Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Now That's True Crime Deterrence

It's sad that it only came to light due to a terrible crime, but I have to applaud the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain in doing it's part to exact punishment upon those who commit heinous crimes. In what is one of the weirdest extra-judicial acts I've seen, Cracker Barrel has banned for life Troy West, who beat a black woman in front of her 7-year old daughter while yelling racist slurs at her.

I understand that the thought of a lifetime ban may seem harsh, but I think if fast-food eateries and establishments gave lifetime bans are particular crimes, that might hurt a heck of a lot more than being put on probation or paying a fine. Everyone seems to have their idiosyncratic craving (mine's LJS) and to have to live without that seems like a hard but appropriate punishment given the crime.

Given people's affinity (bordering on worship) of diversion in the forms of eating out, movies, sporting events and the like, what if we hit people where it really hurt? Can you imagine the abject horror that some would experience if they were to be banned from the internet, cable television or local bars? Would these idiots who curse in front of small children and/or get into fights think twice if they knew they would be banned from any and all future sporting events by Ticketmaster and StubHub?

As for Troy West - no chicken and dumplings for you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 3 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over Beginner's Luck?. Okay, I'll eat humble pie because I teased Coach Fehringer for losing to Coach "I know nothing about American football" Kwon last week. The truth of the matter is that Beginner's Luck is a good squad, and if not for a clutch performance by Roy Williams on Monday Night football that put me over the top, I'd have taken a loss. It's a good thing Williams came through, because Coach Kwon was already starting to talk some smack on Monday night.

Cooler than Baptists over Pablo. Not to second guess Coach Huang, but you think Anquan Boldin an his 15 fantasy points last week that you traded away would've helped your team, after getting 6 points from your 2nd and 3rd receivers? It might have been irrelevant anyway, as Cooler than Baptists were clicking on all cylinders, aided by Santana Moss' 175 yard, 1 TD game, which was overshadowed by the Redskins being the first team to lose to the Detroit lions in 19 games. And how about that game by Eric Weddle? Six tackles and an interception that he brought back for a touchdown - good for 16 points. Cooler than Baptists definitely looked like a championship-caliber squad this week.

Punch in the Face over HE HATE ME. This game would've been more competitive if Coach Song bothered to show up and manage his roster. Two players in the starting lineup of HE HATE ME didn't play last week. Also notable was Terrell Owens being completely shut out ending a streak of 185 games with a catch. I'm sure TO was mild-mannered and a good sport about all of this. Coach Lee stays undefeated with another strong showing.

Team Singletary over Midgets. As it has been in previous weeks, there's good news and bad news for Team Singletary. In a slight departure in previous weeks, Team Singletary amazingly pulled off a win, over Coach "I've been swamped since I got back from Korea, leave me alone" Kang's Midgets. Team Singletary's off the schneid with it's first win! Unfortunately, what Coach Lin really cares about is the 32-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre with 2 seconds left that rallied the Vikings to an amazing last-second victory over the 49ers. For what it's worth, Favre's still a weasel.

ANSKY over No Yankees. This game was neck and neck going into the Monday night game, with Coach Lee's ANSKY barely squeaking by Coach Tae's No Yankees - a game which was largely competitive for two reasons: (1) ANSKY's studs Drew Brees (5+ pts) and Larry Fitzgerald (8+ pts) both had sub-par games and (2) Coach Tae decided to end his cute "NY Giants only" experiment when he realized that this league is lame enough that he actually has a good chance of winning if he takes it seriously.

Don't Tread on Me over Go Yankees. A offensive struggle for both of these teams led to a tight victory for Coach Cummings' squad. Both of these squads actually look like mine. To coin a phrase from Garrison Keillor about his fictional Lake Wobegon, we're teams that are "above average", but I just don't see as title contenders... yet.

Trail Mix over Hamsters. Don't call it an upset, despite the fact that Coach Yeoh's Trail Mix came in at 0-2 and Coach Cheng's Hamsters came in at 2-0. The reality is that Trail Mix, despite going winless in its first two games, had the third most points in the league, but just had some bad matchups. Between Peyton Manning and Maurice Jones-Drew, Trail Mix is definitely a team on the rise. Hamsters remains dangerous, with a bloodthirsty coach who continues to hover over the waiver wire like a vulture.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Profane Double Standard - That's Racist!

A few weeks ago, Fox 5 news anchor Ernie Anastos dropped an f-bomb on-air, much to the horror of his co-anchor, leading to a viral firestorm of parodies, remixes and typical amusement within the New York Metropolitan area.

In a banter with weatherman Nick Gregory, Anastos laughingly told Gregory to "Keep f---ing that chicken." Anastos later made an on-the-air apology in a later newscast, and the matter was put to bed.

There's an interesting parallel here with the case of former WCBS news reporter Arthur Chi'en, who was heckled on camera by a Opie & Anthony radio show crew. When he thought he was off camera, he whirled around angrily at the two hecklers and shouted, "What's the f-ck's your problem, man?"

Fred Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Viacom Television Stations Group said at the time that "Arthur committed the most egregious incident on air that I have ever seen," adding that "there is zero tolerance" for this breach of the rules."

Apparently, there's tolerance for certain people. So to recap, white newsman Ernie Anastos wasn't suspended or fired by Fox news boss Dennis Swanson. But when Swanson oversaw Viacom and CBS, Asian news reporter Arthur Chi'en was fired. In the words of the sometimes-paranoid-sometimes-oversensitive-sometimes-insightful-but-always-interesting Angry Asian Man: That's racist!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Crime, Punishment and Death

Every now and then I'll come across articles on - police blotter, really - that describe horrible crimes in West and North Philadelphia - crimes that are tragically no longer front page news but almost routine. I think part of what draws my interest is my connection to the city, having gone to college there and having my first real experience with urban decay, poverty and lawlessness. My reaction of anger, outrage and grief is predictable. I'm flabbergasted at the complete disregard for human life and callousness toward the law. I'm saddened of the human lives that are shattered as a result by such evil.

Here's an example of a few recent cases:
It's hard to not be angry when you read these articles. And it makes all the sense in the world for that anger and desire for justice maybe, just maybe evolve into a thirst for vengeance. An eye for an eye, our minds may think.

On occassion, I'll read another article which will leave me somehat emotionally confused. Stories about people who are either victims or about to be victimized who fight back. One case recently involved a student from Johns Hopkins who killed a burglar with a samurai sword. Baltimore shares certain traits with Philadelphia (I'm not talking about their love for sports), and the juxtaposition of university students and the inner-city sometimes has been a volatile mix. The account of the incident is graphic and wince-inducing:
Some shocked neighbors said they heard bloodcurdling screams in an area just blocks from the university...
(The burglar) Rice's left hand was nearly severed — Guglielmi described it as "hanging on by a thread" — and he suffered a severe cut to the upper body. He died at the scene...
There was a pool of blood Tuesday morning in the brick courtyard between the back porch of the home and the garage. The courtyard was strewn with debris, including what looked like broken glass.
On one hand, I'm glad that a potential victim prevented himself from being another statistic. In light of the aforementioned crimes, there might be a little "payback" feedback that the victims are fighting back. I can empathize with a degree of satisfaction that a person who was callously intending to commit a crime against another human being was thwarted. There's a feeling of "karma" or what comes around goes around.

On the other hand, the extreme justice of citizen violence thwarting citizen violence feels somewhat unsettling, especially when that judgement is extreme and final (death). In this case, the fact that the burglar, Donald D. Rice, 49, was a habitual offender who had just been released from jail, doesn't cause me to pump my fist (a'la "yeah, one less scumbag in this world!") as some might.

I can't help but humanize Donald Rice. At least for that brief movement as he was confronted by a young man and saw a three foot blade of steel slashing through the air towards him, I'm sure he was terrified. He probably wished he had stayed home and gone to bed early. For that split second as the blade sliced into his wrist and then his body, perhaps he thought, "I'm sorry. I wish I never made this decision." As the his slowly died as blood poured from his body, perhaps he thought about all the mistakes he made that he wish he could take back.

Yes, yes, I know what cynics would say. There wasn't much remorse for his crime - just remorse that he got caught, and the severe corresponding punishment. But can any of us truly claim to not be the same way in matters of the "little" sins that we commit against others and our God? Anyone who claims that remorse isn't tainted by our own harmed self-interests is lying.

This is another reminder of why the good news of Jesus Christ is powerful. It reminds us who are Christians that as sinners caught in sin just like the burglar caught in the garage, as the sword blade sped through the air, our silent pleas for mercy were actually answered. The blade stopped, and was redirected to Jesus who died in our place.

Imagine the feeling of gratitude and freedom - the life-changing experience that would be for the thief who experienced such mercy from justly deserved extreme justice. I need to remember not to lose touch with this, because this is my reality - and the reality for anyone who considers themselves saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


For those of you who thought your were eating cod or pollock or haddock when biting into that McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich, guess again. Apparently, the tasty and flaky whitefish which is the favorite amongst unadventurous seafood lovers (like myself) and a craving target for pregnant women (so says my wife) is actually hoki, a fact that I learned from a recent article which raised alarms about it's long-term sustainability.

Hoki, a fish common in New Zealand that the local Ministry of Fisheries had only a few years ago certified as sustainable, has seen allowable quotas significantly slashed. As a result, McDonald's brought down it's purchase of hoki down recently to about 11 million pounds annually from roughly 15 million pounds. Yum Brands, holding company of my beloved Long John Silver's no longer uses hoki after using it extensively in the past, opting to turn back to other whitefish.

I suppose that one of the benefits of a unrefined seafood palate is that "generic whitefish" deep fried in batter tends to taste pretty good regardless of the species.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 2 Recap

HE HATE ME over Millburn Mustangs. The demise of my team came about when HE HATE ME's Frank Gore had a killer game with two long touchdown runs, leading to 36 fantasy points. It also would have helped if two of my wide receivers (Roy Williams for 1.8 and Devin Hester for 2.1 points) bothered to show up. Coach Song did well for a league which "is not a priority because there's no money in it."

Beginner's Luck? over Cooler than Baptists. Congratulations, Coach Fehringer. You're the winner of the "Just lost to the guy who admitted that he knows absolutely nothing about American football." In fairness, Coach Kwon has a decent team, and RB Chris Johnson (46 points) went absolutely bonkers from a fantasy persepctive. Three touchdowns runs of over 50 yards? Yup, that'll do it.

Hamsters over Pablo. My predicted "team to beat" continues to march on with a lethal and balanced attack. I'm still not convinced that Pablo's trade of Anquan Boldin and Robert Meacham to Punch in the Face for Joe Flacco was a good trade (especially with Jay Cutler likely getting most of the starting nods), but we'll see how this plays off in the long run.

Punch in the Face over Team Singletary. Punch in the Face has a strong team, and this would've been an ideal week for someone to take them down with Tom Brady getting shut down by the Jets defense. 6.64 points from Tom Brady? Are you kidding me? Fortunately for Coach Lee, he drew Team Singletary, who is winning the Bizarro League (this actually exists, when people try to score the least points as possible while playing active players). Michael Crabtree continues his holdout, having no effect on Team Singletary's already zero probability of victory.

No Yankees over Midgets. Give credit to Coach Tae, who guaranteed victory at some point this season with his all-Giants squad and delivered one against a Midgets team still run by an absentee owner. Uh, Coach Kang, now that you're back from Korea, will you please take Leger Douzable off your roster? Leger Douzable? Is this guy even a real person or the effect of someone mashing keys on the keyboard? In fairness to No Yankees, his 131 points would have beaten a number of teams this week, including mine. As for the "real" game, I couldn't be happier that the Giants ruined the Cowboys new stadium opener.

ANSKY over Go Yankees. Coach Lee joins the Hamsters and Punch In the Face as the remaining undefeated teams with a tight win over Coach Beenken's Go Yankees. A slight upset, ANSKY was aided by a banner game from TE Kellen Winslow (16 points) while Go Yankees' stud Adrian Peterson had a non-Superman output of 15.6 points.

Don't Tread on Me over Trail Mix. Coach Yeoh's Trail Mix continues to generate solid team points, but again runs into a team who produces just a little bit more. This week, it was Coach Cummings' QB Matt Schaub breakout 36 point game combined with zero production from WRs Greg Jennings and Kevin Walter which sealed the deal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tomorrowland Shouldn't Be Retro

Good to hear that Disney is planning to update their theme parks. As a big fan of DisneyWorld (I believe I went their five times between 1996 and 2001) who is chomping at the bit to take the kids, the last version that I saw badly needed an update, both in terms of the content as well as the novelty of the experience.

I remember going through a number of the "international experience" rides in EPCOT, notably Mexico, where much of the projected background looked like it came from 1970's-era filmstrip run in a loop. In fact, every attraction which contained a video or film portion were filled with people with early 90's haircuts and clothing. When the Carousel of Progress' version of the future looks like an Ed Wood produced science fiction film, that's a problem.

What always appealed to me was that Disney really was a theme park as opposed to an amusement park. It thrilled audiences not by g-forces or by inverting your organs at high rates of speed, instead enthralling people with great content, letting people encounter interesting people and Disney characters. The plans to make the park even more interactive, by allowing kids to (as the article mentions) prepare Cinderella for the ball and (as the article doesn't mention, but I hope) kick Judge Claude Frollo in the groin.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Crossover Possibilities Are Endless

In a blockbuster two weeks ago, Disney acquired comic book juggernaut Marvel in a $4 billion deal. The reaction by some hardcore comic book fans was wary, as some wondered if Disney would temper the edginess of some of the more mature comic book lines. I doubt it. This is the same Disney that owns Miramax, which never shied away from controversial matter like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, and Dimension, which is home of such family-friendly films such as Halloween, Hellraiser, and Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds. You really think it's going to bother them that the Punisher disembowels drug dealers?

This is a coup for Marvel, as it gets a "treasure trove of content," in the words of Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger. Treasure trove, indeed. In addition to a large character base from which to generate movies ("Psi-Force" and "Spitfire and the Troubleshooters" movies, anyone?), the acquisition is really synergistic in terms of the cross-over opportunities. Think of "Snow White and the Sinister Seven" and "The Little Mermaid versus Sub-Mariner: The Battle for Atlantis."

Of course, you can't forget the licensing deals to video game makers such as CAPCOM, who can now expand into game titles such as "Street Fighter vs. Marvel Super Heroes vs. Mickey & His Friends". I just hope it comes with the Mortal Kombat "fatality" gimmick where Pluto can maul a helpless opponent to death and Grumpy the Dwarf takes his pick axe to his opponent's head. Well, maybe not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What If You Knew You Were Going To Live Tomorrow?

That's the question that goes to the core of "Christianity Beyond Belief", a book by Todd Hunter that I just recently finished. If I were to summarize, Hunter exhorts Christians to not simply stop at reveling (rightly so) at the wondrous salvation bestowed upon those who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He suggests that there is a greater redemptive purpose that Christians can and ought to play. In Hunter's words, a Christian should be:
  1. A cooperative friend of Jesus... that is, being intentional in terms of engaging with our friends, family and neighbors in discipleship and outreach fully aligned with the Great Commission. The goal is that being intentional should never cross the line into being manipulative, or as Hunter puts it, "I don't want or need anything from others. I want things for others."
  2. ... seeking to live consistent lives of creative goodness... using examples from Isaiah 58:9-12 and Matthew 25:35-36, Hunter encourages the new (actually, old) apologetic of loving others radically through not just feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners and clothing the naked, but contextualizing that service in one's own job and neighborhoods. He anticipates the immediate objection: "Yes, we still need a verbal witness, and yes, the truth still matters. But in our 24/7 spin me, sell me, manipulate me, exploitative world, actions speak louder than words for millions of seekers." It's the typical counter to the "the name of the game is to get people saved" mindset.
  3. ... for the sake of others... I personally found this troubling at first until I read the chapter on this a little more. Part of it is sensitivity to a human-focused Gospel message, which isn't really a Gospel message at all. My knee-jerk was to object that the only "sake" that actually matters is God's glory, period. It's not about me, and it's not even about other people. It's about God, primarily, and even our service of others is done for the glory of God. In any case, I feel pretty confident that Hunter agrees with this. His point is railing against a "me-centered" life.
  4. ... through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he challenges Christians to move "from theological lip service" as it relates to the Holy Spirit, and invite him into our communities of faith and listen to him - especially as it relates to empowering us to be the "cooperative friends of Jesus" and "divine appointments", where seemingly random encounters with people are truly opportunities to love, serve and engage.
As I read the book, I admit that there were times that I found it a bit "touchy-feely", and wondered if in some ways it revealed my own conflict of two of my major theological influences. Having being spiritually raised in an InterVarsity setting which stressed servanthood, "relational evangelism" and manifesting Jesus' love outwards as key parts of fruitful ministry, the book reminded me of a lot of those same tenets. But for more than a decade, I've been fed and influenced by doctrine and a faith culture which focuses more about the depravity of man and the glory of God and His grace - and how faith can and should alter my worldview towards career and life. And how deep theological understanding of God's sovereignty and purposes transform the soul, and thus the outwards actions of one's life.

Hunter himself illustrates the tension of what I'm describing. Hunter writes:
God cares about the planet, about systemic injustice and poverty, about the eternal destiny of humans. You don't need to choose one over the others. Rather, we are called to cooperate fully with God in whatever comes our way. Work to make just laws. Help those in need. Pick up trash. If someone has questions about spiritual things, converse in peace, without needing to "win" an argument. We've made being good to others too difficult. Some of us have confused ourselves into apathy. Sometimes we have theological hang-ups about "what really counts." For many Christians of my generation, "saving souls for eternity" is what really counts. Every thing else is optional, but mostly viewed as a distraction from the real thing. Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. To an increasing degree, we are losing the ability and confidence to share our faith, to help someone decide to be a follower of Jesus.
It's not that the two influences are necessarily at odds, but the emphases are different (or at least it seemed that way). I have the utmost respect and value for both and am grateful for what both have taught me.

Bottom line is that I liked this book. It was challenging and practical, and I pray I apply some of its learnings faithfully and wisely.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 1 Recap

Here's the recap from opening weekend. Looks like it'll be a barn-burner of a season:

Millburn Mustangs over Team Singletary. The good news for Coach Lin and Team Singletary is that the 49ers beat the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals in a gritty win on the road. The bad news is that the fantasy team still got spanked by the Millburn Mustangs, aided in part by 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. On the downside for the Mustangs, QB Donovan McNabb got hurt. In other shocking news, grass is green and the sky is blue. Introducing Mark Sanchez, your new Millburn Mustangs starting QB!

Pablo over Beginner's Luck?. A gritty effort by the neophyte Beginner's Luck found them on the short side of a match with Pablo, despite an inauspicious debut by QB Jay Cutler, who threw zero touchdowns and four interceptions. He was aided by a standout 24 point performance by Reggie Wayne, who I'll again note that Coach Huang almost traded for journeyman safety Roman Harper. For 'Luck, they were hurt by terrible offensive production in the Broncos vs. Bengals game. When your three wide receivers total five points, that's bad. Real bad.

Cooler than Baptists over HE HATE ME. This was a tightly contested match, which might have gone the other way had WR Anthony Gonzalez not tore up his knee, taking him out for the next 4-6 weeks. Coach Song was largely criticized by the league for allegedly berating an injured Gonzalez in the locker room, blasting him for "ruining who should have been a fantastic Week 1 victory."

Laser Jets over No Yankees. Like the game with Team Singletary, the good news is that the Giants won, the bad news is that they still fell short against Coach Lee's Laser Jets. Interesting to note that Coach Tae's all-Giants team would have beat a number of the other "mixed" teams, which speaks to the dominating performance of the G-Men this past Sunday. As a Giants fan, I'd like to see more of that.

Go Yankees over Midgets. Coach Kang is apparently out of town and hasn't touched his team since the draft (paging Tim Kang, paging Tim Kang), but that should take nothing away from Coach Beenken and Go Yankees' dominating performance. Having Adrian Peterson tear it up for 37 fantasy points certainly helped.

ANSKY over Trail Mix. This was a shootout, and probably the most entertaining matchup of the week, as Coach Lee's ANSKY topped Coach Yeoh's Trail Mix on the strength of Drew Brees' league high 48 fantasy points. Coach Yeoh allegedly banned Kevin Walter from the post-game buffet and made him run laps for "failing to show up" and admonished Peyton Manning to "stop filming commercials and put some fantasy points up for the team."

Hamsters over Don't Tread on Me. The bad news for Coach Cummings (but great news for Jets fans) was that Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson absolutely stunk up Reliant Stadium, combining for a measly nine fantasy points as opposed to the 30 projected. The even worse news for Don't Tread on Me is that stud linebacker Brian Urlacher is out for the season. Only concern for Coach Cheng's Hamsters is that Carson Palmer looks like a risk as a starting QB. Perhaps he should propose a trade with Laser Jets to swap Palmer for Tom Brady. That'd go over well.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Tragedy of Partisanship

A few weeks ago, there was an editorial penned by political commentator Randy Ruiz which, without blaming one side or another, appealed to society (including both politicians and the general public) to open themselves for meaningful discourse and dialogue as opposed to shouting rhetoric at each other. It's not a earth-shattering concept, but perhaps it's telling that his admonishment is first of all necessary, and second of all, seems so elusive in what has become an increasingly polarized political environment.

Ruiz makes a couple of good points. First, he notes that political positions and values have been pigeon-holed and categorized (derisively) by unhelpful labels. He notes:
Any proposal including the words "government-run" elicits cries of "socialism" and "communism." Any argument invoking the words "God" or "moral" sparks accusations of "right-wing extremism," "fascism," or "Bible-thumping." Instead of listening to each other's ideas, we spot the warning label and run the other way.
There is no dialogue, simply name-calling and preemptive marginalization. It's almost as if the content of ideas and solutions is less important than "from which side" of the political fence it came from. If it came from the "other" side, you can automatically prepare your response to blast it as wrong-headed and morally bankrupt.

Ruiz also correctly points out that extreme political polarization of our society also leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of selective-information gathering that entrenches and fuels passions around already held views, but fails to inform around different viewpoints which could thus lead to dialogue and collaboration. He writes:
We tend to listen only to like-minded opinions as media fragmentation encourages us to filter out varying perspectives. If you're a liberal, you avoid FOX News. If you're a conservative you revile MSNBC. The dynamic is even more pronounced online, where a niche media source can be found for any outlook. This silences the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and deliberation that might lead to reformulating positions, forging sustainable compromises, and developing consensus crucial to moving our nation forward on complex issues.
He lays out some suggestions which have merit, but I fear (perhaps pessimistically) will do little to solve the deeper problem. Why? Even if his suggestions for open listening and discourse are adopted by more and more people in the general populations, politicians will always be swayed by a survival and victory instinct. Or put another way, is the chief motivation of any politician to do what's best for the people? Or to do what will most likely get him or her (re)-elected?

Joe Klein recently wrote what I found to be an extremely cynical essay in TIME, recently, essentially denouncing Republicans as nihilists who are so blinded by their obsession to topple the Obama-led government that they're willing to destroy the country if that's what it takes to guarantee failure for the Democrats. I'd like to believe it's not true, but when Republican Senator Jim DeMint gleefully states that if they are "able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," that's sounds pretty bad.

The reality is that the stink exists with both major parties. The real losers are us. Until we start holding all of our government officials accountable for results and not rhetoric, things probably won't change a whole lot.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

And As For the "Real" League...

So here are my predictions for the 2009-10 NFL season. Given that three of my predicted final four teams didn't even make the playoffs, my daughter could probably slap the keyboard randomly and be more on target with these picks. In fact, I was only 50% accurate in terms of choose playoff teams. Think of it as my way of discouraging gambling.

Here's what I see:

NFC EAST: Giants
NFC NORTH: Packers
NFC WEST: Seahawks
WILD CARDS: Eagles, Bears

AFC EAST: Patriots
AFC NORTH: Steelers
AFC WEST: Chargers
WILD CARDS: Texans, Ravens

NFC Championship: Giants over Bears
AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots
Super Bowl: Steelers over Giants

But Pittsburgh fans beware - I picked the Patriots to win it all last year and we all know what happened to Tom Brady and the Patriots season. Now Ben Roethlisberger has already survived Week 1, but does anyone think perhaps the Suburban Family Guy championship curse (remember, I picked the Mets to win the World Series this year) might have taken out Troy Polamalu out?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kicking Off the Emmanuel Classic

After finding out that a number of people in my church casually played Fantasy Football, I decided to organize a league where we could all play against each other. The format and structure was essentially the same as the Suncoast League fantasy league that I've played in the last couple of years (and won the championship, I must add), which has head-to-head play, top eight teams go to playoffs, and scores for individual defenders.

The league, christened as the Emmanuel Classic, is comprised of twelve guys who are either attending or are alums of Emmanuel Church in New York. Just for kicks, I'll provide tongue-in-cheek weekly updates.

Naturally, I'm obligated to present a season preview, which every sports publication does for the real NFL. So here goes:

ANSKY coached by Phil Lee. ANSKY has arguably the best quarterback in the league in Drew Brees. He also has two of the most despised people in the league in Chad Ochocinco and Kellen Winslow. For those of you who aren't sports fans, Ochocinco, who was previously known as "Chad Johnson", legally changed his last name to match his jersey number. Winslow is known for such niceties as taunting an injured player on the field and calling himself a "f%ckin' solider". Apparently Phil chose him for his soothing locker room influence.

Beginner's Luck? coached by Rich Kwon. Coach Kwon has already conceded that he knows very little about American Football. Translation: he's pretty much psyched you out into fearing the humiliation of losing to him. He does have Kurt Warner, of whom I'm a big fan. They may lose a lot of games, but at least Kurt can count on Rich attending his pre-game Bible Study.

Cooler than Baptists coached by Will Fehringer. Coach Fehringer took a risk by alienating all of the Baptists on the roster, but he put together a strong squad. His wide receivers aren't top notch, but there aren't a lot of glaring weaknesses. That, plus the requirement that each member of the roster needed to learn Latin, make this team a contender.

Don't Tread on Me coached by Alan Cummings. The native Texan has Matt Schaub at QB and Andre Johnson as his ace wide receiver, and that's not a bad start. He also has Shawne Merriman on defense, which means that his team will be rooted against by the few Tila Tequila fans in this world.

Go Yankees coached by Andrew Beenken. This team is well constructed and balanced, just the sort of thing you'd expect from an M.D./Ph.D. student. In addition to a nice collection of talent, he has the distinction of having the largest number of androgynous names on the roster - Torry? Adrian? Bo? Pierre? Okay, Pierre isn't androgynous, but some might argue it might as well be.

HE HATE ME coached by Albert Song. "HE HATE ME" was the jersey name for former XFL football player Rod Smart. Let's just hope for Albert's sake that his team finds a little more success than either the XFL and Rod Smart did. The team, which was drafted while Coach Song was out of the country, has some potential to make some noise. The fact that he's reunited Jessica Simpson's ex-boyfriend and Terrell Owens is getting my psyched for another "that's my quarterback" sobbing episode by T.O.

Hamsters coached by Chin Ho Cheng. An explanation of the name - Chin's a newlywed who married a young lady with the maiden name of Ham. Get it? Clever, but not as clever as me naming my post-newlywed fantasy team Manchester United, after getting married in Manchester, Connecticut. I personally think that this is probably the team to beat in the league... though that took at hit when Troy Polamalu sprained his MCL in the opener.

Laser Jets coached by Steve Lee. Coach Lee got aggressive with a bold trade, swapping Jay Cutler and Antonio Gates to Pablo in exchange for Tom Brady. Two things are obvious from this move: (1) Steve's a big Patriots fan and (2) If Tom Brady gets his knee taken out again in Week 1, that big sucking sound will be Steve's fantasy team's season. Well, the good news is that trading Hines Ward for Randy Moss wouldn't be such a longshot at that point.

Midgets coached by Tim Kang. Tim actually has a good offensive squad, which is intended in the same way when people say that "a girl has a great personality". Tim, who is taking a hands-off approach to his team, has a defense spearheaded by "no longer in the NFL" David Herron and Tank Williams. In other words, Tim will personally score as many fantasy points as these two players.

Millburn Mustangs coached by me. I'm not going to get into a deep evaluation of my own team, so in the words of Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, I'll just say this: BEST TEAM EVER. Well, not really, but I think I'll be competitive.

No Yankees coached by Ajin Tae. This is one of two teams where the coaches decided to be cute and stack a roster entirely with members of one team, presumably a team they root for. This is all well and good except for the bye-week, and the fact that you inevitably get some "winners" on your roster like Danny Ware, who is only on this fantasy team and those of his relatives.

Pablo coached by Paul Huang. I've already saved Coach Huang's bacon once, by vetoing a ridiculous trade that he actually was proposing to deal Reggie Wayne for Saints safety Roman Harper (before Paul realized that you can pick up unpicked free agent defenders). Between Jay Cutler, Anquan Boldin and Joey Porter, his team would easily cream the league if we awarded points on malcontentment.

Team Singletary coached by Luke Lin. See "No Yankees", except that this is a team stacked by San Francisco 49ers. The tragedy of this team is that the two 49ers that actually have fantasy value (Frank Gore and Patrick Willis) aren't even on his team. He could trade for them, but with what players? The only possible saving grace is that Michael Crabtree is actually as good as he thinks he is, which would make him the single greatest fantasy football player ever.

Trail Mix coached by Chris Yeoh. For a fantasy football neophyte, Coach Yeoh's done a heckuva job. And I don't mean that in a George W. Bush "heckuva job [managing the Katrina disaster], Brownie" sort of way, I mean it's a solid team. Fantasy football rookies often make the mistake of neglecting their defense, and with DeMarcus Ware, Mario Williams and Lance Briggs on his roster, that's clearly not an issue.

Should be a great season.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pooh Returns to the Quakers

As a Penn alum I'm happy to hear that former star guard Jerome Allen has returned to the Penn Quakers basketball team as an assistant coach. "Pooh" (his nickname in Philly hoops circles) provided me with the rare treat of an Ivy League athletic team that had national relevance, leading the Quakers to consecutive NCAA tournaments and a tournament win against an Erik Piatkowski-led Nebraska team, in which Jerome memorably broke the ankles of a poor Nebraska defender in a fast break after a turnover (if it didn't make the "One Shining Moment" highlight video, it should have).

I'm also hoping that his addition to the Penn coaching staff will somehow get the team back to where it once was. What can I say? I was spoiled by being there when the team would routinely win the league and get our ticket to the Big Dance (the fact that we usually got bounced in the first round, notwithstanding). I've already vented about the misfortunes of Penn men's basketball in a previous post, so I'll leave it at that.

No, I never had a class with Jerome (he graduated a year ahead of me), but I did manage to shake his hand as he walked off Franklin Field during graduation. It was a brief, but moving exchange - a completely random encounter as I was walking over to congratulate some of my newly graduated friends.

Me: Congratulations, Jerome. (extending hand, but continuing to walk towards my buddies)
Jerome Allen: Thanks, man. (taking my hand and shaking it, while continuing to walk away)

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

That Would've Put a Dampener on Our Trip

Happy Labor Day, folks. It might be a slightly less happy Labor Day weekend for people for people who are currently in Cape Cod, only to be kept from enjoying the beaches due to the sightings of two great white sharks off the of the oceanside coast. It's surely a bummer for families who have plunked down good money to stay at beachside resorts and cottages who were hoping to enjoy the crashing waves at Nauset Beach in Orleans, which have been closed due to an abundance of caution.

We returned from Cape Cod about three weeks ago, and while I did cut my finger on a jagged clam shell, we managed to avoid the tragedy from the first Jaws movie of the poor lady with glasses frantically looking for her little boy after he had been taken for, well, you know. Safety first, and while not having these beaches are a bummer, there are plenty of other bay side beaches which are even better to explore. I'm more concerned that the shark presence might lead to a fried clam shortage at Arnold's or Kreme N' Kone. What a catastrophe that would be, if tourists would have be gouged even more than they presently are for a pint-sized box of clams.

As for Labor Day, I find it somewhat ironic that non-labor corporate types like me get the day off, while multitudes of people who actually are part of unions - such as policemen, restaurant service workers and utility workers - will still be hard at work. Raise a glass for them, and thank them for their hard work in making America run.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reinventing the Glengarry Glen Ross "Hyundai" Scene

Hyundai has amazingly revamped not only its cars, but the perception of its cars by the general public. Once the laughingstock of late night talk show hosts and the punch-line of jokes, Hyundai has had a terrific past 24 months with a recent article trumpeting that "Hyundai no longer the Dangerfield of cars". Of course, probably more meaningful to Hyundai execs is the 2009 Car of the Year award it won for the Hyundai Genesis, a $32,000 luxury sedan which has features and drives like its Mercedes or BMW counterparts at just a fraction of the cost.

I can't help but remember the classic scene in "Glengarry Glen Ross" when an arrogant (and wildly successful) salesman named Blake (Alec Baldwin) verbally destroys a group of less successful salesmen (Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Jack Lemmon) in a "pep talk". Here's an excerpt of the exchange (pardon the foul language, but David Mamet did a great job with the script and the profanity actually is necessary to capture the spirit of the exchange):

Dave Moss: What's your name?
Blake: "Fuck you!" That's my name.
Dave Moss: [laughs]
Blake: You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight; I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That's my name.

The entire scene also includes Blake saying things like "That watch costs more than you car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see pal, that's who I am, and you're nothing. Nice guy, I don't give a shit. Good father, fuck you. Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here, close." It's classic.

Anyway, with the emergence of Hyundai, here's how the scene might look now (again, pardon the language):

Dave Moss: What's your name?
Blake: "Fuck you!" That's my name.
Dave Moss: [laughs]
Blake: You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight; I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That's my name.
Dave Moss: [laughs again]
Blake: What the fuck are you laughing at, asshole?
Dave Moss: I'm laughing at you, cocksucker. I'm laughing at you for spending more than twice as much as my Genesis, which destroys your car in the 0-30, 0-60, skidpad and slalom. Ultraviolet reflective leather heated seats, ultrasonic bumper sensors and wood trim? Oh, I have those, too. And we both have the J.D. Power award for best initial quality... oh, I'm sorry, you don't have one of those for your overpriced German piece of shit, do you? And as for that $40K that I saved? I'd just watch your back for menacing looking men who might be reaching inside their coat pockets. Checkmate, asshole!
Blake: [stunned silence]

And to alter for television advertising akin to those DirectTV commercials, I'd have Dave Moss (Ed Harris) turn to the camera, smile and say, "You can find great deals at your local Tri-State Hyundai dealer today!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

But Now That My Auto Warranty Has Expired...

My computer at work has the ability to send my an e-mail alert (on my Blackberry) that I've missed a phone call and the Caller ID of the incoming missed call. What I usually do is use my reverse lookup function to see if the call is from a colleague around something time sensitive. In the past few months, this function has gotten inundated from automated phone calls from all over the country to warn me that my automobile warranty was going to expire. Of course, they had no idea who I was, they were just carpet-bombing random phone numbers in the hope that someone would actually bite and purchase a fraudulent service. If that wasn't bad enough, the fact that there isn't a live person on the other end of the line meant that I couldn't jerk the person around by providing fake names like "Oliver Clothesoff" and "Seymour Butts" and asking for a 2nd mortgage estimate for my poker shack in the woods.

It's funny. I worked at BMG Direct doing Direct Marketing strategy for my junior summer internship, and I remember going to a DMA (Direct Marketing Association) meeting where they talked about the importance of direct marketing in terms of the number of jobs they provided for the middle and lower class.

The good news is that the FTC recently banned these automated "robocalls" effective on September 1st. The bad news is that we've put a whole generation of automatic calling machines out of work. Even worse, nobody's looking to help me find the financial opportunity that I'm not looking for.