04/11/07 12:00am
by |
04/11/2007 12:00 AM |

The fact that New York City, the world capital of cosmopolitan business, culture, media and fashion is such a sports-wacky city still boggles our mind. Don’t sports belong to the South and Midwest? Aren’t they the pastime of smaller urban, suburban and exurban areas with nothing else to do?  What’s more, as a youngun’ not even alive when Jackie Robinson passed on to the great Second Base in the sky in 1972, are we allowed to cheer and reminisce about his Major League debut, 60 years ago yesterday, April 15th? Especially as it took place in our hometown, the superlative borough of Brooklyn? You better damn believe we are entitled to celebrate that brilliant man. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a column this week.

As even a non-sports fan in a surprisingly sports-zany city can attest to, it is a source of pride that Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers right on Court Street, facing Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. The space today is (what else, but) aCommerce Bank, but back in 1945, when Robinson first signed his contract. was a media outlet for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson had always been a superstar, and one accustomed to speaking his mind when he was involved in racial injustice. Not only was Robinson the first student at UCLA to earn four letters – one each in baseball, basketball, football and track — but he was almost court-martialed during World War Two when he refused to play on Texas’ Fort Hood football team. The school forced Robinson to stand at the back of the Army bus, along with the other colored students (per Encyclopedia of New York City), and this is what got the sweet-tempered mean hitter into hot water.

Following the war, Robinson played in the Negro League for the Kansas City
Monarchs, and then the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team, the. Dodger president Branch Rickey was a savvy PR manager and understood the one-small-step-for-black-men, one-giant-leap-for-African-Americans mentality that surrounded his move to integrate baseball. And it was only in a city like Brooklyn where a black athlete like Jackie Robinson could fearlessly and fearfully join his fellow white players, like Pee-Wee Reese, Pete Reiser and Johnny Podres. When Robinson took to the field on April 15th, wearing number 42 (Douglas Adams was right!), there were 26,623 fans in the stands, more than half were black. (Per Brooklyn! An Illustrated History)

Robinson wasn’t the first major step towards integration for society in general — in 1941 the Government awarded African-Americans defense jobs, and President Truman ordered the military desegregated in 1948. What’s more, the ethnic makeup of northern cities had been changing over the past few decades, so the old-school segregationists couldn’t ignore the movement of people of color for much longer. Although Robinson was a phenomenon in the sport, neither the entire game nor its individual players welcomed him. Unruly, narrow-minded fans hurled insults and trash. Vicious players from opposing teams tried to dig their cleats into his shins as they rounded second. However, modern society itself was thrilled with Jackie. He starred on comic books, pop magazines, newspapers, ads, even played himself in a movie, The Jackie Robinson Story, alongside Ruby Dee as his wife Rachel.

To celebrate the historic marking of the end of one era and the beginning of another, last night’s games across the country had players donning number 42. Some entire teams are proudly displaying 42, including the Astros, the Brewers, the Pirates, and of course, the LA Dodgers. Up in the Bronx, Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano of the Yankees are both fronting 42 – Rivera is the last active player wearing it (the number was retired a decade ago) and Cano is named for the baseball great. Although the game certainly has changed, with steroids and super-stadiums, with more luxury boxes and less nosebleed bleachers; the intrinsic sense of patriotism and history in that signing 60 years ago is a true moment to celebrate. So, our caps are off to Jackie Robinson.

04/11/07 12:00am

To Zach Johnson, on the occasion of your first triumph in a major:

Dear Friend:

Congratulations are in order! You have commemorated the 20th anniversary of Larry Mize’s absurdly unlikely chip-in to beat Greg Norman with a fluky, mirror-image over-par win at Augusta. In a tournament shaped to a ludicrous extent by weather conditions and a draconian course set-up, you got the most lucky bounces and (to be fair) holed the most 15 footers down the stretch. And so there we have it, the lineage of the Green Jacket now goes: Mickelson-Woods-Mickelson-Zach Johnson. Not exactly an historian’s dream, but neither can anyone take this achievement away from you, and so we press on in the knowledge that you were in the right place at the right time and seized the opportunity. Well played, my friend, well played.

But friend…some things I cannot take. There are certain vanities, certain mental gymnastics, which simply cannot help but divide two souls incontrovertibly. Now, in the aftermath of your triumph, could we take a moment to review some of your reasoning for how it is you emerged on top? For certainly you and I have a slightly different impression of how this surprising eventuality came to pass!

Here, before you had even won, were some of the assertions that you made regarding the reasons for your victory, in a televised interview:

1) “There were a lot of people looking out for me today.”

You said this, friend, and I thought to myself: “Well, I guess that’s possible.” I grant you, I did not know exactly what you meant. Who exactly was looking after you? Your caddy? Your playing partner? Nick Faldo? It seemed…odd. But given the magnitude of the event, I guess this was not an entirely outrageous assertion. But then things really got surprising! For your next remark struck me as quite the unordinary non-sequitor:

2) “My faith is very important to me. And you know, it is Easter…”

What? Excuse me? I’m sorry — I must have misunderstood you. I don’t think I’m hearing well. Did you say Easter? I’m not sure I know what that is. Let me look it up…Aha! Here we go:

An annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, as calculated according to tables based in Western churches on the Gregorian calendar and in Orthodox churches on the Julian calendar.

Huh! What do you know? And you say that this event happened to fall on that other holy holiday, the final round of the Masters. Quite a coincidence. Now you say that this unusual confluence may have in some way benefited you? How queer! But why?!

3) “Well, you know Jesus…”

Oh, I see. You won the Masters because of Jesus. Owing to the many fine bounces you got in your final round, it then became obvious to you that CHRIST, on the day of his resurrection, preferred that you win the Masters as opposed to say, Rory Sabbatini? Well friend…here is where I am afraid we part company. You see, I think you were just lucky. I sincerely doubt that the SON OF GOD set into motion the conditions for you to triumph. I rather doubt that HE intervened and caused Goosen to hit iron off the tee at 14 or Tiger to yank his second shot into the drink at the last par 5. Perhaps I’ll soon be proven wrong. Perhaps lightning will strike your fellow competitors goofy at the rest of this year’s majors, and you’ll be making the same speech and I will have been proven the faithless fool. Lets see then, my blessed friend! (I shant be holding my breath).

Yours In Agnosticism,

Open Letter To Tiger:

Dear Tiger,

Of course my feelings for you are a matter of record. I am your biggest fan and not even the restraining order has not remotely diminished my boundless affection and gratitude for the countless vicarious thrills you have provided me. That said, we need to face facts: you are in a slump. It is now eight months since your last victory at a major. Granted, there has been only one played since then, and you finished second. But as we know, second place sucks. Maybe a swing change is in order? Or maybe I should just come to your house. Consider it. Don’’t rule it out of hand. You’re still the one.

In Admiration,

To Big Phil

Phil, what the hell was that?! Were you even trying? You win two of the last three and that’s your idea of a title defense? I understand that the conditions were a little off-putting, but could you not grind just a small amount?  You open the final day four shots out in spite of yourself and promptly begin Sunday with a TRIPLE at 1? Why do I get the feeling you were principally interested in getting off the course and into the hot wings buffet?  I expect more from my nemesis. Don’t make me replace you with Adam Scott…

To The Keepers Of Augusta National:

Dear Old Money,

I am fully aware that you are imperious by nature, but this time you’ve just tricked up the course too much. Some of us wait around all winter for this! I never fully understood the need to "Tiger-Proof" Augusta National — God forbid the best players should routinely win — but now you’ve gone and made the damn thing so long and unwieldy that once the wind started blowing no one could make a birdie. I don’t need to tune into the Masters to see some minor-league holdover with a cautious and unspectacular game outlast the big hitters by playing the percentages and maing a few key putts. That tournament already exists: it happens in June and is called the US Open. Here’s a few of the players that you managed to "Tiger-Proof" over the cut line: Michael Campbell (76-77), Chris DiMarco (75-78), Darren Clarke (83-71), Sergio Garcia (76-77), and Ernie Els (78-76). What fun is that? I am just hoping the USGA will see this and elect to set up Oakmont Country Club like that par 3 course in Northern Michigan I used to get to play every Summer, "Üncle Gus’s Pitch And Putt Armory." I want to see someone win at -30 under! 18 holes of Amen Corner is no way to run this plantation party! Lets not do it again. Great tournament, by the way. Any tickets left for next year?

Keeping The Faith,

04/11/07 12:00am

Ah, Spring! Birds and green grass, skirts and bare legs. Cleavage on inline skates! Shirtless men slinging frisbees in the park! It seems as if the harsh, cold, freezing slush of winter was… well, it didn’t really happen this year. Seems like Al Gore was right, and winter is on its way out for good, and that means… well it doesn’t mean good things in any capacity, but let’s enjoy the weather while we can. Let’s stop and smell those flowers. What flowers are they? Why, they just happen to be Daffodils — the newly anointed Official Flower of the City of New York! Why, you might ask, are Daffodils the Official Flower? Well, that’s why we’re here: to clear up any and all confusions about this complicated, confounded city of ours, and its silly Officializing of such things as flowers.

This past Friday, Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed "The daffodil has been selected as the official flower of the City of New York. This flower has earned the distinction, the Daffodil Project makes the City a more beautiful place every year, and bring us all together by serving as a living memorial to the victims of September 11th." But before we get to the Daffodil Project, lets go back to the Dutch and the shipping colony of New Amsterdam. The Daffodil is not native to the lowlands of Holland, but rather the Mediterranean. It was first studied and brought to Europe in the 1570s by the Flemish botanist Charles de l’Écluse, considered by many as the Godfather of Botany, who brought the seeds back to the Netherlands, and through cross-pollination developed thousands of hues of Daffodils and Tulips, from common yellow to the rare hot pink. Early Dutch settlers brought Daffodil bulbs to New Amsterdam, and fields of Daffodils can be seen in early landscape paintings of the hectic shipping colony here, on display at the New-York Historical Society.

More recently, Daffodils became a citywide statement of healing and remembrance through The Daffodil Project, an ongoing, non-profit “Living Memorial” in which volunteers, aided by the Parks Department, would plant millions of Daffodil bulbs throughout the five boroughs.  Started just one month after 9/11, the Daffodil plantings became a brilliant living symbol of New York’s resiliency and capacity for healing. As part of the outpouring of international support, Hans van Waardenburg of B&K Bulbs in the Netherlands, representing an international group of well-wishers from across the ocean, donated over one and a half million daffodils and tulips to the NYC Parks Department, which were planted in our parks. Three years on, Waardenburg has continued to donate half a million bulbs to our city each year. In another touching moment of individuals reaching out to show some love to NYC, a Minnesota handyman and Holocaust survivor, Joseph Temeczko, upon his deathbed, willed his entire estate of $1.4 million to planting tulips and daffodils in the city, as well as renovating the small Chinatown green-space of Columbus Park (once the notorious Five Points).

So we find it sweet-smelling that Mayor Mike decided, once and for all, to raise the Daffodil to its illustrious place among the fiefdom of New York State Officials: the Bluebird (State Bird), Garnet (State Stone), Milk (State Beverage) and Bay Scallop (State Shellfish). Hold up . . . according to the I (Heart) NY website for kids, the Official State Flower is the Rose. What? What?! Sounds like there’s going to be a RUMBLE IN THE BOTANICAL!

04/11/07 12:00am

As the Don Imus imbroglio fades ineffably from our collective consciousness, overtaken by more visceral, horrifying news, I am left to ponder whether any actual ground has been gained during our brief cultural roundtable addressing hate speech pertaining to race, gender and sexual orientation. Much of this dialogue I found to be highly interesting to say nothing of completely helpful, since I have for some time been puzzled into a state approaching total disorientation over what exactly it is I’m supposed to laugh at and what I’m not.

Over the past few year, talented and provocative artists like Sarah Silverman and Sasha Baron Cohen have crossed and recrossed and so thoroughly stomped upon the line of racially appropriate humor that a sort of fog of confusion has descended upon me. Although they both make me laugh uproariously, I cannotexactly put my finger on what is so funny about their acts. Both trade in the confused application of hackneyed racial stereotypes as spoken by bumbling, unself-aware personas, but this is not so new: All In The Family mined a highly similar vein of humor more than thirty years ago. However something does feel different with Silverman and Cohen, I think perhaps because they are emblematic of a society right on the brink of a significant intellectual breakthrough. With Cohen’s Borat character or Silverman’s absurdly befuddled persona, this sort of feckless, blighted bigotry has been placed in the sort of context of ultimate ridicule that it has always merited. This strikes me as a kind of 180-degree inversion of minstrelsy: Borat is such broadly drawn clown as to inspire something verging on sympathy for his pathetically ineffectual existence. That he is sexist and anti-semitic to a virulent extreme is an extension of the general absence of mental faculty which hamstrings his every asinine misadventure. Rather ingeniously, Cohen has created the racist iteration of the kind of characters played by Stepin Fetchit.

On the other hand, both Silverman and Cohen are both capable of being so charming as performers that I have felt an occasional creeping ambivalence about how much I actually liked their personas. Some of Silverman’s satirically racist material is so cleverly constructed — such as her infamous gag regarding jury duty and the Chinese-American community (aptly summarized here: — that it can’t help but put one in mind of the ways in which a great joke or winning delivery can make palatable every kind of deplorable subject matter. In this way, Imus’s remarks were very helpful in clearing the cobwebs. His mean-spirited and grindingly obvious insult of the Rutgers women’s basketball team failed so utterly as comedy that nothing really existed to fog over its indefensibly transgressive essence.

More than anything else, I think this failure on Imus’s behalf to make a funny joke accounts for his relatively steep and swift sanction. And I think the outcome was perfectly appropriate, but I bet that you could have given Silverman or Cohen the same source material and not only would they not have hung themselves, they probably could have actually made people laugh.

All of which is to say that I’m still not completely sure why some hateful speech in our culture leads to a seething and comprehensible outrage, while other instances go unremarked-upon, or even celebrated. Perhaps, as Bob Dylan once rejoined at the end of the long parable “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest”: nothing is revealed.


What I do feel I know I know is that at a certain point relatively recently — and far too late — is that a personal boundary has been crossed for me regarding a matter very close to my own heart. Following thirty years of feverish devotion and profound emotional attachment, I am wondering increasingly and by degrees how it is that I actually root for a billion-dollar sports franchise called the Washington Redskins.

The accumulating strangeness of this fact of my life is disassociating. What I think I have learned from the divide between Imus’s blatant race baiting and Silverman and Cohen’s satire, is that it is not so much any particular set of words that upbraids the conscience, but instead the context in which they are used. When a wealthy 66 year old man like Imus, protected by deep connections to the political establishment, leans into a largely anonymous group of successful minority women, the effect is crass, disturbing and frankly intolerable. By the same token, when a massive money-making National Football League  enterprise trades in a blithely disrespectful manner on the imagery and iconography of an entire race of largely exploited people, this has somehow ceased to feel like an occasion for Coors Light and hot wings.

How peculiar that I am only outraged by this now. It is apparent that I am so accustomed to and in fact comforted by the familiar branding of this team name, that I am only recently able to recognize the extent to which I have been utterly inured to the reprehensible connotations of its employ. The process of enumerating the ways in which using this name is needlessly uncivil and repellant seems almost too obvious to even bother with. As one taught to address those of other ethnicities in the most courteous possible terms, it now strikes me as borderline deranged that I would routinely and as a matter of practice publicly shout my vigorous emotional encouragements to ersatz “Redskins.”

Why only after the head-slappingly simple decisions of several universities and other less profit-driven institutions to divorce themselves from similarly offensive monikers have I come to this conclusion? Why have I not previously joined with the progressive voices of certain fans of my team who have repeatedly pointed out how embarrassing all of this is? I honestly have no idea. I mean it really is very odd. I’m not even quite sure what to do anymore. Do I watch the team but not use the name? How do I discuss our draft possibilities next week without repeatedly invoking a racist epithet? It would all be fairly comedic if the history this name references were not so sad.

In any event, the time to amend this idiocy is surely upon us. In a somewhat pleasing irony, it was none other than the forked-tongued former Washington coach and current University of South Carolina headman Steve Spurrier who sounded the correctly scornful notes while addressing the similarly vexing continued presence of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina state house last week: “It’s embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our state.” Spurrier deserves a lot of credit for taking this stance, over the apparent objections of the university’s administration. Unfettered, take-no-prisoners truth-telling from those in high-profile leadership positions is the sort of thing that will bring about rapid change. I call upon the current Washington head coach Joe Gibbs, a legend of almost incalculable currency and good will within the team’s fan base, to help bring about the franchise’s name change with a minimum of further adieu. Gibbs may be an old-fashioned man, and a politically conservative one, but he is also well-known to be compassionate and to foster a team environment in which diversity breeds closeness rather than antipathy in the locker room.

While this gesture might grate slightly against the strong sense of team tradition that he prides himself in having had a large hand in building, I believe he will also come to see the ways in which that legacy is diminished when attached to a capricious racial insult in its every mention. This franchise will have still won three Super Bowls and produced countless legendary players after we change our name. But another part of the franchise’s legacy is that it was the final NFL team to integrate. If Gibbs states that we cannot run the risk of reliving and redoubling this embarrassment, I am convinced that a plurality of people will listen and agree.

And finally what we can conclude from the Imus debacle is that for a profitable franchise it almost always comes down to the objection of corporate sponsors before substantive changes occur. If some of the bigger ones, like Federal Express, were to begin to feel the mortification of financing the ubiquitous marketing of bigoted imagery, and began to feel queasy about being perceived in lockstep partnership with this utter anachronism, one can easily imagine that a change would not be long in coming.

Some combination of these things needs to occur, and it needs to occur rapidly. It is peculiar to think how long it can take to recognize the conspicuous face of the right thing to do. But once you know what it is, there is no further excuse for delay.

Guest Soccer Rant
A Beginner’s (or American’s) Guide to The Champions League

By Derek Keogh

Where is the capital of football?  The San Siro in Milan, or Wembley in London, Old Trafford in Manchester or maybe Barcelona’s fabled Nou Camp? Wherever it is, thanks to the wonders of satellite TV, it’s constantly beamed into my converted garage in a little village on the outskirts of Dublin.  Football has always been the people’s game and now with saturated TV coverage it’s everyone’s game. And via ESPN in the USA, you can watch “The Champions League.”

For the uninitiated, let’s look at the tournament’s design. Basically, the top three or four from each country in Europe qualify for next season’s Champions League. Which means a healthy chunk of TV rights money as well as prize money.  The competition format is divided into two stages. In the first half (between September and Christmas) the teams are divided into six leagues of four teams, with Tthe top two teams from each pool qualifying for the knockout phase that runs from February to May. The knockout stages are two-legged affairs with away goals counting double in the case of a tied scoreline over the two games.

Confused? Well, try watching US sports uninitiated! Way too many stats to three decimal paces!

The beauty of the competition is that it allows you to compare the different styles of European Football. The free-flowing Spanish football that’s basically a hybrid formed from the South American imports like Ronaldinho, Robinho, and up to recently, Ronaldo. But Spanish defences are known for their lax attitudes and their inability to get close enough to attackers. The exact opposite is the Italians, renowned for their tough and often dirty defensive style.  A slow and methodical passing game usually sees a designated midfield playmaker constantly trying to pick a pass through a like-minded defence to set the centre forward up. Italian football is noted for its 1-0 scorelines, and has a reputation for being dreary and boring.

Many would say the English Premier League is the best in Europe. If so, credit the influx of foreign players, coaches, and money: As just one example: Arsenal, who made the Champions League final last year, is coached by a Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, and fielded not a single English player in their semi-final and only one in the final. As the English national team struggles on the international stage, having been booed off the pitch against Andorra, the English league can boast three of the four Champions League semi-finalists next week. Liverpool and Chelsea play each other while current table-toppers Manchester United take on Italian giants AC Milan.

This year could see the first all-English final. First off on Tuesday we have Manchester United at home to AC Milan. The ageing Milan defence will find it hard to cope with the youthful exuberance of United’s strike force of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Alan Smith. Milan’s coach admitted as much when he conceded that the two late Bayern Munich goals in a thrilling 2-2 draw was down to defensive tiredness. In saying this, keep a close eye on Brazilian midfield genius Kaka. It was his touch of class that ended heroic Scottish champions Celtic’s foray into Europe. He could very well be the difference between these two great clubs, although after Manchester United’s unprecedented 7-1 drubbing of Roma in the second leg of their quarterfinal pairing, they surely must go into this tie as slight favourites.

Wednesdaywe are treated to a replay of the 2005 semi final, if treat is the right word. The first leg was a drab 0-0 affair with Liverpool edging the second leg 1-0 with a dubious goal — it subsequently has been proven that the ball didn’t actually cross the line! I honestly don’t expect anything more from this tie as two heavyweights cancel each other out by flooding the midfield and narrowing the game by neglecting the wings. Chelsea could, if they were more adventurous, easily win this by exploiting the wide areas, but they’ll play the percentages, preferring to keep a solid back four fronted by a defensive midfield. It really is anyone’s guess who’ll become finalists via this tie; I’m backing the Liverpudlians, simply because Chelsea are chasing domestic league and cup competitions whilst Liverpool’s last remaining hope of a trophy this season is the Champions League.

But that’s what’s great about this game, you wade through match after match and really have no idea which way it’s going to go. You are more often than not surprised by the outcome. Take the story of lowly Sunderland in the English second tier. What a wonderful example of fairytale football, but that’s another story….

03/28/07 12:00am
by |
03/28/2007 12:00 AM |

The lights dim. Somewhere, an obviously faked New York accent booms through the cavernous rotunda, originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair and used as the U.N.’s first General Assembly Hall until 1951. “Once upon a time, in the year 1626, in a land not too far removed from where you all stand, there was an island. It was long and skinny and had many hills and it was called Manahatta. And yea, it was good. And the Dutch settlers arrived, and they slaughtered the natives, and feasted upon their bounty. And then the year was 1898. and there was a tall proud man, a hero to many, who thought the unthinkable – the consolidation of the greatest city in the world into the Greater New York City of Five Boroughs. And yea, it was great.” Some geographical geek hollers out “Get to the game!” And our host, Freddy Five-Boroughs, complies. “Welcome contestants, to THE PANORAMA CHALLENGE!” Cheers and merrymarking ensue.

In order to understand the Panorama Challenge!, one must first understand the Panorama of the City of New York, the largest architectural scale model in the world. In order to grasp this, one must get a glimpse of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows Park, Queens. We could get into Robert Moses and his crumbling empire circa the late 60s, but that was touched upon, oh so briefly, in LIH vol. 24. Let’s start with the World’s Fair. Held on the same site as the 1939-40 World’s Fair, this modern fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, although Moses forged ahead in order for NYC to host it anyway. The fair was utilized as a blank check in order for Moses to widen the Grand Central & Whitestone roadways, and extend the Van Wyck, not mention build Shea Stadium as well as a number of still-standing buildings and structures. The Unisphere stood in the center of the Fair, and symbolized its theme – “Peace Through Understanding.” Inside the GM pavilion, titled Futurama II, dioramas and sets depicted the city in 2064. The Belgian waffle was introduced to the world at the World’s Fair! But one of the most visited attractions was the Panorama of the City of New York.

The Panorama was and still is a 9,335-foot scale model of every single building in the five boroughs, in a ratio of 1:100. It exists in a massive rotunda, with a cantilevered walkway that descends from a third-story platform to ground level, as it circles the boroughs clockwise, from the Bronx to Manhattan. The sheer immensity of it astounds. There are 895,000 handmade structures, and 60,000 of them are unique; the whole thing is flash-frozen in 1992. There are the Twin Towers, as if nothing went wrong. There is the despised Coliseum, currently the site of the Time Warner Center. We can see the house in Flatbush where we grew up, as well as the loft in East Bushwick where we currently reside. The Panorama recently underwent a year-long renovation to repair busted buildings, bring the lighting and sound systems up to date, as well as draw more visitors to the often overlooked and absolutely delightful Queens Museum of Art, where it resides.

Which brings us to the Panorama Challenge! In tandem with celebrating the reopening of the Panorama, and with the goal of raising some direly needed operating cash for the City Reliquary, a community museum and civic organization (full disclosure: we sit on the Board of Directors as the Events Coordinator), it was time for the World Premier of the Panorama Challenge!, a geographical trivia-based game night developed by Mark Levy of the Levys’ Unique New York (further disclosure: our business partner and, um, father).

Here’s how the Panorama Challenge! worked: individuals and teams congregated at the QMA this past Saturday, April 7th and formed teams of ten. Each team of ten split off into three small squads of three and four, and, armed with a clipboard and spreadsheet, they scattered themselves about the Panorama at the East, South and West quadrants. Freddy Five Boroughs (brother Gideon Levy) and celebrity judges (including Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione) resided up North. In addition, three game controllers (the aforementioned Mark Levy, IMDB Ultimate Film Fanatic 2005 and independent filmmaker Jordan Hoffman,  and yours truly) were stationed at the E, S and W portions, and were armed with laser pointers. Freddy then commenced to read off 85 different clues and geographical regions, and each appropriate Game Controller highlighted a park, neighborhood, waterway, landmark or structure. It was then up to the teams to identify the various structures for prizes and prestige.  Some were easy, some were moderate, and a couple were for the hardcore geographical geeks. “This park in Eastern Queens was a former industrial site!” (Alley Pond Park, duh!) Did we mention there was suggested/mandatory beer consumption? IE, with the purchase of the $25 fundraising ticket, two complimentary brews, courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery, were pressed into each Challenger’s hand. Have you ever been in a scale model of every single building in New York City with 100 drunken, rowdy geographical geeks? No? Well, it was glorious, and you’ll get another chance come September, where the Panorama Challenge! will return to eastern Queens with a new round of inquiries and even more beer to guzzle. Congrats to the two winning teams, with 83 of 85 questions correct: Kevin Walsh’s (of Forgotten-NY fame) The Destroyers, and the Dead Rabbits, a motley crew of Challengers from near and far (but including members of NY’s Parks Department.) And huzzah for geography!

03/28/07 12:00am

You can’t drive a mile in this city without veering onto Robert Moses’ terrain. The man responsible for (deep breath here) the FDR drive, Henry Hudson Parkway, the BQE, Cross Bronx Expressway, Belt Shore Parkway, Gowanus Expressway, the LIE, the Grand Central Parkway, The Major Deegan Expressway, Prospect Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway, the Interboro Parkway, the Northern and Southern State Parkways, Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Shea Stadium, Coop City, Jones Beach, and countless more inter-city highways, byways, parkways and big-building construction projects has recently been the subject of a revisionist history to the revisionist history. Or, as Brian Lehrer so aptly put it a month or so ago on his self-titled WNYC talk show, “It seems that New York City is finally awakening from its Robert Moses hangover!” But what does this all mean?

To start with, it means that our great metropolis is finally shaking off the bad vibes incurred from the Master Planner’s ramrod method of destroying and building anew. That NYC is no longer afraid to tackle massive projects that encroach upon public-use land that will affect all bodies involved (ahem, Atlantic Yards, cough). That we can, with a clear eye towards the past, assemble the various benefits and detractions of the man who, over almost half a century, shaped this city like no one before or since. We are in no way going to attempt to define Moses’ stranglehold on this city, nor are we going to provide a comparative study on the three concurrent exhibits on this titan’s work (Remaking the Metropolis at the Museum of the City of New York, through May 28th; The Road to Recreation at the Queens Museum of Art, through May 27th; and Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, through April 14th). No way is that possible within this space. What’s more, we read Robert Caro’s 1200 page masterpiece The Power Broker – Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, the original revisionist history on Moses, and it only took us a year.
No, what we plan to do here is to get down and dirty describing a tete-a-tete last week up at Columbia, a war of words between two men who hadn’t spoken in 50 years. Enter Phillip Schorr — a lawyer working for Moses and who was in charge of relocating on-site residents during the Lincoln Square and Fordham projects of the 1950s. On the other side of the ring, Harris Present, a vocal community leader who mobilized residents against Moses’ Title 1 Housing Slum & Clearance projects and wrote excoriating letters to Moses which were widely reprinted in the Times Editorials pages. As one would expect, the two men were cordial, gracious, and stood staunchly in their respective camps with the intellectual battle for the hearts and minds of the audience. However, we were no fools. Although Schorr was clearly the superior speaker and crafted far more salient points, and although poor Present came across as a bumbling, repetitive, old-script reader, murmuring about how “the primary purpose of government should be: ‘What can we do to provide housing to New York City’s poor, from slums?’” we savvy New Yorkers in the audience were not to be fooled. Schorr’s giveaway was the line “ We got two things going for us – Robert Moses and eminent domain.” Us in the crowd didn’t like that one.

It wasn’t until the final twenty minutes that these two men really ripped into each other, cutting each others’ sentences short, with rebuttal following rebuttal, and a peculiar Schorr lording physically over the perplexed Present. Schorr made a stronger case for the greater good of the city trumping the individual rights of its citizens, but that methodology, in its very essence, cuts off the nose to spite the face. What good is relocating tens of thousands of people if the end product is shabbier, more dangerous, less enticing places to live that the original, long since torn down?

Moses is most certainly a tough cookie to crumble. As a licensed NYC tour guide and native New Yorker, I know full well the battles of traffic congestion horrors and under-funded public transit systems mostly already taxed to the limit. However, on the flip side of the coin we have this past Sunday morning. I was hungover on four hours of sleep and had a 2-hour student tour from ten to noon, meeting the group at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I also had my father’s car, which required a return to Dad that afternoon, following the tour. My plan was to drive the car from my apartment in East Bushwick to Williamsburg, where I would park, then ride the train into the city making good time all around. It wasn’t until I got to the ‘burg at 9:25am that I realized the tour wasn’t starting at St. Pat’s, but rather the Cathedral of St John the Divine, in Morningside Heights, Amsterdam and 110th. And there was no motherfucking way I would have made it on the subway. So, I drove. Over the Wburg bridge, onto the FDR drive, and I made it, from Houston to E 125th street, in eight minutes flat. No fucking exaggeration. I was pushing 70 mph the entire way, no cops, no traffic, no nothing. I made it to St John the Divine with 10 minutes to spare, from East Bushwick to Morningside in 40 minutes even. So on the blast up the east side, I found myself shouting GOD BLESS YOU, ROBERT MOSES!

03/28/07 12:00am

Dispatch: 4/02/07
5:22 pm EST, New School University
New York, New York

I got a second lease on life. Specifically, it’s a two-year lease with a $1200 security deposit. If following twenty-four months the conditions seem tolerable and the rent isn’t raised, I may elect to renew. Otherwise, I’ll be moving from the planet Earth. I frankly find the neighbors a little unseemly, and the landlord is capricious and utterly cruel.

Now that I’m on borrowed time, I feel sensitized to certain shortfalls in my entertainment dollar. I have, for instance, against my better judgment, once again invested both financially and emotionally in the NCAA Tournament. Every year I attempt to arrest this impulse, and every year I end up dropping something like $100 on various insane betting pools, pyramid schemes, money-earning gambits and other nefarious enterprises which brush up against the outskirts of madness and legality. I do not, as a rule, ever succeed in winning even one dollar for my efforts, and in fact the tournament acts upon me like a kind of cruel retroactive tax.

Tax time, with its myriad infernal miseries, is even more difficult for some of us than others. My training in the arts, while ardently rigorous, has hardly prepared me for the craze of columned numbers and letters which make up a 1040 form. As regards the awesome complexity of the 1098 or (God forbid) 1120 series items, I should just as likely shoot through a hole in the cosmos as complete even one of these things accurately. The trail of tears which comprises my previous last several years of income tax filing has featured one crucial mistake followed by the next, a litany which has quite inadvertently taken me to the very top of the IRS’s list of “Persons Of Ongoing Concern.”  This began in 2001, when  I misread my W9 form and mistakenly sent in a sweepstakes entry for the Smooth Move Skin and Body Care company’s "Get Sexy Giveaway." When I did not receive a refund, I placed several harrassing phone calls to certain high-ranking Federal Agents. Further antagonism on both ends followed from this point until such time as I was threatened with house arrest and forced to briefly changed my name to Victor Consualez. When I resurfaced in 2005, I got confused again and sent in my tournament brackets and a $15 “entry fee." In none of this can I claim to be entirely blameless, but the madcap nature of the season strikes me as inextricable from this misfortune.

Anyway, I now typically find myself in an irretrievably horrible situation. The finals are upon us. I don’t like Florida and I don’t like Ohio State. I had to watch the Gators run riot over the Buckeyes in the BCS Championship game, and I suppose I’ll do the same this evening, ruefully, when I tune in to watch this ugly mismatch. I feel with something verging on maximum confidences that they will do so again tonight, with a score something like114-50.

But oh Christ, whatever. Play it as it lays. Things are going to be rocky here for a little while, maybe the continuity will serve us in good stead. Only two teams and one result to remember. An easy mark for cognitive mapping.

Dispatch: 4/03/07
10:11 am, 1*5 **** Street Apt. 1A
Brooklyn, New York

Well, let’s not kid ourselves: that was a very vile and ugly thing the Florida Gators did last night to Ohio State. And this despite the presence of Greg Oden, who resembles one of those stately steam engines I used to see in the basement of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum when I was a child. The other night Jeff Green of the Georgetown Hoyas attempted to step in front of him and take a charge in the last minutes of the semifinal and was crumpled like a trick hat. I verifiably admired Green’s gumption in a pinch, but feared for his well being in the aftermath. Anyway, he was ok I guess, but the game essentially ended at that point: I was rooting hard for my hometown Hoyas and fully expected them to perpetrate one of their miracle comebacks — until Oden crashed into Green with Richter Scale impact. I just got my things together and left Dempsey’s with 2:39 still remaining in the game.

Florida was too smart to even bother attempting to contain this man mountain, this life force. They just allowed Oden to take over the paint — conceded to him a career game, took away the perimeter — and worried about generating opportunities for their highly versatile scoring machine. Much has already been written and said about this wily, experienced team and their young coach who has already assembled a masterful pedigree, but even setting that aside this struck me as a marvel of strategic acumen. I wonder if this is not an underused strategy in all sports — to know when you are beaten at a certain position or in a certain capacity — thus liberating you from even trying to stop the inevitable. In fact, I wonder if this is not an underused strategy in life? Truly in my personal affairs I have been caught too often playing man to man when I should have been in zone. For what reason? Was it out of pride, or did I just not know my enemy?

Anyway, I like Joakim Noah. I can’t even figure out if he’s any good: sometimes he looks like a 10 year pro; other times he seems like the tenth best guy on the floor in a college game. But I am now quite sure I like him, and for all the reasons which seem to inspire such antipathy in others: the histrionic and mincing gestures, the flouncing, bobbing Sanjaya-like hair, the vexing hustle and gamesmanship. Plus, off the court he is by every account a tremendously decent and thoughtful young man — and that’s good — but that is not what I like. What I like is the needling nature of his game time persona. I want to see more of this kind of officious public irritant in my life.

Dispatch: 4/4/07
8:03 am EST, New School University
New York, New York

I know that the seams are showing here. I know! What do you people want from me exactly? What precisely can I provide you now headlong into a slate gray April week seemingly stripped from the rivers and skies of a Northwest logging town? Season indeterminate, no cues from the weather — and I am looking at my calendar…Opening day, closing night, the Masters…

The Masters.  Just 24 hours from now. This bald and shameless celebration of American plantation life, this pageant of elitism: why is Augusta the only place I feel like visiting every April? I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been kept up very late the past two nights with anticipation. My favorite sporting event of the year represents something vital: we are now through the dream novel phase of late winter sports, after the NFL, before baseball, when you wake up and you don’t have any gravity. This sensation is like something greater than relief. I tell you, sometimes I feel we are taxed beyond our means.

03/14/07 12:00am
by |
03/14/2007 12:00 AM |

Ever wonder about those yellow four-wheeled marvels of modern science that get us from point A to point B, quickly, simply and safely without undue physical or psychological duress while leaving enough cash in the wallet for a late-night slice? Ever gawk at the serendipitous beauty of a rain-slicked cab as it veers towards the sidewalk and up to your soaked, extended arm, as if it were invented just that minute to whisk you home? Ever have a cabbie flat-out refuse to take your sorry drunken ass out to East Bushwick or wherever it is you kids are living these days? Yes, yes, and most certainly. The yellow cabs in our great city are — if no longer curvaceous and Checkered Cab Company-built (in Kalamazoo, Michigan!); if hardly ever helmed at the wheel by a tough talkin’ native Brooklynite named Sal with a mouth like a bluefish; hell even if they never come when you need them — still embodiments of the mythic aura of the New York City Taxicab. Hush dear readers. Shortly, all your cabbie questions will be answered.

First and foremost: why are cabs yellow? The iconic color comes courtesy of John Hertz(if his surname sounds familiar, it should: this is the same gentleman who founded the rental car company of the same name), who founded in the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago in 1914. In an early example of color-branding, yellow was picked because it is the easiest color to spot in a crowded city.

All right: now, how many yellow cabs are there in the city? The Taxi and Limousine Commission (everyone needs a little TLC) — the city-owned regulating board that licenses medallion cabs (the yellow ones) for-hire vehicles (those ubiquitous black Lincoln Town Cars,) commuter vans (airport shuttles, et al,) ambulettes and certain luxury limos — noted that as of March 2006, this city has 12,779 yellow cabs on the streets. One year earlier, the TLC licensed 942,000 drivers — either new drivers or existing one reapplying for the yearly “hack” license — in order to legally operate a cab in the city.

Finally, but most interestingly, the most expensive thing on the cab isn’t the rooftop ad, nor the license plates, nor the gas, nor the driver (he’s generally the cheapest). It’s the tiny aluminum plate, half-semi-circle, stamped down on the hood of each and every taxicab. Those thin pieces of metal are called Medallions, and the price and resultant ownership of each and every Medallion in this city is a source of ire amongst cabbies.

Taxi and Limousine Medallions are the official license of cabs — they’re what allows drivers to stop and pickup passengers and charge them fares from point A to point B. No medallion, no fare meter, no cab. The medallions were created under the Hass Act of 1937 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (is there anything he didn’t do?) to impose regulation on an outrageous and highly unorganized system in the 1920s and 30s. Back then there was no licensing process, so not only were drivers taken advantage of by labor unions and Tammany Hall, but the passengers were also unfortunate victims of price gouging. Things had spiraled so out of control that Mayor Jimmy Walker was receiving plentiful payoffs from the Checkered Cab Co. to keep things in disarray.

Once The Little Flower got the medallions in place, the city could keep closer tabs on the limited number of cabs cruising around. In 1937, the maximum allotment of cabs was placed at 13,566. During the 1960s, due to great white flight and the mass exodus to the ‘burbs, Medallions were limited to 11,300. It doesn’t take a math whiz to calculate that within a timeframe of 70 years, the medallion fluctuation has only varied at most, 2,266 cabs. That’s not a lot of rides for a lot of people, especially as New York’s population has exploded again in this new millennium.

Because there are such a limited number of medallions, and since the TLC owns the majority of them and licenses them out on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to cabbies, the simple law of supply and demand keeps the sale price of the medallion so high: the average sale price of a medallion in 2007 was $414,000. Which doesn’t include the two-year license for the medallion ($1,100), or the two-year inspection fee ($300), or the price of that thin sheet of aluminum to stamp down on the hood ($10). That’s why most of the Medallions are in fact owned by the TLC, and rented out to drivers who can’t out-and-out purchase them. Say a cabbie hit the Lotto jackpot and wanted to keep driving out of a genuine love for the city — well, he’d be crazy. But he’d be able to purchase the Medallion, and purchase the cab, and from that point on, every cent he earned he’d keep. As it stands now, most of the cabbies only make a living from their tips — the rest goes to Medallion licensing and gas. So tip those cabbies well!

03/14/07 12:00am

“But nowadays everywhere we turn in America God seems to be under attack, to be banished from American life… God is being banned in public and private, in big and small matters…”
This passage is excerpted this from the pages of, a website devoted to keeping track of those people and institutions in our society that have made it their business to enter into a congenital and malevolent state of war on God and religion. And though I find their politics to be insensible, I confess that the keepers of this site have identified a very real phenomenon — for I myself am participant in this ongoing state of belligerence towards any and all higher powers. In return, God has declared war on me. I know this because not twenty-four hours before I was scheduled to depart for Miami this past Friday in order to attend the wedding of two dear friends, the temperature was 70 degrees. The next day I sat in La Guardia for seven hours as a preposterously unrelenting ice storm grounded flights up and down the Eastern seaboard, extending well past the necessary time of my arrival. Very well. So be it. I am just one small man and He the ruler of the elements and firmament, and so perhaps I have miscalculated. Total war with the Infinite Maker is always a fraught and tricky matter, and I never expected it to go smoothly.

On the plus side, it’s 12:45 in the afternoon and I find myself at the Terminal D bar witnessing the University of Virginia versus Albany in the first round of that licentious mid-March binge that is the annual NCAA tournament. The bar, which I believe is called “The Tarmac”, serves Sam Adams and hot franks, and apparently nothing else. This is no one’s idea of an optimal arrangement, besides perhaps the bartender, whose audience is captive, huge and in deep need of sedation.
Surrounding me is a diverse group of strangers, each of them gripped in the same horror show predicament as I. The curious thing was the way each appears strangely mollified by the two largely unfamiliar teams competing before them. It is hard to imagine any group of antagonized strangers so thoroughly anesthetized by an Arena Football game or Nike Tour event on the Golf Channel, although they level of familiarity with the participants could scarcely have been much greater. Twenty-five years ago some of the names involved in the North Carolina-Georgetown NCAA final were Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, David Wingate and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd. The next year Ewing, Wingate and Reggie Williams would compete against Hakeem Olajuwaun and Clyde Drexler in the finals and redeem their defeat from the previous year. All of these men went on to lengthy NBA careers and some of became legendary Hall of Famers. For decades the tournament served a gatekeeper function, ushering canonical figures like Kareem, Bird and Magic Johnson into their initial stages of household name consciousness. The enjoyment in watching these games derived as much from what they portended for the future as the results themselves. It was a spectacular privilege to witness the blossoming of these neophyte titans, and one which further provided the sort of narrative thread generating a true desire to actually watch pro basketball, rather than just endure it.
Of course none of this is remotely in evidence any longer. The best pro prospects generally only make one-year cameos in college, and their teams are accordingly never very good, since the stars don’t stick around long enough for them to gel into the sort of formidable dynasties like John Wooden‘s UCLA Bruins or even mini-dynasties like Jerry Tarkanian‘s reprehensible but fun UNLV teams of the 1980s. In terms of sheer quality of play and star power it is difficult to think of any sport so thoroughly diminished over the past two decades. The sports world is always rife with comedic hypocrisy, but collegiate sports always seems willing to up the ante on sheer mercenary abuse of power disguised by incredulous claims of principle. That the NCAA has managed to run off a plurality of its great players by persisting in not including them in the zany windfall that the sort of tournament has become (there current television contract with CBS is for six billion dollars over eleven years) seems strangely shortsighted. Would the tournament be what it was today if Bill Walton or Ewing had stayed only one year and then bolted for the pros? The argument that college athletes are not commodities deserving of at least some kind of paying wage has now evolved from quaint and idealistic to egregiously selfish. No person with anything like their wits about them could conceivably suggest at this point that it is fair for the players themselves to be frozen out of this endless molten ocean of lucre. Not to diminish the tremendous life-force advantages conferred upon any individual receiving a free education from the University of Louisville, but something tells me your average NBA first-round pick will survive just as well putting it off a few years, even if they never play a minute in the pros.
And yet, despite it all, the tournament remains as popular as ever. Back at the airport bar, I think I know why: even if we have no idea who any of the players are, the entire event is so grossly excessive in a uniquely American way that it is somehow irresistible. The 48-game binge that marks the opening weekend is the Shoney’s breakfast bar of the sports season. There is absolute no way we need to be going back for a fifth helping of Pittsburg versus Wright State, and yet here we are, cramming more and more onto our plate. Gambling is also a factor. The FBI estimates that 2.5 billion dollars is wagered each year on the NCAA tournament, roughly the size of my pending alimony. It is not so much fun as mandatory to fill out brackets in an office pool each year. Failure to do so can lead to social sanction, and perhaps even firing. In keeping with the generally unhinged aura, it is common for a single individual to fill out multiple brackets with different results, a process rather less scientific than choosing power ball tickets via Numerology.
It all strikes me as fairly unhealthy, and certainly an entirely Godless enterprise, co-mingling as it does a toxic cavalcade of greed, sloth and inveterate gambling, and Dick Vitale. The Super Bowl is evil in this way too — but in a much more contained, controlled fashion. It’s over fast enough to avoid any sort of long-term national carnage, the sort of shameful one-night bender that can be explained away as the result of stress build up or fleeting poor judgment. The Super Bowl is like Las Vegas in that way, but the NCAA Tournament is like Atlantic City: the sort of place you find yourself lost for three weeks without sufficient explanation, nor any real idea how to get back. If the Super Bowl is often said to be the ultimate non-denominational American holiday, March Madness feels more like its quintessence: chaotic and indulgent in the extreme, accumulating wealth even as it devolves, and feeling gradually less relevant, even as we resignedly give ourselves over in the airport bar.

02/28/07 12:00am
02/28/2007 12:00 AM |

They pulled a 1000 lb. squid out of a New Zealand sea last week, and that wasn‘t even in the Bass Masters Classic. It is not my habit to keep track of the major achievements of outdoorsman, but I confess this got my attention. Half a ton of squid? I cannot vote for that. I am in every possible sense a nature lover, but this is completely revolting.

Close observers of the media may have noted a worrying trend last weeks. Just as many of us working in the humiliating ghetto of ‘fringe science’ have long predicted, animals are making now moving aggressively against mankind and with a will to total power. Consider the unfolding in rapid succession of the following events:

1) Chimps are now hunting with spears.

2) Rats are officially running most of the fast food restaurants in town.

And finally, the squid.

You don’t exactly have to be Wooodward and Bernstein to follow this harrowing trail of secrets and lies, people. This is not a drill. We are officially under assault by a consortium of devious and lethal wildlife and very shortly will be enslaved property of bears, cougars and penguins.

And honestly, what do I care? How much worse can things get for a sports fan than early March, no matter who is running the show? We are now headlong into the fallow late winter, with football dormant, golf and baseball pending and other mild amusement of the sports world in taking center stage in our consciousness.  One could argue that there is always some element of suspension of disbelief when persuading ourselves that sports really means anything, but that process is never more difficult than in the first two weeks of this month, when not even the mostly trivial seems to segue into the utterly pointless and illusory. Consider:

MLB Spring Training

There is of course an endless reservoir of literary discourse on this most fetishized of March rituals, but setting aside for a moment the nostalgic plaudits of alcoholic novelists, precisely what of any interest is actually going on in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues? Far be it from me to cast aspersions upon the physical preparedness of your average Major League first baseman, but watching the Sportscenter highlights of these split-squad exhibition games does not exactly bring to mind the first hour of Chariots Of Fire. The inspirational drive to athletic excellence should not be confused with playing “Fungo.“ Pitchers may need several weeks’ work to prepare their arms, but how long does it really take for AJ Pierzynski get his stroke back?  And why do I have the feeling that this process largely takes place at a “Gentleman’s Club” called “The Extra Bases Cabaret”? I’m as game as the next guy for decamping someplace warm, drinking beer and goofing around in order to run out the clock on winter- in the music business we call that "SXSW." But we don’t call it “training.” And yes we are all, without exception, using performance-enhancing drugs.

NFL Rookie Scouting Combine

I will confess that I am complicit in the rise of the NFL draft in our society from the sort of back page news typically reserved for harness racing fanatics, to the sort full-scale, two-day pillar-to-post coverage now featured by ESPN and their colleagues. You might even say that during an extended period in the early 90s I lobbied heavily for it with an aggressive letter-writing campaign to all elected officials within a three-state radius. And yes, I have perhaps on occasion purchased a “draft guide” at my local newsstand — and apprised myself of the exciting revelation that the Redskins might select a raw but promising left tackle from Weber State in the 6th round. However, even I have my limits. And I simply cannot take seriously the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. For one thing, the actual participants don’t really seem to care. Leery of being downgraded or revealing some flaw or injury, many of the top prospects refuse to participate in a majority of the drills. Running backs do not run, quarterbacks do not throw. Vaunted Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn attended the event, but refused to do anything but hold press conferences. He was given high marks for his easy-going way with the media, but then so was Fuzzy Zoeller, and we know how that turned out.

Meanwhile, the scouts themselves seem befuddled as to how to gather useful information. Teams continue to issue the very weird Wonderlic test, which by a total consensus of both football insiders and outsiders has been proclaimed utterly meaningless. In fact, everything about the combine has the slightly avant feel of a Harold Pinter comedy: a large, antic event with no discernable meaning. On the NFL Network and “NFL Live” experts break down the 40 times and weight room performances of the prospects who do participate, and then invariably emphasize that none of this should be taken overly seriously. Power lifting maniacs don’t make for great football players, track speed doesn’t necessarily translate into quickness on the field. Why are we having this thing again?! Is it April yet?

Tournament Brackets

Like everyone else, I enjoy the NCAA tournament. But I do not like filling out those brackets.
That is because the very process grates against what I enjoy about college basketball in the first place: the liberating feeling of openly confessing that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. This is a far preferable state to, say, the inglorious process of making NFL prognostications — a grueling witch’s brew of certain defeat that I nevertheless enter into year after year owing to a certain alleged expertise I feel myself to possess with regard to the game. Who amongst us, I would like to know, predicted the New Orleans Saints, 3-13 in 2006 with a first-year coach, a new quarterback coming off surgery on his throwing shoulder and a stadium one step removed from rubble would win their division and make it to the NFC Championship game? The small pool of demented psychotics who might actually have expected that turn of events are probably all the same millennial fetishists who interpreted the book Book Of Revelations to mean that we wouldn’t even see a year 2006. There was no way I could have ever guessed this would occur, but looking back at me foolish preseason predictions I still feel like something resembling an utter failure.

By contrast, here is a list of teams who have qualified for the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament as of this writing: Belmont, Central Connecticut State, Davidson, Oral Roberts and Niagara. Does anyone know who starts for these teams? Do the coaches even know? Why would I even try to conjecture how they will fair in a 64-team tournament? I could have filled out an infinite number of brackets last year and still never put the 11 seeded George Mason in the Final Four. Attempting to turn this into any sort of science is truly the ultimate fool’s errand. I’m depressed enough as it is. Let’s just dispense with the paperwork and concentrate on getting Duke out of there.