Archive for February, 2012

Assorted Thoughts: Gas Prices, College Snobs, Cruise Ships

February 28, 2012 1 comment

Gas Prices

Yeah, they’re high and going higher.  It’s been an inescapable trend over the last several years.  Gas prices are low when the economy is reeling.  They are high when economic conditions improve.  Both sides always try to bash the party holding the White House about costly gas prices and both come up with solutions or blame that are just plain silly. 

Really want to have an effect on gas prices?  Convince one billion Chinese to stop buying cars and filling them with gas. 

Collegiate Snobbery

Rick Santorum has been getting a lot of flack from Democrats and Republicans alike for saying this:

President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college.  What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Foolish or crazy as a fox?   It may yet resonate with conservative blue-collar voters in Michigan.  And I’ll bet a lot of anti-Obama voters didn’t even hear the college part as much as they heard the “Obama is a snob” part, which some suggest is the GOP version of class warfare.  It may well work- in a primary.  The overall problem with this strategy, of course, is that there’s polling that finds 93% of Americans think it’s a pretty good idea to send your kids to college.

Looking Forward to that Cruise Ship Vacation

First there was the Costa Concordia incident, in which an Italian sea captain trying to show off, came too close to shore, grounded his ship and killed more than 30 passengers and then literally tried to catch a cab and run off into the good night. 

Now you have its sister ship, the Costa Allegra, adrift in the Indian Ocean.  And as if it’s not bad enough that a generator fire knocked out the engines, the radio communications and then the air conditioning, it was adrift in “Pirate Infested Waters.”   I’m not afraid to admit I hate infestations of any kind, but particularly pirate infestations.

In between the two incidents, there were several outbreaks on a number of cruise ships of the Norwalk Virus.

So….if you don’t get killed by a show-off captain, manage to avoid spending three days with a raging fever and massive intestinal distress, and escape marauding pirates in the Indian Ocean- it should be a wonderful vacation experience for all!

My memories of a cruise ship vacation were primarily the tiny, little cabins and the huge bill at the end.  In between, you eat like a depraved Roman Emperor, consuming indescribably large amounts of food in a celebration of decadent gluttony accented with pretty little ice sculptures gently melting on a buffet table of death.

Baseball: The Reality, the Fantasy and the Great Escape

February 23, 2012 1 comment

Exhausted by political rhetoric and posturing, saddened by the violent nature of our world, and stressed over the course of day-to-day living, I am seeking the soothing, calm anticipation of the coming baseball season.

This time of year, one used to look out a window at the snowy landscape and know that with pitchers and catchers reporting to training camps in Florida and Arizona, Spring would soon be rounding the corner.

Of course, now that we no longer have the season known as Winter and with February temperatures not dissimilar to what they are in Florida- it’s even easier to imagine how soon we will be hearing the crack of the bat, the sound of the ball pounding the catcher’s mitt, the splendor of the manicured, green grass fields, the echoes of the hot dog vendors and the feel of an ice cold beer going down smooth as the first pitch flies toward the plate.  Yes, I do take perverse pride in knowing I have just set the modern standard for baseball clichés in one paragraph.

Baseball Distraction #1- the Real Thing

My own, personal baseball anticipation process has manifested in two ways.  I read everything there is to read about the Washington Nationals.  Here in the nation’s capital where a baseball team has not won a World Series since 1924, it so happens that some savvy trades and signings along with great misfortune and many pathetic losing seasons- have bestowed upon our little team, a wealth of young draft choices and talent that have made for possibly the best pitching staff in the whole sport.

Oh, there’s optimism in every town in the Spring, but deep down, fans of, say, the Baltimore Orioles, for example, know that while there will be games played soon in their beautiful ballpark, it will just be a matter of a few weeks before the inevitable reality sets in that winning is not much part of the equation, even if Boog Powell’s barbeque ribs will be.  It’s a bitch to have to go up against the New York Yankees.

Baseball Distraction #2- the Fantasy Thing

The second way my baseball anticipation has been fed, is through a mere $12 investment in an imaginary baseball team as part of a sports fantasy website called What If Sports.  I was given $80 million of fake money to invest in any 25 players from the entire history of the sport, from last year all the way back to just a couple of decades after the American Civil War.

The prices of the players matched against the budget you are given, are cleverly constructed so that you can’t load a team with only superstars.  There is value and an art in choosing the right kind of mediocrity and averageness with which to meld with some of the great players you can actually afford.

What draws me to the game- is what draws many people to the real sport of baseball itself- its timelessness.  My team reflects just about all the phases of my life.  From my childhood, a small contingent of my team that used to play for the Washington Senators of old; pitchers like Joe Coleman and Dick Bosman.  I have added a few new Washington players like Ryan and Jordan Zimmerman, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.

But the real fun is watching the epic old-timers perform.  I have an outfield of a young Detroit Tiger, Kirk Gibson, the 1961 Mickey Mantle and an aging but still productive, Fred Lynn.   I have a few Orioles sprinkling the infield diamond in Eddie Murray at 1st, Davey Johnson (the 43-homer Davey Johnson) at 2nd and Rick Dempsey behind the plate; the Bird’s catcher who used to entertain the crowds during rain delays at old Memorial Stadium by splashing belly-first over home plate in a pretend mad scramble from 3rd base.

The games are simulated and you get box scores and play-by-play of the results and they’re as fresh and interesting as it used to be picking up the morning newspaper to comb through the box scores (newspapers: a form of communication from the past in which words were printed on parchment and delivered to your front door).

I am Earl Weaver- Who Knew?

As a manager and team-designer, it turns out that I am Earl Weaver, the plucky, cigarette-smoking, former skipper of the Baltimore Orioles who led the Birds to several American League pennants and World Series titles with a philosophy of decent pitching and the three-run homer.

My team strikes out a lot.  They hardly ever steal bases. But they do pound the crap out of the ball and currently lead our little pretend league in homeruns and slugging percentage.  Algorithms and speedy calculations contribute to the computer-generated results so there are no umpires to argue with, sadly.  That was the other claim to fame of the great Earl Weaver.  Always led the league in getting kicked out of games.

But there are no arguments in this league, just the temporary satisfaction of being tied for the lead in my division in a season that is young and as full of promise as the real one the big leaguers are preparing for in Florida and Arizona right now.

Thank you, baseball, for taking my mind off other, less pleasant things.

Jeremy Lin and the Excesses of the Media

February 19, 2012 1 comment

Look, the kid is amazing.  He’s not perfect; he commits a lot of turnovers.  But he did step up when given the opportunity and he is a tremendous inspiration to many, many people of all backgrounds, but especially to Asian-Americans, for whom he has become a real hero.

It’s the media and its excesses that go way beyond the pale.

This corny obsession with the “Lin” and other puns turned offensive this week.  ESPN had to apologize for a headline on their web site for mobile devices overnight when they actually used the phrase “A Chink in the Armor,” describing his propensity for turnovers.  It got taken down after about 45 minutes but the damage was done.  The very same phrase was used in a televised discussion earlier this week on ESPN and used yet again by the same network in a non-Lin context during the recent summer Olympics in Beijing.

Fox Sports columnist, Jason Whitlock, has apologized for an offensive tweet he sent out last week.  The New York Post got into hot water for an “Amasian” headline they ran the day after he beat Toronto with a last-second three-pointer.

Note to Jeremy Lin- keep doing what you’re doing.  Two good weeks of play does not make you a hall-of-famer but your story does mean a lot to many people who’ve spent their lives getting overlooked and dismissed, sometimes for no other reason than their cultural background or the way they look.

Note to the media- your Lin puns and your occasionally racist undertones are not funny.  They don’t make you hip or amusing.  It’s this lock-step hype that somehow manages to make even an inspirational story like Jeremy Lin, tiresome and annoying.

What’s missing- as usual in this 24/7 media culture of ours- is a sense of good taste, perspective and proportion.

Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow: Celebrating the Art of the Passing Fad

February 16, 2012 1 comment

“Wait,” you argue, “Jeremy Lin is a CURRENT fad.” Nope, sorry, this is a week old now. Like those 4-G phone commercials- it’s so “4.7 seconds ago.”

“B-but,” asks the casual sports fan, “I missed this whole Jeremy Lin thing- who is he?”

He was an undiscovered bench warmer born of Taiwanese parents, who kept getting cut by one basketball team after another, played starting point guard for Harvard just two years ago and then, depleted by injuries, the New York Knicks turned to him in desperation and all of a sudden in the past week he’s turned into one of the top scoring players in the NBA and has led a previously hapless basketball squad to 7 straight victories.

And he’s done all this in New York City, which I understand, is a town that contains a number of news organizations and media outlets.

The other thing you need to know about Jeremy Lin is that his name is fodder for pun-filled headlines by New York tabloids which are then picked up by other media organizations. Linsanity! Linsane! 7 Lins, No Losses! Linderella Story! Time magazine has actually already compiled a comprehensive list of bad Jeremy Lin puns entitled: “A Lesson in Lin-guistics.”

Do you see how one could tire so quickly of this phenomenon?

And we had just gotten over Tim Tebow, the last incarnation of an improbable sports hero. You remember how fast “Tebowing” caught on?

OMG—that was so six weeks ago. Tebowing, as we all know, was quickly replaced by Tom Brady-ing. The sad pose struck by a suddenly humiliated sports superstar.

But Good Lord, people, the Superbowl was, what, two weeks ago? We needed a new fad and quickly and- voila! Lin-sational! I know that doesn’t make sense…it doesn’t need to. Go with me here.

What we have accomplished today, ladies and gentlemen, is being one of the first web sites to officially declare itself tired of the Jeremy Lin miracle. That makes us as cutting edge as, say Gawker, or other similarly snarky web sites.

And we’re going to go further than that. The next fad coming down the pike? We’re tired of it already! It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what it is. It’s going to get overplayed and we’re all going to be sick of it, so I’m declaring that Garcia Media Life is tired of it before it even has a chance to rear its ugly head.

The Perils of Political Forecasting

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Seems obvious, of course, but it’s all about the unknown. Things that seem logical on paper have a way of being ripped apart by unexpected events.

It seemed an absolute given, for example, that a President drowning in 9% unemployment figures would make an easy target. Entire political campaigns- like Mitt Romney’s- have been built on that assumption. Enter the “turnaround specialist” strategy. Touting his business and private sector credentials, Romney built a logical model for the foundation of a political strategy. Except what happens to this course if the economy starts recovering and unemployment starts dropping significantly?

In this case, many pundits are making the argument that an improving economy is one of the reasons Rich Santorum has surged. Widely seen as a candidate more focused on championing the conservative position on social issues from abortion and gay marriage to birth control and women’s role in the military, the theory goes that conservative voters will gravitate to politicians with strong social views absent alarm over the state of the economy.

Except what happens if all hell breaks loose in the world and, say, Israel decides to bomb Iran in a preemptive attempt to delay or kill off their nuclear capability? With the world on full alert in the case of such military action, Iran under attack and closing the Strait of Hormuz, and tensions escalating throughout the Middle East- it kind of makes birth control a bit of a back-seat issue, doesn’t it?

And what of the recently embraced assumptions that the American economy is on the mend and that with the President’s approval ratings on the rise, he is looking much more secure in his reelection efforts?

Looks good- except what happens if Italy, Spain and Greece go into default and world stock markets panic and the business climate suddenly becomes toxic out of fear and uncertainty? This would be the double-dip recession scenario.

But it doesn’t take cataclysmic events like war or the collapse of the European economy to change the political calculus. Today, for example, there are reports that retail sales were really sluggish in January. Maybe the jobless drop last month was just a positive blip in a still rocky road to recovery.

There’s concern that with gas prices already at $3.50 a gallon in the U.S., unusually high for this early in the year, that there could easily be $5 a gallon gas by election day. That’s a squeeze on consumers that could make for some pretty angry voters.

Taken to its extreme, the argument about the effects of unforeseen events on politics can get silly. What happens if a large meteorite strikes the Earth. What happens if a sudden burst of radiation from the Sun melts our electrical grid and modern society collapses. You could go on and on.

But here’s the thing: Our own Secretary of Defense says there’s a chance Israel really will launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, possibly as early as the spring. Moody’s really did downgrade the economies of Spain, Italy, and Portugal this week and warns the same may be in store for France and England. Gasoline prices really are already high- even without a Middle East war.

The problem with those who make political predictions for a living- the punditry class- is they can only base their assumptions on the present and guess a little on what else might happen.

But anybody who’s willing to venture a prediction about who will win the next election in November is full of it. Remember that if turns out, say Jeb Bush, is standing on the west front of the Capitol building taking the oath of office next January.

How’d that happen? We don’t know now. But we’ll know then after a zillion words will have been written about how reality is stranger than fiction and how weird it was that the incredibly implausible scenario came to pass.

Mitt Just Can’t Close the Deal

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Notice how every time Mitt Romney starts looking inevitable, something seems to happen that delays the coronation? Last night, it was Rick Santorum that happened. And what a strategic blunder by the Romney campaign.

None of these elections Tuesday were supposed to matter. No real delegates at stake, mostly beauty contests/caucuses. There was hardly any pre-election polling. Most of the media didn’t even bother to travel to Tuesday’s election states. The Romney folks didn’t even try, short of offering up some last minute criticisms about Santorum being a fan of ear marks, making him out to be some sort of secret free spender or something.

Note to Romney campaign team: if you’re not going to actively compete why even enter the race? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to say, “Well, what do you expect? He wasn’t on the ballot.”

The rest of the month is pretty sparse by way of primaries or caucuses. Rick Santorum now gets a few weeks of limelight and the Romney folks get a few weeks of doubt. Doubt created by coming in a distant 3rd in Minnesota, a state he had no problem with against John McCain four years ago. Doubt created by the prospect, having lost Iowa and Missouri, of a Republican Party that nominates a candidate with little appeal in the heartland. And he lost Colorado too- a huge, key swing state.

And Newt Gingrich is still around and likely to do pretty well in a lot of southern states. He’ll get his share of votes too on Super Tuesday next month. Let’s not forget Ron Paul who actually beat Romney last night in Minnesota.

On paper, Mitt Romney and his Super Pacs and organization look unbeatable. But how long will it take? How much more negative carpet bombing can the party endure as the candidates keep sniping at each other and continue to write Obama’s campaign ads for him?

The Romney strategy so far seems to be going nuclear on whoever else starts tip-toeing close to him. Five million bucks against Newt in Iowa. Nine million bucks against Newt in Florida. No doubt, the anti-Santorum attack ads are being produced as we speak.

Ninety percent of it so far has been negative advertising that does a good job eviscerating your opponent but also drives up your own negatives. And to avoid blunders, Romney has now stopped doing town hall meetings and, my guess is, very few media interviews in the days ahead; not exactly a formula for connecting with the voters.

Romney may well win a battle of attrition. Republicans will end up gathering around him, united in their virulent opposition to the Obama presidency. But he may also end up a wounded nominee going up against a well-funded incumbent with the backdrop of a suddenly improving economy- and that’s a daunting task.

Super Bowl XLVI Highlights

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

I have just awakened from my shrimp, buffalo-wing, pizza and guacamole food-coma and it all seems like a blur. Is it true we just fed twenty people? No. We fed six and now have enough leftovers to last until next Super Bowl.


She’s 52, o.k.? She needs a little help with her cart-wheels and doesn’t move around like she used to. She doesn’t even pretend she’s not lip-syncing but overall, I liked the halftime show. “Honey, honey,” I said to my girlfriend, “remember thigh-high stiletto boots and pom-poms.” Breaking News: Some singing sensation named MIA flipped off the camera. That building with the lights on past midnight here in the nation’s capital is the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission.

Bull Dogs in Sneakers, Fiat, Big Daddy, Clint Eastwood and Mike Bloomberg

I liked the bull dog in sneakers beating out the greyhounds. I also have a new appreciation for Fiat automobiles and the Italian language, in particular. I am officially ashamed that I got my domain name from Big And as for Clint Eastwood and “halftime in America,” I will never say anything the least bit negative about Chrysler or Detroit ever again. I also have no issues with the Mayors of Boston and New York making an appeal for gun control- but what am I going to use from now on to shoot my TV with?

Wait- I’ve Seen These All Somewhere Before

It’s actually passé now to write about Super Bowl commercials because they’ve all been shown over the past week on You Tube. But there’s solace in the fact it’s once again o.k. to get up and go to the bathroom during the commercials.

The Game

Still, every year, the ads get continuously interrupted by men in colorful uniforms chasing an oblong leather ball. I understand a baby-faced gentleman named Eli Manning became one of the greatest comeback quarterbacks in NFL history and more accomplished than his brother Peyton. Giants coach, Tom Coughlan, is now just as good as Bill Parcells. And at 9-7 this season, the New York Giants have somehow managed to become a dynasty winning two of the last four of these things.

All good. Can we all agree to stop using Roman numerals to identify these Super Bowls, though? I get the analogy already. But the Roman empire is gone now, dead and buried under the weight of its own excesses with coliseums, armored gladiators, sex and decadence. We’re better than that.

US Economy on the Rebound? Implications for the Presidential Race

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

History has shown us that it is not a wise thing to bet against America. It’s a pretty resilient country. And though millions are still without work, the housing crisis continues and Europe may yet be unable to contain its debt crisis, Friday’s unemployment report has significantly surpassed most economist’s expectations and offers more than a glimmer of hope that a recovery is actually taking hold.

The job gains were impressive and across all sectors of the American economy. There have now been five consecutive monthly drops in the national jobless rate and the 8.3% figure represents a three-year low in the unemployment number. Wall Street seems impressed and the Dow Jones is now flirting with the 13,000 mark.

The political implications are huge. It’s estimated that if the current monthly gains of over 200,000 new jobs continues until election day, the jobless rate in November may well come in at just under 8%. It’s a significant number. No incumbent President has ever been re-elected with a jobless rate over 8%.

For Republicans seeking the presidential nomination and centering their campaigns on a cratering American economy, there are still enough weak points and looming threats to the nation’s finances to make a case but there’s also a political danger. It is not an advantageous position to appear to be rooting for the continuing demise of the American economy. It is not a “morning in America” message and it threatens to make President Obama the optimist and Republicans the party of gloom-and-doom.

There is an obvious pivot that can be made to other issues and they are also important ones to be settled in a campaign. The debate over the size of government. The arguments of over-regulation versus government protection of consumers and the environment, for example. There’s the continuing danger of massive budget deficits.

But there’s a ritual that occurs on the morning of the first Friday of every month. The current leader of the Republican party, House Speaker John Boehner, releases a public statement on the latest jobless report. For five straight months now, he’s had to say, in essence, we’re glad things are looking up but the situation is still dire. How long that message continues to resonate if the string of positive economic news continues, could well end up determining who gets to live in the White House for the next four years.