Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Housekeeping and Happy New Year

I'll be ringing in 2020 tonight, and with then be heading to Louisiana for a few days of post-holiday vacation. As well as being the last post of 2019, this will also likely be my last entry for awhile. There are now officially less than three months remaining until Corinne's and my wedding, and preparing for that event is going to take up an increasing amount of my spare time between now and then (that, in fact, I one of the reasons we are heading to Louisiana this weekend).

But before I do that, a few housekeeping/meta-blogging items I've meant to take care of but haven't done so until now:

First, in keeping with a tradition of archiving family obituaries on this blog, I'm (finally) posting my grandfather Horace Gray's obituary, which I have retroblogged to the day of his passing, August 9, 2000. Hard to believe that he will have been gone twenty years this coming summer.

I'm also making a couple of changes to the blogroll on the right side of this page, starting with my college football links. Since Deadspin has been gutted by its new corporate overlords, it no longer warrants a link. The Every Day Should Be Saturday folks have moved on to the Banner Society (the final post on EDSBS - a dissertation combining life, college football and "Free Bird" - being absolutely epic), so I am replacing the former with a link to the latter.

Finally, and with a bit of sadness, I have deleted my "Dubai" blogroll. As much fun as it was to have played a (small) part of that city's blogosphere a dozen or so years ago, the simple fact is that Dubai is no longer part of my life. I was last there over seven years ago, I am no longer at a job that requires me to travel there, and I doubt I will be heading back there for any reason anytime soon. Furthermore, most of the blogs I linked to have either become dormant (an exception being Alexander McNabb's  Fake Plastic Souks) or their writers have moved.

Everybody be safe tonight, and may you have a wonderful 2020!

Defining a decade

Today is the last day of 2019, meaning that the argument we have every ten years is back again:
As January 1, 2020, approaches, everyone is reflecting about the past decade and the new one that awaits. "Best of the decade" lists are everywhere. #10YearChallenges are all over social media. And people are eagerly gearing up to celebrate the end of the 2010s. 
But there's a slight problem. 
We might be celebrating a year too early, at least according to some people. 
The question of when exactly the current decade ends and the new one begins seems to come up every time the year on the calendar moves from ending in 9 to ending in 0. It came up in 1989. And in 1999. Then again in 2009. And now. 
So is January 1, 2020, really the beginning of the decade? Or does it, in fact, begin a year later, on January 1, 2021?
From a mathematical standpoint, it is correct that the next decade does not begin until 2021. The Gregorian calendar does not have a "Year Zero." The Common Era (Anno Domini) begins with Year 1. Therefore, the first decade of the calendar runs from 1 CE through 10 CE, and all subsequent ten-year spans start with 1 and end with 0, as well.

That being said, from a cultural standpoint, we prefer to group decades by the tens digit, so that they start with 0 and end with 9. It's just easier to categorize years in this manner.
When we think of the 90s, we think of the period from 1990-1999. It just doesn't make sense that the year 1990 would be considered part of the 80s.
Plus, it's more satisfying to celebrate big occasions like the start of a new decade in an even-numbered year, a phenomenon that psychologists call "round number bias." Waiting until 2021 to celebrate the new decade would feel anticlimactic.
That's why Konstantin Bikos, lead editor of TimeandDate.com, says that both definitions of when the new decade begins are correct. No need to cancel your end-of-the-decade party. 
"There's two different ways of categorizing 10 years," he told CNN. "It could be from the year ending in 0 to the year ending in 9, or the year ending in 1 to the year ending in 0."
It comes down to how we talk about time spans. 
Bikos agrees that centuries and millennia always start with years ending in 1. Those time spans are typically referred to as numbered entities counted up from the year 1 AD, as in the "21st century" or the "third millennium." 
Decades are categorized by year numbers. Even though the 2020s will be the 203rd decade, no one ever calls it that. It's just called the 2020s, or the 20s.
Truth be told, this is all very arbitrary. A "decade" could be any ten consecutive orbits of the earth around the sun. 1995 through 2004 is a “decade." Our culture has simply selected years ending 0-9 to be grouped as a decade because it's easier to remember and talk about them that way.

So you will be mathematically correct if you wanted to celebrate the beginning of the 203rd decade, CE, on January 1, 2021. But the "twenties," as they will be known in popular culture, begin at midnight tonight.

Vox reviews the decade just past - what it calls the "tumultuous 2010s" - here.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

UH wins and attendance, 2019

The downhill slide continues.

The Cougars averaged 25,518 fans per game for their five home games at TDECU Stadium* in 2019, which is a decline of 4,320 fans/game from the 2018 season. This is the lowest average attendance since the 2013 season (the year before TDECU opened) and the third consecutive year of attendance decline for the program. Since the 2016 season the program has lost an average of 13,436 fans per game.

Coming off a four-win season and with a 2020 home slate consisting of Rice, North Texas, Tulane, Tulsa, Central Florida and South Florida, the ticket office is going to face an uphill battle in order to reverse this unfortunate trend.

*The game against Washington State at NRG Stadium is officially a neutral site, so the NCAA does not include it in our attendance totals. If we were to include it, Houston’s average attendance jumps to 28,019, which still represents an overall decline from 2018.

The countercultural cartoons of Sesame Street

A few weeks ago, venerable children's television program Sesame Street turned 50 years old. And although we might not have realized it as children, there's an awful lot about that show that reflects the time period in which it was incubated in; namely, the drug-infused counterculture late '60s and early '70s. Mike McPadden, writing in the cannabis-oriented website Merry Jane, explains:
In 1969, society’s counterculture upheaval and a drive to expand cosmic consciousness resulted in the psychedelic convergence of Woodstock and the literally spaced-out giant leap of the moon landing. 
Less audacious, but perhaps even more revolutionary, another monumental undertaking from that year channeled the era’s turned-on vibes and anything-is-possible ambitions into an ongoing source of uplift, wisdom, and inspiration for young people and, as such, humanity’s future.  
On November 9, 1969, Sesame Street debuted on PBS. Yes, the show has been on the air for exactly half a century now!
To be technical, Sesame Street didn't even premier on PBS. It premiered on NET, which was PBS's predecessor. PBS itself came into existence one year later. The entire first episode is available here (spoiler alert: Oscar the Grouch was originally orangish-brown, not green).
Unlike previous children’s TV, Sesame Street showcased a diverse array of kids, adults and, of course, Muppets in funny, heartfelt, and believable situations. It also took place in an urban setting that reflected the communities of most of the show’s audience.  
In addition, fueled by the desire to educate and enlighten in the most effective way possible, Sesame Street tapped into 1969’s heady, funky, freewheeling zeitgeist. The show empowered cutting-edge artists, writers, and musicians to create its cartoons, short films, sketches, and sing-alongs. Awash over every element of Sesame Street, as well, were the intrinsic values of love, acceptance, kindness, and inclusion.  
All that’s to say, if Sesame Street’s creators weren’t potheads themselves — although just look at Muppet-master Jim Henson; how could he not have been? — the show positively incorporated the most inspired and inspirational aspects of late-60s drug culture. 
Sesame Street, in other words, happened because the hippies of the 60s got jobs in the entertainment industry and created countercultural and psychedelic imagery under the guise of "children's television." Looking back, it was pretty obvious: would any straight-laced, sober television producer of that era really envision a children's show with a puppet cast that featured a giant canary, an orange woolly mammoth only visible to said giant canary, a green monster living in a garbage can, a blue monster with an addiction problem, and an ambiguously gay couple? The cartoons and animations interspersed between the antics of said cast only further argue the point.

The Merry Jane list features "tripped-out moments that have delighted tokers and children alike" from the entire fifty-year span of Sesame Street and is worth a full perusal.  I've limited my own trippy favorites to the 1970s, when I watched the show as a small child and well before I understood Sesame Street's peace, love and drugs provenance.

E-Imagination: this cartoon appeared in the very first episode in 1969. The watercolor animation and sitar-inflected music are transparently psychedelic. Riding an eagle, following a beagle? Far out, man! Also, the Land of Steam sounds pretty cool.

Counting Raga: Speaking of tripped-out sitar chords, how about Ravi Shankar himself providing the music for this kaleidoscopic counting animation from 1971? This cartoon was likely the first exposure many young children had to the Indian aesthetic so beloved by hippie culture.


Lost Boy Remembers His Way Home - This is what happens when a hallucination becomes a cartoon. One of the comments on this video's YouTube page says it all: "if you are a member of Generation X, your childhood entertainment was created by people who were tripping balls."

Daddy Dear - Every letter of the alphabet got its own animation on Sesame Street, and this ode to the letter "D" from 1972 is, well, delightfully druggy. Do dandelions roar? Well, maybe when you're on DMT!

Pinball Number Count - this series of cartoons (one for every number between two and twelve; all segments can be seen here) made its debut in the mid-70s; the tune, sung by the Pointers Sisters, is something any Gen-Xer living today can easily recite. As cool as the music was, the animation of a pinball rolling through a series of trippy landscapes was positively sublime. It's what happens when a pinball eats a mushroom and enters a multilevel, Alice-In-Wonderland pinball machine.

Geometry of Circles - Animated by Cathryn Aison and featuring music by composer Philip Glass, this engaging series of cartoons first appeared in 1979. The abstract, vivid mix of sound, color and geometry was as mesmerizing to elementary students getting ready for school as it was to college students coming down from an all-night LSD trip. This particular video stitches all four of the cartoons from the series into one.

New Ball in Town - This stop-motion animation of one ball trying to play with three others was supposed to teach kids the importance of inclusivity. While not as psychedelic as some of these other cartoons, the jarring red-and-purple patterns of the balls and the awesome riffs of the Moog synthesizer nevertheless produce an effect that may be especially pleasant if you're high.

The Yip Yips - While not an animation, these Martian Muppet characters were surely envisioned by Jim Henson when he was baked out of his gourd. Which is why their signature "yip yip yip yipyipyipyipyip uh-huh" dialogue is just as hilarious after a hit of the bong today as it was when you were four. When they weren't engaging in stoner antics like mistaking a clock for a human, the Yip Yips were also trying to communicate with telephones, searching for tunes on a 1930's era radio, trying to operate a fan, or visiting Ernie and Bert.

Houston 41, #24 Navy 56; 2019 season recap and look-ahead to 2020

The Cougars ended the season by hosting the Navy Midshipmen (not ranked in the College Football Playoff top 25, but #24 in the AP poll) at TDECU Stadium last Saturday night. As has been the case for much of the season, Houston was competitive in the first half. And, as has also been the case much of the season, the Cougars collapsed in the second half. The Cougars end the season by being steamrolled by a service academy for the second year in a row, and close their 2019 campaign with a 4-8 record. (They failed to meet even my modest expectations for the season.)

The Good: When they didn’t turn the ball over, the UH offense was actually very productive. Quarterback Clayton Tune was 23 of 35 for 393 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a 67-yard catch-and-run to Tre'von Bradley early in the game, a 26-yard strike to Courtney Lark, and a 22-yard pass to Marquez Stevenson on a gutsy fourth-and-nine play. Tune also scrambled for 61 yards, and running back Patrick Carr added another 56 yards and a score on the ground. All told, the Cougars amassed 527 total yards of offense. And, although the UH defense was manhandled through most of the game, they did come away with a couple of huge stops on 4th and 1.

The Bad: Alas, both of those 4th down stops were rather quickly followed by Clayton Tune interceptions. Turnovers were the story of this game for the Cougars, as Tune threw 4 picks - all of which appeared to be bad decisions into multiple coverage - and UH special teams fumbled a kickoff return. Three of these turnovers led to Midshipmen touchdowns. Special teams also missed a field goal.

The Ugly: The UH run defense. I lost count of the number of times Navy was able to dive up the middle for a long run or a score, but fullback Jamale Carothers scored on rushes of 8, 17, 75, 29, and 19 yards and ended the evening with 188 yards. Midshipman quarterback Malcom Perry had 146 rushing yards and a touchdown as well; he only attempted four passes the entire evening. UH defenders were continually out of position - it seemed as if defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen and his staff made no adjustments whatsoever during the course of the game - which allowed Navy to amass 447 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

The Absurd: After Clayton Tune's pass to Christian Trahan late in the second quarter was ruled down at the one-half yard line, the Cougars had first and goal at the 1 with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. However, thanks to a series of botched playcalls, sacks and penalties, the Houston had to settle for a field goal from their own 20. This clusterfuck of a series was emblematic of the Coogs’ struggles this season.

What It Means: The disappointing 2019 season - the program’s worst since 2004 - has mercifully come to an end. While the Cougars were competitive in many games they played in, their lack of  depth - they oftentimes ran out of gas in the second half - as well as their glaring lack of talent on the offensive line and the defense were simply too great to overcome.

It didn't help that the Coogs faced a particularly tough schedule this fall. In addition to the fact that six of their twelve opponents were ranked in the AP top 25 at the time they met, UH also faced a grueling gauntlet of four games in 19 days to start the season. After finishing that stretch of games with a 1-3 record, head coach Dana Holgorsen took advantage of the NCAA's new redshirt rules to bench several starting members of the team, including starting quarterback D'Eriq King: a controversial decision that caused detractors to accuse him of "tanking" the season. Whether Holorgsen intentionally sabotaged the rest of the season or not, the Cougars would go on to win only three more games in 2019.

Holgorsen and his staff ended up redshirted a whopping 35 players in 2019. Time will tell if this gamble worked, but as of right now I can’t say I’m particularly excited about 2020. I'm afraid it’s going to take more than just one season to rebuild talent and depth on the offensive line, the defensive line and in the secondary. The team is furthermore going to miss departing seniors such as running back Patrick Carr, offensive lineman Josh Jones and punter Dane Roy. Other talented players, such as defensive end Isaiah Chambers, are entering the transfer portal, and I honestly expect the most notable of Holgorsen's redshirts, D’Eriq King, to transfer out as well. The Coogs’ best wide receiver, Marquez Stevenson, will likely opt for the NFL draft.

It's also worth noting that next year’s schedule is going to be just as tough as this one was. Every team the Coogs lost to at home this season - Navy, Memphis, SMU, Cinci, Washington State - they play on the road next season. The Cougars also have to face Central Florida again, South Florida replaces UConn, and there will be no FCS patsy to scrimmage against. Finally, while nobody’s going to mistake BYU for Oklahoma, the trip to be Provo is going to be hard. At least the Coogs get Tulane at home; maybe they can win that one.

Their next game will be at TDECU Stadium against Rice on Saturday, September 5, 2020. They have a lot of work to do between now and then.

On to the offseason.