Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Everybody Has Cancer

S.O.L. Note: Please forgive the gaps in posts but S.O.L. has been felled by a very gnarly flu virus and has been recuperating by sleeping. All the time. Not since my college days have I slept so much during the daylight hours. I wanted to shoulder on as so many interesting things caught my attention in the last week or so, but I used up all my energy thinking about them. I’m still down for the count but the cleaning woman is here today so I had to get out of bed. So here I am sitting up at my computer, I might as well make a blog appearance. This was a blog I began last week after the news on the White House Press Secretary's cancer recurrence.

There's a darkly humor ous joke one of my Cancer doctors once told me they tell at the major hospital where I was treated. It goes something like this: A man runs in to the lobby off the street yelling "Help me! My wife is sick!" A kind nurse calmly asks him what's wrong. "She has cancer," he says. The nurse hands him a clipboard, "Everybody has Cancer here," he says.

Nobody ever explained the joke to me but they don't have to. It all makes perfect sense when you're a patient there and you've been told you might very die, that if you don't you'll lose your right lung and right there in the middle of your own private pity party,  you meet your new roomie, the mother of two adorable kids under five too sweet for words whose hand-crayoned pictures are taped to her suitcase who whose husband has decided now is a good time to move out, arrives with a shaved head and a broad smile, the night before her fourth brain cancer operation in two years.

See, as bad as that word must have sounded when you first heard it, you're suddenly aware that not only aren't you a lone but chances are someone out there has it really bad. Oh, and you're in the right place because if anybody knows what to do with Cancer, it's a place where the very term has become rote.  I like the idea of demystifying the Big C. The truth is we're curing it at higher rate than ever before and that there are something like 8 million people among us who are not only Cancer survivors but are living full and thriving lives. You might think Lance Armstrong as a superhuman exception but to a Cancer survivor, he is doing what the rest of us are doing, he's just doing it at a higher level.

Cancer has been in the news a lot the last two weeks. First Elizabeth Edwards' announcement (you go, girl) and then last week's revelation that White House spokesman Tony Snow's Colon cancer has returned and spread.

This blog isn't about cancer though. It's selfishly about me.

I knew Tony Snow back when we were both working for the Washington Times. He was the Editorial Page editor and I was a lowly staff writer. I always liked Tony. Truth is I sort of had a crush on him. He was just the sort of preppy Washington guy I used to go for and he was smart and funny and despite our wide political differences, we found common ground in the lunch room about issues that interested us, music, sports, stuff like that. I found him very human and even as he rose through the ranks along with a host of other conservative pundits, I watched his career with interest and, sometimes, rooted for him. It seemed to me that while he had right wing bonafides, he often seemed rational, like he'd thought stuff through, like he wasn't about spewing Karl Rove's talking points.

I'm not sure when that all changed, but it did. It wasn't a big surprise to me then when he ended up fronting for the Bush White House. I thought he would be different than the previous mouthpiece and in many ways he is. For one, he's brilliant and he can speak eloquently and there are times when I think reading between the lines, he has been less willing to lie outright, more understanding that even our current extremely gullible press corps. aren't going to swallow just anything.

But over time, I've seen a change in his demeanor, too. He's angrier and his attitude toward the White House press corps is more dismissive, like he's the schoolmaster and they're the unruly little rich kids who won't behave. Maybe this whole press secretary thing is just too soul-crushing for him. Maybe his humanity is taking a beating. Maybe he really is a good guy who is collapsing underneath the weight of so much ... twisting of the truth. Or maybe he's just he's a true believer now. Maybe he always was.

Should it matter to me now? It does and that's my problem here.

Back when I heard he had Cancer the first time, I sent a note to him (though I've no idea if he ever got it or even remembered me). I admit to feeling ambiguous about sending a letter now. Of course it sucks he's sick -- I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I truly hope he gets better but God help me, here's the rub. There's a part of me -- a big part of me -- that thinks sending him a get well card endorses what he does for a living, which I find morally reprehensible.

Politics morally reprehensible? I get it. It's all morally repugnant. Even I think Clinton was sleazy at his worst. I have friends who argue that all politics is like this, that almost none of them have any great ideas beyond those that help their re-election campaigns. That there's not much measurable difference between a Republican and a Democrat. Maybe he's right most of the time. But I say these particularly Republicans are different. They have changed the game in a way that sets them far apart from their counterparts (who I might add, let them change the freaking game but that is for another blog post). I say there comes moments in our history, personal and societal, when you/we have to make a choice between what is right and what is wrong. We have to cross a line, take a stand, call the bad people on their shit.

And let's be very clear here. This Administration is the most cynical of our generation. Whenever they got a chance to play dirty, reward a friend or punish an enemy, help a business crony or cover up the truth, the Bushies didn't hesitate. And think about this: if this is, as many experts claim, the most secretive administration in the history of this nation, then there's gotta be a whole lotta shit we haven't even heard about yet. That ought to help you sleep at night.

So I can feel bad about Tony Snow's Cancer and I can wish him well in my heart. But I'm not going to acknowledge it, I think. I don't know if I'm being rude or ridiculous or righteous but Snow made his choice and I'm making mine.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

50 By Any Name Ain't So Sweet

Kobe Bryant and his 50-plus output for four games in a row has been the talk of the pro basketball world. Kobe’s taking the Lakers on his back. He’s mad as hell and doesn’t want his boys to miss the playoffs. Could he break Wilt's other record? Man oh man.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that S.O.L. thinks Kobe, while an extremely gifted scorer, is overrated and doesn’t belong in discussions of the greatest NBA players ever. I mean compare him to Pistol Pete, but Magic and Bird and Jordan? Dr. J? Oscar? Elgin? No. No. No. No.

Bryant has been shooting lights out of late – and he’s getting to the foul line a lot too. While he goes to the line fairly often (despite what his coach claims), he goes through stretches where he has huge swings -- four times here, 13 there. But the last four games, he's been living at the foul line. An interesting development considering it started after his coach called out the NBA refs for supposedly targeting Kobe. Fodder for the conspiracy theorists I suppose, but it's bullshit. And more than that, it proves how much Phillip has changed his tune since his sabbatical from the NBA.

Before the streak, Kobe’s Lakers had lost seven games in a row ( this a few weeks after dropping six straight) and were within two miracle shots by Kobe from losing number eight. To put this into perspective, no Phil Jackson team has ever lost more than five straight before this season.

Those shots he took, by the way, were the same ones he’d been chucking up and missing at the end of those string of losses. The same shots he criticized another scoring machine for taking himself during his 60-point outburst.

Don’t believe me? Find a replay of the end of their loss in Philadelphia. The Lakers were within striking distance in the fourth quarter when Kobe dribbled the ball the length of the court and with something like 16 seconds left on the shot clock, took a desperation three from three-feet behind the arc. It clanked off the rim and the Sixers turned the predictably long rebound easy two on the other end, all but sealing the win.

Afterward, Kobe's not-so-thinly-veiled comments were directed at his team, not inward. Never inward. "It was just bad execution," he said. "We've seen teams deny me on the floor before. When they do that, that's when you go deeper in the offense."

Translation: my teammates didn't make enough shots.

Maybe you should involve your teammates, Kobe. Translation: pass the damn rock.

Most players take shots like that and they're riding the pines. Not Kobe. He's 'great'. And when they go in, he's the MVP. (Don't get me started on Kobe should be the MVP nonsense. I hardly want to dignify that by explaining how wrong that is.)

Look at who the Lakers beat during Kobe’s 50-plus streak. Portland, Minnesota, Memphis and New Orleans. These teams are combined 60-plus games UNDER .500. Translation: they suck. Two of them - Portland and the Grizz -- are among the worst defensive teams in the league. Give the green light to any number of NBA players on any given night and they'll put 50 up against those guys. Way to go Kobe! Wanna play my high school next?

Pardon S.O.L. for not getting all giddy over Kobe or the Lakers. All of them but one weren't decided until the final minutes. Kobe's points barrage was the difference you say? Against teams like those, it shouldn't be. Not one of those wins makes up forthe Lakers getting blown out at home against Dallas or on the road against a fairly middling Denver team or getting LeBron-ed by Cleveland just before the All-Star break - or losing the season series against S.O.L.'s lousy New York Knicks. Playoff teams are supposed to beat lottery-bound teams.

Ah, but a Lakers fan would argue that these last four games have been different because they have their starters – Luke Walton and Lamar Odom – back from injury. Nice try but it don't fly here.

I like Walton’s game. He’s a nice complimentary player (which is like calling black athlete “articulate” I think) but he’s not going to make a huge difference on this team. And Odom. Man, I’ve always loved Odom’s game but reality has trumped perception – as well as he fills up a box score, Lamar just isn’t a difference maker. He loses focus, he makes bad plays and for whatever reason, he has difficulty finishing at the rim (if there was a stat for missed layups, he'd be in the top three in the league). He is probably the most frustratingly inconsistent talent in the NBA. Add to the mix his shoulder injury, which will probably require surgery in the offseason.

I think the Lakers have done yeoman’s work getting production out of big man Kwame Brown but expecting more from him at this point is just dreaming. And Brian Cook is never going to be the rebounder they need at the four, even when he comes back. And Vlad the Snowman? If the Lakers are counting on him to lead them into the second round of the playoffs, Chick Hearn is going to call out the fridge from the afterlife. This is the guy Jackson calls a "space cadet."

The better teams have proven they can stop the one-man Kobeshow, as we'll see in the coming weeks. First two should-win games - the enigmatic Golden State and crappy Memphis, again -- spurring predictions that Kobe will go for 60-plus six games in a row. Color me excited. Let's see him go for 60 against Houston (Jeff Van Gundy would rather eat his shoe than let Kobe score that many points) AND win the game. After the Lakers have a brutal stretch of eight home-away matchups - two against Denver, two against the Suns and two against the suddenly surging L.A. Clippers. Seriously, if the Clips continue playing well and take those two games against the Lakers, they could pass them in the standings. Not that I'm predicting that here.

And while Kobe’s firing up 20 more shots a game then his teammates (as he did against New Orleans), how is that going to prepare them for when it’s on them to make baskets?

This leads to another oft-made point here and that is that if Kobe wants to be considered great, he has to not only play great, he has to be a leader -- on both ends of the floor. At one time, he was considered a premier shut-down defender but he doesn't seem interested in playing 'D' anymore. I refer you to this excellent blog. Basketbawlful writes eloquently about what he calls the myth of Kobe's defense. In it, he makes a number of compelling points in comparing Kobe to Steve Nash, who is widely considered a defensive liability (not by S.O.L.).

(And really, the discussion about who's a better player between Nash and Kobe ought to end on who makes their team better. In almost any category you want to measure, any meaningful statistical analysis, Nash means more to his team in terms of wins and loses than Kobe does. Simply put, Nash makes his teammates better.)

Basketbawlful is one of the few NBA observers who has noticed how often Kobe's been torched by the guy he's guarding this season. Did anyone notice how many points Memphis' Mike Miller (sounds like a blues guy, doesn't it?) put up against the Lakers? That's right, folks, 33. And who was guarding him? Oh, dear, yes. We already talked about Agent Zero's 60 (Kobe ASKED to guard him in the fourth and it made a difference only in Arenas getting more points). And when LeBron was going off on the Lakers in the fourth quarter of their victory last month, he was doing it against Kobe, in the fourth, with the game on the line.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Four Years and Counting

First a note from S.O.L. - I've been working hard on a new novel and I'm close to finishing and so I've been neglecting my blog. Not to worry sports fans, I'm in this for the long hall.

Speaking of being in, I'm in Los Angeles with the Pug, who I brought here for an operation that will hopefully cure him of the problems he's having with his ear infections and which has been costing S.O.L. in the heart and pocketbook areas. To all those who have been keeping up with his saga, I'm happy to report that Louie made it through the operation and he's doing great. And seriously, look at that face? What's not to love?

Life During Wartime

Today is the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. President George Bush is asking Americans to be patient. On May 1, it will be four years since Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared "Mission Accomplished" - as in the war was supposed to be over. And now he's asking us for patience? I'm sorry but what the fuck?

"Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won,” he was quoted today in several newspapers, including here in the New York Times. “It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through.”

Let’s talk about courage and resolve, shall we? You want courage and resolve? Ask any of our soldiers who have had to put up with crappy hardware in the field and lousy medical treatment once they get home.I admit to being left of center, sometimes way left but being against this war makes common sense, not partisan politics. And if you’re outraged with the way the Administration has handled this war, then you’re merely paying attention.

Bush is right. What this country needs is courage and resolve to sweep these assclowns out of office. Seriously, an ape as president would have made better decisions since 9/11.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

S.O.L. Scripts, Vol. 1

Turkey Vultures, Geyserville, Ca.
Here's a script I've been writing on and off for a couple of years. My sabbatical up here in Wine Country has given me time to rework some old stuff and this is one I'm nearly finished with. I call this my Elmore Leonard black comic noir film, about a cop who comes into some ill-gotten funds and the people who want to take it from him.

This is a favorite scene of mine. It follows one of the script's big early set pieces -- a shootout in an L.A. bowling alley that claims the lives of one bad guy and one good guy. The bad guy, Walter, had just been released from serving hard time on a bank robbery where the money was never recovered. He was able to stash the cash before he was sent up and kept the hiding place secret from even his partner and his wife, Mona. Good thing 'cause Mona is sleeping with Walter's partner and planned to run away with him -- along with the money. Walter wanted the cash to go to his son and not to his money-grubbing wife. Ray is our hero -- and the cop's funeral is for his partner, Daniel Morean.

Anyway, just so you know this material is not only copyright but it's registered at the Writers Guild of America, West.

In. the b.g., "Danny Boy" begins softly, as we ...


... and the song rises in volume, operatic slow, bagpipes


On a cop's funeral, Detective Daniel Morean, is laid to rest.
A flag-draped coffin; wife, sons graveside. In the
background, our boy Ray, guilt thick in his eyes.


Walter's funeral under which we hear "Danny Boy" as sung by
Johnny Cash, blue-collar, hard, like this ceremony, which is
plastic to Morean's quiet reverence.

Walter's wife, MONA, red lips, junkie thin, dressed in black,
low-cut, sexy in a cheap sort of a way, not what one wears to
a funeral. Big, thrift store hat.



Dress blues, points his gun in the air.


And so on - the cop's gun salute...

Ray doesn't even flinch. Everything you need to know is in
his eyes, if you can bare to look.

winces at the sound. A beat. Another shot; no it's a car
backfiring somewhere nearby. The priest finishing ...

... all who knew Warren took
comfort in his faith in God, a
faith that grew stronger in his
final years. Like so many of His
devoted sons, Warren was taken from
us too early. He is in a better
place now, our Warren.
(throws dirt on the grave)
And so we lay to rest beloved
husband, devoted father, Warren.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ...

Mona throws dirt on the grave, allows herself a single tear
which she doesn't wipe away. She takes one, long look at the
coffin and turns away.


Mona looks up. The priest.

I am so sorry for your loss.

He waits, a long beat meant to be reverential. Mona ignores
it. When she speaks, whatever hope you have that there's any
amount of grace in her, is completely gone.

Thank you, Father.

Another long, awkward beat. He clears his throat, again.

Spit it out. I already said thank

The priest hands her a folded piece of paper. She reads it.

Let me get this straight. I'm
standing over my husband's grave
and you're giving me the bill?

She starts to cry.

What kind of a person would do such
a thing?

The priest has seen this before.

I understand how awkward this must
be for you, but I'm afraid you
agreed to make payment at the time
services are rendered.

Mona cries harder.

How could you?

The priest holds his ground. Removes a handkerchief from his
pocket, offers it to her. He waits while she cries.
She takes it, makes a move like she's walking away, but he
blocks her path. A long beat. She realizes he's not buying
her performance.

Finally, she blows her noses loudly in his kerchief, and
hands it back to him. Then she pulls cash out of her purse
and counts two hundred dollars into his outstretched hand.

Thank you. Warren's in God's hands

Mona glares at him.

I should have had him cremated.
(a beat)
And his name is Walter, you dumb

Script created with Final Draft by Final Draft, Inc.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Sunset, Healdsburg, March 2007
I thought I’d feel a little better about the news today that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted on four of the five perjury counts against him.

Part of me is waiting for the other shoe to fall, most likely in the final hours of the disaster that is the Son of Bush Presidency, when he issues his midnight pardons. Part of me is pissed off that no one was charged for the Federal Crime of leaking the name of a covert C.I.A. agent for no other discernible reason than political revenge.

But I do rejoice in the fact that over the course of the trial, the inner workings of the vice president’s office were revealed in all its gory, disgusting, childish detail. Turns out Dick Cheney is a shallow, megalomaniac who just doesn’t like being criticized, especially when his lies are brought out in the open.

Cheney has not evolved since high school, preferring to back up his lies with more, different lies and then when challenged, instead of going after his accuser, he attacks his accuser’s wife. Do we need anymore proof that our vice president is a pussy?

Still, it's a big bummer for Libby, whose defense was that he "forgot" and who faces up to 20 years in prison though as a first-time offender will likely get far less. And despite the damning revelations about the conduct of the White House regarding the leak of Valarie Plame's identity, his falling on his sword seems to have been kept his Bush pals out of the slammer. What's one guy in Club Fed when it means the rest go free?

(Speaking of which, a writer I know suggested that Libby change his nickname as it might be a little bit soft for where he's going.)

I'm looking forward to the civil case filed by Plame and her husband Joseph C. Wilson with the hope that if justice can't be done, maybe Cheney's ill-gotten Haliburton money will end up in the Wilson's bank account.

And finally, kudos to Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who according to almost any nonpartisan legal expert, put on a perfect case. Wonder what would have happened if he had been running the O.J. trial?

Ron, Ron, Ron Around

The best commentary I heard about Ron Artest yesterday was from S.O.L.’s longtime buddy and brilliant sports talk guy Rod Brooks, who co-anchors the noon-to-three show on the Bay Area’s KNBR AM-680. In the days preceding his arrest on domestic abuse charges, the frequently troubled Sacramento Kings’ forward showed up on court with “Kings” carved into his haircut. “Hey Ron, Ron,” Brooks said on Monday, “Nineteen ninety-five called – it wants its hairstyle back.” Ding!

There’s really nothing more you can say about these athletes who keep getting into trouble. The sports world has covered the bases from being plainly indignant to offensively defensive to offering enough psychoanalysis for guys like Artest and Pacman Jones, you’d think a shrink’s license is a requirement to be a sportswriter. One exception is this commentary we found online by Gregory Moore, managing editor of the San Antonio Informer, which is just, well, smart.

My take is not a new one and that is that it would be nice to see real punishment for guys who stray -- and also help for those, like Artest, that clearly have a problem. Traditionally, it's all about keeping your guys physically healthy so they can perform on the court, but maybe paying more attention to their well-being upstairs (mentally I mean), might make the first part a lot easier. Let's face it, you have to be majorly fucked up to risk losing millions of dollars (often in guaranteed sums), not to mention the opportunity to play a game for a living.

I know some of Artest’s former coaches and a couple of guys who played ball with him. They all report he’s a standup guy, if maybe a little bit “different.” (I love that word, don't you?) Their point is he's not the type of guy who would stand out in a room as the troublemaker. Plus he plays hard and he plays defense, which is rare in today’s NBA. In fact, I think David Stern put a limit on defenders because as far as I can tell there’s only one on each team (Atlanta, Portland and Memphis being the exceptions – they have none). I was willing to go along with Artest being the Misunderstood Athlete of the Week until he got nailed for mistreating his dogs. Right there, that’s when the honeymoon ended for S.O.L.

And now this. Charges are just charges until proven, and it wouldn't be the first time that an athlete was falsely accused of anything, but things are looking bleak for Artest, who's infamy is already written in stone, as a major player in one of the worst on-court incidents in the history of sports.

I certainly don't want to make light of these current charges -- especially in a country of men who think hitting women is okay (enough of them do it to make me think it's learned, societal behavior). But, if the story is true and the woman Artest pushed around threw a pot at his Hummer and broke the windshield, we'd have to come down on her side. If there's one thing the world could use more of it's women who fight back and if there's one thing this world could use a lot less of, it's over-sized, gas-guzzling S.U.V.'s. Oh yeah, and women beaters. You go, girl.