Thursday, July 24, 2008

A handful of things every man should do (before he dies)

I read an interesting list today on Esquire: 75 things every man should do. It was strung with such pearls as:

Make a perfect omelet (#8)
Leave yourself a letter in a library book. Look for it twenty years later (#12)
Toboggan, aggressively (#14)
Go to Paris for two weeks and not tell anyone (#73)
Bungee jump (#75)

And I wondered: who would do such things? An aggressive tobogganer, bungee jumping, omelet making, narcissist? Besides,
anyone who can attempt the things on the list, like sleep outside for a week (#70) must have a pretty flexible job and a patient spouse. Most of the items on the list presume a pretty charmed life already, and then what's the point of the list? Lists are for people who can't decide, can't get organized, and need bullet points to get it in gear. Lists are not for people who carry totems around in their pockets (#22).

So, as a primer, here's my list of
20 things every man should do before doing the 75 things men should do before they die:

#1 Get off the couch
#2 Get really good at doing the laundry, ironing, and folding clothes
#3 While doing the laundry think about getting the rest of your shit together
#4 Clean the garage
#5 Leave your ex alone
#6 Realize you're not as funny as you think when you're wasted
#7 Never drive drunk again. Ever.
#8 Get a date. Plan the date. Get to know your date. Be prepared to pay for it all.
#9 Learn that innuendo, done incorrectly, is really creepy
#10 Stop being a dick
#11 Get your credit score above 700
#12 Do a flip off a diving board. Nail it. (Oh, wait. That was from the real article)
#13 Fall in love, and stay faithful as long as you're together. No exceptions.
#14 Cancel your cable or satellite service
#15 Become a parent
#16 Then become a good parent
#17 Spend some time actually listening to your significant other
#18 Call your mom once in a while
#19 Quit smoking pot
#20 Stop listening to people tell you what to do with your life

I know what you're saying:"geez man, those are so routine and boring!"

Exactly. I admire the person who dares to do the boring, really, really well. There's something heroic and self rewarding about it that, of course, has no place in modern society. It seems to require what most lists are always missing: character.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Couples who play together stay together?

In a discovery sure to set conventional relational wisdom on its ear, researchers at the University of Denver have found that couples who have fun together are happier than their counterparts. In-fact, finding moments to be together free of financial, family or other stresses — yes, just to simply "have fun" together — may no longer just be a selfish indulgence, but a vital ingredient to a happier relationship.

"The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time," says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university's Center for Marital and Family Studies.

Dr. Markman added, "We've discovered a sharp, previously undiscovered, correlation between having fun together and being happy."

The research adds to findings published in 2000 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by psychologist Arthur Aron of State University of New York-Stony Brook and colleagues. They showed that sharing in new and exciting activities is consistently associated with better relationships.

What new devilry is this, one may ask? That couples are now expected to, not only stay together, but "relate" to each other in some fashion? We live in an age of scientific wonder, to be sure, where we harness the power of nature, bend it to our will, and have it do our bidding, but who would ever think of having fun in marriage? Impossible! Are we really to believe this hard-earned research, which suggests, with a very low margin of error, that having fun together actually makes couples happier? Wizardry, plain and simple! Liberal hogwash of the highest order! Happy couples do not indulge, they do not share moments at the old "ball yard" or laugh together over a round of "mini put put golf." Oh, those couples may look like they're having a good time but I dare you to check back with them in even two years time. Such things simply cannot last.

Try to be happy, sure, but it fades. A long-term relationship is built on the solid foundation of quietly eating meals together at the kitchen table, doing the dishes, then watching the late show side-by-side. Such rote breeds stability, and routine builds confidence and keeps stress low.
Life, as Paul Simon once wrote, should be full of superficial sighs on the borders of our lives. She reads Emily Dickinson and he Robert Frost. Note your place with bookmarks and measure what you've lost! Verses out of rhythm, couplets out of rhyme. Conversations starters should include, "Can analysis be worthwhile?" Or, "Is the theater really dead?"

No more talk of this, fun, which can only raise the heart rate to alarming levels, build an unwieldy intimacy, and allow the encroach of lustful thoughts. The very idea! Why, if I wanted to have fun I would hit the local pub with the boys from the office for a few vodka tonics. If one must be happy, if one cannot stand the mundane nature of life, then I say go to the track and get it out of your system! Place it all on Wooden Nickel and be done with it! Then return home, exorcised, having slayed your inner demon for the good of stability in the home. Speak nothing of it to your wife, who may, at best, find the whole situation terribly vexing, and at worst, a senseless indulgence. She never did understand you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rick Ankiel's amazing comeback

In a year of great rags to riches baseball stories, Rick Ankiel's may be both the most impressive and the least recognized. Once a highly touted pitcher with a rocket arm, one night his young major league career imploded on the mound. Six years later he is back in the majors, as an outfielder, helping his team by belting home runs and stealing hits in the outfield. Sound familiar?

In 1997 Ankiel signed with the St. Louis Cardinals straight out of high school after being named Player of the Year by USA Today. By 2000 was starting in the major leagues as the second youngest player in baseball. He ended the season 11-7, helping the Cardinals win the NL Central.

Ankiel, chosen to start game one of the National League Division Series, made it through two innings before his career began to slip away. In the third inning he took the mound and suddenly could not find the strike zone. He walked three, threw five wild pitches, and gave up five runs before being pulled.

Ankiel appeared two more times in the post-season, both outings were similarly wild. He started game 2 of the NLCS and was removed after 20 pitches, including five uncatchable balls sailing ten feet over the catcher and careening off the backstop screen. In game five Ankiel appeared in relief and faced four hitters, walking two, and throwing two more wild pitches.

Though Ankiel tried to downplay his sudden control problems as mechanical, they were in-fact mental. People recalled Steve Blass or Mark Wohlers, dominating pitchers who mysteriously lost the ability to throw strikes. By the end of 2001 Ankiel was out of the majors. The next year he was sidelined in the minors with season ending surgery. He made a brief appearance back with the Cardinals in 2003 and then vanished.

Three years later Ankiel arrived at Cardinals spring training on a long-shot attempt to make the club as an outfielder. But he blew out his knee and underwent another season ending surgery.

Last year Ankiel came to spring training again and ultimately wound up at the Cardinals' AAA club in Memphis. On August 9th the Cardinals promoted him to the major league club. He was penciled in to bat second and play right field. The Busch Stadium crowd greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation. During the seventh inning, in his final at bat of the day, Ankiel hit a three run home run into the right field stands. Two days later he went 3-4 with two home runs, knocked in three, and made a beautiful catch in right field.

Charles Krauthammer, notable Washington Post columnist, wrote, "His return after seven years--if only three days long--is the stuff of legend. Made even more perfect by timing: Just two days after Barry Bonds sets a synthetic home run record in San Francisco, the Natural returns to St. Louis."

The remainder of 2007 was filled with spectacular games: a grand slam on August 31; another two home run game, including seven RBI and an over-the-shoulder catch on September 6; a walk-off triple on September 23. And just to make sure it wasn’t all a fluke, this season Ankiel has belted 20 homers, 50 RBI, and owns an .880 OPS. He is already regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball with wide range and a rocket arm.

Baseball is the most individual of all the team sports. Its isolation is instantly recognizable from the vantage point of the spectator. The position players are arrayed, far apart, asked to defend against a little white ball, batted at them by a hitter who stands alone at the plate. The pitcher stands alone on the mound to face him. Ankiel's career unraveled right before everyone's eyes in the middle of the diamond. And, incredibly, it has come back together on the other end, at the plate and in the field.

Ankiel has re-invented himself as a slugging outfielder. He has gone from losing his pitching control to now doing the hardest thing in all sports, and doing it amazingly well. What abilities are needed to be able to do this? Is it immense talent? Is it unstoppable drive? Millions of kids want to play baseball, how many ever make it? How many make it as a top pitcher, fall, and then make it all the way back as a top hitter?

On such things, tragedy and second chances, life is built. And in such things is the greatest nature of sports. The Roy Hobbs of the world, emerging from obscurity, overcoming their downfalls, and harnessing their immense talent represent facets of all of us. In their failure their success is magnified all the more. The flawed champions of Greek or Arthurian legend are both the most real, and the greatest of all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Baseball's All-Time All-Mustache Team

One of baseball's biggest first-half stories has been Jason Giambi and the rise of his new mustache. Giambi slumped early but turned things around by growing what has now become the most famous piece of facial hair in sports. Its presence has led him to 18 homers, 54 RBI and on Wednesday the Yankees gave away replica mustaches to the first 20,000 fans as part of an effort to get their first baseman voted onto the All-Star team.

The All-Star campaign has also received backing from the American Mustache Institute.

At this moment, all that matters is that you find a way to vote Jason
Giambi - he of the mustache power - to the Major League Baseball All-Star game.

AMI's reasoning is simple:
It does not take a mathematician to know that Giambi + Mustache = All-Star. It's science.

Baseball player + Mustache = All-star. This simple
sabermetric has been proven true over time. Baseball's history is one full of great mustaches. And now, in honor of the upcoming All-Star Game, I now give you Baseball's All-Time All-Mustache Team.

Richard "Goose" Gossage. All baseball mustache discussions must begin with
Gossage. He began his career in 1972 with the Chicago White Sox, mustacheless, and middle of the road. By 1978 he joined the Yankees, had a wild handlebar 'stache, and became un-hittable. By the end of 1987 he ranked second in major league history in career saves. He trailed only Rollie Fingers, who was also sporting both a flamboyant and dominating mustache.

Roland "Rollie" Fingers. Fingers pitched from 1968-1985 and rose to power after growing a mustache to win a $300 bonus from Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. The '
stache took on a life of it's own, evolving into the barbershop-like curly variety. Batters may have been tempted to twirl it but Fingers never let them get close. He won three consecutive championships with the A's, seven all-star appearances, and three Rolaids Relief Man of the Year awards. In 1980 he broke the all-time save record which stood until 1992 when Jeff Reardon, in full beard, eclipsed it.

Catfish Hunter. They say the bigger the game the better he pitched and the better his mustache looked. They both dominated baseball from 1970-1976, winning over 20 games in a season five straight times, and both ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Fergie Jenkins.
The man was
Fergie before Fergie, and racked up 284 wins, including at least 20 per season six consecutive times. No small feat playing most of his career for the Cubs. He was known for pinpoint control, changing speeds, and a nicely kept mustache. He is now in the Hall of Fame.

Dennis Eckersley. No pitching mustache discussion would be complete without mentioning
Eckersley. Eck broke onto the scene in 1975 with unstyled long hair, prominent mustache, and live fastball. He began his career as a starting pitcher but in 1987 he was converted to a relief pitcher and went on to close 220 games over the next five year. In 1990 he gave up five earned runs all season, posting a 0.61 ERA. He is the only relief pitcher in baseball history to have more saves than base runners allowed.

Thurmon Munson.
Munson was catcher for the New York Yankees from 1969 to 1979. Munson's dominating mustache (pictured up top) is the thing of baseball legend. He was known for his outstanding fielding, clutch hitting, and leadership. He was 1970 American League Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, and 1976 American League MVP award winner. His career was tragically cut short by a plane crash at the age of 32. His number 15 is retired by the Yankees, and an empty locker in the clubhouse remains as tribute to their lost captain.

First base
Keith Hernandez. Giambi's famous mustache is not even the most dominant ever at his position, or even in his own town. First base has long been known for colorful, dominating mustaches. All-Time honors go to Hernandez who played from 1974-1990, had a prominent mustache, won World Series titles in 1982 and 1986, and appeared in the greatest Seinfeld episode of all time, while giving rise to the quote, "I'm Keith Hernandez." He currently holds AMI's coveted "Greatest Sports Mustache" of all time award and continues to style a dominating mustache to this day.

First base backup
Don Mattingly
Another all-time first base mustache belongs to "Donny Baseball." Mattingly broke into the majors in 1982 with a sweet swing and proud handle-bar mustache and dominated the American League for the next six seasons. In 1987
Mattingly belted a home run in eight consecutive games. His career went into decline shorty after, from being under the weight of such a heavy mustache.

Second base
Joe Morgan.
Morgan did not have a predominant mustache during his playing days but he does now as Joe Miller's broadcasting sidekick on
ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Third base
Wade Boggs. The other corner infield position also has two all-time great mustaches. Here I give the nod to
Boggs whose mustache was so wild it looked like he broke into the majors a decade late. Despite this he stuck with it through a downward trend in facial hair during the late 80s and 90s. He was rewarded with a .328 lifetime average, 3,010 hits, and a Hall of Fame induction.

Third base backup
Mike Schmidt.
Schmidt played his entire professional career with a mustache, and with the Philadelphia
Phillies. Schmidt's hall of fame career includes three three MVP awards, and 12 All-Star games. He is widely considered one of the greatest third basemen in history. He helped the city of Philadelphia win its last sports championship in 1980.

Robin Yount.
Yount is another mustache bearer in the Hall of Fame. He played from 1974 - 1993 with the Milwaukee Brewers, collecting 3,142 hits, and two MVP awards. He was known for his consistency, sticking to the mustache for his entire career.

Reggie Jackson. Special mustache mention must be made to Jackson, who ushered in the mustache era in baseball in 1972. As reported by writer Bruce

In1972, Oakland A's star Reggie Jackson reported to spring training in Arizona, replete with a fully-grown mustache, the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache to reach full bloom. By the time that spring training began in 1972, the mustache had reached epic proportions-at least by major league baseball's conservative standards of the day.

Reggie stuck with the '
stache for the remainder of his career and was elected into the Hall of Fame.

Jim Rice. Rice began his career in 1975 by winning the American League Rookie of the Year award and sporting a stylish mustache. He was also known for his power and clutch hitting and was elected to the All Star team from 1977-1980, and 1983-1986.

Dave Winfield. Winfield is often recognized as a ball player of pure ability, and his thin, manicured mustached reflected his elegant style of play. He was a complete player, with 12 All-Star appearances, seven gold gloves, and one hall of fame induction.

Billy Martin
. Alfred "Billy" Martin was manager of the New York Yankees no less than five different times. Known for his colorful arguments with umpires, including popularizing the kicking of dirt on their feet, Martin's stature was only augmented by the presence of a wide, fiery mustache.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Minnesota's Jesse Ventura to run for Senate?

Jesse Ventura made history in 1998 trading in his WWF persona for governor of Minnesota. Now he may be thinking of running for Senate. The former Navy Seal was recently on public radio and made his frustration with the two current candidates known.

"All you Minnesotans take a good hard look at all three of us. If you
were in a dark alley, which one of the three of us would you want with
you?" Ventura said.

Minnesota's Senate race has been one of the most watched of the election. For one, the state is trending blue but is hosing the GOP convention in September. Also, Norm Coleman (R) is attempting to win reelection against notable humorist Al Franken (D). Ventura could enter this mix as an Independent.

The latest poll shows Coleman ahead of Franken 52-40. Franken, author, Saturday Night Live writer, and comedian, has had a hard time generating traction against Coleman, a man often compared to a Muppet, potted plant, or TV anchorman. Franken's troubles show that people typically do not like snarky or smart-ass when in the voting booth. Testosterone or towel snapping however have always played well.

Coleman previously lost a bid for Governor of Minnesota against Ventura. Many around the state are now openly predicting that Ventura will run. I, for one, welcome the idea and eagerly anticipate the first debate. I like to be entertained.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Obama Selects Stadium for Acceptance Speech

The Ministry of Propaganda extends this invitation to you, supporter, to join us on August 28th. Then, Mr. Obama, your candidate, will formally accept the Democratic nomination surrounded by 75,000 people in a open-air event where he will deliver his acceptance speech to the American people.

Preceding the speech the gathered masses will be addressed by party leaders, will then swear loyalty and will participate in formation marches! Should the gathering spill over, marches will continue through downtown Denver.

If you act now, and make a donation of $5 or more, you could be one of a
handful of supporters chosen to fly to Denver and attend the convention
in an event you'll never forget!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama on Iraq

Curious what the right thinks about Barack Obama's campaign? Look no further than Charles Krauthammer's latest Washington Post column. Krauthammer, you see, is a little concerned that Obama is now wearing a flag pin. Obama famously did not wear one during his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton and was derided by the right for it. Now he's put one on and you'd think such simple and transparent gestures would assuaged critics like Krauthammer. Instead it is seen not a symbol of patriotism but of liberal flip-flopping.

Obama's reasons for not wearing a flag pin were not only sound, but actually excessively patriotic. A flag pin is, after all, literally the very least you can do to support your country and, after so much banality masquerading as love-of-homeland, and so much youthful support being abused by the draconian minds in the current administration, the lack of a shallow symbolism was a refreshing moment of sincerity and sanity.

But people like Krauthammer see it as the ultimate test. The wearing of a flag pin I mean. It's almost laughable to think how easy it would have been for Obama to have worn one the whole time, rendering the whole issue moot, while also pulling the wool over everyone's eyes. People demand an answer for Obama's blatant and insidious plans to subvert and destroy the country and I say if those were his goals, why not wear begin the undertaking by wearing the flag pin? Why draw any attention to a supposed lack of patriotism? Only someone completely secure in love of country would have the onions to take the pin off and ask the public to vote for him.

But anyway, I've already been drawn into the time honored conservative straw man argument--which is casting a non issue as a real issue and getting people to talk about it while the real issues go unchallenged.

Obama's flag pin reversal is just the proverbial tip of the waffling iceberg according to Krauthammer. There's also NAFTA renegotiations, future chats with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the supreme court handgun decision, and, of course, the dreaded campaign finance flip-flop, as if that is anything at all. Yes, it's true, I'm happy to concede that Barack Obama has raised so much money from so many people that he doesn't even need to use public funds to run his campaign. He can do without, because common people are sending him the money. No doubt he kept the public fund option open, but when he raised several bazillion dollars decided there was no need to take from charity.

But these things are just child's play. The real nub of the crux for Krauthammer is Obama's precarious stance on Iraq, an issue which came to fruition today when he said he may "refine" his pledge to pull troops from Iraq over a 16 month time span if elected. This was akin to throwing a slab of ribs to a pack of wild dogs, and the right went from deep sleep to full frothy leap in before the food had even hit the floor. Today they put up such mock outrage that Obama and to reconvene his press conference and stress his commitment to everyone that he was sticking to his original plan.

It's the "refining" idea that conservatives can't stand. Such a thing turns coservativism in its grave. It whips people on the right into a frenzy. The concept that as facts on the ground change and your opinion may also change just doesn't resonate with the flat earth society. Even bastions on the left are willing to concede that Iraq has made progress and maybe hasty withdrawals not be entered into rashly.

In this week's New Yorker George Packer writes that when Barack Obama originally laid out his 16 month plan "no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year."

The Iraqi turnaround has been, as Packer also points out, a mix of President Bush's surge, refined (yes, "refined") strategies in Iraq, the Sadr militia's cease fire, and turning the Sunnis against Al Qaeda. In light of recent success in Iraq, Packer suggests that Obama's original comments now seem "out of touch."

So here you have someone writing for publication with well known liberal leanings, suggesting that 1) Iraq has undergone some positive adjustments over the last 18 months and 2) a hasty withdrawal based on old realities may not be the right move at this time. Meanwhile, you have someone on the right insinuating that Obama reconsidering his timetable remarks is nothing less than the ultimate betrayal of public trust.

And so the climax of Krauthammer's column reads like this: "He [Obama] will use his upcoming Iraq trip to finally acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground and to formally abandon his primary season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops." And, believe me, the final few paragraphs show that Krauthammer doesn't mean this in a positive way.

And with that," he intones, "The Obama of the primaries, the Obama with last year's most liberal voting record in the Senate, will have disappeared into the collective memory hole."

Perhaps Obama will change his stand on Iraq, and maybe he should. I'm not acute enough to judge either move. However, if Obama does "acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground" wouldn't that be more or less a remarkable thing to do? In the hands of a lesser executive, would that not be political suicide? It would be, OMG, like a thousand unworn flag pins times a million!! It would be like George Bush suddenly saying that Al Gore has been correct about this climate change stuff and we need to plan accordingly.

Such things, of course, never happen on the right. Carbon footprints get bigger. Evidence to the contrary is not only ignored but re-worded. Stem cell research receives no new funding. Wars are waged with a hand waved at reconstruction planning. Liberties are struck down by a party mired in the past. And that's exactly why we have someone like Barack Obama. That's why he has raised more money from more people than any other candidate in history--because he seems to posses a little thing called judgment. He weighs facts and decides. The right calls it flopping. Most post-renaissance societies call it practical.

And I haven't even mentioned the right's champion, John McCain, a rock of political Gibraltar whose flip flopping and political posturing is so well known that mentioning his hit parade here would be not only redundant but borderline cruel and would probably single-handedly deflate the right's entire argument against Obama and liberals in one fell swoop. And what fun would that be? Besides, McCain gets a pass for being a maverick. And what's more, I don't even care if he changes his mind. He's a grownup.

That seems to me what life is about--you live it, you're exposed to new realities, and you adjust. Along those lines I can think of nothing more patriotic than to weigh evidence carefully, including alternative ideas, and judge accordingly, and enact the correct solution for the good of the country, no matter what the particular issue is, or what the political cost. Obama, from day one, seems to be willing to do this. It's also the very most Americans want. It's why Hillary lost.
It's what encapsulates people's "hope" in Obama. And it's also the thing which Republicans have not been doing for years.