Friday, August 29, 2008

Larry Elder: "Stalwart" Sage or "Staunch" Whiner?

Larry Elder is one of Los Angeles's most stalwart conservative radio talk show hosts. You'd think such a clear and laudatory label would please the man. After all, he's not one to back away from his core conservative values and principles when engaging in an argument with a liberal who disagrees with him. As such, the terms stalwart and staunch -by their very definitions- are fitting tributes to his steadfast and principled stance on conservative issues. However, on his program this evening, Larry decided that the mainstream media (liberally biased beyond the pale in his estimation) was using these very same terms to discredit the announced Republican VP nominee, Sarah Palin. He argued vehemently that these media outlets described her as a "stalwart conservative" as a means to discredit her.

Mr. Elder went on to lambast the NY Times and LA Times in a broader way for their use of these two words when speaking of conservatives only. He said that the incidences of Democrats being referred to with these two "negative" adjectives (which I and the American Heritage Dictionary agree are not negative terms) were effectively non-existent. "You never hear them use that term to define a liberal," he remarked. Hmmmm, I didn't buy this at all.

So, when I got home I actually typed into the NY Times search engine these words: stalwart liberal. If the "sage" was indeed correct then my results should have been nil. The sage was...

... not right. There were over two pages worth of article results (all from the last 5 to 10 years) showing example after example of NY Times reporters' calling Democratic politicians "stalwart liberals" or vise-versa. In fact, no less than Joe Biden, the VP candidate himself, was referred to in an article on 8/23/08 in the NY Times as a "stalwart" of the senate. What a putdown, eh? Hardly. Staunch was no different. In fact, the term "staunch liberal" had an even deeper set of results, well over five pages and still going when I stopped counting. But all this doesn't even matter because the words are not derogatory by their very definition. And that's the point beyond all points here: The terms staunch and stalwart are not insults. Far from it.

The American Heritage dictionary defines stalwart like this: ADJECTIVE: 1. Having or marked by imposing physical strength. 2. Firm and resolute; stout.
NOUN: 1. One who is physically and morally strong. 2. One who steadfastly supports an organization or cause: party stalwarts.

Staunch is defined like this: ADJECTIVE: 1. Firm and steadfast; true. See synonyms at faithful. 2. Having a strong or substantial construction or constitution.

Larry, my friend, if these are descriptives you'd prefer not to go by, let me tell you that I know many a proud Democrat who'd gladly accept them, including me. Because I am staunch defender of liberal views, and a stalwart member of the Democratic Party. You can always start referring to yourself by the antonym, I suppose... the frail conservative.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Sports Fan's Tale

What is it about a stupid sports game that can reduce me to my 10 year old self in no time flat? It's such a ridiculous thing to invest the full spectrum emotions in a game, but I do it every time. Such was the case yesterday when my Dallas Cowboys came up short against the New York Giants. It wasn't supposed to happen. All four Fox NFL Sunday hosts predicted it wouldn't. Yet, when Tony Romo threw that last desperate pass into the end zone and had it intercepted... it did. And with that interception an entire season predicated on redemption (Romo's fumbled field goal snap cost the team a playoff game last year) was over. Just like that. Gone. The 13 wins versus only 3 losses were rendered meaningless. I was rendered joyless. And for the next hour or so the "sigh" became my only outlet.

Yes, it's monumentally cliche to draw broad and simplistic comparisons to life here, and I'm certainly no Frank DeFord, but that won't stop me from trying.

Investing in a pro sports team's season is replete with all the ups and downs of life itself. You see the possibilities, the hope, the promise of something big, and you get wrapped up in it. Each game is a new and exciting chapter as the season builds and transforms from a few initial contests into a fully formed narrative with individual stories that combine to form a more compelling group story. Teams take on personalities via these building narratives, and you in turn get drawn into the tale, placing your hopes and fears in their capable hands.

This year, for the Cowboys, the tale was all about a young savior named Tony Romo who bounced back from last year's devastating finale to resurrect America's Team. He was canonized as the second coming of Brett Favre by many, and he seemed to be living up to the hype. Each week he stepped on the field and dazzled fans and commentators alike with his high energy play and laser guided throws. He was the perfect son, and the city of Dallas embraced him as such. He could do no wrong! Then came the obligatory plot twist, this time in the form of a blonde bombshell pop singer. Her name was Jessica Simpson. Her father, a sort of modern day Colonel Tom Parker, having conscripted both his comely (but woefully inept) daughters into ill fated pop singing careers, now had his sights on another scheme: engineer a union of his rapidly fading starlet daughter with the rapidly rising star quarterback of the hometown team to stem the impending tide of finality that was encroaching upon said daughter's time in Hollywood. It would be the perfect vehicle to keep her bimbonic self in the limelight and to at least delay the inevitable descent into the permanent "where are they now?" file. She soon became Kim Bassinger in The Natural tempting Roy Hobbs with her feminine wiles and distracting him from the game. It was a necessary detour. After all, every good story needs "complications" in order to -as they say in Hollywood- "raise the stakes." And at least temporarily, it served to do just that. Suddenly the plot thickened, and the movie got more interesting as our heros were in jeopardy of losing everything over a girl. Helen of Troy she was, or at least Jessica of Tony, donning her pink number 9 jersey from high above the modern day Coliseum, pretending to be a wallflower as TV cameras zoomed in from all angles. But she was no wallflower. She was poison! Arsenic! Black death to all who would dare to spend a weekend in Mexico with her! Whatever she was, the media grabbed onto the delectable morsel of boy meets girl, girl hexes boy, boy blows season and savoured every salacious bite. Alas, however, as with all good stories this was a red herring.

The real achilles heel was the team itself. They were the sole architects of their own demise. Mental errors. Missed opportunities. The onset of lethargy. All of these were the true culprits in the unraveling of a tale woven with hope, possibility, and the promise of something big. But it was not meant to be.

And so, disappointment takes the place of expectancy. Grief supplants exultation. Fiction crumbles into heartbreaking reality. Yes, the pain fades. Slowly. But it never vanishes. It merely slogs off into its appropriate corner of the mind's file folder where it will be accessed on occasion for the next year until it all begins anew. The hope. The possibility. The promise of a story that even the best in Hollywood couldn't possibly script.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mike Dunleavy: You're Done, So Leave... y

I just returned from a Los Angeles Clippers game this afternoon, and I have one thought: Mike Dunleavy should be shown the exit door. It's a feeling I've had for a while, but this afternoon the writing was on the wall, the court, the scoreboard and just about every fan's face in the arena by the end of the game. The Clippers had played themselves into a 15 point deficit in the first half against the unimpressive Indiana Pacers, but at the end of the second quarter they charged back to tie it up. Good enough. What happened after that was the problem.

The second half began right where the first had ended with the Clippers taking it strong to the hole and showing the kind of hustle and determination that made them a 4-0 team at the beginning of the season. But as the fourth quarter drew to a close the energy shifted. It was a palpable change, and the crowd seemed to sense it. It was around the three minute mark when things were tied up at 90-90 that Mr. Dunleavy had his opportunity to step in and really coach the team to a victory. The players wanted the guiadance. You could see it. They wanted the leadership. As usual, however, Mike Dunleavy sank into the shadows. Each successive trip down the court the team became more and more disheveled until, finally, Dunleavy called a timeout with just under two minutes to go and the Clippers trailing by six points. Six points is by no means an insurmountable lead with two minutes to play, especially in the NBA. I remember once listening to a Dallas Mavericks game back in the mid 80's where the team was trailing Golden State by seven points with about eleven seconds left to play when Mark Aguirre hit a three point shot. Seconds later, he stole the inbounds pass and made another three pointer while being fouled in the process. He made the free throw and sent the game into overtime. Seven points in about ten seconds. So the Clippers had an eternity by comparison. If only Mike Dunleavy knew how to manage that eternity.

The Clippers came out of the timeout and ran nothing that resembled a play. It was just random chaos. Corey Maggette missed a layup or two, and Tim Thomas followed suit as the team showed no tangible signs of a strategy. The term offensive flow is oxymoronic under Dunleavy's stewardship. There is no offense it seems, and if there is such a thing as "anti-flow" they've mastered it. The spacing on the floor is in a constant state of imbalance, thus rendering impossible the kind of crisp around the horn passing that gets teams like the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs so many open looks. And in terms of pick and rolls, well, let's just say Dickau and Kaman are no Stockton and Malone. But then again, they don't NEED to be. They would be just fine if they could achieve even a third of the Stockton/Malone pick and roll output. No such luck.

More troubling than his lack of discernible play calling, however, is Dunleavy's overall lack of enthusiasm and motivational skills. I don't see him inspiring these guys down the stretch to "win one for the Dunster!" It's true that some great coaches, most notably Gregg Popovich, don't have to exude enthusiasm and energy on the bench to be successful. But guys like Popovich are such commanding forces that enthusiasm and excitement aren't necessary for them. Popovich is a serious student of the game and rides all his players equally when they screw up that his guys respect the hell out of him. And that translates to victories in the crunch. They know what to do, and Pops reminds them when with a swift kick in the ass when they forget. It's a healthy fear/respect dynamic that's led to multiple championships. Take Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli and throw them on the Clippers, and I think you'd have a different result. Dunleavy simply doesn't inspire that kind of performance from his players. How can you get inspired and hungry when the guy who's running the show doesn't seem inspired or hungry?

The Clippers are shorthanded right now to be sure. With Elton Brand, Shaun Livingston, Sam Cassell, and Quentin Ross all out with injuries of varying severity, the team is not going to be much better than a .500 ball club. But great coaches can get their teams to overachieve and ride out the storm until the stars return. Mike Dunleavy is no such coach. Never was that more apparent than by looking at the fans' stunned faces as they exited the arena today in an eerily quiet procession. I have a feeling it's a scene that will play out many times this season.

*I'm not the only one who thinks Dunleavy should go... ESPN LINK