29 June 2006

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

On June 10, the Twins were 27-34, 10 games behind Chicago and 11.5 games behind Detroit. Today they are 9 games behind Chicago and 11 games behind Detroit. Oh, and their current record is 42-35. They've won 15 of their last 16 games and have gained no more than one game on both the teams in front of them.

Now is a great time to be a Twins fan: Joe Mauer is hitting nearly .400; Johan Santana gives up 2 hits and strikes out 9 in 7 innings; they've figured out how to "run Santana through the Xerox machine and throw him out there twice every time through the rotation" (according to bat-girl); Justin Morneau might actually hit 30 homeruns and thus become the first Twin since 1987 to do so. We might even have the best third-place team in history.

28 June 2006

Noah, I think you'll need to narrow it down a bit.
Guess who I passed on the sidewalk near Embarcadero wedensday? Hint, she didn't aknowledge my existence :-)

23 June 2006

Why am I unreasonably obsessed with tiebreaker rules? I look at the scoreboard for the WC right now (SUI up 1-0 over KOR and FRA up 2-0 over TOG) and the first thing I think is that "If Korea can tie it up then FRA and SUI would have to go to drawing lots for first in the group!" For some reason this prospect excites me to no end.

Speaking of things that I find unreasonably exciting, Wednesday Malia and I saw the trailer for Scoop. We could hardly contain ourselves.

We saw that trailer before A Prarie Home Companion at the theater near Torrey's. It was a somewhat odd theater in that half of the chairs (those to the right of the aisle) were not perpendicular to the screen. On the other hand, the seats to the left of the aisle had the advantage that many of them were in great locations, which is rare for a middle aisle setup.

As for A Prarie Home Companion, it was fun but nothing special. Lots of good actors putting in good performances. The noir parody bits were hysterical though. Lindsay Lohan really can't sing. Oh, and it was nice to finally see a film this year that passed the Mo Movie Measure. (The other films I'd seen this year: Brick, Inside Man, and X3 all failed miserably.)
Since I'm writing a novel about India, I figured that it was time to take a look at Midnight's Children, which is what I'm currently reading. Whenever I think about Salman Rushdie, however, I'm also compelled to remember The Greatest Moment of My Life, in which Rushdie played a memorable part. It's been more than four years since my Greatest Moment, and I was curious to see whether it had been recorded for posterity. A quick online search reveals that the newspapers reported it here, here, and here. The version in the Harvard Gazette is the most accurate:
Three of the 21st century's foremost writers of English gathered at Harvard March 8 to read from their works. Sponsored by the Harvard Advocate, America's oldest college literary magazine, the event featured poet John Ashbery '49, and prose writers Jamaica Kincaid and Salman Rushdie. [A short question-and-answer period followed.]

For the final question, a young man asked, "Is it possible to be an artist and also be happy?"

Ashbery paused reflectively, then said: "I don't know yet." Kincaid responded archly: "Maybe the question ought to be, is it possible to be happy and be anything else." Rushdie declared simply: "I'm extremely happy."
The article fails to note that the young man's question was greeted with thunderous applause from the crowd. It also fails to mention that the young man was me. Well, fine. It was my only moment of glory at Harvard. I did learn a few things when researching it online, however. First, Natalie Portman was in the audience that night. Second, my question was apparently much more profound than even I had realized. Here's the Harvard Crimson's version of my question:
In the end, however, if the world created in the works of these three looming figures consists of estrangement, interminable searching and an everlasting desire to return home and understand one’s self and one’s society, how can the outsider—forced to confront these problems at every turn—be happy? In response to this question...
Yes, well, I guess that's what I meant to say.

20 June 2006

Having watched game 7 of the Stanley cup, I have to say that I can't stick up for hockey at all. Great to play, but really not much fun to watch.

Also you're right about the NBA finals, they were a travesty. Which is a shame, because most of the rest of the playoffs were really quite excellent.

I think my problem with Soccer refereeing is that in a sport like basketball, no matter how bad one call goes against you, you still could have won if you'd just stepped it up a little bit. Howard hits his free throws in game 5, or Nowitzki hits his one in game 3 and suddenly all the bad calls don't matter. In soccer, however, where most of the game doesn't matter at all, one bad call can demonstrably determine the outcome of the game.

Speaking of hockey and soccer and fouls though, why doesn't soccer borrow some sort of penalty system from hockey? If you get a yellow card your team is short handed for 10 minutes or something.
Once again, I have to disagree with Noah about soccer. I do think that there are too few goals, but the same is true of hockey. On the other hand, the sport is simple, beautiful, and the competition is intense. (I've also heard that soccer players are more attractive than other athletes. I know that's true of women's soccer, but I'm not qualified to judge the men's side).

On the referee front, I don't see, in general, referees in soccer having too great an influence on the sport, and certainly not having a greater influence than their counterparts in other sports. You can't say that the home plate umpire in baseball doesn't have an enormous influence over a baseball game; a lot of pitchers become unhittable just because umpires decide that they're painting the corners. In football, pass interference calls are absolutely deadly, and you could call pass interference on every play if you wanted to. In basketball, the referees in the NBA finals have decided that everyone who breathes on Dwayne Wade fouls him. That is the only reason Miami won game 5, when they abandoned all other offensive options besides the "let's get Wade the ball and see him get fouled" option.

Soccer referees do screw teams when flashing cards and when calling penalty kicks. I've seen a big decrease in penalty kicks this year, which pleases me. As for the yellow cards, I hope they lead to teams playing less physically, which is dangerous for the players and less fun to watch. The problem is, it works, and so players are going to grab and elbow and trip as long as it's worthwhile to do so. I might be in favor of loosening the accumulated card suspension rule, but in theory it's not a terrible idea.

I'm not so naive to think that there are no problems with the world cup referees; problems do occur. But I don't think those problems detract much from the attractiveness of the sport as a whole.

18 June 2006

Here's a particularly egregious example of the american press's annoying tendancy to give "balanced" reporting on things that aren't at all balanced.

Then Henry blamed the referees for not awarding his team another goal later in the first half on Patrick Vieira's header that TV replays appeared to show was over the goal line.

I know that sometimes even with instant replay there are still close things that are too close to call. This goal just wasn't one of those close calls.

Between the France/Korea travesty, and the Italy/U.S.A. game I have a few more complaints to add to my old rant on why soccer is not a great spectator sport. The referees have to much ability to swing the whole game, and the yellow card/red card system leads to too many suspensions. Zidane being forced to sit for his last game on the French team is not spectator friendly. (Of course, basketball is inching closer to this problem.)

It's a good week for sports though. NBA finals, NHL game seven, stunning golf collapse, and lots of world cup.

16 June 2006

The scary thing about Paul McCartney's sixty-fourth birthday is that it makes me realize that I'm older than the Beatles. Not literally, of course...but all the news reports have reminded me that when I'm listening to, say, "Hey Jude," I'm listening to a twenty-five-year-old.

15 June 2006

As Pauline Kael once said, "Movies are so rarely great that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." I'm at a point these days when I'd rather watch great trash than great art, at least when I'm renting movies on my own. It took me a long time to realize this. As a result, my Netflix subscription went unused for months. The Werner Herzog and David Lean DVDs piled up, unwatched, when all I really wanted to rent was, say, Star Trek VI. Luckily, I realized my mistake in time, and now I have a cheerful little Saturday matinee every evening.

I've already rhapsodized at length about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the greatest piece of dumb fun ever made) and The Mummy, so I'd like to spotlight a couple of other goofy masterpieces. First, Serenity. I finally caught this on DVD last week, and I was awfully pleased. Appealing cast, good story, dialogue that ranges from brilliant to incredibly annoying, and a hero who isn't afraid to shoot Greedo first—not to mention the funniest outtake reel I've ever seen. (I was going to quote the best outtake of them all, but several hundred Joss Whedon fans already beat me to it.)

Second, Anaconda. Wow. I love King Kong, but watching Anaconda makes me realize what King Kong was missing: Jon Voight. If we'd had Voight on Skull Island along with—or instead of—Jack Black, we'd have had the movie of decade. Some performances are special effects unto themselves (another that comes to mind is Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York), and Voight would have sent an electric charge through that beautiful but hardly dangerous epic. As it stands, we're left with the terrible beauty of Voight in Anaconda, especially his final scene, which I've already watched about five times. I'd better mail it back to Netflix, though, because I can't wait until they send me Congo.

14 June 2006

According to Wonkette, the White House hottie's name is Taylor Hughes, and she's Rove's executive assistant. (Funny, how often these roles go to unusually attractive women. I've noticed the same phenomenon on Wall Street.) If we're going to develop crushes on Republican aides, though, I'd nominate this lovely lady, who apparently plays a major role in determining Bush's policy in Iraq. Isn't power the ultimate aphrodisiac?

13 June 2006

After I actually read the article referenced in my previous post, I had more troubling thoughts. It appears as though Rove essentially got off because he was too good of a liar and they were never able to find good proof that he was lying. The prosecutors couldn't punch a big enough hole in his rather implausible argument that he never recalled contacting Matt Cooper (and hence when he initially told the grand jury that he never contacted Cooper, he wasn't lying).

At any rate, the White House shouldn't be able to say that this decision not to bring charges somehow vindicates Rove. His actions were questionable at best in e-mailing Cooper regarding Plame, and his argument that he had forgotten the e-mail indicates either perjury (see above) or incompetence. The fact that the special prosecutor didn't have enough evidence to convince a jury of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt doesn't mean he didn't act in a very slimy manner.
This NY Times article about Karl Rove evading criminal prosecution for his role in the Valerie Plame affair is troubling to me. In particular, the burning question in my mind is this:

Who is that woman walking beside him? She is WAY too happy considering she's escorting Karl Rove, and WAY too beautiful to be a run-of-the-mill White House stooge. I guess appearances can be deceiving.

08 June 2006

In a recent fit of procrastination, I decided to download all of the #1 singles from the Billboard Hot 100 from the past ten years, as a rough way of filling in the gaps in my knowledge of pop music. Listening to all of these songs, which takes about six hours, is an interesting experience. There's a lot of awful music here, but I was also reintroduced to great songs that I'd forgotten ("Ms. Jackson") and favorite songs that I never even knew had hit #1 ("Everything You Want"). A few random opinions:
Favorite Song That I Hadn't Heard Before: "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Destiny's Child. I'm not sure what I was doing on July 17, 1999, but apparently I wasn't listening to the radio.
Guilty Pleasure: "SOS (Rescue Me)" by Rihanna. Normally, I try not to indulge in songs that are little more than R&B vocals hitched to a shrewd sample, but if you're going to cannibalize something, it may as well be "Tainted Love."
Biggest Surprise: "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt, which charted this past March, is the first rock song in more than four years to hit the #1 position. Longer, if you refuse to recognize Nickelback.
Best #1 Single of the Past Ten Years: I was going to be boring and go with "Lose Yourself," but I was blindsided by a little number called "Crazy in Love," and I'm sticking with it.
Also, for what it's worth, I can never hear Savage Garden's "Truly, Madly, Deeply" without experiencing a disorienting flashback to my high school prom. I'll bet I'm not the only one.
Oh, and Tamara and Steve got married on Sunday! Torrey has some nice pictures of the wedding and other goings-on on her blog, including the last known photos of everyone here at Deadly Mantis. (In the shot of the happy couple, you can see the back of my head in the left foreground, complete with yarmulke.) Tamara was the perfect bride, Heather caught the bouquet, and we all drank lots of wine and played merciless charades. (My finest moment was when I was given the phrase "Leonhard Euler," and had no choice but to act out the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg. Dave, bless his heart, got it within ten seconds.)