Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Also speaking of injuries -- Carson Palmer is back!!! I just wrote about my own ACL injuries. Palmer is setting the all-time pace for recovery from reconstructive surgery. There is no way that he has the same speed -- the reaction time in his muscles -- and the strength he had before. There will be constant swelling for months to come. Stability has to be a question because his new ligament is still rebuilding itself at this point. Unless doctors have completely underestimated the length of time it takes for the new ligament to become fully integrated, it's not there yet. Still, with the derotational brace on, the knee may be strong enough to get him through.

Carson Palmer, if you don't know this yet, is the best quarterback in pro football today. Peyton Manning is wonderful, to be sure. Of course, Manning has years of achievement and everybody knows him. But, Carson Palmer is better. Palmer only emerged as a star last year, on a team that remains largely unknown. The Bengals' sudden turnaround last year caught the schedule-makers by surprise, so there was little national attention paid to Bengals' games. Indeed, the first chance most NFL fans had to see Palmer play was last year's playoff against the Steelers. Unfortunately, Palmer was hurt on his first play. It was a helluva way to go out, with a 66 yard touchdown pass. It also showed just what a talented and dominating player Palmer can be. Here's hoping he stays healthy, and has the kind of career his talent indicates is in his future.
Speaking of injuries: People who know me, know that I have had incredibly bad luck -- especially with physical problems, mostly due to injuries. In the span of thirty-four months, I broke both ankles (3 months apart -- really it was the fibula just above the ankle), and really tore up both knees (although, I didn't get an accurate diagnosis on the first knee injury until I finally had an MRI done about two years after the injury). So, it was tremendous sympathy that I offer my observations on Alex Escobar's latest injury.

Escobar once was the top prospect in the Mets system. In fact, he was so highly touted that I paid a bunch of money for a Mets warm-up signed by Escobar. At one point, Baseball America named the top prospect in all of minor league baseball. Then the Mets traded him to bring in Robbie Alomar, and Escobar's troubles began. Escobar tore up his knee during his first spring training camp in the Indians' system, and missed all of 2002, rehabbing following reconstructive surgery. Escobar spent 2003 and the first half of 2004 going up and down between Buffalo and Cleveland, before he broke his foot in early July 2004. Escobar was sidelined for the remainder of the year, as he required surgery to repair the fracture in his foot, and was released by the Indians in August of that year. The White Sox picked him up off the waiver wire and dealt him to the Nationals in the offseason.

With the Nationals during the 2005 spring training, Escobar soon hit the 60-day DL because of a strained quadriceps. He attributed that injury to continued pain in his foot. Escobar did not play at all in 2005. He started 2006 in the minors, with AA Harrisburg. The Nationals spent the first month and a half during the 2006 season trying to find a center fielder, as Ryan Church, Brandon Watson and Marlon Byrd each struggled mightily in their turns there. So, the Nationals reached down to Harrisburg, where Escobar was having the season of his life -- finally showing the form that he seemed to have lost, after he was dealt five years earlier by the Mets.

Finally having the chance to play in Washington, Escobar got a couple of starts and had some big hits, and some big plays in the field...for two games. Then he revealed that he had pulled his hamstring. Robinson was not happy that Escobar had tried to hide the injury, and Escobar was put on the DL. He rehabbed in Harrisburg, where he again put up huge numbers. In July, Escobar was recalled to the big club. He quickly proved he belonged, knocking out some big hits and putting up a .435 batting average, before losing his center-field job to the newly acquired Austin Kearns. Escobar continued to deliver when he had the chance, with some clutch pinch-hits, including a game-tying home-run and a two-out, bottom of the eighth, two-run game-winning single, that turned an apparent loss into one of the Nationals' most exciting wins. After another pinch-hit home run the next day, Escobar returned very briefly to the starting spot in center, when Jose Guillen's season came to an abrupt end, due to a serious arm injury.

Escobar continued to make big plays, but he was soon limping badly because of continuing hamstring problems. Ryan Church became the Nationals center fielder again. After nearly three weeks of pinch-hitting duty only, Escobar returned to the field on August 10th. This lasted less than 2 weeks. Escobar had to be hospitalized for two day because of an infection in his elbow. He returned to the Nationals last Wednesday -- on the 23rd. On Friday, against the Braves, Escobar dislocated his shoulder diving back into first to beat the right fielder's throw. The news came today that an MRI revealed a torn labrum, which will require surgery. So, Escobar's out for the season again.

For the record -- Escobar's numbers this year: he had a .356 batting average, and a .575 slugging percentage, with four homers and 18 RBI in 33 games. Clearly, he has the ability to be a starting outfielder at the major league level. If he can ever stay healthy, he might yet become a star. For his chronic leg injuries, Escobar and the Nationals might consider sending him through the rehabilitation and retraining that the Mets forced on Jose Reyes. It worked wonders for Reyes, who had suffered from chronic hamstring injuries. Finally healthy, Reyes has developed very quickly -- in two years he has emerged as one of the top two shortstops in the National League.

I still think that Escobar has similar potential. Obviously, he is not as fast as Reyes -- no one else in baseball is as fast as Reyes. But, Escobar has speed. He has shown this year that he can hit major league pitching (at least, he can hit National League pitching -- there is some question whether the National League should still be considered major league baseball, as mediocre American League pitchers keep coming over to dominate National League hitters). He also has some pop in his bat -- those four homers in 33 games look a lot more impressive when you realize that many of those games were pinch-hitting appearances only. With 87 ABs, Escobar hit a one home-run almost every 20 at-bats. The only National with a better HR/AB ratio is Alfonso Soriano.

Nationals fans can only hope that Escobar returns to us finally fully healthy in 2007. I'm pulling for you, Alex.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Soccer Update: Injury report - According to the Washington Post, D.C. United's Domenic Mediate will undergo surgery for a broken right fibula. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/26/AR2006082600942.html

I feared the injury would be that serious. Obviously, it is a season-ender for Mediate, who had just started to appear in United games. I hope it isn't career-ending. I had a similar injury, once. Though the bone was displaced, the doctor was able to set my ankle in such a way that I did not need surgery. My ankle's never been the same, though, since. Even if it isn't a career-ending injury, Mediate will have a long road back. One need only look at the player that Ben Olsen never quite became to realize how debilitating an injury like that can be.

Again, it just emphasizes what a stunningly bad decision it was for for referee Mark Geiger not to issue a card to Ugo Ihemelu. The Galaxy defender broke Mediate's leg, and all the ref could do was wave 'play on?' I hope that Geiger is not allowed to referee any more MLS games. The league can't afford to keep losing its players this way. The talent level is thin enough. After tonight, it's become clear that the MLS is going to have to find better players and better referees.

For those who read the early version of my first post on the United-Galaxy game, scroll down and take a look at my revised version. I've revised the post a number of times -- you might have missed some good stuff.
It's the Saturday Night Soccer Report -- DC United comes apart: I want my money back -- refunds should be in order after this turkey tonight. Allegedly, there was a professional soccer game at RFK tonight, but I saw few signs of it. Of course, I arrived about ten minutes late, and apparently missed some early, inspired play, by the L.A. Galaxy. The Galaxy served United a real drubbing, winning 5-2 in a match that, in some ways, wasn't as close as the score might suggest.

I suppose, if you're a Galaxy fan, you can take some heart from the result. The Galaxy has really struggled to score all year, though they have shown signs of improvement, lately. Though they did not turn in a commanding performance tonight, the Galaxy showed they are still the finest counterattacking team in MLS. Pluto may have been demoted from planetary status this week, but the Galaxy is serving notice that they are a team on its way back to the top echelon of the league.

United, the team with the best record in MLS, turned in a desultory performance, which will surely be remembered, along with last year's ignominious effort in exiting from the playoffs against the Fire, as one of the worst games United has ever played. In fact, United had the better of the possession, by far, with most of the game played in the L.A. end. After one-half of play, D.C. and L.A. were tied, at 1-1. Yet, United was never particularly dangerous. Their first goal was actually an own goal scored when an attempted clearance deflected off L.A. defender, Chris Albright, into the Galaxy net (Albright later tallied to put the Galaxy in the lead to stay). It wasn't until midway through the second half that D.C. finally scored on its own, when Facundo Erpen was able to get his head on the end of a Christian Gomez free kick and redirected it enough to elude the L.A. keeper, Kevin Hartman.

I can't even give Erpen too much credit, since, I believe, it was he that may have made the worst play of the game. In stoppage time, Erpen took a quick restart near midfield, and kicked directly at the feet of Galaxy substitute, Herculez Gomez. Gomez, no doubt, was surprised to find the ball at his feet, but not so surprised that he couldn't lift a ball over the United defense for Landon Donovan.

If Erpen's play wasn't the worst, then that honor might have to go to goalie Troy Perkins, who tried to defend against Donovan by going to the ground, before Donovan even hit the box. Donovan, then, probably had the easiest run at goal he's ever had, as he went past Perkins, who had time to get to his feet and dive yet again, but by that time Donovan was past him and had an easy chip into the undefended net. In Perkins' defense, his strangely timed dive might have been an overreaction to his earlier poor play, when he sprawled far too late at the onrushing Quavas Kirk, and took Kirk down, resulting in a penalty shot that Donovan powered through Perkins attempted save.

As scandalously bad as United's play was, I must point out that the refereeing in this game was an ever greater scandal. Most of the crowd booed lustily after Perkins was called for his foul in the box, myself included, but replays confirmed that this was a correct call -- one of the last in the game. Trailing now 3-1, United pressed forward, and saw some result. Joshua Gros tried to take a ball in from the wing with a rush towards the box, and he was hooked down from behind. Despite the flagrant tackle from behind, no card was given, though a foul was whistled. The ensuing free kick did result in D.C.'s only goal, and United was back in the game, but the failure to issue a card, for a flagrant tackle from behind, was an omen of bad things to come.

With the score again close at 3-2, D.C. fans entertained thoughts of their heroes rallying for at least a tie. United, though was done in by the deadly Galaxy counterattack, and excruciatingly weak officiating. Everyone in the stadium except the linesman and the referee seemed to see that Kirk was offside as the pass came to him on the wing. Kirk had Perkins dead to rights, but the goal was officially called an own goal by D.C.'s Brian Namoff. I can only surmise that Kirk's shot deflected off a sliding Namoff. Up to that moment, Namoff had been one of the few bright spots for United.

Done in by their porous defense, and bad officiating, D.C. gamely tried to reestablish itself, when they were truly finished off by one of the poorest referee's decisions in a long time. United's third and final substitution, Domenic Mediate was taken down by a totally reckless challenge, by Ugo Ihemelu, a vicious sliding tackle from behind. The referee's only reaction was to wave play on, as D.C. maintained possession. Now -- I have argued in the past that it is O.K. for a referee to play the advantage -- that is, to let play continue after a foul, if the team that was fouled maintains possession and is in the midst of an offensive rush. To do otherwise, could actually reward the offending team for its foul, by having the referee stop an attack that the fouling player was not able to do.

There is nothing that prevents the referee from issuing a caution (yellow card), or even a red card to the offending player at the next whistle. I have heard some commentators suggest that the system be formalized, like hockey, where the referee would signal a foul, but play would continue until the possession was lost. In hockey, the whistle isn't blown until the guilty team controls the puck, and then the delayed penalty is enforced, at that time. This could work in soccer, or the referee could wait, until there is a natural break in the action, before issuing his card.

In this case, with the foul on Mediate, a red card probably should have issued to Ihemelu. At the very least, a yellow caution was needed, but I felt that the foul called for an ejection. Instead, because Mediate was unable to return to play, having his ankle iced, D.C. was forced to play a man down for the final 15 minutes. Any chance of a comeback was effectively ended at that moment. It seemed clear that the referee realized that control was slipping away from him, as he issued a series of questionable yellow cards. I say questionable because none of those fouls compared in dangerousness to the two fouls discussed above -- the fouls suffered by Gros and Mediate, neither of which resulted in cards. The referee, Mark Geiger, has a lot of questions to answer about this game.

As does DC United and coach Peter Nowak -- They need to find answers to questions raised by their recent poor performances. They have stunk in league play throughout August. Their offense has been ineffectual and the defense occasionally vulnerable. Tonight, their offense seemed to really miss Freddy Adu and Christian Gomez, neither of whom started, reportedly because of ailing knees. In their place, Jamil Walker and Clyde Simms ran mostly aimlessly, especially Simms. Gomez’s absence was especially glaring. He does so many things for this team. For DC to play more consistently, they will need a healthy Gomez.

One solution that may present itself immediately is a lineup switch. After tonight’s effort, all-star goalie Troy Perkins may have played himself out of the lineup. Nick Rimando hasn’t started a league game yet, this year, but he was victorious in both of his U.S. Open Cup starts. I would expect to see Rimando in goal when D.C. United takes on surprising Chivas USA next Sunday (leaving open the question of who will tend the net in Chicago on Sept. 6th, in an Open Cup semifinal).

Speaking of Chivas USA, my night is concluding with a late broadcast of a tilt between Houston Dynamo and Chivas USA. Ante Razov has had a nice game for Chivas. He's one of a handful of players who, rather mysteriously, have never been taken seriously at the national team level, despite their obvious talent for scoring goals. For some reason, the U.S. national team coaches have preferred other players, even though the U.S. has always struggled to score. While there are many skills that make for top-level, world-class talented soccer players, goal-scoring is itself a rather unique skill, or talent. Anyone who ever saw Giorgio Chinaglia play should understand this. And yet, the U.S. coaches consistently undervalue the top goal-scorers in MLS. Sometimes, it seems that the more a player scores in MLS, the less seriously he is viewed as a national team prospect. Sure seems bass ackwards to me.

Speaking of bad officiating, Edwin De Rosario was taken down in the box in stoppage time, with Houston trailing by one goal. He was clearly in the box, moving towards goal, and the foul could not have been more obvious. This was no dive. He was taken down by a sliding defender, who made no play on the ball. If the referee though De Rosario had taken a dive, then he should have issued a card to De Rosario. Otherwise, he had to award a penalty kick. From the replays, it's clear that a penalty kick should have been awarded, and Houston should have had the chance to gain a tie. As hard as it is to believe that the referee could decide there was no foul by the defender...if he did make that decision, it is hard to understand why he wouldn't caution De Rosario for a dive. It had to be one or the other. One has to wonder if the referee was trying to atone for for a bad call in awarding a penalty kick to Houston earlier in the game, when the Dynamo player not only took a dive, but had no chance of getting to the ball in the first place.

As bad as Mark Geiger's officiating was, at RFK, tonight, this was even worse, because the game was on the line at that moment. You will never see a more glaring failure to award a penalty kick. This foul was a thousand times worse than the phantom foul that Oguchi Onyewu allegedly committed in the box at the end of the first half of the U.S.-Ghana game, during the recent World Cup. I was in the front row, for that one, and I gave the German referee the business for it, at the half. I could not have been more upset at what I thought was a bad call to give a PK -- taking the game away from the U.S.

With the Houston-Chivas game tonight, I couldn't care less who won, so I didn't get very excited. But, when I see how obvious the foul was, and I consider the timing and circumstances (depriving Houston of the opportunity to take a well-earned, game-tying penalty shot, in stoppage time), this may have been the worst refereeing decision I have ever seen. No surprise that Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear (former U.S. national teamer) blew a gasket after the game.

By the way, who said there's no scoring in soccer? Not true in the MLS this Saturday night. Los Angeles' two teams won by 5-2 and 3-2 scores tonight. And the Red Bulls beat Real Salt Lake 6-0, playing almost the entire game with a man advantage (sorry, BardGuy).

The day started, for me, with a bunch of English (EPL) soccer. I love Saturdays. Tim Howard's Everton squad turned in a brave effort, beating Tottenham 2-0, despite playing a man down. I'd like to say that Howard superbly kept his team in the game, but he wasn't really tested. Later, Manchester City upset Arsenal, despite being badly outplayed. Henry and Fabregas looked dangerous but they could not convert several excellent chances. It's funny, but it seems to me that City is much more successful when Claudio Reyna sits. No one seems to doubt that he is a great player, but since he left Scotland, he doesn't seem like a winning player.

Finally, in thinking about Tim Howard's future with the national team, it's interesting to note a comment reported in yesterday's Washington Post. The Post, ran a story previewing the upcoming season for the defending collegiate national soccer champion Maryland Terrapins. According to Steven Goff's piece, the key for the Terrapins this year may be "sophomore goalkeeper Chris Seitz, whose precocious play last year helped earn him a starting job on the U.S. under-20 national team this summer and put him on a fast track for a pro career." Maryland's coach, Cirovski, said of Seitz: "He's a special guy, and he's going to be playing in some World Cups." Good to know. Keep an eye out for him. Here's the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/24/AR2006082401525.html

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thursday, August 24th -- Fisch turns 42 today. Aside from the symmetry, this is a tough one for me. I haven't quite arrrived yet -- everything seems unsettled...and I'm now as old as my father was when I was born (actually one day older). I'll resist the temptation to really wax philosophic, but I'll gladly accept any birthday wishes. Post comments and congratulations here, or send email to fischy@comcast.net.

My major ritual is to check out the Washington Post horoscope for the year...that, and I'll swim a mile today. I'm a little superstitious...though, I have to admit my superstitions haven't done me any good in the past. I'm like a Cubs' fan, except that I say wait 'till this year.....

I may post something of substance later...or I may just live in my own mind for today. There's a Lyle Lovett song about that -- I caught him in concert Tuesday night. A pretty darn good show. I guess that was my birthday present to myself. I was going to add the United-Red Bulls game, but life, and ex-girlfriend happened instead...so, I caught the internet broadcast -- my report on the game was short because of that. Hoping to get out to RFK for United's next league match, against the Galaxy on Saturday. FischFry faithful can definitely look forward to a report on that.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

DC United wins!! Jamil Walker knocked in a couple of second-half goals to break a 1-1 tie against the Red Bulls at RFK, in the U.S. Open Cup. United's previous win came three weeks ago, also in a U.S. Open Cup match. D.C. wil hit the road for the tournament semi-finals on Sept. 6, against the winner of tonight's Fire-Revolution tilt. The refereeing at RFK tonight was a little uneven, as the Red Bulls called for a penalty on Stokes as he pushed through the New York team's defense before Walker took the pass and beat keeper Tony Meola. Still, despite the help from the referee, United was clearly the best side, as they played their best soccer in some time. In addition to Walker's efforts, second-half sub Ben Olsen created some good chances. Jaime Moreno, also a late substitute, had a chance or two himself, and probably should have been awarded a penalty kick in the game's final minutes.

The Open Cup, though it's a poor relation to the more prestigious MLS league games, has the excitement of single-elimination contests. Even though stars like Moreno may not start every Cup match, the crowd gets charged, and so do the players. Look for this tournament to gain in popularity over the next few years, especially if the USSF can get television coverage for the games.

One side-light for FischFry regular, The BardGuy -- Today's New York Times has an interesting feature on RSL's Jeff Cunningham, and his bad-boy reputation. Check it out, if you haven't yet. As ever, go to http://www.nytimes.com/ -- then, you can copy and paste the rest of the link: 2006/08/23/sports/soccer/23soccer.html

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Relegation question (soccer) -- BardGuy asks whether I think relegation is in the U.S.' future. I'm opening up the floor here for comments. My opinion is that this will not happen anytime in the next 25 years. There are a few teams in the USL that are putting together good teams, and building soccer specific stadiums. First among equals are the Rochester Rhinos, who play in the newly opened Patec Park. The Rhinos have always among the top second-division teams -- they enjoy success on the field, and in the stands. Indeed, the good folks in Rochester have been campaigning for an MLS entry for years, recalling the days of the NASL Rochester Lancers. Perhaps their stadium could be expanded, even with the construction of a second tier. Patec Park, as it stands now, isn't big enough for a big-league team.

And that's the real problem here. MLS owners are sinking serious money into their teams, including the building of substantial stadiums. They want a return on their investments. The last thing in the world they would want to see is the relegation of their team. Now, they might be a good thing from a competitive standpoint, but MLS owners will not stand for it -- at least not for the next 20 or more years, as they recoup their costs.

Moreover, MLS will be busy setting its foundation over the next couple of decades. Expansion is MLS' no. 1 priority. The league has to take it slowly, but they are committed to establishing a nationwide brand. Also on the list is the development of academies and a strong reserve team system, so the teams can develop their own talent. This doesn't bode well for the likelihood that lower-level teams could assemble the talent needed to compete at a higher level.

I don't doubt that a top-level team in Rochester could be more popular than some MLS franchises have proven to be, despite the fact that Rochester is a relatively small, and shrinking, city. There are other, curious omissions from the MLS. St. Louis has long been a hotbed of soccer, at least at the collegiate level, but doesn't appear to be on MLS' short list. The potential for a team in Seattle has been explored in previous posts, but I think it's excellent. San Diego is also strangely absent. I would have expected to see a franchise there long before a second team was placed in Los Angeles. Perhaps San Diego is just too close to Mexico? I also happen to think the (Raleigh-Durham) research triangle in North Carolina might be a good location for a team. And the Bay Area should be able to field a strong franchise.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, the league needs to find a way to get a team into New York City, if the Red Bull hasn't been given a monopoly. It's OK to have a team in the suburbs for suburban fans, but, unlike American football, the top soccer league needs to get a team into New York City, if it wants to become part of the national fabric.

There are some big cities that could host MLS teams, if the league is prepared to make the investment. But that investment isn't going to happen if the bottom feeders will find themselves relegated to a lower league every couple of years.

Is a relegation system a possibility here? It certainly cuts against the way other sports leagues are organized here, but soccer will have to blaze its own trail in many ways. With the Open Cup, soccer is organizing along the lines of European leagues, notwithstanding the fact that there is no relegation system. I won't say there will never be a relegation system here, but I wouldn't hold your breath, if your hoping to see it in your lifetime.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fisch is back! Sorry, all -- had to run up to NY for the weekend and didn't have time to post. I'm sure I disappointed my returning visitors (2 each day!). I haven't had time to really think about what to post today, so I'll stick with some random musings about soccer. People like this stuff, I think.

US National team players: Santino Quaranta is off to a hot start with the Galaxy. Obviously, Bruce Arena always thought highly of Santino -- maybe, with the chance to star in L.A., he'll realize a lot of that potential. Speaking of realizing potential: Clint Dempsey is irritated with MLS for turning down an offer from an EPL team, reportedly Charlton Athletic. Yes, MLS would like to build some player-fan relationships, but the best thing that can happen to US Soccer is to develop some top-level players. I'm not a New England Revolution fan, to be sure. But, I think I can be broader-minded than that. DC United will lose Freddy Adu in a year to the EPL, almost certainly. I'll have to be OK with that. So lonmg as we can end up with top players for the national team, it will be well worth it.

As it is, the MLS is creating a system where some top college players are skipping MLS to take their chances in Europe. Is this really what MLS wants to happen? I'm OK with the best players moving on. I'm wondering if the MLS is afraid of losing more fans to FSC broadcasts of foreign leagues? That's going to happen, as it happens all over the world. The MLS isn't going to stem that tide by holding back a few players.

On the EPL -- did anybody see that Reading-Middlesborough tilt? What a thrilling match, made ever more so by a crowd that could not have been more pumped. Reading's first ever EPL game was a glorious success, thanks to a furious comeback. Down 2-0 in the first half (after a deadly rebound allowed by Marcus Hanneman), Reading nearly took the lead before the half. Finally, Reading did take the lead with more than half-an-hour still to play. Hanneman made some huge saves to preserve the win. Reading's other Yank, Bobby Convey, was willing, but the skill wasn't there. After several corner kicks that were becoming progressively more ineffective, including a short corner that Convey toook so as not to give the ball away, Reading's skipper found other players to take the kicks. Convey bravely took some tough fouls, but Reading was only dangerous when other players were carrying the ball. Hopefully, things will get better for Bobby, as they have in the past. Didn't get to see Tim Howard's winning effort for Everton, but I look forward to seeing the future U.S. no. 1 goalkeeper in action.

DC United - awful first half, better second half, including a magnificent effort by Jaime Moreno to set up Christian Gomez's tying goal. It would be nice to see United start playing consistently in the MLS again. I'll probably see their U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, against the Red Bulls. A good effort there will be welcome (I think United is getting serious about winning the Cup this year), but United's going to have to get serious about league matches, too.

I'm a DC United fan. I might be as excited about MLS games if any of them were as exciting as the Reading-'Boro match-up...but MLS can't be so stingy with our national team's future!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Most Intelligent Blog Post Ever -- The Friday Grab Bag -- I unqualifiedly endorse the Most Relaxing Classical Music Album Ever. I haven't heard it, but I don't really need to hear it. It is, after all, the Most Relaxing Classical Music Album Ever. There's a t-shirt I saw tonight, and it might be the funniest t-shirt ever. I laughed out loud. Are ya'll ready? The message:

It's OK to be ugly...
but you're really overdoing it.

If anyone wants to supply me with this shirt, they would make me very happy.

I'm wondering about the whole blog thing. On Wednesday, I posted on the George Allen 'macaca' mess -- before that, I posted twice on the Va-11th race, and what I see is a scandal waiting to be uncovered: Rep. Tom Davis support for building aboveground Metro stations in Tysons Corner, even though all objective parties believe that a tunnel would be a vastly superior option. The only logical explanation for Davis' obstinance is that he has some vested interest in Bechtel's bid for the aboveground project. I've also posted on these matters on the DailyKos. Today, I called into Kojo Nnamdi's talk show on the local public radio station. I'm sure I reached a lot more people through the radio -- more than the dozens that may have seen my internet posts (if you want to hear me, the show is archived at www.wamu.org).

My point here? That we should keep some perspective about blogging. It's a cool way to reach out to others, to share thoughts and interests -- but there are still more powerful mediums out there.

My Crazy Neighbor -- He likes to check the hall. I really don't know any other word to describe it. I'll hear him open his apartment door. Then, very quickly I will hear it slam behind him, but I will still hear him in his apartment. On occasion, I will find that he has opened the window in the stairway. But, mostly, it just seems he's 'checking the hall.' He did this tonight, while I was running the water in my kitchen sink. I hated to disappoint him, but all I was doing was refilling a water pitcher. I'm thinking of writing a tune to the music for Deck the Halls...it would go like this: "Check the halls for smells of cooking, fa la la la la, la la la la." I'm open to input on where to go from there.

Soccer Round-up: The BardGuy must've been pleased to see the Columbus Crew collapse in the late stages of their game against Real Salt Lake. The winning goal was a nice effort started with a nice run by Jeff Cunningham. Amazingly, Mr. Selfish is actually third in assists this year. As 'they' like to say: "If the season ended right now...," RSL would be in the playoffs. Not that anyone watches the playoffs. Speaking of no one watching -- DC United apparently missed their charter and failed to show up on Wednesday night for their game against the Red Bulls. Because 11,000 fans allegedly had arrived for the game, a forfeit was not awarded to the Red Bulls, who were forced to play. Unfortunately, for the New York squad, they weren't able to score, and had to settle for a 0-0 draw. Fortunately, this so-called game was not broadcast in the DC area. If it was, I missed it, and I'm all the better for it.

The Red Bulls will have to be a little more lively if they want to fill the 25,000 seat stadium they just broke ground on (interesting week in the New York area, as the Yankees also broke ground on the new Yankee Stadium -- personally, I'd like to see the old one preserved and turned into a soccer stadium -- it's about time there was a team in New York City -- but the old park is going to become a garage, or something like that).

D.C. United is once again going to add another middling Argentine (my spell-check, which I rarely use, prefers 'Argentine to Argentinian') player, named Matias Donnet. At least, I'm assuming he's probably more Facundo Erpen than Christian Gomez.

US Nationals: Eddie Johnson is on his way to England -- to West Bromwich Albion -- not an EPL squad. Still, maybe some time there can get his once seemingly prodigious talent and endlessly promising career back on track. Reportedly, MLS turned down an offer from Rosenborg of Norway for Jimmy Conrad. I wonder if it was the money, or the team. Does MLS want to to keep Jimmy here or are they hoping for a higher level league to offer Conrad a chance? The best news is that Clint Dempsey is being chased by West Ham United. If Dempsey gets the chance to learn and develop in the EPL, the U.S. may yet get a world class striker.

Yanks abroad news also includes one 14 year-old Shaun Greenfield from Del Ray getting a shot with Atletico Madrid's youth squad, and a 13 year-old Sebastian Lletget, from Snata Clara, getting a 3-week look with the West Ham youth. And Lee Nguyen, a young talent for whom I have extremely high hopes, did get in as a very late sub for PSV's match with Ajax. Hopefully, he'll start earning some playing time. I'm dreaming of a future US attack featuring Nguyen and Dempsey.

After the World Cup, I commented on one of XM's talk shows and I raised the idea that maybe the U.S. needed to return to Bora's strategy of beating the hustings to find USA-eligible players abroad. It appears one has found us. Promising young Danish player Jamil Fearrington has asked to switch his national team status from Denmark to the U.S. Maybe there are some more out there, who'd relish the chance to star for the good ole U.S.A.?

Overseas (they call it football) - Greece had no answer for Steve McClaren's England squad during the first half. I think Jamaica put up a gamer effort in their 6-0 loss to England in the England squad's final pre-World Cup exhibition. Seriously, it looked like no one was bothering to defend as Lampard and Crouch were battling each other to get the ball and knock it in. Terry had a nice goal to get things started, and England made it 4-0 before the half. Greece looked a little better in the second half, but they're not about to repeat as European champs.

Lastly, I am reading the opinion in the ACLU v. NSA case. I plan on having an intelligent opinion of my own on Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision declaring the warrantless surveillance to be unconstitutional. When I do, I will post. That may replace this blog entry as the Most Intelligent Blog Post Ever.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Time to Cut Out the 'Macaca' -- Sen. George Allen Goes Native: For those who haven't heard yet, or seen the video, the incumbent U.S. Senator from Virginia, George Allen really stepped in it this weekend. He was addressing a gathering of Republican supporters in rural southwestern part of the state, but decided to note, in his remarks, the presence of a supporter of Allen's electoral opponent, Democratic candidate James Webb. The Webb supporter, identified as S.R. Sidarth, filmed the whole sorry episode. Allen turned to Sidarth, who is apparently quite obviously of South Asian descent, and 'christened' him "Macaca." Then, he added, "Macaca...welcome to America." In between, Sen. Allen stated that his opponent was meeting with "Hollywood movie moguls." The long and short of it is that Sen. Allen is knee-deep now in "macaca."

Obviously, the most insulting part of this sorry display was the demeaning way in which Allen addressed Sidarth. There is a debate raging on the 'Net about whether Allen knew that "macaca," or a very similar word, is a racial slur used by French colonials in North Africa. There is reason to believe he might, since Sen. Allen's mother is herself a French-Tunisian Jew. The public furor has overlooked another part of Allen's show that is almost as offensive: Allen's reference to "Hollywood movie moguls," often just a barely disguised code for the 'Jewish media elite.'

As Rob Corddry said on the Daily Show,"I'm not sure what macaca means, but it sure as sounds racist." The real disappointing part was the Allen fudge factor. Allen is claiming that he was telling the Webb campaign worker to carry his message back to the candidate. That message was "Welcome to America, welcome to the real world of Virginia!" It's almost plausible. If you back up the tape far enough, it seems Allen was starting to address Webb. The thing is, he tells the crowd to "welcome Macaca." Then he adds the "welcome to America." So, it's more likely that Allen really was directing that statement to Sidarth, the Webb campaign worker with the camera. This is just the worst kind of pandering to base prejudices that Allen must think the voters in rural Virginia all have.

To my mind, the "welcome to America" line, is at least as disgusting as the "Macaca" filth. I can't know -- and neither can anyone else -- that Allen is aware that "macaca" is, or sounds like, an actual ethnic slur. As I said above, some have suggested that the word is heard in Tunisia, such that Allen's French notoriously flamboyant mother might have spoken it around the Allen mansion. There's no way to know that's true -- I'm not even willing to certify that this is a word that has had significant currency.

But, the "welcome to America" line," directed at someone of South Asian descent, is the worst caricature of the xenophobic, ignorant, redneck American. It's such an absurd thing to have said that its hard to believe that Allen said it -- it's just so hard to believe a U.S. Senator could have said something so stupid and disgusting (now that Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond have passed on), that I'm almost willing to believe he was speaking to his opponent, via Sidarth's camera. The scary thing is stupidity is often rewarded in politics -- witness the last 2 Presidential elections.

There is a rather ironic aspect to Allen's comments about Webb himself. The Senator says Webb is with "Hollywood movie moguls," implying that Webb doesn't meet or know real Virginians. As if Allen didn't grow up around Hollywood movie moguls and their children? I guess if anyone would know how far those people are from real, salt-of-the-Earth Virginians, it would be George Allen. After all, he grew up around them. Now, he may have grown up among the Hollywood set, but he wasn't really of them, right? After all, he had that stupid Confederate flag license plate on his Mustang.

Though it has been overlooked in media stories on the incident, Allen's linking his opponent to "Hollywood movie moguls" may have been the most disgusting moment on the tape. It didn't hit me any of the five times I watched the video -- I guess because I'm not generally wired to think like that -- but "Hollywood movie moguls" is often a code word for 'Jews' -- or, specifically, the so-called 'Jewish media elite.'

I'm not about to accuse Sen. Allen of being anti-Semitic himself. A Wikipedia entry on Allen that states his mother is of French-Tunisian Jewish origin. I didn't realize that this subset existed, but Henrietta is usually a Jewish name, so I'll buy into it. So the Senator's mother may be Jewish -- even if he wasn't raised in the Jewish faith, the Senator then would be regarded as Jewish by members of the faith. In any case, despite his regular appeals to Christian conservatives, I'm not going to even suggest that Allen might harbor some anti-Semitism of his own.

In fact, to be clear, I have not accused Senator Allen of being a racist himself -- or a bigot, of any kind. When I reflect more on the "Hollywood movie moguls" comment, I realize that Allen was engaged in the worst, basest kind of pandering -- pandering to perceived prejudices and attitudes among the locals.

It's true that people in that corner of Virginia don't have much contact with Jews. There is (or, at least there used to be -- when I was in law school in that neck of the woods) a small congregation in Roanoke - one temple that served the entire region. And there are an awful lot of people who could fairly be called 'bible-thumpers' -- at least for our purposes here. It's also true that there are very few South Asians in that part of the country. And it's true that there are more than a few ignorant, redneck-type bigoted people in that area.

Most people in that part of the state, as most people everywhere, just aren't that close-minded. Allen's greatest offense here is his pandering to his own prejudiced conception of people in rural Virginia. He thinks he's being folksy and he's using code words for Jews and foreigners...and he doesn't see how awful that is. I believe Allen really stepped in some nasty "macaca" here. I doubt that he buys into that crap himself, but he doesn't seem to have a problem using it to appeal to the baser prejudices that he thinks these rural folk all have.

To me, that's the real issue here. And, the more I reflect on it, the more it disgusts me.

If you want to know more about James Webb, his campaign website is: http://webbforsenate.com/

If you want to see the video for yourself, it's on the Washington Post's site, on the page with the paper's article on the episode. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/14/AR2006081400589.html

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Soccer Stuff: I’ve written about soccer already this week, but it seems to be the big attraction to the blog – actually, I can’t tell what people have looked at, but the biggest crowds here seem to correspond to my soccer posts.

Speaking of crowds, and soccer fans: I thought I’d take a moment to thank The BardGuy for his input. Directing me to the kenn.com site proved very interesting. I’ve previously discussed the possibility of adapting the MLS schedule to line up with, or more like, the schedule used around the world. There’s some interesting info about MLS attendance, and kenn has done some worthwhile analysis. One curiosity is that July has highest average attendance of any month with a full slate of games (March and October have higher average attendance, but do not have many games). Historically, the worst month is August, and June the next worst month. Kenn notes that the July numbers are wickedly skewed by huge crowds that turn out on Independence Day at the larger stadiums. As teams are moving into smaller parks, the July numbers are starting to look like the other months (I would be especially interested to see a breakdown of the averages for July, without including the crowds on the 4th, but kenn.com hasn’t done that yet).

This suggests that the MLS could do without August and July schedules – perhaps the season could take a break after the 4th of July (that might boost the crowds on the 4th, if fans know the league is taking a two-month hiatus). I’m reluctant to suggest the league go with the European schedule exactly, because the winter months are harsher here than in Western Europe. There is a curiosity in the attendance numbers – and that’s the fall-off for crowds in June. Perhaps those crowds would be larger if there were no games scheduled for mid-summer.

Interestingly, crowds in Los Angeles are fairly consistent – they are actually quite large in L.A. and Colorado during July, but that is probably the 4th of July effect. When the summer heat breaks, during September, the crowds really turn out in DC and New England (even Kansas City sees a big jump in average attendance for September). The MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) have not had good crowds in September, but that might be in part due to the poor teams they have put on the field. If the Red Bulls could put a serious title contender on the field to play meaningful games in September, crowds might pick up.

Weekday crowds are noticeably thinner, except in Colorado, Dallas and Columbus. Perhaps this could give the schedule planners some ideas for jiggering the schedule to maximize attendance. One really curious statistic is the playoff attendance. When you factor out the MLS Cup, the average attendance at playoff games is below the league average attendance (the only exception being 1998 – I have no idea why there was more interest in playoff games that year).

I don’t know – maybe the MLS might consider trying a League Cup tournament, and a championship based on point totals. There could be still be conference groupings for the Cup-tournament, or the conferences could be maintained to produce two season conference winners (best records) with a MLS-Cup showdown. And lose the earlier playoff rounds that aren’t getting the fans excited. Perhaps, if the weekday games were part of a Cup-style elimination tournament, there might be more interest…or not. Clearly, if the MLS wants to continue to use the playoff format familiar to Americans, the league needs to do a better job of generating interest in the games.

Update on Liverpool-Chelsea: One further note about the English season kick-off game. Andriy Shevchenko’s goal that tied the game at 1-1, late in the first half, was an example of the quality we won’t see in the MLS for a many years to come. It’s no wonder he became the highest paid player in the EPL. With vision, creativity and an incredibly deft touch, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard lifted a brilliant ball over the Liverpool defense. Shevchenko ran onto the ball from his level position. The Ukranian superstar looked back at the ball and twisted slightly, so he could play the ball with his chest. To my eye, he seemed to break stride barely, if at all, as he took the ball on his chest and played it down to his feet, and then he set up the Liverpool keeper with the greatest of ease. Sheva took one step with his left foot to take aim, and then slotted the ball inside the right post with his right foot, beyond the reach of the oncoming goalkeeper. The whole thing happened at the blistering pace that sets the EPL apart from all other leagues. The ball skills shown by Lampard and Shevchenko were breathtaking, at any speed – but truly remarkable at EPL speed. Chelsea showed a very porous defense, but the team has so much offensive firepower.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday Sports Extra -- English football: I mentioned Beckham earlier -- as he turned out for the RSL stadium groundbreaking. I'd be remiss if I didn't report the real news of the weekend. The current England manager has decided to 'go in a different direction,' as they say. Not only has Beckham surrendered his England captaincy, we learned this weekend that he has lost his place on the national team. I'm not sure how you could watch the recent Cup and conclude that Beckham had much to do with England's undoing. But, he is starting to get long in the tooth. He would still be in great form for the European championships in 2008, but he probably would be past it by the time the 2010 Cup comes around. Maybe it is time for England to start the post-Beckham era.

Last word -- Liverpool dumped Chelsea 2-1 in the traditional Community Shield kick-off to the English football season. As FA Cup winners, Liverpool faced the star-studded EPL champs, and did the deed, when the gangly Peter Crouch put in the winner at the 80th minute. I'm watching the replay now -- we'll see if Crouch was right about the officiating during the Cup. He claimed that he was being whistled for fouls on plays that would be A-OK in the English leagues. I don't know -- he seems to make liberal use of his forearm. That's it for now....
Sunday Sports Wrap – Took in a couple of Nationals-Mets games this weekend. The Mets took 2 of 3, but the Nats made each game close before they gave up the ghost. I’m going to try and post a shot or two from the game – proprietary stuff – I took a nice pic of Soriano stroking career home run # 200.

What I took away from this series was confirmation that Carlos Beltran is really good, but the best hitter in the National League might be Alfonso Soriano. He doesn’t have the RBIs that Beltran and Wright have, but then again he’s batting leadoff – with the weak hitting bottom of the Nats’ order, there aren’t too many RBI opportunities. On the other hand, Soriano left the bases loaded in the 8th inning. He has lapses – sometimes he appears to be loafing in the outfield (on one play he stood and watched with his arms folded while the centerfielder chased after a hit to the gap). But, his swing is a thing of beauty. The Nats' new owners should be prepared to make a very large financial commitment to him in the offseason.

For the Mets: Reyes Wright, Beltran, LoDuca, Delgado – these guys can play, both offense and defense. And the pitching has really come together. The Dodgers are really on their game right now. Still, going into the playoffs (still a month and a half away), the Mets will have to be favored to get to the World Series.

Soccer -- Some observations about the MLS: FC Dallas and Houston turned in an entertaining game late Saturday, on ESPN2. A few points, Carlos Ruiz’s dives have gotten so tired that the refs look past them, and the opposition jaws back at him. It’s a shame that someone with his skills thinks he has to play that way. Also, Greg Vanney still has a powerful shot. My other comment relates to the Dynamo’s Brian Ching. Even though he was unable to convert any of his chances, Brian Ching looked threatening. It made me wonder again why Ching sat on Arena’s bench through all 3 U.S. games in the recent World Cup. He’s not a world-class player, but, as Arena said recently, the U.S. doesn’t have world-class players.

Arena was comparing the U.S. national team to his new team, the New York Red Bulls, as the Red Bulls took on the best club team in the world, FC Barcelona. In the first half, the comparison seemed fair. Tony Meola rescued a porous defense with three brilliant saves during the first 30 minutes. During the last fifteen minutes of the first half, the Red Bulls were the more dangerous squad. Their efforts were rewarded when Mr. Hustle, Dema Kovalenko stripped the ball from the world’s greatest player, Ronaldinho, and then slotted the ball up to Edson Buddle. Though Barcelona’s keeper was able to deflect Buddle’s shot, the Red Bulls' own international, Youri Djorkaeff, was there to finish the rebound, pulling the Red Bulls even before halftime. Buddle is raw, but he has skills. And Dema: I still can’t believe United couldn’t find a roster spot or the money to keep him in the offseason.

There are some decent players there for Arena to start working his magic. But the Red Bulls are not the team that the United was when Arena directed them to two MLS titles. He has a long tough road ahead of him with the Red Bulls.

For those who have seen “Once in a Lifetime,” the recent documentary on the New York Cosmos’ heyday is a strong reminder of what a top franchise in New York could do for the sport’s popularity here. I used to be a regular along with 70,000 other fans at Giants’ Stadium for weekend Cosmos’ games (on weeknights, the crowds were smaller). Their games were an event like no other. The anticipation and the atmosphere in the parking lot beat anything that New York Giants and New York Jets fans can generate before football games. The only thing I’ve witnessed with more pre-game parking lot energy was the opening of the Women’s World Cup in 1999, also at Giants Stadium.

I know what it could mean for the MLS, should Arena be able to turn the Red Bulls into winners. Yes, I’m a DC United fan these days. But, I can still hope, on behalf of American soccer fans, that Arena succeeds with the Red Bulls. It won’t happen this year, and next year is probably too soon to expect a complete turnaround. Perhaps 2008 will be the Red Bulls’ time?

Comments to a post last week included BardGuy’s concerns that Real Salt Lake’s days were numbered. As BardGuy no doubt knows, with a self-imposed Saturday deadline looming, RSL owner Dave Checketts struck at least the outlines of a deal for a new $100 million stadium to be built just outside Salt Lake City. I don’t understand how the area can afford or justify the expense, and I still find it hard to think of Utah as a hotbed for a soccer franchise.

Still, it seems that Real Salt Lake is there to stay. On Saturday, Checketts was joined, in the aptly named Sandy, Utah, for a groundbreaking ceremony, by state leaders, and no less a personage than David Beckham, himself. Everyone shoveled some sand and dirt around and started this project on its way. There is even the hint that Real Madrid and Becks will return in two years to christen the new facility. I don’t know if there’s a design plan for the stadium yet, but I’d be surprised if the seating capacity will be large enough to cover the costs of bringing in a team like Real Madrid.

There is one thing to note about the new soccer-specific stadiums planned around the league. They are gorgeous facilities, but they are built deliberately small. As baseball figured out, by downsizing, they can actually guarantee larger economic returns – and bigger average crowds. When there are fewer seats, two things happen: Fans are able to create a more energetic atmosphere in the smaller space, which makes games more of an event and more fun – so, fans are more likely to return. This leads to greater advance demand for seats which are now in shorter supply. The net result is that profits go up.

Because the MLS teams can’t expect to fill stadiums as large as even the newer, smaller baseball parks, MLS is building stadiums that seat about 25,000 – that’s a rough average, so don’t start throwing numbers back at me. These stadia will probably fill the MLS’ demands for the next twenty years, at least, before the sport’s popularity can outgrow those relatively small stands.

These stadiums will be fine for the budgets that MLS anticipates, but the stadiums will be far too small to stage exhibitions with the top European squads, and another U.S.-based World Cup will still need to use the much larger football stadiums, to meet the demand for tickets.

Of course, these are the kinds of problems that soccer fans and owners here can only dream about right now. And good news does abound. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit to come out of the RSL stadium affair is this: RSL owner Checketts stated that he had three "hard offers with real money" for the team were presented from out-of-staters, while four "soft offers" also surfaced. http://www.sltrib.com/ci_4176565.

If there is that kind of interest in owning MLS teams, the league is definitely on much stronger footing than it was only a couple of years ago. And the future is so bright, we've got to wear shades...at least in the Utah desert.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Friday Fisch Fry – OK, it’s Saturday now, but Friday produced a new record number of visitors for the site. I didn’t even get to post anything new, until after midnight. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint my returning visitors; BardGuy, and someone else who’s remained completely anonymous. To be honest, I didn’t know where to start, but I have an idea kicking around in my head. Here goes:

I’ve been debating with the good folks on the DailyKos, fighting the good fight for the soul and the future of the Democratic Party. Joe Lieberman is being completely pilloried on the site, in a completely undeserved way. Everything he says is being scrutinized under an electron microscope, and then what’s left of the former vice-Presidential candidate’s reputation is pulled through the shredder. Then, there’s also the debate over the whole question of the nature of the ‘war on terror.’

So, I think I have come to understand why he’s running as an independent. It’s become personal for him. He was singled out for defeat by the internet lefty crowd – in part, the Deaniacs from MoveOn, but mostly by the Kossacks on the DailyKos. There is a place for them in the Party to be sure. Perhaps they’re right about themselves -- that they represent the core of the Party. It seems to me, though, that’s just arrogant self-importance. There's also a whole lot of self-righteousness involved there, since Kossacks basically pooh-pooh the idea that there is a place remaining in the Party for those who don’t agree with their own orthodoxy.

That’s a shame, because no one should feel that sure of their own correctness. It seems to me that this corner of the internet is peddling a peculiar “conventional” wisdom: that the Democratic Party needs to get in line with their ideas if it’s going to regain electoral success. And that’s a really dangerous notion.

A party that is so rigid in its ideology might have enough appeal to succeed in a parliamentary system, with proportional representation, but that’s not our system. There’s only one winner in each race, and, except for the rare race with three candidates, you need at least 50% + one to win. It’s also antithetical to the American character which seeks consensus in a way few, if any, other countries do. We resist the rigid class hierarchies and class politics that predominate elsewhere. We have two main parties, but most people are registered independents or not at all. Our political parties have to at least maintain the pretense of broader appeal, or they risk being completely marginalized. And I am talking about more than basic mathematics here.

In Joe Lieberman’s case, he believes that the party is being pushed in a direction that is dangerous, not just for the party, but the country. I’m not saying I totally buy in to this idea, but I think Joe does. It’s a huge blow to his ego to have been beaten by a virtual nobody, who was pushed onward by a virtual army, a bunch of cyber-punks. But, I think it also scares him, because their politics give him the shakes (or is that the heebie-geebies? Now that I think about it, that sounds like I’m making fun of Lieberman’s faith—believe me, I’m not).

The Kossacks may not even realize it yet, but they are pushing the Democratic Party in a direction away from the bipartisan consensus that has been bringing the U.S. and Israel ever closer for 40 years. Lieberman fears the consequences of such a change.

In fact, the Republicans are already trying to take advantage of this incipient drift. Following on the Lamont win over Lieberman, the Republican Jewish Coalition is running an ad in Jewish interest publications, with the following message:

“What was once the radical Left - with its antipathy toward Israel, its indifference to anti-Semitism, and its desire to appease terrorists instead of fighting them - is now emerging as part of the mainstream in the Democratic Party."

The RJC’s Democratic counterpart, the NJDC, is trying to rally the troops to decry the Republican campaign. The NJDC rejects the RJC’s assertion that Cindy Sheehan is a “Leading Democratic Activist,” According to the NJDC, Ms. Sheehan “is not a Democratic activist, and she does not speak for our Party.”

The Republicans are guilty of overselling the significance of the Lamont victory over Lieberman, but they’re guilty of playing politics. They’d like to convince the American people that the Democratic Party has moved in a radically left and dangerously pacifist direction…and they’re trying to scare American Jews with the prospect that the Party is being taken over by anti-Israel cadre, prepared to divorce this country from its support for Israel.

Unfortunately, they're not entirely wrong. If the race in Connecticut is a taste of things to come, then the DailyKos will play a big role in shaping a new Democratic agenda. And I don't think the Kossacks are as dismissive of Ms. Sheehan or her politics, as are more mainstream groups like the NJDC. As far as I can tell, the Kossacks want a vastly different approach to the Middle East, including policies that are much less pro-Israel.

There are arguments for reducing our commitment to Israel. One can believe that Israel’s policies do not deserve our support, or one can believe we are targeted primarily for our support for Israel – that a policy that supports the Arab position will remove the target that terrorists have placed on this country. Similarly, since bin Laden has pronounced his opposition to the presence of the infidels – U.S. forces – in the sacred Muslim lands in Arabia, it is argued that if we withdraw from the Gulf states – Iraq, of course, but also Saudi Arabia and the other emirates – that we can begin to make peace with militant Islamists.

Clearly, these arguments smack of appeasement, unless one believes that the current U.S. policies are the wrong ones – not just in the geopolitical sense, but morally. Because Americans want to be on the right side -- we cannot switch sides, if we don’t believe in the cause. We cannot withdraw our support for beleaguered friends that want or need our support just because others promise to make us pay dearly for that support. As Kim Howells, the British Foreign Office minister, said this week, "no government worth its salt would change its policy in response to terrorism."

Appeasement is just about the worst accusation one can make in the policy debate. In 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany for its invasion of Poland. It was not the decision to resist the Nazi war machine that brought on the terrible conflagration that was World War II. The British and French had learned that appeasement was a bankrupt policy that only emboldened the Fascists. But, they were not able to chart their own course. They were unprepared and could only respond ineffectually to Nazi aggression, because they waited too long to challenge the Axis powers.

No one wants to be guilty of appeasement again – and no one wants to be accused of it either. But, it is a real danger, right now. There is an alliance forming across the Arab world, with Iran at its core, connecting through Syria to Hezbollah and into the Palestinian territories to Hamas. Most Arabs want nothing to do with their wars, but the whole region is being held hostage by these fanatics. The evidence suggests they can’t be appeased, any more than the 1930s fascist groupings.

After years of fighting and fruitless negotiations, Israel tried a new strategy, beginning in 2000, under Ehud Barak. Israel hoped that it could withdraw, away form its enemies. In effect, Israel was declaring a unilateral cease-fire, but also much more. Israel thought it could appease its enemies – that, despite their declarations that they intended to eradicate the Jewish state, Israel hoped they would be pacified by withdrawals. First, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, in 2000, and then, under Sharon, in 2005, from Gaza.

Israel’s enemies are not so easily appeased. True, they have other grievances. Israel holds thousands of prisoners, and it continues to occupy the West Bank and Shebaa Farms, in Lebanon, and the Golan Heights – once Syrian territory. But, they cannot be appeased. They have taken Israel’s withdrawals as signs of weakness. Palestinians continued to launch mortars into Israel from Gaza, until they finally pushed too far with the raid to capture an Israeli soldier. The same scenario played out along the Lebanese border. Israel now hopes it can break the support these militias enjoy among their neighbors. Or, failing that, force the international community to step in and help disarm the militants.

Of course, only time will tell if this strategy produces better results, but the U.S. should learn the lesson of recent events. There is another gathering storm. The civilized world needs to show resolve in the face of this gathering storm. I don’t want to beat this metaphor to death, but you can resist and outlast a storm. The trick is to see it coming, and see it for what it is, and then take the necessary actions to gird yourself against it.

As there is a threat to the peace from militant alliances in the Mideast, there are parallel threads that connect Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Indonesia, and reach into madrassas across the Muslim world. These threads even reach into corners of Muslim communities in the West. We’re scared because anyone at all could be part of the next terrorist plot, but we need to stay cool because we need to be true to ourselves. We stay open for business, we defend our friends, and we embrace the vast majority of Muslims who are not part of this lunacy. Storms pass, but they can be pretty terrifying when you’re in the middle of it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Viva Seattle! OK – so, I watched the tape delay of D.C United-Real Madrid, and my strongest impression is that Seattle is a soccer town. 66,000-plus turned out at the magnificent Qwest Stadium to watch the match…and they didn’t even have a home team in the game. Sure…they all turned out to see David Beckham, not Jaime Moreno, but it was Moreno who showed, with the touch that set up Alecko Eskandarian’s game-tying blast. Becks seemed mostly lost among the stars. Roberto Carlos and Robinho were magnificent for the Spanish side – and Cannavaro tallied on a huge turn and rocket past United keeper, Troy Perkins. Though he couldn’t stop Cannavaro, Perkins laid out and saved Roberto Carlos’ powerful free kick (is it redundant to write “Roberto Carlos’ powerful free kick”?), and got some help from Ben Olsen, who kept the rebound attempt out of the net. As for Real's other Brazilian stars, Emerson had some deft touches, and Cicinho looked ever dangerous, as United’s goal seemed under constant siege in the second half.

To sum up my impressions of the play on the field: For United – they played admirably to emerge with a tie against such a talented squad. That, alone, is reason to smile. For Real Madrid – though they only managed a tie against a D.C. roster that wouldn’t go very far in La Liga, I have to think with the additions of Ruud van Nistlerooy, Emerson and Cannavaro, this team will give Barcelona a run for their money, challenging for the Spanish title and the Champions League trophy. Their immense talent was obvious, and they will start clicking with a bit more work together.

For me, the strongest impression was made by the crowd…and the stadium. Amazingly, the local USL squad does play in this huge facility, which dwarfs United’s own RFK. The Seattle Sounders general manager, Adrian Hanauer, has spearheaded a campaign to land an MLS franchise for Seattle. Hanauer promoted the game as a showcase to MLS official to see, first-hand, Seattle’s potential as a soccer-town.

If that was the primary purpose, I think the Sounders accomplished much more. Yes, the crowd displayed placards urging MLS to come to Seattle. But, I think Seattle confirmed a place on a much bigger stage.

It seems to me that if the United States ever hosts the World Cup again (and rumor has it that FIFA is considering staging the 2010 tournament here, instead of South Africa), Seattle would have to be included among the host cities. Qwest Stadium looks as if it were built for soccer, instead of the bowls that predominate among football stadiums here. And the sellout crowd commands attention. If the Cup does return to the States, I expect that Detroit, and possibly Orlando, would not repeat as a host city. Seattle should be the leading candidate to join the bid list.
Early Report (#2) -- Soccer -- According to press reports, DC United scored a tremendously artful goal to earn a 1-1 tie against David Beckham's Real Madrid squad, in Seattle, last night. I'm looking forward to watching a taped broadcast of the game, this evening. The tying goal was the product of a reportedly dazzling display of passing, begun by Freddy Adu and finished by Alecko Eskandarian. Wonderful news for United fans and those fans of the U.S. national team, who are waiting for Adu and Esky to make their mark on the international scene. More evidence that the level of play in the MLS is improving. United, of course, is the cream of the crop in the MLS right now, but let's spend a moment to count our blessings, not our failings.
Early Reports -- 1) The so-called War On Terror -- I say 'so-called' because it's really a terror war on the rest of us. Anyone who doubted that received a wake-up call with the morning's news (unless you were up late enough to learn the news last night). War is being waged against modernity. The civilized world is struggling to catch up and defend itself. Late last night (if you were up at 2:00 a.m Eastern time), we learned of a success.

Success in the war of terror isn't pacifying a country, it's stopping a small number of individuals. That's extraordinarily difficult to do. That's why it's so important to break up the organizations and the coordination among these groups. And it's critical to confront the states that support and sponsor terrorist groups -- all the states, not just a select few.

This stuff isn't made up -- there really are fanatics, who are plotting different ways to attack civilians. Not as collateral casualties, but as the primary targets in their war. Maybe, every so often, we need a reminder of that.

In the Middle East, Israel fights not because they're afraid of mortar rounds coming out of Gaza, even though Israelis were still being killed by these weapons after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israelis fight not because they are terrified of Katyushas packed with ball-bearings. The fear is of the next-generation of weapons -- perhaps these shells and rockets will be packed with chemical munitions, or radiological weapons using spent plutonium from the Iranian program...or worse. [There is a terrific essay in this week's New York Times Magazine that depicts the real scope of Israel's fears and motivation in the current incursion sin Gaza and Lebanon -- "Pondering, Discussing, Traveling Amid and Defending the Inevitable War," by Bernard-Henri Levy -- nytimes.com/2006/08/06/magazine/06israel.html].

I'm a lefty -- and I've watched for too long as other lefties have seen common cause with oppressed Palestinians and Lebanese -- always critical of Israel. The irony is that the radical Islamist groups, responsible for provoking the Mideast violence, are hardly champions of liberal thought. They are as reactionary as one can get. I'm not a fan of Israel's tactics, but you have to walk in their shoes for a while before you can understand why Israel responds in the way it does. Unfortunately, we are being forced to learn what it might be to walk in their shoes.

The real victory in this war won't come until the enemy (and there is an enemy) changes -- abandons their lunatic fringe ideology and their pointless violence. Their rhetoric, propaganda, their attitudes and, of course, their behavior -- it's all got to go...right into the dustbin. When murder stops being exalted or glorified, the terror war will grind to a halt. And we can slowly bring down our defensive levels, too.

Those who say that miitary actions are just making things worse have a point. But, if they're asking the rest of us to just turn the other cheek...That's fine advice, if your assailant is just slapping you across the face. Of course, that's not the current threat.

On that point, I'm intrigued to see the Washington Post endorse Lieberman's independent run. Apparently, the paper isn't buying into arguments that he is a right-wing apparatchik. In today's editorial, the Post writes that Lieberman has been very critical of the Bush Administration's performance in Iraq. [Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/09/AR2006080901632.html].

Here's where I part company with such reasoning: It seems so easy to be critical of the results, because the results have been so disastrously awful. The thing is, no one's convinced me that other tactics would produce significantly better results. This was the problem that Kerry ran into two years ago. Convince me that there is a better plan -- give me details, not a Nixonian "secret plan to end the war." It's hard to have it both ways: to support the decision to go to war, but blame the tactics for its abject failure -- for the current Mess-o-potamia.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Got Next -- I covered much of this material here before, but I've summed up those posts on the race in Virginia's 11th CD for my diary today on the DailyKos..I thought I'd post the diary entry here. Why? Because, I haven't had time to come up with fresh stuff tonight, and because it's worth repeating. Hey, if the networks can show re-runs all summer long...But seriously, I have a purpose in reposting here. Not everyone reads the DailyKos. For those who will find this info, for the first time, here, on my blog -- I'd like to replicate the kind of internet mobilization that got Ned Lamont the Democratic nomination for Senate. Can we do that to boot Rep. Tom Davis out of office?!?! I think so. Here we go (from the diary):

Now that Kossacks have helped tumble Joe Lieberman, I’d like to propose that the Kossacks dedicate themselves to beating actual Republicans. Sarcasm aside, I’d like to propose a new target: Representative Tom Davis (R-VA), of Virginia’s 11th Congressional District. Rep. Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. This may come as little surprise in this ethics-less Republican Congress, but it turns out that this is a classic example of the fox guarding the hen-house.

You may recall that Mr. Davis made his mark as chairman of this Committee earlier this year, when he decided that steroid use in baseball was a major part of his committee’s purview. Mr. Davis gave us the indelible images of Rafael Palmeiro lying to Congress, Mark McGwire refusing to say anything about “the past,” and Sammy Sosa’s lawyer testifying that he had never used steroids. Of course, anyone watching wondered whether Sosa’s attorney was speaking for himself or for Sluggin’ Sammy.

As it turns out, though, Mr. Davis was much busier behind the scenes, using his powerful committee chairmanship to enrich his best friend, and also Mr. Davis’ wife. Two months before Mr. Davis assumed the committee chair, his friend, Donald Upson, formed a consulting company to assist other companies bidding for government contracts – no doubt, purely a coincidence. And yet, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Davis’ office has been heavily invested in assisting Mr. Upton’s company and its clientele. In an article published two weeks ago, the Post reported that Mr. Davis had been using committee letterhead to threaten Pentagon contracting officers and otherwise lobby on behalf of clients of his friend’s government contract consulting company, ICG.

Coincidentally, when it was formed, ICG hired the woman who was to become Congressman Davis’ wife. She is a Virginia state legislator, and earns about $17,000 for her selfless public service. On the other hand, it seems that ICG has paid her handsomely for very little work. She receives a yearly wage from ICG of $78,000, allegedly for 10-20 hours of work a week, making calls from her home.

His wife’s position would appear to be in conflict with the opinion that the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct gave Rep. Davis, regarding his wife’s side job. The Conduct Standards Committee told the congressman that "his wife can work for the consulting firm, as long as the couple does not personally benefit from any official acts by the congressman. The committee told them to take care to 'avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain.'"

It’s hard to spin the wife's position and all the lobbying that Davis and his staff have done for ICG any other way – clearly, the congressman and his wife are using his position for personal gain.

I am even more exercised by some unseemly lobbying that Rep. Davis is doing on behalf of Bechtel. There is a plan to extend the Washington, D.C. Metro out to Dulles Airport. The plan will involve building 4 stops through the major commercial district of Tysons Corner. Everyone from smart growth planners to environmentalists to developers to politicians want to transform Tysons Corner from a purely shopping and business center, to a major downtown, with mixed use and residential development. Bechtel was given the project in a curious no-bid arrangement with the state government. The plan announced by Bechtel involved the construction of aboveground Metro stations through Tysons.

The problem was that everyone else believes that the major development goals would not be realized unless the stations are constructed underground. The new Virginia Governor, Tim Kaine started talking to a developer that offered a plan for a Metro tunnel through the area, with underground stations. The plan would involve using a Clark as the contractor, instead of Bechtel.

Despite the fact that almost everyone outside of Bechtel agreed that the plan needed to be reworked, to include a tunnel through Tysons, Rep. Davis cautioned Gov. Kaine against endorsing the tunnel proposal. Davis claimed that further delays would jeopardize the federal funding for the project. It seems hard to believe that the supposedly influential Mr. Davis could not deliver continued federal funding, if he wanted to do so.

The only logical explanation for Rep. Davis’ pressure on Gov. Kaine is that Davis is in Bechtel’s pocket. I am scandalized that Davis would canvass to spend nearly a billion federal dollars, on top of the state’s own commitment, for the benefit of a favored contractor, rather than use the funds in a truly transformational way. If Davis’ and Bechtel prevail, it will mean squandering a once-in-a-century opportunity to do some really intelligent development that would help ease traffic congestion, and greatly increase both housing stock and commercial development, all in one grand stroke.

Government Reform? The greatest Government reform will be replacing Rep. Davis. In this respect, the Dems have the perfect challenger. Since he began his campaign a year ago, Andrew Hurst has made ethics and campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his platform. To Hurst, this is job one. Nothing else that will be worth doing can get done, until something is done about the way policy follows the money these days. Get the money out of the system, and government can start working for all the people.

The Democratic Party hasn’t exactly targeted this race. With the disclosures about Mr. Davis’ unethical conduct and blatant corruption, I am hoping that will change. This may be the fastest growing district in the country. The demographics are also changing rapidly. I believe this is a district that can be turned, especially this year….for all the usual reasons, and because Rep. Davis has made himself very vulnerable.

Hurst may have begun his campaign talking about ethics and campaign finance reform when the Abramoff scandal was in full bloom. But, Mr. Davis has created his own personal scandal here. Even if the Delay-Abramoff scandal is already old news, Rep. Davis’ scandal is hot off the presses. This is the time to push for attention on this race – to shine the light on this rat’s little corner. A seat that seemed safe for the G.O.P. may now be in serious jeopardy.

I’d like to get busy organizing Kossacks -- and any other interested souls -- to help. I’m soliciting your help, and your advice in getting this effort off the ground. Who’s with me?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Twofer Tuesday -- First up, a grab-bag of things: The Lieberman campaign is complaining about a cyber-attack that has attacked its campaign website and shut down the email from the website. CNN read a statement from the Lieberman camp, asking challenger Ned Lamont to tell his "cyber-allies" to call off the dogs. CNN's reporter kept repeating that the Lieberman camp accused the Lamont campaign of doing or directing the deed.

I bring this up, because I'm anticipating that Lamont supporters will quickly light into Lieberman for supposedly leveling an accusation at the Lamont campaign. It sounded to me, though, that the CNN reporter was reading something into the statement that is not there -- a personal attack. I'm not sure where that is coming from -- it's not in the statement.

Lieberman's people are pointing out the obvious: The Lamont campaign is supported by the liberal side of the internet-community. Lots of boggers, to be sure, but probably more than a few hackers, too. The Lieberman statement asked Lamont to pass the word to his supporters ("cyber-allies") to back off and play fair. What's wrong with that?

Next up: Sex shows and baseball. Thomas Boswell wrote a column criticizing the D.C. City Council and Mayor Williams for buying into a plan by a local developer to build twin 13-story towers on the north side (left/center field side) of the proposed baseball stadium. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/07/AR2006080701442.html. It's an interesting debate, but I won't weigh in here.

To me, the most interesting bit of information in the article was the following: Writing about the stadium in Toronto, which features an attached hotel beyond the outfield, Boswell reports that "the center field hotel rooms famously offer sexhibitionists." Who knew? Maybe, this will become a trend? It opens up so many possibilities for the intersection of baseball terminology and adult play. A Grand Slam? Double play? I could go on...

Speaking of which, has anyone else ever thought that Randy Johnson's nickname ("The Big Unit") is just entirely inappropriate to use in family-friendly sports broadcasts? More information than we need to know...

Finally, I created a diary yesterday on the DailyKos site, and I was overwhelmed by the numbers of people who posted comments. It's a fun, vibrant community of intelligent, well-read and thoughtful people. Think AOL chatrooms, but with actual adults, really smart people who love to cogitate and express themselves on politics. Sure, there is a danger of groupthink -- I think that has a lot to do with the political hurricane surrounding Lamont's candidacy. But, there is a real opportunity for ideas to percolate and inform.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lamont or Lieberman? I ask the question of whether a Lamont victory will be a good thing – for either the Democratic Party or the American body politic? I posted the question and the following discussion in the launch of my diary on the DailyKos site, because the Kos site is at the forefront of the liberal blogosphere that is being credited with advancing the Lamont campaign to the point of defeating the once immensely popular incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman. I'm a Democrat, and a blogger, but I'm not sure this is a good thing, either for the Party or the country.

Once upon a time – I mean the 1990s – American politics and policy was being driven largely by the overbearing, over-loud, obnoxious and reactionary right-wing talk-radio. The influence of these conservative radio hosts was outsized – far beyond what their audience numbers might have suggested or warranted. But their radical politics came to dominate the Republican Party in the 1990s and they have shaped the political agenda, as social conservatives have hijacked all three branches of government.

Now, in a biological system, like the human body, when a hostile virus, germ or cancer invades and takes up residence inside the organism, there is a defensive reaction within the body. The organism generates antibodies that do little more than attack the poisonous invader. If the antibodies are successful, the invader is defeated and the body is restored to healthy functioning.

One could argue that this is exactly what is happening in this country now. The radical right agenda is divisive, and horribly destructive to the progressive, liberal culture and society that Americans have been trying to build for over two hundred years. Fundamentalist fanatics are working feverishly to turn back the clock on at least one hundred years of progress in education and science, as well as the spread of tolerance and diversity.

To most thinking people, it is hard to believe that the teaching of evolution is once again being debated. Even more stunning is the success that conservative school board candidates have had in states such as Kansas, where their electoral success led to the inclusion of intelligent design into the school curriculum. The efforts to shut down potentially transformational promise of stem-cell research are equally jarring to those of us who expect scientific research to continue the incredible progress of the last century. On so many social issues, the right-wing agenda seems antithetical to the interests of a forward-thinking nation.

With the ascendancy of the Republican Party reaching its apex in the early years of the Twenty-First Century, controlling all three branches of government and slavishly promoting the radical right’s policy agenda, there had to be a reaction in the American body politic. Liberals have gone on the attack, on liberal versions of the talk-radio/book format. In this sense, Al Franken may not just be the anti-Rush Limbaugh, but a 'Bizarro World' reverse version. Not only does Franken push a progressive agenda, he has come to his position in reverse order. The conservative mouthpieces have typically established themselves as commentator-celebrities first, then followed their notoriety, with novels that push their agenda to the top of best-seller lists. Franken did the opposite, trading his comedian’s hat for best-selling political author, before stepping foot into talk-radio himself.

Still, whatever attention followed the novelty of liberal talk-radio, the truly significant response to the conservative media has been the explosion detonated by the rise of the liberal-blogging community. Two years ago, when meet-ups were more the rage, it was the Dean campaign that was credited with making the greatest and most effective use of the internet to grow grass-roots support. The implosion of the Dean campaign sowed doubts not only about the candidate himself, but also the mainstream appeal of liberal, internet-based organizations like Move On.

The high-water mark for liberal bloggers may come tomorrow, with the vote in Connecticut to choose the Democratic Party’s candidate for Senate. Oddly, multimillionaire cable exec Ned Lamont has become the darling of the liberal blog set. In fact, his popularity among bloggers like the great and powerful Kos himself, probably has little to with Lamont’s own narrative or policies, save one. He has challenged Lieberman on his support for the Iraq war, and he has gained the support of the liberal activist blogger set that has branded Lieberman as Republican in Democrat’s clothing.

The question, which I asked at the outset, is whether all this is a good thing – for either the Democratic Party or this country and its politics. If bloggers are the antibodies that will kill off the radical right virus, then we should smile and let them do their work. We may mourn the loss of good men like Joe Lieberman (and I have no doubt he is a good man), who are collateral casualties in this assault on the debilitating disease of radical conservatism. But we cannot afford the luxury of attacking the antibodies, lest we impede the body politic’s return to health.

And yet, isn’t it possible that the blogosphere is carrying a like infection that may prove equally destructive to our nation’s politics? If all we achieve is replacing reactionary right-wingers with reactionary left-wingers, have we really gained all that much in the bargain? Are the criticisms of Lieberman valid – that he has become an enabler of the right-wing agenda? If the criticisms are fair, then the body may need to be purged of his brand of non-partisan, centrist governance, before the body can fairly be said to have recovered.

Perhaps the question comes down to this: Is there room in the Democrats’ big tent for Lieberman’s social agenda and his activist foreign policy? No one on the left should dispute the need for Democrats to advance an agenda with broad appeal. Democrats are accused of not really standing for anything, and that lack of clarity is sometimes blamed for failures at the polls. On the other hand, others fault the Democrats for creating a perception of ideological rigidity that is outside the mainstream.

Do Democrats need to stand for one thing – and if so, is opposition to the Bush policies on Iraq the place to make that stand? Can Democrats have an agenda for this country that allows for centrists like Lieberman who believe that Islamic fundamentalism is the biggest challenge we face in this Century? Can we tolerate someone who drank the neo-cons’ foreign policy Kool-Aid – who believes the U.S. with its force of arms can create a radical transformation of Arab political culture to a new paradigm that is accepting of modernism, Zionism, secularism and all the other trappings of life beyond the world-view of fundamentalist Muslim clerics?

No doubt, pundits shall proclaim that the result in the Connecticut primary will give us the answers to those questions. I still want to know: If Ned Lamont wins, will that be a good thing?
100 Visitors!!! Will the 100th visitor please stand up and be recognized? Actually, that count isn't official, since I did not have a counter for my first five days as a blogger. Still, it's a landmark moment, to see the counter flip to 100. Maybe, I'll keep doing this, after all.....
My Crazy Neighbor -- I thought I was in a unique situation until I read an article in the New York Times on the different smells that apartment dwellers have to contend with. While most complaints relate to second-hand smoke, or pets, a small handful every year relate to cooking odors.

My Crazy Neighbor -- Episode I -- The Origin (The Most Ridiculous Story Ever Told):

A few years ago, my crazy neighbor (lives above me) started complaining about cooking odors. I indulged him for a while. He wanted to have my oven and overhead fan cleaned. I gave him free reign. He's asked me to open a window when I cook. I do that almost every time. But here's where the story takes a turn for the bizarre...

My crazy neighbor picked up some big turbo-fans that he uses to blow the smell out of his apartment. I suppose the fans could be more effective than simply allowing it to air out. But, my place airs out very quickly -- and he will run these fans for hours. Late one night, I heated up some cold McDonald's French fries in my toaster oven for a couple of minutes. He turned on his fans, including the one in his bedroom, which ran until he woke up at about 5:30 in the morning (I was awake when he did this -- I can tell when his fans are on, because I can hear and the ceiling vibrates).

My crazy neighbor turned this into a truly ugly affair, after Thanksgiving, a couple of years ago. He was not at home, so I thought I'd take advantage and turn the leftovers into turkey croquettes. He came home around the time I was finishing, and he went berserk. He started throwing things and slamming his furniture down on the floor. My whole apartment shook. I wondered if I should call the police -- not to report him, but because he might need help.

After I went out, my crazy neighbor left me a phone message, threatening to make sure I knew every time that the smell bothered him -- as if I didn't already know each and every time. Each time, he smelled food, he started slamming things on the floor and stomping around so violently that I feared the ceiling might fall.

One Saturday afternoon, my crazy neighbor was stomping so hard, I was afraid to be in the apartment, because I feared imminent collapse. I called the police that time, as it was going on -- it was so violent and loud that I screamed to be heard on the phone and told the 911 operator to just listen. Though his behavior did mellow, I noticed, some months later, cracks above the kitchen doorway, but I can't prove that he was the cause and not subsidence.

After that, my crazy neighbor calmed down -- sort of. His stomping became less pronounced. He still made sure I would know he was upset. He would stomp-walk all about the apartment, as if he wanted to be sure he was stomping over my head. More recently, he started banging on his floor with something (I should add that he has hardwood floors -- something my condo association has prohibited because of noise issues). -- but he would bang around with this object--tapping away really, but loud enough to be hopeful that he was bothering me.

I have complained to the condo management about my crazy neighbor, but they have passed the buck. I have not been more aggressive in pursuing the matter because, frankly, my crazy neighbor has not been my primary concern. My girlfriend has been ill for years, though she could not get a reasonable diagnosis. Only in the last year, she was diagnosed with brain tumors, and the treatment so far has been ineffective in combating them. There are other medical conditions that complicate her treatment.

I said my crazy neighbor wasn't my primary concern, In fact, I tried to ignore the lunacy taking place above me, so that I could be there for my girlfriend, who was unstable herself, and required a great deal of attention. I avoided bringing the whole matter of my crazy neighbor's behavior to the condo's board of directors, because I just couldn't handle facing the escalation that was sure to come.

This past Spring, I was shoveling out after a major snowstorm, so that I could get her to the hospital for a scheduled radiation treatment. I tried to speak to my crazy neighbor for a moment to tell him (1) that the smell he had reacted to a few night's earlier came from another apartment, and that the smell the previous night was from a soup I heated up in the microwave (my crazy neighbor had previously pleaded with me to use the microwave like everybody else -- if everyone else just used the microwave, Williams-Sonoma would be in big trouble). Anyway, my crazy neighbor dismissed me and said that he had put up with a lot from me. A stunning statement, since I have done nothing but try to live my life. My crazy neighbor, on the other hand, has made it his personal crusade to try and harass me and make my living conditions intolerable.

All of which brings me to this past weekend. On Thursday, I cooked a veal chop, marinated in a lovely red wine-mustard and herb sauce...and I had steamed corn. No problem, as my crazy neighbor did not come home until after I had cleaned up. Friday night, my crazy neighbor came home while I was marinating some chopped ostrich meat (Don't cringe, try it) in a similar sauce, before I made a burger out of it. Anyway, I broiled the burger and steamed more corn and I plated the food.

Before I ate, I had to run out to this cool bakery before they closed. When I returned, my crazy neighbor, who was running his fans, started rolling some heavy object (a dumbbell perhaps) across the floor -- occasionally dropping it to punctuate his efforts. This went on for nearly two hours. When it continued after the clock struck eleven, I figured my crazy neighbor wanted me to call the police, so I obliged him.

Since then, my crazy neighbor has been very emphatic about stomping around-- he'll go from one end of the apartment to the other and right back again. He has also tried waking me up in the morning with a crashing noise from above. Saturday morning, he did wake me up. Sunday, I was already up.

I'm prepared to take this to the condo board this week, but I'm open to helpful suggestions to the crazy neighbor dilemma. Violence, and similar self-help remedies, while they would be immensely emotionally satisfying, are out of the question. It's a karma thing. I understand that other people in apartment situations do find cooking odors to be a problem. The question is what can I do, if anything, to appease the lunatic upstairs? Any solutions (they could legal or mechanical, in nature) would be welcomed.

Email me, as ever, at fischy@comcast.net.