Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning! Not this Sunday morning. I meant just a good, happy late July Sunday morning.

In honor of Sunday, the sun, funky music and post counts, I strenuously urge you all to crank this tune while enjoying the video with your whole family. And then enjoy your day as much as this guy enjoys dancing like no one's watching.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Little Guy Wins One!!

The last time I wrote about Jack Urbont's legal saga against Ghostface Killah and Sony Music it was to tell you that Mr. Urbont's appeal slogged on. Slog on it did ... and Mr. Urbont won! Well, he only won on one issue, but it's the big one. His federal copyright infringement claim still lives.

You could read the 32 page opinion here. Or you could read my shorter, breezier and wittier analysis here. As I said over a year ago:

I am, admittedly, a stupid guy, but the asserted facts in this case are too unclear for me to figure out exactly what happened. The preemption argument is stronger than the work for hire argument but even there, is it really clear what RZA copied from? So I don't think either side will win a motion for summary judgment--there's a genuine dispute.

The Court of Appeals also took the District Court judge to task on procedural issues (required joinder y'all!) and her substantive analysis of the case. They also threw shade at the District Court's legal research skills:

The district court characterized the presumption that the work was made for hire as “almost irrebutable” and held Urbont’s claims to a “clear and convincing” burden of proof. Urbont, 100 F. Supp. 3d at 353. It is the law of this Circuit, however, that the plaintiff need only establish the existence of a contrary agreement by a preponderance of the evidence. Playboy Enters., Inc., 53 F.3d at 554–55.

That might sound dry to laypeople's ears but it's a legitimate benchslap. And it completely upends my understanding of the little guy and his relationship to the big guy. Of course, Mr. Urbont could still lose after further discovery and trial. Bur for now he's going to bibbily bop some more. Because if your heart is in it right you'll bibbily bop all night.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Public Radio Gets It Done Again

My Saturdays typically involve running errands, attending pre-school birthday parties, visiting my in-laws and numerous other activities that require schlepping my kids around in the car. In an effort to expand their musical and cultural horizons, I try to listen to public radio when driving with my children. This is also a remarkably selfish act--most children's music sucks. Just because I'm driving a family truckster doesn't mean I have to be completely miserable.

zson likes to run errands with me in large part because I tear around with the windows down and, if it's between 1 pm and 3 pm on Saturday, Rex Doane's "Fool's Paradise" show blaring on the radio. According to Doane's website, "Fool's Paradise examines recorded music located somewhere between low brow and no brow. Vintage rockabilly, R & B, blues, vocal groups, garage, instrumentals, hillbilly, soul and surf set the stage for a three hour sonic excursion to nowhere." And that doesn't even begin to do the show justice--check out 15 years of playlists here. Doane plays lots of stuff from Decca Records, Norton Records and all sorts of other stuff I never heard before. Best of all, zson digs it.

Whilst trucking north on zvacation last week, slogging through the wasteland between Hartford and the junction of 84 and the Mass Pike, I found a rockabilly show in the 89 section of the FM dial (which is really an LED readout, but whatever). At least two zfamily members liked it so I stopped scanning. A few songs into the show, this happened:

Public fucking radio!! How have I never heard of this guy before?

Later on in our jaunt around northeastern Massachusetts I heard this joint on WERS:

The Beginning of the End?!? Again, how come I haven't heard their music before? Oh wait, I have ... as has Mark, Rootsy, TR and anyone else who listened to hiphop and/or hung out with me in the early 90's. Check the first 12 seconds of this song:

So the next time you have a long road trip, try listening to some oddball radio stations instead of simply putting your iPod on shuffle. You might find some cool music you never would've heard otherwise.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"This is required reading." - Toni Morrison

rob's recent hotel anecdote and several comments thereto reminded me of a post I wanted to write but never did. If you're unfamiliar with Ta-Nehisi Coates's writing, which often touches on race, I suggest you delve into his uniformly superb work. In particular, you should read Between the World and Me. Don't take my word for it. According to Toni Morrison, "This is required reading."

Coates wrote this as a letter to his son Samori in response to Samori's frustration after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other African-American men at the hands of white police officers. I won't try to distill the book down to a one sentence thesis because I'm not a good enough writer and because it wouldn't do the book justice. It's meant to be read and digested, then read again and again. You have the time to read it at least once--it's only 152 pages--and it will help you work through some of the points raised in rob's post and the comments. That said, the book makes clear that these types of deaths have been going on for generations. They're rising to prominence in white America's consciousness primarily because everyone over the age of 10 always carries a digital video camera with built-in live streaming capabilities. Everyone is suddenly a reporter.

I don't know how Coates packed so much into so few pages. I can't relate to everything for obvious reasons. But two things jumped out at me. First was his story about a college acquaintance named Prince Jones, which reminded me of my story about a high school acquaintance named Phil. Second was his discovery of the joys of travel and his simultaneous regret that he made this revelation well into adulthood, which reminded me of my own adult travel experiences. Reading both passages felt like I was having a conversation with the author, like he knew exactly how I felt and was writing sentences in response to my reactions to the preceding one. I was so moved that I considered writing him but didn't. What would I say? Or rather, how would I say it in the context of this incredibly personal, emotional and intimate piece of writing?

Like Coates I've tried to travel with my kids as much as possible, or at least more than my parents did with me. I like to listen to public/college radio when my kids are in the car. While driving from NJ to MA for last week's vacation, a Nina Simone song came on the radio and it blew me away. It's a cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" crossed with a mashup/poetry slam reading of David Nelson's "Today is a Killer." I was stunned that I never heard it before--I started listening to George Harrison in utero and I started listening to Nina Simone after hearing her music in a jazz class I took with rootsminer. What started out as a way to get three Area I credits out of the way turned into a lifelong love of a particular artist. Liberal arts education! Anyway, Coates wrote about Simone a couple times so in an effort to bring things full circle, I'm posting a video of Simone's extraordinary and deeply pessimistic song after encouraging you to read Coates's extraordinary and deeply pessimistic book.

I'll try to be lighter tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Return of The Test: Of Robots and Noodles

I know you've all been waiting with bated breath, but you can finally unbate it. The Test is back. This episode centers on robots, both televised and cinematic. There's also a frank discussion about noodles and some mention of intelligent apes.

Check it out, keep score, and determine how intelligent of an ape you are.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More Morgan EV3

I previously posted about the Morgan EV3. It appears that the design has been refined a bit since then and it is still gorgeous.

That said, I really wish they kept the headlight as a single off-center affair because the front end looks a bit like a cartoon clam now. As part of the launch, Morgan teamed up with Selfridges and nine other British companies to create a limited edition called "UK1909." So you not only get the car, you get customized luggage from Globetrotter, driving goggles from Linda Farrow, a white scarf from Alexander McQueen, and a shearling helmet from Karl Donoghue, and other similarly preposterous accouterments.

Here's an interview with Jon Wells, Morgan's head of design, explaining the project. I must warn you that Mr. Wells's youth will only exacerbate any preexisting inferiority complex you might have.

You should check out the photos of the cool styling details here. The reverse-neutral-drive selection knob absolutely kills me, it looks like something from a mad scientist's laboratory. The switchgear is marvelously steampunk too.

Don't start writing a check--only nine copies of this version will be made and all will be sold in the UK, which makes sense given the theme. Hopefully I'll be able to get the goggles, helmet and scarf separately.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Poke, Man. Go.

It never fails.

I don't get to California very often. In my 46-plus years, I might've made a dozen trips there. And every single time, I'm struck by how very different it is from the East Coast of my familiar haunting. Visually, ethnically, culturally, politically, and on and on. One small yet telling case in point:

I'm in Long Beach this week for a conference (did you know it's the nation's 36th largest city, bigger than St. Louis?). Downtown Long Beach is a cool mix of locally owned restaurants, bars, waterfront, and hotels and convention facilities (also, homeless people, surf bums, and loons). Many of the cross streets have walk/don't walk signals. As is the custom amongst East Coasters, I approach those don't walk signals, look both ways, and if there's no traffic coming, cross at my own risk. On multiple occasions while here, I've walked past locals waiting patiently for the light to change. And on more than one occasion, people have politely offered their concerns to me about the risk I'm taking.

Thank you, sweet and patient Californians, for your concern. I'm sorry I'm an East Coast asshole.

I also thank you for your culinary adventuring, and in particular, for introducing me to a whole new way to stuff my face.

Immediately adjacent to my (probably racist) hotel there's a Poke Bar. That's not, recent frenzied online activity aside, some sort of meeting place for Pikachu hunters. Rather, it's the most perfect evolution of the Subway, Chipotle, Potbelly mass customization concept.

Just like those fast casual concepts, you choose your base, your protein, and your fixings, but in the case of Poke Bar, your protein is raw fish - tuna, salmon, octopus, scallops, and so on. And the fixings are seaweed salad, jalapeno, pineapple, cucumber, kale, green onions, cilantro et al. Poke is a traditional Hawaiian mix, and it's perfect for this concept. It's fucking delicious, and I'll choose to believe that it's really good for me, too.

I've never had any interest in opening a franchise, but I'm seriously considering making a call to the owners of Poke Bar, who have twenty or so California-based locations today, and begging them to let me open some on the East Coast. That'll happen eventually, and it will kill. Hit me up in the comments if you want in.

And if you find yourself out West, get your poke on.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Your Daily What The Fuck

I don't know if our readers can tell, but I'm in the midst of a bit of a Blue Period, blog-wise. We're in bleak morherfucking times, boys and girls, and as much as I'd like to believe all that arc of the moral universe stuff, the bending of late trends towards fascist, fact-free, and the worst angels of our natures.

As today's evidence, I offer this anecdote:

I'm in Long Beach, CA for a conference - the town is a weird mix of stoner hip, aggro surf punk (think Point Break), tourist families, and seaport longshoremen. Because I procrastinated, I'm staying in a mid-tier hotel (no complaining, but it ain't a Kimpton). As it turns out, so is one of my colleagues.

The colleague in question is the former mayor of Minneapolis, a woman as accomplished as she is smart, dynamic, and fun-loving. She also happens to be African-American.

Over drinks, she told a story about her checking into the hotel. Among other things, she was asked to provide a security deposit, because, you know, sometimes people steal pillows. She asked me if I was required to do the same. I'll let you guess whether or not I was.

Let me reiterate that we're talking about the former mayor of one of America's largest cities. A woman who's always impeccably dressed and mannered, and as friendly and personable as you'd imagine someone who would rise to that kind of position might be. The person that checked her in was the general manager of the hotel. I know because he couldn't have been more accommodating to me - went out if his way to help me when I checked in early, actually - so I knew exactly who he was when she described him.

We were a couple of pops in, so I got a little pissed when she told the story - full of righteous indignation. She wasn't angry, though. Probably because this was just the latest in a lifetime of slights, politely offered. All she said (after insisting that I promise not to say anything to the hotel staff) was, 'we have to be better than this'.

And right now, I don't have the first fucking clue how that happens.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lionel Richie was the highlight of my month off between jobs!? Yes, yes it was.

The long lapse between my prior job, which formally ended on June 23, and my new job, which formally starts on July 25, is drawing to a close. While there was no big family event to mark the downtime, due to summer camps, travel soccer tournaments and other family obligations, there were (and still will be) some fun family events. Among them will be an impromptu visit to Yankee Stadium tonight to let my Oriole-loving 8 y/o see his team. Thanks to SeatGeek for helping me score field-level seats for $47/each (including fees!), but not for forcing me to navigate a byzantine labyrinth of app downloads and on-line transferring to make the actual tickets available in my iPhone.

It has been a fun month, one where I have worked out with fit mums at the local gym at 9 AM, taken my kids to the local pool club during the day, and qualmlessly imbibed whenever the mood struck. Yet there hadn't been a big moment to mark the extended time with the boys. That is, until last night.

I was taking the kids home from the pool club so I could grill for another family that was coming over (I have been getting plenty of mid-week grilling in, which has been fun). As they do every time they're in the car with me, my boys request SiriusXM channel stations. My 8 y/o has somehow decided he likes Channel 14 - The Blend. This station is AWFUL. It plays Sheeran, Beiber, Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, One Direction and the like, interspersed with 80's pop hits from Madonna, Whitney Houston and Stevie Winwood (his bad hits). I want to tell my son I love him less when he requests the station, but I reluctantly don't. And now he's gotten the 6 y/o into the station as well, who generally likes anything the older one likes. So I get songs like the one below crammed into my ear hole often. Nobody puts TR in the corner.

I occasionally indulge my boys' requests, but I often tell them we won't play it b/c Dad doesn't like it. The compromise we tend to land on (mostly b/c of my wife) is Channel 18 - "Limited Edition", which you all know as the current home of Yacht Rock. I originally found the yacht rock movement amusing, but a tiny bit silly. But I have come around on it b/c the music is just so damn pleasant. It's easy breezy - you can play it loud or soft, and you can sing along to parts of many of the tunes. It evokes vague memories of my childhood, such as remembering listening to Christopher Cross' "Ride Like The Wind" in the back seat of my parents' cigarette smoke-filled Thunderbird. I did not realize until recently the song had a cameo from Michael McDonald. Of course it did.

(Random segue here: the ads for Yacht Rock that play on other stations are tre-fucking-mendous. The two I've heard are: "Music as soft and lustrous as Michael McDonald's beard" and "Music from back in the day when the only log-ins you needed was Kenny." Well done, sirs.)

But back to last night. After leaving the pool club, I again got a Blend request, but told them we would leave the car tuned to Yacht Rock. And as the car started, Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" came on. My kids immediately loved it. They asked me to turn it up and said it sounded like a Hawaiian song. I began cranking it with the windows down in my Volkswagen CC. The drive to our house is about 2 minutes, so I began meandering around my neighborhood at 6:15 PM with two happy boys in the back who were loving Lionel, jumbo jumbo, fiesta forever, the funky brass accompaniment, and the fact that we were gonna have a party all night long. Or at least until the song ended and we pulled our car back in the driveway. But it was a splendid 3:47 stretch amid a picture-perfect late summer afternoon - three dudes basking in the awesomeness of Lionel at the peak of his pop powers. And if you choose to play the video below, think of listening to it with the mindset of a young kid who's never heard it before. It's hard to dislike.

I'm sure I'll forget this happiness tonight at the ball game, as my kids enter into sugar-induced meltdowns, which hopefully won't result in one kid crying, another kid peeing all over his underwear, and a dad losing his iPhone. Actually, maybe I won't. Thanks, Lionel.

Monday, July 18, 2016

3-12 . . . popout (2b) plus injury

A handful of Gheorghies have partaken in the decades-old board game Strat-o-Matic baseball through the years.  We played the dice and cards board game as kids; we now play the online version against each other.  It's a bit of a cult thing, and it can be addictive.

The premise is that most players from most seasons of pro baseball are represented in card form as parsed out by seasons.  So everyone from Babe Ruth's 1927 season to Mookie Wilson's 1981 season are reflected not just in statistics, but in outcomes for dice rolls.  They are facing real pitchers from history, so look out when Mookie steps in against Koufax's 1963 card.  You pick a team from history or create a mish-mash team, make the lineups and rotations, and play it out.

It's a great game for kids.  And adults with kids.  Okay, and adults.

Yep.  It's pretty nerdy.  Any surprise that William and Mary alums like it?

I was introduced to Strat-o-Matic by my grandfather and uncles, and they routinely hammered my teams after I was given the game as a Christmas gift.  I had the 1979 season.  They could make the Orioles beat my Pirates every time and mocked me incessantly.  They're bullies.

In the summer after our sophomore year, Rob and I lived in Williamsburg and took some classes.  And worked as Pizza Hut delivery guys.  And drank 40's.  And played out individual seasons from the 1985 set, him with the Red Sox and me with the Mets.  No idea how our teams ended up doing, but I can tell you how we ended up doing with the ladies that summer.  And I just remember the catcalls from our fratres across the den as we occupied the dining room table with dice, cards, and homemade box scores all summer.  It didn't hold up to cool-guy scrutiny 26 years ago and still doesn't, but we had fun.

We even broke it out at an Outer Banks Fishing Trip one year.  '86 version, and a Buckner error cost the Sox the rematch.  Uncanny.  Jerry was a witness.

Now it's online.  For a small fee you can get into a league against either your dorky buddies or strangers, draft a team with a salary cap (hey, a novel idea) and have a go.  What can I say, it's amusing.

And now there's a documentary released this year about the game.  It's interesting to see which big league players new and old are also Strat-o-Matic players.  Anyway, it's a neat little game that has lasted for 50 years.  Not bad.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Trusty Paper Clip

CBS is planning to reprise one of the great series of the modern era of television this Fall. Richard Dean Anderson isn't walking through that door, but that's not stopping this MacGyver reboot.

I'm torn, if we're being honest. I loved the original Mac. In a time when we watched what the three networks told us to watch, and we liked it, MacGyver and its belief-suspending wink and nod adventure was among the best things on television. The new version can't possibly succeed, if only because nobody watches network television any more.

But if nothing else, this news gives us a chance to celebrate Mac and his paper clip. And for that, I'm grateful.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Simpler Times

This is my favorite single song ever. It's blends melancholy and hopefulness with just about the perfect pop hook. In a time where melancholy and sadness runs far out in front of hope, maybe I'm just clinging to something that makes me happy. Hope you find some happy today, people of Gheorghe. There's a little light out there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


A semi-regular rundown of the things bouncing around one Gheorghie's mind:

Slap my ass and call me Sally, but the smartest thing said in American politics today came from the mouth of George W. Bush. Speaking at a memorial for the police officers slain in Dallas, the 43rd President said, "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” That's a blanket indictment of where we are right now as a society, and it's painfully accurate.

Charles Bukowski wrote his 1971 poem 'Beer' about women, mostly, but I find it fits a lot of life's situations. Here's a trippy visualization of it by NERDO:

My wife sent me a text this evening that read, "Task for you...softball/baseball related songs. Go." So I responded with the obvious, "Centerfield, John Fogerty." Not what she was looking for, apparently, as she quickly sent back, "Something with a sports tie in, that could work for a father daughter wedding song for a former college athlete bride." The obvious answer, "Basketball, Kurtis Blow."

Seriously, though, there's shit for decent sports-related music. Someone do something about that.

We're down to the Round of 16 in The Basketball Tournament, which increased the prize paid to the winning squad to $2 million. I thought this was a really cool idea last year when it premiered. Now, I'm convinced it's going to take over the world. My Twitter feed is thick with VCU fans, courtesy of FOG:TB Mike Litos, and those folks are going batshit over the RamNation entry in the bracket. The former Rams won their first two games, and face defending champion Overseas Express a week from Thursday.

VCU fans are fired up about TBT, but they're not nearly the only ones. Syracuse fans are backing Boeheim's Army. Gonzaga supporters are jacked up for A Few Good Men (get it?). Team Utah is repping an entire state. The whole concept is genius - play a basketball tournament for a lot of (winner-take-all) money during a time of year when there's no other hoops to compete, and spin up the passions of people that are fanatical about their schools.

Here me now and believe me later - this thing's going to be massive.

Someone should write a song about it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

High Times

In the midst of a bleak moment in our history, there's some interesting momentum related to a very different political issue.

The Democratic Party platform committee recently endorsed the following language as a component of the party's official platform:
"Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."
The vote was extremely close, and immediately contested by opponents in the party on technical grounds. But it ultimately stood, and in what is seen as a victory for supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is now the Democrats' official position.

There's obviously a long walk from 'a reasoned pathway for future legalization' to being able to buy a joint at Starbucks, but the fact that one of the two major political parties in our country has taken this step is, in the words of a great American, a big fucking deal. It'll happen - just a matter of when.

Meanwhile, just to our North, things are moving in the right direction even more quickly. Canada's ruling Liberal Party intends to introduce legislation in early 2017 legalizing marijuana use in the Great White North. Legalization was a major element of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's campaign last year, and is supported by a majority of Canadians (the same is true of a majority of Americans, for what it's worth. Observers in both countries speculate that, should the measure pass in Canada, American border states will be motivated to pass their own legalization laws in an effort to limit cross-border pot tourism.

So there is some progress towards rationality in the world, after all. Who knows, maybe when the day comes that we can all enjoy a legal toke together, we'll start solving some of our other issues.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

This Needs More Dipshittery

I went online this morning in search of some dipshittery to post, because, man, does the world need some dipshittery at the moment. Reality is far too real.

This post isn't dipshittery, though.

A conservative friend of mine posted the following video on Facebook today. Nearly 15 and a half million people - and counting - have watched it. In it, black country star Coffey Anderson presents a very earnest tutorial on how to behave if one is pulled over by a police officer.

It's all probably very good advice, and I have no doubt that Anderson has the very best of intentions. Hell, this might even help some people.

My overwhelming impression, though? This doesn't apply to me. I'm a white guy. By the accident of the amount of melanin in my skin, I don't need to worry about a police officer with the power to end my life being threatened by my existence.

That's the base truth. And I don't have the first fucking clue how to change that. I'm generally an optimistic dude at heart, but I'm feeling pretty goddamned depressed about the state of our national racial affairs. We're all talking at and past each other, we hear the things that bolster our arguments, we ignore the things that run counter to them, and far too few people are offering solutions.

This is not a zero sum game. Nobody needs to win if others lose. The very best tweet I saw in the morass of awful social media takes was offered by a woman named Erin Simpson, who said, "I don't want black men shot at traffic stops. I don't want cops shot by snipers. I don't want kids shot at school. I don't want any of this." 63,000 people retweeted her. But that's about all we did. And that's about all we'll do.

Have a terrific weekend.

Someone post something stupid.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Green and Gold (et Les Bleus)

It's stupid hot here in the Nation's Capital this week, which has us thinking thoughts of winter. Fortunately, we're only three months or so away from the start of college hoops season, so what better (in a completely unforced and artificial way) reason for a post about Tribe basketball.

This shot didn't fall, but Marcus did get the foul call
More accurately, about the current status of several of the pillars of the golden era of Tribe basketball.

Because of the tireless work of your humble editors here at G:TB, you're no doubt aware that Marcus Thornton enters his second season as a professional player with some work to do. W&M's all-time leading scorer struggled with consistency and his shot in his first season as a pro in both Australia and the D-League. He's playing once again with the Celtics' summer league team, starting and scoring 10 points in 21 minutes against Utah on Tuesday.

Thornton looked reasonably comfortable on offense, but got a shot blocked by Marcus Paige on an attempted step-back jumper, and missed his only three-point attempt. He worked harder on defense than I'd seen him do in the past, closing out on ballhandlers and fighting through screens. He's still got work to do there, though, and in distributing the ball from the point. I'm no expert, but my guess is that he's got a long and fruitful career as a foreign pro ahead of him, though the NBA may be a bridge too far.

Sean Sheldon's hoping for that same kind of career. The recent W&M graduate signed a pro contract with Energia Rovinari Targu Jiu of Romania's top league. The fighting Jius (not sure how that's pronounced, but maybe we don't tell the Trump campaign, just to be safe) finished 11th in the 12-team league last year, so Sheldon's size and strength can't hurt. Sheldon joins former St. John's forward Paris Horne on coach Ioannis Diamantakos' squad.

Do-everything small forward Terry Tarpey's likely to follow Thornton and Sheldon into the foreign professional ranks, but he's taking a summer detour first. Tarpey, born in Pouissy, France while his father played there in the 80s, is eligible to represent Les Blues in international competition. He tried out and made the French Team A (which, ironically, is actually the nation's B team) and flew to Beijing with the squad to participate in the annual Stankovic Cup. France won its first two games, defeating a partial Argentina squad, 64-57, and topping China's full Olympic side, 63-48. Since box scores are next to impossible to find and I've only got a few minutes here, I can't tell you how Tarpey did. But he looks happy in this picture (he's number 13, far right).

Tarpey's French citizenship will be a boon in his professional career, as he will qualify as a European for the purposes of roster composition. He'll have to learn French, he says, but that's a small price to pay.

More to come, as we learn to navigate foreign websites and read Romanian.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

G:TB Rhombus Contest

FBI Director Jim Comey (W&M Class of '82) issued a statement this morning about the Bureau's thorough investigation of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's actions as Secretary of State. As nearly every sentient American knows, the former Secretary of State allegedly mishandled classified email messages, using a personal server to route certain personal messages.

Director Comey minced no words in his characterization of Mrs. Clinton's carelessness, but he stopped short of labeling her actions criminal. He, in fact, said that no reasonable prosecutor would move forward with charges. All of which served as red meat to the respective partisans of the two major parties. Today's gonna be neat on the internet.

But perhaps lost in all the political kerfuffle was Comey's assertion that Clinton's email signature included a Jimmy Buffett quote. At least one of you is (or was) a fervent Buffett fan with an encyclopedic recall of the legendary performer's lyrics. And so we offer it up to you, G:TB fam: what was Secretary Clinton's email signature?

We're betting it wasn't this.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Novak Ain't No Djoke ... ovic ... Or Is He?

I started writing this post before Novak Djokovic lost to Sam Querrey in the third round of Wimbledon today. The loss makes it easier for me to distill my thoughts, although I'm sure Djokovic would prefer for me to have a harder time putting my thoughts together if it meant he was still playing.

Professional athletes are judged, rightly or wrongly, by how many titles they win. Golfers and tennis players are judged by how many majors they win, and both sports treat winning a Grand Slam as a cross between the Holy Grail, the White Whale, and the scene where Heather Graham takes her clothes off for the first time in Boogie Nights. In Andre Agassi's book Open, when Brad Gilbert wanted to stress how well Andre Agassi played in the four majors starting with the 1999 French Open and ending with the 2000 Australian Open, he noted that Agassi went 27-1 and that the only person to do better than that in a four major stretch in the Open era was Rod Laver. (And parenthetically, I think Djokovic is evolutionary Agassi, or what Agassi could've been if he really liked or wanted to play tennis.)

This influenced how I view a player's career over time. You have to win seven matches to win a major. If you win 20 matches in major play in one year, then on average you made the semi-finals in each tournament. That's pretty spectacular, and when you add in the fact that 20 is a nice round number I decided that a 20 win season is a good barometer for a tennis player's performance.

Why should you give a shit? Because Novak Djokovic is quietly putting together one of the best men's tennis careers of the Open era. I say quietly because he doesn't get nearly as much coverage as Tiger Woods or Mike Tyson in their primes, or Michael Phelps during the run-up to any particular Olympics, or Derek Jeter buying a grande Sumatra at Starbucks. Yet he's doing stuff just as impressive as what those guys did.

And the coverage he gets misses this point. When he lost today, ESPN posted an article stating that the loss "carried away Djokovic's Wimbledon title, his attempt to tie Rod Laver's consecutive Grand Slam win streak at 31 and his drive to try for a calendar year Grand Slam at the US Open." ESPN's tennis homepage said "Novak Djokovic was drowned in a sea of Sam Querrey aces and forehand blasts, thus failing to add another chapter to his legend."

Rather than look at what Djokovic failed to do, let's take a look at what he's accomplished ... over the past five years. It's really impressive. I don't care what Rakim says, I'd like to be a djoke.

To start with, Djokovic held all four major titles at once until today--a Tiger Slam or a Serena Slam, or a Djokovic Slam if you will. The only man to win all four tennis majors in one calendar year in the Open era is Rod Laver. Parenthetically, if you talk to an old tennis fan he or she will tell you that Laver is the best ever. From 1959 to 1962 he played in eleven major finals, winning six, including a Grand Slam in 1962. Then he turned pro and played in fifteen Pro Slam tournaments, reaching fourteen finals and winning eight. Then the Open era started in 1968. He played in three majors that year, reaching the finals in two and winning one. He won the Grand Slam again in 1969 (clicks). It's a preposterous performance timeline. Lord knows how many majors wins he'd have if he hadn't turned pro or if the Open era started in 1955. And the best sneaker ever is named after him.

All this is to say that ESPN should pipe down about Djokovic failing to win a calendar Slam. Much like pimpin', it ain't easy.

Back to the Djokovic Slam, which is four majors in a row. The list of men who won four majors in a row in the history of tennis is Don Budge (six in a row from 1937-38), Laver (four in a row twice), and Djokovic. That's it. That's the list. So ESPN should lay off the "failing to add another chapter to his legend" nonsense. The Djokovic Slam is legendary.

In fact, Djokovic's previous five years have been legendary. I checked out the stats of everyone who won five or more majors in the Open era and made a table analyzing each player's five best consecutive years in major play. I picked five because that's a pretty long window of time in a tennis player's career and I wanted to analyze dominance over a significant period of time. I left off Laver and John Newcombe because their careers started before the Open era and that screwed up my comparisons. I also included Andy Murray because, well, you'll see.

Here's the table. The first column of numbers reflects the best five year span in the player's career in terms of wins at major tournaments, the next column reflects the losses, and the next column reflects the winning percentage. These three columns do not reflect the results of the 2016 season because the US Open wasn't held yet. The "best 1 loss streak" reflects the player's best streak in major play including one loss. For example, Nadal won the 2010 French, Wimbledon, and US Open (21 wins) then made the quarters of the 2011 Australian (4 wins) and won the 2011 French (7 wins). He then won 6 matches at Wimbledon in 2011. So that's 38-1 before his second loss (in the Wimbledon finals). I only measured streaks that started with a major win. The rest is self-explanatory. (And it might be easier to see if you click on the table.)

What does all this mean? Let me give you some context. Jim Courier is a Hall of Famer, was #1 in the world for 58 weeks, went 4-3 in major finals from 1991-1993 and won 62 major matches over that span. He won 118 matches at major tournaments in his career. Djokovic won 122 from 2011-2015. Only Federer was better over a five year stretch.

Speaking of Federer, he reached all four finals three times (2006, 2007, 2009). That's nuts. In 2006 and 2007 he won three finals and lost only the French (to Nadal both times). That's also nuts.

More context. Bjorn Borg played tennis for nine years but only played in one Australian Open. I guess he dislikes the southern hemisphere. Anyway, this means he amassed all his stats playing in only three tournaments a year so his two 20 win seasons are Herculean (or at least Federerean). Between 1976 and 1981 he played in seventeen majors and reached the finals fourteen times. Borg was good at tennis.

Similarly, McEnroe skipped ten Aussies, six French and two Wimbledons. Connors eschewed the Australian all but twice, winning once and losing the finals in the other. Connors also ignored the French ten times. If you filter the table by 5 year win percentage you get this:

This jibes with my sense of history a little bit more. Borg is on top, McEnroe and Connors move up, and Agassi/Edberg/Becker are at the bottom fringe. Djokovic is still in the top three. Interestingly, I remember Wilander as being a force of nature and expected him to be higher, but he had peaks and valleys in majors, aside from his mammoth 1988 season.

Djokovic's 122 wins over 5 years correspond to an average of 6.1 wins per tournament. This means his average finish at majors was a finals appearance. If Djokovic loses in the semis he had a below-average tournament. Federer averaged 6.35 wins and Borg 6.21 wins per tournament at their peaks. Again, these numbers are for periods of five years. That's inhuman dominance. Note that these averages reflect the actual number of majors each person played in their peak five years. If you just assume 20 games as the denominator Borg looks less inhuman.

What about the streak? Djokovic looks pretty good in that regard as well. Second-best after Federer's aforementioned gonzo run from 2006-2007.

Djokovic is also top-three in 20 win seasons, and he already has sixteen so far this year. [When I was almost done with this monstrosity I realized that Lendl had seven 20 win seasons, not six. I'm too lazy to fix it and it doesn't change the rank order outcome.]

And I think this is an interesting statistic despite the fact that several great players only appeared in three tournaments a year. It's not like they had to swim to Australia. They could've gone.

Only Federer has appeared in more major finals than Djokovic. Again, these numbers are possibly skewed by the fact that several players didn't appear in four tournaments a year, but then again, why should we hold that against anyone who plays in all four?

Djokovic has won a major event in each of the past six years. Only four men have done better. Borg and Federer come up again because they're Borg and Federer. Sampras and Nadal have more because they dominated on one surface.

The only metric that puts Djokovic in the middle of the pack is finals win percentage.

Pistol Pete though! Note that he was 7-0 at Wimbledon and 7-4 everywhere else ... which by itself is still 64%, close to the top of this list.

This table also brings Andy Murray into focus. By almost every other measure, Murray is equivalent to Becker and Edberg, two all-time greats. But he's only 2-8 in major finals. You might thing it's because he "can't win the big one." I think it's because he has shit luck:

Murray appeared in ten major finals and faced Federer or Djokovic--the two guys at the top of almost all of the preceding lists--every time! It's hard out here for a Scotsman.


Also, Ivan Lendl was really really good. We, or at least I, forget about this. He was dominant in the mid-to-late 80s but for whatever reason is remembered almost entirely for failing to win Wimbledon. But the guy was a human metronome in multiple ways. His strokes were so grooved that he was criticized for being robotic and his power baseline game was sneered at as boring. As I type this I see that there's a fucking typo in my table but I'm too lazy to fix it now--Lendl had seven 20-win seasons and they were consecutive. Five of them were 20 wins right on the nose. Dude was consistent, and consistently good. He was also a workout fanatic. Some even said that Lendl wasn't that talented, he just worked his ass off to become a tennis machine--as if that's not admirable! Fast forward 20-30 years and everyone is a workout fanatic with a power baseline game. He was ahead of his time.

What's my point about Djokovic? In the 48 year history of men's Open tennis, only a handful of people have played at Djokovic's level of the last five-and-a-half years. Rather than focus on all the things he can't accomplish because he lost a third round match to the number 41 player in the world, we should look at everything he did before that and say "Holy shit, we just saw something special" or even better "Holy shit, we're in the middle of something special, we need to pay attention before it's gone forever!"

So watch more tennis and enjoy Djokovic while you can.