August 22, 2005

one man's trash...

... can get to be quite voluminous over 35 years in one house. We helped my father-in-law run a garage sale on Saturday, and I was astounded by what people bought. There were some useful things, and some not-so-useful things, but by the end of the day quite a few of both had sold. There was plenty left over so the people at the dump would not feel left out, however. And we hadn't even gotten to go through about 40% of the garage before the sale.

I hate garage sales. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Garage sales have only three benefits in my mind: First, they give you an excuse to sit around and not do yard work or other home projects for most of the day. Second, you generally do end up with less stuff and more cash at the end of the day. Third, the people you see come through can be strange and wonderful things.

We had two ladies hobble by (I think one was the sister of Moses), and one of them asked about a few balls of blue yarn. She makes small American flags out of yarn; apparently she has some sort of machine that helps. It was late in the day, so we just gave her the yarn for free (don't tell my father-in-law). The next day she came back and gave us one of those little flags made from that yarn.

Early on a woman stopped by and found a smallish picture frame in our 25-cent box. She had no cash, so we told her to take it anyway (don't tell my father-in-law). She came back around noon to drop off the quarter.

One guy drove up in what looked like a 30-year-old, hand-camoflaughed Suburban with a low-walled trailer bumping behind it. He had long, greasy-looking hair and a long, gaunt face that suggested the cigar sticking out of his mouth was just the latest in a very, very long line of predecessors. He quietly stalked about the tables for a while, investigating every nook until he'd found a half dozen things he wanted and had piled them in the middle of the driveway. I don't know how much he ended up paying, but this was definitely a case of one man's trash turning to another man's treasure.

A lot of the locals had opinions they felt like sharing on the real estate market, since the house had a "sold" sign in front. The concensus is that we've passed the peak and prices will continue to soften for a bit, perhaps even decline significantly. Everyone spoke about it with knitted brows and grave concern, then merrily went along and bought the $3 badminton set or a few old music boxes or a dozen shelf brackets found in a box full of random garage leftovers.

August 21, 2005

Science in the "Age of Reasons"

The Onion discusses the Theory of Intelligent Falling.

It has become well documented that the current administration in charge of the USA simply ignores scientific findings that it does not agree with. It has also become well known that they alter intelligence information to justify policy rather than use intelligence information to inform policy.

I suggest that eight years of the Bush administration is a long enough time to give it some sort of name (just like during Reagan's time, we had the "Me Generation"). I propose we call the current time the "Age of Reasons."

August 15, 2005

Tax-and-spend Big Brother

While I admit that the Washington Post is by no means a haven for ultra-conservative thinking, today's editorial expresses something I've been very confused about for several years now. All Democrats have for years been labeled "tax-and-spend Liberals" by Republicans; it appears, however, that with the Republicans in control of pretty much everything, the spending just keeps going up. Used to be that the Republicans were known as the party of fiscal responsibility. I don't think anyone could really make that argument today without using a lot of Orwellian double-speak. Even the most liberal Democrat knows that at some point if you cut your revenue you have to keep your spending in check. Since the Republicans keeps cutting taxes, shouldn't they also attempt to rein in the spending? Perhaps they need to take a class in financial literacy.

August 12, 2005

small world, big world

My 20th high school reunion is coming up, and I volunteered to run the email list for it. Twenty years ago I left Connecticut, smack in the middle of Ivy League territory, and came west for Berkeley. Since then I've seen only a handful of my classmates from high school and kept in touch with fewer than that.

Now all these names are flooding back into my in-box, and it's surreal. Some I remember quite well and would like to see again. Others I remember with a vague fondness or smoky animosity. The vast majority, though, are like names I've never seen before. It's odd--I expected that I would remember nearly everyone, but so many of the names mean nothing to me. The ones I remember bring back instants in my life--a certain party or class or team or moment, or even their faces return. Some get jumbled, like the girl I thought had performed a song but it was actually one of her best friends.

The most surprising thing is how many of us are now out on the west coast, specifically in the Bay Area.

I'm not the type normally to seek people out for any reason. The prototypical loner, I'm quite happy with my own company thankyouverymuch. But I am intrigued by the people who have moved out here and stayed, and I hope I get to see them and get to know them again. I doubt many, if any, will go the 3,000 miles back to our reunion in November (I will), so I guess I'll just have to break out of my crab shell and make contact. With an actual human.

The reunion, I guess, will be strange just for the fact that there will be so many strangers there.

August 4, 2005

Cal vs Sacramento State

Bears Fans,

It's that time of year again! Football is just around the corner, and Cal has been voted to finish #2 in the Pac-10 by the local media. (USC was the unanimous #1 and is expected to be #1 in all preseason national polls.) The only Pac-10 team Cal misses this year is ASU, the team picked by the media to finish third (maybe they saw that ASU gets to miss Cal). UW (Cal's first conference opponent, on Sept 10) and Stanford (Cal's final conference opponent) are picked to finish 10th and 9th, respectively.

But on to the opener:
Cal [media guide] vs Sacramento State Hornets [media guide]

Cal has had strong home openers since Tedford came to town:
2004: Beat NMSU, 41-14
2003: Beat Southern Miss, 34-2
2002: Beat Baylor, 70-22

Of those, only Baylor was the actual season opener, with Cal losing on the road to Kansas State in 2003 and beating Air Force handily on the road in last year's opener. This year, there is good reason to think that the average differential of 38 points in Cal's home openers under Tedford will be matched, and possibly surpassed.

The I-AA Hornets have been picked to finish 7th in their conference, the Big Sky, behind such powerhouse programs as Eastern Washington, Montana, and Northern Arizona. In fact, they were picked as a tie for 7th place in both the media and conference coaches polls... in an 8-team conference. Last season, the Hornets finished 7th in the conference with a conference record of 2-5.

The Hornets return 17 starters from last season, including 9 that were some level of all-conference selection. They lose their starting QB as well as an All-America wide receiver who had been a standout for four years. The top QB is a senior who appeared in four games and had just 27 pass attempts (11 completions, 1 TD). They also have a pair of JC transfers, one of whom has been at four colleges including Fresno State (greyshirt) and Marshall (redshirt).

The running backs look talented with a little depth and a strong starter in honorable mention Freshman All-American Ryan Mole. They are thin at receiver, where they lose the All-American star and have just 500 yards receiving in their top three returning WRs. There are depth and youth at WR and tailback, but that can be a double-edged sword. It will hurt the Hornets mightily against the larger, more athletic, more fit Bears.

The Hornets do have all five starters returning on the OL. Not one player on the OL has more than one year of starting, though. That's right--they were all first-year starters at the beginning of last season, and they all return this year. Clearly, they will be much improved, but there's still not a ton of experience, and they'll have a new QB behind them. They are not what you would call undersized, but they would be a very small line for the Pac-10. Their starters will average somewhere around 280, whereas most OL in the Pac-10 are closer to 300, with several, like Cal's O line, significantly heavier.

On defense, the Hornets return seven starters: two linemen, two linebackers, and three DBs. In addition, they have seven other DL who saw significant playing time last year. Again, "undersized" would be inaccurate for their line, but they are small for a Pac-10 team. Inside, the tackles average about 280, which is pretty good, but outside, the ends average about 240. Not tiny, but not the kind of line that will hold up well to Cal's punishing size and fitness over sixty minutes. The linebackers are in the 220 range, which makes them small targets and possible roadkill for Marshawn Lynch.

The only DBs taller than 6'0" are the three free safeties; all the other DBs are six feet or under. The unit has talent, with two of the three returning starters earning either Freshman all-conference or honorable mention Freshman all-conference. The other returning starter also was an honorable mention all-conference player last year. I think the Bears will match up well here, too, with a height advantage and also the powerful running game that will distract the safeties and Cal's big offensive line which will give the incoming Cal QB a lot of time.

One interesting connection: Hornet DL Brandon Povio is a Cal transfer who is new to the Sac State roster.

On special teams, the Hornets return both their kickers but are searching for a new long-snapper.

Cal has their own problems to deal with, and this game against Sacramento State at home will provide a very good opportunity to check how the motor runs in a relatively safe and easy full-game situation.

We all know the Bears need to replace Aaron Rodgers. None of the top candidates has ever taken a snap at the Div I-A level. Tedford has a choice between a highly regarded JC transfer (Ayoob), a redshirt freshman who was a star in high school (Longshore), a converted fullback (Levy) and a true freshman phenom (Reed). Ayoob and Longshore are the frontrunners with Longshore getting Tedford's nod as "the incumbent." I would expect both to play in the first two games, though, just as Tedford played Rodgers and Robertson together when they were both new.

It's interesting to think that Bears fans are probably already salivating at the idea of watching Marshawn Lynch in his second year in the Blue & Gold. Remember who was the featured tailback last year? Some guy named Joe... Jay... JJ? Arrington, that's right! Yeah, he gained something like 2,000 yards and had over 100 yards in all 12 games... but what about that kid Lynch! Plus, there's depth. Terrell Williams (senior) and Marcus O'Keith are capable backups that would be featured backs in any mid-major conference. In addition, Chris Mandarino is back at fullback after three years as a starter. Add him to the outstanding offensive line, and this team will have one scary, bad-ass rushing attack this year.

Speaking of the OL, only Jonathan Giesel is missing from last year's starters (he is going to play in Japan's X-League). All five starters last year made some level of all-Pac-10 honor, and Cal was the league's rushing champion last year. Marvin Philip and Ryan O'Callaghan are the stalwarts and are on all the national award watch lists. Andrew Merz and Aaron Cameron are the other returning starters. O'Callaghan is 6'7" and 360 pounds. Merz is 6'4", 340 pounds. Cameron is 6'5", 305 pounds. Philip is 6'2", 305 pounds. This is a big, athletic, talented line that won games last year by wearing down opponents and owning the fourth quarter. No reason to assume this year will be different.

The biggest problem will be the passing game. (I can hear you all saying, "Duh. He thinks he's so smart. I could write that." Yeah, well, you're the one reading it.) Not only will the Bears have the new QB after one of the best in Cal history, but the Bears lost their top four receivers in McArthur, Lyman, Makonnen, and Toler. The names we recognize returning are Robert Jordan, who looked athletic and fresh last year, ending with over 330 yards receiving and starting the final six games; and Noah Smith, David Gray, and Sam DeSa. Not a lineup that strikes fear in opposing DBs' hearts. Not only that, but the Bears also lost TE Garrett Cross and have virtually no experience to take over there, though there is some talent.

On defense, the Bears are also rebuilding a bit. Gone are Lorenzo Alexander and Ryan Riddle, but returning are Tosh Lupoi and Brandon Mebane. It will be hard to replace the departing talent, but before last year, Riddle was relatively unknown. With the incoming talent and available backups, I think there is hope for a solid unit here.

Linebacker is the same story. Gone are Wendell Hunter, Sid Slater, Joe Maningo, and Francis Blay-Miezah. Yet the talent coming in, while inexperienced, is very highly rated and decorated. This is another reason Cal fans should be happy that Sac State is the first game of the season.

In the defensive backfield, it's another mixed bag. Cornerback is looking good with returning players Donnie McCleskey, Daymeion Hughes, and Harrison Smith. The hole is at safety, where Matt Giordano and Ryan Gutierrez, both reliable, speedy hard-hitters, have departed. With Tim Mixon and Thomas DeCoud back as well, the Bears have a good group in the DBs and a lot of experience and talent to work with.

In the kicking department... well, all the same guys are back, but the field goals were hit-and-miss last year. David Lonie was a capable punter and should be better after last year.

It would be better not to predict the outcome of the opening game. There are so many unknowns on both teams with new QBs and inexperienced receiving corps, and other rebuilding opportunities. I would give the Bears at least 32 points, and actually I expect it to be far more lopsided than that. I am thinking that the Hornets will not make it to the end zone unless it's on a kick return. The Bears, however, should be able to run roughshod all game, and the second half will be all Cal due to the superior size, strength, and fitness. I expect the second half alone to be 35-0. The first half should be similar though a little lower scoring. I think we are likely to see a final score somewhere around 56-0 or 63-0.

Go Bears!

August 2, 2005

Over 1,800... and counting

Yesterday on BART I sat in the only empty seat left, near the middle of the car, next to a guy who looked like he maybe was on his way to work at a house-painting job. He had a dirty, old baseball cap, a scrungy white tee shirt, and dirty, well-worn jeans. His face was stubble-covered, and he smiled at me with bleary eyes and crooked teeth and a stink of something that maybe was rum.

As I sat down next to him, he held his hand out and said, "My son just got back from Iraq." I shook his hand, smiled back. "That's great," I said. I asked how long he was back for. Just a couple weeks, then he's going to some fort in Texas or the Carolinas or somewhere east. After a year there, he's scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. The pride shone in this guy's voice, his smile, his bleary, drunken, teary eyes. He'd also just seen his 10-month-old granddaughter for the first time. He was truly a happy man.

It's strange sitting next to a stereotype straight out of a movie. This guy, Mike, told me that he'd called his boss to say that a bus had broken down and he couldn't get to work; his boss knew that Mike had been drunk the night before and there was no broken down bus. His boss had recently remarked that every day Mike missed work was a Monday. At one point Mike called a friend on his cell phone and said, "I ran into my son last night, he's been back ten days" before the phone dropped the signal. This was clearly a man who did not think much of himself, who had never aspired to much, who was content getting drunk every weekend and just holding down a menial job. But he was also a man who knew he'd done something right because his soldier son was back from war, home to a growing family... and was likely to go back to war in a year's time.

Later yesterday I read an op-ed column saying that it's easy to send others off to war, to have others sacrifice for war. There is no "moral cost" to the people making the decisions in their halls of marble and tapestry and granite. The average, middle-class and upper-crust American does not personally know anyone in harm's way in Iraq or Afghanistan, does not have to sacrifice job or family or even money to support the war. Even the $200 billion spent on it so far, and the $1 billion a week Iraq is costing US taxpayers is like raising the temperature one degree on a 90-degree day, or like having your tomato garden yeild only 500 tomatoes instead of 501--we just don't notice any cost or pain or sacrifice because we are not asked to make any.

It's easy to support a war, to say "we'll do whatever it takes," if all it takes is to stick a yellow magnet on your car and put a flag out on July 4th. With over 250,000 different individuals having cycled through Iraq, it is perhaps an amazing statistic that only 1,800 have died and some 10,000 have been maimed or seriously wounded. Mike's son is lucky not to be among those. Other daughters-in-law, other baby granddaughters, are not so lucky--their moms or dads are dead, forever. Or perhaps they are missing a leg and have to make do with virtually no support from the government that sent them into danger.

When Mike got off at his stop, though, I said, "Right on" to his parting delivery of "God bless America, huh?" The people making the real sacrifices are hidden, silent, and invisible. It will always be easy for the rest of us to support a war when we have no cost associated with saying, "Bring 'em on."