Monday, November 28, 2005

Yankees Yankees Yankees

In the "Oh shit" moment of the week, the Yankees have opened up discussions with Brian Giles. Why they want to add a 15 HR guy is beyond me. Crosby will give them that for $10M less.

Being the free agent market is so paltry, why don't the Yanks do something different this year? Instead of adding on ridiculous contracts for players who used to be good, why don't they start dumping players who never will be that good again? Mussina, R Johnson, Sheffield, Giambi, Pavano, J Wright: kick them to the curb. With no interesting free agents in circulation, they should be able to dump any and all of these guys.

And I'll tack on another name: Alex Rodriguez. Here's a quotable from espn.com:

"A-Rod was vastly more productive in the Yankees' blowout wins than he was in games where a hit either way was the difference between winning and losing.

In the 20 games each of their teams won by six or more runs, A-Rod hit .549, had an OPS of 1.793 and racked up 46 of his 130 RBI (35 percent). Ortiz, on the other hand, batted .277, had an OPS almost 800 points lower than A-Rod's (.999) and drove in only 33 runs (22 percent of his overall total).

But in close games (games that either went to extra innings or were decided by one or two runs in regulation), the numbers look a whole lot different.

In those games -- and each team played exactly 65 of them -- A-Rod batted only .243, had an OPS of .805 and drove in just 38 runs (29 percent). Ortiz, meanwhile, clearly tapped some mysterious force that made him even better in moments like that -- batting .321, running up an OPS of 1.116 and knocking in nearly a run a game (62 -- or 42 percent of his overall total)."

Someday ARod will come around in the clutch, I suspect, much the same way Barry Bonds has, at or around 100 postseason at bats. But I'm sick of watching him flail when the Yanks need him. We don't have time to wait for him to grow up. So ship him to the Astros, to the Cardinals, to the Braves, somewhere you can land a legit #1 or #2 guy.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I don't care about Ron Artest

There are people in this life who behave so irrationally, so contrarily, with such little regard for their status, that it sets in motion a machine. The base assumption is always the same: the individual is ignorant or troubled or such and such. Everyone chips in an opinion on this person's psychological composition, people keep asking the troubled person whether they're going to be OK and we all wait with bated breath until they admit to us all that they were wrong and everything will be just fine from now on. When that finally happens, it's always a sham.

Ron Artest has been getting that treatment for a while now. Before him, we saw it with TO, with Rodman, the McMahon QB who played with the Bears way back when and a host of other guys. But I haven't seen Artest do anything crazy.

He didn't start that brawl in Detroit; that asshole who threw a beer on him did that. If you throw a beer on me, I'll chase after you, too. Ben Wallace was culpable, if you want to really dissect the situatio,n because he didn't like the way Artest plays defense and started muscling him around. In fact, that's what gets Artest in trouble most of the time, playing defense. He decided he wanted to be a rap producer, but if that was crazy half the NBA would be locked up. The fact what he produced wasn't very interesting is hardly unique either. He asked for a month off and people got very concerned about him. Why? I can't think of anything more boring than playing 82 basketball games, 100 if you're a Pacer, within the span of 6-8 months. Living in hotels, all the travelling, practicing, exercising, talking about basketball, doing media, dealing with fans, fighting off competition, etc. It's an exceptional life, and they're well compensated, but that doesn't mean it's not a job. It's probably exciting for a few months; after that it's just work and I find it difficult to brand someone as crazy for not wanting to go to work for a month.

As I get older, I actually have a lot more respect for what these guys do. We have an expectation of them to go out and do well day in and day out, not only in the big games but also in the meaningless games. We look at their salary figures and their women and their headlines and we think that's the life. But you don't get an exception from being human just because you're a pro athlete. When something's difficult, you don't think about rewards, you think about difficulty. Even if you love basketball, and you know a lot of NBA players really don't love basketball (and come on, why would they at this point), this is still a grind. We expect these guys to show up every night and play their asses off and usually they do. But we don't want any complaints.

I don't care about Ron Artest. Not thinking basketball is the greatest thing that ever happened isn't crazy. Let him do what he wants and quit asking what that is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Whither Hockey?

I've been spending the last few months following the New York Rangers. The NHL Center Ice Package is a pretty good bargain for just shy of $130 so I signed up and I've got access to essentially every televised game.

The new rules, and the stricter enforcement of certain penalties, have been a complete success. Offense is on the rise, teams that can stick handle and move the puck around are winning and the slow and the thuggish are getting weeded out. Goals are up, the neutral zone trap is history and teams that don't skate fast and win battles in the corners lose, regardless of reputation. It's a lot more fun to watch.

There's a good number of purists out there who hate these rules and it's easy to see why. This isn't the same game. Defensemen used to be able to stifle attackers by clutching and hooking players with the puck and impeding the process of players not carrying the puck. It didn't matter if the guy was faster, passed better or beat them to the spot, they could grab at him from behind and slow him down. Now if a guy beats you, you're beat and he's gone. This is hurting the seasoned veterans, aka the older guys who are slowing down. Brett Hull is gone, Yzerman is complaining publically and the Darian Hatchers of the world must be a little concerned. Size and experience mean nothing if you can't beat the guy to the puck. And if you can't match enthusiasm with a guy whose been stuck the in Canadian minor leagues for the past few years, you're going to get left behind.

That works for me and clearly for the NHL as well. They'd rather have a more watchable product and this NHL is definitely more watchable. The question is why aren't more people watching it?

I don't have anything against the NBA but the whistle keeps blowing, guys keep launching bombs from 30 feet away and it gets tedious. The players are far more interesting than the game they play. The NFL is much the same way: there's no way I could sit through a game without my Tivo. I find myself fast forwarding between snaps because of commercial timeouts and, lately, an abundance of referreeing. There's more violence in football, more athleticism and much more strategy compared to hockey but watching a hockey game is far more visually compelling than a football game.

So why is no one watching hockey? Let's cover the basics:

There aren't many Americans playing and it's not an American sport. That's true, but has the NBA suffered from its recent infusion of European players? Not so much. There are enough Americans playing hockey to satisfy xenophobes.

There are no recognizable stars. Also true. But the NFL proves that stars are less important than the plays they make on the field. Remember, you can't even see the players faces when they're playing. The NHL has tried to market itself on its stars, but that's a hard sell when the guys generally aren't on the ice for more than 1/3 of the game and when they are on the ice, there's no assurance they are going to be involved in the play and it's even less likely they'll score. The NHL is a team sport. Like the NFL, it succeeds based on fan allegiance to teams and quality of play.

It doesn't televise well. Remember the glowing puck thing Fox tried? Awful. Bigger screens and HDTV have made hockey more than presentable via television over the past few years so this is no good.

There are no black players. I think more than anything this reinforces the notion that this is not an American sport.

I haven't played it before. Most Americans haven't. Everyone played baseball, hockey, football in school. Very few played hockey. Gretzky changed this to an extent but for most of us, our first direct encounter with hockey was with the NHL.

It's weird. This is what kills the NHL. It is weird. Partly because Canadians are weird. Partly because they play it in bizarre locations such as Columbus, Anaheim, Tampa Bay, San Jose, Calgary, Carolina, Nashville, Ottawa. Partly because there's a team named after a crappy Emilio Estevez movie. The NHL doesn't seem to have a handle on marketing itself to Americans. We don't like goofy in our professional sports. It's hard to market a team as being fast, exciting and tough when there's a duck on their jersey. Plus, this relationship with OLN is absolutely ludicrous. You've now juxtaposed your sport with Ted Nugent and the great adventures of the fish and wildlife patrol.

No one asked, but this is what I think the NHL needs to do:

First, fold teams. Fold the teams in secondary markets, the teams that don't draw well and all the California and Florida teams. Pro hockey doesn't belong in hot weather climates. Tampa Bay is playing Anaheim this year. That just doesn't make sense. Give them minor league franchises. They really don't care.

Have a reentry draft and spread the talent from the folded teams around. Imagine what it would be like if your home team had two or three legitimate first-tier guys. Talent like Jason Staal and Martin St Louis is being wasted in metro areas that really couldn't care less about hockey. The difference in passion between a Toronto fan and a Carolina fan is appalling.

Realize that the game today right now a regional sport. You have no one to blame but yourself for that. The national audience drifted away from the NHL for obvious reasons. By improving gameplay, taking the sports more seriously and concentrating talent, you can probably get back to being a nationally-appreciated sport within a couple of years. Until then, deal with it. And get out of that OLN contract, for Christ's sake.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Separation of Church and ... Oh, what the Hell!

Check this out: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20051120-9999-1n20bush.html

George Bush is on a crusade, and when I say crusade, I mean crusade.

I'm not a Christian. Christianity is evil. I don't particularly like most Christians. But I am an American (some people don't seem to know the difference) and I happen to find things like this offensive:

As [the President] entered Gangwashi Church with first lady Laura Bush, he was greeted by pastor Du Fengying, who gave him two Chinese bibles. He then wrote in her guest book, "May God bless the Christians of China."

"My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly," he said during the church service, after applauding the small choir's rendition of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." "A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty."

"I will continue to remind President Hu about . . . my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely," he said in a pre-departure interview. He added, "And a vibrant, whole society is one that recognizes that certain freedoms are inherent and need to be part of a complete society."

Ok, let's get something straight. The United States is not a fucking church. It's not the President's place to push this drivel on foreign governments. China supresses religions, and particularly Christianity, for a reason: they tend to enoble and strengthen populations who in a natural order are left humble and weak. We are seeing the results of that behavior in America. That's not really the point, though. The point is that the president needs to deal with things that happen in the real world, like nuclear weapons and poverty and trade, not things that belong in fairy tales, like relationships with the "Almighty."

It doesn't matter how much you talk about that crap, it doesn't make it any more relevant or real issues any less important. Nietzsche described Christians as having an "instinctive hatred for reality." Yeah, that's what I want to see in my elected officials visiting heads of state of competing world powers.

What a fucking mess.

Friday, November 18, 2005

That 70's Crap

For about six years, That 70s Show was well-written, well-produced, well-acted and nicely done. The characters made sense, they developed nicely and the interplay between them created some really funny, clever scenes, with the Red/Eric, Eric/Donna, Hyde/Kelso and Donna/Jackie combinations consistently producing results. The producers made insightful casting decisions, pulling characters who weren't necessary (remember Donna's little sister?), adding new characters to liven things up (Tommy Chong was great as Leo one season) while accentuating some characters and putting others in the background who weren't adding much, for example Laurie's vacillation as a main character and Mr. Pinciatti's steady disappearance. They mixed and matched relationships, moving Jackie between Kelso and Hyde, breaking up Donna and Eric and then putting them back together, without making it feel contrived or soap opera-esque.

They pulled this off until the beginning of last season. In their defense, once the characters graduated high school and the actors aged into their mid-twenties, they faced significant problems. They would have been a lot better off ending the show but money dictates otherwise. Clearly a lot of writers bolted ship before the end of last season because the characters lost their souls. Red/Eric scenes stopped working because Eric became a caricature of himself, Topher playing him as sort of a poofy Star Wars geek instead of a well-meaning clever guy and Red just kept being a prick, but not in a clever way. The Eric/Donna thing became melodramatic; when she decided not to go to college, you had to wonder why since Eric's character had lost all of his charm. Hyde remained Hyde but had no foil as Kutcher's Kelso and Valderrama's Fez became stupid and not much else, they always wrote them over the top but now they're just clowns, much like Eric caricatures, the result of a new writing team not understanding how to write characters who'd been developed for years previous. The chasm between Jackie and Donna widened as the actresses aged. The chasm between all of them widened for that reason, actually ... why are a bunch of well-manicured people just short of thirty hanging out in a Wisconsin basement?

The show is more of a Kutcher vehicle now than anything else and he is one handsome guy, no doubt. I watched a recent episode the other night guest starring Bruce Willis. The only people in the country who could have made it through that crappy half hour are girls who get moist whenever Mr. Demi Moore pops his face on screen (and I'm not talking about the ex Mr. Demi Moore), and I'm sure that is a considerable number of people, though to watch Kutcher blunder through poorly-written crap with Bruce Willis, who used to be as relevant but is just pathetic as this point, watching that was really really uncomfortable.

Just what the fuck goes on in that house with Kutcher/Willis/Moore anyway? That's all I was thinking.

Kelso proposed to Jackie but I didn't bother to stick around to find out what happened. I'll be looking for Kelso Loves Jackie promos coming out in the near future, though; clearly that's what they're shooting for, the crappy spinoff to the show that jumped the shark.

Watch out America, the Democrats are Getting Testy

In their several-years-too-late attempt to remedy the Iraq situation, the Democrats trotted out old John Murtha, a Vietnam vet, who made some pointed comments regarding the mysterious circumstances surrounding the inception of this conflict and the futility of a continued American presence in Iraq. Again, duh. This is old news for anyone paying attention to what's going on. The reason we're hearing it now is that polls are showing that all but the most fervent Republicans in this country are starting to think that this administration might not be doing such a great job. Democrats apparently don't have anything contrary to say unless they think people won't rebuke them for it.

So they trot out this Murtha guy who makes an impassioned plea to bring the boys back home and apparently sheds some tears. That's a blunt maneuver. Too, our Mr. Murtha proceeds to take a shot at Cheney in the process:

"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

That's not very nice. Cheney was apparently eating jelly doughnuts and pinning up Liddy centerfolds from The New Republic during the Vietnam conflict dreaming of the day he'd get to start a war for no apparent reason. He was smart enough to know that he'd probably die over there so he figured a way to get out of it. I'm not sure being a soldier is a prerequisite for starting a war. What I am positive about is that pointing out that a White House official dodged duty is pointless. In case you've forgotten, John Kerry, another Vietnam vet, lost the election to a guy who spent those years chugging beer bongs and pursuing other various pharmaceutical interests.

So what does the Republican core constituency care about if they don't care about reality, you know reality, things that actually happen?

From the NY Times:

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement that Mr. Murtha and Democratic supporters had "adopted a policy of cut and run." "They would prefer that the United States surrender to terrorists who would harm innocent Americans," Mr. Hastert said.

Here we see two common themes, American pride and American fear. "Cut and run" implies we'd be cowards if we left. As for terrorists harming innocent Americans, I'm not sure how innocent somebody is when they drive around your country in tanks blowing shit up. As for terrorists, while there are terrorist organizations in Iraq, they are in Iraq, so I'm not sure how dangerous they are to you and me. Juxtaposing pride and fear is strange, don't you think?

More from the Times:

President Bush, in South Korea, continued on Friday to be questioned by reporters about the debate over Iraq. His press secretary issued an unusually blistering statement responding to Mr. Murtha's call for a pullout, declaring that the Democrat was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Michael Moore? People are dying in mass quantities and you trot out Michael Moore? That's hilarious. Also, we introduce the concept of the "extreme liberal." The extreme liberal is anyone who doesn't agree with this administration. "Liberal" has become a pejorative term, even among Democrats. The White House is just making it a little more devilish. As pathetic as overtures like these appear, clearly they have resonance within a certain subset of our population. They're code words.

Democrats don't seem to understand something. Trotting out veterans, pointing out the hypocrisy of the White House and making reasonable arguments isn't going to sway evangelical Christians. That population, which represents as much as 25% of this country, makes decisions based on faith, not on reason or even character for that matter. They've chosen to believe in Bush/Cheney just like they've chosen to believe in Christ and you're not going to sway them from that opinion.

What Democrats should do is push out policies that reflect a commitment to improving the country. Instead, they wait until polls suggest they can say something mean and then they say it, thinking themselves quite clever but still accomplishing nothing. More people are going to die in Iraq today ... instead of calling out Dick Cheney for being a draft dodger, why don't you try to indict him?



Thursday, November 17, 2005

The New Nationalism

Noticed a recent rise in American flags, "Support our Troops," Yellow ribbons, Screaming Eagles? Feel a bit uneasy at the sight of them? Yeah, me too. There's a good reason for that.

Lots and lots of "America" out there nowadays, particularly from the red state portion of the country. "America" is a word that can be used by anybody to represent anything. America itself defies representation. To experience America, take a walk in Manhattan from the Southern tip up Broadway to Harlem, cross over to the East Side on MLK, then proceed South on Third Ave through Spanish Harlem, down past Grand Central, through Grammercy to City Hall. Do that on a sunny day during the work week and you'll get an idea of "America," a frenetic mass of peoples operating together within the same economic system compelled by the desire to improve their lives and the lives of those surrounding them. It's Chaos, a very harsh reality, but that's the kind of country freedom, open borders and prosperity bring and that is what "America" is all about, for better or worse. It's a huge word.

Ok, now return to the bumper stickers and yard signs and so forth. Those people are not talking about America. They're talking about their version of America, which is White Christian America. The Haitian man in Queens who is dying from AIDS doesn't fit in their schema but in reality he's just as American as they are. But that's reality and these people don't care for reality very much.

It's no surprise that the same cars with red, white and blue bumper stickers often have fish and crosses on them. White Christians have a bad habit of trying to annhilate things they'd rather not exist, like abortion, homosexuality, oral sex, science, the word "ass" and, apparently, anyone who isn't White and Christian. When they say "We Love America" and "America the Beautiful," they're supporting their own version of America, where they and only they exist and the people you see on that walk through Manhattan, well they just don't count.

This is a really dangerous phenomenon. This country was founded on revolutionary principles and its development is worthy of consideration, but it is a social experiment above all that requires forward thinking to perpetuate. The worst possible situation is this kind of polarization. No one population in this country can claim that they alone define what it means to be an American. If we continue allowing "America the Cowardly" to and alienate people who are truly willing to experience this country in its unadulterated form, then this experiment is going to come to an end much sooner than anyone thinks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lovely War We're Having

Ah, Iraq.

We're past the point, way past, where it makes any sense to try to justify our presence in this country. It didn't make any sense when we first went there and it still doesn't make any sense. All the fudged intelligence reports and exposed intimidation tactics only make what was perfectly obvious on day one even more obvious: there was never any threat, that the real motivation behind this conflict was either financial or political.

I don't mean to bash this White House. I actually have a lot of respect for them. Anyone that has the nuts to start a war for no good reason, intimidate anyone that calls them on their shit, then award no-bid contracts to rebuild what they just ordered blown up is a fucking pimp. I mean that takes some serious moxy. Let's face it, the US Government ceased to be a government in the Lincoln Jefferson Roosevelt sense a long time ago. The government today is a business, an incredibly lucrative business, and the guys running it are businessmen who know how to make money and play the spin game.

You would think that something like starting a war for no good reason would create something of a soft underbelly for an opposing political party to exploit. Not so much. After the Scooter debacle, there were some "harsh" statement from key Democrats like failed vice presidential candidate John Edwards:

“Almost three years ago, we went into Iraq to remove what we were told — and many of us believed and argued — was a threat to America, but in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.”

No shit, John? Most of us could of told you that several years ago. In fact, the UN did tell you that several years ago. But you and your fellow Democrats decided to go along with it; either you got railroaded, were afraid of poll results or maybe, just maybe, there was something in it for you. Bush says it's "irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began." Well, isn't that nice. Starting a war to make money for yourself and your friends and manipulating intelligence to do it is a little more than irresponsible, by any stretch of the imagination it's criminal. If Democrats really wanted to fight fire with fire, they'd be working to put these guys away. But we're way past that now. This administration learned from Nixon's mistakes: there will be no Watergate break in to expose them, no taped conversations (I doubt Crawford is monitored quite the same way as the White House). If they started nosing around, I'm sure Homeland Security would catch on. Who needs the FBI when you've got your own watchdogs? Plus, forget impeachment. Who would preside over such a function? Last I checked the supreme justice of the supreme court, who just got the job from our sitting president.

I repeat, these guys are pimps.

The senate passed a resolution the other day to leave Iraq. It passed with bipartisan support; some pundits view this as significant. I can't imagine why. This administration has no intention of the Iraq conflict going on after they leave. I suspect we'll be out of there six months before they're gone -- there's a lot of cleaning up to do. Plus, why keep it going when they no longer profit from it? Bush himself says "I view this amendment as consistent with our strategy." You betcha.