clap-clap, Sport!

Yesterday was a big day for sports in Beemsville.  The two teams we the care the most about, the two teams we follow with rabid devotion, both had vital matches yesterday.  When does that happen?  Both won and both won ugly.  When does that happen?

Illinois basketball, 57-49 over Colorado in the 2nd round of the NCAAs.

USA Soccer, 1-0 over Costa Rica in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.  In a freaking blizzard!

This strange confluence of sporting events is sort of like the visit of a comet or a particularly obscure distant relative.  It can only occur every few years, if the Illini are in the tournament on the same day the USA is trying to make the World Cup… Continue reading

March Maladroitness

It’s that time of year!  And with our Fighting Illini back in the mix again, we will be following this year’s NCAA Tourney with the kind of relentless commitment that will make the wife sigh and roll her eyes.  Speaking of the wife:  she’s agreed to fill out a bracket this year and attempt to get into it a bit.  She probably hasn’t watched more than one or two basketball games all year (and then only begrudgingly in the background).  She will probably beat me like a drum.

I’ve really kind of given up trying to be all analytical and stat-driven about the tourney.  It never seems to work.  I also have to admit that I don’t watch as much college hoops as I used to, so my sample’s not as large.  I have watched a lot of Big 10 ball, though (ugly as it may be at times), and that’s one of my themes.

We’re all about the the themes.  This year it’s ‘B1G is legit’.  In past years it’s been ‘B1G is underrated’, etc.  I always pick too many from the conference.  I always pick against teams with coaches I don’t like.  I always pick some crazy upsets (sometimes it works).  So this year, I’m embracing these traits and themes.

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You get 50 pages

50 pages for any novel should be enough.  In that space the author should be able to hook the reader, through their use of language, characters, plot, setting, or some combination therein.

For most books I read these days, I know I’m all in after the first few pages.  Redshirts, for example had me during the prologue.  The Mirrored Heavens (review) took some additional time due to pacing and wanting to get a feel for the different point-of-view characters.

Sometimes an author will face an uphill battle.  A 1st Person narrator, for example.  You better come correct in your first chapter with your 1st Person or I’m likely out.  Overexposed conventions in sci-fi and fantasy (such as vampires and orphans-of-destiny) get even less leash.

My patience can be expanded if I know this is a writer’s first book, or the novel comes highly recommended by someone whose opinion I value.  And actually, I have some friends who will only give a book 10 pages or one chapter…

This doesn’t happen as much anymore because I usually do enough research on my next read to prevent it.  But the last few days, looking at a new novel, I had to invoke the rule.  No, I’m not going to name the book and author here – the Intertubes has enough negativity.  On to the next story.

Books: Redshrits

In Brief: In Redshirts, John Scalzi cleverly riffs on the Star Trek universe and its many imitators from the point-of-view of the junior crewmen.  You know, the guys with short life expectancies wearing the red shirts.

Pros:  The book has some laugh-out-loud funny parts, and Scalzi’s economy of language and ability to set up characters and scenes makes for smooth reading.  The story also toys with ideas of creativity and the overused sci-fi paradigm of alternate universes in a smart and entertaining way.

Cons:  If you don’t like Star Trek or have some familiarity with some of the tv series, you won’t get the full extent of some of the humor and scenarios.  Conversely, if you’re an overly sensitive Trekkie who takes umbrage at any implied criticism of the Enterprise and its continuing missions, you may want to duck and cover.

Review:  Last summer we heard John Scalzi plugging Redshirts on a radio interview and the book immediately went into the reading queue.  Here’s the premise, straight from the novel’s back copy:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs.

Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Having read and enjoyed some other Scalzi books, it didn’t take much to get me on board.  What I recall from the radio interview was how much fun he obviously had writing this project and describing, as well as how much fun the interviewer obviously had reading it.  Throw in the fact that Scalzi worked as a writer/creative consultant on the Stargate: Universe tv show, so know his mass market and media sci-fi.

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Stupid Kabuki Theater

2.8%.   This figure is what we keep coming back to.  A 2.8% cut to the FY13 Federal Budget.  As in sequester.

Yes, we all understand now that the sequester doesn’t allow many federal agencies the discretion to cut where it makes the most sense.  Yes, it’s stupid dysfunctional policy designed to force some kind of eventual compromise.

But hold on a second…  The House sent up a bill that would give the President discretion to enforce those 2.8% in cuts.  Cut where you need to, just cut. He didn’t like that, though, because that puts the impetus for this thing on him.

The President’s proposal included another tax increase on the wealthy and the elimination of some tax loopholes.  The classic moving of the goal posts.  No-go for Republicans – they can’t abide another tax increase.  Meanwhile, no one can seem to agree on the amount of chaos and disaster the sequester cuts will truly cause.  Will 2.8% in cuts truly wreck things?  Even if applied stupidly? Continue reading