Saturday, January 25, 2003

BLAME WILLARD ROUSE: As the City of Brotherly Love decides if we can even watch this game tomorrow, one loyal reader suggested that this was time to revisit a pet theory some of us have had as to why no Philadelphia team has won a major sporting title in 20 years.

I refer you to The Curse of William Penn.

Atop Philadelphia's City Hall stands a 37 foot tall bronze statue of William Penn, Philadelphia's founder. The statue, designed by Alexander Milne Calder, is the tallest to top any building in the world, making the building as a whole 548 feet high.

(Interestingly, it was mounted facing northeast, commemorating Penn's "walking treaty" swindle of the Delaware Indians, as opposed to facing south, as Calder desired, which would have given Penn constant sunlight.)

By gentleman's agreement, no building would eclipse the top of the statue for most of the twentieth century, so that Penn could preside over the city he founded. Then, in the mid-1980s, real estate developer Willard Rouse persuaded City Council to allow him to break that agreement, allowing for the construction of One Liberty Place and now several skyscrapers which now dwarf Penn and diminish his place in the skyline.

And how has the ghost of William Penn responded? Think about it. Since Liberty Place opened in 1987...
The Phillies have had two winning seasons in the past fifteen, and have won no titles;

The Sixers set an NBA record with six straight years of losing more games each year than the next, drafted Shawn Bradley, and have won no titles;

The Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals twice, but have won no titles; and

The Eagles saw beloved defensive end Jerome Brown die in an offseason car accident, the Buddy Ryan and Rich Kotite eras, Doug Pederson, Izel "Toast" Jenkins, no Super Bowl trips and, of course, have won no titles.

Not only that, but none of the local college teams have won a national title since then -- not in basketball (Villanova '85 was the last), not in football (ha!), no title, nowhere, no how.

William Penn may have been a Quaker and a nonviolent man, but that doesn't mean he doesn't he doesn't understand the meaning of the word revenge. Even a pacifist can have a retributive side, and we have angered our city's founder.

There's only one solution. We need to dismantle all the offending buildings, one by one. Every single one of them, from Liberty Place to the Blue Cross Building to Bell Atlantic Tower. For until we do, no Philadelphia sports team is safe, and neither are Philadelphia fans.

Is it an extreme step? Sure. But did you watch that game last Sunday? We can't let this go on another year. I can't take it.

Friday, January 24, 2003

A LEGEND IN OUR TIME: Michael Jordan. Lance Armstrong. Serena Williams. All dominant competitors, legendary winners of the modern era.

From now on, whenever you list names like that, make sure to add Bill Simmons. Better known to Philadelphians as "El Wingador", Simmons bested twenty-six foes to triumph at Wing Bowl XI this morning -- his third straight title and fourth overall. El Wingador downed 154 chicken wings in the process, setting a new competition record.

Video from today's competition and full Wing Bowl information is available here. Who needs a football game when you've got this?

Thursday, January 23, 2003

NAMING NAMES: Stuart Banner of the Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting post up now on baby names -- why is it, he asks, that "Madison" is so damn popular?

Well, contra Stuart's theory, it probably couldn't have started with the tv show Moonlighting, because Cybil Shepherd's character was Madelyn "Maddie" Hayes, not Madison -- though, of course, Bruce Willis' character was David Addison, so smush the two together, and . . . well, no.

The real starting point for Madisons is generally conceded to be the 1984 movie Splash, in which Daryl Hannah's character (yes, her again), a mermaid, chooses the name by pointing at a New York City street sign.

(Other big cultural reference point: the romance novel The Bridges of Madison County (1992, with a 1995 film) likely added to the cultural cache. Madison was also the name of Erika Christensen's character in 2001's Fatal-Attraction-meets-competitive-high-school-swimming movie Swimfan, for what it's worth.)

But that was 1984. The name didn't pick up steam until 1997. Why not? Here's one theory, at least-- basically, that in 1984, everyone assumed it would be really popular, so they didn't choose it as a name, but the women who were preteens then are becoming mothers now, and they remember liking the name, and now they can.

I find this explanation lacking. Splash just wasn't that enduring of a movie. Yes, it was cute and all, but it's not like it's on constant TNT rotation like The Shawshank Redemption and The Devil's Advocate, so it's not buzzing about the public consciousness. People just don't talk about the movie anymore as anything other that Tom Hanks' first starring role. The movie helped give the name legitimacy, but not popularity. (Come to think of it, were there a glut of boys named Axel after the release of Beverly Hills Cop?)

As someone who's now working on deadline to choose a name for a daughter (we have a boy's name, if needed), I've got some perspective. Let me lay out a theory.

What's really popular in naming girls these days are retro names that (a) sound old-fashioned (but not fusty, like Mildred) and high-class, even waspy, while (b) also can be shorted to be cute nicknames for kids, especially if they can end in e sounds. Take look at the list again: Madison (Maddy), Alexis (Lexi), Abigail (Abby), Olivia (Oee) are right up by the top, along with other proto-establishment names like Morgan, Taylor, Grace and Victoria.

In other words, today's parents are looking for names versatile enough to make their daughters sound cute while young, but with a long form classy enough to remain confirmable as Supreme Court justices later on in life. (That doesn't explain the appearance of 9,571 girls named Destiny or all the Kayla/Kaylee variations, but so be it.)

There's a second part to it. For a lot of the retro-sounding names, they're not names that are popular among the generation of new parents -- few of us have any contemporaries named Grace, Olivia, Hope or Madison. So, to us, how can they be popular? So we all think they're great, unique names -- until we see the list at the end of the year, and the enrollment lists for our daughters' nursery school classes, and then, things stop looking so unique. (Ask my wife or any of the thousands of Jennifers born in the aftermath of Love Story in the early 1970s)

At the same time, my generation are so surrounded by women named Jane you'd think naming a daughter Jane would also seem too generic -- and yet, because of that impulse, there were only 667 Janes born in 2001 (#422 on the list). That's less than Lacey, less than Yasmin, and less than Marisol, Aurora, Tatum, Piper, Deja, Julissa, Jayda, Emely, Cheyanne, Kaleigh, Kaylie, Kayleigh, Haleigh, Precious, Shania, Madalyn, Harley and Destinee, among others.

Yes, you read that right. If you want to give your daughter a unique first name in 2003, name her Jane. Who knew?

Finally, for the 2328 girls named Skylar born in 2001 (#143, at a rate of more than 6 per day) who may be reading this blog years into the future, you should know that you shouldn't be angry at your parents, but rather should look up two gentlemen named Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who were movie stars long, long ago, but who likely have publicly-listed phone numbers and email addresses at this point, and will be happy to take your disgruntled calls. Did you know that Mr. Affleck was once engaged to President Lopez?
I BELIEVE THERE WAS A BRADY BUNCH EPISODE LIKE THIS ONCE, ONLY COUSIN OLIVER WON'T THROW A PIE AT YOUR HEAD THIS TIME: At some point today, one of this site's viewers will become our 10,000th visitor.

Our hit-counter looks much like a seismograph since the blog's November 17 debut, thanks to prominent mentions on and Talking Points Memo:

Now, we rumble forward, picking up more regular readers by the day, and I thank for that support. If you like it here, bookmark us, link to the site from your own site, and please keep coming back for more. I promise to (attempt to) remain entertaining.
AS OPPOSED TO DON ZIMMER, THE STALEST: Apropos of nothing whatsoever, please pay a moment's homage to my two favorite nicknames in baseball history -- Arlie Latham, "The Freshest Man On Earth", and Bob "Death To Flying Things" Ferguson. You can learn more about Arl E. Fresh both here and here.

You can read more about baseball nicknames on this discussion board. Where have they gone? Other than calling pleasingly plump Rockies reliever Rich Garces "El Guapo", what's left?
"I WAS THINKING, HE CAUGHT A SNIPER BUT HE CAN'T FIND A CHURCH": So, Montgomery County (MD) Police Chief Charles Moose -- the man who led the hunt for the D.C. snipers -- was in town on Sunday, on his way from the Holiday Inn on City Line Avenue to Triumph Baptist Church to be the keynote speaker for the Philadelphia Council of Clergy's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

It's a fairly straight four mile drive that should take about seven minutes, and, mind you, there was no traffic night because the city was still in Full Eagles Denial.

He never made it there. Somehow, Chief Moose ended up in New Jersey. New Jersey? Yes. Keep reading.

Let me try to explain this as clearly as I can: you have to be really, really, really lost -- deliberately lost -- to end up in New Jersey from there. How lost? A half hour out-of-your-way level Lost. You've got to try to get to New Jersey from there. If you had asked me, "If I were driving from City Line Avenue to this church, and wanted to go to New Jersey instead, how would I get there?" I'd have to think about it for a while. I'm still not quite sure how he did it.

Moral of the story? Don't be afraid to take a cab in a strange city.

From beaver to Moose, we've got the whole forest covered.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

"STINKY HEADS", CONT'D: Or, "More Things Alaskans Shouldn't Eat", because when this blog covers a story, we're as thorough as Howard Bashman on an appellate docket:
The health problems are as unique and challenging as the geography and living conditions.

Botulism, for instance. Alaska has more of it than anywhere else in the nation, at least 200 cases and 20 deaths since 1950. Most of it is from fermented foods the natives have eaten for generations - beaver tail, seal and whale flippers, and fish heads, which they call "stinky heads." The traditional way to prepare them is to dig a hole in the cool ground, line it with leaves or moss, put in the fish heads, cover them with moss and let them sit for about four days until they became soft and are considered ready to eat.

In the 1990s, some people decided to embrace technology and began putting the fish heads into glass or plastic containers to ferment, thinking it healthier than putting them in the Earth. Suddenly, botulism cases spiked up.

CDC doctors did an experiment to test their theory of what was going on. On the roof of CDC headquarters in Anchorage, they made stinky heads the traditional way and in plastic and glass bowls. The containers with no air circulation proved to be the ideal environment for botulism germs to make their nerve-damaging toxin.

Next time, said physician Tom Hennessy, he will remember to shut off the building's air intake vents before taking the lids off.

"The whole place reeked," he said. "Everyone was mad at me."

For the whole article, click here, and if you're an Alaskan health care provider (as so many of this blog's readers no doubt are), you'll want to click here for helpful practice pointers. In addition, if you think that fermented beaver tail is safe for snacking, think again.

Throwing Things' round-the-clock coverage of this issue will continue as events warrant.
"TWO'S COMPANY, THREE'S A CROWD, AND FOUR'S CONSPIRACY": A hooker without a heart of gold? Who knew?

Monday, January 20, 2003

JOE TRILLIONAIRE: In the list of Things A Guy Who's Posing As A Multimillionaire Should Try Not To Say, how high do you figure this comes in?
"Three weeks ago I was driving a bulldozer. . . Uh. I don't mean three weeks ago."

"How long ago?"

"Uh, maybe two years ago."

Good work, Evan. If you're a fan of watching blurred-out statues of black jockeys in dance studios and a poorly-trained himbo fake who can't even pretend to like foie gras for a minute (after having it explained to him again what it was), this was your episode.

P.S. I don't think he's Jewish.
THE FIVE STAGES OF EAGLES GRIEF: If you're having as much trouble with yesterday's Level V loss as I am, please remember that coping is a process:
DENIAL: I can't believe the season's over already. Just yesterday we were planning our Super Bowl party.

BARGAINING: If I promise not to boo Ja Rule and Ashanti next time, maybe they'll let the Eagles go to the Super Bowl.

ANGER: Screw Andy Reid for his pathetic, vanilla play-calling. Screw Donovan McNabb for making lousy passes for most of the game, and screw the wide receivers for not catching the few good ones. Screw the defense for missing key tackles, and screw the owners for letting Jeremiah Trotter go, because he'd have made those tackles.

DESPAIR: It's Philadelphia. We will never win another championship in any sport. Do you realize that the Eagles last won a title in 1960, and have only been in the Super Bowl once? That the Phillies have won as many World Series in their 120-year history (1) as the Florida Marlins in twelve years of existence or the Arizona Diamondbacks in five? That the time a Philadelphia team won a title -- my beloved 76ers -- it was so long ago that Cheers was in its first season? How long ago? When the Sixers won the title, no one in Philadelphia yet knew that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were siblings, because that was the week Return of the Jedi debuted in theaters.

You want despair? Since the last time a Philadelphia team won a professional title, New York-area teams have won ten -- heck, even Boston has seen three champions (one Super Bowl, two NBA) emerge since we last won one. And that's Boston, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of sports disappointment. Please. No franchise in professional sports history has lost more games than the Phillies. No one. Hell, if the Phillies won every single game for the rest of this decade, they still would be a sub-.500 team for their history.

Philadelphia: we can't win, we don't win, we won't win. That's our story.

ACCEPTANCE: It just wasn't our day, and sometimes, it takes a team a few years of playoff frustration before it all pays off. Look at the Raiders -- in 2000, they lost at home in the AFC title game to the Baltimore Ravens (who went on to win the Super Bowl); in 2001, they lost in the snow at New England (who went on to win the Super Bowl), but now, it's their turn.

Everyone on the Eagles except for Hugh Douglas should be coming back next year. They'll be fine. Someday. But not me today. Not yet.
JACKSON'S HOLE: As I noted a few days ago, I believe that Jackson Browne was probably better off keeping quiet, rather than demanding that TBS delete a scene from its awful new JFK Jr movie that reminded viewers that ten years ago Mr. Browne bloodied Daryl Hannah before John-John rescued her from the situation.

Now, this is not to make light of the seriousness of domestic violence, and I have nothing personal against Jackson Browne, just as I had nothing against Roberto Benigni, even if he has now done abhorrent work both in the fields of children's movies and Holocaust remembrance (what's next: time to ruin Shakespeare?). I'm just talking about good PR here, something Mr. Browne isn't practicing.

Anyway, to the point: the NY Post's Page Six has decided to pick up on this story, with its half-million-plus readers now able to open up today's paper and read even more about the incident, including contemporaneous accounts from, among others, Hannah's spokesperson.

Moral of the story? There's no point loudly denying a bad story no one was going to talk about anyway. When (Number Of People Learning About It For The First Time Via Crappy John-John Movie) < (Number Of People Learning About It For The First Time Thanks To Your Strenuous Denials), maybe it's time to rethink the media strategy. After all, you don't always have to "Say It Isn't True", right?
THE DUDE ABIDES: Did you know that Jeffrey Lebowski -- no, wait, "The Dude" (as opposed to the aging founder of the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers) -- was based on a real person? According to Roger Ebert, Jeff Dowd, the movie publicist and producer's representative who inspired the classic comedy, is now working on a memoir, titled Classic Tales and Rebel Rants from The Dude:
"It's great writing this book," The Dude enthused. "All I gotta do is look up stuff on Google and I find all my facts. Like I'll type in a place I was, and the stories will remind me of stuff that happened there."

His says his book is inspired by a statement of the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "People want to hear about events as they wish they had happened, and not as they did happen."

See more of Ebert on The Dude here. Plus which, the magic that is Google has informed me The Dude really was a member of the Seattle Seven, though he may not have been involved in the writing of the original Port Huron Statement -- you know, before that compromised second draft . . .

Sunday, January 19, 2003

WELL, THAT WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT: Still thawing out from today's debacle at the Vet. This will be a long, long offseason.

What can I say? The Birds got whupped -- outcoached, outplayed, outhustled -- and yet they still had a chance in the last minutes to win a game they didn't deserve. Ronde Barber made sure that didn't happen. I've never seen the life sucked out of a stadium like that before.

Two years, two NFC Championship Game losses.

Pitchers and catchers report in twenty-eight days.