Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Coffee Table: Reed Browning

Title: Cy Young: A Baseball Life
Author: Reed Browning

Image via Open Library

As I have written before, biographies are tricky, especially when source material for the subject is limited as is the case for most turn-of-the-20th-century baseball players. I admire Professor Browning for his candor in confronting those limitations. He readily admits when the sources are scant and when he's offering his own subjective viewpoint, occasionally using the first person to address the reader directly. It defies biographical conventions but all to the good, I say. I much prefer this approach to a writer presuming to know the thoughts of a person long dead, essentially filling in the gaps with unsupported supposition or outright fiction.

I knew next to nothing about the great Cy Young before I started the book and now I am filled with admiration. Browning ends his book with a discussion of Young's place in history, presenting compelling arguments for and against including his name among the all-time greats. His 511 career wins, by far the most ever, offer the strongest case. Controlling for era is essentially impossible. Every athlete is at the mercy of two factors entirely beyond his or her power to change: his birthday and his opponents. Every sport changes over time. Rules, equipment, competitive depth and thousands of other elements are constantly fluid.

All any pitcher can do is take the mound and play the game, one pitch at a time. No pitcher of Young's era, indeed few of any era, did the job so well for so long. I think his stamina is particularly remarkable for an era when such extreme demands were placed upon pitchers: much longer outings and shorter rest intervals than are expected of today's hurlers. It's interesting to note, I think, that very similar arguments of consistency were made for Bert Blyleven's recent election to the Hall of Fame. That's not to say that Blyleven belongs anywhere near Cy Young's stratum.

The structure of the biography is interesting. Browning intersperses the chronological season-by-season accounts with broader perspective chapters on matters such as Young's family life, the specifics of his pitching arsenal, public perceptions and so on. In some ways, I would have preferred to have those discussions better integrated into the chronological reckoning but all the same information came through in the end. I'd say the book's greatest success is in its explanations of the drastic transitions the sport went through over the course of Young's 1890-1911 career: increasing the distance between pitcher and batter, counting the first two foul balls as strikes and the two-league structure among others.

The New 52: The Third Issues

I'm down to three titles of interest from DC Comics's New 52. Following are my reviews for the third issue of each of those series. I got Green Lantern and Justice League online whereas I picked up a hard copy of Green Lantern New Guardians.

Green Lantern #3

Image via Hill City Comics

Bear in mind, I haven't read issue #4 yet. I don't know what comes next in the Hal Jordan disintegration saga. But I'm becoming a bigger Sinestro fan with each passing month. To me, the idea of the arch-nemesis becoming the superhero is truly inspired. I'm working under the assumption that eventually, Hal Jordan will have survived his current predicament and become the star of the series once again but I'm not sure the GL story will continue to hold my interest in that case. I may be more inclined to follow Sinestro wherever he goes next.

Admittedly, I'm a newbie and not as invested in Hal Jordan as those who've been devoted to the series for years. But I can't help agreeing with Sinestro when he says he's better than Hal, and Hal knows it. I'm pretty sure we all know it. He's smarter, wiser, more disciplined, less impulsive and every bit as strong. The floating Oompa-Loompas feel he is less altruistic but, at least for the moment, that doesn't seem to be the case. His devotion to the people of Korugar, at any rate, appears to be pure and true. I guess I am more a Sinestro fan than a Green Lantern fan. We shall see if that holds going forward.

Justice League #3

Image via

The brawling. I've really had enough of the brawling. If the big fight scenes are to be the focus of this series, it may also have trouble holding my interest long-term. In a team book, there should be personalities and relationships to explore. I still enjoy the banter between the heroes, though the jabs at Batman for lacking superpowers already feel overdone. However, Green Lantern calling dibs on Wonder Woman was genuinely funny. I'm delighted that Aquaman has been introduced. He was my favorite as a kid. But I'm disappointed that, at least at first appearance, he's a bit of an arrogant jerk. I'm not ready to give up on this series just yet but I'm worried.

While I was less impressed with the story, the artwork for this book is outstanding. There are a lot of nice Wonder Woman images. I like the one of her with a sword in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other.

Image via Maybe Tomorrow

But I'd say my favorite frame was the one of reclaimed-from-the-brink-of-death Cyborg blending back into the scene at the ocean.

Image via World of Black Heroes

Green Lantern New Guardians #3

Image via ComicXHub

My growing distaste for the brawling continues. I need more from these stories. The development, in this issue, of the Orange Lantern Corps was interesting. At this point, despite the fact that I gave up on Red Lanterns after two issues, an examination of each individual corps would be more interesting to me than the New Guardians storyline. Of the three #3 issues I've read, this is the only one that didn't pass my curiosity test for issue #4. However, as with JL #3, a lot of the artwork is highly satisfying. I really like this one:

Image via Quelque chose de bizarre

Summing Up

And then there were two. I promise, I haven't been systematically eliminating titles. I'd have been delighted to be enthralled by all 52 books from the get go. But in my quest for series that I can settle into and enjoy for the foreseeable future, the DC stories aren't doing enough for me. I'm even a bit worried about the two titles I have left. More on those very soon...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Football Fantasy: 9th Place

College League: won, 104.91-71.24 (finished in 9th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 88.12-73.66 (finished 9th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Jairus Byrd (Safety, Bills)

Photo via NextGenSports

The Bills are currently my team defense in the college league and they had a big game: 14 points allowed, 3 sacks, 4 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. Byrd was responsible for 1 interception and 1 touchdown. His father, Gill Byrd, was a star defensive back for the San Diego Chargers.

The season is over in both leagues and I finished in exactly the same spot. Waseda Alum won the College League whereas my blogging friend Marc won the Vermont League. I need to devote time in the off-season to devising a new strategy. My minimum goal for next season: the playoffs in both leagues.

My Player of the Year

Player: Matthew Stafford
Position: Quarterback
Team: Detroit Lions

Photo via isportsweb

Stafford was my player of the week four times. He was a steal, auto-drafted in the sixth round of the VL draft and has been the 5th most productive player in fantasy football this season. This is his third year in the NFL, not an unusual time for a breakout year. More importantly, he has led the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Family Adventures: A Christmas Constitutional

After lunch today, we went out for a walk, just up to the top of our road and back. We got a light coating of fresh snow for Christmas, just enough to make the pine trees look as if they've been dusted with powdered sugar. I managed to get a few nice pictures:

One of our holiday traditions is for Our Girl to pick a charity for our family donation. This was our sixth year doing it and she's chosen a different worthy cause each time. This year, we gave to our local public library. If you'd care to do the same, find one near you at

Happy holidays!

Peace on Earth.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I'm with the Band: Southern Miss

Band: The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band
University: The University of Southern Mississippi
Founded: 1920
Director: Dr. Mohamad Schumann

In the Bowl Game As Free Vacation Sweepstakes, the Hawaii Bowl is the big prize. Bowl games have been played in Hawaii since 1936, 23 years before statehood.

All This and Football, Too

My Picks for the Week: 3/4
My Picks for the Bowl Season: 5/7 (2nd place out of 12 players in total points; 9th out of 12 in maximum points)

On the Coffee Table: Kurt Vonnegut

Title: Galápagos
Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Image via Shifting Baselines

When I first started The Armchair Squid a couple years back as a sports blog, I'd pondered possibilities for new directions down the line. Science fiction seemed a strong candidate - another interest I pursued as a child despite the rest of my family's indifference. I expected, however, that film or television would be the likely blogging gateway to the sci-fi world. Instead, it was books.

In anticipation of this possible transition, I've tackled a few sci-fi classics over the past year - Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, From the Earth to the Moon, I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles - but have not posted reviews. With the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge behind me, I felt the time had come for The Squid to branch out. I decided to begin with an old friend.

I first read Vonnegut in high school when Cat's Cradle was assigned to my 11th grade English class. To say I was impressed is putting it mildly. Apart from his great humor, Vonnegut's bold irreverence for the novel form was very refreshing to a 16-year-old kid who was just beginning to catch on that school could be fun and intellectual exploration gratifying. I later read other books on my own: Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions and Palm Sunday, a collection of essays. The latter contains many wonderful musings on the writing craft which I still bear in mind whenever I read fiction.

All of that said, Galápagos is a fun read but not Vonnegut's strongest effort. The basic story, a random assemblage escaping from the mainland to ultimately offer humanity a new beginning, would have been plenty interesting enough without Vonnegut's typical temporal wanderings. Maybe I'm too old to be impressed by all of that anymore. For me, a great read is when you forget you're reading a book at all and suddenly realize you've plowed through 100 pages in one sitting. Vonnegut seemingly never wants you to forget that you're reading. While marking those characters soon-to-die with asterisks provides modest levity to an otherwise dark tale, I found the practice jarring. My Wife hates Vonnegut, as she explains in her Slaughterhouse Five post. I now feel that I can understand why.

Of course, Vonnegut has very tough competition at our house right now: J.R.R. Tolkien. I recently finished reading The Hobbit to Our Girl and we're now several chapters into The Fellowship of the Ring. In film or print, all I really want is a good story told well and very few can match Tolkien on that measure. Not many can claim to have created such a rich and textured world as Middle Earth. If the literary profession were a boxing circuit, I doubt Vonnegut would even survive the first round against Tolkein. To his credit, though, Vonnegut would be the first to concede his opponent's superiority.

I anticipate many re-reads in my science fiction explorations: Douglas Adams, certainly, and probably full immersion in Asimov's oeuvre at some point. I think Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five are also both worth another look, if only to remind myself of why I loved Vonnegut in the first place. And yes, I still do, even though Galápagos didn't do it for me. I leave for now with the author's interview with Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kurt Vonnegut
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And here is his list:


Give us this day our daily bread. Oh sure.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Nobody better trespass against me. I'll tell you that.

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are the merciful. You mean we can't use torture?

Blessed are the peacemakers. Jane Fonda?

Love your enemies - Arabs?

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. The hell I can't! Look at the Reverend Pat Robertson. And he is as happy as a pig in s**t.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Football Fantasy: Stafford, Part 4

College League: lost, 80.61-78.00 (relegated to 9th place game)
Vermont League: lost, 160.56-94.84 (relegated to 9th place game)
My Player of the Week: Matthew Stafford (Quarterback, Lions) with 391 yards passing and 4 touchdowns plus 5 yards rushing and a lost fumble

Photo via PeopleQuiz

A close game in one league and a blowout in the other but the ultimate result is the same. I will play for 9th place in both leagues. So, while I'm still assured of improving upon last year's 11th place CL finish, I now cannot improve on my 9th place VL result. My only strategic difference between the two leagues this year was unplanned: I had to auto-draft in the Vermont League. When that team was doing so well in the beginning of the season, I thought perhaps I'd unlocked some deep, dark fantasy football secret. In the end, it afforded me no advantage at all. It's just as well. I would have really been humbled to find that a computer picks better than I do.

It was another monster week for Stafford, most certainly one of the NFL's breakout stars this year. The Lions are in a strong position to make the playoffs, too. At least all of my Michiganer friends are happy.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Off My Duff: Broomball Playoffs

It turned out to be a pretty quiet weekend at our house. Our Girl woke up on Saturday morning vomiting. So any plans for adventures out on the town were postponed. We made good use of the quiet time, as described here.

Image via Municipal Ice Complex

We had our broomball playoffs on Friday evening. Unfortunately, our postseason only lasted one game. Even more unfortunately for me, I spent most of the game watching from the bench. Still nursing my wounds from the previous week, I didn't appreciate how limited my movements would be until I got out on the ice. Quickly realizing that I wasn't doing anyone any favors out there, I benched myself. Mock, good, loyal friend that he is, let me take a quick turn in goal just so I'd have a chance to play. It was fun for a bit, but I let a goal in, ending that experiment.

The team played great, achieving a 2-2 draw in regulation, doubling our goal total for the year. We lost on penalty shots, though Mock bravely made 5 saves in the shootout before a lucky one got through. I'm hoping the strong effort was despite my absence, not helped by it.

Regardless, I'm definitely in for the spring season, evidently beginning in January. There's talk of team jerseys. Hopefully, I'll be fully healed by then. I think a modest investment in protective gear is in order. I shall continue to advocate for practices and chalk talks when/if we can find the time. I have some ideas about how we might streamline our positional play.

Image via Merchant Circle

The highlight of the evening for me was our post-game gathering at The O.N.E. Pepper Grill in Burlington. One of the most common questions people ask me when my Japan experience comes up is if there's anything I miss about the culture. Even 13 years later, there are a few things. I miss the astonishing politeness, particularly in customer service. I miss the public transit system a lot. But perhaps what I miss most of all is the bars. Japanese bars are built for conversation: round or square tables, unobtrusive music and drinking rituals which encourage interaction. Few American establishments compare favorably in my experience. But The O.N.E. Pepper Grill was really nice. I could actually hear everyone in our group, even those furthest from me. I was impressed - one to remember.

Bedtime Stories: The Hobbit

Title: The Hobbit
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Image via Orange Marmelade

Being sick stinks but when you're eight years old, there are potential perks. Mostly holed up in bed the past two days with a stomach bug, Our Girl did have the benefit of great pampering. Among other indulgences, we have spent much of the weekend reading to her. Yesterday, My Wife read her a major chunk of Anne of Green Gables. Today, I read the last eight chapters of The Hobbit to her, thus completing one of my goals for the blogging year.

This was my second time reading The Hobbit in its entirety. I first picked it up as a child, probably in late elementary school or maybe junior high. I was already a big fantasy fan at that point, having read C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander in addition to playing loads of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, I was already familiar with the story thanks to the 1977 animated film. But reading The Hobbit was a turning point in my personal history with books. For the first time, I saw past the story and appreciated the artful prose. I was drawn irretrievably into Tolkien's amazing world with a single sentence: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

With the Peter Jackson film set to debut next December, I felt the time had come to introduce the story to our daughter. With most films, I have no problem with waiting for the DVD release but I know The Hobbit is one I'll want to see on a big screen, ideally at the Uptown in DC if it's there when we are. Even with the likely PG-13 rating, I'll definitely want Our Girl to come with us.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I was a little worried that she wouldn't like it, that she was too young or that she'd get bored midway through and we'd abandon it forever. As it turned out, I needn't have worried at all. She loved it, even reenacting parts of the story with her LEGO and Playmobil figures. After we finished the book today, I set out a new array of books for her to select our next read aloud. Many were stories I adored as a child: The Book of Three, The Headless Cupid, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, etc. She didn't even hesitate: The Fellowship of the Ring. Right back to Middle Earth we go!

Our copy of the book is Douglas A. Anderson's annotation. Included are many illustrations - Tolkien's own plus various interpretations from around the world. I think it would have been a fine read-aloud without the pictures but they definitely added to the experience for both of us.

On the Coffee Table: Tom Stanton

Title: The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark
Author: Tom Stanton

Image via Macmillan

In 1999, Tom Stanton set out to attend every single home game of the Detroit Tigers' final season at their longtime home, Tiger Stadium. It is, I must confess, just the sort of book I'd love to write. He writes of the building and its many quirks. He tells of the people who inhabit the park - not just players and coaches but grounds crew, vendors and lifelong fans such as himself. He weaves the story of his family through his tribute to the team they've followed through four generations. It's a blogging project, published before such a thing probably existed.

I haven't been to a lot of major league games in my life. In fact, I'm pretty sure the number is three, all in different stadiums: one at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the much newer Camden Yards and Minneapolis's Metrodome. However, I have been to quite a lot of minor league games and generally prefer them. It's a far more transient world for players and coaches but the parks themselves feel very dependable.

Burlington's Centennial Field, first opened in 1906, is older than any major league park and it looks it. That said, it's a very pleasant place to watch a ball game. Nonetheless, the majors have declared that improvements must be made if Vermont is to continue to host Class A ball. The stadium has already lost college baseball. The University of Vermont discontinued its baseball program after the 2009 season. The field is still university property so a joint investment between the city and the school may be needed to renovate. If it doesn't happen, devotional tributes such as Stanton's may be necessary before long.

Meanwhile, the 2012 season is a go. Here's the schedule. Stanton's book has me chomping at the bit. Alas, June is a long way off.

I'm with the Band: Temple

Band: Diamond Marching Band
University: Temple University
Founded: 1925
Current Director: Matthew Brunner

A bowl game is the reward for a well-played season for a college football team. It's frequently a highlight for the marching band, too - essentially a free vacation to a sunny clime. There's still work to be done, of course, in preparing for the halftime show but there's down time to enjoy as well.

Of the six teams who played on Saturday, Temple had to travel the farthest. I know I'd rather be in Albuquerque in December than Philadelphia, especially on someone else's dollar. I can find nothing as to why the Temple University bands are called the Diamond Bands but they were named so by Dr. John H. Jenny in 1946.

All This and Football, Too

My Picks for the Week: 2/3 (1st in total points out of 12 players, 8th in potential points)

Our bowl group is back in business this year. With 12 participants, we're up 2 from last season. Now I get to find out if the work I put into following the regular season was worthwhile. Obviously, I'd love to finish in at least the top 3. But I'd settle for improving on last year's 9th place finish out of 10. I fell one point shy of perfection yesterday, courtesy of Ohio's last-minute touchdown. I'm delighted to be in first place but in the long run, keeping an eye on the potential points is more meaningful. Most of my league-mates risked relatively few points yesterday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Football Fantasy: Better Late Than Never

College League: won, 105.87-64.38 (advanced to consolation semifinals)
Vermont League: bye
My Player of the Week: Mark Sanchez (Quarterback, Jets) with 13 completions for 181 yards and two touchdowns; 3 sacks; 2 rushing attempts for 4 yards and 2 touchdowns and 1 lost fumble

Photo via Fanpop

Sure, now my team starts performing like the well-oiled machine I'd envisioned at the beginning of the season. I should not scoff. My win guarantees that I will improve on last year's 11th place finish in the CL. This is my third week in a row with a Jet as Player of the Week!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Family Adventures: A Very Busy Saturday

Image via The Coca-Cola Company

Saturday was chock full of fun. We headed out late morning and didn't make it back until after Our Girl's bedtime. If there was a theme, it was Santa Claus. At eight years old, Our Girl still seems inclined to believe but I'm getting the feeling we may not have much longer. For instance, she has something she wants to put in our stockings this year so I think she's catching on that much of the magic of Christmas morning occurs with parental assistance.

First, we stopped by the Jericho Center Country Store to visit with the Jolly Old Elf himself. The store has been in business for a couple of centuries now, since 1807. They take holidays seriously. In addition to Santa, they have a great haunted house at Halloween.

Then on to the Fine Scottish Bistro (aka McDonald's) for lunch. Yes, I know all of the horror stories. I've read Fast Food Nation and seen Super Size Me. The Playwright spent much of Thanksgiving weekend regaling us with tales of all the unmentionables that go into McNuggets. I know that choosing McDonald's for a family meal is downright irresponsible. But it's fast, cheap, convenient and an easy sell for the kid. She and My Wife both got Mighty Kid Happy Meals so she managed to score both a Hello Kitty toy and a Bakugon.

Our nearest Mickey D's is now open 24 hours, both lobby and window. Long gone are the days when I had both hankering and freedom to pursue a 20-piece box of nuggets at 3 o'clock in the morning. The last 24-hour McDonald's I went to was in Roppongi in Tokyo some 13 years ago when I had the lifestyle to appreciate it.

Next, a movie at Essex Cinemas. Film is more or less the household hobby, though it's mostly home viewing. We haven't gone to the theater very much as a family. Essex is the closest cinema to us and the last film we saw there was the original Happy Feet, released in 2006. That was, in fact, the first time we ever took our daughter to a movie theater and it completely freaked her out. She did not deal very well with the dark combined with loud noises. We did better with Ratatouille the following year. But then I took her to the IMAX theater at the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian and the 3-D Deep Sea did not go over well at all.

Our Girl is older now and with so many great family films out at the moment, it seemed worth trying again. We showed her the trailers for Arthur Christmas, The Muppets and Hugo and let her choose. This won her over:

We're big Wallace & Gromit fans at our house. As such, we all had high hopes for the latest Aardman Animations production. This was the first picture of her own choosing that Our Girl ever posted on her bedroom wall:

Photo via Video Games Blogger

Essex Cinemas has done quite a lot in the past few years to draw couch-bound ciniphiles like us back to the movie theater. They now have several 3-D screens, including their T-Rex Theatre, opened in 2010. We might have to check that one out at some point, as well as their Club Take 2 for the 21 and over crowd.

This was actually my first time seeing a mainstream movie in 3-D. Our Girl wasn't freaked out at all, either. I asked My Wife afterward if she thought it was worth seeing on a big screen or in 3-D and she said no to both. It's still far cheaper to wait until we can watch at home so such considerations are important.

Image via

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, a CGI affair as opposed to Aardman's usual claymation. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix. I'll admit there were times when the story dragged a bit but I had genuinely watery eyes by the end. So, for the record, that's no tears for The Time Traveler's Wife but plenty of them for Arthur Christmas. What can I say? I'm a sucker for "Spirit of Christmas" stuff.

After a few errands, it was on to the Mocks for dinner and board games. Mrs. Mock made yummy beef yakitori for dinner. Afterwards, we introduced them to a game we've been playing for a few years now: Carcassonne, a medieval-themed map building game. My Wife prefers board games that are easy to learn and can be played in under an hour. I favor ones in which no one is eliminated - everyone gets to play through to the end. Carcassonne meets all of the above requirements.

Image via Collections Wow

It's good to share games with friends for many reasons. The Mocks invented some new Carcassonne jargon. Mock referred to a card played without a follower attached to it as an "orphaned" tile. Mrs. Mock determined that one of her monks was a Hare Krishna. Mock won - beginners luck...

Next, we set up a more child-oriented, cooperative mystery game (title?) in anticipation of the kids joining us. Wouldn't you know it, they begged off, leaving us to solve the mystery on our own! What gives?

Finally, homeward. It was a great day but I was exhausted, in bed by 9:30 - quite early for me.

On the broomball front, we lost again, 3-0, but we played hard. I took three spills in the span of about 5 minutes. The first time, I banged up my shin. The second time, I was wounded in pride only. The third time, I landed hard on my backside and was genuinely worried for a moment that perhaps I'd broken my tailbone. I didn't. Three days later, I'm healing just fine. I actually managed to play some afterward, though I sat for the entire third period. There's talk of playoffs this coming weekend but I've heard no official word yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I'm with the Band: Army

Band: West Point Marching Band
University: United States Military Academy
Founded: 1817
Current Band Leader: Lt. Col. Jim Keene

Every marching band at every parade or halftime show in America is a direct descendant of the military brass bands of the 19th century. The United States military has been a great musical patron from our nation's beginnings. Each branch of the service has several ensembles which perform to high professional standards. The academies are an important part of the military musical tradition. The West Point Marching Band is a combination of members from three other musical groups: the Hellcats, Jazz Knights and Concert Band.

The West Point Marching Band is no ordinary college marching band. While they do play at football games and other sporting events, the ensemble consists entirely of professional musicians, all of them active duty soldiers. Cadets are not eligible. This is a fully functioning military band. Beyond the fun stuff, they serve at funerals, Acceptance Day (featured in the clip) and other solemn occasions. While army life isn't easy for anyone, it's a sensible gig for a musician: salary, benefits, stability, etc. Your average freelance musician in New York can rarely depend on any of those.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Football Fantasy: Back to the Drawing Board

College League: lost, 90.30-78.28 (5-8 overall, 11th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 120.96-103.72 (6-7 overall, 7th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Shonn Greene (Running Back, Jets) with 22 rushing attempts for 88 yards and 3 touchdowns plus 3 receptions for 26 yards

Photo via Turn On The Jets

I am out of the playoffs in both leagues. So, while my baseball system may still afford me improvements in both leagues (I finished 11th in the CL last year, 9th in the VL), it's not good enough. So, I may need to spend time in the off-season devising a more effective fantasy football strategy. I realize this discussion is less interesting without my revealing the specifics of how I run baseball but suffice to say that the greater impact of injuries in football as well as the different position dynamics make it difficult to adapt my system exactly. In short, knowing when to dump a player is more obvious in baseball than it is with football - at least to me.

My failure in the Vermont League is especially puzzling. I had the second-highest scoring team in the league overall and I still didn't make the top six in win-loss. I even had a good week this week, but Mock's was better and that's all that mattered in the end. Lesson learned: even with a strong performance for the season, weekly matchups really do matter. With his victory, Mock grabs the fifth seed in the playoffs and I hope he wins the league. He drew his cousin and my friend Marc in the first round.

I have Shonn Greene in both leagues. I drafted him in the Vermont League and acquired him in a trade with Special Dinner in the College League. At the beginning of the season, he was touted as a potential sleeper but his performance has been mediocre. His 3 touchdowns made him the top running back in fantasy football this past week. Unfortunately, I didn't start him in the VL but it still wouldn't have been enough to catch Mock.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Adventures: General Tsao's Chicken

We got a tree this weekend!

We went to Joyce's Noodle House in Essex Junction for lunch on Sunday. Just as I have a standard order in a diner (club sandwich if they have it, a burger if they don't), I also have one for Chinese restaurants: General Tsao's chicken (Joyce's spelling). I thought back to when it first became my go-to dish. For as much time as I have spent in Asia and such cosmopolitan cities as DC and New York, one might be surprised that I trace my Chinese culinary sensibilities to a small town in Iowa.

As discussed previously, I went to college in Iowa, in a town so small that it didn't even have a McDonald's at the time. (It does now) Every comedian who came to perform on campus would have a joke about the fact that we didn't have a McDonald's. Restaurant options in general were limited. But the summer before my senior year, a Chinese place opened. Dining hall food was actually reasonably decent as institutional fare goes but by senior year, everything tasted the same. Fiscally disciplined during my first three years, I allowed myself an occasional splurge for take out in my final year.

There wasn't anything overwhelming about their General Tso's chicken (their spelling). In fact, as far as I could tell, it was exactly the same recipe as their sesame chicken but with hot red peppers added. Those peppers made all the difference. I couldn't get enough. I have a very pleasant memory of enjoying my GTC in a lawn chair I'd dragged outside so I could watch the sunset while I ate. Sunsets on the prairie are well worthy of extra appreciation.

However, the very best Chinese food I had in Iowa was not in our town but in nearby and only slightly larger Newton. China King is well worth the detour if you're driving across the Midwest on I-80. Online reviews are highly amusing as few seem capable of believing that such high-quality Asian food exists in so unlikely a place. They had a sizzling rice soup I've never seen anywhere else and it was absolutely divine.

Oh, Newton had a McDonald's, too.

Following up on an earlier post, Our Girl seems to have settled on a new default toy store: Learning Express, also in Essex Junction. It has always been our best bet for Hello Kitty gear but otherwise, I have found them to be pricey compared to local indies. However, twice this past weekend, it was the store she requested: once for a birthday gift for a friend and once for herself.

In broomball news, we had our first game in a month on Friday night. We fought hard but still lost 3-0. One of our number got into a bit of a tussle on the ice - not quite what I had in mind when I signed on for this, I have to admit. We only have one more regular season game to go.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm with the Band: UCLA

Band: UCLA Bruin Marching Band
University: UCLA
Founded: 1921
Current Director: Gordon Henderson

Given the school's location, it's no surprise that the band's screen credits, both on- and off-camera, are extensive. The UCLA Bruin Marching Band has appeared in such films as Hello Dolly and That Thing You Do and such TV shows as The Simpsons. They are also featured at the end of Dan Fogelberg's #1 single, "The Leader of the Band."

All This and Football, Too

My Picks for the Week: 11/14 (1st place out of 3 players)
My Picks for the Season, Final Total: 179/274 (tied for 2nd out of 3)

In the end, the three of us were separated by just a single point. If I'd been more conservative with my Week 1 picks, I could have won this thing. Live and learn.

There was, of course, another purpose in my following the college football season more closely this year. I want to make a serious run at my bowl picks group this time and the regular season was intended as practice. The last two years, I haven't done well: 6th out of 6 players the first year, 9th out of 10 the second. I'm confident I can make a significant improvement. I got much better at picking games as the season went on. I had at least a share of first place in each of the last four weeks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Football Fantasy: Sanchez

College League: lost, 90.05-75.87 (5-7 overall, 11th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 89.92-84.94 (6-6, 5th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Mark Sanchez (Quarterback, Jets) with 17 completions for 180 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception and 2 rushing attempts for 5 yards

Photo via HeadBlitz

There's one week to go in the regular season for both leagues. I'm pretty sure I'm mathematically out of the playoffs in the college league. No worries. I'll still have the opportunity to improve on last year's 11th place finish in the consolation playoffs.

I had an outside chance at a win in the Vermont league heading into Monday night. I needed really strong games from both Jimmy Graham (TE, Saints) and the Giants defense. Unfortunately, it was virtually impossible to have both - a frequent fantasy football conundrum. Graham held up his end of the deal, hauling in 2 touchdowns. But the Giants allowed 49 points - not good.

I face Mock for the last matchup. We currently hold 5th and 6th places with identical 6-6 records. If I've got the math right, whichever one of us wins is in the playoffs. There's an outside chance the loser could make it, too, but we need some help from Marc. If he beats his opponent, whichever one of us loses should have more points than the guy in 7th place. That's not too much to ask, is it?

There's been much fretting over Sanchez in New York but he had a great game this week. Even with his occasional struggles, there's some poetic justice in the fact that he's a more successful NFL quarterback than the guys he used to back up at USC. Apparently, he's a huge musical theatre fan and was a presenter at the 2010 Tonys.

My Tennis Fantasy: Can He Do It Again?

My Final Overall Standing: 15th
My MVP for the Week: Novak Djokovic (Serbia) with $260,000, finishing 1-2 in the round robin stage of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals
My MVP for the Year: Novak Djokovic

Photo via

Without a doubt, 2011 has been Novak's year. Here is Jon Wertheim's nomination of Djokovic for SI's Sportsman of the Year. (I'm betting it will be either Coach K or Aaron Rodgers). The question remains, though: can he keep this up?

My guess is no. Djokovic is obviously plenty good but I think Nadal and Federer will reassert their authority in 2012. If each player is at his best, I think they're both still better than Djokovic is. Yes, Novak's got all of the shots in the book but the Federer/Nadal reign has been about mental prowess as much as physical. I think they both win Slams next year and - ready for it? - Djokovic doesn't win any.

One final bold prediction for 2012: I've said for a long time that I think this next year will be Federer's last and I'm standing by it. But I think he'll leave us with a few final gems to remember him by. I genuinely hope I'm wrong about this one. If anyone deserves to walk away from his sport on his own terms, it's Fed. Even if he plays until he's 40, he'll be sorely missed once he's gone.

As for Fantasy Tennis Tour, I've definitely enjoyed the year but I have been very frustrated by their inclination to change the rules on us mid-season. It happened several times. I've been even more frustrated by their slow-loading website, at least on Safari. I know it's just a beta site this year but I hope they'll shape up for Year 2. And yes, I'm definitely planning to play again. I'm sad not to have cracked the top 10 - a worthy goal for 2012!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The New 52: The Second Issues

That's Entertainment in Worcester, Massachusetts had a Black Friday sale featuring, among other bargains, a buy-two-get-one-free deal for New 52 titles. The time had arrived for checking out the second issues of my favorite #1s. I also picked up a recent Wolverine book for comparison. My thoughts on each...

Green Lantern #2


My ultimate question for each title was essentially the same as it had been for the first issues: am I sufficiently curious about what happens in the next issue? For GL #2, the answer is a definite yes. I absolutely love the dynamic between Sinestro and Hal Jordan. Can a former arch-villain actually be a better superhero than the supposed good guy? The broader question posed by Sinestro, why superheroes haven't used their powers to fix Earth's larger problems, is a poignant one. Mock recently gave me a Squadron Supreme series from the mid-'80s which confronts that matter directly.

Green Lantern Corps #2

Image via Team Hellions

I was less impressed by this one. The initial draw for me was the dynamic between the various Corps members and issue #2 didn't do enough to encourage further interest. The current storyline - a barren world rebuilding by stealing natural resources from other planets - is a good one. But I need something more than brawling action to hold my interest long-term. Verdict: did not pass.

Green Lantern New Guardians #2

Image via Kaskus

I am powerfully curious about the various Lantern Corps beyond the Green. I'm very interested to see what will happen with the unification via Kyle Rayner. I like the floating Oompa-Loompas (aka Guardians) a lot but Rayner's new threads with all of the various insignias are very impressive. It will be easy to pull for him in the inevitable conflict. Verdict: passed.

Red Lanterns #2

Image via Kaskus

This book is really strong. The story is good. Just as with the first book, the art work is outstanding. I'm still very impressed by Atrocitus and his avenging-the-worthy philosophy is very appealing (more on that later). And yet, I have to say that my interest in following the story further is lacking. Next up is Atrocitus's selection of a lieutenant from his entourage, an intriguing narrative direction. But I don't see that the Red Lantern Corps's development is any more compelling than that of the Green Lantern Corps. What is most interesting to me is the interaction between the various colors, thus my curiosity in the Sinestro and New Guardians story lines. Verdict: did not pass, but it was close.

Teen Titans #2

Image via

By the end of the issue, my interest in the characters had run out. Red Robin's crush on Wonder Girl offers potential but not enough for me to keep following this particular band of heroes. The introduction of characters should be exciting. In this case, it is disappointingly tedious. Verdict: did not pass.

Justice League #2

Image via Comic Reviews from the Life-Impaired

In contrast to the Teen Titans, the superheroes in the Justice League feel like old friends to me. Such is the power of television on the childhood mind. Even though I didn't read many comic books in my youth, the Super Friends had a TV cartoon in the '70s and early '80s when I was firmly entrenched in their target demographic. The Teen Titans didn't get their show until I was an adult. As such, the introduction of The Flash in this issue and the promise of Wonder Woman in the next are both very exciting. JL #2 also ends with an excellent cliffhanger in the Cyborg story. Verdict: passed.

That said, why is it that superheroes must fight one another when they first meet? Does this speak to subconscious insecurities despite possessing super powers (or not, in Batman's case)? I can't help rooting against Superman in these tussles. To me, pulling for Superman seems a bit like pulling for the Yankees - too predictable to offer real satisfaction.

Wolverine #16

Image via Jazma Online Forum

As I noted in my wrap-up post for the New 52 #1s, I am a Marvel man at heart. I have a great fondness for Wolverine in particular and I thought I would check in with his story to see if I still prefer it to the current DC saga. Just as I suspected, it was no contest.

There are so many things I like about Wolverine. I love that the line between Logan and Wolverine is very blurry indeed. I love his back story. I love his connections to Japan. I love his conflicted, tormented persona and his vigilante sense of justice - basically everything I like about Atrocitus but with stronger development behind him. I find his super powers very appealing, too, especially given the fact that the Adamantium fused to his bones was essentially imposed upon him - enhancing his strength but also his resentment.

At present, Wolverine is the central character of the Marvel universe and this book clearly demonstrates that. Marvel loves the group shots and the picture of the combined forces of the Avengers and the X-Men is a keeper. I don't know the Marvel characters as well as I know the DC ones - again the power of television. DC had a much stronger TV presence than Marvel did during my childhood. While it can be brutal sifting through Marvel's cast of thousands, everything I've read so far suggests that the heroes of that universe are more complex individuals than their DC counterparts. They're worth the effort.


Three of the six New 52 #2s I read passed my curiosity test. Three did not. I would rank all six books as follows:

1. Green Lantern
2. Green Lantern New Guardians
3. Justice League
4. Red Lanterns
5. Green Lantern Corps
6. Teen Titans

But I would still put Wolverine above them all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On the Road: Worcester

We've just returned from our not-quite-annual-but-frequent Thanksgiving trip to Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester is home to English Prof and The Playwright, two of My Wife's closest friends from her Chicago days. We all live pretty far from our family home bases so we've gotten in the wonderful habit of spending Turkey Day together. Our plans don't work out quite every year, but more often than not they do. My Wife and English Prof are both culinary masters so they spend a lot of time in the kitchen creating minor miracles. In addition to the benefits of good food and good company, we all get to wallow in the joys of The Playwright's voluminous DVD collection.

First, the food. Turkey before:

Turkey after:

The pies, English Prof's specialty:



Butternut Squash:

Prepping MORE pies for Friday night:

In total, five pies were produced, plus extra squash filling for the road. We were visited by a mysterious green ghost at dinner. A new Thanksgiving tradition, perhaps?

The Worcester area contains two of our favorite retail establishments: That's Entertainment, a comics shop and general collectibles mecca (more on that visit in a separate post), and Trader Joe's in Shrewsbury. We don't have a Trader Joe's in Vermont so it's always an important stop on our Massachusetts trips. We were also introduced to Annie's Book Swap, a used book store in Marlboro. If you're a romance novel fan, Annie has an astonishing collection. There's a decent children's selection, too.

We had some good out-of-the-house meals, too. On Saturday, we went to Fugakyu in Sudbury, a very nice sushi place. I'm a big maki fan and their menu is impressive. Even with endless variety at my disposal, I tend to keep it simple: just tuna, cucumber and Alaska rolls for me. On the way out of town, we stopped at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Shrewsbury for lunch today. I'd been a couple times before to locations in other cities and hadn't been overly impressed but I really enjoyed my steak burrito today. Perhaps it was just a matter of ordering well.

Finally, some photos from EP's and TP's apartment and the neighborhood: