Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Championship Recap

Congratulations to Punch in the Face, coached by Steve Lee, who clinched the not just the inaugural Charlie Cup but a perfect season, after topping Rich Kwon's Beginner's Luck squad 136.98 to 110.02. As we have in the other weeks, let's take it down to the field with the presentation of the Charlie Cup to the winning coach.

PUNCH IN THE FACE COACH STEVE LEE (sideline interview by Andrea Kremer)

Kremer: Congratulations on winning the inaugural Charlie Cup, Coach Lee. Any thoughts as you look back on the season?

Lee: I don't think we'll ever see a 16-0 season again in any fantasy football league... ever! It just takes such a unique combination of pure luck and obsessive attention. Notice I did not say "skill" -- I'm very aware of how much luck and timing of match-ups had to do with winning this championship. Had we played Beginner's Luck, Hamsters, Milburn Mustangs, Cooler than Baptists in different weeks than we actually did, we likely wouldn't have gone undefeated and possibly wouldn't have won the championship. But that being said, if I'm invited to the league next year, you can write this down - we're going to win again. It's dynasty time.

Final standings (reflecting playoff and consolation games):

*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 13-0-0
*2. Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 7-6-0
*3. Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 9-4-0
*4. ANSKY (Lee) 9-4-0
*5. Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 7-6-0
*6. Hamsters (Cheng) 9-4-0
*7. HE HATE ME (Song) 7-6-0
*8. No Yankees (Tae) 7-6-0
9 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 5-8-0
10 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 5-8-0
11 Pablo (Huang) 5-8-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 4-9-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 3-10-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-12-0

Friday, December 25, 2009

What Kids Can Teach Us About Christmas

Over the years, I've lost part of the childlike zeal that I used to have for Christmas, or at very least, the anticipation of rushing downstairs to grab a present under the tree, rip the wrapping paper off, and thrusting my arms triumphantly in the air as I celebrated the gift that I just wanted. Don't get me wrong - I still love the holiday and it's a blast celebrating it with young children, but the activity of opening presents in front of the tree just isn't quite the same thirty years later.

When I was seven, I wanted a Dukes of Hazzard racing set. I mean, I really wanted it so much that it physically hurt. When I would watch the commercial on television, my eyes would glaze over and saliva would stream out of the corner of my mouth. My parents were actually pretty good sports about it - while they did get it for me, they didn't prematurely stick it under the tree lest they ruin the surprise (I'd notice a box that big, and I'd find ways to slowly tear the wrapping paper to find out for sure). On Christmas morning, I found a huge wrapped gift standing behind the tree, and lo and behold, there was my racing set. At that moment, I didn't think I could ever be so happy again. It was nirvana that only a seven year-old could experience.

As I look back upon that moment, the feeling of joy was largely due to the fact that I knew that this racing set was something that I was utterly dependent on my parents to buy for me. It was a whopping $40 or so, and there was no way in God's green earth that I could ever save enough money to buy it. It was exorbitantly expensive in the eyes of a child, and I probably wasn't all that confident that my parents could scrape up enough dough to get it for me, or sure that they would even if they could.

Flash forward to present day and my muted, although still polite and grateful, view towards gifts I receive at Christmas. It's not all the complicated, I suppose. Over the years, I started making money, and before soon I realized, "Hey, forget waiting for Christmas, I'm going to buy this Walkman / stereo system / Nintendo cartridge / CD changer / cell phone / PDA / Netbook / iPod for myself." The sense of dependence was gone, and thus was the anticipation and joy of receiving something that I knew I couldn't get myself.

I think this is where kids can teach us a great deal about Christmas. Christian parents frequently tell their children that we give gifts to each other in Christmas to remind each other of the greatest Gift that God gave to us - His own Son, Jesus Christ. This is true. What I've also realized is that children's joy in receiving gifts at Christmas is really a helpful reminder of the way I ought to receive the "Gift" of Jesus and the Salvation I have through Him - overwhelming thanksgiving and joy knowing that I've received something that I could not have possibly purchased myself. It's a celebration of what we call grace - receiving something wonderful which is unmerited and undeserved, only by the kindness of the giver.

So to my younger-self at seven years old who celebrated gleefully at receiving that Dukes of Hazzard racing set - thank you. You have reminded me that there should be great joy when somebody receives something so precious and valuable made possible only by the grace of another. The only thing that will mute my celebration for having received Christ and His love and salvation, is the belief that somehow I've earned it through my own efforts or merit, or that He just isn't up to par to that racing set I received way back when. Both premises are ridiculous.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Random December Sports Musings

I interrupt my normally logical stream of consciousness to lay out some random musings in the world of sports.
  1. Penn basketball. My Penn Quakers basketball team is zero for the season. That's right, the formerly proud Quakers are 0-7, including losses to traditional powerhouses Albany (at the Palestra) and Monmouth, leading to the firing of Coach Glen Miller and appointment of former star Jerome Allen to interim coach. I already lamented about this a year ago in a previous post, and it's pretty clear that the glory years have left with Fran Dunphy. Speaking of whom, if you were a spoiled Penn fan during those years who would complain that for all of those Ivy League championships and NCAA Tournament berths, Dunphy was only able to squeak out one win in the dance, how much would you give to get those days back? Coach Dunphy, by the way, is doing just well at Temple, where he's just cracked the Top 25 with wins over Villanova, Seton Hall, and St. John's.
  2. Your 2009 World Champion New York Yankees. I like the Granderson move alot. If the pundits are right in saying that the upside of Austin Jackson is essentially Curtis Granderson, I don't mind the swap for a guy who plays a Gold Glove-caliber center field, kills right-handed pitching (yeah, Kevin Long needs to work on his hitting against lefties) with a short right field porch, and is a lock to make a good clubhouse even better. Sad to see Matsui and Damon go, but Matsui's knees are shot and with the money that Damon's rumored to be looking for, I think it's time to say goodbye. The Javier Vasquez trade is a good counter to the Red Sox signing of John Lackey, and they didn't pay as much for their one-year rental as Seattle did for Cliff Lee (more on both those points later).
  3. Red Sox. I thought the Mike Cameron signing was actually a lot better than the John Lackey signing. As I was telling a Red Sox-fan colleague over lunch: Lackey doesn't scare anyone, and that contract is going to be an albatross quickly. Lackey is a glorified Pat Hentgen, Livan Hernandez or Kevin Millwood - although he's a smart pitcher with okay stuff, he doesn't have great stuff, and over time as his velocity erodes, he's going to be pitching batting practice, especially in the AL East. Compare that with A.J. Burnett, who has filthy stuff, but occasionally has mental lapses. I'd take the high-upside guy, any day.
  4. Phillies. I'm still trying to get my head around this Halladay-Lee-prospects deal, which I go back and forth in terms of liking and disliking. Here's what clear: the deal wasn't really a "true" three team trade, in that the Phillies trade with Toronto didn't require any of Seattle's players. In reality, the Phillies made their trade with Toronto giving them their prospects (Drabel, Taylor and D'Arnaud), and then traded Lee to Seattle for another three prospects (Aumont, Gillies and Ramirez). If the Phillies were financially unable to keep Lee (and take the two high draft picks after failing to re-sign him in 2011), could they have gotten more for Lee from a team other than the Mariners? For example, would the Yankees have given up, let's say, Phil Hughes, Mike Dunn, and Brett Gardner? Would the Red Sox have given up Josh Reddick, Michael Bowden and Casey Kelly? If yes, that's my only criticism. Given what the Yankees gave up for Javier Vasquez, my sense is that the Phillies did okay.
  5. Mets. Nice re-signing of Alex Cora. The point being here that if that's your signature move in the offseason, you have every right to be very depressed.
  6. Jets. Has any team team this season lost more games in agonizing ways than the Jets? Between the Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta choke jobs at the end of those games, it's been another painful season for Jets fans. I've seen enough Jets games this year where the offense has absolutely been awful to make we wonder, "Why is Brian Schottenheimer lauded as some sort of offensive genius?" At least Rex Ryan has certainly justified his reputation as a defensive expert.
  7. Giants. This is one Jekyll and Hyde team. Their romp against the Redskins makes them look like world-beaters, but watching their defense against the Eagles was painful. I think if they run the table, they'll get into the playoffs as I don't think both the Cowboys and Packers will both win the rest of their games.
  8. The Super Bowl Contenders. Out of the realistic contenders, the Eagles are probably team that I have a rooting interest for. But I have to admit that the thought of Saints vs. Bengals Super Bowl intrigues me. Can you imagine having two teams with such horrible recent histories being in the Super Bowl? These are two franchises nicknamed the "Ain'ts" and "Bungles", respectively, with numerous photos of fans wearing bags over their heads.

Emmanuel Classic - Semifinal Recap

We were able to bring in some notable sideline reporters to do some post-game interviews following our two playoff games this week.

(1) Punch in the Face, 118.50 over (4) Millburn Mustangs, 105.54

PUNCH IN THE FACE COACH STEVE LEE (sideline interview by Andrea Kremer)

Kremer: Coach Lee, tough win but your guys pulled it out. What does it say about the character of the team that you've been able to gut out yet another victory?

Lee: It was down to the wire and I'm proud of how my players responded to a must-win situation. Athough I have to admit after the first half of the Philly-San Fran game, our team was glum and had packed our bags for the off-season. The team didn't learn until the next day that there was still a chance to eke out a victory. The team leadership made two last-minute decisions that turned out to be correct. We sat Clint Session in favor of London Fletcher and sat Quinton Ganther in favor of Laurence Maroney. It was tough to make those decisions especially after 2 TDs from Ganther last week, but these tough calls worked out for us in the end. We've already made some hard decisions for this championship week, some of which we've already made in the line-up, others of which we're going to make at the last-minute to surprise Beginner's Luck before we play.

Kremer: As you know, there are teams that have crumbled under the pressure of perfection, most recently with the 2007 Patriots. You're coming up against a hot Beginner's Luck team. What does your team need to do to win?

Lee: I knew you'd bring up the 2007 Patriots, Andrea. That game was won if Asante Samuel just caught that interception. But anyway, Beginner's Luck is clearly the favorite in this game. Ansky made that clear a few weeks ago and Beginner's Luck has been on everyone's radar screen for a while - we're just going to have to win as the scrappy underdog. However, from paying attention to his team over the past few weeks, I've noticed a series of decisions that Beginner's Luck has made over the past few weeks that Punch in the Face may be able to take advantage of in the championship game. But it's an uphill climb for us, Beginner's Luck had a great auto-draft and he "Beginner's Luck'ed" into a bunch of great players that the computer picked.

Kremer: You were asked this last week, but I need to ask this again. Is there any chance that you'll send someone off the bench to spell an obviously hurting Tom Brady?

Lee: It would be a lie to say team leadership hasn't thought about it -- we have. I'm also sure that there will be a lot of "check and refresh" on the websites for the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and ESPN Boston for the up-to-the-minute medical update on Brady, but here it is -- Tom Brady will be my quarterback on Sunday. Our own medical people have signed off. There's no chance he sits on the bench during the championship game. Trust me, Vince Young or Matt Moore will not be playing this Sunday… or will they?

Kremer (laughs): Good luck in the Charlie Cup, Coach.

(7) Beginner's Luck?, 128.12 over (3) ANSKY, 99.42

BEGINNER'S LUCK? COACH RICHARD KWON (sideline interview by Chris Myers)

Myers: You're going to the Charlie Cup, Coach Kwon. How does it feel?

Kwon: It feels great. When I joined this league as an expansion team, it was simply to get a better understanding of this American "football". When I beat the Baptists back in September with C Johnson going nuts, my goal changed from being competitive to playing to win. I re-vamped my entire defense, made some decent pick-ups in Collie and Berrian (although I dropped Miles Austin) and came up with a pretty good team that peaked at the right time. I am going against Punch, the only player whom I would hate to lose to in this entire league. For once, I am truly excited about what's going to happen this Sunday.

Myers: Last week, Coach Lee of Punch in the Face called out your team's defense of being "awful" and clearly thinks that it can be your Achilles heel. Any thoughts?

Kwon: My defense is weak, no doubt about it. But if Punch is observant about other teams at all, which it hasn't shown throughout this season, my defense really stepped up last week and played a major role in defeating ANSKY. So it could go either way. But I understand...Punch suffers from the “Belairchick” syndrome--after too much success, he thinks he knows it all. Of course, I am simply trying to play a role of the NY Giants in the Super Bowl XLII as well as the Colts going against that fourth down call earlier this season. But I digress...I'll touch on that later in our interview.

Myers: You came in as a rookie manager and now you're playing for the championship. There are some, namely a bitter Coach Cheng, that think that this invalidates Fantasy Football in of itself. Your thoughts?

Kwon: That is the beauty of playing sports, including fantasy sports. Look--if those who make 73-79 moves (and counting) are going to always win the league trophy, what would be the point--rewarding the most active players? While these players should have an advantage (well, you'd hope) for their hard work, what makes sports great is unpredictability. I hate this cliche, but any team can win on any given Sunday. For those who want to believe that my success invalidates FF, they should play Madden by themselves.

Once again, I am a serious underdog. But if the NY Giants in 2007-2008 taught us anything, if (Urg, I hate this team) the 2004 Red Sox taught us anything, it is not that the best team always wins. So here's what I toast to: let's just have some fun.

Uh, by the way, Chris--who should I start as QB?

Myers (looking at the camera nervously): Uh, I’d say Kurt Warner against that awful St. Louis defense. Anyway, thanks for your time, Coach Kwon. Good luck next week! Now back up to the studio.

Bob Costas: Thanks, Chris. We have already teed up a couple of the other Coaches in the Emmanuel Classic to give their breakdowns of the Charlie Cup matchup. Pablo’s Paul Huang and Cooler than Baptists’ Will Fehringer will now give their take.


QB: Even. Brady vs. Jax (allowed 24 passing TDs) and Warner vs. Rams (allowed 19 passing TDs). This is essentially a wash where you have 2 great QBs that can put up big yards on 2 porous defenses.

WR: Advantage Punch. With a healthy Ward, the advantage would definitely go to Punch but news of a hamstring injury leaves the matchup of Boldin/Meachem vs. Marshall/Collie (forget about Berian) is close though I predict Meachem will go off against Tampa. Their defense allowed a league high 25 TDs.

RB: Advantage Beginner. There's no doubt here that Rich has the advantage

Kicker: Even.

Defense: Even.

In the end, I predict Steve will may actually reverse the curse of Belichick and go undefeated. Rich's troops will have put up a good fight but will fall short. I take Steve and the 0.06pts.


The Upstart versus the Golden Child? I'll tell you what I think - I don't trust either quarterback. Warner cost me the championship last year. In Dungeons and Dragons terms, he and the rest of my team rolled a 'One' in that matchup, and we all remember what happened to Brady the last time he was in this situation. The lofty fall not because they are flawed, but because they are lofty. That's why I'm giving the edge to Beginner's Luck.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oh Fuuuuuuuuudge.

In addition to the traditional celebrations that come along with this time of the year as well as the not-often-enough spiritual meditation that I get to do around the mind-blowing nature of the Incarnation, there are some lighter things that come along this time of the year which bring a smile to my face. And one of those things, my friends, is the annual 24-hour marathon on TBS of repeat showings of "A Christmas Story".

For those of you who have somehow been deprived of this gem, "A Christmas Story" is a warm and funny flick about a boy named Ralphie wanting nothing else than an "official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle" otherwise known as a BB gun, told from the perspective of a much older Ralphie reflecting back on that special Christmas . I can't give justice by describing it a blog post, but there are numerous hilarious moments, including his fantasies about defending his family from hoods with his gun, a fantasy of a Pulitzer-quality term paper which earns him the adoration of his class (and presumably the moral high-ground to get his gun), the common deflating response of "you'll shoot your eye out" from those who hear of his wish, Christmas at a Chinese restaurant, and the mishap during changing of a flat tire leading to the title of this post.

But what might be the epic moment in the movie is a schoolyard dare that goes terribly (but hilariously) wrong, where Ralphie watches a friend dare (with escalating levels of "dares") another friend to stick his tongue on a a freezing cold flagpole, testing the theory around whether the tongue will freeze and stick. I won't give away what happens, put it usually leaves the audience in stitches, so to speak.

Apparently not everyone has watched this film, or at least this part of the movie, as some kid in Boise, Idaho apparently tried to duplicate the feat. I can't get too down on the kid, I have to admit that I'm at least curious. Maybe I'll get one of my kids to try this.

Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Than Just Friends

I stumbled across an article online titled "How to raise respectful children" perhaps with the completely unrealistic expectation that after reading through it, I'd have the silver bullet on any and all my kids' future behavioral issues as it pertained to their interactions with other people. The article was fine, but like many other articles, and even longer-winded books, it boiled down a very complex and nuanced issue into a single point - your kid is not your friend. Or in the word of the author:
If I were to create my own TV show to teach parents how to wrest back control and raise respectful, self-reliant kids, it would be called You're Their Parent, Not Their Friend. As long as parents aspire to be "liked" by their kids — and, consequently, let them off the hook on chores, shrug off bad behavior (ahem, the purloined dinner roll), and shovel unearned praise mountain-high, bratty kids will rule the roost.
There's some validity to this. I think some parents have this irrational fear of not being deemed as "cool" to their parent or somehow place being "liked" by them over the paramount priority of shepherding their hearts to become upstanding people and for Christian parents, faithful followers and lovers of Jesus. As a result they spare the rod (I mean this as a representation of discipline, not specifically corporal punishment) and no boundaries are set in terms of what they can and can't do and no understanding is given around how their actions affect other people. Self-centeredness and entitlement soon spirals out of control.

In all cases, I don't think it's the "we're just friends" phenomena that leads to kids doing whatever they want in a public place. I think some if it is that some parents sincerely (but wrongly) believe that everyone else shares their amusement in, for example, their kid singing loudly in the middle of a restaurant or dancing wildly in front of a couple enjoying a quiet meal. In other words, the bigger phenomenon is "You may think it's cute, but everyone else really wants you to strap the kid into a stroller and duct-tape his mouth."

But the hypothesis that I disagree with is that you can't have an amicable and affectionate relationship with your child without undermining your authority. Thanks be to God, I think I have this with Daniel, with whom I joke around with, play hide-and-seek, trains, and we even do sophomoric things like flatulate in each others faces (okay, it's pretty much exclusively me flatulating or "pongu"-ing in Daniel's face). But I think that Daniel is completely cognizant that there are manifestations of a lack of respect resulting in bad behavior which are unacceptable, and when those boundaries are violated, we'll have a little "talk"... in a Tony Soprano sort of way.

Instead of making a statement that "I'm not his friend, but his parent", I'd prefer to say that "I'm not just Daniel's friend, I'm much more than that". I'd like to think that the many benefits of friendship are still there - he can tell me anything and I'll still love him, we can have fun with each other, I can push him in a corner and flatulate in his face - but there's an aspect of responsibility that I have to proactively correct waywardness in his actions and heart. In some ways, it's an enhanced version of what true Christian brotherhood should be. With my close friends, I should bear the responsibility to correct a brother in the wrong - it's just that it's been a while since I spanked Paul Huang with an icing spatula.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When Christmas Letters Go Bad

'Tis the season to reach out to friends you've pretty much neglected for the other 364 days of the year and send out a card or letter (either through mail or electronically) which chronicles the past year. I've largely handed over this duty to my wife, because (1) I think she's better at writing those sorts of things than I am, as most people do not like receiving holiday greetings chock-full of tongue-in-cheek, sardonic and deadpan humor and occasional "I can't believe he wrote that"-type comments and (2) she has a much better handle on the real going-on's of the kids as the true COO of the home.

I read a recent blog entry written by a good buddy and winced at both its incisiveness and truth. In it, he references (somewhat annoying) holiday updates on the kids, reporting that "... they are pretty and well-dressed, hitting academic and social milestones way ahead of schedule. They are described as delighting in their siblings, happy and sociable, a joy to watch grow up. If there is even a peep of complaint from the parents, it is over the hecticness of having to shuttle the little ones between soccer practice, piano, and dance rehearsal." Letters like these tend to chafe readers who don't share quite as an idyllic home life.

In general, I would say that these updates, while overwhelmingly done in a loving spirit of "here's what's going on with us", can often deteriorate into thinly-veiled self-congratulatory (albeit unintentional) speech about how great our family is. Even photos of cute kids can be stinging to those who are single or couples who are having trouble getting pregnant. I distinctly remember an adult friend who sent out photo Christmas cards of himself skiing with an only half-joking retort of "why should only married couples with kids get to send these out?"

People can garnish these letters with religious verbiage, such as "God provided Tom a job offer in Alabama in which he was initially offered $100,000 more than his current salary. The partners flew us down and wined and dined us, as really wanted him because he's considered the preeminent expert in his specialty. Despite them bumping up the offer an additional $50,000, we prayed about it and we decided to stay in California because we really felt called to stay at our church. We trust that God will honor our decision to leave money on the table." or "Ellen was praying really hard about which offer she should accept - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Caltech, Duke, Yale or Stanford - but God really answered her when she won that scholarship from Stanford based on her monoclonal antibody research with NIH this summer. Harvard was very disappointed at her decision, but God may open the door for her to do her master's there." Whatever.

To be clear, I'm not saying that people should cease in this exercise. If you're going to hold off on sharing photos or news about yourself in fear of either you coming off as bragging or people feeling marginalized, envious or jealous, you'd never share, period. But perhaps what would be in order is a little sensitivity, grace and humility in terms of how and to whom things are communicated. For example, your recently laid-off friends who just had the bank foreclose on their house might not want to hear about you making partner at your law firm and how you're planning on using your bonus to buy a beach house on the North Shore because it's a "great time to buy with real estate tanking."

But above all for the writer, especially those of us who count ourselves as Christian, I would hope that writing these letters would serve as time to reflect upon God's grace in providing these blessings, and also holding on to these as reminders that God's goodness is constant regardless of circumstance. That is, God isn't simply good and gracious because Sally won her piano recital, Timmy was the most popular kid in preschool and I just got promoted at work; no, God is good and gracious all the time even if Timmy and Sally struggled and I had to go through another round of chemotherapy. There's a thin line between, "God has done this" and "We have done this" - but it makes all the difference in the world in terms of how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how we view God.

For those of you who got one, I hope you liked our Christmas letter. Otherwise, I may have inadvertently thrown my wife under the bus.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finding Home

We're in the middle of a move, and in the midst of headaches around the closing date of our sale, the closing date of our purchase and dealing with banks, real estate agents and real estate attorneys, Sarah and I have tried to have a healthy perspective on our home.

There are a lot of things to consider when buying a home, and people understandably have different perspectives on what's important. The conventional wisdom is "location, location, location" in a macro (e.g. that it's wise to buy property in town where value will be kept high due to, for example, the quality of a school district or proximity to a major city where jobs exist) or micro (e.g. don't get a house on a busy street or right underneath high tension power lines) sense. And then there are principles around the structure of a house that guide a purchase. For example, Sarah and I are big believers in the the spirit of Hebrews 13 ("Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels") hospitality, so one principle that we held was having accommodations for overnight guests as well as ample space to host gatherings, including fellowship and Bible Study, even if our individual bedrooms were tiny.

I thought about this as I read an article a few weeks ago about the smallest studio in Manhattan, a 175-square foot "microstudio" which actually is near my former stomping grounds at 110th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Purchased for $150,000, I have to say that I was envious of the new owners' find. I certainly have dreamed (not very seriously) of having a second home in the city, where I work and where Sarah and I continue to have a group of strong friendships at the church we had attended for the last nine years. There's just something special about New York City - Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' song is just the last in many cultural references of its excellence - these streets will make you feel brand new, the lights will inspire you.

It's true. I lived in Manhattan for a little more than four years, and I really loved every moment of it. There's simply nothing you can't do (granted, there are some things that you do that cost twice as much than doing the same thing in the 'burbs) and the always changing nature of people and places can be exhilarating. Manhattan is wonderfully walkable, as well, and with some good walking shoes and a MetroCard, you can pretty much go anywhere and experience anything, from fine dining, night life, cultural treasures, world-class music, and great sports... okay you don't get good basketball, but there's always hoping for LeBron in 2010. When you have all of that to surround you, your "home" tends to extend to the city in which you live - Central Park becomes your backyard, Starbuck's becomes your eat-in kitchen and Barnes & Nobles becomes your study.

That's why people are willing to plunk down $150,000 (still a big chunk of change from a cost per square foot perspective) to live in a glorified walk in closet. When people stress location, location, location in regards to a purchase in Manhattan, sometimes being in Manhattan is enough in itself.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Quarterfinals Recap

We were able to bring in some notable sideline reporters to do some post-game interviews following our four playoff games this week.

(1) Punch in the Face, 136.98 over
(8) HE HATE ME, 116.06

PUNCH IN THE FACE COACH STEVE LEE (sideline interview by Andrea Kremer)

Kremer: Coach Lee, you don't have the highest scoring team overall, yet your team continues to find ways to win. What do you have to say about your squad?

Lee: In fact, my team does have the highest number of points in the league, but you're right, there's a lot of luck involved. I'm weak at the second running back spot and vulnerable at wide receiver. I have a strong squad that's capable of putting up a 200 or 180 point game, but I'm always susceptible to a 100 or 110 point game (and a loss). I escaped this week, overcoming a weak performance by my QB and receivers. I think my defense has kept the streak alive over the past few weeks.

Kremer: Coach, Tom Brady looks a little banged up. What's his status for next week and any chance we'll see you come off the bench with your quarterback for next week's matchup?

Lee: There's no chance. I live and die with Tom Brady. If I perish, I perish.

Kremer: You beat this same Millburn Mustangs team pretty easily in the regular season. What's your team going to need to do to make it to the Championship Game?

Lee: I think this is a very dangerous game for my team. A lot of managers undervalued defense all season, but the Milburn Mustangs and a few other managers properly valued their individual defensive players and I wouldn't be surprised if I lost this week. As a counter example, Beginner's Luck has an atrocious defense. If Chris Johnson or his QB has a bad game, he's vulnerable. That's why he has six losses this season, despite having Chris Johnson. I think if I get a good game from Tom Brady that'll go a long way toward victory, but I'm not holding my breath after the last few weeks and lingering injuries.

Kremer: Coach, you and Coach Cheng of the Hamsters engaged in a bit of war of words throughout the season. Do you feel that your success and his first-round exit has justified your past moves?

Lee: I think Coach Cheng would retract his statements if he could. He made some statements early in the season based upon what was going on only in his imagination rather than basing anything in actual fact. However, I appreciate Coach Cheng's passion for the game. I think his first round exit was a fluke, although trading away Desean Jackson certainly didn't help.

Kremer: Gracious in victory, as always. Good luck next week, Coach!

(4) Millburn Mustangs, 119.20 over
(5) Cooler than Baptists, 88.20

MILLBURN MUSTANGS COACH KUO (sideline interview by Ron Pitts)

Pitts: Gutty win, Coach. You clearly didn't have your team firing on all cylinders, but somehow you came out on top.

Kuo: Yeah, we pretty much sucked. But fortunately for us, Cooler than Baptists sucked a little more than we did, so we're advancing and they're going home. I bet all the rest of the guys in the 'Classic that didn't make the playoffs were pretty much looking at our game and wondering "How in the world did we not make the playoffs?"

Pitts: Your next matchup is against an undefeated Punch in the Face squad which crushed your team earlier this season. What will you tell your team to get them ready for this challenge.

Kuo: I'll probably rattle off some disingenuous and insincere drivel about how "any team can beat any other team any given Sunday" and how "it's not about talent, but it's about heart" and some crap about "you play the game on the field, not on paper". Give me a break, we're going to get crushed - I just hope nobody on our team comes out with a permanent disability. You go ahead and print that.

Pitts: Uh... right. Let's send it back up to the booth.

COOLER THAN BAPTISTS COACH FEHRINGER (sideline interview by Sal Paolantonio)

Paolantonio: Tough loss, Coach. There's a rumor going that your players weren't focused for this playoff game, that Aaron Rodgers, Miles Austin and LaDanian Tomlinson broke curfew on Saturday night playing Dungeons and Dragons. Any comment?

Fehringer: I'm the Dungeon Master for that DnD Troupe and I can assure you that the guys did not break curfew or drink too much Mountain Dew Saturday night. Rodgers was upset that his level 10 Swordmage fell in battle against a dracolich, and I do believe that affected his passing game, but Austin and LT performed as expected and no one can complain about that.

Paolantonio: The Mustangs claimed that your Klingon trash talk went right to the bulletin board and helped fire them up for this playoff game. Any regrets for your comments earlier in the week?

Fehringer: None at all. The Klingons are an honorable race of warriors and would prefer to face an enemy at its best. We meant what we said, and we still mean it. After some rest on our homeworld of Qo'noS, we will return next season to have our revenge on the Mustangs.

Paolantonio: Right... Your team was hot and cold all year and just seemed to go cold at the wrong time. Any words for your players as you head to the offseason?

Fehringer: They were a great team that suffered a lot of setbacks. We were fortunate to pick up Miles Austin in the middle of the season, and LT found his game by the end. Rodgers consistently went beyond all expectation, so it's sad one bad game for him knocked us out of the playoffs. I'm most proud of our defense, which I believe was the best in the league. As for the rest they never lived up to my expectation and they're all going to be free agents very soon.

Paolantonio: Thanks, Coach. Great season for your crew.

(3) ANSKY, 149.94 over
(6) No Yankees, 137.14

ANSKY COACH PHIL LEE (sideline interview by Bonnie Bernstein)

Bernstein: Coach, the game got tighter in the end but strong performances by Drew Brees, DeSean Jackson and Ryan Grant saved you. What did you think about your team's effort?

Lee: As you said, we had our bright spots in Brees, Jackson, and Grant--they did save us. Aside from them, we have some work to do this week. No more complaining about migraines and season-ending ACL injuries. These guys need to show some toughness. They need to show they want to win.

Bernstein: Coach, the Bengals had the Ickey Shuffle, the Falcons had the Dirty Bird, and your players are celebrating touchdowns with the the "Stormtrooper Pelvic Thrust" which are drawing 15-yard penalties as well as fines from the FCC. Any comment?

Lee: Although at first it was hard not to laugh, but now we see that our team has taken these celebrations one step too far. From now on, it's Prison Thriller.

Bernstein: I'm sure the ANSKY fans are looking forward to that. Coach, Kevin Smith looks like he suffered a pretty bad injury. What's the RB plan going into next week?

Lee: If I had my dithers, Smith would play, but the team doc says no. We have two solid guys who were waiting for this opportunity--Fargas and Taylor. With Taylor facing weaker run defense numbers in Carolina, I'd have to go with him for now.

Bernstein: Coach, Beginner's Luck just had a monster game - what might be the highest scoring game of their year. What does your team need to do to beat them next week with a trip to the championship game on the line?

Lee: Well, I have to acknowledge that BL is playing very well. They are the team to beat right now. Our strategy next week has been our strategy every week of this season. We play to win each week. We play as a team each week. And our dance choreography needs to be tight.

Bernstein (laughs): Looking forward to that, Coach. Good luck next week.

(7) Beginner's Luck?, 154.12 over
(2) Hamsters, 124.06

BEGINNER'S LUCK? COACH RICHARD KWON (sideline interview by Chris Myers)

Myers: Great win, Coach Kwon, what do you think were the keys to victory?

Kwon: Thanks Chris, it was a team effort and a bit of luck, I suppose. I was going to start Devone Bess as a high-risk, high-return pick, but chose to go back to my good old Austin Collie in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Almost every starter outperformed those on the bench, Kurt Warner being an exception but only as an afterthought. Oh yes, and something about Marshall breaking the NFL record and a guy named Chris Johnson. But I digress--it was all me.

Myers: Coach Kwon, some columnists and experts gave you some grief for not making the Dallas Clark trade earlier in the year, do you feel vindicated?

Kwon: Well, Dallas Clark wasn't the only person that people were giving me grief and misgivings about--someone nearly flipped out when I proposed Hines Ward for Marshall early in the season, after his pre-season trouble subsided. That trade would be considered as astute at this point, wouldn't it? (Just compare their season record, even before last week). Despite being a first-timer, I feel that I have a good grasp on what I was doing--well, Matt Jones the "inactive" starter notwithstanding.

Myers: Coach Cheng was extremely bitter after his loss to you. Do you have any words you'd like to share with him?

Kwon (turning to camera): Coach Cheng, at least now you can cry in someone's arms about losing to a neophyte in fantasy football. No, not talking about some random dude who's spotting you in the gym--someone at your home.

Myers (nervous laugh): That's great, Coach. What does your team need to do to beat an immensely talented ANSKY squad in the semifinals?

Kwon: ANSKY will be tough to beat--his team and Punch in the Face are like the Saints and the Colts, respectively, this season. So let me play the Green Bay card--I just made the playoff in a seventh-place finish, beat the Brett Favre-led Vikings... wait, is that actually possible in the real play-off schedule? Eh, who cares? in an emotional blowout and now face an undefeated, feel-good story of the Saints led by someone named Bruce Leroy (which, by the way, is a name that should strike fear in any fantasy football man). So let me try to out-jinx Coach Lee publicly as well-- ANSKY will slip by me by less than a 10-point spread and in the final game will blow out Coach Lee and Punch in the Face, who is suffering from his attachment to the Patriots and Mrs. Bunchen. And the Charlie Cup will end up back in Jersey.

HAMSTERS COACH CHIN HO CHENG (sideline interview by Suzy Kolber) with an odd case of déjà vu

Kolber: Tough loss, Coach. You came in as the second seed and ran into a team who got hot at the right time. Peter King and the other pundits have been all over you failing to trade for Dallas Clark. Any comment?

Kolber: Thanks Chin! I'll take that as a huge compliment. (Cheng screams "YEAH" in background) Back up to you guys...

COMING UP - EMMANUEL CLASSIC SEMIFINALS: Punch in the Face vs. Millburn Mustangs and ANSKY vs. Beginner's Luck?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Do Asians Need Their Sharpton?

A friend of mine forward a bunch of articles related to a series of incidents stemming from racial tension at a public high school in South Philadelphia where Asian students, many of whom are recent immigrants, were beaten by groups of black students. He had asked me to consider posting it as a future blog topic, and I understand why this caught his attention.

The accounts are disturbing to say the least, with reports emerging of Asian students feeling unsafe due to security guards turning a blind eye and a principal who apparently has ducked the press, refusing to comment or explain why she inexplicably ended practices that seemed to be ameliorating tensions, including keeping non-English-speaking students of a separate floor away from native English speakers of all races. A number of Asian community members have rallied to support these students and have stepped up to build bridges between the community and the school district to find solution, and even Asian advocacy board member and school district parent who astutely stated at one meeting, "a lot of these attacks felt by the students are racially motivated. What's wrong is to deny it" or hope it goes away. Their efforts should be applauded, but the question arises - do Asians need their Sharpton?

This questions always comes to my mind whenever a crime against an Asian is murdered in cold blood, but somehow race is inexplicably ignored as a factor. Take for example last year's killing of Columbia graduate student Minghui Yu, who was chased into traffic in killed by a teen after the killer boasted to a friend, "Look what I do to this one." Earlier this year, a couple of black men killed media account executive David Kao while hunting for "Chinese men who appeared to be drunk". In both of these cases, the district attorney declined to try either of these as hate crimes. Are you kidding me?

The argument for an Asian Al Sharpton is that an "Asian Al" would never let that happen without major public and political repercussions. We'd see organized boycotts, demonstrations and just about every political threat being made public. The counter argument for an "Asian Al" is that for all of it's feel-good bluster, how effective is it, really? Does subtle and downplayed diplomacy at the community and local level, in truth, get more results and build more lasting progress than the polarizing firebrand? Do Asians need both? Is there a viable strategy of "good cop, bad cop" where we have our radical national firebrand balanced by more collaborative local advocates doing grassroots work?

Having been involved in the Asian diversity movement, I've heard many theories why the emergence of the "Asian Al" hasn't happened yet. They range from "the Asian population is too racially, socioeconomically and politically scattered to be pigeon-holed into a single person's (or group of people's) representation" to a more cynical (but I think somewhat accurate) "large pockets of Asian-Americans are quite successful and doing just fine, thank you - why would they want to rock the boat?" Or put another way, change is happening slowly, but surely; respect isn't earned by demonstrations or grandstanding, but by an increasing upwardly-mobile and wealthy (and thus influential) demographic.

Maybe the latter is true (I'm not so sure it is), but stories like the ones above still make me seethe.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Secondhand Smut

When you sit on a train on a daily basis as I have for the past six years, you can't help but notice that people have been taking advantage of their commute using increasingly advanced technology. When I started my regular train commute in 2003, newspapers and magazines was overwhelmingly the diversion of choice. As time as gone by, I've seen more and more people using PSPs, iPhones, and of course, laptops to view digital content from movies to television shows.

A recent article highlights what might be an emerging dilemma when it comes to commuting etiquette. That is, what are the bounds of decency when your seatmate, or the dude in the seat in front of you on your commute insists upon viewing porn on his mobile device in view of other passengers?

Thankfully, I've not been faced with this dilemma. Most of my irritation has been aimed towards those fellow commuters who are deathly ill sneezing and coughing who still insist on sharing their contagious selves with me in a poorly-ventilated enclosed space for 45 minutes. But I have been in situations where there's been a guy with a with a 15-inch laptop who's watching a mainstream R-rated movie, let's say, Crank, and I can't help but wonder if common decency would dictate that the viewer would fast-forward past Amy Smart and Jason Statham's sex scene in public, or a scene where a bad guy gets his hand shredded in a sewing machine. I don't get the sense these commuters would think twice about it - even when there are occasionally kids riding into work with their parents.

Well, I guess I shouldn't be too harsh and cast stones from a glass house. After all, I do expose my poor fellow commuters to my ill-advised fantasy football moves and the mindless drivel in my blog. But at least I use a privacy filter for my screen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 13 Recap

The regular season is over, and eight teams remain in the hunt for the Charlie Cup. I'm not going to pen recaps for every single this past week, but just couple that had major bearing on the playoff picture.

Cooler than Baptists over Team Singletary. Coach Fehringer's Cooler than Baptists team was one of two who had the "win and they're in" playoff scenario, and to absolutely nobody's surprise, they beat Team Singletary handily, despite a decent effort from the 49ers (there's the "Baptist Bump" again. This is awful news for me, because with the 'Baptists ascension to the 5th spot, guess who my Mustangs get to face off with in the quarterfinals?

HE HATE ME over Pablo. Coach Song's HE HATE ME squad was the other "win and they're in" team, and this was, at least at some point last week, an intriguing toss up which could've led to a miraculous comeback and playoff berth for Coach Huang's Pablo. Unfortunately for Coach Huang, his team decided to pick an inopportune time to have their worst performance of the year, putting up a meager 74 points and going out with a whimper. HE HATE ME's prize - a matchup against undefeated Punch in the Face.

ANSKY over Don't Tread on Me. This was a surprisingly controversial game due to a surprising benching of Drew Brees, with incorrect claims of tanking made and retracted. At the end of the day, Coach Lee's ANSKY narrowly beat out Coach Cummings' Don't Tread on Me, ending 'Tread's playoff hope and solidifying ANSKY in the three spot. I still don't understand why tanking would make sense. With due respect to Beginner's Luck and No Yankees, Cooler than Baptists is easily the most dangerous quarterfinal matchup, so there's absolutely no incentive to drop to the 4 spot. That fate has now fallen on my team, unfortunately for us.

Here's the final regular season standings (* playoff-bound):
*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 13-0-0
*2. Hamsters (Cheng) 9-4-0
*3. ANSKY (Lee) 9-4-0
*4. Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 9-4-0
*5. Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 7-6-0
*6. No Yankees (Tae) 7-6-0
*7. Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 7-6-0
*8. HE HATE ME (Song) 7-6-0
9 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 5-8-0
10 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 5-8-0
11 Pablo (Huang) 5-8-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 5-8-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 3-10-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-12-0

Playoffs start next week! Should be fun.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Culture of Encouragement

I've come to realize that as a whole, our society doesn't value encouragement - and as a male, I'll confess that men are absolutely terrible at this. As someone who can be sarcastic and sardonic, I'm fully aware that encouraging people doesn't come naturally - while ripping on others seems to be a natural talent for everyone. The workplace is filled with people who have forgotten the simple discipline of saying "good job" or "thank you", while thinly-veiled shots at others are commonplace. Even in terms of humor, it's far easier to demean others than to make a self-effacing joke at your own expense. And as long as insecurity in people reigns, people will overcompensate by making fun of others. So I take comfort in witnessing the culture of encouragement wherever I can.

The one place where encouragement is emphasized with the subtlety of a sledgehammer is in raising children, which makes all the sense in the world, and I find it helpful to be immersed in this to counteract all the other parts of my life where this spirit is rare if not absent.

We've started the potty-training process in earnest for Sophia recently, and while it's slow coming, I appreciate the deliberate focus that my wife has on encouraging my daughter. The routine starts with letting our daughter roam bottomless around the kitchen after she eats, and then at a certain point, Sarah picks Sophia up and plops her on the mini-potty OR Sophia prematurely shows "the look on her face" and starts creeping towards a corner of the room, at which points Sarah shrieks and runs to grab Sophia before she leaves us presents on the floor.

If we time things correctly, Sophia will sit on the potty while Daniel reads her a Dr. Seuss book, during which I'm pumping my fist at the double-win of having my son practice reading while my daughter practices going to the bathroom. If Sophia does her business in the potty, Sarah, Daniel and I join together in a little celebratory "potty dance" in front of Sophia which she takes great joy in watching, and she'll be also rewarded with a little treat.

In reflection, I feel like a tool doing a doing the dance, but it's all part of Sarah's plan to be encouraging and to be frank, seeing Sophia's reaction makes it worthwhile. Sophia's not close to being potty-trained, but I like the glimpses of encouragement we see in our household which can help get her there. Hopefully we can do more of this - God-willing we'll be together for a long time as a family, so we'd better learn.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stressed or Distinguished

As Sarah and I drove home from church a week ago, my wife looked in the visor mirror on her side of the car and said rather matter-of-factly "Hmm... more white hairs." We the proceeded to postulate how much of that was stress induced and how much is par for the course - you know, the random white hairs that pop up as people grow older. I seem to remember Sarah having a couple of these before, which I would dutifully hunt for and pluck out. Interestingly, I don't think I have any white hairs, which probably is a testament to Sarah being a wonderful wife (which she is) and me being an awful stress-inducing husband (which I probably am, but I'm trying to get better, honest).

It's not just my wife on whom I've seen some graying. There some number of college buddies and other friends that I've noticed either in passing or in photos who have racked up noticeably more gray hair. Even President Obama made news recently when it became evident that our Commander in Chief's noggin was getting really gray really fast. That one boggles the mind - two wars, stagnant health reform and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression - what's to be worried about?

But for us, gray and white hair is just another rite of passage, it seems, for me and my generation - a harbinger of our increasing role in this world and a growing distance of our childhood with little real responsibilities. Two Saturdays ago as I drove to a friend's house on the Turnpike, I rolled my eyes at a couple of kids in the back of the school bus who kept incessantly waving from the back door window trying to get our attention - but then softened when I realized that me and my doofus friends used to do the same thing. Flash forward 15 to 20 years later, a whole bunch of us are now parents which children, mortgages, jobs and real responsibilities... and the random graying hairs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 12 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over Go Yankees. My Mustangs punch their ticket into the playoffs with a gritty (and somewhat lucky) win over Coach Beenken's Go Yankees, aided largely by Matt Ryan being knocked out early in the game after throwing for a measly six yards. Make no mistake, my team underperformed, but Go Yankees got even more disappointing output from its offensive stars.

HE HATE ME over Beginner's Luck? Great win for Coach Song's HE HATE ME, allowing them to leap into temporary possession of the last playoff spot. Notwithstanding two monster performances from HE HATE ME's Charles Woodson and Brett Favre, the blowout was largely aided by a contagious case of the concussion going around Beginner's Luck locker, taking both Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner out. Coach Kwon doesn't need a better coach, he needs a team neurologist. Despite the setback, Beginner's Luck clinched a playoff spot.

Pablo over Team Singletary. It was a must-win game for Coach Huang and Pablo, and survive they did, with win over Coach Lin's plucky Team Singletary. Pablo is barely alive in the playoff hunt, but stranger things have happened - I'll try to make sense of things later in the recap.

Cooler than Baptists over No Yankees. Coach Fehringer's Cooler than Baptists have gone from barely alive to safely embedded as the "team nobody in the playoffs wants to play", and with a matchup against Team Singletary to close out their season, you'd have to say chances are good that they'll clinch next week. This is definitely a dark horse who can end up winning it all. As for Coach Tae's No Yankees, the woes of the team correlate with those of the New York Giants, and if Eli Manning's foot is getting worse as rumored and the team begins to freefall, it could get ugly.

Punch in the Face over Trail Mix. Another week, another win for Coach Lee's Punch in the Face with great performances by waiver wire pickup Robert Meacham and Pablo castoff Antonio Gates. Punch in the Face has, some weeks, kept its undefeated streak intact thanks to playing the right team on the right week. Not this week - they were definitely positioned to score big. As for Coach Yeoh's Trail Mix, his squad gets dangerously close to playoff elimination and will definitely need some help to make it to the dance.

Midgets over Don't Tread on Me. A costly loss for Coach Cummings' Don't Tread on Me, who falls to the Midgets behind strong performances by Philip Rivers and Marques Colston. You know, looking at Coach Kang's roster, his team isn't that bad - you might have to chalk up some of those losses from just bad matchups here and there. It's hard to believe that team had only won one game previous to this one. Don't Tread on Me also falls into dangerous playoff elimination territory with the loss.

ANSKY over Hamsters. In what might be semi-final or championship game preview, Coach Lee's ANSKY took out Coach Cheng's Hamsters behind a monster game from Drew Brees (who also mauled the Patriots to the delight of Patriots-haters) and nice "revenge" games from ex-Hamsters Percy Harvin and DeSean Jackson. The Ochocinco/Celek/Harvin/Jackson trade is definitely not working out well for Coach Cheng. Did he err in not making a more generous offer for Antonio Gates? Will it haunt him in the playoffs? Time will tell.

So the basic situation is that there are five team in the running for the two remaining playoff spots. Here are the most realistic (e.g. let's assume Cooler than Baptists will beat Team Singletary), but not comprehensive, scenarios that can get certain teams in:

Cooler than Baptists and HE HATE ME: Win and they're in. They control their own destiny, so to say.

Don't Tread on Me: Need to beat ANSKY, and needs Pablo to beat HE HATE ME (but with Pablo not scoring more than 50 points higher than Don't Tread on Me), and need Trail Mix to either lose or score no more than 38 higher than Don't Tread on Me.

Trail Mix: Needs to beat the Midgets, and needs both Pablo to beat HE HATE ME and Don't Tread on Me to either lose to ANSKY, or score 49 less points than them in a victory.

Pablo: Needs to beat HE HATE ME, and have Don't Tread on Me lose to ANSKY, and have Trail Mix either lose to the Midgets, or score at least 12 point less than Pablo.

Does that makes sense? I have no idea if it does, but everything will be clear in a week.

Updated Standings (Top 8 after Week 13 go to playoffs, * clinched playoff spot):

*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 12-0-0
*2. Hamsters (Cheng) 8-4-0
*3. ANSKY (Lee) 8-4-0
*4. Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 8-4-0
*5. No Yankees (Tae) 7-5-0
*6. Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 7-5-0
7 Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 6-6-0
8 HE HATE ME (Song) 6-6-0
9 Don't Tread on Me 5-7-0
10 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 5-7-0
11 Pablo (Huang) 5-7-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 4-8-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 2-10-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-11-0