Monthly Archives: May 2010

Israel angers me again: Oy vey. A rant at ESPN. And a good Woody Allen movie (it’s been awhile)

Israel. Oh, Israel. You make it so hard sometimes for American Jews like myself  to defend you.

Like on Monday. Right when Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu was about to have a meeting with President Obama, an Israeli navy commando raided an aid flotilla and killed nine people.

Israel says it acted in self-defense. The rest of the world seems to disagree. It looks very bad, especially when you learn that the flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of aid.

I’m sick of what certainly appear to be pro-active acts of violence by Israel. I know there are many Jews in America who will defend Israel no matter what. I’m not one of them.

I hope the investigation of this attack shows that the Israelis acted in self-defense. I really hope I’m wrong. Because this sure as hell won’t help any peace process that might ever occur in the Middle East.

**ESPN does a lot of things right, and it does a lot of things wrong. Monday it totally angered me because it refused to show live tennis from the French Open; instead, it showed taped matches that had been over for hours.

If you are interested in me ranting about this (and you know you are), click here for my blog on the French Open Monday, and scroll toward the bottom.

**”Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is one of those movies I’d been meaning to see for a while, but never got around to it. Finally saw that it was on one of the 47 Showtime channels we get (seriously, it’s ridiculous how many different Showtimes and HBOs there are), and taped it, and watched it Sunday night.

Pretty good, as I’d heard. I’d watch Scarlett Johannson read a phone book, so beautiful is she, but she actually acted quite well in this. Javier Bardem was his usual awesome self, and Penelope Cruz was terrific, too. Not sure she was worthy of that Oscar she got; I mean, she was only in a few scenes. But she was really good.

It was a well-paced, well-written film, even it if wasn’t all that funny. And it made me wonder: Hey Woody Allen, where the hell’s all this good stuff been? Woody’s made some dreadful movies in the last 10 years, and I’ve watched most of ’em (that one with Helen Hunt? And the “Scoop” movie with Scarlett? Just atrocious piffle.)

Glad to see Woody can still make a good movie, that’s all.

A nice story about heroes, redemption for Duke lacrosse, and a beautiful “West Wing” moment for Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend with friends, family, and anyone else whose company you enjoy.

Wanted to pass along this fantastic story about a real hero today; his name is John Glaser and he’s a firefighter in Shawnee, Kan. It’s a beautiful story; stay with it and you’ll see why I think it’s so remarkable.

Take it away, the great Joe Posnanski

**When I say the words “Duke lacrosse,” I’m sure the first thing that comes into your mind is the 2006 “rape” scandal. I’m not going to spend time here railing about the obscene prosecutorial misconduct in the case, or talk about how one woman, making up a story, nearly ruined the lives of 30 innocent college athletes.

Were the Duke players absolutely innocent here? Yes. Had they probably engaged in lecherous, possibly illegal behavior at some point previously? Perhaps. Male college teams rarely have women over as a “one-time thing.”

My point is not to re-hash the case. It’s to tell you that today in Baltimore, the Duke lacrosse team has a chance to wipe away the stain of that 2006 controversy. This group of Blue Devils, the oldest of whom were seniors in high school at the time of the allegations, has a chance to win the national title. They’re playing Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN. Should be a great game.

I hope Duke wins, of course, since I’m a big fan of the school. But also because serious allegations, even when completely made up, stick to a program’s reputation for wears.

And the Duke lacrosse program, with their high GPAs and model behavior, deserve to be known for something besides a made-up scandal.

**And finally, one of the most moving scenes ever from “The West Wing,” when Toby and Mrs. Landingham attend a funeral for a veteran:

8-year-old under arrest, an incredible hitting streak goes on, and R.I.P. Dennis Hopper

Sometimes the absurdity of a story speaks for itself. So I’m not going to comment on this one:

An argument over a toy airplane led Monday to an eight-year-old Ohio boy being cited for assaulting a six-year-old neighbor, according to cops. Witnesses described the child as a bully who frequently picked on younger kids, according to the below Lorain Police Department report.

Sigh. I hate bullies as much as anyone, but bringing the cops in to arrest an 8-year-old is insane.

OK, so much for that “no comment” thing.

**So college baseball hardly gets any attention in the mainstream sports world, because, well, it’s college baseball and few people care.

But have you seen what this kid named Garrett Wittels, of Florida International University, has been doing the past two months? Witters got a hit Saturday for FIU, and has now hit in 53 consecutive ballgames.

Fifty-three! That’s the second-longest streak in NCAA Division I history, second only to Robin Ventura (ah, a sweet memory for Mets fans), who hit in 58 straight games.

Amazing story for the sophomore infielder from Miami. I hope he breaks the record; it’s so difficult to maintain that kind of consistency for a whole season.

**And finally, a quick tribute to one of the greatest American actors of the 20th century, Dennis Hopper. Loved him in almost all of his roles, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Easy Rider” to “Hoosiers” and “Speed.”

Rest in peace, wild man. 

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” close to death. One very tough puppy. And a little thing that made me feel old

So we moved one step closer to finally getting rid of the disgusting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the U.S. military this week.

The House of Representatives voted to kill it on Thursday, so now it moves to the Senate. An important committee in the Senate, the Senate Armed Services Committee, also voted to let this exclusionary, homophobic, anti-civil rights law die a slow death (And shame on Jim Webb for voting against this).

There will be more fighting next week, from the old-guard Republicans, who despite poll after poll showing that most Americans want anyone to be able to serve, still think it’s a terrible idea.

Gay-hating senators like John McCain are vowing to filibuster this amendment, making oh so much noise and sounding so much like those who railed against women having the right to vote, and African-Americans having the right to vote.

There’s still so much wrong with this country, so much that needs fixing. But finally, within a matter of months, any person brave enough to want to serve in the military, will be able to do so.

And thank God for that, on this Memorial Day weekend.

**So this is fairly incredible. A woman in Rock Hill, S.C. drove for 30 miles, following an ambulance taking her husband to the hospital, with a stray puppy stuck under her front hood.

The poor little guy had been abandoned near the woman’s house, climbed in there somehow, then got stuck on top of the hot transmission.

He turned out to have stomach burns, but he’s OK now. Check out the amazing story here.

**OK, this is just something that might make fellow Generation X’ers like myself feel old.

I was watching “Glee” the other night and the character Rachel Berry was talking to her biological mother, who she’d just met. The mom, Shelby, asked her how she got her name Rachel.

And she said, “My dads were big fans of ‘Friends.” And then it hit me that a high school senior was now old enough to have been born during “Friends,” which started when I was in college.

Wow. It’s the little moments that stop you in your tracks.

The incredible pull of geneology. And a prayer for Arnold Drummond

I learned I had a new relative this week.
And he opened up a whole new world to me.
Sometimes you forget how incredible of a world we live in these days, when documents from decades ago, and photos you never knew existed, show up.
A man contacted my father and sister through Facebook a few days ago, saying he was a long-lost relative and had pictures of my grandparents to prove it.

I was dubious. Sounded like the beginning of a scam.
Then my Dad sent me the pictures the man had sent, like the one above, of my grandparents shortly after they were married.
I was blown away. I’d never seen anything but my grandparents’ wedding photo, and this was such a beautiful shot.
Then my new relative, named Vito (of course, as a Jewish family I doubted we had a Vito in the clan), sent along a ton of other pictures. Of my grandparents, their brothers and sisters, and what surprised me most of all, a naturalization certificate from a relative who had recently become a citizen.
Vito also sent a handmade family tree, showing how all of us are connected, complete with spouses, children, and everyone else. It’s an amazing piece of work, one he’s been working on for years.
It was like opening a history book of your family, and it was such a beautiful surprise.

What possessed Vito to track us down? I was thinking about that today. We all want to believe we’re connected to somebody else, and that our family stretches back centuries (If everyone who says their family goes back to the Mayflower was telling the truth, that ship would’ve had 425,000 passengers).
Getting in touch with someone we might be related to, even if it’s distant like it is with Vito, makes me feel more a part of the world. And I think that’s something we all need sometimes.

****You may have heard last night that Gary Coleman, once and forever Arnold Drummond on “Diff’rent Strokes,” was in critical condition at a Utah hospital.
The guy has had a tough life, no doubt about it. Some of his trouble was self-inflicted, but a lot of it wasn’t.

Hope you pull through, Gary. And for all of you who, like me, loved the show that made him famous, enjoy this:

A very disrespectful candidate, “Parenthood” finishes awesomely, and a look behind the curtain

Well, I guess the rule is, if you’re an African-American Republican running for Congress, you can rip on Barack Obama all you want.

That’s what I got out of Les Phillip, a guy running for Congress out of the fifth district in Alabama. This is his campaign commercial he’s running now, where he says the President of the United States “is ashamed of America,” among other nice things.

Funny how criticizing the President was so unpatriotic when W. was in charge, but now it seems to be totally OK.

Les Phillip ought to be ashamed of himself. I have no idea how this is playing in Alabama. However, I think I’ll be visiting his opponent’s website very soon.

**The season finale of “Parenthood” was phenomenal the other night. Truly fantastic. This was a show that got better as the season went along, and I’m very happy to report it’s coming back to NBC next year. I thought they handled the Haddie-Amber thing very well, and Dax Shepard’s Crosby character is really growing on me.

And how good an actor is Craig T. Nelson? I love that guy. If you haven’t seen the show yet, one of those free pay-per-view thingies that most cable companies have (it’s called “Showcase” on our cable system) has most of the episodes of the season on it. I definitely recommend checking it out.

**Finally, another tiny glimpse of life as a sportswriter. I got to attend and cover the Orlando Magic-Boston Celtics NBA game Wednesday night, truly one of those events that make covering the regular-season high school volleyball games tolerable. (Here’s a link to the column I wrote from the game.

Anyway, there were a ton of media there, they served us good food (roasted chicken, and one of the best brownies I’ve ever had for dessert), and my seat was up in the nether regions, as usual (Hey, we’re the Daytona Beach News-Journal, not ESPN or the New York Times. Though I could glimpse the top of the heads of those guys.)

What’s funny about these big games is that sportswriting is reduced to, basically, high school lunch. At big games, the cool kids are the major sportswriters from the big papers and websites. They all hang out together, trading stories and inside jokes.

The not so cool kids sit together, too, sort of staring at the cool kids and wish we were a part of their club.

One day maybe we will be. We can only dream for now.

Some rude New Yorkers, “Glee” sliding downhill, and a really bad idea mixing the KKK with learning

You ever read a story and not know whether to be more horrified by the action, or the result?

That’s kind of how I felt reading this story in the New York Times Tuesday.  According to a study by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, 51 New Yorkers in 2009 assaulted a bus driver by spitting on them. Fifty-one! That’s once a week, a bus driver, who is simply doing his job and going about his life and trying to earn a paycheck, had to endure the indignity of getting expectorated on.

So that’s pretty shocking, right? Even in New York, there should be manners, right? Well, that’s not even the most shocking part of the story.

After being spat on, the report said, drivers took an average of 64 days off work following the incident; the equivalent of three months of paid leave.

This is unbelievable to me. Of course being spit on is disgusting, rude, and those who do it should be prosecuted. But 64 days off following an incident? That seems like blatant abuse and incredibly irresponsible of the drivers.

Man, first it was the railroad conductors taking advantage of taxpayer money last year, and now the bus drivers. Geez.

**You people know I love “Glee.” Have adored it ever since it first aired and they did that amazing “Don’t Stop Believin'” cover.

But something has happened between the first batch of episodes, and when it returned from its winter hiatus: They’ve forgotten the storytelling. They’ve forgotten a lot of the humor. And they’ve given us way, way, WAY too many musical numbers. Look, I love the musical numbers; Tuesday night the whole KISS thing was great, and I don’t like Lady Gaga but the performances were good.

It feels like the whole episodes have no point except to put on the songs, and Tuesday we didn’t even get Sue Sylvester for a minute.

(By the way, who the heck ever figured Mike O’Malley had such acting chops? That was a phenomenal scene with Finn in the basement.)

I’m still a big fan, and Tuesday’s episode did have some nice moments. I just feel it’s getting closer and closer to ridiculousness and (dare I say it) self-parody.

**Finally, here’s another page from the really, really bad idea book: A teacher in Atlanta, Catherine Ariemma, allowed four students to wear KKK costumes to school to film a school project about racism.

Oh yeah, the county where the school is, Lumpkin, Ga., is 95 percent white.

I’m thinking maybe there was a better way to illustrate that lesson, Mrs. Ariemma. Did they come to school with flaming crosses in their backpacks, too?

Another great example of a different kind of school. And two sick lacrosse goals.

If you want my thoughts on the first few days of the French Open, click here. For my latest Stanley Cup playoffs blog, click here.

I have all kinds of strong feelings when it comes to education reform in this country.

I could spend thousands of words explaining my position, but I’m tired and it’s late and you have stuff to do today, so I’ll boil it down to a few bullet points.

**I believe teachers unions are incredibly valuable, but they need to be more flexible and allow for more accountability. Too many bad teachers still have jobs. Test scores alone are a terrible way to evaluate teachers; principals and administrators must see teachers in action, and not just for five minutes at a time.

**I believe “teaching to the test” has completely overtaken this country, and is a very bad, bad thing.

**I believe most, if not all politicians have no clue what goes on in America’s classrooms, which is why they’re clueless to fix things.

**I believe simply throwing money at bad schools and bad districts has accomplished nothing over the last 60 years.

Most of all, though, I believe in hope. I believe that there are ways to make kids care about learning, and that with the right circumstances, and the right people leading the way, a successful school can sprout in the most dangerous inner cities, and in the most hopeless neighborhoods.

I’m a huge, huge fan of the KIPP program, and I’m glad to see how fast it’s growing. I find it inspiring hearing about the incredible dedication of students and teachers there, and in places like it.

“60 Minutes” on Sunday gave me more reason to hope.  It showed a wonderful piece by Byron Pitts on the SEED school in Washington, D.C., a remarkable inner-city boarding school that chooses students by lottery, then turns their lives around.

If you want your spirits lifted and hopes restored, please watch this:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

**So I’ve said a few times on here that I’m a big lacrosse fan. Even if you’re not, check out these two fantastic goals by a Division III lacrosse player named Richie Ford, who plays for Stevenson College. This is part of what makes lacrosse so great; the creativity of its players.

A truly astoundingly funny idea. A non-Lost “Lost” question. And “The Wrestler” holds up

Another one of the brilliant ideas I wish I’d thought of:

Two people named Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel decided it would be really funny if they got celebrities to get up on stage and read from other celebrities’ autobiographies.

So we get Rachel Dratch reading Joan Lunden. And Rosie Perez reading Suzanne Somers. And so many other hilarious ones that “CBS Sunday Morning” heard about it and did a short piece on it.

Absolutely freaking brilliant. They’re on the road now; check their website or watch the above clip to get a sense of how great this is.

They’re going to be doing another show in NYC on July 26. I’m going to be up in New York then. I’m totally going. Maybe we could get Sarah Jessica Parker reading Billy Graham. Or Ice-T giving us Brooke Shields’ inner thoughts.

**I never got into “Lost,” after watching about 10 minutes of the first episode. My wife, totally the opposite. To the point where at least once during each episode during the last five years I’ve heard her scream “Are you freaking kidding me?” or “This show pisses me off,” from the other room.

Anyway, with “Lost” ending last night, I just have one question that I’ve been thinking about: Let’s say you never watched an episode, but wanted to sit down for the finale and learn about the show. How long would it take for a fan to explain everything that’s gone on so far in the show?

Hours? Weeks? Months? I asked Julie. She sighed deeply, then replied, “Years.”

**Watched the fantastic movie “The Wrestler” again this weekend, the second time I’ve see the whole thing. It was once again, fabulous. If you didn’t see the Mickey Rourke Oscar-nominated movie about an over-the-hill pro wrestler hanging on to whatever he can, I strongly recommend it.

As always when you watch a movie a second time, you pick up a few things that you never saw before, but make the film that much better.

Three thoughts on “The Wrestler” the second time (these will only make sense if you’ve seen it, and no, I’m not spoiling any plot points here)

1. There’s a wonderful scene when Randy “the Ram” Robinson is going to work at the ACME deli counter for the first time. And he takes this long, long walk from the back stockroom to the counter, and then pauses behind a plastic curtain right before the deli counter, then walks in.

It was exactly like how he used to walk the hallways and enter a wrestling arena. Brilliant job by the director there.

2. As heartbreaking of a scene as it already is at the old wrestlers’ autograph signing show, I never noticed that toward the end, Randy looks around and sees some of his friends’ career maladies, one by one, and you watch that hitting him in his expression.

3. The Springsteen song at the end? Just fantastic. It totally could’ve been a throwaway Bruce song; I mean, it’s not like the guy needs to write any more winners. But I thought it was a beautiful capstone to a terrific movie.

A “what’s more offensive” question for my readers. And the French Open kicks off

So I’m in the greeting card section of Target on Saturday, looking for a birthday card for a friend, and I see, lined up three in a row, a trio of obnoxious, stupid, sexist cards designed for men.

You know the type: Big-breasted woman, maybe blonde, leaning over looking all come-hither. The words on the front are some sexual entendre, and then you open the card and the rest of the joke is inside. It’s rarely funny, and often stupid.

And while I was pondering that, I got to thinking about how lately beer commercials have really been pissing me off. They are getting stupider and stupider, especially the Coors Light and Miller Lite ones: (the two most moronic have to be the one where the guy can’t say “I love you” to his girlfriend, and the one (above) where the girl asks him what he’d save if they were falling off a cliff, her or his Miller Lite).

It offends me that this is how greeting card companies and beer marketers see men: That we’re all these drooling, idiotic, mono-syllabic morons. Are there no men out there who like greeting cards or beer? We’re all just so stupid we’d pick a case of cheap beer over our hot girlfriend?

It’s pathetic that in 2010 they think that all men are alike, and we’re this dumb. As an intelligent male, I would love to know what guy is watching those commercials and saying “Yeah, that’s me. I should drink that beer and be like that guy.”

OK, end of rant. I’m just sayin’ aren’t there any creative minds left in advertising for these companies?

Which do you think are more offensive, the greeting cards, or the beer commercials?

**The French Open tennis tournament starts today, and I am very happy.

I think it’s weird how in the last couple of years a few of the Grand Slams have decided to start on a Sunday, to stretch the tournament out through three weekends and make some more money off fans by having one extra day of play. But whatever.

This should be a fascinating two weeks for tennis nuts like myself. You have to figure Rafael Nadal, all healthy and fired up (though still not back in the clam-digger shorts, which I think he ought to be wearing), will regain his crown as men’s champ. Can my man Roger Federer find a way to beat Rafa on clay, in a Grand Slam, which he’s never done? I’m as big a Fed fan as there is, but I’m not sure he can do it this year.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams has hardly played since winning the Australian Open in January. And she never plays well at Roland Garros. So of course she’ll probably win the tournament. Justine Henin, who I met once and was very nice, is back from retirement and could also win. Really, it’s pretty wide open on the women’s side.

By the way, that picture above is me standing on the actual center court at the French Open, Court Phillippe Chartrier. I’ll tell the story of my criminal mischief in sneaking into the stadium sometime later this week; let’s just say security there wasn’t exactly like it is at Leavenworth.