Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Fred Phelps Award Rides Again!

As I've said before, when I'm online I often tend to find little articles that pique my interest out of nowhere, things that I've never really paid attention to. But this article I found through Yahoo's homepage as I was clearing out my email hit my outrage button in a real hurry. In so many words, Science writer Mara Hvistendahl has blamed Western governments and businesses for the shortage of females in Asia, for importing the technology to determine the sex of an infant while still in the womb and to abort the child, with no understanding of possible repercussions.

Before you go thinking, 'What the fuck is Joe smoking?', listen to some statistics first. Gender imbalances in Asia are real, have been real for a very long time, and are getting worse, with ratios of men to women in some countries as high as 121 men for every 100 women. Why? Well, in many Asian societies giving birth to daughters is no cause for celebration - in fact, historically it's often led to infanticide. That's because traditionally women have never been allowed roles outside of the household (like getting an education and having a job), and that marrying off one's daughters can be an expensive business, from paying of dowries to a groom's family to paying for the actual ceremonies themselves, which can be quite lavish in some places. This has often led to poorer families simply disposing of newborn female infants, either abandoning them at orphanages and monasteries, or killing them outright. And while society and culture have changed and gender-equity is becoming more more and more the norm, the practices still exist. Female infanticide was outlawed in Asian countries decades ago, though enforcement since can has often been quite lax, as old ways die hard.

That said, I found Hvistendahl's accusations to be at best, tasteless. Apparently she suffers from severe guilt over what's known as "white man's burden", or "cultural imperialism". In short, her accusation is based on the principle that the Western world imposes its will upon cultures and structures elsewhere in the developing world, demolishing them and forcing native peoples to adopt Western customs and mores against their will. It is a very real thing though, and saying otherwise would be total bullshit. But this gender bias is older than any of us, and sadly is not going away any time soon, not so long as Asian cultures continue to prize sons over daughters to the point of selective infanticide, whether it is pre- or post-natal. Technology did not change the cultural standard, it only changed the time frame. It's still wrong no matter how you slice it, but laying blame at Western governments and businesses for the latest version of a cultural practice that has been around far longer than any Western government or business - no matter how wrong the practice may be in our eyes - is simply ludicrous.

Therefore, the latest winner of the Fred Phelps Award for Dumbest Humanoid On The Planet goes to Mara Hvistendahl, for her misguided guilt-trip upon Western society as a whole. For while she illuminates a serious problem, her choice of villain leaves much to be desired, and seems in my opinion an easy way out, blaming someone only partially related to the problem at hand, rather than to actually lay blame where it is most needed - the societal and cultural forces that are the root cause of the problem.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Downfall Of A Wiener

I'm sure you've heard about it all by now - ad nauseam - about the resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D - New York) from the House of Representatives. Well, here's me piling on. It's a total shame - and not just for Weiner.

Let's start with what we know: he's sent questionable pictures of himself to a number of women who are not his wife, as well as various sexually-oriented messages. He was outed by a right-wing hacker who broke into his Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the data... somehow found its way to right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart, who then proceeded to beat that proverbial horse to death until the sheep of the mainstream media began to pay attention. Oddly enough, Congressional Republicans were fairly quiet on the matter - perhaps because they'd just weathered a far worse scandal involving now-retired Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who'd had an affair with a campaign staffer, then bought her silence and that of her husband with money and jobs with lobbying firms, a scandal that looks to be revisited because of fellow Senator Tom Coburn's (R - Nebraska) apparent role in facilitating to cover up the initial scandal.

But Democrats throughout DC - including the President himself - were quick to condemn Weiner for his transgressions and demand his resignation. Why? Let's look again at what he's done that we know of so far - sending dirty pictures of himself and equally dirty messages to women who were not his wife, who just so happens to be pregnant. So far, nobody has stepped forward saying that they slept with Weiner, and as far as I've read nobody involved with the 'scandal' has even met with him face-to-face. Really? He was forced to resign over a 'sex scandal' when it seems that a sex act has yet to take place?

What really irks me about this is the phony, fraudulent, FAKE morality at work here. This isn't Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky back in the 90's, while Newt Gingrich had an affair (and not his first, either) while trying to run Clinton out of office over his affair. It wasn't John Edwards and his mistress in 2008, nor Gary Hart and his mistress (Donna Rice?) in 1984. What it is, is simple - it's almost election time, and in the build-up to a presidential election a little less than seventeen months away, both parties are tyring to beat their chests about how moral and upright they are, and god forbid anyone stray from the path of righteousness.


Weiner has been a firebrand, a liberal-and-damn-proud-of-it who was more than willing to take on the stupidity of the right-wing echo chamber, and also not afraid to kick his fellow Democrats in the ass when they were too worried about Republican posturing and threats instead of actually doing their jobs - y'know, that whole helping-the-people thing? It seems clear to me that Weiner had become too much of an irritant to his own party, and the echo-chamber was only one part of what looks more and more to me to be a plot to get rid of him one way or another. The 'other' way it seems, was the threat of the House of Representatives actually putting Weiner on trial for ethics-code violations. Maybe they just got tired of the jokes from late-night TV. Face it, folks: a sex scandal involving a guy named Weiner? Pure comic gold.

There has been some speculation that when the State of New York calls the special election needed to fill his seat, Weiner may run for it either as a Democrat or as an Independent, on the presumption that while his own party may have drummed him out of office, the people may put him right back in. It's been dismissed by most, but I for one would like to see it. While he should be ashamed of himself for straying from his marriage, the outcry against him over his own personal transgression - one that has not cost taxpayers a single dime, or claimed lives, damaged property or started wars - is shameful to the entire nation, and especially shameful to Weiner's fellow Democrats for their cowardice in choosing to oust their colleague rather than help him recover from a terrible error in personal judgement and behavior. I for one would like to see Weiner stick it to the man.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who Wants To Move To LA?

Another story I came across just in the last few minutes: The Anschutz Entertainment Group claims to have been in contact with five NFL teams about the possibility of moving to their proposed stadium in Los Angeles. For the record, those teams are Minnesota, San Diego, Oakland, St. Louis, and Jacksonville. AEG CEO Tim Leiweke went so far as to suggest that AEG would go so far as to buy a majority stake in a particular NFL franchise and buy out their existing stadium lease in order to facilitate the move.

AEG, and in particular its founder Phil Anschutz, they do have a small place in my heart. AEG was part of the original investment group that founded Major League Soccer, and to this day they own the LA Galaxy and maintain 50% ownership of the Houston Dynamo. At one point in time AEG maintained four MLS clubs, and the league may not have survived if not for Anschutz's largess. Their myriad of sports-related investments includes outright ownership of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings (and its entire minor-league system), several hockey clubs in Europe, and several arenas and stadia in Europe, and interests in the LA Lakers and Sparks as well as the UFL's Hartford Colonials and Danish soccer club Hammarby IF. So they know what they're doing when it comes to running pro-sports teams, and I'm pretty sure they'd make whatever NFL franchise they owned or otherwise persuaded to move to La-La Land a success.

But AEG isn't the only entity trying to bring the NFL back to LA. While AEG plans to build a 72,000-seat stadium in downtown LA as part of its 'campus' (which also includes the Staples Center arena), a rival development is in the works fifteen miles east of LA, in the City of Industry. There, warehouse magnate Ed Roski leads a group attempting to build a 75,000-seat stadium for a prospective NFL franchise. To me, this group seems a little..... quixotic, as they probably don't have the sheer financial muscle AEG has to not only build the stadium, but to also purchase a franchise to inhabit such a stadium.

But let's focus on AEG right now. They say they've spoken with five different NFL franchises, but which would be the best fit for them? Let's start with the teams that actually have history there first:

St. Louis Rams: This actually came as a surprise to me, that they'd actually want to move back to LA, which wasn't even the team's birthplace (the Cleveland Rams moved to LA in 1946) to begin with. The Rams won a Super Bowl in St. Louis, and while their current stadium (the Edward Jones Dome) isn't the newest thing in town any more, but it's been kept up nicely over the years and remains a good NFL-caliber stadium. I'd have to rate the possibility of the Rams returning to LA as 'doubtful'.

San Diego Chargers: This club actually started out as the Los Angeles Chargers of the old American Football League before moving down the coast to San Diego, and while the Spanos family have bitched and moaned about Qualcomm (formerly Jack Murphy) Stadium, and publicly pondered moving back to LA, they have no interest in selling any part of the club to anyone, so I'll rate this one as 'doubtful' as well.

Oakland Raiders: Two words - no, three: Al Fucking Davis. Who would be crazy enough to deal with a guy who looks more and more like Emperor Palpatine with each passing day? I've spoken to a lot of Raider Nation types over the years and even the craziest, most hardcore Halloween-on-Sundays Raiders fan has said to me that they can't wait for Davis to kick the bucket so somebody with a fully-functioning brain can run the team. And considering that last I heard, Davis' lawsuit against the NFL for trying to block the team's move back to Oakland from LA is still ongoing - for over a decade now - you'd have to be out of your gourd to deal with them. Rating: "oh, hell no". Let's just hope that Davis doesn't try to issue Order 66 on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.....

Minnesota Vikings: As of this moment, the current lockout of the players by the NFL had better not end soon, because if it did, the Vikes might not have a stadium to play in. I'm pretty sure you've all seen the rather dramatic video of the Minneapolis Metrodome's roof collapsing under the weight of several feet of snow. They're still working on fixing that roof even as we speak. The Vikings wound up finishing their home schedule at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which is not only smaller than the Metrodome, but outdoors as well. But while Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has been pondering relocating the Vikings for years, it turns out that TCF Bank Stadium was designed to be easily expandable to a capacity suitable for the needs of the Vikings. And considering that domed stadiums are slowly going the way of the dinosaur, I foresee outdoor football in Minneapolis on Sundays as well as Saturdays. This one gets a 'doubtful' rating. Which leaves us with.....

Jacksonville Jaguars: I've always been struck by one thing about Jacksonville: how the hell did they ever get a team in the first place? I'm sure Jacksonville is a fine place, and they've always had a big-ass stadium there in the Gator Bowl, but they never struck me as the stereotypical NFL market. While Jacksonville isn't the smallest city to have an NFL franchise (Green Bay has a population barely over 100k), it is most certainly one of the smallest markets in the NFL in terms of total metropolitan population (excluding Green Bay, natch). And Jacksonville is surrounded by other NFL teams within a reasonable drive (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Miami), not to mention surrounded by traditional-power college teams (Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech). Jacksonville has been the traditional host of the annual Georgia - Florida football game ("The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party") as part and parcel of the city's passion for college football. And attendance for Jags games has steadily declined in recent years as the team has been stuck in mediocrity for several seasons. And like Minnesota and San Diego, Jags owner Wayne Weaver has publicly stated that moving the club is a distinct possibility. And with no other real options in sight for the club......

I'd say the best bet for moving to LA would be the Jaguars. San Diego's ownership won't sell, St. Louis' situation is nowhere near as bad as it may or may not seem, Minnesota has better options available, and who in their right mind would deal with Al Davis? The only issues left are timing, and who would own the team. Would AEG convince Weaver to move, or just buy the Jags outright? Would they move the team immediately, and have the Jags play in the Rose Bowl (also owned by AEG) until the new stadium is complete, or leave the Jags in limbo for a few seasons while the new stadium is under construction. I would think the best situation would be to move the Jags ASAP and put them in the Rose Bowl until a new stadium is ready, because I seriously doubt Jacksonville fans would pay for Jags tickets fully knowing that the team wouldn't be staying for much longer. Not to mention that any remaining difficulties AEG might be having getting the permits and clearances to build their new stadium would likely vanish once a tenant has been confirmed for it.

There is one last variable to bring into consideration when it comes to bringing the NFL back to the LA metro, though: the fans themselves. Fact is, LA was never all that excited about the NFL for most of the time. Sure, the Raiders were kinda.... fashionable during their stay in LA, but since then there just hasn't been that overwhelming clamor to bring the NFL back to LA since the Raiders and Rams left. In fact, when real-estate mogul Ken Behring attempted (and briefly succeeded) to move the Seattle Seahawks to Anaheim, the response from LA sports fans was overwhelmingly.... meh. The Los Angeles Times ran a poll on fan excitement of various LA Metro teams shortly after the Seahawks moved, and they finished eleventh, if I remember correctly.

So the only certainty in all this is uncertainty. But I think there's enough information floating around that I'll make this prediction: in 2015, there will be NFL football in Los Angeles. And it'll probably be the Jacksonville Jaguars moving to LA. Sorry, Jacksonville. It sucks losing a team - I'm still bitter about the Sonics being stolen off to Oklahoma City, and there are probably a few old-timers that are still pissed off about losing the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee. Seattle fans are expert in dealing with this issue. But look at the bright side - the Gators, Seminoles, Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets - they'll never move.

Realignment In MLB - Srsly?

One of the things I like to do when I'm watching sports on TV is to read the streamers at the bottom of the screen, see the scores go by, watch for new little tidbits of this or that. When I woke up this morning, Joy was still asleep (as she usually is), so I turned on the TV and turned on ESPN to see what was going on. College baseball and pro women's fastpitch, two things generally not on my list of things I enjoy watching. Hell, it took me several minutes to figure out which team was which on the fastpitch game between the Chicago Bandits and the USSSA Florida Pride - whatever happened to home whites and road greys?

But I found something truly intriguing on the streamer below the game. It seems that Major League Baseball and it's players' association are pondering the possibility of a fairly radical realignment of the leagues, schedules, and playoff structure. In a nutshell, the American and National Leagues would each have 15 teams (currently the AL has 14, while the NL has 16), and the divisions within each league would be done away with altogether, and the top five teams in each league would advance to the playoffs (Author's note: I would presume that under such a system, the top three teams in each league would receive first-round byes, and the #1 seed would face the winner of first-round match between the #4 and #5 seeds). The article also suggests that the team most likely to switch leagues under the proposal would be the Houston Astros.

It's an interesting proposal for sure, but one that might be unworkable. First off, scheduling the season would be nightmarish at best. By removing the divisional structure, the new format removes one of the needs for an unbalanced schedule (where playing teams in the same division or conference takes precedence over playing teams outside said division or conference, while a balanced schedule is essentially a round-robin format). And with an odd number of teams in each league, that means that there would be an interleague series going on at all times throughout the season. Trying to do the math in my head necessary to generate how many games a season would be needed to make a schedule work rapidly made my brain ache and beg for mercy.

My honest feeling is that this is a nice try, but totally unworkable. The problems that would arise from scheduling 30 teams to play each other over the course of six months and 150 - 160 games into two- to four-game series make it a logistical nightmare. But it's still a nice try. If there were already the same even number of teams in each league, that might help. But what would it take to get there? Contract two clubs and then realign, or add two clubs and realign? I'm not sure either would work, because remember that there's more than just the big club you're dealing with. If a team were to be contracted, all of a sudden you'd have a AAA club, a AA club, and three single-A clubs without players, let alone a major-league team paying their salaries. That'd put a lot of people out of work. Likewise, two new MLB clubs would require a farm system that would need ten new minor-league clubs to be formed to handle those needs. Doable, but building an infrastructure like that takes a lot of time, and a lot of money. And in this economy, that kind of money would be very hard to find.

In closing, here's my take on it all: Getting rid of the divisional format? Nice idea, traditionalists would probably love it. Fifteen teams in each league? No way, man. Not workable. Stick with what works for the time being.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

So You're Probably Asking Yourself By Now.....

What else does this guy like? What does he know? Why does he think he's so goddamned smarter than us?

Well, like most guys I like sports. But not necessarily sports you might expect. I love me some soccer - Sounders till I die! - and I love rugby, even played for a few years, down in Olympia with Budd Bay RFC. Not that I was any good at it. I was placed out at the wingback positions (#11 or #14 - the positions are strictly numbered in rugby, with the forwards being numbers 1 -8, and the backs wearing 9 - 15, while the substitutes wear 16 - 22), mostly to keep me out of the way. I liked to joke that I was 'the Les Nessman of rugby' (and if you caught the reference - good for you!) because I was just that bad at it, though I loved the camaraderie of it all, and still do.

I like other sports too, your usual stuff, though I hate the NBA - fuck them right in Darth Stern's puckered old asshole. After what he and his buttmonkey Clay Bennett did to Seattle, fuck 'em all. The IRL Major League, with only Charlie Sheen and his Buddy Holly glasses and shitty haircut missing. Not to mention the happy ending. Well, it looks like there will be quite a lengthy lockout after their collective-bargaining agreement with their player's union expires after the season ends - owners want a 1/3 reduction in player's salaries, and the union told the owners to go fuck themselves - and I will enjoy that lockout, laughing heartily at their collectively bargained arrogance and hubris. Oh, and by the way, who are the defending WNBA champions? Seattle fucking Storm, that's who! Remember them - the team Clayboy and the Redneck Mafia didn't want, with the players that flat-out refused to move to Oklahoma? Hey Stern, FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!

Yeah, still bitter.

I like racing - just not NASCAR. If I want to see rednecks turn in circles for three hours, I'll go to a WalMart parking lot on Black Friday. Give me road-course racing - give me Formula One. They say Darlington is 'the track too tough to tame'? Well my friends, the Nurburgring Nordschliefe would beat Darlington like a bitch and take its lunch money every day of the year. So there.

I like my politics. I'm a Democrat and damn proud of it, but I'm not as liberal as either of my parents are. In some areas - like guns and the military - I'm damn near conservative. But don't lump me in with that other party. Those fools are painting themselves into a corner they'll never get out of with their phony patriotism and fake piety. And their logic is utterly mystifying - how the fuck do you pay down the debt by lowering taxes to nearly zero? You don't! They're nobody's 'patriots', they're nobody's conservatives, either. What they really are is nihilist-anarchists, or to use a more exact term, idiots. So there.

I'm not much for television anymore, All the good ideas are gone, used up, ground down into mindless pablum. Who really gives a shit about D-list celebrities ballroom-dancing or ice skating? Does a group of moronic kids from New York and New Jersey doing their level best to reinforce every negative stereotype of Italians really have to be that popular? Why are we bombarded by the random mumblings of the most mind-numbingly ignorant of people, while intelligent, intellectually stimulating shows are shunted off to god-only-knows where?

And I'm trying not to lose hope for music. As far as I'm concerned, country music died with Johnny Cash. And the pablum they show on all those simpering country-music channels polluting the dial, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd should be suing them all for back royalties. My tastes are pretty much Metal, Metal, and more Metal - it's just about the only honest music left these days, though truth be told I think my problem is more with the inflexible and stagnant corporate culture that's polluted all music than with any modern form of the art.

I think my real refuge from it all is the kitchen. I love to cook - another thing I learned far too late in life to be able to do anything meaningful with, like go to culinary school and open a restaurant or something like that. I love cooking for my family, busting out something they've never had before. One of these days, I'll get them to eat lengua - beef tongue braised for hours in Mexican herbs and spices before being chopped up and slapped into homemade corn tortillas with a little onion and cilantro. Or maybe a nice osso bucco would be in order. Or maybe my homemade pseudo chiles rellenos - I use the 'pseudo' because I wrap my roasted chiles and cheddar in egg roll wrappers instead of using an egg batter - would be nice.....

Inspiration just struck - so I've gotta go. Time to get a few things out of the freezer. We'll talk more later. I'll try not to curse so much next time. That said, if anything I said offended you, too bad. Perhaps you needed to be offended.