Saturday, April 22, 2006

Home Run Bonds!


Aaron, Ali, Robinson, Armstrong & Bonds:
An Open Letter to Bonds Haters

You love to hate Barry Bonds and even a Giants fan has been known to throw a few curses in his direction but when the whole world turns against him, as if he were the reason for America’s decline, for an unfathomable debt, for the steady slide in working wages, for the brutal cuts in social services, for the inaccessibility of medical coverage, for the price of gasoline, for the browning of our environment, for the poisoning of our water, for the neglect of our children’s education, for the destruction of New Orleans, for the wasting of our values, for the loss of American pride, and for the catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, then by god I’ll stand up for Barry Bonds.

You don’t like it when we compare Bonds to the great Babe Ruth but for the years 2001-2004 Bonds posted numbers against juiced pitchers and juiced competitors a full two standard deviations above the norm.

You don’t like it when we rate Bonds among the elite players who ever played the game but for the two decades of his career there is no one who even begins to compare.

Baseball fans are strange and fickle creatures. You love the numbers when they support your point of view but ignore them when they do not. Who among you did not marvel at Brady Anderson’s 50 home run season? Who among you did not bow to Ken Caminiti’s MVP season? Who among you did not stand and cheer the great home run chase of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire? Are their accomplishments any less today?

Step out of baseball for a moment. The comparison that should hit home is Lance Armstrong to Barry Bonds. In the world of contemporary sports, only Armstrong, Gretsky, Jordan and Tiger Woods rise to the level of Bonds’ accomplishments. The evidence of Armstrong’s “blood doping” is every bit as strong as the evidence against Bonds. Neither Armstrong nor Bonds ever failed a drug test.

Why are there no politicians or sports writers clamoring for an investigation of Lance Armstrong? Why are there no Grand Jury witch-hunts?

You don’t like it when we compare Barry Bonds to the immortal Jackie Robinson but what Bonds is confronting today is bitter, ugly and un-American racism.

You don’t like it when we compare Barry Bonds to Mohammed Ali but the same ignorant threats directed at Bonds were once hurled at Ali.

You don’t like it when we compare Barry Bonds to Hank Aaron but even the Hammer knows: The same racist hate mongers who once clamored for his death are now out in force for Barry Bonds.

We no longer care what you think or how you explain it to your kids (what about Bonds’ kids?). You don’t like him? Fine. You don’t want your kids to admire him? Fine. But if you want to blame Bonds for everything that’s wrong with America, get real. Take a good long look at the man that 51% of you voted for to lead this nation.

He’s our player. Leave him alone.


Monday, April 17, 2006

SF Jazz, Karma & Human Nature


Attending a concert at SF Jazz is always a pleasure – a momentary release from the hard driving pressures of an engaging life in interesting times.

Sometimes you get more than you bargained.

This was my third SF Jazz Collective experience and each has been a memorable evening of masterful musicians finding their groove and driving it home. The concert, featuring director Joshua Redman (sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Nicolas Payton (trumpet), Miguel Zenon (sax, flute), Andre Hayward (trombone), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), performing original compositions and selected works of Herbie Hancock, was superb.

Jazz played well has the power to take you to a distant landscape where none of the rules apply. It is structured anarchy, ordered disorder, and harmony in the realm of discord.

Jazz is the music of dissent and rebellion. As chronicled, it was the rhythm of the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Jazz was condemned and banished by the imperial overlords of the Soviet empire before the fall, fearful that it would lead to independent thought. Jazz is why white America could not discount the cultural and intellectual contributions of black America. Jazz is the heartbeat of the nation – its pride and its mystery – and jazz is why we can never forget what happened to New Orleans – not in a million years.

But the legacy of jazz was not what preoccupied my mind as I drove the moonlit highways home Saturday night. It was what happened before and after the concert.

As concert time approached, I was still circling off Van Ness, trying to find a parking lot. I found one close to the theatre but it was unattended and the machine refused to accept my money. A gentleman in ragged clothes approached to offer assistance. I hand him my bills and watched him fiddle with the machine unsuccessfully. He told me, if I was in a hurry, he would take care of it.

As I locked my car, I saw a sign above the entry, warning me not to trust anyone posing as an attendant. I said to the man: “You’re sure? They’re not going to tow my car, are they?” He waved me off and gave assurances.

I walked on to the theatre, figuring that I would have hell to pay. Once before, I had my car towed in San Francisco. Worse than the fees and fines are the hours of waiting in a cold and frigid building that slowly and inevitably drags you down to a level of mutual misery.

I managed to shake off the distraction, the second-guessing, the dread of that probable experience long enough to enjoy the concert. When the encore was finished, the gloom descended as I made my way to the car.

A gentleman in rough if not ragged clothes asked me if I could afford a handout. I told him truthfully I had no more ones. He offered “three for five” and I replied truthfully I had no fives. He said it was his birthday and he was thirty-six years old.

He summoned the number nine (those who understand will understand, those who don’t will not) and I offered up a ten.

Resuming my walk, I wondered if it was karmic test.

I found my car where I had parked it – much to my amazement. The gentleman who had promised to take care of it had kept his word. He found an old parking pass and placed it on my windshield. Apparently, it did the trick.

I wanted to thank him but he was not to be found. Anyway, it might be a little awkward.

Lessons learned. You cannot judge a man by his costume or station in life.



Sunday, April 16, 2006


What Have You Got to Hide?

We all remember the Big Daddy Boys, the ones who always supported their government, the ones who christened such memorable phrases as “My Country, Right or Wrong!” and “America: Love it or Leave it!”

We remember the days when the military was welcome on college campuses and no one laughed when someone said, “He’s still the president.”

Remember what the Big Daddy Boys always used to say, whether the inquiry was about registering for the draft, marijuana or jay walking: “All you need to know is: It’s the law.”

They don’t say that any more.

They used to say you could never trust a man who looks you straight in the eyes and lies through his teeth.

They don’t say that any more.

When Ronnie Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover and Tricky Dick Nixon wanted to keep dossiers on everyone in America, the Big Daddy Boys chimed in harmony: “What have you got to hide?”

Time to turn it around: If the NSA has only spied on Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda associates and Al Qaeda affiliates, what was the problem in getting a warrant from the FISA court? I am no expert on intelligence gathering but I would guess it takes all of thirty seconds to get a warrant to listen in on an Al Qaeda member talking to someone in the USA.

How often are we expected to believe Al Qaeda calls someone in this country: Every day, a thousand times a day?

As for affiliates and associates, those are concepts that go a long way: All subscribers to Al Jazeera, anyone who tapped the news service, all who read an email from an imam in Spain, and all who tapped the website that posted it.

It is no great leap to see that the NSA warrantless domestic spying program can be used to spy on virtually anyone.

Mark it, post and save: This White House has a political enemies list and is using the NSA to destroy anyone who gets in the way. If not, what have they got to hide? Open the books. Let’s have a peek at who you’re spying on.