August 31, 2006

Cal at Tennessee

How in the world could Cal have dropped from a two point favorite to a two point underdog? The line should have gone the other way.

After all, Cal is ranked much more highly (#12 in the USA Today poll, #9 in the AP poll) than the Volunteers (#23 in both polls). Sagarin’s preseason calculations rank the teams closer at #20 and #30, giving the Volunteers the two-point edge due to home field advantage. The Volunteers finished 5-6 last year and stayed home during bowl season; the Bears stumbled to a 7-4 finish and then hung on to beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The first game of the year is, of course, the most difficult to predict. Player turnover, coaching changes, and injuries all have an effect. The emotion of the college game inspires more intensity among the fans, the players, and even the media.

But in the end, the fans and media don’t play the games. And I am not one who subscribes to the idea that a packed house of 100,000 Tennessee fans will equate to a four point or even a seven point swing. In fact, I think the size and intensity of the venue is a benefit for and Tedford-coached Bears squad.

You may be getting the sense that I think Cal will win. You would be right.

Sizing Up The Vols Offense
Tennessee is coming off a losing season, a huge disappointment to everyone involved in the program. The coach has challenged everyone to redouble their efforts, practice harder, study harder, come out harder. The players are “angry” and “have a chip on their shoulder,” says the coach. If the Vols are to win, it will be due to this singular increase in effort.

On offense, the Volunteers are not overwhelming. They rushed for under 130 yards per game in 2005, and it was often posited that the defense did more than their fair share to win more than five games. Part of the problem was at quarterback. After a good go as a freshman, Erik Ainge came back to have a mediocre sophomore season. Only a fool would think he would be bad again, and in fact he is one of 21 preseason candidates for the Manning Award.

Ainge has a few good players to throw to, but the three top receivers have only 13 combined career starts. Still, they’ve been around as backups and are capable of scoring. Robert Meacham is six foot three and led the team in receiving yards in both 2004 and 2005 despite having just two career starts. Given the Bears’ recent loss of Tim Mixon and the loss of key coverage men to graduation, east-coasters must be excited at the prospects of seeing Ainge come back to form against a depleted Cal secondary.

Supplementing the Tennessee passing game will be a two- or even three-headed rushing attack. Sophomore tailback Aaron Foster leads the way after a freshman year of over 800 yards rushing and ending last season with five straight 100-yard games.

The weakness, though, is that pesky offensive line. Despite the return of 320-pound preseason all American LT Arron Sears, the offensive line is young and constitutes the weakness of the team. Only this week did the lineup solidify with the selection of Michael Frogg at center. If the Tennessee depth chart is accurate, outside of Sears, the other four offensive linemen return a total of seven career starts.

Although I expect Tennessee wants to present a balanced attack on offense, I think they will look to establish a running game out of the gate. With an inexperienced, big offensive line, they will want to get some success on the ground before laying into Cal’s depleted secondary.

Unfortunately for them, it won’t work.

Cal’s defensive front is outstanding, and despite the loss of a few key players, the depth and speed of the Cal defense is probably greater than in recent years. It is not impossible for this Cal defense to average 10 or fewer points over the season, and we know what kind of schedule the Pac-10 offers. The linebacking corps has two freshman all-Americans on the bench, and the speed is unparalleled.

I believe the Volunteers will have to draw on every ounce of anger and motivation to establish any offensive rhythm. They won’t be held scoreless, but they will have to work hard for every point.

Defensive Turnover
The biggest question for the Vols besides QB play is whether their depleted defense will reload or rebuild. The turnover for Tennessee was remarkable, losing three defensive linemen to the NFL and all three of their linebackers to graduation. The defensive backfield is in better shape and looks to be a very strong unit, but gone are the biggest factors that led to Tennessee being #2 nationally against the rush in 2005.

Big DT Justin Harrell (300 pounds) provides the only experience in the front seven, with 22 career starts in 32 career appearances. He is a force and can plug up the middle. The remaining six of the front seven, however, return just nine career starts; there is some significant game experience among the DL, however, with all four linemen having appeared in at least 20 games.

I think over time, the Tennessee defense will become known as a strong side with impressive statistics. They will create some problems down the road. Unfortunately for them, however, they face what may end up being the nation’s best rushing attack by season’s end (barring injury). Add in a bevy of speedy wide receivers and a crafty, deceptive offensive scheme, and the youngsters in orange are likely in for a long day.

My Prediction
As with any opening game, there are too many questions that can not be answered by statistics, media guides, or speculation. If the Bears can’t field a competent quarterback, Tennessee’s defense may gain confidence and momentum. If Cal’s secondary goes cold and Ainge catches fire, the Vols could rip off some long plays.

But I think it’s more likely that the Bears will control the game through a strong running attack, quieting the huge crowd and confusing the young defenders. I also look to the Bear front four to get pressure on Ainge every time he drops back, keeping him from getting into rhythm with his receivers and allowing the linebackers and safeties to make big plays.

The usual caveats about turnovers and injuries apply. If the game goes as I think it will, however, the Bears will show a level of class that will surprise the betting public and will impress the pollsters. Meanwhile, Tennessee will make a good showing but will, ultimately, not be able to keep up. I expect good things from them later in the year, but they’re too young in all the most important places to win this one.

Final score: Cal 28, Tennessee 10.

Go Bears!

August 25, 2006

writing group written up

Penny Warner, a writer of books who also has a column in our local paper, penned this column about the writing group that has helped me so much this past eight months. Although there is a factual error (or two) and the quotation at the end was edited a little too severely, it captures the essence of the group.

August 23, 2006

Airport Security

So I flew to Chicago today. I got to the airport ridiculously early, just in case someone decided to smuggle some Old Spice roll-on on the plane and they had to shut the place down.

As it turns out, the check-in line and security line were... the same as they've been for the past three years. Security was a little slower, but not much. (Instead of 18 minutes, I had to wait 20 with the same length line.) It's a pain in the ass to have to carry a larger bag and check it for such a short trip--I wasted about 30 minutes waiting for my bag in Chicago--but all in all, the process went smoothly.

Which begs the question: What are they really doing there? Does the x-ray machine pick up the presence of liquids, or does it just see bottle-shaped items? I understand that some bags are hand-searched. Three guys with white shirts and blue latex gloves stood by the gate as we all borded, "randomly" searching carryon bags. I never saw them inspect a single one.

I have yet to hear anyone say that banning carryon liquids and gels actually makes flying safer. In all the flights I've taken, and all the flights everyone I know has ever taken, there has not been a single attempt at hijacking, blowing up, poisoning, or aspifying the flight. Statistically, that's a very low percentage of flights targeted (it approaches zero pretty closely, for those still trying to do the math).

Yes, but remember Lockerbie. Remember 9/11. "Never again." That is, in a word, bullshit. I don't have the stats (who does?), but I would bet money that mechanical or pilot failure is responsible for more airplane deaths than terrorism... even before 9/11. Should we be vigilant in security? Sure, within reason. The steps taken recently have stepped outside the realm of reason and into the realm of action motivated by pure fear. And guess what? That means the terrorists have already won! Isn't that ironic? Terrorism's goal is not the deaths of a few hundred people or even a few thousand; it's to make people live in fear. That's why it's called terrorism. (The linguists among you may have picked up on that already.)

I'll tell you what we need. We need insurance companies to make the rules for airport security. Talk about a group who understands risk management. Airport security should not be an exercise in eradicating every possibility of risk. Somehow, fear and paranoia have turned it into that. Instead, it should be an exercise in managing risk against convenience and economics. It has become run by politics and political correctness when what is really needed is good ole Republican heartless analysis and cold calculation. Get the actuaries in and let them declare how much time and money should be spent on bag and passenger screening, how many restrictions should be placed on passengers on various flights (face it, Duluth to Fargo is not going to be a highly targeted route), and what the real risk levels are. Hell, post the risk values of each flight just like airlines now post the on-time percentage of each flight. Just like McDonald's has to post nutrition information of their foods. Let the consumers understand the risks they're taking when they get on the plane. How likely is it to crash due to faulty manufacturing? How likely due to drunk pilots? How likely due to aging and cracks in the fuselage? How likely due to terrorist activity?

Post all that information, then stand back and let the market sort it out. I bet the airlines already have all this information.

The way it's done today is stupidity at its most elegant.

Did you know that you're statistically more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than you are in a terrorist-related flight incident?

I heard someone in line today saying they thought the "no liquids" rule was simply a way of making people buy more $3 and $4 drinks on the airplane. The more I think about it, the more I bet they're right.

August 22, 2006

Car For Sale

Vintage 1978 VW beetle, candy apple red convertible, Karmann edition. 121,000 miles. Original owner. Asking $8,000. Passed California emissions testing (smog) today. Runs well. Draws a crowd and interested comments from onlookers, especially when a pretty girl is driving.

It's Lit Season

With the start of school imminent, it's time to pull out those short stories that did not find a home over the summer and send them out. One went out today; another goes out at the end of the month. Three additional queries for Jumping The Stream also went out today, bringing to four the number in circulation.

Still waiting for Thereby Hangs A Tale to appear in my mailbox. Still floating a bit that The First Line will be publishing "Saved" in the fall. Have identified some older poetry I can dust off and improve for another submission after I get back from my business trip to Chicago the rest of this week.

August 20, 2006

I hate being injured

Being injured sucks.

My plantar fasciitis (if that is indeed what I've been struggling with for the past several months) seemed to be healing. I could walk most days with only a little pain in the morning or after sitting for a long time at my desk. Then, last Thursday, I played soccer on it, and something slipped. Today is the first day that I had stretches of as much as fifteen minutes without it hurting like hell. But it's possible that I have a separate injury because the really excruciating pain is more on the side of my heel rather than the bottom of my heel.

I will be missing at least the first month of my soccer season to try to rest it and heal. I hate that boring slog on the stationary bike at the gym. But that will have to suffice until I can get back to normal. I bought some inserts [pdf] for arch support and heel cushion, but I wonder if I'll play this year at all. I already feel myself going soft in the gut.

Being injured sucks.

August 18, 2006

Flying Naked II

So this is news to me. You'd think I'd have heard of this when it happened. Huh.

August 16, 2006

Politics or Security?

This article at MSNBC says that the terrorist suspects arrested the day after Lieberman lost his primary did not have plane tickets and that in fact no attack was iminent. This is not to say they weren't bad guys; they were. The British had been watching some of them for years and wanted to continue surveillance for another week or more.

But the United States pressured to arrest them immediately.

Why would US officials do that if there is no imminent threat? Some of the arrested blokes did not even have passports, apparently. Wouldn't it be better to watch them a little longer, hoping to get more information and evidence, maybe have them give up some other conspirators or contacts?

Instead, the US pushed Britain to make the arrests the day after Lieberman's loss.

This is the way our government makes us more secure? Decide the timing of significant arrests based on political rather than security concerns?

August 14, 2006


A short story of mine has won acceptance in a paying market. The First Line, a literary journal out of (of all places) Plano, TX, has finally capitulated under my relentless onslaught of submissions and selected one for publication in their fall issue. Probably out of pity.

Seriously, my story, Saved, is probably my best short story to date. I look back at what I wrote just six months ago, and although I'm not exactly embarrassed by it, I see how improved my writing is now. I owe it all to my writers group, soon to be featured in a column in our local newspaper. (Well, maybe not all of it, but their critiques and my dad's comments helped immensely.)

I am not sure when the fall issue comes out; I am expecting it some time in October. They appear to be quite quick at turning around their print issues.

August 11, 2006

Flying Naked

It can't be far away.

I don't remember which sci-fi book it was (I read a lot of Asimov, Heinlein, and Niven as a kid), but one author had their characters walking around in disposable paper clothing. Sounded uncomfortable to me at the time.

First it was nail clippers. Now it's shampoo. Aftershave. Mascara. Toothpaste. You just can't carry anything on the plane any more. When I travel with my family, that's not a hardship; we simply drop everything into our checked luggage and wait for it at the far end. Of course, in the past 18 months I've flown about 20 round-tips and had my luggage lost no fewer than seven times.
So that's not always a reliable solution.

But what about my two-day business trips to Chicago, Denver, Orlando? My business overnights to Seattle? There's no reason for me to check luggage and waste an extra 45 minutes at the far end just to pick up my aftershave and toothpaste. And yet, if I buy them at the far end, I'll spend just as long shopping... then I'll have to mail them home or throw them out a day or two later. And I've got it easy--I've got no hair products to worry about.

The terrorists have already won. If every business traveler on a one- or two-night stay now has to check their luggage, then we're talking another 45 minutes of lost productivity for every business trip in the country, every day. Checked luggage will get lost more frequently when there's more of it to move. Claiming bags will take longer when the number of people waiting and the number of bags to be claimed increase 50%. This is going to be a huge economic drain.

But I'm certain it won't stop there. Some clever terrorist will find a way to make an explosive stick of chewing gum like James Bond used. Squish the two colors of gum together, and kablooey. At that point, all food will be banned on flights, and we'll be stuck with cross-country cheese nips or $10 cafeteria sandwiches on tasteless bread with squeeze packets of mayonnaise.

Then it won't be long before someone comes up with explosive or poison-gas-generating fabrics. Imagine a pair of socks that, when rubbed together vigorously, create a fatal poison gas. Shortly thereafter, we'll be forced into holding areas at check-in where we take off all our clothes and put on those disposable one-piece coveralls used in hospital surgery rooms, neatly printed with the logo of the airline we're flying that day. We'll stuff our regular clothes into our checked luggage and get on the plane. We'll get off the plane and wait 40 minutes to find out our luggage never got on the plane with us, and we'll stand another 40 minutes in line to file the lost-luggage claim. Then we'll rush off to our business meeting in our disposable one-piece outfit with only our IDs and cell phones and boarding pass stubs and lost luggage claim checks, and we'll sit around the table with our colleagues dressed in other airline-branded disposable outfits and our messy hair and bad breath and talk about how we should really invest more in videoconferencing, or maybe teleportation research.

The terrorists have already won. It's only a matter of time before air travel becomes more of an inconvenience than a benefit.

August 10, 2006

Amazing Timing

I love how national security victories tend to occur immediately after Republican political losses. Is there anyone in the entire world who thinks it a coincidence that big news about a terror threat against the US was released the day after the Rupublicans lost an ally in a primary election?

Democrats are soft on terror! George Bush is keeping us safe! 9/11! 9/11! Awk! Pretty birdie! Polly wanna cracker!

Six years of history has shown that this administration knows no media coincidences, only policy screwups, indictments and convictions, and a blatant disregard for truth, individual liberty, and transparency in government. The fact that I no longer automatically scoff at conspiracies about these things says a lot about how little trust I have in any aspect of the Bush administration. I mean, it is no longer entirely, unequivocably ludricous to suggest that the Bush administration set up this "terrorist plot" just so it could be "thwarted" in order to create a media frenzy at a sensitive political moment.

Lieberman, the only Democrat to continue to support Bush's inane war in Iraq, lost to an anti-war liberal. The media began a feeding frenzy about how this was a turn in the tide, a shift in political momentum--and the Republicans had better watch out in the midterms in November, just around the corner. Then, wham! Out comes this amazing news showing how secure we are under Bush's watch... after absolutely no such news in the past several years, not since the shoe bomber was thwarted. A political victory for anti-war elements is immediately turned into a "See? See what could have happened if lily-livered pansy pinko fag-loving marriage-hating fetus-killing liberals are allowed to be put in charge of homeland security? We'd all be blown to smithereens today."

Won't be fooled again.

August 8, 2006

yet another knot in the rope

no time for haiku
rejections wait for no man
I've run out of words

August 7, 2006

words to live by

From the venerable and incomprehensible (oh, wait, I think I meant incontrovertible... no, that's not right... incompatible? interminable? oh, drat, it'll come to me... indefatiguable... um... indescribable... interesting... oh, to hell with it) Miss Snark:

"Quit asking me why I said no, and go find someone to say yes."

I haven't actually asked the three agents who've passed on Jumping The Stream why they said "no", but I admit it gets under your skin the first time through the system. With hundreds of agents to go (and two still in consideration at the moment), I am quite confident I'll find someone to say "yes". Especially given the positive feedback I've received so far.

August 3, 2006

bruce, kenny, and the ponies

Every horse I picked lost today at the horse races in Minneapolis. But all my 2nd choice horses won, and at least I didn't pick the one horse that didn't finish. Of the seven of us picking horses tonight, only my two kids picked winning tickets. I came oh-so-close, but E picked a place and a show and walked away with $8.60 in profit, and S picked one show ticket and picked up $3.20 in profit. (It helps their P & L numbers that they were spotted the original price of the $2 wagers.)

The highlight of the day, however, was when a pretty young thing at the ice cream stand paid me a compliment. Here is the conversation:

PYT: Did anyone ever tell you you look like Bruce Willis?

ME: No. Someone told me I looked like Kenny Chesney, but I didn't believe her either.

PYT: Oh.

ME: But Bruce is getting kind of old.

PYT: No! I meant a young Bruce Willis.

ME: Want to get married?