Monday, July 02, 2007

A Fan's Biggest Dilemma

Every fan has a favorite player. Every fan has an arch-nemeses. What do you to when free agency brings these two things together?

When I write of a favorite player, I am not talking about the here and now of whatever sport is currently in season. I am talking about the singular player who defines us as a fan. I am a Mets fan, and Jose Reyes is quickly becoming my favorite Met of all time. But he in not THE favorite player. I am a Jets fan. My wife recently bought me a Jonathan Vilma Jersey. I like Vilma. The Jets haven't had an impact linebacker like him for most of my life. But he does not inspire much passion inside me. The remaining team in my nom-de-plume is the Devils. The Devils have been my true passion since early childhood. My parents didn't get Sportschannel, so I grew up listening to the games on the radio, running reports down to my parents who were nice enough to pretend to care. Now, I loved Devils over the years. My first jersey had role player Doug Brown's name on the back. What Devils fan does not love Scott Stevens or Martin Brodeur. But the one player I truly love. The one player who defines me as a sports fan. The one player that my wife, after less than a year of dating, knew to get on the back of my new jersey was Scott Gomez. The diminutive center from Mexico (of all places) was invigorating to watch. The way he could skate, darting in and out of traffic, creating opportunities for his teammates the way that the Great One used to do it. Scott Gomez is my favorite player.

To this day, there is one word in sports that haunts me. If the mention this word on the radio, I have to change the channel. Believe it or not, this word ruined my senior prom. "MATTEAU." The year was 1994. The game was numbered 7. The score was tied 1-1, the Devils having scored with 7 seconds left to send the game to overtime. in the second overtime, Stephane Matteau picked up a loose puck around the net, swept out in front and jammed the puck home, propelling the Rangers to an eventual Stanley Cup and the Devils home (the Devils would rebound and win 3 cups in the next 10 years). Fittingly, I was listening to the game on my car radio, driving to the afterparty following a night of sneaking out of the prom to check the score. My date was not a hockey fan. Suffice it to say I did not get lucky that night. Thats why I married a woman who was recruited to an Ivy League school to play ice hockey. But I digress.

I hated the New York Rangers since childhood. I don't know if it was the proximity to my beloved Devils that fashioned this hatred, but the Rangers have always been my arch-nemeses. Now, I hate the Patriots and their faux dynasty and the Braves have broken my heart too many times to mention. I hate all thing Philadelphia (except the pretzel and Rita's water ice) and their boorish fans. But I only have one true hate. There is only one team whose demise can make me happy. There is only one team whose success can result in hefty psychiatrist bills, and that is the New York Rangers. The Rangers are Christianity's Judas, Judaism's Haman, Democrat's Cheney and Palestinians' Israeli all tied up into one. They are the epitome of evil.

So what do you do, as a fan, when good meets evil? What do you do when the Favorite signs a mega-deal with the Arch-Enemy? I still love Scott Gomez. I just love the way he plays the game. And I still despise the Rangers. Their failures since the '94 Cup have kept my therapy bills low. But yesterday, Scott Gomez signed a 7 year $53.5 million contract with the Rangers that will pay him $10 million this season . Now, other Devils have gone across the river and taken the money. Bruce Driver was a supporting defenseman who was reaching the end of his career when he went to the Dark Side. Bobby Holik left for a contract he never lived up to, but Holik was the kinda player you always knew you'd hate if he was on the other team. But Scott Gomez was my one true love. His enthusiasm for the game is now across the river playing for Satan's all-star team. Something has to give.

I honestly don't know how to solve this dilemma I still love Scott Gomez, and I still hate the Rangers. But this is only day 1. I have 7 more seasons to let this work its way out. 7 more seasons of watching my favorite player skate for the enemy while his jersey remains hidden in my closet reminding all that once upon a time there was a true love story. But free agency, money, and the work have Satan destroyed that true love.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Let's Call A Spade A Spade

There it is. I have said it. Now, what does it mean?

I always assumed that this was a racially insensitive statement. In fact, I thought it was downright racist. But when someone suggested to me that I was way off on this one, I decided to do a little research.

It was only recently, in the 20th century, that the term "spade" was used to refer to a Black person. Its origin comes from the "spade" suit in a deck of cards. Thus, with that definition, "calling a spade a spade" could mean calling a "racial epithet a racial epithet."

However, "calling a spade a spade" as an expression long predates the racial connotation of the word spade. As Random House explains, "to call a spade a spade" originated in ancient Greece.

"The exact origin is uncertain; the playwright Menander, in a fragment, said "I call a fig a fig, a spade a spade," but Lucian attributes the phrase to Aristophanes. Later, Plutarch notes that "The Macedonians are a rude and clownish people who call a spade a spade." (It is worth noting that the Greek word translated as "spade" seems actually to mean something like "bowl" or "trough"; the "spade" may be based on a Renaissance mistranslation. In this case the original expression was "to call a bowl a bowl," and thus the "spade" expression is "only" 500, rather than 2,500, years old.)"

The meaning of "to call a spade a spade" is to speak bluntly. provides an excellent example (maybe I am biased because I am a lawyer) of the proper usage of the idiom. “The prosecutor said, ‘Let’s call a spade a spade. You didn’t borrow the money, you stole it.’”

The question in my mind, is where does this get us. The phrase "to call a spade a spade" is not a racially insensitive remark. At least not in its origin. However, there is a segment of the population who believes it is, and therefore is offended by it. For example, A Sacramento City Council meeting got a little heated when a council-member used the idiom and his African-American colleague was insulted commenting that the idiom was an “ethnically and racially derogatory remark”.

In this way, the idiom is much like the word "niggardly" which is sometimes met with outrage from people who believe it derives from the racial slur "nigger." A white aide to former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams resigned after using the word "niggardly," a student in Wisconsin was outraged when her teacher insisted on using the word, a 4th grade teacher was formerly reprimanded for uttering the word, and many many other controversies have arisen.

So what is the answer? What do we do with words or sayings that are not racially insensitive but people believe them to be? Do we stop using the phrase "call a spade a spade" because some people erroneously believe that it is a racial epithet? Do we stop using the word "niggardly" because people don't know what it means? Clearly this has happened before. I can't remember the last time someone used the word "faggot" and actually meant a bundle of sticks.

At the same time, there are racial epithets that are used all the time that people aren't aware of. Sometimes I feel like a one-man crusade to get people to stop using the term "gyp" which is a derogatory term for a gypsy. I don't think I have ever known a Gypsy, but I do know that the phrase "don't Gyp me" is the same to me as "don't Jew me."

At the end of the day, I am not sure where I come out on this. I don't use the term "gyp," am have never used the term "niggardly," and I never "call a spade a spade." It has made my life easier. However, the controversies over "niggardly" and "call a spade a spade" are always popping up. Knowing the actual definitions of these words and phrases leads me to side with the people who use them properly. I find the people objecting to be reactionary in that they are upset at the usage of words and phrases that they don't understand.

I am curious where other people come out on this. Do we stop using these words and phrases because of what people misunderstand, or do we stubbornly insist on using them in the proper form recognizing the storm that might erupt?

PS - can anyone tell me if the phrase "to welch on a bet" has anything to do with the Welsh? I have always assumed it does, but before I call someone out on its usage, I want some type of proof.


Friday, March 09, 2007

When war comes, blame the Jews

In 1894, French military information was found in the garbage of the German Embassy in France. At the time there was one Jew in the general staff of the French Army, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Suspicions quickly arose that Dreyfus was a traitor, and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Dreyfus was convicted of treason in a secret military court martial. He was stripped of his rank and shipped off to the famed penal colony, Devil's Island. France's political right wing, used this as evidence of the failure of the republic, and used the Dreyfus incident to blame the failing of the Republic on the treacherous Jews.

Evidence soon emerged that made it clear that the Military had fabricated much of the case, and Dreyfus was an innocent man. When Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, himself a known anti-Semite, came forward to the military with proof of Dreyfus' innocence he was told "what does it matter to you that this Jew remains on Devil's Island?"

The rest of course is history. Emile Zola publishes "J'accuse" accusing the French army of a cover up in the Dreyfus trial. Zola is convicted of libeling the French military. The political right said the Dreyfus affair was a plot by Jews and Freemasons to damage the prestige of the Republic and the military and thereby ruin France. Dreyfus is retried, convicted again, pardoned, and eventually, in 1906, was exonerated of all charges. The next story, of course, everyone knows.

On November 10, 1918, A young Adolph Hitler learns that the Fatherland has lost the War to End All Wars. Distraught at the prospect of his beloved Germany losing the war, Hitler searched for a reason. He focused on what he called "the Fifth column," Bolsheviks, Democrats and Jews. Germany lost the war because the German people did not support the war enough. The German people did not support the war enough because of the invisible foes of all German people, the Jews. The notion that the Germans did not lose the war but were "stabbed in the back" became a very popular theory in Germany. Hitler himself would rail against the Versailles treaty, blaming the indignation on the "Jewish Marxists."

Hitler came to prominence with his oratory style, and was always sure to mix in a tirade against the Jews. For a nation that was weary and looking for answers, the Jews became the obvious answer. The rest is a history I am not going to get into. Father Charles Coughlin was a vehement opponent of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal." From his weekly radio station, he would launch attacks against Roosevelt, "capitalists" and the Jews. Starting in 1936, Coughlin began to praise the new fascist leaders of Europe, Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The "Great Depression," he said, was the fault of the Jews. After Kristallnacht, Coughlin blamed the Jewish victims. Coughlin, and his supporters, would hold rally's against Jewish immigration saying "Wait until Hitler gets here" or "Send the Jews back to where they came from on leaky boats." Coughlin's supporters, mixed in with those of Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford, would rail against America's entry into World War II. They were aligned with the famed anti-Semite Gerald L.K. Smith, who traced Roosevelt's "Jewish ancestry," and stated that The United States was entering WWII to protect "European Jewry." (Ford's anti-Semitism is well known. He blamed WWI on "Jewish-German" bankers.)

A December 9, 2005 Daily Telegraph article says a British Member of Parliament argued that Tony Blair entered the Iraq war because he came under the influence of a "sinister" group of Jews and Freemasons. Counterpunch, and other likeminded publications, make the routine pronouncement that America entered Iraq, at least in part, because of Israel. Potential war in Iran is because of guys named Perle, Wolfiwitz and Abrams. AIPAC, who, unfortunately mostly according to the "radical left,"controls/bribes Congress is responsible for pushing the United States to wage war with Iran.

I will be accused of being neurotic, or ignoring facts, of equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. One thing that I can't be accused of is ignoring a certain trend. Where there is war, there is blaming the Jews.

Someone down there (meaning the comments) will turn this into a flame war about whether criticizing Israel is the same as anti-Semitism. That is not what this is about. Certainly, less and less people today are outright and outspoken bigots. Racists rail against "welfare and affirmative action" instead of African-Americans. Xenophobes rail against illegal immigration instead of Mexicans. Anti-Semites rail against AIPAC and Israel instead of the Jews. This makes it hard. Not all opponents of affirmative action are racists, but some are. Not all opponents of illegal immigration are xenophobes, but some are. Not all critics of Israel or AIPAC are anti-Semites, but some are.

Whether it be JINSA, or AIPAC, or PNAC, or Israel, there is a Jew somewhere to blame the war in Iraq on. Whether is be JINSA, or AIPAC, or PNAC or Israel, there is a Jew somewhere to preemptively blame a potential war in Iran on.

This is not new. Jews have always dealt with this. But we are used to dealing with it from David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Father Coughlin. We are not used to it coming from our natural allies within the progressive movement.

Don't get me wrong, I recognize that this crowd is still small. I do not believe they are representative of the progressive movement. My friends tell me to just ignore them. But I can't. Part of "My" movement says the same things, using the same rhetoric, blames the same people as David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Father Coughlin.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Why The Devils Are Better Than The Rangers

In yesterday's Daily News, Sherry Ross (who used to do the Devils play by play) wrote the following:

"Both the Rangers (at No. 12) and the Islanders (at No. 15) had chances to draft Zach Parise in 2003 before the Devils traded up to get him at No. 17, in case you're wondering why the best hockey organization in the tri-state area is the one in New Jersey."

That got me thinking about the hockey draft in a way that is typically reserved for football. By examining the draft of both the Rangers and the Devils, one begins to see why the Devils have been the far better franchise since the ealry 1990s.

The 1st Round

I think a good place to start is 1987. It is the earliest draft that you still find a significant number of currently active players. Plus, with the typical trajectory to the NHL, 1987 is probably the best draft to look at for players impact in the 1990s.

1987 - Devils drafted 3rd Selected Brendan Shanahan; Rangers drafted 10th selected Jason Moye. Shanahan is still an all-star, was once one of the top players in the game, and brought the Devils back Scott Stevens. Moye was a journeyman defenseman who stuck around the NHL for a long time.

1989 - Devils drafted 5th Selected Bill Guerin. Rangers drafted 20th selected Steven Rice. Guerin also was one of the best players in the league. Rice was a speedster whose game never matched. Guerin brought the Devils Jason Arnott in a trade. Arnott was the pivot between the Devils famous "A" line.

1990 - Probably the worst "mismatch" draft year. The Rangers select 13th take Michael Stewart who never played an NHL game. The Devils select 20th and take hall of famer and one of the top goalies ever, Martin Brodeur. To make matters worse, the Devils actually traded down to get Brodeur.

1991 - Devils select 3rd, take Scott Neidermayer, one of the best all around defensemen in the game today. Rangers select 15th, take the highly skilled Alexei Kovalev. Good pick by both teams.

1993 - Rangers select 8th, take Niklas Sundstrom, a productive defensive forward. Devils select 13th, take Dennis Pederson, who turns out to be the same.

1995 - Rangers traded away 1st round pick in previous years run to the Stanley Cup. Devils trade up and grab Petr Sykora. In parts of 7 seasons, Sykora would score almost 300 points for the Devils.

1998 - The Rangers have the 7th pick and select Manny Malhotra who has found his place in the NHL as a 3rd liner. Selected with the last 2 picks of the 1st round, the Devils select Mike Van Ryn, the effective defenseman who bolted the Devils by going to juniors, and with the last pick of the 1st round, the Devils select the electrifying Scott Gomez who is quite the Rangers killer today. This is where is starts to get really ugly.

1999 - Much is made of the Rangers 2 high draft picks, 4 and 9. They take Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark. Neither is ever a factor for the Rangers. Lundmark is still bouncing around the NHL while Brendl is playing somewhere in Europe. By contrast, the Devils 2nd round Pick Mike Commodore won a cup with the Devils and is the leader of the Hurricanes.

2000 - A bad Rangers team trades away its 1st round pick. Selecting 22nd, the Devils take current NHLer David Hale.

2003 - The Rangers and Islanders pass on Zach Parise, the Devils gladly scoop him up. He is on pace to score about 40 goals this year.

2004 - The jury is still out. The Rangers had the 6th pick and take prospect goalie Al Montoya. Selecting 20th, the Devils take Travis Zajac, currently in his rookie year as the Devils 2nd line center.

The "Other" Draft Picks

For this section I am going to look
at current players on each teams roster that where drafted by that team in any round besides the first.

The Rangers - Petr Prucha was drafted in the 8th round and had a highly productive rookie year. His 2nd year, not so much. Fedor Tyutin was slected in the 2nd round. He is a solid defenseman with potential to get better. Ryan Hollweg is another 8th rounder. He is a tough 4th line player. Henrik Lundqvist is an 8th round pleasant surprise.

The Devils - 2nd rounder Patrik Elias is the Devils captain. 3rd Rounder Brian Gionta has a knack for finding the net. He had 48 last year and was leading the team this year before he hurt his groin. 2nd rounder Sergei Brylin is a plugger who has been a key part of 3 stanley cup winning teams. Paul Martin and his offensive defensive skills were a steal in the 2nd round. Another 2nd rounder, Jay Pandolfo is probably the best defensive forward in the NHL. He is the guy you put on Jaromir Jagr to stop him. And stop him he does. Colin White, a 2nd round pick, is the backbone of the Devils blueline. Mike Rupp was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round after the Isles failed to sign him after they took him in the 1st round in 1998. Rupp has been dealt and brought back and brings size to the PP in addition to his role on the 4th line. Jim Dowd is back with the Devils after a long career. The 4th line forward was originally an 8th round pick in 1987. Cam Janssen, a 4th round pugilist, is one of the NHLs most willing fighters. In his 2nd season, he scored his first career goal against the Caps this weekend. My wife and I still can't believe it.

Thats a pretty significant mismatch.

The Undrafted Free Agents

Every team has players who, for whatever reason, did not sign professional contracts. Some were drafted but never signed, others went undrafted and developed later into NHL players.

For The Rangers that group includes plucky Jed Ortmeyer, and NHL defensemen Daniel Girardi and and Thomas Pock.

The Devils again blow the Rangers away in this category as their undrafted players include top NHL defenseman Brian Rafalski who the Devils stole from Finland after a productive career at the University of Wisconsin. John Madden's coach at the University of Michigan told undrafted John Madden he would never be an NHL player. Madden has scored 20 goals in a season, won the Selke trophy for best defensive forward, and is probably one of the best 3rd line centers in the entire league. The Devils have grabbed other undrafted college players as well, including defensemen Andy Greene and Alex Brooks, who are both with the Devils but injured, Forward Rod Pelley who has been with the Devils for 4 games this year and is rumored to be on the trading block, and even Scott Clemenson, the ever patient backup goalie, who won his first game against the Caps this weekend.

This does not address trades because they are too hard to assess. The Rangers brought in Jaromir Jagr, who is the most talented player on either team to be acquired by trade. However, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the Devils trade for unhrealded Jamie Langenbrunner was actually a better trade.

So, leaving trades aside, the Devils have done a better job scouting. They have done better in the 1st round regardless of where they have picked. They have had far more success in the later rounds and the heart and soul of the Devils was slected outside round 1 (Elias, Gionta, White and Pandolfo). And they have done a better job scouting and signing undrafted players.

One day, Lou Lamoriello will retire or leave the Devils and a whole bunch of NY Rangers fans will breathe a sigh of relief. Until then, the Rangers, with all their NY glitz and money, will always be looking up at the Devils in the standings.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Disagreement vs. Hatred

My last post asked the question whether liberals were just as bad as conservatives when it came to rhetoric. The answer, for me, is no. I think the left has a long way to go until their rhetoric and hyperbole matches the bile spewed by Ann Coulter and her cult of hatred. At the same time, I concluded that the Left is getting there, and not so slowly.

Hatred is not something we should aspire too. Vilifying and degrading your opponent gets you nowhere. It wins you no friends and gets you no closer to a resolution. Instead of breaking down the walls of disagreement, it creates even larger blockades. One does not need to hate in order to disagree, and one does not need to respect their adversary to act with respect toward their adversary.

I don't hate Republicans. I don't even hate George W. Bush. I disagree with them. Often, I disagree with them forcefully. I think the vast majority of their positions are bad for America. Unlike Ann Coulter, or Bill O'Reilly, I don't have to make them the enemy in order to disagree with them. I don't have to insult them in order debate them.

One thing in particular that worries me is that when you demonize your opponent you run the risk of dehumanizing them. When politics becomes less about the policies and more about the persons, violence ensues. Aaron Burr and Charles Sumner know that all too well. I look at the political environment and I wonder whether we will have a future of political violence.

I think back to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Israel. The rhetoric at the time was vile from both sides, but particularly the far Israeli right. Instead of a debate about whether the Oslo accords were in the bets interest of Israel, Rabin became the focus. Rabin was a Nazi. People publicly talked about the wrath of God would be brought down on whoever surrendered Jewish control over any part of Judea or Samaria. Rabin, as Ann Coulter smeared all Democrats years later, was a traitor. Likewise, Rabin and the Israeli left lambasted the Israeli right. They ignored the needs and the complaints of Israel's religious community calling their Rabbis "Ayatollahs." The left did not talk, act or feel, like their right wing opponents were human beings. The right wing not only felt the same, but thought that God was on their side. Everyone ignored the rhetoric as "politics as usual," but it made Leah Rabin a widow.

I don't bring this up to get into who was right, who was wrong, or whether the Olso accords are a good thing. I bring it up just to point out that the less human you make your opponent out to be, the more likely that violence can follow. It is no surprise that militias dehumanize their opponents in order to brainwash their fighters. Likewise, it is no surprise that negotiators try to humanize a kidnappers victim.

George W. Bush is wrong. His views are doing America harm. His policies are making the rich richer and sending our youth to fight in an unnecessary war. But George W. Bush is not the enemy. He, and the Republican Party, are the opponent, but they are not the enemy. There is a difference and it is one that I encourage everyone to try to understand and embrace. My fear is that if we keep following the same path that we are on, as I posted in October of last year, politics and violence will be forever intertwined.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Are We Worse Than They Are?

This is a diary that has been brewing in my mind for awhile. I am frustrated by the state of political discourse in this country. Rhetoric substitutes for substance. Insults substitute for argument. Hatred substitutes for conciliation. In short, political discourse in this country is dead.
I don't think I am the first person to say this. I remember reading a book when I was in college called "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. I don't think I fully appreciated the book when I was in college, but when I look back on it, I understand Postman to have been saying exactly what I am saying. However, I think Postman goes further, squarely blaming entertainment, particularly television, for killing political discourse in America. I never blamed television for killing political discourse. I blamed the right wing. Theirs was the rhetoric of hate. Ann Coulter demonizes liberals. Bill O'Reilly insults anyone he disagrees with. Right wing politicians constantly verbally assault the judiciary. Weekly political discussion revolves around people yelling at each other. Everyone talking but no one listening. Lately, however, it has seemed to me that liberals are guilty of the offenses I always ascribed to the right. A court recognizes the right to gay marriage and the right starts the "tyranny of unelected liberal judges" assault. It disgusts me. But a military judge rules that he has no jurisdiction to rule on the legality of the Iraq war and he is dismissed as "a pure Bush toady, ignoring the US Constitution in his rush to support Bush's illegal war." Republicans accuse Democrats as being traitors and liberals accuse George W. Bush of being a war criminal.

I used to believe in hyperbole. I was really really guilty of it. But eventually I realized that it was counter-productive. It was good for expressing anger and outrage. It was bad for getting anyone to actually listen to me. I don't have to prove how outrageous I can be. I don't have to out-liberal the next person. Extreme language is fine if you want to be viewed as the political extreme. But the political extreme is marginalized, and rightfully so.

I want the Democrats to adopt a progressive agenda. I want the Democrats to push even further for equality. Racial equality. Gender Equality. Equality of all sexual orientations. I want the Democrats to fight for gun control, universal health care, stem cell research and better education. But the way to encourage that fight is not to use fighting words, but to fight for your ideas. To do so we need to ramp down the rhetoric and ramp up the argument.

Lets not be the Left’s version of the radical right (which has represented the Republican party since sometime around 1994). Our anger should not substitute for our argument. Lets be the party of fact, fairness and forward-thinking and leave the Republicans as the party of derision, distraction and destruction.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

This is kinda cool