Monday, August 31, 2009

A Million Miles...

Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, will be shipping out in a few days and in bookstores in a couple of weeks. You can read the first 30 pages at his blog.

I have enjoyed all of Miller's books, but from the reviews I have read, A Million Miles is the follow up book that people expected after the massive success of Blue Like Jazz. You can visit Don's blog to read the book and check out a synopsis. There are ways to get a free book. More about that at his blog as well, but I encourage you--if you are going to read A Million Miles--to buy the book. Support a writer.

Friday, August 28, 2009


When I was applying to be a freelance writer for The Onion I thought I wasn’t going to tell anyone about my application so I wouldn’t have to field questions later on about the success of the application, etc. I didn’t hold to that plan. I ended up telling quite a few people about my application because I felt good about it. After spending a week coming up with all sorts of ideas I thought I had developed a strong list of story ideas and a strong script. I submitted the requested materials and waited.

I got the official rejection letter, or rather, rejection email, about a month ago. I just thought I’d share that here. Some of you have been asking about my application. Others, I know, have just assumed that it wasn’t a success because I would have found out by now and had it been a success I probably would have immediately shared that on this blog.

So, they didn’t like me this time around, but I already contacted them letting them know I am interested in re-applying, which is recognized as a good thing to do because of the competitive nature of the position. They will email me when they are again accepting submissions for freelance writers.

I’ll be waiting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Few Pics

A random couple at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center.

I have so many pictures of the Bean, but it was nice to get a shot of it without a bunch of people crowded up against it. There was a lightning advisory while we were there.

Not a good picture, but this is the tower formerly known as the Sears Tower and now known as the Willis Tower and affectionally referred to as the Big Willy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

If I had Twitter: omg! AC Slater hosts ABDC...rofl!

I’ll start with this: I am guilty of exuding self-importance on some level because I have a blog. I can confidently say, however, that the content of this blog is, for the most part, a lesson in humility compared to most of what can be found on Twitter.

I am not on Twitter. I don’t follow anyone, but I recently learned that one of my co-workers is on Twitter. Out of curiosity, I found his Twitter page and read down through his most recent tweets. I saw on his Twitter page’s sidebar a list of people who he was following on Twitter. I just wanted to get a taste of what these people—many of them the celebrity-swimmer type—were tweeting about. I took a look around and my suspicions were confirmed.

Twitter is moronic. How could it not be? Just read some of the tweets below. Twitter is the absolute perfect engine to run on our narcissism.

Keep in mind that all of the following tweets are copied word for word from the respective pages of the following Twitterers. Is that a word? Any typos, shorthand, and abbreviations are original.

From Dara Torres: Spin class, now hangn at the Coffee Grinder bout 2 get a toastd bagel w/ butter & cream cheese & chai tea

From Lance Armstrong: Up early drinking coffee and checking emails. Planning some cool events for this winter.

From G_WeberGale [stud swimmer, my addition]: hate how much Italians smoke…left Disco because I could barely breathe…get outta my face

From Katie Hoff [this is my personal favorite]: ugggghhhh!! [sic]

From Amanda Beard: I love Saturdays! Going to see District 9 today

From Michael Jordan: I think I might go out and buy a nice hat today.

From Me (if I had a Twitter account): We are screwed. We are all screwed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

“Indeed, the supposed Christian revival of today has given something very like unlimited moral authority to money, though Jesus did say (and I think a literal interpretation is appropriate here if anywhere) , “Woe to you who are rich!” (Luke 6:24). If this seems radical, dangerous, unfair, un-American, then those who make such criticisms should at least have the candor to acknowledge that their quarrel is with Jesus.” – Marilynne Robinson from her essay, "Onward, Christian Liberals" from The American Scholar as reprinted in The Best American Essays 2007.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Covering Chicago

It's cheesy, but when I drive down to Chicago I select Sufjan Stevens and rock out to the many versions of Chicago as I head south on I-94. Chicago is an excellent song and it reminds me of how much I enjoyed the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It's a happy song and I don't think it needs modification, but you never know what someone with musical talent can do with an already great song. I am glad people take the leap and see what they can do. Ask You In Gray did just that. You can listen to their cover of Chicago at thesixtyone.

Join the site. Give them some hearts. Listen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The second rise of Starbucks

Starbucks’ stock dipped as low as $7, maybe $6 a share in November of 2008. My measly shares in the company were ruined, as I bought them back in the day with an employee discount at $22/share. Luckily, I wasn’t planning on selling them, but it was still a bit disheartening to see such a high percentage loss. I can’t imagine what this past year has been like for people watching a lifetime of savings do the same thing. For me, the Starbucks’ stock has been my microcosm of the recession.

No matter how ugly Starbucks’ stock looked, I remained hopeful that the brain trust at Starbucks (aka Howard Schultz) would turn things around. Couple this with a firsthand account of how crazy Americans are when it comes to getting their Starbucks every single day, no matter what the economy is doing, and I am left with a confidence in that low share price to come crawling back from the abyss. And it has. Today, Starbucks was up $0.41/share and closed at $19.64/share, up from $12/share as recently as late June.

I don’t expect the stock to reach its heyday levels of $42/share, but I do see it rising above $22/share. When it does, I am not going to sell right away because I have faith in America’s addiction to Starbucks, even with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts in the ring.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Shameless Plug

Can this be a shameless plug if I am not in the band? I don't think so. I just happen to have spent my adolescent years with one of the band members.

First, listen to Ask You In Gray.

Second, browse the rest of, a great site.

I can't get enough of AYIG. Really. Even if I didn't know one of them, I would dig this music. Electronic. Vocal. Thoughtful. Fun. A good listen.

Check them out. Join the site. Give them some hearts.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cycling, Swimming not American enough

Let’s face it. No matter how many Tours Lance Armstrong wins (has won) and no matter how many Olympic gold medals Michael Phelps hauls from the pool, Cycling (yes, the big C was used here on purpose to set apart the sport of cycling from something you do when you hop on your road bike for a ride down to New Belgium for some free beer) and Swimming (big S used here to set apart competitive swimming from what most people refer to as “swimming” which, more or less, means drowning to the author) will never be mainstream sports.

The greatest obstruction to these sports becoming popular in America, like they are elsewhere in the world, is precisely that they are popular outside of America. We can’t put our decidedly American stamp on either of these sports. The best we can do is to wait around for a Lance Armstrong or a Michael Phelps to popularize the sport here and to piss off a whole bunch of foreigners over there. Although these prodigies of their respective sports heighten interest for the sport in America, they inevitably increase, to some degree, dislike of America, which isn’t the best of trade-offs. I am not talking about the hatred of America that is thrown around in political discussions to denote the world’s general distaste of American foreign policy and involvement in the world. I am talking about the way Serbians must really dislike America because it is the country that produced Phelps, a swimmer who humiliated Milorad Cavic in the finals of the 100m Butterfly at the Beijing Olympics, a race Cavic lost by .01 seconds because he doesn’t know how to finish with his head down (chump). And the way those same fans must hate us more now that Phelps had an even more decisive victory over Cavic at the world championships in Rome. I am talking about the way fans of Jan Ullrich must feel about the country that produced Lance Armstrong, a rider who, for years, took Tour victories that would have very likely belonged to Ullrich. Not only that, but the term “The Look” was named after Armstrong’s stare at Ullrich before a big climb in the 2001 Tour. Armstrong’s stare is generally believed to mean, by Phil Liggett of Tour de France broadcast fame, as “Well, here I go. Are you coming or not. And the answer is, not.”

There you have it, in 85 previous Tours, an American (Greg Lemond) had won the Tour three times. An American Tour de France champion then was as unheard of as the U.S. soccer team playing in the final of the World Cup now. In addition to that, the victor was a cancer survivor, which, to his fans, is testament to his badassness and, to the French media, a sure sign that Armstrong is a doper. Souring the French media’s attitude toward Armstrong even more was the unfortunate timing of his dominance. These victories came at a time which Americans were hell bent on renaming French fries, freedom fries because of someone’s dumb belief that being patriotic in the post-9/11 world also meant hating the French.

And, as far as Phelps goes, he brought chagrin to most of the world because an American became the most decorated Olympian of all time. Thus contributing to the common frustration: can’t Americans be second best at something? We most certainly are and, often, we are even worse than second but it is especially hard to focus on those sports (Archery, Curling, Table Tennis, Soccer, Rowing, and Equestrian, to name a few) during such dominant American performances.

Please forgive the tangent, but I felt it necessary to define “dislike of America” in the sense that I am using it here. I might not have done that for you, but I shall digress to the original point I was making. Despite the recent success of the two aforementioned athletes, Cycling and Swimming will never be wildly popular in America because they aren’t American enough.

The Tour de France is still, annoyingly so, referred to as the Tour de Lance by ESPN. We get it ESPN, you love Lance Armstrong, but would the sport even occupy that measly two minutes of SportsCenter that you give it if Armstrong wasn’t racing? My guess is no. It would maybe get a minute and that’s doing the sport and the tradition of Cycling a disservice. Instead we are treated to another minute of coverage about Brett Favre’s possible millionth comeback or another “amazing” baseball catch by an outfielder laying out for a ball, which happens a few times a day for as long as the endless baseball season goes on for and is treated by SportsCenter as a top ten play of the day, everyday. If Cycling fans held a ray of hope that the sport would be respected and treated as such by mainstream media types like ESPN, that hope was crushed when you heard SportsCenter anchors consistently slaughter the names of some of the sport’s most famous athletes (Mikel Astarloza, Ronaldo Nocentini, Fabian Cancellara). These aren’t even the hardest names, but if ESPN took the time to watch one day of the Tour, they would likely hear every one of these names pronounced correctly. In addition, we don’t get consistent reports about the other Americans in the race. I wouldn’t be shocked if most Americans couldn’t name more than the obvious American rider.

Swimming has recently been in the news because of the world championships taking place in Rome. Actually, let me rephrase that. Swimming has only been in the news because Phelps, firstly, lost a race and, secondly, broke his own world record mark in the 200-meter butterfly (in only a leg suit, nonetheless…what a rough ass). Phelps’ accomplishment last year in Beijing was superhuman. However, the media, and most of America, now blows a gasket when Phelps doesn’t win every single race he is in, even if it is the preliminary or semi-final rounds of a competition. Yes, a second-place finish for Phelps is a rarity, but we are fed this piece of information as if this was a failure, a sign of Phelps aging, or a direct consequence of him taking one photographed hit off a bong. The only real news, for fans of the sport, when Phelps receives heaps of print and coverage in the media, is that America doesn’t know anything about swimming.

I am willing to bet that we would have heard a lot more about Phelps and swimming if he hadn’t beat Cavic this last time around. The media would question Phelps’ fitness and swimming dominance, but there is no need for anyone’s fitness and prowess in the pool to be in question if they have only been training for six months. We seem awfully eager to forget that Phelps literally trained nonstop for two years for the Beijing games. But all that doesn’t matter. Phelps’ recent second-place finish is proof that when you lose in America, even once, your skills are immediately called into question. Sometime in the past I have written about America’s obsession with celebrities and our eagerness to tear them down at the slightest mistake, ah yes, I remember now. I was writing about Phelps and the now infamous picture of him taking a hit from a bong. It was in February of 2009 and I wrote this:

When someone is at the top of their game we apply standards to them that are more fit for a god. We expect perfection. That way, when they fall, we are justified in our criticisms of them. Our name-calling is justified. Our essays, dressed in scholarly diction in order to disguise the author’s true motivation, are justified. In a sick way, talking about someone else’s grand mistake makes us feel better about our own. We will go a long way to pat ourselves on the back.

America wants American winners. Unfortunately, for Cycling and Swimming, it doesn’t help when some foreigner can win the biggest competition/s of the year. We were recently led to believe by some media outlets, not all, that a third-place finish for Lance Armstrong in this year’s Tour de France was somehow a disappointment. The dominant American attitude toward these sports greatly contrasts with say, European attitudes toward sports because in Europe it is possible to run into an enthusiastic Real Madrid fan in the middle of London. Also, in Europe, you won’t find as much discrimination against sports that weren’t invented in a respective fan’s country or against athletes who do not share their nationality with the fan, making for more enthusiastic and educated sports fans. With that said, fans across the pond who favor athletes from their country still outnumber fans that don’t, but that doesn’t mean they won’t follow the sport when a countryman isn’t the current champion. And it also doesn’t mean that they can’t name the whole roster of a foreign team, which they may not even support.

I believe there is one exception to the attitudes referenced above. This exception is Golf (capitalized for roughly the same reasons as Cycling and Swimming). I write this because it is possible for SportsCenter to give a lengthy report on a golf tournament even when an American doesn’t win. Naturally, it is assumed that the popularity of Tiger Woods has contributed, incalculably so, to America’s interest in golf at the international level, but the sport remains wildly popular with Americans, even if someone named Angel Cabrera wins The Masters. I suspect, but I am not willing to say conclusively, that this popularity is a product of past American golf greats like Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and Arnold Palmer. The massive amount of space in this country doesn’t hurt golf’s chances either. There is room aplenty for golf courses and, despite their cost to build and maintain, they seem to sprout up in some of the most absurd locations. I wish Cycling and Swimming had that problem, but despite having thousands of miles of paved road (flat or mountainous) and acres and acres of land for pools to be built on, the sports are treated like green-bean casserole. Everyone says they love it, but really, no one indulges more than once a year. As for Cycling and Swimming, I don’t know what fuels the phobia, but my best guess after spending years in the pool as an athlete and on the deck as a coach, is that people are afraid of the Speedo. These same people harbor a mythical belief in its power to emasculate men.

In the end, I suppose Cycling and Swimming just aren’t American enough and, since Armstrong and Phelps aren’t enough to make their sports mainstream, we are generations and many, many great athletes away from a story about Cycling or Swimming trumping another "great" baseball catch on SportsCenter’s Top Plays.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Back to the Brief

I am sorry if you just bought a $500 suit. You won’t be wearing it for any competitions…that count. FINA and the NCAA have new definitions of a legal suit. All materials must be textile, a.k.a. woven fabric. Men cannot wear a suit that extends above the waist or below the top of the kneecap. Women can’t wear suits that extend beyond the shoulder and beyond the top of the kneecap. No more polyurethane. I can’t imagine the huge sums of money that companies like Arena, TYR, and Speedo are going to lose with this decision. Of course there is probably a wave of lawsuits in the works, but all those fancy suits aren’t going to be sold if the records set in them don’t count. Never mind that, starting January 1, 2010, if you show up behind the block with one of those things on you aren’t even getting in the water.

So the new school is suddenly going old school in order to be legally cleared for competition. The time of the jammer and the brief is back and I think swimming will be better because of this. Let the current world records stand. They may stand for a while, but humans’ ability to swim is evolving, albeit slightly slower than the high-tech suits, but we are going to surpass those times eventually. And, I might add, we will look so much better doing it in a brief than a bodysuit.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Phelps beats Cavic in 100m fly at Worlds

There was no need for super slow motion cameras. Michael Phelps clearly got to the wall first, .13 seconds ahead of Milorad Cavic. Cavic had been talking the race up and casually mentioning that he didn't lose the now infamous 100m fly swim in last year's Olympics in Beijing. Phelps probably didn't need that extra motivation, but why not?

Honestly, I didn't necessarily doubt Phelps in this race, but Cavic was looking way too strong. His first 50 in the semifinals would have put him on the podium for the 50m fly. At the 50 mark in this race, Cavic had a substantial lead, but not enough, apparently. Phelps started surging forward with 12.5 meters left and by the last couple meters of the race it was evident, to the trained eye, that Phelps had this one in the bag.

This race, just as much as the races in Beijing, was testament to Phelps' superiority and amazing hatred of even coming in second. And he wasn't even wearing one of those suits that make you float. I loved that Phelps pulled the suit out after the finish like basketball players flick their jersey forward.

Speedo. USA. Phelps.