Streetwise Professor

June 6, 2015

The Russian World Cup Bid Was So Clean They Just Had to Destroy Their Computers

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 6:17 pm

Russians from Putin on down are freaking out about the possibility that the FIFA corruption scandal will cause the 2018 World Cup to be wrested from them. But never fear. The head of Russia’s organizing committee, Alexei Sorokin, claims that the Russian bid was “clean”:

The head of the organising committee for the Russia 2018 World Cup has insisted that the bid was clean, transparent and “done in accordance with all the practices that are in place in Fifa”.

Well that’s sort of the problem, Alexei. A “clean and transparent bid done in accordance with all the practices that are in place in Fifa” is an oxymoron. The practices in place in Fifa are dirty and opaque.

And of course, it was precisely because its bid was so clean, transparent, etc., that Russia destroyed the computers its committee had utilized:

But it was the lack of evidence provided by the bid team which was of most concern, according to the author of the summary, Fifa’s head judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert.

He wrote: “The Russia 2018 bid committee made only a limited number of documents available for review, which was explained by the fact that the computers used at the time by the Russia bid committee had been leased and returned to their owner after the bidding process.

“The owner has confirmed the computers were destroyed in the meantime. The bid committee also attempted to obtain access to the Gmail accounts used during the bidding process from Google USA. However, the Russia bid committee confirmed Google USA had not responded to the request.”

The head of Russia’s 2018 organising committee, Alexey Sorokin, told Sky Sports News: “We rented the equipment, we had to give it back, then it went back – we don’t even know where it went – to some sports schools, so quite naturally other people used it.

“Whatever we could supply, everything we could supply to the investigation we did. But we have to bear in mind that four years have passed since then, so some of the information we could just forget, naturally.”

Sorokin’s response there is priceless, isn’t it? It reminds me of the punchline to Steve Martin’s How to Make a Million Dollars and Not Pay Taxes bit. 1. Make $1 million. 2. Don’t pay taxes. 3. When the IRS confronts you, say (theatrically) “I forgot.” Presumably the Russians will react to an indictment or a revocation of the WC with “well excuuuuse me!

Perhaps the Russians destroyed the computers because definitive documentation of their clean, transparent and honest dealings would ruin their reputations.

No doubt the Russians are hoping that others who sent or received emails from them were as solicitous in their document non-retention policy as Russia.

What’s more, with all the arrests and indictments, those involved are threatening to talk. Most notably so far, Trinidad’s Jack Warner threatens to unleash “an avalanche of secrets” implicating Blatter.

I am far less interested in learning about the payees of the bribes, than the payers. Eventually someone, or someone’s computers, will blab. And that’s what has Putin (and Russians generally) losing it.

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May 29, 2015

The US Nails Fifa, But It’s Putin Who Howls

Filed under: Politics,Sports — The Professor @ 5:56 am

Wednesday’s indictments of Fifa board members and others generates a great deal of schadenfreude. Fifa is a corrupt and loathsome institution, and it’s about time for its comeuppance. Hopefully the IOC will get its soon as well.

There is much comic gold to mine here. One nugget is Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s statement that it was he would lead the effort to restore Fifa’s reputation:

“We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time,” Mr. Blatter said. “If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it. But it must also fall to me to be responsible for the reputation of our entire organization, and to find a way to fix things. [Note to Sepp: We know very well you are a fixer, but not in the way you use the term.]

We cannot allow the reputation of FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer. It has to stop here and now.

Yeah. That we police ourselves thing worked so well with the Garcia Report.

Another hilarious aspect of this is that the decidedly un-athletic American who became an informant, the improbably named Chuck Blazer, who motors between huge meals on a scooter, looks like Mr. Creosote in the flesh. Don’t give him a mint!

But by far the best part of this is watching Vladimir Putin totally lose his sh*t over the arrests, and the parallel Swiss investigation of the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia (as well as the 2022 WC to Qatar):

President Vladimir V. Putin sought to transform the burgeoning scandal over corruption in soccer’s international governing body into an extension of the confrontation between Russia and the West on Thursday, accusing the United States of global overreach while invoking the fates of Edward J. Snowden and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.

Most world leaders remained mum, apparently waiting for more details to emerge, but Mr. Putin went on the offensive immediately.

He used the moment to again portray Russia as under siege — in this case threatened with the humiliating loss of the right to host the 2018 World Cup, a move considered unlikely.

Mr. Putin called the arrests of top FIFA officials in Zurich on Wednesday “another blatant attempt by the United States to extend its jurisdiction to other states,” according to a transcript of an overnight news conference posted on the Kremlin website. Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about global surveillance programs, and Mr. Assange, whose website published United States military and diplomatic documents, have both eluded American prosecution by taking refuge in other countries.

Note to VVP: idiots who use American banks to launder money and arrange corrupt transactions on American soil are most decidedly in the jurisdiction of the US.

But come to think of it, it’s precisely the fact that Putin knows that all too well which explains his howling like a scalded cat. It hits very close to home. It demonstrates a  vulnerability of which he is all too aware of, and neuralgic about.

Putin also conveniently overlooks the fact that it is the Swiss who have announced that they are examining specifically the awarding of the World Cup to Russia. The US said nothing about that, and indeed, the US embassy in Moscow said the indictments have nothing to do with Russia, so cool your jets, Vlad. Though, of course, Attorney General Lynch’s statement that the investigation is not over clearly looms over Putin and Russia. But the fact that the Swiss are involved makes it harder to make this a purely evil American plot.

It’s also hilarious to see that Gazprom assured Fifa that it would not terminate its sponsorship. So good to know that Fifa still lives up to Gazprom’s high standards for corruption.

Putin’s raising the issue of the “persecution” of Snowden and Julian Assange is also beyond parody. For Putin to credit Snowden as a hero for revealing secrets nearly simultaneously with Russia’s passing a law that makes information regarding the deaths of Russian servicemen on “special operations” during peacetime a state secret is particularly outlandish. To defend  the Pale One at anytime is bizarre. (Perhaps Vlad sees his fate when he looks at Assange-hiding out in a friendly embassy, dependent on a sun lamp for his Vitamin D.)

The statements of the Russian sport minister are also amusing. “We have nothing to hide.” (Who said you did? And if you have nothing to hide, why did you destroy the rented computers on which contained all of the Russian bidding committee’s correspondence and work product?)

The best: “I see no threat to Russia.”

If this is no threat, why is Putin freaking out? His over the top reaction betrays a deep fear that Russia and everyone involved in the WC bid, including Roman Abramovich and Putin himself) will be implicated. So many people arrested have an incentive to sing like birds. So many computers to search (including Fifa’s, which the Swiss are doing presently).

I am actually somewhat surprised at Putin’s reaction. He has been rather relaxed lately. The old cockiness has returned. The insecurity and paranoia of late-2014 and early-2015 had apparently vanished. He would have been much better off had he played this cool, and ignored the issue altogether. By making such a big deal out of it he looks guilty as hell. Which he doubtless is, but he could have fooled a lot more people had he just blown this off. A public fit screams a deep concern that he indeed very much has something-or somethings-to hide.

The next weeks and months should be rather enjoyable, watching  Blatter and Putin rant and squirm. And maybe, in the end, the world’s football-I mean soccer!-fanatics will be spared the torture of visiting Russia in 2018.

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January 24, 2015

Farewell, Mr. Cub

Filed under: History,Sports — The Professor @ 6:07 pm

Ernie Banks, AKA Mr. Cub, passed away last night on the cusp of his 84th birthday. He was a great ballplayer, and the kind of man who was rare at the time and almost non-existent today.

Banks was my first childhood sports idol, growing up as I did in a bleed blue Cubs household. His greatest years-and they were great-were centered on the year of my birth, so I didn’t see him at his prime. In 1958-1960, he lead the league in RBIs twice, home runs twice, and in one of those years (1958) led in both. He won back-to-back MVPs in ’58 and ’59. This was a remarkable achievement for two reasons. First, other all time greats, including Mays, Aaron, and Frank Robinson were active and in their primes, so the competition was intense. Second, the Cubs were horrible. It’s rare for a player on a last place team to win an MVP. He did it twice.

Although Banks was known for his hitting, he was also a Gold Glove winning shortstop with a good arm and decent range. He was truly a rare player, manning the most difficult defensive position while hitting for power. A Rod without the steroids (Ernie was rail thin, but man, those wrists and hands).

By the time I was cognizant of baseball, Banks had moved to first base because he had lost range at shortstop. He had become a complementary player, with Ron Santo and Billy Williams playing the leading roles on the team. He still hit for power, but didn’t put up the monster numbers like he did in the 50s.

I got Ernie’s autograph twice. The most memorable time was opening day, April 8, 1969. Along with many other kids, I leaned over the dugout with a comic book, believe it or not (because my mother was too cheap to buy a program!), and Ernie signed it. (Mom did buy me a Frosty Malt, though.) This was memorialized in a photo on the front page of the Tribune the next day.

Although Banks was a great between the lines, what made him exceptional was his carried himself outside them. Despite playing on horrible teams, and suffering through a crushing disappointment when the best team he played for, the ’69 club, collapsed in September, he was always ebullient. “Let’s play two!” “It’s a beautiful day for baseball!” Even when Leo Durocher treated him badly in the clubhouse, he didn’t let it show. He didn’t blast Durocher. He didn’t try to undermine Durocher. He didn’t demand a trade. He always had a smile and a kind word for everyone.

I defy you to name a single star player today that has Ernie’s attitude.

So farewell, Mr. Cub. A player such as you will likely not be seen again soon, if ever.



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February 8, 2014

Because, Of Course, Only Putin is Allowed to be Photographed Half-Naked

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 12:50 pm

February 7, 2014

What Matters More? Shoving Leaflets Under Doors, or Shoving Cash Into IOC Member’s Grasping Hands?

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 10:01 pm

The Winter Olympics have begun.  The Olympic flame was lit by a contingent including a tennis player (and full-time Florida resident), an anti-American racist (who at least won a gold medal in a winter sport), and Putin’s alleged girlfriend (who won a gold medal in a faux sport at a summer Olympics).  It would have been so fitting had they played Light My Fire when Alina Kabaeva was doing her thing-with the torch, I mean-but alas, that will have to be left to some wit on YouTube.

But to hear Putin tell it, this glorious moment for Mother Russia almost never came to pass due to the nefarious plotting of evil foreigners who tried to play “dirty tricks” in Guatemala City where the IOC was meeting in 2007 to award the games:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary aired late Friday that a rival nation vying to host the 2014 Winter Olympics ran a dirty tricks campaign in an atttempt to derail the eventual winning Sochi bid.

In the documentary, which was shown on state television channel Rossiya 1, Putin said Sochi 2014 promotion leaflets were shoved under doors of hotel rooms occupied by members of the International Olympic Committee on the night before the final vote in 2007.

Under IOC rules, campaigning is strictly prohibited during the run-up to the vote.

“Do you know what saved us? CCTV cameras in hallways recorded that it was done by our rivals posing as us. It didn’t help them,” Putin said.

I find this hilarious.  What, exactly, would the CCTV reveal?  How would it demonstrate that those shoving the promotional leaflets were not in Russian employ, but were dirty tricksters?  Did those caught on tape wear signs saying “We are not Russians but evil foreigners playing dirty tricks on sainted Russia”?  And if they did, how would you know it wasn’t  Russians doing this to try to show how they were being victimized by evil foreign plots? And if they did, how would you know . . . well, just think of the whole Moriarity on the train thing.

But what is even more hilarious is the idea that IOC officials that would have been so horrified by someone shoving illicit leaflets under their doors that it would have caused them to resist the large sums of cash Russia shoved into their grasping mitts and Swiss accounts.

But the most hilarious thing at all is that Putin tells this ludicrous story on national television with a straight face, knowing that he will get away with it–and being right about that.

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June 15, 2013

Putin Grabs the Ring. Literally.

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 7:50 pm

Vladimir Putin has done some outlandish things, but I think this takes the trophy.  Or the ring.  The Super Bowl Ring.

You might recall that Kraft in 2005 joined a cadre of businessmen to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. The Patriots owner walked into that meeting with a jewel-laced Super Bowl XXXIX ring on his finger, but left empty-handed.

“I showed the president my most recent Super Bowl ring,” Kraft said at the time, per The Boston Globe. Putin “was clearly taken with its uniqueness … at that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin.”

Not so fast. Kraft now admits Putin nabbed the ring — worth upwards of $25,000 — without his consent.

“I took out the ring and showed it to (Putin),” Kraft said this week, per the New York Post. “And he put it on and he goes, ‘I can kill someone with this ring,’ I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”

That’s the head of the Party (and State) of Crooks and Thieves: leading by example!

The only thing that is worse than Putin’s in-your-face thievery is the Bush administration’s craven response:

Kraft kept his wits about him and complied with a call from the White House, in which a George W. Bush handler told him: ” ‘It would really be in the best interest of U.S.-Soviet relations if you meant to give the ring as a present.’ “

FFS. No wonder Putin thinks he can get away with about anything when dealing with the US.  Because he can. I think he tries this stuff to see what he can get away with.  He gets away with it . . . so he pushes it even more.  He’ll keep pushing until someone pushes back.

Here’s my idea.  Have Ray Lewis let Putin hold his Super Bowl ring, and pray that Putin tries to pocket it. And we can make money off this by putting it all on pay-per-view.

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December 1, 2011

Remind Me Again: Who Are the Russophobes?

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 8:45 pm

I know that a trip to any ER or trauma center in the US hardly a walk in the park, but when a Russian hospital makes a heavily tattooed mixed martial artist (or would that be “artiste”?), who has seen and shed his share of blood blanche, that’s saying something:

Primitive conditions and equipment in a Moscow policlinic alarmed mixed martial artist Jeff Monson after his bloody defeat and Putin’s booing, but doctors say the size of their tools scared him.

. . . .

When Monson was taken to hospital afterwards he was appalled by the battered and bloodied patients he saw wandering the wards and the rough and ready approach he encountered, while full of praise for the doctors’ bedside manner.

. . . .

Many of Monson’s fellow patients were in a bad way, Monson said afterwards, “The hallways were full of wandering patients that looked like they were just out of a civil war battle,” he told Mixed Martial Arts news portal MMA Mania.

But what’s actually more sobering (an ironic statement that will become clear in a minute) is that the doctors basically said, “so what’s the big deal?”  That, and the reason they considered it no big deal:

The doctors at City Hospital No. 36 on Fortunatovskaya Ulitsa said he was probably just alarmed as he came in when there were lots of drunks, “You can indeed see an influx of patients everyday at around 6:00 pm with beaten up faces,” doctors told Moskovsky Komsomolets.

“About 40 – 50 patients will be like that, they are all local drunks or have been injured in domestic fights. They wait their turn to see the doctor in the corridor and by all accounts this is what Monson saw,” medical staff told the paper.

Six o’clock.  The drinking starts early, apparently.  That, and the domestic abuse. That’s normal, isn’t it?  What’s this American getting all riled up about?

Monson was also appalled by the Frankenstein stitch-up on his bloodied lip:

“I got 16 stitches on the inside and outside of my lip with a material that could of passed for chicken wire. It was so sharp it was making my gums bleed so I took them out myself,” he said.

Again, the doctors were dismissive:

But the hospital say that everything was perfectly standard and speculate that maybe it was the size of their instruments that gave him a fright, “Maybe, he had been given short-term anesthesia on previous occasions, so he hadn’t seen what size they were,” surgeons suggested to MK.

Anesthesia?  MMF wussie.  Man up, dude.  You’re in Russia now, son.  When we aren’t using these big awls to stitch people up, we repair shoes with them.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll recognize Monson as the fighter who lost in the fight that Putin attended.  There was booing after the fight, when Putin was in the ring with the fighters.  There’s been a raging controversy whether the booing was directed at VVP.

The problem is, that the excuses intended to refute claims that Putin was the object of the cat calls tend to make regular Russians look bad.  One excuse is that the Russians were booing the battered Monson: this insult to Russian sportsmanship was offered by none other than Putin’s press flack, Dmitry Peskov.  Another, advanced by the Nashi trolls, is that the crowd was, uhm, just pissed.  Figuratively and literally.  Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that they wanted to be pissing because they were pissed (in another colloquial use of the term):

Soon after the incident Kristina Potupchik, press-secretary for Kremlin youth group Nashi, mocked anyone who thought Putin was being heckled by the angry crowd. “Don’t you recognize a greeting?” She wrote on her Live Journal page.

She later conceded that the calls were scornful ones, but denied they were directed at the prime minister. “The occasional cries of ‘foo’ were caused by the stupid entry and exit system…That’s why some of the 22,000 bladders filled with beer started protesting,” she wrote.

“Foo”?  Really?  She should have said that the audience actually thought that they’d seen Dave Grohl in the crowd.  At least that wouldn’t have made the crowd look like unsportsmanlike boors.

So, just as the emergency room was filled with drunken brawlers, the audience for the actual MMA brawl was another bunch of drunks.

So Mr. Peskov and Ms. Potupchik: Congratulations for making ordinary Russians look so good!  I guess it’s better to slander your countrymen by the gross as drunken bad sports than admit even the possibility that people do not worship unconditionally the New Tsar.

I ask again: just who are the Russophobes?  Here, in one story, Russians in positions of authority–doctors, presidential shills, and “youth group” spokesgal–reflexively slag their fellow Russians as drunken, violent, louts.  Well done!

PS. But apparently some realize that this story hardly makes Russians look good.  I originally saw the story on RiaNovosti.  Then, a couple of hours later, the story wasn’t there.  Now it’s back.

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December 4, 2010

So Long From Wrigley Field, Ron

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 5:10 pm

Ron Santo passed away yesterday at age 70.  He was an excellent ballplayer and an inspirational man.

My memories of Santo are anchored in the magical yet ultimately painful 1969 season.  I was at opening day at Wrigley in ’69, and followed the team to the bitter–very bitter–end.  The opening day game seemed an omen.  Ernie Banks hit two homers for the Cubs, only to be answered by two from the Phillies’ Don Money.   The game went into extra innings (the 12th, if memory serves): in the bottom of the last frame, pinch hitter Willie Smith drove a ball to the opposite field–left field.  I was sitting with my mom in the box seats near the Cubs’ bullpen, and watched Smith’s ball sail right past me into the left field bleachers.  This was a feat, because Smith never, ever, hit the ball the other way.  That seemed to portend something special.

Many of my other vivid visual memories of 1969 revolve around Santo.  As the Cubs won in May, June, and July, Santo was ecstatic.  He would click his heels while returning to the clubhouse after every Cubs win.  He was in the on deck circle when the Mets’ fan loosed the black cat onto the field at Shea Stadium.  I remember clearly him screaming in the dugout at hapless Cub centerfielder (there was no other kind in that era) Don Young after Young dropped a routine fly ball in a crucial game–again at Shea Stadium.

Santo should have made the Hall of Fame, but he was denied, year after year.  He was a perennial All Star.  He was a four tool player.  He hit for decent average, he hit for power (averaging 26 homers and 100 RBIs in an eight season stretch during which pitching was dominant), and he was a sparkling fielder with good range and an excellent arm: he won five Gold Gloves.  He lacked speed, to be sure: whenever  any two of Cub players Santo, Banks, or Hickman were on base together, my dad would say, ironically: “Thunder and lightning on the basepaths.”  But third base is a power position, not a speed position.

Yeah, I know the rap against Santo: he didn’t perform at a high level for long enough.  But please, the reason that he didn’t is all the more cause to admit him to the Hall.  Santo suffered from diabetes, diagnosed in 1959.  This at a time when the treatment of diabetes was not highly advanced.  For a guy to perform at such a high level for a decade with such a serious disease–a disease that cost him both his legs later in life–is admirable, and should have been taken into account by Hall voters.

This was also a time when physical conditioning was not nearly as advanced as today.  Now players making huge dollars have their own trainers and nutritionists; and a few years back,  in the cases of sleazes like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and all the rest, their own performance enhancing chemists.

That wasn’t the case in Santo’s day.  Not by a long shot.  When I was a kid I saw Santo during the offseason working out in an exercise class with ordinary hoi polloi at the Leaning Tower YMCA on Touhy Avenue in Chicago.   There was Santo, in a white t-shirt and baggy gray gym shorts, doing jumping jacks and leg lifts with the usual assortment of Y members.  Yeah, like you’d see that today.

Despite his chronic and devastating physical problems (he had bladder cancer, which eventually killed him, in addition to his diabetes), Santo was an incurable optimist.  If you ever feel sorry for yourself, think of Ron Santo and how he dealt with his adversity and you’ll be a better person.

He also suffered insults with grace.  I remember watching a Fox baseball broadcast of a Cubs-Cards game a few years back.  Santo did a brief appearance with the appalling and annoying Joe Buck, who needled and insulted Santo and the Cubs repeatedly.  Classy performance there, putz.  (Did I mention I despise Joe Buck?  Can you tell?)  But Santo graciously overlooked Buck’s barbs, and focused on the positives of his career and the Cubs’ history.  (Yes, Santo had a temper: he once choked Leo Durocher in an argument in the Cubs’ clubhouse.  Knowing Leo, he probably asked for it.  Buck certainly did, but a mellower Santo restrained himself.)

Santo also endured the annual disappointment of failing election to the Hall of Fame with class.

It’s always sad to see the passing of someone who evokes such vivid memories from one’s youth.  It’s especially sad when that person is a true mensch, which Santo was.  Not to sound all old and curmudgeonly and like one of the Four Yorkshiremen, but there were few of his like in professional sports in his day, and even fewer today.  Santo gave all he had to baseball; would that Major League Baseball had done the same in return.

* After finishing this post, I came across this Chicago Tribune article listing the top 10 Santo memories–which include all of the ones I related above; the heel clicking, the black cat, Don Young, and the Leo choking incident.

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July 9, 2010

Trading Places*

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 1:40 pm

Two major trades took place yesterday: the Russian-US spy exchange, and Lebron James’s trading Cleveland for Miami.

The haste with which the Russian spy episode ended is unsettling.  The rapidity with which the swap was arranged was a clear exception to historical practice.

Merely from an intelligence angle, it would be desirable to squeeze as much information from the ten individuals as possible.  That can’t happen overnight.  Reports are that the FBI is confident that they know all there is to know about this group and its connections.  But you don’t know what you don’t know; prudence would recommend a more thorough probing.  You have to ask questions.  Do the spadework to see if the answers add up.  If not, keep at it.  But it takes time to ask enough questions and investigate enough answers to determine whether you’ve squeezed out all the information you can.  And it may take a while in incarceration to convince people that their best interests are to cooperate completely.

Moreover, just keeping these people awhile would make some folks in Moscow nervous.   That could lead them to back off on other heretofore undiscovered operations out of fear that they have been compromised, or make a move that could lead to the disclosure of such an operation.  Not likely, but a possibility.

Moreover, the trade ratio–10 for 4, where the 4 includes one guy who is arguably innocent of espionage, and is certainly completely different from the illegals captured in the US–looks imbalanced.  The haste, the imbalance, and the palpable embarrassment of the administration (especially the State Department) that has been evident since the story broke, make the release look all too much like an apology.  This validates the Russian whines that they are the injured party.  I’ll bet dimes to donuts that that’s the way it is portrayed in Russia as soon as the 10 hit the Motherland.

You can bet that Putin in particular is snickering.  You know what he would do if he had been in our position.  He would have squeezed it for all it was worth.  He certainly wouldn’t be taking actions to let us save face, as we are clearly doing with the Russians.  He wouldn’t trying to get this “behind us” quickly: he’d be milking it.  This will only enhance the disdain he has for Obama.

It is evident that the “Reset” trumps all.  But if this is supposed to be a two way street, there should be some reciprocity in behavior.  The continued operation of an aggressive group of illegals hardly screams a changed Russian attitude.  And the “no harm, no foul” attitude taken by the US, and the clear anxiousness in the US to brush aside the episode will no doubt convince some Russian decision makers to conclude “if they let us get away with this in order to preserve the reset, what else can we get away with?”  The US approach communicates a certain neediness, a certain desperation to improve relations.  That’s how chumps negotiate.  And the Russians are nothing if not ruthless in exploiting chumps.

I’m not suggesting that a hysterical public campaign (a la Russia after the British spy rock in the park episode) is necessary; an extended period of public silence on the issue while the individuals remain in custody would communicate that although improved relations are desired, not everything will be tolerated to achieve that end.  That would make a true improvement of relations more likely than indulging the bad behavior of your desired interlocutor.

Moving to the other (more trivial) trade of places, I should say at the outset that my once intense interest in pro basketball waned, and dramatically, after Jordan’s retirement.  As a result, I really couldn’t care less about Lebron James.  Indeed, at the risk of sounding like a sports curmudgeon, the whole James phenomenon is emblematic of the reasons why I can’t take most pro sports that seriously anymore.

The one thing that did catch my interest (while watching Sports Center on the elliptical this morning) was Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert’s outraged reaction to the James departure.  His response screams cognitive dissonance.   He considers James’s bolting for Miami a betrayal, and he clearly was willing to pay James as much as allowed under the rules to keep him.  But at the same time, he blasted James for his narcissism.  (A narcissistic NBA player?  What IS the world coming to?)  He also made the rather inflammatory charge that James was a cancer (my word but a fair summary of how Gilbert described him) who quit in all but one game of the Conference Finals against the Celtics.  So, if he’s a cancer, and a quitter who fails during the critical games (something that could never be said of Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, for that matter), why would you want him on your team? Why would you offer him huge money?  Why would you consider it a betrayal for him to go elsewhere?  Why not celebrate the selfish decision of someone you consider a jerk to take his “curse” somewhere else, and say “good riddance”?

In a way, Gilbert’s reaction is symptomatic of why the NBA has devolved in the way it has.  Marquee players are necessary to win, but not sufficient.  Marquee players are, for the most part, insufferable jerks.  Understandably so, but insufferable jerks nonetheless.  So, no doubt Gilbert is not alone in having a love-hate attitude towards superstars.  It’s just rather interesting to see the show-the-love-show-the-hate sides of this attitude in such close proximity–and in public.

* H/T Renee for her idea to pair these stories in a single post under this title.

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May 18, 2010

What Do You Expect for $7 Mil? Hustle? Are You Kidding Me? Hustle is for Chumps.

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 5:48 pm

Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez booted a blooper into the left field corner yesterday, and then ambled after it while three Philadelphia runners were definitely not ambling around the basepath.  (Video here.)

Ramirez’s manager, Fredi Gonzalez yanked him, and chewed him out in the dugout.  Unbelievably, Ramirez is fuming.  He refuses to admit he was dogging it, and refuses to apologize.  He takes the “N wrongs make a right” approach, claiming that since other players don’t apologize for not running out grounders, why should he apologize?  Great to see your “star” players (Ramirez led the league in batting last year) lead by example.

What I wouldn’t pay to have seen Leo Durocher come back to life, and greet Ramirez when he came back to the dugout–if he even waited for Ramirez to get to the dugout.  Leo would have unscrewed Ramirez’s head.  I leave it to your imagination as to what Leo would have done next.  Probably something like this (forward to about the 1:08 mark).  (WARNING! Extreme language.  And I mean extreme.)

Billy Martin, too.  That would be good.

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