Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NFL Draft

The NFL draft weekend is over, the NU picks have settled, and the collective brains of football fans have recovered after the severe neurological strain of being shouted at by pundits in flashy suits who will all be proven wrong as soon as the first snap of the NFL preseason begins. The draft has evolved from the comfortable atmosphere of a back alley craps game in the league's early years to a Vegas style revue missing only the show-girls and unexpected tiger attacks. At the center of everything is ESPN's ringmaster Mel Kiper, Jr. whose Big Board has only slightly less power over the fate of young men than General "Buck" Turgidson's.

The sweater invites you to the
World of Make-Believe while the
hair invites you to a world of
brutal gangland debt collection

The NFL draft is so compelling for a number of reasons. Unlike basketball, hockey, or baseball, the NFL is basically it for worldwide professional football. Baseball, basketball, or hockey players have a much wider network of minor leagues or foreign pro leagues as occasional fall-backs. NFL washouts can play in Canada, which is not quite the same game. The Arena League is on hiatus and NFL Europa no longer exists, although I liked the classy move of changing the name to "Europa" because the American pronunciation was the thing keeping Europeans from watching World Bowl 2001 MVP Jonathan Quinn. The NFL also has just the right amount of rounds. While baseball has dozens of rounds, with very little chance of seeing even highly touted prospects for years, the NBA has only two rounds, with bad teams essentially risking the team's future on each first-round pick.

The differences between the MLB and NBA drafts encourage vastly
different strategies

The NFL, on the other hand, has the perfect amount of rounds, allowing for both high-profile draftees expected to make an immediate impact and guys that you try to talk yourself into over the whole summer who will often be heartlessly cut after appearing for five minutes in a preseason game and then forced to wander from door-to-door in dusty Texan hamlets offering to mend fences or perform cone drills for a bowl of gruel or a lift to the nearest slow-moving freight train junction. When high profile picks bust, they inevitably work third shift at a garage door factory in Russia, Ohio.

The scouting aspect of the draft is so fascinating because of the way performance at drills at the combine or on a pro day can greatly raise or lower stock. Of all of them, nothing can make or break a prospect like the 40-yard dash, which does not seem to be a particularly effective judge of 90% of what happens on a football field. If anything, offensive linemen should be graded up for a slower 40 speed for my amusement since the only time they run 40 yards at a clip at maximum velocity is on some broken play that involves them comically lumbering down the field with a the terrified wide-eyed look of an undercover cop who has gone too deep and now has to kill his partner in cold blood in order to prove his loyalty to the maniacal head henchman of a drug kingpin.

The obsession with the 40 time is chronicled in Rough Draft, where Clay Travis, a 28 year-old former lawyer turned sportswriter, joins a bunch of players in training for the 2008 draft combine. The trainer, Kurt Hester, has observed that speed is valued much higher than strength in the combine, and the prospects know that mere tenths of a second separate them from multi-million dollar signing bonuses and falling from the draft altogether. Travis shows that the 40 and all of the other combine drills are skills in and of themselves, and that succeeding in them has only an ancillary connection to football skill. Hester is also portrayed as a lunatic Cajun who travels everywhere on a fanboat and talks like Paul Prudhomme, except that he would use a blend of Cajun spices to blind a wild boar before beating it to death with a floppy fat guy hat.

Occasionally, to get a high school team fired up when they're training in his Louisiana gym, Hester releases wild alligators he's caught in the swamps in the weight room. He's put camouflage tape around the alligator's mouth, but the kids don't know this and go wild thinking the thrashing gator is about to attack them. After he's gotten them fired up, Hester sprints across the weight room, pulls out a knife, and stabs the gator in the head with a large hunting knife. He did this before a Louisiana high school football game recently, his team was playing a team nicknamed the Gators, and the team he trains won by four touchdowns. When I tell Eastern Michigan defensive end Jason Jones this story in the locker room a few minutes later, Jones nods, "That's a good idea," he says.
Of course, most teams take things other than 40 speed into account when drafting a player, but its importance is almost certainly overvalued. Especially if you are Al Davis, who appears to get a list of players based only on 40 time and a special Raiders psychological test where players are subjected to hours of watching footage of balcony rants and rambling old person stories.

The Raiders' special combine evaluation procedure tests endurance and mental fortitude


No NU players were drafted this year, although three went as undrafted free agents to the NFC North. Tyrell Sutton chose the Packers after receiving numerous offers. John Gill will be a Lion. Gill had some momentum going into the draft, even being identified as a potential sleeper in a Dallas newspaper. Most excitingly, Eric Peterman will reunite with Brett Basanez on the Chicago Bears. Before announcing the signing, Angelo noted that the Bears had found a pretty good receiver in their own backyard, and he was not talking about Jeff Samardzija. The Sun-Times, when not extensively covering Mr. T's jury selection as a lead story on their website, has also reported that C.J. Bachér will attend a tryout for the Bears along with Missouri's surplus Chase and Florida's Drew Weatherford.

"If you're innocent, I'm your best man," Mr. T told the reporter
lucky enough to get this monster scoop. "But if you're guilty, I pity
that fool." "You've got to testify! Tell somebody about it. God is good!"
he told an admirer as he tried to leave the building. "I pity the fool
that don't get it." Mr. T then apparently spent the next 3 hours
reminding state employees and passers-by that he indeed pities
fools in case anyone had forgotten over the past 25 years.


The Chicago Bears' draft has been overshadowed by Jay Cutler trade and the lack of any first day picks. I've never seen any of the Bears' draft picks play except for Juaquin Iglesias and Henry Melton. Melton remains a BYCTOM favorite for his play as an enormous bowling ball of a running back during his freshman and sophomore years at Texas before converting full time to defensive end. He formed part of an enormous running back arms race with Texas A&M, who unleashed Jorvorski Lane upon the world.

Although they tried to recruit even bigger backs than Melton and Lane, recruiting
violations forced the Horns and Aggies to stick with normal sized running backs

The Bears also took another Vanderbilt player in corner D.J. Moore, which could put as many as five Commodores on the Bears roster, exacerbating a well-established trend. In crucial Vanderbilt news, Cornelius Vanderbilt was locked in corporate warfare with James "Diamond Jim" Fisk and Jay Gould in the Erie War over control of the Eerie Railroad during the 1870s. Gould became so desperate to control the landlord that he turned to a British con-man who was apparently so confident in his swindling activities that he adopted the impossible name "Lord Gordon-Gordon." When Gordon-Gordon escaped to Canada with more than $1 million of Gould's money, the jilted titan of industry formed a small band to personally extradite the confidence man by kidnapping him. Instead, Gould and his merry band was arrested by Mounties before he could escape with Gordon-Gordon. The arrest of Gould and his men and subsequent denial of bail by the Canadian authorities led to an international incident between the U.S. and Canada. As the Manitoba Historical Society relates, Minnesotans prepared to go into battle for their incarcerated countrymen:

The situation in the United States was reaching a high state of tension. The St. Paul Pioneer of August 1, contained a heading, "Our People Should Make Ready," denouncing the crime committed by the corrupt and venal Canadian authorities and advised putting no obstacles in the way of the Fenians should they decide to move upon the colony in force. If any other plan should he preferred, it should be well matured, but there should be no delay in preparation. "It should be swift, silent and terrible."

Gordon-Gordon escaped from Gould's bearded wrath by melting into the
background disguised as a typical nineteenth century American

The Bears also took wide receivers Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder, who will stand in Peterman's way at camp, Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman who has been described as the Lance Briggs to Laurinaitis's Urlacher, and finally the alliterative duo of tight end Lance Louis and safety Al Afalava from San Diego and Oregon States respectively.

With football season still months away, expect to hear very little about any of these picks unless one of them gets horribly injured or arrested in Canada with a threat of Fenian raids as retribution.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Game

Northwestern played its Spring Game yesterday, a traditional life-or-death exhibition struggle between the offense and the defense as they tune up, get ready for position battles, and allow Coach Fitzgerald to begin regaining his intense fist-pumping form after a winter lacking intense fist pumping opportunities.

Pat Fitzgerald can't keep his exuberance
bottled up on President's Day


The offense performed well in the Spring Game, with presumed starter Mike Kafka going 12-21 for 134 yards and an extra 18 on the ground. More importantly, converted wide receiver Jeravin Matthews rushed for 90 yards on 15 attempts, which puts him in a prime position to compete for the starting job over Stephen Simmons. The defense was missing four key starters including Corey Wootton and Brad Phillips. As everyone knows, the outcome of the Spring Game is extremely significant in college football, so I advise readers to either celebrate by overturning cars and setting them on fire in anticipation of an amazing season or panic by overturning cars and setting them on fire.


In other news, Northwestern and Illinois have finally come up with a replacement for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy for the rivalry game. Illinois cannot be trusted with anything resembling Native American imagery lest their pro-Chief sleeper cells emerge to unofficially don an embarrassing buckskin outfit in flagrant defiance of the NCAA, the Wildcats and Illini will play for the Land of Lincoln trophy. The trophy has not yet been designed, but naturally BYCTOM has a rational and workable suggestion.

At thepost-game ceremony, I encourage Lincoln-centric trash
talking such as "It shall take four score and seven years to
bring forth my foot from your ass"

Hopefully, both teams will be in contention to make the Land of Lincoln game a real annual rivalry game instead of the pointless Sweet Sioux game. At any rate, the trophy cannot possibly be as lame as the Land Grant Trophy between Penn State and Michigan State, which looks like the desk of a 1960s office worker.

Opening up the trophy reveals a
bottle of brandy, a carton of cigarettes,
and a reel-to-reel tape recorder
filled with conversations among
suspected communists


Although this blog has been favoring East Africa due to the pirate situation, it is now time to turn to West Africa and the plague of coups. Specifically, the failed attempt in 2004 to overthrow Obiang Nguema, the the President of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny nation in the Bight of Benin (Beware, beware the Bight of Benin, for few come out though many come in, claims the old saying) in what Adam Roberts decribes as the "armpit of Africa." Roberts is the Johannesburg bureau chief for The Economist who wrote The Wonga Coup, a fascinating account of the bungled coup attempt. He describes Equatorial Guinea:

Almost nobody has a good word for the place. If you see a man limping on both legs, quipped the American embassador, you know he has been to Equatorial Guinea. 'Devil Island', as it is sometimes known is unlike most of modern Africa. Senior churchmen and leaders talk of the 'magical powers' of the rulers; there are said to be regular witch-burnings. It is both sleepy and sinister, where the vicious rivalries of village politics are elevated to the national level.

Location of Equatorial Guinea on
Africa's West Coast

In 1973, Roberts describes a similar coup attempt, also led by British mercenaries, who wanted to oust Obiang's uncle Macias Nguema, the president who presided over Equatorial Guinea's colonial liberation from Spain and then became a brutal kelptocratic dictator, following the Mobutu playbook almost to the letter except also including an apparent fascination with the skulls of his enemies.

Mobutu bankrolled and hosted the Rumble in the Jungle, chronicled in the
excellent documentary When we were kings which combines Mobutu,
Ali, and a mustachioed, incoherent James Brown, the best of all possible
James Browns

The 1973 coup attempt was partially financed by author Frederick Forsyth, a thriller novelist perhaps best known for The day of the jackal, which was turned into a phenomenal movie and then butchered by Bruce Willis in The jackal, which inspired a phenomenal Ebert review: "The Jackal strikes me as the kind of overachiever who, assigned to kill a mosquito, would purchase contraband insecticides from Iraq and bring them into the United States by hot air balloon, distilling his drinking water from clouds and shooting birds for food."

Shortly after the coup failed, Forsyth wrote Dogs of war, a novel that was essentially a fictionalized version of the coup. Roberts interviewed Forsyth about his role in financing the coup; Forsyth admits that he donated a large sum and did meet with shady international mercenaries in planning, but only was out for research and information for his novel. Dogs of war became a movie in 1980 starring Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger.

After Dogs of war, Walken demonstrated that bleach blond hair is the hallmark
of a maniac

Though Roberts sympathizes with Forsyth's commitment to ending the lunatic reign of Macias Nguema (or, as one of his official titles labeled him, "Great Maestro of Popular Education, Science, and Traditional Culture"), he points to oil as the chief motivating force behind the 2004 coup attempt. The 2004 coup was led by Simon Mann, a British ex-SAS commando who went on to demonstrate that who dares occasionally ends up in Zimbabweyan prison. Mann headed a private security firm that served as a mercenary force in various African conflicts during the 1990s called Executive Outcomes in the chillingly bland style of mercenary firms that tend to have names such as Fulcrum Services or Business Ventures.

If the A-Team had been called Leveraged Solutions, they
would not have to constantly battle armies of rustic
hayseeds by pummeling them with produce-hurling
tractor equipment that makes pickup trucks harmlessly

Mann planned to lead a team of British and South African mercenaries (including a man named Victor Dracula because, as he put it, "I can only say this: I took blood!" You can verify this quote in Roberts' book by looking in the index under Dracula, Victor) into Equatorial Guinea on a 727, seize the palace, install the ex-priest and leading exile dissident Severo Moto as president, and seize control of oil revenues. The plot is actually vastly more complicated, and Roberts finds that, unlike most coup attempts, the Mann group actually left a significant paper trail stretching from Britain to South Africa, to Equatorial Guinea. The paper trail ensnared Sir Mark Thatcher as a financier, the son of the former British Prime Minister who had apparently been spending his time since the Iron Lady took office in various high-profile efforts to blight his family name.

The two words most associated with Thatcher (code
named "Scratcher" in the plot) seem to be dim and
incompetent, but on the other hand, the man can
wear a scarf.

The Wonga Coup is a very impressive piece of investigative reporting and disentangles a complex web into a compelling narrative, but it is most of all a bizarre insight into contemporary Africa. Of particular note is the role of South African, U.S., and Spanish intelligence services-- they clearly knew about the plot (mercenaries apparently enjoy getting drunk and revealing their plans to overthrow governments to hapless bar patrons), and Spain actually sent warships in the area (the government claimed it was doing training exercises), but then they disavowed all knowledge.

Coup mastermind Simon Mann went from
incarceration in Zimbabwe to being extradited to
Equatorial Guinea, a classic case of going from out
of the frying pan to the country where you
attempted to kill the maniacal head of state in an
ill-planned coup attempt


With the Spring Game finished, BYCTOM will turn to the NFL draft, looking at NU's crop of undrafted free agents and the Chicago Bears' slew of second day picks, where Angelos will attempt to prove that he is less bungling than Mark Thatcher and more cunning than a Nguema. Hopefully, the outcomes for all involved will be, for lack of a better term, executive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Football

It's spring football season for Northwestern. In order to get properly fired up for a promising season, why not take a gander at Taking the Purple to Pasadena simultaneously commemorating the 1995 season, horrible sports-related rap, and cocky Gary Barnett shadow-boxing. In addition to creepily superimposing "Mr. Cat" Dave Eanet on a gray background with a faint outline leading to a video effect not entirely divorced from the famous Max Headroom pirating incident on Channel 11 (in a stunning blow to those fatcats at PBS who were showing an episode of Dr. Who), the video also features a who's who of famous Northwestern alumns including Charlton Heston who was not nearly toothily indignant enough for my liking.

Don't you worry, I'll have all day to damn this ape, says a shockingly
credulous Heston

They also roll out Dick Gephardt and George McGovern to fill out a roster of failed Northwestern presidential hopefuls in the great tradition of William Jennings Bryan, whose career serves as a virtual monument to failed causes: free silver coinage, himself as president, prohibition, and prosecuting John Scopes (he won the trial, but served as a popular subject of mockery, such as Time Magazine writing that he "successfully demonstrated by the alchemy of ignorance hot air may be transmuted into gold, and that the Bible is infallibly inspired except where it differs with him on the question of wine, women, and wealth.")

William Jennings Bryan was known to taunt opponents after
debates claiming that his style is incredulous, his verbage
is impenetrable, and he's just eloquent. Here he tells his
opponent "I want your heart. I want to eat his children. Praise
be to Allah."


With baseball season underway, it's time for the turtleneck and claret set to come out and proclaim the beauty of the game. On the radio the other day, they played a collection of baseball Haikus from PRI's Symphony Space read by Isaiah Sheffer and Alec Baldwin that have been helpfully archived here as the lead-off to the whole program. I really enjoy the concept of Alec Baldwin reading Haikus and hope that he regularly begins tossing them off in his gravelly baritone.

Put that coffee down
I'm from Mitch and Murray
Fuck you, that's my name

The Hunt for Red October is one of Baldwin's finest performances as he matches wits with a renegade Soviet submarine commander played by Sean Connery in the first of the movies based on Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels who was later played in two movies by Harrison Ford, who later went on to play a Soviet submarine commander with an accent nearly as comical as Connery's confounding Russian brogue.

Diagramming a run-on sentence

Of course, none of these Jack Ryans are the Jack Ryan who was supposed to run on the Republican ticket against Barack Obama in 2004. That Ryan was forced to withdraw (presumably through the machinations of James Earl Jones) after some salacious anecdotes slipped out during a messy divorce trial, which led to the Alan Keyes spectacle. The fictitious Jack Ryan is evidently doing better in Clancy's novels. As his extensive Wikipedia page notes:

In Debt of Honor, Ryan returns to government service to deal with a second war between Japan and the United States. For a brief time Ryan is the National Security Advisor, but when Vice President Ed Kealty is forced to resign after a sex scandal, President Roger Durling taps him for the job. Ryan accepts the Office of Vice President on the condition that it is only until the end of Durling's current term. He sees this as a way of ending his public life. He is barely confirmed for in Congress when a Japanese airline pilot deliberately crashes his 747 onto the Capitol during a joint session of Congress, killing most of the people inside, decapitating the U.S. government and elevating Ryan to the Presidency.

The reluctant yet determined Ryan Administration emerges in Executive Orders as Ryan slowly rebuilds the government. He is faced with political trickery by Ed Kealty, and a deadly plague initiated by the newly formed United Islamic Republic, resulting in two major military conflicts far from American shores.

Ebola virus
An airline kamikaze
Third prize is you're fired


The day after last week's post on Somali pirates, they swung on to the news scene by brazenly taking an American ship captain hostage, beginning a standoff that ended with SEAL snipers rescuing him, then vowed revenge on the U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne (D- New Jersey) became the victim of an attempted mortar attack as his plane left Mogadishu, but Al-Shabab, a rebel militant group, claimed responsibility, letting the pirates off the hook. “We fired on the airport to target the so-called Democratic congressman sent by Obama,” an Al-Shabab spokesman declared.

But where in the massive national coverage for this story is Jeffrey Gettleman, pirate reporter? The lead articles in the Times on the story were credited to Mark Mazzetti, who evidently works the Washington intelligence beat, and Sharon Otterman, a New York based international affairs reporter specializing on Africa who apparently drifted up to Gettleman's story, swung onto the deck, and seized it, along with chests full of hoop earrings and bandannas.

Mazzetti and Otterman collaborate on
Richard Phillipps story on the New York
Times News Galleon

Gettleman was left with a sidebar comparing the piracy situation to the Barbary pirate wars of the late eighteenth century, turning to no less than Thomas Jefferson to describe the situation: “When they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth, which usually struck such terror in the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.” The sailors were evidently cowed by the pirates' inability to grasp things and their menacing mumbling. Eventually, the pirates would attempt to wield four daggers for even more intimidation, but the options for remaining orifices that would accommodate a knife made this technique less than successful.

Not to be undone, the U.S. struck back with
a menacing display of epaulets,
muttonchops, and hosiery


Piracy off the Barbary Coast, of course, was the scourge of Medieval and Early Modern Europe along with the nascent United States. One of the most notorious pirates of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century was Zymen Danseker or Simon the Dancer, a Dutchman who operated out of Algiers, where he built an opulent palace as a monument to his ill-gotten gains. The French and Spanish sent fleets after him, but in 1609, he offered to give up his pirate lifestyle, and Henry IV, no stranger to compromise, gave him a pardon. Simon was later beheaded on a diplomatic mission to Aligiers.

The Huguenot Henry IV once said "Paris is worth a mass," but it actually
cost him his life as he was stabbed by Francois Ravaillac and an evidently
pitchfork wielding henchman (far right). Luck was not on the side of the
French Henrys. Henry III was assassinated by a Dominican friar after
turning the country against him by murdering his rivals. Henry II died
in a jousting accident.

The Barbary Coast was a hotbed of pirate activity, as you can see from this distressingly extensive Wikipedia List of Pirates. The Barbary Campaign was a significant early campaign for the U.S., but American military action did not end piracy in the region. Barbary piracy actually served as a key item on the agenda of the Congress of Vienna, along with the restoration of unsuccessful Bourbon monarchs whenever possible as well as the venerable King of Sardinia.

Metternich: No man shall leave this parlor until we determine the
fate of Swedish Pomerania

Pirate raiding on the Barbary Coast continued well into the nineteenth century. Both the British and French bombarded Algiers, which curtailed it, but it was only the French invasion of Algeria in 1830 that truly put a stop to it, which made Southeast Asia the premier pirating site.

So fire up your horrible sports-related rap lyrics, don an eye patch, denounce a sans-culotte, and always, always haiku.

Wait, that's not Alec
Classic Baldwin confusion
He's in Biodome

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's been an eventful week in Chicago Sports. The Bears have traded BYCTOM favorite Kyle Orton and a bunch of draft picks for Denver QB Jay Cutler. Until he got hurt, Orton and Forte carried the Bears despite the awful defense. During this stretch of games, Orton was developing into the rich man's Jim Miller, who was the best quarterback the Bears had in decades. Unlike Miller, who sported a goatee that his chinstrap turned into the handlebar mustache of a man who would end up on the business end of a Seagal-wielded pool cue and Orton's legendary neckbeard, Cutler fits in much better with the Bears' groomin' standards.

Cutler offers no mustache for the Bears to have to police, lest their quarterbacks
look like a bunch of Elvises

The Bears' cavalier lack of attention to facial hair makes them a significantly less classy organization than the New York Yankees or the Russian Empire, where Peter the Great famously demanded that his courtiers shave their beads or face a ruinous 100 Ruble Beard Tax. His eventual successor Paul I was more worried about clothes, sending soldiers into the the streets of Moscow to rough up anyone caught wearing round hats, top boots, long pants, or shoes with laces.

Paul I's face contorted due to a
combination of Typhus and his intense
hatred of pants

Cutler, of course, comes from Vanderbilt, along with Hunter Hillenmeyer, Chris Williams, and Earl Bennett; Vandy is represented more than any other school on the current roster presumably related to Mike McCaskey's need for choo-choo time.

When the trains come out, Mike
McCaskey insists on his Vanderbilt
players, his frock, his muttonchops,
his string tie, and his knee puppets


The Cubs have just gotten their first heartbreaking bullpen collapse out of the way in Houston. Just before Opening Day, the Cubs faced a pitching logjam. David Patton had a good spring and cannot get sent to the minors because he is a Rule 5 draft pickup (Rule 5 picks must remain on the 25-man roster the entire season) which left no room for Gaudin in theory. In reality, Reed Johnson demanded the removal of Gaudin, asserting that there can only be one on the team with a ridiculous chin beard, despite the fact that Gaudin's chin beard was the only thing stopping him from looking like an adult version of the fat kid from The Sandlot.

The illustrated version of the previous paragraph

The Cub bullpen looks vulnerable this season, but the bats should help. Expect a breakout season from Mike Fontenot, who put up a .909 OPS in 243 at-bats last year, and solid bench production from Micah Hoffpauir who will be a much better left-handed pinch hitter than Daryl Ward. The season comes down to whether Milton Bradley can stay healthy and compensate for Derrek Lee's declining power. Bradley is prone to both injury and comical fits (here he is memorably combining both for the San Diego Padres), so in the worst case scenario he'll play five games before spending the rest of the season in a custom made iron lung device that punches children. Of course, in the best case, he'll team up with Carlos Zambrano to fight crime.


BYCTOM favorite pirate reporter Jeff Gettleman is on the case once again, reporting that Somali pirates have reasserted themselves after luring authorities into a false sense of security into an unstoppable "pirate surge."

BYCTOM has already covered Somali pirates in depth as part of the natural territory of a Northwestern sports blog, but the pirates have this time seized five ships in 48 hours, sending Gettleman to once again marvel at the pirates' seeming invinceability on the Horn of Africa.

"The pirates, apparently, are back."

"Most of last year’s 120-plus pirate attacks were centered on the relatively narrow Gulf of Aden, a strategic waterway between Yemen and Somalia at the mouth of the Red Sea. That is where most of the navy patrols are, too, and several recent attacks on merchant vessels have been thwarted by helicopters and frigates speeding to the rescue...But the pirates are adapting, going farther out to sea."

"Lt. Nathan Christensen, a United States Navy spokesman, called the rash of attacks “unbelievable.”"

New York Times Africa bureau
chief Jeff Gettleman on his beat


Today's New York Times also has an excellent story on the state of the Russian Auto industry, describing a government desperate to save what may be one of the world's least efficient car factories. As Andrew E. Kramer reports, the average worker in Avtovaz, which makes the Soviet icon Lada, turns out an average of eight cars per year, compared to 36 produced by a worker in a GM plant.

"The factory, a monument to Soviet gigantism in industrial design, is a panoramic sprawl of pipes and smokestacks on a bank of the Volga River, 460 miles southeast of Moscow. It employs 104,000 assembly line workers, many of whom still toil with hand-held wrenches."

Yet, the Russian government will pay billions to aid Avtovaz with no strings attached. Why?

"...[I]ndustrial discontent is stirring in the most hardscrabble Russian factory towns.

On March 11, 16 Russian steelworkers announced a hunger strike to protest wage cuts at a Ural Mountain mill. (The same week Severstal, one of Russia’s largest steel makers, announced it would lay off 9,000 to 9,500 workers.)

Here in Tolyatti, when a G.M. joint venture laid off 400 people in December, riot officers were called in to disperse an angry crowd that had gathered in the plant parking lot."

In addition, riot police were used in Vladivostok in order to silence protests against tariff barriers to foreign cars because the city has become a center for importing and servicing secondhand Japanese Cars.

The Ladas produced now, of course, are sleek modern machines, not the boxes we remember from the Andropov era.

The models unveil the Lada while simultaneously demonstrating
perfect conformity with Tsar Paul I's dress standards at the popular
Lada, Onion Dome Hat, Silver Age Superhero and Tron exhibit at
the Russian museum We Found Things in Warehouse

These are all of your crucial updates from the week in sports, grooming standards, piracy, and the effect of the global financial meltdown on Soviet-designed auto works.