Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Noam

Today is an important date in history to remember. Firstly, it was a year ago that this site began in earnest with the completion of the now or soon-to-be famous "The Simpsons still got it, dammit!" missive. As life altering as that was for many, perhaps a greater event occurred 79 years prior, the birth of Avram Noam Chomsky.

It was sometime around my late-ish highschool years that I first introduced myself to Noam (probably around the time I realized the Taylor series was not going to be my path to personal fulfillment). The rumblings of certain "adolescent" "thoughts" and "feelings" had been percolating within me for some time (I was like a coffee-maker brewing disorganized discontent), perhaps best encapsulated by the broad sentiment that "there is something seriously wrong with what I am perceiving," - and I don't mean I was worried about the functioning of my senses - but no one previously and no one since has so effectively formulated a coherent explanation as to what was happening out there and why, complete with a whole slew of information that was at the same time both liberating and incredibly depressing. Having personally previously looked to the enlightenment thinkers ("Hang on, Voltaire," though Rousseau was my boy) and later the tenets of non-national socialism ("Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov!"), Chomsky was the bridge between the freedom and liberty of the former and the equality and justice of the latter. More than dropping off answers at your feet and being on his way, Chomsky's greatest gift to me, to us, has been asking the right questions and having the courage and integrity and ability to meet them head-on, dead-on.

I can say without the slightest hint of hyperbole or melodrama that Chomsky has been the single most influential figure in my life (sorry, family). He often says, rightly so, that change and progress come not as gifts from above, from one person, but rather from the struggles of many below. Perhaps not quite from above, I am nevertheless forever indebted, along with many others, for the clarity and hope his tireless work has provided. Here's hoping you live another 80 years, and that the world will be a freer and fairer place when you pass.

I'd like to link to one of Chomsky's most recent writings, on the Election, Economy, War, and Peace. There's way too much good stuff in here to excerpt, so I hope some of you will take the time to read it. For those of you that have perhaps scanned some of his writings that I have linked on this site and are skeptical of his truthfulness or wonder if he manipulates any of his facts or data, crack open any of his books and be prepared to be cited or footnoted into oblivion. The below is Barry Pateman, my former mentor at the Emma Goldman Papers Archive and also a very influential figure in my life, interviewing Chomsky about Anarchism and the history of Anarchism. Just part 1 of 5, they're all worth a listen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Slumdog Weekend

An equal parts long and relaxing as not-long-enough and too hectic Thanksgiving weekend wrapped up with a very rainy, very sleepy Sunday (three distinct naps went down) over in these parts. Four days of mostly eating and drinking and movie watching and dog walking, and even a bit of hockey playing, came to its inevitably melancholic and depressingly necessary end. We celebrated the occasion by watching Danny Boyle’s new one, the much talked about and Oscar-buzz gathering Slumdog Millionaire. Though Trainspotting remains an all-time favorite, I can’t say I’ve seen anything he’s done since The Beach, and I can say that I absolutely abhorred that silly stupid movie. Nonetheless, an onion interview and a couple internet convos later, and I was pretty looking forward to seeing this one.

Big mistake. This shit was disappointing. First off, I find it somewhat perverse for an Englishman to make a movie that uses very broad strokes to essentially show how fucked up India is. It’s kind of like what I imagine an American movie proselytizing about how horrible a post-Arbenz Guatamala, or modern day Iraq for that matter, is. Luckily, Hollywood has not been so brazen, yet. That said, that’s not what does this film in. It’s the never-ending dramatization of nearly every single event in nearly every single scene, ultimately giving the movie a caricatured part-fairy-tale, part-horror movie after-school-special feel, and depriving what I imagine are its real characters in what is certainly a real setting from the meaningful impact it deserves, that is Boyle’s biggest crime. Though I am admittedly a bit squeamish, I’ve seen enough of cruelty and gruesomeness on film when used appropriately and not heavy-handedly (think Ken Loach’s Carla’s Song), to not be averse to it, per se. But while seeing teenagers tortured and kids having their eyes gouged out is not particularly enjoyable on its own, it becomes even more deflating because the characters are so one-dimensional and the entire film is clumsily framed by a hopelessly naïve and immature love story that is never given real substance to make the audience believe in it. Nothing ever really happens on screen, especially in light of everything else that does happen, that makes the protoganist’s destinal quest for love anything but hard to believe and wildly unjustified, and yet how it will play out becomes so obviously predictable. Think of a Bollywood film where the dancing and costumes are replaced by suffering and filth.

An obvious comparison point is Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay, a very gritty look at a similar if not the same slum in Bombay. The difference in the films is striking, however. Nair worked mainly with street children and rather than use a series of catastrophically tragic events to push the narrative along and frame the story of the childrens’ lives, she takes a much less dramatized approach and simply offers a wider-lensed (both technically and metaphorically) look at the struggle, pain, joy, and hope that fills the daily existence of the participants. The film is just as depressing and fucked-up as Slumdog, if not as visually jarring, but it does not have the same cartoonish feel; one never gets the feeling that the directors are using time-tested tricks to pull at your emotions as in Slumdog. There doesn’t appear to be anything contrived in Salaam; Slumdog, on the other hand, in part from its structure as a re-telling, appears at times to be nothing more than contrivance. Nair showed her street children turned actors Truffaut’s The 400 Blows before they began filming. If Boyle were to engage in a similar preparation, one gets the feeling he would have chosen something along the lines of The Notebook.

All that said, it’s not a terrible movie. One thing it does really well is show how terrible a place India still is, notwithstanding rapid industrialization and the emergence of a class of luxury product consumers. Though I suppose that’s shooting fish in a barrel. So on a weekend of giving thanks, I suppose I’m obligated to say I’m thankful for the English and Dutch and other Europeans involved in fucking up the country of my ancestors so bad that my parents were forced to emigrate half-way around the world to raise their family and live their lives. So that I could spend a weekend slumdogging it from the confines of my Park Avenue apartment. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three Cheers for Cause and Effect*

Tyler at Mudcrutch posted this research in response to ongoing concerns within the Edmonton Oilers internet community that Shawn Horcoff has not produced much offense at even-strength this season. Tyler’s basic point is that he’s still getting his shots and, perhaps more importantly, the Oilers are outshooting the opposition when Horcoff is on at evens. Horcoff at the time had scored 1 goal in 37 even-strength shot attempts, so Tyler ran some sort of programming script, I imagine, from some sort of master set of data he seems to have and looked at every other 1-for-37 streak an NHL player had last season. Not surprisingly, there were a bunch. Also not surprisingly, those players started to put the puck in the net coming out of their 1-for-37 droughts. Streaks in hockey, and anything else where there’s a certain amount of randomness involved, exist. And then they end. When an average player in the NHL, where the shooting percentage is around 8%, goes 1-for-37, the odds are he’s going to do better in his next 37. Horcoff scored an even strength marker later that night, almost proving Tyler’s point res ipsa loquitur.

What I’m more interested in here is why some players seem to have “off” years, that is, where previously established scoring rates are significantly reduced for a prolonged streak that lasts an entire season, and how can we predict whether or not such an off year will occur. To the extent Tyler is saying, “Horcoff is fine, he’s getting the same number if not more shots than last season, it’s only a matter a time before his prior scoring rate returns,” I think it’s useful to look at some players who have recently had these off years and examine what drove those results, particularly in terms of shooting percentage and shooting rate. (I’ll note that I don’t think Tyler is necessarily making the quote I attribute to him, but I do think it’s a pretty quick logical jump from what he is saying).

I identified 12 players who saw their goal scoring rates drop significantly from 2006-07 to 2007-08. At least computationally, there are two measures that can affect a player’s goal scoring rate, their shot rate – how many shots they are getting over time – and their shooting percentage – how often their shots score. I looked at these two drivers for the 12 players. Ideally, I would have broken this all down to even-strength and power play situations, but as I couldn’t find any stats from 20006-07 that separated shots into even-strength or power-play situations, we’re left with only looking for total goal scoring rates and total shooting rates. As long as these players’ saw the same relative time at evens vs. the power play, it shouldn’t create too many problems, certainly not enough to muddle what I think are fairly clear results.

TotG equals the goals per 60 min of total ice time (all rates are per 60 min of total ice time). The preponderance of sub-.70 Ratio TotG signifies that there were some significant scoring rate drops in this group. The final two columns, decline in shooting percentage and shooting rate, are the independent variables I looked at separately as possible causes of the decreases in scoring rate. And the R-squared values (where the scoring rate is the dependent variable) show a pretty decent correlation between shooting percentage and scoring rate, while the correlation between shooting rate and scoring is basically non-existent. Within this small sample size, getting shots was in no way a harbinger of scoring success. While I don’t think this necessarily means you want to be not getting any shots at all rather than getting them and misfiring, it does make me think that Horcoff isn’t necessarily out of the woods just because he's getting shots. There are numerous reasons why a good player would have a bad year (injury, change in linemates, being used in different situations, confidence, loss of ability), but I think it’s certainly possible, and these numbers reflect it, that a bad scoring year will show up only as a function of shooting percentage and not shooting rate. I think this makes intuitive sense as well: if a player is struggling, he could start to get the puck off too quick, not having the patience or confidence to make an extra move or to wait the extra moment to get in a better position, he could be floating around the periphery taking shots that he merely hopes find a way. Time will tell if Horcoff matches his impressive scoring rate from last year, and I don’t think there’s any doubt it will improve dramatically from what it is now, but his numbers (probably explained mostly by bad luck and not playing with Hemsky) are nonetheless not inconsistent with predicting a down year.

* The title of a fictional feature film of James Incandenza in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Monday, November 3, 2008

photo 8

Tomorrow this country will elect its first Muslim, socialist President. This kid is stoked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Professional scouting within the NHL, terrible or just inadequate?

The little I know of Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau suggests he’s a pretty good guy and a pretty good coach. A career minor leaguer as both a player and bench boss, he came up to the bigs mid-year last fall and turned around the Caps’ season, making a bunch of good decisions and few poor ones to do so. He was rewarded with Coach of the Year honors and some well-deserved attention. He loves to talk and often has something interesting or funny or both to say about the game and his team. With the Capitals rarely venturing out in Western Canada, giving those folks few opportunities to see Alex Ovechkin in the flesh, Boudreau had a what I imagine was an extended interview session with a swarm of press before last night’s game against the Calgary Flames. The topic of Ovechkin vs. Flames’ rearguard Dion Phaneuf came up (the two play similarly punishing styles and have a history against each other, with Ovechkin famously leveling Phaneuf twice on one shift the last time they met in the NHL). Boudreau said something so unbelievably right-sounding but so unbelievably wrong that I was left shaking my head in disgust and bewilderment:

"I can guarantee they're going to put Phaneuf out on the ice every time Alex is out there," Boudreau said. "We just have to see how that works out. That's what makes Alex, Alex. I don't want to change him."

Anyone who has been paying even a modicum attention to the Calgary Flames for over the past year (which I would hope includes the subset of people who coach a hockey team that is less than 8-hours from playing said Calgary Flames) should know that Phaneuf is not charged with the task of playing against the opponent’s top-line. That task goes to Robyn Regehr and his partner, Cory Sarich. Yes, Phanuef’s quality of competition has improved since he entered the league and he no longer gets third-pair minutes and assignments, but it is clear and incontestable that Regehr is the first choice to play against the other team’s star offensive players. Shouldn’t Bruce Boudreau know that? If the Caps are playing the Flames, shouldn’t at least someone in the Caps’ professional scouting department tell the head coach who Ovechkin is going to face?

Sure enough, Ovechkin did not see much of Phaneuf at even-strength, despite Boudreau’s uninformed prediction. The two were on the ice for only 2.6 of Ovechkin’s 12.7 ES minutes. Ovechkin saw more of 4 other Flames defenseman (Sarich, Regehr, Vendermeer, and Acoin) than Phaneuf. Why aren’t teams spending the 10-minutes it takes to have this information before games? And why is Boudreau making garauntees regarding subjects he clearly knows nothing about? This increases my worry that Nylander will not be getting back with Semin or on the first PP anytime soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

photo 7 for real

Don't doublecross this guy, don't even think it. A prize for whoever can tell me what kind of bird this is. And don't just say the kind with the evil eye.

photo 7

This certainly gives new meaning to the idea of The Lizard King.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alexei Cherepanov R.I.P.

Shocking tragedy struck today as one of hockey’s brightest future stars, Alexei Cherepanov, died during a KHL game in an inglorious and spartan rink in the Moscow suburb of Chekhov. Cherepanov collapsed on the bench late in the third period and went into cardiac arrest. He reportedly lost and regained consciousness numerous times while being tried to be revived and waiting for an ambulance, normally at the arena but for some reason having left the game early, to take him to the hospital. Attempts to resuscitate at a hospital were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 10:55 pm local time. Cherepanov was 19-years old.

Cherepanov burst onto the international stage at the 2007 World Junior Championships, the preeminent junior-aged tournament, featuring future NHL and international stars. Though primarily a tournament for 19-year olds, Cherepanov led the tournament in scoring and was named the best forward by the IIHF. He was 17-years old. He went on to break the scoring record for first-year players in the Russian Super League that season, besting the rookie seasons of current and former Russian NHL superstars like Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Bure, and Fedorov. He was taken in the first-round of the following NHL draft by the New York Rangers, slipping all the way to 17th (largely due to the uncertainty of his moving to North America in the absence of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL) despite being considered among the most talented players in the draft. Following an unspectacular sophomore season in the RSL, Cherepanov began this season playing the best of hockey of his career; he was among the league leaders in scoring and had recently produced the longest consecutive points scoring streak in the league this season (at 9 games, he was finally shut out in the penultimate game of his life). He scored earlier in the game today and was by all accounts playing exceptional hockey. The day before his death saw Cherepanov realize a longtime dream: he was named to the Russian National Team.

I had only seen a handful or so of his games, between two World Junior Championships and some KHL games this season, but it was obvious to me that this was a special player. He had the raw skills necessary, but not merely sufficient, to score prodigiously: a phenomenally powerful shot, slick hands and all the dangles, and the speed to get to get to the puck and away from defenders. But perhaps most dangerously, and most required of true snipers, he had the knack to find the puck, fill the open spaces, and the goal scorer’s will and determination to go the net and finish, often with the panache and style reserved only for the greats. And the joy that both follows from and creates all that. Patrick Kane and Kyle Turris (two players selected before him in his draft) will be great NHL players for many years to come, but I think Cherepanov would have become the better hockey player and the more electric scorer. Of course we'll never know. He may not have been the once-in-a-generation-or-two talent that Ovechkin and Malkin are, but Cherapanov was a special, special hockey player that would have tantalized hockey fans for years and years to come.

Beyond my friends and family, many of my greatest joys come from hockey. And more than cheering for any specific team or outcome, I love watching great players do what they do, dance, create, work, think, feel, spin, move, compete, battle, and ultimately, play a great game. Cherepanov was one of those players who made it easy to spot the joy in his game and who brought the same out in me. Whether it was absolutely wiring the puck off one-timers that went screaming over the net, or finding the puck in his feet and flicking a backhander to the top shelf, Cherepanov played the game in the way that I fell in love with it in the beginning. I am really going to miss all the good times I would have had watching him play in the NHL and beyond. I am deeply saddened by his loss and all of ours.

The circumstances surrounding his death are troubling to say the least. The game was played in a tiny arena 40-miles outside of Moscow. The ambulance that should have been there was not and arrived 15 minutes after Cherepanov went into cardiac arrest. There is a video out there (I will not post here because of just how mind-numbingly sad it is) that shows Cherepanov receiving what looks to be very confused and disorganized medical attention on the bench. Players are looking over him while trainers who do not appear to be doctors look down at him, then up, then around, then back down. There was no stretcher to take him off the bench, rather a group of players carry him into a tunnel with his legs up and in the air and skates dangling limp. It’s a gut-wrenching scene. There are questions as to whether the defibrillators at the scene were working properly. Just outside a city that boasts more millionaires than any other in the world, a 19-year old (a millionaire in his own right) kid’s heart stopped and started several times as he went in and out of consciousness and struggled to live. Was there really nothing anyone could do to save him? Would those 15-minutes have made a difference? Could it really just end like this?

Laurie from Beyond the Blueshirts has done an excellent job in keeping up with Cherepanov's exploits this season, has a translation of Cherepanov's first and last blog entry written last week.

Rest in peace, young Alexei. My thoughts and prayers are with your family, friends and teammates.

UPDATE: A nice look-back on the ways in which Cherepanov was misunderstood as a player and a person by Gare Joyce. We'll never know just how much we lost yesterday.

UPDATE II: NY Times' Slapshot blog has the translation of a very vivid and unbearably sad account of the events from Russian journalists at the game.

Crisis Continued

Two recent pieces on economic goings on from Uncle Noam, neither of course appearing in the mainstream US press, one article from The Irish Times, which includes an interesting discussion of the current US election, the other an interview with Simone Bruno that touches on Obama and McCain as well. He doesn't go into the who-did-what and what-should-the-Tresury-have-done specifics of the meltdown because, I imagine, the broader context is more important. The Cliff Notes stab at it is essentially that the US is a state-capitalist economy (despite the mythology, Ronald Reagan was the most protectionist, anti-free trade US President of the last century), the public subsidizes enormous profit for narrow sectors of society, the financial liberalization that took place around 30 years ago predictably increased the regularity and depth of financial crises, this is largely because financial markets systematically underprice risk (a feature built in to the system), there will inevitably be major reforms of the financial system (including increased regulation), however, the structure underlying the basic institutions will not be changed. As he grimly puts it:
There is no threat to state capitalism. Its core institutions will remain basically unchanged and even unshaken. They may rearrange themselves in various ways with some conglomerates taking over others and some even being semi-nationalized in a weak sense, without infringing much on private monopolization of decision making. Still, as things stand now, property relations and the distribution of power and wealth won't alter much though the era of neoliberalism operative for roughly thirty five years will surely be modified in a significant fashion.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Chomsky offers some important perspective:

"Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," concluded America's leading 20th century social philosopher John Dewey, and will remain so as long as power resides in "business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda".

The United States effectively has a one-party system, the business party, with two factions, Republicans and Democrats. There are differences between them. In his study Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels shows that during the past six decades "real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans, while the real incomes of working-poor families have grown six times as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans".

Differences can be detected in the current election as well. Voters should consider them, but without illusions about the political parties, and with the recognition that consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.

Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An extraordinarily and historically sad day

Our government has dramatically increased the public's subsidization of the banking and financial services industry. A major victory for the business party comes shortly after another one of the coordinated, public-affairs events the business party's warring factions stage quadrennially. Some thoughts from former chief economist of the Senate Banking Committee, Robert Johnson (he also plays a mean guitar):
I think this bill, five weeks before an election, is illustrating for the American people, when there are two currencies of power—votes and money—that even at this time, when the power of votes is at its cyclical high, meaning just before the election, they are almost laughing at the American people, in the—by the nature and structure of this bill. This is a very sad result.


They can, what I would say, use the crisis anxiety of the market fragileness to, how would I say, accomplish their aims on behalf of money and do no service for the public. We have no mortgage relief in this bill whatsoever.


They always say in the headlines now, it was “heads they win, tails you lose,” like that’s something looking backwards. It’s heads, Wall Street won yesterday; tails, the taxpayer lose now. But the structure of this bill, which depends upon buying overpriced assets, means heads, tomorrow, in a recovery, the banking industry wins again, and the population, the taxpayers who supported them in this bill, don’t go with them.


[The bailout] went up by roughly $150 billion for those kinds of special pork-related projects. Now, what you’re seeing is the Congress and the Senate are daring the American people to get mad and throw them out. As David Sirota said in his first book, Hostile Takeover, this isn’t about choosing between Rs and Ds; this is about a bipartisan money machine working against the population. They’re daring you. They’re daring you to turn out in five weeks and, in essence, support challengers against incumbents, because the incumbents are the ones responsible for doing this bill.
John Kenneth Galbraith wasn't kidding when he said, "in America, the only respectable form of socialism is socialism for the rich."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

photo 6 or video 1: the world's first perfect song or how i learned to stop worrying about state-sponsored class warfare and love dogs

Many goings on lately: an absolutely enlightening piece on Democracy Now! about the House's initial failure to pass the inevitable corporate bailout (PS - Bruce Marks is my new homey); NHL heavyweight the NY Rangers miraculously though predictably come from behind to defeat KHL also-ran Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the inaugural Victoria Cup in beautiful Bern (PS - the best KHL teams equal the good NHL teams on big ice and it makes for spectacular hockey); and perhaps most importantly (at least in terms of escapism), a new TV on the Radio album this week (PS - it is phenomenal and not hyperbolic to be deemed the best album I've heard in a long time). Special recognition for my current favorite song of all-time, "Love Dog" ("lonely little love dog, no one knows the name of"): my experimentally clunky yet sincere ode to this ridiculously great song and an even more ridiculous dog:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Foster Wallace R.I.P.

I grew up in a relatively academically demanding home, son of immigrant professionals (one a doctor and the other a rocket-scientist (not a joke) turned lawyer) who did not come from all that much and worked embarrassingly hard (especially in light of my future prayers at the Temple of Taking-It-Easy) to make it in the big show. To ensure their efforts wouldn’t be wasted on a pair of snot-nosed Americans, my brother and I were placed in bumptious private schools that probably cost a bit more than my parents’ disposable income should have allowed at the time but whose admission reserved a seat at the haves’ table later on. Though there were never really any explicit directives or threats as such, it was understood that treating school with anything less than flagellant seriousness was not really an option. That said, and I have often wondered why and how this was the case given this backdrop, I did not grow up reading literature outside of those half-assedly enforced school requirements. This was the case from an early age all the way through high-school and onto college. I mean, I knew how to read, but the 11-year old me didn’t see much point in doing so unless an evaluation of some sort was forthcoming (regular devouring of the LA Times Sports section notwithstanding). Possible explanations I’ve toyed with are that my parents’ science-math bent was somehow passed along – either genetically or culturally – to the detriment of right-brain matter, or that their leniency with regards to how we spent our time resulted in mammoth TV-addictions, or perhaps more cynically that reading for the sake of reading offered more personal development than any tangible, institutional advantage and was consequently not particularly advocated. Or perhaps it was just the interminable slogging through of Ethan Frome and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that turned me off to the written word for a finite period of time. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because I eventually realized that the twirly dance of words and commas and their playings was more my speed than the cold deciphering of numbers and symbols and their nap-time. Deciding, or more appropriately choosing not to make a decision, to go into a line of work in which reading and writing are foundational pillars only reinforced the idea that I best make up for lost time.

It wasn’t too long after I began to take up reading somewhat seriously that I befriended a colleague who shared with me some common interests and a similar landscape against which to view the arts and the world, but who unlike me had been historically rapacious in dealing with the printed word. A slow reading week for this guy would have been the most active month of my life (September 2005). In what was an appreciated yet unequal trade, he introduced me to such heights as Nabokov’s Pale Fire (from which this website’s byline originates) and received in turn the greater purse of my comedic charms and charismatic spillage, along with the presence of ladies (usually very attractive ones) that necessarily flowed. You’re welcome, dogg.

I soon noticed this fellow started carrying around a large book with him to work. This was not out of the ordinary in and of itself, neither was the tome’s textbook-like height or its Byzantine-sized print. When Bookwormy McReadsalot informed me that this was not the first time he was reading this boulder of a door stop, I thought, “strange but not too strange.” But when rather than accompany me on our usual “what are we doing in these jobs, pass the hot sauce” lunches that ease the pain of the work day, I was told that he preferred to eat alone and read his book, well, my cat-like curiosity, not to mention my crippling, dog-like insecurity, demanded to be sated.

The book turned out to be David Foster Wallace’s magnus opus Infinite Jest, a 1,079-page, multi-narrative behemoth delving into the worlds of drug addition, tennis prepatory-academy instruction, Québécois separatism, film, pharmacology, consumerism, and our insatiable quest for entertainment. It is, quite simply, the greatest feat of individual human creativity that I am aware of.

The above claim makes up in foolishness what it lacks in understatement by the fact that I’ve actually only got through its first 200-pages or so. This post had been evolving in my head for over six-months. I stopped reading because the book is so densely packed with subtle conveyances and a writing style and structure so demanding (and consequently giving) that it would take me minutes upon minutes and multiple readings just to get the feeling that I had adequately explored the various content of even a single sentence (the sentences can be around a page in length and often so twistingly complex that they are both "neat"to read and re-read and get lost in, yet at the same time maddeningly frustrating to have to do so). But more than that I stopped reading at a specific scene, a father drunkenly retelling his son the story of the abrupt end of his own tennis career at age 13, “shoes filling with blood” following a race to the net and subsequent stumble. No need to provide an abstract of my much contemplated post (and often argued over with our friend, Bookwormy), but leave it to say a 13-year old cannot achieve a speed, starting at standstill and sprinting for only 30-feet, that would be anywhere near sufficient enough to leave stains of flesh, tissue, and bone on the court, fill his shoes with blood, and end a promising tennis career (And yes, I understand it was a literary device told by an exaggerating, bitter, out of touch father, to convey a certain point, but still…c'mon!). Sadly, the events of about 10-days ago obviated the need for that niggling post and required the current one instead. David Foster Wallace hung himself in his home.

Quite frankly, I am nowhere near a good enough a writer to appropriately convey just how impressive this book is. Wallace, a voracious reader of dictionaries and grammatical treatises, manipulates words and sentence structure with both technical mastery and maniacal perfervidity, in the way Mozart would have likely composed if someone had slipped him some DMT. Wallace bends the rules of writing as only those deeply versed in, and obsessively fanatical of, those rules can. The substantive depths and attention to detail – in feats ranging from providing the complete filmography of an optics engineer turned avant-garde filmmaker, to describing the specific rituals of a16-year old tennis prodigy hiding his weed fix from friends and instructors, to, more broadly, creating a world where years are referred to by their corporate sponsors and disabled, terrorist groups (disabled modifying “groups” and not “terrorists,” as in the Wheelchair Assassins, or Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants) wreak havoc – is stunning.

Wallace was the smartest guy in the room no matter where he stood. To say he was possessed by genius is to misfire on both accounts: his ability to convey and comment on the complexity of our existence and how we perceive it, with sincerity and without pandering or pretention, made other standard-bearer geniuses wildly jealous; yet he was tormented by a deep and profound depression, one so entrenched and commandeering that, it would seem, makes the genetic possession of a fatal disease seem more like a passing cold. Always at odds with his own success, even more so than most who do find themselves in the suddenly unenviable position of being successful, Wallace seemed to obsess over the quality of his own work and his relationship to it, perhaps mimicking the hold his internal demons had over him. It seems medication and even electroshock therapy were not enough to wrestle away control from his brilliant yet unappeasable mind. Though not enough, luckily for us he spilled enough truth on his pages and their footnotes to last a while. And now it’s through with him.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Socializing cost, privatizing profit, screwing everybody

Apparently, there's been something going on with the nation's economy lately. The BBC gave Noam Chomsky very limited time or space to make some broad points, all of which he has written on extensively in the past. Some snippets:
Markets have inherent and well-known inefficiencies. One factor is failure to calculate the costs to those who do not participate in transactions. These "externalities" can be huge. That is particularly true for financial institutions.

Their task is to take risks, calculating potential costs for themselves. But they do not take into account the consequences of their losses for the economy as a whole.

Hence the financial market "underprices risk" and is "systematically inefficient," as John Eatwell and Lance Taylor wrote a decade ago, warning of the extreme dangers of financial liberalization and reviewing the substantial costs already incurred - and also proposing solutions, which have been ignored.
He also discusses the Clinton administration's repeal of the Glass-Steagall act of 1933,
thus freeing financial institutions "to innovate in the new economy," in Clinton's words -- and also "to self-destruct, taking down with them the general economy and international confidence in the US banking system," financial analyst Nomi Prins adds.
The more important point remains, however:
The unprecedented intervention of the Fed may be justified or not in narrow terms, but it reveals, once again, the profoundly undemocratic character of state capitalist institutions, designed in large measure to socialise cost and risk and privatize profit, without a public voice.

That is, of course, not limited to financial markets. The advanced economy as a whole relies heavily on the dynamic state sector, with much the same consequences with regard to risk, cost, profit, and decisions, crucial features of the economy and political system.
And just today Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have agreed to become bank-holding companies subject to tighter regulation, essentially bringing back Glass-Steagall.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


U.S. apologizes for Afghan civilian deaths

"I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition air strikes," Gates said at a news conference outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder."

The U.N. mission said it found "convincing evidence" that 60 children, 15 women and 15 men were killed in the strike.

An initial investigation by the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, released this month, found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants and five to seven civilians were killed.

But when cell phone pictures were later provided to the U.S. military showing dozens of bodies at the scene of the strike, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, asked U.S. Central Command to review the initial investigation.
Damn cell phones.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

photo 5

photo by I.C.

Guzman is off to Brazil this week. No more of these scenes for a while. Vaya con dios, player. Not looking forward to seeing you post-op.

Monday, September 15, 2008

“We can do this now or at camp.”

An excellent, excellent article by Hockey's Future writer, Guy Flaming. A story that's both heart-warming and tragic, it reveals something about how people find closure from tragedy, our sensitivity to public perception, and the productive use of violence in dispute resolution. And how dangerous a sport hockey is. Even if you don't care about hockey (what's wrong with you?) this is a good read.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Snow Leopards Maul Siberian Hawks: the KHL Descends Upon Us

This week saw the first regular reason action of the much anticipated Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL is essentially the old Russian Super League reconstituted with a few new teams from former Soviet republics and, more importantly, an infusion of cash from state sponsored oil giant Gazprom and other psuedo-national, mega-companies that are, apparently, swimming in money compared to just a few years ago. Consequently, the new league is throwing tons of cash at players in Europe and, gasp!, even the NHL, and has already succeeded in stealing star-in-the-making Alexander Radulov away from the Nashville Predators and into the waiting and ruble-filled arms of Salavat Yulayev Ufa. Radulov scored 26-goals as a 21-year old on a defensive team and with little quality power play time. That's wildly impressive. But of course, because he is no longer playing in the NHL, he is by definition a mediocre player. Much in the same way that governments the US supports are by definition "democracies" and those the US opposes are "terrorists." But I digress.

I've always been a fan of the Russian players because of their skills with the puck and offensive creativity: criss-crossing rushes, drop passes, the dipsy-doodles, etc. Much of this comes from the fact that the game, as in all of Europe, is played on a wider ice-surface, meaning there is less collisions with opposing players, more time and space with the puck, less play along the boards, less shots on net, etc. It's a bit of a different game, and I like watching the European game from time to time. The new KHL has accumulated by far the best talent outside of the NHL, including some very good non-Russian players, like Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Rosa, Ray Emrey, Niko Kapanen, Mattias Weinhandl, and Mark Hartigan, to name a few. It should be an interesting season and I plan on posting some recaps and thoughts from the KHL throughout the year.

Up first is the first game for two of my favorite teams, Avangard Omsk vs. Ak Bars Kazan. The grudge match between the always wily Hawks and the ever elegant Snow Leopards. Omsk lies in Siberia and was previously owned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich before he sold to Gazprom. Ak Bars is run by Taftnet, the local oil company, and treasure of the state of Tartarstan. The Tartars are a particularly proud ethnic bunch, I hear. Omsk is led by Jagr who plays on an all Czech line, with former LA King Pavel Rosa (a nifty and highly skilled player, very under-appreciated in NA hockey fan circles) and former Washington Capital Jakub Klepis. Omsk also has NY Ranger draft pick Alexei Cherepanov, who is going to be one of the top scorers in the NHL one day, mark my words. Ak Bars is my team from the lockout year when they loaded up on talent to celebrate the city's 1,000th year anniversary (Russia is an old country) but which ended in failure and a first-round loss. They won the title the following year though (1,001 years is still pretty cool) on the strength of the best line in European hockey for three years now, Alexei Morozov (my former favorite player), Sergei Zinovjev, and Denis Zaripov.

I thought the game was very fast-paced and filled with intensity and obvious skill. Generally, games on the large ice are thought to be more tactical, more of a chess-mass, lots of possession, less "random crazy shit," as I would put it, happening than in an NHL game. But I didn't find that to be the case, for better or worse I'm not sure, in this game. The puck was changing possession constantly, and though there was some serious high end skill, there was also a fair amount of sloppy play. I thought the players were moving too fast for their hands and heads to catch up some of the time, creating turnovers in the neutral zone and at the blue lines. Of course, there were much less hits than an NHL game, but far more dump-ins than I was expecting. I guess when teams line up five defenders at the red line, what can you do?

Jagr looked alot like the Jagr from the beginning of last season on the Rangers. He was controlling the puck well down low, but struggling to create real scoring chances (though he did set up the game's first score). He was, however looking to shoot, like the Jagr of the end of last season, and fired numerous wristers either into the body of former Islanders back-up Wade Dubielewicz or off the back boards. You have to imagine at some point those are going to go in and Jagr should challenge, along with maybe Radulov and Morozov, for the point scoring title. Cherry looked good early but hardly played the second half of the game, with Jagr taking his shifts. Hopefully, it was a minor injury and not some silly head coaching move, but with those wacky Russian coaches, you really never know. As for Ak Bars, Morozov and Zaripov are beautiful together (Zinovjev is out injured it seems). Zaripov scored on an laser beam from the slot (2nd goal in the highlights), a top-level NHL wrist-shot for sure. With the game tied late in the 3rd, it was Morozov time; the captain scored two goals, the first on a slapper down the left wing (don't think I ever saw him do that in a Penguins uniform) and the second on a beautiful set-up from Zaripov which sent the water bottle flying (I highly recommend watching it multiple times). I don't think there's any doubt (and the good NHL GM's know this) that he could put up big points in the right situation in the NHL, but when you see how happy Alexei is after he scores each of the last two, it starts to make sense as to why he's not interested in the NHL anymore (it also makes sense when you consider how much happier his insanely hot wife probably is in Russia). Grigori Shafigulin (who I remember really liking from the 2005 World Junior team) scored on a pretty 3-on-4 shorthanded breakaway, a goal which turned the tide for Kazan. It was a good first effort from what I predict will be two of the top teams in the League. The game, especially the second half, was marred by an endless parade to the penalty box and almost constant and ineffective power plays, often from borderline penalty calls. Hey, maybe the KHL and NHL aren't so different after all?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

photo 4

a solitary laborer in the beautiful countryside outside vang vien, laos. the mountain peering out from the clouds at least arguably resembles a volcano, providing just the scintilla of excuse I need to quote from under the volcano.

And at the next moment, though not before there passed between himself and the doctor a barely perceptible exchange of signals, a tiny symbolic mouthward flick of the wrist on the Consul's side as he glanced up at his bungalow, and upon Vigil's a slight flapping movement of the arms extended apparently in the act of stretching, which meant (in the obscure language known only to major adepts in the Great Brotherhood of Alcohol), "Come up and have a spot when you've finished," "I shouldn't for if I do i shall be 'flying,' but on second thoughts perhaps I will" - it seemed he was back drinking from his bottle of tequila. And, the moment after, that he was drifting slowly and powerfully through the sunlight back toward the bungalow itself. Accompanied by Mr. Quincey's cat, who was following an insect of some sort along his path, the Consul floated in an amber glow. Beyond the house, where now the problems awaiting him seemed already on the point of energetic solution, the day before him stretched out like illimitable rolling wonderful desert in which one was going, though in a delightful way, to be lost: lost, but not so completely he would be unable to find the few necessary waterholes, or the scattered tequila oases where witty legionnaires of damnation who couldn't understand a word he said, would wave him on, replenished, into that glorious Parian wilderness where man never went thirsty, and where now he was drawn on beautifully by the dissolving mirages past the skeletons like frozen wire and the wandering dreaming lions towards ineluctable personal disaster, always in a delightful way of course; the disaster might even be found at the end to contain a certain element of triumph.

Friday, August 22, 2008

foto de la semana 3

it seems that a hectic schedule of pouring bourbon down my throat and staying up late to watch men's indoor volleyball in an effort to escape the harsh realities of the world are going to prevent me from taking post-worthy pictures every week. consequently, this is going to become a semi-monthly feature now (i would say bi-monthly so as to give me the flexibility of posting once every two weeks or once every two months, look it up people, but i think that would just be too confusing, not to mention the easy way out). new (at least new to you) pics will be forthcoming on the first and fifteenth of every month, so come celebrate payday with me. until then, here it is. we are closing out summer soon (how the hell did that happen) and this is nice representation of the oncoming end of a good thing. if you don't wish you were there, man you're someplace sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The powerful and privileged may ignore history and its lessons with impunity. For others, it is not wise to succumb to illusions.

(this title has nothing to do with the post)

this picture got some press from the always morally elevated but more aptly defined as those utilized and paid for by companies to sell products to their readership and consumers, aka the commercial media. the initial reaction was for many, i imagine and confess, one of shock if not a distinct level of outrage. in the vein of, "ah those goddamn spaniards, so backwards, homogeneous, they cant even understand the offense, or are they demasiado arrogant to care?" i thought that and all and then some, and then began thinking about it out loud as i relayed it to a friend. it was as if the verbalization opened up a different, i think deeper, way of understanding.

"ain't it only offensive if there's an implication that there's something wrong, or offensive about, having, or being as represented as having, slanted eyes? isn't there some imputation on the part of the viewer that's required to make the gesture disrespectful/distasteful? can a pure descriptive comment carry any value judgment?" i don't know, i think i'm with the fucking wannabe guineas on this one.

this is the most sensible thing i've read about the olympics thus far.

It wasn't always the case, but these days, in general, public funds spent on Olympic athletes constitute a subsidy for people who have had stable and carefully planned family upbringings, who enjoy inherent genetic advantages over the rest of us and who are likely to go on to success in life whether they win a medal or no. It's the next thing to eugenics, and it makes less sense.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On the Great One

Last Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the trade/sale of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Though just 27-years old at the time, Gretzky was already the most dominant offensive player in the history of the sport, and perhaps more importantly, he was a national icon. People south of the border, and I don't mean Mexico, cannot comprehend the importance of hockey in Canada. Hockey was and still is inextricably twined to Canada's psyche and collective identity. The best way to put it for Americans is to think about our relationship with baseball, football, and the idea of personal freedom, and then add them all up. And multiply by ten. That's hockey in Canada, and Gretzky the figure was the pinnacle of Canadian hockey in 1988.

The trade changed the game forever. And that is to say, it changed the economics of the game. What was once a very regional sport in the US, hockey made its way into the national consciousness. Gretzky wasted little time in peddling every product imaginable as US companies and advertisers saw for the first time a potential use for this strange sport played on ice and by exceedingly simple and polite farm boys from up north. In addition to saving the franchise in LA and giving Hollywood celebrities a reason to visit the Great Western Forum on Saturday nights and not just Sundays (when the Lakers played), Gretzky introduced people throughout the so-called sun belt to the sport, and the owners, never one to pass up the opportunity for tons of easy cash, expanded aggressively in the US and the league grew from 21 teams to 30 in a decade's time. But perhaps most significant, it changed the course of my life. Hockey interest quickly gave way to fandom and then finally obsession. A fun novelty grew into a serious outlet for analytical curiosity and is now a vocational calling that has, surprisingly, gained some traction. I eventually outgrew my fascination (who am I kidding, hero-worship) with the Great One; I moved on to appreciating a different kind of player with a different personality (a little more flair, a little more dangle on both counts), but Gretzky the will always have a soft place in my heart for the great gift of hockey he brought to me. The NHL Network, yes there is such a thing and it’s awesome, replayed a bunch of old Gretzky-games in honor of the anniversary, and I took the opportunity to watch them and revisit the past. Here are a few thoughts:

• It really is mind-boggling that Wayne Gretzky was so good. It almost makes no sense. You often hear people talk about him and say something like, “well, he wasn’t the biggest and he wasn’t the fastest,” and that really distorts the reality of it. Wayne Gretzky was one of the smallest and thinnest players to play the game. And while he may not have been the slowest, I’d bet that he would have lost a goal-line-to-goal-line race with close to half of the players he played with. The guy was about as unsuspecting a physical specimen you’ll ever see. He makes badminton players look like badasses. But there he was, skating circles around some of the biggest, toughest, meanest S.O.B’s you’ll never want to meet, let alone chase you around with a piece of lumber. So how did he do it? Well, when I say he wasn’t particularly fast, it’s true, he wasn't, but he was quick as hell. His first two strides got him close to top speed. And he was very shifty with a turning radius of basically nothing. He could skate at top speed while carrying the puck, never needed to look down while handling it, and had perfected the art of lofting the puck about 4-inches off the ice (over a stick-blade or skate) and making it land perfectly flat, soft like a kitten rolling around down feathers with a ball of yarn in its mouth. But more than anything, Gretzky understood the game better than anybody else. A lot better. He knew (although “knew” may not be the correct word because it implies a degree of sentient consciousness and actions so rapid and effective as Gretzky’s must, on some level, come from other-worldly instinct and intuition) exactly where the puck was going and where he should go to get it or to get open. It’s quite amazing to watch because it actually looks like he’s playing in a different game than everyone else on the ice. It’s almost more fun to watch him when he got a little older (though not too old) because he could no longer beat most players one-on-one and had to instead rely on his smarts and anticipation. It was literally as if he was moving around defenders like marionettes on ice in order to open up passing lanes for an open teammate. Just awesome to watch. I guess when you never have to look down at the ice to pick up the puck and keep it on your stick from the time you’re 13-years old, you’re probably going to be able to do things like that.

• Boy, has the game changed in the last 20 years. Gretzky would never, ever, evah evah have been able to get away with what he was doing back then. Firstly, the guy didn’t play any defense. None. Defense to Gretz was slowly coming back into your own zone and kind of just hanging out in front of the other team’s defensemen and skating in half-circles, before rocketing to the boards to pick up a loose puck, or sprinting to the red-line for a long pass from someone like Kevin Lowe or Jari Kurri (who was the defensive conscious on that line). It’s unbelievable how much that shit wouldn’t fly today. All the things that people decry certain players for doing these days (the victims are almost always Europeans like Jaromir Jagr or Pavel Bure), like not coming back on d, overstaying shifts, just looking for the long lead pass, all that stuff was if not invented then at least perfected by Gretzky. He was the master of all of it. The shift where you spend over a minute in the other team’s zone, puck finally gets sent down the ice, you skate very slowly to your bench looking gassed like you’re going to go off, and then all of a sudden the puck comes back the other way and you’ve got all the energy in the world to skate back on offense again. Classic Gretzky. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a smart move if you’re the Great One (or Jagr or Bure), and I wish the game was played more like that these days. But with the other team taking 35-second shifts and with each of its players in the right position defensively, those types of players are a thing of the past. The game sure has changed.

• I know Kevin Lowe as the Edmonton Oilers GM who’s made some incredibly dumb moves in the last few years: botching the Chris Pronger trade being probably the worst, though his 07 summer of “I’m going to spend a ton of money on someone or be damned!” is fairly close behind it. However, a long time ago, Lowe had a bunch more hair and was a fantastic defenseman. I never realized just how good he was, but watch a couple games from 88 and 89 and he really stands out. He didn’t get a lot of the billing on those teams (having 5 or 6 hall of famers will do that), but he was really good. Steady as a rock, very good skater, some offensive ability, played tough, never seemed to make a mistake. It’s not a coincidence this guy won 6 Stanley Cups. I don’t think he was ever even nominated for a Norris or ever made it on to the Canada Cup teams, but he was a quality first-pairing defenseman. I’m trying to think of a present-day comparable, maybe a better version of Tom Poti, who coincidentally was traded away from the Oilers by Lowe. Poti was a puck rushing offensive guy early in his career but has now morphed into an effective, smooth-skating defensive guy.

• Watching the old games from the time I fell in love with sport takes me back to a special place. It’s just such a great game with such a great culture surrounding it, I struggle to remember a time when it wasn’t a freakishly important part of my life. As my love for hockey has grown and evolved in the last 20 years, I look forward to my relationship with it continuing to change over the course of the next 20 years as well. Becoming a father and being able to share my love and relationship to the game with my child(ren) would perhaps be the pinnacle of this fondness. Whether it’s watching a game or getting on the ice together, being able to use hockey to teach my son or daughter the little I know about life, teamwork, dedication, success, and failure would be a privilege and the culmination of a 20+-year love affair. Thanks, hockey, thanks, Wayne.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

photo of the week 2

i've already broken my promise to include only pics taken in the preceding week. well, let's just say breaking the rules and thinking outside the box is how we do it in this feature. and being too lazy to pick up the camera, apparently. so to make amends, i give you two pics in this installment, both solitary musicians doing their thing, a random accordion player in quebec city and gustav from dungen here in nyc. notice how the secondary figures, the accordionist's shadow in the first and the girl lurking in the background in the second, occupy similar but inverted positions within the frames, their subtlety adding to rather than detracting from the force of the subjects. booyah.

Friday, August 8, 2008

photo of the week 1

this is going to be a new feature here, a new picture taken during the previous week. this one's from the spring, looking inside gramercy park. they'll be more current from here on out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

three meltdowns and one china syndrome

Tang Jie, a 28-year old Chinese graduate student and creator of the popular nationalist video above, discussed a broad range of topics in a recent New Yorker article, including the obvious prevalence of state censorship in his homeland. He noted, "[b]ecause we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed," he said. "We are always eager to get other information from different channels." Then he added, "But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed."

The ramp up to China's momentous showcase of its, inter alia, grand power, wealth, and athletic prowess has brought with it a ton of English language press. The New Yorker, the very best in non-hockey, non-Chomsky reading, has looked at the rapid ascent in the development of China's boxers, while the Times has denuded China's clever solution to the troubling presence of the devastatingly poor that inhabit the cracks of Beijing's colossus: just build a wall over them!

I find much of what's written in the American mainstream on China to be a healthy cocktail of equal parts condescension and ethnocentricity, topped off with a splash of good old fashioned ignorance (and a dash of cointreau). Of course, Chinese rule in Tibet deserves a harsh rebuke and threatens the very existence of the Olympiad, whereas American occupation in Iraq, with a far greater civilian death-toll and an almost complete destruction of civil society, deserves criticism within the noble, intellectual culture only in so far as it costs American lives and affects the American economy.

I'm not a fan of Chinese nationalism in the same way I don't support nationalism of any kind, not to mention the entire idea of nation-states. The only person I've known with a rational justification of patriotism came from a Baltic Republic, a country whose very cultural existence was threatened by its lack of political independence. Maintaining cultural identity, linguistic diversity, religious freedom are all to be respected and valued. Being proud of your community, way to go, bro. But a bias in favor of one's own political leaders and rights over those of another peoples? A cloak for self-interest and alternative to compassion and understanding. Patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels indeed.

It's hard for me to say if Tie Jang and his retinue lean a little closer to the "good" kind of civic pride or the "bad" kind of mindless jingoism that enables rulers and elites to exploit in the name of country. But China, as a non-industrialized and globally uninfluential player over the course of the most recent geopolitical periods, has not given its people too much to cheer about over the last 50 years, singing songs and prayers to Mao notwithstanding. As the Middle Kingdom makes its steady climb towards industrialization and wealth accumulation, the young intellectuals in those obscenely massive urban centers are shunning the glossy enchantment of the West that other countries in similar states of development so hopelessly imbibe (hello, India); rather, they are looking inward and to the past to forge a unique and more concretely Chinese identity, one that appears be accompanied by the manpower and the economic muscle to flex that identity around the world. What does all of this mean? The naive hope in this beaten down corner is that any buttress against US global domination and its very non-democratizing efforts around the world has to be a positive step. The more likely result, however, based on even a cursory examination of the history of world affairs is that it will be business as usual, the names of oppressors slightly changed, but the list of crimes and victims always as long.

Friday, July 25, 2008

garbage goes in garbage can, makes sense

Noam Chomsky offers up some very insightful and succinct answers to thoughtful questions from Vincent Navarro.

Topics range from the strict doctrinal requirements of a free but managed society, the PR campaign that masquerades as a Presidential election, the pressures of consumerism, the history behind American global dominance in world affairs, the joys of a state-based economy, and the possibility of an actual and semi-fledgling International. A brief excerpt has:

One of the reasons for the extraordinary pressure of consumerism, which goes back to the 1920s, is the recognition by the business world that unless it atomizes people, unless it drives them to what it calls the "superficial things of life, such as fashionable consumption," the population may turn on them. Right now, for example, about 80% of the U.S. population believes that the country is, in their words, run by "a few big interests looking out for themselves," not for the benefit of the population. About 95% of the population thinks that the government ought to pay regular attention to public opinion. The degree of alienation from institutions is enormous. As long as people are atomized, worried about maxing out their credit cards, separated from one another, and don't hear serious critical discussion, the ideas can be controlled.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tit for Tat: Equivalent Retaliation as a Lesson for NHL GM’s

Under the current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the tactic of signing a team’s Restricted Free Agents to an offer sheet has already become as prevalent in the most recent two years as the final ten years of the previous agreement. The reasons are probably somewhat debatable, though I would argue it has to do with a combination of: 1) the fact that the unrestricted free agency age has been lowered, creating a more rational salary structure with respect to a player’s output. Younger players are more often signed to long-term, lucrative contracts (cf. Kovalchuk and Nash), which has contributed to the elimination of the cheap “second contract.” Offer sheets are a way of teams extinguishing other teams’ hopes of signing their RFA’s on the cheap. 2) team payrolls are capped at a fixed number, creating a more uniform salary structure across the league and increasing the competition for players. 3) the compensation for acquiring a team’s RFA, draft picks, has been devalued. The mantra coming out of the lockout from hockey executives and writers has been that drafting well is more important than ever. I think this is incorrect. The NHL Entry Draft remains the prime way NHL teams acquire players (free agency and trades coming in way behind), and I’m not suggesting that drafting well isn’t the single most important way to create a good hockey team (of course it is). It’s just less important now than under the old CBA where you kept players until they were older and less effective (31) and where you got to underpay young players coming out of their entry level deals (look at the second contracts signed by Lecavalier and Gaborik and compare them to what Getzlaf and Perrey are making now). The great thing about drafting and developing a player like Patrik Elias, besides having a great player, is that you could sign him for relatively cheap and you kept him throughout his best years. Under the current CBA, it’s still important to draft players like Jeff Carter, but you certainly will not receive a discount when signing him (unless you're Bob Gainey and you have the lure of playing with your brother, and in the greatest city in North America, but I digress), and it’s not totally clear how long you’ll be able to keep him. The first round selection that was used to draft Caeter is probably worth less than now than the second round selection used to draft Elias. This decrease in compensation value makes the offer sheet a more attractive tool for teams to use.

So far, however, while the threat of the offer sheet has had an effect on contract negotiations, Mike Green’s late night June 30th deal for $21M over four years being a good example, the offer sheet itself has seen only limited use under this CBA: Ryan Kesler (matched), Tomas Vanek (matched), Dustin Penner (not matched), David Backes (matched), and Steven Bernier (matched). The last two examples are particularly interesting and I think the fallout could have important implications as to how teams approach the offer sheet process.

The Vancouver Canucks signed St. Blues RFA David Backes to a 3-year/$7.5M offer sheet on July 1st. Backes was coming off a fairly solid season with the Blues as an intimidating power forward (he ranked fifth in the league in hits). He spent most of his even strength time on the second line and saw regular power play action as well. The Blues immediately, and quite predictably, matched the Canucks’ offer sheet, as they were not going to give up a promising forward who is just becoming an effective regular NHL’er for a mere second round draft selection. It’s unclear if Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis actually believed there was a chance he could acquire Backes, or was simply trying to drive up the salary structure of a Western Conference opponent. The Blues kept a player they certainly wanted in the fold, but at a higher price than they wanted, or even felt they needed, to pay. The Blues got their chance for payback less than a week later when the Canucks acquired similarly skilled power forward Steven Bernier from the Buffalo Sabres. St. Louis promptly signed Bernier to a 1-year, $2.5M offer sheet, which the Canucks were forced to match. Let’s look at the counting numbers for the two players, as well as those from other similarly aged power forwards around the league:

It is remarkable how similar Backes and Bernier’s stats are. Their even strength and power play scoring and ice time numbers are almost identical. Backes played against slightly better competition but with better teammates, likely because Bernier was on a deeper San Jose Sharks team and thus saw more third and fourth line duty. Neither player saw much penalty killing time. That their cap hits should be identical ($2.5M) seems appropriate, but the Blues did something very clever in their offer sheet: they signed him to a one-year deal. This means that Bernier will be an RFA again after this year, and with a strong season in Vancouver (where he will likely get top-6 minutes) he could stand to gain a significant raise through either arbitration or the threat of another offer sheet. The Canucks will have to tender a qualifying offer equal to his $2.5M salary and, barring a backwards step in his development, it seems likely that Bernier will get a raise going forward. This is certainly more than what the Canucks would have liked to pay for Bernier. Statistically, Bernier (and Backes) have very similar numbers to Brooks Laich and Andrew Ladd. Laich has better PP scoring numbers than Bernier and Backes, and Laich has shown an ability to effectively kill penalties. Ladd has an edge on even strength scoring statistics over Bernier and Backes. Yet both Laich and Ladd both recently signed contracts at significantly reduced rates compared to the offer sheet duo, Laich for 3-years at a cap hit of $2.07M, and Ladd for 2-years at a hit of $1.5M.

The Canucks’ poaching attempt and the inevitable quid pro quo action by the Blues resulted in an escalation of each team's salary structure, as well as the diminished value of assets in Backes and Bernier (in that their salaries are infalted). Had the Canucks not signed Backes to the offer sheet, Vancouver and St. Louis would have likely retained their players at a significantly reduced cost. I think there’s a lesson to be learned by other GM’s around the league from these actions and their results. Unless a team is up against the salary cap (Anaheim last year), or in some other way financially constrained (needing to hit the midpoint for revenue sharing purposes), teams are going to match any offer sheet for a mid-level player, that is, one in which compensation will be, let's say, a first round selection or less. When Edmonton signed Vanek to a wildly inflated offer sheet, the Sabres had at least a legitimate decision to make in light of the cap space (and real money in their case) required and the fairly significant compensation they would have received (four first round selections). However, offer sheet signings outside these contexts seem only to drive up the costs of retaining players league-wide, with the prospect of eliciting retaliatory moves by other clubs. The Canucks gained nothing from their offer sheet attempt except an inflated price for their own player. Interestingly, they traded away a second and third round selection, yet they would have only received a second round selection had they not matched the Blues offer. Not only did Mike Gillis learn a valuable lesson from this process, one has to imagine other GM’s around the league took note as well. Though I cannot imagine there exists at this point any type of 'unwritten code' around the League that prevents teams from signing RFA's, GM's are going to have to be weary of making moves that may elicit a delterious equivalent retaliation, as this episode demonstrates.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Basically the right amount of Green

Mike Green’s 2007-08 season transcends trite descriptions like “breakthrough” and wades deeper into the infrequent waters of “revelation,” “grandiloquence,” or even the sincere “has that ever happened before?” Green, despite sporting a brutal faux-hawk and speaking in a soft and slow mumble to the point of listener distraction, played his first complete NHL season last year. By the way, he happened to lead NHL defenseman in goals while doing it. That’s an incredible feat. I think Bobby Orr led the league in defenseman goals in his first complete season, but I’m not sure anyone has done it since (I know some true greats like Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch, the two players from recent memory that remind me the most of Mike Green, did not do it).

Mike Green is probably the fastest defenseman in the league while carrying the puck. You know the guy in the beer leagues that leisurely picks up the puck from behind his own net and with a couple big strides moves up ice, head up, weaving in and out of opposing players like a pylon drill before closing in on the net and making one too many moves allowing the goalie to pull off a successful, though desperate, poke-check? That’s Mike Green. Except he’s doing it against NHL players. He combines ridiculous skating ability, I like to call him “crazy legs,” with some high-end puck-handling skills. He has an impressive toe-drag that he isn’t afraid to use on his side of the red line. All of this resulted in an 18-goal, 56-point campaign, several highlight end-to-end rushes (many of which resulted in nothing but open mouths), and the attention of the entire league. With the expiration of his entry-level deal and the ensuing threat of a massive restricted offer sheet this summer (how many teams can hope to draft and develop another Mike Green in the next 10 years?), Green was in line for a huge payday. He got it, to the tune of 4-years and $21-million. Let’s look at how Green compares to some of the other top defensemen in the NHL who have just completed their entry-level deals.

Phaneuf is the gold-standard among a pretty special group here. He has now produced three stellar NHL seasons, was recently nominated for the Norris Trophy, and was only a short while ago discussed in the same breath as Ovechkin and Crosby. Phaneuf had a pretty great season last year, playing a ton of minutes at evens and on both specialty teams. He put up a decent .95 ESP/60 but more than made up for it with an impressive power play scoring rate, 4.45 PPP/60. To put that in perspective, Nick Lidstrom recorded 4.47 PPP/60. Phaneuf also played significant minutes on the PK, and the Flames were better for it when he was on the ice. Phaneuf’s ES Relative Rating is .42, which is good but not great. He played decently tough minutes but with very good teammates (often Iginla and Langkow). Robyn Regehr, on the other hand, also had a Relative Rating of .42, but did so playing tougher comptetion (usually got more of the minutes against the other team’s top line) and with much weaker teammates. Regehr’s 5-year, $20M contract is an absolute steal.

Green’s offensive numbers, driven by his skating rather than a booming shot, are nevertheless pretty comparable to Phaneuf’s. He beat him with a fairly impressive 1.11 ESP/60, but came up well short with 3.28 PPP/60, which is only good for third among this group. This actually makes sense given that Green’s greatest asset, his wheels, is somewhat neutralized on the PP as it is more or less a half-court game. Green got very little PK time, a wise move with the way he clears the front of the net. Green paired with Morrison behind Ovechkin and Co., which explains his high Quality of Competition, higher Quality of Teammates, and ridiculously high CORSI number. Of the remaining four defenseman, none came close to touching Green’s ESP/60. Both Gilbert and Burns put up nice Relative Ratings (.50 and .93, respectively) and, not coincidentally, both of them saw significant time on the PK. Those two can both defend quite well (1.42 and .84). Burns also put up good scoring numbers: .90 at evens (good considering he’s playing for Jacques Lemaire) and 4.15 on the PP. Despite not scoring 18 goals like Green, he does have high-end offensive ability that he has matched with demonstrable defensive acumen. Had he not signed his extension at the beginning of the season and instead waited for July 1 like Green, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have received a contract in the 5M range.

One thing that appears clear from this set of numbers is that teams pay a premium for offense. Tom Gilbert, though facing tougher competition and with worse teammates, still put up respectable ES points (.98). Though he only got 2nd pairing PP time, he still nearly matched Green in output (3.01 to 3.28). Instead, Gilbert played significant PK minutes and played them well (.84 Relative PK rating). He signed his contract only a few months before Green, but got much less money for a longer term ($4M for 6-years) and gave up three years of unrestricted free agency whereas Green gave up none.

I think Green’s contract is more or less appropriate given the market. The Caps clearly weren’t going to get an insane hometown discount like Regehr gave up (it can’t be that nice to live in Calgary, can it?), and so they did well to avoid a $6+M offer sheet, which I can only assume would have, and certainly should have, been coming. My only complaint is the term, four years is pretty short for a defenseman who’s just coming in to his own and who’s going to be a UFA now at the age of 26. Can you imagine what Mike Green is going to be worth on the open market then? What are teams that haven’t had anything resembling a dynamic blue line presence in years (Atlanta, Toronto, the Islanders) going to be willing to pay to sign a player like Green who can single-handedly get the puck going in the right direction?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ladies and gentlemen, the president of the united states of america

remember when you were in grade school and the teacher would be talking about something while you were daydreaming of playing in the superbowl, then all of a sudden she calls out your name, and all you can do is just repeat the last word you heard her say and stammer on and on, stringing words together that seem at least related to the topic, hoping that either the bell will ring or she'll just move on to someone else...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"i sleep on my back 'cuz it's good for the spine... and... coffin rehersal"

apparently, people don't like my thinly veiled and hymnly failed admonishments to take the world more seriously, or at least to pretend to care about the relevant furnishings, ie disparities in knowledge vis-a-vis power, wealth, that make our experiences seem the way they do (read: fucked), feel the way they should not (sad?), and generally gaffle the living and breathing (and requisite heaving) we're subjected to, and so on and so forth, yarr, yarr. fair enough. we are all just, how it's been put, squirrels trying to get a nut. that nut has finally arrived.

the album "alopecia" from the band, formerly the artist, known as why? i thought it was a stupid album name 'till i read the first line of this interview. whatever you do, buy it, steal it, borrow, or gank it, it don't matter, just listen, feel, love, and coo to it.

"stalker's my whole style, and if i get caught i'll, deny deny deny"

i was first turned on to this brash rodomontade through my cool and prescient cousin and his recommendation of the anticon collective, cLOUDDEAD. great things last, but not for very long. and so it was.

"sinking in, laughing at something sunken in, i am"

put simply, alopecia nails it. the perfect follow-up to a mastery of hip-hop-cum-indie-rock genius that elephant eyelash was and is, the weird hair-loss album ratchets up the maturity, cynicism, musicality, instrumentation, production, seduction, and overall beauty. the album, helped by evocations like "sucking dick for drink tickets at the free-bar at my cousin's bat mitzvah" conveys general hopelessness and despair, but the specific content hits on everything from death (repeatedly) to longing, self-loathing, friendship, trust, marriage, god, and back to death. i know guzman's down with at least six of those. best album of the year thus far.

"even though i haven't seen you in years, yours is a funeral, i'd fly to from anywhere"

this is one song from an unbelievable live set from the band. video quality is superlative (multi-camerals, holla!), despite the fact that i can't paste directly here, the best decision you made today is one click away. take the time to watch the other 5 songs as well, and you just might feel as such. and more importantly, get the album. crushed bones may help.

"i'll see you when the sun sets east, don't forget me"