Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Working Title

I hate judging books by their cover- no, that’s not true.  I love judging books by their cover.  What else are you supposed to judge a book by, other than its cover?  All you can know about a book without actually reading the thing is what’s on the cover.  This includes the cover design, artwork and synopsis.  You don’t want the synopsis to say too much- oftentimes I learn too much about the plot and never want to get further into it.  Like when that Mission: Impossible 4 trailer came out and it had Tom Cruise talking to Jeremy Renner about how Renner’s character “is not what he appears”.  Sorry, no matter what happens after that moment in the movie, I really don’t care.  If the plot of the movie is that bad that they don’t care about revealing what appears to be a huge spoiler, then I don’t care to watch it.  It’s just become, unabashedly, a big-budget, special effects laden, money-grabbing Tom Cruise vehicle.
So there’s definitely an art to how you sell your piece of entertainment.  And it usually involves bordering on subtlety.
But this leads me back to how I judge books.  I usually judge them first by their title.  If I find the title interesting, I’ll probably read the synopsis, and so on.  But I’ve become wary of a group of bestselling books which I don’t respect the titles of.  Stieg Larrson’s trilogy of The Girl… novels kinda get my goat, not with any respective title of theirs, but with where I thought the theme of the titles was going.  The first one is of course called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  What he seems to be implying with this first title is that the next novels are going to be named after some other aspect about her- say: The Girl with the Piercing Eyes or The Girl with the Spiky Hair.  It really wouldn’t have to be anything deep, at least in the literal sense.  But it would have been deep figuratively, because it didn’t tell me anything except that there was probably more to her than that.
But where he does go with these ideas is completely ineffective in enticing a reader such as myself to want to read more.  My first thought at why this could be was that maybe he was thrown by the success of the first book, so the titles were thrown together somewhat haphazardly and that’s why they didn’t have the expected overarching direction.  But then I remembered that he’s actually dead now.  And I don’t think these books enjoyed any commercial success outside of Sweden humously (is that the opposite of posthumously?).  What he does do in calling the next books The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl who Played with Fire, respectively, is that he tells us something in the title about what it is she’s going to do.  I don’t think that’s a very good strategy, because as I’ve always found in title or headline writing, the old adage holds true- less is more.  All that should ever be referred to in the title, I feel, is the main character (or characters), and the situation they’re put in. 
I do feel as though I can draw from at least one or two examples of good titles, even speaking as someone who hasn’t read all of these books.  The Bourne Trilogy has a good series of titles, insofar as the titles themselves tell you almost nothing about the plot of the book.  Take The Bourne Identity- there’s a guy named Bourne and he has an identity.  Or something.  But regardless, my interest is peaked.  (Just thinking about that series, it makes me angry that the second movie ends so far into the third one. Gah!)  And in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, Douglas Adams names each book after something the reader heard in the first one, and the titles themselves may not have anything whatsoever to do with the characters, plot, or circumstances of the particular novel.  But you still want to read them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Looking Around My Room

I want to overanalyze a couple things here.  This being one of the first times I have sat down to just write, without a pre-set idea, I’m going to take this opportunity to just look around my room and describe the various decorations I have bestowed on it.
Firstly, there are two posters.  They are both from my old room back at my parents place, or as I’m not ready to completely forego calling that ‘home’ in some fashion, The Old Homestead.  The first one is a poster of a Plymouth Prowler, a car which I’m not sure they make anymore, in part because I’m not sure if Plymouth even exists anymore.  It’s a pretty cool-looking car, painted yellow in my poster, which, for cars, was and still is the new red.  This poster could have been a foreshadowing of me buying for my first car a make that is no longer in business, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.  The only observation I have on the poster itself and how it applies to me is that I don’t have a real affinity for cars, new or old- I think I just like things that are backswept.  I played with Legos a lot as a kid, and all the space ships I made had to be backswept. When I was trying to choose a favorite food, for instance, I think I went with pizza over hot dogs for that reason.  And for a while I thought humans were poorly designed because they walked upright and therefore weren’t very aerodynamic.
But that brings me to my second poster.  It’s also of a vehicle that is streamlined, out-of-date and 100% American.  The F-14 Tomcat.  It’s a relic of the just-past-the-Cold-War Era, where we probably still weren’t so sure about Russia and what they might do.  The ironic thing about this one in comparison to the poster of the Prowler, is that by my standards it would not have been streamlined enough for me.  It has two tailfins and has wings that can spread out or fold back.  In all honesty, it’s pretty slick.  But the plane probably cost a little more to build than the Prowler, and I definitely know, or at least knew a lot more about fighter planes back in the day than cars. Top Gun was definitely one of my favorite movies in my younger days, and I know that Maverick flew an F-16 Fighting Falcon, a plane that I definitely wish I had a poster of.  This obsession with fighter planes is probably either a result of, or a cause of being a conservative, and to an extent a war hawk.
There’s really only one more thing that almost purely serves the role of a decoration in my room right now.  In my sophomore year of high school I was in a sculpture class.  I had always considered myself creative and I wanted to see how it transferred to visual art.  For the most part the class went pretty well.  I tried hard in it, as I did in the rest of my classes, and I liked most of the projects a fair amount.  There was origami, some more two-dimensional things, and I remember we built a chair.  But when she asked us to sculpt a head out of clay, I was very hesitant.  It took a long time, as I recall, and there were several hiccups along the way.  Our teacher went from saying hair was not necessary to We should try to do it.  (I didn’t, but I still liked it.)  And when I was hollowing out the inside of the sculpture, I almost went all the way through it, but still managed to save it.  The end result was a B grade, but I think I was more satisfied with it than any other art project I’d done before or since.
The other purpose it serves however, is allowing me something of my own to toss around and potentially break, though I still haven’t yet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Something Else I've Noticed...

[Editor’s Note: This columnist often tends to write about certain made-up laws, theories, innovations or effects as if they are full-proof and have been vigorously researched and verified.  Please note that he has not found any evidence to support these theories, nor does he intend to.]
             The Christmas Eve Effect, or as I have been wanting to call it, the Christmas Eve-MOA Effect, is named after the first time my brother and I went to the Mall on the last day of shopping before that holiday the majority of us Americans refer to when we say ‘Happy Holidays’.  Of course everyone told us- Are you kidding? It’s going to be so crazy down there!
To our surprise, it wasn’t.  In fact, there were probably fewer people than usual when we go to the Mall.  But as we realized, there was a perfectly logical explanation for it- so many people were afraid that the Mall was going to be packed, that all those people were noticeably absent.  Granted, there are several other reasons for not going to there on C-Eve.  There are many fewer sales, less stock of the products many people want, and probably many employees who just aren’t happy to be there.  But the lack of hustle-and-bustle more than makes up for that.
(I’ve really realized that it is indeed the thought that counts.  I know that I am about the seven millionth person to say that, but I truly think more people could save more money just by thinking more about what their loved ones would actually want.  Imagine how that simple philosophy could help the economy if everyone did just get to know their loved ones more.  Or follow the Games by James Method™.  Just read the last paragraph here.)
I’m not necessarily encouraging always going to the Mall that late in the shopping season, as I usually do, but I merely wanted to shed some light on how not all supposedly super-busy things are going to be that bad.  Another example: this past summer, the Greater Los Angeles area was all prepared for an even they were calling Carmageddon.  I-405, their major freeway, was undergoing major construction, down to one lane each way through most of the metro.  But as it was recapped to yours truly via Twitter and the B.S. Report podcast, it didn’t turn out to be much of anything, mostly due to everyone living in fear of driving at all on that weekend.
To go out on a huge limb here, I predict that this is exactly how the whole Social Security fiasco is going to play out.  As SS was always just intended to be a safety net, NOT A RETIREMENT PLAN, that’s what people will end up treating it as again.  Maybe they will invest, get confidence in the economy, and have their nest eggs saved up for when they do retire.  Or maybe they (and when I say they, I definitely am referring to my generation) will postpone or get rid of retirement completely. Hey, people are living longer and looser, so that could catch on.  I just think that with as much as the prognosticators are frantic about it, Social Security might not become as big of a deal as they are worried it will.  But I’m no economist.
A couple caveats for this theory, though.  People don’t tend to follow this trend when they have either already paid for something, or they plan to.  You won’t want to waste a lot of gas on a freeway, but money is a much more tangible measurement of loss.  Example: The line for Pirates of the Caribbean 3 was wrapped all the way around the Rosedale Mall.  It was filled with people who had paid for their tickets, so there was no way they were going anywhere.  Also, this theory only holds as long as the masses don’t find out.  Therefore, the activity/event can go on a wavy sine-graph of usage, simply because of how busy people perceive its usage.  So don’t let word get out when you do find the Effect at work!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Lastest Friend-quation

“I am insane,” I told Mike, as he walked into class. “Lemme show you why.”
We then proceeded to have a ten minute tutorial and subsequent discussion about the new “Friend-quation” I came up with while at work.  I thought it was appropriate to discuss with him, as one of the situations this applies to involved him.  And by the time we were done-
“You are insane,” Mike agreed.
The idea for the equation came from me remembering three similar situations I remembered I had run into within about the past two months.  This particular situation, however, is probably somewhat common among people my age, too, who have formed a different group of friends in college, or at work than those they knew in high school.  And yet, as you will come to see, this doesn’t necessarily even have to involve a close group of friends.  All you really need are acquaintances.
So what do you do when you are with one group of your current friends and you encounter someone at a place that you haven’t seen for a while?  That’s where my equation comes in.  This equation quantifies, in a very loose sense, all the factors that go into how much time you actually spend with the friends you haven’t seen for a while over the friends you do.  This is not to say that you even have to leave those friends you were hanging out with. But if they have other friends in the area, this might be a good opportunity for them to go catch up with them, while you catch up on the good old times with your new friends.
We have to create a few variables in order for this to apply.  The first one is pretty basic: how long has it been since you’ve seen them.  The number I came up with I call Life Units.  It is about three years, which seems to me about the time, at least in, let’s say, the ages between 18 and 34, how long it will take the average person to move on to a new phase in their lives.  You go to College for four years, you might have the same job right after that for two- maybe you get married, have kids.  The time in between each of those new phases, based on complete hunches absolutely no statistical evidence, has been calculated to about three years.  But of course, if there are any oldsters reading this for some reason, let’s say that number increases to ten years by the time you’re fifty.
The next variable tries to answer the question, How much better friends with these guys are you than the people you’re hanging out with?  In many cases the answer might be: you’re not.  But the domain of this function is going to have to be pretty small.  Let’s call it “10 less than or equal to ‘x’ less than or equal to 40.”  If these are people you would spend less than ten minutes talking to, the equation almost doesn’t apply.  If it’s more than 40- well, why aren’t you just completely ditching your new friends to hang with your old friends for the night?  So never mind- if you could just quantify your friendship with these old friends into a number between 1 and 3 (included), I think that will suffice.  If you are just as good a friends with the other people, but you still want to hang out with the people who “friend-prised” you, I don’t know how to calculate that.
Let’s just leave it at that.  Basically, add these two numbers, multiply by ten and that’s about how long you should be able to spend with these old friends without feeling guilty that you left your new friends.  In the rough outline of this friend-quation, there were other factors that I could not turn into numbers.  Factors such as, Is there anyone in New Group you just met who you do not care to hang out with- the “Detractors”, or Is this a bigger surprise to see them here than it would be elsewhere?  As I was thinking about this, however, I’m reminded of this character from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  This smart old dude teaches his younger companions that while he can do complex equations in his head regarding smart stuff like rocket science, they are doing many equations (which apparently he can’t do) every time they catch a ball.  They just come naturally.  I can catch a ball. But sometimes I’m interested in the equations it takes to catch one, too.  And sometimes I like to make equations to explain other things that in many ways should come naturally.
Still not convinced I’m insane.  Try here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions from Across the Pond

            I believe most of us have concluded at this point that the BCS has been a bad idea.  First of all, the name is deceptive.  As there is only one game in the “Championship Series” is makes no more sense than calling the Super Bowl a series.  But more than that, it just doesn’t allow for any true champion to be crowned in the American way.  What is the American way?  Playoffs, of course.  Every other major sport in America has some form of playoffs to determine their champion. Whether even these are all completely necessary remains a mystery- why, for example, does Major League Baseball play 162 games to still allow 8 teams into the playoffs (and soon to be 10, from the sounds of it)?  No, the BCS’s strategy of crowning a champion is most similar to the British way.  And so, if anything, I’m starting to think it isn’t going far enough.  In fact, American sports in general could learn a thing or two from it.
What I mean by this first comparison is of course that the Premier League for association football in that country does not have any playoffs.  Each team plays each other twice, and whichever team is at the top of the standings at the end of the season wins.  That’s it.  Oh, sure, they have middle-of-the-season tournaments.  But they’ve all just decided that the champion was whoever could beat all the other teams most consistently.  This is what college football needs to figure out for itself.  They might have too many teams to do this in exactly the same way, but there’s another way English football worked around this problem, too.  A couple things called promotion and relegation.  The country has so many teams that they have decided to just put the best ones in the best league, and so on.  But we in America do have one disadvantage in being able to pull this off.  As a much bigger country, it would be hard to have a country-wide league in which everyone plays everyone.  American football is too demanding of a sport to have more than eleven or twelve regular-season games at that age.  But that’s why it would be easy to just form about four major regional leagues that each regional champion of a designated lower league could be promoted to in time.  Then the NCAA could just set up a plus-one situation between these four leagues.  It’s very meritocratic, and we would really get a true National Champion out of it.  But, in all honesty, that very situation is exactly what seems to be happening (albeit, de facto) with all the ridiculous conference realignment.  Is it a fair assumption to say that the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC are going to be those major conferences?
By doing what the NCAA is doing with the “Football Bowl Subdivision” in order to determine a National Champion is also somewhat half-assed and in some ways they are admitting they need a playoff.  Just having the two best teams in a one-game playoff essentially undercuts all the sweat-equity those hard-working computers did to determine which team is the best.  If you were truly confident that you had the best team in the nation figured out, what is even the point of having a national championship game?  Err, this was the team that the computers told us was the best, but let’s try them against the second best just to be sure… So if they lose to the second-best, who’s to say the second-best wouldn’t have lost to the third best?  The whole system is undermined by any implication that a national champion still needs to be determined after the regular season.  I think, if they’re going to stick with the BCS, let’s stick it in their craw by saying No National Championship Game.  Oh sure, you could still have bowls, but maybe the top two teams don’t play each other.  Then we could have one of those hilarious situations like back in the day where the Gophers were proclaimed Nat’l Champs and then proceeded to lose in the Rose Bowl Game.
Baseball could even learn from our chums across the pond.  The possibility of relegation has already been brought up for baseball (and this is still somewhat doable, if only on a smaller scale), but I think there are a couple drawbacks to the way the sport is set up that should be scaled back a little bit.  Let’s say MLB is far and away the largest stage for baseball in the world- the equivalent of the European Champions League in soccer.  If that’s the case, they really need to scale back the season and streamline the playoffs.  One hundred forty-eight games is, I believe, the longest the season could be in still maintaining some efficiency.  In my opinion, the playoffs should go back to just two teams from each league, but let’s say that isn’t going to happen.  I’ve always really admired the way European clubs run the “knock-out” stages of their tournaments.  They play two games, a “home and home”, and whoever has the most goals at the end of those two games wins!  Why wouldn’t this work in baseball, if say, they needed one extra round for that second wild card they’re talking about adding?  The team with the better record could just pick the game they wanted to host, and then you would need extras in at most the second game.  Aside from that, I think American football really has its shit figured out.  But don’t even get me started on hockey and baseball, and their messed up playoff formats.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Planets of the Republic

            When I had a conversation with my buddy Dylan about the greatest cities of the Midwest, I didn’t really think I would have to defend the relevance of Minneapolis, especially as it pertains to Chicago.  Chicago is a great city, and for someone not from Minnesota, I can’t expect to convince him of the clear, but less-than-widely-know superiority of the Twin Cities.  For purposes of this blog post, I am not even entertaining arguments of St. Paul, because Minneapolis is clearly better, but I will call them the Twin Cities for purposes of this argument.
            The main argument is that Minn- er, the Cities are allowed to have an inferiority complex as it pertains to their big brother, the Second City.  TC is smaller, for sure, but it’s really not the size- it’s how you use it.  And we use it well.  But Chicago is a comically large city.  If you look at some scenes from the first Batman Begins movie, the city of Gotham looks legitimately three times the size of New York.  There is obviously no Gotham City, but in case you didn’t know, many scenes from The Dark Knight were filmed in Chicago.  I believe all of it was.  But the comparability of the fictional Gotham and the Windy one should lend credence to my theory.  Chicago is just too big.  It has two major league baseball teams, for crying out loud!  It might as well be two cities- and no Milwaukee, you cannot be Chicago Jr.  You just suck.
            The Twin Cities are not only a perfect size, but we have the perfect structure.  We picked one less-good city in which to put the government, the old people and the niche sports team.  But those are all things cities need.  The better city has the hip downtown, uptown and college campuses, as well as the more advanced transportation system (for now).  But while St. Paul does have some more cultural landmarks and destinations, MPLS has those things that are not necessary, but still great for a city to have- an uptown, the Greenway, Minnehaha Park & Fort Snelling and three more sports teams that are actually successful.  To be fair to Bloomington, that city is starting to hold its own in our metro area.  The Mall is pretty sweet and it almost has a legitimate downtown.  Probably better than St. Cloud, anyway.
            But we actually hold an important relationship with Chicago and that’s undeniable.  We are, as I was telling Dylan.  One of the last cities of our size until we get to the coast.  If the United States was the Galaxy Far, Far Away from Star Wars, the Twin Cities would be Naboo.  Which would make, say, Denver Tattooine.  And the west coast are all planets that have been claimed by the Rebel Alliance.  Or something like that.  But you just don’t get the same kind of relationships among the large cities of the mountain time zone.  Each one was founded off some resource that was abundant and can really support a contained economy.  If the U.S. is playing the board games Settlers of Catan, they may have all just put their settlement on a Six and nothing else.  Denver has its Ore, Phoenix has its Heat and Salt Lake apparently has God.  Which is good for them, I suppose.  But Minneapolis/St.Paul is on thirteen dots next to a three-for-one port.  (I’m sorry if you haven’t played this game.)  I think the important point is that we should definitely make the Eastern U.S., everything east of St. Cloud as well as the West Coast should become one country, and leave the western frontier to wither in the abyss.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Pilgrimmage

            If any of you guys see Marty, tell him his game is stupid.
            I’m talking, of course, about the game he taught us (us being just me) on the way to Green Bay for the Opening Game of this year’s NFL season.  Yea- the FIRST GAME.  I don’t think I can overstate how important this game was to me.  Not just the game at that, but the whole experience.  I took off work four hours early to make the trip and I spent most of that time trying to get a hold of Marty to tell him we should have left earlier.  I should probably have taken the whole day off, but I was concerned about using this glorious thing they call PTO too quickly.  We took off about noon, rolled into town about 430 and soon stopped at a parking spot at a local Catholic church (who do you think I am?) and only spent about a half hour trying to navigate through from the Maroon 5 concert to where my grampa was tailgating.
            But in between we played this game which apparently his GF and her friend invented.  It started out being called My Cows among them, but soon added My Horses and My Hay Bales.  So when you see any of these things outside the car (duh!), you just yell My Whatever It Is before the other person or people, then you count up as many as you can see.  That’s how many of those you get.  The idea seems to be to get more of those things than your competition.  I don’t know- competition is not really my cup of tea.  But you do get you Kill those things of the other guy if you see certain objects, for example- a Moving Tractor; Kill your Hay Bales.  But not being very competitive, I don’t quite remember all the details.
            (If you haven’t caught on by now, of course I’m competitive, I was just losing by a ton, so I decided to change the game.  Remember that game I called the alphabet game?  Well maybe I can fix up a hyperlink to said blog post right here, fourth one down.  But if not, I’ll explain a little as a contingency  plan, or just for you guys who don’t care enough to click back.  It involves finding the next letter in the alphabet somewhere outside the car.  The rules the two of us hashed out are that if you call out the letter sometime before you clearly look at something else, it counts as the end of you turn, otherwise you have to keep going, even if you know you missed one.  I have an even more extreme version of said game ready, where you not only time how long it takes each person to find all their letters [cumulatively, like chess], and then, get this, divide each time by the amount of points that letter is in scrabble. X would be money.
Anyway, we played that game for a while, too.  Pretty sure I won.)
            But now that I think of it, there was another competition we were there to see, too.  It involved the Green and Gold, and having had our fill of cheese concoctions, the two of us got to the seats about a half hour early.  My seats.  Well, our seats.  My immediate family’s, that is.
            Listening to a podcast recently, someone brought up the solid point that for as huge a star as Aaron Rodgers is, he has a pretty lame nickname.  A-Rod?  That was someone else’s first.  And yet I have a better idea.  It might sound cheesy (npi, [that’s No Pun Intended; I think it will stick]), but it might be perfect, too.  The Champ.  Or maybe just Champ, referring to the championship belt gesture, and how he actually is a World Champion.  It’s something they would call a heavyweight boxer, say.
            The game lived up to all the hype.  I was hoarse for the next four days, as I have a policy of making sure I Do Not Stop Screaming when it’s the other guys’ third or fourth down situation.  Somehow we pulled out this one without having a very high success rate in this department.  There was a TO or two and Randall Cobb ran one all the way back- I’ll admit I thought he was down, turned to finish paying for my beer, but then he was still running!  I think he’s already made it into Mah list of Boyz, or Mah Boyz.  As in “Randall Cobb, You’re Ma Boi!”  But not everyone can be my boy of course, so allow me to clarify the hierarchy: There can be no more than Seven guys who are Ma Boi (the singular form, of course) at any one time.  And if they get too famous (Rodgers, Matthews), they really can’t be Ma Boi because they probably won’t have the time for me.
Mah Boyz (in ascending order): Cobb; Jermichael Finley (gonna be huge, I know, but I knew he was gonna be good from when I first started watching him, plus I’m probably the only person who calls him Jer; C-Wood (Charles Woodson, second of the TD returning Heisman Trophy winning Wolverines who helped us win a Super Bowl); Mason Crosby (just a dude, and he’s scored me big fantasy points every year); Jordy Nelson (um, did you watch the Super Bowl? Prolly one of the best white wideouts in the game); Tim Mastay (most under-rated punter in the game- won us the NFC Championship); Tramon Williams (just an absolute game breaker).
            You might be wondering why I have a punter in my top two.  All I can say is that Mastay does it with what is still one of the worst kick coverage teams in the game.  They have a knack for giving up big runs at really inopportune times.
            But it all ended up not costing us the entire game.  Raji (another Ma Boi candidate) and Matthews made sure of that.  But when that flag fell in the endzone on the penultimate play, I knew what University of Miami fans felt in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl when that official waited a whole five seconds to throw a Pass Interference flag after Miami thought they had it won.  In all honesty, he has to just pocket it at that point.  I was rooting for the Buckeyes, but that was really atrocious.  Now that I think of it, A.J. Hawk, who had it called on him, might have been on that team.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Yes, We Still Have Baseball

            I know I said I was going to talk about the Packers, and I am, but this might be one of the last opportunities I have to bring up inconsequential and arguable points about baseball, so I really think it’s a higher priority right now.  But speaking of the Packers, I have to credit them with allowing my Twins season to go down so smoothly.  At least, much more smoothly than it would have for my Vikings and Bears fan friends.  When you have the best team in one sport, it’s so much easier to deal with having the worst team in another sport.  And it would have been a much worse season for me, you better believe, if the Brewers had gone to the Series, too, so that doesn’t have nothing to do with it.  As I always said, however, this is what sports is about: Losing.  It’s losing that makes winning so much more rewarding, speaking from very recent experience.  Yeah Buck, I hear, You only went 13 years without a championship.  But I can back that up with three instances that made this worth it, in between those two trophy presentations:  4th and 26, Brett Throws a Pick (Part I), and the OT loss in Arizona. 
            Regardless, for a season in which the Twins weren’t good, there were still plenty of exciting moments- Thome’s 600th, Bert’s Hall of Fame stuff, the Franchise’s No-no, and about seven walk-off wins.  I really enjoyed all of them, and I’m pretty sure this was the most Twins games I’d gone to in a single year.  I even went to one on the South Side of Chicago, which itself was pretty exciting.  But regardless of how much all this stuff helps, I can usually still use more distractions.  The 30 for 30 movies at my new place helped, and I went to see Moneyball, which itself was pretty good.  The one scene I keep thinking about was Scott Hattieberg’s walk-off pinch hit homer for the 20th win in a row.  It reminded me of the homer from what I now only refer to as The Thome Game, and I’ve realized from those two events that a pinch-hit homer, especially of the walk-off variety, is probably the most dramatic, American event in sports.  It allows us to see one individual who’s given one chance to succeed against all odds, and does so in the most profound way possible.  Thome’s itself was from behind!
            But even without any of those in the playoffs, I found myself enjoying them.  It’s always fun when the Yankees go down, and though I was rooting for the Phillies momentarily, it’s been cool to see zero teams from the coast make it to a LCS.  Even if TBS is still getting its feet wet.
            So many questions surround the broadcasts in general- Why does Joe Buck enjoy the phrase “At the wall, this game is tied!” so much?  Are Craig Sager’s suits too distracting?  What is up with TBS’s montages for each team in the playoffs?  And why did Fox get rid of their old baseball theme? I’m not here to offer any opinions on the subject, but the fact that these questions are there is not a good sign.  Although I will tell you that the baseball theme, which can still be heard on FSN broadcasts, was inarguably one of the three best themes for a sports broadcast.  (Besides the original Fox football theme [on my iPod], there is the baseball one and the NBA on NBC theme.  And throw in the CBS NCAA tournament theme for good measure.) 
            To offer my two cents, though, I think America should be rooting against the Cards and for the Rangers.  Texas has had an underrated amount of sports agony recently.  The Mavs won the NBA championship, but now are locked out; the ‘Boys have been horrendous in the playoffs recently; and the Rangers themselves got whooped in the last Series.  Meanwhile, St. Louis sucks.  Did you hear me, Jeff?  Yea, I said it- quit trying be the Gateway to the West.  That’s our job- most of western North America is in Canada, and we’re closer to that.  And the Cards just won in ’06.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Bold Return of My (Hopefully) Regular Posts

             Nobody wants to hang out with that guy who only talks about his fantasy football team.  But it is something to talk about, and if you are consuming this set of words, it is most likely in the written form, so I’m not actually talking to you.  Since this is going to be about fantasy football in some high-level capacity, I’m still probably going to be talking about my particular teams some, but still as little as possible and only as a reference.  As I write this, too, I haven’t even written out a rough outline, so I can’t guarantee that there will even be any examples needed.  The particular reason I have decided to come back to the game (this blog, not fantasy football) is because there are just so many bad decision I’ve made from this past summer, and from the two months before, that I thought it was about time I did something with them again.  Work is starting to settle into a pleasant monotony again, and I have very little to distract myself from it than thinking through various topics when I’m on my coffee buzz (which generally extends from 9-11a, then a redux around 2 if it’s an especially long day).
            One of those poor decisions I’ve made has been to join just way too many fantasy leagues.  I have to defend myself by saying that most of them were necessary, as they were either work leagues or leagues I’d done in the past.  But it nonetheless puts me in that special category of Freak, which I often dread/pine for.  Five fantasy leagues means that I have a stake in almost literally every game on TV, which is frustrating and exciting at the same time.  I’ve really learned how to root for the right things to happen for my team, as in you will always root for an offensive player to score against your defense.  But to calm myself, I’ve learned to focus on two to three games each week other than the game my Packers are playing in.
            And the question inevitably comes up about what if you actually have to choose between your fantasy team and your reality team.  This is first of all rarely the case that it could literally come down to that.  Of course I would say Packers come first, but if you were to break my joy down in a pie chart for each weekend of football, it would be something like 55% the outcome of the Packers game, 45% my fantasy teams.  Maybe even a greater percentage for fantasy.   Don’t judge me- I have FIVE TEAMS.  So I’m bound to be more than fifty percent happy each week the Pack wins, just ‘cuz it will be so rare that I lose every fantasy match-up.
            Taking part in all these leagues, of course, really helps in doing scouting for what/whom I would want whenever I start my own league.  Such as what I did in one of my leagues this year.  I became commish.  Probably the greatest position of power I’ve taken since I became Treasurer in a club at college my senior year.  The moves I made as commissioner were both tepid and bold.  One of the bolder ones was to punish missed extra points (-5 points).  Another was giving bonuses to forty yard plays (+5, I believe).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The New Conversions

As big a fan as I am of sports in general, it’s frustrating to go between sports and never know how to compare what one of your teams has done to what another has done.  This conversion chart is something I have been mulling over for quite some time, as I have been dwelling on certain sports so much recently.  One, football, in which my team has just achieved the ultimate goal, and the other, baseball, in which my team has a lot to look forward to this upcoming season.  But I’ve mixed in a couple other sports as well.
Pick Sixes are the most exciting play in football, without a doubt.  If you have a team that is a threat to convert them, it gives you a game-changing play in your back pocket, and if you have a quarterback prone to throwing them (paging Brett Favre), your team is in constant danger of losing any momentum it grabs.  But is there an equivalent in baseball.  Possibly, as I’ve come to theorize.  There might be different levels of momentum changing (of creating) the equivalent of a pick-six in baseball.  At the very basic level one could argue that leaving runners in scoring position, one or no runs having scored, then scoring two or more the next inning would be an equivalent.  To really get the full effect, though, I would have to add the requirements that the pitcher worked out of a two-on-less-than-two-out jam, then the runs score the next inning on a home run.  In other words, Jim Thome ended the Sox game last season with the equivalent.
If we extend this metaphor to punt returns, too, does that make Thome the baseball equivalent of DeSean Jackson?
            Moving on to what I like to call Association Football, in my somewhat superficial exposure to it, I’ve come up with another comparison between it and normal American sports.  Goals (soccer) equal Games (baseball). Bringing this thought up with a friend of mine at work who is a huge soccer nut, he agreed, in that Premier league teams tend to reach a comparable amount of goals as MLB teams do games won.  I think it’s appropriate for several reasons:  A soccer game has similar frequency to series in baseball, and similar results, “scoring”-wise.  Soccer fans probably also go about as nuts for each goal as a ballpark goes when their team wins one game.  And the goals in soccer generally mean about as much in the standings, because even if you haven’t won a lot, you could also draw (giving you a point in the standings), and the first tiebreaker is goal differential.
            “Traffic Light” (FOX) equals “Better With You” (ABC) equals “Perfect Couples” (NBC) equals “Rules of Engagement” (CBS).  What do all of these programs have in common?  They all follow the unabashedly unoriginal theme of following three different couples at three different stages of their relationship (unless you consider that David Spade’s character on RoE is never in a steady relationship.  Also, they just added an Indian guy- it’s fun).  But these three comedies might be proving that TV really is running out of ideas.  All but “Perfect Couples” have a good chance of staying, if only because Traffic Light and RoE are now slotted behind really successful comedies, the former Raising Hope, the latter Big Bang Theory.  But in the spirit of un-originality, this idea was actually gleaned from the Onion AV Club’s “The Hater”.
            “Sunday Afternoons” equal “Never Saw This Coming.”  What I mean by that is, I’m pretty sure the universe is conspiring to get me to watch NASCAR on Sunday Afternoons for the foreseeable future.  We’re not getting cable soon in this house, so apparently, thanks to the new FSN agreement, we won’t be able to watch baseball on the tube at all this summer, Sundays being our last bastion of hope.  Football and Basketball are both going to get locked out soon, either of which I would have taken in the past.  And is Hockey even on TV anymore?  (To their credit, I have enjoyed the Mid-Winter Classics.)  The funny thing is though, for a guy who up until recently didn’t even want to consider Auto-racing a sport, I’m really enjoying it.  I watched most of Daytona, and even turned on some of the Cobalt Tools 400.  (The fact that I remember even the name of that race is the scary part.)  But the 500 was epic and I’ve come to the conclusion that more technology can only help their broadcast.  I’m also not sure if my having a car makes me more excited for the sport, or vice versa.  Just don’t tell my parents.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Small Pleasures in the Digital Age

The more technology grows, the further we become disconnected from people- or so conventional wisdom grows.  But I think if that’s the case, it’s only because we’re not using the technology the right way.  In many ways, we can cut ourselves off from other people by becoming more adept at sharing our thoughts and opinions to a much wider array of people.  Look at the guy who tweeted Shit My Dad Says.  His account (and the book he eventually wrote) became a crappy TV show on CBS. 
But I do think tweeting is the way of the future. And while it seems like Not Social Networking is the new Social Networking, there are so many simple joys it can provide us. Ignoring people who aren’t really your friends on Facebook, for example.  But as far as the more active uses for these products of the Web 2.0, one of my favorites is definitely watching a big sporting event while on Twitter.  In fact, any event whatsoever provides endless enjoyment from a variety of personalities who will criticize or lampoon anything or everything.  It's really like you're there watching a game with all your friends, wherever they are.  And some of your friends are celebrities.  At times it has even clarified situations at times for me.  The Oscars, for example, gave me the FunnyOrDie people’s tweet that “every time Anne Hathaway references an at-home drinking game, you have to drink all the alcohol in your house.”
Probably the best way to keep up with this coming wave is to get an iPad.  An iPhone, like I have, would work quite well for those who do this frequently.  It’s less cumbersome than an laptop, but also looks less toolish than an iPhone.  It will probably make you squint less, too. As for playing games, though, I would have to recommend the smaller device.  Speaking of which, you know what a fantastic game-playing device is that’s going to be forgotten soon?  That’s right- the deck of cards.
I’ve been noted as a very slow shuffler- but the important thing is that I can shuffle.  I can also confidently start a game of cards.  For me, that game is usually Presidents and Assholes.  I have been playing this game since before I knew it was also a drinking game, and I honestly have played almost every version of it in the five state area.  Six states, if you include Illinois.  The idea is to get rid of your cards first, whereby you become President, but I hope most of you knew that.  In some places you can lay doubles on singles and so forth, in others you can just give away your twos if they’re your last cards.  But the rule I insist on playing with now, that’s revolutionized the game for me is Socials.  You ought to be able to complete the set of four (if you can) whenever you can.  And…drink.
But what’s become so under-rated in the digital age, I’ve found, is going out to things.  You never really know what you can find when you look around.  This past fall there was a Labor Day bluegrass festival down at Minnehaha Park, which was really enjoyable- highly recommend the band Sawtooth!  But even just getting out instead of watching from screens will put you in a better mood.  If you can say I Was There (or tweet it, or Facebook it), you were really part of that thing happening.  You can even go on ESPN Passport and tell the world you part of it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What a Game!

If there has been one constant in my argument about why I don’t care that the football team I root for is from out of state, it’s that football is not my favorite sport; baseball is.  (Other arguments for me not caring include: Football is only played on weekends, and if I had to, I could go over to Green Bay for every home game, excluding those games in the Gold Package, ‘cause we can’t get tickets to those, stupid Milwaukeeans. And that I have maintained a vehement dislike for the rest of the state, not Green Bay.)  For those of you, then, who argue that I cannot be a Packers fan and a Twins fan, the biggest flaw in that argument is that I was a Twins fan even before I was a Packers fan.  Question that loyalty if you must, but the Twins were my first team.
But baseball just makes more sense to me as a game than most other sports.  Of all the major sports in this country, it’s the only one in which A) both teams are not entirely on the field at the same time, and B) game play isn’t primarily back and forth across one playing surface.  It’s also the only sport in which there is no game clock, because the game isn’t over until the last out has been recorded.  I have rarely ever been convinced to leave a baseball game early, which is to say, I’m not sure I have left a ball game early since before I even understood what was going on in the game.
What strikes me as the difference between baseball and a sport like football is how for me the latter makes you feel as if you can practically will your team to victory by screaming harder at them.  The guys who are bigger and stronger will usually win, because in large part it’s a game of brute force.  And the fans become part of that force.  But just as baseball is a thinking man’s game, I find that the teams with the smarter crowds are often those who win.  And no doubt, Minnesota fans are very smart.  (Not like those stupid Johnny-come-lately’s in Anaheim.)  Baseball fans want to be able to out-think their opponents fans, because there’s so much that’s a part of the game which wouldn’t seem inherent to just watching the given men in that position on that surface.  “So that guy standing over there wants to run in a circle before the other team can do what?  Tag him with the white thing?  And why does that guy in the middle keep throwing?”
And so if they can out-think their opponents fans, so can their team.  This feeds directly in to why it’s such a superstitious sport.  In 162 games, a lot can happen.  And there are so many individual acts that can go so differently with such minute differences.  Didn’t one of the Rangers relief pitchers throw eleven balls in a row at one point during the World Series?  And the same can be said for a batter in a slump.  It’s almost never a matter of just willing yourself to win.  More than just about any other sport, it’s about concentration.
My biggest pet peeve in athletics as a whole, is a lack of concentration, both in others and in myself.  When I’m playing disc and I make a poor decision on a throw, I dislike that way more than if I simply cannot jump high enough or run fast enough to keep up with the player I’m defending.  Since baseball, then, takes more concentration than any other sport, that’s why I see it as the hardest to win at.  You have to better your opponent in so many different things, over such a long stretch of time, without losing your edge.  A division championship is hard enough to get.  Playoffs are even more ridiculous.  But the Twins just signed Jim Thome to another contract, about 1 mil per year.  This guy is an old-fashioned ball player, and someone you want on your team.  He’s only paid to do one thing: hit the ball and hit it far.  But if he can do that as well as anyone, we’ve gained a big advantage.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Here We Are

In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, I have found myself gleaning from the leftovers: Minestrone Soup, my Aunt’s Guacamole, Banana Cake.  Bliss.
I had some conversations, though, which will stick out, simply because of what they say about how Americans view sports.  The first one came mostly from one of my friends, who seemed to be trying to convince me that I shouldn’t be a Packer fan. For as long as I’ve known him, I have never professed to be anything other than a Packer-backer.  But being from the same state as me, it can be tough to watch your friend’s team have much more success than your team.  Believe me, I went through it last year.  I will definitely go through it again, if the Vikings ever make a Super Bowl.
And I do feel bad for you guys.  The Twins have not won since ’91, which makes the Dome champion-less since that year, unless you count the Final Four in ’01.
The other conversation, however, I might have to agree with to some extent.  This friend, who is a large Association Football fan, was pointing out that playoffs are a bad format, because it doesn’t reveal who the best team over the course of an entire season is.  In the Premier League, he points out, every team plays every other team twice, and at the end the team in first is definitely better than all the other teams.  There is a certain amount of logic to that.  But in football that’s unrealistic.  They can’t play every other team twice, because that’s too many games.  The way I see it is this:  The teams that do the best in the first season get to play in the second season, then the team that does best in the second season wins.  The Packers were beyond a doubt the best team in the second season.  They went Four and Oh, while not playing any games at home.
Admittedly, there are a lot of ways they could have not even been to the second season, but all of these are based on rules that the football establishment have agreed upon, and most view it as a fair system.  I can only say that I will probably enjoy the next playoffs and Super Bowl that the Pack is not a part of a lot more while they’re happening.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
But I have to make some admissions for my history of getting really involved in championships where I don’t have a clear stake.  The 1996 World Series: Sorry, Braves, that I rooted against you.  What made me think it was a good idea to root for a team from a big market that had already won the most championships in Sports and was primed to establish a new dynasty and you really weren’t?  I should have pulled for you guys as really the only team in the South as a conservative, battling against the liberal capital of the world.  Same to you, 2001 St. Louis Rams…  Were you really that dominant that you had to lose to the Patriots for everyone to feel good?  It’s not like I didn’t root for the Broncos in ’98, the year after they beat my Packers. (I have no comment on the rumor that I jumped ship to the Vikings that season.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Playlists: My Art Form

Whenever I go on a road trip any more, I usually try to make a playlist.  The playlist is my favorite medium to work in, I think, because it is all about arranging and compiling, which I feel is my calling in life to do, possibly as an editor.  The playlists themselves are often themed, such as the one I made about the Suburbs, or the one I made to try to capture Alternative music. (Then I realized that all music these days is alternative to someone.)  Admittedly, many of the playlists I make just end up being vehicles for the most recent song I bought from iTunes to be transferred to a CD.
But I fear that I have limited myself too much with such an old-fashioned type of media.  The practical reason is for whenever I might be in a car with only a CD player and no way to plug in my iPod, or anywhere else I know I’m going that only has a CD player.  Sometimes I would rather just listen to one CD rather than plug in my iPod, which might just keep playing forever.  CDs, however, are only 80 minutes, and I have debated with other playlist-making friends of mine whether or not it’s worth it to try to fill up the whole disc.  I usually do, but as Tom K points out, you usually get sick of the playlist after about forty-five minutes.
            To counter-act this inevitability, I have tried a couple different approaches.  The first method I used recently was to actually make a playlist that was about forty-five.  This one was good, but the next one I made couldn’t be pared down that far.  So I essentially have three “bonus tracks”.  It has a main section with the thirteen or so songs I think best encompass the spirit of the thing, and then three songs which are not essential listening to get the message of the playlist.  But I can, of course listen to them if I’m still feeling strongly about them. 
I already have “power positions” lined up when I make any playlist.  Spots number five and number twelve or thirteen (depending on the length of the set) are reserved for songs that I like and are probably in the top three on the CD.  Number one should be pretty good, but not too good, as it might overshadow the rest of the album.  Sometimes I’ve even split them in half so I have to have a pretty good song at about nine or ten, where I might be able to continue it, if I’m not able to get through it all in one car trip.  Other times I’ll have an intro song to the first song, and the second song is then the real first song.  And lately, more often than not, the longest song has to be at the end.  And it usually has to be a classic rock song.  Don’t ask me- that’s just how it’s always been done.
But nonetheless, these are all part of my current, very strict interpretation of a playlist, as it pertains to CD compatibility.  I’ve had to train myself recently to think outside the box, especially when it comes to playlists that are never going to leave my iPod.  Recently I put together  a Christmas playlist, which was about twenty songs, and I didn’t care which order they were played in.  They were all good, so none deserved any better or worse spots.  With making larger playlists, though, I would start to feel cramped and not free to use any songs more than once on playlists, several of which I may feel a song is suitable for. (Even with my CD-length PLs, I probably have “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds on about five of them.)  I think I could deal with a playlist as long as thirty songs and as few as eight to ten.  As long as I got to control the volume in the car.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Killing My Brain Cells

Do I watch way too much TV?  Absolutely not.  Do I spend way too much time thinking about watching TV?  Maybe.  But I’ve tried to compartmentalize my watching and thinking about it to the point where I’m only thinking about things like my blog, and what I can write about TV on it at work, and doing the actual watching of TV at home, while not thinking about writing about it.
I’ve also tried to compartmentalize what channels I watch and when.  NBC: Thursdays and Mondays.  Fox: Sometimes Tuesdays for “Raising Hope”, but mostly I can catch their shows on Hulu.  ABC: Also Monday night because that’s when “Castle” is on, but overall not quite as much since “Lost” finished and I realized I’m a dude and stopped watching “Desperate Housewives.” CBS: Sometimes on Monday night when I watch “How I Met Your Mother”, but I try not to admit in public that I watch that network.  And anything else I need to watch can mostly be found on Hulu or Netflix instant streaming.
I’ve been trying to be more selective lately about what it is I watch and why.  First reason: hot chicks.  Then there come the other things about plot, theme, and dialogue- all those things I went and got that liberal arts education for.  But I want to spell out exactly what it is I’m watching for and why.
Concept is the first thing that grabs me about a show.  If I like the concept, I’m going to tune in.  Heck, Heroes kept me interested for three seasons with its concept plus Hayden Pennetierre.  A show can survive with a really good concept, even if it has little else.  I was grabbed by the concept of a show like “Firefly”, because the concepts of a Western and a Space Adventure are each so good that there’s no way they can go wrong when put together.  Fortunately it also had a little sex, some good dialogue and interesting relationships.
Dialogue is the next thing that grabs me in a show.  If it feels forced, there’s no way anyone can be expected to stick around.  This new show “The Cape” has dialogue that is just good enough to keep me interested, but the only actor who’s very good is Summer Glau, and so its writers are having to work double-time to make everyone else look good.  “Dollhouse”, another cancelled Fox show from the mind of Joss Whedon, is on Netflix (both seasons), and it is staying in my instant queue because of the good dialogue, which is feeding the plot, despite having relationships that feel forced.
Plot itself is a very secondary thing I look for in TV shows, especially in the half-hour variety, because what is more important are the relationships.  A really old show called “Gunsmoke” probably had the best relationship in a show ever, that of Sheriff Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty.  Are they a couple? No one knows, but the implications are there, and they were able to go over twenty seasons, in large part fueled by those two.  But more and more people are digging the bro-love dynamic, as seen on shows like Scrubs, or currently in “Cougartown”.  (Oh yea, Wednesdays on ABC- another night I might be watching that network.)
When I roomed with my buddy Ry Ry at college, we would often get movies from the library, with me deferring to his discretion as to what we should watch.  (The guy owned 300ish movies.)  But he nevertheless asked what I was looking for.  I said three things: Plot, Comedy and Boobs.  Those things are great for movies, but TV shows need a little something else.  Usually that something else is a little Sexual Tension.
Finally, I have to commend NBC for sticking so much comedy on Thursday.  At least three of those six shows have reasonable followings, and two could survive on the coattails of another.  But you can’t keep it up.  At some point The Office is just going to go away and 30Rock is going to take the 9/8c time slot, right?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Just Enjoy It

My sports following growing up has admittedly been affected by the sports beloved of the place I grew up.  I was, for example, raised on the Twins and Kirby because they were coming to the height of their powers at that time.  The games were on ‘CCO until about 1995, so in following them, I was really affected by how much I could see them on TV.  But I could always watch football on TV, so that became the sport I watched most from about 1995 until the year 2000.  And yet I still went to way more baseball games, because they were actually affordable.  With this long history of religiously following at least a couple sports teams from my area, I have come to several conclusions that can be made about all following all kinds of sports.  And so I offer my Guide to Following Your Favorite Team.
Have a Connection to The Team: When it comes to picking a favorite team, you need some regional or familial connection to the team you’ve chosen.  I would argue that the opportunity for you to see one home game every year has to be there in order to justify choosing a team outside the closest major metro area. That, or something else from your childhood, such as hearing them on the radio, or a beloved family member who rooted for them.  I recently ran into some dude who claimed he was a New England Patriots fan because he liked Tom Brady.  The problem is, Nobody Likes Tom Brady (outside of New England).  Don’t be that guy- the Bandwagon Jumper.  If you have to be a bandwagon jumper, the only acceptable way is if it’s a team from your area (that assumedly just became good), and you don’t already have a favorite team in that sport.
Know when to Cheer or Jeer: Each sport has a pattern of when to get excited, or nervous or start booing.  I would recommend never booing, as long as the players on your team appear to be trying their best.  If it’s the other team, of course, it’s all fair game.  But various environments get more amped at different moments.  There’s very little more fun, as I’ve recently found out, than sitting in the student section at a D1 college basketball game.  While the sport is usually so drawn out that the crowd can’t get that intense, college has few enough games that the kids get psyched for every game.  Especially every free throw, opposing, or the home team.  But you have to earn sitting in the good seats- I’m talking to you, People In Front of Us at the Gophers Game who Seemed to Think it was Just a Social Event- otherwise you’re just ruining it for those who are really in to it.
Get the Appropriate Team Apparel: I’ve recently noticed that every sport has its own signature apparel. For baseball, the caps.  Association football has scarves.  In basketball and hockey, it might be the jerseys, although hockey also has those knit hats that all hockey fans love, too.  And for American football, the signature piece of apparel appears to be unique for each team.  For my Packers, anything in the shape of a yellow cheese wedge made of foam.  The Vikings have the Olga helmets.  And there’s also just being nuts like Raiders fans.
Avoid Stressing Out: I’ve been preaching to people recently that the reason you watch sports and follow a favorite team is for the agony they bring you (see a previous blog of mine, titled “Sports Agony”).  The more agony one accrues, the greater the payoff when you win it all.  That’s part of why I hope the Vikings never win it all, because I could never feel the same joy they would.  But in each sport, there’s such a build-up to the end of the game that you have to treat each one differently when cheering for it.  There’s no reason to scream at each batter in every inning of every baseball game: It’s a long game, a long season, and ballplayers fail more than they succeed.  In hockey or association football, you kind of just keep cheering for your team to do well, until something finally goes their way.  In American football, though, it seems like you can actually influence the outcome by screaming more or less at the TV.  It also helps to have something to throw.  But for all sports, there seems to be a point when you can relax.  In baseball, when the tying runs aren’t on base or at the plate.  In hockey or football, it’s when you’re up or down by more than one score.  It relieves the possibility of a quick shift of paradigm in the game.  Or just being behind in a game.  I think we can all agree- that’s definitely the easiest.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Future of Music

There is no such thing as country music.  Thinking about that today when I was listening to my Pandora Contemporary Folk Radio.  Contemporary Folk was the genre, and I was listening to Pandora.  Folk encompasses a lot, but a good portion of it just seems to be Country songs that were less successful.  What offends me about that a little is that I don’t consider myself a fan of country.  I like songs that are folksy, but mostly rock (in verb form here).
There must be such thing as country singers, though, right?  I would have to agree, but that being said, none of them sing country music.  Sure there are Country stations, too.  But now that I’ve thought about what it was that bugs me about country music, it’s that it really has no identity as a genre.  Pop music, admittedly, does not even seem to have one identity, either, but it is what it is because it’s what’s the most popular: hence the name.  Country singers can be from any number of different genres, (but mostly rock or pop, I would say) except that they have a Southern accent and wear cowboy hats.  And blue jeans with holes. Obviously what they sing about follows the type of people they are.
In fact the only things that separate from Rascal Flatts from Kings of Leon are the beards and the attitudes.  I saw a billboard of them recently, and they don’t even wear cowboy hats.  So they are a rock group that sings specifically to white people from the South and the rural Midwest.  Think: SEC Country plus Big XII Country.  Which apparently no longer includes Nebraska.  It’s a good thing Taylor Swift got out of this genre while she could.  Now she does what my sister calls Weird Pop.  Basically, she just got herself a better marketing team.  Props.
And it’s not just Country that I have a problem with either. There just doesn’t seem to be anything called Rock anymore.  It’s all alternative.  All of it.  Anyone who plays anything that you could consider, in past days, Rock and Roll, is now alt rock.  With Lowercases.  My problem with this is the phraseology makes it sound more fringe than it actually is.  The Foo Fighters will call themselves Alt Rock, but they are very much mainstream.  Genres in and of themselves are just over-rated.  You shouldn’t have to proclaim what genre you are in order to have your fans like you.  It not only puts the artists into a box, but same for the people themselves.  I remember when I first heard about people calling themselves Emo as a characteristic.  That’s the genre of their life.  Of course, when your life has a genre, you have to be true to that genre.  Like if you’re Country. 
My boy Mason Jennings has released about eight albums, and I think five different genres appear next to those on iTunes.  That’s because he doesn’t have a genre and neither do I.  Basically, I go on Pandora and type in the artist I like and then they give me a bunch of songs I would probably like.  Pandora is going to save the world from the restrictions of genres.  I know, you can choose by genre, too, but each one is broken down so thoroughly that you can pick the one or two you like and then Quick-mix them.  Or you just choose a band that is so unique that pretty much the only songs Pandora can find which are like them are songs by them.  The band? Carbon Leaf.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let's Get the Ending Right

When I said that there is nothing wrong with Football in a previous blog-post, I may have been exaggerating just a little bit.  There seem to be a couple things wrong, at least so far as we can see, going in to the postseason.
One of them may not be, in this reporter’s opinion, the Seahawks making the playoffs at below .500.  If the NFL maintains that six out of the sixteen games played every year are going to be played among your 1/8 of the league, then those games should really count.  My point is that Seattle really did make them count.  Every sport rewards the division winners, too.  Baseball only has one wild card in each league.  And the NBA has started to say that the other division winner in a conference cannot be any lower than the three-seed.  There has got to be some reward for winning within the configuration you’ve been set up in.  Even in my favorite sport to play, Ultimate, the tournaments have play set up so that the winner in each “pool” automatically advances to the next round.  (Well, usually.)  So that makes the football season like one long tournament, in a sense.  I don’t feel sorry for the Giants, a 10-6 team who didn’t make the playoffs, either.  If they had won any of the games in weeks 14-16, they would be in.  (And we all know they should have beaten the Eagles in week 15.)  Any of the teams that have a better record than the Seahawks would have made the playoffs if they’d played better within the division. (Except the Raiders, apparently, who forgot there was any football to be played outside it.)  But none of these are the real problem with the playoffs.  The problem is people failing to recognize this reasoning. If there’s going to be regional alignment, teams are always going to play down to or up to the teams they play most often.
Having covered the topic of people’s perceptions of the playoffs, let’s now find one that needed fixing and actually got it.  I’m referring of course to the overtime situation.  Personally, I couldn’t have been more psyched up when I heard about the new overtime rules in the postseason.  Despite my dislike of the Vikings, it did seem disappointing to me that Favre couldn’t have had one more opportunity to throw an inter- I mean, game-winning touchdown to send the Vikings to the Super Bowl.  (Where they would have inevitably choked.)  But to be fair, I think that the NFL should consider putting this rule in for the whole season.  For those living under a football-shaped rock for the last year, the new rules are as follows.  A first-possession field goal cannot win the game.  Any touchdown automatically wins the game.  The combinations in the decisions this could lead to are intriguing.  Many of the coaches were opposed to these new rules, because it would force them to consider a whole new set of strategies.  I think their thinking is flawed for a couple reasons.  The situation these rules set up aren’t that different to a second-to-last possession in a tied game at the end of regulation. Secondly, new rules are always going to be tough to adjust to, as were the ones in the past (the forward pass, maybe?).  But they will deal with it, and the next generation of coaches will just grow up with it.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I feel as though the NFL is going to be wreaking havoc in ways unbeknownst to them, due to some unfortunate scheduling.  As of the last few years, it has begun to schedule the Super Bowl in February.  As long as the Super Bowl hasn’t been played yet, many are still on their holiday season clocks as far as school, church, food, sleep and the rest, and quite honestly, than it itself would be enough to wear people out.  The problem I’ve come upon is that, due to some fans’ fanaticism, many are bound to make crucial life decisions after their team has won the Super Bowl.  But a wise teacher of mine from high school, Mr. Tom Cody, once taught me that you should never make any major life decisions during this month.  There is some very sound reasoning for this.  You are smack dab in the middle of winter, school or work or whatever it is are probably dragging along by now, your emotions are all mixed up because of this and you’re probably coming down from the high of the holiday season.  So I don’t know if you’ll be able to measure it quantitatively, but I would guess that there might be an uptick in poor life decisions after this year’s big game.  But I suppose that happens every year.
Enjoy the rest of your holiday (read: Super Bowl and NFL playoffs) season.