Friday, February 27, 2009

Win in Bloomington

Northwestern has won its first game in Bloomington since 1968, and its first ever in Assembly Hall. Sure, it has been 41 years since the last victory in Hoosierville, but let's not forget that the 'Cats thumped Indiana 40-16 in 1914, which boosted morale for Northwestern's considerably downtrodden archduke population.

Happier times for Franz Ferdinand at the peak of archducal fashion with a head-
mounted Vesuvius

Franz Ferdinand rightly gets a lot of notoriety for his assassination as the spark that set off the First World War, but the man he was supposed to replace as heir to the Austrian Empire had an interesting close shave. In 1853, Franz Joseph was strolling with the impossibly-named Maximilian Karl Lamoral Graf O’Donnell von Tyrconnell when a Hungarian nationalist named János Libényi attempted the classic neckstab. Fortunately, Franz Josef was sporting a collar stiff enough to blunt the force of the attack, allowing von Tyrconnell to subdue Libényi with the ceremonial saber he had carried around for hitherto no reason. This was the second time that aristocratic accessories had saved a European aristocrat after an assassin got tangled up in one of Charles X's epaulets.

In this lithograph, Franz Josef is taken by surprise when The Penguin unleashes
Libényi, whom he had cleverly concealed in his overcoat

The Big Ten Network predictably breaks out the price of gas and milk from the last time the 'Cats beat Indiana, as well as the fact that anyone who wanted to talk to the president got a face full of the Johnson treatment.

Johnson intimidated and cajoled allies and antagonists
through flattery, threats, and by lunging at them to
display his eye spots. In a pinch, Johnson could also
secrete a psychotropic toxin secreted through his his
massive forehead

The LBJ Presidential Library in Austin is worth visiting merely for the animatronic talking LBJ on the second floor, which spins homespun tales of wisdom while gesticulating in a creepy manner, making the effect a cross between a museum exhibit and a Country Bear Jamboroo. There's video of it here, but the LBJ Library website does not mention the Quagmire ball pit located immediately next door.


The big win over Indiana comes at the expense of a once-proud program that is currently the Washington Generals of the Big Ten. And therefore, the win is less exciting than it would have been if Bobby Knight had been prowling the sidelines and nervously strangling freshmen. So BYCTOM turns its attention to far more pressing matters: violence and monkeys. The New York Times ran a fascinating article enigmatically entitled "My Monkey, My Self" which profiles a number of people who own monkeys or chimps as pets and what happens when the monkeys inevitably try to kill them. Compare these passages, for example:

“He’s very beguiling,” Bob says. “He puts his hand out, looks at you with those beautiful brown eyes, and you feel compelled to hold hands.”

"On one occasion, they got in a wrestling match, and Higgins put one of his “steel-like fingernails” through Bob’s scrotum."

The best thing about the article is how quickly monkey owners call for lethal violence when their pets try to kill them.

Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight.


“He started biting and screaming at me, biting any place he could touch. It was a nightmare. We tipped over furniture, I would have killed him if I could. But he was so strong. I tried to choke him to make him stop. We fought for I don’t know how long. I was trying to hold him so he couldn’t bite me. I took one of my big fabric books and held it on his throat.”

Monkeys and apes occasionally turn their
inherent trucker clobbering powers against
their hapless owners

The ferocity of monkeys has led to the phenomenon of French gangs using them as attack animals. A 2000 article in the Guardian noted that the crackdown on pit bulls and dobermans has led to a popularity of Barbary Apes as fighting animals and occasional debt collectors:

"They live naturally on rocks or in a desert environment," said Marie-Claude Bomsel of the natural history museum in Paris. "Removed from their natural habitat, they can become highly aggressive. They bite, and their favoured method of attack is to hurl themselves at people's heads."

The barbary ape displays its primary weapons: sharp incisors and due process,
damned, stinking, rotten due process

More worryingly, monkeys have now gone after politicians. I'll allow the lead from this BBC article to explain it for more articulately than I can: "The deputy mayor of the Indian capital Delhi has died a day after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys. SS Bajwa suffered serious head injuries when he fell from the first-floor terrace of his home on Saturday morning trying to fight off the monkeys." Obviously, monkey assassinations may be the opening salvo in a chilling bid for political power.

From the heights of these pyramids,
forty centuries look down on us

One famous napoleonically dressed monkey legend involves the Hartlepool Monkey where British fishermen in the town of Hartlepool found a monkey in French military garb that washed up from a shipwreck. They accused the monkey of being a spy, tried it for treason, and festively hanged it, inspiring a poem and the sports teams known as the "Monkey Hangers."

The Man in the Yellow Hat doesn't cotton to Bonapartistes

Essentially, monkeys are furry time bombs, just waiting to turn from cuddly primate into an aggressive buzzsaw of fangs and claws. And those are just domestic monkeys. In the wild, they are more of a force to be reckoned with:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Baseball works blue

Spring training is in full swing, and if anything can salve the pain of yesterday's bludgeoning at the hands of Minnesota, it's another season of Cubs baseball. The picture from above is outdated, since it has a clean-shaven Zambrano, instead of one sporting the sort of mustache that invites a rake to the chest.

Thankfully, Zambrano is in Mesa, Arizona instead of the fictional island
of Val Verde with the same dozen mustachioed stuntmen who get killed by
Schwarzenegger over and over again in some sort of brutal samsara of
poor aim and bad editing. Or impaled on a pipe.

The Trib offers a decent and growing selection of Spring Training photos, although none have surfaced to rival last years' crop, such as this offering of Ryan Dempster and the now-departed Matt Murton.

Kilroy was here


Baseball has a lot going for it as a game testing skill, mental fortitude, and the ability of really fat guys to excel as athletes, which really irritates Europeans. In his 1867 Haney's Base Ball Book of Reference, baseball statistics pioneer Henry Chadwick (an Englishman who came up with such innovations as the box score, as well as inventing statistics such as batting average and ERA, which are still used today by stone-age luddites who only watch baseball highlights on newsreels where the action is comically sped-up) wrote about the virtues of the game:

But one of the strongest aids to the popularity of Base Ball, lays in the fact that it is a game-- and about the only one by-the-way-- which can be countenanced and patronized by the fairer sex. American ladies have heretofore been shut out of all the pleasures incident to games, in which contests are entered upon for the palm of superiority in courage, activity, nerve, and judgment and manly skill, by the low character of the surroundings of most of the sports and pastimes that men indulge in. In Base Ball, however, we have an exception in favor of the ladies, and one too, that they have not been slow to avail themselves of, as the presence of the fair sex by hundreds at the leading contests of the past five or six seasons fully testifies. If our National Pastime had no other recommendation than this alone would suffice to give it a popularity no other recreation could reach or compete with, in the estimation of Americans.

Of course, baseball's genteel image has reversed since then. A special instruction from 1897, for example, seeks to curb the problem of players cursing out spectators, especially in the presence of said ladies.

The 1897 instructions. Click to
read the full document.

The instructions contain examples of the "brutal language" heard on the fin-de-siècle diamond such as "you cock-sucking son of a bitch," you prick eating bastard,"I'll make you suck my ass," and the nearly unbeatable "I fucked your mother, your sister, your wife," which features the sort of serial commas found mainly in translation books for phrases such as "which way to the hotel, the museum, the jai-alai match" (unless I am the only person who owns translation books that inexplicably and continuously refer to semi-disreputable gambling venues).

I'm sure that jai-alai is just waiting for
a Black Sox -style match-fixing scandal,
which would destroy the sport for
hundreds of bestubbled undershirt


Of course, baseball could also be a holy pursuit. In 1903, Benjamin Purnell formed the House of David commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Purnell encouraged a lifestyle dedicated to vegetarianism, celibacy, and the type of unrestrained hair growth that consistently torments Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. More importantly, the House of David formed a barnstorming baseball team in the 1920s, taking on semi-professional and even Negro League teams and drawing a following of people who wanted to gape at their unorthodox grooming habits.

The House of David's style of long hair and bushy beards is all the
more astounding as it predates the invention of vans

The House of David Museum provides numerous fascinating photos of the team, as well as a video of their famous "pepper game" that involved throwing the ball around which is one step below Ricky Vaughn in defying the some fields' repressive "no pepper" policies. The commune also served as the site of an amusement park, featuring gardens, zoos, and a miniature train.

Everybody rides the trains: marketer's observation or
threat backed by the full-bearded vengeance of
bat-wielding cultists?

The Museum website, however, glosses over the 1926 arrest of Purnell on charges of fraud and indecency. Purnell demanded that members hand their possessions over to him, and he apparently had trouble following his own calls for celibacy, especially with the commune's younger members. As Philip Jenkins has written in Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and Religions in American Society (part of an astoundingly prolific catalogue), Purnell lived in "palatial splendor while his subjects starved." In 1927, the "lascivious prophet," as Jenkins calls him, faced charges of statutory rape involving perhaps twenty members of the commune in what was referred to at the time as the "trial of the century," which should be illegal to do in 1927 as all trials of the century should be labeled retroactively at midnight of the end of the century by a panel of third-rate comedians awkwardly reading stiff one-liners off of a teleprompter.


The House of David is, of course, best memorialized by drummer Buddy Rich, whose legendary ravings towards his evidently subpar backing band have been immortalized on the internet. He invokes the House in a heated exchange with a bearded trombonist:

Two fuckin' weeks to make up your mind whether you want a beard or you want a job. I'll not have this trouble with this band. This is not the goddamn House of David fuckin' baseball team. This is the Buddy Rich Band; young people...with faces! No more fuckin' beards. That's out! If you decide to do it, you're through. Right now! This is the last time I make this announcement. No more fucking beards.

He continues:

You keep your fuckin' mouth shut, get the fuckin' beard off, or get off the band, right now. Now what do you think of that? Now that's a definite suggestion. When you go to work tonight, if I catch the fuckin' beard on you, i'll throw you off the fuckin' bandstand, O.K.?

I got nothin' for you. I got a right hand to your
fuckin' brain if you want it.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But not at BYCTOM because this post was nothing but vulgar language
And statutory rape trials.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Northwestern finally won a close home game, beating Ohio State 72-69, ending a 17-game losing streak against the Buckeyes, and keeping hope alive for the post-season. The game looked like it would end again in heartbreak since the 'Cats continued to struggle against pressure defenses in late games, but Shurna managed to hit the dagger with three seconds left. Kevin Coble led the 'Cats with 26 points, 4 boards, and total world terror engulfment.

Big Ten teams beware, the Mantis has been unleashed
and this Kevin Coble should have the nickname
"Mantis" running joke is showing no signs of relenting.
He's tall! He's spindly! He scores a bunch of points and
according to the trailer for this movie, the stern-voiced
scientist character played by one of those grave-looking
characterless 1950s actors who played either scientists
or ineffectual army commanders who keep ordering
their men to fire at the monster with conventional
weapons, in all of Mother Nature there is no creature
more deadly nor voracious [head nod] than the praying
mantis, so there's clearly a basketball link somewhere
in there and all of this makes an enormous amount of


Elsewhere in the Big Ten and continuing the theme of the unleashing of prehistoric terror, Penn State upended the Illini by the score of 38-33. The Big Ten Network characterizes it as a "defensive struggle" instead of a gross insult that would surely cause James Naismith to recoil in horror at what had happened to his beloved game, although in fairness he would probably also recoil in horror that basketball was no longer a lawn sport for matronly women.

An early ad for the Nike Naismith Zoom Wingtip, forerunner to the
Chuck Taylor, the Air Jordan, and the Starbury DNP-CD.

This was certainly not Penn State's first experience with bizarre and improbably low-scoring games. Their football team lost to Iowa 6-4 in 2004, a result of a turn back the clock promotion that banned the forward pass and replaced all stadium concessions with Victory Cabbage.

Penn State and Iowa train for their game with a regimen of gymnastics
and weighted semaphores


Today is February 19th, the birthday of the late Saparmurat Niyazov, best known as Turkmenbashi, the founder and President of Turkmenistan as well as the Association of Turkmens of the World. Turkmenistan broke from the Soviet Union in 1991 and Niyazov, like so many other Central Asian rulers, made the effortless switch from local Soviet strongman to ardent nationalist. It's a path similar to that of Uzbekistan president Karimov, who has the cheerful habit of boiling dissidents alive. At least, according to Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who objected to Britain's support of Karimov, was ousted from his post, and wrote about the whole thing in Muder in Samarkand: A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror although some versions have the more evocative title Dirty Diplomacy: The Rough-and-Tumble Adventures of a Scotch-Drinking, Skirt-Chasing, Dictator-Busting and Thoroughly Unrepentant Ambassador Stuck on the Frontline of the War Against Terror. In the book, Murray provides scathing criticism of British (and American) hypocrisy in the war on terror by supporting thugs such as Karimov as well as the occasional glamor shot of his Uzbek mistress.

Nadira Murray (left) stars in a one-act play at the Arcola theater. The play promises
to reveal "the politics, the dirty tricks, the shenanigans, the journey from
ambassadorial palace to rented flat in Shepherds Bush and Craig's obsession with
Dennis the Menace ties. This will be their unadulterated story." You can also see
Murder in Samarkand: The Movie, starring Nadira and Steve Coogan, coming in 2011.

Turkmenbashi one-upped Karimov by developing a truly astonishing cult of personality around himself. He renamed the months in the calendar, claiming January as Turkmenbashi and April Gurbansoltan after his mother, banned the ownership of more than one pet by citing laws against herds, and, of course, built a giant golden statue of himself in Ashgabat that rotates to constantly face the sun.

A medley of Turkmenbashi golden statues. The rightmost statue tops the Neutrality Arch,
celebrating Turkmenistan's splendid isolation

Until his death in 2006, Turkmenbashi filled the important of role of doing ridiculous dictator things. For example, he banned the use of car radios and recorded music at concerts, and demanded that doctors recant the Hippocratic Oath in order to swear an oath to him. In a full-on Bananas touch, he ordered government ministers to climb up an eight mile path through the hills on Health Day, while he would meet them at the top via helicopter. These, and more anecdotes, can be found in a wonderful article for the Times by Waldemar Januszczak, a filmmaker who made a documentary on Turkmenistan, gaining access to the country by claiming he and his crew were on a stag party. Given the vast amount of damage per hectare inflicted on any nation by an average British Stag party (measured in total headbutt output), I'm shocked that they got in. A brief snippet of his film can be seen here. It's these sort of things that land someone on Parade magazine's hilarious annual "Ten Worst Dictators" feature, which is like the BCS rankings of dictatorship that conveniently appears next to produce circulars in your Sunday paper.

Of course, the key to Turkmenbashi's personality cult is the Ruhnama, a pink-bound book of philosophy, history, and assorted wisdom written by Turkmenbashi and required reading for people who want to hold office or drive. The full text is conveniently available, and, as page 208 states: "Rukhnama is our way! Every Turkman will know himself after reading Rukhnama. Peoples of our other nations will understand and know the Turkman after reading the Rukhnama!" Turkmenbashi named a month after the book, and also, in a sort of standard dictator behavior that transcends time and place like how European monks inevitably built bone churches as part of some monk default setting, made it into an enormous statue.

Turkmenbashi announces the creation of new Turkmenistan gameshow "Who
Wants to Quote From the Giant Pink Book I Wrote?" on state television network
"You Are Watching This"

Today, Turkmenistan is in the hands of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Turkmenbashi's Deputy Prime Minister and former personal dentist. Though Turkmenistan is not experiencing anything like de-Stalinization under Khrushchev, Berdimuhamedow is rolling back some of the excessive personality cult ephemera, but some For example, "Melon Day" is still celebrated. Berdimuhamedow may be yet another legacy of Niyazov, as he's rumored to be Turkmenbashi's illegitimate son due to "the striking physical resemblance between the two men."

So in honor of Turkmenbashi and his curious regime, I suggest the following arbitrary and unncessary laws be put into place:
  • NCAA basketball games where no team scores more than 40 points are now illegal. The offending teams will be forced to settle the games in a slamball arena surrounded by the type of sweaty men in full operation of the incomprehensible Van Damme movie betting system that involves shaking money .
  • When possible, all soccer must include elements of horse soccer.
  • British stag parties are now illegal everywhere but in Turkmenistan and select former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • Live music at concerts is now banned, replaced by Microsoft Soundsmith, a program that takes a vocal track and builds a backing track based on harmonies so disastrously dissonant and styles so nonsensical that they can only be created by an inhuman computer program that is biding itself to wipe out humanity and initiate a series of mind-bending time travel paradoxes that make even less sense than the semi-apocalyptic Bifftown. Behold the horror:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heartbreak Weekend for Wildcats

Watching Northwestern basketball this week has left fans wandering the highways of the Chicago suburbs carrying nothing but a backpack full of sorrow and partially shredded pants. The home stand, which stood to propel the Wildcats into their first postseason since 1999 ended with two late collapses, including Saturday's overtime debacle against Michigan.

Last Thursday's loss to the Illini, however, may be perhaps the most painful loss in NU Hoops history. The grisly highlights are available here, but I suggest clearing the surrounding area of cutlery and obtaining a device to stop you from swallowing your tongue before watching. The 'Cats were up by 14 late in the second half, and up by 6 with a minute left, and could not stop turning the ball over after being ruthlessly tackled by Illinois defenders.

The inspiration for the Illini trap defense

This loss was not only painful, but it greatly damaged Northwestern's postseason hopes. More importantly, it was to the hated Illini. I have written earlier about how I think that the NU-Illinois football rivalry might be the worst in the NCAA, but their basketball team is beneath contempt. Of course, Northwestern and Illinois have a rivalry in the sense that Germany and Belgium had a rivalry in the first half of the twentieth century.

Belgium, victims of the hated Kaiser and the
unstoppable Schlieffen Plan

The 'Cats came precariously close to snapping a nine-game losing streak against the Illini. The last time they beat them was in 2004, when Davor Duvancic improbably scored 22 points against an Illinois team a year away from playing in the championship game featuring Dee Brown, Dee Brown's shorts, Deron Williams, and Luther Head, who is probably one of the most improbably named athletes of the twenty-first century. That Illini team also boasted all-time great benchriding stick insect "Chainsaw" Nick Smith. Also of note: in that game Northwestern superstar Jitim Young led the 'Cats with 10 boards, despite standing 6'2." Of course, rebounding was a major issue for NU that year, with Carmody quipping that "power forward" was an oxymoron on his team, and that "a drunken sailor" could pull down more rebounds than the 'Cats' bigs.

Carmody follows the lead of Horatio Nelson
in coaching basketball, advocating throwing
players in the scuppers with the hose pipe on
them and ending practice by proclaiming
"Kiss me, Tavaris Hardy."

Of course, Illinois got their revenge a year later as they beat Northwestern three times, including an 84-48 humiliation in Champaign and an disgraceful alley-oop exhibition in the Big Ten Tournament which can best be described as the opposite of this Zach Randolph streetball demonstration (this is an astonishing basketball display, but the gem is the look on Isiah's face after Randolph turns into the world's worst Curly Neal). That 2004-5 Illinois team was among my least favorites with their constant wearing of orange jerseys, their near perfect record heading into the tournament, and the fact that they did nothing but shoot three pointers and have Bruce Weber caterwauling on the sidelines.

The many moods of Bruce Weber


The 2003-4 Northwestern team was one of Northwestern's last nearly successful teams, finishing 14-15, but 8-8 in the Big Ten (they also missed qualifying for post-season play by a single game the next year). The team featured the aforementioned Young, sharp-shooting forward Vedran Vukusic, high-flying Mohammed Hachad, and speedy T.J. Parker, whose older brother Tony was winning championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

T.J., who memorably left before his senior year to play pro ball in France is evidently lighting it up for the French National Team, except that the website apparently got caught in a classic T.J.-Tony confusion error. In reality, T.J. now plays for SLUC-Nancy in the French ProA league, where he faces off against Vichy, led by ex-boilermaker David Teague and other Big Ten collaborationists.

The worst enemy of SLUC-Nancy is "la défense en zone"
and poorly groomed cougar eyebrows

Vedran is playing for the celebrated KK Cibona of the Adriatic League in Croatia. Here he is with some flashy passing, and in highlights against Zagreb in league play.

Jitim plays for Polonia Warszawa in Poland after playing last year for MAFC Budapest with a group of fellow American dance enthusiasts.

This year's team is the most talented since the departure of that group, unless it comes to answering reader mail or maintaining an impeccable coiff.


Northwestern is in danger of missing the NIT without a strong showing at the back end of the schedule. Coming up is the a home game against Ohio State, and another close loss would leave me as incredulous as Lake Forest residents up in arms against the tree-cutting ways of Mr. T. In 1987, Mr. T began chopping down trees on his estate in the posh Chicago suburb, eliciting protests from the neighborhood council who had gotten the city named a "Tree City USA" for seven consectuive years despite the presence of irritating human statues and crusty jugglers. This article taken from the Sun-Times declares "Now playing in Lake Forest: Mr. T in Chainsaw Massacre" and opens with "Call him Mr. T, not Mr. Tree." I usually find such newspaper writing appalling until I realized that the article would be much better if read aloud by Walter Winchell, although this makes me upset that we no longer live in a society where being informed meant being willing to be shouted at by nasal men.

This is an actual cartoon from the Chicago Tribune. I imagine that the man depicted
turning Mr. T's catchphrases around at him would have no retort for a barrage of
"shut up old man" put-downs.

To make matters even more ridiculous, the Mr. T vs. Lake Forest battle was chronicled in a book entitled
Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes by Greg Mitman and published by Yale University Press in 2007. Here are some examples of how he uses Mr. T to shape his argument in the introduction:
Saying that allergies to tree pollen provoked him, the man that wore gold chains as a reminder of the chains of his slave ancestors took action.
And here he is tying it all together:
What Mr. T's neighbors didn't appreciate, or care to recognize, is that the places where Americans have struggled to breathe, as well as the spaces they have created to breathe more freely-- lavishly landscaped estates, hay fever resorts, air-conditioned homes-- have been shaped, not only by the ecology of animal, insect, plant, and man-made allergens, but also by the unequal distribution of wealth and health care in American society.
Mitman writes that Mr. T's Lake Forest estate let him live "far upwind of the industrial pollutants, pesticides, poverty, and violence that he had dreamed of escaping as a youth" as well as pitying fools who won't eat his cereal.

In one final bit of alarming writing, the New York Times has unfortunately unleashed Bono upon an unsuspecting populace. In his first article for the times, the U2 frontman and self-anointed savior of mankind ruminated on Frank Sinatra:

Singers, more than other musicians, depend on what they know — as opposed to what they don’t want to know about the world. While there is a danger in this — the loss of naïveté, for instance, which holds its own certain power — interpretive skills generally gain in the course of a life well abused.

Is this knotted fist of a voice a clue to the next year? In the mist of uncertainty in your business life, your love life, your
life life, why is Sinatra’s voice such a foghorn — such confidence in nervous times allowing you romance but knocking your rose-tinted glasses off your nose, if you get too carried away.

The Guardian's Ben Greenman wrote a brilliant parody of Bono taking his overwrought commentary to the Super Bowl, but I'll quote a passage next to picture of Bono's smug, leering countenance in order to give it greater authenticity:

The football is kicked high in the air, caught. I am just an Irish stranger in the midst of this refining fire, and so I do what an Irish stranger would do: Watch. Well, watch and take some chicken wings. It is said that they are even more delectable when dipped in bleu cheese. They spell it "blue" in the American manner, these American men in their American world. Hold on. Let me wipe my hands.

We are all in a red zone, a zone of excitement and enchantment, a zone of hope where we cannot predict precisely and so require our hope to keep us warm. There is nothing cool in the room, save the blue cheese.

Let's hope the 'Cats can find that zone of excitement and beat the Buckeyes on Wednesday.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Home court advantage

It's been a somewhat disappointing weekend for Northwestern as they dropped a close one to a reeling Iowa team on the road. Coming up next, they have a tough home stretch against Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio State in the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan, which is sure to be orange, maize, and scarlet for the next three contests. Welsh-Ryan is practically a second home court for the Illini, who will fill the arena with their fans and the possibility that their mascot will swing into the arena like Douglas Fairbanks to thumb his nose at NCAA sanctions before slicing a three-stroke "I" into the shirt of the nearest official and then fleeing the premises as his 1950s here there be Indians theme music blares triumphantly into the background.

Northwestern should be getting a better home court advantage. Granted, I am certainly not suggesting that NU fans should be giving visiting players the Clemson treatment, but there should be a way to get the edge back. Perhaps the Athletic Department can make improvements to the arena to make it more menacing. For one, they can move Welsh-Ryan Arena into the a hollowed out volcano or decorate it with the severed heads of vanquished foes.

Mussolini's Fascist Headquarters subtly evokes the image of a doom fortress

Of course, the Duce had the advantage of intimidating people by riding in on his own personal tank, surrounded by the world's most sullen army.

Mussolini promises Italians the type of government that involves standing on
tanks and yelling

A suitably intimidating Welsh-Ryan Arena would give Northwestern players a psychological advantage over the opposition and the visiting fans. I also believe that Welsh-Ryan could be modernized, marrying the appeal of its low-key glorified high school gymnasium charm with the amenities of a modern major-conference facility, as demonstrated in this crude model:

In this model, Northwestern's antiquated scoreboard with missing dots is replaced
by a giant, fang-bearing snake. Legions of chaos, of course, sold separately


Mussolini grew up to become a journalist and a socialist firebrand, following the in the footsteps of his father (I guess his later rejection of socialism and invention of fascism can be projected as a type of Freudian rejection, although my favorite example of that remains George IV, whose pro-Whig leanings made him the patron of Charles Fox, his father's gravest political enemy except during his porphyritic outbursts when his main political enemies included moon-men. George IV supported the Whigs mainly to oppose his father; after he finally gained control of the throne in 1820 at the age of 58, he mainly continued in the political tradition of George III, as he was more concerned with gorging himself until sufficiently gouted and pursuing increasingly homely royal mistresses as he became almost certainly the most hated modern monarch in British history).

George IV possessed the perfect combination of girth and incompetence that made him a
hit among political cartoonists (right) or artists depicting him as the last thing you see
before you die of some horrible nineteenth century illness such as "The Swoons"

The Young Mussolini was arrested in Switzerland for vagrancy in 1902. Pictures of young Mussolini are of course fascinating in examining the transformation of a young, scared, and disreputable looking youth into a strutting dictator with closets lined with comical military uniforms and ill-conceived plans to invade Abyssinia.

Mussolini demonstrates the classic acquisition of dictator accouterments: the
scarf, the mustache/glower combination, and finally the angry fist-shaking that
propelled him into power

Mussolini's arch-nemeses in the Soviet Union also have classic mug-shots. For example, Lenin's baby face in his 1895 mug shot quickly gives way to a revolutionary hardness just two years later.

By 1897, Lenin is prepared to take on all comers in the popular historical table-
top game "Everyone Dies in the Crimea," and he's brought his rule books to
prevent cheating and the development of overseas colonies as a way to continue
rampant monopoly capitalism

The Australian essayist, cultural critic, and sometime television personality Clive James once wrote that "The most exciting way of getting into Russia is to cross Germany in a sealed train and arrive at the Finland Station in St Petersburg to be greeted by a cheering revolutionary mob who promptly name the city after you." Of course, James is already a personal hero for pointing out Arnold Schwarzenegger's resemblance to a brown condom filled with walnuts and for using British television to publicly call attention to Michael Caine's 1978 killer bee opus.

Lenin's sealed train ride to Petersburg apparently included a rigid no-smoking policy enforced by the cigarette-hating Lenin, who exiled all smokers to the lavatories. In this TLS review article, Charles King describes the train ride:
That was how the journey to the Finland Station began: with a band of about thirty carousing Russian intellectuals, fuelled by beer and Swiss bread, occasionally singing the “Marseillaise” and telling bawdy jokes, all led by an allergic, ill-tempered martinet, clicking and jerking their way eastward towards the Revolutionary crowds of Petrograd.
Young Trotsky's mugshot gives off an intellectual bent as well as providing key inspiration for Yahoo Serious's star turn in Young Einstein.

Trotsky's patented pince-nez glasses would unfortunately serve as a damning
mark of identificantion when occasionally charicatured as a massive man-eating
demon being rampaging through Russia

Of course, Trotsky met a bad end in Mexico, depicted here with the utmost historical accuracy:

This depiction shows Trotksy falling for the old there's
two types of spurs, those that come in through the door
and those who come in through the window trick.
Allegedly, Trotsky told his guads "Do not kill him. This
man has a story to tell" after assassin Ramón Mercader
finished whaling upon him with an ice axe.

Stalin has several mugshots, one of a young Stalin in 1902, followed by a 1908 arrest for rampant gangsterism, which led to exiled in Siberia and a dearing escape to his Baku headquarters desiguised as a woman.

Though Stalin was acquitted in 1902, his revolutionary policies of tying women to
railroad tracks and rent-raising led to his exile. By 1912, Stalin was rehabilitated as a
kindly bus driver

One of the bizarre rituals that Stalin demanded once in power was the participation in binge-drinking sessions resembling an insane Communist frat party. Here Simon Montefiore's excellent recent biography In the court of the red tsar provides an invaluable service by explaining which Stalinist lieutenants could hold their liquor:

Sometimes the drinking at these Bacchanals was so intense that the potentates, like ageing bloated students, staggered out to vomit, soiled themselves, or simply had to be borne home by their guards. Stalin praised Molotov's capacity but sometimes even he became drunk. Poskrebyshev was the most prolific vomiter. Khrushchev was a prodigious drinker, as eager to please Stalin as Beria. He sometimes became so inebriated that Beria took him home and put him to bed, which he promptly wet...Malenkov just became more bloated.

Malenkov was also apparentlynicknamed
"Melanie" for his broad hips. There's an .
excellent picture of him in the Montefiore
book walking with Stalin, Beria, and Molotov
in the 1945 victory parade where he's wearing
a sailor suit that transforms him into the
Stay-Puft Soviet Marshmallow Man.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recruiting and inevitable ornithological backlash

In a happy convergence of Bears and Wildcat news, BYCTOM is happy to welcome Brett Basanez to Chicago. Baz signed a two-year contract with the Bears to compete with Caleb Hanie for the chance to back up Kyle Orton. The Panthers' decision to part with Basanez is somewhat curious; one would think that they would attempt to hold onto as many quarterbacks as possible after Jake Delhomme imploded in the playoffs and has weaved an unparalleled swath of destruction against shacks in the Southeast.

Unfortunately, the Baz signing is bittersweet as it officially ends the Rex Grossman era in Chicago. I will miss Rex Grossman's charming turn as the Clown Prince of Professional football as he turns to hitchhiking the desolate roads of the midwest, contemplating the devastation he has inadvertently caused through his errant passes, inopportune fumbles, and unintentional killing of pet rabbits.

Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest


Signing day has come and gone for football, and NU has apparently inked a promising class. I don't follow recruiting particularly closely because it has always seemed to me a process so potentially creepy and sleazy that Sydney Greenstreet is likely somehow involved.

Though Sydney Greenstreet's roles often involved him plotting, he occasionally was seen
plotting with a fez. Incidentally, Greenstreet was often shot from below in order to give him a
more sinister air that was best conveyed by his ability to flare out his jowls when threatened
by predators or Bogart

Every once in a while, however, the sleaze of recruiting comes through for our entertainment. For example, this article from the New York Times about the recruiting battle for tackle prospect Jamarkus Macfarland between Texas and Oklahoma is an excellent read featuring all of the double-dealing, incessant contact, slander, and salaciousness that one demands in a good recruiting story. The best part of the article contains excerpts from an essay that Macfarland wrote for an English class about a UT recruiting party at the Red River Rivalry:

“I will never forget the excitement amongst all participants,” McFarland wrote. “Alcohol was all you can drink, money was not an option. Girls were acting wild by taking off their tops, and pulling down their pants. Girls were also romancing each other. Some guys loved every minute of the freakiness some girls demonstrated. I have never attended a party of this magnitude.”

He continued: “The attitude of the people at the party was that everyone should drink or not come to the party. Drugs were prevalent with no price attached.”
This is how English papers are written in this, the best of all possible worlds.

For high-level recruits, signing day comes with a certain opportunity for theatricality. For example, Alabama recruit Dre Kirkpatrick teased the crowd with a Texas hat before tossing it aside for an Alabama hat, evidently because he could not find a burnt orange tank top to rip off in a show of contempt. I don't really have a problem with these antics; in fact, I look forward to the day when a school can gather its top recruits together to jump one by one off of a chain link fence while taunting rival schools (incidentally, the Los Locos poem from Short Circuit 2 will be one of the five last things to remain in my dementia addled consciousness in my advanced age along with the phone number for Empire Carpet).

In one final attempt to antagonize
Longhorn fans, here's a picture of Charles
Fourier, who sent legions of comically inept
socialist utopians to colonize Texas in the
1840s. Fourier's beliefs included a complex
numerology that somehow ended with a
utopia featuring oceans made of


Yesterday, ESPN had a fairly interesting article about Kevin Hart, an all-state lineman who held a press conference to announce he was going to Cal, despite never receiving an offer. The article, being an Outside The Lines piece, is naturally maudlin and discusses the negative effect of sham press conference on Hart's life and his attempt at redemption at a junior college. In my opinion, Hart did not aim high enough; he could take a cue from Col. Richard Meinertzhagen.

Meinertzhagen was a British intelligence officer who served in Africa during World War I and in Palestine during the Mandate period. His diaries are filled with tales of derring-d0: most famously, Meinertzhagen was known for the "Haversack Ruse," where he claimed to have planted false documents to throw off German troop positions, a famously bizarre relationship with his second wife who, by some accounts, perished in some sort of duel with him, his Zionist lobbying during the 1920s, a claim that he once met Adolph Hitler with a loaded revolver in his pocket but lost the nerve to kill him, and a million other accounts of secret agent intrigue and rampaging elephants named Archibald. His series of diaries maintain an eerie level of prescience about events he was involved in along with a constant criticism of incompetent generals and fellow officers. He was a close friend of Ian Fleming and a rumored inspiration for James Bond.

The reason why Meinertzhagen was so insightful is because he wrote his diaries after the fact, and made up virtually every famous story he was involved in.

This picture was probably a
backdrop in a NASA studio, and
I'm guessing the pipe is fake.

Meinerthagen's claims are fantastic, but the most amazing part of the story is how his sordid tale was unraveled. An avid ornithologist, Meinertzhagen contributed thousands of specimens to the British Museum. Museum workers, however, discovered that he had fraudulently labeled several skins and, in an amazing feat that can best be described as a reverse Indiana Jones, stole many of the specimens from the museum that he later gifted back. Enraged ornithologists now charge him with creating a serious amount of confusion in their community, and began publicly raging against his crimes in the 1990s, most notably with Alan Knox's article "Richard Meinertzhagen-- a case of fraud unraveled" in a 1994 edition of Ibis, which admirably demonstrates restraint in the title. Others would be less resistant to temptation, climaxing in titles such as "Ruffled Feathers: Uncovering the Biggest Scandal in the Bird World" from the New York Times in 2006 and New Scientist's unfathomable New York Post-style "Bird world in flap about species fraud."

That's when the attack comes; swish;
from the side; from the two ornithologists
you didn't even know were there

This story all comes from Brian Garfield's The Meinertzhagen Mystery: the life and legend of a colossal fraud, which painstakingly deconstructs Meinertzhagen's tallest tales with inspired historical detective work. The book, however, is a sort of odd read. Though Garfield occasionally captures the whimsical nature of an epic set of hoaxes undone by the righteous fury of the ornithological community, the tone of the book is more angry than anything else. Garfield is truly upset that Meinertzhagen's tales have badly distorted the historical record, as he's been a reliable primary source for many respectable historians. It seems that every page ought to end with a angrily-bolded "SHAME ON YOU," which is also the name of my proposed local newspaper column on Mondays and Wednesdays, alternating with Tuesday-Thursday columns entitled "THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW." Garfield even goes so far as to start each chapter with an inverted-color black and white photograph of Meinertzhagen, a technique which is traditionally used to demonstrate how municipal aldermen say they are for public works, but actually supported bills to drill more potholes using the elderly.

In other words, Hart may have made a classic signing day error, but at least he can go to an Audubon society meeting without being stoned with gizzard rocks.