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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Play Ball

Let's hope these turn out a little better than either my Oscar picks or *shudder* my March Madness picks.

American League:

AL East
NY Yankees - 99 wins
With the deepest pitching staff by far (I wonder if Jose Contreras regrets passing up Boston, Miami, and the Mets for the Yankees, where he may be stuck in relief) and the best offense in the AL, the Yankees should be good enough for another predictable division title, particularly if LF Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui is worthy of the hype. Defense is an Achilles’ heel, particularly up the middle (Jeter is overrated with the glove, Soriano is terrible, and Bernie’s arm is too weak for CF) The bullpen, heretofore the biggest difference-maker between them and the Red Sox, opens the season injury-plagued. Which could open things up for…

Boston Red Sox - 97 wins (Wild Card)
On the other hand, this might be the best offense in the AL if things break right.
1B and DH, sink holes in the lineup last year, have been plugged, and every other position figures to at worst stay the same, as Nomar and Trot Nixon had off years. The danger would lie in the rotation - an injury to Pedro Martinez, a decline by Derek Lowe, and an inability of the other starters to pick up the considerable slack, which could drop the Sox in the direction of Toronto. The bullpen should be much improved from last season, though infield defense drops a bit in going from Rey Sanchez and Tony Clark to Todd Walker and Jeremy Giambi. Combined with declines by Seattle and Anaheim, and the continued privilege of playing the Rays and O’s, these improvements should net them the AL Wild Card if they fail to unseat the Yankees.

Toronto Blue Jays - 86 wins
Their offense is coming together nicely, with Eric Hinske, Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, and the rest, and might end up being almost as good as that of the two teams above. Unfortunately, neither side of the pitching staff is anywhere near ready for prime time, Roy Halladay notwithstanding. In the AL Central, they’d be contenders.

Baltimore Orioles - 64 wins
They’re spinning their wheels in Charm City. Some of the O’s pitchers (Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson, Jorge Julio, Buddy Groom) might be worth having, but there’s very little in this lineup that scares anyone. Even worse, the farm system is weak, particularly for position players. Their late 2002 collapse is a sign of something, but they’re still in better shape than the Devil Rays.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 59 wins
How bad are the Devil Rays? This prediction is an improvement of four games over last year. Their offense is virtually a real life HACKING MASS team, and the pitching isn’t much better. Lou Piniella is going to have a long year. One of these days, Tampa Bay will get a Major League franchise.

AL Central:
Chicago White Sox – 88 wins
They say young pitchers will break your heart. Undaunted, I’m picking the ChiSox to take a weak AL Central. I like this lineup, led by Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko, and this bullpen to help bolster a somewhat suspect rotation.

Minnesota Twins – 87 wins
The Contraction Kids, everyone’s favorite team, in a sense. I see a decline for them mostly attributed to not being sold on this offense. They have talent in the outfield, but it’s tough to use them all effectively, and I’m skeptical about just how many runs this lineup can score. The starting pitching looks good, but the relief pitching can only get worse. I also envision the White Sox being much more willing to make moves to put them over the top than Carl Pohlad and the Twins management.

Cleveland Indians – 74 wins
I think last year was the bottom for the Tribe, but it could be this year, since Jim Thome is gone. I think the offense will be a lot better than some people expect, with Travis Hafner and Brandon Phillips. Not that it matters much, since .500 is about a best-case scenario for this bunch. Worst-case? They lose their grip on third place to…

Kansas City Royals – 67 wins
Two offensive stars (Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran) and possibly a boost from some talented young pitchers. It’s not much, but trimming dead wood like Neifi Perez and Chuck Knoblauch should be enough to improve their record a few games from last year.

Detroit Tigers – 62 wins
They have an offensive that might well be even worse (though they moved the fences in, which should help) than last years’ anemic bunch, and an unproven pitching staff with no real anchor. So why have I projected them to improve seven games? The law of averages, mostly, but also Carlos Pena, and new closer Franklyn German. It won’t be enough to get them out of the cellar, but in the AL Central, it might not take long to turn the corner.

AL West:
Oakland Athletics – 97 wins
Obviously, they have the strongest 1-2-3 in the majors with Zito, Hudson, and Mulder, and a fine pen to go with it. So I’ve picked another AL West crown for the A’s, but I’m somewhat concerned about the offense – few teams would envy an outfield of Terrence Long, Chris Singleton, and Jermaine Dye. They will be strong defensively, but a bad year by either Eric Chavez or Miguel Tejada could doom them.

Anaheim Angels – 88 wins
The feel-good hit of last year, reality may set in a little bit as their offense in particular seemed to have overachieved substantially, despite few obvious “career years” by anyone. Sabermetrics tells us all about the importance of power and plate discipline – can a team as limited as Anaheim in both these categories continue to be productive? Can their bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez notwithstanding, perform at that level again? Can the Angels win anywhere near as many games in a tough AL West? Color me skeptical. But teams that come out of nowhere as frequently go back there as they do stick around. 88 wins could put them in Wild Card contention if the Red Sox sputter, and in AL West contention should Oakland’s lineup drag them back into 90-win territory.

Seattle Mariners – 84 wins
I think the Mariners are in trouble. There’s not much power in this lineup (albeit that is exaggerated a bit by Safeco Field) and many of the key offensive performers (John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone) are on the wrong side of 30. They should have speed and defense on their side, but the bullpen, which has been a strength for the M’s, is aging as well. Freddy Garcia holds the key – the M’s can’t afford any further decline by their staff ace, due to the shakiness at the bottom of the rotation.

Texas Rangers – 79 wins
Despite the loss of Ivan Rodriguez, the offense still has its stars, with A-Rod, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez. They’ve improved in the bullpen as well, but the brutal starting rotation will still be among the worst in baseball, and that’ll be enough to consign them to the cellar in a tough AL West. The good news is that 79 wins would be an improvement, and they’re really only a couple starters from being competitive.

National League:
NL East
Philadelphia Phillies – 89 wins
I pick the Phils to end the Braves’ long run of AL East titles, but it will be close. Philly’s rotation, anchored by Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Randy Wolf, looks strong. Jim Thome may prove just the boost the Phils offense needs to take the next step, joining Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and speedy Jimmy Rollins. If they can’t take the Braves out, the Wild Card also remains a possibility.

Atlanta Braves – 86 wins
The Braves will not go quietly. They’ve still got Greg Maddux, and they’ve added Paul Byrd, Russ Ortiz, and Mike Hampton might work out. The infield seems weak offensively, but they still Jones, Jones, and Sheffield in the outfield. John Smoltz is an asset wherever they stick him, and they always seem to find a way to have an excellent pen. A good season would not only keep them in AL East contention, but would make them a possible Wild Card team as well.

New York Mets – 83 wins
Last year, nearly everything that could go wrong went wrong. Perhaps this is the year things turn around for this aging veteran squad. They have added valuable parts in Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine. The offense almost has to better than last year’s, and a Glavine/Leiter/Astacio/Trachsel rotation could pan out, with Armando Benitez in the pen. They’re certainly good enough to push their way into contention in a division with no obvious powerhouse.

Montreal Expos - 80 wins
The Expos, believe it or not, are a possible contender as well, although it’s hard to imagine them contending in fact since they’re far more likely to be a net seller than a new buyer in the annual stretch-drive bazaar. I’m of the opinion the Puerto Rico factor will help them more than hurt them, especially with their many Latin players. Vlad Guerrero is a force, and he has some support, with Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, and Brad Wilkerson. Javier Vazquez will anchor the rotation. The relief will be weak, and of course, no help is forthcoming, so fourth place is the likeliest outcome.

Florida Marlins – 71 wins
Though they have some promising pitching, their offense is almost guaranteed to stink worse than dead fish. There will be lots of running but not a heck of a lot of hitting – we have the potential for historically significant levels of badness. The pitching – both starting and relief - will prevent the total train wreck going on in that other alleged Major League franchise in Florida.

NL Central:
Houston Astros – 96 wins
Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller head a strong rotation. Lance Berkman and new arrival Jeff Kent lead a potent offense. Billy Wagner heads a solid bullpen. I think this team is stacked, and primed to take the next step into National League supremacy.

St. Louis Cardinals – 93 wins (Wild Card)
The Cards’ offense is strong as well, with Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. Matt Morris and Woody Williams try to anchor a sometimes shaky starting rotation, but the bullpen strength should help them out. Most of the key performers are past their primes, injury prone, or both, so I’m picking Houston to pass them. But St. Louis should still be plenty good enough for a Wild Card berth.

Chicago Cubs – 81 wins
Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Matt Clement might end up being the new Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz trio in the NL. Bullpen acquisition Mike Remlinger will help. But this offense, apart from Sammy Sosa, is weak, and the new veteran additions (Grudzielanek, Karros) feel more like subtractions. Can they score enough runs to keep their contention pretensions afloat? I say no, but they’ll still improve substantially from last year’s disastrous campaign.

Cincinnati Reds – 81 wins
The Reds bring some big offensive forces to bear, with Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn flanking Ken Griffey, Jr., who may yet have a great season left in him. Unfortunately the rotation is more or less a bunch of question marks, with Danny Graves trying to become this year’s Derek Lowe, and Jimmy Haynes trying to replicate an unlikely 15-win season.
They should marginally improve as the young hitters develop.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 75 wins
The Pirates should improve from dreadful to merely ordinary on offense in 2003, as Armaris Ramirez will almost have to be better than last year and Randall Simon is an improvement on Kevin Young. And Brian Giles is still on hand. A decent bullpen may be given more workload than it can handle unless Kip Wells and Josh Fogg both prove that last year’s forward steps are for real, and Kris Benson contributes. The NL Central is tough this year, so I wouldn’t harbor any high expectations for them. But at least they’re not…

Milwaukee Brewers – 57 wins
Bad. In every conceivable way. Not even worth discussing, really.

NL West:
San Francisco Giants – 92 wins
I’ve been predicting a collective decline for the NL West for a couple of years now. One of these years I have to be right. The Giants Between Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeff Kent’s production (albeit not his power) should be replaced. A capable bullpen and a spacious ballpark should help a Jason Schmidt-led rotation(Kirk Reuter, Damian Moss) function well enough to hold off the NL West pack.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 87 wins
I think this is the year Arizona’s fascination with aging ballplayers comes back to bite them in the hindquarters. Luis Gonzales’ age and shoulder surgery are a concern. This offense has the potential to be pretty feeble, as Steve Finley and Matt Williams are expected to contribute. And there’s not much pitching behind the 1-2 of Johnson and Schilling, either. This year should be the first step towards morphing into a more normal expansion-type franchise.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 84 wins
Dodger Stadium will make any pitching staff look good, including this one. And while Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, and Andy Ashby isn’t a bad rotation front end, even when added to a top-notch pen it’s not going to make up for what is likely to be a pitiful offense. Shawn Green’s the only star – Fred McGriff’s decline will become pretty evident in Chavez Ravine. Comebacks by Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort could spark a pennant drive, but I wouldn’t put any money on that.

Colorado Rockies – 76 wins
They have neither a good offense nor good pitching, despite some talent on both sides of the ball. The lineup could work if Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson and Jay Payton pan out as hoped, and the Juan Uribe/Brent Butler double play combo develops. I think it’s at least as likely that it doesn’t, while the shaky pitching staff implodes. Can Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings thrive in this harsh environment for hurlers?

San Diego Padres – 67 votes
San Diego, a team some had pegged to improve this season, just took two massive hits, losing slugger Phil Nevin for the season and closer Trevor Hoffman for a big chunk of the year. They’re now counting on Ryan Klesko and Rondell White to lead the offense. Sounds like a disaster in the making, doesn’t it? They do have some young pitching talent, and there is some hope for the future, but this season’s prospects look dim indeed.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Remember Three Things

1. The United States and its motives are viewed with strong suspicion elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.

2. The people of any given country do not like being attacked, let alone invaded by a foreign power, no matter how bad you might think their regime is – and even, to a large degree, how bad the people in said county themselves might think their regime is. Every leader – George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, whomever – will normally get an boost in their support during wartime.

3. When one side in a war is grossly outnumbered or outgunned, they will tend to engage in asymmetrical warfare - or, “guerilla warfare” if you prefer.

I don’t think any of these are especially difficult concepts to grasp.

Perhaps Joe Sixpack sitting on his couch eating Ding Dongs watching Fox News may not be able to comprehend them, the people responsible for planning a full-scale invasion of another country better damn well understand the parameters. The lives of many of America’s servicemen and servicewomen are on the line.

And yet there is no sign that either the public backing this war effort or the people responsible for sending our troops into this war understand. (The troops themselves are probably getting the idea – witness today’s flap involving William “Scott” Wallace’s off-the-cuff remarks about the opposition being tougher than some leaders had believed.)

The neo-conservative fantasy brigade, led gleefully by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz had managed to convince themselves, relevant decision makers, and the American people that the United States would be welcomed as liberators, and that the Iraqi army, except perhaps for the elite Republican Guard and other people in or near Saddam’s inner circle, would surrender without a fight, or at least without much of a fight. Why? Perhaps they were misled by self-serving statements by self-styled Iraqi opposition groups about how easy Operation Iraqi Freedom might be.
Perhaps they had bad intelligence, whether from the United States, Israel, or elsewhere.
But heck, it’s not like the three things I put at the top of this essay came from any classified knowledge.

Check out this interview with Vice President Cheney from March 16, less than two weeks ago, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” in which he says, among other things:

I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them…the read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

Or read this interview with Richard Perle, in which Pearle predicted that “support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder.”


There was an unusually public difference of opinion between the above-mentioned cadre and the professional soldiers with real battlefield experience about the kind of force that might be needed in an Iraq war, and to a large (but thankfully not total) extent, the fantasy brigade’s views prevailed. The long term result is unclear, but the short term consequences – an under-defended supply line, casualties in several southern cities - are unmistakable.

Furthermore, most of the fighting thusfar has been in the south of Iraq, populated mostly by Shi’a, who, to put it mildly, have no particular love for Saddam Hussein. If “coalition forces” are not welcomed with open arms there, where in Iraq will they be? Among the Kurdish, who have been totally sold out by the United States on two separate occasions? Certainly not in Baghdad, nor in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.

The outrage felt in many circles about Iraqi war tactics is perhaps not surprising, but it’s not as if anyone should be shocked. Consider this…if you were running Iraq, would you fight the kind of war the pro-war Americans want you to? No, it’d be suicide. Guerillas dress in civilian clothes and disguise their weaponry all the time in wars like this. It’s in many ways a dangerous gambit, since it is almost certain to result in more Iraqi (particularly Iraqi civilian) deaths; the “fake surrender” bit is even more fraught with peril. But countries fighting for their existence led by those with little left to lose will act differently in war than the world’s only superpower fighting on the opposite side of the world.

I’m not being a moral relativist here – I’m being a realist, far more of one than those people running the show in Washington, who like to pat themselves on the back for their “tough-minded realism.”

Now it’s far too early to use words like “quagmire” to describe the military campaign. It could still be a relative cakewalk. The U.S. military is top notch, and their technical superiority is overwhelming. Iraq’s military is arguably weaker than it was during the first Gulf War. (As I have said before, I figured overthrowing Saddam Hussein would be the easy part; dealing with the after effects would make the task of overthrowing Saddam’s Baathists in Iraq seem like child’s play by comparison.)

Now, Not only does it appear that our leaders have sent our brave men and women into harm’s way in a fashion that unnecessarily endangers them, they have the unmitigated gall to push through a cut on veterans’ services, all while claiming that war protestors such as myself don’t care about our troops. I honestly hope things go well for the United States. It will minimize the suffering and death on both sides of the conflict, as well as the international diplomatic fallout. But this administration has presided over one debacle after another; I wonder if this war will turn out any different, and I have much reason to doubt that it will.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

There Will Be A Quiz At The End

I now not only take random web quizzes, I write them as well.
My first webquiz for public consumption...Which New England state are you?

Massachusetts Flag
I'm Massachusetts, the Bay State. I'm the smartest
state anywhere, or at least I'm pretty sure I
am. Known for colleges galore, high-tech
industry, and deranged baseball fans, I'm so
liberal that even my neighbors think I'm out
there. Wicked awesome!

Which New England State Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Glorious Day

Today (looks like this will be stamped with "tomorrow" as a dateline, oh well) was a beautiful day in Washington.

I broke out my shorts and my Tevas for the first time this spring.

I spent three hours acting like a tourist, walking around and photographing stuff. You'd never guess I'd been a Washington resident for over six years if you'd seen me.

And I got a couple calls about possible work.

The only annoying thing about today: I got called for Jury Duty again. They're supposed to wait two years, and not even eight months after the last time I showed up, they send me a Jury Duty notice. Typical DC bureaucracy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Almost Famous

Wow, I have an anonymous (sort of) fan! Woohoo!

She has a blog too.

I'm probably too scattershot with topics to develop a really sustained following from anyone, but, well, I appreciate the attention.

In other news, now that I'm on a baseball blogs list, I suppose I ought to write about baseball soon.

Monday, March 24, 2003

That's Entertainment

I was 13 for 24 in my Oscar picks - which is a lot better than my March Madness picks.

It was the reverse of last year, where I did well with the big stuff and lousy on the minor awards. I had great luck with the bottom of the ballot, not so much near the top, other than "Chicago" as Best Picture, which was kind of a gimme. I did call Chris Cooper and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Supporting categories, so I got half the Big Six.

I don't think many had Polanski down as Best Director. I considered Kidman but went with Julianne Moore instead, thinking she wasn't going to beat Zeta-Jones (who, like I said, stole "Chicago" from Renee Zellwegger) and she wasn't going home empty-handed. Brody came as a complete surprise to me - the complete unknown usually does not win a leading role Oscar, and people will still be talking about Daniel Day-Lewis' character in "Gangs of New York" for years to come.

I had bet on "Pianist" being this year's "Color Purple." It turns out that "Gangs Of New York," which apparently I liked more than anyone else anywhere in the universe, was this year's "Color Purple."

Thanks in part to the war updates, the ceremony ran long, although the absences of Eminem (a surprise Best Song winner for "Lose Yourself" from "8 Mile") and Roman Polanski, and the quick hook thrown at Michael Moore all contributed to shortening the running time.

It was great to see Kirk and Michael Douglas onstage for the end, and to see how kind time had to been to Olivia de Haviland, and to such previous honorees as Rita Moreno, Julie Andrews, and Paul Newman. It was also good to see that the fashion excess were largely absent this year, I'm sure in due in large part to the somber atmosphere.

Oscar's Gone Wild

That was certainly an event.

I heard the speech, and its going to be spun in such a way that Michael Moore was booed and that was it. There were plenty of cheers to go with the boos.

And it's my take that the boos were not so much intended as expressions of support for the administration as they were disapproval of the use of an Oscar acceptance speech in such a fashion.

I say this because other people made statements against the Iraq war, and though most of them were, like the statements of Chris Cooper or Susan Sarandon or Nicole Kidman, subtle or vague, Gael Garcia Bernal, star of the Mexican film "Y Tu Mama Tambien," explicitly denounced the Iraq war by wishing Frida Kahlo were still alive to protest it in the context of introducing a song from the biopic "Frida," and there were no jeers. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who won a screenwriting Oscar for "Talk To Her," dedicated his award to peace activists in his acceptance speech.

Moore did not make the best use of a national audience. It would have been better to couch the poltical criticism in terms that related to his films, to ask the audience to inquire to themselves about why our times are so violent, why fear is so all-pervasive, and why this climate makes peace so difficult. It would have been more challenging than the sloganeering he engaged in, but it might have won over more people. What Moore did was preach to the converted in such a way as to turn everyone else off, in both style and substance. Granted, that's what Moore specializes in, but the tone of the messenger here drowned out anything trenchant he might have had to say.

Although his line "If the Pope and the Dixie Chicks are up against you, your time is up" was hilarious, if drowned out.

Listen or read for yourself here.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

City On Fire

I've seen two headlines in the Washington Post that probably gave me a different reaction than they were intended to:

1. From yesterday, "In Rolling Waves, Blasts Demolish Symbols of Power"
It occurred to my pal Justin as well, but, well...if the Islamic fundamentalist movement had an equivalent to the Washington Post, wouldn't an Arabic translation of the above headline worked pretty well for September 12, 2001?

If this sounds unfair to America, well, I'm sure it's occurred to large majorities in the Arab and Muslim worlds. And probably in terms harsher than anything I'd be willing to sign my name to.

2. From today, "Forces Leave Instabilty In Wake"
If I had to encapsulate why I thought this war was a highly dubious proposition in five words, it'd be tough to do much better.

Getting rid of Saddam's military forces is in one sense the easy part, if any of it can truly be called "easy."

It is an article of faith in this country that America will be welcomed as "liberators" of Iraq, based partly on the reasoning "Saddam is bad, the U.S. got rid of Saddam, therefore the U.S. is good." A lot of people are in for a very rude awakening.

I think I've heard the phrase "shock and awe" 8,543,670 times in the last three days. I'm guessing most of you, readers, wouldn't welcome anyone into your house whose actions inspired "shock and awe." What makes people think Iraqis will behave any differently?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Breathe Deep, The Gathering Gloom

I was cold, wet, and in a part of town where it seemed I didn’t belong; all three offices to file for unemployment insurance in the District of Columbia are on the East Side, in the kind of neighborhoods where I stick out like a sore thumb. And none of them are especially close to a Metro station – the one I went to was in Northeast, nearly a 20-minute uphill walk from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, and not a particularly pleasant walk at that. The other two are on the other side of the Anacostia, and even further from any Metro station.

The whole experience was odd since the city government is usually the one great equalizer in a city otherwise starkly divided between rich and poor, black and white, safe and unsafe, and so forth. At Jury Duty, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, at every downtown office, yes, I’m in the minority, but there are people from all walks of Washington life in those kinds of places. This office was immediately different.

Dressed in a button-down dress shirt (no tie, just a shirt) and a pair of khakis now soaked by the rain, I walked into the large waiting room. There was something…um..different about me when compared to everyone else in the room. I perceived some strange looks - not dirty looks, mind you, just strange ones. I was reminded of that line from the film Better Off Dead, when a tree trimmer sees Lane Myer (John Cusack) in a garbage truck and says “Now that's a real shame when folks be throwin' away a perfectly good white boy like that.” Times must be tough if he’s here.

Or maybe it was just me projecting that onto the crowd there. I’ve never been that good at reading people. It’s never stopped from trying, from imagining how the various people in this large room came to be here.

I got to listen to nearly an hour of orientation. The first part of it dealt with the mechanics of receiving unemployment, how much one might be entitled to, for how long, and how to fill out the appropriate forms (and determining which forms are appropriate.) The second part focused on things like where to go if you needed a GED, or basic computer skills, or classes in English, and so forth.

I spent the hour filling out forms (many, many forms to fill out, though I understand why they ask for that much) , and when I got done with that, half listening and staring with exasperation at the Successories that decorated the large room. I have an irrational loathing for those insipid greeting-card pictures and their insipid management-guru messages. The only bit about the whole thing I came even close to resenting was those blasted pictures on the wall.

One of the people giving the instructions let her fatalism slip when she said “If by some chance any of you should get a full-time job…” I hope that sentence wasn’t in the script. I wonder if a job/career dealing with people who are in trouble gets exasperating after a while, particularly in tough times. She probably sees many of the same people over and over again, who can’t seem to hold a job for some reason. I wonder if it feels like trying to shovel one’s driveway with only a spoon,

As the lecture ended, I buried my nose in “Return of the King,” sometimes glancing up at the clock as the Shadow from the East, breached the Anduin, and were laying siege to Gondor. For over an hour, name after name was called and I sat, alternately contemplating my own predicament and that of the book’s seemingly doomed characters.

If you haven’t read the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I recommend doing so, with one caveat: It makes lousy Metro and bus reading – it needs to be read in large chunks to be fully appreciated. It might work as reading material for a long transcontinental or overseas flight.

Just as I began to totally lose myself inside the walls of Minas Tirith, my name was called from across the room.

And then my meeting with my case worker happened, and it was less than five minutes long. I had brought ridiculous amounts of documentation, much more than was asked, just in case I needed it. I was almost disappointed. I was ready to be grilled and prodded, and there was none of that. Maybe it was the fact that I seemed to project the ability to find some form of gainful employment soon, but I’m sure it had at least as much to do with the pervasive fatalism that hung like a dense fog above the place.

She sent me on my way, and I was off into the dreary, cold gloom, of a rainy Thursday morning. The gentle and yet bitter wind put some sting into the water as it fell from the sky.

I felt as if Tolkien’s mythical Shadow were all too real, darkening spirits, dimming hopes, and sending legions to enslave the world beneath the all-seeing Eye, as it relentlessly advanced.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Life During Wartime (Part Deux)

I suppose I should clarify something.

My pet peeve about saturation coverage of "crisis" events is that they consist of hours and hours of the same damn thing repeated ad nauseam. They get one trenchant piece of information every three hours or so, and then for the intervening three hours, they repeat this piece of information over and over again.

If there is new information, by all means interrupt programming and let us know. In the meantime, you can run a ticker along the bottom (or top) of the screen or something with the information in case anyone missed it.

While we're on the subject of TV war coverage...

TV stations refuse to run anything remotely anti-war, but yet they run this McCarthyite ad featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson. The words were something like "It is the soldier, not the protestor, who defends freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the reporter, who defends freedom of the press," and so on. It was paid for by some right-wing front group whose name isn't really important. There are so many of them it's hard to keep track.

Now if they had simply refused to air both kinds of ads and stay out of it altogether, that'd be one thing. But, no - they will only air pro-war, pro-Bush, propaganda. It's ridiculous and hypocritical.

Liberal media my ass.

Second of all, I'm tired of being told I'm anti-military. Who wants our servicemen (and women) to die taking Baghdad block by block so that a bunch of chicken hawks can prove their manhood? Not me. Nope, I prefer they stay here, or take care of the very much unfinished business in Afghanistan, or be ready to deal with the North Korean threat.

Life During Wartime

It's bad enough that there's a war, and that the state of the world is getting steadlily worse, that the most powerful nation on earth is run by a cabal of power-drunk profiteers, that hundreds of thousands, and perhaps, millions of people will die around the world as a result.

Saturation coverage of this dumb war is pre-empting college basketball.

Levity and humor are what keep me functioning day-to-day. Without them, I'd find it hard to exist in such times.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Seeds Of Discord

It’s time for the annual complaints about the deeds of the NCAA Selection Committee.

We all know by now about the BYU mess. I must admit I might not have thought of that myself (BYU playing on Sunday), but, then again, it’s not my job to make these picks. Fortunately for the selection committee and for office pools everywhere, I don’t see anything that suggests they can beat Connecticut.

The first impression I get: this SEC-worship has to stop. Of course, Kentucky is the real deal, and Mississippi State is about where they belong, but Florida hasn’t looked like a #2 in a while and has been sinking like a rock for weeks. Auburn doesn’t belong in the tournament. Neither does Alabama. LSU is legit, but got a generous seeding at #8.

The Big East, other than Syracuse, got short shrift. St. John’s and Seton Hall may have played themselves out of the tournament last week, but BC has spent the last two months doing everything – with one obvious exception - right. Despite a horrendous early season, they won a regular season divisional title in the Big East. They won a tournament game. If you’re going to punish them for failing to beat Connecticut, you should punish Butler as well, since failure to beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a bigger sin, or, heck, BYU for losing in a conference semifinal to Colorado State, or for having not one true quality win anywhere on their schedule. (Actually, I’d take ‘em all and leave Auburn to the NIT.) A big exception to the Big East hose is the pampering given to Syracuse, who doesn’t have to leave its fan base (it plays in Boston and Albany) until the Final Four if it gets there, as a #3 seed.

My feelings about Pitt are weird. On the one hand, I think a conference-winning team ranked #5 in the polls should get a #1 seed from its region if everyone ahead of it is outside its region. It’s at least as deserving as Texas, a team that won neither its regular season conference title (Kansas) nor its conference championship tournament (Oklahoma). On the other hand, well, I see a team who has trouble scoring, whose best player is a point guard who’s not much of an outside shooter, or much of a free throw shooter. (Oh, yeah, and he’s hurt too.) Not only that, but they were unbeaten at home, which means that they don’t like road games. That sounds to me like a high seed begging to be taken out, if not in the first round (I don’t think Wagner’s good enough or experienced enough) then in the second or third. Indiana, their likely second round opponent, is certainly good enough to take them out.

Even though the Big Twelve can’t collectively complain at all with six bids and strong seeds for all of them save bubble-dwellers Colorado, I have to wonder if Texas Tech doesn’t belong here as well, despite my lifetime loathing for anything having to do with Bobby Knight. (And, for that matter, most things originating from the state of Texas apart from a few personal friends and Tex-Mex cuisine. On a completely unrelated note, this may mean I have to start buying Dixie Chicks product.) If you’re on the bubble, and you beat a #1 seed (Texas) and follow that up with an overtime loss to another #1 seed (Oklahoma), that should be worth something.

The A-10, one of my two “home conferences,” did well for itself. Too bad Temple couldn’t have forced the committee to take a fourth A-10 team (Xavier and Dayton were locks, and the #7 seed for Saint Joe’s suggests they were in even if the committee had to take Temple.) It’s always fun to watch a John Chaney-coached team at the Big Dance because they’re always dangerous, regardless of how little talent they might be blessed with at the time. I don’t quite trust Xavier with a #3 seed, and I’m even inclined to take Maryland (underseeded at #6, but I understand why it was done) in a likely second round match with them. Xavier finished their season playing three effectively home games (the A-10 tournament was played at nearby Dayton) and they did not distinguish themselves, barely beating a bad GW team, and losing to a sub-par Temple squad.

My favorite three upset picks:

Weber State v. Wisconsin
There’s always a 5-12 upset. Every time I see Weber State in there, I think “upset.” Every time I see Wisconsin, the Final Four appearance notwithstanding, I think “upset.” Plus this game is in Spokane, much closer to Ogden, Utah than to Madison. Weber State ran the table in the Big Sky Conference and comes in hot. Wisconsin comes in cold, having dropped a first round Big Ten tourney match to 8th place Ohio State. I’m also watching Butler vs. Mississippi State as a possibility.

Penn v. Oklahoma State
De facto home game for the underdog, check. (This game’s in Boston, full of Ivy League-types.) Favorite coming in cold. check. Underdog coming in on a winning streak, check. A team that doesn’t score that well against a team that can shoot (despite being forward-dominated), check. Me biased in favor of fellow Ivy teams and looking for upsets in what I think will be an upset-laden tournament, check. So I have the Quakers penciled in to beat the Cowboys, even though the Mascot Method* of choosing winners says that this is a terrible pick. However, it is an Eddie Sutton team, and OSU has a good record in the tournament, and Penn’s schedule is pretty weak.

Holy Cross v Marquette
Yeah, I’m from Worcester. Can’t you tell? However, after scaring Kansas and Kentucky the last two years, the Crusaders finally get a crack at a team not quite at that level in the Big Dance in the Golden Eagles. Size is frequently a problem for Big Dance underdogs but it’s actually Marquette that’s undersized in this matchup. Did you know that #14 seeds have won a first round match 13 times in 18 years? (Which means their odds are generally long, but statistically there is one such upset in a field at least as often as there aren’t any, and I’d be far less shocked by HC winning than by Colorado State beating Duke or Troy State upending Xavier.)

My first-draft final four is as follows:
Kentucky: Duh.
Arizona: Tough bracket, but I think they can do it. This isn’t Duke’s year, and I think ‘Zona can take Illinois or Kansas.
Maryland: Weak bracket; Texas is the shakiest #1, Florida is one of the worst #2 seeds ever, Xavier and Stanford are not especially strong, and UConn is probably too young. Plus the Terps have tons of crunch time experience. They lost in the conference semis last year too – it didn’t seem to affect them much.
Syracuse: Boston and Albany. I’m not sold on Wake Forest. I like Oklahoma, but I like home court advantage more than I like Oklahoma. Besides, who knows how healthy Hollis Price is? Other than getting a relatively tough #14 seed in Manhattan, the committee was very kind to the Orangemen.

* The Mascot Method involves imagining who would win a theoretical fight between the team’s mascots. For instance, in a matchup between Virginia and Xavier, you’d take Xavier since the Musketeers would have guns and the Cavaliers wouldn’t. But you wouldn’t pick Xavier against Ole Miss, because the Rebels would have better guns of a more recent vintage. You’d also take fiercer animals would more timid ones, so you’d pick, say, the LSU (or Princeton) Tigers over, say the Colorado Buffaloes or the Oregon State Beavers.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

How Bizarre

Writer's block has hit in a cruel and nasty fashion. So naturally, I'm scouring the web for stuff to write about.

Just when you thought you've heard the silliest comment that references the September 11 attacks, something else trumps it. Apparently, oral sex between teenagers in a classroom can be compared to the greatest mass murder in American history. Hopefully this sort of thing isn't happening in Craig's classroom.

Now this is a horrible way to die.

This explains a lot about Fox News.

Back with more soon, hopefully.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Don't You Let That "Deal" Go Down

I counted one homosexuality joke, and one bestalilty joke (chimpanzees) crossed with a pedophelia joke.

Yes, this is not your father's "Let's Make A Deal." For some reason I had been oblivious to NBC's plans to revive the old Monty Hall game show classic. It was always something of a guilty pleasure, and it was guiltier than ever since they' it up a bit. (Not to mention upped the value of the prizes considerably to comfortably exist in a post-Olmstead universe.)

For some reason Matt Herges of the Pittsburgh Pirates made an appearance in a pitching contest that he let the contestant win - Herges was throwing with his off-hand but I gotta imagine he could have done better than that with his off-hand. The contestant's girlfriend had to pick who won, and quite logically chosen the Major League pitcher (if the Pirates count as "Major League" these days,) thus in some subtle way questioning her boyfriend's manhood. I imagine Matt thought he was doing the guy a favor, even if it cost him and his sweetheart $2,500.

He's cute and selfless, very understanding of a fellow guy's pride. But no gay-dar reading on him whatsoever. There needs to be a gay pro athelete so butch gay guys have someone to look up to. Looking up to Jack on "Will and Grace" isn't going to cut the mustard.

In a nod to "Fear Factor," there was one TPIR-esque game where the contestant had to stick his hand in some boxes based on his guesses, with a right guess giving him a prize and a wrong guess involved him touching a mouse, a snake, or some large maggots. I was sitting there thinking "OK, he's got the price of this Vegas Vacation guessed correctly. But, what if he was wrong? That snake looks poisonous. It probably isn't; I think this is one of those snakes that's trying to mimic a poisionous one so no one messes with it. But damn, imagine the lawsuit if someone screwed up, it was the poisonous snake, the contestant sticks his hand in there, gets bitten and dies. "

Law school has ruined you for life, Tim

I was expecting another reality show. Or "Watching Ellie," so I could mock it again.

While we're on the subject, how about a reality show about a group of UN Iraq weapons inspectors that consists entirely of B-list or C-list celebrities? Wouldn't you watch, say, Elizabeth Berkeley, Richard Marx, Edie McClurg, and David Faustino try to avoid accidentally inhaling any anthrax spores found at an Iraqi bio-weapons mobile lab? Wouldn't everyone?

That was a cheap shot, Tim.

Note to aspiring bloggers: If you're writing a blog that's attempting to be funny, you can't do much better than invoke washed-up celebrities. It's lazy but it works. The very mention of a name like Jonathan "Single Guy" Silverman will induce giggles in some people. In the right crowd, so will bad baseball players from the 70s, 80s, or early 90s, particularly if they had nicknames. "Slammin'" Sammy Khalifa, for instance. How'd that guy get a nickname?

The same way you did, probably, Tim. By stealing it.

I didn't steal "Answer Guy." I had no idea that someone from ESPN: The Magazine called himself that. Because like most people, even most sports fans, I am only dimly aware of the existence of ESPN: The Magazine.

Coming tonight, or tomorrow morning: Actual questions from readers, finally answered!

Update: Jeff and his lunch date walked in on me playing air guitar to the solo in Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around And Fell In Love." Eek.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Heinz 57 And "Freedom"-Fried Potatoes

Can we all agree that that this is just silly and childish? Freedom toast! That'll really show those frogs!

I wonder if their next move is to rename "French dressing." I seem to remember Edmund telling me that they didn't actually use that stuff on salads in France anyway.

I wonder if they'll name the dressing after Ronald Reagan the way they're naming everything else after him. And "Ronald Reagan Salad Dressing" has a lower irony factor than renaming National Airport (Reagan not only fired all the air traffic controllers, he spent his entire political career crusading for state and local control rather than Congressional micro-management) after him.

Doesn't Congress have better things to do than this? (Not that I have any say at all over this, being a resident of the of Columbia.)

While we're on the subject...the term "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys" was funny the first 12,500 times I heard it. And then it got a little old. At this point, it belongs on the "overused lines" shelf, next to any line about those "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" tags on mattresses.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Money Changes Everything

You know the ad banner on top of everyone's blog is now seemingly targeted toward the subject matter discussed? Apparently the algorithm they use now thinks that my readers would be interested in "get rich quick" schemes.

So, maybe I'll mess with it and see what I get.

For instance, I'll mention logarithmic differentiation. And make a reference to hyperbolic geometry.
Perhaps I will discuss discrete algebra. I wonder if I remember how to do multiple linear regression.
Or if I could write a quiz question on transfinite numbers.


A Little Less Conversation

I wanted to blog something profound about politics or pop culture or something tonight, but I'm too tired to make any coherent observations about the world around me.

So instead, I decided to simply fill space by letting my readers know I'm still alive and in good health, even if work strips me of most of my time. The rest seems to be devoted to sleeping, eating, cooking, laundry, and updating Jukebox From Hell.

I spend way too much time thinking about the following:
* Zany ideas for collectible card games. One of them is called "Battle of the Bands." Be very afraid.
* Imagining a movie about a hitman where he is shown performing a series of mundane assasinations in a montage set to a song by Weezer.
* How quickly I pay off my credit card debts if I go on a steady diet of cereal and Ramen for the next month.
* Anything having to do with my fictional nationstate, Borealium.

So maybe my take on nuclear proliferation will show up here tomorrow. Maybe not.

Until then, dear readers, good night.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Synchronicity II

I decided I didn't really want to listen to any more Bush speeches, so I instead decided to see if there were any synchronicities between last night's Bush press conference and "Echoes" by Pink Floyd.

I didn't find any, except for one moment where the camera turned to a reporter just as the tempo picks up after the solo following the second verse. I was quite disappointed.

Then it occurred to me that I was using the wrong version of the song, one that was trimmed to meet the constraints of a 2-CD greatest hits package of the same name.

So next time Bush pre-empts our favorite vapid TV shows to tell us the same old rhetoric he's served up before, I'll have to make sure to use the correct version of "Echoes."

Sorry for the mistake, dear readers.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

All About The Benjamins (Remix)

So I'm back at work, and back to the awkward situation I found myself in when I blogged this nearly a month ago.

So our boss starts discussing reiumbursing cab fare for workers to get to work on Sunday, when the bus those of us using transit to get work does not run at all. He asks us how many of us would take advantage of that situation if it were offered. Anyway, B raises her hand. The boss asks "Don't you get a ride?"

And B responds "Yeah, but A charges me."

And the boss says, incredulously, "A charges you?" His eyes bulged out.

It was beautiful.

It's almost worth never being in a room alone with A at work.

Why do I like one-sentence paragraphs so damn much?

Monday, March 03, 2003


If I was thinking more coherently, I would write a song parody about the terrorist alert downgrade to the tune of Coldplay's "Yellow."

But I have too much to do.

The long gap between posts can be directly attributed to my running Beltway Bandits this past weekend, and to working in between editing stints. Hopefully, I'll have more to say in the coming weeks ahead.

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