Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Break Review

I just got back yesterday from a spring break trip to Orlando, FL with five friends. The trip was amazing; we experienced beautiful weather almost without exception, partook in all sorts of entertaining activities, and stayed at a kick-ass resort (for free -- thanks Beth!).

Orlando is a great city, but also kind of annoying because its overall design is so slanted toward tourism. They are gouging you for money from the second you leave your plane (almost literally -- there's a toll station on the freeway about 100 feet from the airport) and almost every street is lined with gimmicky crap. Yet, amidst all this, one can't help but enjoy the warm and breezy climate and the amazingly attractive women who litter the streets.

We didn't go to Disney World, but we did go to Universal Studios. This excursion proved both fun and monumentally disappointing. I loved some of the rides -- the "Twister" ride simulated a real-life tornado and featured plenty of Bill Paxton involvement and the "Disaster" ride placed you on a subway car in the middle of an earthquake, with narration by Christopher Walken. However, some of the rides were a bit lame, most notably the E.T. ride which can best be described as a real-life simulation of a bad acid trip (you can watch a very dark video of the ride here). I didn't go on this ride when I visited Universal as a young child, but if I had, I have to imagine I would have been scarred for life. Aside from being horribly crappy overall, the ride didn't even make sense. It is supposed to take place on E.T.'s home planet (cleverly named "The Green Planet"), yet all of the planet's alien inhabitants speak perfect English. In the movie, E.T. learned VERY LIMITED English by observing the behavior of humans during his time on Earth... how the hell would his friends at home be able to speak the language fluidly?!

Despite my hatred for this ride, it did not mark the low point of our trip to Universal. Oh no. The worst part, by far, was that the Back to the Future ride no longer exists. This ride was by far my favorite memory from my previous trip to the theme park (you can see a video of it here, but it doesn't do it justice because you're not sitting in the moving De Lorean), but some complete morons apparently decided that it was too fun and needed to be removed. But yeah, leave the E.T. ride there for sure, because no day at the theme park is complete without some stupid plastic aliens scaring the shit out of innocent and unsuspecting little kids.

Replacing the Back to the Future ride is a brand new ride based on The Simpsons, which looks absolutely incredible. I couldn't even find a picture of it online, possibly because its sheer awesomeness exploded every camera that ever attempted to capture it. It's basically a giant replica of "Krustyland," a fictional theme park from within the show. Nearby is a life-size Kwik-E-Mart:

Pretty sweet, huh? Unfortunately, all I can tell you about is the attraction's external qualities, because it's NOT EVEN OPEN YET! So, in short, I managed to go to the park during the period of time after my favorite ride closed down yet before its replacement -- a perhaps far cooler ride -- opened. Talk about timing!

The rest of the trip was a blur of sun-bathing, drinking, mini-golfing, eating, taking philosophical late-night walks, throwing the old baseball around (or, in Beth's case, into a lake... repeatedly), skim-boarding in the ocean, free-styling, playing Game, and devouring Ci-Ci's Pizza (which is by the way the most incredible place on Earth and should be located on every corner in Minnesota).

All in all, a wonderful time and a great way to spend my last college spring break. Now if only Devin had posted over the course of the week like he was supposed to...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Another Exciting Vikings Offseason

There are few things in this world that warrant as a level of enthusiasm on par with a Minnesota Vikings offseason under head coach Brad Childress. Maybe having a tooth pulled without Novacaine, or having your head stomped on with spiked cleats. But even those lovely activities probably can't match the sheer pain caused by a Vikes' free agency period. Last year, the team's big acquisitions were Visanthe Shiancoe, a former backup tight end with the Giants who ended up being entirely worthless, and Bobby Wade, a slot receiver from the Titans. I could barely contain my excitement. This year, Childress is at again with his crazy hijinx.

Last season the Vikings did two things well: run the ball, and stop the opposing team from running the ball. Everything else, they basically sucked at. The ranked 28th in the NFL in passing offense, and dead last in pass defense. As such, it makes sense that the team would seek to improve in these areas during the offseason.

Step one: replace departed safety Dwight Smith with a quality player who actually gives a damn. The Vikings' solution here was to sign Madieu Williams, apparently trying to maintain the team's "Williams quota" after the departure of Tank Williams. Some analysts say that Madieu is a good, hard-hitting safety and a solid acquisition for the Vikings, but let's look at the facts: Williams played last year for a Cincinnati secondary that was fairly awful in its own right (26th in the NFL) and the Bengals made no effort to maintain him despite the fact that he is only 26 years old and they had no obvious replacement waiting in the wings. Last year in Cincy, Williams collected two interceptions and was credited with seven passes defended. Dwight Smith last year intercepted four passes and defensed nine with the Vikes. Looks like a big upgrade for the pass D there.

Step two: find a competent receiver to replace Troy Williamson, who was quite possibly the single worst draft pick in the history of American sports. Here the Vikings signed Bernard Berrian from the Bears. Now, let's be fair here -- Berrian is a pretty decent receiver, and I have no problem paying him a few million bucks a year to slightly improve the Vikings' receiving corps. Unfortunately, the Vikes saw fit to sign Berrian to a six-year deal that makes him the fourth-highest paid receiver in the NFL. Here's all we need to know about the Berrian signing:

Bernard Berrian, 2007 stats: 71 rec, 951 yds, 5 TD
Berrian's contract w/ Vikes: 6 yrs, $42M ($16M guaranteed)
Randy Moss, 2007 stats: 98 rec, 1493 yds, 23 TD
Moss' contract w/ Pats: 3 yrs, $27M ($15M guaranteed)

In the world of logic and reason, these moves might not make sense. But in that big, bald, arrogant head of Brad Childress, they make all the sense in the world.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Three Random Annoyances - Vol. 2

For Matt's viewing pleasure, another edition of Three Random Annoyances, where I lament about three things that have bothered me during the past week.

1) Cold weather.
Every morning I wake up, get dressed and head to class (or work). And it seems like each time I step outside, I feel like one of the helicopter pilots in The Day After Tomorrow (10 Blog Points to anyone who gets that reference). Seriously, it's March. These slashing icy winds and single-digit lows need to go away. Last I checked, I live in Minnesota, not Pluto.

2) Fast food joints with no public napkin dispensers.
Any restaurant that serves food should have napkins readily available to customers. To me, it is inexcusable for such an establishment to keep napkins behind the counter, forcing messy eaters to go and ask the cashier for more. Specifically, I'm talking about Subway here, although I know there are other places that engage in this shady practice. I went in there today, and I got one measly napkin with my footlong sub. This turned out to be grossly inadequate when I was scarfing down my sloppy mayo-filled sandwich. My single pathetic napkin was soaked and I needed more, but of course since there was not a napkin dispenser sitting next to the drink/condiment area, I had to assail one of the employees for more napkins. This took a while because the sandwich makers were busy, you know, making sandwiches. Are napkins really that valuable of a commodity, that Subway must horde them behind the counter and hand them out sparingly to paying customers?

Favre retired. You might have heard. I mean, I don't think I would have been aware of this piece of news if not for the 6 billion Facebook status updates whining about it.

"We'll miss you number 4!"
"I can't believe Brett's gone!"
"Thanks for the memories!"

I also would like to thank Brett for the memories. I look back fondly on each of his 288 interceptions. Also, that time in the NFC Championship Game last year when the Packers got first ball in overtime and Brett proceeded to promptly throw the ball directly into the hands of an opponent, setting up the Giants for a game-winning field goal. Good times. And of course, there's my most recent memory of Brett, which was watching him blubber like Adam Morrison during his farewell press conference. I find it deliciously ironic that the NFL's all-time "Iron Man" can't stop himself from crying like a baby on national TV.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hillary the Hypocrite

Alright, I know there are people out there who think we write about politics too much on this blog (Matt Skolnick, aka Otis Nixon, being the most vocal of this crowd), and that's something that Devin and I will work feverishly to change. Unfortunately, this is going to be a post about politics. Well, I don't know if the word "post" really describes what this is going to be... "angry keyboard-mashing rant" might be a more accurate descriptor.

Yes, I'm pissed off. I'm pissed off because of the things Hillary Clinton's camp have been coming out and saying in the wake of her victories in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday. Specifically, Clinton's chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, has come out and criticized Barack Obama for stating that he intends to increase criticism of Clinton's record. Here's your quote:
"After a campaign in which many of the questions that voters had in the closing days centered on concerns that they had over his state of preparedness to be commander in chief and steward of the economy, he has chosen instead of addressing those issues to attack Senator Clinton," Wolfson told reporters in a conference call. "I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president."
It almost seems like this man has to be joking, because this has to be the most blatantly hypocritical thing I've ever heard in my entire life. If Obama decides to engage in negative tactics -- a strategy which has mostly avoided throughout his campaign -- it is only because his hand has been forced by Clinton's continual use of those tactics.

As Devin pointed out out on Tuesday night, Clinton's "red phone emergency" ad, which painted Obama as a man incapable of rising to the occasion in the event of a crisis (while of course Hillary has all sorts of experience in this arena as a result of having been the President's WIFE), was disturbingly effective and may have been a large part of the reason she won in Texas. This was quite clearly a negative ad, and it continues a long trend of outright criticism toward Obama that Clinton has engaged in throughout her campaign. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, in essence -- it's politics after all. But I have a great deal of respect for Obama because he has mostly shied away from such tactics (tactics which are hurtful to the Democratic party in the long run), and for Clinton's lead aide to come out and criticize Obama for announcing his intentions to use the same tactics that Clinton has been using for months and comparing Obama to Kenneth Star is absolutely ridiculous.

This criticism is tantamount to the New York Yankees getting angry at the Twins for going out and signing an expensive high-profile free agent in order to improve their chances of winning. Hey, it's all well and good when we do it, but when you do it, it's morally wrong and unethical. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

Clinton still trails in delegates and it has become quite clear that she is willing to do just about anything to get back ahead in this race. If anyone is deserving of criticism for the way they've run their campaign and the potential damage it will cause to the eventual candidate's chances against John McCain in November, it's her.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Responses to comments

I was responding to the comments on my previous post from Alex and decided it was getting too long and I'd better just post another topic. So here goes.

I agree that a Clinton-Obama ticket is more likely than the reverse, solely for the fact that 1. I don't think Obama would offer it (Hillary does less to make up for Obama than Obama does for Hillary.. for example, Barack's weakness appears to be experience, but John McCain would run on experience against Clinton too, because in comparison she has NONE) and 2. Hillary wouldn't take it.. I think it's all or nothing for her. I don't see her taking a back seat. The only reason why I can say that it's sliiiightly more likely for Obama to take the VP slot is because he's young and could say to himself that in 8 years he'd be poised to take the reigns. That said, the time is right for him. This year. It's his time.

Swing states that Obama won: Minnesota (unfortunately they talk of us as a swinger), Iowa, Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado. Granted they are not Ohio, or Florida (which Hillary didn't really win) but the dems can win without those states. It can be done. What other swing states has she won? New Mexico (which McCain would win due to proximity), Arkansas, New Hampshire (again, they love McCain there). That's not many swing states. And as for winning the big states that the Dems need to win for the general election? California, New York. If those states go Republican I'll buy everyone who reads this post a nice four course dinner. The notion that winning those big states prove she'll carry them and Obama won't is ludicrous. Nonsense.

As for Obama staying away from the negative... You can criticize without being negative. At least by my definition, criticism is founded, negative attacks are not. There is substance to questioning what experience Hillary really does have (Obama's current line of attack which makes me very happy). There is no substance to saying in a low voice and dark room with sleeping children "Who do you want answering the phone?" No, that's a stupid leading question that has no substance. I think if you asked that to people without the theatrics people's responses would be split. So Obama can criticize, if its founded. The politics of new does not include baseless attacks. It can still include well reasoned arguments. Screaming at Ohioans saying "Shame on you Barack Obama" is theatrics. It's theater to her. Maybe that's why she seems more fake to me, because she seems like she's an actor.

To respond to Nick's comment - I think its a bit much to say "I hope Obama can rebound." It's not time for a rebound. Last night I may have said so too, but when the dust settled, Obama is fine. He is still up 96 delegates. She made up less than 10 last night. If they split every race from here on out (on average, obviously he'd win some and she'd probably win some) and the Super Delegates split from here on out he'd end with more overall, and enough for the nomination (that's without Florida or Michigan, and without the Super Delegates deciding it - notice how I said they would split the remaining Super Delegates, which would mean that overall Hillary would still be up 40 in Supers and would still lose the nomination, which means the Supers wouldn't have decided it). Retool, yes. Rethink strategy, some. Rebound, nah. He is in almost as good of shape as before.

Plus, if his margin holds in the Texas caucus (which counts for 1/3 of their delegates) he will win that third by 12, while Hillary won the primary by just 3. When you think about it, and do some simple math, she won 1/3 by 3 and 1/3 by 3, so 6 total, while Obama would win 1/3 by 12. 6-12 Obama. If that happens, how many pundits will be saying Obama won Texas? Watch for it. (Of course if his margin is erased this point is moot).

I am more hopeful than last night. Still cynical when it comes to the voting public (until people vote with their heads and not their fears, I'll reserve my right to doubts), but hopeful about Obama's chances. Besides, today he looks as strong - or stronger - than ever, smartly criticizing Hillary on points she is weak on.

Gripes about the voting public

So it's a bit extreme for me to say that tonight's results have made me cynical to the whole political process, but I am on my way. I think the most disheartening thing about tonight's results is that Hillary's negative attack ads (mainly the "who do you want to answer the phone at 3 am ad") actually worked. I am so sick of politics of fear. That is so George Bush/Karl Rove, I thought we were done with that. Not to mention I would so much rather have a president who respects diplomacy as the first option answer that phone, than a trigger happy president who is afraid of looking weak on defense and thus would get us into another mess like our current war. Isn't it ironic that the very actions that make you appear strong on national defense and security actually seem to make our country less safe? I don't think Clinton understands this..

But that's not the point. What makes me fed up with the general voting public is exit poll results like those out of Texas. Something like 62% of respondents said they thought Hillary was more qualified to be president, and those who decided in the last 3 days (which includes the debut of that ad) went heavily for Clinton, suggesting the ad worked. That's fine I can deal with that if that's how they felt for good solid reasons. It was the next exit poll that made me lose it, where CNN asked "who do you think unfairly attacked their opponent more?" The results - overwhelmingly people responded, guess who, Mrs. Clinton (like 62-38).

This isn't just true of Texas voters, its true of most voters. People say openly that they hate negative attack ads, that they are sick of them, they are sick of politics of fear, and this is what Obama has been trying to tap into, running a positive campaign about building people up instead of tearing down your opponent (notice how Clinton has run away with the few "scandals" of Obama's past, while Obama hasn't mentioned a SINGLE one of the scandals Hillary was involved in during Bill's years - and there were more than just Whitewater). Obama has stayed positive and apparently was punished for that. People say they hate negative ads, but they work. They say openly "Hillary unfairly attacked Obama" and yet the VERY same attack sways their vote to her. Makes no sense. The logic entirely escapes me.

I despise negative ads. I think if you can't run on your own merits alone you shouldn't be in the race. Anyone can tear down another person, but it takes real character to build everyone else up and focus on your own ideas. The math still looks good for Obama, but I am cynical. I don't know if this country is ready for change like I thought it was...