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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Baseball final weekend notes 

The Clarion said last week there was little point in getting excited about the National League playoff races. And while we were correct that it is mediocrity personified, the races are so tight they can't hardly help but be compelling. The Mets in the N.L. East are looking down the barrell of a historic fold down the stretch. The Phils control their playoffs destiny. Answering critics who said they had no pitching at all. In the N.L. Central battle of who will play less poorly the Cubs held on, despite only playing 4 over .500 in September. The Clarion has been delighted to watch the Seligs' Brewers collapse, though we feel for Ned Yost. He can't do it with no starting pitching. In the West the Dodgers have strangely gone away, is it the Grady Little factor? The Padres and Diamondbacks have played well, 8 and 7 games over .500, respectively, since mid-summer. The Rockies have played their rears off to a .603 pace from mid July onward. Their 11 game winning streak was just snapped.

In the American League on the other hand, all the playoff spots have been decided and the match-ups are set too.

The A.L. looks way better on paper, but as the last few years have shown any team can get hot and win it all in baseball's diluted new playoffs.

It is the point in the season where the clutch, big timers are separated from the Mr. April's of baseball. The Clarion wants to single out a few of the tremendous and lousy down the stretch performances we have observed.

In the A.L. as the races were finalized Boston brought up five tool rookie, Jacoby Ellsbury. A Native American, Ellsbury hit in his first 12 games after his recall from Pawtucket. He then hit in about six of his next seven games, he flashed terrific athleticism and speed. They say he has solid baseball acumen. He has shown confidence that he belongs. He is going to be a performer for years. The other rookie who has matched his level of performance for a contender is the Yankees bullpen ace, Joba Chamberlin. He was a starter in the minors and the Yankees have been very careful with his innings and appearances. He has adapted amazingly to the relief role with the Yankees yielding only two earned runs in his first 20 odd innings.

Jeter has heated up and hit the big homer in Boston as the Yankees fought and fought some more to make the playoffs. Andy Pettitt had a huge second half, 10-3. The Red Sox rookie relief sensation, Hideki Okajima has cooled off. He threw for over a 7.00 ERA in the weeks after the ineffective Eric Gagne was acquired from Texas. Now he has a "tired arm" that has melted down and he is being rested for the remainder of the regular season. Boston hopes he can rejuvenate for the playoffs.

Carlos Zambrano has been lousy down the stretch for the Cubs, after signing a big contract extension, including 3-6 with a 5.64 ERA in his last ten before rebounding to win the clincher. Broken down Ben Sheets has been unable again to come back from injury for the Brewers.

The Mets bullpen has come unglued. We were never believers that Billy Wagner would come through in a big spot. The taped together starting rotation has floundered. The Phils bullpen has surprisingly risen to the occasion. Their ace starter, Cole Hammels has been phenomenal.

Nobody ever mentions him, but how about Matt Holliday in Colorado. He is having a very quiet MVP season. If the Rockies and the Brewers, both come up just short of the playoffs, the N.L. MVP race is going to be very interesting. The Clarion favors the heart of the Phillies, shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

A few more last thoughts...

Where'd the Mariners go? Seriously, what happened?

There was a faux Cards run, then a predictable collapse. Why would permissive, clubhouse enabler, Tony LaRussa be a valuable off-season free agent? It says here he stinks. Very little was heard from Detroit down the stretch, perhaps World Series error hangover?

Bye, bye RFK.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thinking on the Democratic Party nominee 

Been doing some thinking on the Democratic Party Nominee lately here at the editorial desk. Trying to understand the collective pysche of the Democratic party. Trying get a feel for which way the wind is blowing. The primaries, they are a coming. There is some controversy brewing as to whether Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, or Iowa goes first. (Not to mention South Carolina and Nevada ostensibly going 3rd and 4th versus 5th and 6th.) The Democratic National committee is so mad about all of this finagleing that they have as of now voted to strip Florida of its delgates to the convention. (Florida Democrats are trying to decide whether to hold a no-delegate straw pool or sue, while the candidates are trying to remain above the fray.) All the while the days of the calendar are continuing to turn. The process is likely to be outrageously rapid once it commences.

In the seemingly recent past commentators have bemoaned first that the process ended before the conventions at all. In 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was shot, it was campaigning in a California primary that still mattered in June. The California primary hasn’t mattered in more than twenty years now. This year the presumptive nominee could be determined by the beginning of March. The process has been crunching itself into a smaller and smaller period every election cycle. All the while the cost of campaigning, most especially paying for television advertising have been increasing exponentially. In the last election commentators and talking heads were beoaning that the process was over in two and one half months. Well, like some kind of cyberpolitical Moore’s law, they are going to halve the speed again this election cycle. Once the first primary goes, where ever it goes, the nomination process will be over in weeks. The weeks in question are mere months away, so the Clarion has been wetting a finger and sticking it in the air trying to figure which way the proverbial winds are blowing.

Hillary has the solid lead, the clear front runner status and has for a while. She is leading in national polls, but not in the traditional first primary states, New Hampshire and Iowa. Obama has come from nowhere to be considered a legitamate contender. But for the Clarion smells wide early interest, packed around a significantly smaller hard core of true devotees. See Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, and Paul Tsongas. Possibly even a McGovern analogy might be applicable considering Obama’s utterly anti-war stance, and appeal to youth. (None of this by-the-by is to say squat about which one of these candidates the Clarion might endorse. It is only by way of speculative prediction about whom the Democratic Party might nominate that we offer these comments.) Another that underlines the possible softness of support for Obama is that it has been shown he polls much more favorably on the softer questions about who voters like and dislike, rather than the harder edged, more definitive questions, who they intend to vote for. Whereas Hillary’s numbers are relatively consistent across those two questions Obama’s tend to lose about 10 percentage points when potential voters are asked which candidates they have favorable impressions of as compared to which candidate they are likely to vote for. Obama wants voters to believe his candidacy is possible. The Clarion doesn’t think he has convinced them just yet.

Hillary’s biggest question for the Democratic Party comes on the electability front. She has far and away the highest negative poll numbers of any Democratic candidate. She is the only candidate that comes with a huge cadre of the electorate who already know they won’t vote her. She has far fewer undecideds than the other possible Democratic nominees. She has more certain yess votes than any other Democratic candidate, too. This is interrelated, but not exactly the same diagramatic as America having never nominated a female candidate for president from one of the major parties, let alone elected one. There are people who won’t vote for Hillary and people who won’t vote for a woman, but that are not one in the same demographic. The worry for Democrats is that there are significant numbers of both. The are people who normally don’t vote, who haven’t voted in ages who will turn out to vote for and against a serious female candidate for President of the United States.

One strain of the anti-Hillary virus is that as the wife of a former president, she represents dynastic continuity (ala Argentinian Peronism) of years twenty-one through twenty-four consecutively of nothing but Bushes or Clintons in the Oval Office. The recent financial faux pas surrounding a criminal campaign donor highlighted just the themes of long held power creating rot that Hillary would like to avoid. Worse it reverberated with the dynastic succession issue because it echoed the White House coffees campaign finance scandals of her husband and Al Gore. She is a dynamic person. Bill will likely be a net asset, but this meta-theme will not go away. She may overcome it and win, but it will be her millstone.

There is no doubting Hillary status as the presumptive nominee, but with the thoughts laid out above burbling in the mindstew, the Clarion was intrigued some weeks back to see two wildly disparate media entities run their cover story on John Edwards. These two entities, one, a local Raleigh-Durham free sheet, the Independent Weekly, printed in a tabloid shape on newspaper, and the other Esquire, a national, glossy, two bits plus cover price, loaded with fancy pics and celebrities.

These two media entities are not only on different ends of the cost at the newsstand spectrum, but a partial list of their advertisers emphasizes how far apart, across the divides of global, local, income, economics, region: North & South, they represent. Exactly what this says about the demographics of their readership is beyond the scope of this inquiry.

Esquire advertisers: Dolce & Gabbana, Samsung, Kool, Yves Saint Laurent, Nordstrom, Bose, Coke, Land Rover, Aldo Bruce, Nissan, Honda, Hennessey, Bally, Giorgio Armani (partial list)

Independent Weekly advertisers: North Carolina Museum of Art, Duke Summer Music in the Garden program, Coors Light, Anderson Homes, Frisky Business, Koka Booth Amphitheater, Lincoln Theater, The Cat’s Cradle, S & H Cleaning Service, Teaser’s Palace, Kroger, plus current movie ads, and a huge classifieds section with houses for sale and rent, employment, cars, musical instruments, miscellaneous and personals. (partial list)

The fact that Edwards was featured on the cover’s of both these publications does not mean he is the favorite, or anything but third. What it does say is they are casting about looking widely for and at potential candidates. The Democrats feel there is no way they should lose this one, this election. They want to be careful not to pick a losing candidate. This is maybe not so much the perspective average voter, (except perhaps in New Hampshire and Iowa, which won’t be quite as important this time.) But articles like these underline that people in the Democratic establishment, power brokers, the media, prominent endorsers (Tom Harkn for one example among many) haven’t made up their minds. And that they don’t yet believe their only choices are Hillary or Obama.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sally Field 

The Clarion didn't watch the Emmys. One would have to be something of a TV fan for the awards to have relevance. The Clarion is no more than tangentially aware of what is going on in the world of TV. So when the news filtered down to our editorial desk that Fox (covering the Emmy's) had censored Sally Field's anti-war remarks, (see here for full video) it was hard to decide if we were more shocked at Fox's actions or that Sally Field was a TV star. When did that happen? Fox censors initially tried to hide behind the fact that Sally used the word "goddamn" in her remarks, but research has shown the FCC has not issued fines for use of goddamn in the recent past. Was Fox's motive political? Were they pandering to their perceived right wing viewership? Were they just attempting to be careful? Or were they thinking that pressing the dump button would cause a firestorm of publicity and any publicity is good publicity?

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Uber local Durham: Rue Cler 

Had dinner at a terrific, small restaurant in Durham last weekend, Rue Cler. The service was solid, efficient without being intrusively ominpresent. The Clarion and friend each ordered from the Prix Fixe menu. First course options included a delicious marinated mushroom plate with a sharp side of greens slathered in Crème Fraîche. It was the first, but most certainly not the last of the superb, thoughtful, flavor combinations. My pal had a first course mixed green salad with oranges and candied pecans, also lovely. Both dishes had tantalizingly wonderful plate presentations.

For the second course, both of us got a pear tartlet baked with a scrumptious cheese mixture, and garnished with warm dates. Again, it was a brilliant flavor profile with an excellent plate presentation. The only down side, and perhaps we should have assumed it, but was no warning from the waiter that the tartlet might be a very hot temperature. Fortunately, no taste buds were scorched.

For the main course, we were both delighted with our selections. The Clarion’s friend had an amazingly wonderful dish of Kobe beef strips with little medallions of potatoes and hearty brown lentils. The lentil seasoning which was rich, meaty, peppery and warm, was out of this world. The beef was tender and cooked perfectly to order. The Clarion had a sumptuous, buttery soft piece of halibut, lightly breaded. The fish was served in a citrus sauce, over a bed of cabbage and sweet vidalia onions. Again, the initial reaction might be to think it a strange combination, but instead a couple more ingredients gave it a strikingly vibrant flavor profile; tiny, sharp, salty, black olives and capers, mixed with the sweet citrus sauce and buttery fish for a fantastic dish.

Normally, hard to talk into desert the Clarion had such a grand time, that arms barely had to be twisted before a banana chocolate chip ice cream appeared, accompanied by French Press coffee and real half-n-half. All and all, it was one of the best meals of ten years of living and dining in Durham.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Uber local Durham 

Had dinner at a terrific, small restaurant in Durham last weekend, Rue Cler. The service was solid, efficient without being intrusively ominpresent. The Clarion and friend each ordered from the Prix Fixe menu. First course options included a delicious marinated mushroom plate with a sharp side of greens slathered in Crème Fraîche. It was the first, but most certainly not the last of the superb, thoughtful, flavor combinations. My pal had a first course mixed green salad with oranges and candied pecans, also lovely. Both dishes had tantalizingly wonderful plate presentations.

For the second course, both of us got a pear tartlet baked with a scrumptious cheese mixture, and garnished with warm dates. Again, it was a brilliant flavor profile with an excellent plate presentation. The only down side, and perhaps we should have assumed it, but was no warning from the waiter that the tartlet might be a very hot temperature. Fortunately, no taste buds were scorched.

For the main course, we were both delighted with our selections. The Clarion’s friend had an amazingly wonderful dish of Kobe beef strips with little medallions of potatoes and hearty brown lentils. The lentil seasoning which was rich, meaty, peppery and warm, was out of this world. The beef was tender and cooked perfectly to order. The Clarion had a sumptuous, buttery soft piece of halibut, lightly breaded. The fish was served in a citrus sauce, over a bed of cabbage and sweet vidalia onions. Again, the initial reaction might be to think it a strange combination, but instead a couple more ingredients gave it a strikingly vibrant flavor profile; tiny, sharp, salty, black olives and capers, mixed with the sweet citrus sauce and buttery fish for a fantastic dish.

Normally, hard to talk into desert the Clarion had such a grand time, that arms barely had to be twisted before a banana chocolate chip ice cream appeared, accompanied by French Press coffee and real half-n-half. All and all, it was one of the best meals of ten years of living and dining in Durham.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Air Force transports Nukes cross-country 

The Clarion is shocked this story didn't get more play. Last week an Air Force bomber accidentally transported a load of six nuclear bombs across country, flying with said nukes from South Dakota to Louisiana. How can they not have these weapons more secure? Their inventory more tightly monitored? What on earth are the homeland security types up to? The Air Force? Of course, resounding no comments have been issued on all sides.

Think the Clarion is blowing this out of proportion? Think it is really nothing to worry about? Ever read about the time the Air Force accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb on South Carolina. No joke. It could have been way, way worse. It only partial detonated, but it was pretty dang harrowing for the folks involved. The tragedy that would have befallen the world had it detonated is nearly unfathomable.

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Chris Dodd sounds off 

Chris Dodd, Connecticut Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee hopeful, isn't exactly making big waves. He has always had a few good lines when given the opportunity. Dodd is an entertaining Johnny Carson to Delaware Senator, and fellow Democratic hopeful, Joe Biden's bland Charlie Rose. The senior Connecticut Senator used to knock'em dead on the Imus in the Morning show. Imus's endorsement, of course, is now more poisonous than ever.

Some excepts from Dodd's brief interview in the New York Times magazine this weekend.

I hear you’re running for president. Yes, Ma’am. I hear as well. Thank you for hearing!

You’re barely a blip in the polls. As a fifth-term senator with decades of experience, why do you think you’ve failed to generate at least as much interest as, say, John Edwards? Well, he ran for vice president. This is all about names that people recognize.

Do you think Connecticut is the problem? It’s doesn’t exactly have a populist image. That’s an interesting question. Living between New York and Boston is sort of like living in Alsace-Lorraine, between the French and the Germans. We’re the quiet zone between two very robust cities.

Do you think the recent debates helped you distinguish yourself from the other Democratic candidates? No. At the debates, I felt like I was back at St. Thomas the Apostle School with Sister Louise, trying to be recognized in the room. If you had a parochial education, you’d appreciate how frightening that can be — trying to be recognized.

It’s true you’re not overexposed. The only time you made national headlines this summer was when your office in Hartford was burglarized by a homeless man. Well, as someone once said, as long as they spell your name right.

Do you think Americans have a right to know about a candidate’s personal life? Well, look. What’s that great line? There’s no such thing as a saint without a past and a sinner without a future.

Who said that? I just did.

The Clarion has to admit we liked it. Funny stuff. A few quick comments on Dodd's answers.

Connecticut is the Alsace-Lorraine? Does that make them America's cheese eating surrender monkeys?

The moderator won't call on you enough, okay. But really what kid wanted Sister Louise, or her ilk paying more attention to them? Most kids were and are slinking down in their seats trying not to get called on...(Senator, you think you're getting ignored, at least you're not Dennis Kucinich.)

Ahh ha, so they robbed his office, yes, even for a Senator, short of going Larry Craig, there is no publicity that is bad publicity.

Wait a minute, what was that last line Senator Dodd? Maybe he has been talking to Larry Craig...

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NFL Playoff predictions 

AFC East champs-Patriots

AFC West champs-Chargers

AFC North champs-Ravens

AFC South champs-Colts

AFC Wild Cards-Bengals & Titans

AFC Champion-Patriots

NFC East champs-Eagles

NFC West champs-Seahawks

NFC North champs-Bears

NFC South champs-Panthers

NFC Wild Cards-Saints & Redskins

NFC Champion-Panthers

Says here that the Patriots' dynasty continues as Brady and Belichek win it all again.

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AFC South preview 

The defending Super Bowl champs, the Colts, are the team to beat again, but don’t sleep on Vince Young and the Titans.

1st Place

The Colts will win the division going away. The Jags are going backwards. The Titans are young. The Texans are in transition. The Colts have Peyton Manning and future Hall of Famer, former Syracuse Orangmen, still underappreciated Marvin Harrison. They have an All-Pro wideout across the field from Marvin, Reggie Wayne from the U. The Colts will miss retiring offensive tackle Tarik Gleen, but perhaps nobody in the history of the game has made better line of scrimmage adjustments than Manning. The Clarion thinks running back Joseph Addai will take a small step back, but still be a useful player. Rookie first round receiver out of Ohio State, Anthony Gonzales could make a contribution at some point before the year is over. All the talking heads knock the Colts defense, but all they have to be is good enough. Last year everything came together when tackling warrior, safety Bob Sanders returned from injury. No reason to think the Colts defense can’t be good enough to give Peyton Manning another shot in the playoffs this year. Lucky for Manning he already has his ring, because this year the AFC is even tougher. The Colts are not getting past the Pats, Chargers, Ravens again this time.

2nd Place

In an upset, the Clarion likes the Tennessee Titans to slip into second place in the South. We love long time winning coach Jeff Fisher. The Clarion was down on Vince Young for the ages time, but when we’re wrong, we’re wrong. We bagged on his Wonderlic test score last year. We are biased against Longhorns, but Vince has won us over. He is a winner. The 8-3 stretch run last year was tremendous. Even if injury prone starting running back Chris Brown gets hurt, LenDale White of USC fame is looking more and more like a capable replacement. At receiver Eric Moulds is past his prime, but not useless. Brandon Jones is untested, but Young has the ability to raise the game of those around him. On the defensive side of the ball, the talented distraction at cornerback, another Jones, is gone. This is addition by subtraction. The Titans defense is talented, led by a strong defensive line and undervalued, hard hitting linebacker Keith Bulluck. Nick Harper poached from division foe the Colts has shown himself to be a capable cornerback. The Titans are part of the mix at the edge of the AFC Wild Card, seven or eight wins are likely, nine or even ten are possible.

3rd Place

The strength of the rest of the division will likely be the key determining factor whether the Titans win seven games, and miss the playoffs, or ten games, and make the playoffs. The Clarion thinks the Houston Texans are weak, but improving and will take third place. Big offseason acquisition Matt Schaub will have his ups and downs in his first year as a full time starter. People always love the backup QB until he has to play regularly. The jury is very much still out on Schaub. The Texans offensive line has been atrocious the last few years. O-line improvement is the single biggest key to the Texans season. Aging running back Ahman Green is well past his prime. But all that said, the Texans still have two exciting wideouts in Andre Johnson from the U and rookie sleeper Jacoby Jones. And, this is a big and, the Texans have a terrific young defense. Yes they will forever regret passing on Reggie Bush, but they still came up with the defensive rookie of the year last year in third round linebacker DeMeco Ryans. First overall pick Mario Williams figures to improve on a lackluster season with some of the spotlight off of him. This year’s first round defensive line pick 19 year old, that’s right 19, Amobi Okoye, is a special person as well as a special player. Dunta Robinson is a decent corner. Safeties Michael Boulware and Will Demps were solid pick ups. Seven or even eight wins are possible.

4th Place

The Jacksonville Jaguars are not quite in disarray, but are clearly heading in the wrong direction. The Clarion feels like this is likely the last year of the Jack Del Rio regime. David Garrard may be a slightly better quarterback than the totally immobile, statue of Byron Leftwich they have been keeping in the backfield the last few years, but there are not enough dynamic offensive performers. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are good backs, but not great. On the other hand, Dennis Northcutt and Ernest Wilford should be somebody's 4th and 5th wideouts, not the Jaguars starters. Then, when you start looking for play makers on Del Rio’s usually stout defense, there is a dearth. Big hitter Donovan Darius is gone. The much touted defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are starting to show mileage. Henderson had a career low in tackles last year. He is approaching age thirty and has already played 80 regular season games. Marcus Stroud is even closer to thirty, missed five games for the first time in his career last year and also had a career low in tackles. It could be a long season in Jacksonville ending with a high draft pick next year.

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AFC West preview 

The Chargers even with a new coach will dominate out West.

1st Place

The Chargers have the best offensive player in the league and a dominating defense. The combo led them to 14 and 2 last before Marty Schottenheimer organized his annual playoff upchuck fest. How on earth the Chargers lost that game to the Patriots last year is utterly inexplicable. So when people, bag on new Chargers coach Norv Turner, the Clarion tells’em, hey it couldn’t be any more painful than last year. Norv has sucked thus far as a head coach, but he has been in some tough spots. Optimistically, he has been part of Super Bowl winners as a coordinator. The theory that he was hired too late to get good assistants is bunk. What about he has last year’s Bears defensive coordinator, Ron Rivera coaching linebackers!! There are always veteran assistant coaches out there. The difference makers for the Chargers will be Shawn Merriman, Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and a coach’s son, a coach on the field himself, Phillip Rivers. If the Chargers had the good sense to get themselves any kind of receivers, after a woefully deficient showing last year, they might be the Super favorite. As is, the Clarion is picking them to get exactly one round further than last year, the AFC Championship game.

2nd Place

The Denver Broncos are far and away better than the two bottom feeders in this division. The Clarion does not think they are a lock for the playoffs. Like most pundits, we love the acquisition of Travis Henry as a running back that fits the Denver Broncos zone blocking scheme. Unlike many, we think Jay Cutler is wildly overrated. He has physical tools, but what has he done to convince us we should buy in? Is he a winner? This is one of the big disadvantages to selecting a QB from a bottom feeder school, in this case perennial SEC doormat, Vanderbilt. Cutler does not know the success of winning regularly. He doesn’t look like a winner to us. He looks like a Coach Mike Shannahan reaction to Jake “the Snake” Plummer. Go with a guy who was is the opposite of the last failure. Plummer didn’t have the arm, but was supposed to be an all world winner and comeback leader out of Arizona State. Neither of these QBs have enough for the NFL big time. Both could be called serviceable, decent, mediocre.

The Broncos defense, despite all world corner Champ Bailey, will be somewhat less than stellar this year. The revolving door at defensive line is catching up to them, limiting to their ability to get pressure. Former Tar Heel corner, Dre Bly is overrated. Tough guy, run stopper, supreme tackling machine, linebacker Al Wilson will be sorely missed. Fortunately for the Broncos they get to play the Chiefs and Raiders four times.

3rd Place

The Chiefs will be awful, despite the presence of All-Pro running back Larry Johnson. Johnson who had to shoulder an unhealthy portion of the offensive load last year will be asked to do the same this year. Whether the QB is Croyle or one of the Huard brothers, the Chiefs passing game will be putrid. (Herm Edwards only likes to throw about 12 to 16 times a game anyway, preferring as few possessions per team possible.)

The Chiefs long standing strong point, offensive line has taken huge hits to retirement, each of the last two years losing future hall of famer Willie Roaf and Will Sheilds. This not what Johnson or the quarterbacks want to hear. The defense is also aging. The special teams have lost return man Dante Hall. Their wide receivers haven’t been good for years, which allows opposing defenses to double team all world weapon, tight end, Tony Gonzales. The Chiefs have a great home crowd, but all the noise at Arrowhead this year might be sound and fury signifying nothing. Seven wins will be a stretch.

4th Place

The Raiders are going nowhere fast. They have been unable to sign first over all draft pick Jamarcus Russell. Incidentally, the Clarion doesn’t love Russell. From here, it looks like a Jeff George arm, with Jeff George brains, and Jeff George mobility. The Raiders will have to go with retreads Cade McCown and Dante Culepepper at QB. They gave away star wideout Randy Moss to the Pats. They buried super quick Jerry Porter in a move reminiscent of the Marcus Allen blackballing. They have converted former Tarheel quarterback, Ronald Curry into their leading receiver. He is doing well, but remember what we told you about Arnaz Battle on the other side of the bay. It is never a good sign when a former QB is your leading wideout. Your number two, well, ok, if it is Antwuan Randle-El. It is what you have, but preferrably a former QB should be no more than your number three option. The Raiders defense looked deceptively good last year, as teams blowing out the Raiders ran out the clock. It also helped the Raiders defense yield less total yards, that their offense kept turning the ball over in the own territory. Top it all off with the youngest coach in the NFL, with no prior head coaching experience in Lane Kiffin, and even stoic Art Shell might wince. Five wins would be a suprise, six a shock.

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NFC West preview 

This is a much improved division, but Seattle hasn’t come all the way back to the pack, yet.

1st Place

The Seattle Seahawks are still pretty good, only two years removed from a Super Bowl runner up finish. The Clarion likes theory, when in doubt go with the team with the best lines and the best skill position guys. This is a division with two good young running backs, but the Seahawks still have Shawn Alexander. This is a division with two good young quarterbacks, but Seattle still has Matt Hassleback. Their offensive line is still the division's best. They have a terrific homefield advantage, one of the loudest crowds in the league. They will take the division fairly easily. They will be the only squad with double digit wins.

2nd Place

Everybody loves the 49ers, the Clarion can’t quite figure out why. We like last year’s trendy pick the Arizona Cardinals better than the 49ers or the Rams. It was too bad how it went down for good ol' Dennis Green. Hopefully he gets one more chance somewhere else. But the Cardinals got a steal in new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who brought offensive line guru and former Washington Redskin Hog, Russ Grimm with him to coach the O-line. This will help the Cardinals immeasurably. The Clarion likes future superstar Matt Leinart way better than the higher paid, higher drafted Alex Smith. Smith in our eyes is still a system quarterback created by Urban Meyer. The wideout talent the Cardinals have may be the best in the league, Boldin and Fitzgerald will challenge anybody’s best. Edgerrin James will be most grateful for better blocking and respond with a bounce back year. The Cardinals could be sniffing around the edges of the NFC Wild Card, but figure to finish out the outside looking in.

3rd Place

Contranarian at heart, the Clarion thinks the 49ers are going to take a step back this year. All the football talking heads are on their bandwagon early, always a bad sign. They won’t have as easy a schedule this year as they did last. We already told you we aren’t in love with Alex Smith. Frank Gore has had a couple of terrific seasons, but his preseason injury reminded us of why we didn’t think he was likely to amount to much in the NFL coming out of the U. We like tight end Vernon Davis, but it is likely a bad sign when your top wide receiver is a former QB like Arnaz Battle. The free agent additions to the defense were wildly overrated, Nate Clements is no Champ Bailey, Buffalo didn’t battle to keep him. Walt Harris is an aging plug-in. The Clarion has read good things about rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, but San Francisco still hasn’t fully replaced the impact of, departed to Seattle, star linebacker Julian Peterson. The 49ers will be nipping at the Cardinals heels, around the seven to eight win mark.

4th Place

The Rams will take another step back this year. Marshall Faulk and the Super Bowl years are a fading memory. They have convinced themselves that Mark Bulger is a star quaterback and signed him to a ridiculous contract this offseason. In St. Louis it is the system that makes the QB. Bulger is a poor game manager who does not raise the talent level of those around him. Have they fogotten that when the skill players were at their peak and they still had Marshall, they were able to plug in Arena Leaguer Kurt Warner and win. Heck they have the kind of offense you could take a last round draft pick out of Harvard plug him in and he’d throw for 300 yards. Unfortunately, Issac Bruce is another year older. Future Hall of Famer, and former Wolfpacker, Torry Holt is banged up. Drew Bennett is wildly overrated. Dante Hall is past his prime and was always a better special teamer than starting receiver. Teams will stack the box against Stephen Jackson and dare Bulger to beat them.

The defense has some players. Will Witherspoon at middle linebacker. Criminal Leonard Little at defensive end. Rookie Adam Carriker at defensive tackle. It might be enough to keep the Rams in some games, but this looks like a six or seven win team to the Clarion.

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AFC East preview 

The home of the Patriots will be more competitive than the experts are predicting, but New England will still rule the roost.

1st Place

The Patriots are the team to beat, they know it and so does everyone else. They have improved in many ways from a team that came up only just short of another Super Bowl trip last year. They have upgraded the wideouts so much that they could afford to cut last year’s leading receiver, Florida’s Reche Caldwell . Many think the Patriots biggest acquisition at wideout was Randy Moss. The Clarion believes it will turnout to be slot receiver and kick returner extraordinaire, Wes Welker . The Pats also added the none to shabby Dante Stallworth. Moss will catch his share of bombs, but be used more often than not by Brady and Belichek as a decoy. Both Stallworth and Welker will have more receptions. The Patriots juggernaut doesn’t stop there, the big defensive off-season signing was Adelius Thomas at linebacker. He has Pro Bowl potential and hurts another one of the other top AFC contenders, the Ravens by subtracting him from their roster. The Patriots are not only the AFC East favorite they are the Super Bowl favorite, too.

2nd Place

The New York Jets are catching the Patriots at the right time Week 1. The Patriots are missing two of their top defensive performers Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison. Plus star cornerback, Asante Samuel, is disgruntled and hasn’t practiced much. The Jets had a chance at the Patriots early last year, coming within a late Pennington interception. If the Jets can land the first punch this year and beat the Patriots in week one it will really bode well for their season. Even if they can’t, despite a tougher schedule the Clarion figures the Jets are right at the edge of the AFC Wild Card mix, where they finished last year. They had an excellent off-season signing in the steady if not spectacular, Thomas Jones. Don’t forget last year the Jets did what they did with out even a halfway decent running back. The defense has had another year to ingest Coach Mangini’s schemes. Figure on a big bounce back season from linebacker Johnthan Vilma, of the U. Kerry Rhodes is an All-Pro defender, as well as a personality to watch. The Jets are part of a large group of teams that could win between seven and ten games. We didn’t even mention their strongest position for starters, all degree of difficulty spelling team members, wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Is their any other profession in the world where a Chad from West Virginia would work hand in hand with a Laveranues and Jerricho?

3rd Place

The teams right behind the Jets, are in they same mix of seven to ten wins. The Bills figure to be a little on the lower end of that grouping, if for no other reason than quarterback J.P. Losman. Think of how unfavorably he compares to Pennington and Brady, at this point in their respective careers. Coach Dick Jauron squeezes wins out of underacheiving teams, but even though Losman got seasoning last year, does he have the skills? He throws a good deep ball and Lee Evans can go get’em with anybody, but in the short and medium range game Losman’s accuracy is lacking. This will put a lot of pressure on rookie running back Marshon Lynch from Cal. Lynch is a high character guy who has moved his mother and brother to Buffalo. The Clarion is rooting for him to succeed. The defense has to slide a little. Marv Levy is a terrific personnel man at the top of the chain, but losing London Fletcher, who the Clarion has loved since he was a Ram, and Nate Clements is going to bite.

4th Place

At least the Bills have been integrating youth on the defensive side of the ball, ala Josh McCargo. The Miami Dolphins defensive stars are aging fast, too, and no replacements are in sight. Zach Thomas lost a step or two, a couple of years back. Jason Taylor has kept doing it. The Clarion would contend however, though he makes as many spectacular plays as he always has, down to down he gets beat more, too. The Dolphins defense has missed having a decent offense. They have spent way too much time on the field in recent years. Trent Green is serviceable, but past his prime. There are no wideouts of note on the Dolphins roster. They lost playmaker Wes Welker. They lost the underappreciated, tight end Randy McMichael. The Clarion doesn’t and hasn’t loved Ronnie Brown. This is the year Jason Campbell shows the world he carried Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Anderson, not vice versa. There is still enough aging talent around that the Dolphins might get seven or eight wins, this year. But new coach Cam Cameron is going to have to adjust on the fly, or it could get worse before it gets better. He has no Tomlinson, no Phillip Rivers, nobody on defense Shawn Merriman’s age. It could be a long turn around phase in South Florida.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

NFC North preview 

The Clarion has decided to write this year’s NFL preview from the easiest to predict division to the toughest, thus we are starting with the NFC North.

1st Place

The Bears should be a shoe-in, they have won this division with Kyle Orton playing the majority of the games at QB. Yes, Rex Grossman is atrocious, but in the worst division in the inferior conference, it won’t matter until at least the playoffs. The Bears will miss last year’s starting running back Thomas Jones, now with the Jets, more than they think. Replacement Cedric Benson will make highlight reel plays, but is less than durable and a fumbler. On defense, releasing defensive tackle Tank Johnson, will put the pressure on the other DT Tommy Harris, who while once terrific, is fresh off a serious injury. Brian Urlacher is still a star, as should be, less well known strong safety, Mike Brown. In this division it is no matter, it is all nitpicking. The USC Trojans could win ten in the NFC North.

2nd Place

The Detroit Lions. Yes, the Lions, they have a few weapons. John Kitna isn’t terrible, he might be the best starting QB in the division this year. Slot wide receiver Mike Furrey had a breakout year last year. Roy Williams the only one of their three consecutive first round wideout draft picks still with the team is getting legit help this year, in the form of the best player in the draft, Calvin Johnson. Who despite inferior quarterback play all four years he was at Georgia Tech still managed to dominate. The Lions agressive play calling leads to lots of turnovers, the defense is harly good enough to handle that, eight wins will probably be about the most they can muster. But for Detroit, in the Matt Millen era, that is a positively rejuvenating season.

3rd Place

The Green Bay Packers will be lucky to win seven games. Running back is a gaping hole, with the aging Ahman Green having absconded to the Houston Texans. They are replacing him with the illustrious Vernon Morency who has amassed 600 career yards rushing. The other skill players are average at best. The defense is full of holes. Brett Favre is heading towards ending his career as the most overrated offensive player of all time. In his last 64 games, Favre has exactly 5 more interceptions than touchdowns. He has been hanging on for more than four years too long, when he finally does hang’em up, Green Bay fans will have to decide was one Super Bowl win worth 15 years of mediocrity. Tough call.

4th Place

The Minnesota Vikings would surely trade one Super Bowl win for fifteen years of mediocrity. Having never been able to win the elusive title, this does not figure to be the Vikings year. There is some talent, but they are still recovering from losing Randy Moss and Dante Culepepper for essentially nothing. This year they are starting perhaps the most ill-prepared quarterback in the league in Tavaris Jackson. His coach Brad Childress might have confidence in him, but there is no apparent reason why. In fact, as yet, there is no reason why anyone should have confidence in Childress. The season can’t be much worse for the Vikings than the tabloid scandal plagued last couple of years for the Vikings. Rookie running back Adrian Peterson is the real deal, but they already had a serviceable running back in Chester Taylor. The Vikes will win at most 5 or 6 games.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Baseball Prediction Recap 

As we hit the top of the stretch run in baseball, and before we do our NFL preview the Clarion thought it only fair to recap our preseason baseball predictions. If only, to tell you just how big a brick of salt to accompany the NFL preview with.

In the N.L. East we had both the Mets and the Phillies making the National League playoffs. We picked the Phillies to win the division. All three of those things are still possible, though increasingly unlikely. Looks like the Mets who have been in first place wire to wire will hang on. The Phillies are now four back after losing two of three to the lowly Florida Marlins this weekend. They are three behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Wild Card race. The Phils could still sneak into the post season. But the odds are, despite their tremendous young line-up, Rollins, Utley, Howard, (3 MVP candidates) they will come just short. A lack of starting pitching will do them in, the Mets, have had a similar issue all year. They sure could have used the traded Brian Bannister. Glavine and El Duque have been tremendous, Oliver Perez has had brilliant moments and unbelievably awful innings. It has been just enough to beat back the Phils and the Braves, who only have two legitimate starters. Now Pedro will return in Cincinnati, how much can he give off of shoulder surgery? The Clarion stands by our preseason prediction the Mets will be the N.L. playoff representative.

In the N.L. Central, the Clarion let emotion and personal preference rule the day. Long a Cincinnati Reds sentimentalist (save for the Marge Schott era) the Clarion had them winning what we projected as the crappiest division in baseball. It was there for the taking, if you had told us Aaron Harang would crush the way he has, 14-3, we’d of been sure we were right. But they couldn’t find enough pitching. This despite a terrific offensive season from Brandon Phillips and all the dingers from Dunn and Griffey. (By the by, if you want a note on just how awfully the Ken Griffey Jr. signing has worked out for the Reds, if he can get to 100 RBIs this year, and he has 86, it would be the first time in 7 seasons with the Reds that he has had a 100 RBIs. He has been so frequently injured that he has only had one 90 RBI season.) Another one of the Reds downfalls, too many strikeouts. Yes they play in a bandbox of a stadium, but they need to take more pitches and more walks.

The Clarion let our vitriol for Bud Selig allow us to pick the Brew crew last. Hmmm, that isn’t happening, but looks like they are going to fade after a long run in first. Again, the common thread not enough starting pitching. Terrific offensive seasons from Prince Fielder, somewhat predictably, and Ryan Braun, out of the blue. Their young corps of position players should have them in contention for years to come. Ned Yost is going to be an excellent manager, this year might be the seasoning and motivation they need for next year.

The Cubbies, lovable losers that they are, the Clarion picked’em third. They have gotten the most starting pitching in the division by far. It has served them well. It looks like they may pull away down the stretch. The dislikably obnoxious and volatile Lou Pinella has done it again. They will lose in the first round of the playoffs. All of their starting pitchers are mental, and Pinella’s act will wear thin even faster than Ozzie Guillen’s has on the other side of town.

The Cardinals are pretenders. The paradigmatic example of why the diluted playoffs are a joke that will hurt the game.

In the N.L. West the Padres are the Clarion’s sentimental fave and now the actual favorites, as well. For some now long forgotten reason the Clarion picked the Dodgers at the beginning of the season. They do have a lot of veteran offense, but it looks like they won’t quite be able to pull it together this year, despite super seasons from pitchers Brad Penny and second year sensation Chad Billingsley. The Padres have the one-two punch to match in Cy Young favorite Jake Peavy and too tall, Chris Young. The Rockies and the Diamondbacks are fading, don’t be duped. Totally, totally forgettable squads who will only tarnish the game if they back into the expanded playoffs. Name four players on either roster. Name more than one player on either roster who could have made a 1970’s All-Star team. Brandon Webb and? Matt Holiday and? Forget about it.

In the A.L. East the Clarion predicted improvement from the bottom feeders Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Meh. The Jays are within percentage points of last year’s .537 pace. Baltimore is on pace to finish one game better than last year. In fact, it is the Devil Rays fresh off taking two out of three from the Yankees who are on pace to make the biggest leap, five games better than last year’s 61 win pace. Stellar. The thing of it is all three of these squads have held their own against the Yankees, costing the Bronx Bombers tremendously. Baltimore is actually leading the season series against New York, 8 to 4. And while Boston has gone 9 up and 3 down against the Devil Rays, the Yankees are only 8 and 7. Excuses, excuses. The Clarion picked the Yanks to win the division.

In the A.L. Central the Clarion had our best calls. We had the Tribe winning the division and losing in the first round of the playoffs, a stance we still like. We predicted the Tigers slipping off of an awful World Series. We had the White Sox as getting worse. Though we picked them fourth, even the Clarion didn’t see Jerry Reinsdorf’s boys sucking quite this bad. The Royals have surprised us with more pitching than we thought they had. However, when fourth place and on pace for 73 wins is a decent season...no words for that...

In the A.L. West the Angles have truly surprised us at the Clarion. A tip of the hat to Mike Scioscia for a team that always hustles, always takes the extra base, finds the gritty way to gut one out, moving runners over, good defense, they execute all the fundamentals. Vladimir Guerrero was always going to be Vladimir Guerrero, a five tool basher. But who ever heard of Reggie Willits, and we said Gary Matthews, Jr. couldn’t do it again. We were wrong. Plus, he is a superb denfensive outfielder. Orlando Cabrerra has been a hoss, too, good defense, 76 RBIs, some steals, some extra base hits, a .311 average. The A’s moneyballers finally let too much of their vaunted pitching go. Unlike most, the Clarion had the Mariners coming, we loved their every day line-up. Of course, never ever could have predicted Grover getting fired midseason and things going up, up, up from there. They are in a slide at the moment, but if they can take two of three in New York this week, the Mariners will be neck and neck with the Yankees and Tigers the rest of the way.

There you have it, a very mixed bag of predictions at best. If you let us pick again from here the Clarion would take an 1986 redux, Mets versus Red Sox, with the Mets winning in seven. See how wrong we were? Fills one with confidence doesn't it? Bet you can’t wait to get our NFL preview this week, right? Looking forward to your feedback!

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Beckham out, Razorbacks in 

For those of you still dreaming of David Beckham resurrecting American soccer, here is a little more cold water to splash on your face. Wake up!! Beckham, Mr. Softee that he is, is now out for the season. He played in only 6 of the 12 L.A. Galaxy games that he could have. They are in last place in their division and aren’t going to make the MLS playoffs, not that anyone would notice or care. Lucky for him, Posh is going on a reunion tour with the Spice Girls, so they won’t have to sit around the house together wondering where to get good Bangers and Mash in LA.

Those of you defending the hypothesis that the expanding Latin American population of the United States is going to be thing that finally brings soccer to the fore, pu-leeze. Reality check, the Univeristy of Arkansas Razorbacks are going to have two stations locally start broadcasting their American football games in Espanol, because there is significant demand among the local Hispanic population. Adhering to the long standing immigrant practice of adding to the melting pot---the Arkansas kicker and several other team members are Hispanic, and adapting to the melting pot---following college football.

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Appalachian State 

The Clarion has to give props out to Appalachian State!! They spanked Michigan in the Big House yesterday! The two time defending champions of the Division formerly known as I-AA recorded perhaps (no hyperbole) the biggest upset in college football history.

A brief aside on the renaming of Division I-AA (if you don’t care skip this paragraph.) which was another genius Miles Brand decision. Here’s a thought take a highly recognizable brand name, Division I-AA and turn it into pseudo-military, gobbledygook jargon by naming it the Football Championship Subdivision. App. State couldn’t have done a better job of bringing this idiocy to the fore. The Clarion has only heard half a hundred announcers stumble over Brand’s egregiously excessive verbiage.

In front of a hostile crowd of 109,000 Appalachian State, the Mountaineers, of Boone, North Carolina took a commanding 28-14 lead into halftime. Many a underdog has found a way to lead, or hang around for a half or three quarters. App, themselves, had been it with national powerhouse LSU on the road into the fourth quarter in recent years. The most amazing element of Appalachian State’s victory was they didn’t hang on. They got headed and had to comeback to win. Michigan stormed back in the fourth quarter to take a 32-31 lead. The Moutaineers drove back down the field 69 yards on 7 plays in 1 minute and 37 seconds made a field goal to take the lead. Then despite allowing Chad Hennie, the Michigan QB, and before this game, a fringe Heisman candidate, to complete a 46 yard desperation heave into field goal range, hung on by blocking the kick. In this day and age, the Clarion didn’t see or even hear the game, but rather, had ESPN Real Time coverage running in the background while elsewhere on the net. ESPN Real Time is a text/graphics stream akin to a telegraph transcript of the plays and penalties of the game accompanied by a graphs showing drives in progress on a overhead map of the field. There is also a panel that has a running statistical summary for team and individual, passing yards, rushing yards, recieving yards.

The Clarion sees the two missed attempts at two-point conversions as huge. Michigan’s Lloyd Carr has long been a lousy game coach, as so many of the good recruiters are. If Carr had the two extra points on the board from simply going for the kick...but ifs and buts, candy and nuts, we know the routine. Credit where credit is due, to Appalachian State, where with an enrollement of approximately 12,000, their last fifiteen graduating classes don’t add up to how many people in were in the Big House. Prior to yesterday, the biggest Division I-AA upset was the Citadel over Arkansas. The Arkansas coach was fired before the next game. Lloyd Carr isn’t getting fired this week, but the Appalachian State, the Mountaineers, of Boone, North Carolina have taken the upset bar to a new level.

Incidentally, did Vegas know a little sumpin’ sumpin, the Clarion noticed this game was off the board yesterday. No Line being offered. You couldn’t gamble on it. There were a bunch of other lopsided match-ups on the docket, this was the only one off the board. Always at least a yellow flag.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pithy F*rging Sayings (2nd edition) 

Pithy F*rging Sayings from the Singularity

"The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions--the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or a heartfelt compliment." -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"No creature wants to be in a cage." -Staff

"Access to power must be confined to men who are not in love with it." -Plato

(Note/update: Access to power should not be confined to men. -the Clarion Content ed.)

"He who is in love with himself has at least this advantage--he won't encounter many rivals." -Georg Christopher Lichtenberg

"Self-pity is the swimming pool of fools." -Staff

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee." -Marion Wright Edelman

"The secret of joy in work is contained in one word-excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it." -Pearl Buck

"A good laugh is as good as a prayer sometimes." -Lucy Maud Montgomery

"Everybody looks 15% better in sunglasses." -Staff

All these sayings are by way of food for thought, rather than posited with certainty. Recall Montaigne… "All I say is by way of way of discourse…I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.”


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