Monday, February 27, 2006

Why I'm a NASCAR Fan

I take a fair amount of flack for being a NASCAR fan here in one of the bluest states in the Union. My response is usually, "who gives a shit what you think?" And I stand by that.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share a few things about myself with you, the loyal reader, about my upbringing:

I grew up in a town so small that we referred to it as part of the next town over.

The next town over contained roughly 1200 people and one blinking stop light.

I chewed tobacco for the first time at age 11.

I fired a gun many years before I drove a car.

My family never had a field car...but we knew plenty of people who did.

I knew lots of people who lived in trailers, and that seemed perfectly normal.

A very well-respected member of the community where I grew up married her first cousin.

I know more people who were injured by farm equipment and killed in hunting accidents than injured or killed by gang violence, drug overdoses or robberies.

Before moving to this bustling metropolis in Western New York, my 8th grade class consisted of 20 people.

I've eaten rabbit. It tasted like chicken, if I remember right.

To me, voting Republican comes as naturally as breathing.

I watched pro wrestling for a long time, even through law school and some time after.

In fact, I'd vote for Vince McMahon for U.S. Senator from New York before I'd vote for Hillary Clinton.

I'll drink cheap beer without a word of complaint, and wash it down with even cheaper beer.

My name is Phil, and I'm a redneck.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Update

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. The good news is that I'm billing a lot of hours and so my boss is making lots of money on my labor these days. This will, one hopes, ultimately lead to a nice raise at some point for Yours Truly. The bad news is that you've been deprived of several minutes of free entertainment.

Fair trade.

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Speaking of the title, who was the best host of SNL's "Weekend Update"? My personal favorite was always Dennis Miller, but Norm McDonald was great, too.

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Scott Adams has some fantastic advice for new college grads:

The person who sits nearest the boss’s office gets the most assignments.

Your potential for senior management will be determined by the three H’s: Hair, Height, and Harvard degree. You need at least two out of three. (Non-Harvard schools will be acceptable if it’s clear that you “could have gone” to Harvard.)

Your hard work will be rewarded. Specifically, your boss’s boss will reward your boss for making you work so hard.

There’s no such thing as good ideas and bad ideas. There are only your own ideas and other people’s. If you want someone to like your idea, tell him he said it last week and you just remembered.

Teamwork is what you call it when you trick other people into ignoring their priorities in favor of yours.

Leadership is a form of evil. No one needs to lead you to do something that is obviously good for you. (Note: this is my personal favorite.)

You can estimate the time for any project by multiplying the number of idiots involved by one week and adding the number of capable co-workers times four weeks. (The competent ones are busier.)

In any group of three coworkers, at least one of them will be a sadistic loser intent on grabbing your ankle as he circles the drain.

Non-monetary incentives are every bit as valuable as they sound.

Business success is mostly about waiting for something lucky to happen and then taking credit.

Preparing a Powerpoint presentation will give you the sweet, sweet illusion of productivity.

It is better to be an “expert” than it is to do actual work.

The first month on any new job should be spent talking smack about the “idiot who had the job before you.”

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As you probably know, the South Dakota Legislature is deliberately drafting a law directly designed to force a challenge Roe v. Wade. I'm not entirely sure what I think about this. On the one hand, I'm very much opposed to the precedent in Roe v. Wade, and would be delighted to see the Supreme Court strike it down. (I don't think they will without one more conservative on the Court, but I've been wrong before.)

On the other hand, the "responsible government" advocate in me dislikes the idea of a state legislature drafting a law that they KNOW is unconstitutional as written under current legal precedent. No one else seems to be real concerned about this. Maybe wasting taxpayer time and dollars to challenge the Supreme Court is like leaking grand jury testimony: no one really cares anymore.

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Finally, my favorite news story of the week. This restores my faith in humanity...at least for a while. Doesn't hurt that it comes from my high school.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Scorpion

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?"

Replies the scorpion: "Its my nature."


Aesop probably didn’t have Ricky Williams in mind when he wrote that fable, but he might as well have. I’m not going to pontificate on the evils of drug use, or show sympathy for an addict or anything like that. I don’t know why Williams has done what he’s done any more than that poor frog knew why the scorpion stung him.

I do know this, however: in one fell swoop, Ricky Williams has probably ended his NFL career, crippled the team that bent over backwards to accommodate him upon his return to the league, betrayed friends and guaranteed that he’ll be filing for bankruptcy.

A friend of mine, some years ago, got arrested for DWI and had his license suspended. When he went to the court-ordered seminars, they had the people there total up the cost of their actions, and express it in terms of the cost of each drink they had that night. So, for example, a man who totals his $30,000 car after drinking 10 beers paid $3000 per drink that night. By comparison, Ricky Williams has apparently taken a $9.1 million bong hit.

Man, that must be some good stuff.

Williams, of course, will now have an $8.6 million judgment hanging over his head, (which the Dolphins have already showed they are serious about collecting), not to mention likely forfeiting half a million in salary this year. Assuming he is, in fact, suspended for a full season (and it’s hard to imagine any other outcome unless this is a really bizarre misunderstanding), it is impossible to envision him playing for the Miami Dolphins again, and probably anywhere else in the NFL. Williams will be 30 before the 2007 season, will have missed almost two and a half of the previous three seasons and already have shown a complete inability to abide by the league’s substance abuse rules and a complete disregard for his teammates and coaches. Who’s going to take a chance on a guy like that?

You’ll notice that, throughout this column, I’ve referred to this gentleman as “Williams”, rather than the more familiar “Ricky”. In fact, I’ve done that ever since he retired. Even when he returned, I viewed Williams as little more than a hired gun, who was doing his job (and doing it well) to satisfy his financial obligations. In a way, that may not separate him from a lot of NFL players. But even so, I like to hear that Jason Taylor is a happy guy. I like to read that Ronnie Brown is a good human being. I view them as real people. Not Ricky Williams. I don’t care about Williams’ personal life and haven’t in a long time. I don’t know if he needs psychological help, or needs to check into rehab, or is just plain stupid, and I don’t care in the least.

Williams was a mercenary. That was an arrangement it seemed everyone had accepted. By staying clean, Williams would get the opportunity to play football, make some cash and work off the judgment hanging over his head. The team’s interest was intertwined with his; by staying clean, everyone was a winner. If he abused drugs again, everyone was a loser.

Well, here we are. Reports of yet another failed drug test have been verified. The scorpion stings the frog. Life, it seems, imitates art.

The Dolphins, of course, are fortunate in the sense that there’s little doubt that Ronnie Brown is ready to carry the load full time. That’s a good thing. Williams was viewed either as trade bait or a luxury item, depending on whom you ask. Those options are out the window now, of course. They’ll likely have to pick up an established backup running back, hopefully on the cheap, and scrap those wild trade scenarios that involved shipping Williams out for a second round pick or the equivalent. This robs the Dolphins of a valuable item, but it doesn’t create a major need. It doesn’t dramatically alter Nick Saban’s offseason plan.

In short, they’re still a hell of a lot better off than the frog.

And what of the scorpion? What about the guy whose very nature appears to be to self-destruct? $9 million in the hole, one foot in bankruptcy court, almost sure to be blackballed throughout the NFL?

He’s going to sink to the bottom of the river.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Who's Crazier: Terrell Owens or the Cartoon Protesters?

I've given this some thought and decided that I am completely on board the Terrell Owens to Miami bandwagon. Recent world events have forced me to redefine the term "crazy". T.O. now looks like a perfectly rational and reasonable person compared with a large percentage of planet Earth.

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You know, there's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there's the demise of a murderous sea anemone.

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Scooter Libby says that "his superiors" authorized him to disclose information on Valerie Plame. However, the article goes on to quote a legal source that says that Libby never said that anyone in the administration authorized it. Well, if Libby was the chief of staff for Dick Cheney, it would seem that all his superiors are IN the administration! So, essentially, CNN is reporting confused nonsense (but of course, slapping the "Libby: My Superiors Authorized Leaks" header on it, rather than the much more appropriate "We Have No Idea What Libby Was Instructed To Do" header). Well done.

Incidentally, does anyone even care about keeping grand jury testimony secret anymore? Grand jury leaks seem to be how we get about 90% of our news these days.

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I've got to tell you, I hope this whole "sensitivity to Islam" thing is finally running its course. CNN's even changed their story. Originally, at the end of each of their articles on the subject of the infamous Mohammed cartoon, they'd write "CNN is not showing pictures of the cartoon out of respect for Islam." They've since changed it to "CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself." That's actually a fairly reasonable position, I think.

Mark Steyn is rapidly becoming one of my favorite columnists. And frankly, I think he makes another excellent point about this whole situation. It's entirely acceptable for artists, actors and other right-brained, left-feeling souls to defame Christianity or Judaism all they want. That's part of the freedom of expression we all prize. Yet suddenly, Islam has to be treated with kid gloves. Why?

My buddy Nick (who pretty much sucks at updating his share of our blog, so I'll pick on him for this paragraph) can say things like "I'm an atheist because I can think for myself", and you know what? I won't beat the holy shit out of him. I won't send suicide bombers to his home, and I won't torch the New Hampshire State Capitol in reprisal. I won't do any of those things because: 1. Nick's my friend, and 2. it's an absolutely psychotic response. In Tehran or Jakarta, however, poor Nicholas would be cursed as an infidel (he'd surely be given away after consuming a triple bacon burger with extra bacon), and all those things would happen (except they might torch the nearest American embassy, since Concord, NH is pretty far away). Seems unreasonable to me. In fact, it sounds pretty damned crazy to me.

And, I'm pretty unhappy at the world response to this so far. I'm tired of hearing the leaders of the free world talk about "sensitivity" and "understanding" and bending over backwards to accommodate a bunch of crazies. And I recognize that there is probably a huge Muslim contingent that sees this stuff on TV and says "STOP, you fools! You're making us look bad!", but unfortunately, they're apparently not running the show. Why on earth hasn't some world leader come out and said "are you people completely f**king nuts? Stop burning our embassies, or we start bombing." I would have thought for sure George Bush could have handled that role, but I guess not.

So basically, we treat Islam with kid gloves because we're afraid of a large, angry, violent mob. Fantastic international policy. To paraphrase the immortal words of my buddy Kev, "Allah, please protect us from your followers."

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But then, Scott Adams might have had the best take of all .

Monday, February 06, 2006

Grading the Super Bowl

For lack of a more creative way to break down last night's big game, let's assign some grades to the relevant and irrelevant goings-on...

The Game - C
The thing is, the Super Bowl basically delivers a big game once every other year or thereabouts. In fact, since XXX, the even-numbered games have all been excellent, and the odd-numbered ones stunk. At least, that was the trend until recently. Last year's game was fairly competitive, but never really all that great. It wasn't helped by the least-urgent two-minute drill in recent history. And this year? Well, there just wasn't anything that stood out. It was fairly close throughout, so that's good, but really, apart from the Willie Parker 75 yard TD run and the Randle-El TD pass, what will you remember? Not much, except for one particularly bad thing we'll get to shortly.

The Coaches - C-minus
Let's just say that neither one of these game plans will go down in history with Mike Shanahan's XXXII or Bill Belichick's XXXVI game plan. Both teams, in an effort to "surprise" the other guys, constantly went away from their strengths. Why do this? Mike Holmgren, you have the league MVP in the backfield, and you have the best left tackle and left guard in the NFL. Here's a hint: Vince Lombardi called it "student body left". If it was good enough for him, it's damn sure good enough for you.

Bill Cowher didn't honk the Big Game, for once, so good for him. I think Cowher is a terrible coach when he's coaching from behind; he loses faith in his running game far too quickly, but fortunately for him, it never really came up. And, to his credit, he certainly picked the right time for the reverse pass play: Seattle was back on their heels, and as soon as they were in striking distance, Pittsburgh went for the jugular. I thought it took him too long to establish the run; Roethlisberger was terrible. I'm not sure if he was feeling the pressure or what, but Cowher was fortunate that his defense, Seattle's receivers and the refs bailed him out; Seattle could have been up 10 at halftime. Nevertheless, he's got a ring now, which probably seals his Hall of Fame bid.

The receivers - D
More dropped balls than a Greece Athena-Greece Olympia contest. Actually, that's not fair...high school teams around here run probably 3 times more than they pass (thus making me believe that Athena Coach Rick Cerone probably would have crafted a better game plan than Mike Holmgren). Anyway, way too many dropped passes. For Seattle, that's not a shock; the dropsies have killed them for the last couple years. I saw Hines Ward drop three balls, though, one of which was a touchdown. And yet somehow, he got MVP (more on this in a moment).

Food - A
We had pizza bread, chicken wings (I'm not going A-plus because my wings were good, but could have been better; I should have deep-fried them longer and at a higher temperature for extra crispiness), the obligatory veggie platter and chips, some fantastic desserts my friend Stacy baked, and ended with Carvel's Snicker's ice cream cake. We all get an A for that. Fantastic!

Commercials - C
Either excellent (the Fed Ex caveman ad) or duds (every cell phone ad), with a fairly even distribution. And by the way, I liked the Budweiser clydesdale ad...even if no one else at my house did.

I'll tell you what, though, I could have come up with a MUCH better ad for that whole "little girls need self-esteem" campaign. Show a little girl, at age 9, being neglected by her parents. Then, show her 10 years later, appearing on stage number 2 as "Cinnamon" or "Tiffany". It doesn't even have to be risque; just show the father at the strip club, then show his shocked and mortified expression as his little girl comes out from the back. This would work roughly 20 times better than these stupid "feel-good" ads.

On second thought...don't. If this self-esteem ad campaign catches on, the porn industry in our nation will dry up over the next decade. Just forget I ever said anything.

Phoebe the cat - A-plus
Every Super Bowl, my cat makes her pick. We put two index cards on the ground, with a team name on each, with a cat treat. Whichever cat treat she takes first is her pick. Well, this year, when asked to make her pick she came over to me instead. So basically, Phoebe picked Team Phil to win the Super Bowl. It's hard not to love an animal like that.

(Incidentally, when pressed, she went for the Seahawks. She should have stuck with her first choice.)

The refs - P
I say P because I needed a grade several notches below F. And P happens to start words like "Putrid", "Pathetic" and "Possibly Pre-Paid by Pittsburgh". Okay, that last one was actually four words, one of which was a compound word, but I think it fits.

Officiating has been a HUGE problem throughout the playoffs. How many games could have gone the other way because of bad calls? I count four...one of which was the Super Bowl. (The other three, if you're wondering, were Chicago-Carolina, Pittsburgh-Indy, and Denver-New England.) And the Super Bowl was the worst one of all. Every borderline call went for Pittsburgh. Not just most of them, ALL of them. To itemize:

1. Darrell Jackson's offensive pass interference, while a technically correct call, is so rarely made that I would not have been at all shocked if the refs let that go. Personally, I thought Steve Smith's pushoff in the Bears game (which was not called), that led to their first touchdown, was much worse.
2. Roethlisberger's sneak for a TD. It looked like the nose of the ball might have scratched the plane of the goal, but still, that could have easily gone the other way.
3. The holding call on Sean Locklear, which prompted John Madden to quip on replay, "if there was holding, it wasn't in that shot." If there was holding elsewhere, and they called the wrong number, so be it. But that call wiped out a gain to the Pittsburgh 1. The Seahawks would have had Shaun Alexander and the best left side of an OL in football at the one yard line. What are the chances they'd score a TD there? 90%? 95%? It's probably 17-14 Seattle if they don't blow that call. Instead, Hasselbeck throws a pick two plays later...
4. ...and gets called for an illegal block. The absolute most mind-numbing call of the game. Three Steelers, one Seahawk (a QB no less), so Hasselbeck dives at the ball carrier and gets called for an illegal block. Why on earth would he want to BLOCK a guy on an interception return when he's probably the one guy keeping the DB (Ike Taylor, I think) from scoring?
5. Hasselbeck's fumble. Not worth worrying about too much, because it was overturned on review. Of course, it forced the Seahawks to burn a challenge and took some momentum away from them after a good run.
6. The no-call on Joey Porter's horse collar tackle. Porter hauled Alexander down by the back of his jersey, in the exact same way Roy Williams did to Terrell Owens. Isn't this a 15 yard penalty? Or does it just get called when someone's carted off the field?

If I'm missing one, feel free to note it. I'm sure there were others. Frankly, I would have felt better if the NFL had just gone all-out and announced that the referees would be Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Meaghan Cowher and three random fans with mustard-stained Jerome Bettis jerseys.

The MVP voting - D-minus
Here's what I think happened: the game, while interesting and intense, wasn't all that well played. When this happens, the voters will usually pick the winning team's quarterback as the MVP, for lack of a clearly superior choice (e.g., Joe Namath, SB III).

Unfortunately for them, in this case, Ben Roethlisberger was terrible. Admittedly, his receivers dropped about 5 passes, which didn't help, but he threw two picks (one of which should have gone for 6), and ran for a dubious touchdown. They couldn't pick him and retain whatever marginal credibility they might have had. So they looked at the stat sheet, saw that Hines Ward had 5 catches for 123 yards and a TD. "Good enough!" they said. Only one problem: Ward didn't play all that well. He dropped three passes, one of which cost Pittsburgh a touchdown.

I would have felt much better if they'd given it to Willie Parker. Yeah, he basically had one big play all night. But that play put Pittsburgh in front for good, and it's probably the one that we'll be seeing on highlight films over and over again. How about Ike Taylor, who had 7 tackles, a huge INT, and played pretty good defense all night? Or how about, God forbid, picking a Pittsburgh offensive lineman? I mean, they ran for 181 yards, and Parker's run aside, none of the running backs stood out all that much. Alan Faneca pulled on Parker's big run, had the key block and played an awesome game all around. Why not him?

The Football Gods - A-plus
The NFL ran a bunch of ads that showed players and coaches with the Vince Lombardi trophy, almost all of them touching it. And the vast majority of players in those ads were Steelers. Touching a championship trophy before winning it is about as smart as building your house on an Indian burial ground. The Steelers have no cheerleaders, got a ridiculously favorable run from the refs, did not establish the run early, talked smack about their opponents for two weeks, and got an insane amount of media hype, which they collectively ate up with a spoon. The Football Gods have inflicted career-ending and life-shortening injuries for lesser offenses. So of course, it makes perfect sense that the Football Gods favored the Steelers with victory.

(Why am I giving the Football Gods an A-plus, despite their terrible performance? Because I refuse to anger them and risk the chance that they'll inflict a 5-11 season on the Dolphins next year.)

Jerome Bettis - F
Was anyone else REALLY tired of the whole Jerome Berris/Detroit thing? It got bad at our house; when the NFL showed the picture of Bettis holding the Lombardi Trophy (which they were clearly saving for the end of the game), we all started shouting and throwing middle fingers at The Bus. But hey, he's a nice guy. At least that's what I keep hearing. Oh, and he's from Detroit. He's a nice guy from Detroit. A nice guy from Detroit who couldn't gain 5 yards if his life depended on it last night.

Lady Luck - A
You have to be lucky to be a Super Bowl champion. There's no doubt about it. But I can't remember a team getting more good breaks than the Steelers did in these playoffs. If Carson Palmer's knee isn't turned into ground beef two plays into the game, there's an excellent chance the Bengals knock them out in round 1. If Nick Harper cuts to the outside, instead of trying to juke Ben Roethlisberger (I still don't know why he didn't just run up the sideline), or if Vanderjagt and Manning don't collectively choke away the final drive, the Colts probably knock them out in round 2. If the refs don't screw the Broncos, there's a good chance the Steelers end up playing the Patriots, and not the Broncos, and possibly have a much different outcome (I mean, there's a big difference between playing Jake Plummer in an AFC Championship game and Tom Brady in an AFC Championship game). If the refs don't screw the Seahawks, there's a decent chance the Seahawks win the Super Bowl.

So basically, the Steelers got a huge, unexpected and largely undeserved (in their defense, the officiating in the Colts game was also terrible, but was terrible AGAINST them) break in each round, and each time, there's a decent chance it would have changed the outcome.

Whoever said it's better to be lucky than good sure knew what he was talking about.

Friday, February 03, 2006

For Sale: One Ego, Well-Used, Seldom-Bruised. Dignity Not Included.

A man goes into a bar, sees an attractive woman sitting there and walks over to her.
"Hey," he asks, "would you sleep with me for a million dollars?"
She thinks for a second and says, "A million bucks? Absolutely!"
"Okay, how about for twenty bucks?"
"Twenty bucks?!? What do you think I am?"
"Well, we've established what you are. I'm just trying to negotiate a price."


My wife and I were hypothesizing what we'd do if she got a new, higher paying job someday. By way of background, my wife and I are both attorneys. She makes more money than I do. Not a lot more, but more. But then, she also works longer hours and harder in the hours she does work (for example, check the time stamp on this post). This isn't the best situation for me, and I imagine that most men, on some level, feel the same way. You see, I would be fine with making more money than my wife, since it would make my ego feel good. But I would also be fine with my wife making significantly more than me, since whatever bruises my ego sustained could simply be massaged away by handfuls of cash.

So basically, my ego's for sale. It's just a question of finding the appropriate price.

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From the file of "Couples that might not make it": I was listening to the radio today, and a man dedicated the song "Fat Bottomed Girls" to his fiancee.

Someday, I'll make a list of the absolute worst songs you could dedicate to your wife or girlfriend. However, I'm nearly certain that "Fat Bottomed Girls" would be #1 on the list. Pretty much anything by Ike Turner would be #2.

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In my family, we have a problem with the word "everything".

There's a hot dog place I like very much. When I order my dog, I like hot sauce, onions and mustard on it. Somewhere along the way, I realized that "everything" was shorthand for "hot sauce, onions and mustard" at this establishment. This seemed bizarre to me, since they also have relish and ketchup available as potential condiments. And there's always the possibility that, upon hearing "everything", some overzealous fry cook might throw hash browns, a hamburger, a fried egg, a strawberry milkshake and some window cleaner on it.

Be that as it may, "everything" is understood to mean "hot sauce, onions and mustard", regardless of how little sense it makes. Do they concede that relish is for losers? If so, why offer it at all? Nevertheless, every time I order a hot dog there, I always say the words "with everything" with complete trepidation, ready to leap over the counter and use force to stop them from putting relish on my hot dog, if need be. It's a bizarre little ritual.

Nevertheless, it is not half as bizarre as the ordeal my stepfather endured. One morning, he, my mom and sister went to a bagel store. He was desirous of ordering a bagel with egg, ham and cheese on it. He saw a sign for an "everything bagel" and assumed, not unreasonably, that this was what he needed to order.

Unfortunately, the "everything bagel" merely referred to the bagel itself, which had all manner of seeds, spices, dried fruit and other nonsense baked into it. It did not refer to the toppings on the bagel (or, since the bagel would be sliced in half, the innards). My stepfather is an intelligent, learned, successful man. He is, however, arguably the most stubborn human being on the planet.

I am told the exchange went something like this:
Minimum-wage earning, minimally-educated bagel shop functionary: And for you, sir?
Stepdad: I'd like an everything bagel.
BSF: Okay, sir, what would you like on it?
S: Everything.
BSF: (confused)
S: I want everything on it. Isn't that what the everything bagel is?!?
(At this point, my sister slowly walked away and toward the car.)
BSF: (confused and frightened) No, sir, that's just a type of bagel. Now, what would you like on it?
S: EVERYTHING!!!

We're no longer welcome at that establishment. It's probably just as well.