Friday, May 29, 2015

The Old Ball Game

Off to Minneapolis, in part to see Toronto at the Twins.  First major league game I've been to in... long enough that I can't remember, and it's my last place team in the home of a first place opponent.  I'm sure it will be lots of fun watching Mark Buerhle lob softballs to the Twins hitters.  At least we're in the left field seats- I bet at least one ball's going to land in our section.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UFC 187 Aftermath

Revisiting the picks:

Namajunas/Ansaroff: Super disappointed this one didn't go down.  I hope they reschedule soon.

Dodson/Makovsky: I really hope this was a case of Makovsky being much better than his previous record and performances would indicate, because if not it means DJ is even farther ahead of the rest of the division than we thought.  He'll go down as the greatest UFC champion hardly anyone remembers.

Benavidez/Moraga: Predicted third round KO for Benavidez, but he won by decision.  Nothing particularly surprising about any of it, though.

Browne/Arlovski: Yeah, I picked Browne, but I also said it was more likely to end in two rounds than Browne was to win.  With guys like this, it's sometimes easier to call how long the fight will last than who will win.  But holy shit, that was insane.  How often do you see a fight get stopped where the loser is still swinging?  Browne's ability to stay on his feet, however wobbly he was, was extraordinary, and if he'd won with that hail mary it would have been a top five miracle finish in UFC history, maybe MMA history.  It's the kind of thing that would have ended Arlovski years ago; the fact he's surviving it later in his career is a little amazing.  Good for him, though.

Cerrone/Makdessi: I guess I was being goofy calling a submission win for Cowboy.  But the only surprise about that ass-whooping was how long it took to finish.  I wonder how long it will take Makdessi to recover from that busted jaw.  The potential upside to this fight for Makdessi was that taking it on short notice would make his next payday come sooner and give him bonus points with the UFC brass, and he wasn't going to have much better of a chance at beating Cerrone with a full training camp.  This is the downside, if he's out for a long time because of the injury.

Weidman/Belfort: The competition angels are singing.  I know it's not fair or correct to say Belfort only has three minutes of fight in him when none of it is coming out of a syringe, but I'm going to unfairly go on acting like that's the case.

Johnson/Cormier: So much grind, so many boos.  Considering how hard Johnson nailed Cormier with that strike ten or so seconds in, it should have been clear to anyone who hadn't thought about it before that shoving Johnson against the fence was Cormier's only prayer.  And if that wasn't enough of a clue, Cormier's apparent inability to defend against Johnson's strikes at the start of round two had to prove it beyond doubt.

Even knowing that those big muscular guys have more trouble keeping their cardio because their bodies chew up so much oxygen, I'm a little surprised Johnson was breathing so hard not even halfway through the second round.  I'm also a little surprised Johnson's ground game was so totally inadequate, as much as there was no way he was going to match Cormier's skill level in grappling.  I think he was right about Cormier being a tougher matchup for him than Jones; Jones wouldn't bring a fighting style that created such an absolute mismatch for Johnson.  Congrats to Cormier.

Friday, May 22, 2015

UFC 187!

Let's get away from the heavy stuff for a minute and do some predictorizing.

Main Card

Joe Benavidez vs. John Moraga: Benavidez has four losses in his career: two to Dominick Cruz, two to Demetrious Johnson.  One loss to each guy was a split decision.  Moraga's record is almost as impressive: one loss to DJ and two to John Dodson, who is the only non-DJ active fighter that might be able to take Benavidez.  But I'll take a guy who fought his way into a bantamweight title fight, gave up six inches to Cruz, and damn near beat him over someone whose most impressive victory is over Chris Cariaso.

Pick: Benavidez by third round KO.

Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski: Browne was becoming a bigger name in the heavyweight division before he got whooped all over by current champ ("champ", I suppose) Fabricio Werdum.  Arlovski... where the hell did he come from?  He got dumped by the UFC after getting KO'd over and over- at the time his record was 15-9, with seven of those losses coming via knockout- then strung together enough wins to earn another shot amongst the fairly thin roster of UFC heavyweights.  Then he takes down Brendan Schaub and Bigfoot, which, they may not be world-beaters, but they're not half-dead bodies getting thrown in there at the last minute against someone they have no business fighting (see: Camozzi, Chris).

It's hard to gauge what to expect from a guy in Arlovski's position.  Fighters of all stripes who have taken several KO losses, especially consecutively, often just continue to fall apart.  In boxing this is sometimes masked by setting them up against weak opposition, but even if Arlovski benefited from that initially, he faced Anthony Johnson in the WSOF without getting KO'd and beat two reasonable UFC-level heavyweights.  Thus, even though Browne throws down harder whoopins than a Southern grandma, it's hard to assume this is going to be a one-sided beatdown the way it almost certainly would have been two years ago.

That doesn't mean it won't be a beatdown, though.

Pick: Brown by second round KO (caveat: the second round KO is more likely than Browne winning).

Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi: Cerrone recently told a story about getting punched in the face by a road raging driver at Whole Foods, then walking away because it was the smart thing to do.  If Donald Cerrone is a badass- which he is- the idea of a Cerrone with that level of self-control should make unusual mixtures of fluids run down the legs of most of his opponents.  Not all; dos Anjos is the champ, Khabib needs to worry more about his knees than whether someone else can beat him, and Benson Henderson doesn't give a fuck.  It applies to everyone else, though, and John Makdessi is part of everyone else.

Pick: Cerrone by first round submission.

Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort: Where is this fight taking place?  Vegas?  The land of actual drug testing?  Vitor will be lucky to walk out of there with his mohawk still attached.

Pick: Weidman by second round KO.

Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier: Hey, I called this one!  It never mattered that Cormier had just lost to Jon Jones; Gustafsson obviously couldn't be the fill-in, since Johnson had beaten him for the title shot, and once you hit #4 in the rankings you're already down to Rashad Evans, who hasn't fought in a year and a half.  Ryan Bader is #5 on the strength of the good-not-great wins he's built his career from (most recently Phil Davis, who just bolted for Bellator's money, and try to make the argument his departure had to do with the realization he'll never be a UFC champ).  Cormier was the only even theoretically championship-level opponent left.  What happened to the depth in this division?

In any case, AJ is on such an extraordinary run since turning his career around that, no matter what people think of his chances to beat Jones, hardly anyone appears to dispute the notion that he at least has the best chance of anyone.  Beating the guy who nearly beat Jones is, of course, no guarantee of his performance in that fight, but given how quickly he wrecked Gustafsson, it made the prospect of Johnson-Jones quite exciting.  And it means that no matter how much respect you give Cormier as a fighter, it's hard to find ways to favor him here.

And yet...

Johnson is only two inches shorter than Jones, but his reach is six inches less (78" vs. 84").  It's still an advantage over Cormier (72"), and the sheer power he brings could theoretically make it easier for him to keep Cormier at bay.  But Cormier was a heavyweight for most of his career, which makes him better suited than most LHWs to take shots in an attempt to land takedowns on a guy with zero career submissions and no reputation for much of a ground game whatsoever.

I don't think Johnson gets the finish here.  That gives Cormier every opportunity to grind out a decision.  The betting gods surprisingly agree- Cormier is slight favorite, despite Johnson's increasing popularity and capability to end a fight at any moment.

And yet...

Some part of me wants to see the AJ redemption tale finish itself off, even though I'd be just as happy to see Cormier finally win some kind of a title.  And it's close enough that neither pick is dumb.  But I'm picking this to go the distance, and I can't figure out how that happens without Cormier grinding Johnson into the mat and pissing everyone off in the process.

Pick: Cormier by unanimous decision (49-46 x2, 48-47)

Other Interesting Fights

Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff: Namajunas has been supplanted as the golden child of the strawweight division by Paige VanZant, but she's still the higher-ranked fighter.  As it should be: her pro record is only 2-2, but her losses were to Carla Esparza and Tecia Torres, and her skill set suggests she should be able to maintain at least a top five or six ranking as long as she wants.  The long-term question of whether she has the potential to be champ became a lot murkier with the rise of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but fortunately for her, this is a back-on-track fight, not being launched into another divisional buzzsaw.

Or is it?  All the lighter weight classes currently suffer from divisional depth, so it's a little tougher to judge Ansaroff based on previous opponents.  She has zero noteworthy wins, but apart from Casey Noland, her losses are no more shameful than any of Namajunas'.  Most interesting about her, however, is that four of her six wins have been via KO.  That's a substantially higher percentage than even Jedrzejczyk or Joanne Calderwood, the two most noteworthy strikers in the division.

I declared that if Namajunas wins here, a battle against VanZant would come next.  I'm still going to call that, even if only because Dana White wants it so badly his mental energy knocks Ansaroff down and lets Namajunas finish the fight.  If Ansaroff wins, it's going to throw some of the divisional promotion into disarray, so if you're a conspiracy theorist, that's good reason to back Namajunas.  Even if you're not, Namajunas should still have the ability to win here, but we're going to find out just where she is as a fighter, and possibly if we should ever hope to see her earn a title shot.

Pick: Namajunas by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)

John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky: This fight is not so interesting on its own merits, but rather in how it speaks of the division overall.  If Dodson wins- and he will- a look up and down the division brings up the question of why women's bantamweight is frequently dismissed as having no depth, while men's flyweight rarely gets a word one way or the other.'

The divisional depth in both cases is not great.  And they're not the only divisions with depth issues; as previously mentioned, the light heavyweights are astonishingly thin.  But they're both divisions that appear thin in part due to the absolute dominance of their champions.  DJ might not be as dominant as Ronda Rousey in terms of his performances, but he still beats everyone they throw at him, and it's rarely close.  In fact, DJ has the same number of top 10 wins- he's beaten the current #1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10, whereas Rousey has wins over #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9.  Henry Cejudo is the only fighter in either division that is perceived as having more than a dreamer's chance at overtaking the current champ.

Dodson is the #1 contender in the flyweight division.  He's going to crush Makovsky, who is not only not really a prospect, he hasn't finished a fight in four years.  And Makovsky is the division's #9 guy.  I'm not saying women's bantamweight is being treated unfairly; I think widespread perception of the division is skewed because Rousey ruins everybody's shit, but it's not super deep.  Disregarding the very similar situation in men's flyweight is where the balance gets out of whack.  If it's happening because DJ is a quiet champ and no one really pays attention to those guys at all, that's probably the best case scenario, but it's hard to see that as the only reason the dialogue runs the way it does.

Pick: Dodson by first round KO.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Wife Bonus

I don't even know.

And then there were the wife bonuses.
I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.
A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a “good” school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don’t just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting.
Women who didn’t get them joked about possible sexual performance metrics. Women who received them usually retreated, demurring when pressed to discuss it further, proof to an anthropologist that a topic is taboo, culturally loaded and dense with meaning.

There's a certain "you do you" aspect to this; the writer is dealing with college-educated women who have chosen to undertake lives involving no professional career, just being stay at home moms with particularly wealthy husbands who can support them in ways few of us will ever even glimpse, much less experience.  Because there were other paths open to these women, and they embraced these futures with eyes open, the fact their lives resemble a high-class version of Leave It To Beaver isn't as problematic as the expectation of women living as mothers and caretakers.

I'm sure that part of what squicks me out here is the pre-nup/post-nup aspect.  In my wildest fantasies of fame and wealth, I still don't reach a point where this sort of thing seems like anything other than a relic, an aspect of a lifestyle I find incomprehensible.  It's a personal reaction; I know these agreements are often quite rational, since hyper-rich people are unlikely to meet and marry someone equally hyper-rich, and a self-protective pre-nup is hardly the sole unromantic thing people do leading into their supposed happy lives together.  So I'm doing my best to set that aside in my perception of this phenomenon.

And let's be clear: as backwards as this setup seems to be in many ways, this is a relatively rare instance of a stay at home parent being given something as tangible as hard cash for the work of keeping the household running.  Millions of words have been written by smarter and more knowledgeable people than myself on the inequity of stay at home mothers not being paid for their labor, so I won't banter on about that.  The fact that this is an artifact of wealth, not something the bottom 99% of families (maybe more) could even dream of doing, doesn't change the fact that this is measurably better than the stay at home wives of wealthy men not receiving anything except what hubby feels like doling out at random intervals.

The bothersome thing here is the fact it's a "bonus".  Being paid by your spouse under any circumstances can be weird or problematic, but consider the difference between being told your husband/wife is going to pay you based on what schools your kids get into, how smoothly the house runs, etc., and being told, "Since your working effort is being spent on home and kids, I'll give you (fifty grand a year/a thousand bucks a week/a hard percentage of whatever I make) for you to use however you like.  That's your money, no questions asked."  The former setup is based on performance or metrics or whatever the fuck all that is called; the latter involves trusting your partner to hold up their end of the bargain.

I admit another small bias here: I think performance-based stuff usually sucks.  In most jobs, those "bonuses" become your basic income, which screws with your approach to the job.  Salesmen who are paid directly based on their sales have every motivation to bullshit, or at least elide the truth, to get you to buy whatever junk they're pawning off.  Likewise, if these "wife bonuses" are the only real way for these women to have their own money- which they clearly would like to have- it can skew how they approach the tasks that lead to receiving said bonus money.  That's especially troubling in cases where it involves, say, getting Junior into some high-end school.  What if, in Mom's judgment, it's not a good fit for him, for whatever reason?  Creating a situation where even the slightest possibility of tension exists between the best move for the family and Mom's profit motive is fucking crazy- these things can and do affect people subconsciously, or get them to rationalize things they otherwise wouldn't in order to believe they're doing right by everyone.

And it's your goddamned family.  How the shit are you going to marry somebody who you're not confident is going to do right by everyone to the best of their ability?  If it was because these guys keep marrying women due to their superficial qualities, the women being interviewed wouldn't consistently have degrees.

Thing is, I would be surprised if these contracts are set up as bonuses because the husbands doubt the capacity of their wives to be good stay at home moms.  I'm betting this occurs because these guys, who according to the article often work with hedge funds or other financial institutions, are probably most used to performance pay structures.  On the one hand, that makes it somewhat logical, but on the other and much more troublesome hand, it creates an unbalanced power dynamic where none need exist.  The problem with SAHMs not being paid for their work isn't solely about the lack of income; the correlated issue is that women in such a situation often wind up in thrall to their husbands because they have neither their own money nor a career to fall back on if things go south.  The kind of wealth involved in these "wife bonus" relationships could eliminate that type of dynamic altogether; instead the husbands remain, to some degree, the arbiters of what their wives receive even though they both agree she should get something.

Maybe it's not something which should trigger a lot of sympathy.  Again, these women agreed to these sorts of terms, and because of their education and general proximity to wealth, the thing most likely to trap them in a subpar relationship is being accustomed to luxury rather than lacking the logistical capability to leave and start anew.  But it's bothersome in a broader sense: the fact these women, probably the ones most capable of creating level playing fields in relationships with wealthy men, don't (or can't) do it could indicate just how far off that mindset of equality we are across the board.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sansa Mothafuckin' Stark

What?  I can post about other stuff.

This is your technical spoiler alert, although if you give any type of shit about Game of Thrones, you've probably seen or heard about this already.

Right, good?  Moving along.

So.  Littlefinger left Sansa in the clutches of the Boltons, and Ramsay raped her on their wedding night while Theon watched.  The reactions I've seen have ranged from "this is unfortunate but logical for where they've taken the story" to more froth than you'd find in a barrel of hot cocoa.  I'm sure there's also the "fuck it she needed to learn her place" contingent, but I don't go to those parts of the internet because I would end up spinning my investigative skills into full gear and eventually be convicted of a hate crime.

This is the third major rape scene the show has thrown at us in five seasons.  In a basic storytelling way, I sympathize with the writers; rape is the Big Hammer of storytelling tools and must be used with the utmost caution, even if it's only being referenced and not shown, but they're working with material set in a world where rape is more common than people brushing their teeth.  It can't be ignored completely, but showing poor judgment with it can fracture or completely break a story that's otherwise been perfectly told.

Since part of accepting the use of rape in a story is trust in the producers of said story, let's run through the first two instances.

1) Khal Drogo rapes Daenerys on their wedding night.  This is how it's oftened explained by people who don't like the fact it happened, but they could go farther: the show indicates it continues for quite a bit longer than one night.  Eventually Daenerys turns to her maids for help in retaking some of that power from Drogo, which is where she begins winning his respect and their love story takes off.

The main complaint with the scene is that the book showed the scene as scary and looming for Daenerys, but eventually it became something more sweet and romantic.  By the end of the night, she says yes.  On a basic level, it's understandable to object to a consensual scene being changed into a rape scene (see example #2 below); I would say that is the default mindset of most reasonable people.  This, however, fails to take into account how utterly goddamned creepy the scene from the book is.

As most people who have partaken of both the books and the show are aware, the time frame of the show was pushed forward three years to age the characters.  This was mostly to make some of the things involving the younger characters substantially less weird and troubling.  Therefore, here is the baseline plot for Daenerys leading up to her marriage to Drogo:

-Sold by her brother to Drogo in return for the promise of an army
-Treated like dogshit by said brother; not prepared for her role as Drogo's wife in any real way
-Married to Drogo and sent off alone with him to consummate the marriage
-Oh, yeah, she's thirteen

In the book, young, small, fairly beat-down Daenerys is initially rather reluctant begin relations with Drogo.  She's crying at the start of it.  The scene is written as, Drogo's going to get what he wants, but he's not sadistic or unfeeling; he's set up as being quite different from Viserys.  In that respect, maybe it can be logically set up for Daenerys to submit for the moment and in time they win each other over.  But then she says "yes"- openly consents- on the first night of a marriage she was sold into and unprepared to deal with as a thirteen-year-old.  Even taking into account the fact kids were expected to handle a lot more than they are in the modern world, that's a turn of events with questionable believability.

The way the show handles it is much more plausible.  Daenerys is sent into what should be a bad situation, and it starts out just as bad as it looked from the outside.  Given how the khalasar treats women generally, there's nothing particularly surprising about how Drogo acts towards her, or how she reacts towards him and everything else.  And asserting herself seems like the most logical way for her to win Drogo over, to the point where she's as much his equal as she could possibly be in that society.

I can understand the feeling that it was unnecessary, and it could have been handled in a gentler way.  But the first night consent was always weird and unrealistic, and any scene removing that consent would be a rape scene one way or another.

2) Jaime rapes Cersei in the sept next to Joffrey's body.  Let's begin with the brief replay of a conversation between a coworker and I the day after this episode aired.

Him: "That was kinda rapey."
Me: "There was no 'kinda' involved."

This was a drastic fuck up by the show runners.  The book scene was only strange in that it happened next to their son's body.  It was very obviously consensual, with Jaime's return to King's Landing sparking them in a way that even the time and place couldn't prevent.  The TV scene was so bad, and enough of a detour from the attitudes of the characters in the books, that the question "do the people running this shit even know what a rape scene is" became valid.

Follow-up comments from the show's producers suggest they were aware of what they were doing, which makes it even weirder.  The rationale for changing things was that Jaime had been in the capital for some time on the show, so the impact of him showing up at the sept would have necessarily been different than in the books, where he'd just returned.  Fair enough; it would be different.  But these two have been fucking for over half their lives.  You guys really couldn't come up with a different method to spark them?  Or- since it would be absolutely reasonable for Cersei to say no- have Jaime let her walk away?

This is a solid example of how doing this type of scene wrong can fuck with everything you're trying to accomplish as a writer.  Jaime's character arc in the books once he loses his hand is largely redemptive, and the show followed that perfectly.  This destroyed that redemption story for a lot of people.  In fact, in order to buy into the redemption angle again, it becomes necessary to think of that scene as a show mistake and not actually part of Jaime's character, because he can't be the good guy with such an egregious act on his record.

Plus, Cersei seems generally unaffected, or at least not any different than she would be had the scene been consensual.  That's not necessarily unrealistic, since she bottles up a lot of stuff to play the game, but overall everyone moves forward as though there was nothing wrong with what happened.  But the viewers saw everything that was wrong, and that becomes a point of dissonance.

Now we have Sansa and Ramsay, and the most fucked up situation of the three.

A lot of people are furious that Sansa was raped.  A lot of those people aren't making much in the way of an argument why they're upset about it, just that they are.  And that's understandable.  In our society, we have at tendency to tell stories where one person manages to duck and dodge all the terribleness out there and somehow make it through their story unscathed.  Sansa was the last female character dealing with the clear threat of rape who had managed to avoid it.  Any reading of her story shows that it was basically luck which saw her through in that regard: not having to marry Joffrey, being protected against that particular crime because she could continue to be of use to the Lannisters, being married to maybe the one man in King's Landing who would rather sleep on the couch than fuck her against her will.  She had no real agency through any of that.

When Littlefinger revealed his plan to marry her to Ramsay Bolton, my initial reaction (and, presumably, the reaction of many, many others) was wondering how the story would keep her away from the worst of Ramsay's behavior.  Would Roose somehow rein him in just a little because a happier Sansa would be of more use in winning the North?  Had Sansa learned enough in her time with Littlefinger to start working her magic on Ramsay immediately?  Would there be enough of a time gap between their meeting and the wedding for that magic to kick in?  Or, perhaps, she would avoid anything particularly bad by submitting right away, which could be interesting if we were able to see her making plans behind the scenes.

Because the show couldn't leave her to the worst of their behavior.  Not after all she'd been through.  Right?

I had forgotten about the Jeyne Poole storyline until the last couple of days.  If I had remembered, I would have hoped that much harder they veered away from it, because I like seeing that one character skate through the cracks as much as anyone.  It didn't happen.  But was this necessary?

There are two ways to view the question- how the fact of the rape plays into the broader story, and how the rape itself was handled.

For the former question, it's difficult to say yet.  The show runners said putting Sansa in the Jeyne Poole role made sense, since she was right there, and in the books Sansa just sits at the Eyrie for a while.  The Jeyne storyline is important to the books, so wanting to use it makes sense, but we don't know what to expect because the full effect hasn't been seen yet.  Because Sansa is a more critical character, we should also expect a substantial deviation in this story- in the books, Jeyne's place is mostly to give Theon a shot at redemption, whereas here Sansa will be much more important.  The circumstances surrounding the rape are obviously designed to shift Sansa from being aggressively anti-Theon to willing to ally with him, which should push much of whatever else goes on there, so in the broader context we still need to see how it goes down to determine if this was really needed to make the story work.

As for how the scene itself was handled... demanding Theon stay and watch to fuck with them both was a nod to the book (which is even more fucked up), but more importantly it's a 100% Ramsay thing to do.  Nothing his character did seemed in any way forced to make things worse.  Sansa and Theon were both appropriately disgusted and freaked out.  Once they were in that room, the scene that played out fit the characters.

More of a question is whether the lead up to that scene was done correctly.  Sansa has been left there by Littlefinger to try and manipulate her way into a position of power.  When she tells Myranda where to stick her threats, that might be the strongest she's appeared in the whole series.  Now, clearly Ramsay and Roose are scarier than Myranda, but if she's buying into her role as Ramsay's wife in order to start her own schemes, why is she so incredibly scared at the wedding?  There's not even a sense of being nervous, then shaking it off.  She's just tripping out.  The same goes for the first few moments in the bedchamber.  I'm not expecting her to jump Ramsay, but some willingness to go along with her new wifely duties would have also indicated that she's going to do what it takes to make this work until she can do something with the power she should have going forward.

From a storytelling perspective, this is where the mistake is made.  By having Sansa appear nervous and unwilling all the way through, no matter how the scene plays out, she's being raped.  It may be more or less violent, more or less troubling, but in the end that's what it would be.  From the viewer's perspective, that means the writers decided Sansa was getting raped one way or another.  If she had shown that active willingness to take on this role as Ramsay's wife, no matter how distasteful she might think it is, then recoiled once Ramsay demanded Theon stay, it would have changed the entire tenor of the scene.  In that case, a would-be act of consensual sex (as consensual as this type of thing could be, at least) gets turned into an unquestionable rape by Ramsay, which directs the anger at him.

This might seem strange.  After all, it would be the same writers creating the scene, and the same characters involved, so how is it the writers' fault in one case and Ramsay's in the other?  The reason is that in the first case, Ramsay is being given less space to make a different decision, which makes him more a tool of the writers and thus points us towards the writers as being at fault.  In the latter instance, Ramsay can choose to be with Sansa on the level with which she's comfortable (or, you know, "comfortable"), or force a torturous situation on her just because he can.  The fact we know which choice he'll make because he's a sadistic, evil bastard doesn't change the impact of him making that choice when there is a substantial alternative at hand.

A lot of people would still be angry with the writers for making that decision.  But if it's important for the story going forward that Sansa be married to Ramsay (which, again, we don't know just yet if that's the case), then the wedding night was going to happen, which means this scene was going to happen.  It would have gone a long way towards showing thoughtfulness on the part of the writers to acknowledge the existence of a path where Sansa is not assaulted, then have Ramsay close off that path, rather than make an assault inevitable.

There's also the effect this change would have on Sansa's character.  If she shows some backbone, a willingness to try and not be scared by these incredibly scary people, that's strength we haven't seen out of her yet.  Ramsay's insanity would undercut that sense of power, and initially it could seem like a situation where a woman finds her strength and just gets beaten down for it.  But finding your footing in the world is always a case of standing up, falling down, and standing up again; if the writers couldn't spin that into Sansa finally overcoming the people who want to hurt her, that would be kind of pathetic.

All that said: this scene, in and of itself, does not relegate Sansa back to the role of victim that she played in seasons past.  This is where she can act on her own behalf, in a place where she has the power to do so.  The show runners better give us some payoff now.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Blogging so hard

You skip a day, then a day is three, and six, and...

Didn't bother with the Mayweather-Pacquiao results because nothing was surprising, except Mayweather throwing more punches.  I suppose it could be argued that a healthy Pacquiao, with an output in the 700-800 range, could have made the fight more interesting considering he didn't get absolutely crushed on the scorecards as it was.

Ronda Rousey is all over the goddamned place.  She's the most dominant athlete alive (and, to give an idea of how uninteresting SI is at this point, the second link- to Business Insider [!]- gives a pretty reasonable top fifty list, while SI just glows about her, like they glow about anyone they're fans of at the moment).  She released her autobiography (along with a nifty excerpt).  She continues to have her opinion asked on everything.

But let's get back to the dominance question.  Subjective lists equal inevitably arguing, so it's not a matter of whether this opinion is correct, but rather how justifiable the opinion is.

The simple answer is "very".  The thing that seems to baffle people about this is that they're conflating dominance with overall ability.  The latter question is harder to determine, and essentially impossible when comparing athletes across sports.  How could you possibly say Rousey is a better mixed martial artist than Valerie Adams (BI's #19) is a shot putter?  But dominance has an objective basis to the calculation- results relative to the competition.

Who is more dominant than Rousey at what they do?  LeBron is #2, and he's in a somewhat more difficult position in this matter since he plays a team sport.  Truth be told, his presence on a team affects who wants to play there, which helped the positive results he brought to Miami and now Cleveland- that adds to his dominance of the NBA.  He's overruled the team's coach, which might be shitty but can only be done by a dominant force.  All the same, he may be the best player in the game, but he doesn't overshadow the game.

The two highest people besides Rousey in individual sports are Serena Williams and Usain Bolt.  Bolt gets all his credit for blowing people away at the big events, but treats the smaller events as tune-ups he can lose; that doesn't make him less great, but if you're comparing him to someone who smashes everybody, his flat results don't quite match up.  Serena is the one person who really has an argument here.  Nobody goes a whole year undefeated in tennis, and Serena's death grip on the #1 spot- not to mention how long she's held it- is the stuff that will be legendary when we're all dead.  If Rousey were beating her opponents in the third round- even in the third minute- Serena might well deserve to be ahead of her.

But that's not what Rousey is doing.  She's beating the best people the UFC can throw at her so quickly people are throwing PPV money down hoping to see another full speed beatdown, which is not an expectation of any other fighter.  Sara McMann and Alexis Davis weren't #7 ranked or something when they got their title shots, and Rousey ran them down.  Zingano is the one person many observers (myself included) might give Rousey a physical struggle, and her determination to prove she could do that led to the worst loss of them all because Rousey's fight IQ is as high as her skill level.  When Miesha Tate took her all the way to the third round, it was a clear strategy of not letting herself get beat rather than take any chances, and by the time the finishing armbar came it was clear Tate was flat out done with that fight.

She's also beaten the #1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9 fighters in her division, and it'll be #7 if she beats Bethe Correia.  It's not entirely fair to say she's better because she has more wins against current top ten divisional fighters than anyone else, since every other division save strawweight and flyweight are much deeper, and fighters drop out of the top ten more frequently.  But it does indicate the stranglehold she has on the division, since there aren't as many fighters pushing the current top ten out of their places.

This is where the difference between "best" and "most dominant" can be seen.  Anyone who doesn't have Rousey in their top five P4P is an idiot, but #1?  Set aside Jon Jones, since he took himself out of the picture, and there is zero reason to suggest she's surpassed Jose Aldo as a fighter.  Demetrious Johnson is fantastic.  Given the way Chris Weidman handled Anderson Silva in both of their fights- ie., not with a specific strategy like Chael Sonnen, but getting the better of him all over the place- there's an argument for him as well. But Aldo is less dominant because guys like Chad Mendes are much closer to his skill level than any woman is to Rousey's, Johnson has "normal" wins in a division not much stronger than Rousey's, and Weidman has no track record yet.

I suppose one interesting question is, will anyone overtake Rousey's apparent level of dominance before she becomes the clear #1 P4P?  I'd bet on her hitting #1 first.  But if Correia's game is as big as her mouth...


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jon Jones Is Not Going To Jail

No matter what this nitwit thinks.
A Third Degree Felony conviction can include sentencing of up to three years imprisonment in a state prison.
If it's a max of three years, he's going to get probation and that's it.  Talking to someone who thinks he should plea down to "maybe a year" is talking to someone who doesn't know how the fuck anything works.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Has This Been?

No sooner do I post about it...

As such, Wednesday's press conference continued the theme of playing up Good vs. Evil, not so much by calling out Floyd, but pumping up Manny.
I'm really curious what all was happening there.  Everything I've seen about the fight that isn't relevant to the way things will go down in the ring has focused on one fighter or the other.  It sounds like that may still be the case- that the good vs. evil thing was more of an undertone, and perhaps the idea was simply to play up Manny's personal story to get more people on his side.  But this is the first time I've seen anything directly point to this morality conflict being part of the storyline, be it explicitly stated by the writer, or observed (as in this case) by someone watching the goings-on.

So I Heard There's This Boxing Match Coming Up

It's the evangelical Christian vs. the guy who beats his girlfriends.

The linked Kevin Iole article comments on how Mayweather's half-dozen charges (and one jail sentence) for domestic violence have been largely ignored in the build-up to the fight.  It's a good article, and correct, but if you really want to see the lack of seriousness with which our society as a whole treats domestic violence, look at the fact this fight hasn't even been grazed by the good vs. evil brush.

As much as Mayweather has done well promoting himself as someone who can easily be disliked- customers who pay to see you lose are still paying customers- his team spins that off of his personality and relatively mundane behaviors, such as how he spends his money.  And Pacquiao's team might have good reason not to attack him on those grounds either: it's hard to imagine a large potential audience that doesn't plan to tune in now, but would specifically to watch a known domestic abuser get beaten up.  Compared to how many people could decide to boycott the fight in order to avoid putting more money in Mayweather's pockets, it would probably end up costing Pacquiao money to hit this angle particularly hard.

And who knows what Mayweather's team could dig up about Pacquiao's pre-conversion history...

What about the rest of the media, though?  The idea of truly neutral journalism is largely a fallacy; neutral wording doesn't change the choice of what stories are covered.  It's not surprising to see Mayweather's record of abuse go with minimal remarks most of the time, but if you're covering a fight like this in a country like the U.S., with its substantial overall religiosity and substantial evangelical population, how do you not spin the story this way to pull in the entire Bible Belt as readers?

Is it because Pacquiao's not American?  That would affect the perception of some, but it's not as though American Christians have stopped partaking in or supporting overseas missionary work.  Plenty of people love his come-to-Jesus story, and plenty more would if they knew about it.

Is it because Mayweather is American?  More specifically, a rich, successful American?  This is trickier to contemplate.  The U.S. still has tons of issues with what one might call "subcutaneous racism"- the kind that sits just under the skin, unnoticed but ever-present, that can make a person genuinely believe they treat people of different ethnicities equally in one breath, and in the next label a young black man they've never met and know nothing about a thug based on a single report of a single newsworthy incident.

Given that Mayweather has done enough to earn that sort of negative perception, it seems like painting him as the devil to Pacquiao's avenging angel should be easy.  It may not seem that way if you look at, for example, any comment section on any web article about Mayweather's domestic violence history, but those articles are always specifically about Mayweather's abuses; in something more comparative between the two fighters, there would probably be a lot of comments such as, "But Pacquiao's still obviously the better person," if for no other reason than he's found religion.

Is it because the good vs. evil angle is, as always, oversimplified and not entirely true?  Consider what the effect of this would be: any comparison of the two, where Pacquiao is the bastion of morality and Mayweather the terrible fiend, would set off a firestorm between people bashing Pacquiao's past or lauding Mayweather's positive deeds, and those who take the current situation and cling to the absolutism good vs. evil provides.  What media outlet would turn down that sort of attention on their work?  There are a few, probably, but most live and die off hits, and this type of article would be a hit magnet.

So why isn't anyone going after this story?

Sadly, the best guess here is that hardly anyone considers it a story at all.  Relatively few people are open apologists for abusers like that fucking prick Stephen A. Smith, but boxing media is almost entirely male, and plenty of men- especially the older ones who disproportionately populate that segment of the media- still question the veracity of domestic violence accusations, how much it matters even in an instance where someone famous went to jail (which is rare like birds' teeth), or- at best- how to approach this topic.  Iole has an enormous platform at Yahoo, but he is very much an outlier in the importance he places on the topic.  And the nature of the boxing economy makes it so there is no way to punish Mayweather the way the UFC just did to Jon Jones- title belts are ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness, and the only thing Mayweather would ever be suspended for is a failed drug test.

To be literary about the matter, it's a whole bunch of bullshit.

I'd like to see Pacquiao dump Mayweather on his face.  I want to see that enough to feel like any prediction would be skewed by the feeling.  I'll stick with the low-hanging fruit: a fight ended by stoppage will be won by Pacquiao, a fight that goes the distance will be won by Mayweather.

And then they'll have all the issues involved with deciding how to spend nine figures worth of money.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All This Jon Jones Bullshit

If you didn't hear, which seems unlikely if you're reading this, Jon Jones was charged with felony leaving the scene after a hit and run accident Sunday in Albuquerque.  I suppose "hit and run" isn't the best way to phrase it; that suggests he drove away, when in fact he took off on foot.  This is according to witnesses, as well as the logic that running is the only way to leave the scene when your rental car looks like this:

Are you fucking kidding me?  How smoked out do you have to be to do that?  Or maybe not smoked out, exactly; a marijuana pipe was found in the car- apparently he didn't remember to take it when he returned to grab the pile of cash he'd left behind when he initially fled- but that thing would have been burnt to cinders from all the weed he'd have to smoke to think leaving that situation is a good idea.

Jon Jones is the best fighter on the planet, and has more public personal issues than the rest of the top ten combined.  It's been suggested in multiple venues that he be stripped of the title and removed from the UFC 187 card, at the very least.  Those people will get no argument here over that idea.  So far the UFC has stuck by him with minimal punishment following his DUI and getting popped for cocaine before his last fight; it's done nothing to help him, and makes the organization look like they're coddling their moneymaker.  But cutting him outright doesn't really do much for him, either, as Bellator (or theoretically some Asian promotion like ONE FC) will pick him up for whatever it costs and either ride him into the ground or crash and burn completely if he winds up not pulling the numbers they expect.  Either way, he'll be enabled as much or more than he has been in the UFC.

Plus, stripping the title will have a positive impact on another fighter who's earned some good luck: Anthony Johnson.  In the aftermath of Jones' weekend incident, Johnson said he has no desire to fight anyone unless it's for the title.  Given what he did to Alexander Gustafsson, it's a very reasonable stance- any fight that isn't for the title would be a high-risk/no-reward scenario.  The only positive would be if Johnson feels he needs fights to stay ready, which apparently isn't the case if he's saying he's willing to sit for a year if need be.

This is not an instance where an interim title is warranted.  Jones is physically capable of fighting; the problem he doesn't seem to be mentally capable right now of being someone the UFC should want as one of their key faces.  If they end up agreeing and pull him from the fight, it would be desperately unfair to Johnson to just pull him as well and not give him a fight.  He should get a fight with whoever else they can get into the cage with him- preferably Cormier- for the real, undisputed light heavyweight belt.  At worst that fight should be set up for a couple of months down the road so whoever Johnson's opponent would be has the opportunity to go through a full camp.

It's the morally and logically correct thing to do.  Watch it not happen.

Update, 4/29: My cynicism proves fallible.  Indefinite suspension for Jones, Johnson/Cormier for the title at UFC 187.

Belated note on UFC 186

Randa Markos beat Aisling Daly; not a peep was heard regarding Paige VanZant's next opponent.  Prediction of VanZant vs. Namajunas remains.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Smart or terrible?

I'm kind of leaning towards both.

Some revenue, in what could amount to millions of dollars, is in jeopardy here. Bob Arum is even stating that he's now hearing stories of people canceling their reservations in Las Vegas, worried that they won't get their hands on a ticket. Some ticket vendors are also not even willing to sell speculative tickets (ones they don't actually have in hand) because of how up-in-the-air everything is, and aren't willing to carry that risk. Additionally, tickets haven't gone on sale for closed circuit either. Clearly this rollout of the fight hasn't gone off without a hitch.

Now, reporters at Bloomberg are speculating that the public sale of tickets may never actually take place, and that resale with a substantial markup may be the only market for tickets.

The terrible part is obvious.  Vegas holds fights like these to help the local economy; if the behavior of the two camps is costing the city substantial money so they can maximize profits, that's a shitty way to treat the Fight Capital of the World and an excellent way to make boxing appear as incapable as ever of looking at benefits to the sport and the fighters beyond the most immediate buck.

And it makes no sense at all.  Mayweather and Pacquiao will retire soon, but most of their income will be derived from the PPV figures, and the promoters will presumably be in business for a long time to come.  The only particularly old man involved in the proceedings is Bob Arum; even if he could not give less of a shit about what happens to Top Rank once he's gone, Al Haymon and Mayweather Promotions will benefit for years (or decades) to come from any positive boost to boxing's image- or be damaged by any hits to that image.

So how could this be smart?

It depends on how cynical you are about boxing's future, and its ability to quit stepping on the rakes it keeps throwing around its own yard.  By all accounts Haymon is working to secure boxing's future in the public's eyes, namely with the Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC.  If he sees more overall profit in rigging the ticket sales for this one fight than doing what's necessary to make sure the current Fight of the Century doesn't appear to be stepping all over its own feet, then he has to believe whatever negative press is drawn from this ticket fiasco will have a negligible effect on perceptions of boxing going forward.

Sadly, if that's his mindset, he's probably not far off the mark.  From this chair it seems that using such a megafight as a way to show what boxing promoters can positively accomplish could create at least the beginning of faith in fans that boxing might be able to pull itself together one day.  But fans have had so little reason to do anything but doubt the methods and intentions of boxing promoters for so long, it may well be the case that short of the fight not happening, public perception of the way boxing is handled as a business can literally not get any worse.  If Haymon feels like can make a cool half-million or so without negatively impacting the business... it might be a decision rooted in the most cynical kind of pragmatism, but it's also an extra briefcase full of cash getting thrown into his lap.  We might not like it as fans, but we'd probably feel a lot different if we were getting a piece of that bundle.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Analysis of Being Wrong

"I'm an idiot" is a nice pithy line, but for at least the first two minutes of the Herrig/VanZant fight everything looked like it would go exactly as I imagined.  Herrig was crisper and quickly worked into a dominant position until VanZant escaped with about three minutes left in the round.  From there VanZant started to mount some offense, but Herrig stuck with her.  I gave Herrig the round, though it was very close.

After an early burst in round two, however, Herrig seemed to have no idea what to do.  Joe Rogan observed that VanZant was hustling in scrambles in a way Herrig was not, which is a completely accurate statement. The single reason I thought Herrig would win was because she would have more tricks up her sleeve and know what to do in those types of tough situations, but by the halfway point of the fight she just seemed lost.

Was it cardio?  Maybe by round three, given the severity of VanZant's beatdown, but even if VanZant has superior cardio (very possible for anyone who trains with Team Alpha Male), Herrig should not have been that gassed after a round and a half.  VanZant commented afterwards that she thought she broke Herrig mentally, and it certainly looked like that might have been the case.

So what does that mean for VanZant going forward?  Beating someone into mental submission is a feather in any fighter's cap, but at the same time it says as much about the loser as the winner. She was never going to get a fight with Jedrzejczyk immediately after this, but will she deserve it after one more fight?  Or will it take two?

The biggest question is probably who will be available for her to fight. Jedrzejczyk, Esparza, and Gadelha are probably all too high unless there's no one else available.  Maryna Moroz just beat Joanne Calderwood, but she's near the bottom of the top ten and would do less to set VanZant up for a title fight than some other women.  That leaves Jessica Penne (#3), Rose Namajunas (#4), Tecia Torres (#5), and Randa Markos (#6).

Upcoming fights, by date:

Markos vs. Aisling Daly, April 25th
Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff, May 23rd
Penne vs. Juliana Lima, May 30th
Torres vs. Angela Hill, June 13th

If VanZant beats Penne, Namajunas, or Torres next, a very reasonable argument can be made for her to get a title shot.  A win over Markos might mean a bit less, but Markos has the toughest next opponent of these four; if she beats Daly, especially if it's not close, then she'll appear to be a stiffer test for VanZant.  And right now the Markos/Daly winner may be VanZant's most sensible next opponent since they fight a month before any of the other three mid-top ten strawweights.

Assuming Penne, Namajunas, and Torres all win their next fights, the logical way for the division to shake down is this:

VanZant fights the Markos/Daly winner.
Penne (probably) or Namajunas (unlikely) gets the next title shot.
Torres faces whichever of Penne and Namajunas doesn't fight Jedrzejczyk.
If VanZant wins, she faces Gadelha or Esparza, then earns a title fight with a win there.

However, VanZant's popularity may short-circuit this.  It really depends on whether or not the UFC brass feels she needs a slightly bigger-name opponent to help build up to an eventual title shot, even if that means leaving her on the bench for a little longer.  If they think she's not going to beat Jedrzejczyk even with two or three more fights beforehand, and especially if they don't think she'll beat Gadelha or Esparza, they may just choose to test her against Penne or Namajunas so she only has to win once to be a credible title contender.

And while that might seem unfortunate to those of us who want to see her be an unquestionable title contender before getting that shot, the truth is, a loss to anyone besides Jedrzejczyk is likely going to take a lot of air out of her balloon. From a promotional standpoint, they have no reason to risk VanZant's popularity in a tough fight against Gadelha or Esparza unless they feel there's no other way to maximize VanZant's value as a contender.  Likewise, there's no reason to risk a rematch with Torres unless that is clearly the best available fight.

Thus, the prediction here for VanZant's next fight is Namajunas.  VanZant has a reasonable shot against Penne, but Penne is better on the ground and the highest ranked fighter Jedrzejczyk hasn't beaten yet.  On the other hand, Namajunas is probably ranked a little high at #4, but she should still whip Ansaroff, and the marketability of a VanZant/Namajunas fight would be a promotional wet dream.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

UFC on Fox 15

As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I am unlikely to change the world with a couple of blog rants left to the whims of fate, so let's start with something both simple and likely to make me look like an idiot: Fight predictions!

Just the main card this time.

Paige VanZant (-135) vs. Felice Herrig (+105)

I like VanZant as a personality and as a fighter.  She definitely has more potential to be great than Herrig, and there would be something pleasing about seeing her throw the figurative finger at everyone who dumped on her because of Reebok's decision to offer a sponsorship (key words: Reebok's decision).  But the question is who's going to be better tonight, and I'm not convinced VanZant has risen to the level necessary to take down someone who, in the last five and a half years, has only lost to top opposition (Barb Honchak, Carla Esparza, Tecia Torres).  If she does win, it puts her in a very good position, and the UFC will probably start hearing the jackpot going off.  But I think Herrig takes this one.

Pick: Herrig via decision

Result: I'm an idiot.

Cub Swanson (-155) vs. Max Holloway (+125)

The battle of the probably irrelevant.  Swanson lost his last fight to Frankie Edgar, and is not in any position to challenge Jose Aldo or Conor McGregor.  Holloway has yet to beat anyone of note.  This is a gateway fight for Holloway, and like VanZant, if he wins it sets him up for some major fights very soon.  But anything short of a demolition is going to make him look unable to match up well against the best in the division, and I don't foresee that happening.  I'll pick Swanson, although I think it's even more of a toss-up than the betting line indicates.

Pick: Swanson via decision

Result: I'm still an idiot.

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (-1400) vs. Chris Camozzi (+750)

If ever a fight this lopsided were worth a bet, Souza would be the one to place your money on.  Dana White himself said Camozzi was only re-signed for the fight because no one else would face Souza on a week's notice.  I hope Camozzi is getting paid enough to absorb the beatdown he's about to suffer.  At least he has some idea what he's getting into, having been submitted by Souza to start the four-fight losing streak that saw him bounced from the UFC in the first place.

Pick: Souza via first round TKO

Result: I might look like an idiot for saying the BJJ ace was going to get a TKO, but that was just trying to be a little different because there was no way to get the winner wrong here.

Luke Rockhold (-165) vs. Lyoto Machida (+135)

When Machida was flying up the ranks, and word was no one could solve his karate/sumo blended technique, there was no question he had a troublesome, slick style that would make him dangerous to anyone.  Even once he started losing fights, nobody ever suggested he was immediately out of any fight he took (his odds against Jon Jones never looked good, but then, no one's odds do).  And he's still that fighter today.

The problem for him is that Rockhold is a better fighter.  Apart from his utter screwing at the hands of Vitor Belfort, who was so juiced he could have doubled as the Kool-Aid Man, Rockhold hasn't lost a fight in over seven years.  Machida is probably the most skilled fighter Rockhold has faced, and deserves to be no more than a slight underdog, but the only way he wins this fight is if the old, unsolvable Machida reappears and he plain outsmarts Rockhold.  I don't like the chances of that happening.

Pick: Rockhold via decision

Result: I'm surprised Rockhold got the finish, given Machida's defensive competence.  But maybe that's just a sign of how legit his chances are against Weidman, and that for whatever complaints Souza might have, Rockhold deserves the next title shot.

First post, redux

I once said I never got into blogging because I didn't like talking at air.  Now I find myself routinely commenting on stuff no one will see, especially MMA.

Let's see if I can get behind entertaining nothing for a while this time.