Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Potato Bacon Chowder

I very clearly failed at the November Project, and will never bring it up again, because it doesn't make much sense for me to point it out. Instead, I'm going to continue on as though nothing happened (which, actually, is pretty accurate) and continue with the "Ryan writes about food he makes" series of posts which are probably subconsciously inspired by a summer weekday afternoon viewing of Julie & Julia, which I actually enjoyed. Today's subject: Potato and Bacon Chowder.

A while ago, I bought a five pound sack of potatoes for a dollar at Jewel-Osco. Mostly because five pounds of almost anything for a dollar is a pretty good deal. They sat on a shelf for a short while, because I had no idea what to make with them. I've made mashed potatoes before, but other than that, I have not really explored the versatility of the noble potato. A former housemate of mine (in the Jazz House at Allegheny) made potato soup every other day for a while (between "open events", which usually consisted of renting some part of Ken Burns' Jazz and buying some cheese), as her meal plan had run out and potatoes, evidently, are pretty universally cheap. Sure, you don't want to base your entire diet around it, particularly if you've got phytophthora infestans hanging around, but generally, potatoes are (apparently) pretty awesome. I ran with that, and decided to scour, where I'm getting all of these recipes, for a potato soup.

The problem with doing things that way is that while I'm trying to build up a base of general knowledge, there are endless variations on something simple like potato soup. If I had an extensive pantry, I guess I could try a number of these things. If I had, I don't know, an excess of kale hanging around (which, if I ever start a vegan-centric post-punk band, it's going to be called "An Excess of Kale"), I could make this nonsense. If I had chunks of bologna, I could make this provided I am ever able to regain an appetite having read the phrase "chunks of bologna". Do I have frozen peas, ground beef, and a willingness to discard the idea of making potato soup for a vague, faux-poetically named dish from someone who notes in their writeup that weather-themed birthday parties exist? Clouds at Sunset to the rescue. Having none of those things, I went with Potato Bacon Chowder for several reasons. First, making a chowder sounds more impressive than making a soup. Second, it involved bacon, which is more or less all I'm looking for in any recipe. It's a miracle that all of the food I make isn't just a substrate for bacon.

It actually turned out really well. I'll be making it again soon. It seems like it's cheating to use condensed soup as an ingredient for making soup, but it's cheap enough and the recipe makes roughly an enormous amount of potato soup, so I'm fine with that. Evidently, I've still got to work on my chopping skills, as Marina complained that the onions were too large (Which is probably true. Actually, I may have stopped chopping prematurely just because the onion was getting to me, and was bringing back very unpleasant memories of being in an undergraduate lab and working with benzyl bromide, which is a powerful lachrymator and the closest I've ever gotten to being tear-gassed.) I ate it with bread, mostly because I felt like symbolically kicking Robert Atkins in the shin. I didn't actually make that many alterations to the recipe (other than "how can I put even more bacon in this?"), but I'll get to that later, once I have a few more basic dishes under my belt.

More to come, either on food (because food is delicious) or something else (because something else makes this seem less like it's suddenly a culinary blog).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movie Review: 2012

Quick note, first of all. I’m going to be giving away spoilers. I want to discuss the movie, and I’m going to do so without pulling back so that the plot remains fresh for everyone. In terms of a spoiler free assessment of the movie, 2012 is a fun if formulaic disaster movie which does terrible, unspeakable things to science and expects the audience to believe a hell of a lot. A few loose ends bothered me, as well as how the ending progresses and the thought processes that went into the attempts to avoid the apocalypse, but overall, if you can ignore everything, it’s interesting visually. At times. If I were giving it a grade, it’s somewhere in the C/C- range. If you do not want the movie to be spoiled for you, do not read past this paragraph

So, 2012. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I was happy to see because I enjoyed him in Redbelt) is a geologist who’s meeting a colleague in India, apparently a particle physicist. The colleague informs Helmsley that a recent solar flare has changed some fundamental property of the trillions of neutrinos bombarding the earth and everything on it, such that they now interact with matter, sort of, and are heating up the earth’s core. This is all supposed to coincide in a hand-waving sort of way with the theory that, based on the Mayan long count calendar, the world will end on the winter solstice in 2012.

There are a few things about that that concern me.

Going through it bit by bit, I’m unsure how a solar flare is supposed to change the properties of fundamental particles like the neutrino. Neutrinos are produced at every moment by solar fusion, and are produced at such a rate that 65 billion or so pass through every square centimeter of the side of the earth that’s facing the sun every second of every day. Which would be a problem, if they interacted with ordinary matter. Luckily, they don’t. So they pass right through everything, only occasionally interacting. Let’s presume, for a moment, that something the sun did actually did change the nature of neutrinos such that they interact. Why, dear Liza, do they only interact with the core? It’s large and nickel and iron, primarily, but why are the neutrinos apparently still passing through things until they encounter the core? Shouldn’t the entirety of life on earth been wiped out long before we even started to notice that neutrino observatories are boiling (evidently not solely because of the neutrino-water molecule interactions, but because the core of the planet is heating up) by the new and interactive neutrinos smashing into the molecules that make up us, killing everyone off with severe radiation poisoning? And how much are the neutrinos heating up the core? It’s already several thousand degrees Celsius.

Ok. So ignoring all the problems the movie creates by blaming everything on solar flares and neutrinos (which I’m thinking was a convenient way to get to the Apocalypse by using things outside of common science knowledge), let’s get in to the actual premise. There are head nods to the Mayan long count calendar (the absurd hysteria about which the movie draws its notability from) and a few scientists pay the obligatory “How, with all our technology, could we not have known what the Mayans knew?” slam on modern science in preference of ancient knowledge. For the most part, though, there’s not enough room for it. And even though (enjoyably wacky) Woody Harrelson has a cartoon in the middle which points out that the long count calendar thing suggests that the world will end on December 21, 2012, the entirety of the movie takes place over a few days in August. How do I know this? It explicitly says that the events take place over a few days, and they show the London 2012 Olympics as being disrupted, which start on July 27th and end on August 12th. So, the Mayans correctly predicted the end of the world, but not really, and not in a way that makes sense scientifically. Hooray.

As for the actual action of the movie, it’s a standard disaster film. At no point do we really feel like the plucky American broken family isn’t going to make it. Hell, their enormous Russian airplane runs out of gas, and the earth’s crust has conveniently shifted so that not only do they not land in the South China Sea, but they land apparently about ten miles from their destination and only shot at survival. Which is convenient. I’d note that this massive crust shift has apparently occurred while maintaining the continents in pretty much their current shape (and without, say, the Indian subcontinent plowing the hell through China). Oh, and for some reason the global catastrophe that is ripping the Earth apart from the inside out hits California first, then works its way around the world from there. And the designers of the massive arks on which humanity is to survive apparently assumed that there would be no debris in the massive tidal wave for which they were preparing, and so humanity is almost destroyed. Again. And the captain of the American ship is apparently Grand Moff Tarkin.

Sorry. I got distracted by the massive amount of things that made no sense whatsoever. The family drama is pretty standard. Ex-husband dad living on his own is jealous of the attention that his kids pay to his ex-wife’s new doctor boyfriend who is portrayed, at least in the beginning, as a tool. Eventually, Dad A learns that Dad B isn’t such a bad guy after all, and we eventually end up feeling like Dad B is getting the shaft, as he’s flying the plane and saving everyone’s life while Dad A gets back with his ex-wife. Dad B ends up unceremoniously dispatched (by gears!) which no one cares about or ever mentions again. Dad A gets back with his family guilt free and everyone’s happy. Obviously.

In the meantime, though, Chiwetel (I’m referring to the character Adrian by his actor’s first name because how awesome is “Chiwetel”) convinces an Angela Merkel clone and several other world leaders to let the people that are still on the dock onto the ship, thus showing that money doesn’t buy everything and the wasteful luxury rooms upon the ark will be used for a more utilitarian purpose, saving as many as possible. There’s only one problem I have with that. The only people who are on the dock are the Chinese workers (with whom I have no problem saving) and people who knew about the project, paid, and simply weren’t let on. They’re all still people who paid one billion euros for the trip. It’s not like they’re running around, saving the salt of the earth from certain destruction. It’s still all the rich guys. It’s just more rich guys who are less comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with saving them, of course, as they’re people too, but it sort of undercuts the “only those who were able to afford ludicrously priced seats survived” that it seems like the movie was going for.

Overall, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again. If you liked other apocalyptic movies that don’t actually make much sense when you stop to think about them, watch 2012. And the world’s not going to end. If you worry about the world ending in 2012, you should probably send me all the money you have, as you are clearly in no state to make informed decisions about how to live, and if you’re right, it won’t matter anyway.

That was a long post. Yes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adaptations Confuse Me

I've noted on here before that I'm a fan of Food Network. Making the preparation of food entertaining is a feat, but as everyone's got to eat, so it's got wide appeal. And Alton Brown. Who I would let run Illinois, if I had any significant political pull. Separately, I'm also always on the look out for new games for the Wii, in the event I ever get enough money to buy more. I recently played through Twilight Princess and Super Mario Galaxy again, and while I can throw Madworld in whenever I feel like dismembering something, I'd like a few more options that are able to provide a completely different experience.

Given all that, what the hell is this?


Really, Food Network? First, I'm not sure what to think about the name. I'd have to play it to find out, but is that threat legitimate? If I don't cook well enough, I'm abducted, dissected and prepared in a variety of visually impressive and delicious dishes? Because if that's the case, this game will be much more interesting than I've been led to believe. I understand that part of the appeal with the Wii is that you can simulate activities with the Wiimote, but for some reason, I dig it more when what you're simulating is something you couldn't actually do by going to another room of the house. I can't easily box without getting hurt, and that the Wii simulates that is fun. Same with, I don't know. Shooting a bow. But if I want to cut a steak, I could presumably go buy a steak and, you know, enjoy it. Yes, the cost of steak over the lifetime of a Wii is probably more than the $39.95 they're asking for the game, and I shouldn't review a game I've not played before, but merely seen a commercial for between Unwrapped and Good Eats, but I'm going to be really surprised if this isn't absurd. If I'd rented a video game in the past decade, I'd find out, but instead, I'll just be snarky on the internet about something that people worked hard on producing.

It's just so much easier than producing anything of merit on my own.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I think my process with learning how to cook is going to be to learn how to make basic forms of different types of dishes so that I can improvise on them after I know what legally constitutes a chili. Or, in this case, a quiche. I'm not sure why I decided to make a quiche. I've only had it a few times, but decided that my success in chili formulation that quiche should be my next step. Part of it was probably that I like omelettes for the very reason that you can basically chuck anything you have lying around in there and have it turn out sort of palatable. Add a pie crust and some half-and-half, and I'm in. Then there's the name. Quiche is hilarious and for some reason that I'm not quite sure of, sort of emasculating. I'd say it was something to do with being french and American Francophobia, but apparently it's originally a German dish, which if broad and widely inaccurate stereotypes are the basis for how we know things, should mean they're humorless but well-designed. Which I guess can apply to quiche. I'm hopeful that after a few more attempts at making food, I'll start making a quiche, then get distracted by doing something manly, like ripping down rainforests with my bare hands or rebuilding a jet engine. Or fashioning a power saw out of pit bulls and motorcycles. And then have the opportunity to look at my watch, drop whatever tree I'm holding, scream "Oh my god! My quiche!" and run away.

What I'm saying is that my life should be a middle of the road family sit-com.

As for the actual cooking, it went relatively well. I made the most basic quiche I could find (which gains points for being submitted by someone calling themselves "Doctor Kitten"), and threw half an onion, a red pepper and a jalapeno in, because vegetables are cheap and were hanging out here anyway. It wasn't as good as the chili, but that might just be because it was quiche and not chili. I definitely need to try it again, and it absolutely needs some bacon the next time I try. Some more spice, as well. The problem with making the most basic quiche imaginable is that it's sort of bland. So. Yes. Attempts at cooking continue, even if attempts at daily blogging are constantly falling behind.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Concert Review: Ska is Dead IV

It's impossible for me to go to a show that features the bands that were headlining Ska is Dead IV without comparing it to my first concert experiences. With new bands, I can appreciate them on their own merits, without holding them up to some ludicrous standard that was set when I was first discovering music, and imbuing it with a ridiculous sense of grandeur. When I saw Skapone at this year's Glenwood Arts Festival, I wasn't comparing them to every other time I'd seen them, because I'd never seen them before, Which was fine. They were good, by the way. Much better than the stand that was trying to sell glasses with "Penis" and "Scrotum" written on them in puffy paint for $20. Obscene on no less than two levels. But, this isn't that, and so I'm going to compare Ska is Dead IV to concerts of my youth. Get over it.

First, the venue. I've been to the Metro a number of times. There's not really much I can complain about as far as the venue itself. It does well for what it is, a mid-level club. There's at least one improvement over the clubs of my youth. The guy who sets up the equipment change music makes at least minimal effort to match the music to the show. I distinctly remember going to concerts at Club Laga where the twenty minutes between the end of The Hippos set and The Berlin Project and being assaulted with Top 40, specifically "...Baby One More Time", which not only breaks the spell by injecting a completely different kind of music into the mix, but by risking inciting a group of irrational teenagers to violence. So that's no good. Whoever's picking out music at the Metro, though, at least sort of seems to know what he's doing. If Deal's Gone Bad finishes and we're waiting for the Toasters to take the stage, it's nice to hear some Let's Go Bowling or Specials. So yes. Good job, Metro Intermission Music Guy.

The fact that Metro's got a balcony actually alleviated the fears I had about the concert being groups of high schoolers with me being creepy in the background. The crowd segregates by age, with the older attendees hanging out upstairs, where the bar is, and the kids staying downstairs, where they can run into each other and do whatever it is that I did before I realized how much I enjoy not moving all that much. I always hated the over 21s at concerts when I was young. I thought they weren't getting the full concert experience by hanging out in a cage removed from the mosh pit. Turns out, not getting shoved can be ok.

Now, the actual bands. I have to confess, I underestimated the amount to which the CTA would continue to be the bane of my existence. So an attempt to show up at least somewhat on time means I missed both Green Room Rockers and Voodoo Glow Skulls, which I was sort of devastated about. So, unfortunately, I can't review either of their performances. On to the bands that I saw. I'd never seen Deal's Gone Bad before, which is absurd as they're a Chicago band who plays here often enough, and I've been living here for four years. Since I'd never seen them, I guess I never really jumped at the opportunity to see them. I won't make that mistake again. They're what I look for in new ska bands. Go. See. Deal's Gone Bad.

The Toasters continue to have a lot fewer members than they had in their heyday, if we can call it that. The last time I saw them, there was at least Lord Sledge on trumpet and Buford O'Sullivan joining in on trombone, but last night's horn section consisted solely of a tenor sax and trombone. Which is fine, and they did fine with what they had, but I'm always hoping to see a return to their former size. A drummer I've never seen before tried to lead the crowd, which worked well enough, as most of the people there were well versed enough in Toasters albums that singing along was never a problem. The bassist, while playing well, was moving as though he wanted to be in a band other than the one that helped pioneer Third Wave, and was a little distracting. Lots of swaying. Anyway, "Bucket" Hingley was on as always. I'm not sure how old Bucket is at this point (it should be noted that Skaboom!, the band's first album, was issued in 1983, making the Toasters at least as old as I am), but he seems to still have his spark. He worked the crowd, imploring some young whippersnappers to stop trying to hurt fellow concert goers, and I was impressed by the song selection. There's a tendency, I think, to try to find the most popular album and just play that. A Rancid concert two years ago I went to was almost entirely "...And Out Come The Wolves". Which isn't a bad thing necessarily. But getting to hear everything from "Weekend in LA" to "Shocker" to "Thrill Me Up" to a few songs from Enemy of the System made me appreciate not only how deep the Toasters repretoire is, but that they're willing to play the old stuff. The kids were into it, so that worked.

It was really disconcerting to have Mustard Plug headlining a show at which the Toasters were playing. I always sort of held the Toasters in very high regard (partly because Bucket ran Moon Ska Records), and it's very weird to see them not headlining whatever show they're at. Nothing against Mustard Plug, obviously, as I've seen them absurdly often and still listen to Evildoers Beware! and Pray for Mojo. But, anyway, on to Mustard Plug. I was skeptical at how much the crowd seemed to be cheering at the bizarre lights and sustained chords intro, but it turns out that Mustard Plug is always going to be Mustard Plug. Energetic without being cartoonish (which is what I didn't like about a lot of the bands, like Reel Big Fish, that came up in the ska-punk fad) and just completely controlling the crowd. The set included most of the standards ("You", "Skank By Numbers", "Lolita") as well as two covers. One I've heard hundreds of times, to the point where I don't even recall what The Verve Pipe's version of "The Freshmen" even sounds like. They also covered "Waiting Room" by Fugazi, which I was skeptical of, but which they managed to pull off enough that I think Ian MacKaye may allow it. My only nitpick with the entire set was that for the first time in all the times I've seen Mustard Plug, the performance of "Mr. Smiley" wasn't accompanied by Dave Kirchgessner attacking the front row with a plastic axe. Additionally, I've been to a lot of shows in my time, and I've heard a lot of bands play their most popular song last, but nothing gets a crowd going like the Beer Song. My word.

On the way out, I was handed a CD from what appears to be a local band called "On Your Marx", who appears to have reformed from a mid-nineties band called "Jambalaya" that I've never heard of. With a name like On Your Marx, and a CD cover of a gold-stars-on-red-background version of the Chicago flag, I was expecting something a bit more political. It's fun enough, and I'm always supportive of a ska band with female vocals. Their song "Baby Piano" starts with a baby piano, which I guess makes sense. I'd like to hear more from On Your Marx, as the EP (which is available on their website was too short for me to make any real judgement. I'd give them a shot if I saw that they were playing somewhere.

So, there we go. Concert Review. Hooray.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Attending Concerts

I don't go to concerts anymore. Part of it, I think, is that I've finally reached that point where it's potentially creepy. If I continue to go to the shows that I've gone to my entire concert-going life, I'm the old guy now, and I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that, both as a role and as a way of reminding me that it's been ten years since I was sixteen. The only saving grace of the whole endeavor is that my youth was spent listening to music considered by most to be a fad. For most people, bands like Reel Big Fish were popular for just about a year, then no one cared about them anymore. Oddly, I never really listened to Reel Big Fish, but rather used it as an introduction to the wider world of third-wave ska. Hence, the people that tend to show up at concerts like the one I'm going to tonight are in the same mold, people who started listening to these bands in the late 90's and have just stuck with it since then. There's still more annoying (which I can see now) young people, getting in my way and misunderstanding the rules of etiquette (bands like the Pietasters do not require a constant mosh pit, and you look like an idiot for trying one in addition to injuring people who are trying to enjoy themselves), but I think that's just a function of going to lame ska concerts. Apparently, my tastes in music are woefully adolescent.

The last concert I actually committed to going to and then showed up at was, and I think I'm not making this up, seven months ago (Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice at the Portage Theater). It had been a while before then. And while I enjoyed that show, I need to go to something or I think someone comes and confiscates the band posters and setlists that I collected from going to shows at Club Laga, and alternately either helping the horn section of the band I came to see load their van (The Berlin Project) and attempting to wake my friend up because he may have just sustained a concussion against one of the bare concrete pillars (Hatebreed/Throwdown/God Forbid). So I'm off to see Mustard Plug, The Toasters, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Deal's Gone Bad and Green Room Rockers tonight. I'll likely be back later to report on how Mustard Plug is holding up (incidentally, one of the first concerts I went to, back in 1997, was Mustard Plug, Slick Olde Bishops and, though I hadn't heard of them before the show, a Tomas Kalnoky-led Catch 22), how Rob Hingley is dealing with the fact that while he's the only remaining member of the original Toasters and has been for some time, every time I've seen them in recent years they appear to be losing members and then just not replacing them, leading to songs written for an eight-piece band being played by four. And I'll report on who on earth the Green Room Rockers are, in the event that I show up early enough to see them (who starts a concert at 5:00 pm on a Saturday?).


And I've already fallen two days behind. I'll catch up, though, so I'm going to count it as being alright. Part of the problem is that I've finished up at Northwestern, and in trying to get a job, I've taken a position at a company that I won't explicitly name, but that has me getting up at seven in the morning, so prime blogging hours after work have been taken up with "I need sleep or I'm going to die". But we're back, and so the November Project marches onward.

I've talked before about my prediliction for getting into different mythologies. I find something, get excited that there's back story that I don't know that other people find absurdly important, and dive in, learning as much as I can. I recently repeated the process with Green Lantern (which, incidentally, was a really good decision, considering that I happened to decide to start looking over the mythology so that I'd be up to speed when the Blackest Night event started, which I'll review here later), and I'm remembering the process as I'm rewatching the new series of Doctor Who with Marina's roommates. I'm still not sure if I'm committed enough to watch the old series, though I did spend my fair amount of time looking back over synopses of Jon Pertwee's exploits.

Continuing my newfound comic book reading schedule (which has recently expanded to include Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, the Red Tornado series and Justice Society of America (after Geoff Johns run), both of which I'll comment on sometime during the month, I finally got around to seriously making an attempt at reading Gaiman's Sandman. I won't attempt any sort of review of it, as that's already been done a thousand times over, but more than getting into a new mythology (especially as one as rich as Gaiman's prone to creating), reading Sandman gave me more the feeling of "how on earth could I have not read this". I've still got two TPBs to go in the main series, and it's suddenly earned a spot on the Things I Will Buy When I Have a Steady Job That Pays Something, Rather Than Nothing list.

More tomorrow, including, likely, a review of Blackest Night so far.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Attempting Chili

So Food Network has taken over most of my TV watching. I think it started when I got bored in lab and decided to watch Hell's Kitchen (the US version) on Hulu while things were stirring (which isn't on Food Network, but it involves food and that's close enough, damn it), then finding the US version of Kitchen Nightmares on Comcast On Demand, but that wasn't so much instructional from a culinary standpoint and more "Gordon Ramsay's going to yell at some more stuff, humiliate people, and make you feel better about your personal housekeeping because hey, you don't have rotting food and disgustingness everywhere, hopefully". That led, slowly, to watching reality shows about cooking that actually involve "making food taste good" as part of the show concept. I stopped short of actually using any of the programming for instruction (though Alton Brown tempted me, with his seductive, alluring approach and hairstyle). But I think it might have shaken up the part of my brain that whispers "You should cook something other than frozen pizza. It's sort of like chemistry. You could probably not screw it up too badly."

Usually, I gleefully ignore that part of my brain, rip open another flattish cardboard box, preheat to 400 (without looking at the dial, so engrained is that in my muscle memory) and resign to another night of DiGiorno (if I'm feeling ritzy). A few days ago, however, I got it in my mind to try my hand at a chili. A few notes as to my thought process here.

First, I decided on white chili. I always assumed I wouldn't like chili in my childhood (I think because I have an intensely negative reaction to the idea of kidney beans which may or may not be tied to the urban myth where you wake up in a bathtub of ice). White chili, or at least the recipe I used, uses "Great Northern Beans". They're great! It's right there in the name! That's pleasant. So, that was settled.

Secondly, for being a chemist who's used to changing the size of whatever reaction I happen to be working on (and currently working on scale-up at a process development plant), I sure have no concept of when a recipe's too large. The five (!) cans of beans should have clued me in. Now, I'm sure chili keeps for at least a day, and I did have the foresight to buy some containers so that I don't have to buy lunch tomorrow, but my word. There's so much chili.

Third, and this has nothing to do with the chili, but Wikipedia claims that DiGiorno's website makes a claim about "having been around for over ten years". Which is great, and I'm certainly no expert on the fast-paced world of frozen pizza brands, but going back ten years only gets you to Toy Story 2. Or the second Austin Powers. And given my own concerns about how quickly time is passing, I'm going to maintain that those were pretty much yesterday, and "over ten years" is not something to brag about.

As for the actual chili, it turned out pretty well. And now I own cumin and cayenne pepper, so I'm planning on doing this again. When my "endless-cans-of-beans" budget is back up.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The November Project

Yes. I know about NaNoWriMo, but frankly, I'm not that good at creative fiction and will probably never write a novel, so it seems odd to sit down and go after it like a madman for one month near the end of the year. I'm glad it exists for other people, but it's not for me. That said, when I actually made the commitment to sit down and write one blog post a day in February 2008, I did it and felt pretty good about it. I was exhausted by the end (because I am just this side of being the least interesting man in the world) and wound up gasping for air and reaching for every possible post topic I could find.

But it's kind of absurd that the past year has been announcing my attention to read comics and the yearly Mascot Bracket and nothing else. So, even though it's already the third of the month, I'm going to start it up again: The November Project. Perhaps the next several years will be filled with long gaps in content, followed by a few weeks of feverishly writing to a self-imposed deadline, followed by more gaps until I have a series of "The X Project" where X is every month. For now, though, let's do it.

The November Project is on.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I guess it isn't.

I've been going to D&D Dogs in Evanston since I moved to Chicago. Somehow (likely because I usually don't get a receipt, but possibly as a result of their recent renovation) I'd never noticed this before. It appears that the system they use to punch the orders in contains a weensy William Carlos Williams, who doesn't want me to get too self-important over my meal.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Final Four and Championship

#13 Cleveland State Vikings vs. #5 Purdue Boilermakers

Apparently, Purdue was able to make it to the Final Four before it finally ran into someone with opposable thumbs. Caked with the remains of large wild cats, there's little the Boilermaker Special is going to be able to do to stop the Vikings from simply boarding and dismantling the thing with their mustaches. Also, as I understand it, Viking is more of a free-floating scheduled job, whereas trains have scheduled stops and run the risk of pissing off their passengers if they miss them. Vikings don't have to deal with that (even if they do piss off their passengers, it's not like they're going to mouth off to the guy with the axe. Cleveland State makes the Championship Round.

#16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers vs. #16 Radford Highlanders

I don't care how much Johnny Depp you've got, or how many Keith Richards cameos you're planning on throwing at that antler-hat fellow, if your life consists of disease, starvation and occasional theft to survive, you're not going to stand much of a chance. The Field Museum has got a pirate exhibit opening up that I'm excited to go see, but all the ticket sales in the world aren't going hold up against those shoulders. Radford makes it to the Championship.

#13 Cleveland State Vikings vs. #16 Radford Highlanders

Unlike last year's bracket, both competitors that reached the final round existed. Highlanders still exist, though I imagine they're a bit less like the mascot with his inexplicable helmet and more like politicians and athletes and so forth. That said, and I swear I wasn't running with this the entire time as I'm making it all up as I go, I think I'm going to have to give this one to the Highlanders. Sure, some of them are laypeople (just as some Vikings are Hagar) but in the end I've got to go with "potentially immortal" over "sea-faring".

Your 2009 Murphspot Mascot Bracket Champions

Must not make "there can be only one" joke.

The Radford University Highlanders

So, there we are. A bit later than I'd have liked it to be up, but it's done and I'm going to get back to actually being a scientist. Comments on any or all of it are welcome and encouraged. Links to the right if you've missed any of this nonsense.

Elite Eight

#13 Cleveland State Vikings vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials

Unfortunately for Robert Morris, I don't believe "Colonials" just applies to the military. Anyone that lives in a colony is a colonial. LARPers for profit in Williamsburg are Colonials. They just seem like the kind of people that would be readily pillaged, and if there's one thing I've learned about vikings in my lifetime, it's that they're good at that. This, then, is the end of the line for Robert Morris, and Cleveland State makes the increasingly improbable Final Four.

#5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #3 Missouri Tigers

At this point, I'm afraid I'm no longer objective. I just actively want tigers to die. Normally, that kind of conflict of interest would cause me to recuse myself from the Mascot Bracket and have the rest of it filled out by someone who hasn't been driven to the point of madness by the beasts, but in this case, I'm just going to fall back on what I established in the first round and Sweet Sixteen and say that large cat doesn't stand up to "goddamn train". Purdue advances.

#16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers vs. #6 UCLA Bruins

My friend Ben raised a good point. I've got to pick a suitable environment for this matchup. Pirates tend to hang out on stolen ships and ports and Disney World, while bears tend to stick to forests and mountains and Disney World. It seems like waiting for the Pirates to make it far enough inland to be in a forest or for bears to captain a pirate ship (which would be terrifying) are slim, so I'll have to pick their only common ground, Disney World. Which wins? Pirates of the Caribbean or Country Bear Jamboree? Animatronic drunkards and rapists or animatronic yokel minstrel bears? The pirates still have weapons instead of banjos, so East Tennessee State makes the Final Four.

#16 Radford Highlanders vs. #14 stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Lumberjacks are great, and all, but when you really get down to it, they're big dudes in flannel with axes. I'm not saying that I'd fight a lumberjack, and I certainly have the utmost respect for lumberjacks, but I think the likelihood that they're going to spend a significant amount of their time in the Pacific Northwest has got to count as a strike against. That highlander still has a huge sword and it's not often that a kilt makes it into the Final Four, so I'm going to have to go with Radford once again.

East/South Regions, Sweet Sixteen

#16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers vs. #13 Portland State Vikings

Again, the Mascot Bracket arrives on an interesting hypothetical. Which style of naval warfare will prevail? I know I've been big on Vikings in this bracket, and even moreso on Portland State given the fact that they seem to employ Boba Fett. However, the Buccaneers have the advantage of advanced weaponry, as well as Johnny Depp. Granted, they've also got to put up with Orlando Bloom.

Still a douche.

I think they'll overcome that, though, and triumph over the Vikings. East Tennessee State makes the Elite Eight.

#6 UCLA Bruins vs. #2 Duke Blue Devils

I've been running along pretty strong with the concept that an elite French military unit is going to be able to hold it's own, but I think I've been missing the true point of the mascot bracket by not looking into the big, plastic-y eyes of the Duke Blue Devil.

Look upon my jowls, ye mighty, and despair.

Seriously, what the hell is that? I've been defending Penn Jillette in a mask? Even if I allow that, what's with the goalie gloves? No. This shall not continue. That guy would get eaten by a bear. UCLA advances.

#16 Radford Highlanders vs. #12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

This one's kind of painful, as it pits the lead singer of a band whose entire catalog is about Tolkein and leather harnesses against Big Red, who I imagine reigns over Muppets like some kind of benevolent dictator. Unfortunately for Big Red, the Highlander's sword is a bit too menacing, his boots a bit too "burlap sack tied with rope" for any outcome in which Western Kentucky would move on. Radford wins.

#14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks vs. #15 Morgan State Bears

Close call. Both spend their life in the forest. Bears are vicious and, if Timothy Treadwell has taught us anything, can totally eat you. Lumberjacks are big and tough and know their way around a chainsaw. I think the Lumberjacks probably win because they've likely got a better range, even if they do have to rely on weapons rather than brute strength. Plus, I don't often see bears competing to see who can stay on a rolling log in water (birling!) and therefore Stephen F. Austin moves on.

Midwest/West Regions, Sweet Sixteen

#9 Siena Saints vs. #13 Cleveland State Vikings

Even presuming that the saints are the patron saints of heavy artillery or preemptive warfare or whatever isn't going to save them this time. It really breaks down to one advantage for Cleveland State here. Saints have round, glowing halos and piety and flowing robes and occasionally are surrounded by squirrels. Vikings have metal helmets with big "get the hell out of my way" horns on them and axes and facial hair and body odor. Cleveland State moves on to the Elite Eight.

#6 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials

Here's something I thought we'd never encounter in the mascot bracket: the Grandfather Paradox. If the Mountaineers kill the Colonials, does that mean that the United States never successfully gains independence from Britain, meaning that West Virginia (hell, Virginia as a whole) remains a British-controlled colony and mountaineering never takes place, having been replaced by dry humor and boiled food? Whether you resolve this through the Novikov self-consistency principle (in which whatever happened must have happened all along) or some sort of parallel timeline setup (in which the Mountaineers may be able to beat the Colonials of a separate timeline but will never return to this one), the only solution I can come up with the Colonials winning.

Grandfather Paradoxes make me think of Heroes, which makes me sad because season 3 nearly killed me with awfulness.

Robert Morris advances.

#8 Brigham Young Cougars vs. #5 Purdue Boilermakers

I'm really starting to think that this is going to be a "how long until Purdue matches up against a person" endurance run. I really see no way a cougar is going to take down a train. The only way I can even begin to address the issue is to propose that Brigham Young doesn't mean cougars in the P. Concolor sense but in the older woman interested in younger men sense, but that's a stretch and risks sacrificing the undying integrity of the Murphspot Mascot Bracket. There's nothing I can do. Purdue advances.

#3 Missouri Tigers vs. #7 California Golden Bears

Seriously, how are there this many "bear/tiger" matchups? I'm going to write a letter to the NCAA, because this is nonsense. How are we, the peripherally-interested-in-college-basketball to come up with a winner when all of the mascots are the same? I think I'm going to go with Missouri, but I'm not sure why. My will has been broken. You've won, NCAA Mascots. You've won. Missouri moves on and I don't know who I am anymore.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

South Region, Round Two

#16 Radford Highlanders vs. #8 Louisiana State Tigers

See, this is a matchup. Absurd headbanging Highlander with a giant sword and antler hat against another tiger. Despite my tentative links to Louisiana State (I did some research there in 2005), I'm going to have to go with Radford. Those thighs are too thick, and a tiger seems like exactly the kind of thing that the Radford Highlander would kill, hollow out and wear. Radford moves on.

#12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. #13 Akron Zips

I'm not sure what on earth Big Red is, and so it's hard to tell whether he'd win in a deathmatch with a kangaroo. Big Red has also got a pouch on his thigh, which I guess makes him a marsupial, which adds a bit of drama to the matchup. The fact that an Italian television station more or less stole the design of Big Red for their mascot, Gabibbo says to me that they know something I don't, and so I'm going with Western Kentucky again.

#6 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

I wish Sun Devils were an actual thing. If they were, even if they were some desert insect or some sort of solar event, they'd stand a chance here. As it stands, Arizona State has a cartoonish man in a leotard with a trident, while Stephen F. Austin have Lumberjacks who have axes and beards and flannel. Stephen F. Austin goes on.

#7 Clemson Tigers vs. #15 Morgan State Bears

This is the third "bear/tiger" matchup we've come across in our mascot bracket journey. I have stopped caring about which would win, but just because there aren't as many bears generally in the tournament, I'm going to go with the rationale I used in the Cal/Memphis matchup and just give this to Morgan State.

East Region, Round Two

#16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers vs. #8 Oklahoma State Cowboys

I'm surprised "Pirates vs. Cowboys" isn't as prevalent a hypothetical battle as "Pirates v. Ninjas". I suppose it might have something to do with the stereotypical "sitting around the fire, eating beans and spinning yarns" view that cowboys tend to evoke. Perhaps it's just a way of preserving Pirate/Ninja conversations so that Tony Romo can't weasel his way into the conversation. Either way, I think Buccaneers win this matchup, if only because their job involves attacking people and taking their possessions by force, while cowboys move cattle. East Tennessee State advances.

#5 Florida State Seminoles vs. #13 Portland State Vikings

Two proud peoples, and it's hard to say who would win in a fight. I'd like to give this to the Seminoles (if only because "Unconquered People" is a pretty badass nickname), but I think they might get points taken off for living in Florida. Vikings, on the other hand, live where people shouldn't, and as a result wound up in Canada. Also, the logo is actually a nice deviation from the standard Viking logo.

Apparently Vikings were Mandalorians. Who knew?

Portland State wins.

#6 UCLA Bruins vs. #3 Villanova Wildcats

I'm still not sure why so many schools use Wildcats as their mascot. They're tiny, they're very closely related to domestic cats (F. Silvestris versus F. Silvestris Catus) and I'm pretty sure they could be punted a good thirty feet. Not that I would. But "adorable" doesn't get you far against a big ol' brown bear. UCLA advances

#7 Texas Longhorns vs. #2 Duke Blue Devils

I'd be terrified if a bull were running at me, but I'm not sure that a longhorn poses quite the same threat. Something about how the horns go off to the side makes me think I'd be able to avoid it while it tried to figure out how to gore me. Without making any jokes about French military prowess post-Napoleon, I'm sure they'd be able to hold their own. I'm not exactly sure about the temperment of longhorns anyway. I'd like to think they're a bit more aggressive, but every cow I've ever encountered just sort of stands around. Duke moves on.

West Region, Round Two

#1 Connecticut Huskies vs. #8 Brigham Young Cougars

I've got a lot of respect for Huskies. They run across Alaska (I'm not even sure I could do that) and they seem to be pleasant enough while also being big enough that I wouldn't one one in my apartment complex. Unfortunately, running across barren wilderness isn't an event in the Murphspot Mascot Bracket Challenge. I'm a man of science and if there's one immutable law of the universe, it's that if you put a cougar and a husky in a cage, the husky's not walking out.

Brigham Young moves on.

#5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #13 Mississippi State Bulldogs

Purdue always wrecks this. There's not much that's going to stand up to a train, and since life isn't a heart-warming children's movie in which animals can talk and may or may not wear conductor hats, there's not a whole lot a bulldog is going to be able to do to a train. I could ease up and go with the idea that the boilermaker is the guy that makes the boiler, or that it's referring to whiskey and a beer, but a bulldog's not going to be able to do much to those things either. Purdue advances.

#11 Utah State Aggies vs. #3 Missouri Tigers

I'm sensing that we're going to come to a tiger bottleneck at some point and I'm going to have to decide between which one of the thirty tigers is going to be superior. Unfortunately, I can't deal with that here. I don't care how much agricultural science you know, a tiger isn't something you want to be in a deathmatch with. Missouri goes on.

#7 California Golden Bears vs. #2 Memphis Tigers

Didn't I just have a Bear/Tiger matchup last round? Cal's bear is a lot less tumor-y and seems to have a snarl, which to me suggests ferocity, while the Memphis tiger appears to be miming driving.

Your mascot is less likely to win a fight if its "lunging" posture is the same as its "Mario Kart" posture.

While I'm not sure bears and tigers tend to hang out a lot, and therefore have no way to confirm which would win in this matchup, I'm going to say that Cal advances.

Midwest Region, Round Two

#16 Morehead State Eagles vs. #9 Siena Saints

I think this one really depends on which saint we're talking about. If it's St. Francis of Assisi, which would probably not be a bad guess as it's a Franciscan university, the eagle's probably going to win as the saint's not going to attack. If it's the patron saint of hunters (Hubertus, evidently), then the eagle's not going to stand much of a chance. I'm going to presume it's either Hubertus or Gummarus (lumberjacks) or Isidore of Seville (computer scientists) and give the win to Siena

#5 Utah Utes vs. #13 Cleveland State Vikings

Now that I've got all the Macchio out of my system in the first round, this seems like an easier decision. Utah's got purposefully weakened beer, wacky government (insofar as "backwards and borderline oppressive" can be considered wacky) and movies with Matthew Lillard and Jason Segel. Vikings have axes and Thor. Cleveland State wins.

#6 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #3 Kansas Jayhawks

I don't know much about the mountaineering lifestyle, but I'm positive it involves shooting things, mythical or otherwise. In addition, the Kansas Jayhawk appears to be wearing giant yellow clown shoes.

I have no idea how he buckled them

That seals it. West Virginia advances.

#10 USC Trojans vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials

USC, unfortunately and through no fault of their own, make me think of those annoying "Trojan Man" commercials, which are just this side of "five dollar footlong" in terms of sticking in my head. The Colonials stir up bad memories of a "Colonial Inn Diner" where a friend of mine tried to order eggs florentine before being told that the fact that there was a picture of it on the menu was not meant to imply that they served it. Overall, I'm going with Robert Morris, as we've got the matchup of two military factions and I feel like I should go with the one that won their war.

South Region, Round One

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. #16 Radford Highlanders

Two teams whose names derive from generic terms for people. I'd love to see a game in which actual Tar Heels (let's say Zach Galifianakis, Reginald VelJohnson, Charlie Rose, Ben Folds and Andy Griffith) against natives of the Scottish Highlands (William Barclay, Yvette Cooper, John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the ATM, the Loch Ness Monster and Connor MacLeod). But, as this is a mascot bracket, the focus should be on the mascots. Rameses has got this cocky swagger and, I think, too many curves in his horns. The mascot for Radford is this guy.

If your mascot is clearly listening to anthemic metal, it means you win.

Look at that guy. Even if we ignore the absurdly large muscles, he's still got an enormous sword, a helmet that strangely has one centered antler and some pretty impressive Conan-the-Barbarian hair. I'll even ignore that the artist got us as close to seeing his package as is allowed for sports logos. Radford with the upset.

#8 Louisiana state Tigers vs. #9 Butler Bulldogs

This bulldog is more clearly a British Bulldog with a hell of an underbite. As it stands, that's not that threatening. Which is a shame, as they could have fixed the entire ordeal with a rhinestone Union Jack, some ridiculous braids and enough bronzer to drown an anteater.

Davey Boy Smith is not going to stand for your Cajun nonsense

As it stands, though, we've got a diminutive dog going up against Mike VI, who weighs 300 lbs and lives off of a diet of palmetto bugs and fear. Which there's plenty of, because of the palmetto bugs. I haven't been there in four years and I still have nightmares about three-inch flying cockroaches. Christ. Ok. Let's move on. LSU wins.

#5 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. #12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

With the retirement of Chief Illiniwek in 2007, I'm afraid the chances for Illinois go way down. It's just very difficult to win a mascot-fight-to-the-death when you have no mascot, and your only logo is a big orange I.


While the Hilltoppers would certainly lose if this were a "fearsome team name" bracket, they enter with a bizarre, abstract mascot named Big Red who just seems to be having so much fun I'm tempted to move to Western Kentucky.

Having the caption be anything other than "Whee-hah!" would be blasphemy. So, "Whee-hah!"

Western Kentucky wins.

#4 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #13 Akron Zips

Zips, or zippers, are rubber overshoes. Ignoring the mascot for a second, the way to strike fear in my heart is not to be galoshes. I've never been scared of galoshes. Galoshes full of spiders, perhaps, but the galoshes are incidental to that. Their actual mascot is Zippy the Kangaroo (who I'm disappointed to report doesn't have his own saturday morning cartoon) and he's going up against a bulldog. My first thought was that the bulldog would have the advantage, but I imagine a kangaroo could kick a bulldog in the head pretty hard. Akron moves on despite the uninspiring name.

#6 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Temple Owls

Owls can be scary. I've been in the forest at night with a screech owl, and I'm pretty sure neither of us were happy with the expierence. He wasn't down with my presence in his habitat, and I wasn't down with his hell-screams and was convinced that he was using them to tear my soul from my body. That said, Sparky the Sun Devil has a cartoonish mustache, a leotard and a trident rather than a pitchfork. Still, it's stabby. Arizona State moves on.

#3 Syracuse Orange vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

I have to admit, I follow college sports with such little tenacity that it hadn't even struck me that Syracuse ceased being the "Orangemen" in 2004. Orangemen might have had a chance here, but shortening the team name to "Orange" means there's no chance I can allow them to move on. You could argue that the name refers to the color, and as such, the section of the electromagnetic spectrum we perceive as orange isn't vulnerable to an axe to the face, but given the mascot, Otto the Orange, the Lumberjacks aren't only going to defeat them, they're going to consume them as part of a balanced breakfast. Stephen F. Austin moves on.

#7 Clemson Tigers vs. #10 Michigan Wolverines

Lots of tigers this year. I like that, because tigers are generally going to provide for some better fights than last year's ever-present wildcats. Unfortunately for Michigan, they're offering up what amounts to a large weasel that probably doesn't even have an adamantium laced skeleton. They do have Mathman's support, but I believe Mr. Glitch went to Clemson for a few years before backpacking around Europe, so I'm going to have to go with Clemson here.

It's surprising he could do elementary math at all with such a disproportionately tiny foot. Mathman is an inspiration

#2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #15 Morgan State Bears

I have known a few Oklahomans in my time. Sooners, the original settlers of the Unassigned Lands that became Oklahoma, I imagine were resourceful, hard working and determined. If you threw one of them in a cage with a bear, though, I don't think the Sooner is walking out. Sure, they've probably got guns, but I've been doing a bit too much of the specist stuff in this round, and I'm going to go with Wikipedia's insistence that Sooners were often land surveyors and try to imagine the Sooner being armed only with a dumpy level and their wits. Yeah. Morgan State moves to round two.

Next up: Round Two.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

East Region, Round One

#1 Pittsburgh Panthers vs. #16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers

The homer part of me wants Pitt to win this, but I just don't see how they can. Panthers are vicious, sure. We've been over my feelings on big cats (or small cats with exceptionally sharp claws), but a Buccaneer's likely got a musket, a sword and is probably pretty pissed off about having scurvy.

Though, this particular buccaneer may not pose too much of a threat, as he's cyanotic.

Even with the various medical conditions the Buccaneers are no doubt infected with, I'm going to have to go with them. East Tennessee State moves on to the second round

#8 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. #9 Tennessee Volunteers

I appreciate the spirit of volunteerism. I don't do it enough. But this is about a fight to the death, and Habitat for Humanity doesn't have an answer for dangerous loners who spend all their time with cattle. Moreover, when I hear "cowboy", I think of westerns generally, and I'm pretty sure Clint Eastwood could kill whoever the hell he wanted. In fact, I'm not sure why the whole "Chuck Norris joke" phenomenon had to happen to Chuck Norris instead of Mr. Eastwood. Clint has the bonus of being both relevant and not batshit insane.

#5 Florida State Seminoles vs. #12 Wisconsin Badgers

Again with the "human versus animal" matchup. Badgers have this reputation for being vicious and are good at holding on if they've decided to bite you, but they're going up against the Unconquered People, who I'm positive would be able to take down a rodent. Florida State in a rout.

#4 Xavier Musketeers vs. #13 Portland State Vikings

Xavier was the champion of last year's Murphspot Mascot Bracket, but they run into some tough competition early. I'm not sure how giant wooden boats are going to hold up against musket fire, but in general, I think the facial hair of the Vikings is going to help them. Somehow. I'm not sure. Against the vicious attack of the Vikings, the Musketeers are going to have to ask for some strategic assistance from someone who knows their strength and weaknesses.

Oh boy

Portland State with the upset.

#6 UCLA Bruins vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams

These matchups always seem simple. Bears kill things pretty easily, and I was trying to think of how a ram could conceivably kill a bear. The best I've come up with is either causing some kind of internal hemmoraging with blunt force from the horns, or luring the bear up onto a mountain, getting it to unwittingly stand on the edge and pushing it off. That seems a bit too "cartoon villain" to be plausible, so I'll go with the simple answer and say the ram's getting mauled. UCLA takes it.

#3 Villanova Wildcats vs. #14 American University Eagles

Two of the most overused mascots in the NCAA. I'd like to imagine that this will end in complete destruction of both, just to thin the herd of wildcats and eagles. Realistically, though, even though the wildcat's a lot smaller than I expected, I'm going to have to go with Villanova. Cartoon cats kill cartoon birds, and that's good enough for me.

#7 Texas Longhorns vs. #10 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Here, we've got a tiny burrowing rodent. Apparently the "true gopher" is the "pocket gopher" which doesn't inspire much terror. If "my word, that thing's small enough for me to carry around as though it were spare change" is part of the name of the animal, that's a strike against. To be fair, "Goldy Gopher" appears to be a chipmunk, which is a bit less embarassing, but I don't like having to play with what the hell the mascot is. Longhorns, on the other hand, have big spears on the side of their heads. Texas it is.

#2 Duke Blue Devils vs. #15 Binghamton Bearcats

The Blue Devils (Les Diables Bleus) were an elite French mountain infantry unit. The bearcat (Binturong) isn't a bear, a cat, and appears to spend most of its time hanging out in trees.
They also like to eat benches, I guess.

The bearcats get points for the coincidence that typing "bearcat" only uses the left hand, but whimsical observations aren't enough to save it from the Blue Devils, even if they are French. Duke wins.

West Region, Round One

#1 Connecticut Huskies vs. #16 Chattanooga Mocs

Everyone else that's even taken any kind of cursory glance at the bracket has already done the "What the hell's a Moc?" joke, and after looking up the athletic program at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, I've got to say they'd have had a better chance in this if they'd stuck with their original mascot. A water moccasin could actually present a challenge to a dog like a husky, as it's probably getting bitten at some point. The intermediate mascots (a moccasin, as in a shoe, and "Chief Moccanooga") could have offered some interesting matchups (Chief Moccanooga doesn't seem to be a reference to anything really, but could probably have killed a dog), but what we're left with is a mockingbird. A mockingbird driving a train, sure, but as the train only appears in the logo, it's not fair to include that in the mascot death match. Huskies advance.

#8 Brigham Young Cougars vs. #9 Texas A&M Aggies

Puma concolor is intimidating. They've got teeth and claws and I can hardly deal with housecats coming after me without nearly dying. Bonus, apparently the Apache and Walapai of Arizona regard the wail of the cougar as a harbinger of death (presumably by cougar on your carotid). Aggies have perhaps the most accurate team name (as "Aggie" simply means "student at an agricultural college", which all of the players are), but I can't imagine that any amount of schoolwork is going to help you when you hear the Wail of the Cougar (coincidentally my favorite Twisted Sister album). Also, an image search for Aggies turned up this camel-dog-with-makeup-that-evidnetly-sings unholy driver cover. As far as I know, this is offered from an independent agency and the camel-dog-from-the-underwold isn't technically the mascot of Texas A&M, but it's too frightening not to include.

Enjoy the nightmares

Brigham Young wins.

#5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #12 Northern Iowa Panthers

It's going to be tough to beat a train. I suppose that you could make an argument that an actual "boilermaker" is the guy that makes them, but he's probably pretty handy with a wrench and I wouldn't want to fight one. Given that the actual mascot is the Boilermaker Special, a train, I'm going with that. As much as I made the case during the last matchup for the ferocity of a giant cat, it's not doing anything but getting run over here. Purdue moves on.

#4 Washington Huskies vs. #13 Mississippi State Bulldogs

This matchup makes me feel uncomfortably like Michael Vick. I can't tell from a picture of the mascot whether the bulldog in question is of the British or American variety, but considering that it's Mississippi, I'll presume it's American. Huskies can run across Alaska and have the nifty heterochromia thing on their side, but I'm pretty sure a bulldog could bite my arm off if it really felt like it. Given the two, I am going to go with the bulldog based on nothing in particular. Mississippi State with the upset.

#6 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. #11 Utah State Aggies

I appreciate the specificity. It's finally not just an eagle, it's a specific eagle. It also makes me think of Coach, but those were the Screaming Eagles, so I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's just a fond nostalgia for Bill Fagerbakke.

"Lovable Dimwitted Assistant Coach" Bill Fagerbakke, not "Neo-Nazi Prison Guard" Bill Fagerbakke

I'm actually going to go with the Aggies here, as I imagine that they'd be able to figure out how to kill an eagle (either directly or by manipulating the ecosystem), even if they have chosen willingly to live in Utah. Utah State wins.

#3 Missouri Tigers vs. #14 Cornell Big Red

Since Big Red's an abstract team name, I'm going with their mascot, Big Red Bear, making this matchup awesome. Tiger vs. Bear is the sort of death match that should be on an album cover or, failing that, Fox. I'm going with the Tigers for two reasons. First, while bears are terrifying and spend their time killing you in Werner Herzog movies, they spend a lot of their time hibernating (important in March). Secondly, the mascot appears to have some sort of back issues.

"Oh crap. I have to turn in this logo, but I've got no idea how to draw a bear's hindquarters. They're got giant tumors, right?"

Missouri moves on.

#7 California Golden Bears vs. #10 Maryland Terrapins

I grew up with the concept that turtles, if given enough toxic waste and a giant rat as a teacher, can learn martial arts and protect reporters in yellow jumpsuits. As I've gotten older, I've learned that dumping toxic waste on turtles causes protests, that giant rats are riddled with disease, and that reporters in jumpsuits don't deserve protection.

Maybe she minored in Auto Repair. I still don't get it.

Given that this is a bear going up against a standard turtle with no superpowers or junk food, Cal takes this in a walk.

#2 Memphis Tigers vs. #15 Cal State Northridge Matadors

Another Tiger versus this year's bullfighters (as San Diego's Toreros aren't in the tournament), and though I went with the human last time, I'm going to say that the tiger wins this. Sure, the Matador has got the sword and the banderillas and the big fancy cape, but all the impressive cape-twirls in the world aren't going to stop Montecore here from tearing a leg off. Memphis advances.

East Region, Round One when I get a chance.

Midwest Region, Round One

Play-In Game

Alabama State Hornets vs. Morehead State Eagles

If there's one thing last year's mascot bracket taught me, it's that a disproportionate number of schools are attempting to instill fear in their athletic opponents by using either an Eagle or a Wildcat. I'm a little disappointed that we're starting out with the birds already, but that's certainly no reason to take this matchup any less seriously. I really dislike hornets. They sting, they're intimidating, and they tended to nest on the bleachers at my high school, which made summers slightly less fun. That said, we've got an unpleasant wasp going up against a bird whose entire raison d'être is killing things and eating them. Sorry, Alabama State. Morehead State takes the play-in.


Bruce Lee is displeased, having just been informed that an Eagle is going to peck his eyes out through that mask.

#1 Louisville Cardinals vs. #16 Morehead State Eagles

We've got one game decided (that typically doesn't even count for an office bracket) and I'm already on edge about the number of birds in this tournament. That said, I've seen cardinals. They're brightly colored, sing and eat seeds and have that nifty little plume thing on the top of their heads, and if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have just learned, via wikipedia, what a "passerine" is. That said, I'm not sure something which hangs out in woodlands and is known for being both easy to spot and not eating things that aren't seed-ish is going to be able to take on something that's got so much experience nabbing fish out of the water in flight, not to mention holding an olive branch and enough arrows to make Oliver Queen take notice while apparently hovering. Morehead State advances again in the biggest upset in NCAA history.

#8 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #9 Siena Saints

This one's tough. "Saints", presumably, refers to people who have been canonized, as Siena College is a Franciscan institution. The mascot, though, instead of being "Saint Andrei the Iconographer" or "Saint Maximus the Confessor" is a St. Bernard. The dog. With the barrels and the saving people and the awkward Charles Grodin/Bonnie Hunt nonsense.

He's embarassed for you, Mr. Grodin

I'm tempted to go with the Buckeyes here (as buckeyes are poisonous), but I'm going to presume that the dog/Iconographer is going to instinctively avoid eating them, and rather just urinate on something. Also, if it hadn't been for Siena just now, I wouldn't know that Wikipedia has a list of Flying Saints, which I imagine has got to be useful for a basketball tournament. Plus, one of them's Saint Christina the Astonishing, and any connection to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Henry's Dream" album is going to get bonus points. Siena advances.

#5 Utah Utes vs. #12 Arizona Wildcats

The obvious thing to do here is to make a "What is a Ute?" joke and run with My Cousin Vinny humor. I'd like to avoid that, but there's two things that are stopping me. First, Ralph Macchio looks exactly the same as he did in 1992.

Forty-seven, my ass

It's only logical to assume he's still got the knowledge he'd picked up as the Karate Kid and would be able to take down a wildcat, which were established last year as not being particularly intimidating. Secondly, the "ute" line was delivered by Fred Gwynne, and Fred Gwynne is too awesome not to advance. Utes advance.

#4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. #13 Cleveland State Vikings

Demon Deacons is a pretty awesome name. One thinks of the climax of The Exorcist, or if you're a little bit less of a purist about what constitutes a demon, the scene in 28 Days Later where Cillian Murphy enters the church after waking up from his coma, both of which are going to be pretty intimidating no matter who you are. On the other hand, Vikings have swords, long boats with shields and oars and their own haplogroup. I think I might have to go with the beardy fellows with the axes over the unstable clergy. Cleveland State with the upset.

#6 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #11 Dayton Flyers

Having grown up in western Pennsylvania, I've got a pretty good understanding of West Virginia and their Mountaineers. Sure, the Alleghenies aren't as high or as steep as the Rockies, but I feel like if I wanted to learn Mountaineering under some sort of master Mountaineer, they'd do just fine.

I am positive this man knows things I do not. I am more than happy to keep it that way.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have flight, but that seems to be about it. They evoke little red wagons in my mind, which a Mountaineer would surely stomp on before using it to beat some elk to death and then wear them. Or something. They certainly don't provoke the same "dangerously insane/lives where no one could hear you scream" vibe that I get from the Mountaineers. West virginia moves on.

#3 Kansas Jayhawks vs. #14 North Dakota State Bison

"Jayhawk" is apparently a Civil war term adopted by Kansas abolitionists, combining a blue jay (which is noisy) and a sparrow hawk (which is apparently not, but I'm in no position to confirm). So, that's certainly a bonus. Bison, on the other hand, I've seen footage of and seem to be pretty huge, even if we do tend to kill them off in large numbers. If I go with "Jayhawk" as refering to the abolitionist group, they've probably got guns and could take down a bison. If I go with the "mythical but tiny bird", it's going to get stomped to death by 2000 pounds of bison. As much as I'd like to go with North Dakota here, I'm going to presume they mean the abolitionist (for the time being) and go with Kansas. What I don't envy is the sad truth that after the Jayhawk shoots the bison down, they're only going to be able to take 100 pounds of meat back to their wagon. And that's not enough to stop anyone from getting cholera or breaking a wagon axle.

#7 Boston college Eagles vs. #10 USC Trojans

Again with the Eagles. In this matchup, though, they're going up against people who have clearly fought in a war and undoubtedly have arrows (at least enough so that one could, of all places, wind up in Achilles' heel). I'd really, really like to go with Boston College here, because I don't want to be tempted to use that Orlando Bloom picture again down the line, but there's just no way. No matter how much preying that eagle is a bird of, it's not going to stand a chance against USC without at least bringing Odysseus into the mix, and I hear he's hard to get in touch with.

#2 Michigan State Spartans vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials

I'd love to give this one to Robert Morris, if for no other reason than that I've got some twisted homer-ish desire to see Moon Township do something well. At first glance, I'd have to go with the Spartans, who've got that whole "prowess in battle" thing going on and have abs that could destroy Tokyo, according to Zach Snyder. Then again, the combination of the whole "culturally accepted pederasty" thing and the fact that Colonials likely have much longer range weapons (not that I'm sure what musket fire is going to do to a shield) makes it a close one. In the end, I'm going to have to give in to the advanced technology of the Colonials, along with the fact that I don't care how militant and brilliant you are, I'm not scared of NAMBLA chapters.

Next up: West Region, First Round

Return of the Murphspot Mascot Bracket

It's March again. Over a year since I did the "post once a day" project, and I've fallen into a pattern of never, ever posting. But, as I'm always looking for opportunities to do so and had fun doing it last year, it's time once again for the Murphspot Completely Improbable Mascot Bracket that has No Relation to Sports at all. Rationale is the same as last year's. Whichever mascot would win in a fight to the death (in some improbable scenario in which they mascots can't just ignore each other) moves on in the bracket. I'll default to the mascot in the event that the team name is abstract, and I'll just assign losses randomly. Any disagreements are welcome in the comments, but it's all nonsense anyway.

The schedule, here, is going to be first and second round by Tuesday, Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight by Wednesday, and the Final Four and CHampionship by Thursday. That way, if you completely disregard rationality and actually run with this idea, you'll be able to get your Murphspot Completely Improbable Mascot Bracket that has No Relation to Sports at All bracket entered in whatever office pool you're probably in.

First up: Round One, Midwest Region

Friday, March 06, 2009

Attempting Comic Books

I've never been someone who reads comics, really. I don't have anything against them, I just never really went through "let's buy superhero comics" phase when I was younger. I think it's partially a function of growing up where I did, where the only way I'd have been able to get anywhere was to bike, and the hills of Western Pennsylvania made that more difficult than I was willing to bother with in my adolescence. Actually, I'm not sure I'd bike as much as I do now if I lived somewhere that wasn't as completely flat as Chicago, but that's a subject for another post. As I got older, I read the standard books (Maus, Watchmen, V for Vendetta) and was kind of on the periphery, enjoying comic-book movies, but still never really got into them.

Anyway, I'm back again to experimenting with the idea of reading comics. Mostly, I think, it stems from this weird tendency I have to become moderately curious about a mythology, then read everything I can about the mythology, then sort of move on. I did that with Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality books and The Dark Tower series (which I should probably re-read at some point), as well as with Lost and Doctor Who. With the last two, particularly, there was a definite progression from mild interest ("I wonder what all the fuss is about? Perhaps I'll netflix it" and "Oh, hey. I liked Simon Pegg in a few movies. Perhaps I'll watch this episode of Doctor Who he's in.") to reading everything I could about the mythologies of the series ("I should probably watch Pierre Chang's warning to the future." "What is the significance of the Valeyard, and will he reappear after the Doctor's twelfth regeneration?") It's been a while since I've really done that with a mythology, so I think it's probably time to do it again.

Enter Green Lantern.


Again, this probably is rooted in the fact that I never really read comics as a kid, but I've never known much about Green Lantern. Batman and Superman are both such huge cultural icons that you can't really help but know what the deal is there. For the rest of the (original lineup of the) Justice League, Green Lantern seemed the most intriguing. Wonder Woman's fine and all, but the magical bracelets and invisible plane seem strange. The Flash is there, but he's just a fast guy. It's very straight-forward, but that's not really something I can get into. Aquaman exudes uselessness, to the point where I forgot he existed when watching a Justice League movie, until he showed up in the final three minutes to say hello. There's probably a wealth of interesting psychology behind Martian Manhunter, but then he seems to be a green Superman, and Superman never really appealed to me because he's got too much power.

So there we are, left with Green Lantern. I've purchased a collection of "landmark" Green Lantern comics chosen by the guy that wrote two recent storylines ("Rebirth" and "Sinestro Corps War") and is responsible for this summer's crossover storyline ("Blackest Night"), and so far I've been enjoying it, even if the stuff from the sixties is a bit campy. Generally, there have been some interesting views on power, jealousy and order (specifically in the I, Lantern and What Price Honor? short stories.) I'm interested to actually read about the rise, fall and redemption of Hal Jordan outside of Wikipedia summaries, so I've got Emerald Twilight and Green Lantern: Rebirth on the way from Amazon.

So we'll see. Maybe I'll actually succumb to the call of geekdom and start reading Green Lantern comics. At the very least, I'll read a few storylines before getting bored and watching Star Wars again.