Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Old 49er

At some point this morning, probably not early, our man Whitney's gonna wake up and crank this tune:

All the best to our favorite Southsider. Hope you close out your 40s in style.

(We've hidden a sublime joke opportunity in this post. Let's see if our birthday boy notices.)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Official G:TB Rugby World Cup Preview

"There’s going to be some sort of drama that unfolds that changes whatever the popularly accepted narrative is about the winner or who’s going to be in the semifinals or who’s even going to be in the quarterfinals.”

Hightower takes the game very seriously.
So sayeth no less a sage than our own Brian Hightower on the eve of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. That may seem like anodyne stuff put out by NBC as part of the pre-tournament publicity package. But Hightower doesn't do anodyne. I think he's picking the USA Eagles to make a run to the Final Four. And I'm right beside him.

Though the Eagles are ranked a modest 13th in the world, they did win the Olympic gold medal. In 1924, but that's hardly relevant. Coach Gary Gold's squad recorded the US's first-ever tier 1 win last summer, knocking off Scotland, 30-29. The team followed that up with a win over Samoa. Most observers believe that the Americans find themselves in the World Cup's Group of Death, where they'll face France, Argentina, England, and Tonga. (As an aside, the Tonga Toast at Disney's Polynesian resort is absurdly good, especially accompanied by french press coffee, and has the added benefit of carrying enough calories to get you through an entire day.)

Those observers believe that the U.S.A. will be lucky to get one win out of the event, most likely against Tonga. I think we all know what Brian Hightower thinks of that conventional wisdom. The Eagles play England in Kobe on September 26 to kick off their tournament.

As for the rest of the entrants in the 20-team tournament, USA Eagle legend Dan Lyle frames it this way, "I call this the five-five-and-five. You’ve got five teams who can absolutely win it. You’ve got five teams who have beaten those five, and then you’ve got five more below that that have beaten those five."

That first five consists of the legendary All-Blacks of New Zealand, Ireland, England, South Africa, and Wales. A punter putting cash down on any of the other 15 sides is in it for a lark.

Your likely winners.
The tournament starts today, with hosts Japan taking on Russia in Tokyo. Ireland are actually the top-ranked side in the world rankings, narrowly ahead of New Zealand. The All-Blacks are the betting favorite at 6/4, having won the previous two World Cups. Ireland's fly half, Jonathan Sexton, was the 2018 world player of the year, but he's battled injuries recently. With him healthy, the Irish are dangerous. Without him, they may not get out of their group. Wales briefly occupied the top spot in the world rankings earlier this year, though they fell to Ireland, 22-17 just a few weeks ago.

Our fearless (and clueless) prognosticators have pooled their limited mental resources. Here's the official G:TB Rugby World Cup prediction:

Pool A: (Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Samoa, Russia)
Winner: Scotland
Runner-Up: Ireland
Faux-knowledgeable Commentary: The hosts are an up-and-comer, and could give the Scots and Irish a tumble, but there's too much quality from the traditional powers.

Pool B: (New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Namibia)
Winner: South Africa
Runner-Up: New Zealand
Faux-knowledgeable Commentary: They really needn't bother play out all the matches in this one. The drop in quality from the top two teams to the rest is river deep and ocean wide. New Zealand will rest their best players against South Africa, which will give the Springboks a chance to take the group.

Pool C: (England, France, Argentina, USA, Tonga)
Winner: England
Runner-Up: France
Faux-knowledgeable Commentary: What was all that crap about the USA making the semi-finals? Turns out we've never won more than one match in a World Cup, but this year we're gonna beat Tonga and upset Argentina, so...progress! And Remember 1924!

Pool D: (Wales, Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay)
Winner: Wales
Runner-Up: Fiji
Faux-knowledgeable Commentary: We're going a little out on a limb here. The Fijians are playing (sort of) close to home, they're fast and creative, and we really feel bad about picking chalk in all the rest of the pools. Vei Lomani!

England over Fiji
Ireland over South Africa
Wales over France
New Zealand over Scotland

Ireland over England
New Zealand over Wales

New Zealand over Ireland

And if the All-Blacks do lift their fourth Webb Ellis trophy, the guy second from left in the shot below won't be all that happy. Drunk, but not all that happy:

If you get Fairfax County Public Access television, you can watch Mr. KQ
wax knowledgeable about all things Rugby World Cup while wearing that hat.
In keeping with our tradition of finding the important things about sports, we'll also call your attention to a cool review of the kits worn by each of the teams. Rugby shirts sure have come a long way from when they were de rigueur for high school preppy kids. I had a few.

Follow this space for plenty of coverage from Japan. (Note: not likely to be plenty, and probably not from Japan, unless Zman or TR makes another trip there.) There will be plenty of Hightower references here over the next few weeks, though.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Time is a Flat, Lefthanded Circle

When I was a lad, my favorite professional athlete was Carl Yastrzemski. I practiced his pigeon-toed lefty stance, leaning forward just a bit, twirling my Wiffle bat towards the pitcher with my right hand before cocking it above my left ear. I was in Fenway Park on July 24, 1979 when he hit his 400th homer against Oakland's Mike Morgan.

So how cool do you think I found it when his grandson Mike, an outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, played his first big league game in Boston this evening? Or when he did this?

There are occasions in sport that are almost too good to be true. This one was both.

Monday, September 16, 2019

State of Play

From the desk of our OBX correspondent, a topic that hits close to home for several amongst the assembled Gheorghies, the role adults play in making youth sports more stressful and less fun than they should be and the associated consequences.

It’s a familiar sight. An athlete sits at a table behind a bank of microphones. He announces that he is retiring from competitive sports. The pressure has become too great at his age. He says that sports are no longer fun. He will miss his coaches and teammates, but it’s time to quit. Except that he is nine.

The commercial, which began running in August, was produced by the Aspen Institute as part of an initiative called “Don’t Retire, Kid.” The average child plays sports fewer than three years and quits by age 11, according to a recent study by the institute and Utah State University. In 2018, only 38 percent of kids age 6-to-12 played a sport, down from 45 percent a decade earlier, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. The reason most often cited is that sports were no longer fun.

The Aspen Institute is a think tank known mostly for convening smart and influential people to discuss high-minded issues – business, education, the environment, justice, global affairs. It also contains a division devoted to Health and Sport. Within that is the Sport in Society program, which began in 2011 and whose mission is, in its words: to convene leaders, foster dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sport serve the public interest, with a focus on the development of healthy children and communities.

Impediments to that goal are rising costs and, far too often, the adults in charge. On average, parents spend almost $700 per year on one child’s sports participation, according to the institute’s 2019 State of Play report. Plenty of parents spend thousands per year, depending on the sport and level of competition, with travel accounting for the largest outlay.

The report is interesting reading, 32 pages of trends, problems, charts, recommendations, and initiatives both local and national. Among the report’s troubling findings were that fewer than 20 percent of youth coaches have been trained within the past three years in CPR, basic first aid, concussion management and injury prevention. Parents surveyed that their kids’ greatest source of pressure comes from coaches. Specialization causes early burnout and repetitive stress injuries in still-developing bodies. Some parents push their kids behind the idea of earning college scholarships and perhaps professional careers. Some parents who wish to dial back from increasingly competitive and costly situations fear they can’t because to do so would cut off outlets and opportunities for their kids.

Kobe Bryant, who the institute enlisted as a spokesman in its effort, says in a spot, “Sports used to be something that kids go out and do for fun. But now it’s become so regimented where parents start to inject their own experiences or past failures onto their children, and it just takes the fun out of it.”

Granted, sports aren’t for everybody. But studies show that being active and playing sports as a kid can have physical, social and psychological benefits. Kids who play sports are less likely to be overweight or develop Type 2 diabetes. They are less likely to suffer from stress and depression, and more likely to be academically successful and attend college. They are more likely to remain active as adults and at least sweat a little between beer sessions.

(Ed Note: The institute may be rethinking its choice of spokesperson after Bryant publicly chastised a sixth-grader on Instagram for missing a playoff hoops game in favor of a dance recital. Hear the message, disregard the messenger, or something.)

For me, the most disheartening trend is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and how it relates to youth sports. One-third of kids age 6-to-12 in households with less than $25,000 income were physically inactive in 2018, compared to fewer than 10 percent of kids in households with income greater than $100,000. In households with incomes between $25,000-50,000, almost one-fourth of kids (24.5 percent) did not participate in a sport. The most promising and gifted kids are always going to be helped and subsidized, but this is about the vast majority being systematically excluded.

The report’s first recommendation is: ask kids what they want. In surveys where kids are asked to rank different components of playing sports, having fun, hanging out with friends, and learning new skills rate very highly. Elite level competition is generally way down the list.

Other recommendations include: reintroduce free play, so that not all activity is regimented; encourage sport sampling, and cut back on specialization and overtraining; revitalize in-town leagues, so that activities are available for kids and families of modest means; train coaches in basic first aid practices, as well as age- and talent-appropriate methods and messages.

It’s kids and sports. How did we muck it up this badly?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

People, Every Once in a Great While, Don't Suck

Arkansas State football coach Blake Anderson's wife Wendy passed on August 19, succumbing to cancer, that motherfucker. Anderson returned to coaching the Red Wolves last week, leading them to a 43-17 win over UNLV.

Today, in Athens, GA, Arkansas State is taking on the University of Georgia. The Bulldogs' colors are famously black and red.

And yet, a significant portion of the Sanford Stadium crowd is wearing pink in Wendy Anderson's honor.

That's a cool thing you've done, Bulldogs.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Life In Vain, Not So Much

Daniel Johnston died yesterday.

It's likely that at least some of you have heard of this enigmatic figure.  He was fascinating. Like can't-look-away fascinating.

Visual artist, musician, poet.

Manic depressive, bipolar, schizophrenic.

NPR called him a "troubled soul." This bit of information about sums him up, from Wikipedia:
In spite of Johnston being resident in a mental hospital at the time, there was a bidding war to sign him. He refused to sign a multi-album deal with Elektra Records because Metallica was on the label's roster and he was convinced that they were of Satan and would hurt him. Ultimately he signed with Atlantic Records in February 1994.
And the music... just wow. When he sings, your initial takeaway is... yeah, there's something wrong with Daniel. Your inner five-year-old voice is Daniel Johnston's outer persona, particularly when he sings. So... it sounds like a little kid with a disability singing super-simple lyrics over two chords of guitar? That must sound terrible, right?

Wrong. It's great. Well, by traditional aesthetics it may be unlistenable, and it's not for everyone, for sure, but if you can dig in, you'll definitely hear it in there.  The real beauty.

This is someone who was working at McDonald's in the early 1980's and would hand out his homemade cassettes with homemade cover art.
Kurt was a fan
Someone who sings about life -- and make no mistake, life was very difficult for Daniel Johnston -- in an unadulterated, wide-eyed way.
Someone who lived with his parents or in institutions for much of his life.
Someone who gained a cult following, defying all logic.
Someone who made his own brand of music and toured all over, playing his songs.
Someone who had a documentary made about him.
This is Daniel Johnston.

I could write more about him, but others have done it plenty, and done it way better than I could. His backstory in an article from the Austin paper, where he lived for a long time. Here's a recent NPR Tiny Desk recording. And you can just Google his name to find more than a few posthumous tributes. Here's the Austin rendition.

I mean, it's easy to shake your head when you read this.
In 1990, Johnston played at a music festival in Austin, Texas. On the way back to West Virginia on a private two-seater plane piloted by his father Bill, Johnston had a manic psychotic episode; believing he was Casper the Friendly Ghost, Johnston removed the key from the plane's ignition and threw it outside. His father, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, managed to successfully crash-land the plane, even though "there was nothing down there but trees". Although the plane was destroyed, Johnston and his father emerged with only minor injuries. As a result of this episode, Johnston was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

But then, watch this Austin City Limits rendition of one of my favorites of his, "Life in Vain." Judd Apatow says it "makes me cry every time."

His pièce de résistance is a song called "True Love Will Find You in the End."

The song is so simple. It's 1:48 long. It has a guitar quietly emanating a pair of chords in the far-off background. And the lyrics are just so simple. But they're really quite nice.

True Love Will Find You in the End

True love will find you in the end
You'll find out just who was your friend
Don't be sad, I know you will
But don't give up until
True love will find you in the end

This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking can it find you
'Cause true love is searching too
But how can it recognize you
If you don't step out into the light, the light

Don't be sad I know you will
Don't give up until
True love will find you in the end

And that voice.

Wilco, Beck, and many, many others have covered it. Decently. My favorite cover is by a band called Hey Marseilles.

But what any cover lacks is what makes Johnston's songs remarkable -- his plain, plaintive singing, the childlike quality that makes you not just hear it, not just listen to it, not just feel it, but it makes you think.

About what the fuck must be going on with that cat's head.
And his life.
And what it must have taken to throw himself out there like that.
And what odds he overcame in his life.
And how if he can do this, why can't I?
And lots of other things more specific and personal to you. That's the cool part of it.

People took to calling him "genius." Which bothered him, and which you don't need to do to someone suffering from those conditions. It's just a word in the end, and whether it bears truth or not when applied to Daniel Johnston, it doesn't matter. He created something that wasn't there, and his legacy is permanent. And it was, in its own way, really beautiful. Beauty does take some interesting shapes. 

Rest in peace, Daniel Johnston. In the end, it seemed that many people found their true love in your music and your art and your message. Here's hoping it found you.

"Don't be sad, I know you will."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friends.