Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greek Independence Day, Tsipras Edition

Happy Greek Independence Day!  Ζήτω Η Ελλας!

This year's Greek Independence Day once again finds Greece in the headlines, as new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza government try to negotiate better terms for paying back the nation's massive loans in the wake of the lingering financial crisis.

That crisis continues to frame most things Greek. But one of the greatest things about being Greek is the ability to shrug off  problems and not let them affect your sense of self, your Hellenism.

I continue to brag about being a Greek, so much so that a friend at work recently commented "I can't believe you still brag about that in the face of the crisis." Bragging about being Greek in times of crisis is one of THE Greekest things you can EVER do.* A Hellene knows that over the course of 2,500 years of history, you are going to have some valleys - self-imposed ones like the current situation, or external ones like the fall of Constantinople, the Anatolian catastrophe, etc. - and we are likely to brag about the valleys, too.

To paraphrase Louis Armstrong, 'If you have to ask what Hellenism is, you'll never know.'**

As I've written before, I'm not crazy about Tsipras but you can not question his Hellenism. What else would give you the courage - or θρασος - to go to Germany, as he did this week, and say 'despite our screw ups and fiscal irresponsibility you have to cut us some slack"?***

Only a people who invented logic can confidently push such an illogical idea.

One of the Hellenic highlights of 2014 was Greece's stirring victory over Ivory Coast in the group stage of the World Cup. The win propelled Ellas into the knock-out round and was delivered in dramatic fashion by George Samaras' penalty kick.****  As his shot hit the back of the net I screamed to the throng and our παρέα gathered in Public Tenley "H Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει! Greece will never die!"

And we'll never stop bragging, either!  ΖΗΤΟ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ! Long live Greece!

* I was bragging about one of our recent triumphs, Archbishop Iakovos' participation in the March on Selma. His role was highlighted in the film 'Selma' where Iakovos tells Martin Luther King, Jr. 'You are not alone my friend.' Apparently a second line of dialogue - 'Really? I'm the ONLY white guy here?' - was cut from the final version of the film.
** Armstrong lived for a time in Astoria, Queens, aka Greektown, USA
*** Cutting Greece some slack by easing up on austerity makes sense, too. Witness the US, who passed a stimulus bill under President Obama, versus the eurozone, suffering years of stagnation thanks in large part to German-imposed austerity. When the chips are down, a supposedly socialist-leaning Europe helps their banks not the people.
**** Coincidentally enough, this clip is in German! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: !!X edition!

Episode !!X of the Manuel Transmissions podcast - featuring Paul 'Ted Cruz' Kushner, FK Stamatos, a Ramadan-inspired lenten tip AND John going pyu pyu pyu (guns blazing) - is FINALLY available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8EBnowd0LY.

You're welcome.

Monday, March 16, 2015

March Whatever

I titled this post March Whatever due to the sense of inevitability and lack of excited that frames this year's NCAA tournament.

The big story is Kentucky's quest for an undefeated season and John Calipari's second national championship, which coincidentally will match the number of final four appearances his teams have had to forfeit (UMass, Memphis). Is there any excitement watching this mix of one-and-done and McDonald's All American players, led by one of America's smarmiest coaches? No, there isn't. It's no fun.

The other stories aren't much better. Every year it seems the tournament gets more and more hyped, more and more corporate, and less and less entertaining. The charm of the tournament is the underdogs, but this year the NCAA selection committee picked underachieving name brands like UCLA and Indiana instead of more interesting teams such as Dayton, Richmond or even Miami. It's a corporate, brand-name tournament played by student-athletes who put far more into the NCAA than they get out.

Finally, there's Carolina. Last year, I had our team winning the national championship as I usually do. That team defeated Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, and Michigan State, the top four teams in the preseason polls, so were a legit threat.  Carolina, Dean-style basketball resurfaced in Greensboro last week for 3.75 games to produce some hope for the NCAA tournament, but one reason for a whatever is this team is probably a year away from a legit pick to go 6-0 and winning another national championship.

So for all those reasons, it's March Whatever for me. Despite that - GO HEELS! 

Here are a few more hoop notes for now, with my picks for the tournament coming tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

Three must-read articles have come out in the last week: my classmate Scott Price's piece in Sports Illustrated about UNC, John Feinstein's column on Syracuse and the ACC, and Barry Jacobs' column on the ACC tournament. 

Scott's piece is worth reading even though it's a little too cynical and broad. I still have faith that UNC will restore the Carolina way and that the University of the People will get it right. Scott quotes my former professor John Shelton Reed quite a bit, too. The SI piece posits that Carolina started losing it's way when Jordan and the Dean Dome turned a plucky and liberal program into a national brand, a process augmented by the world wide leader in sports hyping the UNC-Duke rivalry. 

The common thread through all three articles is the ACC now represents all that is wrong in college athletics. There are no more student athletes, just unpaid workers building a successful brand of entertainment and sports programing (the ESP of ESPN). It used to have a down-home tournament for fans of a geographically-compact conference; now its tournament is an east-coast roadshow in fairness to teams - not schools - that range from south Florida to New England to Indiana.

Worst of all, Feinstein points out that not only has its football-fueled expansion and money-loving ruined the quaintness of the basketball tournament, it has tainted the ACC's highest and mightiest. Who would have thought that Dean Smith's school could host an academic scandal, Duke would ignore two instances of sexual assault, and Syracuse would have to forfeit more than 100 wins due to academic schemes to keep players eligible?

Worst of all, to me at least, these problems are not that hard to fix: make freshmen ineligible, or follow baseball's example of holding a high school draft and if you don't sign with a team you can not be drafted again until you complete your junior year; play fewer regular-season games - 8 in football, 20 in basketball; 25 in baseball.  Those reforms would restore the quaintness of college athletics, keep the athletes in class more, and make sure that academia not corporate, name-brand, money-loving broadcasters set the agenda.

This year's NCAA tournament may make me shrug 'whatever' but these scandals make me embarrassed and ashamed for caring so much about college basketball. 


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: All Manuels March Madness Edition!

The latest edition of Manuel Transmissions is now available at https://www.youtube.com/embed/Pdiur1Dovws.  Due to some transportation issues it's our first all-Manuels podcast, featuring Alex, Evan, Ariadne, Athan, and John our host - with a cameo from Sophia.  Predictably, we discuss the ACC tournament but spend most of our time talking about March Madnes* and our brackets.**

* - we trademarked Madnes with one S***
** - our picks are for entertainment only and are not meant to be the basis for any illegal or legal wagering
*** - I made that part up****
**** - they can't all be winners

GO HEELS!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why We Watch

This is why we watch, right?  A week after a home loss to Duke that demoralized me, a generally half-full kind of viewer of all things Carolina, the Heels are back and playing like, well Tar Heels!

The turnaround is another reminder that we are watching embryonic young hoopsters when we are watching college basketball. The cynicism, money and corporate control - NY Life ACC Tournament, with a logo underfoot athletes who will not get a dime - makes that easy to forget.

Carolina's play this week reminds us that kids aren't perfect and make mistakes - but kids can also improve and do so quickly. In the course of three games the Heels seem to have solved the three problems that have marred their entire season until now.

One, Marcus Paige has gotten some help. Granted, he made the biggest shot of the game versus Virginia on Friday night, but freshman Justin Jackson was our leading scorer. On Thursday, Brice Johnson was fantastic and it was Kennedy Meeks making big plays down the stretch on offense and defense. 

Two, the poise was there. Carolina was down 5 to Louisville at half but was steady and methodical in the second half to win going away. Better still was the poise displayed when Virginia made the inevitable run to cut the lead to one. On back-to-back possessions Carolina made great plays. Paige went to Meeks at the free thrown line, who in turn made the extra pass to Jackson for a lay up as the 35 second clock expired. On the next possession, after a time out with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, Paige dribbled into the lane, pumped fake right then pivoted left to hit the game-sealing floater. Classic Carolina.

Finally three, the Heels are spreading the wealth Dean style. Paige has continued his resurgence of late, Johnson has been excellent on both ends and on the boards, Meeks has made some big time plays and though plagued by turnovers J.P. Tokoto  has done the same and Joel Berry kept us afloat versus Louisville with a huge stretch in the first half.  

By far the biggest development has been the play of Jackson. He quietly has gotten more consistent as the season has progressed but he exploded versus Virginia. Much has been written about his 4 three-pointers but he hit shots from all over the floor. I loved that he was aggressive to the hoop a number of times and did not 'settle' for being a one-dimensional shooter.  

All this could add up to Carolina's first ACC Championship since 2008. Growing up, an ACC Tournament title was almost a birthright for born, bred and dead Tar Heels like myself.  What a great capstone to an up and down season, one dominated by tragedies like the Wainstein report and the death of Coach Smith, an ACC title would make.  

On top of that, a win over Notre Dame would be another reminder that this is a game played by college kids, kids who can look nothing like Tar Heels one weekend and very Carolina the next.

GO HEELS! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Return of Manuel Transmissions

A new episode of the Manuel Transmissions podcast is up and available at http://youtu.be/I_ACNro7waM.  This week's episode features Cleo, Paul, Evan, Athan, Alex and our host John discussing spring break, a little college basketball and our favorite NBA players (non-UNC alum division) plus tuna salad! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Game That Defines the Season

Last night's loss to Duke was more than a disappointing loss to our smug and lesser arch-rivals. The loss epitomizes why so many Tar Heel born, bred and dead fans feel uneasy about this team and it's lack of progress.

To me, there have been 3 themes - or problems - with this team, and all were on display last night in Chapel Hill.
  1. This team is too dependent on Marcus Paige. I love Marcus Paige; in our new post-Wainstein era he is exactly who we need leading this team and frankly being the student face of the entire university. But the operative word there is lead. A leader leads but does not make every play, but that's what this team expects and all the opposing teams know it. As Jawad Williams tweeted (@worldwad) last night, someone else needs to step up and help Paige and this team win some games. Paige was magnificent last night vs. the Devils but needed help down the stretch but did not get much if any assistance. Finally, in a cruel twist considering recent events, an over reliance on one player is anti-Dean. One 'criticism' of Dean is that he was too egalitarian and team-oriented (yes, some idiots actually said that). Well, sharing the wealth is how you win games and championships. Look at Worthy-Perkins-Jordan, or Montross-Williams-Lynch-Phelps, or Lawson-Hansbrough-Ellington-Green, or Bird-McHale-Johnson-Parrish, or LeBron-Wade-Bosh, or Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Popovich, Magic-Kareem-Worthy, Jordan-Pippen-Jackson, etc.
  2. Point two is related to point one: the uneven development of the players on this team. Paige and Brice Johnson were both named third-team ACC, which seems about right. Johnson is the only player to have gotten better this year, and was the only other reliable Tar Heel on the floor versus the Devils besides Paige. Offensively Johnson is confident and has some great moves, is as athletic as you would imagine a state high jump champion to be, and does the work on the glass. But this team has been undone by a lack of progress from Kennedy Meeks and T.P. Tokoto and spotty  play from everyone else in the rotation: Britt, Jackson, Berry, James, Pinson. None of those guys are reliable contributors game to game. At the end of a season you should see more development from all the players, but especially from Meeks and Tokoto. Both could and should have been All-ACC players but instead they have looked lost down the stretch.
  3. Which of course is maybe our biggest problem. In addition to being un-Dean in terms of players, it also appears that this team is very un-Carolina at the end of games. Your typical Tar Heels squad - the pre-broken wrist 2012  Kendall Marshall squad is probably the most recent example - is a well-oiled, smart and poised machine at the end of the season. But not this one. The late-game melt downs at Duke, at Louisville, and at home versus Virginia, State and the Devils could not be more frustrating or vexing. Of course, this problem is the sum of the first two issues. Who are these guys making all these unforced errors? Their jerseys say Carolina so my eyes believe it but my gut, my heart and the Carolina-blue blood coursing through my veins does not.
So what's next? It's hard to be optimistic at this stage of the season. To win the ACC tournament the Heels would have to go through Louisville (doable; we've practically beaten them twice already), Virginia (also doable especially if Meeks and Tokoto show up), and Duke. One of Dean's sayings is it's hard to beat a team three times in one season so I would love our chances to prove Dean right (again) and get some revenge against the Devils.

Even if this happens it's hard to imagine us going more than 2 or 3 games deep in the NCAAs. Another example of how un-Dean and un-Carolina team this teams seems to be. As sad as those 3 issues just discussed THAT may be the saddest admission of them all. 

Despite all that - GO HEELS!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two Big Questions - DC sports edition

DC sports fans will soon learn the answers to two burning questions.

1. The most immediate one is, do the Wizards have the fortitude to overcome their recent tailspin? The 'Zards have lost 6 straight, including two in a row to bottom feeders, and have gone from an ascending Eastern Conference power led by an emerging MVP candidate to a dysfunctional unit struggling to hang on to a playoff spot.*

Two related issues have emerged for our Washington basketball team. One, unlike every other NBA power, the Wizards do not make a lot of three-pointers or free throws. For a while Rasuel Butler papered over this problem, but the 'Zards clearly miss Trevor Ariza and his three point shooting. The Wizards' problems correspond with Bulter's recent frigid shooting, and Martell Webster has been just as cold since coming back from this third back surgery in four seasons. 

Compounding that problem has been the injury-plagued season of Bradley Beal. But even when he has been on the floor Beal has struggled. His scoring is down, in part due to 'competition' with veteran leader Paul Pierce. It appears that those two occupy the same spaces on the floor and have yet to learn how to play off each other.

Washington fans may recall that when Pierce was originally signed he was supposed to come off the bench. Ironically, he became a starter when Beal was injured in the preseason.  

As the losses have mounted there have been lot of complaints about Randy Wittman's coaching, offense and rotations. One solution may be, once Beal returns from his latest injury, to go back to the 'original' line up and start Gortat, Hilario,** Otto Porter, Beal and Wall, with Pierce coming off the bench.  Pierce is a pro and can handle any scenario thrown at him. Beal - and Porter - are young and their development should be a priority. Starting them with Pierce coming off the bench could be a win-win situation - that gets our Wizards some actual wins.

2. The other DC sports question relates to our Nats. Is this the year we finally decide if GM Mike Rizzo is an actual genius? He's been given that title mainly due to trades where he picked up Gio Gonzalez, Wilson Ramos and Doug Fister for a hill of beans and some worn out resin bags, drafted Anthony Rendon when other teams thought he was injury prone, and signed important free agents such as Jayson Werth and now Max Scherzer. 

Of course, stinking enough when Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were draft eligible also helped.

Bottom line, if the Nats win the World Series this season he will be a certified genius for constructing this team. But if they don't, and stalwarts like Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann leave via free agent, how good will his tenure look? 

Scherzer and ZNN are similar in many ways, except that Zimmerman is younger and cheaper (and home grown). If you don't win a World Series and lose with older and more expensive players*** you can not be called a genius.

GO Wizards, GO Nats!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Senate as a solution?

One of the indignities of living in DC is that we have no representation in Congress yet states that are barely inhabited such as Rhode Island, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, etc. not only have that but also TWO Senators.

Though DC does not have the representation it deserves, one has to applaud the Founding Fathers for designing a legislative body that balances the interests of large and small, rich and poor, states. 

I thought about that design when reading all the stories about the latest turns in the eurozone and Greece in the Sunday Post and Times. One problem plaguing the eurozone is that nations share a currency but not much else. Their budgets, bonds, borrowing and spending - and politics - is each different. Exhibit A is Greece and Germany, with Germany obviously fed up with Greece's spending and politics.

One goal of a united, post-war Europe was to put an end to political rivalries and nationalism.  Another goal is economic; the eurozone is supposed to create one, big, united economy much like the one in the U.S. As you know, in our united states wealthier ones such as California and New York support their poorer brethren like Mississippi and Alabama. Unfortunately, now that the chips are down Germany does not want to eurozone to function like that. Instead of propping up they have decided to force austerity on the poorer nations of Europe. 

In doing so, Berlin has cynically prioritized their banks over their fellow European citizens. Clearly, German-imposed austerity has not worked. 

As the New York Times editorialized today, one way to make the eurozone actually function is to unite European financial markets and economies - not just currencies. The Times goes on to point out that that kind of unity is unlikely since countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland do not trust eurozone bureaucrat in Brussels (even though the Greeks would obviously benefit from being as transparent and prudent, etc. as the Germans), and vice-versa.  

That's where the Senate comes in. Though it slows things down, which can be but isn't always a bad thing, I am still a big fan of bicameral legislatures (sorry parliamentary democracies and Nebraska). Perhaps integrating currencies, economies and markets would work better if the existing European parliament was given greater authority AND was complimented by a Senate that functioned exactly as ours did - complete with the filibuster and cloture, and most importantly, every member of the European Senate, no matter how big or small, had 2 seats.  

Countries would be equals financially AND politically. Joining such a union or zone would also force a nation to decide, "Do you care about a union of equals or do you only care about YOUR national interests" -- and in this case German banks.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: Oscar Edition

Just in time for the Oscars, episode three of the 'Manuel Transmissions' podcast is on YouTube.  In addition to sharing our Oscar picks we discuss the new pace of play rules for Major League Baseball with John, Alex, Ariadne, Evan, Cleo, Michael, Anna, Paul and our newest cast member Kate, with a guest appearance by Sophia! You can also find it here: http://youtu.be/42H3Qx0tZnA

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dook Game

I continue to feel detached about Carolina basketball in the wake of Dean's death.  That said, I imagine that feeling will dissipate once I tune in and catch my first glimpse of a self-satisfied, entitled, smug, Republican Duke student.

I envision the same thing will happen to Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and Roy Williams, but I especially hope it happens to Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto.  We need those two back in 'Heels Peaking' rhythm, tonight and every night. Meeks is especially important; despite the presence of Okafor we should be the better team down low.

Look for those two to get on track, Paige to be Paige, and the Heels to beat down the Devils one more time.

GO HEELS!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Manuel Transmissions: Episode II, Presidents Day edition

The second episode of the Manuel Transmissions podcast - just in time for Presidents Day!

You can also find Manuel Transmissions on YouTube at http://youtu.be/SgMbBmQXqeo

Dean Hangover

Watching Carolina's game versus Pitt yesterday my fandom matched the level of play from the Heels. Given the news of the week, losing a basketball game on the road did not seem that big of a deal. I shrugged off the loss, unaffected, much the same way the players seemed to.

That said, there were some interesting basketball-game related insights.
  1. Despite sleepwalking through much of the game the Heels DID tie it up late in the first half. But at the under-four time out the wheels fell off - and stayed off.
  2. That run to tie the game was led by Kennedy Meeks, who came off the bench for the second game in a row. I imagine, or more to the point hope, that Meeks will be back in the starting line up versus Duke. As much as Isaiah Hicks has improved the Heels are strongest when Brice Johnson and Meeks are feeding off each other.
  3. The other player who helped lead that run was Joel Berry. It was great to see the Florida freshman step up and play with confidence; he was so confident Roy had him start the second half at the point.
  4. As good as it was to see Berry contribute it was also an admission that Nate Britt, after a great couple of games highlighted by his performance against Syracuse, and J.P. Tokoto have regressed in the last 4 games. We need both to get back to their A game if this team is to compete for an ACC championship and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. 
  5. This week's game at Duke may be just what this team needs. This is a good team, one that should regain it's focus and mojo in Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Never underestimate how some adversity can help get a team back on track. 
Finally, a huge 'point to the passer' to the University of Pittsburgh student section. 
Not only did the students unveil this banner but they also presented Roy with a signed card offering their condolences for Coach Smith's death. Those gracious actions from the self proclaimed Oakland Zoo prompted Roy to say "College athletics is not all bad. There are some darn good things that happen."

Kudos to the Oakland Zoo for the ultimate Dean move. Point to the passer!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dean

I never met Dean Smith - I think the closest I came to ever talking to him was when Jim Love and the coach shared an ash tray as Jim and I were leaving Carmichael after picking up some student basketball tickets; I think I was in the bathroom - but like Tar Heels everywhere his death hit me hard.  I wept more than once today thinking about Coach Smith.

Despite never having played for him many UNC alums usually refer to him as Coach Smith, like his players did.  Or you could go with Dean, though that frankly seems too familiar.  

There have been many great tributes to Coach Smith today, as there were when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and when he retired in 1997. Two of my favorite's are by Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff and Beth McNichol at the UNC General Alumni Association.  Both articles remind readers that Dean was more than an innovative and creative and successful basketball coach, that Coach Smith was a scholar, author and social activist.  Above all they remind us that Coach Smith was a gentleman who was generous and loyal to his players and staff, someone who treated his star players and student managers with respect and equality.

North Carolina, America and the world could use a lot more Dean Smiths.

One thing those tributes have not mentioned is that the reason Coach Smith means so much to non-basketball players or coaches is that for UNC alums, Dean IS Carolina.

Charles Kuralt said it best when at the University's 200th anniversary he asked 'Why is it that we love this place so? ... Because it still is, what it always has been, the university of the people.' 

That's Dean. When we look at Coach Smith we see the values many if not all of us associate with Carolina. To alums our alma mater is more than a school.  Carolina is a set of values - open-mindedness, liberal, egalitarian, public - designed to help Chapel Hill fulfill its mission of helping the people of North Carolina and the South overcome a still-toxic legacy of bigotry, ignorance and poverty.  

The University of the people. The University of Dean Smith.

Everlasting be his memory! Go Heels! 

For more on Dean from a different perspective check out the inaugural 'Manuel Transmissions' podcast, a podcast that will eventually feature opinions from three 'generations' of the Manuel family: parents John, Cleo, Christine, Athan; high school and college students Evan, Kate, Ariadne, Paul; kids Sophia, Alex, Michael, Anna.  Our initial podcast features Paul, Ariadne, Evan, me and an actual journalist John Manuel, talking about Dean.


Two more Dean notes:

  • I want to thank my friend Bill Wood for having Dean autograph a basketball for me. Bill, a UNC med school grad, was the household hazardous waste coordinator for Orange County, doing good work AND becoming a North Carolina resident before applying to med school. When Dean agreed to record a PSA for the program Bill thoughfully got Coach Smith to autograph a ball for me, one of the nicest gifts I've ever received and a Dean move all the way! I'm pointing at Bill right now! 
  • i would love to see #pointtothepasser start trending on Twitter. Nothing is more Dean than pointing out when someone helps you succeed. Heels need to make that happen. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Syriza Imitates the US - on immigration

One of the worst trait of knee-jerk lefties around the world, or here actually, is an lazy anti-Americanism.  For a country like Greece, that does not make sense.  There are many ways in which America could benefit from imitating Greek attitudes on food, family, and work-life balance.

But Greece really needs to copy American ideals such as meritocracy, faith in democratic institutions (courts, etc.), taking more personal responsibility for civic life  (volunteerism, citizens boards), and above all not asking what your country can do for you but what can you for your country.  

One way our meritocracy manifests itself is an immigrant can come to America and instantly feel like an American, and more importantly know a child born here is automatically an American citizen.  

Unlike the U.S. or Canada, most old world nation's determine citizenship by blood or heritage. For instance, in Greece there are generations of Greek-born Albanians who despite that birth are officially Albanian citizens. The same was true for Turks in Germany, northern Africans in France, etc.  That is starting to change in Europe, though not everywhere, but in a very progressive move changed this week in Greece courtesy of Syriza. 

On Tuesday, Alternate Migration Policy Minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou announced that Greek nationality would be granted to all migrants' children who were born and raised in Greece. She added that this would apply to even those who were not born here, but came to Greece at very young age and finished school here.

That is huge!  Congrats to Syriza for that very humane and logical move, AND for imitating the U.S. too.