Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Ruins Of Detroit

A recent Metafilter thread on the dismal state of Detroit includes a link to one of the great websites out there: The Ruins Of Detroit.

The story in pictures of the slow and steady death of a city.

In particular:

The Michigan Central Terminal

Fisher Body Plant 21

Trumbull Ave. Mansions

Many more. Check it out.


I'm always a couple of weeks behind reading The New Yorker, so I only now got around to reading James Surowiecki's analysis of the proposed satellite radio merger between Sirius and XM. Great analysis of why it wouldn't be anti-competitive to allow the merger (due to the real scope of the competitive field for the merged company).

For myself, I do hope it goes through, as I feel it would make better one of the great things in the world right now. I've always loved radio. One of my favorite memories as a kid was listening in bed, through a pillow speaker, to the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre.

I love all kinds of radio -- music, sports, news, you name it. What makes Sirius great is that it is all those wrapped into one -- along with, of course, the indispensable Howard Stern. About 120 channels of everything under the sun. Now that I have it I wouldn't want to be without it.

It seems to me that merging the companies would only serve to stabilize what has been a financially precarious proposition -- while only adding value to what is already a value-rich medium.

Of course, given the highest-bidder state of politics in this country, there is no way it gets a fair shake.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents commercial radio stations, has lobbied hard against the deal, arguing that XM and Sirius compete only with each other. But the very fact that broadcasters are fighting the merger demonstrates that they view Sirius and XM as a threat. Similarly, for fifteen years AM/FM stations have done everything they could to cripple satellite radio, lobbying the F.C.C. to stop its roll-out in the nineteen-nineties and persistently trying to limit the types of programming XM and Sirius can carry.
It seems pretty clear, in the end, that the narrow interests of the NAB will probably win out over the wider interests of consumers, and federal regulators will probably kill this deal.

Too bad.

A New Look? You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Will Be

Not much news out of Lexington over the past couple of days.

Coach flees to Minnesota (Minnesota?). Best player flees to the Knicks (the Knicks?).

All of which leaves the next 12 months or so in a serious, serious state of flux.

First of all, Tubby leaving, while unexpected, is not a shock (although jumping to coach the Gophers really is). All signs pointed to Tubby staying, but being given an ultimatum to clean house in the staff office. Due to not wanting to do that (out of loyalty), and probably also due to a general lack of further desire to put with an atmosphere such as was seen the last two years -- and make no mistake, it would only be worse next year -- he decided to step off.

Truth be told, ten years is probably enough for what has to be the most scrutinized (and, to be fair, best paid) job in college basketball. I won't recount the stats, but aside from the lack of a Final Four team in the last nine of the ten years, and a couple of duff outfits the last two years, it has been a very, very good run. Featured in it has been a pretty thorough domination of the Southeastern Conference (again, until the last two years).

MSWM opinion has been fairly unified in the opinion that this is probably a good deal for all involved. Minnesota gains some credibility and some positive notoriety for a change; Tubby, while taking a pay cut, is still pretty damn well compensated ($1.8 mil per year); and Kentucky gets some fresh blood and a chance to reverse the downward trend of the last couple of years (after the likely continuation of that trend next year, however).

Names of future coaching possibilities abound, but the name at the top of everyone's list may well be the toughest get: Billy Donovan. Billy D was an assistant in Lexington for 7 years with Rick Pitino, and he does seem the likeliest to get the Cats back near the top of the national heap. Personally, while he's at the top of my list as well, I'm extremely skeptical of the odds that he can be pried out of the situation he's built in Gainesville. Can you see him walking away from back-to-back NCs (should that still extant possibility come to pass)? Me neither.

Perhaps next on the list is John Calipari, although his perceived baggage may make him less attractive the longer you look at him.

Beyond that, Billy Gillespie, Tom Crean and Mark Few seem to be the hot names of those who would jump at the job. My personal favorite, though, would be Jay Wright, the current Villanova coach. He's got a track record at a major conference school, but he's still young enough to put a personal and long-term stamp on the progam. Perhaps most importantly, he's been the top guy at a major conference school in a major market. While the scrutiny at Villanova can't match that waiting in Lexington, fans and press don't come much tougher than in Philly, and his experience will at least put him in a better position than would facing the nay-sayers in Milwaukee, Spokane or College Station.

In any case, we may not see anything certain come about until the Gators are done -- either this weekend or next. No way anything is offered to anyone else before Billy D turns it down -- and he doesn't seem inclined to make a decision either way until his current team is finished. One more reason to root for the Ducks tomorrow.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Back 2 Back!

Last year it was a little bit of a surprise.

This year it was anything but.

For the second straight year Tess' Prairie Middle School team took the conference volleyball crown. Last year's 7th grade team came out of the 3rd seed. This year's 8th grade version came on the heels of a 15-2 regular season, a regular season title and a Number 1 tournament seed.

A dominating regular season followed by a dominating performance in the tournament.

Another great job by Tess and the Fillies -- kudos once again, girls!

The Real Deal

Hate to say it on the eve of March Madness, but this college basketball season has been pretty dreadful.

Kentucky and Illinois have had mediocre-at-best seasons. The Big Eleven is really, really...really awful -- to the point that if they had only taken two teams in the tournament I wouldn't have even batted an eye.

But last night brought a glimpse of some basketball really worth looking at, and looking forward to.

Suns 129, Mavs 127 in Double OT.

It may only be the Western Conference Final, but should this series come about as it should, it has all the earmarks of the best basketball series since the Lakers/Celtics or Celtics/Sixers rivalries in the early '80s.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Saturday made for four concerts in ten days. Not a record or anything but a lot for me. Couple away, couple at home. Couple of classical, a classic rock, and a real classic.

First up, on Feb. 28, was the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. Kurt Masur returned to lead the band in Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. The dynamics in the third and fourth movements were just outstanding, as was the brass throughout. Utterly beautiful ending to one of the most moving symphonies ever written.

The soloist, Sergey Khachatryan, played Sibelius' violin concerto. The opener was Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture.

The next night it was Martha Argerich and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Argerich was in fine form, as you might expect from one of the great pianists of all time, playing Beethoven's 2nd Concerto beautifully (0f course). The orchestra finished up with Scheherazade.

Next up, last Monday, was The Who at the Sears Centre (sic). Sears Centre (sic) good: just about 5 miles door to door. Sears Centre (sic) bad: just about 40 minutes to cover the ground (both ways) because of the insanely bad parking situation.

The Tragically Hip opened the show, and I was very psyched to see them. Unfortunately, I spent all but their last three songs trying to get the car parked and get into the arena.

The most noticeable thing about the crowd? Their age. And not in a good way. Talk about an aging baby boomer special, the average age may have been less than that of the band (at least the original two), but not by much. Live at Leeds, the crowd was long in the hair. Live at Sears Centre (sic), just long in the tooth.

The music, though, was all you could ask for at this point in their careers. While the background screen show of mod-era pics during "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" definitely made me wish I could have seen that band, the one on the Sears Centre (sic) stage was pretty damn good as well.

Townshend was in fine windmilling form, with a few hops thrown in for good measure. Daltrey spun his retro mike cord like the days of yore, and even managed to hit some of the old high notes as well. But the key to the real Who was always Keith Moon's frenetic lead drumming. Zak Starkey (aka Ringo's boy) filled the toasty seat of the long-mouldering Moonie, and filled it pretty admirably.

The show's highlight moment? Had to be the most improbable moment as well. If you had asked me going in for the one thing I'd be least likely to hear, I would have said the singing scream after the synth solo on "Won't Get Fooled Again." Well, the moment came, and the high note was screamed just as you would have hoped.

The closer was last Saturday night, Smoking Popes at Durty Nellies. One-time Q101 phenoms, turned label rejects, turned Christian, turned Christian rockers, turned re-formed band, the Caterer brothers +1 got back together to play Metro and Lollapalooza last year and are now on something of a mini-tour.

The show was, basically, a total love-fest. One of those shows where the singer can sing way off mike for a while because everyone in the room is singing at the top of their lungs all the time anyway. Josh Caterer did this very thing a couple of times, and that was fine but the crowd's singing is no replacement for one of the truly distinctive instruments in rock music.

It took a while for the board guy to figure it out and get the mix right, but by the end of the set you could finally hear him sing and that is definitely worth hearing. The band was tight, the songs were melodic as hell, and the singing was absolutely ethereal.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Final Four Of Everything

Slate highlights one of the all-time great "Damn! I wish I'd thought of that!" ideas -- The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four Of Everything, in which all the great questions of life are reduced to brackets.

Really want to know your own mind on the question of the greatest movie deaths or greatest ad slogans? Now you can (btw, it's Bonnie & Clyde's violent demise and "Where's The Beef?").

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Well, for a coach who is under fire, the ending of yesterday's UK/Mississippi State game couldn't possibly have been any worse.

Up 3 with 5 seconds left to go in a game they had trailed by 14 points in the second half, with Jodie Meeks at the line to take a free throw to seal the deal (and make no mistake, the kid is pure money -- he would have made the shot), Tubby and Sheray Thomas combined for the single most brain-dead play in the recent history of Kentucky basketball.

Thomas left the lane, at Smith's urging, after the ball had been "handed" to Meeks resulting in a lane violation that gave the Bulldogs the ball down only 3. Even still, when Jamont Gordon took the inbounds pass 92 feet from the basket, there was plenty of time to let the clock dwindle a little then foul him and put him on the line.

Instead, the second-most brain-dead play in the recent history of Kentucky basketball transpired as nobody fouled Gordon and he (of course) drained a three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

To no one's surprise, the overtime came down to one last possession for the Cats, down 2, which they then proceed to botch without even getting a shot off -- something that has become a UK specialty in the past couple of years.

A day ago I felt certain that Tubby would be the coach of this team next year. Now, I'm honestly not so sure. This bizarre finish will certainly increase the pressure exponentially on both the coach and the administration, perhaps high enough that something will have to give. And for myself, I've always been a Tubby supporter (albeit grudgingly sometimes), but yesterday's debacle may have proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for me as well.

The pertinent question I read yesterday was "when did the basketball team become the football team?", when did they become so adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? And how long can that be allowed to go on?

I do think that yesterday may well be a day when Tubby lost the confidence of a great deal of an enormous fan base -- a confidence that may never return.

Most of the recent sniping has rightly been placed on the recruiting misfires of the last few years. But if the man can't recruit or coach? -- well then putting someone else in the seat starts to look pretty damn attractive.

Well, at least I can enjoy the rest of the weekend without having to worry about how they will manage to screw things up again. This one will probably never be touched.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Second Season

The Wildcats and the Illini both began their attempts to erase some memories of a misbegotten season yesterday -- both successfully, but not without some harrowing moments.

The Wildcat faithful seem to be culminating a month-long meltdown, a meltdown that has reached the ears of the ubiquitous national college basketball media. 20 wins, a winning conference record, a likely 16th-straight NCAA bid all result in ... a clamor to fire the coach.

Cooler heads will prevail, and Tubby Smith will the coach next year (albeit with some new faces in the suits near him on the bench), if only because firing him will only make things much, much worse (particularly in the aforementioned national media). What these so-called "dynasty defenders" can't seem to figure out is that there is no way the higher-ups at UK will take the PR hit that would come from firing the first and only black coach in the history of a program that has taken its share of racial PR hits in the past. Particularly one who has had as much success as Tubby, and without a lot of real problems (it's been several years since the last DUI arrest, for instance).

All of which leads back to the issue at hand, which is the current team and the current postseason. Back again in the previously unfamiliar position of playing in the SEC Tournament's opening round on Thursday, the Cats started slow then fed the big man (17 and 11 for Randolph Morris) on the way to beating a hobbled Alabama team spiraling it's way to an NIT bid.

A 12-point win wasn't the type of blowout that would allow the starters to get some rest for the hoped-for 4-games in 4-days trek, but at least it wasn't the sort of tight one that this team has made a habit of losing this year. What it did do was probably lock up an NCAA bid. With 20 wins against the toughest schedule in the country, there probably wasn't much doubt about that, but with 21 wins against that schedule there is no doubt.

A young but dangerous Mississippi State team is in today's quarterfinal future -- that an 8-8 conference record won them a share of the division title tells you all you need to know about this year's SEC West -- with Vandy or Arkansas awaiting a possible Semifinal on Saturday. At the moment, the Cats are looking at about an 8 seed, but every win this weekend may serve to nudge that up a bit further.

Here in Chicago, the newly Chief-less Fighting Illini (not that the Big Ten would ever allow Chief to get closer to the Big Ten Tournament than Stickney) also found themselves with an unfamiliar Thursday game against the lowly Nittany Lions. For a while, the Lions were just that, but a barrage of three-pointers and a spell of disinterestedness by the Illini lopped 10 points off of a 12-point lead in the last 10 minutes, and the Illini (and their fans) eventually had to sweat out a 6-point win that was much, much closer than that.

So it's on to Round 3 of the Weber/Sampson grudge match (sans handshakes again?) in tonight's final quarter, with Wisconsin likely awaiting the winner on Saturday.

The year has been at least as rough on Coach Weber as it has been on Coach Smith, with similarly unrequited grumblings of firing from segments of the fan base. In Bruce's case it hasn't only been the on-court problems, though there have been plenty of grumbles about that. The off-court issues have loomed even larger, led by the preseason and midseason driving mishaps of Richard McBride and Jamar Smith respectively. Smith's tequila-fueled February spin-out resulted in his suspension (and likely eviction) from the team, along with landing teammate Brian Carlwell in the hospital. A nice two-for-one that was exactly what this shaky team did not need.

Yesterday's win probably sealed a bid on Sunday, although less certainly than a loss would have served to unseal one. At the moment, a 9, 10 or 11 seed is a real possibility, making every win this weekend important, since a 9, 10 or 11 seed is not where you want to see yourself come Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Grudge? What grudge?