Monday, November 9, 2009

Newsweek Copies Lost?

Newsweek posted a fun video today that summarizes the decade in 7 minutes (hattip Dan.) Astute Lost fans will note that the style, tone, and cadence of the video is exactly copied from the famous Lost recap video. Both even start with "here's all you need to know about ___ in ___ minutes" and feature a plane flying in the opening seconds. The narrators are different people but they speak the same. Lost has finally made it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hanging Chad

The grim news came down yesterday for Chad Pennington and the Miami Dolphins: Pennington's shoulder injury will cause him to miss the rest of the 2009 season. Normally I would rejoice at the prospect of the rival Dolphins losing their starting QB for the season, but Pennington is a player I genuinely like and I am sad to see injuries plague his career once again. He hasn't lived up to the potential he showed early on, but he has still put together a nice career for himself, posting a career winning record as a starter, winning 2 division titles and making the playoffs 4 times in 8 years, being the only player in NFL history to win the Comeback Player of the Year award twice, and posting a career completion percentage of 66.1%, good enough for #1 of all-time. Sadly, every time his career showed promise, it was set back by injuries soon thereafter.
The most bizarre thing about this injury is how remarkably predictable it was. Indeed, his career trajectory has followed the "every other year" phenomenon: he has literally switched off between being successful and being injured and thus unsuccessful. Let's examine:

2002: Pennington takes over the starting job in week 5. The Jets finish the season on an 8-3 run to win the AFC East and destroy the Colts 41-0 in the playoffs before losing to Oakland the following week.

2003: Pennington injures his shoulder in a preseason game against the Giants, misses the first 6 games of the year and the Jets go 6-10.

2004: The Jets start out 5-0, finish 10-6, and make the playoffs. They beat the Chargers in OT in the wild card round but then lose to the Steelers in OT the following week. We haven't forgotten yet, Doug Brien.

2005: Pennington's off-season surgery apparently didn't take. He re-injures his shoulder in week 3 against Jacksonville and doesn't return that year. The Jets finished 4-12.

2006: Pennington posted career highs for the season in completions, passing attempts, and passing yardage with 3,352 yards, starting all sixteen games for the first time. He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year and the Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs under rookie coach Eric Mangini.

2007: Pennington injures his ankle in a week 1 blowout loss to the Patriots, forcing him to miss week 2. He would return but led the Jets to a 1-7 start, throwing 7 INTs in the 7 games he started, before being benched in favor of Kellen Clemens. The Jets would finish 4-12.

2008: The Jets traded for Brett Favre weeks before the season and released Pennington. He was picked up by the Dolphins, for whom he quickly won the starting job. He finished the 2008 season with 3653 yards, 19 TD and only seven interceptions, a passer rating of 97.4, started all sixteen games and led the 'Phins to an 11-5 record and AFC East title. For the second time in his career, he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

2009: Pennington re-injures his shoulder in a week 3 loss to the Chargers, dropping Miami to 0-3. It is announced that he will miss the rest of the season and be replaced by another Chad (Henne.) Dolphins' 2009 success: TBD.

So there you have it. Pennington's career has literally followed a good year, bad year, good year, bad year formula. In his career's four even-year seasons his teams have gone 40-24, made the playoffs all 4 years, and won 2 division titles. In his four odd-year seasons, his teams have gone 14-37 (including the Dolphins 0-3 so far from 2009) and missed the playoffs in all 4 years. I can't think of any rational reason why things worked out this way for Chad, but the story of his career is pretty easy to follow. That said, with Pennington being a free agent this off-season, let's see if there is a team out there smart enough to take a chance on him in 2010 and exploit his uncanny even-year success.

Follow The Turnovers

Even casual NFL fans recognize what a crucial role turnovers play week in, week out, and thus citing the turnover battle as the key to a game is a common occurrence among analysts. However, a game in which the progression of turnovers has such an acute impact on the ebb and flow of a back and forth game, as it did in Sunday's game between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, is not as prevalent.

Take notice: Already up 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, the Jets forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and cashed in for another TD to exert early control of the game. The Jets' defense fed off this momentum and forced back-to-back 3-and-out's on the Titans first two possessions and the Jets closed out the 1st quarter up 14-0 and looked like they were about to deliver a potential knockout punch as they were driving in Titans' territory. However, on the 2nd play of the 2nd quarter, the Jets made a mistake of their own, as Mark Sanchez coughed up a wet ball that the Titans recovered. Ten plays later, Lendale White was gliding into the endzone to cut the lead to 14-7. Suddenly, we had a game.

The Jets' offense went into stall and their defense started letting up and allowed the Titans to start moving the ball. The Titans had taken over control of the game. (Their one hiccup during this stretch and thus the lone exception to the turnover flow of the game was a Kerry Collins interception - courtesy of Eric Smith - late in the 2nd quarter that the Jets failed to convert into points.) They notched a late FG to cut the Jets lead to 14-10.

Another Jets' miscue, as Jay Feely kicked the ball off out of bounds, got the Titans started in the 2nd half. The Titans proceeded to go 60 yards on 7 plays in just over 3 minutes to take a 17-14 lead. The Jets had blown a 14-0 lead, their defense, which had held the Pats and Texans without a TD in the first 2 games had just given up 2 in the last 13 minutes and hadn't even put up much of a fight. Maybe I was wrong last week; these were the same 'ol Jets.

The Jets continued to look flat on their next two drives and the game seemed to be slipping away, until Ryan Mouton muffed a punt, the Jets recovered it, converted it into 7, and retook the lead 21-17 lead with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. The Jets added a FG early in the 4th quarter to extend their lead to 7. Driving in Titans' territory with 7 minutes to go, they appeared on their way to icing the game, but a high Mark Sanchez pass sailed off the fingertips of Chansi Stuckey and into the arms of safety Chris Hope to give the Titans new life. However, 5 plays later, Collins returned the favor and threw a pass that was picked off by David Harris to end the Titans' last legitimate scoring threat. They got the ball one last time after that, but lost a combined 13 yards on 4 plays to end the game, sending the Jets to 3-0.

As I said earlier, there is nothing groundbreaking about an NFL game in which the story of the game was turnovers. That turnovers dictate who wins and loses is one of the sacred rules of the league. It's just that you don't often see the turnovers directly impact the ups and downs and rapid momentum swings of the game to the extent that they did in this one.

Other Game Notes:
  • This was my first game in attendance this year, made possible by the kindness of the NFL moving the game to 1:00 to accommodate Jewish fans who were observing Yom Kippur, as John Mearsheimer screamed "I told you so!"
  • Mark Sanchez became the 1st rookie QB to lead his team to a 3-0 start. Not a flawless game for him by any stretch but it was good to see him bounce back from adversity and mistakes and to be able to make big plays when he needed to. His 1st quarter TD scramble is the defining moment of his pro career so far, a play that I am sure had Rex Ryan grab him and say "great job kid, but don't ever do that again."
  • David Clowney was inactive this week because he "tweeted" something earlier in the week that angered Rex Ryan. I wish Ryan had the power to bench all twitter users from participating in life. Maybe one day...
  • It was comforting to see that even though the defense was shaky at times, they came up big when they needed to late in the game. The Titans last six drives: 1) 3 and out, 2) 3 and out, 3) one 1st down and then 3 and out, 4) 3 and out, 5) interception, 6) one first down and then 4 and out to end the game.

Friday, September 25, 2009

U2 at Giants Stadium

Last night I had the fortune of seeing U2 perform at Giants Stadium, the third time I have seen Bono and the boys, arguably the biggest band in the world these days, perform live. I am not going to spend too much time breaking down the show or the setlist, which was a typical mix of new songs from their latest record and interspersed among their hit classics. Rather, I will briefly discuss the quality about this band and its shows that I think makes them the elite live act they have been for years.

Every time I have seen U2 perform, I have been absolutely blown away by the extents to which they go to in order to make their shows a spectacle and an unforgettable experience. Given their popularity and the quality of their music, they could very easily just play a normal endstage show in stadiums and arenas, play their 15 popular songs for 2 hours and they would easily sell out. They would still make millions upon millions of dollars and probably be just as successful. If I was that successful, that's probably what I would do. Indeed, that's what most bands do. But not U2.

Every single tour, they have some sort of need to push the envelope further and turn their concerts into more than just the musical experience that most concerts are. On this tour, they introduced The Claw, an enormous, spectacular spaceship-like sound and light stage with rotating and swiveling bridges that allow the band members to access the various catwalks around the stage. Having been lucky enough to secure general admission tickets and gain entrance to the innermost circle of The Claw's borders, we had an up close perspective for all of its abilities. It was one of the most amazing productions I have ever witnessed.

Simply put, this band "gets it." They have been playing for 30 years and are likely the biggest band in the world, yet they still act like they have something to prove, like if they don't do something fresh and mind-blowing, they won't make it as a band. That sort of attitude is one I think very few people apply to their careers, and they deserve tremendous praise for it. As long as they keep touring, I will keep going to their shows. Let's hope they continue for many years to come.

Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day / She's A Rainbow (snippet) / Blackbird (snippet)
No Line On The Horizon
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet)
Unknown Caller
Until The End Of The World
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
The Unforgettable Fire
Mofo (snippet)/City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo / It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It) (snippet)
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / Miss You (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
Encore Break
Amazing Grace (snippet)/ Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love(snippet)
Encore Break 2
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Out of Touch, Out of Time

One of the pervasive complaints leveled by Mets fans this season has been that ownership and the front office are out of touch with the pulse of their fan base when it comes to the little things that either please or upset fans. This phenomenon has manifested itself repeatedly through various fixtures and features of the Mets' new home, Citi Field.

Ranging from major complaints, such as the naming of the stadium's main entrance after a player that never played a game in a Mets uniform (Jackie Robinson) and painting the outfield wall black, rather than the traditional Mets blue, to petty ones, such as the dressing the Citi Field ushers in maroon shirts that are the same color as the Mets' biggest rival (Phillies), many fans have expressed the belief that there is a disconnect between the Mets' brass and its fan base.

The latest transgression (which was pointed out to me by Eric, the other night) is the addition of a new advertisement down the outfield lines. Where previously resided a billboard for "Teammates" now hangs one for a swiss army knife company named "Victorinox," a company whose name is nearly identical to that of the most reviled player on the Mets' most hated rival, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino.

Now do I actually care about the billboards that hang at Citi Field? Well yes, to the extent that they be aesthetically pleasing and not belong to no-name corporations that make the stadium look pathetic. But do I actually care about the names of the companies that advertise there and their potential likeness to that of MLB players? No, not really. Practically speaking, this ad has no impact on anything and does not matter at all. Further, most of these complaints are admittedly, the types of things that nobody notices when a team is in 1st place and everybody throws a fit over when you are 20 games out.

However, this ad is simply the latest in a series of incidents that clearly demonstrates that when it comes to understanding their fans and being able to get the little things right, the Mets' front office is clueless. In a million years, would Fenway Park ever hang an advertisement for Jetter Cleaning Company? How about an ad at Yankee Stadium for Papi underwear brand - see that happening any time soon?

Bill Simmons of ESPN has often claimed that every professional sports franchise needs to hire what he calls a VP of Common Sense: "someone who cracks the inner circle of the decision-making process along with the GM, assistant GM, head scout, head coach, owner and whomever else. One catch: the VP of CS doesn't attend meetings, scout prospects, watch any film or listen to any inside information or opinions; he lives the life of a common fan. They just bring him in when they're ready to make a big decision, lay everything out and wait for his unbiased reaction." I wholeheartedly agree, except I would extend the VP's role to the small things as well, to anything and everything that could potentially be noticed by fans. If I was hired for this position, when they would have come to me with a new ad for Victorinox, I would have replied, "you mean like Shane Victorino" and nixed it. Again, these things don't really matter practically in the big picture, but they go a long way in perpetuating the belief that the people running the organization just don't get it. And if they don't get it when it comes to the small things, how will they figure it out when it comes to the big ones?


I applied for a job I found online late last night, attaching my resume and pasting a cover letter in the body of the email. About a minute later, I received a bounce back email, informing me that my email could not be delivered, but instead had been quarantined by the organization's email filters because it contained profanity. I found this very puzzling, as I believe I am start enough not to use obscenities in a cover letter when applying for a job. I quickly perused the email and discovered that the word that must have been flagged was the word "cum," as in "magna cum laude." I immediately removed the phrase from my email and resent it and am excited about the possibility of being considered for this position, now that any mention of my Latin honors have been eradicated.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why Are Jews Liberal?

Earlier this month, Norman Podhoretz of Commentator published a book entitled "Why Are Jews Liberal?" I did not read it. I did, however, read Leon Wieseltier's review of the same name in the New York Times Book Review. And then re-read it this past weekend.

The book, reportedly, attempts to critically examine the history of the American Jewish community's support of liberalism and the Democratic party with a goal of figuring out why this purported calamity continues. He tries figure out what he is missing and why Jews continue to support Democrats and believe in liberal ideals, when, in his opinion, doing so is not in their best interests.

If I had been asked to review this book, I would have had much to say on the matter. The crux of what that would have been has already been attended to by good 'ol Leon. As Wieseltier points out, "Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish." Surely, any rational, intelligent person with basic abilities to craft an argument can point to parts of the Bible that espouse liberal values and others that have conservative ideals. Indeed, one can probably find libertarian, communist, fascist, totalitarian, and anarchist undertones in various biblical stories and commandments.

One of my elementary school teachers once commented that the Torah is not merely a book of stories or a book of laws but rather a "guide to life." While my more cynical side would be prone to shrug off this observation, there is a part of me that understands what he meant. With one caveat: the Torah is a guide to life, but not necessarily a fixed, rigid guide to life; you can make of it what you want, figure out what makes sense and is meaningful to you. The Torah is a guide to life in the sense that it provides a framework and a system of values, some of which you might agree with and others you might find abhorrent. To me, living a "Torah life," to use a term from my youth, means incorporating values of the Torah into your life and living your life in a manner that is consistent with those values.

In that regard, "Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish." The premise that Judaism is liberal alone or conservative alone is preposterous. Judaism is different to every person who accepts it, observes it, and practices it -- or at least it should be. Jews are liberals and Jews are conservatives. If most people have a goal and a desire to reconcile their political views with their religious beliefs and/or affiliations (and the very premise of Podhoretz's book seems to be that they do), then I can only assume that those Jews who are conservative find that there are a greater number of Jewish values (or at least important ones that appeal to them) that overlap and are consistent with conservatism than liberalism and that those Jews who are liberal, vice versa.

As a liberal American Jew (and one who is proud of all 3 of those modifiers) I can say that, for me, this is certainly the case. To me, the most important and beautiful parts of the Torah are those that not only are not at odds with my liberalism but rather are consistent with and complementary to my liberalism. The Torah teaches us to be sympathetic when it commands us not to oppress the widow or orphan (and by extension all those that are downtrodden) and teaches us to be empathetic when we are commanded to love the stranger/convert for we "were strangers in the land of Egypt." (As I have written elsewhere, I believe this verse more than any other in the Bible captures and defines the depth and breadth of the American experience.) Correspondingly, my views on issues such as tax policy and health care are more in line with Democrats than Republicans (in contrast to certain outspoken Republican rabbis who believe universal health care is a goal that is only slightly more desirable than everyone having equal access to "a health club, a high-priced French restaurant and a Lexus.") My understanding of Jewish history and Antisemitism appeals to my sense of empathy to those groups who have also suffered the horrors of discrimination and prejudice and thus my beliefs on treatment of minorities and equal rights for homosexuals once again align with the Democratic party. Further, that history has taught me to be exceedingly wary of policies that attempt to infuse religion into government and thus abrogate the separation of church and state; see here, my views on abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research, etc. I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say that my liberal politics and my Jewishness are caused by one another, but they certainly overlap and intersect.

"But what about Israel," Podhoretz might ask. He would point out that most of Israel's critics lie in the liberal wing of the Democratic party and that conservatives are, by and large, more sympathetic towards Israel than liberals. Republicans are better for Israel than Democrats, he would argue, so how can American Jews continue to overwhelmingly support the Democratic party? Once again, Podhoretz's conclusion rests on faulty premises because, of course, your opinion on which party is better for Israel will rest largely on your politics. If you believe that pro-Israel means pro-settlements, that there is no possibility of a political solution to the conflict, and that all criticism of the Israeli government is proof of anti-Israel tendencies (unless, of course, it is the disengagement from Gaza you are protesting), then you will likely believe that Republicans are better for Israel than Democrats. If, however, you believe that settlement expansion is not in Israel's long-term interest, that the status quo is unsustainable, and that a two-state solution is the only practical, realistic end to the conflict, then odds are you vote Democrat. This is not groundbreaking, of course. It is a simple political calculus that Podhoretz reportedly opts to ignore, much like many conservatives who cling to the arrogant and absurd belief that right wing Jews love Israel more dearly than left wing Jews.

In the end, however, this issue is not just about aligning political affiliations with interests on a particular issue, a point Wieseltier so eloquently captures. "In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity...It is not a delusion, not a treason, to vote against your own economic interest. It is a recognition of the multiplicity of interests, the many purposes, that make up a citizen’s life." No one issue, even one as important and close to home as Israel's security, should carry enough weight to shape a person's entire worldview. And while an intelligent American Jew can rationally and legitimately vote liberally or conservatively in conjunction with or as an expression of his religion, it appears that more of us think like me than like Norman Podhoretz, and overwhelmingly so.

Start The Panic

I was very surprised to see this information released. Seems to me like all this would do is cause a panic and accomplish very little in terms of practical goals. I would not want to be an Arab-American today. Or most days. But definitely not today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not My Father's Jets

Sure, it's only been 2 games. And sure, there will be setbacks and frustrations along the way. But right now, on September 21, 2009, I am more excited and optimistic about this franchise than I have ever been in my entire life.

Yes, you read that right. More so than the rising Chad Pennington Jets in 2002 and even more than the dominant 1998 Vinny and the Jets that went to the AFC Championship game. I have never seen this team have such a bright present and future simultaneously the way they do right now.

First, there's the coach. Rex Ryan was my first choice to be the Jets' coach this offseason over the other candidates, but that was only based on his resume. His first press conference made me fall in love with him as a coach. He subscribes to the philosophy that if you act like a champion, you can become one, and that attitude trickles down to the rest of the team. They attack, they know they're good, and they won't apologize for it or pretend they're not. Rex Ryan has lit a fire under this team, the franchise, and the fan base.

Then, there's the defense. I don't watch enough film of other teams to be able to say he's the best, but Darrelle Revis is as good as just about any corner in the league. He just shut down Andre Johnson and Randy Moss in back to back weeks. The pass rush never let up, totally throwing Brady and the Pats off their game. There were a bunch of stats you could have focused on from yesterday's game, but this one is most noteworthy: The Patriots were held without an offensive TD for the first time since December 10, 2006. Wow.

Finally, there's the quarterback. The late justice Potter Stewart famously commented in regard to hard-core pornography, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it." And to the extent that you can make these conclusions 2 games into a quarterback's career, Mark Sanchez has "it." He plays smart, doesn't try to do too much, has a tremendous pocket presence and ability to make plays with his feet, and just appears to have an overall quality to his game that is reminiscent of other big-time quarterbacks. He definitely looks like a keeper.

I still am a Jets fan, so I know there will be setbacks. Teams will study the film and adjust to the Jets defensive schemes and blitzes. Mark Sanchez will look like the rookie he is at times. The Jets will lose games that based on the way they've played so far, they easily "should" win. That will all happen. But for the first time in my life, I am rooting for a football team where it feels like the sky's the limit, that looks like it could be legitimately good and not just for one season. These aren't my father's Jets anymore. They're mine. Let's hope they fare better.

Back From The Dead?

After a hiatus of several months that had no legitimate reason, I will attempt to revive this blog and begin posting here again. Will I accomplish that beyond this initial post? Maybe, maybe not. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This is not the post I expected to be writing today. Not because I thought the Rangers would win last night. I didn't. Rather, because I thought they would get embarassed again last night for the third straight game, punctuating a humiliating collapse. But they didn't. For 6 games, the Rangers forwards and defenseman were outplayed by a better team, and it was only because of the superhuman play of Henrik Lundqvist that they were able to "steal" a few games and have a chance of this series. But not last night. Last night, the Rangers showed heart, played a physical game, took the game to their opponent instead of letting it come to the them, and simply put, were the better team on the ice. Unfortunately, the better team doesn't always win. A few bad bounces, missed opportunities, and questionable officiating resulted in a 2-1 Game 7 defeat and an early playoff exit.

Let's get the referees out of the way quickly. I'm not going to claim that the Rangers lost this series or even last night's game because of the refs. I try to avoid blaming the refs when my teams lose. Instead, I usually blame Aaron Heilman. But the reffing in this series was a total joke. Donald Brashear goes unpenalized for a blatant cheap elbow to Blair Betts' head in Game 6 that knocked Betts out of the series and was so egregious that the league suspended Brashear for 5 games for it. Then later in the game, a scrum in which Brandon Dubinsky got bitten by a Caps player resulted in a game misconduct being given to...Dubinsky! Last night, I counted 5 obvious penalties on Caps players that went uncalled: 2 blatant ones against Avery (who it seems needed to be decapitated to draw a penalty), a clear bench minor for too many men (they had 7 guys on the ice), a goalie interference, and a high stick that hit Dan Girardi in the face. All of these were "missed." Fine, I get it, it's Game 7 and you want to let them play. Except in the third period, when Girardi cleanly checked Alex Ovechkin right on the puck, the refs pause, see Ovechkin appealing for a call, and the hand goes up in the air...2 minutes for interference. The good news, however, is that the NHL's wet dream of a Crosby-Ovechkin Conference Finals is still on track. I'm sure Gary Bettman slept fine last night.

But enough about that because that's not what this should be about. The Rangers played their hearts out last night. Sean Avery was the best player on the ice. Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan showed why they are the types of players that will one day wear letters on their jerseys. Lundqvist was dominant, making one acrobatic save after another, but ultimately not good enough. I didn't expect to be saying this the day after they blew a 3-1 series lead, but I am proud of this team. They left everything they had out on the ice and can go into the offseason knowing that at least when everything was on the line, when the knife was at their throats, they gave it everything they had.

Still, despite my lingering pride, I am left devastated once again by a team that gives me enough reason to hope and then crushes me again and again. The '94 Rangers were the only team I ever saw win a championship, but I was 11 years old and didn't appreciate what it meant. Since then, it has been mostly disappointment. This one was bad, but nowhere near the top of the list. (To review the official top 5: '06 Mets, '98 Jets, '00 Mets, '07 Rangers, and '07 Mets. Those were all much more crushing. How does '94 Knicks not make the list? Unclear. Too long ago and I was too young, I suppose.) That's right, a playoff series in which my team won the 1st 2 games and led 3-1 in nowhere near the worst. Those are the kind of teams I root for. So why do I do it? Because as bad as last night was and as shitty as I feel today, that's how good the ride to get there sometimes is. I obviously will never forget Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, but you know what else I'll never forget? Game 6, the night before. Last night sucked, but going to Game 4 last week and holding on for a 2-1 win was incredible. So even when it ends in tragedy, I'm still left with the moments of euphoria that led me there. Also, I'll let you all in on a little secret: as pessimistic as I sometimes seem about my teams on the outside, deep down I'm actually way way too optimistic, which is actually the bigger problem. On a fundamental level, I always expect we're gonna win, but in the end, we always seem to lose. I know one day my payoff is coming and it will all be worth it. I hope. This Rangers team could probably look very different next year. They have a bunch of free agents and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion of breaking up the core of the team - I'm looking at you, Scott Gomez. It will be a long, interesting off-season. But until then, let's go Mets and let the Mark Sanchez era begin...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Open Letter To NHL Referees

Dear NHL Referees,

Let me begin by saying that I am not the type of fan that usually blames the referees when my team loses. I am much more likely to blame the players, or a player in particular, for a poor result. However, when a fan witnesses officiating that is so egregious and impacts the outcomes of games in such a real way, there is nowhere else to turn.

I am referring specifically to the officiating in last night's game at Madison Square Garden, game 3 of the 1st round playoff series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, but more globally, I wish to discuss the way the entire fraternity of officials has treated Sean Avery since he has returned to playing in the NHL.

I have been following sports closely for close to 20 years and I know that sometimes it becomes hard to be totally objective and to separate the identity of the players involved when calling a game. Indeed, I have seen Michael Jordan get questionable foul calls and Greg Maddux get dubious strike calls because of their stature. And sure, I expected that when Sean Avery returned to the Rangers that his reputation would precede him and that he would therefore very rarely be given the benefit of the doubt. However, this treatment has escalated to such an absurd degree that it crosses the line and severely calls into question the judgment and professionalism of the referees involved.

Several weeks ago, in a game against the New Jersey Devils, Avery was beaten like a rag doll by Devils forward David Clarkson. Despite the fact that Clarkson was the only player to engage in a fight, as Avery was dragged twice to the ice, both players received penalties. Similarly, the goaltender interference penalty he was given last night was a total joke and there's no way any other player would have been penalized for similar actions. Furthermore, the Avery targeting has been working the other way as well: players on other teams routinely commit infractions on Avery (slashes, high sticks, etc.) that go "unnoticed." It's almost as if the NHL referees have put out the word to the players in the league: do whatever you want to Sean Avery because we're not going to call it.

As referees, your job is to police and manage the game, not to decide it. I implore you: for the remainder of this series and for the rest of the playoffs going forward, call the game as you see it. A penalty is a penalty and a non-call is a non-call, regardless of who the players involved are. This matchup features some of the best and most entertaining players in the NHL and we as fans deserve a series that will be decided by the men in blue and the men in red, not the ones in black and white.

Yours Truly,
Avious Avservations

Yankees Buy Another World Series Title

The following is a work of satire in the mold of "The Onion." None of the quotes attributed to in the piece are real. It is entirely a work of fiction. Enjoy...

Yankees Buy Another World Series Title

Completing a week that featured a whirlwind of activity and intense negotiations, sources inside the New York Yankees organization revealed late last night that they will be holding a press conference this morning to announce that they have acquired the rights to the Florida Marlins' 2003 World Series Championship. This latest deal marks the latest in a series of acquisitions that now leaves the Yankees with 38 World Championships to their credit.

"Today is a tremendous day for the entire New York Yankees organization," said Yankees Senior Vice President Hank Steinbrenner. "To be able to provide another World Series title for our fans is really what it's all about and is what makes this job truly rewarding."

The deal is said to include a one-time payment of $30 million dollars, which combined with the money the Marlins anticipate they can raise from selling off their 2003 World Series rings, should be able to combat the high deficits the organization is dealing with in the face of a struggling economy. The Yankees, by contrast, believe that they can generate enough revenue from the sale of 2003 Yankees World Champions merchandise to offset a good portion of the payment. Correspondingly, the Marlins front office has issued a press release announcing a recall of all Marlins' championship paraphernalia from 2003.

This purchase is the twelfth such deal the Yankees have struck over the last few months as part of a new campaign to use their massive financial resources to buy World Championships. The idea was spawned in an off-season meeting when Steinbrenner, frustrated that his strategy of doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to sign top players kept backfiring, realized that it made more sense to spend money to secure championships in a way that wouldn't be left to risky propositions such as the bounce of a ball or the swing of a bat. After being turned down by the commissioner's office in their attempt to suspend the rest of the 2009 season and be declared World Champions in exchange for the sum of $150 million, the Yankees turned to past championships, which legally are considered the property of individual teams, who are therefore free to sell them.

The Yankees' spending spree has been met with much controversy across the baseball world. "We simply can't compete with them," said Kansas Royals General Manager Dayton Moore. "They have their own television network, a brand new state of the art stadium, and unparalleled resources with which to buy championships. A small-market team like us doesn't stand a chance."

Not surprisingly, most Yankees fans have lauded the organization's efforts. "My son turned fifteen this past winter. He was too young to remember the 2000 series, so he has had to endure eight insufferable seasons following this team without seeing them win a single championship. That's a tragedy," said Joe Bradley, a lifelong Yankees fan. "We are truly grateful to Mr. Steinbrenner, who with his passion for winning and commitment to spending has enabled my son to attend twelve ticker tape parades in the last 5 months." When asked if the current Yankees’ policy was bad for baseball as a whole, Bradley responded, "Other teams are free to do the same thing and invest their money back in the team exactly the same way, but they're too cheap. That's why we have 38 championships and they don't."

The 2003 purchase means that the Yankees now won World Championships in a remarkable nine straight years from 1995-2003, having previously purchased the championships of the 1995 Braves, 1997 Marlins, 2001 Diamondbacks and 2002 Angels. It appears that they will come up empty in their quest for a streak of ten straight championships as the commissioner's office has been steadfast in their position that the Yankees could not be declared the champions of the strike-shortened 1994 season and the refusal of the Boston Red Sox to part with their 2004 title for any amount of money. According to Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino, the 2004 championship was "one prize the Evil Empire will never get its tentacles around."

As part of its Yankees Classics series, the YES network will air the 2003 World Series, with its revised footage, in its entirety this week. "It means more work for me," said Yankees' play-by-play announcer John Sterling, "but that's what being a true Yankee is all about. We work just a little harder and go that extra mile in the spirit of the tremendous Yankee tradition. That's why we have 38 championships."

Still, others around the league are in denial about the Yankees' latest exploitation of their competitive advantage. "I don't care what anyone says. We won that championship," said Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, who was a member of the 2003 Marlins. "They can buy all the championships they want, but they can't buy heart and they can't buy soul." Steinbrenner would not comment on a rumor that the Yankees were in negotiations to buy Beckett's heart and soul.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Showers

Today is April 1 and while for others, particularly those that are employed by Google, this day marks an opportunity for all sorts of pranks, shtick, and hijinks, for me, turning the corner into April means one thing: baseball is back.

The amazing thing about the start of the baseball season is that no matter how long the offseason and spring training drags out (and this year's felt as long as any I can remember) opening day still somehow totally sneaks up on me every year. I've been reading about the upcoming season for weeks, yet somehow when I woke up this morning it only hit me for the first time: "oh my god, baseball starts in 5 days."

Opening day is a fresh start, a new beginning for every team, the point at which every baseball fan can find a way to talk themselves into the idea that if things break right, this could be their year, no matter how bleak their chances actually are. However, somehow I feel like I haven't anticipated this one as greatly as years past, and as I mentioned, this offseason and spring training seemed unusually long. I think that's because I, as a Mets fan, am approaching this season more anxiously than excitedly, and I think the collective Mets world is experiencing something similar. Most years, we as Mets fans fall into the category I described above: we look up and down our mediocre roster and analyze our pathetic record from the previous year, yet somehow convince ourselves that things will work out. They rarely do. Then in 2005, something weird happened: the Mets got good. The season ended disappointingly, but showed signs of promise, so we were pumped to watch the team grow in 2006. And boy did they ever, coming as close to the World Series as you could without making it there. So we headed into 2007 knowing we were good and just missed and excited to try again. And it was going well for a while, until this happened. But that didn't kill our spirit. It was a fluke, a tsunami of misfortune that we were ready to just forget. But then it happened again (sort of.) And now we enter a new season, nervous that no matter how well we play, no matter how big of a lead we build in the standings, nothing is safe. And that makes us nervous as hell. SI giving us the kiss of death, doesn't help matters. So because of all that, I think a lot of us are entering this season with a more nervous anticipation than the usual excited frenzy of years past. Still, opening day is opening day, so here is a list of the top 5 things I am excited about for the upcoming Mets season:

5. Ends of games- Without a doubt the greatest villain in the Mets' collpases the last two years has been the bullpen. We've seen the stats about how if games ended at the end of 8 innings, the Mets win the division by double digit games last year. This was the most glaring weakness on a team that was otherwise pretty solid and consistent. And at least on paper, they have addressed that weakness. Signing K-Rod and trading for J.J. Putz gives them a 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen that is as good as anyone, save the alternate reality where the Yankees were smart enough to leave Joba in the pen. But more than that, they have purged themselves of pretty much everyone who was complicit in the debacles of the last 2 years (with the exception of Pedro Feliciano, who was less at fault than others and is a serviceable lefty reliever) and included some young live arms in Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell. I haven't seen much of Sean Green or Darren O'Day, but at this point just seeing names I don't recognize as part of our bullpen makes me smile. And if we can ever get Wagner back at some point this season, the notion of a Wagner/Putz/K-Rod three-headed monster to close out games will be a terrifying prospect for opposing teams.

4. Jose, Jose, Jose- We have been fortunate enough to have the sheer joy and excitement of watching Jose Reyes play baseball on a daily basis the last few years. However, that entire time has been coupled by a degree of frustration as we were constantly teased by flashes of the player he could be but only getting sporadically. I think that changes this year. I think 2009 will be the year that Jose Reyes makes the leap into superstardom. Why this year? I don't know. But it has to happen eventually and this year is as good as any. David Wright is a tremendous player, but I feel like we know what he is. Reyes, on the other hand, is a player whose ceiling is so high that we can't fathom it. It wouldn't shock me to see him hit 25-30HRs and steal 50-60 bases in the same season one day. Let's make 2009 the year.

3. CitiField- I will miss Shea Stadium. I will miss the excitement I got every time I drove down the Grand Central and caught that first glimpse of Shea poking its head around the corner. I will miss the way the upper deck shook, reflecting the excitement of a sell-out crowd at a big game. Most of all I will miss the memories I forged there at the 100+ games I attended there in my life and cherish the friendships I cultivated with the people with whom I shared those memories. My first baseball game was (fittingly) the day the Mets were eliminated from contention at Shea during the last week of the 1990 season. I was there chanting "F*** You Rocker" along with 55,000 others as he made his 1st appearance at Shea after his infamous SI interview. I was there for Piazza's 2nd game in a Mets' uniform (the 1st was Shabbat), countless Mets-Yankees triumphs, and the unforgettable pennant clincher in 2000. I was there for the double play at the plate against the Dodgers in the 2006 NLDS, for the night John Maine, Jose Reyes, and Paul Lo Duca kept us alive for another day in Game 6 and then to watch Endy Chavez lift our spirits and Carlos Beltran (but really Aaron Heilman) break our hearts the next night in Game 7. And then I was there for the last regular season games the last 2 years as the Mets sealed their fates on stomach-punch collapses. I will remember all the happy recaps and the depressing train rides home, which were far too frequent. I will desperately miss Shea because Shea is all I know. But it's time for a new home and a new place to form new memories with new people (and some of the same.) And from everything I have seen and heard (I will be visiting for the first time this Sunday), CitiField will be a beautiful ballpark and will be a tremendous place to watch a ballgame. So I am truly excited for that experience.

2. A New Murph In town- Not Dan, not Danny. It's Daniel Murphy. And he means business (hattip Harold via friend from school.) I have never been as pumped for a young player at the start of a season as I am for Daniel Murphy. And that's because unlike other up and coming prospects, the emphasis with him isn't on his tools but rather on his approach and the way he plays the game. While the jury is still out on whether this kid can be a top player, I can't foresee a scenario where he isn't a good one. He just plays the game too well (working the count, taking the extra base, just flat out playing smart baseball) to not be good. And even though he has proven to be somewhat of an adventure in the field, he is exactly the type of player that I love, that will fly under the radar for casual fans, and that only those of us that watch this team day in and day out will truly appreciate.

1. Johan Santana- No need for a pun on this one. Johan is the man. Michael Jordan never made it to New York and Wayne Gretzky and Brett Favre weren't the same by the time they played here, making this the only time I have had the privilege of seeing the undisputed best in his sport play for my team in the prime of his career. And I use the word privilege carefully because it truly is a privilege every time I get to see this guy pitch. While he doesn't necessarily bring with him the excitement level of say, Pedro in '05, every single time he takes the mound is a can't miss event. People thought I was crazy when I expressed mild disappointment at what was a very strong showing in the first half. But that was because I knew what he was capable of and he lived up to my very high expectations in the second half, going 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA, highlighted by a heroic 3-hit shutout on 3 days' rest in the season's penultimate game to stave off elimination. The guy is truly a remarkable athlete and I will make it my business and my duty to see every single pitch of as many of his 35 or so starts that I can this season.
And with that, my nervousness has now shifted to eager excitement. 5 days to go...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ten: A Retrospective, Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of the Ten retrospective you can find it here:

I realized that I probably should have included Jeremy with part 1 and started part 2 with Oceans because based on talking to people that are more "casual" fans or even non-fans, the 1st 6 tracks are the more popular, accessible songs that get mainstream play, whereas the last five are lesser known and seem to be adored mostly be more "serious" fans of the band. Alas. I suppose that I can edit them to put Jeremy in Part 1, but then this paragraph won't make any sense, so I won't do that.

Anyway, on to Part 2...

Jeremy: Anyone who is even a casual fan of the band probably knows the story behind Jeremy, the 15 year old boy who shot himself in front of a classroom, as depicted in the legendary, award-winning music video. The more personal part of the song is the second verse, where Eddie connects Jeremy's story to that of a kid he went to school with that he had had some altercations with and who ended up shooting up a classroom of students. However, while the song is titled after Jeremy, I think it is more about the other kids in the classroom and, by extension, us than about him. It is easy to psychoanalyze Jeremy: he was no longer able to cope with being teased and picked on at school and whatever emotional abuse he suffered at home, and rather than tackle those issues head on and really get to the root of them, he took the easy way out and killed himself. The larger point is that the kids (and us) did (and do) the same thing: when something tragic happens we "try to forget this, try to erase this." We take a few moments to think about what happened, but then ultimately we move on, because life goes on. I'm not sure this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just a symptom of reality and human nature that we can easily see in Jeremy but we don't always see in ourselves. (Special bonus: you can watch the original, lesser known music video of Jeremy here.)

Oceans: A truly beautiful song using water as an extended metaphor to symbolize his love as well as the practical obstacle to being with the person he loves. Given Eddie's love for surfing, this water/ocean metaphor is hardly surprising. I don't think this is about a past love or lost love as much as current love interest from whom he is currently apart. Contrasted to Black or Porch the speaker here is much more optimistic and forward looking and awaits being reunited with the one he loves.

Porch: I think this is about someone left behind by a person they cared about, not because of any one's choice but rather because of circumstances beyond their control. Death comes to mind as a possibility because the notion that he wishes he could have "learned your voice one last time" implies that this happening in the future is no longer a possibility as he knows that he will not not hold or feel the person, "never again." Instead, he is left behind to deal with the monotony and mundane existence that is everyday life: paying bills, taking care of shit. Sometimes the malaise that follows the deep depression, where you just go through the motions of life instead of actually living and experiencing it, can be worse than the depression itself. Ultimately though, to break out of it, one has to realize that you can't stay stuck in neutral, stuck in the middle, because eventually "there ain't gonna be any middle any more." Instead, the goal is to wake up every day with the attitude that "this could be the day." And if it's not, maybe tomorrow will be.

Garden: The opening verse of this song is one of the most perfectly ever written: "The direction of the eye, so misleading/ The defection of the soul, nauseously quick/ I don't question, our existence/ I just question, our modern needs." The contrast between the eyes and the soul - between the things in life that we think we want and the things that are actually good for us - is striking. A commentary on modern society and our modern "needs" that reminds me of David Foster Wallace's comment that those who worship tangible things will eventually come to be enslaved by those things. (It should be noted that the short musical piece that plays at the beginning and end of the album is called "Master/Slave." Interesting? Maybe.) They will subject themselves to things that will never be able to satisfy them as they spend their entire lives walking "with my hands bound...into your garden of stone," and spend the rest of eternity 6 feet under, finally realizing that they weren't able to bring any of those things along with them.

Deep: A truly dismal portrait of a man so consumed with depression and a lack of self-worth that he is on the edge, contemplating suicide. He ponders his existence and his own will but believes that to the "street below" and the "sky above," to the people around him, "he just ain't nothin." Rather than looking harder inside himself he looks outside to other people and projects his problems on to them, blaming society for the way he is. Rather than trying to break free from these issues, he sinks himself deeper into them, transforming into a murderer and rapist, viewing his victims in the same way he believes others see him.

Release: To Ed, this song may have been about his tumultuous relationship with his stepfather or his non-existent relationship with his real father, but for me, this song is more so about the relationship many of us have with our Father, with a capital F - this song is about religion. I would be hard pressed to come up with better imagery to describe god sitting upon his heavenly throne than a "rocking horse of time." Anyone who has ever seriously contemplated god's existence and tried to reconcile faith with their own sense of logic and intuition can relate to the sleepless nights of deep thought, as one lies there waiting for someone, anyone to "speak to me." This struggle can be likened to chains of bondage that are so debilitating that they leave the subject trapped, crying out and begging, "release me!" (The 7 minute clip of the live performance at night 2 at the Garden this year was probably the most spiritual experience of my life.)

Ten: A Retrospective, Part 1

I was 8 years old when Pearl Jam released their debut, breakthrough album Ten in 1991 and it was probably not until the end of high school or even college that I became familiar with any of its tracks. But today, on the eve of Pearl Jam's re-release of Ten, the first reissue in a planned re-release of Pearl Jam's entire catalogue that will lead up to the band's 20th anniversary in 2011, I can say without any doubt that Ten is for me, the best and most important album of all-time. Now to be clear, this is as a matter of personal taste and personal significance, as when considering historical context and musical influence, there are probably a number of albums that most would say supersede it (Dark Side of the Moon, Zeppelin I & IV, and several Beatles albums immediately come to my mind.) But in terms of the album that has most influenced and appealed to my musical taste, spoken to me on a personal level, and whose tracks I simply just flat out enjoy the most, Ten is definitely at the top of the chart. This re-release would be exciting enough on its own, but it is further enhanced by the fact that the album's tracks are being made available for download on Rock Band, so as soon as we get our XBox's wireless working and fix the cord on our drums, we will be rocking out to Ten for hours on end. This is a band whose catalog of quality songs is so deep and whose live performances are so energetic and have blown my mind every single time I have seen them, that I am eager to borrow the words of Ben Harper, who called them "the greatest band in the world." To commemorate this momentous event, I have compiled my thoughts on the entire album and included sample videos of live versions of each song. This analysis will be a combination of merely relating the actual, sometimes personal stories that inspired the songs as well some of my own personal comments on what the songs mean to me.

Once: The 2nd installment (between "Alive" and "Footsteps") of the "Mamasan trilogy," a 3-song mini-opera composed from the original Stone Gossard demo tape that fell into the hands of a young Eddie Vedder, who recorded vocals over it, returned the tape, and the rest, as they say, is history. It tells the story of a man so traumatized by the emotional baggage he endured as an adolescent (which we learn about in "Alive") that he turns into a serial killer. Most striking to me is the lyric "once upon a time, I could control myself," which most acutely relates what to me is the most frustrating part of any downtrodden emotional state, be it depression, loneliness, alienation, or whatever one is afflicted with: namely, the ability to remember times where you were able to control your thoughts and feelings and confront whatever the problem is contrasted with your current inability to do so.

Even Flow: A song that is demonstrably about homelessness and those who are cursed to suffer through the cruelties of that life. The song speaks of what is clearly a mentally ill homeless man unable to deal not only with the day to day challenges of life but even to cope with the thoughts that enter his head, instead choosing to "chase them away." I think this is a song that even those of us who are not homeless can relate to (and I assume that anyone reading this falls into that category), particularly through that lyric and the notion of chasing away bad thoughts rather than trying to battle them, but also from the perspective of living in New York City and seeing people who have to endure this terrible life on a daily basis. I think the lyric "faces that he sees time again ain't that familiar" captures the relationship between residents of a neighborhood and the homeless people that wander its streets, as we come to recognize the same homeless characters, each on their corner with their own defining characteristic, yet never come to actually know them, a dynamic that is probably much more disheartening from their perspective than from ours. Notably, it features almost as good a guitar solo as you will find, courtesy of Mike McCready.

Alive: Eddie's personal, autobiographical account of learning from his mother as a teenager that the man who he thought was his father was, in fact, his stepfather and that his "real daddy" had died years earlier. The song continues with a fictional sidesplot of an incestual relationship between the mother and the child, who has grown up to resemble his deceased father. The song's climactic chrous line "I'm still alive" expresses the feeling that having endured all this emotional trauma the worst part was the fact that he was still alive and had to deal with the baggage. "I'm still alive," was a curse. However, as Eddie explained when telling the backstory to the song during Pearl Jam's performance on VH1 Storytellers, the fans reinterpreted the song, energetically belting out the chorus "I'm still alive!" in a celebratory unison voice that, for Eddie, changed the meaning of the song and "lifted the curse."

Why Go: This song was specifcally inspired by a story Eddie read about a girl from Chicago who was institutionalized by her mother after her mother caught her smoking pot, but I'm sure it resonates with anyone who has ever felt alienated from their parents because they felt like their parents were prone to overreaction and just didn't "get it." In live performances the song's culminating lyric "Why go home?" often becomes a crowd sing-along part, as it reflects a sentiment that has surely been expressed by anyone who has experienced the frustrations and alienation from their parents that the song speaks of. To me the most striking element of the song and that lyric, specifically, is that even when targetting it as a place to be avoided, it's still "home."
Black: I could probably write 2,000 words about this song if I had the space and time to do so, as out of all the songs I have ever heard in my life, it is the one that most closely resembles a piece of poetry, in addition to being my favorite song on my favorite album by my favorite band.
Thus, limiting my thoughts on it to an appropriate length will prove quite challenging. This song is about unrequited love, a man so desperately in love with a woman, who for whatever reason can't or won't be with him. The song is highlighted by two extended metaphors: art and the cosmos. What starts out as a pristine relationship with unlimited potential ("sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay"), a relationship so pure that the cosmos themselves ("all five horizons revolved around her soul, as the earth to the sun") have preordained it in the eyes of the speaker, has been "washed in black" to the point that even the air he breathes "has taken a turn" and even the innocent sound of children laughing makes him sear. The feeling of rejection and lost love has overshadowed everything good about the relationship and about life more globally, as "the love gone bad" has turned his entire world and existence to "black, tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I'll be," leaving him to disconsolately wonder, "of what was everything?" Was everythinng I "taught her" and gave her, everything we experienced together, all for naught? The song ends with a concession to reality but one last plea of false hope as in the most touching lyric I have ever heard, Eddie sings, "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky, but why can't it be mine," final words that when tagged in live versions together with the words "we belong together" over the final guitar chords prove to be truly heartbreaking.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Interfaith Sexual Dialogue?

I was intrigued as I read about Cardinal Egan's comments on the issue of celibacy for priests and his suggestion that perhaps the issue deserves revisiting. Sexuality, both homo and hetero, is a topic that is often discussed in the context of Judaism in terms of being an issue that needs to be re-evaluated in light of modern sensibilities and it is interesting for me to see that similar discussions are taking place in the Catholic Church as well. I only wish that our leaders would be as proactive in confronting these issues as theirs are, instead of mostly sweeping them under the rug and/or clinging to old-fashioned lines of thinking. Then again, the Pope did recently cite condoms as one of the principal culprits in the pervasive spread of AIDS, so maybe they're just as bad.

The Times Heeds My Letter

On Thursday, I wrote the following letter to the NY Times, reiterating some of the same points I have made here the last few days:

To The Editor:
I have found your coverage of the outrage over the AIG bonuses ("AIG and Wall St. Confront Upsurge of Populist Fury") almost as upsetting as the outrage itself. Why is the media, the government, and the American public spending this much time obssessing over $165 million out of a $170 billion AIG bailout package (not to mention the billions of dollars being doled out to other financial institutions)? In more relatable terms, this would be like if you were very generous and did your friend a favor and lent him $1,000 to keep him afloat for a little while and then spent a week obsessing over a specific $1 - what he did with it, who he gave it to, and whether the person he gave it to deserved it. All these investigations about when Geithner and then Obama found out are a tremendous waste of time and do us all a disservice. We could all scream until we're blue in the face about whether these guys deserved such high payout or anything at all, but doing so would be severely missing the forest for the trees. So how about we all (Treaury, Congress, and the White House, included) stop worrying about this AIG bonus "crisis" and focus all our attention on the actual financial crisis, where it belongs.

While they did not print my letter, they printed 5 or 6 others that expressed a similar sentiment, and more importantly, have run pieces the last two days that have echoed this much more sensible approach to the issue. Yesterday's Business section had a piece by Joe Nocera, who articulated a host of reasons why the response the last week has been an absurd overreaction and one that has totally missed the forest for the trees. Then the front page story today's Week in Review section discussed how the fury over the AIG bonuses is yet another example of American's misplaced focus on symbolic issues in politics rather than substantive ones.

Here's hoping that the Times continues to along this altered approach to this issue and acts as a voice of reason that can trickle down to the rest of the reading public.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Bonus Tax

Really? Another post about the AIG bonuses? Don't worry, I'm just as sick of this story as you are. The fact that the media and Congress won't let this story about $165 million out of over $100 billion in bailout payments to AIG alone (not to mention billions more thrown to the other financial institutions) just die already, is a total joke. The media is doing it because they're the media and this is what they do. Congress, however? They're just trying to cover their own asses and try to hope people forget that they're the ones that approved all of this money without first putting some restrictions on it. This faux outrage after the public's reaction to it is absurd.

Everyone is wondering how Geithner overlooked this, and I'll tell you why: he was focusing on the $100 billion, the big picture, instead of the relatively small peanuts of the $165 million in bonus payments. In more relatable figures, focusing on $165M out of a $100B bailout, is like if you were very generous and did your friend a favor and lent him $1,000 to keep him afloat for a little while and then spent a week obsessing over a specific $1.65 - what he did with it, who he gave it to, and whether the person he gave it to deserved it.

So now the House, in order to quell populist outrage, has passed an over-broad, far overreaching bill that will retroactively tax these bonuses at a 90% rate, effectively totally erasing them. I entertained the notion of using the tax system to solve this a couple days ago, but I never had something this extreme in mind. This bill potentially raises constitutional issues, as the tax may be considered a "bill of attainder", which can be briefly described as "legislative punishment," and is unconstitutional under Article I. Laurence Tribe seems to think the tax is legal. Others disagree.

Early signs show that the both the Senate and President Obama are supportive of this bill, or at least slight variations of it. Once it passes the Senate, I hope that, rather than signing the bill and creating a tumult at AIG and Wall Street that could have drastic ramifications, that Obama uses the bill as leverage against these employees to renegotiate the bonuses, in a manner similar to what Noam Scheiber suggested a few days ago. These employees need their money and we need them to stay at AIG and help us fix this mess. Give them a certain percentage (about 1/3) up front, put another 1/3 in escrow for the employees to potentially receive if they stay at AIG, help fix things, and do a good job, and let the government recoup the final 1/3. There, I just solved the AIG bonus crisis. Now, can we please get back to the actual crisis?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Follow-up on Bonuses

A couple follow-up points on yesterday's post on bonuses:

1. I think a lot of the controversy on this story stems from the labeling of these payouts as "bonuses" when, in fact, they more closely represent deferred salary. These are not bonuses being paid out on top of salaries already received, which is the traditional understanding of a bonus. Rather, this is the salary for these employees, many of whom negotiated contracts with their employer whereby they would agree to a salary of $1 in exchange for these bonuses. These contracts were negotiated before the onset of the financial crisis.

2. If the government wanted to prevent these bonuses from being paid, there was a way for them to do that: put the company into bankruptcy. However, for whatever their reasons were, the government decided that this wasn't the way they wanted to go. For the government to complain about it now is unfair. This is their fault much more than AIG's. The government could have either forced AIG into bankruptcy or put restrictions on the money it gave AIG through the bailout, but it didn't. Once it continues to exist as a company, AIG has to continue to run as a company, and a major part of that is honoring employments contracts with your employees. Should they not pay their lease anymore if the rent is astronomical? What about the electric bill?

That being said, there are problems with these bonuses, primarily the dollar figures that are being thrown around. These employees are entitled to get paid, but let's not overdo it. Whether we use the tax system to limit the bonus size or hope that some of these guys adhere to the pleas of Tom Friedman in today's Times, echoed by AIG's CEO Edward Liddy in his testimony today and return some of the money, some of this money should be gotten back. The other issue that is pretty puzzling is calling these "retention bonuses" but awarding some of them to employees that have already left the company. Not sure if anyone has given a good answer to that yet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Case For Bonuses?

The other side of the story, from Andrew Sorkin in today's Times Business section. Pretty much everyone seems to be outraged at the AIG bonuses that were announced recently and intuitively that outrage is well placed: why should taxpayers be funding huge bonuses for companies that got bailout money. Sorkin suggests that abrogating these bonus contracts might do more damage to the fundamentals of the economy than we can imagine because it will lead to a fear that the government can step in and cancel any existing contracts. Further, he argues that there could be a strong incentive to keep current AIG staff in place because they are the ones that got us into this mess and are therefore best equipped to find a way out. Plus, if they were to depart AIG they would be in the best position to figure out a way to make money off AIG's failure and the notion of a bunch of smart, talented finance-types out there who have an insider understanding of AIG's underpinnings and a financial desire to see it fail is a frightening prospect. Finally, he questions the notion that the current recession and poor job market means that these people have nowhere to go and therefore there is no need to give them extra financial incentive to stay. He correctly observes that in all times, good or bad, there is always a demand for talent and the most talented among them will be picked up elsewhere even now if they are let go.

That being said, there needs to be some sort of reasonable limit on what types and the amount of bonuses that can be given, a condition that was wrongly ommitted from the bailout rules. Since it appears like it might be too late to legally get money back now, Ambinder's idea from yesterday that was co-opted by Christopher Dodd today, to heavily tax bonuses that are taken from TARP dollars might be an efficient way to regulate the size of these bonuses after the fact. My intuition tells me that it will be extremely difficult to get this money back and that taxes might be the only way to make this work.

Landmark Status v. Heller

There is an interesting article in today's Times about how so far the Supreme Court's "landmark" decision this past summer in District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down D.C.'s ban on handguns, has proven to be practically irrelevant so far. Since that decision came down, the federal courts have heard more than 80 cases interpreting Heller, and according to Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who keeps a running tally of decisions based on the case, “to date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.” The open question on this issue that remains to be resolved is whether the decision applies to the states. In the past the Supreme Court has ruled that most of the Bill of Rights are incorporated to the states by the 14th Amendment, but it is not clear yet whether the 2nd Amendment will fall into this category. For now, it seems that what was considered to be a groundbreaking SCOTUS decision will only carry importance to constitutional scholars, who are left free to wonder: if Joe Biden was carrying a handgun in violation of D.C.'s now-defunct weapons ban during 12:01 and 12:03 on Inauguration Day, would this qualify as an impeachable offense under Article II and mean that, in fact, Nancy Pelosi (or Condoleeza Rice, depending on how far you want to take this ) "was president" for those 2 minutes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oath of Office

This afternoon I was officially sworn in and admitted as a member of the Bar of the State of New York. While the admission ceremony was a mere formality, it marked the end of a long, tedious, and, at times, quite challenging journey to becoming a fully licensed member of the legal community and the start of what will hopefully be a long, fulfilling, and productive legal career. The end of one journey; the start of another. "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," right? And in case you are wondering, no, I didn't flub the oath. It's totally official.

Stem Celling The Tide

I realize that sometimes I become so steadfast in my views that I have trouble recognizing that there is merit to the other side's point of view, and this is something I continue to work on. However, there is one issue where I consciously do not work on seeing and giving credence to the other side's perspective because the other side has no merit: stem cell research. Stem cell research has been somewhat of a hot button issue this decade and it is probably the only issue I have followed where I have not heard the other side (in this case, and in most cases, the conservatives) make a single legitimate argument that I found even remotely convincing. The heart of their argument on this issue lies in protecting the sanctity of life. It is beyond me how anyone could prefer protecting the "life" of discarded embryos that if not used in research, would otherwise BE THROWN OUT ANYWAYS, over potentially using them to save the lives of real, living, breathing human beings that are afflicted with terrible diseases. In the words of a renowned educator at one of the fabulous institutions of higher learning I briefly attended, "it doesn't make logic."

Remarkably, though, it was this central argument that prompted the Bush administration to block any funding for researching stem cells over the last 8 years. Now that President Obama has lifted the federal ban on stem cell research, conservatives are trying to push to limit the research solely to those stem cells that would otherwise be discarded (as discussed above in caps), rather than permitting the creation of new stem cells specifically for research purposes. As the Times editorial page points out today, this would be a terrible mistake. We have already lost 8 years in this fight, and this is not something to concede on. Sure, many scientists are skeptical about the practical potential that this research actually has, and maybe they're right. Maybe nothing will come of this and this research will not lead to any advances in the treatment of Parkinson's and other diseases. But maybe it will. Are we really not willing to risk some embryos to find out? More than that, by its very nature, scientific research is a pursuit whose goals and results aren't always contiguous. Maybe stem cells will prove useless for the objectives we intend to use them for, but by studying them we will learn something about human physiology that we can't anticipate right now. There's only one way to find out. Mr. President, I am all for bipartisanship and compromise when it is appropriate. So go ahead and feel free to compromise on the stimulus, on health care, on whatever other issues where you think it makes sense. But please, do not compromise here. It's too important.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ron Silver: 1946-2009

After a 2 year long battle, Ron Silver succumbed tonight to esophageal cancer. He was not exactly the defining actor of his generation by any stretch, but that shouldn't sell short the way he impacted my life greatly through two primary roles. First, was his portrayal of Alan Dershowitz, one of my early intellectual idols, in Reversal of Fortune. More notably, it was his role as the immortal Bruno Gianelli, the manager of the re-election campaign for Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, for which i will remember him. His arrogance was only matched by his brilliance and his ability to put winning above all else. After securing a 2nd term for Bartlett, Bruno returns in season 6 to head up the campaign of Republican candidate Arnie Vinick, mirroring the notoriously liberal Silver's own defection to George W. Bush's side in 2004. His death marks the 2nd notable West Wing character (we wish you were still among us, John Spencer) to pass in the last few years. In real life, he was a very politically active man who used his celebrity status to make his voice heard and was a staunch and noble advocate of Israel. Ron, you left us too soon, and you will be sorely missed.

"We were but stones; your light made us stars."--Eddie Vedder

(So much for not writing about The West Wing here.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Six OT's? Are You Serious???

Over the course of my life, there have been been many situations that have prompted me to ask the question: "When do people who don't follow sports get to feel like this?" Last night was one of those nights. The 6OT Syracuse-Connecticut thriller last night in the Big East Tournament was one of those games that reminds you why sports is different than any other form of entertainment in the world.

I am fairly certain that if I had asked all my male friends yesterday afternoon, "what are you doing tonight," that not a single one of them would have mentioned the Syracuse-UConn game anywhere in their plans. However, as the clock struck midnight and then eventually 1am, basically every guy I know was doing the same thing: watching that basketball game. I was being barraged by IMs and texts excitedly wondering "are you watching this???" and watching people's online statuses change with each turning point play and each additional OT session. None of us particularly cared about the outcome of the game but we were all enthralled and we were all sure as hell gonna stick with it till the very end. As a result, I would bet the aggregate male workforce was close to an hour late to work this morning.

So I continue to wonder: is there anything in life that provides the same sort of spontaneity, drama, and constant unpredictability the way a live sporting event can? And how do those people who don't follow sports fill in the gaps and find things to make them feel the way we all felt last night? Maybe they just have no idea what they're missing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wanna Make Something Awesome? Just Google It

This item in the Business section of today's Times absolutely blew my mind. Google is, without a doubt, the most innovative, brilliant company of our era, and the most amazing thing about it is that they don't come up with any original ideas, as far as I can tell. Obviously, they didn't invent email or online maps, or word processing. But they took all those already invented devices and made them better. They made them more creative, more efficient, and available to more people. And that's exactly what they're doing with this latest device, which already has me excited about the prospect of never having to answer my cell phone again, instead reading all messages as emails.

I once joked to my dad that the reason why so many people missed out on the opportunity to make huge money on the Google IPO is because of a tragic misallocation of resources. Anyone from my generation, who was using products before they went mainstream, knew that the potential for this company was limitless. However, the money was in the hands of the older generation who didn't know anything about this Google. The lesson: if we would have talked to our parents more, our families would all be a lot richer right now.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sloppy Second Chances

I attended the Rangers game yesterday at the Garden against the Boston Bruins, a game that was highlighted by Sean Avery's return to Broadway. (As an aside, it's weird that the Garden is often referred to as "Broadway" in this context, given that it is actually located on 7th Avenue. I suppose "Broadway" is being used to refer to New York as a whole. I think this a synecdoche. Is that what that movie was about?) To review, Avery was acquired by the Rangers in the middle of the 2006-07 season and enjoyed a year and a half stay here, becoming a fan favorite because of his fiery personality and style of play. More importantly, the Rangers had a 51-23-16 record with him in the lineup, as opposed to an 8-10-3 record when he wasn't. Nonetheless, when he became a free agent this past summer, the Rangers were unable to match the contract offer that the Dallas Stars extended to him and let him walk away. Then, this happened. Personally, I think the way both the NHL and the Dallas organization reacted was a joke and a tremendous overreaction to what really wasn't that big of a deal. Still, the end result was Avery being released by Dallas and after a short while, finding his way back in blue.

I hope that if he didn't already realize it earlier, that after yesterday, Avery realizes that his decision to ever leave New York was a terrible mistake and one that he will never make again. Because what I witnessed and engaged in yesterday was an absolute love affair between Rangers' fans and this guy. Chants of "A-ve-ry" filled the arena the first time he stepped on the ice and every time he made a play from then on. As a player that is maligned for his personality and his tactics basically everywhere else in the league, yet admired for it here, it's hard to imagine that he could play anywhere else at this point.

Practically speaking, he gives them depth at the forward position and a much needed edge and that has been sorely lacking all season. The corollary to that is that in addition to the penalties he actually commits (and they aren't as infrequent as we would like), because of his reputation, refs will often whistle him for penalties that they would normally let go (see, the interference penalty he was called for in the waning minutes of yesterday's game) and overlook arguably cheap shots that players take against him. It's all part of the equation with this guy. Here's hoping that with Avery back on board (in addition to recently acquired Nik Antropov and Derrick Morris) Rangers fans will get to enjoy more days like yesterday going forward.