Quick Hits

The President of the United States is under investigation

I haven’t written about the Trump/Russia investigation much on here, mostly because my life has been insanely busy lately, and other events demanded more of my attention.  Brief recap: former FBI director James Comey was fired on May 9, ostensibly because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.  While that is true, many people didn’t buy that excuse.  Why would President Trump fire him for something he did to a political opponent?  Trump gave an interview with Lester Holt soon after in which he seemed to admit that he fired Comey because he was investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential election.  This prompted the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller (who was Comey’s predecessor at the FBI) to further investigate the situation.  In addition, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began an inquiry and called both Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify.

In Comey’s testimony, he revealed that he had “no doubt” that Russian operatives interfered with the 2016 election.  He also described several conversations in which he said Trump pressured him to drop an investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired because of his ties to Russia.  Comey also admitted leaking information to the press because he wanted a Special Counsel to be appointed.  While Comey didn’t come out and say it, his testimony seemed to indicate that he believed Trump obstructed justice by interfering in an official investigation that he was connected to.  Spurred on by this, Special Counsel Mueller is now investigating Trump for that very charge.

So what does this mean?  Well… we don’t really know yet.  Democrats have been salivating at the prospect of a possible Trump impeachment, but since Republicans control Congress, that probably won’t happen anytime soon.  From what we know of partisan polarization and loyalty, it would stand to reason that Republicans wouldn’t start abandoning Trump in any real numbers unless something catastrophic were to happen.  That “something catastrophic” would probably have to be one of two things in my view: Either Mueller’s investigation finds solid evidence of obstruction of justice, or evidence that many high-level officials in the Trump campaign helped the Russians interfere in the election.  And either of those could take a long time.  If Democrats take over the House in the 2018 midterm elections, the chances of impeachment could rise.  But they would still need buy-in from Republicans to remove Trump from office, as a 2/3 majority in the Senate is required to do so.  Republicans will probably remain in control of the Senate after 2018 due to an extremely favorable playing field.

Republican health care bill gets new life

Lost in the news of Trump’s legal troubles was the fact that the Republican health care reform effort soldiers on.  Even as House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Obamacare was the law of the land for the foreseeable future after the House failed to pass first version of the bill back in March, the effort was revived.  Several changes were made to the bill to placate the super-conservative Freedom Caucus, such as allowing state governments to roll back required coverage for essential health services, and letting states seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge more to people with preexisting conditions.  Even then, 20 Republican Congressman joined every Democrat in opposing the bill, many of them moderates from swing districts.

Many moderate Republican Senators immediately slammed the bill upon its passage, and promised to work on their own version.  However, the Senate bill is being drafted behind closed doors, drawing bipartisan criticism.  This has created speculation that the bill will be quickly ushered to a vote without a public hearing or drafting session.  Given the intense unpopularity of the House bill, it would seem that these methods would only serve to exacerbate those problems.  Even more interesting is the fact that Republicans repeatedly accused Democrats of “ramming Obamacare down America’s throat” (they didn’t… the process took 8-9 months) and now appear poised to do just that with their bill.

After seven years, finally more Metroid

On a lighter note, my favorite video game series is finally making a proper comeback.  I haven’t written much about my Metroid fandom on here, frankly because there hasn’t been much to write about since Metroid: Other M’s release in 2010.  That game sharply divided the fanbase, and since then Nintendo has seemed reluctant to release a new Metroid game (beyond that weird spinoff in 2015).  But at the E3 expo this year, fans’ prayers were finally answered with two games: Metroid: Samus Returns, which is a reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus, will come out first in September of this year for the Nintendo 3DS.  While some may criticize this as a retread, I actually think remaking Metroid II is a good idea.  The original version left a lot to be desired in terms of gameplay, though it did continue the tradition of killer soundtracks for Metroid games.  Honestly, one of the things that got me most excited about this game was hearing that several composers who worked on Super Metroid’s soundtrack are coming back for this game.  Nintendo also has a good track record with Metroid remakes, as Metroid: Zero Mission was an excellent remake of the original Metroid game for the Game Boy Advance.

And, perhaps the biggest news of all: the Metroid Prime series is back!  Nintendo unveiled this news with a dramatic reveal at E3 of the logo and the words “now in development for the Nintendo Switch.”  And… that’s pretty much all we know about it.  Retro Studios, the subsidiary of Nintendo who was responsible for the first three games, is not making this game, which caused some panic among fans.  But like the worry that surrounded the Rogue One reshoots, let’s not jump to conclusions until we see the game.  After all, Kensuke Tanabe, the producer behind the original series, is still on board, so it’s not like this is a total departure from the past.  Either way, after skipping the Wii U because of a less-than-stellar game library and lack of Metroid, I will now be buying a Nintendo Switch.

Quick Hits

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare, legalizes gay marriage

supreme-court-lady-justice

This past week, the Supreme Court of the United States made two historic rulings.  In the first, King v. Burwell, the Court upheld one of the basic tenets of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).  The Constitutional question in the case was whether the tax credits the federal government offered could be given regardless of whether someone purchased insurance from a state-run health insurance exchange, or exchanges run by the federal government for those states that did not set up their own exchanges.  The law itself was a bit vague on this matter, and the Court said that the clause in question should be interpreted in a manner “that is compatible with the rest of the law,” meaning that both the federal and state exchanges would be eligible for the credits.  This is a long-winded, technical way of saying that the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature piece of legislation, has survived what is hopefully its final court challenge.

The second ruling, in Obergefell v. Hodges, affirmed that same-sex marriage is a human right that has been denied to gay couples in the past.  The case centered around the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall deny the equal protection of the laws to any citizen in its jurisdiction.  Because marriages were being performed and recognized for heterosexual couples but not for homosexual couples, the petitioners argued, equal protection of the laws was being denied.  The respondents argued that the Constitution does not discuss marriage, and thus the Court is in no position to rule on it.  The Court ultimately agreed with the petitioners.  I’ll let this quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion speak for itself regarding the Court’s reasoning:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Pete Rose digs his grave further

FILE--Baseball great Pete Rose talks to reporters at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia in this June 19, 1997 photo. Rose, whose gambling got him banned from baseball in 1989, applied for reinstatement to baseball on Friday, Sept. 26, 1997, hoping the sport will end his lifetime ban. ``He has requested that baseball reinstate him so he can spend the rest of his life in the game he loves,'' said Rose's lawyer, S. Gary Spicer. (AP Photo/ George Widman)

Pete Rose has put his case for reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility in serious question.  Documents obtained by ESPN strongly suggest that Rose bet on baseball as a player, contrary to his insistence that he hadn’t.  It was thought that Rose came completely clean in his 2004 book My Prison Without Bars, but even as late as this year, he has continued to say that he only bet on baseball as a manager.

I defended Rose in a post in 2013, saying that since he has admitted his wrongdoing, it was time to recognize how transcendent of a player he was, and bring him up for a Hall of Fame vote.  Now I’m not so sure.  On its face, the fact that he bet on baseball as both a player and manager isn’t that big of a deal to me, as long as he didn’t bet against his own team.  But since he has continued to give us lies and half-truths, who’s to say we won’t uncover more documentation that reveals he did bet against his team?  Even if he were to say he was being completely honest at this point, I’m not sure that I would believe him.  The uncertainty surrounding his case and the difficulty he has proving a negative will continue to wear away at his Hall of Fame case.   For what it’s worth, there is some ambiguity in ESPN’s documents (for instance, they only say “Pete” in the gambling ledgers, never identifying Rose by his last name), so maybe that evidence will turn out to prove nothing.

Scott Stapp has bipolar disorder

scott-stapp-1024

Good news finally broke in singer Scott Stapp’s bizarre meltdown that lasted for most of the last two months of 2014.  In an interview with People magazine last month, Stapp revealed what many had suspected: he’d been through an intense mental breakdown in which he suffered a psychotic break, made worse by a relapse into abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol.  He finally sought treatment after his wife texted him family Christmas photos, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He is now on a 12-step program to recover from his substance abuse, with mentors guiding him to make sure he doesn’t fall off the wagon again.

I’d said in my previous post on this matter that I was tired of Stapp’s antics, and this whole affair has done nothing to change that feeling.  While I am glad he’s gotten treatment, I’m beginning to wonder if some of these aren’t cleverly designed publicity stunts to keep him in the public eye and generate material for his albums.  They sometimes seem curiously timed, right when it seems he’s back on the straight and narrow for good.  That said, I have never been addicted to drugs, nor have I been diagnosed with mental health problems, so I don’t know those struggles firsthand.  Maybe it really is that hard for him to stay clean, sober, and healthy.  Needless to say, I hope that no further incidents like this unfold, and he can continue to make more music successfully.

Quick Hits

FCC wants to reclassify Internet services

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Last week brought some good news for pro-net neutrality activists like myself, as the FCC revealed that they plan to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.  This is important because common carriers are not allowed to discriminate between potential customers.  As long as they have the capacity to transmit data and customers pay a reasonable fee, they are required to provide their services equally to everyone.  It would also allow the FCC to regulate and set rules for these carriers.  ISPs had originally been classified under Title I of the Act, which meant that they were unregulated.

The FCC hasn’t released a ton of information regarding what rules they might set for ISPs once they are reclassified, but the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) says that the few statements they have made concentrate on three main rules:

  • “No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration – in other words, no “fast lanes” – including fast lanes for affiliates.”

In my opinion, these are three very good rules.  They go a long way toward preserving the Internet’s free and open spirit, and largely avoid the nightmare scenario I portrayed in my previous post on this topic, where a user only has access to certain websites or services depending on which ISP they use and what affiliation agreements they have signed.  The EFF’s post suggests the FCC should also adopt a rule regarding transparency, so that consumers have the power to hold companies accountable for providing the services they have promised, which I think might also be a good idea.  Jonathan Strickland gave a great summary of the implications of this decision in his TechStuff podcast on HowStuffWorks.com as well, so I’d encourage you to check that out if you want more information.  The podcast is available on iTunes.

Kennesaw city council reconsiders mosque rejection

The shopping center on Jiles Road in Kennesaw, GA, where the proposed mosque would be located.

The shopping center on Jiles Road in Kennesaw, GA, where the proposed mosque would be located.

Although this is old news by now, I still wanted to follow up on this story for interested parties.  The city council of Kennesaw, GA reversed its decision in December denying a request for a temporary mosque to be built in a shopping center on Jiles Road.  Amid weak justification for its initial denial of the mosque, the US Justice Department had threatened to investigate and possibly file a lawsuit against the city if it believed the Muslim group’s First Amendment rights had been violated.  Anyone investigating this issue for two seconds could see that such violations were indeed occurring, and I’m glad the city council has decided to allow the mosque after all.

Virginia basketball having sensational season

Hurry back, Justin.

Hurry back, Justin.

In case you missed it, last year was a historic year for Virginia men’s basketball.  The team won the second ACC tournament title and the sixth ACC regular season title in history, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.  Only a razor-thin loss to Michigan State prevented the Cavaliers from soaring to greater heights.

This season, though, Virginia’s team might just be better.  Always stalwart on defense, this year’s Cavaliers also ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency as well, lifting the team to a superb 23-1 (11-1 ACC) start.  Better yet, these Hoos don’t just rely on one or two star players.  Every game is a true team effort, with players such as Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and London Perrantes all making key contributions.  Even freshman Marial Shayok has gotten in on the action and chipped in good minutes.  All these factors have caused many pundits to declare Virginia capable of winning the national championship.

Though there have been chinks in the Cavaliers’ armor of late.  Guard Justin Anderson, thought of by many as Virginia’s best player, went down with broken fingers in the team’s win over Louisville.  Immediately before and since his injury, the team has had trouble closing out games, and has struggled offensively.  The still-stifling defense has bailed out Virginia and enabled them to keep winning, but they will need Anderson back in order to have a good shot at making their first Final Four since 1984.

Quick Hits

Rolling Stone all but retracts UVA story

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This Friday, Rolling Stone published a note to their readers that walked back key parts of their article which sparked a renewed discussion about sexual violence on college campuses.  The article said that Rolling Stone’s trust in “Jackie,” their primary source for the story on an alleged gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia, had been misplaced and that there were several discrepancies in her story.  For one, Phi Kappa Psi never had a date function or party on the night in question.  Several questions existed surrounding the identity of “Drew,” who allegedly orchestrated the attack.  Several news outlets criticized Rolling Stone’s failure to contact the friends that accompanied Jackie to the frat party, and her alleged attackers, out of respect for Jackie’s feelings.  However, Rolling Stone now believes they should have done so given the discrepancies they found.

I have mixed feelings about this.  While I’d believed the article was sensationalized and misrepresented life at UVA, I’m worried about how it might impact the national conversation on campus rape.  Chances are, Jackie’s story is at least partially accurate.  Most studies show that only around 2-10% of all rape allegations made to the police are fabricated.  That said, Jackie never made any official allegations, so we’ll probably never truly know if her story was one of the 2-10%.  I’d always had a problem with the fact that Jackie didn’t go to the police after the dean she’d contacted advised her how to hold her attackers accountable.  Yet she felt fine going to Rolling Stone.  But on top of that, there’s evidence that she asked to be taken out of the story, but the author of the article pressured her to stay in, and that she was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which could’ve impacted her actions at the time and since.  Rolling Stone also admitted that the failure to contact all sources to get all sides of the story was their fault, not Jackie’s.

I can only hope that we continue having a national conversation on campus rape, and that we don’t use this as an excuse to stop pushing for change.  Sexual assault survivors’ first move should be to go to the police.  After 48 hours, it becomes much more difficult to obtain physical evidence to support rape charges.  While it’s true that many police officers treat rape victims with skepticism (and stories like this are a big reason why), they are still best equipped to investigate and solve the problem.  Also, we’re not likely to see the end to fraternities and sororities that I called for two weeks ago.  While I still wouldn’t miss the Greek system if it were gone, hopefully a solution can be found that seeks to make these organizations more transparent about their actions and steps up enforcement of sexual assault, which would still be an improvement over our current situation.

City of Kennesaw rejects storefront mosque

Kennesaw mosque

Supporters of the Kennesaw mosque gather

 

There were many rage-worthy stories in the news this week (the failure to indict Eric Garner’s attackers chief among them), but one that flew under the national radar is the city council of Kennesaw, GA’s decision not to grant a use permit for a mosque in a shopping center.  It was fairly clear that this decision was at least partly motivated by racism and religious prejudice, as many people waved protest signs in the shopping center that said things like “Islam wants no peace.”  Also, when many of the protesters were interviewed, they cited ridiculously overblown concerns about terrorism.  These false attacks were often veiled through concerns over potential traffic and parking issues, but the shopping center where the mosque was planned for was mostly empty, making those concerns baseless.  Even more galling, the city council approved a Pentecostal church in a retail space just last summer.  Luckily, Kennesaw’s mayor has said they will revisit the issue, and I would hope the federal government will step in to protect the group’s First Amendment rights if they fail to approve the permit soon.

Scott Stapp on a downward spiral

Stapp

Scott Stapp in his mysterious video posted on November 26.

Creed has always been one of my favorite bands, but its frontman appears to be in need of some serious help.  The whole episode started on November 26, when Scott Stapp posted a 15-minute video saying that he’s completely penniless and living in a Holiday Inn.  He also says that he’s been the victim of a “vicious attack” and that many involved with his music career have stolen money from him.  He claims that the IRS has frozen his accounts, and in a subsequent interview said he believes this was because he said in an interview that he wouldn’t vote for President Obama in 2012.  He also denies rumors that he has relapsed into alcoholism and drug use.  Later videos he posted and later took down show him reporting these alleged crimes to the Boca Raton Police Department, and talking about how God has been taken out of American culture.

I’ve been one of Stapp’s more zealous defenders over the years because I like his music, but even I am finding his story hard to swallow.  The most damning piece of evidence might be that was placed in a 72-hour psychiatric hold after being found on the side of the road in Madison County, Florida on November 13.  Police said that Stapp appeared “wasted, incoherent, and rambling that someone was trying to poison him.”  It was also revealed that Stapp received $1.5 million in advances in 2013 for his latest solo album Proof of Life, in addition to sharing in a $3 million payment with the other members of Creed for their 2009 album Full Circle, leaving many to wonder how that much money was stolen from him.  Entertainment attorney Dina LaPolt told The Hollywood Reporter that a lot of checks and balances are in place to prevent a theft of that scale that she admits did happen to some artists back in the day.

On top of all that, Stapp’s wife Jaclyn filed for divorce, claiming that her husband left their home in October and has been on a drug-fueled binge since, sending her disturbing texts and threatening to harm or kill her and their children.  Stapp’s teenage son Jagger also allegedly tweeted a similar message.  Stapp’s Creed bandmates Mark Tremonti and Brian Marshall have reached out to try to find him and get him help.  Marshall was successful in reaching Stapp, and has said that he needs medical help before he surrenders to his disease.  Other sources close to Stapp have said similar things in interviews.  While I’ve run out of patience for Stapp’s well-documented antics over the years, as a Creed fan I do hope he is able to get the help he needs before something truly terrible happens.

 

Quick Hits

It’s been a while since I did a Quick Hits post, but there’s been a significant campaign development (already!) in the gubernatorial races.  So I thought I’d lead with that, and throw in some other news in the world of sports and music.

Alaska candidates form “unity ticket”

Alaskan gubernatorial "unity ticket," (from left): Democrat Byron Mallott, and Independent Bill Walker.

Alaskan gubernatorial “unity ticket,” (from left): Democrat Byron Mallott, and Independent Bill Walker.

Previously, the gubernatorial race in Alaska hadn’t been grabbing much attention.  Republican Sean Parnell was expected to win the race, having the advantages of both incumbency and being a Republican in a red state.  However, Independent Bill Walker threw a wrench into the works when he announced that he and Democratic candidate Byron Mallott were merging their campaigns.  Walker will run at the top of the ticket with Mallott as his running mate for Lieutenant Governor.  The campaign is touting this as a “unity ticket,” even though Walker is not running as a Republican.  Walker did, however, run against Parnell in the Republican primary for Governor in 2010, losing badly.  Mallott, meanwhile, has some record of bipartisanship during his political career, having served as co-chair of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski’s reelection campaign in 2010, which she won as a write-in candidate over Republican nominee Joe Miller.

So what does this all mean?  No public polls have been taken since Walker and Mallott merged their campaigns, and Alaska is a very difficult state to poll.  The latest poll taken of the race showed Parnell ahead with 37% of the vote, and Mallott and Walker with 22% and 20%, respectively.  Does this mean that we can simply add Mallott and Walker’s percentages and conclude that they are ahead?  Not so fast.  This situation bears some resemblance to the nutso race in Kansas that I covered in my previous post.  Once Greg Orman comes to be recognized as the de facto Democratic candidate, any crossover support he had from Republicans will likely deteriorate.  The same goes for Walker and Mallott.  The Alaska Democratic Party has even come out and endorsed their bid, so they will definitely be seen as a sort of Democratic ticket.  This means that at least some of their supporters in the poll may switch to Parnell or stay home.  Walker and Mallott’s bipartisan records may keep some voters in the fold, but how many?  We won’t know until we see fresh polling, and we may not even know for sure until election night.  I still think Parnell will win here, but one thing’s for sure: nobody was talking about this race two months ago, and plenty are now.  Which means anything can happen.

Packers Start Season 1-1

Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson

Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson

I elected not to do an in-depth Packers preview this season, mostly because this year’s team strongly resembles last year’s team: an offensive machine with limited defensive capabilities.  I wasn’t sure the acquisition of aged linebacker Julius Peppers from the Bears nor the drafting of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was going to change all that.

That description of the team has mostly rung true as the Pack has started the season 1-1.  They weren’t able to topple the defending champs on their home turf as the Seahawks pulled away late for a 36-16 win.  Green Bay’s defense couldn’t contain Seattle’s speedy receivers and mobile quarterback, just like in our playoff loss last year to the 49ers.  The Packers’ offense even got into a funk last week against the Jets (a game I attended!), falling behind 21-3 before rallying for a 31-24 win.  The defense was able to contain a mobile QB here for at least half the game, but Geno Smith’s supporting cast is nowhere near as good as Russell Wilson’s in Seattle.  Wide receiver Jordy Nelson is off to a historic start, pulling in 18 receptions for 292 yards in his first two games.  The receptions mark is a team record, and the yardage is second all-time for the first two games.  Despite that, I don’t think the Packers have the firepower on D to keep up with the elite teams in the NFC.  I think they’ll advance to the divisional playoffs, and possibly the NFC championship game, before running into a buzzsaw team like the 49ers or Seahawks that will exploit their weaknesses.  I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see a Super Bowl win in the cards this year.  Then again, I didn’t see one in 2010, so who knows.

Mark Tremonti releases another b-side

Tremonti GoneFor those who don’t know me, I’m a huge fan of the bands Creed and Alter Bridge.  One member they have in common is guitarist Mark Tremonti, who I view as one of the greatest living rock guitarists on the planet.  So, naturally, I was just short of giddy when he released his first solo album, All I Was, back in 2012.  I reviewed the album for a friend’s blog, but the site has unfortunately been dismantled since.  I still have a Word document of the review if any of you would like to read it.  Tremonti has since released two b-sides to the album: “All That I Got” in April 2013, and “Gone” five days ago.  I really liked “All That I Got,” as it had a nice groove to it, but I can see why it didn’t make the album.

“Gone,” on the other hand, fits in very well with the rest of All I Was.  It has the same titanic entrance that most songs on the album do, and combines the thunderous sounds of thrash metal with the melodic sensibilities of a band like Creed.  This one features more effects on Tremonti’s vocals than the rest of the album, which I think takes away from the song a little.  The lyrics are pretty vague too, describing someone who finally found their way in life after many difficulties.  While I like the song, it’s nowhere near as interesting as several of the others on his album, and I would recommend listening to those first as an intro to his solo project.  Right now, there’s only live performances of “Gone” on YouTube, so I’ll link you to one of those below, in addition to one of my favorites from the album, “The Things I’ve Seen.”

Quick Hits

For today’s post, I’m going to take a short look at a few different headlines that have been making waves in the sports world.

Patriots Acquire Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow

This past Tuesday, the New England Patriots acquired polarizing QB Tim Tebow after the New York Jets released him.  While I’ve never liked Tebow (or any player that uses God as a good-luck charm), he could be an interesting acquisition for the Patriots.

The Jets never really gave him a chance last year, letting him throw the ball 8 times and run it 32 times.  His piss-poor pass accuracy (under 50% for his career) prevents him from being a regular starting quarterback, but I could see him as a nice change-of-pace guy in New England.  The latest fad offense in the NFL is the read option, which allows the quarterback to choose whether to hand the ball off to a running back or run the ball himself.  Many teams with dual-threat QBs, such as the Redskins, Seahawks, and 49ers, employ this offense with great success.  Using Tebow in occasional read-option packages could give the pocket-passing Patriots offense another dimension, and give opposing defenses even more to worry about when playing against them.  Also, Tom Brady, while still an elite player, is no spring chicken anymore (he will be 36 when the regular season starts). Maybe having Tebow to spell Brady could extend his career a little more and allow the Patriots to make the most of the three-year contract extension he just signed.

Clippers, Celtics Talking Mega-Trade

Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers

Yesterday, the story broke that the Clippers and Celtics are talking about a deal that could bring Celtics coach Doc Rivers to the LA Clippers, along with longtime franchise cornerstones Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.  Such a trade would allow the Celtics to start over after underachieving last year amid the decline of their aging core.  The proposed trade would have the Celtics getting guard Caron Butler, center DeAndre Jordan, and guard Eric Bledsoe in the deal, along with a possible draft pick.

I’ve been of the opinion recently that the Celtics need to start their rebuilding process now rather than unnecessarily holding on to the players that won them a championship in 2008.  This team’s championship window has likely closed.  Their core players (minus an injured Rajon Rondo) could not get them better than a 7-seed in the playoffs and a six-game loss to the New York Knicks.  The Celtics have a lot of good young players to build around, such as Rondo and Jeff Green (who became more and more of a prolific scorer as the season wore on).  Avery Bradley has been a defensive force at shooting guard, and Jared Sullinger & Fab Melo are good prospects at the center and power forward positions.

That said, I have mixed feelings about this trade.  While it could be good for the Celtics’ long-term future, the crown jewel of this trade would be Bledsoe, who plays the same position as Rondo.  Bledsoe won’t be a backup for much longer, and the question arises if the team can get both players enough minutes to keep them happy.  Of course, the Celtics could also trade Rondo, which wouldn’t bother me a ton.  I wonder about his diva-ish attitude and impact on team chemistry sometimes (witness our 21-17 record without Rondo last year as opposed to 20-23 with him), so maybe getting another star player at the point wouldn’t be so bad.

I think it would also be better to keep Paul Pierce around if we can, because he has played his whole career with the Celtics, and it would be good to see him retire as one and mentor the younger players.  He also has a few more productive years left in him, I think.

NBA, Stanley Cup Finals Proving to be Tight Affairs

Dwayne Wade

Dwayne Wade

Daniel Paille

Daniel Paille

The last two games of the NBA Finals have featured two unlikely breakout stars.  In Game 3, Spurs guard Gary Neal exploded for 24 points on 6 of 10 from three to lead the Spurs to a 36-point destruction of the Heat.  Miami evened the series right back up thanks to improved play from Dwayne Wade, who hit for 32 points on 56% shooting from the field to even the series up headed into tonight’s tilt.  Whoever wins this series will largely depend on who has a breakout game next.  If Wade and Bosh can continue their play, the Heat will win.  If Tony Parker can rebound from a bum hamstring and lead the Spurs, they have the advantage.The Stanley Cup Finals are also underway, and are tied at a game apiece, with both games going to overtime.  That is now happened in two consecutive Cup finals after not happening for 61 years prior.  In Game 1, Michal Rozsival’s shot deflected off teammates Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw to win the game for Chicago.  Left winger Daniel Paille was the hero in Game 2, potting a goal to win the game for the Bruins.  These teams are evenly matched and I would not be surprised to see more overtime games, with the series going the full seven games.  The matchup of Original Six teams has also led to a 119% spike in TV ratings from last year (matching up two massive media markets probably helps that figure too).

Orioles Ride Potent Offense to Second Place in AL East

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This just in: the Baltimore Orioles can score some runs.  They are 4th in total runs and 10th in on-base percentage in MLB this year.  Many of their hits go for extra bases too, as they are 2nd in slugging percentage.  They also lead MLB in home runs, with Chris “Crush” Davis crushing an MLB-leading 22.  Manny Machado has proven to be a superstar as predicted, who is batting .324 with a .357 on-base percentage.  Adam Jones rounds out the Orioles’ power alley, batting .300 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs. That potent offense has them sitting at 39-30 on the season, and solidly in second place in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox, who the Orioles have won two of three games against and are leading 3-0 as of the time of this post.  However, the Orioles need to be careful, as their pitchers are 29th in the league in ERA (an ugly 4.45 mark), and 21st in batting average against.  They will need to get better at run prevention if they want to succeed in the playoffs, where simply outscoring their opponents will not be enough.

 

Quick & Dirty Update Post

So there have been some new developments in some stories that I have covered on this blog, so I thought I’d do a quick rundown of the most significant ones.

First of all, let’s get the bad news out of the way.  The Senate voted down the Manchin-Toomey compromise on gun background checks today.  Just when I thought we could make some real headway on gun policy, it just proves how horribly backward our thinking on this issue is as a country.  If we can’t even agree on a basic measure like this that does nothing to endanger the ability of law-abiding citizens to own a gun, how in the world are we supposed to curtail the recent spike in mass shootings here?  In case you want to check how your senator voted, here’s a chart.  The chart also exposes part of the problem with the Senate today: a measure in which a majority voted for it still did not pass.  Because filibusters are so easy to execute these days, more or less any bill faces the threat of filibuster, and needs 60 votes to pass rather than 50, as one would think.  Props to McCain, Collins, Kirk, & Toomey for crossing party lines and doing what no other Republican senator could do, reach a productive compromise.

Senators' votes

Now, the good news: I may have been slightly wrong about Pope Francis.  While I still don’t believe he is a John XXIII-like transformative figure, his first actions while in office have led me to believe that he at least is dedicated to reforming the elitist perception of a Papacy that frequently appears to lord its power over the people and build disgustingly opulent churches while failing to feed the hungry.

Francis set the tone right away by accepting the cardinals’ congratulations standing, rather than seated on the papal throne like past popes.  In his first appearance as Pope, he wore simple white garments, eschewing the fancy red garments previous Popes have worn, and declined to wear a gold cross.

Perhaps his most interesting actions since ascending to the Papacy have been taking substantial steps to reform the Curia, the central governing body of the church, which has been criticized for, among other things, being not at all representative of the faithful.  Francis has called for all senior Curia officials to provisionally remain in office until further decisions could be made regarding their continued status.  In addition, rather than washing senior Church officials’ feet on Holy Thursday, as is the custom, he went to a juvenile detention center in Rome, and washed and kissed the feet of several juvenile detainees, telling them, “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope.”  There are not many times in recent history where I have looked at the actions of a Pope and said to myself, “This is exactly what Jesus would do,” but this is one of them.

Francis washing feet

Pope Francis seems to want to be known as a reformer, who brings the Church’s message directly to the people, and that is an admirable aspiration.  I am very encouraged by his recent actions, and he has a good chance to be better than his immediate predecessors.

Finally, I just wanted to report on where the Orioles stand this season.  Currently, we’re more or less right where I thought we’d be, sitting at 7-7 and third in the AL East division.  Our offense is driving most of our early-season success, as we’ve scored 4.7 runs per game, 11th in MLB.  Our starting pitchers have struggled some, with only one of them posting an ERA below 4.00.  But closer Jim Johnson is picking up right where he left off last year, having yet to allow an earned run and recording six saves.

But the biggest story of the Orioles’ young season has been the absolutely torrid start of first baseman Chris Davis.  Davis hit a home run in each of his first four games, and recorded 16 RBI in those games, a Major League record.  Davis did hit 33 home runs last year, so this power surge is not completely unexpected.  Outfielder Adam Jones has also had a predictably good start to the year, hitting .400 and posting a .411 on-base percentage.  He also ranks second on the team with a .564 slugging percentage.

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Chris Davis