Farewell, Noisy Neighbors

I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to the NFL these days. I gather than the 49ers are having a fairly good season, though you wouldn’t have thought it from last night’s implosion. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, however, a momentous event has taken place. Yesterday the Raiders played their last game in Oakland before heading off to Las Vegas for the new season. There are, of course, those who will say that Vegas is entirely in keeping with the Raider aesthetic, but how many of their devoted fans will be able to make the trip to the new stadium is very much open to doubt. The Raiders might have been noisy neighbors, but they were our neighbors and now they are leaving. We will miss them. More importantly, Oakland deserves better.

To mark the event, I would like to direct you to this article that I wrote for Emerald City back in 2003. It attempts to explain Bay Area sterotypes by way of the local football teams. Along the way it gently pokes fun at both groups. A few thngs have changed in the intervening years. The 49ers no longer live at Candlestick Park, and mobile phones are now well within the price range of Raiders fans, but much of it still holds good, I think.

Superbowl Paganism Scandal!

I’m not a big fan of the Superbowl half time show. Ever since the embarrassment of The Who’s appearance I have cringed at the thought of it. Normally I use that time to get ready for bed. I’m not a big fan of Katy Perry’s music either, so I didn’t pay much attention this year. However, catching up with people’s tweets after the show I found something interesting. Tell me, sports fans, when you saw this:

Katy Perry as Priestess of Ishtar

did you immediately think of this?

Ishtar rides a lion

Because I did. Yep, that’s one great big piece of pagan symbolism there, right in the middle of the most watched show on American television. And not just any paganism either, feminist Iraqi paganism.

When I woke up this morning I half expected Faux News and the evangelicals to be bleating about Faith Malfunction and Lesbian Terrorist Lions, but as far as I can see there hasn’t been a peep. So congratulations, Priestess Katy. The First Church of Ishtar, Newly Revived, thoroughly approves of your actions. Go, go paganism!

Or, as we sports-loving pagans like to say,

TOUCHDOWN!!!

I Get Podcast

I am so behind on podcast listening. There are episodes of Coode Street, Galactic Suburbia, The Writer & The Critic, Shout Out and For Books Sake that I need to listen to. I have, however, managed to catch the latest Outer Alliance podcast. Yes, that’s ego-driven. I’m on it.

In episode #31 the fabulous Julia Rios talks to a number of Outer Alliance members on a variety of subjects. I get to pontificate about awards, recycle an old joke about the difference between Raiders and 49ers fans, and enthuse about Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gail Simone, Stephanie Saulter and other great people. The other guests have really good contributions as well, and the variety of reactions to QUILTBAG as a term is fascinating. You can listen here.

By the way, the recording was made a couple of week ago, so neither Julia nor I was able to react to the Aurealis Awards being just as much of a vagfest as the Ditmars.

Thanks as always to Julia for having me as a guest.

Ain’ts No More

For the benefit of those of you not familiar with NFL history, the New Orleans Saints have a long tradition of under-achievement. So much so that their fans started referring to them as the “Ain’ts” and coming to games with paper bags over their heads. Last night that tradition was gloriously laid to rest.

It was, in many ways, a fairytale ending. And that’s not just the heartwarming story of a city trashed by a hurricane and left to rot by Washington working its way back to self-confidence on the back of a successful sports team. Stories and story-makers about in New Orleans.

There was the trans-Atlantic connection for a start. The Saints’ head coach, Sean Payton, spent some happy early years in England as quarterback of the Leicester Panthers. Playing at tight end on the same team was a lad called Martin Johnson who is the former captain and now head coach of the England rugby squad.

Then there’s the literary connection. On my twitter feed Neil Gaiman and Peter Straub were cheering on the Saints in support of their friend and fanatical Saints fan, Poppy Z. Brite. I understand that Harlan Ellison was supporting the Saints too.

I don’t have any Hollywood people on my Twitter feed, but I’m sure that Brad Pitt was cheering for the Saints and the city he adopted following Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is a city where everyone loves to go to party. It has hosted several superbowls for that very reason. Now at last it has a chance to party in its own right. As Bill McLaren might have said, there will have been dancing in the French Quarter last night. They’ll probably still be dancing next week.

Let’s drop in on Preservation Hall and see what they are up to.

Les Bleus Look Scary

The third and final game of this weekend’s 6 Nations matches was between Scotland and France. Jerry Guscott noted earlier in the week that statistically France tends to win the 6 (or 5) Nations in years following a Lions tour. Despite their bruising trip to New Zealand over the winter, which probably left them with as many bruises and the Lions got in South Africa, many people are tipping Les Bleus for the championship this year. On the basis of today’s game, those people are right.

Firstly the French pack totally destroyed the Scottish scrum. Had the Scots not had the excuse of a pitch that was cutting up badly and making keeping your footing difficult Nigel Owens might have awarded a few penalty tries. And of course they out-ran the Scots too. Scotland were defending horribly narrowly and were always vulnerable to quick, wide ball. The stars of the French back line were the cunning little Francois Trinh-Duc, and the amiable, chubby giant, Mathieu Bastareaud, who clearly fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby and doesn’t know his own strength.

The Scots will be pleased with the performances of Sean Lamont and Beattie, and with the fact that Chris Patterson is still the best kicker in the world. They will be less pleased at yet another match in which they never looked like scoring a try.

As Bill McLaren would have said, they’ll be dancing in the streets of Paris tonight. Here’s hoping that the fleur-de-lis flies proudly over the Louisiana Territory as well. Geaux Saints!

Weekend Entertainment

This weekend sees the most important sporting event of the year. No, not that little game in Miami, though I will be watching that as well (Geaux Saints!). I refer, of course, to the annual Wales – England rugby match.

This year the game is in London, which should help England overcome their natural disadvantage of being, well, English. Also the England side is very much in a rebuilding phase, with many young players looking to establish their reputations. The Welsh side, on the other hand, is stuffed full of veterans of two Grand Slam campaigns. They ought to win. Expectation always brings pressure.

My main worry is at scrum half. Gareth Cooper is the Welsh third choice – Philips and Peel both being injured. He’s a good player but, as I’m sure Will will explain in the comments, Danny Care is a wily fox and proving worthy of being England’s first choice at the position.

My other worry is the referee. As the BBC and Martyn Williams explain, some new regulations have just been handed down regarding how rucks will be policed. Going into the game, the players will be unsure what is legal and what isn’t. They will need to watch the referee carefully and see how he whistles the game. But Wales cannot afford to give away penalties, because if they do then Jonny Wilkinson will kick them, and then we’ll probably lose.

On the bright side, the selection of Tait instead of Hipkiss suggests that England are actually going to try to play rugby rather than mud wrestling, and when they do things that don’t come naturally to them they often get in a terrible mess. We shall see.

Sunday Linkage

No, I’m not taking the day off, I’m trying to catch up (again).

– What sounds like a wonderful piece of historical detective work: a book about the man who inspired Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner”.

– M. John Harrison reviews John Wyndham’s Plan for Chaos.

– An article about trans people in Pakistan that is more interesting for what it says about Islam than what is says about gender.

One of many reasons why I will be supporting the Saints next weekend.

The Boss’s Big Day Out

A quick follow-up to last night’s Twitter coverage of the Big Event, in which Bruce and the E-Street Band played a short gig during the half time of some football game. The songs played were: “10th Avenue Freeze Out”, “Born to Run”, “Working on a Dream” and “Glory Days”; in that order. It was clear that Bruce and the band were having a whale of a time, but also working within some fairly hefty constraints. They had to play “Born to Run”, they had to plug the new album, and they needed two other songs. “Glory Days” was a natural because it actually mentions football. I also suspect the two end tracks were chosen because they had flexible instrumental sections that all you to do stuff leading in and out – such as the joke about being penalized for “delay of game” if they didn’t get off stage.

Possibly the best bit of the gig, however, was the opening shot of Bruce and Clarence back to back in silhouette. It was a lovely touch.

I do have the new album, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet. I shall blog when I do.

Morning, What Morning?

We managed to get out of the hotel by noon. Breakfast, as Kevin reports, was at the lovely Court of the Two Sisters. It is a buffet, so the food wasn’t brilliant, but it was still better than most bunch buffets you could find, and it has a fabulous setting. I determined to find a recipe for Oysters Bienville (which I have since done). It was also half the price of breakfast at Brennans (but possibly not half as good).

Bourbon Street was up and watching the Saints game. Fortunately they were not playing the 49ers, and we managed to get back to our hotel before Campbell and Moss ripped the beat-up Saints secondary to shreds in the 4th quarter. The quarter was a little subdued when we went out for an afternoon walk, but I managed to find several very interesting places, all of which deserve a post of their own.

Sweet Sixteen

Yesterday Ricky Ponting’s Australians completed a comprehensive thrashing of India that took their current win streak to 15-0. Today, Tom Brady’s Patriots took their own winning streak to 16-0, equaling the perfect regular season record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Australians take the field again on Tuesday. A second win over India will take them to 16-0, which will equal the current world record for consecutive test match victories held by Steve Waugh’s Australian side. The Patriots, of course, have the playoff games to come, and hope to match the Dolphins by staying undefeated through to the Superbowl. It will be interesting to see which side cracks first.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, test match cricket is a sport in which many matches end in a draw. Winning a test match is a much harder feat than winning an NFL game. On the other hand, Ponting and his team don’t have to worry about salary caps and drafts and all the other tricks that the NFL uses to try to prevent dynasties from developing. As long as Australia keeps breeding top class cricketers they can expect to continue their dominance of the world game.

Miracles Do Happen

Both the Raiders and the 49ers managed to win today, though having seen parts of both games I think it might be more accurate to say that both teams were gifted games by opponents even more hopeless than they are. On the other hand, the 49ers did manage to put together more offense than they have produced in the last four games combined. Most importantly, they finally managed to unleash Frank Gore. If this marks a turning of the corner for the offensive line it will be a very good thing indeed.

Boston (again)

So, here I am in Boston. During my layover in Denver I got to see the first half of the Patriots comprehensive destruction of the Redskins, and on my arrival here I got to see the the Red Sox clinch the World Series. There are a lot of happy people here in Boston.

Me included, because my hotel is thus far proving very comfortable. This is important, oh Smoffish ones, because this is the hotel in which SMOFcon will be held later this year. No time to look around tonight, but I promise more info tomorrow. Let me know if there’s anything in particular that you want me to check out.

Pretty in Pink

The Heineken Cup, the top tournament in European rugby, is now only a little over a week away. Over on Sky Sports, Stuart and Dewi have been looking into the form of the French sides. And the word from across the Channel is that Stade Francais, the over-paid glamor boys of world rugby, are finally living up to their talent. What is the cause of this miraculous turn-around in form? Well, it just might be the “boy named Sue” sydrome.

You see, there is a hierarchy in ball games. Soccer players wear their hair long and spend lots of time kissing each other after a goal. Gridiron players wear lots of armor so that they don’t get hurt. But rugby is a seriously macho game. You can tell veteran rugby players from their scars and broken noses and missing ears. It is, after all, a sport in which jumping up and down on your opponents is legal. If you show any sign of weakness, you have to go out there and perform or risk getting laughed at. And so, some genius coach in Paris decided that the right thing to do was get their boys playing ruby wearing pink orchids.

Quick, someone tell Al Davis. I mean, it can’t possible make the Raiders any worse, can it?

Progress

Well, that was an improvement. To start with the 49ers actually won a game. What’s more they did it against the Rams, whom we dislike on principle even if they don’t play in L.A. any more. And the defense got a total of six sacks, which is always good to see. On the downside, although we scored two touchdowns, they were both from distance. The red zone completion rate was 0%. We had the same problem last week. This has to get better.