Friday, July 27, 2007

Quick Hits

Here’s some random material from the past couple of days on the internet.

• Bush hits new low of 25% in approval ratings. Yet Republicans still are at least 50-50 to win the next election. Go figure.

• Has there ever been a worse rookie card of a Hall of Famer than this one? I’m sure he wishes kids weren’t clamouring for years to collect cards showing pictures of his ass. Topps owes him an apology gift basket or something.

• Of course, Topps has owed John Block a gift basket for about 35 years.

• Boise State star running back Ian Johnson, an African-American, is facing death threats, as is his fiancée Chrissy Popadics, who is white, because of their relationship. Johnson is everything that is right about American collegiate athletics (and there’s a lot wrong): an inner-city kid who earned a scholarship to university through hard work and athletic accomplishment. One of a rare number of collegiate athletes on pace to complete his degree (compare that to Heisman winner Matt Leinart taking one class, ballroom dancing, in his final year), Johnson works a summer job to provide for his family and says all the right things about school, family and a possible future in the NFL. But some dickheads can’t stand the thought that he is in love with a white woman. Assholes.

• Oh yeah, and if you haven’t seen Johnson’s post-Fiesta Bowl interview on ESPN, go watch it now. Never mind that the Fiesta Bowl was the best football I’ve ever seen in my life. The post-game interview contains one of the biggest moments of interview douchebaggery that I’ve ever seen. Fucking Chris Myers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mike Coolbaugh, 1972-2007

On Sunday night, in an event which some speculate will lead to some major changes for baseball, but will most likely lead to a couple of minor modifications and then perhaps be forgotten more quickly than it should, Mike Coolbaugh, 35, was killed by a batted ball. Coolbaugh, a former big leaguer for the Milwaukee Brewers and St Louis Cardinals, was coaching first base for the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, the Tulsa Drillers, when backup catcher Tino Sanchez rocketed a foul ball down the first base line. Coolbaugh was unable to get out of the way of the ball in time and it struck him in the head. He was tended to on the field by the medical staff from both teams and the in-stadium doctor, but he never regained consciousness and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Coolbaugh was drafted in 1990 in the 16th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He played his first two years of professional baseball in St. Catherines, then the Jays low-A affiliate. He played for the Jays for 5 years and then bounced around through other teams systems, putting together a couple of very fine seasons in 1997 and 2000. In 2001 Coolbaugh signed with Milwaukee and played for their Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. After 1,215 games in the minors (my count has about 1,152, but I’ll defer to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) on July 15, 2001, Coolbaugh was finally promoted to the big leagues after demonstrating a level of perseverance most draftees never show. Coolbaugh played in 39 games for the Brewers in 2001 and 5 more for the Cardinals in 2002, but that was the only taste of major league action he ever got. Coolbaugh played minor league baseball through the end of 2006, which included two more very good seasons in 2004 and 2005, totaling 1,632 minor league games and 5,860 minor league at-bats. He retired at the end of 2006 and only joined Tulsa as a hitting and first base coach on July 3, after the previous coach resigned mid-season.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a couple of nice articles on Coolbaugh, which make it clear how much he simply enjoyed playing baseball and how happy he was when he finally got his chance in the majors. From the first article:

Geoff Jenkins and Ben Sheets, the only two players on the Milwaukee Brewers' current roster who played for the team in 2001, remembered how excited Mike Coolbaugh was to get to the major leagues that July after spending 12 years in the minor leagues.

"There was a lot of perseverance in him," recalled Jenkins. "I remember how proud we were for him that he finally made it."

Coolbaugh was so excited about finally getting his chance to play in the majors for the Brewers that he reported to the ballpark at 7 a.m. for a day game on July 16. He played 39 games with Milwaukee that season, batting .200 with two homers and seven RBI.

The article also touches on something else that’s apparent about Coolbaugh, which is how devoted he was to his family and his two, soon-to-be three, young children, who are now left without a father.

Coolbaugh played only five more games in the majors in 2002 for St. Louis. He returned to the minors and continued playing until retiring after the 2006 season. He had recently taken the job as coach for Tulsa at the urging of his sons, Joseph, 5, and Jacob, 3.

Coolbaugh also is survived by wife Amanda, expecting their third child in October.

"We were going to be done with it, but his kids wanted to see him (coach)," Amanda Coolbaugh said. "You couldn't have asked for a better father. He just paid attention to the boys, put them in clubs and sports . . . volunteered time on their teams."

And here’s an excerpt from a Journal-Sentinel article from the day Coolbaugh was promoted to the majors. h

It was barely 8 o'clock Sunday morning when Mike Coolbaugh tried on his Milwaukee Brewers uniform for the first time.

When you've been waiting 12 years to make it to the big leagues, it's never too early to suit up.

"I wasn't sure what time to be here so I got here about 7 a.m.," Coolbaugh said. "The security guy drove me around in a golf cart and gave me a tour of the place. I had a good time."

One hardly could blame Coolbaugh for trying to soak it all in during his first day as a major-league baseball player. The 29-year-old infielder never actually gave up on his dream of making it, but after a dozen years go by it's only natural to have doubts.

"A lot of guys would have quit and gone on to something else," Brewers manager Davey Lopes said. "This is a guy who really battled."

Coolbaugh was preparing for batting practice when Indianapolis manager Wendell Kim walked up and told him to pack his stuff and head for Milwaukee. "I couldn't breath for, like, five minutes," he said. "I asked, 'Are you serious?' I couldn't believe it."

The only frustration Coolbaugh experienced on his big day was trying to contact his parents, who were visiting relatives in upstate New York. They didn't have their cell phones activated, so the excited Coolbaugh was forced to leave messages.

"My parents still don't know," he said. "But my wife (Amanda) was visiting her sister in Chicago, so she's coming here."

Coolbaugh isn't exactly sure where he ranks among those who have played the most games in the minors before getting that first big-league assignment.

"I'm sure I'm in the top 10," he said confidently.

And from

"What a hard worker," said Brewers hitting coach Jim Skaalen, who was Milwaukee's roving hitting coach in 2001 and got to know Coolbaugh. Skaalen managed Coolbaugh's brother, Scott, in the Rangers' Minor League system.

"I always admired Mike's work ethic and that he was always a consistently upbeat guy," Skaalen said. "He was labeled one of those 'Four-A' players but he was never bitter about it. Some of those up and down players have a lot of bitterness, but it was nothing but positive energy every day from him. It brought a tear to my eye when I saw the news this morning."

Coolbaugh's death is also relatively unique in couple of aspects. Not because three young children are left fatherless, because unfortunately that happens dozens of times a day across North America. It is unique because it's the first death on a major league baseball field in decades. And it's also an example of how the deaths of people in certain occupations affect their friends and coworkers far differently than others. Although Coolbaugh was a new coach for the Drillers, he still fits this example due to his 16-year minor league career, and Josh Hancock, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who died earlier this year in a drunk driving accident, is another good illustration of how the deaths of professional athletes differ from those in many other jobs. Not all jobs, but it's certainly very different from going to work in a cubicle in an office environment, no matter how much you may socialize on coffee breaks or while lining up to use the only photocopier not malfunctioning.

I think it's difficult for the layperson to appreciate the camaraderie in professional sports, which is perhaps strongest of all in baseball because of the length of the season and the number of games. When soldiers speak of losing a member of their platoon, they often say how the deceased was like "a brother" to them and how the army is a "family." For a long time I didn't really get what they were saying, until I realized the strength of the bond that is formed between men who spend 6-12 months of the year together, fighting an enemy in a foreign country. I can't really appreciate what that bond feels like, but now I understand why they called the army their family and their fellow soldiers their brothers.

Professional sports are a lot like that, I think. Not to the same degree as the army at all, as the bond there is strengthened by trusting your life to your fellow soldiers doing their jobs and following their orders, but it's inevitable that spending long amounts of time together with a limited group of individuals is going to make many of them very close to one another. Baseball players show up for spring training in mid-February and play through the end of September. Through the end of October if there team is in the playoffs. That's 8, sometimes 9, months a year where players get maybe 3 days off a month (more in February and March, but young players who are fighting to make the roster don't get many days off and veterans who don't play as many games still have to show up for workouts and training almost every day). The other 27-28 days they spend about 8-10 hours at the ballpark, often showing up at about 2 pm for an evening game and leaving around 11. And what do they do? They workout together. Pitchers jog with pitchers. Outfielders field fly balls with outfielders. Infielders practice double plays with other infielders. Catchers scout opposing hitters together. They hit batting practice in groups of 4-5, which they keep for the entire year. They lift weights together, jog together, and stretch together. They sit around in the clubhouse while the other team hits BP together.

During the game, starting pitchers not starting that evening sit together on the bench, charting opposing hitters and shooting the shit. Bench players sit together. The 6 or 7 guys in the bullpen sit in the bullpen every game. Baseball's not end-to-end action like some sports and there's a lot of time for bench players to discuss anything under the sun. After the game, if the team is on the road, players often go out, to eat or drink or do something else. Again, these are group activities. If it's 11:15 on a Wednesday night in Baltimore and you need something to eat after a game, are you going to do it by yourself or grab 3 buddies? During homestands, if the player has a wife and children, they will often come to stay with them during the summer months, particularly when the kids are off school. However, young and single players spend even more time together, as they often share a large condo or a house and spend the majority of off-time together, as well.

This account may not hold true for every MLB athlete (and athlete in general), because I'm sure there are some who are not very social and others who prefer other things to going out most evenings, but I think this account is fairly true for most MLBers and one can't deny that during a full week of games MLB players probably spend about 70 hours together with the same 30 or so guys at the ballpark and an additional maybe 10 to 35 hours with a small group of them during off-time from March through the end of September. This is more than hockey players, basketball players or football players. It's not quite analogous, but imagine taking an 8 month road trip with 30 other guys. Some you might not like very much and others you may be indifferent towards, but you're bound to become very close a number of them. Sure there'll be times when you grow sick of even your best buddies, but over the length of the season there will be some incredibly strong friendships that grow out of that. This strong bond is why deaths of active professional athletes devastate not only their family, but their friends and their entire team.

And, here’s a nice article on four ex-Expos who came back to Ottawa for a charity softball game and gave some Expos fans a lifetime highlight.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

McCain Loses More Staff

If Senator McCain's campaign wasn't struggling before with the loss of two key strategists, the departure of two of his most important Iowa staff members surely confirms it is.

Two veteran Republican strategists are abandoning John McCain's campaign in Iowa, dealing another blow to his struggling presidential bid.

Ed Failor Jr., said Thursday that he and Karen Slifka plan to notify McCain by letter. Both are GOP operatives with deep ties in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses, and national politics.

"As much as I like Senator McCain, it's not a team I'm willing to stay involved with any longer," Failor said.

The race to be the Republican nominee is now a three-way battle between
Giuliani, Thompson and Romney.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Waiting for Wendy

Just when you thought they were all done, we have another sex scandal from the Republican Party.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, whose telephone number was disclosed by the so-called "D.C. Madam" accused of running a prostitution ring, says he is sorry for a "serious sin" and that he has already made peace with his wife.

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter said Monday in a printed statement. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there — with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

Of course, Bill Clinton committed an unpardonable sin that caused impeachment hearings and endless media scrutiny. And let’s not even get started on how the Republicans try to police and restrict the lives of gays.

But in Vitter’s case everything’s okay, because God’s granted him forgiveness and we should respect his wishes to keep the matter private. I can only hope the Republicans respect the wishes of the next Democrat involved in a similar story. I also hope God’s similarly quick to grant forgiveness to others who “sin,” but I’m not holding my breath.

Later the story goes on to provide us with some titillating background information:

Vitter and his wife, Wendy, live in Metairie, La., with their four children. In 2000, Wendy Vitter told Newhouse News Service she could not be as forgiving as Livingston's wife or Hillary Clinton.

"I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary," she said. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Well, I’m just going to grab a bag of popcorn and sit back and wait for the ensuing story on CNN. This should be fun.

Also, if you haven’t heard, McCain’s top two aides Campaign Manager Terry Nelson and Chief Strategist John Weaver resigned today, dealing his stalled campaign what is almost certainly its deathblow.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Chatty Cathy No More

It has long been conventional cultural wisdom that women talk more than men. Men clam up, while women natter endlessly. And I certainly know a few females who seem to find any sort of prolonged silence uncomfortable. Although, I know a couple of guys like that, as well. Often frustrating.

A recent study by the University of Arizona revealed that this wisdom appears to be another cultural myth with little grounding in reality.

Sure, maybe guys talk more about cars and sports and the new iPhone, and women talk about their feelings, but at the end of the day, each sex uses an average 16,000 words a day, say researchers who studied the conversational habits of 396 men and women for six years.

"I was a little surprised there wasn't any gender influence, because this stereotype of women talking more is such a powerful, popular idea," said Richard Slatcher, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Texas and one of the authors of the study. "But we were able to directly test the notion, and it's totally unfounded."


The new study used audio clips from university students who agreed to be recorded for several days sometime between 1998 and 2004. The recording equipment amounted to mini-recorders and lapel microphones designed for studies that require listening to natural language use. The devices would turn on automatically for 30 seconds every 12.5 minutes, and the subjects could not control -- and did not know -- when the equipment was turned on or off.

Researchers then transcribed the snippets of conversation, counted the words used and extrapolated from that number to get an idea of how many words each person used in a day.

There are some potential drawbacks to the study, namely that because it used only university students, it might not apply perfectly to men and women of all age groups and education levels. But Mehl said if there were important biological differences between men and women's verbosity, they would have registered at least somewhat in the study.

As it was, women spoke on average about 546 more words each day than men, but that number was found to be not statistically significant.

Based on the study results, some stereotypes about conversational habits seemed to hold true, Mehl said. Researchers didn't actually count the types of words people used, but he said men tended to talk more about sports and technology and women about their feelings.

The study’s use of solely college students could potentially lead to different results than one using members of the general population would, but it does seem like a strong gender difference would have resulted in a bigger discrepancy between the sexes. And the study’s methodology does improve upon the previous attempts to measure conversation tendencies.

Now, the BBC is a great source for online news. However, a follow-up article on this study demonstrates the worst of the British media and the BBC’s efforts. The BBC decided to consult some females to find out what the missing 546 words might be and it includes words like body image, empowering, feminism, airbrushing and Afghanistan.

I’m happy to see the results of a study end misleading gender-based assumptions about behaviour. Breaking down gender norms and craeating relative fluidity between both genders and behaviour is something I fully support, although I recognize that society will likely continue to have differences between the behaviour of the two genders and some difference is perhaps a good thing in itself. What’s not so good is how the BBC works to reconstruct those gender norms in an article related to that very study. Men can’t be feminists? Men don’t have body image issues? Men don’t talk about Afghanistan?

And what about uniquely male vocabulary? How does the BBC address that? Or is cockblocking a phenomenon that both sexes now speak about?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

LiveBlogging....Canada v. Austria

Pre-game Show: Craig Forrest announces that there have been three changes to the starting lineup, including Tosaint Ricketts replacing Andrea Lombardo. Good move by Dale Mitchell. I can only assume he's a longtime reader. Forrest also spoke of the lack of pace Canada showed last game and Jaime Peters was highlighted as being important to today's match. I agree. Get Peters the ball and good things will happen.

One of Austria's players, Thomas Hinum, has his listed club as What the hell? I hope one day I'm not attending a Premier League match between Sony and Fly Emirates. Austria has 4 Thomases on their roster. The Czechs also have 4 Tomases. Among the other 20 teams there is one Tomasz, which puts it on equal footing with Clifford, Dennis, Blessing and Bob Gift (that is his first name).

Other changes for Canada: Keegan Ayre in for Christian Nunez and Stephen Lumley in for Nana Attakora-Gyan.

00:00: The Austrian goalie has already touched the ball 30 seconds in. I don't think the Chilean goalie had to field a ball from play for about the first 20 minutes or so.

00:02: The crowd looks awful. The stadium looks maybe 1/3 full. They jut showed a shot of one of the corner stands and it's practically empty. So much for home field advantage.

00:03: Canada has just given the ball away in midfield. I could copy that sentence and paste it about 60 times this game if I wanted.

Canada's wall blocked a free shot. Their defence doesn't look terrible. It played Chile alright and Attakora-Gyan, who looked the most exposed, is out of the lineup.

00:05: Jaime Peters just played the ball forward for Lumley, who was running up the right side. Lumley seems like he'll be willing to press forward much more than Canada's defenders did against Chile.

00:09: Canada's got a free kick deep in Austrian territory. Edgar and Marcus Haber are forward. This is the type of opportunity Canada needs to capitalize on. Good offensive work by Lumley to win the kick.

Ayre blasts it over the crease and it bounces out harmlessly. Wonderful.

00:12: Edgar puts a long ball on Jackson's feet and he gets some space between him and his marker and feeds a ball into the crease, which just bounces out of the reach of Ricketts. Promising stuff, nonetheless.

00:16: What's the big deal with Edmonton? I always hear about it as being Canada's best soccer venue and city, which was maybe true before National Stadium was built. But, the crowd is tiny and silent today and it was sold out and very lively against Chile. Looking ahead, if Canada finishes first or second in their group their quarterfinal match will also be in Edmonton. Tell me that's not intentional. I don't understand it. If they finish third and get through, it will be in Burnaby or Montreal.

00:17: Haber makes a fine sliding tackle to stop a breakaway. It wasn't incredibly difficult, but he timed it well (as he needed to) and cleared the ball before the Austrian forward was able to get in alone on Begovic.

00:21: Begovic rolls the ball forward to O'Connor to start a Canadian drive. Sweet, Mitchell does read my blog....

00:22: Canada has given the ball and scoring opportunities away three straight times due to a poor first touch by forwards. Three times, two of them by Ricketts, a decent pass by the midfield or another forward to a forward was wasted when the second forward let the ball bounce of his feet and into the possession of an Austrian defender.

00:24: Lumley is out for Michael D'Agostino. Lumley seemed to being playing well, so I suspect it's related to his head injury he suffered a few minutes earlier. I wonder how they'd know so quickly that he couldn't continue for good, despite the fact he never went off the pitch, but I can't see another reason to sub him out. Good to see a soccer player suffer a knock, stay down for about 20 seconds and get up and continue to play, despite the fact the injury would eventually force him from the game.

Yeah, 'despite the fact' twice. This is edit-free. It's ....*cue music*....liveblogging.

00:31: Begovic makes a diving, but routine, save off a shot by Erwin Hoffer, Austria's best player. Canada still doesn't have a shot on net.

00:36: Austria's had possession in Canada's end for about 8 of the last 10 minutes. Canada doesn't look in trouble defensively. They don't look like they're about to concede a goal, but they certainly don't look like they're about to score.

00:37: A beautiful through ball to Morgenthaler results in a partial breakaway along the wing of the Canadian box. A sliding D'Agostino managed to block the shot and it bounces harmlessly off the outside of the post.

00:45: A ball to Peters and he races about half the pitch and manages to produce a corner. They need Peters to do more of that, because he's dangerous when he gets going.

Nigel Helm on O'Connor's shot that goes about ten feet over the goal. "O'Connor goes for goal..and he'll wish he hadn't bothered." British soccer announcers have few equals in the world of sports broadcasting.

And as half time approaches, it's been a dull half. Less frequent updates are coming, because there's really very little to blog about. At this rate I can see a scoreless goal or a 1-0 win by either team as a result of a mistake by the other team or a lucky break.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Thoughts on the U20 World Cup, Part I

Here are my thoughts so far from watching parts of the first six days of matches from the U20 soccer tournament. First, I'll talk about the Canada vs. Chile game and then I'll move on to include short notes on other teams I've seen play.

In their match against Chile, Canada was thoroughly, thoroughly outplayed. It wasn't a 'possession is almost even, they scored a good goal, got a lucky break and scored a third when Canada was pressing to tie it up' game. It was a 'they thoroughly dominated and deserved to win 3-0' game. While Chile's first goal was a bit lucky (a defender stopped a cross-crease pass with a stretched boot, but he was unable to keep his balance and fell, so the ball sat there as a Chilean pounced on it and blasted in past a helpless Begovic), the possession was probably about 70-30 in Chile's favour and Canada didn't manage a shot until the second half. It was a pathetic effort, in many ways.

First, the good news. Canada isn't that bad. Rag on Canadian soccer all you want, the U20 team isn't that bad. It qualified for the 2003 and 2005 U20 World Cups (and likely more, but going back any further is a bit pointless) and made the quarterfinals of the 2003 tournament, losing to Brazil. Canadian youth soccer has made strides (it'd be a whole lot better with Jonathan de Guzman, but that's another story) and while its not at the level of Argentina, Brazil and other world class powers, we're not minnows, either. I think it was a combination of a good Chilean team and a poor performance by Canada, which was exacerbated by the nerves of their opening match in the U20 World Cup on home soil. For example, David Edgar couldn't complete straight passes to his midfielders and he has played in the Premiership. That can't be the normal standard of most of the players on this team.

Chile was also the toughest team in this group. I have no idea how they only finished fourth in South American qualifying if they regularly play like that. Basically every player on the pitch was very technically skilled. All of them, even the defenders, were skilled dribblers who seemed equally adept at using both feet. Their passes were fast and crisp and if three Canadian players had two of them boxed near the sideline of the pitch, within fifteen seconds suddenly the two Chileans would be going down the line with only one Canadian defending and two running to catch up. And, worryingly for Canada, they did all of this without Alexis Sanchez, who is their best player. He was suspended, but is supposed to be one of the players to watch in this tournament. Nevertheless, Mathias Vidangossy made up for his absence. This Villareal youth was clearly the best player on the pitch. Chilean players dove (and Canadians never did, as far as I recall – although that may be a product of them almost never having the ball) and they showboated (towards the end a couple of the guys made dribbling plays that were clearly not going to go anywhere and not designed to make any forward progress, but were simply to show off what they could do), but there might be a bright future for soccer in Chile. That makes me feel good as Chile is my second favourite South American soccer nation, behind only Paraguay.

Now, onto the bad news for Canada. They didn't look very good. Up front, they started with Andrea Lombardo and Simeon Jackson at forward, but the latter basically played as a midfielder, so practically speaking it was only Lombardo as a forward. Their offensive plan for the whole first half seemed to be get the ball to Lombardo, which was clearly not working ten minutes into the game, yet they continued to try it for the next thirty-five and early into the second half, as well. Despite having several inches on all of Chile's defenders, I don't recall once (maybe it happened once or twice, but on the vast majority it did not) where Lombardo outjumped them for goal kicks or balls played into the center of the pitch. The defenders would simply jump up behind him, get height on him and head the ball to a teammate. A few times midfielders tried to play the ball down the wing for Lombardo to run onto, but he was nearly always beaten there by quicker Chilean defenders. Furthermore, the rare times he did get the ball at his feet, he seemed lost. That was likely a function of having no one else up front, but he looked clumsy and always had the ball taken away by the nearest defender. Not once did he cleanly beat a defender with a dribble. He looked ineffective, at best, and inept, at worst. Maybe his style of play is better suited to another type of team, but personally I'd seriously think about not starting him tomorrow.

Begovic played as well as could be expected in net. He had no chance on two of the goals and couldn't have done much on the third. However, his insistance on grand goal kicks should have been addressed by the coach halfway through the half. Canada was playing into the wind the first half, so his goal kicks would get caught in the wind and come down around the center line, every single time. When you add in the fact Lombardo was being consistently outjumped for the ball, 90% of the time he got the ball (no exaggeration), it would wind up with Chile taking possession of the ball at center pitch about 15 seconds later. This went on for the entire first half. Only in the second half, and only once then, did Begovic decide that it might be a good idea to occasionally roll or kick a pass to defenders and try to develop a play that way. I'm not sure about Dale Mitchell's game plan and coaching ability, considering the fact that this strategy and Lombardo's complete ineffectiveness continued into the second half, when me, my dad and my brother all independently arrive at the same conclusion about 15 to 20 minutes into the match.

For some reason, it wasn't until the middle of the second half when Canada began trying to feed balls forward to Jaime Peters, the speedy forward from Ipswich Town. Peters is quick and skilled and was able to get around a Chilean defender a couple of times, but unfortunately help usually arrived and stopped Peters before a real chance developed. Also looking impressive was Alex Elliott, who came on to replace Lombardo up front. He shows signs of life and managed one strong shot on net, albeit one that was straight at Chile's keeper. I'd definitely start him next game, if not in place of Lombardo in place of the other forward. Canada certainly needs more presence up front. They need two forwards playing forward, not one playing midfield and they need to use Peters more on the wing, as he is one of their most dangerous threats.

Perhaps most troubling was the fact Canada lacked any presence in midfield. There was no midfield general. Nobody to direct play or start an attack. Nobody to create rushes, make crosses or be a focal starting point for the offence. Peters only came to life in the second half and seems best deployed as an offensive threat. Captain Will Johnson was invisible for the match and I can hardly recall Christian Nunez touching the ball until the last ten minutes. This could be what haunts the team against Austria and Congo, because I don't foresee good results if they play another game of defend and feed Lombardo.

Canada is also behind the 8-ball in that their goal deficit is at -3. If they hope to finish with a mediocre point total and get through on goal difference they might be disappointed. Before the tournament I thought a realistic goal was a quarterfinal berth. It still might be, but Canada will face a tougher opponent in the second round if they finish 3rd in the group. At the very least they need to finish second. And at the very very least, they need to get through to the second round. If the United Arab Emirates could in 2005 and Canada can’t, that’s just embarrassing.

In summary, my solutions for the next game:

1. Use Peters more.

2. Start Elliott at forward, probably instead of Simeon Jackson. But don’t be afraid to take Lombardo out if he’s ineffective. And use Peters more.

3. Have Johnson or Nunez take control of the midfield.

4. Stop having Begovic kick it blindly into a clump of players.

5. Try to get more corners and crosses. Lombardo does have a height advantage and Edgar and Marcus Haber are both also quite tall.

And now for thoughts on some of the other teams...

North Korea

They looked physically fit and played better than I expected against the Czechs. Their players all looked at least of average height and weight. They don’t look malnourished...

What? Too soon?


They dominated possession against Jordan, but failed to score as often as they should have. Weakest goaltending I’ve seen in the tournament.

Czech Republic

Some players have this “stylish” Euro Mohawk haircut with the hawk dyed blonde. Very skilled players, but like other Eastern European teams they don’t seem to play together as well as they should. Should have beaten North Korea, but slumped towards the end of the match. Weren’t the sum of their parts. However, they’ve set themselves up well for qualification in the second round as a win against Panama will get them through and a tie should.


I was beginning to think Freddy Adu was a product of American hype as I heard much more of him when he was a 14-year-old child prodigy than I have since he started playing in the MLS or internationals. However, Adu dominated the USA’s match against Poland, scoring a hat trick. The game wasn’t on TV, but from the highlights I saw Adu was fantastic. This is the Freddy Adu, still only 16, that attracted worldwide recognition at 13.


Not nearly as overmatched as I thought they’d be. Qualified with a huge upset over China in the Asian qualifying tournament, but held their own against Zambia and Uruguay. Uruguay had the majority of possession and Jordan hit the post, the crossbar and had one partial breakaway in the dying minutes. They were the better team in the second half and overall were far better against Uruguay than Canada was against Chile. A couple of players, I think Adnan Hasan and Abdallah Salim, have quite a lot of pace. Their coach, Jan Poulsen, coached Denmark to their shocking victory in the European Championship in 1992.


Their central defender, Scott Cuthbert of Celtic, made a brutal error that led to Japan’s first goal in the opening match. Another defender, Andrew Cave-Brown, is on the Norwich City youth team and shall start playing on the first team soon.


Typical Nigerian soccer. Exciting. Skilled. Undisciplined. They’re looking stronger defensively than some other Nigerian teams I’ve seen, but don’t work as well as a team as they should. The offensive passing is weak, but the players are able to do quite well one-on-one and they always look like they’re on the verge of creating something. Hard to tell for sure, but goalkeeping looks mediocre at best. Has Nigeria ever produced a great goalie? They’re currently beating Scotland at the half. If they hold on for the win they’ll finish first or second in Group F. They’re all but assured a spot in the second round even with a tie, but a win would ensure that the earliest Nigeria would play in Toronto is the semi-finals. If they make it that far, I’m going to do my best to be there.

John Helm

Fantastic British commentator. Great to listen to, as usual. I could listen to this man announce soccer forever.

George Steinbrenner Has Dementia

Anybody who follows baseball closely knows that George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees and one of the most influential and powerful men in baseball for the last twenty-five to thirty-five years, isn’t the man he used to be. He was no longer a mainstay at Yankees games and their recent stretch of futility, at least in terms of winning a World Series, wouldn’t have been tolerated by the old George. There would have been a mass of firings or trades, but instead he just issued statements through his publicist that the organization was committed to winning. I, and most people I think, assumed that it was simply a part of the aging process and that Steinbrenner was tiring of the public spotlight as he aged and mellowed a bit in the wake of a 2003 fainting spell.

However, MSNBC’s Mike Celizic reports that its likely that Steinbrenner has dementia, or something resembling that diagnosis.

The body is there, but the mind is fading. He isn’t going to drop the axe on anyone because he can’t. He’s not going to rip anyone because he can’t remember their names.

I’ve been saying for several years that he’s not the same man he once was. I never used the word “dementia” because I didn’t know what the reason was. I only knew what I heard privately from people, and that was that the Boss had lost his


“While many in the media continue to suggest The Boss is still a lurking and fearsome presence, there has been little-to-no-evidence the last two years to believe Steinbrenner has the capacity to run the Yanks in the same manner in which he
had run the team since the 1970s.

All reasonable signs indicate that his dementia . . . is now so profound that he is being carefully hidden from public view, appearing only in occasional, circumspect quotes issued by his longtime personal public relations man, Howard Rubenstein.”

ESPN also has an article up which touches on Steinbrenner’s aging and the future of the Yankees. Steinbrenner’s expected successor was originally going to be his son-in-law Steve Swindal. Since Swindal is in the middle of divorcing Steinbrenner’s daughter (both daughters are considered “brilliant” but neither is considered a possible future owner, as Steinbrenner is a chauvinist) he has been let go from his job with the Yankees and obviously has no future there. Steinbrenner’s sons, Hank and Hal, ran the family’s thoroughbred racing farm and hotel chain, respectively, but both are taking larger roles with the Yankees, with one, perhaps Hal, expected to take over for George when he dies.

I have three points to make.

1. How bad could this marriage have been that this guy blew his opportunity to run the New York Yankees? I hate the Yankees, but c’mon. It’s the biggest sports franchise in North America. I don’t care what your wife makes you or how much of a bitch she is. Deal with it and put a damn smile on your face and spent 18 hours a day at the “office.” Seriously, you’re running the most successful and richest franchise in baseball history. People have stayed in bad marriages for a lot less. Seriously, how the hell could you have thrown that away?

2. If I ever up with dementia or serious Alzheimer’s or a debilitating brain injury or anything similar, don’t let me live. Put me out of my (and your) misery. I can’t imagine living in a state where you can’t carry on simple conversations or recognize your own family or function in any meaningful way. Whenever I write a will, this will be one of the first points: permission to smother me in my sleep if I get any serious condition affecting my ability to intellectually function. Alternatively, buy a 9mm and a pack of bullets and deduct it from my assets and you can even keep the gun and unused bullets when you’re finished.

3. The ESPN article is worth clicking on even if you have no interest in the story, because there’s a funny photo of Hal Steinbrenner in the article. It’s the third photo. On a message board one guy posted, “What the hell is up with that photo of Hal Steinbrenner?” The next guy replied, “Hal Steinbrenner is watching you masturbate.” I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why I’m Never Getting Fat

Among the multitude of reasons that I intend to never get fat is the fact that losing weight is both difficult and does not result always in the physical appearance you would like.

The Hijacking of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 191

I was only about 12 when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 191 was hijacked on November 23, 1996, so I have no memory of the event. However, I stumbled across accounts of it while browsing the internet today and it’s an interesting hijacking case. Three Ethiopians in their twenties hijacked the plane, but it doesn’t sound like a planned attack as the three were armed with an axe, a fire extinguisher and a device they claimed was a bomb, but which turned out to be an alcohol bottle. It’s unclear if these were all taken from aboard the plane, but I don’t see how one could have gotten onto a plane with an axe or fire extinguisher, so it’s very possibly they just decided to hijack the plane with whatever was handy.

They claimed to have escaped from prison and didn’t speak English, only communicated in Amharic, a language native to Ethiopia. They beat up the copilot and removed him from the cockpit and ordered the pilot to fly to Australia. The scheduled route of the plane was to stop in several African cities and the plane did not have enough fuel to reach Australia. The pilot tried to explain that, but was ordered to fly to Australia anyway.

He flew along the east coast of Africa, hoping to be near land when it came time to make an emergency landing. However, the hijackers spotted land and figured out he was not following their orders and ordered him to fly over the ocean. The pilot then decided to try to make it to the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean. He reached the Comoros and began circling them, but the hijackers again ordered him to get over the water, despite the fact the fuel gauge was below empty. The hijackers became insistent that he go to Australia and began physically confronting the pilot. Unable to make an emergency landing and still fighting the hijackers, the pilot crashed the plane into the water just north of Grande Comoro Island attempting to ditch it in shallow waters.

Only fifty-two of the 175 passengers and crew survived, but it might have been zero if not for the pilot’s quick thinking. The pilot, Leul Abate, received an award from the Flight Safety Institute for his actions and, when last contacted, was still flying for Ethiopian Airlines. What’s perhaps most interesting is that a vacationing couple caught the plane hitting the water on film, which you can see and download in this CNN article. For information about the crash on Wikipedia, click here.