Monday, September 20, 2010

Random Ranting

Hello Rant Fans,

I haven't had a ton of time lately and it's killing me to be away from you for so long.  This PhD thing is an ass kicker and I haven't had time to devote to coming up with the kind of thoughtful analysis of the day's important issues that we all expect from Sir Rantalot.  Then I realized my original idea of ranting without any supporting evidence or citations (or grammar, or spell checking) and I felt liberated.  So, here's a few things I've been wanting to say.

-Remember this post about Mike Vick coming back to the NFL?  If not you can read it now.  The point is I had this to say to the guy who was all mad that Vick was suspended coming off his incarceration while Ben Roethlisberger wasn't suspended after his first rape allegation.  Here's what SR had to say to that:

"Vick has shown a pattern and Ben has not. If Ben gets in trouble again they will look back to his current situation and say "There's a pattern." Ben had better watch his step in the future."

Hey look!  Sir Rantalot was right again.  Ben has shown a pattern and a six game suspension (recently reduced to four games) despite there being no conviction. He was punished for being a jackass. Race has nothing to do with it, commissioner Goodell does not play.

-Speaking of Mike Vick, can we get off the QB controversy in Philly?  In the last two years both Vick and Kevin Kolb have each had two good games.  Is that enough to toss Kolb aside and anoint Vick?  Does anyone remember that Vick has only once had a passer rating over 80?  He's exciting, but is he a good QB over the long haul?  Still, as I said last year, I'd love to see him in SF.

-People were all on the Jets' offense after their week one loss to Baltimore.  Didn't anyone notice how terrible the Jets defense was in that game?  They kept coming with the all out blitz and getting burned deep.  Don't blame Sanchez, blame Rex Ryan.  His D was terrible.

-Dear misogynists, stop dwelling on what Inez Sainz was wearing.  But really, enough of whether female reporter should be in the locker room or not.  Does anyone need to be in the locker room?  Why not let these guys shower and get dressed and then come out and be interviewed?  And no it's not a double standard that male reporters aren't allowed into female sports locker rooms.  If you need an explanation as to why then you're not paying attention to American society.

-Wow, Darrelle Revis is injured and Brett Favre says he needs "time to gel" with his teammates.  I guess maybe going to training camp IS important.  After all, isn't that when you're supposed to "gel" with your teammates and "get in shape so you don't pull a hammy?"  Maybe the long holdout/retirement waffle isn't in anyone's best interest.

-With that said, who wants to trade for Vincent Jackson?  Anyone?  Bueller?

-I hate Derek Jeter but his "Ouch I got hit with the ball" performance was hilarious.  If you ain't Jeteing you ain't trying.

That's all for today kids.  Dunno what I'm talking about? GGI.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Regarding Marty

I was on the sideline that day at the Bingham Cup in June 2006.  In fact I had just returned to the sidelines after having been removed by a teammate a few minutes earlier for getting a little too chippy with the opposition players and supporters.  The game had been back and forth with each team holding slim leads for short intervals.  My boys were losing by two in the final minutes to a team we had beaten handily just a few months before.  As the game went into stoppage time my club put on a furious attack, one that gained a few meters at a time but which constantly threatened to be stopped by a penalty, or a lost ruck, or any other number of things.  There was desperation in the air on both sides as the next whistle would certainly be the end of the game.

What happened next is far and away the greatest moment I’ve ever been a part of as an athlete.  With our attack stalled just shy of the half way line our scrum half Marty stood back from the ruck and called for another player, any other player to throw him the ball.  Somehow one of our flankers was able to toss the ball out Marty who stood approximately fifty-five meters out from the posts.  In one fluid motion Marty caught the pass and drop kicked the ball, it seemed, directly into the sun. 

Marty Dublin

Two years later I was on the sideline again.  I had missed most of the tournament due to my brother’s high school graduation, a ceremony I wasn’t going to miss as it was a bit of a miracle itself.  Still, I had managed to play in parts of two games that day.  Our boys had lost to our rivals from New York in the quarterfinals.  It was a bitter defeat.  As we watched the final Marty, our little Irish fireplug who’d be showing us around Dublin later that night, remarked, “Y’know Berto, I don't know if I can keep doin' this.  Every year we get close, but we never get over the hump like. I’m tired of just showin' up and playin' well.  I want to win the damn thing and I just don't know if we can do it.”

Marty Banner

Another two years go by, it's 2010 and I’m no longer a player.  Instead I’m back at Bingham as a referee.  It’s different, but I’m thrilled to be involved.  The top four teams roll through pool play leaving no doubt who the class of the tournament are.  The quarterfinals are also unsurprising as all four of the top seeds advance.  Then, in the semis, Marty and the boys are set to face their old rivals from New York.  Again, even though our boys had beaten them easily earlier in the year, New York, as they do every two years, is putting up a tremendous fight.  Some time in the last five minutes Marty gets his bell rung and is forced to come off the field to have bleeding controlled.  At this point his team, our team, is down by seven.  Again they mount a furious charge and with no time left they punch one across dead center between the posts. 

As I come back to the referee’s tent after my match another ref, also a former teammate tells me, “The Renegades are about to go to overtime against Gotham.”  The implication is that the conversion is a given.  It’s directly in front of the posts and Marty is coming back on to take the kick.  It’s a done deal.  Marty is one of the most accurate and strong legged kickers I’ve ever seen on a pitch at any level.  Hell, his nick-name is “Miracle Marty,” so named for how many games he’s won the club with his boot.  I figure I have plenty of time to report my score then go over and quietly, perhaps from a distance, watch the end of the match.

I remember Scott Norwood.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell he’s the kicker for the Buffalo Bills who missed a game winning field goal in the Super Bowl.  The Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s, an NFL record, and didn’t win any of them. The closest they came was a forty-seven yard field goal attempt with eight seconds left that went wide right.  The kicker, Scott Norwood is usually associated with only that one kick.  It was part of the plots of the films “Ace Ventura” and “Buffalo 66.”  People blame Scott Norwood.  I feel for him.  I’ve done some kicking in my career.  I would describe my kicking ability as serviceable, sometimes even useful, but I was never great.  I was never Marty, or Scott Norwood.  At the time Norwood lined up for his kick against the Giants in January of 1991 he was the Buffalo Bills all time leading scorer, the next year he would kick the winning field goal in the AFC title game to send Buffalo back to the Super Bowl, but most people don’t remember that.  Most people remember “wide right.”  It’s not fair.  As a kicker I know what it’s like to line up a ball, set your self, approach and strike.  A lot of the time you know as you hit it if it has a chance.  As a kicker I have a particular empathy for the job and the people who do it.  Often disregarded as not being real players, kickers are thought to be nearly interchangeable, until you really need one.  One problem with kicking is that until you miss an important one people don’t really notice you. And because they don’t notice they don’t understand what goes into it, how any one of million different things can go wrong.  A slightly misplaced plant foot, a small difference in your strike point, a sudden gust of wind, tall grass that tilts the tee, ground that’s softer than it seems, any of a million things that can go wrong.  Certainly getting hit in the head and leaving the field for blood can have an effect on a kicker.

I didn’t see Marty’s kick.  I didn’t think I had to.  I was going to report my scores and then go quietly, and perhaps from a distance, watch the rest of the match.  When I got near the fields I heard what had happened.  Marty had missed.  The boys had lost to their rivals 15-13, just two points from a tie.  Not just a tie, but a tie with momentum!  A tie where they had just shown that they could win!  But it wasn’t a tie.  They couldn’t win.  Marty’s kick had sailed wide.  By the time I found him the game had only been over for a few minutes. His eyes were red and swollen.  I embraced him and held him for a good long time.  “Berto,” he said to me, “I fucked it up man.  I really fucked it up.  I cost us the chance and it was an easy one man.  How many times have you seen me make that kick Berto?  How many times?”  A million times.  I’ve seen him make that kick in just about every game I’ve seen him play.  I tried to remind him that even making that kick didn’t promise anything but another few minutes, that the other team could have taken the next kickoff back for a score, that ultimately it didn’t matter.  I knew it rang hollow.  What can you say to ease the pain of player who’s just missed the biggest kick of his life?  What did they say to Scott Norwood?  “You see Berto man, Becky and I are gonna be wantin' to start a family now. Y’see, I know this is my last Bingham Cup.  I wanted to win it.  I wanted my chance and I had it, and I fucked it up.”  All I could think to say was, "I love you Marty, don’t dwell on it, this doesn’t define you," and then go out and make sure we drank safely that night.

Marty kick

Back in 2006 the fields on Randall’s Island in New York are more dirt and needles than grass.  Throughout the three days of the tournament the British and European teams were incredulous about the condition of the fields they were being forced to play on.  The field for this game was especially sparse on vegetation and the dust clouds lingered in the air as strong men fell violently to the ground.  It was though this haze, staring into the setting sun that we watched Marty’s kick sail through air.  It too seemed to hang forever as if gravity was aware of the moment and wanted us to savor it.  I remember following the path of the ball, losing sight of it in the glare and haze, then finding it again just as it descended over the crossbar.  For a moment everything was still.  When the referee’s whistle split the air between what was inevitable and what was possible I remember thinking “Please let it be over.  Please don’t let there be another kickoff.”  The first whistle meant the kick was good, the second meant the game was over.  We had won.  The New York fans ignorant and arrogant began to cheer and rush the field clanging they’re infernal cow bells.  One of them ran up to me and screamed “Yeah! Yeah! How do you like that?”  “I like it just fine.” I replied, “We just won.”  As our sideline rushed out to pay tribute to the fifteen lads on the field the reality set in for the home side supporters.  They had just been beaten by a fantastic play, a 55 meter drop goal with no time left.  We ended up third out of twenty-nine teams.  It was the club’s highest finish in three appearances in the Bingham Cup.  The legend of “Miracle Marty” was now firmly established, and nothing could ever take it away.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Don't Phase Me Bro

 I think my views on use of force by law enforcement would surprise a lot of people.  Contrary to what some people may assume I’m pretty supportive of it in many situations.  My basic view is this, if you don’t want get tased, beat up, or killed just do whatever the cops tell you to do.  Even better, don’t get in a position where the cops are telling you to do something.  I say this as someone who’s had run ins with law enforcement.  I’ve had guns drawn on me, been in lock up, hidden from the police, been beat up by cops over a misunderstanding, been stopped for “fitting a description,” etc.  My experiences, cases that have come to my attention, and conversations and training with law enforcement have shaped my view on use of force.  It seems like the person getting hammered on is almost always in a position to avoid it if they could just keep their heads.  Also, public perception is skewed way out of line (often from watching too much fiction) from what I understand to be police training.  I bring this up now because this idiot who ran on the field at a baseball game and got tased provided a nice counter point to this guy who got tased when just about anything else could have worked instead.

First let me briefly relay my own experiences with law enforcement: 

When I was thirteen some friends and I were playing hide-and-seek (manhunt) in a neighborhood at night.  Naturally someone thought we were burglars and called the cops.  The cops showed up with guns drawn.  We avoided being killed by complying with their directions and everything got sorted out.  I was scary but OK.

When I was sixteen I was walking down the street one evening when two squad cars drove the wrong way down a one way street because I looked “just like someone who escaped from prison a few hours” before.  I sat on the curb for a while, they cleared it up, and I was on my way.

When I was seventeen I was stopped for skateboarding on UC Berkeley property.  The “cop” asked us about some graffiti nearby but couldn’t pin it on us.  He then asked for ID.  When I turned around to go to my backpack where my ID was he assumed I was running and proceeded to call four other guys to come help beat the crap out of me since with him being 6’2” and all muscled he clearly couldn’t handle my 5’10 120lb frame all by himself.  I’m still pissed about it but time and maturity have taught me that if I’d said, “Sure officer, it’s in my bag right over there. Can I go get it?” then none of that would probably have happened.  But I was young and trying to do what I was told, I just didn’t understand what it is that cops look for and more importantly, what they fear.

Cops are often constantly on high alert.  How many times does a routine traffic stop turn into a shoot out?  OK well, not very often but often enough that it has to be in the back of your mind every time you pull someone over.  How often do people run from the police?  Pretty often.  Certainly enough that it’s probably annoying and you feel like beating someone up over it.  The point is, understanding what cops are thinking and what they go through and what they’re looking for can help you avoid getting beat up. 

But where do you start?  It’s pretty simple.  The first thing to remember is it doesn’t matter if you’re “right.”  If you are right you will likely be vindicated in the end.  However, you are not going to get a chance to show that you’re right unless you first do whatever the cop is telling you to do.  Once the officer sees that you are compliant and not a threat they are less likely to beat the crap out of you and more likely to listen.  People more worried about being right than not getting tased have gotten themselves in more trouble than we can ever know.  In my experience if you get through the first few minutes of doing what the cop says and being respectful they can actually be pretty reasonable.  If you start off with how you know your rights and you didn’t do anything and fuck them then you’re probably going to jail or getting smacked around whether or not you actually deserve it.

This is not to say that cops don’t need to dial it down and learn to better assess a situation.  Clearly some cops are out of control and out to do harm for whatever fucked up reason.  The guy who shot a defenseless young man on a BART platform is an example of cops who go too far with little provocation.  A few years ago there was a case where the police, responding to a domestic disturbance, killed a deaf man in his own driveway because he was holding a rake and he did not understand their command to lay it down.  Soon after another deaf man was severely beaten by police in a parking garage because police attributed his “aggressive” gesturing and “babbling” to being on drugs.  Police officers need to be accountable for being able to read and react appropriately to different situations.  We can help them.  If we can stay calm and show that we’re not a threat it allows the officer time to assess without pressure.

Of course not everyone has the chances I’ve had to go to their trainings and discuss these things with law enforcement.  I do think a little common sense and empathy can help.  For example, do you perform better or worse at your job if someone is angry and contradicting you and being derisive just because you wanted to talk to them?  Does anyone you work with have a chance of killing you?  Would this add to your stress level? There have been a few high profile cases coupled with my own experiences that have shown me that the public in general just doesn’t understand police training.  One case that exemplifies this is the Rosebud shooting in Berkeley several years ago.  People I talked to were outraged that a woman who broke into the UCB Chancellor’s home with a knife, who then rushed at police with the knife, was killed.  Many people at the time expressed to me that “They should have shot her in the leg or something.”  This shows a basic lack of understanding borne of too much TV and to little knowledge of firearms.  In my dealings with law enforcement I’ve learned that cops are taught to avoid firing their weapons if at all possible but if they feel they have to fire to empty their weapon and shoot to kill.  Think about it, it’s hard enough to come to a decision to shoot someone (something I think many of us assume is taken lightly by police officers) but if you are in a situation where you feel like your life is in danger, your scared, stressed, and you have to make a quick decision are you also going to have the time and concentration to “just shoot them in the leg or something?”  No.  There is no nonchalance when it comes to firing a weapon.  If there were people would be getting shot in the leg a lot more often.  If you have to shoot someone you shoot to kill. There is no other option, there is no other reason.  You shoot because you believe if you do not shoot someone else may die.  Isn’t that how we want it?  Don’t we want shooting to be the last resort?  Don’t we want guns to only be used in life or death situations?  Isn’t anything else just a slippery slope towards shooting jaywalkers in the leg?  Besides there’s a simple way to avoid being shot by the police.  Don’t break into anywhere and don’t rush at them with a knife. If you can do those two things your chances of being shot fall dramatically.  But there’s a solution for you “shoot ‘em in the leg” types, a middle ground. It’s called the Taser. 

The Taser allows an officer to subdue a suspect from a distance in a non-lethal but effective manner.  There is clearly a time and place for a Taser to be used.  For example, if you are a moron who wants to run onto a baseball diamond during a game you should expect to be tased.  If you are somewhat peacefully speaking into a microphone at a meeting on your college campus you should not expect to be tased.  What’s the difference?  In some ways it’s a matter of time, proximity, and probability.  For the famous “Don’t tase me bro” guy the cops had plenty of time to assess the threat, plenty of bodies to physically take the offender away, they were close enough to subdue him by hand, he did not appear to be any sort of threat, and he wasn’t trying to flee.  He also had some reasonable reason for being where he was.  In other words the Taser use here was completely out of line.  Now look at the other guy.  Here’s a dumbass running around attempting to elude capture, delaying the game, with no reasonable cause to be where he was, in a context where fans have assaulted players, coaches, and umpires in recent years.  Also, I think it’s reasonable to have a strong deterrent to people doing something like jumping on a baseball field as opposed to having a strong deterrent to people peacefully expressing an opinion.  Expressing an opinion is a right, criminal trespass is not.  Again, it’s easy to avoid being tased at a baseball game, stay in your seat.  I applaud the moron’s parents for basically siding with the police on this one.  Conversely one should be able to assume that they can speak in an open public forum without being electrocuted. 

So what’s the take away?  It’s this, cops are people too.  They are people who work in a dangerous and high stress job for too little pay.  Yes, some of them are complete assholes.  A smaller number are dangerous bordering on psychotic.  Most of them can be completely reasonable and even helpful if you give them a chance and put them at ease.  The citizen bears some responsibility in how cops react to them.  It may suck to have to swallow your pride, forget that you’re “right,” and submit for a short period of time but it can be worth it.  If you are able to do what it takes to set a cop at ease you may even be able to have a conversation and help change their perspective a little bit.  I know it sucks to think, “I shouldn’t have to kowtow to these assholes just to avoid getting shot.” but that’s the reality.  Would you rather be right, or dead?  If you live you can always be right later on.  You can sue someone or write angry letters, or try to get a cop fired or whatever recourse is available after the fact.  But remember, even if it’s annoying, even if you’re sure you’re the subject of discrimination, if you  keep your cool initially you can get what you want when interacting with police officers. There’s no other viable path.  If you run, fight, or just act like an ass you will lose that interaction in that moment. You just have to remember that most of them are just honest people trying to do an honest job.  If you ignore that and then you get tased, you have to look at your own culpability.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wherever You Go, There You Are

LA isn’t fake. It’s not. Really. I mean it. I’m pretty sick of the whole So-Cal/Nor-Cal rivalry. To start with, I don’t really see the point. Beyond that the complaint I hear most up here in the wild hippie north is that people in LA are “fake.” Well, they’re not any more fake than people anywhere else. It’s kind of like “bad drivers” and traffic, people everywhere are bad drivers and traffic sucks anywhere you have an actual population of people who are, by definition, bad drivers.

I lived in LA and I’ll let you in on a little secret, there are “real” people there. There are, but there’s a trick to finding them. Now I’ll preface this by saying it’s a gross generalization, and I’m sure there’s good people in the industry, but this is good rule of thumb: If you want to avoid “fake” people don’t try to get into “the scene.” I think that’s the big mistake people make when they go to LA. No matter what they’re there for too many people go to LA and try to go to the cool clubs, meet stars, and try to live the life they see on “Entourage.” That is your ticket to fake. Here’s the truth, famous people have to be wary of you, and everyone like you sees you as competition. This doesn’t mean you can’t make real friends but if you’re trying to break in to the inner circle of LA cool and you’re a normal schlub with no connections you’re going to have a very frustrating time. It’s tough at the other end of the scale too. If you’re famous for some reason you’re going to have a lot of people trying to glom on which leads to dealing with a lot of “fake.”

Here’s the key to enjoying LA as a Nor-Cal, don’t give a crap. If you go to LA and don’t give a thought to trying to be something you are not you can have a great time. LA has museums and dive bars and theater and everything else you think you love about the bay area. If you want to have a good time in LA don’t try to figure out where Vinnie Chase hangs out, find out where his gardener hangs out. Don’t stand in line for some place with a $40 cover, find the place that has no doorman and no buzz but is crowded anyway. Make friends with people before finding out what they do or who they know. Basically, keep doing the things you did and being the person you were before you got to LA and you’ll have a great time. Because the real reason so many people are disappointed or unhappy with So-Cal is because they’re being fake. They go down there expecting to become something other than what they were before they arrived. Basically a lot of people get frustrated because their fake persona isn’t fooling anyone else either.

Of course Nor-Cal has its share of fake people too. The difference is that here you’re more likely to encounter fakeness in your everyday life and not even know it. Seriously, people act all kumbaya like they love everyone and are all about peace but a lot of the time it’s a front. Most hippies are out for themselves just like everyone else. Even worse, they’re usually more intolerant of opposing viewpoints than Tea Baggers and right wing whackos. Have you ever seen an indignant hippy? Let me give you an example, one year my wife asked my brother-in-law why he didn’t want to wrap his Christmas presents, because she thought is would be nice, he stormed out ranting that he clearly cares more about the environment that she does. Y’know, because not using wrapping paper that’s already been through several Christmases is going to save the world, it’s not because he’s a lazy hippy. The people ranting about the immigration law in Arizona are often the same people who don’t want to send home school information in Spanish or provide interpreters for PTA meetings. Because the fact is that intolerant tree huggers are still intolerant. At least in LA fake people who don’t think you can get them ahead have the decency to treat you like crap or ignore you to your face. Here in the “genuine” north it’s more likely that they’ll just pretend to be interested in you and then avoid your calls.

In a way I think I like the LA fakeness better than the San Fran fakeness. I’d rather be able to gauge people based on what they think of my clothes or my sunglasses than whether I only use locally farmed toilet paper. I’d rather be judged for my car being too cheap than for not being electric enough. The scenesters in SF are far more annoying than the ones in LA because the ones in SF act like they’re a part of something so real and so important and so different that no one else could ever possibly understand how real it is. The ones in LA are far more honest about their existence. I had a great time in LA because I never tried to get “in.” I loved LA because I ran into so many interesting people who were either on top, or on their way up, or on their way down, or who weren’t going anywhere ever. I had a great time going to weird places and meeting real people. LA, in my experience, is way more real than SF. I’d rather hang out in LA than in SF. I’d rather drive in LA than in SF. Of course I’d rather be in Berkeley than anywhere else but that goes without saying; even with all the fake kumbies running around.

Today’s point: There’s fake people everywhere. Fake southern hospitality. Fake Capitol Hill freaks. Fake mid-western modesty. Fake Wall Street D-bags. Fake ivory tower academics. The key to enjoying wherever you are is to stop trying to get “in.” If being “in” is who you are or what you’re working towards then you should know from the jump that you’re going to have to deal with some kind of fake so don’t be surprised, throw on your mask and have fun.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who's it For?

I have a new hobby. More on this in a minute.

Isn’t the internet great? It’s great. It is probably the greatest media invention ever. Well, maybe not. It’s more like mortar. I mean bricks were a great invention. They were better than building with rocks, but they didn’t become way better than rocks until the invention of mortar. Hell, mortar was such a great invention it even made rocks better for people who couldn’t afford bricks. The internet is the mortar of media. It takes all the other bits we use to build our understanding of the world and not only connects them and holds them together, but forges them into a stronger cohesive whole. Damn I love the internet.

Which brings me to my new hobby; as soon as I finish watching a movie I head to the computer and look it up a wikipedia to learn more about it. I was looking up “The Hurt Locker” recently and the thing that stood out for me was the section detailing Iraq War veterans’ impressions of the film. Unsurprisingly they basically panned it. They also seemed to feel it was the best movie about the war to date. So there it is, it’s unrealistic to the point of being absurd, but it’s also the best one yet. What struck me about this perspective is how familiar it felt. It’s the exact same sentiment the rugby community had about “Invictus.” It’s roughly the same reaction people from Berkeley have towards NBC’s “Parenthood.”

This is when I had this month’s “aha” moment. These works aren’t made for “us” they are made for “them.” Who the “us” and “them” are depends on what who we are and what we do. Confused? I didn’t think so. For “The Hurt Locker” “us” is Iraq war veterans and embedded journalists. For “Invictus” “us” is the rugby community and South Africans. For “Parenthood” “us” is people from Berkeley. See where I’m going? It thought you would. The thing is, making movies and TV shows that resonate with the demographic depicted is almost impossible. The people who are the real people who are being fictionalized and depicted in popular media are too close to the subject matter to ever really be satisfied.

Even “reality” can leave a bad taste in the mouths of the “us.” In 1994 PBS spent a year at my high school filming a documentary about race relations called “School Colors.” Whiff. It was terrible. The filmmakers clearly had an agenda and ignored anything that didn’t fit the narrative they wanted before they arrived. The documentary depicted Berkeley High as completely racially segregated in every way resulting in a powder keg of race related tension and violence. I don’t know anyone who attended BHS at that time who had the experience depicted in “School Colors.” Yet everything in the film actually happened so I guess in a way it was real. It just wasn’t real enough for “us.” (For a much more resonant depiction of BHS in the mid-1990s check out “Yellow Jackets” by Itamar Moses.)

Here’s the truth that the “us” has to embrace, if these works were made with an eye towards resonating with “us” they wouldn’t appeal to “them” or anyone else. And there’s a lot more of “them” than there are of “us.” Media made for “us” is so specific and has so much potential to get caught up in little details while making assumptions about shared knowledge that the vast “them” would feel lost and left out. Besides, the “us” is already in. We’re already invested. We get it. The goal of the creators isn’t to draw us in, it’s to draw everyone else in. The goal is to provide a glimpse of our world to the masses. In doing so it’s going to change, sometimes to the point of seeming foreign to “us.” But if “Invictus” got a few people interested in rugby, or social justice then the film will have accomplished the goals of both the filmmakers and the rugby community. If “The Hurt Locker” helps people understand the stress and chaos of war then it’s served its purpose. Even “School Colors” was right in that Berkeley is not the race relations nirvana people dreamed it would become back in the 1960s. The point is that the “us” need to be satisfied with the details. The Bravermans from “Parenthood” are A’s fans, it’s a nice touch. The show is still pretty detached from the Berkeley I know, but they have drinks from Peet’s so I tolerate the inaccuracies. I think that’s the most we can hope for in service of the greater goal of bringing our passions exposure to a wider audience. So maybe it’s time for “us” to take a new tack and appreciate these works for what they are and what they bring to “them.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Talkin A's Baseball 2010 Opening Day Edition

Concept and original lyrics by Terry Cashman, 2010 lyrics by Berto
(Need help with the tune? The song was featured in the video accompanying this post.)

The Mac Men were dominant
when derby hats were prominent
legends filled Athletic uniforms

Homerun Baker and The Chief
Double X brought pitchers grief
They broke up the A's and thenthe darkest days were born

I'm talkin baseball
Simmons, Grove, and Dykes
A's baseball
Pete Sutter and Black Mike
Ferris Fein and Chance both had their day
Then a stop in Kansas City along the way
I'm talking baseball
baseball and the A's

They were scrappers, they were tusslers
And Finley was a hustler
Three series in a row for Charlie O

A perfect game by the 'Cat
Reggie Jackson at the bat
Williams and Dark just came to the park and let 'em go

I'm talking baseball
Sal Bando, Vida Blue
A's baseball
Campy, Gene, Alou

Rick Monday and Rudy had their say
Darrell Knowles and Rolly saved the day
I'm talking baseball
baseball and the A's

Hey when you're talkin Oakland baseball
there's Rickey and Billy the Kid
Eckersley, and Welch and Dave
Tim Hudson he was once the rave
Those brothers bashed it over the wall
Now we're playing moneyball

2006 was another year
the Athletics had their game in gear
streaking towards the classic in the fall

Mark and Crosby both were gone
but Scutaro carried on.
The Big Hurt was on fire and we had Loieza so we played ball

I'm talkin baseball
Nick Chavez and Street
Oakland baseball
Dan and Zito brought the heat.
Kendell, Joe, and Bradley and Kotsay
There's DeAngelo, The Duke, and Rich and Jay
Talkin baseball
baseball and the A's

Well twenty ten is finally here
Forget about the last three years
The team is young since Taylor got the call

Ben Sheets is on the mound
There's new grass on the ground
Cust got the boot but we still got the Duke so let's play ball

I'm talkin baseball
Barton, Zuke, and Cliff
Oakland baseball
Mark Ellis is no stiff
Davis and Coco run all day
Ziggy's underhanded but OK
Talking baseball
Baseball and the A's

Happy Opening Day!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Puppy Phase


I can’t believe I haven’t read about this somewhere else.  I mean really, with all the parenting stuff out in the world I can’t believe no one has mentioned the “Puppy Phase.”  Perhaps I am the first to have the perfect storm of Chihuahuas and child under one roof but it’s so clear to me I can’t believe it’s not already a thing.

Sorry, what the hell am I talking about?  I’m talking about the never ending need to dissect every phase of a baby’s development and give it a cute name.  I seem to remember that when my brother was a baby he was a “baby,” then a “toddler, “ then a “kid.”  The third phase lasted until he was a “teenager.”  Nice, simple, four steps to adulthood.  Not anymore.  It seems my son has been a “newborn”, an “infant”, a “pre-crawler”, a “crawler”, and a “cruiser.”  Soon he will be a "waddler," then a "toddler.”  I’m sure I’m missing some intermediate labels from that list.  Still, there’s seven stages before he can eat with utensils.  It’s madness.  And, as one who sees madness and endeavors to heighten it to a truly absurd levels I am now identifying, codifying, and proposing a new developmental stage, the “Puppy Phase,” which slots between “crawler” and “cruiser.”

As you may be able to guess the Puppy Phase is based on a child’s similarity, at this phase, to a dog.  During the puppy phase the child exhibits many dog-like qualities.  For example, many babies this age do not have the lip dexterity to smooch the way most humans are used to.  Instead they show affection with a type of open mouthed slobbering, much like being licked by a small St. Bernard.  This, along with babies tendency to chew everything they see, is probably the least noticeable aspect of the puppy phase, which is largely centered around mobility.

When my son learned to crawl it was a joyous occasion for all of us.  For him he was now relieved of the frustration he had found when he learned to throw his toys weeks earlier than he was able to retrieve them.  For me it meant we could now play fetch, which was way more fun than playing sit still.  Usually fetch involved my son or I throwing a ball or other toy and my son crawling off to fetch it and then either throw it again himself or bring it back to me; in his mouth.  The puppy phase started to show when he decided he wanted go visit his mother in the dining room, clamped a small novelty Frisbee between his teeth and headed off. 

Children this age also display other mobility related puppy behaviors.  For example a pre-lingual child in the puppy phase will careen off towards the door emitting shrieks whenever he hears the mail slot open or the lock turn.  The child will sit dutifully at the feet of anyone who seems to be eating.  If they are not fed (or if they just want attention) they will then raise up on their hind legs (like a little Rory Calhoun) and emote until they are fed, pet, or cuddled.

Other behaviors associated with the puppy phase include following you around the house, the afore mentioned desire to chew everything, and the need to curb occasional biting.  The puppy phase generally lasts a few weeks, can overlap with the “cruising” phase, and ends when the child starts standing or walking.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Mom Has Taken Over My Life

Photo by Tenysa Santiago

Sorry. That should read "Your Mom" has taken over my life. "What's that Sir Rantalot? What do you mean?"

Well as you may have heard (but probably not, I do have illusions about my reach in the world) I'm getting my fifteen minutes of fame. Back in July I decided to poke fun at a coworker by making up some "Yo momma" jokes. Specifically jokes that started with, "Your mom is so Berkeley..." We thought it was all pretty funny so I posted some of the good ones as a note on my facebook page. In the note I encouraged my friends to add their own "Your mom is so Berkeley" jokes.

After a while, as the note was shared around, I created a facebook group so we could reach a wider group of people. I figured this would be something we'd giggle about for a week or so and then it would fade away. But a funny thing happened. People I didn't even know started joining the group and posting jokes. When the group got to 50 members I was astounded. When it got to 300 members I sent out a message to the members thanking them for making the group "the most successful thing I've ever done on the internet." After that I didn't look at it for a long time because I figured that was that.

Then we got mentioned on what I thought of as "some guy's blog." It turns out it was on Berkeleyside which is a Berkeley news blog founded by some pretty serious journalists. This marked the first time someone mentioned a potential book from the material on the group. Since I didn't know who Berkeleyside was at the time I thanked them, posted a link on the group and again pretty much forgot about it. I checked in now and then to read the new posts, a couple more people suggested a book, but I really didn't think much of it.

Until about three weeks ago. That's when I went back to check it out and found that we had over 950 members. I watched it like a hawk for the next few days waiting for it to hit 1,000. When we hit that nice round number I sent out another facebook message thanking the members for their contributions. That message led to our second appearance on Berkeleyide.

What I said in the 1,000 members message is true. I really do see the concept as a way of honoring my mom through humor and community connection. I can't believe something I thought of as a way to kill time at work has touched so many people. There's something there that helps us Berkeley kids see our common bonds after growing up looking at the rest of the country and feeling like freaks.

Anyway, two Fridays back I received a facebook message from a reporter for the New York Times asking if I wouldn't mind being interviewed about the group. Sure, why not? The article came out in the Bay Area section of the New York Times on Friday, March 18th, 2010. I have to say, it was a pretty cool thing to see. When the interview was done the reporter mentioned that a lot more people might see the group after the article was published. Just as before I thought, "Sure, how many people read the NYT online?" Well it turns out it's a lot. But the article didn't just show up there. It was in the print edition (which I didn't expect). The other thing I didn't know was that when something appears in the NYT online it gets picked up and re-posted in a million places. Well, around 2,640 places according to Google. But that's a lot and includes NPR. NPR! I started thinking, "Maybe this book idea isn't so crazy after all."

In the past week and a half since the article we've added 580 members. It's crazy. In order to keep up the momentum I've added a blog and a Twitter account. These two endevors have taken up a lot of time. Today I read a post by a group member who mentioned that he saw a teaser on our local NBC affiliate's eleven o'clock new cast about a story on the group. Today I waited for two hours before they rescheduled to Friday. So now I might be on TV. For this thing that started on facebook. It's crazy.

I've been Sir Rantalot for six years, pounding out opinions for a readership of roughly six people. Now, in nine months I'm getting fifteen minutes of minor local attention for something that took me six minutes to come up with. Maybe this is my "Java Jacket." The simple idea that starts without fanfare that turns into something bigger than the creator expected. I know I never expected this. But now with the blog going, and the group growing, I'm trying to get this book out there. If it comes to fruition I'll be pretty stoked. I guess you never know what will come of your ideas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tck tck tck Ouch! Crap.

Hello All,

No posts in a while. Usual malaise? No. Seems I have a torn ligament in my wrist and I'm supposed to lay off the typing for a
few more weeks. Drag. But I promise I'll be back soon.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Excerpt 1983

“I hate you! I hate you!” I screamed at him small and red faced, smudged and salt streaked with tears. “You stupid little bastard. Sometimes I wish I could just give you away.” He wailed and crumbled in the back seat in the car and my anger, fed by pleasure blazed in viciousness.

The perfect excuse for anger, for letting loose of control.

My feelings have been so bad lately, so frustrated, lashing out. Crippled by depression – the job, feeling hurt, hopeless, confused, who, what, why. Feeling hateful, it’s draining. Pencils in my back. I can’t concentrate on work and I make lists that irritate me. I don’t want to exercise. Ugly times and fights at work. Don’t want to be there.

I fly off the handle when I find my son has lost his second set of $55 dental equipment. “I want to die!” he cries. Superstitious thoughts spring into my mind. What if, because I’m cruel, it happened?

Where’s Martin when I need him? The bell rings and rings, he’s not home. Is he alright? (How will I be punished? My worst most frightening fantasies coming true?)

My child is not happy either. He imitates me in temperament and action. “I can’t do anything. I’m useless.” he sobs. I’m mad at myself because I’m so absent minded.

But in some way maybe this is a growing point for us. Tito is less of a child because he is starting to split from me. I have to treat him like a big boy, to share my feelings. Maybe it’s wrong to tell your children your problems but I can’t handle them alone.

Maybe I’m poisoning him. I’m showing him an immature way to react to problems. I was treated that way, it’s what I know and I pass this horror to my son.

I love him, I just don’t know how to.

Friday, February 26, 2010



Recently, during the end of a family evening, I felt the loss of my mother more acutely than I have in a while. It was during a conversation about my in laws. My wife and I have been on the outs with them for about six months and when we were discussing it this time she hit on an important issue. One of the big issues is that they don’t seem to put any value or priority in getting to know their grandson. And the thing is that whatever they’re mad at us about has become so important to them that they’d rather avoid us than see him. All this continues despite my wife’s attempts to put aside her own discomfort with them to get the family together. While discussing this I felt void left by my mother’s death as if it had just happened. Our lives would be so different if she were still here.

My mother would have wanted to see Ryu as much as possible. In my day dreams, where my mother is alive and well and living just a mile and a half away, we see her three or four times a week. We’re there for dinner because we were passing by and we stopped in and then we all got hungry. She’s over at our place reading to him while sitting on a big pillow on the living room floor. She’d convince us to let her come over to baby sit on Wednesdays so we could get out for a couple hours. In all the dreams of him growing up she’s there rooting him on, smiling that satisfied smile knowing that she’ll do even better with him than she did with us because she won’t have to worry as much. She would have brought all the joy and passion to being a grandmother that she brought to her work and her friendships. She’d be perfect.

Of course this is all fantasy. No one’s perfect. Beyond that if my mother had never gotten sick there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be back in California. If she hadn’t died we may not have felt the same urgency to come back here. We might still be in DC wondering what we were going to do about childcare and desperate to meet other parents. We certainly wouldn’t be in our current home since my mother’s life insurance became the down payment. Instead we’d likely be upside down on some condo in Silver Spring. Still, I think we would have come back by now. I can’t see anything in the last few years that would have convinced me to raise my kids in DC. If there was a positive in my mother’s passing it was that it got us back to our community. Back to our friends who are already experienced parents. Back to the people who can give us advice, and support, and hand me downs. Her passing brought us home.

The next day I heard this story on This American Life. It’s about a woman who’s mother had cancer and knew she was going to die. So the mother wrote a series of letters for her daughter to open each year on the daughter’s birthday beginning at age 18. In the end the daughter and her father come to see the letters as a kind of curse. For them the problem is that while they continued to grow and change the voice of the letters did not. They felt stuck trying to adhere to the wishes of someone, long since gone, who every year would try to exert some influence on their lives. Again I felt my mother’s absence like a swirling vortex in my soul.

My mother and I got to say goodbye, but that was all we got. I know I might sound selfish because many people don’t even get that but I still feel cheated. We could have had so much more except no one would acknowledge that my mother was dying. When she was diagnosed she already had stage four renal cell carcinoma; a kind of cancer that doesn’t respond to traditional cancer therapies like chemo. After the first few months I knew she was going to die. But because she couldn’t admit it, or she was trying to be brave for my brother, or she really thought she’d pull through we never talked about the possibility.

Because no one would talk about mom dying we never got to have the conversations I longed for. I wanted to get closure on all the things that had haunted us for so long. I wanted to tell her that she had been a good mother and that I forgave her for all the negative things that had passed between us. I wanted to get her advice on marriage and child rearing. Mostly I just wanted us to be able to spend her last months really loving each other without reservation. Instead I felt pressured to keep up with the manic positivism of the rest of my family. After all “everything” was “going to be OK.” We’d have plenty of time to hash out the past.

Surprisingly, when my mother died it was sudden and unexpected. She had gone in for some tests and was supposed to go home but she ended up staying. She never did go home. I had spoken to her on Thursday afternoon. This was a day after she was supposed to have gone home. “They’re just going to keep me over one more night for observation. I’ll call you tomorrow. I love you.” Those were the last words my mother ever spoke to me. Not bad as last words go. The next time I saw her she had a tube down her throat and couldn’t talk. That was Friday night. I was living in Washington DC and I’d had kind of a bad feeling all morning when I got a call at my office. The doctor on the phone said that if I was going to see my mother again it had better be today. Two hours later I was on a plane to California.

When I got to the hospital and spoke to the doctors it was clear that my mother wasn’t going to recover. Her organs, at least the ones that filter toxins weren’t working at all and her blood wasn’t clotting. They had kept her alive by inducing a coma and pumping a constant stream of blood in and out of her body. The thing that happens with this is that over time the brain is slowly starved of oxygen. They could have kept her like that for a while, but she’d be a vegetable. The most humane option was to turn everything off and let her go. The one solace was that they offered to wake her up and let her say goodbye.

As the oldest and only adult child the decision making role had fallen to me. When my mom came to and started to reconnect with the world around us she recognized me and took my hand. “Hi mom.” was all I could muster. I think she could see it in my eyes. She knew why I had come. With the breathing tube adhered to her face she mouthed as best she could, “It’s OK. It’s OK. I’m ready.” I explained to her what was going on. She nodded in comprehension and agreement. In her eyes I could see she was trying to comfort me. We were able to call a small group of her close friends in to say goodbye. Mom had faded a little bit by then having turned up her pain meds with the little button next to her bed. I introduced them as one at a time they each got a few minutes to say goodbye. I knew my mom was lucid when I mispronounced someone’s name and she shook her head vigorously. “Mom, Judy’s here. Would you like to talk to Judy?” This was followed by a very strong “negative” “I’m Julie honey.” “Sorry. Mom Julie’s here.” Affirmative. She knew what was happening.

After friends and family had had their opportunity for closure I was able to have one last moment. Around her tube she mouthed, “It’s OK. You can let me go. I’m ready.”

And that was it.

And it should be enough, but it’s not.

I feel cheated.

Not just because my mother died. Not just because my son will never know this wonderful woman. Not just because she missed out on a really fun joyful part of her life that she had been looking forward to for years. I feel cheated because of this bullshit sense that we all have be endlessly optimistic. I feel cheated because I didn’t get to have those final conversations with her that I needed. Maybe it sounds selfish. Maybe it is selfish. After all dying is a very personal process. But goddamnit she’s dead and I’m still here. I’m the one who has to keep living with this pit in my heart every day. I’m the one who has to look at my son and know that there are no answers to my questions.

Which brings me back to the This American Life story. I would give almost anything to have one last token of my mother’s love. One last message, something I could hold on to, something tangible that shows she was thinking about how I could cope with the future without her. I wish she had written something to Ryu, to me, to the family, something that we could go back to and say, “See, this is what grandma thought. This is what she had to say before she left.” The problem for the people in the story isn’t that they were growing and changing it’s that they felt the need to argue with ghost instead of just appreciating that in her final days that mother wanted to remain as a presence for her family. They couldn’t find a way to laugh off or otherwise set aside the parts of the mother’s message that no longer fit their worldview.

I wish my mother still had some presence, any kind of presence, in my life. I don’t really feel one. I don’t’ feel like she’s watching me from heaven. I don’t’ feel like her spirit lives on in the artifacts of hers that I have around my home. I just feel like she’s gone. She’s gone and I’ll always have this hollow spot in my heart. That’s why my in-law’s behavior is so infuriating. They seem like they take it all for granted. They do this despite the fact that my father-in-law may be dying of cancer himself. They have a chance to know Ryu that my mother never had and they don’t care. They’re willing to sacrifice that relationship with him because of some perceived problem with us. I really hope they change their minds before it’s too late. He’s at an age now where he can start to remember people. If you don’t know what you have until it’s gone what happens when you’re the one that’s leaving? What will you leave behind? What will you say before you go? I wish I could have one more message.


Update: In the years since this was written my wife's parents have been much more present in our lives. I don't remember how it happened, but somehow we were all able to set aside our disagreements and hurt feelings and move on. They have been wonderful supporters of us and our now three children for several years now. My father-in-law is in remission and is now able to travel and visit us. It's wonderful what you can accomplish when you have time on your side.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Friends Again

A while back I penned some thoughts on friendship. It turns out that like the relationships themselves my view on friendship continues to evolve. If you look at my facebook page it will tell you that I have 398 “friends.” Of these I have met all but three of them in real life. There is a group of these that I have not seen since high school. That group is further divided into people I did and didn’t really know very well in high school. There is another group of people I talk to regularly on facebook but never see. Corollary to that is the people I see all the time in real life but who are never on their facebook pages. I’m not the first to comment on how social networking sites have changed and possibly diminished the quality of friendship. I’m not here to hammer that point. I recently realized that all this “friending” had worked a subconscious change on me. I became very cautious about referring to people as “friends.”

I didn’t notice this change for a while though I did notice a little more precision in describing my relationships with people. For example when the topic of Andy Samberg comes up it usually comes up that we went to Berkeley High at the same time. For some reason I always feel compelled to emphasize that I didn’t really know him. I remember him being around but that’s about it. It’s a little weird for me because I’m a big fan of his work on SNL and I’m proud that he’s a BHS grad the same way I’m proud of my mom or Raymond Burr. In fact the first part of the Raymond Burr conversation goes pretty much the same as the Andy Samburg conversation:

Person: “Raymond Burr for some reason.”
SR: “Oh, he went to Berkeley High.”
Person: “Oh, neat.”

The difference is this:

Person: “Ha ha, I’m on a Boat. I love that guy.”
SR: “Oh, he went to Berkeley High.”
Person: “Really? What’s he like? Is he funny? Was he in the yacht club?”
SR: “I didn’t really know him.
Person: “…”

This is usually followed a few weeks later with Person telling someone “Oh, yeah Berto knows that guy.” Followed by me having to correct them. So what’s the point? Well I bet if I were to go on facebook and send a friend request to one of Andy’s (see we’re on a first name basis) buddies from The Lonely Island who I used to skate with, that guy would accept it. Then, if I sent a friend request to Andy he’d see we have that guy in common and he’d probably accept it. Heck, he might even remember me. Then, in the context of facebook we’d be “friends.” But in reality our relationship wouldn’t be any different than it is right now. By contrast, when the topic comes up, I readily tell people that my friend Malik was on the Real World. Because Malik and I really are friends. We hang out. We BBQ. I know his family and he knows mine. He has my WiFi password.

These distinctions don’t just apply to the semi-famous. I break all the people in my life into these categories. The thing is, it feels like a very antiquated and formal thing to do. Five years ago I would have just called anyone I knew, even a little bit, in high school a “friend.” Now they are “acquaintances,” or “classmates,” or “we were in a play together.” I didn’t really realize what I was doing until I wrote this for my other blog.

“I recently came across a former classmate of mine from Berkeley High on the internet. If she ever reads this I hope she’s not offended by my use of “classmate” and “Ms. Welch.” I still have a hard time using the title “friend” for people I haven’t heard from in 15 years. Besides, though we were friendly and spent a lot of time together one semester while working on a play I don’t know if we she would consider us old friends. Though we may become friends again now that we’re in touch. Or at least that version of friendship you can have between busy adults who live on opposite sides of the country.”

Oops. I used another example with a “public figure”. So maybe this whole article is really about my comfort level with name dropping or the appearance of name dropping. The thing is, the more “friends” I have online the fewer people I call friends in real life. There is some balance however. There are a few people I hardly knew in high school who I communicate with all the time on facebook. If not for social networking I would never have known how interesting they are. Of course, I never see them out in the world. I’ve thought about setting up some kind of happy hour for all of my facebook “friends” so we can all say we’ve seen each other at least once in the last fifteen years but after watching The Guild I don’t know how well that would go over.

I feel like I’m getting sidetracked. Where was I going? I think if we really analyze the issue we see that “friendship” isn’t necessarily diluted by social networking. Sure you end up being “friends” with a bunch of people you would otherwise just lose track of but is that so bad? It’s nice to be able to keep an eye and an ear on the comings and goings of people who were once a bigger part of your life. It’s also nice to get better acquainted with people who slipped by on the first run. And hey, if we all become a little more precise with our language that’s not a bad side effect either.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


This year Jerry Rice will be inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. This is Rice’s first year of eligibility and he will be what is known as a “first ballot hall of famer.” That’s all obvious and well known to people who follow football and even to some people who don’t. The only real question surrounding Rice’s career is whether or not he is the best football player ever,, or the Greatest Of All Time. During the latter part of his career Rice’s nickname was G.O.A.T. which is a pretty strong argument for his status as the best football player ever. A recent article examined Rice’s candidacy for G.O.A.T. status and in my opinion sealed it up for old “Flash 80.”

The Jerry Rice question got me thinking. If he is the best ever that means that recent sports fans have been treated to quite an era. Anyone who was alive and conscious between 1978 and 2005 (inclusive) had a chance to see the best athletes ever to compete in three of the four major North American sports*. Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan are held almost without debate as the best ever in their sports. Sure, some diehards still hold out for Bill Russell and Gordie Howe but the fact is that Gretzky and Jordan established their greatness during a time when their leagues were really coming to prominence. Gretzky helped establish hockey in the non-Canada adjacent parts of the United States. Jordan not only won at an astonishing rate he also changed the way sports-business is done. Howe and Russell played at a time when their sports were niche compared to baseball and football. Out of the three greats to play between 1978 and 2005 only Rice is still really debated in terms of his place on the all time leader board.

In 1999 Wayne Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame without having to wait the usual three years. That same year Jerry Rice was named the second greatest football player of all time by the Sporting News. Jerry went on to play five more years, which in the minds of many solidifies him as the NFL’s G.O.A.T. Both of these honors were bestowed on the heels of Jordan’s sixth NBA championship run in 1998. In 2002 Rice went back to the Super Bowl one last time but lost to the Buccaneers. Still, Rice can’t shake the ghost of Jim Brown. Brown supporters point to his dominance during his playing career and the fact that he retired early. “Look,” says the average Brown fan “he could have done so much more f he hadn’t retired early.” But he did retire early. He left the game and in my mind left behind his claim as the Greatest Of All Time.

But I don’t want to get bogged down too much in what is really an impossible debate. My point is that we sports fans have been treated to a special era. We saw three of the greatest athletes in three of the most popular sports in North America all overlapping. So, what do we hope for now? Maybe we hope for Albert Pujols to stay free of the steroid era. Dare we go for the superfecta of greatness? Sure, why not? But in the meantime let’s just take a moment to sit back and reflect on what we had.

Gretzky (1978-1999): “The Great One”, four Stanley Cups, several all time records

Rice (1985-2005): “World”, “Flash 80”, “G.O.A.T.”, three Super Bowls, 13 Pro Bowls, 11 time All Pro, 1985 ROY, 1980s All Decade Team, 1990s All Decade Team, 75th Anniversary All Time Team, 1988 NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 7 All Time career records

Jordan (1984-1993, 1995-1998, 2001-2003): “Air Jordan”, “His Airness”, six NBA titles, 5 NBA MVPs, 14 All Star selections, 6 NBA Finals MVPs, 1988 Defensive Player of the Year, 10 All-NBA selections, 1985 ROY, 2 Olympic Golds, 50th Anniversary NBA All Time Team.

Jim Brown: (1957-1965): 9 Pro Bowls, 8 time All Pro, 1960s All Decade Team, 75th Anniversary All Time Team, 6 NFL MVPs

*Sorry Bonds fans, Barry wasn’t even the greatest ever at his position (Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson) or the greatest ever Giant (Willie Mays), Barry was just a ‘roided up freak show.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Matter of Perspective?

(Note: This column has been delayed by a few weeks due to computer problems that persisted throughout December and the Mark McGwire news that required more immediate analysis. I can’t believe it’s been two months since my last post. Oi.)

Here we are in the midst of January 2010. The past month has inundated us with various “of the Decade” lists. Best this, worst that, most memorable etc. I will not bore you dear reader with any long reminiscence of the last ten years. In part because I don’t have a coherent perspective on it all and thus would ramble on even more than usual and in part because the last thing we all need is another damn list. I will say that on new year’s eve 1999/2000 was the first time I kissed the woman I would someday marry and on new year’s eve 2009/2010 I found myself kissing my beautiful wife who is in fact a completely different person than the one in the previous sentence. And that pretty much sums up the ‘00s. Besides, we all know that we’ve all changed in the last ten years. We’ve all had struggles and triumphs. You don’t need me to rehash it here.

Instead I want to focus on something that has been either an unqualified success or a semi-dismal failure depending on how you look at it. I am turning to you oh readers to help me decide which it is. I want us to examine my career in fantasy football. If you don’t know what fantasy football is click here for the full explanation or just know that it is a drawn out form of sports gambling that is tied to individual player performances collected into disparate groupings involving several “owners” trying to win money in a league type format. If you want to see what a league looks like you can click here to view our league from this year. The bottom line is fantasy football, like most forms of sports betting exists to enhance the fun of watching sports. It is not supposed to a viable means to earn money.

The intangible aspects of playing are numerous and rewarding. Tracking “your” players lets you feel involved and excited while watching games that might otherwise be boring due to lack of a rooting interest in the teams involved. For example, as a 49er fan I would be pretty bored watching the woeful Chiefs play the horrific Raiders except that I need the Chiefs’ wideout to score at least one touchdown so I can win my fantasy game this week. Fantasy football also provides camaraderie and fellowship by connecting friends both near and far to get together or make an extra phone call to talk smack to other owners in your league.

My two favorite fantasy football memories both involve games that I lost. The first was a game between me and my wife (the current one) that came down to players we each had on Monday night. The game went back and forth all night both in real life and in our little fantasy game. The missus and I had been running smack all night and in the end it came down to a 50 yard field goal with :01 left on the clock. The field goal was good and I lost, but man it was a fun night. Anything that can get your significant other invested in watching Monday Night Football is a good thing. The second memory also involved my wife. It was the last week of the regular season and it was down to me and her for our division crown and a playoff spot. (The playoffs are where you win money in fantasy football.) Five of our league’s 12 owners got together (including two who drove to DC from New Jersey) and it was on. My wife ran so much good smack while kicking my team’s ass she instantly became a legend among our friends and family.

While the intangible benefits of fantasy football are wide-ranging and immeasurable, the tangible benefits are narrow and ultimately quantifiable. It starts with your buy in. In our league the buy in is $25.00 in a twelve team league for a starting pot of $300.00. Over the course of the season most owners spend between $35.00 and $55.00 additional dollars on transactions like adding players and making trades. In the end the prize pot is usually around $700.00 which is divided among teams that make the playoffs with the champion getting the lion’s share. If you win games you win money. If you win money you get a tangible benefit along with all the fun of playing.

Of course as with all gambling how much you win is offset by how much you spend. So while bored at “work” I decided to see what my tangible return on investment has been. Below is my year-by-year result: money spent -> money won and [initial analysis ROI].

2009 1st: $110.00 -> $400.00 [3.61]
2008 8th: $85.00 -> $50.00 [0.59]*
2007 3rd: $80.00 -> $89.00 [1.11]
2006 6th: $95.00 -> $47.00 [0.50]
200513th: $59.00 -> $0.00 [0.00]*
2004 1st: $65.00 -> $300.00 [4.62]
Total: $494.00 -> $886.00 [1.79]

(* represents non-playoff years)

On the surface it looks pretty good. I spent $494.00 on fantasy football (an average of $82.33/year) and won $886.00 (an average of $147.67/year). Not bad. If I’m reading that right I’ve made 179% more than I’ve spent. You tell me another investment that’s going to return 179%. Go ahead I dare ya!

So I was feeling pretty good about myself until a thought dawned on me. In a way I didn’t really win the money I had invested. It may be a more realistic and grounded analysis to factor out my original investment. It is more instructive to see not how I did when I gambled, but how I did compared to holding my money not having played at all. So lets check that out:

2009 1st: $110.00 -> $290.00 [2.64]
2008 8th: $85.00 -> -$35.00 [-0.41]*
2007 3rd: $80.00 -> $9.00 [0.11]
2006 6th: $95.00 -> -$48.00 [-0.51]
2005 13th: $59.00 -> -$59.00 [-1.00]*
2004 1st: $65.00 -> $235.00 [3.62]
Total: $494.00 -> $392.00 [0.79]

These numbers feel more real to me. Dismal, depressing, but real. It makes sense, if you factor out the money I put in that I would never have lost in the years I lost money I haven’t really made all that much. I paid $494.00 to play fantasy football over the last six years and got only $392.00 back. Which means I only got .79¢ for every dollar which is a negative return right?

“Plus your original investment.”

Huh? Who’s that?

“It’s Other Berto. Dude, you did get your original money back. So all your worry is just worry. No matter how you slice it you’re still up .79¢ on the dollar. Sure the profit margin is slim compared to the gross margin but it’s really the same number. You brought in more than you spent. Period. Get over it.”

Um, OK, I think I believe you Other Berto but I’m still not sure.

“Then let the readers weigh in.”

OK readers help me out. Has fantasy football been a good tangible investment or not?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


So Mark McGwire has finally come out and admitted what many of us already believed, he was a steroid user and he used them during his run at the single season home run record in 1998. Why now? Well McGwire was recently hired as a coach for the St Louis Cardinals and he knew he was going to have to come clean all at once or face questions all season. This was an opportunity for a personal and national catharsis but though McGwire showed emotion he did not give his fans or the public what they needed most from a fallen star, he did not fully reveal himself. Rather than give in fully to the reality of his actions McGwire continued to hide throughout his admission.

McGwire claims that he never discussed steroid use with anyone. Not with other players, not with his family, not with his friends or his agent or anyone else. He says none of the people in his life ever asked. As hard as that is to believe I guess it could be true. However according to former teammate Jose Canseco, and ESPN analyst T.J. Quinn several players have said that McGwire was very open about his use of steroids and human growth hormone. Canseco went as far as to write in his book that he and McGwire would shoot up together in the Oakland clubhouse. McGwire’s claims that no one knew about his steroid use seem dubious at best.

Another of McGwire’s assertions that does not sit well is his claim that his steroid use did not contribute to his ability to hit home runs at a rate never seen in baseball history up to that point. McGwire claims that his production was due to shortening his swing and improving his concentration. During his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network McGwire mentioned that he had always been a good home run hitter. He claims that his first little league at bat resulted in a home run. He mentions that he led the country in home runs while in college. Then he says something that hasn’t been focused on in much of the commentary I’ve seen so far. He talks about how as a rookie he hit a lot of “wall scrapers,” home runs that just barely get over the fence. As either a testament to his delusion or slip up that exposes his lies he first acknowledges that he hit a lot of homeruns prior to his PED use that were just barely out but then attributes his increase in production to swing adjustments and concentration, not the added strength he got from juicing. While his claim that “There is no pill that can give you the hand eye coordination to hit a baseball” may be correct it falls way short completing the steroid equation. First, if steroid make you stronger and faster and thereby increase your bat speed you are able to wait longer to identify a pitch. A lot of hitting involves being able to wait as long as possible and bat speed and reaction time determine how well a batter sees a pitch. But even if we allow that making contact with the ball relies solely on talent we must continue on and look at the result of that contact. It is insane to deny the possibility that due to steroid use some of those wall scrapers became towering shots, and balls that would have died on the warning track became wall scrapers. For that matter a little velocity can be the difference between a routine ball to second base and a hit that just gets through the infield. Here’s a look at McGwire’s numbers before and after he says his steroid use really picked up.

Year, Average, AB/HR, Slugging%, Most HR in a Season
1986-1993, .249, 14 , .509 , 49,
1994-2001, .277, 8.4 , .674 , 70,

So here’s a guy who by his own admission ramped up his steroid use and added roughly 30 points to his batting average, 70 points to his slugging percentage, doubled his home run rate and hit 20 more home runs than he ever had before (nine more than anyone had ever hit in a single season) but doesn’t acknowledge a connection. The only question here is if he’s really that stupid, or if he thinks we are.

Finally McGwire really lost any sympathy we may have had for him when he refused to take full responsibility for his actions. Yes, he said several times that he had done a stupid thing, a “dumb act” in his words. But he never allowed himself to shoulder his full burden. Instead he says he wishes he hadn’t played in the steroid era. That if he “hadn’t played in that era we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” McGwire also says he wishes there had been testing when he played. The implication seems to be that if there had been testing, or if steroids had been against the rules he wouldn’t have done it. Here’s a news flash Mark, the era didn’t make you do it. You chose to take steroids. You went out and purchased steroids. You injected them. You did it Mark, not the era. You. You are to blame. Besides, you claim you never discussed steroids with anyone else and you have no idea who else, if anyone, was taking steroids. If that’s true then there was no steroid culture, no pressure to perform. If you had no knowledge of any other steroid use then you didn’t play in the steroid era as far as you knew. According to your story you played in a bubble where you were the only one taking PEDs. And in a way that’s even worse.

It also doesn’t matter the rule book didn’t have a specific prohibition against it. You knew it was wrong. You knew you were doing something wrong. Otherwise why would you talk about the burden of keeping this secret? It wasn’t the lack of testing that caused this problem, it was your failings as a person. McGwire was asked, if the steroids didn’t help his performance then why are they banned? His answer, “I don’t know, that’s for the Olympics.” Mark, if they didn’t help you and you don’t know why you’re takning them ten why the cover up? If you don’t even know why you’re apologizing then why are you crying and carrying on? The fact is you know you’re stats are tainted. That’s why you hid it.

As a lifelong A’s fan growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s I was a huge McGwire fan. When they found the andro in his locker in 1998 and the steroid whispers started I was still a fan. As time went the little boy in me clung to the hope that Big Mac was clean. When it became clear that McGwire was a likely PED user I still maintained hope that he’d say or do something to redeem himself. Now that hope is gone also. McGwire admitted to taking steroids but in blaming others for his weakness and refusing to acknowledge their effect on his performance his admission and apology have hurt him more than they have helped him. I don’t care if this is hard for you Mark. I don’t care if you’re sorry. It was one thing to lie, it was one thing to clam up and disappear. But if you can’t be honest with us now when you are claiming to be coming clean and unburdening yourself then this is not an act of contrition, it’s a PR stunt. I am far more disappointed in Mac now than I ever have been. He lied to the fans, he lied to baseball, he lied to nine year old Berto. A part of my childhood was a lie and this guy did it. Maybe I should be more grown up and less hurt but I’m not. Thanks for nothing Mac. You had one final chance to be a stand up guy and you blew it. You’re a joke.