Saturday, August 16, 2008
Before the Olympics became a commercial enterprise, before they added women and snow, before they even included throwing things and homoeroticism, they were a track meet involving exactly one event: a sprint. Though Wikipedia says that that race was closer to a 200M than a 100M, it was also run in a straight line. The origin of all Olympic sport, and its purest essence, was the simple question: Who can get from here to there faster?
In the 2794 years since that first race there have been, other than the truncation of the distance and a temporary suspension of clothing, no fundamental rule changes. Start here, run in a straight line, first one there wins. There is no fussing with limitations on how you can run the race (like racewalking or swim-stroke rules), no point awarded for artistic merit, no explanation of arcane terminology necessary to convey the idea to the neophyte spectator. A person could emerge from a lifetime in the jungle and, if not inclined to believe that people are fleeing the thunderstick, would get the gist within the first five meters.
The 100-meter dash, then, is most basic, most fundamental expression of the Olympic ideal. It is man, unaided by wind, gravity, or mechanical technology, and unimpeded by rules or physical obstacles, reaching the outer limit of human velocity.
So what are the odds that the three fastest human beings in history -- let that sink in for a second -- would be peaking at exactly the same time? (Actually, given the confluence of evolution, economics, and science both licit and illicit, I would say "pretty high.") American Tyson Gay, who has run a 9.77, prompted some evangelical web sites to auto-correct their squibs to "Homosexual Wins 100M". Jamaica's Asafa Powell has run a 9.74. And Jamaica's Usain Bolt, a giant who sometimes runs in what looks like a $5 Target muscle shirt and who comes out of the blocks looking like a rec-league forward recovering from a stumble, is both the fastest (at 9.72 seconds) and most unusual sprinter ever. And holy crap, he just popped a very conservative start, ran a relaxed 40 meters, slowed down, and jogged the last 20 meters, and he still posted a 9.92. That would have won the Olympics in all but the last three games and 1968, and it looked like a warm-down.
The idea that somebody might run under 9.7 seconds -- much less that the guy who does it might have to turn over legs long enough to carry him to 6'5" -- is amazing. I only wish, despite the inconvenience and the tape-delay, that it could happen in the Beijing evening, because a man a half-foot taller than all his competitors running under 9.7 seconds in a packed Bird's Nest at night with flash bulbs popping might break the ceiling for HDTV.
ETA: I delay-posted this last night before the results, so -- wow.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Ah, track. As great as swimming has been, it is finally time for my favorite part of the Olympics—Track & Field. Or, as it’s officially called, Athletics. This year, the distance and middle-distance races should be a lot of fun to watch thanks to an invigorated USA Track and Field team that actually has a shot at giving the US a few medals in distances greater than 400. Some faces in the US crowd to watch, starting with the men:e.t.a. So we're clear, the Comments can (and already does) contain significant discussion of tonight's swimming results. West Coasters, beware.
800— Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating and Christian Smith ran one of the most exciting track races I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many) at the trials in Eugene in July. The Track Town, USA crowd was thrilled to see their hometown boys go 1,2 and 3. Seriously go watch it right now, it was amazing.
What to watch: Symmonds’ amazing last-second kick and Andrew Wheating. Wheating has only been running track for a couple of years and no one knows just how good he is. Plus, they seem like nice boys from Oregon who are literally living their dream. That’s fun to see. It’s also a plus that they’re carrying on the legacy of awesome Eugene runners that started with the likes of Bill Bowerman, Prefontaine
and Frank Shorter.
1500— Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong and Leo Manzano form the all foreign-born US squad that could give the US a medal or 2. Lagat’s fun to watch because he’s a beautiful runner, but I think we should all root for our flag bearer, Lopez Lomong who is absolutely incredible both on and off the track.
As you probably all know, he was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who was adopted by U.S. parents. He discovered track watching Michael Johnson in 2000 on a black and white TV and decided then and there to run and win gold in the Olympics and I hope he does. He is immensely proud to be an American and in my opinion, represents everything good about the U.S. Lagat’s hungry for gold too though — he’s already won a bronze and silver in this event (when competing for Kenya) and has promised his mom that he’ll bring her a gold. He’s also capable of dealing with any kind of race which is pretty rare — he can kick late or start fast. I hope they kick late because that’s a lot more fun to watch.
5000— Bernard Lagat is back trying to make a historic double in the 1500 and 5000 like he did last year at World’s in Osaka. He should have some stiff international competition, particularly from the runners representing his native Kenya, but he seems focused, in shape and ready to go. If he’s successful in the 1500, it’ll make the 5000 really fun to watch. If he’s not, this event could be a little boring.
10,000— I don’t expect the US to medal in this event. Galen Rupp, while a sweet kid who trains at the amazing and technologically mind-blowing Nike campus with legend Alberto Salazar he’s still too young to realistically think about cracking even the top 5. Abdi Abraham and Jorge Torres are both good runners, but I don’t think they can hang with the intense international competition.
And finally, my favorite, the marathon—Ryan Hall is poised to make history and medal in the Olympic marathon. You can read more about Ryan here (Ed. note -- or this New Yorker article) but basically he’s an enormously talented runner and seems to be a pretty cool dude — he’s using the Olympics to promote his favorite charity and has been extremely gracious in every interview I’ve seen — but don’t let that fool you, he’s a really aggressive racer who will fight the entire distance. His 2:06:17 in London was the fastest marathon by an American-born citizen ever.
To put that number in perspective, a 2:06:17 is a 4:49/mile pace. For 26 miles. Try to go run even an 800 meter at a 4:49 pace and then imagine sustaining that. It is unreal. This race is also special to Ryan as he is running it in memory of his friend Ryan Shay who shockingly collapsed and died at mile 7 of the Olympic trials in NYC. The Americans haven’t won gold in the Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter in 1972 but there is a very real chance that Ryan could change that if everything breaks his way. Although, this is the marathon and anything could happen.
The U.S. also has a fairly strong women’s team in Beijing. Here are a few faces to look for:
800— all of the U.S. women failed to qualify this morning in preliminary rounds. This isn’t too surprising given that their times have been slower than the dynamic east African nations.
1500— the U.S. hasn’t won a medal in the 1500 since the early 1900s. But, this year Shannon Rowbury has a decent shot at hitting the podium. She put in a solid 4:05 at Olympic Trials and holds the 4th fastest time in the world right now. She’s been blogging for the SF Chronicle and it seems like her workouts are going well. (On that note, the track stars in China who are blogging are raving about the training camp in Dalian for its amenities and extreme security).
5,000— Americans Kara Goucher (my favorite!), Shalane Flanagan and Jen Rhines will be running for Team USA against a pretty tough elite field. Goucher and Flanagan are trying to double with the 10,000 which means they’ll have tired legs but I would not count them out — particularly not the gutsy Goucher.
Kara is a fun runner to watch—she’s also coached by Alberto Salazar and is part of team Oregon. Her husband Adam is also an elite runner and Olympian although he failed to make this year’s team and they’ve both improved significantly since making the move to Portland. Maybe there is something to all the anti-gravity treadmill, heat-suit wearing, techno-training they’ve been doing. Kara’s spoken out quite a bit about how she’s moved beyond her own mental blocks and quit psyching herself out in big races. Let’s hope she continues that!
10,000— Flanagan took this at Olympic Trials and will be joined by Goucher and Amy Yoder-Begley. You may remember Amy (or not since you’re probably not track geeks) from Olympic Trials when she had to gut out a surprise 3rd place finish and the Olympic “A” standard. She won’t medal, but she’s close friends with Goucher and their reaction to winning was very cute — lots of jumping around and screaming. I don’t think we’ll take gold here, but my money is that Flanagan (the current U.S. record holder) or Goucher will medal. Kara won the Bronze at the World Championships in Osaka last year and Flanagan beat Deena Kastor’s American record. And, they are both very determined, strong, focused runners. Kara’s my favorite — she’s has a beautiful stride and I love that she’s come back from injury and difficulty.
The Marathon! Well, I am looking forward to this year’s marathon because the entire U.S. squad is from California. Deena Kastor took a surprising bronze in Athens and easily won at the U.S. trials in Boston this year. She trains with Ryan Hall in Mammoth Lakes and runs because it is “pure joy.” Magdalena Lewy-Boulet is a gutsy, smart runner who led for 24 miles at Olympic Trials who could surprise everyone (she has a nice story too — she became a U.S. citizen on 9-11 and often trains on a treadmill so she can be home with her new-ish baby) and Blake Russell (who qualified this year after a heartbreaking 4th place finish in 2004) seems to be in good shape.
The marathon has a topsy-turvy field this year with NYC marathon champ Paula Radcliffe of England recovering from a femoral stress fracture but still competing, the defending champion dropping out due to injury, and a number of unknowns competing, so it’s anyone’s race. I’m rooting for Deena who makes a mean enchilada to better her bronze from Athens.
* * *
The distance races are races of heart — as a middle of the pack recreational runner I know how hard it is to push yourself through the end of a 5k or 10k when your lungs and legs are burning and your head is telling you to quit. Don't let their calm expressions and even paces fool you — these guys are working extremely hard and are tough as nails. The heat and humidity and possibly air quality are going to be factors, but these races should be a blast to watch.
Currently on the aspirational auf list around our house is the tired-sounding, tediously attired guy with the "exquisite high-end taste" and, apparently, no sense of style whatsoever. Between last week's retro-1950s purplesaurus smockdress and this week's "it's her design, so I don't care" ... what's his name again? Oh yeah, I don't either.
Anyone have anything to get off their chest about the last two eliminations? Again, and particularly this week, it seemed like there were some good looks. Favorites?
Thursday, August 14, 2008
[Y]ou can't blame NBC for airing exactly the sort of coverage viewers want and expect. When a network's sports division covers a Detroit Tigers game, we don't look for commentators to talk about the city's poverty rate or crime statistics. When other nations cover U.S.-hosted Olympics, we hope they produce stories on our events and athletes -- not use their army of cameras and reporters, here to cover gymnastics and swimming, to produce drive-by autopsies of our societal and political flaws.Actually, that'd be a fun Olympics -- instead of each nation picking its best athletes, just have each randomly select citizens from all walks of life and give them six months to train in their assigned disciplines. It'd be like reinstituting the draft ... only with team handball and canoeing. Would make for a hell of a fun reality show to watch.
... Because there's so much attention given to the Games,  it's easy to think the event somehow deserves a focus that expands beyond mere sports reporting and fluffy travelogues. But what is it about the Olympics that necessitates such heightened scrutiny? The number of nations involved? The national pride on display? The John Williams fanfare? The athletes are the best each country has to offer, not what is typical. Olympic coverage tends to likewise focus on what is optimistic and extraordinary about the host country. In other words, the coverage is thematically consistent ... if not honest and realistic. ...
For most viewers,  NBC has been providing precisely the Olympics they want to see: heartfelt stories of athletes from around the world overcoming all odds to win gold medals. If you tune into NBC's "Beijing Olympics" and NBC gives you Beijing Olympics coverage ... you can't say the network didn't deliver what it sold.
Tonight's NBC coverage: women's artistic gymnastics individual all-around, and lots of swimming - men's 200m backstroke, women's free and 200m breaststroke, and Michael Phelps shoots for his sixth gold medal in the 200m individual medley.
Phelps does have as many golds in these Games as Australia and Japan, but at the same time he's competing in a discipline that affords multiple opportunities for medals. The greatest Olympic boxer, as Slate has tweeted, can only win one medal per Games. Of course, Phelps will only be 27 for the London 2012 Games, and in Dara Torres years ...
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
And while we're clearing up administrative matters, you have probably heard us refer to this department or that bureau, and wondered, "where can I get an ALOTT5MA internal directory?" The answer is here, right now, with the following list of organizational responsibilities or expertises adopted, appropriated, or assigned:
Neil Patrick Harris
Games of Skill or Chance:
Verdine "Sexual Chocolate" White
Chicago Bureau Chief: AlexETA: Just to be clear, all faves and titles are culled from our recorded archives. Not making any editorial decisions here; just collating pre-existing data.
Pre-1990s Heavy Metal Bureau Chief: Isaac
Japanese Monomania Desk: The Pathetic Earthling
Personal Health/Exotic Disease Desk: Isaac
Repressive Regimes Desk: All
Urophilia Desk: Adam
Dead Wrestler Series Editor: Adam
Halls of Fame Series Editor: Alex
Muktuk Series Editor: Adam
Things that Are Not Suitable for TV Expert: The Pathetic Earthling
19 Entertainment Modus Operandi Expert: KCosmo
Astronomy Bug: The Pathetic Earthling
I mention Baranyi, though, because commenter Anderson thinks we've been too hard on China, and I want to say something nice. When Baranyi went down, it took about a nanosecond for five Chinese volunteers to materialize with large placards and stand next to each other to shield him from the spectators' view. I wish I had a geographically appropriate metaphor for this great wall that the Chinese people made, but nothing comes to mind. Anyway, nice touch by China, refusing to allow Baranyi's grotesque injury to be part of the spectacle.
So what does NBC do? It re-runs the injury in slow-motion from three different angles. You stay classy, NBC.
As part of Manohla Dargis' mixed review of "Tropic Thunder" this morning, she refers to Ben Stiller as "the guy with the penis literally stuck in his zipper in 'There’s Something About Mary'," but unless I'm mistaken, wasn't it his scrotum which became so entangled? Or at a minimum, I believe "his genitals" would be more accurate than the more limiting "penis" given the entirety of the situation, especially based on the visual at about 2:28 of the scene, which remains, as you can imagine, not quite safe for work.
[Dear Chinese censors: you have your excuse now. Also, by the way, are you seeing this movie? I probably will try.]
A typical conversation would go something like this:
Me: Hello, W***.Which is a long way of getting around to a point we make perhaps over-frequently around these parts: even good things aren't always as good as they could be. To make a small mostly conscious effort to balance that tendency, right here at this dark and often disappointing hour of the morning, I'd like to take an opportunity here to emphasize the positive side of things:
Caller: This is the ******* County Sheriff's Department Detention Facility. You have a collect call from ... SLAYER!! PLAY ANGEL OF DEATH!! ... To accept charges, press 1 now.
Partner: Who is it?
Partner: Sweet. What do they want?
Me: Here. (passing phone)
Caller: Again, this is the ******* County Sheriff's Department Detention Facility. To accept charges for the call from ... SLAAAYYYERRRRRRRRR!!! ..., press 1 now.
Partner: Could this be any cooler?
Caller: ANGEL OF DEAAATH!! PLAY SLAYER! SLAYERRRR!! ... will be disconnected if you do not accept charges in 30 seconds.
Me: Well, yeah. For example, if we weren't in the middle of a folk set...
1) If you are up at 3 a.m. reading this, take heart: at least you aren't in jail in Western Massachusetts.
2) And, if you're thinking "But wait, I AM IN JAIL IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS!! (SLAYERRR!!!)." First, check to be sure it's jail. It might just be college, or, you know, some sort of boarding school that pays special attention to the discipline of its charges. Second, if you got interwebs in jail, man, that's pretty hot! You could have been busted back in the 90s when all you got was collect calls to local numbers and the chance to brawl with guys that liked your shoes (in a bad way).
3) And, no matter what your situation, consider that all sorts of things all around us are improving in little ways all the time. The prisons are web-enabled, boarding schools are increasingly sensitive to the prior disciplinary records of the students they accept (and prepared to take precautions to protect or at least insulate surrounding communities), and Motorhead has finally fixed Metallica's overly-melodic original recording of Enter Sandman.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Didn't someone just splice a bunch of color-corrected (washed-out to black and white) clips from the old Ace of Spades video in with the theatrical cuts from the original video by Hetfield et al.? Yes. Yes, they did. But focus on the music, which is inarguably an improvement over the original (he said, as if to provoke an argument).
And, if you think to the contrary that Motorhead's version pushed the original in the wrong direction entirely, then consider the alternative provided by the three-cello attack of Apocalyptica.
Sweet dreams, sleepy people. Sweet dreams.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
If the US women's team wanted to lower expectations on the qualifying round, they succeeded too much. In a possible voodoo or karma related event, Sam Peszek, who could have been a serious threat on vault and beam, hurt her ankle during warm ups. She'll only compete on uneven bars tonight. During qualifiers, she looked okay considering she'd just hurt herself, but definitely not ready to get every point US is going to need on bars. Then Alicia Sacramone landed out of bounds on floor, and because bad things happen in threes, Nastia Lukin destroyed her dismount on bars. You'd think that anyone else on the team would be shaken up after that, but Shawn Johnson barely blinked, much less wavered on all her routines. I'm rooting for Liukin to hit that bar routine in either tonight or the event finals (or, hope beyond hope, both), because it's absolutely amazing when put together.Treat this as an open thread for your live comments on all of Tuesday night's events.
Based on difficulty (the "A" score), the US team is already at a disadvantage. Chinese women have insane release moves on bars and powerful tumbling on floor but it's frustrating that they they don't seem to get deducted for rushing through the dance and flexiblity elements. Color commentator Elfi Schlegel found Jiang Yuyuan's chorerography "stunning". I saw a lot of incomplete moves on her way to reach that next tumbling pass. Chung Fei, though, is super sharp on floor, on beam, and specially on vault. If the US wins tonight, its going to be based on a lot of athletic schadenfreude (Ed. note: watch this video.)
Tonight, there might as well be no teams other than US and China. I'm not discounting some Cinderella story for bronze, but the broadcast will be all about the fight for gold. You better believe NBC has the quickest editors in their dramatic intro department whipping up the epic showdown music and abusing the slow-mo function. The team's handlers aren't helping. Bela Karolyi showed up in the International Broadcasting Center Sunday night/Monday morning to talk to Costas about the women's chances (something about them being under an umbrella?), and ended up accusing the Argentinian judge of anti-American bias after they scored Johnson's beam execution with an 8.8. Bela, Bela, Bela, she may have been underscored by one person, but anti-American bias? If that's the case, the Korean judge might as well be an honorary citizen. The Argentinian underscored everybody.
10:30pm EST (if it's scheduled for 10:30am Beijing time, I'm assuming, even though the NBC schedule seems to be completely off?): The fate of the Western world is on the line, duh.
Philadelphia: Michael, you're a sports writer who has always been sensitive to the political and social ramifications of the athletes and events you cover. Are the print media doing a sufficient job of reminding readers of the brutally repressive Chinese regime? Is NBC sugarcoating things too much?As I mentioned in the Comments last night, I was particularly disturbed by a cutesy piece by Mary Carillo on the "new China" that was all golly jeepers that's big! about the Three Gorges Dam construction, with no mention at all of the ~1.2 million people forcibly displaced or the environmental damage caused.
Michael Wilbon: If you want information and insight about serious news issues as they relate to China, read The Post and The New York Times and others responsible newspapers with reporters and columnists who are unafraid. If you want to cheer on the U.S. athletes, watch TV. It's always been this way. The networks, and that now includes ESPN, an entity whose generous checks I cash monthly, are partners with the leagues and the events. They're not going to view them at a distance. The NBA Finals on ABC, which is the way the event is billed and sold, isn't going to lead with the Tim Donaghey news the way The Washington Post or The New York Times would lead its sports section. Not going to happen. So, you know that going on and consume your information accordingly. That doesn't mean the networks don't investigate and do tough reporting...just not with those they're partnered with...
In other news, the WaPo's Jill Drew reports today on China's whitewashing of the Tiananmen Square massacre. "The forced amnesia is perpetuated in Chinese schools, where the lessons of the Tiananmen massacre are not taught in history class. If it is mentioned at all, students are instructed that some soldiers lost their lives putting down an unruly anti-government mob."
** We had a staff vote. I lost.
a. Remember what Steve Mariucci once told me about Favre, and apply it to learning a new offense. "He's got a photographic memory, or very close to it,'' Mariucci, his former quarterback coach, said. "You think he's sleeping there in the meetings, and he still knows everything he has to know and doesn't make mental mistakes.''Have King and Mariucci never watched a game of football in their lives? Favre doesn't make mental mistakes? Brett Favre holds the NFL career record in interceptions thrown. His 29 INTs in 2005 are the highest single-season interception total among active players unless Testaverde is considered active (and Testaverde's worst INT year came his first full year as a starter). Favre has had 31 multi-interception games in the last five years (10 of them were games with 3 or more interceptions). For comparison, in the last five years Peyton Manning has 9 multi-interception games and Brady has 14. In somewhat less time (ranging from a few games to about a season or so's worth missed), McNabb has 9, Hasselbeck has 17, Bulger has 17, Brees has 19, and Carson Palmer has 19. I think those are all of the QBs who have started about 80% of the games since the beginning of 2003 (Garcia and Kitna rode the pine too much to qualify).
Certainly not all of Favre's interceptions are mental mistakes, but a lot of them -- the ones where he does the classic Favre thing of running around and then chucking the ball up at a greater-than-45-degree angle -- I'm pretty sure that's not how the plays were drawn up. And yes, I realize that interceptions are not the only gauge of mental mistakes, but they're a pretty good proxy, just like walks are a decent but imperfect measure of control for a pitcher. So there is at least some reason to think that Favre actually makes mental mistakes more frequently than any other QB in football and zero reason to think that he makes almost none. But King likes Mariucci's quote, and he likes Favre's Billy Bob Thornton impression (nope, not making this up), so screw the facts.
I spent the earlier part of Monday evening sitting on the National Mall watching Superman because the American men's gymnastics team wasn't even going to medal, so NBC was only going to show highlights Tuesday in primetime, and I was going to watch Christoper Reeve pretend to fly on a 15 foot screen. Then I got home, my roommate was yelling at the TV and Team USA was winning. What the hell was going on? Was this related in anyway to Superman making the earth rotate backward?
Of course, the gold medalists in the end were the home team. The Chinese win is not even a story - they did it by substantial amount and didn't even falter in the superficial ways they had earlier during the qualifying round. Even when the Chinese team ended on high bar, historically their weakest apparatus, the Chinese played it extremely safe. Way to win so soundly that you bore everybody, China.
Earlier, when the US started to lead, NBC interrupted its all-important swimming coverage to go live to the gymnastics [excuse me, the artistic gymnastics -- Ed.] competition. Raj and Jonathan Horton stuck their vaults and Justin Spring pushed another couple of fractions of point out of his high bar routine. They led through three rotations, and even though it was still mathematically improbable (for all its excitement, gymnastics is often a game of numbers - much like electoral math [or Dr. Brain's Robot -- Ed.]) the commentators started talking as if Superman himself had walked into the building. As if on cue, that's when the team faltered. The floor routines were messy, especially when Joey Hagerty stepped out of bounds.
The US ended on its weakest event as well, the pommel horse, and it hurt the team badly. Kevin Tan ended up at 12.775 points, the lowest score of the entire night. Raj wasn't much better and fell in the middle of his dismount. In the team finals, you send up three people and all three scores count, so the only guy left was Alex "if not for both Hamms" Artemev. This what happens when you leave your entire ability to medal or not to the second alternate.
But Artemev took a deep breath, and well, he proved them all wrong (including me - "Don't choke, Sasha!" I yelled at the screen), posting the fourth best score on the pommel horse of the night. The Germans just didn't have the routines to make up the difference.
And then David "maybe I'm not meant to be Olympian" Durante was in the stands, wiping away manly tears with his freakishly huge arm muscles. Aw, dude, that's got to be bittersweet. I'm torn between either being excited that the US defied expectations and being disappointed that the team messed up enough to squander real potential for silver, especially when the Japanese gave them enough room to do so. Currently breaking my heart the most are Raj's underwhelming performances on rings and pommel horse.
AlexG on 12 Songs: "[T]he main triumph of 12 Songs is the conflict between Rubin's approach and Diamond's inherent showmanship and bombast. While Cash sounded like a man with a foot in the grave reflecting on his entire life, Diamond, while acknowledging his mortality seems to be insisting he still has something left to offer."
Monday, August 11, 2008
I have recently learned that Lexis representatives are required to report all complaints back to management and at least a few of them are sympathetic to the problem. So, if you are a lawyer and you have occasion to be placed on hold, please complain. You will be doing your host a great favor.
After slogging through Olympic broadcasts of yore, we drew up a list of 33 syrupy words that NBC has chronically overused: adversity, battled, cancer, challenges, courage, cry, death, dedication, determination, dream, emotion, glory, golden, hardship, heart, hero, inspiration, inspire, journey, magic, memory, miracle, mom, mother, Olympic-sized, overcome, passion, proud, sacrifice, spirit, tears, tragedy, triumph. While these 33 words are by no means an unabridged collection of schmaltzy nouns, adjectives, and verbs, they're a good sampling of NBC's bathos. Think of them as the Dow Jones of sap.You even get a "Sap-O-Meter Tag Cloud" for a visual depiction of your hearstrings being tugged for fun and profit. I love this so much that I want to use the Sap-O-Meter as my own personal literary advance scout.
Water polo is the oldest team sport in the Olympics, having been first contested at the 1900 Paris games, with women competing for the first time in 2000. For complicated historical reasons that I can make up on request, you’ll rarely go wrong backing an Eastern European or Balkan team. Hungary, Yugoslavia (and its descendants), and Russia (and its predecessor) have dominated the sport almost from the beginning. In 1956, this domination by Hungary led to one of the more gruesome Olympic events in history, as Hungary and the Soviet Union met in the pool just months after the Soviet Union had crushed the Hungarian uprising. The match was called in the fourth quarter with Hungary leading 4-0, after multiple players from both sides suffered extensive cuts and injuries. More recently, Spain, Italy, and the United States have fielded quality teams on the men’s side, while the women’s teams are still sorting themselves out. This year, expect the traditional powerhouses to dominate, with Croatia, Hungary, and Spain at the top of the men’s field, and the United States looking for a medal on the women’s side. The men’s first match is against China on August 10 – if we can’t beat them, it will be a long, long tournament. [ETA – the U.S. men won the China opener 8-4, but the game was closer than the score indicates.]
As far as particular players to watch, the U.S. team is composed almost exclusively of 6’ 3” blonde Californian guys. So nothing to see, really. The women are similarly unappealing. On the men’s side, THE GUY is Tony Azevado, 4-time NCAA player of the year. He’s good. On the women’s side, Brenda Villa is a three-time Olympian, and the rare polo player who scores consistently despite being just 5’4”. [Thereby offering a ray of hope to Mr. Cosmopolitan that his offspring might someday follow in his footsteps despite his suboptimally heighted wife -- ed.]
Finally, a few things to look for (and mention) and thus impress your many Croatian friends:
That’s it for the initial dispatch. Updates as events warrant.
- The players rarely, if ever, miss a pass. Don’t take this for granted – it takes an incredible amount of skill, balance, and stamina to both throw and catch (with one hand) a ball that is zipping around at serious speed. Compare how often a polo player misses a pass to how often the puck or ball doesn’t get where it’s supposed to go in a hockey or soccer match.
- The offensive player with his back to the goal is known as the “hole man.” Leaving a hole man’s backhand open is just as dangerous as leaving him open on the front, since there’s nothing cooler than a good backhand.
- The goalies are incredibly good – when the ball is in their end, many goalies will tread water up to their suits for 10 seconds at a time, and they can cover the whole net. The best way to beat a good goalie is either with a skip shot off the water, or go directly over his head (alternately known as a doughnut or a bunny ears shot).
- Another good way to beat a goalie is to fake a hard shot, and then lob the ball over his head. Properly executed, you not only get a goal out of the shot, but a great image of a goalie flailing madly as the ball goes over his head.
shouldn't the machine already know the language in which you'd prefer to transact business? Presumably, if English were not your preferred language you'd be receiving your bank statements in some other tongue; moreover, after years of transactions in which you've selected English every time, what are the chances you'd be changing your mind now?Banking expert Bill ("Inside Man Extraordinaire," reads his business card) responded:
Language preference is not something that is recorded or noted anywhere, so it cannot be communicated to the ATM terminal. It's theoretically possible and would work best on a smart card that communicated directly with the terminal. But as of now, transactions specifications do not include any data about language.Bankers, though, will eventually respond to any demand, whether it be for a zero-down-no-credit-check jumbo mortgage (offer expires 1/1/06) or a desire to commune with consumers in a common language. Today, after
If ALOTT5MA were the San Francisco Chronicle, we'd be taking credit for this development right now.
For those not familiar with the sport, water polo has been variously described as waterborne rugby, waterborne soccer, hockey at 70 degrees, and the last best bastion of ancient Greek homoeroticism. Before reviewing the rules, two important meta-items. First, no, there are no horses. Second, there are no new jokes to be made about the lack of horses (although all are free to take their shot in the comments). Trust me on this one. My water polo cred comes from four years of playing in the water polo mecca of St. Louis, one year at the far end of the bench in college, three years of coaching the women’s team in college, and a brief, glorious summer scrimmaging with the Washington Wetskins. (Ask Mrs. Cosmo about that particular story.) [I never ever ever get sick of talking about the Washington Wetskins -- ed.]
The object and rules of the game are pretty simple: 1) using only one hand at a time on the ball, 2) throw the ball into the goal, 3) while not drowning. That last bit, of course, is where the complications arise. Basically, if you have the ball, the other team can do anything they want to you, except for hitting with a closed fist. So you’ll see ball-handlers getting whacked, slapped, grabbed, kicked, pulled underwater, and pretty much anything else that would prevent them from putting the ball into the net. On the other hand, if you don’t have possession of the ball, the rules are technically akin to a loosely called basketball game – if you have position you’re entitled to hold it, and you’re not supposed to cream the other guy too badly when he’s trying to move around the pool. Technically.
The challenge, of course, is that the two referees can’t see very well underwater. Because the players essentially support themselves by kicking their legs in opposite-rotation circles (think of an eggbeater), the hands are left free for all kinds of mischief. One particularly useful technique is to hook a thumb into the waistband of your opponent’s suit and use him as leverage. Even better is the ability to wrap an opponent’s legs up with one of your own, thus enabling the perpetrator to raise both hands above the water and look innocently at the referee, who is wondering why the opponent has been replaced with a stream of bubbles rising from two feet underwater. While serious injuries are rare, it is virtually impossible to get through a game without an injury that, if viewed by the Department of Child Services, would likely get you put in foster care. Most common are bruises to every part of the body; sprained fingers, elbows and shoulders; broken fingers, noses and eardrums; shallow gashes (despite the pre-game inspection of fingernails); and dislocated jaws. My personal favorite injury was the violent removal of one particularly arrogant bastard’s hoop earring, which dangled just far enough outside his ear protector for
mean opponent to do the honors.
If you get caught doing something sorta bad (like hitting a guy after he has dropped the ball), the referees will call a “common foul,” which results in an immediate free throw, kind of like an indirect kick in soccer. These common fouls occur constantly, and the action hardly skips a beat – so don’t worry about the constant whistles. If you get caught doing something worse (like pulling someone backwards while they are going for the ball), an “ejection” or “exclusion foul” is called, and the perpetrator is kicked out of the pool for twenty seconds, during which time the other team has a man advantage power play.
That's it for the rules of the game. In a few hours, we'll post Mr. Cosmo's Olympic preview.
I do want to talk about USA Basketball for a minute, because I watched the first half of this morning's win over China, and two things are evident to me: (1) this American team will lose at least one game before the tournament is over (prediction: Spain, August 16), because they are way too careless with the ball on some of the cross-court and through-traffic passing; and (2) these Games have a way of reawakening the nationalist in me. I got seriously nervous before that second-quarter run, and am happy to cheer on Bronnie and Kidd while they're wearing the colors. Also, it's nice to see Original Recipe Dwyane Wade return.
So for all matters Olympic, including but not limited to more Chinese censorship or Team Raj and his ridiculous biceps, this is an open thread. What are you watching, and how are you watching it?
e.t.a. Canada's National Post and NYT on Opening Ceremonies fashion.
e.t.a.2 Thread bumped up to encourage further discussion of that holy frack! 4x100 men's freestyle relay.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Hayes was a key creative force behind the famous soul music label Stax Records. Together with his songwriting partner David Porter, he wrote many hits songs for Sam and Dave including "Soul Man", "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby", and "Hold On! I'm Comin".
Hot Buttered Soul, released in 1969, was the album that really launched his career as a solo artist. The album cover depicts Hayes' distinctive image (shaved head, gold jewelry, and sun glasses). On that album Hayes re-interpreted the Burt Bacharach composition "Walk On By" (which Dionne Warwick had had a #6 hit with in 1964) as a twelve-minute long soulful meditation. Hayes' version hit #30 on the pop charts.
From the same album, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", which hit #37 on the Billboard charts, began with a long monologue about the power of love before Hayes started to sing. These lengthy songs differed sharply from the standard three minute soul/pop songs of the time.
Hayes composed the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Shaft in 1971 (he also appeared in the 2000 remake of the film in a cameo role as the bartender of No Name Bar). The title theme, with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered arrangement, hit #1 for two weeks on the Billboard charts in November. The song garnered Hayes two Academy awards and two Grammy awards. Hayes worked on 65 soundtracks (counting television shows).
Do check out the album cover of his 1976 album Juicy Fruit, which featured Hayes in a pool with naked women (SFW). Hayes' last big hit was a funky disco tune released in 1979 called "Don't Let Go", which hit #18 in December.
Hayes appeared as an actor in 66 movies and television shows. Hayes became especially popular in the late-1990s, as the voice of Chef on the Comedy Central series South Park. Chef was a soul-singing cafeteria worker at the South Park kids' school. A song from the series performed by Chef, "Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)", received attention in 1999.
Hayes lived a full life. I will miss him.
So many reactions, and all of them bad. I'm picturing this really short guy with a riding crop and helmet ...
We were listening to a mix-CD I'd made featuring the "Philadelphia Sound" -- Teddy Pendergrass, the O'Jays, the Soul Survivors, and similar artists. On came an obscure early Hall and Oates song "It's Uncanny" (you might want to skip past the interview with Hall at the start the of the youtube clip; the song actually begins at about 2:00). The song was from an album called "No Goodbyes" that Atlantic released after the group left the label around 1977. I had bought that album on LP when I was in college.
Near the end of college, I was involved in serious romance, which continued for a year or so after I graduated (the woman was still an undergraduate). The romance ended suddenly and unhappily for me (that's the nice way of saying I got dumped). I decided to move as far away from the east coast as I could in a bid for a fresh start. I got a job in San Francisco and moved across the country, packing everything I owned into my tiny hatchback. I sold the "No Goodbyes" LP, along with perhaps one-third of my LPs, at the famous Princeton Record Exchange a week or two before I moved since I did not have room in my car for all of my records.
My wife was digging "It's Uncanny" as we drove along. She'd never heard the song before. I told her about a similar song on the same LP called "Love You Like a Brother." Then I told her the story about the broken romance (well, she'd heard about the romance, but not about the LPs). I told her that I regretted having sold my only copy of the LP since that song was so good and I did not have it on CD.
"Love You Like a Brother" kept going through my head last night. This morning it was still "playing" in my mind. So I decided to buy myself a copy. But for the life of me, I could not find it anywhere. Not on amazon, not on BMG, not even on iTunes. I couldn't even find any indication that the song had ever existed on the normally thorough allmusic.com.
Finally, I did a search for the album "No Goodbyes" and discovered that it had never been released as a CD and that perhaps half the songs on it, including "Love You Like a Brother" had never been released on any compilation CD. I was able to find it for sale on LP. A dilemma loomed.
Up until about a year ago, I had a high-end "audiophile" turntable. One of my sons (inadvertently) had damaged the tonearm. The repair would have cost over $600, so I decided to sell the turntable as is to a vinyl junkie who lived near Allentown. Since then, I have used an inexpensive turntable from my sister's college stereo system, but it's just not the same as listening to LPs played on a high quality turntable. As a result, I now rarely listen to my collection of perhaps 750 LPs.
In the end, my jonesing for the song got the better of me. I ordered the LP. Soon, my wife will at long last experience this nugget of Philly soul gold.
So, I suppose this tale lends itself to a few questions. Does anyone else still listen to vinyl? Does anyone else love high-end stereo systems? Does anyone else regret having sold an album (or a book or similar item)? Has anyone else followed a compulsion for a particular song as far as I just did? And might I assume that we have all done some dramatic things in response to dashed romantic dreams as I did post-college?
A hectic, often incoherent pastiche of plotty dialogue and frantic battle action, "The Clone Wars" is populated by stiffly animated versions of such prequel characters as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. But for warmth and pure heart, they're not nearly as human as the little trash compactor whose life and loves drive "WALL*E." In the latter, the stakes are high -- for the protagonist and the planet he loves. In "Clone Wars," the only thing at stake is whether Lucas will be able to take yet another bite of a thoroughly consumed apple. And viewers are left hungry.
In other words, "WALL E," like every Pixar movie, hews to the company's famous motto: "Story is king." And story has never been king with Lucas.