Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Opera Electric: Vagabond Opera Brings High Drama Cabaret-Close on Sing For Your Lives! and on Tour, September and October 2011

It’s a dark and stormy night. The cabaret swirls smoke, euphoria, danger. A burlesque beauty sings a swooping, eerie song and suddenly sprouts a full beard. An itinerant tenor and a melancholic balloonist croon to apocalyptic waltzers. The drums ba-da-boom, the cellos duel, the gitarrón’s been drinking.

It’s Vagabond Opera—you’d better Sing for Your Lives!

Like surrealist Marcel Duchamp packing an entire life’s work into a suitcase, the Portland, Oregon troupe tucks the high drama of opera into the tight squeeze of the sexy cabaret. By turns sinister and seedy, sweet and nostalgic, the brainy, sultry band mashes up Eastern European folk theater and classical grandeur, hot club act and avant-garde klezmer jams, perky musicals and edgy absurdism.

“We love storytelling, creating a world on stage or on a recording,” says saxophonist and songwriter Robin Jackson. “We bring people into a dark cabaret where they forget themselves.” “We draw on Old World elements and genres,” adds Eric Stern, Vagabond Opera founder, composer, and singer, “but we utterly transform them.”

The band take the polychrome pleasures of their musical, theatrical storytelling on the road in September and October, including performances in Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis, and Vancouver.


What’s a tenor to do?

Stern adored opera—he used to blast his tape of “The Marriage of Figaro” for his fellow teens in pre-rock show parking lots. He loved opera so much, he had to break it out of its elitist ghetto. Opera was once an art form ordinary people enjoyed, he reasoned, and it was time to take it back to those roots.

“I remember looking around the audience at a Ziggy Marley concert and thinking, ‘Why does opera have to be in an opera house, someplace that seems inaccessible to so many?’” Stern remembers. “Why can’t these people listen to opera in this venue? I wanted to snatch this art and distribute it everywhere.”

Searching for a new approach, Stern found himself omnivorously devouring everything from Hendrix guitar licks and Janice Joplin’s gritty wails, to Romanian horas and Yiddish theater music. “While I love the Western European music traditions, I saw no reason why you can’t incorporate other traditions into opera as well,” Stern reflects. “I’m Jewish and wanted more Eastern European sounds in play, things I wasn’t hearing enough of in classical music.”

So Stern set aside the high-stakes auditions and the high-powered classical circles. He hitchhiked to the Rainbow Gathering to hang in a totally different world. He wandered up and down the West Coast, playing his beloved pawn shop accordion on street corners and belting arias. He fell in with kindred spirits like Jackson in Portland’s erudite, freak-friendly art scene.

Along with Jackson—a trained ethnomusicologist, brooding free spirit, and lifelong addict of musicals—the troupe embraced a former Cirque de Soleil vocalist and carny-loving cellist native to Poland (Ashia Grzesik); a classically trained cello virtuoso with a penchant for avant improv (Skip vonKuske); an Afro-Brazilian percussion ace and jazz drummer (Mark Burdon); a Balkanologist bassist who digs black metal and traditional Mexican gitarrón (Jason Flores); and the mysterious Dr. Xander Gerrymander, a mayhem-inducing jack-of-all-trades whose wild dancing at an outdoor show so impressed the group, he was dubbed “King of the Gypsies.”

“When we first started,” Jackson recalls with a smile, “the band was a strange sort of folk ensemble, with Tom Waits and belly dance thrown in. We did a lot more klezmer at the time”—roots they still honor with songs like “Tough Mazel.” “That naturally led to gypsy brass and Turkish music. It all works together, even though it comes from different roots.”

From these similar yet diverse sources spring striking originals: a fado-laced ballad of a cursed night in a shadowy foreign town (“Coimbra”); the bittersweet tale of a heartbroken balloon expedition (“Red Balloon”), told in a tango; and hip-swinging Eastern European exotica (“Hanumonsoon”).

Art imitates surreal life: the group steps effortlessly from odd meters and vamps worthy of a Transylvanian wedding, to odd-ball skits in wild costumes harkening back to Weimar and the Roaring Twenties. They can channel Kurt Weil and Django Reinhardt, as sensual fire-dancers gyrate or hairstyling waiters hilariously turn Grzesik into a bearded lady (“Beard and Moustache”). They make the pomp of opera shimmy, by turns grave and goofy.

Vagabond Opera bust open the walls of tradition by carrying it to street corners, cabarets, and clubs. “We’ve always asked, ‘Why not work in this beautiful medium, opera, but surround it with all these unexpected instruments and sights and stories?’” Stern says. “We take this big, ambitious art form and distill it. We make it portable.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

France - USA On November 11th

The US Soccer Federation announced on Friday that the National Team will play France at the Stade de France at 3pm ET on November 11th. The game will be shown on ESPN2 and Univision.

"France is traditionally one of the best teams in the world," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a press statement. "When you look at their history, the players that have come through their team and what they have accomplished, you have to be impressed. This is an awesome opportunity for our players to play in a stadium that has hosted a World Cup Final, and a great experience for their careers."

Waiting On FIFA

The Soccer Daily, a daily soccer column from US Soccer Players' J Hutcherson.

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 18, 2011) US Soccer Players -- World Soccer's governing body owes us an announcement later this month. FIFA will explain how they plan on reforming their organization after almost a year of discontent. Though there's a good case for dating it even earlier, the obvious trouble started with the World Cup hosting announcement and carried through a presidential election cycle.

At any point during those months, someone in power could've said 'hey, wait a minute…." Instead, FIFA waited until they'd named two World Cup hosts and allowed a presidential election to go ahead after their own ethics committee provisionally suspended the only other candidate. Add in the allegations of corruption directed at members of the executive committee and the calls for reform from those with FIFA titles along with major countries and clubs, and FIFA's problems only escalated.

Though it sounds like a cliché, the first step is always admitting you have a problem. For FIFA, that's resisting the urge to try the onward and upward scenario. What happens there is pushing whatever happened in the past - including what literally just happened - and marching forward bravely into a brighter future. FIFA tried that, almost immediately after reelecting its president. That the press conference ended up with that FIFA president lecturing the gathered media on civility and respect was enough of an indication even for FIFA that this problem would require a different solution.

Enter FIFA president Sepp Blatter's panel of learned men. Considering who made the short list as the primary influencers for change at FIFA, what that really accomplished was easy headlines and editorials for outlets that cover soccer. Again, it was almost immediately apparent that it simply wasn't enough.

From there we got a deadline for a major announcement. This Thursday, October 20th, when FIFA is expected to emerge from a lengthy period of self-examination with a clear and workable vision for the future. Unlike our old friend the NY/NJ Metrostars, FIFA is in no position to play the 60-to-90 day game. That was the Metrostars patented 'we'll have something for you' response that was always resetting the 60-to-90 day clock. For all we know, at some point a remnant of that team will actually make an announcement, like a time capsule set to be open years after the club rebranded and moved on. That won't work for FIFA. They've set their own deadline and timeframe and would cause even more problems by not meeting it.

As so many have already stressed, that's going to be an interesting public statement for an organization with several executive committee members having faced or still facing corruption charges and a public perception that the system itself has failed. There's no room to hedge here, and FIFA has to know that.

Keep in mind that this is FIFA we're talking about, an organization that spent the last World Cup cycle reassuring the world that things would run smoothly and is now doing the same thing on behalf of the next World Cup hosts. It's one where World Cup bids and presidential elections seem unable to happen without suspicions and allegations that votes are for sale. And it's also one that's been able to shake off major scandals and emerge still capable of generating massive amounts of money.

Last summer's events changed that. There was no next for FIFA, nothing on the calendar to wipe the slate and let them focus on anything else. With all respect to the Women's World Cup, that was no match for dropping a life ban on the other candidate, wiping out the leadership of CONCACAF, and dealing with multiple allegations of votes for bribes, outright bribery, and dredging up recent moments in FIFA history that the organization probably assumed were all but forgotten.

So what should we expect on Thursday?

What there's probably little hope of is the kind of reforms that would cause the worldwide media to pause, seriously consider what has been presented, and then judge whether or not it stands a chance of working. We can already safely assume that FIFA can't reasonably go far enough for some without revamping the executive committee, putting multiple FIFA bureaucrats out to pasture, and resetting the World Cup hosting decisions. We might as well add 'call for a new presidential election' to that fantasy list.

On the other end of the spectrum, another lecture on how FIFA is the organization holding the line between the beneficial state of the sport enjoyed fiscally by so many members and the 'black hole' Blatter mentioned while campaigning for reelection would be a tremendous mistake. FIFA ceded that role when they started having to investigate multiple members. If Blatter turns a needed reform movement into a mechanism for further limiting the power of the executive committee, FIFA would be missing the point. They'd also be doing exactly what that now banned rival accused the current administration of during his campaign.

Closer to reality, what FIFA has to be very careful with is playing with expectations. They have very little maneuvering room if the plan is to tweak the current model while once again promising better days ahead. Nothing we've seen so far should suggest a radical reinventing of FIFA as an organization, and this could quickly turn into another stumble as FIFA tries to get itself back on course.

Again, we're talking about FIFA here so that course is probably not going to be what most of the reformists really want. The calls for following the International Olympic Committee's lead would result in a leaner organization with fewer key committee positions, but what would that mean in practice for FIFA? Who takes those roles, and ultimately who sets the new standard for FIFA elected and appointed officials to adhere too?

USA - Slovenia Scheduled For Nov 16th

The United States will play Slovenia in Ljubljana on November 16th, the second game on their European trip. The National Team opens against France on November 11th.

"Slovenia is a small nation that has achieved big results," USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a press statement. "For them to have qualified for two World Cups in such a short time is an incredible achievement. I have seen them play in qualifying and the last World Cup, and I was very impressed. This game is another good opportunity for our players to build on what we have been working on for the last few months."

The Italian Edge: Hit Week Brings the Cool and Quirky Sounds of Italy to NYC, LA, and Miami for Three Nights of Wild and Worldly Music

Francesco Del Maro was ticked off: Friends in the U.S. seemed to think Italian music was all “Volare” and Verdi, mandolin melancholy and maudlin mafia soundtracks. Yet the 15 year music industry vertran did more than just get mad; he threw a party and got dozens of hip Italian musicians to L.A. for a multi-night, multi-venue blow out.

That was two years ago. Now, Hit Week (October 10-16, 2011; full ticket details at has blossomed into a three-city festival thanks in part to support from Italian institutions, highlighting the catchiest and edgiest music Italy has to offer. On major stages and in intimate clubs in New York City, L.A., and (for the first time this year) Miami, wild-eyed Zappa devotees and electro-powered rock, sleek globally inspired jazz and dubbed-out trip hop collide for a whirlwind romp through the Italian music scene.



For Hit Week, it’s about power and savvy, not origins. “Hit Week doesn’t focus on the music that’s recognizably from Italy,” explains Del Maro. “The language isn’t important. We’re looking for music of global caliber; that’s so good, it doesn’t matter where it’s from.” This formula has worked: In its short history, Hit Week’s audiences have doubled and the festival has established a foothold in some of the toughest U.S. markets.

“There’s nothing better than seeing young Americans in their 20s shouting into their cell phones at a show about a group they’ve just seen,” remarks Del Maro, festival curator and instigator. “When you hear them rave about a band, that they can’t believe this is Italian music, it’s just amazing.”Though broadly appealing, Hit Week’s artists have a distinctly Italian spirit. Several hail from the country’s unsung musical hotspots—like the increasingly popular travel destination of Puglia—scenes few Americans are aware of.

Subsonica: Electro-laced rock with catchy hooks, big sounds, and intense appeal

Caparezza: A wacky Adriatic alt-rocker makes devilishly clever pop

Nicola Conte: Super-cool grooves and worldly sounds put polished spin on jazz

Casino Royale: The slick secret agents of Italian trip hop

Après La Classe: Wry humor and uptempo world beats from Puglia, back by popular demand

Erica Mou: Alanis Morisette’s grit meets acoustic flair and thoughtful intensity

Hit Week artists vary wildly, but they share a certain spirit. They flirt with local sounds, satirize local conditions, climb local charts, and pack local stadiums with hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans. Subsonica have scored numerous number one hits in Italy, making them the current darling of the rock scene. Caparezza sells out major arenas on a regular basis, thanks to his high-energy, always changing, innately quirky shows.

Italian artists are also quietly attracting the attention of international heavyweights, be they edgy producers or major labels. Nicola Conte just signed a deal with international jazz mainstays, Impulse. Casino Royale have teamed up with Scottish DJ Howie B (who’s worked with everyone from Tricky to U2) to trade dub breaks and licks. Rising star Erica Mou is working with Bjork’s producer, Valgeir Sigurðsson, whose shimmering electronic touches unveil new facets of Mou’s raw, personal songs.

Along side these major acts and hot newcomers, Hit Week will showcase the best of Italy’s burgeoning crop of emerging music, selected via Facebook contest, thanks to the involvement of the Italian Minister of Young Generation. Young bands get to travel to the U.S. and play for new listeners and industry heavyweights alike. “It’s been great for artists just starting out,” explains Del Maro. “Some participants from previous years went on to play various major U.S. festivals.”

Hit Week aims not only to bring creative young Italians to the U.S.; it’s reaching out to young Americans, getting them exposed to the coolest moments of the Italian scene. As part of its ongoing partnership with local universities, the festival is arranging several meet-and-greet opportunities at local colleges (UCLA, Columbia, University of Miami) that will bring together artists and audiences in a casual, intimate setting.

“Hit Week shows that Italian artists are second to none,” Del Maro says. “We are not coming from the third world of music, but have something new to tell the world.”

Hit Week is produced by Francesco Del Maro for Music Experience Roma Italy and Mela Inc. Los Angeles, with the support of The Minister of Young Generation, The Italian Federation of Music Industry, The Puglia Region, The Italian Trade Commission of Los Angeles, The Italian Ministry of Economic Development, The National Italian American Foundation, The Rhythm Foundation Miami, Gibson, Dw, Aqua Panna, Rockol, Made in Roma, Dw Drums, Paiste and more to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

as i predicted i made an egregious error in my review of The Big Year, pointed out by 'elizabird', in that author Mark Obmascik apparently did not consult for the movie, but instead it was birder Greg Miller. this of course makes the entire point of that paragraph/section moot . . . i have a reason, but it's irrelevant, it's wrong . . . so in addition to apologizing to Mark for that (mea culpa) i will be adding an addendum to the review to make sure i have it right in the long run.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Museum of Monterey & theBlu

On October 15, the Museum of Monterey will be the first museum to exhibit “theBlu” (, a new entertainment experience celebrating art, innovation, and the ocean.

Created by Wemo Media and a team of Academy Award-winning graphic designers, theBlu is an interactive online world meant to increase awareness of the Earth’s oceans while simultaneously providing a global canvas for the world’s digital artists. Every species and habitat is a unique work of art created by one of hundreds of developers and graphic designers around the world.

TheBlu is currently in invite-only private beta and won’t be accessible publicly until next year. The exhibit at the Museum of Monterey serves as a sneak peek of the evolving art project and represents the museum’s dedication to innovation in artistic expression. The Opening Reception is Saturday, October 15 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. and is Free to the public. Wharf parking is free for 2 hours with your ID.

More About theBlu

Picture hundreds of thousands of aquatic species and tens of thousands of underwater habitats, beautiful works of art created by artists and developers all over the world, spread across the canvas of the World Wide Web as a globally shared art gallery. And imagine hundreds of millions of people connected on the web - via phones, tablets, computers, at home, at school, in museums - with ocean life flowing from device to device across cities all over the globe - Honolulu, Sydney, Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai, Moscow, Dubai, Johannesburg, Madrid, Stockholm, Paris, London, New York, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles... Everyone that much more aware of the Oceans, and everyone that much more aware of each other.

Wemo Media’s team is comprised of a passionate group of Academy award winning artists, technology innovators and execs from film, games and the web, including: Andy Jones (Academy award winner, Avatar), Kevin Mack (Academy award winner, What Dreams May Come), Louie Psihoyos (Academy award winner, The Cove), Joichi Ito (Director, MIT Media lab), and more.

Museum of Monterey

MoM is open Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. The Museum is closed Monday. The cost to visit is $5.00. For more information please call (831) 372-2608 or go to

USA 0 - Ecuador 1

United States National Team Team Players Association, October 11, 2011

The United States fell to a second-half goal from Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night. With Ecuador coming off a World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela, they brought a mostly first choice team that had a tough time cracking the United States defense in the first-half. With US coach Jurgen Klinsmann making four substitutions at halftime and eventually using all six, Ecuador faced a different version of the US when they capitalized in the 79th minute. Jaime Ayovi scored the game's only goal, with Maximo Banguera picking up the shutout.

“It’s crazy to see, and you may disagree, but since the Mexico game we haven’t given up a ton of chances," US goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "It’s hard because one goal kills the game so it looks terrible, but we’ve given up four goals in five games and that’s not the end of the world. We’re not giving teams chances, and that’s a positive thing for me as a goalkeeper. We’re creating chances too, they’re just not falling."


Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Ecuador
Date: Oct. 11, 2011
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET
Attendance: 20,707
Weather: 65 degrees, clear

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
Ecuador 0 1 1

ECU – Jaime Ayovi (Walter Ayovi) 79th minute

USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-Steve Cherundolo (13-Jonathan Spector, 46), 4-Oguchi Onyewu, 5-Carlos Bocanegra (capt.) (14-Tim Ream, 72), 3-Timmy Chandler; 6-Kyle Beckerman; 7-Danny Williams (17-Edson Buddle, 65), 8-Maurice Edu (15-Michael Bradley, 46), 11-Brek Shea (16-DaMarcus Beasley, 46); 10-Clint Dempsey, 9-Jozy Altidore (18-Juan Agudelo, 46)
Subs Not Used: 12-Nick Rimando
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
ECU: 1-Maximo Banguera; 2-Eduardo Morante, 3-Fricson Erazo, 18-Gabriel Achilier, 10-Walter Ayovi; 16-Antonio Valencia (13-Cristian Suarez, 63), 8-Edison Mendez (19-Luis Saritama, 69), 14-Segundo Castillo, 9-Jefferson Montero (17-Jaime Ayovi, 60); 11-Christian Benitez (15-Jairo Campos, 90), 7-Michael Arroyo (4-Juan Carlos Paredes, 86)
Subs not used: 6-Michael Quiñonez, 12-Adrian Bone
Head coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Stats Summary: USA / ECU
Shots: 22 / 9
Shots on Goal: 8 / 4
Saves: 3 / 8
Corner Kicks: 10 / 5
Fouls: 12 / 19
Offside: 2 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Carlos Bocanegra (caution) 62nd minute
ECU – Luis Saritama (caution) 87
ECU – Jaime Ayovi (caution) 88

Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador)
Assistant Referee 1: William Torres (El Salvador)
Assistant Referee 2: Juan Zumba (El Salvador)
Fourth Official: Terry Vaughn (USA)

The Salt of our Earth

Sevara Nazarkhan Finds the Acoustic Savor of Pared-Down Uzbek Tradition on Tortadur

The grief of eternal exile and the ancient ache of love echoed in the pitch-black studio. From gut strings and china saucers, from frame drums and clacking trains, singer Sevara Nazarkhan urged centuries of urgent whispers, secret sighs, and passionate prayers into a new and intimate life.

Supported by a carefully selected handful of musical elders, Nazarkhan has returned on Tortadur to utter simplicity and the audacious acoustic roots of Uzbek tradition—the once lively world of house parties and poet-kings, of black-browed beloveds and word-drunk Sufi saints.

Though a seasoned pop performer—her voice has wowed everyone from Peter Gabriel to Russian pop diva Alla Pugacheva—Nazarkhan turned away from electronic sounds and complex production to the pure, quiet presence of traditional instruments and haunting lyrics, some hailing from as early as the 15th century. Throughout, her voice feels so immediate that you can almost feel the breath on your cheek, the hand on your arm.

“I wanted to express the salt of our earth, so to speak,” Nazarkhan reflects. “People have forgotten, or simply don’t know, about this wonderful, rich side of our music, music that is very subtle and expresses our past.”


To explore this richness, Nazarkhan softly yet intensely tells tales penned by the original Moghul, Bobur, and by Sufi master Mashrab, among other poets. They praise the beauty that can cause riots, the endless, exquisite pains of passion, but without the frenetic dance beats popular in Uzbekistan or the busyness of electronic production and virtuosic vocal feats. She channeled the spirit of traditional parties, when women would gather for music, tea, and talk.

“It’s a cry of my soul,” explains Nazarkhan, “but in a whisper. I sing very quietly.”

She found new uses for subtle, time-honored techniques, such as the tradition of singing into a tea saucer to add resonance to the voice (“Yovvoi Tanovar”). She rediscovered the heartbreaking words of an early 20th-century anti-Russian freedom fighter sent into exile, whose poem written in a cattle car had mysteriously morphed into an Uzbek party anthem (the train-backed sorrow of “Qargalar”). She gives space to quiet instruments like the gut-stringed doutar and the subtle percussion of the doira (traditional frame drum).

In her quest for a different approach to tradition, Nazarkhan worked very closely with professor and veteran maqam (Central Asian classical music) performer, Temur Makhmudov. Makhmudov not only helped Nazarkhan explore long neglected repertoire, he headed up the all-star ensemble she gathered. Nazarkhan brought together artists in their seventies who had been playing traditional music from childhood as part of musical families. They remembered the old sound, the gentle approach, the quiet expressiveness of their roots.

Assembling this Uzbek answer to the Buena Vista Social Club had its challenges. The feisty nai (traditional flute) player Abdulakhad Abdurashidov at first refused to join them. He was old and tired, he told Nazarkhan on the phone from a remote mountain retreat.

Yet Nazarkhan was taking a different approach to working with these musical elders. Instead of calling the shots or demanding uptempo folk-pop, she turned them loose, urging them to play what they felt. She dimmed the studio lights and let the music unfold. Before she knew it, word got out and there was a knock on the studio door. It was Abdurashidov, asking if anyone needed a nai player.

“He didn’t want to be bossed around or be part of some fusion experiment,” Nazarkhan recalls with a smile. “He’s the best player, and he got to play what he felt. All the musicians had no bounds. It was like they returned to the freedom of their youth and could do whatever they wanted.”

This freedom led to unexpected innovation. As the group worked on “Galdir Talqinchasi” and Nazarkhan sang lines referring to Jacob’s grief for the loss of his son Joseph, the musicians began to hum. It was so striking that Nazarkhan called for vocal mics for each of the players, resulting in something new: a male chorus backing a female singer. On tracks like “Tortadur,” Nazarkhan’s gritty, gentle voice entwines with Makhmudov’s baritone to moving effect.

“What I wanted to show with this album was very clear: the beauty of the melodies, the language, and the instruments,” say Nazarkhan. “I wanted to show that our traditions have meaning, not only as part of the Turkic world, but to everyone.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Big Fizzle . . . or not

A Review of The Big Year by Tony Gallucci, Milk River Media

Fair Warning: This is going to become two reviews in one – of a book and of an unseen movie. As a tie-in to the upcoming movie The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin, Kristin Matzen of Free Press Publicity (Simon & Schuster) sent me a copy of the book on which the film was based for review. Written by Mark Obmascik, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession tells the intertwining stories of three birders, Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller, chasing what may seem to non-birders a ridiculous goal – finding the most species of birds in a year in North America.

The reissue is likely meant to piggyback on what is hoped to be the success of the movie, which is being heavily marketed, especially to birders, and perhaps also to drum up business by stirring up critical buzz for the film before it hits this coming weekend.

The former must await the release, but on the second count there is both good and bad news. The one line review would go something like this (and then I will expound): it is a delightful tale of oddball personalities in quest of their life dreams, but the birding in it suffers badly from poor research and/or understanding.

Perhaps it’s all that could be expected from an outside writer without prior knowledge of birding, but since Obmascik insinuates in the introduction that he is now birding convert and evangelist, one could have expected much more. Since the original publication was in 2004, one might also expect that a reissue would include some updated knowledge and some corrections. No such luck.

Birders have been awaiting the film since the first wave of PR came out a few months ago, and has reached an anxious crescendo on the birding listservs and forums. Much of the talk has swirled around three basic topics, each relevant to an examination of the book and this review. The topics are: a) did they make any effort at accuracy with the birds? (including using actual footage of the birds they are talking about; are the bird calls and songs correct; are the locations and habitats correct; is the discussion about them correct); b) are birders going to be made to look like fools? (especially considering Black, Martin and Wilson have each made a career out of playing fools); and c) will it bring more people into birding as a pastime (and maybe subliminally ‘I hope it doesn’t bring a ton of people into birding!’; but also a hint of ‘I hope it also makes people more aware of 1) the environment, 2) conservation, 3) endangered species, and 4) giving a little space to the crazy birders in their lives’).

As I progress here, understand that I’m reviewing the book – I haven’t seen the movie yet, only the several trailers (see links below) – and so my critiques are mostly about the text. The problem, if there is one, is that it’s the starting place for the film, and my gut feeling is that one could hardly expect the film to have taken a giant leap in credibility – the normal progression is for a film to play fast and loose with the facts presented in a book. We’ll have to wait and see.

Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty here: Birders, hardcore, listing, chasing, Big-Year-type birders are obsessed. Obmascik himself makes that point repeatedly in the book and I’m here to say it is absolute. One of Obmascik’s diversions is musing briefly about honesty – did these guys really see what they said they saw. Well, this is about personal obsession, there is glory attached, but obsessives want things just so, which is why one makes multiple trips to see a missed bird.

So why is this relevant?

A little personal history to illustrate: I too was a chaser (my obsessions have evolved since then), I did several Big Years myself, though not on a continent-wide or global scale, and once had the third best Texas Big Year (very briefly I might add, and I was long ago left in the dust). The point is, I know this chase business.

I am also a writer, and a minor-league filmmaker, and the confluence of those three things gave me a particular interest in The Big Year, both as a book and as a film.

I obsess over details, like all good, hardcore birders I know, most of them chasers at one time or another. I keep lifelists by county, I intently survey properties I work on for every living thing, I make lists other people wouldn’t think of (we all do, it’s part of the game): for 40+ years I’ve kept a detailed summary of everything I’ve found dead on the road. That’s the way we all operate – lists, numbers, games – ask Komito, Levantin and Miller.

So, pleased (excited actually) to be getting to review the book, I eagerly awaited it’s arrival, and when it did, and I ripped open the envelope and held the book in my hands, my heart immediately sank.

It’s a detail thing. There on the cover of the new edition, the ‘tie-in edition’ is a composite picture from the film of Black, Wilson and Martin holding up binoculars looking off the sides in profile. Of course, the book isn’t about Black, Wilson and Martin, but in our current cultural milieu, oversaturated by marketing, this is precisely what one would expect (though pictures of Komito, Levantin and Miller would have been nice out of respect for the fact the that the book is still their story – the film is fictionalized to some or another extent).

Nevertheless, that’s not what got my feathers fluffed. It’s that there is a bird perched on the end of Martin’s binoculars, tilted over as though peering into the binoculars at Martin. It’s a cute conceit, photoshopped in, and the humor was not lost on me. The problem is, the bird is an American Robin, altogether not an unusual bird for them to see, and it is tiny.

That’s the detail – that it is ridiculously small. So small that it is impossible for it to really be a robin perched there on his binoculars, at least to my eye, which I adjudge to be somewhat good at doing these kinds of things. But being the obsessive I am I am going to do some research to see if my eye is lying to me.

I don’t know if Steve Martin has big hands or small hands, but it’s easy to compare the size of the bird to the size of his hand. And being the obsessive I am I measured the hands of several folks in my office agreeable to having their hands measured. A simple comparison of the widths of their hands versus Steve’s and the bird’s length and I come up with figures that are approximately 4½ to 5½ inches for the total length of the bird in the picture.

Now, American Robins (I apologize for bringing science into all this) can vary in size a little – the birds breeding farther north will average a little larger than the ones that nest here in my podunk town, but the references I quick-checked indicate that average American Robin total lengths run from about 9½ to 10 inches. A bird the size of the one on the cover would be more like say, a Nashville Warbler. A birder instantly recognizes the size issues in that comparison – twice the length, in volume/weight much larger.

Okay, it’s just a stinking cover. Someone may have had a cute idea and passed it on to a graphic designer who not only knew nothing about birds, but may not have cared, and what you end up with is inaccuracy.

But where was Obmascik? Obmascik, the guy who has proclaimed in interviews that he got to check the accuracy of the script and sit in on filming as though his presence meant he would be consulted about getting things right**; doesn’t he get a say on the cover to the new edition of his book? Was he not a newly ordained birder who has the eye to immediately see the glaring error? And one would hope that now, seven years after first publication, his skills and knowledge have grown. Perhaps out of his hands . . . grumble, grumble . . . perhaps.

I still was anxious to get to the text, so I turned the cover over, out of sight, and began to read . . . and to find three, exactly three, times in the book where, in trying to give readers a sense of a bird’s size he compares them to a robin! “Robin-sized” it says, not altogether accurately. In online parlance my response is “smh” – shaking my head.

A digression: Accuracy . . . as a writer I don’t always get things right. There will likely be things that I don’t get right in this review. But I strive for perfection. When I do writing seminars I harp on getting things right. I teach, for instance, that I really don’t know anything about cooking, but I also want to, let’s say, write about cooking. So I’ll make sure I get the details right. I do everything I can to learn about the inherent culture of cooking, and then I may even run stuff by someone who is a pro to make sure I didn’t blow it somewhere.

See, I always wanted to write so that those very pros would believe I knew what I was talking about. I wanted them to enjoy my writing more than anyone else. If I’ve done that, then all the readers who aren’t pros gain real information and insight, and learn along with me.

If I fail in that objective however, then I destroy my own credibility. If I can’t get it right about my subject matter, then how could anyone expect that anything else I write is true, honest, accurate, or faithful.

Obmascik makes something of a big deal in an interview coda to the book about having trusted these guys, but still doing things to ensure accuracy like check weather service records to be sure their journals were not fibbed. It’s a shame no one was checking Obmascik’s accuracy as well.

There are points in his telling where in the interest of waxing poetic, and he gets pretty waxy at times, that he clearly wanted to set a scene and use birds to illustrate his picture, but it seems that he may have played pin the tail on the donkey in the bird book to choose his birds. In those cases he failed a few times. This is especially egregious because using the correct birds would have painted a better picture.

Obmascik may very well have not had any control over Big Issue No. 2 – the use of capitalized names of birds. It may have been an editorial decision he could not change. I have fought this battle myself many times, mostly with newspapers who use their stylebook and no one else’s, and you can be sure I beam when I actually see things done right in a newspaper. On the other hand a book is a product of self, and should represent self, and I will be most disappointed if he wrote it that way himself. If not, if this was editorial, then I am directing this at his editors – you helped wreck his credibility with his subject matter with your decision.

The American Ornithologists’ Union, along with other world professional organizations, makes it a rule to use capital initial letters in the names of all bird species (with specific means of determining which words in a hyphenated concoction are capitalized and which are not). It’s not a hard and fast rule yet among other vertebrate groups but should be, and many of us use the same rules when we write about them. As far as we’re concerned it is not open for editorial discretion any more than if an editor chooses whether people’s names should be capitalized or not.

By setting them off as proper names it serves a functional purpose, very well illustrated in this book – a black storm-petrel is not the same as a Black Storm-Petrel, a White-tailed Eagle is not the same as a white-tailed eagle, which well describes our national bird, but is not the white-tailed eagle talked about in the text. And because we obsessive types are accustomed to reading these in caps; it simply grates every time I come across one of these in the book, which is, of course, on nearly every page. Especially cumbersome and ridiculous are those schizophrenic names rendered as bizarre visual constructions like American avocet, Siberian tit and Baikal teal.

Had Obmascik not known this for the first edition, surely by the second he did, and the entire text could have been easily fixed.

More than anything else it is a blinding reminder in nearly every paragraph that I am reading something as though it was written by a dilettante. And please, I am not trying to be harsh here, or critical of Obmascik (who I do not know) as a person (but strongly suspect is a wonderful human being to be around and bird with). It’s just that I expected more when someone proffers his own interest and credentials before the story even begins.

A few more examples of missed details . . .

I recognize that the book itself is a document reflecting the times, and that our knowledge of bird species has changed some since the book came out. What were all Tufted Titmice then, are now Tufted Titmice and Black-crested Titmice. The book has to reflect the former knowledge because that was what was current at the time. But there’s no reason why the introduction to the book needs to be similarly dated – especially in an edition meant to draw attention now to the sport/act/obsession-with-detail of birding. More importantly, I find no excuse for not correcting blatant errors in the main text. If you are going to draw people anew to the book because of buzz over the movie, why not give them an accurate document?

For instance: It’s one thing to indicate someone was pursuing a certain bird that we now know is a different entity (i.e., titmice), it’s another thing to continue to use the older name of a certain duck, which was changed in part to match old-world usage as Long-tailed Duck, but also because it was considered offensive usage by some, and then to top things off to misspell it anyway as “old squaw”.

Ultimately, there is much bad science here, some of it technical, but some, it appears to me, to be based on the need to conjure up a particular image and just winging it without ‘knowing’ it. There is bad botany, bad geography, and most unfortunately, bad ornithology.

On one hand I try to forgive this as I don’t expect the author to have been scientifically trained, nor to have been obsessed with the details of birds and birding beforehand – and after all this is, I think, meant to be a book about people, about personalities. On the other hand, it’s that credibility issue for those of us who know. It’s about us being a target audience of sorts, and if you want to appeal to an audience of people obsessed with something, the details better be right.

I have written previously about how hard it is for birders to enjoy movies anyway (for example here; here; here; and here). We hear everything in the background and when the bird calls and songs are wrong for the setting, we (or myself anyway) get distracted from the story (another of my writing rules is ‘never do something that takes someone away from the story for even a second’). California Quail calling in the background kind of wrecked M.A.S.H. for me. That one at least was somewhat innocent – it was filmed in California made to resemble Korea and they just picked up ambient noise. Worse is a director wanting 'jungle noise' and loading a film up with Boreal Owl and Common Loon calls.

You can see that although we all have high expectations for The Big Year the movie, we’ll be listening.

One hopes he aspired to produce a book about The Obsession seriously enough to take cues about getting things exactly right. He might have aspired to Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway, or Mark Adams’ Chasing Birds Across Texas: A Birding Big Year – tomes about the ‘chase’ that were written by the ones who experienced them, who knew the details. Or even Don Stap’s A Parrot Without a Name: The Search for the Last Unknown Birds on Earth, about a more scientific pursuit, but a pursuit of birds nonetheless. Peerless documents these, and thus favorites. Even the dissed James Vardaman’s book Call Collect, Ask for Birdman got a lot of details right.

You see though, there is too much just not right here. The examples are dizzyingly numerous. My head only settled when the narrative proceeded down a non-avian tangent and focused on the people – which is where Obmascik excels, in catching the quirks of the folks he is detailing – while shushing my inner tendency to question everything.

I had trouble for example with the statement that there are 'seven kinds of tits (Siberian, bridled, bush, juniper, oak, tufted, and wren)'. This declaration is fraught with all kinds of scientific shenaniganery. For instance, the Bushtit and Wrentit aren’t really tits in the familial definition of things, they were called tits because of their resemblance to, and old-school placement with, tits. We know better now, and did at the time of the big year the book is based on.

That aside, Siberian is a chickadee in North American parlance, but because chickadees are called tits in the old world, and since the Siberian is the only one of our ‘chickadees’ that occurs in the old world as well, we acquiesced for a while to the old world name, leaving us with a bit of a naming jumble. It’s likely that most of the newer field guides in use during the big year attempt in 1998 had the bird listed as Siberian Tit, but in actuality, the AOU had changed the name back to Gray-headed Chickadee in a January 1998 supplement to the Checklist, and surely the three birders were aware of that name change. So the introduction was off on that one.

Even so, if the Siberian is a tit anyway, then aren’t the Carolina, Black-capped, Chestnut-backed, Mountain, etc.? Okay so maybe the Obmascik declaration is an mnemonic trick to help him remember a few names. If so, it’s personal and both distracting to experienced birders and disingenuous for the new birders among readers.

Take the other four, which present another interesting nomenclatural jumble – we don’t call them tits here, we call them titmice, and it’s accurate that he includes both Juniper and Oak Titmice, both halves of what was previously known as the Plain Titmouse. That split occurred in mid-1997, in plenty of time for the chasers to be aware of the chance to add another bird to their lists. Though neither is mentioned in the text, we have Obmascik’s introductory, and correct use of the names. But then what of the Tufted Titmouse? Black-crested Titmouse was split from the Tufted Titmouse in 2002, a few years after the big year, but a full two years before the publication of The Big Year. What’s the harm in getting that right? Otherwise you have people wondering what happened to ‘their’ titmouse, which happens to be mine as well.

And again: This statement is just plain hyperbole and nothing more – no such birds exist: “There are one-of-a-kind birds living on the streets of St. Louis, below a dam in Texas, and amid the suburban sprawl of Southern California.” He’s talking about European Tree Sparrows, Muscovy, and lord knows what. None of them species actually restricted to those locations – ha, the sparrow (actually a weaver finch) isn’t even native, and none so rare that only a single individual exists. Yeah, I get what he was trying to say, only that’s not what he said. Semantics is all it is, except that it’s inaccurate, confusing, and reflects on the rest of the manuscript.

These examples came just from the introduction to the book, Obmascik’s own reflections. What about the meat of the story? Is it any more accurate?

Well, declaring that an Amistad Reservoir Rufous-capped Warbler is displaced from Costa Rica is wrong; it doesn’t take into account that the bird nests commonly less than sixty miles away in Mexico, nor does it account for the common thought among Texas birders of experience that it is likely a not a terribly rare breeder (borne out by decades of discovery) along the banks of the Rio Grande in Texas, perhaps even inland a ways, it’s just largely inaccessible.

Here’s one of those little asides he makes that I immediately knew was wrong because I’ve held all three of these birds in my hand. To, in the course of one sentence, declare that an Elf Owl is both one quarter the size of a Great Horned Owl, and smaller than a House Sparrow, is not only impossible for it to be one if it is the other, but it is actually wrong on both counts.

There is a constant conflation of length and size, a la American Robin. An Elf Owl is approximately one-quarter the length of a Great Horned Owl all right, but in volume/weight is more like 1/40th to 1/50th; that’s hardly comparable to a quarter the ‘size’. Meanwhile, it is about the same length as a House Sparrow, but the sparrow is long of tail, the owl short, and the difference made by subtracting the almost weightless length of tail makes the owl 30-50% heavier than the sparrow, and thus not smaller as he would have it. I don’t know anyone who is familiar with those two birds who would offhandedly say an Elf Owl is smaller than a House Sparrow.

Again, it makes me suspicious of other details in the book. Indeed, the one other field in which I have some considerable experience, hunting, is alluded to in the book several times, mostly in service to discussions about collecting on Attu. Most of it is vague, but one detail, waxed poetically I believe, is either totally wrong, or else the person involved in the act described is a total moron (of which there is no other indication): Obmascik describes the collection of a Pechora Pipit by a collector using buckshot. Buckshot is a specific size of pellet used in shotgun shells. It is designed, as its name would imply, for bringing down deer (‘buck’shot – get it?). There are few in a cartridge, and they are large. And blasted from a shotgun, if one were so unbelievably lucky as to actually hit a Pechora Pipit, one would only be collecting what I would call smithereens – some slivers of meat and bone and a few feathers. That collector would not be in business very long. In actuality, using a shotgun to collect pipits would be a better use for #8 or #9 pellets, a group of sizes in part known collectively as ‘birdshot’. I suspect this was just an unresearched use of a term in another field and another ding in credibility.

It even extends to the index. In trying to refind a reference to Baird’s Sparrow, I came across an entry for “snatch sparrow”. You can look it up yourself. Perhaps that was some intern’s idea of a joke (especially in light of page 99, where one is directed, being partly about one birder’s return to his wife after time on the road). Or perhaps the index was just computer generated and no one proofed it.

Back to that earlier credibility point: I now don’t know whether things are ‘correct’ for instance in his descriptions of Amish and Mennonite life, things he did not know before writing The Big Year, and doesn’t appear he’s become obsessed enough about to join the communities; or about his examination of Greg Miller’s job to fix thousands of lines of nuclear code ahead of Y2K; or details of the symphonic music wafting through Aspen. Those are things I'd like to walk away having gained as real knowledge, things to enrich my life, but again, if he didn’t get the bird things right, did he get this other stuff right?

It would take me a lot of space here to list all the bird errors. I hope you get the picture without my having to do so.

I was a closet birder until I hit my senior year in high school. I owe that to Jane Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillies. She was the only other person on the planet I knew who was interested in birds like I was. She was fictional, a caricature, but I sure didn’t want people thinking of me like they must have thought of her. So I went about my business quietly.

The first time I ever birded with someone else, EVER, was on the Freeport Christmas Count of 1971. My family had just moved to Houston, and I was watching the news when a story came on about the count with clips of other people looking at birds, and they weren’t Jane Hathaway. A number flashed on the screen, I called and talked to Victor Emanuel, and the rest, for me, was history.

I had quite an education that day, but I also knew my birds, and from that moment came a lifetime of good friends and birding partners, indeed my best friends in this life are all attached to that time. We’re older now, and we all took our obsessions different directions, but we seem to still show up at the ‘first’ Texas Gyrfalcon or the ‘first’ North American Crane Hawk, or sometimes band together and go out and find our own ‘first’ North American Roadside Hawk*. We have a certain camaraderie in that history, those histories.

Obmascik’s book deals directly with these two things – the quirkiness of birding (thank goodness folks under a certain age don’t know who Jane Hathaway is), and that birding is just another of those things humans do in groups that bind us together. Ultimately the book comes to grips with the humanity of these three obsessed guys. That’s a good thing.

I wanted to say that I was a bit disappointed that the book, the drive of the narrative, sort of fizzled at the end. But in retrospect I think it was appropriate. The big quest itself kind of fizzled out for all three of the chasers at the end of the year. For Levantin and Miller both there was a realization that some other things were more important, and the book made it seem like they finally resorted to having a little pre-mortem fun with their last few birds (even in postholing in the Colorado snow and buzzing around Nevada in the hands of a crazy chopper pilot) once it was clear they were bested.

Komito though never seemed to slow down, even if he tired, but it must be that his drive to put distance between himself and the other two made it a runaway fourth quarter and that cost him some of the joy. Runaway scores take the fun out of sport, if that’s what birding is. It’s not just about the final tally, though that big win is important; it’s about having a reason to press on, someone breathing down your neck to beat, that makes it ultimately worthwhile, that creates the biggest satsifaction.

I have to hope that the truths of the story are just that. That the personal moments, the chatter, the tricks, the worry, the tender family vignettes, portray something close to actuality. I have my questions, but not necessarily suspicions. If they are honest portrayals then Obmascik has succeeded in telling a story that has much humanity in it. It is also well-written as far as providing a tale worth reading, compelling enough to turn every page despite my cringing at the science.

And he does catch some of the flavor of competitive birding too. The seasickness on pelagics is a topic with which I have much experience. Scopelines, jostling for a view past big shoulders, battling unfamiliar environments, wolfed down 4 a.m. breakfasts, not planning for unforeseen vehicle issues, finding a way to make the few enough dollars last an extra day or two, arriving a minute too late, despair in telling someone they arrived a minute too late; all are drawn in much the way those things affect birders’ every travel scheme.

In short, we are a goofy lot.

I’m hoping the movie makes the same leap, because as fodder for pure humor we are rich. I don’t know any of the three main characters of the book, although I know quite a few of the sideline folks, but I definitely know a lot of bird people and a lot of their stories – many drop-dead funny, some heartwarming, a few tragic. In the end we are people, and if the books misses the biology often, and drives me nuts on the details, at least I can turn it into a fairy tale, and enjoy the telling of the story.

Here’s hoping the best for the movie.

A word about the movie in anticipation? Here’s some of what I glean from the clips and trailers: there’s an awful lot of CGI birds involved, and lots of them are awfully small, prepare to not be fooled by the currently bad state-of-the-art in computer generated flight; there is at least one indoor Blue Jay; it’s a cutthroat business (something I really never experienced, in fact when I was doing my runs, or was aware of others, it was all about everyone pitching in to get everyone onto the birds, so this seems a bit uncharacteristic of us, although the book tells a slightly different story); it might be a bit heavy on the exposition (anathema to a filmmaker); the book does an interesting job of telling the story of the origins of Big Years (I’m not certain it is too accurate, but it’s plausible enough), but in the film clip this is reduced to an unseemly collage of events, be prepared; and ultimately this is about comedy, thus that cohort of actors, and that director, and us as an obsessive group to be laughed at.

So I guess, when my ticket shows up, I am going to try, for once, to expect the biology to be wrong, and try to enjoy it for the fairy tale and the comedy without hyperventilating about the details. Do I hope it draws more birders to the fold? Maybe, but I’m withholding judgment until I know what kind of inspiration The Big Year is going to deliver.

Finally, I want to say that the book is an enjoyable read, and I suspect a lot of folks will love it – a lot of critics have. And despite my critique, I liked it enough that I’ve already ordered Obmascik’s other book Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled – and Knuckleheaded – Quest for the Rocky Mountain High. Not to worry, it’s about things I don’t know about, so I won’t be reviewing it. But Mark, if the opportunity ever comes for another reprint of your bird tome, I know a lot of details-oriented, obsessed folks who would like a crack at redlining a manuscript for you.

The Movie is in theatres everywhere (except here in Podunk, TX) beginning Friday, October 14th.

Here’s a few more clips:

* A side note about that Roadside Hawk that readers of the book will appreciate: Jim Vardaman once chewed me out a bit for not calling him about that bird – it would have made his 700th bird in his record-setting big year. I wasn’t on his golden list of reporters, and I had only had mild interest in his quest at the time as I was doing my own Texas run that year. He found out about the bird on New Year’s Day, a few hours too late to chase it.

** As pointed out in the comments below by elizabird, and as I predicted, I made an egregious error in my review of The Big Year, in that author Mark Obmascik apparently did not consult for the movie, but instead it was birder Greg Miller. this of course makes the entire point of that paragraph section moot . . .I have a reason, but it's irrelevant, it's wrong . . . so my apologies to Mark for that (mea culpa), and to Greg for that.

From the movie The Big Year, (l-r) Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Jack Black.

Earlier versions of the book cover

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hmmm, ManU making a bid for Brek Shea . . . i could live with that . . .

Scouting Report: Ecuador

By Clemente Lisi – Harrison, NJ (Oct 10, 2011) US Soccer Players Association

Ecuador comes to the New York area to play the United States on Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena four days after embarking on their two-year quest to reach the 2014 World Cup finals. Ecuador defeated Venezuela 2-0 on Friday in their opening game in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Playing at home, the Ecuador victory was highlighted by the altitude of Quito (almost 10,000 feet above sea level) that favors the home team each time they host a match. The Ecuadorians will have no such luck playing 20 minutes outside of Manhattan. Although there should be plenty of Ecuadorian fans in what is expected to be a sellout (Red Bull Arena only seats 25,000), the USA will certainly give them a tough time.

Ecuador’s roster features mostly domestic-based players. The only name that really stands out is Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia. Eleven players called up by Colombian-born coach Reinaldo Rueda (formerly coach of Honduras and no stranger to the USA) play for Ecuadorian league teams, while five others are based in Mexico.

Both of Ecuador's goals against Venezuela came from Mexican Primera Division players. Namely, 23-year-old striker Jaime Ayovi, who plays for Mexico’s Pachuca, and Christian Benitez, who plays for Club America. Ayovi has four goals in 14 appearances for Ecuador, while Benitez, 25, is a veteran forward after being capped 44 times for Ecuador and scoring 19 goals.

After the win over, Rueda said altitude was not a factor, claiming instead that it was his side’s “conviction” and “harmony” that led to the victory. “In the days leading up to the game, there was a serene environment,” he told reporters during a news conference. “We knew the game would go well for us and that is what happened.”

Against Venezuela, La Tri played a 4-4-2 formation with Valencia essentially in the role of playmaker with Ayovi and Benitez in attack. On defense, Rueda started some relative youngsters, including Juan Carlos Paredes and Jairo Campos. The other player to worry about is striker Jefferson Montero, who plays with Spain’s Real Betis. Although he did not play against Venezuela, Rueda may want to use him – particularly on the left side – as an offensive alternative to his usual starters. Capped only 12 times since 2007, Montero, who is 22, has two goals for his country.

The team traveled to New York on Saturday with only 19 players after Rueda let back-up goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and defenders Geovanny Caicedo and Diego Calderon return to their club Liga de Quito because of this week’s Copa Sudamericana match against Argentina’s Independiente.

Besides the conviction and harmony Rueda claimed made the difference for his team in Friday's qualifier, there is no denying that the quick and powerful Valencia played a big part of it. He served balls to his teammates and kept the attack going. Although he tends to drift to the right, Valencia battled for every ball in Venezuela’s half.

“For me it’s very important to motivate the team on the field,” said Valencia. “I try to do that every time I play, whether if it’s for Manchester United or the National Team, because that’s what I’m there for.”

A utility, player, Valencia said he has played many positions in his career – including as a right back and as a winger – but said he prefers to be an attacking midfielder. “I will play anywhere. Ultimately, my goal is always to make the fans happy,” he said.

Soccer is an important part of life across South America and Ecuador is no different. Most of the players on the team are Afro-Ecuadorian and come from an impoverished area known as the El Chota Valley. Although the region has largely been invisible to most of Ecuador, reaching the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals helped shine a spotlight on the area. The plight of the people in that region – and many of its players – has been marvelously chronicled in the documentary “Dreamtown” by New York-based filmmaker Betty Bastidas.

On Tuesday night, Valencia and his teammates will have to contend with an energized US squad that is coming off Saturday’s 1-0 win over Honduras in Miami. The win, the first under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, came thanks a Clint Dempsey goal in the first half.

Rueda, who is no stranger to facing the USA during his time as coach of Honduras, said the Americans are “a tough team. For us, this game (against the USA) is preparation for World Cup Qualifying,” he said. “The USA will be prove to be a good rival.”

tonight i'll be posting my review of the book The Big Year as a precursor to the opening of the movie this weekend . . .

Monday, October 10, 2011

USA 1 - Honduras 0

From United States National Team Players Association

The United States got its first win under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, beating Honduras on Saturday night in Miami. Clint Dempsey scored the game's only goal in the 35th minute. Tim Howard picked up the shutout, making several strong saves. Without Landon Donovan, Klinsmann used Clint Dempsey in an attacking role playing behind the two forwards. Dempsey had what looked like a second goal called offsides in the 85th minute. The United States plays Ecuador on Tuesday.

"We didn't play our best in the first 20 minutes but I thought we found the game a little better in the last 20 minutes of the first half," Dempsey said. "There were difficult conditions for both teams with the wind and the pitch being a bit bumpy. We're happy to get our first win under the new manager and hopefully we can build on it."


Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Honduras
Date: Oct. 8, 2011
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Sun Life Stadium; Miami Gardens, Fla.
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
Attendance: 21,170
Weather: 73 degrees, heavy rain

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
Honduras 0 0 0

USA – Clint Dempsey (Michael Orozco Fiscal) 36th minute

USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-Steve Cherundolo, 4-Michael Orozco Fiscal (14-Oguchi Onyewu, 46), 5-Carlos Bocanegra (capt.), 3-Tim Chandler (13-Jonathan Spector, 76); 6-Kyle Beckerman; 8-Danny Williams (16-DaMarcus Beasley, 65), 7-Maurice Edu (17-Michael Bradley, 65), 11-Brek Shea; 10-Clint Dempsey, 9-Jozy Altidore (18-Juan Agudelo, 83)
Subs not used: 12-Bill Hamid, 15-Jeff Larentowicz
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

HON: 22-Donis Escobar; 16-Mauricio Sabillon, 2-Osman Chavez, 4-Johnny Leveron, 3-Maynor Figueroa (capt.); 14-Boniek Garcia (15-Marvin Chavez, 77), 12-Alfredo Mejia, 17-Roger Espinoza (8-Jorge Claros, 74), 10-Julio Cesar de Leon (7-Mario Martinez, 69); 9-Jerry Bengston (11-Roger Rojas, 65), 13-Carlo Costly
Subs not used: 1-Donaldo Morales, 5-Erick Norales, 24-Bryan Beckeles
Head coach: Luis Suarez

Stats Summary: USA / HON
Shots: 11 / 13
Shots on Goal: 6 /6
Saves: 6 / 5
Corner Kicks: 5 / 4
Fouls: 18 / 16
Offside 0 / 3

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Steve Cherundolo (caution) 32nd minute
HON – Boniek Garcia (caution) 41
USA – Jozy Altidore (caution) 42
USA – Carlos Bocanegra (caution) 45+1
USA – Maurice Edu (caution) 58
USA – Brek Shea (caution) 63
HON – Mavin Chavez (caution) 78
HON – Alfredo Mejia (caution) 82

Referee: Courtney Campbell (JAM)
Assistant Referee 1: Kedlee Powell (JAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Keble Williams (JAM)
Fourth Official: Jair Marrufo (USA)

Sunday, October 02, 2011


NFL Players Association, A CALL TO MEN and
Verizon Foundation Launch “Training Camps for Life”

To Teach Teens About Healthy Relationships and Take the Pledge for Life

A new program launching in October – Domestic Violence Awareness Month – will educate teens on relationship abuse and empower them to engage in healthy relationships. One in three teens experience relationship abuse and nearly half report having done something that compromised their values to please their partner.

Training Camps for Life (TCFL), a partnership between the NFL Players Association, A CALL TO MEN and the Verizon Foundation, will launch in October at high schools across the country. Each Training Camp will reach between 300-500 teens and will include a post-event in-class curriculum designed to help teens heal from past abuse, engage in healthy teen relationships, and increase safety on school campuses.

Participants will have the option to take the LIVERESPECT pledge (, a commitment to end dating abuse and domestic violence, including:

Treating people with dignity and respect
Not physically, emotionally or verbally abusing anyone
Never blaming someone for being abused
Speaking out against violence

ABOUT WILLIS WHALEN: Willis Whalen is a Manager at the NFL Player’s Association. Willis developed a version of Training Camps for Life when he ran youth programs for the Miami Dolphins. He brought the program to the NFLPA in 2005 and has managed it ever since.

ABOUT LUPITA REYES: Lupita Reyes is a national program director for the Verizon Foundation. She negotiated the partnership between Verizon Foundation and NFLPA and successfully lobbied for the integration of a healthy relationships segment in the Training Camps for Life. She manages all domestic violence prevention programming for the Verizon Foundation.

ABOUT TED BUNCH: Ted Bunch is the co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, recognized internationally for his expertise in organizing and educating men in an effort to end violence against women. He is an expert on healthy relationships and domestic violence prevention. He trains at colleges, universities, and for professional sports organizations including the National Football League.

USA Roster Announced For October Friendlies*

US National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced the roster for the October 8th friendly against Honduras and the October 11th friendly against Ecuador.

“We would like to continue seeing our players develop through these initial couple of months,” Klinsmann said in a press statement. “One important thing is to see continuity in the build-up of our national team and also in the way we work as coaches. We'd like to see new faces as well, but we also don't want to shake up the core structure of the team too much. The two results with Costa Rica and Belgium didn't work in our favor but we saw clearly that the team started to understand what we demand from them in terms of pace, playing style and how to play. We are definitely on the right path, and what we now need to focus on in this get together is the eagerness to finish things off up front.”

GK: Bill Hamid (D.C.United), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEF: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
MID: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FOR: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)