Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

When I was younger before every vacation or random family road trip we took, my dad would spend the night before packing, locking up the house and lastly,  reminding us about printing out his handy-dandy MapQuest directions.

"Make sure to remind me to print out that MapQuest for the trip", he would say.

MapQuest became our rock for about 97.6% of our family road trips and vacations. Not to mention it was free.

The other 2.4% came from the times MapQuest complicated the trip. The cons of the service was that before smart phones with tons of applications were around or people began buying electronic GPS systems or even before those same GPS systems were included in newer cars, it was on paper. The primitive paper version of MapQuest is final, the only thing you can do to it is rip it up after it pisses you off.

I'm not sure about your family but MapQuest had us lost more times than not.

Nowadays, since everyone has some sort of smartphone, or built in GPS system in their vehicle, there is no more stopping at a convenience store to ask the cashier "are you from around here? If so I'm trying to get to 7th Street, can you point me in that direction?" Usually we'd find out that the direction we were supposed to be going was totally opposite of the direction we were heading.

GPS applications are usually already included on the phone before you use it for the first time. It re-routes itself if I get off on the wrong exit or miss my exit for that matter. If I need to make a change, or find a new address, I can just type it in. If you don't have one by default, you can download one. It's free and waiting to be used.

But as an adventurous person, I kind of enjoyed the spontaneity of a MapQuest error, though today I occasionally take advantage of my map app. Of course, who doesn't like the money-saving convenience that an interactive application via Internet access can bring you.

But hey, next time, if you enjoy traveling and have the means for burning gas and time, try just using the road signs ahead to get to wherever you're going.  Even if you get lost, appreciate the struggle.

Getting lost with friends or family can truly be a good thing. To me, it can help strengthen a bond or help create memories among other things. Getting lost may at first seem frightening, but learning to embrace the feeling of "going with the flow" is imperative when lost and exciting altogether. Use getting lost as a way to teach yourself. If you're bad with sense of direction, getting lost is for you, seriously.

I remember taking my first road trip with some friends and ending up lost. It was funny more than anything. I understand some may feel vulnerable in a strange place.

Getting lost might help you find something unexpected, something you may think is cool, somewhere you may not have found hadn't you got lost.

If you must use a map, use a real map. You know, the big book like maps probably archived somewhere in your parents nostalgic belongings.

Travel/map applications in my opinion are just an example of how new technology can steal some of the unanticipated joys of life.

Traveling is supposed to be a thrill ride.

"To hell with MapQuest and their errors. Forget getting lost, we don't have the time for that, I need very accurate directions, now" is what I suppose my dad said to himself before he purchased a vehicle with built-in GPS.

That's what we all say subconsciously when we download any application.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amerikkka's Most Wanted

Before his 21st birthday, Ice Cube released his debut solo album after his split from the group, NWA entitled Amerikkka's Most Wanted in 1990.

To put things in a very honest perspective, the album describes many aspects of American society, not only then, but now. Do not come at me saying that there are plenty of similar albums. I know this, the message and title of this such album just stands out.

The album was filled with tons of politically charged references, misogynic and violent lyrics but it needed to be heard, society should put this album on repeat. The impact of Cube's hardcore flow can still be felt in the homes, streets, and prisons of America.

Track two, "The N***a You Love To Hate", Ice Cube blasts the police and the government. He warns police that one day blacks that feel oppressed might find it in them to retaliate, which has subsequently happened. He rips the gun control laws, one that banned the legal use of the oft-owned and very cheap but high-powered AK47 rifle. Politicians would use the banning of the guns that were at the center of street violence as a platform for election.

Then came one of the more recognizable and relatable lines from the entire album: "Why more n****s in the pen than in college?", the school to prison pipeline is very much alive as there are more black men sitting in America's prisons than in America's universities.

The zero tolerance-esque policy neglects young black children who may be in need of more assistance and guidance to keep them out of trouble, therefore prioritizing incarceration over education. The American Civil Liberties Union further characterizes the issue that begins at the heart of the size of the classroom, they are overcrowded without resources to fundamentally nurture a child's educational needs such as the lack of quality teachers and funding for extra opportunities such as counselors and programs to aid these at-risk children. These faults have caused things such as the frequency of school shootings and other publicized happenings which lead schools to embrace the aforementioned zero-tolerance policies that can cause expulsion for students regardless of the offense. Expulsions lead to unsupervised children which lead to inevitable trouble, which lead children into court, deep into the juvenile system. These factors and others lead children-turned-adults behind steel bars instead of behind wooden desks. To a place where a pencil doesn't write your essays, instead, it can help write your tombstone.

What about the track, "Turn off the Radio"? Cube had a message for those blacks who wish to assimilate themselves with who he deemed as the enemy, saying that they simply don't care much for you. He labeled those people as "Oreo cookies". The first 30 seconds or so is filled with stereotypes associated with African-Americans, mocking and labelling us as people who love fried chicken that can't do anything but play a sport, a place where we are generally wanted, before telling us that we should "go back to Africa", because we aren't truly wanted as people in this country as Cube is trying to explain. Outside of that, he used this track to come for "sellouts", calling them people whose only goal is to make songs to please the mass audience, upset that his truly radio-unfriendly music doesn't get radio play. Actually, the album was without a true single and significant radio attention.

The next track "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)" is the epitome of the many societal struggles we are currently living through everyday it seems, police killing blacks, innocent blacks. The female news reporter starts out by letting us know that the new animal seeming to be falling from the face of the earth are black people, young black teenagers as she described have become the newest members on the list. The accuracy. "No efforts have been made to preserve the blacks", she continues, saying that the aforementioned people make for good "game hunting". Police brutality is not a new thing, it has been around since the inception of police. It was put on national display two years later after the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles which became the culprit of the riots that occurred in the city later that year. Years afterwards black Americans remain on the list with obviously no laws to protect us from the badged game hunters. Just another tale from the Darkside.

I can go on and on about how the life of 20 year old O'Shea Jackson, AKA Ice Cube's was similar to every other 20 year old black man in Amerikkka, I mean, America. The lessons he learned and the messages he portrayed exhibited on this album can still be heard today. Twenty-five years later not much has seemed to change about this avenue of society, discrepancies over color are very much alive.

Ice Cube was ahead of his time.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Every NBA Team Needs a Draymond Green

Too slow, too fat with a limited offensive game among other things is what Draymond Green heard coming out of Michigan State. 

His college resumé warranted a for sure first round selection, what scouts and others around the NBA saw was a project guy without a true position, a "tweener" as they called it. 

Green is 6'8" on a good day and coming out of MSU, he was a hefty 245-250 pounds. The next Boris Diaw seemed to be his fate. Green was already a pretty decent decision maker with the rock, he could rebound with the best of them at the college level and he was a terrific defender. Everything else was average to below average. 

GM Bob Myers drafted Green because he simply knew how to win. Myers said of Green after drafting him: "He went to one of the top colleges in the country and all he did was produce and win. Sitting next to me here are three guys that win. That's what we need to do. Winning in my opinion and in our group's opinion is a skill. These players all have that skill."

Right on Bob Myers. 

The Warriors didn't get the Boris Diaw clone he was destined to be, or Luke Harangody. What they got was a young, sane Ron Artest with an insane desire to win and do whatever it takes to get that done on both ends on the floor with the versatility of Shawn Marion. He's even slimmed down, allowing him to be much more agile than he was.

All it took was an unfortunate injury to David Lee and new head coach Steve Kerr, who once was the GM when Shawn Marion was in Phoenix to realize that Green was much too valuable to be their first or second guy off the bench. The struggles of his rookie and sophomore campaign made him better.

But why Draymond Green out of all people?

Offensively, Green has admirably filled the role that the Cavaliers sought out for Kevin Love, a stretch-four who is the epitome of the title, the guy who stretches the defense, pulling out bigs on defense to open up driving lanes for guards and slashing wings. 

It's really a match made in heaven for the Warriors offense with Green on the floor. Their starting lineup perfectly feeds off the success of the stretch-four luring opposing big men to the perimeter. 

While Steph Curry can pull up from anywhere on the court he can also get to anywhere his heart desires on the court, including to the rim, as with starting wing Harrison Barnes. Barnes does not necessarily look to shoot, he's more interested in slashing to the basket to put down an emphatic jam. Curry's backcourt mate, Klay Thompson is afforded more space to set defenders up for his lethal mid-range jumper when he too isn't splashing 3's. I don't want to make this sound like Draymond Green is the only reason why the Warriors offense flows so effortlessly, but he does a damn good job of keeping the train moving. 

He's also became a pick and pop guru, his spot up jumper is probably one of his top 3 strengths now:

Statistically and realistically speaking, defense is Draymond Green's calling card. A great defender can always seem to find his way on an NBA team. Green is tasked to guard opposing teams' best threat in the post on a nightly basis and he is pretty much lights out as a post defender. Green has had no trouble guarding bigs who are either much taller, bigger or even more agile, except well, maybe Anthony Davis at times, but that's a worthy exception to make. His ability as a rim protector is statistically up there with the likes of premier rim protectors such as DeAndre Jordan and his teammate Andrew Bogut, who statistically sits as the NBA's best rim protector. 

Without the height and rangy arms, Green still holds opposing bigs to mere 45% around the rim; the money area. 

His versatility allows the Warriors to effectively play small ball with him sometimes guarding the center,  depending on opponent. This allows the Warriors to be quicker in transition off of missed buckets, or just flat out lockdown team defense. His tremendous passing ability, though not a master outlet passer like the aforementioned Love still gets the job done. 

Especially here after he gets everything but the two points: 

Since entering the league in 2012, the Michigan State product has became one of those premier defenders that is mentally and physically still polishing his offensive skill set and becoming much more confident on that end of the floor. Fans know, I know and anyone who watches basketball knows that. His minutes, points, 3P%, rebounds, assists, and many advanced metrics are here to back him up. He does all of the above at a nice clip considering the plethora of talent he's surrounded by. His ESPN real Plus/Minus rating lists him in the top 10, making him one of the most valuable players in the entire league. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a metric that tracks value calculated for a player is claimed to be the number of additional wins their team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player was substituted by a replacement level player: a player that may be added to the team for minimal cost and effort is also places him in the top 10. 

Analytics anyone?

These advanced metrics and ways to look at and evaluate a player's statistical worth has helped under the radar players like Green receive recognition for their undeniably important value to their respective teams. Analytics has allowed us to get rid of the label that Green would otherwise have if not for analytics improving his case. Maybe something like a "good" but limited role player, that doesn't make a true difference. His basic statistics (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals) are not that of a star player. Analytics is more than what meets the eye. Analytics give players like Draymond Green their props where they are rightfully due. 

They allow us to be critical evaluators of players. You've got to respect that.

But Anyway. . .

The "stretch-four" has sort of became another position on the court along with my other favorites such as "point forward". The position is highly valued, especially by Coach Kerr. It is likely that every team in some way, shape or form has a stretch-four on their roster.

Truly to a degree, Green is not undersized by today's NBA standards. Not even by his trash-talking standards, a family tradition according to Green. He's what every team needs if they had championship aspirations. That versatile, in your face glue guy who doesn't have the flashy stats, or makes the flashy plays, but the guy who can take the top off the defense like a blazing fast wide receiver, make the smart plays, coupled with preeminent defensive skills is what every team wish they had. He doesn't dominate the ball, nor create shots for himself. He just has an undying desire to win. 

Guys like Green are hard to find. It's going to be even harder to try to coach up the next Draymond Green. Some of what he does on the court isn't taught, it's innate. 

He's really earned a name for himself in this breakout season. He might even be in for a really nice payday.

Too bad 29 other teams passed up this opportunity. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Letter to Baltimore. . .

For two weeks, following the death of one very well known African-American, a dark cloud was hung over Baltimore, Maryland, a populous and racially divided city in the Mid-Atlantic. Looting and burning of various buildings in the communities of the minorities that occupied them was rampant. Soon enough, National Guardsmen in riot gear were called to quell crowds and hush the uproar, forcefully. The year? 1968. The death? Martin Luther King Jr.

The year is now 2015 and the city of Baltimore faces another uphill battle. Sadly, it's nothing new.


Dear Baltimore,

It's been a couple of weeks of unrest. Authorities choosing not to rest to apparently protect the well-being of the city. Those coping with yet another killing of an innocent civilian choosing not to rest due to lack of closure because those same authorities are hypocritical about protecting the well-being of the city.

Maybe all it took was a rational decision by the police to avoid this all. There's the hypocrisy. The well-being of the city wouldn't be in question had the police humanely arrested Freddie Gray due to being a person of interest to officers.

People are sick and tired of being sick and tired, can't you agree? Sadly that famous quote is still synonymous to today's America.

I want to speak out to the citizens and the authorities of this city.

To hear the news of Gray's slaying was heartbreaking. I know it is hard to fathom why history keeps repeating itself in such a negative and mostly fatal fashion. The police have gone into full open season mode on whomever they see fit to bite the next bullet of brutality. Often times, their records stay clean as those affected are left to clean up the mess they left behind. That too ends up in tragedy. We often end up with a skewed view of the real problem that has not only had a profound affect on your city, but on many cities across the country. In response, rioting and looting became the cry for help and for answers.

Didn't it seem like the only way to garner attention? There has been countless occurrences of police brutality to fatality that has fallen by the wayside, which is even more tragic.

I do not condone rioting nor looting but while tearing down the city is often labeled as "not the answer", what is the answer? What will stop families from hurting? What will stop mothers and fathers from burying their sons and daughters and vice versa because of police brutality? What are our solutions; our options to helping to solve the problems the police are causing? Furthermore, how has most of the police force turned into modern-day Nicky "Mr. Untouchable" Barnes'?

Baltimore it's time for serous accountability and transparency. It's time for change.

I fear for my brothers, sisters and even myself. Police are slaying folks regardless of name but likely on skin color.

Whenever I learn the tragic stories of people such as Freddie, I ask myself "what do I do if I were to get stopped or tailed randomly by a policeman who sees me as a person of interest?"

Every death requires me to revise my mental checklist. I'm running out of options.

So how many deaths will it take until those in charge to get to the center of the issue at hand? 

Seriously. This may never know.

To the family of Freddie Gray and the city of Baltimore, I pray with you. You are loved, cared for and your actions have sent shockwaves through this country.

Freddie Gray
I wish for a better America with you.