Friday, January 23, 2009

I'll write this because I know they'll read it.

One of the satisfying aspects of writing this blog is finding out what sorts of things elicit reactions from people. I thought that casting soccer in a negative light would lure a few roaches from under the cabinet. Some things are just too easy. Soccer fans are extremely self-protective, and when their game is under attack they rush to its defense. One reader encouraged me to contract a stomach virus and choke on my own vomit. Thanks for reading!
Actually, it was not only an essay questioning the viability of soccer in America; it was also the damnation of spending taxpayer dollars on a sports arena. Academic economists have not found statistically significant relationships between various measures of economic growth and stadium construction, in spite of what pro-sports politicians like Ed Rendell would have you believe. The greater consequence is called the Substitution Effect, where consumer dollars are transferred from one activity to another, so the net effect of anything new is negated by the negative effect on the other with the benefit being zero. Consumers have only so much money to spend.
Of course, soccer is a third-world sport in America, and the other theme of the essay was to point out that there have been several vain attempts to thrust it into our daily lives, the latest of which was the Beckham invasion of Los Angeles, which turned out to be more pomp than circumstance. At its best, Major League Soccer (MLS) is a sideshow and alternative programming for ESPN during down times for American football and baseball. It makes 236,000 viewers very happy. That’s what the analogy at the end of yesterday’s essay was about, if anyone cared to try to grasp its meaning. But I see that subtlety is lost on some people.
The "raucous sellout crowds" that they promise.will last only as long as the novelty of pro soccer in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, in other areas of America, the novelty has begun to wear off:
According to the Sports Business Journal, last season MLS suffered its first decline in average regular-season attendance and television viewership on ESPN2 in three years. Half the teams in the league saw a decline in average attendance in 2008, causing the league’s average attendance to fall by 1.8 percent, or to 16,459 a game. MLS officials contend that the Kansas City Wizards’ decision to play in a 10,385-seat stadium played a role in that fall, but excluding Kansas City from both years still results in a drop in attendance for 2008.
In a time when the Arena Football League saw fit to close down operations for a year, one could reasonably expect MLS to suffer some of the same economic effects.
In yesterday's comments, BryanSoB (Sons of Ben - thought I didn't know that, didn't you?) offered the tired argument of the actual time spent in activity for various sports. I know there’s huddle time and standing around, but there is also a thing called scoring. Those 0-0 soccer games can have all the movement in the world, but if the ball doesn’t move in to the net once in a while, the charm is lost. There is also a fair amount of time where they just kick the ball back and forth across the field. That's exciting. And those World Cup games where only the referee knows how much time is left in the game are ridiculous. What other sport hides its length from the fans?
Mark Dunfree wants me to promise to write a retraction five years from now. A retraction on what? My opinion is that $47 million for a sports arena is a waste of taxpayer dollars. That goes for the Eagles and Phillies, too. Ed Snider spent his own money to build the Wachovia Center. If the team is a profitable venture, then why are taxpayers asked to fund it? Wal-Mart and Best Buy spend their own money to build stores, so why do sports franchises get taxpayer money? They both provide the same benefits.
None of you can dispute the fact that soccer struggles in America, and since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I have seen a few live soccer games in my lifetime. I used to go watch a pro team in New Jersey that plays its games in Ocean City whose name I won’t mention because I don’t want the Google hits from my nutty ex-girlfriend.
The games were mildly entertaining, but so are a lot of things. The thing that the ravenous soccer fans have to come to grips with is that Americans are a tough sell and the audience isn’t nearly big enough to justify taxpayer and bridge toll money on something that is just as likely to become a monument to Major League Soccer as it is a viable enterprise.
I am amazed at how angry some people become when you speak out against something they like. Go ahead and like soccer, pinball or animal porn if you want – just don’t ask me to pay for it. Moreover, you should ask yourself why you are so angry. Does everyone have to like what you like in order for you to get along with them? I offer up an opinion, and one guy wants me to contract stomach cancer. It's just a game, guys.
You can go on being angry defenders of your game if you wish, but I’m going to move on, and I suggest some of you relax and stop shooting the messenger. Bigger leagues than MLS have tried and failed in this country and no matter how loudly you shout the people will be the ultimate judge and jury. Bryan admitted that soccer is "a horrible TV sport." In case you haven't noticed, TV rules everything and if soccer can't make it on television, it isn't likely to make it on the field either. Hockey struggles in America too, because it isn't as good on TV as it is in person. 16,000 people in a stadium and no TV deal is going to cause soccer to die, plain and simple.
Soccer has a hard time selling advertising because the game never stops, but NASCAR never stops and they don't have any trouble with television. So, where is the problem?
It's the game. It's always the game, and you can't make it popular by screaming at people to like it. They either will or they won't, the same way NFL Europe failed.
If you build it, they might come, but you can't force them. But you didn't build it - I built it, a little at a time with every trip over the bridges, and the Pennsylvania taxpayers built it, and we don't like throwing our money around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Soccer? I don't even know her.

Wow. Professional soccer is coming to Philadelphia. We don't actually have a team name or even a stadium yet, but it's coming. After New Jersey's legislature wisely rejected a proposal for funding, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell decided to dedicate $47 million of state money toward this thing. Additional money was provided by the people who pay to cross the bridges into Pennsylvania by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). $47 million for soccer while the country is choking on it's own vomit.
Here's the way it's being promoted on their official web site:
Picture this: It’s April of 2010 and it’s time for Philadelphia’s Major League Soccer franchise to make its long-awaited debut at the stunning 18,500-seat soccer-specific stadium along the historic Chester waterfront.
Picture this: The stands are completely packed and the Sons of Ben are chanting in unison.
Picture this: The players and coaches walk through the tunnel and onto the field to be greeted by the raucous sellout crowd.
Picture this: Everyone in the stadium is donning the club’s logo and colors.
Picture this: In the middle of the worst recession in memory, a new sports franchise is being trotted out.
Picture this: It isn't a sport that Americans like.
Picture this: The DRPA has spent millions of bridge toll dollars to help build a stadium in one of the biggest slums in the area. They rub our noses in it by building the stadium at the foot of one of the bridges (see photo).
Picture this: When forced to decide between baseball, football (American football), hockey, basketball or paying their mortgage, we choose one of the above.
Picture this: Five years from now the place is a weed-infested memory and people who drive by it will wonder how we were so misguided.
I love the way soccer keeps trying to force its way into our lives and we resist. Like that girl that likes you but you don't like, and she keeps calling and sending you e-mail's until finally, you decide to take her out because your friends tell you "she'll be good for you," and you figure that maybe there's something there that you don't see, and you trust your friends because she seems really nice.
But then, in the middle of it you realize why you never asked her out and you're sitting there with a big dinner check and nothing to say.
You talk to your friends and they say, "but isn't she great?" and you say, "Well, no ... we sat there for two hours and nothing happened."
They don't understand because they like her and they can't figure out why you don't.
Soccer is like that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It bears repeating, I guess.

Besides all of the obvious historical ramifications of Obama-mania, the underlying benefit is that we no longer have a president who makes us want to deny that we know who he is.
Like the drunk uncle or that cousin who is constantly in jail, we don't have to stutter and stammer when someone asks about him. Bush wasn't our president unless we had to answer a question on a civics exam.
Now (pinch me) we have a guy who we can actually look up to and respect. I'm guessing that the heads at the White House have been on a media-induced swivel, which may have prompted this event:
WASHINGTON – After the flub heard around the world, President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office. Again. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House — a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday's much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.
Don't worry, the White House says: Obama has still been president since noon on Inauguration Day. Nevertheless, Obama and Roberts went through the drill again out of what White House counsel Greg Craig called "an abundance of caution."

That's right, don't worry. Like we were worried. Obama and Roberts stumbled over the oath, as though they hadn't rehearsed it. That was right after the news commentators told us that he took office at noon regardless of whether or not he had taken the oath. So, why bother repeating it? Because that's all he needs - some wacko with a forum (or a Fox News show) would dig up some ridiculous codicil that says if he didn't recite the oath like the Constitution says, he isn't really the president. I won't speculate, but his name sounds like Rill O'Beilly.
It happened when Obama interrupted Roberts midway through the opening line, in which the president repeats his name and solemnly swears.
Next in the oath is the phrase " ... that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States." But Roberts rearranged the order of the words, not saying "faithfully" until after "president of the United States."
That appeared to throw Obama off. He stopped abruptly at the word "execute."
Recognizing something was off, Roberts then repeated the phrase, putting "faithfully" in the right place but without repeating "execute."
But Obama then repeated Roberts' original, incorrect version: "... the office of president of the United States faithfully."
Craig, the White House lawyer, said in a statement Wednesday evening: "We believe the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. Yet the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of the abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath a second time."
Something tells me we're in for a lot of this type of thing. There will be people who will pick apart everything he does from now until 2016. What's interesting is that the last guy was a complete dimwit and it didn't seem to matter.
It will be eight years of "an abundance of caution." Meanwhile, there's a lot of work to do and he's already wasted time with this nonsense. It wouldn't be the first time a good person got distracted because somebody didn't want him doing what he set out to do.
It's tough to go forward if you're always watching your back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Curbing my cynicism.

I'm too old and cynical to get worked up over a lot of things that excite the masses. Sports have taken on an entertainment aspect that allows me to approach them like a movie or TV show. I don't allow myself to get down if the home town team loses. I figure that Donovan McNabb doesn't care if I have a bad day at work, so I shouldn't care if he does.
I can get happy, like I did over the Phillies winning the World Series. That's a mood elevator and I'm all for that. I don't boo the home team and never allow losses to affect my attitude. I have enough problems without compounding them with angst over the Eagles losing another NFC championship game.
That same cynicism rules my feelings over politics, too. I vote in every election and always have firm opinions over my choices, but I seldom expect big changes to come from having my favorite candidate win. It seems like I've heard every promise for a better life and I can't point to any of them making a huge difference, since taxes only go up and this year's dollar is never worth more than last year's.
I've been watching the non-stop coverage of the Barack Obama inauguration over the past couple of weeks. It's relentless. I haven't seen anything like it in my lifetime. I understand the historical impact, but there is also an element of hope involved. It helps that he is following the biggest disaster since the Chicago fire, but there is something more to this, I think.
We dropped what we were doing (not much) at work today to take an hour break and watch the ceremony in our cafeteria. It was pretty easy to pick out the Republicans as they walked by the TV without turning their heads. The significance of the event seemed lost on some.
Maybe he is the presidential equivalent of The Beatles - coming along at the right time - or maybe he is merely fulfilling his place in history? I don't know and I don't care. I'm excited about a new president for the first time in a long while.
The problem with a big build-up is that it's difficult to live up to the hype. We're in danger of being disappointed, but my gut instincts tell me that is a remote possibility, regardless of the non-stop coverage.
Today was a big party. The real work starts on Wednesday. It will take him 6 months to clean out Bush's desk. It's probably full of McDonald's wrappers and scraps of paper with doodles and notes.
Good riddance.

My medical-related high horse.

Another thing comes to mind when I reminisce about my hospital experience. They went through a lengthy question and answer session over my medical history, which is completely understandable. However, once they got to the "what other pills or medications are you taking?" part, I went into my extensive vitamin and supplement routine which includes:
Flax seed oil capsules
Red Yeast Rice
Vitamin C (Ester-C)
Chewable fiber tablets and
a Vitamin and mineral supplement.
They seemed to know what vitamin C was, but had to ask me to spell some of the others. I take the flax seed oil because it has Omega 3 oils, which are good for my cholesterol (and fish oil capsules repeat on me) as well as the Red Yeast Rice, which alone is responsible for dropping my number from 22o to 160.
I realized midstream that they didn't know what either one of these things are, and the reason is that they aren't made by Pfizer, Glaxo or Merck. Their world begins and ends with prescription medication, and they would have instantly known how to spell Lipitor or Zocor because that's part of their world. To them, Red Yeast Rice is radical therapy. To me, it's a plant extract and comes from the Earth.
I however, have thus far resisted the temptation to reduce my cholesterol or blood pressure with prescription medication, even though with my insurance, it would be significantly less expensive than what I spend in the vitamin aisle. There may be a time when I have no other choice, but as long as I can move myself, exercise and make my own decisions, the drug companies will have to depend on someone else for their income.
If I'm nothing else, I'm a man of principle. The easy road is the one paved by Pfizer, and it's why 44% of Americans are on at least one prescription medication and why Pfizer's headquarters is such a nice building.
I'll take their antibiotics because I'm not a Christian Scientist and I realize that it is (1) temporary and (2) pretty much the only way one can fight a virus. In fact, in most instances I'm grateful for the treatment, especially when the other option is death or dismemberment.
For the cholesterol-related issues, I believe that behavior modification is the preferred treatment. As Americans, we don't like to modify our behavior, which is why we paid $4 for gasoline and get fat on cheeseburgers. We like our stuff, and if there's a drug that allows you to still have some of that stuff, we'll take it and damn the side effects.
We'll deal with the upset stomach, abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, liver issues and muscle weakness and even say, "Thank God for Lipitor!" while we're running for the Pepto-Bismol.
It's such a small price to pay, isn't it?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reflections on my lost weekend.

On those rare occasions that I'm forced into hospital, I come away with a renewed take on our medical system that I would guess that the people inside the system have either ignored or become numb to over the years. I also learn a few things about myself.
They're big on pain medications in the hospital. One of the first questions they asked me was, "On a 1 to 10 scale, how much pain are you in?" I told them "4," which was honest. Mostly, I'm a "1 or 2" most days, so the sore hand was only a notch or two above normal. Almost immediately, they gave me 10 milligrams of Percocet and later an I.V. pain med that I didn't ask for but would like to have more of. I still felt the pain, but I no longer cared and the room took on a new dimension.
I guess the reason they like handing out pain meds is that a numbed patient is a happy one, and the less they hear from us the better for them. Pancreatitis Man in the bed next to me must have asked for a dozen pain pills in the 36 hours I was there. He was in a lot more pain than I was, and to my knowledge he never got the I.V. treatment. I should have suggested it to him.
I asked for a sleeping pill on Saturday night. Mostly because I had dozed off a few times during the day (from boredom) and felt like I'd have trouble sleeping. I've never taken prescription sleep aids before. The nurse said she had to call my doctor to get approval, which I figured was a formality. A sleeping patient is even less trouble than a pain-medicated one, so why wouldn't they want me to have one? They gave me Lunesta, which was mild. I took it at 10:30 and was awake again at 4:00. I figured on sleeping through till at least 8.
For some reason, I was sent home with a prescription for Oxycontin, the so-called "Hollywood Heroin." 30 pills, which seemed like a lot for someone who wasn't in all that much pain to begin with. With any luck, I'll end up like Belushi or Ledger and you'll find me passed-out on my bed in an unexplained fit of medically-induced expiration.
I'm a good patient but I'm sullen and moody when I'm confined. I should have been more sociable to the guy in the next bed, but the curtain was always drawn and he seemed to be sleeping most of the time. There's something about being unable to control my circumstances that is uncomfortable for me. That, and the idea that if I'm not around, things at home don't happen.
I worry about the cat, and from all appearances, he worries about me. I had to send mom home to feed him, and it took him a while to come out from his hiding place. When I got back, he went back to his "follow me around" routine and seemed to be comforted by my presence, as I was by his. It's a strange thing to explain.
Mostly though, it causes me to confront my mortality and the circumstance of not having anyone at home to take care of my life issues in the event of my untimely incapacitation. Mom isn't always going to be there for me to lean on and feed my cat when I'm not around.
What also scares me is that when I'm old and infirmed, I won't have anyone to lean on, talk to and comfort me in my sickness, and I'm sure the notion will eventually carve a few years off my life expectancy. But they're the crappy years at the end, so maybe it won't matter that much.
Whatever it is, I think the prospect of dying alone is perhaps the worst thing one can endure.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I told ya.

Here. Have respect for your opponent.
Which is the cool part about blogging. We always have our legacy to fall back on. The Eagles made a valiant effort but fell short, as they often do. The story around here on Monday will be about how Donovan McNabb almost never runs the team to a two-minute victory. They were 7 points down with 2:45 to go and failed at four attempts. That's the story in the end.
In fact, they lost the game in the first half. We tend not to focus on the first part of anything, tending to lean on the second part. In the second part, they had a chance, but the gap they left themselves with made the second half almost insurrmoutable.
Now comes the off-season where fans will debate the future of the quarterback and coach. That's half the fun.
The other half is going to a Super Bowl.

Club Med-ication

Friday was an interesting day. I went to work as I normally do, but as the day progressed I noticed that my right thumb was swollen and there was a red blotchy thing at the center surrounding a small cut. I figured it was a splinter, since my stairway at home is wood and it's so cold that I could have picked one up and not felt it.
As the day wore on, it got redder and more swollen. Finally, around 10pm I figured that (a) my regular doctor doesn't have office hours until Monday (b) I don't know what this is, since it had dawned on me that it wasn't a splinter and (c) I have health insurance. So, at the encouragement of a friend, I gathered myself and walked into the Emergency Room - just like on the TV show.
It turned out to be a bacterial infection called Cellulitis, and they gave me an Intravenous antibiotic, but that wasn't enough. What I thought would be a routine ER visit (if there is such a thing) turned into a two-day hospital stay. They said it can't be treated on an out-patient basis, so I had to be admitted. I was ill-prepared (pun) for a hospital stay, since I hadn't packed anything and had nobody to feed the cat, but I suppose we're never prepared for a hospital stay.
I lingered there until noon Sunday, eating the 3 meals I was given - which were actually pretty good - and watching television that was more expensive than the cable I pay for at home.
Sadly, my cell phone battery was low, so I couldn't entertain myself (or others) with clever text messages and witty puns about Club Med.
I must have been asked a hundred times, "How did you do this?" and I wished I had a clever story or amusing anecdote. I would have preferred an antidote, but I had neither. I can only assume that the exposed cut on my hand came in contact with something infected and all Hell broke loose. It's one of the larger mysteries of my life.
I'm home now, after 5 bags of antibiotics with another set of pills to take. The hospital stay revolved around waiting for my 9am and 9pm IV feedings, watching expensive television and eating. A vacation without the pool, alcohol or ... fun.
The guy in the bed next to me had Pancreatitis, so I guess it could have been worse. I tried not to complain too much, because I didn't want to sound like a whiner, but it wasn't the weekend I had planned.
I'm back, but don't touch me - I'm infected.