Monthly Archives: January 2011

Moved by the protests in Egypt. A random JonBenet Ramsey thought. And Bryant and Katie discover the Internet

So like many of you, I’m sure, I watched and read a bit about the incredible protests going on in Egypt the last several days.
And what struck me is that this is different from the brave and bloody Iranian protests back in 2009, in that it didn’t follow a fraudulent election.
What most interests me about this event in Egypt, this tremendous display of courage and passion and anger by so many millions of oppressed people, is this: Why now?
What was it, finally that mobilized so many, to demand change, now? Protests have been going in Egypt for years, but nothing on this scale.
So what was it? What was the tipping point that made so many decide “enough was enough?” Was it the fall of Tunisia’s government? Was it simply too many people, hungry and unemployed and unwilling to sit idly by as democracy came to other places but not there?
I hope the Egyptian protesters are successful, and a tyrant like Mubarak is brought down. I hope this doesn’t end like the Iranian protests did, with thousands bloodied in the streets, and their dictator still in power.
Whatever the final spark was, it may lead to historic, wonderful change in a part of the world that needs as many democracies as it can get.

**This was brought to my attention on Twitter by two people who have SO much in common: Alyssa Milano and Roger Ebert (She’s a former child star turned sexpot actress, he’s a movie critic with a new prosthetic jaw! Please welcome to the podium…)
It’s a “Today” show clip from 1994, as Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel first hear about something called the Internet. Pretty funny:

**So I was reading a story Sunday from last week’s New York Times Book Review, and it mentioned JonBenet Ramsey.
So it got me curious as to how old the little girl murdered in 1996, by a criminal still not caught, would be today.
And it turns out she’d turn 21 this year. That fact stunned me. Can’t believe it’s been that long.
And like the death of any 6-year-old, it remains an unspeakable tragedy.

My newest addiction. And the coolest crime-fighting tool yet

I have a new addiction, and I’m going to admit here to you so maybe I can get help.
I resisted it for so long. I ignored the pleas of friends and family alike. Try it, they said. You might like it.
Finally, I broke down and tried it. And now, I can’t stop, won’t stop.
I, Michael Lewis, am a Twitter addict.
I check in in the morning and Tweet. I check in the afternoon and Tweet. I spend hours at work when I’m not able to check Twitter and wonder what I’m missing.
It’s not all about narcissism; it’s not like I am racing to tell the world every little detail of my life (hey, that’s what this blog is for!).
I’m addicted to other people’s Tweets, is what it is. I follow people who are always making me laugh, or think, or most often, linking to stuff I want to read or watch.
It’s a perfect medium for when you’re bored, or looking for the world’s reaction to something that just happened.
I really never thought I’d become one of those people, who are addicted to Twitter.
But hey, if it’s good enough for Alyssa Milano or Shaquille O’Neal,  it’s good enough for me.

**Gotta love the people of Ogden, Utah. Not just because they’re, you know, in Utah.
But because they’ve finally figured out how to solve crime. More police cars and policemen on the streets? Nah. Better security systems for local businesses Uh-oh.
Nope, the new trick is a crime-fighting blimp. Yeah, seriously, a blimp. Flying, oh, 3 miles an hour over the city (actually 40), the new unmanned blimp will have cameras that can videotape faces and license plates of scofflaws.
I can’t wait until the world’s first high-speed blimp chase. How can the criminal possibly get away when chased by a blimp?
Impossible, I say.

An awful anniversary today. Snowmageddon, again. And Federer the Great loses again

 For a long time, before 9/11, my generation’s Kennedy assassination moment (“where were you when it happened?”) took place on Jan. 28, 1986.
I was in fifth grade at North Ridge Elementary. We knew that day was going to be special, because TVs were being wheeled into the lunchroom for us to watch.
Seven astronauts, including a teacher named Christa McAuliffe, were going into outer space.
After months of learning about her, we felt like McAuliffe practically worked at our school. We knew about her hopes, her dreams, and how cool it was that an ordinary teacher was going into outer space.
Then my classmates and I walked into the lunchroom on Jan. 28, 1986 and saw all the teacher aides dabbing at their eyes with tissues.
“Why are they crying?” someone asked. And then they told us and we all fell silent.
I’ll never forget that silence. We were a bunch of 10 and 11-year-olds, most of whom never had dealt with a tragedy any more serious than our goldfish dying. And now in just a few seconds, we were told that the Challenger space shuttle blew up, and Mrs. McAuliffe and the rest were dead.
That disaster slowed down our national obsession with space for quite a few years, and it took away some of the magic and mystery of going to outer space.
I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since we lost those seven brave individuals. Do them a favor and spare a moment in your thoughts for Christa McAuliffe and her fellow travelers.
They sure deserve it.
Here’s a beautiful piece about the town of Concord, N.H., and how they remember their hometown hero.

**On a much lighter note, I feel for you people in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, going through yet another snow blizzard this winter. The only people enjoying this are the snow-shovel and snow-blower dealers.
Meanwhile, I thought this sign was petty damn funny.

**I know it’s less and less of a big deal when my man Roger Federer loses.
But it’s still a big deal. And Thursday at the Australian Open, the greatest player of all time was outplayed, out-hit, and simply down and out.
Novak Djokovic, who I also love for his personality and his game, simply played the match of his life.
I know not all of you are tennis fans, but think about this for a second. Do you realize it’s been eight years since Federer wasn’t the reigning champ of at least one of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments? We had just invaded Iraq the last time he wasn’t a champ of one of the majors.
Two takes on the match to point you to: Mine, here on my tennis blog, and the excellent Greg Couch, a much better tennis writer than most;

My exciting adventure in the rain and in a ditch

Since I was laughing as the following story was happening to me, I want to tell you up front that it has a happy ending.
Stuff seems to happen to me. Take my word for it.
Like Tuesday night. It was raining pretty hard here in Central Florida. Like, Noah-was-bringing-the-animals-on-two-by-two hard. My father and stepmother were down for a visit, and were waiting in my house, when they heard there was a tornado watch for our area.
And that the rain was going to be seriously, seriously hard for a while.
“Stay at work for a little while,” they said.
“Nah, I’ll be fine. I’ve driven in rain plenty of times down here.”
Nothing good happens after you say something like that.
So I get on the road, and the rain is coming down in buckets. Like, I can barely see in front of me. About halfway home, I decide “this is crazy,” and decide to pull over. I see a tiny strip mall up on my right, and start to pull over.
Except, my vision wasn’t so good. And I missed the driveway by several feet. I pulled over and ended up driving on the curb. I immediately hit the brakes, which is probably the worst thing you can do on slick tires and slick pavement (Jeff Gordon, I’m not). As I hit the brakes, my car sorta rolled. And rolled. And rolled into a little ditch.
You know those small little lowered cutout thingies in front of shopping plazas? That’s what I landed in. My front tires were totally covered in water, and the car was sorta leaning.

“Hmmm,” I sagely thought. “This could be a problem.” I tried to put the car in reverse, slamming on the gas pedal, but nothing happened.
Two kids driving by saw my predicament, and bless their hearts, got out in the rain and tried to push my car out from the front, while I slammed the car in reverse.
Nothin’ doing. At this point I didn’t know how futile this attempt was, because I hadn’t gotten out and seen how deeply my tires were sunk in the water.
Within a few minutes, I realized, OK, don’t panic, this is why you have the AAA auto club. As I started to dial them, I saw two flashing police car lights.
For a split second I thought I was going to get a ticket (“Sir, you know it’s illegal to make a right turn into a ditch on this road!”). Then I realized they were there to help.
Apparently some kind motorist drove by, saw my situation, and called the police and, I found out later, reported that I was hurt. Which is why the cops got there so fast.
I rolled my window down, talked to the two kind gentlemen from the Holly Hill police (I think their names were Hall and Armstrong, but things were a little hectic in my mind when they told me their names), and they told me they’d already called a towing company to bring a machine to haul my ass out of the water.
And within minutes, the nice man named Joel from Universal Towing (does that mean they can tow anything in the Universe, I wondered?) hooked up his clamp doohickey to the bottom of my car, and within 10 minutes, and 50 bucks to Joel later, I was back on the road home. (AAA told me it’d be an hour, so once Joel showed up so fast, I cancelled AAA).
Remarkably, there doesn’t appear to be any damage to my car’s front end, or tires.
I am a lucky man.
And also stupid for driving in the heavy rain.
So I’m lucky and stupid.
I can live with that.

Oscar noms are mostly on-point. And anti-semitism in pro hockey?

A rare Wide World of Stuff teaser: Tomorrow I will tell you about my crazy car adventure Tuesday night, when a huge rainstorm, slick tires, and a little carelessness found me and my Toyota stuck in a ditch for an hour on the side of the road (we’re both OK, thanks for asking).
No time to tell that story tonight, but tune in tomorrow, I promise you’ll be entertained…

Always love Oscar nomination day. Usually I see the list come out and I get annoyed that my favorite from such and such movie got snubbed.
But I have to say, I think the nominees are pretty damn good this year.
I’m still not a fan of the whole 10 best picture nominees; I thought five was fine.
But a lot of my favorites got picked this year. I am very glad “True Grit,” and Hailey Steinfeld, got nominated, and I hope Melissa Leo from “The Fighter” wins best supporting actress. Also thrilled to see “Toy Story 3” get a Best Picture nominee, though I highly doubt it’ll win.
I was surprised that “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary about the failing school system in America that everyone loved, didn’t get tapped.
Still, a darn good group of nominees, methinks.

**This story actually surprised and disturbed me when I saw it Tuesday night. Jason Bailey, a former hockey player in the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks organization, has filed a lawsuit against the organization and one of its minor league teams, the Bakersfield Condors, alleging anti-Semitism and a constant stream of verbal harassment.
I know what you’re thinking: There are Jewish hockey players? Yeah, I was surprised too, and I’m Jewish. But hey, there are several in the NHL, including the Montreal Canadiens’ Mike Cammalleri and the Washington Capitals’ Jeff Halpern.
In Bailey’s lawsuit, he says that Bakersfield coach Martin Raymond made derogatory comments like “they (Jews) only care about money and who’s who.”
And the suit says the assistant coach, Mark Pederson, said “well, I don’t know if we can trust him with money, he’s Jewish.”
Beyond the absurdity of that statement (everyone knows my people are good with money. Remember the great “Freaks and Geeks” line from the Jewish character Neil Schweiber: “I was elected class treasurer, and I didn’t even run.”), I’m surprised that, if true, the coaches would single out Bailey’s Jewishness as something to make fun of.
I’ve been around hockey players a lot as a reporter, and let me tell you, these guys will make fun of anything about their teammates. How they look, how they dress, how they skate, everything.
Never once did I ever hear religion brought into any discussion. Hockey players simply don’t care.
I’m not saying Bailey is making this stuff up; if true, the Anaheim organization absolutely should’ve disciplined Raymond and Pederson.
I’m just surprised that any hockey player, with so many other things to choose from in a ragging on a guy, would go after another’s religious beliefs.
What, the guy wasn’t ugly enough to make comments about his face?

Obama’s SOTU will disappoint me. Leftover Jets thoughts. And a great new Showtime show

A reminder to check out my Australian Open blog here. And follow me on Twitter here. Hey, I’m up to 22 followers, look out world!

I’ve been hesitant to blog about the great new Showtime show “Shameless” because I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it.
But after three episodes, I can heartily endorse it, if you’re smart enough to have a Showtime subscription. In my mind it has definitely surpassed HBO in terms of quality shows.
How to describe “Shameless?” It’s quite bizarre, hilarious, sad, and very well-written.
It stars William H. Macy as a drunk, mostly-absent father of a whole bunch of kids, the beautiful Emmy Rossum as Fiona, the oldest kid (I think she’s like 18 or so) who really runs the family and keeps everyone alive and fed, and a bunch of other talented young actors. Plus Joan Cusack as a woman who’s afraid to leave her house. And who doesn’t love Joan Cusack?
The pilot episode was so bizarre, but each episode has gotten better and stronger, and Macy is an incredible actor. There are a lot of places the story can go, and  I really hope it finds a big audience.
Check it out Sundays at 10 on Showtime. You can thank me later.

**Still stewing a bit in the Jets’ defeat; maybe marinating in it is more like it. Two thoughts kept coming into my mind thinking about the loss:
1. That 1st and goal from the Pittsburgh 2 series, with the Jets down 24-10, is going to haunt me for a while. Why not try a play-action pass if you insist on passing there, Brian Schottenheimer? Or heck, how about a Sanchez bootleg on 3rd down? It worked beautifully against Pittsburgh last time the teams played.
Oy. Pass the Maalox.
2. A few people Monday told me that “hey, next year for the Jets. The future is bright.” Except here’s the thing: There may not be a next year in the NFL. Labor disharmony will likely wipe out the 2011 season, and who knows how much beyond that.
We have no idea what free agency, the draft, any of it, will look like when the NFL resumes after the Super Bowl.
The Jets could look radically different the next time we see them. Nothing is ever guaranteed in sports; maybe this will be the only two AFC title games Rex Ryan ever gets them to.
That’s why Sunday hurt so much. Because you just don’t know when the next chances will come.

**Finally, my President is speaking on TV tonight. State of the Union. I’m hearing rumblings from all the political commentators that I read that Obama is going to “move to the center,” and he’ll present “centrist ideas” and yada yada yada.
No thanks. I’ve had two years of wishing the President was more liberal, and now it appears he’s going to shift to the center. And be more moderate.
Sigh. So disappointing. But maybe I’ll be roused by the speech tonight. I usually am by this man.

Crushed. Again. Thank you Jets, may I have another?

“Why??? When????”
— text from my friend Mike S., 9:52 p.m. Sunday night.

Too depressed and sad to blog much tonight. Once again, the New York Jets brought me to the precipice of ultimate sports fan joy.
Then turned around, laughed, and said “Naahhh” as they kicked me all the way down the mountain.

As I sit here at 1:07 a.m., a full three hours after the game, these are the thoughts/feelings I have. If you’re looking for deep insights into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-19 win, sorry, try somewhere else.

— I am angry that once again the Jets treated the first half like a warm-up session, allowing a superior team to build up a big lead before finally waking the hell up.
— I am annoyed that for all of Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait” talking and gesticulating, he couldn’t make a damn tackle to save his life in the first half.  Nor could the rest of the defense.
— I am angry that the Jets’ drive that finally brought them within 24-19 took 8 1/2 months.
— I am wildly confused as to Brian Schottenheimer’s play-calling when the Jets had first and goal from the Pittsburgh 2, and the score 24-10. Jets score a TD there, and we’ve got a whole different game.
— I tip my hat at the ballsiness of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to throw a pass on 3rd and 7 with 2 minutes to go, when every other coach would’ve run the ball and then punted.
— Even in my haze of anger and sadness, I am unhappy to realize that with an NFL lockout looming, this is probably the last meaningful Jets game I’ll see for a long, long time.

— I am amazed that as poorly as the Jets played, they were one measly defensive 3rd down stop away from having a shot to drive down the field and win the game.

Finally, I am convinced once again, that the Jets will never reach a Super Bowl in my lifetime. It’s what I had thought all along, all my life, until the last two years this wonderful lug of a coach convinced me things could change.
Parcells told us that, too, and he almost got us there.
Maybe this is as close as we Jets fans get.

I listened to this song over and over late Sunday night. Didn’t really help me, but maybe it’ll help you if you are a Jets fan.
Or, you know, you just want to hear a great song on a Monday.

Jets. Steelers. One win from a lifelong dream. And a great piece on Rafa

I am a nervous wreck as I sit here typing this, late on Saturday night.
I am excited beyond belief. I am nervous beyond belief.
For the fourth time in my lifetime, the New York Jets are one win from the Super Bowl.
The last three times they got this close, the Jets broke my heart.
In 1982, I watched from the basement of the house of my family’s friends, the Katzes, in Monsey, N.Y., as the Miami Dolphins turned Richard Todd into Ryan Leaf.
In 1998, I watched from my apartment in Wilmington, N.C., as fumble after fumble by the Jets in the second half gave Denver the win.
In 2009, I watched from a sports bar in Ormond Beach, Fla., as a halftime lead evaporated under a hail of Peyton Manning passes.
I don’t ask for much in life. I’m a pretty happy guy. I’m a man made joyous by simple pleasures.
I ask today for a New York Jets win, and their first Super Bowl appearance of my lifetime.
I have seen all my other sports lifetime dreams occur. I saw the Rangers win a Stanley Cup. I saw the Yankees win multiple World Series. I’ve seen Duke win four national championships in basketball.
If this can happen today … if Mark Sanchez can outduel Ben Roethlisberger, if the Jets defense can stuff the run, if LaDainian Tomlinson has just a little more magic left in those old legs … my sports dreams will be complete.
Notice, I’m not even asking for a Jets Super Bowl win. More than any other of the four major sports title games or series, I think just reaching the Super Bowl is an accomplishment to be celebrated.
Of course I’d want the Jets to win the Super Bowl. But I don’t want to be greedy. Just get there.
Four times they’ve been in a position to bring me to tears of joy. Three times they’ve broken my heart.
It has to happen today. It will happen today. Jets 20, Steelers 16.
Please, God, grant me this wish, and  I’ll never trifle you with sports requests again.

And now, to get you fired up if you desire firing up, a couple of clips:

And take it away, Mr. Pacino:

**I’ve linked to Jon Wertheim’s work before here; he’s a friend of a friend and a super nice guy, as well as being one of the finest sportswriters in America. He’s got a new book out, called Scorecasting; basically it’s “Freakonomics” for sports. It looks terrific, from the excerpt I read in SI.
Anyway, wanted to point you to a fabulous story Jon wrote on Rafael Nadal in SI two weeks ago.
It’s funny, the more tennis fans that I talk to who love Roger Federer like I do, the more they feel like me: It’s impossible to hate Nadal. The guy is humble, polite to fans, and so unassuming he flies coach, still.
He’s on a quest right now to win the Australian Open, which would be his fourth consecutive Slam title, something even the great Fed hasn’t done.
It’s a fairly short story, but Wertheim absolutely sums up the essence of Rafa.
Read it and tell me how you could root against him.

Keith Olbermann shockingly gone from MSNBC. And Honey Buns, the favorite food of Fla. prisoners

Well this was pretty stunning.
Keith Olbermann, the No.1 television voice for liberals like myself, abruptly announced on his show “Countdown” that Friday was his last show.
Was he fired? Not really. Apparently he and MSNBC, always at each other’s throats, agreed that he wouldn’t continue.
Yeah, right. There’s got to be more to the story than this. I don’t know if Comcast, which like five minutes ago finalized its deal to buy NBC, had something to do with this.
I don’t know if Keith was forced out the door, or if he’s got something else cooking.
Whatever it is, he’ll be sorely missed. Olbermann grew on me. Sure he’s pompous, and a little obnoxious.
But after years and years of liberals being beat over the head by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others, it was so refreshing to hear someone hit back from our side.
Olbermann is incredibly smart, very clever with words, and has a definite presence that makes you want to listen to him.

In tribute, here’s my favorite Olbermann “special comment” he ever did, exploding on George Bush in 2008:

**When I used to work for a newspaper in North Carolina, and I had a late deadline in the office and needed just a little snack, I’d walk to the vending machine, insert my $.85, and buy a Honey Bun. Then I’d pop that sucker in the microwave for 20 seconds, take it out, and sticky, gooey sweet goodness was mine.

I’d sometimes feel sick an hour or so after, but man, those Honey Buns were darn tasty.
I bring all this up because I heard this on NPR this week and it sounded ridiculous, but it’s true: Apparently at Florida prisons, Honey Buns have become more valuable than cigarettes and money. They’re used for everything, and the sweet treats can make or break the peace in jail.
Read the details here. Honey Buns. Who knew?
I wonder what a Ding Dong would go for in the can.

Florida thieves get high on a man’s ashes. And an athlete totally turns the table on the media

Ah, it’s Friday and I know you want to read about some really, really unfortunate criminals.
So I take you to my beloved state of Florida, where so much craziness seems to happen.
Back in December, a quintet of teenagers robbed a house in Marion County. And while ransacking the home,  they found some white, powdery substances.
And the teens thought those substances were cocaine.  So they snorted them, quite enthusiastically.
Except … it turns out that what they snorted were the cremated remains of a man and two dogs.
Yep. Too many jokes for me to make here. Do you think they got high? People are always saying to get “high on life,” well, these guys were getting high on death!
And if doing drugs can sometimes make you hallucinate and talk to people who aren’t there, does smoking dead people have the opposite effect?
I’m sure your own jokes would be funnier.

**I love this story 11 ways from Sunday. (Sunday, there’s that word again. Jets-Steelers. Two days away. I’m having trouble concentrating on anything else this week).
Caroline Wozniacki (above) is the No.1 women’s tennis player in the world. She’d been getting a lot of the same questions at her press conferences at the Australian Open, so she decided to open her press conference Thursday with this bit of brilliance:

“Well, yesterday I got the question by the media, they said that my press conferences were kind of boring. Yeah, that I always gave the same answers.

You know, I find it quite, you know, funny because I always get the same questions. So I’m just going to start. I know what you’re going to ask me already. So I’m just going to start with the answer.

I felt great out there today on the court. You know, I think I played a pretty good match. I am happy I got the revenge since I lost to her in Sydney last week. It was not an easy match. She went out there, she was really on fire.

You know, I’m happy to be through to the next round. I don’t know who I’m playing, so maybe you can ask me that afterwards. But I’m really looking forward to playing my fourth round. It’s the second time in a row that that’s happened.

I mean, what I do need to do to win this tournament, if I feel like I played too defensively today. I actually feel like I had to do that. I had to run a lot of balls down today because, I mean, she was playing really aggressively, trying to hit from the first point.

But I felt like, you know, when I had the chance, I was really focused and tried to step it up, especially with my serve a bit. When she put the second serve in, I tried to take the advantage straightaway.

Um, if I deserve to be No. 1. If this was maybe another proof that I belong there. Again, I don’t feel any pressure to be No. 1. I really enjoy myself. I think I’ve had a great year and a great tournament so far. So I’m just happy to be in the next round, and hopefully I can pull a win through …

Hopefully this was a little bit different than usual, and now you can maybe, yeah, give me some questions that are a little bit more interesting, a little bit different than what I usually get.”

Then it goes on from there, as Wozniacki fields questions about cricket, what she looks for in a man, and other fun topics.
Bravo, Caroline. Perfect way to play us writer types. Because let’s face it, our questions usually are pretty boring.