Monday, December 03, 2007

Quick Hits: Sudanese President Pardons British Teacher. If Bush can do it, why not Chavez? Peter Garrett Named Australian Environment Minister.

I've got a little extra time on my hands this evening, so I think I'll follow my last post up with an update from a recent post, plus two more tidbits to tide you over:

The case of the British teacher who had the insensitivity to let her students name a teddy bear Muhammad, and who spent over a week in jail while religiously insane nitwits concocted crazier and crazier ways to execute her for that transgression, has been pardoned by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

I linked a quick hit to this case a couple of posts ago, and I am glad to see that this seems to be turning out well for Ms. Gibbons.

In other news, if, as the article I am about to link claims, that Venezuela's vote against President Hugo Chavez's proposed additional reforms really is "a message from the Venezuelan people that they do not want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic institutions," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said after the referendum.", then can we have a similar election here in the United States NOW to send Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy the same message?

And lastly, Peter Garrett, former singer for Australian rockers Midnight Oil, was named the Australian Environment Minister last week by new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd (Nice job bouncing former PM John Howard! See what being a Bush Poodle gets you John?). The job is a shared one, and there are hints that Mr. Garrett is just a tad compromised as he begins this new job, but I'll give his record the benefit of the doubt (At least there were no Nader-like smears such as the "A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush" that resonated with the stupid in Campaign 2000).

Mr. Garrett and I have a few things in common. He and I are both six-foot-six, slender and we both shave our heads. This was a point of mild distraction during my 2005 trip to Australia, where I spent most of my time between Sydney and North Ryde (about a 30 minute drive west of Sydney). As I got out and about the Circular Quay area (where the Sydney Opera House stands), I got more than a handful of autograph requests, and an equal number of disappointed autograph seekers when I revealed that, not only was I not Mr. Garrett, but an American as well. Still, the lads and sheilas in the support centre thought it all good fun and whatnot. Anyway, do yourself a favor and click the link. The article contains a Reader's Digest version of Mr. Garrett's accomplishments in politics. Congratulations Mr. Garrett. Well done!

Veterans Committee Elects Five (Two, Possibly Three Actually Deserved It...).

In a strange turn of events, the latest version of major league baseball's Veterans Committee elected five people into the Hall of Fame today. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

At last, Bowie Kuhn beat Marvin Miller at something. The late commissioner was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday while Miller was rejected by a revamped Veterans Committee stacked with those he regularly opposed -- and beat -- in arbitration and bargaining sessions that altered the history of the game.

"Bowie was a close friend and a respected leader who served as commissioner during an important period in history, amid a time of change," commissioner Bud Selig said, adding: "I was surprised that Marvin Miller did not receive the required support given his important impact on the game."

So am I. Miller had a much greater positive impact on the game than Kuhn did, a fact underscored by the realization that, as Commissioner, Kuhn went out of his way to do things that led directly to the skyrocketing salaries we now take for granted. Part of this occurred in the way he dealt with former A's owner Charles Finley, a man Kuhn hated (and I'm sure the feeling was mutual on Finley's part).

Former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth and ex-Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss also were elected.

Dreyfuss helped bring peace between the American and National Leagues by arranging the first World Series in 1903. O'Malley united the East and West Coasts under baseball's flag when he moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Southworth and Williams won World Series titles.

Kuhn presided over the introduction of night games to the World Series and baseball's first, tentative steps into national marketing. But the game also changed in ways he fiercely resisted: Free agency, salary arbitration and dozens of other benefits that Miller won for the players as the head of their union.

This article makes it seem as if he was some force for good during the era that these things were introduced. He was not. Mr. Kuhn let the 1972 season start with a strike that wiped out a weeks worth of games. Oh, and let's not forget the 1981 strike and the silly split-season format he and his elves cooked up that made the 1981 post-season a joke.

"I think it was rigged, but not to keep me out. It was rigged to bring some of these (people) in. It's not a pretty picture," Miller said by telephone after being informed of the results by The Associated Press. "It's demeaning, the whole thing, and I don't mean just to me. It's demeaning to the Hall and demeaning to the people in it."

The veterans panel has been changed twice since 2001, when charges of cronyism followed the election of glove man Bill Mazeroski. The original 15-member panel was expanded to include every living member of the Hall, but that group failed to elect anyone in three tries.

It was replaced by three separate panels -- one for players, one for managers and umpires and one for executives and pioneers, leaving Miller's fortunes largely in the hands of the same group he once fought in collective bargaining and the courts.

He did not come close, receiving only three of 12 possible votes. Under the previous system, Miller received 63 percent of the votes earlier this year while Kuhn got 17 percent -- a reversal noticed by Miller's successor at the players' union, Donald Fehr.

"Over the entire scope of the last half of the 20th century, no other individual had as much influence on the game of baseball as did Marvin Miller," Fehr said. "Because he was the players' voice, and represented them vigorously, Marvin Miller was the owners' adversary. This time around, a majority of those voting were owner representatives, and results of the vote demonstrate the effect that had. "The failure to elect Marvin Miller is an unfortunate and regrettable decision. Without question, the Hall of Fame is poorer for it."

Well said, Mr. Fehr. Too bad you couldn't be as articulate when addressing the concepts that drove the last two Basic Agreement negotiations.

Kuhn, who died in March at the age of 80, is the first commissioner elected since Happy Chandler in 1982.

Attendance tripled during Kuhn's tenure, from 1969-84. But during essentially the same era, Miller was leading the players to more lucrative and revolutionary gains, taking the average salary from $19,000 to $241,000 and pitching a virtual shutout against the owners when he went head-to-head.

Please, let's not pretend that attendance tripled because of Kuhn. The major leagues expanded twice while he was in the big seat, going from 20 teams in 1968 to 24 in 1969, then to 26 teams in 1977.

Selig, a former owner and longtime bargaining foe of the players, has been one of the most vocal supporters of Miller's candidacy. Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who was on the panel that considered Miller, said he was limited because he could only vote for four of the 10 candidates.

"Everybody on that list deserved to be there," Killebrew said, declining to reveal whether he voted for Miller. "He certainly had a tremendous impact."

Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark defended the process. "There was no concerted effort other than to have very qualified committee members evaluate very qualified candidates," she said. "There was a very open and frank discussion about each of the candidates. Everyone on that committee knows Marvin and respects what he did for the game. And that showed in the discussions."

So just what IS the process? Does anyone know?

The five elected this time will be inducted into the Hall on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.. They will be joined by any players elected in traditional voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to be announced Jan. 8.

The Veterans Committee did not consider players this time, but will meet late next year to vote on candidates for enshrinement in 2009.

Dreyfuss, who received 10 of 12 votes, helped end the longtime feud between the American and National Leagues when he and Boston owner Henry Killilea agreed to meet on the diamond after the 1903 season. The World Series was born.

Southworth, who was chosen on 13 of 16 ballots from the panel that considered umpires and managers, won four pennants and two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Braves.

"Billy Southworth oversaw one of the greatest eras in Cardinals history and it is gratifying to see his career accomplishments recognized by the Veterans Committee," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement.

Southworth had a 1044-704 record for the Cardinals (1929, 1940-45) and Braves (1946-1951). That's a .597 winning percentage. He won three NL pennants in a row with the Cardinals in 1942, 1943 and 1944, and won the World Series in '42 and '44. His fourth pennant came with the 1948 Boston Braves. It's a wonder Southworth is not already in the Hall of Fame.

Williams was a spare part on O'Malley's Dodgers in Brooklyn but earned his way into the Hall as a manager, making his debut by taking the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox to the 1967 AL pennant and winning the '72 and '73 World Series with the Oakland Athletics. Williams, the only one of the most recent inductees who is alive, said he and his wife, Norma, broke down and cried when they got the call on Monday morning. "It just blew our mind," he said. "Under the (voting) regime they had previously ... I didn't think anybody would get there."

Again, a mystery as to why Williams is finally getting this honor now instead of earlier.

O'Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season -- a baseball version of the California Gold Rush that helped open the West to the national pastime.

This is has to be a joke. Does anyone really think that baseball did not exist in the west before 1957, particularly in California? Remember the old Pacific Coast League before it became a slave to the majors (a move hastened by the Dodgers AND Giants both leaving New York for California)? The San Francisco Seals and Los Angeles Angels are two of the greatest franchises to play in the PCL. Not enough? How about the San Diego Padres, Sacramento Solons, Vernon Tigers, Hollywood Stars, Mission Reds and Oakland Oaks? It looks to me like there was plenty of baseball action going on in California (Not to mention in other West Coast locales such as Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Salt Lake City and Vancouver).

Among the players who came through the PCL were Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, all three DiMaggio brothers, Earl Averill, Paul Waner, Andy Pafko, Gene Woodling and a lot of other star quality players. Casey Stengel managed the Oaks just before the Yankees brought him back to manage in the bigs. Other PCL stars were guys like Jigger Statz, Smead Jolley, Ike Boone, Buzz Arlett, Ox Eckhardt, Frank Schellenback, Tony Frietas and Sam Gibson. Were they just taking up space until you brought your "real" players into town? I think not.

Anyway, there you have it. Check out the full story link and see what you think.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rambling Through the Internets

It looks like this last week of November has been particularly newsworthy. Let's take a walk through the news:

It seems that
one of Hillary Clinton's Republican admirers tried to pay her a visit today, with bad results for him, and fortunately, no harm to anyone else. As this mess was taking place, some of my more right-wing colleagues took extreme pleasure in this nut's act, and less pleasure in the fact that Mrs. Clinton was not present to be blown to smithereens. To those colleagues with this mind set, I humbly say: "Fuck You". If anyone had tried to pull a stunt like this on Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy, you bastards would have been screaming for either Dick Cheney or Bobby Knight to shoot the man in the face, so you can eat me with your overly dramatic chest thumping.

And speaking of Preznit 27% Approval Rating, he is now
pretending to give a shit about combating AIDS. Wow, and this on the heels of his triumphant uniting of the Arabs and Israelis...

And speaking of unity, check out this
huge slice of religious insanity happening in Sudan. I invoke Voltaire's talisman with the caveat that these "People of God" would look a lot more ridiculous if they weren't so fucking deadly serious...

Comet Holmes is still prominent in the, and is now about one degree west of Mirfak, the brightest star in Perseus. The comet is still a slightly oval fuzz ball that looks like a large, loose globular cluster through the binoculars. Get outside and catch a glimpse!

Famed stuntman Evil Knievel has passed away after a long illness. He was 69 years old. I'm glad he was able to patch up his differences with Kanye West.

This priceless gem comes to us as a result of the latest GOP debate disaster this past Wednesday in which the presumed front-runners, Rudy Guiliani (R - 9-11 Forever) and Mitt Romney (R - Loves Waterboarding) verbally bitch-slapped each other about who was slightly less crazy than the other. When Mike Huckabee (R - Denies Evolution) and John McCain (R - Am I Still Relevant?) come out looking like elder statesmen, you know the train has long since left the station. And by the way, Ronald Reagan was a joke as President (11th Commandment my duodenum).

Oh, and will someone please tell Joe Biden (D - Cowardly Bush Enabler) that not only does nobody want him to be
the next Secretary of State, but that nobody wants him around PERIOD.

And the New England Patriots continue with their Fuck You NFL tour as they travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens this coming Monday night. Just out of curiosity, do you think that if Bill Belichick was coaching the Celtics that he would have let Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce sit out the fourth period as Doc Rivers did in the
C's 104-59 pasting of the Knicks last night? My bet is that he would have played them at least half of the period, and the final would have been about 143-41. Anyway, maybe, as the article muses, the loss may be the final straw for Isiah Thomas (PLEASE!!!).

That should about do it for this post. Remember, only 122 days left until Major League Baseball's Opening Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AL and NL MVPs. Red Sox re-sign Lowell. Happy Birthday JD Drew.

The MVP awards were handed out, and yesterday New York's Alex Rodriguez won the AL trophy, while Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins won the NL hardware.

Both players had terrific seasons, and there was little doubt that A-Rod would win his third MVP award. He took home all but two of the first place votes to win easily (Detroit's Magglio Ordonez got the other two first place votes). Rodriguez, who hit 54 homers and had 156 RBI, became the first American Leaguer to hit 50 or more homers and drive in 150 or more runs since Boston's Jimmie Foxx hit 50 HR and had 175 RBI in 1938. Sammy Sosa, playing for the Cubs in 2001, was the last NL player to do so, wth 64 HR and 160 RBI.

Rollins became the fourth player to have 20 HR, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 steals in a season (Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson became the third player to turn the trick a couple of weeks earlier than Rollins). He led the NL in runs scored with 139 and won the NL Gold Glove at shortstop (though that award really should have gone to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, along with NL Rookie of the Year). Rollins edged out Colorado left fielder, and NL RBI leader, Matt Holliday by 17 total points to win the award. Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder finished third in the voting. Congratulations guys.

In other baseball news the WORLD SERIES CHAMPION BOSTON RED SOX have reached an agreement to keep third baseman, and WORLD SERIES MVP, Mike Lowell in town for at least another three years. Lowell has definitely capitalized on his career year and post-season performance. It is not likely he will duplicate 2007's numbers next year, but it is also unlikely that Manny Ramirez will have another off year, and JD Drew (happy 32nd birthday) can't possibly be as bad in 2008 as he was in 2007 (Okay, so he picked it up in September and October), so the overall offensive impact should remain the same as long as all three remain healthy (A big if with all three players in their early to mid-30s). Anyway, Lowell is also a solid clubhouse presence, and the fact he is staying put will keep a happy team focused and ready to continue winning. Only 132 days until Opening Day!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

AL and NL Cy Young Award Winners. AL and NL Managers of the Year. Barry Bonds Indicted!

More post-season awards were handed out during the last couple of days...

San Diego's Jake Peavy won the NL Cy Young Award with all 32 first-place votes, easily beating last year's winner, second place finisher Brandon Webb of Arizona. Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia won the AL Cy Young Award over second place finisher Josh Beckett of the WORLD SERIES CHAMPION BOSTON RED SOX! It is hard to be too upset at this result. Sabathia posted eerily similar numbers to Beckett's. Both pitchers had roughly 5-1 strikeout to walk ratios. Beckett had 20 wins, Sabathia 19. Beckett's ERA was 3.27, Sabathia's was 3.21.

I think the thing that swung the voters was the four extra starts and 40 extra innings Sabathia logged. Still, one could argue that someone with 20 wins in 30 starts is a better pitcher than one who wins 19 in 34 starts, especially when Beckett had 17 starts against teams with .500 records or better and went 11-4 in those games. Sabathia went 7-3 in just 12 starts against teams that went .500 or better, but the results are what they are. Well done C.C. and Josh.

The AL and NL Manager of the Year awards went to Cleveland's Eric Wedge and Arizona's Bob Melvin, two former catchers who guided their clubs to division titles. Wedge rode an impressive offense, led by Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, and an awesome one-two punch in starting pitching with Sabathia and last season's failed closer Fausto Carmona, who became a monster this season, to the AL Central crown. Melvin somehow brought his team to the NL West title despite having seen his club get outscored by a total of 20 runs.

And for those who hate Barry Bonds, news of his indictment today for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury will no doubt warm your little asterisk-laden hearts. But seriously, what do we know know that we didn't know before? Here's a quote from the article in the link:

"During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes," the indictment read.

Really? Then why weren't these results made public, and why wasn't Bonds suspended? More from the article:

The indictment culminated a four-year investigation into steroid use by elite athletes.

John Burris, one of Bonds' attorneys, did not know of the indictment before being alerted by The Associated Press. He said he would immediately call Bonds to notify him. "I'm surprised," Burris said, "but there's been an effort to get Barry for a long time. I'm curious what evidence they have now they didn't have before."

Color me curious too. If this evidence has been around for four years, why the hell hasn't anyone acted on it? Is this a big bluff by MLB and George Mitchell? Will Barry cop a plea, if guilty, and roll over on some of his fellow players? But wait, here is something else from the article that bothers me:

Speculation of his impending indictment had mounted for more than a year. In July 2006, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco took the unusual step of going public with the investigation. After the previous panel's 18-month term expired, he announced he was handing it off to a new grand jury.

It seems to me that if this was truly an open-and-shut case, that this indictment should have been handed down while the first grand jury was in session. Maybe this is legitimate, maybe not, but it still smells a bit fishy. Hey, if Barry was on the juice, he deserves our scorn and ridicule (though what we do with his records is beyond me at this time).

At any rate, this development, along with the usual post-season moves, plus A-Rod's impending mega-deal, will make this a more "interesting" off season than usual, primarily because Barry wants to play ball next season, and, as a free agent, would probably sign with an AL club so he could DH. That scenario is obviously in jeopardy now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Post-Season Baseball Awards: Youkilis wins Gold Glove. Pedroia wins Rookie of the Year. Beckett does NOT win Cy Young?!?

Well, now that the World Series has ended, Major League Baseball has begun to hand out its post-season awards. First up were the AL and NL Gold Glove winners: AL first: WORLD SERIES CHAMPION Boston's Kevin Youkilis, first base. Detroit's Placido Polanco, second base. Anaheim's Orlando Cabrera, shortstop. Seattle's Adrian Beltre, third base. The outfield is comprised of Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, Minnesota's Torii Hunter and Cleveland's Grady Sizemore. Minnesota's Johan Santana won for pitchers and Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez won at catcher. For Rodriguez, it was his 13th Gold Glove, a record for catchers. Ichiro and Hunter each won their seventh Gold Gloves. Cabrera won his second. The others were all first time winners.

Youkilis and Polanco did not make a single error at the positions at which they won their awards, though Youkilis did make three errors at third base in part-time duty to rest Mike Lowell, who, for the second year in a row, got screwed. Beltre made a league-high 18 errors, which isn't so bad, but he turned only 24 double plays. Lowell made 15 errors and led the AL with 34 double plays. Rodriguez is still a solid catcher, but Seattle's Kenji Johjima deserved this award. He was fourth in putouts, third in assists and led the AL in double plays with 15, all while having made just two errors.

I still have a bone to pick with the outfield selection. Why is it almost always three center fielders? Why can't they award a Gold Glove at each outfield position? Christ, pitchers get a Gold Glove, and do they really make more plays than an everyday left or right fielder? Of course they don't. I'd let Ichiro keep his award and give Hunter's and Sizemore's to Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford (LF) and Kansas City's Mark Teahen (RF). Crawford led AL left fielders in putouts and Teahen led AL right fielders in putouts and led all AL outfielders in double plays with seven (tied with Tampa Bay's Delmon Young), and was second in assists with 17 (Minnesota's Mike Cuddyer led the AL with 19). Another good choice would have been Baltimore's Nick Markakis who was second in putouts among AL right fielders, had 13 assists and just two errors.

In the NL we have Chicago's Derrek Lee, first base. Arizona's Orlando Hudson, second base. Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins, shortstop. New York's David Wright, third base. The outfield is crowded with four winners: Atlanta's Andruw Jones, New York's Carlos Beltran, Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand and Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur were the winners. Greg Maddux won his 17th Gold Glove at pitcher, a record at any position, and Los Angeles' Russell Martin won at catcher. Andruw won for the tenth time. Lee and Hudson are now third time winners. Beltran won his second, and everyone else was a first time winner.

Analysis: Lee is a good first baseman, but Colorado's Todd Helton was better. He made just two errors while having the second most putouts and double plays in the NL. Hudson is a good second baseman who reminds me of Frank White who played with Kansas City from the mid-70s through the 80s, but Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips should have gotten the nod. He led the NL in putouts, assists and was second in double plays, and made just eight errors. At shortstop, Jimmy Rollins should give his award to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. Troy led all major league shortstops in putouts, assists, double plays AND fielding percentage. And David Wright clearly has an advantage playing for the Mets, as he did not deserve his Gold Glove either. I'd flip a coin between Washington's Ryan Zimmerman who led all ML third basemen in putouts, assists AND double plays. Yes, he did have the second highest number of errors, two more than Wright, but actually had a higher fielding percentage than Mr. Met, which should tell you something about Wright's range. Or, if you want low error totals you could go with San Francisco's Pedro Feliz who made just eleven errors, but turned 28 double plays.

The NL outfield is less of a mess than the AL's, but there is still no left fielder. I'd give it to Arizona's Eric Byrnes. He was in the middle of the pack in putouts, but he also played well in limted time in center and right field. I'll let Andruw keep his award, though it is a tough call because Beltran is terrific (and so is Rowand, but you should only have one center fielder). Francoeur was a good choice as a right fielder. He was second to Washington's Austin Kearns (who would have also been a good choice) in putouts, and he tied with Chicago's left fielder Alfonso Soriano for the NL lead in assists with 19.

Maddux will win this award as long as he wears a baseball uniform. Martin led all NL catchers in putouts, assists, double plays and errors. He was only one of five catchers who played in 120 games or more (he led in that department too with 145), and the others don't have anything special to sell, so Martin, well done!

After the Gold Gloves were handed out, both leagues revealed their respective Rookies of the Year in the persons of WORLD SERIES CHAMPION Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. Pedroia, who overcame a hideous first five weeks of the season that saw his batting average go as low as .172, led AL rookies with a .317 batting average and 39 doubles, and won easily with 24 first-place votes. Braun won by a mere two points over Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. Braun, who only played in 113 games, hit 34 homers, batted .324 and slugged .634, though he did commit a league high 26 errors at third base. Tulowitzki's credentials are already outlined above.

In other baseball news, Boston's Josh Beckett did NOT win the AL Cy Young award. That honor went to Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia. I'll try to analyze this later in the week. By then the NL Cy Young winner should be announced. I'm thinking it will be San Diego's Jake Peavy...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bright Comet Appears in Perseus

A bright comet has appeared in Perseus, and the reason for its brightness is the fact that it seems to be exploding as it gets closer to the Sun. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A comet that unexpectedly brightened in the last couple of weeks and is now visible to the naked eye is attracting professional and amateur interest.

Paul Lewis, director of astronomy outreach at the University of Tennessee, is drawing students to the roof of the Nielsen Physics Building for special viewings of Comet 17P/Holmes.

The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

Until Oct. 23, the comet had been visible to modern astronomers only with a telescope, but that night it suddenly erupted and expanded. A similar burst in 1892 led to the comet's discovery by Edwin Holmes.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event to witness, along the lines of when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter back in 1994," Lewis said.

I witnessed that event, and that description is accurate. Jupiter had several dark spots in its extensive cloud decks that were easily visible in my 8-inch f/5 Dobsonian reflector at 67X.

Scientists speculate the comet has exploded because there are sinkholes in its nucleus, giving it a honeycomb-like structure. The collapse exposed comet ice to the sun, which transformed the ice into gas.

Experts aren't sure how long the comet's show will last but estimate it could be weeks if not months. Using a telescope or binoculars help bring the comet's details into view, they said

I just came inside after having viewed this object for about an hour. The geniuses who wrote this report forgot to mention the exact location within Perseus to look. Maybe they figured that those who wanted to know would simply find a way. Well, here's my helping hand: The comet looks like a fuzzy spot about two degrees east of Mirfak, the brightest star in Perseus (at second magnitude, it is about as bright as Polaris, the North Star). It glows at about third magnitude, and to the unaided eye looks a lot like the famous globular cluster, Omega Centauri (oh how I miss those deep southern skies!). Through my 10x50 binoculars, the fuzziness takes on some granular detail.

Right now the comet is at about 40 degrees above the northeast horizon, and, since Mirfak is circumpolar from where I sit typing this, that means that this comet will be visible all night long. It will appear to reach the zenith, as a result of Earth's rotation, at about midnight. Needless to say that this baby bears watching, and you can bet that I'll be out there as long as the nights are clear.

Full Story

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox Win World Series (No not a repeat of the 2004 headline)! Nightwish and H.I.M Concert Experiences.

Well, the Red Sox won the World Series...AGAIN!!! Damn, twice in one lifetime! To paraphrase Arnold Judas Rimmer, I'm turning into Hugh Hefner! Okay, maybe not the best obscure reference to use, but I think you get the idea.

I was only five in 1967, the Impossible Dream season of Yaz, Jim Lonborg, Dick Williams and the over-achieving Sox that lost a World Series to a Cardinals team with four future Hall of Famers (Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda and Steve Carlton), and got people in Boston to care about baseball again.

Since then, I lived through the agonies of the following seasons: 1972 (Aparicio falling down around third base to kill a rally against Mickey Lolich. The Tigers won the game, and the AL East), 1974 (Blowing a seven-game late August lead to end up in third place behind the Orioles), 1975 (The World Series, for all its color, was a frustrating event for the opportunities squandered), 1977 (All offense, no pitching), 1978 (A 1951 Dodger-like or 1964 Phillie-like collapse), 1986 (The World Series nightmare of the final inning of Game Six, and being damned certain that there was no way we'd win Game Seven), 1988 through 1991 (Two more division titles, and quick exits at the hands of Tony LaRussa's Athletics in '88 and '90, plus frustrating finishes behind the Blue Jays in '89 and '91), 1995 (Quick playoff exit at the hands of the resurgent Indians), 1998 (Same), 1999 (Same, but at the hands of the Yankees, with a little help from some shitty umpiring), and 2003 (Aaron Boone's homer off Wake) before the Miracle of 2004 happened. So the Sox went back to the usual plan in 2005 and got eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual champions, the White Sox. 2006 was a wasted year with injuries that killed the team.

How great then, was it, that the 2007 season turned out the way it did? It certainly didn't seem that it would go this way after the Yankees came roaring back from being eight games below .500 in late May to finish two games back of the Sox before getting burned by the Indians in the first round. The Sox fell into the 3-1 deficit and rebounded to win the league championship and there was, for a change, little doubt that they would beat the Rockies in the Series (though I didn't think it would be a sweep). Hats off to this team of mostly familiar faces (Papi Ortiz, Manny, Schilling, Wakefield) mixed in with newer veterans (Mike Lowell, Daisuke Matsuzaka, JD Drew, Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo), and, thank goodness, with some younger guys (Beckett, Papelbon, Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Buchholz) that put this team in a position to remain at the top for the foreseeable future. Enjoy your parade boys!

And while we aren't on the subject, I realize I haven't posted my concert reviews for the Nightwish and H.I.M. shows of October 20th and 21st (when the Red Sox were winning games six and seven of the ALCS), so here goes:

On Saturday the 20th, Nightwish and support band, England's Paradise Lost, played in front of about 500 people at the Palladium in Worcester. Paradise Lost was plagued with equipment problems for the first three songs. There was no sound coming from the lead guitarist's amp. After straightening that out, the band recovered to play a decent set, made up mostly from songs from their recent CD "In Requiem".

Nightwish came out and blew the place away with a set mostly of material from the new CD "Dark Passion Play" and "Once". New singer Anette Olzon proved she could handle the lead mike as she belted out her parts in songs like "Bye Bye Beautiful", "Amaranth", "The Cadence of Her Last Breath", "Eva" and "Sahara" from the new CD. She also handled the stuff from "Once" fairly well as the band took us through "Nemo", "Dark Chest of Wonders" and "I Wish I Had an Angel". Bassist-vocalist Marco Hietala turned in a powerful performance in both capacities, as he shined on "The Poet and the Pendulum", "Master Passion Greed" and "The Islander" (on which he played acoustic guitar), as well as on "Bye Bye Beautiful" and "I Wish I Had an Angel".

Keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen did everything, including playing looped pieces of the orchestral parts from the songs to fill out the sound. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen was terrific, playing slicing, biting leads and relentless riffs throughout the show. Drummer Jukka Nevalainen must have lost at least ten pounds during the set, as he never stopped hammering, except for the quiet of "The Islander". The band did reach back into the past a bit and played "Wishmaster" towards the end of the set, but that was it for the older stuff. I'd have liked to have heard them play "Dead Gardens" from "Once", or "The Carpenter" from "Angels Fall First", but since they had already done three songs from "Once", maybe they felt that was enough. And I'm sure Marco could re-work Tuomas' vocal part on the Carpenter and get out the acoustic guitar again.

Anyway, Nightwish was terrific. The band was tight, they looked like they were having fun, and have apparently dumped the "Where's Tarja?" baggage that a lot of folks expected them to be carrying. My only caveats were the above-mentioned lack of variety in the set. Maybe this is due to some of the extremely high parts Tarja sang that Anette may not be able to reproduce, or maybe its just the band's way of saying the future is now. If the latter, then I'd say that future is bright based on this show.

The next night, H.I.M. played in front of twice as many people as saw Nightwish (some of whom, like me, came back for this heaping helping of Euro-rock). I managed to get inside just as the boys took the stage (the usual parking garage I use was locked, and I had to drive two extra blocks to find something that wasn't crazy expensive, so by the time I got to the venue the queue was twice as long as it was the previous evening). Anyway, like Nightwish, H.I.M. chose to play mostly recent material. They played most of the new CD "Venus Doom". I think the only song they didn't play was "Song or Suicide". They counteracted the brutal sonic assault of songs like "Passion's Killing Floor", "Kiss of Dawn" and "Bleed Well" with lighter stuff from "Dark Light" like "Killing Loneliness" and "Rip Off the Wings of a Butterfly". Valo would go from manic, gyrations to the grinding rhythm of the heavier numbers, to statue still, almost as if he was looking at a nightmare landscape only he could see as he crooned the painful lyrics of his slower songs.

The boys also took a crack at some of the material from "Love Metal" with stuff like "Buried Alive By Love", "Soul on Fire", "The Sacrament" and "Circle of Fear". The oldest song they performed was "Pretending" from "Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights".

Linde was the unsung hero of the show, as his fuzzy riffs and dense leads provided a sharp contrast to Burton's surreal keyboard sounds. I have no words to describe what I heard him do. Psychedelic? Ethereal? Chaotic? Urgent? How about blending all that together and mixing it with the harshness of Linde and Mige to go with Valo's lamentations? Gas hammered away on the drums, and was better than I'd expected. He and Mige, on bass, more than held the foundation of this show together.

All in all it was quite a show. Valo is close to what I expected, as he didn't do much that I'd expect from a "traditional" metal front man (I know, "categorization", I know...), but he had the crowd in his pocket from the moment he stepped into the spotlight, and kept them there the entire show. The band was tight, and even stretched things out into some extended jams on songs like "Soul on Fire" and "Sleepwalking Past Hope". These guys have been together now for several years, and are obviously comfortable with one another. From here, the boys head west. Their tour is longer, and takes them to more places than Nightwish's tour. After having seen both bands on back-to-back nights, I'd like to say that the next time they come to this area it will be to headline the DCU Center, but since I couldn't get the ass-monkeys on the local "hard rock" station to even consider playing one cut from each artist (despite the fact that the shows were held a mere 15 minutes from where those mindless hacks broadcast), I'd say they have an uphill battle to reach the status they enjoy at home here in the US. Still, these shows give me hope!