Sunday, January 31, 2016

2015: The Year South Park Finally Got Old

In online-adjacent spaces, Tumblr often stands in as a rhetorical punching-bag for everyone from outright hate-groups (think the “GamerGate” harassment campaign, or the various arms of Breitbart and Stormfront) to more reasoned blowback from aging Boomer and Gen-X comedians like Jerry Seinfeld (or Chris Rock) bracing at criticism about offensive jokes from “politically correct” Millennial audiences. PC Principal, of course, is a blunt personification of the former, a literal “PC bully” inflicting aggressive punishment on anyone who dares speak or think out of step with an ever-changing ideological purity; what innumerable hand-wringing thinkpieces have dubbed the “outrage culture.”

All of this, especially the spinning of inbound-criticism into a caricatured villain, is the stuff classic South Park has previously been made of, but this time there’s a palpable lack of actual connective tissue between the disparate elements (a late-arriving moral about politically-correct speech being “gentrification, but for language” lands with a bizarre, impotent thud in the finale) which is, quite frankly, shocking coming from creators who once turned their rivalry with Family Guy into an occasion to examine freedom of expression vis-a-vi religious parody in the post-9/11 era. Parker and Stone are hardly bulletproof and Park has stumbled plenty before, but the spectacle of a series that rewrote the book on staying evergreen and engaged with the culture it satirized seemingly devoting an entire season to scoffing at the concerns of the rising generation without any accompanying self-appraisal was utterly puzzling – particularly since the self-defense was still there, with PC Principal’s first scene being a monologue about how the town’s (read: the series’) behavior was “stuck in a time warp.”

That’s not to say that South Park (or any other series) has some kind of obligation to keep current with the generational or political winds. Indeed, the show (and its creators’) eagerness to prod the left and right with equal vigor has always been part of its signature. It’s easy to forget, but when the series landed right in the midst of the Clinton 90s (the decade where “political correctness” first became a mainstream phrase) seeing a comedy show with actual youth-culture street cred fire volleys at environmentalism, the “tolerance” push and other progressive-perennials Gen-Xers had been receiving as default-positives from Sesame Street right up through Friends was part of what made it feel exciting and different. It’s also what won the series a (then) unlikely following on the right-wing, with columnist Andrew Sullivan dubbing circa-2001 young conservatives “South Park Republicans” to the chagrin of the creators; who steadfastly insisted that they (and the show) had staked their claim squarely in the middle: on the South Park moral spectrum, the military/industrial right and the do-gooder left are equal antagonists of the “little guy” who was likely doing just fine until they started bothering him.

Of all the personal fixations and grievances that Parker and Stone contributed to South Park’s foundational DNA, that particular outlook is perhaps the most quintessentially demonstrative of their upbringing in the American Midwest, a region given to seeing itself as caught between the battles of clashing cultural-behemoths; be it the Republican South versus Democrat coasts or merely New York verus Los Angeles as economic power-centers. But it’s also a universally-comforting notion, since almost everyone would like to think of themselves as the normal, sensible person beset on all fronts by absurd extremes – and who, after all, doesn’t prefer stability (their own, at least) to chaos and upheaval? When a protest-march shuts down a city block, South Park’s first instinct is to look past the activists and their enemy to cast sympathy with the folks who didn’t ask to be involved but are now late for work all the same.

But the absolute middle is as much a fantasy as the existence of “pure” good or evil, and the problem with “leave me alone” as a philosophical ideal (whether for a cartoon show or a human life) is that you can’t resist upheaval without also upholding the status-quo. And in an era where “change” itself (changes in demographics, changes in society, changes in acceptable language, etc) is often at the forefront of our most divisive discussions, being reflexively anti-upheaval (regardless of the reason) is very much taking a side no matter how much one insists otherwise. This is tricky terrain for any work of satire where immediacy is part of the brand: It gets increasingly hard to be a rock star when you’re the one asking for the music to be turned down.

That’s precisely the predicament where Parker, Stone and South Park have now found themselves, in my estimation: It took a while, but they seem to have crossed the point where their dual central-sympathies – their own self-righteousness and the righteousness of put-upon “little guys” – are no longer one and the same. South Park is The Establishment at this point, and the little guys in perpetual danger of being trampled increasingly look less like the middle-age Generation-Xers who created it and more like the aggrieved rainbow of dissidents making noise on the likes of Tumblr (or out in the streets, for that matter.) And Season 19, by the end, felt like nothing so much as the creators gnashing their teeth at ascendant Millennials moments after the realization of this finally smacked them in the face. “Hmph! You kids today with your hula-hoops and your social justice!”

On the one hand, there’s no rule that says edgy humor is the sole province of the under-30 set: witness the aforementioned Jon Stewart’s career-defining metamorphosis from snarky MTV fixture to the sarcastic gray-haired political conscience of a nation for proof of that. But while it’s entirely possible for comedy (and comedians) to survive or even thrive as in the form of an ever-aging grownup grousing about “kids today,” it’s unclear exactly how South Park would do so. Unlike The Simpsons, which gradually pivoted focus from Bart to Homer in transition from trendy-troublemaker to cultural-landmark stature, Park feels permanently wed to the Main Four as central figures. Family Guy navigated similar longevity-pains (your mileage may vary on their success at such) by allowing creator Seth McFarlane’s self-insert character, Brian, to shift organically from being the moral-center of the series to a narcissistic, out-of-touch grump that nobody likes; but “You’re Getting Old” already took Park’s version of that kind of character-shift to the logical extreme and back again.

On the other hand, not every act stays potent in advancing age. Once upon a time, Dennis Miller was political comedy’s pre-Jon Stewart icon; a human-thesaurus motormouth whose snarky takes on current-events made his HBO series a kind of proto-Daily Show. But the march of time (and a self-admitted life-altering reaction to 9/11) took his comedy in an angrier, more conservative direction; and to the degree that he’s known at all today it’s for a right-wing talk radio show (recently concluded) and a recurring guest spot on The O’Reilly Factor – a fate far-removed from what the fans who once regarded him as the “thinking man’s” stand-up hero. Granted, it’s unlikely anything so extreme awaits the maestros of South Park (for one thing, they’ve already established a second mega-successful career as blockbuster Broadway musical creators,) but the gap between Miller’s full-throated embrace of Bush-era neoconservativism to the bafflement of his Gen-X fanbase and Parker and Stone’s grumpy cynicism about “Tumblr Generation”-embraced causes like transgender issues feels less and less vast every day; and the spectre of Miller’s fall hangs over every comic who wakes up one day to find themselves as the Old Man when just yesterday they were still the children he’s about to order off the lawn.

The final irony, though, and the one which makes South Park’s Season 19 pivot feel all the more askew, is the particularities of just what about Millennial social-consciousness, Tumblr-activism, “outrage culture” and the rest seems to bother Parker and Stone so much. The grievances bubbling under the season’s narrative-surface are familiar to anyone whose endured a wave or three of Internet blowback against “SJWs” (“Social Justice Warriors”): They’re too angry. They’re never satisfied. They “shoot” first and ask questions later. They demand ideological purity. They don’t respect procedure, or tenure, or institutions. They rant and rave and rage, treat pop-culture alternately like a toybox or target-range and won’t take “that’s not how it’s done” for an answer. They, effectively, act like indignant, infuriated adolescents too charged up at discovering a new power to shape the cultural conversation to bother wielding it any measure of responsibility.

That reminds me of somebody I used to know. Somebody who reacted to worries about how to tell jokes post-9/11 with “Watch us.” Somebody who wasn’t simply unafraid but eager to “call out” everyone from Michael Moore to Christopher Reeve to Tom Cruise. Somebody who’s response to professional-betrayal by a colleague was an eye-poppingly combative “Fine, go – but we’re gonna turn your character into a brainwashed child-molester and then kill him.” Somebody who saw the value in being loud, angry and tactless where it concerned getting one’s point across, and who didn’t merely invite the condescension and hand-wringing of the older generation but actually reveled in it. Sound like anyone you used to know, Stan? Or you, Kyle?

There’s no such thing, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone have always been all too eager to remind us, as an unacceptable target when it comes to satire. But choice and timing of targets can reveal a lot about those picking them, and in turning the full measure of its guns (an entire season of television) on perceived cornerstones of Millennial culture and, implicitly, on Millennials as a generational-class themselves, South Park would appear to have completed its transition from rebellious “angry kid” firebrand raging at every hint of authority to established, dug-in angry old man shaking a fist at the generation rising up behind it. And while South Park has endured and made fools of its critics before, it’s hard to imagine how you pull out of this particular trajectory when your “brand” has always been blunt-honesty at all costs.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Coldplay - "Hymn for the Weekend"

According to lead singer Chris Martin, the original kernel was that he was listening to Flo Rida or something, and he thought, it's such a shame that Coldplay could never have one of those late-night club songs, like "Turn Down for What". "I thought I’d like to have a song called 'Drinks on Me' where you sit on the side of a club and buy everyone drinks because you're so fucking cool," Martin recalled. "I was chuckling about that, when this melody came, 'drinks on me, drinks on me', then the rest of the song came out. I presented it to the rest of the band and they said, 'We love this song, but there's no way you can sing "drinks on me."' So that changed into 'drink from me' and the idea of having an angelic person in your life. Then that turned into asking BeyoncĂ© to sing on it."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

NFL Playoffs: Championship Round

One week after all four home teams won in the Divisional Round, both No. 1 seeds advanced to the Super Bowl for the third straight season.

Brady vs. Manning XVII

The Broncos have been doing a lot of talking ahead of Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Patriots. Defensive end Antonio Smith said he doesn't disagree that Tom Brady is a crybaby, but conceded "he's not going to rattle just because you hit him hard. I've tried over the years." DE Malik Jackson said Brady is a "whiner" who "definitely throws temper tantrums." Then there's linebacker Brandon Marshall, who has a very simple explanation for why Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is always open: "Because he pushes off" and "he gets away with it about 98 percent of the time."

"I hate everything about them," said DE Derek Wolfe, via the Denver Post. "They're always in my way. They're always in my way to get what I want. I've got a ton of respect for the whole organization. They've got great players -- Tom Brady's a great player. Bill Belichick's a great coach. I've got a ton of respect for them. I just hate them."

Denver outside linebacker Von Miller was informed this week that, on average, Brady got the ball out of his hands in about two seconds during a divisional victory over Kansas City. "You said two seconds?" Miller said. "Sometimes I only need like one."

The matchup between the league leader in touchdown passes and the league's top-ranked passing defense was already an enticing one. Throw in the fact that Peyton Manning might be taking on Brady for one final time and the game is clearly in a position to go down as an all-time classic.

"I have felt very fortunate to play 18 years like I have, and I know how hard I've worked to play this long. When I look across at the New England Patriots and see Tom Brady is their quarterback, I just know how hard he's worked, as well," Manning said.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Cornerback Bradley Roby saved the game by picking off Tom Brady's pass on a 2-point try with 12 seconds left to preserve a 20-18 victory for the Broncos over the Patriots Sunday in the AFC title game. New England had to go for 2 after Brady's 4-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski because Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point in the first quarter, snapping a string of 523 straight makes. Manning threw two touchdowns but the 39-year-old QB's best play may have very well been his 12-yard scramble on third down in the third quarter - his longest playoff run since he was a rookie. Manning will become the first quarterback in NFL history to play in multiple Super Bowls for two different teams. Denver (14-4) will face Carolina for the title on Feb. 7.

More information:
» CBS Sports: Inside the NFL on Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
» Denver Post: Broncos vs. Patriots, By the Numbers
» "2016 AFC championship game could be last dance for two of NFL's greatest QBs"

Carolina was the most dominant team throughout the regular season, earning the No. 1 seed in the final week of the season. They got out to a quick 17-0 first quarter lead on Sunday and the Cardinals never recovered. It was a day-long celebration in Charlotte, a fitting capper to what has felt like a season-long celebration of all things Cam Newton at home this year. The best player on the best team is going to the biggest game. It's up to the Broncos to prevent Super Bowl 50 from feeling like a coronation.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others, and Carolina's big-play defense stifled Arizona's top-ranked offense in a 49-15 romp Sunday for the NFC championship. The NFL's new top man at quarterback - Newton is an All-Pro this season - will lead the Panthers against five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in two weeks. It will be the first Super Bowl for Newton and the second trip to the big game for the Panthers (17-1), who lost to New England 12 years ago. Denver, of course, has made a habit of going to Super Bowls, reaching it for a record-tying eighth time. Carolina's D was destructive. It forced six turnovers by Carson Palmer - special teams got one - as the Cardinals (13-4) allowed their most points this season.

More information:
» Yahoo Sports: Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best postseason receivers ever
» "10 things we learned from Championship Sunday"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spotlight: Cam Newton

"The Panthers will reevaluate Monday the fractured foot of defensive end Jared Allen, but it appears the NFL's active sack leader (136) will miss the rest of the playoffs. That means the Panthers will have to adjust, likely moving Kony Ealy to the starting right end spot and signing Wes Horton off the practice squad. Horton started 15 games at the end last season but is considered more of a run-stopper. This could mean using Ryan Delaire in pass-rushing situations."
"I want it to be known that his mother and I are staunch Christian proponents of marriage and all things pertaining to legitimacy," Cecil says. "I have three sons and one woman, and I have been a living example all his life of what a man should be in a family. Cam is 26 years old, not 18 or 19. He has a heightened consciousness of who he is as a man, and I always tell him the decisions you make you have to live with short and long term. I don't style it as a mistake; I style it as something that can be a gift for him and the young lady. We're going to support them in every aspect -- physically, emotionally and spiritually."

Against Atlanta, after Chosen was born but before the world knew, Newton scored and incorporated a baby-rocking move into his celebration. After the loss, and after he had spent nearly an hour in silence at his locker, he was asked what the gesture meant. He dismissed the question with a wave of his hand and a shake of his head, making it clear it was a private message in a public moment.

The next week, after the season-ending win over the Bucs, which gave the Panthers the NFC's No. 1 seed, Newton walked into the interview room wearing a three-quarter-length sports coat, blue slacks, the swirly black-and-white shoes and no foxtail.

As the news conference wound down, Newton was asked what he will remember from the 2015 regular season. It was a softball, light and fluffy and lobbed over the heart of the plate.

Newton paused, and his smile vanished.

"We shouldn't have lost," he said, his voice trailing. "We shouldn't have lost."

That's it? After 15 wins and 35 touchdown passes and countless dances and all those unnamed Euro-step/jump shots, he will remember the loss? The one loss? It seems the NFL's resident big kid -- has the NFL considered a Big Kid Laureate program? -- would cite a particularly memorable dance move, or a little boy who was especially moved after being handed a ball after a touchdown, or an open-field juke that inflicted exceptional and long-lasting embarrassment on a linebacker.

But no. The one loss -- not the NFL-best four game-winning drives, not the 14 straight wins to start the season, not the records, not the ascension to the illustrious pantheon of the most fetishized gods in sport. No. The loss. The mood in the room shifts. The interview is over, and as Cam Newton walks away from the podium he leaves behind a lingering sense of that rarest of emotions: surprise.

And while Warren Moon dislikes the celebrations -- "I like that he gives the ball to a kid," he says, "but I think the quarterback gets enough attention already" -- Cecil Newton says, "People go so far as to time his celebrations. They're timing him. They'll say, '4.1 seconds is the norm, and he took it to 8.3.' If you're that scientifically concerned with a celebration, you have bigger problems than whatever he's doing."

During an interview with a team psychologist of an AFC North team at the combine, Newton was asked whether he sees himself more as a cat or a dog. When he suggested that the question was not relevant and that he saw himself more as a human being, he was immediately asked whether he had a problem with authority.

"African-American quarterbacks get analyzed in ways that others don't," Moon says. "We've dispelled a lot of those myths, but not all."

More information:
» ESPN: "The reason Cam Newton named his son Chosen"
» ESPN: "The joy of Cam Newton: How a polarizing QB made (great) football fun"

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning rescued the butter-fingered Broncos with a late touchdown drive and Denver advanced to the AFC championship game with a 23-16 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Broncos (13-4) will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (13-4) next weekend. Manning vs. Brady XVII. With Denver down 13-12 with less than 10 minutes left, cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint's arms and teammate DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Denver 35-yard line. Then, Manning went to work, driving Denver to its only touchdown. Ware's sack ended Pittsburgh's next drive and Brandon McManus kicked his fifth field goal, tying the NFL playoff record. Chris Boswell made a 47-yarder with 19 seconds left, but C.J. Anderson recovered the onside kick.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers built a 31-point halftime lead before barely holding off Seattle's relentless comeback, beating the Seahawks 31-24 on Sunday to advance to the NFC championship game. Carolina (16-1) will host Arizona (14-3) next week for a trip to the Super Bowl. Jonathan Stewart, returning from a foot injury, scored two touchdowns after jumpstarting the Panthers with a 59-yard sprint on their first play. Cam Newton threw for a touchdown and fellow All-Pro Luke Kuechly ran in an early interception for a score as Carolina built a 31-0 advantage. Seattle (11-7), showing its pedigree as two-time NFC champs, climbed back within seven points as Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns, two to Jermaine Kearse. An onside kick with 1:11 remaining was covered by All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis - and Charlotte could begin breathing again.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals, the NFC's No. 2 seed, thought they had won until Aaron Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of Green Bay's win over Detroit this season, took the snap with 5 seconds to play, scrambled and threw a 41-yard desperation pass to the end zone. The 6-foot-3 Jeff Janis, a backup receiver, outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson for the ball to send the game to an extra period.

But Larry Fitzgerald turned a short pass into a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime and scored the winning touchdown, taking a 5-yard shovel pass from Carson Palmer that lifted Arizona past Green Bay 26-20. Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards.

"In NFL history, only Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin have more than five 100-yard postseason games; Rice had eight and Irvin had six. And when Larry Fitzgerald subsequently scored the game-winning touchdown against the Packers, it was his 10th career receiving touchdown in the postseason. Only Rice and John Stallworth have more than 10 postseason receiving touchdowns; Stallworth had 12 and Rice had 22, a record that may never be broken. Fitzgerald has done all that while playing in just eight career postseason games. Rice played in 29 career postseason games, Stallworth played in 18 and Irvin played in 16. Fitzgerald hasn’t always been on good teams, but when he gets to the playoffs, he always delivers."

More information:
» "Larry Fitzgerald adds another chapter to legendary career"
» "Aaron Rodgers unhappy about coin flip gaffe"

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with two touchdown passes and reached over the goal line for another score Saturday to lead the New England Patriots into the AFC championship game with a 27-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. It's the fifth straight trip to the conference title game for the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots (13-4) will meet the winner of Sunday's game between Pittsburgh and Denver for a spot in Super Bowl 50 as they try to become the first repeat NFL champs since they did it in 2003-04. After spending the last two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski had touchdown catches from 8 and 16 yards The All-Pro tight end had seven receptions for 82 yards. Kansas City (12-6) had won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games, including 30-0 at Houston last week in the wild-card round.

In the regular season, Brady led the league with 36 touchdown passes and guided the Patriots to 12 wins despite losing a multitude of offensive players at various points. In 15 regular season games, Gronkowski recorded 72 receptions for 1,176 yards, and 11 touchdowns. On Saturday, he opened up the Patriots' playoff run with two touchdowns against the Chiefs, setting an NFL record with his eighth career postseason score. Dave Casper and Vernon Davis held the tight end record with seven playoff touchdowns. Now, that record belongs to Gronkowski, who's still just 26 years old.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ovi Becomes Fifth-Fastest Player to Reach 500 Career Goals

"Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby will join Alex Ovechkin at the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game. This is the first time the Caps have had three All-Star participants since 1984-85. This season, the Capitals have the best record in the league while scoring the second-most goals and giving up the least. Their special teams are also special: second-best power play and fourth on the penalty kill. In 1984-85, Washington had four players — Bob Carpenter, Mike Gartner, Rod Langway, Scott Stevens — in the NHL All-Star Game in Calgary. The 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game will be 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31 in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. NBCSN will broadcast the game."
WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin scored his 500th goal Sunday night, becoming the 43rd player in NHL history to reach the milestone.

Ovechkin reached the mark in vintage fashion, scoring from just beyond the left hash marks during a second-period power play to give the Washington Capitals a 5-1 lead over the Ottawa Senators.

Ovechkin got an extended standing ovation and took a skate around the rink, acknowledging the cheering crowd that included his parents. He later drew another roar while waving to fans from the bench.

He added No. 501 midway through third, beating a defender with a sweeping deke at the top of the zone before smacking a shot past goalie Andrew Hammond for a 7-1 lead.

At 801 games, the Russian winger is the fifth-fastest player to 500 goals, trailing only Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky (575 games), Mario Lemieux (605), Mike Bossy (647) and Brett Hull (693).

"He is one of a kind," Hull told the AP in a phone interview last week. "I admire what he does because he's a pure goal scorer."

Ovechkin has filled the net more often than anyone since he entered the league in 2005, scoring 149 more goals than the next closest player, Jarome Iginla.

Ovechkin was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft by Washington. He's been named an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons and was voted a captain for this year's All-Star game. He's won three straight Richard Trophies as the league's leading goal scorer and five overall. He's also won three Hart Trophies as league MVP.

The 30-year-old Ovechkin is the NHL leader in career goals by a Russian-born player.

Ovechkin has 26 goals this season, including five over his past three games.

More information:
» "Analytics say Ovechkin one of top goal-scorers ever"
» "Alex Ovechkin adds 500th goal to career timeline"
» "Capitals' Holtby on way to winning first Vezina Trophy"
» "Capitals captain Ovechkin buys Powerball tickets"

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Powerball Hype

"Anyone who fails to understand these incredibly terrible odds, the argument goes, is just throwing money away. And those who throw money away, the argument continues, are just failing to apply reason to a straightforward math problem... [but] To complain that the lottery is a bad bet and a waste of money is like complaining that Luke Skywalker isn’t a real person. Don’t play the lottery because you are likely to win. Play the lottery for a shared communion with the sublimity of extreme contingency... To play Powerball is to participate in a collective ritual that pays homage to the enormously improbable things that nevertheless happen all the time."
CNN Money:
Powerball players have spent a total of $2.26 billion on tickets since the last time there was a winner in November.

The jackpot hit $1.6 billion on Wednesday after Saturday night's drawing failed to produce a winner. According to the Texas Lottery, the cash equivalent was $983.5 million.

The jackpot has been accruing since Nov. 4, 2015, when the last Powerball jackpot was claimed by a winner in Tennessee. This jackpot first broke into the top 10 largest of all time when it hit $400 million on January 3. It hit the billion dollar mark about a week after that.

The previous record U.S. lottery jackpot was a Mega Millions game in March 2012 that paid out $656 million.

To win the grand prize, the ticket must match all five numbers (in any order) and the red Powerball number. Anyone with just a matching Powerball number gets four bucks.

The odds of winning are 1 in 292 million, and the chances of winning the jackpot got slimmer when Powerball implemented a rule change in October 2015. But the odds of some draw winning are (at least) one in three. And they increase as more tickets are sold.

Powerball is sold in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A photo posted by Dan Bilzerian (@danbilzerian) on

More information:
» Forbes: "10 Things To Do When You Win The Lottery"
» The Atlantic: "The Sublime Beauty of Powerball"

Monday, January 11, 2016

Nick Saban's Fifth National Championship

Fox Sports:
Nick Saban’s fifth national championship was without question his hardest. Now that he’s moved within one of Alabama icon Bear Bryant for the most in college football’s 79-year poll history, he’s etched his status as the greatest coach of at least his generation.

Frankly, what he’s accomplished is much more difficult than the achievements of Bryant or any other earlier-era legend, none of whose teams had to play 15 games in a season or defend a modern spread offense.

“What he’s doing is unheard of,” said Lane Kiffin, who previously worked under another multi-champion, Pete Caroll. “It’s supposed to stop. … There’s supposed to be 9-5 years -- because that happens to everyone. He continues to do it. The players change, the (assistant) coaches change. He’s the only one who stays the same.”

That Saban’s Alabama dynasty won its fourth national championship in seven seasons is all the more remarkable given the whole run purportedly ended that September night the Tide lost to Ole Miss. It did not appear evident at the time that tailback Derrick Henry would morph into a 2,000-yard Heisman winner and that the defense would thoroughly dominate the next 11 opponents it faced.

It’s also a credit to Saban and his staff that they found a completely different way to beat the last one.

Alabama won a national championship game in which its opponent scored 40 points and racked up 550 yards. Watson frequently vexed the Tide’s defense like he had many an ACC opponent or semifinal foe Oklahoma, extending plays with his feet and throwing darts into the end zone. Coupling him with the Tigers’ breakneck tempo, “We got tired in the second quarter,” said Saban, “and once that happened, it was even worse.”

“We didn’t always play pretty in this game,” said newly minted five-time champion Saban following the victory. “It probably wasn’t one of our best games when it just comes to flat execution. But when it comes to competing and making plays when we needed to make them, it was probably as good as it gets. I think that’s the kind of competitors that win championships, and that’s probably why we’re sitting here.”

"The main battle on the ground features Alabama’s running back Derrick Henry, who amassed 2,061 years this season on top of 25 touchdowns. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has thrown 3,699 yards in the 2015 outing, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Henry won this year’s Heisman Trophy, presented annually to the best player in college football, while Watson finished second in the voting for the distinction."

New York Times:
Henry contributed 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns Monday to ignite Alabama’s 45-40 victory against Clemson. Along the way, he supplanted Shaun Alexander as the Tide’s career rushing yards leader by breaking his record of 3,565 yards.

The Tide were also led by tight end O. J. Howard, who scored two touchdowns. Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards to put Alabama up by 38-27 with 7 minutes 31 seconds left in the game. Quarterback Jake Coker was 16 of 25 for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But the seal of authenticity on Saban’s stamp of greatness was provided by three young defensive backs who played like upperclassmen. Ronnie Harrison and Minkah Fitzpatrick, both one year removed from high school, broke up passes in the end zone in the third quarter.

And Marlon Humphrey, a redshirt freshman, recovered an onside kick in the fourth after the Tide had tied the score at 24 with a field goal, setting up the score that put Alabama ahead for good.

The Tigers, who had won 51 straight when leading after three quarters, were outscored by 24-16 in the final 15 minutes. To a man, Alabama players reflect Saban’s attention to detail and his focus. The Tigers, who were bidding for their first national championship since 1981, lost their concentration for a moment, on the onside kick, and it cost them. “Just a few plays,” Swinney said.

Swinney described the long scores by Howard and the onside kick as “the three critical errors” that blotted out Clemson’s positives: the 550 yards of total offense (to Alabama’s 473) and quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season. Watson was 30 of 47 for 405 yards and four touchdowns.

Like objects in Alabama’s side mirror, the top-ranked Tigers were closer than they appeared. Since 2011, they have an overall record of 56-12 to the Tide’s 62-7. The Tigers will have their day. But Monday belonged to Alabama.

“As long as you do this it’s always about the next play, the next game,” Saban said.

More information:
» SB Nation: "Nick Saban's last great rebuild"
» SB Nation: "It took an awesome Clemson team to show just how good Alabama is"
» SB Nation: "The lesson from Nick Saban's championship reign is to stop trying to copy Nick Saban"

"I literally think that they're exactly the same," Dont'a Hightower said on Thursday when asked to compare Belichick and Saban during a Super Bowl media session. "From the way that they run their meetings to the way that we run practice, just the way they address the team, you can definitely tell that Nick learned something from Bill whenever they were at Cleveland. And I mean they're still pretty close friends. So I can only imagine how much more they're alike than what I think. I literally think they are two peas in a pod."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

"David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie, was an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over four decades, and was considered by critics and other musicians as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. His androgynous appearance was an iconic element of his image, principally in the 1970s and 1980s.

Born and raised in Brixton, south London, Bowie developed an early interest in music although his attempts to succeed as a pop star during much of the 1960s were frustrated. "Space Oddity" became his first top five entry on the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. After a three-year period of experimentation, he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with his flamboyant and androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The character was spearheaded by his single "Starman" and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie's impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, "challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day" and "created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture". The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved to be one facet of a career marked by reinvention, musical innovation and visual presentation."
Rolling Stone:
The seeds of date to mid-2014, when Bowie met with longtime producer Tony Visconti and drummer Zack Alford to cut some demos at Magic Shop. Then Bowie disappeared for five months to work on the new material at his house. "He's got a little setup there," says Visconti. "And there was no clear communication from him until December. That's when he told me he was ready to make the album."

Two years ago, Bowie released his first album in nearly decade, the relatively traditional (by Bowie standards) rock album The Next Day, which he cut with Visconti and members of his old touring band. For , he was determined to do something very different. "We were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar," says Visconti. "We wound up with nothing like that, but we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn't do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that's exactly what we wanted to do. The goal, in many, many ways, was to avoid rock & roll."

McCaslin and his bandmates were able to handle whatever Bowie threw at them, from Krautrock to hip-hop to pop to jazz, creating an incredible fusion sound that can't be pinned to any one genre. "They can play something at the drop of a dime," says Visconti. "[Keyboardist] Jason [Lindner] was a godsend. We gave him some pretty far-out chords, but he brought a jazz sensibility to re-voice them." They cut the album on ProTools, though much of the gear was vintage. "Jason's synthesizer didn't have a computer with souped-up programs like Omnisphere on it," Visconti says. "He would just do it with guitar pedals, making all the sounds unique. We're like old school like that. Also, [bassist] Tim Lefebvre was just phenomenal to work with. He pretty much nailed every take right on the spot."

The album begins with the 10-minute title track, a surreal, haunting song that began as two completely separate tunes before Bowie and Visconti sewed them together. The original version was actually more than 11 minutes long, but they cut it to 9:57 after learning iTunes won't post songs for individual sale that cross the 10-minute mark. "It's total bullshit," says Visconti with a laugh. "But David was adamant it be the single, and he didn't want both an album version and a single version, since that gets confusing."

Bowie hasn't sung a note publicly since performing "Changes" with Alicia Keys at a New York charity event in 2006, and he hasn't given an interview in more than a decade. That has led to rumors that Bowie, who underwent emergency heart surgery for a blocked artery after a show in Germany, is in failing health, but everyone involved with insists that's not the case. "He's in fine health," says Visconti. "He's just made a very rigorous album."

Sessions for often lasted seven hours, and Bowie sang at full force throughout the entire day. "He'd just go from zero to 60 once we walked out of the control room and into the studio," says Guiliana. "And his vocal performances were always just stunning, amazing." In his downtime, Bowie was working on the Off-Broadway musical Lazarus, in which he was intimately involved in every aspect of production, down to casting.

The album's sense of adventure extends to the lyrics. "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore," which is powered by a hip-hop beat and free-form sax, gets its title from a 17th-century play written by English playwright John Ford, and the lyrics to "Girl Loves Me" come from Polari, a form of British slang used by gay men in mid-20th-century London. "He also took some words from A Clockwork Orange," says Visconti. "The lyrics are wacky, but a lot of British people, especially Londoners, will get every word." The title track repeatedly refers to a "solitary candle." "He told me it was about ISIS," says McCaslin. "It's just an unbelievable tune." (McCaslin's ISIS assertion is news to Guiliana and Visconti, who say they have no idea what the song is about.)

Bowie is clearly determined to let the album speak for him. "When he put out albums like Heroes and Low, no one was doing anything like that," says Visconti. "And then he gave birth to the New Romantic scene. He's a genre-breaker, and I can't wait for the ★ imitation albums to start coming out."

More information:
» Pitchfork: "Bowie is not simply the prettiest star—he’s a constellation"
» The Onion: "NASA Launches David Bowie Concept Mission"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Round


Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
Aaron Rodgers recovered from a poor start to throw for two touchdowns, Eddie Lacy and James Starks each ran for a score, and the Green Bay Packers came back to beat the Washington Redskins 35-18 Sunday in an NFC wild-card game. Rodgers opened 1 for 8, and Green Bay's first four drives ended this way: punt, safety, punt, punt. Trailing 11-0, the Packers used a bit of hurry-up to score 17 consecutive points, then put the game away on the ground. Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams for TDs. After rushing for only 17 yards in the first half, the Packers finished with 141. Green Bay (11-6), which lost its last two regular-season games, will play at Arizona on Saturday. NFC East champion Washington (9-8) had won four games in a row, but its season ends without a victory over a winning team.

"That first year, man, Robert was a rock star," former Redskins wideout Santana Moss told "Then different things happened. But he can take all those things, learn from them and get better. If Robert is like any of the best people in the history of this game, then he'll use it all as motivation. But you look at a lot of these quarterbacks out there, and you mean to tell me Robert ain't gonna get another chance?"

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Blair Walsh's 27-yard field goal try into the frigid wind for Minnesota hooked left with 22 seconds remaining, handing the Seattle Seahawks a 10-9 victory over the stunned Vikings in their wild-card round playoff game in below-zero weather Sunday. The Seahawks (11-6) didn't score until Russell Wilson's short touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin early in the fourth quarter, and a fumble by Adrian Peterson for the Vikings on the next possession set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka.

More information:
» Redskins Video: Wildcard Playoffs Hype Video
» NFL Video: Kirk Cousins' New Rallying Cry Providing a Spark
» The "You Like That!" Button


Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
"Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining as the Steelers somehow pulled out an 18-16 victory in the AFC wild-card game Saturday night. Pittsburgh moved into field goal position after a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Bengals, one on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and another on Adam Jones after Burfict hit a defenseless Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Boswell drilled his fourth field goal of the game to give the Steelers their first playoff win since the 2010 AFC championship game. The Bengals appeared to be in position for their first postseason win in 25 years before Jeremy Hill's fumble gave Pittsburgh one last shot."

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
"Knile Davis had a 106-yard kickoff return and the Kansas City defense forced five turnovers to cruise to their first playoff win since 1994, a 30-0 wild-card victory over the Houston Texans on Saturday. On the opening kickoff, Davis got three good blocks around the 10-yard line and then simply outran the rest of the defenders for the second-longest kickoff return TD in postseason history. The victory broke a streak of eight straight playoff losses by the Chiefs and was their first postseason win since beating the Oilers in Houston on Jan. 16, 1994. They have won 11 straight games. Hoyer, booed all afternoon, was 15 of 34 for 136 yards as Houston (9-8) lost a home playoff game for the first time."