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keeping an eye on the tree and the forest

Dave's Exegesis is my eclectic site of exegesis on pretty much everything I can think of, whether biblical studies, theology, music, movies, culture, food, drink, sports, or the internet.

Enjoying the Silence

06.23.08

Two reasons blogging has been slow this year are that my interests in the past few months have been primarily golf and politics.  These are just so out of character for me.  I swear, if I were still in the seminary/church loop that I would not have time to talk or participate in either.  If golf hadn’t fascinated me so much, I would probably have joined a tennis league, which I suppose I could still do.  I generally don’t know what to believe or who to trust when reading and listening about politics, but I have been reading all of the coverage from the NY Times on the Democratic Primary.  It is just an amazing case study and/or entry point for many in participating in the primary process.  I can see why many get caught up into the political season, because it is a different kind of sport.  The game is about words and image and the match-ups occur state by state.  It is fun to see the results come in as you route for your candidate: “Come on Indiana, count those last few counties and bring it over the top!!!”  We all have our pet issues that delineate our deal-breakers for each candidate and we all have our character preferences.  I personally would like a candidate that is brilliant, with uncanny people and speaking skills , the ability to admit mistakes and save face, the ability to educate and teach Americans what is really going on with the political processes instead of walking all over our ignorance, one who balances both a short-term and long-term perspective of policy, one who hears matters carefully and exegetically, a critical thinker who can argue points clearly and tactfully, one who surrounds himself with great minds but is not controlled by them, and most importantly, one who is steeped in world history, american history, presidential history, modern history, military history, economic history, and is continuing to learn.  But, my guess is that some one like that would never run for president.  Obama might be closer than the other candidates, which is why I will probably vote for him, but he still has quite a bit to grow in to.  That is really the shame of the timing of these things, because if Obama has a bit more time, he could sharpen the things I’d like to see.  Well, time is of the essence, and now is his time, albeit a little pre-mature.  He certainly surpasses the other options.  And ultimately, we only know what we are exposed to, and all we know of any candidate is what we read and hear from/about them.  So all the progress I have made, perhaps, is that I read (NY Times, The New Yorker, Reason Magazine) and listen (NPR, PBS, & BBC) to better sources then I have in the past (The Union Leader, WTKK, & FoxNews).

But, as you can see, learning about 2 topics that have been pretty foreign to me until last fall has contributed to keeping my blog relatively silent. But rest assure, although I could go on and on about politics, I find golf much more interesting because there is more concrete information to learn.  Politics is simply a glorified ad campaign centered around a person or group.

I Do Disagree, but It’s Worth a Thought

07.27.06

Here’s Bill Simmons’ latest suggestion about fantasy football:

The new fantasy rules

Editor’s note: This article appears in the July 31 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

You’re not allowed to complain about four things in life: nudity, free food, free drinks and fantasy football. So why would I want to tinker with the latter, a multibillion-dollar business that brings us so much joy? Because we screwed this up from the beginning, that’s why.

You know how pro sports were totally messed up in the ’40s and ’50s, back when the NBA had no shot clock, hockey goalies didn’t have masks and football players went all 60 minutes? Back then, fans thought everything was fine, right? That’s where fantasy is: great concept, semisuccessful execution, tons of potential. It’s not Kathy Griffin’s face; we don’t have to renovate everything, we just need to make some adjustments. And I’m more than willing to be the Winston Wolfe of the whole thing.

Here are the biggest problems, with my solutions:

PROBLEM: Every league has different rules.

Imagine that you and your friends belonged to various bowling leagues, only some used extra-big balls, some used 12 pins instead of 10, some counted strikes as 15 points and so on. How could anyone ever brag about a 300? You’d spend more time explaining your rules than anything else. Well, isn’t that what happens with fantasy football? Some leagues start eight guys, others start 12. Some leagues start multiple QBs, others start one. Some leagues count stats for individual defensive players, some don’t count defense at all. When a buddy tells you a war story from his league, he always has to spend 45 seconds explaining his rules. Complete waste of time.

SOLUTION: The Sports Guy’s rules.

They’re logical. Plus they give me a chance to refer to myself in the third person, like Rickey Henderson. I’ve always wanted to do that. In order …

1. Ten or 12 teams per league, 15 players per teams.

2. Every week you start a QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and a 10th man from any position. For that 10th-man spot, only six times can you start a QB, RB or WR. So there’s additional strategy involved: Not only do you need depth, but, since QBs always get the highest points, when you play the “second QB” card one week, you’d better need him.

3. Standard scoring: six points for rushing/receiving TDs; four points for passing TDs; three for FGs; one for PATs; six for defense/special teams TD; one for sacks/fumble recoveries/INTs; two for safeties; one for every 20 passing yards; one for every 10 rushing/receiving yards; 20 points for an arrest. However, there are wrinkles:

A) Five-point bonuses for 175 yards rushing/receiving and 350 yards passing. If somebody has a big day, that should be rewarded. Plus, it gives the “guy who loves to complain about everything, even if his team exploded for 200 points” a chance to complain when one of his players falls a yard shy of the bonus.

B) Shutouts count for 10 points, holding an opponent to seven or less counts for five and holding the other team to under 200 total yards counts as another five. Defenses don’t matter enough in fantasy. In what other scenario is a tight end more important than all 11 guys on the opposing defense? I mean, except for Ben Coates in Madden ’97?

C) Interceptions, fumbles and missed kicks count as minus-one; any pick returned for a TD counts as minus-six against your QB. We don’t penalize for incompetence often enough. If you were so desperate you had to start Drew Bledsoe, then you should constantly be terrified of his trademark hanging floater toward the sideline that gets picked off by a cornerback running the other way. In other words, it should be like real life.

PROBLEM: Nobody can pull off a schmuck-free league.

Look, the duties of an owner are simple: Don’t bring your girlfriend/wife to the draft; don’t draft someone that was already drafted; don’t draft an injured guy (leading your buddies to be thrust into an awkward position of either screwing you or giving you a do-over); try to field a competitive team; create an offensive team name; start a lineup of healthy players every week; return e-mails or phone calls within 24 hours unless you’re trapped under something; and, when all else fails, at least come up with an occasional funny e-mail or message-board post.

But what about owners who bring nothing to the table and do a terrible job with their team? For whatever reason, it’s less awkward for guys to dump a girlfriend than to discard a deadbeat fantasy owner. There’s always some crazy reason to keep him around, like “It would be awkward for the commissioner to run into him at work” or “Let’s cut him some slack, he’s going through a divorce.” Ridiculous. We already have to deal with too much dead weight in real life, we don’t need it in our fantasy lives.

SOLUTION: The “three strikes and you’re out” rule.

Here’s how it works: During the draft, if you don’t make any jokes and sit there looking like Mike Holmgren watching the Super Bowl XL video, that’s a strike. If you repeatedly take too long to make picks, to the point that everyone is screaming 12-letter expletives every time you’re on the clock, that’s a strike. If more than twice you draft someone who was already drafted, because you aren’t paying attention, that’s a strike. If you draft an injured guy (leading to the aforementioned “should we or shouldn’t we give him a do-over” intervention), that’s a strike. If you spend the entire draft whispering on your cell phone to some unseen partner and ignoring everyone in the room, that’s a strike. If you’re too cheap to buy your own magazines and ask to borrow someone else’s, that’s a strike. If you forgot to bring money to the draft, that’s a strike.

But wait, there’s more. After the draft, if you don’t return an e-mail or a phone call within 72 hours and can’t come up with a valid excuse, that’s a strike. If you go more than a month without sending a group e-mail or making a message-board post that belittles the credentials of someone else in the league, that’s a strike. If you belatedly respond to someone’s e-mail or phone call with a snarky comment like “Sorry I took so long to respond — some of us actually have jobs” or “Just in case you forgot, there are more important things in life than fantasy football,” that’s a strike. If you started someone who’s out for the season, or if you didn’t use the waiver wire to try to replace that person, that’s a strike. If you make a horrendously shady trade, even, if it gets overturned, that’s still a strike. Three strikes and you’re out. Simple as that.

(One other note: If you don’t show up for the draft, can’t do it by phone and have the gall to send a lackey with some half-assed list you make to pick your team, that’s three strikes. Go away.)

PROBLEM: It’s impossible to make it through a season without a one-sided trade causing complete chaos.

We all know that the wrong trade can divide a fantasy league faster than the Spelling family fell apart. In my West Coast league a few years ago, the first-place team had Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. It needed a receiver and traded Manning straight up for Amani Toomer. You read the correctly. Nearly 700 angry e-mails and five near-fistfights later, the trade was somehow approved. If that wasn’t bad enough, the first-place team won the title — Toomer filled a gaping hole at receiver — and Manning’s new team finished second. From then on, we called it Toomergate. And, honestly, I never want to go through anything like that again. It was more traumatic than the last 20 minutes of “American History X.”

SOLUTION: Form a trading committee.

Enlist three unbiased outsiders who aren’t in the league but are friends with a few of the owners. It’s not like you’d have trouble convincing them. They’ll be delighted to kill a few minutes at work arbitrating. And you think I’m kidding. They’ll be like, “Wait, you want me to be on your league’s new trading committee? Sure, I’m available!”

PROBLEM: The free agent system is a complete failure.

You know how someone does a brutal job picking his team and gets rewarded with first choice on the free agent wire every week? “Congratulations, you stunk out the joint; now you get to add a receiver who just exploded for 190 yards and a TD last week!” How does that make sense? You’re almost better off tanking Week 1. Anyway, those days are over.

SOLUTION: A weekly auction.

Give everyone a budget of $100 to spend on free agents. Every Thursday, if you want someone, you bid for him; highest bid wins. Not only is it more fun than humans should be allowed, but there’s some genuine strategy here. Let’s say nobody picks Bethel Johnson, who busts out with a 160-yard game in Week 1 after Joe Horn breaks his collarbone patting himself on the back. And let’s say you need a wide receiver because Chad Johnson blows out his knee dry-humping the upright. What do you bid for Bethel: $15? $20? $25? Isn’t this more exciting than everyone putting in for the same three standouts, followed by the three most incompetent teams landing those guys?

PROBLEM: There are never enough trades, and the trade deadline isn’t exciting enough.

Tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.

SOLUTION: The deadline is Thursday night, 3 a.m., right before Week 11.

Here’s the catch: On that night, every owner needs to go out drinking with his fellow owners. Nothing greases the skids for blockbuster trades like a few rounds of tequila shots. (I wish we could make this mandatory for pro sports as well.) And if somebody doesn’t show up for the deadline bash and fails to provide a good excuse, that counts as a strike (see three-strike system).

PROBLEM: Unless you make the playoffs, your fantasy football season is done by Week 14.

Everyone willingly accepts a shorter season. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Well, isn’t it possible we messed up from Day 1, like when HBO greenlit “Arli$$” and kept it on for seven years?

SOLUTION: Make the regular season last 17 weeks.

Why? BECAUSE A 21-WEEK FANTASY SEASON IS MORE FUN THAN A 16-WEEK FANTASY SEASON, THAT’S WHY!

Here’s how this works:

1. The top four teams advance to the playoffs.

2. Playoff teams can protect just six players from their roster, which makes the original September draft more interesting. Now someone like Tom Brady is worth more than someone like Drew Brees, because of his playoff value.

3. Playoff rosters increase to 11 men: one QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one kicker, one defense and two extra guys (any position). To fill out the last five spots, you hold another, minidraft, via e-mail, in which the playoff teams pick from the teams that fell short. Best record gets the first pick every round, second-best picks second and so on. Regular-season champs get an edge, but not an insurmountable one. Also, there’s a skill to picking the playoff guys: If you like a wild-card team — like Pittsburgh last season — do you load up on those guys or play it safe with the top seeds?

4. Scoring is cumulative through the four playoff rounds. Highest total points wins.

Think about how your life would change with the 21-week system. You get a minimum of three extra fantasy weeks. The whole “fantasy teams getting screwed in Week 16 because contenders rested their guys” debacle is gone. Make the playoffs and you get to prepare for an e-mail minidraft. Like you wouldn’t love that? And in January, not only do you get to watch playoff football, but there are fantasy implications with every game! What’s better than that?

Remember, the whole concept of fantasy is based on procrastination: guys wasting incredible amounts of time preparing to pick the team, then picking it, managing it, arguing about it, following it, rooting for it and alternatively bragging/complaining about it. That’s why we’re involved. We should keep tinkering with the product until we get it right.

If that makes me a world-class complainer, so be it.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.

A Fantasy League for Females

05.16.06

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor’s note: This article appears in the May 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

I need to win my AL-only fantasy league this season. It’s one of the most crucial things happening in my life right now — not top-five, but definitely top-10. I wish I were making this up.

So does my wife. When she hears me discussing trades with my co-owner, Hench, or sees me silently swearing in front of my laptop because Torii Hunter took another 0-for-4, it makes her angry. Like, really angry. Like, we-might-be-getting-divorced-soon angry. She doesn’t know (or care) that Hench and I were favored to win this season, or that we’re currently floundering in fifth place with a cast of underachievers. Our defining player? Rocco Baldelli, an $8 flier who was recovering from knee surgery when we drafted him last year. We were looking ahead to 2006, when he’d go for $22 to $25. But we hadn’t counted on Rocco blowing out an elbow in rehab. Ever hear of a nonpitcher needing Tommy John surgery? Apparently, he’s made of papier-maché. For two solid months, I’ve been scouring Tampa papers for good news, but Rocco has suffered more setbacks than Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown combined. I could go on and on, but as ESPN Radio’s Erik Kuselias says, talking about your fantasy team is like showing off vacation photos. In the end, people really don’t care; they just want to know if you had a good time. I’m not having a good time. This team is ruining my life.

Of course, my wife doesn’t understand. She thinks I’m nuts. And maybe I am. I’ve already spent 100-plus hours managing my team: talking trades, researching free agents, bitching to Hench, monitoring our guys through DirecTV’s baseball package, even calculating how much it would cost to murder Baldelli. I can’t think of a less productive way to spend my time, short of joining a gym or appearing on “Around the Horn.” When you consider the upside (a 1 in 10 chance of winning the league) against the downside (a 9 in 10 chance of losing), then mix in the anticlimactic feeling of taking the title — no raucous champagne celebration, no ring, just the respect of friends and not enough prize money — there’s no real reason to play fantasy other than for the male bonding or for watching your one friend who married too soon get completely bombed at the draft.

So why do I want to belong to more leagues? Because I’m an overly competitive psychopath, that’s why. Currently, I belong to five: one baseball, two NBA, two NFL. I’d join more, but no other sport appeals to me; not NHL, NASCAR, golf, tennis or even bass fishing. It makes me wonder why we aren’t more creative with this stuff. Why aren’t playoff leagues popping up for the NFL and NBA? Where are the March Madness leagues? Are there boxing and wrestling leagues out there? And what about nonsports leagues? Why aren’t, say, Hollywood-related leagues more prevalent?

Some junkies are ahead of the curve. Take Matthew Berry, who runs “The Talented Mr. Roto” Web site. He belongs to a movie league. Berry and his friends bid on any film that is scheduled to be released over the course of a year, their stats coming in categories like most weeks spent in the top-five grosses, total box office and Oscar nominations. According to Berry, someone spent nearly half his cap ($260) on “The Da Vinci Code” in February. Wow. When he griped to me that one of his big sleepers, “Akeelah and the Bee,” opened poorly, I was hooked. Yes, I need to belong to a fantasy movie league, if only so I can spend $45 on “Snakes on a Plane” and taunt someone because he overpaid for Vin Diesel’s next movie. This sounds fun. This sounds dangerous, potentially life-threatening. This sounds like something for me.

When I told my wife about it, she looked like George Karl at the end of the Nuggets-Clips series: sourpuss face, hands at her sides, complete disbelief. All she was missing was the potbelly.

“You have a problem,” she decided.

“You don’t understand the fantasy thing,” I countered.

“Well, come up with a league I’d enjoy. Then, maybe I’ll understand.”

Now that sounded like a challenge. And I never turn down a challenge. So I racked my brain, contemplating all the dopey things she likes.

And then it hit me.

Us Weekly.

The Sports Gal loves Us Weekly. It’s her bible. She devours it religiously each week. She examines every picture, reads every story and mutters stuff like, “My God, she’s too skinny!” and “I just don’t get why they’re together!” If I’ve begun to thumb through the mail on the day the magazine arrives, she walks over and rips it out of my hands. She likes seeing what everyone is wearing. She likes the gossip. She out-and-out loves the “Fashion Police” and the “Stars — They’re Just Like Us” sections. (Because, after all, stars are just like us! They go to Starbucks! They take out the trash!) There is nothing about Us Weekly she doesn’t appreciate.

So I’m going to create an Us Weekly fantasy league just for her. It’s a million-dollar idea that could make me rich, if I weren’t too dumb to figure out how to trademark it. More important, it will save my marriage. I can’t afford to get divorced, it’s way too expensive.

Here’s how it works: 10 teams, auction format, $200 cap, five male and five female celebs per roster. Scoring is head-to-head for 22 weeks, playoffs over the last three (so you can have two seasons per year). OK, let’s say you pay $55 for that chain-smoking tramp Lindsay Lohan. If she makes the cover of Us, you get 10 points (three for the inset photo). Every other Lohan picture inside is worth one. If she appears in the “Fashion Police,” you’re docked three. That’s it. Simple. You can add or drop your celebs each Monday. Like maybe you want to dump Jake Gyllenhaal (because the whole “Brokeback” thing has played out) and grab Josh Hartnett (because he’s dating Scarlett Johansson). Then again, you might want to hang on to Gyllenhaal. He’s single and his number might be up in the Lohan deli line.

Here’s the beauty of my new league. Let’s say you took a $5 flier on Denise Richards a while back, hoping she and Charlie Sheen would patch things up. But when, out of nowhere, she lands in a love triangle with Richie Sambora and Heather Locklear, she suddenly becomes Chris Shelton or Jonny Gomes, a bona fide sleeper! On the downside, I could easily see someone overpaying for Nicole Richie, thinking she might start to date Diddy or seek help for an eating disorder, and when she doesn’t, you’re playing catch-up for five months. See? The possibilities are endless.

When I described the concept to the Sports Gal, she was confused, then intrigued, then enthralled. “I’d win that league!” she ultimately decided. Now she wants me to organize it. And I just might. I want our whole house to be as crazy as I am. I want her swearing at Mariah Carey like I swear at Rocco Baldelli. I want her to sneak out of bed to change her lineup at 2 on Monday morning, or complain about her team on Friday when the magazine arrives. Then, she’d finally understand the whole fantasy thing, and we’d live happily ever after.

At least until the first time we tried to work out a trade.

Explitives and Fantasy Failure

12.06.05

Just a little upset today because on my way to work I realized that we had a flat tire. I was fuming mad to say the least and it was not one of my best moments. I really feel in these kinds of situations that God has it out for me to fail. The past few weeks have not been the timeliest at work. We are normally a minute or two late punching in and that is not good for Kalila because she is still a seasonal employee at work, so it kind of counts against her. It always seems that when I am on time for things, something wrong happens to make me late. Yesterday I was going in for some overtime at 2:00 PM and I went to go get my oil changed at a place down the street. The guy working there was working solo and it was a full service gas station. Needless to say it took an hour and twenty minutes and I got there about 1:00. So I’m already a few minutes late leaving and then I get stuck in traffic on 128 for one hour. This is a fifteen minute drive and it took me an hour. We were stationary for 10 minute intervals. So I didn’t get to work till 3:15. So today, we leave with plenty of time to be punctial for work and I get a flat tire, causing us to be about forty minutes late. Not fun. I feel the only providence was that God had provided me with a new hat and warm jacket. This is really funny because I have been working on a post about the sovereignty of God.

And I regret to inform you that I have missed the playoffs in all three of my fantasy football leagues. This is a direct result of poor drafting, as I chose Quarterbacks in the first round of every draft. I will never make that mistake again. This was truly a learning year for me in fantasy sports, and I am so ready for next year. So expect an increase in blogging now that fantasy baseball doesn’t start till April.