23 August 2009

Full Predictions of UFC 102

Alright fight fans here are my predictions for UFC 102. This will be the brief synopsis version, not the longer analysis. I just want to get this on paper to solidfy my stellar reputation as a fight analyst.

1. Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira:
Nog by submission. This could come late or early. For my entire rationale go here

2. Keith Jardine vs Thiago Alves:
Alves by KTFO. Jardine's biggest strength is how incredibly awkward he is. Jittery, jerky. His best success has been against counter punchers who have trouble timeing him. The secret with him is really just throw your punches and kick everything else to the curb. Do it smart, but lead. Let him worry about counter timing you. Thiago is just the kind of fighter to pull this off.

3. Chris Leben vs Jake Rosholt:
Honestly prior to a week ago I would have called this one a complete toss up. But Leben has recently taken his training to Hawaii where he gets a lot of upright coaching from Burton Richardson who is a quality JKD man, who will no doubt be helping Chris sharpen up his striking and ground work. On top of this, Chris is spending his last week at Team Quest in Portland OR where UFC 102 is happening. That puts him in such prestigious company as Matt Lindland, and Dan Henderson (I even believe Burton has said Randy Couture has been there training too). This means Leben has a whole new level of striking sophistication, and new strateigies, plus some excellent inside wrestling at his disposal. Color me converted. Leben has experience, a chin and excellent cornering. My pick?
Leben by KO, probably second round.

4. Nate Marquardt (that isn't a typo) vs Demian Maia:
Is there better Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in the UFC than that brought by Demian Maia? Highly doubtful (though BJ Penn may be as good). His UFC wins, eleven straight, are all by submission. I think this may be the case of one specialty being so good, that it eclipses Nate's well rounded arsenal. Nate has said he isn't scared of Demian's ground game. If so he is braver than he should be.

5. Brandon Vera Vs. Krzysztof Soszynski:
Brandon Vera by knockout. His striking is superior and he is no slouch on the ground. Soszynski is a game guy, comes in in condition, but he is taking this fight short notice, so even that might be a problem. Vera's taken his training to the next level and I expect him to come out looking hungry and looking to win in dramatic fashion.

6. Ed Herman vs Aaron Simpson:
Herman for the win. Basing this completely on the fact he seems to have more experience and an okay record (in 23 outings he has won about 74% of the time). While the other guy has only had five fights. On paper anyway, this looks like experience ought to win.

7. Gabriel Gonzaga Vs. Chris Tuchscherer:
I like Gonzaga for this. He is a big guy, quick, and hits hard. Chris Tuchscherer simply doesn't appear to have the striking sophistication to hang with a craft guy like Gonzaga.
So...Gonzaga by KO.

8. Justin McCully Vs. Mike Russow:
Honestly, I have no idea? One of them by something in a round.

9. Tim Hague Vs. Todd Duffee:
You know what? More of same. One of them by something, in one of the rounds.

10. Nick Catone Vs. Mark Munoz:
Munoz based simply on his great wrestling. Former number three ranked collegiate wrestler, and possesses decent upright skills.
Mark Munoz by ground and pound.

Well whatever the case, we should have a night of good fights.
See you on the mat!
(All photos by the good folks at www.sherdog.com)


20 August 2009

UFC 102

Rodrigo "Minotauro" Noguueira and Randy Couture will finally get the chance to fight on August 29 2009. Its sad that this fight is happening now and not a couple of years ago when Minotauro first arrived on the UFC scene. It will likely still be a great fight, but for the fighters themselves it might have had more meaning when they were still arguably on top of not only thier games but the sport itself.

At the time Minotauro arrived in the UFC, Randy was still arguably the best heavyweight in the US, and Minotauro was still listed as number two (listed directly below one, Fedor Emelianenko) by most of the magazines and serious observers of the sport. Minotauro's arrival in the UFC meant a serious challenge for Randy. I am still somewhat shocked that they didn't put that fight together immediately. They matched up beautifully. Both about equal standing, and while different, similarly well matched on the ground. Couture has proven notouriously hard to submit (in a recent submission match not even the phenomenal Jacare could submit Couture), and Nog, as he is called by fans of the sport, has proven hard to put down for the count. With Nog though, Randy will have to be much more cautious on the ground (something he has said in pre-fight interviews) because Nog is known for finishing submissions. So wrestler base vs bjj guard and half guard? It will make for an interesting chess match. But it might have been something truly special for both fighters and fans a few years ago.

Though, maybe not. Randy was having a none to quiet battle with UFC management, and Nog was, according to insider rumor battling some recurrent injuries that left somewhat less than one hundred percent. Both men are currently hungry to avenge losses, and substandard performances. Each has had sometime quality down time to recover. Hopefully this is the case.

My predictions?
If both Randy and Nog come to the fight in their best form, then this one is too close to call. Each has a decent upright MMA game, and whose is better really will depend on training. When Nog was training his boxing extensively with the Cuban national team the man was technically sound and accurate, with decent power. Lately though his boxing has been pretty lack luster. Couture isn't as good an upright fighter as he is a smart upright fighter. The man researches, finds the weakness and then trains strategies to exploit it. So while not a versatile or imaginitive striker, the man knows what he needs to do from opponent to opponent and has the discipline to go into the octagon and execute. He has a nice overhand too. Close but based on current performances I have to give a slight edge to Randy.

Clinch? Randy has betrayed a bit of confidence in this area and that may be his undoing. Nog is a Brazilian Top Team alum and under the auspices of the great Darrel Gholar, BTT has managed to take down with ease, both Dan Henderson, and Matt Lindland, late of Team Quest and former training partners of Couture. What is key here is this. You are not going to find better wrestlers than those guys and the crew at BTT has managed to take down some very very good wrestlers. If Randy doesn't want to end up on his back (his worst position) he had better be cautious. Both men do good work from the clinch but beyond dirty boxing what are Randy's options from the clinch? Can he really risk taking Nog down? No he really can't. Nog is the best heavy weight grappler out there. Playing in his guard or half guard will see Randy either submitted or turned over. So the clinch work for Couture doesn't really lead anywhere. But maybe he will pick up points for generalship, and his dirty boxing. The longer he stays there, the more chances he gives Nog to take him down.

On the ground Nog is holding all the cards. From the bottom or the top. Randy has a nice wrestlers base, and a decent ground and pound. His groundd and pound though will be offset by some relentless pressure from Nog whose stellar guard and half guard work will mean sweeps and submission attempts gallore. Though scoring will go to Randy because the UFC doesn't seem to have a decent way to score pressure from the guy on the bottom. If Nog gets on top Couture will want to BJJ his way back over and not rely on the wrestling manuevers that will leave him open to Minotauro magic.

If both men come in shape this is a tough fight to call. If both men come in shape it won't really matter except to the folks betting, because we will get a spectacular fight.

But because, Nog and I share a coach, and much of the same half guard, and guard vocabulary I gotta go with Nog.


11 August 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Reboot or straight to video from here on out.

Here is the thing. I grew up on G.I. Joe. I was one of the Marvel comic book fans that only tolerated the atrocious cartoon. The comic book while clearly action adventure, and resembling real counter-terrorism teams like Indiana Jones represents real archeology at least tried to keep most of the problems real world. There were martial arts masters too, but not as many lasers, and implausible sci-fi weapons. The characters were provided interesting backstories, and shockingly the characters developed. The cartoon was another matter. It was an attempt to capitalize on the huge popularity of the toys, and comic while ignoring the fact that it was about military operations. It, the cartoon, was bloodless and boring while also being a craven attempt to sell new toys. There were no bullets in the cartoon, just infinate lasers, coupled with shocking inaccuracy on the part of the allegedly highly trained Joes, and their Cobra counter parts (I am sure both teams have shooting ranges and kill houses in which might train a little?). It was a bloodless, hollow shell of the comics that ignored the fascinating dynamics of the comic books.

And that note brings me to the new movie, which has decided to follow the tradition of its 80's cartoon predecessor. Like the cartoon it ignores the depth of the comic book source material. If there is anything that comic book movies can teach us about adaptation it is this. When directors and producers think they can do better than the comic book source material a bad movie is in the offing. As such the Joe show has no where to go but directly down. In flames, joined by the sound of twisting metal and screams. If you were fan of the comic book, hell if you just liked the bio-files on the back of your 3 3/4 inch action figures, you are going to think one thing. And that one thing is this.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a terrible movie.

Even if you aren't a fan you may think the above though. Because this is a terrible fackin' movie. And here is why.

1. The entire premise. This is a movie that was put together in a board room full of dis-interested people looking at the toys. An arms deal whose family has been double dealing since the mid-1600s, wants to topple world leadership with his new and completely implausible, super-weapon, so the world will turn to the most powerful man left standing. "Why will any accept you as their leader?" Shouts a Joe offended by such a preposterous scheme. "Not me." He says. Uh...okay.

Both Joes and Cobra are a little too well kitted out with super duper advanced gear for the film to work as even remotely plausible viewing. In fact it is so far over the top as to get in the way. But more on that later.

2. Marlon Wayons. For a guy who comes from a fairly progressive family of comedians the man perpetuates black stereotypes almost as well as a white actor in black-face would. We see glimpses of a good actor underneath his autopilot performance but only enough to be disappointed in him.

3. The lack of early Joes. The starting line up I grew up with consisted of Snake-eyes, Scarlett, Stalker, Rock-n-Roll, Zap, Breaker, Flash, Grunt, Short-fuze, Hawk, Steeler, Clutch and Grand Slam. The Cobras consisted of nameless, Cobra grunts, Cobra officers, and of course, ole hissy voice himself, Cobra Commander. Of that line up, it is an absolute necessacity that you have Snake-eyes, Scarlett, Stalker and Hawk. The cobras definately need filling out, so Destro, and Baroness are a given. As is Storm-Shadow and maybe Zartan. The comics spent most of their time on those characters and the amount of source material for them was astoundingly good. But even if they went with my line up, it probably wouldn't have mattered because they chose to ignore the source material anyway, and instead offer up this failure explosion.

4. The god-damn exosuits. Amid all the the goofy techo-nonsense, two of the Joes (why only two, and the newest most inexperienced two at that) get issued battle suits that enable them to run after cars, leap through and over buses, launch missles from their arms, move cars and generally just annoy me with all their can do. What I find shocking is that even equipped with these super suits borrowed from Heinlen's Starship Troopers they cannot keep up with or match Snake-eyes, who seems to be able to do every thing that a person in one of these Exosuits can do, and then some. Perhaps a commitment to cost effectiveness is in order? Instead of any more suits which accomplish nothing but lots of collateral damage, the Joes should hire from Clan Arashikage. It would be vastly cheaper than the suits, and more effective to boot.

5. Snake-eyes costume. Okay I do understand this a film based on a comic book and a cartoon that was based on a toy, but...I mean..come on, a foam rubber suit with fake looking muscles? And instead of a balaclava, he wears a foam rubber face complete with foam lips? Foam lips? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot as they might have said in a better movie. What the hell does he need his foam lips for while on a mission? When I saw the lips, I thought to myself, This movie is soooo going to suck. And as usual I was right.

6. Storm-Shadow. A husk of the character in the comic book. He is even a shell of his 80s cartoon instantiation. Terrible origin story. Okay acting.

7. Snake-eyes. Character: Oh yeah, he has none. He exists to swing a sword around, pose heroically with said sword and do martial arts and acrobatic things.

8. Stalker, oh right that character wasn't in the movie.

9. Paper thin characters. I've singled Snake eyes and Storm-shadow out, but the paper thin quality of all the characters completely took me out of the film (Scarlett's science stereotype is something I could have singled out for its utter stupidity as well, but there is only so much time in a day). I probably could have taken the new spin on the mythologies, but they didn't even want to work for it. The whole effort assumes that G.I. Joe fans are more abundant than they really are, and that we will overlook any short comings simply because there are live action Joes on the big screen. And they assume that the non-fan will look past the general crappyness of the film. They may be correct. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is still at theaters and it did well.
However...They will have to do better to get any more of my money.

I had fogotten about the following important points.

10. The three tier climax, huge underwater battle, small group of heroes carrying out specific missions, and huge jedi, I mean ninja battle, is a complete Star Wars rip. And not terribly well done. The battle between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, the live action treatment of which I have been waiting for since about 1984, was absolutely...what is the word...boring. Style and flash when it should have been From Russia with Love. And by that I mean vastly more realistic, mean and rough, not the choreographed grace of a kung fu movie. The Golden Eye Fight isn't bad to think about either.

11. During the big underwater battle, also under a massive ice sheet, between the rebels and the empir....I mean between the Joes and Cobra, involves a massively stupid thing. SPOILER Cobra orders the ice sheet destroyed, a kind of round about self destruct sequence to destroy the, also massive, underwater Cobra base.
"The ice is falling, we've got to get out of here before it destroys the base." Duke yells at the Baronness. The Baronness nods in agreement.

"Uh..daddy, ice floats." My daughter said to me immediately after the brain dead dialogue. She remembered, as did I that they were in fact deep underwater.
"Yes, Ani, yes it does."

And so for the rest of the climax, ice from the ice sheet above the massive, and massively improbable, Cobra base falls down from above through the water. That is to say it sinks.

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08 August 2009

Are the Boy Scouts a good thing? And should you support them with your tax dollars.

(Clicking on the title of this entry will take you directly to the BSA's official website. Who said I wasn't fair and balanced?)

While watching Penn And Teller on the wonderful internet device that is Netflix, I saw some thing about that discriminatory organization known as the Boy Scouts. For a while now I've been on board with them being able to discriminate against gays and atheists because they had snowed me into believing their bullshit about being a private organization. If you are a private organization, however reprehensible I may find your message, I will support your right to do what you will so long as you aren't hurting anyone. What I didn't realize is that your tax dollars and mine, fund alot of Boy Scout's discriminatory nonsense. Go here to see how they accomplish that little trick.

Considering that the Boy Scouts likes to ban atheists, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, and of course chics, is it right for our tax dollars to support such a blatantly discriminatory set of policies? Would it be right to use tax dollars to support eh Ku Klux Klan? I know of at least one alternative to the scouts that you might consider. That is to Camp Quest, which functions as as a residential summer camp. It is a bit pricey though. There are probably others to consider as well. I wonder if existing scout troops led by by more inclusive scout leaders might just ignore the scout leadership hand book on these discriminatory points and help change the orginization from the inside? I have my doubts about this approach because BSA management has been pretty consistent when it comes to kicking such enlightened folks out on their sensible asses. Poor schleps.

Unless you are a part of such a troop may I suggest that you ignore the Boy Scouts of America at really any opportunity. Feel free to let them know you will ignore them until such time as they are willing to change their policies. In the mean time, do feel free to contact your local, state and federal representatives (click here for your state congressmen, and here for your senators by state) and let them know what an un-American organization the BSA really is, and that as such, it should recieve, indeed is prohibited from recieving, and tax dollars.

So....think twice before buying candy bars or other sundries from these guys. I know they say its for a nice camping trip, or canoe rentals, but don't donate till they drop their discriminatory practices. Besides Girl Scout cookies are infinitely better anyway.

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04 August 2009

Chaser's War on Everything.



02 August 2009

Francis Collins and the The Biologos Foundation: Trying to justify religious tradition with science. Part 1.

In the past few days I've posted several links to critiques of Francis Collins. Here I offer my thoughts on Collins. In later parts, I will review Collins The Language of God and his wooly-headed, woo laden Biologos Foundation.

Here are some statements, highlighted in other articles I've linked you to in the past, given by Francis Collins, current nominee to head the National Institutes of Health.
Do they seem like the statements of a person who is mixing his religion with science? Are these the forumulations of a person whose religion interferes with more evidence based scientific reasoning? It seems that way to me. And that I think is a reason to worry. (These quotes are from talk he gave for the Veritas Forum.)
(Note the extreme sloppyness of his thinking. In comic book writing we call this ret-conning. That is old material is brought into current continuity by some poorly thought out contrivance. In this way people can feel as if the time invested in old stories was worth while, while justifying-maybe- the new direction/developments in the story telling. Only very rarely do fans find this sort of thing enjoyable. It is deemed credible by fans even less often than that.)

Here is Collins on the origin of the Universe,
“Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

Collins is clearly out of his depth relying more on the conclusions of fellow Templeton prize winners than the physics community at large. He is in fact just making it up to suit the conclusions his faith demands. He is too knowledgable and intelligent to adopt the simple creationist model (the one that demands instant creation and a six thousand year old earth) so he has come up with a version for the educated masses that still hanker after some religious "truth." If you like the idea of a sky daddy, but cannot really get on board with the obvious nonsense that a literal reading of desert based tribal mythology is, the warm, soft language of a Collins may be just what the doctor ordered.

While the scientific evidence certainly suggests that the universe is indeed 13.7 billion years old, it is incredibly hard to use science to justify anything else said by Collins in this quote. On the evidence there is no need to assume (and the assumption is completely unjustified by the evidence) an Almight God. That is getting way ahead of the facts. And saying that the universe is fine tuned for life is a somewhat risible argument. Whatever you want to call it it isn't rigorous reasoning. People who say the universe is fine tuned for life are not really thinking it through. Fine tuned compared to what?

Taking the long view, the universe is anything but fine tuned for life. Life so far as we know is actually quite rare, and my not often get the time necessary to flourish beyond the very simple. Astroids, comets, black holes, novae all pose very real threats to the stablity of solar systems and the individual planets of which they are comprised.

Looking more locally at the history of two other planets in our own solar system we see again that the universe is not terribly conducive to life. Mars once had many of the atmospheric constituents we currently think important for the origin of life. Certainly it had flowing water. What happened? Perhaps life did arise there (an may in microscopic form continue to go about its business) but its small size insured that those same atmospheric constituents bled off over course of eons. With the thinner atmosphere no substantial greenhouse effect to raise temperatures. The planet cooled and complex multicellular life never had a chance. Looking to the inner solar system we find Venus, in size very similar to Earth. It had and has no problem holding atmospheric gases, but a runaway greenhouse effect has created surface temperatures hot enought to melt lead. There is little chance we will find life there, though perhaps Venutian thermophiles await us on our sister planet? I won't hold my breath though.

The rest of the planets also offer incredible hurdles to the evolution and origin of life (Earth it must be said has been no different in this regard). Ours only seems to exist in a goldilocks zone because our of our vantage point in history. But numerous times life on our planet has nearly been wiped out, by extra-terrestrial impact (comets or meteors) or by volcanic eruptions that have cause large scale climatic change. The persistance of an evolutionaryly successful species (and by this I simply mean a long existing species) is about a million years. Some last incredibly longer, some not nearly so long. It remains to be seen where our own species will fall out on the curve. The persistance of life seems more to do with luck than anything else. Certainly we could not with a straight face say that the history of life indicates any thing like a supernatural caretaker or a divine plan lurking in the chaos of history natural or otherwise.

More from Collins:
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

How can anyone make this statement in so authoritative a manner? Here the unproven, unsupported, even unhinted God is stated as bold fact, followed by the bald assertion of the existance of God's plan. How can Collins know any of this? How can he claim that God used evolutionary selective pressures to do any specific creating? How does it make any sense to suggest that humans were a part of this creative plan?

First one has to establish that there actually is a god of any kind before one can make any statement about said being's intentions, plans and mechanisms by which the aforementioned are carried out. Once establishing a deity you would have to go through a lot of work to see precisely which deity it was. A difficult research programme to say the least.

Looking at the history of life on Earth, one has got note that the presense of humans was never ever guaranteed. Stephen J. Gould had gotten at least that much right. The history of life is replete with contingency. Wipe most of life off the face of the planet and it is unlikely that the selective environment that led to Homo sapiens would ever repeat itself, just as after the Cretacious/Tertiary extinction event, the enviroment never again produced the suite of selective pressures, or starting conditions that gave rise to the dinosaurs a hundred and fifty million years earlier. Collins and his directed evo ilk seem blissfully ignorant of the fossil record and its implications for life. They have no sense of contingency, indeed the seem to have no sense of the fossil record at all.

This argument about humans being the sole purpose could be made equally of any modern organism. I could use the same logic just as defensibly in the following way: God's plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of life on our planet. Most especially that creative plan included Coleopterans (beetles). Of course no one would take this terribly seriously even though the it seems in sync, however slightly, with the facts. There are vastly more species of beetles than there are any other animals after all. Perhaps the universe was fine tuned for the arrival of beetles?

Have I mentioned that Francis Collins really just likes to make stuff up?
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

Does Collins not realize that he has just set the whole of Christian thought on the rails? Science is not settling for this "answer" and is in fact already in the process of elucidating the evolutionary processes, and precursors that lead to human moral reasoning. Neuroscience, evolutioanry psychology, and evolutionary biology in general, are demonstrating that our morality has arisen largely from precursors found in nature. There was no moment of ensoulment and knowledge of good and evil per se, (there is at least no evidence of such a thing) but a graduated series of changes over time.

In any event science is elucidating many of the hows and whys of both our good behaviors and our bad, which appear to have roots in our shared evolutionary biology, and the cognitive apparatus selective pressures have created. Not only that but neuroscience will likely continue to erode clasical notions of free will but how that all falls out is far from clear. Why does Collins assume he has a firm grasp on these future developments? How exactly does he justify the authority with which he invests his baseless wooly-headedness?

I really cannot believe he said the following:
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement"

I for one would really love to hear Collins unpack this. When were we observing the moral law? At what point in the course of our history would it make sense to begin looking for our fall from grace in the annals of our natural history? He seems to think there is such a place. What evidence does he have for the assertion?

Was it perhaps when our ancestors were helping to drive the pleistocene megafauna into extinciton? Or perhaps after the near extinction of our species around 70,000 years ago when a supervolcano is thought to have reduced human populations to around 15,000 individuals? What about Neanderthals? They seem to have had a sufficiently "advanced house," their brains were quite a bit larger than our own. Did they have this knowledge of good and evil? What about Homo erectus? How far do Collins and his friends at Biologos want to take this kind of reasoning? Since their thinking isn't limited by facts, logic or evidence I suppose the folks at Biologos could go on making it up to their hearts content. Which they will no doubt continue to do to the delight of millions.

But why Jesus as the salvation? I mean all we see when we look back at the history of our species is natural events, one after another. Why would our fall from grace look so natural, in fact be so easily disguised by natural events, extinctions, super volcanoes, climate changes, our less than stellar treatment of other species etc and the solution be so obviously super natural? Why is the Garden of Eden a metaphor and Jesus not? I'd love to hear the explanation for this but I don't expect anything cogent to be offered.

And here is Collins trotting out the utterly sophmoric:
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

This is a fine example of a classic logical fallacy, the argument from adverse consequenses. It goes something like this. If something bad would happen because proposition x were true then x obviously cannot be true. If this kind of "logic" actually worked there would be no bad things at all. Think about disease diagnosis and you will see how silly Collins is being here. My doctor just told me I have cancer, but if I did that would be bad therefore; I cannot possibly have cancer. That statement makes precisely as much sense as Collins statement above.

Say it were proven though that human moral and ethical intuitions were in someway the products of evolutionary processes. So what. Would the fact that such phenomena were products of material processes make them somehow less real, less worthy of our attention. Does that mean that our sensiblities are really an illusion? No. It would simply mean that our faculties have arisen by natural means.

If we've been hoodwinked it has been by the shamans of the gods talking ahead of the evidence and speaking with an authority they have not earned.

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