Thursday, February 14, 2008

MLB's Dog-and-Pony Show Solves Nothing

The Mitchell Report, baseball’s commissioned investigation into the sport’s steroid problem, read like a steamy novel written just for sports fanatics. I pored through it with the intensity of a love starved woman reading a Danielle Steel book. One of the more depressing aspects of the report’s release was that it was anticipated with a "Who Got Caught" type of buzz rather than "Who Used." Even so, the inclusion of Roger Clemens' (an All-Star pitcher and certain Hall of Famer) surprised many. His continued success had always been attributed to his intensely superior training regimen. Players descended on his house for workouts like individuals journeying to study with the Dalai Lama.

Clemens’ initially reacted with ferocious defiance, but with good reason. The only evidence against him was verbal testimony given by his former trainer Brian McNamee, essentially heresy. McNamee said he injected Roger with steroids repeatedly during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Also paramount to the trainers story was his assertion that Clemens was introduced to the idea of using steroids by Jose Canseco (baseball’s crowned “Mr. Steroids”) while attending a party at Canseco’s house.

Now, as their hearing before House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform comes to a close, there still looks to be a measure of ambiguity to this soap opera.

I watched Wednesday’s hearings. It was in effect an angry mob of geriatrics closing in on a victim- except, they were not sure yet who that victim would be. In an effort to discover the truth, both individuals have been scrutinized under the brightest of lights. Frankly, McNamee comes off as anything but an upstanding individual. He used Clemens image to advertise his services as a trainer, without consulting the pitcher. He claimed to be a doctor after receiving a P.H.D. from a college that didn’t even have a campus. He took his courses through the mail making it, essentially, a diploma mill.

Roger’s legal team’s main offensive against McNamee involved disproving his story about Canseco’s party. They produced game footage in which the announcers discuss Clemens absence from that certain weekend’s festivities. Clemens also brought forward a receipt from the golf round that he claims to have played the morning that the steroids barbecue was taking place. This almost hindered his case as it seemed both ludicrous and downright humorous that he would keep accounting records as meticulously as he conducts his workouts.

But as disreputable as McNamee appeared, Clemens was even harder to believe. To combat Clemens claims of absence from the party, McNamee cited that the Clemens’ nanny was at the party and would agree with McNamee’s claims. He recommended that Congress find her and they requested her information from Clemens’ and his lawyers. Congress reiterated Wednesday that they repeatedly asked Clemens for her information throughout this past weekend but were only provided with the necessary contact info at the end of the weekend. When they talked to her, they were very startled to find out that she had been a visitor at Clemens’ house the previous day. She told them that he had implored her to “tell the truth.” While she said he might not have been at the party, he was at Conseco’s house at some point during that time period.

While this appears to be a smoking gun, the party really means nothing to the overall actions being scrutinized. For the time being, it is just speculation. But the strongest catalyst of the rampant speculation is the testimony of Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ former teammate and best friend. McNamee also claimed he had given Pettitte steroids, as well as former Yankee Chuck Knoblach. And both corroborated his story. It seems strange that McNamee would tell the truth about two players, but lie about another.

Pettitte also gave congress a deposition and he went as far as implicating Roger. He said that Clemens had explicitly told him about his steroids use. While it might seem shameful to rat on a friend, Pettitte is a religious man who answers to a higher authority and he has no reason to tell anything but the truth. Roger maintains that Pettitte misunderstood him, but this is not a matter of semantics.

This biggest piece of hard evidence is the syringes that McNamee finally handed over to congress last week. He claims he used them to inject Clemens with steroids. That’s right. He handed over syringes that he had, for some inexplicable reason, held onto for over five years. He kept dirty needles in his home for half a decade. One wonders how many times he moved during this time and had to go about packing up and unpacking his traveling virus collection. In any case, these could prove to be the smoking gun, but DNA and other tests are still pending.
If the tests don’t return conclusive proof of Clemens culpability then, ultimately it seems like this is going to amount to a glorified shouting match. It’s a vicious game of tug-of-war but neither side has the hard evidence to pull the other into the center. Perjury charges have been threatened against the loser, but since all the evidence is verbal testimony, each side has been proven to have massive holes in their stories and neither would hold up in court.

Both appear tarnished but are legally spotless, meanwhile, Major League Baseball is the real one being dragged through the mud. This continued drama only serves to keep twisting the knife in the wound that the Mitchell Report opened. It’s the reason that naming names was in reality, a bad decision. Rather than drag up past grievances both sides should have just admitted that grave mistakes were made and moved forward amicably to clean up the game.

Friday, February 8, 2008

When UFOs and the Bible Belt Collide

In mid-January, news crews flocked to the Bible Belt town of Stephenville, Texas as reports of local UFO sightings filtered through the airwaves. The former “dairy capital of Texas” now had a new calling card. ABC news reported that more than 30 residents reported seeing a flying object “described as a mile-wide, silent object with bright lights, flying low and fast.” City Councilman Mark Murphy said “A lot of folks aren't used to this kind of thing.” Which I guess is a good thing because then Stephenville, Texas might have been known as the first case of an entire town being admitted for mental evaluation.

A solitary sighting is never reported because those instances are usually filed away as deranged mental cases. The newsworthy cases are when there is a cluster of sightings. Most likely, initially one person reports their vision and then others to corroborate the story. I imagine it’s akin to being at a social gathering where someone says that they think they just heard a train. And then another person concurs with them. And then another. And soon everyone starts nodding their head in agreement and saying that they too heard some sort of noise and that it must have been a train. Then everyone realizes that there isn’t a train station within 20 miles…but they do happen to be really stoned and they laugh a lot and then go back to playing guitar hero. That’s what it’s like to be a part of a UFO sighting. Except the stoned friends don’t start calling news crews and reporting lost trains.

The other great aspect of a spaceship encounter, is that the so called “UFO Experts” come rushing onto the scene. It’s amazing that someone could call themselves an expert in a field that has no evidence backing up its existence. It’s like claiming to be an authority on ghosts or in using “the force.” Now, some of these individuals only study the general possibility of extra-terrestrial life. This is at least a reasonable field of study. They are looking for uncharted territories containing living beings and their research helps us learn about our surrounding universe. The crazies I’m talking about are the ones who stand firm in their belief that there is life in outer space that continually is trying to make contact with us even though they lack any discernable proof. They are merely rabid conspiracy theorists. Many of these people spent years studying to be historians or scientists only to suddenly and fervently begin to preach the existence of aliens. It is essentially a conversion to insanity; equivalent to being a science fiction writer for many years and then suddenly deciding to base an actual and allegedly legitimized religion around your fantastical writings.

While I stand behind my ardent cynicism I do concede the possibility that I am wrong. Maybe these are actually extraterrestrial visitors stopping by for a brief glimpse of our planet. Maybe they just don’t think it’s an appropriate time for a stop and chat, or maybe they saw Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the threat of global warming makes landing too risky of an enterprise.

I can only imagine how the parents of these alien historians reacted when told of their new scholarly pursuits. It must have been like going to a well respected educational institution to study accounting for four years and at the end telling mom and dad that you’ve decided to become a stand-up comedian. While parents are supposed to show undying support, this would surely test their limits.

This is why it seems pretty ironic that many of these occurrences happen within the Bible Belt- the ardently religious epicenter of the south. I say this because the way I react to the thought of UFO’s must have been just how Abraham’s wife reacted when he returned with stories of his long discussions with his so called “god.”

“I just talked to God”
“Really, what did he look like?”
“Well, I didn’t
see him”
“Yea he just talked to me. From the
“Listen Abe, maybe you should lay down for a while.”
“No I’m
serious. And he told me that he wanted me to sacrifice our son Isaac to

I’m not doubting the bible; I was raised a good little Jewish boy. I’m just saying that I bet he wasn’t greeted with backslaps and high fives. I could just see this scene going down in my house. My mom would have my dad in a straight jacket before he could say the word “exodus.”

How could you face your friends after reporting that you saw an alien spaceship? If one of my friends confessed this to me my first question would be if it was a good or bad acid trip. He might as well put on a cape, walk around with a wand and ask me to call him a magic wizard. But UFO reporting’s will never stop and they are not anything new either. Christopher Columbus reported seeing strange lights that intermittently appeared and disappeared in the sky during his various voyages. But remember, he also thought the world was flat.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Beasts of the East

UConn's student lottery determines who gets season tickets and which seats they get - consequently, at the Monday night men's basketball game against Louisville I found myself sitting three rows from the ceiling, essentially hanging from the rafters. The term 'nosebleed section' seems a little outdated - I've sat in many upper rows and never seen an outbreak of nasal hemorrhaging - but if you took one faulty step at this height, a nosebleed would have been the least of your worries. The school's seven national championship banners were hanging straight ahead of me, a sobering reminder of our programs' past successes in comparison to the men's recent struggles.
I’m probably being a bit melodramatic. It’s been less than two years since UConn was in the Sweet Sixteen with their sights locked in on a title. But that round’s crushing loss to George Mason sent the program into a vicious downward spiral. It was one of the biggest upsets in recent men’s basketball history. A scarily talented team that seemed a lock for the finals was knocked off by a mid-major. That just doesn’t happen, and coupled with the loss of the Huskies' top six players, it left them as shell-shocked as a man having his house robbed immediately followed by his wife leaving him.

Continue reading at The Campus Word.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reggie Bush is Not Alone

A book released last week called “Tarnished Heisman” decries New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush as a cheater. Around the time Bush was shopping for his draft suit, allegations first surfaced claiming he had been living the life of a professional superstar during the 2004 and 2005 seasons while he was still only an amateur at the University of Southern California.

His benefactor, and the book’s primary source, was a sports marketing agent who provided Bush and his family with hotel stays, cash for shopping sprees, and money to buy and customize a car. This was all in pursuit of getting the 20-year old to sign with his company once he left school for the NFL.

The NCAA is very strict about players maintaining their amateur status. Collecting any sort of benefit while still a student is one of the cardinal sins in the world of college sports; it’s the equivalent of plagiarism in the academic world. They wouldn’t even allow University of Colorado football player Jeremy Bloom to collect endorsement money from his professional ski racing career, even though it was his only way of staying competitive in the alpine sport. If the accusations about Bush are proven true, he would lose his Heisman Trophy and the Trojans would have to retroactively forfeit all wins from his era, including the national championship they won.

Click Here to continue reading at The Campus Word.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Facebook is not Your Friend

Facebook’s alarming rise to prominence has already reached mythic proportions. In the world of technology, its story is told with a “Sword in the Stone” type of esteem; the same way one tells the story about the time they had sex with two roommates in one night. Launched in early 2004 by Harvard Sophomore Mark Zuckerburg and his three roommates, the site had 100,000 users by June of that year and, as of this November, claims to have over 50 million members. Their numbers catapulted when they altered the registration condition requiring users to have a school e-mail address to access the site. Beforehand, having Facebook meant a bit of pride. Users had had gotten into college and as a reward they had this online community where they could interact with other sophisticates devoid of the distraction of those undereducated brutes who plague the web. This was a source of minor outrage, mostly directed at the fact that high school kids could now use this privileged site.

The first change that threw the Facebook community into real turmoil was the introduction of the vaunted newsfeed. This feature compiled all moves made by users (profile changes, new friendships, acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases) and announced them for all to see on their friends’ homepages. People reacted like Facebook had started typing up their diary and sending it to their friends. It felt like Facebook was trying to teach a course in Stalking 101. The problem was that Zuckerburg didn’t phase in this new development by letting users choose what is displayed; he just threw up the new feature. This resulted in a backlash that was, presumably, unexpected. Or maybe it was. Maybe he was just taking the same approach that my landlords did when we moved into our apartment and found that our rug smelled like it had been used as a sewage transfer station. Sure they knew about the smell, I think people three towns over knew about it, but they didn’t replace it until we complained.

When Facebookers complained Zuckerburg quickly made the needed changes, installed a privacy control and issued a swift and genuine sounding apology. He defended the newsfeed as a tool with endless beneficial possibilities, but said that users should have the ability to control what is displayed. Everyone accepted his apology and actually quickly accepted the newsfeed because, well, everyone kind of likes to stalk their friends.

They apparently learned from their mistakes and their next significant augmentation, Applications, was a feature that users had to agree to use before installing. These independently developed programs can be loaded onto a person’s profile and range from various games to a declaration of fanhood for a team and there’s even one where users can anonymously disclose secrets. I’m sure the dirty rumor and embarrassing childhood story applications are in the works. Or maybe they’ll just have a feature where parents can upload pictures of their young kid naked in the bath tub.

Now it seems they are back to their old tricks, although this time it was much more subtle. At the beginning of November, Facebook launched a new feature called Beacon. Many probably haven’t heard of it because it was not an optional application, nor was it a visible one.
When a computer visits a webpage it downloads ‘cookies’ from that particular site. Facebook’s cookies are not warm and soft. No, they communicate with a third-party site that tracks all of the members’ personal online movements (purchases, tastes, preferences), through a partnership with about 40 other sites, and sends them to Facebook which uses this information to tailor its advertisements to appeal to each particular user. Also, until recently, it put the users’ online purchases into the newsfeed. A person could have bought something on eBay, in a completely separate transaction, and had it announced on the site. There was even a story of a guy buying a ring for his lady and having her find out about it because of this.

The reason Facebook is such a progressive and influential site is not because of its advancements in social networking but because of its advancements in the field of marketing. One of marketing’s main hurdles is reaching the target audience; it is a constant struggle and there is always collateral damage. Anti-marijuana ads aimed at dissuading current smokers inevitably cause some curious children to ask their parents what this weird, forbidden, Mexican sounding substance is. With Facebook, a company can be absolutely sure about who is seeing their ad because of the individual nature of the site.

Most people didn’t even know this was occurring. Obviously, it caused a minor outrage among those in the know. A petition was started, letters were written and finally Zuckerburg issued an apology and made the necessary changes, switching it to an opt-in program rather than an opt-out device.

While the apology again quelled the mob, the bravado with which Zuckerburg has marched around Silicon Valley is remarkable. His continued pattern of going too far and then apologizing has started to become reminiscent of an abusive father who always goes out to contritely get comic books for his son after savagely lashing him with his belt buckle for a couple hours. Their strategy now appears to be one of arrogantly confident risk. The site has become such an addiction that people are primed to forgive them, no matter how far they push the limits, as long as they rectify the mistake.

Facebook, like most other websites, is designed so people will spend as much time as possible on the site. It really is an advertisers dream. The concern with Facebook, and the thing to keep in mind, is that they do not have their user’s interests at heart. They don’t. They are truly and utterly motivated by the business of the internet. It’s the same reason that companies can pay a fee to look at prospective employee’s profiles and check their Facebook history. If it was really a network devoted to college students then this would not occur. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. For lack of a better expression, this is just how the world works. Just remember, Facebook is not your friend.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Zen and The Art of Chivalry

The other day, a girl told me “chivalry is dead,” and it took all of my willpower to not step on her scattered papers as I pushed past her through the doorway. In all honesty, I probably should have helped her, or at least not opened the door into her head, but I’m sick of hearing that expression. When somebody articulates this view, I don’t know how to defend myself or my gender because I’m not exactly sure what this divine romantic standard entails.

Take opening doors for example. When approaching an entrance with a lady it is a very logical and prudent procedure to open the door for her and hold it while she walks through. It is a gracious indication of respect. But the opening-of-the-door practice confuses me in other instances. Say it is the beginning of a date. The male drives his car up to the house, apartment, or homeless shelter and the woman is waiting outside. Is it rude of the male to not open the door for her? Wouldn’t he look like an overzealous chauffeur scurrying around the perimeter of the car? Or when the woman is dropped off, should the young lad open the house door for her too? Should he go inside to see if there are any other doors that need opening? It’s understandable that when doors were very heavy and possibly made of large boulders it was a very valiant and cordial gesture to move that obstruction. Now that doors open so easily, some are even automatic, it would seem almost insulting to the woman to jump out and open up.

In reality, if social standards asserted that men were expected to open every door, drawer, cabinet and cupboard for women, most would do it. This is why the phrase “chivalry is dead” doesn’t make sense. Sure there will always be the rebellious faction, but for the most part, guys will do most anything to gain the affection of a woman. Seriously- anything.

Recently, I read a book called The Game. I know, congratulations, I read something; stop bragging. But while it’s amazing that I actually sat down and finished a piece of literature, the content was even more amazing. The writer, Neil Strauss, prefaces by explaining that, until the beginning of the book’s story, he was a fairly successful writer, but much less triumphant romantically. On one book assignment he went on tour with Motley Crue and couldn’t manage to obtain even a sympathetic hand job amid the drugs, sex and chaos of a true-blooded rock & roll environment. His book details his odyssey into the “pick-up artist community,” a bizarre and outlandish collection of otherwise socially inept individuals who have banded together to compare theories used in their quest for the opposite sex.

Strauss immersed himself in the “pick-up artist lifestyle” and began to study under one of the “gurus.” (For real, they are called gurus. Forget the Dalai Lama, he doesn’t get you laid.) Basically, these “artists” break down each social interaction with a female into a series of steps. There are established lines and actions to be used during each step and, much like poker, they have to “read” the cues of their “target” in order to react accordingly. They basically treat women like they are adversaries in a video game. One of the “steps” is to showcase their value as a potential mate. Somehow, they have settled on magic tricks as being the most effective method. I’m really not kidding. They would go out to clubs with little backpacks filled with “illusions” and all other goodies. When someone has a bag in which a condom is sitting next to a magic wand, it might be time to revaluate some life decisions.

Remarkably, due to Strauss’ natural intelligence and the apparently knowledgeable guidance of his instructor, he transformed himself into what the community termed a “master pick-up artist.” He was identified by his peers as the best in the world. Even though one can only go by what is detailed in the book, the majority of his story seems to ring true. Adding authenticity to the story was the show on VH-1 called “The Pick-Up Artist” that centered on a guru called Mystery. (Mystery, by the way, is his “pick up artist name,” and he apparently uses it in public. Imagine introducing your boyfriend Mystery to your parents.) This is the actual guru whom Strauss befriends and enumerates about for the majority of his book and was the person who came up with the magic trick idea. He has many other theories as well.

One of them is called “peacocking.” This involves wearing clothes that make one stand out from other men. His reasoning is that women have all types of fashion that they use to create a distinctive style while men are more restricted in this sense. There is a reason for this: we are men. Check out the show sometime to see how he peacocks. Often, he will wear a top hat, in the vein of Abraham Lincoln, except it is completely covered with fur, in the vein of Boy George. Other times he just wears a simple ski hat…with ski goggles nestled on top of his head. Inside. In California. They don’t even appear to be ski goggles that are for sale in any stores. I think they have to be specially ordered from some ski company in The Matrix.

The fact is that he dresses like this and uses all those funny words because he has found that it works with some women. As mentioned before, men will do anything they find effective. Women always talk about finding their “knight in shining armor.” I’m warning you right now, be careful what you wish for. Next thing you know, you’ll walk into a bar and see a table of men, dressed head to toe in silver alloys and metal mesh shirts, in the middle of July- with their lances stowed under the table.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finally I Can Graduate

Here's the link to this article on the website, but the editors mangled it. The original version is posted below:

This column is self-serving and essentially egotistical. I’m not writing about an important political issue or a valid campus concern. I’m writing because I got to rush the field Saturday at the football game and now my college experience is complete. Until now, the approaching completion of my 120 credits hung like a court date circled on the calendar. I felt I had not “done it all.” Now I am content, and can move onto whatever comes next.

During my college search, I narrowed my options down to UVM and UConn. My aversion towards attending my state school (I’m from the New Haven area) mirrored the reasoning used by anyone who had attended a marginally big high school: because ‘everybody’ goes there and I wanted something different- that and I didn’t like the notion of my parents popping in weekly if I was so close to home. It’s also the reason I didn’t go to Yale. The reality? Your parents are fired up to get rid of you. (The Opinion Staff has started to phase out the usage of the word ‘you’ because it insinuates what the reader is thinking and can thus offend people who don’t hold that viewpoint. I’m not asserting that all your parent’s hate you.) Their mock anguish exists only to saddle you with the obligation to buy them nice things when you become successful. (I just said ‘you’ were going to be successful, ‘you’ can’t be pissed about that.)

I went on my college visit to UVM with the latent intention of making it my final choice. Anything I found attractive about the school, I would have overrated. Any deficiencies, I would have depreciated. “Oh it’s overrun by smelly hippies?” “I heard they were easy-going people.” We arrived at the school, gave the town a cursory glance and started in search of the football stadium; a staple of every assessment. Upon being notified by a confused undergraduate that the football stadium we were trying to find didn’t exist, my college decision was made. It’s one of those deal-breakers that wasn’t dismissible, like a girl telling you she’s really into Saw III or a guy canceling a first date an hour before he’s supposed to cook for a girl because he “just doesn’t feel like it.”

So Storrs it was and it proved to be a good time to jump on the Huskies’ bandwagon. The team moved up to Division I in 2000 and one of the swiftest rises to prominence in recent memory. They attracted the interest of a major conference by 2002, had joined that conference by 2004 and were given a bowl invitation in their first year of eligibility, an impressively fast growth spurt on anyone’s charts. Still, while they hovered on the edge of college football’s upper echelon, they still hadn’t made that prized kill; they weren’t yet “Made Men.” As Hunter S. Thompson once professed “The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

The Huskies went over that edge when they toppled the No. 10 ranked team in the nation. I went over that edge when I vaulted ten feet over a three-hundred pound, steroid addled security guard who had a scared freshman in a full nelson. The energy in the stands was palpable. Strangers were high-fiving and cracking jokes and making sure their neighbor would give them a boost onto the goal posts. A heavy rain has a harmonious effect on a group and probably also accounts for part of the reason the squad pulled off these last two wins. In sports it’s said that weather is the great equalizer and it definitely did its part in minimizing the handicap caused by the team’s usually inferior speed. But the effect of the crowd also can’t be dismissed. These past two weeks were a statement. The Huskies, like true alpha-dogs, marked their territory. The Rent is officially a war zone, an unstable environment for opposing forces. (They also have a hunting store right on the property, which is convenient for those who wanted to go to a football game and then buy a fishing rod or thought tailgating with a rifle raised the level of excitement.)

The game ended in the fashion of all memorable upsets, with a conclusion that had fans delirious with anticipation and with a nervous, “what’s going to happen next?” feeling )similar to how Britney Spears’ supporters feel.) The crowd descended onto the field with a mob mentality. This was my moment. I started towards the front, shoving kids out of the way like a self-indulgent passenger of the Titanic trying to get to a life boat. The sight of the security guard opening a can of whoop-ass only reminded me to, in the words of Van Halen, “hit the ground running.”

Let’s face it: aside from capsizing the goal posts, the actual rushing of the field activity is just a glorified exercise in insanity. After about age six or seven it stops being socially acceptable to jump around screaming in joy. There’s only so many times you can slam a player on their shoulder pads or high five a 65 year-old before you realize you’re acting like you just traded a fourth round draft pick for Randy Moss.

But the sense of achievement doesn’t derive from the actual act but rather the significance of the occasion. The football team has finally stepped onto the national stage. They earned their first -ever ranking in the respected polls. (At least all that lobster those players are being fed at their fancy new facility now seems justified for the time being.) And I got to rush the field. Now I’m okay with wrapping up my stay on this farmland, although that’s probably only for the time being, as well- at least until I realize I’m going to need a job that pays more than ten dollars an article.