Friday, January 5, 2007

Its rider was named Abdullah, so please donate money

[Pat] Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by [a major terrorist] attack, which should take place sometime after September.
(via the AP/MSNBC)

As mentioned in an earlier post, according to a recent Newsweek poll, 25% of people believe Jesus is coming back this year...I guess they just didn't expect him to come back in the form of a toxic cloud of gas.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Paris Hilton sleeping with intellectual superior

The partying heiress — who recently declared a moratorium from dating guys — says that her new in-bed companion is her baby monkey, Brigitte Bardot.
* * *
"Yes, I’ve kissed a lot of guys. I like to kiss, but that’s it. I don’t go home with anyone. I sleep with my animals, like my baby monkey, Brigitte Bardot."
(via Jeannette Walls)

At least she found someone whom she can really connect with.

What makes a good sports journalist?

The ability to communicate while also evaluating the sport effectively and accurately.

What makes a successful sports journalist?

Being a self-aggrandizing blowhard that doesn't know their ass from their face.

Long time interweb compatriot CNE left a comment in my previous 30,000 word post regarding Mike Francesa's remarks about the late Darrent Williams. It raises the idea of how these journalists get in a position where they are the voices of sports discussion throughout the country, and why they are so terrible at it (note: not saying the FJM people are bad, simply the people they criticize).

Take Francesa. He is a sports historian of the highest order. Ask him about who was on the 1952 Yankees or the 1976 Steelers, and he can list off everyone down to the water boy. He knows when and where Bill Russell took a shit. However, he is simply unable to analyze these same players and teams with any consistent degree of success. He's not as bad as Jim Rome, who describes every winning team as being a bunch of determined, gritty, clutch guys who hustle and show a lot of heart, but Francesa often doesn't understand anything beyond basic evaluations of players, and believes in the sporting world's equivalents of old wives' tales.

For example, he insists Alex Rodriguez can't cut it in New York, completely ignoring the fact A-Rod won the MVP as a Yankee after the big collapse in the 2004 ALCS. Even though A-Rod hit 35 home runs and had a .392 OBP last season, Francesa criticized him for being unable to perform. This is not logic.

However, what place does logic have in the media? People don't want logic. They want hysteria, and hype, and controversy. It's why people watch Bill O'Reilly. His fans support his tripe so they tune in, and his detractors tune in so they have something else to complain about. He gets two sets of people tuning in, and he gets the ratings that the network loves.

People listen to Mike & The Mad Dog partly because they enjoy listening to the pair's historical knowledge, but mostly because they can call in and vent, either about the sports teams or about the crazy things the duo says. It's about ratings, not integrity, and those two guys have maintained high ratings for over 15 years.

Not all writers and on-air personalities are as irritating and nonsensical as Mike & The Mad Dog. WFAN's Joe Benigno, now joined with Evan Roberts (on air from 10-1) provides a more rational listening atmosphere, and WPEN's Jody MacDonald (on air from 3-7, but I can no longer find their streaming audio link) is always willing to listen to divergent viewpoints, unlike Mike & The Mad Dog, who will not allow anyone to get a word in edgewise and are notorious for arguing with athletes, GMs, coaches, reporters, et al over inconsequential matters. Jody Mac even indulges in sabermetric talk from time to time. I also enjoy reading Tom Verducci, who is perhaps Sports Illustrated's most respected and informed baseball writer.

If know of a particularly fatuous ding dong that drives you up the wall, or want to share a great sports commentator with me, hit me up in the comments.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Fütball

Perhaps you heard about the recent murder of a professional athlete.
DENVER (AP) -- Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed early Monday when his white stretch Hummer was sprayed by bullets after a nightclub dispute following a New Year's Eve party.

Police have no motive and no indication the 24-year-old player was targeted in the drive-by shooting of the limousine. The burst of violence occurred hours after the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention.
* * *
"We all know that Darrent was an excellent player, but as a person, he was a first-class young man who brightened every room with his smile, attitude and personality," [Coach Mike] Shanahan said. "I cannot express how heartsick I feel at this loss."

Jackson said there was a dispute at a nightclub several blocks from the shooting where Williams and his group had attended a party. He said the argument didn't specifically involve Williams, according to witnesses, and the confrontation wasn't physical, just taunts.

"Why this happened, we're not sure," Jackson said.
* * *
"His heart was so big, he was always giving to those who didn't have," said Williams' mother, Rosalind Williams, who flew to Denver from Fort Worth. "It didn't even have to be for an agency or a charity. If he knew you didn't have, he'd hand it out of his pocket."
(source)

His former high school football coach in Texas, Anthony Criss, said Williams had gone from hanging with the wrong crowd to trying to keep kids away gangs and violence.

"When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd," said Criss, who coached Williams for three seasons at O.D. Wyatt High in Fort Worth. "I remember he went to church and the minister was talking to him about needing to pray and stop hanging around with the wrong people, and he started straightening up and doing the right thing."

Williams, who has two young children in the Fort Worth area, said last month that he wanted to return to his hometown in the offseason to talk to kids about staying out of street gangs. He also had recently spoken to Criss about establishing a free football camp for young players in Fort Worth.
(source)

This kind of thing (murder) shouldn't happen to anyone, regardless of whether the person was an athlete. However, I share all of this because of a comment made by a popular sports commentator. I was listening to WFAN's Mike & the Mad Dog radio program today despite the fact I usually prefer WPEN's Jody McDonald Show. The Giants are in the playoffs and I would much rather listen to New York radio than Philadelphia radio, although it's also easier to listen to Mike & the Mad Dog as they are simulcast on television. Anyway, Mike Francessa made an off-hand comment about Williams, questioning (and I'm paraphrasing) when these athletes are going to learn.

This really annoyed me. We've been hearing about how black athletes are thugs because they have tattoos and they listen to rap and whatever else. This wasn't an athlete carrying a gun. He wasn't even involved in the fight, as far as reports go. He was just a guy in a club for New Year's Eve. Who hasn't been in a situation like that? He was shot three blocks from the club as he was trying to go home. These were sick people that killed Williams. The blame cannot be placed on him. You can't say he shouldn't have been there. If I get stabbed at a concert, is it my fault for going? Maybe it just happens to be the fault of the guy who stabbed me?

There are situations where athletes cause their own problems. When they drink and proceed to drive, when they carry a weapon on them, when they're mixed up with drugs and gangs. However, this was a simple scenario of going out on an evening where lots of people go out, and he was murdered. Just because Williams didn't golf at the country clubs doesn't make his choice of entertainment less valid. There's nothing wrong with going to a restaurant or night club.

With that important matter said, his death reminded me of something far less serious. Last year was my first time playing fantasy sports, and I was or am involved in baseball, football, survival football, hockey and basketball. Hockey and basketball are still on-going, but the others are concluded. I came in first place out of 14 in my baseball league, fifth place out of 12 in the football league, and I was the last man standing in the survival league. As you might imagine, I am active with all of my teams, which were all in Yahoo's Fantasy Sports.

Yahoo provides a nice, free service, and they even subscribe to news feeds to let users know about updates, streaks, injuries, etc. These snippets of information are sometimes followed with advice, which I have found to be terrible. To get a feel for this, I have taken advantage of the senseless violence which took away Williams' life. I feel it illustrates my point and is in poor taste, which is sometimes my style:



Part II of this post will commence...now

Moving along, I mentioned the Giants and the playoffs, so I'd like to discuss that for a little bit. It's my blog, after all. I want the G-Men to win despite their near-disastrous collapse. What the Giants need to do on offense is have Tiki Barber run a good game (which means the O-line needs to open up holes), have Eli Manning actually hit his men, and then have those receivers not drop the passes. What the Giants need to do on defense is stop passes up the middle, pressure Jeff Garcia and not allow big runs by Brian Westbrook. This seems like a tall order, but it could happen. I don't expect the Giants to go to the Super Bowl, but I really don't want them to lose to Philadelphia. Eagles' fans are already insufferable miscreants without adding that to the mix. That might sound harsh, but keep in mind they're from Philadelphia.

I suspect that Tiki Barber's decision to retire was probably based a large amount on his dislike for Tom Coughlin, which has shone through repeatedly over the past couple of years. Coughlin doesn't seem to command the respect of his team, which would, I think, be important. This is the playoffs, though, and if a team can't get over themselves enough to listen to their coach and to win, then they're not professionals. The regular season is one thing, but this is the playoffs. At least the Giants can't get fewer points than their last playoff game last season, where they got a whopping zero.

As for the Jets, I'm not a fan but I can support them, at least more than I could with the Mets, Nets, Islanders or Devils. I certainly don't want New England to win, as a Patriots' win would necessarily pleasure various Red Sox fans, and that would be a sin. It doesn't really matter which team wins, because either the Ravens or the Chargers are going to the Super Bowl. I would think New Orleans has the best shot at meeting one of those teams in the big game, but Chicago does have a solid defense, and maybe Todd Jones has one of his good games and Rex Grossman doesn't throw so many picks.

Kansas City looks like a good bet over the Colts, who have been terrible recently, but Indianapolis is at home and the Chiefs aren't wonderful, only getting into the playoffs based on a Denver loss. However, Larry Johnson, a fellow alum who makes millions of more dollars than I do (I made a great career choice), is a good running back, and the Colts don't know how to stop the run. The Cowboys and Seahawks game should be interesting, as both teams are lackluster, but Seattle has been consistently lackluster, whereas Dallas has tanked the past month. I would give the edge to Seattle, who at least has shown their ability to make a Super Bowl run as recent as last year.

Make me the commissioner of the NHL

The NHL is looking to realign the divisions, and we've been brainstorming over how we would change it. I came up with the following. In order for it to work, Phoenix has to go back to Winnipeg, where it belongs. Now, I tried to keep rivals intact where possible, but geography was my most important goal.

Eastern Conference

Norlantic: Boston, New Jersey, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia

Ameradian: Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto

Humidotron: Atlanta, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington

Western Conference

Midwestic: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis

Canarica: Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Minnesota, Phoennipeg

Sandbelt: Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose

Religiosity

Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote an article about Massachusetts' governor Mitt Romney (R) and his religion. Romney is a member of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But if he gets anywhere in the primaries, Romney's religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters—and rightly so. Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender.
* * *
Nor is it chauvinistic to say that certain religious views should be deal breakers in and of themselves. There are millions of religious Americans who would never vote for an atheist for president, because they believe that faith is necessary to lead the country. Others, myself included, would not, under most imaginable circumstances, vote for a fanatic or fundamentalist—a Hassidic Jew who regards Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah, a Christian literalist who thinks that the Earth is less than 7,000 years old, or a Scientologist who thinks it is haunted by the souls of space aliens sent by the evil lord Xenu. Such views are disqualifying because they're dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.

By the same token, I wouldn't vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism. The LDS church holds that Joseph Smith, directed by the angel Moroni, unearthed a book of golden plates buried in a hillside in Western New York in 1827. The plates were inscribed in "reformed" Egyptian hieroglyphics—a nonexistent version of the ancient language that had yet to be decoded. If you don't know the story, it's worth spending some time with Fawn Brodie's wonderful biography No Man Knows My History. Smith was able to dictate his "translation" of the Book of Mormon first by looking through diamond-encrusted decoder glasses and then by burying his face in a hat with a brown rock at the bottom of it. He was an obvious con man. Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don't want him running the country.

At first I agreed with him, but then I got to thinking, "how do you prove any religion is correct?" Weisberg anticipated my question!
One may object that all religious beliefs are irrational—what's the difference between Smith's "seer stone" and the virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea? But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud. It's Scientology plus 125 years. Perhaps Christianity and Judaism are merely more venerable and poetic versions of the same. But a few eons makes a big difference.

Um, no? Just because it's been around a long time doesn't make it more sane.
The world's greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor. The Church of Latter-day Saints is expanding rapidly and liberalizing in various ways, but it remains fundamentally an orthodox creed with no visible reform wing.
Alright, so the point is Christianity has had time to tone down their crazies, except in the Republican party, where the crazies seem to have gained control.

Look, I understand the Mormon religion is a little weird. From what I read a couple of months ago, part of the Mormon faith incorporates the notion that when Mormons die, they become gods of their own planets. That sounds a little crazy, but also a little awesome. It's also not any worse than other religions. Mitt Romney may not want anyone to masturbate, but on the other hand, he did push through affordable health care for everyone in his state. Which is more important? I don't want to be thrown into prison because I touched my private parts, but is that even an issue? I do know I want affordable health care, and he seems capable of driving that home.

My point is, I don't care what a person's belief system is, I only care about what their politics are, and while I understand beliefs influence politics, I don't quite understand the point of the article. If you are a Scientologist but that doesn't affect in any significant way how you want to run the country, and I agree with your policy ideas, then I will vote for you. Why address Mitt Romney's religion when it isn't even an issue yet? There are plenty of reasons not to like him for his political ideologies alone, so at least wait for Romney to come out with crazy Mormon ideas and nutty policies before you question his crazy Mormon beliefs. Since he hasn't done that yet (from my limited knowledge on his Massachusetts politics), just relax. I don't need to be told to keep an eye out for crazy people; I'm already way ahead of you.

Update 7:35 - According to a recent poll, 25% of Americans anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ. I want to hope that those people are just crazy fundamentalists, but then it saddens me to think that at least 1 of 4 Americans are fundamentalist. If you stuck the United States in the Middle East, we'd have suicide bombers for Jesus.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Snacks on a plate

Time Magazine named their 2006 Person of the Year as "You," in regards to the idea that people are using the Internet via blogs, YouTube, MySpace, et al to disseminate information (softcore porn), new ideas (lesbian porn), and free entertainment (cartoon porn). You may recall the massive hype regarding Snakes on a Plane, a movie about, well, snakes set loose on a commercial airliner. Due to folks who had never seen the film raving about the concept on blogs and forums, people making parody videos and animation, and even musicians crafting tribute songs, the word of mouth generated was immense, so much so that the cast and crew even went back to make small alterations to appeal to these newfound and unexpected fans.

Despite all of this, the movie bombed. Regardless of "You" generating a heretofore unseen amount of positive press based on nothing but Internet works, "You" were no more successful in making people see the film than traditional forms of marketing.

It's wonderful that the editors of Time Magazine have discovered the Internet, but it's not really that big of a deal. The only idea of note about the "YouTube" revolution is that, like sporting events and reality television, corporations can make money with little effort on their own part. If that's worth celebrating, well then, go for it. Me, I would have said Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Bush or Kim had a bigger impact on world events. Then again, I'm not paid to run a famous magazine, although I do write on this blog. I guess that makes me Person of the Year.

Confetti and bullet cases lying together on the streets



Happy New Year from Gzo87e!

Hopefully the murder rate in Philadelphia goes down in 2007. In 2006, we had 406 homicides, up 27 from 2005. This article discusses the violence, and although it mentions that Philadelphia tried to target "Hot Spots" and failed, an article in the November 2006 Philadelphia magazine implies the reason it was not successful was because the police didn't target people carrying guns. To quote from page 174:
[Criminologist Lawrence Sherman's] hypothesis was that police officers, by aggressively enforcing laws against carrying concealed weapons at crime "hot spots" such as drug corners and nuisance bars, would discourage people from carrying guns, and that this decrease in gun-carrying would lead to fewer gun crimes. This was a great departure from the standard model of rapid response and random patrol.

The theory was that if people had to go somewhere to get their gun and had time to cool off, less people would be shot. Even a walk to a car would give people time to settle down, presumably. It had worked in other cities and municipalities, including New York, although the article does concede that New York had other things in its favor - "declining crack use, a flourishing economy, demographic shifts as immigrants and yuppies moved into once dangerous neighborhoods," etc.

Other reasons are the lack of accountability in Philadelphia that other cities have with their officers and precinct chiefs, as well as the fact that surplus officers are simply being used to handle the backlog of 911 calls. The moral of the story is that things as they are now are not working, and the politicians and police need to get together and figure out some new ideas, or work to fix the problems of the old ones. In a city as corrupt and decaying as Philadelphia, that may be an insurmountable challenge.