December 28, 2006

pac-10 is pac oh-fer-three

Hopefully the Bears will stop the Pac-10's winless bowling streak this year. They have a difficult game, no doubt, and it won't be easy to be the first Pac-10 team to win a bowl this season. But they can do it. With only Oregon State vs Missouri and USC vs Michigan left, at best the Pac-10 can end up .500. A loss by the Bears tonight guarantees the Pac-10 will look like chumps when the fat lady sings.

I have not written anything significant in nearly two weeks due to holiday activities. I'm also back at work this week, with many year-end issues to wrap up. Argh. Still, I am feeling good about hitting the PNWA contest deadline with a quality entry.

December 20, 2006

speeding ticket!

Bend, Oregon is a friendly place. Lots of people being courteous and smiley. I counted no fewer than three pretty girls smiling at me yesterday (not including shop clerks, which are obligated to do so). Of course, it might have had something to do with the new jacket that Maria bought me, which makes me look sort of like that gay cowboy (the blonde one) in Brokeback Mountain.

Anyway, the mountains are beautiful, but I don't really dig the high desert in the winter. It's got that dirty feel with sand all over the roads and crusty, white dust coated on all the cars, and people bundled up in hats and gloves and bulky jackets. Mud in the afternoon, crunchy ice in the evening. I can imagine it's gorgeous in the summer, and I can't wait to come back then.

But I like the area. It feels much more real and down to earth than Walnut Creek. Not so much new money, not so much financial pressure, not so much judgment in the way people look at you. At least, that's my first impression of Bend. Favorable.

Vacation's been enjoyable. We've spent a lot of time with the friends we've come to visit and will see them even more in the next few days. Today we go to the High Desert Museum. Yesterday we xmas shopped downtown. The condo we're renting is huge and quite nice out at Eagle Crest. Friday we'll day-trip to see relatives in Eugene. All quite a nice break from the "reality" of work.

December 11, 2006

what tarot card am I?

You are The Hierophant
Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching. All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.

The Hierophant's purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant's only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.

Thanks to Written Wyrdd for the link.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

December 8, 2006

remembering and pondering

Yesterday was Perl Harbor Day, a day that will live in infamy. I did put out the flag, but I neglected to blog something about it. As we close in on nearly 3,000 American military deaths in Iraq, I think it is important to think of what happened back in 1941.

On that day, the US military lost about 3,100 soldiers (some died in the days after the attack due to injuries suffered on the 7th). Compare this to the 2,925 American military deaths in the Iraq war so far, and you get a sense of the devastation caused that day, particularly to the Navy and Marines. Then consider that the Iraq war in August became a longer conflict than the American part of World War II in Europe (that is, from the day of the Iraq invasion until mid August was the same number of days between Dec 7, 1941 and VE Day).

A WWII veteran lives on my street, and he was 25 when he heard of the attacks on the radio. Within days, his draft papers showed up in the mail. He said he could have gotten out of service on a work exemption, but he went. Eighteen months of training in San Francisco, Missouri, and Florida, followed by deployment to England.

If you did not take a moment on December 7th to think about the attach on Pearl Harbor, take a few moments now. Whatever your thoughts, take a few moments to focus on Pearl Harbor and what it did, what it caused.

3,100 soldiers killed in that attack
2,996 people killed or missing in the 9/11 attacks
2,925 soldiers killed in Iraq (so far)

An estimated 214,000 deaths in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
An estimated 50,000 civilian deaths in the Iraq war so far

And still people criticize someone for putting a Peace Wreath on their house during the Christmas season. Will we ever learn?

December 6, 2006

December 5, 2006

why does it make you uncomfortable?

I saw a memorial on my train ride home yesterday. A large number of white crosses occupied a visible hill in Lafayette, CA, accompanied by a sign that said the crosses were placed there in memory of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Apparently, it has caused quite a stir because some think the memorial is more of a political statement than an actual memorial.

Recently, I read of a woman in Colorado who was going to be fined $25 a day by her homeowners association because she wanted to put up a Christmas wreath. It wasn't just any wreath; it was in the shape of a peace symbol. Other residents complained that the Peace Wreath was an anti-war statement. They said that they worried that if they allowed it, they'd have to allow all kinds of political and social statements to be put up in their neighborhood.

God forbid that we allow freedom of speech on private land. God forbid that anyone actually would want there to be more peace in the world.

Regarding the crosses in Lafayette: Critics of the memorial say that it's just liberals using the tragedy of death to make a political statement. Huh. I don't recall that ever being illegal. In fact, I seem to recall our very own president referring to the tragic deaths of the 9/11 bombings to his own political gains--again, and again, and again. He also invoked the memory of the first 1,000 soldiers killed in Iraq in order to quiet war critics, saying that leaving Iraq at that time would be a cowardly disgrace to their memory.

Regardless, you can argue the aesthetics of such a memorial and the taste of such a political statement all you want. Bad taste does not make something illegal. Unpopularity also does not make it illegal. The people trying to get Lafayette to take down the crosses should learn a lesson from President Bush: When Cindi Sheehan's supporters camped on private property near Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX, Bush did not try to expel them. Instead, he ignored them, which was proper, all things considered. The critics of the Lafayette memorial have every right to criticize the memorial vociferously and energetically, to argue their points, to put up counter-memorials or whatever. What they don't have a right to do is declare anti-war statements illegal. The free speech laws exist to protect the existence of unpopular opinions. When unpopular opinions are outlawed, only outlaws will have unpopular opinions.

Regarding the wreath wrath: Unfortunately, the homeowners association probably has a right to compel the removal of the wreath. Such is life in a neighborhood governed by small-minded people, when you voluntarily sign on to obey their rules. I hope the other residents relent, however, as the symbol of peace should always (in my opinion) be welcomed. The owner has said that it is not an anti-Bush statement or even an anti-war statement. She said she wants to make a positive statement in support of peace rather than any negative, anti-anything statement. Put in that light, the homeowners association looks like pro-war, anti-peace neanderthals. In fact, they look downright anti-Christian as well, considering the message of every Christmas sermon I've ever attended has been peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

But the critics of the cross memorial in Lafayette should stop and think a minute about why it makes them uncomfortable to see it. They can say it's offensive because it uses tragedy for political gain. That means that either they're upset about the political gain or they're upset by the deaths. If they're upset by the political gain, they should ask themselves why 2,900 American soldiers dead does not upset them. If they're upset about the deaths, they should ask themselves why they would want to hide those upsetting deaths, ignore them, bury them without understanding the war's true cost.

They should ask themselves what about the memorial truly makes them uncomfortable, truly upsets them. And then they should take a long, hard look at the answer. Then, and only then, they should decide whether they want to protest its existence.

December 1, 2006

We want The Axe!

This year's Big Game is expected to be so lopsided that some Cal fans are actually bemoaning how it might ruin the tradition of the series. Screw that, I say. Things go in cycles, and Stanford is in a down cycle while Cal is in an up cycle. I am riding the joy because I know it will cycle back some day. It's the nature of college sports. With scholarship limitations and having to turn over the entire roster every five years, teams tend not to be too down or too up for too long.

All that said, time to revel in Stanford's state of abject woefulness while we have it.

The Bears are a 29 point favorite, and the over-under is 46 points. That means the bookies don't give Stanford much chance to score more than, say, a couple of field goals or maybe a kickoff return for a touchdown. Given the strength of Cal's kicking game, it is quite possible that Stanford not only doesn't score, but that they might not even make an appearance in Cal's end of the field.

OK, OK, Cal lost to Arizona. The difference: Arizona isn't all that bad. They were, but then they got their quarterback back from injury, and they matured. They beat Cal, Oregon, and WSU in a string. It is possible that Stanford could start their own string tomorrow. But don't count on it.

Stanford has improved in the second half of the season. In the first half, they were giving up a laughable 455 yards per game. Now, though, they've trimmed that to a respectable 315 yards per game in the last five games. Stanford's nonconference slate included bowl-bound San Jose State, Navy, and BCS-bound Notre Dame. Their only win was a 20 to 3 dismantling of the Washington Huskies on the road on November 11th. The following week they returned to form to get blasted by an Oregon State squad that had just lost at UCLA.

Statistically, Stanford is last in the conference in seven of eight major categories. They have the dead-last offense and are awful at defense except in passing yards per game, where they are a surprising #2 in the conference. This may be due to the fact, however, that teams have run so successfully on the Cardinal that they haven't had to pass. Opponents have rushed 486 times against Stanford for 4.9 yards per carry. Compare that to the rest of the league, which on the whole average 382 running plays by opponents. Meanwhile, the Cardinal's opponents have attempted only 294 passes; the other 9 pac-10 teams have faced an average of 357 passes. Basically, Stanford's opponents get so far ahead that they spend the second half of the game running the ball to kill the clock. And they do it successfully. (Stanford averages 4:20 less in possession time than their opponents.)

It's almost pointless to go deeper into the stats. Stanford went a month without an offensive touchdown at one point. They average 10.0 points per game, second-worst in division 1-A. They give up nearly 32 points per game, worst in the Pac-10 by far. Cal is the highest-scoring offense in the league at 32.4 ppg, but the defense has given up 20.4. Good but not stellar. Facing a woeful offense like Stanford's, Cal's defensive speed should dominate.

When the Bears do go to the air, they bring the league's second most efficient passing attack. Stanford's pass defense efficiency is terrible, 9th in the Pac-10. They allow 62% completion (worst by far) and have given up 13 TDs to just 7 interceptions. While 13 passing TDs is pretty good, the 7 interceptions is very low... and the TDs are offset by the fact that Stanford has given up 26 rushing TDs, which is 8 more than the second-worst in that category. Half the league has given up 11 or fewer rushing TDs on the season. Stanford's 26 is a real head-shaker. Teams don't have to pass for touchdowns; they just run the ball in.

An interesting comparison is that Stanford is not the worst in the league in yards given up per play. The worst is... California. Cal gives up 5.8 yards per play on average, while Stanford gives up 5.5. Both are awful (4.9 or better would be considered good).

Perhaps the biggest bane to Stanford this year (besides injuries) has been turnovers. Stanford is dead last (again) in the Pac at -10 overall. Only Oregon has fared as poorly. The Bears sit fourth in the league at +5.

A glance at one of the stats pages from this week's Pac-10 football release tells a compelling story. Of the twelve statistical tables on the page, Stanford is last in nine of them (Turnover margin, first downs, opponent first downs, 3rd-down conversion, opponent 3rd-down conversion, sacks by, sacks against, field goals, and PAT kicking) and 9th in one (pass defense efficiency). The two tables where they are not at the bottom relate to penalties. Stanford is the league's least penalized team, and Stanford's opponents get penalized about an average amount of time.

Stanford is also last in red zone offense, appearing there just 22 times this season and scoring only SIX touchdowns. Compare that to the next-worst team, Arizona, with 29 appearances and fifteen touchdowns. This means that of Stanford's 11 offensive touchdowns, five were scored from outside the red zone. I don't think the Bears will give up any of those on Saturday; the team speed on defense is astounding.

The Bears have 22 red zone TDs in 35 appearances. This means that Cal has scored 17 touchdowns from outside the red zone. The Bears have as many red zone touchdowns as Stanford has red zone appearances, and Cal has scored nearly as many outside-the-red-zone TDs as Stanford has red zone appearances. Yikes. Talk about a discrepancy.

On the other side, Stanford's red zone defense is just as bad. Their opponents have shown up in the red zone a whopping 53 times and scored an eye-popping 34 touchdowns while visiting. Compare to Cal, who have allowed opponents into their red zone only 29 times overall and have given up only 14 touchdowns on those tries. An interesting thing is that Stanford has given up only five offensive touchdowns this year from outside their red zone. This, of course, is in keeping with the idea that teams tend to run the ball successfully at the Cardinal. Run a lot, and you're likely to end up inside the 20 at some point. In addition, it's interesting to see that of the 34 TDs they've given up inside the red zone, 24 are rushing TDs. This means that they give up more rushing TDs from within the red zone than the number of times their offense has appeared in the opponent's red zone.

Are we getting the picture yet?

Here's a cool stat: Cal has made 44 of 44 PAT kick attempts. Stanford has attempted just 13 and made only 11. Egads.

Another: Stanford has kicked off just 27 times. Eliminate 11 for having to kick off at least once each game to start a half, and you're left with 16 scores in 11 games. The Bears have kicked off 65 times, which makes 54 scores in 11 games. Holy smokes.

No wonder the point spread is 29.

The good news for the Cardinal, and the tough call for those considering wagering on the game, is that the Bears already have their bowl invitation sewn up. They can't improve by running up the score. There is only the need to win the game and to get all the seniors on the field at some point. If the Bears take a big lead into the second half, expect to see second- and third-string players the rest of the way. Running up the score is not coach Tedford's style, and it serves no valuable purpose in this game. So, while I'd like to see Cal hang a hundred on the ailing Cardinal, it ain't gonna happen.

Final score: Cal 49, Stanford 6.

Go Bears!