Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Japan Nuclear Disaster: A Wake-up Call for Us All

Article first published as Japan Nuclear Disaster: A Wake-up Call for Us All on Blogcritics.

If you have been watching reports coming out of Japan, or reading about the situation, it must by now have made you reach this conclusion: nuclear power is just not worth it. I have seen the talking heads go at it on television, and some babble about how "safe" nuclear power is. I feel like saying, "Tell that to the ten thousand plus dead and the stricken survivors in Japan."

By all accounts the Japanese thought they were prepared for the big one; they had built the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant with expectations of an earthquake. What it seems they were not ready for was the tsunami that followed, which knocked out the plant's cooling systems and caused this catastrophe. Now the world waits to hear good news each day, but all we get is more of the same grim reports and the possibility of even worse things to come, like plutonium being found in the soil outside the plant.

This inevitably gets me thinking of the other nuclear problem: weapons. The notion of anyone using nuclear weapons should by now have reached a complete zero option.  For years I have heard about a "limited nuclear response" in various situations. In other words, your country hits my country with one, so I will hit you back with one. The greatest fear comes from countries like India and Pakistan which both have nuclear weapons and have at times been on the brink of hostilities.

After seeing what has happened in Japan, any rational person would realize that it is bad enough if something goes wrong with a nuclear reactor in a plant meant for generating power, but to intentionally use a weapon that will also release these harmful materials into the atmosphere should now be seen as a reprehensible and inconceivable act of barbarism. A small scale nuclear exchange could devastate this planet, causing climate change that would alter life as we know it forever.

I have heard reports of people in California taking iodine tablets for radiation they perceive may be coming across the ocean from Japan. Apparently radiation has been detected in numerous states (even as far away as here in New York). If people are worried about this situation, think how much worse it could be if two countries start lobbing nuclear weapons back and forth at each other. It would be only a matter of time after a nuclear attack, no matter how limited, that everyone on the planet would be affected adversely.

I don't expect that nuclear power will stop anytime soon (although the process should begin to shut down all plants worldwide); however, nuclear weapons are something human beings can control, and they must realize there is no other alternative. President Obama and other world leaders should take the initiative to begin discourse about how to bring about total disarmament for all countries in the world. I know this task will be arduous and take a long time, but we have to start somewhere, so why not start right now? The nuclear disaster in Japan is a wake-up call, so we better heed the warning.

Still, even if every country with nuclear arms did neutralize its nuclear arsenal, even if every nuclear weapon on earth were rendered incapacitated, there could be the possibility of one rogue terrorist group (or rogue nation) that decided to try to make one. Even with the cooperation of all parties, the unspeakable might still happen. I don't know how we can prevent that from occurring, but we better start thinking about the process before it is too late. We need to lose the nuclear power and nuclear weapons or we may just end up losing our planet.

Photo Credits:

Mushroom Cloud-

Saturday, March 26, 2011

One Hundredth Anniversary of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Article first published as One Hundredth Anniversary of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire on Blogcritics.

Time has a way of making people forget even the greatest disasters. As the years pass, there are fewer people remaining who actually remember events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In terms of disasters, many times the memory is kept alive by survivors or their families and friends. For example, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic next April. No survivors remain, but books and films have long contributed to the continuing of the flame of memory. Indeed, no survivors remain from what was known Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and that terrible event happened one hundred years ago today in New York City.

At a time when the mayor and governor of New York State both seem to want to lessen the strength of unions (because of what they say are necessary budgetary considerations), the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is a vivid reminder of why workplace laws and unions were strengthened in the first place. The need for labor laws became magnified by this event, and even the New York City Fire Department began seriously working on fire prevention as part of the necessary and compelling work that they do.

Those of us who remember September 11, 2001, will recall New Yorkers staring up at the sky and watching an incomprehensible event. Besides the fire and smoke pouring out the Twin Towers, many people dropped from the sky to the pavement far below that day. They chose to escape a horrific death from fire and smoke by jumping out windows. The many bystanders witnessed these falls from the sky, stunned by the swiftness of the bodies dropping and the sound of their crushing against the earth.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was the 9/11 of that time, and the cause of the blaze has never been discovered. Many poor immigrants worked in this building in lower Manhattan. It was a Saturday, and the young Jewish and Italian girls working in the shop made female shirts in a business known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

My grandfather who was born and grew up not far from where this fire took place, remembered the incident well. At the time he was driving a horse-drawn ice wagon, and he recalled the commotion and the smoke on the upper floors (actually the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors). Inside the male tailors were using fire buckets ineffectively against the blaze; outside the water from the fire hoses didn't make it up that high; neither did the ladders on the trucks.

Pop remembered many people jumping, their hair and clothes on fire, and he said that everyone on the ground seemed powerless to help those inside. The girls and other workers (200 or more of them) were trying to find a way out. One problem was that there were two small elevators that could only hold a few people at a time; the other was that the escape doors to stairwells were rushed but were either locked or jammed.

Certainly this story is about deplorable working conditions, people trapped on upper floors in tight quarters with no means of escape. Obviously, there were no sprinklers or fire doors or water hoses like we would find in buildings today. All of the things we expect to see in modern skyscrapers developed from the reaction to what happened on this terrible day in Manhattan.

My grandfather recalled having many deliveries to make, and the crowd became overwhelming as more people poured into the area on the heels of firefighters arriving to attempt to fight the blaze. In an effort to make up time and get out before he became trapped, he got his horse to go around the crowds of people and headed away from the scene of the disaster to make his deliveries. "I knew there was nothing I or anyone else could do for those poor people," he said, still seemingly moved by it when he told me many years later.

One hundred forty-six people died that day. The building was supposed to be fireproof (according to the standards of the day) but, just as the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, it didn't stop either from becoming a deathtrap. Families of the victims sued the owners of the company, getting little but small monetary satisfaction. Just as the Titanic disaster forced safety changes on cruise ships (like having enough lifeboats for everyone on board), this fire did the same thing for factories. Because of what happened, New York State did enact laws to protect workers in sweatshops like this, and the event would strengthen the push for unions to protect workers and get them health coverage.

The building is still there and is used by New York University today. The Titanic rots away on the bottom of the ocean floor. Both were major events early in the 20th century and were cases of people dying unnecessarily because of poor or nonexistent safety measures. They are also inexorably linked to New York City; one happened right in its heart; the other was bound for our waters but never made it here.

One hundred years have gone by since that day, and hopefully we continue to learn from disasters like these. Still, with a mayor and governor who are looking to cut the strength of unions in this city and state, we have to wonder if this solemn anniversary is in some way not a reminder of a dark past but a grim warning about things we thought would never come again.

Photo Credits:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Barry Bonds Trial: You Can't Handle the Truth!

Article first published as Barry Bonds Trial: You Can't Handle the Truth! on Blogcritics.

I love that line delivered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. It's one of those iconic kinds of cinematic dialogue. We can argue about other ones that are better: "Here's Johnny!" uttered by Nicholson (again) in The Shining. "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," spoken by Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and perhaps the most often imitated line of all: Robert DeNiro's infamous "You tawkin' to me?" from Taxi Driver. Still, since this article is about the trial of Barry Bonds, Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" seems to apply best to the situation.
The sad part is that this trial is not about Barry Bonds. Yes, you read that correctly. This trial is more about Major League Baseball, specifically how baseball (meaning owners and league officials) has turned a blind eye to the problem of PED (performance enhancing drugs) for years. This is the "truth" that is going to be hard for many to handle. The even more difficult truth is that fans were in on the whole thing and are just as culpable - maybe even more so - than the suits and the players who took the drugs.

You can't tell me that when we saw Mark McGwire hitting all those home runs, his arms bulging bigger than Popeye's after a can of spinach, that we didn't suspect something was amiss. Yeah, sure, he hit the weight room everyday. Of course, he ate an all protein diet and drank body builder shakes. Yes, of course, and if you believe that I have a section of grass in Central Park with your name on it.

We were all complicit in this mess. Remember the McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run race? It seems like ages ago, but I recall it vividly. I remember that teachers put up posters of these guys in their classrooms. They were supposed to be involved in the all-American game, two heroes slugging it out to reach the top.

Who couldn't love that? Baseball certainly loved it - loved the packed stadiums, the resurgence of interest in a sport that had waned since the baseball strike of 1994-1995 that left a bitter taste in everyone's mouths.
Sure, we were all in on it and we loved every minute of it. Oh, the drama of it all! Besides, what do baseball fans love more than power? The home run is all about myth and about the shock and awe of the crowd. I remember seeing Tommy Agee of the Mets hit a monster at old Shea. I was just a kid, but I never forgot that one. It is the stuff of legend. The problem with home runs in the Steroid Era (the time after the baseball strike) is that we must question their validity. How many guys who hit 40+ homers did it the old fashioned way?

We can argue that substance abuse (or use of substances) has always dominated the game. Babe Ruth drank gallons of beer (and anything else in liquid form); many others were right up there with him. We have heard stories of pitchers throwing no-hitters while they were on acid or smoking pot, and tobacco in all its forms has always haunted MLB. Many of the members of the Hall of Fame were no doubt addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and who knows what else.

So the inconvenient truth here - besides the fact that Bonds has yet to be proven guilty of anything - is that if MLB is not on trial, how fair is this whole thing and what is the point? Why single out Bonds (or Roger Clemens later this year)? They have records in the books alongside other guys who may or may not have enhanced themselves too. Another truth is we will never be completely sure whose records are tarnished and whose are not. At this point no one is going to do anything about it either.

The people are the ones who pay to see games, who buy the merchandise, and keep this game (and all sports) successful. It has been more than obvious that fans do not care about the juice that players used; they care more about the effects of that substance. Baseball fans have a love affair with the game, but most especially with the home run. The homer is the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise of baseball. It's the white knight.
People don't go to see no hitters; they want a home run derby. That's why that homer contest the night before the All Star game is actually bigger than the game that follows it.

By no means am I advocating substance use or abuse. I wish players only used their natural talent and skills on the field, but I also wish all politicians could be trusted. Probably not something to expect in my lifetime or yours. In the meantime, Barry Bonds is on trial for perjury, but if he is guilty so is MLB, the owners, and fans of the game, and that is an inconvenient truth that no one wants to handle.

Photo Credit: AP

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mets Mess: Oliver Perez Released - Thumbs Up or Down?

Article first published as Mets Mess: Oliver Perez Released - Thumbs Up or Down? on Blogcritics.

In the old Roman Coliseum days, the crowd got what it wanted based on thumbs up or down. Some say the gladiator spared his opponent if the thumb was down rather than up; whatever the case was in those days, now we know thumbs down means a bad rating. For former Mets pitcher Oliver Perez, he got a resounding thumbs down from the fans and has been finally shown the door.

There were lots of reasons to keep Perez and Luis Castillo - about 18 million of them. The team gave up on both players, exorcising at least some of the ghosts left behind by former GM Omar Minaya. In doing so they were giving the fans what they wanted, but it also will look pretty bad if both guys get picked up as cheap players by other teams and do well (the Mets will be on the hook for most of their salaries either way).

While Castillo never really had success here in New York, for a while Perez flirted with greatness. I can remember going to a Suway Series game back at Old Shea a few years ago on a rainy night, and Perez kept the Yankees scoreless for seven plus innings. What happened to him since then no one can tell, but some say he has just lost it; others thought it was a mental block of some kind. Maybe we will never know.

On this day the Mets parted ways with Oliver Perez, and in this move new GM Sandy Alderson is making a statement that goes beyond payroll and fiscal worries. Perhaps the Mets are no better now than they were before, but as was the rule back in the old coliseum days, the fans got what they wanted. At least Perez gets to leave town with his head on his shoulders.

Photo Credit:

Monday, March 21, 2011

No-Fly Zones Approved in Libya: Doesn't This Sound Familiar?

Article first published as No-Fly Zones Approved in Libya: Doesn't This Sound Familiar? on Blogcritics.
A dangerous dictator? Ruthless and willing to kill his own people? We have heard this one before: Hitler, Stalin, and most recently Saddam Hussein. Everyone in the world wants him out, or so it seems. Apparently, even Arab countries (although unnamed) have approved of his ouster. This sounds conspicuously similar to what happened in Iraq. We had no-fly zones there too once upon a time, and that really worked out well, didn't it?

If the old adage is correct - history repeats itself - then we are in for a bad case of deja vu all over again in Libya. Everyone knows Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is a few cards short of a full deck. In fact, he makes North Korean leader Kim Jung-il look like a novice when it comes to crazy. Qaddafi has been in the terror business a long time, going way back to the Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie bombing in December 1988. The same things were said about Saddam before we went into Iraq. He was a terrorist and fiend too. The connections are obvious and annoyingly apparent, so what is going on here?

Libya is about the size of Alaska. Can you imagine fighting a war in Alaska inch by inch? Throw in tons of sand from the Sahara. scorching heat, and an indigenous population that hates us as much as they hate Qaddafi, and we have a recipe for disaster. All I keep thinking is no-fly zones today, ground war tomorrow. Yes, Mr. Obama says there will be no troops deployed there. Is that now or ever? Is he crossing his fingers when he is saying this?

So, please, let us stay out of it. It is not our fight. We don't belong there. We have lost so much in Iraq and Afghanistan and we are still there. We have been at war far too long. Just give us some peace. Let France do this, and Italy, and any Arab country that wants to get in on it. Please, Mr. President, we cannot have another war where our men and women's blood runs in the desert sands.

This is not our fight, so please let it fall to someone else - anyone else - to take this on. If we get sucked in there, it will be for the long haul again, and yet another generation will be born and know of nothing but being at war. How's that for a legacy, Mr. Obama?

Map Credit:
Maps of the

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mets Mess: Luis Castillo Released - Perez Still Pitching In

Article first published as Mets Mess: Luis Castillo Released - Perez Still Pitching In on Blogcritics.

I picture Luis Castillo during this spring training as a guy with a bucket on the Titanic. He kept trying to get the water off the deck, but you know how this story ends. So now Luis is gone; either he jumped overboard or got into a lifeboat. Either way, the ship is still sinking.

Castillo always seemed to be the target of the fans. Not only did his hitting leave something to be desired, but so did his fielding. When I think of him I see dropped pop-ups and remember the booing of the crowd. Not a very pleasant memory at all. By all accounts his teammates liked him, but the main reason he is gone is because the fans demanded it.

While the Mets parted ways with second baseman Castillo, troubled pitcher Oliver Perez is still hanging in there. He pitched one scoreless inning yesterday, even striking out Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves. Does this mean Ollie might get a shot at being in the bullpen? I'd say grab a bucket, Ollie. Someone has to take up where Castillo left off.

There are also alternating reports of Carlos Beltran feeling better and his knee bothering him. Take your pick, Mets fans, because this is not the player the Mets were supposed to get. He should have been their star center fielder, ostensibly their centerpiece to the puzzle, a super star around whom to build a team. We see how well that has worked out, right?

Alas, the old regime of GM Omar Minaya (and Steve Phillips before him) shelled out lots of money to players who have gone bust. Just take a look at the short list: Beltran, Perez, Castillo, and Johan Santana. Millions and millions of dollars wasted as well as time and at the expense of the team and the fans. People can talk all they want about the money the team lost investing with Bernie Madoff, but the worst investment the Mets ever made was in these players who gave them no return.

Now maybe the Mets can get back to what they used to do well: establish a strong farm system that develops great players like it once did. Clearly, guys like Ike Davis, David Wright, and Jose Reyes give us a glimmer of hope of what can come from that kind of cultivation. We have to hope that GM Sandy Alderson has the vision to do this for the long haul because free agents are just not working out for the Mets. It seems they never have (can anyone forget Bobby Bonilla?).

There isn't much to look forward to this season, but we have to remember the band kept playing on the Titanic even as it was sinking. So grab a bucket, Ollie, but don't think it's going to save the ship before the fat lady sings.

Photo Credits:
Castillo - Daily News
Wright -

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March Sadness: St. John's Loses to Gonzaga

Article first published as March Sadness: St. John's Loses to Gonzaga on Blogcritics.

The Cinderella story of college basketball has gone bust, at least as far as New Yorkers are concerned. You can imagine the magic slipper fitting one of the scary stepsisters, or perhaps Cinderella never making it home before the carriage became a pumpkin. Whatever the case, there will be no happy ending for head coach Steve Lavin and his team this year. If only they had that Fairy Godmother waiting in the wings. Alas, it was not to be.
The crushing 86-71 loss to Gonzaga (25-9) at Pepsi Center in Denver is not easy for St. John's players and their fans to take. Yes, that thin Denver air may have gotten to the Johnnies, but it seemed the thing that did them in was defense, or the lack thereof. By the time Dwight Hardy (26 points) got his first basket, Red Storm was down to the Bulldogs 31-18, and the writing seemed to be on the wall, but getting to 43-32 at halftime kept the hopes alive for the faithful at least for a little while.

One can blame this loss on the absence of the injured D.J. Kennedy. That would be the easy way out, but we SJU fans all thought that he would provide the Johnnies with a "Gipper" moment. They would win one for Kennedy, and then another one, and so on. Obviously, this did not prove to be enough incentive for the Red Storm. Their 21-12 season is now history, but they gave us a good ride for a while there, but maybe it was foolhardy to even imagine them ever making it to the Final Four.

I guess instead of lamenting what is not to be, we should be celebrating what happened this season. Steve Lavin gave St. John's fans something to really cheer about. Thoughts of a return to the Lou Carneseca era were obviously premature, but even though this was Lavin's first season coaching the Johnnies, he was far from being a rookie coach (he had great success as coach of UCLA to fall back on).

His history of winning and making it to the Sweet Sixteen (five times) had to have helped to motivate this team to forget the frustrating years before his arrival. Let's face it, Lavin took St. John's from infinite sadness to March Madness this year, for that he deserves tons of credit.

And yet now there is nothing but March sadness for Red Storm fans. The dream is over, for now at least, but there is great hope for next year. The seniors on this squad graduate and go off to hopefully bigger and better things, including Kennedy who faces months of rehab before he can get back on a court. Yes, those guys are gone, but we have to trust that the future is in good hands: Steve Lavin's hands.

For that reason more than anything else on this day after the big loss, Red Storm fans should take heart. Yes, no one likes to say it, but there's always next year.

Photo Credits:
Dwight Hardy - Andrieski/AP
Steve Lavin - Dempsey/AP

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japanese Tsunami: I'm Gonna Build Me an Ark

Article first published as Japanese Tsunami: I'm Gonna Build Me an Ark on Blogcritics.

The reaction to the earthquake in Japan and the horrific tsunami it spawned has been swift and, as should be expected, covered widely by the media. It was quite easy last evening to find reports on television about the story, even on small local stations. Turning to the PC, I got more of the same. It's a story that is necessary and compelling to report, and it makes us all worry a bit when we think of the power of nature. Sometimes, I think we take that for granted.
This morning as I made my usual quick trip to the supermarket, I was in the dairy aisle getting milk and juice. This is when I overheard two guys who had brought in handtrucks filled with new cartons of milk to replenish the supply. They were talking about the tsunami. "You see that wave in Japan washing everything away, man?"

The other guy stopped puitting milk on the shelf, tipped back his cap, and sighed, "Yeah, I'm gonna build me an ark."

They started laughing and went back to their work, but I started thinking about it. We take for granted how the milk will always be on the shelf, as well as everything else we need. We turn on the taps and the water comes out clean to drink. I go home, turn on my computer, and I can connect to the world. It's all so easy, so simple, and yet so frighteningly fragile, as this disaster in Japan clearly demonstrates.

I took down the old trusty Bible from my shelf and turned to Genesis. Noah must have been a great guy because he got a warning. He went out to build an ark because, according to the story, God was ready to smite the people and the earth but Noah had found "favor" with the Lord. Lucky guy, huh?

In Genesis 6:15 God gave Noah specific instructions: "This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high." The "cubit" was an ancient measurement, and since Noah couldn't rush out to Home Depot to get the wood measured and cut for him, he had to use the basic length of a cord that covered the distance between his elbow to the end of his middle finger, meaning a cubit changed with each person depending on his arm length. I then looked up cubit and the Merriam-Webster definition indicated that it equals about 18 inches in length.

I figured out that Noah's boat would be much too big for my family and me. Even if we took the dog, we would need a much smaller size. Maybe around 150 cubits by 25 cubit by 25 cubits. Unlike Noah, I could go down to Home Depot, get all my wood, use my power tools, and - wait a minute. What am I doing? Noah had found favor with the Lord. He had been told in advance, so there was a plan for him. When it was all over his boat came to rest and life went on for him and his family because that was what God wanted.

We might not be so lucky, right? In fact, in a flood that devastating, the world as we know it would be gone. There would be no more apps for my iPhone; hey, it wouldn't even work. There would be no store with stocked milk, no gas for the car (well, that would be washed away at this point), no daily newspaper or grande cappucino to drink with it. We would just have each other and have to start over from scratch.

I realized why Noah brought all those animals. They were not just being saved to keep each species going; they would also be a food source. The cows gave milk; the chickens gave eggs, and so on. Yes, I would have to build the ark to the original specifications and get animals - lots of them. Neighborhood cats and dogs, maybe that squirrel that destroys our pumpkins every Halloween, that raccoon I see up near the train tracks, and so on. I know this is a poor lot of creatures to take, but short of raiding the Bronx Zoo before the flood comes, what am I to do?

Maybe nothing. I sat here staring out the window and figured I would have to take what God has wrought just like everyone else. He didn't warn me or anyone in my family. I wouldn't be favored and probably wouldn't survive. It might be worse to be the only people on a ruined planet, fending for ourselves after all had been swamped and drowned. Yeah, I guess that would be the way it was meant to be.

Later in the morning I went out to the garage to get something. Stacked against the wall was all the wood I had bought last year to build a new shed but never got around to it. I forgot I had bought it. I picked up my tape measure from the workbench and measured my elbow to the tip of my middle finger. It was almost nineteen inches. I picked up my hammer, stared at the wood, and touched it with my hand. "Three hundred cubits, by fifty cubits, by thirty cubits." Hmm.

Photo credits:
Map - CBS
Flood -

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NFL Players Union Plays Its Trump Card: Decertification

Article first published as NFL Players Union Plays Its Trump Card: Decertification on Blogcritics.

Riddle me this; riddle me that: what is worse than a game without a bat? The answer is perhaps a game without players. That is the ugly prospect in the National Football League labor dispute with its players, and things took a decidedly ominous turn today when the NFL Players Association made the decision to decertify as a union.

Football fans everywhere may be asking why did they do this, but it makes perfect sense since their negotiations with the NFL are going nowhere. Since a lockout was no doubt imminent, the NFLPA's choice makes sense because of this: if they are not a union then they can sue the NFL in federal court under antitrust laws.

The prospect of this getting resolved any time soon seems unlikely. The NFL can counter sue the NFLPA in some way, probably noting that the decertification process was only meant to set up this possibility of suing before the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) expired. Either way there looks like no end is in sight and that's not good news for the players or the fans.
NFLPA Executive Direct DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have been involved in negotiations that have been going nowhere. What is the problem, you may ask? The answer is 750 million of them (dollars, of course). That was the gap between what the players wanted and the owners refused to give.

As it seems this thing could take months to be worked out in the courts, the worry here is that it will jeopardize training camps and even the start of the season. What doesn't make sense is why either side would want to ruin the good thing that they have going here.

Of all American sports, football has to be the most lucrative one in the nation. The amount of money generated by games, merchandising, and advertising is overwhelmingly more substantial than from any other sport. The grandaddy of all championships is the Super Bowl, a marketing and entertainment juggernaut that is second to none.

So why are these guys spoiling a good thing? The answer is that the owners like their huge piece of the pie and don't want to share; they also don't want to disclose the ingredients or the baking process. Will the lawsuit force the lords and ladies of football to pry open the castle vault doors and reveal all the secrets to the recipe? Maybe, or perhaps they will come to an understanding, learn to play nice and share more, and this whole thing will just go away.

At least that's what I'm hoping for. As a Jets fan, I don't want my team distracted in any way by all this. Let's hope this will move things forward and get something resolved soon, or otherwise we'll be looking at them playing the Super Bowl around Easter next year.

Photo Credit: AP

Friday, March 11, 2011

St. John's Loses To Syracuse 79-73; Injury Ends Kennedy's Season

Article first published as St. John's Loses To Syracuse 79-73; Injury Ends Kennedy's Season on Blogcritics.

You know how they say "add insult to injury," well that could well sum up St. John's 79-73 loss to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament. Senior D.J. Kennedy's torn ACL during the first half sent him to the Garden floor in pain, and his look of anguish and despair certainly encapsulated what Red Storm players and their fans were feeling after today's disappointing loss.

What could have happened in this game if they did not lose Kennedy early on? We'll never know, but Kennedy's lost for the season and that is not a good thing for the Johnnies and their morale. Plus, Kennedy's loss (and the loss to Syracuse) is a blow to their NCAA standing for the rest of the way, but that may not matter much with Kennedy gone.

After the game the forward's teammates learned that Kennedy had a complete ACL tear, which means a long road toward recovery for him. That's the kind of thing coach Steve Lavin's guys didn't want to hear, but it could be a rallying point for them too in the weeks ahead.

Sean Evans (11 points), who replaced Kennedy, said after the game that he was going to "play hard" for Kennedy. The rest of his mates while a bit stunned about what happened seemed to have the same feeling, with Dwight Hardy (22 points) saying, "We're going to play hard as we can for him."

Steve Lavin may have to use the old "Win one for the Gipper" kind of pep talk for the Johnnies, but for now they are going to have to watch Syracuse take on UConn this Friday night. While this promises to be a great game, the hometown fans are understandably disappointed and, with Kennedy out, the road is going to be pretty bumpy for SJU the rest of the way.

Photo Credit: Simmons/Daily News

Thursday, March 10, 2011

St. John's Moves to Third Round With 65-63 Win Over Rutgers

Article first published as St. John's Moves to Third Round With 65-63 Win Over Rutgers on Blogcritics.

The win was not pretty to say the least, and perhaps one can even say it was spoiled in the last few seconds, but it was a victory just the same. St. John's Red Storm now moves on to play Syracuse in the third round of the Big East Tournament tomorrow afternoon at Madison Square Garden here in New York City, but those last few seconds of the game will no doubt live in infamy for fans of Rutgers' Scarlet Knights.

Senior Justin Brownlee picked off a pass, took it down court, and seemed to travel in the process. Then, inexplicably, with a few seconds left, he seemed to step out of bounds and toss the ball into the crowd. Was this just a young player's being caught up in the moment, or was it a calculated tactic to end the game before the buzzer? Maybe only Brownlee knows for sure, but the game officials didn't call anything and walked off the court. Game over; Red Storm wins!

After the game Big East Commissioner John Marinatto admitted there were blown calls at the end of the game, but he also indicated that they were not "correctable under NCAA rules." So I guess all the replays in the world - and all the Scarlet Knights fans watching it again and again on YouTube -will not change the outcome of this contest. Still, one can argue that after Brownlee stole the ball from Rutgers the game was ostensibly over with 1.7 seconds left.

Now St. John's (5-1 at the Garden this year) moves on to play Syracuse in the fourth round, the team responsible for Red Storm's one MSG loss this season. It promises to be an exciting match-up, but keep in mind that St. John's coach Steve Lavin has led this team all season through one amazing win after another, and the Garden crowd will be with the home team all the way.

Photo Cedit: Sabo/Daily News

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MLB News: Realignment of Divisions Could Come Soon

Article first published as MLB News: Realignment of Divisions Could Come Soon on Blogcritics.

The thought of Major League Baseball's 28 teams staying the way they are is probably appealing to some people, but there is definitely a history of change in baseball that has seen teams switch leagues, inter-league games, and an extra round of playoffs. It can be said the more things change the more they stay the same, but it looks like Commissioner Bud Selig has an eye on radical change for baseball.

I heard this conversation on the radio today about the possibility of teams switching divisions and the leagues merging, and that sounded a lot like what happened in football (when the AFL joined the NFL). I did a little searching on the Internet, and quickly came up with an article from the New York Daily News by Bill Madden, a writer whom I've followed a long time and respect a great deal.

Madden's take on it seems pretty scary if you're a New York Mets fan like I am. Can you imagine the Mets being in the same division as the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies? This new order could make sense in a "regional" way, but it would really be the biggest change to hit baseball since the designated hitter.

Speaking of which, according to Madden the DH is on its way out. That means all those guys who are planning on winding up their careers as a team's DH better start taking balls at a different position. American League pitchers should be on notice too; they should start picking up those bats and learn how to use them again.
If you look at the chart of the new baseball divisions based on regional alignment, you can see that the Northeast Division would be a tough place to be. The concept of two leagues and two different sets of rules would come to an end. Besides the DH that would also include strike zones, game schedules, and number of men on the rosters. Can you imagine a scenario if a team could have 27-30 active players? This certainly would increase the number of pitchers and catchers a team would be able to carry.

I don't know about you, but I remember the good old days of two divisions in each league (my father remembers when there was one division). Things seemed simple then; East played West and then there was the World Series. This new alignment means probably more playoff games, and that no doubt appeals to baseball owners and executives because that means more revenue.

Madden goes on to say that a team would play every team in all four new divisions twice (once at home and once on the road) each season. That means six games against every team in the league every year. I know it makes sense if you do the math (27 x 6 = 162 games), but doesn't that mean teams are going to do a heck of a lot more traveling?

How will baseball fans and the players react to this news? In the end it probably won't matter what anyone thinks if baseball's power elite have made the call already. It looks like we will have to face the inevitable, which probably includes a World Series being played around Thanksgiving, so we can say "Pass the cranberry sauce" as we watch the players run the bases in the snow. Isn't change lovely?

Image Credit: Madden Daily News

St. John's Beats USF 72-56; Seeded Number 5 in the Big East Tournament

Article first published as St. John's Beats USF 72-56; Seeded Number 5 in the Big East Tournament on Blogcritics.

There is a thing called March Madness and it refers to college basketball games played in March (and into early April) that matter more than anything previously played that year because in the world of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) these games determine the national champions. For St. John's University basketball fans, it has been a long time coming for their team to be in the mix in a meaningful way.

In beating South Florida (9-21, 3-14) at home in the friendly confines of Carneseca Arena on the Jamaica, New York Campus, The Red Storm (20-10, 12-6) finished its best season in over a decade tied for third in the Big East. This places them as fifth seed in the Big East Tournament, with their first test coming on March 9 against the winner of the first-round matchup of Seton Hall and Rutgers.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a "Johnnies" game at home can attest to the excitement and roar of the crowd in the former Alumni Hall now named for legendary coach Lou Carneseca. After a long drought of years without much to look forward to, the fans are rooting for first year head coach Steve Lavin's team. Evident too was the respect and admiration the crowd felt for the team's ten graduating seniors who were honored before last night's game with a standing ovation.

Led by D.J. Kennedy (16 points), Dwight Hardy (14 points), and Justin Brownlee (13 points), St. John's beat FSU for the fifth straight time since the Florida team joined the Big East. There certainly is a confidence that is evident with this squad and Lavin should be credited with turning around this team in his freshman year.

Now St. John's moves on toward the Big Dance, and it is exciting for this alumnus to see the team being so successful again. This season has brought alumni back into the fold and earned the Johnnies new fans as well. Along with the resurgent New York Knicks, The Red Storm has New York fans revved up about basketball again.

And if anyone is worried about St. John's playing at Madison Square Garden, the Johnnie's are 5-1 there against ranked opponents. When they take the court on Wednesday afternoon look for St. John's to have overwhelming support from the home crowd. Steve Lavin and his team have given New Yorkers a good reason to get into the madness that is March college basketball.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Return Visit to Houdini's Grave

Article first published as A Return Visit to Houdini's Grave on Blogcritics.

Visiting grave sites is something of an odd custom, but many people do this in reverence for loved ones. We also sometimes visit the graves of those famous people whom we admire. Over the years I have visited the graves of mostly poets and writers, with Shakespeare's being the most meaningful to me. In Paris I joined hundreds of other people who went to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit Jim Morrison's grave (I went on July 3 - his birthday - which could explain the huge crowd).

I grew up not far from the cemetery where Houdini was buried, and as kids we were fascinated by the fact that Houdini's grave was nearby. I devoured every book with "Houdini" in the title, and my grandfather's stories about his exploits enhanced my interest in the man. The name Houdini seemed to stand for magic, mystery, and excitement.

My grandfather had seen Houdini performing at Coney Island in the early 1900s, and that was before he became truly famous. By the time my father was a boy, Houdini had become what would be considered the equivalent of today's rock star. A true celebrity, Houdini was involved in movies, radio shows, and what seemed to be his favorite thing, live shows in the Vaudeville era.

Houdini is probably best known for great escapes. He could escape from chains, straitjackets, water tanks, and most notably handcuffs. When I was a kid running around the house, my grandfather used to call me "Houdini" because I was popping up everywhere and disappearing. The legend caught my attention and then I found out about his grave being in the cemetery literally down the block, and that increased my fascination with the magician.

When I was a teenager we would walk the long cold stretch up the steep Cypress Hills Street from Cooper Avenue with cemeteries on both sides of us. We did this every Halloween because Houdini had died on October 31 and supposedly told his wife that if he could come back he would do so on that night. It was quite a spooky trek, but when we would get there other people had the same idea, so it was not that scary to see a large group of Houdini fans waiting for the ghost to arrive. We never did see anything on those dark cold nights.

Recently I made a return visit to the grave in Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens. This grave site is not far from the gate that is on the western side of Cypress Hills Street north of Cooper Avenue. Houdini is marked on the stone above the family name Weiss (Eric Weiss was Harry's given name). I was sorry to see the bust of Houdini had been taken away. I remembered that the grave had been vandalized several times over the years, so perhaps it was removed to protect it.

On a clear cold winter's day, there was nothing spooky about the grave at all. All the mystery seemed to have been displaced, perhaps by growing older and sadly wiser. Still, the mystery of the man remained and I paid respects to his memory and the reminiscence of the excitement his legend caused me in childhood.

Houdini's grave is worth a visit if you have any interest in his story. He once was extremely famous and is one of the greatest magicians who ever lived. He died on October 31, 1926, from a burst appendix. It was widely known that he could take any punch to the stomach, but a college student had taken him by surprise and punched him before he could tighten his muscles properly. The great Houdini was undone by a sucker punch, but his legend lives on.

Photo Credit: Harry Houdini -

Mets Mess: Castillo and Perez Should Be Gone By Opening Day

Article first published as Mets Mess: Castillo and Perez Should Be Gone By Opening Day on Blogcritics.

It's not like Mets fans have not had enough to worry about this spring training. After a dismal time of it last season, the team squandered the off season by taking on no new players of note, and then the Bernie Madoff scandal became big news and seemed to shake the team and its fans to its core. With a pending sale of a significant percentage of the team in the works, there is nothing much for Mets fans to look forward to except maybe the 2012 season.

There is a bright note from spring training though: the Mets seem finally willing and able to part ways with two of the worst acquisitions since Bobby Bonilla: pitcher Oliver Perez and second baseman Luis Castillo. I think I hear cheering all the way from Citi Field to Central Park.

Both Perez and Castillo have shown no signs this spring of being any better than last year. With Daniel Murphy making a concerted effort to make the roster as a second baseman, it is clear that Castillo has run out of options. Perez also has little or no juice left. According to reports, his velocity is down to the low 80s and he looks inexplicably lost on the mound. There's a possibility he could be used in the bullpen, but that didn't work out too well last year.

So it seems both Perez and Castillo will be released sometime before Opening Day (unless some team wants to take them on). The team mired in its financial muck and mire will have to eat their contracts (Perez is owed $12 million and Castillo about $6 million), but this is stll something positive for the club. Finally this spring Mets fans do have something to be happy about!
Photo Credit: Simmons/Daily News

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Charlie Sheen: The Day the Earth Stood Ill

Article first published as Charlie Sheen: The Day the Earth Stood Ill on Blogcritics.

Watching Charlie Sheen unravel on television is painful to say the least. It is as if an alien has landed, was booked on all the talk shows, and started speaking in his language with brief snippets of English thrown in. I was thinking that he could almost be seen as the antithesis of Klaatu from the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. In that case the alien Klaatu spoke perfect English and was understandable as his giant robot Gort stood silently on guard. Even Gort would probably have made more sense than Sheen is doing now.

I wish no harm to this man and actually hope that someone will help him. In this case, since he is an adult and father of children, the one person who really needs to step in and help is him. You cannot expect his father Martin Sheen or his brother Emilio Estevez to take charge or custody of Charlie. He has to make the decision to help himself, but each day brings new headlines, crazier antics, and the media loves this because it sells and there is no end in sight until Sheen crashes, hurts himself, or gets arrested.

I have tried to watch some of Sheen's interviews, but they really make me sick. Here is a guy who had a great job (making $2 million bucks per episode on his CBS show Two and a Half Men), beautiful children, and a mansion. None of this seems to have mattered to Sheen as he has slowly self-destructed.

He kind of reminds me of Elmer Fudd from the Bugs Bunny Show who used to babble about being a millionaire and owning a mansion and a yacht. Despite that, Elmer was wasting his time trying to shoot Bugs Bunny all day instead of enjoying a normal life. Elmer never ended up very well in those cartoons, and I am afraid that could be the fate of Charlie too or worse.

So I am officially sick of the story, and hopefully (maybe) everyone else is getting there too. It is sad that Charlie's show is probably history, especially for the cast and crew that lose their jobs. Hey, maybe they can bring in Emilio to take his place and they can rename it One and Two Half Men. I know that was a low blow but - oh, there I go again.

Since I don't think there is anyone out there who can help Charlie help himself, maybe we can get good old Gort to come back and exchange Klaatu for Charlie. He might be happy up there, and on another planet he just might think he is a god because they worship him from seeing the film Hot Shots five hundred times. I just hope they don't ask him if he is Rambo, because then things are not going to go well at all.  

Photo Credits:
Charlie Sheen -
Elmer Fudd -

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Fond Farewell to the Duke of Flatbush

Article first published as A Fond Farewell to the Duke of Flatbush on Blogcritics.

I never had the privilege of seeing Duke Snider play in person, but I mourn his loss because of what he meant to old Dodgers fans like my grandfather and uncles, who then became Mets fans like I am today. Of all the players they talked about, none seemed to loom as large as Edwin Donald Snider.

The Duke played during what many baseball fans still see as the golden era, and that is especially true for fans here in New York City. While Boston may have had Ted Williams and St. Louis had Stan Musial, NYC was blessed with three superstar players: Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and Duke Snider of the Dodgers. Can you imagine being a fan at that time with this amazing competition going on?

Of course, I was told of the ongoing debate among New York fans about which team had the best center fielder. It is without question that my family felt that in no uncertain terms that it was the Duke, though they seemed to acknowledge that the other two were pretty fine players too.

Pop mentioned that there were always rumors of a trade: Mantle for Mays, or Snider for Mays, and so on. The one thing he and my uncles dreaded most was the prospect of the Duke going to the Bronx for Mantle. He said that it wasn't even the thought of Mantle as a Dodger that bothered him as much as the Duke becoming a Yankee: that was blasphemy.

Besides hearing about the old Dodger stories as a kid, the thing that brought Duke Snider into my world was Terry Cashman's iconic song, "Talkin' Baseball" and it's famous line "Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke." That song came out in 1981 and hit a chord with many baseball fans, and though it is dated now, there is still the resonance in its reflection of the impact of baseball on American life.

Duke Snider played one season for the Mets (1963), seventeen seasons overall, and played in six postseasons. He had 407 career homers and 11 in the postseason. His greatest year was 1955 when he led his Dodgers 42 homers, 136 RBI, and a .309 average. This would be the one and only time that the Dodgers beat the hated Yankees in the World Series, with the Duke hitting 4 homers and knocking in 7 runs.

There is no understanding the euphoria Dodgers fans felt that year they beat the Yankees, and Duke Snider was an integral part of that victory. He and the rest of those Boys of Summer managed to do the unbelievable, endearing themselves forever in the hearts of their fans because this time the Bums beat the Yanks. According to Pop, the party went on for days (at least what he could remember of it after "closing all the bars in Brooklyn").

So we can mourn the loss of Duke Snider at 84, but we can also see it as the final piece of the reunion of those Boys of Summer in that great baseball park somewhere on the other side. I can picture him walking onto the field and seeing Gil Hodges taking balls at first base, Jackie Robinson flipping the ball to Pee Wee Reese to turn a double play, and they and all the rest of the starting players on that the team who have passed on walk over to greet him. Catcher Roy Campenella comes up to him, hands him a ball, and they all decide to play nine. Talk about a field of dreams!

Duke Snider passed away on Sunday, Hall of Famer and, as Pop used to say, "an all around good guy." Rest in peace, Duke!

Photo Credit: