New Roger Ebert movie is fantastic. Germany wins the World Cup (thankfully not in PKs). And a dog gives a baby a bath

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Roger Ebert did not get cheated by life. Not at all.
Sure, you could say he died too young, and that he suffered greatly in the last several years, enduring surgery after surgery to try to remove the cancer from his mouth and jaw, surgeries that eventually left him unable to speak, eat or drink except through a tube.

But Ebert packed so much living into the years he was on Earth, that when he died in 2013, he had a tremendous legacy to leave. He was, of course, one of the best and most-loved film critics of all time; he was a tremendous author, and lived live to the fullest, for better or for worse. He packed so much living into his years that he truly was content when he died.

The new documentary opening across the country this week about his life, directed by Steve James (of “Hoop Dreams” fame) and called “Life Itself,” shows Ebert in all his glory, warts and all.

I saw the film last week and loved it. James was given permission by Ebert to film the last few months of his life, and while some of the hospital care scenes are hard to watch, they’re necessary to show Ebert’s fighting spirit.

The interviews with Ebert’s friends, Bill Nack and Gene Siskel’s widow Melanie were especially terrific), are wonderful in showing what a garrulous personality he was, and how marrying his wife Chaz in 1991 changed his life for the better.

It’s really a well-done, poignant movie. Highly recommend it.

 

**Next up today, this is such a cute little video, sent to me by
loyal blog reader Sanford. It’s a girl and her dog named Bixby, hanging out, and Mom capturing one of the sweet little moments that make up life: Bixby giving his best buddy a “bath” one night last week.

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**And so the World Cup is finally over, as Germany, who pretty much dominated the game possession-wise, scored late in overtime (sorry, “extra time”) to beat Argentina, 1-0 and win the title for the first time since 1990.

The result is apparently at least a little bit of good news for Brazil fans, who hate Argentina passionately (apparently it’s like Yankees-Red Sox times 10), but the real story now is, and should be, the incredibly wasteful spending on World Cup and Olympic venues by Brazil, while the sanitation, schools and hospitals in the country go criminally neglected.

I’m currently reading a terrific book “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil,” by sportswriter Dave Zirin, about the awful state of Brazil’s economy and infrastructure and the protests surrounding these two world events, and it’s truly disgraceful the way these two world events were “won” by the Brazilian government.

For a fantastic story about life for “regular people” in Brazil during the Cup, and why we didn’t see massive protests on TV, check out this fantastic Wright Thompson piece from ESPN.com.

Good News Friday: I celebrate my 5-year blogiversary! The best school bus driver of all time shares his secrets. And a classic “first kiss” video makes me smile

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On July 11, 2009, World Wide of Stuff was born.

These were the first words I wrote on the site you’re now reading:

**So as I sat in my eight-bedroom mansion by the lake the other night (actually, my two bedroom apartment near a fake pond, but whatever), I thought, “how can I help my fellow man today? Can I give my time to a worthy charity? Should I try to make a difference in the life of a child?”

Nah. There’s plenty of time for that in the future. So I decided to start a blog.

Does the world need another blog, especially one by a 33-year-old sports writer? Of course not. But then again, we didn’t need a reality show about housewives in New Jersey, but we got one.

All right, so it wasn’t exactly Updike or Fitzgerald.

So much in my life has changed since this site started. For one, I no longer live in a two-bedroom apartment in Florida; now I live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
I was married then, and I’m married now, but to a different woman than I was back then (hey, life is complicated).
I left one career (newspaper journalism), started another (teaching), and am about to embark on the hardest and most rewarding job of them all: Being a father.

I truly had no idea what this site would evolve into, or if anyone would ever read it. At its best it’s been a conversation, and hopefully some of the issues I’ve ranted about, or linked to, have made you think, laugh, or cry just a little bit.

I’ve written 1,467 posts (I just looked it up), which sounds like a lot but is basically a little less than one a day), and I still get a little thrill when someone in real life or in cyberspace tells me they read my post that day and liked it.

I said a few months ago when “announcing” that our first baby will be born in September that I have no idea what that will mean for the blog; I’m thinking my daily weekday pace may slow down (infants suck up a whole of time, I’ve heard!) but who knows, maybe I’ll need to blog more to keep myself sane.

I promise that the blog will continue in some form, and that it won’t ever devolve into daily  posts of “let me tell you about the adorable thing my kid did today!” (Because other than my parents, nobody really wants to read that).

I’ve had so much fun writing this for the last five years, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stopping by.

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**OK, time for some real good news. There’s a line in the movie “The Color of Money” (which I love but so many people dislike) where Paul Newman talks about how he invests in and appreciates excellence, wherever he finds it.

That’s how I feel about Larry Hannon of Westminster, Pa., who might be the best school bus driver of all time.
He’s won 8 NSTA International Safety Competitions, or “roadeos,” this story reports (who knew there were bus driver Olympics?), more than anybody else ever has.

Listening to Hannon talk about his job, you can just feel the joy he gets out of it.

“I just like to drive the buses and it’s fun with the kids and all,” he said.

Hannon added that his favorite part of the job is “trying to get a good rapport with the students on the bus, trying to be a positive influence on them … That’s the neatest part of it, the kids on the bus.”

Good on ya, Larry Hannon. Keep doing what you love.

**And finally, on this blogiversary, I wanted to finish with one of my favorite videos I’ve ever posted on here. It’s a simple little scene of a little boy, a little girl, and first love, and it makes me smile every time I watch.

Hope you smile at it again, too. Take it away, Elliott and Bowie… (Click here to see them one year later).

 

LeBron back in Cleveland would be 57 kinds of awesome. Penalty kicks are an awful way to decide World Cup games. And Jimmy Fallon and Halle Berry make a human hamster wheel

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A not-so-little secret, from a former sportswriter: We in the sports media tend to overhype things.
We make way, way too much out of common events, declare games “the best ever” and are quick to anoint heroes and legends all the time, making enormous mountains out of molehills.

But if what happens today with LeBron James is what lots of folks were reporting Wednesday night happens, then the news’ importance would be inelastic: It could not be stretched.

LeBron James going back to Cleveland would be HUGE. Bigger than huge. The biggest sports story in a decade, I think.

Do you realize what an incredible tale this is? Hometown kid, grows up to become the best player on the planet, plays seven years for the Cleveland Cavaliers and is beloved beyond belief by the fans there. They don’t win a title, and then as a free agent he goes on national TV, humiliates the city that loves him and chooses to go to Miami, where he teams up with other stars and of course, wins championships that he seemed destined to win for the long-suffering fans of Cleveland.

His jerseys get burned in Cleveland. He feels rage like few athletes ever have. The Cavs owner writes a scathing letter ripping LeBron to shreds.

And then, four years later … LeBron comes back to Cleveland? It would be epic. That kind of story just does not happen in sports.  You know with Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, and some other free agents who will soon sign by his side, LeBron would have a great chance to end Cleveland’s 50-year sports championship drought.

Why would he go back to a place that sent so much fury at him? I have no inside information into his psyche, of course, but I honestly think he feels bad about the way he left. I think he knows how he departed, making a spectacle of himself on national TV, was wrong and immature, and he sees this as righting a wrong.

And if he comes back to Ohio and wins a title or two, man, what a story it would make.

I so hope LeBron becomes a Cav again. It would be just a wonderful, wonderful story.

 

**And now, more Jimmy Fallon awesomeness: He got Halle Berry to agree to be a human hamster wheel with him the other night.
Love how trusting these celebs are with Fallon…

**Finally today, a couple words on the ridiculousness of World Cup penalty kicks, deciding games.
I like shootouts in the NHL regular season, because at some point games have to end, they’re exciting for fans, and with 82 games, it breaks up the monotony and never truly impacts who wins the Stanley Cup. If they ever went to shootouts to determine Stanley Cup playoff game winners, I’d be right out there with my pitchfork with all the other hockey diehards, because it would be positively insane to do that.

And yet, in the World Cup elimination rounds, when a country has waited four years to get a chance to win this prestigious event, if the score is tied after 120 minutes of play, they go to a “skills competition” gimmick to decide the winner.

It happened Wednesday in the Argentina-Holland semifinal, it happened in the Costa-Rica-Netherlands game, and the Brazil-Chile game as well. It’s nuts that after working that hard, and putting so much effort into the game, teams watch one shooter and one goalie decide the outcome, one at a time.

Play it out until someone scores, I say. Allow more substitutions if you must, but to have the whole thing come down to PKs seems incredibly unfair to me.

Then again, I’m not a soccer guy. Happy to argue with anyone who is.

I finally join the smartphone revolution, kicking and screaming. A fascinating look at “restorative justice” in prisons. And Ginny Weasley hosts a live-blog on Quidditch

I am definitely what you’d call a “late adapter” when it comes to technology.

I hung onto VHS tapes and my VCR far longer than most people I knew, refusing to give in to the DVD-ization of the world.
I clung to my music cassettes all the way until 2004, when I finally started buying CDs, and only did that because my new car had a CD player and not a tape deck (first CD I bought? Not surprisingly, it was Barry Manilow.)

And with cell phones, I was way, way behind the times. Long after every other person you or I knew was walking, zombie-like, down the street pecking at their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy, I hung in there with three consecutive models of the LG Cosmos, the ColecoVision of cell phones.

I didn’t want a Smartphone for a lot of reasons: 1, I didn’t want to constantly have my head down, buried in email or a stupid game, while the world around me passed me by. 2, I didn’t want to be so “available” to the world via email and everything else, and 3, I spend enough time on my phone, talking, that I didn’t feel the need to be on it anymore.
I was mocked by my friends relentlessly when I took out my phone; my buddy Andrew used to ask every few months “still got that crappy phone?” when I’d see him.
Still, I was a proud non-conformist in this area.
Until last week. My wife got a fancy new iPhone 5s, and when the trade-in value for her iPhone 4 wasn’t much, she asked if I wanted to keep it and finally upgrade. So I did.

I wanted to hate it. I tell myself I’m going to go slow and be careful not to get sucked in like others.
But since activating it on Saturday, I have a confession to make:

I kinda love it.

I caught up on a lot of Web reading on the subway today. It’s so much easier to text, and far less painful for me (I have tendinitis in my thumbs, and texting on my old phone gave me inflammation, believe it or not). I’ve already used my Google Maps app and my HopStop app a few times; having a smartphone is bound to prevent me from getting lost so much.

I just have to keep repeating to myself: “I won’t get sucked in, I won’t get sucked in, I will not become a zombie!”

 

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**Next up, I was really intrigued by this story in the Sunday New York Times about a new program in a Norfolk, Mass. prison called “restorative justice.” The concept has been around a long time, and it works like this: Inmates come into a group session with other inmates and confess their feelings of regret and remorse about their crimes, while from the outside, victims and victims families of completely different crimes sit in the same circle and share their feelings of loss as well.

Ideally, both groups come away with a new appreciation for the pain and suffering the others have endured.

The story has some great quotes in it, and I’m hugely in favor of anything like this that can give people in prison some peace (By the way, forget to write about this when I saw it a few weeks ago, but I highly recommend the documentary available on Netflix “The House I Live In,” about how incredibly screwed up our war on drugs is, and what it has turned our prisons into.)

Here’s an excerpt: Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

**Finally today, this is great for Harry Potter lovers like me: In the midst of World Cup fever, the website Pottermore.com is hosting a live-blog from Ginny Weasley from the Quidditch World Cup Final on Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern (as you already know, it’s Brazil vs. Bulgaria in that one).

My first question for Ginny: How “magical” of a boyfriend is Harry these days?

How a password can change your life. A fascinating, quick video about what autism feels like. And “Seinfeld” night at a minor league park is a hit

Still buzzing a bit after that incredible Wimbledon final. If you’re a tennis fan like me, or just a fan of fantastic writing, two pieces on the Federer-Djokovic match I wanted to pass on: Joe Posnanski of NBCSports.com on his emotions of rooting for Federer all along, only pulling for Djokovic at the end, and the great Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal on Federer’s brilliance, not quite dimmed yet.

How much do we all hate changing our passwords on our computers? A whole hell of a lot. I have recently had to change my iTunes password a few times and it drove me nuts, because of all the “rules” big companies put in about how we change them.

Mauricio Estrella is just like the rest of us, angrily trying to come up with a combination of capital letters, numbers and punctuation characters every month or so.

But in this great essay for The “Today” show website (and thanks to my friend Mollie T. for posting this on Facebook), Estrella talks about how a painful divorce combined with password changing made a huge difference in his life, and how he’s used passwords to better himself.

Definitely worth your time to read.

**I have a few friends whose children have autism, and it’s often difficult for them to explain exactly what it’s like for their kids to grow up seeing the world slightly differently than the rest of us.

The National Autism Society put together this really interesting one-minute video about what the world sounds and looks like to autistic children, and it’s pretty powerful. Check it out…

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**Finally, you may remember last month I wrote about the awesome idea the Brooklyn Cyclones minor-league baseball team came up with, to hold a “Seinfeld” night in honor of the show’s 25th anniversary.
Well, it was held in New York last Saturday, and the photos and videos are awesome (that’s the whole team wearing “Puffy shirts” like the one Jerry wore in a memorable episode). The stadium was renamed Vandelay Industries Park, the real-life Kramer and Soup Nazi were there, and lots of other fun stuff went on.

Check out the videos and photos here. No soup for you!

Djokovic outlasts Federer in another epic Wimbledon final. Some fireworks in reverse. And remembering Louis Zamperini, an all-time great American hero.

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At the risk of sounding like a grandpa, young tennis fans don’t know how good they’ve got it.

Really, they don’t. If you’ve only been following tennis for the past decade or so, maybe you think it’s always been like this. Three or four all-time greats, battling it out in epic, high-quality matches at Grand Slam Final after Grand Slam Final.

But I remember the Lleyton Hewitt-Yevgeny Kafelnikov years of the late ‘90s and early aughts; the Marcelo Rios-Guillermo Coria (shudder) era.

Which is why I don’t ever take incredible matches like Sunday’s men’s (excuse me, gentlemen’s) singles final for granted. For five tight, thrilling sets, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer played sublime, scintillating tennis, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
First it looked like Federer had the upper hand, winning the first set. Then Djokovic, so many times in the past few years having come up short in major moments, winning the next two sets playing fantastic defensive tennis.

In the fourth, with Djokovic up 5-2, I got dressed and put my sneakers on; my best friend’s in town and we were headed to the Met (an aside: still the best museum in NYC; spent 3 hours there Sunday but easily could’ve spent 6 or 7), and I thought the great Federer was cooked.
My buddy ended up going to the museum ahead of me, because with absolutely no warning, Federer stormed back and won the last five games of the set, a gag job of Buckner-ian proportions.
“No way Djokovic can recover in the fifth,” my Mom and I agreed on the phone.
Only he did, winning a 6-4 fifth set that finished with the soon-to-be father crying hysterically, dropping down to the ground and eating a blade of Wimbledon grass.

Sensational match. Of course I was pulling big-time for Federer, my all-time favorite athlete, but I can’t be too mad he lost; he played attacking, ferocious tennis, and proved he can still hang with the big boys. And I was happy for Djokovic, who’s suffered a lot the last few years and really deserved this win.

I honestly think if he’d just held on and won 6-3 in the fourth set, it wouldn’t have been as impressive as the way he ended up winning.

Another incredible Wimbledon final, at least the fifth classic final we’ve had since 2007. We are SO, so spoiled in tennis right now; greatness is with us everywhere.

Can’t wait for the U.S. Open…

**And now, after watching fireworks this weekend, try watching fireworks in reverse. Cool, and a little trippy…

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**Finally today, I didn’t blog Friday so I’m a few days late on this, but don’t want to let the passing of American legend Louis Zamperini pass by without a few words. I wrote about Louie after reading the incredible New York Times bestselling book about his life, Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken,” which I highly, highly recommend.

Zamperini was 97 when he died Thursday, and he packed so much living, and endured so much suffering, in that time. What amazed me most about his life was his complete lack of bitterness and good humor about life; a man who endured what he did as a prisoner of war still found so much good. He is a role model in every sense of the term.

Here’s a great obit of Zamperini from the L.A. Times, and below, a “CBS Sunday Morning” piece from 2012 that shows his humanity beautifully:

 

My first Lamaze class proves enlightening (and scary). The Michigan politician with a sparkplug sexual fetish. And gorgeous video of Antarctica

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Tuesday night the wife and I passed yet another “milestone” on the road to birthing a human and then taking care of it for the rest of its life: Lamaze class.

Technically, it’s called “Childbirth Education” class, and for the next five weeks, for 3 hours a week, my beloved and I will sit in a room with four other couples and learn how to deliver a child safely and without strangling each other in the delivery room.

With the caveat stated right off that “Yes, I know, you can’t really prepare for being a parent, you just have to DO it!” here are a few things I learned on  the first night:

– When your wife tells you she’s had her first contraction, go make a sandwich. Walk around the block. Watch the entire six hours of HBO’s “Angels in America.” But whatever you do, don’t rush to the hospital. Yep, contrary to what I’ve seen on TV all these years, early labor can take hours, and should be done at home. If you go to the hospital with contractions 20 minutes apart, they will laugh at you and send you out quickly. So I was told.

“Birthing ball” is a term I will get very familiar with. Apparently moms-to-be are supposed to sit on these exercise ball thingies toward the end of pregnancy, since it helps strengthen the pelvis and lower back, and helps turn the baby for easier delivery.

– I’m old. Well, I didn’t learn that in class, but my wife and I, both in our late 30s, were definitely the graybeards of the group. Hey, at least they didn’t offer us a senior citizens discount on the class or anything.

-Lamaze class feels a little like health class in high school, with all kinds of diagrams of the female anatomy and arrows and photos and stuff that generally you’d rather not see. Unlike in Mr. Stangasser’s health class in 10th grade, though, I didn’t spend most of Lamaze class trying to get the cute girl in the next row to smile at me.

Toward the beginning of class, Mary Lou, our instructor, said the goal was to get us new parents more relaxed and less anxiety-ridden by giving us all the information about what’s going to happen.
Not sure if she was looking at me and saw the terrified look on my face when she said it, but that immediately made me feel better.

And besides, those breathing and relaxation exercises can be done by the dads, too, right?

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**Gotta admit, this is a new one on me. Was watching Rachel Maddow the other day and she mentioned this story, which I had to find to believe.

Jordan Haskins, of Saginaw, Mich., is a 24-year-old convicted felon running as a Republican for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives, and it seems he’s getting no support, or opposition, from the county GOP.

Maybe that’s because as a teenager, Haskins had a long criminal record, mostly due to one of the most bizarre sexual fetishes I’ve ever heard of.

According to this story, Haskins admitted to police that he scaled fences and trespassed on both public and private property in order to take vehicles for joyrides and to facilitate a fetish he referred to as “cranking.” Police reports state he disconnected the spark plugs on a vehicle and then masturbated while attempting to turn over the engine.

I mean, seriously, this is a thing??? Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, please move to the back of the line, your transgressions have got nothin’ on Mr. Haskins.

Spark plugs? Where does one even discover a liking for this kind of thing?

Lot of strange, strange people in this world.

**Finally today, some very cool video of a place we don’t get to see like this too often: Antarctica.

The AFAR travel guide company sent Chris Jones to the remote continent last winter, and he wrote a fascinating story, and shot some really cool footage, of how beautiful the place is.

Really gorgeous stuff.

 

 

U.S. soccer battles valiantly, but falls to Belgium. A fantastic commercial empowering young girls. And a stunning Wimbledon upset, as Nadal goes down.

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For just a few minutes, I started dreaming.
After Belgium had thoroughly dominated the U.S. Tuesday evening and finally, after superhuman goalkeeping by Tim Howard broken through for a couple of goals, leading 2-0 with just 15 minutes to play, it looked like it was over for America at the World Cup.

But then, a 19-year-old kid named Julian Green scored a great goal, and the U.S. was pressing, and Clint Dempsey had an incredible chance right in front of the net of a perfect set piece, and maybe, just maybe, we were going to tie Belgium and win on penalty kicks.

But nope. Belgium hung on, and they 100 percent deserved to win. They were so much better than the U.S., offensively, defensively, everywhere but in goal.
Tim Howard, the U.S. netminder, may have had the best game in goal of any American keeper, ever. He was incredible back there, a stone wall of defense.

(My favorite “Tim Howard was awesome” Tweet Tuesdsay night, and there were many fantastic ones, came from Grey Munford: “Tim Howard’s protection is so effective, Hobby Lobby has banned him from their stores.” I also heard Tommy Smyth on the ESPN Radio broadcast compare Howard to Henrik Lundqvist. Beautiful.)

And so for many American sports fans, the World Cup is over. But for millions more, like me, it goes on, because we’re hooked on this tournament now.

Couple great pieces I wanted to share about Tuesday night: Sports On Earth’s Will Leitch wrote a terrific story about why there’s reason to hope for the future of U.S. Soccer, and ESPN.com’s Chris Jones with a beautiful column about each American player in the starting lineup, and what playing for country meant to them.

**After yesterday’s awful news about the Supreme Court’s disregard for women’s health and well-being, here’s a nice palate-cleanser. A group called the Always Global Puberty Education Program has been doing excellent work all over the world for decades, and they just put out this terrific PSA on what it means to younger people about what doing something “like a girl” means to them.

Really, really encouraging stuff. In five days, this video has been viewed more than 14 million times.

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**Thrilling day at Wimbledon Tuesday, with Rafael Nadal getting upset by a much-lower ranked player for the third straight year.

Truly though, this time Rafa didn’t play poorly at all; 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios just took it to him, playing beautiful, brilliant tennis. Kyrgios showed no fear, and when the match got tight in third and fourth sets, the kid showed zero nerves.

What does this mean? Well, it could be the arrival of a new star, as Kyrgios has the serve, forehand and cojones to be a top player, it looks like (and you’ve gotta love his enthusiasm.)

And also, Rafa’s ouster is great news for Roger Federer, who, if he beats Stan Wawrinka today, won’t have to see his nemesis in the semis. Not saying my man Fed is going to win Wimbledon, but his road looks a lot easier than it did yesterday morning.

The Supreme Court doesn’t give a damn about women. Rafa Nadal with an amazing off-court feat. And a major moment arrives for USA Soccer

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The current United States Supreme Court believes in religion more than science.

It believes the beliefs of a few outweigh the rights of the many.

And it believes that requiring companies to cover women who want contraception, as legally required under the Affordable Care Act, is wrong and shouldn’t be mandated.

The right wing of America hasn’t just hijacked one political party. They’ve hijacked the Supreme Court.
And it’s a damn disgusting sight.

There were a ton of great pieces written Monday in light of this horrendous Hobby Lobby decision, one that will affect millions of lives. Here’s a roundup of what it all means, and here’s a devastating piece from Mother Jones about why what 5 justices did was so wrong.

**Next up, this is pretty freaking amazing. Rafael Nadal, during a day off at Wimbledon, decided to see how many times he could bounce a tennis ball off the frame of his racket.

He claims he once did it 100 times. Sunday, he did it 406 times. Insanely hard to do (I’ve tried hundreds of times and could never get past 20.)

What can you say, Nadal is amazing.

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**Finally, pretty enormous moment arrives at 4 p.m. Eastern today for the U.S. men’s soccer team at the World Cup (and thank you, sports gods, for scheduling the game right about the time the terrific Wimbledon lineup on Tuesday should be wrapping up. Sometimes, the gods think of me).

If Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Co. find a way to beat Belgium and advance to the quarterfinals (nobody eat any Waffles today, support America), it might be the biggest moment in American soccer history.
I know we’ve made the final 8 before, in 2002, but the difference is, there are SO many more Americans paying attention to soccer now, so many more soccer fans thanks to a variety of factors (Premier League being on TV, U.S. being better, Major League Soccer thriving and expanding), and such a soccer presence on the Web.

I have no idea if we’ll beat Belgium, who from the snippets of highlights I’ve seen look really tough. But Jozy Altidore, our best offensive threat, is back from injury, Team USA is a lot more rested than they were against Germany, and hey, it’s been a wacky World Cup so far, so why not the upstart Americans advancing?

Really looking forward to the game. My prediction? Belgium wins in penalty kicks, which would be the ultimate drama and ultimate heartache (ask Greece about that).

My old stomping grounds of Glens Falls has been radically transformed. Jason Kidd, a complete village idiot. And the craziest hula-hoop skills you’ve ever seen

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I think I have mentioned this here before, but from 2002-2005, I lived in a sleepy little upstate New York town called Glens Falls.

It’s a small burg about 45 miles past Albany on the New York State Thruway, and its famous natives include wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and recent college basketball sensation Jimmer Fredette (now in the NBA).

I enjoyed my time there immensely, loved the newspaper I worked out, and made great friends, some of whom I saw this weekend on the wife and I’s annual summer trip up to Saratoga Springs (we usually go during horse racing season in mid-August, but as she’ll be 8 1/2 months pregnant then, seemed wise to move it up a bit).

Glens Falls, though, was always pretty run-down when I lived there. The population base had shrunk drastically since the 1980s, most of the downtown stores were either empty or dilapidated, and there really wasn’t much to do if you were a 20-something looking for fun (which I was).
In short, the town was pretty much dead, and figured to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Only … it has come dramatically back to life. I was literally walking around with my mouth open this weekend, seeing the incredible turnaround. The public library (above) used to be a tiny afterthought of a building; now it holds its own with any university library I’ve seen.
Instead of the dark and depressing empty storefronts downtown, there are new restaurants, clubs and businesses, signs of a thriving city.

It was amazing. It was unrecognizable from what it was eight years ago. And it gave me a little bit of hope that with some strong local leadership, incentives for businesses, and local ingenuity, plenty of other struggling small towns can do the same.

You think you know a place… I kept thinking this weekend that I almost wish I lived there now, and where was all this when I was looking for love?

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**So let me make sure I have this Jason Kidd situation straight, before I proclaim him the biggest horse’s ass in New York coaching circles since Mike Keenan:
He finished a Hall of Fame NBA career with the Knicks in 2013, and despite having zero coaching experience, he schmoozes Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and GM Billy King to hire him as head coach of a loaded Nets team.

He then gets off to a hideous 10-21 start, looks more lost than a virgin in a whorehouse, and somehow avoids getting fired, rights the ship and guides his team to a second-round playoff loss, barely meeting preseason expectations.
Then, when any sane person would be trying to get better as a coach and thanking their lucky stars they have an owner who loves him, he goes to that owner, DEMANDS to be placed completely in charge of basketball operations, and knowing that he’ll get turned down (firmly), secretly starts negotiating with Milwaukee, and any day now will be named their GM/coach/major domo?

Yep, that’s apparently about right. What an utter and complete jackass, and disgrace, Kidd is.
I will always be grateful to him for getting my long-suffering Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and ’03, but that was a long time ago. This drunk-driving, ego-tripping fool should be put on the No. 4 train out of Brooklyn and on the first flight to Milwaukee.

Enjoy the winters in Wisconsin, Jason. And it’ll be a cold day in hell before Nets fans ever stop cursing your name.

**Finally today, this is Rachael Lust. She does some insane things with a hula hoop. I know, I know, you can’t always trust what you see on YouTube. But fast forward to the 1-minute mark and tell me you’re not impressed.

She should definitely be hired for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.