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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cup crazy, part one

Hello again hockey fans!  It’s the Lawyers, Guns, and Fever Swamp edition of the 2006 NHL Playoffs.  That’s right, the internationally famous Scott Lemieux and I have teamed up to provide you with critical yet almost-immediately-disposable commentary on the first round of this year’s playoffs.  Because Lemieux is a Calgary Flames kinda guy and I live and die with the Rangers, Scott will do the prognosticatin’ for the Wild Wild West and I will cover the Eastern Establishment.  Take it away, Scott:

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As everyone who follows it knows, trying to pick the Western Conference this year is a fool’s game—if I spot you Detroit, if you haven’t seen a hockey game all year we have about the same shot.  So this is more of a “things to look for” and “vehicle for embarrassingly erroneous predictions” exercise.  The one other note is to remind everyone that the NHL re-seeds after every round rather than the silly brackets of the NBA, which I think is crucial for Detroit.  If things shake out the way I’m predicting below, they’re in very good shape; I think they’ll only play one team that has the defense and goaltending to be a real threat, and in that context they have to be an odds-on favorite.  If they end up with San Jose/Calgary or Anaheim/San Jose, on the other hand, my gut says that one of those teams will knock them off.  With that, onto the matchups:

(1) Detroit v. (8) Edmonton.  In terms of team quality, I don’t think an Oiler win would be a truly historic upset.  I think the 30-point differential is overstated by the fact that the Northwest divison has 5 good teams while the Central only has 2; I’m not fully convinced that the Red Wings are a great team as opposed to a very, very good team in a shitty division.  And the Oilers aren’t a bad team; they have a speedy, deep group of forwards (although they lack a true star), and Pronger/ Spacek/ Bergeron/ Smith/ Staios is a lot better defense corps than your typical #8 seed, granting that Pronger is less valuable in the New NHL (™).  But when I’m looking for an upset, I look for a team that has some kind of edge that they can exploit.  Calgary’s upset of the Wings last year is the model; they compensated for their much lesser firepower by using stellar goaltending to steal two one-goal road games, and then used their physicality and forechecking to wear down the Wings’ splendid but aging defense (although can you believe Chelios?  It pains me to admit this, but even at 44 he handled the bigger Olympic ice surface a lot better than Pronger did).  I can see San Jose pulling that off too.  The Oilers, on the other hand, are the same type of team as the Red Wings, but worse at everything.  It’s hard to get an upset without better goaltending, and I’ve always thought that Dwayne Roloson’s superficially good numbers were more a product of Jacques Lemaire’s system than his own abilities (and his thoroughly mediocre performance as an Oiler doesn’t persuade me).  These will be tougher games than some people expect, but I can’t see Oilers pulling it off. RED WINGS IN 5.

(2) Dallas v. (7) Colorado.  So, I’m going to make this my upset special.  Everyone seems to think that this will be a Dallas walkover, and they probably know something I don’t.  Certainly, the Stars are a good model for the new league; good, fast, two-way forwards, very disciplined, Zubov a terrific anchor.  The Avs are a hard team to figure, have an unsettled goaltending situation, Blake has lost a step or three, and Patrick “Breeze-By” Brisebois may log significant minutes.  Still, I think the Avs can pull off an upset.  First, there’s the divisional disparity I discussed earlier.  Second, I may be dead wrong about this, but I think Turco is tremendously overrated—an .898 save percentage on a team with excellent team defense isn’t very good even under the new league, and I think Coloardo’s snipers (and there’s still a lot of talent here: Sakic, Tanguay, Burnette, Hejduk, Turgeon) will be able to beat him more often than people think.  The big wild card, of course, is Theodore.  He’s been so bad this year that one would think that the new rules and layoff have something to do with it; on the other hand, he was so good before that I can’t believe there’s still not a lot of ability there.  My guess is that he’s good enough to allow Sakic and company to win a round.  COLORADO IN 7.

(3) Calgary v. (6) Anaheim.  I’m of two minds here:

Pessimistic Scott Says: Although if you told me 3 years ago I’d be saying this about a 104-point season I would have had you committed, the Flames had a kind of disappointing season (remember, SI picked them #1 overall.) They don’t have a first-line center or left-winger (and barely have second-line ones), and consequently generate almost no even-strength offense.  Without a real playmaker to set him up, Iginla will go through some droughts, and any game he doesn’t score is a good candidate for a shutout. And Anaheim is a good team.  Under the new rules Niedermayer is as valuable as any player in the league, Selanne is back, and they have the transition game you need to compete in the two-line-pass era.  Giguere is the other goalie in the conference who’s taken his team to the finals, and if the Flames don’t out-goaltend the other team they’d be lucky to beat a decent ECHL team.  Even discounting your preference for fat, cerebral defensemen, Carlyle gives every impression of being a first-rate coach.  You should also know that Calgary has a horrible record as a front-runner: one of their Cup runs required knocking off the greatest of the Gretzky/ Messier/ Kurri/ Coffey/ Fuhr Oiler teams, and last year they managed to upset three heavy favorites, each of which was a 100-point team.  (And even in their Cup year, they needed a fluke Game 7 overtime winner to beat a Canucks team that didn’t belong on the same ice on paper.) And before last year, Sutter’s playoff record was terrible; the work ethic he instills in his team means more in the regular season than in the playoffs when everybody’s desperate.  You know they’re going to lose.

Optimistic Scott Says: There’s another side to this: the Flames almost never had their top 4 defenseman in the same lineup, had several disastrous years and no significantly better-than-expected ones from their forwards, and still won a brutally tough division.  In the playoffs you have to start with defense and goaltending, and Kiprusoff/ Regehr/ Phaneuf/ Hamrlik/ Leopold/ Warrener/ Ferrence is easily the top back 7 in the league.  There’s a lot more ability up front than is reflected in the stats; it’s not hard to see Amonte or Lomardi getting hot after a bad season like Conroy did in 03-04 (the former has been quietly a lot better in the last month).  And while Burke has done a great job rebuilding the Ducks on the fly, they’re going to be worn down in the series, and starting in Calgary it’s not going to be easy to get a lead.  The Flames’ special teams are greatly improved too; since November they’ve been outstanding.  Giguere is as good as anyone when he’s on, but Kiprusoff is more consistent.  They’re a much better playoff team than Anaheim; they’ll take them.

The Verdict:  They’re both right.  I think Calgary lives too close to the margin for me to pick them to go to the finals again; they’re too dependent on getting the right bounces in close games and in getting a reasonable number of power plays.  But I do think they’ll be able to get by Anaheim; I think the Ducks are a year away. CALGARY IN 7.

(4) Nashville v. (5) San Jose.  I would love to pick Nashville—they’re fun to watch, a lot of speed up front.  And I generally think teams on hot streaks are overrated going into the playoffs.  In this case, though, I think the CW is right.  Especially with the addition of Thornton (joining Marleau in an amazing 1-2 up the middle), the Sharks’ second-half performance is more representative of their quality.  San Jose is tougher and more skilled, a deadly combination, and while Mason might be able to do the job in goal for the Preds you wouldn’t want to bet on it.  Looking forward for San Jose, the Achilles heel may be on defense; I think Hannan is overrated, and while they have McLaren and a lot of talented youngsters, when you compare them to Detroit or Calgary or even Anaheim and combine that with an untested playoff goalie—I think they can be scored on, and depending on the matchup I can see them going out in Round 2.  They’re safe until then, though. SHARKS IN 5.

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Thanks, Scott!  I think Hannan is overrated too.  But Thornton and Cheechoo are to be feared.  Why, I am fearing them right now!  I can see these Sharks in a conference final, myself.

All right, my turn. 

(1) Ottawa v. (8) Tampa Bay. I only saw one game in person this year: Carolina - Tampa Bay on March 27.  And I didn’t get the Centre Ice package on DishTV until two weeks ago, so I missed much of the second half of the year.  But even I can see that the Lightning offense consists of three or four players: St. Louis, Lecavalier, Richards, Prospal.  And I’m not entirely convinced that Prospal’s really an A-team talent.  You contain them, you contain Tampa Bay.  Which the Senators will surely do, having won all four regular-season meetings with the defending Stanley Cup champs.

One word about that: it is good that defending Cup champs make the playoffs and pursue their Cup defense, even against such long odds.  But I found myself kind of rooting for Atlanta to take the eighth spot, and I stopped in to watch them play Washington on April 17.  The Thrashers might be in the playoffs today if not for an abysmal night of goaltending from Mike Dunham, who’d played well recently.  So Tampa Bay it is.  But they have nothing to match—or stop—Ottawa’s awesome front line of Spezza - Heatley - Alfredsson.

Further down the line, there are three questions for the Senators: one, they’re top-heavy.  What do they have when Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson are on the bench?  Not a lot of offense, though Martin Havlat is back and making trouble.  Two, do they have the goaltending?  Hasek is still not comfortable enough with his groin to hit the ice, and you know Hasek doesn’t play standup style.  He needs all his tendons and ligaments, that man.  His backup, Ray Emery, is good.  But Emery has not, so far, been great.  They will need great.  Which brings me to three, the intangible “toughness” problem.  The Senators were bounced by the Leafs four times between 2000 and 2004 simply because the Leafs doled out cheap shots and waited for the Sens to wilt.  Wilt they did.  In 2003, Ottawa avoided Toronto and took the Devils to game 7 in the conference finals.  So as long as there are no Leafs in the playoffs, Ottawa has hope.  But they will need tough, too. SENATORS IN 5.

(2) Carolina v. (7) Montreal.  Carolina swept the season series, 4-0, but beware French goaltenders in April and May: Huet has a scary, league-leading .929 save percentage and the Canadiens had a nice eight-game winning streak from March 23 to April 6, with Huet in net for six of those games.  (Coach Bob Gainey might start David Aebischer anyway.  That would be a mistake.) But the Hurricanes are not the flukey finals team they were in 2002.  They can play solid, lane-clogging defense as well as free-skating, free-wheeling offense; they went 13-1 in January, beating Detroit, Nashville, and Philadelphia in one-goal games, and they’ve had themselves a couple of 6-5 and 7-5 flings against doormats from Pittsburgh and Washington.  OK, so they lost four of five to end the season.  So what?  This is a team that lost three in a row only twice all year, the last time in the waning days of 2005.  Eric Staal leads the team with 45 goals and 100 points, but they have three 30-goal scorers behind him (Justin Williams, Rod Brind’Amour, and Erik Cole, who was slammed into the boards headfirst back in early March by the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik).  I’m hoping Cole’s broken neck won’t keep the Canes out of the conference finals, but for now we’re merely calling the opening round, right?  HURRICANES IN 5.

(3) New Jersey v. (6) New York.  Scott is of two minds about his Flames.  I am of nine minds about these Rangers.

One: nobody picked them to be here, so they’ve got to think well of themselves.  Two: but they’ve known they would be here for some time now, and just one week ago they were headed for the three seed.  Now—indeed, in one awful night, as they folded against the Senators (even giving up a shorthanded goal in a 4-on-3 power play) while the Devils were storming back from a 3-0 deficit against the Canadiens and the Flyers overcame a late 1-0 deficit against the Islanders—they are third in their division.  That’s just not good for morale.  Three: but their five-game losing streak is no big deal, because they’ve been streaky all year, and now they have yet another thing to prove.  Four: a five-game losing streak at the end of the year is a big deal, when home ice is on the line and two of your losses are to the Penguins and Isles.  You look like you have nothing left in the tank.  Five: but Lundqvist is back!  Weekes is a fine goaltender, but Lundqvist can take it to the Next Level and steal a few games.  Six: but the other guy happens to be Martin Brodeur, and playing against Brodeur in the playoffs is like playing against Patrick Roy back in the day: he’ll be a bit off every tenth game, and deadly in the other nine.  Seven: but, speaking of Roy and the mid-to- late 1990s Avs, the 2006 Devils are like the 2006 Avalanche—a ghostly version of a once-great team.  Think of the 2001 Cup finals with 20 percent less talent.  If the Rangers can stop tiny snipers Gomez and Gionta, they stop the Devils offense, and then Brodeur has to stop every Rangers shot.  Eight: who cares about comparing the 2006 Devils to the 2001 Devils?  These 2006 Devils just won eleven in a row.  More than that, they started the calendar year two games below .500 and have gone 30-9-4 since.  You know, playing like they mean it or something.  Nine: but the Rangers, unlike any Rangers team since 1997, also play like they mean it.  They have (like the Sens) but one formidable scoring line, but every forward line skates hard, and there are those of us who believe that sometimes, playoff games turn on who gets to the loose pucks first, because in playoff games, every loose puck matters.

I think it will come down to this.  On paper and on ice, the Devils look like the better team.  The only way the Rangers can overcome the past week and a half, psychologically, is to remind themselves—and their opponents—that New Jersey has never beaten them in the postseason, not even in 1997 when the Devils were a vastly better team.  So I’m thinking that psyops might be the way to go.  Scotty Bowman, white courtesy phone!  Nobody messes with people’s heads like Bowman.  If the Rangers win game one, and the Devils start playing tentative hockey and thinking too much about a history many of them were not part of, the forces of good stand a chance.  Otherwise, it’s DEVILS IN 6.

(4) Buffalo v. (5) Philadelphia.  I don’t know.  I just find it hard to believe that a team with Forsberg, Gagne, Knuble, Handzus, Kapanen, Desjardins, and Nedved is a first-round loser.  Then again, the Flyers have been shaky in goal since the glory days of Ron Hextall, and they’re shaky now.  Robert Esche will start, but I betcha Antero Nittymaki will see some action before we’re through, and not under happy circumstances, either.  As for Buffalo, I don’t know.  I just find it hard to believe that a team whose top scorer had 73 points in 77 games (Afinogenov) and whose starting goalie is a rookie is a first-round winner.  But the Sabres somehow manage to spread it around: they have six 20-goal scorers (Afinogenov, Drury, Kotalik, Briere, Vanek and Dumont) as well as three more guys with 18 (Roy, Hecht, Pominville).  In other words, you have to play three lines against them, because they have three lines of their own.  I’ve always liked Drury, Hecht, and Briere, who are not merely scorers but smart scorers with good hands and alert eyes.  As a team, Buffalo was stellar from mid-November to mid-March, improving a 7-8-0 record to 44-16-5 (that’s 37-8-5 for those of you keeping track at home) before dropping eight of their next nine.  At that point it looked as if they’d peaked for the year, but lo!  they proceeded to win six of their final seven.  The only loss?  To the Flyers, on home ice, April 7. SABRES IN 6.

Scott and I promise not to revise this post if, by May 4, Detroit, Colorado, Calgary, San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey, and Buffalo have all been eliminated.  We will simply delete it and disavow any knowledge of its existence.

Posted by Michael on 04/20 at 04:15 PM
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Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

Shorter Tyler Cowen:  If we have the good economic sense to build shantytowns in New Orleans for the poor peoples to live in, they will make some fun soulful music for us to dance to!  It’s like a natural mystic, blowing through the air!

Tyler Cowen is professor of economics at George Mason University and director of the Mercatus Center, which is running a project on post-Katrina reconstruction.

Posted by Michael on 04/20 at 12:30 PM
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fever dreams

So my virus just keeps getting worse and worse.  Last night I coughed myself awake at 3 and decided, sagely, to continue coughing myself awake until about 10.  By that point, everything in my body hurt.  I then cancelled my class (I think the last time I cancelled a seminar was the day Jamie was born), made a doctor’s appointment at 2, and came home with Prednisone and Allegra-D and Augmentin and Nasacort and Tussionex with codeine.  Woo hoo!  It’s the health-care cliché—a boatload of meds!

Over the past few nights I’ve been having weird fever dreams about one of the books I assigned for this week in the Disability Studies seminar: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals.  I may be the first person in the world other than MacIntyre himself to dream about the book.  But that’s what happens when you have a fever and you’re preparing a seminar.  At one point on Monday, when I came upon this passage—

We therefore have to distinguish between what it is that makes certain goods goods and goods to be valued for their own sake from what it is that makes it good for this particular individual or this particular society in this particular situation to make them objects of her or his or their effective practical regard

-- I imagined, before I dropped off to sleep, that MacIntyre was driving an enormous RV into a highway rest stop, whereupon he saw that Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Richard Rorty were walking their dogs in the picnic area, and decided to turn the RV around and get back on the highway.  (This actually makes some kind of sense, since neither Smith nor Rorty would accept the category of “goods to be valued for their own sake,” insisting instead that the value of all goods, even those of the Aristotelian virtues, is contingent on the pragmatic ends they serve.  But why an RV?) Last night I fell asleep thinking that MacIntyre’s overwhelming emphasis on the development of independent practical reason (thanks to which we can provide justifications for the goals we seek and the means by which we seek them) leads him to (a) construe disability too narrowly as something that, above all, challenges the development of independent practical reasoners, as if blind people or paraplegics can’t be every bit as rationally self-critical about their goods and their goals as anyone else (cognitive disability is quite another matter), and (b) introduce the problematic of disability too late in the analysis, just at the point at which he needs it as the foundation of his (admirable) ethic of just generosity.  These are not entirely fair criticisms, by the way; my mind has been pretty cloudy of late.  But thought (a) really does appear plausible on page 75 of MacIntyre’s book, and thought (b) made me dream—before I woke myself coughing—that the question at issue was whether MacIntyre would have dinner on the table for Jamie by 8 pm.

But none of that was as weird as the fever dream I had about Newt Gingrich.  Late this morning, as I slipped in and out of consciousness, I dreamt that I read, on the Time.com website, a love letter to Newt that opened by praising his iconoclastic take on Hurricane Katrina. 

“How many of you have ever used an automatic bank machine overseas?” Newt Gingrich asks, and since this is a pretty affluent New Hampshire audience, a fair number of people raise their hand. “Do you get impatient waiting for the money? You’re 4,674 miles from home, in a foreign banking system, and there’s your money, in 11 seconds on average. Now, say you’re a small-business owner wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. How long does it take the Federal Government to respond to your emergency loan application? More than 11 weeks, on average . . . Katrina was a decisive moment for our country. It proved that our government is broken. We need real change, and here’s my new slogan: Real change means real change. Your experiences dealing with the government need to be more like the experiences in the rest of your life—more like using an automated bank machine.”

It’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich when he’s on a tear. And he’s almost always on a tear of some sort.

Even in my addled state, I can understand a syllogism when I see one: if Gingrich is almost always on a tear, and it’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich when he’s on a tear, then it’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich!  Like when he blamed Susan Smith’s murder of her two sons on Democrats! That was teh joy.

But you know when Mia Farrow sits bolt upright in Rosemary’s Baby during the ceremony in which she is impregnated by Richard Perle Satan, and screams, “This is no dream?” Guess what?  This is no dream!  It’s a real column by Time magazine’s resident liberal, Joe Klein!

No, you say. Michael, you’re hallucinating.  But I’m not!  It’s real, I tell you!

Look at it this way. Newt Gingrich, more than anyone, was the man who put into practice Loveable Furry Old Grover Norquist’s plan to shrink the federal government to the size at which it could be drowned in the bathtub.  Behind the failure of Katrina lies not only the usual stupefying Bush Administration incompetence and cronyism, but the entire philosophy of “shut the government down” Gingrichism. And now the Gingrich behind Gingrichism appears in front of a bunch of affluent conservative New Hampshireans to tell them that Katrina proved that our government is broken? The man who helped to hobble government is going around the country crowing, “see, told you, government doesn’t work?” I think of Luke Menand’s review of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, where Menand suggested that D’Souza decrying campus intolerance is a bit like having the guy who poisoned the well show up as the water inspector.

And let’s not even bother with the other half of this little vignette, the ATM.  The human mind cannot yet imagine what a Bush Administration ATM would be like.  It would eat your card and charge you $250 billion for Iraq and charge your children five to ten times that to pay for crony-capitalist tax cuts, that much is sure.  But it would do even more.  It would somehow manage to identify certain ATM users as candidates for torture or extraordinary rendition.  Don’t ask me how.  Only John Yoo can say.

The point is that Gingrich’s remarks are simply obscene.  In fact, they are so obscene that they make me want to qualify “obscene” with an adjectival bad word, but I will not do that, because the Washington Post might find out and label me a member of the Angry Left.  So I must not say bad words.

And to have this obscenity celebrated by a fatuous ass like Klein is obscene-upon-obscene.  First, we have a man who gets up and says—not in an unguarded drunken moment, mind you, but as a calculated piece of public speech—that Katrina proved our government is broken, after having devoted his energies as a Congressman to breaking the government.  A decent society would shun such a man and give his children looks of pity in the town square.  A somewhat more vengeful society would have him tarred and feathered.  But Joe Klein hears this claptrap and is seized by paroxysms of happy, happy, joy, joy.

In a way, Gingrich and Klein are made for each other.  The one embodies everything that is wrong with American politics, the other everything that is wrong with American “liberal” media.  But it’s not merely that Klein has fallen for a right-wing talking point on Katrina that is only a half-step less offensive than “Katrina proved that black people are lazy and criminal.” There’s something else at work here as well.  You know, you keep hoping that the “liberal” media would have learned something about the incompetents they’ve been covering for the past six years.  But perhaps, as the example of Klein demonstrates, that’s a bit too much to hope.  Not because the “liberal” media are uniformly suckers for right-wing talking points; sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.  But because these people—who are, after all, the people who will cover the election of 2008—have not learned anything about the juvenile priorities they bring to what they think of as “political” coverage.

In other words, Klein hearts Gingrich not merely because one fatuous ass often finds much to admire in another fatuous ass, but because our Beltway press corps just loves to be entertained.  And on a certain level, Gingrich is definitely entertaining.  He proposes a “rhio wiki”!  He has an idea about guest workers!  And—get this—he doesn’t endorse the teaching of Intelligent Design in science courses!  (Talk about defining iconoclasm down: compared to craven ideologues like William Kristol, a man who wants to be considered an intellectual but will not rule out the possibility that science courses should be based on supernatural beliefs, Gingrich is now an “intellectually honest policy work,” in Klein’s words.  This is what we have come to. News Flash: Republican Accepts Evolution.) Or as Klein says: “Gingrich was certainly wild with ideas last week, flicking them off at warp speed, like a dog shaking himself clean after romping through a pond.” Yes, well, I imagine that he was very like a wet dog.  At warp speed, too!  One wonders if Gingrich travels with an aide whose job it is to remark on the blazing speed of Gingrich’s ideas while speaking in a Highlands brogue: “Cap’n Gingrich, ye can’t keep it up!  The main idea generrrator’s about to bloo!” It would make a certain kind of sense, since so many of Gingrich’s “ideas,” back in the day, consisted precisely of warmed-over Alvin Toffler- George Gilderisms.  “Look,” Newt would say to an adoring press gaggle, “if we could just harness the power of the mind in a controlled fusion experiment, we could travel into the future at the speed of thought, which is even faster than the speed of light and wouldn’t involve us gaining all that nasty extra mass as we approach c.  That way we could eliminate the estate tax right into the 23rd century and start investing the proceeds today.” “Sigh,” replied the gaggle, “he’s so dreamy.  And intellectual, too.”

That’s the way your “political” media work, basically.  Gingrich, McCain: Fun!  Joy!  Actual policy wonks who know what they’re talking about and appoint competent people to FEMA: bo-ring.

I’ll be back tomorrow with something on the hockey playoffs.  I will not say very much about the Rangers’ last five games, because I must not say bad words.

Posted by Michael on 04/19 at 09:54 PM
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Left, Online and Outgrabe

Great article in the Washington Post this weekend on blogging and The Left!  A truly illuminating look at what makes the left blogosphere so smart and cool, as opposed, say, to some of the people WaPo.com has been hiring lately.

In the witty life of Andrew Northrup, the fun begins as soon as he opens his eyes and realizes that his president is still George W. Bush. The sun has yet to rise and his kittens are asleep, but no matter; as soon as the realization kicks in, Northrup, 32, is out of bed and heading toward his computer.

“Who am I?” he asks plaintively.  “What am I doing here? Who are you people? What day is it? Where’s my Scotch?

“Oh, it’s coming back to me, now. That mysterious bar. A pint glass of Jagermeister that, no matter how much I drank, I could never empty. And that mysterious sideburn man—or was it two? or four? or was it a kitten?—urging me on, until he—they?—proposed that horrible bet. . . .  Well, the details don’t matter, and I’m not in the mood to relive them for you.”

Northrup shakes off the fearsome hangover and takes his seat.  Out there, awaiting his latest missive from “The Editors”: the Witty Left, where Northrup’s reputation is as one of the wittiest of all. “One long, sustained wank” is how he describes the writing he does for his “Web” “log,” as he wonders what he should wank about this day.

He drinks an absinthe and soda. Should it be about Instapundit, whom he calls “Professor Lloyd Christmas”?  He drinks another absinthe and soda.  Should it be about Vice President Cheney, whom he thinks of as “a poker cheat,” or about Michelle Malkin and Bill O’Reilly, “the gifts that keep on giving”?  He drinks still another absinthe and soda.  Should it be about the Gannon-Abramoff-Allen-Domenech phenomenon, about which he says, “whenever someone goes fishing for shadiness, deceit, and fraudulence in their background, they always land a whale,” or should he compose the next thrilling sequence of Battle-Action Bush and the Keyboard Kommandos?

The Wanker-Wingnut Continuum, he finally decides. He will write about the Wanker-Wingnut Continuum. The shame of it. The culpability of all Americans, including himself, for doing nothing. He will write something so filled with wit that it will accomplish the one thing above all he wants from his writing: to make readers spew hot coffee all over their laptops.

“The Wanker-Wingnut Continuum is not hopeless,” he begins typing, and pauses.

“Ugh,” he says.

“You are not helpless,” he continues typing, and pauses again.

“Weak.”

He deletes everything and starts over.

“A reader asks:  Darling, Every week you give out a ‘Weekly Wanker’ award for the biggest wanker of the week. But the trophy for the Weekly Wanker is the ‘Golden Winger,’ which implies that it’s really an award for wingnuttery. So I’m confused. Is it an award for wanking, or wingnuttery?  Still Craving Your Body, Julia Stiles.”

And this time, instead of pausing, he keeps going, typing harder and harder on a keyboard that is surrounded by bottles of wormwood, Grooming Tips for Porn Stars, a dirty litter box, instruments of Science, golden statues of Kip Winger, and a taped-up note—staring at him—on which he has scrawled “Who am I?  What am I doing here? Who are you people? What day is it? Where’s my Scotch?”

Fascinating, fascinating stuff.  I never knew you could mix absinthe and soda!  Well, as they say on “web” “logs,” read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael on 04/18 at 07:43 AM
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Monday, April 17, 2006

Acknowledgements

I actually do have a couple of things to blog about, but can’t manage them today.  That’s partly because last week’s virus returned with a vengeance:  on Sunday morning I could barely get around, my health status having been downgraded from “sick and sleepy” to “sick and sleepy and achey and whiny and a general pain in the ass.” I was supposed to be helping Janet’s mother move out of her house, but instead, I was just one more complication in a very complicated Extended Family Event.  (I did, however, help to clear out the basement, ferry things to Goodwill, carry boxes to the new place, and sit patiently with Jamie while the family carefully sorted through 70,000 boxes of photos and seventh-grade homework assignments.) I will say this, though:  Jamie’s still struggling with his version of this virus, and if, last Thursday, his body felt anything like mine does today, he’s not just a Special Olympian.  He’s a medal-winnin’ machine, the truly extraordinary kind of athlete whose competitive desire is not diminished by the petty frailties of flesh.

The other reason I can’t do fresh new blogging is that I have to finish up the Acknowledgements to Rhetorical Occasions, having finally completed the copyediting—or, as it is known around this house, the Optional Comma Restoration phase of the book’s production.  Now, it just so happens that I am aware of my fondness for the optional comma.  In fact, I sometimes use commas to mark caesurae, and you know, not everybody writes prose with caesurae anymore.  Look at the difference between one of these copyedited sentences before and after Optional Comma Restoration:

But in what world exactly would this enterprise count as analysis?

and

But in what world, exactly, would this enterprise count as analysis?

See how the latter is measurably more exasperated than the former?  That’s why you need your caesurae to do all the rhetorical work they can do.

All right, I know, nobody cares about my piddling little adventures in copyediting.  It’s too self-indulgent even for a blog.  So let’s move to a subject that everybody loves, a subject of truly world-historical significance:  the Acknowledgements.  As you may or may not know, Rhetorical Occasions will include a number of essays that were first “published” on this “web” “log.” (Which ones?  We won’t tell you!  You’ll just have to wait and find out.) Well, I was noodling around this morning, thanking this person and that, when it occurred to me that I should solicit the help of the witty and discerning readers who have helped this “web” “log” to find its place in the world.  Let’s have some fun with this tired old genre, folks!  Just suggest the names of some people I should thank in my acknowledgements—you know, like Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ fine rookie goaltender; Steve Fuller, for stopping by last November and insulting all the readers who’d challenged his defense of Intelligent Design; Geoff Harpham, for exceptional vehicular magnanimity; Roxanne Cooper, for outstanding achievement in the general area of mockery. . . .

In the meantime, one more pic of the medal-winnin’ machine.  I received this tape-breaking image via email last night.  Here’s Jamie comin’ right atcha:

image

Posted by Michael on 04/17 at 01:50 PM
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Friday, April 14, 2006

Sports roundup

Everyone wants to know how Jamie did yesterday.  A couple dozen people want to know how David Horowitz did yesterday.  And two people want to know what the hell is going on with the Rangers.  Well, you Jamie- Horowitz-Rangers people have come to the right place!  This blog is your one-stop Jamie-Horowitz-Rangers Information Center.

First, the important stuff.  Last year, Jamie finished second in his heat in the 50m dash, third in his heat in the standing broad jump, and sixth (that is, last) in his heat in the softball throw.  I missed the third event because I had to get back to my day job, and was puzzled by the outcome, since Jamie can hurl a ball like Vlad “The Impaler” Guerrero.  But on the whole, I was so proud of him I could hardly speak.  Jamie had never run 50m before.  In fact, before his Special Olympics debut last year, he didn’t like to run at all.  When he was younger, he didn’t like to walk for any significant distance, either.  In 1999, on our very first European vacation, I basically carried him around Rome on my back.  In 2002, when we briefly sublet an apartment in New York’s Peter Cooper Village, he complained about walking from Avenue B to First Avenue, and took it upon himself to go to the curb and hail a cab for a journey of a few hundred yards.  (I put the kabosh on that.) Quite apart from the fact that the physical aspects of his disability occasionally made him a difficult traveling companion in cities, Janet and I were (understandably) concerned that his aversion to ambulatin’ would have long-term implications for his cardiovascular health.

But once he got inside Penn State’s indoor track-and-field facility, it was, as they say, a Whole Nother Story.  We’d practiced running 50m with him in the weeks before the Special Olympics, because we wanted him to understand how far fifty meters is—and because we didn’t think he would voluntarily run the entire distance.  (A few years ago, when he had to complete a mile “run” for Phys Ed, he subjected his teacher’s aide to something like a four-hour mile, as he complained his way around the outdoor track for four excruciating laps.) Sometimes he was up for practice, sometimes he wasn’t.  But there’s nothing like the thrill of competition, apparently.  Once he saw that he was among a hundred kids with disabilities and that they were all kicking butt and being brave in the attempt, he put on his game face and adopted a new Jamie identity:  Jamie the Multi-Sport Athlete.

This year . . . well, this year they didn’t record runners’ times in the 50m, so I don’t know whether he improved on his 14.82 from last year.  But I do know where he placed in his heat:

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The next event was the standing broad jump.  I know, it’s not a great picture, but it does capture something kinetic about the event:

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His jump:  4 feet 4 inches.  Now, Jamie himself is 5’ 1”.  In other words, he jumped 85 percent of his height.  Go ahead, try it yourselves.

And the result?

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At this point my Jamie is seriously outperforming that Bode Miller guy.

And then we moved to the softball throw.  Still clueless as to what happened in last year’s competition, I advised Jamie not to throw the ball too high: “You have such a strong arm,” I said.  “You could throw it right out of the building, you know.” “I know,” Jamie replied.  His coach assured me that Jamie could reach distances of 50, maybe 55 feet, and I agreed.  But I wanted to stick around and see, despite the fact that the Special Olympics were now encroaching on my office hours.

Jamie’s competition, in heat 14 of the softball throw, consisted of three girls—each of whom could sling it.  The first girl posted a throw of 53 feet.  Yeesh!  The second broke 54.  The third tossed off a mighty 57.  And then Jamie toed the line, reared back, stepped well over the line, and threw 66.  “Jamie,” I yelled, “stay behind the line.” He stepped back, took his second ball, and hurled it 69’ 6”.  Well, you know what that meant:

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Three events.  Three gold medals.  And the funny thing is, it never gets old!  No one says, “aw, jeez, not the top step again?” as he or she stands atop the “1.”

So here’s to Jamie!  He’s still not over his cold, but he gave the local Special Olympics everything he had, and now he has a bunch of medals to show Janet’s family as we head off to Connecticut today.

As for that other person:  he didn’t do so well last night.  He won over surprisingly few hearts and minds when (as you can read on this fine website) he responded to a couple of students’ critical questions in a somewhat less than gracious manner:

To one student, Horowitz said “you are obviously deaf and brain-dead.” To another, “you don’t have the mental capacity to understand it.” Finally, in response to a question he didn’t care to answer, “what are the requirements for getting into this school!”

This might be a good time to ask why Horowitz doesn’t receive speaking invitations from professors.

My friend and colleague Aldon Lynn Nielsen has a pretty hilarious account of the talk as well.  In fact, Aldon has a blog!  The account is on his blog, you see.  As is a lot of other great stuff.  Check it out and say hello from me.

Finally, the Rangers.  When the Rangers clinched a playoff spot a little while ago, I foolishly thought it was safe to write about them.  I was wrong.  In the past week, they have lost to the Devils (OK, it happens), the Islanders (um, not good, guys) and—last night—the mother-lovin’ Penguins (WTF?  did the Rangers decide to play in street shoes?).  And remember when I noted that no Ranger had won a scoring title since 1942?  Yes, well, while the Rangers have been floundering, Joe Thornton picked up seven assists in two nights as the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Vancouver Canucks from the postseason.  (Real assists, too—the kind that set up goals.  It was Thornton’s coast-to-coast rush that set up the Sharks’ OT winner Tuesday night, and his dish to Cheechoo that sealed the Canucks’ fate last night.) Thornton is now tied with Jagr for the scoring lead.  So yes, Scott Lemieux, God does love you that much.  His love is boundless, and because all things are possible with Him, the team that cravenly made Todd Bertuzzi an assistant captain will be sitting at home and watching your Calgary Flames on TV next week.  But if God would just love my Rangers a teeny bit more, that would be cool, too.  Thanks, God!  Oh, and God, while I have you on the blog, I just want to say I liked a lot of Your early work, especially the funny stuff, but I really love the way You orchestrated that whole “evolution” thing just to find out which of Your creations was capable of intelligent thought.  That was quite clever of You.  Now, the Rangers travel to Philly this Saturday and then finish the season at home against Ottawa on Tuesday.  Please see what You can do.  Thanks again.

Posted by Michael on 04/14 at 07:46 AM
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