Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Building bridges

Tomorrow morning I'll be a guest on an episode of a new show: Tawasol. It's arabic for "building bridges". The show is slated to air Dec. 20th, and the episode in which i'm participating will air in January. The show will be broadcast on arabic news network, Alhurra, which broadcasts to 26 million viewers across the Middle East.

We're discussing ways young adults use the internet and social media to send a message and establish a dialogue worldwide, including through social networking sites and blogs like mine! The show connects Americans real-time with people in the Middle East.

Fellow guests with me tommorrow will be Saudi blogger, Ahmed Al-Omran, founder of blog Saudi Jeans, Abdullah Mosaad of web portal What's Up Youth, and Lebanese blogger and activist Darine El Sabagh.

As far as the specifics of what I have to say - you'll have to tune in to find out! While Tawasol only airs on tv in the Middle East, American followers can view the episode online when it airs in January and i'll be sure and post the link then so you can check it out.

As the banner at the bottom of my blog says, "The world is ruled and governed by opinion." Nowhere in the world are individual opinions heard on so large a scale and by so large an audience as they are online. Here's to blogging and social networking being used for the right reasons and hopefully having a positive effect in the world, however small.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One girl's opinion on the midterm elections

One of the many brilliant signs I photographed at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

Tomorrow is election day. Though it's a midterm election, you'd never know it for all the sound and the fury. As the native of a battleground swing state, Pennsylvania, who is currently in the heart of our political world, Washington, D.C., I've been inundated with this election cycle for the past several months.

I guess the best way for me to tackle the many things I want to say about these elections are with some firsthand examples. I'll start with the day I met the Tea Party.

I wanted to believe the Tea Party was something made up by Fox News... kind of like conservatives want to believe the human impact on climate change is something made up by Al Gore and the 'mainstream liberal' media. Disbelief and denial are excellent coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, they are just that; coping mechanisms, not solutions. Indeed, the Tea Party is real. The inconvenient truth I encountered a few months ago in DC on the day of Glenn Beck's Rally to Restore Honor was that these people really do exist.

That they exist wasn't what bothered me. That people exist who actually support the people they do; that's what bothered me.

It was mid-August, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's transformative "I have a dream" speech. I was minding my own business, waiting for a friend at a restaurant a few blocks from the rally site at the Lincoln Memorial (also the site of MLK Jr's - who was no doubt rolling in his grave - speech) when half a dozen tea partiers descended upon me.

There was no mistaking the fact they were all here for the Beck rally which featured Sarah Palin as a keynote speaker. All were wearing matching Beck shirts with his picture on the front. I instantly knew they were probably better Americans than I was when I saw the Beck logo, and my suspicions were confirmed when I caught a glimpse of the back of their t-shirts, revealing a Florida Marlin with an American flag for a dorsal fin. 'Murica.

All were white. All in their late 40s to early 60s. All slightly overweight and carrying their foldout lawn chairs. All eager to tell the hostess they were in town for the rally because they were going to "take back this country" and "restore honor". They had all the divisive propaganda nonsense talking points down pat.

I was tempted to touch one to prove this wasn't just a nightmare. I didn't, though, because I feared if I did, they would accuse me of inflicting upon them the poor, the Muslim, the gay, the entitlement, the socialism, or one of those other afflictions plaguing America which are carried and spread by liberals.

Beck opened his rally earlier that day to these people and the tens of thousands like them by joking, "I have just gotten word from the media that there is over 1,000 people here today." ...all "over 1,000" of whom undoubtedly failed to note the incorrect grammar or, in the alternative, if they did, began accepting it as proper speech, right up there with the word refudiate.

You see, my problem with the Tea Party isn't their beliefs. My problem is with stupid people. My problem is with mindless sheep. My problem is with extremists, on either side of the aisle, who are virtually always the product of the aforementioned issues.

Before I get railed by my friends on the right who are always quick to snap back with an eye-for-an-eye "but liberals...!" argument, this isn't to say the liberals don't have these stupid people, crazies and ideologues. Oh, we've got em alright.

The difference, as of the past several years, is in the distinct way the parties are handling their lunatic fringe. The Democrat party marginalizes these subsections. The Republican party, however, is being overrun by them. To say they are embracing them is a bit of a misnomer. Rather, the tail is wagging the dog.

A few years ago, the Republican party was hijacked by the religious right. These ideologues drove the party away from its roots in fiscal conservatism and essentially handed the '06 and '08 elections to Barack Obama and the democrats. Not only did Obama and the dems have the support of democrats, but also independents who were driven away by the extremism and lack of intelligence evident in the religious right. Even moderate Republicans swung left, unable to identify with what had become of their own party. When Senator John McCain chose the painfully far right, uninformed and unintelligent Palin as his running mate, he quashed his shot at the presidency.

As the Republican party learned from this and pried the religious right's claws from its back, it was no sooner beginning to rebuild itself as a voice of reason than the Tea Party showed up to, well, crash the party. As the voice of the woefully uninformed and uneducated, simple-sweeping-solutions-for-complex-problems extremist Tea Party got louder and louder, the voice of intelligence and moderation in the Republican party began to change its tone. Desperate to get the votes and do whatever it takes to win in this election cycle, the mainstream Republican party began pandering to the Tea Party. Just as the religious right had done to it, the tail once again began wagging the dog.

While people on both sides of the aisle hurl the term "extremist" at those leading the opposing political party (because, let's face it, people buy into it), one cannot help but look at the indisputable and stark contrast between the so-called extremists on the left and those on the right.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept as true that Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are the "extremist" counter points on the left to those on the right, they pale in terms of scare factor to the ideologues who are currently spearheading the Republican party. The right is currently being lead by the voices of Beck and Palin. The most extreme voices who cost the Republicans the last election are now leading it. Instead of touting the agenda of the religious right, they've found new talking points to sell, authored by the Tea Party.

Republicans are even tucking tail and supporting the even more painfully unintelligent and extreme voices of candidates like Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party candidate now wrapped in the Republican banner, who the Republicans campaigned against in the primary.

These people frighten me not because of how extreme they are, but because of how stupid they are. And, even then, it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that they individually frighten me. What is truly scary, however, is that people - even those who I know personally to be better, more intelligent, and much more moderate than this - will en masse, de facto support them, defend them to the hilt, and vote for them if it means gaining a few seats come election time.

This brings me to my next personal story. This past Saturday, I attended John Stewart and Steven Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity, ironically nicknamed by Colbert, March to Keep Fear Alive. It was neither a Democrat nor Republican rally. In fact, it openly mocked both parties, biased political pundits, and a culture of fear, stupidity, extremism and over-simplification perpetuated by the media. Optimistically, the rally drew an estimated 215,000 people. Beck's drew approximately 87,000.

This was my America. It was intelligent and informed. It was interested in a rational discourse. It was interested in what was best for the country, not for a specific party.

I saw a sign there that perhaps summed it up best: "If your beliefs fit on a sign, think harder." Everywhere were people pointing out the flaws of allowing unintelligent, uninformed, and unqualified people to lead us. They recognized that the blind leading the blind might be of temporary benefit to a political party, but it certainly doesn't end well for our country.

There are, and always have been, extremists and stupid people on both sides of the aisle. As of the past few years, however, it has become apparent that the two political parties are handling them differently. If you feel I am unfairly harping on the Republican party, it is because of late, these people are becoming more prevalent and more common within its ranks and leadership and are directing its discourse. These same people are writing the political talking points and acting as political king makers. These same people are the voices that turn out campaign donations and rally numbers.

This isn't to say that because the Republican party is being lead by truly unintelligent and uninformed extremists, that all or even most of the party, or their candidates are like that. This isn't to say that because the Democratic party handles these people differently that they don't also participate and have a voice in the party and hold political office within it. This is simply an observation I think deserving of an acute awareness, especially by those within the Republican party, so they can try and salvage it from the dunces. You tried to take back your political party and you once again lost your grip.

Socialism is not facism. If you don't know the difference, turn off Fox News and open a book. All tea partiers are not racists. If you can't discern this, turn off MSNBC.

If you let your party and the talking heads tell you what to think and what to say and for whom to vote, you are part of this country's problem.

As Stewart put it at his rally, these are hard times, but these are not end times. The best way to show our parties, our government, and our media that we aren't as stupid and extreme as they want us to be is to stop letting the tail wag the dog. Don't let them tell us who to be. We need to send them a message about who we want them to be; reflections of ourselves: real people with real problems and not the problems they create for us; rational moderates who see the world in gray, not black and white.

Tomorrow, support those who are intelligent and capable and informed, regardless of political party. Refuse to blindly support those who you know to be unintelligent and unqualified and uncompromising.

These past few months, and especially tomorrow, the political parties and pundits are going to go out and tell you this is about a party victory or loss. They're going to tell you this is about gaining or losing a net amount of seats. It isn't... or, at, least, it shouldn't be. It's about a net victory of loss for America.

I am of the opinion that the best qualification a candidate can have is not being a Democrat or Republican, but, rather, being intelligent and informed. I have faith the American people realize this too. If you look at one of the most important key special elections held since '08 - the PA-12 Congressional election in which Mark Critz (D) [for whom I wrote an endorsement: http://onegirlsopinionogo.blogspot.com/2010/05/endorsement-for-mark-critz-pa-12.html ] defeated the unintelligent and out of touch Tim Burns - it is a crucial indicator of the same thing that Stewart and Colbert's rally turnout suggests; the American people want what is really best for them, and that isn't something you can fit neatly into a political party package. They want the candidate who is best qualified, who is intelligent, who is aware of the issues, and who isn't extremist.

If pundits think this election will be a referendum on incumbents, they're wrong. If pundits think this election will be a referendum on the majority party, the Democrats, they're wrong.

Instead of "Remember the Alamo", tomorrow, remember Mark Critz. Remember to do what is best for our country by electing the best candidate, not the candidate best for your party. This is less a plea to vote moderately than it is to vote intelligently, though, as I have said, I find that the former characteristic tends to follow the latter. Vote with your brain, not with your party.

We are better served by an intelligent, educated, informed, thoughtful candidate on either side of the aisle, than by the idiot who agrees with us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There's no crying in football

Apparently the NFL is under the impression that Browns' wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi showed up on Sunday to do a ballet performance of Swan Lake, not to play football.

After a hard-hitting weekend of football which left players injured as the result of helmet-to-helmet hits, the NFL is reviewing its policy on flagrant hits. The NFL says it is considering harsher fines and even possible suspensions.

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought this was football. When I was a little kid, I knew one thing about football: it is a game where people throw a ball then slam into each other.
And I mean slam into each other as hard as possible. That is how you knock the ball loose to create fumbles. That is how you be sure you knock someone to the ground and not just a few steps out of their way so they are able to recover and continue running. That is why they recruit guys who are 6'6" who weigh over 300 lbs. Hard, rough, dirty, knock-you-to-the-ground, knock-the-wind-out-of-you hits.

But, this past weekend, in a freak accident, Rutgers defensive tackle, Eric LeGrand, became paralyzed from the neck down after making a tackle in a football game against Army. The moment was of course captured on video and is horrifying to watch. One cannot help but be touched and incredibly saddened by this tragedy. However, it is easy to get caught up in the emotions surrounding this situation and forget that this it is extremely rare and unlikely and, as I said earlier, a freak accident.

It was because of this incident that the NFL took the uber-sensitive approach to the hard helmet hits in this weekend's games.

The NFL has just announced that Steelers' linebacker, James Harrison was fined $75,000 for the concussion-causing hit on Cleveland Browns' wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. The hit happened during the second quarter as Massaquoi reached down and bobbled a pass from quarterback, Colt McCoy. Harrison hit both Massaquoi and wide receiver Josh Cribbs in helmet-to-helmet tackles during Sunday's game, and, watching the game, you could clearly hear the cracks of the helmets hitting together, so even fans knew how hard the hits were. The NFL determined the hit on Cribbs to be legal, however, and, in fact, during the game, the Steelers' did not incur penalties for either hit, as officials determined both to be legal.

Atlanta Falcons' cornerback Dunta Robinson was fined $50,000 for hitting Eagles' defenseless wide receiver, DeSean Jackson. Both players received concussions.

Finally, Patriots' safety, Brandon Meriweather, was fined $50,000 for the hit on Baltimore Ravens' tight end, Todd Heap.

The NFL says Harrison's fine is larger because it considers him a repeat offender. Harrison didn't help his situation when he stated, after the Steelers' 28-10 victory, "I don't want to injure anybody," Harrison said. "There's a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."

But, while it wasn't necessarily an intelligent or appeasing thing to say if you're trying to avoid the wrath of the NFL, Harrison makes a nuanced point.

There are positions in football whose express duty it is to hit and hit hard. Aside from the immediate bonuses of a solid tackle, hard hits also intimidate the opponent, and football is both a mental and physical game. You never want to seriously injure an opponent, but you do want to show them who is boss. The Pittsburgh Steelers consistently have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and, over the past few years, Harrison is a big reason why.

A host of penalties already exist to protect players, including penalties for late hits, facemask grabs, running into the kicker, roughing the kicker or passer, unnecessary roughness, striking an opponent with a fist, or kicking or kneeing an opponent. In fact, there are even 15-yard penalties for a tackler using his helmet to butt, spear, or ran an opponent, and for any player who uses the top of his helmet unnecessarily. It is in a team's best interest to reign in defensive hits as far as is reasonable so they are not penalized. Penalties can absolutely lose games, and teams, coaches, and players are aware of this.

The truth is, when a play in football is underway, and things are frantic, the players on defense can't always be acutely aware of exactly where they're going to strike another player. While Meriweather's hit on Heap was considered flagrant and egregious, these calls are often difficult to determine. For every intentional hit like Meriweather's, you have a hit like Harrison's on Cribbs, which was considered legal and safe, even though it resulted in Cribbs being sidelined.

While I can appreciate the obvious need to protect players from what could potentially be devastating hits, I feel the NFL has appropriate protections in place already, in the form of in-game penalties and smaller fines. The fact that it is issuing the absurdly expensive fines like those it just did earlier today, as well as considering suspensions, which I consider far beyond reasonable, is ridiculous and could detract greatly from the game.

What is further, the NFL is being rather hypocritical in what is asking of players. It profits greatly off the hard hits that consistently make the sports highlight reels. In fact, the NFL is currently considering lengthening the season, which would subject players to the physical strain of the games for an additional two weeks every year. As Steelers' linebacker, LaMarr Woodley points out on his twitter page, "If theyre so worried about players' safety then why are they trying to add 2 more games? #justsayin." ( http://twitter.com/#!/LaMarrWoodley/ )

Obviously, the NFL finds a huge difference in a split second of play and in the exact angle with which a player hits another player, in determining whether a hit will be legal or illegal under these new, more strict guidelines with sky-high penalties. Indeed, it is hard to determine unless the play is reviewed with cameras from many different angles and with slow motion capabilities. However, if the NFL thinks defensive players trying to make critical plays in the midst of a frantic football game are able to make this same distinction, or that fans want them to, the NFL better think again. Players and fans will opt for a risky hit if it means the difference between making or missing a tackle, or landing a solid hit and simply causing an opponent to stumble.

During a day long field hockey tournament in high school in which I was the lead scorer of all the players from any team there that day, I broke my nose when a member of the opposing team slammed her head into me as I passed the ball to a teammate, earning a goal for the team and an assist for myself. Blood poured from my nose and down my uniform as I stumbled a bit from the blow, before running back to the 50-yard line, high fiving my teammates, to line up to go again before the refs blew the whistle and stopped play. I ended up having to go to the E.R., but as I sat on the sidelines bleeding, I just kept asking the coach to put me back in. It was like a scene straight out of one of a cliche' sports movie. The hit on me was probably an accident, or at least the girl had intended to hit me but not break my nose and send me to the E.R., but the bottom line is that that is what happened. Neither that girl nor her team should have been penalized. I was well aware of the risk when I signed up to play field hockey, and, as an aggressive goal scorer for our team, I frequently put myself in a position vulnerable to injury at the expense of scoring or making a big play. That's what I signed up for. That's what I call taking one for the team.

That is the price you pay to play the game. And I wasn't being paid millions of dollars to take that risk either. The suggestion the NFL seems to be harping on now more than ever is to play it safe. By all means, try holding back on making or taking hits or in any other aspect of a sport and let me know how far it gets you and if you don't get passed over time and time again for players who put themselves, and their safety, on the line.

Man up, NFL. We can protect players without going overboard.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fantasy Football: So easy a caveman could do it

My team logo for my fantasy football team, The Libertines. This is exactly how I am with anything sports related. [credit to Hyperbole and a Half for the drawing]

This year, for the first time ever, I'm playing fantasy football. I had heard multitudes of my friends talking about it the past few years and had always wanted to play. I didn't, however, because I didn't have a league or know anything specifically about fantasy football, and because I could never bring myself to cheer against my own team, the Steelers, or for the teams I hate the most, Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Patriots, simply because it conflicted with my fantasy football interests.

I decided to set the latter bias slightly aside this year and give it a shot when I was invited to join several fantasy football leagues by my guy friends who, I guess after seeing my blog, decided I actually knew enough about sports to be worthy of being the only female in their leagues.

After I was invited to join two leagues, one with a substantial buy-in, I decided it was time to beef up my football knowledge. For those who don't play fantasy football, you basically choose a team consisting of a quarterback, 2-3 running backs, 3-4 wide receivers, a tight end, and a team defense which you select as a whole.

My knee-jerk reaction was "Draft the Steelers... ALL the Steelers." But, even if I wanted to stick with that plan, there are simply too many slots available to fill up a fantasy team and bench with solely Steelers players. Plus, like any draft, the players you want may be taken by other teams. Additionally, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger started the season serving a four game suspension and won't be playing until week 6, so I would need a backup plan.

This wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. I started researching top players on teams. I called up my father, the all-sport guru, and talked on the phone with him for several hours about who he thought would be the strongest choices for each position. We discussed our thoughts and I wrote down all the top options.

I went out and bought a Fantasy Football Draft Guide magazine which advertised "#1 Rated Cheat Sheets" on the cover. How sneaky of me, I thought... Between my dad's input and my fancy $10 magazine with its important looking gold lettering on the front, I was going to blow the competition away. I combed through the magazine, highlighting my personal preferences and also highlighting where the Steelers' players were located, so that should I let my personal bias get the best of me on draft day, at least I'd know in which order to select the Steelers, based on their comparative rankings.

The magazine. Oh you fancy, huh?

I started doing additional research online. I printed out a "Fantasy Football Top 200 Rankings" sheet, which listed the top 200 players overall, regardless of position, and studied this. I found a 2010 ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Kit online, which claimed to be a "positional cheat sheet", and listed the top players by position. It turned out there was a lot more information out there than I thought, so it was even more important for me to take it all in so I would be sufficiently prepared.

Though this information was public, still, I thought, I've done the research and undoubtedly found things *no one else* in the league will have. I could not be foiled. After all, I had a $10 magazine with "#1 rated" cheat sheets. Mwahahaha!

Before I knew it, draft day was upon me. I signed up on the websites for the league on the day of the draft.

Select a team name? Are you kidding? I can name things like a motherf*cking champion! I was already going to have a leg up on the competition. At first I thought it would be funny as the only girl in the league to name my team something like "Fluffy Pink Unicorn Pretty Lovelinesses & Princess Kitties", so that way everyone would immediately go, "Oh, that must be the GIRL'S team...", but then I remembered that not everyone picks up on my irony.

So I decided to go with Jesus' Velociraptor, and then for the team logo use a historically accurate picture of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, riding a dinosaur with a saddle. Unfortunately, the name had too many characters for ESPN to allow it. I guess that's for the best because I would probably still have had that whole irony problem to deal with...

My third and final choice was The Libertines. The name was sufficiently bad ass (go ahead and Wikipedia it. I'll wait...) AND fit within ESPN character limits.

Now, it was draft time. Buoyed by the self-proclaimed tremendous success of my team name and logo choice, I readied myself. I sat on my floor and surrounded myself on all 360 degrees with my hand written out top choices, my magazine, and my many printed out and heavily highlighted and analyzed cheat sheets. I can't not win.

"Begin draft" is the button we all clicked at the pre-set draft time. I saw everyone else's logos and team names across the top of the site, lined up according to draft order.

I pictured them all seeing my team name and logo for the first time, knowing i'm "the girl" and underrating me in their minds. "Excuse me", was the smug, hypothetical response in my head, "but perhaps you haven't seen my magazine."

...Then I saw it... right there below the team names. A list of all the players. But not just ANY list of all the players. No. This was much more sinister. It was a list of every single player in the NFL, pre-sorted by position, and pre-ranked by the experts and the website according to who in each position were to be the best choices. Exactly what was in my magazine and in all my heavily researched information sheets? That's exactly what was essentially all right in front of me and all the other competitors online, on the draft page, on draft day.

You must be kidding me. All my coveted secrets in all their $10 magazine filling glory, exposed for all to see. Basically, you could show up on draft day and not know a single thing about football, and just click on each position you need and choose the best available player. Not sure who the best available player for each position is? Not to fear! It's right in front of you! Why should you have to do any work?

Seriously, a monkey could do it. Ever heard of the infinite monkey theory? It basically claims that a monkey hitting keys at random on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. If a monkey can type a Shakespearean play, it can sure the hell choose a winning fantasy football draft team with the tools the website provides right there on the draft day page.

In fact, if you're too lazy or otherwise engaged to show up on your own draft day, you can simply have auto-draft do it and it will select the best available players for you on your turn. Did I say monkey? Hell, my dog could do this. And he eats his own vomit.

Alright, I thought, screw this. Time for plan B. What is Plan B, you ask? Why it's the original Plan A: Draft the Steelers. ALL the Steelers. As a result, including benched players, both of my fantasy teams in my fantasy leagues include my first round draft pick, Rashard Mendenhall, in addition to Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Heath Miller, Jeff Reed, and Roethlisberger. I still used the rankings from my cheat sheets and research to determine in which order to draft these players. For instance I held off on drafting Reed, and Roethlisberger until I locked down some players in other positions from other teams because I know they weren't exactly hot commodities. Also I still had to plan for things like bye weeks.

My other choices which I rotate in (such as my quarterback choices while Big Ben is suspended) are much more nuanced and were also heavily thought out and researched. To be sure, I had a lot of fun on draft day and am incredibly happy with my choices. The players are not only strong and players in whom I have tremendous confidence, but I also get to root for my NFL team and thus my fantasy football teams simultaneously.

To be fair, this post isn't meant to be critical of the idea of fantasy football. I had a great time drafting and have been enjoying the season immensely. My only criticism is that fantasy football websites such as ESPN and CBS do all the work for you then put it right in front of you, and even provide auto-draft, so that no real expertise in football is required.

My team in each league won big in week 1 against seasoned fantasy football team owners, so I must be doing something right. One thing is for sure, I'm definitely playing fantasy football the way I want to play it.
Both of the two things pictured here are capable of drafting a winning fantasy football team.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pirates return to glory days... Wait for it.... *17 years later* ...Wait for it...

Old mafia costumes and old Pittsburgh Pirates uniforms; throwbacks to better days for both organizations, long since passed.

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates suffered their 10th straight loss. I use the term “suffered” not in the sense that it was inflicted upon them so much as that at this point the team seems like a sad, struggling deer hit by a car, then another car, then another car, then it starts raining on it, then another car hits it, then a bus hits it… and so on, and so on.

Their record is now 23-42 so far this season.

I won’t elaborate on the many reasons the Pirates have an abysmal record and haven’t had a winning season in 17 years. There have been enough media, fan, and sports commentator analyses on this to fill a stadium, which, oddly enough, the Pirates still do too. Suffice to say that our biggest problem is that those running the franchise use it as a cash cow and milk the Pirates as a feeder system to send any good players to better teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. You know, teams with winning records who make it to the playoffs and such.

As a result, the Pirates have become the Detroit Lions of baseball. That comparison is only inaccurate in that it is impossible to have a completely winless season in baseball due to the sheer number of games played.

When I was a child, the first sporting event I remember attending was a Pirates' baseball game with my parents and little brother. My mom and dad bought my little brother and me Pirates' baseball hats and black and gold baseball bats. I still have my hat and the initial of my first name is still written under the brim in marker that I used to differentiate it from my brother’s. I was 6.

My parents took me to a baseball game, not a hockey or football game. They did this for a few reasons. First, we didn’t have much money growing up, but for a couple dollars, you could, and still can, take your family to the game.

Second, baseball is a family game. You can take your young children and not have drunk, rowdy fans ruin the experience.

Finally, baseball is the great American past time. After watching that game, my brother and I had to have baseball bats, balls, and gloves. I remember countless hours spent in the backyard throwing the ball around with my dad and brother. When they weren’t around, I threw the ball up against the shed and it would ricochet back into my glove. ...I got yelled at for the marks that left on the shed.

By comparison, I’m a much bigger hockey and football fan, and I didn’t attend my first pro hockey game until I was 10, and my first pro football game until I was 22. They are just too expensive. To this day, I can go to all the Pirates games when they play in DC, where I live, against the Nationals without a second thought on cost. I still have to save up ahead of time if I want to go to a Pens' or Steelers' game.

Your average American family can make it out to the baseball park and afford to see the game. Your average American family can’t afford a pro hockey or football game. Our hardworking families of western Pennsylvania deserve to see their dime well spent when they go to a Pirates game. I don’t mean they need to see wins all the time, but they need to see something impressive on the field, and they deserve to go to a game where “root, root, root for the home team!” means you are cheering for a team that has a chance.

This past October, at a friend’s Halloween party in Washington, DC, I happened upon the oddest costume I had ever seen to date. It was a man in his 70s dressed head-to-toe in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. It was one of the old timey uniforms too. I crossed the room and walked right up to him smiling.

Me: “HI! Wow you must be a big Pirates fan to wear that here! I'm a fan too and I love your costume. I’ve never seen a Pittsburgh Pirates costume before."
Guy: "Oh this isn’t a costume. It’s actually my old uniform. I used to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Don Schwall. Nice to meet you.”

I had never before been so proud to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Here I was, honored to meet a man who pitched for my baseball team in the glory days. Here he was, having played for the Pirates from 1963-1966, 45 years later still proudly getting some use out of his old uniform. He wasn’t mocking the Pirates, and certainly nobody was mocking him. He stood tall and proud in his uniform, the way our team and fans used to too.

"Duke" (as he goes by), remembered the days when he used to play for the Pirates; when we used to be great; when we used to be respected. My dad remembers those days too and, growing up, Roberto Clemente was one of his heroes. I don't really remember the Pirates ever being good.

Meeting Duke made me realize that the Pirates aren’t nobodies. We used to be somebodies. And we can be somebodies again.

I want to cry over a baseball game. I’ve cried over a football game before. I’ve cried over a basketball game. I’ve cried over a hockey game. I cried in all of those when hard fought battles ended and dreams (mine, a team’s, a city’s... of winning a game or a championship, or making the playoffs or moving on in them) were shattered. For dreams to be shattered, you had to have a dream to begin with. For far too long a World Series win, a playoff win, or even a winning season, has, for Pirates fans, been an honor we dream not of. I want some baseball dreams, even if only to be shattered.

I’m not looking for a World Series win. The Red Sox and Yankees can have 'em. In Pittsburgh, between the Steelers and Penguins, we’re all stocked up on championships and we’ll keep them coming in. I just want a team I can be proud of; a team about which I can say “I think this is our year!” and ever be taken seriously. I don’t want baseball fans – neither ours nor our opponents – to roll their eyes at the mention of my team.

I’ll never be one of those awful fans who turns on my team. I’ll never call the “Buckos” the “Suckos”. I’ll never boo us or cheer for the other team. I’ll still go to games, decked head to toe in Pirates gear and Pittsburgh colors and cheer for my favorite players, who’s names I actually bother learning (my favorite is Lastings Milledge), despite their high likelihood of being traded away. And I’m not the only one.

The Pirates have got the best fans in the world in the people of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Steelers fans are consistently named the best in the NFL by ESPN and Pittsburgh Penguins’ fans are named the best in the NHL by Forbes Magazine. Neither organization even needs to give these awards, because if you ask just about anybody, they'll tell you the hockey and football fans from Pittsburgh are the most dedicated.

We have one of the most beautiful stadiums in MLB; and it’s practically brand new!

If you build it, they will come. We built you a beautiful new stadium. We built you the best fan base any team could ever ask for. We still fill those stands. We still buy the Pirate gear. We still do this after 17 straight losing seasons.

All we ask in exchange is that those in charge of the Pirates franchise try. Try and build us a sustainable team. Try investing some money into buying us good players we actually hold onto and don’t sell at their first spark of talent. Try and show some, any, appreciation for what this city has given you. We are the city of champions... not just our teams, but our people as well. Start running this team like you give a crap about it. You've got a city and fans who still do.

We don’t want a World Series win. We just want one year to believe – really believe – that this just might be our year.

“I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NHL playoffs in review: Marian Hossa is a girl's name

Hossa, no matter where your hockey career takes you, this is how you'll always be remembered to Penguins' fans.

It has taken me this long to be able to cope with and adequately reflect upon the NHL playoffs due to the traumatic way in which they unfolded. Like a harshly dumped girl who holes herself up in her room with Ben & Jerry's ice cream, her cat, feel good books like "Eat, Pray, Love", and "Hang in there" kitten dangling from a branch motivational posters, who finally emerges days later ready to write angry, brooding, dark, yet cathartic poetry, I'm finally ready to tackle the NHL playoffs with a blog post.

Now, I'm not one for crying - especially not over boys. But, I will say that I cried over a record number of boys - 34 of them to be exact - on May 12; all 34 of which are members of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And together, on May 12, they faced the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

If you had asked me up until there was less than one minute remaining in that game 7, when the Pens were down 5-2 and the Canadiens had a power play, who was going to be in the Stanley Cup Championship, I'd have said Blackhawks vs Penguins. I predicted that matchup since the playoff teams were announced.

It wasn't until just under a minute left and trailing by 3 goals and one-man disadvantage that I came to accept reality, and came to cry over boys. Watching the game in DC and surrounded by 3 loyal Pens fans and a bar full of Caps fans rooting loudly for the Canadiens who had defeated their team a series prior, but who despise the Pens more for their constant playoff routing of their team, I must have been truly a sad sight because the Caps fans couldn't bring themselves to cheer or give me a hard time after that loss. I went on crying for a good 5 minutes.

I don't want to sound like a sore loser or anything, but, on behalf of my boyfriend Sidney Crosby, you're welcome for your gold medal, Canada.

With the Pens out, I came to two conclusions. First, the Red Wings' and Penguins' fates are tied together in some sick, twisted universe which cosmically links the two arch rivals. Think of it as Harry Potter and Voldemort. Obviously the Penguins are Harry Potter and the Red Wings are Voldemort.... In '08 the Red Wings and Pens faced each other in the Stanley Cup championship and the Wings won it all in 6 games. That series produced one of my favorite hockey games of all time when the Pens won game 5 in triple overtime to avoid elimination. ...I didn't make it to work the next day.

In '09 the Wings and Pens would again take each other on in the Stanley Cup championship, but this time it would be the Pens who would win, doing so in 7 games, the last of which ended 3-2 and with a barrage of Detroit shots on Pens' goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, the stress of which took years off my life.

This year, in the Western Conference playoffs, Detroit pulled the only upset of the first round; entering as a 5 seed and defeating the 4 seed. The 1, 2, and 3 seeds all won. In the Eastern Conference playoffs. Pittsburgh was the only seed to avoid an upset; a 4 seed triumphing over the 5 seeded Senators, while the 1, 2, and 3 seeds all fell to their lower ranked opponents.

However, both teams would fall in their conference semi-finals. I guess it was time Detroit and Pittsburgh let someone else have a shot at the Cup.

The truth is, in game 7 against the Canadiens, Fleury was just really off his game. He had been on and off, hot and cold, throughout this year's playoffs. The team also didn't have quite the same level of energy in that game as it did in the other matches they played against the Canadiens.

I went to game 5 of that series and sat third row on the blue line in what would turn out to be the last ever Pens' victory in Mellon Arena. [Their new arena, the Consol Energy Center, is slated to open in July.] The seats were so close and amazing that when the puck was shot up and around the glass I could see the ice spinning off of it. The players were life size and only feet away, and I yelled at Sidney Crosby to marry me and allow me to have his babies at least 5 or 6 times. The Penguins' energy and force in that game was palpable and they straight up outplayed the Canadiens. That is what we needed to muster in game 7. We didn't.

Perhaps there should have been some foreshadowing here in that the Penguins' first ever game in the arena was a loss to the Canadiens, and of course the parallelism between the Pens and Wings success in recent years.

The second conclusion I reached after the Pens were eliminated, was that this year's cup match would be between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. The San Jose Sharks, the 1 seed who would play the 2 seed Blackhawks in the Western Conference final, were overrated as hell and anyone who disagrees is wrong and doesn't know their hockey. Before even watching a game between them, I knew the Sharks were going to be put to shame. I also knew the Flyers would win in the Eastern Conference because they're a much scrappier team, were on a hot streak, and were playing the Canadiens who wore themselves out against the Washington Capitals and Penguins.

The Cup match itself, however, was a more challenging puzzle. The Blackhawks were the better team, but they also possessed they key to their own self destruction; one Marian Hossa. I truly believed that Hossa was forever fated to make it to every Stanley Cup championship ever and lose.

Hossa is known in Pittsburgh and across the NHL as the cup-grubbing ginger who played in Pittsburgh in '08, then turned down a contract renewal with them in exchange for less money and a shorter contract with Detroit, which became his '09 team. Think of him as the Alex Rodriguez of hockey, if A-Rod [See also, Pay-Rod] had actually taken less money to play for the Yankees instead of the Red Sox. Hossa made it to the Stanley Cup match 2 years in a row and lost, the second year after betraying his team to go to their biggest rivals.

In Pittsburgh, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any good Penguins fan in possession of a good hockey knowledge must hate the Flyers as division rivals, and must also hates Marian Hossa. Decisions, decisions... I thought Hossa's fate might do him and his team in for the third year in a row, but all that changed the night before Game 6 of championship round. That night, I had a dream.

I woke up and posted about it on facebook. The time stamp reads June 9, 12:25PM. The post reads as follows:
So I had a dream last night that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in OT, 4-3. The night before the Pens lost to the Canadiens in game 7 I also dreamed that we lost that game. Sports stress me out. And who dreams about sporting events?? I think most girls dream about like... I don't know, boys they like or unicorns or... something. Not me. It's more like ESPN up there.

In case you weren't following the game [odds are that if you're interested enough in sports to read this far, you have], the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that night... in OT... 4-3.

Of course I didn't want to see Hossa's grubby hands on the Stanley Cup, but it will make the Pens all the hungrier for victory next year. Let's go Pens. And, as a fellow Pittsburgh fan pointed out, it is better to have one set of grubby hands on the cup than a whole team (read, "Philadelphia").

The way a hot cheerleader in high school might handle a breakup? That's basically how we deal with season ending losses in Pittsburgh. It is a phenomenon with which we're unfamiliar. We have no idea what just happened, but everything is wrong with the world and we're in a glass case of emotion. So, if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to staring at my motivational kitten poster again.

In the meantime, feel free to come to me before you place your sports bets.

Monday, May 17, 2010

An endorsement for Mark Critz, PA-12

I drew a tiny American flag into Mark Critz's hand because, if voters are as simple, gullible, and naive as his opponent, Tim Burns, thinks they are, then this tiny symbol of novelty patriotism oughta be all the assurance they need that Critz is the right guy for the job. For those who need more convincing, read below.

I hear a lot of noise inside the DC beltway, where I now am, about the importance of the special election being held tomorrow in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District. I refer to it as "noise" because that is exactly what it is; a lot of empty commentary from people who don't actually know a thing about PA-12; people who have never bothered going there or getting to know the people there on a first hand basis, what their lives are like, or what matters to them.

These commentators know that this is a decisive battle in the war of Democrats verse Republicans and each side selfishly wants the candidate under their party banner to win, thinking only of the ramifications this will have on a national scale and not what this election will mean locally.

To those who feel entitled to chime in and sway an election on behalf of the people who are capable of and entitled to making up their minds for themselves, know this: PA-12 isn't just a highlighted area on your map in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania. The people there aren't pawns in your game.

PA's 12th is made up of hardworking, blue collar Americans. They are coal miners, workers at Kennametal, at the Latrobe Airport, waiters and waitresses at Dino's and Sharky's, teachers and janitors and coaches at schools like Latrobe and Derry Area, nurses and doctors at Latrobe Area Hospital. They are farmers. They are graduates of PA-12th colleges like Indiana University and Saint Vincent College. They maintain local historical museums like the Johnstown Flood Museum. In the summer they attend annual events like the Westmoreland County Fair where, for a few dollars, a family can be entertained all day by petting zoos, motocross races, tractor pulls, local bands, local craftsmen and artists, and eat enough funnel cakes to make you sick of them until the next August. They pack the hill around the field to watch the Steelers practice at Saint Vincent college in the dead heat of August, decked out fully in black and gold as if it were the Super Bowl game. In the winter, they shovel feet of snow from their driveways and sidewalks, and know how to drive in it too.

I don't know the stats for average income in the area, but I do know this; the people there work hard for their money and they work well into their retirement age. They used to have a lot more options for places to work until businesses like LeNature went bankrupt after it was discovered that the owners had drained the company dry and cooked the books, and Rolling Rock beer sold out to Anheuser-Busch who closed its local plant, leaving 250 people without jobs.

They live in modest but proud homes in neighborhoods, on farms, and in trailer parks. Many are proud members of local unions like United Mineworkers, United Steelworkers, Laborers, the AFLCIO, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, of which my mother is a member.

All of these labor unions and many more have officially endorsed Democratic candidate, Mark Critz. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which is the most widely circulated and read newspaper in the area, as well as the Observer Reporter and The Tribune Democrat have all endorsed Critz as well.

Here's why I chose to list these endorsements and why I care about them and not very many others endorsements or opinions; if you aren't from PA's 12th district, or haven't spent significant time in it and gotten to know the people and issues there, I don't really care who you support because you don't know the district enough to be entitled to have a voice in it.

I, too, am proud to endorse Mark Critz, a fellow western Pennsylvanian, for Congress. So why does my endorsement matter? I'm a constituent of PA's 18th District which neighbors PA's 12th. The areas have been so gerrymandered you cross from the 18th to the 12th and back again on a trip to almost anywhere locally without even knowing it. If they ever alter the boundaries even by a few miles again, I'd find myself a constituent in PA's 12th. I have friends and relatives in PA's 12th and grew up in the area until I went to college, still returning and living there in the summers and holidays in between semesters in undergrad. I still go home multiple times a month. There really is no place like home.

I think long and hard about for whom I vote. The candidate who earns my vote doesn't do so by party affiliation, but by truly being the person best suited to represent the constituents.

If you want to be elected in western PA, you absolutely must be two things: pro-labor and pro-second amendment. You will not win if you do not stand for both these issues where I come from, regardless of your party.

Why the pro-labor requirement? Our blue collar workers constitute a majority of our local population and many of them are represented by some of the strongest unions in the country, which ensure that our workers have good healthcare, pension, wages, and other benefits. We protect our workers because we appreciate them and recognize them as the backbone of our society, not the corporate CEOs with their own profit making agenda.

Why the pro-second amendment requirement? The first day of deer season in November is actually a holiday where I come from. Seriously. There is no school and many people have the day off from work. To say hunting is an avid past time for many locals would be a tragic understatement. We love our guns like we love our Steelers, Penguins and yes, even the Pirates.

Critz solidly represents both of these values. His endorsements by a slew of local labor unions speak to his credibility on the pro-labor front, and he states his pro-second amendment stance on his website

Critz is focused on creating new jobs. In PA's ailing 12th, with able bodied men and women and the space and facilities available, Critz sees the opportunity to bring businesses to the area and will work to do so. He has promised to end the tax breaks for companies that ship jobs oversees so that we can keep these jobs local! He will fight for trade deals that protect American jobs and workers.

Critz will also fight for tax cuts for the middle class, the heavy majority of constituents in PA's 12th, and stop giving tax cuts to the wealthy. These can offset to still provide a break for middle class Americans while still reducing the federal deficit; another goal of Critz's.

Critz states that he will make veterans a top priority, like his predecessor, John Murtha, a heavily decorated Vietnam vet. Critz even earned the Patrick Henry Award, the highest civilian award issued by the National Guard.

Critz's opponent, Tim Burns, on the other hand, doesn't really stand for much substance. Burns' first ever tv ad, which I saw first hand on the air at my parents' house, stated that his values are a, "A belief in a God above, that abortion is wrong, and owning a gun is a right." These are all beliefs which Critz holds and states on his website, but that he didn't state as outright in his ads because he covered more substantive issues like jobs; issues that are more pressing and important to PA's 12th. Basically, from the little to nothing Burns' ads tell us, Burns is Critz if instead of having multiple issues, Critz would've stated his position, briefly, on three or so, then just stopped talking and stood around posing for pictures kissing babies and what not. That's basically all we get from Burns.

Burns even states on his website, "I don't know 'how Washington works'." You don't need to be a career politician or a beltway insider or out of touch with voters to know how Washington works, like Burns would have voters believe, but you damn well better figure it out if you want to be effective on the Hill and bring back real results to your district. Pride in not knowing how something works might get you into office, but it won't get you anywhere on the Hill when you are trying to get that same thing you don't know "how it works" to work for you and your constituents. I haven't seen this much pride in ignorance since Dubya... and look where that got us. I worked on the Hill and I know how it works and I was only a Congressional staffer. I can say for certain that if you don't know how Washington works and you're running for Congress, you've got some bigger problems than just winning an election.

Burns goes on about "wasteful pork barrel spending" which is a great talking point for politicians who don't really have a clue what they're discussing. So called "pork barrel" spending is used to fund local projects that need money and haven't gotten it elsewhere. It builds and repairs parks, recreation centers, senior centers, teen centers, shelters for battered and abused women, medical facilities, and animal shelters. The constituents of PA's 12th certainly aren't in a situation to provide extra money for these things themselves, but that doesn't mean they don't need them or don't deserve them because you can slap the label "pork barrel" on it and call it a day. In fact, part of the job of a member of congress is to provide as many goods and services for his constituents as possible. Someone like Critz would assure funds are used for PA's 12th citizens in ways they need without going overboard or being over-broad and calling the projects that apply for these funds "wasteful". Let's let the constituents applying for the funds which would improve the area decide whether something is "wasteful", not the politicians like Burns.

I went to Burns' website and found a total one page summary in something like 20 point font about his stances on the issues. It was pathetic and lacked any depth or understanding of any of the issues beyond two sentence talking points identical to everything else written and said by the Republican party leaders in Washington, DC (which he claims to have nothing to do with). Seriously, if his ads are uninformative soundbites, a politician's website is his or her chance to really tell people, in depth, what they have to say about the issues. It turns out that Burns doesn't have much to say about anything.

What I walk away with is that Burns is a guy who is really in over his head. He doesn't know the issues, meaning he doesn't make it a priority to know that much about the district and the things affecting it, and he doesn't know Washington, by his own words.

If he doesn't know the issues affecting the district, and he doesn't know Washington, what DOES Burns know then, considering his job as Congressman will be to know both the district and Washington damn well if he wants to be effective?

Well, he seems to know talking points. God. Check. Pro-life. Check. Pro-gun. Check. Use the term pork barreling. Check. Anti-Pelosi. Check. Substance? Substance? ...Bueller? Bueller?

Critz even called out Burns for his campaign message that heavily focus on aligning Critz with Pelosi and nothing to do with PA's 12th. Critz said, "I believe my opponent is somewhat confused because I've seen his commercials and he mentions Nancy Pelosi way more than he ever mentions me. And a local newspaper, the Herald Standard, told him in their editorial section maybe he should move to California if he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi and I support that."

Critz knows PA's 12th, he knows the issues, he knows what people want and has promised to do his best to represent them and everything we have seen from him thus far on the campaign has shown he is more than capable of that.

Critz worked with Murtha to grow to know and love the district in a way that is crucial to being a good representative. Critz was there when PA's 12th needed him; as Murtha's liaison to the Flight 93 Memorial, and spending 72 hours at the Que Creek Mine disaster site. Critz has shown the people of PA's 12 that he is there standing by them in their times of need. It is time for the people of PA's 12th to stand by Critz as the best representative for them by voting for him in the election today.

Get to the polls. Get out and vote. Vote for someone of substance. Vote for someone who shares your values. Vote for the candidate who knows what matters to you and your family. Vote for Mark Critz.

Read more about candidate Mark Critz at his official campaign website, http://www.critzforcongress.com/

Monday, May 10, 2010

My "problem" with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination

Kagan finally gains the approval of social media commentators and the masses with her makeover

Today, President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Solicitor General Kagan, if confirmed, will replace Justice John Paul Stevens.

Kagan is now poised to become the Supreme Court's third female Justice of its nine member body. As women are half this country's population, it's about time.

I had concerns that Obama would choose a male to fill the spot after previously nominating Justice Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter. With Sotomayor's nomination, Obama restored the court to its (in the past few decades) two-women quota (or, in President George Bush's case, one woman), which seemed to fulfill the token requirement of having some women on the bench.

Obama broke the mold with Sotomayor, nominating the woman who would become the first ever Latino Justice, and does so again with Kagan's nomination which marks the first time three women would sit on the Supreme Court.

In Kagan, Obama found a brilliant woman with an impressive resume. She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton and her law degree from Harvard where she later served as dean of the law school. Before becoming dean, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. She also served as associate White House counsel under President Clinton.

There is some concern that her lack of judicial experience may be an issue. She is the first nominee to the Supreme Court in nearly 40 years who has not previously served as a Federal Circuit Court judge.

Republican Senator, Orin Hatch, however, had insight into the relevance this possible point of contention should have, minimizing it. He stated, "Judicial qualifications go beyond legal experience; any Supreme Court nominee should have an impressive resume. The more important qualification is judicial philosophy and a nominee's understanding of the power and proper role of a Justice in our system of government."

She has come under fire from the right for her staunch opposition to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and for arguing against the recent Supreme Court decision overturning campaign finance reform which limited corporate and union spending in federal elections.

Some on the left have criticized her for not opposing broad executive power as it pertains to anti-terrorism activities. Some liberals have also jabbed at her for her activities as dean at Harvard where she mollified tensions over accusations of a perceived liberal tilt to the faculty and curriculum by pushing for the appointment of conservative professors.

If you are nominated for the Supreme Court and both sides of the aisle don't take issue with your positions from time-to-time, chances are that you aren't going to be a good, unbiased judge who looks at the facts, Constitution, and law as they are, but instead for what you want them to be.

As both liberals and conservatives point to a few issues with which they disagree with her, they hail her intelligence. Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, called Kagan "a brilliant woman" and told her she has done "done a terrific job up there at Harvard."

In a press conference this morning, Obama said of Kagan, "Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit — to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens — of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder". He went on, "While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens' wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law, and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on the court."

When members on both sides of the political aisle acknowledge your aptitude but disagree with at least a few of your stances on the issues, that forms part of a foundation that makes for a great Supreme Court Justice. It shows the Justice thinks well and hard and thinks for him or herself.

I couldn't be more pleased with the nomination of Kagan. My problem, however, is the completely irrelevant issues that have nothing to do with her qualification that are getting so much attention.

Even if mainstream media has been (for the most part) too intelligent and high-minded to give much credence or time to these wasteful and insulting discussions, social media outlets including facebook, twitter, and various other social networking sites, on which many actually rely for their news and information, are rampant with criticism of her appearance and sexuality.

I can't decide if it's more important that a female nominated to the Supreme Court have a husband and children and be straight, or that she be attractive. Oh sexism, so good to know you are alive and well. I had missed you since Hillary Clinton's campaign for president where her sexuality and attractiveness were often subjected to constant scrutiny

The sad truth about society today is that even women nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States are still open targets to be made fun of for their looks. Men, however? Free pass. I suppose, if asked in the confirmation hearing why she isn't hotter, her excuse would have to be, "Sorry I didn't have time to do my makeup this morning and go to the gym every day. I was a little busy being dean of Harvard Law School, arguing before the Supreme Court, and accomplishing amazing things with my career to get nominated for the most important and influential legal job in the world."

Priorities, Kagan. Priorities.

Another rule about being a less-than-very-attractive, single, middle-aged woman, who is significantly accomplished in her career is that she also, surely, must be gay. ...Right? I mean the short hair... and the being single... and the astonishing achievements in her career... how gay is that? Seriously.

Maybe by making leaps and bounds in her career, she didn't have time for the distraction of kids and family. Maybe her career success actually made her less desirable to men (which is a whole separate can of worms entirely---on which I'll avoid a rant at this point in time). Or maybe, just maybe, she is gay. And even if she were, would it matter? I am of the opinion that it would not, but I cannot discern whether the jumble of uninformed, barely intelligible opinions offered by social media commentators discussing the issue think it would matter as a Justice or not. Their analysis simply leads to the conclusion that she is unattractive and gay as well as to a general disapproval or at least mockery of this, and not to a statement as to what that has to do with anything.

My problem with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination has nothing to do with Kagan. My problem with the nomination is the shallow, mindless masses ruminating on things that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her qualifications, such as her appearance / level of attractiveness and what that says about her as a person, such as her sexuality.

On the whole, I am supportive of the mass social media invasion that gives us up-to-the-nano-second news and lets everyone from bloggers, to tweeters, to facebook-status-updaters, to anonymous posters on message boards feel like the next Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, or Chris Wallace. However, when we find that more of us have something to say about what a female Supreme Court nominee looks like than what she has accomplished or if she is qualified, perhaps it is time to shut your yappers and step away from the keyboard.

Their comments would, perhaps, be relevant if, instead of being the foremost judicial body in the world with the task of interpreting our laws and constitution, the Supreme Court were a frat boy shotgunning beers and smashing the empty cans off his head while wearing a "No fat chicks" t-shirt and ending every sentence in "no homo."

So future male nominees, continue looking like someone straight out of Grumpy Old Men, Bucket List, or a zombie horror film. Your career achievements, academic prowess, and legal success will pave the way for you, as it should. Future female nominees, start looking like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and get yourself a husband, two kids, a dog, and a lovely house with a white picket fence in the 'burbs (you know, in addition to all that "achievement" nonsense) if you want to be taken seriously by the uninformed masses.

It is disheartening and sad to see women, constantly, even the most intelligent and accomplished among us, be reduced by many to how hot they are and the obviously empirical ramifications that has on their sexuality.

I, for one, am proud to be a commentator who tosses my hat into the ring of opinions on Kagan on the basis of something other than her looks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Of phones and me

Pretty much.

Giving me a phone is basically the equivalent of giving Steinbeck's Lennie a mouse. Entrust a phone to me and you are placing a tiny mouse in the grasp of a hulking, mildly-retarded man with large hands and a penchant for petting soft things a little too hard. It doesn't end well.

My scraped and worn, pink Blackberry Curve, with its scratched screen, sticking tracker ball, malfunctioning keyboard, and a significant portion of the pink paint chipping away showed all the signs of loving something too hard seen in any child's favorite stuffed animal. Think the Velveteen Rabbit, for adults. My phone was my binky.

The last time I ever used it was at 2:48AM, April 11, 2010. I know this because, though I have no memories after approximately midnight on said date, verizonwireless.com tells me this. It also tells me who I texted, but not what I wrote, which is incredibly fortunate because I can only imagine that whatever it was was horrifically misspelled, inappropriate and / or borderline incoherent.

At some point thereafter, my phone went missing. I discovered this when I woke up the following morning, feeling very much like P. Diddy. I was on my neighbors' couch, (a lovely young married couple I've never met before) in a men's tie and my cocktail dress. My frenzied thought process went like this:

Sweet Jesus, where am I? Oh thank God, there's my purse. Okay, got my camera still... that's awesome. Most of my makeup... ID and money... Oh sh*t. Where's my phone.

This is why we can't have nice things.

I spent the next several hours traipsing through Georgetown and retracing my steps after going home and changing out of the fashion masterpiece that was the night before's outfit-coupled-with-men's-tie to track my Blackberry down. After contacting some friends online, I narrowed down my bberry's zone-of-disappearance.

Possible location 1: City Tavern Club. My friends say I was still texting them after an event I had attended there ended. Ruled out.

Possible location 2: George. Ruled out because "allegedly", according to my friend, I wasn't allowed in this bar because I was "too intoxicated". If you have ever been to the blackout cesspool that is George, you know what an accomplishment that is.

Possible location 3: Smith Point. My favorite bar and boyfriend, SP, closes at 3AM, and I was still actively using my phone minutes before it closed. This made me think it is unlikely I lost it there in the last few minutes before close, but not out of the realm of possibilities. I only wish the SP bouncers had been as judicious as the George bouncers and not let me in. My friend said they had initially refused, but she got them to change their tune with a $20.

Possible location 4: Five Guys. This local ghetto, greasy food-that-eats-through-its-own-bag establishment is, in all likelihood, where the tragedy occurred. I know I was there because I found several dozen ketchup and salt packets littering my front sidewalk today.

I called Five Guys and they said no one turned in a phone. SP doesn't open until Friday so, being the ever-patient person I am, I went there and 'let myself into' the courtyard where I searched dejectedly. No phone. I did, however, find $5.

At that point I was down one phone, and up one tie and $5.

I guess karma considers that a fair trade, because whoever had my phone turned it off at approximately 7PM, meaning they weren't giving it back.

I know it was turned off because I had been frantically calling it all day from my backup cellphone. Yes, backup cellphone. I actually own another phone, with its own number, that I keep and use solely for the purpose of calling and tracking down my primary phone whenever I lose or break it.

I officially declared my phone dead and irretrievable when my calls stopped ringing and started going straight to voicemail. The battery was too full to have died. The loss of this phone, while only one of many that have managed to evade me, is particularly tragic. I had it for a year and a month. In the world of me, that is a record.

Not only has this phone been with me for so long, it has been through a lot and always came out a survivor, if not a little worse-for-the-wear. It was on its fourth life when it was stolen from me.

Its first life ended in March, '09, when I threw up on it. Not my proudest moment. I tell it in the interest of full disclosure. It stopped functioning for several days afterward and the 7 / Z key only worked periodically. Fortunately, I didn't send a lot of text messages with "z" in them, but dialing any phone number that had a "7" in it was a real treat.

Its second life ended in January when I dropped it in the toilet at one of my favorite local dive bars, Gin & Tonic. There was a split second when I questioned whether to leave it in there; resting on the bottom like the Heart of the Ocean in Titanic, or go in after it and risk inevitably contracting the swine flu, the AIDS, the typhoid, the cholera, or some other old-timey disease I learned about playing Oregon Trail. I took the plunge. Again, it stopped functioning for a few days and this time the return and "$" keys were the casualties. That only really mattered when I had to send an email from my phone, because it would be one incredibly long paragraph.

Its third life ended during Snowpocalypse II in February in DC. I had it in the front pocket of my snow pants while sled riding when I decided it'd be a swell idea to run and belly-dive down a hill. Crushed it. And by "it" I mean both my phone and the hill, which I bet I looked pretty sweet flying down. At this point, my phone was used to the abuse and must have built up a tolerance, because it returned to life a mere few hours later.

I've also dropped or inadvertently thrown it more times than I can count, but that is barely worth noting considering what else the phone has endured.

My trusty bberry had earned the nickname Ol' Reliable. It was my favorite possession and I took it with me absolutely everywhere and had it with me at all times. There's me. There's my phone. Here's me. Here's my phone. Beside me on the dinner table? Phone. On my other pillow when I sleep? Phone. On my towel beside me at the beach? Phone. In my hands in the car when I'm not supposed to be using it? Phone. You get the point.

While it always managed to protect itself from me and my follies, it couldn't save itself from stranger danger as it fell into the clutches of evil Saturday night. My only hope is that whoever stole it reads this, so that they can have the distinct pleasure of knowing just how much my phone has been through. I refer specifically to the way its first and second lives ended. Enjoy that.

I get a new phone today. I'll try to be better with it. And I'll have a farm with Blackberries on it. And i'll tend to the Blackberries...

A mini-poncho in which I dressed my bberry for Cinco-de-Mayo. Yes, really.

Monday, April 5, 2010

West Virginia, Butler go down in Final Four

Coach Huggins shares a moment with his players near the end of the Final Four game.

On Saturday, I'd bet 90% of people became Mountaineers, if just for the night.

First of all, as a general rule, unless you (or a parent) went to Duke, you hate Duke.

Secondly, everyone loves an underdog. While this season, you couldn't apply that term to WVU, they are a second seed against 1-seed Duke. This was also Duke's 15th Final Four appearance, and its 11th under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. This was WVU's first Final Four appearance since 1959 and only the second in school history. WVU has never before won the NCAA basketball championship, and, it turns out, this year wouldn't be the year either.

Finally, viewers were touched by the moments the Mountaineer team shared with each other and with their coach on Saturday night.

The Final Four West Virginia Mountaineers vs Duke Devils match-up game looked awfully familiar to WVU fans. It was strikingly similar to the West Virginia vs Kentucky Elite Eight game just a week before. Except, in this game, WVU looked like Kentucky and Duke like West Virginia.

Like the Kentucky Wildcats had done facing West Virginia, WVU fell apart against Duke. They played a 1-3-1 zone again, but it failed to work for them as it had before. The Devils penetrated the setup and drove to the basket with little resistance. The Mountaineers were also off their shooting game, going only 6 for 20 from the floor in the second half and ending the game shooting 41.3%. They couldn't replicate their 3-point field goal barrage that earned them so many points a week prior, either.

In fact, the only part of the Mountaineers' game that was on par with their Elite Eight performance was that they were once again out rebounded. West Virginia was shooting one-and-done. Duke, on the other hand, posted a considerable number of points as the result of second-chance shots.

Duke landed 3-pointer after 3-pointer. They ended the game going 53.3% shooting, 29 of 55. Like West Virginia had against Kentucky, Duke started with an early lead that left WVU playing catch-up the rest of the game.

The Devils went up 18-11 and the Mountaineers fought back and cut the lead to two points, 23-21. This was the closest WVU would be tasting victory for the rest of the game. The Mountaineers trailed 39-31 going into halftime.

I anticipated WVU would regroup at the half and come roaring back into the game once play resumed. The second half is when they really pulled ahead against Kentucky, and the last 7 points of the first half of this game were Mountaineers' baskets.

And WVU did close the lead, coming within five points, 43-38. From there, however, it was all downhill for West Virginia. Duke sank three 3-pointers while WVU turned the ball over, leading to a 15-point Duke lead.

Just when Mountaineers' fans thought things couldn't get worse, team star and lead scorer Da'Sean Butler went down - hard - while attempting a shot with 8:59 remaining. He collided with Devils' Brian Zoubek and both fell to the ground. When Zoubek got up, however, Butler continued to lay on the court in pain, clutching his left knee. WVU Coach Bobby Huggins ran to his side, got down on his knees, hugged his player and stroked his face to console him. This was the most endearing, most enduring moment of the game.

The players took a knee and WVU fans took time to pray, looking on helplessly as their best player's chances of walking off the court being okay, and their hopes of winning the game and making the NCAA championship, were simultaneously dashed.

Butler was helped up and taken to the locker room in a golf cart. The Butler incident had me near tears, but I could no longer hold them back when, with a minute and a half remaining, Huggins hugged two of his starting-lineup players to him in a moment where the feeling of "we gave it our all, did our best and we had a heck of a run and I'm proud of you" was tangible.

The Mountaineers lost, 78-57, but what I'll really remember about that game is the moments between Huggins and his players. Those are moments of victory, even in defeat. Those are the reasons, really, that make sports worth playing, no matter which side of the ball you're on. And those are the moments that stay with us, rather than who won or lost, when all is said and done.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mountaineers slay Wildcats; advance to Final Four

WVU's unlikely hero, Joe Mazzulla, moves easily past Kentucky's John Wall, giving him a pimp backhand in the process, just as WVU moved past Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

As one of what is likely a slim minority of people who predicted a West Virginia University win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight matchup in my bracket, I can't claim to be surprised when the Mountaineers defeated the Wildcats. I did not, however, predict the win would be with a large 7 point margin; 73-66.

In fact, that score fails to do justice to the Mountaineers' solid win, considering they were up by a dozen points or more several times during the second half. Their biggest lead was by 16 points, 61-45, with 4:25 remaining. The Wildcats spent the last few minutes of the game fouling WVU just to stop the clock so they could catch up. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their plan backfired as WVU sank foul shot after foul shot.

Maybe it was Mountaineers' Coach, Bobby Huggins', magical tracksuit. Maybe it was WVU's uncanny ability to sink 3-pointers and prevent turnovers or Kentucky's complete lack of ability to do the same. The truth is, West Virginia emerged as the undoubtedly stronger team and the one more deserving of being in the Final Four with their performance in Syracuse Saturday night.

The game began more tentatively for WVU, as they were unable to make a single 2-point basket, going 0 for 16. Kentucky posted an early 16-9 lead. Astoundingly, however, the Mountaineers made eight of fifteen 3-point field goal shots. The 21 points from field goals on top of sinking a high percentage of foul shots kept them in the game and actually put them on top 28-26 going into halftime.

West Virginia barreled full force into the second half and immediately built up a 10-point lead. Kentucky chipped away at the lead and fell further behind from time-to-time throughout the remainder of the game, but never recovered.

The Mountaineers maintained their lead thanks in part to having only 3 turnovers during the game. Kentucky, on the other hand, turned the ball over time and time again. WVU also continued sinking a high percentage of foul shots while Kentucky only went 16 for 29. The quick-on-their-feet Kentucky team out-rebounded WVU 51-36, but it wasn't enough to recover from the other areas in which WVU trumped them.

Huggins also used a 1-3-1 zone to which Kentucky didn't really know how to react. It largely shut the Wildcats out of landing any 3 pointers. Kentucky's team is also young and relatively inexperienced, and just was not able to pull together what they needed for a win against the equally good Mountaineers who were on top of their game Saturday.

The Mountaineers' win was made all the more impressive due to the absence of their starting point guard, Darryl Truck Bryant, because of a broken right foot. He was replaced by Joe Mazzulla who became unlikely hero of the game. Mazzulla only played in 17 games all season up until Saturday night, and had only averaged 2.2 points per game. He played only 11 minutes in the Big East tournament and suffered from a bruised shoulder for much of the season. He posted 17 points Saturday night; a career high for him and an invaluable contribution to the Mountaineers' victory. Bryant is expected to return in time for the next game this Saturday, which will add more depth and strength to WVU's impressive roster.

If Mazzulla was the hero no one saw coming, Da'Sean Butler was the hero the Mountaineers were counting on, and, as usual, he did not disappoint. Butler posted 18 points for WVU, including making 4 of West Virginia's 10 3-pointers.

With their win, WVU advances to their second Final Four appearance in school history. The last time they made it as far was in 1959. They play #1 ranked Duke on Saturday. Duke is the only remaining 1-seed in the tournament after West Virginia (2) knocked out Kentucky (1). WVU is the only remaining Big East team in the tournament after a disappointing showing from fellow division members. The Big East was hailed as the strongest and toughest division all season.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mountaineers explore new territory; win first Big East Championship

WVU hoists their trophy in celebration. Coach Huggins and his tracksuit not pictured.

Last night after a close game fought until the bitter end, the West Virginia University Mountaineers (7) triumphed over the Georgetown Hoyas (22) in the last seconds of the game, claiming both victory and their first ever Big East Championship.

This was only the second time WVU ever reached the Big East championship game and is the school's first conference tournament victory since 1984 when it won the Atlantic 10.

The game-winning shot was scored by senior guard, Da'Sean Butler. He put the final, crucial 2 points on the board with 4.2 seconds remaining. Georgetown ran the ball back down to its end of the court, but missed the shot which could have tied the game and sent it into overtime. Butler posted 20 points total in the game, went 9 of 17 shooting, and was chosen as the tournament MVP.

Butler scored his 2,000th career point late in the first half thanks to a three-pointer which put the Mountaineers ahead 24-20. Butler's achievement solidified his place alongside fellow graduates Jerry West and Rod Hundley, the only two other WVU players to have scored as many points. This was Butler's second game-winning clincher. He sank a 3-pointer in the quarterfinals at the buzzer to win 54-51 over Cincinnati.

WVU squeaked through by the soles of the sneakers both literally and figuratively throughout the tournament, winning the semifinal game over Notre Dame 53-51. They won each round of the tournament by one basket.

This game was won because of WVU's solid defense and ability to quickly snatch rebounds. They also benefited from two four-minute stretches of game in which Gtown was unable to land a single shot.

The Mountaineers' starting lineup included Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Wellington Smith, and Truck Bryan. They were lead by Coach Bob Huggins who frantically directed his team courtside, refusing to let the importance of the championship dissuade him from wearing his signature tracksuit in favor of the business suits worn by other basketball coaches.

Oddly enough, third-seed WVU was the only one of the top four seed teams to survive the quarterfinal round. Syracuse, Villanova, and Pitt fell unexpectedly. Proving it had the best team in the Big East and consistently hailed as the most competitive conference in the NCAA, WVU enters the East bracket of the NCAA tournament as the #2 seed. I, for one, expect big things from this team, and expect to see them appearing in that tournament's championship game as well.

The WVU mens' team succeeded where their womens' hadn't. In the womens' Big East Championship game on Monday, WVU fell hard to UConn 60-32. That game was the Huskies' 72nd straight victory, the longest in NCAA history.