Saturday, September 29, 2012

I'm with the Band: Georgia

Band: Georgia Redcoat Marching Band
University: University of Georgia
Founded: 1905
Current Director: Dr. Michael C. Robinson
Fight Song: "Hail to Georgia"
Today's Home Game: Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.

Photo via ajc

The band's signature number, "Battle Hymn of the Bulldawg Nation."  Listen for the awesome tuba part:

The band enters the stadium with style:

A drumline performance:

"Hail to Georgia":

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Robert Griffin III

College League: won, 90.08-77.33 (2-1 overall, 4th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 104.12-71.02 (0-3, 9th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Robert Griffin III (Quarterback, Redskins) with 21 completions for 221 yards and 1 touchdown, 6 sacks, 12 rushing attempts for 85 yards and 1 rushing touchdown and 1 lost fumble
Photo via The Redskins Blog

Clearly, RG3 is the real deal.  The Skins mortgaged heavily against the future to trade for the right to draft Griffin.  He has been absolutely sensational since hitting the field - the ultimate stat sheet stuffer.  Now, the team just needs to keep him healthy.  If they don't devote the next year to upgrading the offensive line, I, as a long devoted fan of the team, will be very upset.

The college league team looks to be in good shape thus far.  The best I can say for my Vermont league team is that they have the most points of any winless team in the standings.  Zheesh!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Family Movie Night: Howl's Moving Castle

Title: Howl's Moving Castle
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Original Release: 2004
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Image via Bara Lotus Garden

Howl's Moving Castle is absolutely stunning visually, even by Miyazaki standards. For that alone, it is tempting to call this film my favorite of the Japanese master's opus.  It's a close call, but I think I prefer My Neighbor, Totoro - beauty in simplicity.  I was fighting off a fever as we watched on Friday night - an interesting state in which to watch a very dreamlike movie.

The film is based on Diane Wynne Jones's novel of the same name.  I have never read it but, partly upon Charles the Reader's recommendation, it's now on the to-read list.  As with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the plot is fairly involved.  Basically, Sophie, an 18-year-old girl is cursed by a witch to appear as an old woman.  She takes off in search of a way to lift the curse.  In her travels she meets a scarecrow who leads her to the protection of Howl, a powerful benevolent wizard.  From there, like I said, it gets pretty complicated but definitely well worth the ride.

Image via Fanpop

A scarecrow leading a girl to a wizard.  The girl is antagonized by the wicked Witch of the Waste.  Sound familiar?  The movie is chock full of Wizard of Oz allusions, greatly adding to the appeal for me.  Howl just wants his heart back.  There's even a little dog, too.  Alas, no flying monkeys.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • This one could be a decent starter movie if you're new to Miyazaki.  There is plenty of action for the kids and more than enough complexity for the adults.  Totoro might be better for a child with the patience for a quieter film.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Orioles 2012: Top of the 9th

If you've followed the pennant race at all this year, you know that the 2012 Orioles are crazy good at winning close games.  They've won approximately 5,000 extra-inning games in a row and their record in 1-run games is the best in Major League history.  The first statement in the last sentence is a gross exaggeration.  The second is actually the truth.
Photo via Wikipedia

Such success is not possible without a great closer and Jim Johnson has been the most dependable player on the team all season long.  With his save in the first leg of today's doubleheader with the Blue Jays, Johnson leads the Majors with 48 on the year.  Not surprisingly, he also leads in save opportunities with 51.  He made his first All-Star Game, too.

Photo via Wikipedia

Zach Phillips, a September call-up from the minors, has made two relief appearances for the team over the past nine-game stretch.  He has only had five innings of work for the big league club all season, compiling a not-so-impressive 7.20 ERA.  He was born in Sacramento.

Photo via Warehouse Worthy

Living in New England, it's easy to catch Red Sox games on NESN.  The Orioles were in Boston over the weekend and, as a result, I was able to see Dylan Bundy's Major League debut at Fenway.  You may have already heard of Bundy.  He was Baltimore's first round draft pick last year and the best pitching prospect the organization has had in decades.  Sports Illustrated did a feature article on him earlier this season.  He faced only two batters and got both out with only seven pitches.  The future is very bright.

My Baseball Fantasy: Ian Desmond

Private League: won, 6-4 (advanced to final)
Public League: lost, 7-2-1 (relegated to 3rd place game)
My Player of the Week: Ian Desmond (Shortstop, Nationals) with 1 home run, 5 runs, 3 RBI, 2 stolen bases and a .474 batting average
Photo via Emerald Gardens

It's strange.  I've generally had a much easier time of it in the public league this season but now I am guaranteed a stronger finish in the private one.  Desmond made the All-Star Game for the first time this year - yet another cog in the surprising DC juggernaut.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the Coffee Table: D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths

Title: D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths
Authors: Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Image via my favorite book

This book has sat unread on my parents' bookshelves for literally decades now.  Back when they first bought it, the title was slightly different: Norse Gods and Giants.  As a child, I was fascinated by Greek myths and spent hours poring over the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  For whatever reason, this book never piqued my interest in quite the same way.  My daughter now has copies of both books and once again, while the Greek one has gotten loads of attention, the Norse book has not.
Thor Image via Adventures into Mystery Collectibles

My comic book explorations led me finally to read about the Norse myths.  Marvel first launched stories about the Mighty Thor in August of 1962.  While I found the early Thor comics to be just as formulaic as most Silver Age fare, the direct connection to an ancient mythology offered the possibility of something deeper.  I was curious about the accuracy of the Marvel interpretation.  Accuracy's a flimsy concept when it comes to mythology, of course.  Any oral tradition is subject to endless variety.  Even the D'Aulaires book, well-researched as it was, is a tertiary source at best.  Nonetheless, it's the most extensive book on the subject in our current home library.

There are a lot of interesting differences between the Norse and Greek myths, no doubt reflecting on some level the cultural differences of northern and southern Europe.  I think it's fair to say that the Norse stories are several shades darker.  The Norse gods are mortal.  They are in constant battle - among themselves and with the rival jotun giants.  There is less interaction with humans, too.  The Greek gods were seemingly always impregnating mortals or punishing them for their pride.  The Norse gods are busy enough just keeping the enigmatic Loki from making a mess of things.  Their main role in the human world, it seems, is determining victors in battle.

Loki Image via Jung Currents

While the Norse mythology does not pervade western culture to the same extent the Greek stories do, there are some interesting influences.  I knew about Thursday (Thor's Day) and Wednesday (Odin's Day) but apparently Tuesday and Friday are named for Norse gods, too.  Tuesday is for Tyr, another of Odin's sons and god of the sword.  Friday is for Freya, goddess of beauty and love.  Our English word for the underworld is taken from Hel, the Norse ruler of the dead who had not fallen in battle.
Hello Kitty as Loki via Mousebreath

As for the Marvel Universe, there are definitely some inconsistencies with D'Aulaires.  In the early comics, Thor and Loki are the most prominent characters with occasional appearances by Odin.  Loki has always been cast by Marvel as Thor's stepbrother.  In D'Aulaires, he is Odin's blood brother.  I didn't know until I read D'Aulaires that Odin only has one eye.  He is not always portrayed that way by Marvel.  In my very limited exposure to the more recent Thor stories, the comics spend more time in Asgard than did the early books.  I would imagine that over the past 50 years, there have been eras when the Thor comics delved more deeply into the original mythology but I can't say I really know much about that.

I have to admit that this book was rough going for me at times.  Having finished, I can't say I feel much of an emotional attachment to any of the characters as I did so quickly with the Greek characters when I was a child.  Perhaps I would feel differently if I had read these stories when I was younger.  Maybe I just read the wrong book.  That said, I'm glad to have read it.  I imagine it's the sort of book I may refer to again as I find other cultural connections to Norse mythology. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I'm with the Band: West Virginia

Band: West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band
University: West Virginia University
Founded: 1901
Current Director: Dearl "Jay" Drury
Fight Songs: "Hail West Virginia" and "Fight Mountaineers"
Today's Home Game: Maryland, 12:00 p.m.
Image via Twitter

I offer a few staples from the band's pre-game show.  First, the hauntingly beautiful "Simple Gifts":

Formation of the State:

"Hail West Virginia":

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Michael Vick

College League: lost, 88.56-63.49 (1-1 overall, 8th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 112.24-77.76 (0-2, 9th of 12)
My Player of the Week: Michael Vick (Quarterback, Eagles) with 23 completions for 371 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, 1 lost fumble, 10 rushing attempts for 34 yards and 1 rushing touchdown
Photo via All Philadelphia Sports

It would appear my college league team is chock full of sketchy characters.  Vick's crimes in the dogfighting operation were nothing short of monstrous.  I will not be inviting him over for dinner or letting him cat-sit. However, he served his sentence and is still abundantly qualified to do the job he is paid to do.  He is the NFL's all-time leading rusher at quarterback.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Alex Rios

Private League: won, 6-4 (advanced to semifinals)
Public League: won, 7-3 (advanced to semis)
My Player of the Week: Alex Rios (Right Fielder/Center Fielder, White Sox) with 1 home run, 4 RBI, 5 runs, 2 stolen bases and a .364 batting average
Photo via

I picked up Rios in the 20th round of the public league draft.  I didn't play him much in the early part of the year but he was a great one to have in my back pocket for the late-season push.  At 31, he is having a breakout year, his ninth in the Majors.  He is dramatically up statistically in nearly every offensive category from last year and well above his career averages.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Family Movie Night: Ballets Russes

Film: Ballets Russes
Directors: Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller
Original Release: 2005
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 out of 5
Photo via IMDb

"It's got something for all of us," My Wife said.  "Dancing for the girl, Russian accents for you and potential glimpses of Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso for me."

This 2005 documentary tells the story of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company formed in Europe in 1938 but which toured primarily in the United States after World War II broke out.   The troupe was one of the most successful and influential in American ballet.  The film is built primarily upon interviews of the former dancers.  The tone is mostly light-hearted and affectionate but there is also plenty of discussion of behind the scenes conflicts.

The best parts, of course, are the dance clips from the company's heyday.  Our Girl is quite an enthusiastic dancer herself - primarily ballet to this point, though she's switched to jazz and tap this year.  She was inspired by the film to get up and practice her own steps while we were watching.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • Our Girl seemed to enjoy parts of the film but ultimately got bored.  The modern dance film Pina, which we saw on the big screen in March, while quite odd indeed, did a much better job of holding her attention through the entire film.
  • In the film's where-are-they-now? summary at the end, we learn of dancer Wakefield Poole's subsequent career directing adult gay films.  There is a short clip included of what certainly appears to be a naked man standing thigh-high in the ocean - too far away to be conclusive on the fully nude part.  By that point, Our Girl had tuned out so it didn't really matter.
  • Otherwise, the film is pretty clean.  I don't even remember any swearing.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 8th

What an amazing season it has been!  We're 18 games from the finish line and the Orioles still share first place in the AL East with the Yankees.  On the surface, the team's 5-4 record over the past 9 games seems unimpressive.  But contained within that stretch are a four-game split with the Yanks and a three-game sweep of the Rays, both of which helped solidify Baltimore's position in the playoff race.  The team has now won 81 games, guaranteeing their first non-losing season in 15 years.  With one more victory, they can officially call themselves winners.

Photo via PRWeb

Let's talk offensive substitutions - pinch hitters and pinch runners, that is.  There are many reasons why a team might use a pinch hitter.  Lew Ford hit for an injured Wilson Betemit in the sixth inning this past Thursday.  Later in the same 14-inning marathon against the Rays, Matt Wieters, who was supposed to have the day off, was an obvious upgrade in the bottom of the 13th, pinch hitting for Taylor Teagarden, the game's starting catcher.  In Sunday's blowout loss to the Yankees, Xavier Avery and Ryan Flaherty were both given plate opportunities, more to limit injury risk to starters and give at-bats to bench players than for any tactical advantage.  Every once in a while, the manager will make a lefty/righty switch in an effort to confound the opposing pitcher.  Such was the case when Ford took Nate McLouth's turn in the series finale with the Blue Jays on September 5th.

Generally speaking, the Orioles have been horrible in pinch hit situations, hitting .135/.224/.154.  They've been one of the worst pinch hitting teams in the Majors this season - surprising considering their astonishing success in close games. Tactically, it isn't a choice Buck Showalter seems to make very often - 52 pinch hit at-bats, ninth in the American League.

Pinch running seems to offer a more obvious advantage.  Any hitter is more likely to produce an out than a hit.  But an extra step on the base paths can equal a run.  That said, pinch runners haven't done too well for the Birds of late either.  Nate McLouth ran for an injured Nick Markakis on September 8th.  Endy Chavez ran for Chris Davis on Thursday.  Avery ran for Wieters last night.  No runs were scored by the subs in any of those situations.

None of this is to say that the Orioles have a weak bench.  The truth is quite the opposite, though that strength has manifested itself in other, ultimately more important ways.  Markakis's injury is a case-in-point.  Most teams would be severely hampered by losing one of their most talented players.  While the Birds would certainly be a better team with him than without, they have not crumbled.  They won the game in which they lost him and 3 of the 5 since.  Every team contends with injuries every year and the 2012 Orioles have been no exception.  Indeed, the two most accomplished players on the payroll, Jim Thome and Brian Roberts, have spent the vast majority of the season on the disabled list.  It has been the role players as much as the stars who have kept the team steady this year.  Compare this to the situation in (ahem!) Boston and one wonders if investing in high-priced studs is such a sensible business model.

So, this is what a pennant race feels like, huh?

I'm with the Band: Purdue

Band: Purdue "All-American" Marching Band
University: Purdue University
Founded: 1886
Current Director: Jay Gephart
Fight Song: "Hail Purdue"
Today's Home Game: Eastern Michigan, 12 p.m.

Photo via Purdue

Purdue's band started out as just a five-man drumline and stands today at 373 strong.  Purdue claims to be the first band to form block letters on the field.

Halftime 11/19/11:

"Hail Purdue:"

They also claim to possess the world's largest bass drum (a common claim among the nation's marching bands, I have found).

Photo via Purdue

In addition to all of the usual football duties, Purdue has also been the host band of the Indy 500 every year since the race began in 1927.

Purdue allows me a wonderful seque.  The most famous alum of the band is none other than astronaut Neil Armstrong, who played euphonium for the AAMB in 1952.  Armstrong passed away last month, a true American hero if ever there were one.  I always figured he had the ultimate one-up retort at parties.  First man on the moon trumps pretty much any other life accomplishment one could claim.

Photo via AeroSpaceGuide

Understandably, the band takes great pride in its association with Armstrong:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Double Barrel #4

Title: Double Barrel
Issue: #4
Release: September 2012
Writers: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Artists: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon

Image via Top Shelf Productions

I won a t-shirt!  I was a finalist in the caption contest in issue #3.  You're just going to have to read #4 to see what I wrote.  I shall wear it with pride.  I'll post a picture, too.

The Cannons demonstrated two advantages of the digital medium in this latest edition of their web comic.  First, they set the release date back a week so they could include the results of the caption contest.  Second, Zander's story Heck was set in a new orientation: landscape.  Essentially, this means the panels run over what would normally be two pages, the long way across.  Again, you'll need to read the comic to see what I mean but, let's be honest here, you should really be doing that anyway. 

In Zander's Heck, Hector and Elliott enter the city of Dis where they are taunted by the heretics.  In Kevin's Crater XV, we learn the details of Captain Sztab's diabolical plan.  Extras include Part 3 of Kevin's Penny from the Front and Zander's Here Me Is!, in which Zander's wife's dread fear of leprechauns is revealed. 

Kevin takes a turn with the How To: section this month.  He offers tips for sketch tourism, essentially replacing your camera with a sketch pad.  Clearly, this is targeted at people far more capable in the visual arts than I but it has me thinking.  Much of my discomfort in discussing art comes from my lack of ability in that area, or at least a lack of confidence. One of my goals for the year is to learn more about art.  Perhaps the best way would be to jump in and try it.

My usual disclaimer: I went to college with the Cannons so I am predisposed to enjoy their work.  That said, I wouldn't bother writing about Double Barrel if I didn't think it was good.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Ray Lewis

College League: won, 90.05-86.07 (1-0 overall, 5th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 124.22-101.84 (0-1, 7th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Ray Lewis (Linebacker, Ravens) with 11 solo tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble

Photo via Black Celebrity Giving

Ray Lewis is, to be sure, a complicated character.  The world's more interesting protagonists usually are.  On the one hand, he's one of the greatest linebackers of all-time and still a dominating force in the NFL at age 37.  On the other hand, he was indicted for murder and aggravated assault in 2000.  He plea-bargained for a misdemeanor charge in exchange for information but the case was never actually solved. So, on balance, great player?  Yes.  Great man?  Insufficient information to properly judge but hardly squeaky clean.

Regardless, he had a heck of a game against the Bengals on Monday night.

Monday, September 10, 2012

US Open Day 15: Murray at Last

Curtain Call

Player: Andy Murray
Age: 25
Nation: UK
Current Ranking: 4
Notable Conquest: Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 2nd seed)
Today's Result: win over Djokovic in five sets

Photo via Sporting Life

There is no sadder yoke to bear in sports than to be the best player who never did thus-and-such.  Until tonight, Murray was the best player in tennis to never win a Major.  He and his coach Ivan Lendl are the only two men to lose their first four Slam finals in the Open Era.  And of course, as you may have heard, it had been 76 billion years since the last time a British man had won one of these things.  At long last, we can stop hearing about least until Wimbledon.  The home Slam still reigns above all.

Four different men won the Majors this year: Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray.  The last time that happened was 2003: Agassi, Ferrero, Federer and Roddick.  Are we entering a new era of parity where Slam titles are up for grabs?  Or has the Big Three merely grown by one member?  My guess is the latter.

Hats off to Andy.  Murray may not finish the year #1 but with this win plus Olympic gold on home soil, it would be difficult to argue that anyone has had a better year.  Men's tennis has been the best story going in sports for quite a while now.  Amazingly, it just got better.

My Baseball Fantasy: LaRoche

Private League: won, 9-1 (111-104-5 overall, 6th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 5-4-1 (113-90-17, 4th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Adam LaRoche (First Baseman, Nationals) with 5 home runs, 8 RBI, 6 runs and a .444 batting average

Photo via SB Nation DC

The fantasy regular season is over and I've managed to make the playoffs in both leagues.  While I'd been fairly confident of that in the public league, I really had to scratch and claw for it in the private one.  Now, everything rides on the next three weeks.

At 32, LaRoche is having one of the best seasons of his career.  He is likely to top 30 homers and 100 RBI.  He has done both before, but never in the same year. His success has been a big part of the extraordinary story that is the 2012 Nationals.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Family Movie Night: Toy Story 2

Film: Toy Story 2
Directors: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich
Original Release: 1999
Choice: mine
My Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Image via DVD Beaver

This was our first time watching the second installment in Pixar's flagship franchise. Toy Story 2 tells the story of Woody's abduction by an evil toy collector and his friends' efforts to rescue him.  The Toy Story movies provide an interesting twist on the merchandising concept, incorporating characters based on well-known, established toys such as Barbie and Mr. Potato-Head along with those invented by Pixar.  This second movie pokes gentle fun at collectors and their quirks.

While I didn't consciously plan it this way, the movie comes along at an interesting point in our life as a family.  Our Girl has just celebrated a birthday - her ninth.  It was the first birthday for which we did not get her any toys.  She still likes toys but no longer devotes the hours of playtime to them that she once did.  Even when she buys a new one, it finds it's way into a drawer fairly quickly, not to emerge again.  She has simply moved on to other things: reading, listening to music, playing with the new cat and all the other things an older kid is supposed to do.

I'm not sad about the change.  I've looked forward to this age for many years - a time when individual interests begin to emerge and develop.  Curiosity abounds before the confusing complications of adolescence take hold.  It was one of my favorite ages to be, growing up, and it's probably my favorite age to teach, as well.

I was a sentimental old fool from a very young age.  But at least as far as my daughter is concerned, I am as excited for the future as I am nostalgic for the past.  From the first time we saw her heartbeat on the ultrasound, I've yearned to know her better.  When we learned we were having a girl, I was pleased and already eager for more. What's her favorite color? I wondered.

My favorite part of the movie is a song: the Oscar-nominated "When She Loved Me," written by Randy Newman and performed by Sarah McLachlan.  I love Sarah.  In fact, at our house, My Wife refers to her simply as my girlfriend.  Nobody does wistful better.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • The Pixar movies do a better job than most Disney productions of holding the interest of adults as much as kids.  This particular film plays very effectively on sentiment - definitely targeting parents and even grandparents.  The story is fun but predictable and formulaic.  It hits all the right chords, but not exactly inspiring.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

US Open Day 14: Ferrer

Curtain Call

Player: David Ferrer
Age: 30
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 5
Today's Result: loss to Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 2nd seed)

Photo via All About Sports Players

2012 has been the best year of Ferrer's career.  He made it to the quarterfinals of all four Majors for the first time.  Most players - even the best ones - are out of the sport by age 30 or at least coming to grips with the fact that their best days on a tennis court are behind them.  Who knows what's in store for Ferrer going forward?  A Slam title seems a stretch but a final perhaps?  I would say the French is his best bet.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

US Open Day 13: Berdych

Curtain Call

Player: Tomas Berdych
Age: 26
Nation: Czech Republic
Current Ranking: 7
Notable Conquest: Roger Federer (Switzerland, 1st seed)
Today's Result: loss to Andy Murray (UK, 3rd) in four sets

Photo via This Is Guernsey

Roger Federer has only failed to make the semis three times over the past 34 Majors.  (Let that sentence sink in for a minute before you read further.)  Two of those three times, it was Berdych who knocked him out in the quarters.  Federer still holds an overall 11-4 head-to-head advantage but all four of Berdych's wins came in big tournaments: two Slams, the 2004 Olympics and the 2010 Miami Masters.  Is there something about Berdych's game that is troubling for Fed?  Berdych's main asset is the power in his ground strokes - not unlike Del Potro, actually.  JMDP is the only man besides Nadal to beat Fed in a Slam final.  Both Berdych and Del Potro are on the tall side, too.  Fed is definitely a better player than either but they're good enough to expose his vulnerabilities on an off day.

I'm with the Band: UMass

Band: University of Massachusetts Minutemen Marching Band
University: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Founded: 1935
Fight Song: "Fight Mass"
Current Director: Dr. Timothy Anderson
Today's Home Game: Indiana, 3:30 p.m.

Image via Wikipedia

You've gotta love Tchaikovsky. I got chills when the voices came in for this one. I'm a sucker for Russian choral music. "1812 Overture":

UMass is rightly renowned for it's drumline.  This is pretty hot:

Finally, "Fight Mass":

Friday, September 7, 2012

US Open Day 12: Sharapova

Curtain Call

Player: Maria Sharapova
Age: 25
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 3
Today's Result: loss to Victoria Azarenka (Belarus, 1st seed) in three sets

Photo via ZeeNews

Sharapova had a great summer, carrying the Russian flag in the Olympic Opening Ceremony and winning a silver medal.  This was her third US Open semifinal and a big improvement on last year's third round finish. 

US Open Day 11: Del Potro

Curtain Call

Player: Juan Martin Del Potro
Age: 23
Nation: Argentina
Current Ranking: 8
Today's Result: loss to Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 2nd seed) in straight sets

Photo via ball71

Just three years ago, it looked like Del Potro was ready to sneak in behind Djokovic and Murray to become the sport's next big star.  His beautiful run to the 2009 US Open title figured to be just the first of many Major wins.  As it turned out, Djokovic had a different story in mind.  I didn't watch too much of last night's match but I did catch the end of the second set.  Truth is, Del Potro played brilliantly.  His ground strokes were as breathtaking as ever.  The Djoker somehow managed to send most of them back.  Long term, I'd say JMDP needs to bash the ball harder into the corners, essentially widening the back of the court the way he has done on occasion against Nadal.  He will, indeed, win more Majors.  But he may need to wait for Djokovic to slow down a step.

So might they all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

US Open Day 10: Bartoli

Curtain Call

Player: Marion Bartoli
Age: 27
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 11
Notable Conquest: Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 5th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Maria Sharapova (Russia, 3rd) in three sets

Photo via SportChalk

This was Bartoli's first time to reach the quarters at the US Open.  She is one of very few players who uses two hands for both her forehand and backhand, a choice made to sacrifice power for the sake of control.  Bartoli is a former junior champ at the US Open.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Marin Cilic (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 6) - Cilic matched his career-best at the US Open by reaching the quarters.  His finish was an improvement on last year's third round exit so his ranking will get a boost.  He lost today to Andy Murray (UK, 3rd) in four sets.

Orioles 2012: Top of the 8th

It's September and the Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East.  No one could possibly have seen this coming.  The Birds have built their baffling 76-59 record largely by winning close games.  You don't do that without strong performances by the back-end of the bullpen.

Photo via Wikipedia

Pedro Strop has been the setup man for the O's this year, essentially in charge of locking down the eighth inning to preserve the save opportunity for the closer.  He has been absolutely stellar all season, compiling a 1.83 ERA over 59 appearances.  He was acquired via trade with the Rangers last August.  It was closer Jim Johnson who made it to the All-Star Game but one could argue Strop has had the better year.

Photo via The Great Orioles Autograph Project

The Orioles acquired lefty Joe Saunders in a trade with Arizona on August 26th.  Since then, he's had two starts for the Birds.  The first was awful, allowing 6 earned runs over 5 1/3 against the White Sox.  The second was brilliant: no runs over 6 1/3 against the Blue Jays.  Every game will count here in the home stretch.  Hopefully, Saunders can hold up his end.

Photo via The Great Orioles Autograph Project

The Brewers dropped lefty Randy Wolf on August 22nd.  The O's picked him up on the 31st.  He's only had one appearance since but it was a good one.  When Chris Tillman went out of the game on September 2nd with an injury (not a good thing at all), Wolf got the bullpen call for long relief.  He pitched 3 1/3 inning allowing one run and got the win against the Yankees.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

US Open Day 9: Goerges

Curtain Call

Player: Julia Goerges
Age: 23
Nation: Germany
Current Doubles Ranking: 36
Doubles Partner: Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic)
Notable Conquest: Vania King (USA)/Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan) (5th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (Italy, 2nd) in straight sets

Photo via Hot Tennis Players

Goerges, the 18th seed in singles, had a very disappointing singles tournament, losing in the first round to Kristyna Pliskova (Czech Republic).  In doubles, on the other hand, she and Peschke made it to the quarters - a career-best US Open finish for Goerges.  She also made the doubles quarters at Wimbledon in 2010.  She has never been past the fourth round in singles.

Golden Squid Report

Richard Gasquet (Golden Squid since 6/27/2011) - Gasquet matched his career-best at the US Open by reaching the fourth round, ultimately losing to David Ferrer (Spain, 4th) in straight sets.  He improved on last year's second round exit so he will get a rankings boost.  He's had a decent summer, winning a bronze medal in doubles at the Olympics with Julien Benneteau and reaching the finals in Toronto (l. Djokovic), the third Masters final of his career.

Monday, September 3, 2012

US Open Day 8: Klizan

Curtain Call

Player: Martin Klizan
Age: 23
Nation: Slovakia
Current Ranking: 52
Notable Conquests: Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (France, 5th seed) and Jeremy Chardy (France, 32nd)
Today's Result: loss to Marin Cilic (Croatia, 12th) in straight sets

Photo via Saturdays in the Fall

Klizan has had a fantastic year.  He began 2012 ranked #117 in the world.  Since then, he has won four Challengers and made the second rounds of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, his first main draw in either tournament.  He has played world conqueror in New York, taking out two seeds and making the second week of a Major for the first time.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Yaroslava Shvedova (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 11) - Shvedova made it to the second round in singles, losing to Roberta Vinci (Italy, 20th).  As she did not make the main draw last year, she'll get yet another rankings boost.  She and partner Vania King (USA) won the US Open doubles title in 2010 and were runners-up last year.  This year was a bit of a disappointment as the team lost in the third round to Julia Goerges (Germany)/Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) (11th).

Family Movie Night: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Film: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Original Release: 1984
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Image via Daily Art Brigade
I have written of our family's love for Miyazaki's films before.  Suffice to say, the work of the Japanese master animator has been a very gratifying discovery for all of us.  Nausicaa was a pivotal film in the director's career.  Initially, he and producer Isao Takahata had difficulty getting backing for the story.  Studios were reluctant to invest in big budget animes without a comic book tie-in.  Obviously, the only thing to do was to make a comic book first.  So they did.  The Nausicaa manga series was a huge success.  Now offers for the film rights were numerous.  Miyazaki refused to sell unless he would be allowed to direct.  Tokuma Shoten agreed.  With the success of this film, Miyazaki and Takahata were able to launch their own company: the now legendary Studio Ghibli.

Miyazaki has attracted quite a worldwide following.  Here's the Korean trailer:

Nausicaa contains many of the elements which would become Miyazaki trademarks: stunning artwork, a strong female lead, morally complex characters, a sophisticated story, etc. Wikipedia's plot synopsis:
The film tells the story of Nausicaä, a young princess of the Valley of the Wind who gets involved in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle of mutant giant insects. Nausicaä must stop the Tolmekians from enraging these creatures.

Image via Japan Zone

As strong as this film is, it's not for the Miyazaki novice.  The story can be difficult to follow.  This was our second time watching and I was still grateful for Internet resources to sort out the intricacies.  I'm very curious about the manga.  The film only tells the first quarter of the comic book tale, whose run lasted until 1994, ten years after the movie's release.  

Image via

As is now standard for Miyazaki films, the English-language cast is packed with stars.  The DVD has a nice extra feature for Our Girl to match voices to faces she knows from other stories: Mark Hamill, Patrick Stewart and Chris Sarandon.  Alison Lohman, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman and Edward James Olmos are also featured.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Picture of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at Listal

Multi-generational considerations:
  • Much of Miyazaki's genius lies in creating films that are equally enjoyable for children and adults.  If you have tired of formulaic Disney material, Miyazaki is a powerful antidote, especially if you long for stories with strong female characters.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

My Baseball Fantasy: Aramis Ramirez

Private League: won, 5-4-1 (102-103-5 overall, 6th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 10-0 (108-86-16, 3rd out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Aramis Ramirez (Third Baseman, Brewers) with 3 home runs, 12 RBI, 4 runs and a .346 batting average

Photo via Stltoday

Seeing Ramirez in anything but a Cubs uniform is sad for me.  Obviously, they couldn't afford to keep him in the Epstein led club remodeling.  He started off the season slowly but has come on strong in the home stretch.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

US Open Day 7: Robson

Curtain Call

Player: Laura Robson
Age: 18
Nation: UK
Current Ranking: 89
Notable Conquests: Na Li (China, 9th seed) and Kim Clijsters (Belgium, 23rd)
Today's Result: loss to Samantha Stosur (Australia, 7th) in straight sets

Photo via Twitter

I first wrote about Robson a couple of years ago.  Even at the tender age of 16, the extraordinary talent was obvious.  The past few weeks have been very kind to her indeed.  She won silver alongside Andy Murray in mixed doubles at the Olympics.  Now, she's just made the second week of a Major for the first time in her career, taking out two seeded Slam champions along the way.  If she continues to rocket up the rankings, pressure could begin to approach the Murray/Henman level by the time Wimbledon rolls around next year.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Varvara Lepchenko (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 9) - It's been a fantastic summer for Lepchenko.  The 26-year-old had never been past the second round of a Major in her career and now she's done it three times in a row, reaching the third round in New York.  Once there, she lost to Stosur, the defending champion.  Her ranking will get yet another boost and she should be in good shape to get a seed in Melbourne.  In women's doubles, she and partner Saisai Zheng (China) lost in the first round to Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (Italy, 2nd).  In mixed doubles, she and fellow American Donald Young made it to the second round before losing to Lucie Hradecka/Frantisek Cermak (Czech Republic).

Golden Squid Report

Sloane Stephens (Golden Squid since 6/29/12) - Stephens matched last year's US Open result by reaching the third round, ultimately losing to Ana Ivanovic (Serbia, 12th) in three sets.  She took out another former French Open champ, Francesca Schiavone (Italy, 22nd) in the first round.  She teamed with Timea Babos (Hungary) in women's doubles and they lost to Janette Husarova/Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia).  In mixed, she and fellow American Rajeev Ram won their first match but took a walkover in the second round to the top seeds: Liezel Huber (USA)/Max Mirnyi (Belarus).  Her ranking is up to #44 and she doesn't even turn 20 until March.  2013 could be a big year.

US Open Day 6: Blake

Curtain Call

Player: James Blake
Age: 32
Nation: USA
Current Ranking: 114
Notable Conquest: Marcel Granollers (Spain, 24th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Milos Raonic (Canada, 15th) in straight sets

Photo via Bald Celebrity

I know it's practically unpatriotic to say this, but Blake has never been my favorite.  Everyone says he's a good guy, smarter than most and so on and I believe it.  I simply have a hard time getting behind players who consistently argue line calls, particularly those who let the arguments interfere with their match focus.  Blake has been that guy for his entire career.

That said, I'm glad for any player who manages to keep a viable tennis career going into his or her 30s.  Blake has spent most of his career playing in the shadows of bigger talents like Andy Roddick and is to be commended for working hard and making the most of his opportunities.  While he can get a bit whiny on the court, he's no McEnroe - I mean that in the best possible way.  American tennis will miss him when he finally hangs it up.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Brian Baker (Curtain Call, Wimbledon Day 8) - Baker played in his first US Open in seven years.  Thanks to his strong performance at Wimbledon, he didn't even need to go through qualifying.  He lost in the second round to Janko Tipsarevic (Serbia, 8th).  He had a decent showing in doubles, too, teaming with fellow American Rajeev Ram.  The pair lost in the second round to the 14th-seeded British team of Colin Fleming/Ross Hutchins.

Golden Squid Report

Jurgen Melzer (Golden Squid since 1/24/11) - Melzer had a busy tournament, as usual.  He lost in the first round in singles to Bradley Klahn (USA) in five sets.  He teamed with Iveta Benesova (Czech Republic) in mixed doubles.  They also lost in the first round, to Abigail Spears/Scott Lipsky (USA).  Men's doubles was the biggest disappointment, though.  He and partner Philipp Petzschner (Germany) were the defending champions in New York.  The 10th seed, they lost in the second round to Jamie Delgado/Ken Skupski (UK).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Coffee Table: City of Smoke

Title: Berlin, Book Two: City of Smoke
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes

Image via Cosmic Comix & Toys

Book Two collects issues 9-16 of Lutes's ongoing series.  The story picks up in June 1929, a month after Book One left off.  For my review of Book One, try this link.

Berlin definitely gets racier in Book Two as Marthe is introduced to the city's underworld - drugs, orgies, secret societies, etc.  Not for kids, this one, but good value for the rest of us.  New characters are introduced - most prominently, an American jazz band in an entirely new story line (tangentially connected to the others, of course).  All the while, the socio-political melodrama is intensifying.  The stock market crashes and the already struggling German economy is further compromised.  The increasingly desperate populace is easy pickings for the rising Nazi party.


Marthe originally came to town as an art student.  Part of the cleverness of this series is how the reader is encouraged to perceive the book through Marthe's artistic lens.  In Book One, it was a discussion of perspective.  In Book Two, Marthe draws portraits as Kurt, her journalist lover, interviews witnesses to the May Day Massacre.  She later complains to Anna, a new lover (told you it gets racier), of the limitations of her portraits in telling the stories of the character.  Through this, we pay more attention to the faces of Lutes's characters.


With the introduction of the jazz band, the role of music takes greater prominence in the story, testing the limits of the comics medium.  How do you convey a clarinet solo without the use of sound?  Lutes does a pretty good job over two pages.

Image via Page 45

It may be a while before Book Three is compiled but single issues now run up to 18.  I saw both 17 and 18 the last time we were at Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal but didn't pick them up - next time.  The plan is for 24 total, taking us to 1933 culminating, no doubt, with the rise of Hitler.

I'm with the Band: James Madison

Band: The Marching Royal Dukes
University: James Madison University
Founded: 1972
Current Director: Scott Rikkers
Today's Home Game: St. Francis (PA), 6 p.m.

Photo via James Madison University

The Marching Royal Dukes are the largest college marching band in the country with 500 members.  In addition to football games, they have also marched in Presidential inaugural parades, NFL playoff games and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The following video is from a rehearsal, thus the sparse crowd.  It is well shot nonetheless and gives a very clear demonstration of the group's abilities.  "Bat Out of Hell":