Casualty of Capitalism

Exiled into Wilmington, Delaware by virtue of corporate layoffs. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this blog are Copyright 2005, Michael Collins, and cannot be used without permission.)

Location: Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Graduate of University of Maryland School of Law; University of Maryland, College Park (Economics/Political Science).

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Worries About the Future

Sadly, Pope John Paul II's time with us seems to be quickly fading away. I have always had great faith in this pope's teachings and believe he is one of the oustanding figures and great leaders of the past quarter century.

He has taken courageous stands against communism and liberalizing the tenets of the faith, and in healthier times, did much to energize Catholic youth around the world. My two main quarrels with JPII are 1) the shameful avoidance of contrition and guidance regarding the priest molestation problem and how his inaction inspired an attitude of defiance by bishops and priests in our country, and 2) his politicizing of the canonization process for certain choice and symbolic individuals. Are some saints holier than others?

Regardless of my qualms, I fear we have seen the last of the old school, true leaders in the Church. My experiences in the Church in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and especially Chicago have left me depressed. Today, the tail seems to be wagging the dog. When did "truth" become negotiable? I hope JPII holds on for a bit longer to give traditional believers a little more time under the protection of a truly good shepherd.

What happens next and what direction the Church takes is anyone's guess. I have inkling, if not a foreboding. I guess all we can do is pray. Posted by Hello

Death to the IRS

A very intriguing Op-Ed today by George Will regarding a bill in Congress that would abolish the IRS and repeal the tax code. In its place would be a standard, national sales tax of 23% on all purchases.

Under his bill, he says, all goods, imported and domestic, would be treated equally at the checkout counter, and all taxpayers -- including upward of 50 million foreign visitors annually -- would pay "as much as they choose, when they choose, by how they choose to spend." And his bill untaxes the poor by including an advance monthly rebate for every household equal to the sales tax on consumption of essential goods and services, as calculated by the government, up to the annually adjusted poverty level.

Today the percentage of taxpayers who rely on professional tax preparers is at an all-time high. The 67 percent of tax filers who do not itemize may think they avoid compliance costs, which include nagging uncertainty about whether one has properly complied with a tax code about the meaning of which experts differ. But everyone pays the cost of the tax system's huge drag on the economy.

Linder says Americans spend 7 billion hours a year filling out IRS forms and at least that much calculating the tax implications of business decisions. Economic growth suffers, because corporate boards waste huge amounts of time on such calculations rather than making economically rational allocations of resources. Money saved on compliance costs would fund job creation.

This proposal would certainly save a lot of wasted time (and time really is money, particularly in the corporate world) and create a much fairer system. The downside is, like Will notes, it would put a lot of lobbyists and attorneys out of work. Downside, you ask? That fact being reason enough to ensure that the bill never passes. Plus, regardless of the rosy picture painted by Rep. Linder and Will, how often do these proposals work as advertised?

I'd definitely like to see the tax code simplified. Linder's proposal is radical and I'd be cautious about tossing out the income tax system entirely.

At the same time, there's plenty of reason to believe that he's on to something.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Decline of Childhood

Sometimes I wonder how humanity ever survived the 1970's and 1980's. According today's standards those were dangerous, dangerous times for our youth. Case in point: look at what they've done to the Fischer Price "little people"! I have to admit, those were my favorite toys (aka "People Pop-Ups" in the Mike C childhood home) in my formative years. My fiance, who grew up on a farm in Indiana, laughs when I tell her my main exposure to farm life as a kid was my Fischer Price little people farm, complete with "mooing" barn door. Back on point, here's one thing that never happened in my experience: death (obviously) or even choking on a little person. Yeah, I remember sucking on their heads occasionally, but them seemed like sturdy toys.

Even 8 or so years ago, when searching for a gift for you my young brother, I started to feel sorry for today's insulated youth. Toys today are awful. Nevermind that the quality of construction and the materials used are absolutely horrendous, or that the color schemes would make the Queer Eye guys go into shock. Neon colored GI Joes? Come on! Even the ideas for the toys are bad. Take this GI Joe figure for example. He looks like a reject from the cartoon The Tick. Is this the best they can do? Why not just make them look like our soldiers in Iraq? That might stoke some interest and be pretty cool if you asked me.

The most pernicious sign of the decline of toys is how "safe" they have become. Along the lines of the Fischer Price little people, more and more toys seem to come of this rigid, single piece construction. Part of the fun of the little people was turning their heads round and around. This is a major step backward. I remember how exciting it was when action figures went from the stiff old original Star Wars type, to the GI Joe swivel arm battle grip. Oh baby, that was the innovation of my childhood. But I notice they are going back to the single piece or barely functional action figure. Too many parts = bad. Plus, all the fun accessories: tiny plastic pistols, backpacks, etc. are less and less prevalent. And one more thing about GI Joe. When I was a kid, I laughed when my dad told me that GI Joes were dolls when he was young. Ha! The image of any boy playing with a doll was too much. Today: back to the dolls. Where are all the cool toys?

Then take the playground. I am still awaiting the day they bubble-wrap kids before sending them out to recess. Gone are the red hot steel sliding boards (never mind their tendancy to cause temporary blindness by focusing the light of the sun right into one's pupils), the vomit-inducing and laceration-causing merry-go-round, that cracked, heavy rubber swing that always seemed ready to disconnect from the hanging chains at the worst possible moment. When I was a kid, a big mound of dirt and some discarded construction equipment was all we needed to have a good time. Sure, there were the trips to the hospital for stitches and broken bones, but isn't that part of growing up?

Kids these days have a life foreign from anything I knew. The safer toys, more dangerous streets, and video game culture does not mirror anything I knew as a runt. Strangely enough as a youth in the '80's, my childhood experiences were more like my parents' in the '50's than my younger brother's in the late '90's early '00's. What all this says, I don't know, but I guess I have to rummage through the old toy boxes at my parents' house if I want my own eventual tykes to live on the edge and play with a little person or two.

Somehow, I find that sad.

Can You Smell the Hot Dogs?

Baseball season gets under way in a matter of days. And at last DC has a team!

Click here to see the Washington Post preview of the Nationals, and for those still able to tolerate Peter Angelos, the Orioles.

Tony Kornheiser wonders, how should Nationals fans react to this team and, by the way, who the heck are these guys?

On the calendar, it says Opening Day is less than one week away. And the home opener at RFK will follow shortly after. I'm very excited about going to the home opener. But I don't mind telling you I'm nervous, too. I've never been to a real major league baseball game in Washington before. What if it doesn't work out? I don't know where I'll sit. I don't know who I'll be next to. I don't know what to wear.

O's 1B Rafael Palmeiro opines about the taint the steroids scandal has left on an entire era of baseball.

"In my opinion, everyone that plays baseball in this era has been tainted," Palmeiro said. "Not just the people that he has named in the book, I think this whole era over the last 10, 15 or 20 years has been tainted. Regardless of whether you did or you didn't do anything, this whole era will have that label."

O's P Matt Riley goes the way of Rocky Coppinger: once touted as the next Roger Clemens, now a bust and a former Oriole.

Riley, 25, was the favorite to become the Orioles' No. 5 starter, but he posted an 11.57 ERA in seven innings this spring.

David Brooks faces a dilemma.

And yet we are the playthings of fate and lead lives filled with strange twists, and I (for it is time to throw off the artfully constructed mask) now find myself contemplating the uncontemplatable: that I will switch my allegiance from the beloved Mets to the new team of my adopted town. I will become a fan of the Washington Nationals.

Already I feel the tug, the love that dare not speak its name. I own several Nationals caps. Some friends and I have bought season tickets.

In the midst of this spiritual crisis I have begun to ask the fundamental question. What is the nature of the loyalty that binds us to our teams? Can a team be tossed aside even though it has given you (especially during the 1970's) some of the worst years of its life?

And finally, just a little quibble with the baseball scheduling committee. In Chicago, almost like clockwork there is a baseball game occuring in town any day between Opening Day and when both teams break out their golf clubs at the end of September (or a little earlier if you're Sammy Sosa). When the White Sox are in town, the Cubs are on the road and vice versa. If you can't find an MLB game occuring within the city limits between April 1 and September 30, you just aren't trying hard enough.

So in a couple weekends, I thought about checking out an early season game out here on the east coast. The Phillies, Orioles, and Nationals are all within a two hour drive of my house. But somehow, none of them are playing at home during the weekend of April 9. What gives? The Mid-Atlantic region for one weekend will be entirely devoid of pro baseball! Don't they have supercomputers that can solve this problem?

Anyway, it may come to pass that my first game this season will be of the Blue Rocks variety, rather than the MLB variety. But come to think of it, the learning curve will be just as big with my Nationals as it will be with my local single A affiliate.

Just like Tony K. I will be wondering, who the heck are these guys?

Winter's Last Rites

Time to paint that bleak winter background with some color.

Temps are up and the rain will not stop. The flying ants are fumbling their way through the skies, signaling the start of the buggy season. How soon before I get a chance to break out the fishing rod?! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Must Read

Contrary to what you may have read (or not been aware of due to lack of reporting) in media reports, there are some real heroes getting it done every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. This after action report from Iraq is something else. You will find that the lead slinging heroes are not exactly what you would picture in your head.

They arrived on the scene just as a squad of about ten enemy had moved forward across the farmer's field and were about 20 meters from the road. The MP squad opened fire with .50 cal machineguns and Mk19 grenade launchers and drove across the front of the enemy's kill zone, between the enemy and the trucks, drawing fire off of the tractor trailers.

The MP's crossed the kill zone and then turned up an access road at a right angle to the ASR and next to the field full of enemy fighters. The three vehicles, carrying nine MPs and one medic, stopped in a line on the dirt access road and flanked the enemy positions with plunging fire from the .50 cal and the SAW machinegun (Squad Automatic Weapon). In front of them, was a line of seven sedans, with all their doors and trunk lids open, the getaway cars and the lone two story house off on their left.

Read the whole thing. (Courtesy of Blackfive.)

My Froggy Environs

The frogs are back. Just last week, after the first temperate weekend of the spring, the frogs came out of hibernation and now sing together every night in my soggy backyard. I live in a pretty remote spot abutting a marsh and with no neighbor within a couple hundred yards on any side. Every once in a while the frogs will suddenly stop chirping. Makes me wonder what's out there...

Some Restraint Please

Is it me, or have these car magnet ribbons started to get out of hand? Driving home tonight, I saw a car with five of them lined up in a long row along its left flank. Other times I have seen SUVs with the rear hatchback nearly covered with them. Some people put them on haphazardly, others symetrically. Most say something about supporting the troops or God blessing the USA. Lately, I have seen in addition to the yellows and red-white-and-blues: pinks, light blues, camoflauges, blacks, and other color schemes, each devoted to some cause. It's no big deal if you have one your car. But please show some restraint. You don't have to show that you're in favor of everything!

Another Soggy Morning

Has it stopped raining in Elkton any time during the last three years? Hopefully the ditch digging I completed a two weekends ago that put me out of commission for a couple of days paid off. I'll have to take some credit for the lack of water in the basement. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Working on Things

Please check out my ACC Basketblog column: Working on Things. Maryland's NIT experience continues, and I like what I'm seeing so far.

Basketblog note: We got a link from Instapundit on Monday which raised our readership by about 4 times in one day. The instalanche is a force to behold!

A preview of my column:

Gary Williams caused a few eyebrows to raise on Tuesday when he said that Maryland was using its time in the tournament to "work on some things." Basketball fans in North Carolina were aghast at such talk, as the Terps warmed up to play another team from the Tar Heel state in a post-season tournament game.

You didn't hear about it? Probably because the tournament is the NIT, not the NCAA's. And the opponent was little Davidson College (23-9), not Duke University.

If you failed to see last night's game, however, you would have missed a glimpse of the future of this Terrapins squad (18-12). I liked what I saw.

The Wisdom of Solomon

Regarding Terri Schaivo, is it just me or is there a solution to this situation beyond starving this woman to death by court order? Schaivo's husband could want to end Terri's life for several reasons: 1) he wants her dead for insurance money, 2) he wants her dead so he can marry his current girlfriend and get on with his life, or 3) in good faith he wants to do by Terri what she wanted: no extraordinary measures to keep her alive in this state.

The first and second are selfish reasons, and the last is not supported by any concrete evidence. So I wonder: when did this become a zero sum game? When did our society become so legalistic that a court can order a person starved to death even though there are those willing and able to care for her even if she is in a PSV?

Seems to me there is a middle solution here. Let's say Michael Schaivo just wants the insurance money. Could not the government give him half the due proceeds and take custody of the woman, essentially buying her freedom and saving her life? At that point, the government could award custody to her parents, who want to keep her alive. And if that rubs against your small government sensibilities, could not the government stay Ms. Schaivo's execution pending the raising of some sum of money by a certain time by private groups that would compensate Mr. Schaivo for the loss of insurance money due him under their earlier orders that Ms. Schiavo be terminated? Again, upon payment of the sum to Mr. Schaivo, custody of Terri would go to her parents. If you think this sounds like a ransom payment, just remember that the courts have declared Ms. Schaivo's life void, so copycats couldn't extort the government without a similar court imposed death sentence.

Regarding the divorce, this is a stickier situation due to the Catholic faith of the parties involved. It is obvious, however, that Mr. Schaivo is a Cafeteria Catholic, one who chooses which rules of the faith he wishes to follow. Though still married to Terri, Mr. Schaivo had three children out of wedlock with his current girlfriend. The marriage goes to the issue of who has the right to decide the course of action regarding this woman. If the scenario's in the previous paragraph are pursued, at least from a legal sense, this marriage would be effectively a nullity and the issue would disappear. If I'm not mistake, the family of Ms. Schaivo does not want the divorce because, as Catholics, they are opposed to the procedure. In the scenarios I outlined above, a "divorce" would effectively occur in the legal sense, but need not occur in the sense of the faith. Therefore, the actions of Mr. Schaivo would be on his conscience, not Terri's.

Regarding the final point, that Terri wanted to be put out of her misery in a situation like this, there is simply no concrete proof that Ms. Schiavo wanted such measures taken. And if there was, we wouldn't be in court today. The issue would be resolved according to Terri's wishes, not her husband's or family's.

In summary, there is a solution to this situation that could satisfy both parties. Unfortunately, because of the politics and prejudices of the parties, courts, activists, and politicians involved, this solution is being ignored while the parties seek the pure victory. Are there no Solomons in our society who could devise a plan to save this baby from getting cut in two?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Another Fake Memo?

The Powerline guys are trying to get to the bottom of whether a GOP talking points memo on the Terri Schiavo legislation in the Senate that was obtained anonymously by ABC News is a fake.

See the memo here.

Having worked on Capitol Hill twice, once for a Congressman and once for a Senator, my attention was drawn immediately to points three and four. In a nutshell, no Senator would approve of a memo as poorly written as one that includes in two sentences these phrases: "important moral issue", "important issue", "great political issue", "tough issue."

Unless an office gave a high school intern the task of drafting this memo, the lazy writing quoted above could not have been released with the go-ahead of any Senator. The repetition, with slight variations, of the same tired wording several times over in the course of two sentences gives weight to the argument that this document is not authentic. For any trained writer, "issue, issue, issue, issue" leaps from the page. In fact, I cringed the first time I read it. And remember that most lawmakers on the Hill are lawyers or business people who have made a living in writing-heavy professions.

It is certainly possible that a staffer drew up the memo and released it without official sanction. But it is unlikely that a highly trained LD or LA circulated a piece so lacking in command of the English language with the OK of his/her boss.

A Honkin' Hog

Forget things always being bigger in Texas. Say hello to Georgia's "Hogzilla."

Terri Schiavo

Professor Bainbridge has an excellent post on the ideological tug-of-war facing Catholics who are also small-government conservatives presented by the Terri Schiavo situation. The culture of life versus non-interference by the government.

Like the good professor concludes, I think the scales should tip in favor of the life of the innocent individual. One issue I can't seem to get my arms around is the "dying with dignity" aspect that proponents of killing Terri (by starvation and dehydration) tout as "humane." This argument might hold some weight if Terri was dying already and in severe pain. What is misleading about the "dying with dignity" argument is, well, she isn't dying. Ms. Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state (PSV) wherein her brain is lacking in major functions, such as the ability to control voluntary functions or exercise awareness of her surroundings (and some say, even her existence). Regardless of the symptoms, Ms. Schiavo is still a living, breathing, not-dying human being. She's getting along quite well, actually. In fact, she could live for many more years and conceivably die of old age. This being the case, how could removing her from feeding and hydration be anything but an unlawful killing of a human being? Oh...the law is sanctioning it!

One other thing, why is that convicts on death row have their execution stayed when they're appealing their conviction, but the courts have ordered the blameless Ms. Schiavo's starvation and dehydration continued while her emergency appeals are prepared and argued? Again, this is "dying with dignity"?!

Finally, whatever happened to the Great Chain of Being, where an onion now ranks higher than a person?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Those Pesky Legislatures

An unintentionally hilarious editorial in today's New York Times gives yet another window into the bizarre world of left-wing thought.

Since Chief Justice William Rehnquist's cancer became public knowledge, the media has been in a tizzy over who would succeed him should he resign, or worse, die. Tops on most lists in Justice Antonin Scalia, a known favorite of President Bush's. I count myself as a backer of Scalia's and find his opinions in general the most persuasive on the court. (The highlight of my law school career was an argument I coaxed him into during an in class appearance on whether the Federalist Papers are nothing more historical "legislative history"...Scalia being a fan of using the former but completely against citing the latter.) He, like the others, will wade into left field on occasion. But unlike most liberal justices who just seem to make stuff up out of thin air (read any of Justice Brennan's opinions for an example), Scalia will at least heavily cite his rationale, so you know he has at least made the effort to be consistent with law and precedent.

One of Scalia's best reasoned opinions yet, IMHO, was his dissent in the recently decided Roper v. Simmons case. See my thoughts here.

Today's New York Times contained an editorial keeping up the drumbeat accusing Scalia of being a dangerous fanatic who wants to take everyone's rights away. Rights, of course, come not from the will of the people, but the robed justices on the court. Think I'm kidding? Well that is exactly the point of this editorial. From the get-go, the writer engages in hyperbole:

Some court-watchers say Justice Antonin Scalia is on a "charm offensive" to become the next chief justice. Then he must have been taking the day off when he gave a speech last week and lashed out at the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down the death penalty for juveniles, and at the idea of a "living Constitution." There is nothing charming about his view that judges have no business considering the constitutionality of aspects of the death penalty, or that the Constitution should be frozen in time.

Justice Scalia has never said anything about judges "having no business considering the constitutionality of aspects of the death penalty." Scalia was arguing that the court remain consistent, because changing the meaning of laws repeatedly devalues their coercive effect and removes the legislature from its rightful place of making the laws demanded by the people.

Says Scalia:

The Court has appropriated from the American people the role of social arbiter. Thus, it strikes down longstanding policies and practices adopted through the democratic process on the grounds that five or more Justices personally don't approve.

Contrast this thought, which shouldn't be shocking for anyone who thinks we are living in a representative democracy, with the premise of the New York Times editorial:

The implications of Justice Scalia's remarks are sweeping. Many of the most central principles of American constitutional law - from the right to a court-appointed lawyer to the right to buy contraception - have emerged from the court's evolving sense of the meaning of constitutional clauses. Justice Scalia seems to be suggesting that many, or perhaps all, of these rights should exist only at the whim of legislatures.

Let that bolded sentence sink in for a second. This editorialist is arguing that legislatures should not be determining the laws. Instead, the nine old law professors in black robes should, at their whim, be deciding what our rights are. This type of thought boggles my mind. The American experiment was designed by the Founders to take power from an unaccountable elite and invest it in the People. The People are our voters, our legislators, and our President. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is accountable to no one, save the extremely rare impeachment.

The assumption that a bunch of academics who are completely out of touch with the average American know what is best for you or I is one I am unwilling to make. The notion that the Supreme Court is an intellectual body devoid of partisanship is also naive. And the construct that gives these Justices a life-time term inside the walls of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill ensures that their isolation and insulation from the true American society strengthens their detachment from what the People might want.

The editorial concludes with more breathless hype:

Justice Scalia may believe that by repeating his radical views enough times, the nation will grow accustomed to them. But his approach would mean throwing out much of the nation's existing constitutional law, and depriving Americans of basic rights. Justice Scalia's campaign to be the next chief justice, if it is that, is a timely reminder of why he would be a disastrous choice for the job.

Since when is it radical to believe that, in a democracy, the power comes from the people through the instrument of representative government and that a law should always have a single meaning and not be open for repeated interpretation? Is it less "radical" that justices are given sway to legislate from the bench, reach conclusions based on their preconceived biases, and take the debate out of the people's hands?

If a man who interprets the law based on the written text could "throw out" existing constitutional law, methinks it would be law that should be discarded. That Scalia is on a mission to deprive people of their "basic rights" is laughable on its face. Basic rights are what the Founders and the legislatures are tasked with granting us, not the courts. If giving the law back to the people through the instrument of a conservative Chief Justice like Scalia is a "disaster" and we are to succumb once again to rule by the elite as advocated by this NYT piece, then 1776 was all for naught.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Two Years Later

Was the war in Iraq a mistake? Let an Iraqi tell it in his own words:

So you ask me, Husayn, was it worth it. What have you gotten? What has Iraq acheived? These are questions I get a lot.

To may outsiders, like those who protested last year, who will protest today. This was a fools errand, it brought nothing but death and destruction. I am sheltered in Iraq, but I know how the world feels, how people have come to either love or hate Bush, as though heis the emobdiement of this war. As though this war is part of Bush, they forget the over twenty million Iraqis, they forget the Middle Easterners, they forget the average person on the street, the average man with the average dream.

Ask him if it was worth it. Ask him what is different. Ask him if he would go through it again, go ahead ask him, ask me, many of you have.

Now I answer you, I answer you on behalf of myself, and my countrymen. I dont care what your news tells you, what your television and newspapers say, this is how we feel. Despite all that has happened. Despite all the hurt, the pain, blood, sweat and tears. These two years have given us hope we never had.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

First Sign of Spring

A beautiful day today. After making a visit to the county landfill to dump my trash (I don't have garbage service here), I ran a few more errands before hitting the driving range. Yes, it was warm enough to hit some golf balls today. These are temperatures I could get used to. I spent the majority of my afternoon in a ditch behind the house digging it out to allow better drainage. From head to toe I was covered in mud by the time I completed the task. Felt great! Spring can't get here too soon. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 18, 2005

More Intrusion

During President Bush's State of the Union Address in 2004, I remember rolling my eyes when he started speaking about steroid use in baseball. My first thought was, Is there any private affair the government won't try to stick its meddling nose into? True, rampant cheating in baseball is something no baseball fan wants, but is it really the federal government's province to clean up what is basically a large corporate entertainment conglomerate?

Now we see the fruits of the Bush's ill-advised, and unconservative targeting of Major League Baseball: yesterday's Congressional hearings starring (and I use the term facetiously) Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, and Jose Canseco. Who embarrassed themselves more: the Congress or the baseball players.

Steven Chapman sums it up nicely:

We're at war in Iraq, at war in Afghanistan, threatened by Al Qaeda, mired in budget deficits, faced with gargantuan liabilities in Social Security and Medicare, struggling to sustain the fighting capacity of our military forces--and what does this committee think warrants its urgent attention? Whether a handful of overpaid entertainers are taking forbidden pills to improve their performance.

The hearing rests on two well-worn premises that ought to offend the conservative sensibilities of Republicans, who control this committee and Congress. The first is that absolutely everything is a federal responsibility. The second is that the private sector needs incessant guidance from government.

I am a huge baseball fan and have been so since childhood. Nobody wants the sport clean more than I do. But the federal government has no business investigating this private matter.

Having worked on Capitol Hill a couple of times, I'm inclined to believe that half the reason Congress held the hearings was because it gave the members an excuse to rub elbows with some pro baseball players and get autographs for their kids. Cynical? Yes. Put probably partially true.

Interesting Choice

A long article in the Post about the steroid hearings involving Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Canseco, and Schilling ends with this bizarre paragraph:

Washington Nationals outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds echoed that sentiment in the team's locker room at spring training in Florida: "The game will withstand this. Like it always has, it always weathers the test of time."

Of all the people they could quote to...Jeffrey Hammonds?

The Tie Does Not Lie

Not too many people in this country can say a United States Senator has recognized their proficiency in selecting winners in a March Madness pool. But I can. In fact, I have it in writing and own a nice U.S. Senate tie as a tribute to said predictive abilities. I would like to give a shout out to Baltimore's own Carmelo Anthony, whose dominant presence in that year's tournament became the proximate cause of this honored addition to my collection of neckwear.

I am a particularly busy man these days, so this week's column is light on Maryland news. The NIT is a strange beast, and as of this writing, we still don't know who Maryland's next opponent will be (one of SW Missouri State or Davidson College). This being the case, as a service to you, I give you my Elite Eight. (Senate tie, don't fail me now!)

Starting in Chicago, Boston College will face Arizona. That's right, Illinois, the nation's number one team is going out early. This pick may be tough for some to fathom, but after living in Illinois for the last two years, I base this pick entirely upon the psyche of graduates and recent attendees of U of I. The state that gave you the Chicago Cubs ("Wait 'til next year!") also gives you the majority of the student body of this school. Not one Illinois-affiliated individual I spoke with can believe the hype and success surrounding the school, and everyone is awaiting their collapse. The pressure cannot be higher on these kids, and I think the collective disbelief of the fans on team and the newness of the scale of success they have enjoyed this season will eventually lead to their downfall at the hands of Boston College. BC is a tough opponent that will come into that game as the underdog and enjoy the benefits that come with the lack of pressure. Expect the huge upset. AZ beats OK St. because Lute Olson is a winner and Kelvin Sampson always seems to fall short.

In Albuquerque, the Yellow Jackets will face the Demon Deacons again. GTech is a veteran team that has been here, done that. Coming up just short last season will play in their favor as they face a Washington team that has exceeded all expectations and gained a surprising #1 seed in this tournament. True, the Wreck spent much of this season descending towards the bubble from their lofty preseason ranking, but they have the experience and the talent to take this one. Wake will beat Gonzaga handily. As a graduate of St. John's College High School in Washington, DC, I always pick against Gonzaga because they share a name with our WCAC rival, the Purple Eagles of Gonzaga College High School (the type of school that produces future Duke students). Don't question my logic, this kind of thinking is supported by solid proof in the form of the Senate tie.

Syracuse will see a match-up between Kansas and UNC. UNC may play a tough opponent in the red-hot Florida Gators, but I have them picked to win it all, and they can only do so if they make it to the Elite Eight. UNC has the lions-share of the talent in this tournament, and we have seen it over and over on display in the ACC. The UConn/Kansas game is a coin-flip. Two great programs, including the defending champs, square off in an early marquee matchup in the Sweet 16. Kansas has had its stumbles this season, but UConn lost key players from last year's team. Give the Huskies another year and they'll be right back in the Final Four.

Finally, in Austin, the dark horse Michigan State Spartans (22-6) will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in a bid to travel to St. Louis. Tom Izzo's squad has lost a single game to a team not in this tournament field (at Indiana, 78-74). The Spartans will beat the ACC Champion Duke Blue Devils, a team that, though playing outstanding ball today, will find that JJ Redick can't win every game for it, especially in a field as talented as it finds in this tournament. Plus, I don't care to see Duke succeed. Kentucky will take Oklahoma in a close game, and move on to face the Spartans. Tubby's Wildcats will send OK to another disappointing early exit.

So says the tie, so it is written.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Peter Angelos: World's Worst Marketer

Orioles owner Peter Angelos continues his campaign to drive every last customer out of Camden Yards. Read more here:

"Every time they announce a new [higher] number of season ticket sales for the Nationals, it seems like Peter goes crazy," one executive told Selig recently. When Angelos feels threatened in a fight-or-flight situation, he usually fights -- with litigation. This time, however, the larger legal danger for baseball may actually be in giving the Orioles too good a deal.

Today's Least Scary Terrorist Threat

Muslim terrorists and their ilk are well known for their flowery, hyperbolic threats of violence to the West generally, or other future victims. Perhaps the best known was Baghdad Bob of the early days of Gulf War II. (My favorite quote from "Comical Ali" was: "God will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of Iraqis." Still makes me laugh.)

Earlier today, the Philippine government ended a standoff at a Manila where members of a local Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group (Abu Sayyaf) staged an attempted prison break. After waiting a couple days, the police stormed the prison and killed 28, including the ringleaders of the failed escape try.

In response to the carnage, a member of the Abu Sayyaf group comically issued this lame warning:

"This operation showered with the blood of our brothers will become like vitamins to us."

Like my fiance said, someone should introduce them to Flintstones vitamins. Could save some trouble.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Column of the Day

Today's finest news column comes from a hero of mine, Norman Chad (aka the Couch Slouch and formerly known as "The Man.") When I was in high school, his Friday NFL prognostication column in the Washington Post was my favorite of the week. Now, after a hiatus, he writes a general sports and media column Mondays in the Post.

The Man is a graduate of the finest university in the country, the University of Maryland. Today, he takes aim at one of my favorite targets: the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke gets all the calls.

(If Martha Stewart had played for Duke, she wouldn't have done jail time, she would've been second team all-ACC.)

And don't get me started on the Duke student body. I have a message for those spoiled, arrogant Cameron Crazies: You all might get the better jobs -- yeah, like Daddy didn't help -- but me and my buddies get the better used stereo equipment.

Sure, I'm just a University of Maryland graduate -- Class of '81, without honors -- with a double major in American studies and parking tickets. [...]

Anyway, here is a list of schools I'd select for the NCAA tournament before Duke: Cal Poly-SLO, Colorado School of Mines, Culinary Institute of America, Faber College, Bristol University, School of Hard Knocks, McDonald's Hamburger University.

He's still a genius. Read the whole thing, entitled "Down With Duke."

Chicago vs. New Orleans

I finally experienced the famous St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. I missed it last year because of baseball tryouts, but I remember travelling to meet my future fiance afterwards and being entertained while waiting for the El by all the drunks doing face-plants on the sidewalks below. Maybe I'm getting old, but I prefer to mark the day with a Guinness at a pub these days.

We rented a bus to take us to the renowned Chicago South Side Irish Parade. What a mistake. We ended up in a tin can full of cavemen and a leprechaun with extremely poor aim. And we were captive. To and especially from the parade, we shared this little space with immature, ill-mannered frat boys who thought they were the life of the party, but the only people who enjoyed their moronic presence were themselves.

After a long delay in the zoo otherwise known as our bus, we finally left about 45 minutes late. During the interim, some little punk, egged on by the baboons in the back of the bus pegged my fiance in the face with a bag of soda bread from point-blank range. Thankfully, he showed remorse by quickly exiting the bus. We later ran into him at the parade, and forgave him for his terrible aim.

The parade itself seemed nice. Firemen, police, bagpipers, bands and candy tossers all dressed up for the part waltzed down the parade route. Admittedly, we missed about 99% of the parade since we were inside an Irish bar for nearly the duration. Judging from the aftermath on the streets, it was a pretty family friendly affair. Though sometimes, I would hate to have a kid in that situation: "Mommy, why is that man running around without a shirt on when it's 25 degrees out?" "Mommy, why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?" "Mommy, why does that man keep falling down?" "Mommy, why is that man throwing up in a trash can?"

Thankfully, I was none of the those guys, though a few extra beers would have helped me deal better with the retards on the bus ride back.

All in all, it was fun. Would I do it again? I'll probably stick with looking at the dyed river and drinking a nice frosty Guinness at my local pub. That's not to say that the night might not end with an Irish Car Bomb or two...Posted by Hello

So how did it compare to New Orleans on St. Paddy's Day? The better question is, how does anything compare to New Orleans, period?

I had hoped to post one of my favorite pictures from my St. Paddy's weekend in NO, circa 2001, but I am still not really moved in anywhere, and I don't have access to a scanner. The parade in NO was outstanding. There really are not too many parades you could say that about without sounding particularly lame. But on the bayou, everything is cool.

Here is a quick recap of St. Patrick's Day in New Orleans: First, understand that it is like a mini-Mardi Gras. My hopes were high, to say the least. Upon coming to town, we stopped at a gas station where smack in the middle of the mini-mart was a cooler full of icy tall boys. Remember, this was at a gas station. We filled our own cooler, and bought one for the road. (We were walking, don't get too excited.) Proudly walking down the street non-chalantly drinking a cold one was quite liberating and empowering. What a town!

We set up shop on a sidewalk along the parade route. Yes, we would be watching the parade. The sidewalks filled with green-clad, beer-toting guys and gals, and the anticipation was palpable.

Finally, game time. First, the typical New Orleans band with the brass horns and umbrella-toting high-steppers. OK, not bad. Then, a bunch of men, young and old marched down the streets trading beads for kisses from the ladies watching roadside. Um, I guess that's OK. Then some more bands. Snooze. I was starting to lose interest.

But then came the fun.

Float after float after float after float of bead-tossing, toy-throwing, candy-handing, potato-chucking madness. Pandemonium was the best way to describe. And what did my favorite picture show? A lawn chair full of bowling-ball sized (and weighted) heads of cabbage that we managed to catch, flung from the floats. My thumbs were sprained for weeks! They must have thrown hundreds upon hundreds of the things. (Note: never, ever park you car along the parade route in New Orleans.)

When all was said and done, it was pure carnage on the streets. Candy, beads, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, toys, beer cans, and the passed out all littered the ground. And then the true veneration of St. Patrick began inside the bars. I'm telling you, there's truly nothing else like it.

So, Chicago was fun. But I have yet to witness anything close to topping the Big Easy.Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Live-blogging the ACC Tournament

There's lots of good stuff this weekend at the ACC Basketblog. My colleague Colin is live at the scene and blogging up a storm. Birkel is live-blogging the big games. Don't miss tomorrow's championship between Georgia Tech and Duke.

Next week, I'll be writing about Maryland's chances in the NIT. That's horrible.

My New Roommate

Everyone has had a roommate like this. She's a total mooch, doesn't clean up after herself, and lays around napping all day. She likes to play with her food rather than eat it, whines all the time when she doesn't get enough attention, and always seems to break my stuff even though she's not supposed to touch it. Lucky for her, she's my fiance's cat and that's what you'd expect. Otherwise, I think I'd have to ask her to move out. Posted by Hello

My New Neighbors

This little guy was found walking around on my driveway. He didn't seem too afraid of us and posed for a couple of pictures. Actually, this is one of my few neighbors who doesn't drive a pickup truck or duck hunt.Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Terps Lose - ACC Basketblog Preview

The reign ended quickly for last year's ACC Champion Terps at MCI Center in DC. PLease check out the ACC Basketblog for continuing reports from the scene and news from the around the league. My column will be up tomorrow morning. A preview:

Maryland lost to Clemson for the third time this season Thursday afternoon. That sounds shocking. But it isn't.

Before I go on with this column, let me start by apologizing to my readers. I hate hype. No, I despise it. Because of this disdain, I feel like I'm pretty good at seeing through it. Maryland's tournament chances this season, from the get-go, were pure hype. And I contributed to it. For that reason, I apologize.

Initially, I wrote the column hyperlinked above in February trying to convince myself to stick with my gut instinct, that this Terps team could not deliver the goods. But by the time I finished it, I wrestled with my conscience and decided that, as bad as I thought the Terps were, there was no way they could lose to Clemson twice (much less three times!) and to Virginia Tech to end the season. I overrode my tingling Spidey sense and wrote a column that seems, well, overly optimistic in retrospect.

Part of the reason is this: in reacting to some of my columns, emails, and comments, members of this website tried to pick me up when I was down and said I needed to believe in my team more, or have "hope." I thought, well maybe I am letting my fears of disaster color my objectivity. I have a history of that. I am a DC area sports fan, after all. So I gave in. But consider this: Ed, Colin, and Birkel are graduates or fans of UNC, UNC, and Duke. As a friend of mine said to me today: "UNC [or Duke] fans saying you need to stay positive is the equivalent of a friend who has a super hot girlfriend and says looks are not everything." Is that ever the truth!

For the rest of my column, please check the ACC Basketblog!

[PS: Thanks to Matty D for the UNC quote.]

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Falling to Pieces

I think Mike Wise of the Washington Post is ripping off some of my ACC Basketblog pieces:

Almost as disturbing seeing the body language of John Gilchrist's teammates toward the mercurial starting point guard near the end of the loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday that put the Terps' season on the brink.

There is no easy way to say this, especially because you're dealing primarily with 18- to 22-year-olds: But the promise of a very good team disintegrated each time Gilchrist dominated the ball and stopped trusting his teammates. In a year, Gilchrist somehow morphed from John Lennon into Yoko Ono; the leader of the band became the reason it broke up.

One of the great sporting events of the year comes to MCI Center on Thursday, and the Terps probably won't make it to the weekend. Williams has complained over the years about the ACC tournament being held on Tobacco Road, thereby giving the Carolina teams a distinct home-court advantage. Now, the moment it comes to the Maryland coach's backyard, you wonder if the hosts will even show at their own party.

How do you beat Duke twice and you can't beat Clemson or N.C. State once? And if you're Gilchrist, how do you go from enjoying the signature moment of your career at last season's ACC tournament to being the leader of a mediocre team that has not won anything?

Gilchrist has said players are "fighting things we can't even see." He said teammates, but not him, were "dealing with personal issues that the media and fans do not know about." What is he talking about? We have no idea. We only know for certain that Maryland and Gilchrist have not been right since winning the ACC tournament last season, a triumph that Williams has got to believe was more curse than blessing. Because that's when Gilchrist blew up, double-clutching, dribbling through nine other players until he made some incredible twisting layup that made him the MVP of a long, improbable weekend.

Every starter except Jamar Smith returned from that team. There were few reasons the Terps should not have been in top 10 contention, especially the way they knocked off Duke twice and nearly took out North Carolina, a likely No. 1 seed.

I think he captured the essence of my column for most of the season.

Lord, Give Me the Patience...

To say the least, it has been tough to find time to update this blog lately. Between starting a new job, buying a house, preparing an application for the bar exam, and finalizing wedding plans, who has any free time?? I highly recommend to anyone who has it within their power: avoid this situation! Mix and match one or two of these scenarios, but don't try them all at once.

My life is starting to remind me of an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets several jobs in order to get a pony for Lisa. In one scene, he gets home from his night job and as soon as his head hits the pillow, the alarm goes off and he's right back up again. That is definitely how it felt working full time and going to law school at night. Each morning I had one of two thoughts: 1) "here we go again," or 2) "wasn't I just here (at work/school)?"

I'm starting to get that feeling again.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Weekend in Chicago

I flew back to Chicago over the weekend to visit my fiance. It was strange to be back visiting, rather than residing. The first thing that struck me was on the night approach seeing the grid pattern that is Chicago from the plane. One interesting thing about the city from above is the ability to see the city limits by looking at the brightness of the lights. Inside Chicago, the lights glow a bright orange. Outside, they are much dimmer, but still generally in a grid.

The other very apparent thing about Chicago is the convenience of everything. That is not the case here in Elkton. Within a two block radius of my fiance's Lincoln Park apartment is everything you need for everything you could want. I definitely miss that. I don't have a block here. If I wanted catfish (which I don't), I could catch some in the Big Elk Creek. Otherwise, nothing is within walking distance.

I'll be back in Chicago again next weekend. We're hoping to get tickets to the Big Ten Tournament and attend the South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade. Chicago, with its large Irish population, is known for it's St. Patrick's Day celebrations. I've heard great things, but we'll have to see if it beats St. Patty's Day in New Orleans.Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One of the Better Posts on Any Subject Today

Today was a pretty stressful day at work. For that reason, I found this post took the edge off my day. Is there anything they can't do? Thanks, Matt.

Iraq's White Box Truck

I have wondered for a long time whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi actually exists. Way back before the war started, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his famous presentation before the United Nations in an attempt to prove with evidence that Iraq needed to be invaded for military strategic reasons. One of the pieces of evidence he presented was that Iraq had terrorist connections, particularly through Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Funny, but nobody could actually prove that he was there, even then. He was rumored to have ties to Saddam Hussein's regime. When the insurgency started, the first assumption was that Zarqawi was somehow behind it. This became gospel truth. So now we've been chasing this guy for almost three years, with not even a sighting of him made. There have been videos of masked people claiming to be him, usually beheading someone or making a threat. But we haven't found a trace of this guy. And it would seem to me that if we could find Saddam in a spider hole in the middle of nowhere, we should be able to find the most famous terrorist in Iraq if he does so exist.

This article in Newsday got me thinking yesterday. In it, they question whether Zarqawi is even a real human being:

"He can move around any number of Iraqi areas. He can change his appearance, he can change his papers," said Dana Ahmad Majid, head of security for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two parties that control the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. "He could be moving around alone without any problem. Al-Zarqawi is a single man, and it's always extremely difficult to capture a single person."

Asked if he thought al-Zarqawi escaped during last month's U.S. assault on Fallujah, Majid smiled, took a drag on his cigarette and said, "Who knows that al-Zarqawi was ever in Fallujah?"

It's almost like this guy has superhuman powers to conceal himself and control the minds of erstwhile traitors. I don't believe it. I wouldn't doubt if Zarqawi, the man, died long ago in some obscure battle without identification. Now he's legend. He's like the white box truck everyone was looking for during the DC sniper period. Everyone is looking one way while the actual perpetrator is someone else or some other entity entirely.

I can't wait to see the headline saying he's been captured or killed. I just don't know whether there's anyone out there to capture or kill in the first place.

A Sunday Drive, Pt. II

Georgetown, MD. Here is another little Maryland town on the water. If you're on the Eastern Shore, you're either on a farm or a little town by the water. Things could be worse. Posted by Hello

A Turkey Hunt

Please visit the ACC Basketblog tomorrow morning for my latest Maryland basketball column. The regular season is coming to a close this weekend, and it's possible that Maryland's post-season fortunes hinge on their game Saturday afternoon against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

A preview:

There are many folks out there who have a Maryland tournament bid penciled in already. As a 10 Points in 56 Seconds veteran, I never draw conclusions about this Terrapins team until I have seen the INK dry. I predicted Maryland would make the tournament if they finished the season 17-10, 8-8, and I further stated that such would be the state of affairs heading into the ACC Tournament. I was wrong about the Duke game. I was wrong about getting swept by Clemson. Uh oh.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

New Blog

I started a new blog called Red Stated with an attorney colleague of mine. The blog will mostly be about politics and the law. This should spare readers of this blog my rants on politics...for the most part. :) Please visit both blogs. I enjoy your visits!

Today's View From the Boondocks

You can't tell me that snow in the country is not far more beautiful than that in the city. Though not the predicted 7-13 inches, Monday afternoon's sticky wet snow made everything look the definition of "winter wonderland." This morning, I woke to a serene whitewashed world. Scenes like this make it apparent to me that God does, in fact, exist. Posted by Hello

Not much escaped a puffy layer of wet snow. Posted by Hello