Thursday, January 24, 2008


I woke up this morning and turned the tv on, just to find out that the current temperature outside was -11 degrees. Yes, that negative symbol is intentional, and no, I'm not talking about degrees celsius. That's -11 degrees fahreneheit, and the windchill made it feel like -24. Aren't winters in Wisconsin great? It made me think of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic that ranks up there as one of my favorites.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Wow! After thoroughly getting manhandled by the Cowboys twice during the regular season, the Giants were actually able to pull things together and pick up a big win today en route to the NFC championship game next week!

It has been quite a year to be a fan of the New York Giants. The ineptitude of the past several years has been enough to make fans of the team somewhat wary, and the start of this season wasn't helping much as the team rushed out to an 0-2 record. Little did I know at the time that their two early losses (to Dallas and Green Bay) would turn out to be losses to the NFC's two best teams this year. As my hope for the team began to turn south, they decided to go on a little six-game winning streak to improve their record to 6-2. Suddenly, I'm excited about this team and think they have a chance! Then they go and split their final games with a 4-4 record, stumbling into the playoffs with some impressive performances in games against teams like the New England Patriots, as well as some forgettable performances against teams like the Minnesota Vikings.

So what were the differences in today's game? What were some of the factors that worked in the Giants' favor that were lacking earlier in the season? Well for one, the defense stepped it up. Sure, they weren't dominating. They allowed Marion Barber to rush for nearly 130 yards, and allowing some decent stats from the Cowboys receivers, such as Jason Witten and Terrell Owens. But what did change was the fact that the Giants defense didn't give up any of the big plays...those long passes down the field that have sunk the Giants in earlier games.

Secondly, penalties in the game were a huge difference-maker. The Giants played under control, being penalized only 3 times for 25 yards, while the Cowboys were penalized 11 times for 84 yards. And many of these penalties late in the game seemed to really kill their momentum.

The third reason for the Giants success lies in the fact that they didn't have to rely on their big-name players. Their pro-bowl tight end, Jeremy Shockey, is out for the season with a broken leg, and their star wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, has been playing with a progressively deteriorating ligament in his leg that has been slowing him all year....and limiting him to only 1 reception and just 5 yards today. What did help is the supporting staff that picked up the slack. Running back Brandon Jacobs had a pretty good game, with 54 yards and a touchdown. But the threat of the run was increased by the play of Ahmad Bradshaw, who seemed to pick up a handful of big runs in his limited playing time and kept the Cowboys defense on their toes. The real threat, though, came through the air. This was led by veteran Amani Toomer, who had 80 yards and two touchdowns. What was even more exciting, however, was the play of rookie wide receiver Steve Smith, who had missed most of the season with an injury. I've been excited about this guy though because he had quite a collegiate career at USC and adds another receiving option to the Giants offense. In today's game, Smith didn't put up huge numbers (4 receptions for 48 yards), but each of those receptions seemed to come at a big time.

Next week's game will be the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. This will be a difficult game for me to watch. I've been a Giants fan all my life so naturally I want them to win. But at the same time, I've been following the Packers for the past few years since I've been living in Wisconsin and this year's team is a very exciting, talented team. The Packers have an outstanding offense, and Brett Favre has so many tools at his disposal with wide receivers Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Koren Robinson, not to mention tight ends Bubba Franks and Donald Lee. Plus, the running game of Green Bay has been vastly improved since the arrival of running back Ryan Grant. I'm sure that there will be a lot of analysis in the coming week about this game, with many questions being asked. How will Eli Manning perform? Will the Giants be able to handle the weather at Lambeau Field? But I imagine that perhaps the most common question will be in regards to Green Bay running back Ryan Grant. Earlier this year, Grant was on the Giants' practice squad, and was later traded to the Packers. I wouldn't be surprised if a big question will be about Grant's ability to show up his old team. I suppose I should look at next week's game as a win-win situation for myself. I am hoping that the Giants win but if not, the NFC will be represented by an excellent, and exciting, Green Bay Packers team that I have come to appreciate.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

American Gladiators

In a sign that television networks have completely run out of ideas, NBC has remade the series "American Gladiators". Whether or not this is a sign that the writer's strike is finally hitting primetime, I'm not sure. But it really is a blast from the past. I remember watching the original show when I was in high school, and being a big fan of events such as "the assault" and "the wall". And before you judge me for watching the show, keep in mind that it used to be a big favorite of both Bill and Chelsea Clinton during their White House days.

Tonight was the premiere of the new series. Of course, to remake an old show, you can't just use the same formula. You always have to make a few changes, and it seems to be best if these changes are pushed to such an extreme that is almost seems ridiculous. Okay, it sometimes does seem ridiculous. While the old show was hosted by Larry Csonka and some other dude, the new series is hosted by Hulk Hogan and Layla Ali. And let me just say that Hulk Hogan is not exactly the best personality to be hosting a show. But beyond the hosts, some changes were also made to the show. The Gladiators themselves are pretty similar to the mold of the old Gladiators. Big, muscular characteristics with goofy names. Not quite the Blaze and Laser of old, but with names like Stealth and Titan. Lots of spandex on the Gladiators too, which isn't necessarily a bad thing with a Gladiator like Crush, but certainly makes you makes you want to turn away when you see a Gladiator like Hellga.

I particularly enjoyed some of the events. They decided to keep some of the old events, plus add some new ones into the mix. But when they had an old event, they had to make some kind of change. For example, you might remember "The Joust", where a contestant and a Gladiator are on top of their respective platforms and need to knock each other off of their respective platform. Well, how would you update this event to make it more exciting? Put the platforms over a large pool of water! Or maybe "Hang Tough", an event in which the contestant has to cross the event area swinging from one ring to the next, all while having a Gladiator chase after you trying to get you to fall off. How do you update this event? Put it over a large pool of water!

Like the old series, my favorite part of the show has to be the final event, The Eliminator. The Eliminator on the old series was modified several times from season to season, but its essentially a large obstacle course the contestants need to get through:

On the new version, this is where things really get interesting. They pretty much put together the toughest Eliminator I've ever seen, and it seemed like every contestant was about to collapse by the end. In fact, I think a few did. It starts by having the contestant scale an 8 foot wall, and then jump into a large pool of water (big surprise there!). But this isn't just any pool of water. Across the middle is a large FIRE that the contestants have to swim underneath. While the fire is not much of an obstacle and is clearly blatantly contrived, its still pretty damn cool. This is followed by climbing a large cargo net, and then the barrel roll. The barrel roll is pretty much what it sounds like. You grab onto a large barrel as it rolls down a hill with you hanging onto it. At the bottom of the barrel roll, the contestants have to use the handbike to get across a pit. By this point, all of them seemed exhausted and I questioned the logic of actually using the handbike. Why not just fall in the pit and then climb out the other side? Anyway, after the handbike, they run across a balance beam, climb up the pyramid, use the zipline to get back down, and then run up the inclined treadmill. Every single contestant was absolutely worn out by this point, and it resulted in most of them just falling down and laying on the treadmill as they tried to pull themselves up (see picture above). Once they completed this, there's just one more wall to climb and then bust through a wall of foam bricks to finish.

All things considered, it was a pretty enjoyable show and it brought back some memories. I'm not sure if I'll actually make sure I watch it each week, but I'm also sure I'll watch it again. It seems that they devote more time to interviews and background of the contestants, which I never really cared about in the first place. But whenever I watch Hulk Hogan talk, I find myself eagerly waiting for him to give us a good "Brother!" yell, or perhaps remind us to "train, say your prayers, take your vitamins, and believe in yourself". Or perhaps he'll start referring to the contestants has his Hulkamaniacs....

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa Caucuses

This evening, the state of Iowa marks the first real event of the 2008 presidential election cycle when they hold their caucus event. Essentially, its a primary election cycle, but with a twist that makes it unique. I don't fully understand the process myself but what seems to happen is that people across the state of Iowa that want to participate in this process will gather at the house of a neighbor to decide who to nominate for that particular precinct. Those that support Hillary Clinton, for example, go stand in that corner of the room. People for Barack Obama? You can go stand over in this corner of the room. Anyone for Dennis Kucinich? Yeah, I thought not... And so it proceeds for each candidate. No secret ballots here, each person's choice is out in the open. For the democrats, the real trick is that a candidate has to have at least 15% support in order to be considered "viable". Once caucus-goers have aligned themselves with their candidate (or with the "undecided" group), counts are made to determine viability. Those groups that fall below 15% support can either try to lure other caucus-goers to their cause, assign their support to a different candidate, or just go uncounted. This leads to quite a bit of strategy in that support for a particular candidate can be thrown around based on the support levels of the lower candidates. Again, I am certainly not an expert on this topic, but this is what I've been able to gather over the past couple of weeks as I've tried to learn more about the process.

Back in mid-November, I had posted about my opinions following one of the Democratic debates. I was pretty impressed with Joe Biden's performance back then, and that opinion hasn't changed. He still hasn't broken through much in the polls and has greatly trailed in terms of fund-raising. But what I do like is that he holds most of the expected Democratic values (pro-choice, health care, etc.), while he also would be very strong in the realm of foreign policy. He's developed quite a resume in his 30 years or so in the senate, and has been the head of the Foreign Relations Committee for quite a while. When compared to the "leading" democratic candidates, he has more congressional experience that Hillary (7 years), Obama (2 years), and Edwards (6 years) combined. Actually, since 7+2+6 is 15, that means that Biden has twice as much experience as those three combined. Why do I think this is important? Well, it's clear based on the events of the world that our next president needs to really understand what's going on in the rest of the world to ensure the safety and prosperity of the US. Other candidates keep demonstrating their lack of experience (despite claims to the contrary) with comments about Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf running in the parliamentary elections (he's not), or tying the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the issue of illegal immigration in the US.

But the point of this posting is not for me to extol the virtues of Joe Biden. I wanted to provide a little update and discuss my brief experience with the presidential election cycle in Iowa. This past monday, I attended a campaign rally for Joe Biden at the public library in Ames, Iowa. The picture above of me with Senator Biden was taken at this event, and no that is not a cardboard cutout of the senator. I also took some other pictures at the event that can be viewed here. I'm not going to talk much about what Senator Biden said at this event. You can get a feel for it by watching this video, which was shot at a similar event in Des Moines the following day:

There were a couple of notable things about this event though. First, this event in Ames was well attended. It was held in a rather modest room in a local library, and reports have indicated that somewhere in the realm of 300-400 people attended this event. It was packed from wall to wall, and a number of people weren't able to get in (I don't know how many people couldn't get in, as I was already inside). Reports are also indicating that the event in Des Moines featured in the video above drew approximately 550 people. These seem like rather sizeable crowds, especially for events on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in Iowa. Crowds this size would probably be more commonly associated with healthy campaigns, not troubled ones. It will be interesting to see how this translates at the polls.

The other interesting thing for me was to see an event like this for myself. Growing up in New York, you really never get a chance to see something like this. The state of New York isn't particularly influential in the primary election cycle and when it comes to national politics, New York tends to be highly democratic. So it was an interesting experience for me to attend such an event. I also learned to appreciate the Iowa caucus process, or at least the campaign process leading up to the caucuses. I was impressed with how intently the crowd was paying attention, and I truly believed that a lot of people were still trying to make up their minds on a candidate. Its a serious process in Iowa because the results of the Iowa caucuses often determine which candidates will remain viable in other primary elections (see Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt in 2004). Fortunately, many Iowans seem to take this seriously. Also, Iowa seems to be the kind of state where an early event like this can still take place without being controlled entirely by money. I just can't imagine a second-tier candidate having any kind of chance if this early process were to take place in a state like California.

So all of this makes one wonder how things will play out after the caucuses tonight. According to the polls, there's a struggle at the top of the Democratic party between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, and they are followed by Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd (and I suppose Kucinich and Gravel may still be around). If I were to predict the outcome right now, I would say the results will look something like this:

1. Obama
2. Clinton
3. Edwards
4. Biden
5. Richardson
6. Dodd

I'm very confident that the top two in Iowa will be Obama and Clinton, its just the order that needs to be determined. In order for Biden to remain a legitimate candidate in the race, he'll need to pull off a 4th place finish that isn't too far behind 3rd place, or even pull off a big surprise and finish in 3rd place. This kind of finish would garner a lot of attention and notoriety, something that has been conspicuously absent from much of his campaign so far. And I think this is quite possible. I think that Obama will emerge victorious in Iowa due to his success in the polls so far, plus the nature of the Iowa caucuses. I think that supporters of non-viable candidates will throw their support behind Obama much more so than other top candidates. In fact, Kucinich is already telling his supporters to do so. That would give the top two spots to Obama and Clinton, respectively.

Third place will probably go to Edwards because he has significant support in the polls so far, but it doesn't appear that he'll be the beneficiary of any added support due to the caucus process. In fact, there's been speculation that a lower-tier candidate such as Biden can potentially pass Edwards if they are able to gather enough caucus support. Its not likely, but this possibility would certainly be a huge boost to a lesser campaign.

In all, I'm kind of looking forward to the caucus results tonight. I think that Obama will come out of it with the win, but I'm still hoping for a strong performance by the Biden campaign. A strong 4th place is certainly a possibility and if he's able to pull off some magic and get into 3rd place, well...we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed on that one.