Bird that Sings

February 8, 2008

Gore, more than before

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 2:02 am

I almost called this post “The Last Temptation of Barack Obama,” but that would have been slightly deceptive. In this case, the Temptation is not Obama’s but my own. Does one drain the chalice and support Obama for no reason other than the rapture he has inspired? And more broadly, is the Left as a whole compelled to get on the Obama train before they’re left behind?

You’d have to be a fool to deny the possibility but I have a feeling we’ll all be there to meet the Obama train when it pulls in at the station in Denver this August, and with the prospect of a deadlocked Democratic Convention before us.

When Bill Clinton called Obama’s candidacy “the biggest fairytale” he’s “ever seen,” he was mistaken. Obama’s candidacy is the second biggest fairytale we’ve ever seen. The biggest fairytale is the true story of every horned and spiky thing that has ever spewed out of Bill Clinton’s triangulatin’, prevaricatin’ mouth.

Like it or not, everything in Hillary’s candidacy proceeds from Bill’s legacy of lies, betrayals, and corporate whoredom. Hillary is good on the issues, but her chief campaign and media consultant is the PR guy for Blackwater. Hillary would support campaign finance reform and a ban on lobbying but if she did, how could she raise the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to get her elected so she could do all the wonderful things she’s always dreamed of doing for us.

Hillary still invokes her days working at the Children’s Defense Fund under Marion Wright Edelman, but Edelman cut off the Clintons’ when Bill went after kids on Welfare in 1996, to please his new Republican friends in the House.

Hillary now cries when reminded of her youthful idealism working at the Child Study Center in New Haven, but I don’t think she’s crying wistfully about the road not taken, rather she’s crying about the compromises she’s had to make along the highway to power. Hillary and Bill would say that they had to make those compromises “to maintain their viability in the system,” that they made those compromises for us.

The rest of us might say, of course, who asked them? The Clinton’s live in a cocoon of self-deception and though I’m sure they regard themselves as “good people”, when Bill and Hillary walk through a room there is a faint whiff of sulfur in their wake.

From a Democratic Party perspective though, the biggest problem with Hillary is not so much that she’s in league with the forces of darkness as that she can’t beat John McCain. The reason she can’t, is because Republicans won’t vote for her, most Independents won’t vote for her, and people like me won’t vote for her.
Basta! We’ve had enough.

Obama can beat McCain, and will if given the chance. The prospect of beating Hillary and McCain should be enough to get everyone on board the Obama train.

Personally though, I am ambivalent. The Obama campaign has been brilliantly executed, a true phenomenon. Obama is a genuinely charismatic guy. The Obama people have out organized the Clinton and Edwards people on the ground, and their candidate is a seamless fit with his message. But what is this campaign actually about?

It’s about “change” they tell us.

Still, when Obama says “we’ve got to go forward, and not go back,” I wonder how this would sound if there weren’t ten thousand people screaming in approval. We’re told that Obama’s campaign is different, singular even. However much of Obama’s message is vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, or the first Bill Clinton campaign, and like Clinton and Carter, Obama is coming at his Democratic primary opponent from both the Right and the Left simultaneously.

The one difference, and the telling difference between these campaigns, is that Obama IS the change that everyone else has talked about up until now. We know this because Obama tells us so, and one assumes he genuinely believes it. Obama is a black person who doesn’t scare white people, but embraces them. When he talks about a new era of unity, he believes that too and so might we all.

It follows though, that the difference with Obama’s campaign, is that it’s more a belief thing than a political thing; a messianic thing even, and with ten thousand people screaming, “Yes, he’s the One,” who am I—or you—to say no?

So, let me just say it. No, I don’t feel like playing the fool for Barack Obama.
I’ve been a John Edwards supporter this election, but now it’s time for Gore, more than before.

Al Gore has many things to recommend him. As opposed to Hillary, he actually is quite experienced. Hillary’s supposed 35 years of experience consists of exactly seven years of elective office.

As opposed to Obama, Gore really is a candidate of systemic change, and he’s got the Nobel Prize to prove it.

Gore has been writing and talking about the slide of the culture into a televised, corporate consumptionist abyss, and the dangers this poses to a democratic republic.

Gore was among the earliest and most vocal to attack Bush and Cheney on the illegal, immoral recklessness of going into Iraq, and he’s been on them ever since.

Gore is not only the best Democratic candidate who could be put up at this point, he might end up being the only alternative at a deadlocked convention.

A Gore-Obama ticket would be a winning Democratic combination— for a change—in November.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss ideas, tactics and strategies— crackpot and otherwise—for making this happen.

February 4, 2008

Why We Will Miss John Edwards

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 11:24 am

John Edwards was a flawed candidate and the media made sure to tell us all about his flaws from the very beginning. He was vain and liked expensive haircuts. He was an opportunistic rich guy, who, even though he talked about poverty and class, was building the biggest house in North Carolina.

He was supposedly a late convert to his class based populism and had voted as a Southern moderate in the Senate. He was ambitious and wanted to run for President from the time he first campaigned for the Senate in North Carolina.

I don’t know John Edwards but I can see there’s probably some truth in these charges. Personally though, the reason I will miss John Edwards in this race is simply because now I don’t have anyone to vote for.

What was different about Edwards was that he was running against the system, whereas Hillary IS the system and Obama would like to be.
Edwards took strong stands early that became progressively stronger as the campaign wore on.

Edwards made clear that the Insurance companies were the reason we didn’t have Universal Health Care and that they would have to be beaten to get it. He asserted that the system in Washington was rigged by corporate power to protect corporate interests.

Edwards made clear that the interests of Wall Street were not the interests of Main Street; that fairness to the tax code had to be restored; that every trade deal had to put workers and wages first. Edwards proposed Public Financing of political campaigns. He asserted that the corporate lobbyists would have to be driven from the halls of the Capitol if we were to have a chance at real change, but noted that real change also demanded “corporate power be put at the service of democracy and not the other way around.”

Edwards proposed capping greenhouse gases and “ratcheting down the cap every year” if we were to have a chance at stopping global warming. He was honest enough to say upfront that sacrifice was going to be required from all of us if we were stop ecological disaster, but also that the bottom line on Wall Street was going to have to be weighed against a standard of sound environmental practice and policy.

These were pretty radical positions, but the way Hillary and Obama ended up mimicking many of them you wouldn’t have known that one candidate was running against the system and the other two were running to be in charge of it.

However this was supposed to be a change election. It was important for Hillary and Obama that Edwards not outflank them on the Left by too much lest he be identified as the REAL candidate of change. So rather than a verb, change became, in this election, first a noun, and then a commodity.

It was so disgusting to watch—and so effective—that we should probably count on this kind of Hillary-Obama newspeak becoming a feature of future Democratic primary campaigns from now on.

In fairness to Hillary-Obama, it is also possible that Edwards did not mean to get so far ahead of himself, that he would have preferred to situate himself closer to the political center. It is possible that Edwards was actually forced to the hard populist positions he ended up embracing by the soft center-left focus of the other two campaigns.

It is possible, but nevertheless the fact remains that Edwards went there and the other campaigns were dragged far beyond their consultant driven comfort zone because of it.
In leaving the race, Edwards maintained that we are at a transformational moment—that there is no going back. I think this is true though we can be sure that whoever the eventual nominee is will try to go back. On the real side we know that Hillary is a creature of the corporate status quo and Obama, like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter before him, has a genuine emotional need for compromise and consensus politics.

But I think events will outrun them. As Humphrey Bogart once said to Paul Henreid, “Well Mr. Laszlo, it seems like Destiny has taken a hand.”

Limited Substitution

Filed under: Sports — admin @ 11:23 am

It’s the day after the Super Bowl and a stunningly good game it was. What with the Giants’ upset win over the Patriots it would seem like a bad time to talk about what a mess Pro Football is.

Nonetheless . . . every society gets the spectacle they deserve—for the Elizabethans it was bear baiting and the public theatre—for us it’s Pro Football.

It wasn’t always this way. Football once was a sport, not a spectacle and a great sport too; as great an American contribution to the world as baseball and basketball. The legendary fighter Archie Moore once said of fried chicken that it was the perfect food; you could eat it hot, eat it cold, eat it at home or take it with you. Similarly football was a great game to play or watch. And you could watch live or watch it on TV. You could play it with four or five others or you could play a full eleven-man to a side game. The sad thing is I can remember pretty clearly when it started to change.

College Football was always a big deal in America, but not so the Pros.

Television’s discovery of Pro Football—which is usually pegged to the nationally televised 1958 NFL championship when the Baltimore Colts, led Quarterback Johnny Unitas, upset the New York Giants—basically created the modern game. My father always maintained that this was because the ad guys in New York began following the Giants after this and saw not only what a great game it was, but what a great vehicle for advertising. And surely no one who grew up in the Sixties can forget Julie London tonguing her cigarette in the back of a cab—“you get a lot to like in a Marlboro”—or those nightmarish Prestone anti-Freeze commercials

The problem kicked in sometime after the first Super Bowl in 1966 when instead of being a sport that was televised, Pro football became a made-for-television entertainment. The relationship of Pro Football before 1970 and Pro Football after, is roughly equivalent to the difference between homemade (cayenne and salt marinated) fried chicken and Chicken McNuggets.

Indeed when you tell people now that all home games were by rule blacked out locally until the mid 70’s—or that the Philadelphia Eagles NFL championship game in 1960 was blacked out on local Philadelphia television—they look at you like you must have just winged in from a parallel universe.

However as commercial as Pro Football had become by 1980, it’s nothing compared to what it became later.

Everything in the Reagan era of course, was turned into a commodity whose raison d’etre was how much it could bought or sold for. By the late Eighties this dedicated economic equation had taken direct hold of Pro Football and there was a trickle down effect to College Football and even big time High School programs.

Part of the commodity effect was the increasing specialization of play, but the more important part was the specialization of size and weight. In 1980 there were five players in the NFL 300 pounds or over, there are now over three hundred and fifty players who weigh 300 pounds and over.

The species is getting bigger, but not that much bigger.

The steroid scandals and investigation of recent years have almost laughably been aimed at Major League Baseball, but steroid use in baseball is a more or less victimless crime, since you are not directly assaulting anyone except perhaps the record book. In football you are aiming your steroid or HGH enhanced body at another body and attempting to commit mayhem upon it.

The widespread use of anabolic steroids, so called designer drugs and Human Growth Hormone in the NFL is not necessarily because players want to use these substances. The average career of an NFL player is about four years and the competition for roster spots more or less compels it. And so we have not just 330 pound Offensive linemen, but 325 pound Defensive lineman, and 250 pound outside linebackers, not to mention some monster defensive backs. Not all, but lots of these guys are juiced.

The burgeoning size of the Pro linemen and linebackers has created a premium on size in the college ranks. In most big-time College programs, the offensive line now averages at least 300 pounds while the defensive line probably averages about 285. These are twenty and twenty-one year olds we’re talking about, whose bodies are not finished growing. How many of these linemen and linebackers are taking steroids is difficult to say, but we know anecdotally at least, that many, if not the majority are.

While some High School football players are experimenting with steroids, many High School athletes—and some middle school kids— in every sport are taking a water retention drug called Creatine.

The idea of Creatine is that by retaining water and mass, you can, by weightlifting, more easily turn that mass into muscle.

The upshot of all this, is that first, we have an impending health crisis in the Professional Ranks with many players at risk of obesity, hypertension, kidney and heart disease, diabetes, and likely early mortality. However more profoundly, at the college and high school football level we have a public health emergency on our hands, since steroid use and abuse effect not hundreds of players, but hundreds of thousands.

We can’t go back and change what football’s become, but we can change the course of the game going forward.

One idea would be a return to limited substitution.

Limited Substitution was a scheme that was widely used by the NCAA in Fifties and Sixties. It basically means an end to platoon football. It means that your offensive team is also your defensive team.

The problems with limited substitution are fairly obvious and we’ll get them to them in a moment.

The benefits of Limited Substitution are manifold.
The main demand playing both ways makes on a player is increased endurance. For linemen it means that rather than playing at your heaviest weight, you pretty much have to play at your lightest. You then have a reverse domino effect where players, instead of going for size and strength first, are going for speed and endurance first.

There’s no way a normal human being can play both ways at 300 pounds (though ex Eagle and Raider Bob Brown did one year in college at Nebraska, but Hall of Famer, Bobby Brown is not a normal human being).

In a two-way system your average lineman would go from 300+ pounds to about 260 in fairly short order. In addition we would soon see the return of the 220 pound outside linebacker and the 220 pound tight end.

It might not cut down on injuries in pro football, but it would radically cut down on the use of, or need for steroids in the game.

The downside of limited substitution is that some guys who are great linebackers might only be mediocre receivers or running backs. And what about Quarterbacks? How could Tom Brady or the Manning Boys even play at the Pro level if they also had to play free safety too?

Here are the fixes I would put into “limited substitution” to remedy some of these problems. Classic limited substitution only allowed for the substitution of two players at each change of possession. I would allow for four new players to come in, and I would also allow for two more players to be allowed to come in, on third downs. This would allow for certain specialty players, like quarterbacks, to come off the field on defense, as well as allowing for five defensive backs on 3rd down and other specialty defenses and offenses.

I would also allow for two injury timeouts a game per team and increase the number of regular time outs from three to four a half.

There still could be a problem with punters and kickers, but I’m glad it’s not my problem.

Since the Pros are not really interested in the problems of their players or even with their game itself, as long as its making money, one would not introduce Limited Substitution in the Pro Ranks first, but in colleges, especially Division II and III colleges. We could then introduce Limited Substitution into D1, and from there, after it had shown its worth, into the Pros.

Every society may get the spectacle it deserves, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

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