Friday Night Opinion Returns: Vince McMahon and the XFL, also Returns!

Yesterday we were entertained by a 25 minute, 39 second long remote-conference where Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE Studios, and host of other multimedia endeavors, announced that he’s bringing back the XFL, a league that lasted one season in 2001, and was forced out of operation by a media-led backlash by then 50-50 partner, NBC.

Originally, McMahon pitched the XFL to NBC, with a grittier, rougher style of play, more aligned with what fans of the 70’s and 80’s eras were familiar with, along with cheerleaders that were even less clothed than their NFL counterparts, and McMahon provided WWE (WWF at the time) personalities a chance to inter-mingle in roles as commentators, play-by-play, and other personality-oriented roles.

To hear it from NBC, the reason they pulled out of the deal, which was originally structured for two years, was that the league was too closely related to wrestling, which supplies an audience to football, but is not the core audience of football.  They are correct about that analysis, and there was certainly negative discussion around the gimmicky nature of promos, sideline segments, color commentary, and the overall ‘show’ elements of the league.

The first series of games netted a huge margin over and above original ratings projections, but as the league wore on, supposedly the emerging fan base grew tired of the gimmicks, and stopped watching.

While certainly this was an element of the problems the XFL had, one has to wonder why NBC, a 50-50 partner after all, didn’t exercise more control over that part of the product.  After all, this is NBC, a true leader in broadcasting and entertainment.  They know this business, and certainly employ people that know how to fix a failing product.

There could be some behind-the-scenes reasons we’ll never know, but what we do know is that at the time, NBC had taken a beating in negotiations for NFL contracts.  Both the AFC, and NFC schedules of the NFL were up for renegotiation, and the NFL was really looking for new homes.  With the addition of Fox as a candidate, who had just opened up a true Sports Division a few years prior, they were now part of a bigger group of media companies looking to land NFL viewership – think very elevated ad revenue, compared any other weekend programming.

Fox landed the NFC games, ABC landed the AFC games, and in the end, anything that was left, didn’t go to NBC, who prior to this had been home to the NFL for a very long time.  They were, shall I say it, PISSED!

The NBC at that point had crammed dollar after dollar into new technology, meant to derive data that their on-air personalities could then use in-game, to explain nuanced detail, after nuanced detail, to an ever-knowledge-saturated audience, who was becoming enamored with this thing called ‘fantasy football’ (more on that later).

Now, all of that was for nothing, and NBC felt cheated.  So, they wanted to make a point to the NFL, and any other major sports league that they may cross paths with, and thus, McMahon’s league, which he had been pitching since the late 90’s, finally had a partner – and a very big one at that.

The NBC thought that by placing games on their network, in front of nationally-syndicated audiences, that the coverage would bring out every NFL outsider who had something to prove, and players who were possibly forced to retire earlier than they wanted, another crack to prove they are who we knew they were (RIP Dennis Green!).

McMahon knew nothing about football talent, and I would imagine he knows more now, but not enough to gauge players at every position, let alone sifting through players where differences are slight, and finding edges that can be expounded upon are infrequent, and fleeting.  So he accepted NBC’s attempt at luring these ‘cast-offs’ from the NFL.

To a degree, it worked.  For example, Tommy Maddox, who is likely the reason college football players generally must stay for three years in their respective program, got to rejuvenate his NFL career by pleading the Los Angeles Xtreme to the league’s only championship, winning league MVP honors as well.  Maddox, prior to this had staged a comeback in the Arena League, which looked promising, but his dominance of the XFL propelled the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign him as a back-up to Kordell Stewart.  Maddox would ultimately become the starting QB, in 2002 for the Steelers….this was ten years after his last start in the NFL, and seven years after his last time in an NFL uniform.

Suffice to say that for Maddox, the plan worked.  And there were a few never heard of players that re-introduced themselves to NFL scouts, that eventually caught on.  Rod Smart, famous for his “He Hate Me” jersey, went on to become a kick return specialist similar to Clarence Verdin, Brian Mitchell, and others who were swift through special teams formations.  Smart, who couldn’t be taken seriously in the NFL prior to the XFL, put on a complete show under McMahon, that the NFL scouting acumen couldn’t deny.

But, for the most part, the XFL was only able to recruit players that likely didn’t match up to what makes the NFL great – players that have timing, counter-intuition, and the drive to finish a play better than how it started.

And truly, that product was the demise of the XFL, not gimmicks, not cheerleaders, not over-the-top personalities.  It was that the product could not live up to the hype.  The play-by-play was forced, over-indulgent when compared to “what just happened,” and left people wondering if McMahon hadn’t just invented scripted football.

He didn’t.  He just trusted the wrong people.  Because while NBC laid out their game plan to him, their intentions were never to ensure XFL success.  Their goal was to reunite with their long-lost girlfriend, the NFL.  For NBC, the certainty of what the NFL brought to their ratings, and their ad revenue was clear – and NBC, while they could hold the XFL up for years, invest in, and take serious losses on for awhile, to wait for it to grow legs and run on it’s own, knew that it would just be easier to sign with the ‘big boys.’  NBC’s intent was to spook the NFL, and it worked.

After NBC wrote, developed, and pushed the Arena Football League as a major viewing contract from 2003 to 2006, the NFL had enough, and realized that NBC had proven they could truly market the NFL all along, and all was forgiven, forgotten, and NBC got their girlfriend back.

That left McMahon, who we all know doesn’t have the same resources as NBC, or the NFL, fuming mad.  He publicly admitted that the league was a failure, and people seemed to coalesce that the views expressed by NBC over the league, were the same views McMahon held.  And so, McMahon went back to work even harder on his bread and butter, WWF, which he changed the name to WWE the year after the XFL went under, and everyone went back to the NFL, thinking that this story was spoken for.

Well, they’re wrong.  Everything I just told you about the league, is not what many of the so-called sports writing ‘experts’ say.  They drag out the old, tired narrative about the gimmicky XFL.

And consequently, when McMahon held his professional, candid press conference, the peanut galleries of ESPN, FSN, CBS, and yes, NBC, went to work “analyzing” the return of the XFL, as if they aren’t biased.

Frankly, you can choose not to read what I write, but if you use the logic that I don’t know what I’m talking about, then you are in denial if you think that listening to the talking heads on this story is the right move also.  Each one of the above mentioned networks has a horse in the race that is the success of the NFL.  They all hold broadcasting rights to games, elements of games, not to mention numerous programs that lead up to, and review, NFL games.  If the NFL faces competition, their programming has to change with it.  And none of them are comfortable with this, because their most valuable possession is their time.  They have a 24 hour day to broadcast what they feel is the most important news, sports, and entertainment on the day, and right now all of them are doubling down on the NFL, not because of the XFL, but because the NFL ratings are dropping.  They are actively dropping, not just twindling here and there.  People are tired of the politics being expressed, the outright unfairness of referring in the game, the clear indifference the NFL exercises in it’s own concussion protocol, and the general malaise of a sports league that seems hell-bent on doing and speaking to everything that is not football, while still trying to play the game.

McMahon see’s the opportunity.  And I’ll tell you something else…..Wall Street see’s the opportunity.  Every person who flips houses see’s the opportunity.  And not a single one of the networks I mentioned wants to actually address the issue.  Because if they do, they fall out of favor with the NFL, who is grappling with a public relations disaster from one week to the next.  The league, which has been a bastion of military veteran viewership for years, so much so, the NFL routinely broadcasts the playoffs and Super Bowl directly to soldiers in combat zones, and then broadcasts those soldiers’ reactions to those games for their audiences back in North America, and beyond.

Now, personnel from every branch is being alienated.  Perhaps not by NFL players who are kneeling, but by everyone who speaks about the disrespect in the action.  And to be clear, NFL players should protest peacefully, if that’s what they feel gets their message out.  But universally, all should know that the message you send, is not necessarily the message received.  So if the message you are sending is not getting the message you want out there, maybe you should find a different way to get the message you want out there.

But I digress.  If alienation of military personnel was not enough, law enforcement personnel have been taken to task by several out-spoken, and well-respected NFL players.  And still, some NFL players are having run-ins with law enforcement, where they are in fact, the cause of problems experience by anyone in those situations, not the officers they seem intent on vilifying.

If this was a cancer-research non-profit, and the public information officer was a chain-smoker, would that person still have a job?  Would they have a job to begin with?

We know the answer. We KNOW the answer, and yet, the NFL gives a pass to these few players who give a bad name to the rest.

While not all NFL fans feel this way, it is clear that there are enough that are fed up.  Maybe not with the ideas being expressed, and maybe not with individual players themselves.  But people are tired of watching illogical behavior abound.  And the NFL is forgetting a key to all of this:  their product is meant to entertain.

It’s literally been an escape for the entire country for nearly 70 years (based on when the NFL become highly followed, not when it originated).  The reason so many people watched was that it was literally a whole day where the problems of society, perceived or otherwise, went away.  But the NFL is so full of itself now, that it believes that by ingesting what they think fans ‘feel’ into their programming, that it will net an even tighter relationship with said fan, which leads to advertising revenue – there’s that two word phrase again, which is ruling this issue.

That’s not how entertainment works, and if the NFL front office of the 80’s could see what the NFL front office of the ought-10’s is doing now, with huge technology, medical, and scientific advantages that no previous front office had at their disposal, it’s very likely that the ‘old school’ front office would open up all the top-floor windows and doors to patios at 345 Park Avenue, and begin throwing every staff member off the ledges.  They’d have to, to save the league.

Meanwhile, McMahon, who was vilified when it wasn’t necessary, made into a joke over doing something that no single person would ever be willing to do, and had put his money where his mouth is, has done it again.

And this time, he has a 17-year history lesson to go along with his business acumen.

The network personalities, who I know are reading from cue cards, are saying things like “the XFL won’t succeed because he’s taking out the cheerleaders,” the XFL won’t succeed because it’s being political,” and on their narrative goes.  I find it funny really.  These networks, much like the NFL, are too big to get out of their own way.  Only in such a backward-thinking organization could things like standing for the national anthem be considered “political.”

But I’ll tell you this, they all truly have it wrong.  They somehow think that by carrying on the way Americans have seen football for the years 1949 to 2015, that will come out as false for fans, and thus, it’s a bad business model.

I’m glad none of these talking heads own businesses that employ people, because they’d be the first business to fail, handing you a pink slip, and putting you in an unemployment line.

The best businesses, are the ones that are above the fray.  That stay out of the discussions that do not involve their business in any way, shape, or form.

Google had to fire James Damore for what was perceived as a ‘sexist’ memo he wrote about the troubles with gender-focus equality training.  Side note, I read the memo, and with as many scholarly and scientific resources as he cited, he was not only correct in his theory, but not sexist at all.  However, so goes the beating drum of nonsense, and Google, as a business made a decision to get out of the fray, and fire him.  Now he’s suing, and while much of the media reports on it as he was in the wrong, he’s not, as Google openly encourages such essays on their employee servers, and, he used the proper formatting and resources to develop his findings.  He’ll win his lawsuit hands down.

Google made an ill-advised employment decision, but not a bad business decision.  The NFL is making bad employment and business decisions.  But to try and normalize their decisions, they use these networks to get you to buy in that the McMahon’s of the world are ‘crazy,’ and ‘political,’ and try to drum into your head that it will be wrong to honor any football outside of the NFL, with your presence.

They’re wrong.  They don’t understand business, and they don’t understand analysis work.  Political?  And here I thought ESPN stood for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

No, every single one of these talking heads has it thoroughly wrong, even the social media spin-off guys like Cam Rogers, who did a terrible piece on the XFL being the perfect place for Brett Favre to revive his career.  Sure, he did it in jest, but his point was that the XFL was a joke, much like his coverage.  In truth, Rogers knows about as much about business as your kindergarten-aged cousin.  One has a valid excuse for not knowing, the other is a clown with a teleprompter.

By not having cheerleaders, McMahon ensures a steady female audience, that is engaged in the game, and not worried about their surroundings, game-wise that is.  By having everyone stand for the anthem, McMahon brings back public safety and military members to a game they truly love.  And yes, there are active boycotts of the NFL by people in these groups, so laugh if you want, but discontent has grown.

By ensuring player safety, and this will be his truest test, he snags families who have kids that are enamored with the game, but their parents are worried about their futures.

Will McMahon take over ratings lead from the NFL?  No, at least not for the first few seasons.

But he will give them a significant scare.  One that is much worse than what happened before.  Because he fully controls the league.

And since 2001, there are a number of markets that have opened up, thanks to the NFL, and there are more available.  Over 20 to be exact, and I won’t write them all here, but I’m sure you know them, if you review a map.

But even more important than that, currently the NFL, when you remove all current roster players, has enough registered free agents to fill 21 teams, according to their roster requirements.  This again is outside of 30 NFL team rosters, and their respective practice squad players.

If you thought the resurgence of Tommy Maddox, and the coming of age of Rod Smart were the biggest stories McMahon was capable of in football, just you wait and see.

And all of these genius “analysts” at the networks, or at their viral video huts, are going to have egg on their face.  I’m going to laugh.  But you’ll be watching the games.

Football games, that are about a novelty: football.

MLB’s (Ice Cold) Hot Stove 2018: Why It’s Happening, and How To Fix It

This year’s off-season of free agency has been stalled to a block of ice in MLB.  And there is a number of working theories concerning what is happening.

However, a few weeks back several MLB execs took some time to explain what was occurring, very publicly, without their names being attached.

Their insight was likely very accurate, because what they pointed out supported many of the working theories dancing in the general public.

However, reading between the lines tells us there’s even more involved, from MLB’s past, and present, than we’re giving credit for.

First, the execs that were surveyed brought up money……A LOT!

They are looking at the history of the big contracts involving players who are at the end of their 20’s, or early 30’s, and that their performance has not measured up to their contract value.

Secondly, they brought up the fact that franchise price tags are expensive, and the Miami Marlins recent valuation, acquisition, and subsequent cast-off of every talented player they had spoke volumes of what ALL MLB owners now feel, in terms of balance sheets.  The old school multi-millionaires that would hedge money from their productive business holdings into their player payroll are now gone.

And third among the financial belly-aching, they cited that MLB across all it’s affiliates has a ton of debt that needs to be off-set, and it may as well be now that they start.

That’s all well and good, I think being fiscally responsible is everyone’s responsibility.

The problem is that everyone seems to be forgetting that the MLB, in their long-standing financial feuds with the MLBPA negotiated this thing called an MLB Rookie Contract.

It creates a situation where a player is indebted, on paper at least, to an MLB team for seven years.  In these contracts, players have fewer rights, and the first four seasons, they have no rights, such as arbitration, to command higher salaries.  What this means is, MLB teams are empowered to pay players who are on their rosters league minimum salaries, during the time that they are, according the logic of these MLB execs, their “most productive.”

As an example, let’s say a Right Fielder, Johnny Longball, comes out of high school, and is highly touted, and he ends up getting drafted in the early portion of the 2nd Round in the MLB Amateur Draft.  At 20, Longball has reached the Double AA level of the Avarus Sues farm system, and is dominating the game.  This means he’s had two years in the minors, likely playing mostly for performance bonuses, that are directly tied to his promotions, not his actual performance, and then his team decides he needs to come up to the big league for a stint in Mid-May, to give their outfield a break.  Longball comes up, he plays 15 games, hits .224, hits three home runs (very hard on analysis!), and drives in 12 runs, will having an overall outfield efficiency of .994.  Obviously, the most basic analysis is that he’s not hitting for average, and that would be typical of nearly any prospect’s first run in the majors.

Since MLB execs and owners want to look at history, let’s point out something very steadfast, historically at least, about the majors:  While many teams have touted having excellent five-tool prospects, their collective training staffs have managed to convert these claims a whooping four percent of the time, every ten years.

Longball’s rookie contract years gets extended because his 15 games doesn’t qualify as significant playing time in the majors, and thus, he heads back to AA for re-tooling, blasts through to AAA, where he finishes 80 games as a starter, going .297, hitting 22 home runs, knocking in 71 runs, and his outfield efficiency jumps to .996—for the casual reader, a defensive efficiency improvement of .002, comparatively speaking, is the difference between catching a routine fly ball 10 times out of 12, rather than 8 out of 12, and that can make a HUGE difference game to game.

They claim these players don’t pan out all the time.  I would argue, these training, scouting, and development staffs don’t know what they’re talking about, and certainly their historical track record suggests they don’t have a complete grasp on what each individual player needs to succeed at the next level.

Oh sure, they’ve gotten things right before:  A broken clock is right at least twice a day.  Is that the kind of odds you want to put your millions of dollars in payroll on?  But I’m a little from the topic at hand: finances.

Longball finally makes it through spring training, at age 21 (now three years of his rookie contract have been extended….), and he’s on the opening day roster.  He’s not a true starter, he’s platooning (meaning he swaps starts, and subs heavily at specific position, in this case right field), with an ‘aging’ right fielder who is being publicly mentioned as the next person to get cut from the Avarus Sues roster, because his numbers have slumped (a career BA of .284, but his last two seasons average .271).  Longball rises to occasion, and over the course 124 appearances, with 319 At-Bats, he goes .267, hits 19 home runs, drives in 58, and his defensive efficiency is at .997.  His stats make the case that he’s ready to stay on the team’s 25 man roster, the Avarus Sues get to drop the other guy, and his now ‘inflated’ contract, and Longball his the talk of his hometown, Sunny Cornfield, Iowa, where the community has been decimated by every young, able-bodied person leaving for work in places like St. Louis, because farming is inconvenient.  And everyone thinks Longball is living the dream.  The problem is, Longball is now stuck in a contract that ensures he’s stuck on the Avarus Sues roster until he’s 28, and he won’t get any rights to negotiate pay raises for his performance until he’s 25……Longball goes on to dominate every pitcher in his division for the next four years, before having shoulder surgery, because he’s swung so hard, on so many hard pitches, that his body, specifically his joints, are starting to deteriorate at a rate most of us won’t be able to understand.  Meanwhile, he’s only making the league minimum of $507,500, which is certainly a nice sum.  When you take out the taxes ($120,529.75 off the top, plus 39.6 percent of everything ABOVE $415,051.00 ($36,609.80 for this salary) equals $157,139.55), then factor in that these players have to find a place to live in the city they play in, and will likely pay a hefty sum for “transitional housing” since they won’t stay there year round, rookies are getting ripped off by MLB, and the IRS, period.

This rookie rip-off, errr, contract that the MLB instilled was promoted as a fair way for MLB teams to be able to “evaluate” guys like Longball, before they commit to paying them gobs of money, and then they don’t perform, and then the team is locked into paying someone who doesn’t advance their team.  It’s a fair point being made in this context.  However, the back end of a seven year contract, for a 20 year old who’s making the cut, is just as unfair for him, as it is for the team.

Looking at this logically, and from a historical standpoint, do MLB teams REALLY need seven years to ‘evaluate someone’s talent?’  Or was this just an attempt to control the market, from a labor perspective, for as long as possible?

Here’s something about capitalism that a lot of people don’t understand, no matter what side of it you’re own:  capitalism is not about the control of labor.  It is about being able to control FIXED costs.  Labor is never fixed.  In fact, if labor is fixed, it’s because of a monopoly, which is illegal.  Adam Smith, the godfather of free capitalism, spoke of the unethical pursuit of controlling labor, and said that businesses were far better off controlling their capital (i.e. goods), rather than trying to control labor.

Players are the labor.  And players deserve appropriately set contracts.  The reason MLBPA agreed to these seven-year long, subject to change, rookie rip-offs, is because the agreement was that players who performed beyond the constraints of these contracts, were likely impact players, who deserve appropriate compensation for their performance, and that while their originating team may not value them the same as other teams, the competition of other teams knocking, allow for that player to finally be compensated properly, for all the years they have performed.

Now MLB execs want to cry foul, about money.  It’s laughable.  Maybe their spending habits do need to change.  Maybe MLB owners want to see a better bottom line on their team’s balance sheets.  These concerns are valid, and should be addressed.

But trying to corner labor to do it is immoral, unethical, and if our government would do the right thing, see that what is happening is illegal.

Players deserve to be paid for their performance, irregardless.  Rookie contracts should not last seven years, and they certainly should not have caveats on time.  MLB owners and execs are simply trying to use the current system to corner labor, and it’s completely stupid.  One that quoted these execs said they were getting smarter.  No, they’re getting unethical, and it needs to be addressed.

The solution to this is quite simple: rookie contracts reduce to three years in length. Players don’t get arbitration, but the teams don’t get to extend years either.  Teams have to commit to providing appropriate living quarters for players, without including it as compensation, and any promotional material that players participate in is not mandatory, and is covered in separate compensation from any playing contract.

If MLB teams want to cry foul over player contracts, so be it, some of these contracts for older free agents do tend to be exorbitant.  However, they are based on this concept of compensation for the ‘whole player’ and what they’ve done, that they weren’t compensated for in the past.  MLB needs to be honest about the broken contract system, not just pick at the parts that they find troublesome.

While everyone is fixated on the fact that teams aren’t signing free agents like they used to, what this contract and financial griping is doing is leading to another player strike.  My only hope is that everyone see’s what is happening, and start holding MLB teams accountable.  Sure, we can agree that 22 million a year for some players is ridiculous, and that perhaps there should be some stipulations concerning performance.

But the rookie contract system in place is a farce, and prevents players from ever receiving true compensation for their efforts, if this off-season is an indication of what’s to come.

 

Mass Transit in Seattle: The Greatest Example in Modern Times of Government Corruption

Many transit systems in the US are born out of the same weird “conglomerate” government approach.

Without getting into the same legal drivel they would like to hide behind, the basic idea is as follows:  municipal governments in a concentrated area reach a conclusion that mass transit is something they need to pursue together.  In order do that, they need plans, operations, and administration that is centralized.  But, local governments, when merely sharing a land border, have many different laws and governance between each other, how do they streamline efforts so they are not affected by a litany of differences?  In comes the idea of quasi-government:  Local governments sign agreements to financially support a centralized body that is not governed by them directly, and is not elected by citizens.  Instead, they appoint people to the board of this organization, and their job is to formulate the organization.

Now, the idea of centralizing such an effort makes sense.  It’s most efficient, makes the mission specific, and of course, unburdens their government  bodies from more layers of bureaucracy.

There is a couple of serious problems with this:  the main point is that this is an organization that acts like a government, by proposing and lobbying for taxes, and because they are the chosen experts in their field, it’s hard for the governments they lobby for tax funding to argue with their logic.  But even beyond this simple conundrum, there’s the issue of taxpayers not being able to scrutinize those that are controlling their tax dollars, their infrastructure, and their potentially their lifestyle.

This is wrong.  Our Constitution says it’s wrong (Taxation without Representation), all State’s have laws, or their own constitutions that outlaw the practice, and yet this idea of public mass transit becoming a sort-of/kind-of government agency, with no real oversight is being born around the country, because it fixes jurisdictional issues, centralizes services, and makes the project actually ‘work,’ when evaluating results.

Washington, DC, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the State of Maryland have done this with Metro.  The entire Dallas Metroplex has done it with DART.  San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, San Jose, and every other city in the Bay Area did it with BART.

These highly regional models work in areas where they answer highly regional problems.  Congestion, a lack of land to re-work to efficiency, and layers of planning, that complicate land use.

But where sea and air ports are controlled by State agencies, somehow no one thought that public transit on a mass scale should also be a State issue.

Some would say that the highly concentrated areas of population represent a certain set of problems the rest of the State doesn’t have, and that they shouldn’t be laying the same burden down.  Logically it makes sense.  If the ranch land doesn’t need a train, why should pay for one?

However, what is happening with Sound Transit hits on a whole new level.  They are arguing for State taxes, and city taxes, and county taxes, and on it goes.  They can’t get what they want in this jurisdiction, so they find it somewhere else.  Cost overruns, meh the tax payers will bank roll it.  If that’s not enough, they absolutely do not take no for an answer.

Recently, it came to light that Sound Transit willingly misled the Washington State Senate, on a tax bill that authorized $15 billion to be earmarked for Sound Transit.  What they didn’t discuss in the bill, and what was not clear, was that Sound Transit had not put an expiration date on the tax bill.  So, when time came to close down the funding, they argued there was no expiration, and ended up collecting $54 billion.

This would literally be criminal, for any other entity to deceive government in this manner, and yet, no charges have been filed.  Why is the State government being taken to task by a regional government?  This would literally not happen in any other relationship, and yet, when we look at history, public transportation organizations, like Sound Transit, use language as a weapon when going after tax funding.  They are their own maker, and thus, have a duty to protect themselves.  If they appropriately positioned in State government, we know this wouldn’t happen, because they would have a chain of command to explain themselves, or their funding could be halted immediately.

The fact is that quasi-government doesn’t work, and that’s why our forefathers outlawed it.  They faced similar groups in their day, but they were known as something else, “tax collectors.”

That’s not to say that tax collection is wrong, because it’s not.  However, the tax collectors they dealt with were people empowered to extort money out of common people, keeping a percentage for themselves, and passing the rest on to the King.

This is the problem with quasi-government.  No matter how it’s structured, no matter how it’s “monitored,” it will always find a way around, for it’s own version of survival.

Mass transit is a needed function in our society – it should be housed directly in State government.

Friday Night Opinion: Gun Control is Not as Easy as You’re Being Told

The absolute terrible events that occurred in Las Vegas have perpetuated a very touchy, and stale, argument that carries on in the halls of Congress.  They also carry on in the halls of State and local governments, particularly government regulatory agencies .

Last year, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, of King County Public Health made an impassioned argument that local government should add their own gun controls since Congress has been less enforcement-oriented then the numbers he deals with in the Greater Seattle area suggest; he claimed that the numbers of gun deaths surpass those deaths attributed to traffic collisions in King County, and then argued that nationally and locally lots was done to curb traffic deaths, which is still the in the top five of causes of death nationally, still surpassing gun-related deaths on that scale.

From a local perspective, it would make sense that this argument would come forth; in that we look at the biggest causes of death locally, and act to limit, or hopefully eliminate those causes.

Here is the major problem to this ‘local’ argument: Dr. Duchin highlight, but failed to go into detail, that those gun deaths he was talking about, included suicide, which attributed two-thirds of that total.  If you remove suicide from this gun death total, the number of gun deaths in King County are far below those caused by traffic collisions.  Here is why that matters:  No one in King County, as of today, has killed themselves in a traffic collision as a means to commit suicide.

Yes, suicide is terrible.  We know that suicide is in someway related to crisis, acute, or even long-term mental illness suffered by the person committing it.  Mental illness remains to be a serious problem in our society, from local to national levels, that needs to be addressed.

However, enacting public health ordinances, regulation, or similar structures ‘to combat gun deaths’ is a rather sophomoric response to the all too serious state of mental illness in our country, and speaks to agenda, rather than real solution building.

Believe it or not, the NRA has requested democrats to get serious about mental health checks being tied to background checks for firearms purchases.  The problem is that democrats routinely won’t agree, because the proposed legislation would also loosen restrictions on what sane people can buy.  The NRA is not asking for citizens to have the right to buy automatic firearms, or more serious military-grade weaponry.  Instead, the NRA has been since this issue of mental illness and firearms first came up nationally in the mid-90’s, that those that pass the instant background checks provided by the FBI needs to be given greater latitude to access rights through ATF regulated firearms rights, and to remove antiquated bans from legislative efforts permanently, especially those involving media-induced fabrications about certain firearms and accessories.

Gun control measures are not as easy as you’re told they will be, because those that are proposed are rarely based on logic and thought of the problem.  Democrats would rather placate the mentally ill, and allow them to interact in life unchecked by professionals, than actually tackle neurosis that threaten neighbors, families, and innocent bystanders.  Mental illness treatment however, even in it’s smallest form, can have a much greater impact than any gun control effort ever could.  And yet, efforts to address mental illness are continually thumbed down, not just by Congress, but local leaders who continue to claim they don’t have enough resources to enact them.

Democrats, including Dr. Duchin, don’t want to give up the “tool” of gun control tactics for their efforts.  They would rather work citizens into a hot lather about how this one accessory, or this one gun is the problem, and that banning it can save the day.  One need look no further than Chicago to see that bans don’t work.

And whether we like it or not, people like Dontray Mills, who admitted to perpetrating gang violence through illegal gun purchases, who get a reduced plea agreement that leads to no jail time, make it clear that those who actually perpetrate gun violence visited upon others are not getting the justice they so rightly deserve.  Instead, we have democrats who make a mockery of mental illness, cloaked in their government and medical credentials as some sort of expert, but then use the pain of those who don’t receive resources they actually need as a reason to stop everyone else from owning a firearm.  We don’t call it political grandstanding because in our eyes, they’re an appointed “expert,” but they are simply a politician who isn’t subject to election.  A local-level cabinet members expanding an agenda through a filtering of statistics and data.  It’s not a service to the citizens, it’s a weak attempt at shaping discussion and outcomes.  You should be outraged at the level of patronizing that goes on from offices such as those occupied by Dr. Duchin.

To sum it up: it’s a disgusting, dystopian take on life and pursuit of liberty.  It’s unfortunate that this particular issue does split along party lines, because I’ve yet to run into anyone who denies the need for mental health treatment to be expanded when needs are identified, but no one with temporary power will accept that, and in turn accept that law abiding citizens can own firearms without incident.

And if we look a smaller community, like Grays Harbor County, also in Washington State, we see that causes of death attributed to gun violence in Table C1 and C2 are well below the top ten threshold.  It stands to reason how a county with a more isolated  population with less resources is able to report these numbers, and King County sees an increase.  Guns aren’t the problem.  The high-stress that comes with trying to sustain a life in Seattle and King County are to blame.  More people in King County find the need to escape their reality through drug and alcohol abuse, sex addictions, and number of other behaviors that increase mortality risk.  To be fair, these are behaviors we see everywhere in the country, it’s not exclusive to King County.  However, they are increasing in King County, and the reason is that the government in place is making it tougher and tougher for ‘regular joe’ citizens to succeed personally.  Surely, they are not intending this, but it is a consequence of overreach and draconian thinking that was originally banned from the US-lexicon.

Whether Dr. Duchin and people like him realize it, regulations aren’t going to stop people from committing suicide: help is.  Actual help for those people in those situations.  The type of help that defrays stress and pressure on individuals, so they can dream, and work, and fail, and succeed.

One last thing to consider:  Washington State has legalized assisted suicide, making it possible for terminally ill people to seek help in ending their own lives, when they feel they can no longer take the pain of living in their condition.  If this is the ideal that Washington State wants to live by, why attempt to criminalize suicide by other means?  Has no one considered that those who are suffering mental crisis are too in pain?

For such a “progressive” outlook, it certainly seems short-sighted.  If you live in King County, you need to be asking that if such a high tax rate is necessary, why are those funds not being directed towards true mental health resources that provide results.  Because if you visit King County Public Health’s website, you’ll find they are thick on studies and research, and thin on direct efforts.  Maybe if Dr. Duchin spent more time in the field, working to expand mental treatment for the wide array of people in need, and empowering County Designated Mental Health Practitioners with multiple methods of addressing mental crisis, rather than solely three day involuntary hospital stays, instead of writing position papers, we’d have a government that was achieving an end to some problems, rather than tracking increases, with little to show for the effort.

If you know of someone contemplating suicide, please give them the following: 1-800-273-8255.  And continue to check in with them, you make actually be the difference in their world.

Go Cubs Go! NLDS Game 5

Game 5 was a wilder, out of control version of the first four games all rolled into one.  When the dust settled, Wade Davis controlled the game from the Bottom of the 7th to close, in about the best possible way we could expect.

Washington is not a slouch of team, despite their clear lack of offense had suggested through the first four games.  Our side was not nearly as good when it came to the bats, and several costly errors paved our way.  It’s nice to win, it’s a character building exercise.  It’s not awesome building this kind of character in the playoffs.  It’s a bit concerning in fact.

The better team, but not by much, and only because the other team enabled them far too much, and paid for that.

There’s really nothing else to say about it, critiques from the first four games still apply.

Another Loss: NLDS Game 4

This really should not have happened.  It did.  The way the Cubs played they certainly deserved the loss, but it should not have happened.

Most likely you watched if you’re a baseball fan, but to recap, two things happened:

  1.  No offense ever got started for the Cubs
  2. Carl Edwards, Jr. had another meltdown

A third was that Wade Davis pitched into a grand slam by Michael Taylor, something he has never done before, but that was not the issue.

This series has proven a couple of things about the Cubs current roster:  Javier Baez, Carl Edwards, Jr., Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward are expendible.

To their credit, Zobrist and Heyward actually produced some hits in this game, but it’s too little and way too late.  Both players cost way too much for the little they provide, and Heyward dropped a catch that would be difficult for most, but seeing as he’s a defensive dynamo it should have been routine.  The ball was in foul territory so it didn’t hurt, but if he’s not going to snag everything he attempts, then his value becomes less and less.

Javier Baez had an at-bat, I can’t remember now if it was in the 7th or 8th, where he faced six pitches, all outside of the strike zone, he managed to reach a 3-2 count, placing the sixth pitch into play for an out……to say he lacks plate discipline is to greatly understate his problem.  He’s suppose to be part of the future of this club, but he needs something we apparently don’t offer him, and I’d rather take my chances with free agent infielders than continue with someone who can’t buckle down and hit when it counts.

While I will concede the three players above could have arguments for their overall play, there can be no doubt that the experiment of Carl Edwards, Jr., a prospect picked up in the Matt Garza trade, is over after this season, preferably now.  It’s one thing to find a steal on the open market, and surely he’s had great moments on the mound.

That said, he’s folding to the Nationals.  They are a competitive team, in a division of non-competitive teams.  If you can’t find a way to defeat their batters, who spend half the season facing lackluster clubs, then you are on the wrong team.

Perhaps it makes me a non-believer in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s team build, but only of a small fraction of it.  And while the four players highlighted have more or less done their jobs up to series, they’ve floundered before, and it appears they are floundering more so than usual.

Later today Game 5 will take place.  Let’s hope for some Harry Caray magic out at the DC Navy Yard.

Cubs Win!: NLDS Game 3

This was another nail biter.  And it’s great to see that the Cubs are still perennial winners in the categories of small ball tactics and tie games.  But the offensive effort needs to improve drastically, especially if there’s any hope of advancing, and winning in the NLCS.

Both Quintana and Scherzer pitched strong games, striking out a boatload.  To put in perspective, there was 56 total at-bats in tonight’s game, and together they struck out 14.  Of the five innings that both pitchers were not part of, there were only three strikeouts.  Neither pitcher reached seven innings, but both were brilliant, as was expected.

The Cubs bullpen was anchored by great showings by Pedro Strop and Wade Davis.  Edwards Jr was back out for an inning plus, and he too got the job down efficiently.

The game came down to what it came down to in Game 1, the difference being that it was an even thinner win margin, Tommy La Stella came in as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 8th for Edwards Jr, who’s night was done.  La Stella took a walk, at which point Leonys Martin took over as a pinch runner.  In similar fashion to his performance in Games 1 and 2, Rizzo took his stance at the plate, and belted a hit to center field that dropped in, giving Martin the needed time to sprint the bases, scoring the Cubs’ second run of the game, which led into a defensive hold in the top of 9th, securing the win.

Similarly, in the bottom of the 7th, Zobrist punched a single, and when he was aboard, Albert Almora Jr pinch hit for Kyle Schwarber, and he too singled to center, leading to Zobrist crossing the plate.  I’m telling this action backwards of course, but the point is that pinch hitters made the difference for the Cubs.  It’s nice to have these options, but it would be better to see some offensive production within the starting lineup.  Rizzo has been a difference maker in the series.  But he can’t do this alone, even if he has done most of it thus far.  Bryant needs to get cracking, though he has a .273 batting average through Game 3.  Zobrist did get a hit tonight, but to my count has two hits in 11 at-bats.  Addison Russell has two hits in 10 at-bats.  Javier Baez has zero.  Jason Heyward, who’s turned into offensive albatross since being signed has one hit.  These four need to get going if the Cubs are going to sustain any momentum in the playoffs.  Almora Jr and Jon Jay also have low batting averages, but since much of their action comes in pinch hitting situations, it’s to be expected that they are not hitting for average from appearance to appearance.

Speaking of Jon Jay, when he’s been in the field, his defense has been brilliant.  I’m starting to wonder what the value in Jason Heyward is defensively too, since that is the other thing he’s evaluated on in terms of why he’s on the roster.  If Jay keeps making snags in the field, I’ll put up with his offensive, because at least he has a chance of being productive on both sides of the ball.

That said, Game 4 is going to be interesting.  The Nationals are down to an under-performing Tanner Roark, facing the sharp Jake Arrieta, who’s just coming back for the first time after recovering from a hamstring injury.  If Arrieta can dial in 70 percent of his typical effort, I do believe we may have this series wrapped.

EAMUS CATULI!

Cubs Implode: NLDS Game 2

The game was clinched by the 8th.  There was no reason to worry.

Except that Lester’s performance was lackluster, the hitting that did come was just enough to be better than the Nats, and up to this point the bullpen was having it’s way with the Nats.

And then Carl Edwards Jr unraveled.  Edwards is one of the many pitching projects the Cubs have invested in over the last few years.  And by all accounts, he’s the future of the bullpen.  That might be, but you can’t hang your pitches in the zone like they are drywall.  That’s exactly what he did though, with Bryce Harper, with one on board.

Maddon did the thing that we all would do quickly, and that’s put Mike Montgomery in.  That worked out just as bad.  Montgomery walked into the Nats high on momentum, and then handed them a three run watermelon to clinch Game 2.

Much of the Cubs bullpen is projects of the current management, and while it’s nice to develop relief pitchers in a league that is thin on relief talent, and both Montgomery and Edwards have been great additions.  But this is a problem.

One night off is not a big deal, but it’s well known that the projects of the northside have more than their fair share of bad nights.  It just so happens that Wade Davis, our closer, bails them out of problems.  But when multiple guys are failing, there’s only so much he can do.

Davis pitched last night in the Game 1 win, and my guess is that Maddon wanted him to rest.  These projects have to start taking it on the chin and accept their results of their failures.  Hopefully a two-game stand in Chicago rejuvenates the bullpen.  I don’t want the Nats finally cutting their playoff teeth on us.

And big picture, this bullpen needs to be re-evaluated.  We can’t have guys that every seven or eight games can locate their pitches.

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! NLDS GAME 1

In true Harry fashion, I shout it loud and proud, but know that it takes a couple more to make it count.

Tonight’s 3-0 game in our Nation’s Capital makes it clear that the Nats are going to have to play tight defense if they intend to stop the Cubs.

Strasburg was completely dominant all night.  He did allow three hits and had two unearned runs over seven, but he also struck out ten, he was definitely hitting all the corners.

However, like most playoff baseball, winning comes down to three moments in the game where momentum plays a major factor.

When Rendon missed a play to first in the sixth inning, it setup a minor rally that notched two runs.  This was the inning that clearly blew out the game plan for Nationals Manager Dusty Baker.

He yanked Strasburg out after this inning, despite the fact that these runs were not on his stats, and the hits were mostly standard fare from both Rizzo and Bryant, two all-stars that hit in the .300’s in October.  Strasburg threw 81 pitches over his seven innings, 60 being strikes.  He was near perfect.  True, he has a sorted injury past, and all things being equal it would make sense to pull him before he risked his arm, if there was a lead.

However, the Nats needed his arm to keep the Cubs at bay.  The way Baker took him out was equally embarrassing, from a managerial standpoint. He put veteran infielder, and clutch contact hitter, Howie Kendrick in as a pinch hitter to try and stretch Michael Taylor from first base, and drive him in.  Taylor didn’t steal second, he didn’t advance on a bad pitch, nor did Kendrick hit in the clutch, and thus Strasburg’s night was over, and the Nats continued to be shut out.

Jon Jay pinch hit in the 8th, bringing Kyle Hendricks’ night to an end, he too pitched well.  Jay’s lone at-bat was a double, and it was big.  It setup Rizzo to knock him in, bringing the Cubs to a 3-0 lead, which was inevitably the final tally.  Carl Edwards, Jr and Wade Davis took the 8th and the 9th to shutdown the Nats for the rest of the game, and it was history.

This was supposed to be the ‘Do or Die’ Nats.  The team they have now is in it’s swan song, because much of their core is in final contract years, and it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone, with their undoubtedly higher price tags.

I have to say, they’re already falling apart.  In the 8th, Ryan Zimmerman was a put-out, and half the reason was because he ran the inside base path, which led to him being beaned, rather than tagged for the out.  It’s a rule violation, though rarely called, and unfortunately for him, the first base umpire had a clear view of it, and called.  Jayson Werth, a notorious under-performer that the Nats employ, and has also called this year his own swan song lost his mind with the umpire.  For a guy who said he was humbled by weekend jail terms he had to serve for driving like banshee in Fairfax County, he sure displayed it in that moment.

Hendricks pitched a solid outing, but he’s supposedly the weak pitcher in the Cubs rotation now.  That was Game 1.  Game 2 the Nats are facing Jon Lester, and Game 3 they are facing Jake Arrieta, who’s recovering from that end of season hamstring injury, but is also dying to throw some heat now in October.

The Nats aren’t going to have any easier day at the plate than what they just had.  And their defensive play squandered it, but more importantly, their weak batting played an even bigger, more silent role.

For me, it’s full sails, and we’re cruising to the NLCS, go Cubs!

For the Nats, it may be time to forget this team, and to continue finding a way to actually win in the playoffs.

EAMUS CATULI!

Travel: Oklahoma City, America’s Best Weekend Getaway Secret

I’ve been to Oklahoma City twice in my life.  Both times didn’t disappoint.

The fact is, this place is way too cool, and has way too much going on, and yet, when you think of weekend getaways, when was the last time that Oklahoma City came up?  I’m willing to bet that if you’re from Oklahoma, or Western Arkansas, you didn’t think of OKC once.

That’s a shame, because aside from an massive amount of US history, covering many time periods, all located in around the greater OKC area, there is plenty to do for both families, and young adults, without bumping into each other.  How many places in the US can host both audiences, and claim that?

First, I’m going to talk about food.  I shared some of the offerings with my private circle, but I have to tell you, even a whole album on Instagram isn’t going to do justice for the food in OKC.

OKC has a plethora of Italian cuisine.  You’ll find plenty of offerings, whether it’s Stella in the north end (1201 N Walker), Patrono (305 N Walker) which is closer to downtown, or Zio’s in Bricktown (12 E California), there are plenty of options to get your pasta on.  Italians have had a long history in OKC, though understated, much like the city itself.

When I go to OKC, I pass by all those great offerings, and go straight to the barbecue.  Look, you can talk about Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and all that is great.  None of it compares to Oklahoma Barbecue.

Oklahoma barbecue goes all the way to the Trail of Tears, when Choctaw and Cherokee Natives that were marched from Alabama and Tennessee came to the area now known as the Osage Reservation.  They brought with them “hogfires” which is quiet similar to the Hawaiian tradition of roasting a whole pig on open flame.

As cattle ranching took full hold in Texas, and the meat markets in Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, and Eastern Wisconsin, cattle needed places to overnight, and coincidentally Oklahoma served as a great location to feed cattle on their way north.  Eventually the idea of ranching took hold Oklahoma, and soon beef cuts were incorporated into Oklahoma’s fine tradition of hog cooking.  As the 20th century roared, so did the style of Oklahoma barbecue.   An emphasis on wood that produced fragrant smoke, less reliance on sauce (a Texas trait), but definitely the type of sauce ingredients you’d find in Kansas City.  Oklahoma also incorporates Bologna Sausage into their repertoire, which you won’t anywhere else in the barbecue ecosystem.

They serve green onion, cut at the root, to neutralize the smokey flavor the meat leaves behind, because Oklahoma barbecue carries smoke with it.  It’s not over the top, nor does it dry out the meat like heavy smoke can sometimes do.

My favorite places when it comes to this delicious cuisine, Blu’s BBQ and Burgers (612 N Robinson), Earl’s Rib Palace in Bricktown (216 Johnny Bench Drive), and Bedlam BBQ (610 NE 50th Street).

I won’t go heavy into the menus, because the real experience is figuring things out for yourself, but I will tell you can’t go wrong at any of these places, but to give you a heads up, yes the ribs at Earl’s are too good to be true.  And Blu’s offers a side called a Haystack.  You’d be crazy to pass it up.  Bedlam has a side called green rice….you’d also be crazy not to order it.

When you visit OKC, make sure to visit Bricktown.  It’s a former warehouse district, turned entertainment mecca.  Plenty of local acts, even The Flaming Lips make appearances from time to time, and are immortalized in Bricktown by the aptly named “Flaming Lips Alley.”  For my money, I like to hang out at Mojo’s Blues Bar, nestled at the west end of the alley, near the back end of Bricktown’s canal and riverwalk, which features a water taxi, with corresponding history spoken from the driver/tour guide.  If you go to Mojo’s, be sure to bring cash, to tip all the bands performing, and keep your drink orders simple.

Outside of the bars, and there are plenty of them, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers play in Bricktown at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.  It’s tops in AAA ballparks, and is certainly built to standards you would associate with major league parks, minus the capacity.  That said, you could take a family of six, eating in the stands and still keep the bill below 200 bucks at the end of the night.

Of course, Seattle’s prized franchise, the Seattle Supersonics now play in OKC under the alias Oklahoma Thunder.  If the NBA interests you, that is downtown, several blocks north of Bricktown.  But I’ll be frank, I liked OKC better before they brought the NBA to town.  I could say I’m bias because I don’t care for the NBA, but that’s not the issue.  The issue is the endless road construction projects that are found every few blocks, to redirect traffic, to widen lanes, all to accommodate the arena.  It makes for a drag, but in the end, it’s progress, and progress always has a toll.

A mere six miles south of downtown is the Cherokee Heritage Center, which is the proverbial end to the Trail of Tears, where the iconic statue by James Fraser, The End of the  Trail sits for all to see, and reflect on the results of greed and ignorance.

Equally as sad, and more intense in the present is back downtown, across the street from Blu’s BBQ & Burgers.  The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (620 N Harvey).  The ebb and flow of manicured beauty, and remnants of destruction is too much for my soul when I visit.  Every time I visit OKC, I visit this large chapter in our history, and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t mention that I cry.  I can’t stop crying when I walk into the courtyard, where the north side of the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood.  I take in the inscription along the large concrete pillar entryways, showing the time explosion started, and the time build finally collapsed, a mere two minutes after the bomb went off.  I cry at the sight of the pretty tile art provided by children through the world, all informed by adults of the terrible day.  But mostly I cry at the site of the bronze chairs that are all neatly organized.  There are large chairs for adults, and small chairs that represent are most grime realizations, the brutal, horrific death of 19 children and infants.

I was a middle-school aged teen when the bombing happened, and the weight of that day didn’t reach me until many years later.  But forever more, whenever I visit the memorial, I cry at the sight of all those tiny chairs.

I can’t say this is the note I want to end on, as it’s never good to end a travel piece on such a raw, sour note.  But in the case of OKC it works.  The bombing was and is egregious.  But it did help bring the city together, something that had long disappeared prior to that awful day.  I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway with your friends, or a new place to take the family, you have to go to Oklahoma City.  It may not have the kinds of things that you associate with a vacation, but it has lots of new things, and historic things worth your time.

Oklahoma.  It’s not typical, it’s anything but.  I wonder if they’ll buy the tagline?