Monday, December 27, 2010

Gaming for Bums

I pride myself on knowing as many games as possible.  Games of all kinds.  Card games, clapping games, or even just sitting around talking games.  But I’ve noticed that almost all societies have created sports that can barely be called sports- and yet they do require a certain amount of skill.  There’s bocce ball, baggo, billiards and even lawn bowling.  A lot of hoite-toite societies like to play croquet.  One thing they all seem to have in common, though, is projecting a ball from a stationary position.
My biggest problem, though, is that I never have an off switch for my competitiveness.  When I’m bowling, for example, I’ve gotten many many many two-strike combinations before, but I’ve only been able to hit the turkey one time.  My hand gets sweaty and I can’t control it.  Whatever you’ve got, I’ve tried it.  Be that as it may, I probably have about a 135 or 140 average.  Nonetheless, whenever I am playing against someone in a friendly bowl, I try to make sure I win more games against them than I lose.  I would not be The Dude, because I do not abide losing very well.  I’ll even try to get a “fun” game, like between the legs game, if I sense I could clinch having won most of the serious games.
But the new sitting around sport, actually appears to be several games.  Wii Tennis, for one. What’s so fun about sitting down and playing a sport that you could just go outside to play.  Well, for one, it’s a lot easier to be good at a sport that you only have to time correctly, rather than swing in the exact right place.  But that seems to just be for the Wii Sports game.  The newest game I got (Thanks, Katie!) has a lot of really fun games that are quite honestly a lot more fun (or at least more safe) to play than the actual game.
I’m not going to be able to drown playing the Kayak race on the Wii.  Or break my neck skiing (now if we could only get another numchuck to play it).  Probably the most awesome is the Air Races.  Flying the plane without having to get your pilot license is pretty cool, but I wonder if this is the first step to get my pilots license…
My biggest tip of anyone who gets way too into these games, like myself, would be- Wear long pants to avoid carpet burns, Always use the Squishy Case, so you don’t destroy the Wiimote, and wear the strap, so you don’t hurt anyone or anything either.  If these games still sound way too intense, I would have to recommend playing Shuffleboard on the Arcade disc.  Sound like an old- person game?  I beg to disagree.  It’s really on the way back.  It involves precision and strategy- you can go from ten points on the board to five for your opponent.
There still are some games that don’t seem to be uniquely Minnesotan.  Cribbage is a fantastic game, which is complex, but rewarding when you understand the strategy.  The game can be played with anywhere from two to four, even up to six players.  My greatest moment in this game was probably a two-on-two matchup when my partner and I were down by four with our opponents needing one to peg out.  Then the pegging came.  We got two.  Another two- and one to peg out for the win.  I wish I had as good a story about Billiards, but most of those involve scratching for the loss.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Re-evaluating the Left

            A left turn has come to be a euphemism for an unexpected action.  I have been intrigued about left turns ever since I saw Zoolander and he could make left turns, because he wasn’t an ambi-turner.  Which makes him the exact opposite of NASCAR drivers, I guess.
            And maybe that’s why not many of them come from Michigan, the state left turns forgot.  The first time I drove in the state, I learned about something called the Michigan Left.  Apparently keeping their state connected wasn’t the only thing the Michiganites (Michiganers? Michiganians?) are afraid of.  In order to make a left turn on a highway, one is required to drive about a city block past the light in the left hand lane, then, when it’s safe.  Do a U-turn, come back to the same stoplight and turn right.  I suppose it saves on left turn signals, but Really? How aren’t U-turns at least as dangerous? Maybe they just want you to see more of their state.
            I’ve found that the city of St. Paul has come upon an interesting mechanism for speeding up traffic flow, while taking advantage of left turns.  As much as it pains me to compliment St. Paul in any way, I have to give them props for this one.  As the son of a Program Manager in the Office of Policy Analysis, Research & Innovation at Mn/DOT, I am well-versed in how important traffic flow is for the growth of an urban area.  But this idea is so simple and so smart, I am going to call it the St. Paul Right.  Simply understood: As it stands, people turning right must stop completely at a red light before turning.  But oftentimes there are several cars coming from your right, turning left. Often because they have a green arrow.  This being the case, you shouldn’t have to stop.  Therefore, St. Paul has installed green right arrows for when the left arrows are on going the other way.  Genius! The road essentially becomes just a bend and it gets more people through the intersection quickly.
            You know what else keeps traffic flow going?  Round-abouts.  All you St. Paul people, don’t tell me that, “Oh they’re scary!” “Oh I don’t understand them.”  They’re very simple.  You yield to the people already in the roundabout, then you enter and continue in a counter-clockwise motion until you exit on the road you entered.  You can even end up going back the way you came if you want to.  But you’re going to have to learn them eventually.  Richfield just installed two-lane roundabouts along 66th Street, a very prominent byway.  They’re practically Minneapolis!  But St. Paul has never been about things that make sense and eliminate congestion.  Except maybe chili.  That’s why they’re saying that the Central Corridor light rail (the Uni-Line, as I plan on calling it, regardless) is not going to have pre-emption at stoplights anywhere down University in St. Paul.  It’s going to take 45 minutes to get from downtown to downtown! Give pre-emption, build some round-abouts and give your streets some rhyme or reason. Hate to say it, but Jesse V had it right about you guys.
            If you still don’t get round-abouts, look them up on the back of any new state map.  I just recently used a roundabout to avoid having to turn left off Hiawatha Avenue.  It was awesome.  Nonetheless, turning left has gotten much easier to do, since our main form of transportation gradually changed from boats to cars.  Trains were somewhere in there, but as far as I know, they didn’t have to worry about turning left.  Now we call turning left Hanging a Louie.  But with boats, big sailing ships, that is, even the language implies that it must have been a more tricky maneuver.  Hard-a-Port! the captain would call out.  Then he would have to turn the rudder, and six-to-ten man crew would have to swing the sails in the appropriate manner as to turn the three ton ship toward the port side.  Although even “port” is a relatively recent term.  That direction used to be called Larboard- rhyming with Starboard, which is the right side of the ship. (And the front is called Fore and the back is called Aft.  You’re welcome.)  But imagine a captain trying to yell out one of those over the roar of a storm.  What could you do but change the terminology?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I'm Still Watching

            We watch a lot of TV in the Buckeye house.  Well, I watch a lot of TV.  And as such, I’ve had to get used to commercials and how to deal with them.  Personally, I find many of them funny.  My dad has said that while we’re watching football together the commercials have to be muted for the most part.  This requires having the remote.  Step One: finding it.  Not always an easy task, especially since the basement has been refurnished with a couch that has deep, attached cushions.  Step Two: Keeping the batteries in.  This is a problem for me, because I tend to fidget with remotes to the point where the cover breaks, and we’ve had to get a hairband to keep it attached.  We’ve heard rumors that the feds will soon pass a law that the commercials cannot be louder that the loudest point of the show they’re being shown during.  What a great law- until then, here’s my Guide to Hip and Lame Commercials.
            The first, most lame commercial that comes to mind is the Jared Galleria commercial.  There are some commercials that must be just a certain level of annoying that they get the name into people’s head.  I can’t help but wonder if Jared crossed the line.  I know people who’ve said they will never shop at Jared, simply because they don’t want people to be able to say “He went to Jared.”  It’s not that every diamond commercial ticks me off, either, because I really like most Kay commercials (question: how would they say their slogan in another language?).  Jared just uses their slogan way too much, culminating in that stupid, “What’s a Thirteen Letter Word for Marriage Proposal?” one and me getting rug-burns diving for the remote before I hear more than three words of it.
            Bud Light has a lot of interesting commercials, and I don’t hate all of them.  Exception: The one which takes place in the office on Saturday.  Guys decide to watch the game and drink beer. You know the one.  I’m going to explode with reasons why I hate this one.  You’re not going to stay out of trouble drinking at work.  And if you do stay out of trouble, it’s not going to be because you’re drinking Bud Light.  We get it: Here We Go is a catchy phrase to mean you are going to party.  It would be good, but you over-use it.  (My dad openly wonders if these commercials sell more beer, or just make it cost more.  My guess is the latter.)  The finishing touch is that I know the original version of this commercial did not have the Boss yelling “Johnson!” before he gets in and opens a beer.  He just came in silently.  I know, not only because I remember the first version, but also because it doesn’t even sound like him.  Get it right the first time, Bud Light.
            But if it wasn’t for good commercials like this next one, I would have lost faith in humanity television.  Or maybe I already have, this just helps me cope better.  I’m talking, of course, about the Google TV commercial starring Kevin Bacon as his own biggest fan.  Why aren’t people raving about this one?  It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m not that big a Kevin Bacon fan.  The two best quotes from this one: “Favorite movie of his?  That would probably have to be a tie.  For all of them.”  Also, “My wife says if I watch any more I might turn in to him [grins, shows crossed fingers]”.  Now Kevin Bacon gets mad street cred from me for doing this.  And he already has a buttload-  the man has his own Game named after him. He’s like the Forrest Gump of acting.  Speaking of which, it’s time to play: How many degrees does Gump have of Bacon?  Answer: Four. Gump played by Hanks who plays Lovell who goes to space with Jack who’s played by Bacon.
            And finally, to preface, I’m honestly not in love with all of GEICO’s commercials.  They have too many mascots, the caveman was abrasive, the money stack creeped me out (it was also a rug-burner, IYKWIM), and the fake Rod Serling guy is hit or miss.  One of his that is a hit with me, though, is The Little Piggy one.  I crack up whenever he stops screaming because the mom got his attention and he starts talking like a teenage kid.  But it’s great on such a deeper level, too.  What did that nursery rhyme mean?  This answers so many of those questions.  The Little Piggy’s name is Maxwell, he went WEE! because he was riding in a car and pigs don’t often get to ride in cars.  They also don’t drive, which is why he had to get a ride home from his friend’s mom.  My impression was he was coming home from school, but it also might have been the fair, because he had those pinwheels. Pretty sure I would go Wee-wee-WEE! with those things, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sometimes Sports Suck.

            My relationship with sports is somewhat complicated.  I love them- when my teams are winning.  To a certain extent, I can watch sports like baseball, football, or basketball on various levels and to various levels of caring, on most occasions regardless of how my team has done on that given day.  But I’m not the kind of person who will come away saying “What a great day of football!” if my team hasn’t won that day.  I’ve often said, “I hate baseball, except when the Twins are winning.” Or maybe it was, “I love baseball, except when the Twins are losing.”  Yea, that was it.
            But there are a few things I hate about sports all the time.  One of those things is: How disappointing the Sportscenter Top 10 plays are during the winter when half of them are dunks.  “Ooh, look at that.  That tall human being put a spheroid object through a hoop that’s twice the diameter.”  Don’t get me wrong- I know what a cool dunk looks like.  But they’re very much scraping the bottom of the barrel that time of year, when most of the dunks are just uncontested and not very impressive.
            Also, Derek Jeter highlights.  As if that man as done anything worth watching, ever- Oh yea, that home run in the 2001 World Series.  Also jumping in vain while the ball goes over his head and lands for the game-winning hit of that same World Series.  But here’s what Jeter does: Goes to his left.  Scoops up a groundball that any shortstop could get to.  (But here’s what he does to make it special.) Does a little pirouette before throwing on to first, making it harder on himself than if he had just planted and thrown on to first.  Has anyone done less to earn a major honor than Jeter getting a Gold Glove this year?  Oh yea, Jeter winning SI’s Sportsman of the Year award last year.
            Here’s the highlight I’m talking about, though.  2001 AL Division Series against Oakland.  The Yanks are in the process of completing a comeback against the A’s.  Jeremy Giambi is coming around to score a critical run.  Jeter picks up the ball and tosses it to Posada, and Giambi is called out- a play that came to be known as The Flip.  The biggest problem with immortalizing it, though: Giambi was safe.  I know- I saw the play live, and I still haven’t seen a perspective that shows him out.  The unwritten rule I have found in baseball is that at first base, tie goes to the defense; at home, tie goes to the offense.  In other words, they’ve already made it three bases, so to deny them the run, you have to prove he was out.  Unless your name is Derek Jeter, and the umpire thinks you made a very heads-up (gag) play.
            (Derek Jeter highlights aren’t the only ones I hate, though.  Remember that Santonio Holmes “catch” in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals?  Pretty sure it wasn’t a catch.  What? Should we give it to him because it was close? Do the Steelers need another title?  And wouldn’t Holy Angels alum Larry Fitzgerald have been just as big a hero if not for that play?)
            My personal belief on (ss that even an original thing to complain about anymore?) the BCS is that there will never be a playoff system in college football.  At the very best, we will just go back to having the two polls, sometimes conflicting national champs, and no actual national championship game.  The de facto playoffs will become the conference championship games, which, admittedly, are very exciting.  But what might continue to happen, is the Automatic Qualifying conferences gaining increasing amounts of power, and the smaller-conference powerhouses moving up to the big ones.  Boise State might even get to join the Pac-10 one day.
            Finally, on a topic that seems to be dividing America recently, I’m declaring my stance on Michael Vick- and it’s a reasonable one:  He deserves a break. (I’m talking to you, PETA.)  What he did to dogs is horrible, sure.  But he paid his debt to society, seems sincerely contrite, and has completely revamped his life. The dissenters seem to be saying, “He did something awful and therefore doesn’t deserve anything good- ever.”  It seems with all the attention he’s drawing to the barbaric sport of dog-fighting, he’s actually done more good for dogs.  Also- they’re just dogs.  They’re not people.  Did anyone here me?- Not People.  I think sometimes we forget that, as a society.  As bad as it is to kill and endanger and be cruel to animals, it is worse to do the same to people.  In other words, the jury is still out for me on Roethlisberger. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Neatly Flowing Winter Thoughts...

I love sledding.  I know, who doesn’t, right?  But I don’t think many people appreciate it very much at my age.  By the time you turn Twenty-Three, you have turned your attention to other fun going-downhill sports, such as biking, skiing or snowboarding, or even kayaking.  I like biking, but not as much since I had a bike stolen from the 46th Street Station and had to walk home in the dark.  And I really like skiing.  Yea, I ski.  I’m sorry, I never wanted to learn to snowboard.  It’s not my fault I learned to ski first and then just never wanted to not be good at going down the hill.  That was the main reason, really.  Do I look down on those who snowboard?  Maybe.  Why, are they looking down on me?  Then yes, I definitely do….
I also really like kayaking, but I don’t have one yet, and I may have to get one in order to do some more challenging stuff.  But the reason I love sledding so much is because the sled I own is one of the fastest, coolest sleds around.  I got it for about five bucks at the fall festival’s rummage sale, but I’ve gotten the money’s worth a hundred times over.  It’s black, it has runners and a steering wheel (kind of a mini- snowmobile), and it might be the best thing ever- I don’t know why these aren’t more popular!
But I also have a car now, and quite honestly, driving in the winter is like sledding- only with potentially greater consequences.  The strangest thing about driving this vehicle is that on a certain level, I’m not sure if it actually works.  Because I’ve never seen it running from the outside.  I have commuted to work a couple times now, but for all I know, I get in, turn it on and then fifteen minutes later I get out of it at work.  What happens in between?  I see cars going past me, and me past them, and them going past me the other way, but that could all just be a simulation, and my car just teleported to work.  I can tell it’s a different place than my house, too, because the ‘burbs just have a different feel than the city.  A little bit more wide open, yes, but that’s because they don’t use things like space as efficiently as us.  Read the book The World Inside.  One day we will all be living in Urban Monads, giant mile-high towers of people and civilization.  Probably not, but the city is better than the suburbs- so there!
Nonetheless, if indeed my car does move through the world, I haven’t seen it.  Maybe God has.  I wonder if he could tell my driving style just by watching from a bird’s eye view.  He would probably see a green Cutlass Supreme (which is being mentioned in the song I’m listening to right now, “Good To Be Me” by Uncle Kracker- and no, that’s not a coincidence) which stays about ten miles over the speed limit and insinuates itself into different lanes maybe a little more often than it has to.
Which reminds me, I might have to one day get a white G painted on the side. And then outline it in gold.  It would be fun in this Vikings-crazy country.  The best part of being a Packers fan, honestly, is that it gives you a way to relate to people anywhere you go.  Not even so much as a way to pick a fight with regular Minnesotans, but with people anywhere who are either Packers fans, Bears fans, Vikings fans or even Cowboys fans (suck it, ‘Boys Nation!).  Because you find them everywhere.  In my life, I can’t see myself living for more than a year in any place outside the Midwest, so it works out great for me in that respect, but even if I did, I could still find those I could talk NFC North football with just about anywhere.  I feel like as a native Minnesotan, some of the people I watch the games with see me as some kind of giant Helga-hat-wearing Norseman decking himself out in Green and Gold.  I gotta tell them, that’s just wrong.  I am obviously a meat-cleaver-wielding Acme Meat Packer.  (Ugh, maybe that’s why we got rid of that mascot…)  And I completely respect the great state of Green Bay, Wis.  But not Greater Wisconsin.
You can bet your ass that if I had another topic here, you’d get another killer segue.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Christmas Secrets

I kinda hate Christmas songs.  It seems silly and unnecessary for specific stations to completely devote their time from the end of November to January to songs about one specific day.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year, my ass.  But we all have to deal with it, and for the most part, even enjoy it.  Like camping.  I enjoy camping because it’s something I know I can do, and only get better at doing each time I do it.  You know the tricks of the trade, because you’ve experienced it.  And you survive it.
Let’s not ignore this part either- it gets snowy and cold up here, so there are just certain things you have to deal with.  Driving, for example.  There are times you’re going to need to get somewhere, and it’s not going to be easy.  So don’t stop at stop signs unless you safely can.  Whenever you start from a stop, accelerate slowly.  If you fishtail, turn the wheel in the direction your back wheels are slipping.  By the way, fishtails and California Rolls should be dishes served at a restaurant honoring Minnesota winter driving. Seriously though, the only way to get better at winter driving is to do it more.  But if you just can’t, buy a GoTo Card from MetroTransit and just let others do it for you.
But the most important part about fitting in the holiday activities is understanding that you can’t do everything. Lately, I’ve realized that there are certain events which I like to call Monkey Wrenches.  They are those events which don’t provide for all the fun you can have in a night, but they can definitely take away from the fun you could be having somewhere else.  If all you have going on is the MW, fine.  But I would never recommend committing to one any earlier than 48 hours in advance.  You can identify one of these events by the times during which it can take place.  They are usually from about six or seven to nine or ten.  They are probably no more than two hours long, but are more strictly scheduled than a regular open house might be.  And they are much more prominent around this time of year, so beware.
But the important thing is to keep a level head. Calmly excuse yourself from any conversation with a relative who’s half in the bag.  Learn how to play cribbage, if you don’t already know.  Or the card game Five Hundred. But my favorite part is gift buying and giving. I really no longer measure my Christmas success by what I get, but by what I give. And I’m not overly wealthy- I just buy awesome gifts.  I’ve been among the league leaders in Thought Per Dollar every season for the past four years or so.  Why worry about how much you are going to spend?  People could save so much money around Christmas and Chanukah if they just thought for a minute.  Don’t know what to get someone?  Check their Facebook page on your smartphone. Why wouldn’t you?  Also, lists are your best friend right now.  I always keep one when I’m doing my Christmas shopping, just to keep track of how much I love everybody.
And what if I just can’t figure out what to get someone, Johnny? I have dealt with this.  The Tall One and I arranged this last year.  We were each at college, away from each other, all year and despite the immense bro-love we share, admitted that neither could figure out what the other wanted.  Poof!  The “Games by James” Method, as it will come to be known.  We both respect the store, and so what we decided was that if you see something you like, just drop it on the floor.  And the other will pick it up.  “Hmmm, it’s like this gift is trying to tell me to buy it for Steve…”  Genius.
Finally, don’t be scared to go to the Mall on Christmas Eve.  So many people are scared to go, that no one is there.  That’s where you’ll find me this year, at that time.  And now I just gave away the secret.  Dammit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I don't like about England. And some things I do.

I want to clarify, that I have never said- and if I ever did, I take it back- that I don’t find any British women attractive.  I don’t find any English women attractive.  Except Emily Mortimer.  And at one time Kiera Knightley (though not so much anymore). 
I was watching one of my favorite guilty pleasures the other day, The Antiques Roadshow.  But I realized too late that it was the British version, and I don’t like that version as much.  It doesn’t have the little banner roll across the bottom of the screen which tells the viewers that the expert has just told the schlub that their knick-knack is worth an obscene amount of money.  That’s the most fun part.  My dad commented that their antiques just aren’t as interesting as the American antiques on the American version, which I would have to agree with, at least a little.  Finally, America does one better, with another version of the show- Pawn Stars.
There are some things that they do better though.  Emily Mortimer.  Vinegar on their deep-fried food.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a funny movie.  And I really enjoy Newcastle Brown Ale.  This leads me into the next problem I have with them, however, which is that everyone seems to need a English Premier League team they root for.  (As of now, I’ve chosen Liverpool.) But I am indignant that this is so pervasive for so many.  It’s been very hard for me to choose any single team, because, quite frankly, because I don’t feel any attachment to them.  They are six time zones away!  It might even be somewhat easier if I lived on the East Coast, but as it stands, I would rather just root for my favorite MLS team.  Yes, soccer snobs, I realize it’s a poorer brand of soccer.  And I’m sorry for calling it soccer.  Let’s settle on Association Football.  See, I even gave you guys caps.
Anyway, I like association football, I just want to root for a team that’s at least in my own country.  The other problem I have with it is that I feel like I have filled my sports-fan quota for teams-I’m-rooting-for.  I have the Packers, which is almost exactly like rooting for a Premier League team at this point.  The Twins I follow religiously and I’m even picking up the Wolves.  The next priorities for me are to follow the Wild and Gopher Basketball more closely.  So even Sounders FC, my MLS team of choice, is way down on my Yahoo Favorite Teams bar.
There is something very intriguing about AF, however.  It is a very difficult sport to follow, which makes those who do follow it feel good about themselves, while those who don’t tend to give up very easily. Unless you grew up in a country that only spoke “football”.  America is not one of them.  But I think as a whole the country is big enough for the sport.  The biggest reason I want to be a fan is, I think, that I would get a sweet scarf with my team’s name on it, which you wouldn’t even really wear as a scarf, but rather as an instrument of showing support.
The English have managed to make one thing that I never thought could be, fun: C-SPAN.  While flipping through channels one day, I stumbled upon the British House of Commons talking about the subject of the embargo on the Gaza Strip (or whatever that whole subject was about).  The protocol was such that it made for really vicious sentiments expressed in a very civil way:  There would be booing (but you could never actually see who it was from). When the MPs each got their turn to speak, they asked questions, but not in the second person (e.g., “I would ask the honorable speaker just why…”).  And this speaker had to have an eloquent answer for every single person who wanted to talk.  Amazing- I don’t even do it justice.
Sorry, England, that you don’t have Thanksgiving.  I’m going to go eat what might have been our national bird and watch a more physical version of football.  Keep driving on the wrong side of the road.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fixing Sports

There is nothing wrong with pro football.  Nothing that I would be able to fix anyway.  My specialty lies in geography, logistics and marketing.  And in those areas, I find that football has just about the perfect scheme going.  They know where their hotspots are, they have found a way to make the season the perfect length, the playoffs the perfect length and build up the appropriate amount of hype for the important events.  Maybe they could have one or two fewer preseason games, but you can’t complain about a league that has managed to bring Parity not only in the national sports dialogue, but become a word synonymous with their game.  If only they could help their college version. Go Boise.
The first sport that could use a change is Hockey.  Is the only way to get interest in the sport to make the playoffs ridiculously long?  If there is any sport that ought to change their playoff schedule it’s this one In 2002 the Wild had two of the most exciting seven-game playoff series I’ve been witness to, but they only finished second in their conference.  Just wrong.   And nobody wants to watch a winter sport in June.  And that is what Hockey has to remember, too.  It is a winter sport.  So cater to the crowds that actually know what winter is.  Atlanta, Dallas, Florida and Phoenix don’t get teams.  Give teams back to Hartford, Winnipeg, Quebec.  Even Wisconsin might want one.  Milwaukee, I guess.  Anyway, I love the Winter Classic.  That game actually makes me want to watch hockey.
Basketball has thrived on its ability to garner most of the attention in a given city. It’s worked pretty well in Portland, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Orlando and San Antonio.  The great thing basketball has going for it is that it has a lot of games and it’s not a weather-specific sport.  If anything they need more teams in areas that don’t have enough. St. Louis.  That’s all I got.
But they could also take a page out of hockey’s book and have a Summer Classic, played outside somewhere.  And have a H-O-R-S-E competition at the All-Star break.  For any more ways to fix basketball, ask The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons.
Baseball is my favorite sport to watch, so I have to take a lot of care when trying to fix it.  Okay- get rid of the DH- for teams that want to- and that’s what you play in their stadiums.  Never mind, that would suck.  Okay, but we do need to get rid of interleague play, balance the schedule, shorten the season, add a wild-card team and have the two WCs play in a best of three play-in series.  Also, there need to be two more teams.  Now is the biggest recent influx of talent and the sport needs to take advantage.  New Orleans and Portland need expansion teams.  For a full detail of my plan for the slight realignment, I will email you the plans in five pages.
Finally, I think more teams need more nicknames to their nicknames.  Those are the coolest.  It’s what separates American sports from British ones.  The Bolts, Halos, O’s, C’s, B’s.  A’s.  M’s.  Yes, there might be a theme here.  But one thing we could take from across the pond is the way they promote/demote teams for doing better or worse in league play.  My vote is baseball.  I think we have enough teams for that…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Notes from Deer Camp

Never been too afraid of getting up early. I’ve recently discovered coffee, and before that I found naps, so even though I’m not a morning person per se, I can deal with them.  Still, it was a new experience this weekend when I found myself sitting in a tree in a driving snowstorm at about six thirty with a gun in my hand.  The idea was that if I saw one of those creatures in a buckskin coat, maybe with those little horn things, I was to shoot at it before it noticed my presence.  Deer hunting.
            It turns out there is a lot of quiet when you’re waiting for deer, and I found myself silently taking comfort in the loudest rap songs I knew, from Run DMC to Public Enemy to Snoop and Dre’s “The Next Episode.”  And then I was singing Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” (which should be made into a rap).  I wanted to say it was the bravado of that genre which was helping me deal with the doomsday-y-ness of the whole situation, but I think it might have been the shooting themes that would help me pull the trigger on a helpless creature. 
Sitting there with that gun in my hand, it kind of felt like I was a character in Smash Brothers- say, Kirby- who had stumbled upon the hammer, and the music started playing and nobody knew what was going to happen.  So I realized I would have to draw on my other, albeit minimal, video game experience in order to succeed.  The obvious one is, of course, Oregon Trail.
Now that I think of it, we often played that game in school in Computer class because it had an early form of IM-ing, and we just wanted to do that. But the next best part of it was shooting things when you got a chance to hunt.  If you went for Bison, they were easier to kill and you got more meat.  So why even go for anything else?  Squirrels were impossible to kill.  Anyway, if I’m a banker (as we all were) and I’m going out west, I don’t know how to hunt. I’ll just buy all the food I need.
(The follow-up game, Yukon Trail, might have been just as fun, if not more fun, because there was a lot more to it as far as the journey went, but there was less shooting.  One time on the way up to Canada I had to wait out a snowstorm that lasted a year or something- ridiculous!)
But this deer hunting was just an awesome idea for several reasons.  If I got one, it would totally make up for my losing to a girl in Big Buck Hunter at the bar earlier this year.  Yea, she was cute, but I wasn’t really actively pursuing her.  And even though I did beat another girl in a shooting game last weekend on the Wii at my friend’s friend’s house in River Falls, I didn’t feel good about that.  (Or did I…?)
The next reason is that I would get to go down before field-dressing it and text a picture to my friend Ryan, who’s a Milwaukee Bucks fan, with a message that said “Fear the Deer? I don’t.”  Finally, it was just kind of fun sitting up in the tree, which was peaceful, but which I don’t think I would do if I my goal wasn’t to snuff out the life of Bambi’s mom with my Thunderstick.
I had gone duck hunting with my dad earlier this fall, and I felt that was kind of like sky-fishing.  That being the case, I think deer hunting is the land equivalent of deep-sea fishing.  Commercial Fishing, that is.  Like with the Andrea Gail in The Perfect Storm.
Although, admittedly the weather did improve on Sunday morning, I still didn’t see a single deer.  Or a guy in a tuxedo eating leaves in the forest pretending to be a deer so that you buy higher-end car insurance. But I did essentially figure out all the problems of the four major sports and how to solve them.  That blog post should be coming out later.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Winning on the Road

This time of year is one of the best for a little game I like to call Padiddle.  Actually, it will only get better as the winter goes on.  That’s because nobody wants to get outside in the cold and changer their headlight.  “I have one working headlight? Oh, that’s good enough…”
            Thus the basis of the game.  It is also better and better in winter time because there is just more darkness and it forces people to keep their headlights on all season long.  For those of you not familiar with the game, it consists of yelling “Padiddle” and punching the roof of the car when you see someone who has one headlight out.  This can be headlight, taillight or foglight.  As long as only one of them is out, not just dim.
            In the past there has been a point system for this game, and it goes something like: One point for a car, two for a semi, four for a police car.  I guess that’s because police cars technically can’t be out at all with a headlight out, so if they are, that just means they’re on their way back to the station.
            But that’s an archaic system. The better way to play it, for those who are comfortable is called Stripadiddle and involves the removal of clothes.  Probably will only take place on Ultimate Frisbee team trips and the like.  Except everyone in the car (but the driver) have to be playing for it to actually be fun.  Or anyone else except me, really.
            That’s only one of my favorite road trip games, however.  I tried to play Padiddle as well as a couple more games on my way back from the family farm a couple weeks ago.  There’s also the Roadkill game, the Alphabet game and several others that can’t be played simultaneously.  It’s really hard to see whether that lump on the ground is a dead animal when you’re trying to look for the Q which you’ve been on for 20 minutes.  Fortunately Katie got a Z, which gave me some time to catch up.
            In the present day, of course, it’s less acceptable to incorporate other people into the games.  But back in the day we used to play a game called Sweet & Sour where we would do the “hang loose” gesture to others (back when people didn’t know what that meant) and see if they smiled or frowned and keep a running tally. Or you could just play the “Look over, then fall back and pass the car again with shades on, not paying any attention to them” Game.
            Finally, I made up a game of my own, which doesn’t necessarily need to be played on a roadtrip, but I think it is perfect for them.  I call it the iPod game.  You have a friend hold your iPod, put it on shuffle, and you say as much about the song that’s playing- Name, Artist, Album- as fast as you can.  Then you can even make it competitive.  Each have an iPod in, then take turns and see how fast you can get through the songs.  Suffice it to say, I’m pretty good at this game.
            But not quite as good at Stripadiddle.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Question, Part II

The sports of former British colonies, however, get really interesting.  Let’s start with India.  I guess officially, their national sport is Field hockey.  Weird.  Anyway, they definitely don’t like soccer that much, so I would have to point out that another sport they are very famous for playing is Cricket.  The Brits invented it, and it must have been coming to popularity around the time that they were colonizing India.  The thing about Britain, though, is that while they are part of Europe, they are also kind of a separate part, and that means a kind of independent thinking.  They were the first to create their own church, and they are just geographically separate.  They prefer the pound to the Euro and so on.  Therefore, it is not surprising that many of their former colonies have taken a big shine to a sport other than soccer.
That goes for the USA and baseball slash football.  The main reason for the U.S. not taking on soccer as one of its favorite sports is that it took on baseball and football first.  About the time England was starting to go crazy for soccer, the U.S. was completely ignoring it because we were still bitter about the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (or the Second Revolutionary War, as some have called it).  The game of baseball was probably taken in part from sports like rounders, which made its way across the pond before such unfortunate encounters.  But the origins of baseball being so obscure, you can pretty much dub baseball a truly “American” sport.  And even in this country, especially after the Monroe Doctrine, American came to refer to all the Americas.  And though it didn’t catch on as quickly in the more southern Latin American countries (soccer being fully ingrained), countries like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Cuba have become baseball hotbeds (much more so than soccer).
Football was an interesting development because the rules we play by today are more or less derived from some Canadians who invented the sport.  There was a rugby-like sport that Americans played for a while, and though we would never admit it, football was probably derived at least in part from soccer.  The question of why football developed quickly in America and not soccer, we have to ask how they are different.  Is it our differing notions of space and how it is taken over?  Do Americans see space as something to be gained one play at a time, after each side has developed a strategy for how they are going to dominate?  Do Europeans see taking over space as something that is more ad-libbed, decided upon in the heat of the moment?  Or perhaps with the Puritanical beginnings of America, we preferred to have as many rules as possible, while in Europe, with all the political revolution that was going on at the time, preferred a game with very few rules, one more of the common man.  We may never really know.  It is no surprise, though, that a country which despises Britain as much as the Irish, has taken a liking to a group of sports which are definitely not soccer.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Question, Part I

If I ever end up writing a book, I think that the following question I am going to ask will be a major part of it, if not the only part of it.  The question is Why do certain parts of the world, particularly countries become fanatic about a given sport?  In the next few paragraphs, I am going to try to briefly cover the outline of what I might argue in the few hypotheses I have formed in mulling over the world sporting scene today.
Firstly, soccer.  While it is the most popular sport in the world, there are definitely certain parts of the world in which it is more popular that many others.  So for purposes of my arguments about the sport, I will say Western Europe, Latin America and Western Africa are the areas in which the sport is most popular, especially right now.  No doubt it has gained steam in other regions, but those regions are big fans of other sports, too.
The origins of soccer were in England, but England being part of Europe, and due to its quick spread in Europe, the reasons for its thriving in these regions are probably pretty similar.
My first guess about soccer is that it is a constant battle for space- space to dribble the ball, space to get open, and space you want to take away if you are on defense.  The European mindset also seems to be a constant battle for space.  The Germans have constantly been fighting for it, the Ancient Romans tried to take as much of it over as possible.  And yet now Europe is finding they don’t have enough of it. 
The next thought I had is that with the dimensions of a soccer field being the same everywhere, it would give Europeans a sense of boundaries, which is something they also like.  This nationality belongs here, this religion belongs here, this sport belongs here.  Thus, a field that defines exactly what takes place on it, and what does not
Finally, soccer being such a simple game at heart, it gives a lot of room for creativity.  Europe being a place that emphasizes the individual, or tightly defined region, these individuals and regions could maintain their identities and express them in this sport while still being able to relate to each other on the same stage.
So why did it expand to certain places?  I believe Franz Fanon could explain in some way better than I could why certain sports thrived in colonized countries, but I’m going to try.  The colonizers introduced a sport to the colonized which they imitated because at first they looked up to their oppressors.  But eventually they decided to become better than their colonizers (and certainly in many cases, did).  This is kind of like the way Fanon explains the violence dialectic between colonizer and colonized.
But to apply this to actual places, it seems clear that this was most effective in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries.  They also seem to the be the ones influenced the most by the Iberian peninsula.  The Iberians, the Catholics who conquered the world the most, probably instilled in their colonies the greatest sense of tradition and loyalty of any Empires in the world.  And so, while these newly independent nations took the spread of soccer and tried to make it their own, they also could not ignore the fact that they were again taking a page out of their former rulers’ book.
Pretty much the same could be argued for the people of west Africa, despite the fact that it was mostly the French and the British who settled that area.  Well, mostly the French.  Was it French Catholicism and loyalty that made these countries love soccer so much?  I mean, I don’t really know what the competition from other sports was, but soccer seems pretty big there now.
Next time, we examine what the rest of the world likes. Hint: it might also be soccer.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Zombie Situation

This week is, I’ve heard, a much celebrated holiday for people in my area and age-group.  And there’s nothing that gets me psyched up for it quite like talking about Zombies.  I’ve definitely been absorbing zombie-related media at a much faster clip than usual recently, in large part because I think they are making a Vampire-esque comeback, only this time among cool people.  For me, the most interesting thing about them is not that they actually kill people, eat them, what-have-you, but how they spread. 
If there was a zombie outbreak, such as the one chronicled in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, that would be the worst disaster to ever befall mankind.  What humans have- what defines us- is our ability to relate to other humans.  The concept of zombies essentially splits humans up, makes them suspicious of each other- not only threatens us physically but psychologically.  And not just psychologically as one country would affect another in a war, but psychologically on the most individual level possible.  No borders between countries, not even us against extra-terrestrials of some kind- humans against each other.
You really get a grip on what’s important when a bunch of blood-thirsty people who maybe used to be your friends are after you.  And I think that’s why one of my favorite movies of the past couple years, “Zombieland”, struck such a cord.  It’s an examination of how humans can survive and even thrive in a situation like that.  There have been plenty of movies where the main characters just go out and kick some ass and take some names.  (That might be why I didn’t love “Shaun of the Dead” that much- or maybe I just don’t like British comedy.)  But to me it made sense, for example, that the loners would be the ones to survive a zombie apocalypse.  At first.  And sure, maybe they’d team up and save each other at an amusement park in a climactic scene where everybody puts the lessons they’ve learned so far to good use.
But a lot of the lessons I learned in that movie can be put to good use.  Cherish the little things. Cardio.  And my personal favorite- the Double Tap.  I’ve tried to make that one catch on, to no avail. Then again, there are certain really bad zombie scenarios that even these lessons can’t prepare you for.
Maybe you’re all alone in the wilderness.  And it’s cold out.  And the zombies are also Nazis. And for some reason everybody’s speaking Norwegian! Okay, so that is the basis for the movie “Dead Snow”, a movie for which Amazing is an understatement.  It does take place in Norway, the zombies run really fast, they want some gold, but really all they want to do is kill you.  I don’t want to ruin too much of it, but suffice it to say, it gave me a really different take on zombies.  Just like World War Z.
This book did several things for me- it clarified what exactly happens to the zombies before they come back from the dead and start eating people.  It also explained a lot of the anatomy and biological facts of them.  They’re not fast, but they don’t breathe air.  And you can only kill them by shooting them in the head.  They are also the bodies of dead people- so the people die, and then the corpse reanimates. You don’t just go from living human to living zombie. But to contradict Dead Snow, they do freeze when it gets cold out. Solid, that is.  So that’s cool.  Finally, it showed me how different countries might react to a zombie outbreak.  China freaked out and made the whole thing way worse.  Israel acted quickly and quarantined themselves.  And the U.S. screwed up at first, but then fought back in some heroic ways.
This blog post has just gone through the roof on the nerdy scale.  And I think Woody Harrelson in Zombieland would probably punch me in the arm for rambling this much.  But that movie is still by far the zombie situation I would choose to live in.  As long as I got “Salute Your Solution” by The Raconteurs playing after I was done kicking ass.  And Emma Stone being there doesn’t hurt either.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Down with High Fives

…Look, all I’m saying is Why would you give a high-five anymore when you could give a fist bump?
            I’ll tell you the philosophy behind fist-bumps.  For a long time they seemed to have a bum rap as something only poseurs or people from California did.  I think they gained more of an acceptance after they became so pervasive in sports.  I remember seeing Graham Lloyd of the Yankees hold (what would come to be known as Holding) a game in the World Series and giving an extended series of fist-bumps to his teammates, and though I didn’t pick it up right then, that’s when it slowly began to creep into my mind to break away from the high-five scene.
            Look, high-fives are great, but they can be way overused.  There’s always that really excitable guy you know who gives high-fives which are way too hard. Yes, The Todd from Scrubs is the most egregious example, but there’s a reasonable chance you knew someone like that in high school.  The problem with high-fives is that you never have the same enthusiasm for the greeting on both sides, or so it seems to manifest itself.
            Not so with fist-bumps, or “pounding it”.  You can get away with a lot less enthusiasm, but still get across the same message to your chums: “I commend you on a job well done. I share in your joy.”  Plus, if you become a person who does fist-bumps, perhaps too often, you are able to send this same message even when you are not feeling as enthusiastic.  And if you do then give a high five, your compatriot will understand just how special of an occasion it is.
            The beauty of them, though, is that not only do they replace high-fives, they also replace handshakes.  When drawn out or added on to, they can create the appearance of a special bond between you and anyone who also subscribes to the “pounding it” school of thought.  In a conservative way they can release the tension of a situation in which neither of the two parties involved are quite sure which method of shared greeting is most appropriate, or in times of limited physical space to acknowledge someone’s arrival or job well done.
            Have you ever noticed how much you miss when you’re in the habit of giving high-fives? Even the best fivers are only about 90% rate of connection.  And even when you don’t get a good high five, there is often the occasional unsatisfying high-five. There is rarely an unsatisfying fist-bump, just because there are so many ways to pull the move off, and they never require that much energy (which is really what this is all about, isn’t it?).
            When I ask you, for example, Where does the dog go? and stick out my fist except with my pointer and pinky out, and, you say The Pound (or don’t) and/or pound it.  Or I stick out my fist and say Potato- and you pound it, say Fries and we each do the hand explosion. My favorite version is to do the hand-explosion, extending past the point of contact, then reverse and scrape knucks on the way back.  Isn’t this fun?
            And finally there’s the PeZ (named after a friend of mine at St. John’s back in the day).  (Hi, PeZ!) So you gotta pound it with fists horizontal, then at point of contact, Lock it up (here you turn them vertical) and put the chains on (hand-open, slide it past point of contact).
Now get some practice in- there’s going to be an exam.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sociality Index

I have to get this down on paper in some ways to prevent myself from going crazy.  The other part of it is that by putting this down on paper, it reveals just how crazy how I am.  So I write this partly for myself in order to show myself at some point down the road how crazy and messed up my mind was at this point in my life. My mom should never read this, for example, because it totally gives fuel to her argument that I care too much about social stuff.  Which isn’t entirely fair, because on the sane level I realize that this whole system and the lifestyle it encourages is the not the right way to live.  And yet the mere fact that I would create something like this, even spend the time to think it through to a point where this is something I could actually implement, makes me very scared for myself.
 To that end, I write this, too, for anyone who might someday read this because they wonder what goes on inside my head.  If you ever did wonder that, this is the most naked I will ever bare my soul, I think.  So know that there are things you worry about that are nowhere near as crazy as what I think of.  And I have been to a lesser or greater extent, I’ve been worrying about this for probably ten years now.  It’s grown so big that all I can do is contain the level of thinking to a reasonable set of rules and expectations for myself.  The better I do in the system, however, the more it encourages itself, so I can’t let it get too out of control.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself.  There are segments of this that will probably just speak for themselves.  This is not a cry for help- it is something I never thought I would write down, but I think it’s a big step in my recovery to think that I’m even at the point where I feel comfortable writing it down.  So maybe it is a cry for help.
 I am a counter.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve counted things in my life in order to measure some imaginary quantity of success in my life.  In second or third grade, for example, I think I was counting, day by day, my record in games for the day. Any games: kickball, checkers, the scrimmages in soccer practice.  And that just got too crazy, even for me, so I don’t think that lasted very long.  But the counting didn’t stop…
 …it simply manifested itself in a different way.  The origin of this system came about when I was first starting to look around in the summer after fifth grade and observe that I didn’t have very many friends.  I was trying to be friends with Brad in fifth because we were on the same bus, but his parents seemed to never actually let him hang out anywhere or do anything.  But I got a couple new friends in sixth- Kevin, and then Justin, who I would stay friends with through about junior year of high school.  Some of my friends from high school may remember him as the “ghetto” friend I had.   My having friends eventually brought about the modern version of this system the summer after seventh or maybe eighth grade.  The Sociality Index.
 The primitive version of this system operated under the assumption that at least averagely popular people are hanging out with friends of theirs at least four nights of the week.  The greater percentage of nights each week (during the summer, of course) I was able to see a friend of mine, the better I felt about myself.  For five summers, I strongly adhered to this standard and probably didn’t fail to achieve the goal more than two weeks out of each summer.  The specifics varied from grading vacation with the family or trips of any kind as neutral days that weren’t counted or actual “Friend Days” that counted towards the total.  Anyway, I am pretty sure I didn’t care too much about this system after graduating from high school and through most of college, just because I have become more confident about the amount of friends I have.  Then this summer came, and I was mostly unemployed, and I guess I just needed something going for me.  In case you were wondering, under even the most strict application of this rule, I aced the summer.  I have really nothing else to do.
  But on a certain level, I became aware of another system brewing in my mind- which I haven’t even tested more than once, because if I had, I would know I have a serious problem.  Here I have to just set it all down, just so I never, ever, ever think about this again because it is poisonous.  Please, I warn you, don’t think about this system afterwards, lest you think about putting it in place in your life.  Especially because I don’t want you to think you are better than me in this system than I am.
  Here it is: the new system would add point totals to each time you Do Something, or DS.  It is a one through five point scale, and the idea is to obtain about fifteen points per week, give or take. (Now that I think of it, that’s pretty high.) This forces you to vary up the different types of Things you Do.  A One is taking part in an event that you don’t really have a social relationship with any or many of the people there.  Two would be hanging out in a non-aerobic activity with one other friend, or a trip with your immediate family.  Three would be either doing something aerobic with one other friend or hanging out in any fashion with two other friends or hanging out with your extended family.  Four is hanging out with more than two other buddies- that’s clearly a different type of social situation than hanging out with two other people.  A Five is a full-on Bash- drinking preferable, but a good time must be had by all. So there you go- the entire sickness of my mind has been bared before you.  Do not let these rules and regulations penetrate your life. And please keep them away from me, too.
Damn you, Economy- see what you bring me to?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Gray Duck Means to Us

                It’s duck season up here in the North (which is to say, the market covered by Fox Sports North) and that means everyone is excited to eat some delicious Teal or Mallard, the former of which I recently found out is very good with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.  But one of the more satisfying aspects of eating duck, of course is the fact that they have been hunted down and brought to your table, and it is this whole endeavor to which Minnesota grade schoolers pay tribute by playing a game known around here as Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.
                It has recently come to my attention that not every state in the union knows the game as such.  In fact, people every other state but Minnesota call the exact same game Duck, Duck, Goose, which is completely wrong.  The game has it’s origins in a very realistic and distinctly Minnesotan philosophy, that we are all Ducks.  We would never single someone out so ostentatiously as to call them a Goose.  Geese and Ducks wouldn’t hang out in the same flock waiting to be provoked by a mysterious hand from above and then run in a very tight circle to track down the target, the It, before It reaches the point from which the race began.  (“It”, suffice it to say, is also a Duck).  A Goose definitely wouldn’t abide by these strict rules.  Geese chase.  That’s why they call it a Wild Goose Chase.  At least, we do up North.  But Ducks follow the rules and know when to give up.  Because they understand that they will not always be the Gray Duck.  They will hopefully be a different kind of Duck, one that does not have to chase It.  We Minnesotans know that sometimes it is simply your day to be the Gray Duck.
                This brings me to the next part of the philosophy.  Though we are all Ducks, we are also all unique.  The tradition of these gamers in our fair state is that it is the responsibility of It to signify to each of the Ducks exactly what kind of Duck they are.  Just because one duck is Gray, doesn’t mean the other Ducks don’t have adjectives.  They all should.  There is the requisite Smelly Duck, Pretty Duck, Ugly Duck and others.  The only reason the Gray Duck is the type of Duck that has to chase is because that is the way it has always been.  It doesn’t mean he or she is any better or worse than the others.  We just need to know that we are being appreciated for our attributes by the It Duck.  And if the It Duck tilts our head back to get a better look at us in order to figure out what kind of Duck we are, so much the better.  We are one community (which is what the circle signifies), but we are also individuals, with names given to us based on the gifts we bring to the table. We watch and wait for the impending race and root for the Gray Duck because one day we may have to be him, and one day he might actually catch It Duck, though the odds are against him.
                Should he catch It Duck, we all rejoice, because there will be a feast of Duck Soup, which is signified by the defeated Duck having to sit in the middle of the circle and be observed by those who he once shared the ranks of.  This is not cannibalistic or barbaric, but it shows that someday we may have to sacrifice something of ourselves for the good of others.  It is not right that some may have to leave us, but that is the way of things, and we know that in some ways, they are still with us, silently staring back at us from the center of our lives.
                 Does anyone have a good Cabernet to share?