Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl Preview

I don't know why I write about sports and politics, since talented writers make a living writing about these subjects. OK, I just lied. I do know why I write about sports and politics. Because I want to. That's why.

Before I make my official prediction, I'm going to break down the game for you. By the way, it cracks me up when sportswriters announce that they won't be making their prediction until later in the week. You know, once the facts are all in.

There are four possible scenarios in this game. I say "four," because I have just enough time to describe four scenarios. If I get long-winded, this number may change to "three" or "two," but you won't know any better because I have word-processing capabilities that include, but are not limited to, editing.

Factoids that all serious football fans are sick of

* Pittsburgh is favored to win by 7 points over Arizona.
* Pittsburgh has a great defense -- best in the league -- and they're especially good against the run and at pressuring the quarterback. They have a good offense with a line that's struggled at times this season.
* Arizona has a very good passing offense and a so-so running game. They have a good defense that's been playing reasonably well lately.

Scenario 1 - Pittsburgh Rout

This will most likely happen if the Steelers pass rush gets to Kurt Warner. The effectiveness of the Steelers pash rush is the single most important factor in this game. I should know, because I played flag football on a college intramural team. When Warner has time to throw, he's as good as any quarterback who's ever played the game. When the pash rush is getting to Warner, he's as bad as any quarterback who's ever played the game, at least in terms of fumbling.

So if you see Warner getting hit on nearly every play, and if you see him fumbling a lot, this scenario is likely. And on the other side of the ball, if the Steelers' offense moves the ball and forces the Cardinals to over-pursue, it's over. But if Warner is standing back in the pocket and waiting for his receivers to get open, and the Steelers offense is merely good, no routing will take place. At least not by Pittsburgh.

Scenario 2 - Arizona Rout

Unlikely. Even if they manage to get a decent lead in the first half, Pittsburgh is just too good to get blown out by Arizona. Of course, I would have said that when Arizona played Carolina a few weeks ago, but you don't want sportswriters to hem and haw and on-the-other-hand. You want us to give bold assertions! And by "us" I mean sportswriters.

Scenario 3 - Close Pittsburgh win

I think this is the most likely scenario, which is why I put it at the 3 spot. I think the Cardinals' offense matches up pretty well against the Steelers' defense, and they'll likely score a few touchdowns but cough up a few key turnovers. The Steelers' quarterback, Ben Roethlesburger, who's name I spelled either correctly or incorrectly from memory, doesn't have a history of playing well in big games, but he does have a history of winning them ugly, as any Seahawk or Raven fan will attest. I think he'll make enough plays against the Cardinals' defense to win.

Scenario 4 - Close Arizona win

Arizona could win this game in the same way the Giants beat the superior team last year. They could do one thing very well to take the opponent out of their game enough to keep it close, and then a few unknown players could make spectacular plays in the fourth quarter. In the Giants-Pats game, the Giants' defensive line destroyed the Patriots' offensive line. And then a fifth-string receiver scored a touchdown and made the incredible "Helmet Catch" in the fourth quarter.

In this game, the Cardinals could score a couple of touchdowns on special teams, or the offensive line could neutralize the Steelers's front 7, and some slot receiver could end up making several big catches.

I don't know. I'll find out during the game.

Personal Game Plan

I will be making seven-layer dip. Wendy will be making hot wings and homemade bread. Andy, who has been researching "humanity's interest in sporting activities," has decided to strip down to his waist and paint his torso in Cardinals' red. I'll lay out newspapers for him to sit on the couch. Stan will cheer mightily for the Steelers because he found out that I'm rooting for the Cardinals. Grey will be biding her time, waiting for a post-game poker rematch. Minette will be in Oregon. Others will attend as well, but I'm going to be focused on the game in general, and the Cardinals' offensive line in particular.


Steelers 25 Cardinals 19

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Phase

Luke and Max are now five years old, as they'll be happy to report if you ask them. The fact that they are becoming so self-contained has been startling to me. It's like I have a part of my pre-children life back. Although it hasn't been an instantaneous change, like some of the other transitions, the new phase is noticeable. Here are the other major transitions:

3 weeks - We settled into a rhythm that made us believe it was possible to keep the two children alive without completely losing our sanity. It was still round-the-clock work, but we were able to take showers and get a few other 4- to 7-minute breaks. I think I even went on a bike ride around this time.

3 months - This is when we started being able to sleep in blocks of 2 to 3 hours.

1 year - Both boys were walking and saying words. It wasn't such a big deal for one spouse to abandon the other spouse for a day, although the spouse staying home was wiped out at the end of the day.

2 1/2 years - I don't remember exactly when it happened, but Wendy and I made the brilliant decision to alternate putting the boys down at night. It was actually easier for me to put the boys down by myself because they weren't constantly fighting -- "No, Mommy brushes my teeth! Mommy!" And on the nights when Wendy put the boys down, I could kick my legs up on the coffee table and work my remote control magic.

5 years - If I came home from work early last year, ka-blam! I had stuff to do. Now, the boys might be so absorbed in some game they're playing that they barely acknowledge me. The other night, I picked up a book and read for a half hour! On weekends, if Wendy goes out to a movie, the boys might decide to play with Legos, which means I can go in a different room and read or work on my newest dance moves.

This new phase is not without its problems. Sometimes the boys creep downstairs after they've been put to bed, so one of us has to put them down all over again. So last night, when it was my turn to put them down, I urged them to stay in bed. I swear on my neighbor's cat's freshly dug grave that this exact conversation took place.

Me: "Night night!! Don't let the bed bugs bite! Stay in your beds!"

Luke: "I'm nocturnal. Not diurnal. Nocturnal!"

Me: "No! You're diurnal! Stay in bed. Go to sleep!"

Yes, the boys use the words nocturnal and diurnal properly. It's because of Minette.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Blue Cut Rocks!

Some of you who actually know me may recall that we moved away from Seattle back in 2002 to live close to Wendy's sister's family. We lived there for three years, and then we moved back to Seattle.

I miss living close to their family. I've written about them on my old blog, and I know I mentioned them a few times on this blog. Anyway, there is a CBS "family-faceoff" contest in which the winner gets to play live on the CBS morning show. Here's their entry:

It's a catchy tune, don't you think? My only regret is that I wasn't there to dance and play the tambourine. In fact, I'm angry about the exclusion. So I've decided that I'm going to sing "Paper Steak" with Luke and Max (Wendy, you play the cowbell, m'kay?), and we're going to make our own entry. I just hope the two families are on opposite sides of the bracket, so that we can meet in the finals.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Race

When Barack Obama was elected, I was disappointed with all the chatter about the fact that he's an African American. For me, that was a minor issue by comparison. The key issue was that a grown-up was going to be president. I don't think Obama is some kind of savior who can work miracles. As I've mentioned before, I think we're in a depression that's going to last years. And I have no idea what's going to happen in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, Obama is articulate and has the right kind of intelligence to lead. When he talks, he doesn't make me to throw a shoe at the television.

Yesterday, while watching the inauguration, I finally started thinking about the significance of race. When Wendy mentioned that Obama was the first black president, Luke thought it was hilarious that she called him black. "He's brown!" That got me wondering how Luke and Max are going to think about race in general and black people in particular.

I grew up with racist notions. Don't get me wrong. I'm not an extreme skinhead-type racist. Still, if a black person were running for president in the 70s, there is no way I would have wanted him to win, and as sad as it sounds nowadays, the idea of a black person being in the white house would have bothered me.

As our society and I have became more liberal-minded in terms of race, I've tried to check my racist notions. While political correctness causes resentment, knowing that I have unfair racist tendencies makes me suspicious of any thought I have about race. For example, I genuinely believe that a disproportionate number of Asians are terrible drivers. I'm fairly certain I arrived at that conclusion on my own, and laughed when I heard someone else mention it. (Of course, it's also possible that I heard it first, and the notion worked its way into my system without my realizing it. The brain is a tricky organ.)

So when I see a car half parked and backing up into an intersection with the wrong blinker on, is it racist for me to say, "Yup, Asian"? Probably. Would insurance companies raise the rates of Asian drivers if they could? I dunno. I digress.

The point I want to get at is that we've come a long way in overcoming racism. The fact that a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama was elected president is a powerful symbol. And for me, the fact that I've worked out my racist issues enough to root for, caucus for, donate to, and vote for Barack Obama is a sign of progress.

Or maybe I just hate Texans.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top 5 Lessons from the Bush Administration

In six more days, George W. Bush will no longer be the President of the United States.


There was a time when people actually got upset if you bashed Bush, but those times are long gone. When a host of key members of the Republican party – an outfit that derives much of its power by dropping their differences with each other and uniting for the good of the party – bash Bush, you know a guy is a miserable screw-up. As Lee J. Cobb said, "You can throw out all the other evidence!"

For now, I'll just ignore the "Bin Laden Determined..." and "We do not torture" and "grave and growing threat" and "Helluva job, Brownie" and "The fundamentals of the economy are sound" tidbits, and I'll ignore all the ugly secrecy and blatant incompetence and insane debt tallies, and I'll get straight to the issue at hand: What have we learned?

1. In some cases, there is a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans

Back in the 80s and 90s, I heard well-educated friends say they weren't going to vote because there aren't any significant differences between the parties. Ralph Nader relied on this misunderstanding to nab a few key percentage points from Al Gore, tipping the election to the wildly ill-prepared George W. Bush.

In the past, a much stronger case could be made for this sentiment. The country wouldn't have been that different had Mondale defeated Reagan in '84 or had Dole defeated Clinton in '96. Issues like business vs. environment or unions vs. corporations would have had the balance tipped slightly in one direction or other, but it's hard to imagine the country being significantly different under, say, Bob Dole from '96 to 2000.

George W. Bush and his Mayberry Machiavellis shattered this notion, at least for now. The Republican primaries in 2000 scared me enough to make politics a personal obsession. I'm sorry to say that I was right about Bush. And so was The Onion. They wrote this in 2001, a few days before Bush was inaugurated. Please read it -- it's worth the time -- and then come back. I'm not done.

2. A puppet leader can sometimes take the strings away

There was a common sentiment back around the 2000 election that it's fine if Bush is out of his depth. Republicans are sane and responsible, and Bush will have no choice but to surround himself with capable leaders. I even comforted myself with this logic.

The problem is that Bush is a more forceful leader than anyone expected. He was able to impose his will. He and Cheney were able to purge the government of capable workers like Richard Clarke and fill the spots with a bunch of creepy yes men like Alberto Gonzalez.

3. Democrats make a lousy opposition party

John Kerry, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton all vote to give Bush the power to go to war. Weenies. They didn't realize that when someone like Dubya is the leader, united we fall, divided we stand.

4. No matter how much damage bad Republican leaders can inflict, they still get half of the country's votes

The same could be said of Democrats, of course, but I'm talking about lessons we learned from the Bush Era. After Bush ran the country into the ground in several ways, and after the economy collapsed during the bumbling McCain campaign, the Republicans still got 47% of the votes. Almost half.

I think it all comes down to social issues. When I was a teenager, it was infuriatingly difficult to see a woman's bare breasts anywhere. I had to rely on my imagination while scanning the underwear section of the Sears catalog, or every now and then a friend would score a Playboy. Now I can turn on the television in the middle of the day and see nudity, and we're not even getting HBO or Showtime. It's fantastic!

But some people don't think so. Some people think that instead of being appropriately ashamed of themselves, homos have the gall to try to get married. And with all these navel piercings and tattoos and premarital sex, who's going to stop all this?

The Republicans. That's who. At least that's the claim.

5. Freedom Is Just Another Word for Nothin'-Left-to-Lose

One of the premises our country is founded on is that we need a system of checks and balances in order to prevent any individual or group from taking too much power. Our country's foundation made what happened to Germany when the Nazi party took power seem impossible in our country.

Now, I'm not so sure. For the first time in my life, I think it's possible for one party to become controlled by its lunatic fringe, take power, undo the system of balances, and turn our country into a banana republic.

I know, I know. This blog is depressing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Photographic Evidence

I just discovered a great set of tools created by Microsoft. Granted, I'm not a big Microsoft fan, after having worked at WordPerfect and Novell, both of which were run into the ground by the powerful Microsoft machinery. Before I get caught up in a long, depressing digression about Microsoft's thuggish behavior in the 90s, I wanted to compliment them.

The Windows Live products are excellent (and free). In particular, Windows Live Writer is a great blogging tool. I've written blogs using several different tools, and all of them have limitations. MSN Spaces wouldn't let me embed YouTube clips, and Blogger makes it difficult to insert pictures. It basically forces you to include only one picture at the top of a blog entry. Of course, I can add pictures using HTML code, but that's a hassle. Windows Live fixes that.

Here, I'll prove it. Here's a set of photos that Wendy took of Luke and Max after they got fancy new suits. Luke breaks down.


Both kids are happy at first.


Mugging for the camera.


Wendy said, "Look handsome." This is what they came up with.


Something wasn't quite fair...


And when something isn't fair...






"Look, just don't toy with my emotions like that. Got it?"

All I had to do was choose Insert > Picture, choose the image, and click OK. That's how it should be. No HTML code, no figuring out pixel sizes.

Thanks, Microsoft. Now please fix Word and send a rebate out to anyone who foolishly bought Vista, and we'll be on speaking terms again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Neighbor Friend

I have a nosy neighbor who happens to be a chatterbox. If you ask her a simple question, you're going to get an answer that takes her 10 to 15 minutes to roll out. In fact, if I took out a stopwatch, clicked it, and set it on the table, it wouldn't faze her. She'd just keep talking. If she knows something about the subject, she tells you everything she knows. If she doesn't know about the subject, she explains in scattershot detail why she doesn't know it.

I like her. Every neighborhood needs a nosy chatterbox. I just can't spend more than a half hour with her -- roughly two subjects -- before I feel like I'm stuck in the middle of a pew, and the droning speaker announces that his message is so important that he's going to extend the meeting.

The chatterbox is married to a -- surprise! -- soft-spoken guy. He's a huge Buffalo Bills fan, and he plays bass guitar in a struggling band that does covers of Russian rock songs. One day, in early December, he brought his son over to play with our boys. He and I were drinking beer and quietly watching a football game when his wife and Wendy came into the room.

"Wow! Would you look at that! What is that? A Christmas village? How long did it take you to put that together? Hey, [husband's name], why don't we do something like that? We're never organized enough to do something like that . . ."

She went on to talk for another ten or fifteen minutes about their family's shortcomings in terms of Christmas decorations. All the husband did was shrug every few minutes. She turned to me.

"You've probably already bought Wendy her Christmas present, haven't you?"

"Yes. I bought it in April," I deadpanned.

"See? [Husband's name] always waits until the last minute-"

"Whoa," I said. "Hold on. I was joking."

"Why are you men like that? The boyfriend I had before this one did the exact same thing. I looked at the receipt for a birthday gift he'd gotten me, and it was the same day as my birthday! The exact same day!"

The husband closed his eyes and took a long swig from his beer. I didn't know how to respond. I could have continued the sarcasm: "Good thing you dumped that loser." I could have asked what was on my mind: "Why were you looking at the receipt date in the first place? Who does that?" Instead, I just sat there.

She kept talking.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Post!

I have to write a new web log entry because that last one is a stinker. I actually wrote a bunch more that ended up being too personal and too whiny, so I deleted it. We're all safe and healthy in our house, and one of us still has a job, so why complain? It does bother me that excess becomes the norm and is therefore expected, so we're going to struggle for a bit while a new norm is established. So what?

So what should I write about? My practice swing is still rock solid, even though I'm releasing my hips too soon, resulting in a loss of power. I'm still pounding 300-yard imaginary drives, so there's not much more to say about that.

This blog is experiencing a death rattle. Is there a term for that? Maybe eDeathRattle. You know a blog is hurting when the author talks about blogging.

I could write about losing a long-time friend over something he did a few months ago, but that's too personal. Hmm.

Oh, the Colts lost, just as I expected. The night they played, I set up a date with Wendy so I wouldn't have to watch the game. We went and saw the Seattle Symphony perform Beethoven's Ninth. On the way home, I turned on the radio and ended up hearing, "The Colts went out on a nine-game win streak." I watched just enough highlights to torment myself. That night, with the triumphant Ode to Joy refrain in my head, I kept thinking about Peyton Manning completing a pass on third down to steal the game. Instead, he pump faked and got sacked. I'd try to put it out of my mind, and think about more pleasant thoughts, like mutual funds, and then wham -- I'd bolt wide awake and see Manning's happy feet in my mind's eye.

There. Now that's a blog entry.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This Depression Is Depressing

People are starting to call this economic downturn a "depression" instead of a "recession." I'm staring at a newly constructed office building that should be humming with activity, but is still totally vacant. Everyone is pulling back, which means no one is buying as much as they used to, which means companies are laying off people, which means a hefty chunk of people don't have money to buy things, and down we go.

It's a problem that this is a problem. We shouldn't have to expect double-digit growth. In my mind, economic growth should mirror population growth, or slightly exceed it. Any excess should be treated as such -- excess. It's a good thing I've never studied macro-economics, or I'm fairly convinced I'd berate myself for writing such idealistic nonsense.

Anyway, if you notice that I don't blog as often as usual, you know the reason. I'm trying to save money.