Pick 'em Friday

Morning, everyone. The coffee's brewed, the cats are fed, and the pumpkins we carved last week are puddles of goo on the back porch, so I know what I'll be doing this afternoon. I was 9-4 last week, which puts me at 71-32 for the season. That's a little above average for this sort of thing, but not superior, which means I won't be heading to Vegas to make my living any time soon. Anyway, here are this weeks picks, winners in caps. Maybe I'll have one of those magical weeks where everything goes right. I'll buy a lottery ticket just in case.

Cleveland at CHICAGO Chicago reminds me of the Saints last year--solid enough to beat the teams they're supposed to beat, but not quite sure enough of themselves as a team with a passing game to win against good teams. Cleveland is not a good team.

DENVER at Baltimore At some point, Denver will lose a game, and when they do, I'll stop picking them to win every week--I've picked against them twice now and they've proven me wrong. I'll go with them as winners until I have reason otherwise.

St. Louis at DETROIT Who cares?

San Francisco at INDIANAPOLIS The Alex Smith/Michael Crabtree era begins in earnest in San Francisco. The Niners almost pulled off an impressive comeback last week, but I think the Colts will handle them.

Seattle at DALLAS Dallas may be the least convincing 4-2 team I've seen this year, and I really think it's a case of the Cowboys not living up to the impossible hype thrown at them because of the new stadium Ozymandias Jerry Jones built in honor of his ego. The Cowboys should win this game pretty easily.

HOUSTON at Buffalo This is not a pick that shows confidence in Houston--it's a pick that shows no confidence in Buffalo.

MIAMI at New York Jets If you only looked at last week's scores, you'd think the Jets are going to win this in a walk, and they still might, but the Fins played the Saints tighter than the score said, while the Jets beat the snot out of the Raiders. The Fins are probably still a year away from true contention, but their second-half schedule sets up nicely for a run, and it starts with this game.

NEW YORK GIANTS at Philadelphia Put me down as one who thinks Eli Manning is a tremendously overrated quarterback. He's a league-average QB who has a great name, plays in the biggest market around, and who got hot at the right time a couple of years ago. But he's no Payton. He's not even a Donovan McNabb. But the Giants are a better team right now, and that will be enough this week.

JACKSONVILLE at Tennessee Vince Young is in at QB for the Titans, which I thought should have happened a couple of weeks ago when it became clear they weren't going to do anything this season. I don't think much will change for the team, though Jacksonville is just inconsistent enough that a Tennessee win here wouldn't be a huge upset.

Oakland at SAN DIEGO The line on this game is something like 16.5 points. I've never seen a line that big for division rivals who are only a game and a half apart in the standings.

Carolina at ARIZONA Can't work up the energy to snark at either team.

MINNESOTA at Green Bay At least this part of the Brett Favre storyline will end once this game is over, because it's unlikely that the two teams will meet again in the playoffs.

Atlanta at NEW ORLEANS I'm doing my best to remain subdued here, but it's killing me that this game is on Monday, because I don't want to wait for it. I'm going to have to grade my ass off to be done in time for kickoff, but it will happen.

Trevor Keezer, Idiot

What else to say, really, about a person who claims to have been fired for wearing a pin which said "One nation under God" on his Home Depot work apron? Let's see how this really played out, shall we?

Earlier this month, he began bringing a Bible to read during his lunch break at the store in the rural town of Okeechobee, about 140 miles north of Miami. That's when he says The Home Depot management told him he would have to remove the button.

Keezer refused, and he was fired on Oct. 23, he said.

"It feels kind of like a punishment, like I was punished for just loving my country," Keezer said.
Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like Keezer is being treated unfairly. What's that?
A Home Depot spokesman said Keezer was fired because he violated the company's dress code.
Oh, so he isn't. He decided that his right to wear a particular pin superseded the store policy which said "only company-provided pins and badges can be worn on our aprons."

It gets better.
Fishel said Keezer was offered a company-approved pin that said, "United We Stand," but he declined.
Oh, so Keezer had a chance to keep his job, and was even given another pin to choose from, but decided not to take it. I don't call that being fired; I call that quitting. If my employers decide it's a condition of my employment that I wear a necktie (please don't ever do this to me, okay?) every day, then I can either wear a necktie or I can lose my job. That's the way it works.

Here's the payoff line, though. "Keezer said he was working at the store to earn money for college." Might want to work on those critical thinking skills while you're hunting for another job. And don't expect much out of that lawsuit either. A blanket policy like Home Depot's is pretty hard to touch.

My MFA Place: Fayetteville

Guest blogger Amy here, writing to weigh in on the recent ascent of Seth Abramson's impressive and long-labored MFA rankings to the P&W throne: if you hadn't heard, Seth Abramson, poet and blogger, recently had his MFA rankings (which have been up and available and thoroughly explained on his website for years) adopted by Poets & Writers, a magazine, organization, and all around powerhouse of influence and resource among writers.


This has of course resulted in some blowback, in part because (as Brian so succinctly put it in his Poetic Lives Online) those rankings were not in danger of becoming "gospel" when they were on Abramson's site, but now that they wear the P&W imprimatur, few will question them, or how they were devised. And frankly, if you think those "Top 10 Most Rockinest Hairdo's of the 80's" shows on VH-1 are subjective, you haven't tried ranking locations where groups of artists gather, some as teachers, some as students, and try to get along, financially, personally, artistically, and in every other way. And while I'd love to see Andy Dick hurl out a few one-liners about Giffel's Auditorium in Old Main (it's Arkansas - are these people expecting an audience with the Queen?), this is also a very niche interest - essentially of interest to exactly one group: writers who go to MFA programs.

I went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, as did Brian (it's where we met), which Poets & Writers (nee Abramson) ranks at 36. I think that's too low, so I've taken the liberty of moving us up a little.



Just a few things I want to point out:

1. Apparently UArk is more selective than Iowa. Eat that beeches.
2. Apparently UArk also funds better than two of the top three. Stick that one in your pants and smoke it.
3. Not having a Non-fiction program isn't that unusual (see #s 2 and 3), but UArk does have the Programs in Translation, which, IMHO, makes the whole creative writing program worthy of a bump. I wasn't in that program, but as an MFA student I had access to classes with John DuVal, which were some of the best classes I took at Arkansas - or in my life, really, and yes that is a high bar to clear. Students who go today have access to classes with Geoff Brock, too. Hullo, awesome!
4. UArk is listed at #36, but in every measure scores higher than this: 31, 25, 24, 18, 17.... er, 45. Okay, whoops, in ONE measure UArk scores lower: the Fiction program. Gee I wonder why that could be. Gee I sure do. I mean I know I went there for fiction and everything and spent half my time taking classes in poetry and translation not to mention lit classes with the PhD faculty so that my teachers would stop making comments on my boobs and actually remember my name and stuff, but I really can't imagine why UArk is listed lower for fiction than for everything else. I wonder if that means that they should conclude that the fiction side is holding them down, and maybe self-examine and self-analyze and try to determine if the way they do things might in fact not be the best way of doing things? Maybe?

Naaah.

I've said my piece.

Cartoon Femininity

The news hit a few weeks ago--Marge Simpson would be on the cover of the November issue of Playboy. And she is, well, on some of them, anyway--Alina Puscau is on the rest, though Marge gets the centerfold section in all of them. Some commentators have wondered about the choice, from both sides. Why would The Simpsons, which satirizes the patriarchal world Playboy celebrates, put Marge in this situation? Why would Playboy think this a good marketing strategy toward twenty-somethings who haven't found The Simpson family edgy, well, ever?

Sarah Churchwell, writing in The Guardian attempts to answer the first question.

If The Simpsons occasionally lampoons feminism, however, it much more frequently satirises the objectification of women for commercial purposes: in one episode Marge and Lisa watch a television ad in which a man at a petrol station is approached by three scantily dressed sexy young women, strutting to pop music; one of them leans over to reveal a cross dangling in her cleavage, and a voiceover intones: "The Catholic church. We've made a few … changes."

Playboy is trying to claim the same thing in promising to reveal the devil in Marge Simpson. But Marge has been showing her devilish side for years. When she shut down the Maison Derri̬re, she warned Belle, its proprietor, that she was about to learn that "the two most dangerous words in the English language are 'Marge Simpson". And, actually, in 2004 Marge was featured on the cover of Maxim Рin a negligee, on all fours, scrubbing the floor Рso it's hard to conclude that she's letting the sisterhood particularly down by appearing in Playboy.

If Marge has always been a figure for sending up cultural questions about women's roles, then one could argue there is nowhere more appropriate for her to end up than on the cover of Playboy, the magazine that emerged in the very era – the American 1950s – that The Simpsons was born to burlesque. Playboy represented the flipside of that fantasy of domestic stability: instead, the magazine offered a sentimental fantasy of sanitised promiscuity. And of course Hefner has long been nothing if not a cartoon himself, a smirking parody of the vacuous consumption and mindless sexualisation he promulgated.
This, of course, is only a small snippet--the whole thing is worth reading. I don't have an answer for the second question I posted above, and neither does Churchwell. The notion that a Marge Simpson cover is going to pull in twenty-something readers is, well, ridiculous. It seems like a scene out of Mad Men where a bunch of middle-aged white men are trying to figure out what will sell to housewives, only with young adults as the pitchees this time. "The Simpsons--that's still edgy, right? The kids love edgy!" And Playboy has done this a lot recently, with "spreads" of women characters from video games and the like--although those made sense for the Playboy aesthetic, given their absurd dimensions and featureless faces. Whatever the reason, if the idea was to pull in twenty-somethings, it was a bad idea--maybe forty-somethings would be intrigued by it enough to buy a copy, but I'd be surprised if they see much of a bump at all.

Pick 'em Friday Saturday

I'm a day late on these, y'all. Sorry about that, but this weekend's already been more hectic than most, and the really busy part is yet to come. 8-6 last week, which means I'm continuing to slip as the season progresses. You'd think that as the teams sort themselves out, I'd get better at this. Maybe I ought to try to coin flip method instead. Here are my picks for this week, winners in all caps.

SAN FRANCISCO at Houston I've been burned by Houston so many times this season, I might stop picking their games altogether and just take the loss. At least then I'd feel a little less hosed.

INDIANAPOLIS at St. Louis Last week, I said of the Philadelphia-Oakland that picking some games was easy. See how that worked out? I don't think the same thing happens here.

Minnesota at PITTSBURGH I have no real reason for this pick, other than that the game is in Pittsburgh. The Vikings have been better than I expected, Brett Favre has played out of his head, and the Steelers are an up-and-down team. But I think the unbeaten streak for the Vikings ends here.

NEW ENGLAND at Tampa Bay Tom Brady threw for five touchdowns in one quarter last week--in the snow. It won't be snowing in Tampa, but the opposing defense blows chunks.

SAN DIEGO at Kansas City This game makes me a little nervous. San Diego is coming off a tough loss to Denver and travels to Kansas City on a short week. I keep hearing the Chargers are a talented team that always starts slow--I'm waiting to see some evidence of the former.

GREEN BAY at Cleveland The Packers are an okay team. The Browns stink out loud.

NY JETS at Oakland Is this the week the San-chize recovers from his recent bout of rookie-dom? Will the Raiders make it two in a row? Will anyone outside New York and Oakland even bother to watch?

Buffalo at CAROLINA If it weren't for the Jim Zorn story, Dick Jauron would be the leading candidate for the "who loses his job first" award. Carolina isn't miles better than the Bills, and certainly has dysfunction of its own, but the Bills look like they could implode any second.

Chicago at CINCINNATI Who the hell knows with these two teams? If Cincy shows up at home, they should win this game.

NEW ORLEANS at Miami This has all the makings of a trap game--New Orleans is coming off a big win over the Giants, and has a huge rivalry/division game on Monday night next week against the Falcons, and they're playing a Dolphins team which has a terrific running game and a strong-armed young (but inexperienced) quarterback and a serviceable defense. I still think the Saints will win this one pretty handily, but it wouldn't completely shock me if they lost it.

ATLANTA at Dallas Dallas has lost its two games by a total of 9 points to teams with a combined 11-1 record, which should indicate they're a pretty competitive team. But they've won their three games against teams with a combined three wins. Atlanta is stout. I don't think this one will be close.

Arizona at NEW YORK GIANTS The Giants are at home and looking to regain a little swagger after last week's game. Arizona is unpredictable. Giants at home.

PHILADELPHIA at Washington There shouldn't be any doubt about this game, but the Eagles dropped a turd on the field in Oakland, so now nobody is sure about them. I'm sure of this--Washington stinks, and the Eagles should win pretty easily. I'm also sure of this--if McNabb plays like he did last week, the howls for Kevin Kolb to take over will be heard on Mars.

That's it. Tune in to see just how wrong I am next week.

The Also-Rans

I've never really been a fan (in the fanatic sense of the word) of a championship team at any level. I focus on teams because it's something completely different to be a fan of a particular player--I'm a fan of Tiger Woods, for example, and I was a fan of both Andre Agassi and John McEnroe in their primes. The individual performer is easier for me to relate to than the team.

Part of this comes, no doubt, from being exposed to hapless teams from a very early age. I went to my first baseball games when I was in first grade (I think). We got free tickets to see the Houston Astros, and I really don't remember much other than the scoreboard lighting up when someone--I don't even know which team, much less the player--hit a home run. The Astros weren't very good at the time--this was the mid-70's--and I never really developed an affinity for them because I was too young to understand the sport, especially since my parents weren't the kind to let me play little league.

My first team experience was the New Orleans Saints; I moved to Louisiana when I was seven, just before starting the second grade, and the Saints were bad--as they had been and as they would remain for many years afterward. They were also the only game in town, mostly, and the other games in town were also bad. The New Orleans Jazz were creeping slowly toward respectability, led by Pistol Pete Maravich (probably the least-known all-time-great basketball player in history), but they still lost more than they won. There was no baseball team, and New Orleans's contribution to college sports was Tulane University, not exactly a hotbed of excellence.

I felt an affinity for the Saints. They came into the league the year before I was born, and seemed as hapless on the field as I did on the playground before school and during recess. I was not an athletic child--glasses in kindergarten and asthma will do that to you--but I loved playing all the same, even though it meant trips to the optician and learning how to repair broken glasses with tape and paperclips. Steve Bartkowsi's Hail Mary against the Saints to complete an incredible comeback still stings thirty years later. I turned 12 the year the Saints went 1-15 one year after going 8-8, knocking on the door of what was their elusive first winning season. They beat the Jets. I remember being nervous before the Saints played the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were 0-26 at the time going back over two seasons, desperately hoping the Saints wouldn't be their first victim. I took no solace in the fact that the Bucs would win their next game, and would then make the playoffs the following year.

The story of Saints futility is a long one--thirty years before even having a winning season, and only 8 of 41 winning seasons total. Only three head coaches in the team's history have winning records: Jim Mora, who led the team to their first continued success; Jim Haslett, who led them to their first playoff victory; and Sean Payton, who has them currently at or near the top of most power rankings. Other teams have had really bad eras--the Cardinals had a really crappy couple of decades recently--but no team has ever defined futility over the long haul like the Saints.

So it's no surprise, given my love for the Saints, that when I started hunting for a baseball team to adopt (since we had no New Orleans team) that I would gravitate toward one which felt familiar. I shifted from team to team as a kid, mainly following players--the Dodgers of Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, the Cardinals of Willie McGee and Tommy Herr, George Brett's Royals (I still have the glove I got after Brett's .390 season)--but didn't really follow a team until I was an adult. I'm a Cubs fan.

When the Red Sox ended their run of World Series futility a few years ago, lots of commentators suggested that Boston fans would finally have to give up their fetishization of losing, because they had nothing to complain about. That's not going to happen--Sox fans will continue to internalize their status as losers until the Sox have won as many World Series as the hated Yankees, which will probably happen about the time the head of Richard Nixon wins the presidency of Earth.

Cubs fans are now alone in their celebration of mediocrity, at least in baseball. I don't celebrate it, though. I would love to see the Cubs win the Series, just as I am hoping against all hope that the Saints pull it off this year. And I wouldn't feel like a part of me is missing if that happens. I don't root for also-rans because I'm celebrating crappiness--I root for them because they're all I know how to root for. The Saints trained me to have hope just so it could be dashed. I don't know any other way to react as a fan.

Forget Richard Dawkins, forget PZ Myers, forget Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett or any of the other prominent atheists out there. The best proponent for atheism today is William Donohue, President of the Catholic League. He penned an amazing parody of conservative Catholic thought in the Washington Post today. Hilarious stuff. Check this stuff out.

Sexual libertines, from the Marquis de Sade to radical gay activists, have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, "Thou Shalt Not." But they continue with their death-style anyway.
It's brilliant the way he completely ignores the Catholic Church's long history of aiding and abetting the sexual misconduct of its own priesthood, both with children and with adults. Check out some more of it.
There was a time when Hollywood made reverential movies about Christianity. But those days are long gone. Now they just insult. And when someone finally makes a film that makes Christians proud, he is run out of town. Were it not for Mel Gibson, there would have been no "Passion of the Christ."
Did you see how he skipped the whole anti-Semitic rampage Gibson went on, as well as how much stuff Gibson has in production at present, both as an actor and as a producer? Good thing this is parody. What else?
Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge. Indeed, practicing Catholics are no longer welcome in leadership roles in the Party
Yeah--well, there's Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House...and President Obama just put Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court...Joe Biden is Vice President...Pat Leahy is a major committee chair in the Senate...and Congressional Catholic Democrats outnumber Catholic Republicans 2 to 1. I'm starting to think he's serious.
The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.
Oh, great way to close the deal with the parody, because you know, with all that breeding going on, there's no way atheism is growing, right? I mean, you never hear of the kid of religious parents turning away from religion and becoming a non-believer do you? Doesn't happen--you get born into a church, you stay there forever, I guess.

Except that he's serious about all this. Incredibly, completely wrong, but serious. He's the Christopher Hitchens of Catholicism as far as pompous dickholery goes, but without the (slightly) redeeming ability to write well.

Limbaugh pulls a Nixon

The Wall Street Journal--no surprise--gave over some space to Rush Limbaugh so he could cry about how he's not a racist. Much of Limbaugh's defense in his piece is centered around the one quote falsely attributed to him that suggested that he had supported, in the abstract, slavery. He didn't say it, plain and simple. But he has said many other racially charged things in the past, from calling then Senator Obama a "halfrican" to comparing black athletes to gang members just for starters. But the second I saw the swerve Limbagh was trying to put on this story, I knew I'd seen something similar--from Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.

You didn't have to attack to attack. Better, much better, to give up something to the mark: make him feel he has one up on you. Let him pounce on your "mistake." That makes him look unduly aggressive. Then you sprang the trap, garnering the pity by making the enemy look like a self-righteous and hyper-intellectual enemy of common sense. You attacked jujitsu-style, positioning yourself as you attacked, inspiring a strange sort of protective love among voters whose wounded resentments grow alongside your performance of being wounded. Your enemies appear only to have died of their own hand. Which makes you stronger.
It's not a perfect analogy, but it's close. Limbaugh is trying to spring the trap by arguing (correctly) that he didn't say the racist thing he was accused of saying and thus (incorrectly) all things that his enemies are saying are false. He's doing a bit of the "my accusers are shitbags" dance as well.

But the big thing he's doing--and with a moderate degree of success, it seems to me--is stoking resentment among his fans, and even among people who might not otherwise give Limbaugh a second's thought, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. He's claiming the mantle of the common man; Rush Limbaugh, the highest paid radio host in the history of the world, so wealthy he broadcasts from his Palm Beach compound, so wealthy he can afford to be part of an NFL franchise ownership group, is playing the common man card. And doing it well, I might add.

Funny thing is that Limbaugh probably should be an NFL owner. He meets all the criteria--he hates higher taxes on the wealthy, he loves corporate welfare, he hates unions. How is he not qualified to own a team?

Limbaugh is doing one other smart thing here--he's not attacking the people who are responsible for denying him his dream. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't force Dave Checketts to toss Limbaugh out of the ownership group. Neither did DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA leader. Neither did any of the players who said they wouldn't play for a team Limbaugh owned. Nope. The other owners, many of whom share Limbaugh's positions on taxes and unions and the like, didn't want him around. But he can't attack them, not if he's hoping, like Nixon, to be able to make a comeback, perhaps as part of another ownership group one day.

Pick 'em Friday

9-5 last week. I knew I was too hot to start the season. One of these weeks it's going to go completely bad and I'll get like 3 games right. Maybe this will be the week. Winners in all caps.

Baltimore at MINNESOTA I've let Brett Favre get into my head, picking against him because I'm so tired of the football pundit adulation for him, and it has cost me a couple of times this season. So I'm picking him, okay? Plus, I'm starting to think that the Ravens defense isn't as fearsome as it once was.

Detroit at GREEN BAY Green Bay can't stop anyone. Neither can Detroit. Green Bay has a better offense, I think, which means this will be a 6-3 game.

KANSAS CITY at Washington So far, Washington has given Carolina and Detroit their first wins of the season, and barely eked out wins against Tampa and the Rams. They have another winless team here in KC, and I think that if Washington loses this one, they might not win another game this season.

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH The Cleveland winning streak stops at 1.

St. Louis at JACKSONVILLE Seattle stomped the snot out of the Jaguars last week. Good thing Jacksonville isn't playing Seattle again.

Houston at CINCINNATI I'm starting to believe. They're a freak play away from being unbeaten this season.

New York Giants at NEW ORLEANS I said I would pick the Saints every week, and I have hopes for this game. The Saints, I am convinced, can hang with anyone this year. They won't go unbeaten--that's too difficult a task for any team to pull off in a league with this much parity--but they can legitimately win any game they play this year, and I hope they win this one.

CAROLINA at Tampa BayThis should be an ugly game--not quite the turdiest game of the week, but it's not a good one.

Arizona at SEATTLE Looks like the NFC West is going to be competitive this year after all. Seattle surprised me last week. I hope they can keep it up.

PHILADELPHIA at Oakland Some games are easy to pick.

Tennessee at NEW ENGLAND I'd be lying if I said I thought Tennessee would be winless at this point in the season, but I also didn't think they were as good as their 13-3 record last year. There are a number of NFL pundits who aren't willing to write off the Titans yet--I don't know why.

Buffalo at NEW YORK JETS The Jets have to be happy to get home after two miserable games on the road at New Orleans and Miami. And Rex Ryan has to be wondering what the hell happened to his defense against the wildcat. They'll get healthy against the Bills, who lost last week despite holding the opposing quarterback to 2 completions on 17 attempts. Sanchez should do considerably better.

Chicago at ATLANTA If I could choose one game to be wrong on, it would be this one. I really don't have a feel for either team just yet; rather, I don't have a feel for how good Chicago is yet. I suspect they're not as good as their record, but I could easily be wrong.

Denver at SAN DIEGO This is my upset special for the week. It just feels like a trap game--Denver is coming off a huge win and going into the bye week; they've exceeded expectations and are riding high; and San Diego has started slow. It all adds up to an upset in my eyes.

Sigh

This guy isn't a racist either, I guess.

HAMMOND, La. - A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

Neither Bardwell nor the couple immediately returned phone calls from The Associated Press. But Bardwell told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist.
Figured as much.

This story hurts a little more because I lived in and around Hammond for about ten years. I got my B.A. there, got married and divorced there, completely changed my life there. Hammond is where I became politically aware, where I learned to tend bar, where I moved started writing poetry again. It's also where I became aware of just how ingrained and institutionalized racism is, and saw firsthand the ways the inhabitants of small southern towns negotiate racially charged situations, which is to say the ways African-Americans often shrug off insults most white people would get incensed about.

So it's not surprising to discover that a white man in Tangipahoa Parish feels perfectly fine with enforcing his idea of what is good on a biracial couple, because that's the way it's always been. That's what unquestioned privilege will do for you--it'll make you think that it's your place to deny a couple the legal right to get married because you're sure you know what's best for them and any kids they may decide to have. It's the arrogance of ignorance writ large across a community.

And it makes me sad because there's a lot about Hammond I really love. It's the place where I was reborn, where I went from being an unhappy Jehovah's Witness to a happy hedonist, where I rediscovered my love of poetry and discovered a love of politics and journalism, and where I saw my black friends and white friends eye each other with caution and suspicion, unconsciously at times, the white ones often unaware they were doing it at all. Hell, I was unaware I was doing it half the time or more.

I love Hammond because it's the place where I started my journey to become the person I am today, and it's times like these that I understand the closing line of Natasha Trethewey's "Pastoral." Trethewey is biracial, an example that someone like Bardwell would no doubt point to as confirmation of his theory that mixed-race couples don't last. Trethewey's poem puts her beside the Fugitive poets posing for a photograph, and the photographer tells everyone--Robert Penn Warren is the one fugitive named in the poem--to say "race" as they smile for the picture. She ends the poem this way:
My father's white, I tell them, and rural.
You don't hate the South?
they ask. You don't hate it?
I don't, even though I hate much of what happens there.

Rush Limbaugh and the NFL

So it looks like Rush Limbaugh won't be an NFL team owner after all, due in part to the outcry from players, the public, and even some other team owners. But before the NFL throws its shoulder out of joint patting itself on the back for having rebuffed Rush and his often racist rhetoric, let's remember that the NFL has a racism problem of its own.

This is the logo for the second most valuable team in the NFL right now, the one located in the nation's capital, and it's highly offensive. The term "redskin" is, for Native Americans, the equivalent of the n-word. This isn't like other team names that evoke Native Americans--Braves, Indians, Chiefs, Seminoles--though some Native American groups have often objected to those as well. This is a derogatory word, a throwback to a time when casual racism was, well, casual, and it's long past time that the NFL mandated a change in the team name.

There's not even an economic reason to fight the change--sales of new merchandise would be incredible as people moved to support the new name, and there would no doubt be a market in "vintage" merchandise as well. Sure, there would be some pushback--there always is when social change takes place--but the result would be a net good.

One group that could help make this happen is sports reporters, both in newspapers and on television. If they refused to use the word, if they only referred to the Washington team as Washington (which I do and have done for quite some time on this blog), the name would lose some of its current cachet, and changing it wouldn't be a big deal, especially if the reporters acknowledged why they were doing it.

Part of the reason for the lack of movement on this has no doubt to do with the lack of visibility that Native American groups suffer as a tiny minority. They're not a large part of the population, and their populations tend to be concentrated, so their already limited political power is diffused even more. But that's no excuse--if the NFL wouldn't have a team named the Wetbacks or the Spics or Gooks, it shouldn't have a team named the Redskins. It's offensive, and it's long past time that the team changed its name.

This is my story

I'd have blogged about this yesterday if I'd had a spare breath to draw--as it is, I'll have to do a quick and dirty on it. Someone sent PZ Myers a scan of an image from The Watchtower which warns about potential dangers to your faith which may seem innocent at first. Number two on the list is "A well-intentioned teacher urges you to pursue higher education at a university." PZ is flip about it, as you might expect, and he has every reason to be so, since a large part of his argument against religion is that it can't stand up to rational argument. And he's right. I'm living proof.

I've written before about growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, purveyors of the magazine mentioned above--in fact, I'll have a book of poems coming out next year (barring severe budget cuts--fingers crossed! (yes, a superstitious move in a blog about rationality--how many more digressions can I make?)) that chronicle some of those experiences. But when I left the church, it was in large part due to the fact that I started attending college when I was 26.

I had the purest of motives--I was married and stuck in a dead end job and I'd gotten a repetitive-motion injury in my shoulder and elbow. I needed another career, and the Witnesses had mollified their stance on college education ever so slightly, so I jumped at the chance. I was a Chemistry major, and one of my first classes was Zoology, taught by the pre-med advisor, a short, squat Cajun man who didn't use the book. Instead, you showed up at the beginning of class to face a chalkboard full of terms--this was the outline for his lecture, and he tested on his lectures. He also gave us outside research for our exams--and the first subject was Australopithecus afarensis, aka Lucy. Mind you, I was a good Witness who thought he believed the Witness version of creation--a modified young earth view--(they believe the earth is ancient, but that humans are only 6000 years old) so this research took some processing.

At first, I used the standard creationist dodge--I'll write what I have to for the exam, but I believe the Bible. But it didn't work, because so many other contradictions started popping up, and when I told Elders in my congregation I was having problems reconciling this stuff, they told me to pray for more faith. They didn't try to refute what I was learning--they asked me to bathe in more ignorance.

This wasn't the only thing that caused me to leave the church--I was physically tired all the time from being a full-time student, a full-time worker, a dad and a Witness, and my marriage fell apart at the same time. This was the final straw more than the catalyst. But it gave me yet another reason to start questioning what I'd believed my entire life, and opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time--all this new stuff to learn, but all tinged with uncertainty. It was a heady drug for someone who'd reveled in absolutes his whole life. I've never looked back.

Pick' em Friday

10-4 last week after 3 straight weeks of 11-5. But the second I put a penny on a game, Jamarcus Russell will complete 70% of his passes and the Rams will score 80, you can bet on it. So I'm sticking with picking and that's it. Winners in all caps.

Oakland at NY GIANTS Eli Manning might not play. Eli Whitney could rise from the grave and beat this Raiders team, and Whitney died a hundred years before football was invented.

Washington at CAROLINA Washington is playing badly enough that Tampa nearly beat them last week. Tampa.

Cincinnati at BALTIMORE Let's see if Carson Palmer gets the same bullcrap roughing-the-passer calls that Tom Brady got last week. Somehow I doubt it.

DALLAS at Kansas City Dallas is not very good. Kansas City is really bad, but at least Rush Limbaugh isn't interested in buying them. Not very good > very bad.

Tampa Bay at PHILADELPHIA Donovan McNabb will be back this week, apparently. It's good to scrimmage before you have a real game when you're coming back from an injury.

PITTSBURGH at Detroit Detroit will win again this season. Just not this week.

Cleveland at BUFFALO Sucky game of the week, which means it will be on television down here, and nothing else will be.

MINNESOTA at St. Louis Side note: anyone who thinks black players will hesitate to sign with St. Louis in the future because Rush Limbaugh is part-owner is crazy. Maybe an elite player with options will think twice, but most players will grab the opportunity. There are only so many roster slots to go around in the NFL, and players have limited career opportunities.

Atlanta at SAN FRANCISCO My hatred for teh Atlanta Falcons dates back to November 12, 1978. I was ten years old, just getting into football and the Saints were my home team. Steve Effing Bartkowski led the Falcons to two scores in the last 2:23 to beat the Saints, with the last touchdown coming on a Hail Mary.

Years later, when the Saints had a brief run of excellence under Jim Mora, they were always in the shadow of the San Francisco 49ers, led by Joe Montana. I can take no sides here. This is my rooting for an earthquake to swallow both teams whole game.

Jacksonville at SEATTLE Someone's got to win this thing, I guess.

NEW ENGLAND at Denver I would dearly love to be wrong about this one, but I don't think I will be, especially if the refs continue to treat Tom Brady like Michael Jordan in a playoff game, throwing a flag anytime a defensive player breathes on him. I have to admit, there's a part of me that admires Brady's willingness to pull such a wimpy move asking for that flag on Suggs--he needed to keep the drive going. Too bad he had to sacrifice his dignity to do it. I'd be willing to bet that the next time those two teams face off, someone on the Ravens defense is going to earn a fifteen-yarder, get his money's worth.

Houston at ARIZONA Houston finally broke its streak of doing the opposite of what I projected last week. Let's see if they can start a new one. Maybe this very special Houston Texans bear will inspire them to, umm, greatness?

INDIANAPOLIS at Tennessee This shouldn't be a contest, no matter how desperate the Titans are to win.

NY Jets at MIAMI I don't really know why I'm picking the Fins here, but I am. Conventional wisdom says the Jets will be up for revenge for the end of last season, will be looking to redeem themselves for last week, and are the better team. But I've gone with conventional wisdom for most of these picks, so I'm taking a chance here. The Fins will win big enough to get all their fans' hopes up, and then will dash them on the rocks as the season progresses.

Now, back to the stack of papers that won't grade themselves no matter how much Tiger Woods Golf I play. They're really starting to bum me out.

Amy and I have been dieting--safely and along with a moderate increase in increase--in an attempt to lose some weight. I was pushing 275 in April, and that's not healthy for anyone who's only 5'10, no matter what your bone structure, and I'm currently at about 258-260. One of the tools we've been using it the Lose It! iPhone app, which is basically a calorie counter that credits you for exercise and tells you how many calories you should aim for daily in order to lose to a target weight over the long term. It also gives you numbers for maintaining your weight once you've gotten there.

I bring this up because of this piece from the Freakonomics blog about the NYC initiative to require the posting of calorie amounts for menu items in hopes of raising awareness about healthy eating. The early results are not encouraging for people who were hoping to get people to stop gorging.

We found that 27.7 percent [of people] who saw calorie labeling in New York said the information influenced their choices. ...However, we did not detect a change in calories purchased after the introduction of calorie labeling.
Dubner wonders if the nudge is too subtle, and if a something more pushy would be more effective. My guess, in large part because before I started this move to lose weight I had no idea how many calories I was taking in or how many was reasonable, is that people are looking at the options in a vacuum. The numbers aren't having an impact because there's no context for them. A 600 calorie burger doesn't seem so bad until you realize that it's between a third and a quarter of your recommended caloric intake for the day (in my case, if I want to lose a pound and a half a week), and that it'll take you an hour and a half of brisk walking to work it off. The people who came up with the idea are probably so in tune with what they consider a healthy caloric intake that the context is obvious for them--not so much for the rest of us.

The problem is that because bodies are so different from each other, there's no way to put up a table that gets this message across. I'm allowed more calories than Amy according to Lose It! because I've got 5-6 inches (and significantly more poundage) on her, but those numbers go down as I lose weight. Short of an interactive calorie system installed in restaurants, you're not going to be able to put across that kind of personalized information, and so the numbers will continue to exist in a vacuum. And most people won't put them to use.

Pick 'em Friday

Three weeks in a row I've gone 11-5 straight up. Well, that won't happen again, if only because there are only 14 games this week. Hooray for change!

As always, winners are in all caps, and you're welcome to challenge me in the comments.

CINCINNATI at Cleveland I'm still not convinced that Cincinnati has returned to respectability, but they're playing Cleveland this week, so they get the nod.

TAMPA at Washington All the experts are saying that this will be a rebound game for Washington after their loss to the Lions last week. Jim Zorn better hope it is, or he'll be asked where he wants the stuff from his office shipped. My question: FedEX or UPS?

NY GIANTS at Kansas City This one might be closer than expected since it's the Giants' third game in a row on the road, but KC really isn't very good on either side of the ball, and while I think the Giants aren't quite the dominant team all the experts are anointing them as, they're certainly good enough to handle the Chiefs.

Detroit at CHICAGO I picked the Lions to break their losing streak last week, but that was mostly because I thought Washington was ripe for a fall. I don't see the Lions traveling to Chicago and knocking them off, not this year anyway. Maybe next year.

Oakland at HOUSTON For three straight weeks, Houston has won when I've picked them to lose and lost when I've picked them to win. Oakland, you're welcome.

Tennessee at JACKSONVILLE I'd be lying if I didn't admit that watching Kerry Collins go oh-fer-thirteen in the second half of last week's game against the Jets gave me a little jolt of evil glee, even though I'd picked the Titans to win. He'll probably go 27-30 for 356 yards and 3 tds this week just to get back at me.

BALTIMORE at New England This season, the Ravens have been winning with offense, which is good against New England, whose defense has been shakier than normal. This game might be close, but I'm guessing it won't be, not really.

Seattle at INDIANAPOLIS I'd pick Indy even if Hasselbeck were 100%. As it stands today, he's questionable, and Indy is at home.

NY Jets at NEW ORLEANS This is probably the most interesting football game of the week. It won't get the most coverage--the Monday night game will, for reasons I'll get into below--but it's the most interesting matchup. The Jets defense has gotten a lot of praise for shutting down opponents, though I'd counter that Houston and New England have both been, if not a disappointment, at least not up to the offensive standards most people expected at the start of the season. Are the Jets that good or have their opponents not been as good as expected? Probably a little of both. The Saints, if they can maintain their success running the ball, have the potential to drop 35 on the board on any given week, and the defense has gotten good enough to keep opponents below that. The Saints defense doesn't have to pitch a shutout for the team to win, though they did last week--they just have to do a decent job. I think they do it at home against a rookie QB.

BUFFALO at Miami Buffalo's defense did a good job against the Saints last week, at least until the fourth quarter, and the Chad Henne era begins in Miami. Miami will have to get 300 yards rushing if they're going to win this game.

St. Louis at SAN FRANCISCO I'm in a pick'em league where one of the tie-breakers is to choose who will score the least number of points for the week. My choices are always either St. Louis or Cleveland.

Dallas at DENVER I've decided I'm going to pick Kyle Orton until there's a reason not to. Dallas is way shakier than even I expected them to be. Maybe they'll play better away from that monument to Jerry Jones's ego known as the new Texas Stadium, but I hope not.

San Diego at PITTSBURGH If I had a clue what was going on with either of these teams, I'd tell you. I'm going with the home team here.

GREEN BAY at Minnesota Minnesota-Green Bay game is the most interesting drama of the week, not the most interesting matchup. When it comes to hype, the drama will overshadow the game, which means I won't be watching much of the inevitable Brett Favre tongue bath ESPN will broadcast, which will get an extra day of coverage thanks to this being the Monday night game. This game will be discussed in tragedic terms; it will be described as an epic battle. There will be talk of revenge and betrayal, of usurpation and hubris, but in the end, it'll be a game between two pretty evenly matched teams. Since they're both potentially playoff opponents for the Saints (well down the road), I'm rooting for injuries here, but I'm picking the packers to win.

With a soundtrack straight from the 80's baby.



Tell me a way this isn't awesome. You can't. I mean, it lacks ninjas, but it's got a goddamn polar bear that blows up a planet with a hockey stick. There's no universe in which that isn't awesome.

Why yes, I was up until 2:00 in the morning grading papers and have been on campus since 8:00 this morning. Why do you ask?

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