Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two Sid Hartman Commentaries in a Week? Who's the Sadomasochist Now, Debby?*

First of all, I'd like to give a hearty "Screw You" to Sid Hartman, simply for writing about stadium issues. I have better things to do with my time than read about how great a new stadium will be, and how idiotic our public representatives are being for accurately reflecting the will of the public...Huffington Post has a slideshow of Dogs on Trampolines, for heaven's sake. That's so much better than reading Sid Hartman that is reminds me Carl Sagan's analogies about the solar system--"Say this basketball is the sun...this tennis ball, representing the Earth, would need to be 100 yards away."** The difference in happiness between reading Sid Hartman and watching dogs on a trampoline is literally BIGGER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. And yet, here we are. Poops.

Let's get to it, knock it out, and get back to watching dogs on trampolines, OK?

First graf from Sid: "If the Vikings move to Southern California some three years from now, I'm sure some fans will circulate the front page of Saturday's Star Tribune with pictures of the seven Minneapolis City Council members who are opposed to offering any help to a stadium without a referendum." 

First off, The Vikings are not moving to Los Angeles. Anyone who claims this as a concern is either lying, or not paying attention. Not only are there no stadiums to move to (and there probably won't be 3 years from now) but the NFL likes the Vikings in Minnesota--they LOVE the NFC Central, and they don't want to break it. Of all the teams rumored to move to Los Angeles, the one least likely to move is the Minnesota Viking franchise. It ain't happening.


This is the article that Sid is reacting so strongly towards. From that article, here's the bit that I think is the most important to understanding what is going on here in Minnesota, and specifically, Minneapolis as the City Council struggles with what to do about this damn stadium proposal:

"The glue holding opponents [of the Stadium deal as currently constructed] together is the 15-year-old charter requirement to hold a referendum on sports facilities costing the city more than $10 million -- a vote [Minneapolis Mayor RT] Rybak wants to bypass. It's what prompted Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy to declare her opposition, creating the majority bloc. It's also what fuels [Council Member Gary] Schiff, who traces the rise in his political career to his co-authorship of the referendum language -- before it was approved by nearly 70 percent of city voters. "This was where I cut my teeth, opposing taxpayer waste through these mega-giveaways in professional sports facilities," Schiff said.

So are we clear here? There's a requirement that big ass sports subsidies go through a voter referendum. That's what Minneapolis decided they wanted, years and years ago. The Twins managed to bypass it for Target Field, but that's neither here nor there (no matter how often Vikings Stadium backers bring it up). Basically, a very narrow majority of the City Council is saying, "You know what? This requirement has been in place for 15 years, and we aren't keen on overturning it twice in a half-decade, especially when our constituents are demanding that we don't."

I wonder if Sid Hartman has read the comments on that article, because I just read through three pages of the comments, and they are overwhelmingly applauding the City Council's stand. It was decided a long time ago that this was one aspect of city governance that was going to stay with the people. The current talk from the Sports Reporters here are the folks on City Council are being cowards or hiding behind The People, or whatever--but they are following not just what their constituents want, but rules that were passed both by the Council and by the public. OK?

Sid again: "A stadium, mind you, that the team will use for only about 10 games a year, but would also serve as a venue to land big-time attractions such as the Super Bowl, the Final Four and other major events to Minneapolis."

We've been through this before--recently, as a matter of fact. Any stadium built in Minneapolis will get exactly one Super Bowl, like the Metrodome before it. Hartman can overlook the obvious as much as he wants, but the NFL likes hosting the Super Bowl in cities that don't require a tourist to back an extra bag just for their parkas. Minneapolis in February (this strangely warm year notwithstanding) is not a desirable location when compared to Miami, Los Angeles, or New Orleans. New stadiums get paid off with a Super Bowl, but are never heard from again. While the Super Bowl hasn't been in the Metrodome since 1992, it did serve as a host for a Regional of March Madness as recently as 2009, so let's pump our brakes a bit on how terrible the Metrodome is (though, to be fair, it is pretty terrible). I'm unsure as to what Sid means when he says, "other major events". It is helpful to his point that he doesn't list them, because I'm reading some of what the Metrodome has hosted, and it is clear that the TCF Stadium or Target Field would work for most of the top-flight concerts and local high school championships. Are we really worried that the Promise Keepers (they are still a thing?) or Monster Jam will demand better digs than the Metrodome?

Sid:  "While Indianapolis and Dallas have built new stadiums and Los Angeles is getting ready to do the same, this group of council members have done nothing to assure the city that the Vikings will remain here."

Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis cost $200 million dollars LESS than the proposed Vikings stadium, and has a retractable roof. Just sayin'. Again, Los Angeles is getting ready to build a new stadium in much the same way that Newt Gingrich is running for President. It's out there, but the amount of coverage is no way connected to the likelihood of it happening. Sports writers in Minneapolis who treat the threat of new LA Football stadiums are either not paying attention or they are lying (or in Sid's case--both lying and not paying attention.)

Sid: "Yes, when the Vikings move, the members of the Legislature and the City Council eventually will build a stadium at a much larger cost many years down the road, just as they did in Baltimore when the Colts moved to Indianapolis and just as they did in Cleveland when the Browns moved to Baltimore."

On this point, Sid seemingly has a point...stadiums do seem to keep going up in cost, even in inflation-adjusted dollars. But I wonder if there isn't a point when the NFL owners come to their senses and realize they could make great money with a relatively intimate, cheap stadium. The NFL makes it's money from the television, and everyone seems to know that except NFL owners. The Vikings could play in a 20,000 seat stadium, and they'd probably do better than break even. Do they know that? How much of this stadium fetish is about Keeping Up With The [Jerry] Joneses?

It should also be noted that Sid's most recent example of a team leaving a city is from...15 years ago. And his second most recent example is from 28 years ago. Irsay and Modell may still be hated in Baltimore and Cleveland (respectively) but the fact is, the NFL isn't the NHL, and they've put a lid on all this moving about.

Sid: "Rest assured, some fans will save a copy of that newspaper as a reminder of a group that has done exactly nothing to help promote sports in this city."

Nothing? So this thing only exists in my fevered dreams?

And finally, my favorite Sid quote, because it might just be the perfect encapsulation of the Twin Cities Sports Writer ethos--arrogant, self-assured, without a even a hint of actual facts***.."I assure you that if they are responsible for the Vikings' departure, re-election might be tougher. The members of the council talked about all the e-mails they get encouraging a vote against the stadium. Remember, people in favor of a stadium don't e-mail; it's only the people against one who do."

Wait, what?

There are facts that one can casually assert because they are obviously true, like "The sky is blue." or "Neil Young is a genius songwriter."  There are facts that one can assert that are true, despite some crackpot on the sideline arguing with you--like, "yes, we really did land on the moon", or "President Obama is NOT a secret Muslim." And then there are facts that are just facts because you assert loudly said facts in your newspaper column, and right at the top of the list of "facts" like that is, "Remember, people in favor of a stadium don't e-mail; it's only the people against one who do."

Good Lord, Sid Hartman--are you arguing that a lack of public outcry for a stadium is, in and of itself, an argument for a public outcry for a stadium? That's brilliantly stupid. Kudos, you crazy, lazy old man!

*I'd really like "Who's the sadomasochist now, Debby?" to make it onto a national TV broadcast, so I can claim a catchphrase that made it into the national consciousness.

**Hipster Carl Sagan takes on a similar discussion here.

***It reminds me of that Stupid Fat Fuck, Tom Powers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old School Thursday: Dr. Octagon

It is a sign of my aging process that I can now call something from 1996 "old school". (Clearly, in the strict hip-hop definition, it isn't truly "Old School", but Christ--Dr. Octagonecologyst is an album is old enough to drive this year.)

One of the oddest hip-hop singles that I can think of, "Earth People". Please enjoy.  Rapping by Kool Keith, production by Dan the Automator and scratching by DJ Q-Bert.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sid Hartman, Making Sense (Not Really!)

It has been awhile since I've written a blog post specifically targeting one of our local Star Tribune columnists. The only excuse I can offer is that the Star Trib experimented with a Pay to Read structure for some of their most "in-demand" columnists, which of course meant that no one read them (aside from the tech-averse who thought getting a paper stuffed to the gills with AP articles was worth having delivered to their doorstep). But that experiment has died, and we can all read all of the Star Tribbers in all of the glory.

And today, I'd like to focus on Sid Hartman, the hardliest-working columnist in the Twin Cities. Believe me, it was a tough choice. After all, Patrick Reusse wrote this defense of urban teachers in the Twin Cities:

 "We have received an enormous influx of poor and tired and tempest-tossed people from cities that have decayed, and from other lands...And as Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers and administrators have done their darndest to educate these often disadvantaged pupils, they have seen their efforts bad-mouthed by legislators from school districts with newer buildings and better equipment and with one-10th of the problems in a week that a Twin Cities teacher can face on a daily basis."

It's a wonderful sentiment, except that Reusse is using that as a jumping off point to argue that anyone against $700,000,000 of public money on a new Vikings stadium is an idiot. Seriously. Just guessing, here, Pat, but if you polled those teachers, they would say, "Hey, if you are going to raise $700 million dollars, how about you spend it on the education system you are lauding? (you fucking dummy)." Just to be clear, I'm not calling Patrick Reusse a fucking dummy--that was just my imagining of what 95% of all teachers in the Twin Cities would say. Those teachers would also probably point out that an investment in education has been proven, by serious economists, to be an actual investment--every dollar put into improving education leads to about ten dollars in revenue for the state. Stadiums? Not so much. Just sayin'.  Not that Reusse couldn't dig up a Gym Teacher or two who support the new stadium. He didn't bother to, of course (that would require "work", something the sports columnists of the Twin Cities papers have heard rumors of, and this "work", you speak of? It gives them the willies.)

And that's as good as any segue into Sid Hartman's latest inanity. Let's do it!

I won't bother with Sid's opening paragraph, in which he argues that a new Vikings stadium would host exactly the same number of Vikings games that the Metrodome hosts (though it does take some special chutzpah to make that a selling point.)

There's a metric ton of idiocy in Hartman's column, so let's just take the prospect of the Super Bowl argument for now. Sid says, "[One] showcase event that could come here with a new covered stadium would be the Super Bowl, which was at Indianapolis this year, at Cowboys Stadium last year, at Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium at 2008 and at Detroit's Ford Field in 2006. The Giants and Jets' new MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is getting the Super Bowl in 2014, even though it is an open-air stadium."

All true. And if the Vikings got a brand new, Billion Dollar Stadium, the Super Bowl would undoubtedly come here. Once. Exactly Once. That's how the NFL backs up its owners, by essentially guaranteeing that if  an ownership can get one over on their populace, the NFL will reward it with a Super Bowl. But let's be clear, the Vikings could spend $10 Billion on the new stadium, and have it outfitted with tiny cameras that flew across the field on solar powered wings and rendered every image in perfect, hi-definition 3D graphics, and the new Vikings Stadium would still get exactly One (1) Super Bowl. You know why? The Super Bowl is in February, and that brand new Vikings Stadium would still be located in Minnesota. So Sid's inventory of future and recent Super Bowl's is that perfect kind of fact--it is true, but it isn't illuminating. Dallas and Arizona will host again, to be sure. Indianapolis' current stadium will not host another Super Bowl. I guarantee it. Neither will Detroit. I'll be shocked if Metlife Stadium gets another one after what I assume will be a debacle (by NFL Super Bowl Standards) in 2014--wind! Maybe snow!

You know how I know all of these things? I've looked at the damn history of the Super Bowl--Miami and New Orleans, between them have hosted 19 Super Bowls. (That does not include the four held in Tampa Bay, by the by. Or the seven in Los Angeles...between Miami, New Orleans, Tampa and LA, we are talking about 31 of the 47 Super Bowls played). Everything about Super Bowl distribution screams "Nice Place To Go In Winter, Unless We've Got a Debt to Pay". Which is fine, but Minnesota Vikings fans should know, without a doubt, that it doesn't matter how awesome their new stadium is...they are getting one Super Bowl. And given the state of their team, it won't be the Vikings playing there come February of whatever year. Because the Vikings are terrible, you see.

There's some dirty pool going on in the NFL with this--yes, if you build a new stadium, you will get a Super Bowl, almost certainly (especially if it has a roof, regardless of how temperate it is). But let's not kid ourselves, the Super Bowl sells itself on tourist destinations, for the most part. If the NFL doesn't have a new stadium to reward, it will always go with tourist-friendly, warm in February locales. But you could have one Super Bowl, at least, as opposed to zero, whispers Roger Goodell in your ear. And if you happen to be in a Southern City, with a stadium younger than Lindsey Lohan, like Atlanta, you'll be told, "Yes, you are a perfect city, in a southern locale, that can generate some idle tourist dollars, but Gosh, with all of these new stadiums popping up, suddenly, your venue looks old and busted, like Lindsey Lohan." I explained all of this in my excellent post, "The Super Bowl as Economic Weapon", which apparently Sid Hartman never read. Someone should teach him how to operate a computing machine.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ricky Rubio Is Big in Japan (or maybe China)

thanks to the TimberTrolls, I've learned that Ricky Rubio is Big in Japan (or maybe China)

Oh, David Brooks Is Writing About Jeremy Lin Now

Let me just admit one thing off the bat--I was tired of "Linsanity" almost from the moment I heard of it. I'm sure Jeremy Lin is a wonderful, wonderful human being, but Christ, I think five hours of coverage on ESPN is way too much for just about anyone, let alone a guy who is more than likely just riding a hot streak, who just happens to play in New York City, and had the benefit of some bad competition. (and hey, I know everyone flipped their lids when the Knicks beat the Lakers, but, c'mon--the Lakers have lost to Denver, Portland and Milwaukee, and were coming off a ridiculously tough (overtime!) game in Boston the night before--a night the Knicks had off).

(I write this just as I've discovered that the Knicks lost to the Hornets tonight, with Lin's nine turnovers part of the headline)

Why wouldn't you trust this man  to know basketball?
But as much as I don't enjoy every discussion point on ESPN's First Take being about Jeremy Lin (and I really don't enjoy that), I really, really don't like it when guys like David Brooks weigh in on the cultural impact of guys like Jeremy Lin. I don't like it when George Will masturbates all over his memories of baseball, I didn't like it when every cultural commentator felt the need to weigh in on Tim Tebow, and boy, Jesus Pooped on the Cross**, do I not care for David Brooks' take on Jeremy Lin.

I'm not alone--go ahead and take a look at the all the folks who are mocking the column I'm about to delve into. I'm not treading new ground (but I've done my best not to read anyone else's take, for the sheer fun of pretending every mocking point I'm about to make is brand new).

Let's begin at the beginning, because Brooks goes off the rails quicker than a county fair roller coaster. Brooks' thesis is this:  "Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports."

Hey, that first point is accurate. Not very many Harvard grads have been in the NBA, and at least according to DatabaseBasketball, it's been awhile. But hey, it takes some very careful parsing to make his ethnicity an issue. You can't just say "Asian", of course, because there are Asians playing professional sports all over the goddamn place. Japanese Baseball players, for example. There have probably been more Chinese players in the NBA than Chinese-Americans, so Brooks is careful to make sure he says "Asian-American". Of course, poor Mark Chung and Brian Ching are all like, "Ummm...we aren't that rare." Also, Hines Ward! Also, Johnnie Morton! Also, Haloti Ngata! Also, Tiger "I'm Attempting to Make As Many Asian-American Athletes as I can" Woods!

But I'm burying the lede. Let's get to that sentence--according to Brooks (who knows these things) religious people in professional sports is rare. WHAT? But he quickly explains that yes, he is aware of the religious-driven player (there's our Tim Tebow reference!)

But, says Brooks, "The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy."

First of all, thank goodness we aren't including all of those crazy Buddhist and Shinto and Taoist and Hindu cricket, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, soccer players (not to mention Ninja Warriors), because goodness, this could get confusing quickly! Atheists? Fuck them!

Secondly, the moral universe of modern sport? Was ancient sport just about getting trophies for participation? Sport, since the time of the Greeks, has been about victory and supremacy. That's what sport is, practically by definition. Ancient Greek wrestling usually ended with someone dead or severely broken. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) the Native American lacrosse players who originated the game "took the role of warriors, with the goal of bringing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes. The game was said to be played 'for the Creator' or was referred to as 'The Creator's Game'". So yeah--that's always been there, David.

The big conflict that Brooks sees is that a professional athlete is setting out for glory for himself, for his team, and isn't being humble to God. Jeremy Lin sees that conflict, apparently. Brooks quotes Lin in an interview from two years ago, when Lin wasn't the Knick of The Month: "I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?"

Now, I read that quote and think, "What? That's such a ridiculous concern. Who imagines that God gives a shit about how you conduct yourself on a basketball court? He gets to watch quarks dance and black holes eat entire galaxies--he's going to concern himself with how you play basketball?" But Brooks sees that inherently self-aggrandizing quote as a proof of humility.

Let's quote Brooks one more time: "You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you... For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.)"
Nice digs, leader of the humble religion.

It is telling that Brooks' example of humility leading to the loftiness of spirit comes from a book that's a couple of thousand years old.* Christianity hasn't been about actual humility since what? 200 CE? Has David Brooks seen where the Pope lives?

Has David Brooks wandered into his church in midtown Manhattan and wondered how they paid for all that nice stuff they have?

Christianity being about humbling one's self to God works for the suckers, but it isn't at all what the leaders of the Church are about. Hence, not so many leaders of any denomination are former shepherds or former cannery workers or former auto mechanics or former window washers or former window mechanics on car assembly lines. Brooks does a great job of picking and choosing his aspects of Christianity in this column (as all Christians do in their day to day life. Imagine a country full of people who actually turned the other cheek and supported caring for the least fortunate among us! Obama would be considered Conservative in that world).

If I were running the sports/religion beat, I'd make every story end with Matthew 6:5, (the second Oldest Gospel, after Mark) "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."

David Brooks could have done himself some good by remembering that quote. Or by acquainting himself with sports. Either/Or.

*shepherds "perpetually becoming kings in the Bible"? I think it happens once, with David. Sure, there are Judges who rise from the populace, but Kings? Not so much, I don't think. Brooks is full of poo.

**I'm going to make "Jesus Pooped on the Cross" happen. You watch.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Second Wave Serbian Hip-Hop Saturday

Because everyone now loves Wolves center Nikola Pekovich, tonight's Wolves telecast on FSN featured a mini-bio on Pekovich.

Some of the info was safe to assume--his favorite basketball player is Vlade Divac; he enjoys fishing (as legally required of anyone living in Minnesota). But here's the fun fact that I learned: Pekovich's favorite music is by the 11-person second-wave Serbian hip-hop collective Beogradski Sindikat. Now, just in case you find yourself on a plane sitting next to Nikola, you'll now be able to talk about Beogradski Sindikat. Here you go. You are welcome.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Is John Terry Worth It? (answer: Nope!)

alternative title: John Terry is a Fookin' Cancer.

Maybe you've seen the news--Fabio Capello, arguably the best manager England has had in quite awhile, is out.

Apologies if some of this old news to some of you. Some of it is rather old news. But the background is worth it.

Two years ago, in the lead up to England's rather unimpressive 2010 World Cup run, a story broke that totally shattered John Terry's already pretty sketchy reputation among people in the know. In late January, with rumors flying, and carefully worded reports being written, John Terry lost a legal battle (he was using the Human Rights Act to shield himself from harmful reporting, which is more ridiculous than it sounds) and the stories started flying:  womanizing, drinking, gambling, and long-forgotten incidents came back to the fore.

(My favorite? "In 2001, Terry and three team-mates were fined two weeks’ wages in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when the players were accused of drunkenly mocking American tourists at Heathrow." Think about that shit for a second. The immediate aftermath.)  But pick your own--here's The Mirror's Top 10 Scandals.

Terry's whispered personal issues became a public AND team issue when it was revealed that he had slept with potential England teammate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. All reports called her Bridge's "ex-girlfriend", but it wasn't entirely clear that Wayne Bridge knew that until he found she had slept with John Terry (married father of two at the time).

On February 5th, 2010 there was some hope that the gulf between the two could be resolved when then (and until today, current) coach Fabio Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy he had given him two years previous. The captain title means a lot at the top levels of soccer (you tell by the heated editorials about the incident), and it was hoped that this punishment would be enough to bring back Wayne Bridge. That turned out to not be the case.

On February 25th, Wayne Bridge, at that point the only healthy, national quality left back the England side had planned to take to South Africa announced he would not play for England. And he made his reason quite clear: "I have thought long and hard about my position in the England football team in the light of the reporting and events over the last few weeks. It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive. Sadly therefore, I feel for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection."

Later that week, Bridge made his point a bit more emphatically:

And so, England wandered to South Africa, with Ashley Cole at left back (coming off a broken ankle) and one could assume, not the best locker room. Had it not been for France's total implosion, the England situation might have been the most talked about during that World Cup. And let's not forget--England tied the USA on a horrible mistake from England's keeper, drew scoreless against Algeria, beat Slovenia in an unimpressive 1-0, only to get Germany in the next round to get absolutely thumped 4-1 (and it wasn't as close as that lopsided score suggests). In four games, England scored three goals, and gave up five.

Fast-forward to March, 2011. Fabio Capello, looking over his roster, decided that the best man for the Captaincy was still John Terry, and gave it back to him. Said Capello at the time, "Sometimes the leader can make mistakes - not only him but I, you, all the people. It is not a risk making Terry captain again. He understood the mistake and he learnt from his mistakes." [emphasis mine]  And hey, let's be clear--we all make mistakes, sure. But Christ, John Terry has made enough mistakes for two or three of my lifetimes. I'll go to my grave comfortable that I never slept with a best friend's girlfriend, or mocked people in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (or any other tragedy, for that matter!)

A lot of old-school English players popped off about how Terry should have never had to give up the armband in the first place, because, well, you know--his personal life is his personal life. As long as he's great on the pitch, who cares if is he driving people off the team with his philandering, his drunken gambling, and his mocking of 9/11 on the day of the event? He's good people, on the pitch! No way that other shit bleeds over on to the playing surface. Said former English Goalkeeper Peter Shilton, "I'm not condoning what John Terry's done on certain occasions but he hasn't broken any laws and I think maybe the manager should have kept continuity in the first place."

So as long as John Terry didn't break any laws, according to Peter Shilton, he was worthy of being the first representative of the English National Football team. That seems a little of a low bar to me, but what do I know?

Allegedly, it was a low enough bar for John Terry to trip over, however. In October of 2011, John Terry's massive favorites Chelsea were playing against (and losing to) the Queen's Park Rangers (QPR to fans and foes alike) and it sure does seem that a camera catches John Terry yelling at Anton Ferdinand, and maybe calling him a "fucking black cunt". That might be seen as racist, yeah? And there's a law in the books in England about that. Terry's defense as the time was [I paraphrase], "Yes, I yelled those words, but the context was, 'Oi, Anton, I never called you a fucking black cunt.'"

Terry denied it. Anton was silent on the matter, and continues to be. The case is in motion, slowly. But on February 3rd, Anton's brother, Rio Ferdinand, who has played with John Terry a lot whilst wearing the English kit, said this after hearing that the public hearing on the matter had been delayed (by Terry and his Chelsea club) until July 2012, "I feel insulted, woke up with a bad taste in my mouth, it's a god-damn joke!"

On the same day, the English Football Association took the totally reasonable move of removing the captain's armband from John Terry's arm. And hell broke lose all over again. "Innocent until proven guilty" as a phrase is a pretty simple one, but one that has been misused an awful lot in the wake of that decision.

Let's be clear here, England and various English writers--losing a Captain band is not convicting anyone of a crime. John Terry is not a man done wrong. He's a very good central defender whose literally dozens of actions that range from embarrassing to shocking should have been enough to remove the band (and they have been, before). He's been controversial in the past, and I haven't seen a lot of his black teammates flock to his defense. Hell, I don't need to insert race into it--go ahead and Google "Wayne Rooney defends John Terry" and see what you get.

But Fabio Capello did go to the mat for Terry. I suspect that was more about power than anything else, if I had to guess. Capello has, as detailed above, named Terry the captain of his team, stripped him of the title, reinstated and promised that Terry had "learned his lesson.' Imagine Capello's chagrin when his reinstated, rehabilitated captain was stripped of his armband without Capello's imprimatur? Capello spoke to Italian TV after he resigned, and he said this, "“I told [the chairman] that I don’t think someone can be punished until it becomes official...The court will decide. It’s going to be civil justice, not sports justice, to decide if John Terry committed that crime that he is accused of. And I thought it fair that John Terry keeps the captain’s armband.”

What John Terry has been on the pitch is a very, very good central defender. Maybe one of the greats, but not definitely. What he's definitely been off the pitch is an embarrassment, time and time again. The Captaincy of any national team is not some Civil Service job that once you get, you keep forever. England Football Association owes no one an apology. No one has denied John Terry his paycheck. No one has denied his spot on the English National Team, though based on the clubhouse cancer he might have become, no one could deny they would be outside their rights to do so.

Martin Rogers from Yahoo! Sports sums up the wrongheaded general opinion pretty well (just be clear, it is Rogers' opinion, too):  "What [The English Football Association] should have done was to realize a legal process had to be respected and carried on with Terry as captain, a role for which he has the appropriate credentials as a player."

Appropriate Credentials! "Well, he's never been convicted of anything." Good Lord, England. Get your heads out of your asses. Whether or not these charges stick on John Terry, he already blew up your 2010 World Cup team, and is well on his way to blowing up your 2012 Euro Cup team. Get out before he blows up your 2014 World Cup team. Or, you know, just keep making excuses for the most embarrassing man on your team, and keep explaining why he should be Captain. Though for me, drunkenly mocking Americans stuck at Heathrow on 9/11 would be reason enough for him to never wear the band. The captain's band is a privilege, not a right. John Terry thinks it is his by right, and too many folks in the English media are thinking the way John Terry thinks. If John Terry valued the captain's armband, he wouldn't be trying so hard to give it away. Just let him give it away, England.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pick'em Redux

I didn't help matters by posting the Superbowl pick'em so late. I blame the game. Sure, there were some exciting bits and it went down to the wire. But the matchup and headlines and all the hype was just boring as a bucket of yawns.

So now Eli Manningface is a Hall of Fame quarterback? I blame Ginger Goodell. At least we get to laugh at the Golden Boy.
Final Standings
1. Jess: 35 points
2. Big BM: 29 points
3. Adw: 23 points
4. Miwacar: 22 points

Great, Jess won for the hundredth time in a row. I would say "congratulations" but my mouth is full of humble pie. Please crow in the comment section Jess, you've earned it. Again.

I'm looking forward to college basketball. Also, it will soon be time for the DC Skins 2011 Season Review, barfbags recommended. 7 months until more football: the countdown starts today.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Prognosticating Children

It's been a while since we've seen The Prognosticating Tots - and now they've grown into The Prognosticating Children. Here are their predictions for Superbowl XLVI. The decision in unanimous, unless you consider the croc's vote.

Hey, Maybe It is Time To Talk Timberwolves

No better time than Super Bowl Sunday to delve into the particulars of hardly anyone's favorite basketball team, right*? I know you, reader, better than you know yourself, and at some point, possibly during NBC's examination of Tom Brady's chin dimple's magical powers to heal sick baby otters, you thought to yourself, "My God, I'd rather read a homer's take on the Minnesota Timberwolves than listen to this shit." You were being facetious, but all the same, YOU ARE WELCOME. Also, reader, you are correct--you have been masturbating a lot more lately, and it is freaking out your parents/lover/kitties. (am I scaring you with how much I know about you, reader? Don't be scared. It is our secret.) (Did the italics kind of make that creepier? Good.)

If you haven't been here in the Twin Cities, you don't know how desperately bad it has been. I mean, you surely have some idea, if you follow basketball. But you don't really know. You don't remember Ricky Davis being here. You don't remember Nbudi Ebi, or Will Avery, or Marko Jaric. You probably don't remember the brief hope we held that Eddie Griffin was going to turn his life around here. Instead, he jacked off in a car he was driving, and later committed suicide (or maybe he was just super drunk) by driving into a moving train. It felt like an apt metaphor for the team as a whole.

But surely, you've sat on your undeniably nice ass, and have watched some SportsCenter highlights of Ricky Rubio alley-ooping to every guy in a Wolves jersey outside of Luke Ridnour. You know the Wolves are better now. Hell, three games ago, a blogger at suggested that the Wolves might make the playoffs. That's borderline crazy talk, and yeah, that blogger has the dubiously super-white name of Fran Blinebury, but still--it happened.

You, dear reader, might point out statistics like: the Wolves have won more games on the road this season than they did all of last year. Or that they've won 12 games out of 24, compared to the 15 out of 82 last year.

And you are right. Let's get into the whys and wherefores and whos and hows and whats and all that.

Coaching Matters. It is safe to say that everyone who watches basketball knows this. So how did the management team at the Wolves take it for granted for so long? The Wolves have been in the league since 1989, and exactly one coach (Flip Saunders) has taken them to the playoffs. The record under various coaches is staggering--The Timberwolves have had eight coaches who led the team in at least 100 games. If you remove Flip Saunders from that mix, you get a combined record of 255-686, which we can all agree--that's terrible. I defended Kurt Ramis a number of times (more in his first year as a coach than his second year, when the Wolves were barely on TV) and I was wrong on that front. And David Kahn was wrong to hire him in the first place--but Kahn corrected that move, and bringing in Rick Adelman has undeniably been a major factor in the improvement of the Wolves. He's upgraded the offense and defense in pretty surprisingly quick fashion, considering the lack of time to practice every team in the NBA has had to deal with this shortened season. One of the biggest improvements, but one of the least talked about, is their defense, particularly in the fourth quarter. Last year, they were dead last in opponent's field goal percentage in the fourth. Last time I checked, the Wolves were now in the Top 5 in that category. And if a game is close in the fourth quarter, it is a winnable game. Especially with a functioning offense.

Kurt Rambis' triangle, that simply did not fit the players here, is gone (maybe, at some point, we could discuss how the Triangle really works well if you have one of the best shooting guards in a generation, and otherwise? Shrug). There's an undeniable synchronicity here--Rick Adelman brings in a great pick and roll game just as the Wolves are welcoming a devastating pick and roll point guard in...

Ricky Rubio. A lot of the national media assumed that Ricky would never play with the Timberwolves. That the very fact that David Kahn had drafted him had doomed him. That he could never survive a Minnesota winter, and if he did, he'd be so disappointed in his teammates that he'd demand a trade. That seems pretty goddamn unlikely at this early point--Ricky's shooting percentage is total shit (though (somewhat oddly) he is shooting an impressive 44% from the three-point line on the road) but he's had more double digit assist games than any Wolves point guard I can remember since oft-injured Terrell Brandon. Ricky's shooting percentage is terrible, as I said, but when you watch his games, it does feel like he hits the ones that matter. And meanwhile, as you've seen, dear reader and national highlights watcher, his assists are often breath-taking. And he's still all of twenty-one years old. He also boards pretty well (he is 6' 4", which surprises folks) and plays smart defense. He's as good or better as advertised. Something that doesn't get mentioned enough--his intensity and leadership on the floor. I've read multiple local stories about how he takes charge on the floor. Hugely important for a team that has had a distinct dearth of leadership on the floor (to the point where there was some discussion of changing the team name to the Distinct Dearths).

So those are the changes--the rest of the roster is essentially the same (with the obvious exception of rookie Derrick Williams, who happens to play the most log-jammed spot for the Wolves). JJ Barea is also new, and does figure to help out a great deal, but he's barely played, as he is just now getting back from a nagging hamstring injury. Oh, and Brad Miller, too. but he's yet to play 10 minutes in a game.

That's how you take a terrible team and make them a .500 team after 24 games played. But some of those same old issues continue, and need to be addressed before this team can really take the next step.

Who's the 2? A rotating band of guys have been taking turns at that. Most recently, as Rick Adelman has given Ricky more and more minutes at the point, it's been Luke Ridnour. He's had some excellent games--last night's win over the Rockets, for example--where he went 8-14 (4-6 from 3 PT) and scored 22 points.  But he still plays a style I described in his first game as a Timberpup, back in 2010: "started hot, continued shooting when he wasn't particularly hot and then got hot again at the end, and maybe played a little spazzy at times when I was expecting him to slow the game down a bit." He's one of the closest things to a savvy veteran**** the Wolves have right now, and he's still a little spazzy at odd times. The kind of thing that doesn't kill your team, but does make you scratch your head--and he's not really a shooting guard (his height alone makes it problematic). Playing Ridnour and Rubio together has been working, but it definitely feels like it shouldn't. But options are limited--Wayne Ellington must be frustrating the hell out of the coaching staff behind the scenes. He goes from playing 15 minutes and scoring 13 points to being a Coach's Decision (as he was last night). Martell Webster brings amazing defensive intensity, and a pretty sweet mohawk (no matter what some people say) but has been so injury prone that it is hard to sit back confidently and say, "Yes, Martell Webster will play 40 games this season." Martell also makes me nervous because he fits a classic Wolves gambit--"Hey, that dude fucked us up pretty good when he played against us--let's bring him in!" The only problem is a lot of dudes fuck us up pretty good, even now. Please witness Anthony Morrow's 40+ effort from a couple of nights ago (in a losing effort for the Nets). Crazy random fact--Martell Webster's mother was probably killed by the Green River Killer. (I just read a damn good graphic novel about that!) The shooting guard is pretty important to an offensive's efficiency--it has "shooting" right in the job description, after all--and with KLOVE and Rubio drawing so much attention, someone who can make it rain consistently on this team would make them more dangerous by a large factor.

Who's the 3? I mentioned the log-jam when briefly mentioning Derrick Williams. This will probably be his position as he learns how to play it in the NBA, and good lord, look out when that happens, because the kid is just irresponsibly talented, physically speaking. But he may never be a small forward--his one on one defense at that spot has looked iffy at times this year. There's also Wes Johnson, whose step backwards this year is a conundrum to be sure. A guy who joined Stephon Marbury as the only Wolves rookies to hit 100 3-Pointers, he looks a little unsure as to his role. He went 2-6 last night, and one of those was a perfectly executed alley-oop from Ricky Rubio (who, Jesus Pooped On The Cross!**, loves to throw those things). Wes has had good games--he tied a Wolves record for perfect shooting early this season by going 6-6, and those were from all over the floor. Speaking of inconsistency, let's talk about maybe the most talented player on the Wolves--Michael Beasley.

I say, "let's talk", but I really don't know what to say about Beasley. There are games, when he is focused and engaged, where he seems like the second-coming of Kobe Bryant (but without the allegations of rape--Beasley's far too mellow for that shit). Slashing drives into the lane, hitting floaters, stepping back and popping and drawing fouls like no one's business. When the Wolves beat Houston in late January, Beasley was unstoppable--10 of 14 from the field, 12 of 12 from the stripe. A week later, against the same team, he was 3-9 and had a +/- of -7 (team worst).  I don't mean to suggest that there are games when Beasley isn't engaged--I think he is either engaged or TOO ENGAGED. He gets a little too wrapped up in what he is doing, and gets away from the team a bit. What I'd really like to see from Beasley is for his assist numbers go up a little--he can shake guys as well as anyone, but too often he just runs into traffic for no good reason, and makes a tough shot tougher. I have a feeling that if any of these guys really brought defensive intensity to their role, they would jump to the top of the list. It is telling, as of last night, that it's the one spot on the floor where no one can carve out 25 minutes of time. Rubio, Ridnour and KLOVE (the 1, 2 and 4) all went over 30 minutes--Johnson, Williams and Beasley all played under 20 minutes, and Webster probably logged some minutes officially at the 3 as well.

[Intermission]--I've been wondering when KLOVE was going to get sick of the lack of calls he's not getting, and it may have happened tonight, but it is hard for me to know for sure whether he intentionally STEPPED ON LUIS SCOLA's FACE. Take a look for yourself. And do remember that Scola did happen to throw a ball right into KLOVE's KLOVESACK*** just a week ago (whilst trying to save a ball from out of bounds.) Said Kevin, after the game, "He was right there, it happened to be his face just like in Houston where it happened to be my groin.” Hmm.

Who's the 5?  We are getting some clarity here, and it is looking more and more like Nikola Pekovich (who I have fucking loved since Day 1) is getting his chance. After his first game in 2010, I wrote, if I may quote myself here, "He'll take some time adjusting to what is and isn't a foul in the NBA...but he'll get there. And when he does, he'll probably start stealing minutes from Darko Milicic." Now, to be fair, I was excited by Pekovic because of his tattoo featuring a warrior standing on a pile of skulls, and his Ivan Drago/Schwarzenegger quotes (like: "This is the only time I want to come [to the NBA], some time when I am man and all this.")

The Wolves signed Darko Milicic to a deal, that was kind of derided by folks until they realized that it wasn't that much money, NBA wise, and that given the dearth of big men in the league, it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Darko's had a rough start to the year, with injuries and illness, and Pekovic has stepped into that void, and provided some stability to a position on the Wolves roster that is really about converting close in and being ready for both crazy passes and rebounds. Pekovic seems to get that part of the game extremely well. He's highly efficient around the basket, a monster on the boards (and maybe just a monster in general. Have you seen him?). He's also a much better free-throw shooter than Darko--75% compared to to 58% (career). Mike Fratello opined on the NBA Network that the Wolves were paying Darko an awful lot of money to be the second string, but Darko is being paid almost exactly $100,000 more than Pekovic, and they are both below $5 million this year, so that seems like a really, really silly argument, put forth by someone who has just glancing knowledge of the situation. (No offense, Mike!).

So, no big deal, right? Just need to confirm our center, figure out the small forward and find a shooting guard who isn't a point guard. No problem at all. But for now, and I'm sure I speak for all fans of the Wolves, and fans of the NBA in general--we're quite alright with a super-young, exciting, and competent Wolves team.

*my favorite team, though. I've divided my life, at almost 50/50 between DC and St. Paul. But it is really easy to close the book on the Wizards, and has been, since, what, 1996? I barely cared when they got John Wall. And it looks like that was a good reaction, mental health wise. Just sayin'. The Wizards are fucking terrible, and  as a Wolves fan, we've seen what happens when you replace Flip Saunders with Randy Wittman. It worked out GREAT! That's why Randy Wittman is still here, and hasn't been fired by every franchise that has ever hired him.

**yes, I'm trying to make that a phrase that people use. "Jesus Pooped On the Cross, what a fucking game!" and so on.

***that's what people are calling Kevin Love's balls now. Trust me, I'm a blogger.

****It annoys me more than it should that the Google Search of "Trent Tucker Savvy Veteran" doesn't come up with a video of Trent Tucker saying, "SAH-vee VET-TER-ran"

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Josh Hamilton, The Dali Lama, Media and Addiction

Brief summary on the news of today: Josh Hamilton was seen drinking. How much? No one seems to be saying. No one has even said he drank to excess. However, according to Gerry Fraley of Dallas News, Ian Kinsler showed up at the bar to try to get Hamilton to go home. But still, for all we know, Josh Hamilton had two beers, and cornered a couple of people to talk about how great his Fantasy Football team was this past year. "Gronkowski in the 6th Round! Can you believe he fell to me?" Crap like that. That's what I'd be doing if I found myself at Sherlock's Pub and Grill in Dallas on a Monday.

Who knows what Hamilton was doing? No one! (well--people know, but they are running silent at the moment)

Brief summary of why I may come off as a dick on this whole Josh Hamilton thing--his absolute lack of science and sense. Alcohol/drug abuse, and the inability to rein that it in? That's biochemical. Some people can do it, some people can't. It is genetic. Native Americans aren't particularly affected by alcohol because they believe in Wakan Taka instead of Jesus Christ--it was genetic (at least to start. Seeing one's entire culture destroyed can also lead to binge drinking, to be sure).

So yeah, people who expect a belief in Jesus to see them through what is, fundamentally, a brain chemistry problem annoy me. Especially when they blame their backslides, as Hamilton has, on 'the devil' or 'a crisis of faith'. Hey man, not every Buddhist and atheist is a raging drug addict. The Dali Lama doesn't believe in your Jesus, and he's yet to be photographed sucking on skanky bar chicks in bars.

But that's actually not my main point. There's a very simple article of addiction. You are sober for as long as you are sober, and no longer. Every recovering addict in the world understands that concept. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but there's this LA Times blog entry that has bothered me ever since I read it, some ten minutes ago.

That blog entry reads just fine, unless you jam a couple of sentences together. And it is these two sentences: "Hamilton, a four-time All-Star and the American League most valuable player in 2010, has been sober since October of 2005...The only other time Hamilton broke his sobriety was in 2009 when he said he questioned his Christian faith and it led to a night of drinking at a bar in Tempe, Ariz." [emphasis mine]

So, LA Times, and everybody else who is framing it this way--Josh Hamilton has not been sober since 2005. He's been sober since 2009. "Crisis of Faith" is not a reason, it's an excuse. It is a piss-poor excuse, at that.

And you know what? Let's be more specific than that--the last time Josh Hamilton PUBLICLY broke his sobriety was 2009. Let's not presume he's been sober the entire time, because we really don't know, do we? We know that he went to a bar in 2009, and we know he went to a bar this past Monday. We know that those were the two times that he broke his sobriety in a very public way. Is there any reason to assume that the hundreds of days in between were filled with baseball, puzzles, and pettin' kitties? We don't know. We have Hamilton's word, and the fact he passed drug tests (which, let's face it, are hardly a be-all, end-all determination of sobriety).

Now, I'm not suggesting that the media should assume Hamilton has maybe been battling (or embracing) his demons behind closed doors. But maybe, let's not assume that the two times he's been caught boozing are the only two times it has happened. Addicts are a pain in the ass that way.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, for example, is almost suspiciously sympathetic:  "And as he is so good at doing, Hamilton will placate the sadness that permeates his fan base today through words of encouragement and strength and hosannas to how through God’s help and his family’s love he’ll persevere and win this lifelong battle. That’s all addicts can offer. There will be those who call them hypocritical or weak-minded or full of excuses. Such ignorance never ceases. Sobriety for those who struggle the most is merely a moment between relapses – hopefully a moment longer than the last, one that eventually lasts forever."

And again--horsepucky. That's not all addicts can offer. They can offer an educated understanding of what is happening to them when they drink or drug up. They don't have to rely on strength and hosannas or (motherfucker, please) God's help.

I welcome this kind of sympathy for all of the drug addicts in the country who aren't millionaires. But let's be clear--a man who blames his tattoos, his drug problem, and his public relapses on some ancient battle between The Devil and Jesus IS being weak-minded and making excuses.

There are addicts far more worthy of our support than Josh Hamilton. And a lot of them are in jail right now.  How about you write moving apologia for those guys, Sports Media? Hey, Jeff Passan, want to write a moving column about Minnesota Indians in jail? OF COURSE YOU DON'T.

Old School Hip Hop: Snoop w/ Dre

In honor of Josh Hamilton. That's not cruel, right?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

IDYFT Superbowl Pick'em: oh, them again

We were hoping for a different, better, more interesting Superbowl matchup. Either fanbase is incredibly annoying already. I dread having to hear the crowing of the winners and the whining of the losers. Fans of both the Hatriots and the Vagiants crow and whine too much already.

However, it is the last game of football for seven months. It ought to be a good game. Then we can head into the offseason knowing that labor unrest won't jerk us around and our football magazines will come out on time.

This IDYFT Pick'em will hopefully ameliorate the mixed feelings you may be experiencing, faced with a leftover Superbowl rematch.

1. Big BM: 24 points
2. Miwacar: 22 points
Adw: 22 points
3. Jess: 17 points
4. MuMuMan: 10 points

Get ready, here comes the big money winner-take-all Superbowl Pick'em!
1. New York Giants versus New England Patriots (+7)
2. NY Giants score? (closest +3, +5 exact)
3. NE Patriots score? (closest +3, +5 exact)
4. MVP? (+4)

Bonus Questions
5. Which team has more rushing yards? +1
6. Which team has more passing yards? +1
7. Which team commits more turnovers? +1
8. Which team has more penalties? +1

Special Questions
9. Which team scores more special teams points (XP, FG, return TD)? +2
10. Who will win the coin toss and will it be heads or tails, nah just turnin yer crank.

Good luck! You could win a t-shirt!
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