Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Houston 49, Rutgers 14

Had you told me right before this game began that the Cougars, having to go to New Jersey to face a decent Rutgers team one week after a bitter one-point loss to BYU, were going to administer a merciless beatdown to the Scarlet Knights, I would have called you a liar. Or at least asked you to share whatever it was that you were smoking.

The Good: Quarterback John O'Korn completed 24 of 30 passes for 364 yards and 5 touchdowns, one of which was this amazing catch by Deontay Greenbury:

Greenberry also had an 83-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He finished the day with eight receptions for 168 yards and three TDs. Daniel Spencer snagged another six passes for 117 yards, and Aaron Johnson and Demarcus Ayers both had touchdown receptions as well.

Not to be outdone, the UH ground game was strong as well, picking up 234 rushing yards. The oher half of Houston's true freshman QB duo, Greg Ward, scambled for 89 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and RB Kenneth Farrow, who had sat out the last few games with an injury, returned to rush for 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

As good as the offense was, they got a lot of help from the defense, which forced six (!) Rutgers turnovers and kept the Scarlet Knights scoreless in the second half of the game. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova had a bad day against the UH secondary, throwing three interceptions, and was benched in the second half.

The Bad: Penalties continue to be a problem for the Cougars; they were flagged 11 times for 91 yards. This is something the coaching staff is working on and to the Cougars' credit very few of those penalties were committed after halftime. The Cougar run defense had little answer for Rutgers RB Justin Goodwin, who carried 31 times for 162 yards and accounted for both Scarlet Knight touchdowns, but as the game progressed and Rutgers fell further behind he became less and less of a factor. Finally, O'Korn was sacked four times, while the Coogs could manage no sacks of their own.

With all that said, there was very little "bad" about this game, which really was Houston's strongest performance of the year.

What it Means: With six wins, Houston is now assured a non-losing season and is bowl eligible. The Coogs have a short week before hosting South Florida at Reliant Stadium on Halloween night. The Bulls are not a good team, but the Coogs can't look past them.

Sharpstown is not Bellaire

I have two things to say about the story "Suspect in Bellaire murder surrenders in California" that was posted on the Chronicle's website yesterday afternoon:
Murder charges have been filed against a Houston man accused in a fatal shooting at a nightclub earlier this month, according to Houston police. The suspect is currently in custody at the San Diego County Jail in Vista, Calif., awaiting extradition to Houston.

Alain Paredes-Ruiz, 30, is charged in the Oct. 15 fatal shooting of Wilfredo Salinas Reyes, 34, at the Casa Blanca Club, located at 8282 Bellaire Boulevard. Reyes died at the scene.
First, I'm sorry that somebody lost their life and I'm glad the suspect has been apprehended.

Second, the title of this article is highly misleading. This was not a "Bellaire murder" in that it did not occur "in Bellaire." Bellaire is an incorporated municipality of 16,885 souls and my current place of residence. 8282 Bellaire Boulevard, where this murder occurred, is over three miles to the west of the western boundary of Bellaire and is is located within Sharpstown, a community which is entirely within the City of Houston.

An accurate headline for this story would have begun "Suspect in Sharpstown murder" or even "Suspect in Bellaire Boulevard murder."

Unfortunately, the Chronicle editors who titled this story are not alone in mistakenly referring to anything and everything along Bellaire Boulevard - stores, restaurants, etc. - as being "in Bellaire" even though they are miles to the west of the actual City of Bellaire and are actually within distinct communities of their own: Gulfton, Sharpstown, Chinatown, et cetera.

To make this easier for Chronicle editors and others to understand, I've created this handy map:
Get it right, folks. Geographic accuracy matters!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Houston 46, BYU 47

The Battle of the Cougars was as exciting as the score indicated, but it ended in a disappointing one-point loss for the guys in red.

The Good: Demarcus Ayers ran a kickoff return 99 yards for a touchdown. The defense intercepted BYU quarterback Taysom Hill 3 times, including one pick returned for a touchdown. The defense also sacked him a whopping eight times, including once in the endzone for a safety. Greg Ward found Xavier Maxwell for a beautiful 69-yard touchdown pass, and Daniel Spencer caught a highlight reel, 41-yard touchdown pass from John O'Korn.

The Bad: O'Korn, who took most of the snaps behind center, did not have his best afternoon; he was 29 for 45 with 363 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions: once on the very first play from scrimmage, and once at the very end, to seal the win for BYU. The UH running game was non-existent: the O-line continues to struggle mightily blocking for the run and the Coogs could only manage 46 total rushing yards the entire afternoon. As well as the defense did in some aspects of the game, they were still torched for 417 passing yards - BYU's receivers on the corners were wide-open all afternoon long - and gave up 264 yards on the ground. Houston had first and goal at the six yard line but came away without any points; I'm still concerned about playcalling at the endzone. Also, the Cougars (the Houston ones) committed 10 penalties for 88 yards (the BYU Cougars, meanwhile, committed 14 penalties for 125 yards; this was not a clean football game by any stretch of the imagination).

Finally, kicker Richie Leone missed two field goals, and Markeith Ambles dropped a perfectly-thrown pass on a two-point conversion. Make any one of those scores and Houston wins this game. 

What it means: If you just looked at the stats, you would have thought that BYU won this game in a rout. Indeed, after O'Korn was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage and the Mormons ran out to a quick 10-0 lead, it was looking that way. But the Coogs battled back and played competitively. I'm not really a fan of moral victories, especially since UH blew their opportunities by making so many mistakes, but they played tough. This is a young team, and they will learn from this experience.

The Cougars are now 5-1, but are still undefeated in American Athletic Conference play. Next up for the Cougars is a road trip to New Brunswick, New Jersey to play Rutgers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

All taggers are morons, but some taggers are more moronic than others

Houston's Near Northside has long had a graffiti problem, and the construction of the METRORail extension, which is set to become operational in a few weeks, has given local "artists" more space to "express their creativity."

It's difficult to catch these taggers in the act of vandalizing property, because they generally do their business at night. That is, except when they vandalize a light rail station and stare directly at the station's security camera while they do so.

                                                                                                         Photo: Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Video captured by METRO security cameras at around 3am on Oct. 13 at its Northline Transit Center/HCC rail platform at 7704 Fulton helped METRO police nab 18-year-old Salvador Sanchez.

METRO's North (Red) Line extension is still under construction, but cameras have been installed at its station platforms. 

Sanchez was arrested Tuesday and charged with criminal mischief.

The Northline Transit Center/HCC rail station, which incorporates artwork featuring community heroes, was damaged extensively, but the graffiti has since been removed.
I hope the courts give this punk more than just a slap on the wrist. I have little patience for vandalism of public or private property, so It'd be nice if a judge made an example out of this moron.

I also hope that any of his fellow taggers who might decide to deface a train station are just as stupid as he is and make themselves just as easy for law enforcement to identify.

Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?

Esperanto was invented by Ludwig Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor, in 1887. His hometown of Bialystock was separated into communities that each spoke their own language - Yiddish, Polish and Russian - and Zamenhof felt that the mistrust between these communities was caused by their inability to communicate with one another. He was furthermore disturbed by the complexity in having to learn additional languages, such as French, English and German, in order to conduct commerce or scholarship with the world beyond Bialystock.

Zamenhof felt that conflicts, misunderstandings and complexities caused by so many competing languages could be resolved if everybody learned to speak a common "auxiliary" language (Esperanto was never intended to replace existing languages, but simply be a second language that everybody could speak in addition to their native tongue). He felt that such a language would need to be easy to learn and politically neutral. Zamenhof called his language "Lingvo Internacia" and published it under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto," or "Doctor Hopeful." The name stuck.

So, 125 years later, whatever became of Esperanto?
Outsiders tend to scoff at Esperanto as an idealistic waste of time. Esperantists harrumph back: with somewhere between a few hundred thousand and possibly 2m learners, Esperanto is far and away world’s most successful invented language. If that sounds like “Finland’s biggest klezmer band”, it shouldn’t. Esperanto has outgrown quite a few rivals. Dreamers have been inventing languages for centuries, from Lojban (designed around predicate logic) to Ladaan (designed to espouse feminism). But languages like Klingon, Elvish, Dothraki, Navi’i and their kin, created for popular entertainment, are the only invented languages that can muster nearly the enthusiasm Esperanto does.

Esperanto remains atop the heap. The Esperanto Wikipedia has nearly 186,000 articles, more than Hindi or Hebrew, and some 87,000 users, far and away the most among invented languages. Esperanto-speakers gather offline in frequent conventions too, discussing the language’s prospects, making friends and falling in love. An Esperantists’ apartment-share service, Pasporta Servo, boasts over a thousand homes in 90 countries where Esperantists can stay with each other for free. The community’s cheery energy is depicted by Arika Okrent in her book “In the Land of Invented Languages". Esperantists’ pride is not totally without foundation.

One element behind Esperanto’s success is obviously its simplicity. Zamenhof designed it to spread. Roots come from the main European languages. Grammar is utterly regular. (Nouns end in –o, adjectives in –a, adverbs in –e. Plurals get a –j, and so on.) And Esperantists are keen to teach: sign up at Lernu and you will find not only free, decent-quality lessons but free tutoring from experienced speakers. There are few actual “native” speakers, perhaps around a thousand. Many have heard Esperanto since birth by idealistic parents, but Ms Okrent describes just one, Kim Henriksen, who speaks Esperanto as his dominant language.
This article was actually sent to me a few weeks ago by a friend of mine who remembered that I was rather geeked up about Esperanto back in high school. Being young and idealistic, I thought it was a great idea. I completed a free ten-lesson postal course on the language (I think I still have the certificate around here somewhere), became a member of the Esperanto League for North America, and even attended meet-ups with fellow Houston-area Esperantists. My enthusiasm for the language didn't wane until I was well into college and needed to devote time to other matters. Even today, a quarter-century after I was first exposed to it, I still think the idea behind Esperanto is worthwhile.

Unfortunately, it's doubtful that Esperanto will ever become the world's standard, common language. In spite of the fact that it is easy to learn and is heavily promoted by a considerable number of dedicated Esperantists across the globe, the number of people who speak it has not appeared to have appreciably grown over time. It certainly hasn't reached the critical mass necessary for its widespread adoption as a common language for business, science or diplomacy. That's only part of the problem:
But beyond sheer numbers, people learn a language in order to enjoy a living and real human culture. This holds Esperanto back. Google “famous Esperanto speakers” and you will find Wikipedia’s list. Many names are not exactly famous. But one jumps out: J.R.R. Tolkien. The novelist (and language inventor) apparently briefly dabbled in Esperanto. But he later wrote to a reader that
Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends.                         [From letter 180.]
For “legends”, we might read more broadly “culture”. People may learn English or German or Chinese to get a job. But they also learn languages to experience travel, food, film, music and literature. Look at the cover of a language textbook and you’ll find an attractive person strolling down a stereotypically picturesque street from the country in question, or maybe a famous landmark. “That,” thinks the learner, “is what I want.”  

What would that picture be for an Esperanto textbook? The community is proud of its respect for existing cultures. Esperanto is to be the world's first choice for a second language in order to protect diversity, not to replace it. So to be motivated to learn Esperanto, you have to be motivated not by a living and breathing culture, but by an ideal of international harmony. That ideal has to compete with French food, Italian fashion, Brazilian music, Spanish nightlife, American rock'n’roll, Japanese film, and so on.
Aside from that, the world already appears to have settled on an auxiliary language: English. Esperantists despise the concept that English is becoming the world's common tongue, and for good reason: English is the antithesis of Esperanto. Esperanto's orthography and grammar are simple and regular, while elements of English - spelling and pronunciation, homonyms and homophones, a bunch of irregular verbs - are maddeningly complex. Esperanto is intended to be a politically-neutral language, whereas English carries connotations of British and American hegemony and imperialism.

Nevertheless, English is doing what Esperanto was supposed to do. Case in point:

A bit over a decade ago, when I was in Prague, I came across a monument erected by Czech Esperantists, written in Esperanto, and commemorating some Esperanto-related event. I thought it was rather interesting; I think I might even have taken a picture of it. And even though it had, at that point, been years since I had studied the language, I could still read and understand most of what was written: a testament, I believe, to Esperanto's logic and simplicity.

Later, the irony dawned on me: why was I in Prague to begin with? I was there visiting my brother, who was living there at the time. And what was my brother doing in Prague?

He was there teaching English to eager-to-learn Czechs.

Houston 25, Memphis 15

Last Saturday's game at BBVA Compass Stadium wasn't pretty by any means, with turnovers, penalties, misfiring offenses and a disappointing lack of fans, but it was a nevertheless a win. As a result, the Cougars are now 5-0.

The Good: The Cougar defense has been the story of the season, and they were the reason the Coogs won on Saturday. They forced four Memphis turnovers (Houston now leads the nation in turnover margin!) and kept the Tiger offense from finding the endzone. And quarterback John O'Korn's skillful improvising during a busted play on a two-point conversion - he flipped the football to running back Kenneth Farrow right as a Memphis defender was bringing him down - made the ESPN Sportscenter top ten.

But that's about it. Unless you count the pre-game at Lucky's Pub. Big thanks to them for opening early and serving those tasty breakfast tacos!

The Bad: Pretty much everything on offense, which managed less than 250 total yards the entire game. I was especially disappointed in the performance of the UH offensive line. They were responsible for numerous drive-killing holding penalties (all in all, the Coogs committed 12 penalties for 86 yards) and could not effectively block for the ground game, which resulted in only 38 yards of rushing offense (although to be fair, Farrow is just coming back from an injury and is not 100% yet).

The Ugly is summarized by this picture:

Not only can our cheerleaders apparently not spell, but yes, the stadium really was that empty.

The announced attendance for this game was 20,103, but that was still a) less than BBVA Compass's capacity of 22,000, and b) not even close to being an accurate reflection of the number of people that actually showed up. I'd be suprised if more than 10,000 people were actually there.

I know that 11 AM kickoffs are historically poor start times for UH football games, I know the BBVA Compass is an unfamiliar locale for most UH fans, I know that Memphis is not an awe-inspiring opponent, and I know that the weather - hot and sticky, with scattered thunderstorms marauding across the region - was less than ideal. 

Regardless, if the University of Houston, with 40 thousand students currently enrolled and somewhere around 200 thousand alumni in the region, can't even fill a 22,000-seat stadium, then the program will forever remain an irrelevant, second-tier have-not in the world of college football.

What it means: At five wins, the Cougars have now matched last season's win total. Wins are going to be harder to come by from here on out, starting with the formidable Brigham Young Cougars at Reliant this Saturday. If UH plays anywhere near as poorly in this game as they did last weekend, they will be utterly obliterated by the Mormons.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The worst season in Astros history comes to a merciful end

The local baseball club's first season in the American League was also its worst season in franchise history, as the Astros ended the 2013 season with an abysmal 51-111 record that was capped off with a fifteen-game losing streak.

This club is supposed to be rebuilding, but in fact they're only getting worse: they've gone from 106 losses in 2011 to 107 losses in 2012 to 111 losses in 2013. These have been the three worst seasons in a 51-year franchise history that includes a lot of lousy losing seasons. The Astros haven't had a winning record since 2008, and that 2005 World Series appearance now seems like ancient history.

With the mounting losses comes rejection from Houston's fair-weather fanbase. The Astros drew 20,394 fans per game to Minute Maid Park: the second-lowest attendance average since the Astros started playing there and 13th out of 15 American League teams. People aren't watching the Astros on TV, either; just a week ago they managed a 0.0 Nielsen rating for a broadcast, which basically means that nobody in Houston bothered to tune in to the game.

Sure, there are plenty of excuses for this season's failures: the team is the youngest in Major League Baseball, its payroll is the lowest, the franchise is adjusting to a new league, this is Bo Porter's first season as a manager, et cetera. But local sports fans don't care about any of that. They just want to see a winner.

Or at the least, some improvement. And right now, we're not even getting that.

Houston 59, UTSA 28

The Coogs improved to 4-0 on the season last Saturday with a win over the Texas - San Antonio Roadrunners in the Alamodome. The game was actually closer than the score suggests. Both teams were tied 21-21 at halftime and Houston was clinging to a three-point lead late in the third quarter when the Roadrunners attempted a field goal that was blocked and returned 78 yards by Brandon Wilson for a Cougar touchdown. That changed the game's momentum, and the Roadrunners self-destructed in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over five times and allowing the Coogs to score 28 unanswered points.

The Good: In addition to the blocked field goal returned for a TD, the Cougar defense forced five turnovers - four interceptions, one of which was returned 96 yards for a touchdown, and a fumble - in a fourth quarter that saw the wheels come completely off what up until that point was a competent UTSA offense. The Cougar offense, for its part, did not cough up the ball at all, and true freshman quarterback John O'Korn had a good afternoon, going 24-of-36 for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Deontay Greenberry caught nine passes for 149 yards and a score.

The Bad: Up until his meltdown in the fourth quarter, UTSA quarterback Eric Soza was slicing up the Cougar secondary, finishing the day with 29 completions on 40 attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns. The UH receiving corps inexcusably dropped two sure touchdown passes when the game was still close. And ten Cougar penalties for 73 yards is entirely too many.

What it means: you get the feeling that had a few things gone differently - if, for example, that field goal had not been blocked and returned for a touchdown, or if the Roadrunners had connected on a trick play a couple of plays earlier (Sosa, who handed off the ball and then ran out to receive, was wide open and would have scored a touchdown had the pass been just a bit longer) - the outcome of this game could have completely different. As it was, however, the young Roadrunners panicked late in the game, and allowed the Coogs to run away with a victory on the road.

The Cougars now get another week off, and then host Memphis at BBVA Compass Stadium on October 12.