Tuesday, October 25, 2016

16'/17' NBA Predictions, the 2nd annual.

Eastern Conference

1) Cleveland - LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and still plays for Cleveland.  Games 5&6 of the finals reminded the world that, as long as he can still run, he should stay at the #1 spot.  Essentially returning the same team that won the finals, adding Mike Dunleavy, no slouch, who is still one of best spot up shooters in league and rarely misses a defensive assignment.  Hearing concerns about back up point guard with only Kay Felder, an exciting, but undersized and offensive minded player to back up the oft-injured Kyrie Irving.  It is a weak spot, but in the same way the Rockets can slide Harden into the 1 when need be, so can LeBron.
2) Toronto - Lowry/DeRozan are the most experienced and consistent back court in the East. Cory Joseph is a very good two way bench player and look forward to a full season from DeMarre Carroll, who when healthy is a terrific wing defender and good outside shooter.  A lot to like on this team, but very thin in the front court, feeling the year to year losses of Amir Johnson and Biyombo. Can’t see them getting over playoff hump without supplementing J-Val with a little help down there.  
3) Boston - Brad Stevens, the NBA’s hottest young coach has a lot to work with this season.  Bringing back the same unit who excelled in playoffs last season who added Al Horford, the closest version to Tim Duncan the league currently has, the new Mr. Consistency.  Could be only team with enough pieces and moxy to actually challenge Clevo in a series.  Don’t except much from Jaylen Brown this season, who analytically is worst ranked lottery pick in years.  I believe Marcus Smart will really solidify himself, I expect an even minutes split in the 1 & 2 spots from him, Bradley and Thomas.  
4) Indiana - Excited, as always, for a healthy Paul George to start the season whom at his peak is a top 10 NBA player.  Add Jeff Teague, a perennially underrated PG in Atlanta for years and Thad Young, mostly worthwhile for rebounding hustle and his ability to cover 2-4 on the floor.  Myles Turner is no joke.  This a good, deep, lengthy team who should cause a lot of waves in the east.  One glaring deficiency is outside shooting, which is hard to win without a bevy of in new NBA.   
5) Detroit - This roster plays out like the modern antidote to Warriors style basketball.  Size, size, size.  Drummond/Baynes in the middle.  Morris/Leuer in the 4,  both who can step out and stretch the floor with shooting.  Harris/Johnson with good length and shooting on the wing. Reggie Jackson, though a great scorer is not the most efficient floor general, solid signing in Ish Smith for that change of pace. SVG built himself an extremely SVG team. 
6) Washington - John Wall, to me, is painfully underrated.  Surrounded by underachievers his whole career.  I expect big jump years from Otto Porter, and more so Kelly Oubre.  Full season of Markeif Morris can pay big dividends.   Ian Mahinmi is a better alternative to Nene at this stage in his career because of defensive contributions.  Biggest question mark is thin back court depth, only Trey Burke and Marcus Thornton are rostered and Beal can not be counted on for 80+.  If they are in contention towards the end, will have to supplement roster at that spot. 
7)   Charlotte - Think this is the sneaky team of the East.  Loss of Jefferson won’t be felt so much due to his age and the system they are trying to run. Bellinelli a nice addition off the bench, but so much of this season is contingent on the health of NJ’s own Micheal Kidd Gilchrist, a dynamic talent who can change a game with defense and energy.  Curious how Batum handles pressure of big deal and being the primary play maker.  
8)  Chicago - Not as sour as most on these Bulls.  Butler is a young star, paired with two solid, rotational youngsters (McDermott/Portis)  Couple change of pace forwards with Taj and Mirotic.  Add D. Wade, a floor coach who commands ultimate respect and a NBA title holding PG in Rondo who dished out 11.7 assists last year.  It should be noted that for someone with an awful shooting reputation, he put up a respectable .365 from 3 point range in 72 games last year.  Obvious chemistry and defensive questions abound, but I find interesting, main variable to me is if Fred Holberg can stay in control of this team and be able to coach.


9)  Atlanta - Forgive me for not having a lot of faith in Dwight Howard, who assuredly will put up huge and useless regular season numbers.  Love the coach and how his defense operates, love Millsap, but just can’t see it.  Losing Horford and Teague too much to take, and I don't trust Korver's health or Schroeder's ability to log full time PG minutes.
10) Orlando - A lot of talk about the “logjam” of rostering Vucecic, Ibaka and Biyombo.  I see three legit big men, two who can stretch the floor, giving Frank Vogel a ton of defensive options and a very deep front court.  Fournier is a nice player, but will probably take a big jumps from Aaron Gordon at his new position and Elfrid Payton's shooting for them to seriously compete, if not, point guard hunt will be on. 
11) Milwaukee - I like a lot of pieces on this team, especially Giannis and Jabari who have only scratched their respective ceilings.  Dellavadova was a crazy signing to me, especially for the money guys like Jeremy Lin and Ish Smith went for.  A serviceable backup PG being asked to log heavy minutes in a much tougher situation than he found himself in with LeBron and Co.  Loss off Middleton is too tough to compensate for on the outside, even with Mizra Teletovic most likely having free reign to fire from the arc.  Still a couple back court pieces away. 
12) New York - I can’t think of a worse scenario for the Knicks to start the season then Derrick Rose being on trial and even when playing in pre-season, looking like a tenuous rotational player more than MVP caliber point from years back.  Noah will miss time, and no way Brandon Jennings keeps his mouth shut all year.  Rookie coach getting handed this is even more cause for concern.  Understood the position Phil Jackson is in to hurry up and put something around an aging Melo, but this is less than a band aid, more of a used and half wet bandaid you found on the floor.   
13) Brooklyn - The Nets are being universally chosen as worst team in the NBA, as I’ll agree their future prospects are about as grim as a Clint Eastwood movie, the ship has been moved in the right direction.  Maybe picking them over 3 teams in overall record (Philly, Miami and Sac) is a homer pick, but this team is playing the right way, coached well and hungry.  Brook/Lin are a formidable pick and roll combination, and RHJ is proving as an elite level wing defender already, with only 29 games under his regular season belt.  Scola/Booker/Grievis will help keep them competitive, and offer contenders some interesting trade chips in the stretch run.  Also, keep an eye on Justin Hamilton, was a nice player a few years back in the NBA and had a winning game in Euro ball, a true stretch 4 with a great stroke from the outside.  
14) Miami - Hasaan Whiteside is a unique talent, but his track record is far too small and sketchy to get max dollars, and with Wade/Bosh gone, him being the face of the franchise is way too much for him.  Spolestra is great coach, Winslow should improve and start cementing it as his squad, but this team does not have enough talent to seriously compete.  Wouldn’t be shocked to see Dragic moved at some point.  
15) Philadelphia - Trust the process.  A month ago I would have had this team somewhere around 12/13, but with Noel/Simmons slated to miss first 2-3 months, can’t see them getting many W’s.  It appears Joel Embid is a truly dynamic talent with great upside, but let him put together a healthy stretch before we crown him anything.  They are developing a hell of a budding roster, but it’s young and needs much more time. 

Western Conference
1) Golden State - What’s to say, only thing that will keep them out of this spot is catastrophic injury or another team really excelling while they rest players in the stretch run.  On a normal team, I’d be concerned about Zaza Pachouli being counted on very heavy starter minutes, and a bench that doesn’t go very far past Livingston and Iguadola.  But the core makeup is too wild, and from all accounts, no front office has any idea how to deal with it not named LeBron James.  Oh, and by the way, Klay/Steph/KD shot 46% from 3-point in the preseason. Yikes! 
2) Oklahoma City - Westbrook already had the biggest chip on his shoulder in the league, perhaps, and that chip has become massive.  He has the unique ability to will his team to wins, and we saw what Roberson/Adams can do to people defensively in the postseason.   Oladipo and Kanter have huge opportunities to score the ball, a lot of how this season plays out relies on their ability to complement Russ on the offensive end.  Don’t sleep on Payne/Sabonis off the bench, as well. I like this team. 
3) Houston - The Houston offseason was on of the best in basketball.  Even though Anderson/Gordon are injury prone, this team can flat out shoot and should score a ton of points, especially with the “7 seconds or less” mentality.  Nene adds front court depth and not too worried about PG depth to start season since Harden can slide over, but defensively they’ll need Beverly back before long.  Will blow the doors off a lot of teams in regular season, but the makeup is not right for the playoffs, will get beat up in a long series.  
4) LA Clippers - This team, as constructed, is and will be the Clippers best chance at a title with this core.  Bringing back all the main pieces, supplementing the bench with Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce and Marresse Speights.  There are weapons and experience and grit at every position, topped by a great coach.  Have a feeling about this years Clips, and as you'll see in bottom of my predictions, think they are only team who could take out Warriors in a 7 game series.  As much as Clips will have hard time covering that perimeter, they could effectively OWN the paint, which historically says something in the NBA. 
5) Utah - My favorite young team in the west.  Not too worried about Hayward injury, once healed shouldn’t be nagging problem.  Assuring up the PG spot with George Hill, and adding veteran bench pieces in Diaw and Joe Jesus.  It’s a great mix of solid coaching, timing, young talent and veteran leadership.  I could see this team getting up to the 3-4 seed and winning a playoff round or two. 
6) San Antonio - Mark my words, it’s finally going to happen.  Every year people have doubted, and every year the Spurs answer the doubts and remain steadfastly at the top of the West.  That was because of Tim Duncan, and that will now change.  Aldridge and Pao on paper are great combo but have a high probability for chemistry clash.  Danny Green is banged up and the guards are a year older.  The decline won’t be out of the playoffs, but the powerhouse may be over. 
7) Portland - Dame Lillard has quickly become one of my league favorites.  Plays with a constant chip and with good pieces around him, have a feeling he is going to come back year after year with competitive teams.  They made some solid front court additions, but behind Crabbe, there are almost zero shooters, ball handlers or play makers coming off the bench.  That little depth won’t go very far, but they’re a playoff squad.  
8) Memphis - Boooooring old, pretty good Memphis.  Same old story, a healthy Marc Gasol could lead anyone to playoffs.  Mike Conley is very good, and now extremely rich.  But ask other teams how relying on Chandler Parsons has gone?  They will defend well and win 40+ games, again…nothing new. 

9) Minnesota - I love Towns as much as the next guy, and as intriguing as pairing the young core of KAT/Wiggins/LaVine/Dieng with a coach like Thibs, I still think they are one year or one piece away from the edge that gets you over the hump in close games.  Exciting, but not quite there. Hopefully the CBA changes in a way that allows teams like the T-Wolves to lock up their starters long term, could be an incredible core a little down the road.  
10) Dallas - Cuban did nice job of stocking decent pieces for Rick Carlisle to work with.  Just enough to stay respectable for Dirk’s finale while leaving no chance of winning it all.  Even with a Harrison Barnes turnaround this season solidifying him as, perhaps not a max contract guy, but at least a go to scorer and wing defender on solid team, Dallas will fall short.  Deron Williams is sure to wet Mavs fans palletes with a stretch of good games, then fake an injury and be in and out rest of season.  If Salah Mejri and Draymond Green wind up on court together, Dray will leave with some sort of ejection/suspension.  In short minutes last season, Salah pissed a lot of people off.  
11) Phoenix - Love the back court and also on the “Devin Booker is the real deal” train.  Len/Chandler nice pair of rim protectors.  But seeing gaping holes at the 3/4 spots that Chriss/Bender are not ready to yet fill on a full time level.  See improvement and some nice stretches, but can’t see the playoffs. 
12)  New Orleans - Starting to feel bad for Anthony Davis.  Every year we talk about the success of the Pelicans contingent on the health Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday.  A few low risk and high ceiling pick-ups, like Solomon Hill and Tim Frazier were solid, but unless Buddy Hield turns into an absolute star right off the bat.  Same old for New Orleans.
13)  Denver - Nice core building in Denver, Jokic/Mudiay/Harris mixed with another good rookie class, there is hope in Denver.  Just not playoff hope quite yet. 
14) LA Lakers - Excited to watch D’Angelo Russell shoot 35 times a game, Brandan Ingram get blown around by a swift breeze, and Julius Randle do his best Colossus impression, shoving his head into the chest of whoever is in front of him.  Joking aside, love Jordan Clarkson and that was a sneaky good re-signing.  The core is young and fun, might start getting some people in the seats but not a lot of W’s.  
15) Sacramento - Well, well, well.  Old Demarcus Cousins lost again in the landlocked California city of Sacramento.  Starting to feel for him, he wouldn’t be winning in Brooklyn, but at least he’d have some cooler places to go eat.  Hard to see this team making a jump, barring big strides from anyone of Cauley-Stein or McLemore.  

Eastern Conference Finals:  Cleveland v Boston
Western Conference Finals: Golden State v LA Clippers

Finals:  LA Clippers v Cleveland
Finals Champ: Cleveland Cavaliers 

MVP - Kevin Durant
6th Man of the Year - Marcus Smart
Coach of the Year - Billy Donovan
Finals MVP - Kyrie Irving 
Most Improved Player - Andrew Wiggins
Rookie of the Year - Joel Embiid
Executive of the Year - Dennis Lindsey


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Continuing Saga of Being Jewish...

"Substantial progress towards better things can rarely be taken without developing new evils requiring new remedies" - William Howard Taft 

In my life, I’ve had to deal with a little anti-semitism, but it has never felt omnipresent.  There have been moments, but it hasn't been a lifelong struggle.  I knew, and could see, that culturally I was a little bit different, but not enough to impede my movement in life.   I listened to the stories of my Grandparents, two of which were immigrants from Russia and Poland.  Listened to the stories of my parents, raised in the 40’s and 50’s in Brooklyn and the Bronx. There were plenty of tales, and more than enough about anti-semitism and the battles they fought to know that I had a much different, and easier reality.  The fact that it was an afterthought, in my mind, had always highlighted the progress made prior to me. 

I lived in an area during my teenage years that was on the outskirts of where a lot of working class white people lived.  I was in some new apartment complexes out of the thick of it, but bussed, went to school and hung out with them.  It was hiding in plain sight, I was raised by educated, Jewish New Yorkers, but since I also lived in affordable housing with my Mom, wore Metallica t-shirts, had long hair and was a smart ass in school, I fit right in.  I saw, from kids and adults alike, a lot of your general working class, racist, ignorant shit.   The worst was usually overhearing a neighbor or friend’s parents say they “Jewed someone down on the price”, usually looking at me shortly after saying something like, “don’t worry Benny, you’re like, a good one”.   I know it’s weird to say, and I’d like to keep a black and white line on racial issues, but there is a difference between truly racist and kind of dumb.  It was annoying, but we’re not talking about holocaust deniers or anti-Semites here, just general dumb asses, who usually had something shitty to say about everyone, themselves included.  In fairness, dumb asses like this are still half my friends, and I’m basically one of them.  

The issues I had with proper neo-nazi, white power dudes came about via hardcore shows.  When I started going in the early/mid 90’s, the trail off of skinheads at shows was still there.  Apparently not very long before I started attending, it had been far worse, and a lot of the scene had organized or become violent against it.  By the time I got there it had mostly been removed, but we had our problems, two stories below highlight this.    

My first real face to face with it was somewhere around 1994, ironically at some kind of charity event hosted outdoors on a high school football field in Hillsborough, NJ.  A nice town that I had many good friends in, but the part of NJ that starts to be far away enough from the city that it’s getting closer, culturally, to a more conservative mindset.  A couple friends and I had gone to see XBoundX, our favorite local hardcore band at the time.  The show had an outdoor stage, an odd mix of older/younger bands and a bunch of unusual show goers in the crowd.  

During their set we started a circle, there weren’t many of us but we managed a few solid pile-ons.  Then two guys, not kids, grown ass men started thrashing around the circle.  They seemed drunk, they were shirtless, and just getting off on anything amplified.  In the spirit of a positive pit, there were smiles and these dudes were just trying to have a good, drunken time.  No harm, no foul.  Then I saw this huge tattoo on the big guys back, clear as day, a giant swastika with an SS solider pointing a gun over top, a full size back piece.   I was floored, never seeing anything like that before and my head started to spin.  My friends saw it too and it made for an uncomfortable couple songs until there set was over, we were trying to have fun and avoid these guys at the same time.  

After the set, the tattooed guys were milling around and eventually made their way over to my crew.  Drunk and loud and rambunctious, they walked over and started saying what’s up to everyone and bumping/shaking hands.  This dude got up to me, and I froze.  In my memory it feels like I was sitting there for an hour, thinking about this tattoo, this guy, this place, imminent regret for not standing up for myself and eventually thought of my family.  I can’t conceive Judaism without thinking of my Grandparents, and in some terrified but willful show of disobedience, I pulled my hand back and told him “I can’t shake your hand.”   Still happy and confused, he asked “Why?”  And I said, “Well, honestly, I don’t like that tattoo on your back”, to which he replied, “What, are you a fucking Jew lover.”  I said, shaky and small, “well actually I am a Jew”, he said, with great disdain “well you’re a fucking Kike then”, and stormed away.  

I have to re-iterate how scared I was, and how my little protest wasn’t done with a puffy chest.  I was seriously shook and thought I would get killed if I didn’t leave.  There were no more bands anyway, and I had all the people I knew there walk me out to my friend’s car.  There was no further incident.  But I didn’t take it lightly, and the further into adulthood I get, I despise the man who treated a kid like that more and more.    

A couple years passed, and that incident took a backseat in my head, it’s Central Jersey after all and you don’t have to go far to find many cultures living closely and comfortably with each other.  As a joke and half-hearted attempt at showing pride, my brother and I made a little run of shirts.  6 were printed, they said the ‘Jewish Mafia’ on the front, and had a star of David on the back with NJJC written around it, for New Jersey Jew Core.  Since we were naive to actual realities and struggles of Jews present in our community, it wasn’t more than a goof to us and most involved.   Actually two shirts were traded to an unknown fellow for Warped Tour tickets, there whereabouts are still a mystery.  
  
Not long after, I went to see Snapcase, Refused and Turmoil at the Trocadero in Philly.  I had taken the train in with one friend, neither of us the tough guy types.  I wore my NJJC shirt, thinking not too much of it again, assuming what happened previously was an isolated incident.  Anyway, I sort of liked the attention it brought, I was and am a bit of a ham and liked the “conversation starter” aspect of the shirt.  Turmoil opened the show,  being one of my favorite bands at the time, I naturally started dancing and singing along and piling on bodies.   As I was finger pointing at the front of the stage, having a blast,  I got cracked in the head, really hard.  I was literally seeing stars and stumbled off to the side, I got myself together and quickly assumed I had taken a foot or fist from a stage diver, accidentally, it happened pretty often.  

During that era the Philadelphia scene had a group of dudes that called themselves “Philly Straight Edge”.  If knowledge serves, it was mostly local, drug free, bike messenger guys, who always wore Philadelphia 76ers Clarence Weatherspoon basketball jerseys and started many circle pits  at shows.  I had met one of them backstage at an H20 show,  he had long dreads, can’t remember his name.  This guy walked up to me and said, “you alright man?  That dude fucked you up”.  I didn’t know what he was talking about, but points to a few dudes staring at me across the room, skinheads, and big boys too.  One of them, apparently, had run full speed behind me when I wasn’t looking and punched me in back of the head.  A fucking weak move, due to me being about 16 years old, and the guy not even having the courage to face up on me.  

Getting my bearings, rubbing a baseball sized lump on my head, I saw a group of 3-4 of them, and they were talking and pointing right at me.  I was about to get rushed and stomped.  But, luckily, before I knew it, about 6 Clarence Weatherspoon jerseys and two security shirts rushed the guys and forcibly removed them from the building. Those dudes, luckily for me, were not about racist shit, and were quick to come to my aid.  Security probably wanted to get ahead of it since it was the 1st band and they’d already started punching people, just to maintain the peace.  I recovered, and watched rest of the show.  Refused and Snapcase were great.  

They were crazy times, but they ended...at least in my perceivable reality. It’s something that hasn’t come up in so many years for me in a tangible way.  I moved to New Brunswick area at the end of high school and ran with groups of either musicians or artists or students for many years.  Then I toured, then I wound up in a newly gentrifying part of Jersey City.  All these places were safe, and somewhat secluded from the sentiments of so many I share not only the country with, but the state.  Well, thanks to some recent loud-mouth celebrities, it’s come back into my life. 

It’s a long story, but I have been actively trolled by white nationalists and anti-Semites on twitter for the last few months now.  It started one night on a Hillary Clinton thread with someone using the (((echoes))) around my name, which are a new online Star of David.  A way of branding Jews on the Internet to be attacked by other like minded jerkoffs.  I was honestly crushed, I tried to take the high road and not engage.  Later that night I was so upset I just blocked anyone involved and deleted all messages included.  I decided that it was social media’s fault, if I wasn’t active on this site, I wouldn’t know that these people and their thoughts existed.  I live in a good community where this isn’t tolerated and I don’t have to see it, so why am I subjecting myself to it?   I decided if it’s on your doorstep, engage, if not, be the better man and leave these fringe thinkers alone.  They’ve always existed, and now they have a medium to share besides for local Waffle House’s and shit…then it followed me home. 

I can’t tell the whole story here, for sake of real life fluidity, but the day after this incident it came close to my doorstep.  It involved a colleague of my wife making a rude and totally out of line comment about changing her name to Horowitz, and the problems such a name will bring about in her life.  

These two instances have had my mind spinning for weeks.  Why, how, what the fuck is going on!?!?!  All this displaced anger and rage and sadness I don’t know what to do with.  My John Wayne side furious, knowing that if these people were standing eye to eye with me they would never say these things.  Emotional at the thought of my Grandparents, my Grandpa, who went to Yeshiva and nearly became a rabbi.  Who instead, ran grocery stores in Harlem & the Bronx and had a reputation for being extremely liberal and generous to people of all kinds, a rarity in those days.   My Grandma, who escaped Poland with her family before the war and would quietly turn the lights off Friday night and light a candle and say a prayer.  My Aunt, the Rabbi, who has such great faith in God and religion that she navigates the bureaucracy of it as a lesbian woman despite the struggles she’s faced.  

And the funny thing is, I’m not a religious man.  As anyone who has ever read this blog knows, I’m spiritual and agnostic but generally live in a continuous state of existential flux.  I think most conservative brands of religion come with great and unnecessary social consequences.  But now I’m branded a Jew Zionist because of my last name.  Even though, I’m questionable about Israel, its policies and its close and often questionable ties to America’s military.  I hold all atrocities accountable to the people creating them, hence my open admission to America and Israel being fucked up places with blood on their hands, as I believe all countries in the world, in order to become sovereign nations have had to have been fucked up places with blood on their hands.  I’ve been around a lot of the world, and no place exists without internal turmoil over its past and divisions...regionally, socially, religiously or otherwise that separate them and cause some degree of strife.  

Call me a hippy, but I believe the end game has to be universal peace.  How many history books do you need to read to understand that borders and war and dogma lead to the same result, literally EVERY time.  I believe these lines in the sand and dirt that people bleed and die over are fake and artificial.  They’re not divine, they’re man made and should be as fallible as man is.  Just as the stories they bleed and die over are essentially man made at this point, the reason I believe these words and books should also now only be used as guidelines, not instructions.  

But, even with that said, these people look at me and see 8 hook nosed Hassidic men who apparently control with world via media and banking conglomeration.  They tell me Hitler was right, and just didn’t finish the job.  They tell me all I learned of the Holocaust is artificial and the forearm tattoos I saw at my Grandparents wedding anniversary as a kid were apparently fake.  That it’s a Jews inherent sketchy and evil qualities that lead to their own persecution.  That they want my wife and my son displaced or dead.   

My mental instinct is to rise above, to push out this negativity and meet it with optimism.  The emotional side wants to fight, engage, and literally beat the shit out of all who think in this way.  It’s confusing, and sad, and I suppose I naively thought the progress that developed would just continue.  It’s also the natural ebb and flow of thought and society to have setbacks, I just hope it’s not a permanent one, and will try to remain optimistic.  What other choice do I have?  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Vegans vs Killer Cows...

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and 
conscientious stupidity" - MLK

“Go Vegan and no One Gets hurt” is the sticker I saw on a sign a few days ago.  I pass by a lot of stickers living in a city…graffiti, promotion companies, bands, causes, etc, but this one really caught my attention.  Nobody gets hurt? Made me think, but only about how much the sentiment bothered me.  Too simple, too blanketed, not a thoughtful perspective.  It didn't make a clear point, it doesn’t make you question your decisions as a meat eater. The longer I thought about it the more and more angry I got.

Please know this post isn’t coming from some holier than thou bacon eater who wears a shirt that says “vegetarian is Native American for bad hunter”.  This is coming from a nearly 22 year vegetarian.  No meat, poultry, fish, leather or animal tested products for over two decades of my life.  I’ve made huge sacrifices throughout these years to maintain what I believe to be right.  And stickers like this make it feel trivial and elementary.

I could only imagine the 14 year old in a new Hot Topic purchased Grateful Dead shirt sticking that on a sign.  Adding fuel to the fire to the generalization that pervades liberalism and progressives at every turn.  That we’re soft.  Naive to the realities of the world.  A generalization I take very personally, that often pisses me off.

Not only that, but if the creator of this sticker understood human nature at all, they’d realize they are doing no service to our cause…but more than likely a disservice.  In these 22 years I’ve never altered someones  opinion on animal rights by force and very rarely tell anyone they are wrong.  I’ve lived well, made a vegetarian lifestyle look simple and easy.  Show that it’s a legitimate option by example, not by force.  No person likes to be told what to do, and will more often than not put their guard up if you do.  Have to just do your thing, and be educated and engaged when someone starts asking about it.

We need to be culpable as progressives for not being the opposite version of our counterparts, but a better version that doesn’t slip into the modern, acceptable levels of thought and dialogue.  The current barometer is obviously low, between the media now only catering to its ratings/sponsors and social media dictating the conversation, intellectualism, or more simply put, thinking, has become elitist and uncool.  It makes me think of Obama’s Rutgers commencement speech from early May when he said “We have access to more information than at any time in human history, at a touch of a button.  But, ironically, the flood of information hasn’t made us more discerning of the truth.  In some ways, it’s just made us more confident in our ignorance.”

I fear that sentiments like “Go Vegan and No One Gets Hurt” is the intellectual reverse of the “Make America Great Again” mentality.  A bold and sweeping generalization.  Not really helping anyone.  The thoughtless ruins of a 140 character society that has to wrap up the worlds largest problems in the space of a tweet.  Of course I believe Veganism is a much better movement for the world than Trump, don’t get me wrong, but I’m using him to make a point.  

Things are nuanced, and with every change people will inevitably suffer.  I know it’s not a popular thing to discuss, but the meat industry is a real thing, and it’s gigantic, and not every person who lives off of it are rich and filling their horn carved coffers.  Based on 2013 stats from the North American Meat Institute, there are over 450,000 people employed in some facet of the meat industry in the US alone, earning a projected 19 billion dollars in salary.  Not to mention if you add distribution, delivery and retail it amounts to over 6 million people employed with an estimated 200 billion in wages.  All those people don’t deserve anything?  Families, and entire towns and cities would crumble, and I’m to believe if you “Go Vegan: No one Gets Hurt”.     

And do you have a plan after the worldwide change?  If everyone decided to go vegan tomorrow, you have a way to roll that out?  If these animals were currently left to their own devices, they would probably all die.  Pasture after pasture of rotting cows, being munched on by vultures and coyotes and shit.  The years and years of harvesting these animals for meat has left them completely inept at surviving on their own.  And if the species managed to survive?  They would have adapted, and in 200 years, people would be fighting off killer gangs of carnivorous cows roaming the same countryside.  And then the “animal wars” begin, thanks to you, vegans…

People have to remember that while waging a morality war, both sides know for a fact they are doing the right thing, and most in the middle crave leadership, and 140 character leadership is dooming us. 

At this point, I’m interested in NO bold declarations without plans.  NO biting statement without substance.  NO change without real dialogue and a stop to this divisive thinking and language that only sees a line in the sand, and not all the gray surrounding it.



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

15/16' NBA Predicitons...The Inaugural.

This is a first for me, I obsessively follow hoops and had so much fun getting this together.  Hit me up with any thoughts!

Eastern Conference 

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - Very deep, Mo Williams pickup fills a big hole for secondary playmaker,  and the obvious, LeBron James.  He has made it to the finals twice with extremely thin Cavs teams, this season coming in with so much talent and depth, no reason to doubt The King. 
2) Miami Heat - Best starting 5 in East.  Addition of Gerald Green off bench adding 29.3 PPG in 48 minute average last year who could contend for 6th man award.  Do not trust Hasaan Whiteside after only 32 NBA starts, but imagine they have enough talent to give the league their ratings wish, a Lebron/Wade Eastern finals.  
3) Chicago Bulls - New coach, new system, same old Rose.  Butler takes this team over and starts the new look Bulls, which I think will thrive under Holberg.  Bobby Portis is biggest rookie sleeper and will contribute big minutes right away.  Too many injury concerns to contend with the top 2 though, I’m afraid. 
4) Atlanta Hawks - Love their system, coach and big 3.  But, they leave a big gaping hole for  a wing defender with loss of Carroll, and stayed even while the East greatly improved.  Should see big strides from Schroeder but can’t see them getting past the top 3 teams.  
5) Milwaukee Bucks - They are long and versatile and create mismatches at 4 positions.  Have the option to play small or big, and added Greg Monroe’s nightly double/double, coming off a 16PPG/10RPG off-year in Detroit.  Kidd, jerk that he is,  has proven he’s top 10 coach and can see this team advancing a playoff round or two.  
6) Washington Wizards - One John Wall injury from disaster, but lucky for them a few solid trees  in the middle and Beal on a contract year should still bring them to playoffs.  Not convinced they can make any noise past first round.  Whitman is a ghost in DC if they don’t. 
7) Boston Celtics - Isiaah Thomas averaged 30.6 PPG per 48 minutes last season.  Amir Johnson and David Lee will balance Sullinger-gate, Marcus Smart on second year, maybe best on-ball perimeter defender in East with Avery Bradley.  And, in my opinion the best young coach in the league.  Boston is on the rise. 
8) Detroit Pistons -  Greg Monroe is a good player, but the floor chemistry suffered greatly with him on roster.  I expect big years from Jackson/Drummond and a full season under Van Gundy.  Hopefully Marcus Morris doesn’t have another twin-loss meltdown.  Think they ride high off last years strong finish and crack the Eastern playoffs. 

9) Toronto Raptors- Just like Wizards, one Kyle Lowry injury away from being  a 30 win team.  Don’t love the makeup, and could see Casey losing his guys with a poor stretch.    They could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.  
10) Charlotte Hornets - Quiet additions of Batum/Lamb/Lin, don’t think they can get past MKG injury.  Al Jefferson has proven to be a serviceable NBA big man/scorer, but he’s no leader.  
11) Indiana Pacers - George off injury and CJ Miles/Ian Mahinmi in starting lineup. Departure of David West a big hit for locker room chemistry.  Vogel is a great coach but don’t think they have the roster, especially with your big wing scorer (Monta Ellis) hitting threes at a .285% clip last season. 
12) New York Knicks - Had a solid offseason and started building a real team around Carmelo.  Started being the operative word.  Hopefully he’s not 45 when they complete the process.  
13) Brooklyn Nets - Post Deron Williams era brings life and more uptempo system.  Sneaky additions of youth/speed in Larkin, T-Rob, RHJ paired with a full year from Thad Young.  It will be more fun, but sadly for us BK fans, won’t translate to enough wins. 
14) Orlando Magic - Love the young pieces, but until Oladipo or Harris can be someone to lean on for scoring, can’t crack the playoffs just yet.  Would need huge improvement years from Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon to even sniff the 8 seed. 
15) Philadelphia Sixers - You know the deal, Okafor/Noel should be fun to watch down low.  Won’t result in W’s.  Time for Philly fans to stop attending games and force their hand in giving fans a legitimate team, too good a basketball town to not.  


Western Conference 

1) Oklahoma City Thunder - Durant shot 60% from field in preseason, full year for DJ Augustin off bench, and fresh start with Billy Donovan.  Oh yeah, and the best athlete in the game, Westbrook.  With so much to lose, Spurs bound to rest down the stretch and Andrew Bogut’s inevitable injury, see them as the #1 seed. 
2) Golden State Warriors - Love this team but hard not to feel they had a special year and will drop down to earth a touch.  That being said, cannot devalue a dominant championship team who brings back all the pieces.  Will eventually win the Western Playoffs, but might have a couple tough stretches in regular season. 
3) San Antonio Spurs - The always tricky Spurs, is it the year the big 3 breaks down?  Probably not.  But I do think they feel the loss of Bellinelli on perimeter and have an adjustment period to get through.  Will drop regular season games for rest, as we know, but be right there in the end, as always.
4) Houston Rockets - I have Houston as the 4th best team in league behind SA/CLE/GS…but sadly for them, I see a repeat of their 14/15’ season.  Harden will beast, Howard will defend and kill the playoffs, but will come up just short against one of the big boys. 
5) Memphis Grizzlies - Same old power basketball juggernauts who are experienced and added depth.  This team could annoy the league into a frenzy, but still feel they’re one big time shooter away from cracking the West finals.  
6) LA Clippers - How can you believe in this team?  Even with the quality additions of Pierce/Stephenson, hard to see them putting together 4 good enough games to get through the West’s top 5 in playoffs.  Rinse/Repeat for the Clippers. 
7) New Orleans Pelicans - 45 wins with A. Davis putting up MVP numbers by himself, or 55-60 wins with a healthy and engaged Jrue Holiday and eventually Tyreke Evans.  Eric Gordon was 3rd in NBA shooting threes at .448% clip.  Inside/out game could be huge, especially if Ryan Anderson stays on floor.  
8) Sacramento Kings - Of course this pick could blow up in my face.  Cousins is, when engaged, the second best big man in the league (behind A.Davis) … Rondo/Collison give you different styles from the PG spot and they improved their outside shooting.  If they don’t collapse horribly, watch out. 

9) Phoenix Suns - Potentially dynamic backcourt of Knight/Bledsoe with addition of defensive lynchpin Chandler is strong core.  Development of Len/Warren/Goodwin off bench could be sway that gets them the 7/8 spot or get left home. 
10) Utah Jazz - Gave up a league best 94.9 PPG last year, and bring back core of Favors/Hayward/Gobert…worried about production from guard spots and sadly…two good teams have to be left out of playoffs in the West. 
11) Dallas Mavericks - Can’t stress enough how I hate how this team looks on paper, but Carlisle is one of the best and will eek 40+ wins out of them.  
12) LA Lakers - Should be fun to watch, but shocked if it comes together so fast.  Clarkson/Russell/Randle should at least cushion Kobe enough to make this a watchable team. 
13) Portland Trailblazers - In the West, Lillard will have to shoulder too big of a load.  He will likely be top  5-10 in league in scoring, which essentially means he had to do too much with no help. Enjoy Air Plums, just hope he doesn’t get fouled.   
14) Minnesota Timberwolves - Rubio/Wiggins/Towns/Dieng/Mohammed might be most fun core of youth in league next to Orlando, don’t see it turning into wins yet.  But should start seeing an ascension from the cellar.  RIP Flip.  
15) Denver Nuggets - Love Mudiay, and that’s about it.  Same old for Denver, expect high volume and low percentages from Gallo/Foye/Chandler.  

Eastern Conference Finals:  Cleveland vs Miami
Eastern Conference Champs: Cleveland Cavaliers
Western Conference Finals:  Oklahoma City/Golden State
Western Conference Champs: Golden State Warriors
NBA Champs:  Cleveland Cavaliers  

MVP - Kevin Durant
6th Man of the Year - Isiaah Thomas
Coach of the Year - Brad Stevens
Finals MVP - Lebron James
Most Improved Player:  Giannis Antetokounmpo 
Rookie of the Year: Karl Anthony Towns
Executive of the Year: David Griffin 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Turtles on the Tour Bus...

"Every trail has some puddles." - Old West Saying 

Woke up at 8:00 AM rolling around in the bunk.  It was dark, someone must have remembered to turn the overhead light off last night.  I seem to have lost my socks in the night, I assume they are on top of Ian in the bunk below right now, I'll get them later when he wakes up.  600 mile trip from Salt Lake City, so the bus is still moving.  John, the driver (also former touring country drummer and extremely nice fella from Louisiana) has had a cough for a week or so now.  I hear him up front hacking away.  Hope he'll be alright.  

The view rolling into Denver area is pretty.  Big, blue sky peppered with clouds.  Far off to my right are the snow capped rocky mountains.  In the closer view are farms, small towns, old silos and mills, new micro condos and assorted rural businesses.  The ground looks pretty dry, bet it hasn't rained much around here recently.  But it's the view I'm accustomed to seeing around here, beautiful rolling green hills for miles heading to the base of the vast mountain range.  It's unique to this place, and I'm lucky for knowing it.    

The front lounge of the bus is empty and quiet.  Only leavings from last nights post show activities.  In sight are 3 backpacks, coats and hats, the floor has maybe 6 pairs of shoes.  All black and ironically all Doc Martens or Vans, I suppose even the non-conformists conform. The table is littered with chargers, papers, wrapped pastries from the nice lady in Seattle who cooked an insane amount of food for us.  There is also a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book, the PS4 equipped with 4 controllers for optimal FiFA use and some floater water bottles.  

I took some of those floaters and poured them into the Kuerig machine for coffee.  I ate after the show last night, so it's daring having a coffee while we are still driving and before I'd had my morning poop.  The great tour conundrum ensues, what to consume versus when/where I can empty the tank. 

Everyone is still sleeping, I wonder how long this can last.  It's only a matter of time before somebody slips through that door and begins their morning.  Some brush their teeth, some eat cereal, some go straight to coffee machine.  But I'll soon be distracted by the flow of the herd, it's inevitable.   

My ears are popping, hitting in and out of elevations.  This coffee might have been a bad idea, the turtle is poking and no idea how long we get to Denver. On top of that, no idea if the venue will be open or if I'll be left, as I often am, to wander the streets looking for anywhere to poop. In a cruel twist of fate, I may have to purchase another small coffee for the privilege to sit.  


And so it begins, the herd has risen.  Marv at the sink brushing his grill while two others check their phones.   I'm distracted now, but glad I got to write this.  People say write what you know, the most unique thing about my life is this traveling musical circus and the methods and customs of its inhabitants.  So, that's a tour bus morning.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Gamblero…and an Altercation with my Sense of Humanity.

I'm a Brooklyn Nets season ticket holder.  If you asked me 20 years what my goal in life was, in general, it was paying rent through music and eventually getting season tickets to basketball.  I love the game, to me when played correctly it's poetry in motion and I can't get enough of it.  To that end, I have been driving in and out of Brooklyn close to 30 times a year to see my team play.  Even when they lose, I love it, because usually someone has to play beautiful basketball to get it done.  

Since the first few games at the new Barclays Center, a new fan favorite appeared in the lower section.  We've always had Mr. Whammy, an older local attorney who sits behind the hoop and curses the other teams free throws with his devil horns and funky gyrations.  But now appeared the Gamblero.  On the screen, every game, I'd watch this dude wearing hipster big glasses, neon undershirts and hats and a Jersey that says "Gamblero #44".   During timeouts or any stop in action, he would take to the aisles and do his signature dancing to the stadium music.  Soon enough, the camera people took enough attention that he was a regular stadium fixture.  You couldn't get through a game without seeing the Gamblero.  Always smiling, always dancing, always rooting on the Nets.  

Sounds nice enough doesn't it??  Well, here come my blaring lesson in humanity.  I ALWAYS used to make fun of him.  I wondered, who is this clown?  With the hipster rimmed glasses, the neon clothes, the funky dance moves.   He always had the best seats in the lower deck, something I assumed was hooked up through the Nets to have a famous super fan guy to promote, which I resented.  Most of the time when he came on the screen, I, like an asshole, made fun of him.  

About a month ago, he died.  Not in some natural fashion, but by suffering injuries leaping out of a 2nd story window in Queens.   I was shocked and immediately saddened and tried to get any information I could.  Digging through his history has been what's haunting me about my general attitude and judgement towards people.   

He was only 38 years old.  Had a loving fiance who was ruined by the news.  He, for whatever reason, lived life with a prosthetic leg.  He was a pretty well known graffiti and graphic artist.  He has parents and family and a life asides from what I knew of him.  Funky, dancing, smiling guy at Nets games.  

It turns out, in early December he was removed by security at Madison Square Garden during the Nets/Knicks game.  I'm not sure how it happened, but a video surfaced of him being carried up the aisle without his leg and eventually dropped by security guards.  I briefly heard about this story and brushed it over, not knowing the humiliation and pain he felt from this event left him scarred.  By word of his fiance, this was an extremely traumatic experience for him that lead to a lack of sleeping and some fits of panic and hysteria.  He was in bad shape due to this and was having a hard time getting back on track.  

Oddly, I saw him dancing at the Sixers game on December 12th without knowing any of this occurred.    I passed him off as I normally did, I had no reason to think otherwise.   Turns out it was the last time I or anyone would see him there.   The following night while sleeping at his father's house, he woke up hysterical, and threw himself out of a second story window.  The injuries suffered took his life not long after.  

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this.  My personal judgement, passed off for what reason?  Because he's not like me?  All subtle and wearing black in the upper deck, un-willing to show my spirit and judging people from afar.  What is it about me, about people, that has this tendency.  A tendency to de-value anything or anyone you don't know, minimizing them out of your conscious as something not worthy of authentic thought or compassion.   Was I insecure because he had the balls to wear what he wore?  Put himself out there like that?   He was always positive, always having a good time.  From the reports that poured in after his death, he was warm and giving and only looking to have a good fucking time.  I didn't see this guy with a story, with parents, with pain and suffering like everyone else, I just saw this image.  An image that wasn't congruous with my own, distorted sense of what people "should" be like.  

Luckily I never met him, or his fiance or loved ones.  I never took to social media to bash him and only shared personal shitty jokes about him in private to my friends I share basketball games with.  Harboring my own sense of judgement, almost definitely predicated on my own insecurities.  He never knew my attitude, and I'm glad.  But I'm living with guilt.  Am I really THAT guy?  Someone who sits hundreds of feet away holding vitriol in their stomach for no apparent reason.  What a dick.  

It's no way to live.  And it's no way to be with other people.  It's no way to help the world and my own personal community.  We should all be more positive and warm and giving.  Actually, he was doing that, and I wasn't.  I was silently judging the person who was putting themselves out their in a positive and refreshing way.  I mean, fuck, this guy was so positive he wouldn't allow disparaging remarks or signs about the other teams, because it brought the wrong message.  

All these things I learned about the man posthumously.  I had no idea his story was complex and cool and rich.  A full life that is not mine merits the same respect as my own.  And I will no longer view people as random, and less important than me.  Everyone has a story.  Everyone has pain.  Everyone.  It will have to be my responsibility moving forward to make that a focused and serious discipline for my life. 

See you later Gamblero, I hope you're in a good place.  You taught me a lesson without even knowing me.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kicking Away the Line in the Sand...

"If civilization is to survive, 
we must cultivate the science of human relationships - 
the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, 
to live together, in the same world at peace."
- F.D.R

I want to live in a place with strong workers unions, legal weed, gay marriage and overly strict gun laws.  I want to pay higher taxes so my parks and roads and schools and hospitals and social programs are well funded and work.  I want food that's not grown in a chemical process and I want some pony-tailed transplant from Iowa to make me a coffee with an option of almond milk.  I want politicians to run clean without big money financing. I want my country, which was colonized and then built by immigrants, to have a sensible, non-nationalistic approach to immigration.  

Uhhhh….I just erased the rest of this.  It sounded like a 14 year old kid reading the back of a Bob Marley record.  I'll re-think this one…hopefully from the perspective of an adult male.