Thursday, August 18, 2011

Congratulations to Jim Thome

One "club" has 28 members. The other has eight. Which one is more elite?
By exclusivity alone, Minnesota Twins' designated hitter Jim Thome's 600th home run was a far bigger deal than Derek Jeter's 3,000th career hit. Yet we heard about Jeter's milestone for months leading up to it, and Thome's 600 homers were only acknowledged after the fact.
For a star as humble as Jim Thome, the lack of a lead-up was fitting.
In an article I enjoyed thoroughly, Joe Posnanski argued that Thome hit his home runs in the wrong era, that they would have been more celebrated had he hit them a few decades ago. There's some truth to that. But I remember thoroughly the hype in the lead-up Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez's 600th home run, which he finally achieved on August 4, 2010. Baseball may have changed this past year, but I doubt it's changed that much.
Really, Thome's home runs weren't more hyped because he plays for Minnesota, my favorite team but not one that earns the same media recognition as a team like the Yankees.
Now, some might say that the heightened focus on Jeter's hitting is based out of human interest. He's the captain, a leader who has given New York five rings, some might argue. Personally, I think Jeter seems like a good enough guy, but if he were really a selfless team leader, he'd be the one playing third base right now.
Thome, meanwhile, is known only for power on the field and his humility off it, as Jayson Stark writes.
In wrapping up his article, Posnanski reflects on the oddity that Thome's place in the Hall of Fame is even a question, while quoting a conversation with Thome who says he'd like to be remembered as a good guy.
Fine with me.
Just as long as he's remembered.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dufner In Defeat

Golfing great Bobby Jones once said, "Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears.” Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the game gives us terrific examples athletes putting losses and setbacks in perspective.
Just yesterday, Jason Dufner blew a three-stroke lead with three straight bogeys before losing in a playoff to rookie phenom Keegan Bradley, leading golf writer Dan Jenkins to compare him to Jean Van de Veld and Ed Sneed. (Dufner's collapse is far more Sneed than Van de Veld as Dufner didn't shoot a seven on any holes.)
But while critics are busy figuring out just how awful Dufner's final three regulation holes were, the athlete himself, as well as his fiancé, Amanda Boyd, kept things in perspective, as Bob Harig notes in this article.
Boyd notes that the runner-up finish ensures more career security for Dufner.
"He's just happy to be here, really. Now he has next year. He's always worried about keeping his card and having next year locked up. He's got his schedule set for next year. He's got a lot of pressure taken off him. Maybe he'll win one of the playoff events. You never know."
Meanwhile Dufner, who, according to Harig, didn't start playing golf till age 15, reflected on his genuine love of the game and his desire to play it to the best of his ability.
Dufner isn't the first athlete this year to keep things in perspective. Then-21 year old Rory McIlroy made many fans with his interview after falling apart in the back nine of the Masters on Sunday. McIlroy emphasized focusing on the positives and learning from the experience. When McIlroy destroyed the U.S. Open later this year, the entire sports world, including his competitors, celebrated with him.
Only time will tell if Dufner will again flirt with a major title and if he'll hold on for the victory next time. But critics should keep in mind that Dufner did what was most important: ensuring financial security for his family, competing hard, and demonstrating sportsmanship. If he can remember all this in his moment of defeat, shouldn't we be able to notice as much when observing from a safe distance?

Monday, August 8, 2011

That's Sir Mick Jagger to You

I first heard the Rolling Stones when my mom received Forty Licks as a Christmas gift when I was twelve. Ever since then, I've been hooked. I basically refused to listen to anything but the Stones for the remainder of middle school, I've read most of According to the Rolling Stones, and I've seen them in concert. So you can imagine that I'm going to have an opinion about songs that either allude to the Stones or directly steal from their work. Here are some thoughts:
Moves Like Jagger
I didn't want to like this song. Who is Adam Levine to compare himself to Mick Jagger? There's a reason why the Stones released an album called Forty Licks. I figured Levine should try to at least hit 20 before he declared himself the new Jagger.
But I've completely changed my mind. Levine isn't declaring himself to be better than Jagger; he's showing that Jagger, even at 68, is still a sex symbol. I think it's more of a sign of respect than anything else. Plus, the song is catchy, perhaps the best new song I've heard this summer.
But let's me clear: no one has moves like Jagger.
Gimme Shelter Dubstep Remix.
Why mess with perfection? "Gimme Shelter" is arguably the Rolling Stones' best song, which by definition makes it on the short list of greatest songs of all time. I'm not sure why one would feel the need to tinker with something impeccable. I tend to think that artists who make remixes try to seize upon the brilliance of another to advance themselves rather than to contribute anything to the music scene, though I have been won over by a few well-crafted remixes and covers.
One of the great aspects of the Stone's music is their ability to create a scene. You can see boys charging into the streets while listening to "Street Fighting Man" and feel the pulse of New York City in "Shattered". In the opening of "Gimme Shelter", you can immediately sense the insecurity, so much that by time Jagger sings "If I don't get some shelter...I'm going to fade away", it's already understood. The remix completely loses this sense of setting by taking two lines from the song. Not to mention the fact that no understanding of the 'Gimme Shelter" vocals can be complete without listen to Merry Clayton belting "Rape, Murder, it's just a shot away!" or Jagger singing "I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away, it's just a kiss away."
For those just looking for a techno song, I suppose this remix is adequate. I don't like it, but other people seem to, and in the end, music is all about personal taste, right? But I, for one, will be sticking with the original.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Comic Relief

In the opening scene of Psych Season 4 Episode 10, young Shawn Spencer is sitting around watching tv when his dad comes in and berates him for sitting on his butt instead of going outside. At the time, a very effective ad comes on, and his dad asks, "What does that make you want to do?" with the flashing words "Join the Army" on the screen. Shawn answers "Go into advertising."
Advertising doesn't always send people running to buy your product, though there are notable exceptions, but a fun, catchy ad certainly stays in your memory. I've had more conversations than I can count recounting particularly funny Super Bowl and NFL Playoffs ads. What all this means, of course, is that if what you're trying to advertise is simply awareness, then a catchy advertisement could be pretty effective.
According to Dawn Walton's article in The Globe and Mail today, Alberta has been effective in advertising syphilis. Their advertising campaign essentially mocks dating ads and has led to 1,139 more people visit clinics for sexually transmitted diseases. I wonder if the ads would've had the same effect if they'd taken a more sincere tone. It's possible that America's had advertisements of a similar tone, but I certainly haven't noticed them. It seems that the US is more "PC" when it comes to these things; that was certainly my impression in high school when we watched driver safety ads from the US and from Britain.
Here's the website for anyone who's curious.

Muslim Sisterhood and Female Voting

The teaser for this CNN article, written by Shahira Amin, reads:
"The Muslim Sisterhood -- female division of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- has traditionally carried out charitable works. But after the revolution, it is venturing into political activism. Will it help change the organization's image?"
After reading this teaser, I couldn't help but make comparisons between the emergence of the Muslim Sisterhood and United States happenings, particularly the women's suffrage movement and modern debates between the intersection of religion and law. This article talks about how the Muslim Sister hood might be able to change the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, the larger, well-known organization of which the Sisterhood is a part. According to the article, female members of the Sisterhood support Sharia but also advocate for reform.
One of the members, Manal Ismaeil, gave the following illuminating quotes:
"Justice, freedom and equality for all are the principles advocated by Sharia. There is no room for old penalty laws in our modern societies," she says. "Laws ruling that women who commit adultery must be stoned or that those who steal must lose their hands cannot be enforced in this day and age. Everything must evolve with time ... that is the movement's motto. Those who don't reform get left behind."
The reminds me first of the suffrage movement because many advocated for women's suffrage in the U.S. on the grounds that it would somehow clean up politics. In many ways, that is what these women seem to be promising to do. As the article indicates, it is far to early to tell what the impact of the Muslim Sisterhood will be, but regardless of whether or not the women end up changing the face of the party, it's exciting to see doors of political access opened up to them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Email Receipts

I wish I could say I was someone who kept and organized every last receipt. This morning's Globe and Mail article "Are you still stuffing those receipts in your wallet?" makes such a practice sound somewhat compulsive, but I think it's pretty admirable to keep a record of all of your purchases. I regret to say that I am not one of those compulsive hoarders, but email receipts become more widespread I may well become one.
This article by Dakshana Bascaramurty, for which I was unable to find a link, writes that companies are allowing customers to receive an email record of their purchases, which seems to me to be a brilliant idea not only because it saves a ton of paper but it means that purchase tracking no longer needs to be a hassle. With email receipts, it would be easy to sit down at the end of a day or a week and quickly calculate all of your costs for that week. Plus, as the article notes, companies would love to have customers' emails and customers might appreciate notices about sales (or they might appreciate the opportunity to press their delete button).
All in all, I thought this seemed like a pretty cool idea.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Moss Definitely

I know I'm supposed to hate Randy Moss. He seems to go against all the things we're supposed to value in athletes. He takes plays off, he smokes marijuana "every blue moon", and he supposedly quits on teams.
I don't condone any of that, but I love the guy. I'm not about to recommend him as a role model for my younger siblings or cousins, but I appreciate his honesty and his refusal to make nice for the media.
A few notes on Moss:
1. According to this Patriots Dailyarticle, Moss's "I play when I want to play" sound bite was taken completely out of context. Having discovered the context of the quote, I think I understand his meaning better. The quote came in response to how external factors might affect his motivation for a game. Reporters are always asking about whether an opponent or a teammate or a setting provides for extra motivation, but athletes are taught to ignore all that. The motivation is supposed to come from within. Moss didn't say something canned about how he always goes hard. He just went straight to the point and gave an honest answer: "I play when I want to play."
2. Moss hasn't forgotten where he came from, which is why you hear him saying "Rand University" when he introduces himself during football games. Before I knew better, I thought it was a reference to his name. In fact, it's a reference to his neighborhood in West Virginia, the place people never thought he would escape, as this Boston Globe article points out. So when he's announcing himself as a Rand University graduated, he's essentially saying that he made it where other people thought he couldn't. Except again, Moss doesn't elaborate. He just says where he's from and lets you fill in the rest. But few people ever do.
3. Most professional athletes show the public their best side while hiding bad behavior, with Tiger Woods serving as a famous example but certainly not the only one. Moss lets people see his worst side and then keeps quiet his better impulses such as his charity work. John Wooden once said: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." Many take the opposite tact. Moss doesn't appear to care what people think about him. Does he have admirable character? I'm not sure, and I'm not excusing Moss's shortcomings, but I think there's more to him than meets the eye.
4. Plus, I'm a Patriots fan and, by extension, a Tom Brady fan. Brady's records wouldn't have happened without Moss. That's just a fact.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trailblazer in the Five Seat

To be an elite athlete is to be a master of balance.
The best athletes I know balance their sport with jobs or classes.
Mo Sbihi, the five seat of Great Britain's 2012 Olympic Eight and the first Muslim ever to row for Britain, is working to balance rowing with his religion.
As a Catholic, I've been lucky in that my religion hasn't come into conflict with my athletics. If anything it makes me faster because Lent encourages me to work on my self discipline and I often come out of it fitter than I was on Ash Wednesday. Muslims, on the other hand, have a month of fasting during daylight as an essential tenet of their religion. (Sawm, which means fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam.) Needless to say, this fasting can take a toll on one's performance in athletics. I witnessed this in high school when one of my teammates observed Ramadan during the cross country season, and I have to say that it was one of the most impressive displays of dedication I've ever seen in a teammate.
According to this Telegraph article, Sbihi had been observing Ramadan regularly until last year when he was told that fasting during altitude training would be dangerous. But rather than skip the month altogether, he moved it to the winter.
He says he will make a similar decision next year. A London Evening Standard article reveals that Sbihi will be postponing his fast until after the Olympics. Because I don't want to pretend that the Standard's reporting is my own, I won't steal their quotes (okay maybe just a clause), which make up a majority of the article. (The article is very short, and I recommend reading it. Takes ten seconds.) But I will say that I have tremendous respect for the way that Sbihi is conducting himself. He recognizes that what he's doing goes against his religion and does not seem to show contempt for those who would criticize him. But he also seems confident that Allah will understand, saying that "what I do is between Allah and me".
Perhaps his decision to postpone his fast is between him and Allah, but his maturity about it is an inspiration to us all.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Redgrave Mania

I greatly enjoy reading about the British admiration of Sir Steve Redgrave. Here in America, rowers aren't exactly well known (unless, of course, they sue Mark Zuckerberg). Redgrave's fame stems from his five Olympic gold medals (along with a bronze in '88), and the Telegraph reported that 58% of British Olympians voted him the Greatest Olympian ever.
So does that mean he should be the flame lighter? Is this simply an interesting finding or is this the most valid opinion group?
A similar debate ensued when Scottie Pippen tweeted "I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game". The quote created controversy because, as SI's Joe Posnanski points out, Pippen is, in some ways, in a better position than any of us to make such a claim because he probably knows Jordan's game better than practically anyone save perhaps Phil Jackson. Of course, the debate was muted when Pippen backtracked, saying that Jordan was the greatest ever but that James had the potential to overtake him.
Of course, it doesn't take an six-time NBA champion to see that James has potential. Nor did it take such a star to see James overwhelmed in this years finals.
But that's exactly the point: you don't have to be a great athlete to know sports. You just have to be observant and persistent. Otherwise, you'd expect to see the best athletes become the best coaches. Clearly not the case.
And sports are hardly the only area with this debate: do you need to be personally involved to understand how something works?
Generally I'm more inclined to believe the logical explanation backed by evidence than a claim supported only by the gravity of its speaker, though in some cases I find the speaker's own experiences and accomplishments to be evidence enough. "Trust me, I know", when coming from a World Champion, rings more true to mean than does an eloquently made suggestion coming from someone with no experience in competition.
And an honor such as the flame lighter really should be the decision of those who have earned the right to make it. This isn't the government; the British aren't about to be subjected to the rule of the man or woman selected. For something both so ceremonial and so prestigious, the decision should be left to the most distinguished in the field. So if British Olympians think Redgrave is the greatest among them, then so be it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My two cents on Amy Winehouse's death

It's quite intriguing that news of Sigmund Freud's cocaine use seems to have become a popular topic of discussion just as the world is learning of Amy Winehouse's death. Both talented individuals, both drug users, but these two met very different fates.
Successful recoveries, such as Freud's, seem to be the exception rather than the rule. This morning, I read a review of a new book called An Anatomy of Addiction which compares scientists Sigmund Freud and William Halsted. In the case of Freud, Markel observes that cocaine use made him more observant of feelings than he was before. Halsted, meanwhile, was able to continue working as a successful professional but the drug use apparently affected his personal life.
Sherwin Nuland's Times review concludes by writing:
[Markel] has written a tour de force of scientific and social history, one that helps illuminate a unique period in the long story of medical discovery — and the not insignificant cohort of experimenters who have fallen victim to their own research.
Amy Winehouse wasn't a scientist, but she was a talented musician praised for being "eclectic" and for combining different genres into her work. She has influenced artists such as Lady Gaga and Adele, according to this article. And like Freud and Halsted, her work was influenced by her drug use. She was ultimately never able to recover from her dangerous habits, which brought her short life to a sad ending.
While I was never a particularly big fan of Winehouse's music (I didn't like it enough to buy it and my mom always made us change the station when it came on), I can certainly see that she had talent, perhaps even rare talent. Incidents like this, as well as stories about famous scientists, are just a reminder that drugs don't care how smart or talented you are.
A sobering thought, to say the least.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The snack that isn't smiling back

I don't always eat goldfish, but when I do, I prefer to eat it by the handful. I still owe my friend for the full bag of her goldfish I ate the other day. (I'll make it up, I swear!) If the federal government has its way, fewer kids may experience the sensation known as goldfish. According to this New York Times article, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into ways to limit what food is allowed to be advertised to children. Restaurants and food producers are looking to impose the limitations themselves, which is dangerous for the obvious reasons. Margo Wootan, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, mentions some of them, calling this a "preemptive move" which will allow the industry to avoid making real cutbacks. More than that, it creates a prisoner's dilemma. If all of the food companies continue to produce bad food as they are doing or if they all regulate and create healthy food, then they will all suffer similar fates. But if some groups honestly regulate themselves and others bill themselves as healthy foods while their foods have a sugar, salt, or fat content that suggests otherwise, these dishonest foods will prey upon less diligent shoppers who are willing to accept companies' claims of health foods.
I, for one, am all for regulations on advertisements to children. The obesity epidemic is reaching truly scary levels, and so is the childhood obesity epidemic. It is clear that peer pressure isn't going to change this. While I myself have not compiled the data to support this, my general observations are that certain locations have many overweight people, while others are filled overwhelmingly with thinner ones. While I'm not accusing anyone of self-segregation, it seems that different neighbors/villages/regions (etc.) have differing levels of success with weight management. In other words, the fact that I know many health-conscious people doesn't make obesity any less real. This means that overweight people often may not have access to the right social support networks that they need to lose weight and that they may not be fully informed about what kinds of ingredients they should seek in the foods they eat.
And this is where advertising comes in. I'm a big believer in freedom for adults to do whatever stupid things they want without the interference of the law, but children are another story. Since legal regulations regarding other unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking are already an accepted part of the law, I don't see why food regulations should be any different, especially since these regulations aren't even on what the kids can eat, only on what can be advertised to them.
I encourage the government to adopt standards that are rigorous but not so much so that they will be ignored by people who may not have the money or time to analyze snacks thoroughly. If nothing approved is tasty, then kids will simply turn back to the bad foods. Don't make eating healthy a struggle or kids will look for an unhealthy outlet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

4am SportsCenter

This morning I woke up at four and couldn't fall back asleep. With my alarm set for five anyway, I figured it wasn't worth the trouble to fall back asleep so instead I went down to my basement and got on the bike for a chill, half hour ride. (not something i usually do at that particular hour)
Anyway, SportsCenter proved to be thoroughly enjoyable, and here's what I got out of it, or at least the two things I remember from it:
1. The Minnesota Twins are my favorite baseball team for a number of reasons. The athletes are great, the organization is well run, and I love Minnesota. But in case I didn't have enough reasons to be a Twins fan, SportsCenter gave me another one. I've watched their "My Wish" series before, and I've always been very impressed by the sports figures and teams, in this case Ron Gardenhire and the Twins, who give kids these truly awesome experiences. It's been a rough season for the Twins, but they remain, as always, a first class organization.  Here's the full story for anyone who's interested.
2. Hope Solo may be known for being outspoken and somewhat controversial, but I thought she said exactly the right things after taking silver at the World Cup. She credited Japan, spoke with pride about her own team, and acknowledged her own disappointment. My first real exposure to Hope Solo came in the '07 World Cup with her surprise benching and her subsequent comments, but all my (admittedly limited) observations showed me a champion with incredible big-game poise and composure. I know people always talk about the US Women's team as one that is in the shadow of the '99 squad, but I think that this team created a legacy of its own. Unlike Ann Killion, I don't think the extent of the legacy is that the women were admired simply for their ability on the field because they supposedly aren't trail blazing anymore. Firstly, I don't know what spotlight Killion is talking about; the World Cup, though fantastic soccer, wasn't nearly as hyped in the states as last year's men's event, so perhaps more trails need to be blazed, at least in terms of fanship. Moreover, I think this year's team left a legacy of toughness. They didn't play as if they were in another team's shadow; they played with a grit and determination that was all their own. Questionable officiating in the quarterfinal meant that the US would have had more than enough excuses for a loss. Take away Abby Wambach's header and US fans would have had ample reason to complain of a rip-off. But instead of self-pity, instead of giving up, the US kept attacking until the end and found a way to win. But it wasn't even the end result, a trip to the semis, that mattered; it was the fact that the US kept fighting until the end. Perhaps that's what should be taken away from the US's performance at this year's World Cup.
These were clearly the two that made lasting impressions on me. I can only retain so much of what I watch on TV before 5am.