Monthly Archives: November 2009

My guiltiest of guilty pleasures, and U.S. newspaper readers are cheap

So I’ve got as many guilty pleasures as the next guy. I’ve already written about my previous obsession with “Melrose Place.” I find truly awful reality TV like “The Two Coreys” endlessly compelling.

But without a doubt, my absolute favorite guilty pleasure is the holy goodness that is US Weekly. I can’t begin to tell you how ridiculously cheesy and mindless US Weekly is, and I’m sure I don’t have to since no doubt you’ve seen it.

But my absolute favorite part of US Weekly? Their 2-page “Stars, They’re Just Like Us!” feature. I don’t think the editors of this fine publication realize how hilariously silly it is. You’re trying to tell me that even celebrities drink coffee from Starbucks, walk their dogs, and pick up their dry cleaning? NO WAY!

I’m not sure if I think it’s offensive that there are people out there who really and truly don’t think celebrities are just like us, but I sure as hell find it funny to read.

Every time I’m on line at the supermarket, I check for US Weekly and my favorite feature.

I’m bringing this all up to you now, my dear readers, because while talking to my beloved Wednesday night on the phone, she told me a friend at school brought her a stash of old US Weekly magazines yesterday. I have eight US Weeklies waiting for me when I get home!

Life is indeed worth living.

**So I saw this in the New York Times the other day and realized yet again what an uphill battle the newspaper industry faces.

A survey of newspaper readers in nine Western countries revealed that U.S. readers are less willing, and would spend the last amount of money, in paying for newspaper content on the Internet.

Only 48 percent of those surveyed in these here United States said they’d pay for content, and those who would pay say they’d only cough up $3 a month, tied for Australia for the lowest amount.

We will spend $29.99 on a Snuggie, and $3 on newspaper content?

Sigh.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hates rape victims, a great new “Glee,” and stuff I learned in the bathroom today

With all the good and positive change going on in America since Barack Obama took over, there are still constant reminders of the disgusting activities that took place over the past eight years.

I’m not laying this one at the feet of the Bush administration, though. Still, it’s grotesque.

Let me tell you a little bit about Jamie Leigh Jones. In 2005, she was a 23-year-old employee of Halliburton/ KBR, a military contractor working in Iraq. While in Iraq, she says she was brutally gang-raped (is there any other kind than brutal? by seven U.S. contractors, and held in a shipping container by two guards. She was drugged, severed severe injuries, and was denied food and water.

She has been trying, for years now, to get some kind of justice for the pain and suffering she went through.

But thanks to the laws of these here United States, according to this ABC News story, Jones is still waiting for her day in court. Because the alleged rape happened overseas, she can’t press charges in a U.S. Court.

And apparently, when she signed on as an employee, she unknowingly agreed to waive any rights to a jury trial in any criminal proceeding, and was forced into having her claims decided through secret, binding arbitration.

Anyway, up to the present: A bipartisan group of Senators, led by Al Franken, has won an amendment to a defense appropriations bill, allowing private contractor employees overseas access to the U.S. Court. Specifically, Franken’s amendment would withhold defense contracts from Halliburton and the like if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sex assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.

To my utter amazement, thirty Republican Senators voted against this, and the Pentagon AND the U.S Chamber of Commerce argued against the amendment as well, saying in a letter that it could set a dangerous precedent.

Franken’s amendment may not survive the final vetting of the bill, which is disgusting.

Even after Bush and Chaney are gone, Halliburton and their buddies still get their way.

And rape victims like Jones have to wonder when they’ll ever see justice.

***Another excellent episode of “Glee” on Wednesday night. Loved the “Endless Love” duet, and the harrowing scene at Quinn Febray’s house (with the guy who played Logan’s dad on “Gilmore Girls” in it!) when she tells her parents she’s pregnant.

One big complaint with the show, though: No Sue Sylvester! I need my Sue’s Corner segment. I need her biting and caustic remarks! Looks like she’s back next week, and that Rachel Berry is turning into Sandy from “Grease.” Can’t wait.

**Finally, I leave you with some bathroom knowledge. Literally. So I’m in the Lakeland Center in Lakeland, Fla, Wednesday, covering the state volleyball tournament, and I go to the restroom.

While there, I discover this brand-new handle on the toilet, that tells me that, to save water, I should push the handle up if there’s a No. 1 issue, and down if there’s a No. 2 issue. I was totally unaware of this breakthrough in conservation and toilet technology. I think it’s brilliant, though I want to know exactly HOW they determine how much water is required to flush a No. 2.

Boy, first the no-touch automatic flushing, and now this. What will they think of next?

Interviewing crying people, the world’s most vain criminal, and a little Duke basketball

So in my continuing quest to share with you what it’s like to be a sportswriter, I give you this: Saturday afternoon, after a regional final volleyball match, I spent 5-10 minutes waiting for teenage girls to stop crying. So I could interview them.

It’s one of those parts of sportswriting that no one ever teaches you, but as long as you cover high school girls sports, it’s going to be an issue. There’s no one way to dealing with it; you try to be a sensitive human and a good reporter at the same time.

I wrote a whole post about what it’s like dealing with this awkward situation last February on my News-Journal blog, so instead of re-hashing the whole thing, I’d ask you to please click here for my take.

**So, from the annals of “Really, really stupid criminals,” I give you this week’s grand champion, Matt Maynard of Swansy, England.

Seems Mr. Maynard, wanted by police on a burglary charge, didn’t like the mugshot police supplied to the local newspaper. Wasn’t flattering to him, apparently.

So Maynard took a photo of himself (the one on the right, above), in front of a police van, no less, and sent the South Wales Evening Post a different photo. Isn’t he just so helpful?

Maynard was, of course, soon caught. The fool.

This reminds me of the old Seinfeld bit where he talks about the “Most Wanted” posters at the post office. He wonders, “Why don’t they just hold on to this guy while they’re taking his picture?”

**Finally, a few words, the first of the season, on my Duke basketball boys. Got to see them play for the first time tonight, and I was very excited. Yeah, they beat UNC-Charlotte (I know they’re called “Charlotte” now, but it sounds weird to me), not exactly a power, but good things happened all over the place.

Nolan Smith finally played like the guy I’ve seen spurts of the past two years. Kyle Singler looks like a totally different guy, slimmed down and ready to play the 2 guard all year (though I wonder if he’ll be quick enough to stop the really good shooting guards in the ACC). Miles Plumlee looks to have improved 1,000 percent from last year.

This is going to be an odd Duke team. My whole life, they’ve had at least two or three great perimeter guys. Now, they’re a bunch of giants and just a couple of quick guards. It’ll be great in some ways, not so good in others, I’m sure.

But still, a good start.

I’m so happy college basketball season is here. And I’ll be even happier when the Tar Heels of UNC lose their first game.

R.I.P., Ken Ober, the greatest Irish-French fight ever, and a truly superb “Curb”

There was a time, boys and girls, when I would rush home from school to watch a game show.

No, not “The 25,000 Pyramid,” my favorite game show ever. Not “Card Sharks” or “The Joker’s Wild” or “Sale of the Century,” all awesome in their own right (whatever happened to Summer Bartholemew, anyway?”

I’m talking about “Remote Control,” still the single-best thing MTV has ever foisted upon our popular culture. For those of you too young to remember (and I weep at that notion), “Remote Control” was a 30-minute trivia contest about music and pop culture. There were fantastic categories like “Sing Along with Colin,” “Inside Tina Yothers” and “Dead or Canadian” (where you had to guess, of course, if someone was dead or Canadian).

There was the wry humor of Colin Quinn. The saucy sexpot assistant, Kari Wuhrer (I totally loved her and her 80s outfits). The questions were hilarious, and when the contestants, sitting in oversized BarcaLoungers, were eliminated, they would be plunged backward through the set. Denis Leary and Adam Sandler, very early in their careers, were briefly on the show, too.

And of course, there was Ken Ober, the host. It often took my teenaged brain a few seconds to get his jokes, but he was funny, smart, and always kept the show moving. Seriously, “Remote Control” was awesome, and I’ve often wished the series would come out on DVD.

It’s been a rough year for us Generation Xers. First John Hughes, and now this. Ken Ober has died, at age 52. I haven’t thought about Ober in years, but it still makes me sad that he died. He was a very happy memory from my childhood, and now he’s gone.

Go ahead, people of my generation. Watch the “Remote Control” clip above. It’ll make you feel better on this Tuesday.

***OK, I’m not 100 percent sure this is real, in fact it’s probably not, but it’s one of the funniest damn things I’ve read in a long time. Here’s the background: Ireland and France are scheduled to play a World Cup soccer match soon in Ireland. So a guy from the French consulate writes a letter to his counterpart in Ireland, asking if a luxury box could be made available for Nicolas Sarkozy, who wanted to attend the game.

And from there, the hilarity and misunderstanding ensues. Seriously, this is awesome.

**Finally, a few words about Sunday night’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I’ve been hard on the show before, because I felt like the last two seasons just weren’t that funny. But this year has brought several fantastic episodes, and Sunday’s took the cake.

I was wondering all season how they were going to work Michael Richards’ real-life racist rant into the Kramer storyline on the “Seinfeld” reunion, and never in a million years did I think it would present itself like it did. The scenes with Marty Funkhauser were, of course, wonderful, and the African-American, Leon acting like a Jew named Duberstein (“of course you’ve got to re-charge the mitzvah!”) was sublime. I’m glad Richards had the guts to confront the real-life demons in his life. Or maybe Larry David said he couldn’t possibly ignore it and just put it out there.

The final scene? I won’t ruin it for you. Go watch it. Seriously. Brilliant stuff.

I agonize over the Jets again, Belichick turns stupid for a minute, and ruminations from the supermarket


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OK, nine games.

Not bad, New York Jets. Nine games in, and I can officially call it a season.

No playoffs, certainly not at 4-5 with the Pats coming up next week. No Super Bowl (ha!). No real reason to expect things to change in this, my 28th year of fandom (I was too young the first six years of my life to really appreciate this lovely franchise).

I really don’t feel like re-hashing all the things the Jets did wrong in their excruciating 24-22 loss to Jacksonville Sunday, but a few must be brought up:

— The defense is off for TWO weeks, and the Jets play like that? Awful tackling. Pressure on the QB in the second half, but not much in the first. And the pass defense on the final drive was atrocious.

— Braylon Edwards, you want a big contract? You HAVE to make that catch on the 2-point conversion the 4th, after the Jets put together a fantastic drive to take the lead. Don’t give me any garbage about the hit knocking the ball out; you have to make that play. If he does, I think the Jets lead by 3 and the game goes to overtime.

— I know it didn’t cost them any points, but Mark Sanchez, what the hell was that throw on the second interception, when the Jags’  defensive end, Quinton Groves was RIGHT THERE in front of your face, and you threw it anyway? Thankfully Groves forgot how to run at the end there, and tripped over his own feet at the 4-yard line. But still, terrible decision by our franchise QB. He did, however, have a great 4th quarter to redeem himself.

–Only my beloved Jets can try to let a guy score at the end of the game, which was the right thing to do, and fail at that, too.

— Rex Ryan, you’re a defensive coach. A brilliant coach, we’ve been told. One of the great minds in the NFL. Yet this is now twice in the last six weeks, when your offense gets you the lead, all you need is one stop to win the game, and your defense, which talks more trash than any team has a right to, can’t get it done. This was the freakin’ Jaguars, for God’s sakes, not the 1989 49ers or the 1998 Minnesota Vikings!

— More timeouts burned needlessly by the Jets in the second half. Didn’t we already go through this during the Herm Edwards Era?

Ugh. Just awful. This team is just not that good. The rookie QB is learning, the rookie head coach is learning, and it looks like 7-9 is in our future.

Thank God Duke basketball is getting underway. I need a good team to root for this winter.

**Some other NFL thoughts from a wacky Week 11:

— Bill Belichick made one of the craziest coaching decisions I’ve ever seen this side of Ray Handley and Art Shell Sunday night. After his Patriots pretty much dominated Indianapolis, Belichick decided to go for it, up 34-28, on 4th and 2 from his own 28-yard-line. Why? Clearly, he had no faith in his defense stopping Mr. Peyton Manning, but still, they’d stopped the Colts a few times already, and don’t you at least have to try?

Of course, the Pats didn’t make it on 4th down, and the Colts had great field position, and of course Peyton Manning made a superb throw on the score that won the game. Doug Hennig never made as many escapes as Indy’s No. 18. My friend Pearlman just wrote a blog about his greatness.

**Fantastic, hard-hitting Bengals-Steelers game Sunday. What an amazing turnaround by Cincy. Quick, someone call Ickey Woods and see if he still knows how to shuffle.

**OK, everyone who thought the one-win Rams would have a pass attempt that could beat the undefeated Saints on the last play of the game Sunday, please raise your hand. This is yet another reason I don’t gamble on the NFL.

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supermarket

**Finally, I love supermarkets. Always have. There’s just something about food shopping that makes me feel like a grown-up. Seinfeld has said this before, and he’s totally right: As a kid in the supermarket, you have to beg your parents for food. As a grown-up, you can buy whatever the hell you want.

Anyway, two ruminations from my Sunday evening trip to the store:

— One way I always know the new year is coming is when the milk’s expiration date is past January first. This is the earliest I ever remember it happening, but I got a carton with a “Jan. 6, 2010” date on it. I was excited.

— It’s 2009. Hasn’t anyone at the company that makes Comet (Prestige Brands, I just learned) figured out a way to put a real, closeable top on the bottle yet, instead of that stupid adhesive tape that never sticks after you open the bottle? I mean, seriously, is this really so hard?

This is the stuff I think about. And you wonder why I have trouble sleeping…

LeBron makes a rare bad move, and the craziest guy I’ve ever seen on TV

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So I’d say LeBron James is probably my favorite current NBA player. Ever since I first heard of this incredible talent, when I worked at SLAM magazine and my colleague Ryan Jones said to me one day, “There’s some kid in Akron, Ohio named LeBron James who’s a sophomore and who everybody is going nuts about,” I’ve followed the kid fairly closely.

I think so far, he’s done a very admirable job handling the spotlight. In the few times I’ve interviewed him, I found him to be intelligent, thoughtful, and pretty funny. We once had a brief discussion of Malcolm Gladwell while some other sportswriters in the gaggle looked on quizzically.

Anyway, LeBron makes very few public missteps. But I think he made one this week, when he suggested not only that he would give up No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan, but that everyone in the NBA should stop wearing it as well, thereby retiring that number.

I don’t know, exactly, why James said this. Part of me thinks it’s some sort of reverential “getting in good” with the man he hopes to replace as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). Part of me thinks Nike pushed him into it, as an homage to Jordan getting in the Hall of Fame this year, and to sell more LeBron jerseys with a different number on it (Remember, MJ wore No. 45 when he came out of retirement the first time).

Part of me thinks LeBron just thinks he’s that powerful, that he can, like, make other people honor Jordan as much as he has.

I don’t know, it just seems a little strange to me. LeBron might want to rethink this one. After all, isn’t the greatest way to honor MJ to become the second-greatest player ever to wear that number?

It’s just weird.

**So you see a lot of crazy people on television. But this guy fascinated me to no end. On this month’s HBO Real Sports, which I shamefully only got around to watching on Saturday, there was a story about Ashrita Furman, a New York man who owns about 92 Guinness Book of World Records titles. He does stuff like juggle under water with sharks swimming around him, and pogo stick in the Amazon River.

You would think he’s a total nutjob, but believe it or not, after watching the piece (and I highly recommend checking it out on HBO or HBO on Demand if you can), I actually like the guy. This is how he keeps himself sane, and this is what makes him happy, and if he’s not hurting anyone else, what’s so bad about what he does?

Anyway, here’s one typical Ashrita Furman attempt (if there can be such a thing):

A porn star runs for office, and Facebook frees an innocent man

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Two very odd, but very revealing of our times stories for you today.

First, let me introduce you to Miss Stormy Daniels, the next senator from the great state of Tennesee.

Yes, in the grand tradition of Mary Carey, the adult entertainment star who ran for governor of California, the great Stormy Daniels is running for Senate.

Against, of course, Republican David Vitter, who of course you’ll remember, was involved in a prostitution scandal some time ago.

Miss Daniels, according to an interview with Marie Claire magazine (that noted political rag), said she thinks her past, including starring roles in the Oscar-nominated “Space Nuts” and “American Girls Part 2,” will actually help her as a politician.

“A sex tape of me isn’t going to pop up and shame me; there are 150 of them at the video store.”

When Stormy is right, Stormy is right. I encourage all Republicans in the Louisiana to vote for the Stormy one in the primary next year. After all, who knows better than she how to entertain a bunch of horny, lonely men, and isn’t that mostly what the U.S. Senate is, anyway?

**I always knew Facebook had the power to do good. Besides making people like my wife obsessed with imaginary farms, and reminding me that it’s someone’s birthday, Facebook got a man out of legal trouble this week.

If you didn’t hear, a 19-year-old New York kid named Rodney Bradford was arrested on robbery charges and held in jail for 12 days recently. He said he was innocent, then proved it by producing a Facebook message he wrote to his girlfriend a minute before the robbery. The cops verified it, and released young Mr. Bradford to return to his Facebooking ways, poking people and becoming a fan of things like “Running fast with your eyes closed.”

God bless America.

Stop funding the space program, RNC hypocrisy reaches a new level, and why I’m mad at Bryan Adams

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This may be a controversial opinion, or it may not. I’m never exactly sure  what gets people riled up these days.

Anyway, so I was walking around Kennedy Space Center with my family Wednesday, and was amazed like everyone else at some neat stuff: Actual rocket boosters on display, lifelike re-creations of some space missions, all that great history and record of achievement.

And I got to thinking, not for the first time, about why we spend so much money exploring outer space.

Look, I get the usual arguments: All that exploring and discovery makes life better here on Earth, every society has to constantly look forward to evolve, yada yada yada.

But did you know the NASA budget for 2009 was $17.2 billion, all from the federal government? Seventeen billion dollars. You know how many hungry people can be fed for that much? Do you know how many roads fixed, bridges built, and sick people cared for that money can provide?

I know NASA’s important, and outer space is cool, and that 17.2 billion in the federal budget is barely a drop in the ole’ bucket. But is it really more important than solving our current problems?

I don’t think so. But here’s someone who disagrees with me.

*** So this is just so utterly perfect. My good friend Steve Master, a heck of a writer and all-around good guy, alerted me to this. Apparently the Republican National Committee, as staunch a foe of abortion this side of Randall Terry, has had an insurance plan since 1991 that covered its employees … abortions.

According to this story on Politico.com, Federal Election Commission Records show the RNC purchases its insurance from Cigna, and two sales agents for the company said that the RNC’s policy covers elective abortion.

Until Thursday, the RNC’s plan had covered elective abortion – a procedure the party’s own platform calls “a fundamental assault on innocent human life.”

Of course chairman Michael Steele, a world-class buffoon, quickly disowned the policy. But I just love it. So until Thursday, a woman who runs a department advocating the complete elimination of abortion, would have the procedure covered if she got pregnant?

Just wanted to make sure I got that straight.

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***So as Canadian singers go, I love Bryan Adams. Loved “Summer of ’69” the first time I heard it. Love his ballads, love his cheesiness, and I love his earnestness. I am not ashamed to say I own Bryan Adams’ greatest hits CD. Haven’t listened to it in a while, but I own it.

Anyway, I’m awfully disappointed in the man who once told me it cuts like a knife. Was reading a story about the incredible show “Glee” today (and how good was Wednesday’s episode? They finally gave the wheelchair kid Artie some back story! Though I admit that it was very weird hearing a slow version of Billy Idol’s classic “Dancing With Myself.”) and I came across this nugget:

Apparently, Mr. Adams is the only singer who the show’s creator approached for permission to use one of their songs who actually said no. “Glee” wanted to have Finn sing “Everything I Do, I Do it For You,” but B.A. said no.

Bad job, Bryan. Bad, bad, job. I will now go spit on the cassette single of “Do I Have to Say the Words?” hidden in my closet.

The 5 worst jobs I’ve ever had

Just for fun, the 5 worst jobs I’ve ever had …  I’d love to hear yours.

5. Entenmann’s bakery truck assistant: I am absolutely positively NOT a morning person. So this temp job I had for two weeks in college was so far not up my alley, it could’ve been in someone else’s alley.

Basically, I woke up at 4 a.m. and drove to the Entenmann’s bakery store near my house. Then I boarded the truck with this other guy, and we drove from supermarket to supermarket, unloading yummy baked goods, checking expiration dates, and fun stuff like that. My day was over by 9 a.m, but I was exhausted, my back hurt from bending over displays, and I had to listen to Vinny (my supervisor and truck partner) tell bad jokes.

On the bright side, I learned what a brown dot means on a box of Entenmann’s donuts (don’t eat them).

4. Counselor in training, Park Shore Day Camp:
I was a summer camp counselor for four years, but the first year was the worst. I was 14 that summer of 1989, and I was the fourth counselor in a four-man team that ran the lives of 20 5-year-old runts who never shut up and never listened (a lovely combination). I made $100 for six weeks of work, and got like another hundred in tips. I know 8-year-old Nike workers in South America who have a better deal.

3. Gopher/intern, Smithtown Messenger:
My first internship in the “real world” of journalism was for a local community weekly on Long Island. It was unpaid, of course. The only money I ever received was when the chain-smoking, loud boss, Phil, would give me $10 and growl “go get me two packs of Marlboro Reds, and keep the change for yourself.”
Sadly, Phil is now the editor of the New York Times (I’m kidding).

2. L’eggs/Hanes/Bali store opener: I know more about women’s underwear than the average bear, I’m proud to say. I had a temp job helping open a L’eggs/Hanes/Bali women’s underwear store. Me and about 20 other temps were unpacking stockings, sorting negligee, and doing all kinds of things that, as a boy of 19, I had very little knowledge of. Who knew there was a difference between “sheer” and “nude?” Who knew “nude” was a color?

I did after two weeks. One of my proudest work moments ever came not after an editor said they liked one of my stories, but when Jan, our boss at the store, told me I’d done a great job after one particular sorting task.

Ah, women’s underwear.

1. Vitamin factory sorter:
This was the job that, more than anything else, motivated me to stay in college. For three weeks one summer I worked in a vitamin factory, and my job was to grab an order form and a huge cart, walk up and down these wide aisles, and put 50 pills of Vitamin whatever in this box. Then put 75 pills of Ginseng or whatever in another box. And so on, and so on. For 8 hours, with only a 15-minute break every 2 hours. It was mindless and beyond boring, to the point where I actually made up little games with myself to break the monotony.

No college anthropology course was ever so tedious again.

The lost speeches of Palin, and why I think Americans are fat

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So you may be happy or sad about this, but blogging may be a little light the rest of the week. Family is in town from New York and I’m showing them all the excitement that Central Florida has to offer. Today, the Kennedy Space Center. Truly a cool place that I think the ‘rents will enjoy.

So one of the beauties of the Internet age is that nothing, nothing is ever really lost. Someone, somewhere, always has a Xerox or an email or something proving a document existed.

And so my friends (John McCain tone intended), thanks to The Daily Beast, I give you links to the two speeches the great former governor of Alaska never got to give. If you remember back then, on Election Night, Mrs. Palin desperately wanted to give a nationally televised concession speech after John McCain’s eloquent words, but the McCain campaign wouldn’t let her.

That’s too bad. I would’ve loved to heard these beauties. Enjoy.

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**OK, I know this isn’t exactly breaking news, but here’s one small reason Americans are so overweight. There is candy everywhere, in every store now. I was standing in line at Bed Bath & Beyond Tuesday and there, in front of the register, were a dozen candy options. Chocolate, gummy bears, you name it. And I’m thinking: We’re in a linens and housewares store, why in the name of Willy Wonka is candy for sale?

Happens everywhere. At Staples, at Office Depot, no matter where you go, there’s candy for sale. Are we that pathetic of a nation, so dependent on instant gratification, that junk food as to be available to us, at all times?

I guess so.

**Finally, the Denver Post did something last week that I’m amazed more papers haven’t done: They forbid their sports writers from picking winners of games of teams they cover. I always thought it was kind of silly that we sports writers picked who we thought was going to win. Does it compromise our integrity, as Post editor Greg Moore said? I don’t know.  But he’s right: Do political reporters pick election results? No.

I know it may seem like no big deal, but Moore is absolutely right. Most sportswriter I know hate picking games, because no matter what you do, the team you cover, or its fans, will be mad at you.

And believe me, if there’s one thing sportswriters don’t need, it’s more people mad at us.