Category Archives: transfer

A Review of A Dance With Dragons

In Which I Discuss The Book I Just Finished Reading, And Make Mention Of (And Not A Little Slander Upon) The Remainder Of The Series To This Point, With Some Ranting…Literary Criticism This Ain’t

I had the idea of writing this up in a nice meta fashion, mimicking the book—my vibe of it, not necessarily the specific style of GRRM’s voice—but then realized I’d have to write some 10k+ words of generally meandering chatter, spending most of my time talking about the crisis that guy who was working the drive-through window at the place I went for lunch suffered through this morning in his parking lot, and other random bullshit, all while occasionally, briefly mentioning in passing that, oh yeah, there’s a review coming, and it’ll be amazing, and then back to inane, unrelated stuff, before ending the review with a sudden, massive, completely absurd shocker like “BTW, if you read past page 643, you’ll get AIDS and die!”

And that wouldn’t be much fun for anyone, me or you.  Which, incidentally, would serve as a perfectly adequate and accurate review, but, you know, fun and lack thereof.  So here’s something that was at least a bit more fun to write, if not hopefully read.

Ultimately, I finished it.  And had moments where I genuinely enjoyed what I was reading.  He’s a good writer, and has created a handful of vivid characters in incredible circumstances, and I genuinely want to read about them and see how their stories end up.

The key there:  a handful.  All great storytellers seem to understand this just fine.  You can have a cast of thousands, but you need a couple of key names above the titles for people to latch on to.  Especially in an epic story where the POV keeps moving around from location to location…that’s jarring enough.  With all sorts of intertwining conspiracies and plotting, and motivations and loyalties switching on a dime…  And if you want to keep your readers invested in what’s going on while moving them around all over the place, it really helps to have a consistent landing spot for them whenever you return them to someplace they haven’t been for a while.

You don’t suddenly, 500+ pages in, drop in a long chapter involving characters that we haven’t even heard mentioned since halfway through the last book, some 5 years and 700+ pages ago, a dozen or so of them with very similar, hard-to-pronounce names, and somewhat bland and overlapping, easily-confused personalities and motives, and try to reveal  a whole bunch of obscure minutiae about a small element in a vaster conspiracy, then abandon those characters and that location and the whole conspiracy for the rest of the damn book, and expect me to care or even fully follow what’s going on, even after reading through it multiple times.

I’ll say it again:  a handful.  It’s worth noting that the book ends with an Appendix that attempts to list out the key characters and their relationships to each other, just for this one book.

It’s 53 pages long.  That’s not a typo.

In the Appendices for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does something similar, listing out the family trees of each of the major houses involved in his stories…not just those mentioned in the book you’ve just read, by the way, but everyone, from the very first great-great grandfather, long since dead, through all the generations over thousands of years, up to the present day and the living heroes who participate in the events covered in the book you’ve just finished reading, a book that is often cited as the definition of Epic Fantasy.  All those people, across multiple races, and thousands of years.  And it’s barely half as long as GRRM’s list of the people in just one book that we’re supposed to keep straight in order to understand what’s going on.

Seriously?  I’m not dumb, I’m actually pretty smart and occasionally smart enough to justify at least a reasonable amount of my inherent arrogance and misanthropy…and halfway through the book, I just gave up trying to follow all the major narrative threads and treated it like a long collection of vaguely-related short stories, pretending at the beginning of each chapter that it was unconnected to anything I’d read previously.

And then we come back around to those few characters who are interesting and worth paying attention to, and they’ve actually got a decent part of the book set aside for their stories, and what do we get?

Jon wakes up, and it’s cold.  He eats some food, drinks some wine, wanders outside into the snow, meets with people who don’t like him, discusses a decision that’s somehow important to whatever’s eventually going to happen (probably in just a couple thousand more pages, it’s like imminent and shit), finds that those people disagree with him, and makes his decision anyway, one that seems pretty obviously clear to everyone reading along.  He leaves, walks outside, it’s cold, he mopes for a bit about how hard it is to be a commander, and then goes to bed.

There.  Fill in some of the generic blanks with random specific details (who he’s meeting with, what the decision is), and you can mad-libs about 90% of the Jon chapters in the book, some 200+ pages.

Was that fun?  Let’s do it again.

Daenerys wakes up, bathes in her pool, chooses what dress to wear, and goes off to procrastinate.  She worries about her “children”, makes a decision that’s pretty obviously awful to everyone reading along, worries some more about her “children”, goes to her pool, and then goes to bed.

Same thing:  we just covered another 200-ish pages of the whole book.

And the worst part is that there’s some really good stuff in there.  Jon does make some pretty massive decisions regarding the future of the whole realm, and his story does bring us ever closer to the fabled Winter that is coming…in the same way that tilting your head slightly forward while standing in Santa Monica does, in absolute terms, bring you slightly closer to Yankee Stadium.  And Daenerys ends up riding one of her dragons, finally claiming her birthright in full…until she stops, and leaves him, gets diarrhea from eating unripe berries, and worries some more about her “children”.

It’s all just buried until mountains of wasted paper and ink.  Sigh.  The man needs an editor more than anyone since Steve King wrote 300 pages too many for The Tommyknockers.

The only one who actually has anything to do is Tyrion, and that’s not because he’s actively pursuing anything—if it was left up to him, he’d happily stay in one place, drinking and whoring until his money, dick or liver runs out, whichever comes first—but because larger people with ulterior motives keep dragging him around, listening to his fast talking just enough to decide to keep him alive, but never enough to actually take his advice and get shit done.  (Except for one memorable occasion, which is probably the most interesting part of the whole book:  Connington’s and Aegon’s return to Westeros, which is the only part of the book I have no issue with at all.  There are a handful of complex but easily-discernible characters, each with their own private motives but all with a clearly-defined goal, and together they take actual tangible steps to achieve that goal.  It’s like someone snuck in and wrote some GRRM fan-fiction while he wasn’t looking, and he never bothered to take it out.)

You know those detective shows or movies, where they’re hunting a serial killer, and they finally come upon his apartment (and of course he’s already long-gone), and they see what must have started as a simple peg board, a few newspaper clippings and notes to help keep things straight, only the guy is bug-shit nuts and now every inch of every wall is covered with photos and articles and notes and drawings so disturbing they’d make a childhood psychologist shoot himself in despair for the next generation, with lines drawn randomly connecting stuff, and it’s all done in some very natural lighting, like afternoon sun from a window, with plenty of dust and haze in the air, and the whole point is to make the audience think “Holy shit, this guy is bug-shit nuts, no sane person could even read through all this, let alone try to make sense of it and connect it all into a larger whole?”

I imagine that’s what GRRM’s writing office looks like these days.

So, to sum up, I didn’t hate it, there was some really good stuff in there, and of course all the hints of some grand, once-in-a millennia conflict coming “soon”, which is entertaining (at least for the first couple thousand pages of foreshadowing), but I won’t be re-reading it, ever, and if the next book is anything like this one, I’m probably just going to set them aside and ignore them until the entire series is done, by which point I’ll be retired and have plenty of time to wade through them and see if the whole damn thing was worth it.

And, seriously, TWO Arya chapters?  That’s it?  That’s like paying a stripper for a lap dance and giving her $200 to take off her watch.  If we don’t get at minimum an entire book’s worth of Arya killing all the motherfuckers on her morning prayers’ list before this things wraps up, I’m gonna be pissed.


Why Google+ will fail

An expansion of a conversation begun with Dave and Patrick one night over scotch and cigars…

In my first draft of this post, I started off with, “Well, not ‘fail’, exactly, it’s not like they’re fundamentally flawed, throwing Blink tags all over the place or something awful like that, but they’re certainly not going to hit the targets they’ve gotta be aiming for…”

And after reading that bit through again, I realized that, ultimately, yes, they were going to fail.  The stakes are too high, the goals too large…what would be considered phenomenal success for anyone else is failure for them.  They’re not playing for a respectable second place…though I’m sure they’ll find some way to make that work for them, when it becomes evident that’s where they’re going to end up.

But enough of the navel-gazing, down to business:

Google+ is going to fail, and fail big-time.  There’s only one measure of success for them:  Facebook, and every one of their 750 million active users.  Anything less than that–or even just chopping that number way down, by more than half, and passing them by a clear and evident margin–isn’t good enough.

And the sad part is that it won’t have much–if anything–to do with what they’re doing or how they’re doing it…truthfully, although it’s still very early, from what I can see, they’ve learned almost every lesson you could have hoped they would have learned from Facebook, and have already demonstrated a willingness to fix those things they still don’t have quite right yet.

If it was simply a matter of putting a better product on the market and trusting that everyone–or at least the vast majority of people–would take a look at the new offering, compare it to what they’ve currently got, and then choose what’s clearly better, then there’d be no problem.  But anyone who’s ever looked even briefly into real-world marketing economics and sociology knows that it’s never that simple.  Or else why do we still have both Coke and Pepsi on the shelves?

For my one grand, sweeping generalization per post (which I really can’t be bothered to explicate fully; please just assume that I know that things are much more subtle than this when examined in detail, and my usage of the more general ideas doesn’t ignore nor invalidate the complexities of overlapping, evolving micro-systems), there are three kinds of people using the Internet with any degree of regularity (i.e. the 750 million active users of Facebook):

  • Hard-core geekerati
  • Technically savvy people
  • Grandma Betty

The hard-core geekerati write for Boing Boing, invest 10x more into their Reddit time than they do the local neighborhood watch, cite donations to Wikileaks as a charitable deduction on their tax returns, and not only knew all about Google+ before the information was public, they already had an invite before the announcement came, either through inside contacts or because they’d figured out how to hack the invite interface.

These folk know in intimate detail the differences between FB and G+; in fact, Google designed G+ with all of their many tumblr posts and tweets complaining about FB in mind.  Given a choice between the two…well, there really isn’t a choice for them.  G+ wins in a landslide, and either they’ve already fully migrated over to it from FB, their megalomania assuring them that anyone who doesn’t follow them over probably doesn’t get it anyway, or they’re primarily on G+, but still hanging around FB until its momentum dies out and everyone they care about has similarly ported over, so they can leave it behind for good.

I’m not even going to pretend that I know the demographics here, nor can I be bothered to work up any reasonably-researched estimates, so I’m going to pull wild guesses out of my ass:  assume there aren’t too many of these folks, it requires a certain mobility to their lifestyle, a willingness to adapt to the new and strange, and the financial means to pursue it…worldwide, we’re talking, what, 5 million people, tops?

That leaves 745 million people still actively on FB.

The second group, the people with various degrees of technical savvy…these people know enough to have already tried turning their computer off and back on again before calling technical support, but not enough to never have to call support at all.  They’re probably already on G+, but still consider FB their primary Internet “home”…G+ is a cool place to check out, like that new show on AMC…it’s interesting, but gets immediately put on hold if there’s a new episode of [fill in R-rated HBO hour-long drama here] on the DVR.

But they see the promise.  They have some of the same concerns about FB that the geekerati have, even if they’re not nearly as passionate about it.  Ultimately, they’ll end up preferring to move wholesale over to G+, but it’s not something that’ll be a driving factor in their online lives.

Again, not going to pretend I can estimate numbers here, but since these folks need to have enough leisure time to explore new ideas, and the financial means to acquire the tools often enough to gain enough mastery to be willing to explore in the first place…what, between 50 and 100 million people, worldwide?  That’s probably really, really high.  Still, for the point of this exercise, we can be conservative in the “trying to invalidate the point I’m trying to make” direction, and go with 100 million, and still…

That leaves 105 million people on G+, and 645 still actively on FB.

Brief aside:  as of this writing, there are only 10-15 million active G+ accounts total.  That’s primarily because it’s still in Beta, still invite-only.  I’m somewhat speculating down the road, once the invites become unnecessary and anyone who wants to can sign up.  This is an “after the system stabilizes” kind of thought experiment.

And now we come to the third group, Grandma Betty.  Which is where G+ will fail.

A bit more generalized pontificating…there are two major paths that the Internet has followed down through the ages.

The first is for those who pay attention to what’s going on, the savvy…basically the first two groups already mentioned.  For them, the Internet, and computers in general, have been in a constant state of evolution, from the first IBM PCs, to your first Intel x86’s, and Usenet, and downloading porn in a dorm room that looks like just a bunch of random ASCII characters until you manage to find and download an image decoding program, and Archie to search for stuff, and then Mosaic, Compuserve, Excite, Ask Jeeves (non-boolean, real-term searches!), and Geocities and Friendster and MySpace and Facebook and, now Google+.

The second–the one that Grandma Betty is aware of–is made of much broader strokes.  The Apple II.  AOL.  And now Facebook.  It’s not an evolution, it’s a series of fascinating new peaks that captures their interest, becoming a part of their lives in the same way indoor toilets, color television and automatic transmissions have…with no concern at all with what happens in all the valleys in between.

And this is the problem that G+ is facing.  Grandma Betty doesn’t care that G+ is a little better than FB.  For her, FB is not one markedly more popular option in a long line of evolving ways to interact with people online; for her, FB is The Facebook.  It’s The Internet.  It’s being Online.  All of that, wrapped up in a single identity.

The idea of switching over to something better…well, why?  Isn’t one color TV basically the same as another?

Or, to land on another, probably more relevant analogy, what I’m basically saying is that FB is DVDs, and G+ is laserdiscs.  Yeah, there are a number of savvy people who are going to see all the benefits the latter offers over the former, and will switch over, either in whole or in part…but the vast majority of people won’t be aware of a difference, and won’t care.  I mean, we’re how many years into the HD/Blu-ray “revolution”, and DVDs still outsell Blu-ray discs by a magnitude.

And laserdiscs are an interesting footnote.

There are 645 million Grandma Betty’s out there.  That’s the difference between winning and losing in this game, and I just don’t see any way that G+ stands a chance at stealing even a small fraction of them.  Grandma Betty just likes being Online, on The Facebook, and is still feeling pretty pleased with herself that she’s figured out how to post photos that her family and friends can see.  The entire debate and choice between The Facebook and Google+…or anything else that’s similar, better or not…flies over her head the way a debate over PER vs. Adjusted +/- stats in basketball fly over the head of someone who is only peripherally aware that Michael Jordan isn’t playing professionally anymore.

So that’s my bit; I like G+, I’m one of those people in the second group I mentioned, and I’ve got an account and post to it occasionally, have some Circles set up already.  But I wouldn’t bet against FB any time soon.

And no, I have no intent on posting as to where I’ve been for the last 6+ months…too busy dusting this place down…damn it falls all to pieces when I step away for a while.  I may get to that…later.

…it’s a name for a girl – Part 1

I need to caveat, from the start, that I don’t usually write about serious topics here, and don’t plan to make a habit of it.  Not that writing, U2 and the Lakers aren’t serious for me, but they’re not “if we disagree, and keep discussing it, tempers are likely to flare and we’ll both stomp off muttering curses under our breaths, slightly sick from the adrenaline rush of actual emotional conflict” serious.

But that’s sort of where tonight’s post will lead.  It’s not like it’s all that controversial, but I’m also not likely to be in the mood for non-committed back and forth on it.  Most topics, I can take either side, enjoying the effort more than what side the victory is on.  Not this one, I don’t think.

I also need to caveat that I don’t plan to go into detail about any of the tangential topics that this one would naturally raise.  I’m going to give you the minimal amount of background necessary to grok where I’m coming from, and then we’ll move on.

And I finally need to caveat that this post already has two (and now three) caveats more than I like—my blog, I get to do what I want, when I want, and shouldn’t have to explain things.  But as I noted, this is a somewhat serious topic, and since I don’t tend to go publicly diving in those waters that often, I’d like for them to be clear and not open for a variety of troll-baiting interpretations.

And now, with sufficient baggage strapped aboard, we’re off…

So, here’s the background.  Once upon a time, I was very religious.  Serious case of bornagainitis.  Probably because I was first introduced to religion at a critical moment in my life…parents recently divorced, transitioning from elementary school to high school, puberty, intellectual awaking…all that great after school special crap.  My mind and heart were desperate for something deep and involved to sink their teeth in to, and a fervent Born-Again Christian meal just happened to be walking by.

I will now skip ahead 20 years—and easily a couple hundred thousand words, if I just stuck to summarizing the high points—and expect you to keep up.

These days, I don’t like religion.  I don’t think my actual beliefs have changed all that much, but I am a lot clearer on A) what exactly “a belief” is, and B) what mine are.  There’s been a demi-glace-like reduction to the overwhelming symphony of ideas and concepts I first walked into 20 years ago, distilling the core principals to their essences while somehow increasing and balancing their complexity at the same time.

Which are pretty words to sum up something I already posted here a while ago:  Before enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.

To conclude the incredibly-brief background section of this post:  I once was Christian, in an organized fashion, and while I now pursue disorganization (spiritually speaking), my beliefs are rooted in that ground, and despite two decades of scrutiny, and wide-spread exploration into a large number of seemingly-incompatible belief systems, those aspects I’ve identified as the basic principals of Christianity stick with me to this day.

One of which is the topic of the post I’m almost finally about to start writing.

(And no, I’m not talking about the Bud Light version of Christianity, the “Jesus was a cool guy, and what we can really learn from the bible is to be good to each other and love each other and maybe go to church on Easter, but there’s no need to get too bogged down in the details” version…fucking pussies.)

(And, one more [fuck me, does that make four?] caveat:  when I mention the word God, no, I do not mean it the way you think I mean it, except yes, I mean it exactly the way you think I mean it.  Which is to say, I’m not about to get into specific definitions here in this post, and do not assume that I’m being vague because I’m assuming that y’all already know exactly what I’m talking about; I’ve just spent 645 fucking words setting up this post before even mentioning what the post is going to be about.  I’m not leaving out a specific description of God because I’m aiming to be brief.  You want to challenge what I have to say because I mention God, and how absurd is it to believe in a dude with a beard on a throne living up in the clouds?  Well, I don’t believe in that either.  When I say God—at least for the purposes of this post—I could be talking beard-dude, I could be talking Yahweh, I could be talking the Ineffable, I could be talking tP / t…meet me halfway, if you would.)

What I want to talk about is grace, and why it’s a unique concept, one that blows apart the typical Christian-centric structure that usually encloses it.

I think I can say—without tempting too much in the way of debate—that as long as we’re moving along through the dimension of time, we’re all heading from something to something else.  There is an ideal, no matter how minor, vague or undefined, that we’re moving towards.  It can be superficially consumerist (“I’m not thin enough,” or “I’m not rich enough.”), it can be more personally meaningful (“I don’t take good enough care of myself,” or “I need to treat the people I care about better.”), or overtly hedonistic (“I am not nearly as baked as I should be,” or “I have not slept with nearly enough girls as I’d like to.”) ,or overtly spiritual (“I am not yet as far down the Eightfold Path as I aim to be,” or “I have yet to properly give Satan his full due.”), or any of a million different variations of all of the thoughts that pass through our heads in any given day.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be fully conscious:  dropping trou and squatting is moving you closer from the present state of stomach cramps to the ideal of “deuce successfully dropped,” no matter how consciously you’re staking out those milestones.  We’re talking prime mathematic givens here, not specific recipes.

When the spiritual aspect is considered, just about every possible path (I hesitate to call them “religions,” since there are far more people pursuing spiritual paths without the trappings of religion than there are people genuinely pursuing a religiously-defined path, as opposed to giving that religion lip service while more actively following one of the consumerist/personal/hedonistic/etc. paths already mentioned) is just that:  a path.  Today, you are Here.  Tomorrow, you will be There.  If successful, that There will be closer to the ultimate goal than Here is.  And most of the time spent walking that spiritual path is focused on defining the steps needing to take you from Here to There, and monitoring your progress.

This is true even for most Christian paths, which to my mind completely misses the point.

See, Christianity has this unique concept, one that none others have or embrace, called grace.

Grace is a gift.  Grace is something un-asked for, given regardless of whether or not it’s deserved or has been earned.  Grace is, in the context of the notion of a path described above, a profoundly disturbing disruption of the basic understanding of how things work.

Put another way, grace is the fucked-up quantum entanglement to traditional religious Newtonian processes.

In the specific context of Christianity, grace is the given forgiveness of your sins before you can ask for it and with zero comprehension or concern for the notion of atonement.  Grace is the gift given by God that removes the need to walk any distance down a spiritual path.  Grace says that you do not have to earn the ideal you are pursuing by measuring yourself against some external spiritual yardstick—you already have it.  Grace says “I have a pancake on my head; your argument is invalid.”

Enough with the platitudes:  let’s get down to business.

Here’s what’s amazing about the concept of grace:  because it cannot be earned, it is given to everyone.  That fat fuck next to you on the bus, the one you caught staring at your ass, making you wish you hadn’t worn the low-riding jeans, knowing he’s saving up the brief, furtive views for his spank-bank later?  Yeah, he’s been given grace.  Your boss, the one who gave you a list of things to do today, and then kept passing on emergency requests from his boss, and then spends his time in the break room bitching about how you’re too lazy to get through the short list of easy tasks he gave you earlier?  Yup, he’s been given grace too.

…That guy who screamed out something in Farsi before triggering the ball-bearing-laced plastic explosive he has strapped to his chest in the midst of a crowded market?  Again, yes, he’s been given grace.

Which is kinda the point:  if grace can’t be earned, then when given, it’s given to everyone.  There’s no criteria for being an eligible receiver.  That’s what’s beautiful about it:  the drunk puking on himself in the gutter is as beloved and worthy of grace as you are, and while that might feel like a bit of a raw deal for you and your paid-my-rent-on-time-no-speeding-tickets-in-two-years self-esteem right now, it very profoundly says that all of the joy and wonders of God and the universe are equally available to both of you.  All of you.  All of us.

Which is how it should be, or else what’s the point?  I don’t want to believe in a God that would pick and choose which people are worthy of Him based on an ever-changing, semi-objective matrix.  I mean, are we to assume that God was okay with Abraham having multiple wives back then but isn’t in favor of it now?  That’s too much like trying to get into the right clique in high school.  Sure, he might like caring for puppies now, but who’s to say he won’t like people who paint their dicks blue later?  Sure, that sounds absurd…but it fits within the set.

It’s far more likely that the ultimate point of convergence with God isn’t defined by nor dependant upon details like that.

But that makes for a difficult follow-up question:  if everyone has been given grace, does it matter what we do?  Are we all going to heaven (or whatever you want to interpret that particular phrase to mean)?  And if we are, then does it matter one bit what we actually do?  Can those people doing what strikes us to our core as evil be just as promised the Promised Land as those of us who try each day to do more good than harm?  And the people who aren’t even paying attention, who are wandering through life in a self-induced haze, do they get to wake up at the pearly gates and say, “Hey, there’s a heaven.  Who knew?”

I don’t think so.  It’s not that it isn’t there, waiting for them; it’s that, fundamentally, gift giving requires two people.

Anyone who’s been a scout of any kind (boy, girl, whatever) or had a father/relative/etc. teach them more “traditional” skills will know what an Active Transfer of Control is, even if that particular name wasn’t used.  It’s the first lesson of knife safety.  When someone is handing you a knife, they hold it out and say, “I’m giving you this knife.”  You reach out, put your hand on it, and once you have a firm hold of it say, “I have the knife,” at which point that someone lets go, and the knife is yours.  Or there’s the rock climbing ritual of “On Belay?” “Belay On.”

What it comes down to is a clear, active decision with awareness of what that decision means, with no unstated assumptions.  And that’s the second half of the grace equation:  the gift has been given, but you still have to accept it.

And really, the only way to do so is with a prayer I learned long ago, when I first joined the Church, just read along and say the words out loud as you do, “Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name I repent of my sins and open my heart…”

Ah, I’m just fucking with you.

Not to say that that particular method isn’t perfectly and completely valid.  Here’s where that thing I said earlier, that I “hate religion”, is proven to be not entirely accurate.  You certainly won’t hear me speaking against—especially to denigrate—anyone’s particular religious beliefs (unless there’s a joke to be made, because one of my most profoundly-held beliefs is, if you can’t take a joke, fuck off).

The flip side of grace being available to everyone means that everyone has to be able to receive it, if they’re willing, and that notion is incompatible with having a single, set, pre-defined path for doing so.  Which does mean that all paths are valid, including the familiar, stereotypical ones you all already know about…

…within reason.

Because—and here another traditionally-Christian tradition pops its useful head up—words are cheap.  Or as a youth pastor back in my high school days (for reals…which may help explain my willingness to do some desert wandering, given his mentorship) quoted to me, “Money talks and bullshit walks.”

You know and I know that unless you’re dealing with a world-class actor—or you’re intentionally willing to deceive yourself because of some unresolved and possibly unrelated issue—it’s pretty damn easy to tell when someone’s going through the motions.  My six year-old daughter may say “Sorry” for sticking her fingers all through my rice, but she was laughing when she did it, and sullen when she says it, and I know the only reason she’s saying “Sorry” is because she doesn’t want to get punished again, not because she’s honestly understood that her actions have negatively impacted another’s life and desires to communicate to that person her awareness of the consequences of her actions, both empirical and emotional, and regrets her actions, and her willingness to make amends.

And she’s a lot better at faking it than most people I know my own age.

There’s a reason you don’t handle knives with just anyone, and why you don’t rock climb with people you don’t know.  The giving-accepting relationship requires trust, since the only definitive proof you’re going to get of the other person’s trustworthiness is when you pull your hand away, and either the knife falls to the ground, possibly impaling your foot, or slices your fingers as the other person fails to release it, or when your handhold slips and the rope that’s supposed to catch you shortly after you fall whistles through the carabineer loud enough for you to hear the entire way down.

To sum up the point of these analogies, it’s pretty obvious to God, however you define Him…and to yourself, really…whether or not you’re telling the truth when you consciously decide to accept the grace that’s been given.

I’m not going to tell you what specific fruit will be borne when you do that.  I have my own thoughts on the matter, but there’s a reason I ultimately decided against going to seminary and becoming a preacher, and it’s because I have a hard enough time sorting this shit out for myself, and the most difficult thing to do was de-brainwash myself from all the rules and regulations other people had posted on my walls.  I’m not about to just switch seats here.

But I can at least tell you what I think are some pretty critical components of the process, however they end up manifesting themselves:

You have to know yourself.  More importantly, you have to be willing to know yourself.  Borrowing from David Brin here when I say that the greatest inherited skill human beings have today is self-deception, especially rationalization.  You take the dumbest motherfucker off the streets right now, hand him one more beer than he knows he should really drink tonight, and he’ll find some way to convince himself that not only is it okay to drink that beer, but the world is a better place because of it.

In order to accept grace, you have to be able to know if you’re telling the truth or not.  You can ask any smoker who’s in the car on the way to 7-11 even though they’re trying to quit how hard that can be.  I found it through the progressive mind-clearing zazen of Zen.  Others find it through prayer and bible study.  Others find it through rigorous adherence to the scientific method, even when their pet theory—the one that’s going to get them tenure and an extra zero on the end of the grant check, maybe even that ½ paragraph blurb in Time magazine’s year-end round ups of the “best of” in science—turns out, by the evidence, to be completely wrong, and not in the “well, then the opposite must be true” way, but in the “wow, I have no fucking idea what’s going on here” way.

It just requires an acceptance that most of what you think you know about yourself is completely, flatteringly wrong, and a willingness to turn that laser-sharp ability to dissect others’ faults onto yourself.

Simple, right?

Next time:  so you’re willing to examine how much of a shit you are…what’s next?

What the hell am I thinking?

…or, I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.

I am about to do something so absurd, on the surface you would have to question my sanity.  But dig a bit deeper, and…well, yeah, it’s pretty fucking crazy.  The word “fan”, after all, comes from “fanatic”.

But there are some good reasons for what I’m about to do.

First, I kind of already started on it today, somewhat by accident, and realized that if I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right.

Second, I’m doing it because I can, because technology allows me to do so.  Most folks view the digital revolution in music to mean that people are more interested in individual songs for download than in full albums; the flipside of that is that you’re no longer limited to just a single album…you can build a playlist that’s quite a bit longer.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

Third, this is probably the best possible opportunity to do so.  U2 have reached a point in their career that’s unparalleled in modern times.  I’m not going to argue about their “ranking” in the all-time rock greats—you can feel free to argue the relative merits of Sgt. Peppers, or the purity of Exile on Main Street, or the poetry of Dylan, the hubristic-majesty of Tommy, the unrestrained power of “Black Dog”, or the integrity of that fucking hipster indie band, they’re kinda obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

But no band in history has had a career as long, as varied, and as accomplished as what U2 have done.  The only possible contenders would be The Beatles, The Stones, and R.E.M., when looking at both longevity and artistic accomplishment, and all fall well short of what U2 has done.  The Beatles didn’t last nearly long enough (would you believe that U2 has been together, releasing innovative albums and selling out stadiums nearly twice as long as The Beatles were together?), The Stones peaked in the late seventies and have been releasing variations on that same album for three decades, and R.E.M. has been navel-gazing with no drummer for the last decade and a half.

There is no other band where you can assemble, in order, nearly 34 years of amazing rock and roll and listen to it start to finish.

Which is what I’m going to do.  I have created a playlist that starts with U2: 3 and ends with the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.  It’s 12.7 hours long, 173 songs, and I’m going to listen to the whole thing, start to finish, in one go.

When I said that this is the perfect opportunity to do so, what I meant is that U2 is on the brink of a possibly major evolution in what they do and how they do it.  They have—depending on how much you believe what they’ve said recently—literally five different projects between 80 and 90 percent done, just waiting for that final tying-together moment to finish them off.

  • The soundtrack for the Spider-Man musical:  While this is mostly Bono and the Edge, anyone who thinks that when they needed someone to play bass and drums on the tracks and looked further than their childhood friends is crazy.
  • The Rick Rubin sessions:  Back after finishing the Vertigo tour, U2 went into the studio—Abbey Road studios, in fact—with Rick Rubin to record an album.  One song, “Window in the Skies”, saw the light of day; the rest were shelved for a later date.  They’ve constantly said they will revisit these rock-centric session and finish the album.  They’ve never said when.  Bastards.
  • Songs of Ascent:  This album is by now both legendary and infamous amongst the hardcore U2 fans.  When their last album was wrapping up, all four of the band members said that they had a bunch of material that was finished but left off the album because it didn’t quite fit.  It was atmospheric, spiritual, meditative and like nothing they’ve done since the more abstract moments on The Unforgettable Fire.  They said it would be out by the end of the year, it just needed some final polishing.  That was in early 2009.  We’re still waiting on it a year and a half later.  Bastards.
  • An “electronic” album:  Both Bono and the Edge have mentioned this lately as something they’re really excited about, all new songs (i.e. recorded after Songs of Ascent) that is offbeat and driven with a groove they didn’t know they still had in them.
  • The “rehab” sessions:  In between the US leg of the 360 tour and the 2010 relaunch of the tour, Bono hurt his back, had surgery, and the band had to delay the start of the 2010 leg until he had healed and rehabbed.  They couldn’t practice for the tour, but they could sit in the studio in Bono’s house and record new material.  Again.  Which still hasn’t been released, though we have heard at least one of those songs performed since the tour started up again (one, incidentally, recorded before Bono hurt his back, so it isn’t technically part of the “rehab” sessions, but fuck it, this is all getting a bit confusing).

All of that is to say that there’s no telling what’s going to happen next with them, and now is as good a moment as any to take a detailed tour of where they’ve been so far.

I’d actually thought of listing the entire track listing up here, all 173 songs, because fuck it, it’s my blog, I’m not exactly paying by the inch, I can write out the names of 173 songs if I want to.  But instead I’m just going to give a quick overview of the playlist.  It will be worth reading—at least, I would enjoy reading it, were another U2 fan doing this insanity and I happened across his blog—because this is not a simple one-album-after-another affair.  There are stretches in their career where fandom has, quite successfully, second-guessed their track selection and ordering, and it gives a much more interesting perspective on those particular moments in their career.  So that’s what follows:  a short list, with occasionally-extensive commentary.  Which is what I do here, so if you’re already at this blog, and have read this far through this post already, and are suddenly balking at going a little further with me…what the hell is wrong with you?

We start with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, the best non-album song they ever recorded, and seriously, one of the best songs written between 1975 and 1985 by any band in any genre.

Then comes two of the three songs from U2:3, the EP they recorded that got them their record deal.  Just “Boy-Girl” and “Stories for Boys”; no need for “Out of Control”, the version here is nearly the same as that on Boy (“Stories for Boys” is included because of how much it changed between this EP and Boy).

Then comes Boy, October and War, in order, no need to futz with the order or include any rare B-sides; they were spending all their time touring instead of recording and dithering like they did later on.

After War, we skip Under a Blood Red Sky.  I’m focusing on the songs here, and while there’s certainly a different energy and impact when the songs are played live, there’s no need to revisit them again so soon.  We’ll save that for when I decide to do this madness over again, next time with just bootlegs, no studio recordings.

“Boomerang I” introduces the The Unforgettable Fire era, and leads right into the first song of the album.  Again, no need to re-order anything on the album proper.  After wrapping up with “MLK,” we head to “Boomerang II” and “Bass Trap”, two of the B-sides recorded at this time that don’t have much of a real home anywhere else.  And then comes the first huge departure from cannon.

The Joshua Tree is reconstituted as the band originally intended it:  a double-album.  19 songs.  Full track listing follows.  The story of how an epic double-album became one of the greatest “normal” albums ever released is very interesting, but not something I’m going to get into here now; it’s a long story, and this post is already spiraling out of control.  Suffice to say, almost every single song is both familiar and incredibly fresh and new when heard in the double-album context for the first time.

The Joshua Tree – Restored

  1. Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience
  2. Where the Streets Have No Name
  3. Silver and Gold
  4. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  5. Spanish Eyes
  6. With or Without You
  7. Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)
  8. Walk to the Water
  9. Bullet the Blue Sky
  10. Running to Stand Still
  11. Red Hill Mining Town
  12. In God’s Country
  13. Trip Through Your Wires
  14. Sweetest Thing
  15. One Tree Hill
  16. Deep in the Heart
  17. Exit
  18. Race Against Time
  19. Mothers of the Disappeared

After the restored JT comes another album that fandom has reworked with incredibly successful results.  I should note that this version is my own, not the one more commonly accepted by the other nutjobs out there, but I like it, and that’s what matters, given who’s doing the listening.

Basically, we take Rattle & Hum, strip out all the live stuff, add in all the B-Sides during this era (seriously, U2’s B-sides from 1985-1989 would comprise a decent career for most bands), and then combine and bake until golden brown and delicious.

Rattle & Hum – Studio

  1. Desire
  2. Dancing Barefoot
  3. God Part II
  4. Hawkmoon 269
  5. Unchained Melody
  6. Hallelujah Here She Comes
  7. Love Rescue Me
  8. Everlasting Love
  9. When Love Comes to Town
  10. Heartland
  11. A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel
  12. All I Want Is You

From here we’re into the most amazing single moment of any musician’s career, the transition between the long-haired, earnest boys of The Joshua Tree and “Fuck the revolution!” and the cynical, smoking men thrusting their hips to “Even Better than the Real Thing.”  I could write thousands of words just about how important and amazing Achtung Baby is, but, again, not here and now, probably later.  I’ll just say that the tracklisting for Achtung is the closest to perfection mortal man has ever achieved, so it remains untouched.

After “Love Is Blindness”, we get a quick tour through some of the B-Sides of this era, those completed before ZooTV became Zooropa:  “Slow Dancing”, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, “Lady with the Spinning Head”, and “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk” (which was written, believe it or not, as part of the score for a stage production of A Clockwork Orange; again, a story for another time).  And then we crash into Zooropa proper, with no need to change up anything until the air-raid siren comes on in the wake of Johnny Cash’s devastating “The Wanderer” (a song that Bono considers U2’s best, as in the [paraphrased, non-verbatim] quote “It’s a shame that I don’t even sing on our best song).

From here we enter the Passengers/POP era, the last legs of the long, dark tunnel of self-discovery, revelation and deception they entered nearly a decade prior when they landed in Hansa studios to begin work on Achtung.  First the interstitial stuff, “Your Blue Room” and “Always Forever Now” and “Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)”, after which we head straight into POP itself, a grossly-underrated album and one which I love just fine in it’s original form.  And we wrap up the 1990’s with two amazing B-sides, “The Hands that Built America” and “North and South of the River”.

And it’s at this point that I start to become a bit…deviant.  U2 is my favorite band, and are still blowing my mind almost three and a half decades after they first came together.  (Of note, they first sat down together in the fall/winter of 1976, right when I was being born; coincidence?  I think not.)  But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and they have had some missteps along the way.  These became more noticeable at the end of the millennium, and to be honest, it’s mostly either non-musical errors in judgment (what to release and when) or “secondary” musical issues (what versions to release and why).

So here we are at All that You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and I’ve taken many liberties here.  First, I’ve added in several of the songs that were recorded but never released, not even as B-sides.  I’ve also swapped in different versions of some songs because I think the unreleased versions are just better.  If there’s one common thread to all the mistakes they’ve made in the last fifteen years, it’s that they’ve over-thought what they were doing; where I can, I’ve resurrected their initial inspiration.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind – Instinctual

  1. Levitate
  2. Elevation
  3. Love You Like Mad
  4. Walk On
  5. In A Little While
  6. Flower Child
  7. Stuck in a Moment (acoustic)
  8. Summer Rain
  9. Wild Honey
  10. Beautiful Day
  11. Kite
  12. When I Look at the World
  13. New York
  14. The Ground Beneath Her Feet
  15. Electrical Storm
  16. Stateless
  17. Grace
  18. Always

Then a few B-sides, “Big Girls Are Best” (written for Ali when she was pregnant, any father/husband will understand) and “Neon Lights”.

How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb – Instinctual

  1. City of Blinding Lights
  2. Miracle Drug
  3. Crumbs from Your Table
  4. Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own
  5. Love and Peace or Else
  6. Native Son
  7. All Because of You (alternate)
  8. Fast Cars
  9. A Man and a Woman
  10. Smile
  11. Original of the Species (Killahurtz Casa De Angeles Mix)
  12. Window in the Skies
  13. One Step Closer
  14. Mercy
  15. Yaweh (from Vertigo: Live in Chicago)

And then another B-side, “I Believe in Christmas (No Snow)”.

No Line on the Horizon – Instinctual

  1. No Line on the Horizon
  2. Magnificent
  3. Breathe
  4. Stand Up Comedy
  5. I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  6. Get on Your Boots (Long Intro)
  7. Fez – Being Born
  8. Unknown Caller
  9. White as Snow
  10. Winter
  11. Moment of Surrender
  12. Cedars of Lebanon
  13. Soon

And we end the whole thing with “No Line on the Horizon 2”, like U2 Meets the Go-Go’s, and the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.

Which brings us right up to the present day.  I’m not sure what I’m hoping to accomplish with this musical death march.  It’s a sort of “It’s so crazy, it just might work,” scenario, and when you hit that point, the details tend to not matter too much.  When it’s all listened and done, I’ll try to drop back by here and let y’all know how it went.


Been a while since I’ve dropped by, and I refuse to feel guilty about it.  There are plenty of reasons why, foremost being that—as I said from day one—these are the rules of engagement.  Sometimes I’ll post with relentless regularity, sometimes I’ll drop off the face of the earth for a while.  Don’t argue with the rain for being fucking wet, buy an umbrella.

There are plenty of other reasons why I’ve been away…many of which will pop up in the next few days as I try to get back into some semblance of regular posting…or at least try to brain-dump the accumulated detritus I’m carrying around in my head right now.  Because, while I haven’t been posting lately, I have been Writing, especially in the “If you’re talking to a writer, and explaining some involved situation to them, and get to the end and ask them for their advice on what you should do, and they kinda stand there for a few seconds, then nod and mumble ‘Uh-huh,’ and walk off, they’re not ignoring you, they’re Writing” way.

But first, the obligatory Lakers thoughts…good goddamn, the summer is a long fucking drought until training camp opens.

Also, note the nifty Tweet button at the bottom of this post (only seems to show up when you’re looking at the specific post page, not the site as a whole). So do me a favor and retweet this mother.

I think I finally understand why Jordan Farmar went to New Jersey.  On the surface it doesn’t make any sense.  You’ve got a young PG, feeling held back, sublimating the best parts of his game to fit in on a championship-caliber team like the Lakers, so the obvious move is to…go to the worst team in the NBA as a back-up to an All Star-caliber PG like Devin Harris, the kind of guy who’s locked in for 35+ minutes a night.  He’s going to get reduced minutes to play for a god-awful team, which is clearly so much better than playing 20-25 minutes a night for a championship contender, right?

But there’s more to it than that.

First, Devin Harris gets hurt.  A lot.  I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass, but I don’t think the guy has played more than 60 games a year over the last three years, and it would be an even-money bet that he won’t play more than that this year.  Which means for 20+ games this season, Farmar is going to be starting and playing big minutes, which is a huge upside over playing behind an iron man like Fisher.

Second, he’ll be playing for coach Avery Johnson, the polar opposite to Phil Jackson.  Avery is a feisty point-guard, guided the Spurs to a championship with his passing hands and squeaky voice, and I’m sure Farmar is drooling over what he can learn from someone who’s game was very similar to what he does.

Third, and most importantly, Farmar has an almost absurd confidence in his own abilities, even if he hasn’t had a chance to show them off fully yet.  (Though, two years ago, when Fisher was suspended for a game against the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs after forearm-shivering Sciola, Farmar started and had one of the best games of his career, both numbers-wise and in his overall maturity and ability to run the team.)  Whether it’s just something he and his people have tossed around, or maybe someone in the organization said something to him off the record, I think he believes that the Nets are willing to consider him as more than just another body off the bench.  Surely he took note of what happened when Chris Paul went down last year to injury and Darren Collison—Farmar’s former understudy at UCLA—got a serious chance to start at PG, and played so well that many serious observers were suggesting that the Hornets should give the starting spot to him and trade CP3 for parts to put around him.  I think, in Farmar’s mind, there are two possible scenarios over the next year or two:

1)      Farmar plays well enough that the team decides he could start for them, and decide to trade Harris (and his hefty salary-matching salary) and other pieces for a superstar forward or SG (something that was speculated on last year, even without a competent back-up for Harris).

2)      Farmar plays well enough that other teams with serious PG needs (Atlanta [Bibby’s not exactly young], New York [realizing they won’t ever get CP3], Bobcats, etc.) ask for him in a trade that would bring solid pieces back to New Jersey and push Farmar into the starting spot on a better team.

No idea if any of this is true or would actually happen, but it’s the only way I can wrap my head around the decision.  Other than the possibility that it was the only/best offer out there for him.  Which, given that FreeDarko got a 4-year, $20 million deal this summer, isn’t too likely.

Anyway, the fucker went to Taft, took the Bruins to the Final Four, and picked up two rings for the Lakers.  He’s family, wherever he is, and will always be loved and welcomed home.

The King is Dead

I don’t have much in the way of an emotional stake in this thing.  I mean, obviously, I come down pretty clearly on one side (the right side) whenever the Kobe-LBJ thing gets brought up, because I’m from LA, I watched Mamba from his first game in his rookie year, through the airballs against Utah, through the 2001 spanking of the rest of the playoff world, the agony of Phoenix, the agony-er of 2008, and the tears and redemption of the last 2 years.  And, really, scoreboard:  5>0.

And I’m not going to get into the debacle of last night; plenty of other folks online have commented thoroughly on it, and how clearly the look on his face is like the one half-decent guy in a group of bullies (his entourage) when he realizes the joke has gone a bit too far and people are getting hurt.

But I’ve never really hated the guy.  I grew up around rich, entitled kids my whole life, so that goofy, un-self-aware complete lack of empathetic understanding of what the world might be like outside of their “please sir, thank you sir, another sir?” bubble isn’t news to me.  I was a bit sad that he was living through it without having actually earned anything, like an entitled nouveau riche type who isn’t even liquid, just waiting (hoping) for their eight-figure options to vest.  And the antics, the dancing and chalk and 3rd-person-itis…it mostly made me wince, the way you do when any kid is going about blithely making the same mistakes you did that are so stupidly obvious in hindsight.

And it’s odd, in the midst of this incredible hubris, the one thing that stands out to me about him now is:  enforced humility. Because it’s clear, he not only doesn’t care if he’s The Man, is not just willing to “sacrifice” being The Man…he doesn’t want to be The Man.

I’ve seen what it’s like firsthand when great players decide that the only thing important to them is winning a championship, money and egos be damned.  That was the “joy” of the Payton/Malone tour through LA.  They both left millions on the table–guaranteed hall of famers, the clear alpha-males on their respective teams for more than a decade–and came to LA for a last chance to win a ring.  And it wasn’t a small paycut either; I think they split the mid-level exception, so they each made between $2-$6 million that year (to compare, Luke Walton–love him like I do–is making more than that right now).  And they came to a team where an alpha vs. alpha competition was already ongoing between Kobe and Shaq, meaning that there was zero chance that either of them would even be in contention for option A or even option B.  But there was nothing else as important to them as winning, and they did it.

(And yes, I’m aware that LA lost that year, which I blame on Payton’s realization that, contrary to intentions, he couldn’t really relinquish his head-strong nature for the betterment of the team…a realization that allowed him to actually do that very thing a year later, with the Heat, which got him his ring, thanks to the superhuman efforts of NBA superstar Bennett Salvatore.  And it was also Malone’s fault, specifically his karma…seriously, the most injury-safe player of his generation, could jump through a razor-wire-wrapped plate glass window and not even get a bruise, suffers an injury that keeps him out for most of the year and most of the playoffs?  Karma, man, for all those Utah years…and I sarcastically thank him for coming to stand right next to us at the exact moment that boomerang came swinging back around.)

And so, if LBJ’s real, true, only desire was to win–not just in a “30% of me wants money, 30% of me wants fame, and 40% of me wants a ring, so a ring’s the most important thing” way, but in a “I don’t care what number’s on the contract, this is the team that can win, give me a place to sign” way–then there was really only one viable option for him:


But wait, you say, they weren’t a possibility.  They weren’t even in the conversation, how could he have gone there? Well, he could have taken their mid-level exception.  $6 million-ish a year isn’t too bad, especially considering his income from all the sponsorships.  Or, hell, take the veteran’s minimum (like $2 million, I think?), which would allow them to sign someone else (like re-upping Reddick, or a solid back-up for Nelson).  And that line-up–Nelson, LBJ, Lewis, Howard, Redick, and various other assorted parts, all of whom have experience actually winning a game in the NBA finals–that one scares me.  The Miami line-up, not so much (more on that later).  But you have those four on your starting five…holy god.

But he didn’t even consider it.

He could have gone to Chicago:  Rose, LBJ, Boozer (or Amar’e, or Bosh…either of their decisions might have been different if LBJ had handled this differently), Noah…that line-up rules the East and seriously scares me as a Lakers fan.  And he could have gotten max money too.

And didn’t Cleveland have the best record in the NBA the last 2 years?  Seems that would only look to continue, if LBJ wanted to put the team and the city on his back and keep trying to carry them to glory.

But he didn’t.  He went to Miami, where, essentially, he becomes Pippen to Wade’s MJ.  He not only acknowledges that he needed more help than he got in Cleveland–an acknowledgement that he would also have been making had he gone to Chicago or Orlando–but that he isn’t able to carry things on his shoulders alone.  There’s only one way to look at it:  he and Bosh are there to help Wade’s team win titles.  They are his support players, in the hopes that they can out-talent the rest of the NBA into a ring or two.

Which isn’t a guaranteed thing.  They don’t have anyone to deal with Dwight Howard–really only the C*****s have the frontline to do so in the East–so just getting past Orlando will be a wild ride.  And with the rest of the C*****s back, probably playing their final years, hoping not to go out a loser, that won’t be an easy series either.  And really, putting the Bulls lineup–with a few years experience playing with each other under their belts–plus adding Korver as a deep threat, and their new coach putting in the same defense that’s given LBJ fits the last two years when playing Boston…plus the strong hate the Bulls will feel after being spurned by the “big 3″…I wouldn’t put money on that series either way.

But even assuming that they could get past all of those obstacles, there’s still the reigning champs, and I like our chances against the Heat across the board.  Kobe-Wade is a wash, young athleticism against perhaps the wiliest vet the game’s ever seen (and with a full summer to rest and heal too); Artest isn’t the offensive player LBJ is, but in a 7 game series, I give the over/under at 3 games before LBJ wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, expecting to find Artest hovering over his bed, pinning an arm down to fight to deny him the pass; Gasol is to Bosh what a Lotus is to a Mustang (both excellent, but really no comparison 1 on 1)…and then what?  You’ve got Fisher/Blake, Sasha/Walton, Odom and Bynum looking at the guy across from them, asking, “Hey, didn’t I see you playing in the D-League a month ago?”

Sure, years 4 and 5 (and maybe 3) will be different in unexpected ways as that core 3 get used to playing with each other and the rest of the NBA changes around them.  But it’s no sure thing.  There’s no way to say that the Heat are now head and shoulders above the rest, only an injury or lockout away from guaranteed rings. LBJ could have put himself in a situation where that statement was true, or at least less unlikely…but he didn’t want to.

For him, it’s just not all about winning.  It’s about making sure that he’s not responsible for whether his team wins or loses.

If Phil leaves…

Another post about the Lakers, because hey, my blog.

(There will be some writing stuff coming along soon here, updates and the like, if that’s more your speed.  Patience, grasshopper.)

If Phil leaves the Lakers…well, the first thing I’m going to do is fly up to Minnesota, find Rambis, and kick him in the shin, shouting, “If you’d just waited one more fucking year…!”

But, aside from that, if Phil leaves now, it presents the team with a difficult choice, one that has little to do with the “system”, triangle vs. whatever.

Despite all the dark, shimmering cloaks of mystery that surround the triangle offense, it’s not some freakish aberration of what most people consider basketball.  Players in the triangle do run plays, the same kinds of plays that every other team under the sun do.  Down-screen, baseline backdoor, pinch-post P&R…it’s all in there.  Here’s the only real difference:

In a “normal” offense, the point guard brings the ball across the timeline, calls a set play that the team has practiced (usually passed to him by the head coach, either from the sideline or during the last play stoppage), the team runs that play and either finds success or doesn’t.  If it doesn’t work and they have time, they’ll run another play, a Plan B that they’ve prepared, or else they’ll give it to the guy on the floor who can create his own shot and hope that he does so.  The plays they run can have options, based on what the defense does, but they’re pre-planned and dependent upon the players practicing the moves over and over so they know exactly what they’re supposed to do.

In the triangle, one of a couple of players (usually guards, but anyone who can handle well will do) brings the ball across the timeline, everyone gets into their proper spacing (three players in a triangle—post, wing and corner—on one side [hence why it’s called the “triangle” or “triple post” offense], the other two spaced at the wing and high post on the other side), and then the offense is “initiated”.  If on the strong side (where the triangle is), the initiation is usually a pass into the post player; if on the weak side, there’s either a pass made into the high post or a S&R with the two of them.

No specific play is called, not yet.  The offense is initiated, and then the players observe how the defense reacts.  And based on what the defense does, the offense will do something else—say they run a double-team at the player in the triangle post, well, that leaves someone else on the court open, or at the worst in a 2 on 1 zone, and the offense’s job is to get the ball to the open man.  And there are a variety of ways to do that, each dependent upon exactly who that open man is, where exactly the defense is, etc.

So, the triangle does result in running the same kinds of plays that a “normal” offense does, but instead of having it pre-planned, it grows organically out of what happening right then, in the moment.  If you have a team running the triangle that’s unfamiliar with it, or is made up of players who aren’t that bright, or are more “athletes” than “basketball players”, or who haven’t spent much time playing with each other, or who don’t really trust each other, it can be a mess.  No one knows where they’re supposed to go, nor where anyone else is going to be going.

But when you have a team of high basketball IQ players who know each other well and trust each other, it is sublime.  Pau will get the ball in the post, with Odom at the wing and Fisher in the corner.  Fisher’s man shades in to start double-teaming Pau, and so Odom’s man shades down into the lane to be ready to help out.  Odom sees this, and dives down the lane towards the basket.  Pau looks to pass to the diving Odom, but sees that not only has Odom’s man recovered, but Bynum’s man, seeing the diving Odom, has moved away from Bynum to help as well.  Bynum sees this and flashes to the far side of the rim, Pau ignores Odom (who is now needlessly double-teamed off the ball), and lofts a high pass to Bynum for an easy layup.  Or he fakes that pass, forcing Fisher’s man to turn his head and run to help, and passes to Fisher for the open corner three.  Or any of another dozen options.

A “normal” offense is like an orchestra, everyone trying to be exactly where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there, doing what they’re supposed to do, exactly as it says on the identical scores in front of them.  The triangle is like a jazz combo:  they all know the tune, they’ve all played it together before, they know what the others like to do, so they pay attention to each other, and if, say, the guy on keyboards gets into a really good groove and sounds like he wants to kick the pace up a bit, the other guys will either pick up their own playing to come along, or will ease back a bit, giving him the space to shine.  It’s organic, everyone moving towards the same goal, with the moves and the goal defined on the spot, wordlessly, growing out of a shared, instinctual awareness of what’s happening exactly in that specific moment.

It’s a beautiful thing where the joy comes not from achieving the goal but from being in perfect unison with four other guys who you know, and trust, and care about, and are sharing that specific moment with.

And it doesn’t matter who the Lakers bring in as coach if Phil leaves, do you really think, after all the years these players have spent with each other, and the success they’ve had trusting each other, if they’re running a set play, and see the defense reacting a certain way, that they aren’t going to immediately abandon that play and react to what the defense is doing?  And that that won’t happen several times, every game?

So the system the next coach has isn’t as important as how he will react to what the team is doing.  Will he empower the team to do what they know how to do, even if it means they regularly toss his carefully-constructed offense overboard?  Will he encourage that?  Or will he be upset that they’re not doing what he wants them to do.

This is really my only concern with Byron Scott.  He’s a true Alpha male who has already butted heads with two teams previously.  Is he secure enough in himself—and trusting enough in his team—to take that step back?  Or will it turn into a battle of wills?

And we also have to worry about the opposite, which is really my only concern with Brian Shaw.  Will the players respect him enough to know that it’s his hand on the wheel, no matter how much he leaves to them to sort out on their own?  Or will the inmates—for lack of a better analogy—end up taking over the asylum, with Shaw little more than the guy doing sideline interviews after the first quarter in a suit?

What we need to replace if Phil leaves is not a system, but his presence and leadership.  Phil is the ultimate leader, a guy who commands respect without ever having to say it.  A guy who steps back, points at what needs to be done, and lets his charges sort it out for themselves, without ever giving up any of his authority.  Who empowers his players to own what they do, without any of them ever forgetting that he, ultimately, is where the buck stops.

I don’t know if it’s possible to find a perfect replacement for that…guys with eleven rings, and his particular demeanor and philosophy, don’t grow on trees.  But I’m convinced that, regardless of the X’s and O’s, that the real battle for success in the first season without Phil will happen here, in the shared hearts and minds of the players and the coach.