Thursday, July 31, 2008

A few thoughts about Team USA

By chance, I happened to turn on ESPN this morning and surprise, Team USA is having a friendly against Turkey. I missed the first half, but watching the second I have the following observations:

1. Our offense is least by Turkey. I'd be seriously surprised if we ever have trouble scoring. In this game, we've scored by posting up, with the pick and roll, isolation plays, dribble drives and kicks, and simply blowing by everyone and taking it to the rack. I know Turkey isn't the greatest team but, by comparison, I watched Argentina in a friendly against Poland the other day and there is no comparison. Our athleticism at the guard positions is far beyond anything that any team has and that means we're going to score an awful lot of points. (Aside: Argentina was kind of sorry. Maybe they'll play better in the Olympics, but the looked slow, unathletic, and lacking in shooters.)

2. We still have problems defending the pick-and-roll. I know this is a friendly, but the pick-and-roll is the most basic and fundamental basketball play and we haven't defended it properly once so far. Part of this is because in the NBA, you can't have rolling-pick-and-rolls (the guy setting the pick has to be standing still), but in international basketball, there is apparently no such restriction (let's just say that rule is fungible). That makes it a lot more difficult to defend. But our guys haven't really responded well to that and they need to and fast.

3. Our lack of size is a problem on the defensive boards. Several times in the fourth, DWade (6'2") was trying to box out a 6'10" guy to no avail. I don't think our size is going to matter hugely on defense because the international game isn't really about finding size mismatches and posting up and so many international big men shoot 3-pointers and thus hover around the perimeter. But I do think it will be a problem on the defensive boards. Something to watch.

4. We blew out Turkey, as we should have, but it wasn't like Turkey was shooting lights out. In fact, Turkey had a great number of open looks from the perimeter and just couldn't find the net. That's why they're not in the Olympics. Spain and Greece won't have that problem.

Bottom line about this game: We gave up a ton of open looks that Turkey couldn't capitalize on, got abused from time to time on the defensive boards, and scored at will on the other end. Works great against Turkey, not so great against an elite team.

But I won't end these observations on a sour note. Instead, here's a quickee prediction for the Olympics by game:

Game 1: China

It's rather popular to suggest that the combination of Yao Ming and the home crowd will make China a player. It says here that that type of thinking is nobariffic. China's guard play wouldn't make it in the D-League and Yao hasn't exactly led the Rockets to the golden land yet, has he. Look for a 40 point blowout here.

Game 2: Angola

To be honest, I know nothing about Angola. But I'm guessing they suck. Next.

Game 3: Greece

Our first challenge. We should defeat them but it won't be easy. Greece can shoot from the outside and have the big bodies down low to get more offensive possessions. But I don't believe they're as good as they were a few years ago and I think if it comes down to a close finish, they're no stopping Kobe or Carmelo and that should make the difference.

Game 4: Spain

We could very easily lose to Spain. They have, essentially, an NBA line up, they pass better than any team in the tournament, and they have the inside-outside combination that can be deadly. That being said, if we play better defense (no open looks, box out, defend the pick-and-roll) then we should win because they certainly won't be able to stop us on offense (the open seive that is Pau Gasol will be abused by the likes of Howard, Bosh, and Boozer, not to mention their guards have no hope of shutting down Paul or DWade).

At this point, the US will either be 3-1 or 4-0 and we shall know about their chances. If they get out of this group 4-0 with a decisive victory against Spain, then I think they take the gold going away. But if they struggle against Spain, then I'll be worried.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's going on with McCain?

For those of you paying close attention, you may have noticed the most bizarre series of events this week, events that seriously call into question McCain's mental abilities, not to mention his qualifications for president.

We all know that McCain's "signature issue" is national security. What, exactly, he did to become an expert in national security, no one can say exactly. (It wouldn't be his legislative record.) But the media has largely bought the argument that McCain is a national security expert who knows what's up in Iraq and other places about the world. That narrative, of course, becomes complicated when he forgets small details like the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, but to date, those little things haven't hurt him much.

This week, however, McCain bizarrely stated that a 16 month timetable for an Iraqi withdrawal would be acceptable to him if commanders on the ground approved. The, ONE DAY LATER, he adamantly refused and rejected a question about his "new" timetable position. He was combative and arrogant and angry at the very question, so much so that the rather puny weakling asking him the question backed off and let it slide.

So, imagine the surprise when ONE DAY LATER, McCain restates that a 16-month timetable for withdrawal would be acceptable if approved by commanders on the ground. This flip-flop is in addition to flip-flops on Affirmative Action, Gay Adoption, and on Raising taxes. He also seems to forget that mere weeks before Obama took an international trip, McCain himself went across the pond to conduct a quasi-legal fundraiser.

I think that we, as voters, have to be seriously concerned about the possibility of electing a president with a tendency to either outright lie or with early Alzheimer's. Because there is no real alternative explanation that makes any sense. Either McCain is becoming increasingly desperate, willing to say anything while sacrificing his dignity in the process to become president or he has a serious memory problem, a problem which suggests he should be disqualified for the presidency. I don't think I have to remind you that we've been down this road before. It resulted in Iran-Contra. And now the stakes are almost higher. Facing the problems we face - a failing economy, crumbling infrastructure, a never ending housing/banking crisis, a shrinking middle class, a foreign quagmire, losing the war in Afghanistan, and a problematic reputation, to name a few - one has to seriously wonder if electing a 72 year old with a history of skin cancer (new lesion removed yesterday) and a tendency to forget important things (either willfully or not) is a good idea. The question of Vice-President has never been so important, has it?

This is not to suggest that Obama is a panacea. He's not. And I have some very serious concerns I'll be detailing shortly. And, I confess, I would vote for him 100 times out of 100 (I have donated $55 to his campaign). But for those still wavering with their lifetime allegiances to the Republican party, reluctant to cross party lines just this once, I have to suggest that given the circumstances, Obama is the ONLY choice. Or to put it slightly more aggressively, is it sensible to put the most difficult job in the world at one of the most difficult moments in the recent history of our country in the hands of a doddering 72-year old with a history of health problems, an anger management problem, and who has a tendency to still use the word "gook" in reference to the Vietnamese?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

How about that McCain Campaign?

Bad times for John-Boy. First he criticizes Obama for not taking any international trips. So Obama turns around and blows that attack up by making a huge trip abroad where he absolutely looks presidential to the point that he was even referred to as the "President" by at least one foreign dignitary. And, of course, his trip is dominating headlines while McCain is grocery shopping in Bethlahem, PA and trying to appear like a regular guy (note to McCain: "Regular" guys don't have $1 million in credit card debt, 7 private estates, and a private jet).

Now, the McCain campaign's big attack of the weak is that the media is in love with Obama and giving him unfair treatment. They've even gone as far as to make videos for the McCain website set to some golden oldies depicting the media's love for Obama.

(You really can't make this stuff up. McCain's biggest weakness is that he is old and his campaign constantly provides subtle reminders that he is...old. Keep up the good work y'all!)

Exhibit A for the robot known as McCain is the NYT's refusal to publish his "editorial" on Iraq after they published one by Obama. Never mind that Obama's piece was a policy paper that mentioned or referred to McCain 3 times while McCain's "work" was 11 paragraphs directly attacking Obama with one neutral paragraph tacked on. No, don't worry about the details. The NYT published Obama and not McCain. Obvious bias.

Exhibit B for McCain is....waiting.....wait for it.....oh, right, there is no exhibit B. There's just ceaseless whining from McCainites.

Whether the media prefers Obama to McCain or not is not really pertinent. What is pertinent is that whining about media coverage looks weak and desperate. If McCain wants to win this thing he needs to make news, not whine about the lack of coverage. Obama is making news. He's been good at that. But McCain doesn't really have anything to say. And that's biting him in the arse.

(Of course, the fact that there is still a "race" is utterly depressing. McCain is a tired, angry, bitter man with no new ideas who wants to keep the US in Iraq for eternity and yet still somewhere between 40-44% of Americans support him. But foreign policy isn't even his biggest weakness. It's economic policy where he is essentially clueless. He even offered up an economic plan with zero statistics or estimates or numbers and no one really attacked him on it, probably out of pity more than anything. By the way, did I mention that the former CEO of HP is a top McCain advisor. All flash, no substance. Giving HP's best to the McCain campaign. I think I just threw up in my mouth.)


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why I likely won't by HP again (Aka Pavilion dv9500 Problems)

I confess to have having HP love. The Pavilion dv9500 is a sweet looking machine. And the screen is really quite lovely. And the price was right. So, I bought HP thinking that it would be reliable and would suit my needs. And it was. For 8 months. And then Vista SP1 came around and everything went to hell. And I'm still battling with it (after installing a new hard drive, mind you) and although I may be winning the war, I'm never getting back all the time, effort, and money spent.

So here's my list of reasons why I won't be buying an HP laptop again.

1. The service sucks. When I bought a compaq from Best Buy prior to moving to England, I was offered and ultimately sold a international service plan. It cost about 1/9 of the cost of the laptop but it was well worth it. I figured, if anything went wrong, better to have some service options in the UK.

Unfortunately, HP has no such plan. Instead, one has to fix one's computer in the country in which it was bought. There seems to be no real reason for that (although they've got a litany of bullshit to fill your ears if you're so inclined). Instead, they've got a service center set up somewhere in India with people who are trained to repeat a very narrow set of sentences and who are completely unable to answer logical questions that might occur. For example, when quiered about the computer's problem, Help Tech #2 (it's always a different techie which means it's always a different level of english and confusion) immediately replied that I needed to replace the hard drive. Techie #3, when quiered, was unable to explain exactly WHO would be installing the hard drive once it arrived (me, a service tech, Bob Dole?). At which point, I gave up.

My point: For a company that has allegedly won awards for its "service", I expect service that doesn't eat open ass.

2. HP software stinks. Look, if you're gonna load up every computer you make with software that is intended to provide security and functionality (driver) updates for said computer, make sure it works first. Because for me, it's never, *ever* worked. Not only that, I find it to be annoying and after discovering that it didn't work, I disabled it.

3. They load up your box with tons of crap that no one would ever use or want. Look: I'm gonna type this real slow like so that I'm clear: I will NEVER sign up for AOL. It's a bankrupt model that worked during the 90s but is finished. Nor do I want the Yahoo! toolbar, the HP Games (which humorously HP things someone somewhere would actually pay for), or Vongo or any of the other pre-loaded fecal ridden filth that corrupt the smooth operation of the system. I know other computers come like this too, but HP is so far over the top with it that I want to punch someone.

4. Interactivity failure. I don't know, call me crazy, but if I have an HP laptop and I buy an HP printer/scanner/copier, I sorta expect that I'm gonna be able to connect the two with no problems. I'm crazy like that. So imagine my surprise when my HP printer encountered troubles interfacing with my HP laptop, ultimately resulting in a partial failure that left my printer/scanner/copier as only a printer/copier. Realizing that maybe the problem was with Windows Vista (no! never!) I then went to the HP website looking for drivers and installation software, where, surprise, I found 2 seperate programs that were intended to do the same thing, neither of which work properly, but I'm guessing you knew that already. Anyway, after extensive fighting (read: several attempts to run the same program), I was ultimately successful in installing the printer AND scanner. But then, the computer crashed and I was forced to reinstall Windows *again* and we're back where we started.

So, I'll type this real slow like too, just to be sure: A company that makes both printers and laptops should be able to get them to talk to each other and work properly.

5. Consistent errors and other problems. If one goes to the HP website and does some looking around, it will quickly become clear that the ENTIRE Pavilion line is in trouble. HP has extended warrenties for the majority of the models produced (how kind of them) and has information on common errors and fixes on most lines. Not only that, I have heard from various sources that the dv9500 (my laptop) has maddening problems with freezing and crashing after a period of use. The diagnosis is unclear but the problems are well known.

What does HP have to say about this? Nada. Zilch. Zero. Bagel. Taco.

Call me crazy, but computer reliability is rather important, no?

6. Utter lack of information. I can't confirm that I have solved the problem that has plagued my laptop over the last month or more. I think that I may have, but until I have, say, 2 weeks of use without crashes or needing to reinstall windows, I won't know. What I do know is that prior to installing Vista SP1 for the first time, I had no troubles. After installing Vista SP1, the nightmare began. Roughly a week or so AFTER SP1 was released, HP quietly released a note on its website for the dv9500 suggesting that the BIOS should be flashed an updated PRIOR to installing SP1. As was once said famously, "I REALLY COULD HAVE USED THAT INFORMATION YESTERDAY!"

If this is the root of the problem, and I hope to God it is because I just can't continue on without a functioning computer and do the things that I need to do, then the blame can't be totally shouldered by HP. After all, HP doesn't make the operating system and Vista is an utter disaster that will likely go down as Microsoft's New Coke.

Then again, it wasn't like I had ANY choice about the operating system. So maybe it is HP's fault. I mean, had XP been an option, I would have happily clicked the box and gone with the most stable, reliable, and functionable operating system around. Instead, Vista was shoved down my throat like foul cough medicine. Once again, the consumer gets screwed by the monopolization of commerce by one giant over another. (And don't get me started about Mac providing choice. I detest the Mac OS and functionality with a ribald passion that risks violent confrontation when I am forced to use it.)


I really hope my laptop is back. I really do. I want nothing more than to continue enjoying its large screen and I really do have many thing to do which require internet and MS word. And if I can continue to use this laptop without further repairs, I'll be esctatic.

But when it comes time to get my next laptop, I'll just repeat words from one of the least likeable and most annoying ad campaigns in recent memory: "Dude, you're getting a Dell."


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Finally Free

It is a story that could only unfold in Colombia, a land mostly known for its strong coffee, blaring salsa music, and melodromatic soap operas on the one hand and its drugs, terrorism, and war on the other. The fitting end to the saga of Ingrid Betancourt's kidnapping and subsequent five and a half years of living hell came when the Colombian military, after infiltrating the FARC over a series of months, absconded away with Betancourt and 14 other victims in a tale more suited to a spy novel than real life. But, sometimes the truth is better than fiction and in a land where the truth is often dark and scary, joy is shining brightly from glistening cheeks and exaultant celebrations. Finally the nightmare is over.

This story begins in 2003 when Betancourt was running for president of this war weary Andean nation. Along with Clara Rojas, her pick for vice-president, and against the advice of the Colombian military who deemed the risks too high to justify, Betancourt traveled to southern Colombia to campaign in a guerrilla stronghold. Mere hours after entering the zone, Betancourt and Rojas were stopped by opportunistic guerrillas and disappeared from the world.

Over the years Betancourt became the FARC's prized possession, their ultimate bargaining chip, and one that seems to have been too valuable to have ever used. The subsequent capture of three American contractors joined Betancourt in misery deep within the impenatrable jungle with little to no hope of escape or rescue. Stories of failed escape attempts, constant harrassment, sickness and disease, and near torture like conditions filtered out to a world agast. And even when Rojas and a few others were freed, hope for the FARC's Four remained slim.

That is until now. Yesterday, the Colombian military launched a well-devised, perfectly executed plan. Playing the role of the guerrilla, the army landed a helicopter, painted white to resemble a commercial rental, in a clearing where the hostages were being held. The undercover commandos, wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and surrounded by guerrillas, convinced the jailors that a top FARC commander, Mono Jojoy, had organized the transfer so he could speak directly to Betancourt. Quickly convinced, the FARC soldiers allowed their hostages to be handcuffed and put on the aircraft, along with two guards. Moments later, they were airborn. As Betancourt described later, she heard something she didn't understand and turning, saw her former guards bound and naked on the chopper floor. It was then that the commando leader said words that will resonate in the hearts and minds of a nation forever, "We are Colombian military; you are free!"

After waiting so many years, the rescue was over in moments. In sum, the Army spent three and a half minutes amidst the FARC encampment and made their getaway without firing a shot or suffering a casualty. It was, in the words of Betancourt, an "impeccable" operation, flawless in design, flawless in execution.

Yet, back in Bogotá, amidst the jubilation on the tarmac, Betancourt reminded the world that as great as her freedom is, there are still an estimated 700 still held in dank jungle strongholds. This nation, so proud and rich in so many ways, still suffers. And for those families who still await the return of their beloved sons and daughters, one can't help but think yesterday's dramatic rescue remains bittersweet.


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