Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fresh air

It's hot and sunny here in Minneapolis. Combine that with the blacktop effect and smog, and we're having a week of low-quality air. Yesterday it was so bad the elderly were advised against strenuous activity.

I am not unaffected by this, as I live only a couple Pujols moonshots away from about a dozen factories and mills. When I've gone outside this week and the wind was low, I could feel how bad the air was.

So when the stuff outside your door's no good, where do you go to get fresh air?

. . .

Tim Donaghy, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, the Tour de Frauds.

Where do I begin?

Nowhere. Today there's no beginning, just an ending.

I'm not going to sift through five dozen highlight tapes to decide whether "Points" Donaghy was on the take. I'm not checking to see if that dubious third quarter blocking call from a Memphis game in December was in fact a charge.

Though I'll follow it's arc, I'm not going to get lost in the minutiae of Vick's strife. If you want my initial thoughts, scroll down. That's all I've got.

I won't go into detail on why I think Bonds should retire with 754 home runs.

I won't try to understand why everyone in the entire French countryside, peasants included, begins their morning with a piping hot cup of human adrenaline.

I mean, my God, now they're telling me I can't trust Alberto Gonzales. Where will it end?

I've been up and running here at needle in the hay since March. Covered a variety of topics, and you can find them listed at the right. Sports, other stuff. About 60,000 words.

But all of this? This is too much. I wish I was angrier. I wish I could come out all fire and brimstone. I just can't bring myself to care enough.

Yesterday was wallpapered with scandal coverage, stories and analysis. Not long ago they had a poll question up asking whether baseball, basketball, or football was facing the worst scandal. I opted not to vote.

The real news in this world is mostly bad news. So often I turn to sports to distract myself from people's personal struggle and hardship. It's just easier for me.

And when there is scandal in sports, what then? If your distraction from the corruption of daily life is itself corrupt, where do you turn?

Where, indeed, do I find fresh air?

. . .

My girlfriend's been in South Africa a month now. I leave in a little more than a week. I'll be there three months.

I can't wait. Besides the obvious downside of that kind of distance -- miscommunication and bad connections, now only 51 cents a minute! -- it'll be nice just to have her in the room with me again. I've spent much of the last three weeks alone. I'm tired of being on the internet sports beat. I'm tired of being inside my own head. I just want to go sit somewhere with her and talk about how good the food is.

I plan to keep writing in this space, but not necessarily along the same track. I'm not sure what I'll end up writing while I'm in South Africa, though I am not without my ambitions. I do plan to immerse myself in the local soccer scene and see what comes from that.

Anyone with a good knowledge of world sports and politics would see the fallacy in looking for honesty from this game and asking for justice from this guy. But then it's a sliding scale, isn't it?

I assume that when I get back in November, two teams will be in the World Series. Steve Nash and Phoenix will be up and running. There will be half a dozen Heisman candidates, and Randy Moss will have been either great or terrible.

Sometime after I get back, it'll catch me again. I'll hear about something Gilbert Arenas said to a 76ers fan, or I'll see a college football game turn on a punt return, or Sid Crosby will grab his stick by the blade and score a slapshot with the handle just to show he can.

Until then? As the lead character said in Good Will Hunting, "I'm holding out for something better."

Right now, something better comes in a few forms for me. I'm taking a self-taught class in storytelling, I'm trying to remember genius, and I'm looking for miracles, both great and small.

I'll keep you posted.

Until then,

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Horror at 1915 Moonlight Road

The other day I took my dog for a walk.

Like always, I took him back behind my house, and we walked along the railroad tracks. Charlie, my lab retriever-husky, likes walking back there because there are a million weeds growing for him to smell and piss on. I like walking there because it greatly limits the chances that I run into, you know, people.

We'd only been walking for a few hundred feet when I noticed Charlie drifting toward something. Out of the corner of my eye it looked like a fat, headless duck. But when I looked closer I saw that it was in fact a fish, and one of considerable size.

You'll excuse my mistake: I see a lot of dead birds on our walk, not a whole lot of dead fish. While walking the tracks, I do see the odd person -- some of them very odd -- but very few of them are carrying fishing poles. Even if you've killed off a liter of rum, I just don't think they're biting.

I pulled Charlie away before he put got near the fish, and we pressed on. After a while I decided we'd come far enough, and we turned back for home. Again we passed the fish. Strange indeed, but once I got home it was out of my mind.

. . .

By the time the first whispers came out that Michael Vick was tied to a dogfighting ring, they were no longer whispers. There are no small stories today, because everything echoes off a thousand outlets big and small. We'll wring the news out of anything that's damp, but this story had legs and would be made to walk.

From late April to early July, the story was like stones in a river: pieces hit and rippled, hit and rippled.

If those were stones in the water, then Tuesday, via the smoking gun, came the landslide -- an 18-page, 84-point indictment of Vick and three others -- and the resulting wave has buried the entire sports landscape. The only thing that compares in this year is the fallout from Lebron's 48-point masterpiece against Detroit. The year 2007 in sports may historically belong to a 48-point rise and an 84-point fall.

As soon as all of this started, I basically got the hell away from Vick, having been burned by Jason Kidd. I was not going to defend an athlete out loud or in my own mind simply because I like what he does on the field. I don't know Michael Vick. I never did.

And he's not just a benefactor in this document. He's one of the stars. He's there on the ground floor -- "and MICHEAL VICK, also known as Ookie, decided to start a venture" -- he buys the house at 1915 Moonlight Road, he got his "Bad Newz Kennels" headband, he's at fights, and most damning, he's there at the very end.

"In or about April 2007. . .and VICK executed approximately 8 dogs that did not perform well. . ."

I finished reading and leaned back in my chair. My mouth was suddenly dry. I tried to think of something to think or feel. I just felt numb.

I got up. I called my dog. We went out the back door for a walk.

I didn't even see it first. We had gone only about a hundred feet and I could smell it. That fish. Soon we were next to it, and then past it. But even when I was upwind, I couldn't get the smell out of my nose. It stunk. It would, from that point forward, be harder to ignore.

. . .

Roger Goodell made it clear early in his term as NFL comissioner that he would have no patience for wrongdoing from his players. And this came as no surprise. But much more revealing to me was that player leadership had requested harsh penalties. No more "protect your own," no more "no snitchin'." The players themselves said, "This is too much."

That all came out in February, and over the next couple of months, we saw Goodell's rough justice. And the league was served notice: no more messing around. If you're doing something, get out now, because anyone caught on the wrong side of anything is getting suspended and is losing money, or worse.

I don't think Mike Vick is a stupid guy. I think he understood the implications. And the things written in that indictment carry right through the Pacman saga. The only thing I can take away from his continued involvement with "Bad Newz Kennels" is that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.

Do I think that some of the allegations about 1915 Moonlight Road may be embellished or remembered incorrectly or just wrong? Yes. I'm willing to listen for Vick's version. But this investigation cites at least four sources. And the number of other people listed -- construction workers, dogfight enthusiasts, friends -- who would have acquired knowledge of the operation over the six years in question makes me believe the investigators are pretty sure of what they've got.

Do I think that pitbulls are predisposed to some level of violence? Yes, in the same way that poor young men might be more predisposed to crime. But they're not gang members until somebody trains them.

Do I think that this kind of thing happens often in some parts of the South? Yes. But there was another thing that was pretty popular in the South about 40 or 50 years ago. And that thing was called widespread and violent racism. Some people let it happen, others embraced it. History has not remembered them well.

And I'm sorry I have to make this point. But earlier this year, Vick teamed up with the United Way to donate $10,000 to Virginia Tech, which had been Vick's college. (Although I'm tempted to call it his "college team.") I probably shouldn't doubt anyone giving to charity.

But just so we're clear here, this was $10,000 from a guy who signed a contract in 2005 that came with more than $30 million in bonuses. Bonuses means it's upfront. As in thanks for signing, here's your check with EIGHT zeros. This of course excludes his endorsements. And he's "teaming up" with the United Way for 10 grand? (Ten thousand dollars, by the way, is slightly less than the amount that was allegedly wagered on a single dogfight in March of 2003.)

At the moment I also can't find any evidence that Vick ever actually visited the campus of Virginia Tech after the shootings.

Perhaps he had other things on his mind. Because a short time before or after Vick made this pledge and the run-of-the-mill statement that came with it, he is alleged to have participated in killing eight pitbulls.

. . .

I was brought out of my haze by the sound of a train engine. It was coming up behind us. "C'mon, Charlie," I said, and we turned back.

He doesn't do a lot of tricks, but Charlie's a great walk. He listens to me, and he would only be interested going somewhere if I was going there too. In the year I've known him, Charlie has become completely devoted to me. And if he's devoted to me, he is consumed by his love for my girlfriend. He follows her room to room, lying outside the bathroom when she showers. He sleeps when she sleeps, and he whines to me when she's gone too long.

I've never really valued dogs as tools. It's not in my nature to train my dog to hunt or roll over. And I don't need to "show them who's boss." Charlie had a rough life before he ended up at the humane society, and that came through when he was scared of me for weeks after we brought him home. And every time he met a new adult man, Charlie winced and clung to the girlfriend.

Charlie had been beaten, undoubtedly by a man. And when we first got him, he had several marks on his nose and a ring of stitches on his elbow where his dominant brother had bitten into him. He shakes uncontrollably at the sound of thunder or fireworks, and he can't stand to be left alone for too long. At least once a night I have to wake him from his nightmares.

Needless to say, his life has left him with a meek personality. There are very few things he'd qualify to be as a dog, other than a loyal friend. He just doesn't have it in him.

". . .executed the pit bull that did not perform well. . .executed at least one dog that did not perform well. . .executed at least one. . .executed at least two. . ."

. . .

We passed the fish, one last time. I could see that it's rotted and been picked down to the bone. Soon it will be completely gone. In 10 minutes I would forget about it. But for a moment, I was downwind. And my God, the smell.

. . .

It's been hot here in Minneapolis, and if it's hot for me it's worse for Charlie.

I got him some water, and I poured him way, way too much food.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Notes, or Sell your soul while it's still worth something

Hello and welcome back. Today, we've got affirmation in the NBA, pain and triumph on the soccer field, and my thoughts on Mike Vick's pet cemetery.

- In a quick editor's note, I've started breaking my posts up with seperate links. If you're looking for something in particular, click on the link at the top of the post and you'll be taken directly to that section. Those links-within-the page are called anchors, which is also the term you use for fat-headed stiffs who weigh down sports networks. Eventually I'll get it so that the entire archives are organized in this way.

- Of course, we begin with robots.

Two AP stories recently appeared on -- one on June 22, the other on June 28 -- that are mistakently reported as seperate news. Oddly enough, they both came out of Boston, and yet they were not combined into one super-story, that should really should be getting play everywhere.

June 22 - Robots to look for life in Arctic
And June 28 - What happens when you hand a 'bot a Taser?

This is it, folks. Live it up, because we've all got a few months left.

The first story explains that we're sending robots to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean to look for life in some hotprings. We plan to someday use robots to look for life on the moons of distant planets. In other terms, we'll be sending these robots about 500 million miles into space, where they'll go through piles of frozen dirt looking for minnow fossils.

That's a bad gig. Apparently, limited benefits on this job. Although if the robots do form a union, it's expected they would endorse Mitt Romney.

So, to the second story. I think this is self-explanatory. The question is, "What happens when you hand a 'bot a Taser?", and the answer is "Probably nothing all that great."

The lead source in that story is John Pike of Mr. Pike says that in the near future, "you're going to start seeing Robocops, or a Terminator. We may see autonomous robots capable of inflicting lethal force."

First of all, when we're in the development phase of these Robocops, I think I have a volunteer to play the test criminal. "That's right, Mr. Pike. Just pretend to take the old lady's purse, and hopefully your heavily-armed robot is a reasonable fellow."

By the way, how hard would it be for a robot with a taser to wait for the right moment, stick it to some guard's neck and say, "Hey, how about you give me the rest of the tasers?"

And here's how the two stories are actually one story, and it's also how the world ends: one of the robots in the first story meets one of the robots from the second story.

Robot: Check it out. I got a taser.
Robot 2: A taser? I have to go to the bottom of the Arctic, and you get a weapon? Do you think you could get me one?
Robot 3: Well they're sending me to Jupiter to go play in the dirt. Does it have a "KILL" setting?

Don't say I didn't warn you.

- Okay, now some quick notes on the NBA. First, an update on my Grant Hill idea from last month.

June 23 - Notes or Trying to make sense of a bullet hole
"If Hill comes back, can we just make it so that it's not with the Orlando Magic? Phoenix, Dallas...somebody offer him a jersey."

Well that didn't take long. Phoenix signed Hill to a two-year contract. I think it's a good fit for everyone. Hill makes the Suns go one guy deeper, and he can still find the open guy.

Phoenix, meanwhile, gets Hill's leadership. Hopefully Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire tip an ear toward Hill. Both of them have expressed at least some willingness to leave Phoenix, and I think Hill can point out the reality here. You can get paid later. You can be the man later. But when you're in a situation where you're trying to build talent, and you finally start to see over the horizon. . . you're only one or five ankle injuries away from never getting your chance. It would be stupid for either of them to split Phoenix until they actually see Steve Nash's back carried away in a garbage bag.

By the way, for all the people taking shots at them on this, this absolutely makes them better. They can now rotate lineups of Nash, Barbosa, Marion, Diaw, Hill, Raja Bell and Stoudemire, where they'll have four passers on the floor with the league's best catcher-and-dunker.

Barring injury or suspension, that's my pick in the Western Conference.

- Now to the ever-worsening case of Mike Vick. And when I say ever-worsening, I mean that it's looking pretty good for him. It's highly unlikely that he'll be indicted for anything, particularly because that would call for someone to snitch on him.

But investigators just found double-digit dog carcasses on the property that was in Vick's name. And I don't care if he gets indicted or not. There's something very, very wrong going on at that place.

Here's who should have more than 10 dead dogs in his yard: a 120 year old dog lover. Everyone else? You'll need to explain that.

And I don't care that this will probably never reach him. One thing that you don't do when your rich and famous buddy puts you up with a property is set up an illegal business without, you know, asking him. My message here goes to all the people who rushed to defend him: make sure you know who you're fighting for. I know you didn't want to believe that Mike Vick was in the wrong. But you'd never met him, and it seems like the critical details in how we should view Mr. Vick are just coming out now, and they have very little to do with his left arm.

After all, there was a time in my life when my first instinct would've been to speak up on behalf of Jason Kidd.

- Now, soccer. I'd heaped about 5,000 tons of praise on the national team. I even went so far as to say, " I am now of the delusional opinion that our second team shouldn't get blown-out by anybody."

I'm not sure if I should get any credit for correctly labelling my own opinion "delusional," but it seems that I was a bit wrong on the Copa America. We lost 4-1 to Argentina, 3-1 to Paraguay, and 1-0 to Columbia, and a number of our players got a "NOT READY" stamp jammed onto their forehead.

The high point in our tournament came on Benny Feilhaber's 40-yard pass that Eddie Johnson ran onto to draw the penalty kick. Then Johnson calmly scored the kick. And that was it. There were a few moments of steely defense, and even fewer offensive-minded moves. But by the time the second half of the Argentina game started, the U.S. looked so travel-weary that they may have travelled to Venezuala by boat.

At about the 60 minute mark, it appeared that they may have rowed the boat.

But when I look at this roster, I see only a handful of players who I think should represent us at the 2010 World Cup: Feilhaber, Johnathan Bornstein, Ricardo Clark, Justin Mapp, Twellman or Johnson (but not both), Demerit or Conrad.

And why am I ready to get rid of the majority of this squad -- which I have since decided is our third team -- just based on this hideous week?

Because after each Copa game, the national team got bumped-off the top story on by a plucky group of youngsters who were playing about 2,500 miles north of them.

Our under-20 national team played a 1-1 stalemate against Korea in its first group game.

Then Freddy Adu made like Tommy Johnson and agreed to a deal at the crossroads. Freddy left the meeting with boundless skill and no soul, and who are we to judge?

First he terrorized Poland in a 6-1 blowout. He scored three, and that included his
first one. (Seen there slightly underplayed by the French-speaking highlights guy.)

And that goal. . . I tried to sum up Benny Feilhaber's goal in the least modest terms. And Freddy's goal was as good as Benny's Gold Cup winner. And we Americans just don't really score 'em like that.

We could expect an American player to take a swing at a falling ball like Feilhaber, or to turn on a defender and fire like Freddy. But when Feilhaber's shot hung-up in the back of the net, and when Freddy's curler smacked off the inside of the post, my head snapped a little bit and I flinched.

I was not surprised by the trajectory of either shot. But I was stunned when both balls stopped mid-flight because they flew into the goal. Again, we're the Americans, and we're not supposed to score those goals.

As good as Freddy was against Poland, he was equally brilliant against Brazil. He simply could not be stopped with the ball, and all of his teammates were always open, and he himself was always wide open. Appropriately he set up both Josmer Altidore goals, the second one with a perposterous bit of juggling to escape a corner trap.

We won 2-1 against Brazil, and we'll know who we've got in the round of 16 after today. At the moment, Freddy looks like the best player in the tournament, and we look like the best team.

The future is not now. It never is. But it looks closer and closer these days, and by the time it gets here, who cares whether you've got your soul?

- That's all for today. Be careful out there. This is the time of year when renegade weather balloons are known to fall out of the sky.

Back soon with other things. Goodbye.