Friday, August 29, 2008

Throwing in the towel

John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin is embarrassing and will not end well for the candidate or the party. For those of you, like me, who have never heard of her before, here are the basics: The Alaskan governor is a 44-year old mother of 5 who has 2 years on the job, prior to which she was the mayor of a town of 7,000 (and served on an Oil board). Previous experience include: Sports Reporter, beauty pageant winner, owner of an outdoor sports equipment company, and owner of a fishing company.

I’m guessing the “experience” meme is no longer important to McCain. In fact, this pick is so unbelievable because the central attack on Obama was that he wasn’t ready to lead on day one. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that America really doesn’t want to rely on a 72-year old president with a history of cancer and possibly dementia with only a 44-year old Vice President who has no experience in foreign policy, agricultural policy, urban policy, or any of the other issues that are important to the ENTIRE nation as his backup.

This pick is also entirely illogical in the sense that she also risks alienating the very independents that McCain so needs to have any hope in November with her virulently crazy views about creationism and abortion. McCain of 2006 was the guy who was considered “moderate” on abortion and women’s rights. Hiring Palin is the final nail in that coffin and I have a feeling that his now party line conservativism won’t float well with the true independents.

Furthermore, she doesn’t have a squeaky clean image. While she has campaigned as an outsider and a reformer, it’s worth noting that she’s currently under investigation for corruption for allegedly trying to get her former brother in law fired from his job as a state trooper in retribution for his custody fight with her sister.

And if that’s not enough, she’s in bed with big oil which doesn’t seem like such a hot idea in an election year when big oil is under attack as gas prices spike. (It will be interesting to see what McCain does with ANWAR. She’s in favor of drilling while he is, as of today, opposed.)

And did I mention that she’s from Alaska?

Some people are calling this a Hail Mary but a Hail Mary implies you have a chance. I’m calling it a capitulation. Because you don’t pick a nobody with no experience from a nothing state if you are serious about winning. In fact, the only reasonable explanation is that McCain thinks that women will vote for a women simply because she’s a woman. And that’s got to be the low point in this campaign.

Earlier I said “game, set, match”. Now I’d like to repeat a favorite line from Die Hard: “The Quarterback is toast!”

Update: Did I mention that a month ago she said she didn't even know what the VP did? Watch for yourself as she states that she wouldn't accept the job until someone told her what it involved. Way to go McSamey!


An Awesome Speech

It's rare that a political speech is truly "historical". The media love to say the word "historical" but most speeches don't last 3 months, not to mention the test of time. I'm here to say today that Obama's speech last night will live on famously.

The excitement was palatable and afterwards I could hardly sleep. Obama took it right to McCain on 3 levels:

1. He provided a general defense of liberalism while utterly ravaging the conservative movement's trickle down economics (a policy that could not have failed more spectacularly but is still somehow believed by many).

2. He defended himself from all the ridiculous attacks that McCain has leveled in the last weeks. Specifically the "celebrity" and "unpatriotic" claims. His response to those arguments was weaved within the larger context of his speech and was truly stunning. But not only that, he implicitly attacked McCain for making such stupid arguments with his "the times are too serious for the same old partisan playbook" line.

3. He spent considerable time on policy specifics, comparing them to McCain and suggesting that there is middle ground for "values voters" (re: Guns, Abortion, Gay Marraige, etc).

In short, he sold his ideas, his philosophy, and his character while at the same time attacking the befuddled old man that will say and do anything to get elected, even if it means crawling into bed with the same sleazebags that ruined his chances in 2000.

Assuming Obama manages to extricate his foot from John McCain's ass, the Senator will be introducing his VP selection today. They held off the news last night because it was "Obama's night" but really they just wanted to dominate the morning news cycle. (Of course picking a newbie-nobody like Sarah Palin, 42, Gov of Alaska, is essentially like waving the white flag.)

Sadly for McCain, I don't think there's any coming back from last night's assault. On every level (energy, excitement, substance, appearance, etc), Obama just housed the old man from Arizona. He turned back the elitist tag with a strong personal narrative about growing up very middle class. He ridiculed the celebrity narrative with the same narrative (it is ironic that McCain's top criticism of Obama is that the man is too popular, no?). He housed him on the most salient issue in the election - the economy. And he did it all while looking incredibly poised, earnest, trustworthy, and frankly, presidential.

Game. Set. Match.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Post Biden Reflections

I think my post from the other day underlined one particular feature about the Biden choice: a lack of enthusiasm. For me, the choice was the right one given the candidates under consideration (I still think he should have seriously considered General Wesley Clark) which meant I gave a great sigh of relief when the choice wasn't Bayh or Kaine or any of the other problematic candidates. That doesn't mean I'm thrilled with the Biden choice. It just means that, given the cast of characters, from where I sit, Biden was the best of a weak group.

A lot has been made in the last couple days about how VP selections are basically non-factors in presidential elections (see this Kevin Drum post at his new digs). And I agree with that reasoning for the most part. Vice presidents don't generally matter to the electorate - i mean, after all, it's the rare event that ever makes the Vice-President relevant.

Or it used to be. Now with Cheney's unitary executive theory, the VP has a whole host of expanded powers that are probably not constitutionally supported. But I won't pretend that the electorate has noticed. No, the reality is, the electorate is going to make a choice almost entirely based on the merits (or perceived merits) of the presidential nominees.

So, to the extent that poll and historical data shows that VP selections don't matter *directly* in voter choices, I agree. What is less clear, however, is how a VP selection can have an *indirect* effect on voter selection. This is particularly relevant this year as Obama seems to have staked his ground as a "different kind of candidate" meaning that he won't go too negative or really crack down on McCain BS. Hiring Biden as the VP means that Obama can continue that role (i.e. look presidential) AND have an attack dog go after McCain nonsense in an aggressive, effective way. And, call me an optimist, but that could affect voter selection in November.

So in the end, I like the Biden choice because I think that it a) allows Obama to maintain his Presidential appearance (i.e. the high road), b) employs an experienced, well respected, and articulate attack against McCain, by someone who is well liked and respected by the insider press (never underestimate the impact of a press corp that likes a candidate, see McCain, John and "maverick") and c) is more racially pleasing to white America (having a black man attack a white former POW, war hero isn't the type of thing that white America really goes for now is it?).

Anyway, we're in DNC week now. Which means lots of ridiculous coverage from CNN and Wolf Blitzer, hours of blowhard "analysis", and political theater. For anyone who is genuinely considering their presidential selection, I recommend they watch Obama's speech and nothing else. Because the rest is like a Broadway play for political junkies.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Biden Pick

All signs had pointed to Biden during the last week, so this selection does not come as a surprise. Now that it's official I have some thoughts:

1. It's a good pick if for no other reason, it doesn't hurt Obama. The other major candidates (Hillary, Bayh, Kaine, etc) were all controversial in their own right. Clinton is obvious (inflame the GOP), Bayh is a total nob, and Kaine is a very conservative Dem and likely would have alienated the base.

2. Biden is a man of extensive experience. In particular, he is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee leader and has served in the same role on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As far as Committee leadership in the Senate goes, he's got it in spades. Of course, he got it wrong on Iraq, but then came around. But no matter, he's got the "perception"of experience which is important to beat back the silly "Obama isn't experienced enough" meme.

3. He's an attack dog. Make no mistake, Biden is an excellent debater and will provide some swerve to Obama's dignified, non-confrontational stance. To a lot of people, Obama is almost too vanilla. Biden is more rough and tumble and if I were Mitt Romney (McCain's likely choice for VP), I'd be sweating already because Biden is going to destroy the Mittster (Mitt doesn't do himself any favors by being a total tool with zero foreign policy knowledge and a rich man's economic plan).

4. They can continue the "McCain is a rich, out of touch, fool" meme. Biden has 1 house. He's not wealthy. He's a regular guy who never got corrupted by the craziness of Washington. He's what McCain should have been. That doesn't mean he's perfect, but he damn well sure knows that it lettuce pickers don't earn $50/hour.

5. He *may* help Obama in Pennsylvania, which, as we all know, is pretty big. And, as CNN is trying to drive home today, Biden is Catholic and that could help Obama win some Catholics (no actual reasons have been given for that argument except that, you know, in 'Merica we vote for people like us).

Last thought: This is yet another example of Obama rubbing it in Clinton's face. He chose the "experienced" candidate, the candidate that would fill his gaps, be a bulldog etc. That was basically Hillary's line - that she was the one candidate who could take on the GOP, that she had the experience, and that she'd "been there before". I'm guessing that this is gonna smart.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

USA Basketball Update

I haven't been able to watch a whole lot of down here. Local coverage more often that not shows althletes walking to their events, qualifying races, or empty fields rather than basketball. Frankly, the coverage has been rather pathetic. But I suppose that's to be expected. Colombia isn't exactly an Olympic power.

That being said, I saw most of the US-Spain game and I'm assuming US-Argentina will be on (at least the Argentinian sports channel will show it). By and large, my predictions have come true. The US team destroyed the competition in the preliminary round and today proceeded to blow out Australia in the 2nd half (it was a "close" 12-point lead at the half). And, even with the evident weaknesses of this team (lack of size, so-so 3-point shooting, defensive lapses), for the most part, our huge advantage in athleticism has won the day. I stand by my argument that no team with weak point guard play is going to beat the US.

Argentina should be an interesting challenge. I watched one of their pre-Olympic friendlies against Poland, a game in which they almost (and should have) lost. It was a pathetic display of basketball futility in which neither team shot well (Poland is not known for basketball prowess) and in which Argentina won by a slim margin after taking the lead in the final 2 minutes. Of course, Manu Ginobili did not play and he is their only elite player, so that is somewhat explainable.

I have yet to see Argentina play in the Olympics (with Ginobili), so it's hard to predict how the US will do against them. But I have to think it won't be that close. Several factors work in our favor. First, their PG play is woefully inadequate (Pablo Prigioni).

Second, their talent level suffers a steep drop off after Delfino, Ginobili, Nocioni, and Scola. In fact, aside from Ginobili, the rest of those guys are mid-level talents that are career role players. Take Delfino, for example. His career high in the NBA is 9.9 points/game and with 4.4 rebounds. He can stroke it from outside, but that's true for most everyone at this stage. Nocioni, on the other hand, is best known as a bruiser who can shoot, but more than anything, he is slow, slow, slow. And I think we've seen enough of Scola after one season in Houston to conclude that he's little more than a fairly good rebounder with limited offensive skills (think a skinny Tractor Traylor).

The conclusion of this is not to suggest that this team is terrible. Obviously, they are quite good. They play well together, they have great chemistry, and set roles. No, the conclusion is that an extraordinary offensive burden falls on Ginobili because the rest of the team is simply not that offensively gifted. This didn't matter that much against Greece (who they beat by 2) but against the US, a team that can afford to sic the Koberman on Ginobili and still have plenty of offensive punch, it will matter. Indeed, the only chance Argentina has to beat the US is if Ginobili goes off for his normal 25 and one of the other guys matches him. But even that probably won't be enough. Ginobili had 24 against Greece and Delfino had 23 and they still only scored 80 points total. Bottom line, you're not beating the US with 80 points.

Third, the US team is probably the fastest team to ever play in the Olympics. If you want to beat them, you've got to stop the fast break, get the ball over the half court line quickly, and get into your offensive sets as soon as possible to exploit the US lack of size down low and their relatively pourous pick-and-roll defense. That's a tall order. Especially when your big guys (Nocioni, Scola, and what the hell, Oberto) have the lateral quickness of a the average tree sloth. Unless something has changed in the last 3 weeks for Argentina, I think they will be hard pressed to be competitive for 40 minutes.

None of this is to suggest that the US team is going to walk over Argentina. That hasn't been our style to date (excluding weak ass teams like Angola and German). Instead, the US generally plays a little tight to start games, almost as if they're feeling out the opponent, and then, once they've got their rythm on both sides, they go on a big run and put the game away. I expect something similar to happen on Friday.

The only wild card, the only factor that makes me nervous, is that Manu Ginobili is one of the top players in the world. He does things that very few can do and as we saw last season in the NBA, if you let him get going, he can kill you down the stretch. I'm assuming Kobe isn't going to let that happen (the Spurs-Lakers rivalry extends to Beijing). But if the game is on and I get to watch it, that's what I'll be looking for. The tone of our defense on Ginobili early will likely tell us what we need to know about the eventual outcome.

Final Note: I hadn't realized just what a badass Chris Bosh was until this Olympics. I haven't seen him play in awhile but wow, he's awesome. It's incredible to think that he's only 24. Right now, I'd say he's easily the 4th best power forward in the NBA and could even move up on Amare (you know, because Bosh plays D). Anyone who suggests that Boozer is better is just a damn fool.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Watching Bad Movies so that you don't have to

Spiderman 3: Finally caught this on HBO last week. It's official. The Spiderman franchise is dead. They may still make a few more movies because the box office receipts were good, but this movie was godawful bad.

I never liked the whole Harry hated Peter but both Peter and Harry love Mary Jane plotline. Not only is the acting just not good enough to support something like that (the guy who plays Harry should never act in Hollywood again) but Mary Jane is not particularly attractive or interesting as a character. Not only that, it's a frickin' COMIC BOOK movie! Who the hell wants a love triangle like that in a comic book movie?

So, I was a bit disappointed that the writers went with that plotline to start the movie. Then I got real confused because it seemed like they added two more plotlines, almost as if they knew that the Harry story would piss everyone off, except both of the new plotlines could easily have been stand alone movies by themselves so combining the 3 meant that they had to pay lip service to each one.

So, in sum, you have 3 crappy movies packed into one, extra long crappy movie that only has a few moments of redeeming action, which would never be sufficient to put up with watching the entire movie. This gets 5 crappulas.

Apocalypto: The only redeeming value of this movie is that now that I've seen it, I'll immediately recognize it any time I'm flipping channels and that recognition will save me 3 milliseconds in that I'll be able to immediately skip to the next channel without having to wonder what is on. I'd rather watch Starship Troopers a row...than ever watch Apocalypto again.

Hancock: Hey, here's an idea - Take a cool, new take on the action hero genre, make half a movie, and then start smoking crack right before you write the second half of the script. You'll end up with something like Hancock. Good enough to watch once, not offensive in any particular way, just got stupid at the halfway mark and on.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Conservative Hack-o-la WSJ notices that McCain is stupid and/or losing it

You know it's getting bad when the Wall Street Journal, the center of right wing hackery in print media (along with the Washington Times) publishes and editorial entitled, "Is John McCain stupid?" which begins with the line, "Is John McCain losing it?"

I'm not the only one who has noticed that McCain's mental health must seriously be questioned given the last few weeks of flip-flops and insistence that he never said things that he clearly did.

There's no stopping LBJ

Missing the first half yesterday meant that I missed the splendor that is LeBron James in international basketball. We already know that there is no one on the planet that can defend LeBron one-on-one. But what hadn't been clear was how LeBron would play with a number of superstars around him. The answer is: an unstoppable destructive force on both ends of the court. I don't even know if he has an actual position on that team. It's more like he is the designated Whirling Dervish whose job is to disrupt and destroy.

After watching him against Lithuania this morning, no slouch although quite young, I have to say, failing injury, I don't see how the USA doesn't win gold this year. Even if some team out there could stop Kobe, Deron, Redd, et al, there's no way that they're ever gonna have a chance against LBJ. We'll know more after the Russia game, so I will forego further fawning praise for now in favor of a few more observations.

1. I left out Germany from yesterday's breakdown of the preliminary round. No offense intended, just missed 'em on the ESPN schedule. That being said, they have less than no hope. You aren't beating Team USA unless you have excellent guard play and that excludes Germany. But good for them anyway. I've always been a Dirk fan and I'm happy they get to compete.

2. The US athleticism again caused serious problems for their opponent. Our guys came out with energy, quick feet, and jabbing hands and that resulted in turnovers, fastbreaks, and easy buckets. Even with an experienced, NBA calibre point guard (Sarunas Jasikevicius) Lithuania had loads of problems just getting into the half-court in the first quarter (and beyond). The US second team didn't play as well in the second as one would expect, but even with a half-effort from the second team, the US went into halftime "in control" although not with a demoralizing lead (I think it was only 17).

3. Size problems continue. I haven't seen the box score yet but it sure looked like Lithuania was getting a bunch of offensive boards. I counted 3 straight during one stretch in the 3rd. But more than that, by playing Carmelo at the 4 (which they seem to do for long stretches) they have only 2 options to stop an easy post-up score: deny the entry or swipe the ball out of the big's hands once he gets it. That seemed to work for awhile but it also resulted in a couple easy fouls on 'Melo. I'm not saying that's not gonna work against most teams. I mean, the US is great at disrupting another team's offense, but it's risky. Even a young team like Lithuania was able to handle the defensive pressure after awhile and score some easy buckets. I wonder what a team like Spain will do.

4. Pick and Roll defense continues to need work. The US team definitely played the Pick and Roll better than yesterday. But they still need work. Euro teams are great at the pick and roll. So good that I imagine that a typical Euro practice is 2 straight hours of pick and roll offense. So the US will need to defend it better. The good news is that it looks like they're figuring that out. That doesn't mean there weren't some easy buckets given up, but they're reacting quicker to the pick-and-roll, as if they now have it clear that the only real offense most Euro teams have is the pick-and-roll (and junk shooting which we'll get to next). If they continue to get better at defending the pick-and-roll, then this tournament will be a breeze.

5. Junk 3-point shooting is the other staple of the Euro offense. Anyone who's watched Euro Basket or International Ball knows that the only times the Euros don't run the pick-and-roll their offense is essentially crazy, herky jerky dribble drive and kick to a 6'10" guy who can shoot the international 3. Coming out of the break today, that's just what Lithuania did and because our guys were a little slow to pick up on it, Lithuania narrowed the lead to 9 points (4-5 3-PTs to start the 3rd quarter). So I was a little disappointed that the guys weren't realizing that: a) all the Euros can shoot the 3 and b) it's better to give up an easy bucket down low than a wide open 3-pointer.

And while I wasn't ever really worried (the offense was still rocking), I was concerned about what I saw to start the 3rd. But then, Coach K made one small change that irrevocably destroyed Lithuania - he went to the press (at times full court, other times 3/4 court). Once again, our athleticism won the day. Because if you can't reliably get the ball up the court, it doesn't matter how good your flat footed big men can shoot the rock. Suddenly, a 9 point lead went to a 25 point lead and it was over. Spain will handle this better. They have legit point guards. But I wonder about the other teams in the tournament.

6. Dwyane Wade is back. I haven't seen Wade play this good...ever. Whatever injuries he may have had last season, they're way behind him. He was bombing 3's, driving to the hoop, distributing the ball, and doing all the things that make DWade, DWade. He had one ridiculous dunk that just about brought the house down. (The Chinese are excellent basketball fans as far as I can tell, btw). To think that we have a top-5 player in the world coming off the bench must be very scary for the rest of the field.

In sum, the problems the US has are mostly correctable. And it appears like Coach K is working hard to correct them. I have to say, I just don't see this team losing. I have small concerns (being too unselfish, lack of size, etc) but even if you add up all those concerns you still come up with a couple uncomfortably close games, not a loss. This year it looks like we got the right mix of guys and the right coach. If we screw this up, then I don't know where we go from here.

Update: ESPN's Chris Sheridan, who has been doing yoeman's work on international basketball for years now, highlights Kobe more than anyone but also concludes that based on performace so far, Team USA should win the gold going away. This is interesting because he would be considered a basketball "realist" and accurately predicted our failures of the last several years.


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