MLB PREDICTIONS 2017

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST:

RED SOX: 89-73 Injuries to Price and Pomeranz drop them below 90 wins, but the lineup still propels them to AL East title.

BLUE JAYS: 88-74 Ironically its pitching that powers the Jays to a Wildcard birth, not hitting. That rotation is sneaky good. 

ORIOLES: 84-78 Offense is one-dimensional, but man can they swat the longball. Top end rotation could actually be quite good and Britton’s is un-hittable. 

YANKEES: 80-82 Other prognosticators are hotter on Yanks than I am. Can Sanchez do it for a whole year? Can Bird stay healthy? Can CC stay productive? Lots of “ifs”.

RAYS: 79-83 Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rays can pitch, but they just can’t hit…

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL: 

INDIANS: 95-67 Encarnacion fills a HUGE power need. Healthy Salazar is essential. Healthy Carrasco would be nice. Healthy Brantley would be gravy. 

TIGERS: 86-76 This team is stuck in the good-but-not great category for another year. The bullpen continues to hold them back. 

ROYALS: 78-94 The window has closed. Outside of Duffy the rotation is simply not very good, and no one fears their bullpen anymore. 

WHITE SOX: 68-94 This team will rake in 2019, but this year is going to be miserable. Fire sale come June — Everything must go!

TWINS: 65-97 There are sprinkles of talent in the lineup, but they are very raw, and that rotation is simply hideous. 

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST:

MARINERS: 88-74 M’s swoop in and surprise with upgraded speed and defense. Gallardo and Smyly bounce back to contribute, too. 

ASTROS: 88-74 Their lineup is primed to put up silly-good numbers, but you can’t win every game 10-8. 

RANGERS:  87-75I like pieces of this team but not the whole. Depending on Choo and Gomez to be healthy and productive seems far-fetched and the back end of the rotation is a mess. 

ANGELS: 80-82 The same can be said here. This team is 2-to-3 arms away from relevance, but not as terrible as people think. 

ATHLETICS: 72-90 No one in their right mind would call the A’s good, but there are some promising arms here. That’s about it. 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: 

NATIONALS: 90-72 Injury concerns abound, but this team is deep and talented. That bullpen is the Achilles heel. 

METS:  86-76 Speaking of injury concerns…If 3/5ths of the rotation can stay upright and the bats continue to hit homers, they will hang around the playoff discussion.

BRAVES: 81-81 For a rebuilding team these guys are gonna be downright respectable. 

PHILLIES 80-82 Better-than-you-think Phillies hang around the .500 mark. 

MARLINS: 74-88 An already thin rotation is made thinner by the tragic death of Fernandez. There’s just not the quality arms here to make a run. 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:

CUBS: 96-66 Everything went right for my beloved Cubbies last year, but there’s no way they enjoy that much good health in the rotation again. 

CARDINALS: 87-75 Losing Reyes for the year is a killer, but they’re still a well-oiled machine down in STL and squeeze out a wildcard berth. 

PIRATES: 84-78 McCutchen bounces back and everyone in Pittsburg takes a collective deep-breath, but even that’s not enough to cope with pitching deficiencies. 

BREWERS 71-91 A long, slow rebuild defines the future in Brew-town. 

REDS: 65-97 Well…at least they’re not the Padres. 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST:

DODGERS: 90-72 A great lineup for sure, but i have some real durability and performance concerns about that rotation past Kershaw. 

GIANTS: 88-74 I like the rotation obviously, and picking up Melancon is a plus. Outfield looks a little spotty. 

ROCKIES: 82-80 I had these poor guys slotted for a wildcard spot before the rash of injuries. Buzzard’s luck in the mountains. 

DIAMONDBACKS: 82-80 Last year everything that could go wrong did. This year, some things go right…just not enough things. 

PADRES: 59-103 Wow. A whole different level of bad for these guys. Can you name a Padre outside of Wil Myers?

 

A.L. WILDCARD:

BLUE JAYS over ASTROS

 

N.L. WILDCARD:

GIANTS over CARDINALS

 

ALDS:

INDIANS over BLUE JAYS in 5

RED SOX over MARINERS in 5

 

NLDS:

CUBS over GIANTS in 4

DODGERS over NATIONALS in 4

 

ALCS:

INDIANS over RED SOX in 5

 

NLCS: 

CUBS over DODGERS in 5

 

WORLD SERIES:

INDIANS over CUBS in 6

 

 

AL MVP:

Francisco Lindor - Indians

 

NL MVP:

Nolan Arenado - Rockies

 

AL CY YOUNG:

Chris Sale - Red Sox

 

NL CY YOUNG:

Clayton Kershaw - Dodgers

Posted on April 2, 2017 .

NBA PREDICTIONS 2016/17

EASTERN CONFERENCE PROJECTIONS:

 

  1. CAVALIERS 60-22 The champs bring back the whole gang, and barring injury (certainly possible with Irving and Love) a return to the finals is a foregone conclusion. 
  2. CELTICS 54-28 Horford provides the missing piece to a young, talented, deep team. 
  3. PACERS 53-29 People are overlooking a talented Pacers team that got better with additions of Teague and Young. 
  4. RAPTORS 51-31 Air Canada will fly high again with the core intact, but Celtics and Pacers got better while Raptors stayed the same. 
  5. PISTONS 47-35 Drummond is the most dichotomous player in basketball: The best rebounder (14.8 per game) and the worst free-throw shooter ever…literally (35.5% last season)
  6. HAWKS 43-39 A healthy Howard is a defensive upgrade over departed Horford, but an offensive downgrade. Schroder is promising, but losing Teague still hurts. 
  7. WIZARDS 43-39 This is shooting the middle: Assuming Beal/Wall/Porter miss only 25% of games with injury. Depending on health, win total could skyrocket or plunge. 
  8. HORNETS 41-41 Batum is a stud, but I’m not as hot on these guys as some. Front court is extremely unproven. 
  9. BULLS 40-42 Different cast same result; Bulls miss the playoffs again. Why sign odd assortment of non-shooting veterans, instead of launching full rebuild? 
  10. KNICKS 37-45 Bulls 2.0: Another bizarre arrangement of past-their-prime players when they should clearly be rebuilding youth around Porzingis. 
  11. BUCKS 33-49 Loss of Middleton KILLER for an ultra-athletic young team that struggles to score. 
  12. HEAT 31-51 The Big 3 are all officially gone and so are the Heat’s chances of being competitive. 
  13. MAGIC 29-53 When you are trying to build around your talented young power forward and center you pick up…another power forward and center? 
  14. NETS 22-60 The Nets have the longest, slowest rebuild of any team: no control over their top pick until 2019. 
  15. 76ERS 14-68 Loss of Simmons is a heartbreaker. The front court is stack—the back court not so much. 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE PROJECTIONS:

 

  1. WARRIORS 69-13 Weird quirk where a team is actually better but has a worse record than the previous year. Statistics say some of those close games bounce the other way. 
  2. SPURS 64-18 Duncan was still valuable but rapidly fading—they won’t miss him as much as you think. It’s the Leonard/Aldridge show now. 
  3. CLIPPERS 56-26 This team has a punchers chance of surprising anyone if they can stay healthy come playoff time. 
  4. JAZZ 45-37 New PG Hill carries youthful Jazz to the playoffs—and then some. 
  5. BLAZERS 43-39 Great guard tandem raining from outside would suggest the Warriors mold…but they lack the Draymond Green part of the blue print. 
  6. GRIZZLES 43-39 There is no possible way they can be as injured as last year…can they?
  7. THUNDER 42-40 Westbrook and Co. are better than you realize…just not quite good enough. 
  8. TIMBERWOLVES 40-42 Super-talented young ‘wolves get first taste of playoffs. Unfortunately it’s against the Warriors. 
  9. ROCKETS 39-43 Injury-prone additions do little to help Harden from their place in street clothes at the end of the bench. 
  10. MAVERICKS 38-44 I get it—it’s hard to know when to hang it up and start rebuilding, but seriously the core of this team is eligible for the AARP. 
  11. PELICANS 37-45 Davis is so good it’s terrifying, but management just can’t seem to cobble together the right pieces around him. 
  12. SUNS 28-54 Talented guards aside, this is a very incomplete team. They should probably deal Knight for some front court help. 
  13. NUGGETS 26-56 There are pieces to like here, but just not enough of them. Who will carry the torch when Gallinari goes down?
  14. KINGS 26-56 Through all the disfunction that is the Kings, there is some talent here (even beyond Cousins), but not nearly enough to field a competent team. 
  15. LAKERS 23-59 They gave Timofey Mozgov 64 million dollars for some reason. Anyone got an answer for that? 

 

CONFERENCE FINALS:

 

EAST: 

Cavaliers def. Celtics in 6

 

WEST: 

Warriors def. Clippers in 5

FINALS:

Warrios def. Cavaliers in 6

 

LEAGUE MVP: 

Russell Westbrook

Posted on October 25, 2016 .

MLB PREDICTIONS 2016

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST:

Astros 94-68 The most talented group of youngsters not named the Cubs. They have few weaknesses; they hit, they run, they defend, and they pitch. 

Mariners 85-77 Addition of Lind/Aoki's OBP compliments M's power and look for big improvements from young hurler Walker, but they fall just short. 

Rangers 83-79 I'm not as hot on the Rangers as others; they are depending on a lot of older players to repeat and injured players to get healthy. Not a good recipe for October. 

Angels 79-83 Yes Trout is awesome, and there are some decent pieces around him, but that rotation has more question marks than The Riddler's suit coat. 

Athletics 72-90 They aren't as bad as last year's record would suggest, but they are still the worst team in the American League. 

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL:

White Sox 87-75 Sale/Quintana/Rodon are going to mow opposing batters down right and left, and the additional bats will be just enough for them to snatch the division.

Royals 86-76 The champs can hit, and their pitching is golden from the 7th on, but who's going to pitch the first 6 innings? The starting pitching is all kinds of bad. 

Tigers 86-76 The rotation is suspect, and the bullpen, while better is far from fixed. But this is one of the best offensive clubs in baseball, period. 

Indians 84-78 The exact opposite of the Tigers; the arms are elite, but they just won't score enough runs. The loss of Brantley for several months is killer. 

Twins 77-85 They are stacked with young talent, but last year was a aberration. They are still a few years (and a few pitchers) away. 

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST:

Blue Jays 89-73 They will swat their way to another division title. That collection of bats is historic levels of awesome. The rotation is mediocre, but enough. 

Red Sox 85-77 Without a doubt they are better, but who pitches after Price? If you believe any of those guys will be healthy or effective you are delusional. 

Rays 83-79 Their arms are the envy of the league. Their bats are improved, just not improved enough. 

Orioles 82-80 They will hit a bunch of homers and also give up a bunch of runs. Lots of 8-6 losses in their future. 

Yankees 78-84 There is no way in hell you get the production from A-Rod/Tex/Beltran you got last year. Everyone here is old, fragile or both. 

 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST:

Giants 92-70 New pitching additions help, and Span is true leadoff man they've always needed. Ultra-balanced Giants will go as far as Cueto's elbow allows.

Diamondbacks 89-73 There is huge talent here, but the depth is paper thin. Assuming the new arms and familiar bats stay healthy, this is a playoff-level team. 

Dodgers 87-75 The loss of Grienke hurts obviously, the loss of Brett Anderson is salt-in-the-wound. I'm not sure Pederson can hit for average or Puig can, well, stop being Puig.

Padres 72-90 Cashner and Ross bounce back, which means they are dealt at the deadline. Will Myers ever be healthy? 

Rockies 70-92 Those bats are stellar, but their pitching is the worst in baseball...by a lot. 

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:

Cubs 98-64 Unreal talent. One of those weird quirks where the team is significantly better, but doesn't show in the record much due to some natural regressions.

Pirates 89-73 People are overlooking this team due to losses on rotation. Don't. There are arms in the pipeline and they have the best outfield trio in baseball. 

Cardinals 87-75 The pitching is very, very good, even if they are due for a regression to career norms. The bats are going to struggle, especially with the injury to Peralta. 

Brewers 68-94 The "loser" in the NL Central race-to-the-bottom. Their pitching is slightly less awful than the Reds. 

Reds 66-96 Believe it or not, there are teams that are worse than the Reds in baseball: See the NL East...

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST:

Mets 92-70 This is assuming all the young flame-throwers stay healthy. If one of these guys goes down they are in trouble, because the lineup is just okay. 

Nationals 90-72 Outside of Harper, the offense is injury-prone and unreliable. But the rotation is already very good, and there are pitching prospects on the way. 

Marlins 82-80 The only team in the NL that isn't either really good or really bad. They have excellent pieces, but not enough talent to support them. 

Braves 62-100 Good gracious, this team is bad in every phase of the game. A painful rebuild is on the way, but they got a king's ransom for Miller from the D'Backs. 

Phillies 58-104 As terrible as this team is, the future is bright. Their farm system is getting restocked and they have some studs just entering the MLB level. 

 

AL WILDCARD:

Tigers over Royals

 

NL WILDCARD: 

Pirates* over Nationals

*Pirates win play-in game over Diamondbacks

 

ALDS:

Astros over Tigers in 3

Blue Jays over White Sox in 4

 

NLDS:

Cubs over Pirates in 4

Giants over Mets in 5

 

ALCS:

Astros over Blue Jays in 6

Giants over Cubs in 7

 

WORLDS SERIES:

Astros over Giants in 6

 

AL MVP:

1) Carlos Correia, Astros

2) Mike Trout, Angels

3) Manny Machado, Orioles

4) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

5) Francisco Lindor, Indians

 

NL MVP: 

1) Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

2) Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

3) Bryce Harper, Nationals

4) Nolan Arenado, Rockies

5) Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

 

AL CY YOUNG:

1) Chris Sale, White Sox

2) Felix Hernandex, Mariners

3) Danny Salazar, Indians

4) Chris Archer, Rays

5) Carlos Carrasco, Indians

 

NL CY YOUNG:

1) Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2) Matt Harvey, Mets

3) Gerrit Cole, Pirates

4) Madison Bumgarner, Giants

5) Jacob deGrom, Mets

My Favorite Love Story: Leaving Las Vegas

This was originally posted at www.smilepolitely.com  a culture blog based in my hometown.  It's been a year, so I feel justified in posting it to my site. 

Love stories aren't my area of expertise.  I write about gods, demons, and fascist governments.  Nicholas Sparks, I ain't.  However, even surly speculative fiction writers can be touched by a well-written, thoughtful examination of human connectedness.  That's why Leaving Las Vegas is my favorite love story.  I am referring to John O'Brien's novel, however, the film adaptation from 1995 is a pitch-perfect retelling, and has great merit in its own right.  

    Within a few pages of Leaving Las Vegas I was transported to the seedy underbelly of Vegas.  It was 2am and I was standing on the strip, watching the flashing lights reflected in puddles of beer and the glazed eyes of junkies.  Like the city itself, the book is loud, abrasive, shameless and ultimately heart-breaking.  But unlike the city, Leaving Las Vegas cuts through the neon and soiled bedsheets and asks "now what?"

    The book examines two self-destructive lost souls: Ben, a successful-guy-turned-drunk in the final stages of alcoholism, and Sera, a weary prostitute on the downside of her prime.   They arrive in the city at different times, with different agendas, but a chance encounter brings them together.  

    Leaving Las Vegas is the most moving, powerful love story I have ever read for a few reasons.  For one, there isn't a shred of falseness, cliche, or candy-coating in the book.  They are two people who have destroyed their lives beyond repair, that briefly find existential meaning in a relationship with each other.  It doesn't fix them.  It doesn't make them industrious, tax-paying citizens.  They share a period of peace and togetherness in their otherwise lonely, rudderless lives.

    The love between Ben and Sera takes root in the most toxic soil.  Two broken people with nothing to offer momentarily grasp something pure and divine. Their love is a flower growing in the trash of a Las Vegas gutter.  Its beautiful because it wasn't potted or cared for.  It flowered in spite of the poison all around it.  

    If you read the book, be prepared to be offended, disgusted, and depressed.  But also be prepared to be moved by the most unlikely of characters and knocked flat by the transcendence of love.  

Confession Corner: Damn That Bieber!

At first I thought it was a passing aberration. What Do You Mean? would come on the radio and I would begrudgingly notice the little pan flute part was catchy as hell. I would find myself whistling the tune at work, and freeze—terrified someone would recognize the song and all my credibility as a music connoisseur would be destroyed. 

Then Sorry hit the airwaves and I knew there was something seriously wrong with me. It wasn't just one little part, it was the whole damn song! I was panicked. I listen to Minor Threat. I listen to The Doors. I don't listen to Justin Bieber. 

The clincher was when Love Yourself started its rounds. I would catch myself singing—lets be real, belting—"My mama don't like you, and she likes everyone one" in the shower. That was when I realized it. I'd gone native with the 12 year old girls. There was no coming back from this. I liked Justin Bieber, God help me. 

I am considering starting a support group for grown-ass-men-who-usually-have-good-taste-in-music-but-accidentally-started-liking-Justin-Bieber and our families. I think I'll call it GAMWUHGTIMBASLJB - ANON. The only way we can heal is if we come out of the shadows. 

NBA PREDICTIONS 15/16

NBA Predictions 2015-2016:

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION:

 

RAPTORS 48-34Stole DeMarre Carroll to add to stacked back court. Front court talented but thin.  

CELTICS 43-39Adding Lee/Johnson smart move.  Not sure how all the pieces fit together, but there is talent here.  

NETS 42-40Stuck in neutral; too good to tank, but too bad get past first round of playoffs.

KNICKS 22-60Better than last year, but that's not saying much.  Phil is stick in the 90s;  The triangle is irrelevant in today's NBA, let it go.  

76ERS 21-61 Noel and Okafor are imposing front court, but this team is young, raw and will take their lumps.  

 

CENTRAL DIVISION:

 

CAVALIERS 64-18The bugs have been worked out.  Barring injury, this team dominates.  

BULLS 54-28Trying to catch Warrior Magic, Bulls bring back same team with new coach, hoping to get over the hump.  

BUCKS 51-31 This team is stacked, I mean STACKED with young talent.  East Finals not out of the question.  

PISTONS 31-51The Jackson/Drummond connection is good, but they don't have much on the wings.  

PACERS 28-54The front court is going to be eaten alive by, well, everyone.  

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION:

 

HEAT 51-31A full season of Dragic/Wade/Deng/Bush/Whiteside should be much better.  

HAWKS 50-32 No knock on the Hawks, their starters are good and their coaching is great, but they will miss Carroll.

WIZARDS 47-35Young, talented, fragile guards will miss leadership and scoring of Pierce.

MAGIC 30-52Talented youngsters just can't quite pull it all together, but they will improve. 

HORNETS 29-53Jefferson is good, but Walker is one of the least efficient scorers in the league, and Batum has injury problems.  

 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION:

 

SPURS59-23The next "Big Three" (Leonard/Greed/Aldridge) might be better than the last one.  Scary. 

ROCKETS 56-26They are actually better than last year, but record won't show it due to stout division.  And some guys named the Spurs.  

PELICANS 52-30Davis and Co. get first taste of playoff success.  

GRIZZLIES51-31Grizz keep doing what they do; playing great D, giving other teams headaches in the playoffs, but falling just short.

MAVERICKS 42-40 Sort of the Nets West, not bad by any stretch, but not really good either.

 

 

NORTHWEST DIVISION:

 

THUNDER 57-25KD and friends fatten up on bad division.  Crazy talent, but as last year showed, not deep enough. 

JAZZ 43-39I'm not as high on this "sleeper" as some folks are, but I do think they are good enough to take the 8 seed.  

TIMBERWOLVES 24-58Young talent starts to pay small dividens.  The tide is turning, albeit slowly.

NUGGETS 23-59 How much will the Nugs miss Lawson?  Try finishing behind the T'Wolves on for size.  

TRAILBLAZERS 20-62The painful rebuild starts.  That being said, Lillard is a good centerpiece to build around.  

 

PACIFICDIVISON:

 

WARRIORS 62-20Most well-coached team not named the Spurs in the league.  

CLIPPERS 58-24The Clips added much-needed depth and are a strong dark horse for the title.  

SUNS 39-43They have a few nice pieces, no nothing collectively that is enough to compete in the West.  

KINGS31-51Cousins is really, really good.  Rudy Gay is no slouch, but the rest of this roster is kind of a mess.  

LAKERS 25-57 Russell and a healthy Randle make for intriguing future, but the present is ugly.  

 

EAST FINALS:

 

CAVS def BULLS in 6.  LeBron continues to ruin my basketball season by eliminating the Bulls.  Again.  Perhaps you have seen this before.  

 

SPURS def WARRIORS in 7.  Epic series ends with Spurs beating the champs on their own court.  

 

SPURS def CAVS in 7.  Spurs break the collective hearts of Cleveland by denying them a title again.  

 

MVP:  James HardenLeBron's healthy, talented support cast actually hurts his numbers a bit, whereas Lawson's presence allows Harden to score even more. 

Posted on October 27, 2015 .

Being Crappy: My Experience as a Writer Lacking Brains, Talent and Formal Writing Education

 

f there is one thing I've learned from writing fiction for ten years it's that I'm a crappy writer.  I use infinite-verb pharses.  My diction swings from colloquial to formal in nonsensical patterns.  My narrative distance is schizophrenic; in someone's head one minute, a million miles above them the next.  My grammar stinks.  My syntax is worse.  

 

In all of my failures in the literary field I have learned that my ideas are hackneyed, underdeveloped cliches and my writing is stilted, clunky garbage.  As I analyze the reasons for my continual artistic face-plants, I have come to the conclusion that every successful writer has at least one of these three things: Superior intellect, prodigous talent, or a formal education in writing.  

 

I certainly don't have superior intellect.  My ideas would be dismissed as infantile and absurd in the hallowed halls of academia.  I can't even understand some of my intellectual friends' facebook posts, much less the philosophy, economics, or physicsthat they study.  

 

I also lack prodigous talent.  Some people integrate all the mind-numbing rules of what makes good writing into their collective literary voice as if it is the most natural thing in the world.  And for those with prodiguous talent, it is the most natural thing in the world.  For me, it is a constant battle between flat, boring prose and stilted, flowery abstractions.  Somewhere, between those two things is good writing.  Or so I hear.  

 

Some writers can attain proficency via formal education.  While I do have a Master's Degree, it is in a completely unrelated field.  Sorry to say, there is not a lot of synergy between Social Work and Creative Writing.  

 

So what make me think I have anything to say? Why do I have a right to self-publish my innane drivel and take up space on the internet with my dopey blog?  The answer, it turns out, came from my son.  

 

My wife handed me a blue piece of paper when I got home from work one day.  On it was a lopsided circle.  In the circle were two asymmetrical dots and a squiggly line underneath.  There were two parallel lines sticking out of the bottom of the lumpy circle.  After a moment I saw what it was; a person.  It was my three-year-old's first concrete concept, rendered in way that you could discern what it was.  It moved me so deeply, I started crying.  I could see the labor and passion he had put into it.  I could see his creative spirit channelled into a tangible work.  It was art.  Beautiful, touching, powerful art.  

 

I had an epiphany when I saw his drawing.  It didn't matter that it wasn't revolutionary avant-garde Cubism that was going to define American art for generations.  It spoke to me more than any other piece of visual art ever had.  It was a genuine expression of all the physical, psychological and spiritual things that make him who he is, filtered through his fingers.  

 

That's when I realized that, no matter how crappy my writing is, it still has the ability to speak to someone.  There is no person who has the exact same make-up of life experience, principles, faults, emotions, knowledge, or even gaps in knowledge that I have.  There is no human like me, or you, or the kid next door. Therefore the art that we create is a unique confluence of innumerable factors, brought together in a synethesis that is unlike what anyone else has created, ever.  

 

Even if you write the most cliche vampire romance novel, nearly indesernible from the thousands, maybe millions of novels just like it, there is something unique about it because of its creator's subjective interaction with the world.  There is also someone out there who is bound to me moved, touched, entertained, or amused by it.  

 

Art is a subjective experience.  Try as we might to apply concrete principles and therefore create "objective" criticism, it is an act of futility.  What one person finds boring, mindless, inscrutable, shallow, arbitrary, or self-important, another person is going to be riveted by.  Or it will make them laugh until they pee their pants at the library.  Or it will remind them of their first love and mystify them with nostalgia.  Just as the elements that make up the artist are a unique sequence of traits, so too are those that make-up the reader.  The themes of any one piece are bound to communicate themselves effectively to someone out there who has the necessary make-up to be touched by just such a piece.

 

So that is why I keep writing my crappy stories, and why I encourage other crappy writers to keep writing their crappy stories.  Because they are purely our own, imperfect as the persons who created them, mined from a psyche made of endless possibilities.  And the outcome of this expedition-of-the-imagination is bound to speak to someone, infinite-verb phrases and all.  

Posted on October 19, 2015 .

Dust-up in the Desert: A Review of the First Democratic Debate

Dust-up in the Desert:  A Review of the First Democratic Debate

 

As I did for the first Republican debate, I am going to do a review of the Dems first debate from Nevada.  Things I am considering in this review 1)  poise, 2) articulation of ideals 3) electability 4) likeability, 5) bi-partisan appeal.  

 

The Firebrand:  Bernie Sanders

 

Bernie Sanders had been gathering support in the past few months, growing from cult hero of college sophomores, to bonafide contender for the Democractic nomination.  At the debate he needed to walk a very precarious line; show his electability while keeping up his trademark angry classism.  I'm not sure he delivered on either.   Bernie has always been an odd presence.  Angry, brooding, and cerebral.  He was not bad, per se, but he also wasn't terribly strong.  He struggled mightly to justify his position on gun ownership, and was even shakier when grilled about his statements that he was not a capitalist.  With that being said, he presented some talking points, and quotable quipsThe fans of Bernie aren't going to abandon him, come hell or high water, but I'm not sure he made many new believers from this nights performance.  

 

Through-line:  A democratic socialists trying to shape his fire into something at least slightly more palatable to the moderate and independent voters.  

 

Strengths:  He is kind of like the liberal Donald Trump.  People who are pissed off (about different issues, of course) generally really identify with his off-with-their-heads-type rhetoric.  

 

Weaknesses:  He has a strong following among the ultra-liberal wing of the democratic party, but very little appeal in any other demographic.  Bernie might have won if he had run in 2008 when everyone was furious with the wall-street elite for shaking down the american people's investment portfolios, but he probably isn't very likely now. 

 

Debate Grade:  C+

 

Forecast:  He will win New Hampshire, and maybe a few other Nor'easter states, but not enough to really put a scare in HIllary.  

 

The Dark Horse:  Martin O'Malley

 

Martin O'Malley is casting himself as the liberal alternative to Bernie Sanders.  He seems to want to be seen as more liberal than Hillary, but not so much you can't bring him home to mom.  Kind of a "I'm like Bernie, but electabile" approach.  For that, he did a pretty good job.  O'Malley is a smooth operator; good-looking, relatively articulate, and a decent record as Mayor and Governor.  There's a strangness to his debating though.  He feels almost robotic.  The smiles felt forced, the fury was delivered with a dullness in his eyes.  With all that being said his main objective in the debate was to introduce himself as a viable third option, which he did.  It wasn't a home run by any stretch, but was probably a decent single to left field.  

 

Through-line:  A dyed-in-the-wool liberal trying to ride his youth, looks and energy to a nomination.  

 

Strengths:  He is the youngest person on the stage by about a century.  He appears more vibrant than his opponents and has the good fortune of escaping the bitter taste most people have about Washington.  

 

Weakness:  To really catipult himself, he would have needed to electrify, which he didn't do.  He really doesn't have a strong "camp" yet; just a smattering of voters who don't want Bernie or Hillary.  

 

Debate Grade:  B-

 

Forecast:  I think his stock will continue to rise, and he will end up as a viable 3 alternative, maybe even upending Bernie for second place, but won't touch Hillary.  

 

 

The Orthodox Centrist:  Lincoln Chafee

 

Lincoln Chafee is a guy who has a great resume and some very good ideas.  He is also a guy who had the worst debate performance I have seen of anyone on the Republican or Democrat side.  This makes me sad as he has some views that are in-line with my own.  But from this train-wreck of a debate performance, he killed any notion that he may be a viable candidate.  He was hesitant, inarticulate, nervous, inconsistent, and, at times, pitiable.  The line about why he voted for a bill he would later oppose was cringe-worthy "my dad just died...it was my very first vote..." fill in a handful of other ineffectual excuses here.  Yikes.  The sad part is, this could possibly have been turned into something positive had he said "you know, I was just learning my craft.  Look how far I've come since thing.  I have so much more experience now than I did at that time.  I'm a wiser man." Or anything other than "feel bad for me my dad died" or "It was my very first vote".  His "I'm a block of granite" quote while being a republican, then an independent, then a democrat would also have been laughable, had it not been so painful to watch.  

 

Through-line:  A long shot candidate who just got much much longer.  

 

Strengths:  Like I said, he actually does have some good ideas.  He is someone who can reach across the aisle and work with conservatives.  He has a strong track record as Governor.  

 

Weaknesses:  None of the strengths matter to a hill of beans after that performance.  Stick a fork in his campaign.  Its done.  

 

Debate Grade:  Do you even need to ask?  F.  

 

Forecast:  His funds will dry up long before Iowa and he will be forced to drop out.  

 

The Unorthodox Centrist:  Jim Webb

 

Jim Webb is a bit of an enigma.  He is pro-gun, a foreign policy hawk and against affirmative action.  He is, in many ways, a throw-back to the Southern Dems of the pre-60s, albeit with some updated stances as culture has changed.  With that being said, it does provide for a different perspective.  While the other four were generally providing slight variations on perspectives that agree, Jim Webb was offering something starkly different.  Unfortunately for him, it didn't translate into "fresh and unique" it came off more as "off-kilter and cranky." Its not as if his message is inherently without appeal to some voters, its just how its present that is the problem.  Webb came off as a grumpy complainer, repeatedly criticizing moderator Anderson Cooper for not getting enough time.  At one point, Cooper even pointed out he is wasting what little time he has complaining about his lack of time.  He then went on to...complain more about not having enough time.  When not bitching, he seemed smart but distant, astute on foreign policy matters, but cold, and unengaging.  On the bright side, he did highlight two unique and strong aspects of his personal story; his wife being a Vietnamese refugee who learned English, went to law school and is now living the American dream, as well as his impressive resume in the armed forces.  These two stories appeal to different groups, which can be a good thing.  

 

Through-line:  A former Republican who still has vestiges of his conservative heritage, while adopting some progressive policies as he has evolved.  

 

Strengths:  Certainly the most unique person in the running, both from a policy perspective, and personally.  Appeals to a subset of voters Dems don't typically appeal to any more.  

 

Weaknesses:  Its not that he's not bright.  Its not that he can't form a cogent point.  He's just so...boring.  Cold.  Surly.  His lack of charisma is a huge roadblock for his campaign.  

 

Debate Grade:  D+

 

The Front Runner:  Hillary Clinton

 

Typically a debate is, in many ways, nothing but a liability for a front runner.  Since they already in the lead, there's not much to gain, but there is plenty of time and opportunity to say something stupid and derail your whole campaign.  It happend to Howard Dean.  It happend to Rick Perry.  Contrary to the typical pattern, this debate was an absolute home run for Hillary that significantly helped recapture the democrat base's faith and bolster her appeal to anyone else who may have been watching.  She was calm, confident, funny, eloquent, and unflappable.  Even when the dreaded email/Benghazi controversies came up she managed to spin them into a chance to needle the republicans as petty and self-serving.  In my own personal opinion, I was very luke-warm on Hillary before this debate, but it was hard not to like her afterward.  Even those who don't like her would be hard pressed to say she didn't have a good night if they are being honest with themselves.  

 

Through-line:  A front runner who reasserted her status with a near flawless debate performance.  

 

Strengths:  Huge warchest of funds, name recognition, an outstanding first debate, and a very strong base.  

 

Weakness:  There is a chance the nagging scandals derail the momentum she has going.  Stranger things has happened.  

 

Debate Grade:  A

 

Forecast:  She wins every state outside of the Northeast and gets the nomination easily.  

Posted on October 17, 2015 .

NFL Predictions: 2015

NFL PREDICTIONS 2015/16

* indicates widlcard

 

AFC NORTH:

RAVENS 11-5:  A well balanced team that can pass, run and defend comes out atop rugged divison

*BENGALS 10-6 Another season, another playoff trip.  Is this the year they finally win a playoff game?

STEELERS 9-7 The Iron Curtain is showing a lot of holes. This D can't stop anyone, but man can Ben pass!  

BROWNS: 5-11 On D these guys are no slouches, but that offense...Yikes!

 

AFC EAST:  

PATRIOTS 10-6 With Brady and Co. the victors in the "Deflategate" Saga, it will be business as usual.

JETS 10-6 Fitz is better than Geno anyway.  Defense keeps Jets within an eyelash of making the playoffs. 

DOLPHINS 10-6 Tannehill is the most underrated QB in NFL, but the man needs a suppoting cast.

BILLS 9-7 If Taylor is legit NFL QB and McCoy is healthy, these guys could be 11-5. Don't count on it. 

 

AFC SOUTH: 

COLTS 13-3 Colts fatten up on dreadful division.  But that doesn't mean they aren't for real. 

TEXANS 5-11 Losing Foster for significant time is killer, though D is still stacked.  

JAGUARS 4-12 Team is slowly turning the ship around, but its a long, slow process.

TITANS 3-13 Mariota enters tough situation; no real weapons and spotty line protection

 

AFC WEST:

BRONCOS 10-6 Peyton's last hurrah is another good team who falls just short

*CHARGERS 10-6 Chargers could always pass and addition of Gordon will help the run.

CHIEFS 9-7 Good-but-not-great Chiefs sputter because of mediocre pass game (again).

RAIDERS 6-10 There are very promising pieces here, but they are still a few years from relevance. 

 

NFC NORTH:

PACKERS 11-5 Loss of Nelson hurts, but not enough to derail Rodgers and Co.

*VIKINGS 10-6 Promising Bridgewater gets his first taste of playoff football with help from AP.

LIONS 8-8 Yes they can pass, but what else can they do? They won't be the same without Suh

BEARS 5-11 D is bad, but can't be as bad as last year, but Loss of White makes O worse.

 

NFC EAST: 

COWBOYS: 9-7 'Boys worse than last year but stil good enough to win mediocre division. 

EAGLES 9-7 Bradford gets hurt (big surprise) but Sanchez effective in Kelly system. D if awful, though.

GIANTS 7-9 They will pass well, run poorly and play little to no defense.  

REDSKINS 4-12 What a mess football in the Capital is these days.  

 

NFC SOUTH:

SAINTS 9-7 The D is not as good as '13 but not as bad as '14. Brees still Brees.  

PANTHERS 8-8 Cam is for real, but loss of Benjamin is killer on thin receiving corp.

BUCCANEERS 6-10 Winston has some nice weapons and will have a respectable rookie season. 

FALCONS 6-10 Another team that can pass but can't do much else.  

 

NFC WEST:

SEAHAWKS 14-2 Jimmy G. added to this team? That isn't even fair.  

*CARDINALS 9-7 It all depends of Palmer's health. Coaching, D, and Receivers great, but not enough without QB.

RAMS 8-8 Foles true ability somewhere between great '13 and mediocre '14

49ERS 4-12 Worse offseason ever results in dismal showing.  

 

PLAYOFFS:

WILDCARD ROUND:

(6) Bengals def (3) Patriots - The Bengals end their playoff W drought in style by beating champs in Foxboro

(4) Broncos def (5) Chargers - Peyton delivers carries his team for another deep run

(3) Cowboys def (6) Cardinals - Too much talent in pass game for Cards to handle

(5) Vikings def (4) Saints - Peterson runs over soft Saints D to the tune of 150+ yards

 

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

(1) Colts def (6) Bengals - The Bengals put a scare in the top seed but ultimately fall

(3) Broncos def (2) Ravens - Broncos avenge double overtime thriller loss of a few years ago

(1) Seahawks def (5) Vikings - Seahawks give young Vikings a lesson in playoff football

(2) Packers def (3) Cowboys - Last year's rematch, same result.

 

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: 

(1) Colts def (3) Broncos - the torch officially passed from Manning to Luck

(1) Seakhawks def (2) Packers - Stop me if you've heard this...last year's rematch, same result.

SUPERBOWL:

Seahawks def Colts - Luck continues to improve every year and make it one round farther, but Seahawks just too good on both sides of the ball for anyone to beat.  

Posted on September 7, 2015 .

A View From the Other Side of the Aisle: A Democrat's Take on the Republican Presidential Field

With 17 serious (or at least semi-serious) candidates vying for the Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidency, I was certainly interested to tune in for the first debate.  I consider myself a moderate Democrat who proudly refuses to tow the party line on issues I don't agree with and who tries to approach politics with an open mind.   When watching the debate (I will write a similar post about the Democratic nominees in October after their first debate) I tried to consider both "objective" ideas (how well a person speaks, how much they might appeal to their base vs the general populace, etc.) that were independent of if I agree with what they are saying and "subjective" ideas (do I personally like their perspective, would I consider crossing party lines to vote for them, etc.) that were thinking in terms of myself as a voter to be courted.  I also tried to discern what their overall through-line was, not just their stated mission but also their unspoken narrative.  

 

I have grouped them together loosely by what I see as their overarching paradigm, though some I see as distinct enough to merit their own title.  

 

The Pedigree:

Jeb Bush - Obviously he is a well-known name, and the representation of dynastic politics in America as much as the Clintons and Kennedys are to the Democratic party.  The impression I was left with after the debate was this; he seemed surprisingly reasonable.  While he was universally panned in the media (even conservative media) as uninspired, prosaic, and inarticulate during the debate, I'm not sure that is the impression I walked away with.  Certainly, he was not a dynamic speaker or personality, but his rhetoric was surprisingly moderate.  While other candidates were bringing down the fire-and-brimstone, he actually talked about immigration reform that (GASP!) included allowing current undocumented aliens to work their way to citizenship.  Pretty bold for someone on a Fox News Republican debate.  With all that being said, his name deeply sullies his chances of the presidency.  Both his father and his brother's tenures as US president were, to put it charitably, mediocre at best.  Fair or not, this does influence the average voter when considering who to cast their vote for.  

Through-line:  A Bush, trying to distance himself from his family's legacy with a pragmatic tone.

Strengths:  Name-recognition, fair appeal to moderates republicans and conservative republicans alike

Weakness:  The baggage of the Bush name and a lackluster debate hurt.  

Probability of Being Nominee:  Good.    He is one of three people I see as the potential nominee.  

If he is the nominee, probability of being President:  Fair.  He stands a decent chance against Hillary (or the unlikely Bernie Sanders) but would probably ultimately be sunk by his brother and father's poor standing in the history of presidencies.  

Forecast:  See end of article

 

The Political Novices:

Dr. Ben Carson - An affable, kindly Neurosurgeon, who also has a penchant for fiery declarations against things he dislikes (see his comments on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act)  In the debate I was thoroughly disappointed.  His work shows that he is obviously a bright guy, and a good leader, but he seemed, frankly, in way over his head.  His cringe-worthy explanation of why he supports a 10% universal tax rate ("It's based on God, and He's a pretty good guy" or something to that effect), and his lack of political experience didn't appear like a strength as it does for some "outsider" candidates, For him, it definitely seemed like a liability.  

Through-line:  A political outsider, struggling to adjust to the political arena.  

Strengths:  A great story, potential appeal to minority voters, and no political baggage yet.  

Weaknesses:  He was weak in the debate, he seems lost when trying to articulate his position and he has never held elected office. 

Probability of Nomination:  Fair.  He's got a punchers chance, as they say in boxing.  Sometimes the candidate that stands out most - which he does, both for being the only African-American in the field, and for unapologetically being a non-politician - can rise to stardom.  I suspect though, that his lack of experience and inability to articulate his plans in the soundbite nature of debates is going to derail his bid.  

Probability of Presidency:  If he is the nominee, he probably has a better chance against Hillary than most.  Being an African-American, and lacking the baggage of a voting record for opponents to tear apart, he may strongly pull votes away from the Democratic base.  

Forecast:  He ends up a flash-in-the-pan who had brief stardom, but doesn't win a state in the primaries.  

Carly Fiorina - A well spoken former technology executive who lacks experience, but faired very well in the "consolation debate".  Her political star is clearly rising.  She received almost universal consensus of having "won" the early debate and has probably positioned herself well enough to be a participant in the next prime time debate.  

Strengths:  She handled herself well in her first national debate.  She is a conservative woman, who gives the female voter another alternative to Hillary Clinton.  She has business experience, which Republicans love.  

Weaknesses:  She has no experience as an elected official.  None.  This is sometimes viewed as a strength, but what usually ends up happening is these folks get exposed as surface-level policy amateur when the spot light gets brighter (think Herman Cain).  

Probability of the Nomination:  low-to-fair.  She is very much a long shot for the nomination, but could possibly play the spoiler.  

Probability of the Presidency:  If she got the nod, I suspect her chances would be slightly better than average as compared to the rest of the Republican field, just in the fact that she is a woman which gives female voters a chance to have strong representation and be heard.  With that being said, Hillary's savvy and experience may dominate her in a debate and in the ad war.  

Forecast:  Unlikely to win any states, but may garner enough attention to position herself for a future run at Congress/Senate or even the presidency.  Possibly a VP selection.   

 

The Buffoon:

Donald Trump - We can't ignore the blow-hard of the GOP, can we?  Donald Trump is everything that 75% of American's hate; brash, arrogant, self-righteous, condescending, and misogynistic.  He is the representation of what the GOP has been and is trying to get away from.  In many ways, he is the "rich villain" character that liberals insist on portraying the GOP as.  Except its really him.  In the debate he was what you expected; Uncivil and completely vague about what he would actually do from a policy perspective to make the country better.  He is the court jester of the Republican nominees, taking away the spotlight from more serious and reasonable GOP candidates.  Democrats hope he stays in as long as possible, as he damages the GOP brand with every insult, ludicrous idea and sneer.  

Through-Line: A wealthy tycoon who is good at business and bad with people.  

Strengths:  He has name recognition and people that are really angry like him.  

Weaknesses:  Where do I start?  He has no appeal to female voters, minority voters, moderates, independents or undecideds?  He is a walking soundbite for negative campaign ads?  He readily admits to pay-to-play funding of politicians?  He shares vague, bombastic ideas that have no practical value and aren't remotely grounded in fact?  

Probability of Nomination:  Fair.  I would bet on him flaming out spectacularly long before the primaries, but hey, the polls say he's got staying power.  

Probability of the Presidency:  Less that 1%.  Democrats would relish the opportunity to have Trump as the candidate.  If he is the nominee, whoever the Democratic nominee is wins by the default of simply not being Donald Trump.  

Forecast:  All his alienation and insults catch up to him and he crashes and burns before the polls even open in Iowa.  

 

The Moderates:

Chris Christie - The New Jersey Gov. has some Trump-like qualities, yet is much more articulate, well-thought-out, and relatable.  Christie was willing to touch the 3rd rail of american politics; entitlement programs.  And you know what?  He laid out a plan that is reasonable, attainable, and concrete.  He faired well in the debate, as a whole.  He sparred with Mike Huckabee but came out demonstrating that he is the one who has an actual plan.  He probably lost an argument with Rand Paul about the Patriot Act, but still came out looking like someone who has good reason to support the legislation.  For all his bravado, he actually is a person who can compromise with the left to create policy.  His record as governor shows it.  

Through-line: A tough talking New Jersian who can cut a deal with the best of them.  

Strengths:  He is a compromiser who would have fairly good bi-partisan appeal.  He has experience as a governor during a period of crisis.  

Weaknesses:  The same qualities that make him a strong candidate against Hillary make him a liability to get the nomination.  Many primary voters will see him as "too moderate" to vote for.  

Probability of the Nomination:  Remote-to-low.  He barely eked into the debate and doesn't seem to be making much headway in the polls.  

Probabilities of the Presidency:  He is one hell of a debater and would probably give Hillary a run for her money.  

Forecast:  He gets a little run as "the moderate" candidate, but only wins a state or two in the primaries.  

John Kasich - The Ohio Governor is a strong moderate candidate with good experience and a history of working with both parties.  He had the audacity to defend his decision to expand medicaid in his state.  And he gave real, appropriate justification for his actions.  Even in a republican debate he got cheered for his responses.  That was pretty remarkable.  The problem is, he looked meek, nervous, and overmatched in the debate itself.  He is a candidate I would actually consider voting for, but he will never make it out of the primaries.  

Through-line:  A compromiser who can reach across the aisle, but who lacks the charisma or name recognition to win.  

Strengths:  Similar to Christie, he has bi-partisan appeal and real, tangible solutions.  

Weakness:  Of the two moderates, he is the weaker candidate (though I like him better) because he doesn't have the bombast or notoriety that Christie has.  

Probability of Nomination:  Remote.  Just too crowded for someone who lacks magnetism.  

Probability of Presidency:  Also someone who has some bi-partisan appeal, which is good in the general election but won't ever make it that far.  

Forecast:  Sadly, an also-ran that had great things to say that no one listened to, a la John Huntsman in 2012.  

 

The Theocrats:

Mike Huckabee - A Baptist Pastor who's rhetoric has gone from winsome and charming in 2008 to hellfire-and-brimstone in 2015.  I was surprised to see the likable grand-fatherly figure of 2008 transform into the religious firebrand of the debate.  Perhaps his advisors are suggesting a change in tone.  Either way, this is not the 1980s or the 1950s so a person who invokes the "supreme being" being more important than the "supreme court" is probably not going to get much traction in a post-modernist american landscape.  Not to mention that I am not the only one who is frightened by a person that wants to run the country as a Christian Theocracy (if not in name, in political ideology).  Even me, who has been a practicing Christian for 20 years, believes in a strict separation of church and state.  When you start underscoring your policy initiatives as based on "the Bible" (which actually means his dogmatic, literalist interpretation of the Bible) its probably a bad sign.  

Through-line:  The crusader of the religious right.  

Strengths:  He will grab the votes of a few of his fellow theocrats-who-don't-know-they-are-theocrats in the populace.  

Weaknesses:  He has no appeal outside of a small contingent of religious conservatives.  

Probability of Nomination:  He will get a few states, have no doubt.  But that is the ceiling for him.  

Probability of the Presidency:  Next to none.  God would have to provide divine intervention.  

Forecast:  He will bow out with a couple states under his belt in the primaries and nothing more.  

Rick Santorum - The Catholic version of Mike Huckabee.  A crusader for the Catholic church who is relatively well-spoken and articulate.  Shares many of the same rhetorical devices as Huckabee .  

Through-line: the Catholic alternative to Huckabee.  

Strengths:  He actually finished 2nd in 2008 republican primaries, so he has some appeal to the religious voters as well.  He has a kind demeanor that does seem approachable and relatable.  

Weakness:  Most religious voters are going to go with Huckabee as he has a stronger following and more name recognition from his show on Fox News.  Also, some Evangelical Christians are still deeply distrustful of Catholicism. 

Probability of Nomination:  I don't think he takes a state, as his religious right votes will be syphoned off by Huckabee.  

Probability of Presidency:  Next to none.  

Forecast:  He will drop out before super tuesday as an afterthought.  

 

The Challenger:

Marco Rubio - In my opinion Rubio easily won the debate.  He was intelligent, articulate, relatable, and proposed (some) actual plans for bettering the country.  His speaking was electric.  His story was powerful.  To be perfectly honest, as a Democrat I am shaking in my boots about Marco Rubio.  

Through-line:  The son of a Cuban immigrant who grew up in poverty, and used brains and grit to rise to the office of US Senator.  

Strengths:  This guys got it all; charisma, good-looks (which shouldn't matter, but does), a great story, the ability to communicate his ideas well, strong conservative credentials, but also a track record of working with the opposition on occasion (see his Gang of 8 work on immigration).  

Weakness:  A small amount of experience (but which he still managed to turn into a strength during the debate)

Probability of Nomination:  Good.  If the republicans go for electability, he will be the nominee.  

Probability of Presidency:  He reminds me of the conservative answer to Barak Obama; a young, dynamic, likable figure.  If he gets the nod, barring a scandal, I think he wins.  Thus I hope very strongly that he doesn't get the nomination.  

Forecast:  See end of the article.  

 

The Hardliners:

Scott Walker - The Wisconsin Gov. is known for stiff fiscal and social conservative beliefs.  One thing I can say for Scott Walker; the guys got backbone.  After surviving on onslaught of protests, recalls and general discord during his tenure as Governor, he came out as somewhat of a conservative icon; the guy who stuck to his guns and resisted any concessions or compromises and somehow, miraculously came out with his political career in tact.  With that being said, his debate performance was serviceable, but unspectacular.  But his cult status as conservative hardass could serve him well in the primaries.  Not so much in the general election.  

Through-line:  A hardline conservative who, for better or worse, won't budge an inch.  

Strengths:  These type of personas are darlings in the primaries.  He's got a record of standing up for what conservatives care about and less of the "he made a deal with the liberals on this issue" baggage that other candidates carry.  

Weakness:  How does such a hardliner appeal to voters outside his base?  Simple; he doesn't.  

Probability of Nomination: Good.  I would say he is one of 3 candidates I could see getting the nomination based on the overall gestalt of the GOP voters come primary time.  

Probability of Presidency:  He's got a chance if the energy from the conservative base can flow over to the casual voter.  But I wouldn't say he has the charm to entice independents, and certainly not the record of principled compromise to lure moderates from the other side.  

Forecast:  See end of article  

Ted Cruz - As far right as Walker both fiscally and socially, possibly more so.  He is the anti-establishment Conservative who thinks his party has lost its principles.  Consequently, he is also the most hated man in the Senate, both among his own party and among democrats due to his grandstanding and willingness to throw a wrench in the gears of the government if things don't go his way.  He was instrumentalin the government shut down, and while his quixotic quest won him slaps on the back from the extreme wing of the far right, he got clenched fists from everyone else.  

Through-line:  The hardline, Jingoist, ultra-con who hopes to galvanize the base to go to the polls.  

Strengths:  Tea-partiers, very-conservative Christians, and other extreme groups within the GOP voting base like him a lot.  

Weaknesses:  Moderate republicans, minorities, centrists, moderate democrats, liberal democrats, young voters, voters on social security and Medicare, disabled people, and puppies utterly loathe him.  

Possibility of Nomination:  Its not impossible, but here's the problem; there is a more likable, more well-funded similar candidate named Scott Walker.  There is also a more likable, fiercely supported anti-establishment candidate named Rand Paul.  There goes most of his voter base.  

Possibility of Presidency:  There is no way in hell he could ever get a moderate, centrist or independent to vote for him.  He would just have to hope that every Baptist church group and business tycoon showed up on to the polls on election day.  I would say his chances are only slightly better than Trumps.  

 

Rand Paul - The Libertarian has a rabid cult following of well-organized, highly motivated supporters.  Another anti-establishment candidate, but with a strong history between himself and his father, with a clear, consistent message.  The challenge his that Paul's Libertarian views are not always in line with the bulk of the GOP; (his unapologetic non-interventionist foreign policy, support for legalization of drugs, and opposition to the Patriot Act, for starters).  While a moderate Democrat like me finds this very refreshing, some of the more orthodox conservatives do not.  

Strengths:  One of these days, the Libertarian message is going to really catch on, and Rand Paul is as good a torch-bearer as any.  He doesn't shy away from bucking conservative orthodoxy.  

Weaknesses: Like I said, he doesn't shy away form bucking conservative orthodoxy.  This can hurt in the primaries.  

Possibility of Nomination:  He's a long shot, but its not impossible.  I'd say its better than Ted Cruz, but not as good as Scott Walker.  Other than his very passionate followers, he may struggle to find footing in other voting blocs.  

Possibility of Presidency:  Very low.  It would take a truly transcendent fever, sweeping across the land for a Libertarian to be the president.  Though some of his less traditional stances could make him popular with younger voters that wouldn't usually give a conservative the time of day.  

 

The Also-Rans:

These candidates are really not finding much traction:

Bobby Jindal - This is the other youngster not named Marco Rubio.  I have to admit this one surprises me.  He's got conservative credentials, he's a Rhodes scholar, he has a flashy conversion story that appeals to Christian conservatives, but yet he is barely a blip on the radar as far as the polls go.  Of the Also-Rans, though, this is the one that I could see actually making a little run if he fares well in Iowa.  

Rick Perry - He's rebranding himself from the tough-talking cowboy to the bespectacled thinker.  Honestly, I saw an interview with him where he was talking about policy, and he really was pretty impressive in his knowledge of the nuances of of the legislation.  With that being said, no one else seems to be buying it.  He will drop out after a few lack-luster primaries.  

Lindsey Graham - He is taking the ultra-hawk approach and it doesn't appear to be resonating.  Assumedly he will also be on the sidelines after a few states cast their votes.  

George Pataki - He is the odd man out in the "Moderate and Electable " pool.  He is a fiscal conservative who is socially moderate, which would be a welcome voice in the dialogue, but he seems to be outgunned by other moderates Christie and Kaisch.  

Jim Gilmore - I know next to nothing about this guy.  Granted, this isn't my party, but with that being said, I keep up on politics at least slightly more than your average bear, and I only know he's been out of politics for years and he used to be Virginia's governor many years ago.  If that's all that registers with him, that's a bad sign.  

THE FORECAST:

So, what do I think will happen?  I foresee one of three scenarios:

The Republican's go "Hardline":

The GOP goes back to its roots and Scott Walker wins the nomination in a primary of competing ideals. He, in turn puts a small scare in Hillary, but ultimately falls short by 75-100 electoral votes.  

The Republicans go "Old Faithful":

The GOP goes with name recognition and past experience.  It becomes Clinton vs Bush Round 2.  The result being the same as '92.  Clinton wins by split decision, but without a black eye or two.  

The Republicans go "Young, Fresh, and Electable":

The GOP rolls the dice on someone young, dynamic and bright.  Rubio denies Hillary's final quest for the White House by a surprising margin a la Obama '08.

Posted on August 12, 2015 .

MLB PREDICTIONS 2015

MLB PREDICTIONS 2015:

 

AL EAST:  

Orioles 87-75 Healthy Wieters and Machado ease loss of Cruz. Rotation is better than you think

Blue Jays 86-76 Losing Stroman for season hurts, but Jays sneak into Wildcard with bats. 

Red Sox 80-82 Popular pick to take division will hit well, but that rotation is godawful.  

Rays 77-85 That rotation is still really good.  The bats are still really not.  

Yankees 74-88 This team is old, injury-prone, and lacking in talent.  Period.  

 

AL CENTRAL:

Tigers 89-73 Even with an aging Martinez and Cabrera, still the team to beat in the Central

White Sox 84-78 Savvy offseason moves addressing needs puts southsiders just short of playoffs

Indians 83-79 A legitimately talented team that is just a few pieces short.  

Royals 81-81 KC brass follows up World Series appearance with...letting talent walk and no big signings. 

Twins 69-93 The prospects are developing, but a few more woeful years are in the cards for Minnesota. 

 

AL WEST:  

Mariners 90-72 Cruz and Jackson the missing pieces.  Oh yeah, and they have some guy named "Felix Hernandez" too

Angels 87-75 Don't get me wrong, Trout's a stud, but Hamilton and Wilson are a mess, and Richards is hurt.  

Astros 79-83 Young pitching is legit.  Young bats are getting there.  This is what progress looks like.  

Rangers 70-92 The injury bug strikes again: Darvish out for the year on an already thin rotation.  

Athletics 69-93  I think Billy Bean's a genius.  With that said, I have no idea what he was doing in the offseason. 

 

NL EAST:

Nationals 102-60 The last guy who doesn't make the rotation on this team could be an ace elsewhere.  They are that good. 

Marlins 87-75 Stanton/Ozuna/Yellich might be best young outfield in baseball.

Mets 73-89 If you believe Mets pitching is going to stay healthy I have ocean front property in Kansas I will sell you.

Braves 70-92 Plunging headlong into rebuilding mode.  Wise choice, but makes for painful season. 

Phillies 64-98 Just now dipping toes in rebuilding process they should have started 4 years ago. 

 

NL CENTRAL 

Cardinals 89-73 Cards continue to churn out competitive teams every year.  Ho-hum. 

Pirates 88-72 Great bats and just-enough pitching to get into the wildcard round again.

Cubs 83-79 My beloved Cubs will be better, but temper expectations; depending on prospects a recipe for disappointment.

Reds 83-79 They will be better simply due to 3 quarters of their lineup not being on the DL this year. 

Brewers 76-86  Better than record would suggest, but stuck in a now-stacked division. 

 

NL WEST 

Dodgers 92-70 The only thing holding them back is the back half of their rotation. 

Padres 86-76 New faces lead to more success...just not quite enough for October baseball

Giants 84-78 Champs take their odd-year hiatus.  This time because of missing bats and aging arms. 

Rockies 76-86 There are some crazy good hitters on this team, but their pitching is the worst in baseball

Diamondbacks 71-91 The desert will be a lonely place again this summer.  

 

WILDCARD ROUND

 

Angles def Blue Jays

Marlins def Pirates

 

DIVISION SERIES

 

Angels def Mariners in 4

Tigers def Orioles in 4

 

Nationals def Marlins in 3

Dodgers def Cardinals in 5

 

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

 

Tigers def Angels in 5

Nationals def Dodgers in 6

 

WORLD SERIES 

 

Nationals def Tigers in 5

 

AL MVP

Mike Trout - Angels

 

NL MVP

Giancarlo Stanton - Marlins

 

AL CY YOUNG

Felix Hernandez - Mariners

 

NL CY YOUNG

Madison Bumgarner - Giants

Posted on April 2, 2015 .

NBA Predictions 2014-15

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

ATLANTIC:

Raptors - 51-31  Talented core returns and fattens up on a bad division.  Lowry shows he's worth every penny.  

Nets - 40-42  Wily old vets limp into playoffs and give better seeds a scare.  But still lose.  

Knicks 38-44  It will take a while to adjust to the triangle offense.  It was take longer to get good players around Melo.

Celtics 30-52 They actually have some exciting young players, but they will take their lumps...again.  

76ers 15-67 Like the Celtics, talent young players, but they will take even bigger lumps.  HUGE lumps actually.  

CENTRAL

Bulls 60-22 So deep they could field 2 teams.  2 playoff teams even.  

Cavaliers 56-26.  The most talented starting five in the NBA but it will take them a bit to gel.  

Pistons 39-43 A formidable front court is derailed by Brandon Jennings chucking up 25 shots a game and making 7 of them.  

Pacers 34-48 A team that was going to struggle to score by losing Lance Stephenson now loses their remaining scorer, Paul George for the year due to a broken leg.  That's rough.  

Bucks 28-54 Parker and the Greek Freak are legit, but too young to avoid a last place finish.  The future is bright, though.  

SOUTHEASTERN:

Hornets 49-33 His histrionics aside, Stephenson can play, and adds the 3rd scoring option they need to win a division with lots of good teams, but no great teams.  

Heat 48-34  Without LeBron, they are merely mortal, but don't pronounce them dead yet.  There is still a lot of talent here.  

Wizards 46-36 Losing Beal to injury puts them in a hole they have to climb out of.  But this a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.  

Hawks 45-37 They have a lot of talent, but I'd wager a starter or two will be in a cast on the bench every night.  

Magic- 29-53  Oladipo is going to miss time.  They will miss Affalo.  More growing pains to come.  

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

PACIFIC:

Clippers 58-24 This team is loaded with talent that has played together for a long time.  This is the year they break through.  

Warriors 56-26 Just an eyelash behind the Clips on talent.  Will continue to be stuck behind the slightly superior team.  

Suns 41-41 They've got a ridiculous amount of talented guards, but I'm not sure about that front court.  Think they overachieved a bit last year.  

Kings 34-48 Rudy Gay is good.  DeMarcus Cousin's is great.  But they can't get over the hump without better guard play. 

Lakers 30-52 Kobe is old and broken down.  The rest of the cast is made up of misfits and castoffs.  The Clips are officially the real show in town.  

NORTHWESTERN

Thunder 52-30 Very talented but not very deep team feels the loss of their star for first few months but bounces back to win the division.  

Trailblazers 51-31 Puts a scare in the Thunder, but comes up just short.  

Nuggets 42-40  In the Eastern conference this team is playoff material, but not in the rugged west. 

Jazz 32-50 Don't get me wrong, I like Hayward a lot.  But that contract is just silly on a team that's probably still a ways from competing.  

Timberwolves 28-52 Move suffering in Minnesota, but with a silver lining.  Wiggins will be the ROY.  

SOUTHWEST

Spurs 55-27 Tim and Co. continue to do their thing.  Almost 2 decades of playoff appearances?  All in a days work.  

Pelicans 49-33 Ultra talented young Pelicans surprise everyone but me by making the playoffs.  And not just squeaking in, either.  

Mavericks 47-35  Geriatric Mavs still compete.  Chandler a nice defensive addition, for the brief periods he plays between injuries.  

Rockets 44-38 Could have been championship material but they struck out in every conceivable way in free agency.  Harden/Howard still keep them in the playoffs...barely.  

Memphis 43-39  Another western conference casualty.  This team is a 4-5 seed if its in the east, just based on its defense.  

EAST FINALS

Cavaliers over Bulls in 7.  A series for the ages, but starting talent wins out against depth on this occasion.  

Clippers over Spurs in 6.  Clippers surprise Spurs, who's age finally catches up to them.  

FINALS

Cavaliers over Clippers in 5.  Cavs win in a gentleman's sweep.  Clips can't handle the wing play of Lebron or the "stretch 4" play of Love.  

 

 

 

Posted on October 26, 2014 .

NFL Predictions 2014

J.T. BROWN'S 2014-15 NFL PREDICTIONS:

 

NFC NORTH:

Packers: 11-5.  Great QB, improved run game, but unreliable O line and defense keep them from being elite.  

Bears: 11-5 An impressive array of offense weapons and a better (but not great) defense returns Da Bears to Da Playoffs

Lions: 8-8 Man can they pass and stop the run, but inability to stop pass in passing league a killer. 

Vikings: 5-11 AP is still AP, but QB is still QB.  In that they don't have one.  Also can't stop the pass.  

 

NFC EAST:

Eagles: 10-6. An incredible offense and terrible defense, is enough to win a bad division. 

Redskins: 8-8. Offense is good but not as dynamic as Eagles. Defense is just awful. 

Giants: 6-10. Eli was dreadful last year, but even if he is better, who runs the ball? The championship window is officially closed.  

Cowboys: 4-12.  Good offense, but aging/injured Romo, oft-injured Murray and historically bad D equals Jason Garrett pink slip.  

 

NFC SOUTH:

Saints: 12-4 The offense is incredible.  The defense is solid now.  Sleeper for the Superbowl.  

Falcons: 9-7 Injuries sunk their season last year.  This year they are better, but run game and D keep them out of the playoffs.  

Buccaneers: 7-9 There is talent on this team, but the question at QB is a big concern. McCown success was product of good Trestman system. 

Panthers: 7-9 Losses to receiving core and injury questions about Newton make for a step back.  Great D keeps them in games though. 

 

NFC WEST:

Seahawks: 11-5 Still Young and freakishly talented.  How does anyone score against them? 

49ers: 11-5 Identical model to Seahawks makes this a tossup. Flip a coin on who wins division. 

Cardinals: 9-7 The sad irony of the NFL; a team that is more talented than last year has a worse record because of a brutal schedule.  

Rams: 4-12 I didn't believe in the Rams with Bradford, and I sure as heck don't believe in them without him.  

 

AFC NORTH:

Bengals: 12-4 Perpetually underrated team gets within a game of Superbowl.  Great O and D, what's not to like? 

Steelers: 7-9 The defense is too old.  The offense is too 1 dimensional. Storied franchise struggles again. 

Ravens: 6-10 See Steelers.  Same problem.  

Browns: 4-12 They are headed in the right direction but suspension of Gordon is a killer. 

 

AFC EAST:

Patriots: 11-5 Pats fatten up on bad division. Better secondary certainly helps their cause. 

Bills: 7-9 They have some pieces in place and I think Manuel has promise, but they are still not there yet. 

Jets:  7-9 The defense is still good, but Geno was very erratic last year. Decker was only good because Manning was throwing to him. 

Dolphins: 6-10 Tennehill has promise too, but O line is still a mess, and Moreno won't be healthy. 

 

AFC SOUTH:

Colts: 10-6 Another good-but-not-great team who wins a weak division.  Run game is a mess. 

Texans: 8-8 They make a nice turnaround by destroying opposing QBs, but fall short of playoffs. 

Titans: 7-9 Locker has serious promise but serious health issues too.  Not enough support cast even if he is healthy.  

Jaguars: 2-14. Jones-Drew is gone. Blackmon is in legal trouble. Any other roster as bereft of talent as this one?  

 

AFC WEST:

Broncos:  13-3  Offense is still elite.  D should be better.  Scary team.  

Chargers: 10-6 Team that really gelled late last year comes back in tact.  Rivers still a stud.  

Chiefs: 9-7 Smith is steady.  Charles is great.  Defense is still good.  They will be back in the playoffs. 

Raiders: 3-13 A funhouse of awful.  Multiple large contracts for declining vets. Who runs this team and how do they still have a paycheck?  

 

PLAYOFFS:

 

WILDCARD ROUND:

 

(6) 49ers defeat (3) Packers

(5) Bears defeat (4) Eagles

(3) Patriots defeat (6) Chiefs

(5) Chargers defeat (4) Colts

 

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

 

(1) Saints defeat (6) 49ers

(2) Seahwaks defeat (5) Bears

(1) Broncos defeat (5) Chargers

(2) Bengals defeat (3) Patriots

 

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

(1) Saints defeat (2) Seahawks

(1) Broncos defeat (2) Bengals

 

SUPERBOWL

 

Broncos defeat Saints

Posted on August 27, 2014 .

The 5 Douche-iest Instruments in the World

It never fails.  You are driving through campus on move-in weekend and you see a  douche-bag in a horizontally-striped tank top outside his frat strumming one for a circle of sorority girls.  Or you are working on your novel in a coffee shop and a white-guy-with-dreds douche is pounding one and reading free verse poetry.  They are the dreaded douche-y instruments.  Try as you might, you can't escape douche bags, nor can you escape the fact that they all play one of these five instruments, and invariably always have it with them, ready to be played.  I want to talk about the 5 Douche-iest instruments in the world.  

Let me give you a disclaimer:  Not all of these instruments are inherently douche-y.  Many of them (except for 1 notable exception) can be used to make wonderful music, that is not in the least bit douche-y.  However, for whatever reason, these instruments draw a disproportionate amount of douche-bags who are eager to impress woman or generally appear cool.  Thus, they are the 5 douche-iest instruments of all time.  

  #5 The Mandolin

The mandolin's douche-yness is a relatively new development.  For many decades it was simply a cute little twanger used along side slide guitars, and stand-up basses.  It was like a less-redneck banjo.  But with folk and blue grass music's meteoric rise in popularity over the last 10 years, the collateral damage is that mandolins have fallen into the hands of douche bags.  The type of douche most likely to play a mandolin is an urban hipster who has romanticized rural-southern culture and has purposely and self-consciously dressed himself in the signature style of blue grass musicians.  This is not to be confused with the non-douchey southern guy who just genuinely likes folk music.  They both have beards and wear flannel shirts, but you can tell the difference when the douche bag says "Merle who...?" when asked about Merle Haggard.  

#4 Moog/Synthesizer/Keyboards

I am pointing the finger directly at myself on this one.  This instrument can add a unique variety of sounds to any song.  Unfortunately, untalented douches like myself will sometimes join bands under the guise of being the "keyboard player" when in truth they are the unskilled-but-well-liked friend to the band.  The real band members will tolerate the keyboard player because he is nice, or is a pretty face or has engaging stage presence.  While there are many talented piano players that play the keyboard/synthesizers in rock bands, there are many more people like me who just pretended to play an instrument to trick people into thinking they are musicians.  

#3 Steel drums

Perhaps the most regrettably douche-y instrument on the list.  Some great bands have used steel drums periodically.  Bob Marley.  The Clash.  The Police.  Unfortunately the steel drum has been hijacked by douche-nozzles ranging back to OAR in the early part of the centry to Magic! and their particularly douche-influenced song "Rude".  This would be an example of bad bands trying to appear relevant by absconding a psuedo-obscure instrument for their own pop music ends.

#2 Acoustic Guitar

The level of douche-yness increases significantly with this entry.  Some of the greatest signer song writers have twisted our hearts in knots with nothing but an acoustic guitar.  And some of the biggest douche bags in the universe have tried to imitate them in cringeworthy performances around a fire.  Or on a beach.  Or while sitting on the hood of their car.  Or at the farmer's market.  Or...

#1 Bongos...dreaded bongos.  

Simply the douche-iest thing on the planet.  Unlike the other instruments on this list which have redeeming usages throughout the history of music, bongo drums have exclusively been used by douche bags 'round the world for millions of years.  I am sure the earliest cave-douches spiked up their hair with wooly mammoth fat, popped the collar on their animal pelt shirt and started playing bongos to impress the woman he planned on hitting over the head with a club later.  As college campus's seem to be hot beds for douche activities, bongos can be found everywhere...on the quad, on the porch of the frat house, or just outside the Sculpture and Painting building.  It takes no talent.  It makes a bland sound.  It looks good paired with a soul patch...It is the DOUCHIEST INSTRUMENT IN THE WORLD!!!

 

Posted on August 26, 2014 .

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and the Media's Love of Narrative (but not of People)

Every time I see a news story about a violent encounter between people of different races I cringe.  I respond this way because of the sadness of loss of life, first and foremost.  I also worry about the negative effects it will have on the race relations of a very diverse society that we live in.  But I also cringe because of the way the stories tend to roll out in the media.  

Typically the story breaks on a mainstream news outlet with a very clear, concise narrative; unarmed teenage minority murdered by armed white adult in cold blood.  Other sources pick up the story, injecting it with new adjectives, interviewing people with rapidly escalating emotions.  Citizens take to social media, community centers and sometimes the streets to air their fury and grief against the country's unjust, inhumane and prejudice systems and the majority population who run them.  

Then we find out more facts of the case and the the waters become murky.  The protagonists became less sympathetic when we find out George Zimmerman had a broken nose, or when pictures break of Michael Brown intimidating a store clerk shortly before the shooting.  Conservative media outlets and bloggers counter with charges of reverse-racism, liberal hypocrisy and the need to arm.  Depending on who you listen to the villains become the victims and vice versa.  Then we get further information on the shooters, which damage that argument; Zimmerman was told to stay in the car by the police but he ignored them.  Michael Brown was shot 8 times, far more than police protocol (3 shots, 2 to the body, 1 to the head) in stopping an armed aggressor, let alone an unarmed person.  So the villains, who briefly became the victims, are the villains once more.    

And I just sigh and shake my head.  It absolutely breaks my heart that young men have been killed.  I have two sons.  The prospect of one of them being killed, no matter what the circumstances, is the most frightening thing I can think of.  But it also breaks my heart because another pair of human beings, this time a young man and a police officer,  involved in an unspeakable tragedy have lost their personhood, and instead have now been made into characters.  They are martyrs or monsters depending on who you listen to.  But they are no longer human beings, with imperfections, emotions, spirits, prejudices and consciouses.  They are now literary devices.  

There are three reasons I think this depersonalization of the people involved in these incidents happen.  

People rush to opinions without knowing the facts.  Whenever we hear a story like this our first instinct is to respond emotionally.  The emotion is typically anger, though sometimes it is sadness, or grief.  Our first reactions to these stories are almost always whatever our own prejudices and internal narratives are.  If we find ourselves saying "well isn't it always..." or "well, probably what really happened is..." it's probably a sign we are judging based on a preconceived notion we already hold as opposed to trying to truly understand what took place in each unique situation. Stereotyping and prejudice, be it of minorities, or police officers, are cognitive shortcuts.  We think that if something is true in one instance, it is probably true in the exact same manner in this other instance.  It saves us from the effort of thinking and researching.  Unfortunately we allow these shortcuts to cause us a bias when approaching a situation, which is unfair to the people involved because every situation is different.  

People and entities with a secondary agenda spin the stories in ways that support their own ends.  The media wants to shock and scare you into keeping the dial (or mouse) where it is.  Talking heads want to show they are more incensed than the next person, so they use ever-escalating rhetoric to drive home their point.  Attorneys want to make their clients look like perfect, flawless saints, while making their opponents look like trigger-happy, murderous bigots, or mercurial urban thugs.  Sadly, much of this comes down to ratings (in the case of media) political point scoring (politicians and social media) or money (attorneys).  These persons or entities are using a tragedy to enhance their own standing in someway.  They don't care about any of the people involved, and they do irrevocable damage to the race relations of this country and suffering families when they stir up overpowering feelings in otherwise rational people by presenting them with the most extreme version possible of what may have happened.  

People naturally want to join "teams".  In times of tragedy, people find themselves comforted by notions of solidarity or camaraderie.  By thinking in terms of "us" and "them" it gives people a way to channel their feelings, be it gathering empathy from the people on their "team" or directing rage at the other "team".  Sadly, this does nothing to increase our understand of the situation nor does it allow us to see the incident in a clear enough light to begin a discussion on how to prevent situations like this in the future.  

I recognize there is no way to prevent violent encounters completely.  But the polarized responses to these situations, the reenforcement of our prejudices, whatever they may be, lead to all of us being at greater risks for these things happening in the future.  There really isn't a "cure" in these case, but maybe there are a few salves that can help heal the wounds faster.  If we are forward thinking, and don't allow bitterness or prejudice to command our actions, maybe we can respond in healthier ways to not allow things to escalate to the point of violence to begin with.   

Reserve judgement until all the facts are in.  I know it's our first instinct to go on the offensive, to air out our grievances at the top of our lungs.  But having time to gather all of the information, looking at a situation in a more sober, analytical light, we can come to a better understanding of what happened, and what our responses should be. 

Fight fair.  No matter what evidence is found in these cases, people are always going to end up disagreeing.  That is perfectly okay, and even desirable in a democracy where people are allowed to express themselves freely.  If this means taking to the streets to protest, writing your senator, or blogging about the situation, do it.  But I think it is of the utmost importance to dialogue in a respectful way, that edifies the people we are talking with and, perhaps more importantly, reasserts the personhood of the people involved, even the person you feel is at fault.  

Find common ground.  We are all human beings trying to make sense of our world.  Even those we disagree with have arrived at their opinions in some way that perhaps we can learn from.  It's a cliche, but it's true; be quick to listen and slow to speak.  

If we can do these things, I think we can return to a place were we see the people involved as people.  Not saints and sinners.  Not character archetypes in some kind of national film.  But real human beings. 

Posted on August 24, 2014 .

Whimsy throughout the Galaxy

If Star Wars wasn't busy taking itself so seriously, it would be Guardians of the Galaxy.  This is not to say that Galaxy is a better movie, but simply to say the playful tone is refreshing.  

The sci-fi landscape is littered with ultra-bleak movies and books (mine included, which, by the way, is called The Charlatans and you can buy it for the low low price of 2.99 on amazon.  I'm not above shameless self promotion) or space operas rife with "serious" love stories that come across pretty clunky.  Guardians on the other hand, revels in its whimsical story-telling, quotable one-liners and 70s pop soundtrack.  

The basic premise is nothing special.  Peter Quill is abducted by alien space pirates in 1988 on the night his mother dies of cancer.  Yondu, the lead pirate becomes a tenuous father figure to the young man.  

The film's charm shows through when we meet Quill 28 years later on Morag, where the childish-but-lovable thief has been sent to steal a mysterious orb.  Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as the charismatic dope who is trying to find notoriety throughout the galaxy by calling himself "Starlord".  When the orb turns out to be more than it appears, Quill has fame thrust upon him in a way he hadn't bargained for.  

Quill inadvertently draws together a band of hilarious oddballs and misfits, as well as drawing the ire of several evil-but-oh-so-cool villains.  

The movie works well because it blends elements of space opera (unique alien races, vivid landscapes, politics and subterfuge) with elements of farce (humor, self-awareness, snappy dialogue) in a seamless, even tone.  It's exciting, funny, visually stunning and, while no one is going to get it confused with a nuanced character study, the heroes have a little depth to them.  

Additionally, the heroes have great chemistry, and quirks that make for fun, memorable scenes. Bradley Cooper's genetically-altered raccoon is a constant stream of sarcasm, while Dave Bautista's Drax character can only understand things in literal terms, which makes for some of the funnier parts of the movie.  While there a bit too many baddies in the movie, they are stylish and scary, as good space opera villains should be.  

The film does fall flat a bit in places.  The scene with Quill's mother dying is quite cheesy, and there are a few parts where it is trying too hard to be funny and it just doesn't work.  These flaws are minor and easy to overlook in light of all the things there are to like about the movie.  

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is a highly entertaining, easy-to-digest piece of summer fare I would encourage anyone to go see.  Along with Edge of Tomorrow it gets my "Summer Movie of the Year" award (Honorable mention to X-Men: Days of Future Past).    Final Grade:  B+  

Posted on August 9, 2014 .