29 December 2008

New Year's Readership Drive Promotion

I really am so self-absorbed that it's bugging me to only have two subscribed readers.  I am hereby offering a free gift (entirely of my own choosing) to anyone who subscribes to this blog by the end of the calendar year 2008.  Hey, those scientists gave you an extra second, so you have more than enough time to get in on the action.  Just subscribe to this blog and post feedback to at leats one post by 11:59:59 PM 31 December 2008; it's that easy!

24 December 2008

The Boss Coming to Guitar Hero World Tour...Free!

So not only is Bruce Springsteen riding a wave of Obamamania and performing the half-time show at the forthcoming Super Bowl, he's also coming to Guitar Hero World Tour...for free!  In late January or early February, Activision is reported to be making available two tracks: "My Lucky Day" from the soon-to-be-released album Working on a Dream, and  "Born to Run."  But don't take my word for it; you can click here to read what I read.

I Think Mom Is Santa

The following video clip was posted to my wall on We Are Crohns by an online friend.  It's so wrong, yet so funny I had to share it.  Merry Christmas!




19 December 2008

Another Study, Another Day Closer.... Maybe.

This blog was originally published in Travis McClain's Journal - Patient on We Are Crohns on 19 December 2008.

One of the nice features of Google is being able to sign up for instant alerts to any and all news articles that contain key words.  I, for instance, have signed up to be informed the moment anything is published containing the word "Crohn's."  Frequently, I get local news articles about a citizen functioning with the diagnosis (or occasionally dying from it).  I am also alerted any time a new study is published, which also happens with a higher instance of regularity than I would have suspected.  Today is no exception, and I thought this important enough to share.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081208203928.htm

 

"Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe a chemical messenger that is essential for developing a baby's gut in the womb could hold the key to new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition which affects 1 in 250 people in the UK." That's the introductory paragraph, and you can read the rest of it by clicking the above link.  For those who aren't interested in reading the entire thing, there's a defective gene we appear to have that fails to help colon cells communicate so they know what they're supposed to do.  The scientists behind the study are working to see if they can counter this failure.

 

This year alone, I've seen studies that linked our condition with dairy enzymes, an absence of a particular bacterium, a lack of healthy exposure to germs in our formative years and being left-handed.  Seriously; lefties are statistically more likely to be Crohnies, though this is not presumed to be a causal relationship.  Is there an underlying relationship amongst these studies, something that is closer to being revealed?  Have they all been colossal wastes of time?  The truth is likelier something between.  Who knows how long we'll have to wait before it's revealed?

15 December 2008

2008 in Entertainment

It's December and this is a blog, ergo I am required by the Year-End List Act of 2001 to post a blog about the better works of entertainment of the year.  Bear in mind, of course, that I have a fairly limited interest in (and therefore, exposure to) these things.  You will likely find none of my favorites in your list, but maybe they're things to check out.  As always, feedback of any kind is welcomed--including disputes.

Music - Albums
The two albums of the year I couldn't stop playing were Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' and George Strait's Troubadour.  Hayes Carll's Lost Highway debut, Trouble in Mind, is a rare breath of fresh air (and destined to be ignored by mainstream country).  In the interests of full disclosure, I am a member of the Lost Highway street team, so they send me their albums free.

Music - Songs
Thanks to iTunes and Borders giving away .mp3s every week, I've actually heard a lot more stuff this year than I ordinarily would have heard, left to my own devices.  This is my Favorite Cuts of 2008 Playlist, arranged in no particular order:
  • "Another Way to Die" - Jack White & Alicia Keys (didn't like at first, but it's addictive)
  • "Love Song" - Sara Bareilles (so catchy!)
  • "Cheater, Cheater" - Joey + Rory ("Where'd you meet that no good white trash ho?" That's great writing!)
  • "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" - George Strait (sorry, Chesney)
  • "Little Toy Gun" - Honeyhoney (goofy, yet fun; very fresh)
  • "Johnny and June" - Heidi Newfield (walks the line--pun intended--between crass cash-in--pun also intended--and nice tribute)
  • "I Only Want to Be with You" - Shelby Lynne (it wasn't easy picking just one cut from that album)
  • "Honey Bee" - Lucinda Williams (right, like we don't know what she means by 'hav[ing] your sweetness all up in [her] hair")
  • "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" - Bruce Springsteen (sorry, Kid Rock, but this was the best summer anthem of the year)
  • "Outlaw S***" - Waylon Jennings ("Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand" reworked as a wistful ballad?  Crazy, I say!)
  • "She Left Me for Jesus" - Hayes Carll (so wrong, yet so fun)
  • "Merry Christmas Baby" - Elvis Presley & Gretchen Wilson (see earlier blog entry on the Christmas Duets album)
Movies
Batman and James Bond both returned in style, and The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace were both great.  Ben Stiller nailed it with his surprising Tropic Thunder, and Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott and Christopher Mintz-Plasse made Role Models far funnier than it had any business being.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the most awkward comedies I've seen in a while, but great (though perhaps too much full frontal male nudity for my taste).

Television
Most of my TV viewing this year was Major League Baseball.  Burn Notice continued to be the one show I don't want to miss (I'm already counting down until it returns 22 January!).  Psych continued to be an amusing distraction, more absorbing than it really ought to be.  Moving to USA really helped Law & Order: Criminal Intent, though I'm sorry to see Chris Noth depart.  The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are still the only things on Comedy Central I like at all.  On [adult swim], I continue to enjoy Family Guy, Boondocks, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken and (God help me) Moral Orel.  Unable to travel, I snuck away vicariously with Samantha Brown's Passport to Great Weekends.  I've also returned to (and gotten my wife into) The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  I used to switch over to Conan, but Ferguson is the one guy my wife gets into, and I've come to really enjoy his show.

Video Games
I spent most of the year working through the three LEGO games for the Wii (LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Adventures, LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Trilogy and LEGO Batman: The Videogame), but the single most addictive experience of my video gaming life has to be Mario Kart Wii.  All you need is a Wii with wi-fi and that game.  You never need to own any other game or console.

Podcasts
Having been hospitalized twice this year with bowel obstructions, I make sure to stay abreast the latest research with Health Talk: Crohn's Disease.  We also got fully into B.J. Harrison's excellent The Classic Tales Podcast, escaping to classic literature via the iPod at night before going to bed.  I still find The Midwest Teen Sex Show entertaining (though, at thirty, I haven't learned anything from it), and I have really come to enjoy and respect Johnny Cash Radio, a weekly hour long show.  I also followed the 2008 Presidential election through podcasts of the debates, campaigns and now through the weekly updates via Videos from the President-Elect.

Internet
Google Chrome became my default browser, and I switched all my stuff over to Gmail.  I have found a lot of great deals on DVD's (far more than I could afford to keep up with) via the forum on DVD Talk.  I have found a wonderful support system on We Are Crohns, as well.  Thanks to Amazon, I didn't even have to go out on Black Friday to get a great deal on Psych: The Complete Second Season.  And, of course, I've started this very blog right here on Blogger.

Books
I read more this year than I ever have (excepting, of course, required reading for class), though virtually none of what I read was published this year.  In fact, the only book I can think of offhand that was a 2008 publication was Cinescopes.  I really stepped up my use of the Oldham County Public Library (and can't wait until the new branch opens in January), and I became engrossed with Half Price Books.  Those places rock!

07 December 2008

Riverfront Memories

When I was younger, I was taken to just a few baseball games in Cincinnati to watch my Reds.  I can confirm three of those occasions were games against the Atlanta Braves, because they were my dad's and brother's favorite team (which is why we went to two of them). The third game against the Braves was pure happenstance, but more on that in a moment. There were, of course, souvenirs from those games. I have in my possession today the Khan's sponsored team baseball card sets that were given away in 1988 and 1989. I would have a poster commemorating Tom Browning's perfect game (16 September 1988 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers) except that it rained the day that was given away and the poster was in rough shape before we even got out of the ballpark.

Armed with this knowledge (and nothing better to do), earlier yesterday I collaborated with a buddy of mine to research what dates those games were actually played. See, one of those games happens to have been a highlight of my entire thirty years on this planet. I won tickets via an Arby's/Fox promotion to a Reds/Braves game in 1989. It was perfect; all we had to do was meet the group at Mall St. Matthews and hop on one of two buses which would take us all to Cincy. The visiting team was my brother's favorite team, so everyone was happy. Until the morning of the game, and my mother was miserably sick with a severe migraine, something digestive and possibly Ebola.

To her credit (and to this day I not only don't know how she did it, but she won't let me forget it), she managed to endure the bus ride to and fro, and the intervening game itself. For this alone I would be indebted to her beyond reason, but it doesn't end there. On the ride up there, they passed around Arby's roast beef sandwiches and RC Cola (a combination I love to this day), and somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati, the organizer of the promotion saw how jacked up I was about the game. He asked if I would like to go down on the field before the game.

Asking me that made it impossible for me to even think, much less speak. I think my smile might have actually begun to consume the rest of my face at that point, but whether I could say anything didn't seem to matter; he understood that I was communicating an acceptance of his offer. That day was Khan's team baseball card set giveaway day. I know, because I'll never forget rushing through the turnstile, handing my set to my mom and dashing into the souvenir stand to buy a baseball to take with me to get signed. Again, demonstrating valor above and beyond the call of duty, mom had the foresight to go back later and buy a ball holder.

I was escorted through the clubhouse and down onto the Astroturf during batting practice. In those days, the home team wasn't afraid to hit in front of the fans, and I got to watch Todd Benzinger hit. He trotted off before I could snag his John Hancock, but I did manage to get Dave Collins, Chris Sabo and Eric "the Red" Davis to sign my ball. There are three or four pictures that were taken by a photographer of this, and one of them quite clearly shows Eric Davis signing my baseball. We were then invited to tour the dugout, where we met the man himself, Peter Edward Rose.

Contrary to whatever stories I've ever heard about Charlie Hustle, the man could not have been more gracious and welcoming to us kids. I was surprised, even at the age of 10, that he was so willing to take time out to chat with us about being Reds fans when it seemed like he would have more pressing issues on his mind just before a game. His signature cemented the ball's place in my heart, and it is one of my three prized possessions to this day.

Shortly after this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, Rose accepted his lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, and I only bring this up because it was helpful in establishing the chronology of events as we worked to pin down the exact dates of these three games. His banishment went into effect on 24 August 1989, and I knew that the game I met him took place on a Sunday. There was only one Sunday game in Cincinnati with the Braves in town prior to that date, and that was 6 August. I was greatly disappointed to know that the Reds will not be playing at all on that date in 2009; I had rather hoped to celebrate the 20th anniversary by trekking up I-71 for another game.

That seemed rather early in the year to me for a baseball card team set giveaway, but then things have changed over two decades. Working backward, there was only one series against the Braves shortly after Browning's aforementioned perfect game. I know there was rain, so that eliminated the dry Friday and Sunday games; ergo, I was at the 1 October 1988 game. Eric Davis's 21st home run of the season powered the Redlegs to a 3-2 victory.

Since I didn't get the 1988 card set and the Browning poster in the same series (one was with mom, the other with dad), the only other series I could have attended in 1988 was in August. That also checks out with the card set in '89 having been given away in August. Again, being a Sunday game, I was able to determine that I was there on 14 August. Jose Rijo started that game, but got a no-decision in a 2-0 shutout.

Now, here's where things go south. I have a clear impression of watching Hal Morris hit a rare home run in the last game I saw as a kid in Cincinnati. I can close my eyes right now and see it hovering, then climbing up into the right field seats...the universal applause, punctuated by fireworks...it's right there in front of me. The problem is, Hal wasn't a Red until 1990. He only hit seven home runs that year, four of them on the road. I know I didn't go back to a game until 2000, so there are only three at-bats I could possibly have witnessed in 1990. Here they are:

5 August 1990 vs San Diego Padres - H Morris (4, off C Schiraldi; 4th inn, 1 on, 0 outs to Deep RF Line).
11 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (5, off J Burkett; 2nd inn, 0 on, 1 out to Deep RF)
12 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (6, off S Garrelts; 3rd inn, 0 on, 1 out to RF)

Now, here's the thing. I remember mom took us up to Cincinnati for an overnight stay one weekend. We saw a Reds game one night, and planned to go to Kings Island the next day. The next day, though, it rained all day long so we stayed at the hotel and swam. They had an indoor/outdoor pool, where it extended beyond the building, and you could actually swim right under part of the hotel itself.

So, I checked the schedule. The fifth and twelfth of August were Sundays. The reported conditions for the twelfth were dry with no precipitation, so I could not have attended the game on the eleventh.  The conditions were likewise dry on the thirteenth, which means I could not have attended the game on the twelfth, either. That leaves the 5 August game, and there was no game played the next day (a Monday), so I don't know if it rained in Cincinnati that day. The timing does, however make sense as our family's shop was closed on Sundays and Mondays, and this would have been the last chance to get away and do something before the school year started.

Looking at the game recap, I see that Eric Davis doubled, Paul O'Neill was caught stealing and Billy Hatcher homered in the seventh. It seems to me that someone else did homer later, and I kind of recall being disappointed that my favorite players failed to be more productive (they being Davis and O'Neill). So, until and unless someone can refute that I attended this game, it's going down in my log that I was in Cincinnati on 5 August 1990 to see Hal Morris hit his fourth home run of the year.

27 November 2008

Film: "Four Christmases"

Four Christmases Directed by Seth Gordon
Story by Matt R. Allen & Caleb Wilson
Screenplay by Matt R. Allen & Caleb Wilson and Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth with Jon Voight and Sissy Spacek
Theatrical Release Date: 26 November 2008
Date of Screening: 26 November 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Some Sexual Humor and Language)

Essentially, Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon make time for four Christmas gatherings--one each with their respective parents, all of whom are now divorced.  This is one of those films where the premise is really just an excuse to get on with the comedy.  You're not going to leave Four Christmases feeling surprised by the amount of character development or mulling over the emotional resonance of the film.  You're going into it to laugh, and you'll likely leave having done little more than just that.  Since that's all Four Christmases strives for, that's quite okay.

The cast is superb.  Supporting Vaughn and Witherspoon are Robert Duval (his father), Sissy Spacek (his mother), Mary Steenburgen (her mother) and Jon Voight (her father), along with Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau (his brothers), Kristin Chenoweth (her sister) and Dwight Yoakam (her mother's new pastor boyfriend).  We're asked to believe that Brad and Kate have been together for three years and have not only managed to avoid spending Christmas with their families the entire time, but that they've never even met one another's family.  This becomes harder to believe as the film progresses, and the film loses its appeal as it tries to expose Brad and Kate's relationship for its shallow emptiness.

Where
Four Christmases delivers, though, is in the situational comedy.  It's best not to think too much about things (such as when Brad and Favreau's Denver make it to their mom's, but no one says a word about their absent brother, McGraw's Dallas).  This isn't the must-see comedy of the Christmas season, nor is it a particularly bright feather in the cap of anyone involved.  Still, for those looking to inaugurate their Christmas season with a relatively undemanding 82 minutes, you could do worse.

24 November 2008

LIFE Magazine Photograph Archive


Through a partnership with Google, LIFE Magazine has published its archive of photographs online for free.  There are some killer pics in this collection, including this one of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.  You can search the collection by clicking here.  If you find something you really like, you can order it as a framed print.  The pricing is high, though.  Here is the pricing scale I've seen:

13"x16" $79.99
17"x21" $89.99
20"x25" $109.99

If you know someone who is a fan of celebrities or photography, this might be a great surprise Christmas gift idea.  Personally, I've put together a set of cool guys smoking cigars and holding drinks that would make for an awesome series for the bar for a man's man.  So far, the set includes the above image of President Kennedy, Pierce Brosnan with a stogie, President Clinton drinking water, Sean Connery at the piano and Peter O'Toole in his natural state.

I Hear the Train A-Comin'


Friday (21 November 2008) I kept my appointment with my GI clinic at U of L Hospital. They were typically overbooked, so I was delegated to one Dr. Lauren Briley. She spent the first two minutes apologizing for shuttling me around doctors and explaining the whole thing, to which I kept responding, "I'm fine with it." The truth is, when you visit a clinic and not a doctor's private practice, you really shouldn't get too excited about seeing different doctors at different times. It's part of the nature of the thing, and to be honest, I had only met the guy that passed me on to her once, anyway.

Until this October, when I was admitted to Norton Suburban for a couple of days with an obstruction, none of my GI's had been women. While I'm certainly above stereotyping, I also have to say that if these two are any indication, I actually prefer them to men. At Norton, I was seen by Dr. Shiela Rhodes, and she and Dr. Briley both exhibited the characteristics I look for in a physician--interest in whtiiI had to say about my condition, decisive action when a clear picture emerged and a dash of compassion. They would never make it as surgeons, who generally must be required to be condescending and self-absorbed, but they're wonderful GI doctors.

Anyway, Dr. Briley agreed with me that Imuran isn't cutting it and it's time to move on to biologics. I'm supposed to get a TB test and the usual blood work in the next week or so, and then I return to see her on 12 December. What sucks is that the social worker through whom I will be applying for financial assistance to pay for the Humira took off this entire week and was already out of her office when I finished seeing the doctor on Friday. That means it won't be until Monday (1 December) that I'll even have a chance to get that paperwork going. Still, we're hopeful that I'll have my first Humira injection by Christmas.

I also reached the point where I knew it was time to do something about being depressed. I've dealt with depression for years, and for a while several years ago I was on Zoloft (after a deflating experience with Celexa). I'm not governed by popular opinion, but there is something disconcerting about telling a perfect stranger you think you need to be on an anti-depressant. Maybe it's a stygma that will die with my generation, but I'm still not fully comfortable discussing such things generally. (Yeah, I realize that's all in a public journal; just move along.)

To her credit, Dr. Briley's response when I asked about a Crohn's-friendly anti-depressant, she simply began consulting her electronic pharmaceutical guide. That was about the most sensitive thing she could have done for me, and I intend to let her know that I appreciate her doing that when I go back in December. So, by New Year's I should be feeling the effects of Humira and Prozac. Hopefully, this means I'll start actually feeling better, too.

21 November 2008

Film: "Role Models"

Role Models
Directed by David Wain

Story by Timothy Bowling & William Blake Herron
Screenplay by Paul Rudd & David Wain & Ken Marino
Starring: Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jane Lynch and Elizabeth Banks
Theatrical Release Date: 7 November 2008
Date of Screening: 21 November 2008
MPAA Rating: R (For Crude and Sexual Content, Strong Language and Nudity)


I forget who, but one movie mogul insisted years ago that he would only listen to story ideas that were concise enough to be written on the back of a business card.  Role Models fits that criteria: Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd are court-ordered participants in a mentoring program with misfits--that's the entire premise of the film.  Because of the simplicity of the plot (and the track record of the lead actors), it's easy to enter the film with virtually no expectations beyond laughing periodically.


Paul Rudd's Danny Donahue starts the film at his tenth anniversary in a job he hates, working with Seann William Scott's Wheeler, who adores the freedom the job affords his partying lifestyle.  As Danny's early-mid-life crisis mounts, he decides to propose to his girlfriend who responds by breaking up with him and moving out of their house.  One comedic set-up after another ensues and voila!  Danny and Wheeler are compelled to participate in a program bonding with young boys who, naturally, have their own issues.  Bobb'e J. Thompson's Ronnie Shields has a chip on his shoulder and a particularly vulgar mouth--he, of course, steals every scene he has.

The standout of the entire production is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who absolutely shines as the nerd Augie Farks.  Augie isn't "real" enough for his mother and stepfather, and they ridicule his fantasy interests every chance they get.  His role playing becomes the backbone of the film's plot, uniting the four characters's threads.  While Danny is pleading with his girlfriend's voicemail to meet with him, Augie insists that he tell her he misses her "silent eye," which Danny does.  As soon as Danny is off the phone, Mintz-Plasse completely breaks up laughing, "It means 'vagina'!" which he repeats several times, finding it funnier each time.  It's terribly absurd, and that's what makes it brilliant.


I entered the film less than two weeks from my thirtieth birthday, and Danny's arc particularly struck me.  I found myself identifying with Paul Rudd's portrayal of Pete in Knocked Up, and again this time out.  As an actor, he does a great job with his eyes of conveying the frustration of someone who has a lot to say about something, but is too apathetic to find it worth the trouble to even speak up half the time.  I know that frustration and apathy, and I suspect I'm not alone.


The bottom line is that you should come for the obvious comedic value and stay for the completely over-the-top climax.  Other films might concern themselves with taking a stand on the issues of the manchild; Role Models is content to explore the fun of being one.

16 November 2008

Film: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini with Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench as "M"
Theatrical Release Date: 14 November 2008
Date of Screening: 15 November 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, and Some Sexual Content)

Favorite Line: "When someone says that they have people everywhere, you expect it to be hyperbole.  Lots of people say that.  Florists use that expression.  It doesn't mean that they have people in the bloody room!" - M

Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming's James Bond in Quantum of Solace, a direct sequel to 2006's Casino Royale.  And when they said it was a sequel, they meant it--the film starts roughly ten minutes after the end of its predecessor.  Bond works his way up the food chain of Quantum, the SPECTRE-like organization behind the events of Casino Royale.  Along the way, he uncovers a plot by faux environmentalist Dominic Greene to engineer a coup for a military general in Bolivia in exchange for a seemingly worthless chunk of land.  Everyone speculates that Greene is after oil, and no one bothers to consider that he is instead working to dam up water.

Historically, Bond films have always flirted with reality but have sidestepped real issues; according to many environmentalists, water resource management may well eclipse energy as our leading concern in the 21st century.  Ian Fleming's stories always sought to show us the hidden danger of a seemingly useful operation, and the idea of a world leading environmentalist conspiring to engineer a drought for profit is certainly up there with men like Hugo Drax in "Moonraker" (who created a rocket in the name of defending England, with the intent of instead levelling London).

What we had all heard going into the film was that it eschewed the Bond formula, that it had the shortest running time of any Bond film and that it ran at a quick clip.  Most importantly, though, the buzz on QoS (its Bond-fan shorthand) was that Bond would work through the aftermath of the events of Royale.  Previous "This one's personal" Bond movies are a mixed bag--often the death of an ally has simply been an escalation of violence along the way rather than effective character-developing storytelling.

Daniel Craig has spoken the classic line, "Bond...James Bond" once in his two films--it was the final line of dialogue in Casino Royale.  Nor has his Bond continuity included a Miss Moneypenny or Q.  For that matter, if they ever reintroduce the latter, they ought to consider calling him (or her) "S" instead, because the only technology present have been items commercially produced by Sony.  What matters, though, is that Quantum of Solace manages something that too many moviegoers may not appreciate: the 22nd film in the series proves that James Bond is not defined by the Bond formula.

Quantum of Solace's run time of 106 minutes makes it the briefest 007 outing to date (previously, the shortest was Tomorrow Never Dies at 119 minutes), and saying that it moves quickly is like saying Michael Phelps can swim.  When the end credits began to roll, my freinds and I were able to count three scenes in the entire film that we thought may have lingered for perhaps as many as five or ten seconds.  Was this an example of catering to an increasingly short attention span, or was it simply the style of storytelling favored by director Marc Forster?  Ian Fleming's original novels rarely reached 200 paperback pages in length and were meant to be read on a train.  That being the case, then, Quantum of Solace does perhaps the best job of the entire cinematic series of conveying that sense of working quickly while disbelief is suspended.

12 November 2008

Trailer Response: "Quantum Of Solace"

Originally published 30 June 2008

After waiting all year for anything official from the forthcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace, Sony has finally complied and put up the first trailer on Moviefone.com today.  I've watched it thrice already, and it appears to me that it's less Casino Royale II and more Casino Royale Again.  We all knew that QoS was going to be a direct continuation of CR; there is a sense from the trailer, though, that we're going to get much the same film this time, however.  M chastises Bond about setting out for revenge; laments, "I thought I could trust you" and orders him grounded....  It's fine for M and Bond to not be on great terms all the time, but it seems that ever since Robert Brown took over the role in The Living Daylights there's been an increasing amount of almost hostility between the characters and a lot less mutual respect.  Fleming's M and Bond got on fairly well; Bond found his boss a bit of a social bore, yes, but would have gladly gone to hell and back for the guy.  For his part, Fleming's M had nothing but respect for Bond's talents and abilities and made sure not to waste them, or to risk Bond unnecessarily.  This cinematic trend of a lack of any kind of relationship between them has gotten tiresome, and it's sad to think that Tomorrow Never Dies is the only entry in the Bond series since 1987 in which the relationship is pretty consistent with Fleming's world.

Having said all that...the rest of the trailer appears to be about what we had in mind for this picture.  It opens with Mr. White (the guy Bond tracked down just before the credits rolled at the end of CR) being interrogated, baiting Bond.  The rest of the clip is a quick montage of Bond-on-the-run-again set to the aforementioned M-doesn't-trust-Bond-and-wants-him-restricted voiceover and ends with a shot of Bond hoisting an assault rifle as he walks across what appears to be the desert.  Looks fun, looks intense, looks...like the last movie.

I know I sound disappointed with this trailer, and the only reason I actually am disappointed with it is because of the emphasis on the Bond/M tension about which you've already grown tired of reading me complain.  I am greatly relieved that, from the trailer at least, they've kept the tone of this film consistent with its predecessor and haven't gone Roger Moore on us.  No outrageous gimmicks, no slapstick humor, just good ol' fashioned gritty spy stuff.  It remains to be seen, of course, how Fleming-esque the film actually is, but it appears to be a candidate for Bond "best" lists.

Thanks, JOEM

An article arried in the most recent publication of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has calculated the cost to employers of having an employee with Crohn's disease.  The study took into consideration everything from short term disability costs to absenteeism, from hospitalizations to out-patient emergency room visits.  Want to know how much costlier us Crohnies are?
Annual medical expenses for Crohn's disease patients were $18,963 versus $5,300 for a matched comparison group. Ulcerative colitis patients' annual medical expenses were $15,020 versus $4,982 for the matched comparison group.
That's just for having Crohn's or colitis.  Now, add in surgery and those figures become unimpressive altogether.
Annual medical costs for patients with a gastrointestinal surgery were $60,147 for patients with Crohn's disease and $72,415 for patients with ulcerative colitis.
I would love to know why us Crohnies are more expensive than colitis patients except in the case of surgery.  The only thing I can figure is perhaps, since colitis is strictly located in the colon (whereas Crohn's can present literally anywhere along the digestive tract) that the colon is slower to heal and/or some Crohn's patients need surgery in more resilient areas?

Regardless of why there is a differential, what is plain to see is that no human resources director will read this information and want any part of hiring a Crohn's or colitis patient.  I cannot fault the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine for publishing these findings, nor can I fault the authors of the article for conducting the research.  The facts are what they are.  Still, as a Crohn's patient who has been out of work entirely too long already, I cannot help but wonder what impact these findings will have on the already limited employment opportunities available to my digestively challenged brethren.

Note: Clicking on the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine title in the first paragraph will link you to a Market Watch article detailing the findings of the original article.  Medical trade journal articles are not regularly made available to the public, so this is the best I can do for those who would like to review the information for themselves.

10 November 2008

Operation: DVD

For years, we've been asked to support the troops.  That has often translated into little more than adorning one's pick-up with a bumper sticker saying, "Support Our Troops."  It's November, and that means that even if we weren't on the verge of re-living the Great Depression, charities would all be competing for your donations for the rest of the year.

Not only are Afghanistan and Iraq hot and full of armed terrorists, but they're relatively dull for our soldiers.  Baseball emerged as our national pasttime in large part to its popularity among soldiers on both sides of the Civil War as a distraction from the bloodshed.  Today's troops lack even that luxury, because there are so few safe places where they are that will accomodate something as simple as playing catch.

A safer form of entertainment, though are DVD's.  Operation: DVD is a project designed to collect and distribute DVD's to deployed soldiers.  Their target goal is to collect one million DVD titles, and to maintain a rotating supply of 200-250 DVD's per base.  All you have to do is send your DVD(s) to:

Operation: DVD
31337 Huron Street
Temecula, CA 92592

You're not being asked to buy new DVD's.  They'll take used DVD's (though, obviously, make sure they're not things your brother borrowed and returned so scratched up it won't play).  So, the next time you're cleaning up around the house and you find yourself putting away the last DVD you watched, take a moment.  Look at your library and see if there's anything you really aren't that into anymore.

For more information, visit the Operation: DVD website.

Forget "Proud," Be Grateful

Late last night, I tuned into Prime Minister's Questions on C-SPAN. For those who don't know, every week the British Prime Minister has to go in and answer questions from the House of Commons (along with the House of Lords, it's part of their Parliament). I sincerely wish our president had to do the same with Congress, because I do feel that the British have a stronger sense of who's doing what for whom as a result of these televised meetings.

Anyway, I was struck by how many different speakers took a moment to congratulate Barack Obama and to comment on the significance of the election. We're so used to our politicians calling us things like "a beacon of hope for the world" that it becomes little more than a bumper sticker slogan. Hearing the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom--and his political opponents agree with it--is a striking reminder of the truly awesome power we have.

I recently posted in the Planet Garth main forum about an episode of Charlie Rose interviewing Garth that's available on YouTube. I finally watched it, and Garth insists that, once an election is over, even if you didn't [I]vote[/I] for the winner, you [I]elected[/I] him or her, and you have an obligation to support him or her.

One thing that President-Elect Obama's opponents need to realize is that he comes to office hip deep in a world of problems, few (if any) of his own making. Had Senator McCain won, he, too, would have inherited this perfect storm of problems. These are not small problems with quick fixes, and I sincerely believe things will get even worse before they begin to get better. I also believe that they will get better long before most of us can feel that they've gotten better.

And, yes, it will be time for those celebrities who have fawned over the President-Elect this past year to "man up" and pay those higher taxes they have insisted they would support. I know Garth Brooks was not one of those, but I don't mind saying as a fan of his, and as someone who has spent quite a lot of money on his commercial music and home video releases, as well as a concert and memorabilia purchased there, that he has worked very hard for what he has. No one should take that away from him. At the same time, there is something to be said for acknowledging that what he did was to do the most with the opportunity given to him by our society, and there's nothing wrong with paying back a little bit in gratitude for that opportunity.

See, that's the thing that modern conservatives have gotten away from. It used to be that their argument was that you work hard, earn what you get and if you make good, show some gratitude. Today, it seems that they don't mind the work (in fact, for some of them, there is nothing outside of work in their lives), and they certainly don't mind earning what they have. When you lose the gratitude part, though, you create unadulterated greed and that's what we've seen run corporate boardrooms these past eight years.

Gratitude. It's healthy.

07 November 2008

The Promise of Obama

Now that Election Day has ended media speculation of whether Barack Obama can win, it has turned its attention to what he might try to accomplish in office once inaugurated.  Even ESPN is reporting on the impact of Mr. Obama on sports, from off-season baseball signings to luring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago to boosting the strength of Title IX.  Chief on everyone's mind is what Obama can or will do about the economy, which appears to die more each day despite the $700B bailout measures approved before the election.  First and foremost, though, is the hiring of a cabinet.

For the average voter, a president-elect's cabinet making process is little more than the media having nothing better to cover now that an election is over.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  "He's going to be the president; he'll be in charge," you think.  And, yes, the buck stops at the presidency.  However, those top-level government positions serve two functions that should never be underestimated.  First, remember that a president does not legislate--he executes the law.  These men and women are his lieutenants, overseeing the various components of the government that make policy reality.  You wouldn't want the Secretary of State to be too antagonistic of the Pentagon and you wouldn't want the Surgeon General to be too friendly with pharmaceutical companies.  You wouldn't want these things because then you risk a military finding ways not to cooperate with the presidency and a greater push on doctors to write unwarranted prescriptions.

Secondly, no president is an expert in every field.  Some have favored economics, others warfare.  He must rely on those around him to guide him through the nuances of these important issues.  In his Eyewitness to Power, former presidential speechwriter and advisor David Gergen describes the influence of the White House Chief of Staff and cabinet members on Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.  Nowhere is the significance greater than in his perspective of what went wrong with the Nixon presidency.  Gergen identifies White House Chief of Staff H. Robert Haldeman as the man who daily worked to insulate the president from any dissenting opinions, provoking Nixon's paranoia and firing at will anyone who threatened his carefully cultivated bubble.

Make no mistake about it: with whom a president surrounds himself is of the utmost importance to the American people.  Many feel that President George W. Bush's neo-conservative cabinet betrayed the "compassionate conservative" image on which he ran for office in 2000, and might not have cast their ballot for him had they known the kind of people that would hold such important positions in the federal government.

Speaking as a Crohnie, I read with great interest an Associated Press article speculating what impact the Obama administration will have on the Food and Drug Administration.  Under President Bush, the FDA has repeatedly been caught with its pants down, approving and quickly having to recall several dangerous pharmaceuticals as well as food contamination issues.  Critics believe that these are the direct result of Bush's de-regulatory policies, which have greatly curtailed government agencies's effectiveness in monitoring public safety.

The final paragraph of the AP article conjectures that "industry officials expect the Obama administration to work with Congress to create a legal framework for the FDA to review and approve generic versions of biologic drugs."  For those who are unaware, biologics are a class of drugs crafted by medical scientists in labs to target and treat very specific conditions.  They are also so expensive that they are practically unattainable for uninsured patients.  A recent Washington Post article reports that 25% of those on the market have been issued safety warnings, indicating an alarming rate of patients experiencing harmful side effects.

A more conscientious FDA should translate into safer medications, and generic biologics will definitely improve treatment options for Americans suffering from various conditions from Crohn's disease to rheumatoid arthritis.  Even if Mr. Obama fails to deliver on his campaign pledge to compel insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, even if he does not find a way to offer more affordable health care for those of us without, these two areas have the potential to vastly improve the health of millions.

04 November 2008

Congratulations, Mr. Obama

28 August 2008
Senator Barack Obama accepts the presidential
nomination of the Democratic Party in Denver, Colorado

4 November 2008
President-Elect Barack Obama declares victory in Chicago, Illinois

20 January 2009
President Barack Obama will be inaugurated the 44th
President of the United States of America in Washington, D.C.

Baseball & Presidents

The polls have just begun to close on Election Day 2008, and I am just now getting to this little curiosity of mine.  I wondered during the World Series what relationship, if any, might exist between crowning the Major League Baseball champion shortly before voting a president into office.  The World Series began its modern incarnation in 1903, near the end of Theodore Roosevelt's first term of office.  While 1904 was an election year, the second annual World Series was boycotted by the New York Giants.  This year, then, marks the 100th anniversary of the first time that a World Series was played during an election year.  You can look up the particulars for yourself, but this is the relationship between leagues and parties winning their contests:

Major League Baseball
American League: 17 wins
National League: 8 wins

Presidential Politics
Democratic Party: 12 wins
Republican Party: 13 wins

By Combination
American League & Democratic: 7 wins
American League & Republican: 10 wins
National League & Democratic: 5 wins
National League & Republican: 3 wins

As the polls roll in, it bears noting that the 2008 World Series was won by the National League's Philadelphia Phillies.  Just sayin'.

Edit: Democratic nominee Barack Obama has won the 2008 Presidential Election.  The revised totals now read:

Major League Baseball
American League: 17 wins
National League: 8 wins

Presidential Politics
Democratic Party: 13 wins
Republican Party: 13 wins

By Combination
American League & Democratic: 7 wins
American League & Republican: 10 wins
National League & Democratic: 6 wins
National League & Republican: 3 wins

03 November 2008

To Vote or Not to Vote

"I never vote for anyone; I always vote against."
--W.C. Fields

Each year since 2001, I have polled my closest friends about the songs that stand out to them for the year.  I won't go into the particulars, but know that in the interest of variety, we only admit one song per artist to our year-end list.  There have been about ten of us each year, and I have to tell you that organizing a democratic process is not easy.  It's also not something that you can control.  I remember in 2004, it seemed that Toby Keith's "Beer for My Horses" was going to be unanimous until another voter cast a ballot for "I Love This Bar."  "Beer" was a six-week, number one hit that dominated the summer of '04.  Yet, our dissenting voter argued that he had spent a lot of that year hanging out in clubs that resembled the lyrics of "Bar."

There have been songs that made the final year-end list that surprised me, and several more that didn't that surprised me even more.  I never can tell who will vote for what songs or artists, and each year that we do this, I find the end result fascinating.  When you put the outcome of anything in the hands of individuals, control goes entirely out the window.  Trust me: there may well be election officials who interfere with tallying each vote, but no one can influence who shows up and votes.

Maybe "Beer for My Horses" will still make the final list, but it doesn't have to be unanimous if you find something else to vote for this year.  You can't control who votes for, or against, your candidate.  What you can do, and what you should do, is cast your ballot.

David Garrard: Friend or Foe?

David Garrard, quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, has recently begun appearing in a television commercial for Centocor.  Centocor is a medication used to treat Crohn's disease, the chronic digestive disorder from which yours truly (among others) suffers.  In the commercial, a smiling Garrard is seen on a bright, sunny day tossing the pigskin on the gridiron with his teammates.  In a voiceover, he informs us that Crohn's disease has not stopped his pursuit of living his dream as a professional athlete.  The commercial directs us to websites for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, as well as for Centocor.

As a Crohnie, I have very mixed feelings about this commercial.  On the one hand, it is certainly encouraging that Garrard can continue to play ball competitively with Crohn's.  I maintain a MySpace profile dedicated to meeting Crohnies and discussing our shared experiences, and I frequently do the same on WeAreCrohns.org (a social networking website dedicated to Crohn's and colitis patients).  What Garrard does is shine a beacon of hope for all of us.  I mean, there was never any danger of me going pro, but others out there who have that dream will certainly be encouraged to believe they can still realize it.

On the other hand, the single most frustrating part of having Crohn's disease is the lack of understanding about it.  Treatment options are quite limited, because medical science does not currently know enough about what causes Crohn's to know what to do about it.  The general public's knowledge about Crohn's is practically nonexistant.  I fear that Joe Six Pack's entire understanding of Crohn's will be like his understanding of most things--entirely informed by television.  He will get the idea that Crohn's disease is as easily treated as, say, "restless leg syndrome," and that those of us who aren't playing ball are whiners.

I think Garrard's message is well-intentioned, and is powerful for Crohnies.  I also think it has the potential to really complicate matters for the rest of us as we try to connect with a normal, healthy lifestyle.  It's hard enough for many of us to find teachers and bosses who tolerate our condition and its impact on our reliability to be somewhere on time, to stay the duration and to be productive the entire time.  It won't get any easier now that their perception of Crohn's is that it's quickly and easily controlled by a pill.

31 October 2008

Attack of the Crohn's

For about a week, I've felt incrementally more miserable to the point that Tuesday night (28 October), I realized that I felt comparable to how I felt back in April.  [For the unintiated, I was hospitalized for five days with a bowel obstruction in the middle of that month.]  My wife, upon hearing this, insisted that I be checked out; I eventually did.  I said I knew what the problem was, and that the solution was to get back on Prednisone.  I happen to have a supply of it remaining from this summer that is still good to take.

The next day, after she and her employers (she works at an urgent care center) insisted that I needed to be checked out, I relented and let her take me to be examined.  We paid out of pocket (with a check to be cashed later, 'cause, you know, we're broke) and had a series of X-rays taken of my abdomen.  The doctors for whom she works took a look and determined immediately that I had some bowel loops formed and the beginnings of another obstruction.  So far, so good--I had pretty well determined based on how I felt that that was the case.  Then I was admitted back to Norton Suburban, and stood little more than 15 feet from my wife's boss as he spoke with the physician through whom they admit patients.  He described exactly what was going on with me, and my need for steroids and antibiotics; we left and expected to arrive to a planned course of treatment consistent with what I just described.

We were in the room by 5:30 PM, and no physician saw me until 9:00 that night.  This was not the admitting physician, but rather a second shift lackey who took one look at the X-rays we brought with us (then less than six hours old) and said they looked "perfect" to him; that just because I have Crohn's did not mean my current woes were related to my condition and that it may be gastroenteritis since that had been going around.  Did he test me for this theory?  Well, he ordered some lab work done on my blood, but the only real way to know what's going on in the guts is with imaging.  He wrote orders for X-rays, and depending on the outcome of those, a CT scan.  My X-rays were still current and as an out-of-pocket patient, I had no desire to pad their radiologist's pockets, or to expose myself to unnecessary radiation.  A woman arrived to take me to radiology; I explained that it was superfluous and that I would not go for X-rays I didn't need.  At this point, the lackey doctor canceled the CT  (the only useful test I could have taken) and deferred my case to someone in the GI department the following morning.

7:00 AM brought me a visitor--not someone from GI, but a surgeon who--surprise!--thinks I need to let him cut on me.  Leave it to a surgeon to look at a traffic jam and decide to fix it by rebuilding the road.  He specifically said that the admitting physician called him in on my case.  That's funny, because her only information on me was either what my wife's boss told her on the phone--which everyone denied she ever relayed to anyone else--or what her lackey told her.  If she was acting on the former information, then I want to know why a lackey had the authority to dismiss everyone else's understanding of my situation and withhold any further testing--to say nothing of treatment.  If she was acting on the lackey's perspective, then I want to know why she would call in a surgeon if her man on the ground says I'm fine.  The truth is, she likely called in the surgeon when she was originally called and planned to get him in on the action regardless of whether I needed surgery.  In any event, when I explained that I know enough about my condition and surgery's role relating thereto that I know surgery begets more surgery and would only consent to it if absolutely mandatory, he left, disappointed.  I suppose his portfolio hasn't gone well lately and he was hoping to generate some income by cutting on the Crohnie.

By 9:30, a GI doc finally arrived.  She heard my story to that point, took one look at my X-rays (you know, the ones the lackey said looked "perfect") and her eyes bugged out.  I was drinking contrast for a CT scan within a half hour; by 1:00 she had ordered the steroids I said I needed all along.  I had two bowel movements before I even had the CT.  I had my first shot of steroids at 4:00 and a second at midnight, by which time I'd had a third bowel movement.  Sometime that night, the lackey returned and attempted to cover his tracks by explaining why he did not want to test me without knowing if I could handle being tested (referring to the effect of ingesting the contrast).  This is lame, because the bloodwork he ordered was to determine that I could handle it; certainly there were no red flags in those labs because that's all the GI doc had to go on the next morning when she ordered the CT.  He agreed this time with me, though, that everything appeared fine and that I should be able to graduate from a clear liquid diet to a low residue diet and plan on leaving the next day.  Great.

The nurse came in shortly thereafter to explain that the GI had overruled the lackey's ideas and I was restricted to a clear liquid diet until morning.  By now, I've had more than enough of doctors ignoring what I have to say about my own condition and deferring to one another.  It's like asking your mom about something and she says to ask your dad; you do, and he says to ask her.  At some point you get fed up and shout, "I can't give myself permission, so would one of you grow a spine and exercise your authority?"  Finally, this afternoon (Halloween), the GI returned.  She insists that no one contacted her about increasing my dietary intake, and that it would have been her on-call doctor who elected, as had others the previous night, to take no action and leave me in the hands of someone else to deal with later.  She gave in, though, and conceeded that I seemed to be fine, wrote me a prescription for Prednisone and discharged me--pending the approval of the medical doctor (chiefly represented by the lackey).

My wife pointed out that the lackey had said the night before that he was content to defer entirely to the GI; the GI insisted she was "just a specialist advisor" and that he--or at least someone in his group--had the final say.  Again, we're back to doctors yielding authority to other doctors.  Eventually, though, the whole thing was resolved and I was allowed to leave.  It's funny, because I started Tuesday saying I needed Prednisone and by Friday I had a prescription for...Prednisone.

The entire debacle was a microcosm of the American health system.  Doctors say they want patients to be involved in their health care, but the truth is that doctors like people who don't question them.  After all, they spent a lot of time and money to wear that white coat, and it means they're above reproach.  "Maybe you're the one living with this chronic disorder, but you don't get to tell us what's going on."  Doctors do, however, look out for one another.  That's why surgeons are called in by doctors who have no compelling medical reason to call them, and that's why on-call doctors are the equivalent of tech support.  You don't even have to know about computers to work tech support; you just have to know how to read the pre-written cue sheet, and I think it's even less demanding to be an on-call doctor because you never have to actually get involved at all.  Instead, you simply say that you're unwilling to alter the course of treatment or order tests, regardless of whether or not the course of treatment even exists or is effective, or whether tests are clearly necessary to treat the patient.

During my stay, I watched Barack Obama's half-hour long infomercial.  I had been working on finishing Plato's The Republic, which had cast some doubt on his candidacy for me.  Then I watched and listened as Senator Obama reminded me that he feels the American health system does not do enough to take care of patients, and I was vicariously reminded that John McCain--whom I, at one time, sincerely trusted would oppose a lot of the things I have described in my own recent experience--has taken the opposite tack on health care.

Will Obama improve our health care?  I don't know that he can or will, but I do know that he says he wants to try.  So, too, does Senator McCain, but his proposed way of improving the health care system is to emphasize the heartless, money-grubbing side of it.  Will a vote for Barack Obama mean not having to fend off a surgeon peddling a procedure that does not guarantee an improvement in one's health?  I can't say that it will, any more than I can say that having 10 cm of my intestines cut out will make me feel better.  What I can say, though, is that I do believe that we have to let Obama try to improve things.  We often content ourselves, saying that America is the greatest land on Earth.  While this may be true, I think we continue to sell ourselves short by not striving to always make it better.

28 October 2008

Everything You Need to Know About Socialism You Learned from Baseball

In an article for Forbes in 2006, Tom Van Riper noted that "Two-thirds of baseball's 30 clubs lose money....The solution is to centralize the operation, and share all sources of revenue equally among the clubs.  Socialist?  Sure."  Van Riper notes that Major League Baseball is really more "one business with 30 locations, not 30 different businesses."  He makes a good point, and economists are already wanting to stop me before I go any further and emphasize why this is a poor example to use for society at large.  Which, really, would only lend credence to my thesis which is that money people obsess too much over the fine letter of what the law says they can do to accumulate money, and far too little on the human aspect of what their actions do.  For the purpose of this blog, all analogies and examples will be drawn from Major League Baseball.

Let's suppose that MLB did not operate as a centralized organization, but rather a confederation of thirty ballclubs.  There would be absolutely nothing aside from an owner's own limitations to prevent an owner to take two courses of action, both of which have been taken.  The first is to maximize his own profits by pocketing as much cash as possible.  This means not signing players who command big salaries and the major consequence of this is that it is improbable, if not impossible, for the organization to stay healthy and competitive.  The second is to pour seemingly endless money into the organization which, if done intelligently, ought to net the organization as many talented players as there are roster spots.  The chief consequence of this is that this team will dominate to the point of discouraging other teams and their fans.

The first problem owner is exemplified by Carl Pohlad, owner of the Minnesota Twins.  Pohlad "got his start in the banking business by foreclosing farms during the Great Depression" according to his Wikipedia profile.  Whatever system Pohlad developed to put himself first during that time, and to block out the effect his job had on human beings has stayed with him because this is a guy who continues to own the Twins while simultaneously putting as little into them as he can get away with.  The Twins's 2008 payroll was ranked 25th of the 30 MLB teams, outspending the Washington Nationals by $2 million.  In 1997, Pohlad arranged the sale of the Twins but the deal fell apart when the residents in North Carolina voted not to help fund a facility to host the team.  When MLB toyed with the idea of contraction in 2000, Pohlad offered up the Twins despite the fact that somehow, some way, the team had become competitive within its division.

The second problem owner is exemplified by George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees.  Steinbrenner made his fortune in the shipping business, but always wanted to be involved with sports.  His obsession with winning, in tandem with what is likely an inferiority complex, has often made sports news.  Sometimes these stories concerned championship victories; often, they revolved around his explosions with his own managers and players when he felt their performance jeopardized the prospect of winning.  Either way, especially in the Joe Torre Era (1996-2007, when Torre managed the Yankees), the team's high payroll and postseason success (they reached the postseason every year, and won four World Series, three of them in succession) came to be characterized as baseball's "Evil Empire."

Winning has long been associated with making money, and most owners were caught between Pohlad and Steinbrenner; they needed to operate profitably, but they wanted to win.  MLB came to realize that the disparity amongst the teams was not good for the sport.  Even as Yankee Stadium reached its seating capacity with regularity, other teams failed to even reach half of theirs--and few ballparks could accomodate the size of a Yankee Stadium crowd in the first place.  In their final seasons, the Montreal Expos regularly drew 6,000 fans--less than a Triple-A Minor League Baseball game.  Their attendance was so bad that the Expos actually scheduled several games to be played in Puerto Rico during the regular season!  Clearly, something had to be done.  What did MLB do?  It bought the team.

For two seasons, until a new ownership could be found, the other 29 team owners collectively controlled the Montreal Expos.  Common economic theory would have demanded that the Expos simply collapse and the rest of the league continue, minus one competitor.  If your local Saturn dealership fails, the Ford and Dodge dealerships don't take over operating it until a new ownership can be found; why should baseball have done it?  There are two answers.  First, the Major League Baseball Player's Association would never have allowed that many players to lose their job opportunities.  The union would have resorted to any tactic at its disposal--including a dreaded strike--to ensure that ownership find a solution to keep the players employed.  The other reason that MLB owners kept the Expos going was that competition is good for the sport.

If competition were not good for the sport, the Yankees would not have been considered public enemy number one.  Fans regularly complained that they could write off their team's chances before the season even started in April.  Whether the 29 owners saw the sustaining of the Expos in their interest or not, give the Office of the Commissioner credit for seeing it.  The Expos have since moved to Washington, D.C., been renamed the Washington Nationals and just opened a beautiful, brand new ballpark.  They have not as yet had a winning season, but they have at times forced the rest of the National League East to earn its victories.

MLB's solution to the disparity was to adopt a policy that had bolstered the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL): revenue sharing.  Teams whose income reached an established level were taxed; this money went directly to the teams whose income failed to reach an established level.  Is it fair for an owner like Steinbrenner, who has dedicated his fortune and energy to fielding a competitive team, to line the pockets of an owner like Pohlad, who has starved his team?  Of course not, but not all owners operating low-revenue teams are as stingy as Pohlad.  Other factors beside greed prevent some owners from boasting Yankee payrolls, including the impact of their other business ventures, attendance levels and their ability to generate advertising sales (which is, in turn, related to market size, attendance levels and the team's national recognition, which is, in turn, related to its ability to compete).

When Ryan Howard appears in a Subway commercial, it not only means that Subway considers Philadelphia Phillies fans a large enough demographic to court, but that they expect the general public will recognize Howard.  This, in turn, means that the Phillies are in a position to say "Look at us!  We're one of the big guys--we've got a marquee player in a national ad."  Just as winning draws fans to the ballpark, so too does reaching that top tier of national exposure bring other businesses' attention.  If Subway will bank on Ryan Howard, might not another company like, say, Joker Brand come looking to put Chase Utley in a TV spot?  (Hopefully not for Utley, since Joker Brand is not only fictitious, but fatal.)

In his recent testimony to Congress, Alan Greenspan confessed that in hindsight, he discovered a "flaw" in his operational model of how the world works.  The flaw?  He presumed that businesses's self-interest would ensure that they would operate to make themselves healthy and competitive.  If Greenspan had been a Twins fan, he would have known that while there are some Steinbrenners out there, there are also a lot of Pohlads, too.  While everyone was villifying "The Boss," they overlooked the real danger: the men who made their living foreclosing farms.

Meanwhile, just as Greenspan thought all the business owners were Steinbrenners, voters have confused themselves.  They don't mind their team benefitting from revenue sharing, yet they quickly line up to prevent themselves from benefitting from it.  If you're a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies or the Tampa Bay Rays, ask yourself this: If there's nothing wrong about your team being in the World Series, which there's not, and there's nothing wrong with them having gotten there in part because of revenue sharing and being able to get early draft picks, which they did, then why would it be wrong for the George Steinbrenners of the world to give a little for the Phillies and Rays of the country?  Competition is healthy for baseball, it's healthy for business and it's healthy for our society.