Thursday, June 20, 2013

Game 7

It's half time of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Miami vs. San Antonio. One game for the championship. I've got my DVR running, and in a few minutes I'll be heading downstairs to watch this season's closing act. But first, a little reflection.

Granted, every pro sports team is little more than a randomly assembled collection of athletes who wouldn't piss on their adoring fans if they were on fire. They aren't residents of your city, playing for the pride of your city. They're mercenaries, and they move to Florida or Arizona a day after the season ends. No team breaks that mold. But something about watching these South Beach cheese-balls deliriously cheer on the Fog Party Super Friends makes me start to hate sports, just a little bit. It's nothing personal. I wouldn't jeer James, Wade or Bosh if they were leaving the court after a rough loss. I don't want them to lose in an embarrassing way. I don't even hold the fog party against them (well maybe just a little, it was one of the lamest spectacles of my lifetime after all). America is a land where you roll how you want to roll, and this is how these guys wanted to roll. I'll even be happy for my lone Heat fan friend if they take it down (an authentic fan of course, in other words pre-dating the fog party). But a small piece of the enthusiastic young sports fan still living inside me will die all the same.

What I loved most about the Mavericks' championship in 2011 at the expense of the Heat was the tone it set around the league. Stars across the sport were a bit cranky after the creation of The Super Friends: Fog Party Edition. They took a look at their teammates and said, "well, I would stay, but how can I compete with that, unless I team up with some Super Friends too?" But when Dallas won, a team carried by the star who has driven the bus since he was drafted, and rounded out with complimentary players filling all the right roles, it threw a tiny little speed bump in the path of the star consolidation movement. Maybe teaming up with a couple fellow all-stars is not the only way to win a title. Maybe it's not even the best way. Maybe making a commitment to a city, and buying into a coach, and allowing management to build a culture, maybe that's how you're gonna get your ring.

It was all good even when the Heat beat the Thunder last year. You're not gonna hold a team with James and Wade down forever. And they were still just one among many teams good enough to win a title in recent years- like the Celtics, and Lakers, and Spurs, and Pistons. But if they win this year too? Bye bye speed bump. 2011 will start to look like a transition year. "The blueprint laid out by the Fog Party Super Friends is the only path to rings in this new era of pro basketball," players will think. The Spurs were the blueprint for success in the old era. And isn't it fitting that the torch was passed this year?

Please no. I'm not saying a Heat win would signal the end of grass roots team-building for all time. Pro sports experience cycles just like anything else. But I'd love to see the Spurs give the next generation of stars one more good, loud argument for sticking it out wherever the draft gods throw you, through thick and thin. Why do I care? Because, even though at the end of the day the outcome of a sporting event doesn't carry a solitary shred of importance, a likable team can make me forget that fact for a few hours. And I happen to like teams brought together by fate, and kept together by a commitment to the city and uniform that happened to fall on each of them. The unique team cultures that spring up organically across the NBA landscape- the Showtime Lakers, the Bad Boys Pistons, the New York Knicks ogre-ball of the 90s, the stoic Spurs, the unselfishly flashy Kings, the run n gun Warriors of today. Teams who find that star the hard way, invest their faith in the vision of their coach, and have that faith returned by the players- those teams are what I love about basketball. Three stars planning a fog party in South Beach? Just some uber-talented guys bouncing a ball around. The fickle, front-running fans of Miami suit them perfectly. And I hope they all go home unhappy tonight, because collectively they make sports start to suck, just a little bit. At least in my eyes. And well, those are the only eyes I have. So go Spurs.

Sigh. I'm heading downstairs....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Official 2012 Presidential Endorsement

-Because the founding fathers valued scientific discovery over the Bible.
-Because Congressional science committees shouldn't be run by men who think evolution is a myth.
-Because performing a valuable service isn't any less important than starting a business.
-Because phrases like "those who can't do, teach" are as short-sighted as they are idiotic.
-Because life isn't one giant game of Monopoly.
-Because reckless, tough-guy foreign policy decisions get people killed.
-Because leaders shouldn't sign pledges to "never" do anything.
-Because prioritizing stonewalling a man out of office over moving forward is bullshit.
-And because the powers that be in the modern GOP disagree with me about all of those things....

Meet the new boss....

Obama nails the bin Laden press conference.

...same as the old boss.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Barclay Hamish McBama

The following excerpts are taken from the newly released biography of our 44th President…

This is the tale of a boy, abandoned by his Scotch-Irish immigrant father and raised in Alabama by a single mother. This is the tale of a determined scholar, instructed in political science and law at Rice and Vanderbilt. This is the tale of a bright young attorney, hammering out contracts for the soybean oilcake manufacturing co-ops of New Orleans. This is the tale of a dogged local legislator, baptized by the fires of the notorious Louisiana political machine. This is the tale of a national upstart, who upset the apple cart to earn the Republican nomination for the highest office in the land in 2008.

President McBama
This is the tale of Barclay Hamish McBama, 44th President of the United States of America

When he took office on January 20, 2009, McBama was just what the American people needed- a no-nonsense firebrand who knew how to scold a child, love a woman, and pass a bill into law.  After eight years of feeble liberal leadership the nation’s challenges were plentiful, each requiring a delicate balance of flyover-state sensibility and a firm Baptist pimp hand. Enter Barry McBama.

First things came first on day one of the McBama Era. How in the heck had a cranky Saudi terrorist with failing kidneys eluded U.S. forces for eight years and slipped into Pakistan? The answer was simple: well-meaning but ill-fated liberal pussy-footing. Yes, the Dems do mean well. They love America, and they wanted to bring her assailant to justice too. But want-to the size of Texas won’t win the horse race if you don’t know when to use the spurs. And when a disgruntled Arab scampers off into the Tora Bora mountains with a chunk of the national scrotum in his teeth, well, that’s an occasion for the spurs. Bunny rabbits and harmony are great, but sometimes the day arrives when progressives need to take a step back and let the grown-ups take charge. Two years later OBL had himself a bullet in the eye courtesy of the United States Navy.

In July of 2008, longtime Senator and Democratic nominee Jack Van Cain was asked on CNN, “if you were President and know that bin Laden was in Pakistan, would you have U.S. forces go in after him?”

Van Cain responded, “I’m not going to go there and here’s why: because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.”

Four years later, the Dems have put forward another nominee who held that same view at the time in former Massachusetts Governor Titt Nomrey. Nomrey told the AP that McBama’s stance was “na├»ve,” saying, “it’s not worth moving Heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” Maybe Titt should converse with the families of the victims about that. Talk to the firefighters of New York, Titt. Ask the NYPD if it was worth it.

This is precisely the flaccid brand of rhetoric that emasculates a nation and empowers its enemies. Fortunately, the American people didn’t elect Jack Van Cain in 2008. And God-willing they won’t elect Titt Nomrey this year.

Barry McBama means business.
President McBama knows we need to stay on offense. Just ask Anwar al-Awlaki or the dozens of other Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders picked off by drones or raids in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Iraq, and elsewhere. Finally America has a Chief Executive who has eschewed the silly, idealistic nation-building campaigns of Presidents Mush 41 and the hapless boob Mush 43 in favor of a policy shaped around the liquidation of high value targets.

But to ensure another four years of ruthless efficiency we need a President strong enough to stand up to detractors, both internationally and here at home. The ACLU charges that as many as 4,000 people have been killed by our drone strikes in the past decade and those stats have spiked dramatically under McBama. United Nations special reporters have urged that the UN itself should consider establishing an investigatory body to look into each killing outside a recognized war zone, even hinting that some of our attacks may constitute war crimes. Barry McBama knows that there’s a time for diplomacy and there’s a time for brimstone, just as they teach in the little white churches all across this great land every Sunday. But what do they teach in Titt Nomrey’s Mormon temple? Can we count on Titt to go to bat against the hippie hand-wringing of the UN and ACLU? Or will he acquiesce in the grand liberal tradition?

McBama’s accomplishments aren’t limited to foreign policy pimpin’. He smacked healthcare freeloaders into line by finally implementing the concept the conservative Heritage Foundation began pushing for in 1989, the individual mandate. He lent General Motors a helping hand, ensuring that the towing capacity of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra would be there for our children and grandchildren. He proudly received an F on gun control from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence after signing legislation allowing guns in Yellowstone Park and on Amtrak trains. And just like old Bill McClintock did before him when he repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, McBama showed that he knows how to leave the nation's financial institutions unshackled to drive real trickle-down growth.

Do we really want America to return to the failed Mush policies under a Titt Nomrey administration? Or do we want to be guided into the future by the firm, conservative hand of Barry McBama?

Mc-Ba-ma! Mc-Ba-ma! Mc-Ba-ma!

Also look for the book under the alternative titles "Stuff Conservatives Would be Saying if Obama Was a Republican" and "How Can You Call Obama the Biggest Threat to the American Way and Keep a Straight Face?"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The American Dream

Mitt Romney made some remarks recently that illustrate a problem I have with the right wing interpretation of the celebrated American Dream. Romney stood on Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s lawn and explained a distinction he sees between the way Republicans and Democrats view success. Romney pointed to the mansion behind him and remarked, “Democrats see this and don’t think anyone should live like this. Republicans think- everyone should live like this!” This is in the same vein as Marco Rubio’s quote that, “we are not a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.” These quotes do more than just preview the tactics the GOP will use this fall to defend an economic platform that critics say favors the rich.  Far more interesting is what these remarks reveal about the way many of today’s conservatives view the pursuit of happiness in our country.

The implication of Romney and Rubio's statements is that wealth is there for the taking in America and critics should join the chase instead of trying to reform the system. It’s true that the barriers to success are historically low in 21st century America, a credit to our political and economic system. But Romney and company are out of touch with a key point, and they may suffer politically for it.  And that is that not everyone wants to be a rich business owner in the first place. Some people “just” want to teach our children, put out our fires, fight our wars, or rush us to the hospital when we get sick. And most of those people earn less than $50,000 a year. Could they save or borrow the capital to start a business from the ground up? Perhaps. And Romney thinks that’s exactly what they should do. Because it’s just what he would do- you know, if he hadn’t already inherited the silver spoon and the prep school upbringing. But as a society do we really want our teachers and nurses to view their careers as a stop-gap until their start-up takes off? Do we want them rushing out the door at 4 o’clock to get to work on their side venture? Or do we want them to focus on their students and patients? 

The subtext of the conservative message- that if you haven’t “made it” it’s because you haven't had the guts, savvy and work ethic to stake your claim- is not lost on most middle class people. Nor is it appreciated. Just because a person doesn't view life as a big game of monopoly doesn't mean they aren't ambitious or industrious. They may simply choose to direct their energy towards goals other than making money. The guy who lives in the $150k house isn’t necessarily less smart and hard-working than the guy in the $1.5M house. He may just be a paramedic instead of a lobbyist. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ten Reasons to Follow the Premiership

As an American it's easy to assume that if something isn't big here then you aren't missing much. The rest of the world dislikes us for this world view, which may lead to our demise politically, but you could do worse as far as rules of thumb for seeking out entertainment. But we've missed the boat on what everyone else calls football for decades. Football/soccer is awesome if you can get past the screaming and weeping. It's one thing to flop for a call, but how can you look anyone in the eye after moaning hysterics over getting your foot stepped on? Frankly that part never gets any easier. Nevertheless, world football is terrific theater. I recommend climbing aboard, starting with the English Premiership, for the following ten reasons: 

1. The perfect DVR sport.

With no overtime, timeouts or commercials*, you don’t need to add time to the recording**. Fast forward through halftime and you can ease the full game day experience into your life in under 100 minutes. And unlike an NFL or NBA game you won’t be bombarded with updates via the radio in your car or the ticker at the bar if you can’t watch it for a day or two.

*Did you catch that? There. Are. No. Commercials.
**Don’t forget to add an hour if it’s a tournament elimination game.

2. The time zone difference.

Whether you utilize DVR or not, there’s no better use for sports than unwinding on the weekend. I don’t know about you, but my days don’t start at 1pm. Waking up at 7am just in time to catch a little pregame is glorious.  

3. The Premier League Review Show.

Every Sunday night you can catch up on the entire weekend of league play in 60 minutes; more like 40 if you DVR and fast-forward like a rational person should in the year 2012. Each game is given more attention and respect in that hour than small market games receive from the ESPN universe in an entire day. You’ll get a comprehensive but concise feel for the match, and the original broadcast is usually retained in lieu of a dorky anchor dropping snark and spoilers. Once again, it’s highly unlikely that any scores will get ruined for you in advance. After several years I'm convinced- the EPL is the perfect league to follow if you have a life.

4. The Transfer Windows

More kids probably dream about being a GM these days than being a player. Fantasy sports. Trade rumors. Mock drafts. The transfer windows are all of them rolled into one. Imagine that your favorite NBA team has the need and means to add a big man as the trade deadline approaches. Only instead of reading about Kurt Thomas, your team has been linked with about two dozen options including Anthony Davis, a Brazilian guy they keep comparing to Kevin Garnett, and the long lost Gasol brother currently dominating in Spain.

5. It’s never hopeless.

Unless you’re a cherry-picker you almost certainly find yourself stuck pulling for a loser or two in sports that you otherwise love. The good news is that you won’t have that problem here. How do I know that? Because you don’t inherit a hometown dog or an Atlantic Ten alma mater in the EPL. You get to pick your team. More accurately your team picks you.  If you begin to follow the Premiership you’ll inevitably be drawn to a certain club- and that club won’t be terrible unless you’re a masochist. You’ll watch them more. You'll start to love their players. It snowballs, and you end up with a decent team to support without the front-runner's shame. 

6. There is always something going on.

You’ve got Premierships matches most weekends and on the occasional weekday. But that’s only the beginning. English league play is supplemented by Carling & FA Cup fixtures throughout the year. And of course there's the UEFA Champion’s League and the FIFA Club World Cup. Mix in some international friendlies and regional qualifiers leading up to the World Cup & European Championship. And there’s much, much more if and when you’re so inclined. The guy who dominated in the World Cup? The team you liked the Champs League? That player your club has been linked with? They'll lead you to more and more action. It never ends*.

7. No Oversaturation.

*It never ends, unless of course you want it to. In this country the sport is served strictly a la carte- watch what you want and leave the rest. Sounds pretty basic but it's not. You’ll never hear Neil Everett drop the same smarmy one-liner about your team’s losing streak four times in your sleep because you passed out to SportsCenter. You’ll never hear local radio hosts and callers rail about who should be the backup keeper. Set your DVR, find a couple websites that you enjoy, and that’s it. You’ll get exactly as much soccer/football as you want- no more, no less.

8. The Jargon.

You’ve got the game on DVR and the outcome is decided. You lean over to fast forward….but you can’t bring yourself to do it and miss out on all the wonderfully absurd announcing quirks. Some of it is English slang, some of it is simply a turn of phrase, but it’s all awesome. A low-percentage strike is ambitious. A hard-working player is industrious. A confident shot is struck with aplomb. An audacious attempt is cheeky. It’s delightful.    

9. The Crowds.  

The only thing that has soiled the viewing experience in this country worse than media timeouts are the pop music and jumbotron featurettes that play ad nauseum. But your senses will not be assaulted before, during or after a Premiership fixture. Everything is organic, and nearly every stadium is packed with passionate fans wearing the same colors and chanting the same songs. It’s pretty impressive when you see close to 50,000 people rally together on a Wednesday night to watch Sunderland play Bolton. But there’s a reason they do it…

10. Promotion, Relegation & Qualification.

This three-pronged system ensures that there is always something worth fighting for in English football. You want to win the league. If not, a top four finish is a fine consolation because you qualify for next season’s Champions League. If that goes by the wayside you want to qualify for Europa League play. If Europe falls off the table altogether then you’re fighting for your very place in the Premiership, because the bottom three clubs are relegated every year. And you’ve always got the domestic Cups. There is ALWAYS something to fight for. Queen’s Park Rangers are currently in 17th place. Their club history is highlighted by finishing second in 1975. Their stadium seats 18,000, making it the 9th largest in London. So why are QPR fans proudly supporting their club in mid-April? To start with, they won England’s second division last year to earn promotion to the Premiership for the first time in fifteen years, displacing historic cross-town club West Ham United among others. If they can maintain their hold on 17th they will be in the top flight again next year; if not they head back down. Unlike fans of the Pirates or Browns, QPR fans can take pride in simply being a big league team in a nation of 7,000 registered clubs. It's an honor worth fighting for, and an honor worth rooting for.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The War on Drugs

Let me count the ways I loathe it....

As a society we elect a government in order to keep our streets paved and get our mail delivered, not to tell us what we can and cannot put into our bodies. As such I object to the prohibition of marijuana and other drugs on the standard libertarian “stay out of my business” grounds. But you don’t have to be an anarcho-capitalist to see the fundamental folly of prohibition, and the practical considerations are more compelling than any philosophical argument. 

First, if government officials want to spend our resources butting into our privacy, they at least need to get some bang for our buck. While we can’t even begin to estimate the resources being plowed into the fruitless enterprise of stopping people from consuming drugs, it’s easy to see that the impact has been negligible; the positive impact that is. What the war on drugs has done is inconvenienced importers and caused a spike in prices, driving money out of the domestic economy and pouring it into the pockets of the dealers. It’s also packed our prison system with non-violent drug offenders (over half of all inmates fall into this category). Since our $50 billion prison system is quietly becoming privatized, rich people are profiting from all these people doing time. More time means more money, which in turn means lobbyist jackals will descend on Washington to advocate for any legislation that throws and keeps people behind bars at $35k a year. Bravo. The war on drugs is flunking its cost-benefit analysis.

No matter what you think about drug use or drug users, if you can’t stop it, legalize it. Why? First, because then you could tax it.  Taxes on tobacco and alcohol yield tens of billions annually in local, state and federal revenues. Second, because then you could regulate it. Pharmaceutical companies can be held accountable for distributing dangerous drugs because the industry is by law transparent. Johnson & Johnson settled a Texas lawsuit out of court this year for $185 million. They had been accused of illegal marketing practices pertaining to an anti-psychotic drug that may not have been as safe as J & J said it was. But what happens when street dealers distribute heroin laced with fentanyl and people get killed, as they did in Pittsburgh and other cities in 2006? Nothing but funerals. Because black market drug dealers don’t register with the SEC and FDA. A corporate whistle-blower can produce research and accounting documents but a snitch on the streets can only offer a nickname and a burner cell number.  Pharmaceutical executives also don’t accidentally shoot children in a botched drive by. So there's that too.

The entire exercise would be somewhat excusable if we hadn’t experimented with the prohibition of alcohol less than a century ago and gotten a lucrative black market for our trouble, enriching a gangster class who put its money in a safe instead of paying taxes and investing in the stock market. The lesson we should have gleaned is that strict drug and alcohol laws are a lot like strict gun laws- the people we’re worried about will get them anyway. It’s the tax-paying, law-abiding old lady with glaucoma who goes without.

What is harder to quantify than potential tax revenues or the costs of enforcement are the innumerable negative consequences, financial and otherwise, felt by society due to the countless people contending with addiction. These are often the same people who place an additional financial burden on this country through our social programs. Drug addicts often struggle to hold a job and frequently develop health problems related to their use. Hello food stamps and hello Medicare. It’s well established that going to prison simply makes the cycle permanent. If we’re going to spend $35k on incarceration, why not direct that towards the kind of true rehabilitation that can get at least a portion of these people off the social safety nets and back into the work force? We have to be practical.

In summary, the American taxpayer spends huge sums on law enforcement and the incarceration of non-violent offenders, while at the same time missing the boat on tax revenues and ceding dominion over the marketplace to the dealers.  Those who choose to consume (they pay taxes too) cannot be protected from shady suppliers and have minimal options should they seek treatment.

I know that for many people it just feels like weed and other drugs should be illegal. And it feels like legalization would intensify what is already a gigantic problem. But that’s just the point- drug use has become a gigantic problem in spite of this massive assault by the federal government and its agencies. It isn’t working. If you can get past the stigma, the correct path for the government here is clear. Step one: legalize and levy a tax on recreational drugs. Step two: insert itself into production and distribution; ensure the (relative) safety of the supply and generate additional revenues. Step three: use those revenues to treat addiction and the mental health issues that so often contribute to elicit drug use in the first place.   

Monday, February 20, 2012

To Drill Baby Drill, or not to Drill Baby Drill

The off-shore drilling debate became incredibly polarized and over-simplified by both sides during the last presidential election. (I know, what else is new.) Two things are clear. Oil spills and oil prices both suck. Otherwise, neither the pros nor the cons of an expanded domestic drilling program have ever been adequately quantified. In 2009 the democrats did their self-satisfied environmental protector routine while republicans were in take-no-prisoners drill mode.

On one hand it’s standard liberal operating procedure to champion a noble cause with zero regard for the tradeoffs. The downside of refusing to drill domestically was largely and predictably ignored by anyone on the left. But the flip side of that charge sticks for republicans too- what do we really stand to gain if we take the oil companies off their leash?

Who can forget the chants of “drill baby drill” emanating from their convention in ‘09; all those supporters drunk and delirious with petrol-lust? But how much did prices drop when drilling commenced in the Gulf of Mexico? Did every American get a fuel-perks card good for dollar gasoline? The only people who benefit when a new area opens up for drilling are those who own the leases. That oil hits the open market like all the rest; it doesn’t get routed to American pumps at a discount. Prices in general might drop a penny per supply and demand, but that doesn't justify the mess unless you were a BP stockholder. How can we change that? And if we do, how much will that change things, given that we have fewer reserves in this country than Qatar or Kazakhstan? There may be answers to these questions. If there are, we want hear them. So conservatives need to expand the message this time. If they want to risk a giant disaster in another region, we need to hear more than a rabble of blithering idiots screaming “drill baby drill” and “we’re sending money to people who hate us!” 

Take the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, for instance. What quantities of proven, probable and possible reserves are present? How much time and resources are required for primary, secondary and tertiary extraction? Who will be given the drilling rights? What mechanism is in place to ensure that the American people will genuinely benefit? And how much impact at the pump can any of this ultimately have if we have less oil than the backwards country they made fun of in Borat? Keep asking these kinds of questions and it begs another- has this issue been all style and no substance all along?

I don’t excuse democrats from these types of demands, but the larger burden of proof falls to republicans in this case because their position is the one that risks further environmental catastrophe. And, in the political arena, because they are the ones seeking to win back the White House. They cannot simply rely on slogans and quick-hitter talking points again, not just on this issue but with regard to the assault on Obama in general. They can do it, and through primary season they to a large degree have. But it won’t be good enough to get general election votes from those who think critically.

EDIT (to clarify my personal thoughts):

I am all for more drilling in theory. But like a lot of issues I feel that voters on both sides of this particular fence are too busy root-root-rooting for the home team to hold the politicians accountable. Since there are major left wing staples like alternative energy and the environment that, on the surface, don't mesh  with *anything* relating to drilling, you can forget about those guys. So we're left with independents and mainstream republicans. And since independents are ignored until the general election, it falls on the party faithful to demand from its leaders answers to the questions I posed above. Yet it largely remains an echo chamber. This is my beef.