Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Braves Go Crazy at Trade Deadline

First, they landed the biggest bat available in Mark Texeira (along with a lefty for the bullpen). Now, they've upgraded their bullpen even more, acquiring Octavio Dotel from the Royals. Next, Bronson Arroyo for Jo-Jo Reyes or Yunel Escobar? The cost thus far Jarrod Saltalamacchia, five prospects, and Kyle Davies. While the number of prospects seems a little high, I think the Braves will be ranked as overall winners for the trade deadline. This is the first time they've been this aggressive since going out to get McGriff in the early 90s.

Dotel will be a definite upgrade over Wickman in the closer role (even if they share closing duties). Wickman worries me every time he comes in with a game on the line. Heck, the way today is going for the Braves, he could be on his way shortly.

Texeira? What can you say. As someone who follows the Braves, I hated to see Saltalamacchia go, but let's face it, he was stuck behind another very good, young catcher in McCann. Now, the Braves have a gold-glove first baseman with about twice as much batting ability than any Braves first baseman since Andres Galarraga.

The last rumor also looks like it would be a good deal for the Braves. In any case, the NL East just got even more interesting than it already was with Phillies and Mets making moves of their own.

UPDATE: So the Arroyo deal didn't come to pass, but one more trade did occur: Will Ledezma, who had been designated for assignment, for Royce Ring, adding yet another lefty to their bullpen.

I can't remember a trade deadline where the Braves have been this active. Is this a final push to try to win it this year before Schuerholz retires? I don't know, but I think their chances to win the east, or the wild card, just improved quite a bit.

NP: World Soccer Daily

Monday, July 30, 2007

Weekly Music Report

Thanks to my schedule allowing my car to stay at home last week while I rode the train to work, I listened to more music last week in quite a while. I listened to the following artists the most:
  1. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - 26 tracks
  2. Elf Power - 16 tracks
  3. Bloc Party - 14 tracks
  4. Editors - 11 tracks
  5. Arcade Fire - 10 tracks
  6. The 101er's - 4 tracks
  7. Bettie Serveert - 3 tracks
  8. Death Cab for Cutie - 3 tracks
  9. The Delgados - 3 tracks
  10. Matt Pond PA - 3 tracks
Why all that Joe Strummer you may ask? I received a copy of Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer for my birthday, and reading it influenced my listening choices a bit. Thus far, it's a good read, though at this point in the story, the cracks are just starting to appear in the Clash. I'll write up my full reaction when I finish the book.

As usual, you can follow my listening habits day to day by visiting my Last.fm profile.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraq Wins First Asian Cup

Despite being massive underdogs in the tournament, today Iraq beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 to claim the Asian Cup for the first time in the country's history. In stark contrast to the nightmare that their country is becoming (or is), this team is made up of Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. While soccer is only a game, it hopefully will provide some comfort to Iraqis of all stripes, especially since is emblematic of a Iraq that could be. Hearing this news actually made me smile, the first smile upon hearing the word Iraq in a long, long time.

NP: "Where is Home?" - Bloc Party

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weekly Music Report

There's not enough data this week for a full top ten. The only artist I listened a lot last week was Spoon (20 tracks, or twice through Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). Based on this, I can heartily recommend it.

In fact the only other artists I heard more than twice last week were Elvis Costello (4) and The Arcade Fire (3).

NP: "Story in a Nutshell" - Bettie Serveert

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My EPL Fantasy Football Team

I just made my selections for the SportsFilter fantasy EPL league:

That doesn't look too shabby to me.

Another Trip Around the Rock

Yep. That's right. It's my birthday. Here's a list of people I share it with. I have to say, I'm underwhelmed--I mean, c'mon, Phyllis Diller? David Hasselhoff? Camilla Parker Bowles?

Jimmy Cagney is cool though.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Weekly Music Report

I listened to the following music the most over the last week:
  1. Spoon - 12 tracks
  2. 50 Foot Wave - 9 tracks
  3. The Wedding Present - 5 tracks
  4. Pulp - 4 tracks
  5. Let's Active - 4 tracks
  6. Swervedriver - 4 tracks
  7. Pavement - 4 tracks
  8. The Mekons - 4 tracks
  9. Shout Out Louds - 3 tracks
  10. Bettie Serveert - 3 tracks
    The Mekons - 3 tracks
Yes, that's Let's Active in the list. Perhaps I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the 80s. In any case, you can keep up with my current listening at my Last.fm profile page.

On a side note, the new Spoon album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, is very good, despite the silly name.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Copa America Final

It's the dream final. Argentina versus Brazil in a little less than an hour.

For the record, I think Argentina ends its 14-year trophy drought in style by winning 3-1 in regulation.

Who scores the winner. Most folks would say Messi, but I'm going with Tevez.

UPDATE: Boy did I get that one wrong. And I never would have guessed that Arsenal flop Julio Baptista would score the winner.

Assessing the State of U.S. Soccer

Last month, I wrote that this summer was vital in looking forward to the U.S. begin qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Now that all the men's teams are done with their summer after the under-20 team was eliminated from the U-20 World Cup yesterday, losing 2-1 to Austria, I think it's only fair that I look back at what I wrote then, and assess where the teams stand today.

This summer of soccer was a drama (only occasionally comedic) in four acts.

Act 1: Winning the Gold Cup in Style
The first act was CONCACAF's regional tournament, the Gold Cup. The U.S. won the Gold Cup handily. They were easily the most consistent team in the tournament, and in the final came from behind to defeat Mexico 2-1. In the end, the U.S. cemented its status as the big dog in CONCACAF.

Coach Bradley fielded a very experienced group of players who play in both the U.S. and in Europe. All in all, they acquitted themselves very well. Landon Donovan continued to model his newly rediscovered form and Clint Dempsey took his opportunity to emerge from Donovan's shadow to show that he is penciled in for all qualifiers, barring injuring and club commitments.

Of all the competitions this summer, this was the one that was most important to the team, as it is our region's major tournament and it guarantees that the U.S. will be participating in the Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009, a crucial pre-World Cup warmup.

Act 2: Fizzling in Venezuela
The second act was Copa America. The U.S. sent a less-experienced side to Venezuela for this competition, and it showed in the results. The U.S. lost all three of their group matches and came home quickly. On paper, that looks like a disaster, but I don't view it so dimly. The U.S. held their own against Argentina in the opener for 70 minutes. They outplayed Paraguay but were plagued by poor finishing. Once they got to Colombia, both teams knew they were going home and played like it.

I always thought that the Copa America would be a chance for Coach Bradley to really begin evaluating the more fringe players on the national scene. His "experimental" line up proved that was indeed the case. However, we can learn some valuable lessons from the performance. All the players involved, mostly new to the national scene, gained valuable lessons playing quality opponents away from home, experience that will serve them well in the future.

What did we specifically learn from failing in South America? First, Taylor Twellman just cannot play at this level. He's just too slow. He shouldn't feature in the qualification battle that begins next year. Second, Benny Feilhaber is the real deal. He should be integral to the coming qualification campaign. The jury is still out on Eddie Johnson, but he'd better begin producing or else he may lose his spot to Jozy Altidore (more on that below). Finally, the U.S. has more quality options at defense than ever before. Farewell Frankie Hejduk, thanks for the memories.

Act 3: The Future is Bright
Although it ended perhaps prematurely yesterday against Austria, the U.S. kids provided an astonishing run at the U-20 World Cup in Canada. Along the way, they played beautiful, attacking football and a number of the participants have surely sparked interest across the pond (and more than likely in Coach Bradley's office).

Freddy Adu showed why everyone knows his name, even though he's mostly been a non-entity for his club lately. Of all the games I watched, he was easily the player of the tournament. He absolutely controlled the games from his attacking midfield role, setting up many of the goals he didn't score himself. Jozy Altidore appears to be the real deal as well. Finally, a forward who can score goals. Michael Bradley and Danny Szetela also cemented their status a part of the future of the U.S. midfield alongside Benny Feilhaber.

In the end, the 120 gritty minutes against Uruguay, which forced the team to come behind for a thrilling win showed yesterday against Austria, a very disciplined if not pretty side. This performance is still one they can be proud of and it shows that the future is still bright for the U.S. Soccer team.

Act 4: That Beckham Fellow
Yeah, that guy was introduced Friday as the newest member of the Los Angeles Galaxy. I don't have any idea what the long-term impact of his arrival means for the sport in the U.S., but despite the usual bleating from the British press about MLS, it's telling that Beckham still has a lot left in his tank, and his commitment to the Galaxy has opened the door for others that have a lot of game left in them: Blanco, Angel, and Xavier for example.

Also, his arrival will probably make many people who are just curious about all the hubbub tune into MLS games. Even now, ticket demand is up throughout the league. If MLS can convert even some of the curious to fans, then Beckham's arrival will indeed have left its mark.

NP: "I Can't Sleep Tonight" - The La's

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Weekly Music Report

I listened to the following artists the most last week:
  1. 50 Foot Wave - 9 tracks
  2. Echo & the Bunnymen - 9 tracks
  3. Interpol - 9 tracks
  4. Neko Case - 7 tracks
  5. Neutral Milk Hotel - 6 tracks
  6. 16 Horsepower - 5 tracks
  7. The Jesus and Mary Chain - 5 tracks
  8. Game Theory - 5 tracks
  9. Pulp -4 tracks
  10. The Charlatans - 4 tracks
As usual, you can head over to my Last.fm profile to see what I'm currently listening to.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Samurai Scotch and Other Expressions

I'm very late with this wrap-up (March), but we recently had yet another Scotch tasting a couple of weeks ago, so I have to catch up before sharing the results (and catching up entirely on the whisky front as far as this blog is concerned anyway)

Proceeding from clarity to increasing blurriness and from lightness to full on Island flavor, eere are my thoughts on each of the expressions we tasted in March.

12 year-old Suntory "Yamakazi" – Japan
While not what someone would consider a Scotch whisky since it hails from Japan, this expression is still a single-malt whisky, which qualifies it according to admittedly flexible rules. In fact, most participants were pretty excited to try this (must be the Lost in Translation effect), and since the local package store has recently begun carrying it stock, I quickly grabbed a bottle for the festivities. When I opened the bottle though, I discovered a huge warning sign. The bottle had a plastic screw cap instead of the traditional cork. I know that great advances have been made in this area, and that some good wines now use screw caps, but it was still unsettling. That didn't stop it from being poured though.

Once the Suntory had poured, it had a slightly sweet smell, with hints of sherry and fruit. The first taste matched the initial nose, as it was slightly sweet and fruity taste. Once water had been added to "Baptize" the whisky, an oak finish became apparent. Overall, everyone agreed that this expression was remarkably one-dimensional and that it didn't linger as much as anyone would like.

12-year old Tormore - Speyside
The bottle calls it "the Pearl of Speyside." Who could resist marketing like that? After the Suntory, it was nice to move on to a proper scotch. It had a nice dark color and a very oaky nose (someone even thought of maple syrup). Upon the first taste, the whisky was quite smooth, with hardly any bite at all, and the oakiness gave the impression of syrup all the way through.

Once a bit of water had been added, the full flavor of the whisky really came out, bringing out hints of saltiness and a very smooth and round flavor: "Nutty with a honeyish sweetness". The taste was consistent throughout.

Ledaig Sherry Finish - Island, No age given
All the literature indicated that the age of this Ledaig was less than 10 years. No wonder it's not placed on the label since age probably means more marketability. A whisky's relative youth has never held us back before though.

The nose on this expression was very oaky--almost green oak in fact. Upon first taste, the most immediate note was the smoke. This was followed with a smoky, woody finish. The peat taste didn't fully emerge until after some water was added. One thing we noticed, it gets smokier the longer you drink it. All in all a nice scotch, even it could be considered Laguvalin Light.

12 year-old Caol Isla - Islay
Islay scotches, especially those that we have not yet tried, always are eagerly anticipated. Once the scotch was poured though, I thought someone was pulling my leg. The color was very light--lighter than any Islay scotch I have ever seen. The nose, however, belied its island origins, smelling as one participant called it, "candied peat." Overall the smell was a lovely mix of smoke and peat, and the oak from the cask smell almost like hickory.

Upon tasting, the Caol Isla is a very easy to drink expression. Most of the flavors explode toward the finish, and they then linger nicely. This is one of the few scotches we've tasted that water does very little to improve.

12 year-old Bunahabhain - Islay
Two Islay's in a row. Happy, happy. This one smelled more like a typical Islay (and looked the part too). As for taste (and my notes are getting much here), it had a slightly medicine taste to go along with a mild peatiness. It's a lighter-drinking expression than most Islay scotches.

Adding water really brought out the peat and a bit of saltiness, which is to be expected due to its origin. Even though the taste could be a bit mediciny at times, it had a very long finish. Disconcertingly, however, the nose and taste were a bit inconguent.

Note to self, taste this one earlier in the festivities at some point in the future. Extra points go the website, which is one of the more sophisticated experiences I've seen from a distillery.

10 - 15 year-old Aberlour a'Bunadh Cask Strength - Speyside
This was the last (and strongest) expression tasted. This scotch had a very rich, peppery nose. The first taste was overwhelming (as is usually the case with a cask strength), but with a lot of spicy overtones. Once the water was added (more than usual), honey moving toward spiciness toward the finish, all th while being smooth, buttery, and nutty. Funny, my notes stop just there. Maybe I'd had a bit too much? Nah.

Aberlour is always a favorite, and this one was no different. But a cask strength is not the one to drink at the end of a long day of drinking.

Look out next week for the results of the most recent tasting.

NP: "Mile End" -Pulp

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bush Commutes Scooter's Jail Time

And I'm not surprised. Really. I mean, what exactly does Bush have to lose? He's already tap dancing near Nixon-esque approval levels. Apparently all that talk about accountability when he was elected was a Maine-sized load of bull. And somewhere this afternoon, my friend Senior's head exploded.

NP: "Springfield" - Sufjan Stevens

Weekly Music Report

This should be the last week where I totally rely on my Last.fm profile for this report. I replaced my iPod so we should return to normal next week. According to Last.fm, I listened to the following music the most last week:
  1. Stereophonics
  2. The Arcade Fire
  3. Interpol
  4. Moes Haven
  5. Air
  6. Stereolab
  7. The Cure
  8. Badly Drawn Boy
  9. The Strokes
  10. The Charlatans U.K.
    Hot Hot Heat
    The National
    Bloc Party
NP: "Lightning" - Simple Minds