Monday, March 30, 2015

The Right Brand of Treason?

On March 2, in his speech in the House of Representatives, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear he doesn't trust Iran's government. Although his remarks along those lines drew applause, some of Netanyahu's supporters in the room surely knew that nobody trusts the regime in Iran all that much, including America's President Barack Obama. 

Although I have no good reason to trust Iran's bosses, either, sometimes the more a person talks about trust the less I trust them. Hey, who trusts Netanyahu? 

And, dear reader, do you trust many American politicians, elected or wannabe -- donkey, elephant or off-brand -- to regularly put considerations for the commonweal over all other interests? My reason for asking is to set up this question: Does trust even matter all that much in 2015?

For a lot of people, it seems to have become much more important to agree with a politician's perceived "brand" than to trust that person to be fair and honest in their dealings. Furthermore, I'm saying that as a baby boomer/geezer, I remember a time when trustworthiness seemed to be more important than appears to be today. At least, I think I do... 

Oh well, eventually, I'll finish this piece about how "branding" in our culture has become more important than trust. But for today, I'll wind up with this two-part question connected to how to deal with Iran:

Did you buy it that the 47 Republican senators who wrote a letter to Iran, trying to scuttle the international negotiations about limiting that country's nuclear program, were motivated by good intentions? Or, put it this way -- because you trust in the persuasiveness of bombs, is a letter that nudges America toward war with Iran just the right brand of treason? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

West Regional Preview

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is my favorite sports championship. When comparing it to baseball and football, in my view basketball is the best sport for a tournament format. The one-loss-and-go-home rule in college basketball's championships always seems to make a few players do things they probably didn't know they could do ... before they had to invent something to win and advance.  

While the highly-regarded teams usually win the last game of the NCAA's, along the way underdogs inevitably have their moments in the bright lights. Longtime VCU fans still talk about a game-winning shot by Rolando Lamb that beat Jim Calhoun's Northeastern team in the 1984 tournament. 

It's always fun to see a team that's won a lot of games in a supposedly weak conference prove to the fans who expect power conference members to have an advantage that some teams are just good at winning, no matter who they face. Only one squad will finish the whole shebang without a loss. 

The top two seeds of the West Regional, Wisconsin and Arizona, seem quite capable of going all the way, if you think anybody can beat Kentucky. The third seed, Baylor, is certainly good enough to reach the Sweet 16. The fourth seed, North Carolina, has the talent to play with anybody, but there's a softness about the Tar Heels collective team personality this season that I suspect will betray them.

Below I've listed the four teams I think are most likely to win the regional to appear in the Final Four; they are listed in my perception of the order of their likelihood. All four should win their first games. So, with my prejudice for VCU showing, I think the Fearsome Four schools in the West Regional are: 
  • #1 Wisconsin (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 4. Conference: Big 10. Best wins: Oklahoma and Michigan St. at neutral sites. Worst losses: Duke at home and Rutgers on the road.
  • #2 Arizona (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 5. Conference: Pac-12. Best wins: Gonzaga at home and Utah away. Worst losses: Oregon St. and UNLV both away.
  • #3 Baylor (24-9). Last five games: 3-2. RPI: 10. Conference: Big 12. Iowa St. and W. Va., both on the road. Worst losses: Kansas St on the road and Oklahoma St. at home.
  • #7 VCU (26-9). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 15. Atlantic 10. Best wins: No. Iowa at home and Dayton at a neutral site. Worst losses: La Salle at home and St. Bonaventure away. 
The most likely Cinderellas to stage upsets in their first games are #12 Wofford (vs. #5 Arkansas) and #13 Harvard (vs. #4 UNC). Should I be right about VCU and wrong about UNC, it sure would be fun to see them play at the Elite Eight level, with the winner Final Four bound.

Monday, March 16, 2015

AP Poll: No. 25 VCU

Upon winning the Atlantic 10 championship by beating the tough Dayton Flyers on Sunday afternoon, by a score of 71-65, the VCU Rams finished their pre-NCAA's schedule with a 26-9 record (16-6 in overall A-10 games).

Nonetheless, I am a little surprised the March 16 AP Poll had the Rams at No. 25. Last week VCU didn't wasn't even listed among the "others receiving votes." For a team not in one of the power conferences that lost three straight games in late-February/early-March it's quite a feat to leapfrog a bunch of good teams that quickly.

Maybe the NCAA's expert seeding committee didn't show the Rams as much respect as some VCU fans might have wanted -- 7th seed in the West -- but it seems the AP Poll's voters noticed what happened in Brooklyn. What the committee couldn't ignore was VCU's eye-popping ranking in the RPI, due in great part to the Rams strong out-of-conference schedule. Today VCU stands at No. 15 in the RPI at CBS Sports.

Thus the Rams are one spot better than Notre Dame, the impressive team that just won the ACC tournament. The first game of the Big Dance for VCU will tipoff at about 4:40 p.m. on Thursday in Portland, Ore. (TNT). The Rams opponents will be one of the blue blood programs of college basketball -- the 10th-seeded Ohio St. Buckeyes (23-10) out of the Big Ten.

VCU has won five consecutive games, after losing the three previous games. Earlier this season the streaky Rams put together a 12-game run of wins. In the last week of the regular season VCU's head coach Shaka Smart was still tinkering with the starting lineup.

Which VCU Rams team will show up on the hardwood floor to face the Buckeyes in Portland? Will it be the confused Rams of March 5th in Charlotte? Or will it be the bold Rams of March 6th through the 8th at the Barclays Center?

Here's a prediction from ESPN's Joe Lunardi. 

Rams Take A-10 Tournament Title

 Post by Barclays Center.

Highlight reel from Brooklyn.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rams Will Stomp Spiders

After going five and three with a tough schedule in November and early December, during a nine-win run, from Dec. 13 through Jan. 13, the VCU Rams performed steadily like a Top 20 team, a legitimate Final Four possibility. This spell raised expectations.

After three more wins, on Jan. 31 VCU's eye-popping streak of victories ended at the Siegel Center with a loss to the Richmond Spiders. More importantly, the Rams lost their most indispensable player -- senior point guard Briante Weber (pictured above with the ball in his hands), who blew out a knee.

Since the injury that ended Weber's college basketball career, head coach Shaka Smart's team has struggled to find its new balance. Weber's contributions had been at the heart of what Havoc had meant. Beyond his statistics his enthusiasm has been missed. His voice has been missed. His ability to make the opponents paranoid has been missed. In spite of his efforts to coach 'em up, Coach Smart has seen his team struggle with its confidence over the last six weeks. 

Now expectations don't matter any more, but an answer for what was lost on Jan 31st is at hand. Smart's job is to put everything else out of his team's mindset. VCU is still a good team, but it's a good team that hasn't played a particularly good game in several weeks. Well, it says here the Rams are due. They're due for a hot shooting game.

Yes, the Spiders are a good team, too, but not good enough to beat VCU if the young players step up and give their best effort to executing the coach's overplaying system. Not if Melvin, playing so close to his home, is feeling it. Not if the Freight Train is running on schedule. 

The Rams will beat the Spiders: VCU 72, Richmond 63. 

-- Photo from VCU Athletics

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bibi Strangelove?

Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper

From what I can tell the Americans making the most noise in their support of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seem to believe the force of their hero's swaggering personality, if directed at the worst villains in the Middle East, will scatter them to run into holes in the ground, to cower. Poor devils.

Beyond that, there seems to be no plan. At least, no plan short of another war to to bring on another regime change; after all that went so well in Iraq in 2003. Prior to launching that war, let's not forget America's post-WWII history with overthrowing governments in order to install more friendly regimes. Here are a few highlights:
  • Let's start with Iran in 1953, where the USA combined with Great Britain to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, to put a dictator, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, in charge until 1979.
  • America's CIA had its fingerprints all over various regime-change campaigns waged in South America in the 1960s.
  • The real lollapalooza of the '60s was the coup arranged by the USA in South Vietnam in '63. 
  • Of course, during the '80s we threw billions in arms support to the mujahideen militants in Afghanistan. They returned the favor by morphing into al-Qaeda. 
There are lots -- lots! -- of other regrettable foreign policy moves that could be added to this list, but you get the picture they paint, when taken as a whole. Answers for why some people in the world harbor bitter feeling toward America's government, maybe its people, too, can be found in the stories of our government's bloody overreaching, and its very expensive failures.
Back to Bibi. He says the Iranians can't be trusted. Then Netanyahu says he wants more than a 10-year deal. Does that mean the same Iranian he doesn't trust will become more trustworthy, if they agree to a longer deal? What the hell does Netanyahu really want? 

It seems obvious he first and foremost he wants to get reelected. Netanyahu has taken a big gamble with this week's blatantly political stunt in DC, to align himself with American Republicans. No doubt, he hopes the gamble will pay off. If Netanyahu gets reelected, my guess is the next he wants is to sucker the USA into backing him up when Israel unilaterally bombs Iran, initiates a war and then tells us we have to go along. This was the same sort of strategy Gen. Jack D. Ripper employed in "Dr. Strangelove..." (1964) by provoking a nuclear first-strike. 

Dig it: No matter what the details of the deal now being negotiated with Iran turn out to be, it's a given Netanyahu is going to say it's a bad deal. The sitting prime minister of Israel seems to have convinced himself that war to institute regime-change in Iran is the only sure way to make Israel safe from Persian plots against Israel's "precious bodily fluids."