Basketball, Sports

Mavericks Wear The Crown

06.13.11 | Permalink | Comment?

Well, they did it. The Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat to win the championship of the National Basketball Association. As I predicted, the Heat came our shooting and quickly took a nine point lead. Just as quickly, the Mavericks erased it and took a twelve point lead of their own.

But he Heat didn’t go away. Instead they ripped off a 14-0 run to retake the lead. From there it was back and forth for the rest of the first half. Dallas was ahead by two at the break, despite Dirk Nowitzky’s struggles. Miami managed the retake the lead in the opening – but just 16 seconds later the Mavs pulled ahead, and never trailed again.

A lot of people have suggested this is because some failing on the Heat’s part. I don’t buy it. Yeah, LeBron James tended to disappear in the fourth quarter, but this is a guy who once scored his team’s last 25 points to win a playoff game. He’s a good player and I think he’ll win a championship one day. He also seems to be a good person, which is just as important to me.

It did rub me the wrong way when he, along with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, celebrated before the season had even begun. It was arrogant and added a lot of pressure to win. In the end they played well, especially Wade, but got beat by a slightly better team.

The thing that most surprised me about this Mavs team was the way they covered up their definiciencies. Many of the their best offensive players, such as Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, are limited when playing defense, but they worked their butts off and Miami was rarely able to exploit them.

So all credit to Dallas, to owner Mark Cuban, coach Rick Carlisle (who did a great job), and especially to the players, who stuck together, played (superbly) the roles they were assigned, and knocked off a more talented team.

Basketball, Sports

Mavs On The Brink

06.10.11 | Permalink | Comment?

The Mavericks didn’t have to steal Game 5 of the Finals last night. Instead they played their best all-around game and pulled away for the win. Miami did their best to make it interesting, going on fourth quarter run to briefly take the lead. But then Nowitzki drove along the baseline for a slam, J.J. Barea hit a three-pointer, and Jason Terry hit another, a very difficult shot with a defender right in his face. Ballgame.

I’d like to say the reason the Mavs won is their guts, but all that really means is that their shots went in and Miami’s didn’t. I do think that it’s beyond argument that Dallas has been more aggressive when it matters the most. The Miami players, with the exception of Dwayne Wade, have elected to run the clock down and take contested three-pointers.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has turned out the be a lot better than I thought he was. I knew he was good in his previous stop, but he has found a way to get his players good shots and deny them to the opposition throughout the playoffs. In particular his decision to start Barea, where he gets to play against Mike Bibby, has worked perfectly.

Dallas now has two chances to win the championship on the road. I expect that the Heat will be pretty fired up on Sunday, but the Mavericks don’t seem inclined to give in. I expect a tough game and hope the Mavs can pull off the upset.

Books, Reviews

Forgotten Book: DARKNESS AT NOON, by Arthur Koestler

06.10.11 | Permalink | 4 Comments

I supposed that it’s unusual to name as a forgotten book one that was listed in the top ten novels in English in the 20th century, but I have to wonder how widely Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is read today.

This novel tells the story of Rubashov, a communist since his early youth, a hero of the Russian Revolution, and later a prominent envoy (frequently undercover) to other European countries. As the book opens he’s awakened by hammering at his apartment door. Even before he answers there’s little question in his mind as to the reason: he’s being arrested.

The first section of the novel details the time spent pacing in his cell, his interactions with the other prisoners – mostly limited to tapping on code on the pipes running through the walls – and, most importantly, his reminiscinces of the things he’s done for the Communist cause.

At first his case is investigated by Ivanov, an old acquaintance, but soon he’s replaced and the implacable Gletkin begins his interrogation. Rubashov is kept awake and staring into a lamp for hours as Gletkin takes tiny nuggest of fact and builds them up through inference and supposition into plots against Number 1, the supreme ruler (neither Stalin nor Russia are ever identified by name). Though he knows it’s useless, Rubashov resists, denying Gletkin’s chains of logic.

Rubashov realizes the central mistakes of Communism: the insistence on correct thoughts, and the use of only one sanction, death. Dissent is not just opposition to the political program of the state, but mere differences of opinion. The head of the navy, Rubashov’s former friend, is executed because he advocated for large submarines with a long range, implying an aggressive foreign policy. With the country in a weakened state, the official line is for smaller, defensive submarines. But the Navy man won’t give up his ideas and is killed for them.

In an quote before the last sections of the book, Koestler makes his main point clear:

Show us not the aim without the way.
For ends and means on earth are so entangled
That changing one, you change the other too;
Each different path brings other ends in view.

Darkness At Noon is important in the way it documents the patterns of thought that led to Stalinism, written by someone who knew, as Koestler, a Hungarian, had himself been a committed Communist until the Soviets began holding show trials for his friends. And one final note: for a great book, this doesn’t ask of the reader the effort that most Great Literature requires. It’s an easy read, though you’ll be thinking about it long after you close the cover.


If I’ve Learned Nothing Else

06.07.11 | Permalink | Comment?

…I’ve learned that Weiner and wiener are not spelled the same.

Television, Toys

My New Toy

06.06.11 | Permalink | Comment?

Last year a friend of ours moved down to Houston. He wasn’t able to take all of his stuff with him at the time, so we graciously agreed to store… his hi-def LCD television. It was a wrenching decision, let me tell you.

At that time we only had one HDTV, a 32-inch model we kept in the upstairs room. The new one was larger, and we put it in our living room downstairs, which was instantly transformed into the most popular room in the house. Back in December I even gave myself a birthday gift of a new Blu-Ray player.

Well, last Saturday, our friend returned. And the TV departed.

After moving through the Seven Stages of Grief, we went shopping for a new one at Costco. They have a 90-day no questions asked return policy and a complimentary two year warranty, plus their prices are pretty good. After staring glassy-eyed at a ginormous Sony, we shook ourselves awake and checked out some models more in our price range, eventually settling on a 47-inch Vizio, which was surprisingly affordable (it only cost twice what a 32-inch tube TV cost ten years ago).

After struggling to cram it into the back seat of my wife’s 4Runner, and again to get it out at home, I made a pleasant discovery: this TV was noticeably larger than the late lamented one, which must have been 40- or 42-inches, large enough in fact that I didn’t feel like I was watching TV through a window, as I sometimes did before. The picture is just outstanding, too, very bright and clear. I watched part of The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938 on Turner Classic Movies’ HD channel, and it just leaped off the screen.

Sports look great too, as I discovered much to my chagrin. Sunday morning I had the “pleasure” of watching Rafael Nadal dismiss my man Roger Federer in four sets to claim his sixth French Open on the gloriously rendered red clay. Less than twelve hours later I watched as the Dallas Mavericks, in their vibrant blue uniforms, came up juuuuust short against the Miami Heat.

So, a mixed blessing, but on the balance I’m pretty happy with it.

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