Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sports Saturday

The Kid is in some serious limbo today. I'll definitely have to explain this at a later time.

But know this: Chicago has nudged its way into one of my three favorite American cities, and it's even better to share the experience with thousands of bright, talented, enthusiastic journalists of color.

That said, a Sports Saturday from Room 1114 at the Doubletree Chicago Magnificent Mile:

1. Caleb Campbell (pictured above), a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, was thwarted in his attempt to serve the Army in another role. It's not really up to civilians like myself to debate whether or not the Alternative Service Option or "special skills" policy was a good one. But it's clear the Army botched the entire process as it applied to Campbell.

2. LA and Detroit, at it again on the hardwood. This time, in a WNBA throwdown earlier this week. This is somewhat unfamiliar territory for WNBA officials: people actually cared about something that happened on the court. Also, it's good to see Rick Mahorn hasn't lost his tender-loving touch.

3. Here's a shocker: Texas' steroid-testing program for high school athletes was a big flop in its first year. The program turned up two positive tests out of 10,000 athletes. That's about $1.5 million per positive test. Somehow, the UIL - the governing body for high school athletics in Texas - was encouraged by these results. To me it proves, one way or another, the whole proposal is a big money drain.

4. Atlanta's Josh Childress bucks a longstanding trend, leaving the NBA for the Euroleague. I've always wondered why this hasn't happened more often, especially with the Euro so strong and the American dollar so weak in recent years. Once American athletes become more familiar with the advantages of playing overseas, I really think we might see this sort of move happen a little more frequently. The biggest obstacle, of course, would be that hardly any American kid grows up dreaming of playing for Olympiakos as opposed to, say, the Pacers.

5. Miguel Cotto, one of boxing's best pound-for-pound fighters, takes on Antonio Margarito this evening in Las Vegas. This should be a great fight. Cotto is the WBA titleholder, undefeated at 32-0 and the pride of Puerto Rico. Margarito is tough as hell.

It's tough for me to believe that I once covered Cotto's second professional fight, a second-round TKO of some scrub on the undercard of a show in Fort Worth in 2001. I think, in my story from that evening, I dedicated one paragraph (if that) to the fight. Just goes to show that everyone has to start somewhere.

Ok. That's plenty. I've got to get out and enjoy more of Chicago.

Continue Reading »

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cambio you can believe in

What accounts for this drastic sea change in the battle for Hispanic voters?

I try not to read too much into polls, especially those taken about four months before the votes are actually tallied. But the Pew Research Center's latest results are pretty stupefying - they call it a "sharp reversal."

Not only has Barack Obama taken a huge lead over John McCain in the race to woo Hispanics; Obama appears to be more favorable among Hispanics than even Hillary Clinton these days - perhaps ending all talk about an Obama-Clinton "Dream Team" ticket for good.
Continue Reading »

Going Geek

Maybe "Geeks" are cooler - and better for the bottom line - than previously thought. The Geek Squad, that is.

USA Today reports that Best Buy has thrived of late while Circuit City has taken a nosedive, in part, because of differing approaches to customer service. In short, Best Buy believes in it and Circuit City doesn't.

To me, this seems a rather elementary aspect of good business: customers respond better to retailers who are helpful and knowledgeable and personable, especially in a market with increasingly sophisticated equipment and software.

With few exceptions, I won't spend more than $500 on anything without consulting someone who seems to have a modicum of expertise about the item. To me, this is only being a reasonable consumer. I can't afford to make ill-informed decisions when the stakes - and prices - are that high.

On some level, according to USA Today, Best Buy seems to grasp this much better than its faltering rival. Continue Reading »

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chicago Bound

Tampa, I love you. Really I do. But I have a serious crush on Chicago (pictured above, obviously). And I think she might feel the same way.

I'm going to get out of town for a few days, you know, figure this all out. I'm not going to do the things with her that I do with you: hang out at the beach, enjoy fresh seafood, take the daily sunshine for granted, spend two hours a day in my car.

I'm going to try some different things: check out the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, window-shop along the Magnificent Mile, have a few drinks on the 97th floor of the Hancock Tower and eat a deep-dish pizza. Or two. Maybe holla at Obama. I think Kanye might be in town, too. I'll try to spare you the details.

But I'll be back Saturday night. We can talk things over then. Is that cool? I'll try to call or something while I'm there. Don't expect to hear from me, though.

Before I go, a special Chicago-themed edition of "What's playing in my deck":

1. The Corner by Common
2. I Came Home by Rhymefest
3. Super Bowl Shuffle by the Chicago Bears
4. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce
5. Homecoming by Kanye West feat. Chris Martin.

Deuce. Continue Reading »

Barack strikes back?

I'm disappointed in Sen. Barack Obama if this proves to be true - and I really have no reason to doubt the veracity of the story.

Here's the gist: Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker wrote this somewhat unflattering piece about Barack, the story behind that outrageous cover illustration (if you haven't read the article, you should. It's a tremendous effort of reporting and writing by Lizza). The Obama campaign was reportedly "furious" at Lizza, and somewhat understandably so, given the tinderbox that is presidential politics.

With Obama set to make a swing next week through Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England, the scramble for room on the campaign plane was competitive. Two-hundred media requests were made for the trip.

Somewhat predictably, Lizza's request was denied. Obama's campaign said it was due to limited space on the plane.

Yeah, whatever.

From a distance, the move looks petty and vengeful. Reporters who cover the presidential candidates need access and the assurance that said access will not hinge on the campaign's sensitivity to occasionally unfavorable stories. Other bloggers have pointed out the rejection seems reminiscent of the Bush administration.

I just hope it's not the start of a trend. I imagine Lizza feels the same way.

UPDATE: Lizza's not the only journalist with a somewhat legitimate complaint about the Obama campaign's handling of press demands. These sort of concerns have been building for quite awhile now - Obama was by far the least accessible of the candidates through the primary season. Doesn't seem as if that's changing now that the season of the general election is upon us. Continue Reading »

A "Golden" Age over?

Estelle Getty, one of the television icons of my childhood Saturday nights, died earlier today at her Hollywood home.

Yes, one of my icons. Is that a surprise? Can't a brotha enjoy "The Golden Girls"?

Seriously, I vividly remember watching - and enjoying - Getty immerse herself in the role of "Sophia," the wisecracking octogenarian with a tremendous knack for checking her headstrong daughter, Dorothy.

The entire show was a treat, and often referred to as something of a precursor to HBO's much-more celebrated "Sex and the City." And I'd never be caught dead watching anything like it on TV today. I get the feeling that I'm not alone either.

I'll never be one to complain about the expansion of cable TV or the abundance of viewing choices, especially in the TiVo era. I can watch college football games from the mid 1980s, reruns of "Good Times," and any number of absurd reality TV shows virtually on demand.

But the limitless variety squeezes out the shows that once used to be a part of all of our lives, the sort of links that transcended generation and culture. The "Girls" were one of the few Saturday night options on network TV when I was a boy (it was the late '80s, after all). It was either that or another rerun of some lame Byron Allen production.

Thus, I could joke about "The Golden Girls" with my Nana, my parents or my boys on the block (well, not so much), and they would knowingly respond in kind. The show was smart, funny and popular.

How many shows can you say that about today? I'm not going to be an old fart here. I love progress - I've made blogging a part of my life, I hardly watch TV shows unless they've been recorded on my DVR and I'm anxiously awaiting the day I can purchase an iPhone.

But Getty's death on Tuesday also signified the end of something else. A "Golden" era, if you will.
Continue Reading »

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Considering K.G. and cool

Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor is pondering the virtual death of the "cool" athlete.

I'm right there with him. Much like Taylor, I recoiled with every bit of Kevin Garnett's ridiculous celebration in the wake of the Boston Celtics' NBA title-clinching victory last month. It seemed overly dramatic and possibly staged, like the closing scene in one of those "Impossible is Nothing" Adidas commercials.

You would have thought Garnett had finished climbing Mount Everest, bellowing "anything is possible" in between fits of incomprehensible jibber-jabber. Goodness knows what KG's reaction might have been had he actually walked on water or uncovered the ruins of Atlantis.
Of course, I realize that my opinion of this joyful explosion by Garnett does not necessarily represent a majority. Best as I can tell, many sports fans and usually jaded sportswriters were cheering right along with the Celtics' faithful.
Sorry. But I grew up appreciating the spectacular exploits and subdued countenances of superstars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barry Sanders, Nolan Ryan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell and Dr. J. I can only imagine that they'd maintain a cool pose during the running with the bulls in Pamplona. They all expected sustained success, and they all expected their fans to hold them to a higher standard.

NBA Hall of Famer Walt Frazier, who was once so cool that everyone somewhat inexplicably called him "Clyde" during his playing days, told Taylor that "I always felt that [Cool] gave me an advantage. It's like in poker, if the other players can't read you, it puts that uncertainty in their minds and that puts you in control."
True. Garnett, up until Game 6 of the Finals, was so well-known for being emotional that he sometimes could be taken out of his game during those really intense moments. He was considered a choke-artist in most NBA circles until he hitched his wagon to Paul Pierce. Then K.G. finally won the title and dissolved into a 7-foot drama queen onstage at the Grammys.

So, tell me ... what's cool about all that?
Continue Reading »

No more N-word. On here.

Were I not already besotted with my lovely copy editor, Megan McArdle would be a strong contender for boo status given her nuanced take on the use of the "N-word." Megan is talking mostly about the "N-word" in relation to white folks but offers a lovely rebuttal to aspiring Mensa candidate Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

I sincerely hope this is the last time we go here. This issue is bombed out and depleted like certain parts of Afghanistan.

But the topic was renewed yesterday when I was told by a certain family member that my tacit allowance of the use of the word by black people was "disappointing" and proof that I had changed "but not for the better."

Obviously, I disagree. Continue Reading »

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mapping the Middle East with McCain

Matthew Yglesias of Atlantic Monthly has offered to tutor John McCain on Middle East geography.

Seems that earlier today McCain would not be goaded into calling the situation in Afghanistan "precarious and urgent," but allowed that there was "a lot of work to do." McCain then warned of a "very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border." Problem is, no such border exists (see above).

McCain, who last week said that he knows "how to win wars," might want to consult with a map before drawing up his war policy.
Continue Reading »

Obama as the beneficiary of "affirmative action"?

Child of a single mom. Harvard Law School grad. One-time civil rights attorney. U.S. Senator from Illinois. Owner of a decent jump shot. Democratic nominee for president.

Beneficiary of some sort of media-driven affirmative action program?

Believe it or not, that's what neoconservative operative and former President Bush speechwriter David Frum (pictured above) suggested on CNN's "Reliable Sources" program on Sunday morning, which is hosted by the Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz.

Here's Frum uttering the magic words on the show (the transcription is mine):

Frum: "If there's anything that the media organizations believe in (it's) institutional (affirmative action). They practice affirmative action internally, probably more enthusiastically than any other corporation in America."

Kurtz: "Are you saying the media are treating Barack Obama as an affirmative action hire for the presidency?"

Frum: "They are very excited about the prospect of the first African-American candidate - serious candidate - for president."


You know, Frum's remarks sort of reminded me of Rush Limbaugh's ill-fated remarks on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" pregame show in 2003, when he suggested "the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."

The notion was ridiculous then, and of course, ridiculous now. To folks like Limbaugh and Frum, whenever a brotha shows up anywhere, they immediately assume he got some extra boost or was the inferior choice. Nevermind that Obama (and a whole bunch of others) is their superior, in a number of ways. He's simply an affirmative-action baby to them.
So, I guess the question is: if Obama got here with help from an entitlement program, how did Dubya make it this far?
Continue Reading »

When a loss is not a loss

Peter King of Sports Illustrated really knows his football. In fact, there might not be a better-known, more-respected football insider in the news biz.

But I'm not sure that municipal officials across the country should take much stock in his opinion last week about the importance of pro sports franchises to their respective communities (check out the "Factoid of the Week..." portion of the column).
King was mulling over recently released Census figures that show - as has been the trend over the years - that the Rust Belt is on the wrong end of the population shift in our country. Cleveland was our nation's loss leader in sheer numbers, dropping to the 40th-largest city in the country. Baltimore (technically not a Rust Belt-type city), Buffalo and Pittsburgh also suffered huge losses.

That led to King's conclusion that "that news underscores the importance of an NFL team for civic pride. When people look around their hometowns and find not a lot to get fired up about, they turn toward their civic institutions and say, "Give us something to make us feel good about our future. Please.''

That reminded me of former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who moved his team to Baltimore in 1996 in exchange for a new stadium built entirely at public expense, and told reporters that "The pride and presence of a professional football team is more important than 30 libraries."


I don't want to bore folks here, but that line of thought is the reason that new sports stadiums and arenas drain $2 billion a year from the public coffers - almost exclusively for the private profit of the multimillionaires who own pro sports teams.

Instead of spending these taxpayers dollars on infrastructure, public schools, economic development programs or, say, libraries, (things that actually affect the quality of life in a city), city and county officials are often bullied or shamed into spending millions to satiate the money-grubbing ways of guys like Modell or Clay Bennett of the team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics.

It's a swindle, I tell ya, and taxpayers and local residents wind up the losers. I could go into detail about how pro sports teams really don't create much of an economic engine for cities or how towns would be better off investing in sewer lines but this entry is already plenty long.

Just keep in mind that Cleveland regained its Browns in 1999, a period of time in which the city lost more than 40,000 people.

Presumably, some of those folks were Browns fans.

Continue Reading »

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why the New Yorker missed its true target

Once you get through all the perfunctory prose, Lee Siegel smartly explains why the New Yorker's "satirical" cover of the Obamas fell flat.

My attention was drawn particularly to this passage: "The New Yorker represented the right-wing caricature of the Obamas while making the fatal error of not also caricaturing the right wing."


The butt of the joke wound up being the Obamas - not the people who ridiculously believe them to be radical, terrorist-backing subversives. The right-wing operatives who keep those nefarious rumors going on the Internet and in backyard sheds across the country are the ones who deserve to be lampooned.

Again, to me, the cover wasn't offensive. It merely was off-target.

A few notes about this piece:

1. I went looking for a copy of the infamous magazine this weekend at Barnes & Noble and couldn't find it. I've got to say I was very disappointed.

2. I had been sort of hype to buy Siegel's most-recent release, "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.” But after reading this essay, I'm not so sure I could manage to get through it. Siegel is a very smart dude but I needed a machete to get through this piece in the Times.

3. As a general rule, I tend to shy away from sharing links to the New York Times. Not because of any grudge but because millions of people read the Times' print edition and Web site on a daily basis. I don't usually feel like I'm contributing much to any conversation by circulating something so widely read already. But this was a good find, courtesy of my lovely copy editor. Continue Reading »