If only I had checked my lunar calendar
The Red Sox are destined for tonight's Game 4 victory, not because they are a hotter team on a mission, but because it will be the first time a full lunar eclipse has occured during a World Series Game. If that's not a curse reverser, what is?


The throes and woes of PSU football
    We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

    We judge of man's wisdom by his hope. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

    He that lives upon hope will die fasting. -- Benjamin Franklin
It's not very much of surprise that this weekend's Penn State - Iowa contest ended up making ESPN's bottom ten list; the final score was Iowa 6, PSU 4.

Yes, that's correct. Two field goals versus two safeties. I watched most of the game, and I can tell you it wasn't as frustrating as it sounds. It was more. Our offensive was terrible; twice we were 1st and Goal and could not score a single point. One 25-yard field goal missed wide right and an interception on the 1-yard line will do that. To the shock of the company in my room that afternoon, I actually flailed to my knees screaming "NO!!!" when we just barely missed blocking a punt, knowing that we had just missesd our best scoring opportunity.

Towards the end of the game, probably 8 or 9 minutes left, Iowa was faced with a 4th and 7 from the PSU 30. Instead of attempting the 47-yard field goal to go up 9-4, they elected to punt. This was probably the most insulting point of the day, as Iowa no doubt knew it was more valuable to put us in bad field position than to get more points, knowing our offensive couldn't possibly move the ball 50 yards. Well, 90, really, because our kicker couldn't make a 25-yarder.

But there was hope. Penn State's defense has played great all season, and this time was no different. Against a team that had racked up 33 vs. Ohio State (I should say the dreaded and now dreadful Buckeyes), we held them to a mere pittance. They could not run, they could not pass. Late in the game (immediately following the aforementioned goalline interception), the Hawkeyes had the ball on their own 9, with 3rd and 11; I declared that it "wasn't so much 3rd and 11, but 3rd and GOAL for our defense." Our defense and special teams were our best scorers that day, and I think Iowa was actually relieved to give the ball back to our feckless offense.

Our defense has held opponents to 14.5 points/game this year, which should be enough to win games. It certainly is enough to keep hope alive every game, as we are in it until the bitter end every time. (Except once -- at Wisconsin, losing 16-3, but I'm proud to have held the 8-0 Badgers to their lowest Big Ten total this year, in their house. This only demonstrates our defensive prowess more.) However, defeats become all that more crushing when you hope to the bitter end.

Why put up with the bitter defeats? Why not point and blame and yell for Paterno's head? Any change is good change, right? Well, I think this team is an inspiring group our guys, and I like that we are in every game. I think that we fight it out and take it on the nose and are still going to get up and play our guts out next time. And if that isn't enough, maybe there's this:
    In the end, the story of Penn State’s homecoming game with Iowa was not one of victory and defeat but of the class and dignity displayed by young men who are really too young to possess so much wisdom.

    After giving up more turnovers than points earned, after hearing their own homecoming crowd boo them, after watching the offense squander golden opportunities, after watching steady Robbie Gould miss two kicks, it was time for the Nittany Lions to let the finger pointing begin.

    Everyone knew it would happen. The media served up the questions and waited for a melee to begin. And waited. And waited.

    Because Penn State’s roster is jammed with kids who continually demonstrate uncommon class in tough situations and withstand the natural temptation to make excuses, they’ll be waiting forever to hear the Lions blaming one another. Maybe it is the effect of the Penn State way, maybe it is good parenting, or maybe these guys just truly believe in one another – still.
I'm proud of these kids, and proud of our alma mater, and proud of what JoePa is instilling in these guys. Class, dignity, and maybe, just maybe, a victory next week. I hope.

BONUS DETAIL: Incidentally, the only thing that kept my sanity after that game was my paraphrasing of an old Pavement song. I turned bitter misery into whimsical victory by taking their song "Two States"(from the classic Slanted and Enchanted album) and making it about two safeties. Note that I did not leave out the '40 million daggers'. It was either that bit of inspired singsongery, or murdery.

UPDATE: I was looking for some statistics to back up my claim that we had a great defense, but I didn't expect to find an interesting comparison between us and Wisconsin, the 8-0 Big Ten leader (and current #6 in the country):
    Minnesota........... 8 37 33 0 0 8 0 279 34.9
    Purdue.............. 7 31 30 0 0 8 0 240 34.3
    Michigan State...... 7 23 21 1 0 12 0 197 28.1
    Michigan............ 8 27 20 2 0 13 0 225 28.1
    Northwestern........ 7 23 20 0 0 7 0 179 25.6
    Indiana............. 7 21 17 2 0 7 0 168 24.0
    Illinois............ 8 22 20 0 1 8 1 180 22.5
    Iowa................ 7 19 16 0 0 9 0 157 22.4
    Ohio State.......... 7 15 15 0 0 15 0 150 21.4
    Wisconsin........... 8 20 18 0 0 9 2 169 21.1
    Penn State.......... 7 15 14 0 0 3 3 119 17.0

    Wisconsin........... 8 7 5 0 0 7 0 68 8.5
    Penn State.......... 7 10 9 0 0 11 0 102 14.6

    Purdue.............. 7 11 9 0 0 9 0 102 14.6
    Iowa................ 7 13 12 0 0 8 2 118 16.9
    Michigan............ 8 19 19 0 0 4 1 147 18.4
    Ohio State.......... 7 17 15 0 0 7 0 138 19.7
    Minnesota........... 8 19 19 0 0 9 0 160 20.0
    Michigan State...... 7 18 17 0 1 10 0 157 22.4
    Indiana............. 7 25 25 0 0 12 0 211 30.1
    Northwestern........ 7 26 22 1 0 11 0 213 30.4
    Illinois............ 8 33 27 2 0 7 0 250 31.2
That, my friends is the INCH when they say the game is about inches, and how slight the difference can be between being a champion and in last place.


Clones -- old school style
Over the past few weeks, I've had Star Wars on the brain more than usual. Yes, for those of you who grasp the implication, I am now using 13% of my grey matter instead of the usual 10. Do not be frightened. Mine will be a rule of benevolent dictator.

There have been quite a few events stoking the fires along these lines of recent. First was the much-anticipated, dare I say drooled-over, arrival of the Star Wars DVD's. I've been very impressed with the quality of the films. A New Hope look vibrant. Recently, there was the spying of the Episode III trailer, which isn't out yet. Note that Lucas announced Wednesday that the teaser trailer will be appearing before the film The Incredibles on November 5, and will be shown on TV the night before on mysteriously unnamed stations. So set the VCR for "all". I'd suspect, as in the past, they'll have the trailer on Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight or both.

And now we have the despotic Jaquandor digging into explanations for old fan issues, in this case, what Luke was doing between Empire and Jedi that completed his training. The answer, naturally, is blowing in the wind. Or read it for yourself because, on this one singular occasion, his analysis is correct. Note that this does in no way constitute an endorsement for greatest single contributor to Star Wars fandom (read opening sentence of his blog). That title belongs to the writer of this extraordinary piece.

There are two major references to the clones in A New Hope, one sequence forming the cannon of anything we knew about the Clone Wars, and the other sequence an oblique reference that has, with the release of Attack of the Clones, become more apparent. The first is at the homestead of Ben Kenobi, when Luke and the former Jedi talk about the past. After Ben implies that Luke's uncle has been 'telling him tales', Luke asks:
    LUKE: You fought in the Clone Wars?
    BEN: Yes, I was once a Jedi Knight the same as your father.
And, until Attack of the Clones was released 25 years later, that has been the only reference to the clones or Clone Wars. That's a lot of time to rely on one small exchange. However, those few words are packed with details we can infer.

Luke is asking in a inquisitive, almost admirative tone of voice, without any hint of accusation. He doesn't think that being involved in the Clone Wars is a bad thing, even with his uncle's influence. We can assume that his friends in the community have a similar point-of-view. Ben's easy acknowledgement of his participation confirms that. However, Ben goes a step further and adds that he was a Jedi knight. Instead of saying, "Wow, what's a Jedi knight?" or "Whose side did they fight on?", he says, sadly, "I wish I'd known him." Of course Luke is much more interested in the father he never met, but his acceptance of what Ben has just told him tells us a lot about the perception of the Jedi in this time. Luke must have heard them term many times before, otherwise he would have asked what the heck a 'Jedi' was.

Secondly, Luke didn't question Ben's allegiance, so the Jedi must have been known to be noble warriors, or at least not fighting against the people. When Ben introduces Luke to a lightsaber and the force, we see that it's likely that people only know the name 'Jedi' and some vague details about them, but nothing of their culture. Despite all this, the details on the clones or the wars themselves remains only something to guess at. Was Ben on the side of the clones (we now know him to be at one point), or fighting against them?

Another clue is left tantalizingly vague moments later, when R2 begins the recorded message:
    LEIA: General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.
There is not much we can infer from this from an original trilogy standpoint, except that Leia's father knew Obi-Wan 'back in the day', and that likely share similiar ideologies. In terms of the prequel trilogy, this is more interesting. We know that Bail Organa is one of the more powerful senators in the Republic, and that he strongly opposed the use of the clone army. Now that the Clone Wars are in full swing, and the Jedis are to be deployed as soldiers alongside the clones, the question is, was Leia refering to the Jedi who fought with the clones at the beginning of the Clone Wars, or perhaps against the clones at the end under her father's rebellious leadership? For certain, we know that Bail Organa knew how to find Obi-Wan 20 years later, so there must have been some kind of conspiring between the two.

The second reference to clones germanates from a seemingly throwaway line. When Luke, guised in stormtrooper armor, first opens the door to Princess Leia's cell, she remarks with a bit of mirth,"Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" Luke immediately realizes that the uniform is a bit too large for him and quickly introduces himself to his sister, and the escape is on. The line was ostensibly intended as comedy relief, pointing out that masquerading in the enemy's uniform is hardly seamless. However, the laughter distracts from her real meaning. Leia isn't saying that this stormtrooper got a bad fit in the armor department, but that this clone somehow turned out a bit shorter than his brothers. In other words, she knows they are clonetroopers. The rescue party certainly knows the stormtroopers are clones, and by everyone's lack of reaction, you might infer that this is even common knowledge (much more common than the identity of Darth Vader -- even Leia says, "You're WHO?" when Luke introduces himself) in the galaxy. That, to me, is a chilling realization; they all know and accept that they are running around fighting clones.

Or 'Stormtroopers', rather. As we now know from Episode II, the clonetroopers were created from the seed of Jango Fett by the Kaminoans. The question is, when do they make the transition from clonetroopers to stormtroopers? In other words, when does the 'Empire' get christened? Like most of the fall of the Republic, it will be a gradual but certain fall towards a corrupt system. You aren't going to see Palpatine flip a switch and say, "AHA! It's really an Empire!!" Even 20 years after Episode III, the Emperor is still cleaning up the remnants of the Republic (Tarkin mentions the Emperor just dissolved the Imperial Senate). So when do the stormtroopers get created? The answer is, they already have. Except for some uniform upgrades, they ARE stormtroopers. Note that in the entire original trilogy, no Imperial officer, Vader, or even the Emperor refer to their army as 'stormtroopers'. They are always 'troops'. Only the rebels and those sympathetic to their cause refer to the clones as 'stormtroopers'. In other words, it's a nickname that the people of the galaxy have placed on the Emperor's men, a subtle politcal commentary on the Empire's style, for the word means, "a member of a private Nazi army notorious for aggressiveness, violence, and brutality." They are still all clonetroopers from Kamino, just under the ruthless leadership of the Sith.

It's going to be a treat (at least for me, some of you are no doubt reading this and going, 'Get a life!!!') to watch the original trilogy once Episode III has debuted for more of this kind of thing. I love how Lucas never really spells out what is going on, but leaves it for the audience to figure out and understand. Or for dorks like me.
Political Humor
Humor? In politics? Aside from ironic word fumbling or flip-flopping, the best way to get it is from the internet. Here's an hilarious take on result of Florida 'fixing' their voting process.


Triumph and maybe a little bit of tragedy
A few thoughts on last night's game, which completed either the greatest comeback victory or the worst collapse in baseball history, depending on your perspective.

I grew up in the western part of New York state, about 5 hours directly west of New York City. There were a few Yankee fans in that area, naturally, but the only one I can recall is my grandfather, who watched every game. He used to tell stories of World Series games he watched. Any time I'd come up to visit his house on the hill in the evening, the Yankees game would be on the television, so I was pretty familiar with the team back then. The only Yankee I really liked was Mattingly, who will probably go down in history as the best Yankee never to play on a World Series team.

Although I enjoyed the games, I never really truly was a Yankee fan. I'd root for them on occassion, but my heart wasn't in it. I think it has something to do with the distance between my tiny little town and New York City, which I never even visited until I was in my late 20's. The idea of such a collossal town seems quite alien to my roots, and somehow it just never clicked with me.

On afternoons, I watched the team I grew to love, the Cubs. Though I've STILL never been there, I felt a stronger connection with them than the formidable, storied Yankees. I think now that I've always been attracted to the more tragic figure, the underdog, and the struggle. It's the journey that's the thing, and having a humbler past, suffering a bit, lets you really appreciate winning when it happens, even if it is incredibly rare.

As such, the greatest comeback in history couldn't have happened with two more appropriate teams. One, mired in years of setbacks, the other, bloated with arrogance. Although I had really no true loyalties to either team, I found myself cheering and hoping with every pitch over the last four games (I watched every minute, on into the morning) that the Red Sox could pull off the impossible. Call it kinship by blood, as we long-sufferers stick together.

If I had scripted this series and submitted it for publication, it was have been summarily rejected as cheeseball and unbelievable: Your star pitcher goes down in the first game, likely not to return. You lose the next two games, the third one at home by a drubbing. Games 4 & 5 you beat the premier closer of all time twice and win in extra innings. Game 6 your injured and bleeding star pitcher throws the gutsiest performance of his career to insure a Game 7, and then you handily trounce the Evil Empire before their home fans to win. It's unbelieveable.

On of my Yankee coworkers, still reeling in denial, even went so far as to suggest that the series was fixed. Perhaps back in the day (i.e., the Black Sox scandal) when atheletes were paid a mere pittance this could still be considered even as a remote conspiracy theory, but these guys are all paid millions per year. It's a ridiculous scenario to consider, but apparently some fans are so shocked at the loss that their minds won't let them grasp what has truly happened.

I have absolutely no sympathy for Yankees fans who are crying. They have no idea what loss is, compared to any other team that ever played. They have won 26 championships. Now they have lost in the most embarrassing fashion ever, which is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, as this is first time it has ever happened in baseball. This is their comeuppance, and it's a bitter drink they are going to have to swallow. That's about as close as I can get to empathy for the Empire as a Cubs fan.

As for the vaunted curse, some say it's still on until the Sox win a series. Technically, I suppose that may be true, and I hope they win it so there will be no question. Either way, some powerful demons have been exorcised over the last week, and if there is a Ruthian curse, it sure as shit took a bad time to take a nap. Part of that curse is the mystique of the Yankees, that they will somehow always find a way to win, and the Sox will find a way to lose. As the last out was recorded and both Yankees and Sox fans stared in disbelief, the aura of the giants of baseball faded to black and white pinstipe.


October Classic
Even if you aren't a fan of baseball, it's tough to ignore the drama going on right now in the American League Championship Series. Just when everyone said it was done, when all hope was lost, when the Yankees were up 3-0 on the Red Sox, an insurmountable lead if there ever was one, suddenly we have a fall classic. After winning back-to-back improbably extra-inning games in Boston, the Sox pulled even with last night's 4-2 win in Yankee Stadium.

The two games in Boston were amazing. Boston, down to it's last three outs in Game 4, and that close to being swept embarrassingly, beat Mariano Rivera to get their first game. Then, the next night in a marathon 14-inning fight, they deliver again.

Last night's game was inspiring and wild. Adding to the atmosphere was something that you hardly ever see in a baseball game once, let alone twice: reversed calls. And both were correct and both hurt the Yankees.

The first, which I am still hearing Yankees fans bitch about, is the home-run that put the Sox up 4-0:
    Mark Bellhorn’s three-run homer for the Red Sox was originally ruled a ground-rule double. But after much discussion, the umpires correctly reversed the call — the ball had ricocheted back onto the field after hitting a fan in the front row of the left-field seats.
The Yankees might have had a case if the fan was leaning over the fence, but she clearly wasn't. The ball hit her right in the chest and bounced back onto the field. This was no Jeffrey Maier incident:
    In 1996, Maier reached over the right field wall and deflected the Yankee batter’s fly ball into the stands. The umpires ruled it a home run and it helped the Yankees tie the Orioles in the eighth inning. The Bombers went on to win the game.
In that game, the Yankees got a break on a controversial (and poor) call. I have no sympathy or understanding for fans who think this incident was even close. Besides that, the Sox won by 2, not 1.

Aha, the red-eyed Yankees fans say, there was yet another controversial reversal, this one requiring the riot police's intervention afterward:
    Then, in the eighth, with the Yankees seemingly on the verge of another comeback, the biggest call of the night went against them. Rodriguez hit a dribbler between the mound and first base. Boston reliever Bronson Arroyo picked up the ball and reached out to tag Rodriguez, who chopped down on Arroyo’s arm and knocked the ball free.

    Jeter raced around to score and Rodriguez wound up on second, apparently cutting the deficit to 4-3. But the umpires got together again and called Rodriguez out for interference.
With the next batter out on strikes, the inning was over, and a run was taken away from the Yankees. Again, though, it's pretty hard to ignore Rodriguez' blatant karate-chop:
    According to Section 6.1 of the MLB Umpire Manual, "While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act."
This was textbook interference. You'd have to be exceedingly drunk or blinded by your allegiances to miss that. In a nutshell, no amount of crying will change the fact that the umpires reversed two calls and made them correctly, and they weren't the reasons the Yankees lost.

If there had to be one reason, one awe-inspiring performance that put down the Yankees, it wasSchilling's heroic stand:
    With blood seeping through his sock and bravado etched on his face, Curt Schilling shut down the Yankees and — just as he wanted — shut up 55,000-plus New Yorkers.

    Pitching on a dislocated ankle tendon held down by three sutures put in the day before, Schilling gave up one run over seven innings as the Red Sox beat the Yankees 4-2 Tuesday night to save their season for the third day in a row and force a winner-take-all Game 7 for the AL pennant and a trip to the World Series.
Schilling is a horse. After getting shelled in Game 1 on a bad ankle, to come back into Yankee stadium and pitch 6 scoreless, 3-hit innings on a bleeding ankle is the stuff of legends. For the Sox fans and players, how could you not be inspired?

So, we have the improbable Game 7 tonight, which no baseball team has ever lost once up 3-0. In fact, no team has even forced a game seven after being down 3-0. Until now. Until these miracle Red Sox. Will the Red Sox complete the greatest comeback in baseball history against the most storied team ever? Or will Babe Ruth somehow bail out his limping, beat-down team? Suffice it to say, I'll be watching, and, like the two games before, I'll watch until it's all over.


Sith Teaser and a not-so-fearsome Dark Lord
Just taking a quick break in the work day to note that some lucky bastard has gotten a sneak peak at the Revenge of the Sith teaser trailer, due out next month. There are briefly detailed descriptions here and here. Sounds pretty cool, but then what else would you expect me to say?

In other news, apparently someone has tried to impersonate Vader for personal gain:
    The deliveryman brought a pizza to a Kissimmee address Sunday night, said Dearmas, only to find no one home. He got back into his car to drive away, when Darth Vader, mask, black outfit and all, suddenly materialized.

    In a presumably commanding voice, the evil Sith Lord (search) ordered the deliveryman to give up all his cash. The pizza man hit the gas and sped off, but not before getting a good zap from what may have been a laser blaster, a light saber or perhaps just a stun gun.


Special Special Editon
Thanks to Brian for pointing out this hilarious take on the history of Lucas' changes to the cantina scene and one possible future.