Friday, February 27, 2009

The Sports Bubble

Galley Friend P.G. sends along this Bill Simmons column about the economic future of the NBA and, if Simmons' reportage and math is to be trusted (this isn't a dig--I really have no idea), then the immediate future looks grim.

My Gift to You

Always late to everything, I offer up this under-appreciated gem: the FX series Damages.

Caught the first three episodes last night. It's very, very good. Crazy good.

But don't take my word for it--you can check out the entire first season for free on Hulu.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Death of Plasma?

A week or so ago, Pioneer announced that it was leaving the plasma market. Vizio is out of the plasma market too and now there's word that LG may abandon plasma as well.

I wish that someone--maybe Santino?--would write a big reporting piece explaining what this all means. So far as I can tell, plasma is technically superior to LCD (though the gap has narrowed) and is competitive, maybe even better, price wise. So why is LCD outselling plasma 8-1?

On first blush, I wonder if this has something to do with computer displays: Maybe having a built-in manufacturing base for all of those LCD computer displays gives LCD a giant edge in production costs? Though that only matters for manufacturers, not consumers.

For my own part, I love my Pioneer plasma set and have no plans to replace it until I leapfrog into an OLED.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gary Williams as Bush--Updated--Again

Paul Mirengoff has a pretty interesting discussion on the Washington Post's campaign against U. Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams. The assault seems to be done in concert with the UMD athletic department.

I've got no dog in this fight and I understand the nature of conflicts between AD's and coaches. But it seems at least a little strange that a coach who has won a national championship in the last 10 years and is still playing .500 ball is being attacked, at least in part, because he doesn't do ethically questionable recruiting. Whatever else his faults, Williams seems to be one of the cleaner guys in a very dirty profession.

Update: Galley Friend P.G. writes in to throw some cold water on my romanticized vision of Williams:

I've got to disagree with you on Gary. As anyone knows, nobody is above being fired at the college ranks, regardless of history. Gary has presided over the fastest decline of a national title winner over the past 2 decades. No team, upon winning a national title, has failed to make the tournament 3 of the next 6 years. Teams win a national title and then turn that into building a formidable program that contends every year. Gary has done the opposite. Furthermore, Gary's program was so perfectly situated in the heart of the best high school basketball metro area in the nation, right when some of the best talent ever to emerge from this area were ready to sign. The list of players Gary missed is insanely long, including some guys who are going to be NBA HoFers. And almost all of them cite Gary as the reason they didn't go to UMD. He doesn't play freshmen enough and he doesn't recruit players he thinks will be one-and-done. Gary also isn't as clean as he likes to claim, he has long-standing ties to the controversial Pump Brothers. Furthermore, the practice Gary claims is dubious, hosting AAU games, he's done himself (Nic Caner-Medley).

Look, Gary's title was a fluke. He won a national title with a hard-working over-achieving group because the best HS players for that stretch of time were not entering the college ranks. They were going straight to the pros. This gave Gary a window to win a title with juco transfers and hard working players, and he took advantage of it. Gary is a fantastic game coach, perhaps the best at the college ranks. But he's a TERRIBLE recruiter, and a disinterested one at that. His claim that his job is not to recruit is simply crap. It is his job. And not everyone is dirty, while Gary is clean. There are plenty of clean programs that are more successful than the Terps. Gary is just a lousy recruiter, and he should be fired.

Then, the Czabecast talks a little bit about the Sickest Recruit of the Year, the decline of Duke, and Gary Williams' moral vanity:

Update 2: Galley Reader writes in to offer a qualified defense of Williams:

The truly accurate point that Paul makes is that the coverage is out of whack. So much of this has to do with the Post focusing so intently on Maryland's basketball program - both in how many reporters they assign to cover the team, and which reporters they are - and it's true of local radio as well. Hell, they act like any program on the other side of the Potomac is basically nonexistent (one of the reasons they had no clue who any of the Mason players were during the Final Four run - it was comical to watch Comcast and see paid reporters weigh in on players they hadn't ever seen in a single game before the tournament).

It's true that Williams is a subpar recruiter. But he gets incredible production out of the players he does recruit, and he's always on the bubble in the second-toughest basketball conference in the country. Without him, I think Maryland would quickly drop to the level of UVA.

Further, look at this. So when Gary does try to land a five star prospect, it "reeks of desperation"?

I'm not even a Maryland fan, and this stinks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is There a Wonderlic Caste System for Basketball?

Steve Sailer asks if centers are generally smarter than players at the other positions in basketball. I don't have anything like a real answer for this, but my initial observation would be that the two most intelligence-demanding positions would be center and point guard.

The point guard position is fairly obvious: You need to know the plays, and everyone else's position in the plays. But the position probably also requires a better handle on spacial relations than the others because you have to see so passing lanes so consistently.

I think you can make the case that the center and PG positions are also the least athletically demanding roles on the basketball court. They're physically demanding--you can't play center if you're short--but that's very different from innate athleticism. The 2, 3, and 4 positions all let you paper over nearly every possible deficiency with raw athleticism in a way that the 1 and the 5 really don't. And it might be true--I'd have to think about this some more--that when the center position is properly played it demands the second-best court vision and passing ability on the floor, because you have to see double teams on the post and understand how and where to kick the ball out.

What I've always wondered about centers is this: What percentage of men over 7-feet-tall play Division I and/or professional basketball? I'd wager that I've never seen a 7-foot-tall man who wasn't a high-level basketball player--in the tens of thousands of people I've walked past on the street, in the airport, etc, I've never seen a 7-footer.

So is being born to be 7-feet tall like winning the lottery? Is it a free pass to a paid-for college education and/or at least some professional sports money? What percentage of 7-footers do make it to that level? 5 percent? 10 percent? 60 percent?

I've never quite figured out a way to find the data on this.

Clover Field Test

Over the weekend I did a little piece on Starbucks as a leading indicator for the broader economy. In the course of the piece, I mentioned SBUX's acquisition of the company that makes Clover coffee machines--space-aged contraptions that brew individual cups of super-premium coffee. How super-premium are we talking? The machines are $11,000 each and the coffee they make sells for about $4 a pop. For regular coffee.

In any case, in March of 2008, shortly after the Clover machines debuted, SBUX bought the company which produces them. The idea at the time was to put a Clover in every SBUX, ramping up the company's luxury status. Events have since rendered this idea impractical. Almost a year later, only 51 SBUX stores have a Clover.

All of this is prelude to saying that this weekend I found a small, independent shop which bought a Clover machine before SBUX scooped up the franchise. And I bought a cup of the $4 coffee. And while it was good, even pretty good (I had a Guatamalen light roast) it wasn't worth more than $2.50 and didn't measure up to Misha's Caravan Blend, which is the reference coffee for Washington, D.C.

Friday, February 13, 2009

NBA All-Star Game

After descending to self-parody a few years back with the WNBA-NBA "3-ball" team-up, this year's All-Star game will feature something people might actually want to watch: NBA H-O-R-S-E.

If it's a success, why not go all the way next year and have H-O-R-S-E game featuring not just current players, but legends, too. Would you tune in to see Larry Bird and John Paxson take on Kobe and Ray Allen?

Professional Wingman

In today's WSJ, Hannah Karp has a fantastic profile of Julian Jones, a fellow who lives in Vegas and whose job is, as far as I can tell, to hang out with pro athletes and keep them out of trouble. You have to read this thing.

When the Journal finally puts together a sports section, it's going to blow the doors off everything else around.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Case for the Cylons

That sounds more provocative than I mean it. Prompted by Robert Farley's brilliant essay arguing that Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta are heroes, not traitors, I've tried to explore the other side of the argument: That a Colonial-Cylon alliance carries real advantages for humanity.

Like, for instance, hundreds of 6's and 8's running around looking to get pregnant. I'm just saying.

But I also argue that we can't pass a final moral judgment on the Cylon empire quite yet. You may not be convinced.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Destiny Calls

Every so often, two visionary souls with unique visions combine to create a work of staggering genius. Today, Santino brings word that Brett Ratner is going to direct a movie based on Rob Liefeld's Youngblood.

There will be no feet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Jerry, we're all at the same skill level."

Remember tough-guy Michael Westbrook? He's into MMA now. And he's not exactly fighting within his weight class. Click through and watch the video.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Defense of Christian Bale

No, not from me--from the largest fame-whore on the planet.

You didn't think Bale would go totally undefended, did you? This is America. Nothing is indefensible.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Like a scene out of 'Tropic Thunder'

In the midst of filming the latest Terminator movie, actor Christian Bale goes off on the d.p. for walking in the background of the set, which Bale finds distracting. At one point he yells to the director McG, who I picture cowering somewhere in the shadows. (Yes, I would be too.) It also doesn't help that the d.p. has the name Shane Hurlbut.

(Bale also mentions Bryce Dallas Howard and, I suspect, associate producer Bruce Franklin when he says, "No, shut the fuck up, Bruce.")


For a limited time, you can buy the entire run of the New Yorker on DVD for $20.

Basestar Galactica?

Last Friday's episode ("The Oath," 4.13) was seriously great, a sign that Moore may have a tighter grip on his end-game than I gave him credit for. Some spoiler-filled thoughts (in case it's still sitting on your DVR):

* I'm a fool for Navy porn, law of the sea stuff and the legal implications of Gaeta's mutiny are awesome to contemplate. Mutiny is a crime worse than treason, worse than collaboration. It's hard to see how Adama could grant amnesty to any of the mutineers. When the admiral said that there will be a "reckoning," what he really meant, I suspect, was "mass executions."

* All of that said, we're used to seeing mutinies portrayed as the product of villainy, ambition, or some other nefarious impulse. The Galactica mutiny is particularly interesting because the mutineers are objecting to a very real, very serious action: The integration of two hostile cultures by military force. In TV Land, these sorts of integrations usually go seamlessly with the cultures reconciling and the one or two holdouts dispatched or converted. In the real world, this is the type of conflict that causes civil war.

* Who knew Gaeta had this in him? Or rather, who knew Gaeta would be so effective as a mutineer? We've seen hints for a long time that Gaeta is ambitious and willing to question authority (his questioning of the election; his service to Baltar). What we hadn't seen was cool, collected bluffing with everything in the balance. (For a brilliant exploration of Gaeta's progress, see this.)

* The final Big Think point of "The Oath," however is that Adama and Roslin share a large part of the blame for the mutiny. Since finding Earth, the two of them have been out of sorts. They became inward-facing and muddled, disengaged from the life of the fleet. "The Oath" affirms the notion that weakness is a provocation.

Sailer on QBs

Some fantastic stuff from Sailer about the creation of the quarterback caste:

I was going to mention that a cool thing about 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (besides his being Swiss-American) is that his sports upbringing seemed more old fashioned Jack Armstrong-like go-outside-and-play than that of so many of the new robo-quarterbacks who are raised by their fathers from the cradle to be NFL quarterbacks. The Sideline Dad has become as ubiquitous as the Stage Mom.

For example, Notre Dame's quarterback Jimmy Clausen was held back two years by his parents so that as a high school senior at expensive Oaks Christian in Ventura County, he was a 19-year-old man playing against 17-year-old boys, making him the top-rated high school QB in the country. He also had two older brothers who had started at QB in the SEC, and had a former NFL QB as his private quarterback tutor since he was 10.

Quarterback is turning into something of a caste. Now the quarterback at Clausen's old high school, Oaks Christian, is Nick Montana, whose dad is some guy named Joe. But don't worry, there's still hope for boys whose dads aren't NFL Hall-of-Fame QBs. It's said that the Oaks Christian second string QB next season will likely be Trevor Gretzky, the son of an immigrant.

Anyway, Roethlisberger was this enormous kid (he's now 6'-5" and 241 pounds) with fantastic coordination who played three sports in high school. Basketball was his strongest emphasis in high school, then baseball (where he played shortstop), and then, finally, football.

Dept. of Awesome

Ed Driscoll caught Detroit's NBC affiliate doing some Philly-stizz hate on Sunday: Every time Matt Millen appeared on screen, the local affiliate ran a crawl saying, "Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports?"

Can we get Charlie LeDuff to find the guy at the station who came up with the idea?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Gun Porn

The best part of David Frum's New Majority is the weaponry column by "J. Moses Browning," who, I'm happy to report, is a friend. You can find Browning's archive here. It's crackerjack stuff for anyone who's into weaponry, guns, and ballistics. Don't miss it.

Mark Steyn Goodness

Writing about the corporatization of rock:

Rockers attending the Obama inauguration are like visiting royalty at a Bourbon or Habsburg wedding. By the way, over the years I've met kings, princesses, dukes and all the rest, and none of 'em were as hung up on precedence as the aristorockracy. A decade or so back, Sting had to issue a formal apology because at one of his big save-the-rainforest banquets at his country pile he committed the ghastly social faux pas of seating Jools Holland (of the band Squeeze) next to some no-name session musician. In Britain, these guys all live in stately homes, and any of their number who makes it to 50 without choking on his own vomit or being found face down in the swimming pool gets knighted - Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney, etc. Obama's pal Bono has a knighthood. You say you want a revolution? Sorry I'm having tea with the Prince of Wales that day.

Final Super Bowl Note

My guess is that going into the 4th quarter, a lot of people who had the Steelers and the under were feeling pretty good.

Steam vs. Sail

Advantage: Blogosphere!

(Courtesy of Galley Friend P.G.)

The King Is Dead

After Wimbledon last year I wrote that the age of Federer was over. Although the Swiss took the U.S. Open to close the season, I'm holding to that. Yesterday's Aussie Open final between Federer and Nadal was the final act of deposition.

Nadal did not have his best day, they were on the fastest court in the majors, and Federer still couldn't win. Nadal has slowly taken away each of Federer's redoubts--his dominance in finals, his dominance on grass, and now his dominance on hard courts. Federer has nowhere left to go, no plausible case to make to himself for how he can beat Nadal. As a measure of how deeply this is weighing on his psyche, look at Federer's first-serve percentage and his return of Nadal's second serves. More than any other facet of the game, those are moments that a player has nearly complete control over. And yesterday Federer was dreadful on both. In the fifth set, he was completely unmanned, spraying the ball all over the court. It was the collapse of a player who is seeing the end--not of a match, but of their career.

That's why Federer cried after the match. He understood that this loss meant that he is in eclipse. And at 22, Nadal will only get better.

So what's next? I honestly don't know how Federer will go on. He'll show up to Roland Garros and get blown off the court again. His window to take another major probably closes altogether at the end of 2010. And for him to win another one, he'll probably need help in the form of someone else sneaking up on Nadal in the other half of the draw.

As for Nadal, he now has as good a chance to win the Grand Slam as anyone since Wilander. And I'd put his chances of beating Sampras's record a little better than Federer's.

Super Bowl Round-Up

Meh. A championship team that can’t get in the endzone on 1st-and-goal given 8 plays is kind of pathetic. That said, I hear Omar Epps is available when Disney is ready to make The Mike Tomlin Story.

The highlight of the broadcast was the Hulu ad, which was funnier even than most episodes of 30 Rock:

Home. Run.