Thursday, May 31, 2007

Altitude Discrimination Update

This might not be as much of an unbelievable soap opera as college football's Las Chronicas de Boss Hawg, but it is getting good, and remember it's early yet.

- Go ahead and add Peru to the list of livid South American nations protesting the new FIFA altitude ban. Peruvian president Alan Garcia has joined the fray, and is even dropping some intelligent smack as well:

"I am absolutely positive that Bladder cannot play above 2,500 meters, so he probably assumes soccer players cannot either. Perhaps we should ban matches in hot regions such as Africa or in Norway where it is very cold," added Garcia.

- After playing four soccer matches at 3,600 meters Wednesday to protest the ban, Bolivian president Evo Morales spoke to the press:

Speaking on the sidewalk in front of the palace in a red-and-green warm-up suit, Morales announced that Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had all pledged to support Bolivia's efforts to overturn the ban.

"This demonstrates that Bolivia is not alone," Morales said. "We will continue speaking with other presidents so that (high-altitude) sport will not be marginalized."

But Uruguayan officials attending FIFA's 57th annual congress Wendesday in Zurich denied that was true, and Argentine officials declined to comment on Morales' claim.

The soap opera factor is getting high, with Uruguay denying his claims and Argentina, first alleged to be one of the main influences behind the ban, speechless thusfar.

Speaking of protest movements in Bolivia, I'm sure Che would be
saying a big fat "fuck you!" to FIFA. Or perhaps "hijo de puta!"...

- Ecuador, Bolivia, and Columbia are threatening to withdraw from next month's Copa America over the issue, and now the Peruvian Soccer Federation has joined them as well. That is 4 out of the 10 South American soccer nations, and 4 out of the 12 participating teams in this year's Copa America. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially since there is no World Cup or European Championships this summer, making Copa America the center of world football's attention. Are these nations bluffing or will they really withdraw, and if they really do pull out will FIFA relent and rescind the ban or hold their ground and conduct a Copa America with only 8 teams {and only 6 of them South American at that}?

La situacion es muy, muy interesante...

Altitiude Discrimination

Thanks to your favorite Scottish SC fan and mine, DCTrojan, for bringing to my attention a proposed recently passed ban by FIFA on matches played at elevations higher than 2,500m, which is 8,200 feet, as well as the protests that this announcement triggered in high altitude countries Eduador and Bolivia.

Getting really high: Legalize it, FIFA, don't criticize it

Since my longwinded ass basically started it's own blog in the comments section over there, I wanted to put what I wrote up here {with minor tweaking} so that I could easily reference it in the future.

First, my response/rant:

Interesting. Sounds like a case of the powerful/strong {Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, FIFA} trying to assert their power and further marginalize the poorer/weaker nations that happen to play at high altitude. The results show that the altitude teams kick ass in their home qualifiers, even against the big boys, and for the big boys it is a total pain in the arse that they would much rather do without.

I think such a ban would be bullshit. Home field advantage is a wonderful thing in sport, especially footy, and furthermore, it is great that the poorer nations with much less resources have this built in advantage. I’m sure that Che would agree…

Look, any nation can host their home qualifier anywhere in their country that they like, and countries 1) should use their geography to maximum advantage and 2) should not be punished for the natural geography that mother nature bestowed upon them. Brasil have every right to play their home qualifiers in the middle of the Amazon jungle, and Argentina could play teams in Bariloche or freaking Ushuaia if they like. The difference is that they are so good that they don't need to, whereas the little guys either do need to or simply do because their main cities happen to be at very high altitudes.

Related to this, I have always thought that US Soccer does an extremely poor job with choosing sites for World Cup qualifiers. It is well known that when the US plays in Central American countries, those countries sometimes play the match in the most bumfuck places just to make the road trip as painful as possible for the gringos {flight, several hour bus ride to a remote area, etc}.

So- why doesn’t the US do the same thing, or at least use our weather diversity to our advantage? If I were US Soccer, I would schedule the home match against Canada in Miami, Dallas, or Phoenix, and the matches against tropical countries in the coldest place they can find at whatever time of year it is: Boise, Minneapolis, Buffalo, or some High School football stadium in Alaska.

Instead they do stupid ass shit like schedule the US-Mexico game in Los Angeles, creating a road home game for El Tri where 80,000 of the 95,000 fans are cheering for Mexico and lobbing ziplock bags of piss at the US bench and fans.

I suppose in the last 10 years US Soccer has become good enough vis a vis the rest of CONCACAF that they don’t need to do this, but they sure as shit should have been doing it between 1950 and 1994.

Estadio OlĂ­mpico Atahualpa, Quito, Eduador. Elevation: 9,300 ft.

Then I got to thinking what the numbers really were, because I specifically remembered when writing this that Ecuador qualified for last summer's World Cup by doing great at home and poorly on the road, and many pundits writing them off because their success was achieved at altitude.

So I ran some numbers:

OK, I ran some numbers, and it is no surprise why they are taking to the streets and protesting in Ecuador and Bolivia, other than the fact that is it discriminatory and insulting. But let’s stick to the footy:

2006 World Cup qualification:


Finished 3rd out of 10 with 8 wins, 4 draws, and 6 losses. Their record at home was 7 wins, 2 draws, and 0 losses, and their home results against the Big Two were 1-0 win over Brasil and a 2-0 win over Argentina. Their road record was 1 win, 2 draws, and 6 losses.


Finished 10th out of 10 with 4 wins, 2 draws, and 12 losses. Their record at home was 4 wins, 2 draws, and 3 losses, and their home results against the Big Two were a 1-1 draw with Brasil and a 1-2 loss to Argentina. Their road record was 0 wins, 0 draws, and 9 losses.

2002 World Cup Qualification:


Finished 2nd out of 10 with 9 wins, 4 draws, and 5 losses. Their record at home was 6 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss, and their home results against the Big Two were 1-0 win over Brasil and a 0-2 loss to Argentina {Aug. 15, 2001: the last time they lost at home}. Their road record was 3 wins, 2 draws, and 4 losses.


Finished 7th out of 10 with 4 wins, 6 draws, and 8 losses. Their record at home was 4 wins, 4 draws, and 1 losses, and their home results against the Big Two were a 3-1 win over Brasil and a 3-3 draw with Argentina. Their road record was 0 wins, 2 draws, and 7 losses.

1998 World Cup Qualification {Brasil did not have to qualify as they were the holders}:


Finished 7th out of 9 with 6 wins, 3 draws, and 7 losses. Their record at home was 6 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss, and their home results against the Big Two was a 1-0 win over Argentina. Their road record was 0 wins, 2 draws, and 6 losses.


Finished 8th out of 9 with 4 wins, 5 draws, and 7 losses. Their record at home was 4 wins, 4 draws, and 0 losses, and their home result against the Big Two was a 2-1 win over Argentina. Their road record was 0 wins, 1 draw, and 7 losses.

I stopped there because in 1994 they were broken into 2 groups of 5 and it wasn’t true round robin.

Totals over the last 3 World Cup Qualifying campaigns:

Home: 19 wins, 5 draws, 2 losses
Road: 4 wins, 6 draws, 16 losses
Home record against Big 2: 4 wins, 1 loss

Home: 12 wins, 10 draws, 4 losses
Road: 0 wins, 3 draws, 23 losses
Home record against Big 2: 2 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss

Note also that in 1993 in La Paz, little Bolivia beat Brasil in a World Cup qualifier, which was Brasil's 1st outright loss in a World Cup qualifier. Ever.

I didn’t take the time to filter out the matches where these two played each other, but you get the idea. The numbers are pretty damn amazing.

So yeah, I would be protesting too.

Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, Bolivia. Elevation 11,932 ft.

Plain and simple this ban is bullshit; they are using the health issue to mask what is really going on- the powerful strong countries do not want to be bothered with having to play the little guys in situations where the little guys have a built in advantage, which is the very essence of a home & home series in this or any other sport.

If health is so important, then why not a ban for any matches in Mexico City, where the air is so polluted that is affects players from breathing when they play at the 3rd largest stadium in the world in front of 115,000 fans, which just so happens to be at 2,240m/7,349 feet??? Or other cities in South America with massive air pollution problems?

By the way, isn't is so freaking obvious that they chose 2,500m as the arbitrary elevation for the ban because it is just above Mexico City and therefore wouldn't upset a "powerful"/"important" soccer nation like Mexico?

Hey, fucktards of FIFA, did you ever think that your policy of scheduling more and more silly tournaments {Confederations Cup, which has already resulted in one players death, anyone?} in your never ending cash grab for you and your well connected sponsors is much more harmful to players health than playing games at altitude?

Here's hoping that the ban doesn't pass.


This morning Carl Nafzger announced that Street Sense is passing on next Saturday's Belmont and focusing on the Travers instead. Now that the chance to win the Triple Crown has been squashed, the owner now has a new goal: to try to have Street Sense become the first horse in history to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile, The Kentucky Derby, The Travers Stakes, and The Breeders Cup Classic. A lofty goal which he is already halfway towards completing.

You may see an exciting photo finish next week, but it
won't be between these two emerging rivals

I don't really get it because the Travers is the 3rd weekend in August, so he could run in the Belmont and then still have 2 months between races, but it is what it is, and as I said immediately after the Preakness, Nafzger is a very cautious and conservative trainer who isn't going to go after a big prize just for glory and ego and whatnot.

So no rubber match at the Belmont between Curlin and Street Sense. But hopefully they will meet down the road and both make it to the Breeders Cup Classic in November.

The field won't be set until next week, but Preakness winner Curlin is in, as is Hard Spun, who finished 2nd in the Derby and 3rd in the Preakness.

As an aside, Hard Spun's charismatic trainer Larry Jones is a dead ringer for PGA Tour golfer Davis Love III.

Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones

Davis Love III

Hell, you pretty much need the cowboy hat/golf getup to tell them apart.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's A Triple Celebration, Bitches.

After work today, it's over to the pub across the street to meet up with los amigos del Kanu. "Porque" you ask?

1) To celebrate via consumption of beer that I do not have herpes. A friend of mine has challenged me to stand up in the bar and pronounce loudly to the entire establishment at the top of my voice "I don't have herpes!!!" Not sure about that one, but you never know when alcohol is involved.

2) To celebrate the birthday of my good mate John John, who as of today has managed to accomplish what Jesus of Nazareth and Alexander The Great each failed to do: live to see their 34th birthday. Happy Birthday and congrats John John.

3) From the pub I'm walking over to the Bill Graham Civic Center to see Manu Chao in concert. I am very jacked about this because I really dig him and his music, and am also excited to check out this supposedly cool venue for the first time. Dude sings in Spanish, French, English, Arabic, and Portugese, has a cool ass voice, a great high energy vibe, and a Bob Marley/Che Guevara esque power to the people, anti establishment message.

Here's a taste for Manu Chao noobs:


Mr. Bobby

Shit, this will get me through to Thursday. Short work weeks absolutely rule.

Sequoia Nat'l Park/Kings Canyon Nat'l Park trip recaps tomorrow. Hopefully...

Arsenal Joga Bonito Wednesday:
Kanu En Espanol Edition

Here's an outstanding vid of Kanu's career, from winning the FIFA Under 17 World Championship in 1993 with an up and coming generation of Nigerian footy stars, to his early career at Ajax {where he picked up a Champions League winners medal} leading Nigeria to the gold medal as an 18 year old at the 1996 Olympic Games in Sanford Stadium {where I worked, met him, met the team, and became a fan of Kanu and the rest of The Super Eagles}, to his brief stint at Inter Milan, major success at Arsenal {2 EPL titles, 2 FA Cup titles}, through to his current stint at Pompey, as well as his overcoming a life threatening heart condition and setting up The Kanu Heart Foundation to provide medical assistance to Nigerian children with heart defects.

And for all of his sick goals over the years, I loved seeing that amazing goal that he scores in the Arsenal practice session where soon-to-be best striker in the world TH14 jumps on his back afterwards- never seen that one before.

Even if you aren't into footy, it is hard not to like Kanu: supremely talented and accomplished athlete from a humble background, overcame the adversity of life threating heart condition to not only recover but play again at a world class level, good family guy with values, and gives back to his community by investing his own money and starting a heart foundation to help children with conditions similar to his own. A little bit like Lance Armstrong really, except for all of the messy relationships with various women and the accusations of doping.

So enjoy a brief synopsis of the most decorated footballer in the history of African football, en Espanol.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is It Live, Or Is It Memorex?
Either Way, It's Fucking Hilarious


Caption courtesy of NDN's "wildesilas":
Natty Light...check
"wife beater" t-shirt...check
large belt buckle...check
extra-wide leather watchband...check
sweatband on the other wrist...check
dipshit look on face...check
Florida Gator fan...check

All I can say is well played TWO of ND Nation: you and your a) paid actors b) real live specimens of Gator fandom have hit the stereotypical nail on the head, Miyagi style.

Also tip of the cap to EDSBS commenter Phil K for bringing this to my attention.


I hope that y'all had a great weekend and made it through safely.

Unfortunately, former LSU and New England Patriot defensive back Marquise Hill was not so fortunate, as he was involved in a jet ski mishap and drowned in Lake Ponchatrain over the holiday weekend.

Very tragic for such a young and talented individual with the whole world in front of him. He was one of the very best defensive players in all of college football, and won a BCS National Championship with LSU and a Super Bowl with the Patriots by the time he was 23. Hill was a total and complete badass, and I actually got to see him in person at the LSU-Georgia regular season game in Baton Rouge in 2003.

My thoughts and condolences go out to his family as well as the LSU family and also the Patriots organization. What a terrible reminder of how absolutely insignificant sports are.

Memo To Chevron:
I Like A Little Foreplay Before I Get Fucked

So Saturday morning on my way down to Sequoia National park I happened to stop for gas at a Chevron station in Visalia, CA. I drive a Nissan Maxima with a 15.5 gallon gas tank, and at the time I had just a shade under a quarter of a tank left. To make the math easier, let's just round my gas tank up to 16 gallons which will also give Chevron another 3% or so benefit of the doubt. So filling up with just less than 1/4 of a 16 gallon tank, one would expect the pump to read in the neighborhood of 12 gallons when the tank was full, correct?

Funny thing, that damn math & science & fancy numbers, because when my tank was filled the pump read that 14.5 gallons had been dispensed at $3.45 a gallon for a grand total of just over $50. But who cares about the pricing- what I want to know is how the fuck 14.5 gallons of gas can fit into a 15.5 gallon tank that is just a shade under 1/4 full.

Is Chevron adjusting the settings on their gas pumps and fucking over you and I? Is that how they are posting 867 billion dollar profits each quarter these days? I mean, this would be the Office Space hoax on the magnitude of damn-near infinity if it were true. I can't imagine that if they are that they would adjust the settings so drastically that it would be so obvious that a numbers geek like me would notice; you would think that they would change the setting by 2-3%, no one would ever notice, and the profit would add up and roll in on a scale that makes the Office Space look like peanuts. On the other hand, what happened on Friday is simply not possible.

Here's the trick: this is the 2nd time that this has happened to me in the last 6 weeks at a Chevron station. The first was in Pasadena at 5.45 a.m. on a Sunday morning, so I was too tired to remember it for more than the 30 minutes that the whole thing was rattling around in my head that day. But now it has happened again, that a physically impossible amount of gas has been registered on Chevron pump.

If they are fucking us, is it Chevron corp doing this across the board? Or is it individual gas station owners realizing that if they can figure out how to manipulate the settings on their pumps they can do their own little Office Space scam somehow? I would be inclined to think the latter, but I'm not sure how they could cook their books to siphon off the illegal profit.

Being that I walk to work, my car sleeps alot during the week, and I only fill my gas tank up every once in a while, but I have filled it a couple of times in between these two incidents, at stations not named Chevron, and the numbers have been normal, so I think that rules out the possibility of my car's gas gauge being jacked up.

Has anyone else experienced or heard of this? If you fill up at a Chevron station, especially one in California, and see any weird ass results let me know- I would be curious/interested. Or if you are way smarter than me and explain how this could happen, then feel free to educate my ignant ass.

University Of Washington, I Will Always Love Thee

From the department of: TMI That Can Ever-So-Tangentially Be Related To College Athletics...

So in early March Kanu, being the responsible sexually active adult that he is, rolls down to the SF City Clinic to partake in a battery of STD tests. A few days later he checks the results online, and all are negative {yay!} with one exception: HSV2 {genital herpes} says "low positive".

{Sound of needle coming off the record}.


WTF? WTF does "low positive" mean?

A few hours of panicky internet searching later, I learn that the test that was performed on me is called an MRL EIA test, and that it produces a number: if the number is 0-1 the result is negative, 1-3 is low positive, and 3+ is full on positive. I also learn that this test is not type specific, in that is does not differentiate between HSV1 {oral herpes} & HSV2 {genital herpes}, and that it is not nearly the most reliable test, especially when it comes to "low positive" HSV2 results. Furthermore, I learn that the gold standard of HSV tests is called Western Blotting which was discovered/set up by the University Of Washington Dept. Of Virology and is absolutely definitive. Fuck this MRL EIA bullshit, I want the UW test.

So I setup a meeting with the head of the clinic, and she informs me that low positives are rare- about 10% of all tests. The other 90% are either negative or off the charts positive, a number well over 5. I find that my result means one of 3 things: 1) I was recently exposed and the virus hasn't built up enough yet to fully register; if I were to wait 3 months and take the MRL EIA test again, if this were the case then my reading would be full on positive 2) there is a cross contamination of results where the patient really has HSV1 but it shows up in the MRL EIA test as HSV2 falsely 3) My MRL EIA test is a false positive. The Western Blotting test is only done at one lab in the world, at University of Washington where it was developed, so they took my blood again, I stroked a check to the Huskies for $120, and they sent my blood off to Seattle. Here's the fun part- I had to wait three weeks for the result.

My sexual self esteem is in your hands now, UW.

I am good at may things, and waiting long periods of time is not one of them: I had already been mildly freaked out about this for a week, and now I had to wait for 3 more. In the meantime I spent oodles of time online researching Herpes and wondering whether I had HSV1, HSV2, or nothing at all. Fun times. I wasn't even really worried about the physical effects on my body, since 70% of people with herpes never show symptoms, and those that do just have a few outbreaks a year that go away after a week- it's not like my health would really be in any jeopardy. But being a virus, once you have it, you have it, and you take it to the grave, unlike some of the others like Gonnarhea and Syphilis which sound like they suck pretty bad but with treatment and medicine can be completely eliminated in a few weeks. However, the social stigma of knowing that you have genital herpes would pretty much suck because so few people are educated about it, and I was pretty bummed out thinking about the stark possibility of a life where 4 out of 5 third dates end with an awkward conversation and a freaked out girl running for the hills.

So after 3 weeks, it seemed like all of the available research on low positive MRL EIA tests meant that I had about a 50/50 chance of being false positive for HSV2. On the other hand, one out of 4 adults in North America has HSV2 {and 2/3 of them don't even know it because they never show symptoms} and 50% of Americans have HSV1 by age 15 and 80% have HSV1 by age 55. So by the end of the 3 weeks I was thinking that the likelihood of me having HSV2 or HSV1 was greater than the chance of me not having either, and I stressed about the HSV2 pretty hard.

Anyhow, my Western Blotting test results came back last week: No sign of HSV2 antibodies in my blood according to the UW test, which again is the definitive gold standard of herpes tests. Furthermore, no antibodies of HSV1 in my blood either, which considering the numbers is actually a bit of a suprise considering more than 50% of adults have it and I have made out with way more than 2 adult women in my "career". So my MRL EIA test was a false positive after all. Sweet, sweet relief. Oh, and thanks to all the girls out there over the years who did have HSV1 and didn't know it for not making out with me when they were rocking a cold sore or open cut in their mouth.

A thousand thank yous and "Go Dawgs"
{yes, they say it too, just not quite as fervently}

So I'd like to thank the SF City Clinic for the false positive MRL EIA Herpes test that turned me into an anxious stressball for an entire month.

But I would really and truly like to thank the Nerd Virology Department at The University Of Washington for developing and administering the gold standard herpes test that is both type specific as well as definitive beyond doubt.

So pretty much, all other things being equal, I will always root for UW to win any football game or athletic contest in which they are involved, and I am forever indebted to my Dawg brethren from the great Northwest for allowing future third dates to be filled with non-awkward funtime.

One day I will take in a game here, and try to payback the
service that UW provided me by rooting the Huskies to victory.

One good thing about this whole experience is that I learned a hell of a lot about STDs and Herpes specifically, and looking back I was pretty ignorant about it and them. It is basically totally manageable and in the grand scheme of things relatively harmless, but unfortunately the social stigma is there for most people who are not at all aware just how prevalent it is. All of this newfound knowledge should help me continue to be happy, healthy, and safe.

So to sum up that entire long-ass post:

"I don't have herpes. Yay UW!"

I won't put any links here, but use the internet search engine of your choice to educate yourself and be safe if you are single and like to mingle. And all you faithfully married folks, be thankful that you don't have to deal with this shit.

The Oscars According To Solon, 2005 Edition

To all my movie-loving mates:

Welcome, or welcome back, to my annual list of Oscar predictions. For the initiates, I started doing this a few years back, and the recipient list has expanded to the point where it now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. As always, your feedback is encouraged and appreciated.
As happens every year, I couldn't see everything I wanted to see. Here are the list of the ones I missed, in case any of you saw one of these and are wondering why I wasn't sufficiently impressed:
Kings and Queen
Nine Lives
King Kong
If any of you have seen these, let me know if they are worth watching or should be ignored. And, just one thing about Nine Lives--I've heard from multiple sources that Robin Wright Penn gives an all-time great performance in her one scene in this movie--can anyone confirm or deny that?
All right, there's not much to be said about this year's crop other than that about a month ago I almost gave up on it. I suppose I'm glad I didn't in the end, but this year's offerings are still clearly the worst of any year since 2000.
Nevertheless, here are the rankings and predictions:
3 LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
15 2046
18 DER UNTERGANG (Downfall)
For a long time, I was disturbed by the prospect of my favorite movie of the year being directed by David Cronenberg; perhaps the only thing more disturbing was that the only serious contender to A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE for the top spot was directed by Woody Allen.
This movie is, more than anything, a psychological study of the root causes and effects that violence has on the psyche, and also the role that violence plays in contemporary American society. In fact, this movie uses violence differently than any movie I've ever seen--certainly, there's a lot of violence, but it comes in short bits that are over almost as soon as they begin. Additionally, I've never seen sex scenes used the way they are in this movie--each of the scenes (there are two of them) are decidedly graphic, and also elemental to the development of the plot (for the record, one of the sex scenes is pretty brutal--I don't think anyone would classify it was rape, but it's certainly violent). One problem with this movie (at least, in the context of writing an email like this) is that you can't say too much without giving key plot points away, but suffice it to say that this is unlike any movie I've ever seen, and there's a complexity involved in trying to make sense of the movie through the different sets of relationships it deals with (Tom's relationship with Edie; Tom's relationship with Jack; Jack's relationship with the bully at school; Tom's relationship with his brother; etc.) that sets it apart from this year's other offerings.
The biggest problem with this movie, of course, is that it's directed by Woody Allen but unrecognizable in that regard. Most of the talk about this movie is dominated by this fact. When viewed independent of this, it's a great movie--a complex examination of relationships, class, economics, and the role that luck plays in determining our lives. Unfortunately, the strength of the acting is on the bottom--the leads are good, but not great, and the actors in the supporting roles are much better--admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and I'm not pleased with how Emily Mortimer was used in the movie--but, as a story, it's quite compelling and I was really impressed with the ending. And, another big plus--Woody Allen isn't in the movie, and there are also no characters that act just like him.
LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
First things first--for those who are unaware, this is a 6-hour movie, shown in two parts, that traces the lives of two Italian brothers over the course of 40 years, and it incorporates historical events into the narrative. Certainly, it's unlike anything I've ever seen, and, with very few exceptions, my emotional investment in the characters was considerably greater than what I'd have in a 'normal' movie. The benefit to its great length is that it doesn't need to hurry through anything, and it's able to fully develop all of the relationships and the motives of the characters--so, while at the end, you are interested in wanting to know what happens next, you certainly don't feel cheated about what you've already seen. For all the talk about Brokeback Mountain, I found this to be a much bolder movie--of course, I live in San Francisco, so maybe that stands to reason.
This probably isn't as good as CIDADE DE DEUS, but it's solid and if you can follow the rather complex plot (to be honest, I thought this plot was a lot more difficult to follow than that of SYRIANA), the payoff at the end is great. It's not so much that the plot is complex as much as it is that it's tough to get a read on the characters, largely because for the most part they are developing and changing throughout the movie. In the end, though, this 'complexity' makes for a much better film. Full disclosure--I'm probably going to like any movie that goes after big pharma more than most would, and this one does--big time.
This is a very short movie--only 80 minutes--but it's so full of dialogue and develops so quickly that you'd never guess it was that short. The acting of the four principals are all great--and, really, everyone else is (Baldwin, Paquin, Feiffer), too--and if the movie had a little more to it I'd have probably ranked it even higher. Still, I'd assume it's a pretty accurate representation as to what happens to children of divorce (particularly since it's based on the director's personal experience), it's done very well, and it's certainly worth seeing. It deserves a screenplay Oscar, if nothing else, but it probably won't get it.
In terms of the quality of the movies, this is the worst year I can recall. I mean, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is fine, but it's pretty slow for the first 90 minutes, and while the end of the movie is pretty good, other than the gay angle there's not much to it. I understand that you can't replicate it exactly, but replace Jake Gyllenhaal with a woman and no one would give a shit about this movie. CAPOTE is fair but its inclusion among the nominees is comical, even in a year as weak as this one. MUNICH and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK are by far the best of the nominees, and neither of them is anywhere near the best picture of the year. The less I say about CRASH the better, because amazingly there are people out there who liked it, and my attitude toward it could easily offend. Suffice it to say, about it I read somewhere, 'Welcome to the movie of the year for the people who say, "Some of my best friends are black.' " I couldn't agree more, what a self-serving piece of shit of a movie.
RE The Winner The only way BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN doesn't win is if there's a backlash--and since there's really not a lot going for it other than its boldness, there could be--and, if that happens, CRASH will benefit. The others won't win. Ang Lee will win Best Director either way, although my personal preference would be for David Cronenberg, for A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.
1 Philip Seymour Hoffman CAPOTE
3 David Strathairn GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
6 Bruno Ganz DER UNTERGANG (Downfall)
8 Tony Leung 2046
10 Luigi Lo Cascio LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
A very deep category this year, so much so that I would not object if any of the top 8 won the Academy Award. Even so, Hoffman is the class of the field, and after several strong performances in the past (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, OWNING MAHOWNY) it looks as though he will finally be rewarded. There's not much to say about this performance other than that he will be a worthy successor to Jamie Foxx for RAY. I really don't understand how Daniels didn't get nominated; the reaction to his performance was universally positive, and with good reason. Strathairn and Mortenson also were great and each dominated their movies, and in a different year any of the top four could be comfortable and deserving winners of the Academy Award.
RE The Nominees (Hoffman, CAPOTE; Howard, HUSTLE & FLOW; Ledger, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN; Phoenix, WALK THE LINE; Strathairn, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK)
I didn't see HUSTLE & FLOW, although I did hear that Terence Howard was quite good in it. As far as the other nominees, Joaquin Phoenix wasn't anywhere near convincing enough for me--although admittedly that is probably more Johnny Cash's fault than Joaquin Phoenix's. Certainly his performance pales in comparison to the great performance given by Jamie Foxx last year in RAY. As far as the other nominees, they are all great performances and any of them would be worthy winners.
RE The Winner Hoffman, easily.
1 Reese Witherspoon WALK THE LINE
2 Felicity Huffman TRANSAMERICA
3 Emily Mortimer DEAR FRANKIE
5 Juliette Binoche CACHE (Hidden)
6 Charlize Theron NORTH COUNTRY
7 Embeth Davidtz JUNEBUG
9 Q'Orianka Kilcher THE NEW WORLD
10 Scarlett Johansson MATCH POINT
This category is, in my estimation, quite top-heavy. The top 5 are all great, and any of them would be a deserving winner. After that, there's a marked drop-off in the quality of the performances. I give the edge to Witherspoon, largely because I think Huffman's performance is getting a little too much hype. I could understand the hype if the performance had been given by a man (doing something similar to what Hilary Swank did in BOYS DON'T CRY), but as it is, she just puts on an affected voice and touches her boobies a lot. This isn't to say she isn't good--keep in mind that I have her listed 2nd here--but she's no match for Witherspoon, who was quite convincing as June Carter, as opposed to Joaquin Phoenix, who just didn't measure up as Johnny Cash. She did it all--funny, dramatic, happy, sad--and, she sang as well. A solid all-around performance that in my mind was tough to top. I'm also pissed that Mortimer didn't get a nomination for DEAR FRANKIE (for the record, I think her considerable acting talents were underutilized in MATCH POINT). She's one of the best actresses out there, and after not getting nominated for LOVELY AND AMAZING and now this, I'm starting to get pissed off.
I didn't see PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which is probably fine because by all accounts the nomination is not really deserved. I also didn't see MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, which is also probably fine because Judi Dench is going to be nominated for everything she's in. Theron is all right, but being such a recent winner she's probably got very little chance here. Fortunately, the two best performances are among the nominees, and either would be a deserving winner.
RE The Winner Witherspoon...Huffman...Witherspoon...Huffman...I'll go with Reese, although apparently she's a bit of a wanker, and that could cost her here, which would be unfortunate because I think she deserves it. If any of the others win, I'll shoot myself in the face.
2 Alessio Boni LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
3 Jack McElhone DEAR FRANKIE
4 George Clooney SYRIANA
5 Paul Giamatti CINDERELLA MAN
8 Gerard Butler DEAR FRANKIE
Probably the strongest category this year, and all of these listed are strong performances. A good year for young actors, as 4 of them are in my Top 10. Eisenberg's performance is particularly impressive; in many ways, he's the central character in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, because he's the one who gathers all of the information regarding his parents and their divorce, and the movie is really about how all of the information he gathers manifests itself in his attitude toward each of them, and his relationships with others. He's a bit of an ass and pretty unlikeable but that is something that works in his favor here. Boni's really good as well--and, for the first half of the movie, he's got the larger role of the two brothers in LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)--and there's not really much to separate the top two. To some extent, the character's complexity works against him, because he's difficult to assess on a first viewing--and if I watch it a second time, it probably won't be for a while, due to its length. I'd give those two a clear edge over the rest of the performances.
A decent job here, even with the best performances going unrewarded. And, as always happens, they nominated the wrong person from a film--certainly, Ed Harris was much more convincing, and had a much larger role than William Hurt in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. To be honest, I thought William Hurt was the worst thing about A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE--which is not so much an indictment of his performance (which was fine) as it is a testament to all of the other actors, who all played their roles with a subtlety that Hurt's performance lacked. Suffice it to say, Dillon did not do it for me, and I thought any number of other actors in the movie (Pena and Phillippe, most notably) were markedly better. Clooney, Giamatti, and Gyllenhaal were all fine, and although they have all had better performances recently that were unrecognized (Clooney--O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?; Giamatti--AMERICAN SPLENDOR; Gyllenhaal--DONNIE DARKO), I'll not be too upset if any of them win.
RE The Winner There's little doubt that this category has the most potential winners since all of the nominees, with the exception of Hurt, could win it. I'll guess that it'll come down to Giamatti and Clooney, and Giamatti will probably win because he wasn't even nominated for AMERICAN SPLENDOR and SIDEWAYS and voters might want to take advantage of this opportunity to right past wrongs.
2 Amy Adams JUNEBUG
3 Michelle Williams BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
4 Ginnifer Goodwin WALK THE LINE
5 Jasmine Trinca LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
6 Maya Sansa LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (The Best of Youth)
8 Penelope Wilton MATCH POINT
9 Valentina de Angelis OFF THE MAP
10 Fionnula Flanagan TRANSAMERICA
This is a strange category this year. I'd throw any of the top 6 performances in a pot, and draw them out, and be fine with the order--they are all that good. That said, after the top 6 there aren't too many great performances--or, at least, none that are deserving of an Academy Award. I give the edge to Weisz, because she's got the largest role (when making my preliminary list, I had her listed in the Best Actress category, not Best Supporting Actress), and, she's the fulcrum of a pretty good movie. Adams holds JUNEBUG together, certainly, but as a movie it's far inferior to THE CONSTANT GARDENER--which isn't to say she isn't great (she is), but her performance can't measure up to Weisz's. Williams is also great--when I saw BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, she was the person whose performance impressed me most--but it's clearly a supporting role, and she's clearly a tertiary character. I'm disappointed that Goodwin didn't get nominated, she was totally solid and convincing--but I guess WALK THE LINE got its acting nominations in the other categories, and it was only going to get so many spots. Neither of the Italian actresses was ever going to get a nomination, but they were both great, in addition to both being smoking hot--always good when you are watching a 6-hour movie.
As noted above, the top three performances were nominated, so I'm quite pleased. Keener and McDormand are fine, but not really Oscar-worthy, in my opinion. I think Keener was probably better in THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN than she was in CAPOTE, but she was never likely to be nominated for that.
RE The Winner Adams has a small shot, because she is getting a lot of hype for her excellent performance. In the end, though, it will probably come down to Weisz and Williams, and I'd guess that Weisz will win because BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN will certainly be rewarded elsewhere, whereas THE CONSTANT GARDENER will not. And that's not such a bad thing, really.
The Academy Awards this year are this Sunday, March 5th. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Weekend, Road Rules Edition

Gas is so cheap right now I figure what better time to get in the car and spend the long weekend road ruling, so I am off to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park to check it out and explore what it has to offer. It has been on my list for a long time, since I moved out really. The park is very similar to Yosemite, but with about 10% of the visitor traffic, which is vitally important considering it is a holiday and Yosemite will be completely insane this weekend.

$4 a gallon is better spent here than in rush hour traffic

It's just me, my tent, and my backpack, so I'm looking forward to some tranquilo solitude amidst the splendor on mother nature. Surely I'll have a massive overabundance of pictures and words upon my return.

Have a wonderful and safe weekend whatever you get into.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Arsenal Joga Bonito Wednesday:
Dare To Dream Edition

Of course we all know that 99% of all stories in the "silly season" are completely untrue, but...

...if Arsene Wenger really has 40 million pounds to spend this summer, than forget all of the rumored talks of Samuel Eto'o coming to Arsenal and Thierry Henry going the other way. Buy Eto'o outright and play them both together, with SE9 as the fox in the box best outright striker in the world and TH14 dropping into a half striker Bergkamp-esque role. After all, Titi is an amazing passer for a striker.

The odds of this are close to zero, but I shall watch this video repeatedly and dare to dream about it anyways.

Bonus: the extremely rare footy compilation video without a horrible song over it.

Added bonus: My SE9 Barcelona jersey would still be relevant and current: to me.

Italy: Champions Of Europe, Champions Of The World, Champions Of Cheating, and Pretty Damn Good At Violence, Too

On August 24, 2006, the day of the Champions League draw, I wrote this:

In another interesting twist, AC Milan drew a joke of a group that they will walk through with ease: Lille, AEK Athens, Anderlecht. Definitely the easiest draw of all of the top seeds. As I have said before, listen for grumbling to grow louder and louder as they progress in a competition that they have no business being a part of in the first place, and don't be at all surprised if in some twisted sort of ironic-bizarro-karma they go on to win the whole thing after being {rightfully} banned and then {wrongfully and shamefully} allowed back in on appeal.

And today it came true.

AC Milan 2-1 Liverpool

What a year for Italian football. Last year at this time was the mondo corruption scandal, followed by a World Cup triumph, then to everyone's surprise harsh penalties were handed out for the offending clubs, then to no one's surprise they were reduced several times after 98 appeals by the clubs and some serious shenanigans by Italian football officials, the entire Italian league was shut down by the prime minister after mounting fan violence culminated with the killing of a policeman, Roman police beat the everloving shit out of traveling ManUtd fans that didn't seem to be doing a whole hell of a lot, and now the team that was initially ruled ineligible for the Champions League, but then let back in on their umpteenth appeal, are the champions of Europe.

So we can pretty much throw out the old cliche "Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win", although truth be told that maxim has been made null and void many, many moons ago.

Oh, the match? It was mildly entertaining I suppose. Milan went up 1-0 just before halftime when an Andrea Pirlo free kick took a lucky and unintentional deflection off of Pippo Inzaghi's shoulder and went into the net. Memo to the moron in the pub incessantly bitching about it being a handball: go back to 2nd grade and learn that the shoulder/collarbone area and the hand/arm are mutually exclusive body parts.

Zenden and Kuyt were total rubbish- I am surprised that Kewell and then Crouch did not come on sooner. Milan doubled their lead in the 83rd minute when Kaka played Inzaghi through with a beautiful pass, and Inzaghi rounded the keeper and slotted home at a tricky angle. Classic Inzaghi- a striker who can go an entire match without doing shit, but give him one good chance and it is likely that he will punish your ass. Outside of that one move for the 2nd goal, he did absolutely nothing except get lucky with the deflection that created the first goal. Unless you count his completely shameful and Rivaldo-esque fall down, roll around, and act shot to waste time routine after a Harry Kewell cross hit him in the stomach in the last few minutes.

So for a few minutes I looked like a genius with my 2-0 prediction, but then in the 89th minute Kuyt headed in a corner that was headed first by Agger, then deflected off of Maldini's dome to Dirk, who headed past Dida. A bing-bang-boom pinball of a goal setting up an exciting final few minutes. But nothing came of it and that was that.

Did anyone else notice that the referee called for 3 minutes of added time, but then blew the whistle at 2.44 even though there was a time-wasting substitution {time is usually added on for this} by Milan in extra time? Yes, it's only 15-45 seconds, but still that was pretty strange for any match, let alone a European Cup final, or a European Cup Final involving a team known throughout history to have influenced many a referee. I am not saying that this is proof of any shenanigans, only that it struck me as a bit odd.

So Milan have won the European title for the 7th time, placing them 2nd all time behind only Real Madrid's 9. Congratulations, I guess.

The one good bit of news is that UEFA have voted to amend their rules and now have the power to refuse a team from the Champions League sent up to them by a national association, so we shouldn't see something this silly again.

Champions League Final Preview, Prediction

Champions League Final
AC Milan-Liverpool
Athens, Greece
11.45 a.m. PST, ESPN2

What a difference a year makes. Last year was dubbed "The People's Final", as two generally well liked teams known for playing stylish, attacking, Joga Bonito football, Arsenal and Barcelona, battled for the trophy with the big ears. A year later and for many fans this is bit like a political election, where they are choosing who to root for based on which team they dislike less. At least it's not as bad a last weekend's FA Cup final, which was contested by the two most hated clubs in England, and hell, probably the world.

The fact that Milan are even in the competition, let alone here in the final, is a major problem for many, myself included, which would make me want Liverpool to win, since way back in the quarterfinals I noted that while I was basically neutral about them I disliked the other 7 teams with varying levels of intensity. The trick is that Milan, when on song, play much prettier football than do Liverpool, and in Kaka they have one of the top 5 players in the world who also is very hard not to like and pull for. So it's a bit tricky.

So on general principle I suppose I want Liverpool to win their 6th European Cup and prevent Milan from winning their 7th. So there it is: "Come on you thieving scousers, beat those cheating Italians!"

My prediction, however, is different. I'm thinking 2-0 to Mee-lan will be the result.

The focus of most will be on each team's best player, Liverpool's Gerrard and Milan's Kaka, and their ability to assert their will and boss the game. I think that the game will be won or lost in central midfield, specifically who will win the battle between Milan's Gattuso/Pirlo, and whomever Liverpool goes with from Gerrard/Alonso/Sissoko/Mascherano. Gerrard will probably be deployed wide right, a position he really dislikes and rarely bosses matches from, so it should be very interesting. Note also that both goalkeepers are very good but also prone to blunders...

Whatever happens, I just hope that the match is entertaining for us neutrals, unlike the horrid display put on in the FA Cup final by Chel$ea & ManUtd.

Men's Tennis Rights Last Year's Wrong, Wins National Title

Last year I went down to Stanford to watch the #1 ranked and undefeated Georgia Men's Tennis team lose their only match of the season, and the national championship with it, to Pepperdine.

Last night the Tennis Dawgs came back to complete their unfinished business by winning the 2007 Men's Tennis National Championship, the team's 5th national title overall. They also went undefeated this entire season and post season, finishing at 32-0, meaning that in the last two years they have posted a record of 62-1 with the one loss coming in the national championship final match.

32 up, 32 down. Champions once again.

So congrats to coach Diaz and the entire team on their well deserved title. The best part is that I'm sure that it put a huge smile on Coach Magill's face, and anything that does that is great indeed.

Additional congratulations to Georgia's #1 player, and John Mayer lookalike, John Isner for being awarded the ITA National Senior Player Of The Year Award yesterday. John went 38-4 in singles this season {7 matches unfinished} and 38-3 in doubles with partner Antonio Ruiz {5 matches unfinished} and is currently ranked #1 in the country in both singles and doubles.

Today the individual mens & womens singles and doubles tournaments begin and will continue each day until champions are crowned on Monday. Isner is the #1 seed in the men's singles tournament, and Isner/Ruiz are the #1 seed in the men's doubles tournament. Best of luck to them as well as all of the other Bulldogs who are competing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

La Liga Es Muy, Muy Interesante

Kind of a long story, but as it turned out I didn't do Bay To Breakers yesterday. But major major kudos to my sister, who came to town and not only did it, she bypassed the walking and drinking that the majority of the 60,000 partake in and freaking ran it. Congrats sis- I'm super proud of you, but I assure you that you will have much more fun when you come back and do Bay To Breakers with me the "right way".

But what I did do is settle in and watch the Real Madrid match and then the Barcelona match, as the run in for La Liga has been fantastic. Barca have been ahead of stuttering Real Madrid all year, with now 2 time UEFA Cup champions Sevilla in there as well. Well at long last Real Madrid caught up to Barca last weekend, and now these two were tied at the top of the table with Sevilla only 2 points behind. The trick is that unlike the English Premiership, where the first tiebreaker is goal difference, in La Liga goal difference is the second tiebreaker, aggregate head to head results are the first tiebreaker. Since Real won the first El Clasico and they drew the second meeting, this meant that Real Madrid were in fact league leaders even though Barcelona had a massively superior goal differential.

Real were away to minnows Recretivo de Huelva and were leading 2-1 late, when amazingly Recre equalized with only 3 minutes to play. 2-2, and the whole top of the table was turned on it's head, as Sevilla had already won and Barca were taking the field in Madrid to play Athletico Madrid.

Or was it? Real, for the second week in a row, scored a goal at the absolute death to turn a 1 point earning draw into a 3point earning win. Very exciting stuff.

So it was up to Barca to keep pace, and boy did they. Up 0-3 at half, and more of the same in the second half for an amazing final of Athletico 0-6 Barcelona. It was Athletico Madrid's worst home loss ever {the prior worst being 0-4 in 1980}, but I am not lying when I say that it could have been much worse. Ronaldinho hit the post with a free kick, Eto'o rocked the crossbah, and they had several other great chances- it really could have finished 10-0. Eto's unselfishness on the first and last goals was a joy to watch and so rare for such a prolific striker.

Arsenal Joga Bonito Wednesday will be preempted
this week for Barcelona Joga Bonito Monday

I normally would not enjoy watching a 6-0 soccer match, but watching Barcelona play is just so enjoyable. When Eto'o, Messi, and Ronaldinho are all healthy and doing their thing, it is the prettiest football in the world to watch. If the rumors are true and the team will be somewhat split up in the summer, with Eto'o likely leaving, then catch one of their last few matches together if you can. But watching R10 and SE9 celebrate their goals together kind of rubbishes the claims that they are still not getting along.

So no change at the top, with Real and Barca on 69 points with Sevilla on 67 points. Real is on top from head to head results even though Barca's goal difference is now 40 to Real's 22. Each team has three remaining matches, so anything can happen and it looks like it will come down to the wire.

Anyhow, if you have GolTV then watch the finish of La Liga over the next 3 weeks- good footy and high drama.

As usual, Phil Ball and Sid Lowe have much better writeups of all the happenings and drama in La Liga than the rubbish found here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Curlin Edges Street Sense To Win Preakness In Amazing Fashion

Curlin gets up on the outside in the final stride to edge Street Sense

Wow. That is not something you see every day. After insanely fast fractions that cooked the lesser talented leaders who set them, Street Sense came from way back again and made an incredible move to blow by Curlin and the rest, and once he did it looked like the race was his. But Curlin, after being passed, dug back in and fought back, and made another run at Street Sense in the final furlong, and he just got his head in front in the final stride to win by 1/2 a head in a photo finish in as exciting a race as you will see.

Street Sense seemed to ease up just a tad thinking he was clear, but what an amazing race by Curlin- perhaps he is a freak after all. Stumbled at the start, seemed to have to make his run really early into a crazy fast pace, then to get blown away by a stone closer at the top of the stretch- 49 times out of 50 a horse would not be able to fight back and regain the lead, but damn if he didn't do it. Just a great race by Curlin, who may be just like Bernardini last year, a freakish colt who goes from lightly raced to dominant right before our eyes in the major races, rather than developing in the lesser seen prep races like most horses do.

I'm just happy that they all made it around the track safely this year, although tragically that was not the case in the 10th race on the turf course, The Dixie Stakes, when the leader, Mending Fences, broke a front leg, spilled, hard, threw his jockey, and caused Robby Albarado to be thrown as well. Both jockies were OK, and Albarado came back to win the Preakness on Curlin, showing once again why jockies are the toughest, most badass athletes in the world, but the same cannot be said of the horse, who tragically had to be euthanized.

The owners of Curlin are probably celebrating with a nice red wine instead of champagne, since he is co-owned by the founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson winery Jess Jackson.

It would be great for racing if these two both wheel back and run in the Belmont in three weeks, as they definitely have developed the beginning of a great rivalry. I wouldn't be suprised if Nafzger takes a rest with Street Sense and picks his spots later in the summer, but at the end of the day it will be up to the owners, and it is a hell of a lot of money as well as prestige on the line, so we'll see.

Chel$ea Win FA Cup; I Blame Spurs

FA Cup Final
Chel$ea 1-0 Manchester United

I decided not to get up at 6 a.m. to go pay $20 to watch 2 teams I hate play in what I suspected would probably be a dour display of football, so I can't tell you much other than Drogba scored the winner in extra time and the match is pretty much being universally panned as a boring, dour, negative display. Noted English football enthusiast Michael wasn't so fortunate, he spent the money and his thoughts can be found here.

So Chel$ea win a meaningful trophy after all, which sucks. But I suppose considering that a few weeks ago they had a good shot at winning all 4 trophies, they failed to win the 2 most important of those, the Champions League and Premiership titles. So I suppose that is something.

I would like to thank Spurs, who were up 3-1 on Chel$ea in the 2nd half of their FA Cup quarterfinal match back in March, when their genius manager Martin Jol decided that it would be a good idea to substitute their best player Berbetov, only to see Chel$ea score to make it 3-2. So then the genius went ahead and subbed off their 2nd best player, Aaron Lennon, and completely neutered Spurs offense, and of course Chel$ea scored yet again to get a 3-3 draw and earn a replay at White Hart Lane, where of course they dispatched of Spurs. Incredibly inept strategic managing, and so very Spurs of them. Fucking wankers.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Weekend Preview

I've already covered tomorrow's FA Cup Final and Preakness Stakes.

Sunday is Bay To Breakers. If you don't know what that is, then check out:
2006 Bay To Breakers Recap
2005 Bay To Breakers Recap

By and large that's it. I'm going to see a great band tonight called Vinyl, and everything else is open.

Enjoy your weekend whatever you get into.

Preakness Stakes Preview

132nd Preakness Stakes
Sat, May 19, approx 3.04 p.m. PST
Pimlico Race Track, Baltimore, MD
TV: NBC 2 p.m. PST

The field of 9 is set and includes the top 3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby, STREET SENSE, HARD SPUN, and CURLIN, as well as one other Derby starter and 5 new shooters.

The Faves

Street Sense, 7-5
Can the Derby winner do it? Most times over the last ten years, the legitimate Derby winners that have run in the Preakness have won it- we can't count last year since Barbaro broke down, and 2000 Derby winner Fusiachi Pegasus didn't run in the Preakness, but in 6 of the other 8 the Derby winner also won the Preakness, and the two that didn't were not in my view {and many others} legitimate Derby winners. Well, they won the Derby, but both Giacomo in 2005 and Monarchos in 2001 were not great horses. Rather, they both benefited from completely insane fast Derby paces set by horses that had no business racing in the Derby, which cooked all of the contenders and allowed these two to pick up the pieces. Monarchos never won a race before or after his Derby win, and Giacomo never won a race before his Derby and has been pretty weak since.

Well, Street Sense is a legitimate Derby winner, and a great horse at that, so the chances of him winning the Preakness are huge. The trick with a bomber like Street Sense that lays way back and then makes a big move at the end is that he has to get a perfect trip and get the breaks to allow him to hit holes and pass other horses. He got this racing luck in the Derby but there is a chance that this time around he will not, that he could get stuck on the rail or whatnot and lose lots of ground and get beat. On the other hand, a field of nine is much better for him than a field of 20.

In a vacuum I would like Street Sense to win, but there's no value at 7-5 and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes off at even money, so I wouldn't bet my money on him to win at that price.

Hard Spun, 5-2
Ran a race that would have won many Derbies, just got passed in the end by a better horse. If Street Sense didn't have such luck with his trip, Hard Spun would be your Derby winner. Tomorrow there are a few speedballs in the race, most notable Flying First Class, so Hard Spun may very well not have the lead like he did in the Derby. He will probably stalk just behind the leaders, make his move on the far turn, and hope it is enough to get the jump on Street Sense. I think he has the best chance of anyone to beat Street Sense, and wouldn't surprised at all if he won. Very respected race analyst and speed guru Andrew Beyer thinks that Hard Spun is going to turn the tables on Street Sense, and his reasoning is pretty sound. Again, he has a good chance but at 5-2 is offers no value.

Curlin, 7-2
With no races as a 2 year old and only 2 before the Derby, the lack of "foundation" was the big knock on this horse but he still ran a good race despite a tricky trip to finish 3rd. Alot of people who like this horse now say that with another race under his belt he will only be better and they like him to win this race and show everyone that he is indeed a freak, just a lightly raced one {just as Bernardini did in 2006}. Personally I think that either he will do just that, or he will regress and eat it. At 5-2 I wouldn't bet him to win, again, no value.

The Gray Zoners
Circular Quay, 8-1
A smaller horse that also like to come from way back, he actually ran a much better race than it initially appeared, as he had to overcome a pretty bad trip. Great value here at 8-1, and if that were to stand I would bet him across the board because at that price he offers a lot of value. I seriously doubt he will stay at 8-1 though because he will probably be the wiseguy horse that everyone jumps on looking for value outside the top 3, thereby driving down his price.

King Of The Roxy, 12-1
Finished 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby as the favorite and then skipped the Derby to point to the Preakness. His win in the Hutcheson before that was impressive, but he had the lead in the Santa Anita and just got run down by Tiago, which just added credence to the theory that this horse is a miler and classic distances are too big an ask for him. I'm staying away, as it is my personal opinion that all of the California horses this year are simply shit. Todd Pletcher's best chance to break his 0-27 record in Triple Crown races.

The Long Shots
Xchanger, 15-1
Every year there is some local Maryland horse who has done good things at Pimlico that makes a huge jump up in class to take a shot in the Preakness. Xchanger is not a local horse, but he did come in and win the Frederico Tesio at Pimlico, so the talking point on this horse is that he has a win over the track. For me that doesn't matter, as it was against much, much lesser competition and this seems too big a step up in class for him. Will likely be overbet just on this 'win over the track" angle alone

Flying First Class, 20-1
This horse won the Derby Trial one week before the Derby, but like Xchanger is was against lesser competition do this is a step up in class. Has lots of speed and will likely get the lead. Considering D. Wayne Lukas is the trainer and the horse won last time out, I would be very suprised if this horse stayed at 20-1; he'll get some action just because of Lukas. Hell I'd play any Lukas horse at 20-1 just on general principle, but I doubt he'll be 20-1.

CP West, 20-1
Trained by Nick Zito, but other than that not sure what he is doing here. Likely just taking a chance that they can get lucky, hit the board, and get a nice payday. Seems over his head here.

Mint Slewlep, 30-1
Stupid ass name, which is remarkable since it is a combination of two great things: Seattle Slew and Mint Juleps. What the hell this horse is doing in this race I'll never know, but hell anything can happen in racing so I suppose it is possible that he could hit the board. But is looks pretty damn unlikely.

So What Happens, Genius?
Hard to say, but I really cannot see the winner coming from anyone other than Street Sense, Hard Spun, Curlin, and Circular Quay.

Street Sense was my Derby horse and I see no reason to get off him, so if I had to pick a winner I would stay with him. But I wouldn't bet on him because there is no value.

Curlin may be this year's Bernardini, a freak who just needs races and experience to dominate, and this might be the race where he makes a massive statement and wins. But there is also a great chance that he regresses, so you'll have to decide what you think of Curlin for yourself. If you think he is a freak, bet him. If you don't, don't.

The best value bet is Circular Quay across the board at 8-1, and as things stand I would probably do that.

If you put me on the spot my prediction would be Street Sense wins, Circular Quay 2nd, Hard Spun 3rd, and Curlin eats it, but I'm not supremely confident or adamant about any of those.

Of course, by this time tomorrow it will be a totally different set of odds and I might feel differently. Overall there isn't much value in the race, so unless Circular Quay stays near where he is, I think I am taking a pass and just watching and hoping for an exciting race.


Why I Am Rooting For, Gulp, Manchester United Tomorrow

Damn, just typing that hurt.

2007 FA Cup Final
Manchester United-Chel$ea
Sat. May 19, 7.00 a.m. PST
Wembley Stadium
Setanta PPV

An outstanding preview of the match here.

What I'm really hoping for is the the match is abandoned due to violence of some sort and no winner is awarded, but as the likelihood of that is infinitesimal, I want ManUtd to win.

Actually that is not altogether accurate. In truth, I want Chel$ea to lose more than I want ManUtd to lose, that's it.

On top of my dislike of Chel$ea and extreme hatred of Jose Mourinho, the main reason is Ashley Cole. Forget all of the unbelievable shenanigans and bullshit he did and said last year before moving from Arsenal to Chel$ea last summer, which are too numerous to mention here. That alone would probably be enough for me to feel like I do.

But the kicker is that earlier this season, after Chel$ea came back from 0-1 down to beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Carling Cup Final, Ashley said defiantly to the press something to the affect of "that is why I came here to Chel$ea- to win trophies". Forget the fact that Arsenal played nothing near their best team but went with all of the young kids, who then outplayed Chel$ea's strongest side but then lost in the end, and forget the the League Cup is not a big trophy, it's kind of a joke actually, and although it is certainly nice to win and put in your trophy case, none of the big clubs really care much about it. The ridiculousness of the statement is that with Arsenal he won the Double {Premiership and FA Cup} in 2002, the FA Cup in 2003, the Premiership in 2004 {as the only undefeated team in a major European league in modern football history}, and the FA Cup in 2005. So defiantly telling the press in an attempt to slam Arsenal that you came to win trophies, after your first team were outplayed by a bunch of backup team teenagers, in a cup competition that no one really cares about, makes you even more of a cunt then we all learned that you were last year. The topper, of course, is that he didn't even play in the Carling Cup final but rather was an unused sub.

So I sure as shit don't want to see that little fucker win any trophies that are actually meaningful, and of course the FA Cup qualifies there.

Look for United to play football and Chel$ea to try to negate United and hoof hopeful route 1 longballs up to Drogba and hope for the best. And don't forget to check out the new Wembley Stadium, the Big Dig of football stadiums- very late and ridiculously over budget. It took 7 years and $1.5 billion with a B to build, both of which are just crazy.

A Fitting Finish For Both Arsenal And Graham Poll

So last Sunday Arsenal completed their season by traveling to Portsmouth and drawing 0-0.

Portsmouth 0-0 Arsenal

A fitting finish for Arsenal, with several good scoring chances wasted, almost all of them by Julio Baptista, who somehow managed to be even worse than usual. No less than three free headers inside of 8 yards missed, as well as a penalty that was so poorly taken that it was easily saved. That's 3 missed penalties this season for The Beast, who apart from 1 night at Anfield has been horrid and will be returning to Spain in the summer. Of course, he'll score 30 goals next season for whatever club he joins.

After he missed his 3 headers and penalty, Arsenal looked as likely to score a goal in the second half playing 4-5-1 with Baptista up front as they would if they played 4-5-1 with my mom up front. As the match went on you just knew that Portsmouth would secure and grab that last UEFA Cup place that they needed 3 points to secure.

And of course they did, after a rebound after a missed shot. What they failed to take into account, however, is that Graham Poll was not only officiating this match, but it was his final match, and he would take any opportunity that presented itself to go out in a blaze of glory. His is a long and storied history, which includes a performance so poor in and Arsenal-Newcastle match in 2001 that Arsenal officially requested to the FA that he never referee matches at Highbury again, and of course his famous awarding of 3 yellow cards to one player in the World Cup last summer, something that by the rules of football is not possible.

So Poll gave the goal, and over the next 60 seconds the TV showed like 4 replays of the goal which took at least 60 seconds. When live TV came back on we got to see Poll then deciding to nullify the goal after consulting with the linesman. I agree with the Portsmouth fans and TV commentators that the goal was not offsides, but at a minimum this is a decision that he should have made in the first 10-15 seconds after the goal- he is miked up to his linesman after all. By waiting a full minute and then doing it he showed his shittiness one final time, and in doing so he basically robbed Portsmouth of UEFA Cup football next year. To be fair, Poll and his crew fucked up 2 Arsenal offsides calls that each ended up with the ball in the back of the Portsmouth net, and the one on Baptista where Hoyte scored was especially awful.

So good job Graham Poll, way to go out in style.

So Arsenal finish 4th on 68 points, the same number that Liverpool finished with, but Liverpool's goal differential was 2 better than Arsenal's.

Very disappointing finish, but it was 1 point more than they gathered last season, so this season's performance, although hugely disappointing on it's face, isn't to shabby when you consider that this team lost Robert Pires, Denis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, and Lauren among others, and that the top 2 strikers, Van Persie and Henry, missed more matches than they played in.

Still, more needs to be done this summer to strengthen the squad. Specifically Arsenal lack pace on the wings, something that they have always had, be it Overmars, Ljungberg, Pires, even Anelka and Henry up front. They lack a player that can run at and run around defenders with furious pace for the first time under Wenger really. Ljungberg has lost a step or three and cannot run around people anymore; Henry can still do it but not as fiercely as he once could, and not on the wing. Theo Walcott has that pace but is still so young and it will be a few seasons before he matured into such a consistent threat. But the players we have out wide now do not fit that mold. Hopefully Arsene will sort something out in the summer.

So that's it. Arsenal free until August, and Graham Poll free forever. Hurrah.