Sunday, July 18, 2010

The City & The City by China Miéville (Book Review)

The City & The City refers to two overlapping and interspersing cities -- Beszel and Ul Qoma -- somewhere in Europe. Despite the proximity of the cities, that at times is so tight that part of a street may be in Beszel while the rest is in Ul Qoma, it is both law and custom that people observe only the environs of their city and "unsee" the other city. So, if they are in Beszel, they only see Beszel buildings, streets, and people, just as people in Ul Qoma only see people and places that are in Ul Qoma. To do otherwise is to commit breach, a serious crime enforceable by a secret power that mandates the perception of Beszel and Ul Qoma as distinct cities.

If this all sounds confusing, I submit that it is probably due to my inability to capture what Miéville has done in this novel, which is to take a speculative premise that completely jars against our expections and sense of what should be, and make it work and flow.

We are introduced to Beszel and Ul Qoma through Inspector Tyador Borlú, who's investigation of a murder leads him to travel through and explore both cities. As the plot develops and at least ostensibly follows a police procedural, the implausibility of Beszel and Ul Qoma lessens and we begin to accept the cities as they are. It does help that the cities are in Europe, which allows us to recall Berlin when it was divided and find something familiar and real to which we can compare Beszel and Ul Qoma. By the end of the novel, the notion of two cities occupying basically the same physical space or unseeing someone or something right beside you doesn't seem strange at all.

I don't normally give books a numeric or star rating, but if I did, I would hand out top honors for The City & The City. Both thought-provoking and enjoyable, this is speculative fiction at its best.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Randy's a Dandy

After sharing the Buffalo and Cleveland post that compared sports failures between the two cities, I wanted to follow up with something positive. I've been tossing some ideas around when a co-worked forwarded me this great clip from the 1978 NBA All-Star game featuring Randy Smith (a former Buffalo Brave) going on a tear and hitting shot after shot. When I saw this, I knew immediately this was what I wanted to post.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky (Book Review)

Cognitive Surplus continues where Here Comes Everybody ends and examines how excess free time and the adoption of social media are transforming us from consumers into collaborators.

We've had surplus free time for a while, Shirky contents, at least since the postwar boom. However, because we spent so much of this excess time watching television, the surplus was mostly used for consumption. It has only been in recent years, with the emergence of online social networks, that we're beginning to see our cognitive surplus applied beyond consumption, to all manner of sharing and collaborative creation.

It's worth noting here that the application of our cognitive surplus to social networks is instrumental. It won't by definition produce output of higher quality. You will instead get everything from Wikipedia to Napster to millions of blogs and Twitter posts. But because the Internet has removed the barriers to entry for amateurs creating and sharing content, the pool of content and user cultures is an order of magnitude greater and beyond what it ever was before. This is transformative change, the results of which won't be clear for years, if not decades.

If you liked Here Comes Everybody, you'll probably enjoy Cognitive Surplus too. If you haven't read Here Comes Everybody, I'd suggest you start there first.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Buffalo and Cleveland: Let’s Make a Pact!

I'm a Buffalo sports fan, but I found myself acutely disappointed when LeBron James choose the Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers. You see, it's not easy being a Buffalo sports fans, with the Bills' four Super Bowl losses and the Sabres' inability to win the Stanley Cup. I've always felt that the only fans who truly understand the continual disappointment and ache of no championships are Cleveland sports fans.

So, somewhere along the way, I've become a stand-in Cleveland fan, and I always cheer for Cleveland teams to win when they make the playoffs (excepting on the rare occasion when the Browns and Bills meet in the post-season, when I root for the Bills). This year was no different, and I really thought it was the Cavs' year and LeBron would lead them over the top.

It was obviously not to be, though. But the Cavs' loss to the Celtics and LeBron's decision to play for Miami got me thinking about other famous sports letdowns and disappointments in Buffalo and Cleveland sports. The similarities were striking, and I am now more convinced than ever that the two fan bases are united in shared misfortune by their sports teams.

Below is a comparison of significant Buffalo and Cleveland sports failures, misfortune, and near misses. I should note that my purpose in compiling this list is not to dwell on the negative and find company in misery, but to issue a clarion call of sorts for both fan bases to consider coming together and supporting each other's teams, at least until both cities win a modern day professional sports championship.

The List

Buffalo Cleveland

No Goal


Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Opponent: Dallas Stars

No Goal is associated with the controversial goal scored by Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. When Hull scored the series-clinching goal in triple overtime of game six, his foot was in the crease but the puck wasn't.[1]

Beyond the controversy surrounding the goal, Sabre fans painfully remember the loss to this day because it represented the best look the Sabres had at a Stanley Cup, possibly ever. It was also the closest they got with all-world goalie Dominik Hasek.

The Drive


Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 11, 1987
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Drive refers to an offensive series in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game played on January 11, 1987, between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.[2]

Broncos quarterback John Elway, in a span of 5 minutes and 2 seconds, led his team 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won the game in overtime with a field goal, 23-20.[2]

Music City Miracle

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 8, 2000
Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Music City Miracle is the name commonly given to the game winning kickoff return that took place as time expired on January 8, 2000, during the 1999-2000 NFL Payoffs when Tennessee pulled off a nearly impossible cross-field lateral to create daylight for returner Kevin Dyson.[3]

After the Bills's first Super Bowl loss, this might be the most painful Bills playoff defeat.

The Fumble

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 17, 1988
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Fumble refers to Earnest Byner's fumble in the AFC Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988. With 1:12 left in the game, running back Byner appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, but lost a fumble at the 3-yard line.[4]

The Drop

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 6, 1990
Opponent: Cleveland Browns

The Drop describes the play when Bills' running back Ronnie Harmon dropped a potential game winning catch in the end zone on January 6, 1990 during a wildcard playoff game versus the Browns.

Red Right 88

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 4, 1981
Opponent: Oakland Raiders

Red Right 88 was the designation of a Cleveland Browns passing play that was infamously called during a Browns playoff game against the Raiders in 1981 that led to an interception and eventual loss.[5]

The Disappointing Finish

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 19, 2007
Opponent: Ottawa Senators

The Disappointing Finish describes the failure of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006-07 season to win the Stanley Cup, despite winning the Presidents' Trophy for most regular-season points for the first time in franchise history.

The suffering of Sabre fans did not end with the elimination by Ottawa, as the offseason saw the exit of two of the teams most productive and popular players, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.

The Wedge

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 21, 2007
Opponent: Boston Red Sox

The Wedge recalls the 2007 ALCS when the Indians held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Boston Red Sox with a 19-game winner going at home in Game 5 -- and still lost the series.[6]

The series loss is generally characterized in Cleveland as a major choke, such that the term "The Wedge", named for former manager Eric Wedge, is now synonymous to Cleveland fans with this series loss.

The Wrist Shot

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 10, 2001
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Wrist Shot describes the game-winning goal and overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2000-01 season. Darius Kasparaitis beat Hasek 13:01 into overtime with a long 30-foot wrist shot from around the left faceoff circle.

This series and its aftermath will forever haunt Sabres fans. In Game 6, the Sabres were leading 2-1 and 1:18 away from advancing to the Eastern Finals when Pittsburgh tied the game on a fluke bounce and eventually won the the game in overtime. The Sabres would blow a lead in Game 7 as well and lose in overtime on the Kasparaitis goal.

This would prove to be Hasek's last game with the Sabres, as he was traded in the offseason.

The Shot

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport: NBA
When: 1989 NBA Playoffs
Opponent: Chicago Bulls

The Shot is the game-winning basket made by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in the fifth and final game of the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, on May 7, 1989, on Cleveland's home floor in Richfield, Ohio.[7]

The buzzer-beater gave Chicago the best-of-five series, 3-2. It was both a game and series winner. The Shot is considered one of Jordan's greatest clutch moments, and the game itself is considered a classic.[7]

Wide Right

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 27, 1991
Opponent: NY Giants

Wide Right describes kicker Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard field goal attempt during Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.

Wide Right (and the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV) is widely regarded by Buffalo fans as the most heartbreaking professional sports moment of all. Wide Right is sometimes associated with the Bills' loss of four straight Super Bowls, and has become viewed as the one consummate game the Bills should have won. 

Two Outs Away (Jose Mesa)

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 26, 1997
Opponent: Florida Marlins

Sometimes associated with the labels Two Outs Away or just Jose Mesa, Cleveland's loss in the 1997 World Series is best remembered by the team entering the ninth inning of Game 7 with a 2-1 when closer Jose Mesa blew the lead, culminating in a Marlins win in the eleventh inning.

In the modern era, this series is the closest a Cleveland team has come to winning a championship and is bitterly remembered by Indians fans.

Championship Drought

Despite reaching the Super Bowl in four consecutive years from 1990-1993, the Bills have never won a Super Bowl. The Sabres have also failed to win the Stanley Cup.

The Buffalo Bills did win the AFL championship in 1964 and 1965, and the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL have won 4 Championships in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 2008, but fans want what they consider the real thing, a modern day championship in football or hockey.[8] 

Championship Drought

Cleveland has waited longer than any other city with three major sports franchises to win a title. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era).

The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948 (the second-longest drought in MLB, after the Cubs) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship. The city even had a short-lived NHL hockey team called The Barons, which never won a championship either.[9]

Abandonment

During the early years of the 1970s, Buffalo hosted three professional sports teams: the Bills (NFL), the Braves (NBA), and the Sabres (NHL). The era was short-lived, though, as the Braves left Buffalo forever after the 1977–78 season. The departure stands as one of the early sports losses endured by the city and came about because the team's ownership prized short-term financial gain over building an enduring NBA franchise in Buffalo.[10] In some ways, the loss of the Braves was also a sign of serious sports disappointments to come.

Over the past 30 years, Buffalo has shed population and jobs, giving rise to the notion that the market may not be big enough or viable for the Bills in the future. This uncertainty is exacerbated by Bill owner Ralph Wilson's refusal to discuss succession plans for the team. The Bills currently play one of their home games in nearby Toronto as part of an ongoing to regionalize the team, but skeptical fans view the move as a sign that the Bills already have one foot out the door.

So the Bills endure, but with a veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over the franchise and fanbase.

Abandonment

For a three year stretch, from 1996–1999, Cleveland lost the Browns and there was no football in Cleveland. Art Modell's decision to move the franchise has made him as one of the most reviled figures in Cleveland sports history. The city did get the Browns and the NFL back, but the scar from the relocation of the original franchise remains.

With his decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, LeBron James immediately joins Modell as one of the most self-centered figures in Cleveland sports history. There's no doubt that the sting of the departure was heightened tremendously by the manner in which James made his decision: during a prime time ESPN special, but it would have hurt no matter how he announced it.

As it was, though, to Cleveland fans, "The Decision" special was an hour long knife in the heart, and it's doubtful they will ever forgive him.


References
  1. 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Stanley_Cup_Finals. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  2. The Drive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drive. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  3. Music City Miracle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_City_Miracle. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  4. The Fumble. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fumble. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  5. Red Right 88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Right_88. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. Cavaliers' failures are something that could only happen in Cleveland. http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2010/05/only_in_cleveland_1.html. Cleveland.com. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  7. The Shot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shot. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  8. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  9. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  10. Comment, buffalonationhttp://ravenhost.blogspot.com/2010/07/buffalo-and-cleveland-lets-make-pact.html#comments. ravenhost.blogspot.com. Retrieved July 14, 2010.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

10 Reasons Why Independence Day Is the Best Holiday

Earlier this year, I gave ten reasons why Memorial Day is my favorite holiday. I stand by that list, but, in full disclosure, I really like Independence Day too, almost or even as much as Memorial Day. To flush this out, I decided to make a case for Independence Day as the best holiday of them all. Don't worry, I won't do this for every holiday.

Note: As with Memorial Day, I'm aware that Independence Day (on the Fourth of July) is a U.S. holiday, but I know other countries have similar holidays, so I figured people everywhere can relate. I also tried to pick qualities that aren't specific to America. If anything, they're more season-specific.

Here's the list:
  1. It's a holiday for everybody. Almost everyone gets off work on Independence Day and most businesses are closed. It makes the day feel extra special and celebratory, and there are only a few holidays where this is the case.
  2. It's affordable. Unless you're hosting a giant party, you won't spend a fortune on Independence Day. You can spend what you want on food and drink, of course, but it's often less than what you'll spend on other large meal or gift holidays, like Easter and Thanksgiving. And if you like holidays that don't dent your wallet, Independence Day entertainment will suit you just fine, with free fireworks in the evening.
  3. The time of year. Falling in the first few days of July, Independence Day arrives right as the summer festival season blossoms. Where I reside, in the Buffalo/Niagara region, whenever the fourth approaches, I know other great summer events are coming, like the Friendship Festival (a celebration between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, NY), Shakespeare In Delaware Park, and various ethnic and cultural festivals, including the Taste of Buffalo, the Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival, and the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas.
  4. Outdoor Gatherings. Take a moment and think how you've previously spent the day on Independence Day. Chances are, you've enjoyed time at barbecues, picnics, beaches, parks, backyard parties, and consumed all manner of delicious food and spirits. Independence Day lends itself to fun, outdoor gatherings like no other holiday.
  5. Summer movies and drive-ins. If Memorial Day kicks off the summer movie season, by Independence Day, we're in the thick of it, and by the fourth we typically have a nice selection of big-budget action films and easy summer fare to choose from. One year on the fourth, we actually got one of the schlockiest summer movies of them all, Independence Day (you remember). Of course, since the weather is so warm by the fourth, you can take in a movie in air-conditioned comfort or make a long night of it at the drive-in.
  6. Work shutdowns and vacations. Many companies still have summer shutdowns during the week of July 4th, prompting a number of employees to take vacations. This gives the week of the holiday some extra buoyancy, as more people are out of work, on vacation, less stressed, and generally happier.
  7. True Summer holiday. Independence Day is our only holiday that's pure summer. That is, it's right in the gut of summer. For those of us who love the season, early July is a wonderful time, with over two months of boundless summer still ahead.
  8. Party. Let's all be honest, for a moment. Independence Day is a great day for summer parties and responsible consumption. This isn't to say that there isn't a lot of drinking going on during other holidays, and of course nothing can top New Year's Eve for sheer partying and holiday carousing, but Independence Day is different. It's warm and you can drink in the sun, in your backyard or on the beach, and parties often stretch out through the day and into the evening.
  9. Fireworks. As Chandler Bing might say, "Fireworks are cool and you know it!" Yes, you know it, I know it, we all know it. There are bottle rockets, lady fingers, M-80s, sparklers, just to name a few. I loved watching fireworks when I was a kid, and I expect I always will.
  10. The Birth of a Nation. Ultimately, the best case for Independence Day may be that it's a celebration of our country and a reminder of how our freedoms were won and why it's so important to preserve them.
Happy Independence Day, everyone.