Friday, July 31, 2009

Wrigley Game

The possibility of a Northwestern-Illinois game at Wrigley Field heated up this week as Chicago Cubs president Crane Kennedy met with officials from both schools. According to this Sun-Times article, Coach Fitz remains hesitant about giving up a home game in front of what will certainly be an overwhelmingly pro-Illinois crowd.

Wrigley set up for Bears football-- the padding on the ivy gives it the feel of some sort of
jungle based arena league where you don't just play football but hunt the
ultimate prey: man

The argument about giving up a home game on the surface has merit, but on the other hand a decent Illinois team traditionally draws a crowd that dwarfs or at best matches the mustering of Wildcat fans at Ryan Field. More importantly, the Illinois-Northwestern rivalry is traditionally the worst rivalry in college football. A game at the Friendly Confines will surely provide the morale-boosting taunting, shouting, and potential drunken donnybrooks that will fuel this rivalry for years to come. More importantly, the game will attract both local and national attention to Northwestern football which may even distract from a media-created snit between Bears players rumored to equate teammates with various female genitalia. Giving up a home game is one of two ways to focus attention on the Land of Lincoln Trophy (the other involves dressing both coaches as Lincoln with Zook assuming the presidential beard and stovepipe hat look and Fitz as the younger clean-shaven Lincoln fist-pumping Stephen Douglas into a tiny submission).

A Wrigley Field game would give the Illinois-Northwestern game the cachet
and excitement depicted on this 1927 poster found at this blog full of vintage
football posters, including a 1936 clash between the Wildcats and the
Prisoner of Zenda


This week, another bombshell broke in the never-ending national dirge about steroids in baseball as investigative reporters continued to name names and columnists began orgasmically quaking with moral outrage. The last round several rounds of outings have been spectacularly underhanded as players who thought they were submitting to anonymous tests have been ambushed by the pointed finger of the media. On the one hand, the test results continously demonstrate that the steroid problem has been endemic and that there absolutely nothing that anyone can do about it. On the other hand, it looks like it will continue providing hilarity as names continue to get leaked and eventually the steroid train gains enough momentum to crash resoundingly into the baseball's fortress of stodgy overreaction in the Hall of Fame.

The BBWA examines the credentials of a steroid-era player

The steroid scandal has pretty much everything one can hope for in a sports scandal: a posse of high horses riding out from major metropolitan newspapers, inevitable "what about the children" backlash, and the wonderful side effect that steroids occasionally made players develop comically swollen heads that has turned baseball fans into amateur phrenologists. The best part involves a player high-handedly denouncing steroid users before inevitably getting caught red-handed, like a bear reaching into a trap filled with salmon that would make it larger and more dangerously omniverous.

Rafael Palmeiro's "Never. Ever. Period." speech was the highlight of grandstanding
leading to invitable guilt, whereas Sosa attempted to make language learning a fun
adventure. According to this site, the text on Palmeiro's poster says: "Capital: I will
crush Soviet Russia in my fist!/But it only clenches its fist in impotent anger!"

Although one could probably become exhausted from the way that the steroid scandal is being played out in its predictable pattern of a leaked list, accusations, denouncements, tearing of the hair over the sacred history of a game marked by spitballing, sign-stealing, fake handshakes, trick mustaches, brawls, intentional vigilante beanings, segregation, Dominican birth certificates, and constant crotch manipulation in full view of polite society, the scandal has provided some bizarre sideshows. Take, for example, ex-White Sox pitcher Jim Parque's astounding 3,139-word confession to taking HGH printed in the Sun-Times last week. To say that Parque emerged from the shadows of anonymity granted to middle of the order pitchers is an understatement-- he tobaganned down from a Himalayan yurt of anonymity to a series of canoes, hand cars, dirigibles, and other obscure modes of transport in order to spray his mea culpa across the pages of a semi-reputable daily newspaper. In order to capture the full breadth of Parque's confession, I'll be placing it next to passages from Bukharin's confession of crimes against the Soviet state from his 1937 show trial:

Parque: I know that in admitting to this, I am a cheater, a villain and nothing more than a drug user in the eyes of the media and some fans.

Bukharin: I first of all wish to concentrate on my own theoretical anti-Leninist and anti-Marxist errors, in order to give a clear, general theoretical basis for the following exposition and in order not to repeat myself in my consideration of individual questions.

Parque: It was the sixth inning. There were two outs, and John Olerud was up. I had retired the last nine batters I had faced and was on my way to securing a Chicago victory. I threw a slider, striking him out looking, but I felt a pop in my left shoulder.

Bukharin: The substitution of dialectical flexibility and of the greatest degree of concreteness by abstract schemas of a renovated “theory of equilibrium”, with all assurances of mobile equilibrium, in reality meant a fixation on dead abstraction and stasis that hindered me from seeing the concrete changes in all of their multifarious and complex interweaving of appearances.

Parque: So, Kenny, as I have stated personally to you, I publicly apologize for putting you through what I did, mainly because you were the one responsible for giving me a chance. Your ability to separate the personal relationship we shared from business is a testament to why the White Sox won a World Series and have continued to be productive.

Bukharin: According to this notion the main road, the highway to the development of socialism in the countryside lay not through the productive unification of peasant households, but through a process of management, through attracting them by the market, by cooperation in trade, credit, the banking system, etc., during which the “kulak nests” would peacefully grow into socialism. In this way the most important question of the relationship between the proletariat and the peasantry was treated by me in a fundamentally incorrect manner.

Parque: Work harder, you say? Take vitamins and get in better shape? Did it, and I was rewarded with pathetic Triple-A stats, a fastball now in the low 80s and an average high school curveball.

Bukharin: Thus I was already beginning to create for myself cadres for the following struggle with the Party leadership headed by Stalin. In place were special ideological formulations, people, and their consolidation. The sense of closedness, fractional loyalty, conceitedness, anti-Party talks about Stalin’s supposedly low theoretical level, petty criticism, gossip and anecdotes about the leadership of the Party were made more serious by the fact that I, in a criminal manner, initiated the nucleus of this fraction to all the most intimate affairs of the Party leadership, acquainted this nucleus with secret Party documents of the CC, Politburo, Executive Committee and Presidium of the Comintern; I praised these young people and thereby corrupted them politically, sowed the seeds that would bring their own criminal fruit

Parque: I prided myself on working hard every day, eating properly and taking care of my body. For those of you who think otherwise, have you ever seen me in person? I stand 5-11 and weigh 185 pounds. I graduated high school at 5-5, 132 pounds. I looked like William Hung, another reason I spent many a dateless night in high school.

Bukharin: We gathered all possible information about the opposition to collectivization, about the various manifestations of peasant dissatisfaction, about the slaughter of farm animals, about the lack of bread, about the growth of price inflation, about various economic paradoxes (this was called “the economy rearing up”), we carefully gathered together facts such as that wagon-drivers were feeding their horses with baked bread because that was cheaper, etc. without end.

Jim Parque, mediocre baseball starter. Nikolia Bukharin, Bolshevik theorist,
communist fashion icon

Steroids in baseball are bound to continue popping up for quite some time. And, as each predictable revelation begets another round of breast-beating from baseball's self-proclaimed guardians, hopefully the Jim Parques of the world will come out of the woodwork and throw a monkey wrench in the proceedings until I get my wish of a Hércule-Poirot style j'accuse from one prominent player to another, igniting a hilarious Jose Mesa/Omar Vizquel-style blood feud that in the best of possible worlds involves Kyle Farnworth, leading to my surefire money-making scheme.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Enshrinement, Presdiential Voice and Mustache Update

Coach Fitz officially entered the College Football Hall of Fame last Saturday in South Bend Indiana, the home of the Hall and the site of the rebirth of Northwestern football.

Fitzgerald extends a fist over South Bend while leaning on a parade float device
that makes it look like a railroad hand car demonstrated in the photo at right,
where a railroad official comforts a young man who cannot join the hand car
crew after failing to measure up to a sign saying "you must be this grizzled"

Asked if he hoped to one day make it back to the Hall as a coach, Fitzgerald replied in the affirmative, claiming that by the time he had finished he would "drive other Big Ten programs like so many snakes into the sea except for the really landlocked schools in which case I will crush them with the ever-pumping might of my iron fist."


BYCTOM soccer coverage tends to favor international competition because soccer does global competition better than any other sport unless Bill Walton is unleashed upon a FIBA tournament with a microphone and a CIA World Factbook. It is also essentially the only soccer that I even tangentially follow, largely to satiate my jingoistic bloodlust against hapless Caribbean CONCACAF teams.

The 2009 Confederations Cup, a triumph
against Treacherous Spain

Personally, interest in international soccer has not translated into support for the MLS. The ever-tiresome whither American soccer question assumes a bizarre patriotic dimension for MLS fans versus those who prefer to exclusively follow the bigger European leagues, as if eschewing the MLS for the Premier League is an unforgivable act of crumpet-waving Toryism.

Loyalist Thomas Jones (left) assailed General Howe for the failure of Britain to
quash the nascent American Revolution, claiming that wasted time "diverting
himself in New York, in feasting, gaming, banqueting, and in the arms of Mrs.
Loring," whom he described as the Cleopatra of the American Colonies. Jones
alleges that Howe dallied because "the General's favourites were not yet
enriched; the rebellion was to be nursed, the General to continue in command,
and his friends, flatterers, mistresses, and sycophants to be provided for"

The Chicago Fire is currently and tenuously in first in the Eastern Conference and does feature Brian McBride, the America's Iron Forehead, at forward, as well as a nickname carefully chosen by MLS to evoke a local tragedy along with the San Jose Earthquakes and future expansion team the Gary, Indiana Gary Indianas. This comes from a soccer tradition, which is why the English enjoy teams such as Suffragette Tramplers United and FC Thatcher-era Industrial Blight.

Incidentally, there was a sudden an unexpected attempt to unearth the true cause of the Chicago fire several years ago. Further investigations put the blame on Mrs. O'Leary's neighbor, the suspiciously named Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan, a name suited to an accidental arsonist, emergency dike repairman, or Cook County trash commissioner candidate. Ald. Ed Burke took time to officially clear Mrs. O'Leary's cow as part of his role on the prestigious Bovine Exoneration Committee, a crucial piece of Daley patronage.

Possible causes of the 1871 Chicago Fire


Major League Soccer is back in the headlines again due to volatile star/international prettyboy David Beckham who has brought the glitz, glamor, and scotch-tossing soap opera melodrama to American soccer. Hailed just two years ago as the most important thing to happen to the sport in America, he has returned to LA to insults, effigies, and a hostile Home Depot Center vibrating with a cacophony of lusty booing by fans taking advantage of the fact that booing is one of very few acts that can be performed lustily in public without fear of arrest or recrimination. He even exchanged words with a hostile spectator, and another leaped from the stands to challenge him to a fight before being engulfed by security-- when in doubt, always leap from great heights to challenge professional athletes, it's right there in chapter 4 of the book Tremendous Ideas by Mitch "Blood" Green.

More importantly, Beckham's lunge at the American spotlight has done more to illuminate his membership in the Unexpectedly High Voice Society along with charter members Mike Tyson, Avery Johnson, and Joseph Stalin, shown here augmenting his speech with unending cascades of stormy applause.

The Castrato and Pesci, members an expectedly high voiced counter-

Michigan State has a wonderful searchable collection of audio at the Vincent Voice Library, and many of the shorter clips are listenable online. Crucially, the archive provides an excellent base for proving that Theodore Roosevelt does not belong to the legions of the unexpectedly high-voiced, but to the Theodore Roosevelt-voiced. Anyone who manages to replicate his impossible lilt can gain entry to a Teddy Roosevelt Valhalla, spending his days trust-busting, lion hunting, and aggressively grinning. The archive also provides this astoundingly creepy clip of David Lloyd George as he gives a speech encouraging war-time singing while what sounds like a tortured poltergeist or digitally disguised mob witness wails mournfully in the background.

Audio recordings of presidents showcase a palpable shift in pronunciation in America. Politicians, regardless of accent, spoke with a clipped, almost over-articulated way, forming vowels in ways that echo oddly in contemporary ears. Going back, it is tough to determine the first president to lose this diction. The task is more difficult when clouded by regional accents such as Calvin Coolidge's Foghorn Leghorn accent that drips from his mouth and wraps its thumbs through his suspenders. Harding comes much closer than anyone before World War II, but it is Eisenhower who may be the first contemporary-sounding president before a run on regional accents with Kennedy's Massachusetts braying, Johnson's close-leaning Texas twang, and Nixon's distinctive growl native to jowl country.


On a similar and more easily definable note, William Howard Taft was the last American president to sport any sort of facial hair, going with a mustache fashionable among gunfighters, strongmen, and Purdue coaches. The last time the U.S. even fielded a major-party candidate with any sort of facial hair was in 1948, when Dewey was unable to ride his mustache to victory over Truman, although the last candidate with truly epic facial hair was 1916's Charles Evans Hughes, whose unruly beard seemed poised to explode from his face and throttle Woodrow Wilson during debate.

Neither Thomas Dewey nor Charles Evans Hughes will stand for this

The greatest presidential facial hair of all time remains an open debate. Certainly, Lincoln's beard remains an iconic part of his legacy and hopefully an integral part of the Land of Lincoln trophy. Beards, however, remain far too pedestrian for the American presidency. Instead, the key question should focus on Chester A. Arthur or Martin Van Buren in the muttonchop department. Both were elected directly from the Vice Presidency into a second-rate presidency at best (Arthur is notable for being particularly undistinguished in a post-Civil War era of undistinguished presidents known as the Grover Cleveland Vortex).

Arthur's chops hang off his face like a graceful waterfall or a stage curtain draped in front of his cheeks and neck made plump through the plunderous office of New York Port Collector. His cascading muttonchops give him the grave and stately air of grazing cattle, gently chewing its cud and resisting its most arsonous urges. Van Buren, on the other hand, has the advantage of male pattern baldness, which makes it look like the left and right sides of his hair got into an irreconciliable dispute and separated by sliding halfway down his face. Van Buren, known as the "little magician" for his diminuitive stature, has more violent muttonchops, as if they can lurch from his face without warning and strangle an opponent like two hairy tentacles. Clearly, Van Buren has the superior muttonchops and the greatest presidential facial hair in history and, if this clean-shaven trend continues, possibly all time.

Arthur boasts a stately curtain while Martin Van Buren lives under the sea; he
eats plankton and octopi and even you and me

Further updates on these and other crucial topics as college football season continues not to happen for the rest of the month and BYCTOM is forced to examine the Van Dyke beards of the conquistadors.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is to be done?

First off, a note that the New York Times preview of Northwestern is up at their college football blog, The Quad. They have Northwestern ranked #47 going into the 2009 season, above #105 Indiana, #62 Minnesota, and #57 Michigan. Paul Myerberg's preview is excellent and accurately assesses the 'Cats strengths and weaknesses going into next season. Although Northwestern does not play Michigan this year, the home games against Indiana and Minnesota will be vengeance games: Northwestern will be looking to reconcile its disappointing loss in Bloomington, and Minnesota will try to avenge the Wildcat walk-off and walk-out interception that saw that the Gophers would never win in the Metrodome again.

Alexandre Dumas, literary patron saint of
vengeance, vows revenge on Henri Meyer for
unflattering caricature


Instead of running away with a flawed division as predicted by most media outlets and at least three of Milwaukee's racing sausages, the Cubs are desperately fighting for third place in a miserable division behind Milwaukee and a St. Louis team that is winning because Albert Pujols is playing like Bugs Bunny against the Gashouse Gorillas. As they would say in the title of three-fifths of everything published in nineteenth century Russia, what is to be done?

Chernyshevsky, Lenin, and Tolstoy, all authors of works
What is to be done presented here in beardal order

The Cubs' struggles on offense this season have been well-publicized without a good explanation; should a Cub manage to safely reach base, his teammates immediately begin striking out, popping up, waving their bat around like they are trying to put out some sort of broom fire, and suffering Jose Cardenal-like problems with depth perception.

Cardenal had problems in his Cubs
career with mysteriously shut eyes,
renegade grasshoppers, and inferior
baseball cap technology

The amazing thing about the Cubs has been the curious synchronization of slumps. Both Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley are having their worst years since 2001 and 2002, their first full seasons in the bigs (considering that Bradley has only played in more than 100 games three times in his ten year career, I'm counting 98 games as a full Milton Bradley season, much like a full Milton Bradley injury does not count unless he's being restrained or surreptitiously sedated for plane travel). Bradley, at least, is getting on base, whereas Soriano's OPS is currently identical to utility man Geoff Blum and backup catchers Chris Coste and Gregg Zaun, who at least has an amazing webpage combining Rush with a searing hatred of unjust commandantes.

Mike Fontenot, who put up a .909 OPS in limited duty last year has become nearly useless, and Geovany Soto has been unable to stand up to the pressure of his rookie of the year season and the WBC's reefer madness witch hunt. Of the healthy Cub regulars, only Derrek Lee is producing at almost his exactly his career average. By OPS+, only Lee, Theriot, and Fukudome are producing at league average (and Fukudome only because of his insanely hot April and May is balancing out a terrible June and fumbling July). So what is to be done?

The only logical solution is that the bats, they are very sick. The Cubs should call in a professional. Facing a similar crisis in 2001, rookie Julio Zuleta grabbed an armload of apples, oranges, sunflower seeds, and Flexall and attempted to cleanse the bats using a dark art he invented called "zoodoo." According to this SI story, Zuleta explained his thought process combining his mastery of alchemy, sorcery, and occult books with ornate yet sinister cover designs: "I thought that maybe the bats were hungry, so I gave them some fruit. I put them in the sun so we could get hot." Fortunately, blasphemy does not appear to be a part of the zoodoo process: "I don't practice voodoo. I am Catholic, and I believe 100 percent in God. But the way we were losing, something had to be done," he said as he ordered his manservant to attack Indiana Jones.

Zuleta is currently a free agent after a successful career in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the Chiba Lotte Marines, earning three all-star appearances, his own supporter song, and the nickname "Samurai." Zuleta was last seen playing for Panama at the WBC where he went 0 for 8 with 3 Ks, which fits him in perfectly with the Cubs' team concept.

Zuleta bats for Panama at the WBC adespite also qualifying to play for an army of
the undead that he raised by his reckless use of incantations from the
Necromonicon to try to change the clubhouse sunflower seeds from regular to
barbecue flavor


I recently came across this odd article for the New Statesman written in 2000 by Nina Khrushchev about her grandfather's famous shoe-wielding outburst at the UN. In it, she claims never to have seen evidence of the incident and wonders whether it might be a too-perfect story designed to inflame cold war tensions:

The shoe banging, it seemed likely, was an anecdote created by public demand, consistent with the political needs of the socialist-capitalist division. In short, I was almost sure it had never happened. My grandfather was innocent, and I had no reason to be ashamed.
Khrushchev sought to test out the process of historical myth-making in an age of mass-media, where apocryphal stories continue to flourish. After all, apocryphal attribution seems to be the source of 99% of material related to Winston Churchill, very possibly including the phenomenal dick joke found at the bottom of this page (an entire web page, for example, exists to debunk the famous "up with which I shall not put" quote, displaying the sort of pedantry, oddly enough, that Churchill would probably not put up with after consulting with his gin cabinet). Khrushchev's search, however, came less from a duty to historical accuracy and more from an understandable desire not to see her grandfather as a shoe-waving maniac, a view with which I cannot empathize.

Mr. K: You ain't tough enough for me

The Khrushchev article did lead me to examine the news coverage of the incident, which happened at the U.N. on October 12, 1960. Khrushchev was already on edge, having confronted an uppity Spaniard the day before who had refused to applaud him. The New York Times described Khrushchev's outburst as "a brief but vivid display of finger-shaking and recrimination," noting that he "indicated his disapproval of the Spanish delegation with a series of vigorous arm gestures." The same day, he threatened delegates by claiming that Soviet factories were producing rockets "like sausages," a combination of factors resulting in an all-time great article subheading:

The shoe incident itself earned another ace headline from our friends at the Times:

Benjamin Welles described the scene: "Mr. Khrushchev thereupon pulled off his right shoe, stood up and brandished the shoe at the Philippine delegate at the other side of the hall. He then banged the shoe on his desk." The story continues, under the subheadline "KHRUSHCHEV ADDS SHOE-WAVING TO HIS HECKLING ANTICS AT U.N.": "Later...Mr. Khrushchev alternately shouted, waved a brawny right arm, shook his finger and removed his shoe a second time." I'm grateful for the attention to detail that indicates Khrushchev goes to his right for all shoe and arm-waving as well as the author's robust vocabulary for describing Soviet outbursts.

Was Khrushchev a madman or did he have another purpose? The article provides further analysis to his motivations: "Serious observers here believe Mr. Khrushchev has a deadly serious purpose in his histrionic excesses. They noted that a standard Communist practice, whenever the Communists believe they cannot win in a court of law, is to destroy the prestige and sanctity of the court."

One thing that Khrushchev did not do at the U.N. is threaten to bury the West or declare that anybody's grandchildren will live under communism. The burial threat occurred in 1956 at the Polish embassy in Moscow as the Western delegates retreated under a hail of abuse, as chronicled in this excerpt from Time, although the New York Times comes through again with the headline "KHRUSHCHEV TIRADE AGAIN IRKS ENVOYS." The idea of grandchildren living under communism comes from an exchange that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson claims he had with Khrushchev. Here's the anecdote in his own words that is apparently being played during what appears to be a 2008 Republican primary debate as the delegates stand silently demonstrating their displeasure with the Soviet Union, a hot-button issue in the 2008 election.

Perhaps if Zuleta's bat rituals fail, the Cubs can turn to some godless communists to cook up a five year plan for getting some hits or they will be forced to endure vivid displays of finger shaking a recrimination and histrionic excesses from disappointed fans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Le Tour de Fitz

Coach Fitz is set to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame this weekend, capping off his remarkable run as the heart and soul of the defense for the 15-1 1995 and 1996 Rose and Citrus Bowl teams that took Northwestern from the dregs of the college football landscape and put them on the map in much the same way that Peter the Great's Russia rose from a comical European losing streak and defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War.

Sweden's Charles XII conducted the Great
Northern War in an intensely vengeful, personal
way, sacrificing advantages in an attempt to raise
the volume on the lamentations of his enemies'
women after being enraged by Northern Alliance
diplomacy focusing on resolving the question
"why the long face?"

The enshrinement takes place in South Bend Indiana, where fans can take advantage of an entire weekend of activities including a celebrity golf tournament and ladies' fashion show and brunch, all listed on a web page designed to make readers wish they never see the word "enshrinement" or any other variation of "enshrine" again. The schedule of events also includes an Enshrinement Corn Hole Tournament hosted by Indy Custom Cornhole and the Young Professionals Network.

A young Fitz extends his fist over a vanquished

Fitz was the first two-time winner of the Bednarik and Nagurski trophies in 1995 and 1996. He'll be joined by charismatic television personalities Troy Aikman and Lou Holtz.

Lou Holz emphasizes a point in the ESPN studios, a lazy, meanspirited, and
obvious joke from your friends right here at Bring Your Champions, They're
Our Meat


We're right in the middle of the Tour de France, one of the world's greatest feats of endurance by a group of men who are three mysterious vials away from turning into comic book superhenchmen.

Bane from Batman and Robin prepares to climb the
Ballon d'Alsace, right after setting up a bunch of bombs
in the Gotham Observatory. My favorite thing about
that part of the movie is that every time he places a bomb,
he says the word "bomb." Somebody wrote that,
hopefully not the person who I imagine was thrown into
a locked, stuffy trailer and ordered not to leave until he
or she came up with at least four dozen terrible ice puns
as part of the settlement of a mob-related blood debt. Of
course nothing in that movie can ever top this
classic batman moment.

The hand-wringing over cheating and drug use at the Tour has always been overblown, mainly because the Tour seemed to have been designed with cheating, doping, and any other sort of Wacky Races-style skulduggery clearly in mind. In 1904, the second Tour de France saw the disqualification of its top four riders including inaugural Tour winner Maurice Garin. Two of these men were banned for life: Lucien Pothier for drafting behind a car, and Chevalier of Moulins for hitching a ride in one. Garin received a two-year ban for blackmailing a sponsor for food.

These anecdotes come from the excellent Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France by Matt Rendell, which provides a short history of each of the Tour's races through 2007 with a properly reverent tone:

Whatever else the Tour was-- and it would become many things--it was also an undeclared congress of Europe's hardest scrota. Maurice Garin, at five foot three, a pocket-sized Charles Bronson look alike with a handlebar moustache, might have had the hardest-wearing crotch of all.

Maurice Garin, winner of the inaugural 1903 Tour de
France and possessor of a Matt Rendell-approved crotch

In French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France, Tim Moore, a British writer and fan of brief cycling jaunts in the park, sets off to do the Tour de France himself by following the race route and allowing himself approximately twice as much time as the pros. Quickly, he succumbs to the suffering: downing hay fever pills for a pick-me-up, cutting corners, and ruthlessly drafting behind an erstwhile friend, exploiting his lack of knowledge of bicycling physics. Yet, despite his manifold sufferings, Moore had it easy compared to the early tour riders.

Early Tour riders used heavy, cumbersome bicycles on dirt paths without gears or even freewheels, which had been banned by the evidently sadistic tour founder Henri Desgrange (this webpage helpfully lists technological innovations in tour bikes along with innovations in drugs-- for example 1910 saw the development of derailleur gears and the use of chloroform by cyclists and dastardly counts). Rendell notes that cyclists at the time faced other hazards, such as tacks thrown by the opposition and, in the famous 1904 race, angry mobs that would show up and beat the cyclists with sticks until being dispersed by Desgrange firing a gun into the air. The hazards did not end with the race; 1905 Tour winner Louis Trousselier was immediately seized by military police (he was due to start his duty sometime around stage three), which soured his successful fending off of the astoundingly-named Hyppolite Aucouturier.

Hyppolite Aucouturier lost the race, but got
his revenge by absconding with the tour's
hamburger supply

Rapscallionship, scoundrality, and underhandery are built into the very fabric of the tour, and not just its early years. In 1935, for example, Julien Moineau lured the peloton into a free beer oasis, sneaking ahead while they guzzled away at their depridations.

Of course, the early Tour is fantastic for another reason: it may be, with the potential exception of triangular weight lifting, the most mustachioed sport in modern history. For ten years, every winner of the tour sported an epic mustache, from the tiny Garin, to the gigantic François Faber and the Lucien Petit-Bretons and René Pottiers in between. The streak became broken when a Belgian, Philippe Thys, won the race clean shaven, and the sport would never recover.


1. Henri Cornet (top, second from left) was awarded the Tour in 1904 after the
disqualification of the top four finishers: Garin (top, first from left), Pothier
(not pictured), and Aucouturier all had mustaches; the other finisher, Chevalier
left behind no known first name nor picture, but we can assume that his mustache
was so grand that he used it to float on air currents above his opponents or braided
it into a crude whipping device like a Ben Hur charioteer.

2. Trousellier (third from left) eerily resembles a cross between a young Stalin
and Punch-Out villain Von Kaiser

3. Pottier, (fourth from left) pioneered the racing bonnet

4. Lucien Petit-Breton(top right), officially the first back-to-back tour winner
due to Garin's disqualification, appears to be sponsored by chicken consortium.
I prefer to think that it's from an individual famer, who stenciled the exact
silhouette of a particular chicken onto Petit-Breton's jersey.

5. 1912 winner Odile Defraye's light-colored mustache combined with low-res
photographs found on the internet and in the Rendell book have cast some
doubts on his mustache credentials, but it seems present enough to warrant

6. Thys's 1913 and 1914 wins herald the end of the golden age of cycling.
The 1914 tour began on the day of Franz Ferdiand's assassination and
marked the end of the tour until 1919.

So for those of you planning on cycling to South Bend to catch an enshrinement and a cornholing, I recommend you do it the proper way: hopped up on strychnine and baguettes on a fixed gear bike with a completely unironic mustache and a canvas sack full of tacks for any Notre Dame fans behind you. And in doing so, you may find out once and for all who is more grizzled.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Damn the Hessians, an Independence Day Update

As the summer chugs along into our Fourth of July celebration over the British Empire and her unstoppable Hessian legions allowing us our own football code, Northwestern football is still laying dormant and preparing to liberate the Big Ten title.

Fist-pumping across the Delaware in order to ham-handedly desecrate famous paintings

The Hessian soldiers that fought in the American revolution were a mixed bag. Some were subjects of George III, who retained the title of Elector of Hanover and therefore shared with all four George monarchs the ability to call upon German troops to fight their dirty imperialist wars (the title did not carry to Queen Victoria, as women could not serve as Electors of Hanover; Hanover lost its independence shortly after as part of the German Unification). Other troops came on loan from other German aristocrats, who eagerly sent their paupers, petty criminals, and press gang victims over to the American colonies.

A group of Hessian reeanctors draw the short straw at the reenactment lottery.
The uniform of the Hessian soldier is the inspiration behind the popular
Revolutionary War slogan "Do not fire until you see the reflection of their
giant golden party hats"

Corey Wootton was named to the Playboy Preseason All-American team. It's good to see Wootton recognized for his excellent season last year, and although the proliferation of sponsored college football awards has rendered them a less meaningful as corporations turn out a chum of sponsored watch lists covering approximately 38 percent of all college football players, this particular award can fortunately be taken advantage of as a thin justification for running this wonderful picture:

Hugh Hefner showing off the cravat, puma, and femme fatale henchmen he
purchased from the 1970 Bond Villain skymall catalog


Though interleague play has finished, the Cubs and Sox still have a game to make up, which could be a factor since both teams are still afloat in their crappy divisions. One of the players always in the mix during the series is White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who remains despised by Cubs fans largely because Michael Barrett inexplicably decided to introduce his knuckles to his face several years ago. Pierzynski is not a popular player around baseball; he left both Minnesota and San Francisco on somewhat bitter notes (this article is full of classic baseball post-trade character assassination by nameless Giants players who accused him of being a "cancer in the clubhouse" and accused him of continuing to play cards instead of going over hitters with Brett Tomko in the grand baseball tradition of innuendo about playing cards in the clubhouse undoing a player's repuatation).

Pierzynski gets a lot of negative attention from fans because he has a reputation of a provacateur, and his face defaults to the "who, me?" expression of an Edwardian public school boy caught red-handed going slightly too far with one of their homoerotic flogging rituals. Most of his antics, however, are simply an attempt to squeeze every possible advantage out of baseball's occasionally arcane rules. His greatest feat was getting on base through the dubious application of the dropped third strike rule against Anaheim in the 2005 ALCS (by immediately bolting to first, he put the onus on the befuddled umpire to decide whether it was indeed a dropped third strike). Last year, he convinced the same umpire to call him safe after drawing a shady interference call by falling down and letting Willy Aybar sort of bump into him as the Sox announcing crew work themselves into a Pravda-style lather. My favorite Pierzynski antic is his automatic appeal to the first or third-base umpire on any checked swing. In essense, on a checked swing, he now catches the ball and points to the ump in a single fluid motion.

Pierzynski in a state of nature

These sorts of antics, however, are pretty much harmless. Pierzynski has a decent bat for a catcher (he has a career OPS of .754; last year, league average for MLB catchers was .715-- I assumed he had better numbers than that because I see him mostly against the Cubs, when he carries an .832 OPS for his Cub killing resumé) and augments that with a roguish attempt to get an extra call here and there, certainly nothing to cause a cascade of boos upon his person. If you must hate A.J., you can hate him for somehow getting involved with professional wrestling while displaying an acting ability that even for wrestling is shocking. Fortunately, Ozzie steals the show by hitting a guy with a chair (evidently something that happens in an alarming frequency in pro wrestling matches along with the announcer referring to a villainous woman as a "jezebel.") In fairness, Alfonso Soriano had his own run-in with a pro-wrestling antagonist that involves him reacting to the interminable yakking of some guy in a glitter hat with the mixture of confusion and indignation that comes with not being aware that attending a professional wrestling event might mean getting yelled at by a guy in a glitter hat (I don't follow wrestling, so I have no idea what Glitter Hat is on about, although I admire that the telecast game him more screen time than Meet the Press would allow for Rep. Ron Paul to rant about fiat gold).


The U.S. put on an admirable display in the Confederations Cup, overcoming two embarrassing losses at the hands of Italy and Brazil and qualifying due to an improbable combination of a 3-0 defeat of Egpyt and a 3-0 trouncing of Italy by Brazil. Despite the euphoria of playing world-class soccer for 135 minutes, ending Spain's undefeated streak and leading Brazil 2-0 at the half, the U.S. came up short in its bid to win its first major international tournament. True, the Confederations Cup is not the most prestigious tournament in the world (it started as the King Fahd Cup as a showcase for the Saudi Arabian team), but Spain and Brazil both played almost all of their regulars.

Now the U.S. moves onto the Gold Cup, which they won in 2007 thanks to this fantastic goal by BYCTOM favorite Benny "The Jet" Feilhaber against Mexico at Soldier Field. The U.S. is sending out its "B" team to this year's Cup, along with many other CONCACAF sides (with the exception of Costa Rica), but will be anchored by veterans Brian Ching and Steve Cherundolo and give Freddy Adu watchers something to get excited about.

The U.S. goes up against Grenada on the fourth, and the former British Crown Colony forfeited upon independence the ability to recruit German mercenaries like Michael Ballack, future Luc Besson movie villain Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Oliver Kahn, the frightening half-ape version of Klaus Kinski.

A German experiment goes horribly wrong

Grenada has been a place where Europeans have come to plunder spices in the Western Hemisphere for hundreds of years-- first the French, then the British after the Seven Years War. It briefly was a member of the short-lived West Indies Federation, a Commonwealth organization dominated by Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago's Eric Williams and Grenada's Sir Eric Gairy

Grenada's official website provides a host of important information, such as that the flag contains a nutmeg which "signifies that Grenada is one of the world's largest producers of nutmeg," an excellent flag design strategy of getting straight to cash crops that I wholeheartedly endorse instead of flogging around with abstract symbol bullshit. The site also creates a mystery around what visitors can eventually expect from the Fish Friday page that could possibly surpass what is already there.

Enjoy your weekend by watching the Cubs battle the insolent, shirt-untucking Brewers, jingoistically lashing out against the good people of Grenada, and ordering man-apes from the James Bond villain catalog. Of course, it wouldn't be Independence Day without a gratuitious Jeff Goldblum mention, so here's an article about him being needlessly weird on Law and Order: Criminal Intent or unexpectedly not dead.