Category Archives: miscellaneous

Afghanistan’s National Sport, Buzkashi, featured in ESPN and Wall Street Journal

I had no idea what Buzkashi was before yesterday, but after reading a few stories on it, I got hooked.

Here’s part of the ESPN story:

There aren’t a lot of bats, balls or rackets in northern Afghanistan. There are goats, horses, men and dusty plains, and they have been there ever since Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde swept into the neighborhood in the 13th century. Their game, then, is simple. Men on horseback grab a goat from a chalk circle, carry it around a pole and drop it into another circle. No downs, innings, line judges or refs. Sometimes there are teams, and sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes the field is 200 meters by 200 meters, and sometimes it isn’t. And the goat? The goat might be a calf, but it’s always dead, just lying there with its head and hooves cut off.

Grab the goat, bring it around the pole and put it in the circle. That’s buzkashi.

Wall Street Journal had something good in April:

Over the past several years, the ancient sport of buzkashi—Dari for “goat grabbing”—has turned into a big business in northern Afghanistan. Instead of sporting-goods manufacturers, sponsors usually are rival warlords who bet on their favorite goat grabbers.

Afghanistan’s ‘Goat Grabbing’ Game

The buzkashi stars get a monthly wage, receive cars as gifts for a stellar performance and save enough money to afford a second or even third wife, the ultimate status symbol here.

“I used to practice buzkashi on donkeys, now I drive a Lexus!” said 33-year-old champion Jahaan Geer from his saddle covered in bright hand-woven carpets.

Mr. Geer used to play for Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of Afghanistan’s most brutal warlords in the 1990s civil war, but he recently switched to play for Kam Air, the Afghan airline, whose wealthy owner is one of the biggest buzkashi enthusiasts.

Absurdly amazing. Both articles are good reads. A lot of former warlords-turned-businessmen are involved and it’s become a big post-Taliban reminder of humanity (and sometimes lack thereof) in Afghanistan. Reminds me a lot of Pro Thunderball.

Circle of Justice has a better ring than gun circle.

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For My Father, a Year and a Half After He Passed

following Ken Arneson

My dad (left) and me at Wrigley Field in 2006.

My whole family is in New York right now–mom, brother and sister, their spouses and my niece.  I’m at my sister’s house, taking care of her dogs.  It’s a bit lonely here, but not having a dad is kind of liberating today. I have nowhere to be except by his graveside. I have what feels like all the time in the world to reflect on his life and our mutual love of baseball.

He was a great man. He was beloved by many and he had an ability to draw people close–to get them to trust him. He never took advantage of that. He loved to talk to people, but felt most comfortable with the ones he loved. He loved his mother and struggled at times with the guilt he felt caring for her. He loved the finer things in life. He loved golf too much. He lost his brother, business partner and best friend, Billy, in the mid-90s and struggled with that for years. He had a huge collection of wines, some of which he told me to save for my wedding (when I was 15) and my sister’s unborn daughter’s wedding. He loved telling people what they should and shouldn’t do.

He also had some hard luck. After he retired, he went to get his knee repaired and then found out he needed heart surgery. Just months after getting heart surgery, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 60. He died 14 months later.

His greatest love, besides family, was baseball.

His father had taught him the game and he taught each of us–my brother, my sister and myself. He preached the beauty of the game. We watched the Dodgers for years. His father had season tickets and passed them down to him. Now they’re split between the three of us and our mom.

Of all the times to die, he died the day before the 2009 NLCS began. The four of us (myself, my mom, my sister and my brother) went to game 1 the next night and it felt like the Dodgers needed to win. They needed to win for us. They owed us. They owed us that moment that I never got to have with him; that transcendental victory and happiness. They owed dad.

Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.

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Larry Bernandez (read post) Bobblehead Day coming Aug. 28

Mariners came up with a cool promotion, check it out.

First, there was this ad from the beginning of the season:

August 28 of this year will be Larry Bernandez Bobblehead Day.

Cute, quirky marketing turned a regular day at the park for a not-so-good baseball team into a pretty cool day. Congrats to the Mariners’ marketing team for the coup.

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Remodeling.

It’s apparent I don’t have the time to do the kind of blogging I was doing while I was unemployed. My job is pretty demanding and I don’t have the time I used to, though that’ll come intermittently during breaks.

In my time since working at this job, I’ve churned out a couple of articles that weren’t as well-researched as they should’ve been.

That said, I’m gonna aim for better, more focused posts. Consider this step 1.

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Getting the House in Order

I’m teaching kids right now about the presidency and presidential prerogative.

Right now I’m trying to get my house in order. My kitchen is finally back together, I just got a new roommate, my job is going well and my car is fixed. It’s a good feeling. That car problem has been going on for almost 10,000 miles (HINT: don’t go to the Glendale VW dealership).

More posts are coming next week as the rest of my life gets balanced.

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Modern Sports Photography and the Excellence of So Many Photogs

Final out of the 2010 NLCS, Ryan Howard stands at home after watching strike 3.

This is an excellent shot, not for any other reason than what’s in it. It encapsulates the agony and ecstasy in sports in one single glance. It is one of hundreds of thousands of shots taken that night and if we call it the best shot of the season, it is one of tens of millions of shots.

Taking 1000 photos a night and publishing <20 isn't uncommon, and digital photography has a lot to do with making that easier and cheaper to do than it was 50, 20, heck even 10 years ago. Photogs can take 10 shots per pitch and have memory cards that can hold thousands and thousands of photos as raw jpgs. They have lenses that can zoom in on the facial expression of the right fielder.

The rest of it depends on where the photog chooses to take these shots. Most photogs are barricaded into one small seat next to the dugouts for the entire game, so it becomes a luck of the draw type thing. Every photog in that stadium had shots of Howard standing at home plate like that, one just had such a good angle he got in Howard's huge mug with Wilson/Posey celebrating like that.

Zooms on most of these cameras are so extreme, you can get detailed shots of faces. On top of that, these are basically the best of the best photos and they're not from one specific photog.

Neil Leifer is basically the father of modern sports photography and he started with rapid fire cameras and telephoto lenses (obv. with film). He'd take a roll of film and rapid fire about 15 shots for one moment. He'd check out the negatives like so:

Then he'd look at them with a magnifying glass. From that he'd circle the best ones and those would get developed/run in the paper:
Yogi Berra, 1960 World Series
(This is my all-time favorite photo; Yogi Berra hitting a home run against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.)

It’s a similar process today, except you can see the full photo almost immediately. I think some photogs even have uploaders on their cameras that send their photos to a remote computer. There’s a race to see who can get their photos up the fastest.

Leifer did a lot to expand boundaries of sports photography, but now there’s a lot of rules of what a photog is allowed to do in a ballpark. It’s kind of sad, but necessary when so many people want a piece of the pie.

Also photogs really love taking low-angle shots. I don’t know why, but when you look at spring training photos this February/March, count how many are non-game-action low-angle shots.

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Is This Dog Cooler Than Bryce Harper?

Cool Dog

Cool Dog

I think so.

This was also created last night.

Watching the Giants succeed where the Dodgers failed two years in a row might break my heart. C’mon, Philly. Please.

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Looking for someone that understands arb hearings

Just thought I’d plug this again, I’m looking for someone that understands arbitration hearings and how they operate from the team’s perspective (from the general managers to the team reps in court). This’ll be for a several-part off-season series. If you’re interested, email is xcoughitup at gmail.

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A Brief Old Memory and Looking for Some Help

You can still hear the guy’s heart breaking.

I remember watching that game live and laughing soooo hard. It’s so easy to see it happen to another team, and so hard to see it happen to yours.

Anyway.

I’m turning to a big development project for the summer. If someone with some knowledge on arbitration hearings and the managements’ side of it (specifically GMs and assistant GMs) could write me an email, contact me at xcoughitup at gmail.

Thanks.

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TV Review: The Simpsons’ Sabermetrics Episode, “MoneyBART”

Good timing. Well, if Sabermetrics was JUST coming out and Fire Joe Morgan hadn’t already been shut down for three years. But we’re in the heat of the playoffs, the exact time that arguments of clutch and grit come up, in the face of successful teams that got to where they are because they’re built around very good players.

The Simpsons tonight came out with an episode that addresses Sabermetrics and the divide between the Saber followers and the heart and grit fans of the game. It was good. There were a lot of inside jokes and some very good satire. The humor was self-depricating. The best part was the episode summarized the narrative of the Saber revolution in about 22 minutes.

Lisa starts out looking for extra-curriculars and finds Bart’s Little League team needs a manager. She looks around for someone that knows baseball and when dad is too drunk and people at the bar know nothing, Moe points her to some geeks in the corner who know all about Sabermetrics (featuring a quick soundbite from Bill James: “I make baseball as fun as doing your taxes”).

From there, Lisa starts acting like she knows everything and Bart resents it. However, the team is winning. When Bart ignores her and swings for a home run when she says don’t swing, she kicks him off the team. The players resent it. But the team keeps winning.

Bart eventually learns a lesson that playing for a team means listening to your managers, even if Lisa’s being a jerk about it (thanks to a certain Mike Scioscia, who’s no longer suffering from a tragic illness).

Bart returns for the big game, putting his ego aside to pinch run in the bottom of the 9th inning, but steals bases despite Lisa telling him not to. Lisa gets caught in the contagion of the stolen bases and screams about how exciting it is until … Bart is caught stealing home and they lose the game. After that, everyone hates him and even Homer tells him he sucks.

I loved how both sides were represented and sympathetic. Yeah, sure, sabermetrics is right, but being complete dicks about it doesn’t help spread the gospel. And vice versa; being pig-headed and egotistical doesn’t lead to enlightenment. That’s the heart of the argument and the episode very well showed that battle. Scioscia put it a clever way to bring Bart back into the fold. Then there was an inside joke about developing players and being a teacher to young talent.

But the overwhelming consensus of the episode is this: risks are freaking awesome when they pay off and suck terribly when they don’t, but winning rules all. (Wish that was true for the Rays). That’s what baseball is and probably always will be about.

The little hints that the writers dropped in were perfect. There’s jokes about spreadsheets and VORP-like stats. Lisa looks at spray charts–like, actual images of spray charts and not some made-up-looking graphs–and moves fielders around. She talks about OBP and the laws of probability. When Bart steals a couple of bases, everyone loves it. When he’s caught home, he’s booed and ditched at the stadium. There’s jokes about statistical anomalies, Pete Rose dislocating Ray Fosse’s shoulder in the All-Star Game (at Rose’s expense), and players in the announcing booth.

And my favorite line: “It’s a triumph of number-crunching over the human spirit, and it’s about time.”

There’s so much this single episode explained, understood and made fun of in only 22 minutes. It was really, really good.

This was a funny episode, delightful even, and the writers absolutely nailed it. This is the best writing from the Simpsons I’ve seen in years, I think I’m gonna start tuning in this year.

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