Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why I Don't Write

I've been writing long enough, I think, for a worky-ass post about "process" that bores everybody to tears. So here goes.

There are three main reasons I don't write for long stretches - I don't like what I'm producing, I'm not getting ideas, or I am living too structured of a lifestyle.

The third issue is the toughest, and it tends to flow into the other two after a pretty short while. I work best in a strictly structured format when it comes to everything BUT writing, so if I want to run my life well, I need timetables and lists and charts and plans.

Writing is something completely different. My process is, shall we say, a disheveled process. It happens late at night while normal people are in bed, and it's characterized by a lot of pacing and absentmindedly leaving shit lying around.

And bourbon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Night is My House

All my life I've been a "night owl," a person who hangs on to the day long after the sun (not to mention most other human beings) has let it go.

I once ran across another night owl's description of his affliction by a similar malady, but his speculation on the origins of the curse did not ring true to me. The author, Stan Goff, described himself as a bad sleeper, and thus he assumed that he clung to wakefulness because he feared the fevered night itself.

I sleep like a rock. It is the day to come that intimidates me, with its clocks and rituals and obligations. In the night we are free to tell the world to go to hell, as long as we can accept the bargain - at sunrise, the world comes back, and brings hell back with her.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Yglesias Gets is Right

Matt Yglesias makes a key point in this post about Iraq:

If tactics employed in Northern Ireland can be made to work in Iraq (and maybe they can) even though Iraq has ten times as many people as Northern Ireland does and even though Iraqis don't speak English and even though the sectarian violence in Iraq is undergirded by concrete fighting over valuable resources, then does this really seem like a wise strategic undertaking?

The reason you don't see this question being addressed in the mainstream is because of the convention of pretending that the United States military in Iraq is some sort of benign actor beset by violence it cannot explain or understand.

Everyone seems to have agreed that under no circumstances is the US military to be portrayed as what it, in fact, is: one of many belligerent groups in a multisided resource war.

Obviously the US is "the good guys" from our perspective because they are fighting on behalf of US interests, but in no sense are they a legitimate or constructive ordering force in Iraq. They are soldiers in a war zone, fighting against enemies. That's all they'll be until we pull them out. Pretending that they are some sort of Extreme Makeover - Dictatorship Edition contracting crew is killing people. We need to stop it.

Bills@Browns Preview, Part One

Adam: From the shores of Lake Erie, welcome to the NFL Week 15 contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns. With me in the booth today is Gus Johnson, and I hope he's as excited as I am about, really, one of the first meaningful matchups between these two teams since the days of Bernie Kosar and Jim "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Gus: Ha HAAAAAA!!!!

Adam: All right. Let's jump right in and take a look at this matchup; two very different teams who have taken somewhat similar paths to this point in the season. Both have struggled against quality opposition but have usually taken care of business in games that they were expected to win.

Gus: We know from talking to folks in the Dawg Pound before the game that most everyone here expects the Browns to DEFEAT these visiting Bills, and keep their HOPES ALIVE for the National Football League playoffs.

Adam: And what most of the orange and brown-clad faithful here have been talking about is this Cleveland offense; it's Rob Chudzinsky's offense and it's a good one, Gus.

Gus: Good enough for number FIVE in the NFL in points scored.

Adam: It's a system that Chudzinsky developed while he was a tight end coach in San Diego coaching Antionio Gates, and so it leans heavily on the services of Kellen Winslow, Jr., who's been lighting up the league the last two seasons with his tough, athletic play.

Gus: And it's an offense that is based around the dropback pass, which is why it's been perfect for THIS MAN - Derek Anderson, the third-year phenom out of Oregon State. He's on pace to throw for over 30 touchdowns, and if he does so he'll be the first Cleveland QB to throw 30 since BRIAN SIPE did it way back in 1980. Why has Anderson thrived in Chud's Offense? Cause he's got a BIG ARM, and he knows how to use it, as he showed in his coming-out party in Week 2 against the Bengals.

Adam: It doesn't hurt that he's got one of the best young receivers in the business, Braylon Edwards, who's tough to cover deep and even when he is covered, he makes catches like these.

Gus: When the Browns do turn to the running game, they've got a good one, with Jamal Lewis, former Brown-killer for the Baltimore Ravens, now killing Browns opponents as he did to the Jets last week with this bruising run to put the game away.

Adam: None of it would be possible without the superior play of the offensive line, tied for second in the league in sacks allowed with sixteen on the year. And six of those sixteen sacks were in week one. The Cleveland O-line is loaded with talent, but no one outshines the rookie left tackle Joe Thomas, who went from being the best lineman in college football for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2006 straight to being one of the best tackles in the NFL for the Browns in 2007. It's a position the Browns have had trouble with going back a long way, but they feel like they've got it locked down long term now.

Gus: It's an exhilarating offensive football team to watch, and the staduim is throbbing with EXCITEMENT as we wait for the competitors to take the field.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Everybody Gets Rich!

A couple years ago, back when Bush was still marginally popular, there was a lot of debate about his proposal to "reform" Social Security by converting it from a defined-benefit pension program to a defined-contribution program more like a 401(k).

One of the arguments he made in favor of this approach was that with a 401(k) type account, you would be able to live more comfortably in retirement AND you would be able to pass along to your heirs any excess equity left over when you died.

No one ever really took this argument on in the mainstream, but this post by Clive Crook sort of reminds me of the principle that makes the truth startlingly clear - This Idea Is Bunk.

The principle is pretty simple: Not Everybody Can Get Rich.

At first glance that probably seems like sort of a sourpuss thing to say. After all, why not?!?!

Well, imagine if you will a society that is, say, two generations into a program like the one Bush was proposing. Let's say that the society is at more or less zero population growth, so people on average are leaving their estates to two children.

After two generations of a program where people are accumulating sufficient assets to live off equity to the age of 100, but where people die on average at the age of 85, basically every person in the society is going to have inherited enough money that they don't have to work full time.

The problem with that, of course, is that wealth in a capitalist system is sort of an abstraction - it's not like wealthy people actually have a big pile of food and clothing and LearJets just sitting in their backyard. Wealth is, in a sense, the right to live off the work of others. If no one's working, there isn't anything for the wealthy to consume.

The particular program Crook is pointing out isn't nearly so crazy - it isn't intended to produce an entire generation of idle people. It's a system of investment accounts designed to create more opportunity for lower-income people when they turn 18. It's a neat system, but it can't work as a retirement plan. It just can't. And anyone who says it can either hasn't thought it through or they are lying (or both.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fantasy Focus - PrePreSeason Rundown

One thing I've tried to do in the past is to make some assessments of the state of the NFL for fantasy purposes before the preseason really gets underway. The reason I think this is valuable is that most of the time, projections based on the previous year's regular season tend to be more sound than projections that are based on a couple of exhibition games that just happened. So at the end of the preseason, it's good to look back and see what you thought of the league before you sat down to look at any of that nonsense.

That's not to say that observations from the preseason are to be totally discounted. But the valuable information we learn from the preseason tends to be very specific, as opposed to general ideas about which player or team is going to be really good (or really bad) once the games start to count.

An example of a preseason observation that paid off for me was that last year I watched a Packers exhibition game and it became pretty clear that the Pack was almost completely lacking in serious offensive weapons, and that the Packers O would consist mostly of Favre flinging the ball repeatedly into double coverage trying to hook up with Donald Driver. I figured that was probably bad news for Favre, but good news for Driver, and I was mostly right - I got Double D in the sixth round and he wound up being one of the top scoring fantasy receivers in the NFL. (Favre actually had a pretty good year as well for fantasy purposes.)

One thing that jumps out at me this year is the Jets. Last year the Jets lacked a real running back, they had some new pieces on the o-line, and Chad Pennington was coming back from shoulder surgery. Despite all this, the Jets offense wound up being pretty decent. This season, the Jets have acquired Thomas Jones, they return all five starters on the line, and Pennington is completely healthy. This tells me that the Jets are poised to make a huge leap and become one of the top offenses in the league.

For that reason I expect Pennington and Coles to significantly outperform last year's numbers, and for Jones to have a good year as well. If Jones happens to be available when I pick in the first non-keeper round of my draft, I'll take him; otherwise I'll take Coles or Pennington if one of them happens to fall to the middle rounds.

Another team with great line cohesion is the Philadelphia Eagles - they return five starters from last year's opening day as well. The big question with the Eagles of course is the health of Donovan McNabb, who has been the second-best fantasy QB in the league the last three years when he's been healthy. Unfortunately he hasn't been healthy all that much.

I'd say Brian Westbrook is a good bet here, as is newly promoted WR1 Reggie Brown. Brown is a great candidate to have a breakout year and to be a steal in the middle rounds of most drafts. McNabb is more of a risk, and as much as I'd like to have him on the squad, I'll probably avoid him unless he somehow slips to the 6th round.

Teams I'm not feeling great about that some people seem high on - Arizona, a team that every year has a lot of impressive-sounding weapons but never seems to consistently produce from week to week. Detroit, a team with a nice collection of talent but that has a history of ineffectiveness and frustration.

Browns Beat - August 6th

Not much of great note coming out of Browns training camp this weekend, but here's a rundown of some assorted stuff that the team sent out on the wire.

The news with the biggest impact is the moving of former left tackle (and big 2006 free agent signing) Kevin Shaffer over to right tackle. Shaffer is not too pleased with the move, to be sure, but there's nothing he can really do about it as his contract makes him essentially uncuttable and untradeable under the salary cap rules.

With LeCharles Bentley still a long shot to make it back before midseason, the opening day Browns line is likely to look like this:

LT Joe Thomas
LG Eric Steinbach
C Hank Fraley
RG Seth McKinney
RT Kevin Shaffer

Talent-wise, that's a solid unit. The bad news is that of those players, only Fraley started a single game at that position for the Browns last year. O-Line play requires a huge amount of pre-snap and post-snap communication among the linemen, so it's likely that this group will probably underachieve this season, particularly in pass protection.

The other Browns buzz that's popping up a lot lately is that apparently Jamal Lewis has been looking pretty good in practice. That's not earth-shattering news and I'll temper my enthusiasm by noting that happy talk is always abundant in the preseason, even for terrible teams, but it's certainly better than the alternative. Lewis was once one of the top physical talents in the NFL, and in theory he should still be in his physical prime, so we Browns fans will keep our fingers crossed on this one.

NFL Preseason Begins

The official unofficial NFL season began yesterday as the make-believe version of the Pittsburgh Steelers thumped the pretend New Orleans Saints 20-7 in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, OH.

The game did not count and little new information was revealed. The Steelers are a good defensive team with some problems on offense, and the Saints are a good offensive team with a terrible, terrible D. As is often the case in the early preseason, the Saints first-team O was too out of sync to make a dent in the Steelers first-team D, while the mediocre Steeler offense looked pretty good against the overmatched Saints defensive unit.

Most of the points worth making about the two teams could have been made before the game, the key one being that Pittsburgh is starting the year with a small running back who isn't much use in the passing game, and that running back happens to be sitting out with a knee injury. That's bad news and a sign that the Steelers aren't likely to return to their exemplary 2005 form this season.

As for the Saints, the big news from the game was that center Jeff Faine (a former Cleveland Brown) left the game with a leg injury whose severity has not yet been disclosed. Faine is probably cemented as the starter, so it's likely he'll miss most of the preseason regardless of the seriousness of the injury.