buggin’ out

It really is like a zombie movie. I did my part. I moved to the other side of the country. I made sure to vote, even when I wasn’t enthusiastic. For crying out loud, I even gave some money. The House returned to a Democratic majority, the Senate to an essentially Democratic majority, and then both majorities were expanded as a Democrat was elected President. The GOP, as constituted for the last two decades, has been taking it square in the face for two electoral cycles.

So how is it possible that the Republicans are steadily becoming ever more conservative, ever more redneck, ever more extreme? How is it possible that we can have Republican candidates for Senate openly talking about “second amendment solutions” to “domestic enemies” in Congress? Or saying “climate change doesn’t exist” as decades of data pile up and the average temps rise? Or saying that rape and incest exceptions for abortion aren’t permissible? Or turning over Social Security to some sort of privatization plan – less than three years after the stock market implosion wiped out billions of retirement dollars in 401(k) accounts? Or talking about all the bits of the Consitution they’d like done away with – things like entire amendments like the 16th and 17th? Or doing away with the entire principle that if you’re born here, you’re a citizen?

I’m not talking about message board wingnuts or isolated basement bloggers, I’m talking about duly-elected GOP nominees for high Congressional office. How – when a “liberal” President is pushing things that were the GOP alternative to Democratic plans twenty years ago – how is it possible that they can keep going further off the crazy end?

And since the economy is still stalled, and the wind is at their back – what’s going to happen if they win? What’s going to happen when you get a bunch of Birchers, birthers, tenthers, and other assorted teabag lunatics actually placed in office, convinced they have a popular mandate to do everything they’ve yowled about? And what happens if they actually win control of one chamber of Congress? Or both? How long until a GOP-controlled House of Representatives decides to impeach Obama, just for having the temerity to be elected President and do some of what he said he intended to do?

Here’s what you need to do. Ask your GOP candidates – or elected officials, hell – two simple questions. Do you believe that Barack Obama is a lawfully-elected citizen of the United States legitimately serving as President? and Are you aware of any legitimate grounds on which the current President of the United States might be impeached? If the answer is anything other than “No” then you – we – have a serious problem on our hands.

I’m not being hyperbolic here. I’m not off in some crazy libtard delusion world. I’m going off what’s out there, in the papers, on the “news”, actual reported statements and documented positions. And right now, I’m having a hard time not thinking about what my exit strategy is. Because so far, electoral defeat means nothing – they just keep coming, and getting more insane with every step. At some point, you have to think about saving yourself…any way you can.

flashback, part 20 of n

The peak sports obsession was probably 1991-95. No matter how fixated people think I am now, it’s not like it was fifteen years ago. To wit…

BASEBALL THEN: Obsessive. Atlanta Braves every day, Birmingham Barons twice a week, on top of all major developments and dialed into the minor league situation for the Braves and White Sox alike.

BASEBALL NOW: Eh. Will look in on the Giants once or twice a week, but rarely for a full game. Vaguely aware of the A’s, esp. if it’s a long night and there’s nothing on TV. Will look at the World Series if the Red Sox are in it. Not really sure who the Giants farm teams are. Barons connection limited to a cap.

NFL THEN: Everything, all the time. Redskins obsessive, though unable to see every game. Also a vested interest in the fortunes of (deep breath): Chargers, Saints, Jets, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, and (later) Jaguars and Titans. Watched every preseason game, every instance of Sunday and Monday Night Football, damn near every playoff game. Obsessive scribbling of plans for realignment/expansion of NFL (including something approximating the actual 8-division 32-team form that finally came to pass in 2002).

NFL NOW: Redskins, either on satellite radio or at my dive bar up the road, plus every time they’re on national TV. General interest in the welfare of the Saints (because of my high school connections) and Chargers (family connection or two). Unadulterated loathing for the NFL as an organization and firm conviction that the Super Bowl is to football what St Patricks Day is to real Irish bars.

NBA THEN: Everything, all the time. Suns fan, Blazers fan, could name the starting five of almost every franchise, never missed a playoff game or an NBA on NBC Sunday double-header. Could do a passable Marv Albert impersonation. Had Barkley and Majerle jerseys. Obsessive scribbling of plans for realignment/expansion of NBA with an especial eye toward an eventual team in hometown.

NBA NOW: Vaguely aware of Warriors. Even more vaguely aware of Wizards (via podcast of DC sports show) and Kings (because I know Sacramento is in the area and I know people who root for them). Unable to get stuck into actually paying attention, especially with hated Lakers and hated Celtics in prominence.

NHL THEN: Watched Stanley Cup playoffs to conclusion annually. Also regular attendance at minor-league ECHL games in hometown. Occasional scribbling of realignment/expansion plans to include team in hometown (and possibly maximize presence in Canada along the way). Missed half of own college graduation party in 1994 hunched around TV with friends watching “MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU!!!” game.

NHL NOW: (crickets)*

SOCCER THEN: Watched US team in World Cup.

SOCCER NOW: No longer have access to Celtic, but DVR’d every available game when possible. Still casting about for a team in English Premier League. Watched entire 2010 World Cup obsessively thanks to streaming video at work.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL THEN: Alabama Crimson Tide obsessive. Would watch any D-I game turned on in front of me. Schemed up plans for bowl-based playoff system and conceived experimental “Division IV” for major powers to field non-scholarship one-platoon football teams to replicate old-style football and experiment with rule changes. Wanted Keith Jackson to provide running commentary on my life.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOW: Season tickets for Cal, faithful follower of Vanderbilt, vested interest in Alabama if not full attention. Will watch any D-I game turned on in front of me.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL THEN: Hardcore supporter of undergrad team – pep band, alumni booster club even before graduation, sports editor of campus paper, known as “SF” (for “Super Fan”) by players living in same dorm. Would watch any D-I game turned on in front of me. Obsessive interest in NCAA tournament and NIT.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL NOW: Obsessive follower of Vanderbilt, including alumni gatherings in the city and even a live game vs St Mary’s in 2009 in Moraga. Will be distracted by any D-I game turned on in front of me. Obsessive, all-consuming interest in NCAA tournament, up to and including foolish decisions about buying tickets and attempting to ditch work at the appropriate times to maximize viewing opportunities. Want Gus Johnson to provide commentary on my life.

VIDEO GAME FOOTBALL THEN: Played at the arcade constantly – first Cyberball, then various forms of pre-NFL Blitz. Independently discovered West Coast offense, and subsequently discovered zone blitz to stop it. Kept regular track of results to build possible storylines for intended works of fiction.

VIDEO GAME FOOTBALL NOW: Two or three EA Sports games on iPhone. Download, play once or twice, get frustrated, forget about. Have College Football ’09 for Wii but am equally likely to set up computer to play both sides and then watch, possibly wagering on outcome.

If only they could get one-button football on the iPhone…

* The problem is, I went to see my adopted NHL team play three times in recent years. They lost all three, in increasingly frustrating fashion – and then the same venue hosted Vandy’s awful loss in the tournament. Therefore the NHL is dead to me.


Without further delay, my predictions for the coming year…

1) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. Nowhere to go but down after the most successful season in Crimson Tide history (14-0, a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram, and the first ever defeat of the despised Texas Longhorns – in Pasadena for the title, no less). Still, that Heisman winner returns, along with Rhodes-hopeful QB Greg McElroy, so you have to feel reasonably good about the offense. Defense is a bigger worry, especially with the loss of Terrence “Mount” Cody and all-everything linebacker/assistant defensive coordinator Rolando McClain to that Sunday league. However, Florida is entering year one A.T. (After Tebow), LSU has some major question marks, Tennessee is in shambles…it’s hard to see where the threat is going to come from within the SEC.

PREDICTION: Another conference championship game appearance for certain, although anything else cannot be assumed reliably. Expect at least one upset loss, though probably not to San Jose State or Georgia State (HOW did that game get scheduled? Do they really need to be doing favors for Bill Curry?)

2) VANDERBILT COMMODORES. Nowhere to go but up after a 2-10 season capped by losing the coach two months before the season. Questions at QB (when you have 3 quarterbacks, you REALLY have no quarterbacks) and uncertainty around super sophomore Warren Norman (and Zac Stacy for that matter). Vandy is loaded at tailback and may have a pretty good defensive secondary, but trading the likes of Duke and Rice for Northwestern and Wake isn’t going to make their lives any easier.

PREDICTION: Most first-year coaches at Vandy tend to get lucky somehow; let’s call it 4-8 with at least one quality upset win.

3) CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. The biggest enigma on the list. Will the real Kevin Riley please stand up? Is anyone ready to be the second running back behind Sugar Shane Vereen? Can anyone rush or defend the pass? Will any kickoffs go for touchbacks? And most importantly, does Jeff Tedford have what it takes to exploit a conference whose power hierarchy has been set on tilt-a-whirl by Jeremiah Masoli and the NCAA? In a world where the Washington Huskies are the trendy pick, Jake Locker is a foregone conclusion as the first choice in the 2011 NFL draft, and that crowd in Palo Alto is selling tickets off their thumping of a team Cal hasn’t beaten in six straight tries, the only thing you can bank on in the Pac-10 this year is that the Cougars of Wazzu aren’t going to the Rose Bowl. Everything else is up for grabs.

PREDICTION: I don’t dare. Could be anything from the Doze Troll to 3-9, depending on the breaks, and the fact that they were consensus voted 7th of 10 makes me wary of anything too definite. However, I will say this with confidence: as goes Riley, so goes this team, especially in the absence of any convincing alternative at QB.

4) WASHINGTON REDSKINS. Let’s see: they’ve nailed down QB solidly for the first time in two decades, they have a non-idiot running the front office, and they have somebody with an IQ above room temperature as head coach. That right there should be worth three wins. However, even if you predict 7-9, it’s hard to look up and down the schedule and figure where the seven will come from when they have to play Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota out of conference. Their best hope is that Hollywood Jay Cutler starts spraying INTs all over the field, that the wheels finally come off Princess Favre in spectacular fashion…and that Aaron Rodgers will take pity on the cries of “Not in the face!”

PREDICTION: 8-8, based largely on a dream of .500 in the division and the thought that they can’t possibly lose to Detroit, St Louis AND Jacksonville in the same year. Plus a couple of breaks from God to make up for the nightmare decade of Steve Superior, Vinny Cerrato, Jim Zorn and the tragedy of Sean Taylor (RIP 21). I mean, we’re entitled to a little luck at some point…

5) By mid-October, I’ll wish I hadn’t cancelled Fox Soccer Plus.

flashback, part 19 of n

I didn’t have a job the summer between college and grad school. I was busy swapping out all my undergrad stuff for Vandy-issue black and gold – that is, when I wasn’t watching the World Cup or trying out my new Power Mac 6100…or going to Barons games.

It was the perfect storm. I was 22, I was fixated on all things sports, and my best friend from high school had a dad in local government in Hoover – right where the Birmingham Barons played. Which means that for an entire summer, I had premium seating to watch rookie Baron right fielder Michael Jordan.

There are a couple of things people don’t realize about that team and that season:

1) The Hoover Met, in 1994, was very nearly an un-leavable yard. In the pre-steroid age, a classic round-symmetric park was a tough enough thing to hit out of without being positioned with the prevailing wind blowing in.

2) The 1993 Barons won the Southern League pennant going away – and more or less the entire roster got called up to triple-A Nashville. So what rolled into Birmingham in April of 1994 was, essentially, a single-A ballclub plus a three-time NBA champion off-guard.

There’s no real way to dress up a .202 batting average, but the three total home runs don’t look as bad in retrospect. The thing that really stands out, though, are 50 RBI – and a team-leading 30 steals. And the guy I watched from behind the first-base bullpen didn’t look like he was going anything less than all-out. This wasn’t a guy on an extended fantasy-camp outing, this was a guy with something to prove to himself.

I was more than thrilled to have the Bulls knock off the hated Lakers in ’91, but I was rooting hard for Portland in ’92 and Phoenix in ’93, so I wasn’t really a Jordan fan by any stretch of the imagination. But after 1994, I respected the hell out of him.

Flashback, part 18 of n

All through 1993, you could feel things changing. January – Democratic President for the first time since I was in third grade. February – moved on to my fifth roommate in three years in undergrad. March – 13 inches of snow and preachers on the radio trying to assure their listeners that the blizzard was not God’s judgement. April – my first grad school official visit, to Emory (how different would things have been had I been apprenticed to Abramowitz?) and in May – the delivery of the 1993 Saturn SC2, aquamarine, that would eventually become Danny and would someday finish its career parked on a side street in Silicon Valley. But I digress.

June was change, but the wrong kind – I was back to the produce cooler. Yup, three years of undergrad at what was allegedly the finest institution of higher learning in the state and I was right back to doing the same job I did in the summer between tenth and eleventh grade. I didn’t have a lick of sense, of course; I should have been scrounging for a temp agency that could give me a nice air-conditioned berth in front of a PC (yes, folks, in 1993 I still had yet to become a Mac user) but instead I was right back to stacking bananas – at least we no longer shrink-wrapped a dozen cases of iceberg lettuce every morning.

This was the year that I went all-in on the NFL preseason for the first time. My collection of hats and jerseys and Nikes was starting to hit critical mass, and a family vacation to the Smokies was spent perusing NFL preview magazines and looking in on any and every preseason game ESPN aired. My beloved Redskins were looking at their first season After Gibbs, but nobody was worried – Richie Pettitbone, master of defense, was taking the controls and everything looked to be A-OK.*

I guess I never really paid attention to the NFL. The first Super Bowl I remember being cognizant of was when the Redskins beat the Dolphins, but I don’t remember watching it – that didn’t happen until the Super Bowl Shuffle-era Chicago Bears made a big enough splash that even a skinny nerd knew who the Fridge was (even if I had no idea what position he played – confusion made worse whenever Ditka lined him up as a running back).

The really funny thing was that this was right about the time that the Indigo Girls album “Rites of Passage” finally showed up in my collection. I was a little behind, obviously, but I was banging that tape through the Walkman on a loop for most of the summer, largely because “Ghost” was evocative – for the obvious reasons, but ones made worse by the fact that I was sending letters back and forth with the girl who would become Horrible. Yes, I was still technically with She Whose Name We Do Not Speak (and I was on that tip YEARS before J. K. Rowling), but She was working on the summer theater program in town and busily laying pipe with a stagehand while I was feeling guilty about how good it felt to get a letter back, so in retrospect I regret none of my conduct. Obviously I regret ever getting entangled with Horrible, but that’s a whole separate decade of sending a therapist’s kids to Harvard on a jewel-encrusted camel.

August 1993 was the first time it really occurred to me that you could go up in the mountains, someplace green and leafy, and it wasn’t nearly as godawful hot. It was a revelation almost as transforming as the 2002 realization that you could do that at sea level if only you went to Silicon Valley…

So there it is. Calm before the storm, more or less, or the lull waiting for the regeneration to finish maybe. By August, I would be out of the produce and working for the Dean’s office, ramping up for senior year – which was more eventful than the previous three years combined, but that’s another story altogether.

* A-OK = 4-12. Disastrous. Of course, the Skins turned in the same record this past season, so you can see what kind of decade(s) we’ve had…


I handed over my netbook to my father-in-law this week. As a retired 31-year IBM lifer, he has the time, the skill set, and the patience to mess around with it, which puts him three ahead of me.

What I found in the six months I donked around with it was that in the grand scheme of things, I rarely used it for anything but web surfing. I never found a really satisfactory blogging client for it, which was one of the big incentives to have it, and the advent of FaceTime has severely undercut the argument for needing the webcam for long-distance teleconferencing (which i literally used maybe once the whole time I had it).

The bigger problem, though, it that it was just weak. 1 GB of RAM being pushed by a 1.6 Ghz Atom processor isn’t exactly crazy horsepower. Video playback was damn near worthless; I tried but it took some seriously messed-up configuring to get Hulu to work – even when I booted back into XP, what I got was more slideshow than video. It was adequate at video playback for local files, but not in a compelling fashion, especially given the limited battery life.

What I realize now is that in every way other than text entry, for my needs and purposes, the iPhone 4 basically kicks the shit out of the typical netbook. Maybe this is because the netbook was largely underpowered when it first hit in 2008 and hasn’t really moved very far since. Maybe it’s just asking too much to compromise the hardware and still get a viable desktop-OS experience. Maybe this explains why Apple scaled the iPhone OS up instead of scaling Mac OS X down. And most of all, maybe this explains why everybody’s talking up Android tablets as the iPad killer, and ignoring existing devices that cost half as much.

Ultimately, though, the iPad isn’t getting it done for me either. It delivers improvements in text input, and the screen is far easier to handle books, PDF and video on, but those aren’t enough to rate having to carry a bag. I might consider the new Kindle for travel – I’m far more likely to read and listen to podcasts than I am to try to watch my own video content – and if I lost my job tomorrow, I would certainly look at an iPad rather than a new MacBook, now that we have the known good Mac mini upstairs.

I think what the iPad really is, in the end, is the first salvo of the notebook-replacement wars. There were tablets before, and netbooks, but the iPad is Apple’s way of hitting the beach with “we’re going to forcibly change the paradigm of portable computing.” The same way there were computers with USB ports before, or MP3 players before, or smartphones before, Apple’s going to burn a lot of money and advertising to push a new technology in a way that makes people want to try it out. The early adopters sink a ton of cash and get abused mercilessly in the press, the geek elite rolls its eyes endlessly (“No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.”) and a rev later, everybody else is building an “iPad killer.”

And when the day comes, I’ll probably give them a look too. Android 3 on a reasonably good hardware tablet might just be an iPad-breaker; the licensing model for a Wi-Fi tablet is a lot more promising than having to deal with carrier bullshit. I’m sure the usual suspects have something on the way; if Dell is pushing a 5″ tablet-with-phone now, I’m sure they’ll have their “iPad killer” out by Christmas, and of course there’s the Cisco Cius next year.

But for now, the shortcomings of the iPhone 4 aren’t enough to validate the monetary outlay to cover them. It’s not worth $200 for a bigger screen to look at text, let alone $500 and up. Back to “wait-and-see” – and, of course, trucking home with the work laptop every night for blogging…

Fruit Basket Turnover

So BYU reacts to its Pac-10 snub by taking its ball and leaving the MWC to go…independent. Well, not entirely. They’re back to the old WAC for everything but football, but in football, they’re going to try to go it alone. This is actually not a bad move for them, as they can play a bunch of WAC-level teams, add in a few mildly improved competitors, and have a Boise State-type situation almost every year where they can keep themselves in the BCS picture with a minimum of effort.

I can’t think Boise is thrilled with how things worked out – the two biggest-ticket teams in the MWC have flown the coop, leaving them in a conference that’s not that much better than what they left. However, the MWC tonight has backfilled their empties with Fresno State and Nevada, two programs that while hardly national powers are still teams you don’t want to find on your Homecoming docket. Add them to a conference with Boise State and TCU, plus the don’t-look-past-them of Air Force and the not-to-be-taken-lightly of Colorado State and San Diego State – hell’s bells, the new-look Mountain West is at least as legit as the Big East or ACC, and far more so than the forthcoming Texas Ten, when it comes time to hand out BCS berths.

This is a good move. It sends BYU out to play in the traffic, which is fine by me, and reorganizes what’s left of the MWC and WAC into one pretty damn capable football conference. The flip side is that the WAC no longer has enough teams to exist as a football league – they have six, and the rules say you need eight. I fully expect a daylight raid on Conference USA any minute now, which will in turn raid the Sun Belt, which will in turn try to make some sort of arrangement (does Georgia State need a conference affiliation?) and POP goes the weasel. The part of the weasel, as always, will be played by the BCS.

Here’s the thing…

I could pass. I’m white, male, straight, of more or less average appearance (and with something approaching a mutant power of perception filtering to disappear in a crowd). If I just kept my mouth shut and went right along, there would be nothing at all to distinguish me from the vast army of middle-class hicks that populate the Hookworm Belt one step up from the trailer park. Hell, I did pass. I spent most of eighth grade slouching and slurring and using words like “hisself” that I knew goddamn well weren’t within a thousand miles of correct English. And I did it to try to get by. 1986 was the worst year of my life that didn’t involve death.

If I were willing to just switch off my brain, I could go along and get along just fine and nobody would be the wiser. I don’t have to be the kind of weirdo I was in elementary school, or the outcast I was in undergrad. I was a minority – not a patch on people with different skin color or sexuality, but definitely not normal – from the worst place in America not to be normal. But I could get by without a peep.

All I have to do is acquiesce.

When in fact, I want just the opposite. I want to rage out. I want my team to impose its views on the minority. I want Tennessee fans to be too terrified to set foot on the BART to Berkeley and I want people scared to put “Yes On 8” stickers on their car for fear of the eggs and rocks and I want listening to AM talk radio to be regarded as a deviance on par with kiddie porn. But that doesn’t happen, because we have to be tolerant of those who have different beliefs and we have to respect diversity even when it wants to round us up and put us in camps.

Just once, before I die, I’d love to see a time when bigotry, ignorance and just plain asshole stop being treated as valid points of view and start being regarded for what they are – deviant behavior. This is why I make a piss-poor liberal, and why I know the Alabama DNA is too tightly woven around my brainstem to ever be truly overcome. I don’t want to escape, I don’t want my freedom, I don’t want peace and quiet, I don’t want to just walk away – I want revenge.