May 24, 2008

Is This the Last Indy 500?

On the eve of the "Greatest Day of Motorsports," it's relevant to stop and assess the health of the three racing organizations. NASCAR is booming, experiencing a growth in fan base both overwhelming and unexpected. Once a redneck hobby, NASCAR now has major media coverage for the minor-league (Nationwide and Craftsman Truck) series as well as the big boys. Corporate sponsorship and driver recognition is off the charts. F1 has been the top racing league in Europe and most of the rest of the world for quite some time, and nothing appears ready to change about that. To keep things interesting, McLaren and Ferrari have four young drivers who could establish a decade-long rivalry of the highest caliber (Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen). IRL/CART, on the other hand, is struggling.

Helio is better known for this trophy than drinking the milk twice.

One big part of a series' competitive value is the casual fan's ability to recognize drivers and for good drivers to want to join a series. The past two Indy 500 winners are no longer with the series, along with two others. Helio Castroneves, probably the most identifiable driver without breasts and winner of 2 Indy 500's, is publicly considering going to NASCAR to join the other four. To make matters worse, the best standing of any of the 4 who joined NASCAR is 34th, two spots away from having to qualify on time for each race. Sam Hornish Jr. is only in that position because he was given Kurt Busch's points from last year to make sure he made the first five races. None of the rest are better than 40th, and Jacques Villeneuve hasn't even run a race. Yet Helio's still considering switching?

The most successful driver to have switched over is Juan Pablo Montoya. However, he's much better than the other open-wheelers. He dominated in his brief time with IRL/CART, setting rookie records and winning the Indy 500. Then he spent some years in F1, doing an outstanding job for a team other than Ferrari. He's in a class above the rest of these guys and it shows.

Who's that with Danica?

IRL might as well stand for Inferior Racing League. As a casual racing fan, I have not stumbled across a single televised IRL race this year, but I've seen 3 or 4 Nationwide series races. I haven't heard anything about drivers switching to IRL from F1 or NASCAR. Honestly, the only interesting thing about the Indy 500 this year is the tradition. Danica's not good enough to turn heads, and the younger Andretti and Foyt have a long way to go to fill their elders' shoes. Most sports fans couldn't name a single driver other than Danica and Helio. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and the rest could be great drivers, but no one knows them. I wouldn't recognize them on the street.

The merger of IRL and CART has the potential to bring open-wheel racing back to prominence in the US, but it has a long, long way to come. If things don't turn around soon, IRL may be equivalent to ARCA and the other lower-tier racing circuits, and they won't be able to afford the Brickyard.

Things are Getting Ugly in College Park...

That's all you need to know. A website exists for the sole purpose of getting Debbie Yow removed as Athletic Director for the University of Maryland, College Park.

I've been a long-time supporter of Debbie Yow, and she's managed to lead the Maryland Athletic Department through some unparalleled times of prosperity, but let's run through some of my concerns about her performance:

1) Stand by Your Man - First and most obviously, not standing by Gary Williams in the media over the Tyree Evans debacle. GW maybe or maybe not should've never recruited Evans. Nonetheless, he did. There's no reason why Debbie Yow had to come out and say that she was unaware of some of Evans' past indiscretions, thus throwing Gary squarely under all four wheels of the bus and thus making it patently clear that there are tremendous strains and cracks in that relationship. United front Debbie. You ever hear of it? Important leadership concept.

blahblahblah Yow embraces womens' basketball coach Brenda Frese

2) Separation of Sports and State - Letting personal friendships get in the way of sound business decisions. It's clear that Debbie and Ralph Friedgen are very, very close. As Randy Jackson would say (and you though Idol recaps were over), a billion trillion times closer than she is with Gary. Some are unclear as to the reasons. Others speculate that it has something to do with both of their very close ties to the church. I'm not even going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole. All that matters to me is that she decides to sink millions of dollars into upgrading Byrd with luxury boxes and new seats after consecutive losing seasons. Think that money could've gone elsewhere in the athletic department? I do.

3) Let Them Drink Pepsi - Stupid decisions regarding football skyboxes. You know those beautiful new skyboxes that are being built? You know that maybe a quarter of them have been sold? You know why? NO FUCKING BOOZE IN THEM. You run a company. Maryland comes to you and asks you if you are willing to drop tens of thousands of dollars to own a skybox for the season. You think it would be a great opportunity to build client relationships and entertain. And then you have to tell people that sorry... you better fill up on your beer in the parking lot. I've got Pepsi and water and that's it in my skybox. Are you KIDDING ME? Debbie, wake up. You're surrounded by Verizon Center, Nationals Park, and FedEx Field, all of whom have boxes way nicer than the ones at Byrd and all of them that serve alcohol. I get that Maryland is a "dry campus" (try walking the halls of any dorm on a weekend and proving that). Nonetheless, you could've gone to bat for the skyboxes more than you did. Instead, your ill-made business decision in the first place is now going to hemmorrhage money. Good job.
blahblahblah The planned additions to Chevy Chase Field at Byrd Stadium

4) Loosen Up, Debbie Baby - Sucking life out of the student fans. Do you even listen to the students? Do you even watch games at Comcast Center that aren't coached by Brenda Frese? For one, the scan and leave concept has been popularized by frat guys, Gemstone nerds, and others who want to guarantee that they build up loyalty points to qualify for the Duke game (for those unfamiliar, the current policy is that you get a "loyalty point" for having your ID scanned at a basketball game and your priority for Duke tickets is based on loyalty points). So students come at tip, have their ID's scanned, and turn around, and walk right out. For some early non-conference games, student posters on the Terrapin Times message boards describe flocks of students walking down the hill away from Comcast at 7:05 immediately after tip of a 7pm game. Very simple solution. Scan once on arrival, scan again on departure, and only begin scanning departure tickets ten minutes into the second half. Guess what? People will stay. It's not brain surgery. It's an idea that I'm about the 5,000th person to propose. Nothing implemented. Seas of empty seats in the student section for all non-Duke games practically. Say what you will about this as a descriptor of the state of the Maryland basketball program. Nonetheless, it's an easy solution to a blatantly messed up problem.

5) Hell Damn Fart - Sucking life out of student fans (part deux): No more Rock and Roll Part II. Yeah, because kids these days aren't exposed to the words "suck" and "hell" anywhere in pop culture. Come on, leave YOUR puritanical values at the door. And it's not even poor sportsmanship. The opposing fans and players laugh it off. It's the one thing that binds the student (and alumni) sections together. And it's gone. All because Debbie kowtowed to the screaming minority who wanted it gone because it's an obscene and unsportsmanlike cheer. Hey Debbie... da-da-da-dada-dada-da HEY... YOU SUCK!
blahblahblah Shaking newspapers is not allowed at Comcast Center

6) No Joy in Shipley - Maryland baseball. I know this one came out of leftfield (no pun intended). Go to Shipley Field someday. Tell me it's not the poorest excuse for a stadium in a major athletic conference there is (except for maybe Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke). You're in a power baseball conference in an area that has a lot of homegrown talent. You've got two pro baseball teams and you've got a sport that could draw fans out for the same reason minor league ball draws fans out. And you basically turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the legions screaming that Terry Rupp continues to be the worst manager of a baseball team since Cal Ripken, Sr. (limited to April 1988) and a horrible recruiter. Word has come down that a new baseball stadium is in the works. Don't get excited, it's not because Debbie Yow wants it so. It's because the campus wants the Shipley space for a new academic building.

Bottom line is that as a 2002 alum and Terrapin Club member since then, I think Debbie Yow is in a Martin O'Malley circa 2006 situation. Some good things are happening to the athletic department (Baltimore), and Debbie would like to take credit for them, but upon careful inspection, she really can't take credit for any of those things. In reality, the majority of the athletic department (Baltimore) is in a downhill spiral and critical questions should really be asked whether Debbie Yow continues to be the right person for the job.

I'm not yet signing the petition on but I understand.
Related Links:
--Tracking the Terps (Many authors, Baltimore Sun)
--Something is very broken in College Park (Nathan Fowler, AOL Fanhouse)
--Tyree... we hardly knew ye (Greg Kanner, Turtle Soup)

May 22, 2008

Best Motorsports Weekend of the Year

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend, or as I like to call it "The Best Motorsports Weekend of the Year" (tm). What makes it so great? I'm glad you asked.

The three major racing series (NASCAR, Formula 1, and IRL) host one of their marquee races this weekend. In the case of F1 and IRL, it is the big race of the year. For NASCAR, it's the longest race of the year, and one of the most exciting for fans.

Like most weekends, there are qualifying sessions, practices, and support races, but they all lead up to Sunday. Here's a preview of each race, in the order they start.

7:30 AM - Monaco Grand Prix

This is everyone's favorite F1 race of the year. For anyone who has played Gran Turismo 3 or 4, the Monte Carlo circuit should look very familiar (it's called Cote d'Azur in the game). It's a temporary street course with tons of elevation changes, hairpin turns, and armco barriers just inches off the racing line.

There's not often a lot of overtaking, but there should be plenty of crashes as any minor mistake will send you into the wall. The scenery is beautiful and the race will be exciting. If you've never seen a Formula 1 race, Sunday is the day to start.

Who's going to win?
History says it will be one of the drivers starting on the front row. Ferrari has looked unbeatable over the last few race weekends, but Monaco is a different animal. I wouldn't bet against Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, and look for Fernando Alonso to make a surprise run at the podium.

12:00 PM - Indianapolis 500

The granddaddy of them all, the most famous race in the world. The big story this year is the merger of the IRL with the Champ Car World Series (formerly CART). Will any of the former Champ Car drivers make their mark on the IRL in a big way this weekend?

No matter how far American open-wheel racing has fallen in the past 20 years, the Indy 500 is still one of the premier sporting events of the year. People who never watch racing at all tune in to the Indy 500. Of course, there are also people like my wife, who just found out this year that the Indy 500 isn't a NASCAR race (and then claimed that "only losers would know that").

Who's going to win?
Scott Dixon looks like the class of the field, but the sentimental favorites have to be Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, and A.J. Foyt IV. Danica and Marco both have a pretty good shot at winning as they've run well at Indy in the past.

5:30 PM - Coca-Cola 600
This is a long race. In fact, it's the longest oval race anywhere in the world. (This is where all the NASCAR-haters make their jokes about 600 miles of driving around in circles.)

The crazy part is, the extra 100 miles makes the race a lot more exciting. The race starts in daylight and ends at night, and the changing track conditions force the teams to adapt and make changes throughout the race. Drivers have to survive 600 miles of racing just to have a chance at a win. That's around 4 hours of staying on the lead lap, not making any mistakes, and staying in a position to fight for the lead. It's a marathon, and it's a lot of fun to watch.

Who's going to win?
Well, Jimmy Johnson is never a bad bet to win any race, especially one at Lowes. But I'm going to go with the hottest driver in any form of racing today, Kyle Busch. I think Rowdy wants to win this one, and he's not going to let anyone get in his way.

There you have it, you can spend over 14 hours Sunday watching some of the best racing you'll see all year. Put off the barbecuing and quality time with the family until Monday, and leave Sunday for the cars.

Reaction to Steroids, Spygate Scandals Rooted in.....Terrorism?!?!

Bear with me here.

Quite a few people are upset that Congress is spending valuable time and resources investigating baseball's steroids scandal. Senator Arlen Spector wants to divert some additional effort into investigating Spygate and the New England Patriots.

I don't like it, but I get it.

There is a growing discontent among Americans in general. We are getting screwed because not everyone plays by the rules. Osama bin Laden crashes planes into our buildings and his followers behead innocent civilians, but we have to negotiate with Pakistan to even cross the border to look for him. If we find him, we have to follow international law and hold an actual trial, not cut his fingers off one at a time in a multi-network prime time special.

In a weak economy, we face the reality that nepotism still exists. Jobs are not awarded purely on merit, but rather through a system of favors and helping out old buddies. Halliburton has been awarded no-bid contracts, leaving other enterprises and their employees to wonder how they're supposed to compete. Even at the top levels of government, we see failed horse promoters tapped to run FEMA and mid-level White House lawyers tapped for the Supreme Court.

Hillary Clinton pays attention. She knows that playing by the rules is not the way to get things done these days. She campaigned in Florida and left her name as the only one on the Michigan ballot. Sure, it was cheating at the time. If momentum breaks a little differently, that cheating would make her the nominee. She's tried circumventing the rules, changing the rules, ignoring the rules and doing whatever it takes to win. It almost worked, but it definitely left a large number of voters standing around yelling and flailing that she wasn't playing by the rules.

Foreign countries can totally ignore safety, labor and pollution standards, sending us lead paint Barbies and tainted toothpaste. They can staff phone banks to handle our entire customer service industry. They can write software code as well as we can, for pennies on the dollar. They can make it faster and cheaper, and we have to buy it. We play by the rules, and we're screwed.

We pay taxes to fund our community schools and hospitals. We pave our roads, we sustain social security, we support our military and police. Illegal immigrants use all those resources and send the vast majority of their earnings out of the country. We play by the rules, and our reward is the subsidization of a class of freeloaders. Add in that the Census can't count them, and we must further subsidize to make up for the deficiency in federal funding. Once again, we're punished for following the rules.

And cheating on taxes. Do I need to even comment on this?

All of this fuels a mounting feeling of hopelessness and despair. If you play by the rules you are disadvantaged from the start. The concept of a level playing field really only exists in one place - the playing field. Sports in general are an escape from reality, but the parallels between sports and all aspects of life and nationalism and politics and wealth and fairness and greed and sacrifice and anything else you care to imagine are obvious to us.

What separates the steroids scandal and Spygate from all of the other examples I have mentioned? Congress can make these guilty parties do the perp walk, and excoriate them on CSPAN and CNN and ESPN. It's cut and dry. It's an angry pointed finger. "You, sir, disgust me." Congress can't do that with the same forcefulness, not to mention lack of hypocrisy, anywhere else.

Moreover, the sports scandals can be corrected. If we could make Bin Laden appear, we would. If we could make China and India suffer the same business and trade constraints we endure, we would. If we could make every immigrant follow the rules and register at the door, we would. If we could make every business only hire the best man for the job, we would. If we could make every politician fight a fair fight, we would. If we could make every individual and corporation follow the tax code to the letter, we would. We can't do any of those things. There are no easy solutions to any of those problems, but those frustrations still exist and simmer and threaten our entire way of life and national self-image on a daily basis.

So, like an unpopular child taking out the school day frustrations on his little brother, we fight the battle we know we can win. We fight the battle that makes us feel good, even if it fails to address the underlying problem. We won't stop cringing when Roger Goodell is sitting behind the same type of Congressional microphone previously reserved for Ollie North and Michael Corleone, but at least we can understand it.

And, to paraphrase Bill Murray's Caddyshack character, "For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright." So I got that going for me.

As seen in The Onion

I'm not normally one to cut and paste in this blog because I am a big fan of original content, but in case you missed it, I can't pass up this opportunity to reprint a recent article in The Onion:

Snickering Peter Gammons Persuades John Kruk To Say Orioles Are The Best Team In Baseball On Air

BRISTOL, CT—Following highlights of a recent Baltimore Orioles game, Baseball Tonight analyst John Kruk was goaded into stating that the Orioles were the best team in the major leagues at the prompting of fellow analyst Peter Gammons. "I mean, they're ahead of the Yankees after a full month... They've got to be pretty darn good, right?" Gammons said just prior to Kruk's statement as Kruk nodded helpfully. "You said yourself, John, that George Sherrill already has 14 saves, and saves are pretty important. Plus, Kevin Millar may be batting .236, but wow, does he have a sweet swing! I certainly can't think of a team that matches up. Can you? You can't, can you? Look right into camera two, right there." Kruk went on to say that Roger Clemens would win the NL Cy Young award and that he didn't think Pat Burrell would ever make another out again as Gammons hid his head in his hands and shook silently.

Nats Claim Stadium Not Done on Time, Seek $100K per Day from D.C.

Remember when Washington Nationals' owner Ted Lerner said "Everyone has done a wonderful job on this ballpark...I think expectations have actually been expectations"? It turns out Lerner had low expectations.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Nationals are seeking a $100K per day penalty against the District of Columbia for failing to have the stadium complete by Opening Day. Great idea, Lerner. Make the District build your stadium and then extract additional taxpayer money for your own pockets once you determine they failed to meet perfection. City attorneys seem to have hit the nail on the head, accusing the team of "windfall-seeking" according to the Post.

At the heart of this dispute is the definition of "completed". As anyone who attended the first game or the subsequent series can tell you, the stadium was fit for baseball. There were quite a few glitches, but nothing apparent that indicated incomplete construction. Apparently, some of the team offices were not completely done in time. According to the Washington Sports Commission, the offices make up less than 3% of the stadium and the District let the Nats retain their RFK offices rent-free to make up for the delay.

Let me be clear about something. I do not doubt that the Lerners are contractually entitled to the penalty if the offices were not completed by March 30 of this year. It is offensive to me that they would actually seek to enforce the provision though.

The purpose of the penalty was to give the District an incentive to do something that probably has never been done before in the history of municipal construction: open on time and on budget. The District actually managed to accomplish both feats. In addition, the District footed the bill for most of the stadium, upgraded the Navy Yard Metro station, provided shuttle service to a parking lot near RFK, actually made Metro work efficiently, pissed off a lot of - shall we say - less-than-enthusiastic-about-baseball District residents, extracted money from a lot of businesses, and basically did everything it possibly could to make this stadium happen. Ted, do you really think it's a good idea to make THIS Council bitter and feel fleeced? It is likely to be the only one to ever be on your side.

Let it go, Ted. This isn't the construction business you are used to - you're now building public favor, political goodwill, chips to call in later and allies in the places that matter. This $100K per day penalty is going to cost you way more than you realize, especially now that the District feels really comfortable talking to the Post.
And yes. I did just defend the District of Columbia Government. I'm going to take a shower now.
Read more about this fiasco at Why I Hate D.C., a blog title so appropriate I feel I should be writing it myself.

Champions League Final - Shootouts are Rubbish

Or, as we say in America, shootouts are total bullshit.

Yesterday Manchester United defeated Chelsea in an all-England Champions League Final. The first half of the match was amazing, with an amazing goal by Christiano Ronaldo and numerous squandered opportunities for Manchester. Right before the halftime whistle, Frank Lampard took advantage of a United defensive breakdown to knot the match at 1.

At halftime I switched to watch a bit of the American Idol finale, but when I switched back 15 minutes later, the game was in the 75th minute. I was watching the 7pm replay of the match, so I guess ESPN cut out half an hour at the beginning of the second half to make the match fit into a 3 hour time slot.

The rest of the match and the extra periods were fairly boring because teams always seem to play extra conservatively in situations like this.

Admittedly, the penalty kicks were exciting, with Christiano Ronaldo getting blocked and looking like he would be remembered as a choker. After that, John Terry missed what would have been the game winning shot when he slipped on the pitch and pushed it wide. Edwin van der Sar came up huge for Manchester with a game winning save to end the game.

The only problem is, a game like this should never be decided by penalty kicks. I know this debate has raged in soccer circles for years, and I've actually switched sides on it. I used to think that PKs were exciting and a great way to end a game, but now I wish they'd just keep playing OT periods. What's better than a playoff hockey game that goes into multiple overtimes? Aren't 2OT and 3OT basketball games exciting?

I know the other side of the argument is always that the game could go on forever, or that the players would get too tired. I don't care. This is the Champions League Final. If there was not a chance of sending the game to penalty kicks, the teams would be a lot more aggressive in the overtimes, rather than playing conservatively and trying not to make a mistake.

This match was a great advertisement for soccer in America, so I'm sure it won't prompt any change. But it should.

May 21, 2008

Falcons' Blank Sends Vick, Fans Clear Message

Michael Vick is not ever playing quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons again.

The Associated Press and others announced today that the Falcons have inked rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to a six-year, $72M contract. $34.75M is guaranteed. Ryan was the third player selected in the draft this year, after efforts by the Baltimore Ravens to trade for the Rams' second pick did not pan out. Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and a one-time staunch Vick supporter, stated the deal had to be done today in order to get a six-year contract, due to the owners decision to opt out of the labor agreement for the 2010 season.

You can't lose your job to injury, but it appears you sure as hell can lose it to a prison term. Clearly, there is no place for Vick in the Falcons' organization as a quarterback. Even if Matt Ryan is the worst highly drafted quarterback since Ryan Leaf, the Falcons are now committed to him publicly and as far as the cap is concerned. There is no way out.

Ironically, Matt Ryan is the future - and savior - of the Falcons more than Michael Vick ever was. The cap implications of having to cut or bench Ryan are unfathomable, and would make it totally impossible for the Falcons to field a competitive team for at least one season, and perhaps longer. I don't know if the CBA opt out gives the Falcons an out in 2010, but if it doesn't the NFL's largest black fan base had better get used to the pasty white guy from Bahstin Cahllige behind the center.
On a related note, is Arthur Blank really this confident that 2010 will be an uncapped season? Combined with the unanimous vote to opt out of the CBA, do we need to be concerned that the owners are REALLY dug in for battle this time? Given Kevin Mawae's griping to ESPN about the largesse of Ryan's deal (and subtle hint that a four-year rookie system would be nice), are the two sides already negotiating through the media? Time will tell I suppose.

Escobar KO's Church, Finishes Doubleheader Sweep

Check out this game-ending double-play. The highlight at about 55 seconds is the best shot of it. Who says baseball's not a contact sport?

In related news, the Braves continue to be awesome at home, getting 12 IP with only 1 ER allowed from their two starters in the doubleheader. Jorge Campillo looked awesome in his first start, and Chipper continues to be the best hitter in the NL.

May 20, 2008

Idol Recap 5/20

Tonight, I bid you farewell, my Idol Recap readers, with my review and recap of the Idol final contest.

Raise your hand if right out of the gate you knew the boxing analogy was going to be taken just a half-step too far. I mean, you've got David Archuleta who could get knocked over by a palsied schoolgirl. And you've got David Cook who has been nothing but nice (although proved tonight he can be king of the unintentional bitchslap - see below) and who we know is an emotional guy beneath the surface dealing with the severe illness of his brother. We were treated to Jim Lampley giving us three-round boxing commentary because the average Idol viewer doesn't realize that a real boxing match goes 12 rounds. Oddly, his boxing-related training advice to the contestants was interspersed with the advice of the ever-fabulous Andrew Lloyd Webber and the ever-stinking-rich-Mr. Burns-esque Clive Davis. I personally wish they had featured some of the more unglamorous aspects of boxing. You know... show us the cut man slicing and cauterizing wounds on the singers in between rounds. Show us the spit bucket. Show us the early-onset dementia. Well, we got that from Paula actually. On another personal note, when they panned to the audience, I realized how I just can't wait until tomorrow night when Amanda Overmyer has to stomach doing some saccharine number on stage again. This time she doesn't have to fake liking it. This oughtta be good.

So anyway, we all knew Archuleta was going to win the damn thing. Tonight was pretty much nothing but a coronation. In the words of Denny Green, tonight the Idol judges got to "crown his ass." Nevertheless, a round-by-round analysis...

First Round:
David Cook sings Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (U2), David Archuleta sings Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (Elton John/Bernie Taupin). Cook took a new take of the song (more daring than he got credit for), Archuleta kept it very close to the vest (i.e. original version). I am a HUGE fan of both songs and thought that both of them did an amazing job. I, actually, give the nod in this round to Cook. Archuleta's vocals were scary good. But Cook showed range that he doesn't normally show. His lyrics had the haunting quality of his remake of Mariah Carey's Always be My Baby. More than anything, he seemed like a natural on stage. He didn't seem like he was pushing himself so damn hard to focus on performing like Archuleta normally seems to be doing. I really, really enjoyed both songs and have to say that I realized when these two sang just how lucky we are to have this final versus the final last year. Both of these performers are going to go on to huge success. That said, the slight nod in this round featuring two fantastic vocals goes to Cook for his ability to combine a stunning vocal performance with a great stage performance.

Second Round:
Both contestants sing totally and utterly forgettable songs that were finalists in the Idol songwriter competition. Now we know why there are "professional" songwriters and why there are amateur songwriters who need to get their jollies by entering a competition like this one. Both songs were horribly penned and dealt generally with seizing the moment and the stage and looking in the mirror and liking who you see and on and on and on and on. Here's where Archuleta separated himself from Cook... he picked the right song. See, those of us who are a little familiar with this, and by a little familiar, I mean have watched at least one previous season finale, know that this throwaway song has to be done in true ballad form for it to be memorable and for it to carry the meaning that it's supposed to have in the eyes of voters. Cook went rock. He again gave a great performance. Archuleta went ballad. He always goes ballad. Except for when he sings about his "boo." Archuleta played it smart. Archuleta wins. Both songs suck. Who picked the smarter song? Archuleta. That's it. He wins this round.

Third Round:
David Cook sings The World I Know by Collective Soul. David Archuleta ends the night with an encore performance of his take on John Lennon's Imagine from earlier in the season. Cook, as he has been prone to do occasionally during the course of this season (Neil Diamond week, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame week, Idol Gives Back week), just flat out didn't pick the right song. I agree with him in premise that this was an opportunity for him to show growth. And I LOVED his inadvertent bitchslap at Archuleta by saying that's what he believed this final performance was supposed to display. However, I disagree with him in reality. Because here, this is the time when you're supposed to do what Archuleta did... make people remember why they love you. Make people remember why you're in the finals. Make people like me who don't really like you, like your dad, or like your performance style, sit straight up and say, "DAMN." If Cook had pulled out Mariah or had pulled out his version of Billie Jean, he'd have had the same kind of success and left the same kind of imprint in the minds of viewers. Cook had a great performance. And it capped off a night where we saw tremendous versatility from him, great emotion, and wonderful stage presence. However, Archuleta had a mind-blowing performance and is fortunate that this will be the last thing that Idol viewers remember when they go to vote.

a) The average Archuleta voter is going to be speed dialing nonstop until it's time for them to get tucked into bed by mom and dad and head off to 5th or 6th grade tomorrow. The average Cook voter is going to vote once, maybe twice, and then will head off to tuck the kids into bed. Archuleta will get millions more votes just on this alone.

b) Don't think that going last didn't bring a huge benefit to Archuleta. People were poised by their phones the second he stopped singing. Also, his performance is going to be the last thing people remember.


Alright, it's been a fun Season 7 everyone. I'll miss Kady Malloy's boobs, Kristy Lee Cook's pandering (and I hope she got her barrel horse back), Danny Noriega's insane effiminateness, Chikezie's horrible outfits, and Jason Castro and Amanda Overmyer flipping the collective bird at American pop culture. Congratulations Archuleta, but Cook will sell millions more records than you. I look forward to hearing your album in my doctor's office waiting room. Now, following the advice of Randy, I'm off to go recap a phone book. And remember, just like the Philadelphia Filipino birdman/pimp...... "I am your brother, your best friend forever, singing the songs and the music that you love!!!!"

NBA Conference Finals Preview

Our NBA Conference Finals Preview comes from our West Coast correspondent, Michael Prodanovich. He also is far more competent to discuss NBA matters than we are.

EAST: (1) Boston vs (2) Detroit

A lot of people saw this one coming, and I even said it would be surprising if the East didn't play out to form with this conference finals matchup. What I did not see coming was the method in which these two teams got here. Boston has been less than impressive. Despite going 8-0 at home, they have gone 0-6 on the road and most of those games were not close. Fortunately for them, with a 66-16 regular season record and home court throughout, they can win the title without ever winning a road game. Unfortunately for them, they really haven't played that well at home, as 3 of their 8 home playoff wins have gone right down to the wire.

The Pistons have looked like a well oiled machine in these playoffs, playing dominant ball both at home and on the road cruising to relatively easy victories against both Philadelphia and Orlando, beating the latter on the road without "Mister Big Shot" Chauncey Billups. Richard Hamilton and Tayshawn Price have both been on top of their games, and other than Posey, the Celtics don't have a perimeter defender who can keep up with either of them. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen's Corpse are both extremely sub-par defenders at this point in their respective careers, and Allen is shooting somewhere around 30% for the playoffs. Detroit has the edge at every position except power forward, where Garnett and Rasheed are probably a toss-up. This Piston team has been together for a long time. I originally thought they were getting old and slow, but their bench has given them the energy to keep up. Their experience is showing at the best possible time. If Boston doesn't show something soon, their season looks to be nearing its end.

Revised Prediction: Pistons in 6.

WEST: (1) Los Angeles vs (3) San Antonio

Two more teams that are no stranger to each other in the playoffs. I thought the Spurs' run was finished this year, but they showed up huge in the first round against the Suns. I also thought they were finished after three blowout losses in New Orleans, but they summoned the testicular fortitude to win a Game 7 on the road. Tony Parker has had an amazing playoff run so far, and is right there with Nash, Paul and Williams as the best point guard in the west. Duncan is still as good as he has ever been, Ginobili has had his best year yet, and their bench has stepped up with huge shots when needed. This cheapshotting (Horry) bunch of whining floppers (Ginobili, Duncan) is the team everyone loves to hate. But with great players, a solid nucleus, a productive bench and the best coach in the game, it is no surprise that they are here.

The Lakers have played extremely well so far, and easily cruised past the Nuggets and Jazz in the first two rounds. Now the real games begin. Kobe is playing the best ball of his career, shooting a high percentage, getting everyone involved and passing like Magic. Gasol has been a godsend, and his play has freed up Odom to feed of his talent. The Lakers are an organized team with a nine man rotation were everyones minutes are set almost to the exact number, with everyone knowing and filling their specific role. Like the Pistons, the Lakers also are peaking at the right time. Even including their two losses in Utah, the Lakers have lost only five games in the last two months.
East Coast Bias
I would be shocked if this series does not go 7, as these two teams are both so good, so experienced and so well coached. I think the home court will decide this one, and with the Lakers hosting Game 7 (thanks to having one more win than the Spurs in the regular season) and having not lost a home game since mid March, I think they will pull it out.
Prediction: Lakers in 7

Sir Charles: Don't Half-Ass This Problem

Hey Charles Barkley, an accepted definition of problem gambling or pathological gambling is: An inability to stop or limit gambling, despite repeated adverse consequences. Pathological gambling can become an addiction, no different in mechanism than alcoholism or opiate abuse or sex addiction. All four cause the brain's pleasure center to release chemicals that indicate to the rest of the brain that the activity is something good.

So now, Charles, you have publicly announced that you will take a gambling holiday for at least a year or two. You say you will do this on your own. What has changed? You haven't lost any more money than you previously admitted to (on the magnitude of $10M plus, and that's assuming he's being honest). Your career is definitely not taking a downturn, as your political career might even be taking off. You appears to be able to afford it, given you immediately paid back the $400K in markers you owed in Vegas. No, the only difference is that your failure to promptly pay your markers has become a public embarrassment to Sir Charles Barkley.

In Twelve Step circles, the first step is admitting that you have a problem and are powerful over a substance or activity. For everyone facing a harmful addiction or compulsion this step arrives in different ways. For an alcoholic it might be getting drunk at the holiday party and causing a scene. It might be getting a DUI. It might not even happen until there is loss of life or limb, or the process server shows up at work with the divorce papers. For Sir Charles, apparently, it was public embarrassment. Given what we know about you Chuck, this is understandable.

So here's where we are, Charles. You admit that you have a problem. You admit that you need to do something about this problem, because the unhappiness it causes you is outweighed by whatever pleasure, if any, you now derive from gambling.

Do you really think you should do this on your own? Does a doctor remove his own appendix? Does the lawyer serve as his own counsel? What's the difference? You're saying that you can control your behavior using your own brain, the same brain that treats gambling no differently from eating or having sex at this point. It is literally now a biological urge, and you expect to treat it using the same organ? Which part of the brain do you think is going to win this battle, the animalistic part that is based on a stimulus-reward survival theory or the high-thinking cortical part that helps you with crossword puzzles and advanced mathematics? Yeah, the lizard brain is going to win. It always does.
East Coast Bias
And here's a tip, Chuck: the one- to two-year holiday isn't going to do it. The brain is plastic. It changes in response to stimuli - that's how we learn. Your neuronal structure has changed to respond quickly and heavily to gambling. Those neurons have a lot of extra branches, and those branches aren't going anywhere any time soon, if ever. If you give it another taste in a year or two you're going to light up that same Christmas tree, and those cascades are going to leave you feeling just as empty and in need of more as it does right now. Sorry boss, you used up your gambling allotment for this life.

So get some help Charles. You need more brains than just yours if you expect this to work. You're already somewhat of a poster child for Libertarians anyway. Isn't one of their mantras "Heal thyself, physician"? You're going to need something coming from outside your own head to make this a reality. Otherwise, I see you getting your fix from seedier channels than Vegas casinos. Is that a public embarrassment you are prepared to face? Do bookies file civil suits in the court system?
East Coast Bias
Still think you're different from everyone else who has faced similar demons? It's okay, smart people have a tendency to do that. Watch this very eloquent monologue by alcoholic Craig Ferguson and see if you still feel the same way.

Things I Saw at Preakness

J-Red has covered most of the ECB Preakness field trip in his photo post, but I thought I'd add the things he missed. Here are the things I saw at Preakness:

  • Guys shaking up unopened beer cans, then smashing the cans against their heads to open them, and then chugging the beer, all while a crowd of people chanted "Rumpelstiltskin." That was a new one for me.
  • Port-A-Pot races. You really have to see one of these in person to appreciate the lunacy.
  • A girl pissing on a chain link fence. Standing behind the fence were three police officers who didn't seem to think it was strange.
  • More airborne beer cans than I thought possible. When people ran on top of the Port-A-Pots, they got pelted with beer cans. When there was a crowd of people, they got pelted with beer cans. When there was a big open area, people threw beer cans at each other across it. I hope the flying beer cans don't lead to the end of a BYOB infield.
  • Lots and lots of mud.
  • A whole lot of fights, exactly zero of which were started for a good reason.
  • Many people carried out on ambulances due to their own stupidity.
  • An unbelievable number of losing tickets in my pocket. I bet on all 13 races and didn't cash a single ticket. Ouch.
  • Nine boobs. Refer back to J-Red's post to see why it was an odd number.
  • A girl get booed for incorrectly flashing the crowd (see above)
  • The first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
Photo credit Matt Rourke - AP, found on the DC Sports Bog

May 19, 2008

Preakness Photos - Batch 1

I'm still waiting on additional (more lewd) photos from another member of our party, but here is the first batch of Preakness photos.


There were 115,000 people there. Here are fewer than 0.1% of them.

It rained the day before, but the infield was quite dry when we arrived at 10:20a. Oddly, it got muddy very quickly. The only liquids present were a) beer and b) beer, as processed by the kidneys, bladders, and syphilitic penises of 115,000 people. This chick might find that, and her sunburn, disturbing on Sunday morning.

We were well-protected by the police and United States Air Force during the festivities. In the first picture, the man in the foreground is a murder police. The Baltimore Police Department hopefully won't notice that his OT slip is signed by a J. McNulty. (Note: Murder police eat sandwiches and drink Capri Sun. He also was very nice and willing to talk to us.) The plane seen in the second photo is usually only seen by people about to die.

Here is our crew.

They also had horse races. The horse in third place can't possibly be Big Brown, because there is no way the other 11 horses would let him be sitting this pretty in third place and in clear air all the way down the backstretch. That would just be retarded.

No, it is Big Brown. J-Red embraced this inevitability, hitting a $25 exacta ($36.60 per $2 wagered) and $25 place bet (at $17 per $2 wagered). He was also rewarded by the DUI gods for being the DD with some hefty win/exacta/trifecta payouts earlier in the day. Hence, he got to hear the lady at the betting window say "Sorry, we're out of $100s and $50s" twice. He went home with this.

Brien and Russell went home with the first picture and to the second.

Oh yeah, here are some boobs.