Monthly Archives: July 2008

Through the Earth to Perth

I wrote this article in Novermber, 2007, but only discovered it in my notes recently, so I’m going to keep the writing as if I was just there….which I wish was the case:

Perth is full of perthy goodness. “Perthy” may not sound like a word, but they use it all the time in Perth. In case you don’t believe me, just fly on over to Australia, and hop on a 68 hour train ride from Sydney to find out.

I’ve wanted to visit Perth for as long as I can remember. It’s just sitting out there alone on world maps, sparking wonder over how or why a major city can be so isolated from the rest of the world. Maybe reaching the other side of what I consider normal could shake my perceptions up like a snow globe, allowing me to reassess the pieces from a new perspective.

I always liked to imagine that things are absolutely different on the other side of the world, but with the internet and advanced transportation, most of Perth has the same look as any other first world city. Only it’s mind-bogglingly far away.

The weather has been pretty much perfect the whole time I’ve been here. I think it averages 74 degrees for the year, and it was exactly 74 for maybe 8 days in a row. Perth is fairly big as a city (1.3 million), but it’s spread out over a decently large area, with a downtown that’s more ornamental than necessary. There’s a pretty good light rail system here, and a low unemployment rate, although due to its rapid growth, there is a housing shortage. Note: One kicker to Perth’s rapidly expanding economy is its title as the first place I’ve ever visited where a shopkeeper offered me a job simply because I was walking down the street. “You’ve shown me that you can stand on your feet”, the shopkeeper said.

Perth is pretty diverse though. Every Australian city is awash in Asian people, but Perth has more Indians, as well as the only statistically significant demographic of black people I’ve seen thus far. They’re clearly coming over from Africa, as this is the closest first world city to so much of the continent. But the big reason why anyone is coming over here is because of mining. This country’s (especially western Australia) economy has an 1840s-1880s U.S. feel to it, as they’re ripping resources out of the ground as a recklessly fast rate. It also seems that Australia is at its peak economically as a result, and this trend should continue for at least another 10 years before possibly starting to tail off.

The mining companies have also started to build entire towns around the mining sites, so they ship in everything from schools, to restaurants, to food, and to prostitutes (apparantly Kalgoorlie necessitated this). Right now, if you’re willing to wash dishes 250 miles from nowhere you can make $60,000/year. Granted, that’s in Australian dollars, but the exchange rate is about $.94 AUS to $1 US, so it’s a pretty penny.

At some point, Perth is going to balloon into the multiple millions, and will no doubt overtake Brisbane as Australia’s third largest city. Melbourne and Sydney aren’t going anywhere, while Brisbane is going to run out of water soon. But Perth is on its way up. And once people are willing to move out here, they’re going to realize that Western Australia has 1200 miles of undeveloped coastline. Once desalinization technology improves, this coast will be able to support 30 million people.

But as ecstatic as I am that I’ve discovered a phenomenal part of the world to live in, I’m even more aware than ever of the curse of wanderlust. I want to go everywhere and see everything, I won’t be able to stay; Perth, and Western Australia as a whole amounts to only a pipe dream. If I lived here, I would essentially be saying goodbye to all of my loved ones. And since I can’t get any of my family members on a transatlantic flight, let alone a 25 hour flight to Perth, I would have to choose between a comfortably magnificent city, and my family. And as much as I’ve been trying to make choices based on my interests, as opposed to the interests of others, I’m not ready to jump ship completely on everyone I know and care about.

I’m leaving for Albany tomorrow, which is southwest, and gives me an opportunity to see Augusta (where the 2 oceans merge) and the Treetop walk near Denmark. The trees are made from highly valuable wood, and the soil contains bauxite, so the logging and the mining companies want them, so if they’re not endangered already, I’d give it 10 years at most.

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Josh Childress 2: The Josh Childressing

So Josh Childress has signed with the Greek basketball club Olympiakos for $20 million over three years. I’m slightly disappointed because I considered Childress to be one of the most underrated players on the NBA free agent market, but this signing is actually far more significant.

Age
At 24, Childress is an established NBA player, and signing with an overseas club unofficially makes him the best US-born player to defect for another league while entering the prime of his career. Sure, his contract comes with an easy buyout, so he can return to the NBA at any point. But because the Atlanta Hawks own his restricted free agent rights for two more years, combined with the fact that neither he nor fellow restricted free agent/teammate Josh Smith have shown any interest in staying in Atlanta (a major city in a warm climate no less), it’s likely at this point to see him play in Greece for two years, before returning to the NBA as a 26 year old unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team.

Money

Seeing as the NBA is a different style from international play, it’s not surprising to see international NBA players like Carlos Delfino, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Bostjan Nachbar cross back over the pond in search of a more comfortable playing style. But with the dollar taking a nosedive, it’s become easier to rationalize playing overseas. Nachbar took Childress’ idea one step further, and went to play in Russia, where he’ll make millions of dollars tax-free, while enjoying perks like a free house, and fewer games played per season. WNBA players know this already, as many of them play in Russia during the offseason, get treated like queens, and make far more money than they do playing in front of US audiences.

Restrictive Contracts

A major reason why Childress chose Greece over the NBA is because the collective bargaining agreement (hereby referred to the CBA) is simply starting to squeeze players out of the NBA. In Childress’ case, he was a restricted free agent who wanted to leave his home team, but since Atlanta could have matched any offer made to him (thereby keeping him on the Hawks), combined with reports that Atlanta was deliberately lowballing him on contract offers, Childress could have taken Atlanta’s offer, signed a one year deal that allows him to become a free agent next year, or stuck his middle finger to the team that drafted him, and leave the NBA. Childress was simply able to make more money from a Greek club than he could have made in the NBA.

Hope for the Future

Seeing as the current NBA collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in the summer of 2011, it’s likely that Childress won’t be the best US-born NBA player to leave in his prime to sign with an overseas ballclub. Even before Childress’ signing, high school point guard prospect Brandon Jennings turned down an offer to play basketball at the University of Arizona in order to play in Italy, making him the first major American basketball prospect to skip college to play for a European team since the NBA’s age restriction was implemented (players have to wait one year after high school to enter the NBA draft). And if Jennings is able to keep his draft stock high while playing in Italy, expect to see more high school prospects skip college to make millions instead of spending a year as an undergrad, partying, taking kickbacks from boosters and potential agents, and pretending to study for class. It’s quite remarkable actually, that we find it normal to associate athletes with institutions of higher education.

So in order for the NBA to hold onto its reputation as the top basketball league in the world, it needs to get off its high horse, and start treating its competition seriously. Professional basketball is a business like any other field. If you, as a civilian reader, were offered the same job you’re doing now, only with more money and fewer hours, would you seriously brush it off as a bad idea?

Josh Childress

I wrote the following scouting report a few months ago, long before Childress’ recent defection to Greece, which I’ll cover in a bit:

Look out for Josh Childress. The 6’8″ SF for the Atlanta Hawks becomes a restricted free agent this summer, and he might prove to be one of the biggest bargains on the market. Childress is averaging 12 ppg on 58 percent shooting to go along with above average ballhandling and a knack for crashing the offensive boards. His game can be compared somewhat to that of Shawn Marion’s, which is fair, considering they’re the same height, they’re both athletic enough to guard multiple positions, and oddly enough seem to have hired the same 85 year old man to teach them how to shoot line-drive chest shots that curiously go in. But since Childress is only 24, there is a chance that he sits down for a few consecutive summers to rebuild his shot entirely. Simply raising his release on the ball head would allow his long arms to work more in his favor, and would also increase his chances at a career long after his currently springy legs run out of bounce.

And although quality restricted free agents traditionally re-sign with their original clubs, the Hawks are in the envious dilemma of having three starting-caliber small forwards with similar skill-sets on their roster. But while their current situation is advantageous, The emergence of Josh Smith into a future All-Star, combined with former 2nd overall pick Marvin Williams’ expected development, places small forward minutes at a premium; and a tourniquet on Childress’ developmental curve.

And with the power struggle between Steve Belkin and the rest of the Atlanta ownership still in limbo, roster moves will likely necessitate some fiscal rigidity when it comes to negotiating for Childress’ services. The Hawks are currently under the salary cap, and will need to stockpile some cash for the inevitable long-term payouts to Smith, Williams, as well as rookie PF Al Horford, who is hanging tough in the Rookie of the Year race.

As of right now an unfinished ceiling hangs above Childress’ head. His high character would allow him to fit in with most teams. And since he plays defense, combined with his ability to score without dominating the ball, he can be left on the court even when his shot isn’t falling. This summer, a team in need of more production from the 2 or 3 spot will be able to add Childress while maintaining some fiscal conservatism at the same time.

The Brave and the Bold

Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
The Brave and the Bold
Overcoat Records

In a surprise pairing, the instrumental-jazz septet Tortoise has teamed up with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (portrayed by the eccentric Will Oldham, formerly of Palace Music) for a tour through an eclectic and ambitious set list. Consisting entirely of covers, The Brave and the Bold is a body of work that ranges anywhere from a pounding industrial sound on “Love is Love” to a upbeat interpretation of “Cravo é Canela”, capped off with Oldham belting out his lines in low-fi, believable Portuguese. It’s surprising to parse through the track listing, as you’ll find names (Elton John, Don Williams, Devo) that you wouldn’t exactly expect to be found anywhere near a Will Oldham or a Tortoise album. But after hearing what they’ve done with some familiar recipes, it’s important to give credit to the band members for not just covering a song, but instead expounding on the original sound by stirring their own ingredients into the pot as well.

Although this is an album of covers, fans of either group can breathe a sigh of relief that Tortoise and Oldham are still present, especially on tracks such as Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road, with its echoing guitars and a riveting final 2 minutes, catching the band sounding unmistakably Tortoise. Oldham’s sincere voice also gets his shots into the mix as well, as he croons to Melanie’s “Some Say (I got Devil)” and on Dave Hanner’s “Pancho”, which makes use of the earnest sound of the original, while the latter captures the honky tonk, but abandons the sparse production, in favor of a broad backup sound.

But while most of the songs are given a new life, other songs seem to have lost something in the restoration process. When originally played by the Minutemen, “It’s Expected I’m Gone” has a strong, confident sound. On Brave and the Bold, however, the addition of distortion on the guitars and the vocals misconstrue the original track’s intentions, leaving a feeling of confusion and disconnect. And, even though this sound has worked extremely well on other Tortoise albums, it doesn’t work as well here for two reasons. First of which, Tortoise has undertaken a different type of challenge by playing only pre-existing songs. Second, while Tortoise and Bonnie Billy each fill a void in each others’ respective sounds, there are simply a few too many moments where the group is caught out of sync with one another.

Tortoise fans, in search of their next fix, will have to make do until later this year, because while a significant number of their talents are displayed on this record, many will be slightly disappointed by the band serving largely as a backup to Oldham. Oldham, on the other hand, was handed a rare opportunity in the form of an instrumental section that is limitless in its talent, and chose to deviate from the band’s established strengths. So there are moments where the dedicated, artistically driven personalities of Oldham and drummer/producer John McEntire seem to be on different pages. I chalk some of this to unfamiliarity, and if these musicians were to get together for another album, the wrinkles on this record would most likely be ironed out. But looking at this body of work, it is painfully clear that these artists have made their names and honed their sounds separately from one another. Which is what brings us back to the love/hate relationship of side-projects; if they don’t get it completely right the first time, there most likely won’t be another.

A New Obama?

When Barack Obama returns from his highly publicized tour of the Middle East, he will likely bring back a more confident and aggressive take on Iran, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while a tour through the Middle East will keep the headlines flowing favorably in his direction, if Obama expects to make a genuine dent into John McCain’s armor of foreign policy expertise, he needs to bear in mind that he is still only a foreign policy novice; treading water in a topic that is deceptively deep.

Despite holding a national lead over John McCain at the time of his departure on a trip through Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, the Democratic Party nominee has chosen to bring the election fight to McCain’s doorstep by rebuffing claims that he is weak on foreign policy.

But for McCain, a former Navy captain with 26 years in Congress, debating topics such as the Iraqi war with Obama will keep the battle for the presidency on his home turf, as least until the junior senator returns to the United States. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, McCain leads Obama on issues surrounding international affairs, the war on terror, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And every day that Obama keeps a spotlight on foreign policy issues, he is diverting attention from the economy and the federal budget deficit; two issues where he holds a significant lead.

So while recent reviews of Obama’s trip have been largely favorable, he is running the risk of playing to his weaknesses, as opposed to his strengths, which could destabilize his political base. Visiting and involving himself with the Iraqi war will show that he is taking an interest in improving his understanding of a substantially important issue that he will have to face if elected as president. But convincing the American public that he is the man to solve the US’ foreign policy woes will take time, and will subject him to criticism that could have been avoided until after taking the Oval Office.

If Barack Obama truly wishes to improve his international credibility, then he will eventually benefit from his trip abroad. But the senator from Illinois must realize that the President is only one role in an administration. He cannot be a policy expert on every issue facing his administration, but instead must show he can build a team of trusted and competent specialists in order to add integrity experience to his political agenda.

Obama must pick a vice-presidential candidate who will overlap with his policies, while lending expertise in subjects where he is perceived as weak. He is still after all, a first-term senator with little national or executive experience, so enlisting the help of an experienced politician will help to shield his inexperience. Candidates such as Joe Biden or Sam Nunn would ease the foreign policy gap, while figures like Bill Richardson, Mark Warner and Evan Bayh would provide appeal to blue-collar workers.
But picking a vice-president requires delicate timing and research. Presidential candidates often time this decision to coincide with their party’s national convention, or during a slump in the campaign, as the announcement of a running mate historically leads to a spike in opinion polls. So while Obama is currently content with learning more about his foreign policy deficiencies, naming a running mate sooner, rather than later, will tie up a number of loose ends in his campaign.

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