Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Here's the (real) Deal

Ah, the midterm elections loom less than a week away.  I know not what has transpired in other states; what I am acutely aware of is that, where I live, one should not watch any local channels.  Whenever I make the mistake of doing so, I am bombarded with ads, attacking first one, then another, candidate for statewide office.  I have learned that one supports terrorism, while her opponent is a serial outsourcer.  Another candidate will defund education, while the other has already done so.

I have seen these ads run back-to-back for the opposing forces; sometimes I've witnessed four in a row.  And, this has been going on for weeks.  While I appreciate the fact that the organizations behind these four candidates are creating jobs for those who write and produce these ads, which are, to be charitable, thinly-veiled lies about their opponents, there are perhaps far better ways to invest such gargantuan resources.  One news organization (with no axes to grind nor candidates to support or bash) reports that over $4 Billion (yes, with a B) will be spent on this year's Congressional elections.  Even more astonishing, Congress, which has an approval rating below the DMV, zombies and the IRS, will see over 95% of its incumbents returned to office.  

In other words, we have only ourselves to blame.

Back to Georgia: once one sorts through all the bluster, half-truths, false accusations and outright slanderous lies, there are some clear choices.  In the race for Governor, permit me to post a single photo:

Do you remember that day, fellow residents of the Peach State?  A two-inch snowfall completely paralyzed all of metropolitan Atlanta, causing massive traffic jams that resulted in motorists being stranded for many hours, often in multiple digits.  

Worst of all, there were hundreds of school children who were unable to make it home on their scheduled buses, due to the massed congestion all around them.  Drivers returned their charges to their schools.  Fortunately, dozens of teachers took it upon themselves to stay overnight in these schools, to ensure the safety of the children.  

Stephen Covey has a quote that is appropriate here: Act with integrity in the moment of choice.  

In the time leading up to Snowpocalypse Atlanta 2014, the Governor did nothing.  He chose not to act.  At the one time during his administration when he had the timing, position and authority to do the right thing, he failed miserably.  Because of his unbelievably botched decision, he depended upon the kindness of school teachers to prevent the potential disaster of stranded children or fates even worse.  

I don't know what factors led to Mr. Deal's inaction.  Perhaps he feared the reaction of the small government crowd or of the local business elites.  Perhaps he was ill-informed (although, the Weather Channel did accurately predict the precise conditions the day before).  I realize he has made massive cuts to the Hope Scholarship program.  I know he signed into law the carry-anywhere bill.  I'm sure he has made other decisions with which I disagree, but, that's politics and also the ante to get into the game of a free, democratic society.  However, that single moment in time, when Mr. Deal chose inaction, putting the lives of thousands of people at risk, is enough to prove to me his lack of mettle.  In short, the man prominently displayed his incompetence for the job.  And, for this, we should reward him with four more years?  

In the event that you find my arguments unpersuasive, here's a link to what Jon Stewart had to say about the whole fiasco.  That he branded it South Parked should give you an indication.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

As in: Shame (on) Us

In the late 80's, the premiere basketball team was the Detroit Pistons, aka the Bad Boys.  This team was characterized by aggressive play, exemplified by the unfortunate combination of a shooting forward's touch with a tight end's body and a fiercely competitive nature: Bill Laimbeer.  Due to his lack of agility on the defensive end of the court, Mr. Laimbeer's primary role was to mug the opposing team's star, whenever one had the gall to drive the lane.  When whistled for the inevitable and obvious foul, Mr. Laimbeer usually displayed shock, disbelief and outright denial.  I considered him the poster child for poor sportsmanship.  Years later, when I led training sessions on accountability, I related the story of Bill Laimbeer, among the most famous practitioners of refusal to take responsibility for one's actions.

Most of the football news over the past few weeks has been full of instances of men behaving badly.  There are many examples.  If I merely mention the names Ray Rice and Jameis Winston, does it create a picture in your mind?

As soon as I saw the video of Rice brutally dragging his then-fiance out of that elevator, I had a pretty good idea of how she became unconscious.  I was appalled that she was asked to testify with her abuser present in the room during the NFL investigation.  I later learned that the current commissioner has had 24 similar cases of domestic violence cross his desk during his tenure.  It was only last week that he revealed that he had just learned that such a practice was not proper.  Apparently, the victims might be intimidated in such an environment.  Considering the legion of attorneys that are employed by the league to keep themselves out of jail, this denial is nothing short of astonishing.  Even worse, there were whispers that, perhaps, the woman had provoked the attack.  There were statements by Ravens officials (this, the team whose most famous player in their checkered history has as many felony indictments as Super Bowl rings) that, perhaps, something good could come out of this, that things might change.

I should not be surprised.  After all, this is an organization that has consistently denied and challenged allegations that its players suffer serious long-term brain injury as a result of what happens on the field.  This league allows wildly unsportsmanlike celebrations to occur when a defensive player does his job, which is to stop the offensive player in his tracks.  Sack dance?  Why don't we call it showing up one's opponent?

The other bad news of the week was brought about, again, by the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner.     Several months ago, he was nabbed for shoplifting crab legs out of a grocery store.  He was suspended for a few baseball games, with his team's officials rubbing their hands in obvious dismay, saying that young Jameis needed to show more maturity, to learn a lesson.  This week, in what is at least the fifth example of questionable behavior on his part, he allegedly uttered a vulgar obscenity in a very public place on his college campus.  He was immediately suspended for half a game, so that he would learn his lesson. Later, he was suspended for the entire game.

On Saturday night, Jameis showed up on the sidelines, in full pads, prior to the game for which he was suspended.  I drew a couple of immediate conclusions: First, I was amazed that no one on the FSU staff had discussed the terms of suspension with him.  Second, obviously, he has not learned any lesson.  Was he expecting that he would be allowed to play?  After a clear lecture from his coach, he went back to the locker room, emerging a few minutes later in his jersey, spending the entire game on the sidelines, frequently shown on camera.   I thought he was suspended?

I posted something the other day, in which I said that Jameis has proven, again, that he is absolutely ready to play in the NFL and that his university has, again, found the moral high ground elusive.  Actions by all parties over the past few days reinforce my confidence that my observation was spot-on.

Enough whining.  Here are some concrete suggestions:

  • The NFL should immediately donate a sizable chunk of funding to organizations that study and treat the causes and victims of domestic abuse.  Similarly, they should also provide counseling for their employees who practice it.  Perhaps they could partner with one of their major beer advertisers, whose products, as Jon Stewart so artfully pointed out, are intimately involved with nearly every instance of domestic abuse.
  • The NFL should also ban all episodes of unsportsmanlike conduct, whether it takes the form of trash talking, arguing with officials or any gestures that demean the opponents on the field.  Successive infractions should result in additional penalties. 
  • As for Florida State, suspend him for the season.  It's plain that, despite repeated admonitions from his coaches, he does not get that his behavior is not acceptable in society.  Provide him with counseling and a life-coach who can help him become a mature adult.
  • While there is no proof - yet - that Jameis has abused any women, it's only a matter of time before it turns up.  This man is on a dark road that cannot end well.  Since the university has made millions of dollars off his tarnished name, they should put it to good use: Proceeds from the sale of Jameis Winston jerseys (on sale on their website, prices ranging from $55 to $135, including styles for women) should be routed to agencies that treat the victims of domestic abuse and provide counseling and corrective action for the abusers.  
It's not a cure-all.  There should be consequences for boorish behavior.  I am weary of watching the NFL, its highly-compensated officials, an immensely gifted college athlete and his university all acting like Bill Laimbeer.  Who, me?  What foul?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Time to Celebrate

In case you were unaware, this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of what is perhaps the greatest defensive performance in the history of the Final Four.  Of course, I am referring to Georgetown's annihilation of the vaunted twin towers of Kentucky in the 1984 Semifinals.  In that game, the Hoyas trailed at the half, 29-22.  Kentucky did not score again until 10:04 remained.  Georgetown also held Mel Turpin and Sam Bowie (the person selected just ahead of some kid named Jordan in that year's NBA draft) to zero points in the second half.  Kentucky's coach, Joe B. Hall, attributed his team's woeful performance to aliens obstructing the rim.  Actually, it was more a matter of being out-coached and out-played.  The final score - 53-40 - was far closer than the game itself.

Oh yes.  It's also Opening Day.  Purists may pooh-pooh that notion by arguing that this can only occur in Cincinnati on Monday afternoon.  Yet, I heard the Season officially started a week ago in Australia (we'll save Australia/don't wanna hurt no kangaroos), of all places.  While Baseball can bring out the most rigid aspects of my biases (shall we discuss over 40 years of evidence that the DH rule is a failure?); arguing against a Sunday evening Opener is not one of them.

I have enjoyed the snapshots, predictions and stories that have blanketed the airwaves over the past months.  Based upon all this chatter, I have reached the following conclusions:

  • Robinson Cano will likely lead the Bigs in on-base percentage, since there is no one in that lineup who will strike sufficient dread in opposing pitchers NOT to pitch around him.
  • Miguel Cabrera will be paid approximately $45,000 each time he comes to the plate.  Yes, in less than 3 minutes, he will be paid more money than two-thirds of all the teachers in the US earn in an entire year.
  • It will be Derek Jeter's final season.  While he has played his entire career with my least-favorite team, he has been a joy to watch.  I think he is, along with Cal Ripken, among the savviest players ever to play the game.  That backhand-flip play - in the postseason, no less - ranks as one of the greatest plays in any sport.  I will miss seeing him in the lineup, but not his contributions to his team's success. 
  • The Marlins will not win the pennant.  Their owners - among the least competent in the history of baseball (and that's a pretty low threshold) - will continue to rake in the cash in their publicly-funded billion-dollar playhouse.  They are actually selling Groupons for their opening day, as they do not anticipate approaching a sellout.  Wow.   
  • Games will last over 2:45, or, nearly 30 minutes longer than they did 30 years ago.  Why is that?  I have heard it has something to do with TV timeouts, the superstitious adjustment of batters' armor between every pitch and the emergence of specialty pitchers in this era.
  • Umpires will not call a strike above the waist.  I've ranted about this before, so need not repeat it.
  • Barry Bonds will not forfeit all the batting records he accomplished, nor will he admit any wrongdoing.  He has been asked to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Pittsburgh, along with Dick Groat.  It would be more appropriate if Mr. Groat threw out Mr. Bonds.    
Perhaps the biggest piece of news over the off-season was the announced intent of the Atlanta Braves to move to a stadium outside the city, in nearby Cobb County (disclosure: where I live and work).  Their rationale is primarily that they wish to move to a location closer to their base of fans.  I have no argument against that.  I also have no issue with their unannounced desire to locate their team in an area far less threatening than their current home.  I do have other issues with the move.

First, I have no idea how fans will get to the game, at least on weeknights.  The stadium site is less than a mile from one of the busiest highway interchanges in this already badly congested metropolitan area.  There is no room to build another road, let alone an off ramp.  As someone who traversed this trafficked area twice a day over the past three years, I can only breathe a sigh of relief that I moved away from it.

The team and the county have pledged to create all these jobs, too, something typical when billionaires ask a government to pay for their toys.  Yes, there will be construction jobs.  But, the jobs required to staff the park (81 days a year, somewhat less than the 250 or so considered to be full-time employment) will consist of parking attendants (assuming that autos can actually get there), concessionaires, ticket takers, ushers, clubhouse folks and groundskeepers.  Most of those are minimum wage jobs, or, likely insufficient to allow its holders to purchase a ticket to one of the games to be played there.

The final point is the cost, which is currently estimated at $672 million.  Cobb County has announced that it will cover around $400 million of this expense, while the Braves have grandly promised to pick up any cost overruns, which are typical in these projects.  Honestly, I don't know where the county is going to get the funds.  It's already on the hook for an overpriced concert venue that will never pay for itself.  I suppose they will hike the hotel tax, already sitting at 14%.  This, in a county whose voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1% hike in sales tax (with a mandated expiration date) that would ease some of the congestion on its roads.

The owner of the Braves is Liberty Media, a publicly-traded company that owns lots of other enterprises, including Sirius radio and chunks of different cable systems.   In their annual report,  they estimate 2014 revenues to be in the neighborhood of $4 billion, with profit in the range of $1.5 billion.  Their CEO, Gregory Maffei, received compensation in excess of $57 million in 2012 (the last year for which I could find the figure).  In other words, they have lots of cash in very deep pockets.

I am old enough to recall a rule of thumb followed by all mortgage lenders in the days before they concocted the Ponzi scheme of the most recent decade that bankrupted our economy (while curiously enriching the very people who led us down that path).  The magic number was 28%.  Translated: the amount of your monthly payment must be no more than 28% of your monthly income.  It was simple; if you could not make that target, you didn't get the loan.  By my math, using this same formula, Liberty Media could build two stadiums out of their profits from a single year.

Finally, the big question: if Liberty Media wants a stadium so darn bad, why don't they build it themselves?  Goodness knows, they have the resources to do so.  But, I don't think that's going to happen.  I have a suspicion that somewhere, in the next few years, there will be some pronouncement of a bond issue with some fancy name, like Cobb Entertainment District Revitalization, worth several hundred millions, placed on the credit card of its citizens.  I would hazard a guess that the profits of Liberty Media will soar into even more billions.

Recently, the Georgia Legislature was considering a bill that would require all recipients of food stamps to be subject to screening for illegal drug use.  The intent is that anyone receiving government assistance should not be using that assistance to consume something illicit.  My final question: since the folks at Liberty Media will benefit from so much government largesse, will they be required to undergo drug screening as well?

Still, I love the game.  There is no feeling quite like strolling through the labyrinth of ramps (or, in newer stadia, escalators) only to emerge, seeing for the first time that day, that expanse of green known as a ball field.  The sound of the ball hitting glove, the thwack of the bat striking the ball, the swell of the crowd as the ball streaks into a gap in the outfield... ah, there is nothing like it in any other sport.  It also means summer is not far behind.  It's almost all good.

Friday, March 28, 2014


This may well be my favorite month of the year.  To wit:

Dogwoods, tulips and other flora have been abloom, after a winter that gave us far more snow in Georgia than I am ever willing to see again.

Spring Training is in full swing (pun, unintentional), with all the optimism and Hot Stove League chattering that goes with it.

I'll be on the golf course soon!

And, there's that little matter of that basketball tournament going on.

Ah, more about that last point:  I am fascinated with the intensity of nearly every game.  I enjoy seeing a lower-seed school knock off a powerhouse, particularly when it's a small school (rock on, Dayton, for whipping the CCUF*),  When I have no rooting stake in the outcome, which I do not, since my beloved Hoyas are sitting this one out, I pull for the better school to emerge on top (sorry, Stanford).  One of the things I learned this year is that I have severe dislike for many of the schools involved.  

I was visiting my sister and her family (Rock-chalked Jayhawks graduates and fans all) last weekend with my daughters (who proclaim there is nothing greater than being a Florida Gator).  The discussion went like this: no, not VCU, they beat Georgetown twice in the tourney.  Never Syracuse, since their coach is such a whiner.  Villanova?  Ach!  They pulled the alleged greatest upset of all time!  In fact, for nearly every team playing, I had some objection.

To keep it interesting - and to maintain a lowered blood pressure - we came up with a game.  There were so many shots of the coaches that we determined we should guess what career these men would follow, if they were not basketball coaches.  Mind you, all this was done while sober and paying homage to the final scenes of Animal House, as the camera breezed through the after-lives of the main characters.  A brief sampling:

  • One is a speechwriter for a Republican Congressman, while another is that Representative.  Neither being political statements, merely what they looked like.
  • Billy Donovan is a maitre'd at a restaurant.
  • Rick Pitino manages a tire store; we could not determine if it is located in Bloomfield NJ or New Haven.  He's also sleeping with the cashier.
  • John Calipari works for Halliburton, currently under indictment for over-charging the government billions for work either not performed or done shabbily.
  • Roy Williams is the president of his condo association in Naples FL.
  • Tom Izzo is a school bus driver who yells at the kids on the bus.
  • Tommy Amaker is a musician.  
  • We decided that some player, whose name and school we have forgotten, has a card table in Times Square, from which he sells socks.  
  • Craig Sager is some sort of televangelist.  While the voice and personality may not fit, the clothes certainly do.
  • Another coach, whose name and school now escape me, is a General Practitioner.
See how easy this is?  It proved to be a great distraction, so much so that I have forgotten many of the other ones we concocted.  I look forward to watching the remaining games, if for no other reason than to designate the appropriate positions for the people we see.  Chime in with your own thoughts.

*CCUF - Columbus Campus of the University of Florida, since they own them.