Friday, July 29, 2005

Fantasy Baseball Update -- shield your eyes

Sorry, I know fantasy baseball talk is boring--worse than telling your co-workers what you dreamed about last night. This post is partly to mark the date for myself. I just closed on a trade, giving up Francisco Rodriguez (ace relief pitcher, 23 years old) for Jeff Kent (very good hitter for a second baseman, 37 years old). Not prudent, but hey, I'm going for broke--carpe-ing the diem. I'm in second place now, 9 roto points behind. Let's see if this trade makes the difference by year's end.

It's hard to win a fantasy league without a top-notch saves guy. What I'm left with now is two pretty iffy saves guys, B.J. Ryan, who has been struggling for the Orioles, and Brian Fuentes, who pitches for Colorado (yikes).

But it's also pretty darn important to get some offensive oomph from your infield and your catcher. One thing about this year is, Javy Lopez is far and away the best catcher I've ever had. Maybe I'm reading too much into this fact, but I rose to first place with Javy playing, then faded to second when Javy went on the disabled list. Now Javy is back playing. I've gotten by with a cobbled-together waiver-wire infield all year. Now, Jeff Kent is a big improvement at 2B, and Felipe Lopez and Shea Hillenbrand (other recent trades) are modest improvements at SS and 3B.

Just let my pitching hold together. I traded away pitching for each of those three guys.

Back in the winter I posted that I was going to throw caution to the wind and keep Zack Greinke (young pitcher with dazzling potential) from last year's roster, instead of Derrek Lee (reliable but seemingly boring veteran 1B). I came to my senses and changed my mind about that just in time, which was easily my best move of the year. Derrek Lee has only been the best player in baseball, and Greinke has been pummeled. I wouldn't have predicted either of those things, Lee being awesome or Greinke being terrible, but Lee was the much safer bet. Draft day is a time for safe bets. Now I'm going to take a bit of a long shot.

This has been an enjoyable fantasy season, whether I end up winning or not. But what if I won?!? [dreamy sigh] -- then maybe I could attend to caring for my family and advancing my career, goals which I naturally set aside to focus on this other...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Road Food / Accept No Substitutes

Road Food is a ritual that should accompany every out-of-town car trip, whether alone or with friends: stopping at a convenience store and making a meal out of stuff you can eat in the car--chips and soda, nickel candies like jawbreakers or Jolly Ranchers, maybe a sausage dog or microwave burrito.

Slim Jims are a prime example of Road Food. Where else do you find Slim Jims but at a Grab-n-Go hard by the side of the great American roadway? A variant of beef jerky, with its handy rope-like dimensions, its greasy-stringy texture. a Slim Jim is a snack that inspires action, and positively punishes contemplation. A bracing tonic for a diffident office drone on a three-day weekend.

There are foods that you'll eat in your car that you would never ever consider having in your home. A Slim Jim, for instance, has never crossed the threshhold of my domicile. Nor has any six-pack of Lance's sandwich crackers or cookies, like Nip-Chees or Necots. Cheerwine is another; it's a cherry-flavored soft drink that should only be consumed in a moving car, and preferably within 50 miles of the town of Salisbury, NC, whence Cheerwine originates. (This area encompasses Charlotte, Greensboro, AND Winston-Salem, so it ain't like your options are limited.)

I did once buy two sausage dogs at a 7-11 and bring them back to the Holiday Inn where I was staying with my young children in Orlando. This was wrong on many levels.

Here's a tip: don't try to scrimp by buying the generic Slim Jim substitute. I made this mistake recently. Mushy and bland, with none of the snap that distinguishes Brother James, this Faux Jim got my trip off to an inauspicious start. No, shell out the whole $1.19 for the real article.

I love Slim Jims because they link us to a simpler, more innocent time. Slim Jims partake of the restless pioneering American spirit. They are the modern-day analogue of pemmican and salt pork. They are a food I can imagine eating on a wagon train. I would definitely buy hardtack if Circle K sold it in nacho cheese flavor.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Frogmarch Update: Threat Level Yellow

I got three different e-mails today asking me to sign various online petitions urging the President to fire Karl Rove over Plamegate.

I'm usually a sucker for those (I don't give much money or time, but I am one online-petition-signing mofo) but in this case it just seemed absurd. First, Karl Rove's odiousness aside, firing somebody for ethical/moral failure isn't the type of decision that should be made by holding a finger to the winds . If Bush can't figure out for himself that Rove is ethically crippled, a jillion signatures or e-mails or phone calls won't convince him, nor, in some ideal sense, should they. Secondly, I can't imagine that Internet petitions from are greeted with anything but derision by Bush and his inner circle. Also, realistically, what are the chances? When has Bush fired anybody for excessive zeal and loyalty? Plus, as Marshall Wittman so delightfully phrased it, Bush firing Rove would be like Charlie McCarthy firing Edgar Bergen.

It's good that the mainstream news organizations finally smell Rove's blood in the water. Odd that it took so long. Reporters are finally mad at Scott McClellan, whose whole job is to tell them every day that 2 + 2 = 5, and that seems to be acceptable, but when he's caught in a crude deception instead of an artful one, telling them in effect that 2 = 5, that's a no-no. And Matt Cooper and Judy Miller are lousy test cases for press freedom, but if it took a couple of its members being threatened with jail for the DC media social club to get exercised, fine and dandy. It's nice to see the moderate-liberal blogosphere (the Wittmans and Kilgores and Schmitts, the TPMCafe types) in such a state of manic excitement. I hope Mark Schmitt is right that Roveism is truly in decline. I hope this scandal represents a chink in Bush's shell. Let's wait and see, though.

Long Live Suck

For the last two or three years of its life I was devoted to This in spite of my handicaps: I'm not an old-school webhead, i.e. don't know Flash from Java and couldn't pick Marc Andreessen out of a police lineup, and I'm about five years too old to get many of their pop-culture references. I swore by it anyway. Easy to read onscreen, sharp and funny as hell, employing hypertext as a stylistic tool, Suck was the first site to impress me with the charm of Web content per se, rather than text by other means. Its archives are still accessible.

I stumbled across this recent account of the life and loves of Suck. Warning: at 27 laser-printed pages, this is a very long article published on an obscure website, about a long-defunct site that was itself something of a cult favorite. The obsessiveness factor here is quite high.

While I like Ana Marie Cox (aka Wonkette) perfectly well, I got a chuckle from the story of what led Suck's founders to hire her: she used to frequent a discussion board with Chicago-area indie rock heavyweights, and gave as good as she got in the pop-culture debates there. That was her main qualification. A gal with no cred, surviving and thriving in online flame wars among guys with major cred! If that's not a Horatio Alger story for the 90s, I don't know what is.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London, 7 July

Sadness and helplessness. From my safe distance, it feels so much like 9/11, not understanding the seriousness at first, then monitoring the news from work all morning, the rising horror, the phone calls to make sure that a relative is safe: a first cousin in New York four years ago, a stepbrother in London today. Both were okay.

9/11 was more shocking, of course. The scale of the carnage was greater, and the TV images were so shattering. I'd given little thought to Manhattan and none to the World Trade Center, but it suddenly seemed like the central symbol of American aspiration and industriousness lay in smoking ruins. But I actually know London better than I know New York. I've been in Kings Cross and Liverpool Street tube stations numerous times. My private mental picture is more vivid today. And the thoughts of riding a train, feeling the blast, being in a dark tunnel with smoke and heat and panic, are plenty nightmarish.

How little progress we've made in four years.

I tried to comment on a Matthew Yglesias blogpost at TPMCafe, and the damn thing ate my post: Matthew took the opportunity to say that President Bush's remark four years ago urging us to "go shopping" after 9/11 was unfairly criticized at the time by the left. We must get back to our normal routines quickly or the terrorists win.

Well, sure, but think of the things Bush could have said to stand in for "normal" American life: Take a walk in the park. Hug your kids. Get on a plane and go visit loved ones. Make friends with a Muslim person in your town. But instead, Bush characterized us as a nation of shoppers. One day Bush was calling up the National Guard, mobilizing to invade Afghanistan, passing the Patriot Act. The next day he was telling us to go shopping, and assuring us that there was no need to cancel the big tax cuts: they were just the thing in time of war. It was an incoherent welter of slogans and no plans, betraying an unserious approach, failing to call forth the better angels of our nature.

London mayor Ken Livingstone spoke today, I won't bother to find the exact quote, but he addressed the attackers, presumably jihadists, and called London a city of dreams, where people come from around the world to fulfill their aspirations. Including "your" people, from your part of the world. They won't stop coming, and however many you kill, you can never win.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

"FULLY employed loser" here, thank you very much

I'm a lifelong fan of Garry Trudeau's venerable political cartoon Doonesbury, but I'm a little troubled by Sunday's strip, in which mainstream journalist Mark Slackmeyer encounters blogger "SlamZ88." Mark asks:

Isn't blogging basically for angry, semi-employed losers who are too untalented or too lazy to get real jobs in journalism?... I mean, if the market really valued what you have to say, wouldn't someone pay you for it?
Needless to say, this attitude pisses me off (pisses you off too, I would think, oh hypothetical blog reader). And I think it exists--I think there are plenty of people in the traditional news business who resent and disdain blogs, using terms similar to these.

I hope I'm wrong--you can look at the strip yourself--but I'm afraid that Mark, the voice of the well-credentialed journalism insider, is the voice of Garry Trudeau. The strip isn't totally one-sided, but it is skewed, and the punchline definitely comes at the blogger's expense. True enough, Doonesbury is not often crudely didactic. And Trudeau does often use characters who do not speak for him directly, and I give him credit in this strip for framing the issue effectively and provocatively in a few panels. On the other hand, if Trudeau wants to satirize the mainstream media, he typically uses Roland Hedley as the vehicle. Mark S. is usually a voice of wisdom, a trustworthy guide to what the author really thinks.

It's a shame that Trudeau seems to miss the whole point of the rise of the lefty blogosphere. Talent and "professionalism" are not the be-all and end-all, they do not perfectly define those who can make a valuable contribution to the public discourse. We've been sorely let down by the professionals, too many times to list, and we're ready to give the amateurs a listen. Journalism isn't rocket science. Sure, it takes critical thinking and hard work, but many people possess those gifts who've never been to J school.

(Characterizing bloggers as lazy is particularly galling. Like them or dislike them, the blogs that have gained attention are the ones that post new content several times a day. That takes work. In other walks of life, that kind of gumption is praised as being entrepreneurial.)

The news networks and the papers of record have terrific news-gathering resources, but they have huge blind spots and institutional biases as well. It's disappointing if the creator of Roland Hedley misses the point that insiderdom can be corrosive to integrity and objectivity. Also, even if we accept the stereotype of the squirrely badly-groomed blogger, it's disappointing if the creator of Zonker Harris can't spare more sympathy for the unemployable self-deluded oddballs of the world. Oddballs can be right too.

The strip pokes particular fun at bloggers' laundry lists of nit-picking debate points, and alludes to the John Bolton controversy: "109 points about Bolton... Who reads this stuff?" As it happens, Garry Trudeau is on the record as being opposed to the Bolton nomination for UN ambassador, so it's not that he has no opinion on the matter or thinks it's trivial, but what apparently gave Trudeau a special platform to judge Bolton is that they were classmates at Yale. Presumably, that Ivy League social connection gives Trudeau a well-rounded non-nit-picking understanding of Bolton.

Well Garry, my man, not all of us have shared a panty raid or beer bong with the guy. We may have to rely on obscure old news stories that we Googled up. Yet Bolton's a public figure, and we non-Yalies assert our right to comment on him.

While we're on the subject, Pandagon had a good post and discussion earlier today about the unfolding Valerie Plame investigation. I'm as happy as anybody to wish Karl Rove hasta-la-vista and don't-drop-the-soap, but what an infuriating commentary on the American corporate news establishment. When I ponder the Plame affair, I come away believing that LOTS of people, hundreds probably, in the Washington press corps knew quite well that a key White House political adviser had burned an undercover CIA operative. That said adviser was likely a backstabbing felon, and arguably a traitor to the interests of US national security. Yet the same Washington press corps, for many months, unanimously, in its careerist ass-covering conventional wisdom, during a presidential election campaign, declined to share that information with the public. Which is a disgrace, and an abject failure of the press to perform its role in the American system. Reason # 23810 for the rise of the blogosphere.