Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"A cucumber should be well-sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar..."

I'm not really going to get into why it's been such a fallow period from me, but I will warn you all to be careful on the streets of Ann Arbor if you live there and tend to stay out late. Walk places with friends, give someone a ride if they want to walk home alone, don't be too proud to crash on someone's couch, etc. I was glad to see Michigan's defense finally keep the pedal down through the fourth quarter, and the team has cracked the BCS rankings. I was also glad to see the White Sox win, although it would have been nice not to have had yet another one-sided Series. The intraleague playoffs seem to be the major source of drama in recent years. I was particularly glad to see Patrick Fitzgerald, the Irish Catholic Gus Petch, indict I. Lewis Libby and keep the rest of the CIA leak investigation open for the time being. (Presumably, in keeping with his M.O., Fitzgerald will now begin to subtly intensify his scrunching of Libby, whose lawyers are facing one hell of a pig on which to put lipstick.)

Good news, Uncle Grambo is back from a similar spell of inactivity to mine, and the Chauncey Billups blog is back from a truly epic and completely unexplained hiatus, just in time for the NBA season. Also some interesting NBA musings at Straight Bangin', if that's your thing. My excitement is muted right now because of other stresses, but I am looking forward to the fact that, in the abstract, there will be another season, and Kobe's team will suck again. (As far as haterific pro sports go, these are pretty much salad days for me, with Kobe, Brett Farva, the Baltimore Jailbirds, and the Yankees and Braves all dropping the proverbial soap.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Jason Avant Appreciation Day

I know the last home game is Senior Day, but there are two home games left, so is there any way the Indiana game can be just for him, kind of like in the pros when a guy is going to retire and they give him a car? (OMG, just remembered Roger Clemens taking a car from the Yankees, staying "retired" the month it took them to renounce his option rights, and then going to Houston like the very next day. Hahahahahahahahaha. Okay, I'm good.)

But we are DEFINITELY on the verge of saying goodbye to the Captain, the guy who made the number 8 (always my lucky number) cool again, and someone who has probably never got enough love from the U-M faithful. Continually overshadowed in the national media by his more glamorous teammates, and in many blogs by most bloggers' Mike Hart mancrushes, Jason Avant is one of the classiest, most likeable, toughest mofos to wear the winged helmet in recent memory. The above picture is of Avant in the middle of the consecutive feats of hanging onto one of the most amazing catches and absorbing one of the most hellacious shots of the year. Those of who saw the game are probably feeling sympathy pains right now. The play won the game for Michigan, in a nutshell. It might very well have SAVED the game, because otherwise our hopes are riding on the ample potbelly of one Garrett Rivas. But here's the thing: after Avant took this hit that spun him around like a New York Times war correspondent, he DIDN'T MISS A PLAY. And his staying in might have also been key, because with the three receiver set still in effect on 1st-and-goal from the 5, Iowa went against their better judgment and didn't key on the run, and Michigan ran it to the 1. Game over.

The first time I ever saw Avant, he caught some stretched-out sliding stickum-handed thing over the middle (against Washington? anyhow it was early in his freshman year) and I said "who the hell was THAT?!" He proceeded to vanish from the offense that season so Tyrece Butler and Ron Bellamy could showcase themselves for the pros. (rim shot) But we saw him the rest of the year on special teams, a role he has proudly never relinquished, filling our memories with almost as many big hits, either on punts or springing Perry and Hart on long runs, as he has with his uncannily money third-down catches. Jason Avant being named captain this year was probably the least surprising captaincy announcement of all time. He's the guy who told the team they sucked when the fans were whining about replay and Mike Hart's injury, and the season has since fitfully crawled back from the precipice. There are enough problems on this team that even his shoulders might not be enough to carry them through the homestretch unscathed, but the depth of Avant's struggle, and the crazy, formerly unimaginable possibility crawling over the horizon that the team might yet fully redeem itself, has ennobled Avant forever. I hope he looks back on this season, regardless of the final record, as a personal triumph, one in which his hands, his heart, and his strength of character all played a pivotal role.

Update: I realized from comments the old picture wasn't even Avant, so I replaced it and edited my description of the pic (thanks to Kenny. Nice site, BTW). The new picture is more dynamic but not as emotionally charged as I THOUGHT the old one was when I was under the delusion it was Avant. So if you liked the old pic of Prescott Burgess and some guys, I hope Google cached this site.

This team is trying to kill me

I'm serious. I have high blood pressure, which is always a good sign in one's mid-20s. And I pine for the days when a couple of Michigan's Big 10 games per year were decided midway through the 2nd half. Not counting two games against MAC competition, every game this year has required me to slowly decompress from a place where lots of goony little hormones, either rage- or ecstasy-affiliated, were playing go-kart in my head. (No, I take that back. I wasn't that screwed up after the Minnesota game. I guess things looked so bleak that I said fuck it, dude, let's go bowling. Then a couple of days later I revisited the issue in my mind and had a delayed-reaction rant.)

So yesterday's game was another exercise in befuddlement, rendering me not quite fit to have normal conversations for a few hours. Although in this case, it was just overpowering relief than frenzied celebration, as Iowa isn't really a major rival and they turn out not to be even that good this year, so beating them isn't the huge achivement that beating Penn State was. No matter, I'm immensely gratified to see Michigan pull out a win that required so much guts. To win without Mike Hart and Lamarr Woodley is incredible enough. To win on the road in a notoriously tough building, snapping a four-year-long home win streak (now bookended by Michigan, natch), missing the aforementioned studs but also both safeties, one linebacker, Leo Henige (on the game's last couple of drives), Mario Cashmere Manningham, and most of Chad Henne's brain (feh), is a prime example of Balls That Clank. The shortfall of which has been my main disappointment with the team most of the year, so that's pretty kewl.

Still, though, you have to feel some concern. I'm really happy for Jerome Jackson that he got some meaningful action (he looked and sounded as bewildered afterwards, pace above pic, as I felt). But you have to cringe for the new, even-less-hope-of-return-than-before exile Max Martin is in for, now that he fumbled on his only chance. In case you didn't know, the coaches' enmity for him is apparently due to fumbling in practice. I don't know, could it be that saying "Up yours, I don't care how many things you do right, you will ROT on that bench if you ever fumble again" can actually, y'know, not be the psychologically soundest way to prevent fumbles? So now Jerome Jackson will get the carries until Mike Hart is healthy. I like JJ, but Martin is younger and more talented and will probably transfer at this rate given the evidence that the coaches hate him, and obviously Michigan desperately needs to preserve its depth given its incredible tendency to incur injuries.

Which is my next major concern -- HOW does this keep happening?!?! On one hand, it's nice, cause we got to find out that John Thompson is actually pretty good and Pierre Woods is still alive, but at what point does Michigan reevaluate how insanely out-of-the-norm its injury level is most years? A healthy and properly managed D-line would involve Gabe and Branch at the tackles, subbing in Massey only on obvious passing downs; Woodley at rush end, Biggs at the other DE; and Pierre Woods, Tim Jamison, and Jeremy Van Alstyne subbing in for both the ends and for Prescott (Bipolar) Burgess. Shawn Crable would hardly ever need to see the field. That depth is completely demolished now, and we are one more injury from complete devastation.

That's the case at a lot of position groups, actually. Okay, I've completely freaked myself out, I'm gonna move on.

A side effect of this being strapped for bench numbers is that it makes the coaching staff even more bunker-mentality and likely to try to eke out wins like this. Apparently Michigan is just pleased as punch to go to overtime under any circumstances, because it's had success in OT so far. I don't know how else to explain failure to use any timeouts as Iowa's drive turned conservative and content to play for field position and run clock. If Michigan calls two timeouts, they get the ball with 50 seconds left and need only a field goal. That's IF Breaston doesn't break a return. Needless to say, this is the same task they faced against PSU, except they only have to move the ball half as far.

Ah, the familiar scent of bitching the day after a win. Kind of fun, really; I get at least one more week to fantasize about who needs to lose for Michigan to win the Big 10 (which is incredibly screwed up...just that fast, Michigan has gone from left-for-dead to having a better record than the Spartans). If you got linked to this post somewhere, I didn't forget to mention one very important individual, I just felt he deserved his own post. Click on the whole-blog page.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Fight songs.

So one of my valiant efforts to procrastinate as I study for exams this week was to fine-tune my opinions on all the fight songs in the Big 11. I used this site for the melodies and just googled the lyrics; that way I could hear the full marching band arrangements, and imagine in my own head, reading the lyrics, how they would sound sung by a big crowd. When the room periodically emptied, I'd try out some of the lyrics out loud (for the songs I didn't already know well). Fightmusic is a great site: you can get multiple songs for nearly every school with a D-1 football team, plus the Ivy League (included because, being the oldest schools in the hemisphere, they got in on the early days of the trend and wrote some of the best fight songs). Here, then, my rankings of the Big 11 fight songs.

11) "Illinois Loyalty." Schizophrenic song, veering from alma-mater level sentimentality to unconvincing faux-Indian "war-chants" sans melody, to strange forced lines like "our team is our fame protector." Ugh. I could deal with twenty-dollar language if it was for a rhyme, but nothing safe for mass consumption appears to rhyme with "protector." The song's one clever line, buried deep in the 2nd verse, rhymes "giants" with "defiance." Also demerits for using the words "Oskee wow-wow" in the lyrics.

10) "Indiana, My Indiana." A poor fitting of the words to the music. Rhythm keeps interrupting itself. You either take the breaths in the middle of the thoughts that the lyrics express, or you hold notes for an illogically long time. "We will fight forrrrrr the cream and crimsonnnnnn...." The words themselves are inoffensive, but the song just never opens the throttle.

9) "Fight On, State." The PSU band plays this song after touchdowns even though there are better songs in the catalog. I don't know how this song ever got wide acceptance. It should probably be ranked lower, but I often find myself enjoying it in a kitschy, MST-3000 way. It's maybe not that bad, but boy is it bad. It sounds like a vaudevillian number sung by guys in striped jackets and straw hats. "Fight On, State" is a dumb title which gets dumber when sung with almost no emphasis given to the "on," making it sound like a command to fight on State Street. Listen for yourself, you'll see what I mean. Then, as if to wink at you and tell you that you are in on the joke and this is really a parody of bad fight songs, they slow WAYYYYYY down for the big finish, pause unnaturally long so as to tease you into thinking they're going to mercy-kill the song, and then crank through the last line at top speed: "We'll FIGHT ON, on, on, on, on, fight ON, ON, penn state." Inspired yet? Keep in mind that the capitalized words are given the most rhythmic emphasis, while penn state is not capitalized because it is tacked on in the tiniest, most unassuming way possible considering it's the name of the damn school.

To be continued.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

In which words fail me

I've been up much of last night and I still don't know what to say about that game. This was an experience I'll be hard-pressed to duplicate in a lifetime of watching sports. Even though Michigan is having one of its most flea-bitten seasons, I feel like I can just appreciate these kind of moments more than when I was younger, and the roller-coaster ride in that stadium beggared belief. Just in the last 5 minutes of game time, there was the gleeful surprise at Rivas' final long field goal which used every inch of the space between the uprights at his disposal; the eerie certainty, confirmed, that we were about to get an interception; the mystified frustration at the ensuing @$%&# 15-yard pooch punt; the frenzied intensity of the crowd as we gnashed our teeth during the final, Lazarus-like Penn State drive (actually, the crowd was gratifyingly intense most of the day, for a change -- even the wave couldn't get off the ground); the silent prayer, afraid someone would jinx it, as we waited for Stevie Wonder's final kickoff return (see picture); the locked-in, juiced-beyond-belief, solidarity once Steve gave us one last chance; and the out-of-body experience of the final ecstasy. The players seemed just as gobsmacked by the ordeal as the fans, climbing the wall and perching in the middle of piles of fans and running around in circles. To go through this with a bunch of great friends, clutching their expectant arms and screaming in their faces and cracking wise to cheer them up when they had tantrums and dancing down the street afterwards... I'm really lucky, and it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Friday, October 14, 2005

While I'm here

I'm growing impatient with Angels bitching about their loss to the White Sox. It wasn't a great call, but Josh Paul, the Angels' young catcher, was inexcusably irresponsible not to tag the batter as a matter of form. It was a close play, and no matter how confident the catcher was that he made the catch, the ump can't really see the webbing of his glove, and I've seen veteran catchers play it safe on much closer plays. As my old civil procedure professor, Rich Friedman, says, "When there are so many things that can go wrong, you're well-served by a tendency to be slightly neurotic." He was talking about lawyers, not baseball, but he often straddles the line between the two.

And yes, the ump didn't announce there was no catch, but the catcher HAS to wait to hear the ump say "You're out" before ROLLING THE BALL BACK TO THE MOUND! Frankly, the Angels were probably going to lose that game anyway, because their starting pitcher hadn't even made it 5 innings and they had burned most of their bullpen just to get to the 9th. Meanwhile, the Sox hadn't used a single reliever yet. I daresay the Sox are probably going to win the series, because Bartolo Colon is hurt and the rest of the Angels just can't match Chicago in terms of starting pitching. But it won't be because of a bad call by the ump; it'll be because Josh Paul was insufficiently neurotic, Mike Scioscia failed to call the obvious pitchout with a pinch-runner on and an 0-2 count (allowing the easy steal since Josh Paul was understandably a little out of sorts), and Kelvim Escobar grooved one to Joe Crede.

Go Blue and...stuff.

Brian at MGoBlog has an absolutely hilarious preview of the Michigan-Penn State game here. It doesn't look good for the Wolverines tomorrow. I'll be there yelling and making smartass remarks about Penn State's lame uniforms, lame fight song, oddly fey team nickname, and absolutely ludicrous coach (not that he's old, but because he's a old Italian guy in three-inch-thick classes and flood pants whose crazed, Brooklyn-meets-western-PA speech is almost as decipherable as Irish Micky Ward's. Seriously...Paterno's been comedy gold for at least the last 15 years. Way before Penn State had their down period. When he chased the ref into the tunnel and then hung a ref doll with a noose around his neck from the front door? Priceless. And at the pep rally, pounding the lectern, spittle flying: "My fadda was a PRIZEFITA! And he taught me, when ya down, witcha back onda canvas, yi gadda geddap and give 'em a LEFTANNARIGHTANNALEFT!!!").

My major source of hope for Michigan lies in the fact that they started the week, incredibly, as 3.5-point favorites against the undefeated Nittany Lions. Needless to say, punters have bet Penn State up another point since then, as they would expected to with such an attractive line. Too attractive, as (Michigan letterman) Audie Murphy would say if this were a third-rate Western. These guys didn't get to be running sports books for billionaires in palatial casinos by being stupid. So I have to tell myself, in order to keep spirits high, that they must know something I don't know. (My more volatile brother thinks they're having a hit put on Chad Henne late some time tonight. But I really don't think that's a justified comment. Chad's been flaky this year, but he's 19 years old and famous throughout the state, he's going to have some growing pains. It's not like PSU's quarterback has been a model of efficiency his whole career -- he JUST got kinda under control this year, as a senior.)

Till next time...Hail, hail, and such.

Odds and ends

The NYT had a story this week from a source inside the Senate Judiciary Committee. The source said that Republican staff was already actually gathering research against Harriet Miers, which is pretty much unprecedented for one's own party's nominee. I don't know if it's true, but the fact remains that basically NOBODY outside of the White House and their flunkies (Ed Gillespie, Hugh Hewitt) have come to Miers' defense. Even Dobson is starting to waffle. Even Limbaugh wasn't on board. So I had to be wondering, WHY, aside from simple lese-majeste and stubbornness, Dubya would be sticking so desperately to Miers, or even picked her in the first place.

Then I saw this:

Among the various defenses of Miers advanced in recent days, Card's achieved new heights of peculiarity. Before a crowd that was dense with conservative intellectuals, Robert Bork among them, Card defended the nomination as a breakthrough for women. Miers, he said, "was breaking glass ceilings before most people realized glass ceilings were even there." ("People," in this formulation, probably doesn't include women themselves.) He testified to Miers' intellectualism by reminding listeners that Miers had majored in math ("something Herman Kahn would have liked") and has counseled the president on any number of challenges -- "and by the way, that includes constitutional challenges."

At which point Card himself turned constitutional scholar. As White House chief-of-staff, he found the most intriguing article, he said, to be Article II, which established the presidency and the executive branch. Miers, he continued, understood Article II as well, and would defend it "when challenged by those given the power to challenge it by Article I [i.e., the Congress] and Article III [i.e., the courts]."

Thus ended Card's constitutional disquisition -- not a moment too soon, as he had managed to conflate Miers' duties as White House counsel with what he seemed to be saying was her judicial philosophy on executive power. He could not have meant to imply that Miers would see her first duty on the bench as defending Bush against all enemies, legislative and judicial, but that's what he managed to convey. At minimum, he suggested that Miers would be the staunchest proponent of executive power over that of the other two branches that the Court had seen in a very long time. Whom, exactly, this was meant to reassure is unclear. Card's comment could not have been better calculated to raise suspicions of Miers on both sides of the aisle.

Then Card left, leaving the assembled conservatives to grouse about Bush and think the unthinkable.

That's Andy Card at a reception for the Hudson Institute, a neocon thinktank. I think we have the answer. As much as the rash of investigations is going to handcuff this administration, I guess they figure their best strategy is to stack the court with as many loyalists with experience in the executive branch as possible. (Note: I don't think John Roberts is a mere time-serving crony; he's clearly been positioning himself for this job his whole life, and I'm sure will pull his weight; but with all his experience as part of Article II, he's bound to have some bias in that direction. As for Miers, she smells like Abe Fortas without the pedigree or panache.

The good news is there is such a dearth of actual support for Miers, a stiff breeze will probably knock her over. The bad news is I'm not sure if I'm going to like whatever takes her place any better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Tradition of Gagging

Some of you may have been chortling over the Yankees taking the gas can once again in the playoffs. To reinvigorate your chortles, some entertaining bitterness herea from a Red Sox fan in NYC. Very little Red Sox homerism here for the last few posts, mostly just pure clean Yankee hating. Remember: it's not only okay to hate the Yankees, it's morally upright. Other good news: their payroll is so screwed up, paying so many casualties of war or non-contributors, that they'll continue to decline. Blimey, I sure the hell wouldn't want to be any of those guys' employer, except Jeter. And to read Yankee fans basically shivving A-Fraud in the shower, read this and scroll down to the mailbag section on the Oct. 11 post. It's not even of a quarter of the way down this massive page, after boldface numeral 3. (Jeez, Simmons oughta get his ass some permalinks with a blog this size.)

An Honest Living

Good to see Al Gore doing something constructive with his time. Certainly left something to be desired as a political campaigner, but he gives a thoughtful speech here about the problems with American media and what he hopes to accomplish with his satellite TV network (called, I believe, CurrentTV).

As for the network, I assume it's on digital cable and therefore I'm too cheap to get it, but as I understand, it does Internet-friendly news and features segments, podcasted and targeted to young adults and teenagers. These will have to be some nerdy teenagers, but it seems like a worthwhile project. (There is a market there -- all my friends and I would have been watching this in high school, when we weren't watching Kids in the Hall reruns and X-Files.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Anything you can manage.

This is where I get pushy. Reminding those who are as busy as me or busier, there was a massively destructive earthquake in Pakistan near the India border. The relief efforts need your help. If you don't already have a preferred charity, I recommend this one:


Relief International. It's committed to filling the gaps that other organizations can't get to. It's the Roomba FloorVac of disaster relief outfits. If you haven't given to Hurricane Katrina relief yet, you can do that at this site too. Please.

Walk it off, Josh. Walk it off.

Okay, I really intended the next post to be on sports, it's just that last weekend sucked so hard on that front I was slow convincing myself to get around to it. Turned out to be another beautiful fall day at Michigan Stadium, good times, good friends, and just the ugliest loss Michigan has cranked out since, at least, the home annihilation to Fred Russell and Iowa. I know Michigan has lost by more points and more heartbreakingly to Ohio State, but pretty much just got outplayed in those games by a fired-up archrival. On Saturday Michigan played with very little heart, very little composure and just straggled through the afternoon against a Minnesota team with a finesse defense and a mediocre quarterback who didn't even PLAY much of the 4th quarter after an injury. EVEN with Chad Henne and the OL playing meekly, and my hero Mike Hart seemingly the only guy who was truly distraught after the game, Michigan was still mystifyingly in position to win the game. Except that our ridiculous kicker missed two makeable field goals, and then the defense gave up a 61-yard run to Minnesota's backup RB who was only carrying the ball so Minnesota could RUN OUT THE CLOCK AND WAIT FOR OVERTIME. Well, most of you who haven't clicked away by now must be sports fans and therefore already knew this, but I'm still working out the awkwardness of ranting about such a generally inward obsession. (See, I talk to people about sports quite often, especially my brother and my sectionmates, but that's give-and-take; besides, if I actually struck up a conversation about sports every time the thought crossed my mind in a day, I'd get nothing done and someone would page security.)

Hoo boy... anyhow, it's almost certainly going to be a historically awful year in Michigan football, at least in the nearly 20 years I've been aware of it. I realize these things are bound to happen eventually, and best to get it out of the way during a year when I'm too busy to get real depressed about it. God knows the Gophers have suffered enough in recent years, and if Michigan's season had to officially fall apart, I'd just as soon it be to them; they seem to have very friendly and classy fans, especially for the Big 11, and I like their fight song, and to be perfectly honest they're not much of a threat to pass Michigan long-term in prestige or recruiting, so I can afford to be gracious. I just hope Michigan does enough soul-searching that they at least are able to make a bowl game; even that beggarly ambition is decidedly in doubt right now.

Also, the Detroit Lions won a game they did virtually NOTHING to deserve, except not back down as the Ravens threw a complete nutty and apparently tried to win WWF-style. It's hard to describe my perverse relationship with the Lions; their history of malfeasance is so long and baroque, and their current outlook so grim, I actually find myself fretting when they win because I know my mother and brother -- who have the Lions parasite much deeper in their blood than I do -- will just suffer the worse for it when the Lions inexplicably lose to Cleveland in two weeks. The Lions have an emotionally traumatized quarterback who's usually not permitted to throw deep, even though that's pretty much the main thing he can do well; a patchwork offensive line whose starters are maaaaybe 40% legitimate NFL talent; a defense that probably thinks it's the greatest thing since seafood alfredo now that it's shut down three of the most rinkydink offenses in the league; a kicker who is famous for laboring in obscurity and setting up announcers' jokes about how he's the most reliable playmaker on the team, but is now old and and slightly hobbled and probably fed up enough to retire any year now; and three blue-chip young receivers, two of whom are hurt and one of whom is currently suspended for Littering And... Littering And... Littering And...

Smokin' the Reefer.

My only sports-related consolations right now are mostly Schadenfreude, which is like drinking Coke for breakfast... it gets you through the tough times, but you know it's corroding you in some place you can't see. Ohio State lost, yippee. The Yankees are old and decrepit and I suspect they'll lose after three cross-country flights in a week, prospective yippee. The Braves lost in an 18-inning game in which they left half a dozen guys on the bench... HAHAHAHAHAHA. I swear, the ability of the Braves to find new variations on fundamentally similar nosedives every year is hilarious, morally reassuring and possessed of a classical purity all at once... kind of like Bach, only with pie fights. So that's one thing I feel unreservedly good about on the sports front.

All right, back to the grind. Hope for better things this week, both in sports and in the real world. (Michigan's economy continues to death-spiral, as Delphi Automotive is filing for bankruptcy, on the heels of Northwest Air doing the same. Also, see the post directly above this one.)

Oh, P.S., Garrett Rivas, the aforementioned kicker, is headed off a cliff this year. He was always a little special, missing random extra points just when you least expected it and stuff, but this year he's also unveiled the physique of an Alexander. Jason Alexander. I know it's just kicking, but this guy looks borderline too pudgy to play darts well. Somebody needs to stage an intervention; 20- and 21-year-olds don't rapidly start looking like that unless they have big drinking problems, in my experience. Hope I'm wrong.