The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Reckoning

The first Presidential Debate is tomorrow night.

It's fun to watch both sides playing the rope-a-dope, low expectations game to the max. We'll see how it plays out.

The bad news: Though the methodologies of the various polls range from "take with a grain of salt" to "beyond ludicrous," they all seem to have BushCo in the lead, which is a problem. Even states from which we expect relative sanity (Maryland? New Jersey?) don't look secure. I've got some faith left in the American public, that they won't give this crew a free hand for four more years. I'd prefer to stash this shirt away, for a while at least.

The good news: We're not letting the other side have a monopoly on working the referees anymore.

To invoke the collective wisdom of Yogi Berra and Lenny Kravitz, it ain't over, 'til it's over. Any Red Sox fan will tell you the same.

More to come.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

October Sky

The Red Sox clinch a playoff berth.

It'll be interesting to see what happens from here on out.

The media is already preparing new montages for an anticipated Yankee-Red Sox showdown in the ALCS, though it's at least as likely as not that one or both teams will fall short.

Word among the baseball geek community is that either the Red Sox or Yankees are better off drawing Oakland, Anaheim, or Texas than Minnesota in the first round, due to the presence of Cy Young winner (if the writers have any sense, that is) Johan Santana, the way none of the three AL West teams playing particularly well the last month or so (other than Texas, and they've been all but eliminated) and the unwelcome prospect of playing games indoors on artificial turf.

The Yankees are most likely AL East winners, since they only need to win three games of their remaining six (three at home against the Twins, three in Toronto) to guarantee at least a share of the division title. The Red Sox have six road games (two in Tampa, four - including a day-night doubleheader - in Baltimore) left, and they'll need to win three more than the Yankees for a tie, four for an outright win.

As tempting as it might be to try to grab the division, since the Red Sox are so good at home, getting the rotation set is a higher priority; getting Curt Schilling (the Sox are 25-7 - 16-2 at Fenway - when Schilling takes the hill) two starts in five games if needed is critical.

I think the Sox could get by any of the A's, Angels, or Twins, but the Twins - medicore offense notwithstanding - seem to present the toughest challenge in a short series, especially if given home field advantage. Though Minnesota has no hitter that can match Eric Chavez or Erubiel Durazo, their pen has been much better than Oakland's in recent months, and none of the Oakland Big Three of Hudson, Mulder, and Zito have pitched especially well recently.

I hope the Red Sox have Bronson Arroyo, who has been coming strong the latter half of the season, in the third spot going into the playoffs. Arroyo's famously a little wild, but is tough to hit and has had some clutch outings down the stretch. Wakefield and Lowe have struggled recently, though the offense has often covered for them.

It'll be interesting to see what the Twins do with their three games in the Bronx. Are they going to work hard to make sure they get home-field advatange in the first? You'd think the Yankees would be better faced in five than in seven, and the Red Sox the opposite. Are they even going to have to work hard given the struggles of the Angels and A's?

Oakland - heavy on lefty starters - has a better chance of beating Boston than New York, who are very good against southpaws; however, that thought is a bit of a luxury for them since they have to get past the Angels (and Rangers) first.

Over in the National League, meanwhile - one heck of a race for the Wild Card, with the Giants, Cubs, Padres, and Astros in the mix. (The Dodgers appear to have command of the West race, and of course the Cardinals and Braves have been a foregone conclusion for a while.) Imagine the media circus if Cards-Cubs (or Dodgers-Giants) and Yanks-Sox were the semi-finals.

Exciting September races are good for baseball, and October could be shaping up to be even better.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Growing Pains

Those do-gooders at Center For Science In The Public Interest are at it again.

This time their target is not fast food or agribusiness but the "male enhancement" supplement industry. Not that I suspect many people will pay much attention to them, despite their continued ability to make headlines.

I was starting to wonder when someone would target these commercials, since not only are they over-the-top hilarious, they advertise (in a particularly blatant fashion) a product that almost certainly doesn't actually work. They tap one of the great secret anxieties of nearly all humans unfortunate enough to have a Y-chromosome, namely the idea that everyone laughs at the size of his, er, manhood.

I wonder where the FTC was going to get consumer complaints from. Is there any guy out there who'd admit to taking these pills and further admit that they didn't work on him? Imagine how awkward a conversation with a bored and easily amused federal bureaucrat fielding that call to an FTC complaint hotline, or, better yet, an e-mail exchange about the subject that gets around the office. Not that, in my case, I'd be able to tell that string of e-mails from the approximately 50 unsolicited e-mails each day I get telling me that I should buy one or more of these products.

For some reason, whenever I see a CSPI press release, I wonder how it must feel to work there. (And not because I applied for a job there once.) It must be something like being a die-hard Los Angeles Clippers fan. They are often accused of being humorless busybodies who want to deny other people the right to enjoy their lives, but it takes a certain sense of humor, the kind of person who could come up with a quip like "Enzyte is more successful subtracting from the male wallet than it is adding to the male organ." If one is unable to mock the absurdity of the marketing of drugs called "Suregasm" and "Pro-Erex," then life as a watchdog for the public against unscrupulous peddlers of snake oil would be miserable indeed. I can only assume that, given what liberal non-profits generally pay, some level of good humor and idealism are needed to work at them.

At the same time, I wonder about people who spend their careers advocating for the powers that be; lobbyists for business groups, corporate attorneys, and the like. If they are too successful, at some level, they're working themselves out of a job; for instance, if the Chamber of Commerce gets its entire free-trade, cheap labor, and minimal regulation agenda enacted, wouldn't its need for lobbyists in Washington at least go down some? How aware are their flacks of this dynamic?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Cat's Meow

An airplane carrying Yusuf Islam, better known by his former stage name of Cat Stevens, was diverted since Cat was apparently on a government watch list.

Islam attracted a good deal of deserved bad publicity in the late 80's when he came out in favor of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie for "The Satanic Verses." I'm not sure what it says about me that I wondered about whether the former Cat Stevens would say something similarly stupid after the 9/11 attacks; that I heard nothing at all about him suggested that he didn't. In fact, he has a wesbite in which he condemns the 9/11 mass murders and the recent hostage takings in Russia as contrary to the Islam in which he believes.

This is a comedy goldmine, and another opportunity to mock a security apparatus that considers Democratic Senators security threats as well.

The conclusion we can draw from this?

If you can put songs as bad as "Oh, Very Young" and "Moon Shadow" on the radio, and inflict a lame-ass cover of a Sam Cooke song ("Another Saturday Night") on the ears of the world, the terrorists have won. In other words... if I saw Rod Stewart on the plane I was about to board, I'd be worried about being diverted.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Trilogy

For those of us who still, after Episodes I and II, harbor fond memories of a galaxy far, far away - the Star Wars trilogy comes out on DVD today.

I wish George Lucas would stop wrecking his own stuff; this article explains what's new and different about the edition. Many of the changes involve creating more continuity with the newer prequels - including Naboo in Return of the Jedi and the like. There's also a welcome improvement to the unnecessary insertion of Jabba the Hutt into Star Wars: A New Hope.

But George Lucas' biggest mistaken revision remains.

For my part, I still refuse to believe that Greebo shot first. No half decent bounty hunter could miss from that distance, and the fact that Han shot first does not in any way make him a villain. A bounty hunter coming to deliver a known fugitive to a gangster has in a sense assumed the risk that said fugitive is going to kill him rather than agree to be captured, especially considering that Solo was likely destined for the Rancor or Sarlacc Pit.

He says that the newer version was his original vision and that the shot got messed up. I don't believe him. But I'm stubborn that way.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I Am Not Making This Up (I Swear)

Courtesy of Kristin comes this tidbit of information:

On September 28, you'll be able to buy your son or daughter a copy of The O'Reilly Factor For Kids: A Survival Guide For America's Youth coutresy of everyone's favorite Fox News blowhard.

I imagine it will be a manual about how to be a bully, how to exaggerate and make up facts to support ill-informed arguments, and how to say "shut up" a lot. There are a lot of kids who could have paid for their college educations by writing a book like this.

I am also imaging the Book on Tape version. For some reason, I'm thinking it would especially be appropriate if it was narrated by Strong Bad.

The Lions' Den

The Red Sox march deep into enemy territory to do battle with the Yankees this weekend.

If they win the series, they can cut into the Yankees' AL East lead from 3.5 games and possibly put the division lead on the line in Fenway next weekend. A division title would likely force Oakland, Anaheim, or Minnesota to beat Curt Schilling or Pedro Martinez in Fenway Park. They could also possibly put enough distance between them and the two teams battling in the West (Texas is all but eliminated at this point) to effectively lock up at least the Wild Card.

If they lose, especially if they are swept, the Sox will have to continue defending their Wild Card spot from Anaheim and/or Oakland and face having to win a few on the road in the playoffs, something the Sox have been unable to do consistently this season.

Unless Hurricane Ivan interferes with tonight's festivities in the Bronx, the Red Sox will try to derail Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's 8-0 run by sending Bronson Arroyo, whose plunking of A-Rod precipitated a bench-clearing brawl, to the mound.
Arroyo and Jason Varitek in particular will be targeted by the crowd.

The day that brawl happened, the lead was 8.5, appeared to be expanding, and if you had told me then that these games would be pivotal in the race for the AL East title, I'd have gladly taken it.

Un-American Sentiment #3

No, it's not "some people have too much damn money" this time, though that still applies.

This truck is nothing sort of an abomination.

At the absolute minimum, only people with commercial/trucking licenses should be allowed to drive a vehicle like this one on the road. (I feel the same way about any Hummer, and think a case could be made for a similar requirement for the Excursion and Suburban as well; being able to drive and park a typical compact car in a road test doesn't necessarily qualify you to do the same with one of these monstrosities.) We ought to be doing everything we can to discourage people from cluttering the roadways with these vehicles, and to the extent that people need them and do drive them, do everything to make sure they're driven as safely and competently as possible.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Barrytown

Interesting results in District of Columbia elections yesterday. (Note: These were Democratic Party primaries, but in real terms, these are tantamount to the real election, since members of other parties only win seats earmarked for people affiliated with some other party - whether Republican or Green or something else.)

The story that will attract the most attention is the return of Marion Barry to city politics, reclaiming his old Ward 8 seat from former protege Sandy Allen. Ward 8, for those not in the know, is the most southeasterly (it's the only ward 100% east of the Anacostia) of the city's 8 wards, is almost entirely black, and predominantly poor. (The city's sizable middle-class black population generally lives elsewhere in the city.) The ward has no grocery stores and most business establishments are fast-food carryouts, liquor stores, check cashing establishments, and pawnshops. Though there have been some new development in the area, as housing projects have given way to townhouse developments designed to lure middle-class people back into the city from Maryland and Virginia. There's sort of a catch-22 going on here if you're unfortunate enough to find yourself living in Ward 8. Desirable businesses (restaurants, retail, grocery stores) have no interest in investing in the area as it presently exists, but to make such establishments want to locate there would be to bring changes of the sort unwanted by most of those who would want Marion Barry back in power again.

Obviously, most people - myself included - find the notion of a Barry comeback unpalatable for a variety of reasons. His time in office was marked by people in general and the middle class (both black and white) in particular fleeing the city in droves, inept management of public resources, and a city with whom no one wanted to be associated. His continued presence in the public eye feeds into stereotypes about the pathology of D.C., since in most places, as the Good Charlotte song goes, he'd be hard-pressed to get a job at McDonalds after his actions as Mayor. Returning Barry to office - any office - is also not the way to convince a Republican-dominated Congress and White House, or the American electorate at large, that the District deserves more autonomy. Any event that gives him more power is an unfortunate one for the District. That he still has his defenders in the area (including a couple co-workers of mine) did perhaps more than anything else to convince me that I would forever remain alien to the political cutlure of the District.

On the other hand, I'm in a sense proud of the District's voters for decisively ousting incumbents in general, since it's easy in most places for incumbents to hold office as long as they want it without doing much of anything to warrant their long tenures other than showing up. Perhaps in part because the population is so transient here, new blood regularly finds its way into city government.

The pattern seems to be that new talent is able to break through in City Council elections, but that one politician after another gets too comfortable in office, disappoints too many people, and is taken down. Vincent Gray taking down incumbent and former mayoral candidate Kevin Chavous in Ward 7 is an exemplar of that pattern, insofar as I can't think of anything good or bad I especially associate with Chavous.

The citywide rejection of Harold Brazil has interesting implications, since Brazil has been perhaps Williams' most consistent ally on the council. Brazil was also widely seen as the best friend of the business community on the council, which made him unpopular in some areas; what really brought Brazil down, however, were allegations of the improper use of his staffers to work in his private law practice. New council member Kwame Brown gives the area of the city east of the Anacostia River another representative on the council, which nonetheless remains majority white despite the city's demographics. Brown's victory over Brazil can be attributed to some degree that the two wards that had the most contested council races (and hence the most incentive to turn out) were the two trans-Anacostia wards; four of the wards had no council election, and Jack Evans in Ward 2 (predominantly white and affluent, covering essentially most places a tourist would go in DC other than Ward 6's Capitol Hill) and Adrian Fenty in Ward 4 (the northernmost parts of the city, racially mixed but generally at least middle-class) had only token opposition.

(Scary thought: To what extent does Kwame Brown owe his election to sharing his name with the starting power forward for the Wiazrds?)

The addition of Barry, Brown, Gray in the aggregate seems to be a protest against the gentrification being pushed by the city establishment, that longtime residents are being pushed aside in favor of more "desirable" (i.e. yuppies and well-off empty nesters) residents, and to that extent it's perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, as I've said before in this space, it seems as if "gentrify or stagnate" are really the only two options for the future of the District and its neighborhoods. Read blogging celebrity and former Answer Guy neighbor Matt Yglesias' take on these issues here.

All in all, the triumphant return of Marion Barry is one those things that makes me glad Answer Guy Central is on the other side of the Potomac for now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Superstition

That shrieks of terror you may have heard coming from the general direction of Massachusetts may not have had anything to do with poll numbers showing Kerry trailing Bush.

They were probably coming from people who saw this cover.

So if Schilling gets pummeled by the Devil Rays in his next start at Fenway...you know why. As if the Curse of the Bambino wasn't enough to contend with, now we have the dreaded Sports Illustrated cover jinx. (In fact, since this magazine hit newstands last weekend, it may explain how an ice-cold Seattle Mariners, who are at this point in the season fielding a lineup of Ichiro, Bret Boone, and seven guys off the street, managed to win two games off the Sox.)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Three Years Gone

With each passing year I find myself more skeptical of anyone who claims that "9/11 changed everything." I read countless articles about the "death of irony," and the "serious times" we now lived in. Well, after three years of Martha Stewart, Bennifer, and other such stuff, I am reminded how easy it is to be lost in a moment.

Then I was treated to the bizarre spectacle of watching large chunks of the Republican National Convention devoted to the claim that being in power on that day is actually a selling point for their policies, and thought to myself that maybe irony had become pointless, and that laughter is (or at least ought to be) lurking around every corner. That this technique seemed to work even a little suggests that more serious times may be ahead, and that I may need a healthy sense of irony more than ever.

September 11, 2001 was a horrific day beyond description, but in many ways the tragedy brought out the best in us. The world was by and large with America that day. We were a people ready to sacrifice for the greater good in our nation. It was like a Pandora's Box in reverse, in that hope seemed to be one of the first things to come out.

Then came the anger and rage, which were understandable. But then came three years of a propaganda campaign that is driving a wedge between not only America and the world, but between America and itself. Now we're more divided and polarized than ever. It didn't have to be this way.

Who do I blame for this? I blame those in power, beginning with President Bush, but extending down to nearly all of America's important leading institutions.

The deaths of some 3,000 Americans were used a political tool to promote controversial and wrongheaded policy initiatives, get America into a dubious war in Iraq, and smear the patriotism of millions. And they are still being used, for their shock value, for their fear value, as unscrupulous opportunists troll for votes, ratings, sales, and campaign donations.

The call for shared sacrifice never came, as instead of national leadership, America was instructed from on high to continue to indulge in its national narcissism. Bush's cronies got even more goodies, in the form of tax breaks, no-bid contracts and other sweetheart deals, and less regulatory oversight. The rest of us got stuck with the bill for a grandiose excerise of imperial hurbis in Iraq as more and more found it harder and harder to make ends meet. There are more gas-guzzling vehicles than ever on the streets driving ever more miles, and there is more disposable consumption now than ever; while these are personal choices often with no direct connection to who is in the White House, the tone is set at the top.

Thanks in part to those choices, we are as vulnerable as ever to those who would harm us. But generalized fear and anxiety as personified by vague terror alerts will not help us. Isolating and defeating the real threats to security - and, make no mistake, there are real threats - will involve vigilance, smarts, and resoruces. It will not be as "satisfying" to cable news audiences as the toppling of symbolic statues, or the invasions of world capitals, but it must be done.

Lost in all the arguments about Vietnam, who was on what Swift Boat or F-102, who was in Cambodia or Alabama when, and the authenticity of 30-year old memoranda is a central truth. The world has it eyes on America, and many who would wish us ill are all too ready to have all their easy caricatures of what our nation has become validated in November. I would counsel that we deny them that validation. If you are making new enemies faster than you can kill or neutralize them, you are not winning the War on Terror.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Fearless NFL Prediction

Given how bad my track record is...perhaps I shouldn't do this. But I can't resist...

AFC East
1. New York (Jets)*
2. New England*
3. Miami
4. Buffalo
I'll disingenuously not pick the Patriots since good things happen when I predict a bad year pre-season, though they're still the pick of many (if not most) to go back to the Super Bowl. The Dolphins appear to be in disarray but there's at least a medicore team (despite a bad coach) down there. The Bills appear to be lost. No one's talking much about the Jets and that makes me nervous.

AFC North
1. Baltimore*
2. Cincinnati
3. Pittsburgh
4. Cleveland
Definitely the hardest AFC division to figure; no order would surprise me all that much.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis*
2. Jacksonville
3. Tennessee
4. Houston
This may be the year Dungy gets to the Super Bowl as they appear to have clear sailing in the South. Houston's not really an "expansion" team anymore and the Jags will show marked improvement, but neither is going to challenge Indy.

AFC West
1. Kansas City*
2. Denver*
3. Oakland
4. San Diego
Yes, it's dangerous to pick the same finishing order from last season. But I don't see Portis-for-Bailey (or Jake Plummer) working out that well for Denver, the Raiders are still rebuilding, and the Chargers are still the Chargers. KC will need a better defense to reach the Super Bowl, but they could win the West kicking offsides half the time.


NFC East
1. Philadelphia*
2. Washington*
3. Dallas
4. New York (Giants)
As much as I would wish for another overhyped flop of a Redskins team...they look like a playoff-caliber team from here. But the Eagles, their defense, and their new import T.O. are still the team to beat. The Cowboys still have no offense, and they aren't going to sneak up on anyone this time. And the Giants are still lost at sea.

NFC North
1. Minnesota*
2. Green Bay
3. Detroit
4. Chicago
If I had to bet on one of my divisional predictions being right 1-4, it'd be this one. Mariucci will start to get results but Favre and Green Bay probably have one more year as a pretender to the throne. The Vikings will put it together for a playoff run, and the Bears could be as bad as that monstrosity of a stadium they now play in.

NFC South
1. Atlanta*
2. Carolina
3. Tampa Bay
4. New Orleans
As with the AFC North, no finishing order would surprise me. I'm going to guess that Carolina is going to find life at the top at least a little uncomfortable, but a return trip to the postseason isn't out of the question. I've picked New Orleans as a sleeper for the last time; I'm going to pick them to stay asleep this time. My instincts tell me Tampa is played out. Michael Vick may mean more to his team than anyone, and he's made me a believer.

NFC West
1. Seattle*
2. St. Louis*
3. Arizona
4. San Francisco
Seattle may be able to ride home-field advantage to the Super Bowl, seeing as their one division rival who does not totally suck is coached by Mike Martz.

Playoffs
(Playoff teams noted above with asterisks.)
AFC Championship Game - Indianapolis def. Kansas City
NFC Championship Game - Minnesota def. Seattle
Since I'm pulling for an improbable Red Sox World Series win that I'm deathly afraid of predicting, I'll instead call for something that history suggests is equally improbable: a Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl victory. Minnesota over Indianapolis.

Friday, September 03, 2004

We Can Be Happy Underground

More delays on the Red Line this weekend, as Metro prepares to open the New York Avenue Metro station. Of course, there's not much of anything there right now, but the city hopes that change.

Seeing the area where New York and Florida Avenues intersect with North Capitol Street remind me of the view to which I was treated to the first time I ever visited Washington back in junior high school, and again about a month before I started law school. A lot has changed in the city since then, though the New York Avenue corridor had remained obstinately blighted.

But nothing lasts forever here. Houses nearby that could be had for five figures not long ago now command the sort of money once reserved for the likes of Dupont Circle.

It's most unfortunate that they were in such a rush to build a new convention center for the city that they shoehorned an ugly white elephant (essentially obsolete the day since it's size and shape weren't suited to the type of large conventions they were hoping to attract) into Mount Vernon Square. Some proposed the site where the New York Avenue Metro will be located, where there is much more available space than there was in that narrow strip of land between Seventh and Ninth where they built the new Washington Convention Center.

The massive vacant lot fronting Florida Avenue near the Red Line tracks is also talked about as a site for a baseball stadium, and it would seem a good fit, with easy access to the opposite end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (But I've already expounded on the topic of DC baseball.)

The next question is "How many names get tacked onto this station?" I am constantly amazed at the ability of other cities to keep the names of their transit systems short, and have to adjust to the mouthful (and frequently misleading) names that Metro assigns to its stations, like the 67% inaccurate Woodley Park/ Zoo/ Adams-Morgan Station on the Red Line. (Note to tourists: The best stop from which to access the National Zoo is Cleveland Park; it and Woodley are about the same distance, but from Cleveland Park it's mostly flat and from Woodley Park it's mostly uphill.)

All in all, Metro's a pretty good system - goes to most places that it should, makes it possible for many area residents to not have their own cars, keeps many commuters and (even better) most tourists off the area streets. It's generally pretty reliable, and, compared to the transit systems in some cities, affordable. Sadly, it has, unlike the transit systems of most other cities, no dedicated source of funding apart from its own revenue, which exerts constant upward pressure on fares and limits its ability to expand into new service areas.

Un-American Sentiment #2

Earlier this summer, I linked to an article about people shelling out thousands of dollars for shower heads. But now I've found something even more frivolous that people are apparently willing to spend thousands of dollars on.

Like I'm fond of saying these days, some people have too much damn money on their hands.

On the other hand, imagine if you be assured that the seller's claims were authentic and then take some of the DNA off this chewed gum and clone Britney Spears. Then $14,000 might be a bargain.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

One Less Bell To Answer

Sexual assault charges against Kobe Bryant have been dropped.

People around office water coolers across the nation are now breathing a sigh of relief, although obvious topics to discuss that aren't Bush vs. Kerry has now been cut by one.

A lot of people standing around office water coolers in the county prosecutors' office in Eagle, Colorado should be standing on the unemployment lines instead.

Friday Night Lights

I am taking the pledge, refraining from commenting about the Republican National Convention until it's over.

However, I have to pass along Dave Vacca's take on a night at a bar with Kerry and Bush in attendance. It comes highly recommended from yours truly.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

It was fun to read this New York Post back cover, reporting the worst loss in Yankee history, a 22-0 pasting by the Cleveland Indians in the Bronx. The fans must have cleared out of there faster than a freshmen dorm party that's run out of beer. I'm almost annoyed the Indians shot this big a wad in one game.

Meanwhile, even a grand slam by, of all people, career scrub Alfredo Amezaga, wasn't enough to stop the Red Sox from beating the Angels, and cutting the Yankee lead to a mere 3.5 games.

Whether the Sox can stay on the hot streak that got started against the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Tigers, now that the Angels, Rangers, Athletics and Yankees remains to be seen.

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