Avengers Family Tree

My two and four year old children LOVE super heroes, LOVE comic books.  Not sure how it started.  As a kid, I liked ’em, but had only tangential exposure.  Now, as a 37-year old man, I’m drafted by these two yahoos every weekend to play with the dozens of actions figures in some epic battle with a convulted plot-line that fits right in with any Secret Invasion/Dark Reign story concocted by Marvel.  It usually goes something like this:

Dr. Doom, Iron Patriot, and Doc Oc (with the assistance of Juggernaut, Absorbing Man, Venom, Green Goblin, and several ‘bad-guy’ Lego Hero Factory robots) have taken Cyclops and Jean Gray captive.  This evil Cabal has somehow retained the services of a Rancor (yes, from Jaba’s Palace fame), several large rubber snakes, a blue salamander, Destro, Storm Shadow, and several nameless Cobra soldiers to guard the prisoners.  The Avengers, led by Iron Man and Captain America have allied with Wolverine, Colossus, Spidey, War Machine…and the list goes on, to form a rescue party.  Oh yeah, and Snake Eyes and Beach Head from GI Joe help out (not sure what normal humans can do to help, but hey, it’s not my story.)  In any case, we play across all four levels of our home, from the lava world of the basement to the mountain tops of the attic.  Eventually…inevitably… Silver Surfer shows up to tell everyone that Galactus is coming.  The good and bad team up and defeat that Devourer of Worlds, with multiple casualties.

Which brings me to this.  Below is a family tree setting forth the Avengers inter-relations.  This poster makes far too much sense to me– yet makes no more sense than the twists/character reversals/plots of my small children.

Spoiler: Spider Woman (Ms. Drew) is actually the Skrull Queen (see lower left).

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Goodnight Dune…a children’s book

It’s time for ‘Nerd Wednesday’ on a Tuesday.  If you have children, you’ve read Goodnight Moon.  This is a certainty.  If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ve read Dune.  This is a near certainty.  As should have been accomplished long ago, these two classics have now been combined here.


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The £35 million man– worth it? Absolutely.

In the days following the closure of the January transfer window, how many times did you read that Liverpool paid far too much for their new number nine?  Over the last couple of weeks, everyone from Darren Bent to Ian Holloway has cried ‘madness’ at LFC’s shattering of the transfer-window record for an English player.  Coupled with Chelsea’s lay-out of £50 million for Fernando Torres, pundits and punters have screamed that no player is worth this much money.  Claims that the EPL transfer market have spun out of control have been ubiquitous– and it’s no longer just that miserly Wenger.  Even Barcelona’s free-spending director was “shocked” at the amount of money spent on transfer fees in the Premier League.  (The fact that Barca reported significant debts and were forced into finally accepting an endorsement deal may have something to do with this.  May as well start setting fans expectations for less spending now, right?)  Well Andy Carroll took the pitch for the first time this past weekend.  While it’s early, I believe the premium price paid has already been worth it.

Decrying the spending habits of rivals is as common as a booking in the Merseyside derby.  It’s a tactic used to justify lack of purchases to your supporters (I’m looking at you, Arsenal), as well as heap pressure on your opponents’ newly-acquired players by insinuating that that they cannot possibly be worth the amount paid.  Here’s the thing though: the notion of objective, rather than relative value, is absurd.  It assumes that there is a set price that adequately reflects a player’s value to any and all clubs.  This notion over-simplifies the criteria that drive the decision-making processes of clubs.  Player skill and a proven track record are not the only factors that go into a player’s value to a particular club.

We all know that Messi and C. Ronaldo are worth a ton of cash to any team.  But in Liverpool’s case with the Carroll transfer, the psychological impact of committing to such a deal– not just the player’s skill– was nearly as significant.  For that reason alone, I believe he was worth the additional £10-15 million above what was closer to his objective value.  I would argue that the willingness to purchase Carroll– the message the owners sent to supporters and players in the face of losing Torres at the end of the transfer window– has had a role in our current run of good form.  And this, despite the fact that the number nine has played all of 20 minutes.  To make my point more clearly, let’s take a quick look at this whole relative versus objective value through a few other examples.

In 2008-2009, Barcelona had arguably the greatest season of any team in European club history.  They won the treble, with their Catalan supporters lording this unique feat over their bitter rivals in Madrid.  Enter Florentino Perez…again.  Within a week, he spent obscene amounts of cash on Kaka and Ronaldo.  Is any player objectively worth £80 million?  Consider the number of world-class players you could purchase with that fortune before you answer.  The answer, of course, is no.  Not Ronaldo.  Not Messi.  But that wasn’t the point for Real Madrid.  Rather, Perez intended to send a signal to the faithful in Madrid, and the enemy in Catalonia.  He made certain that Barcelona’s unprecedented victory tour would last no more than a few days, and he let European football clubs know that Madrid  would do anything in its power– spend any amount of money– to regain the upper hand.  (Having a world-wide fanbase to significantly offset CR8’s transfer fee through new kit sales was a nice perk as well.)  While he’s a great tactician, I’d argue that this year’s hiring of Mourinho was for a similar purpose– psychological as much as for actual skill.

True, Barca went on to win the league again last year, and they appear to be headed towards a third successive title, but subjectively, was Ronaldo worth £80 million to the Madristas?  Probably.  Would he have been to any other team in the world?  Not likely. For Real Madrid, they’re back on everyone’s radar, their fanbase knows the team hasn’t rolled over by psychologically cededing the next five years to their bitter rivals, and they’ve forced Barca into several costly deals to reassure their supporters (Ibra/Villa/Mascherano).  In buying Ronaldo, Madrid put everyone on notice that they were back.

Contrast this with Arsenal.  Poor, poor Arsenal.  One of my closest friends supports the Gunners.  Even though his team is contending for the League title, and will have Champions’ League play next year, he seems perenially down– almost despondent at times about his team’s prospects.  If there’s one team that has not learned the importance of the psychological impact in showing a committment– a spending committment– it’s Aresene Wenger’s side.  For my part, I think Mssr. Wenger is unfairly criticized by the press, but that’s not to imply that I’ve drunk his philosophical Kool-Aid with regards spending practices.  Yes, Arsenal can parade around their bottom line as much as they like, but does anyone other than the Professor believe they will seriously contend for a Champions’ League title under their current philosophy?  Does anyone believe they’ll win the league this year?  What about the FA cup?  The players themselves seem to question their toughness (see yesterday’s CL match/last week’s Carling Cup match) when everything is on the line.  Psychologically, I’m not sure the players or fans truly believe the squad has what it takes to win the big games.

Now what if Wenger had splashed out money on a lock-down central defender.  Or a hard-tackling center mid?  Or a realiable big-name keeper?  He may need all three, but I’d argue purchasing just one could have enough of a psychological impact to push the Gunners to silverware.  Yes, the quality and skills of the players obviously would make a significant difference, but the psychological impact would be equally impressive.  The fans and players would know that the team means business.  They’d know there’s a committment not just to a play-style philosophy, but that they’re in it to win.  As it is, Arsenal may play aesthetically pleasing football that’s good, but it’s not good enough. With Wenger’s consistent unwillingness to dip into the transfer market with any sense of commitment, the players and fans will always be reminded of this.

So where does that leave my analysis of Liverpool and the purchase of Andy Carroll?  The Torres/Carroll saga– at both ends of the deal– was based almost entirely on psychological factors.  My guess is that Abramovich payed an excessive fee for Torres in an attempt to show his players and fans that he hasn’t abandoned his pet project of owning a football club.  The problem is that Chelsea’s players didn’t need Torres, they need youth and width.  And introducing another alpha striker into the emotional powder keg of Drogba and Anelka up front has– and will likely continue to have– a detrimental effect so long as all three wear blue.  Hell, maybe I’m giving Abramovich too much credit– maybe he did it to satisfy his billionaire ego.  Maybe he needed another bauble to show off.  Manchester City has the same problem– spending absurd amounts without concern for chemistry or psychological payoff is not only wasteful, it can damage the team.

In any case,  the loss of Torres was clearly a huge psychological blow to those of us who support LFC.  I’ve written about this in a previous post, so I won’t repeat myself here.  The point is, we slogged through the torture of Hicks/Gillette, the tedium and poor form of the short-sighted Hodgeson era, and the net negative losses of class players in the transfer window over the last three years.  While we all were hopeful when NESV purchased the club, by all accounts they ran a fairly austere operation and there were rumblings that we were in for a long rebuilding process.  The purchase of Luis Suarez from Ajax was the first sign that perhaps the new ownership would move more quickly than expected.  Then the Torres bombshell hit.  Think back a few weeks to when you first heard substantiated reports that he wanted out.  Remember that desolate, helpless feeling.  The LFC players must have had similar thoughts.

When the deal became a certainty, we were near the end of the transfer window.  We faced a poor season that now had the possibility once again spiraling out of control.  NESV and King Kenny stepped up to staunch the psychological bloodletting.  By purchasing Carroll–even at the late-window premium– NESV went a long ways towards blunting the dispair of seeing our goal scorer exit for West London.  Within a day or two– while I was still fuming and hurt over Torres leaving– I was already considering the possibilities of Carroll as a true target man paired with the finesse and work-rate of Suarez.  Within a week, we were all talking about how the move worked out in LFC’s favor.  As for the team’s pschological state?  Well, take a look at our results since the transfer– again, even though Carroll hasn’t played more than 20 minutes.

The point is this:  in paying £35 million pounds for Andy Carroll, NESV demonstrated to the fans and players that we would not be abandoned.  Rather, we could look to a new start with young, highly talented players immediately– not next summer.  Suarez and Kuyt ruled the fixture this past Sunday, but getting to see the £35 million man take the pitch for the last 20 minutes topped that fantastic day.  With Kenny Dalglish at the helm, Damien Comolli scouting the talent, and NESV willing to open the purse strings when necessary, all appears to be going well on the red side of Mersey.  The players believe, the manager believes, and we believe.  Keep in mind, we lost our star striker just a few weeks back.  Is this salve worth £10-15 million extra?  Absolutely.  And THAT is relative value.



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Dark brews for a Winter night

“Winter is for red wine and black beer.”– Tom Landry.  Alright, Tom Landry probably didn’t say this, however it is undisputed that he was the greatest NFL coach of all time.  Therefore, I think it’s fair to assume he knews this maxim.

Like me, do you crave the warm blanket of alcohol to ease you into the Winter weekend, yet fear the inevitable shame of seeing the half-finished twelve pack of Miller Light the next morning?  Fear no more, friends.  I have not one, but two solutions for you.  Tonight, I’m drinking dark beer– stouts and a porters, specifically.  The first is from Wisconsin’s Tyranena brewery— the Doubly Down and Even Dirtier Chocolate Double Stout.  The second is the Cocoa Porter from Tommyknocker brewery in Ft. Collins, CO. Sampling these two beers will allow you to re-characterizing “drinking” into “expanding your bibulatory, and cultural horizons.” –Tom Landry.

Here’s a little background masquerading as “cultural horizon” expansion.  Stouts and porters were first brewed in England in the early 18th century.  They’re made from roasted malts or barley, which give the beer its distinctive dark color and strong flavor.  In general, there’s little distinction between stouts and porters, though traditionally a stout was a stronger version of a porter.  Today, the classification is left to individual breweries.  They vary in strength from around 4.5% to around 10% ABV.

A few of the more common sub-categories:

“Irish stouts” (think Guinness) tend to have a “toasty” or slight coffee flavor.  This is where I started, and though I still enjoy Guinness, I find it lacks the punch of many other porters and stouts from various craft breweries.

“Imperial stouts”, also known as “Russian imperials” are quite potent.  They were originally brewed in the 18th century in London for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia.  Traditionally, this style has a higher alcohol content (9% ABV is common) necessary to prevent freezing in transport across the Baltic.

“Milk stouts” (or cream stouts) contain lactose sugar from milk.  This adds sweetness and a silky mouthfeel.  I enjoy these, though the added sugar can give these beers a cloying quality unless properly balanced.

“Oatmeal stouts” contain…oats, of course.  That’s not to say that they have any oat-y flavor.  Rather, the texture is the big difference here.  The smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids, and gums imparted by the use of oats. These increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of silkiness.

“Chocolate stout” is a name sometimes given to those brews with a noticeable dark chocolate flavor through the use of darker, more aromatic malt that has been roasted until it takes on a chocolate color.  Frequently, as in the case of our two beers here, these are also brewed with a small amount of actual chocolate.

“Coffee stouts” use dark roasted malts that lend a bitter coffee flavor. Some brewers emphasize this flavor by adding ground coffee. The ABV of these coffee-flavored stouts will vary from under 4% to over 8%. Most are dry and bitter, though if you’re a coffee fan, excellent beers.

Note that these subcategories are often combined.  A stellar example is Founders’ Chocolate Oatmeal Coffee Breakfast Stout.  If you can find it, you’re obligated to try it.

Now to the beer.  The Tyranena Chocolate Double Stout (similar to an Imperial stout) pours like raw crude oil.  It’s beautiful.  This beer is part of Tyranena’s Brewers Gone Wild series, wherein they set out to see just how extreme a beer they can produce.  This one is aged in oak barrels, adding vanilla notes to its complex, intense flavor, as well a smoothness to its texture.  The addition of chocolate nibs adds a strong dark-chocolate structure that underlies everything.  In combination, these two characteristics balance against the high alcohol content, making this one of the best double stouts I’ve ever had.  A word of caution though, as this monster clicks in (I’m guessing) at around 10% ABV, which means you probably shouldn’t reach for that third bottle if you intend to make sound decisions for the rest of the night.  I rate this impressive beer at a 9.5/10.

The Cocoa Porter is a different beer entirely.  Rather than use chocolate nibs, the brewers at Tommyknocker have added cocoa powder.  The flavor closely resembles a lighter, creamy chocolate milk, rather than brooding dark chocolate.  The addition of honey provides a hint of sweetness that emphasizes the smooth flavor transition of this beer.  In contrast to the Tyranena, this one is not aged in oak barrels and the alcohol content is more modestly set at around 5% ABV.  Both of these factors contribute to a lighter, less-silky mouthfeel that resembles a normal beer in terms of texture.  Crude oil, this is not.  In any case, the final product is unique, light, and pleasantly sweet– like candy.  I’ve used it on several occassions to lure my friend, Ryan Andersen, over for “just one beer.”  I rate it at 8/10.

Pick one or both of these fine beers up, if you get the chance.  It’ll make Tom Landry proud.  Enjoy the weekend.


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Farewell, El Nino…

The grieving has begun.  Denial, anger, acceptance.  I’ve read despondent posts stating that Anfield will never be the same.  I’ve seen tirades that label Torres a traitor, a soulless villain, a mercenary, and (incredibly!) merely an average striker.  I’ve viewed the photos of his kit set ablaze in outrage.  I’ve also read cathartic attempts to come to grips with his leaving.  Invariably the author rambles–stream of consciousness-style–about how much the author loved Torres, how the author thought Torres understood the Liverpool Way, how Torres betrayed the club and fans, yet how the author still holds no personal grudge.  Grieving is an interesting process.

While I wouldn’t characterize myself as an obsessed LFC fanatic, it would be fair to say that my happiness on any given weekend from August through May has a direct correlation with Liverpool’s match result.  That’s just the way it is.  To lift a quote, “There’s a fine line between a hobby and mental illness.”  Like any good, deluded fan, I feel like I personally know the athletes who take the pitch for LFC.  For me, Carragher and Gerrard are the heart and soul of our club, but for the last three years Torres was the spark– bottled lightning.  There was always the anticipation– the certainty– that he was just about to deliver another lethal strike.  The joy of yelling at the top of my lungs as he slid on his knees across the pitch after a surgical finish.  He was the future.  He understood the Liverpool Way.  In my mind, Torres and I made promises to each other.  I would cheer his feats and defend him through his poor run of form, his injuries, and his mediocre World Cup.  In return, he would wear the badge with honor as we rose back to the top.  That was our relationship.

How did it get to this point, seeing him hold up the number nine emblazoned on the royal blue of West London?  Was it his selfishness?  Was Liverpool not ‘big’ enough?  Who is to blame?  How do I deal with that?  How do we deal with that?  As Dalglish recently said, no player is bigger than the club.  We move on.  We cheer for Gerrard, Cara, Kuyt, and Leiva.  Now we add Meireles, Carroll, and Suarez’s names to our chants.  We find new heroes that represent the Liverpool crest.  But it’s not so simple.  Adding new names may make me feel better, but it doesn’t answer the question.  What happened to our relationship?  Why did he break his promise?  Why did I feel there was a promise in the first place?

The key here is the difference between a fan’s relationship to the club and a player’s relationship to the club.  These are very different beasts.  A fan loves a club unconditionally due to identification, geographic pride, the vicarious triumph of victory and sad comraderie in defeat.  A fan loves a club forever.  A player may love a club for the same reasons, but rarely to the same degree.  The reason is simple, in professional sports the player/club relationship is almost always temporary.  Very few athletes play for their childhood team.  From the first day Dalglish signed on for Celtic, he severed his emotional ties to Rangers.  The same was true for Carragher and Everton.  A professional footballer tied to the team for three years cannot be expected to have the same loyalty, love, and identification with LFC as the fan who mourned through Heysel and Hillsborough; or the fan who spent his savings to fly to Istanbul in 2005 in the hope of finding a ticket.   The player’s relationship with the club is temporary.  He knows this, and his unquestioned loyalty is necessarily temporary as well.

I’ve read many articles from fans who ‘thought Torres was different.’  I think he is.  Despite this he cannot be expected to hold the same passion for LFC as many of the fans.  Should we have assumed he would love LFC above Athletico Madrid simply because he wore YNWA on his armband?  Of course not.  He grew up watching, and then playing for Athletico as a boy.  Did he betray them when he left searching for glory on Merseyside?  Torres is a professional athlete– that’s his job.  That’s not to say he’s a heartless mercenary, but realize that to compete as a top-tier athlete, he has to be ambitious, crave glory, and want to win titles.

The fact that he’s gone doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for Liverpool.  My guess is that he’ll hold Athletico and Liverpool (in that order) in his heart to the end.  He is not a traitor that deserves to be villified.  He’s a professional footballer who rightly or wrongly felt that LFC hadn’t followed through on promises and that Chelsea FC offered the better hope for glory.  He did not set out to betray fans and hurt our club.  To the contrary, he probably viewed his move to Chelsea as both a benefit to him and to LFC.  By all accounts, Torres is an introspective, thoughtful man.  His relationship to the club was as expected– a player who gave his best playing for his second team, who appreciated the loyalty of the fans as well as the history, but who eventually moved on when the club didn’t live up to his ambitions.  To be fair to him, he probably views LFC with more affection than most professionals do their clubs.

Consider how Torres saw things.  He came in on the heels of two Champions’ League finals in three years.  We challenged for the title in ’08-’09, despite being crushed under poor ownership.  Then Xabi Alonso was allowed to leave, ushering in the horrendous ’09-’10 season.  Despite this, Torres stuck with LFC based on the promises that ownership would bring in talent to match Chelsea and Manchester United.  These promises were broken, heralding one of the worst first halves in LFC’s history.  The misguided appointment of Hodgeson did little to assuage Torres’ concerns.

More importantly, we have no Champions’ League football this year.  We almost certainly have no Champions’ League footbal next year.  As a professional, how did he view his chances of winning titles.  Prior to the transfer we we’re mid-table, nine points off of fourth and 19 points off of first.  While the new owners had indicated that they’d be willing to spend, the smart money was that there would be no big, if any, acquisitions until summer.  With unlikely prospects for a title in the next two or three years– as NESV has indicated we’re in the rebuilding process–and more importantly no Champions’ League play for the same amount of time, Torres must have felt that he had better options.  Additionally, Torres knew that those options would yield a huge sum of cash for LFC to rebuild.  The timing hurts, as we now feel like we’ve come through the dark era of Hicks/Gillette and misguided Hodgeson era, but lets be realistic– we’re in a rebuilding period and our bulwarks, Gerrard and Carragher aren’t getting any younger.

The inevitable question then is, why Chelsea?  They’re not likely to win the league this year.  They’re an aging club that appears to be on the wane.  These may both be true, but Chelsea offers two things LFC doesn’t: 1) a billionaire willing to spend as promised, and 2) the potential for Champions’ League glory.  To Torres they’re the best alternative to those rivals who could pay the massive transfer fee, as well as his salary.  He likely despises Manchester United and Real Madrid.  Barcelona do not need him.  Arsenal won’t pay for him.  Bayern cannot afford him.  The play styles of Italian football don’t match his skill set.  Man City…well, if only the money mattered, this would make sense.  Chelsea may have no history, but City has no soul.

Much has been made about Torres’ comments today, where he noted he felt it was his destiny to play against Liverpool, that he hoped to score this Sunday, and that he had “taken a step forward in is career.”  As if this proves he never respected or loved LFC.  What is he supposed to say?  “I hope I don’t score on Sunday.  I consider Chelsea a lateral move.”

In the end, Torres’ decision makes sense when you take into account the nature of the modern game, professional athletes, and his personality.  He chose a club that could pay the outrageous transfer fee to the benefit of LFC, had guaranteed CL play, the possibility of a title next year, and didn’t engender his own or the LFC fans’ hatred.  That’s not to say we like the Blues, but they’re far better than Man U or Real.

Yes, Torres’ and my relationship has changed.  I was gutted to see him leave, but I’d like to think we’ve made a new deal.  For my part, I’ll cheer just as loudly for him in Blue when he scores against United.  Hell, I’ll probably cheer for him when he scores against anyone but us.  I owe him for the good memories while he wore red.  For his part, he will remember Liverpool fondly, and not celebrate when, inevitably, he scores against us.  He owes me that much.  At least I hope that’s our new deal.  Then again, this Torres is my own construct, and I’m just another LFC fan working my way through the grieving process.  YNWA.

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