Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 5, 2012
Arraial do Cabo, Brazil

Monday, March 12, 2012

Patton Oswalt's First SPIN Column
Build Your Castle in the Swamp
You could rage against the seemingly never-ending recycling of ideas and sense of entitlement that dominates our culture. Or you could use that to forge a path forward. Follow Patton Oswalt if you want to live.

Oh Lord, we're doing the nostalgia thing again.

We're always going to be doing the "nostalgia thing," one way or another, aren't we? A new generation rises to piss off the one who came before, and then they stick around long enough to see a louder, dumber, more entitled, much younger and healthier and better-looking generation rise to piss them off. Maybe Elton John can rewrite his "Circle of Life" song from The Lion King, to play the first time someone from Generation Y bitches about how things were better before Lady Gaga was president. If Elton can cannibalize his catalog for Lady Di, he can certainly sing the passing of the post-Twitter kids. Mass funerals also need their dirges.
Nostalgia will always come back around, the two-headed snake we can never kill. Yes, two heads: nostalgia and the fear of nostalgia.

Nostalgia: Things were better before all of these cellphones and blogs and everyone posting everything they feel and see and say on the Internet for everyone to read forever. Things were better before every TV show was postmodern and self-aware. Things were better before every movie was a remake or a reboot or a boot-make. Things were better before music was all sampling and recontextualizing and cover songs and borrowed fashion and personae. Things were better when there was genuine anticipation and surprise, when you couldn't hear a leaked album or watch a movie assembled in a year-long series of furtive camera-phone-on-set pics or see webisodes of an upcoming TV show's every character talking to the camera and describing who they are.

Fear of nostalgia: Well, fear of nostalgia's pretty short. Fear of nostalgia sounds like this: If I'm saying, "Things were better before," then I'm getting old and am thus closer to death. So, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to roll with the new.

And that's where 47-year-olds in cargo shorts and ironic T-shirts come from.
I'm 42 as I write this, but I'll be 43 when you're reading it. It's almost time for me to make my choice: Do I choose the stoic resignation of a presentable sport coat and slacks or the desperate defiance of a faded Pixies T-shirt and painful-to-my-arches Doc Martens?

How about a third option?

What if I find a way to stop worrying and love the next thing? The ever-increasing neural chaff spitting from every screen around me, along with the ever-shortening attention spans? The cameras on every phone? The death of anything original, replaced by mash-ups, fusions, outright thieveries disguised as homage? The beyond-autistic levels of rudeness and entitlement?

Are these bad things? Or is my reaction to them bad? Is the way I let them affect me the problem?

Neural chaff and shortened attention spans: You know what? What if it's good that these twin demi-demons have been loosed into the world? It'll only force me to focus my concentration (to save my sanity) and make what I do and say more startling and original (to even hope of being heard).

Cameras on every phone: A warm, Orwellian reminder to not act like an asshole.

The death of originality: A grim prospect, but then I remember something Louis Armstrong once said, after being asked to give his opinion on some very trite, badly orchestrated songs he'd just heard. He said something about how, even with the worst music, he could see God trying to shine through.

I'm taking him up on that. Because even in the most derivative, repurposed, seemingly soulless music, the sweatiest film remake, and crassest TV show, there's got to be a human heart, trying to claw through its own medioc-rity. And recognizing it, being able to see it, is where better art comes from. If James Joyce could link mythical heroics to a fart at the end of a night in the pub, then maybe someone will wrench great cinema from an iPad viewing of Count Chocula: The Movie.

I'm going to use these mediocre times as a training camp. I'm going to wade forward into this half-drained swimming pool with Juliana Hatfield's Hey Babe on my headphones and a Wallace Stevens poem in my heart. If I may quote the immortal Nicolas Cage, from the ghastly, derivative Ghost Rider film, in response to my own fear of nostalgia: "I'm going to use this curse against you."

I'm going to build my castle in the swamp.

Originated published in SPIN's March/April 2012 issue

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kirko Bangz - "Drank In My Cup" (2011)

Kirk Randle (born August 20, 1989), better known by his stage name Kirko Bangz, is a rapper from Houston, Texas. He is signed to Warner Bros. Records.

His second single entitled "Drank In My Cup" was released on his debut major label mixtape Progression 2: A Young Texas Playa. During the week of February 25, 2012, the single debuted at number #96 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has since peaked at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #1 on the Heatseekers Songs chart. The song spawned 4 remixes featuring hip-hop artists J. Cole, 2 Chainz & Bow Wow, Kid Ink, Yung Nation & singer Trey Songz. Kirko said in an interview that he will be releasing his first studio album around December 2012.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gregg Williams and Bounty-Gate

Washington Post:
The NFL announced Friday that the Saints operated an improper bounty program from 2009 to 2011. Administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints’ bounty program paid $1,500 for a “knockout” hit and $1,000 if an opponent was carted off the field, the NFL said. Most of the money was contributed by players, but Williams also donated to the fund, according to the league.

The investigation began in early 2010 when the NFL first heard claims that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

The NFL will investigate allegations that the Washington Redskins had a bounty program to reward players with money for jarring hits when Williams coached the team’s defense between 2004 and 2007.

Williams, now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, is in NFL offices today and the league is expected to deal harshly with him. Others likely to be punished are General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton.

Gregg Williams: “I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, [Saints owner Tom] Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints,” he said. “It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell: “The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for ‘performance,’ but also for injuring opposing players. The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

Former head coach Joe Gibbs: “Just let me say this: I’m not aware of anything like this when I was coaching there,” the Hall of Fame coach said in a phone interview. “I would never ask a player to hurt another player. Never.”

Former assistant coach Steve Jackson: “We had hit sticks. We had an ‘easy boy’ recliner. You name it — every motivational bribe — but I don’t remember any bounties. I really don’t remember him saying if you intentionally hurt somebody, you’re going to get paid. I’ll tell you this - we also had an office bracket on the March Madness, too. And everybody in the whole building would put in on it.”

Kedric Golston: “I’ve never seen a player get any money for hurting anybody. Gregg did fine people, and he’d pay out. It would be if you got a sack or an interception, or you made a pivotal play. He did fine us, and he did give that money back for doing things ‘the right way’ — as he liked to put it.”

Lorenzo Alexander: “If you have, like, a big hit, you could possibly get a kitty,” Alexander said. “But not to say, ‘You have to knock this player out,’ and knock him out of the game with an injury. So it wasn’t a bounty-type thing.”

Former cornerback Fred Smoot: "It was never a bounty, it was more or less a pot that all of us players put in. Gregg never put in a dime, Gregg never said do this or do that. This was a thing that I think started in training camp as players."

Former defensive end Phillip Daniels: “I think it is wrong the way they’re trying to paint Gregg. He never told us to go out there and break a guy’s neck or break a guy’s leg. It was all in the context of a good, hard football.” He acknowledged Williams’ system for awarding players’ cash featured more money for what Williams deemed “physical play.” He said the most he ever received was $1,500 for a four-sack game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2005. “Sean Taylor made a lot,” he said of the hard-hitting safety.

Former safety Matt Bowen: "Money came in for more than watching a guy leave the field. We earned extra for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles. I don't regret any part of it. I can't. Williams is the best coach I ever played for in my years in the NFL, a true teacher who developed me as a player. I believed in him. I still do. That will never change. Your career exists in a short window, one that starts closing the moment it opens. If making a play to impress a coach or win a game pushes that window up an inch before it slams back down on your fingers, then you do what has to be done."

"No doubt, it can be downright disgusting living by a win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s a fundamental part of the NFL’s culture that isn’t talked about outside of team facilities."

The four Redskins players who spoke on condition of anonymity portrayed Williams as a “coach who just took it a little too far,” in the words of one. “He actually had a saying, ‘If you cut the snake’s head off, the body will die.’ That was his motto,” the player said.

"You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits," said one former player, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“I never took it for anything [but] just incentive to make good, hard plays,” said a current player, who requested anonymity. “But I’m pretty sure it did entice some guys to do more to a player than normal when it came to taking them out. I mean, that’s cash. Let’s just be honest about it. If you took the star player out, he’d hook you up a little bit.”

Charles Barkley: "You have to be a punk to snitch that out."

Smoking in Sports

New York Yankees greats Joe DiMaggio (Chesterfield) and Mickey Mantle (Camel and Viceroy) appeared in cigarette ads. Arnold Palmer, who was no John Daly, smoked all the time between shots in golf tournaments. Former San Diego Chargers coach Tommy Prothro sucked in three packs of Camels a day, regularly lighting up on the sidelines. Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver had a closer he nicknamed "Full Pack" after the number of gaspers Weaver would fire up in the dugout while Don Stanhouse was pitching out of late-inning jams.

Even broadcasters were smokin' in those days. Legendary Boston Celtics radio man Johnny Most's neglected Kool once set his pants on fire while he was on the air during a game.

The Smoking Lounge
Hard data has largely gone up in smoke, but hockey might very well have had a higher concentration of puffers than any other sport. And not just the plumbers lit up. Many of the game's all-time greats were heavy smokers.

If you ever saw the Montreal Canadiens' Hall of Fame winger Guy Lafleur away from a rink, chances are he had a cigarette between his right thumb and forefinger.

Mike Bossy, the Hall of Fame sniper who helped the New York Islanders win four straight Stanley Cups, smoked while answering postgame questions from reporters, as E.M. Swift's Sports Illustrated story from May 1983 documents.

Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux smoked well into his brilliant career, but finally gave it up, perhaps due to his scary bout with Hodgkin's Disease.

Chicago's Denis Savard scored 473 goals during his 18-year Hall of Fame career despite a habit that was estimated to be at least a pack a day. His Blackhawks linemates, Steve Larmer and Al Secord, also were said to be big smokers, which contributed to their nickname of "The Party Line" although Secord recently told that he never lit up.

Darren Pang, a goalie for the Blackhawks in the 1980s, recalls driving to practice one day with Savard, who filled the car with a tobacco cloud. "When the ride was over, about a half hour later, I thought I was going to die," says Pang.

One of the most openly notorious NHL smokers of all was Al "Planet" Iafrate, a defenseman known for his big slap shot and bigger appetite for nicotine.

"I remember my first NHL exhibition game as an assistant with Philly (in 1990)," says Ken Hitchcock, who now coaches the St. Louis Blues. "We were in Washington, and I went to give the lineup to the referees and you had to walk by the Washington dressing room. And Al Iafrate was lighting up with a blowtorch for bending sticks. Coming from junior hockey, I found that rather unique."

Anyone who covered the NHL when Iafrate played from 1984 until his retirement in 1998 as a San Jose Shark probably saw him sitting on a chair outside the dressing room with his shirt (and sometimes pants) off, puffing away. Legend has it that Iafrate once bummed a cigarette off an Ottawa reporter between periods, lighting it up in his customary blowtorch blaze of glory.

But while such tales were once commonplace, they have largely disappeared from hockey. Pictures are out there on the internet, supposedly of some current players with cigarettes in their mouths. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff said in a statement sent to by the Calgary Flames, "I tried it, but didn't like it and I don't smoke anymore. It's not good for you." Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf vehemently denied that a photo in question is of him, and the Maple Leafs backed his insistence that he has never smoked and never will. Alex Semin of the Capitals supposedly sparked a bit of an uproar in his native Russia when he was reportedly spotted having a puff during the 2010 World Championships. But hockey people today are hard-pressed to name anyone who regularly inhales.

Longtime agent Don Meehan, whose Ontario-based Newport Sports handles more NHL players than any other agency, says "I can't think of a single client who smokes. And I can't think of anyone else in the game who smokes. Times have changed."

Culture of Smoke
Hockey was once the home of smokers for two big reasons: Canada, particularly Quebec, and Europe.

"In the Province of Quebec, I used to go see some junior games a lot, and you couldn't see the ice. The whole rink was covered in smoke, it was amazing," says Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, who coached the Canadiens from 1971 to 1978. "The French, they just smoked more, and when they came to Canada they took that with them. It was just the culture."

Guy Lafleur was one of the greatest players of his generation despite his pack-or-two-a-day habit, say some who played with him. Bowman says that Lafleur regularly smoked a cigarette between periods.

"He'd smoke in the (hotel) room, but always in the bathroom," says former Colorado Avalanche great Joe Sakic, who shared hotel quarters with Lafleur on the road when the two were teammates on the Quebec Nordiques during the final two seasons (1989-91) of The Flower's career. "I told him he didn't have to do that. I mean, I was in awe of him. He could have done whatever he wanted. But he always insisted."

When the influx of Russian and Eastern European players to the NHL started in earnest in the late 1980s, they brought their countries' smoking cultures with them. Many Russians, particularly, were heavy smokers. Among the heaviest was longtime defenseman Sergei Zubov, who won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers (1994) and Dallas Stars (1999).

Rates are down substantially in North America from previous decades. Statistics Canada says the percentage of adults who smoke in that country has fallen to 17 percent from 35.1 percent (39.6 in Quebec) in 1985, when such numbers were first regularly charted by the government. In the U.S., the rate for adults last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was 19.3 percent. Russia, however, maintains stunningly high numbers.

According to data provided by the Moscow Health Department in 2009, 60 percent of the Russian adult population smoked regularly. More than 70 percent of Russian teenagers admitting to having a cigarette at least once. And the World Health Organization says the rate in many European countries nearly doubles or even surpasses North America. Some examples: Czech Republic (36.6), Finland (31.8), Germany (37.4) and Latvia (54.4).

A Breathless Pace
Although teams do not write it into contracts that smoking is forbidden, today's players probably don't need the warning. Even the French-Canadians and Eastern Europeans have dropped the habit.

"I can't think of anyone (who smokes)," Avalanche defenseman Ryan O'Byrne replied when asked if any players fire up now. "Definitely, you don't see it during the season or during games or anything. It's just like the rest of society probably -- you just don't have as many people who smoke. Today's game would be tough for a chain-smoker I'm sure."

Whether the players of yesteryear -- even the great ones -- would have been better had they not smoked may not be as clear as it seems. As bad as the habit surely was on their lungs and bodies, pro athletes have always had fitness levels that might better withstand the dangers of tobacco smoke. There's no doubt that lighting up was embraced as way to relieve the stress that came from pro sports' immense pressure.

"Nobody thought about it. It wasn't an issue back then," says Scotty Bowman. "They didn't talk about cancer in those days. (Warnings on cigarette packs first appeared in the U.S. in 1966, with a stronger caveat from the Surgeon General appearing in 1970.) If they did, they probably would have stopped. But it was almost like a style."

Says Mike Keenan: "I don't know if it directly affected them in a negative way or not when they were younger and in great shape. But it probably did hurt the longevity of a lot of careers."

Ex-Blackhawk Steve Larmer, who says he smoked almost every day during his lengthy NHL career with Chicago and the Rangers, agrees. "I think, without a doubt, it hurt my (playing) performance," he told the Toronto Star in 2011. "You recover better between shifts, you recover better between periods, you recover better between games if you're not a smoker. Therefore, your performance would have been better."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Clint Dempsey Puts U.S. Over Italy 1-0

Italy 0 – 1 United States 29-02-12 FULL...
GENOA, Italy -- To understand the significance of the U.S.' 1-0 friendly win over Italy here on Wednesday, it's good to know what it was and what it wasn't. Was it historic? By all means, yes. The U.S. had never beaten Italy in 10 previous games going back to 1934. Winning against a four-time world champion on the road is always important, even if the game doesn't count. And yet the U.S. players were still cognizant that there were limits to how much you should take out of the result.

"We fight for respect every time we step on the field, so every little bit helps," said Michael Bradley, who was probably the U.S.'s best player in the central midfield. "When you come to Italy and you're able to play a game like that and come away with a win, it's a big result. At the same time, we're not going to sit here and act like just because we won a friendly 1-0 that now they're handing out the World Cup trophy. We'll take it for what it is and use it as a stepping stone."

It's important to note here that the U.S. didn't reinvent the wheel in its approach to Italy. In fact, Klinsmann approached the game not much differently than the U.S. approached top opponents under Bob Bradley (Michael's father): by tightening up on defense and looking for the occasional opportunistic counter. Klinsmann may advocate using a more attacking style against midlevel and CONCACAF foes, but Italy in Italy is a different matter. And for now that pragmatic style is just fine, even if it isn't revolutionary.

No one would say the U.S. created many chances in its own attacking third, but quantity matters less than quality, which is what Clint Dempsey has in spades these days. The 28-year-old Texan has been tearing up the Premier League this season with Fulham, and he continued his torrid form against Italy, scoring the game-winner on a nice team effort in the 55th minute.

Left back Fabian Johnson, a German-American making his second U.S. start, sent a pass to Jozy Altidore in the box. Altidore looked for his own shot first, he said, but then he saw Dempsey lurking just behind him. "He was in a great spot, so it was a no-brainer," Altidore said. "I just tried to put it where he could hit it one-time. It looks like an easy goal, but it's not. He looked at the keeper and wrong-footed him. It was a fantastic finish."

U.S. starting lineup v Italy 2012: Howard; Cherundolo, Goodson, Bocanegra, Johnson; Bradley, Edu; Williams, Dempsey, Shea; Altidore.

Italy starting lineup vs U.S. 2012: Buffon; Maggio, Barzagli, Ogbonna, Criscito; Nocerino, Pirlo, Marchisio; Motta; Giovinco, Matri.

More information:
Post-Match Quote Sheet