Monday, July 19, 2010

Special Georgia Election Edition

Faithful readers, I present the first political blog in the history of Expecting the Spanish Inquisition. Georgia voters will probably want to print it out and take it to the voting booth with you when you vote. Readers from other states may want to print it out in honor of Seth Harp (read below for that to make sense.)

So Tuesday is Primary Election day in Georgia.

"But Luke," you say, "you live in North Carolina, why do you care about Georgia primaries?"

That, fellow netizens, is a great question, and one that I can answer fairly simply. I don't care. But apparently I'm supposed to care. At least, a few candidates in Georgia believe I'm supposed to care.

Last week, Seth Harp, a Republican candidate for State Insurance Commissioner, sent me a flier touting his candidacy. At first, I didn't pick up on what it was. North Carolina's primaries were a few months ago, so I couldn't figure out why I was getting campaign literature this far out from the election. Then, I actually bothered to read the flier and realized that Harp's campaign hadn't bothered to update their list to realize that at least one of their addresses is not only out of state, but had registered and already voted in both city and state elections.

I quickly skimmed over his flier before coming to something that made me laugh. One of the bullet points Harp highlighted was how he would eliminate waste. This amused me. Not that I don't believe him, it's that sending campaign literature to an out-of-state person who isn't registered to vote in your election seems like the exact opposite of eliminating waste. He's actually actively creating waste. (See, I told you the comment at the beginning would eventually make sense.)

Despite all that, I hope he wins. He cares enough to want to know what people he doesn't represent and isn't accountable to are thinking. None of the other State Insurance Commissioner candidates care what a North Carolinian thinks. But Harp . . . Harp does. That's dedication. Sure, he may be unqualified, not be able to actually fulfill any of his campaign promises and generally be among the worst candidates in the field, but no one else cared to try to try to win my vote.

Also caring what people who can't vote for him nor would he represent should he be victorious is Eric Johnson, Republican candidate for Georgia governor. He, like Harp, sent me campaign literature last week. Unfortunately, all it did was tell me about his personal life (here's a hint: I don't care how long you've been married or what church you attend) and didn't seem to go into the issues I care about. For example, if he wins, will he try to steal part of North Carolina like Georgia's current governor did with Tennessee? Will North Carolina need to call up its National Guard to defend the tiny portion of my state that borders Georgia? Is he a Blue Devil or a Tar Heel? Or maybe a Demon Deacon (at which point, his church membership may be something I'd want to know.)

Perusing Johnson's campaign website yielded no answers to these questions. As such, I can't endorse Johnson for governor until he clarifies his positions on these critical issues. So Johnson, try as you did, I can't give you my vote tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Rulebook double

Two sports-related thoughts and then, I promise, I'll move on to something else, unless something else sports related catches my eye. But I promise, a non-sports blog at some point in the near future.

LeBronapalooza II: Electric Boogaloo

Roughly 10 million people tuned in last Thursday night to watch a one-hour televised special entitled 'The Decision' in which LeBron James, announced his decision as to where he would be playing basketball next year. Living in Wilmington, NC, I was hoping he would shock the world (or at least the 10 million people - myself included) and select the Wilmington SeaDawgs, a semipro basketball team that went 15-5 last year. I can't help but think James could have elevated the team to an 18-2 record. I'm guess he'd also help out the attendance figures in the league. But apparently the fame and fortune and allure of playing in South Beach was more than a small, coastal NC city could offer.

Reaction to his decision was swift, from the burning of James' jerseys (dude, they are expensive enough to begin with, and in 20 years they'll be a throwback jersey that'll be worth three to four times what you paid for it) to the owner of James' former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, posting an incoherent rant on the team's website, using the font we all use when we're serious, comic sans. So rambling was the letter that ESPN had to call the Cleveland PR office to confirm that it wasn't a hoax. (oddly, it seems that all of Cleveland's owner's statements are in comic sans. Apparently no one on the Cavaliers' staff can talk any sense into the team's owner.) Billy Madison's speech at the end of that movie made more sense than that letter did.

Even though proceeds from the show went to the Boys and Girls Club, that wasn't enough to offset the the backlash directed at James. Most of the (inescapable) media coverage is focused on James' decision to leave his hometown (ok, Akron, OH is his hometown, but it's close enough for purposes of this blog. If you wanted accuracy, you wouldn't be looking here, would you?) However, what most fans seem to get is that the anger isn't directed at his decision, but how he went about announcing his decision. Had he simply called the Cleveland owner, told him he was going to Miami and then issued a statement or held a press conference, no one outside of Ohio would really care. It'd just be another athlete changing teams.

But instead, he decided to break up with Cleveland on a nationally televised media spectacle. It was akin to, instead of proposing to your girlfriend on the jumbotron, you had your wife served with divorce papers on the jumbotron. Divorce, while unfortunate, happens every day. But if you make a giant show about it and go through the effort to embarrass your former spouse in front of as many people as possible, don't act shocked when people consider you a douchebag for doing so.

World Cup: Extra Time

A friend of mine hypothesized on facebook during the World Cup Finale that the reason Americans don't like soccer is because of all the flopping. Flopping, for those unfamiliar with the sport, is essentially taking a dive in the attempt to draw a foul call from the referee. It's generally frowned upon and is punishable by a Yellow Card (the second-most severe penalty possible) so it's a risk to flop.

However, it seemed the sentiment behind the comment was that we Americans (I'm assuming I have no international readers) only enjoy sports where the players are ethical and would never dream of doing things to try to deceive an official in an attempt to get a call. Well, other than not always touching the base on double plays, catchers framing pitches to 'trick' the umpire into calling a strike, claiming pass interference on any pass that isn't caught, illegal modifications or fuel to the cars in NASCAR, and any other numerous tricks of the trade that athletes use in any sport to try to gain an edge. It's certainly a good thing that no sports Americans follow would have the unofficial motto of "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."

So no, it's not the flopping, it's two things, in my opinion, that are keeping the United States from embracing soccer. First, compared to the elite teams in the world, we're just not very good. (We made the top 16 in this year's World Cup, which isn't close enough to the top for Americans to care about in the long term). For better or worse, Americans only care about the best and being the best. Until we've got that caliber of national team, we're not going to care about the sport.

Second, and related to the first, is that our professional league is, at best, playing soccer that is third or fourth rate. Sure, US stars Landon Donavon and others play in Major League Soccer, but watching the World Cup and then watching MLS is like watching Major League Baseball and then heading down to your local college to watch those games. Sure, it's the same game, but the disparity in the level of play is glaring. There's a reason aging former stars in Europe come here to play *cough* DavidBeckham *Cough* and it's not for the scenic views of Salt Lake City.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Legend of the Fighting Squirrels

Turtles are not exactly what you would consider a ferocious animal. If, in the rare event, you actually do consider them fierce, I'd recommend therapy and/or hard core drugs.

I mention this because the University of Maryland, in their attempt to instill fear into their opponents, have selected the Terrapin to represent their athletic teams in competition. (According the never-wrong Wikipedia, the mascot was selected by the president of the school in 1932. I realize the Great Depression was underway and times were tough and there were other things to worry about, but where was the university's Director of Common Sense to say 'You know, a turtle may not be the best mascot for us. In fact, I'm fairly certain just about anything else might be better.')

To be fair, Maryland isn't the only school with a laughably amusing mascot. There's the UC-Santa Barbara Banana Slugs, the Texas Christian Horned Frogs and a team I actually wouldn't mind playing, the Sweet Briar Vixens (this may shock you, but it's an all girls school) as well as numerous others. But for me, none of them quite capture the essence of the non-threatening mascot quite like a turtle. Making it even more confusing to the outsider is their motto, 'Fear the Turtle,' which I can only assume started as some fraternity joke that caught on.

But even the Terrapin pales in comparison to my favorite mascot of all time, the Fighting Squirrels. My best guess is that someone realized that a squirrel, in and of itself, isn't exactly the most menacing creature on the planet, but by adding 'Fighting' to them, suddenly you're dealing with a force to be reckoned with. (Granted that only works if you assume the Squirrels are working together to fight a common foe and is not a reference to a drunken squirrel brawl.)

I believe it was 2003 when I was first introduced to the Fighting Squirrels. My mom usually gets me a hat for Christmas and over the years, they grew progressively stranger. So when she came across a Fighting Squirrels hat, she had to get it, despite the fact she knew nothing about anything in regards to why there was a hat dedicated to quarreling rodents.

Even though I, too, knew nothing about the Fighting Squirrels and their origins, the name became my team name for all my fantasy sports teams (that currently includes three football leagues and two baseball leagues.) Prior to that, my team had been the named the Steel Rabbits, which obviously makes no sense at all, so you can see the obvious improvement. (The Steel Rabbits name was inspired by this cartoon. It also inspired Official Brother's name for a while, though I forget, exactly what it was. I know it was lobster related. He's since moved on to 'Wal-Mart's Low Prices' because, as he says, 'nobody beats Wal-Mart's Low Prices,' but I digress.) I even adopted Maryland's motto and end all my message board posts with "Fear the Squirrel" which is laughably absurd.

Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me (after killing many a cat -  curiosity, not me. I've never killed any cats), and I had to discover the origins of an absurd name the name that I used to represent what all my fantasy sports teams. And while googling 'Fighting Squirrels' yields some interesting results (and some far more interesting images), it didn't immediately result in what I was looking for. Likewise, wikipedia was no help. In fact, searching for 'fighting squirrels' on wikipedia takes you to results for 'Flying Squirrels.'

After some persistence (and some slow days at work), I eventually stumbled on to Bradford College (no, not the one in Bradford, England, but the one in Haverhill, Massachusetts I know you, my readers and I know you're well versed in the colleges of both the US and the UK and didn't want you to be confused). Ok, not exactly in Haverhill, but more accurately, it was formerly in Haverhill.  Founded in 1803, it didn't quite make it to its bicentennial as it went under in 2000.

Despite it's 197 year existence, the school's enduring legacy is that their athletes competed as Fighting Squirrels. My quest was at an end. I suppose I should be worried, but I'm hoping the Fighting Squirrels (my version) can last 25-percent as long as the school did.

I still have the hat and break it out five times every year - once for each draft of my teams.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why I hate Netherlands, or Holland, or the Dutch

Four years ago, my wife and I had recently moved into our first house. I'd been moderately successful at my job as a writer for my hometown newspaper. My wife had recently completed her Masters Degree and was enjoying her job at the greatest university in the history of the world (or at least in Statesboro, Ga.) Life was pretty good. Sure, I had some things that weren't perfect, in life (see: Cubs lack of a World Series and No Georgia Southern national titles since 2000), but by and large, it was tough to complain about life. I enjoyed my friends, I enjoyed my job (for the most part) and I enjoyed my coworkers, yes, even this one. Oh, and Italy won the World Cup.

A lot's changed since then. I got a dog. I got a kid. I got a a Masters Degree. I also moved six hours away from the town that I lived in for 26 years to the beautiful city of Wilmington, NC. I fell in love with curling, swimming and track and field for two weeks and then promptly forgot about them.

All that's to say that a lot can change in four years. And that's what made today especially difficult. Avid readers may recall that every four years, I compete for the Cupa de Martin, a plastic candy dish awarded by my family to the person who correctly picks the winner of the World Cup. This year, we added in the right to select the location of the next Martin family vacation to the winner's prize. I had the first overall pick and selected Brazil. With my next pick, I selected Uruguay (hey, they're two-time winners of the Cup, even if their most recent victory was slightly before the Korean War started), then Ivory Coast and finally I got New Zealand.

In the group stage (in which each team plays three games), I was cruising along. My four teams lost a combined total of one game, (and that was when Brazil played Ivory Coast). Despite that, only Brazil and Uruguay advanced to the final 16. (I'll spare you the details of how that worked, but if you need to know, google can help you.) As it turned out, both Brazil and Uruguay were on the same side of the bracket, meaning they had a chance to meet in the semifinals. Other than having both meet in the finals, this was the best case scenario. After the first round of the knock-out phase, Uruguay and Brazil both advanced. Things were looking good for me. Uruguay faced a plucky Ghana team (that upset the USA) while Brazil was facing a strong Netherlands team. I was feeling pretty good about my chances of getting a team into the final.

First, Brazil played Holland (or the Dutch or whatever they call themselves.) Brazil took an early lead and I started making plans of where I wanted our family vacation to be. But alas, it was not to be as Netherlands scored twice in the second half as Brazil folded like an expensive tent. (Cheap tents are hard to fold, but expensive tents fold with little effort, much like Brazil's second half performance.)

This meant that if I wanted the family to spend a week at scenic Carolina Beach State Park (located 15 minutes from my home . . . I hate to travel), I needed Uruguay to pull off the upsets of the tournament. They nearly gave me a heart attack in the first game, which was tied at one in the closing minutes when a Uruguaian defender intentionally used his hands to keep the ball out of the goal in the closing seconds. Yes, this resulted in his automatic ejection and a penalty kick (almost a sure goal), but it gave them a chance to win. And in a gift from the soccer gods, Ghana missed the kick and Uruguay won in the penalty kick shootout.

This led to a matchup with the Dutch today. (Honestly, I have no idea what to call them. Pick a side, we're at war.) After a torturous two hours, Netherlands won 3-2, knocking me out of the running for the Cupa de Martin.

So because they forced me to wait four years for another shot at glory, Holland has taken over the number one spot on my Least Favored Nation list. I don't have a long list of reasons to hate the Dutch. After all, other than winning a few soccer games, they've done nothing to me. And while their female fans aren't quite as talented as Brazil's, they do have some talent on the female side.

However, they did take away any rooting interest I have in the remainder of the World Cup. Making matters worse, the other two teams are Yes Dear's (Spain) and my mom's (Germany). Cheering for Spain would give my wife bragging rights over me for four years, and Germany, well, anything that gives Germans a reason to become extremely patriotic causes me to be nervous. Forced to choose, I'll cheer for Spain as I figure it'll give me a little bit of a say as to where our family vacation is.

I'm just wondering now if I can get  some sort of double-or-nothing thing on the Home Run Derby.