Monday, April 14, 2008

The Flying W's impending crash...

Watching somebody you love destroy him or herself is an especially difficult thing to witness.

It's even more difficult when it happens to be four people who are inextricably linked with some of the most formative years of your life.

Weezer, what are you doing?

I love Weezer. I don't want to qualify that by saying I love Weezer's first two albums a whole lot, and their subsequent output less so, but I'm tempted to. Weezer, or The Blue Album, and Pinkerton are solidly in my top ten albums of all-time (#s 2 and 8, respectively). The Green Album, Maladroit, and Make Believe are noticeably behind the curve Weezer set with those first two Golden Treasures. Don't get me wrong, I don't loathe these last three releases, it's just that they aren't perfect, like the first two.

Now, don't think that the warped expectations I have for this band have not crossed my mind. I get that what I expect from them, they couldn't possibly deliver. However, that doesn't really matter much to me at this point.

Their new album is coming out in a couple of months (June 17th, to be exact), and I promise you I'll buy it. But I'm bracing for disappointment. I feel much like I have with Kentucky in the NCAA tournament these past few years: Sure, there's a chance they could make a run and pull of something great, but I'm not exactly brimming with confidence.

Their first single from the yet-again-eponymous Red Album is called - shudder - "Pork and Beans." This is easily the worst name for a song in the history of popular music, and I am including rap in this, so "Move, Bitch" and "Chicken and Beer" and "Barry Bonds" were all considered. Even worse, the song (or, more accurately, the 30 second clip I heard from doesn't sound bad. I would listen to this song and the record it came from. Rivers is still happy, which means his lyrics have lost all of the confessional bite that made those first two records so great, but it still sounds alright. This is what Weezer has been doing musically for the past eight years, taking one step forward just to take two back.

I wish I could stop them. There may have been a time when I thought I would never see the day I didn't pine for the next Weezer album. But I fear that time has come.

Take a listen for yourself HERE.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

You Ain't Gonna Make It With Anyone Anyhow...

The news (ESPNews, but that counts, right) has been peppered with stories of protest amid the Olympic torch's usual Run-Through-A-Lot-Of-Big-Cities tour. In London and Paris, the flame was actually extinguished numerous times when torch bearers were actually accosted during their runs. All the hubbub relates directly to the old Chinese habit of treating human beings like shit. Communism has been around for a long time, and China has been under communist rule since 1949, when Chairman Mao (see the Beatles' "Revolution #1) came to power in what is ironically termed a "New-democratic revolution." The people Mao and his cronies duped pretty much had no choice, as their existence before Communism was just as bad if not worse than it has been. Primarily, the communist regime has ignored the rights of peasant farmers, which they promised they would sort out during the 28 year period after they were founded but before they came to power. These farmers are still being ignored, but, as peasants don't generally do a whole lot to boost the economy (you know, besides FEEDING THE CITIZENRY!), they are able to be ignored without a whole lot of negative effect upon the People's Republic. The economy in China continues to grow at a scary pace while human rights violations remain commonplace.

As you probably know, the 2008 Summer Olympics were awarded to Beijing, the capital of China, in 2001. Part of the IOC's (International Olympic Committee) thought process behind awarding the Games to a nation with such an egregious record on human rights was that the spotlight placed on the country through the games would force them to change their ways, or else be embarrassed on the world's greatest stage. Guess what? With apologies to Clark Gable, they don't give a damn. They pushed peasants out of their homes to make way for state of the art stadiums and Olympic facilities. The trick is, communism is designed to put the government at the top of the priorities list; the prosperity of the state is all that matters. Therefore, when peasant farmers go up against Olympic stadiums, the stadium wins because it will generate more money for the state. HOW DID NOBODY SEE THIS COMING?!

That question is leading protesters to attempt to bring attention to the horrible atrocities committed by the Chinese government, largely against Tibet, which considers itself a free and sovereign state, but which the PRC thinks makes a nice living room addition to the west wing of their house. Funny that you didn't hear much about this in the U.S. media in the SEVEN YEARS leading up to the Olympics from the time they were awarded.

The big question now, and the one I would like to see some discussion on (can Petie have a discussion with himself? We shall see) is what the U.S. and, more specifically, our Olympic teams, going to do about this? Several athletes have mentioned a boycott, which I am pretty much all in favor of at this point. Several groups have put pressure on President Bush to take a stand and issue the boycott himself. The crappy thing is, these athletes spend ALL THEIR TIME AND RESOURCES training for these events, and their non-participation will hardly curb human rights abuses from a self-imposed, non-elected government that has propagated them for years. To end an athletes Olympic dream is a tough thing to do.

But, if you ask me, it's the only thing to do. We boycotted the Games in Moscow in 1980 because the USSR and the U.S. weren't getting along, so why can't we do the same when there are far worse crimes being committed daily by the Chinese Government than the Soviets at that time. To be really effective, though, it would have to be an international boycott, the European Union would have to step up along with every country who stands against human rights abuses. There is, of course, a rather cynical part of me that doesn't see this happening. Why? Because China is a huge economic partner of America, and sadly, their dollars matter more to the government than their crimes. Starbucks, Nike, and a whole host of other companies are firmly entrenched in China, and I doubt they want to see that spending vanish, especially in the tenuous U.S. economy. If we boycott the Games alone, they might pull trade with us. Sure, it would hurt them too, but if the rest of the world was still trading with them, they could pull through it. Besides, it's not like their government is worried about not getting its officials re-elected.

The possibility of boycotting the games actually thrills me. Never mind that I'm just not a big Olympics guy, I think this actually could be a world-changing statement, if done right. If every major economic power in the world pulled out of the Games, China would be crushed and embarrassed in front of the world and the IOC's basic idea, though obviously not the way they saw it, would come to fruition. We could follow with hard-hitting economic sanctions from enough countries that China would have no choice but to submit to frequent U.N. inspections of the quality of life enjoyed by historically mistreated people. Plus, it would be George W. Bush's final grand gesture, one that might actually succeed in recovering some of the good-will he's been squandering as fast as possible these last few years. If he could lead the charge by pulling the U.S. teams and encouraging other countries to do the same, he would leave office with at least one giant gold star pinned to his lapel, and I think he's eager for a positive not on his legacy at this point. We've been given a gift-wrapped opportunity to make a huge global statement. This is not some contrived "what if" game.

What can the U.S. do? What should the U.S. do? I know I'm not an Olympian and that it isn't my life's ambition that is being ripped from me in the event of a boycott, but I'd like to think that the service these athletes could be doing for the millions of mistreated and murdered in China would last longer and mean more to more people than even a Gold Medal.

Go Go Gadget Boycott!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Voldemort of the Valley...

Take a long look at that picture before you begin to read this.

There is plenty of buzz still hanging around the college basketball world after KU's incredibly memorable win last night over Memphis in the Championship. KU's victory has given them another bullet in the gun when arguing over their status among the Great Programs. Title number three does move Kansas up a spot in my personal poll, but most importantly, it knocks Duke out.

5. Kansas: 3rd most wins all-time, 3 championships, 4th in winning %
4. Indiana: 5 championships, candy cane pants, 9th in all-time wins
3. North Carolina: 5 championships, second all-time in wins
2. UCLA: 11 championships, 11th most wins, 6th in winning %
1. Kentucky: 7 championships, a freaking Olympic Gold Medal, 1st in wins all-time, 1st in winning %

Duke is really close to Kansas in number of all-time wins and percentage, and they have the same amount of titles, but this is my list, damn it.

I know I can hardly call myself impartial, but I'd like to make my relatively simple case for Kentucky being better all-time than UCLA (It's funny, I KNOW the only people reading this probably already agree with me, but I will insist on writing as though I have a national audience. If nothing else, this will help my friends make the UK case stronger as well).

First, we have the most wins.
Second, we have the best winning percentage, which is actually more important than #1.
Third, we won a Gold Medal, which means that at one point, Kentucky could not be beaten by an entire nation's best players.
Fourth, we have sustained greatness since the 40s. The same cannot be said for UCLA, who had nearly all of its greatest success over a 12 year span in the 60s and 70s. Also, four separate UK coaches have won Kentucky's 7 Titles. One coach won 10 of UCLA's 11.

Speaking of which, allow me to educate you about the existence of a man known to many of the UCLA players of Wooden's championship teams simply as "Uncle Sam."

I cannot, and I mean that literally, believe that more people do not know the story of Sam Gilbert. Gilbert was a fabulously wealthy (is there any other kind?) booster of the UCLA Bruins athletic department (most specifically their basketball program) who had graduated from the school in the late 1930s. He became heavily involved with the basketball team around the time John Wooden won his first NCAA Title in the mid-'60s. He gave recruits illegal gifts including cars, cash, and apartments, allowed players uninhibited access to his Hollywood mansion, and basically bought 10 years worth of championships for UCLA. How much Wooden knew about Gilbert's activities remains uncertain, but let's put it this way, I don't think Reagan had Alzheimer's yet when asked about Iran-Contra, and I don't think Wooden had it in the 70s. The man was so particular about player affairs that he made them wear their socks a certain height, but we're expected to believe his players were being paid without him knowing?

Bill Walton, perhaps UCLA's greatest player, has been open about the benefits Sam Gilbert provided during his time at UCLA. He once got on the team bus wearing, along with teammate Bill Lee, a fur coat. A COLLEGE STUDENT WEARING A FUR COAT, and Coach Wooden asked him where he had gotten it, saying, "Did Sam Gilbert give you those? I don't want to see them again." I think it's all right there, folks. I see what's in front of me, and I want it put back in the closet where it belongs. Walton has admitted that, and this is a quote from his book, "It's difficult for me to have perspective on financial matters, because I've had everything I could ever want since I enrolled at UCLA." He has also said jokingly that he was one of the few players for whom going to the NBA was a bad financial decision, as it would be a pay cut. The NCAA, not wanting to upset the image of its golden coach and his program during their heyday, NEVER INVESTIGATED the connection between Sam Gilbert and the UCLA Bruins while Wooden was coach. After he left the program, the NCAA finally offered a slap on the wrist in 1981, ordering Sam Gilbert to disassociate completely from the University Athletic Programs. Then, just a few years later, Gilbert was indicted on drug-running charges which supposedly netted him more that 36 million dollars in profit.

The fact is that John Wooden and UCLA were very mediocre until Sam Gilbert arrived on the scene when, for 12 seasons, they were the best team in college basketball, bar none. Then, Gilbert left, and UCLA has won one NCAA Title since then, and that by a coach, Jim Harrick, who was accused of recruiting violations as well.

So, all in all, I think the case for Kentucky as the Greatest Program Ever is very convincing, considering "Uncle Sam's" involvement in UCLA's successful history. It's true that Kentucky's program is not spotless, but never were any allegations of violations made during years in which we won the championship, during or after the fact. UK has paid its dues to the NCAA every time there have been violations. UCLA should be penalized for what they were allowed to get away with. Championships should be vacated. But, for that to happen, the NCAA would have to acknowledge its own corruption and habit of "looking the other way" where Coach Wooden is concerned. So, next time you see a Hartford commercial where Coach John Wooden comments on "Trust," try not to scream in rage. If you've never heard of Sam Gilbert, don't take it as a sign that he must not be all that bad because he isn't famous for his misdeeds. Consider my ample knowledge of and passion for the history of college basketball, and realize that I hadn't heard about him until last year. Luckily, we live in the information age, and everything I've said here and more is available at the tips of your fingers. Just google Sam Gilbert.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

That's right, I said Wade Boggs...

Basketball season is just about over and Kentucky fans have had a rough go of it over the last week. Bill Keightley and Marvin Stone passed away, Scotty Hopson committed to UT, and the Final Four is filled with teams I don't even want to think about, much less watch win a championship. With all that in mind, it's time to move on to baseball season.

Yeah, I know. You hate baseball. Everyone does. Something about steroids, blah, blah, salary cap, blah, blah, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds et. al.

I don't care. I love baseball. So there.

Anyway, I'm opening the season with a list, as is my habit. I figure it'll be good for the two people who read this blog (and, incidentally, also enjoy baseball) to read and react.

This list is a position by position breakdown of the All-Corman team. This teams is not personal favorites, per say, but more of a roster filled with the players I would most want on my team at every position. The catch is that all these guys have to have been playing while I was alive to see them play. That means since I was about six years old and really started paying attention to baseball via WGN and Topps Trading Cards. Feel free to accumulate your own team and post it, as I can't get enough all-time sports debate.

Here goes:

Catcher - Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez: This may be the easiest position to select. Pudge has been the best offensive catcher in baseball since I can remember, and he also has the best arm I've ever seen behind the plate. 13 Gold Gloves, a career .302 average, and almost 2,500 hits in 2,100 games, so, yes, he's a monster. And yes, he was somewhat implicated in the steroids mess (by Canseco, I think), but no one has ever come close to proving anything on him.

Third Base - Wade Boggs: I know what you're thinking: "WADE EFFING BOGGS!?" That's right people, get used to it. Even though I'll never forgive this bastard for riding an NYPD horse around the warning track at Yankee Stadium after the '96 Series, he really was the best hitting Third Basemen I ever saw play. He never hit more than 24 home runs, but he is a career .328 hitter, with a .418 on base percentage, 15 all-star selections, and two Gold Gloves. Plus, and perhaps most amazingly, he only struck out 745 times in 18 seasons. Adam Dunn, by comparison, has struck out 1095 times in just 7 big league seasons. Remember, Cal Ripken Jr. only played third the last few years of his career, and A-Rod's only been at third for a few years. So, Boggs it is.

Second Base - Jeff Kent: Sure, he's a douche too, but you know what, he's the best power-hitting second basemen of the last 50 years and even though I'd probably rather have Craig Biggio in my clubhouse, Kent gets the nod because of his 366 career home runs, which is tops among second basemen all-time, plus, he's bound to make it entertaining, what with his latent racism and all. Close second to Biggio and Robbie Alomar. Plus, I thought about Ryne Sandberg, but it turns out all of his numbers are worse than Kent's, and my elementary gym teacher lied about being related to him.

First Base - Albert Pujols: This one came as the second easiest selection. Pujols has only played seven full seasons. The trick is that they're the BEST FIRST SEVEN SEASONS EVER! This man has broken every statistical record for the start of a career, and most of them belonged to probably the best all-around player ever, Willie Mays. He's hitting .332 for his career, averaging just over 42 home runs per season, 128 RBI per season, and he's played an average of 155 games per season. All of those numbers are ridiculous for a single year, and he's making a career out of being this good.

Short Stop - Alex Rodriguez: I hate the guy, and this is probably the most loaded position over the last 15 years. Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, Nomar, Tejada, Jeter, and Ripken could all easily be on this list, but A-Rod has redefined the way Short Stop was played, even if he is at Third now. Before he switched to third, he averaged over 40 home runs and 25 stolen bases a year, while batting .300+ and carrying a slugging percentage around .580. Oh yeah, and he won a couple of Gold Gloves at the position while he was at it. Now, if this team was being built for the playoffs, I'd replace A-Rod with Jeter. I wouldn't let A-Rod polish the helmets in the playoffs.

Left Field - Manny Ramirez: Yes, Barry Bonds is the best Left Fielder of all-time. Except that he cheated to be the best. Manny can hardly be bothered to keep track of the outs in an inning, but he was built to hit baseballs. As someone who watched a lot of Red Sox baseball, I can tell you that while his stats are awesome - 41 HR, .313 BA, .590 Slg. %, 133 RBI per season - he may be the most effective hitter I've ever seen, even when he doesn't get a hit. He's patient at the plate, able to hit anything (second perhaps only to Vladimir Guerrero in that regard) and he never, ever lets one at bat influence the next. He makes the entire lineup around him great, and he's a whole lot less work in the clubhouse than Barry ever was. Maybe most astonishingly, Manny finished in the top ten in MVP voting for eight consecutive seasons.

Center Field - Ken Griffey Jr.: The third easiest selection. He was, at one time, the bar-none best all-around player the game had seen since Mays and was well on his way to being the greatest of all time. We all know about the injuries that have made The Kid a shadow of his former self, but he's still the best Center Fielder I've ever seen, on both sides of the ball. Career Stats: 40 HR and 116 RBI per 162 games, career .290 hitter, and 10 Gold Gloves. The ultimate cautionary tale of what could have been.

Right Field - Tony Gwynn: Best pure hitter I've ever seen (read: great contact hitter with no power). He batted .338 for his career and amassed more than 3,100 hits, all while playing in the ugliest uniforms in the world. He even won a couple of Gold Gloves, pudgy though he was. Perfect guy for the clubhouse and the 2-hole. That sounded bad. Anyway...

Designated Hitter - David Ortiz: I'm an AL fan and yes, the DH is a legitimate position. Big Papi has had incredible stats, but really, you only need to see the ends of games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS to understand why he's on the team.

Starting Pitcher - Pedro Martinez, circa 1999: Pedro was, at one time, absolutely untouchable, like a combination of Johan Santana and Josh Beckett. He still has the best winning percentage ever for a pitcher, and some truly heroic on the field moments. Like when he came off two days rest to seal up the ALDS against Cleveland in '99 with 4 innings of no-hit ball.

Closer - I'm not even going to say it, but you know who it is. Damn him.

There you go. My team. I surprised myself with some of the selections, but most of them weren't too hard to figure. Think about your favorite players and deliver your own team, or just criticize my selections. To baseball season.