Friday, August 31, 2007

Mr. Beckham Goes to Washington

I suppose it's been about 3 weeks, but I figured it's about time I post the two crappy pictures I took with my phone during David Beckham's debut MLS game against the DC United on August 9 in Washington. Our seats were officially in the nosebleeds, literally one row back from the top, but us Barra Bravas snuck down to the lower level after the usual halftime mosh pit in the concourse concluded.

DC United fans give Mr. Beckham a very warm welcome during his August 9 MLS debut.

Yeah, Beckham's hurt yet again, and that sucks for the MLS for a variety of reasons, none of which I feel like going on about, but mostly because despite how polarizing his arrival was, soccer's actually made SportsCenter pretty much every single night since he got here. Any publicity's good publicity, right? Well, not if he can't play. Soccer-haters like nothing more than something else underwhelming to complain about.

The recent injury also may threaten the possibility of other post-peak foreign soccer stars from following his lead, like CrazyHead Zidane, which would otherwise help buttress the league's skill level and overall attractability both for players and fans. Naturally, a foreign athlete's first loyalties lie with his home country and, after seeing Beckham disappear from the England team's beleaguered march toward the UEFA Euro Tournament, may not want to risk injury, not to mention enmity, by playing extra matches here in the States.

So does Beckham playing in the MLS really matter for soccer? Naysayers like to think that if Pelé's participation in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970's couldn't promote soccer beyond nichedom, an injured Beckham sure can't either. That may be true, but it's not the whole case. K-12 participation in formal soccer leagues has grown substantially since then, which carries with it the obvious assumption that interest in the sport has grown commensurately. How many of us had fathers who played soccer when they were a kid? Very few. In fact, the US Youth Soccer League, begun in 1974: the same year Pelé started playing in the NASL, has grown from 100,000 to 3,000,000 registered players; and this doesn't count the 800,000 coaches and volunteers or any bullshit like that. That's a 2,900% rise concomitant with the 41% rise in overall population.

Popularization of soccer in the U.S. has also benefited from the massive influx of Latin Americans, who, like most of the rest of the world, hold soccer as their #1 sport. At one-seventh of the total U.S. population, and a demographic that prefers to settle in urban areas, this should not be trivialized. In fact, DC United's most boisterous ultra firm, La Barra Brava, was founded by South American immigrants.

He's in there somewhere on the left half of the field. Just look for the sexy and you'll find him.

After all is said and done, whether or not Beckham's U.S. tour makes any difference to U.S. soccer will ultimately rely on him actually playing. And if he ends up heading back to England soon rather than later, and thus cutting short his term with the LA Galaxy and the MLS, it will probably prove more detrimental to the league than had he never come at all.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Baltimore Orioles make history again!

110 years is a long time.

In the past 110 years, the Ottoman Empire and its Muslim Caliphate were dissolved, two World Wars involving over 100 nations in toto were fought and decided, 20 U.S. Presidents have passed through the White House, six of whom were shot and two of whom were killed (the West Wing was not built until ~1909), the first production automobiles were sold (590 million now exist globally), powered flight and the escalator were invented, man harnessed the atom, narcotics were stigmatized internationally, world population increased four-fold, and humankind stepped foot on an astronomical body 240,000 miles away---the Moon---six times.

Nope, it's not a typo.

Perhaps it's somewhat less consequential, but do you know what else happened 110 years ago? A Major League Baseball team, for the first time in history, scored more than 30 runs in a single game. This rapacious feat was performed by the Chicago Colts against the hapless Louisville Colonels in 1897, with a final score of 36-7. Notice how you've never heard of either of these teams. So, how many teams since have scored 30 or more runs in a single game? Well, as of Wednesday, August 22, 2007, one.

That team would be the Texas Rangers, a team 15 games below .500 and with the 4th worst win percentage in the entire League, when they came back from a three-run deficit to beat my hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles, with a final score of 30-3 in Camden Yards, the O's home field. Loooong sigh. If I had known in advance, by divination or by Biff's anachronistic sports almanac, that an unknown baseball team would lose a game that night by 27 runs, I most certainly would have put my money on that team being my fucking Orioles. For a team that's spent nearly half a billion dollars on player salaries (actual > $400M) in the past decade, this shit will not pass.

It's only natural that the enfeebled, incapable Orioles were on the losing end of such a record. We always manage to outdo our own mediocrity somehow. Like it's not enough to have an entire decade of consecutive losing seasons. Like it's not enough to have an autocratic tyrant for an owner. Like it's not enough for the team to not have even reached the World Series in 24 years. Like it's not enough for the Orioles to hold the record for the most consecutive losses at the beginning of a season (1988). Like it's not enough for the Orioles to have had 6 different managers in the last decade. Sure, if it was opposite year the Orioles would be in great fucking shape. But we don't live in opposite town, and opposite year was 1989 ("Why Not?!"). How could all these comedies of error not be the end of Lord Mephistopheles' (pictured below) artful machinations? How could schadenfreude knows such infinite depths? After this game, I am utterly convinced that the Orioles are damned to persist indefinitely in underachievement or, perhaps by some grace, will finally achieve obsolescence and demise. Truly, for Orioles fans, the end is extremely fucking nigh.

One of Mephistopheles' fiendish doppelganger minions. And he hates steamed crabs.

In case I haven't yet been able to fully evoke the magnitude, rarity, and historic relevance of this defeat, allow me to try to put it in context:

  • The Orioles could have scored 27 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, only to tie the game and go into extra innings.

  • The last time a baseball team scored this many runs, the Civil War was a more recent event than the Vietnam War is now.

  • The first American League no-hitter was pitched in 1902, 5 years later, by the Chicago White Stockings. 234 no-hitters have been pitched in all, and 17 of those were perfect games.

  • In 1897, the Cy Young Award would not be awarded for another 59 years.

  • 22 years after the Chicago Colts' victory, Jackie Robinson is born in Cairo, Georgia.

  • At the time of the 36-run game, the Louisville Colonels had a budding young shortstop on the roster named Hognus Wagner.

  • The knuckleball would not debut in the MLB for another 11 years.

  • And lastly... the first subatomic particle, the electron, was discovered that same year. It would be 35 years before the neutron was discovered and high school students would need to start worrying about p's, e's, and n's outside of the alphabet.
Sadly, this unfortunately-historic game was the first in a double-header on Wednesday night. If the 30-3 loss wasn't enough---and "loss" doesn't quite convey the true absurdity of the event---the Orioles also lost the second game that night 9-7, meaning that the Rangers put up 39 runs to the Orioles' 10 in a single night. When put in that perspective, the Rangers may as well have beaten the record for all I care.

Kevin Millar has never seen a ball hit that far that many times in so short a time. No one else alive today has either.

So how does this stack up against other baseball records? Well, it's quite difficult to compare these, right? How do you compare batting average with ERA records, or career no-hitters with career RBIs? Well, it seems there is one easy way to do so, and that is rarity. The less likely something is, the more of a feat it becomes. Sure, specific circumstances determine some records, like unassisted triple plays. But not this one. This game represents not only the unmitigated implosion of one team, but also the sudden impulse and collective synergy of the opposing team in response. Indeed, that is a rare thing. And 110 years is a long time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Super Mario Bros. 2: A Cover-up...REVEALED!

In case you didn't notice when you were 7 years old, Super Mario Bros. 2 kinda sucks. The game deviated entirely from the original's formula of enemies, attacks, movement, health, and even level design. Instead of Koopa Troopas, we get Shy Guys, which look like psychotic Ewoks wearing Jason masks (fortunately these nightmarish chimeras can be injured by a thrown turnip or sundry other veggies). Instead of your Seattle hippie-style mushroom-based health regeneration scheme have to collect cherries seemingly nailed to thin air. And instead of Bowzer, the inimical lizard-tyrant at the end of the first SMB, you get Wart, a bloated, effete, burping frog that's deathly allergic to thrown vegetables as the final boss. And oh yeah, the whole game is a fucking dream. Snooze.

(LEFT) Super Mario Bros. 2. (RIGHT) Doki Doki Panic. Fuck you, Nintendo.

As it turns out, there's a reason for this: SMB2 isn't actually a Mario game. Wait what? Indeed, the U.S. Super Mario Bros. 2 game we were all playing was, in fact, a very slightly doctored version of a Japanese game called Dream Factory: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. The levels are identical, the enemies are identical, and the playable characters are identical, except for the graphical sprites themselves. So while the Japanese were all enjoying their actual SMB sequel (now titled Super Mario Bros. All-Stars in the U.S.), we were gullibly swallowing some cheap Japanese knock-off. Seriously, did they think we'd never figure this out? Well, it took 20 years, I suppose.

The thing on the right is the effeminate final boss to SMB2, Wart. I guess that's an Asian crab on the left.

Truth be told, I didn't figure this out. Some guy in search of YouTube glory put together a whole exposé which I'm just summarizing here. Oh, you want to watch it---and I strongly suggest you do---well then here's the video. Credit goes to NJB '08 for this find.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mindless Entertainment

Yet another piece of evidence that Tokyo may be overpopulated. Apparently this is a wave pool, but there's a lot of Japanese people in the way so you can't see the water. It actually looks kinda cool once the waves get going. Yeah, I know, "whatever."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Spanish Exposition

However belated, I put together some final thoughts, observations and impressions developed during my recent trip to Spain. This was the first time I'd ever been to Europe, and the first time I'd really ever been to a truly foreign country (not counting Mexico and the Caribbean), so whatever I write may seem pretty obvious or self-evident to those of you who've had the benefit of traveling abroad, but this is my goddamn blog and I'll say what I want, alright?

The Royal Palace in Madrid

1. Pickpocketing is rife, especially on heavily-trafficked streets and plazas. Maybe I was a little paranoid, but anytime I walked through large crowds I'd casually put my hands in my pockets. But hey, I didn't get my wallet taxed, did I? I actually stopped on the side of Las Ramblas a few times to watch the people watching the pea game to see if I might spy a pickpocket on the job. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from these people is to know all their tricks and keep very aware of people around you. This isn't always easy, because...

2. The sense of personal space is VERY different than the U.S. I found myself saying "pardón" a lot when I'd rub against someone or nearly knock into them when I first got to Spain, but then I realized that they never said it back. People constantly bump into one another, cut each other off, and dodge in and out of pedestrian traffic. Aside from the obvious language barrier, this was probably the hardest thing to get used to.

LEFT: The Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, in Barcelona.

3. Some people in Barcelona know English well enough to communicate, but many in Madrid definitely don't. I found myself needing to use my Spanish far more often there than in Barcelona, though I always tried to speak Spanish regardless.

4. Servers at restaurants are definitely not very friendly at all, possibly because they're not really working for tips and thus have many more tables than they do here. It was actually kind of annoying dealing with unfriendly waiters constantly, I definitely enjoyed coming back to the States and having friendly service, even if it may be put-on a bit.

5. Madrid quite literally shuts down at 3:00pm for siesta, though Barcelona pretty much stays open throughout the day. This is probably because Barcelona is about 10-15 degrees cooler than Madrid.

The Toledo cityscape.

6. Traffic laws are more like suggestions, particularly in Barcelona. Rush hour in Barc. was an amazing site. In one cab ride home I saw two people riding a large ATV in the middle of the city, cutting back and forth across lanes, cleverly dodging the countless dirtbikes, motorcycles, and scooters. The whole scene looked like some sort of varied vehicle race.

7. I'd like to know why the DC Metro can't work the way it does in Spain. In both cities, trains came every ~2.5 minutes. I really never waited longer than that, and there's no such thing as off-peak. The trains just keep going and going and going.

8. Prostitution seems to be A.O.K. in Madrid, where you can find hookers lining the streets and sketchball Spaniards sidling up to them once the sun starts to go down.

9. The beaches are topless, which in my opinion is most triumphant. It's actually kind of interesting, too. Since Spain is such a vehemently Catholic society, you'd expect them to be more conservative, but of course my definition of "conservative" as an American clearly differs from theirs. Kudos to nudity.

10. I saw a lot of Yao, LeBron, and Iverson jerseys while over there, which was surprising.

11. As beautiful and awe-inspiring as the palaces and cathedrals are---particularly in Madrid and Toledo, respectively---I can't help but think the Monarchy and Church completely fleeced the people to build these things, forcing everyone but the elites to live in abject poverty.

The Cathedral in Toledo. Yes, that's all gold.

I guess that's about it. Now leave me alone.

When weathermen do cocaine...

... this happens:

About a minute into the 1:30 clip he finally gets to the "Washington DC Forecast" we were kinda hoping to hear about. This video is probably for a limited time only, so act fast. And it's entirely work safe.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Movies to Look Forward To

While browsing Apple's movie trailer page (I'm not sure why they have one) I found a couple of movies that look like they have potential. And here they are:

Ghosts of Cite Soleil

This film follows the story of two brothers who lead opposing factions in a gang war for control of Haiti's abject slum of Cite Soleil leading up to the overthrow of Aristide's regime in 2004. If that and the movie's poster (left image) doesn't sound menacing enough, the gangs' foot solders are called "chimeras," or ghosts, thus the title. Sounds dangerous, huh? Amazingly, this is a documentary. I have a strange fascination with places of complete moral neglect and base depravity, but I lack the adrenaline lust to go see it for myself, so I'm glad that this camera crew risked their lives for my $8. I hereby nominate them for a "Balls of Steel" Oscar Award.

Paramount/Bad Robot

At least there's no risk of anachronisms for this title. The trailer begins by putting the audience in the middle of the story as a character videotaping the surprise birthday party that's unfolding. Everyone's having a good old time, there's some hot chicks and slick i-bankers sharking them, and then shit starts to go south unexpectedly. Interestingly, there's no summary text for the movie, just the trailer alone, which adds to the mystery. Some even speculate it's a Voltron movie. It's obviously some sort of monster or alien invasion flick, but it's got potential for several reasons. First, it's written by Drew Goddard and directed by J.J. Abrams, the masterminds behind Lost, Angel, Alias, and Buffy. Sure, most of these you might consider cultish WB series, but they have a surprisingly large, rabid, and maniacally defensive following. Second, filming in the first-person seems to be more engaging to the audience (see the end to Dawn of the Dead (2004)--spoiler). And lastly, I have a big soft spot for Godzilla-type movies, having watched the same ones ad nauseum as a tyke. Anyway, this movie's got potential, though it has to toe a very thin line in order to pan out.

I Am Legend
Warner Bros/Village Roadshow

Another apocalyptic movie, right? Well, yeah, but if these "end of days" type movies were done right the first time we wouldn't be left wanting for more. Sure, this is your typical Will Smith movie that starts out with something like, "My name is John Armstead. I am the last man on Earth," but damnit it's cool. N8K over at Slain By An Elf joked that it looks like The Day After Independence Day, and it does, but The Day After Tomorrow was terrible, and Independence Day made me wonder why the aliens didn't try more than once, so why wouldn't this cinematic gold? Oh wait. My prediction: entertainment.

Fox Searchlight

The plot goes something like... the Sun is dying in the not-too-distant future and the Earth sends a cadre of attractive astronauts to plant a device inside that will reinitiate the nuclear fusion process to keep us all alive. The mission starts to turn for the worst when they discover the Sun is pretty hot and the ship isn't working right. Sounds pretty droll, but toward the end of the trailer we discover that there's some weird shit going down on the ship and, in fact, there's an unidentified additional "crew member" that might have something to do with their difficulties. It looks like a hybrid of Event Horizon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Sphere (the book, not the awful awful movie). Probably the film's most encouraging feature is Cillian Murphy, who's one of my favorite actors (28 Days Later, Batman Begins, The Wind That Shakes the Barley). It could be a wash, but I'm guessing otherwise.

Friday, August 10, 2007

We Got To Do Better

Thanks to the show of the same name that pointed me in the direction of this, uh, commercial? Words can't really even begin to describe this clip, so you be the judge. Make sure the sound is on and that you're not within anyone's earshot.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Newz U Can Yewz: IT'S HOT!

In case you've been staying home from work this entire week, have entirely ignored TV, the Internet, and email, and have isolated yourself from all interpersonal contact, I have some very very important news for you today:

It's HOT outside!

I'm wondering if anyone else has noticed this, but the temperature seems to be really high lately, and I don't feel comfortable walking around in my long wool pants and sateen dress shirt lately. It also seems to be the topic of conversation in every elevator, cafeteria, Potbelly, Chipotle, doghouse, chickenhouse, cathouse, crackhouse, and outhouse. I'm guilty of it, too. Shit, it's about all you can think about when the Heat Index is 105 Degreez (though it could get hotter).

So, in conclusion,

"fuck you" Mother Nature.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I Know Where You Live(d): Google Maps Street View Coming to DC?

It looks like we'll finally be able to waste countless hours looking at streets we actually recognize rather than waste countless hours looking at streets we don't. Why? Because Google Maps' Supercreepy Street View tool might be coming to DC.

A picture of the Immersive Media car used to collect images for Lord Google's infinite appetite that I successfully stole from a better website.

Reports have come in from a variety of sources that Immersive Media, the company doing Google's bidding to capture millions of 360-degree photos along the streets of New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, and Denver (seriously, why Denver?) for use in its dominant Maps feature, has been prowling the streets of DC in retrofitted VW Beetles. Normally, anything that's retrofitted is okay in my book, but you just have wonder about privacy issues in this case. For instance, what if I'm caught coming out of Rhino Bar in Georgetown at 3am with a 17-year old boy who's visiting his older brother at GW? Or what if I'm filmed shooting lethal doses of heroin into the homeless fellows lining up at St. Ursula's for their Sunday meal? These are all serious considerations we have to.....seriously consider.

Some people that have seen the aforementioned harvesters of photos:
Blogoscoped, June 6
Flickr, June 21

While new cities have recently been added to Google's list of owned cities, such as LA, Orlando, Galveston (again, seriously?), apparently it took several months after spotting the Immersive Media cars before the feature went live, so there's probably some time left to wait.

So in the meantime, DC, keep homoeroticizing and homiciding to your heart's content. The party's almost over.

More to come...

I survived my trip to Spain and am back on U.S. soil, I'm happy to report. The fiendish pickpockets of Barcelona's Las Ramblas and Madrid's El Rastro Sunday flea market, Toledo's 104 degree heat (one degree above being "Hot-Blooded", even), and the 6.5-hour U.S. Airways Customer Service desk line to rebook my cancelled flight home were not enough to defeat me.

I haven't posted anything in awhile, but will follow up with my final impressions from Spain, a couple hundred photos, and maybe even some candy.