Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sweet Sixteen Part 4.

Thanks to a close to unbelievable end of the Virginia Purdue game I was 1-1 on Saturday's games.  Texas Tech made me a loser against Gonzaga. Er, Gonzaga made Gonzaga a loser. What a poor performance by the Zags. I hear that Mark Few is a very good person and very good coach. So I feel for him.  The Zags just did not come up big, and Texas Tech did.

But Virginia. Well how do you tie a game down by three when you are shooting two foul shots with five seconds left.  That was amazing. And then not only do they win the game in OT, but manage to hit all foul shots at the end including 2 with 1.3 seconds left while up only three, in order to make people in Las Vegas who bet on Virginia delirious.  Spread was 4 1/2. Final score 80-75.  Win by the hook.

Running record 24-33-1.

Five games left. In an attempt to win back the fictitious money and break even, I could bet the over/under as well as against the spread.  This is what the state of Nevada counts on. Try to bet more to win back what you lost. Since the odds of winning are not good, if you try to win back what you lost, you will wind up, in most situations, losing more than you had been losing.  I'll just bet against the spread.

For Sunday

Give the 2 and bet Duke against Michigan State.
Give the 4.5 and take Kentucky over Auburn

Print vs. Web

My course in Sports Communication (soon to be complemented by a fine textbook written by the author of this blog) is in its second year.  This is the fourth consecutive semester it has been offered and in the fall there will be two sections.

I've been impressed, for the most part, with the quality of students who enroll in this class.  We at Northeastern have continued to increase the requirements necessary for admission so it would make sense that students in this class would be bright and industrious as are the students in our other classes.

What makes this class distinctive is that many students enroll in it, not because it is a requirement, but because of their inherent interest in sports. And knowledge of sports.  When undergraduates enroll in Organizational Communication--another class I teach--they typically are not familiar with Communication theories or, say, Scientific Management.

However, students in Sports Communication are athletes themselves, very serious fans, or in some cases aspire to go into careers in sports writing or broadcasting.  They come with considerable background and that background enriches the course.

Each class begins with what I have called a Daily Case.  Students have to respond by writing a one page paper based on a prompt that appears on the syllabus.  The prompt is a statement. Students either Agree or Disagree with the statement and provide a rationale. For example, a  prompt could be: how teammates communicate off the field of play is more significant than how they communicate on the field of play in terms of ultimate team success.  Another example: Fans are entitled to express their discontent at player and coaching performance--as critically as they wish--when they purchase a ticket for a game.  A third example:  If women's sports were broadcast as regularly as men's sports then women's sports would enjoy the same level of fan enthusiasm.  A fourth: Athletes have the social responsibility to use their platforms to communicate their positions about social injustice.

Typically, the reactions to these prompts are varied often representing antithetical positions with the same level of energy.  One student will argue that athletes do have the responsibility to speak out about, for example, political oppression. And another will shout, just as emphatically, that athletes should stay in their athletic lanes.

One prompt that, each semester, gets uniform response relates to whether sports information communicated on the web is more relevant and valuable than information communicated in traditional media. Regularly, the majority of students will say that they never read the newspaper for sports news.  I will ask a question about an article in the Boston Globe and the students will look at me as if I asked about a piece in Physics Quarterly.  Students in 2019 who are interested in sports go to the web.  One of the best students I have had in four semesters teaching this class said, "I can't remember the last time I read a newspaper for sports news." She was always on top of information about sports. but never used the paper.

Okay, so on Thursday I passed a colleague of mine on the way to class. He is a sports fan and teaches a course in Sports Writing. I asked him if he was excited about opening day which was last Thursday. He smiled and asked if I had seen the sports page of the New York Times where there were several articles dedicated to the 1969 Mets.  I had not, but as someone who remembers the 69 Mets, more than I remember nearly any other sports team, I was eager to see the articles.

I have a Sunday subscription to the Times, but not a daily one. However, because of the Sunday subscription I have access to the web version.  So, I thought I would put on a young person's hat--even though I almost never read a newspaper on line, and read the articles.

Spoiler Alert: I am and have been eligible for social security, so perhaps my comments reflect the times around the track, but I found reading the articles off-putting. First I could not see them all at the same time, so I could not select which ones I might find most attractive. Second, I kept butting heads with advertisements that for some reason in the print version I can skip over. Yes, I did not dirty my fingers, and yes I did not have to go to the library, but the experience of reading them all or the serendipity of finding something else relevant on the page was not as great. 

So today, I will be going to a local library where they keep back copies and immerse myself in the 69 Mets in a way, I do not think those who seek out the Times on-line can or will. 


Sweet Sixteen Part 3

Tough night.  Only 1-3.  MSU covered.  However, while Duke won again, miraculously, they did not cover.  Houston plus 2.5 looked like a good bet when they were up in the last seconds, but Kentucky managed to not only go ahead but finish the game winning by 4.  Finally, my wish came true with Auburn.  If you read the blog yesterday you know I bet against them but rooted for them and they pummeled North Carolina***.  So one win, three losses, bringing my March Madness total against the spread to 23-32-1.

Today I like (as if it matters) Virginia to cover the 4.5 point spread against Purdue, and Gonzaga to cover the 4.5 point spread against Texas Tech.

As long as I have been, appropriately, self-deprecating throughout--I do want to point out that in my brackets--that is predicting wins and losses not against the spread--I am still very much alive. I currently have 7 of the 8 teams in the elite eight still alive.  The only interloper is Purdue. I had Villanova knocking them out in the round of 32.  Seven out of eight. Just saying.

***My antipathy for North Carolina has evolved after studying the academic scandal that surfaced in the last months of 2014.  Student-athletes, for nearly twenty years, were shuttled into sham courses in attempts to maintain their eligibilities.  That there were sham courses was irresponsible enough, but that the activity existed for 18 years indicates or should have indicated to anyone who did not have her or his head in the ground that something foul was going on.  So, it was the fact of the sham courses, the number of years the activity was ongoing, the absence of anyone screaming foul, and the claiming subsequently that "we did not know."  All of this in a big ball emitted a foul odor. But what put the tainted cherry on top, is that during the investigation the school continued to protest that they had done nothing wrong, that this sham was perpetrated by Moe and Larry with help from several Curleys, who were good gosh doing these reprehensible things.  That foul cherry is why I likely will never cheer for UNC ever again.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Sweet Sixteen Part 2

Only two for five last night.  Michigan was suffocated by Texas Tech and did not come close to scoring enough to help with the Over.  Virginia prevailed but could not cover against a better Oregon team than I thought.  Gonzaga did come through for me as did Purdue.

Two for five is not bad, and is excellent compared to the 2 for 16 which was opening day last Thursday.  Forty percent is about right for betting against the spread. Consequently, if you do not want to lose money stay away from the following predictions for tonight.

Give away the 6.5 and take Michigan State over LSU
Give away the 8 and take Duke over Virginia Tech
Take the 2 1/2 and bet Houston over Kentucky
As much as I wish I did not have to, and I will root against my bet, but Give away the 5 1/2 and take North Carolina over Auburn.

Just saying, that in my brackets I am doing pretty well. I had both Gonzaga and Texas Tech advancing to the Elite 8 as well as Virginia.  So of the four who have already advanced to the Elite 8 I have 3 in my brackets.

Record so far for the tournament against the spread and Over/Under 22-30-1.  Moral of the story, do not bet on college basketball against the spread.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sweet Sixteen Part 1

Fresh off a disastrous Thursday and Friday last week, I continue this 2019 March Madness with the following picks.

My record going into tonight is 20-27-1.

Note there are five picks here. Four games and one Over pick. Betting the Over indicates that the total points will exceed the number the oddsmakers have established. So, the oddsmakers put the Over/Under at 124.5 for Michigan Texas Tech.  If those teams combine to score more than 124 than the Over is a winning wager.

Five opportunities to demonstrate what little someone who knows, knows.

Purdue take the 1.5 over Tennessee.
Virginia give the 8.5 against Oregon
Gonzaga give the 8 over Florida State
Michigan give the 1.5 against Texas Tech
Michigan/Texas Tech--Take the Over 124.5

Monday, March 25, 2019

Something Approaching Normalcy

The dust has cleared.

Forty eight games have been played in the most exciting sporting weekend including the super bowl.  The fans who flew to Las Vegas to bet on the first weekend of March Madness are now back home, feeling headachy for having kept long hours and consumed too much beer. They do not want to recount what they have eaten since Wednesday.

I stayed at home, exercised daily, had a broiled piece of chicken with a baked potato last night--and picked every single game from the comfort of a regular domicile.

And I have more money in my pocket because of it.

On the first two days of the tournament I picked, at best--accounting for two betting with heart and not head selections--7 correctly, 24 incorrectly, with one push.

On the last two days I rebounded. Had I been in Las Vegas I might have taken an early return flight after the first two days, so who knows if I would have even wagered on Saturday and Sunday. But in the simulation I did quite well on Saturday and Sunday. I selected 7 out of 8 correctly on Saturday and 6 out of 8 on Sunday, all against the spread.

Sum total of my wagering on 48 games.  Twenty wins. Twenty seven losses. One push. 

This is why there are hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard. I know much more about college basketball than most.  I had two great days on Saturday and Sunday.  But still, after picking 13 out of 16 correctly the last two days, I would still be very much in the red had I travelled to Nevada. And this of course does not count the costs of the flight and lodging.

Brackets: I am still alive. I have 13 out of the 16 left. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Iowa fans and bettors.

Iowa lost, but there are people in Des Moines that are dancing.

Down 20 plus in the first half Iowa came back to tie in regulation. But eventually they lost by 6 in overtime.

However the spread was 8.

If you bet on the Hawkeyes you can enjoy the corn on the cob in Iowa City.

Meanwhile the end of the game provided another example illustrating that players and coaches do not think of the spread. Iowa missed a shot down by 6, Tennessee had the ball with just a few seconds left and nobody was guarding anyone.  Had the Tennessee player dribbled to the basket for an uncontested layup the bettors for Tennessee would have had a push, i.e. not lost the bet.  Instead they were losers and, no doubt, spewed loud profanities in casinos.  Particularly so, if the Tennessee bettors spent their dough before the second half commenced since their team had a 20 point lead at the time.

Oh, and 1 for 1 for me after game 1.

Come back

Well, finally, a day, Saturday, when I had some level of success.

On Friday night, after the first 32 games I had picked 6, correctly. 6 out of 32.  Or, if one takes the "by the heart" picks into consideration, the record was 7 wins 24 losses and one push.

So 7 winners out of 32, the first two days. Yesterday, Saturday, I picked 7 out of 8.  Three of those were by the hook and Gonzaga gave it everything they could to blow it for my fictitious picks when some very good foul shooters missed shots at the end.  (The picks are fictitious since I am not actually wagering, writing and musing and picking from Waltham, MA not Reno Nevada). But when the dust cleared I had won 7 out of 8.

After forty games, my record is (with from heart wagers taken into consideration) 14-25-1. This means that even if I pick all 8 correctly today, which I will not, I will be under 500.    Another bit of evidence to support that a reason Las Vegas has all those lights is because people typically lose when they bet. Even bettors who know the games they play and study the games, cannot win regularly.

Therefore, don't actually put down a dime on the following. I really don't have a great feeling about any of these except Buffalo, and even there I am not sure. Of course, on Thursday I picked 8 Best Bets and lost every single one of them.

Iowa take the 8 points against Tennessee
Washington take the 11.5 against UNC
UCF take the 13.5 against Duke
Buffalo take the 4 against Texas Tech
VT give the 8.5 against Liberty
Virginia give the 10.5 against Oklahoma
Houston give the 6 against Ohio State
Oregon give the 5 against UCI

I belong to a facebook group of people who travel to Las Vegas for the games. The comments from these folks about this year's experience have not been all that positive. Tougher to get good seats to watch the games, lines are longer, ATMs much more expensive than in the past--(an ATM is a cash cow in these places, with all the people losing money so quickly).  When I read the comments on the site before Wednesday I thought wistfully about the experience. Now, though, I have the same sense I tried to relay in The Madness of March. By Sunday you have had it. Even if you have been winning, the difficulty finding a good seat, the beer, the food consumption which typically ignores any of the essential food groups unless chicken wings is a food group, the noise.  You are whipped by Sunday.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Captain Hook

In the jargon of sports gambling if you win or lose by the hook, you won by a half a point.

The tide may be turning for Herr Prognosticator as in today's afternoon games I have been victorious in both games, and both times by the hook. This brings my august record for the weekend, as of 549 eastern time, to  8-26, or if one is generous with the from the heart picks, 9 wins 24 losses and 1 push.

Here is how "by the hook" works.

Today I picked Maryland and got 2 1/2 points.  With a little more than one second to go, LSU broke the 67-67 tie with a layup and won 69-67.  This makes me a winner since I get 2 1/2 points and win 69 1/2 to 69, winning by the hook.

In the second game this afternoon I was giving 5 1/2 to Wofford taking Kentucky. Kentucky was up by 4 with about five seconds to go. Kentucky was inbounding and was fouled. They made both foul shots winning the game 62-56 or for someone with a wager, 62 to 61 1/2.

So, two for two on 3/23 both by the hook.  This softens the blow of not being able to pick who Massachusetts will vote for in the next presidential election. (MA always goes Democratic. Only state to vote for McGovern in 72 including South Dakota, McGovern's home state).

An interesting phenomenon, I guarantee, occurred at the end of the LSU game. LSU fans who bet on the game had mixed emotions when the ball went in.  It meant a victory for their team, but a loss for their bets. I am certain, certain, certain, that they would have preferred that the player instead of driving to the basket and winning the game, had stopped and attempted a 3.  If the ball went in the score would have been 70-67 and LSU would have won and the bettors would have won 70-69 1/2.  If the ball had not gone in, LSU would have had a chance to win in overtime by more than 2 1/2. As strange as it may seem to those who do not wager, I absolutely guarantee that fans who bet on LSU would have preferred a tie than that layup at the end. And this, is another example, of how teams and coaches are unaware of the spread during the game

100 per cent improvement

I am not sure where I first heard the expression: "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics."  It could have been something dad relayed, or maybe it was a Statistics teacher I had at the University of Albany.  Regardless, the phrase has stuck with me.

It means that statistics can lie--more accurately, it means that people can lie with statistics. You can do that by sleight of hand because many people just don't get stats--even simple stats. Sometimes people don't even know they are lying with statistics. Often people lie with statistics as a conscious act.

So, let's take the title of this blog post.  100 per cent improvement.  Sounds good. One would like anything to improve 100 percent.  Quality of diet, air quality, income level. Whatever. However, taking the last item: income level as an example: if your employer was paying you 1 dollar per year that would be an abysmal salary. If he or she would say they raised your salary 100 percent, it might sound good, but it would only mean that now you were getting two dollars a year.  Still, you cannot buy a candy bar unless it is on sale.  Toothpaste entrepreneurs used to claim that brushing with a particular brand reduced cavities 100 per cent. Compared to what?  A group that never brushed teeth at all?  A group that brushed teeth with candy cane shards?

Well, I improved my March Madness prognoses 100 per cent on Friday. On Thursday the first group of 16 games were played when I predicted, as relayed in a prior post, a grand total of 2 games accurately.  2 out of 16.  12.5%.   Friday I was something else. Predicting 4 games accurately.  25%. A 100 percent improvement.  Clairvoyant, right?  A true pundit.

I know quite a bit about college basketball and yet, against the spread, I picked only 6 of the first 32 games correctly. It is true that two of those games I "predicted" with my heart and had I really used my limited wisdom on those games the tally for Thursday and Friday would have been 7 wins 24 losses and one push (tie).  On the money line I have picked 21 out of 32, but picking the money line during the first two rounds is not that difficult.  Consequently, 21 out of 32 is nothing to write home about.

Bottom line: soothsayer not. And the moral is, if you are going to Las Vegas to make money, think again.  This has not been a good year for me-and fortunately I have not wagered a dime--but even when I have done well, and even if I do well today, the chance of bringing home shekels is extremely slim.

With that as preface, here are my predictions for today's games.

  1. Villanova take the 4 against Purdue
  2. FSU give the 5 against Murray State
  3. Kentucky -5 1/2 over Wofford (take the money and run)
  4. MSU -10 over Minnesota
  5. Michigan - 6.5 over Florida
  6. Auburn give the 2 over Kansas (even though Auburn barely won in the first round)
  7. Gonzaga -11.5 agains Baylor
  8. Maryland +2 1/2 over LSU

Friday, March 22, 2019

Do They Know

One question I have wondered about regularly as I've watched the games over the years relates to whether or not the coaches are affected, on any level, by the spreads of the games.

While watching the end of contests, I look for something to indicate that they might be.  And almost never, in close to twenty years of observing the games, have I seen any evidence that coaches coach to the spreads.

Today provided another example. Virginia was down in the first half and looked, for the second consecutive year to be upset by a 16 seed.  The team, however, roared back in the second half and won the game easily.  The spread was 21 1/2.  Towards the end of the game with over a minute to play Virginia had the ball up by 21.  All they needed was another basket to cover the spread and "win" the game for their betting supporters. The old saw goes, "Good coaches win. Great coaches cover."

But Virginia players and coaches seemed completely oblivious to the betting line. The game was in essence over so the offense just dribbled out the clock and took a shot when the shot clock was about to expire. When they missed the shot, I saw no signs of exasperation from anyone (though I could hear the wailing from Las  Vegas from 2000 miles away from where I was watching).

When the opponent made a couple of baskets in the last seconds it did not mean anything except to bettors and nobody on the court seemed to care one way or another.

If coaches knew and players knew, there would be more intensity at the end of the game. I don't think it is on the radar screen except in those, rare--but sad, incidents--when players were on the take.

In another amusing situation which, no doubt, had people yanking out their hair in Nevada, Texas Tech was a 13.5 point favorite and was by 15 in the last seconds when a player from Northern Kentucky dribbled up court indifferently and took an uncontested three at the buzzer.  It meant nothing in terms of the actual outcome, but I guarantee you at the Venetian Sports Book well oiled bettors held their breath when that shot went up.  He missed the shot preserving the victory for those who wagered on Texas Tech, but if that shot goes in, a good deal of dough would have changed hands.

Home Sweet Home

It is a good thing that I am in Boston and not Nevada this morning.

If you follow my blog, read my March Madness picks for Thursday, and then compared them with the scores, you would notice that "Limited Wisdom" is an apt title for that blog entry.

Of the sixteen selections, I was correct on exactly two of them. Two out of the sixteen.  Of the multiple losses, Old Dominion lost by 13 when I selected them getting 12.5.  Villanova won by 4 when I had given away 4.5   Swell day to be in Boston and not Nevada. Even for someone who does not bet much when I am in Las Vegas, this would have been a down day.

If you read that Limited Wisdom blog carefully you saw that I made 8 recommendations which I called Best Bets.  Every single one was a loser.  I bet two others with my heart and not my head, and my head would have helped since these two were losers.  Then I recommended six more under the category of Iffy as opposed to best bets and there I won two.

I do know something about college basketball, and typically do better than this, but these results reflect just how difficult betting against the spread can be.  I am in a bracket as well where you bet on winners, not winners against the spread, and there I won 11 out of 16. Not spectacular, 11, but better than 2.

Here is my wisdom for day 2. Bet the other way.

  1. north dakota state + 27 1/2 over duke
  2. ucf -1 over vcu
  3. Virginia -21 1/2 over Gardner Webb
  4. Mississippi -1 over Oklahoma
  5. Cincinnati - 3 1/2 over Iowa
  6. Tennessee -17/5 over Colgate
  7. North carolina -22 1/2 over Iona
  8. Utah State -3 Washington
  9. Ohio State + 5 1/2 over Iowa State
  10. Georgia +12 over Houston
  11. ASU + 4.5 over Buffalo
  12. Texas Tech -13 over N. Kentucky
  13. MSU - 6.5 over Liberty
  14. St. Louis +10 over Virginia Tech
  15. Wisconsin -2 over Oregon
  16. Kansas State -4.5 UC Irvine

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Some thoughts on the first 8

My earlier blog post was titled limited wisdom.  That is about the only thing that was accurate about it.

After the first eight games I am 1-7.

I've written in the Madness of March that betting on the NCAA games against the spread is like betting on the flip of the coin.  I would have done better with a flip of the coin.  It is true that if I had bet the two in the category of "heart and not my head" against the money line, I would have indeed picked KS over NU giving up only 6 1/2 points, and Belmont over Maryland getting three which would have been a push. Still that would have only made me 2-5-1.

Some thoughts:

  • I am not sure Auburn could have tried any harder to give the game away to New Mexico State.  However, after that stinker I think they will do well against Kansas.
  • A number of the favorites were sleeping.  Michigan State should not have had to duke it out with Bradley. Florida State did not take Vermont seriously. LSU just did not have its feet on the pedal.  Give the opponents credit, but those games should not have been so close.
  • My employer, the Northeastern Huskies, deserve credit--not for today's game--they just played poorly, but for a great season.  They had a very tough draw with Kansas.  Kansas has talent for a 1 or 2 seed. They were the preseason favorites to win it all. They lost some players but still none of our players would get much playing time if they were on Kansas's team.  We did not play great defense today, but it was David and Goliath out there.
  • Belmont could have gotten a better shot off with that last possession.  Even if the pass was not deflected, it was low percentage. Also, they would have been better off had the opponent made the last foul shot because then at least they could have passed it up the court.
  • I am really surprised that Murray State did so well against Marquette.  
So 1-7 going into the night games.  At least my money line emotional picks are gone.  If my, it's a flip of the coin, theory holds true, I should win a majority of these tonight. 

 If I was in Las Vegas right now, I might have to borrow money for the buffet.

limited wisdom

Best Bets
  1. Villanova over St. Mary's give the 4.5 and run  (best bet of all)
  2. Florida State over Vermont give the 11.5
  3. Seton Hall give the 2.5 over Wofford
  4. Nevada give the 2.5 over Florida
  5. Montana take the 15 against Michigan
  6. Auburn give the 5.5 against New Mexico State
  7. FDU take the 27.5 over Gonzaga

Betting with my heart not my head

  • Northeastern over Kansas on Money Line
  • Belmont over Maryland on Money Line
Iffy (as opposed to Best Bets that are a sure thing)
  • ODU plus 12.5 over Purdue
  • Marquette -3.5 against Murray State
  • LSU minus 7 against Yale
  • Kentucky -22 Abilene Christian
  • Minnesota plus 5 over Lousville
  • MSU -18.5 over Bradley
  • Syracuse -1.5 over Baylor

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

tequila mockingbird

This may not be new to many readers, but I found it amusing to hear that the Boston Public Library will today begin serving adult tea beverages with punny titles.

One of their drinks is called Tequila Mockingbird.  I wonder if Atticus would approve.  The Atticus of the original would, I suspect. The fellow in Go Tell a Watchman, not so sure.

Regardless, this is another good reason to visit the library.

Just as an aside, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a sophomore in high school.  I once heard a colleague comment that research can change lives.  I think good research can, but believe with more certainty that good books can.  And To Kill a Mockingbird was one of those.  Add Native Son to the list, a book I was glad to have to read in college, and The Cider House Rules, which I read on a recommendation in my 30s.  There are dozens more.  The point is that living in books can add to the notions we have in our head, and help us think about this life, the one shot we have.  "The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace."  And while lying for eternity in our graves we do not have an opportunity to think, act on the basis of how we think, and make a dent in the world.

I can make the claim that books have affected my life, but I wonder if the nonsense we accrue and do not purge are impediments to taking action based on wisdom absorbed from reading books. The Cider House Rules reinforced my sense that we have our personal set and have to be careful to stay in tune with them. To Kill a Mockingbird implanted somewhere in my noggin--or just reinforced-- the importance of courage in the face of external pressure.  Native Son did more than reinforce.  Just turned my head around.  Probably a tip of the cap to the instructor for the course.

 I'd like to think that my behavior reflects the lessons learned or refreshed from these and other books. 

Probably need a Tequila Mockingbird to help me consider the extent to which they've had an effect.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

It's happening

A cousin wrote to me this morning wanting to know if I was in Las Vegas.

Not going this year. Too much going on. However, I have become excited by visiting a website that is for those people who go.  If you were engaged by my book, you will find this site engaging as well.

On a self promotion note, I have another book coming out within the next few weeks. It is about the intersection of Sports and Communication. It is a text, so not written like the Madness of March.  Just fyi.

So, this morning I had something called a Barium Swallow.  Just a blast.  In order to rule out something sinister, I had to fast for 13 hours, then drink quite a bit of something that was flavored to make it bearable without a good deal of success. (the flavoring. I was able to drink it just fine). Perhaps this is a bit of an ahora (if you are not a member of the tribe, this means essentially a jinx) but since they were going to call me today if there was something ominous and the only calls I have had are from people trying to sell me items that they think I need, but I do not, I figure the prognosis is life.  And now my only task on the medical front is getting this damn barium out of my system.  (note: there is no ice cream flavor called Barium)

Given the good news (while spitting at a jinx in case my doctor is waiting until after 6 to give me a buzz), I can pick my brackets relatively comfortably.

Teams to look out for:  What the hell do I know?

As I point out in the Madness of March, if you bet against the spread you have no better or worse idea of who is going to win than a so called expert. 

If you don't bet against the spread, then I think if Zion is playing, Duke is a very tough out. I think Belmont wins tonight against Temple.  I think Cincinnati will win a game or two.  In the women's bracket, you do not want to face UCONN since they were dissed by the committee. I like them to win it all.

Back to the men. I think UNC will not advance to the final 4 and you might as well say Kaddish for Gonzaga right now. Any team that gets pummeled by St. Mary's should not be on the 1 line.  I'd love to love Wofford, but I don't. I'd love to love Buffalo because I went to grad school there but I will be surprised if they get to the sweet sixteen. Syracuse with that zone will win a game or two. Minnesota will beat Louisville, and Vermont can not do.

Now, take everything I suggested and bet against these teams on the Money line and you will be able to buy a new snazzy outfit on Monday.

Just saying: Northeastern is playing in the first round and if they did not have to shlep across the country and play a perennial power house (Kansas) they could have won a game. In addition to the men's tourney, the women are in the WNIT, and men's hockey are in the semi finals of the Hockey East.

I like Hofstra and the nine points against NC State in the NIT tonight.

Such fun to be a fan.

River Under the Road

It's been a while since I wrote a book review.  For a while most of the books I read were not all that special; then I started reading parochially for a book project I was on; then I just got out of the habit. 

I have read a few good books over the past year. Clock Dance by Ann Tyler; Educated by Sarah Westover, Dear Committee Members-Julie Schumacher. But I have also read some that did not come as advertised. I thought Hillbilly Elegy was overrated, and while I was primed to like The Library Book, I thought it did not warrant the raves.

Over the last few years, I've read a number of books by Scott Spencer.  I thought Man in the Woods was outstanding; and A Ship Made of Paper was also good.  His most famous book, Endless Love, I thought was from hunger. Men in Black, only okay.

With the exception of Endless Love, whether I really liked the book or thought it was just fair, I have been impressed with Spencer's ability to describe characters and a scene. Really masterful.  You read about a character and he is portrayed with all the human nuances that we humans have.  In River Under the Road, nearly every character--and there are many--are so well drawn that you feel you could might walk down the street and bump into one of them.  My favorite was the caretaker, Hat, who earned the nickname because when working as a young boy as a caretaker, the imperious patrician owner had a problem, saw the young caretaker apprentice who was wearing a hat, and said something like, "You, Hat, fix it."  His name became Hat so much so that his son once had to think a moment when asked what his dad's first name might be.

I finished the River Under the Road Saturday night. And for a number of days it has just hung around in my head. Less so today than on Sunday and Monday, but still.

Are we all, on some level, aware of the river under the road, the turbulence under--our apparent solid footing. No matter who we are, wealthy by birth, poor and stayed poor, wealthy because we "made it";  happy or sad; filled up with love, enjoying a reasonable facsimile, or bereft--can we all feel the rumble of the river under the road but choose to ignore it.

When I first finished the book, I thought its claim to excellence was in the really amazing writing and character depictions. But now a few days later it has made me consider the river under my road more seriously.  Hardly an earthquake by me, but what the book did was make me consider something I might not have so consciously considered.  Beyond the story line, that is why we read fiction, no?

 If you are just starting Spencer I would suggest Man in the Woods, though I recommended it to a friend of mine who later wanted to know if I fell off a roof and landed on my head.  But I liked it.  Then, I would go for River Under the Road--and watch where you step.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Wasted visit?

Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, I hopped an AMTRAK to New York.  While on the train I booked a hotel and tried to reach my brother.  I checked out a particular show on Broadway I wanted to see and, at that time, there were some half priced tickets available. I figured I would check into the hotel, just a few blocks from Penn Station, meet my brother for a drink, go see the show, and in general be one of those people who crams a good deal into a short period of time, by going and doing.

Well, when you wait until the last minute, things don't always work out well.  My brother, go figure, wasn't available at the 11th hour for an adult beverage. By the time I checked into my hotel the tickets for the show I wanted to see were gone. When I went to the box office considering paying full price the tickets for even ridiculously priced seats were also gone.  When I walked into the hotel I got hijacked by an agent who convinced me to go to listen to a time share at 9am the next morning.  ("What are you going to do at 9am anyway" she said. Not exactly a vote of confidence for my sexual allure.  "And you will get 30,000 points plus a breakfast in an upscale hotel.").   And on Saturday after the presentation, I again tried to get seats to the matinee of the show and was shut out again.

I did, however, visit the Strand bookstore, (one thing I planned that did happen) and saw the many sports books they had on the first floor.  I had gone there a couple of years ago but only had a few moments. This time I was able to check it out.  They have a pretty extensive section of used books that are sports related.

Besides the Strand, though, the visit was not a complete wash.  After my interaction with the box office on 45th street, I walked down to a place on 7th avenue that my brother had taken me to, years before, called Mustang Harry's.  In a manner most consistent with the prior successes, there was not a seat at the bar. So, I kept on walking down 7th avenue and came to another sports bar called The Triple Crown.  There I parked myself for an hour or so.

I was watching James Harden do his magic when a fellow to my right poked me.  I'd noticed him before, and had overheard him converse with the barkeep in what was some variation of a UK accent.  He had a cool baseball cap on with the brim folded up. A white tee shirt. Big black framed glasses. And looked altogether, well, cool. As if someone had picked out the duds for a look of a guy in a bar who looked sort of grungy attractive.

I turned to him when he poked me. He raised his finger toward the screen where James Harden was shooting baskets.

"How many points" he asked "do you get if you put the ball in the basket?"

He had to be kidding me, right?

Dead serious.  This guy did not know the first thing about basketball. I told him how the scoring went.  He could not quite the hang of foul shots, and why--if there was a three point goal--there was not a four point goal if you shot from half court. He also wanted to know about offsides in basketball. As almost all readers of this blog know, but he did not, unlike soccer or hockey there is no offside in basketball. You can pitch a tent on one end of the court and never move and you will be fine.

We got to speak about this and that.  He is originally from South Africa but now lives in Singapore. He is here in the US to meet up with a partner of his. The two make prefab edifices for resorts. Who knew such business existed. As soon as he got off the plane at Kennedy his partner whisked him away to a retreat he has in Ashland New York.  I thought I knew New York but never heard of Ashland.  Had he not been able, of course, to pull up a Google map right there in Triple Crown bar on 7th Avenue and show me precisely where it was, I might have thought the guy had gotten the name wrong. We spoke about Nelson Mandela, the changes in Pretoria and Capetown. His parents' locksmith business which, because of an increasing crime rate, is not a bad business to own in Capetown.

So, was this a wasted visit?

Well, I did not get to see the show, but I got to meet a fellow from Capetown who makes prefab buildings, and learn that the ANC, according to my drinking partner, is not what it was under Mandela.  And that there is a town called Ashland in the Catskills. And you can do worse than own a locksmith enterprise in Capetown.

After, the Triple Crown I started to walk back to the hotel, but--since I was not driving and had remarkably maintained my marbles after two beers in the Triple Crown, stopped in at a Blarney Stone on 8th Avenue. Within minutes I was joined by a woman who was into the music so much so that she sang with it. She, apparently, was a regular and stopped by the bar frequently after work on her way home. She gave me a high five after a song that I had never heard before.  I thought she might be a working gal when she clasped my hand and asked me my name. But then, she began moving around and chatting with some other regulars. Just holding court at her local haunt.

And then today I started recapping the various people I had met on this short journey. The fellow seated next to me on the train down to New York. He from Bentley College was an Actuary and explained, in response to my questions, the various things an Actuary does.  He was sort of taken aback when I initially summarized what he did as "predicting when guys like me will die."  Without taking much offense, he provided a bit of an education which I found quite interesting. He had been interested in math as a kid, as I had I, and being an Actuary he thought was a good way of applying math and probability. And besides learning about what it means to be an Actuary, my training partner had some thoughts about the plight of the Celtics which we enjoyed discussing.

Then when I arrived at the hotel on day 1, as mentioned previously, there was Karen from near Springfield Missouri who works for Wyndham. In no time she had me convinced that I could still see a matinee on Saturday afternoon and listen to a spiel about Wyndham resorts in the morning, plus get 30000 Reward points.  It took her a while to fill out the paperwork that allowed me to earn these points that apparently have value, so we got to chatting. She is a graduate of the prestigious University of Missouri Journalism school and decided to switch from the country to Manhattan. She'd been in the dot coms for a stretch, real estate, and now works for Wyndham.

Then there was Pedro who was the agent who tried to sell me owner points (different from rewards points I, well, discover).  Pedro and I spent as much time speaking about Jimmy Garropolo, the San Francisco 49ers, and Kyrie Irving, than about time shares.  Michelle gave the main spiel while Pedro was assigned to me. There must have been forty potential marks in this room, each with a dedicated salesperson like Pedro, who laughed dutifully at Michelle's humor (actually she was pretty funny).  I got to see the New York units (very hoo hah).  And learn, though not by design, about a type of persuasive communication strategy that I don't recall studying in graduate school. Theirs was a tag team match. You had Pedro, then Michelle, then Pedro's boss who came around twice to try and seal a deal, then a woman who did an exit interview (she the lone sourpus of the lot) and then one final step where they checked me out and gave it just one more swing. What an operation.  Pedro, Pedro, he's our man, if he can't do it, Michelle can, Michelle Michelle, she's our man, if she can't do it the boss can, boss boss he's our man if he can't do it the boss's boss can...and so forth.

A wasted trip? Well, I did not see the show, missed my brother, planned it poorly, but now I am enriched because I know a man from Singapore by way of Capetown, a regular visitor at the Blarney Stone, Pedro, Michelle, Karen from Springfield, what an Actuary does, that the Strand really does have an extensive sports selection and a pretty decent Art selection (though I am hardly a good person to judge), I observed an interesting and complex persuasive strategy and also that you better get there early on a Friday night if you want to sit at the bar at Mustang Harry's. I learned a lot.

Oh, and I also learned that it costs 3.50 for burnt coffee on the AMTRAK.

Monday, March 4, 2019

new theory of relativity

So, I awake this morning and there is snow everywhere. We live near the woods so it looks like a winter wonderland.  Like being in a ski chalet. That is the good news.

It took me forty five minutes--from 7 to 745--to begin shoveling out. Then I rested. Then I went back out at 915/930. finished at 10 15.  And I feel like a geezer.  Sore, and tired.  The newspaper does not come.

At about 12 I am ready to leave. The library has a late reopening because of the snow and I figure I have timed it right.  A good samaritan neighbor has snow plowed the walkway. Very good news except the vestiges of his plowing has required me to shovel some snow that I'd previously cleared.  Not a big deal.  I shovel it.

I notice that across the street kindasorta in the way of me backing out of the driveway is a big blue car.  Why someone would park there when there is plenty of other space begins to irritate me. I'll have to navigate around the vehicle.  I see in the rear view mirror that the blue car is picking up a passenger and is moving. Very good. No need to maneuver.

I back up and slam into the blue car which had moved only a few feet to be directly in my path and not down the road. It is physically and emotionally jarring. The other driver is apologetic but there is damage to both of our cars. My right hip starts to bother me. She can't find her insurance card. But agrees to call me with the information.

There is a body shop on my beat. I stop and ask about the damage. He is quite pleasant but I know I am going to be out 500 to a grand even for work that will only push in the now distorted section of my car. If I get it done so it will look like new, the cost will be a fortune. We arrange a tentative date for the work.  I realize I left my book back in the house.

I drive back to the house to get the book. Donna is having trouble with an important form she has to complete. We work on it together and through no fault of hers, there is a snag. It takes an hour. While at the computer, an email pops up. We get a note that a package has not been delivered because we were not home.  I don't think so. We have been here at the computer at the precise moment there was an attempt, allegedly, to deliver the package.

 I am back at square one, in the house, having accomplished not much of anything except shoveling snow, ramming into a parked vehicle, learning that I am out probably over a thousand bananas and a parcel.  And now my artificial hip has begun to ache more.

It has been, thus far, a crummy day.

And yet I know, that my high school friend Jeff Miller who was murdered by National Guardsmen almost fifty years ago, would have traded 50 years of crummy days like this for a chance at life, while his was aborted for no good reason and a slew of bad ones.   My bad day, relatively speaking, has been genuinely wonderful.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Say What

Donna spotted an e-advertisement for a documentary called Infinite Soccer. It claimed to be a "hilarious and incisive documentary about a former soccer star's dreams of radically revolutionizing his beloved sport's rules to reduce injuries."

I am interested in quirky sports fans, so she forwarded the e-mail advertisement my way.  The documentary would be playing at the Museum of Fine Arts movie auditorium. In the past, while I have not seen many movies there, the ones I have seen have been very good. Not the kind you see in a movie theatre, and engaging.

The museum is right across the street from where I work. So, today, opening day of Infinite Soccer, I went. Coincidentally, today's Boston Globe had a review of the documentary and gave it three out of four stars. And the Globe critics can be stingy with their star giving.

Except for a docent I was the only person in the theater.  She had taken my ticket, and then when the film started sat in the back row.  One hundred forty three empty seats, me, and the docent.

Let's start with this. The person who called this a "hilarious and incisive documentary" and claimed that ii is about a "soccer star's... radically revolutionizing his beloved sport" either did not see the film, or is a simpleton.

This film is not hilarious.  Got one laugh in 85 boring minutes. It is not incisive unless you have a mighty low bar for incisiveness, and it also is really not about revolutionizing soccer.  It is about the musings of a man who played soccer and got hurt when he did. Yes, he has an idea for changing the rules, but that hardly is central to the film.

The film is a hodgepodge of cheap philosophy about life with goofy, sophomoric images accompanying goofy sophomoric platitudes.  You could nutshell it and say it's about a man who has a boring job and imagines he could change the game for the better.  Yet, 60 minutes of this film has nothing to do with the game he imagines.  The movie is a series of non sequitors. We learn about how he broke his leg playing soccer, and then broke it again not playing soccer; what he does in Romania; that his father was an author; who took the picture of his wedding; who is in the wedding picture; that before 9-11 he was going to move to Florida, and other irrelevant tidbits--as if all this stuff gels in a way to make a point.

This is a god awful, pretentious documentary. I want to get a bottle of whatever the Globe reviewer was knocking back the next time I am in an awful mood.  I don't want to meet the person who wrote the advertising copy.

Do me a favor readers. Go see it. Then tell me what I am missing.

For what it is worth,  after the film the docent and I got in the elevator together. She asked me if I liked it. I said, not a whole lot. She said something along the lines of just what I was thinking: What the hell was that?