Monthly Archives: January 2010

The amazing Serena Williams, and a Lance Allred update!

It takes a lot to get me up early on a Saturday morning. A fire in the apartment, leaf-blowers from the people next door, that kind of thing.

But I was up bright and early (well, by 9, which is bright and early for me on a Saturday) to watch my

DVR’ed Australian Open women’s final, and I was totally captivated.

Serena Williams is just astonishing. I’m not a big fan of her attitude sometimes, and how she refuses to ever give credit to the opposition when she loses. But good Lord, that woman is a hell of a competitor. She’s getting to the point with me now where, like Roger Federer, LeBron James, and Peyton Manning, that I don’t so much watch them as marvel at their brilliance. How can one person be that good for that long, and just make their opponent look so, so, ordinary?

Anyway, Serena won a pretty captivating three-set match over Justine Henin. She was leading, then she couldn’t win a point, and it looked like Henin was going to snatch the title. Then Serena turned it up a notch, and just roared away for the victory. She’s getting up there with the all-time greats in women’s tennis now; that is undeniable.

I wrote more about it here at my regular tennis blog.

***So you might remember me writing about one of my new heroes, Lance Allred, a few times. Lance is the 7-foot, deaf, Mormon basketball player who wrote an amazingly honest and wonderful book called “Longshot,” about his experiences and how he finally made the NBA. I wrote about Lance here and here.

I bring him up now because while flipping the channels Saturday night I came across an NBA D-League game (basically, the minor league of pro basketball) and there Lance was, playing for the Idaho Statesmen. Which confused me, because when I met Lance last summer, he swore up and down he was done with the D-League. Well, after a few months in Italy, he came back to the States, apparently changed his mind, and now is kicking butt since he returned to the D-League a few weeks ago.

Check out his blog here; he’s truly one of the most unusual and thought-provoking athletes you’ll ever hear from.

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Obama’s remarkable give and take w/the GOP. And Game 6, revisited.

So I was pretty swamped at work all day today, and then had to cover a soccer game at night, so I totally missed this at the time.

But did you see the incredibly fascinating television today, where our President actually had a Q and A with House Republicans? It was our leaders, speaking to one another in calm, reasoned tones, as Obama gently swatted away every question the House Republicans sent him.

It was reminiscent of what the British do, with their “Question Time” ritual, where the prime minister answers queries from the opposition. MSNBC did a whole two-hour special on it last night, they were so giddy.

So many things to love about this: 1, it gives America a perfect contrast to the two positions; 2., It allows Obama to do what he does best: communicate directly with the people. And 3, it gives Obama a chance to shoot down myths and lies that are allowed to perpetuate on right wing talk radio and TV.

I hope this becomes a regular thing. I’m thinking after Republicans watch tape of Friday, they’ll be too scared to do it again.

But it was great theater. Just watch the first two minutes of this:

***There are some occasions, when flipping through the channels and passing by ESPN Classic, that you just have to stop. No matter how many times you’ve seen that game, no matter how well you think you know it, you must stop.

1988 World Series, with Gibson walking up. Super Bowl 23, with Montana and the 49ers about to start the game-winning drive.

And of course, the ultimate “Freeze the remote” moment: Game 6, 1986 World Series, bottom of the 10th.

I know how it turns out, but no matter how many times I see it, I keep being surprised that the Mets actually pulled that sucker out.

I tuned in at the exact right moment, with Vin Scully talking about how the Red Sox are just “three outs away.”

With apologies to my best friend Clay and good friend of the blog Ali Taber, a few things I noticed on the 80th re-watching of that inning:

— Everyone blames Bob Stanley for the wild pitch that scored Kevin Mitchell and tied the game, but watching the replay a few times, Sox catcher Rich Gedman could’ve had that pitch. If he’d moved a little inside and quicker, he catches it, and maybe the Sox win.

— Every time I see the Buckner play, I have a different idea of whether he or Stanley would’ve beaten Mookie Wilson to the first base bag. I’d say this time that Mookie would’ve beaten it out.

— It’s a cliche to say every current broadcaster should take their cue from Vin Scully and have a little class, but it’s so true. He was perfect on his call this inning, and after he yelled “Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it,” he didn’t say another word for at least three minutes.

What could he add? The pictures and the moment said it all. Then, after the silence, he said one sentence about Game 7, the next night. It was perfect, just like Vin usually is.

And now, one of the coolest YouTubes ever: A re-enactment of the 10th inning from that game, as illustrated by the Nintendo game R.B.I. Baseball:

An 8-year-old’s fountain of wisdom. And a million free throws for our vets

Since it’s Friday, how about a couple of uplifting, happy stories to take you into the weekend?

First, let me introduce you to the prolific blogger named Calvin. He’s got wisdom, he’s got sass, and he’s got another two years until he hits double digits in age.

Calvin is 8, you see. But he’s got his own blog, called “Calvin’s Tip of the Day,” and I stumbled upon it Wednesday, and well, he puts Huffington Post and Deadspin to shame.

The subtitle of his blog is: “Hard-won wisdom from 8 2/3 years of living.” Here are a couple of his sample posts, to give you a taste, but I highly recommend clicking and reading for yourself:

Calvin on male bonding: When your mom’s out of town and it’s just you, your dad, and your brother, try to do as much fun stuff as you can.  Have a friend over for a sleepover.  Go to a good restaurant for lunch.  Play lots of games.  Get a toy from Target.  Do all the “guy” stuff you can, while the girl in your family is out of town.  If you end up going to a little kids’ birthday party and you’re the oldest one there and you don’t really like birthday cake, it’ll still be okay, because you’ll have had a really awesome time anyways.
And, then, after a while, it’s nice when your mom comes home.  Because, eventually, you really can have a little too much guy time.

Calvin on ketchup blood, pro and con: Faking that you’re bleeding by pouring ketchup on yourself is a bad idea.  You might actually end up in the hospital and that wouldn’t be good. On the other hand, you could use the ketchup on your body to dip the french fries that you buy at the drive thru on the way home from the hospital.

Calvin on wrecking stuff: If you have a big bouncy yoga ball and you’re playing this awesome game with a screwdriver “gun,” you might want to throw the screwdriver gun at the ball to pretend your gun got shot out of your hand.  The problem is that the screwdriver gun is pointy and the ball is full of air.  If the point of the screwdriver gun hits the ball it will probably pop.  And if the ball is not yours, you’ll probably have to pay to replace it . . . or at least pay for half of it.  I speak from experience.

OK, you get the idea. Check out my new favorite blogger when you get a chance. If you don’t have a smile on your face within five minutes, I guarantee you your money back.

**And now let me introduce  you to Dave Cummings. He’s a 42-year-old New Hampshire man who decided, after hearing Barack Obama’s call to action speech on Election Night, 2008, that he wanted to do something to help American soldiers and their families. So, using one of his talents (which he says are few), he’s decided to try to make one million free throws by Nov., 2011 to raise money for Hoops for Heroes, a charity that helps military families.

Do you have any idea how many free throws a million is? To reach his goal by Veterans Day, 2011, (he started on Veterans Day, 2009) he needs to make 1,370 a day for two years. So far, he’s on pace, shooting every day, whenever he gets home from work, or before work. How do we know he’s really making a million shots? He shoots video of every shot and uploads it to his website, and if he doesn’t get it on camera, he doesn’t count it.

It’s a wonderful gesture that’s starting to resonate a little with the public; check out his website here, and if you can spare a dollar or two, this is a good cause.

Here’s how I heard about Dave; NPR’s wonderful show Only A Game did a story on him. Listen to it here.

Obama’s terrific speech, and my latest product endorsement

I needed this State of the Union. I really did.

I needed Barack Obama to hit it out of the park, because I’m frustrated with him, and with Congress, these days. So much was expected out of this man in 2009, and for the most part, well, we were left wanting.

So I tuned in Wednesday night and … well, I think he hit it out of the park. I think he spoke truth to power, and I think he did it in a language that all Americans can understand. He spoke for about 75 minutes, and he hit a bunch of high notes. Most of all, I just get the sense listening to this man how reasonable and calm he is. I trust him, still.

Some other scattered thoughts that hit me while I was watching the speech:

— who are those people who sit right up front, in front of Obama, between him and Congress? I have no idea who they are.

–I could do without the easy applause lines, about taking on banks.

— Glad to see Obama focus so much on jobs creation. I hope Congress got the message.

— Do many of these Congressmen realize they look like fools yelling “yay” and seeing who can jump up to applaud faster? Seriously, the look silly.

—  just looking at Joe Biden’s “cat that ate the canary grin,” I get the feeling he’s sitting there thinking: I can’t believe I got this job!”

— I liked that Obama challenged Republicans on health care, saying “if someone has a better idea on how to do this … let me know.” Throwing down the gauntlet a little to all those who simply say “No” to everything.

— “Just saying no to everything may be good politics, but it’s not leadership.” Great line.

— God, the smug-looking mugs of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and the other Republicans just smirking drive me crazy. Aren’t they just so proud of themselves, blocking and obfuscating everything the President wants to do.

— So good that he finally said he’ll work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Now let’s see him actually do it. I’m dubious.

— Excellent job in closing, really beautiful phrasing here:

“Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

“But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.”

Let’s see if Congress got the message. I’m feeling uplifted and hopeful again tonight. Let’s see if it lasts.

I really hope it lasts.

****So from time to time I like to use my meager little blog to hype a product and help prevent a little suffering.

I’m a guy who’s had big problems with ingrown hairs on my face.  Since I started shaving at about, 13 years old, I’ve had this one patch of skin that always, always itches from ingrown hairs. What to do, what to do?

Now I’ve found the solution. It’s from a company called The Art of Shaving, and it’s called Ingrown Hair Night Cream. It’s made of all kinds of African shea butter (no idea what that is) and jojoba oil (not a clue), and you smear on a little bit each night and bam, after two weeks I’m a whole new man.

No itching, no scratching, nothing. Of course, it’s a little pricey (about $35 a bottle), but if you know a man who has the same problem, you’ll know you can’t put a price tag on this kind of happiness.

And hey, if The Art of Shaving people happen to read this, that’s OK, too.

***No one sent me any bottle of anything. Relax FTC. I decided to review this on my own.

The New York Times sorta, kinda, decides to step up. And Ed Rendell nails it

Another of the stories I didn’t pay enough attention to last week was the announcement, long-awaited by many of us, that the granddaddy of all newspapers, the New York Times, was finally go to start charging for content on its website.

While this is 12 years or so too late, when I heard that the Times was finally going to stop giving away its product for free, I was happy. Newspapers, if they’re going to survive, have to start making readers pay for news they’ve been paying for for the last 100 years.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it still applies: Take any other business in the world, and say to that business (let’s say it’s a vegetable stand): OK, we know you’ve been getting customers to pay for this product forever, but now, get this, you’re going to give them an option to just get it for free! But some people will still buy the product, just millions of others will get it for nothing! I mean, what business owner would possibly buy into that?

Anyway, so, great, the Times is going to charge. Except, they are, but not really. Print subscribers will get online access for free, which makes sense. Everyone else will also get a certain number of articles for free, and only then will they start having to pay. Nobody is saying yet how much free content a reader will get, or how much they’ll have to pay once they’ve exceeded their “story limit.”

And oh yeah, none of this starts until 2011! I’m sure the NYT employees laid off between now and then will be so happy the Old Gray Lady decided to wait a year before increasing revenue.

I’m sorry, but as a current newspaper journalist watching my industry die, this is so not enough. This is barely dipping a toe in, like trying to extinguish a volcano with with a fire extinguisher.

Come on, people who own newspapers, step up to the plate, will you please?

**So I’ve always thought Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia and former governor of Pennsylvania, was a sensible man. I didn’t like some of the things he said about Obama during the ’08 campaign, but hey, he was a loyal Hillary guy and I respect that.

Anyway, in this clip he voices what so many of us liberals are saying and feeling right now about health care: President Obama, stand up and show some fire. Lead on this health care bill, don’t just let it die. And if the Republicans want to filibuster? Call their bluff. Make them shut down Congress while doing it, and we’ll see who the American people side with.

Quit rolling over, Democrats. We’ve seen that way too many times before. Take it away, Ed:

The death of Air America, enhanced TV, and Digger Phelps dancing

OK, I admit a lot was going on in the world last week, but I was a little wrapped up in Jets hysteria to blog about much of it.

So, a little catching-up today. And remember, check out my blog on the Australian Open, which is really heating up, by clicking here.

R.I.P, Air America.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Hey, there’s so much right wing talk radio out there, let’s start a liberal radio station!

I mean really, it had to work. Except, it never really did. Air America had all kinds of trouble form the start. It had money, then it burned through it like Sherman through Atlanta (thought I’d get all Civil War on you there, for no apparent reason). It had talent, then the talent left. It couldn’t get on the air in major American cities where, you know, a lot of liberals lived.

I swear I’ve read that it died four or five times since it was born in 2004, but this time, apparently, it’s really dead. (Real good article by Time’s Richard Corliss at the link).

Air America ceased broadcasting Monday night at 9 p.m. It’s too bad, because it really should’ve worked. Sure, liberals still have our NPR, but that’s not enough. There’s so much right-wing crap out there being spewed through the airwaves, it would take 10 Air Americas to balance it out.

Oh well. It was a good idea.

***So sometimes the people who run the cable companies do little things to make life so much better, I need to thank them.

I know, thanking cable companies is like thanking Standard Oil or GM years ago; who could thank the cable companies? Aren’t they all evil?

Not when they do stuff like give me enhanced TV. Apparently, Julie and I discovered Sunday, we can now stumble upon a show or movie we like 20 minutes in, hit our “select” button on our remote, and the show or movie instantly goes back to the beginning of the show!

We were like, “Wow.” She thinks it’s creepy. I think it’s awesome. How many times do you stumble upon a favorite movie and wish you had found it half-hour earlier?

Yeah, Bright House Networks, my cable company. Bravo.

***And finally, the irrepressible Digger Phelps, ESPN’s crazy college basketball analyst, dancing with a Clemson cheerleader. I watched this three times and laughed harder each time. Maybe only college basketball fans will think this is really funny, but give it a shot:

So close, but another heartbreak for Jets fans. And Brett Favre, torturing Vikes fans again

And so it ends. In a very familiar way for me.

The last time the New York Jets were this close to the Super Bowl, in Jan. 1999, they played an outstanding first half in the AFC Championship, and eventually led the Denver Broncos, 10-0.

I remember exactly how I felt at that moment, that finally, after all the pain and suffering of my Jets fan lifetime, the Jets were going to go to the Super Bowl.

And yep, that’s how I felt about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, pacing in a packed Houligan’s, high-fiving my Sunday buddies Sean the ex-firefighter and Bob the Dolphins fan and the two Jets fans, man and wife, who started coming around playoff time (and whose names I never learned). The Jets were going to the Big Game.

17-6 Jets. Two minutes to go until the half. The Jets were playing great. Mark Sanchez, playing like a 10-year veteran. The defense, all up in the great Peyton Manning’s face. It was really going to happen.

And then, well, you know the rest. Under a hailstorm of perfect Manning throws, Indy came all the way back. The Jets season, for the 41st straight year, ends before the Super Bowl.

So many things to digest and analyze after this one, as I sit here near midnight, disappointed, but damn proud of my team.

— First, I feel so good about Sanchez being the Jets’ QB in the future. The kid made huge improvements in the last month. He’s got the arm, he’s got the poise, he’s got the guts (did you see that hit he took before throwing the TD pass to Dustin Keller? Tremendous.)

— I still cannot believe Braylon Edwards, Mr. Butterfingers, caught that 80-yard touchdown pass. I figured after that happened, this had to be the Jets day.

— Peyton Manning. I mean, the guy is just the best I’ve ever seen. He makes every throw, puts it exactly where he wants it, where only his receiver can get it. I’m convinced he could take a couple of D-III wide receivers, and in a month have them catching six balls a game.

— Shonn Greene’s injury was a killer. An absolute killer. I’m not going to say the outcome would’ve been different, because I think the Colts still win. But when the Jets’ top back goes out early in the third quarter, it sucked the life out of the team.

— The Jets’ offensive line did an outstanding job in pass protection; neither Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis were big factors Sunday.

— Jay Feely, I’m not blaming you for missing the 52-yard field goal try. The first one from 44, yes, that one I blame you for. Gotta make that.

— The Jets’ future looks really, really bright. Young QB, young stud running back, outstanding defense, great head coach … but you can’t say they’ll definitely be back here. It’s too hard to win in the NFL. Who knows when they’ll be back in the AFC championship game? That’s why this loss really hurts.

— It was a great ride, for the Jets and the crazy fans like me. At 4-6, no way you could’ve made believe they get this far. I’m down tonight, but in a few days I know I’ll be so happy for the last few weeks’ worth of excitement.

**Oh yeah, the other game was pretty good, too. Drew Brees and the Saints set up what should be a sensational Super Bowl with a 31-28 win.

But all I want to say about that game is this: Let’s say you’re a Vikings fan. You rooted against Brett Favre for 15 years. He killed you in big games, he led the Packers to a Super Bowl win while your team continues to come up short. Then, finally, he retires. You’re done with Favre forever.

Only, in 2009, he comes out of retirement to play for you. Suddenly, black is white, up is down. You’ve got to root for No. 4. And you learn to love him, as he plays great and leads you to the NFC Championship game.

And then, with the game tied and the Vikings ready to kick a possible game-winning field goal to send you to the Super Bowl for the first time in more than three decades, ole’ Gunslinger Brett comes out and throws a ridiculous, across-his-body, off his back foot interception. And of course you lose the game.

I mean really, how much more can Brett Favre torture the good people of Minnesota, including my delightful cousins, the Haases? How much more can they take?

I’m just asking.

*And oh yeah, tennis fans, check out my Australian Open blog here.

Jets-Colts. Today. Too psyched for words

***I’ve been to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. I toured the grounds of Wimbledon. I watched the New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup.

Today, the biggest sports dream left in my life may happen. The New York Jets may advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since I was born. The team I have worshipped, lived and died for, screamed at and exulted over, is one victory over the Indianapolis Colts away from playing for the world championship.

Too pumped up for sleep last night. Too nervous until 3 p.m. today; I’m sure I’ll be pacing around our apartment like a madman. Don’t tell me it’ s just a game; please, those of you who don’t understand the passion of sports, don’t say that to a Jets fan today.

I can’t write anymore; all I can do is give you this. Three videos that are guaranteed to pump you up, no matter what you’re doing today in your life.

Number 1, Mr. Al Pacino, from “Any Given Sunday”

Number 2, Herb Brooks’ locker-room speech from “Miracle on Ice”

And finally, No. 3, a wonderful compilation from the people at Overthinkingit.com, 40 great movie speeches in just 2:15:

Let’s go J-E-T-S!

Crazy British riot police, taking a tour bus through Compton, and Conan’s great revenge

Three totally unrelated, but wildly entertaining stories (to me, anyway) on this Saturday, as I try to keep calm before Sunday’s Jets-Colts game:

So I heard this on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me the other day and had to look it up, and it’s real. Apparently some guys in the British riot police, a group always known for their sense of humor, were so excited by a recent English snowfall that they decided to go sledding.

On their shields. While in uniform. They only got in a little trouble, and come on, wasn’t it worth it?

This has to be one of my all-time favorite entries under the category “Who thought this was a good idea?” I present to you the L.A. Gang Tour. Yep, for $65, you can go on a bus ride through some of the most infamous, gang-infested neighborhoods, and learn all about the history of the Crips, the Bloods, and maybe even spill some blood yourself!

My favorite part of this N.Y. Times story is this passage: “Although passengers had signed releases warning of possible dangers and Mr. Lomas said he had reached agreements with several gangs not to harass the riders,”

Well, that’s reassuring. Because if one thing we know about gang members, ONE THING, it’s that they always honor their word.

**Finally, we all know Conan O’Brien has gotten royally screwed by NBC lately, but the guy is certainly having fun on the way out. I’m not talking about his sweet, poignant farewell show last night. I’m talking about this, from a few nights before. He vowed to spend as much of NBC’s money as possible, so here’s what he came up with. If only he really was making NBC pay this much:

A reason to love Ted Olson. The Beckham crotch-grab. And what’s the greatest movie you’ve never seen?

Quick note: For any tennis fans out there, I do a daily blog on the Grand Slam tournaments for my newspaper. For my thoughts on the Australian Open, which so far has been pretty good, click here.

There are all kinds of reasons to not like Ted Olson if you’re a bleeding heart liberal like me. The guy’s an arch-conservative. Worked for Reagan. Helped W. get into the White House by being the lead counselor in a little Supreme Court case called Bush vs. Gore.

But Ted Olson is a very smart man, and now he’s in the middle of a potentially groundbreaking legal case that, not surprisingly, isn’t getting a lot of attention in the mainstream press. Olson is representing two gay couples in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, trying to get Proposition 8 in California overturned, on the grounds that the anti gay-marriage amendment is unconstitutional. (Those are the lead plaintiffs in the photo above, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier)

It’s a brave move for a Republican like Olson, but when you hear and his arguments, you’ll see why equality for all is so inevitable.

Read this brilliant Newsweek essay he wrote, and watch as he bats down every conceivable argument against equality. Go ahead, it’s all in there. I encourage my Republican friends (all three of you!) to be among the ones who read this; I defy anyone to state a legitimate reason why two people who love each other should not be allowed to marry.

**Ah, the wonderful investigative journalists out there would be so proud of this Italian reporter who decided to see if David Beckham, the world’s most-famous soccer player, really was as well-endowed as is rumored.

Mike Wallace and Sy Hersh, eat your heart out. The fun starts at the 2:10 mark.

***So under the category of “Things you overhear at the post office,” this got me thinking:

So I’m in a really long line at the post office the other day, pondering why it is that the guy ahead of me always has like 17 boxes to mail at once, and they each have to be weighed separately, when a loud guy and equally loud woman behind me start talking about old movies.

They’re going on and on about the guy’s father getting him into old Westerns, and the classics, yada yada yada, then a woman on line overhears, and she starts talking about “Gone With The Wind.” And the guy says, “You know, I’ve never seen that movie.”

At which point the two women recoil in horror as if they’d just seen a rattlesnake crawling out of the priority shipping box. “You’ve never seen “Gone With the Wind???” They are just utterly bewildered by this statement.

And I’m sitting there and it dawns on me: I’ve actually never seen the tale of Rhett and Scarlett either. Shocking, I know. I’m a big movie fan, I’ve seen a majority of the films on that AFI Top 100 movies list that came out about 10 years ago, but I’ve never seen “Gone With The Wind.” Never seen “The Sound of Music,” or “Psycho,” either. But in my defense, I have seen “The Princess Bride” about 412 times.

Now that I’ve publicly shamed myself, I vow to see at least those three this year: So I ask you, dear reader: What’s the greatest movie you’ve never seen? I promise, no shame will come to you upon admittance.