Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ryan's Record Says Mediocre

  “You are what your record says you are” ― Bill Parcells

  The Buffalo Bills were eliminated from playoff contention last week with their 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins. The loss gave the Bills a 6-8 record on the season which ensured that they won’t match last year’s 9-7 mark. A 9-7 may not seem great but it was the best Bills record since 2004 and convinced then head coach Doug Marrone to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract that allowed him to resign, and collect his full 2015 salary. Marrone interviewed for the vacant New York Jets job but didn’t get it and became an assistanct coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

  To replace Marrone the Bills turned to Rex Ryan who had just been fired as coach of the Jets after six seasons. Under Ryan’s watch the Jets made the AFC championship game in his first two years and didn’t post a willing season or a playoff appearance in his last four with two 8-8 records to go along with a 6-10 mark and a 4-12 record in his final Jets season.

  Ryan was given a five year 27.5 million dollar contract to coach the Bills. At the time, Bills owner Terry Pegula said "We look forward to his leadership and expertise in directing our team to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans." Before the season started Ryan said "We definitely expect to be in the playoffs. We have a good team." And yet here are the Bills sitting at 6-8, out of the playoffs, and whale they are a mediocre team are decidedly not good. Two of their six wins have come against .500 or better teams (the 7-7 Houston Texans and the 9-5 New York Jets) and three of their losses have been againt sub .500 teams (the 6-8 Giants and Eagles and the 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars).

  The thing that I wonder why a team with a 9-7 record on the cusp of the playoffs that suddenly finds themselves in need of a coach would pick a coach coming off a 4 year playoff drought with a 4-12 record? On the surface it seems ludicrous but Rex Ryan did take the Jets to two AFC championship games and the New York media made him out to be a larger than life character despite the four non-winning seasons that followed. Terry Pegula is the new owner of the team and probably thought it would be a public relations coup for his small-market upstate New York team to hire the media darling big city football coach.

  A month ago the Bills were on the fringes of the AFC playoff race with a 5-4 record but have become undone with four losses in their last five games. The team has been one of the most penalized in NFL history and has been just good enough to lose by 8 points or less to the Patriots twice. Meanwhile the Jets hired a hungry first time coach in former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and have a 9-5 record behind journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, journeyman running back Chris Ivory, and free agent pickups Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall.

  I can’t imagine Pegula eating the 22 million left on Ryan’s contract but someone has to take the blame for the team’s shortcomings. The most likely candidate is general manager Doug Whaley. Whaley drafted Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel with the Bills #1 draft pick in 2013. Manuel lost his starting job last ear to injury and this year to journeyman Tyrod Taylor. I wouldn’t hold one draft pick against Whaley since a roster good enough to go 9-7 must have assembled some talent. Perhaps the biggest mark against Whaley is that he was in charge of the coaching search that led to the hiring of Ryan.

  To give you an idea of why the media is so enamored of Rex Ryan, here is a sampling of quotes from his post-game press conferences this year. These quotes make for great stories and are nothing like what other coaches have to say after games.
"It's on my shoulders. Belichick outcoached me. No question about it." September 20th after a 40-32 loss to the Patriots
"Can we play a lot smarter? Absolutely…Say what you want, but I'll take a team that will fight." October 4th after a 24-19 loss to the Giants
"You take away this guy, you take away that guy…Well, this other dude beats you.'' October 18th after a 34-21 loss to the Bengals
"Anything that could go wrong did go wrong" October 25th after a 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London where the Bills were penalized 10 times, lost 2 fumbles, and had 2 interceptions
"Our D never looked great, but we had our moments." November 8th after a 33-17 win over the Dolphins
"I can tell the truth, this thing is kind of like being dumped by some girl you have the hots for. Every guy in this room has been dumped by a girl. You move on, and every now and then, they call you back. 'And they can't have you back.'" November 13th after a 22-17 win over the Jets
"I thought we were the better team, but obviously we got beat. We have ourselves to blame." December 13th after a 23-20 loss to the Eagles
"Did it go according to plan? No, not this year" December 20th after a 35-25 loss to the Redskins

  Rex Ryan is a popular coach with fans, media, and players but at the end of the day like Bill Parcells say “You are what your record says you are” and Ryan’s mediocre record of 52-58 says that Rex Ryan is a mediocre coach. If Pegula fires Whaley the new GM will be stuck with a coach he didn’t hire that the media will cover in a favorable light. If Pegula fires Ryan he will be admitting to a very expensive mistake. If it was me I’d give Whaley the chance to continue to build the team and let him decide Ryan’s fate but it is more likely Whaley will be shown the door and Ryan given more authority to send the Bills latest rebuilding effort down the drain.

Friday, December 25, 2015

NBA Predictions December 25th, 2015

There are five games in the NBA's traditional wall to wall nationally televised Christmas schedule and all five games look tempting from a betting perspective. Wednesday's 1-2 record trimmed my mythical winnings to $320 with my record of 23-18-2. Today I will take depart from my usual liking for road teams and pick three teams that are at home or very close to it. As usual I'll pick today's games using the the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered (although for recordkeeping purposes I'll bet $110 to win $100 on each game.

Chicago Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder
The Bulls have lost 3 games in a row and their best player Jimmy Butler has publicly criticized new coach Fred Hoiberg for being too laid back. I expect the Bulls to give their best effort for their national television appearance and I expect it to make no difference against the Thunder, winners of 3 straight and and 9 of 10 with 5 blowouts. I will take the Thunder and happily give the 9 points.

San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
The Rockets have rebounded slightly after firing coach Kevin McHale and evened their season record at 15-15. Even though the Rockets have won their last three home games I'll be picking the Spurs since they have won their last seven games with six coming by blowout. My only concern in giving the 7 points is that the Spurs are on the front end of a back to back and may rest some players but I think the resting will happen in tomorrow's home game agianst the Nuggets and not under the glare of the national spotlight.

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
The Clippers were my pick to win the championship yet here they are limping along with a 16-13 record. The Clippers have lost three in a row to the Spurs, Rockets, and Thunder by 10 or less points. Meanwhile the Lakers are playing their best ball of the season with 2 wins in 5 games after breaking their 6 game losing streak. I am not a buyer of the Kobe farewell tour hype and expect the Clippers to take out their frustrations in what is nominally a Lakers home game (the two teams play in the same arena) and easily cover the 11.5 points.

I am not picking the Cavaliers-Warriors game which is the most anticipated game so far this season. The Warriors are 7 point favorites but I expect the Cavaliers to cover the spread and probably win outright. Having said that I have been wrong about the Warriors all season long so I will keep my money in my pocket and enjoy this game as a fan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

NBA Predictions December 23rd, 2015

None of yesterday's games caught my eye (although I was quite close to giving away $110 by picking the Nuggets at home giving 6 points to the Lakers). I split Monday's picks when the Clippers stayed close enough to the Thunder to cover the 2 point spread, losing by 1. My season results stand at a plus $440 mythical dollars with a record of 22-16-2. As usual I'll bet tonight’s NBA games using the the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers
Not only did the Lakers cover last night against the Nuggets, they won the game behind 31 points from soon to be retired Kobe Bryant. I can;t expect this kind of performance two games in a row. These two teams met last week in Oklahoma City with the result being a 40 point Thunder win. I expect this game to be closer but unless the Thunder have been hitting the LA party scene I expect then to easily cover the 13 point spread and will make a $110 wager on it to win $100.

Memphis Grizzlies at Washington Wizards
The Grizzlies played last night in Philadelphia and blew out the hapless 76ers (now the 1-29 Philadelphia 76ers). The Wizards have had two days off but I will pick the Grizzlies because they have a 5-1 mark on the second half of back to back games which includes a 112-95 thumping of these same Wizards in Memphis earlier this month. As a bonus I will even be getting a point for my $110 bet.

Dallas Mavericks at Brooklyn Nets
The Mavericks fell behind early to the Toronto Raptors last night which caused coach Rick Carlisle to empty his bench and rest his starters. The reserves nearly pulled off the comeback but lost by 4 in the end. After the game Carlisle blasted the starters lack of effort and threatened his players saying "Look, if it's going to be like that, these guys aren't going to be Mavericks very long". I expect Carlisle's rant to have a short term effect on his fundamentally flawed team even though the Nets are coming off an upset win in Chicago to break their 5 game losing streak I'll lay then 3.5 points against the Nets in Brooklyn for a $110 bet.

Monday, December 21, 2015

NBA Predictions December 21st, 2015

I went 2-1 on yesterday’s predictions with the Timberwolves easily covering 1.5 points on the road against the hapless Nets and the Cavaliers also easily covering the 16 point spread at home against the now 1-28 Philadelphia 76ers. The Cavaliers game was worrisome since anything can happen in garbage time but the 76ers are so historically bad the outcome was never in doubt. The Pelicans spoiled my chance at a perfect day with a comeback win over the Nuggets. Yesterday’s results boosted my mythical winnings to $450 and my record to 21-15-2. Today I will be picking from the best of tonight’s NBA games using the the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers
This is a battle between two hot teams. The Thunder have won seven of eight with the loss on the road against the Cavaliers in which they blew double digit leads twice. Meanwhile the Clippers had won six of seven before losing back to back road games to the Spurs and Rockets over the weekend. I believe the Thunder will make this a statement game and blow out the Clippers so I will give the two points and take the Thunders for $110 to win $100

Indiana Pacers at San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have gone 9-1 in December with eight double digit wins. The Pacers were on a 3 game winning streak until they lost in Memphis on Saturday. The Pacers have lost their last four road games three by double digits. The Spurs likely won’t be resting players since they last played Friday and won’t play until Wednesday so I will pick the Spurs to continue their spectacular play and give the 8.5 points on a $110 bet.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

NBA Predictions December 20th, 2015

The NBA season is a third over and will start to take center stage in the sports world on Christmas Day. My predictions haven’t generated the traffic I would have hoped after last year’s spike when my playoff predictions made the second page of the Bing search engine so I am going to give my predictions their own blog post and title to make it easier for the search engines to locate them. Last Monday's picks went 1-2 with a push to drop my mythical winnings to $360 and my record to 19-14-2. As usual, today’s picks will be made using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 76ers experiment in losing to gain top draft picks seems to be at an end with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as the overseer of basketball operations and Mike D’Antoni as associate head coach, The 76ers have won only one of their first 28 games this year and have been particularly futile of late with three straight 20 point blowouts in road games. Today the 76ers take their show on the road against the Eastern Conference leading Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have struggled at home lately, winning three of four by five points or less. Despite the Cavaliers not being able to run up the score at home lately I will give the 16 points and bet $110 to win $100 that the Cavaliers will have a breakout game fueled by their inept opposition and the return of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Brooklyn Nets.
The Timberwolves broke their four game losing streak on Friday night at home against the Kings while the Nets four game losing streak continues. The Timberwolves had been playing wel l on the road but have lost their last four games away from Minneapolis. The Nets have been able to play good teams close during their losing streak while still managing to lose. While I’m concerned about the young Timberwolves possibly partying too late for today’s noon start I will bet on youth and pick the Timberwolves to cover the 1.5 points they are giving to win $100 on a $110 wager.

New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets.
The surprising Nuggets have followed a eight game losing streak by winning five of their last seven (including a win in Toronto over the Raptors) to put them on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff race. Tonight the Pelicans finish their five game road trip in the Mile High city, having lost three out the first four. While the Pelicans have played better of late I think the Nuggets will wear them down with their superior depth in the thin mile high air and will give the point to pick the Nuggets on a $110 wager.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jason's Fair Share

  Jason tried to walk through the front door of the state lottery office in as unassuming a way as possible so he wouldn’t get mugged but could hardly conceal his excitement at winning the Mega Trillions Pick 38. He decided the first place he would go as a trillionaire would be the McMarvins that laid him off two years ago. Jason thought that was his career job and even though it was minimum wage his family was living quite nicely after the minimum wage act raised his pay to $47.50 an hour. Then those corporate rats unveiled the McShortOrderCook3000 and the McOrderTaker2500 which led to mass layoffs except for one person per shift to take out the trash, sweep the floors, clean the bathrooms, and wheel out a spare machine in case of a breakdown.

  It seemed un-American to lay off so many McMarvin employees but the government and public went along with it since the Big Marvin Meal was going to be reduced in price from $62.75 to $41.50. It was hailed as a victory for the common people for all but the common McMarvin employees. Jason tried to get one of the remaining jobs (which paid $52.50 an hour) but with only a degree in Chemical Engineering he couldn’t compete with the youngsters with Social Networking degrees that could get the company more likes, looks, and relikes while performing their menial duties.

  It wasn’t as if being unemployed the last two years was so bad. Jason and his family got free food, health care, rent, and a clothing allowance from the government. He even got a free iPhone 14 as part of the Connected America for All Act. The only downside to his iPhone was that the govNet wireless internet was constantly going down due to the usage rates. Jason didn’t even have to pay for his Mega Trillions ticket since he got a free ticket into every drawing as part of the America Has Hope Act. Still there was something that spoke to Jason’s soul about earning a living by the sweat of his brow and his skills of persuasion in convincing customers to Ultra-size their meal for an extra $20 dollars.

  Yes, that Double Cheese McMarvin was going to taste good and with the Mega Trillions prize money Jason thought he might even have 2 of those $38.50 burgers and a $25 MarvShake to go along with it. As he pressed the elevator button to get to the 11th floor lottery claims office, Jason let out an involuntary laugh as he thought of asking for extra pickles and extra secret sauce on his Double Cheese McMarvin which occasionally caused the McShortOrderCook3000 to jam its robotic arms together if they weren’t in perfect alignment.

  Jason put his thoughts on hold as the elevators opened to a sterile office lobby. The receptionist coolly asked if he could help Jason. Jason told him he had the winning Mega Trillions ticket. The receptionist asked Jason to scan the ticket using the device on his desk. Once Jason’s ticket was verified the receptionist’s disposition immediately brightened as he asked Jason to wait a few moments. The receptionist made a phone call and announced that Jason would be taken care of in a few moments.

  After a few minutes Jason was getting a little edgy but a movie star looking woman burst into the lobby surrounded by a camera crew and brightly said “Here’s our newest Mega Trillionaire!” She introduced herself as Hela Vaday, the Mega Trillions lottery director/cheif spokesperson and brought Jason to a brightly lit auditorium that was just off the lobby. As she was leading Jason to the podium in the front of the auditorium, Hela told Jason that in order to collect his winnings he had to give a promotional interview so more people would be encouraged to play Mega Trillions.

  Jason hadn’t told anyone he had even won the Mega Trillions lottery, much less that he was heading to the lottery office to turn over the ticket this morning. Nevertheless there were at least a dozen reporters in the auditorium. Jason told the reporters about how he was laid off for the last two years and that he was going to take his prize of 131 trillion dollars less taxes in 20 equal payments so he wouldn’t do anything rash with such a huge prize. His favorite part of the interview was when a reporter told him he could blow his nose with hundred dollar bills for the rest of his life. Jason replied “If I need to blow my nose I’ll buy a Kleenex factory” and it drew a nice laugh. He posed for pictures with a giant check made out to him with ‘$131,000,000,000,000.00’ printed on it and then sat down with Hela to do the paperwork.

  Hela had a laptop and some forms for Jason to sign and said “I understand you want to take your prize in 20 annual payments. We can process that and give you your first installment right now.” Jason agreed thinking that 2 or 3 trillion dollars a year after taxes would be more money than he could ever spend. “Just print right here” said Hela as she handed him an electronic fingerprint pad. Jason pressed his right index finger on the pad and in seconds his identity was verified as the owner of the winning ticket.

  “Now that your identity and the winning ticket has been verified Jason, lets crunch the numbers!” said Hela. Jason just wanted his money but he knew that the various government entities would all have their hands out and he would just have to see how bad it would be. Hela started the run down. “Well Jason, 131 trillion dollars is quite a bit of money. Let’s see. There is 38% for the federal government which is 49 trillion seven hundred and eighty billion dollars; 8% for the state government. That’s another 10 trillion four hundred eighty billion dollars.” Jason was getting dizzy from watching Hela’s fingers flying over her laptop as she continued. “Unfortunately your city of residence requires a 4 percent payment which is five trillion two hundred forty billion dollars. That leaves a subtotal of 65 trillion dollars.”

  Jason’s mouth was turning to cotton as he stammered out “subtotal? There’s more?” Hela quickly replied “Just the Fair Share Tax surcharge. I’m sure you read about it. It’s the new tax passed on the 1% percent this year to help pay off the budget deficit in order to create a stronger nation for all and balance the budget in less than 30 years.” Jason shuddered as he remembered voting for all the candidates who were for the Fair Share Tax surcharge because there money set aside for new 3D curved 128 inch vidscreens for unemployed people who couldn’t afford new vidscreens. At the time it seemed like a good idea and the vidscreen is spectacular. “How much is the surcharge?”

  “Let’s see. This year we need to divide the amount of deficit reduction target by the number of people in the top 1% of income. You are in the top 1% with your three trillion two hundred seventy five billion dollars and there are 51,200 in the one percent pool. So I just have to divide this years’ target of 167 quadrillion 679 trillion, 999 billion 998 million, and 31 thousand dollars by 51,200 and there it is! Your Fair Share Tax Surcharge for this year is three trillion 274 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand, 961 dollars and 55 cents.”

  Jason felt numb as he asked “How much is left?” Hela replied “38 dollars and 45 cents! I could give you a check but we have that much in our petty cash box.” Hela counted out the money and handed it to Jason saying “It was so nice to meet you and congratulations on winning Mega Trillions! I hope you’ll keep on playing Mega Trillions. Don’t forget – you have to be in it to win it!”

   Jason felt like he was outside his body as he moved to the elevator with his $38.45 which wasn’t even enough for one Double Cheese McMarvin. “How could this be happening? This must be some sort of a mistake or joke” he thought as he pressed the elevator button when he hear Hela shout “Jason, wait a second!” Jason felt a sigh of relief as he knew this was some sort of reality vid gag but Hela just gave him a scrap of paper and said “I almost forgot. We have a special gift for all lottery winners this month! Have a great day!” And with that Hela was gone. Jason glumly got in the elevator and looked at the scrap of paper on his way back to the street. It was a coupon to get a dollar off a Double Cheese McMarvin…

Monday, December 14, 2015

For a Fistful of Dollars

Welcome to the new Dollar Tree of Marshalltown, Iowa. 'Bucky' the Dollar Tree mascot was at the Grand Opening on Thursday.

  The Long John Silver’s restaurant in Marshalltown closed last year. The building remained abandoned until this summer when it was demolished. The lot was repaved, a new foundation was poured, and a new building quickly started taking shape. I was hoping it would be an Olive Garden but we soon found out the new building was going to be the new home of the Dollar Tree which was going to be moving from its current tiny location buried next to the closed Staples store, the closed Econo Foods store, and a nail salon.

  I love all dollar stores and the Dollar Tree is the best of class in that particular department. It has a steady supply of closeouts, bargains, not so top quality merchandise, and top quality merchandise in tiny portions. Two months ago the old Dollar Tree stopped restocking their shelves and moving their remaining inventory to the front of the store. I went there to get some dollar store items as bribes for my chess club at St. Francis and the pickings were getting pretty slim. The Dollar Tree clerks told me that the new store was going to open in December and they were running a skeleton staff until then.

  Last week the grand opening of the new Dollar Tree was announced for Thursday December 10th. I happened to have the day off in order to get some warranty work done on my car so Kathy and I took a trip to the new Dollar Tree. The parking lot was so full that we had to park in the bank across the street but the new Dollar Tree was so roomy that once we were inside it didn’t seem crowded at all.

  The old Dollar Tree was very tiny with five aisles with a counter with two registers. The new store was massive by comparison with five registers, ten aisles, and coolers for cold and frozen food. Kathy and I inspected each aisle. There was the same Dollar Tree merchandise just a lot more of it. One entire wall consisted of gift bags with different holiday sayings in different holiday colors. While the old store had room for a few cans of vegetables the new store has an entire section of canned vegetables.

In addition to name brand cereal knock-offs, the new Dollar Tree has an impressive selection of canned vegetables at 79 cents a can which may or may not be a bargain.

  The vegetables highlight one of the things to keep in mind when Dollar Tree shopping – just because an item is a dollar or less doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. A can of Libby’s green beans may seem like a great price at 79 cents a can but many supermarkets regularly beat that price. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of name brand imitations. A cursory glance found a ‘Just For Men’ knockoff as well as items purporting to be cheese and sour cream but were really fakes made of mostly vegetable oil. I saw a can of what looked like frozen orange juice. Closer inspection revealed that it contained ‘10% juice when properly reconstituted’.

The Dollar Tree has it's share of knockoffs some of which are disguised more than others. On the left is just FOR MEN hair color not JUST FOR MEN. The item in the center looks like cheese but is really 'sandwich slices'. At least the SOURCREME on the right is clearly labeled as UNREAL...

  While the savvy shopper needs to be aware of ripoffs at the Dollar Tree there are plenty of bargains. A tube of name brand toothpaste for a buck is a good deal. I also saw brooms for a dollar which could only be bad if it snapped in half on the first use.

There is some top quality merchandise at The Dollar Tree. The toothpaste for a buck seems like a bargain and would be especially useful if you fail the marijuana test.

  Kathy and I did most of our shopping in the new frozen and cold food section of the Dollar Tree. There were plenty of frozen dinners for a dollar as well as overpriced chicken pot pies. I noticed that eggs were a dollar for a half dozen. I got a meatball hot pocket and a berry pot pie and Kathy got a box of six frozen pretzels.

The new Dollar Tree has room for cold and frozen food in addition to the normal fare of candy, cookies, and other junk food but the Broken Pawn does not condone the battering of mushrooms or any other fruit, vegetable, meat, fish, or poultry and strongly condemn any such actions!

  After a few impulse buys that included a pack of five basketball cards we quickly checked out and were on our way. We got home and I fired up my meatball HotPocket in the microwave while Kathy put the frozen pretzels in the oven. I’ve never had a HotPocket before and I thought it was a disgusting blend of tasteless dough, tiny tasteless meatballs, and the grossest kind of SpaghettiO's tomato sauce. I can’t imagine why they are so popular. On the other hand Kathy’s pretzels were outstanding. They were crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside and had just the right amount of salt. I had mine with mustard while Kathy had one with cheese and one with peanut butter and she liked them both. The frozen berry pie is still in the freezer and will break the food tie between the pretzels and disgusting meatball HotPocket.

After selecting our purchases we were able to quickly checkout and were on our way!

  Despite the dubious nature of the meatball HotPocket I had a great time at the new Dollar Tree. I We only spent $7.21 for our seven items and my five basketball cards included all-stars Chris Bosh, Draymond Green, and Demarre Carroll. Visiting the Dollar Tree isn't going to be on my weekly to-do list but I will be a more frequent visitor to the new store than the old one.

  My 3-2 mark in NBA games on Friday netted me $80 which would have made for a nice Dollar Tree spending spree. I got extremely lucky when Pelicans missed a last second free throw to allow the Wizards to cover the spread and was very unlucky when the Timberwolves blew a second half 16 point lead against the Nuggets. Friday's result puts my record at 18-12-1 with $480 in mythical winnings. As usual, tonight's picks will be using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with mythical wagers of $110 per game to win $100.

My computer likes four of tonight's 10 games. I will take the Pistons getting 2 at home against the Clippers, the visiting Raptors getting 5 at the struggling Indiana Pacers, the Wizards getting 4 on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies (who played in Miami last night), and the Trailblazers getting three in New Orleans against the Pelicans.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Extremists Everywhere

  Last week there was a mass shooting in San Bernardino California. Two weeks ago there was a mass shooting in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Last month there was a mass suicide bombing attack in Paris France.

  People who are in favor of stricter gun control are focusing their attention on the mass shootings as proof positive that there are too many guns in the hands of too many people. People who are against stricter gun controls are muted about the Planned Parenthood shooting while focusing their attention on the fact that the Paris bombings used suicide bombers as well as guns, the San Bernardino murderers used guns that were purchased legally in California under some of the strictest gun laws and if more people were armed less people die in mass shootings.

  Opponents of stricter immigration limits point out that the Planned Parenthood attack was performed by a ‘white terrorist’ and it is racist to want to keep Syrian refugees and other muslims out of the county while not assuming that all white people could be closet terrorists. Proponents of stricter immigration limits point out that the San Bernardino was carried out by seemingly normal people who converted to Islamic jihadists. The next question is usually how we can be sure that Syrian refugees being proposed to be resettled in the United States won’t become similarly converted. Soon to follow is how can a country with at least 11 million people residing illegally claim to have safe borders or be able to keep the population secure from even more terrorist attacks.

  All these shooters and bombers are pretty extreme. While the western world may not be at war with Islam it certainly appears that there are large parts of Islam at war with the western world. Presidential candidate Donald Trump got lambasted in the media for claiming that there were Muslims cheering the 911 attacks. I heard a lot of the same anecdotes at the time but now there doesn’t seem to be any written or recorded evidence. I do remember seeing pictures of large numbers of people in other countries wearing Osama Bin Laden t-shirts. Playing to people fears is a sure fire way to garner a certain amount of support and not being able to go to work or a supermarket or a planned parenthood facility without knowing whether or not you are going to be shot at or suicide bombed makes it easy for the fear mongers to do what they do best.

  The general consensus of America about Planned Parenthood shootings and the recent extremist attacks is to do everything and nothing at the same time. The right has a deadlock on any relaxation of gun control – not even to deny weapons to ‘non-violent felons’ where they are as intransigent as the left is in declaring that restrictions of partial birth abortions constitutes a ‘war on women’. In both cases one side sees any compromise as the harbinger to an all-out assault on what is seen as constitutional rights and when viewed through that lens it is reasonable to view any compromise as the first step to surrender.

  President Obama took to the airwaves on Sunday to ask for calm, gun restrictions from people on the no-fly lists, more screening on people entering the country without visas, and for Americans not to blame all Muslims for the San Bernardino attacks. He also said that the US was not going to send ground troops to the Middle East (even as the government is sending special operations forces to that region).

  While the President was been called a lot of names and his ideas called weak I’m not sure what anyone would expect. The country as a whole has decided that they are tired of sending troops to the Middle East where we have no friends and invested trillions of dollars and thousands of lives with very little to show for it. The constant air strikes have been damaging but not decisive. The forces we hope to back in that part of the world don’t seem capable of taking back their territory and likely an even money bet to defect to ISIS. It is easy for someone like Donald Trump to say they would keep all muslims out of the country because he isn’t in a position to make that order just like every presidential candidate in my life time has had a plan to balance the federal budget that has happened only once in my lifetime no matter how many presidents get elected.

  Personally I don’t see why if I have to prove to the State of Iowa that I am competent to drive a car why gun owners shouldn’t have to prove competency to own a firearm. I have no idea why anyone would ever need to own an assault weapon but the people I know who do have plenty of reasons most of which involve their basic human freedoms and rights which sounds a lot to me like the basic reproductive rights that allow any kind of abortion including the late term ones which sounds a lot to me like the basic human rights that are invoked whenever the subject of removing the 11 million plus people that are in this country illegally is brought up.

  So we have mentally unstable people and converted jihadists seemingly able to get firearms at will, millions of people in the country illegally and even if one in a million were terrorists that would be enough to have an attack like the one in Paris or the Boston Marathon bombings. Any attempts to solve any of these issues meets with such a hue and cry from the left or right that nothing gets accomplished. As extreme as the Islamist extremists and anti-abortionists are they can’t hold a candle to the extremists that run American politics.

  Speaking of extreme, my Monday basketball picks were extremely bad as I went 0-2 thanks to the Raptors dilly-dallying around with the Lakers and the Bulls blowing a huge second half lead. My current record stands at 15-10-1 with my mythical winnings down to $400. For tonight's picks I will be using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with mythical wagers of $110 per game to win $100.

There are 11 games on the schedule tonight and my computer likes 5 of the games. I will take the Timberwolves getting 1 at Denver against the Nuggets, The Hornets getting 3.5 at Memphis to face the Grizzlies, the Wizards getting 2.5 at the New Orleans Pelicans, the Spurs giving 14.5 against the visiting Lakers, and the Magic getting 3.5 points for their home game against the Cavaliers. My mind is screaming that these are all the wrong picks but so far this year the computer has been right far more often than my mind.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Raising and Lowering the Bar

  It appears the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls single season record of 72-10 is in serious jeopardy for the first time in 20 years. The defending champion Golden State Warriors have started the season 22-0 which means they can lose three games and still be ahead of the Bulls pace. Not only are the Warriors setting their sights on the all-time best regular season record they are also taking aim at the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers record winning streak of 33 games in a row. The Warriors are in the middle of a seven game road trip with tough games in Toronto and Indiana as part of back to back games before heading home with the Cleveland Cavaliers being the last big test on Christmas Day. I don’t think the Warriors will be able to win 13 more games without running into a team that is playing out of their minds or having a cold shooting night from MVP Stephen Curry but I didn’t think they would start the season with 21 straight wins and here they are.

  The New England Patriots most recent attempt to join the looked to be on target to join the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins as the only perfect team in NFL went by the wayside last week when they lost to the Denver Broncos in overtime. In 2007 the Patriots were 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in the most serious challenge to the Dolphins record to date. The Patriots loss left the Carolina Panthers as the last remaining challenger to perfection with their 12-0 start. The Panthers remaining five games include zero games against teams with winning records (there is a home and home with the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons and a home finale against the 6-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers). On paper it looks like the Panthers will go 16-0. I don’t believe the Panthers will be able to finish a perfect season. While they have a great defense and an efficient offense led by MVP Cam Newton I’ve seen Newton go high and wide on short passes a number of times which I expect to be very costly come playoff time.

  I wouldn’t have minded seeing the 2007-2008 Patriots go undefeated (if they hadn’t had to play my favorite Giants in the Super Bowl). I won’t mind seeing the Golden State Warriors rewrite the NBA record book or even seeing the Panthers go 19-0. At the same time there is a part of me that likes to think that when I saw the Dolphins and Bulls play that I was witnessing something once in a lifetime special but it is also possible that this years Panthers or Warriors are also once in a lifetime special even though I’m not seeing it in the Panthers.

  In chess new records are set all the time. Most of them are age related. Last year Samuel Sevian became the youngest American Grandmaster at the age of 13 years 10 months and 27 days. Before that he was the youngest American International Master at the age of 12 years 10 months and 16 days. Chasing close behind Sevian is Wisconsin’s Awonder Liang. I became acquainted with Awonder and his family when his dad Will took him to three chess tournaments I directed in 2013 and 2014. Last month Awonder broke Sevian’s record for America’s youngest ever International Master by claiming the title at the age of 12 years 7 months and 16 days. I am happy for Awonder breaking the record but at the same time I feel sorry for him. He has a mere 15 months to attempt to become America’s youngest chess Grandmaster and is already being chased by Connecticut’s Maximillian Lu who recently broke Awonder’s record as the youngest American chess master by 12 days, claiming the title at the age if 9 years 11 months and 2 days. Liang also took that record from Sevian who attained master status at the age of 9 years 11 months and 24 days for those who keep track of such things.

  I thought I had found a trend that the bar for achievement is getting higher and higher until I noticed n Saturday that the Texas Longhorns college football team defeated the 12th ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday to close their season with 5-7 mark. The reason I thought Texas had closed their season was that I was under the impression that a team needed to win six wins to become bowl-eligible. For example on Saturday the Kansas State Wildcats beat the West Virginia Hokies in their season finale to even their record a 6-6 with the headline saying “Kansas State earns bowl eligibility, knocks off West Virginia”. But instead the Texas game article discussed the possibility of the Longhorns going to a bowl.

  What I didn’t understand was that not being bowl-eligible doesn’t mean a team isn’t eligible for a bowl. There are 40 bowl games this year and only 77 teams that have the six wins required to be bowl eligible. I would have expected some of these bowls to be cancelled or one of the many teams in the minor league FCS with six wins to get a shot at a bowl game but instead the NCAA is going to allow teams with five wins to go to bowls based on their Academic Progress Rate which grades schools on the percentage of their student-athletes that receive financial aid, stay in school, and remain academically eligible. Schools that fail to keep a large percentage of their athletes in school and eligible are penalized with the loss of practice time up to postseason ineligibility.

  The NCAA is going to allow the five win teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate to fill the bowl slots left open by the lack of teams with at least an even record. Isn’t it nice of the NCAA to factor in Academic Progress in deciding who gets the scraps from the bowl table? Since a losing team is a losing team is a losing team wouldn’t it be even nicer to let the losing teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate no matter how many wins they have? The losing teams that maintain high academic standards would have a chance at going to a bowl game. In any event I was happy to see the bar being lowered in at least one aspect of society to give the rest of us low achievers a chance at the rewards of high achievement without having to achieve much of anything.

  The bar was neither raised or lowered were my basketball predictions after Friday Night's split. I picked the Nets to cover the three point spread and they were 20 down at the end of the first quarter. Luckily the Pistons bailed me out with a 7 point win over the Bucks which barely covered the 6 point spread. Splitting the picks brought my mythical winnings down $10 to $620 and my season record remains +7 at 15-8-1. As usual I will be making tonight’s picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Phoenix Suns at Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have won 2 out of 3 on their current home stand and will host the Phoenix Suns who have the last four games of their six game road trip that ends tonight. The Bulls beat the Suns in Phoenix two weeks ago by six points and the Suns played in Memphis yesterday so I will take the Bulls for $110 and give the six points to the Suns to win $100

Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors
After another blowout loss to the Pistons yesterday, the Lakers head to Toronto where the Raptors looked like the second best team in the league on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Toronto they happened to be playing the best team in the league and lost by three to the Warriors. I predict the Raptors will take out their frustrations on the Lakers and will bet $110 to win $100 that they will cover the 13 point spread.

Friday, December 4, 2015

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season Six (First Half)


Zombie attack, anyone?

  The first half of the sixth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead concluded on Sunday night with our intrepid band of zombie apocalypse survivors trapped inside their homes in the Alexandria ‘Safe’ zone while the hordes of zombies that had laid siege to the town roamed the streets after a collapsing tower created a breach in the walls that had sheltered the community. There were more questions raised than answers provided in the last 10 minutes of the final episode when the group led by Rick Grimes slathered themselves in zombie guts in order to walk past the herd undetected. Undetected at least until the youngest son of Rick’s new flame Jessie starts calling “Mom..Mom..Mom’’ as the group walks through the middle of the zombie pack. Jessie’s parenting skills must be called into question since her oldest son Ron allowed the zombies into the house in the first place by trying to kill Rick’s son Carl in the garage which led to a fistfight which broke a door that let the zombies in the house. Meanwhile on the other side of the camp Carol and her brass knuckle knife took on Morgan and his bo staff in an argument over whether Carol was going to kill the member of the ‘Wolves’ that Morgan was keeping prisoner in an attempt to convert him to Morgan’s pacifist world view. After a fantastic fight Morgan knocks out Carol but is in turn knocked out by the Wolf, who then takes Denise the town doctor as a hostage into the zombie horde.

  The entire first half of season six took place in the course of one day and I feel very sorry for the people of Alexandra who had led a sheltered existence with running water and solar power before Rick Grimes and company moved in. The morning started with a discussion on how to make homemade pasta while Rick talked the town into his plan to lure the thousands of zombies trapped in a nearby quarry far away from the town. The plan was going fine until the zombies broke out of quarry on their own and moved up the time table. Then the Wolves attacked the town while most of the best fighters were herding the zombies. After the Wolves’ attack was repulsed thousands of zombies broke away from the main herd and surrounded Alexandria leaving the town rationing their food instead of discussing how to make homemade pasta. And then the tower fell, breaking through the walls and letting the zombies in the town. It was quite the day and I hope if Marshalltown ever gets overrun by zombies and my house is surrounded that Daisy and Baxter won’t have some sort of squabble that breaks a window and lets the zombies in to devour everyone.

Glenn is the Houdini of The Walking Dead. Witness this escape from an alley of zombies!

  It seems like most of the Alexandrians were either eaten by zombies or killed by the Wolves but luckily there are more Alexandrians than the red shirted Star Trek crew members that always seemed to be killed in the first few minutes of each episode. Alexandrians were killed leading the zombies away from town, in the attack on the town by the Wolves, trying to get back to Alexandria after the zombies went off course, and finally Deanna the town leader was bitten by the zombies after the tower smashed the wall open. Being bitten allowed Deanna to say her goodbyes to Rick and Michonne but she got her chance to be zombie food when she used the gun she was going to commit suicide with to shoot five zombies instead. Miraculously none of our familiar band of zombie hunters succumbed although Glenn had a close call when he was trapped in small fenced in area lying on the ground surrounded by dozens of zombies that were feasting on the intestines of the cowardly Nicholas who had just shot himself rather than try to survive. Luckily, Glenn rolled under a nearby dumpster and the zombies moved on after their Nicholas-feast to allow his escape.

  The entire first half of the season seemed contrived to me but it is a television show about a zombie apocalypse after all and the first two episodes were as action packed as any of this series. The characters lurched from crisis to crisis with very little break in between. One of the hallmarks of The Walking Dead is showing man’s inhumanity to man. This half season had very little of that with the exception of the Wolves’ attack and the Darryl/Abraham/Shasha encounter with another group of survivors. It all felt like a long prologue to the second half of the season with a final battle with the Wolves and the introduction of Negan (the baddest of bad guys from the comic series).

  A longtime staple of this show that continued through season six was offering hope to the main characters and then smashing that hope to bits. After episodes not knowing whether Glenn was dead or alive he floats some balloons towards the town as a signal. His pregnant wife Maggie points it out and as the townspeople marvel at the balloons the tower comes crashing down through the walls and lets the zombies into the town. Darryl escapes from a small group of survivors, stealing a bag that had his crossbow and insulin that one of the survivors needed. He brings the insulin back and helps them fight off the group they stole the insulin from. He offers them a place in Alexandria but the diabetic gets eaten by some zombies in sleeping bags and the remaining survivors pull a gun on Daryl and steal his motorcycle and crossbow. Then Darryl finds a working oil truck, picks up Abraham and Sasha, and the trio is happily rolling down the road when they run into Negan’s group of motorcycle warriors that demands the truck.

  As disjointed as this season has seemed so far with long periods of inaction before the next crisis The Walking Dead remains one of my favorite television programs. It’s going to be a long ten weeks until the second half of season six starts on February 14th but until then I can ponder how many of the Alexandria residents will survive until the end of the season (the over under is 13.5) and why Rick didn’t cover himself in zombie guts when the zombies were still outside the gates and he was looking for a way to get to one of the cars outside the walls to lead the zombies away. I’m sure these and many more questions will be answered in the next half season.

Waiting in the wings is super bad guy Negan...

  One question I sure my readers want to know is what happened to my Monday basketball picks. Not only did none of the three road favorites I picked cover, two of them lost outright to drop my season record to 14-7-1 and my mythical winnings to $630. Just like my favorite characters from the Walking Dead I will rebound from Monday’s crisis and look for better days ahead starting with tonight’s picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks
Even though the Nets are technically on the 'road' I am going to bank on the fact that Brooklyn has won their last four home games and will bet $110 to win $100 that they will be able to beat the Knicks who have lost four out of five games. As an additional bonus, the Nets are getting three points.

Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons
The Bucks have lost four out of five games and travel to Detroit where the Pistons have won two games of their current four game homestand. I think the Pistons will avenge their blowout loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee two weeks ago and cover the six points and will wager $110 to win $100 on the Pistons.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review - Creed (and the Fridley Theater Fraud)

  I went with Kathy to see Creed on Thanksgiving afternoon. Creed is the seventh movie in the saga of Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ character and at the same time a stand-alone film with Rocky as an important but decidedly supporting role. Adonis Johnson is an orphaned juvenile delinquent that we first meet punching out a bigger juvenile delinquent in a juvenile delinquent center when he is rescued from his situation by Mary Anne Creed, the widow of Apollo Creed (the boxer who Rocky beats for the world championship and killed in the ring by Russian Ivan Drago in Rocky IV), dropping the bombshell that Johnson is Creed’s illegitimate son. Mary Anne Creed is played by Phylicia Rashad and when she gets Adonis out of the juvenile delinquent center the first thing that popped into my mind was whether she was looking for Bill Cosby so she could bail him out of jail.

  We next see Johnson as an adult working for a big financial services firm and boxing on the side in Mexico. He uses the name of Johnson to avoid unwanted comparisons to his father and to make his own name even though he has no problem living in the Creed family palatial mansion. Johnson quits his day job to become a full time boxer. He heads to the local gym but can’t get respect as a serious fighter so he heads to Philadelphia to get Rocky Balboa to train him.

  Rocky Balboa is much the same as the Rocky we left at the end of the 2005 Rocky Balboa movie except he is lonelier than ever before. Rocky still has his restaurant but Paulie is buried next to Adrian, Little Marie and her son Steps aren’t working at the restaurant any more, and his son Robert has moved to Vancouver. All Rocky does is feed his turtle, buy food for the restaurant, and visit Adrian and Paulie’s graves. Johnson spills the beans about his father and Rocky finds a new purpose in training him.

  After the introductions the movie becomes a version of the original Rocky except in a sort of funhouse mirror with Michael B. Jordan playing Rocky’s part and Stallone playing the role of Mick the trainer. Instead of meeting a girl in a pet store who lives with an abusive alcoholic brother, Johnson meets a singer in an apartment in his building that lives with a degenerative hearing condition. Rocky as Mick trains Johnson using the drills Mick made him go through like chasing chickens and boxing with his shoe tied to each other. I especially liked how Mick’s old gym has become a shiny redone showplace so Rocky finds a filthy dive gym to do his training.

  Johnson wins his first fight against the son of one of Rocky’s old pals but is outed as Apollo Creed’s son by the jealous father. This leads to an opportunity to take on the English World Champion in Liverpool under the condition that Johnson takes on the ‘Creed’ name to cash in on the box office appeal. Around the same time Rocky finds out that he has cancer and while he really wants to join Adrian and Paulie in the afterlife he and Johnson decide to take on their challenges like the champions they are, were, and want to be.

  Creed has gotten highly positive reviews and Stallone is being touted as a potential Academy Award winner. I liked the movie a lot but wouldn’t say it was the best movie I’ve seen in years or even this year (Terminator:Genisys gets my vote for 2015). I thought the fight scenes were the best I’ve ever seen. There were a lot of close-up shots of only one boxer that made it look like I was in the ring and could smell his breath. The fighting was fast and furious but I never felt like it was speeded up artificially by cutting shots to different angles the way some of the other so-called action movies do. Stallone plays his aging Rocky character to perfection. Before he decided to train Johnson he reminded me of a lot of old guys I see that have nothing to live for and are just waiting to die. When he decided to train Johnson he reminded me of the old guys I know that are always living for something even if it is just to wake up tomorrow. His waffling between the two view points when he finds out he has cancer is a great character study. I liked Michael B. Jordan as Johnson-Creed, especially how he showed that he was scared senseless before his fights even while he was putting up the obligatory tough guy stance.

  The thing I didn’t like about the movie was that since it was certainly a Rocky reboot I didn’t really understand Johnson/Creed’s motivation to be a boxer. Unlike the original Rocky who was a leg-breaker for the mob with no way out except his once in a lifetime chance to fight Apollo Creed, Johnson lives in a mansion and has a six or seven figure career as a financial services big shot waiting for him whenever he wants. I never really got the sense of desperation that I got from the Rocky movies. Out of all the Rocky movies I never cared for the third and fourth ones because Rocky had it made and his struggles seemed artificial. Rocky V is universally thought of as the worst of the series but it’s my favorite because it gets the character back to the struggles for survival and drags his family into it for good measure. I would have empathized with Creed more if the main character didn’t have a ready made safety net. That safety net may be the reason that the movie proves popular with the younger generation. It may well be that the new heroes of a world where the Kardashians are celebrities because of their celebrity aren't celebrated because they triumph against all odds but because they triumph an have a safety net.

  In addition to the drama on the screen I had a small dose of drama at the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa where I saw the movie. The theater advertises free refills of soda and popcorn. I paid $12 for our movie tickets and got a large popcorn for $5.00 and a medium Mountain Dew for $4.5) instead of the $5.00 large soda. After the movie I thought I wanted some more soda so I want to the concession stand and asked for a refill. The young clerk stopped applying his pimple cream to one his many pimples and said “We don’t actually give refills for medium drinks.” As I was leaving the theatre without my refill I was telling Kathy about my lack of a refill an the lady trying to sell me a gift certificate for the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa chimed by telling me I should get a large soda next time. What an asinine policy! If I was trying to beat the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa out of 50 cents I would have tried for the whole dollar by getting the $4.00 small soda instead of the $4.50 medium soda. I was leaving the theatre and wasn’t going to be watching movies all day drinking out of the same cup. Get with it Fridley Theater of Marshalltown Iowa – give out a refill for the medium drink!

  Leaving the world of boxing drama for the world of basketball prediction drama, I overcame all odds to go 3-0 in last Friday’s games to boost my season record to 14-4-1 with my mythical winnings at a season high of $960. The odds I overcame was the Spurs covering against the Nuggets on the road despite leaving two of their better players (Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan) in San Antonio to rest for the Saturday night home game against the Hawks which the Spurs also won and also covered. As usual I’ll be betting $110 to win $100 on tonight's picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Boston Celtics at Miami Heat
The Celtics started their five game road trip with a 20 point loss in Orlando last night and made the short trip to Miami to face the Heat. The Heat are starting a four game homestand, have had two days off and will have another two days off after this game. I expect the Heat to play with a lot of energy and easily cover the five point spread.

San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls
The Spurs have now won 10 of 11 with nine of the wins by double digits after beating the Nuggets in Denver and the Hawks in San Antonio this weekend. Tonight the Spurs travel to Chicago to give 3.5 points to the Bulls. take on the Bulls who are home after splitting a four game western road trip. I think the Spurs are playing like a well oiled machine and will give the points even though the Bulls have only lost one game in Chicago this year and have had two days of rest.

Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz
The Jazz are coming off two double digit wins over the Clippers and Pelicans and are home against the 18-0 defending champion Golden State Warriors. Is this where the Warriors finally lose? I think the Warriors will get their six game road trip off to a good start and will lay the nine points as they continue their chase towards the NBA records of 33 wins in a row and 72 wins in a season.

Friday, November 27, 2015

TV Binge Review - Jessica Jones Season 1

Jessica Jones is the latest Marvel Comics character to get to Netflix

  I took Monday through Wednesday off from work to combine with the Thanksgiving Holiday for nine days off. One of my activities was to watch the newly released Marvel Comics/ Netflix show 'Jessica Jones'. I’m too old to know Jessica Jones from the comics but I did know that Luke Cage, Power Man would be featured in the show and that was enough for me to want to take a look. I watched two episodes on Sunday, five on Monday, and finished up with the final six of the 13 episodes on Tuesday. The release of an entire season of a series at once is a tremendous idea from Netflix. There are a lot of shows I’d like to watch every week like Flash and Arrow but the only time I really have to consistently watch a television show are weekend evenings and not even then all the time (although I do make time for my Sunday post-apocalyptic dramas like ‘The Last Ship’ and ‘The Walking Dead’). Once I miss an episode it is easier to miss more and I have little desire to go back and watch old seasons six months to a year after the fact. Having the entire season of Daredevil and Jessica Jones available while it is brand new makes it easier for me to set aside the hour or two needed to watch two or three episodes at once.

  Jessica Jones is a private investigator in the Hells Kitchen neighborhood of New York. She has super strength and can jump high enough to simulate flight which makes her a desirable private investigator despite the fact that she constantly drinks whiskey and seems to only own one set of clothes. Maybe another of her powers is that she can’t get drunk or has a Febreze gland. The story follows Jones’ as she is pursued by and pursues the criminal Kilgrave (also known in the comics as ‘The Purple Man’) whose super power is that everyone must obey his spoken word. Jessica is helped by former child star now turned talk show host Trish Walker who Jessica lived with since she was orphaned in childhood (a long story that is slowly revealed during the 12+ hours of the series), swanky corporate lawyer Jeri Hogarth, New York cop turned drug enhanced super soldier Will Simpson, Luke Cage and his unbreakable skin, and the assorted druggies and freaks that live in Jessica’s apartment building where she has her office/dingy apartment.

  Kilgrave is a first class villain with no remorse as he mind controls his victims to shoot their parents, walk out of windows, shoot themselves, hang themselves, or simply provide him a ride or a place to live or cook him dinner all just for the asking. As is revealed in the show he used his mind control powers on Jones but the spell broke off when she committed murder at his request. Following the age old edict that we want most what we can’t have, Kilgrave wants Jessica Jones to fall in love with him without him controlling her. As with most Marvel villains there is an attempt to show Kilgrave as a victim as well as a villain. It didn’t work for me. David Tenant plays Kilgrave as a spoiled brat with a sense of humor that throws sadistic tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. While I understood Daredevil’s Kingpin as a complex character that could see his brutal acts as necessary to save his city, I thought Kilgrave was just cruel for the sake of being cruel and don’t understand why he just wouldn’t have had Jones killed when she broke free of his mind control. If i could get anyone but a single person to obey everything I said I would probably stay very far away from that single person, especially if she had super powers, wouldn't you? Near the end of the season Kilgrave does shine as he tries to amplify his powers and kill Jones in earnest but he seemed more like a English accented super powered buffoon for most of the season.

  The most likable character in the show was Luke Cage who is played by Mike Colter as the ultimate strong silent type who just happens to have super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage runs a bar and has numerous liaisons with Jones in their on again – off again relationship. Cage gets around town on an old style Harley wearing a small bucket helmet and is the epitome of cool. It will probably take a year before the Luke Cage Netflix series airs but I’m already looking forward to it.

  I liked Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. She plays the private eye role very well and her mad at the world attitude fit in nicely with her constant whisky drinking. I didn’t understand why she was never drunk because if she wasn’t getting drunk what was the point if drinking at least a fifth of booze every episode? I liked her chemistry with Kilgrave even though their relationship was the product of his insanity.

  The other supporting cast members were well played and they all had strange parts to play. Colby Minifie gets one of the stranger roles as Robyn, the semi psychotic neighbor of Jones who lives in an upstairs apartment with her twin brother Rueben. Neither of them seem to have any means of supporting themselves as Robyn bosses her brother around and constantly berates him and the other tenants while Rueben bakes endless loaves of banana bread as an excuse to visit Jessica. The other notable character was Carrie-Anne Moss’s Jeri Hogarth, the cold as ice lawyer who hires Jessica to serve summons, dig up dirt on her soon to be divorced wife, and even goes as far as to try to trade Kilgrave his freedom in return for getting her wife to file the divorce papers. Yes I wrote her wife and Hogarth could easily been written as a slimy male straight lawyer instead of a slimy female lesbian lawyer with no changes in dialog. Wil Traval plays Will Simpson, a former special ops soldier who is taken over by Kilgrave and tries to kill Jones’ friend Trish, then becomes her lover, then gets 'roided up with special black ops pills and tries to kill Jessica. While the other characters were consistently bizarre, Simpson was all over the map until he mysteriously disappears never to be seen again (at least until Season 2).

  All in all, I like Jessica Jones but not as much as Daredevil (the previous Marvel/Netflix series). Tennant’s Kilgrave could not hold a candle to Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin as a super villain. Kilgrave did provide some comic relief when he orders his cooks to not blink for hours while having then lookout for Jessica or order Hogarth’s estranged wife to kill Hogarth with a ‘death by 1,000 cuts’. By the end of the 12 hours I was watching out of inertia and was bored with all the characters (except Cage) and was uninterested in their fates. If you have 13 hours to spend watching Jessica Jones I think you have a lot of untapped potential that your time would be better spent unlocking.

  Leaving the mythical world of superheroes and mind controlling super villains to return to the world of basketball predictions I managed to split my three predictions on Monday thanks to Charlotte going to overtime against the Kings and winning by five points to give me a push. My season to date mark is 11-4-1 with my mythical winnings down to $660 from a high of $680 two weeks ago. This weekend there are three games I like and as usual I’ll be betting $110 to win $100 using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Miami Heat at New York Knicks
After beating the Knicks by 17 at home on Monday, the Heat were thumped in Detroit 101-84 on Wednesday while the Knicks are home after losing the last two games of a four game road trip. I expect the Heat to rebound from the putrid Detroit game and cover the point and a half they are giving to the Knicks.

San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets
The Spurs have won eight of nine with seven of the wins by double digits. Tonight the Spurs find themselves in Denver to take on the Nuggets who have lost four in a row with three of the losses by double digits. Even though the Spurs may rest players for tomorrow's home game against the Hawks I will pick the Spurs to continue their winning ways and give the nine and a half points.

Milwaukee Bucks at Orlando Magic
The Magic have won five of their last six home games while the Bucks have lost six of eight. I believe the youthful Magic are finding their way while the youthful Bucks are struggling under the weight of their playoff aspirations. This game smells like a blowout to me so I'll take the Magic in this game and will lay the four points.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NBA Season to Date Observations and Predictions

  The NBA season is almost a month old with every team except the Washington Wizards playing at least a dozen games. As I write this on Sunday morning the defending champion Golden State Warriors have yet to lose and the perennial rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers yet to win.

  I thought the Warriors would get fat, happy, and selfish after winning last year’s championship. Instead they seem to be focused on proving last year was no fluke. None of the many role players have tried to break out of their roles, content to let Stephen Curry take (and make) the bulk of the shots while moving the ball, playing tough defense, and waiting for their chances to score. The Warriors have hit a tough stretch (for them) of late, finding themselves trailing the Nets and Clippers in the fourth quarter of their recent games but have managed to pull out wins. Do I think the Warriors can break the 1995-1996 Bulls record of 72-10? I believe they are sufficiently motivated and if they stay healthy this team is the one that can break the record. Having said that, it is a long season and I think that the Bulls record will withstand this challenge.

  The team that got fat and happy seems to be the Warriors 2014-15 Western Conference Finals opponents, the Houston Rockets. In the offseason Rockets superstar James Harden signed a $200 million dollar show deal with Adidas and has taken up with reality TV show icon Khloe Kardashian. Harden seemed out of shape and not at all in the mood to even pretend to play defense this season and when the Rockets started what they hoped to be a championship season with a 4-7 record including 4 20 point losses, head coach Kevin McHale was fired because in the words of Rockets GM Darrell Morey “The team was not responding to Kevin McHale”. The team responded to new coach J.B. Bickerstaff with a comeback win against the moribund Portland Trailblazers before further responding with a road loss against the Grizzlies and a home loss to the Knicks. I was high on the Rockets two years ago when they acquired center Dwight Howard but Howard can’t stay healthy (he is already taking games off this season to rest his back) and the fate of the team rests on Harden who is a superstar that is not playing like one which is an awful combination for a player that needs to handle the ball most of the time to be effective. This turn of events is a huge blow for GM Darrell Morey, making the huge proponent of basketball analytics seem clueless to the dynamic of team building for a championship run as opposed to collecting talent and draft picks.

  My pick to win the championship is the Los Angeles Clippers who rewarded my confidence by following a 4-0 start with losing seven of nine games for a 6-7 record after Sunday’s loss against the Raptors. Despite the rough patch I think the Clippers are built for the playoffs. They need to stay healthy and get superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get used to playing with newcomers Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. The wild card for the Clippers to me is whether Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will push the panic button and order GM/Coach Doc Rivers to shake up the team or even fire Rivers.

  I picked the Los Angeles Lakers to win 37 games this year which would be a 16 game improvement over last year. The Lakers have started 2-11 and would have to win more than half of their remaining 69 games to get to 37 wins. My prediction doesn’t look good but I still like the chances of the Lakers’ young talent to develop significantly as the season goes along and the less Kobe Bryant plays the quicker this process will be and the closer the team will get to 37 wins. As great as Bryant was, he is an aged (not aging) former superstar who takes more shots than anyone on the team while shooting 34%. Not only is Bryant unproductive he is taking minutes away from the younger players and disrupting their ability to grow as a team. Meanwhile the big surprise in the West is the Dallas Mavericks with a 9-4 start defying the skeptics that predicted the Mavs would miss the playoffs. I don’t believe in the Mavericks and think their record is the result of their brilliant coach Rick Carlisle. As the season wears on talent will win out over schemes and the Mavs will struggle with their aging roster. In the east I predicted the Atlanta Hawks would struggle to get 50 wins after getting 60 last season. The Hawks currently are at 9-6 which is a pace for 49.2 wins so I’m spot on so far. I also predicted the surprise team to be the Orlando Magic and said they would make the playoffs. The Magic have been inconsistent so far with a 6-7 record. I’ve seen the Magic play twice and they are not just inconsistent they are maddeningly inconsistent – looking like world beaters in one quarter and a turnover machine the next. Coach Scott Skiles is already running out of patience with his young team, benching center Nik Vucevic for the second half of their win against the Timberwolves and subbing the entire starting unit earlier this month. I knew Skiles would wear out his welcome in Orlando as he has in every other stop in his coaching career but I think his act is going to wear thin faster in Orlando than his other stops. It looks to me like the Magic are running the risk of a player revolt and a lost season unless they can pull off a few upsets on their upcoming western road trip in December to get the players to see success from Skiles hardcore methods.

  The most impressive team in the east to my mind is the Chicago Bulls. First year coach Fred Hoiberg has successfully shaken up the lineup by starting Tony Snell and Doug McDermott and bringing former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah off the bench. Snell and McDermott have looked more productive, Noah is more rested, and the Bulls have looked crisp while going 8-4 to start the year. The other surprise team is the Knicks who have gone 8-6 to start the year including road wins against the Thunder, Rockets, and Raptors The Knicks have coalesced behind 7-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingas who has become an instant celebrity much like Jeremy Lin three y ears ago as can only happen in new York. I am impressed with the Knicks progress under club president Phil Jackson but I’m not convinced yet, preferring to see how the Knicks react when they run into their early injury problems and Porzingas hits the rookie wall.

  My basketball prediction program may have hit the rookie wall. I split my 2 picks on Friday, leaving me with a 10-3 mark and trimming my mythical winnings to $670. My unpublished weekend picks went 3-4 to take the program’s season mark to 30-16. One of the program’s flaws has been exposed, showing a certain slowness to detect a turnaround in a teams fortunes whether due to injury or a team suddenly jelling like the New Orleans Pelicans seemed to do this weekend with wins over the Spurs and Suns.

  Tonight there are three games I’ll put up $110 to win $100 using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports pagefor entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered. My program likes Charlotte giving 5 points to the visiting Sacramento Kings, the Pistons giving 2 points on the road at Milwaukee, and the Thunder getting 4 points from the Utah Jazz in Utah which seems to go against conventional wisdom to stay away from road teams on the second game of a back to back but I'll give my program a little leeway and take the risk.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Interviews

  Last week the company I work for hired me out to work for a company in Ames Iowa for the foreseeable future. Being farmed out is nothing new for me – I program for my employer’s clients who pay my employer, who then pays me. Normally I work out of my office but in 2013 I had to occasionally work 90 miles east in North Liberty Iowa and in 2014 I spent six months working in a bank in West Des Moines which was 55 miles southwest but only five miles further than the 50 mile commute to my downtown office. My new workplace is 37 miles west which is less than the 60 mile commute to my employer’s current office and more than the 20 feet I walked from my living room to my computer on the three days a week I’ve been working from home.

  Before I could work in Ames I had to go on an interview which must have went well enough since I was accepted for the assignment. During the 13 years I spent writing shoe store software I went on exactly one interview until 2007 when the owner of the company I worked for sold his company to people from Indianapolis who had their own programmers at which point I went on a number of interviews.

  I wasn’t very successful at interviewing in 2007 and I think it was because I badly wanted a new job and it showed which made me less than an attractive candidate in the way that the seemingly unattainable girls in high school were the most sought after at least that’s the way I remember it. Wanting a new job too badly made me not exactly myself in interviews. I came off trying to sound too professional and less funny than I am and I probably just seemed like a phony.

  Eventually one of my interviews panned out and I got my new job which was a two year contract so after two years I was out interviewing again in 2009. For this go round I was determined to be myself and even though I needed a new job instead of wanting one like two years prior I had a great time interviewing. I was at one place where I was told that the programmers were in charge of making the time estimates. I’d barely ever made estimates, preferring instead to say the project would take until it was finished and worked as hard as I could to get my projects done as soon as possible which almost always pleased my employers in terms of the time the project took and the quality of the completed project. I asked the interviewer how it would go over if I was able to complete a project earlier than scheduled. When the interviewer asked how that could be possible I explained that I had the occasional epiphany (meaning a burst of production or an amazing time saving idea) which enabled me to complete some projects well ahead of schedule. The interviewer sniffed “We do not have epiphanies at this company”. We made some more chit-chat but I knew there wasn’t going to be a job offer and the interviewer knew it wasn’t going to be accepted.

  I did much better on my next interview. The interviewer asked me if it was better to have a job done on time or done correctly. I said if the job wasn’t done correctly how could it be done on time? Since that got a laugh I told the story about how I took a job at a company and had to take over half of an overdue project from an overworked programmer who I shared the office with. The next week the overworked programmer was talking to our supervisor in our office at lunch not realizing that I was sitting at my desk reading. The supervisor mentioned that I did a good job on my half of the project and the programmer said that while I 'managed' to complete the project his design was “much more elegant” than mine. I got up from my desk and said that if the program didn’t have to work and didn’t have to be done on time I could be just as elegant. My interviewer roared at my story but I wasn’t offered the job because the company put on a hiring freeze. The happy ending was that a month later a position opened up at the company and I was offered the job without another interview.

  I interviewed twice for my current job. The first time I went to the downtown office with my current supervisor and his boss. I tried to be funny and got a second interview to meet one of the programmers over lunch. I didn’t want to drive around so I suggested the snack bar at a nearby Target superstore within walking distance. I got the job and my supervisor told me that he never had an interview at a Target snack bar before. I don’t remember much from the interview except the subject of my age came up and I said that while I was a dinosaur one thing to remember was that dinosaurs have big teeth and are more than capable.

  I didn’t have an interview for three years until the company put out notice that they were moving to the west side of West Des Moines. This would make an interminable 52 mile commute an unbearable 62 mile commute through 10 miles of the worst Iowa traffic so I was out .interviewing again. Most interviews are done through recruiters that have a job opening and if you fit in the salary slot they will pitch you to their customer as if you are the programming world’s answer to Elvis and Michael Jackson but if you don’t you will never hear from the recruiter until months or years later when they have another opening they think you will fit into.

  I had one interview at a huge insurance company that was in a huge 5 story building even further west in West Des Mones than where my company would be moving to. I parked in the full shopping mall sized parking lot and went in. My first meeting was with the department director and a programmer. They were the most exhausted people I’ve ever seen with huge puffy bags under their bloodshot eyes and the stooped over seated posture of someone who was about to fall asleep which I think they did. Their first question was whether I was willing to work overtime. I said I was on occasion if I was paid for it or given time off as compensation. I was told there was no extra pay or compensation and that everyone regularly worked between 55 and 60 hours because they were all “team players”. I mentioned that if these kind of hours were expected the team needed a new manager which was not met by laughter or even a smile. Then I interviewed with two other programmers and I asked them how many hours they worked. They told me they worked between 50 and 60 hours every week and didn't like it but did it because they were “team players”. After that I met with the finance vice president that was in charge of the programming. She told me that she liked to meet all the interviewees but didn’t have any questions and asked if I had any questions. I asked how long it took her to get out of the parking lot. She said it took no time to get out of the parking lot because everyone else was working late because they were all “team players”. My next question was if there were any finance vice president positions available and there weren’t. I wasn’t offered a job which was just as well since I was certainly not their kind of “team player”.

  My next interview was with a medical insurance clearinghouse company that was taking their programming needs in house and severing ties with the company that had developed their programs for the past five years. I interviewed with the president of the small company who was a lawyer armed with a list of 20 questions that I assume came from Linked In or some other website that she read off. Here are some of the questions, the preferred answers in bold, and my answers in italics.

  Where do you see yourself five years from now? I see myself advancing in this company because I’ll be helping it grow so much. I’m almost 55 years old and I hope to see myself in the mirror and not the cemetery.

  What is your biggest and weakness? My biggest weakness is that I care about my work and company so much I work tirelessly to accomplish my goals and have no personal life because I give my all to my company. I don’t have weaknesses or strengths. I have qualities and it is up to my employer to not make them weaknesses. One of my qualities is that I get my work done fast. It sounds like a strength but if I work for someone that thinks out loud about what they want me to do I will get a lot of useless work done because the person I work for wasn’t wanting me to do anything - they were just thinking out loud. If that guy is making the decisions don’t hire me – hire the person that waits until the last minute to do anything which seems like a weakness but will be a strength at your company.

  How do feel about supervising employees? I take pride in mentoring and building relationships. Can I fire them? I can’t supervise someone I can’t fire.

  As you might imagine I didn’t get offered that job either and I didn’t mind a bit. It is politically incorrect in this age of team building to talk about wanting to fire people but I’ve been saddled with having someone work for me who would only do the very minimum of what I asked and there was nothing I could do about it because we both knew I couldn't fire them. I think for me to supervise people effectively I need to have a nuclear weapon. If I NEEDED the job my answers would have been a lot different but since I didn't NEED the job it made sense to me to be myself so there would be no illusions about who I was.

  I had a short interview for my new assignment. I was asked very few questions of mostly a technical nature that gave me no chance to be my normally funny or insulting self. I was quickly accepted for the assignment which had less to do with my interview and more to do with the fact that as a contractor I can be gone at the snap of a finger. That’s OK with me. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to pick things up and quickly contribute and if I cant we’ll all be better off if I’m somewhere else.

  If my basketball picks keep up their current pace I expect to be giving interviews with gambling magazines and web sites. As I wrote on Monday I went 4-0 on last Friday’s picks to boost my record to 9-2 and my mythical winnings to $680. My prediction program went 3-2 on Monday’s pick (that I didn’t bet on). I’m concerned about the bias the program is showing towards road teams but the program is 25-12 including last night’s Warriors-Clippers game in which my program picked the Warriors to give 6.5 points to the Clippers in Los Angeles. So operating on the assumption that 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' I will be placing my mythical bets from my prediction program using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered. It is early on Friday morning as I write this and my program has determined only one of the 11 games on the schedule is worthy of a prediction with the lines for the Pelicans-Spurs,Thunder-Knicks, and TrailBlazers-Clippers yet to be determined. If me program decides to place a bet on those three games I'll put it in the comments by 7pm tonight and here is my program's one pick for tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets
The 76ers are once again angling for the worst record in the league and are off to a fine start with 12 straight losses to open the season, including Wednesday's embarrassing 23 point loss to the Pacers at home. Tonight Philly travels to Charlotte to face the Hornets who are on the second game of a seven game home stand. My program likes the Hornets to win by 16 and the spread is 11 points, just at the 5 point predictive cut off line. The 76ers have been marginally less awful on the road but the Hornets have shown the ability to score points in bunches with the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin so I'll go with my program and bet $110 on the Hornets to cover the 11 points and win $100.