Sunday, October 14, 2012

Big Red: The Parallel Lives of Rusty and Hell Boy

The comic book hero doomed to bring about the end of the Earth, Hellboy struggles to remain the hero while desperately trying to be more human.
Though not likely to bring about the apocalypse, Rusty is an amazing dog who is trying to understand his role in the family. New experiences include interacting with cats and walking around the furniture.
I love comic book movies.  I take that back, I love many comic book movies.  Some not so much.  The ones I really enjoy, are those that are about more than super powers set against fabulous computer generated backdrops.  The good ones are those that involve the viewer in the hero's life, that reveal the humanity of person, a look beyond the super power.

A great example of this is Edward Norton's portrayal of Bruce Banner in 2008's The Incredible Hulk. Norton's superb performance moves the green giant past "Hulk smash!!" to the tragedy of Bruce Banner.  As a man struggling to be free of his curse, Norton convincingly highlights Banner as a complex man with a complex past, full of love, hope, and desire.  He's helped out by a passable cast, though Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination is pretty darn fun.

Probably my most favorite comic book movie, however, is Guillermo Del Toro's 2004 Hellboy. The story of the demon child summoned to earth by Hitler's psychic warfare department is convincingly told, mostly on the backs of superb performances by Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Ward and Rupert Evans.  The demon child is grown to manhood and struggles mightily to be the featured weapon at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.  He is empowered with incredible energy and strength, and usually beats the crap out of paranormal bad guys.  He is the biggest, baddest kid on the block.  Yet, and this is what the film does so well, he desperately wants to fit in. He drinks Bud Light, loves junk food, and smokes cigars.  Most of all, he loves pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, and struggles when Liz doesn't freely return his feelings. And perhaps at the heart of it all is his love for his "father," Trevor "Broom" Bruttenfield, who rescues him as a young boy, er demon" during WWII and heads the Bureau.  Hellboy, struggles to be "human," to fit in while doing his job.  And then there is the matter of his red pigment and those, erm, horns.

Though Rusty may not menace the creatures of darkness everywhere, he is having many of the same struggles as Hellboy.  First, he is the biggest, most energetic red dog on the block.  He's about 40 pounds of lean, quivering furball ready to explode at any given moment.
When not using his super powers, Rusty is often quietly looking out the window (watching for evil doers), or napping.  He's a good boy.
 Like Hellboy, he mostly uses his super powers for good, but occasionally has lapses.  Yesterday, he destroyed a feather duster he managed to get hold of.  Poor duster, we hardly knew ye, but it was likely hatching some dastardly plot, like dusting one of Rusty's two crates.  Amos and Lucy are drawn to this energy, because, gosh, who wouldn't be. I know I am.

Like Hellboy, however, Rusty sometimes struggles to fit in.  He too was raised in a home much different than our own.  Well taken care of by two wonderful mommies, Rusty was mostly an outside dog.  Though he had play time with friends, he spent a lot of time in a covered kennel, but he longed secretly for his own family.  Now that he has one, he's basically trying to figure out what to do with them.  Usually he does the right thing.  He loves attention and affection.  He fits in well with the other dogs.  Rusty has almost taken on the role of big brother for Amos, who suddenly seems quite small and young next to him. The two of them guard the house from all bad guys-the UPS and FedEx drivers-as well as those seemingly non-existent.  But those moments when the two of them are together outside playing are instants of sheer magic.  If you've never watched Australian shepherds run, especially two playing together in their great arcs, you've missed out.  It is David Gilmour's solo on "Comfortably Numb" or Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring." I observed in silent awe.
Amos often plays Agent Myers to Rusty's Hellboy.  He mostly tags along, though he doesn't seem to have Myers' conscience.  My little boy has enjoyed having a big brother. Groomed yesterday, not much for the neckerchief myself.

Lucy is more like Jeff Tambor's disapproving Agent Manning.  Disapproving, but clearly wanting to be in on the action.
 Occasionally, Big Red struggles with his baser instincts.  One night as Lorri was watching television from the couch, she called to him and he leaped across the coffee table, clearing everything in his path.  My favorite moment is when he jumped up into my lap while I was watching the VP debate and began frantically washing my face.  First, I love a great face washing as much as the next guy.  I was rooting for Biden, and loved the smirks, smiles and laughter and was feeling a bit dirty anyway, so I probably needed a good face washing.  That Rusty is no Yorkie or Papillon, and weighs in at a very lean 38 pounds seemed to matter little to him.  Honestly, it didn't matter much to me; I was laughing too hard.

Rusty has added a lot to our family.  There will be peaks and valleys as he tries to figure things out.  He has to learn what it means to be an inside dog.  He has to figure out what it means to live with a 16-year old cat that is grumpy and solitary.  Daphne has already given him a lesson or two and it ain't pretty. This week he'll spend more time alone in crate.  We managed to give him a lot of time at home this week, but our lives will move on. He's added a great deal to our family.  He brings the best out of Amos who seems less reticent, more out of his shell.   We laugh a lot at his antics, but find it endearing he tends to put himself to bed at 9:00.  Only Lucy is non-plussed, but she seems to like Rusty too.

It's daylight now, so it's best to wrap up and try to keep track of my big red friend.  He's trying to keep the block safe for the family.  I'm just his sidekick.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three is not necessarily a crowd

On Monday night Lorri and I cruised down I-5 to pick up Rusty.  I mentioned him in a previous post about Amos and Lucy.  Lorri has been in close contact with Rusty's breeder and we went down to Steamboat Island to visit with him a few weeks ago.  Amos and Lucy were quite excited to meet him, and Lorri and Deb made final arrangements for us to pick him up. 

Lots of complications, but chief among them was that Rusty was also neutered on Monday.  Yikes.  So were tearing this poor dog away from his mommy at almost the exact time his manhood was being ripped from him. 

After lots of well-intentioned good advice from Deb, we drove away with this poor whimpering dog.  Lorri managed to get him through the night relatively unscathed, and he woke up, not too much the worse for wear, but in some pain.  As Lorri worked through the morning at home, he was fairly whiny, but in the afternoon things picked up and he seemed much happier.  I left work fairly early and went dog-shopping, picking up needed items for around the house.

Rusty is incredibly athletic, affectionate, and well-mannerred.  He's a great addition to the family.  We've replaced his "cone of shame" with this decorative life preserver until his incision heals.

Our Lucy, sitting with Lorri hoping for one last slice of pizza.

Two views of Amos.  This one in his favorite place under the computer desk.

His second favorite place is with Lorri, literally under foot.  Unfortunately I couldn't get the red out of his eyes for this picture.  He has the most beautiful Aussie-eyes I've ever seen.  He's the most beautiful dog I could ever imagine owning (if you could actually own a family member.)
When I got home from Petco and Costco I was mobbed by three pretty happy dogs, each vying for attention.  Rusty is bigger than Amos and Lucy, he is a love bug and likes attention.  He jumps up on my lap and loves to wash my face.  I love that!!.  He seems to like the other dogs, and they are anxious to play with him when he is a bit more on the mend. I've got some pictures here so you can see.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why I will vote for Obama

I watched the first presidential debate on Wednesday as I was cutting apart plastic pieces for one of my miniature soldiers project.  While I was not tempted to impale myself with the fresh X-acto blade, it was disappointing to see the president perform so poorly.

Despite the President's discouraging performance in Wednesday's debate, he is still my man.
Even so, I made up my mind long ago to vote for President Obama.  For anybody who knows me, this should not come as much of a surprise.  I've been a liberal and a Democrat all my life.  I believe in what the Democratic party has always stood for:
  1. Improving the standard of living working Americans
  2. Economic protections to insure the poorest and most vulnerable Americans can survive in our economy
  3. Using government to insure those protections, and regulate the economy, preserve the environment when needed. 
Some may throw stones and suggest this is socialism.  It's not.  I've been  socialist, and this ain't it. I believe President Obama fits quite nicely in the line of Democratic leaders from Franklin Roosevelt, to the Kennedys (all three of 'em) to Bill Clinton.

I have a great deal of admiration for the President.  I like his story.  I read Dreams of My Father and was blown away by his life experiences.  I really like Michelle Obama.  She's beautiful and smart, a great advocate for fitness and health, and together the two of them are raising a great family in the harsh spotlight of highly partisan Washington, D.C.  Barack is very intelligent and speaks in nuanced terms.  While he comes across as professorial (that's who he is,) he communicates with Americans in multi-syllables.  He helps us understand the problems we face are complex and the fix will neither be easy or brief.

I confess my great fortune.  I have not been badly affected by the economic troubles of the past four years.  I still have a job, though I took a pay cut and my health insurance is now spendy.  None of my family or closest friends have had extended jobless periods. I've been able to watch the President try to improve the country's situation as an outsider, secure in the knowledge that I am likely not at risk if the economy slides sideways.  I've observed his negotiations with Congress with incredulity, and become utterly disillusioned at the lack of interest Republican leaders and the Tea Party insurgents seem to have in solving the country's very real fiscal problems.

Obama has done the best that he can under trying circumstances.  He walked into a Hoover-like catastrophe with limited tools at his disposal.   The trap door opened under the economy, and when he worked with his predecessor to rescue the banking industry, bailed out the auto industry and offered a stimulus package he was met with contempt.  When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed the number one priority was to make Obama a one term president, he led the GOP away from answering the country's economic challenges in favor of political gain.  McConnell will simply be remembered as political pond scum. Though Obama's economic accomplishments are far from perfect the GOP obstruction is unforgivable.

The President is vilified in unspeakable terms by the Tea Party, the right wing media, the LaRouche nutballs in ways I simply cannot remember being applied to any leader, R or D.  Is it racist?  Likely some of it.  Or some of it is just pseudo-intellectual whackball nonsense such as Ramesh Ponnuru's "Obama is an anti-colonialist America hater." The right wing has great respect for haters who are multi-syllabic and don't wear sheets.

While I do like Obama a great deal, I am not star-struck.  There are important aspects of his presidency I find deeply troubling. Most are related to the continuation and extension of President Bush's policy in the War on Terror.  First, is the the president's signature on the National Defense Authorization Act.  This act, signed January 1, 2012, authorized funding for the military.  However, it also authorized the indefinite detention of Americans suspected of terrorist acts.  The president threatened a veto over this measure and should have followed through.  Though these measures existed under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the Act officially codified them into law and make them ripe for abuse.The President did not close Guantanamo as he promised.  Though this is as much related to the craven views of  Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the President's lack of will in removing this moral blot from our record is disconcerting.  Prolonging the Afghan war, extending the human and financial cost seems wholly out of balance with the likely outcome when we leave, and we must leave. Resentment against the drone war in Waziristan is growing in the press, and will eventually be seen as our own war of terror. The President has not acted honestly and forthrightly with a plan to curtail deficits and deal with the debt.  Too many important decisions are left undecided.

Mitt Romney is the alternative.  I won't waste my vote on a minor candidate.  I did that in 1980 and got eight years of Ronald Reagan.  It's Obama or Romney. I can't vote for the latter.

Mitt Romney is in a terrible spot.  First I want to just say that I find him a very sympathetic figure. Mitt clearly has many accomplishments notched on his belt. He is clearly a good man, devoted to his family, and has used his great wealth for many good causes.  Bain CEO, Massachusetts governor, Olympic savior.  At another time a very moderate governor from a liberal leaning state could be just the man to lead this country..  Unfortunately that man cannot run for president as a Republican in 2012.

What happened to the GOP?  Once upon a time-during my lifetime, not eons ago-there was a kaleidoscope of political views in this party.  Jacob Javits of New York, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, Howard Baker of Tennessee were all liberal to moderate Republicans.  They would have no place in this party today.  Even men like Robert Dole and Alan Simpson, men with impeccable  conservative credentials, would not find themselves welcome in the party of Rand Paul, Todd Akin, and Marco Rubio.  Men of long GOP standing like John McCain and Orrin Hatch, legislators who could make a deal with their rivals across the aisle are forced to adopt new Tea Party-stamped underwear that insulates them from cross-party cooperation for fear of a fatal primary battle.  The GOP is all orthodoxy all the time, the good of the country be damned.  Fiscal neanderthals, and social jihadists, for these Republicans there can be no third way.

Yet this is the party for which Mitt Romney must carry a standard.  He must adopt positions I don't think he shares in his heart of hearts.  Ultimately I believe Romney is a decent, moderate man.  Yet he is shackled to social and fiscal policies locked to his candidacy by the traveling clown show that was Republican primary season.  No longer pro-choice, no longer favoring his own Massachusetts health care system for the rest of the country, Romney must adopt the same scorched earth policies of Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, and Michele Bachman.  Maybe not Bachman; she seems to orbit some other dark star of fantasy in her own strange psyche.

There are many areas where I cannot support Mitt the Candidate.  Today he opposes a woman's right to choose.  That's a non-starter for me.  He opposes same-sex marriage, the civil rights issue of our time. His positions on Iran simply scare the crap out of me.  Unless the United States is prepared to undertake a war costing tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, Gov. Romney needs to take a more cautious view of this situation.

Yet the biggest issue for me continues to be the GOP/Romney fiscal plan. Cut taxes, and close unspecified loopholes, increase military spending by two trillion dollars over ten years. Offset the lot with unspecified spending cuts.  Oops, I forgot, Big Bird must be plucked.

 In 1981 Ronald Reagan cut taxes and increased military spending, promising growth and a balanced budget.  Eventually we got growth, but the debt, a campaign issue that festooned Jimmy Carter's re-election bid, exploded, and continued throughout Reagan and George H.W. Bush's presidencies.  When Bill Clinton reached agreement with a Newt-led Congress to raise taxes and actually balanced the budget, this was immediately flushed with George W. Bush's tax cuts.  These too promised growth with fiscal responsibility.  We got little of the former and none of the latter.  Conservative economists continue to promise that lower taxes with fiscal austerity will bring back the economy and balance the budget.  I'm not buying.  Arthur Laffer  promised this so many times over the past thirty years he should change his name to Arthur Laughable. Nope, it's snake oil. What has austerity done for Ireland, Great Britain, Greece, Spain and Italy?  Recession, depression, civil unrest.  This may be the one thing Mitt truly does believe in, and for me it's like Coronado chasing the Seven Cities of Gold.  It's mythical, and not a way to run the country.

I don't know how Mr. Obama will do in the remaining debates.  My hope is he will rise to the occasion and give Romney hell. Whether he performs well or not, he has my vote. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A tail without end

 My last duty of the summer was to make suitable resting place for Jack's ashes.  I've been holding on to them since May and Lorri and I agreed we'd build a little garden for his resting place.  I built a round raised garden around our sunset maple in the backyard.  Jack and Lucy used to rest under that tree when the sun was out.  They kept an eye on things for us.

I still miss him very much.  I teared up often when I was making the garden.  The ashes still aren't there even after the planting.  Soon.  It's just hard.
Lorri awesome picture of Amos.  He's in his usual place, hiding under the computer

Our Lucy in a strange and wonderful moment. She's a very good girl.

Having said that, Amos continues to endear himself to us.  He's a very sweet, affectionate dog.  With quirks.  He loves to be around people.  He's here under the computer right now, where he'll stay until Lorri gets home.  He likes Lorri best and at night he is her constant companion.  He's funny.  Sometimes he likes to run around the backyard and bark at other dogs.  There are lots of barky neighbors and I think he figures he should be able to get in on some of the action.  I always call him in if he barks much.  On the other hand he loves it if I take him out to get the mail or the newspaper.  That means he can run around the front yard and chase me-and bark.  I'm good with it. Not much of a walker though.  He mostly seems fearful, because we usually walk in the dark.

Amos has some disappointing quirks as well.  He doesn't like riding in the car.  He whines, and shakes like the devil himself was after him.  As a result, I don't take him as many places as I should.  He's resistant and I never willingly opt to do things that seem like a pain in the ass. Once when we drove to the drug store with Lorri and Lucy, Amos got out of the car and bolted.  Scared the crap out of me. Another little disappointment is that he and Lucy don't have a lot to do with each other.  Lucy is 11 now, but still likes to play a bit.  She'll still chase a ball, and has tried to get Amos to play with her.  No such luck. Sad really, because I know Amos used to play with his buddy Evie back in Idaho.

Which brings me to my last tail, er tale.  Yesterday we were near Olympia to see Rusty.  Rusty is a beautiful red-tri, three and a half years old, living with his breeder.  He was a return.  Didn't work out for his owner to keep him once there were children in the house.  Rusty is a little bigger than Lucy or Amos.  A very nice, very playful dog.  Lucy liked him immediately.  Even Amos, Mr. Cool himself, enjoyed following him around a bit.  I found him to be much fun.  Happy, playful, well-mannered and responsive.  Sometime around October 8th, Rusty will be coming to live at our house.  We're looking forward to it.

Three, however, is the limit.

Really

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Simple Pleasure: The Matt Harding Videos


I believe there are plenty of simple pleasures in life.  Some are guilty pleasure like Madonna songs (shhh, don't let that get out.) Some are sinful pleasures, like just about any Elysian ale or a Dick's Deluxe with two fries and a chocolate shake.  Reading Joe Posnanski's blog or any book by Timothy Egan is time very well spent.

I am not much of an internet surfer.  That doesn't mean I don't spend way too much time on the web, but I'm pretty focused on where I go.  Saying that, I'm eternally grateful to my journalism buddy Sandra Coyer for introducing me to Matt Harding's dancing videos.  I happened to be working with Sandra at WJEA's summer camp when she shared Harding's 2008 video.  It showed about four and a half minutes of this strange white dude doing this silly dance in various locations around the world from the Panama Canal Zone to the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, from the Solomon Islands to Rwanda and Seattle. Not only did Matt do his silly dance in exotic and interesting locales, as the video proceeds invites dance happy fools in to share Matt's strange dance predilection in places as diverse as Papua, New Guinea, Dublin, and Buenos Aires. In the background is a hypnotizing audio track sung by a young Minnesota woman of Bangladeshi descent in Bengali.  It is compelling and emotional.

When I saw the video for the first time I beamed from cheek to cheek.  I was filled with joy and a lump formed in the back of my throat.  I'm not sure why.  It was just a short video of the white guy doing this silly dance with a bunch of people on the internet.

As soon as I got home from Ellensburg I immediately looked up Matt Harding.  Well, actually, Matt dancing because I couldn't remember his name.  He has a website called Where the Hell is Matt with links not only to this 2008 video, but to two earlier videos. The first, made in 2005 is self made, full of shaky video and thin audio, unedited with Matt traveling around the world doing his silly dance.  The second video, made in 2006 with sponsorship from Stride gum is better edited with better sound quality and clearer visuals. 

As soon as Lorri got home from work I asked her to watch them too.  After some minor resistance she sat down and caught the 2008 video.  And immediately burst into tears. We agreed there was something amazingly joyful about these short films.  Not only a joyfulness but the connectedness that people from all over the world offer through their own silly visions of Matt's silly dance reduces all the world's complexity and diversity, it's strife and its various inequalities to the desire to enjoy something as simple in wanting to share in one man's ridiculous jig. 

Whether on the Brooklyn Bridge, in Gasworks Park, in front of the Sydney Opera House, or in a school in Auki, the Solomon Islands, or a a side alley in Sa'naa, Yemen, Matt is mobbed by ecstatic silly dancers.  In the cities the dancers are mostly adults.  One can only suspect why they are there, but clearly they've seen the videos and want to be in on a bit of the fun.  However it is the more "scenic" locales that are most affecting.  Soweto, South Africa; Timbuktu, Mali; Tagatay, the Philippines.  Matt is surrounded by joyous children, cavorting with Matt, sharing their version of his joyful sashay.  In Auki, Matt is so affected by the enthusiastic youngsters, he stops his dance because he is overwhelmed by the laughter and excitement of his young partners.

I share these three videos in the first couple of days of each school year with all my classes.  It's a way we can start talking about observation and themes in my American Studies class.  It's just a half hour or so, and everybody loves them.  In my Newspaper Production class it's an opportunity to start thinking about interviewing and what questions they'd like to ask Matt.

Yesterday I was rewarded when I showed my sophomores the videos to find a new video released in 2012.  In this flick, Matt again is traveling and dancing, but this time he's not showing off his dance, he's learning new dances.  In many respects this movie may be the most poignant, the most connected of the lot.  A great new song by Alicia Lemke that Matt helped write.  It's awesome.  It's moving.  It's special.

I haven't shared a lot of the back story to the videos.  Matt does a great job of that on his site.  If you have 15 minutes to burn, you have time for these four videos.  But they're a bit like potato chips.  You won't watch them once.  You'll try to understand why they make you feel the way you do, and you'll watch them over and over again.  And when you don't quite understand, you'll watch them again.  They're a salve for the weary soul.

Matt makes his home in Seattle with his girlfriend and collaborator Cynthia Nixon.  He was interviewed by the Seattle Times in 2006 and contributed to "And This I Believe" on PRX radio.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blue Oyster Cult still rocks

Blue Oyster Cult rocked the Emerald Queen Casino on Friday night.  The only remaining original member are rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom and Donald "Buck Dharma" Roessner.  The amazing Dharma is the second from the right.
 Pat and I are always talking about concerts we'd like to see.  Pat is my 32-year old son who knows far more music than I've ever dreamed of and I think of myself as pretty knowledgeable. Rock, rap, blues, electronica, he knows it and plays it.  I'm jealous. When we get together we talk about music, politics and baseball, not necessarily in that order.  We do keep an eye on who is coming in town.  I've always commented that I'd like to see the 70's proto-metal band Blue Oyster Cult.  BOC's been around since the early 70's.  The band usually passes through Tacoma every year, so last summer we agreed when they were here next we'd see them, so we did.

The band played the Emerald Queen Casino.  More about the venue later.  They played a lengthy set.  I would like to say I'm not thoroughly conversant with the entire BOC catalog, but I'm not.  When I had a huge vinyl collection, I had three BOC albums, but they're mostly gone. Let me just say, there were six songs I really wanted to hear, and they played all of them astonishingly well.  Just listening to their stuff on Spotify, it's amazing how well it still holds together, how interesting it is, and how utterly listenable it is.  Blue Oyster Cult is a band worth playing again.
My very bad picture of Bloom on vocals.  Most of the songs are sung by Buck Dharma.
The band is still fronted by Eric Bloom.  Bloom plays rhythm guitar, keyboards, and also does some lead vocals.  He's the glue that holds the band together.  Most of the band are talented parts that replaced original band members years ago.   The real centerpiece of the band, however, is Donald "Buck Dharma" Roesner. Buck Dharma does most of the writing, is the lead guitarist, and the lead vocalist on about three quarters of the songs.

I love great guitarists.  Saying that, I'm looking for someone who can do more than just play really fast.  I really enjoy guitarists that are melodic and are capable of weaving together a narrative with their instruments more than those who are just ripping out lots of notes.  Buck Dharma is capable of doing both. If you like guitar solos, BOC provides plenty of them.  The band actually has two leads, with Bloom filling in on rhythm guitar.  But it's Buck's guitar work that's amazing.  I liken it to his being able to tell a story with his solos, as well as providing the opportunity for the occasional face-melting shred fest by him or number two lead, Richie Castellano.  Somehow Dharma manages very competent vocals while playing an incredible lead.
The venue was about three quarters full with many very knowledgeable, worshipful fans.
This was a very good, very affordable show.  The audience was composed of very enthusiastic fans that knew the music much better than I, and that was kind of fun and amazing too.  If you hope to attend a show at the Emerald Queen Casino, I encourage you to buy your tickets in advance on-site.  You avoid the nasty secondary fees Ticketmaster and other re-sellers collect.  We sat in the cheapest seats, $20, and they were absolutely fine.

Just a couple words about attending the EQC.  It's comfortable, but only a step or two above seeing a show in a high school gym. With booze.  They sell alcohol outside the seating area, but inside the venue.  Sounds handy, right?  Lots of the crowd were out of the seats.   Many were stupendously hammered and distracting.  I'm sure 10% of the crowd had no idea why they were there or what they were listening to.  This works okay at the Gorge in front of a crowd of 20,000 in the wide open spaces.  Not so much in front of 1,200 people (and I'm being very generous) in a pretty small space.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A: keep your government out of my chicken sandwich

Who would have believed a fast food restaurant would be so mired in political controversy?
Today is "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," organized in support of the Atlanta fast food chain by Mike Huckabee, a response to critics of the restaurant's opposition to same sex marriage.

Let me be direct. I'm straight, married 33 years, and firmly believe that the right of any person to marry one human of their choice, regardless of gender, is a civil right.  I am in favor of same-sex marriage in Washington state and in every other state in the union.  I support Referendum 74, which establishes the measure passed by the Washington state legislature to make same-sex marriage the law.  There, I've said it.  All five of my followers, as well as those that stumble upon this blog by some strange accident, know what I believe.

Dan Cathy opposes same-sex marriage.  He's made it clear that he and his family are supportive of "the Biblical family unit."  He went on to state that he and his family are still married to their first wives.
Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A unleashed a firestorm of controversy by opposing same-sex marriage in an online Baptist journal.
I believe Mr. Cathy is wrong.  I believe his views deprive millions of Americans of rights guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the the 14th Amendment, and denies them the pursuit of happiness enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.  I don't believe this is a mere matter of difference of opinion.  Denying a particular group equal rights is an egregious failing in our republic, one we've tried to remedy over the years.  Ethnic minorities, women, the disabled have all received special recognition as those deserving of recognition by special laws due to their former status as groups suffering discrimination.  It is difficult to argue that the LBGT community has not suffered such discrimination, or that laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA,) a federal laws discriminates against them. It is also hard to believe the Supreme Court will not rule in their favor when the appeal of DOMA reaches them.

Okay, Mr. Cathy and I disagree.  Ultimately we're each entitled to share our opinions under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Our situation is somewhat different because Cathy has a much larger megaphone.  He is the president of Chick-fil-A.  He spoke his views in an online Baptist journal, and, unless you've been hiding under a rock the past few weeks, you know it's provoked a firestorm of controversy.  To be clear, Chick-fil-A restaurants do not discriminate in their hiring practices.  They do not refuse service to the LGBT community.  Their business practices are well within those required under U.S. civil rights laws.

What's followed are threats by pro-LGBT groups to boycott Chick-fil-A, hold kiss-ins, and parade in front of their shops.  All actions that are predictable and protected political speech under the First Amendment.
Rahm Emanuel created quite a stir when he said "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values."

However, mayors of large cities with big gay populations across the United States have made public statements indicating Chick-fil-A would not be welcome to locate there.  Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and former President Obama chief-of-staff, said Cathy's views didn't represent Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members," Emanuel said. There is already one Chick-fil-A shop located in Chicago.  Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston, said there "was not room for discrimination on the Freedom Trail, and no place for your company alongside it." Other cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C., claimed that Chick-fil-A restaurants would not be welcomed.  Nobody has said what, exactly, not welcome means. Would they be denied permits and licenses needed to operate their business on the basis of what exactly?  Would the cops just shut them down?  What do they mean?

Thomas Menino wrote a very public letter to Chick-fil-A urging them to scrap their plans to locate in Boston. In Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal. 

What do I think of this?  First, just as a general rule, business owners and corporate always will find themselves with regrets when they take a public position on important political and social issues, regardless of whether they are mainstream, liberal or conservative.  In our increasingly polarized society, someone will be pissed off and they'll use the tools they have: either their own public megaphone or the boycott. Now that Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and his wife contributed $2.5 dollars to the Yes on Referedum 74 supporters, there will doubtless be conservative calls for a boycott of this important Seattle giant. If, as a business leader, you want to take a position on an important political or social issue, just know in advance you aren't going to fly under the radar, and you are going to be on somebody's list of enemies.

The actions and words of government officials, however, is another matter. Cities may not restrain trade by a private enterprise without cause.  The last time I checked, exercising one's First Amendment rights is not cause.  While Emanuel, Menino and others may publicly deplore Cathy's views, and while they may publicly establish the "values" of their cities and constituents, their actions suggest that at the very least running a Chick-fil-A in Chicago and Boston might be very difficult.  This smacks of images of gangsterism and corruption more fitting to a banana republic than the United States.  While I may agree with their sentiments on this issue, their words are not fitting for any government official in this country.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yawn: trade deadline passes. Rotation survives.

I share Jeter's excitement for the lack of trade deadline moves by the Mariners.  Of course, I think that's a good thing.
According to the clock on my computer, the MLB trade deadline is passed and the Mariners did nothing today. I know for many out there, this is a disappointment.  However, given what the M's had to deal-starting pitching and and top 50 MLB prospects-I'm relieved.  It's not that the M's are good, or that any facet of their of their game doesn't need improvement.  However, the prospects of sending Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood to some other team's building project, getting some mid to high level prospects in return (but no blue-chippers) and consigning Mariners fans to another August and September in purgatory is just more than I can stomach.Those guys are worth way more to this year's version of the Mariners than anything they'd get in return.

I've waved good-bye to Brandon League and Steve Delabar.  League netted a couple of those mid-level prospects from the Dodgers.  I'd like to think this is a big deal, but it's not.   Neither outfielder Leon Landry or reliever Logan Bawcom are projected to be much.  Of course League hasn't been much either.  Delabar is a great story for Seattle, with him coming back to pitch after a serious injury, summoned to training camp from his substitute teaching gig.  Unfortunately, he's just not a very good pitcher right now.  Picking up Eric Thames from the Blue Jays was a good swap.  No,Thames isn't a transforming bat, but he's a guy they might platoon with Casper Wells.  We'll see.
Iwakuma's game on Monday night was a legit gem.  He set the rookie record for 13 strikeouts in a game.
Hat's off, and mumbled apologies to Hisashi Iwakuma.  He pitched a no-doubt-about-it gem last night.  It was great to see him go eight innings.  Better still to see him make the Blue Jays look foolish. He adds new legitimacy to the M's rotation IF this is not a once only kind of game.

Ha!  The M's won five straight. At home. In Safeco Field. Yes, I know all about it.  They've just played the Royals and Blue Jays, but screw it.  Five consecutive wins is more than they've pulled off all year.  No question the Royals are coming to define the term suckage and extending it over generations.  But they still hit pretty well, and they didn't do much of that until Sunday's game. I'm hoping this will continue.  The M's are beginning to show they can hit bad pitching at Safeco.  Just ask Ricky Romero.  They haven't shown they can do that against good pitching. See Ivan Nova.

Lorri and I attended the Mariners Hall of Fame game on Saturday.  It was a classy ceremony for Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson.  This is the second such game I've been to.  I saw Edgar Martinez inducted in 2007.  The M's do these things well.  Now if only they could develop a winning baseball team. The game was good too.  Tight and hard fought, but the Royals made a few too many mistakes.
It's great to see Oliver Perez reinvent himself as a lefty reliever.
Last but not least, I've had a chance to watch Oliver Perez pitch several times on television and in person Saturday.  It's great to see him do the hard work to resurrect a career that for all intents and purposes was dead, dead, dead.  I've always admired other teams that could bring in a lefty throwing high heat from a bajillion different arm angles.  It wasn't a freebie; Perez really struggled for a while in Tacoma.  But I'm glad he's able to help the M's pen.  Even if he kind of blew up on Sunday.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Face the Facts


I make a habit of watching the Sunday morning talks shows.  I like to call them the Sabbath Gasbags, mostly because that's what Calvin Trillen, noted curmudgeon calls them, and honestly, like Trillen, I believe their opinions are no more valid than my own.  So once a week, I take pleasure in shouting back at windy dopes like George Will, Jeff Sessions and Ramesh Ponnuru. Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachman are a very special Sunday morning treat, something like Baked Alaska, special dessert one doesn't get often, but relish the experience when you do.

My favorite Sunday show is Reliable Sources on CNN.  It's unusual because it is a critique of the media.  As a high school media adviser, it's interesting to see how the media views the way it is covering the news.  The host is Howard Kurtz of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and I agree with what he has to say about 85% of the time. Because the show is focused on the media, it often is able to avoid a lot of the ideological battles in politics, although that sometimes makes its way into the discussion.  Further, the discussion is usually among two or more media figures, rather than the usual crowd of political talking heads, so the perspectives are somewhat different.  Kurtz is an effective moderator, though occasionally he can be heavy-handed.

Yesterday, after viewing the media coverage of Mitt Romney's foreign trip, coverage of the Aurora shootings, and the NBC news department's relationship to the Olympic broadcasts, Kurtz welcomed a discussion with Frank Sesno.  You may remember Sesno.  He was the national desk editor at CNN for many years and is now the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  He went on the Kurtz show to promote his new project, Face the Facts.  It's described as a:
new nonpartisan, multi-platform content hub and civic engagement initiative dedicated to elevating the tone of national debate with provocative facts found at facethefactsusa.org.
The website pledges to produce facts from primary sources only that present the reader information about important issues facing the nation every day from now until the elections in November.  In addition, there are links to views of this problem from at least two sides of the political spectrum.  There are 100 days until the election and the site pledges a new fact each day until then.

The site opened this morning with a look at the rate of increase of the deficit.  Included is a short video, with links to an Ezra Klein column from Bloomberg, articles from the Heritage Foundation, and the Concord Coalition among others. The fact comes from the Office of Management and Budget and shows a spreadsheet using their figures. 

If you like to know the facts, wish to be an informed voter or debater of the issues, this could be the site for you.   You may not always be comfortable with the facts, but at least they're there for you to see.  It's a great way to spend 15 minutes in your morning.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Now is not the time to trade Jason Vargas . . .


This was supposed to be the year of the light at the end of the tunnel.  This was the year the young players were supposed to hit and the young pitchers were to emerge from the minor league womb. In battle, it is said, your best plan never survives the first 90 seconds of contact with the enemy.  And so it's been with the Seattle Mariners.  The young hitters struggle, but everybody with a keyboard has chronicled this situation ad nauseum.  The young pitchers have developed in the minors just as slowly and hardly in a straight line. The battle plan for for 2012 is as irrelevant today as Mitt Romney's position on anything during his gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

The Big Three +1 that began the season in Jackson all hit a variety of potholes on the road to Seattle. Andrew Carraway was the first to reach Tacoma from Jackson, and is now on the disabled list.  Danny Hultzen is also in Tacoma, but is struggling with his control.  Taijuan Walker's glorious May turned into a disastrous June, but his game seems to have turned around.  James Paxton spent six weeks on the disabled list.  None are close to being big-league ready.  Not to be negative, but it's not certain any of them will ever be big league ready,and certainly not this season.  Like Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley, they're young and inexperienced, and these things take time to sort out.
Vargas throws an average fastball, and counts on a nasty change-up for his out pitch
A great example of this is Jason Vargas.  Vargas came to Seattle as part of the huge J.J. Putz swap in Jack Zdurencik's first season that also netted Franklin Guttierez and Mike Carp among others. Vargas arrived as a lefty with a lot of question marks. Though he isn't in the same category as Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, since his arrival in 2009 he's pitched well enough to pile up an increasing number of innings each year:
2009-91.2
2010-192.2
2011-201.0
2012-146.0 to date.

Vargas is not a brilliant pitcher.  In only one of those seasons did he have an ERA+ of greater than 100, which is league average.  This year he is at 99.  His game is made for the vastness of Safeco Field, and he has pretty extreme home and road splits.  What he has done is be somebody Eric Wedge can run out there every fifth day and count on getting a decent start.  Vargas tends to be a fly ball pitcher, and is very prone to coughing up home runs.  But his numbers his last six starts are really good.  Take away the great home run massacre in Arizona on June 20th, when he gave up five in four and a third innings, and Vargas would be over 100 in ERA+.  His last six games were stellar, with three outings of at least eight innings pitched, four wins and no losses.
This year, he's added an effective cutter to his repertoire.  Despite a rough patch in June, Vargas leads them with 11 wins, and has pitched extremely well of late.
Jason Vargas is a name that's being mentioned prominently in trade rumors as we near the deadline along with Mariner reliever Brandon League.  We're just beginning to see what Vargas can really do.  Yet, here is the Mariner rotation with Felix, Vargas and a lot of uncertainty.  Blake Beaven has had a couple of nice starts, but he's young and it's not certain that can continue.  Kevin Millwood continues to muddle through the season.  He hasn't been supported with many runs, but he also seems to able to pitch just well enough to lose.  Hisashi Iwakuma hasn't shown he can provide more than five innings of constant trouble.

Trading Vargas now is a problem for this team.  They've put together a decent stretch against the Royals and Rays, while struggling to score against the Yankees. They're heading into the end of July with a winning record for the month, and while they are clearly out of anything resembling a meaningful pennant race, they are trying to be more respectable and offer their diminishing fan base some hope.  Last year the M's traded off Eric Bedard and Doug Fister for pieces and the team, which had endured the 17 game losing streak, collapsed going 22-33 to finish the season. Larry Stone at the Seattle Times wrote a great article about the impact of trading Vargas and Millwood on this team and the readiness of other pitchers to step in and fill their roles on the staff. Geoff Baker wrote about the financial impact of keeping Vargas on the team.  As Vargas continues to develop, he's 29, he becomes more valuable, or costly, probably worth $7 million next year or more if he continues to improve on his team leading 11 wins.

There are two reasons in favor of trading Vargas.  First, the Mariners are not currently able to compete for the playoffs.  They are likely two or more seasons away from competing and trading Vargas will bring pieces that will make them more competitive later. They might provide a current upgrade (unlikely, because any team that trades for him isn't likely to trade away the bits that got them in the playoff hunt in the first place,) or prospects.  We know about prospects.  We've got lots of them.  Some of them have panned out reasonably well, like Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush.  Some are still question marks, like Blake Beaven, Francisco Martinez and Justin Smoak.  Others were shoveled out with the elephant dung after the circus like Luke French and Mauricio Robles.  The point is, that a Vargas trade may help, but it will be down the road.

The second reason for trading Vargas is that he'll cost too much money.  Felix will make just north of $20 million next year, and if Vargas hits the jackpot in arbitration he may make as much as $10 million.  That's $30 million for two players in a budget that's likely to be about $80 million.  Toss in Chone Figgins' misspent $9 millions and that's three guys eating up half your budget.  Not the way this team should be going.  Everybody else is still pretty young and don't cost much at this point. The argument is that Felix and Figgins are locked in, the money is spent, and the M's can't afford to keep Vargas, pay the youngsters and have money to put into some veteran free agents that can carry more of the offensive load load next year.

As a loyal fan, committed to this team win or lose, trading Vargas is not the move to make for this team.  If Major League Baseball is an economic enterprise first, this team and every other team requires, even in this age of big television contracts, the MLB network, MLB.com, and MLB at Bat, a fan base.  The M's fan base has shrunk and withered to a diminished, dessicated, dehydrated shadow of its 2002 high.  We are gasping for wins, and peering into the mists of the future searching for optimism, or at least some warm bats.  Yes, periodically, Vargas will get lit up--in really spectacular fashion, kind of like an ammunition dump exploding.  But, he is an anchor on this pitching staff, a guy who usually gives his team a chance to win when he goes out there.  And-get this-HE WANTS TO STAY IN SEATTLE!! In the end, even Ichiro bailed. Enough is enough.

While this team waits, and hopes, and drafts, and teaches and trims its budget, and struggles to win in the hope for future competition, the fans endure. Some don't endure. They stop caring.  The M's are about to be chased from the sports page by the London Olympics and the opening of Seahawks camp.  They are a sporting irrelevance for most sports fans and its only July 28th.  The further disintegration of this team that would follow a Vargas trade, will only make it that much harder for diehards to attend games at Safeco, or tune in to ROOTS sports every night.  My message to the M's: increase your budget, sign Vargas to a multi-year deal at a somewhat lower yearly cost than arbitration, do what you need to do but stop the exodus of big-league pitching from this city.  Support your shrinking fan base and don't trade Jason Vargas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now Let's Get Things on the Right Track

Ichiro acknowledges the crowd at last night's Mariners game.  It was class all the way.

 I watched last night's game, mostly in sadness.  There was something special about seeing number 51 in right field all these years.  It was predictable and for many years Ichiro was special.  I think the crowd understood that too, and the 29K+ thankfully gave him his standing O in appreciation of his accomplishments in Seattle.  It's especially hard to see him go to the Yankees, whom I've always hated, but as I said last night, I'll always wish him the best.

After 18 or so hours to reflect, I generally stand by my comments of yesterday.  This trade is a boon to Ichiro, and it gets the Mariners out of a difficult spot.  It means the M's can fill Ichiro's spot on the roster with younger players that are more a part of their future, and Ichiro can finish out the year, and possibly his career, with a winner. 

The Yanks are going to the playoffs, and possibly the World Series.  The team is full of 30something veterans who know how to win.  Ichiro can be the complimentary piece he should have been in Seattle: a guy who can get on base, run a little, and play great defense--not a guy who's supposed to carry the team. Despite his talents and salary, because of his language and style of play, due to his deliberate reticence and strangeness, Ichiro could never be the leader his teammates needed and the public demanded.

For the M's, there is no question Ichiro is safely in their rear view mirror, and when the Yankees leave town on Wednesday, he will be in the past, with Junior, A-Rod, and the Big Unit: guys who were here but left for greener pastures.  They don't have to answer the question-do we re-sign him or not. Whatever plans Ichiro has probably don't include the M's.  In the mid- to long-term, this deal makes a lot of sense.

In the shorter term, however, things don't look any rosier for the Mariners. The young guys continue to struggle.  There are a few players that look like they may be serviceable.  Michael Saunders has held his own.  Casper Wells looks like decent player at right or left.  Jesus Montero seems to be figuring it out. The pitchers look like they've figured out Kyle Seager, but he's not going quietly.  John Jaso is a probably the best hitter on the team, and he needs a bigger role.  I don't think much of Carlos Peguero with the bat or a glove, but obviously somebody else does. 
Justin Smoak goes to Tacoma to fix his swing.  Hopefully he's got a warranty.
Last night it was announced that Justin Smoak was being sent to Tacoma, and Mike Carp was being recalled.  It's about time.  It's not because I think Smoak should be locked away with key thrown away.  He just needs to work through his issues in AAA.  Ditto Dustin Ackley, but it doesn't look like he'll be heading south any time soon.  I don't have a lot of hope for Carp either, so this may be his last chance.  Love Brendan Ryan, but the man can't hit.  Don't love Chone Figgins, and the shark tank is waiting.
Kyle Seager leads the team with 58 RBI's, but recent struggles have me worried.
In the end this deal makes the team even less experienced, but if this year is really about starting over and stripping this Mariners down to basics, this was the right move.  It should also free up some cash so the M's should be real players in the free agent market. And they better be if they want to show the few fans left they're serious about winning.

Jeff Pasaran at Yahoo! Sports wrote the most moving account of yesterday's dugout swap.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trading Ichiro


Today the Mariners announced they traded Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for two guys named Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.  They're both pitchers, really small pitchers.  Mitchell spent a short time with the big league club and Farquhar is 25 at AAA Wilkes-Barre. The M's will also receive cash. Club president Howard Lincoln announced Ichiro requested a trade several weeks ago.

I have mixed feelings about this.  In one sense I'm thrilled.  This was the right move.  The M's can go on with their rebuilding plans and put a youngster in right field.  Unfortunately, with Franklin Guttierrez injured they don't really have a youngster to take Ichiro's spot.  I am not a Carlos Peguero fan; he's a train wreck waiting to happen in the outfield. Figgins is a wasted spot in the batting order.  There really isn't anyone ready to play outfield at the major league level in Tacoma. Maybe this the first of a couple of deals that brings another young player to the eam.  The best part about this deal, however, is that it liberates general manager Jack Zdurencik from having to re-sign Ichiro.  Yes, Ichiro is free to play for a championship caliber club, but it also puts distance between any M's obligation and the end of his career. This may be one of the most important trades in club history because it allows the team to move on.
Ichiro's record breaking 258th hit in 2004.  His hit chase was the only show in town as the M's lost 99 games.

The most famous White Sox fan in America talks to Ichiro.
There are lots of Ichiro haters out there.  Just look at some of the comments in any of the Seattle Times comments sections regarding this trade.  Ichiro didn't go all out.  He was a selfish player.  He wasn't a team guy.  Some of this could be true.  Even so, I confess a fondness for him.  Ichiro could do things with a bat nobody else could.  He never drew a lot of walks, even in his prime, but he could always work an at-bat.  Eight, nine, ten pitch at bats weren't unusual. He'd foul off pitches in the dirt, a foot outside, anything to get that hit. Every once in a while he'd surprise us too.  I was at Safeco the only time the M's beat Pedro Martinez (who was like 9-1 against the M's, and the scores were humiliating.)  In that game was sitting in the left field bleachers when Ichiro hit a grand slam to put an exclamation point on things.  I cheered for him when he broke Sisler's record.  I cheered for him in 2008 when the M's spent a  $100 million and lost 101 games. The last couple of years have been tough as he's been in obvious decline, but I continued to cheer him on and hope for the best.  It was a little like watching Willie Mays as the end neared in '72.

I'll continue to wish Ichiro well.  His days as an every day player are likely over, and with that probably his quest for 3,000 hits will end too. I've never rooted for the Yankees before, but as the season wears on-or at least after Wednesday-I'm likely to follow them a little more closely.  For me Ichiro will probably be on a slightly shorter pedestal than Edgar, Buhner and Griffey, but certainly there with Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer.  I'll look for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mariners: Crushing Kansas City and the home and road splits

The M's took their weak hitting show on the road to Kansas City Monday and emerged like Clark Kent from a telephone booth.  11 hits and a bunch of walks on Monday led to nine runs, and 14 hits and a few more free passes Tuesday led to nine more runs.  Dingers! Triples! Doubles! Timely Bingles!  They were all there.  Michael Saunders homered.  Dustin Ackley homered. Casper Wells homered. Justin Smoak homered twice(!!??) 

Michael Saunders is congratulated after his mammoth homer to center in Tuesday night's game.
Should we be excited? The pitching was not the highest quality.  Jonathan Sanchez, the lefty slinger mauled Monday, pitched a crappy game in a long series of crappy games this season.  So crappy, in fact, the Royals DFA'ed him on Tuesday.  Tuesday's pitcher, Ryan Verdugo, an emergency AAA call up, got whacked around pretty good too.  Both Royals starters were gone by before the end of second inning.  Kansas City finds itself coming into tonight's game, the third in a four game series, with its bullpen dented and bruised. 

Last night during the game, Roots Sports posted a graphic that showed some breathtaking information.  The Mariners were leading all major league baseball in runs scored on the road.  The M's, with 92 games played have also played more games than all teams but the Phillies, Dodgers and Padres, with most other teams within a game or two.  They've also played 48 of those games on the road, which I suspect is more than most teams. That aside, after last night's game the M's have scored 238 runs on the road.  That's four more than the second place Angels. 

So what might their run total be in their 44 home games?  How about a grand total of 126.  That's about 53% of the runs scored away from Safeco Field. All other offensive statistics are likewise shriveled in Seattle.  The numbers of extra base hits home/road are as follows: 2B 53/90, 3B 3/13/, HR 22/56.  This is a team that has demonstrated it can score in other teams' ballparks, but scores the fewest runs in the majors at home.

It wasn't like the twin outbursts at Kaufman Stadium were at the Ballpark in Arlington either.  The K, as it's known at home, like Safeco Field, is known for its roomy outfields, and in its prime, attracted speedy outfielders like Willie Wilson and Amos Otis to run down drives in the gaps.  It is a toasty 95 degrees, so balls don't lose momentum in marine air.  All of this does give a new perspective on the fences at Safeco argument.

All statistics from Yahoo! Sports

Photo by Orlin Wagner, AP.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tales of Amos and Lucy and some fun baseball stuff

It's been a week since Amos came home with us. Mostly it's been a week of learning.  Lorri and I are trying to learn what Amos needs and how best to provide it for him.  Amos is trying to learn . . . pretty much everything.  Imagine that your memory is very short, very, very short.  The only place, people and dog friends are ripped away from you.  You've been planted from a pretty rural space to suburbia.  You're stuck with a couple of 50something parents who talk too much and don't give very clear directions.
Amos has decided his safest place is under the computer desk.  Somebody is often there anyway, so it's probably not a bad choice.
Despite all this Amos is doing an amazing job of fitting in.  He started by being really afraid of almost everything. He didn't much care for leashes, cars, or backyard, all of which were going to be a problem.  He was uncertain about Lorri and me, and for the first few days we didn't know if we were going to get friendly, affectionate Amos or frightened, uncertain Amos.  He was not wild about getting ready for his morning walks, about going potty outside.  He ate his food, but didn't like any kind of chew toy. He had accidents in the house
The real Amos in all his glory.  He's really a sweet, beautiful dog and an important member of our family.

But Amos did endear himself to us by being generally obedient.  He liked his walks when the leash was finally on.  He came when we called him.  We loved the way Amos ate-violently, briefly, and totally-all the while seeking approval from mom and dad. Amos is a terribly affectionate boy, and loves to be pet and scratched, happily rolling over on his back to get love.  He sidles up very close to be near.  He smiles broadly with his mouth half open and his tongue eagerly exposed, a characteristic of his breed, when he is very happy.

After a few days at Chez Smyth, things began to break loose.  He was more comfortable outside.  He seemed less afraid and more confident.  He began to explore the house, which is pretty small, on his own, and especially loved the layout of the living space, which is circular.  Amos loves to circumnavigate the space, leaving through the kitchen and appearing through the bathroom, usually with his enthusiastic grin. Maybe we should change his name to Magellan. Amos likes to hang out under our computer space, but will accompany me to my den when I'm painting figures, rolls on the bed asking for a scratch when I'm getting ready to shower or dress, and loves to lay on the couch next to us if we're watching television.  He loves people. He's still not a denizen of the backyard, but knows when he needs to go, and does so willingly.  Amos herds me as I'm mowing the back lawn, running wide circles around me, puzzled by the monotonous back and forth.

But what about Lucy, you may be thinking?  They don't have a bad relationship, they just don't have much relationship at all. Lucy has always been about Lucy, and Amos is pretty much about Amos.  We hoped they'd play together a bit more, but Lucy has snapped at her new brother a few times which probably keeps him away.  They compete for attention, for treats.  Lucy is always anxious to assert her ownership of any chew toys, which Amos affably cedes to her. Today, however, was interesting.  I was working in the backyard, when Amos began barking.  Amos never barks. Well, almost never barks.  He did bark twice when I was chasing him around the yard once.  The neighbor girl was clearly visible near the back fence and he barked at her several times, setting off the Lucy bark.  Lucy doesn't bark frequently, but when she does start, she's like Cook County voters: does it early and often. An interesting and unusual case of cooperation.

All in all, we're still getting to know Amos and he's still trying to learn about us.  I think he fits right in. 

***
The article foretells the likely outcome of a pitcher throwing 90% of the speed of light.  Picture pilfered from the page Relativistic Baseball

Dave Schueler sent me this interesting link to a physics site.  He was complaining, as so many others are, about the Mariners, and thought this might liven up our baseball taste buds. The article is of the what if nature, and asks "What if a pitcher could pitch at 90% of the speed of light.  Whoa.  Interesting conclusions drawn, but really the fun is in the read.  My thoughts were, that this was very cool, but would be most effective during a Yankees-Red Sox series. It does give a whole new meaning to the name Nuke LaLoosh.
Let's just say it's a really bad day for those in the park, the surrounding neighborhood, and the city in general.  It makes placing a stadium in the downtown area seem like a bad idea.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The M's at halfway: Don't throw out the babies with the bathwater

 Did you ever get really frustrated following your baseball team?  I do, am, still.  I am so torqued with the lack of progress by the Mariners, I want to break a bat over my knee.  I can't of course, being 56 years old and a weenie, so I may have to use some stand-ins to take care of it for me.
Justin Smoak feeds my frustration by striking out-again. Aghhh.
 Yes, it's just past the halfway mark in the MLB season.  The M's suck and they suck hard. Trailing the Texas Rangers by 16.5 games, and the only team in the AL West to be below .500, this is not  where I hoped they'd be at the halfway point. I'd projected 75 wins for the season, and realistically they're on a pace to match last year's 95 losses, but could easily turn that into 100 losses. They've been disappointing losses too.  I knew the pitching, with youngsters Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi in the starting rotation wouldn't be as strong as in years past.  But the real problem with this team has been offense.  They've gone from merely being inconsistent, to wandering in the same scoring desert as the past two years.  They struggle to create runs at all.  While the pitching generally improved as the season wore on with the departure of Noesi and Beaven to AAA, the offense has gotten worse.
Bo Jackson was an all-star bat breaker.  I'll he could hit a home run out of Safeco Field.
Where did it all go so wrong?  Lots of reasons really.  The most obvious is the Mariners hitting woes haven't come close to being resolved. The M's decided to go with youth, counting on Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, and Justin Smoak to build their offense, with veterans Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins on the team to provide some veteran leadership.  They also added John Jaso as a player off the bench.  The outcome thus far is the young players have mostly struggled.   Justin Smoak continues to have a swing that is much too long and often leaves him looking foolish at the plate.  Montero strikes out too often, and rarely walks.  Ackley's struggles may be the biggest surprise, because his rookie half season was pretty good.

Yes there are some exceptions here.  Saunders is maturing into the toolsy, athletic player I hoped he would, displaying good defense, some power and speed.  If there is a pleasant surprise on the team it is Saunders.  Seager has shown glimpses of offensive talent, but as the season has gone on, needs to make adjustments as pitchers are learning how to pitch to him.  Wells was sent to Tacoma for three weeks and returned an improved hitter.  Another athletic outfielder, he brought better right-handed hitting and stronger defense to the outfield. John Jaso, picked up in the off-season, is the team's most clutch player, occasionally starting at catcher and DH, but providing some dramatic moments off the bench in late pinch hitting assignments.
Carlos Zambrano hasn't pitched all that well for a while, but damn he can really bust the lumber. 
Unfortunately those veteran leaders have not emerged.  Olivo began the year with a groin injury and simply has not been effective offensively on his return.  Increasingly Montero and Jaso took a larger role catching and Miggie a larger role on the sidelines.  Chone Figgins is simply a punchline for jokes, used mostly as a late defensive replacement or pinch runner.  Figgins is taking up roster spots.  He can't help this team, and big contract or not should simply be dropped through the trap door. Ichiro is having his career worst offensive year, and with his sphinx-like attitude can offer little veteran leadership.  Nope, the kids are all on their own.
Former Mariner Milton Bradley was well known for his level of frustration.  Here he wears a Padre uniform at Safeco Field with his bat in two tidy pieces.
There is one more increasingly important factor that is playing into the discussion about this year's Mariners, and that is the effect of Safeco Field on the young hitters.  ESPN has Safeco rated as the second worst park to hit in, behind San Francisco's AT & T Park.  Yahoo Sports show the Mariners as hitting a slash line of .256/.305/.410 on the road, which is in the top half of MLB rankings .  At home however, they are a league worst .195/.273/.289.  More than ever, players seem to be bamboozled by the spacious park, and more ruckus is raised about moving the fences in than ever before.  How much?  Five feet?  Ten feet? Twenty-five feet?  The M's have fine home pitching stats, but take 'em out on the road to pitch in the league's launching pads and they become very ordinary.  Do we want to risk the the damage to our up and coming pitching staff, because whatever gain the M's get in their home at bats will also accrue to their adversaries. Oddly, the numbers for the visiting teams are way down for Safeco too.
Big Papi also has a big temper and has no trouble turning his stick into kindling.
So what should the M's do?  If I could make the call, it would be time time to drop Figgins into the shark tank and call it good. At least Justin Smoak would go down to Tacoma and work on shortening his swing.  I'd for sure put Carlos Peguero on the Tacoma Express because there's no way he belongs here.  Complicating all this is the fact there is nobody in Tacoma who can really help improve things.  At best they'd be place holders.  That would be fine if the Tacoma experience would help the young guys, like Smoak, Ackley and Montero build their confidence and put in the work they need to improve. Three weeks in AAA, and a little more playing time, did wonders for Casper Wells.  Who could the M's call up?  Mike Carp, if he's healthy and ready.  First baseman Luis Jimenez has had a great first half  and is a AAA all-star.  Again, this is short term, until Justin can smoke 'em again.  Luis Rodriguez is another solid organizational player who could fill in for Ackley, or take on Munenori Kawasaki's utility role until Dustin returns. If the M's feel they need another catcher they could call up Guillermo Quiroz, another AAA all star.
Even the dead can get in on the act as the late Ken Caminiti does his impression of a shredder/chipper.
I know, I see the heads shaking and those bad words forming on your lips.  The season has flown and moves like this simply can't make it worse. These guys for better or worse are our future core, and if they need some help, for god's sake get it for them.  Unfortunately, Larry Larue's article in the News Tribune suggested there would be little change for the Mariners after the break.  I think that's a mistake.  While I never believed this would be the year for the young M's, I did think this would be a year of growth, and that seems unlikely now. I'm not giving up on this young core, but they clearly have a long way to go.