Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Buffy season 6

I picked a great time to rewatch one of my favorite shows and one of the most important ones to me personally, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With all of the misogyny with Trump and Republicans it's nice to see a great female hero figuratively smash the patriarchy. And this happens to be the 20th anniversary of the show first airing. So it's all come together for good timing.

The first five seasons were as expected. 2 and 3 still stand out as the best, truly some of the best tv ever. Season 4 is pretty solid despite less well defined "big bad". Season 5 has a stronger big bad in Glory, but fewer good stand alone episodes. Season 6 is known as the really dark season. And apparently some fans are really down on it because of that. I remembered it being dark but not all that different in quality than season 5. And with Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair pointing out that the big bad of the season are basically a bunch of alt-right internet trolls before that was a thing, I was hopeful that I'd enjoy season 6 more than before.

Well, nothing has changed. I just watched the episode where Xander leaves Anya at the alter and I'm just awash in the darkness. But it's a different kind of darkness that the show has always been about. It just seems cruel for the sake of it. And the season as a whole is lacking in both stand alone episodes and quality big bads. The only thing propping up the season is Spike. And his and Buffy's arc ends much like Xander's does with Anya, with him being almost pointlessly cruel based on what they've done with the character up to this point.

Ok, that's unfair to the Spike arc because there is a point to the attempted rape scene. Though I'm not sure they set it up well enough, nor did they with Xander's betrayal of Anya. That's my real problem here. Not that it's dark. That it's dark and cruel without good reason. Spike has spent the last few seasons not being bad. That's mostly because of the chip. But he's actively helping Buffy most of the time (which trying to get in her pants, obviously). I said I was unfair regarding Spike's arc because it does make sense that he would react to Buffy's rejection with physical, sexual violence against her. He is, despite the chip and recent good behavior, an evil vampire.

Xander, on the other hand, is a good guy with a good, stable job. Hell, by this point in season 6 he's the most well-adjusted person on the show. He's dropped the fawning, asshole-ish relationship he had with Buffy for the first few seasons that understandably get on people's nerves. And he's moved beyond the moping, slacker phase where he felt left out while Buffy and Willow were in college. He's in a good relationship and keeps helping his friends with both fighting evil and taking care of Dawn. The only hint that there's anything wrong with his relationship with Anya is his hesitancy to tell everyone they're engaged. Perhaps I was reading it wrong, but I took his hesitancy at face value, in that they were all dealing with Buffy's death and it didn't seem like the right time.

Maybe season 6 is just about how shitty life can be without any kind of warning or set up. Having been laid off at the beginning of this year and still not having a job, I can certainly attest to that. Sure enough, the episode after Xander leaving Anya at the alter is the one where Buffy thinks she's been in a mental hospital hallucinating the entire show. So that, along with the even more dark ending of this season, and there's strong evidence that Whedon and Nixon wanted this season to be a metaphor for the random shittiness of life. That's fine in theory and mirrors real life, but with tv I think we needed more set up for or some more levity within the unrelenting darkness of some of the season's decisions.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The way forward for Democrats

I used to work for a state Democratic party. So I saw the challenges of trying to win races in a red state up close. And for the most part, it's not going to change. I say that because with Democrats' embrace of civil rights in the 60s and the southern strategy of the Republicans, TN and much of the south change from being a Democratic stronghold to a Republican stronghold. This took a while, in part because it took a while for voters to fully get the signals and change their partisanship (which is something that rarely changes) and because they were used to voting for incumbents that they liked. Once Democratic incumbents retired voters finally made the switch.

So we aren't going to get a lot of those people back, at least as long as the Democratic party is committed to equality and not being racist and sexist, which I obviously think we should. Sure, some of these people could be open to voting for us on economic issues, as they did with President Obama in 2008 and 2012. But those are unique circumstances (2008 financial crisis) that we simply can't bank on happening, at least when we need them to happen.

So I think we should do what we can to get people who already share our values, not try to convince racists and sexists to flip parties. That means we need massive, targeted voter registration drives. Before I was laid off at the TNDP, I proposed reverse engineering Votebuilder to basically canvass areas we think are Democratic, skipping the ones already registered in Votebuilder, and trying to get our people registered. Much like many human actions, getting involved in politics and voting are habits that we build up. Once we get people registered, get their emails/phone numbers, and get them to the polls for us, they'll likely get into that habit.

Once campaigns start ramping up we can focus on polling so that we can find the right message and target the right swing voters (few though they may be). But until campaigns ramp up, we should be going all out with the voter registration plan I laid out above. And I don't think state parties and county parties can just rely on volunteers to get this done. We need to fund this operation from the top down, from the DNC to the state parties to the county parties. We need young and old people being paid to do this efficiently and effectively. Assuming we can fight through the restrictive voting laws Republicans are passing and get people registered and stay engaged with them I'm confident we'll benefit at the polls.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Why the explosion of passing in the NFL?

Brian Burke at ESPN asks why NFL passing numbers are exploding.

It's no secret that the passing numbers in the NFL keep climbing. Analysts have been calling the NFL a passing league for the past few years, but the truth is it has been so for two generations, and there's no end in sight for passing's ascendancy.

He does a good job looking strictly at the numbers. But one area I think worth discussing is the widened talent pool of potential NFL QBs. For much of NFL and college history, only white guys were QBs. Given that non-white guys make up a significant (if not the majority) % of the other positions on the field, it would make sense that when you start letting non-white guys play the position, you get an influx of talent. Combined with that new talent, you push out some of the less talented white guys who may have been holding onto positions simply because of a lack of resources. So now the NFL is choosing from a wider, more talented pool of players.

This also works for the type of QBs the NFL is choosing from. Because of shorter QBs like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, you would think teams are more willing to acquire and play guys who don't fit the traditional prototype of what an NFL QB has to be. Similar to size you also get QBs more willing to move out of the pocket, which is where I'm almost certain the data would say provides good passing numbers when they throw, not to mention the fact that this just wasn't a thing until fairly recently in the sport.

And finally I think part of the better passing is simply the across the board better athletes over time. When you look at track you see the same thing as passing, consistent improvement. This encompasses a lot of things; better training (chemically-induced included), longer training periods, more specialized training from a young age, probably more sophisticated offenses in high school, etc.. By the time guys are getting to college they're good, strong athletes with good skills. They leave as really good, really strong athletes with very good skills. And they spend a few years in the NFL reaching elite levels.

Combine better athleticism with the fact that a current rookie in the NFL like Dak Prescott has probably seen more coverages and thrown more passes than a rookie in the NFL 15-20 years ago. Combine that with the increase in technology that allows coaches to better see what happens on the field and more/better analytical approaches to the game (though the NFL seems to lag behind other major sports here) and I think this goes a long way to explain why passing numbers are exploding.

Friday, May 13, 2016

More Captain America: Civil War thoughts

Emily over at Pajiba has a different take on Civil War:

I’m not usually in the habit of publicly disagreeing with my fellow writers, but I feel it a service to warn you that both TK’s review and Rotten Tomatoes have lied to you. Captain America: Civil War is a garbage movie. Sure, it had its amusing moments. It had some terrific acting, and some amazing action sequences. And a plot so filled with holes I could use it to water my plants.

Emily, you brave soul. Thank you for this. I'm not sure if the "garbage" line is tongue-in-cheek. If it's not I'll disagree on that point. It was entertaining enough to overlook the problem of hinting at making a political movie in this universe.

I think Cap is a lot less wrong than others, apparently. Tony is a selfish prick who is doing this because being a selfish prick killed a lot of people. I don't buy the larger, political reason for him pushing the accords. I despise the UN hatred that goes on in the US. Read a fucking book, Americans. But in this movie universe, I think it is fair to question how the UN would handle Cap and the Avengers.

As we saw in Batman v. Superman, you might need to hold a committee hearing to determine whether they should enter a sovereign country and take action. That committee will be filled with some countries that probably have selfish reasons for keeping the Avengers out of it. So what happens then? Cap sits by while innocent people die? Or as Charlie Rose asks in BvS, you're going to tell a family that we couldn't save your kid because a fucking committee full of self-interested politicians from shitty countries don't give a shit? Sorry, but after typing that out I'm on Cap and Superman's side. But I also think Marvel and DC should move on from these stories because I'm never going to buy that the UN or the US Senate will actually constrain these people and the stories get muddled quickly.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War review

No spoilers

Avengers part 3 Captain America: Civil War is typical Marvel in every way. It's fun, funny, well-enough-executed, a bit overstuffed, and a plot not really tied up that well in service of future movies. It seems to have the same cinematography and score as the others. Though don't see this in 3D, completely useless and even makes a lot of the early fight scenes tough to follow.

What it does unquestionably better than BvS (which for some reason I haven't reviewed here, probably because I put my thoughts on twitter) is coherent editing and a nice narrative flow. I like BvS but there no getting around the fact it lacks there (maybe the director's cut saves it, idk). The tone is so different than BvS. Every other line has to be a joke, though now they don't have Joss Whedon so it's not the same. But some of the actors make up for it (mainly Rudd, Robert Downey Jr.'s schtick is a little stale).

Maybe I need another viewing but I'm not convinced it handles it's themes better than BvS. They are very similar. And the main characters even invoke some of the same things in their most emotional moments. And maybe this is just me, but those moments suffer because the tone is so fun and funny all the time. Whereas with something like BvS or the Nolan movies, the tone is serious and emotional all the time so I guess I'm more primed for it when shit goes down.

Anyway, Civil War is classic Marvel with even more fun characters thrown in. But while being classic Marvel it limits itself by not seeing their big ideas all the way through and still setting up more movies. I'll forgive that this time because one of those movies will have Marisa Tomei. #TeamAuntMay

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Batman v. Superman can't get here quick enough

"They cast Ben Affleck as Batman!?"

"Zack Snyder is directing a Batman movie?"

"Why is the trailer for Batman v. Superman so DARK and SERIOUS? Why doesn't DC make jokes in movies like MARVEL?"

If I have to listen to that for another 2 months I might just


I'm not saying you can't judge a movie by its trailer, its casting, or its director. I mean, I know right away I won't like a movie if it stars Adam Sander. But I think Batman v. Superman is getting unfairly maligned. And I'm worried that if people go in with too many preconceived notions about the movie it will blind them as to the actual quality of the movie (Like what happened with Man of Steel, people wanted the Donner movie and were mad when they didn't get it).

There are legit criticisms of Zack Snyder's directing and Ben Affleck's acting/role choices. Snyder arguably directs for style over substance. I think all of his movies that I've seen look interesting. But I don't think I've ever loved any of them because the story wasn't great. I don't think many would say that Affleck is as good an actor as the previous Batman, Christian Bale. But he's far from a bad actor. I'd argue he's pretty charismatic when given the chance. And he's arguably gotten better since he started directing.

So it's not like Snyder and Affleck are without talent or have earned an instant shit rating like an Adam Sandler. And given the freakouts about casting we saw after Michael Keaton, Heath Ledger, and Anne Hathaway, you'd think we might wait a bit to make judgements. But alas, I'll likely have to endure another two months of this before I finally get to enjoy seeing Batman in a movie again.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Miami Dolphins: a model of aggressive mediocrity

The Miami Dolphins fired their head coach Joe Philbin today after another humiliating loss to long time division rival the New York Jets. There were hopes that coming into this season, the team could move past the consistently mediocre results it has achieve for seemingly decades and make it to the playoffs, perhaps even winning the division that the New England Patriots have cheated their way toward winning won most of the past two decades.

But no. Barring an extremely unlikely turnaround under the interim head coach, the Dolphins will miss out on the playoffs yet again. The disappointment this team's fans have felt has become as predictable as the Dolphins throwing the ball less than 5 yards on 3rd and long situations. We can point to numerous causes for such mediocrity.

Certain Philbin and his coaching staff deserve a long of blame. But as bad as they were, it's not like they were coaching a team filled with all-pros at every position. There are problems with starters at both guard positions, the entire defensive line (which is insane given that they signed Suh), the entire linebacking corps, the entire cornerback position outside of Brent Grimes. And there are problems with backups who are now starting because of injuries at left tackle and free safety. Even Bill Belichick would have a hard time cheating coaching his way to victories with this team.

While trying to diagnose the problems with this team, I kept thinking further and further back trying to find some sort of starting point. Maybe it was the previous GM, Jeff Ireland, who is the underlying cause for all of these problems. He's a big part of it since he picked many of the players and hired Joe Philbin as a coach. But Ireland is a holdover from the Bill Parcells era, who was brought on after the Nick Saban era. And of course Saban was brought on after the Jimmy Johnson era, who was brought in after the legend Don Shula retired. So there's been a lot of turnover after the decades long stability that Don Shula provided. But even with all of those guys who were supposed to be some of the best football people in the game, the results haven't changed basically at all.

But the mediocrity stretches even further back than just the Jimmy Johnson days. I would argue that even Don Shula wasn't holding up his end of the bargain, both as coach and GM. I'd go so far as to say that the Dolphins haven't been a well run organization since the end of the 1970s. The only reason we didn't notice that Shula wasn't doing well is that he lucked into getting arguably the greatest QB of all time, Dan Marino. Marino was supposed to go much higher in the draft than where the Dolphins picked him. But he had a down senior year and there were rumors of drug use that caused him to fall to Miami. From then on they rode the coattails of his greatness, only to appear in one super bowl, and never live up to his standards.

Let's take a quick look at how well the Dolphins have drafted since they took Dan Marino in 1983. Here's a link to every draft pick the team has made. I'll go through and point out the good players, which I'll define as having a career AV of 50 or over:

1985: Jeff Dellenbach, center
1988: Harry Galbreath, guard
1988: Jeff Cross, defensive end
1990: Richmond Webb, tackle
1990: Keith Sims, guard
1991: Brian Cox, linebacker
1992: Troy Vincent, defensive back
1992: Marco Coleman, defensive end
1993: Chris Gray, guard
1994: Tim Bowens, defensive tackle
1994: Tim Ruddy, center
1996: Zach Thomas, linebacker
1997: Sam Madison, cornerback
1997: Jason Taylor, defensive end
1998: Patrick Surtain, cornerback
2001: Chris Chambers, wide receiver
2008: Jake Long, tackle

We can split hairs over whether other players should be considered good. But these are the ones I think wouldn't be questioned. And we can talk about free agent acquisitions. But drafting good players is more important because you get them for less money, giving you more flexibility to sign more players. So I think looking at draft success is a good way to determine how good a team is run. And as you can see with that list, with a few exceptions, this hasn't been a well run team.

Looking at the Shula era, I notice that of the 11 good players that were drafted, 6 of those were offensive linemen. I point that out because Dan Marino is, if not the best, one of the two or three best quarterbacks ever at avoiding sacks. You can probably chalk some of that up to having good offensive linemen. But it's probably mostly because he had great pocket awareness, great pocket mobility, and an extremely quick release. Not getting sacked is a skill, and Marino was great at it. So I think he's influencing how well a lot of those linemen are doing in the AV rating system. They did seem to draft a few good defensive players in the Shula era. But as a whole, the defense never amounted to the type of unit that typically wins a super bowl.

The Jimmy Johnson era began in 1996, which coincided with the end of Dan Marino's career. Johnson tried to give a declining Marino help on offense. But as you can see, he completely failed. But Johnson did succeed in building a very good defense. Thomas and Taylor should be hall of famers. And Madison and Surtain were very good cornerbacks. The defense Johnson built was super bowl worthy. But the offense was never close to what it was during Marino's prime. And Johnson wasn't able to replace Marino at QB.

Once Johnson left in 1999 things went really downhill. Johnson's protege and terrible head coach, Dave Wannstedt, coasted off of the defense and trade for Ricky Williams until the defense started to age. Since then, the team has drafted two good players. That's two good players in 15 years. 15 years! Granted, some players haven't played long enough to accumulate enough points for the AV rating system. But tellingly, several players on that path aren't even with the team anymore:

2007: Samson Satele, center, AV = 48
2009: Vontae Davis, cornerback, AV = 31
2009: Sean Smith, cornerback, AV = 29
2009: Brian Hartline, wide receiver, AV = 30

There you have it, a model of aggressive mediocrity spanning three decades. Given the nature of this team, I'm not confident they will find success next season with a new coach. There's a bit of hope that the VP of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum, can turn things around after having failed in NY. He has taken some non-traditional steps toward improving the team. But by the same token, he seems to be the one who signed Suh to a massive contract and placed all his eggs in the Ryan Tannehill basket at QB. So who knows if he will succeed. If he does, he'll have done something that hasn't been done since Dan Marino fell into this team's lap.