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Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's the troops, stupid. 

The Clarion received this link about the new vehicle, the MRAP, that is replacing the Humvee. Sounds like a no-brainer. The troops in the line of fire need’em desperately. The possibility to counteract the remote contolled bombs that cause up to 70% of United States casualties must be acted upon immediately. Even if withdrawal is imminent.

There is an even stronger moral imperative to get the post war medical care and treatment system right. Newsweek’s insightful investigations of post war care at Walter Reed Hospital among a host of problems caused heads to roll, but did it do any good? Time will tell, but America shouldn’t fail to rise to this challenge for lack of expenditure or red tape.

The savings realized in the medium term budget gained by imminent withdrawal could finance these costs. Or they could be financed by the repeal of portions of the Bush tax cut; starting with, for instance, income tax rates for the top 2%-3% of earners or the estate tax for estates valued at $10 million or more.

(A shudder considering the McCain vibe around the office...quite a long way from 2000 when the nascent Clarion was intrigued by the "Straight Talk Express")


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Anti-Hillary Ad making waves 

An attack ad on Hillary Clinton that parodies 1984 has been making noise. It is a splice of an old Apple commercial that shows Hillary speaking from a huge screen to an audience of drones.

At first this ad didn’t particular resonate with the Clarion one way or the other, but the response was enormous. Was is it just the news industry making sound and fury signifying nothing?

The message of the ad does strike the Clarion as place where Hillary is vulnerable to attack from Obama. She is dynastic. She on some level represents continuity. The nation is looking at twenty years of Bushes and Clinton already. Do they want another Clinton, so we can have twenty-four or twenty-eight straight years of Bushes and Clintons? Can Obama attack that as more of the same? Says yes here.

Of course, that is not where the pundits are running with the story. Their spew is about Obama running an attack ad. They self-righteously inveigh, "He said he was going to run a different kind of campaign." At first the source of the ad was unknown, but just recently an employee of an Obama campaign subcontractor ‘fessed up that he wrote the ad. He did it on his own time and own volition. Supposedly.

To the Clarion this whole issue is moot. It is nowhere near the most important issue we will select out presidential candidate on, whether or not they run attack ads. And by the standards of attack ads this ad is no Willie Horton. Now that's a negative ad. (Which, of course, helped put "Bush I" over the top.)

It is much more important to the Clarion how Hillary and Barak will handle policy, than how they campaign. On some level this ad points to one of the Clarion's central indictments the Clintons governing methodology. Clinton governerned far too much by the polls and popular opinion for the Clarion’s taste. There was little center, little governing philosophy. Just because the last eight years have been premised on a philosophy that the Clarion disagrees with does not mean that it is not good for the president to have a solid center of core tenets, beyond values.

There is no way that Hillary is going to be Bill, but even in the moments when she had power during his presidency, she seemed to set her course by the winds of the moment. The splice of her speech that is in this clip symbolizes that attitude, as does her stance on Iraq. Conversely, Obama excudes leadership and a willingness to chart a course based on what he believes is right, as does his early opposition to war with Iraq.

This is not an endorsement of any candidate but food for thought.

Comment section has a comment from a blog on the Washington Post’s website. Some well said thoughts about the recursive power of images.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Two quick baseball thoughts 

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is the Clarion’s early season projection for highest fantasy value ratio to where you’ll be able to pick him in your draft. We know he had a monster year last year. This season is going to be more of the same, possibly even more and then some. Reyes lack of eye-popping home run and rbi numbers will make him under-adored. The Mets lineup is potent. Reyes is tearing up spring training. He already has twenty hits.

It is a might sad that the Dodger’s are abandoning Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. They are splitting. Heading for Arizona to hold their Spring Training camps from here on out. Surprised, no. Disappointed, yes. Another venerable institution bites the dust.

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Gas Prices 

For those you who said it was just a coincidence that gas prices came down right around the mid-term elections; the Clarion was thinking about you today. What say you now, "It is just another coincidence that gas prices have been creeping back up." Slowly, but steadily, across the country. What say you, "Damnable conspiracy theorists seeing plots everywhere." The Clarion acknowledges that there are a nearly untrackable number of factors that dictate the price at one's local gas pump. Just idle speculation on the causal links between mass perception and the dominant reality.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trans Fat Awareness 

Fascinating fyi from Cook’s Illustrated letters column. The Clarion had wondered about this very issue. Their reader wrote something along the lines of, “Hydrogenated oil is the primary source of trans fat. How can I purchase items with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list and the label reads no trans fats?”

The answer from Cook’s Illustrated, without the Clarion’s frustrated "WTF!!" read something like, “Well the FDA has mandated labeling declaring trans fat content. But the FDA rule states the amount of trans fat is rounded to the nearest 1/2 gram. If a given item has less than a 1/2 of a gram of trans fat per serving, it can be labeled, ‘0 grams of trans fat’ though this is not a guarantee that it is, indeed, free of the fatty acids.”

Cook's Illustrated seems neither astounded, nor horrofied by this. Even as one accustomed to the “Good enough for Government” work ethic, you have got to be kidding! The FDA has set up the system so that anything with less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled “Trans fat free!!?” Even though, by the way, it is not! Hope, that isn’t too bad for your cholesterol, Jane and John Consumer.

The FDA hasn’t exactly trumpeted this nonsense as public knowledge so one might be aware of these misleading labels. The item the Cook's Illustrated reader noticed the issue on was potato chips. The Clarion had issue with flour tortillas. Saw the partially hydrogenated soybean oil on the ingredient list, but the package was labeled, “No trans fat” so it went into the shopping cart. Misleading, isn’t strong enough verbiage, pure garbage.

Here's the low down.

Lies, damn lies and government statistics.

Truth in advertising, our collective behind.

Buyer beware, once more, if you think you are being scammed, you probably are.

Thanks again to Cook’s Illustrated for the hot tip.


Halfway to the Sweet Sixteen 

What’s the famous Al Davis mantra, “Just win, baby.” Truest in craps and the round of 32, baby. Nobody asks how, just how many. Surive and advance. Saturday, a day with great games, the big boys did just that very well.

Almost all of the day's games went that way, the winners ground it out. Tyler Hansbrough ripped off the mask and had 33 for UNC. The Tar Heels when challenged by Michigan State responded strongly. A clutch shooting game by Ty Lawson was crucial support for Hansbrough.

UCLA dominated defensively, and then withstood a serious Indiana run. The Hoosiers were down two, but without a timeout, and could not successfully in-bound the ball. (Mike Davis recruits, mind you.) But hey, they made a staunch run, they played their guts out. They were an atrocious 10 of 21 from the line in a game they lost by 5. Did the Clarion mention they were Mike Davis recruits? Enjoy UAB. Maybe in football crazy Alabama they won’t notice these kind of fundamental shortcomings. All and all, a terrific first season for Kelvin Sampson. Yesterday the Hoosiers gave a game effort, and had a shot to win their way into the Sweet Sixteen. Any Indiana fan would have signed off for that at the beginning of the year.

Georgetown, the Clarion’s national championship pick, had a classic survive and advance battle. They went toe to toe with old Big East foe, the New England school who saw the logic in deserting to the ACC...Boston College. BC is a group of well coached, hard nosed, hustling, bangers. They battled Georgetown to the limit, but they didn’t have the horses to contest, the 7’2”, 285# Roy Hibert. Ably backed by Patrick Ewing Jr. and the player of the Big East Tournament, Jeff Green. Future pros all over the place. As good as Dudley of BC is, and he was player of the year in the ACC, he couldn’t fend them all off. Hibert couldn’t make a shot outside a foot and a half, but it didn’t matter because he kept getting all of his own offensive boards and stuffing in the put backs.

Vandy survived and advanced, gutting it out in OT against the hippies from Washington State. A good defensive team that was picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Pac-10.

Among others finding a way to just win, Clarion fav, Coach Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Panthers, who had to do it against a very gritty Virginia Commonwealth. VCU and their old school, Oakland Raiders tough, guard, Eric Maynor, rallied from 19 down at the 12 minute mark to take the game to overtime. By the six degrees of Kevin Bacon theory, or in this case Kelvin Sampson theory, Indiana is responsible for bringing the VCU Rams their coach. Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson quietly, off the radar, away from Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Sooners hired VCU’s coach, former Dukie, Jeff Capel, a bright young fellow, who recruited this gutty VCU team. But VCU minus one coach, found a winner just down the bench from Billy Donovan, an assistant on last years national champion Gators, Anthony Grant. Mr. Grant looks like an up and comer.

An already established performer, at least from the view at the Clarion’s desk, Acie Law IV helped his team, Texas A&M, perserve in a tight battle with Louisville. Though the Clarion has the Aggies to the Final Four, we had to feel pity for Louisville’s Edgar Sosa, initially 15 for 15 from the free throw line, he missed two big ones in a row down the stretch. Sosa, a freshman will have other chances, meanwhile Law and the Aggies survive in advance heading toward waters previously uncharted at this Texas football school.

A tremendous Saturday, because for all that, we still haven't talked about the biggest scare of them all. ESPN’s Pat Forde called it a Tyus Edney moment, after the UCLA guard’s legendary end to end, magical tourney saving run against Missouri. (Which notably, occurred in this very round of 32.) Ohio State, overall number one, was down 3 points with seconds to-go, and Xavier shooting the back half of a one and one. Clang, a miss. A mad rush down court, OSU's Ron Lewis buries a deeeeeeep 3 pointer and their bacon is yanked off of the frying pan. The Buckeyes still had to triumph in OT, and without the services of the fouled out Greg Oden. They did. Survive and advance.

Survive and advance. Just win, baby. Who can do it Sunday?

Florida? Kansas? Texas? Oregon? Memphis?

Saturday, the big boys prevailed. Sunday, the Clarion likes at least two, possibly three teams from the proceeding list to get clipped.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shaq v Kobe 

A quick NBA note

Before anybody gets too stoked about Kobe dropping 65 points on Paul Allen’s hapless Trailblazers, recall that the Lakers had dropped seven straight games before beating the lowly Blazers. Recall the Lakers are sliding, again, at just the wrong time of year. Recall that they couldn’t get out of the first round last year, and they couldn’t make the playoffs the year before that...Contrast, Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat. Shaq had 23 last night, and the Heat won their 9th straight, all without D-Wade. The Heat are going in the right direction from the 9th spot in the conference to a tie for the lead in their division with Le Bullet, Gilbert Arenas and the UNC Wizards of Washington. Shaq Diddy is averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 boards since the All-Star break. The Clarion doesn’t have to remind Lakers fans how the Heat did last year, when Shaq and D-Wade were both healthy, do we? Kobe specializes in individual honors. Shaq with the right mix, wins rings. Kobe without Shaq, not only no rings, he can’t even get to the second round. This year will be more of the same for Kobe. Can Shaq pull another rabbit out of the hat? Though the Clarion doesn’t think so, we sure wouldn’t be slapping down the Benjamins to bet against the Diesel, especially if D-Wade can make it back from his shoulder injury. (Unlikely at this juncture.) Perchance the Canadian wunderkind Steve Nash is due?

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Expand the NCAA tourney? 

Been hearing an interesting NCAA Basketball tourney theory bandied about this week. We'll give you the quick run down, dear reader, out of sympathy for DonE, friend of the Clarion, and loyal fan of Syracuse University basketball. Theory is the NCAA tournament field should expand. The Clarion is not so sure it is ready for NCAA expansion. And it would definitely demolish what’s left of the NIT. (Once the premier college basketball tournament.)

Here is how expansion would work. The field goes to 96, all the current conference champions that get in, still do. The play-in game (lame, lame, lame in the status quo) goes away. The borderline squads, this year, Syracuse, Kansas State, Drexel, Missouri State, et al all get in. This is important because as learned commentators all over the place have been saying; this is one of those years where anybody in the top 50, can beat anybody else in the top 50, on any given night. Not for the first time, a couple of teams that fit that description were left out. Plus, a 96 team tournament, as opposed to 128, offers the perfect opportunity to separate some of the wheat from the chaff. Teams 33 through 96, play a seventh game. Teams 1-32 get a bye, anybody with an eight seed or better. So this year DonE’s Syracuse squad gets a shot, and we don’t have to waste our time with snooze fests like Kansas beating Niagra by 75 points, ditto for Long Beach State-Tennessse, Carolina-Eastern Kentucky, Florida-Jackson State. Instead for Kansas, North Carolina, Florida their first game is meaningful and the Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s, the North Texas's still get to play in the big dance.

Food for thought.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The two best coaches are out in Round 1 

The two best coaches in the NCAA tournament were abruptly shown the exit in Round 1. For the first time since 1996, the second round of the NCAA tournament will include neither Bob Knight nor Mike Krzyzewski. The haters are out in droves. Nothing like success to inspire the American urge to tear down.

Has the game passed the Coaches’ K by? Well, they may not accomodate some of the newest ways. Unlike the Boeheims, Suttons, Harricks, and Mattas of the world they will not recruit young men whose declared intention is one year of college. Knight and Krzyzewski both continue to see education and character building as the central part of their job. College degrees are not and cannot be obtained in a single year. This attitude does not make them the best of minor leagues for the NBA, but Knight and Krzyzewski recognize that is not what they were hired to do. The willingness of other universities to dispense with even so much as the charade of a college education for their players has tilted the balance of power away from these old school coaches. Both of whom started their careers at West Point, the United States Military Academy, where there was no question about whether or not academics and athletics went hand and hand.

Not every college student is West Point material. This does not imply full scholarships to prestigious universities should be handed to boys who have no intention of pursuing a degree. It is unfair to the student body at large, not to mention the pool of applicants for financial aid. It defames the institution hurting the value of the alumni’s degrees. Denegrating the primary role of the university. Acting as though running an athletic department were more important than educating the student body. It goes beyond embarassing to down right harmful.

The Clarion doesn’t mourn Duke’s loss. They were down all year and have lacked an offensive go-to guy. The Red Raiders defeat stung a little bit longer. They had beaten two top teams this season and might have made a mini-run in the tourney. But at least the loss was to another character institution, Boston College, led by Coach Al Skinner. A leader of young men who had the guts to kick his best big man off the team for failing to abide by the rules. Contrast this to how an institution like the University of Connecticut in recent years handled revelations that its best players were stealing computers from other students. $11,000 worth of larceny, a $20,000 scholarship, a cross-over dribble---priceless.

The money machine that is the NCAA goes blithely on cashing checks. Sanctimoniously, ringing its hands about the Maurice Claretts of the world. Acting shocked when violence and crime pop up at institutions that have no checks and balances, no priority on academics. This list is much longer, but is headlined by Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Connecticut, Georgia and of course, the Univeristy of Colorado.

The Coaches K may have lost yesterday, but their players won. The longer lives they lead, the more they build their own families, the more they will internalize the message, it isn’t whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Do your best, but do NOT sacrifice your integrity to win at all costs.

One has to look no further than the horrors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to judge just how great the stakes are in the game of character education.

Couple of other quick notes

Duke-VCU was a terrific game. As Mel Allen might a said, "How's about Eric Maynor?" What a game, on the big stage!

The Clarion’s Final Four

Georgetown, UCLA, Texas A&M and torn ‘tween Maryland and UNLV out of the Midwest Region.

Eventual national champion Georgetown.

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SportsCenter is a lame duck 

TV programming note...

Doesn’t ESPN’ SportsCenter seem increasingly vulnerable? It is a cliche of itself at this point. It seems to only exist as an advertising and cross promotion vehicle for ABC/Disney. From the Budweiser Hot Seat, to the Gatorade Ultimate Highlight, everything is sponsored. The focus is less and less on the field and the games. This loss of focus has caused SportsCenter to lose its way. Flash over substance has often led to spending for more time on irrelevant minutia than the big games. Today’s show, for example, has longer highlights of regular season Arena Football contests than it does of some of the NCAA Tournament games!!?

ESPN backed by the Disney monolith has scared off competitors with dollars. They have more money; therefore they have the best commentators, the coolest graphics, the most resources for coverage. Those of you old enough to remember CNN/SI will say SportsCenter competitors have already tried and failed. But it says here, the time is ripe for a new challenger to take up the mantle. SportsCenter is stale.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Knicks extend Isiah 

The collective “Noooooooooo!” heard around the globe earlier this week, but most loudly in New York City was a reaction to New York Knick owner Charles Dolan’s extension of President, General Manager and Head Coach Isiah Thomas. There is no doubt in the Clarion’s eye Thomas has made significant progess from the mess carpertbagger Larry Brown left.

Incidentally, says here Brown is overrated. The Clarion saw his ways many years before the Pistons, some of the close-ups on his vagabond run included the Nets and Clippers. What folks always forget is though Larry improved these franchises while he was there, he then left them, often abruptly, always in disarray. So when he screwed the Pistons by becoming a disruptive force, it was no surprise around this office. His tenure with the Knicks was atrocious. FUBAR incarnate.

Thomas is barely more than half way through the season Dolan said he was going to evaluate. The Knicks are hanging on to the 8th playoff spot and would not be odds on favorites to win as much as a single playoff game this season, let alone a series, at this point. Oh and Zeke traded next year’s draft pick. This is symbolic of the verdict on Thomas here, the Clarion likes him as a Coach and loathes him as President and G.M. He is a terrific motivator, a decent teacher and can empathize with today’s players. No easy trick, but something he was reknown for in Indiana. Note the Pacers immolation has coincided with the Knicks slipping into the 8th spot. While the Knicks have gone 6 up and 4 down in their last 10, the Indiana Pacers have gone a splendid 0 and 10.

So we like Zeke as a Coach yes. Heck we wrote in this space last year, that we’d a let Isiah coach the Indiana Hoosiers. Though as things have turned out, Kelvin Sampson, provided he keeps his nose squeaky clean, looks like a good choice. Sampson’s style of defense, his tenacity and fundamental sound philosphies fit today’s Big Ten. As for today's Big Ten Bill Simmons says the Big Ten has much in common with the WNBA. (Hilarious. It’s right at the beginning of his column and it is spot on...)

Isiah might be a good recruiter, the case is still out. There is no doubt he is a losuy GM, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, the Larry Brown hire, Jerome James, Penny Hardway, plus overpaying for Curry and Quentin Richardson, giving away Nazr Mohammed for nothing. The litany of mistakes is endless. A few good draft picks do not undo this, they might mean that Isiah would make a good scout. Just because Dave Checketts was perhaps the single worst basketball executive ever, does not make Thomas’s performance excusable. The Knicks are 33 years removed from their last championship. Two days in eighth place in the Eastern Conference is not a balm for that kind of wound.

Thomas has put some youth on the roster, he has gotten some motivation out of them, but for goodness sakes they haven’t won more than two in a row in a month. They have the league’s highest payroll by far. (Which matters to the Clarion only insofar as it limits their flexiblity to deal.) They are playing in one of the worst conferences in memory. Splashing out for a new contract for Isiah at this time was asinine. The Clarion would like to say, “No surprise, really, Dolan is clearly an ass.” But every time we think things have bottomed out, he shocks us again. We didn’t see it coming. We thought sure he’d at least wait to see if the team even made the playoffs. If it were up to the Clarion, huge Knicks fans, even if they did squeak in, we’d a thought long and hard before extending Isiah.

Other people’s takes

Glen Grunwald has helped Thomas

NY beat reporter

NY Daily News

Healthy New York cynicism

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