Archive for March, 2008

Last Man Standing – Hillary!

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Although we saw straight through the Obama phenomena when we first met the man four years ago, there are several heartening aspects to his runaway popularity. Even though he hasn’t a Kibbutznik’s chance in Sadr City of winning the nomination, he is undeniably drawing new interest, enthusiasm and participation from quarters customarily quiessent during past political campaigns.

First, he has mesmerized the public largely on the basis of the kind of soaring political retoric which hasn’t been heard in these parts since at least the Presidency of JFK. The succession of mangle-mouthed speachifiers who followed Kennedy has been all the more disappointing given the inspiring history of American political rhetoric.

Since Thomas Jefferson penned the lines “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certainunalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” the bar has been set pretty high on the English eloquence scale. Over the centuries Lincoln, Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Kennedy, to name a few, have contributed to the tradiition of elegant and enduring language. Hell, even Woodrow Wilson said “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”

Some will argue that slick speechwriters, focus groups, reaction polling, tele-prompters and speech coaches have emasculated modern political speach, but one need go no further than our friends in Latin America to find that good, old-fashioned barn-burning political rhetoric is alive and well in other parts of the world. We once saw Peruvian President Alan Garcia hold a crowd captivated for over two hours, make them laugh, cry, shout in anger and piss in their pants, followed by four hours of drunken reveling featuring spontaneous copycat speechifying by the audience and semi-nude conga lines of painted native dancers.

Barack hasn’t reached those heights quite yet, but his ability to move people with words holds out hope that inspirational political rhetoric is not a lost art in this country.

Another key element in the early tsunami of support for the Obama candidacy was the shocking realization that after 40 years of chumming around the Democratic Party, Hillary has become just another party hack.

We are sure that in those halcyon days when Hillary was a Wellesley rebel she was convinced that on her quest to become the first female president she was going to change the political system from within. However, in America today, and for the past hundred and fifty years, there are only two roads to the White House – one goes through the Democratic Party and the other goes through the Republican Party.

Now, those roads are lined with the running dogs of party politics, grasping lobbyist hands, thinly veiled temptations, unlimited lines of credit, whispered promises and threats and a thousand varieties of unctious slime which drip and leak and adhere annoyingly to all who travel that path. Hillary has been on this road for an awful long time and we all know that if you lie down long enough with dogs like these, you get up with rabies.

What voters are showing is a rejection of the depressing partisan baggage that comes standard on machine politicians from both parties these days. What they are just starting to realize is that Barack Obama is being rolled out of that same corporate factory, with the same brand allegiances, as his competition. He is just a newer model for a newer generation.

We sat down with Obama when he met with a group of bloggers at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and it was immediately obvious that he didn’t “get it”. We asked him a question about New Media and he thought we were talking about Fox News. He’s just trying to sing a hip-hop version of Sinatra’s “My Way”, and although he’s got a nice voice, the tune is tired.

The public’s visceral rejection of party politics, reflected in the historically low poll numbers garnished by Congress lately, brings tears to our eyes, both because it validates our faith in the instinctual political wisdom of Americans and because it is doomed to be dashed by the eventual exposure of Obama as the same old obsolete product in a slick new package.

Americans are grasping for something new on the political scene like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver. Unfortunately, the life preserver they have embraced is sinking like a stone. Barack Obama is a made-to-order update on the traditional major party politician mold, but he’s not ready for prime time. His campaign has reached its high water mark and is now withering under the unrelenting and unforgiving scrutiny of the all-seeing media eye.

Geraldine Ferraro was only half-way there. Barack Obama not only would not have gotten so far had he not been black, he would not have gotten so far if the cupola of white men running the Democratic Party had not had a firm hand on his throttle and a few kill switches build into the system as well. The unmerciful exposure of his spiritual advisor is but the latest brick in a wall of unelectability being build between Barack and an increasingly disillusioned public. By August he’ll be lucky to get past security in Denver.

Obama has done his job, played his role, and hopefully can be recycled in a form leaving him serviceable for future electoral dramas. After four years of meticulously laid plans, venomous in-fighting, double-crossing, arm twisting, back stabbing subterfuge and cynicism from the heavyweights of the Democratic Party, there is just one candidate left.

It has come down to the last man standing, and that man is – Hillary Clinton!

We couldn’t make this stuff up – but somebody did.

Hallelujah!

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Wednesday night’s summary execution of the Sonics by the Celtics, 111-82, was more of a mercy killing than a duel, and  looked at times like a gaggle of Junior High JVs against a team of McDonald’s All-Americans. Pleased as punch with the new-look Celtics, we can’t help reflecting on the unique dynamic of roundball among professional team sports.

Basketball is perhaps the team sport in which a single individual can have the most impact. In no other team sport can the replacement of a handful of players transform a team from pathetic to proficient overnight.  At the same time, in no other sport is the sacrifice of individual achievement more essential to the success of the team.

Obviously, part of the reason that replacing a couple of starters can have a bigger effect in basketball than in baseball,  football or soccer is that those 2 players represents 40% of a starting lineup in B-ball. However, we see it as even more crucial due to the higher degree of personal interaction between players during the play of the game.

Unlike the wind-swept acreage of a football stadium or a soccer pitch, in the pressure cooker of a basketball court all five players are constantly aware of the location of each of their teammates and opponents, and are in constant voice communication, calling out plays, warnings, razzings, encouragement, heads-ups, timing cues and defensive schemes and switches. Unencumbered by helmets or face masks they are able to keep up a constant interplay of verbal messages to accompany the improvisational physical ballet being created on the court.

We are certainly not the first to note the similarities between a sweetly syncopated starting five and a quality jazz quintet; both work from set progressions and then improvise off of them. Hoops is the skat of sports, the bebop of ball games. Changing a couple of the players can completely alter the style and effect of the music produced.

In the case of the Celtics, three of this year’s starting five, Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, were here last year, playing basically the same roles. The missing starters, Al Jefferson and Delonte West, have been replaced by Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. On paper, at least, the Celts have only gained 5 points a game from the switch (Allen 18 + Garnett 18 vs. Jefferson 21 + West 10), and as a counterbalance Paul Pierce is averaging 5 points less per game this year than last! Yet last year they won 29% of their games, and this year, 81%.

This turnaround can’t help but give hope to hapless franchises like Memphis (23%), Minnesota (22%) and Miami (17%). Hang in there, guys – you’re just a trade or two from the Finals!

At the same time, and for the some of the same reasons, the chemistry and integrated intensity of the five players on the court (as well as the bench) can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse faster in B-ball than in any other sport. By sacrificing individual stats and achievements to mutual goals even a total NBA toad like last year’s Celtics can be transformed into a prince in short order.

The numbers are hard to argue with; see Paul Pierce, above. Or how about the Big Ticket himself; last year Garnett averaged three more points and three more rebounds for a Minnesota team that finished 18 games below .500. Ray Allen is currently dropping in 8 points less than his prodigious production on a woebegone Seattle team a year ago.

Each of these superstars has given up a spot standing atop the scorer’s list for a communal seat at the top of the team standings and a guaranteed ticket for a ride deep into the NBA playoffs. And you can tell, from their comments, demeanor and production, that they are as happy as clams with the trade off. To borrow a baseball idiom, they are paying more attention to the name on the front of the uniform than the name on the back, and it’s paying off.

At long last, after twenty years of off-tune tweeting and sour squawking, beautiful music is pouring out of the Garden once again. Hallelujah!

The Unfolding Narrative of Queen Hillary

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Queen HillaryHillary believers need not fear. The Obama phenomena has reached its high tide mark right on cue, and the froth and spray are starting to ebb. Just as scripted by her consort the Master Planner, the Warrior Princess will emerge, bloodied but unbowed, battle-tested and triumphant, to claim her rightful place on the throne.

At some inevitable point in the next few months, the gallant young knight-errant will step to center stage, deliver a moving and inspirational silioquy, and kneel before his leige to pledge his sword and his loyalty for the battle ahead. The major remaining incognitos, in our mind, are the new Queen’s choice for a second-in-command, and the location of the prestigeous fiefdom from whence the defeated loyal knight will serve the resurgent dynasty.

A few weeks ago we were wondering if the Clintons would be able to finesse the endgame or would need to resort to the self-destruct button on their Obamadroid. We should have had more faith in the Master Planner. Whatever their Ace in the Hole was – and it is certain that the powers controlling the Democratic Party would not have brought this loquations young man so far so fast without a kill switch – we won’t be seeing it anytime soon.

Instead of a scandalous misstep like those which aborted the campaigns of Edmund Muskie, Ted Kennedy or Gary Hart, we will probably see a series of minor miscalculations, insinuations, denied rumors and critical press like that which has emerged in the past few days.

These moves are designed to erode Obamamania just enough to let Hillary play the comeback kid one more time while retaining Obama as a viable asset in future electoral cycles. After all, the party superstructure (aka The League of Super Delegates) has a lot of time and money invested in their boy Obama by now, and it would be a shame to have to blow him up at this stage of the game.

Why would the Democrats want to go through this long, drawn out drama if they could possibly avoid it? The conventional wisdom says that McCain and the Republicans have a major advantage having settled on a candidate four months before their convention while the Democrats are still battling it out. As usual, the conventional wisdom is hogwash.

What do you think the Press is going to cover if John McCain is attending fund raisers and giving the same tired speech over and over again to groups of rich white donors while Hillary and Barack are barnstorming across the country speaking in Baptist Churches and Barrio rec centers and college campuses, chasing every demographic slice of the American Pie and trading punches like the Red Sox and Yankees in a 51-game World Series? Which narrative will capture the public imagination?

Because what politics in America has come down to in the Media Age is a competition between narratives. Which storyline will the public buy into? John McCain has a compelling narrative with the whole tiger cage, Maverick Senator thing, and it sure would feel good, on one level, to have a real American hero as President once again. It’s been a while. How can the Dems come up with a narrative to top that?

During the past two election cycles, the Democrats cynically underestimated the American predilection for smaltzy melodrama and patriotic vitriol, and the Republicans were able to impose the righteous reformed slacker Bush narrative on an insecure and wounded public. This time the Clinton brain trust, Howard Dean and the economic interests behind them are determined not to get robbed again on the crucial stage of media-fueled myth-making.

So they have crafted, for our viewing pleasure, an exquisite, astute and inspirational saga of struggle and triumph, of emancipation and empowerment, of patient perseverance rewarded and past injustices avenged. It’s gonna have action, it’s gonna have tear-jerking dialog, it’s gonna have mondo suspense, and its gonna have a happy ending. For its authors.

If everything goes according to plan, its gonna fill up the front pages of America and the world, and keep the voters enthralled until its dramatic denouement in July, when the Warrior Princess is crowned and the loyal knights line up to pledge to the cause and prepare for the final battle against the forces of evil in November.

Simply brilliant. Like a well-scripted television series, even though we all but certain of the eventual outcome, we can’t wait to watch each episode unfold.

The only questions remaining, in the Dowbrigade’s mind at least, are who Hillary will select as a running mate and what role she has reserved for the soon-to-be tamed Obama. Readers may have surmised that we don’t think much of the chance she’ll select Obama himself; despite the superficial advantages this would produce a deeply unbalanced ticket bound to tick off just about any group on some level.

What Hillary needs is an experienced older white guy from the South with enough Gravitas that a certain segment of the voting public will reason, “Well, if she really fucks up or goes rabid, we can always impeach the bitch and fall back on good old Chumley…” This may be enough to close the deal for the few percentage points worth of wavering liberals necessary to put her over the top.

We’ll deal with these ancillary questions in a future posting.

Scapegoats Save Professional Sports

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At first glance, finding a common thread running between Major League Baseball’s tying Roger Clemens to the stake as part of its witch hunt against steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and the National Football League’s public dressing down and fining of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots may seem like a stretch. Yet in both cases the powers that be in an insular, money-making monopoly have settled on an unpopular scapegoat in desperate, tawdry attempts to shut down more comprehensive investigations into widespread cheating which could ultimately drop the cash cows of these two top sports to the killing floors of American sports as quickly as a shot of anthrax.

Let’s take Videogate first. Although there is a long tradition in American sports, professional and amatuer, to eke out every conceivable advantage by bending, avoiding, reinterpreting, evading, and finding holes in the regulations, there is also general agreement that some set of enforceable rules is necessary, as we say in the sports game, “to level the playing field” and prevent the competition from descending into abject anarchism.

The fact that teams were videotaping opponent’s sideline signals came as a surprise to no one – it has been a common practice for decades. Plus, in today’s always on, video-virte lifestyle virtually every aspect of the lives of the rich and famous is fair game for electronic enshrinement. Between cameras in pockets, cameras in phones, security cameras in lobbies, on corners, behind one-way glass, in parks and public plazas and sports stadiums, cameras suspended in the air and cameras on satellites, there is film available of  ANYTHING, if you know where to look and can get access.

So when teams said they were burning the midnight oil reviewing film in preparation for the next game, it is safe to assume they weren’t just looking at recordings of the network broadcasts of the opponent’s past performances.

Prior to the 2006 season, NFL Commissioner Goodell decided he wanted to establish order in the videotaping wilderness, and so he issued a set of rules.  Unfortunately, no one paid them any attention, and so the Commish felt he needed to make an example. The alternative would have been launching a large-scale investigation, hiring hundreds of investigators, hauling in the owners, general managers and video departments of all 30 NFL Franchises, thousands of hours of sworn testimony and an unrelenting poisionous public spotlight for the months and years it would all take to unravel.

Better to find a scapegoat and make an example. So, who to select to take one for the good of the game? Who would the national viewing public most like to see pilloried for conduct unbecoming? Who would provide the most satisfying cathartic closure when forced to take their medicine without the possibility of protest? Who could better afford the financial and competitive hit which needed to be extracted to give the rabid fans their taste of blood?

Why, the New England Patriots and Machiavellian Bill, of course.  Bellichick could have been an Emperor of the Ming Dynasty or a Borgia Pope in a past life, and given his ability to scheme and leave no stone unturned we are certain his video library, which was turned over to the Commissioner and supposedly destroyed, contained sideline signals, on-field signals, walk-throughs, open practices, closed practices, meetings, workouts, lip-reading and possibly private social functions.

The message to the other teams was clear. Destroy your own video caches NOW, so that I don’t have to go through this 29 more times over the next two years and drag the whole league through the mud again and again.

Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the unexpected corollary was to give the Patriots the motivation and focus to blast through their schedule like a laser through a smoky room.

Meanwhile, over at the other National Pastime, the choice was even more stark, and the situation more desperate.  Here the Commissioner is trying to keep the top on a scandal involving deadly, illegal drugs, affecting a third to a half of all players, and going back 20 years.

The situation is complicated because many of the drugs involved were not at first illegal, or were originally legitimately prescribed, creating a miasma of questions concerning what was taken, by whom, at what time and for what reasons. The only way to definitively establish who was guilty of what would be to embark on in-depth investigations of each of the 2149 current active players, as well as rosters going back say, 20 years ago.

Even given the well-documented affinity of members of Congress to jock-sniffing and photo ops, as well as wasting time and taxpayer money, we can’t see them sitting through that many hearings, especially after they stop televising every one. Perhaps they could start a separate cable channel for 24/7 replays of the Performance Enhancement Hearings.  However they handled it, it would be a disaster for baseball, fixing in the public mind for decades the sordid truth that professional baseball players are, by and large, cowardly, drug-addicted ego-freaks willing to cheat and lie in order to remain in their privileged bubbles and avoid working for a living.

Therefore, enter the scapegoats. We can see Commissioner Selig shuffling his Topps baseball cards, looking for a couple of likely losers – or rather, winners who needed to be taken down a notch. How about a pair of big mouthed, big headed egomaniacs, with reputations as pricks and few real friends in the game, who act as though they were untouchable and somehow better than mere mortals? And to avoid any possible charges of racism, lets pick one one black card and one white card.

Congratulation, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.  You have just been selected to take a bullet for the good of baseball. Your careers should have ended years ago anyway, so Selig is really just culling the herd by putting these bulls out to pasture. Since they are both financially set for multiple lifetimes, the only real hit is their almost certain exclusion from the Hall in Cooperstown. As a sports fan in general, we hope we are agreeing with a multitude when we say it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving twosome.

Will it be enough to satisfy the blood-lust of a vengeful public enraged to learn that the fix has been in in professional baseball for twenty years? Will they be satisfied with public humiliation for two icons, and let the hundreds or thousands of equally guilty miscreants slide, their transgressions swept under the rug so the nation can move on to another season of competition and entertainment?

Considering the alternative could very well be the discredit and ruination of two pillars of the American Brand, NFL and MLB, we suspect the viewing public will scarf down the scraps of red meat thrown their way, settle back comfortably in their Barca-loungers, and dream of ever-bigger hi-def screens.