On a completely unrelated note, goddamn do I hate Windows Update.

(From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Click for full-sized unnatural selection.)

Sometimes I think SMBC is a little too mean-spirited for its own good.

Oh, those kooky alternative medicine users, with their disdain for things like “evidence”! It’s not as though a substantial portion of what was once considered “alternative medicine” has since become backed by that “evidence” thing, with acupuncture being the most famous example! And it’s not as though a lot of what’s considered “evidence” for mainstream medical practices today is surprisingly sketchy, or as though science in general as practiced today isn’t surprisingly prone to subconscious researcher biases!

And it’s not as though the record of what constitutes valid “evidence” is centered around the Western cultural record to the exclusion of other cultures, and is subject to Western cultural biases! And it’s not as though the practice of science itself is based on the fallacy that it’s possible to isolate and atomize the effects of any one thing in exclusion to any other thing, an atomist view that a lot of “alternative medicine” is fundamentally opposed to!

Christ, I’m not even into this kind of thing, but the least Zach Weiner could do is know his opponents.

(And damn I hope reading the Comics Curmudgeon regularly doesn’t turn me into a John Solomon clone…)

Some brief words of disappointment

This is shaping up to be an unproductive week in an unproductive summer.

It already didn’t help that I became obsessed with a fantasy football draft, but over the weekend I found myself getting hooked on the Comics Curmudgeon. I’d heard of it and from it many times before, but it took discovering its per-comic archives to enrapture me in its self-consistent jokes.

I briefly considered a streak-filling webcomics post, but I couldn’t decide which comic touching on academic themes I’m interested in to review, xkcd or SMBC.

I hope to have a webcomic blog review by the end of the week, but I’m not terribly confident about it.

The past and future of the Olympics

Once, the Olympics were considered among the most pure of sports events, because of its tradition of amateurism. But today, years after it was abandoned, its past of amateurism is holding the Games back.

For the Olympics to be for amateurs only seemed natural in the early 20th century as the Games and the Olympic movement grew. But the prohibition on professionalism meant that FIFA had to create a separate World Cup if it wanted an international Olympic-type tournament. Today, the World Cup is arguably bigger than the Olympics and the Olympic football tournament is restricted to keep from competing with it.

The Olympic notion of amateurism was probably sustained well past its sell-by date by global geopolitics; the Cold War turned the Olympics into a point of intense patriotic pride regardless of who was competing. By the time the Cold War was over, the IOC had already dropped the professionalism requirement, setting up the 1992 Dream Team. Today, the Olympic basketball tournament is one of the biggest parts of the Olympics, indeed of the whole basketball calendar, and the hockey tournament positively dominates the Winter Games… yet David Stern wants to make the basketball tournament under-23 only and push FIBA’s Basketball World Cup as the new standard of international basketball competition, and NHL players might not participate in Sochi either.

Had the Olympics allowed professionals from the start, or at least in the 1920s, there would have been no need for a separate soccer tournament. The Olympic tournament could have filled the bill quite nicely. Without the World Cup? David Stern and the NHL wouldn’t even be thinking of dropping out of the Olympics. The Olympics would be the great nexus of international competition, which you don’t mess with unless you have a very good reason. I’m not even sure the Olympics would have dropped baseball; Bud Selig would have interrupted the season in a heartbeat to get major league players in the Games, because any sport would kill to have an Olympic tournament. With all these sports playing prominent roles, Americans might not even have to suffer through tape delays.

Instead? The Olympics could become the place for sports that aren’t popular enough outside it to have their own tournaments worth paying attention to. An Olympic soccer tournament with all the players participating might completely dominate the Games and push all other sports to the background, but those sports are more insidiously denigrated by the fact that soccer, and maybe basketball and hockey, are too cool for them.

At one point, I was thinking that if the Olympic basketball tournament became an under-23 affair, I would consider the Olympic Games mostly dead to me and push the notion of a “Pseudolympic Games”, consisting of all those tournaments in the off year between Olympic Games in Olympic-eligible sports that mostly exist because of the Olympic amateurism requirement or the popularity of the World Cup. But the Basketball World Cup might move a year later – funnily enough, to get away from the soccer World Cup – and to encompass the entire four-year Olympiad would result in complications, since the more traditionally-“Olympic” sports tend to have tournaments in every odd-numbered year. But every time a sport declares themselves too cool for the Olympics, I will sigh and observe that the ghosts of Pierre de Coubertin and 19th-century aristocratic notions of the gentleman still haunt the Olympic Movement.

Great, ANOTHER streak-filler post?

I was planning on writing a post wrapping up the Olympics in more ways than one… but my day became completely occupied with my fascination watching the FantasySharks drafts over the course of the day. And my own league wasn’t even part of it, being stuck at #2 for over nine hours. I may have to consider the first day of the FantasySharks drafts a personal day for me from now on.

For the record, I think I’ve done pretty decently drafting so far (I’m 11th, so I get two picks pretty much one after the other). I’ve picked up Larry Fitzgerald and Maurice Jones-Drew, and I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet because I came very close to spending my first two picks on wide receivers. (The Shark leagues are PPR leagues, but with two wideouts and no flex, so people are reticent to take wideouts too early. By the way, I feel like ESPN’s PPR rankings are the Matt Millen of PPR rankings; four wideouts in the first eight spots?) Regardless, despite the differences between fantasy and real football, anytime you pick up two players among the Top 50 resumes for the Hall of Fame, you must be doing something right. (If you want to follow the rest of my draft, I’m tweeting every pick and I might write a wrap-up when it’s done.)

That Olympics post may be up by the time you read this, or I may have scrapped the idea entirely because I wasn’t feeling it. Time will tell.

See, if this were Order of the Stick, I’d know all the points I’d need to make by heart and wouldn’t need to re-read the whole thing.

(From Gunnerkrigg Court. Click for full-sized homework assignment.)

Remember when I did my original review of Gunnerkrigg Court, and talked about how a major theme of the comic was the conflict between magic and technology? Well, Tom Siddell is turning that theme completely on its head.

When we started a chapter entitled “The Great Secret”, I honestly expected the secret in question to turn out not to be so great. Siddell has shown in the past that he’s not above setting high expectations for a chapter only for it to turn out to be a shaggy dog story – though he’s also done just the opposite; a chapter depicting the formation of the Court had a cover page that made it look like another frivolous holodeck simulation chapter. In this case, I was proven dead wrong; we’re learning things that force us to rethink the entire comic. This post is going to be far short of what it could be; to do this chapter justice would require me to reread the entire comic, and I don’t have time for that, even considering how relatively short Gunnerkrigg Court is.

For Coyote, the mind of man is forever restless, never able to see things as they actually are. This isn’t a new concept to the Court, but to this point it has generally been used to explain the Court’s stance towards magic: a firm belief in Clarke’s Third Law, that everything that appears to be “magical” must have a scientific explanation, not realizing that maybe magic actually exists and all the weird phenomena in the comic just is that way. Siddell is now using it for the opposite purpose: that man is responsible for the existence of magical phenomena in the first place. To use Coyote’s example, a man doomed to die in the desert and have his corpse feasted on by a real coyote does not see an animal like himself driven to survive and opportunistically preying on his misfortune, but the power of a god that has actively decided his fate. When a man dies, the contents of his mind are absorbed into the “ether”, a concept that has appeared in the comic before as the source of its magic, and from that all the ideas in his mind bear fruit. Coyote himself is but a “being of the thoughts of man”; the content of the secret itself, in the single page in which he utters it, is “I do not exist!

This gets to the heart of the conflict between the Court and the world of magic; we see the roots of the split between the Court and the forest in the same process by which Coyote describes his own creation, while the main driver behind Coyote’s actions appears to have been protecting the secret more than anything else. The pretense for Antimony’s visit to the forest in this chapter is that Coyote is bored and wants Antimony to tell him stories – about himself, something you would not normally expect him to need to do, but which ends up making a lot more sense when Coyote reveals his secret: the more stories about how great and powerful he is there are, the more great and powerful he actually is, or at least will ultimately be. Coyote is worried that the Court will either take control of the process described in this chapter, or cut off the flow of stories entirely with rational explanations, either way cutting off his power but benefiting mankind, freeing him from his own unconscious creations, while vindicating Antimony’s position as explained in my original review.

Robert A. “Tangents” Howard has been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the comic to give us a reason to sympathize with the Court and what it sees in the forest for it to fear, and that may finally be happening, though not in the way he had in mind. Coyote once called the Court “man’s endeavour to become God“, and while we’re now starting to see what he meant by that, from man’s perspective it’s really more like a modern Prometheus. The comic becomes less about the conflict between magic and technology and more of a parable of man’s conquest of nature with science, as well as (like Homestuck) a commentary on the importance of story. Suddenly the imagination of man becomes the biggest weapon in the fight between the Court and the world of magic – indeed it’s no longer a sure thing that the comic is building to a fight in the normal sense.

To this point, while I have found Gunnerkrigg Court interesting, I haven’t found it any sort of literary masterpiece. But while my original thoughts on the comic’s entertainment value are unchanged, I now wonder if it might have just as much literary merit as Order of the Stick. If it weren’t for the fact that Antimony is in the middle of the third of five years at the Court, I’d think Siddell was starting to build to the end of the comic; as is, I’m now very interested in seeing what direction he goes with this, and I may want to take notes from the Court for my own future webcomic I’m working on. The comic’s direction has now changed course considerably.

What Arab oil has to do with the Premier League – and the sports TV wars

ESPN. Fox. NBC. Al Jazeera?

One thing that has become apparent to those following the world of international sports in recent years is that you don’t bleep with oil money. There’s no other way to explain why the United States lost the 2022 World Cup to Qatar of all places, in spite of all its problems. The richest horse race in the world is held in Dubai, as is the culminating event of the European Tour (last I checked Dubai is not in Europe, and I doubt it’s in a climate particularly conducive to golf courses). And American interest in soccer, at least European club soccer, could be shot down just as it’s getting off the ground by the whims of an Arab oil sheik.

Al Jazeera is best known to Americans as that group that aired Osama bin Laden’s tapes, and as such most Americans pretty much associate it with terrorists and thus its attempt to launch an English-language news network in the US has pretty much been a miserable failure. But over the past year it’s been on an astonishing run of acquiring US rights to international soccer leagues, winning rights to three of the five biggest leagues in Europe – Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, and France’s Ligue 1 – which it will use to launch two new channels on Wednesday called beIN Sport.

But of course, the big daddy of European soccer rights in the US by a long shot is the English Premier League, and that has to have people at Fox quaking in their boots. Fox has already lost the rights to MLS to NBC, and Serie A to the new beIN Sport operation. It still has rights to the UEFA Champions League and newly-acquired World Cup rights, but the English Premier League is the bread and butter of their Fox Soccer operation. Lose that, and you might as well move what’s left to a Fox Sports network and shutter Fox Soccer, convert it to Fox Sports 1 or 2, or sell it to the beIN Sport people. Already competitor GolTV has lost the rights to its own La Liga bread and butter, leaving it with not much more than the German Bundesliga, the Brazilian league, and some scattered international competition.

If Fox has to be worried about the prospect of these upstarts from Qatar stealing Premier League rights, American soccer fans have to be absolutely terrified. A lot of work has been done to get to the point where a substantial number of Americans are now interested in the Premier League and to a lesser extent European soccer in general, and beIN Sport could end up destroying all of it. Not even the NFL can launch a network from scratch in less than a year and get anything close to wide distribution, and even Fox Soccer doesn’t have as much distribution as you might think. How quickly can beIN Sport even get to Fox Soccer’s level? A year? Two years? Five years? (It doesn’t help that a lot that beIN Sport has done has been kept low-profile, almost secret, to the point that it’s not even clear what carriage agreements beIN Sport has signed, but the list of providers to call on their Web site indicates it includes none of the biggest ones.)

beIN Sport has already declared it has no plans to sublicence any games to anyone, meaning the sizable stateside fandom of Spanish clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid used to seeing games on GolTV and ESPN are already screwed. For the same to happen to the Premier League, so soon after Fox’s much-publicized experiment in airing every game of the Premier League’s final week, could be potentially catastrophic. And what of ESPN? They’ve gone on a full-court press promoting their embrace of soccer, even after losing the World Cup to Fox. But what if they can’t air Premier League or La Liga games anymore either? They’ll still have MLS, some National Team games, and the Euro tournament, but will that be worth it?

ESPN’s UK operation has already lost the rights to the Premier League, which could reduce ESPN’s motivation to keep airing it in the States. Fox will surely have motivation to keep the backbone of Fox Soccer, but will that be enough to counter seemingly bottomless piles of oil money? Soccer fans should enjoy the current relative glut of European soccer on television, especially the recent thrilling Premier League finish, while it lasts, because it might not for much longer. And they should root hard for Fox, as well as anyone else – ESPN, NBC, even CBS Sports Network or truTV, or a strange bedfellows alliance between two or more of them – in the sports TV wars interested in the Premier League rights, lest soccer in this country end up set back decades.

Then again, maybe beIN Sport can round up cable providers with no problems whatsoever… in which case the sports TV wars, and maybe the larger American media industry, might just have a new contender.

Introducing the Morgan Wick Fantasy Football Fifty Challenge!

Last year, I decided to carry out a project called the Simulated Experts’ Fantasy League. I’d take the “big boards” of eight prominent fantasy sites and draft an eight-team league using each of them, then play out a season. It was an interesting experiment, but not one I’d like to try again with. I intended to run a second league, the Simulated Experts’ Auction Fantasy League. This league would attempt to hold an auction using several sites that listed recommended auction values for players.

After waiting for sites to have as up-to-date and relevant big boards as I could, possibly too long (Yahoo never did release a big board that reflected the end of the Chris Johnson holdout), I held the SEFL draft all day on Wednesday, the day before the start of the season. On Thursday, I woke up intending to hold the auction draft… and found that NFL.com had replaced its big board with Week 1 rankings. And there was no way to get the big board back, even though you could still draft a team right up to kickoff of the Kickoff Game.

I looked frantically for some way to get the big board back. NFL.com’s fantasy system has a feature where you can enter a draft – not a mock draft, a real live draft – just by clicking some buttons. As I would find, it’s a devious way for them to suck people into their fantasy football product. I entered a draft room to find that I could, in fact, get the big board back that way… but of course, it didn’t have what I actually needed, the auction values, and NFL.com is only supporting actual auction leagues starting this year. Nonetheless, over the course of the time I spent in there, I wound up drafting a team.

It was a strangely engrossing experience, and I decided to run a team in as many sites as I could, but I was only able to draft a team on ESPN before the Kickoff Game started. I’ve said before that I tend to go against the grain of what everyone else is doing, that I tend not to be caught up in whatever the current trend is, but in retrospect it’s kind of surprising that I hadn’t taken up fantasy football before; it involves just the sort of obsessive ordering, sorting, and categorization that’s right up my alley. For someone like me, who isn’t really a fan of any particular team, it’s really the perfect way to follow the NFL. For much of last season I was actually considering doing a live online radio show every Sunday of this year where I keep track of the developments in one specific fantasy league, to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

(For the record, my impression was that the people on NFL.com were more prone to make boneheaded mistakes and massive reach picks than the more knowledgeable drafters on ESPN… so naturally my NFL.com team did horribly while my ESPN team dominated the league after Cam Newton basically fell into my lap and I turned out to have something like the two best running backs in the league, propelling me all the way to the championship game before getting crushed.)

Now that I know for a fact what my opinion of fantasy football is, I intend to take it to the next level, and finish what I briefly started last year, by running as many teams as I possibly can – a total of a whopping fifty at the same time. Why? Because I’m apparently insane and have decided that, after a summer I’d earmarked as a critical one with a number of projects I intended to get done that wound up progressing slower than I would have liked, and heading into a hardcore quarter at school where I’ll be taking a class that’s both critical and might end up demanding the most work of any I’ve taken, the best thing for me to do is to take one of the major saps on my time last fall and increase the work involved in it fivefold.

One of these leagues will be one of the MyFantasyLeague.com leagues from FantasySharks.com, despite my having no intention of using the actual advice on their site much – their ranking on FantasyPros.com, one of the sites in the SEFL, doesn’t lie, though their draft advice is of some use. So why am I doing it? Because FantasySharks.com has come up with a brilliant idea that I’m not entirely sure why no one has tried before: bringing promotion and relegation to fantasy football. At the top is the “Great White Shark League”, a 12-team league consisting of nine users of the site, two of the site’s top experts, and an automated team. The bottom four teams get relegated to one of two “Whale Shark Leagues”, which similarly each contain nine users, two experts, and an automated team, with the champion and the team with the most total points promoted to the Great White Shark. Below that are four “Hammerhead” leagues containing all users, then eight “Mako” leagues, then 16 “Blue” leagues, then the current lowest level, the 32 “Tiger” leagues (though there is a possibility that a new “Leopard” level could be added this year).

I love this concept in every way, from the way it raises the stakes on every level to the most important reason I’m actually participating in it, its usefulness as a yardstick of ability and success. I’ve actually expanded this idea out to one of a championship pyramid for all of fantasy football, a good 20 levels following the same power-of-2 structure, complete with a new-player-qualification scheme so new players don’t have to wait a lifetime to reach the top. For the limited competition that’s there now, I’ll be starting in Tiger League 3 with a team with the whimsically nerdy name of the “Green Lantern Corps“.

For the other 49 teams, I’ll be drafting as many teams as I can on every single free fantasy football website. NFL.com has a maximum of six, CBS three, ESPN and Fox ten each. Yahoo and Fleaflicker have no limit, so ten teams on each of those sites brings me to an even 50. All of these drafts, except the FantasySharks league whose draft will start this Monday and has a 12-hour timer so it could last upwards of a week, will be held over Labor Day Weekend and in the run-up to kickoff. To reduce the effect on my time during the school year, I will stop actively maintaining any team that starts 0-4 or 1-5, but I will maintain at least one team on every site and under no circumstances will I abandon the Shark team. I’ll track my progress over the course of the season and give my quick impressions of each site as I go along, on Twitter and on Da Blog.

Here are the times I intend to hold the draft for each league. All times Pacific.

August 13:
6 AM: MyFantasyLeague/FantasySharks.com

September 1:
11 AM: Fox
Noon: Yahoo
1 PM: Fleaflicker
3 PM: Yahoo
5 PM: Fox
6 PM: Fleaflicker
8 PM: Yahoo

September 2:
9 AM: Yahoo
10 AM: Fox
Noon: NFL
1 PM: Fleaflicker
2 PM: Fox
5 PM: Fleaflicker
6 PM: Yahoo
8 PM: Fox

September 3:
9 AM: Fox
11 AM: Yahoo
Noon: NFL
1 PM: Fleaflicker
2 PM: Yahoo
3 PM: Fox
4 PM: Fleaflicker
8 PM: Fleaflicker

September 4:
Noon: ESPN
1 PM: Fox
2 PM: Fleaflicker
3 PM: Yahoo
4 PM: Fox
6 PM: Yahoo
7 PM: Fleaflicker

September 5:
Noon: Fleaflicker
1 PM:  Yahoo
2 PM:  Fox

Sizing up NBC’s new French Open contract

After NBC lost the Wimbledon contract, I expected it to be only a matter of time before it lost the contract to the French Open. If NBC didn’t decide it was time to get out of one of the lesser grand slams after losing the premier grand slam to cable, Roland-Garros surely would award it to ESPN rather than put everyone through excruciating tape delays. That’s why Sunday, NBC signed a deal to broadcast the French Open for another twelve years… wait, what?!?

Yep, and there are no signs that NBC is stopping with its tape delays either. Not only that, NBC is expanding its coverage to levels more akin to what it used to do for Wimbledon or what CBS does with the US Open.

I can’t help but wonder how much of this has to do with the Tennis Channel being the official cable partner, which might complicate ESPN’s ability to take NBC’s package. More broadly, the timing of the broadcast deal vis-a-vis the cable deal clearly is huge. NBC lost Wimbledon almost solely because it would have to wait for two more years to put games on the NBC Sports Network. With the French Open, the cable deal came first, meaning ESPN’s position was already locked in for the long haul. I have to imagine the confluence of these two items boxed ESPN out and gave NBC all the leverage (unless CBS was interested).

Sport-Specific Networks
8 11.5 4.5 4.5 0 1.5

What a time for the RSS feed to stop working.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized sober confessions.)

This comic really says a lot about where both Tai and Dora are right now.

I have to say I’m kind of shocked by Tai’s actions here. At least her conversation with Dora the previous night happened while she was drunk, and it’s made clear that at least when she woke up, she would have much rather forgotten about it. Yet not only does she have the confidence to come forth with her feelings while sober, she actually demands that Dora not string her along and give her an answer now, despite waiting for pretty much her entire time as a member of the cast. Of course, Marten gave her the green light to pursue Dora earlier in the night, but it’s apparent that at some point in the day, perhaps after Emily spilled the beans about Marten’s conversation with Dora, she must have had some sort of epiphany, that if she wants something she should simply go out and get it. It also makes what I said originally about her demeanor all the more interesting.

As for Dora, she hasn’t been the most forthcoming on where her thoughts are, aside from her being conflicted about it, and thus I still don’t know how much she knew about Tai’s crush beforehand. Faye badgers her about her feelings despite not getting any on-panel hints that anything happened at all; it’s suggested that she thinks Dora already had a crush on Tai of her own.

Re-reading Dora’s conversations with Faye and Marten, I can’t help but wonder how much of what’s been going through Dora’s mind is less about Tai’s confession itself and more about the possibility that Faye might be right, that the blush in the last panel of their previous conversation was the equivalent of the little pink hearts floating up in The Sims games. Marten explains that for her to accept Tai’s advances just because they’re there “wouldn’t be fair to her.” So now, Tai puts her on the spot and effectively forces her to decide not merely whether she’s willing to return the favor, but whether she actually reciprocates her feelings.

The result is that this is a bit better played and a little more organic than how Dora and Marten got together, and more than a little reminiscent of how Haley and Elan got together – and when I’m comparing you favorably to Order of the Stick, you’re doing something right. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder where the comic goes from here and what Jeph has in mind for this relationship, if anything. Dora told Marten not to say anything to Tai about their conversation to allow her to sort her own feelings out, but Tai ignored Marten’s admonition to that effect when running out to confront Dora, so I can’t help but wonder if Dora will spend the whole thing wondering how sincere she is in the relationship, and that if and when it ends, it’s going to wreck Dora’s confidence in her ability to have a relationship even more.