fever For Some Cowbell?

Check out the Christopher Walken Cowbell Soundboard, where you can listen to some BOC, and play along on your cowbell while THE Bruce Dickinson throws in some commentary.


Friday, March 03, 2006

The Sports Guy & The New Yorker Guy

Bill Simmons' occasional series on's Page 2 called "The Curious Guy" is basically Simmons interviewing somebody he's interested in talking to. Chuck Klosterman was a good one, but the latest, with author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell is just off the charts. So many interesting and entertaining little tidbits and ideas -- from the both of them -- that it's a little ridiculous.


Gladwell on writing, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods & Wayne Gretzky...
I'm happy writing anywhere and under any circumstances and in fact I'm now to the point where I'm suspicious of people who don't love what they do in the same way. I was watching golf, before Christmas, and the announcer said of Phil Mickelson that the tournament was the first time he'd picked up a golf club in five weeks. Assuming that's true, isn't that profoundly weird? How can you be one of the top two or three golfers of your generation and go five weeks without doing the thing you love? Did Mickelson also not have sex with his wife for five weeks? Did he give up chocolate for five weeks? Is this some weird golfer's version of Lent that I'm unaware of? They say that Wayne Gretzky, as a 2-year-old, would cry when the Saturday night hockey game on TV was over, because it seemed to him at that age unbearably sad that something he loved so much had to come to end, and I've always thought that was the simplest explanation for why Gretzky was Gretzky. And surely it's the explanation as well for why Mickelson will never be Tiger Woods.
On Peyton Manning...
To me, this is what Peyton Manning's problem is. He has the work habits and dedication and obsessiveness of Jordan and Tiger Woods. But he can't deal with the accompanying preparation anxiety. The Manning face is the look of someone who has just faced up to a sobering fact: I am in complete control of this offense. I prepare for games like no other quarterback in the NFL. I am in the best shape of my life. I have done everything I can to succeed -- and I'm losing. Ohmigod. I'm not that good. (Under the same circumstances, Ben Roethlisberger is thinking: maybe next time I stop after five beers). I don't know if I've ever felt sorrier for someone than I did for Manning at the end of that Pittsburgh playoff game.
Gladwell on baseball...
I don't believe that actually watching baseball under any circumstances enhances your appreciation of the game. As a kid, I read Bill James and Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and followed the game through newspaper box scores, and I was a far more dedicated fan back than I am today. Baseball is a great idea, and a great story. But is watching it a great experience? Frankly I prefer the way the game was played in my imagination.
And Simmons' retort...
I'm going to disagree with you on one thing: There isn't anything more exciting than watching a big baseball game in person. Football has all the TV timeouts, basketball has too many stops down the stretch, and hockey can't be exciting beyond a certain level because there just aren't enough people that care. (At this point, it's Arena Football on skates.) But when the stakes rise in baseball, and you're sitting there in the park waiting to see what unfolds, there's nothing else like it.
Gladwell on professional sports vs. life... of the fascinating things about sports, it seems to me, is that when it comes the way we think about professional athletes, we're all liberals (without meaning to be, of course). We give people lots of chances. (Think Jeff George). We go to extraordinary lengths to help players reach their potential. We're forgiving of mistakes. When the big man needs help with his footwork, we ship him off to Pete Newell for the summer. We hold players accountable for their actions. But we also believe, as a matter of principle, that players need supportive environments in order to flourish. It would be nice if we were as generous and as patient with the rest of society's underachievers.
Gladwell on Isiah Thomas...
If I was GM of the Knicks, would I be doing a better job of managing the team than Thomas? I believe, somewhat immodestly, that the answer is yes. And I say this even though it is abundantly clear that Thomas knows several thousand times more about basketball than I do. I've never picked up a basketball. I couldn't diagram a play to save my life. I would put my level of basketball knowledge, among hard core fans, in the 25th percentile.

So why do I think I would be better? There's a famous experiment done by a wonderful psychologist at Columbia University named Dan Goldstein. He goes to a class of American college students and asks them which city they think is bigger -- San Antonio or San Diego. The students are divided. Then he goes to an equivalent class of German college students and asks the same question. This time the class votes overwhelmingly for San Diego. The right answer? San Diego. So the Germans are smarter, at least on this question, than the American kids. But that's not because they know more about American geography. It's because they know less. They've never heard of San Antonio. But they've heard of San Diego and using only that rule of thumb, they figure San Diego must be bigger. The American students know way more. They know all about San Antonio. They know it's in Texas and that Texas is booming. They know it has a pro basketball team, so it must be a pretty big market. Some of them may have been in San Antonio and taken forever to drive from one side of town to another -- and that, and a thousand other stray facts about Texas and San Antonio, have the effect of muddling their judgment and preventing them from getting the right answer.

I'd be the equivalent of the German student. I know nothing about basketball, so I'd make only the safest, most obvious decisions. I'd read John Hollinger and Chad Ford and I'd print out your mid-season NBA roundup and post it on my blackboard. I'd look at the box scores every morning, and watch Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on TNT. Would I have made the disastrous Marbury trade? Of course not. I'd wonder why Jerry Colangelo -- who I know is a lot smarter than I am -- was so willing to part with him.
Now would I be as good as GM as Jerry West or Joe Dumars? Of course not. But just by sitting on my hands, and being scared of looking like a fool, and taking only the safest, most conservative steps, and drafting only solid players that everybody agrees are a can't miss, I could make the Knicks a vastly better team than they are today -- as could any reasonably cautious and uninformed fan.

Great stuff. Check it out.

Random Rules: The Ripoff

The Onion's A.V. Club has an occasional feature called Random Rules, where they ask someone famous (or moderately famous, anyway) to set their iPod to shuffle and write something about each song -- "No faking us out with cool playlists or skipping embarrassing tracks is allowed, so you, the reader, will be given access into the uncensored, private world of someone else's music library."

Since I'll never be asked, I decided I'd try it for myself anyway. So here goes a real-time attempt with my iTunes ...

The Black Keys, "Thickfreakness" - I would say that the title just about says it all for this song -- thick and chunky. Basically a blues progression, with a couple of solo breaks and a fuzzy vocal over the top. Very good and greasy.

Jill Scott, "Do You Remember" - Speaking of thick and chunky, a zaftig, distaff D'Angelo. Soul music with a hip-hop syncopation. Jill takes it down memory lane, remembering her lover as a youngster in his new kicks playing "hide-and-go-freak" back onthe streets of Philly. Beautiful soul for the new century.

Billy Bragg, "Wishing The Days Away" - Your fav Brit busker, as always with a bit of politics mixed in with a bit of romance. Always made me wonder why so many Brits followed the Beatles and sang with an American accent.

The The, "Gravitate To Me" - From one of the seriously underrated albums ever, "Mind Bomb." Johnny Marr played some guitar on this one, but the band was only ever Matt Johnson. Full of compressed snares sounding like bombs, Tristan and Isolde in a pop song (8-minute version) -- "I am the lighthouse, I am the sea, I am your destiny, gravitate to me."

Julian Cope, "Hanging Out and Hung Up On The Line" - Another great record from around 1990. Julian split from The Teardop Explodes and made a set of great solo records through the '80s and into the '90s. Full of weird Druid/Celtic ideas and imagery, Peggy Suicide was ahead of its time in forecasting the planet's doom.

Travis - "Slide Show" - The first of many, many bands to apparently be born while listening to The Bends. This is the closer to the album, and it does not endear. Besides starting with a stone rip-off of "Love Is The Drug," the song includes a maddening three-minute deadspot at the end of the song before coming back with a hidden track. I hate that crap. The worst was when Korn had an album that opened with 15 empty tracks, each about 5 seconds long. What was the point of that? To punish us for playing the album on shuffle? Thanks.

Sebadoh, "Beauty Of The Ride" - A Barlow song from Harmacy. A bit amped-up for the genre at the time, but very recognizable, nonetheless. Guy with his heart on his sleeve at all times, and given his roots you've got to appreciate the thought.

Aimee Mann, "The Other End (Of The Telescope)" - I've never been 100% on-board the Aimee Mann bandwagon, although I know folks who just swear by her. Never gave that much thought to her until her songs wound up as the lion's share of the music on Magnolia. One of the problems with listening to music in the iPod era is that it's not often that you wind up listening to stuff over and over and over, so you wind up paying more attention to tunes and less to lyrics (since you usually don't get to hear them enough to know what's being talked about anyway). That really doesn't help in the Aimee Mann appreciation department.

The Magnetic Fields, "Boa Constrictor" - A 58-second long song, so a real time description's not going to say much. Nicely acerbic, though. Love is like a giant snake around your neck, sometimes.

Was (Not Was), "Zaz Turned Blue" - A nice closer to the exercise. Was (Not Was)' -- is that the possessive of the name? No idea -- second album was a oddball collection of guest vocal turns. There was Ozzy, the singer from The Knack, Mitch Ryder, and on this one Mel Torme. The Velvet Fog gently croons a tale of a good life gone suddenly bad when Zaz "let Steve Brown fool around" and choke him nearly to death one tragic night in the park. After that, nothing was ever quite the same for Zaz, who wears a silly grin on his chin to this day.