Monday, March 31, 2008

Why: ESPN is wrong, the Wild still have a chance, and City Pages sucks

Almost all sports coverage outside of the Twin Cities (and even some within) seems to be completely ignoring the Wild’s playoff bid this year (City Pages you’re going to run a cover story on Al Jefferson and ignore the Wild? Really? Cover one of the worst teams in the NBA and forget about the one Minnesota based team that is going to make the playoffs this year? Really? – though I guess we should be thankful that Village Voice hasn’t begun syndicating sports coverage). The discussion is revolving around Detroit, Dallas, Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary in the West, and the Canadians, Rangers, Devils, and Penguins in the East.

I like to think that I’m a realistic fan of any sport, and tend to assume that any team that I would find myself cheering for will just never win a championship (especially since the teams are generally from Minnesota and our sports teams have a reputation for choking that rivals the Cubs). But I think it’s hard to deny that the Wild are a serious contender this year, even though most of the major sports media are ignoring this.

At the moment the Wild are relatively healthy, a few sicknesses and they’ll be missing Curtis Foster for the post season with a broken leg (which somehow didn’t draw a suspension).

With one win they will clinch the Northwest Division championship, which will give them home advantage. Last year they were undoubtedly one of the best teams at home, given in large part to the fact that they have NEVER had less than a sell out crowd. This year their home record is not as impressive, but they’ve won their last five at home, and Backstrom is 5-0-1 in his last six. With the exclusion of the first period in their loss against Edmonton they’ve been playing their best hockey of the year.

They’ve always been a defensive team, due in large part to the coaching style of Jacques Lemaire, but they are also an offensive threat with many skill players like Rolston, Gaborik, Koivu, Bouchard, Demitra, and Burns. Who have all been outstanding in the last ten games. But their major weakness, all year, has been a lack of physicality, a criticism they’ve faced throughout the year, which was made especially apparent through the absence of Derek Boogaard. But with the acquisition of Chris Simon at the trade deadline and the return of Boogaard they have become one of the most physical teams in the West. Lemaire has been suiting Boogaard, Simon, Aaron Voros, and Todd Fedoruk, which has been combination that has made it tough for any team to produce offensively. This combination also seems to have produced a larger sense of team lately, everyone has been participating in the scraps and other teams enforcers have been apprehensive to take a shot at a skill player (and when they have their have been retaliations instantly – see the video below of Burrows taking a cheap shot at Bouchard and the instant retaliations of Burns, Carney, Simon and even Bouchard gets into the first fight of his career). Even Gaborik has been playing a much more physical style of hockey since Lemaire made him captain.

Furthermore, the other major players in the West lack the momentum the Wild have at the moment. Detroit clinched their playoff position too long ago and has been struggling, allowing Nashville to take them into overtime among other tight games that would have been a different story at midseason. They are also dependent upon good performances from either Hasek and Osgood. Both of whom have proven themselves in the playoffs before, and have had great seasons, but are aging and have had points this season when they’ve struggled pulling a solid game together dragging the whole team down with them. Dallas has been in a backslide since the All Star break. At one point the number two team in the NHL, they still have not officially clinched a playoff position. Colorado and Vancouver have both struggled playing in Minnesota and have not, as of yet, clinched a playoff birth (though surely both Colorado and Dallas will). The only team that has been giving the Wild trouble has been Calgary, but with what may be a preview of the first round match up taking place on Thursday the Wild have the opportunity to show that the can stop Iginla and the Flames. San Jose has been another tough team for the Wild but they won’t face them until the second round at the earliest, and Nabokov hasn’t been at his best in the past few games even though he is seemingly always hot against Minnesota.

Will they win the Stanley Cup? Probably not. But it’s to their advantage that no one is taking them serious as a Cup competitor, because they are. When they are as hot as they have been, playing with a playoff mentality since the All Star break, competing in the tightest division in the NHL, they have the ability to beat anyone. And with the guarantee that they will not be facing the Red Wings in the opening round, they have time to prepare for the teams that have given them trouble (though they have beat both Detroit and Dallas earlier in the year when they were missing both Boogaard and Koivu). They at least stand a chance (whereas Nashville, Vancouver, and Colorado seem to be up against much greater odds) and are not getting the respect that they are currently earning.

Their major weakness is that they are running thin at defense with the loss of Foster and Lemaire’s decision not to call anyone up from the AHL. An injury on defense could be detrimental to their post-season. This is putting a lot of pressure on veterans like Sean Hill (who has been hot since Foster went out) and Keith Carney, who have both stepped up but are facing a lot more ice time and a lot more pressure. Also Lemaire is faced with a tough decision if he is going to continue suiting all of his bruisers, which leaves less space for the finesse players who score more often like Shepherd, Puilot (who is untested but playing very well), Belanger, and Radivojevic. Playing all of these forwards means pushing Demitra out to a wing and having a lot less muscle on the bench, yet the suiting of Boogaard, Simon, Voros, and Fedoruk seems to be helping the finesse players put more points on the board. How this will play out in the post-season probably depends on who the first round match up is. Vancouver or Anaheim could mean Lemaire would start by suiting the Boogaard crew to help intimidate some of their more fierce rivals, whereas a match up against Calgary or Dallas could merit a few more skill forwards. That all remains to be seen, but it means that Wild are versatile right now and that most of the sports media is choosing to ignore their rise and that may be to their advantage, surely their opponent will take them more seriously than ESPN is, but for a division leading team there seem to be low expectations, which could easily be surprised in a record breaking season for the Wild (Lemaire is one win from 500 which has only been done by ten coaches I history, Gaborik broke both the team goal and point record, Rolston had his third straight 30 goal season, Burns has broken every Wild defenseman record and Backstrom broke the win and shutout records for the Wild).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the rhetoric of Obama

So yesterday was kind of a disappointment for anyone supporting Obama (or the Wild).

The primary that will not end continues.

I’ve given my opinion a few times now, I support Obama, and thus I got the Obama newsletter late last night, his attempt to rally the troops after a disappointing evening in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island. The newsletter was maybe the biggest disappointment tonight (except for the Wild). He has been repeatedly criticized for being all talk, that his rhetoric is fancy but never really says anything. I, personally, don’t believe that to be true, but the newsletter was a striking example of what he is being criticized for I’m terribly disappointed by how the rhetoric within, despite the call for “change,” is “politics as usual.” The letter he sent out (though I’m sure it wasn’t actually typed up and sent out by Obama despite the loving “Barack” signature) is copied below.

We may not know the final outcome of today's voting until morning, but the results so far make one thing clear.

When the dust settles from today's contests, we will maintain our substantial lead in delegates. And thanks to millions of people standing for change, we will keep adding delegates and capture the Democratic nomination.

We knew from the day we began this journey that the road would be long. And we knew what we were up against.

We knew that the closer we got to the change we seek, the more we'd see of the politics we're trying to end -- the attacks and distortions that try to distract us from the issues that matter to people's lives, the stunts and the tactics that ask us to fear instead of hope.

But this time -- this year -- it will not work. The challenges are too great. The stakes are too high.

Americans need real change.

In the coming weeks, we will begin a great debate about the future of this country with a man who has served it bravely and loves it dearly. And we will offer two very different visions of the America we see in the twenty-first century.

John McCain has already dismissed our call for change as eloquent but empty.

But he should know that it's a call that did not begin with my words. It's the resounding call from every corner of this country, from first-time voters and lifelong cynics, from Democrats and Republicans alike.

And together you and I are going to grow this movement to deliver that change in November.

Thank you,

Clearly “change” and “hope” are the buzzwords of his campaign, that’s fine with me, every candidate finds their buzz words so that their followers have signifiers to identify with. In just over 250 words he delivers the word “change” four times. Not an incredible amount but quite excessive. But that’s fine, he’s been criticized by Clinton and McCain for overuse of the word, but Clinton could be criticized for overuse of her signature scowl and McCain for (insert here).

But what was truly disappointing is the way in which this letter doesn’t say anything. It’s the same philosophy that drives “Support Our Troops” signs. The phrasing is vague, making it seem clear that if you don’t agree you must be crazy. But the words don’t say anything; they never define what they describe. It’s a rhetorical method of drawing a line in the sand without actually defining the argument, so that as many people as possible want to be on your side of the line.

The sentence that begins “We knew that the closer we got to the change we seek, the more we’d see of the politics we’re trying to end” is particularly revealing of Obama’s pension to oversimplify his statements into rousing emotional appeals instead of speaking to the people who are listening about what is really going on. It seems to me that “politics as usual” is rehashing rhetoric that is solely intended to gather the support of the public without giving the truth, the facts, indeed “the politics we’re trying to end.” This paragraph is somewhat bulkier than the others; it is thematically the message of the letter. This is the section where we don’t talk about defeat, or the attacks, this is where he tries to define “us.” Yet this statement is so inclusive and vague that it doesn’t say who “we” are or what defines “we” or what the politics are that need ending.

“The attacks and the distortion that try to distract us from the issues that matter to people’s lives, the stunts and the tactics that ask us to fear instead of hope” is an interesting end to that statement. It differentiates between us and them instantly. “They” are the ones who attack and distort. “They” want the politics “we” want to end. Furthermore, though the statement is largely evasive deep down it is directed at someone, or rather two specific people. It is their attacks and distortion that are distracting in the phrase. But this statement is itself an evasive attack, and seems to be taking up the space where information could/should reside, so it is really distracting from the issues that matter to me. The Obama campaign has a captive audience in a space such as this, yet it is nonetheless filled with this hollow rhetoric and othering of the rest of the field.

This example isn’t necessarily sinister, but this is what we have seen over and over in the past. Presidents who use tired rhetoric to gather support for war, or for pet spending projects, or frequently in the same capacity of trying to gather voters for elections. It makes the listener feel more patriotic for believing what the speaker believes, demonizing the opposition, even if their stance is not that far removed, othering them against those who agree, those who are patriotic. “Americans need real change.” Interpretation: if you want this change than you are American. And implicitly in this kind of rhetoric the more “American” you can acquire, the better.

The newsletter even goes on to state what the critics are saying about this rhetoric: “John McCain has already dismissed our call for change as eloquent but empty.” I’ve stated my bias, I believe there is substance to his campaign, that he has shown it often, but this letter to his supporters is eloquent and empty. It didn’t instill any “hope” in me this evening.

And Chicago beat the Wild, the world is a dark place this evening.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Missile strikes on Somalia

The story is still fairly fresh at this point, but I've only seen CNN reporting on this. The US has attacked Somalia this morning, sending missiles into the country in an attempt to weed out "known terrorists." the major issue with what has been reported so far is that reporters are, as usual in war reporting, not asking the right questions. They "pentagon correspondent" for CNN is happy having the authority of the Pentagon behind her, and accepts "known terrorist" targets as sufficient explanation. But this is the same thing that happened last January. The US bombed "strategic" targets in Somalia, but then the story disappears, the public has no idea why we are attacking another country, and we aren't allowed to.

The journalist who are covering this story need to be more vigilant, ask the right questions. If the pentagon doesn't want to give information find someone else. How about questioning other military officials, or how about they stop pretending like military officials are the be all and end all of authority. They are trying to control what is known, do Somali officials know anything? what about people in the region who are being bombed? It's disappointing to see that major journalists are satisfied being told evasive answers from the pentagon and don't feel like they need to dig any deeper, especially in a time of war. Why? They are afraid of repercussions from the top, and of being perceived as unpatriotic. So instead they use the government jargon, and play up standard rhetoric to make the public believe that what is being done, though mysterious, must be noble because we are doing it, and the secretivism must be a product of our dealing with the eradication of terrorist cells...which is just generally not true. The journalists who have the power to ask the questions have a responsibility to ask the right questions and not the questions that have been asked over and over, nor the questions that they have been told to ask.