Sunday, February 20, 2005

What the Puck is Going On Here?

It’s been a long time since I have so avidly watched for news of spring training. I’ve always been a baseball fan first, but this year’s spring training has been elevated for me by the glorious triumph of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, and by reading Steven King’s excellent book Faithful. Unfortunately for all, there’s a dark side to my renewed interest in exhibition baseball: no hockey.

The Sports Correspondent asked me last night why I hadn’t written anything on the NHL lockout fiasco and implied with disgust it was only puckheads in Canada who cared. I’m a pretty good puckhead myself, but the NHL has so disgusted and irritated me throughout the whole thing that I haven’t been able to come up with anything articulate about it. My sympathies always used to be with the players on these kinds of things, but salary levels have become such that a salary cap is probably a good idea as a way to sustain the league. (Caps don’t seem to have crippled the earning power of players in the NFL or NBA.) I freely admit the NHL has expanded too fast and I wouldn’t care one way or the other if Columbus, Nashville and a couple of other nouveau-hockey teams shuffled off their mortal coils, but it’s sad when established teams like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and anyplace in Canada that’s not Montreal or Toronto can barely make a go of it.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman inherited a league poised to become the next hot sport to being the only major league with no guaranteed TV money and the first to lose an entire season to labor strife. The league’s negotiating tactics make it clear to anyone paying attention that they are much more interested in breaking the union than in getting a salary cap to guarantee player costs.

Not that the players association is any better. They agreed to an eleventh-hour salary cap last week in a vain attempt to save the season. It might have mattered if they had rolled over five months ago. In fairness, the pay cut and luxury tax proposal the players floated in December was as close to true bargaining as either side got.

A lot of this could have been avoided if Bettman and player leader Bob Goodenow could have acted remotely like adults. Their personal animosity has grown so great that progress was only made when they were shut out of the meetings.

Hockey should have been lucky. No other sport had figures like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky available, men who were great players and now are owners, and have looked at this issue from both sides. Lemieux and Gretzky also have the benefit of being owners with enormous respect from the players, many of whom have played with or against them. Rumor has it they were the two men primarily responsible for trying to get the season un-canceled this weekend, before 6 ½ hours were wasted yesterday going over the same old ground.

So now they aren’t playing, won’t play, and I’ll get over it. I went to the local rink last week and watched the kids play for a while. I’m thinking of getting a schedule and following the local high school league. It’s not the NHL, but these kids actually want to play hockey, and the people running the show want them to play. That makes up for a lot of speed and talent.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Fair Warning

Two kinds of people write blogs: pathetic losers with no one to talk to and no one to care about their meager accomplishments and travails, who put their trivialities into the ether with the delusional thought that someone will read them and sympathize, giving the blogger hope that he/she is not alone in the world; and those with such overbearing egos that they feel compelled to shove their banal opinions down the throats of the unsuspecting and don’t give a rat’s ass if anyone reads, or agrees with them. (You may be the judge of which category applies here.)

All of us (except maybe the first type of blogger cited above) have petty frustrations that irk us, things we think may just be stupid, or shouldn’t allowed to happen in a sane and just world. Many of these things falls under the auspices of the International Conspiracy to Piss Us Off. Such affronts, when noted, should immediately be stamped out.

In a related note (in my mind, anyway) are the random thoughts we are all prone to concerning how a perfect world would be run. These thoughts are often phrased in some form like, “If I were in charge…” Since I am clearly defined as a Category Two blogger, my phrasing more often runs along the lines of, “When I take over…”

Today’s example is provided as a service to our readers, just in case I really do take over some day, so you’ll know in advance how to avoid pissing me off. Everyone else is on their own.

After skipping breakfast this morning, I decided to avail myself of a delicious quarter-pound kosher hot dog and cold beverage after concluding the weekly Costco run. No one was in line when I started over, but a woman got there first. No biggie. Then one of her kids joined her. Then another. Then another. Then the old man, dragging two more with him.

Let’s start with the obvious: no one needs five kids today. If the earth was a ship, it would sink; if it was an airplane, it would never get off the ground. The era of “be fruitful and multiply” has passed, regardless of various religions’ views on family planning.

Point Two: If you’re going to bring your entire junior basketball team and both coaches to the line, have a clue about what everyone wants before you get there. The clerk totaled their order three times that I know of; I looked away and may have missed one. “Add a couple of hot dogs.” “Junior wants a Smoothie.” “Wait, Cissy wants a Smoothie now, too.” “Is that the only flavor you have?” “Three pretzels—no, wait, make that two.”

All I wanted was a dog and a Coke. I wasn’t in a hurry, but I have reached an age where the Icy Hand of Death™ is more than an abstract concept; the frost accumulating on my hair and beard shows its increasing proximity. How much time I care to spend watching little Roger decide whether he wants his pretzel with or without salt is limited.

Stay tuned for more in-depth info on the International Conspiracy to Piss Us Off. It’s not just me they’re after, you know. Do it for the children. Just not for the five in front of me at Costco.

Friday, February 18, 2005

It's Not Second Guessing if You Say It First

Career paths are often more the result of unintended consequences than of concrete plans. All of my formal education is in music, yet I will probably make more money this year than I ever did as a musician. (Before anyone starts hitting me up for loans, that says more about my musical skills than my present income level.) Occasionally current events give one pause to think of what might have been along the road not taken. This week was one of those times.

On March 15, 2003, a couple of days before the War to End All Wars Against Iraq began, The Home Office printed the following comment:

Running amuck like a longshoreman on a three-day drunk will remove Saddam, but it is more likely to create more terrorists of those currently on the fence than it is to lessen the danger.

Last Wednesday Porter Goss, freshly-minted Director of the CIA, made the following comments to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists… These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

Who’d’ve thunk it? We spend, at last count, jillions of dollars a year on intelligence to tell us salient facts like this after the fact. I was willing to do it ahead of time, for nothing.

Of more concern is the continuation of the Bush Administration’s central theme of governance: we told you how dangerous things were to get money to do what we wanted; we fucked it up; now we’re telling you how dangerous things have become since we fucked it up so you’ll give us more money to do what we want. No accountability; in fact, we’ve promoted those primarily responsible for the fuck ups in the first place. (Technically Don Rumsfeld has no where else to go without running for office. He obviously felt empowered enough by his Iraq miscalculations and errors to walk out of a House budget hearing the other day. I doubt he would have done that three years ago.)

A day or so before Goss’ comments, the CIA issued a revised Security Estimate to let all of us know that in its esteemed opinion, Iraq has no Weapons of Mass Destruction, nor did they before the war. Did it really take a new assessment to determine that? Everyone else knew it six months ago, all but officially.

I always thought the purpose behind spending all this money was so our intelligence community could give us an idea of what to expect before it happened. We already have mechanisms in place to tell us what already happened, and they’re a lot cheaper: they’re called newspapers. This newest Estimate is so far behind the curve, books have already been written on the subject. One has to wonder if the CIA has a field office at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Back to Work

The Home Office is pleased to announce a new source of funding has been located, effective March 7. This will allow us to continue to provide the same caliber of service and entertainment to which you have become accustomed. (Editor’s Note: We didn’t say it was a high caliber of service and entertainment. Calm down.)

We apologize for the recent hiatus, caused by the re-channeling of energy into employment-related decisions, and look forward to getting back into the swing of things.

You have now been warned.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Take the Money and Go

Guaranteed contracts are something to which few of us will become intimately familiar, damn it. They have ramifications we never encounter in the normal workforce. Let’s examine a few of them today.

It would be nice, if somewhat demeaning, to have someone to pay you not to work for them. Nice, in that you can hang around the house in your underwear scratching your ass without worrying about your mortgage payment. Demeaning, because your former employer has decided your contribution is such that he would rather pay you not to come in at all than to have your influence around the workplace.

There’s a step even lower than that. What if your workplace “contribution” was of a nature that your employer was willing to pay you to work for a competitor? Hard to imagine, isn’t it? It happened just this week, and all parties are delighted.

Sammy Sosa is the only man ever to hit 60 home runs in a season three times. He has been among the most marketable and beloved faces in baseball since his historic home run chase with Mark McGwire in 1998. His pre-game sprints into right field at Wrigley have inspired Cubs fans for years. Yet this week they traded him to Baltimore for a utility player with promise and two empty uniforms. Even better (worse) the Cubbies agreed to pay about half of Sosa’s salary, which was what made the deal palatable to the Orioles.

This was a deal born of last-minute desperation. Sosa had been available for a song ever since his largely undocumented antics became too much for the Cubs to bear (har-har) and he left the ballpark during the last game of the season in the first inning, then lied about it later. (He said he left in the seventh; security cameras proved otherwise.) No one wanted him. No one. The new Washington Nationals had discussions with the Cubs that included the possibility of the Cubs paying all of Sammy’s salary and the Cubs didn’t reject it out of hand.

That would set off warning bells to a lot of people. Not in Birdland. Owner Peter Angelos is still pouting over the Nationals taking away his monopoly, forcing Washington area residents to trek up to Baltimore to watch the Birds lose 90 games again if they want to see major league baseball. Now he’s going to have to at least look like he’s trying to field a competitive team if he wants to draw a crowd. All the free agents worth having spurned the Orioles; Sosa was their last chance to grab a headline.

Angelos appears to be falling into the same “strategy” the New York Mets have used for years to compete with the Evil Empire, er, I mean the Yankees. (Sorry, as a member of Red Sox nation, excuse me World Champion Red Sox Nation, every so often the ghost of Ted Williams reaches out and controls my keyboard. I’ll try not to let that happen again.) The Yankees make the playoffs every year; the Mets were last seen in post-season play in 2000, when the Yankees thumped them in the World Series.

The retirement of Cal Ripken in 2001 pretty much severed any ties I had to the Orioles. I don’t know too much about the new Nationals, since they came from baseball Siberia in Montreal, but I’m willing to be impressed. I’ll be rooting for them to at least win more games than the Orioles this year. Given the O’s ideas of building a team, that might be aiming low.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Better Late than Never?

The Bush Administration is now all over the idea to raise survivors’ benefits for family members of those killed while on military duty. The Bushies even want to make it retroactive, at least as far back as the beginning of the current quagmire, er, I mean war in Vietnam, sorry, I mean Iraq. (Except for that tress vs. desert stuff, the two are looking more and more alike.)

The current benefit is $12,500, which is better than it was not too long ago, but still below the recommended display of affection from a middle-income man toward his wife, if we are to believe the “three months’ pay for a diamond” bullshit we see on commercials. The new benefit is supposed to be $100,000 plus a $150,000 life insurance policy with premiums paid by Uncle Sugar.

That’s better than what a lot of people in the PFC income range outside the military can afford, but there’s a catch: you have to die to collect. Life insurance, especially in the military, is like a real life Catch-22: your ass is worth a lot of money, but only if you die.

Bush’s rush to climb on the death benefits bandwagon is unseemly, as are so many of his forward-looking “ideas.” (They prefer to call them “survivors’ benefits,” but let’s face it, they’re not paying if you survive.) I wonder how of these kids’ families wouldn’t need the survivors’ benefits if our all-knowing leaders had spent some of that money on the armor Mom and Dad have had to pay for themselves and send from home.

Rumsfeld cut off a question about where the armor was from a soldier on the line by, “you go to war with the army you have.” Unfortunately, they went to war with what their leaders choose to give them. The Bush Administration used bad intelligence, wasn’t prepared for anything like how the aftermath panned out, didn’t properly arm and protect the people in harm’s way, then snuck their bodies into the country like they were smuggling drugs. I don’t care if Bush raises the death benefit to a million dollars; they deserved better.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


The Anonymous Correspondent took me to task the other day for my comments on the Iraqi election. On re-reading what I wrote, and his/her comments (I don’t even know who this person is), I realize a little clarification may be in order.

Nothing written in the posting of January 30 was meant in any way to impugn the courage of the Iraqi people who voted. My comments were directed toward the Bush Administration. They set an arbitrary date, then held to it, whether anyone had a reasonable expectation of safety or not. The results were better than could have been expected, but elections are hardly free if you have to take your life in your hands to vote in them.

Lest anyone doubt my admiration for those who voted on Sunday, let’s think back a few months. There was talk in this country of how our election might have to be postponed if a terrorist threat made it impossible to guarantee everyone’s security. The Iraqis don’t live with terrorists’ threats; they live with terrorists’ actions. We’re saying it was a good day because no more innocent people than usual were killed, yet Iraqi voter turnout as a percentage of the eligible population was higher than ours in November, for what was acknowledged as a pivotal election.

I should have been more clear about the object of my derision. On the other hand, it was probably unreasonable to expect us to be able to promise any kind of election security. We can’t even keep the lights on over there all day.

In a related note, Iraqi officials, working under the supervision of Florida and Ohio election officials who donated their time to help with the Iraqi ballot counting, have announced George W. Bush is the new president of Iraq.