Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TicketCity Bowl

This Saturday, Northwestern takes on Texas Tech in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl in Texas. This is because the Cotton Bowl is now played at Jerry Jones's Ozymandius-like Texas Stadium while the Wildcats and Red Raiders now get to play under the watchful eye of Big Tex as the Texas State fairgrounds.

I prefer the original Big Tex from 1956
which showcases a look of wide-eyed
homicidal fanaticism that I prefer from
state fair gargantuans. Here, Tex's body
language can be best described as hastily
explaining to the authorities

Northwestern will be seeking to avenge two blowout losses to end the season and capture the team's first post-season victory since 1949. Texas Tech will be looking for a bowl win to cap its first season under Tommy Tuberville after the program's messy divorce from Mike Leach. In Tuberville, Tech found a name coach, by which I mean that he has a spectacular name that is wasted in college football coaching and should immediately be loaned out to the leader of a 1950s doo-wop revival group featuring matching garish blazers. Contrast Tuberville with Minnesota's hiring of Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, whose name is far more suited to the martial pretension of football, probably because there wasn't a qualified person available named Trench Bludgeoner.

Tech will be playing without former defensive coordinator James Willis, who left after Tuberville learned that he had clandestine talks with the University of Florida, according to the spectacularly named Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The departure of Willis reiterates the ridiculous notion of coaching searches that occur during bowl season, with coaches hired, fired, departing under the dead of night, and inundating their rivals' residences with untraceable poisonous reptiles all before and during the preparation and playing of bowl games. This intrigue is one of the best parts of college football season as it involves fickle fans either braying for the head of an unfavored coach or shouting perfidy as a beloved coach leaves for greener pastures as well as the activities of cabals of shady boosters manipulating the purse strings and plotting in their festive team-logo festooned neckties.

Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands is seen leaving a meeting
where he was rumored to call for the replacement of Mack Brown,
but when questioned by reporters replied "I am above that."


The Big Ten finally unveiled the names of the divisions to great fanfare and even greater derision. Northwestern will compete for the 2011 Legend Division Title. There is absolutely no reason why division titles should ever be anything other than cardinal directions-- the idea of striving for some sort of geographical accuracy is absurd when absolutely no one cares about the Dallas Cowboys being in the NFC East, the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks playing in the same building but competing in their league's Eastern and Western conferences respectively, or the Big Ten containing 20 percent more teams than advertised. Every other sport uses some sort of vague and inaccurate geographical signifier for divisions and there is no need to start breaking new ground by attempting to bring in abstract concepts. In that case, why not go with the Pop and Soda divisions based on what to call sugary fizz-water since, as any Midwesterner can attest, more people invest fierce ideological attachment to their regionalism than almost any other opinion they have ever held for no apparent reason instead of some more crucial issue such as the constitutional validity of the King-Byng controversy.

Major players in the King-Byng Canadian Constitutional Crisis of 1925 (l to r):
Mackenzie King, Lord Byng, Arthur Meighen. The controversy came about when
attempting to transpose a nineteenth century political crisis into the twentieth
without the aid of duels to sort things out properly. Instead, all Commonwealth
constitutional problems involving Governors-General ought to be settled by some
sort of stodge off, where a politician must endure 65 minutes of hectoring from a
crowd while attempting to respond in the most humorless and stiff possible manner,
while the winner is assessed from a scientific measurement of the crowd's dour

Of course, I'm predisposed to criticize Jim Delaney after my calls for renaming the conference the Enormous Ten have evidently fallen on deaf ears.


Like most of you, I've been fascinated by the leak of U.S. diplomatic cables free for our perusal because I've been desperate to catch up on diplomatic gossip, such as how many nightclubs Lola Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan President Karimov, currently owns and favors with her late night disco dancing. Actually, the leaks are a font of Central Asian political discotheque intrigue, such as this depiction of Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov at Chocolat, described as Astana's trendiest nightclub from a cable entitled "Lifestyles of the Kazazhstani [sic] Leadership":
Masimov led his companions on to Chocolat's dance floor soon after their arrival. The dance floor holds approximately 100 people, and at the time perhaps 50 patrons were dancing. However, Masimov himself chose to dance on an empty stage above the dance floor. His companions quickly tired but Masimov remained, dancing alone and animatedly on the stage for another 15-20 minutes.

Massimov (center) with Belorussian Premier Sergei Sidorski
(right) and beloved Russian crooner Vladimir Putin

Another revelation is the rollicking Duke of York, who charmed a gathering of British and Commonwealth business leaders and officials in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan by assailing Kyrgyz corruption, comparing it to France and anorexia, respectively. The American Ambassador described the Duke as being an "equal opportunity Great Game player" and soliciting cries of "hear, hear" which makes me worried about him spontaneously growing mutton-chops.

The most troubling revelation comes from stories published side-by-side at the New York Times web site about Russia and Canada. See if you can spot the pattern:
A trove of diplomatic cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of publications, disclose a perception by American diplomats that Canadians “always carry a chip on their shoulder” in part because of a feeling that their country “is condemned to always play ‘Robin’ to the U.S. ‘Batman.’ ”

Asked about a cable that described President Dmitri A. Medvedev as “playing Robin to Putin’s Batman,” he said the author had “aimed to slander one of us.”

The State Department cables also reveal which countries'
economies move at a penguin-like pace, which are riddled by
corruption, and raise troubling questions about United States
relations with Egypt


Although this time of year is when college football comes under assault for the nonsensical bowl system with prestige-bereft bowls such as the TicketCity Bowl used as prime examples of the inscrutable nature of the FBS post-season, Northwestern fans are clamoring to see Fitz finally hoisting a bowl game trophy. With the basketball team looking like a potential threat to finally breach the NCAA tournament, this could potentially be the year for Northwestern athletics in getting over the hump to mediocrity outside of the field of women's field hockey and most Big Ten equestrian sports.

Almost 50 years ago, President Kennedy asked why Rice plays Texas when pledging to put on a man on the moon stressing its difficulty, emphasizing perseverance, and tactfully not mentioning the possibility of igniting a terrifying war with subterranean Moon-Men that would certainly side with Khrushchev. Today, we ask why does Northwestern play Texas Tech and the answer is so that a bunch of corporations make money. Having said that, and politely ignoring what the hell just happened in those last couple of sentences, let us hope that Evan Watkins can lead the Wildcats to a 21st century bowl victory. And if anyone around you disparages the necessity of winning the Inaugural TicketCity Bowl in the grand scheme of things, you punch them right in the face and say "I am above that."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Iowa and Illinois

Another year, another close, exciting, Big Ten Championship-ruining victory over Iowa in what is turning into one of the secretly most exciting rivalries in the Big Ten. For three consecutive years, Iowa's season effectively ended at the hands of Northwestern, including last year's BCS-busting win over a team with national championship ambitions in Iowa City (the game was also notable for the unfortunate injury of Iowa QB and super-patriot Ricky Stanzi whom I fully expect to see ripping up pictures of the late Ayatolla Khomeini or headbutting the Soviet flag in the near future as in this encapsulation of the platonic ideal of American patriotism).

Pat Fitzgerald broadcasts taunts of Northwestern invincibility
on the Kinnick Stadium jumbotron

Instead, Northwestern played its best game of the season, with the defense rallying from another suspect third quarter and Dan Persa doing Dan Persa things such as eluding tacklers, completing accurate passes, accounting for the majority of the entire offensive output, and leading a heroic fourth-quarter drive to win the game. For Iowa, attempting to beat Northwestern recently has become like trying to invade Russia from the West-- tempting, seemingly doable on a giant map filled with tin cavalry units, but ultimately unconquerable.

Pat Fitzgerald's orders to incinerate of Evanston dining and
grocery establishments forces Kirk Ferentz to lead Iowa back
west to resupply in the Quad Cities

For Northwestern fans, the victory has a sour aftertaste. Although it is always satisfying to continue to be a gigantic spear in the side of Iowa, and the Wildcats finally closed out a game against a good program, the win came at the cost of Dan Persa. It's a shame for Persa to get down just as he was attracting national attention as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Persa set the Big Ten record for completion percentage and also led the team in rushing, making him as invaluable to Northwestern's offense as Giuseppe Garibaldi to the Italian risorgimiento.

Persa faces down Big Ten foes just as Garibaldi such dominating powers as
Napoleon III and the Pope. Of course, Garibaldi had one thing that Persa


By the mid-nineteenth century, Garibaldi had earned a peerless reputation as a military leader to the extent that none other than Abraham Lincoln had offered him a commission in the Union Army. This article describes the process by which Garibaldi seriously contemplated taking an American command post. The offer came not initially from the State Department, but from a more traditional source of American foreign policy: the self-aggrandizing actions of a rogue American consul based in Belgium. James W. Quiggle approached Garibaldi in 1861, hoping to distinguish himself by bringing the Italian hero to the Union cause. Despite Quiggle's insubordinate actions, Secretary of State Seward and Lincoln remained intrigued by getting Garibaldi on the their side and attempted to take over recruiting efforts and shove Quiggle aside before he could inadvertently damage negotiations such as by parading around European capitals with a sash reading "Garibaldi Assistance Requester USA #1."

Seward calling Quiggle into his office to
dress him down, no doubt letting him
know that the President was on his ass
and threatening to bust him down to
Guatemala consular duty so fast it would
make his head spin

The plan, of course, did not work out. Garibaldi sought to command the entire army and to declare the aim of the war as ending slavery. Lincoln could not at the time do either of those things and Garibaldi would soon be wounded and imprisoned after a failed invasion of Rome, guarded by French troops and the indomitable Swiss Guard. Meanwhile, news of the approach had leaked, leading to British taunts against the President's military prowess. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation sufficiently assured Garibaldi of the war's anti-slavery credentials and he had recovered, the United States no longer felt a pressing need for his services. The Union War effort had come into the hands of generals such as Ulysses Grant. In case you were wondering, Grant biographer Marie Kelsey has put up this impassioned defense of Grant's alcoholism as an apocryphal smear campaign created by jealous rivals in the military and contains more information a person would ever want to know about Ulysses Grant's drinking habits, a goal of gung-ho revisionism:

Here then is a humble and modest man who had but one goal, that of saving the Union. And he accomplished this goal! The debt owned him by this country can never be repaid, except by everlasting honor and respect. That respect can be bestowed by eliminating the "drinking comments" from conversation about Ulysses S. Grant and by eradicating that image from the American consciousness. Grant deserves nothing less. Through the technological marvel of the Internet the U.S. Grant Network is working ceaselessly toward achieving that goal!


This Lincoln talk brings us to the upcoming game against the University of Illinois in the annual Land of Lincoln Rivalry Showdown. The game has attracted national attention because it is being held at the Purple Confines of Wrigley Field, bringing ESPN's Gameday crew, and attracting a festive, bowl-like atmosphere to add to the traditional overwhelming interest across the Big Ten and all of college football for how this game will play out.

Vandals from the Athletic Department took the Paint the Town
Purple Campaign from several years ago to its logical conclusion

Wrigley Field is my favorite sports venue, so I'm naturally over the moon to see it deployed for Northwestern purposes. Of course, Wrigley is no longer designed for football since the days when it served as the Bears' home stadium before they moved to Soldier Field in 1971. Instead, the east endzone crams up against the padded Ivy, leading to criticism of the field as less than ideal for football, beginning a snowball of warnings about the dangers of the field to the point where one expected a description of how the east endzone wall was now being used to guard Mayan idols from treasure hunters and grave robbers.

Multifarious dangers lurk in the East End Zone

In a bold step, Big Ten officials announced today that the field would only use the West endzone, allowing the East to lay fallow as grass grows on the blood of lesser football teams. This change makes sense; no one wants to see players catching touchdown passes only to be tackled by a brick wall, and the shifting of all play to a single endzone won't really change the complexion of the game much unless you paid for bleacher seats in right field. Obviously, no one consulted noted Wrigley Field safety expert Ozzie Guillen to also make light of terrifying dangers such as crumbling concrete blocks and large aggressive, rodents. If anything, single end zone adds to the carnival-like atmosphere of the game, giving the forbidden end zone an air of menace that curses all players who break its harrowing plane for all eternity with football-related plagues such as fumbilitis, alligator arms, jock itch, and sexual-assault allegations.


The Illini have continued their struggles under Ron Zook, becoming the first Big Ten team to succumb to the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers last week. The Illini have looked formidable on defense at times this season and will be looking to contain Evan Watkins, who replaces Persa. One concern about the game is how Watkins will respond to being thrust unexpectedly into action. In the past, Fitzgerald has gone ultra-conservative with back-up quarterbacks. Two years ago, Kafka spent most of the time running the Kafka Smash play instead of passing when he filled in for the injured Bachér (which worked as he broke the Big Ten single game rushing record), and last year Persa rarely threw when he filled in for Kafka, with the notable exception of his TD pass against Iowa. Northwestern has not had much success running the ball this season and has lived by the short passing game, so it will be interesting to see how much they let Watkins air it out.

For Zook, this might be his last stand at the helm of the Illini. For Northwestern, another win would notch another eight win season, improve bowl positioning, and build momentum to ruin Wisconsin's BCS aspirations in the Madison tundra. That is, of course, assuming that both teams survive the death trap of Wrigley Fields ivy, log traps, and gigantic hall of mirrors installed earlier this week to confuse defenses as to who is the real quarterback. Hopefully, Northwestern seizes this rare opportunity as a game of national interest to affirm its status as a program on the rise and keep the hat in Evanston for another year until next year's game at a Schaumberg area Discovery Zone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Iowa Week

It's Iowa Week, and Wildcat fans are buzzing about the looming showdown with recent rivals from the Corn Capital coming in caravans and hoping to avenge Northwestern's consecutive upsets ending the Hawkeyes' Big Ten title hopes. It's been an interesting couple of weeks for Northwestern. Throughout the year, Northwestern has had trouble putting games away, really only beating ISU and Rice comfortably.

The game against Indiana naturally involved letting the Hoosiers back in when underrated Indiana QB Ben Chappell hit Duwyce Wilson to narrow the margin to three points. Of course, a Northwestern-Indiana close score is not a particular surprise to anyone paying attention to recent Northwestern/Indiana clashes, a section of the population limited to Northwestern fans, Indiana fans, and angry Big Ten Network subscribers who would ordinarily watch these teams play only if the game occurred on their front yard. These games always come down to the final moment, as if Northwestern and Indiana find themselves in a sort of football stalemate.

Experts on stalemate warfare: (left to right) Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, Field
Marshal Horatio Kitchener, the tyrant-Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Field Marshal
Paul von Hindenberg. In Britain, the war was frequently referred to in the
1920s and 1930s as the Great War, as a way of describing the mustaches of
all participants political and military. The exception, of course, was
Woodrow Wilson, whom I suspect remained clean-shaven to avoid association
with the greatest conflict of mustachioed persons in the history of humanity,
a tactic that certainly hurt his 1916 rival Charles Evans Hughes (far right)

With the victory over Indiana, Northwestern took its bowl eligibility swagger into Happy Valley and played 29 minutes of inspired football. Instead of discussing the Wildcats' painful collapse at the hands of the ageless Paterno, why not take a gander at this germane video presentation that essentially boils the second half of the game into less than four minutes.

Congratulations to Joe Paterno on his astounding 400th win and mastery of
gestures used solely to demonstrate an intense hatred of snakes. HE HATES THEM


The official BYCTOM position on fist shaking in American political discourse is very clear: politicians should do everything they can to get rid of inferior, meeker, and more television-friendly gestures such as the Bill Clinton button thumb, and return to angrily shaking their fists in the direction of their opponent in order to demonstrate derision at their positions and the dire danger that opposition policies will rain down upon the nation. Note that I'm not advocating a Ukrainian-style legislative riot (kudos to the clever deployment of umbrellas into impromptu egg and debris shields); speakers' fists should abuse only air molecules or possibly comical effigies of political rivals.

Progressive Wisconsin Governor and later senator Robert LaFollette was a master at using his fists for political purposes. Though he earned the nickname "Fighting Bob" for his tenacious pursuit of reform and dogged anti-corruption efforts, it's also apt for his pugilistic speaking style.

The most impressive thing about LaFollette's fist-shaking is that in two
pictures to the right, including the impressive double-barreled action
at the end, LaFollette deploys his fists on the radio, the medium
traditionally most resistant to fist-shaking

LaFollette is an impressive figure in terms of being able to dish out a fist shaking as well as take one. I'll let the author of LaFollette's wikipedia page explain:

After the speech, Senators Frank B. Kellogg (Minn.), Joseph Taylor Robinson (Arkansas), and Albert B. Fall (N.M.) in turn attacked La Follette's position on the war. Senator Robinson was a combative and fiercely partisan defender of Wilson and the Democratic Party. His speech "synthesized the scattered attacks on La Follette that had been filtering in for seven the speech progressed, he became more agitated and abusive. The virulence of Robinson's attack shocked the floor and galleries into complete silence." A United Press correspondent described Robinson's speech as "the most unrestrained language that ever has been heard in the Senate." La Follette sat motionless in his chair, even when Robinson began shaking his fist at him.

The attack came because of misconstrued reports of a LaFollette speech defending the sinking of the Lusitania. In onerous minutes of online searching, I have not successfully located a transcript of Robinson's comments, although evidently he insinuated that LaFollette harbored a loyalty to the hated Kaiser himself, an excellent tactic used to discredit so many American politicians that have used stump speeches as an opportunity to assure constituents of their unswerving dedication to hated foreign monarchs and pledged to work tirelessly to see voters crushed under said monarch's bootheels.


I always support the inane movement to designate official state things (for example, Illinois's official state dance is the square dance, state fossil is the tully monster, and official type of municipal voter fraud is use of the deceased), so I've always been moderately fascinated that Maryland's official sport is jousting. One would think that the sport went back to some sort of colonial method of feud settlement as practiced by legendary Marylanders such as Lord Baltimore or Omar, eventually evolving in the nineteenth century and codified into a less lethal version much like how modern cockfights include full medical inspections and tiny beak guards. Instead, the joust became the official sport in 1962 encouraged by a group of equestrian enthusiasts enamored with the idea of crowns and pointy maiden hats and left in a helpless situation because Medieval Times had yet to be invented.

From the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, a photo (left) of a the triumphant
announcement of the adoption of jousting as official state sport. (Right) A depiction of
the type of behind the scenes manipulation, and use of doubloons used to pass the motion
through the intrigue-inundated Maryland state legislature of the 1960s described by a
contemporary local reporter as:
"that nest of the damn'd/the vile reprobate/
A scoundrel's abode/where the rogues machinate/
I bet a few of them are commies"

Unfortunately, Maryland jousting is not a bloody spectacle of impalement. Instead, jousters use their lance-like poles to snare hanging rings, in much the same way that medieval knights would thunder through European countrysides ridding the land of tree-dwelling pests.

Unfortunately for famous joust victim Henry II of France, the
Lord Lorges did not abide by the Maryland Joust Association's


Iowa comes into town looking for revenge from last year's BCS-busting loss to Northwestern in Iowa City, dropping a second consecutive home game to the 'Cats. Northwestern again represents a classic trap game for Iowa as they host Ohio State next week. But as ESPN's Adam Rittenberg reports, Iowa won't be looking past the Wildcats after recent trouble beating them. As Rittenberg points out, Fitz is 3-1 against the Hawkeyes, and since 2002, Northwestern has accounted for three of Iowa's ten home losses.

This decade, Northwestern and Iowa have split the series 4-4,
evidently as evenly-matched as these large-hatted women
squaring off in late nineteenth century Australia in a type of
fighting which I would like to coin as fancy-boxing. I think the
woman in white has the clearcorner advantage by looking at the
tale of the tape:

(source: The Powerhouse Museum, Haymarket New South Wales)

I like that there is some genuine passion in this rivalry, with Iowa fans reacting to each loss like a Gruber Brother being continually informed of John McClane's incessant survival as they climb to higher levels on the Heston Scale of incredulity (incidentally, the highest Heston scale rating I can find recently is in the trailer for the Russell Crow Robin Hood movie showcasing a blood-curdling "I DECLARE HIM TO BE AN OUTLAW" outburst. I haven't seen this movie, but I have a hard time believing anything else that happens in it can be better than that).

Traditionally, visitors to Ryan field view Northwestern as either a minor speed bump on the way to a showdown with a fellow title contender or a winnable game in the quest for bowl eligibility; it certainly is a change of pace for a team that actually wants to beat Northwestern for the sake of beating Northwestern, to direct a fist pump at Pat Fitzgerald rather be on the receiving end of it, to tear fans' fancy cummerbunds asunder and grind their monocles into dust. It should be an atmosphere approximating that of a Big Ten game in Evanston.

On paper, of course, Iowa has the edge. The Hawkeyes have an excellent defense, an underrated running game to test a vulnerable Northwestern run defense, and a quarterback in Ricky Stanzi having a spectacular year; Northwestern has looked very vulnerable against some very bad teams. On the other hand, I'm going to say throw out the record books. Go ahead and print out a list of every game Northwestern has ever played against Iowa starting with their first contest in 1897 when the rules of football included outmoded features such as pistol duels, knuckle dusters, and used cockfighting in lieu of a coin toss and then throw that stack of paper outside of the nearest window. The Wildcats have had no business beating Iowa most of the time in the Kirk Ferentz era, so hopefully Northwestern will finally be able to put a complete Big Ten game together and continue to inexplicably dominate in this underrated rivalry.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Debacle Trojan Style

Last Saturday, the Wildcats channeled former head coach Dennis Green in an excruciating loss to Big Ten front-runners Michigan State. Thoughts about State were proven correct. Hooks were let off. Asses may possibly have been crowned.

Although Northwestern fans might react to the game by gnashing their teeth and thrashing their footmen (the old gnash and thrash is a Northwestern tradition), I suggest they stay their hands, their canes, and their sharpened monocles. The Wildcats looked very good against a legitimate Big Ten title contender and have traditionally finished strong in the Pat Fitzgerald era. In particular, the emergence of freshmen Venric Mark, Rashard Lawrence, and Adonis Smith are encouraging, not least because an outstanding game from Smith has crusty sports editors on high pun alert.

A consortium of sports editors stand at the ready to
deploy Adonis-related headlines comparing the
Wildcat running back to the mythical figure
conceived by some sort of combination of incest and


The turning point of the game came on a Michigan State fake punt in which the Spartan offense took a delay of game penalty to disguise their duplicitous intentions, then had the punter heave a strike to a wide-open receiver. Dantonio masterminded a similar trick play against Notre Dame earlier this season. It is no fun to be the victim of a trick play, but losing a football game is a minor consequence compared to some more underhanded trickery. You could, for example, find yourself stranded in a jungle on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras with only your wits and piles of the nineteenth century equivalent of arcade tokens.

That is what happened to the victims of Gregor MacGregor, a Scottish adventurer who managed to sell off large parcels of prime coastal real estate to hopeful would-be colonists whose adventure soured when they realized that the country they had hoped to colonize did not technically exist.

Gregor MacGregor (left), shared with Lord Gordon-Gordon a penchant for
redundantly-named Scottish swindlery, although he came by his name
honestly. Gordon-Gordon was one of many aliases for a nineteenth
century confidence man who also went by Lord Glencairn and the
Honourable Herbert Hamilton

MacGregor was a military adventurer at a time when one could simply traipse over to the Western Hemisphere and start annexing territory with nary an admonishment. MacGregor successfully raised enough money and men to fulfill the reasonable dream of invading Florida in 1817 to remove it from the yoke of Spanish oppression. Instead, he spent the money, his men deserted and he mustered only enough of a force to take Amelia Island (off the coast of Florida near present-day Jacksonville) and set up a republic under the charge of Louis-Michel Aury, who had been building his leadership credentials by running a nest of pirates out of Galveston. The island fell to the United States several months later as part of the U.S. campaign to seize East Florida.

Florida divided into East and West in 1810 during the reign of Napoleon's
brother Joseph over Spain. By the time of the U.S. took over Florida in 1819,
Bourbon Monarch Ferdinand VII (right) had taken over. Ferdinand,
imprisoned for six years during the Napoleonic rule of Spain, fell again to a
coup in 1820, before coming back to power after which, in the words of the
author of his wikipedia page, "he revenged himself with a ferocity which
disgusted his far from liberal allies." The same page notes that he later
became "torpid, bloated and unpleasant to look at" which is sort of a default
Bourbon monarch setting

But MacGregor's greatest coup came after his return to Britain in 1820. There, he ingratiated himself into the horse-racing, muttonchop-growing, rabble-scattering, society types and began telling people that he had become Cacique (prince) of the Principality of Poyais off the coast of Honduras by the blessing of King Frederic Augustus II of the Mosquito Shore. He published a book describing the region as developed and friendly to British settlement and began selling land to colonists eager to live in this earthly paradise.

In 1822 and 1823, two ships full of would-be settlers left for Poyais, but instead of a glistening settlement friendly to the British, they found a jungle friendly mainly to tropical disease and the occasional hermit and nowhere to redeem their worthless Poyais dollars. The wretched survivors escaped on a ship that had come to give gifts to Frderic Augustus (or, as contemporary documents referred to him, the Mosquito King) to Belize. This document is chock-full of details of the Poyasian scheme, with transcripts from a lawsuit against the British Honduran authorities accusing them of seizing property from the Poyais settlers. It not only serves as virtual handbook of eighteenth century synonyms for wretchedness, but also serves as a handbook of miscellaneous Poyasian documents.

A copy of the oath to be taken by Poyasians to swear
loyalty to MacGregor. Other correspondence in the

reveals that MacGregor took, among
his various bogus royal titles, the wonderful alias
Baron Tinto

Undaunted, MacGregor attempted to run the same Poyasian scheme in France, this time calling in the big guns by turning to someone actually named Gustavus Butler Hippisley. The alert French authorities, curious as to why French citizens were attempting to obtain documents to travel to a country that as far as they could tell did not exist, halted the expedition and arrested MacGregor associates including Hippisley and eventually MacGregor himself. Still undeterred, MacGregor continued to fashion Poyasian constitutional documents and sell Poyais-related land and stock until the lat 1830s. The most fascinating part of the story is his investment in the fictional land of Poyais; it seemed not to occur to him that after being caught in a grandiose scheme of making up a country, he could just as easily pull another fake country out of thin air without having to deal with the baggage of the Poyasian legacy of not being a place on the surface of this planet, Earth.


Perhaps the greatest British confidence man was William Chaloner, a forger, counterfeiter, and purveyor of dildos in late seventeenth century London. Chaloner excelled in three main schemes: counterfeiting coins, fabricating Jacobite plots in order to muster government rewards, and turning on associates. Chaloner was not shy about becoming an informant about criminal schemes which he was involved in just before the authorities came in; he named names, he blackmailed accusers, and he funded whimsical bucolic holidays for witnesses that could finger him.

This would normally be the part of the story where I describe how Chaloner went too far and crossed the Royal Mint, but I don't think it was possible for Chaloner to go too far. It's not as if he was some sort of scheming heist mastermind planning one job at a time. Instead, Chaloner existed as the eye of a whirlwind of spectacularly multifaceted and continuous criminal activity on a remarkable scale, and his undoing came from circumstances leading him into the crosshairs of a Sir Isaac Newton.

A BYCTOM estimation of a typical week of Chaloner activity

Newton ran afoul of Chaloner when he became warden of the Royal Mint in 1696 with the job of investigating counterfeiting. He broke up a machine coining operation and arrested one of Chaloner's associates. Chaloner attempted to infiltrate the Mint himself by cooking up false conspiracies of corruption among Mint officials, going so far to name one of his own aliases as a co-conspirator in a flamboyant display of criminal confidence. While gallivanting around Parliament, denouncing schemes that he would certainly take part in if he got a job at the Mint, Newton recognized him as a counterfeiting suspect. By 1699, Newton swore to take Chaloner down and recruited an underworld network of spies and Chaloner associates. Chaloner deployed an unstoppable three-step defense: feigning madness, peppering all particpants in the trial with a barrage of insults, and finally claiming that his operations fell outside of the court's London jurisdiction. He was hanged.


Northwestern will be looking for redemption and continuing a quixotic quest for bowl eligibility on Saturday against Indiana. The Hoosiers will test Northwestern's defense with their prolific offense, and hopefully Pat Fitzgerald will test the Hoosiers with a variety of trick plays and confidence schemes that will baffle the Indiana defense and defraud supporters. When the dust settles, Wildcat fans will be hoping that no one will be who anyone thought they were, there will be no hooks for anyone to be let off of, and asses will remain blissfully crownless.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michigan State Preview

The Wildcats are looking for redemption after a loss to a gutty, injury-ravaged Purdue squad, the Spartans are looking to remain undefeated and looking toward a Big Ten championship run, Coach Fitz is looking for a sixth win, bowl birth, and an upset, Coach Dantonio is looking for a return to the sidelines after recovering from a heart attack, orphan Timmy is looking for a father figure he never knew, wealthy industrialist R. Pickering Fossbottle is looking for the child he never knew he wanted, young Maude Fossbottle is looking for love in all of the wrong places, and everyone is looking for priceless artifacts from the Orient before it's stolen by a Peter Lorre type.

A lot is at stake.

Fitz makes the long hitchhike from Ryan Field after the gutting
loss to Purdue

The Wildcats have not won convincingly against an FBS team with the exception of Rice. On the other hand, the Spartans have beaten Notre Dame, Wisconsin, a resurgent Michigan team, and frisky Illinois. Of course, it would be foolhardy to assume a Michigan State win; Northwestern tends to surprise teams and it's hard to count out an offense led by Dan Persa. This has the makings of a potential trap game for Michigan State as they look forward to a big game in Iowa City.

The Wildcats prefer getting a drop on unsuspecting
opponents, as demonstrated by these Hessian reenactors
expertly recreating a drop-gotten-on scenario

Northwestern will have to repel an overwhelming force, much like the Syracusians attempting to hold off the Romans in the Siege of Syracuse. The Romans came by sea with the sambuca, which was not a polite gift of occasionally flaming liqueur, but the less polite siege machine used to quickly enable soldiers to climb from ships onto fortress walls and begin stabbing everyone in sight. Syracuse was famously defended by mathematician Archimedes with mirror-driven heat rays of dubious historical authenticity and the Archimedes Claw, the result of an experiment gone wrong resulting in him growing a giant claw instead of a left arm that he used to shake menacingly at the advancing Roman soldiers and snap at anyone that attempted to interfere with his circles.

Attempts to replicate the effect of the Archimedes heat ray have had mixed results on
models of Roman ships, but have elsewhere proven to be devastating


Bears fans will get to see Rex Grossman make an emotional return to Soldier Field with the Redskins this weekend. According to this Tribune article, Grossman expects to be booed should he manage to get into the game, get shown on the JumboTron, or attempt to fling his clipboard downfield after getting confused and thinking that he saw Bernard Berrian running straight ahead wide open. But why would Bears fans boo Rex, the only quarterback to take the Bears to the Superbowl without the aid of flashy message-bearing headbands? I can understand the enmity of Bears fans against Grossman if he had walked around the city scattering citizens with a cane in the haughty Hohenzollern manner of Frederick William I, or bulldozed "Rex Rules OK" into the Meigs Field runways, or pillaged the Field Museum of priceless Egyptian artifacts so he could walk around dressed like Batman villain King Tut with impunity, but he did none of those things as far as I am aware. Instead he merely fit into the Bears tradition of underwhelming quarterbacks, albeit with a particular flair for ineptitude.

In order to properly give Rex his due, here's eight sincere minutes of Rex Grossman highlights set to "Eye of the Tiger."

Bears fans should celebrate both the highs of the Grossman era and the myriad comical
ways that opponents relieved him of the ball


The after months of uncertainty, politicking, intrigue, and the interference of the House of Bourbon, the Cubs have picked a successor to Lou Piniella. The new manager, chosen to trade fame and fortune for a Job-like existence at the helm of a team destined for eternal failure while enduring the jibes of angry fans and a vicious media is Mike Quade. Quade, who spent most of his career in the minor leagues, is best described by the phrase "grizzled baseball lifer" and that is not merely a cliche; expect Quade to erect his own thatch dugout, make his own tobacco juice, and trump all comers in locker room scar-sharing exhibitions.

The Cubs will be less fun to follow without Lou Piniella. Stats-minded baseball fans have raised questions about the importance of managers, many of whom can be argued to do more harm than good by putting hitters unable to get on base in the leadoff position because they are fast, call for unnecessary bunts, make curious pitching decisions, bench promising young players in favor of underperforming veterans, and engage in futile micromanagement for the sake of micromanagement. Of course, that does not take into consideration important motivational ploys such as walking around naked and creating provocative posters of any former showgirl owners. Piniella, of course, excelled at getting angry at umpires, developing the optimal body shape for bellying up to them and taking advantage of having a profession allowing him to scream at people three inches from their face and throw things with impunity. Lou's managerial rapping skills, however, are more dubious.

Lou makes an impassioned demand about either the strike zone
or free silver coinage


If there's one thing that careful study of European history has demonstrated, it is that aristocrats default to two behaviors: leading armies of musket-wielding infantry against each other and killing animals for their amusement. It was not enough to hunt animals; instead they decided to fling them about their courtyards in the brutal sport of fox tossing. Foxes or other small animals would scurry around a fox tossing arena while hopeful tossers stood about with cloth bands draped on the ground. When the animal found itself on top of a band, the participants would stretch it, catapulting animals into the air and competing for the highest toss. Noted fox tossing enthusiast Augustus the Strong (also apparently nicknamed as "Iron Hand" and "The Saxon Hercules" by an early modern Bruce Buffer equivalent) would toss with a only a single finger.

A gleeful tossing from 1719. Augustus II of Saxony (right) managed his impressive
feats of strength before the invention of the single-strap unitard

The fox tossing wikipedia page is full of helpful notes about this cultured practice, such as "The Swedish envoy Esaias Pufendorf, witnessing a fox-tossing contest held in Vienna in March 1672, noted in his diary his surprise at seeing the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold Icourt dwarfs and boys in clubbing to death the injured animals...". Boars were apparently more hazardous "to the great delectation of the cavaliers, but to the terror of the noble ladies, among whose hoop-skirts the wild boars committed great havoc, to the endless mirth of the assembled illustrious company."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Big Ten Home Opener

Northwestern hung in there in a tense win against Minnesota, battling not only the Gophers, but a litany of turnovers, special teams miscues and thoughtless penalties, similar how the French and British faced not only the fearsome forces of the Tsar but also the true winner of the Crimean War: cholera.

This website identifies the soldier
pictured as Colour Sergeant "Willie"
McGregor of the Scots Fusilier Guards
modeling a uniform meant to evoke
the sentient mound of hair look that
fell out of favor in British military
uniforms but later became de rigueur
for Joe Cocker's back-up band

The game must have been an infuriatingly frustrating loss for Gopher fans already disillusioned with the Brewster era and I'm tempted to feel sorry for them except that this is the Big Ten so not only do I feel no pity for down on their luck programs unable to defeat the Wildcats, but I fully expect the NU Athletic Department to sack the offices of their counterparts in a demonstration of merciless bureaucracy and carry off their valuable spices from the Orient away on ships cleverly named "The Marriageable Daughters" because that would sure confuse the barbaric raiding parties involved in this analogy that is finishing up right here at the end of this sentence.


The 'Cats open up under the lights at Ryan Field against a battered Purdue squad attempting to prove false the common medical assumption that knee injuries are not contagious. The Boilermakers were attempting to turn this season around and produce a winning season for second-year head coach Danny Hope. Even if this season does not pan out, Hope has plenty of opportunity to build a winner at Purdue for obvious reasons.

Fig. 1

On paper, Northwestern should have the advantage over this injury-ravaged squad, but we can throw out the record books because it's Big Ten Football under the lights and the last annual meeting of these two squads in an Inexplicably Protected Rivals Showdown. Next year, Northwestern and Purdue will of course be separated into two divisions, but I contend that it will only marinate this bitter rivalry between two conference rivals whose mutual antipathy dates back to the time some Big Ten official decided that we should play each other all of the time and not even dignify the game with some sort of embarrassing knick-knack trophy featuring a hat, a medieval weapon, or the contents of Joe Paterno's desk circa 1967.


The Bears game last Sunday night was spectacular for fans of sacks, concussions, and ineptitude, spear-headed by the matadoric offensive line gracefully stepping out of the way of onrushing defensive linemen that clumsily crashed again and again into Jay Cutler.

Cutler showed a need to spend more time working
on fleeing for his life drills such as the one shown
above from training camp in Bourbonnais

The Bears announced today that Todd Collins is starting, joining the endless list of random quarterbacks who have started for the Bears including Moses Moreno, Craig Krenzel, Henry Burris, Jonathan Quinn, Kordell Stewart, Adlai E. Stevenson, Mike "Hinky Dink" Kenna, Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan, Abe Froman, and Bonesaw McGraw. If anything, the Bears have been an entertaining team this season either by winning through nonsensical referee pedantics, an absurd flurry of opponent penalties, or losing in a way reminiscent of falling victim to the diabolical and unethical nosetackle dive play in Tecmo Super Bowl. The only reliable thing we've learned about the Bears this season is that overwrought post-game radio shows have convinced me that the phrase "nine sacks in da first half" is a surprisingly reliable Chicago accent shibboleth.


There's a dearth in popular mallet-percussion bands barnstorming around the country these days performing jaunty tunes for our amusement, so fortunately we have a relic of happier times with Reg Kehoe and His Marimba Queens. I'm greatly disappointed to live in a time where the odds of someone existing named "Reg Kehoe" are remote enough, let alone someone with that name in charge of an all-female Marimba band. Take a look at this 1940 film clip featuring his song stylings, although the show is stolen by the flamboyant bassist flailing uncontrollably slightly out of sync with the music which makes it seems like he's whaling on an upright bass while an unrelated bass solo plays in the background in some sort of Roosevelt-era Millie Vanilli situation.

Fig. 2: Chart of Bassist Enthusiasm

One of the all-time great situations where a marimba takes over a song occurs in the Herb Alpert tune Tijuana Taxi that, interestingly enough, relies equally on helpless flailing to sell the song in what appears to an attempt to approach the platonic ideal of silly 1960s dancing. Serapes are also involved. This video is at least a step up from his attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of capitalism by annoying hard-working instrument factory workers with a shockingly square version of the Nate Adderly classic Work Song (it does not hold a candle to the Oscar Brown, Jr. version where he's added lyrics such as "left the grocery store man bleeding/when he caught me robbing his store).

The dancers in the Tijuana Taxi video demonstrate one of three
possible dancing facial expressions: the frozen smile (designed to
cover up resentment at being forced to perform the jerk), intense
glowering, and, of course, relentless hunger for brains

Finally, enjoy a wonderful version of one my favorite tunes, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise performed by Benny Goodman while ignoring the vibraphone player's eerie resemblance to a gregarious, mallet-wielding Lenin.


Northwestern's spotless record has earned it the #25 position in the Coach's Poll. A strong victory against Purdue will not only possibly move into a consensus ranking, but also make Northwestern technically bowl eligible before moving into a tough second half of the season. Hopefully, the Wildcats will defend Ryan Field from the Boilermakers and prevent any pillaging from the Purdue Athletic Department. Otherwise Northwestern will be forced to break out its toughest defense yet: typhus.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nonconference Update

Sometimes, time moves really fast and you wake up and realize that Northwestern is 4-0 against a challenging non-conference slate of mostly FBS teams, quarterback Dan Persa is looking like the best Northwestern signal caller since Otto Graham, and people in the nineteenth century continue to have comical facial hair.

A lot can happen when you're not paying attention

Northwestern survived a nailbiter against Vanderbilt, crushed Illinois State, dominated Rice, and played fairly decently against MAC powerhouse Central Michigan. It was very clear in each of those games that Coach Fitz and Mick McCall wanted to embrace the running game and it became clearer that running the ball might fall by the wayside alongside other foiled plans such as the Concert of Europe or reliable '80s movie villain William Atherton co-opting Val Kilmer's talent with lasers.

Viscount Castlereagh (left), a major voice in the development of the
post-Waterloo Congress system managed to survive a minor political
scandal when he shot rival and fellow cabinet minister George Canning
(the saucily-posed man at right) in a duel in a more civilized age when
politicians were able to cut through the red tape of political disagreement
with firearms. Much like Northwestern's non-conference schedule,
Castlereagh wisely chose an opponent that he could reasonably handle as
Canning had never before fired a pistol; likewise, Northwestern has not only
added ancient rival Chicago Dental back to its non-conference schedule but
is also scheduled to take on a local haberdashery and leading
representatives of the Bull Moose Party at Ryan Field next season.


Obviously the big story for Minnesota is whether or not the Gophers will rally around embattled coach Tim Brewster-- actually, I don't think the unnecessarily martial cliche "embattled" is strong enough for Brewster's position; "besieged" seems more appropriate or alternately "approximating the college football coaching version of the four seconds before a wild-eyed Mola Ram rips out one's heart in an underground amphiteater conveniently located above a giant pit of lava."

Mola Ram thought he got a good deal on Pankot Palace until he realized the upkeep cost
on miles of underground tunnels and shoddy plank bridges

From all accounts, Brewster's style is relentlessly positive, but he might have to assert himself more in order to prove to the school that he still has control of the locker room. Perhaps he can model himself after legendary Paraguayan General Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco who became known as El Supremo Dictador of Paraguay 1814 (from a time in the nineteenth century when it was perfectly acceptable to fashion oneself formally as a dictator and have it printed on nineteenth century business cards that one hands out while taunting other leaders at international conferences). According to his Wikipedia page, Francia's reign followed the modern dictator playbook to a T: becoming instrumental in tearing the country from the yoke of Spanish oppression, declaring oneself head of the national Church, closing the borders, antagonizing neighbors, and then coming up with increasingly spectacular demands such as personally conducting all weddings, declaring war on dogs, and demanding that citizens tip their hats to him when he passed or, if hatless, carry a hat brim for tipping purposes. Francia remained in power until 1840.

El Supremo assures you that if he
was not a dictator, he would not
have gotten away with that

The 'Cats will be hoping to take advantage of a discombobulated Minnesota squad on the cusp of a coaching coup and Gopher fans hope that they'll be able to turn around their disastrous start in conference play with a win.


I recently stumbled upon the miraculously thorough Sword Swallower's Hall of Fame, chronicling the greatest practitioners of this noble art. I have no proof, but I'm willing to wager that if it happened in sword swallowing in the last several hundred years, it appears on that website, with sections for performers with fantastic names like "Veno the Electric Sword Swallower," "The Yankee Yogi," and, tantalizingly, an entry referencing an 1867 work entitled "Bizarre Medical Abnormalities."

An 1899 poster of sword swallower
Chevalier Cliquot found on the Hall of Fame
website. As the poster demonstrates, the
Cliquot act evidently consisted of
swallowing multiple swords, balancing rifles
on his face, and modeling what I'm anxiously
hoping will soon become acceptable attire for
high-stakes business meetings or international

Finally, readers need to be aware of this lost footage of a sadly abandoned Orson Welles project entitled "Orson Welles: the One Man Band" in which he plays a number of elderly and certainly gout-ridden members of a bygone London club. There's no audio on the club scene and I'm having trouble deciding whether that makes this more or less horrifying:


Northwestern will be hoping to start of Big Ten play with a big win in the Gopher state, avenging last year's loss and paving the way for a not entirely implausible shot at going 6-0 against the reeling Gophers and knee injury-ravaged Boilermakers. Even with a weak non-conference schedule, that would be quite a coup by Fitz and the team, one worth tipping one's cap or Francia-approved hat substitute to.