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Friday, April 25, 2008

Grateful not to be starving 

Wanted to take a time out here at the Clarion.

We want to acknowledge how grateful we are to be where we are, in this country, in this day and age. We, like almost all Americans, should be profoundly grateful we are in no imminent danger of starving. During the course of human history this has not been the case for most human beings. Though things have improved, steadily if unevenly, still in the last 50 some odd years since the end of World War II, during the dawn of a post-modern era, untold millions have starved.

Any American who has traveled to the so-labeled 3rd world and gotten outside of the resorts will tell the tale. Unequivocally, most Americans are lottery winners in the game global population distribution. We are very lucky. We should be grateful. And hopefully we are grateful.

It is our firm belief that many Americans know this and feel gratitude. It is again to the fore because of the global food crisis that is unfolding. The good news is there has been some recognition and awareness as this situation has developed. Already America and Great Britain are responding with emergency food aid. The bad news is how severe some commentators say the situation is and how though the issue was seen coming, how little proactive action was taken. The skyrocketing cost of transportation is a key element in the rise of food prices. This price surge has been significant. The costs of other commodities have also been on the rise. The expanding middle class of China and India are contributing to the demand boom pushing price pressures.

Conditions are dire in some places. While it is not clearly dire in all of the following countries there have been outbreaks of rioting in Haiti, Cameroon, Bangladesh Indonesia, Cambodia, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. The crisis has been further stoked by the concomitant rise in the costs of staple cooking oils and fertilizer in many of the same countries. Tragically food crises tend to have exponential ripple and multiplier effects that make them worse as they go on. Malnutrition leads to less work, less fields getting tilled and planted, less efficient harvests. (As does more expensive and therefore less used fertilizer.) Worse yet, rather than respond by lowering tariffs and barriers and encouraging the production of more food, many governments have been responding with export bans and other attempts at hoarding.

The situation is difficult and there are no easy answers. We here at the Clarion don't have one. We firmly believe that deescalating the conflict in Iraq would remove some of the risk premium imposed on world oil prices and that this would have substantial positive knock on results for the price of food. But it is going to take some time for any long term changes in the course of policy, whether: deescalation, free trade or a change in biofuel strategy, to filter down to the local market place.

Emergency food aid and charity are vitally important in the short term. It is an American responsibility. (All wealthy countries share in this responsibility.) Amazingly enough, it is even an opportunity, an opportunity to burnish America's global reputation to remind the world what America once stood for, not preemptive warfare, but the Marshall Plan, not Gitmo, but the Peace Corps. America has many faces and does amazing things, the billions of dollars aid and charity that appeared in the wake of the Asian Tsunami tragedy of 2004 was but the most recent testament to this.

The final thought, gratitude. Gratitude. Not only should America and Americans participate in giving food aid worldwide, we should be profoundly grateful most of us don't need it. There are many places on this earth where stocked grocery stores and easy access to clean water would seem like luxuries.

Don't forget to give locally too!!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NBA West Playoff Preview 

NBA West Preview

#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Utah Jazz

McGrady went 0 for the 4th quarter in game one. There is a reason why this guy has never won a playoff series folks. Battier and Dikembe Mutombo could be on anybody's all heart, all grit, hard nosed all stars, but it isn't enough. As for the Jazz stars, Boozer, we don't love him, but we respect him. Deron Williams, it is suddenly an era of point guards, and there is no shame in being the third best point guard to Steve Nash and Chris Paul. Jerry Sloan is a good coach, the role players like Brewer, Kirilenko and Korver are solid. The Jazz cruise past the Rockets. They beat a better Rockets team last year.

#3 San Antonio Spurs vs. #6 Phoenix Suns

The Clarion is openly pulling for the Suns. We respect the heck out of the aptly nicknamed, Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan. The role players Finely, Bowen and Horry have aged. Former Knick, and once the leading scorer and rebounder in the NCAA, Kurt Thomas, may make a minimal contribution. Brent Barry is a stiff who can make a standstill three pointer. The real key for the Spurs is the play of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. These two guys for all there apparent flaws and issues, always find a way to come up big in the clutch. Bigger than Steve Nash? Well maybe not, but the Suns supporting cast doesn't match the Spurs. Amare Stoudemire is a head case who plays no defense. Barbosa and Diaw would be great in a pick-up game, but this is for keeps and that is when they come up smallest. Grant Hill is 107 years old, and moron coach Mike D'Antoni played him nearly 32 minutes per game. And don't forget, Hill is in the Tracy McGrady boat himself, having never won a playoff series. We want the Suns to win. We love Nash (Sadly, he is too old, slow and beat-up to play even passable defense any more.) He is the toughest guy in the series and a surefire Hall of Famer. His will to win is indomitable. His desire and decision making are first class. He's a great clutch shooter, too, but the cards are stacked against the Suns. They will probably make it so tough on the Spurs that they will soften them for future opponents. Without home court, though, it will be too much, the Spurs win in six or seven.

#2 New Orleans Hornets vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks

Chris Paul is the best player on either team. Jason Kidd is old and slowing down. He was never much in the half court offense anyway. Dirk Nowitzki has shown toughness that surprised the Clarion in returning from a late season injury, but can he be 100%? Byron Scott is so much of a better coach than Avery Johnson that if Avery touches Scott's clipboard it spontaneously bursts into flames. Do the Mavs win one game? They certainly win no more than two.

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Denver Nuggets

Again, the Clarion has a rooting interest. Faithful readers will note this kind of thing often interferes with our ability to pick and predict sporting events objectively. What can we say? We dislike Kobe, primarily because of the way he ran Shaq off, but from way before that our ire was raised when he engineered an anti-competitive, near collusion, draft day trade ala Elway and Eli Manning. Whereas, we love some Allen Iverson. Yes we know all about, practice, and Allen's enthusiasm for practice, but he is a thoughtful, complex guy. Maybe not someone many suburbanites can relate to but a bright, introspective guy, not all from the wacky, selfish mold of say a Stephon Starbury. Starbury made the same salary as A.I. this season, the difference was Iverson played all 82 games, and nearly 42 minutes per. That is not a typo, nearly 42 minutes a game at 165 pounds soaking wet. Those Dwayne Wade commercials fall down seven times get up eight, were made about the more photogenic guy, not the tougher guy. On paper we like the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony, Camby, and KMart all have All-Star caliber skills. J.R. Smith can light it up. The problem is outside of Eduardo Najera's 20 minutes nobody on the Nuggets plays a lick of defense. Gasol and Kobe will probably annihilate them but screw it, we saw A.I. carry a far less gifted Sixers team all the way to the finals. The Clarion is taking the Nuggets in six. (Once the bickering starts in L.A. Kobe will be glaring at teammates, showing them up, refusing to shoot for a quarter. The Lakers are a paper tiger.)

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NBA East Playoff Preview 

Welcome to the Clarion's NBA East playoff preview. We will not be featuring the Knicks prominently, or mentioning them at all after this paragraph. They again missed the playoffs, for the fourth straight year, and tied the franchise record for losses in season. This record was also originally set in the Isiah Thomas era, (thankfully over) under Larry Brown, a whopping 59 Ls. So if you are keeping score at home, that is two 59 loss seasons in the Isiah era, the 3rd worst overall record in the NBA, zero playoff wins, and going forward a salary cap situation that is screwed for at least the next two seasons, plus the Knicks still have to give up another first round pick in 2010.

Fortunately, the Nets missed the playoffs, too, this year, the suckatacious Vince Carter leading them in forced early shot clock jumpers, and finishing a close second to the recently departed Jason Kidd in most self serving whining. Neither of them for all their talk and self promotion have ever won a championship, college or pro. The Clarion was also most gratified to see no less of a basketball maven than Bill Simmons declare a long held conviction of ours to be NBA wide, Antawn Jamison is better pro baller than Carter. The bottom line for the Nets, Brooklyn or no, their whole roster has to be reconstructed. But no more dallying on our New York-centric perspective, on to teams that qualified for the playoffs...

The Clarion firmly believes this is the best NBA season since Michael Jordan was finishing a three-peat (argue amongst yourselves about '92-93 vs. '97-98.) The Eastern Conference Playoffs hold less intrigue than the Western Conference. No doubt. Hey the West is faaaantastic, but give the East some love. There is the incomparable LeBron James, the Pistons, who have already won one with this core and added a bench, and the most intriguing story of all, Kevin Garnett, and the resurrection of Celtics basketball. Can KG, teamed with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, finally get over the mountain he never saw the other side of in Minnesota? Perhaps even by beating his old coach Flip Saunders? Is Saunders the Pistons' kryptonite? But these are all questions for later rounds, let us take you through our view of the first round series, one by one. If you remember our NBA picks from last year, and the Clarion's general philosophy on predictions, you will know better than to use these picks as the basis of wagering anything more valuable than matchsticks.

The #1 seed Boston Celtics vs. the #8 seed Atlanta Hawks

This is the Hawks first playoff appearance since the 1998-99 strike shortened season. Perhaps you might think the city of Atlanta is starved for playoff basketball, or if you have ever watched an Atlanta Braves playoff game, you'd know better. The Celtics seasoned crew will put the Hawks out of business quickly(read: sweep) and no one in Atlanta will be any the wiser. Garnett looks like a dominant force, but it is important to remember that Doc Rivers in awful game coach, and this team would have been battling for a 4-5 seeding if they played in the West. (Pounding the scrubs of the Eastern Conference was a huge schedule advantage.)

The #2 seed Detroit Pistons vs. the #7 seed Philadelphia 76ers

Philly hoops fans couldn't be any more opposite of Atlanta non-fans. Philly fans care deeply and passionately about their Sixers. They loved their old A.I. and they love their new A.I. The Clarion loves the steady eddie game of coach on the floor Andre Miller. A good point guard and a enthusiastic crowd will help the 76 get one, maybe even two games from a far deeper, far more playoff seasoned, Pistons squad.

The #3 Orlando Magic vs. #6 Toronto Raptors

Even this series holds intrigue, and not because of the reportedly rampant fervor of what Raptors fans there are. Dwight Howard is a beast on both ends, though he has tailed off as the season has worn on. Hedo Turkoglu is a baller. Stan Van Gundy is a excellent coach. This team might be able to win a series in the West. Here they will handle Toronto and the talented, but skinny Chris Bosh with relative ease. The Toronto supporting cast, especially the starting guards are suspect. The Clarion would be starting and playing Jose Calderon over T.J. Ford.

Yes, we have been saving the best for last...

#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. # 5 Washington Bullets

(note: the Clarion does not recognize the p.c. mutilation of a once proud franchise's name.)

Washington has lost in the first round to the Cavs both of the last two years. This year Washington played most of the season without their uber-loquacious star, the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. Not totally surprisingly, since Gil is a little self-centered, it didn't hurt le Bullet. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler played at an All-Star level. Brendon Haywood is a stiff, but can Cavs center Ben Wallace have anything left in the tank? He is who he is, but Arenas has got to be an upgrade over DeShawn Stevenson. If Arenas is healthy...well the bottom line is no matter what le Bullet do LeBron James is on the other side. Yes, his supporting cast looks like it be hard pressed to win the D-League title. Wallace on the downside. Ditto, but worse for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joe Smith. We like Delonte West and Daniel Gibson but do they scare you? Ditto Wally Szczerbiak (career under 30% from 3 pt. land in the playoffs.)We like Washington better in the half court. The Clarion can't believe we can really pick against LeBron. Can we? Says here le Bullet in six. They don't even let'em take it back to Cleveland.

Bizarrely this might hurt the Knicks chances of getting LeBron in 2010, because if he loses in the first round this year, he could be so motivated next year that D-League supporting cast or no, he wins a title. That'd make it real hard to ditch Cleveland for Madison Square Garden. Hmmmm...should Knicks fans root for the Cavs? At least in round one?

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Who is profiting from the War? 

Who is profiting from the Iraq war? and its disastrous effect on the price of oil? Bloomberg news service has this note...

"Halliburton Co., the world's second-largest oilfield contractor, said profit rose 5.8 percent after crude topped $100 a barrel.

First-quarter net income climbed to $584 million, or 64 cents a share, from $552 million, or 54 cents, a year earlier, Houston-based Halliburton said today in a statement. Revenue rose 18 percent to $4.03 billion."

Who's not? Follow this link to a CNN article about America Moms' methods of scrimping and saving in the face of rising food prices.

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Pithy F*rging Sayings (6th ed.) 

An obstacle downstream propagates upstream. If you're not allowed to implement new ideas, you stop having them. And vice versa: when you can do whatever you want, you have more ideas about what to do. So working for yourself makes your brain more powerful in the same way a low-restriction exhaust system makes an engine more powerful.--- Paul Graham

The highest reward for man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.---John Ruskin

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.---John Ruskin

There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man's lawful prey.---John Ruskin (attributed)

Links to old sayings posts.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Good News 

It has been brought to our attention that some of our readers think that the Clarion Content only takes note of bad news. Horrors, we hope not. Surely, we want to debate and analyze the important issues and the inane trivia of our day, but we don't want to spread the negativity. This space isn't supposed to be only the rants, we want to share the raves, too.

To that end, the Clarion has three bits of good news, feel good stories as it were.

There is no theme connecting these three items, other than the attempt in the deluge of despairing news to share a little sunshine, to remind folks that good things happen every day, from the grand to the small.

In scale, by sheer literal size, this first note might seem the most significant, but we will let you, dear readers, be the judge. A newly discovered oil field off the coast of Brazil may hold as many as 33 billion barrels of crude. In an era of over $100 barrel oil, with gas prices rapidly approaching $4 gallon in America, and an endless low intensity conflict in the state with the world's second largest oil reserves, this is a relief. Brazil is on a very short list of states that the current administration has not alienated. While the Bush administration's South American policy (or lack there of, other than chemically defoliating the rain forests of Columbia,) has been an abysmal failure, relations have not gotten as toxic with Brazil as they have with Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia etc. Of course, the reactionaries and race-baiters in Congress who want to build a wall to keep immigrants out of America have certainly not helped America to puts its best face southward. The Iraq War and the unipolar approach of "Allies, we don't need no stinkin' allies" has come off just as rancidly in Latin America as in Europe. This oil is good news for the world. Hopefully, Brazil will not be virulently anti-American by the time this field is being tapped.

Good news item number two may seem writ smaller than 33 billion barrels of oil, but it sure was important to the individuals involved. An 11 year old Clevelander stopped a runaway bus and saved himself and his classmates from a much more severe accident. The bus driver in contravention of state law and school policy had stopped for gas and a break. He left the children alone on the bus and apparently the emergency brake was not on, nightmarishly the bus began to roll out of the station. Parked across from the Cleveland Indians stadium downtown, the bus rolled out of the gas station and into the city streets. The quick thinking, eleven year old with the brass huevos, jumped behind the wheel and tried to pull the emergency brake. When that didn't work he took the wheel and steered the bus into a pillar which though it brought it to a crashing a halt, but prevented it from flipping over as the runaway bus approached a sharp turn down the street. 15 children were treated for minor injuries, fire department spokesmen said it could have been much worse.

Finally, a bit good news of the incremental sort, as in it might not have been all one would have hoped for, but at least it something, Wal-Mart changed it's gun sales policy. Pressure applied by New York Mayor, Mike Bloomberg and his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns convinced Wal-Mart to make some changes. Sure, it is still like being able to go to the supermarket and buy a gun, but at least Wal-Mart will now more closely scrutinize multiple gun purchasers and track weapons purchased in its stores that have been used to commit crimes. The chain has agreed to run background checks on the employees who sell guns and videotape all gun sales. Wal-Mart has a troubling history of weapons sales, in California, the state discovered Wal-Mart committed thousands of violations of gun safety laws. The Californian Justice Department found 2,891 violations over a three-year period in five randomly chosen Wal-Mart stores, including selling guns to 23 people who were outright banned from buying them, and a further 36 sales to prohibited buyers through relatives or friends.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Christopher Walken channels Fat Boy Slim 

We know it has long been custom for blogs to adopt character actors. Is Christopher Walken too big too adopt? You be the judge. The Clarion has loved his work, but who knew he could dance? Check out this Fat Boy Slim video.

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Baseball Minutia 

Baseball geeks, do not despair, the Clarion's baseball preview is coming. Non-baseball fans, what's wrong with you? Just kidding. We promise to try to keep a balance of the sports and non-sports articles here at the Clarion. Of course, it would help if some of our invited guest columnists were ready to share. Either way, we will keep it real and not become the sports section of your local paper. The Clarion has long viewed sport as an important cultural metaphor and societal mirror, but we know some folks still don't give a hoot.

This is for the ones who do.

Baseball fans delight in the small details, the statistics and the lore, for not only is each baseball season its own narrative, unfolding over months with subplots and intrigues, varied casts of characters and at least thirty settings, so is each game and each day of the baseball season ripe with its own stories.

With that in mind...

Sunday night, the Toronto Blue Jays' Frank Thomas broke a record long held by the legendary, Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew. This was not one of Killebrew's more renowned marks. Killebrew is much more famous for the 573 dingers he hit in a steroid free era. Thomas quite a power hitter in his own right, has smacked 516 homers in his career and is still a .300 lifetime hitter. This Sunday, Thomas passed Killebrew in a little known, power hitters only club, when he broke Harmon's record for the most plate appearances (9,832) without a sacrifice bunt. (If there are any non-fans still with us, a sacrifice bunt is an attempt by the batter to deliberately give himself up, make an out via bunting, while advancing a teammate who is on base from one station to the next. It is often, though not always, ordered by the manager.) This means for 10,000 plate appearances or so, approximately 15 years, Frank Thomas and Harmon Killebrew's managers thought it was more advantageous to let them take a rip. They let them swing away with the chance of making an out for nada, zero, zilch because perhaps they might lash a hit, drive in a run with a liner to the gap or pound a home-run. In a sport where the best make an out 2 out of 3 at-bats, never once were they told to deliberately give themselves up to advance a runner. They were sluggers par excellence.

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Friday, April 11, 2008


Here we go with some updates to previous posts and threads.

Faithful readers might recall last week when we were musing about the underlying societal costs of our advertising culture, in trust and morality, as well as dollars and cents. This is the kind of commercial that makes one want to forget all that intellectual mumbo jumbo and just laugh your behind off. Check it out!

In another update, Clarion readers, you might recall we warned that the gigantic egotist that is Brett Favre was never going to be able to sit idly around in the off-season without musing about a comeback. The guy can't bear to be out of the news for that long. Witness, his totally callused treatment of the Packers the last several off-seasons, when he played these ridiculous games, publicly, in the press, of "will I" or "won't I" come back. He is at it again, to the detriment of the Pack. Has one Super Bowl ever brought one guy so much to be followed up by so little? Says here outside of Joe Namath, "Never."

Is it an update or just a reminder to say the Clintons are fabricating again? Perhaps that is a little too harsh. The Clarion is referring to the campaigns sparring this week over which of the Democratic candidates take oil money. Hillary Clinton is running a radio commercial (warning the ad starts with an annoying beep) in Pennsylvania accusing Obama of deception for saying he doesn't take oil money. Her argument is premised on the idea that Obama has taken money from the employees of big oil companies. Meanwhile, she fails to mention, of course, Obama has not taken money from oil industry political action committees which she has. She also fails too mention that she, Clinton, has taken more money from oil company employees than Obama!!

This is the kind of negative campaigning that led the Clarion to predict a McCain 2008 election victory the same week Clinton won the Ohio primary.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It was a nice moment 

Forgiveness, America has long been a country that has been big on it. Yesterday the fans of the Boston Red Sox forgave somebody. Somebody who they didn't really need to forgive, somebody who had already forgiven, though not forgotten, them. In the process they purged themselves of some of their own guilt for the horribly shabby treatment they gave a man who by all accounts was a class act, Bill Buckner.

Bill Buckner, the N.L. batting champion in 1980, an All Star in 1981, a consistent contact hitter who four times led the league in fewest strikeouts per at-bat was doomed, struck by lightning, destined for a lifetime on the highlight reel of ignominy by a fielding error at a crucial moment in the 1986 World Series. Buckner's gaffe was so pivotal, so remembered, such a signature play that it is resurrected during every fall classic, and is always brought up (unfairly) on the list of all-time sports choke jobs. The error was the final blow in a potential World Series clinching Game Six. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th Buckner missed a ground ball hit by Mookie Wilson allowing Nancy Lopez's husband, Ray Knight to score the game winning run for the Mets. What is often forgotten or omitted is the Red Sox bullpen tanked first. Calvin Schiraldi allowed three straight singles, Bob Stanley wild pitched in a run, and allowed Knight to advance into scoring position. All this was before Buckner's error, it was already one of the most dramatic World Series games ever. Mookie Wilson never gets credit for fouling off a zillion pitches, but the power of the television image, and the modern media monolith made Buckner a goat, an epic goat, in a sports crazy city.

We can say it wasn't his fault. It wasn't. We can say he handled it like a class act. He did. We can say he was a good player besides. He was. None of it changes the facts, that an unfortunate set of circumstances, in his chosen sport, made this man such a well known object of public ridicule and hatred that he and his family received numerous death threats, and eventually moved to the relative isolation of Idaho.

Yesterday at Fenway Park during the celebration of the 2007 World Series championship, the Red Sox second in four years, the emotion flowed freely. The Red Sox introduced many former greats, no one got a louder ovation than Buckner. In the space of three minutes, the Red Sox fans tried their darndest to make up for 20 years of boorish, awful behavior. Buckner was moved to misty, near teariness. Buckner, after facing such vitriolic hatred, had long stayed away from Boston and Fenway. Would this have happened without the 2004 and 2007 titles? Quien sabe? Did it make up for the past treatment of Buckner and family? No, but, it was a good thing to do, a kind thing. It was a nice moment for the man and the fan.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Things that need to invented, part IV 

A few weeks ago over a delicious Saint Paddy's Day dinner the Clarion's editorial staff heard a brilliant new suggestion for our Things that need to be invented column. Dinner, rather than the traditional corn beef and cabbage, was an oh so tender Guinness beef stew. The suggestion was collective composting. The stew featured an array of delicious fresh vegetables. Their preparation led to a discussion of organic waste products and the difficulty of composting in the modern American townhouse or apartment.

If you don't have a yard or a place to put the grill, locating a spot for the compost bin is all but impossible. However, why can't America's townhouse and apartment complexes provide a shared composting bin? And if America really wanted to get on top of it, these bins could be hooked into methane digestion systems and generators and used to supplement the power grid at each complex.

We all know the landfill problem in America is massive and getting inexorably worse. Do we want to go the way of Italy, where trash accumulation, and illegal dumping has literally brought down the government? Why put biodegradable refuse into a non-biodegradable, plastic bag, wait for a fossil fuel powered, mileage inefficient, truck to pick it up and haul it miles away? Where it will take twenty years for the bag alone to decompose? (Not to mention, most complexes pay someone to fertilize the shared turf areas and subsequently irrigate them with clean drinking water!! America, could we be any more wasteful??)

It should simply be an environmental mandate that all townhouse, condominium and apartment complexes over four units must provide a public composting bin. Then the only problem would be getting lazy, but eco-conscious Americans to use them.

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Monday, April 07, 2008


They are human, so very human these kids playing in the Final Four and now in tonight's national championship game. Sometimes under glare of the bright lights, with the all but deafening hype, the media hordes, all of it capped by CBS's cloying, "One Shining Moment," it easy to forget. They are human, and they are kids, 18, 19, at most 20 something years old.

The stars, at this point, most have heard enough about the stars, the Derrick Roses, the Brendon Rushes and Tyler Hansbrough. However, there are a slew of other kids sharing tonight's spotlight and the dream. And there are some who had hoped to, some who came up just a little short.

Here are two different tales of woe, one about a player from each squad.

Back-up Memphis guard, Andre Allen, who might have only played five or six minutes in relief during tonight's game will never get the chance. Reports from WREG-TV, a local Memphis television outlet, indicate he failed a random NCAA drug test. Memphis suspended him from the Final Four. This was not Allen's first brush with the law while at Memphis, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in 2005. (The case was later dismissed.) It could not have come at worse time for the young man, instead of the memory of lifetime, Allen will be sitting at home wondering what might have been.

There is a back-up guard from Kansas who won't being playing tonight either, Rodrick Stewart. Stewart slipped on a wet spot at practice the other day while trying a dunk and fractured a kneecap. Ouch. (Trust us, you don't want the Youtube link, it was gruesome.) Stewart was doing dunks after the formal practice ended with teammates, trying to wow the crowd when he fell. Like Allen, Stewart played a minimal role in his team's tournament success. Tonight, a fifth year senior, he will watch what would have been his college basketball game. Stewart played a useful role during a midseason injury to Kansas star Rush. Stewart originally transferred to Kansas from USC. Like Allen, Stewart's professional prospects are minimal. While their basketball stories end here, their life stories will go on.

Enjoy tonight's game, whomever wins. Delight in it because these are kids, this is a special moment for them. They will never forget it. But remember it is just a game, and for every Lorenzo Charles burned into our synapses, etched into history, there are Andre Allen's and Rodrick Stewart's a plenty. Every kid who plays in the tournament is a winner. (They won to get into the dance.) Every kid has a memory. Every kid has a story good and bad. Treasure the moment with them, for soon it will disappear into the past.

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Same old Michigan 

Amazing, once again the more things change the more they stay the same, at least in college athletics.

At the same time we were following the retirement from the NBA story of Michigan alum, Chris Webber, last week, the Clarion was alerted to a new scandal that broke two weeks or so ago at the University of Michigan. Michigan, a program with a decrepit, cheating filled history, was caught out by its local paper, the Ann Arbor News, setting it up for its athletes to take special independent study classes to raise their grades. Another era, but it is the same old Michigan.

Many commentators inveighed on the end of Webber's career, lamenting the what ifs and might of beens of near title runs, college and pro. Some saw the near misses of the Fab Five at Michigan and later his Sacramento teams as Webber's primary legacy. Despite the hype, Webber never won a title in college or professionally. Others wrote that he was a tragic, fatally flawed, hero for his most infamous mental lapse, "Timeout" in the NCAA title game. Clarion fave, Bill Simmons, noted that Webber shied from the big shot at crunch time throughout his career. But nobody talked about what the Clarion sees his primary legacy, cheating. He was front and center while at Michigan.

He was from a middle class background, but he still took $280Gs from booster Ed Martin. This Abscam style, money in a bag kind of cheating means no matter what one's memories of the Fab Five at Michigan the records say 0-32, by forfeit for 1992 and 1993.

When some one takes money in a bag, they surely know they're cheating, Chris Webber. This wasn't one of those, "Oh, I wasn't allowed to work there over the summer?" Or "They just lent me the Escalade." This was cash, $280,000, 280 grand, in cash. We are quite sure the members of the Michigan Fab Five who didn't go on to star in the NBA and make millions like Webber and Rose, were less than thrilled with the manner in which Webber demolished their legacy. (Jimmy King and Ray Jackson thank you Chris.) Ironically in the pros, Webber had a bumpy ride, that saw him wear out his welcome in more than one city, and his exits, sans title, led to the decline of multiple franchises.

For Michigan, though, it is bigger than Webber, it is institutional. Here they are again, and this time it is inside rather than outside the institution, no blaming the boosters. The professor in question not only taught an inordinate amount of independent study classes, primarily to varsity athletes, but gave them grades a full point higher than their GPA in their other classes. In many cases this was the key to their retaining eligibility. You might recall, Auburn University was tarnished by just this kind of scandal a couple of years back, and everyone kind of shook their collective head, and opined along the lines of, "Well it's Auburn, you know they're a football factory."

Michigan is following the Auburn playbook, deny and obfuscate, deny and obfuscate, knowing eventually, the outsiders will go away and the boosters and alumni will remain. Never mind that some athletes got their A's with as little as 15 minutes of class time every two weeks, or less than half of Michigan's African-American scholarship football players finish school with a degree. Or that many of the athletes interviewed also took the same language classes, four semester worth of Ojibwe, but when asked couldn't remember a single word of the dialect, despite their A and B grades.

The University Michigan, it likes to think of itself squeaky clean, and in an academic class with the great public university's, UNC, UVA, and Cal. Sorry, Michigan you're kidding yourself. You belong with the likes of Auburn, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State, the "Who cares if the kids can read, so long as we win the game," crowd. It is a proud legacy.

Where are the Michigan alums, can and do they accept this kind of academic shenanigans? They are the only constituency that can force institutional change.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Stringing us along 

Rutgers women's basketball coach, C. Vivian Stringer, was caught in a long term biographical lie this weekend. Stinger had long told the tale, to multiple news organizations, of her struggle to be the first African-American cheerleader at Germantown High in Pennsylvania. With Clinton-esque style, Stringer had dressed up the story to include her family's fights and struggles with the school board.

Only one problem, C. Vivian Stringer wasn't the first African-American cheerleader at Germantown High, and according to the woman who proceeded her by eight years, she knew it. Rather than correct the error, Stringer let the story build as part of her narrative of uphill struggle and even referenced it at her squad's infamous press conference to announce their non-acceptance of talk show host, Don Imus's apology. That day, her were players talking about this anecdote showing the moral compass of their coach, how unintentionally right they were.

Where's Al Sharpton now? What about the rights of Dolores Dantzler, who had to call the New York Times personally, and send them to check the yearbooks? What about her usurped story? Why isn't Stringer getting the George Leary treatment?

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Saturday, April 05, 2008


The Clarion has long wondered if somewhere beyond the parameters of the debate about the First Amendment and the freedom of speech there is a socio-cultural debate we should be having about advertising. It strikes the Clarion that advertising has certain inherent flaws surrounding the need to aggrandize and the incentives to overclaim. (And of course, reflexively the urge to diminish faults or downsides.) Are these problems that may be endemic in advertising symbols, emblems, perhaps even signifiers of core defects, structural issues in the capitalist or market system, itself? Truth in advertising? Or misdirection? Fine print; let alone subliminal visual tomfoolery? Does advertising encourage us to lie to ourselves? Are there strong capital, market incentives in this day and age for our most imaginative minds to engage the arts of cultural deception? At what cost to our faith in each other and our society?

If truth be told, then what need for advertising? What value is added? Publicity?

Beyond the debate about the freedoms of speech, we must within a global cultural context ask ourselves about the nature and value of truth in the marketplace and advertising's ever increasing role. Veracity must have value. Global commerce with its infinite nodes requires ever more skepticism. Yet from this interconnected globe spanning superstructure springs back innovations that show that scale (globally interconnected commerce) can bring new ways to measure veracity and reliability, from Google search to E-Bay seller ratings.

Now here are links to two funny commercials we've recently seen blogged.

Wasted genius? You decide.

Good advertising, an oxymoron?

Yep, somebody got paid to write this.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Let's go Rangers!! 

The New York Rangers clinched a berth in National Hockey League playoffs tonight. Once derided as an everybody gets in tournament, the competition has gotten stiffer. Heck, in the days of the Wales and Campbell Conferences, when 16 out of 21 teams in the league made the tourney, it was everybody who shows up gets in. Now expansion has increased the field to 30 teams, but no new playoff slots have been added. It is still only the top eight teams in each conference that qualify.

This has created a mad scramble in Gary Bettman's unimaginatively monikered Eastern Conference, with a mere two games to go five teams are still fighting over four slots. Locally, the Carolina Hurricanes have been the third seed much of the season, but could slide all the way to out, if they are caught by the magical Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. All of this chaos and tumult is why it is terrific that the Rangers are safely in the post-season.

And what better way for the Rangers to qualify than with a shutout win over their old rivals the New York Islanders. It is such a pity the Islanders are not going to make the playoffs. It was good news to see the Rangers aging star, Jaromir Jagr lit the lamp twice. He is going to finish this season with the lowest offensive output of his career. If the Rangers are to go anywhere in the playoffs, they have to get at least some contribution from Jagr.

It was also nice for Rangers fans to see goaltender Henrik Lundqvist post a shutout. He is the real key to the Rangers playoff chances. A Olympic gold medal winning goalie, Lundquist can carry the team. It was especially nice for Lundquist to get a shutout over the Islanders, who didn't even play their own $67 million goalie Rick DePietro. Dipietro has struggled severely to live up to the ludicrous fifteen year contract the Islanders gave him. He is going to finish the year under .500. His back-up is going to have a better goals against average and a better save percentage.

For one night at least in New York hockey, all is well. The Rangers roll into the playoffs and the Islanders slink into the off-season. Now if only somebody could beat the Devils in the first round...

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Best Political Line of early April 

Hillary Clinton got off a beaut responding to the controversy about her remarks concerning a particular trip to Bosnia. The Clarion has written about the issue and whether or not Senator Clinton arrived under fire, here and here. She apparently did not. Clinton has retracted her story and attributed it to a mis-recollection due to lack of sleep. Explaining said mis-recollection is where she hit her home run when she admitted...

"Occasionally, I am a human being like everyone else."

Ahh, but not often right, Senator?

Thanks for the funny ha ha research goes to The Economist.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Baseball Picks (American League) 

American League East

1st Place--Boston Red Sox (over/under 94) over

2nd Place--New York Yankees (over/under 93.5) under

3rd Place--Toronto Blue Jays (over/under 85.5) under

4th Place--Tampa Bay Rays (over/under 75) over

5th Place--Baltimore Orioles (over/under 64.5) under

American League Central

1st Place--Cleveland Indians (over/under 90) over

2nd Place--Detroit Tigers (over/under 93.5) over

3rd Place--Minnesota Twins (over/under 75.5) over

4th Place--Chicago White Sox (over/under 80.5) under

5th Place--Kansas City Royals (over/under 73.5) under

American League West

1st Place--Seattle Mariners (over/under 85.5) over

2nd Place--California Angels (over/under 92) under

3rd Place--Texas Rangers (over/under 77) under

4th Place-Oakland A's (over/under 73) under

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Baseball Picks (National League) 

National League East

1st Place--New York Mets (over/under 93.5) over

2nd Place--Philadelphia Phillies (over/under 87.5) over

3rd Place--Atlanta Braves (over/under 84.5) over

4th Place--Washington Nationals (over/under 72.5) over

5th Place--Florida Marlins (over/under 69) under

National League Central

1st Place--Chicago Cubs (over/under 87) over

2nd Place--Milwaukee Brewers (over/under 84.5) over

3rd Place--Cincinnati Reds (over/under 78) under

4th Place--Houston Astros (over/under 75.5) under

5th Place--Pittsburgh Pirates (over/under 70.5) under

6th Place--St. Louis Cardinals (over/under 76.5) under

National League West

1st Place--Colorado Rockies (over/under 83) over

2nd Place--San Diego Padres (over/under 84.5) over

3rd Place--Los Angeles Dodgers (over/under 86.5) over

4th Place-Arizona Diamondbacks (over/under 87.5) under

5th Place--San Francisco Giants (over/under 73) under

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