Go Back to 'Doing Nothing'
What is this infernal Congress thing up to? It's fine that there is some sort of general budget agreement--something is better than nothing--though there seems to be a lot randomness in what's in and what's out (I'm sure it's not random, but a function of who's paid their subscriptions to key members' ears). It didn't solve any of the heated political issues like the Farm Bill (and associated food stamps for the poor), the extension of unemployment insurance, and the upcoming debt ceiling.
What? How can the Republican leadership line up for a budget and then say they don't agree to the increase in the debt that flows directly from the spending? I think--I hope--if they try to pull this nonsense again that President Obama is going to have a nice political bombshell waiting for them. Something like, "Forget the statutory debt limit--we're spending the authorized amounts. Do something about it, if you think you can." My assessment is: They can't, and President Obama should be fully aware of that by now.
And while I'm ranting about Congress, I have to focus directly on the Senate--and particularly on certain middle-Atlantic Democratic Senators--who have combined with a bunch of Republicans to take it upon themselves to make foreign policy--bad foreign policy--with regard to Iran. They say the bill is designed to make sure Iran follows through on its responsibilities in the interim agreement (it is already doing so) and force its hand in the general negotiations on reduction of forces, but they have an exaggerated and distorted view of both the US' economic and poliical influence on Iranian domestic politics and how to conduct a negotiation. One could say they are being the "bad cops" in order to allow President Obama to "good cop" a deal, but the whole idea around that concept is that it is supposed to be a cooperative effort. This is just political play-acting to show that they are more pro-Zionist than the Israelis. Speaking of Zionists....
Sharon was indeed one of the nationalist Great Men, which, as I discussed with regard to Nelson Mandela recently, does not mean he was a good man (though, to be clear, Mandela was). So Twentieth Century, though. I basically said my piece and made my peace with him eight years ago, when he basically died--this was merely the cessation of bodily functions.
I will limit myself to saying this: they say he wanted to be remembered as a Man of Peace; he was not that at all. He was a warrior, and a leader of warriors, and an effective, calculating, brutal one at that. They say he might have been the guy who could have rammed through a peace deal, but it turned out he was not (whether he was just unlucky to have had his stroke at that time, or whether it was not going to happen, we will never know). Clearly his successors, Ehud Olmert of his party and Benyamin Netanyahu of the Likud, were not the people to complete the deal. Sharon's legacy is the stupid Wall between Israel and the Palestinians; my hope is that it crumbles or is torn down. Then, maybe, it will be time for him to rest in peace; his soul (if there is such) has no business doing so now.
I have no suitable transition, so this admission of ineptness will have to do.
It's hard to believe that the new pro tennis season has started already, with the Australian Open. The weather is outrageously hot (no "climate change" here, is there, deniers?) It will be just a test of fitness and stamina, so the number one question for the men's side is whether Novak Djokovic can hold up. He has had some problems in the past with the heat there, but his conditioning has gotten a lot better, aided by a gluten-free diet. On the women's side, the main question is whether it will be Azarenka or Sharapova who loses to Serena Williams in the final. My recommendation is that the tour change things around a little, give a longer warm-up period (maybe some optional East Asian tourneys?) and move the Aussie grand slam to March or April, when temperatures may be a bit more reasonable down under. Do it soon, like next year, hopefully not after some player collapses or dies from heat stroke.
Next: I think that NBC (and its owner, Comcast) is headed for a massive ratings disaster with the Winter Olympics that will begin soon. The latest is that they will not be doing free podcasts; you will have to pay to see it live, which will tick off the enthusiasts, of which there are precious few for the winter sports in the US.
I see nothing that will be both compelling and new for the rest of us potential mass-market viewers: Shaun White is competing, will be able to go after some new and different gold medals, but is tired of his nickname as the "Flying Tomato" (or "Il Pomodoro Volante", as he was called in Torino last Olympics--I love the sound of it, try saying it out loud). I say, oh yeah? Die your hair white (for camouflage), then. Lindsay Vonn (and her Tiger beau) will not be attending, or at least she will not be competing, due to injury; however, I'm guessing she will be paid incredible sums to do commentary there--I don't blame her at all, though. The US and Canadian hockey teams (men and women) will go to war again--all too familiar. Oh, no! Apollo will not be competing in the most bogus of the ballyhooed events, short-track speed skating. At least the Bob Costases of the massive US (broadcasting) team that will attend can phone in their reports from the relatively balmy lakeside Sochi headquarters instead of heading out into the trackless cold mountains.
Baseball has announced there will be two exhibition-games-that-count in Australia a week before Opening Day, an impressive willingness to bend all rules to create a publicity stunt. More intelligently, they have taken a page from the NFL and will allow managers to challenge two rulings per game (that's one per half) to go to the video tape. That's potentially four more long-form advertisements per game, as if the games weren't too long already; there will probably be some sort of make-up provision to reduce game time, borrowing from tennis, which will allow umpires to call a ball if the pitcher stands there too long on the mound, tugging on his cap and pulling up his jock.
What I saw today on this topic is that baseball's "neighborhood play", in which the second baseman turning a doubleplay makes a phantom move with his foot in the general neighborhood of second base before throwing to first (and often does not touch the base, as the rules would require), will not be reviewable, by request from the players' association. The reason is clear: The "neighborhood play" is the flip side of the baserunner charging in with spikes up, and this allowance will protect infielders from a certain amount of career-damaging injuries. I am sure that the umpires will be guided not to allow the infielders to take it too far--if they don't even move in the general direction, they will be permitted to call the baserunner "safe". I have to say that this was a good decision from a humanitarian point of view, as is the one about cutting down home-plate collisions. Yes, "baseball is getting soft", but it was never supposed to be football.
Finally, with regard to football, the NFL conference championship games (a little better transition): your intrepid previewer had three of the final four teams right (the fourth, the Saints, ended up having to play the Seattle Seahawks in the last round, so the pairings made it impossible). The team I overlooked, last year's Super Bowl runners-up (let's not call them losers) the SF 49'ers, are the Sweet Babboo crush of expert football analysts: they have a very exciting young quarterback, and a good defense, and some impressive playoff performances at their back. Seattle has all the above (except the playoff history), and they have home-field advantage, which the Seahawks, their noise-focusing and weather-funneling stadium design, and their frenzied fans, have made into their critical competitive edge. So, I'm going against the smart money and picking the home team.
Will Seattle get its first championship in any sport in thirty-some years? I would say it's unlikely: the Denver Broncos seem to be the team of destiny this year. Peyton Manning, who has had the greatest regular season in the history of quarterbacks this year, has willed and skilled his team to the top: it would be unjust if the Broncos were to lose, either to the Patriots this weekend or in the Super Bowl.