Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baseball-Related Linkage

The fine folks over at The Dugout take us behind the scenes in the Jason Bay contract negotiations. (Note - The link does feature some semi-starred-out language).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Spice Cabinet Is Trying To Kill Me

I spend a fair amount of time in my kitchen because, in my experience, that is where food comes from. As someone who enjoys eating both for the ability it allows me to continue my existence as well as for the flavor it can provide, I take this aspect of my life fairly seriously (Probably more seriously than I should, as I recently used a thermometer to take the internal temperature of a sweet roll as a means of determining doneness, which spell check does not think is a word). I take pride in whipping up tasty meals out of whatever I feel like buying at the store (As I also work at the store, these things are inevitably cheap), and really love the room of my house from which the food comes. So I was shocked when I recently discovered that my warm, fuzzy feelings are evidently not returned by that most crucial of cupboards, my spice cabinet.

As someone who is, technically, poor, I find myself often hit with sticker shock when I enter the spice aisle of a grocery store and find that .0056205032 ounces of bay leaves will cost me $41.85. This is why I buy my spices from the bulk section of the local Organic Hippy Co-Op, which allows me to fill a bag with however much of a particular spice I want, and then buy just that amount. Beyond helping me ensure that my spices are constantly fresh (Yes, they deteriorate with age), this saves me a not-insignificant amount of money. But occasionally I get spices at a regular store that does not smell of patchouli, which is why my spice cabinet is littered with small, frequently unmarked bags of Mystery Spices broken up by the occasional Enormous, Mostly Full, Clearly Labeled Jar. Most of the time it is fairly easy to determine which spices are in which bags, as most look different from one another, and in the rare cases that they are similar, well, no one's going to care too much if the basil is actually oregano (One exception: Do not confuse paprika with cayenne pepper. Ever). As a result of this system, my cabinet contains very few words. So the other day when I looked into the cabinet and saw the jar of coriander standing there like some kind of flavorful colossus, I was a bit startled to see that the side of the container read:


This is less than comforting, especially since none of my other containers or unmarked bags contain similar sentiments. On the upside, it does explain where the eerie glow in my kitchen comes from. Now, being a history major with an English minor, I am not too heavy on the sciences, and therefore am not entirely sure what the effects of radiation are, but I am reasonably certain that it is where Godzilla came from. Thank god that I am no longer in New York, because I am petrified of what might happen if a cockroach got into the cumin. And while this does eliminate the need for me to buy a nightlight (I now keep the garam masala next to the bed), I now spend most of my time wondering what the trade-off of good-tasting food v. decreased life expectancy is worth to me. I have yet to figure out the exact answer, as my thought process is fairly scattered due to the noise being emitted by the Geiger counter I placed next to the nutmeg (Which actually has a label, albeit one that identifies the bag's contents as 'nutmed'. Evidently I was tired). Such is the price of safety. In response to this alarming set of circumstances, I have composed my last will and testament, and would like to let each and every one of you know that I love you all equally, though some of you more than others. And if I am found dead, or glowing, or Godzillaing, be assured that the turmeric did it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Were You Aware Of It?

Hanukkah pronounced backwards is 'hakuna', famously used in Disney's The Lion King. There's a 'Jews control the mass media' conspiracy theory in here somewhere.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Lackey

Well, thanks to the Red Sox for waiting all of two hours or so to make my last post completely irrelevant. Mike Cameron, welcome aboard. Great to have you (Here's a fun question: Who has provided more Wins Above Replacement to his team over the last two years: Mike Cameron or Jason Bay?). John Lackey? Well, this one I'm a bit more concerned about.

One thing I won't deny is that the deal looks like it makes the team better for this year, as it makes the question marks the Sox have in the minors force their way onto the roster rather than being handed a spot, and with the guys the Sox have down on the farm, that sounds good to me. But this deal is a lot of risk to assume, especially for a team that has been as low-risk as the Sox in the past. 5 years for a pitcher is a heck of a commitment considering the high injury and attrition rates at the position, and Lackey has a checkered injury history the last two years, a glaring red flag considering those seasons follow 5 consecutive years of heavy workloads. Pitching-wise, Lackey is slightly ground ball-oriented, though essentially neutral in this regard. What he makes his money off of is his ability to strike out an above-average number of hitters while limiting his walks, making him a good starter. Which is why it concerns me that his ability to K batters is in a five-year decline.

Lackey's peak year was 2005, when he was legitimately Cy Young-caliber. Since then, with a graph line that points up a bit each year, batters make contact with 5% more of the pitches they swing at in the strike zone, and a whopping 20.4% of the pitches they swing at out of the zone. Lackey has gone from very hard to hit to essentially league-average (Or slightly worse than league-average) contact rates. For obvious reasons, this has led to his strikeout rate declining, as that is also in a five-year decline. Now, Lackey is what the old sportswriters call a 'Crafty veteran', and he hasn't let this go unnoticed. Rather, he seems to have changed his pitching style a bit in response to his increasing inability to obtain a swing-and-miss, upping his pitches thrown outside of the strike zone significantly last year. Unfortunately, as I just mentioned, batters have dramatically increased their contact rate against these pitches as well, and while the move undoubtedly helped Lackey's strikeout numbers a bit, it also led to an increase in his walk rate. Things like this scare me.

So what we have is an aging pitcher who has struggled with injuries, with a dwindling ability to strike out hitters, lacking the strong GB-tendencies that would make high contact rates acceptable. The fortunate bit is that so far Lackey has had a very gentle annual decline, and he was starting from a high talent level in the first place. But eventually there comes a point where a pitchers inability to put one past a hitter pushes that pitcher off a cliff completely (See Hernandez, Livan). I am not going to claim I know exactly where that point is, but each year John Lackey gets a bit closer to it (When he manages to stay on the field), and the Sox just committed to paying him until he's 35. As long as they aren't expecting an ace, they shouldn't be too disappointed, as with this rotation, Lackey is third-starter material at best. But I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of 2010, Clay Buchholz has pushed Lackey down to fourth in the pecking order, and it's probably not getting better from there on out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interesting Non-Tendered Players

Big name free agents and blockbuster trades can wait. Yesterday was the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to those youngsters still under team control, with any- and everyone not receiving an offer heading into the free agent pool, which by my unofficial count seems to have 6,000,000 players in it at the moment. I tend to prefer the bargain-basement players to round out the roster, as you can often get good production from low-cost players on short-term deals, which gives you roster flexibility down the line (Always a good thing). So after flipping through the list of newly-available players, three especially stand out (Kelly Johnson was disqualified, as the fact that he hits from the left side of the plate outweighs his solid bat and positional flexibility on a team sporting lefties at both outfield corners), either due to the fact that I think they'd be a good fit for the team, or due to the fact that I keep hearing their names (This is only one of them). So let's take a look at the cheap players out there, the type Theo seems to love signing (Editor's note: This is not a criticism).

Firstly, let's start with Jonny Gomes. At this point, the Sox seem comfortable going into 2010 with a starting outfield of Hermida-Ellsbury-Drew, letting Jason Bay go wherever the money takes him. As an unathletic, all-bat corner outfielder in his thirties, no objections here to not re-signing him. The proposed OF, however, is all lefties. I would feel more comfortable picking up a right-handed bat to pair with the three fine gentlemen listed above. Enter Gomes, just cut loose by the Reds. Jonny has two glaring weaknesses, none of which are hitting left-handed pitching (.261/.341/.503 vs. lefties the last 3 years, which includes his trainwreck of a 2008). he can't hit a righty to save his life, but in this outfield, he wouldn't have to. His abnormal HR/FB spike in 2009 (22%, 15.7% career) will come back to earth a bit, but he's still a very useful bat to have. The glove, on the other hand, not so much. Gomes is something of a piece of furniture in the outfield. And we're not talking an end table with wheels here. We're talking 'Let's move the pull-out couch up the stairs!' furniture. He's worth -22.3 runs per 150 games in an outfield corner over his career, also known as the Manny Ramirez School of Defense (Feel free to sub in the name Jason Bay if you'd prefer). This is a significant wart. But as a player available on a cheap one-year deal who would ideally play in about 1/4 of the team's games, Gomes is worth the price. And yes, this essentially is the poor man's version of signing Mike Cameron, a move I support even more (In other things that might make some sense, trading for Krispie Young (A rumor I'm making up right now. I have heard less than nothing about this) would also serve the same purpose as signing Gomes, but without the execrable defense).

Next up we have Matt Capps, a surprise non-tender by the Pirates. Let's immediately dispense with the basic 'If a guy is being released by the Pirates, that's the end of the line' joke, as that's below even Shaughnessy to write (Full disclosure: I'm actually not sure if anything is below Shaughnessy after his recent idiotic column about Theo's 'Bridge year' quote. The man is a complete hysterical idiot). Until last year, Capps was the Pirates closer, and a very good one at that, posting an ERA of 2.28 in 2007, followed up with a 3.02 showing in 2008. Then last year the wheels fell off. Capps missed time with injuries, and the ERA jumped to 5.80, leading to his outright release. So what went wrong? Well, first and foremost, Capps wasn't anywhere near that good to begin with. He does one thing very well, and that is that he doesn't walk batters (Career 1.66 BB/9). However, his strikeout rate is extremely average, and his groundball rate is Wakefield-esque (6.89 K/9, 36.0% GB career). Strip out the luck caused by extremely low HR/FB rates in 2007 and 2008 and the extremely high rate posted last year, and we find that Capps has been essentially the same pitcher every year, with an expected ERA between 3.95 and 4.37 for each of the last four years, right around league-average for a relief pitcher. Considering he posted these numbers in the weak NL Central and is an injury risk, passing on Capps looks like the right move.

Finally, my favorite reclamation project pick-up: Chien-Mien Wang. One presumption out of the way first: I want the Sox to sign Adrian Beltre to play third base. Since the Sox seem to want to sign him too, this works out well (This topic will get its own post soon). This gives the Sox a defensive infield of Youkilis-Pedroia-Scutaro-Beltre, also known as The Best Defensive Infield in Baseball, and it's not even close. That's a Gold Glove-caliber player at each position. And what better way to make use of this quartet than by signing a pitcher with a career 57.5% ground ball rate (It's a rhetorical question)? Now, as with Gomes, there are caveats here. Wang has been hurt for just about two straight years, and was been shelled when he pitched last season. But that's not quite how I see it. In 2008 Wang was off to another season right off the assembly line until a fluke Lisfranc injury to his foot while running the bases in an interleague game ended his season. He came back in 2009 and got shelled, then was eventually shut down for shoulder surgery. Now, I don't have access to detailed medical records (And wouldn't know what do do with them if I did), but this sounds to me like the foot injury didn't heal properly, and as a result of Wang trying to pitch through it, he lost his effectiveness and injured his shoulder (By way of more concrete analysis, Wang's pitch mix changed a bit last year, as he threw his sinker 20% less, in exchange for a corresponding increase in his percentage of two-seam fastballs. When he threw it, his sinker had its customary drop. However, he lost 2.5 inches of horizontal movement on it, which may be a sign that he was unable to throw it properly after the foot injury, and seems as if it would certainly help batters square up on the pitch). If team doctors are willing to sign off on him being fully healthy, both in his shoulder and his foot, putting a ground-baller like Wang behind this infield on a one-year deal is a move with the potential to pay extremely high dividends, and fits nicely with Theo's running theme of injury-reclamation pitchers.

Are these the best free agents out there? Absolutely not. But these are three available players who should have low price tags, two of whom would be a nice fit for the Sox roster. Unfortunately, the third is the one whose name I've seen thrown around the most. However, as none of that name-slinging has been done by any front office sources, I have faith that the Sox can see right through Capps' deceptive numbers and focus instead on players who can and will help them more.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And Now I Am One

Well, not me. This blog. I won't say how old I am in hopes that the flood of stupid teenyboppers who are certain to flock to this blog following Katy Perry-related searches will think I'm one of them, and give me a substantial portion of their parents' disposable income. So, congrats, blog. I'll hoist a beer in your honor. Thanks to Guest Informant for all the help over the year. And now, to commemorate this truly momentous achievement of not being dead, I'd like to highlight the things some noteworthy Americans accomplished at the ripe old age in question:

George Washington: Did not tell a lie. Also, could not talk.

Abraham Lincoln: Did not shave.

John Madden: Ate entire Turducken.

Gerald Ford: Bonked head on things.

Thomas Edison: Probably invented something.

Santa Claus: Yeah, he's American. Suck on that, other countries.

Joe Biden: Preparing for the office of the vice presidency, drooled on self.

Albert Einstein: Wait, was he German? Whatever.

There you have it. Congratulations on getting older, blog. I hope you weren't expecting anything nice. Or well-written. Now about that beer....

Friday, December 4, 2009

Modern Dance Review, Part Deux

I wasn't there. My bad. So instead, let's talk about cars.

You see, the reason for my nonattendance was the sudden inability of my car to do essential car things, such as going uphill, without stalling. As this same thing happened several months ago, the problem seems to lie within the fuel system, leading me to suspect the fuel pump. Which, considering the car has over 245,000 miles on it, might be worth more than the vehicle is. Good times. So an executive decision was made to load the car onto a trailer and take it to an automotive shop, where people with more sophisticated equipment than my socket wrench complete with two sockets (One of which is metric!) could examine it and determine the exact cause of its inability to move, something which was probably related to the glowing 'Check engine' light present on the dash. This plan was carried out, and the car removed from my driveway. So yesterday I heard the verdict: There is nothing wrong with the car. Apparently in an effort to fool the mechanics, the check engine light shut itself off in transit to the shop, and the stalling problem went away as well, even as the car was put through a 300-mile test over various terrains. So now I am going to go pick it back up, with no alterations made to it. This is somewhat less than comforting. Essentially, I feel as if I am living with an alcoholic housemate and have just been told by the Betty Ford clinic to just keep the door to the liquor cabinet closed and he'll be fine. I somehow doubt it, but I'll give it a try. If you see me by the side of the road with my thumb out, please pick me up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


So, turns out it's hard to write a novel in a month. Who knew? I end National Novel Writing Month just shy of 10,000 words, less than 20% of the way to the goal. But I think that the novel I've begun is actually good, and something I will finish. And I've gotten better (I think) at setting aside some time each day to write, though that's gotten a bit harder as the days have gotten busier due to the continual jettisoning of parts by my faithful steed, which will now only run where gravity takes it (Which is not far, since the way out of the parking lot is uphill). Yay for buses!

Anyway, 2,147,483,647 words were written by the participants last month, and congratulations to all of them. In this sort of race against the clock, everyone can set aside personal competition and just write without regard to how their quality stacks up against that of others, which is presumably something of a liberating feeling, and something I did not manage to achieve. Which is why I bet my book-in-progress is better than theirs (collectively). With the pace I've set for myself, they'll get to find out this summer.

In unrelated news, I'm volunteering at Vermont Public Television tonight for what I presume is pledge drive assistance. I think this officially makes me a member of the liberal elite. Does the title come with a paycheck?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Playing Literature Catch-Up

Here now, reviews of the books I've read since I last wrote a full review, in order, all in 25 words or less. Why not?

In case you're easily confused: Book - Author - Words

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami - Murakami is the man. Now if only someone would return Kafka on the Shore to the library. You should read this book.

Lost in the Funhouse - John Barth - Connected short stories, all about writing said stories. Witty, frustrating, and better than the premise sounds.

Great Days - Donald Barthelme - More of the same from the master of the modern short story. But before trying this book, read 'The School', the best short story ever.

You Bright and Risen Angels - A completely insane and madcap telling of the war between bugs and electricity. Insects or computer glitches? Who cares if it's this much fun?

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Murakami - I can't read when I run, so I don't. Run, that is.

And with that tossed-off bit above, we're up to date. Hooray and stuff!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Clearinghouse: Yes, I Am Alive

On November 5th, a new keyboard was procured, so I can type once again. It's kind of nice. "But wait!" you're saying. "That was a week ago!" I commend you for your ability to use a calendar, and have an excuse. November is National Novel Writing Month, and I'm trying that, though I started behind and it hasn't gotten any better since. If you care, their website is , and my profile and excerpt and whatever is here. So that's why posts have been nonexistent. I'm getting the urge to vent, so the novel writing may be interrupted soon.

Other things: Ben, it's probably too late for Huck Finn help at this point, but if you need a hand with anything for class, throw up a comment or shoot me an email and I'll start up a post for it. I suspect that between myself, Uncle Rick and Cindi you'll have a hard time finding a book that none of us have read.

And baseball: It's season awards time. So far the Gold Gloves are out, and the people who vote for them are stupid and wrong. Probably a rant coming on that (And the other awards) at some point. Count that as a threat if you'd like.

My novel: Is a fairy tale featuring a nymph with hepatitis. You probably shouldn't read it. But thanks for asking.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's A New Box On The Right

It's really self-indulgent. This post is the proper place to give me a hard time about it.

The Great Gatsby

As is often the case with great works of literature, I was introduced to The Great Gatsby in high school, and promptly hated it, dismissing the classic as "A second-rate soap opera". But as time has passed, I have sometimes found myself wondering if perhaps the fault was not in the book itself, but rather somehow was something personal, if there was something I had missed in the slim volume. Impossible as this scenario sounds, I decided to re-read the book, just to make sure. And you know what? Most high schoolers are stupid. But man, not me. I was five kinds of brilliant.

You see, The Great Gatsby essentially is a brief soap opera, dealing with high-society shenanigans in the early 20th century; full of lavish parties, lengthy car rides and characters who are not what they initially seem to be (NOTE TO CINDI: HE DIES AT THE END). Based on the headlines I am assaulted by every time I attempt to buy groceries at a supermarket, there remains a thriving market for this sort of thing, though a basic level of literacy is no longer a prerequisite for those wishing to partake of it. Unfortunately, it completely fails to grab me. I feel much like I do when reading Jane Austen, recognizing the quality of what is before me, but simply uncaring. It's great that Jane recorded massive manuals of upper-class British dance etiquette, and when I find myself in a situation calling for a knowledge of that protocol (Should be any day now), she'll be the first source I turn to. But until then, she can sit on the shelf (The shelf in question belongs to someone else), unread by me. Same thing here. If I need to know the proper way to conduct an affair while living in 1920s NYC, Fitzgerald it is. Until then, I will pass.

Or I would if not for one thing: The prose. Regardless of how little I care about the events on each page, The Great Gatsby is far beyond wonderfully written. Every image in the book is fully formed, each far more clear than it could possibly be in any picture, moving or static. Opening to any page at random will yield a line so well-formed that it will not inspire, but rather make you wish to never write anything ever again, for it will pale in comparison to Fitzgerald. Just by way of example, I let the book fall open, and it chose pages 34 and 35. Upon page 34 resides a sentence stating of a character that

She came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here.

Instantly, you know exactly what that looks like. This happens on every single page. It is borderline-amazing, and makes the book so much better than the sum of its plot that it really must be read to be believed. So go forth from this place and do so. And then return, gawking at my suboptimal sentence structure, mocking me in the comments for them. Actually, don't. That would be mean. Instead, forget about the Great Gatsby. Click on the ads and mail me blank checks. Ideally while chanting my name. That is a much better use of your time than spending two and a half hours bombing through a canonical work of Western Literature. Because these B and N keys don't seem like they're going to fix themselves, and all this copying and pasting isn't a ton of fun.

Oh God No

I can't even bring myself to put this video on the blog. Katy Perry is releasing an MTV Unplugged performance. Please god, make it stop.

Friday, October 9, 2009



Friday, October 2, 2009

I Am Racist Jesus

Prelude - This post is a review of the movie Gran Torino, which came out last year. Now, if you're interested in the movie, you've had plenty of time to see it. But in deference to anyone who hasn't while secretly harboring the desire to do so, allow me to warn you that this is going to contain spoilers. In fact, now that I think about it, it's more a short essay on the movie than it is a review. Too bad my delete key is broken.

Gran Torino supposedly is Clint Eastwood's swan song, and the movie shows it. Eastwood is present in every scene, dominating the movie with his craggy visage and the rasp that age has left of his voice (He is officially in contemporary Cohen territory at this point). And while the movie itself is fairly good, it winds up seeming a bit self-indulgent as a result of this. Then there's also the fact that the ending is so over-the-top ridiculous that the phrase 'ham-handed' does not even begin to do it justice. But we'll get to that.

Eastwood plays a man at the end of his life. His wife has died, and he has strained to nonexistent relationships with his children and grandchildren. So what's a man to do? Well, why not sit on the porch with his dog at his side, drinking PBR all day, observing the downfall of the neighborhood? This is how he spends his time, using his personal definition of 'downfall of the neighborhood', which can be nicely translated as Asian people moving in. That's right, Clint plays a racist character, obviously still haunted by his experiences in the Korean war and unwilling to attempt to befriend (Or even acknowledge) his new neighbors. That is, until the presence of a totally non-stereotypical Asian gang sets off a chain of events involving Clint slowly coming out of his shell in a fairly predictable, drawn-out fashion. The movie addresses the sensitive topic of racism with a sense of humor, the highlight of this being two seperate scenes set in a local barbershop featuring Eastwood and the barber hurling ethnic slurs at each other (Maybe if more people had a bit of humor about things our society would be less sensitive and angry, and then rather than dying of heart disease, people would die two years later from type-2 diabetes. I have a dream). There's a running dialogue between Clint and the priest at his local Catholic church based around Eastwood's wife's request that this priest gets Eastwood to go to confession. And that's 90% of the movie. It's fun in a slightly offbeat yet predictable way. Now let's get to a very detailed discussion of how it ends.

By this point the gang violence hits a point where it needs to be stopped. Clint being the local war veteran who has gradually stepped up to become pretty much the neighborhood patriarch by this point (As well as having the coveted title of Guy In Every Scene), it is apparent that this will fall to him. So he goes at night to confront the gang. We are now at the point when I am going to be stating massive spoilers left and right. Let's start with one in a parenthetical, all caps (NOTE TO CINDI: HE DIES). There then is a lengthy confrontation on a front lawn between Eastwood and the gang members that ends when he quickly reaches inside his jacket and is shot approximately 5,000,000 times. He dies, with his hand opening to reveal that he was going for his lighter to fire up a cigarette, and was actually unarmed. The gang is arrested, and the neighborhood is saved. Yay! Heavy-handed ending? A bit. But we haven't got to the best part. After Clint is riddled with enough bullets to supply a third-world military coup, he (Totally coincidentally, I'm sure) falls to the ground in the exact shape of the cross (Yes, he took confession earlier). I AM RACIST JESUS is not proclaimed, but would be about the only thing that could make this more ridiculous.

At least, that's what I thought at the time. Little did I know that the ridiculous factor would shortly be turned to 11. After this we have a scene of the reading of his will, which features some more humor in the form of ethnic slurs (It was funny. That sentence makes it sound like it wasn't. Again, stupid delete key). The titular item is given, not to a family member, but to one of the Asian kids from next door who Clint de facto adopted. And then the movie gradually fades into the credits over a minute-long shot of this kid driving the car, listening to a faux lounge-jazz number on the stereo. But what's that? The vocals! Dear god, it's 956-year-old Clint Eastwood rasping out a lounge number (Dear Heather joke goes here)! And cut to black. Yes, that's the ending. I did not think, upon viewing the climax of the film, that the denouement would be able to up the comedic ante. But dear lord, it certainly did. For a film that attempts to take a serious-yet-light approach to a heavy topic, the fact that I have tears of joy in my eyes remembering it probably is a result the production team would be proud of. However, I'm not so sure they'd be happy about the reason.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Year's Rays

So in the quick season predictions piece I put together in March, I dealt with the media fascination of which team would be this year's Rays, going from nowhere to contention. I said that no one would fill that role this year, and in one sense I was correct. But not in the sense of there not being a 'This year's Rays'. Because what the Rays really did was go from last to first by improving their defense, providing a blueprint that three teams have followed this year. And while none of those teams have had as large a turnaround as the Rays did last year, all three can make a case to be the Rays of this year (Please note that the Royals, preseason expert consensus to fill the Devil-free shoes this year, will not be appearing in this article except to note that Dayton Moore is a terrible General Manager who must have incriminating pictures of the team owner that he used to get his four-year extension. Or ownership is for some reason trying to lose games. Either/or).

In 2007 the Devil Rays were dreadful, both in the standings and with the glove(s), finishing in the AL East basement with a record of 66-96, and allowing 57.7 more runs than an average defensive team, worst in the league by a full 9.6 runs (All defensive data is UZR from Fangraphs, which is scaled to the simplest possible figure: +runs (Runs saved) and -runs (Runs allowed)). Then in 2008, the Rays suddenly jumped to +74.2 defensive runs as a team, best in the majors. How did they do this? It was surprisingly simple. They mostly moved their existing players around the diamond until they found a part where each was good, or at the least serviceable (Aiding this adjustment was the fact that many of the Rays' players were young and athletic, making positional transitions easier). BJ Upton was an absolute butcher in the infield, so he was shuffled to centerfield, where he was worth +10.3 runs in 2008 (To give you an idea of how good that is, playing Upton in center would completely cancel out playing (post-hip replacement) Mike Lowell at third, no easy task). Akinori Iwamura moved from third to second, and super-prospect Evan Longoria replaced him. Delmon Young and his impressive brand of butchery were exiled to Minnesota, replaced by Gabe Gross (+11.4). Carl Crawford rebounded from a poor 2007 to do that thing he does (+19.6). Essentially working with parts they already had, the Rays allowed 129.9 fewer runs in 2008 than in 2007 simply by improving their defense. So who made a similar leap this year? Three teams.

Firstly, we have the Detroit Tigers. They've gone from -39.1 to +44.0 over the course of one season by moving Brandon Inge to third (Where he excels to the tune of +9.6), getting Carlos Guillen out of the infield (And Guillen was hurt for quite a while this year, replaced by Josh Anderson in the outfield. Anderson hits worse than I do, but he's a great fielder), and replacing the corpse of Edgar Renteria with Adam Everett at shortstop. Add in that they played Magglio Ordonez less in right than in previous years and that Miguel Cabrera has proved surprisingly competent at first base and you have another last to first story, albeit a less dramatic one.

The Texas Rangers are the team that has gotten the most praise and press this year for revamping the defense, probably because they went about this in the most visible way of these three teams. The Rangers moved incumbent Gold Glove shortstop off the position to the less-demanding third base this offseason to make way for slick-fielding freshman Elvis Andrus. Young fought the move at first, leading to a good amount of ink spent on the issue. But eventually he relented, and the move has indisputably helped the team. The Rangers have gone from -51.7 in 2008 (Worst in the majors) to +33.0 (6th). A lot of this turnaround can be attributed directly to Young and Andrus. In 2008 the Rangers 3B position was an absolute revolving door, with the common link between all the men trotted out being putrid defense. Five men combined to cost the team 26.5 runs, far worse than even Manny Ramirez has managed in a single season. This year Young has improved the position from historically bad to merely bad, as he has staunched the bleeding to an extent by only being 7.5 runs worse than average. Meanwhile, Andrus has taken over for Young at short admirably, upping Young's -5.6 runs in 2008 to a Gold Glove-consideration-worthy +8.2 this year (See, Young's Gold Glove last year was silly and wrong. He didn't make errors primarily because he had no range, preventing him from, you know, fielding baseballs. We call it Derek Jeter Syndrome in these parts. Though Jason Bay Syndrome would also be appropriate and accurate). Josh Hamilton has been hurt, sparing the team a repeat of last year's version of centerfield butchery, Hank Blalock has been permanently DH'd to reduce the risk of injury to both himself and fans in the front rows, and statuesque wind turbine Chris Davis has been sent to first base under strict orders to not move anywhere else for the good of the team. The result? A surprising playoff contender.

But the most dramatic turnaround has been that of the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners fired the clueless Bill Bavasi after last-year's team became the first-ever 100-100 club ($100 million payroll, 100 losses), and replaced him with Jack Zduriencik to clean up the mess Bavasi left behind. And the early returns are beyond good. The Mariners have gone from a poor (Though not putrid) -20.9 runs last year to this year's league-leading figure of +76.2 runs. Yes, +76.2. That is a full 33% better than the second-best team in baseball (The Rays), an amazing margin. The key to this was the 17-team, 180,000 player deal between the Mariners, Nets and Indians which netted the M's both Endy 'Gold Glove' Chavez and, more importantly, The Big FraGu (Franklin Gutierrez). Chavez took over for the departed Raul Ibanez and his glove of -18 putrification, saving a quick 18 runs at the position before he suffered a season-ending injury. Ichiro slid back to RF from CF, replacing 'cast' there with his usual brand of steady D (+8.4). But most important is the man in centerfield. Gutierrez this year has been worth +24.7 runs, an amazing number that can essentially be read as 'Willie Mays in his prime' (Random Mays aside, apropos of nothing, from Bill James: "Catching Willie Mays in a rundown is like trying to assassinate a squirrel with a lawnmower.") Based on last year's free agent contracts, Gutierrez's defense alone has been worth $11.25 million to the Mariners this year, before you factor in his offense or position. He even managed to make Jarrod Washburn look competent for half a season. So, yeah. Nice trade. Then there's the infield, which is merely good rather than spectaular (Exiling Yuniesky Betancourt, a.k.a. The Worst Player in Major League Baseball, to KC helps a lot, as well as Adrian Beltre finally not being injured (Beltre's defense is awesome. He is not at all overpaid, as many media members like to claim)). Put them together and you have the best defensive team in the majors, and it's not even close.

So there it is, this year's Rays, as well as a bit on the value of defense, something that the Red Sox front office is hopefully paying close attention to (As the season has gone on, the Sox D has improved. They are now merely bad, as opposed to awful, which they were for the first three months of the year). And while none of these teams underwent as impressive a turnaround as the Rays did over the course of a single season, the fact that their General Managers seem to recognize both the value of defense and how to build around it bodes well for their respective futures, all of which look much brighter than they did a mere twelve months ago.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blatant Space-Filler

So I have places to be this morning. Maybe I'll get a ridiculously long evaluation of the value of defense in later. Until then, here's a wonderful internet phenomenon that I found late, Auto Tune the News. Auto Tune is a program used to fix the vocal melodies of people like myself and Ashlee Simpson who can't actually sing, but look pretty while trying. When over-applied, it makes people sound rather robotic. But after years of it being used solely for this, some snide Brooklynites have discovered its true calling: Turning the nightly news into a music video. And it is wonderful. the sixth one is below (It's from a while ago, if you're wondering why the news in question isn't current). For any sensitive viewers out there, this video does feature some mild language from representative John Boener, R-OH. Party of family values my rear end. If this interests you, I also strongly recommend #5. It features a C-Span debate on the drawbacks of smoking lettuce.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh No

Go here. Listen to the audio samples. That is all.

Update - Amazon appears to have pulled the audio samples, probably in response to reports of consumers bleeding from the ears. The album in question is entitled "Christmas in the Heart," and it is an album of traditional Christmas songs performed by Bob Dylan. If I can find samples anywhere, I'll let you know. Because I had to suffer, so everyone else should too.

Update part deux - TwentyFourBit has them all combined into a simply incredible seven and a half minutes. Click here for it, then hate me in the comments.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anna Karenina

Is it possible for a book that has been roundly canonized to possibly live up to the hype? Of course it is, but it's not an easy task. When one opens a book expecting sheer brilliance, any missteps will doom the book, even if it remains excellent, solely because it makes the expected perfection unattainable. Fair? No, absolutely not. But this is just how it goes, living under the crushing weight of expectations. Perhaps this is why Tolstoy made all his novels 1,000,000 pages long. Some things are harder to crush than others.

So let's get this out of the way at the beginning: I have now read both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and at this point I feel safe concluding that I am a Dostoevsky man. Each of his novels seems to be sculpted to address a single topic, an extended musing on philosophical and cosmological minutiae told through half-crazed Russians who seem to passionately exclaim about 2/3 of everything they think. Tolstoy, on the other hand, moves at a glacial pace, seemingly attempting to show life in his novels, without any overt statements on the, or possibly even a, subject (The exceptions seem to be any time a character has a religious epiphany, at which times Tolstoy can be overly preachy). This novel took me a long time to wade through (And there were multiple detours into other books in the middle), as what Tolstoy does seems to be specifically designed to not grab one's attention. The cast is an ensemble, some of whom will likely appeal to everyone out there, while likely everyone will also be left cold by a character or two. Unfortunately for me, one of these doubles as the title.

I have nothing against Anna especially, but just have no sympathy for her. See, when she makes the decision to leave her husband (By the way, she leaves her husband for her lover) she knows exactly what this means for her. She knows how society will view her actions, and what their response will be. She knows she will not be allowed to keep her child. Yet she does it. The fact that later she struggles with the consequences does not excuse her from guilt, as she knew what would happen when she made her choice. The events that lead to her death (She dies too) are caused solely by herself flipping out completely. She essentially loses her mind with jealousy (Despite the fact that there is no evidence he is cheating on her. In one memorable scene she yells at him because he smiled at a delivery girl bringing him a package from a relative. She is nuts), and does everything she can to drive away the man most dear to her. When she kills herself, it's a relief. While I'm sure it's supposed to be a sad moment, I'm just left glad I don't have to deal with the crazy woman anymore. She chose everything that happens to her. Just because she couldn't take it doesn't make her sympathetic.

One thing I will give Tolstoy is that he does wonderful death scenes. Normally I don't care for these all that much in the mediums I feel traditionally revere them (Film and theater). I generally find myself wishing someone would hit the dying individual over the head with whichever blunt object is nearest so that they will finally die and we can move on. But Tolstoy does these well. Anna's death is wonderfully written, and the only chapter in the book with a title ('Death,' occurring much earlier) is also well done, if not quite as brief or powerful. This gibes with War and Peace, in which the death of Prince Andrey is one of the most memorable images I have ever read (It involves a dream and a door). It is in moments such as the spiritual revelation of Levin that Tolstoy struggles to express himself without getting on a soapbox (See: "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"), and that moment mars the end of Anna Karenina significantly. It is as bad as all this may make it seem? Absolutely not. But Tolstoy's love of a glacially-plotted affair leaves me a bit cold, wishing I could hear a little less about the formal rules of Russian societal interactions and a little more about, well, pretty much anything else (Except English societal affairs, thank you very much Jane Austen). Tolstoy's novels are almost ridiculously ambitious and overstuffed, yet nothing really happens. He lays out a great mass of humanity, but never answers the question of why. In the end, I find myself left with some questions and the feeling that I spent my time well solely due to tackling a classic, even if I didn't enjoy all of it, but I would be hard-pressed to tell another that the book is worth the time it takes to read it. In my memories, it is similar to Thomas Pynchon (Oddly enough), in that I don't have much of an image of a whole picture, but rather some minor scenes that have stuck with me. Which is enough for me to make it an enjoyable read, but not what I had hoped for before I began, or what the general acclaim would lead one to expect.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crossing Over

I am willing to bet that most of you out there have never heard of the film Crossing Over. And that is okay. Really, it is. Your ignorance allows me to point at you and laugh derisively, which is an opportunity my ego appreciates. But enough small talk about your personal inadequacies. Let's get back to the movie by playing a strange sort of guessing game. In it, you will have to try to guess the quality of this film based on the fact that no one in the world has ever heard of it as I give you a list of true statements about the movie. Ready? Let's do this.

1. It stars Harrison Ford.

2. It co-stars Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta.

3. It was produced by the Weinsteins.

4. It was released THIS YEAR.

5. There really isn't a 5. That should be enough.

Okay. So, taking all those things into consideration, how bad do you think the movie would have to be for no one in the world to have ever heard of it, and the people involved in its production to have already forgotten about the entire experience, possibly due to some Eternal Sunshine-esque brainwashing experiment? Oh no. It is far worse than that.

Crossing Over aspires to follow in the footsteps of Crash, offering an honest take on a subject that is difficult to have a discussion about in our society (Racism in the case of Crash, immigration in this film). But it fails in this. Crash was a good movie, probably not Oscar-worthy, but a quality film. It had many central characters whose stories intertwined as the movie progressed, rather than the traditional, front and center Main Character. These people were fleshed out as the movie went on through a time-honored art of writing called characterization, a long-standing tradition evidently unfamiliar to those responsible for Crossing Over. This made them actual people about whom it was possible to care, getting the viewer interested and invested in the film. Crossing Over is what would happen if you took the script for Crash, translated it into Portugese using only Babelfish, then translated it back and made the movie without changing a thing. The people we see on-screen all are shockingly revealed, as the film goes on, to be exactly what they seemed to be upon first glance. Out of 8 or so main characters, only one of them even experiences something that could be viewed as a moment of doubt. I am not in the mood to be charitable to this steaming pile of script, so I will not give it that nicety.

Let's do some character studies. Harrison Ford, for example. He appears almost immediately in the film, and is quickly revealed to be The Good Cop, in the most stereotypical fashion possible. That is it. As the movie goes on, he never has an internal struggle. He is an amalgam of the Good Cops that have previously graced the screen, completely devoid of life. How about Ashley Judd? She works for the Department of Justice or Immigration or Something as an attorney for those oppressed by the cold-hearted US Government. As such, she has a heart of gold. Nothing changes this. At the end of the movie, her husband is arrested pretty much in front of her. She stares at the camera for about a second, then proceeds to continue adopting the underprivileged child she was already in the process of adopting, and never addresses the subject of the husband. How about the husband? From his initial appearance, he is clearly sleazy. He continues to be sleazy in the exact same unchanging manner throughout the remainder of the movie, even when presented with a clear emotional conflict by another character. At this moment of confrontation, what happens? He leaves the room, and nothing changes. These are not people. They are terribly artificial constructs of a scriptwriter clearly incapable of operating on an emotional level higher than that of a kindergardner. Any time the film wants to try to get the viewer invested in the movie, it simply has the Big Bad US Government tear apart another poor immigrant family. Unfortunately for the immigrants, their characters are as flat as a piece of paper from the script they were working from, and therefore are impossible to care about. Crash was the student in class who wasn't the brightest, but always tried really hard, so the teachers gave it good grades. Crossing Over wears a helmet to protect itself, and isn't allowed near sharp objects.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wait, What Did They Just Say?

If I may return to pop music for a minute (I know the month is over. I just don't care), I'd like to discuss the song "Don't Trust Me" by the band 3oh!3 (I swear to God, Google says that is the band's name. I will judge them a bit based on that alone. In a negative way). This is getting quite a bit of airplay on the corporate pop behemoths that bestraddle this continent, owing allegiance only to ClearChannel and the almighty dollar. It features a laughable/terrible intro, featuring some low synths and a series of godawful lyrics sung at least 85 decibels louder than they merit. Let's ignore them completely. The song then goes into a fairly catchy chorus featuring the singer adopting a falsetto while the rest of the band goes for your basic four on the floor dance-rock beat. But this is just the first half of the chorus. Here, in full as played on the radio, are the lyrics for the second half. Breaks between lines are the band's, not mine.

Don't trust a
Never trust a
Don't trust a
Don't trust me

Those of you paying attention may have noticed that those are not, technically, complete sentences. Or even sentence fragments. With the beat of the song, if the radio is censoring a word there, that word is one syllable long. So here's a fun game you can play at home if you like: What one-syllable word that would require censoring would fit there? Google lyric searches are cheating. I have spent way more time than is healthy thinking about this, and haven't come up with anything that makes a lick of sense yet, so I am just about ready to conclude that the band got distracted in the middle of the songwriting process (Possibly by a shiny object) and forgot to finish writing the song itself. Somehow this did not hurt its (The song's) marketability. I suspect cash factors into this somehow.

But anyway, this is not even the most unfortunate part of the song. After we go verse/chorus/verse/chorus, per time-honored tradition, it is time for the bridge. Here now are the bridge lyrics, sung by what sounds like the collective extended family of the entire band, over solely a drumbeat (Yes, all the music is dropped to better allow us to focus on the poetry at hand):

Shoosh (sp? Shush? Shhhhhhhh?) girl/Shut your lips
Do the Hellen Keller/And talk with your hips

Now, I don't feel I'm usually one to get my knickers in a twist (At least not seriously. It's kinda fun if I'm joking about it), but isn't this actually offensive? I liked the Official Girlfriend's take on it, "I must have missed that part of The Miracle Worker'." It might have made that movie more interesting, I'll give it that. I guess it's what the kids are listening to these days, and the children are our future. So, as always, that is why I hope to die young.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Great Moments in Rock: Christianity Is Stupid

Back in the dark days before digital editing software was so ubiquitous that your grandmother could use it (Mine has her own experimental techno band), Negativland took care of tape manipulation so that you didn't have to. And you never even thanked them. The band released their first album in 1980, and over the course of two more developed a distinctive sound featuring live instrumentation, genre-hopping, and both narration and found sound as the frequent vocal tracks. A good amount of sampling was also involved, and as often is the case, this got the band embroiled in some copyright lawsuits. But that is a story for a different song, a story which I will probably write sometime and post here, even though the band has already written a 270-page book about the subject (Mine will filter the actual event through my uninformed knowledge of the event, so that should be fun and/or unique and wrong). On Negativland's 4th album Escape From Noise, released in 1987, they moved from their own Seeland records to punk label SST, and for the first time found themselves having to deal with the demands of someone other than themselves. And one of these demands involved touring. As a primarily studio-oriented concept, this was something they had never got that heavily into during their formative years, and advance ticket sales looked as though the band members would each be losing a significant amount of money on the label-mandated tour. So what to do? Well, why not take credit for a murder?

This was in the 80's, the time of strange haircuts, regrettable fashion choices, and the Senate porn rock hearings. Two years earlier Judas Priest had been accused of causing two boys to commit suicide through masked messages in their music. Tipper Gore was using her authority to order Steve Dallas' decapitation. And so Negativland did what any group of trendy musicians would do and jumped on the bandwagon. When David Brom killed his family with an axe, they issued a press release stating that the FBI (Specifically agent Dick Jordan) had asked them not to leave town due to their song "Christianity Is Stupid" being involved in the murder investigation. Jordan did not, technically, exist, but this did not stop the media from jumping all over the story. But before we get to that, let's talk about the song for a minute.

As propagandists everywhere know, quotes and audio clips can be taken out of context to make almost anyone say almost anything. So in this spirit, Negativland took a sample from a 1971 Christian film entitled "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?" as the centerpiece of Christianity is Stupid. Over an industrial-metal beat and guitar line, the song features a repeated vocal sample from the film of a man announcing "Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Give up." Intended, as many Negativland creations are, as a joke with a point, the band claimed that Brom had been arguing with his Christian parents over the song on the night of the murder. Once the media ran with it, the band fueled the fires as much as they could, in the simplest way possible: By announcing that their attorney, Hal Stakke (Who also did not exist), had advised them not to make any comments. However, they were not ignoring the media completely. No, while the media worked itself into a fine lather, Negativland were recording them. The follow-up EP, Helter Stupid, broke down the media coverage of the fake controversy in often-hilarious fashion (All the other stories the media jumps to are about serial killers as well, and when Rolling Stone calls to ask about the murders, they are answered only by someone repeatedly shouting "Now it begins!" into the telephone as they ask about possible backwards masking in the song). The end result? Negativland got a funny story to tell, and didn't have to tour. And in the end, the media proved to be far stupider than Christianity.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Easy Call

While large contracts get all the attention, developing a talent base of cheap players for depth is a very important part of putting together a baseball team, and something Omar Minaya has overlooked during his time in New York all too often. But it's never too late to start, as Matt Murton is currently available for free (He was DFA'd by the Rockies, who are absolutely loaded with outfielders). Murton is hardly going to make the big splash that Minaya seems to feel is a New York necessity, but what he will do is prevent the Mets from having to play, say, Fernando Tatis. And that can only be a positive for them. Murton has a long body of work showing that he can get on-base (Career MLB OBP of .353 in over 1,000 plate appearances), hit for a very limited amount of power (.438 slugging), and play good defense in left field (As opposed to, say, the Daniel Murphy Experience). He is making the league minimum salary for next year as well as this, which is a bonus for the suddenly cash-strapped Mets. So let's do it, Omar. Up until this point you have been fairly to very bad at your job, but there's still time. Go out and make this happen. Because I know you're going to read this post.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Actual Good Music

I know it might be occasionally hard to remember that such a thing exists if you read only my various rantings from the last month (Which, let's be honest, is all anyone ever needs to read). Here is a fine example of it, provided by New Zealand's finest, complete with a sexy dance:

Just as a warning, while the lyrics contain no naughty words, they are about adult themes. Also, they are wonderful.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mind-Boggling Stupidity

John Kruk, speaking about Tim Lincecum: "If you look at stats, which I try not to do". Allow me to state this clearly: Statistics are a measure of what happens on a baseball field. John Kruk is a lead baseball analyst on the biggest sports network in the world. Essentially, what he is saying here is that he doesn't try to do his job, and allow me to respond for the rest of the world when I say that we can tell.

Update - Throughout the rest of the program, John proceeded to mention team ERA's multiple times as well as other things that sounded remarkably like stats. If I didn't know any better, I might think John Kruk is an idiot.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Short Play Inspired By Cobra Starship

Firstly, if you aren't familiar with the song in question, here's the music video. Sorry about the MTV things taking up valuable on-screen space.


Girl, Good
5 Best Friends (Hers) - Interchangeable

Act I

Girl - It sure is fun hanging out in the corner at a club.

A Best Friend - What?

Girl - Nevermind.

Guy - Hey there. Do you want to go bad?

Girl - No.

Guy - Are you sure?

Girl - Now that you mention it, not so much. Hang on. (Turns to A Best Friend) What do you think of this guy?

A Best Friend - I don't know. He looks kind of creepy.

A Best Friend - And what's that thing he's doing with his voice when he sings the word 'bad'?

A Best Friend - How come we can hear each other over the music now?

Others - Shut up.

Girl - What you're saying is true, but he makes me want to lose control.

Guy - That's right I do.

A Best Friend - Oh, that's all right then. It certainly doesn't sound like you've been roofied. Go on. We'll hang out in the corner without you.

Girl - Thanks!

Act 2 (Call and response)

Guy - I should probably let you know that I'm a convicted sex offender.

Girl - That's okay because I've been roofied.

Guy - This probably violates my terms of parole.

Girl - That's okay because I don't plan on seeing you after tonight.

Guy - So everybody wins?

Girl - Unless your P.O. finds out.

Both - Yay!

Act 3

A Best Friend - Where'd Girl go?

A Best Friend - Who?

A Best Friend - Whatever.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Important Question

In what is rapidly becoming pop music month around these parts, I present another quick post. I recently found myself listening to 'This Kiss' by probably Faith Hill due to reasons beyond my control, and realized that one way she describes said kiss during the chorus is that it's criminal. Does this mean that the participants are related?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Further Evidence of the Decline of Western Civilization

The hit single "Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson (Who? I don't know) features a guest appearance by a rapper who actually says "OMG". Just like that. OMG. For those of you who are not into the whole 'text messaging' thing, or the 'sounding like an idiot' thing, OMG means Oh My God. Which is the same number of syllables. Exactly three. I just counted. Meaning it would not have thrown off the beat of the line at all. The children are our future, and that is why I hope to die young.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

203 Seconds of Hell: Waking Up In Vegas

At the moment I am working an hour and a half from where I reside, a situation that occasionally has me listening to the radio stations whenever VPR goes to a pledge drive or something like that. Sometimes this is a bad idea. For example, when the song being played is the latest from Desmond Child (Writer of both 'Livin' La Vida Loca' and the reprehensible 'Who Let the Dogs Out?'. He deserves some kind of anti-lifetime achievement award), Waking Up In Vegas, as sung by Katy Perry through a computer autotune program. This song is all over the pop airwaves right now, presumably due to some combination of money and/or sexual favors given to radio producers by Perry, Child or Perry's record label. Possibly all of the above. Because good God is this song terrible.

It kicks off with the sound of a carefully-processed bit of feedback, to let you know that we are now going to RAWK! Then the guitars promptly begin to chime rather than squall, just to let you know that things aren't going to actually challenge any of your sensibilities, and either a person does an excellent job of imitating a drum machine or Katy Perry's backing music is the beginning of the long-feared Robot Apocalypse. May they kill her first. Speaking of Perry, this is the time that what the autotune has left of her voice enters the mix, sitting at a much higher level than her vocal cords merit. I am going to reprint the line that closes the first verse exactly as it appears in the song (Without label permission. I didn't ask):

We need a taxi 'cause you're
Hung over and I'm broke.

One of these is not related to needing a taxi. Can you spot it? Anyway, these and other similarly aggressively sub-moronic lyrics get belted out (For example, right after this she talks about losing her fake ID. She is 24 years old), some of them accompanied by this terrible warbling thing the computer does to Perry's voice, all of which makes the veins in my forehead stand out a bit (This song makes me need oatmeal, I think). Then we get the chorus:

Shut up and put your money where your mouth is
That's what you get for waking up in Vegas
Get up and shake the glitter off your clothes now
That's what you get for waking up in Vegas

Barring people (Possibly short, magical ones) breaking into your room while you sleep and dousing your garments with sequins (A possibility in Vegas, I suppose), these lines make absolutely no sense whatsoever. If Perry really is chastising people for failing to heed her warnings of mischievous sparkling elves, I will retract all the statements contained in this post. Because that would be awesome. Anyway, the song continues to go from here, with Perry caterwauling nonsense and androids playing completely featureless background music. The end result is, to my knowledge, the first song ever written to specifically cash in on a successful marketing campaign (Or at least the first since Paul McCartney and Wings recorded 'Ring Around the Collar'). The sole purpose of this song is to ride the coattails of the 'What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas' campaign, milking a bit of cash out of the army of gullible morons that is the general public in the process. Money that will presumably be used to arm the robots. It is a complete failure in every possible sense of the word, and everyone involved in its creation and production should be ashamed of him/herself. Tragically, I suspect their bank accounts are increased because of it, and for them, that means that they have succeeded.

Note(s) - If you wish to assault both your eyes and ears simultaneously, the music video can be found here. It is, amazingly, almost as bad as the song. And while doing a bit of research for this post (A very minimal amount of it), I found Allmusic's review of Katy Perry's album. It is wonderful, and can be found here. They seem to share my opinion, but are even angrier about Katy's continued existence. I love them.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

21 Guns

The new Green Day single (Which doubles as the title of this post) is now out. And the vocal melody during the verses is the same as the melody to Heart of Gold by Neil Young. Honestly, Green Day. Did you think we wouldn't notice?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Role Models

Every now and again a movie comes along featuring an actor or actress you like (Sometimes multiple ones), and you watch said preview and find yourself thinking, "Wow. That looks really bad." This is the position Role Models put me in. The previews for the film featured a mix of things that were probably supposed to be jokes and some children. Great. So, despite my feelings towards several members of the cast, I approached the film with trepidation, feeling nothing good could possibly come of the next hour and a half. For once, my pessimism was misguided. This probably will have no impact whatsoever in my outlook in the future.

Anyway, back to the movie. It stars Paul Rudd, who is typically awesome, as me in ten years. Well, not quite literally. His name is different. Everything else is spot-on, though. He is described by another character as always being convinced that he's the smartest guy in the room, yet still being miserable. He picks a fight with a barista who insists he refer to his large coffee as a 'venti'. And he wonderfully interprets the Kiss classic as 'I want to rock and roll all night and part of every day'. A little more rocking than I could probably handle, but still. That's an eerily accurate portrait. Co-starring with him is That Guy Who Played Stifler playing, well, essentially Stifler. So good for him, I guess. Also appearing is this guy:

Awesome. Anyway, the plot centers around Rudd and TGWPS having a run-in with the law after Rudd's girlfriend breaks up with him. They are sentenced to 150 hours of community service as mentors to troubled children, drawing McLovin and the incorrectly-apostrephized Bobb'e J. Thompson as their little buddies. This leads to the only real bad part of the film. Jane Lynch has been in some other movies, and seems to just play every character very over the top in a way that is not especially funny. Every time she comes on-screen in this movie I cringe. The character is outright bad. But this in no way negates the greatness that is seeing Paul Rudd be me on-screen. He is wonderful, and the movie throws together community service, nuclear-colored energy drinks, live-action role-playing and Kiss to great effect. Will it change the world? Absolutely not. But it will make you laugh for the majority of an hour and a half, which makes it very worthy of stealing on the internet. Which is much better than I thought it would be.

What Seattle Shouldn't Do

I'll keep this short. It's for you, Ben. At the trade deadline, the Seattle Mariners are technically in contention, but are a long shot to make the playoffs. They have gotten good pitching out of middling-to-bad pitchers (Felix Hernandez excepted. He's good or something), primarily due to the fact that they play excellent defense, which can only improve now that Yuniesky Betancourt has been exiled to Kansas City. However, the Mariners' problem is that they can't hit. Especially against right-handed pitchers, who they cannot touch. They are the fourth-worst batting team in baseball, the reason being that they have many unskilled regular batters, 7 of whom are right-handed. What the Mariners need is a competent left-handed bat. They're unlikely to get it at this point, but any pitching that isn't young or nailed down should be shipped out to try to achieve this, as the M's defense will make whatever dreck they throw out on the mound look serviceable (Non-Carlos Silva division, of course). Trading for Roy Halladay would make less sense for the Mariners than it would for almost any other team in the majors. Sorry Ben.

Note - This was originally going to be called 'No Cousin Ben, You Are Wrong' when I first intended to write it two weeks ago. I'm working 60 hours of construction each week. I'm tired. My bad. Anyway, the title was an obscure FJM reference. If you like your sports analysis hilarious and obscene, Google that one. They're now sadly finished, but they're still missed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Two Stupid General Managers

I feel like a decent portion of my younger life was based on Saturday morning cartoons. Not as much as many kid's formative years, bu still a sizable chunk. One of the shows that sticks out was entitled Two Stupid Dogs. Frankly, I cannot really remember any shows besides this one and the blatantly homosexual Captain Planet. I can recall a substantial portion of that show, but my only specific memory of Two Stupid Dogs is of an episode where, for what seems like it was the entire show (30 minutes? 15 minutes?) the titular characters sat outside the exit door to a store trying to figure out how to get in. For purposes of this article, one dog shall be known as Omar Minaya. The other is now Dayton Moore (Or DMGM, if you prefer. I do). I know I like to go to ridiculous length on these sorts of things, so I'll try to keep this to a paragraph apiece.

Last weekend the New York Mets, presided over by Omar Minaya, traded Ryan Church for Jeff Francoeur. Both players are right fielders, and it's not likely that either one will make or break a team's season (For a great breakdown of the trade, I recommend this. I disagree with their analysis, but it's funny. Even those of you who dislike baseball might enjoy it). But it is still submoronic on the part of the Mets. Ryan Church has below-average power and an above-average eye for a corner OF, combined with an ability to post a reasonable batting average and play slightly above-average defense, and an inability to hit left-handed pitching. He is in his first year of arbitration, meaning he comes at a reasonable price and can be cut after the season at no future cost to his team (Full disclosure: Church's numbers have gone downhill since a concussion last year. But with no commitment after the season, this is a very limited risk). The Braves already have a corner OF who can mash lefties but not hit righties in Matt Diaz, so by combining he and Church, the Braves have created a good two-headed outfielder out of readily available pieces at a very low cost, making this an excellent trade for Frank Wren. Francoeur, on the other hand, is not a major league baseball player. He is bad at hitting for average, plate discipline, baserunning, hitting for power and average at best defense (All his defensive value is in his arm. His range is abysmal). Presumably he would also be a bad pitcher as well, but to the best of my knowledge he has never been asked to do that. When he came up to the bigs in 2005 he looked like one of the game's bright young stars, but now that he is in a five-year decline, that is long gone. For last year and this year, Francoeur has been worth negative wins to his team. The Mets, beset by injuries, cited the fact that Francoeur has never been hurt as one of the reasons they traded for him. Which makes it kind of funny that the only way Francoeur could help a team is by actually getting hurt, thereby causing them to play a player who would not hurt the team as much. The salaries in the deal are a wash, as Francoeur is in the same arbitration year as Church, and the Braves threw in a bit of cash to make them match. If I had any confidence that the Mets would cut him at season's end, this would be less damaging. Francoeur is also seven years younger than Church, but given his track record of de-improving, all this means is that he will still be young enough to play baseball in 2015, when he will be striking out twice per at bat.

Moving to the Junior circuit, the Kansas City Royals, under the management of DMGM, traded two minor-league pitchers (Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes) for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Before the season, Baseball America ranked Cortes as the Royals' third-best prospect. He has struggled a bit this year and had some off-field issues, but he still should have some value. Which is more than can be said for Betancourt. Continuing the theme of the day, Betancourt was promoted to the majors in 2005, and immdiately showed promise as a decent-hitting young shortstop who was very good defensively. He had little power and no plate discipline whatsoever, but was cost-controlled for six more years and flashed some spectacular work with the glove. What happened then is one of those times where scouting and statistics go hand in hand. In the three and a half years since his auspicious start, Betancourt has gotten worse in the field every single year (If you care, his UZR/150s, in order: 2.1, 0.7, -1.4, -12.7, -17.4. That's runs saved per 150 games, essentially. For obvious reasons, negative numbers are bad). Beyond that, his offense stagnated the first three seasons, and has nosedived the last two. Yuni has limited power and will swing at anything up to and including an attempt to intentionally walk him (He set a career-high of 17 walks in 2006, and matched it in 2008. 17. In 558 plate appearances). All his value is tied up in his batting average, which has declined sharply since 2007. Why? Well, scouting reports show a player with limited range in the field these days who is also slow on the basepaths (Career steals: 24 in 44 attempts. Grounded into 23 double plays last year, a number Jim Rice only topped 4 times), probably because he appears to be carrying at least 20 more pounds than he was when he entered the league. Combine that with the fact that he doesn't bother to try to get better at baseball by practicing (He had run-ins with management over missed batting practices and fielding drills), and you have a player rapidly working his way out of baseball. The worst of it? Former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi (Now coincidentally unemployed) gave Betancourt a contract that runs through 2011 guaranteed, with the club having the option to buy out 2012 for $2 million. Assuming the Royals will buy out that year, they just traded their #3 prospect plus a throw-in for the right to pay a sub-replacement level player in steep decline $9 million dollars. The sheer amount of stupidity involved is mind-blowing. If any baseball clubs are reading this and would like to consider hiring me, I promise I can do a better job than Minaya and DMGM. Heck, I think the dogs could.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Just Happened?

Trade writeups can wait a bit. Here is how I just began my Saturday morning. It started with waking up, doing the dishes and making coffee. I decided to go sit on the couch and fire up the computer for a couple minutes before showering. Yes, we have large windows in our apartment, but they face the river. So I sat down with a cup of coffee in my boxers. After a minute I heard rocks crunching (There's a bit of gravel just outside the windows) and a man looked into the apartment. He was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, with long hair hanging out from under a Patriots cap and a decent amount of stubble. After I watched him for several seconds he noticed me. One of the top windows was open, so I could clearly hear him say to me "Nice place you've got." Many possible responses came to mind, but my brain wasn't awake enough yet to process what was going on in a timely fashion, so I wound up going with "Thanks". He then walkeed away.

So, slightly strange encounter with a homeless interior designer who approves of my setup. Odd, but whatever. Then a minute later he came back holding a spray can of Off insect repellant and asked me if he could borrow it. I swear this actually happened. As it was not mine, I told him that. He responded with "Come on, man. Help me out." I had had a bit more of the coffee by this point, but was still not really in the mood to debate the concepts of ownership and personal property with him. After several seconds of back-and-forth exchanges with neither of us budging from our original position, he wandered away. And I continued to be confused.

Update: He stopped by to sit down and have a beer. While enjoying his beverage, a woman walked by on the path by the river. So he yelled at her to ask her why Neil Armstrong isn't here. We all wonder that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Day That Will Live In.... Well, What? Confusion?

Today, July 10, 2009, the two worst players in Major League Baseball were traded within hours of each other, one to a team with no hopes of contending, the other to a team supposedly trying to make the playoffs. Unless the General Managers of the teams in question lost bets or have key family members being held hostage, I am completely mystified. The players in question are Jeff Francoeur and Yuniesky Betancourt, and both had something of value traded for them. Odds are I'll break these down tomorrow morning in some sort of attempt to memorialize abject stupidity, but for now my head is spinning. I think I need to sit down.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What Really Matters In Tennis

In the Women's Finals at Wimbledon, I am rooting for Venus Williams to prevail over her sister Serena, not for any tennis-related reason, but because Venus does not grunt every time she hits the ball. Or if she does, it cannot be heard over the sonic booms being emitted from Serena's mouth.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Can I Keep My Jersey?

Okay, show of hands: Who wants to read a basketball memoir? Okay, three of you (No, I won't say which three). Now, what if I told you that, rather than being written by a star player, it was written (Not ghostwritten. Written) by a nomadic player who typically finds himself the twelfth man on a twelve-man team when he is in the NBA? Where'd the hands go? Alright. Now let's tack on the added stipulation that this player, whom we'll call Paul Shirley (Because that is his name) wrote a blog for in which he did not spout any meaningless sports cliches. A blog in which he described his reason for being on the Phoenix Suns thusly: "[All it took to get me here was] a trade by the Suns that sent away Casey (Jacobson) and two others, and the Suns’ subsequent need for a warm body to keep the bench from tipping toward the coaches." All right, at least those of you who haven't stopped reading yet seem content to finish this post, provided I keep it short. That'll have to do.

What I am discussing here is the memoir of a rather sarcastic journeyman, one who wrote openly about the experience (In the Probably Not Unrelated file, he hasn't been employed by an NBA team since this book came out). And it is rather exceptional. He takes a very conversational writing style, something that makes sense considering the material is developed from the journal he kept during his travels. The end result is essentially what you would get if you had a good friend who managed to be one of the 500 best people in the world at something, yet still could find the time to complain about it (Wait, that didn't come out right). In a field of competition replete with athletes thanking Jesus for helping them put a ball through a hoop, it is rather refreshing. Instead of sentiments such as these, this book finds the author lamenting a missed opportunity to kick Kobe Bryant in the testicles. I think you can see how one of these is more interesting to read.

So if you would like to become a little wiser on the topics of Russia ("As far as I can tell, Russia causes me to have suicidal thoughts, so the faster I can get out, the better"), minor league basketball ("The Rattlers do not usually play their games in the UNLV student rec center but, because the porn convention in town had outbid the team for the use of their usual facility, we played there that night (I'm not joking)."), basketball arena announcers ("The Grizzlies may very well have the best announcer in the NBA. He has a knack for making everyone’s name sound intimidating. I wonder what he could do for a guy that has a girl’s first name as his last name?") and injury rehab ("Until that [The healing] process begins, there is no real reason for the pain to subside. Therefore, I take lots and lots of drugs."(In case anyone is wondering, the drug in question is Gene Fackelman's personal mountain of doom, and Shirley offers a quite wonderful, yet thoroughly unprintable, description of his feelings toward it)), con your local library into buying this book. It's probably more fun than I've made it sound here, and a quick read. Which at the least makes it better than Bleak House.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Analyzing Dice-K

Two days ago, Bob Ryan wrote an article entitled It Just Doesn't Add Up for the Boston Globe. The article is about the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka is struggling this year, and isn't worth the money the Red Sox paid to sign him. In it Ryan briefly touches on the topics of interest, but never does any sort of actual analysis either of baseball's salary scale or of the reasons for Daisuke's ineffectiveness this year. So I will now attempt to pick up the ball he has dropped. Because with how awful the Red Sox media is, Lord knows someone needs to fill the void by competently discussing the team (These guys do a better job than I will ever manage, by the way).

Last year Daisuke went 18-3, a phenomenal Win-Loss record. However, he was nowhere near as good a pitcher as that suggests. Before I get into why, let's lay down some basic parameters here. The goal of pitching is to prevent runs, plain and simple. There are different ways of approaching this, the most effective of which is striking people out. Ground balls are another extremely effective method, as no amount of steroids Raul Ibanez injects before breakfast can cause a ground ball to go over the outfield fence. However, pitching is not the only factor here. Team defense accounts for approximately 1/3 of run prevention, leaving the pitcher responsible for the other 2/3. We'll come back to this point. And then we come to luck. It is really amazing how much dumb luck influences pitching. To paraphrase Bill James (a.k.a. Sabermetric Jesus), it is entirely possible that what I am going to refer to here as luck is not actually that, but rather just something that we do not yet know how to measure. And so it may be, but until we devise that measurement, luck it shall be. Things that are primarily luck include Batting Average on Balls In Play (Hereafter BABIP), Home Run per Fly Ball %, and Strand Rate. For more complete rundowns of these numbers, I recommend Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, or (If you'd rather pay money for something you can get for free) Baseball Prospectus. BABIP measures the amount of balls hit into the field of play that result in hits. Now, there are obviously things that affect this slightly, but by and large every pitcher's BABIP should be about .300. Numbers lower or higher than that are simply good luck or bad luck, and are completely unsustainable for extended periods of time for reasons beyond a pitcher's control. HR/FB for all pitchers should be right around 11%. The home park a pitcher spends his time in can affect this, but the only way to be certain to prevent home runs is to lower the rate at which you allow fly balls, as 11% of them are going to go over the fence. And finally, strand rate is simply the number of players who reach base against a pitcher who do not score. Simple enough. This should normalize around 72% for an average pitcher, with better pitchers being able to post slightly better numbers than that (For obvious reasons). Okay. I can't believe I haven't run down that stuff before, but that's done now. Since there was quite a bit of it, let's start fresh with a new paragraph.

As I mentioned above, Dice-K was 18-3 last year, with an excellent ERA of 2.90 (Earned Runs Allowed per 9 Innings, for those of you who are baseball neophytes. You've all stopped reading by now, haven't you?). But in truth, he was nowhere near that good. If we compare his 2008 statistics to his 2007 statistics, a year in which he was merely a solid pitcher rather than an ace, we find some rather startling results. Let's do this in chart-ish form.

K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 innings)
2007: 8.84
2008: 8.27

BB/9 (Walks per 9 innings)
2007: 3.52
2008: 5.05

2007: .306
2008: .267

2007: 11.7
2008: 7.5

Strand Rate:
2007: 73.9%
2008: 80.6%

Notice anything? In K/9 and BB/9, two luck-independent outcomes which are largely in the control of the pitcher, Matsuzaka actually performed worse in 2008 than in 2007, even though he improved his ERA by a full run and a half per game. This improvement is because of the last three numbers listed, luck-related statistics in which Daisuke performed at a rate far above the sustainable league average. In fact, if we normalize his luck-dependent stats to determine what his ERA should have been in each of those years (xFIP, if you're wondering), we find that in 2007 he pitched with an ERA of 4.42, while in 2008 he checked in with a worse showing of 4.82, a progression in the wrong direction. So he actually got worse between the two seasons, which still does not entirely explain this season's disaster. Ignoring the components to jump straight to the conclusion, what is his xFIP so far this year? 4.93, almost identical to last year. So what's the problem? Primarily bad luck. His K/9 and BB/9 have actually both improved from last year, and while there's still a long ways to go before his BB/9 hits a number that we can call 'good' (I'd settle for 'acceptable' at this point), it's legit improvement. But his BABIP has gone through the roof, checking in at an obscene .441, and his fly balls allowed are clearing the fence 17.5% of the time. These are the primary reasons for his decreased performance, and are things that should work themselves out over time. But is it entirely bad luck? No.

The thing about normalizing BABIP to exactly .300 for each pitcher is that this assumes that pitcher has a league-average defense taking the field behind him. This is almost never the case, meaning small variations in team BABIP should be expected, with good defensive teams posting a lower number, while poor defensive teams post a higher one. Last year's Red Sox were an excellent defensive team, posting the fourth-best UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, available on Fangraphs. Why UZR? Because fielding percentage means less than nothing) in all of baseball. This year's version comes in 29th, only better than the beyond-inept Washington Nationals. The primary culprits are Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo and Jacoby Ellsbury, all of whom have fallen off a cliff (Since Lugo was fringe-average in the first place, this is not at all a good thing for him). The fact that Jason Bay has posted a worse showing in both years than Manny Ramirez did over the first half of last year is not really helping things, either. So while we should expect Daisuke's BABIP to rise above league average, we're still talking about a range closer to .310, not the stratosphere in which it currently resides. Given the chance, he will resume pitching at the level we are accustomed to seeing him at, even if we do not always understand what level that actually is.

Now let's go back to our good friend Bobby Boy. His article is not necessarily about how Daisuke is finished, but rather about the fact that Bob believes he is overpaid. Now that we've finished with a performance analysis, let's move on to salary matters. To argue his thesis statement in the article in question, Ryan provides us with the following pieces of evidence:

Daisuke's salary, presented in a misleading fashion
That is all

Besides making the reader question how Ryan still has a job, this does not actually accomplish much. Let's go through money matters now. Daisuke was a free agent in 2006. This is important because, in MLB, the rookie salary scale artificially depresses the salaries of young players for the first six years they are in the majors, years which are often their best. This makes baseball salaries often seem different than they actually are. Player salaries need to be divided up between cost-controlled youngsters and free agents to get an actual idea of what players are paid. And on the free agent market of the winter of 2006, free agents were paid about $4,000,000 per win above replacement player that they provided for their team the previous year. This amount increased linearly with each additional win, meaking a 2-win player worth $8 million, a 3-win player worth $12 million, and so on (This can be easily determined by merely dividing the total dollars all free agents were given that offseason by the WAR they collectively provided the previous year). Ryan does not once mention this. Now, I am not saying the best way to run a team is to go out and spend money on free agents. But if you do so, this is what it will cost you. This is the same free agent market where Carlos Silva is worth $12 million annually for four years (The Silva deal was signed one year later, when free agent value had risen to $4.5 million per win. The point stands). Providing this context makes Daisuke's deal look very reasonable, possibly even exactly where it should be, which is probably why Ryan did not put it in his article (Showing blatant disrespect for his reading audience, as he is presuming they will not know this. Either that or he does not know it himself, and is unwilling to research a subject before he writes about it, which calls into question why he has his job). In 2007, Daisuke was worth 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), or $15.6 million, based on the year he signed his contract. In 2008, 3.3 WAR, or $13.2 million. Per the terms of his contract, in 2007 Daisuke was paid $6 million by the Red Sox. In 2008 he made $8 million (By the way, lest you think I shouldn't be riding Ryan about the research, these numbers took me 17 seconds to find using Google. I timed myself). So why is he overpaid again?

Well, this is because Ryan combines the posting fee paid to his former team in Japan as part of Daisuke's salary. It is not. Daisuke was a professional athlete under obligation to remain in Japan. To release him from that deal, his team offered negotiation rights with him to the highest bidder, who happened to be the Red Sox. Essentially, the Red Sox spent $51 million to buy out his deal with his old team. Whether that was money well-spent or not, it is certainly not a part of his contract. And the fact that this money bought exclusive negotiation rights is almost certainly what enabled the Red Sox to sign Matsuzaka to what is actually a below-market deal. As you would not know if you read the Ryan article, Daisuke signed a contract for 6 years, for a total of $52 million dollars. Per the going rate of the free agent market, of which Daisuke was a member, this valued him at almost exactly the same worth as Odalis Perez. Why are you complaining, Bob? If the Red Sox get no value out of Daisuke the rest of the season, over the first three years of his contract they will have made a profit on the wins received for the money they've paid him so far, making the signing a good one for the team. And I hate watching him pitch. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a pitcher who seemingly cannot throw strikes. But it is still a good contract.

Ryan also seems to be objecting to one more thing, which is that Daisuke was billed as the Next Big Thing, and he has not delivered on that. Fair enough. But who billed him as that? Was it the man himself? Certainly not. It was the media, of which Bob Ryan is a large part. After Daisuke's seventh career start, Bob Ryan announced to the world that "The Daisuke Era has officially begun." Is there a single mention of the fact that what Ryan primarily objects to about Daisuke in his article is something that he himself helped create? No, there is not. Because writing that would involve both honesty and accountability, two qualities you are not likely to find in an article written by Bob Ryan. If you want to learn about baseball, the best thing you can do is avoid reading the Boston newspapers. All they will do is keep you mis- and uninformed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blog Layout

The layout seems to have changed for some reason, and I have absolutely no idea how to get it to go back. If I can figure it out, it will be changed. I suspect it's the fault of the post directly below this one. Also, comment moderation is off on old posts, because I found that option while trying to change the layout of the blog.

I am the least tech-savvy person to ever work in tech support.

Edit - I figured it out. So, ummmmm, you can ignore this post now. Delete it? What?

Edit again - Ben says he's having some problems with the text size. It looks fine to me. If you're having any problems with it, throw a comment up here for me. Then I guess I'll learn HTML or something. If you're not having any problems with it, I don't know. Send me some money or something.

V: Taking Over

Look, here's the thing. I thought this idea would be a fun lark, but it's really not working so far. While it is still fun to watch a terrible movie every now and again, it turns out writing up every single event in said movie is not really all that enjoyable (How is it to read?). So after a lot of thinking about it (Seriously. How long has it been since I wrote one of these?), I have decided to man up and admit it. If you're at all interested, right now some indeterminate Asian man is performing kung-fu in front of a pagoda. I am not. To give you the full background, here's where the idea came from. I used to live in Park Slope, a nice neighborhood in the oftentimes terrifying Brooklyn, New York. This area features approximately two bodegas per square foot, which presumably decreases profitability significantly. So to compensate for this, one of the bodegas on the way to the subway evidently rented out their window as advertising for Dragon Wars, with a poster featuring two dragons (Which are Chinese dragons, meaning they really just look like oversized snakes. Lame) snarling at each other over the ruins of a city. Needless to say, this made me rather excited. And when the movie came out, my fellow awful film afficionado Robert Fliegel (Hereafter referred to as Bob. Because that is what he goes by) took the initiative to both rent this cinematic masterwork and invite myself and Sir Nicholas Managanananananan, along with our significant others, over for a night of Masterpiece Theater and Malt Beverages (By the way, the next time we are in the same city, the film of choice is going to be Outlander, a movie about a man from outer space whose spaceship crashes in 8th century Norway. He then has to team up with Vikings to fight a monster that escapes from the ship. I am excited). About halfway through the film, two of the others retired to any room in the apartment not showing Dragon Wars, with only the Official Girlfriend sticking it out for the fair sex. Afterward, she mentioned how bad the movie was. Now, I clearly had to defend its honor, so I countered her false accusation with the demonstrably true statement that it was, in fact, the best movie ever made. And, barring occasional references to it in the months that followed, I figured that would be just about the end of that.

And then she bought the movie for me as a Christmas gift.

Now what was I to do? What started as a bit of a laugh on Terrible Movie Night had turned into a game of one-upsmanship, a game which she evidently had mastered on the sly without telling me. So I began this series of blog posts as an attempt to raise the stakes even higher, but sadly it looks like this is one game I'm going to lose. So I guess I might as well tell her and oh my god, that's a dinosaur with a rocket launcher. I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome this is. The time-honored 'Period after each word' strategy does not even begin to do it justice. G.r.e.a.t.e.s.t. i.d.e.a. e.v.e.r. Think of the most awesome thing you can possibly think of. Now think of that thing getting blown up by a dinosaur wielding a rocket launcher. Not that I am necessarily calling the rest of this film the greatest thing ever (Though it's certainly moving in that direction now), but that is a reasonable approximation of what is happening on the television at the moment. In a movie as uninspired as this one, where did this genius come from? Well, let's start at the beginning.

Much as there are 55 dramatic situations usable by authors the world over, for years there have been attempts to precisely codify the possible animal-weapon combinations. As with most things, this began with Miguel Cervantes, who introduced the world to the concept by arming a horse with a lance-wielding buffoon in Don Quixote. And while this was certainly a ground-breaking beginning, there was clearly work to be done. This would be continued by Thomas Jefferson, who, in an attempt to better protect the populace, gave all Americans the right to an armed bear (Congress, feeling this could be dangerous, changed bear to buffalo, something that completely fails to help people now that the species has dwindled). Henry David Thoreau chimed in with Turtle Chainsaw Massacre, a book whose title he changed to Walden upon having it pointed out to him that it was unclear whether the turtles were the massacrers or the massacrees (It was the first). But scholars generally agree that the definitive work on the subject was provided by Carolyn Keene (Who knew? (Also, I'm not going to say who she is. You have Google. Look her up)) in 1951, when she officially submitted two lists to the world for consideration:

Finally, writers everywhere knew what options they had. By combining an entry from column one with one from column two, every possible animal-weapon combination was literally on the tip of their pen, waiting to be brought to life for consumption by the masses. And while I mean no disservice to Carolyn, one of these combinations is clearly better than the rest, as measured in sheer awesomeness. And it is sitting on the TV screen in front of me. And thus I shall boldly press on. Bravo, Dragon Wars. Bravo.