2/28 Happy Doomsday

Wars. Lockouts. James Harden on the Sixers. Failing markets. The return of heat today. There’s so much going on today as the month of February ends and March arrives- along with the Spring, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness, and God willing, baseball.

It was a fun weekend here. I spent Saturday night on Fremont Street, watching bands and sipping on a vodka/green apple slushy. I decided to finally go in a casino. The casino I picked ended up being the Golden Nugget- in honor of my dog, Nugget. I played $1 on a Penny slot machine and ended up with $.12. I’m not a gambler.

Presidents fighting Russians on the ground, crippling sanctions, nuclear threats- and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is only days old. Things have not gone according to Vladimir Putin’s plans. The Ukrainians have proven resourceful and willing to fight for their nation and future self determination. Superior weapons and conventional tactics haven’t made the difference for Russia because the Ukraine has had the will to do whatever it takes to win. Champion boxers have taken up arms to fight. A marine blew up a bridge with himself on it to stop their tanks. Miss Ukraine is armed and shooting. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Russia may still wear them down and eventually win, but the cost in blood will almost certainly not be worth it.

It won’t be in dollars either, and that should scare the shit out of you. President Biden and his allies have imposed sanctions on Russia that should inflict a depression the likes of which they haven’t seen. We’re talking real life conditions in Russia they haven’t seen since the Nazis invaded them. On Thursday and Friday the oligarchs were losing over a billion dollars an hour in their net values. That will get worse this week. They will pressure Putin to win or get out. That was the point of the sanctions. We have never seen Putin cornered like that. He’s already making noises about having his nukes ready. The next several days could be a very scary place, or even deadly.

Russia had no legitimate reason to attack Ukraine. They’re not the first country to start an unwarranted war, and probably not the last. Whether this was ultimately about “Historic Russia”/Neo-Soviet aspirations (it was) or NATO expansion (it mostly wasn’t), Putin needs to be taught a harsh lesson, or just flat out removed now. His nationalistic, “historic Russia” rambling speech could be seen as the opening salvo in a campaign that sees him trying to take countries in Central Asia, Finland, Poland, or even as far west as Slovakia. Estonia, Latvia, they’re basically gone if he has his way. It’s going to be a dangerous, ugly week. God willing, everyone survives it. That includes Russian citizens hoping for a better tomorrow. They didn’t pick this pathway.

Well, it’s finally here- MLB’s self-imposed “deadline day” to get a deal to end the lockout and start the season. Never mind that the owners locked the players out, refused to put forward a real offer for over 40 days, and now refuse to offer much of anything for the tens of millions they each want for expanded playoffs. At the heart of this is a broken economic system where every owner in the league makes $100 million (on the lowest end) between their local TV deal and the national TV deal, yet 12 teams didn’t even carry that in payroll. Remember, that was before they sold you a single $30 (upper deck) ticket, got your parking money, got your $13 for a beer, sold jerseys and hats, or got your parking money. That’s not taking into account the access to capitol owners have for owning these assets- even the small market Kansas City Royals sold for over a billion dollars just a few years ago. These guys have a license to print money. They won’t pay minor leaguers the minimum wage.

The owners should absolutely get their expanded playoffs, even though “traditionalists” like me hate it. They deserve to grow the game since they invested in it. In exchange they should set a salary floor, raise the luxury tax threshold, and pay minor leaguers better. They’re resisting doing that, even though they would still win on the deal. Instead they want to delegitimize the season. The NFL is a way more disgusting league to watch, but at least they don’t self-sabotage.

I’m not going to say beating the Timberwolves (playoff bound) and Knicks (dead enders) shows the Sixers to be more likely to win a title with James Harden in this season. I am going to say that Harden looks happier, healthier, and like his skills are still on point so far. He’s dropped a triple double, Embiid is still putting in 30+ a game, and Maxey looks like a budding star through two games together. Sure, they need to get Tobias involved more, and sure, they need to figure out the rotations. With that said, they have three guys playing at an All-Star level right now, and the best player in the league this year. That’s why I’m hopeful for a title.

Until tomorrow…

2/22

I hope everyone enjoyed the once in a lifetime “2/22/22” day. While I’m not typically into this sort of thing, it’s so rare that I actually screen shotted my phone at 2:22pm on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022. How couldn’t I?

At least I didn’t get married though. Tons of other people did. I’m staying near the county’s marriage license office, so a ton of wedding chapels are all around me. Yesterday, they were jammed. When I got a bottle of wine last night at Walgreen’s, they asked if I was going to a wedding. Fortunately, no. I definitely don’t need to get married.

This morning the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new Congressional map. On my initial read, it does the following:

  • PA-2, 3, 4, 5, and 12 become safe Democratic seats, even though PA-4 definitely goes a bit more red. PA-6 and PA-17 are Dem leaning, with 17 being in play this year because of the environment and being open. PA-7 and 8 slightly Democratic, but really just competitive. My sense is that Rep. Cartwright can hold PA-8 under this map. PA-7 is going to be super competitive.
  • PA-9, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 16 are safe Republican seats, though I’d keep a faint eye on 11 or 14 with the right candidate. PA-1 is a Democratic leaning seat, but Rep. Fitzpatrick has been winning in a very similar seat for years. PA-10 is really the only seat on the GOP side that is in play because of the map.
  • The addition of Carbon County to my home PA-7 is game changing. Obviously it pulls the district a bit right in general elections, but it also does so in primaries. This district is not cut for a far-left progressive to win at all. In fact, if one wins a primary, you can bet it’s a GOP year.

That’s my first read…

As the MLB lockout continues to drag on, too many pundits are doing lazy analysis- attendance and viewership are down, it must be the product. Yes, nobody hates the “spreadsheet warriors” running these front offices more than me, who have tried to convince baseball fans that there are only “three true outcomes,” and that up is in fact down now. With that said, the shit sandwich that is shifts, launch angle, and 8 relievers a game, while annoying, would not prohibit me watching baseball, or most people who spend a lot of their money on watching baseball. Everyone is missing that the core fans have already factored that into their decisions. Casual fans are not staying away over this either. They’re staying away because way too many teams stink.

If you’re a fan of Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Texas, Oakland, Arizona, Chicago (NL), Pittsburgh, and Washington I have bad news for you- this season is already over, and camp hasn’t even opened yet. That is nearly a third of the league. Of the other 21 teams, six haven’t seen the playoffs in over five years. That’s half the league where the fanbases are really skeptical that their organizations have any intention to contend this year, and I didn’t even count Minnesota, Colorado, or Miami in either of those counts, but they probably aren’t playoff teams. In other words, 60% of the league starts out with serious doubts that their teams are worth going to see, or watch on TV, before the first pitch is thrown. This is far more fundamental than whether you’re mad that teams aren’t bunting and stealing bases. If there’s no hope, what’s the point? This year’s Super Bowl featured a team that had the top pick two years ago in Cincinnati. Jacksonville is hot trash, but has last year’s number one pick and a Super Bowl winning coach now. The Eagles went from 4-11-1 to a 9-8 playoff team this past year. Unless you’re Detroit, you can start each offseason with some hope in the NFL (And I hope for them they can at least get to the Browns level soon and have some competitive seasons). Even in the NBA, garbage teams are fun as you hope to win the draft lottery and free up cap space for a superstar. In MLB? Having a top pick means “several years away,” and so many teams are now run by spreadsheet warriors that teams swing and miss on high picks. In short, it sucks to suck in baseball, and it’s kind of pointless to get excited for a large portion of the country.

The most important things for MLB to get done in this contract are:

  • A salary floor so that teams have to try and get some real players.
  • A draft lottery so teams aren’t assured of a reward for trying to lose.
  • An international draft that mirrors the current MLB draft rules.
  • Any other disincentives to losing.

If MLB doesn’t deal with these issues, I’m not sure any “pace of play” rule changes will do anything. Your core fans don’t care how long the game is, and your casual fans will come around if the team is winning, and therefore cool to watch.

Until tomorrow…

2/21 Happy Presidents Day

Well, that was a wild weekend. On Friday so much happened that I still can’t wrap my head around it. I took a ride to the California/Nevada border and crossed into California on the Mojave Freeway. I got off an exit, pulled over, and stepped foot into my 30th state, California, for the first time. Only 20 to go!

Friday night the craziness arrived. I took co-workers out to eat at Catch ARIA and it was outstanding. The drinks were strong and the food was great. The only thing I’d say is I’d like bigger portions, but I’d also like a pony. The food was so good I don’t even care. I had the crab tempura and some oysters. It was an A+. I was also amazed at the “hallway network” between the casinos. One could go out to eat at ARIA, play a hand or two at Bellagio, and go see a hockey game at T Mobile Arena without going outside.

As I said though, craziness. After getting back to the place, I went up to the wine deck for a night cap. When I walked back in after that, there was a naked woman, clearly a drug addict, putting rolls of toilet paper on the bathroom floor. After an insanely calm discussion I got security to come remove her. I suspect there was so much more terrible to this story, but frankly the whole thing was a shock in the moment. As I said, the craziness arrived.

Anyway…

Happy President’s Day, especially to our 46th and current President. In terms of Presidents in my lifetime, I’d roughly rank Joe Biden and George H.W. Bush in a tie for third, clearly ahead of George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump, in that order. I’d rank Bill Clinton as the best, and Barack Obama as the clear second best, ahead of everyone else. Biden, like Bush the father, is suffering through a lot of inherited messes from an incompetent predecessor that is pulling down his approval ratings. Also like Bush 41 though, Biden is inheriting historic opportunities to change the world at the same time. Ultimately, his Presidency will be better than Bush 41’s because he is taking the opportunity to improve the lives of the people through historic investments. Once the infrastructure projects get rolling, some scaled down version of Build Back Better gets rolling, and he seats a historic Supreme Court justice, we will get a more full view of a President who inherited a complete and total mess from his predecessor, and did wonders with the rubble.

The elephant in the room right now is the potential for a Russia-Ukraine full scale war, that could come imminently. It’s important to understand this in a historical context- Russia has been trying to dominate the Ukraine for hundreds of years, mostly successfully. This is less about Putin’s personal ideology and more just Russian worldview. Russian Czars ruled the Ukrainian people for hundreds of years. Soviet Moscow absorbed the Ukrainians into the Soviet Union. Over the last 30 or so years Ukraine has been independent, but it has struggled at times economically and with maintaining serious democratic institutions. The Ukraine is an older society, distinct with its own institutions, culture, and religious practices, but Russia views it largely as their’s, and they have occupied parts for the last eight years now. The western powers have wanted to stand up these former Soviet Republics as independent nations for the past 30 years. For the past two decades, Putin has been pushing back. Western leaders may very well have days or hours to decide what this is worth to them, because I think we know what it’s worth to Putin.

There’s really not much to discuss in sports, other than how awesome this picture is. This Friday, James Harden is going to play for the 76’ers. This weekend though, they clearly welcomed him to the family. You can’t get more Philly than a picture with Allen Iverson.

Until tomorrow…

2/17 Functional

Yesterday was the least exciting day I’ve had out west. I slept a lot. I got a haircut. I got my gym membership straightened out. I did some work. There really wasn’t much to it. So I won’t write too much about yesterday. It was pleasant.

Today, New Jersey will approve their state legislative maps. You can read about it here. The cliff notes version- they were willing to put some veteran legislators against each other, and give the new assembly and senate Republicans marginally better seats. What this means is a few seats will open up in 2023 primaries, particularly on the senate side, but Democrats simply played to sure up their margins in the seats they need to continue holding a comfortable majority. No big news here.

Sunday is the NBA All-Star Game and the Daytona 500. I’m a bigger basketball fan, but Daytona is what I’ll watch.

The MLBPA and baseball’s owners met for a whole 20 minutes yesterday. MLB’s owners need to cave. They screwed the players last deal and then locked them out. Baseball has been making record breaking profits, other than 2020, and the players share has actually been in decline because of carve outs for the owners. Give the owners their expanded playoffs, give the players a better cut than they have, get back to playing. Baseball will be gravely harmed if games are missed for a second time in three years.

Until tomorrow…

2/16/22 Experiences

It took until day three, but I finally got to some “tourist traps,” and stepped foot in a new state. I was hesitant the first two days to go anywhere, at first because I was tired, then because there were lots of things I needed to get done to functionally live. On Wednesday, I finally got over that.

So I took a ride to Hoover Dam, and let me tell you about the rides there and back first. The desert is pretty amazing. Obviously, there are big mountains all around, and you’re ascending out of the valley. The area looks and feel isolated and desolated. This is really what most of the west is like, not Vegas, and it is pretty breathtaking. There is definitely life out there though, as was evidenced by the “ram crossing” signs I saw at a couple spots. You can also tell people are out there, by the backpacks and other human objects you see. I actually did see a young looking woman walking out in the desert at one point on the way back, which was sort of alarming to me. The whole ride experience was definitely something for someone from out East like me.

Of course there is the Hoover Dam itself, which I will share more pictures of in the coming days. It is a modern marvel. The United States, a global superpower as we are, once built massive public works projects like this, regularly. The dam itself is absolutely massive, and Lake Mead and the Colorado River almost seem small next to it. While heights aren’t typically my thing, I did walk across the bridge and enjoyed messing with my phone on the time change. In doing so, I stepped foot in Arizona and Mountain Time for the first time, crossing off another state from my list. I’ve now been to 29 states. It definitely was a cool experience to go see.

Last night I had my first four block walk up to “The Fremont Street Experience.” Wow! I’d best describe it as sensory overload, or as some would put it, “a huge acid trip.” Over top of you is a roof that is constantly showing you very colorful images of life. Last night there were bands like every block, so you had live music, and during their breaks there was loud music booming through. There were casino lights everywhere. There were bars, everywhere. There were mostly naked women (what they did wear was themed for their block) everywhere. It was crazy. I definitely can’t say there’s much like it at home.

So in sports news, the U.S. Men’s Hockey team lost a heartbreaker to Slovakia and aren’t going to win. If you care about the Olympics at all though, you’re probably talking about the 15 year old Russian figure skater that failed a drug test and was still allowed to skate. She’s just further discrediting the farce that is the IOC. As I recall, a black American female sprinter who would have contended at last Summer’s games was held out of the games for… marijuana. Not a performance enhancer, but marijuana. The double standard is ghastly. Either enforce the rules or don’t, but don’t give us this garbage. Russian athletes are literally competing under the label “ROC” because the IOC wants to acknowledge that they cheat so much, but not actually ban them from the games. Thankfully the girl crashed and burned in the finals and failed to medal, so we won’t have to hear about this nonsense for weeks on end, but how about the IOC be consistent? And don’t be too righteous, American sports press, on the subject of doping in sports- our baseball writers just elected David Ortiz, who failed a drug test, to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, while keeping out other dopers they didn’t like as much (I’d have voted for them all). We are fine with double standards too. Consistency would be nice.

I get to see a good bit of polling in politics, which can really inform your perspective on the world if you understand what you’re reading and don’t just see a bunch of numbers on a page. I saw a lot last year, and am starting to see a bit this year. There are some clear themes out there that seem to inform at least my view of how Americans feel about things, and how they plan to vote in 2022:

  • Joe Biden’s numbers kind of suck, and he would probably lose a rematch of the 2020 election right now, which would be bad if we were having it. Bill Clinton would have lost though in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010, so don’t over analyze that. If the White House and Congressional Democrats did something to bring down inflation and get the country truly back open from Covid, Biden and the party would recover quite a bit. As is, if we’re debating inflation and Covid the bloodbath this Fall is far less painful than if…
  • … we’re debating culture wars. Democrats could suffer a historic beating in November if the election is a debate about defunding the police, the border, lockdowns, critical race theory, parental control, and crime. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong, factually on these topics. It’s a matter that their very debate, the framing they set, and who actually listens and cares about them are *all* bad for Democrats. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a chance Republicans wildly overreach at the Supreme Court on hot button issues like Roe v. Wade and affirmative action, and actually help us this summer. That’s a chance though, and one they probably understand. The point is we *are* losing on these cultural fights, and we need to get off of them. This could be the difference between a mild to normal midterm and historical realignment beating that changes everything.

Alright, talk more tomorrow…

2/15/22 Welcome to the Wild, Wild West

Well, I survived day two in Vegas. It was a highly productive day, as we got a bunch done for work, and got the living situation all sorted out. None of that was the highlight though. The highlight of the day was a close battle between my first In N’ Out Burger experience and getting up to my building’s “Vino Deck” at 9pm and looking out at the strip with a bottle of Chardonnay. Both were heavenly in their own ways.

First, I have to give a big shoutout to my buddy Nick and the lady who wrote this blog post about In N’ Out for teaching me what “animal style” is. I got a #1 “animal style” and it was delicious. Unlike most fast food places, the burger wasn’t over cooked, and it tasted fresh, which isn’t always a given. The fries probably wouldn’t have been special if I hadn’t asked for “animal style,” but they were awesome with the added toppings. I could have been full all day from that one meal.

Then there’s the vino deck. Sure, it was “only” like 60 out there, and very windy, but who cares? The view is amazing. In a very weird way, Vegas reminds me of Chicago, in that from above it looks like it goes on forever. As you look out in any direction across the valley, you just see lights forever. Yes, way off in the distance you see mountains, more so in the daytime, but that too is amazing. I sat up there last night and just listened to music, had some wine, and enjoyed. It was amazing.

Ok, so the rest of the world… where to begin… how about the Harden-Simmons trade? Yesterday both did their introductory press conferences in their new cities, and neither said much that was surprising. The national press (basically, ESPN) took their gratuitous shots at Philly fans by insinuating they caused Ben Simmons mental health issues, which was predictable from the press corps that spent his whole career picking at Simmons game. Some analysts have taken turns at critiquing the trade and trying to find the winner. It’s been fun reading for me, and I’m almost sad I’m not in Philly for the fun. But here comes my take.

  • The Sixers won the trade. This is a simple fact. They had very low odds of winning the Eastern Conference, let alone the NBA Championship before they got James Harden. They have much better odds now. Brooklyn probably made the best trade they possibly could under the circumstances, but they are not better after. Their big three with Harden was simply much better than with the offensively inferior Simmons. Yes, Curry and Drummond are really good playoff rotational players, which is why Brooklyn is still a contender this season, but they are still role players. Given that neither draft choice moving is going to be super high, and that the Sixers got a rotational piece back for their playoffs in Millsap, it’s clear to me that whatever advantage Brooklyn got back in the rest of the trade is not equal to the gap between Harden and Simmons in a star driven league.
  • We will never know if Ben Simmons has mental health issues. Sure, the first we heard of it was when he started getting fined for not showing up to camp, and sure he refused to share any details with his team or meet with the team doctor, and sure he miraculously got back to basketball after being traded. You’ll still never know, so there’s no point calling him a liar. I do know this though- whether he had them or not, his decision to essentially only bring it up when facing fines, which mental health issues can negate under the CBA, was weaponization of a deadly serious issue. If he has these issues, I hope he gets help and sees improvement in his life. The reality of Ben Simmons the player though is that he is always going to leave you unsatisfied. He’s an elite defensive player, sure. He’s a good distributor, though not nearly as good as Harden (the difference between Harden this year and the last Ben we saw play is around two assists a game). The reality though is that his refusal to develop literally any kind of shot at all, or even to just become a good foul shooter, leaves your team playing 4 on 5 ball in the half court, which is where the playoffs are played. You can’t win four NBA playoff series that way. The Sixers never did with him, rather predictably. Perhaps as a third option in Brooklyn his flaws can be covered. Let’s be honest though, if you were Kevin Durant, how excited would you be about having to worry about Ben’s offense and Kyrie Irving just deciding he doesn’t feel like playing?
  • Philadelphia fans did nothing but cheer Ben on for years. No one turned on him until he literally blew a playoff series last year, AND demanded a trade. ESPN has hosts insinuating the fans had a part in this, when they ran skits mocking the guy on their shows and even in their awards show. Just stop. James Harden called Philly fans “ride or die” in his press conference. It’s too early to know, but he seems to “get” us, much like a Brian Dawkins or Bryce Harper do. I’m really excited to see how he does here.

I don’t have much political news for you today, from anywhere. Out here the hot races appear to be North Las Vegas Mayor and Sheriff, but I know nothing about either yet, I just saw big signs for those. I have learned that Nevada has super strict campaign finance laws limiting the “hard side” (candidates) and not the “soft side” (outside money), so not as much gets spent on local races here. That empowers power brokers, like the local party. Of course, Nevada does have major races for U.S. Senator, Governor, Congress, and the state legislature, so money will get spent here. I guess I’ll write more when I learn more.

More tomorrow…

2/14/2022 Travel Across America

Yesterday I took the longest flight of my life- 5 hours from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. This is my first time in the west, and the flight mostly didn’t disappoint. It marked the furthest point west I’ve ever reached, and I saw a lot of things for the first time. no matter how many times I fly over the Midwest, it’ll still be cool to me to look over the farms for as far as the eye can see. Then we finally hit Colorado, and I was legitimately disappointed- until we actually hit the Rockies. Looking down at those mountains was officially one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen in my life. Utah and Nevada’s mix of desert and mountains were pretty breathtaking too. The only real mistake I made was doing leg day at the gym the day before a long flight. 6’1” people don’t have legs made to be crunched in like that.

So then there’s Vegas itself, which is definitely the most unique place I’ve been to. Basically when you fly in, you’re in the desert, then you see a little water, then a couple minutes later you leave the desert and are immediately landing in a city. It’s not like Chicago or Philadelphia, where you start seeing suburbs below you, then a city in the distance, then you are there. This was just middle-of-nowhere nothing to city, no in-between. That’s only the beginning of the uniqueness though. As I left the car rental place, the first thing I saw was an anti-circumcision billboard. I got to my place, in a neighborhood packed with bailbonds and marriage chapel places (I’m near the courthouse)- and of course it’s Valentine’s Day, so you can imagine how that was. Finally I took a walk and found a restaurant, Dona Maria Tamales. I had the carnitas taco, a crab enchilada, a seafood enchilada, two Modelo’s, and the whole chips and salsa. It’s a 10/10, I highly recommend it. I was asleep by 8:30 pm local time, after an 18.5 hour day. It was good because I was up early this morning.

My initial thoughts on the Super Bowl? Halftime show great, game weak. Having Dr. Dre and his stable of rap legends play the Super Bowl was the equivalent for hip hop of when Paul McCartney or the Stones played. The show was great, Snoop Dogg is the coolest man in America, and I thought everyone was good. As for the game, of course the refs threw two weak flags at the end that helped LA. Sean McVey has been pushed on us as a genius since he was hired, he needed a win to legitimize that. The game was in LA, the halftime show was a tribute to LA, and the game had to go to LA. Was it rigged? No, if Cincy had killed them, the refs wouldn’t have done anything about it. It was close though, and it went how the NFL wanted it to go. Maybe the fans will sit through the banner ceremony? Doubt it.

Political news? There’s not a whole lot. Back home in Pennsylvania, the redistricting maps all seem bound for court, with the Congressional maps already in front of the PA Supreme Court. This isn’t stopping candidates locally from entering state legislative contests. There appears to be a State Senate primary brewing over in the Allentown-based Senate District 14 for the Democrats. Some party leaders seem to want one in the 137th House District as well, but so far there’s only one candidate. Also keep an eye on House District 22 for a Democratic Primary as well. But for the moment, things are quiet (mostly), because the process is not done.

That’s all for now. It’s a breezy 61 in Las Vegas this morning. Time to get some stuff done.