Friday, October 27, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name: New Jersey and Same-Sex Civil Unions

On October 25, 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case of Lewis v. Harris. The case involved seven same-sex couples who sought to marry. The couples, who had been denied marriage licenses in their municipalities, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s marriage statutes.

The Court decided, 4-3, that the state of New Jersey had not articulated a legitimate public need for continuing to deprive committed same-sex couples of the full range of benefits and privileges enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The Court relied upon the equal protection guarantee of New Jersey’s Constitution.

The ruling exponentially increased the legal benefits available to same-sex couples in New Jersey. Same-sex couples could previously form "domestic partnerships" but that only afforded them a relatively small percentage of the rights conferred by marriage.

Here’s where a line was drawn in the proverbial sand, however.

The Court went on to state that the “name to be given the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.”

In other words, we’re not touching the issue of whether the union we’ve just described is a “marriage” or something else.

If you think this looks like “separate, but equal”, I agree with you completely.

The Court was actually unanimous on the equal protection aspects of the case. The split was over the issue of defining same sex unions. Ironically, the four justices who held that it should be directed to the legislature were Democrat-appointees. The dissenting justices, Republican-appointees, argued for full marriage rights, including the right to the term “marriage”.

Marriages, from a legal standpoint, are simply legally recognized partnerships. When I see a heterosexual married couple, I don’t feel that the government is necessarily endorsing any other aspect of their relationship. They may be getting married because of an unplanned pregnancy. They may be getting married because she feels her biological clock is ticking. They may be getting married because one of them is wealthy and the other is a gold-digger. The government really takes no position on the dynamics of the relationship itself . . .unless and until one of them sues for divorce.

Still, when the issue of homosexual marriage is raised, counter-arguments either imply or explicitly state that recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry would be tantamount to a government endorsement of specific sexual acts. Huh?

When a heterosexual couple gets married, the state is simply recognizing the desire of two individuals to form a legal partnership, with the attendant rights, privileges, and responsibilities. The government is not, to my knowledge, endorsing any aspect of their sexual activity. They can have as much sex as they want (and probably less than he wants). It’s no one else’s business (again, until it comes time to get that divorce).

I have several acquaintances who, while they support the notion of state-recognized same-sex civil unions, adamantly draw the line at referring to such a union as a “marriage”. One friend of mine even told me that it would cause confusion as to which person would be referred to as the husband and which would be referred to as the wife. I told him that the use of “spouse” or “partner” to refer to both might solve this confusion. I forget how he responded to this, but the sentence started with the obligatory “Yeah, but . . .”

Those who speak of preserving the "sanctity of marriage" usually fail to recognize that churches can still decide whether to grant their blessing or not. This is the same way churches have always handled marriages between heterosexual couples. I admit I am amused when I hear someone who was married by a justice of the peace or a ship captain refer to marriage as a sacred institution.

Still, the distinction (i.e. between marriage and civil union) carries a tremendous amount of weight for a great many people. It will continue to do so, as it touches upon issues of tradition, psychology, language, and behavior.

Here comes the spouse, all dressed in . . .

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Art of Being Roger Federer

(Despite his accomplishments, Roger Federer, the best player in men’s tennis, is not a household name in the United States. English is one of the many languages in which he is fluent, so the language barrier does not explain it. Those who claim that the public finds dominance “boring” seem to disregard the fact that Tiger Woods’ dominance has in no way diminished either his popularity or that of his sport. So, as a die-hard tennis fan, I thought I’d do my part and try to place the man and his accomplishments in a greater historical perspective.)

On Sunday, Switzerland’s Roger Federer defeated Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets to win the Tennis Masters Series Event in Madrid. For Federer, who has already clinched the year-end world’s number 1 ranking for a third consecutive season, it was his 10th tournament victory of 2006. He became the first man in tennis’ “Open Era” (post-1968) to win at least 10 tournaments in three straight seasons.

According to tennis great Ion Tiriac, no player in tennis history has been as technically proficient as Roger Federer.

Federer won three grand slam tournaments in 2006. He captured the Australian Open in January, Wimbledon in July, and the U.S. Open in September. He also won three slams in 2004. He is the only player in the Open Era to accomplish this feat twice.

Roger Federer is the only man to ever defeat a brick wall in a tennis match.

This year, Federer won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for the third consecutive season. He is the only player to have accomplished this feat. He only lost two sets (one in each tournament) over the course of 14 matches played in both tournaments.

Roger Federer is not capable of hitting a target on the broad side of a barn with his forehand. Every time he tries, the whole damn barn falls down.

In 2006, Roger Federer has lost a total of 5 matches. Only two players have defeated him: Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. One of Nadal’s victories over Federer occurred in the finals of the French Open. It prevented Roger Federer from capturing his fourth consecutive grand slam tournament, and, as it turns out, prevented him from winning all four slams in a calendar year. Neither feat has been accomplished since Rod Laver won all four grand slam tournaments played in 1969.

The worst moment in a professional men's tennis player’s life is not when he finds out Santa Claus does not exist. It’s when he finds out that Roger Federer does.

Federer has now appeared in 6 consecutive grand slam finals. He is the first player to accomplish this feat in the Open Era and only the second in the history of men’s tennis.

Roger Federer’s forehand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.

I first saw Roger Federer play at Wimbledon in 2001. He met 7-time (and 4-time defending) champion Pete Sampras in the 4th Round. I had heard about Federer, but, at that point, he was a promising player with a history of inconsistency. Federer defeated Sampras in 5 close sets. It proved to be the only meeting between the two players.

Someone once tried to tell Roger Federer that his forehand wasn't the best shot in the history of tennis. Many now believe this to represent the worst mistake in the history of mankind.

Speaking of Sampras, he is, in many ways, the primary player against whose career Federer will be measured. Pete Sampras owns the most career grand slam titles with 14 as well as the record for most years ranked number one on the ATP Tour (Sampras finished 6 consecutive years ranked number 1 in the world). Both players possessed exceptional movement and blistering forehands.

There are no steroids in men's tennis, just players Roger Federer has breathed on.

The careers of the two players, to this point, contain some eerie parallels. The two are exactly 10 years apart in age; Sampras was born in August 1971 and Federer was born in August of 1981. Sampras turned professional in 1988 while Federer turned pro in 1998. At this point in Sampras’ career, he had 8 grand slam titles. Federer has 9. In 1997 (2007 for Federer) Sampras captured the Australian Open and Wimbledon to bring his haul to 10. In order to remain ahead of Sampras’ “pace”, Federer must win at least two grand slam tournaments. It would be foolish to bet against his doing just that.

If tapped, the power generated by a Roger Federer forehand could power the country of Switzerland for 44 minutes.

The one glaring hole on Sampras’ resume is that he never captured a French Open title. Sampras’ best finish at Roland Garros was reaching the semi-finals in 1996, where he lost to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Federer already has one appearance in the French Open finals to his credit. Unlike Sampras (whose powerful serve was blunted by the red clay), Federer is an accomplished clay court player.

Everybody loves Raymond. Raymond loves Roger Federer.

Heading into 2007, the only serious challenger to Federer’s dominance remains Spain’s Rafael Nadal. Nadal is a 20-year-old left-hander who owns a winning career head-to-head record against Federer. After defeating Federer in the French Open final (the second consecutive year he defeated Federer in Paris), Nadal made it to last year’s Wimbledon final. Here, he lost to Federer in 4 sets. Nadal had a disappointing hard-court season, however, and has recently admitted to being both physically and mentally drained at this point in the ATP season.

Roger Federer once hit a forehand so hard that the tennis ball broke the speed of light, went back in time, and struck Amelia Earhart's plane while she was flying over the Pacific Ocean. Mystery solved.

So, as the 2006 tennis season winds down, I hope more of you will start tuning in. If you don’t, you may miss more of the stellar play of the man whom many feel will go down in history as the greatest player the sport has produced.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My New Fantasy League

I’ve tried them all (except for hockey). I am either currently participating in or have at one time participated in fantasy football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and even golf. Ever since I was old enough to understand that “March Madness” was not a reference to the furor over my birthday, I’ve filled out a tourney bracket, as well.

Now I’m trying something different: Fantasy Congress. I signed up for a public league yesterday, and, yep, I’m waitin’ to watch some legislatin’.

Here’s how it works: I drafted a team of legislators (yes, real-life legislators) from the United States Congress.

My team is composed of:

2 senior Senators, called “upper Senators”;
2 junior Senators, called “lower Senators”;
4 senior Representatives, called “All-Stars”;
4 mid-range experience Representatives, called my “Supporting Lineup”; and
4 junior Representatives, called “Rookies”

According to the league’s blurb, Fantasy Congress offers me, a humble citizen, the power to “play politics.

I compete against other citizens in my league. The goal is to accrue points based upon the legislation passed by our respective Members of Congress (MCs). As the coach of my “team” of legislators, it’s my decision which MCs should be playing at any given time and which should be “benched”.

Every bill is supposed to represent an actual piece of legislation. My MCs have to push legislation through, from introduction in their respective chamber to approval by committee in the opposite chamber to the President’s signature. Point values are assigned to each stage in the legislative process. For example, I get a whopping 50 points if a bill sponsored by one of my MC’s is signed into law by President Bush.

Selecting my team was quite difficult. All current members of Congress are listed and there’s an election coming up. I regard myself as fairly politically savvy, so I avoided the obvious pitfalls. For example, I did not select Cynthia McKinney. I also steered clear of MCs who are locked in pitched battles for their seats. If they lose, I don’t want to get stuck with a “supplemental” selection.

Once I separated the wheat from the Chafee (heh-heh), I still found myself faced with some difficult choices. Should I go for a bunch of insiders or should I choose a group of idealists? Should I stick to my principles or should I cynically go solely with those politicos who I felt had the best chance to get legislation through? As much as I was tempted to select Zell Miller, it doesn't appear that "pistols at dawn" garners me any points. Sorry, Sen. Miller.

In the end, I balanced the two, though my line-up is extremely Democrat-heavy. I’m banking on the Dems winning both houses on November 7. So, if the mid-term elections do not see such a transition, several political pundits will be getting nasty e-mails from me on November 8.

Anyway, here’s oba’s starting lineup:

House of Representatives:


John Murtha; Barney Frank; Charles Rangel; Nancy Pelosi

Supporting Lineup:

Mary Bono; Spencer Bachus; Jesse L. Jackson; Patrick Kennedy


James Langevin; Rodney Alexander; Joe Wilson; Bobby Jindal

United States Senate:

Lower Senators:

Evan Bayh; Hillary Rodham Clinton

Upper Senators:

Joseph Biden; Edward Kennedy

So, that’s my team. Needless to say, I’ll be tuning into CSPAN on a far more regular basis.

Um, I feel almost guilty saying this (but, hey, I’m a very competitive person) if you’re reading this, and have no other reason to vote for or against any of the legislators on my team . . . well, I think you know where I’m going with that one.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Let's Go Mets!

The year was 1983. In January, President Ronald W. Reagan proclaimed it “The Year of the Bible.” He also signed a bill creating a federal holiday on the third Monday in every January to honor American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Iran invaded Iraq. Tom Brokaw became lead anchor for NBC News.

Whatever. I was ten years old, and had other things on my mind. I was waiting for “Return of the Jedi” to come out, and, even more importantly, I needed to choose a baseball team.

My mom and I had moved to New Jersey from Illinois in 1981. I had been too young to really have a team when we’d lived in Evanston. I’d rooted for the Phillies in 1980, the Dodgers in 1981, and the Cardinals in 1982. I was a front-runner, first and foremost, and still young enough to get away with it. Now, sadly, my age had reached the double-digits and childhood was over. I needed a “real” team to root for. I decided that team was going to be a local one.

In my mind, every other kid in my neighborhood was a Yankees fan. Their uncles, older brothers, and fathers were Yankees fans, too. Even at that age, I had a strong contrary streak. I was attracted to what I already knew of the pinstripes and their tradition, but I didn’t just want to follow the crowd. I’d also watched a few of their games on WPIX, and, frankly, something about Phil Rizutto’s voice disturbed me. Greatly. Still does.

So, at the start of the 1983 baseball season, I decided I was going to root for the New York Mets. From that moment forward, I no longer referred to the Mets in the third person; I referred to the Mets in the first person plural. “They” became “we”.

Shortly thereafter, I decided I’d better learn what a “Met” was and who was on the team.

Armed with this knowledge, a 23-year love affair began.

We finished that first season with a record of 68 wins and 94 losses. George Bamberger started the season as manager, and Frank Howard finished it.

A young slugger named Darryl Strawberry hit 26 home runs and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year. We’d acquired perennial All-Star and former League MVP Keith Hernandez, who hit .306 on the season and won a gold glove playing first base. Oh, yeah, I also heard some good things about some pitcher named Dwight Gooden.

What a long, strange trip it’s been: the highs, the lows, the laughter, the tears; the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat; scandal, controversy, failure and redemption. But, that’s enough about 1986.

The 20 years in-between have been odd, as well. We somehow found a way not to win in 1987. That team had the best pitching staff in baseball, a solid defense, and two 30-30 players (back when 30 home runs actually meant something). The end result will mystify me to the end of my days.

The 1988 team was a juggernaut. All we had to do was get past the Dodgers (a team we’d owned during the regular season) and we were all set for a showdown with the A’s in the World Series.

We lost in seven games, and I’ve hated the Dodgers ever since. I’m still convinced Orel Hershisher was an alien impersonator and that Mike Scioscia made a deal with the devil. I will admit to a few dark fantasies in which I attempted to prove to Tommy Lasorda that he did not, in fact, bleed Dodger blue.

Still, as upset as I was, I got over it pretty quickly. I’d gotten used to our winning. Surely there’d be other chances, right? Wrong. We suddenly found ourselves unable to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates. For those of you too young to remember, this is the Pirates squad that boasted an outfield of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke.

After the Pirates succumbed to the fate which awaits all successful small-market teams, someone in major league baseball’s front office finally looked at a map and realized that having the Atlanta Braves play in the N.L. West really didn’t make any geographic sense. Yeah, who knew that Georgia didn’t abut California? Sadly for us Mets fans this also coincided with the Braves’ going on a run of unparalleled regular season success.

We missed the playoffs by four games in 1997 and one game in 1998. 1998 was really tough. We went 0-5 against the Braves and the Montreal Expos to end the season.

We didn’t get back to the post-season until 1999, and we didn’t even win the division. I did take pleasure in the fact that we beat out the Cincinnati Reds in a one-game playoff to win the Wildcard.

We ended up advancing to the N.L. Championship Series, and, after spotting the Atlanta Braves 3 games, we roared back to force game 6. In that game, pitcher Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to force in the winning run. Contrary to what I said at the time, it was not the first walk issued to the free-swinging Jones that season. It sure seemed that way, though.

The next year, after again winning the N.L. Wildcard, we made it to the World Series. We faced off against the hated New York Yankees in the first subway series since 1956. We lost four games to one.

Now, though, we’re back. It’s been 20 years since that 1986 team. I know that china is the traditional 20th anniversary gift, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this 20th anniversary than by winning the World Series.

We won our division for the first time since 1988. We’ve also taken a commanding lead in our N.L. Division Series against the Dodgers. This team is not a juggernaut, but we’ve got a good blend of power and speed and a pitching staff that has a bend but don’t break attitude.

So, Let’s Go Mets.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Which Box Should I Check, and Why?

My previous entry on Tiger Woods notwithstanding, I’m truly not opposed to the so-called multiracial movement.
The central topic of my senior thesis was the political activism of New Orleans’ freeborn people of color during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In antebellum New Orleans, this was a predominantly “multiracial” group living in a tripartite racial system. After 1865, this group found itself coping with the realities of a monoracial society.

A monoracial view of the United States ignores not only our history, but also social, cultural, economic, and political realities. The fact that this monoracial viewpoint continues to be reflected in the manner in which the federal government collects data on race is not, in my opinion, a very good thing. I was surprised, however, at my own reaction when I looked at the new guidelines proposed by the Department of Education with respect to racial classifications for students. This reaction ran the gamut of emotions from skepticism to more skepticism.

Nine years ago, the United States Office of Management and Budget set forth guidelines mandating that individuals completing federally required forms be allowed to mark more than one racial category to identify themselves on such forms. The U.S. Census adopted that change, using it in 2000. 6.8 million people elected to identify themselves as multiracial. Timely, as ever, the Department of Education is now proposing regulations allowing students to self-identify in as many categories as they want.

As it stands now, institutions of higher learning must report how many of their students fall into one of five categories. These categories are the “old stand-bys”: (1) black; (2) white; (3) Hispanic; (4) Asian/Pacific Islander; and (5) Native American/Alaska Native.

There were plenty of reasons why it took the Department of Education such a comparatively long time to propose its own new set of standards, “stability” being perhaps the most obvious and important. Most institutions affected by these changes have been collecting their own data on this for years, and they certainly expected the Department of Education to eventually implement such changes.

The regulations proposed by the Department of Education asks first if the student is Hispanic and then asks students to select one or more descriptions from the groups American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, black, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and white. Uh-oh.

Aggregate statistical data and statistical comparisons to previous years will be extremely difficult, as the new regulations would not require updating existing records and statistics. A student who self-identified as “black” in 2006 but as “multiracial” in 2007 will make it seem as if yet another black student has fallen from the rolls. At this point, sociology is causing at least as big of a fuss as logistics.

In case you missed it, under the new regulations, students who self-identify as Hispanic would be counted only as Hispanics, regardless of whether they also check off or circle other categories. If non-Hispanic students responding to the second question check off more than one racial category, these students will be listed under “two or more races.” Those races will not be specified.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t think that the Latino/Hispanic “lobby” threw its weight around on this. I just think the Department of Education got this one wrong. An obvious outcome under these proposed regulations appears to be that the number of Hispanic students counted would be maximized while counts for other racial groups would be diminished. Someone who self-identifies as Hispanic and black is counted as Hispanic. Someone who self-identifies as black and Native American is counted as "multiracial".
So, two students rightly or wrongly limited to identification as black under the current regulations would now be counted as Hispanic and "multiracial" under the proposed regulations. Substitute any non-Hispanic racial classification for "black" and the example still holds true. "Vanishing" non-Hispanic students who reappear in a generic "other" category does not seem like such a great thing to me. There has to be a better way to recognize the need for multiracial identification.

In addition, while the proposed regulations provide, on the surface at least, a greater opportunity for accurate self-identification, the end result seems unsatisfactory. An individual who self-identifies as “multiracial” is lumped into this “two or more” category with no ultimate distinction made as to which two or more races she has selected. At the end of the day, for statistical purposes, there’s still no distinction made between lots of racial categories. Instead of having one or more aspects of your racial heritage “ignored”, all are now ignored or at least not identified with any degree of specificity.

I don’t even pretend to have an answer for this one. The Department of Education, as with a lot of other federal agencies, has to balance a lot of concerns and interests. The department is accepting public comments on its proposed guidelines until September 21, 2006. At least there is now a greater opportunity for a legitimate discussion on an important issue.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

How the Game is Played

On Thursday, August 3, a bill, already approved by the House of Representatives, went up to a vote by their counterparts in the U.S. Senate. The bill included a phased-in increase of the federal minimum wage, which, after three years, would see the minimum wage rise from $5.15 an hour to $7.25.

A Republican-controlled Senate needed 60 votes to pass the bill. The Senate voted 56-42 against, leaving us with the unlikely situation in which Democratic members of the U.S. Senate are, on the surface, responsible for keeping the minimum wage laughably low. Has Hell frozen over? Was that a pig I just saw flying past my window? Did the Cincinnati Bengals just win the Super Bowl?

Hell is still hot, they tell me. That was a pigeon (with a weight problem) I caught out of the corner of my eye. And the Bengals aren’t winning the Super Bowl in this or any other century. It was actually just business as usual in our nation’s capital. Six Senators in total crossed the aisles, 4 Democrats voted for it and 2 Republicans voted against it. Otherwise, it was just another example of pre-election electioneering.

You see, the bill didn’t just call for a show of hands as to who thought the minimum wage should be increased. (If it had, the bill still wouldn’t have passed, but at least we’d all be a little less confused as to why.) It actually combined a reduction in the estate tax (and the revival of other tax cuts) with the proposed minimum wage increase. For what it’s worth, the AFL-CIO also opposed the bill.

This was a double-edged GOP strategy, and a pretty shrewd one at that. An earlier attempt at bringing the estate tax issue up for debate fell a mere three votes short. So, they linked the proposed estate tax reduction to the proposed minimum wage increase. Even if Democrats succeeded in blocking the bill’s passage, the Republicans could claim that it was the Democratic minority that was responsible for yet another stalled piece of legislation. On a sports discussion board I frequent, Republicans were already asking Democrats to explain why “their” party was against increasing the minimum wage. Oh, boy.

I am not arguing that Democrats have never been guilty of the same type of maneuvering. Filibusters, shutdowns, hey, it all comes with the territory. It’s why politics is the dirtiest game going (though cycling made a strong push during and after this year’s Tour de France)
I shed no tears over the fact that this bill died on the vine. Under the proposed bill, by 2015, the amount of an estate exempt from taxation would have been increased to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples. Estates less than or equal to $25 million would have been taxed at capital gains rates (currently 15% and scheduled to increase to 20%). The top tax rate on larger estates would have fallen to 30% (again by 2015).

Don’t get me wrong, I think the minimum wage is long overdue for an increase. I just do not believe that increase is worth it when inextricably linked to yet more tax breaks for those least in need of them. A reduction in the estate tax will arguably lead to cuts in federal programs for the poor due to reduced federal revenue.

The “double taxation” argument against the estate tax has never made any sense to me. You’d be hard-pressed to find a legal transfer of funds that doesn’t constitute “multiple taxation.” My employer has paid taxes on the money that has gone into every paycheck I’ve received. If I don’t get relief from this “double taxation” why should the scion of a wealthy family be exempt from it for money he hasn’t worked for?

Let me put it this way. If I win the lottery, I will gladly pay taxes on my winnings. Likewise, if I inherit an estate large enough to qualify, I will gladly pay estate taxes. In neither instance am I somehow deserving of a tax-free windfall.
The games people play. . .


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Flag Daze: South Carolina and That Whacky Confederate Flag

I was genuinely surprised to find out yesterday that the NCAA is considering expanding its ban of championship events in South Carolina because the flag of the former Confederacy is still displayed on Statehouse grounds. That is to say, I was surprised that the ban hadn't already been expanded.

The NCAA is responding (or rather, considering a response) to a request from the Black Coaches Association. Predetermined NCAA postseason events (e.g. conference championships, regionals, etc.) have been barred from the state since 2001. The NCAA is weighing whether or not to expand the ban to postseason events which individual teams in the state might host due to their regular season performance.

In 2000, the NAACP led an economic boycott of South Carolina because, at that time, the Confederate flag flew high over the state's Capitol dome. [Begin sarcasm] In an extremely bold and progressive move, the South Carolina Legislature voted, in the spring of 2000, to move the flag to the Confederate monument located in front of the Statehouse. Surprisingly, the NAACP was not satisfied. [End sarcasm]

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in 1860. Truth be told, they were pretty close to doing so in 1832, but, as they say, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. A scant 97 years after Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, the Confederate flag was placed atop South Carolina's Statehouse dome in 1962, where it was to remain until July 1, 2000.

Many individuals, both inside and outside of South Carolina, claim that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol. They cite the flag's ties to an important part of Southern heritage. The Confederate flag is now displayed as part of a monument to soldiers of the former Confederate States of America. The vast majority of these soldiers were not Rhett Butler. Like most other wars, the have-nots get put on the front lines to defend the interests of the haves. I get that.
What these individuals do not seem to get, is that the Confederate flag is also inextricably linked to the institution of slavery, de jure racial segregation, and opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. These are not good things, and to display the Confederate flag anywhere near the Statehouse is, in my opinion, an implicit endorsement of this legacy. You can't have one without the other.

I'm a big fan of the Bill of Rights. I moved back to Louisiana in early 2006. Since that time, I have passed more houses than I can count whose owners choose to fly the Confederate flag. The First Amendment and I both say, "more power to you." Fly whatever flag you want. As long as you're not violating a content-neutral noise ordinance, you can sit in a rocking chair under that flag and sing "You Fought All the Way, Johnny Reb." If, however, "Trading Spaces" chooses not to use your home because you won't get rid of the Confederate flag hanging in your living room, I have no sympathy for you. Similarly, the NCAA is well within its rights not to allow its postseason games to be played in South Carolina until the Confederate flag is no longer displayed on top of, in front of, or around the Statehouse.

The athletes do not suffer under the current ban. They will not suffer if the ban is extended. They still get to compete, and there are worse things in life than having to play on the road instead of at home. The schools and cities just don't get the extra revenue that comes with hosting these events. This particular combination of "carrot and stick" which the NCAA is considering is no different, really, than the combo used by the federal government with respect to states, the combo used by state governments with respect to counties, and county governments with respect to municipalities. Withholding a benefit is not the same as a punishment under these circumstances.

I must confess, I still chuckle when I see a "You've Got Your X, I've Got Mine" baseball cap or bumper sticker. I first saw these on my way to Myrtle Beach in the spring of 1994, and I still think that's pretty clever. Tacit state endorsement of the Confederate "X" was, is, and always will be a different matter entirely.

Continuing to display the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina Statehouse is not clever. It's offensive and shortsighted. The NCAA should have no qualms about playing hardball with the State of South Carolina on this issue.

This fight's been over for a long time, Johnny Reb.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In Vino Veritas: Mel Gibson, Drunken Rants, and Forgiveness

I'm usually up on my celebrity "dish". E! is programmend on my remote as one of my "favorites", I'm no stranger to, and I catch "Showbiz Tonight" whenever my schedule permits. (Which is quite often, in case you're wondering) This weekend, however, I was obviously a little bit off my game. I get a little distracted once NFL training camp starts.
I honestly did not find out about Mel Gibson and his tequila-fueled run-in with LA County police until yesterday.
I knew about Mel Gibson's history of problem drinking. He's a self-proclaimed alcoholic, and, for what it's worth I applaud him for taking responsibility for that aspect of last week's events. Relapses are not a required part of the recovery process, but they happen quite frequently. His celebrity means that his relapse is front page news. I'd be hard pressed to wish that kind of publicity on anyone. I can't defend drunk driving, though. He put his own safety and the safety of others at risk. This seems to have been somewhat forgotten in all the furor over his words and behavior after getting stopped by police. Reports are that Gibson is taking steps to get back on the wagon. I wish him all the best. To err is human, to forgive divine.
I also knew about the persistent allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at Mel Gibson. His father's comments on the subject of the Holocaust notwithstanding, Gibson's own statements always raised a few eyebrows. His drunken ramblings last Thursday night/Friday morning, however, contained invectives that would make a skinhead blush. A lot of discussion both on and off the 'net has been devoted to what extent these hateful remarks can be attributed to or explained by a problem drinker's having had too much to drink.
From a chemical standpoint ether and alcohol are close relatives. They're close enough to be brothers, as a matter of fact. Both are highly flammable and both are known to cause giggling, dizziness, and vomiting. A patient anesthetized by ether is liable to say some pretty strange things; things which he would probably not say under normal circumstances. Still, ether should not be considered the equivalent of "truth serum", and neither should alcohol. Statements made when a dying man knew he was about to die are given great weight under our legal system. Statements made when a man is dead drunk are not.
In my own experience, I've said many bluntly honest things while under the influence; things that, rightly or wrongly, I might not have said while stone cold sober. I've also lied like a rug. For every instance in which I've seen alcohol remove a man's inhibitions against hurting someone's feelings or making others uncomfortable by saying exactly what's on his mind, I've seen another instance in which alcohol has removed a man's fear of getting caught in a bald-faced lie. All that's to say that "in vino veritas" is always true . . . except when it's not.
No amount of alcohol, though, can justify or explain away the things Mel Gibson said to the arresting officers. Pour a fifth of whiskey down my throat and I'm liable to tell you launch into many diatribes. These could range from my hatred of the New York Yankees to my conviction that Lyndon Johnson gets short-changed by most Presidential historians. Most of these rants will probably not make any sense. They will, however, tend to be exaggerations of views and opinions I held long before the alcohol began to take effect. The circumstances under which I say them and the manner in which I express myself will be the major change brought about by my state of intoxication. Tequila can relax a shy man's inhibitions to the point where he'll get up in front of a crowd and start singing in a bad falsetto. He can't, however, blame the booze for the fact that he knows all the lyrics to "I Will Survive". Alcohol can't bring out anything that's not there to begin with.

The "don't you know who I am?" part of Gibson's rant is pretty commonplace. Many of us who are only household names in our own households might be tempted to say something similar given the right (or wrong) mixture of circumstances and alcohol. The guy no doubt has an ego. He wouldn't have achieved the success he has in a tough industry if he didn't. Our greatest strengths are usually tied to our greatest weaknesses as well.
Mel Gibson's timing could not have been worse. ABC has reportedly scrapped his project dealing with the Holocaust. His movie, "Apocalypto" also seems to be up in the air. As I've said, I hope that Gibson follows through on his plans for treatment. I also hope that he can work through the other issues which that bottle of tequila brought to the surface. These issues include his anti-Semitism and sense of entitlement. I hope he was motivated by a genuine sense of regret and acknowledgement that he needs to work on these things when he asked members of the very community he offended to help him in his recovery. I hope that concern for the future of his career wasn't the primary motivating factor.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Reggie Bush, the NFL, and the City of New Orleans

In December 2005 Reggie Bush of USC was selected as the 71st winner of the Heisman Trophy. Widely acknowledged as the most exciting college football player in recent memory, Bush was drafted by the NFL’s New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in April 2006. Until late yesterday evening, Saturday, July 29, 2006, Reggie Bush had not yet signed with the Saints. He and his agent were threatening a holdout. They said that Bush was willing to miss training camp and possibly the entire season if he was not offered a deal to his liking.

Well, we can all breathe a little easier now. Reggie Bush and the Saints have agreed to a 6-year deal for a reported $51 million. Hallelujah. He should be at practice first thing Monday morning.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Saints fans that their #1 pick is signed, sealed, and (soon-to-be) delivered. I was just amused by the sportswriters who were seemingly beside themselves at the thought that his holdout might have lasted even longer than it did.

A lot of sports pundits felt that Reggie Bush was making a mistake. Some even cited Hurricane Katrina as a major reason. They claimed that, even if he ended up signing with the Saints, a holdout would send the wrong message to the populace of a city and the population of a region who have already gone through enough. I won’t argue that the people of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulfcoast haven’t had it rough. I just don’t see what Reggie Bush’s contract negotiation with the Saints has to do with it.

  1. Remember that this is the NFL. It’s an owner's league, not a player’s league.

    Out of the four major professional sports in the United States, NFL players arguably receive the least love from their league. I know, I know. These guys still get paid quite a bit of money for putting on the pads, and I’m not cueing up the OBA string quartet. Everything’s relative, and I’m just trying to point out that, from a relative standpoint, NFL players are, as a group, not as well off as their counterparts in baseball and basketball. They’re the poor relations at the family reunion; the cousins whose great-grandfather sank his share of the inheritance into a series of get rich quick schemes. They’re not really poor, just poorer than the rest of the clan.

    The National Football League Players’ Association (the "NFLPA"), the labor union of NFL players, is one of the weakest in all of professional sports. NFL players receive a lower percentage of revenue than do players in the NBA. Unlike NBA players, players in the NFL do not receive a cut from the sale of their jerseys. The typical career of an NFL player is a whole lot shorter than that of a major league baseball player. Roger Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball in 1986, the year in which he won the American League’s Cy Young Award and MVP Trophy. He’s still throwing smoke for the Houston Astros 20 years later. Lawrence Taylor was the NFL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 1986. He’s still been retired since the end of the 1993 season. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed.

  2. Holdouts happen.

    Reggie Bush was not Curt Flood here. The rookie holdout has become an NFL rite of passage. Eli Manning forced a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants before he ever took his first NFL snap. John Elway was the #1 overall draft pick by the Baltimore Colts in 1983. Elway did not want to play in Baltimore. He held out, and eventually forced the Colts to trade him to Denver. He used every ounce of leverage available to him. He talked about playing professional baseball, even though the curveball baffled him far more than NFL defenses ever seemed to. In hindsight, all parties involved in the Elway situation, including the city of Baltimore survived. John Elway had a Hall of Fame career with the Broncos, the Colts moved to Indianapolis (where Peyton Manning currently stars), and the Ravens brought a championship to Baltimore by way of Cleveland. I’m equally convinced that the Saints, the city of New Orleans, and Reggie Bush would have survived a lengthy holdout.

  3. Reggie Bush’s image would not have suffered.

    Since the Saints drafted him in April, Reggie Bush has been one of the most visible faces involved in the continued post-Katrina relief effort. He’s given his time and his money. The goodwill he’s engendered for his charitable efforts will last long after memories of the contract squabbles fans in every city have come to accept and expect have faded. Even if he'd never suited up for the Saints, the worst he could have expected was some boos when he came to town playing for another team.

  4. I don’t think Katrina victims begrudge him the pursuit of the top dollar.

    I have yet to speak to a displaced Katrina victim whose primary concern is or was Reggie Bush’s contract. Give him a dart and a choice between aiming it at a Reggie Bush poster or a FEMA logo, and I can just about guarantee that he’ll choose the latter as his target. If you’ve survived the loss of your job, home, and community, did the prospect of Reggie Bush missing training camp really keep you up at night?

    Also, let’s look at what the Saints have done since drafting Reggie Bush. They’ve made him the centerpiece of their advertising campaign. This sends a definite message to the fans. It also sends a definite message to the player and his agent! If my prospective employer featured me prominently on the front page of the company’s web site, I would think twice before signing the first contract this employer placed in front of me. I just might want to reevaluate my bargaining position first. The Saints have raised ticket prices. If they’re not lowering their asking price, why should Reggie Bush have lowered his?

    As previously mentioned, Reggie Bush will not receive a red cent from the team (or the league) when his jerseys start selling like hot cakes. Color me cynical, but I also doubt that the funds from these jersey sales have been earmarked for Katrina relief.

  5. If New Orleans is counting on the ‘Aints to make all the bad times good again, history is NOT on their side.

This is not the Green Bay Packers, folks. Despite being around since 1967, the New Orleans Saints have never played in a Super Bowl, let alone won one. The only other teams never to appear in "the game" are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. They didn’t even win their first playoff game until 2000, and this remains their one and only playoff win in franchise history.

This is also not the first time the team has drafted a Heisman Trophy winning running back. Maybe the third time will prove to be the charm, but the first two were hardly the stuff of NFL legend.

The Saints drafted George Rogers, of University of South Carolina fame, in 1980. He started out with a bang, leading the NFL in rushing in his first season. He ended his career after 8 seasons with the Saints and the Washington Redskins. He was solid, but not the savior Saints fans were hoping for.

Then there was Ricky Williams. It sometimes seems like ancient history, but then-coach and GM Mike Ditka mortgaged his team’s future to select Ricky Williams with the 5th overall pick in 1999 out of the University of Texas. Ricky posed in a wedding dress for the cover of Sports Illustrated, gave interviews in his football helmet, but didn’t take the Saints to the Promised Land. Ricky was traded to the Dolphins in 2002. In Miami he helped all of us learn a great deal about holistic medicine and the details of the NFL’s drug policy.

So, good for you, Reggie. On its surface your deal seems like a good one. If you decided to give the Saints a "discount", that’s your business, just remember that if you suffer a career ending injury, I doubt that the Saints will even honor the remainder of your contract, much less hold any fundraisers for you. Don’t feel obligated to implicitly donate any of your services to them. Saints fans, you've got yourself a potentially great player. You're adding him to a backfield that already boasts Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister. There are plenty of NFL teams that wish they could say the same.

1st down!


OBA's 10 Worst Movies

I love movies. I was going to do a "top 20" list, but I realized it wouldn't really contain anything controversial or even particularly interesting. Basically, my list would have been the same one you'd get from AFI or Imdb with "Highlander" and "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" substituted for "Titanic" and "The English Patient." Blah blah blah. I laughed, I cried, I laughed and cried some more. Whatever.

I'm of the opinion that what we scorn and deride reveals at least as much about us as what we celebrate and praise.

There are a few things I should point out, first.

  • No sequels. Picking on sequels is easy. That's why classics like "Speed 2", "Major League 2", "The Phantom Menace", and "Godfather III" don't make the cut.
  • No "piling on". I've omitted those films the beatings of which have already been beaten to death. You'll have to look somewhere else for rips on and rants about the likes of "Gigli", "The Postman", "Ishtar", and "Cutthroat Island".
  • The last 25 years only. I like classics, but, to be fair, I'm limiting this to movies I had the misfortune to see in theaters on first release. I was born in 1973, and, 1981 is around the time I honestly feel I became a true "critic". I may not have known much at 8 years old, but I knew what I didn't like and why.

Sit back, relax, and treat yourself to OBA's 10 Worst Movies of the Last 25 Years.

  1. "Cool World" (1992). I saw Ralph Bashki's "Wizards" and his animated version of "The Lord of the Rings" as part of a double feature in Evanston, Illinois when I was about 7 years old. Between then and 1992, he'd become something of a cult figure. "Cool World" marked his first feature film in 9 years. The mixture of animation and live action was a genre that Bashki had helped pioneer. I figured this was a can't miss, and I actually talked a few friends into going to see this movie with me. Bashki hates "Cool World", and I've got to agree with his assessment. I'm cheap like that, and this movie is the closest I've ever come to walking out of the theater. Gabriel Byrne, future Oscar-winner Kim Basinger, and future Sexiest Man Alive Brad Pitt couldn't save this flick. Nothing human could have saved it. Bashki has not made another feature film in the last 14 years.
  2. "Legends of the Fall" (1994). Bear with me here (pun intended). I'm not just picking on Brad Pitt, and I know that there are plenty of people who actually like this movie. I read the Jim Harrison novella years before I saw this one at the AMC in Morristown, New Jersey. In the novella, Susannah's not romantically involved with all three Ludlow brothers. Granted, she hooks up with two of them, but there's not nearly as much of an "overlap" and it's actually somewhat believable. Also, Albert doesn't just "get over" the fact that his wife has killed herself because of her unrequited passion for his younger brother.
  3. "Mallrats" (1995). Kevin Smith has defended this movie. Hey, it's his baby, and there are parents who'll defend their children despite 50 eyewitness accounts and video footage. I'm one of those people who liked "Clerks" in spite of much of the scatalogical humor. Adding more "fart jokes" while removing most of the wit and replacing it with Shannon Doherty and Ben Affleck at his most annoying is not a recipe for enjoyable cinema. On a certain level, though, this reformed comic book geek does have to give Smith props for getting Stan Lee to talk about the gastrointestinal and reproductive functions of a few of our favorite super heroes.
  4. "Last Action Hero" (1993). This film marked, for me, somewhat of the end of an era. It was an end of innocence, if you will. I didn't ever fully trust Arnold again after this dud. I enjoyed a few of his subsequent films, but, after this one, I never again watched a Schwarzenegger movie fully convinced that, at the very least, I'd be entertained. Arnold, satire, and homages to the work of Ingmar Bergman don't mix.
  5. "The Toy" (1982). Jackie Gleason was a very, very funny man. Richard Pryor was one of the funniest human beings ever to draw breath. How do you make that duo unfunny? For starters, pick the unfunniest subject matter you can think of. Let's see, why don't we have a young white boy "purchase" an older black man. Slavery's not funny. Never has been funny. Never will be funny. (The chuckle or two you might get when you watch "Spartacus" with an eye toward spotting the homoerotic subtext doesn't count. You're not actually laughing at the fact that Kirk Gibson and Tony Curtis are victims of the slave system.) That this film was actually a minor commercial success is even more depressing than the fact that it was ever made in the first place.
  6. "Kate et Leopold" (2001). I saw this movie with 2 friends of mine. She liked it. He and I didn't. Ladies (and gents, if the shoe fits), if Hugh Jackman floats your boat, download a few pics of him if you must, but don't subject yourself to two hours of this sappy nonsense. You'll never get those two hours back, you know. Not even if you fall off the Brooklyn Bridge and end up in 1876. If you're desperate for a time travel romance full of holes and paradoxes, might I politely suggest that you rent "Somewhere in Time", "Time After Time", "Peggy Sue Got Married", or "The Terminator". The lone bright spot is Liev Schreiber's talking his way out of a mental institution. Cute, but hardly worth the price of admission.
  7. "The Fan" (1996). DeNiro playing a psycho is sually, well, a home run ("Taxi Driver", "Cape Fear", "Meet the Parents", "Awakenings" [heh-heh]). In this instance, it's a pop-up behind home plate. Did we really need this picture to tell us that calling into sports talk radio shows is a warning sign of psychosis? I think not. John Leguizamo's actually the best thing about this movie. That should tell you all you need to know.
  8. "Cheaper by the Dozen" (2003). Whoo, boy. Where to begin?! Baker's dozen. Yeah, I get it. I have some advice for Steve Martin's Coach Baker. First, when it comes to birth control, the best defense is not a strong offense. Second, your wife has given birth to 12 kids, so, if she wants to go on a book tour, just let her go. Memo to Tom Welling: Evanston's not a rough town, especially for a guy in his late twenties pretending to be a high school kid. If you can keep track of all 12 kids you're a better man than I am. On the positive side, if you're looking for a vehicle to pair Hilary Duff and Ashton Kutcher, this is probably as good as it's going to get.
  9. "Hulk" (2003). Of all the Marvel super hero flicks, this was actually the one about which I had the fewest misgivings. The Incredible Hulk I grew up reading about had an easily explainable origin story. CGI meant no body-builders in green paint (no offense, Mr. Ferrigno). Man's struggle with his own dark side obviously lends itself well to the big screen. The love story between Bruce and Betty could practically write itself, I thought. Thunderbolt Ross was a complex bad guy, both in his own right and as a representative of the military industrial complex. Slam dunk, right? Wrong. Apparently, the studio felt that Marvel got it wrong all those years ago. They felt the story could be improved with: the bizarre addition of Nick Nolte as Papa Banner whose attempt to modify his own DNA comes back to haunt his bouncing baby boy; a CGI Hulk that fails on so many different levels; and, last but not least, Hulk dogs. Eric Bana does give the "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry" line in Spanish, but, by then, it was too little too late.
  10. "Troy" (2004). I know, I know. Another Brad Pitt vehicle. I swear, it's just a coincidence. I liked "Fight Club", for what it's worth. "Troy" is another kettle of fish. Homer crafted the greatest epic known to man. This movie wasn't even the greatest epic film of 2004. Achilles is actually one of the more 2-dimensional characters in The Iliad. Here, he's somehow the main focus. Orlando Bloom's Paris, while he certainly projects the shallow stupidity necessary to doom his family and his city, is too vacuous to even prove remotely interesting. This Helen is pretty, but not beautiful enough to lauch a thousand ships. A 10-year war is reduced to a few weeks, and the most interesting deaths of legend are ridiculously and unnecessarily altered to make it all about brave Achilles. Yawn.

So, those are my 10 worst films of the past 25 years.



Saturday, July 29, 2006

Arrivederci, Arturo. . .

On Saturday night I saw what I hope will be Arturo Gatti's last fight. Not his last title fight. Not his last fight in Atlantic City. His last fight, period.

If it does prove to be the last time he laces up the gloves, then the man they call "Thunder" didn't go out with a reverberating boom. No, the end came late in Round 9 against WBC and IBA Welterweight Champion Carlos Baldomir. When the referee called a merciful end to the action, there was no protest from Gatti, Gatti's corner, the pro-Gatti crowd, or this Gatti fan watching at home.

I first became an Arturo fan in 1997 when I saw him beat Gabriel Ruelas via a dramatic 5th Round TKO. I've been a fan ever since. Before every fight, it seemed, Team Gatti would tell us that Arturo had learned his lesson. This time, they said, he would utilize his boxing skills to their fullest extent and fight a smart, low-risk fight. Right. And in the next James Bond flick, whoever's playing Agent 007 won't end up hooking up with a beautiful, yet dangerous woman. Once Arturo got hit with a big shot or two, it was on. The game plan got thrown out the window, and the old Arturo that I knew and loved would turn from boxer to brawler and have the crowd on its feet. Whether you started a Gatti fight rooting for him or not, you always ended one applauding his guts and heart and questioning his sanity. That was then.

Even when Arturo came out on the losing end of things, I loved the guy. I was on the edge of my seat when he lost to Angel Manfredy. I didn't miss a second of his two battles with Ivan Robinson. Then there was the Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward trilogy. If you're not a fight fan, I can't really explain or describe to you what it's like to see two men who've spent three separate contests beating the hell out of each other hug in the center of the ring like long-lost brothers.
But, that was then.

Like Mark Antony with Julius Caesar, I come not to praise Arturo Gatti the man, but to bury Arturo Gatti the prize fighter. His last two fights have convinced me, and I hope him as well, that it's time for him to leave the ring for good. He can no longer fight at 140 lbs. and below. Age and those years he lived like a "rock star" outside of the ring have seen to that. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Carlos Baldomir both showed that 147 is no longer an option for him either. Pretty Boy Floyd picked him apart, revealing that, even if he can stick to the "boxer" game plan that seems to go against his very nature, Arturo is too slow to pull that game plan off against a marquee welterweight. Baldomir showed that, at 147 lbs., Gatti lacks the power to even have a proverbial "puncher's chance."

Before reading the final "verdict" on Saturday night, the ring announcer asked the Atlantic City crowd to acknowledge all that Arturo had given us the fight fants over the years. Through all the cuts, contusions, and closed eyes, Arturo Gatti never gave his sport a black eye. That's saying something these days. He's got nothing left to prove to us, and he shouldn't have anything left to prove to himself. So, arrivederci, Arturo, and thanks for the memories.

ding, ding.


An Evening with the Voter's League

The Union Parish Voter's League held its 21st Annual Banquet at the Farmerville Recreation Center in Farmerville, Louisiana on Thursday, July 27, 2006. The banquet's theme was: "Citizens moving to a higher plane through Government, Education & Family Life." Mr. William Washington, President of the Voter's League, served as the Master of Ceremonies. After the invocation by Reverend Michael D. Callahan of Blooming Grove Baptist Church (also in Farmerville), those in attendance observed a moment of silence honoring deceased officers and members of the Voter's League. Before dinner was served, Reverend Samuel Ellsworth, of Beulah Baptist Church, gave a stirring a cappella rendition of gospel favorite "Touch Somebody's Life".

After dinner, Ms. Gloria J.P. Crawford introduced the evening's honorees, ten of Union Parish's first black elected public officials. The honorees were:

Mr. Jimmy Kilgore, Union Parish Deputy Sheriff;
Mr. Troy James Fields, Union Parish Deputy Sheriff;
Mr. Lee A. Washington, Chief of Police, Marion, Louisiana;
Mr. Luther Wilson, City Councilman, Bernice, Louisiana;
Mr. Ralph Holley, City Councilman, Marion, Louisiana;
Mr. Arthur C. Hackney, Justice of the Peace, Union Parish;
Mr. Willie Davis, Mayor, Farmerville, Louisiana;
Mr. Leornest Watley, Member, Union Parish Police Jury;
Mr. Robert C. James, Sr., President, Union Parish School Board; and
Mr. Willie T. Sensley, Sr., President, Union Parish Police Jury.

The evening's guest speaker was State Senator James D. Cain, from Louisiana's 30th District. A member of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Sen. Cain first entered the Louisiana Legislature in 1971 as a member of the House of Representatives for Beauregard, Allen, and Calcasieu parishes. He was the founder and first chairman of both the Rural and Independent Caucuses. A member of the State Senate since 1991, Sen. Cain currently serves as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee.

Sen. Cain spoke at length about his travels throughout the State of Louisiana. He highlighted the need for strong advocacy on behalf of those in the state who too often feel as though their concerns are neither recognized nor addressed by their elected officials. He cited this as the driving force behind his candidacy for the office of Insurance Commissioner. In closing, Sen. Cain emphasized the need for fairness between and among all those present and all residents of Louisiana.

Banquet honoree and Voter's League Vice President Mr. Willie T. Sensley, Sr. recognized those in attendance who were Parish elected officials and candidates for office in 2006. Ms. Lennie Smith, Secretary, then presented a plaque to Sen. Cain on behalf of the Voter's League.

The banquet concluded with closing remarks by the Master of Ceremonies and a brief benediction by Rev. Callahan. The banquet was catered by CHF Caterers of Farmerville, Louisiana.


Homecomin and Staying "Grounded"

I had the honor and privilege of attending my first Homecoming.

Don't worry, you haven't pulled a Rip Van Winkle and awakened sometime in November. At this homecoming, there was no football game, no cheerleaders, and no tailgates. This homecoming took place on July 23, 2006 at Lanes Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Downsville, Louisiana. It's an annual tradition that kicks off the church's week-long evening revival services. Lanes Chapel is my paternal grandparents' church. It's the church at which my grandfather still serves as a deacon, as did my great-grandfather before him.

Homecoming is a long-standing tradition among rural country churches. It marks an occasion when all members of the church and their extended families (particularly those who have moved away) come "home" to attend services. "Dinner on the Ground" is an integral part of Homecoming. It was originally a picnic or a potluck meal, with food supplied by those who could provide it for the consumption of all those who were willing to partake. People spread out blankets and ate, literally, on the ground. It was a chance for a church to come together to visit, fellowship, sing, pray, and, of course, eat.

There were no blankets this Sunday. Everyone came in cars instead of wagons. People sat on folding chairs and ate at tables. Dinner was still served between regular morning worship and afternoon service. Still, I watched folks come together to visit, fellowship, sing, and pray. I also watched people laugh, eat, gossip, nap, eat, swat flies, and eat. I was recruited for serving and clean-up duty, but I definitely didn't go hungry.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that the girl her family used to call "Fat-Fat" has grown up to be rail-thin and model-pretty. I learned that, seated and from the rear, I'm a dead-ringer for my dad when he was my age. I learned that, if God ever gives her a large enough kitchen, my grandmother would try to feed the world. I learned that Terri's Mee-Maw is also my aun-tie.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that, depending upon who's doing the slicing, three Sara Lee cakes can feed 100 people. I learned that there's nothing to stop a bold teenager from moving from family to family and table to table, getting a new plate of food each time. All he has to do is smile, nod, shake a few hands and kiss a few cheeks. I learned that I'm now too old to get away with this.
I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that there's more to making real macaroni and cheese than just a pot of boiling water, elbow macaroni, and a packet of cheese sauce. I learned that the question of who makes the best dressing will not be answered definitively in my lifetime.
I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that Lanes Chapel Missionary Baptist Church was founded by freedmen in 1867. The original signatories to the deed made their marks with an "X". Though these former slaves did not know how to read or write, they certainly knew the value of property, community, and family. I learned that, once a year at least, their descendants come together in a way that reinforces that those three things are still important. I just wish that we could find it in ourselves to do so more often.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.


My 3 P's of Politics

When discussing for whom to vote in an election, I generally refer to the three P's. The three P's of politics as I understand them are: principles; personalities; and partisanship. I rank these three P's in order of importance from most important to least important whenever I give advice to someone who is trying to decide between two candidates in a political election. I've been doing this for years.

Here's the condensed version of my usual spiel:

(1) Principles.

First, you should evaluate the principles (both political and personal) that the candidates espouse. Determine for yourself if their respective political and/or professional careers reflect these principles. If your own principles align with one candidate moreso than with the other, then you should vote for that candidate. If you still can't decide, then move on to the second "P".

(2) Personalities.

Once principles have been removed from the equation, it's time to head back to your high school days and treat this like a good old-fashioned popularity contest. When in doubt, vote for the candidate who's better spoken, better dressed, better looking, or with the better life story. If Candidate X's Horatio Alger tale appeals to you, then she should be your choice. If Candidate Y is a war hero like your dear old dad, then he's the one who should get your vote come election day. (Spouses are also fair game. I'm not ashamed to admit it, but I had a thing for Teresa Heinz-Kerry in 2004. If all things had been otherwise equal, her husband would still have gotten my vote on that fact alone.) If you still can't choose, take a deep breath and proceed to "P" number three.

(3) Partisanship.

Here's the "P" I always tell people that I love to hate. That's why it comes last on my list of suggested criteria. In his farewell address, our nation's first president warned against those who "serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party." To say he got that one right is a gross understatement. Still, since voting "none-of-the-above" is tantamount to reneging on your duty as a voter, if the situation requires it, my usual advice is to hold your nose and vote based purely upon party interests.

Yes, that's my usual spiel. Let me confess to you now, that I don't always follow my own advice. This is mostly a form of self-therapy, but I need to get this off my chest.
You see, I've long presented myself to family, friends, and co-workers as a political independent. I chide them for wearing their "party blinders" and generally bemoan the climate in which party politics predominates philosophy, passion, and pusillimanity. Well, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A Republican has to jump through a lot of hoops and over a lot of hurdles before he gets my vote, while, for the most part, a Democrat just has to drag his rear end to the starting line.

No, 've gotta come clean. I'm a third-generation, card-carrying Democrat. I know the Democratic Party has let me down in the past, and will no doubt let me down in the future. I know that, as an African-American male, the Democratic Party takes my vote for granted. They increasingly promise little yet somehow find a way to deliver even less. Still, like many who find themselves in an emotionally abusive relationship, I find myself either unwilling or unable to break the cycle. Like Aretha, I'm just a link in their chain.

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not a "knee-jerk" Democrat. If the Democratic candidate for a certain office was a dead dog, I would not vote for that dog over his Republican opponent. No, I'd choose a third option. If no third option were available, I'd write-in myself. Seriously, I've voted for plenty of Republicans . . . at the state and local level. If we're talking about an office higher than a state senate seat, though, I'd only vote for a Republican candidate if I knew her (or perhaps her opponent) personally.

I've also always had a Republican "ace-in-the-hole". This is the Republican I dust off the shelf and present as evidence of my non-party based thinking. Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean used to be my guy. The fact that I'd never been old enough to actually vote for him in his gubernatorial campaigns was a definite plus. The fact that he never threw his hat back in the ring after I turned 18 didn't hurt either. I could talk the talk knowing I'd probably never be called upon to walk the walk.

After his failed bid for the Republican nomination in 2000, John McCain became my Republican "safety". After all, he was from Arizona, and, though I've been a bit of a rolling stone in the 21st century, I have never seen a move to Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tempe looming large on my horizon. I also didn't think he'd run against, much less defeat, an incumbent President from his own party in 2004. That left me, 8 years, basically, to use ol' Johnny Mac as that Republican for whom I'd vote if only I had the opportunity.

Well, that 8 year grace period is quickly coming to an end, and I don't know what to do. You see, if I follow my own advice and use the 3 P's, I might actually have to vote for Sen. McCain for President. I agree with a lot of what the man stands for. Despite its flaws, I generally supported the McCain-Feingold as a much needed first step in at least addressing the issue of campaign finance reform. I'm a die-hard boxing fan, and Sen. McCain's efforts to pass legislation to clean up the sport and protect the fighters are just what the sport needs. When he speaks about the use of military force and the treatment of prisoners of war, he speaks from the perspective of a man who's been in combat and who's been a p.o.w. himself. I like what I've seen of his personality. He seems to take issues seriously without always taking himself too seriously.

It's that darned third "P" that keeps holding me up. I don't see Sen. McCain switching parties anytime soon. I've either got to start following my own advice, or hope that, if the Senator from Arizona wins his party's nomination, that my party comes up with a better alternative than a canine cadaver.



Ask OBA, Volume I

I've been getting a lot of e-mails asking me for relationship advice. I initially resisted the urge to respond because I didn't feel it was my place. My misgivings had nothing to do with any insecurities about a lack of qualifications on my end. Sure, I'm not a licensed therapist or counselor. I wasn't a psychology major, and, in fact, I never even took Psych 101. I'm not married, have never been married, and, to be perfectly truthful, my own relationship track record is hardly Hall of Fame material. After giving it a little bit of thought, however, I realized that these seeming lack of qualifications can actually be considered a plus. I'm not saddled with any of the baggage that comes from too much education, training, or experience. I figure, if a little bit of knowledge is dangerous, then who's to say that even less knowledge isn't incredibly beneficial?! One of my ex-girlfriends told me several months ago that she thought I gave good advice and was a good listener. Or something to that effect. Yak, yak, yak, that girl can ramble on. (If you're reading this, Lisa G., I'm just kidding) So, without further ado, here's the first installment of "Ask OBA". Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Dear OBA:

My girlfriend of three years (we've been living together for just over 18 months) has seemed very preoccupied lately. She's talking to her girlfriends all the time. She's also been highlighting wedding announcements in my Sunday paper, and doing the same thing to all the wedding photos in my college alumni magazine. Last week, she e-mailed me a bunch of articles on celebrity weddings and the financial mistakes that young married couples make. Is she trying to tell me something, and, if so, what is it?

Confused in Cleveland

Dear Confused:

You're from Cleveland so I already know you've got it rough. Let me make things easier on you. Things in your relationship are just fine. Three years is nothing! And 18 months living together? Please, you two kids are just getting to know each other. I'm sure that marriage is the furthest thing from your sweetie's mind. Unless I miss my guess, she's just been afraid to share with you a career change she's been contemplating for quite some time. So, my advice is to sit her down, look her in the eyes, and tell her that you completely understand her desire to be a wedding planner, (I suggest you watch that J-Lo flick first so you have some idea what you're talking about) and that you'll support her in whatever it is she does. She'll look shocked at first, but don't worry. That's just surprise as it dawns on her how perceptive and sensitive you really are. The tears that follow can be chalked up to tears of joy. Anyway, be sure to keep me posted on how her new business is going!


Dear OBA:

I met a cute guy at a party. We exchanged cell phone numbers and went out on a few dates. I was smitten. That was six months ago, and things have definitely heated up. There are a few things about him that are bothering me, though. He still hasn't invited me over to his place or told me what he does for a living. My girlfriends tell me he's hiding something (wife, kids, etc.), but I really like him and I don't want to lose him by seeming too jealous or clingy. Should I tell him how I'm feeling?

Lady E in Elmira

Dear Lady E:

Your girlfriends are the ones who are revealing how jealous they are! Don't let them keep you from Mr. Right. I can see where his behavior might raise a few eyebrows, but there's a perfectly logical explanation for each one of the "questions" you have. You haven't seen his place. Hmm, have you ever considered that this might be your fault? Perhaps he thinks you're a snob or a neat freak. He might be afraid that you'll think his place is too small, too messy, or not in the right neighborhood. Give him his space. If you still haven't seen his place after nine more months, then, perhaps, it's time to revisit the subject. The job thing is even easier to explain. He's probably a covert operative of some type. Instead of questioning him, you should feel flattered that (a) he cares about you enough not to involve you in any risky situations, and (b) he respects your intelligence enough to worry that you'd spot the clues to his "double life", putting yourself (and perhaps this nation's security) at risk. Don't mistake selflessness and patriotism for duplicity. He's given you his cell phone number, so he's already taken a big chance. Just consider yourself fortunate that your "James Bond" has opened up as much as he has. Patience, Lady E, patience.


Dear OBA:

I'm afraid that my wife is cheating on me. I've been unemployed for the last ten months. She's recently had to take a second job so that we can make ends meet. Or so she says. When I try to ask her about this second job, usually as she's trying to get ready for bed, she invariably claims to be too "worn out" to go into too many details. All I know is the name and address of the company and her supervisor's name and number. I haven't been able to check out the place because it's outside of walking distance, and my driver's license has been suspended for the last year (long story). I'd ask her in the morning, but, jeez, she's already out the door by 8:00 a.m. and I don't start stirring for at least another hour or so.

Another thing, in the early evening, the phone rings constantly. I answer only to hear a few moments of silence on the other end. When someone finally starts speaking, it's a person claiming to be a creditor or a telemarketer. When it's a creditor, the person always claims to be one of my creditors, just to make sure I get off the phone as quickly as possible. Anyway, I've hacked into my wife's e-mail accounts (the ones I know about, that is), but that hasn't turned up anything suspicious, other than the fact that her sister thinks I'm not good enough for her. Whatever. I also surreptitiously monitor her telephone conversations (on the alternate Saturdays she's not "working" at job number two). Again, nothing. This whole situation has me thoroughly stressed out. It's gotten to the point where it's interfering with my own job search. I scarcely have enough energy to turn on the computer most afternoons. I've thought about hiring a private eye, but unless she starts working overtime at her second "job", there's no way I could pay for it. Am I just projecting, or should I really be concerned?

Suspicious in Seattle

Dear Suspicious:

Trust, respect, and an equitable balance of responsiblities are the hallmark of any healthy relationship. If what you're telling me is true, your spouse is really dropping the ball here. She's an obvious work-a-holic, which leaves you to shoulder the burden for your own emotional well-being. She's clearly given you reason not to trust her! I suggest calling this second "job" and voicing your specific concerns to her supervisor. As for the private eye, remember, if she loves you, a little overtime will be a small price to pay to put your mind at ease.


Well, folks, that does it for Volume I. Keep the e-mails coming.


Tiger Woods and the "One Drop Rule"

Tiger Woods won the 2006 British Open to capture his 3rd claret jug and 11th major championship. I root for Tiger Woods whenever he tees it up. He and I actually have a lot in common. We both suffer from allergies and near-sightedness. We've both overcome childhood speech impediments. We both used to wear braces. Neither one of us goes by his first name. Our fathers both served in Vietnam. To the uninformed observer, we're both African-American males in our early 30s. Yes, it's a match made in heaven. (Well, he did attend Stanford, but I stopped holding that against him many years ago.)

In spite of all these similarities, my boy Tiger has made life a little hard on me at times. You see, Tiger, by his words and actions off the golf course has started quite a few arguments within my circle of family and friends. I'm usually the one trying to defend him. I've now given up.
I know what you're thinking. What has he said? What has he done? First, let me tell you what he hasn't said or done.

He hasn't gotten stopped for driving under the influence. The police haven't discovered him with a stash of marijuana. I don't think he's ever stayed at a hotel in Eagle, Colorado. He hasn't fathered a bunch of kids by a bunch of different women, or climbed into the gallery during a tournament and started throwing punches.

He's never said that he's not a role model. He's never referred to the millions he makes as "slave wages" or questioned how he could feed his family on an income equal to the GNP of several small countries. As far as I know, he's never threatened to eat Phil Mickelson's children. He's never referred to himself as his own favorite charity.

No, Tiger Woods said he was a "cablinasian" and he married a blonde bombshell from Sweden. Ouch. Tiger, you're killin' me.

For those of you who don't know, Tiger's "cablinasian" comment was a reference to his racial and ethnic heritage: caucasian; black; asian; and (american) indian. Long after he's stopped catching heat for that comment, I still catch heat for it.

I am all for the recognition of multi-racial identities. I wrote my senior thesis, in part, on this subject. Statistical data and anecdotal observation all support the contention that the "browning of America" has been going on for quite some time. Amen. If distinctions of skin color become nonexistent, then how can we not begin to judge each other based upon the content of our characters. But, we're not there yet, and Tiger Woods is a walking example of how far we still have to go. A "cablinasian" might as well be a character from the Lord of the Rings. You might think you know what it's supposed to represent, but it's nonetheless reserved for the realm of fantasy.

You see, when a black male of my generation, professional athlete or no, says or does something idiotic, I am often called upon either to defend or explain his words or actions. Before any of you reading this think that I am placing the blame solely on the shoulders of white America, let me assure you that this is not the case. Black men of older generations ask me for the same explanation of his behavior. And black women of ALL generations do the same. Who does he think he is? What the hell is he talking about? Cablinasian, uh, was that the guy Billy Dee Williams played in Star Wars?

Yes, I've just about heard it all. I've spent many years trying to explain his point. I've tried to say that he was merely trying to honor his Thai heritage. I've tried to say that he was really asking society to look at its own definitions. Alternately, I've said that he was just plain crazy or that he was misquoted. I'm done. Now, I just think he was wrong. Someday, we all may be able to look at our family trees and split our racial and ethnic identity into as many parts as we can find. Cablinasian may be one of over 256 boxes one can check on a job application, census questionnaire, or any other document placed in front of us. Until then, I will hearken back to the days of the Old South, and adhere to the "one drop rule". Here's why.

If Tiger Woods ever actually does anything absolutely crazy or embarassing, the term "cablinasian" will never come up. As a member of the black community, I will suddenly be called upon to embrace him. It happened with Michael Jackson, but it doesn't only happen with celebrities. I've watched "Cops" more times than I care to admit, and I've never heard a perp referred to by a multi-racial classification. "We have a male cablinasian suspect, early 30s on foot". Nope. Every statistic used to tell me that black males are underperforming white men, white women, and black women, certainly takes cablinasians into account. If I get lumped in with the cablinasian who's caught boosting cars, then I'm going to claim the one who's got 10 major professional golf victories. That only seems fair.

That brings me to issue # 2, Mrs. Tiger Woods. She seems like a very nice young woman. Still, a lot of black women take issue with Tiger's choice in a spouse. Again, I have been called on to defend him. Again, I will defend him no longer.

A female relative of mine has voiced the typical complaint on this. She feels that Tiger, like a lot of other educated, successful black men (see, no cablinasian reference) is sending the message that there are no black women he deems of marriageable quality. She usually proceeds to insult black men in general and bemoan our seeming fixation with interracial dating and marriage. She herself states unequivocally that she would not date or marry a non-black man. I have not yet asked her if this extends to a desert island scenario or a "survival of the human race depends on it" scenario. I guess we'll all just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, but, as a species I have my doubts as to our survival.

A friend of mine, an educated, successful black woman, has a slightly different view. She similarly badmouths Tiger (and Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Cuba Gooding, Jr., et. al.) for their marriage choices. She, however, criticizes Tiger for marrying someone who, if she were an African-American female, he would not give the time of day much less a wedding ring. She has told me that, in general, black women are ahead of black men in terms of education and earning power. To her, this means that, individually, a black woman can justify marrying a white man while a black man cannot justify marrying a white woman.

Well, I've finally broken down here. I used to feel that my friend's view was hypocritical. Now, however, I recognize that her argument is no more or less logical than my own argument regarding Tiger and his attempt at racial self-definition. We have both reached our decisions based upon both statistical data and upon what we deem is good for African-Americans as a whole. In essence, if I'm calling on Tiger to "take one for the team", why can't she do the same? I think I speak for her (and many others) when I say, Tiger, I wish things were different, we're just not at that point yet.

As Tiger celebrates his win, I will also be busy. I will be trying to construct a family tree for Mrs. Tiger Woods. I'm cautiously optimistic, but I think that if I go back far enough, I can find a way to apply the "one drop rule" to her as well. That should settle the issue. Perhaps a trip to Sweden is in order for 2007.



Mr. Bonds Goes to Hollywood

Word came out of San Francisco that a grand jury did not return an indictment against Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The sports and news media did not seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief, and the story was not treated as a hero's vindication. I watch a lot of movies, and this surprised me. To me, Barry Bonds is a Hollywood anti-hero of the first order. I think we should treat him like one.

To prove my point I've assembled a list of the main reasons people criticize Barry Bonds. After every one of those complaints is a quote from a feature film that successfully counters that line of reasoning.

(1) Barry Bonds is selfish.

"Greed is good." (1987) "Wall Street"

I know that Michael Douglas wasn't talking about baseball, but, darn it, the analogy works. All the pretentious sportswriters and kids in men's bodies who weep at card shows may deny it, but baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team game.

A player's performance is evaluated by owners, agents, arbitrators, and fans solely according to statistics which unflinchingly and unforgivingly determine the quality of individual performance, especially offensive performance. In the American League there's even a spot for a guy who never has to pick up a glove. We're not too far from the day when a full-time designated hitter gives his acceptance speech as he enters the Hall of Fame. If you're a #3 or #4 hitter, you may not be asked to bunt or otherwise sacrifice an at-bat unless it's the late innings of the seventh game of the World Series. Until then, boosting your stats and helping the team are the same thing. Barry Bonds hits in the #4 spot for the San Francisco Giants. Unless he's making an assist from the outfield (again measurable as an individual statistic), he is not going to be called upon to do anything resembling "sharing". Barry's going after records is good for Barry and it's good for the team.

In "The Fugitive", Tommy Lee Jones is all about getting his man and protecting his record. He tells Harrison Ford that he doesn't care whether or not he killed his wife. Granted, he softens this stance at the end of the film, but, I've always contended that's just an attempt at softening what would otherwise be an incredibly awkward moment between the film's two main characters.

(2) Barry Bonds is surly and often uncommunicative. When he does communicate, he's usually rude.

"There's no crying in baseball!" "A League of Their Own" (1992)

Let's face it, our sports heroes are not now and never have been of the sensitive, tear-at-the-ready variety. We give them a pass when there's a ceremony in their honor. The tears can flow freely at that time and that time only. Even then, they might catch a little ribbing. Just ask Mike Schmidt and Mark Messier. Exceptions are also made for illness. When Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle cried, a nation of men cried with them.

When we saw Barry Bonds cry on his reality television show "Bonds on Bonds" it made us, at best, awkwardly uncomfortable. I don't know about you, but I'll take surly Barry over emo-Barry any day of the week. Disregarding issues of bad p.r. and generally poor reviews, I contend that Barry's tears sealed that program's doom. John Wayne basically played the same surly and often uncommunicative character in every movie in which he starred. Yes, even in "The Quiet Man". He's an American icon. There's an airport, complete with larger-than-life statue, named after him in California. Let's stop taking Barry to task for doing the same thing.

(3) We know he's used steroids.

"The Waterboy's a cheater. Cut his head off!" "The Waterboy" (1998)

Just like the character Bobby Boucher, who did not know that his coach had bent the rules to get him on the team, Barry Bonds has stated that he did not know that the substances he took were illegal, performance enhancing substances. We didn't turn on Adam Sandler, neither should we turn on Barry Bonds.

Another point in all of this is that no one likes whistleblowers, unless they're named Donnie Brasco, John Serpico, or Huggy Bear.

Look, Al Pacino was at the peak of his powers in "Serpico", we'd have rooted for him unless he was portraying Hitler.

Johnny Depp always makes the ladies swoon, so we could forgive him in "Donnie Brasco" even while he was diming out, well, Al Pacino.

Antonio Fargas in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" could pull off platform shoes with goldfish swimming in them. (I know he didn't actually play a snitch in that one, but he was clearly reprising his Huggy Bear role).

In the case of Bobby Boucher, the title character in "The Waterboy" we forget the coach's indiscretion and instead fixate on the length that the coach of the rival team was willing to go to win the bowl game. Like the classic "snitch" we love to hate, his motives were far from pure.

In Barry's case, baseball's most prominent whistle blower is Jose Canseco. Yes, the same Jose Canseco who dated Madonna when his career was at its apex, and the same Jose Canseco who spent a season on "The Surreal Life" when his career was at (hopefully) its nadir. Jose published a tell-all book about steroid use for the not-so-noble motives of spite and profit. For the record, he never says he personally witnessed Barry taking steroids. He simply says that he noted the signs. I guess these were the very signs the admitted steroid user saw every day when he looked at himself in the mirror.

(4) (a) We know he's cheated on his wife.

"I'm not going to be ignored, Dan." "Fatal Attraction" (1987)

Let me go on record as saying I'm strongly against marital infidelity. Hollywood generally supports me here.

Michael Douglas paid for his infidelity dearly.

The guy in "The Howling" stepped outside for a tryst and ended up getting turned into a werewolf.

Nick Nolte in "Cape Fear" had to camp out on the couch because his wife got reminded of a previous indiscretion.

Don't get me started on the bad things that happened to Wesley Snipes in "Jungle Fever".

Thanks to the revelations by his one-time mistress, we all now know a great deal more about Barry Bonds' private life than we ever wanted to know. She will also be a key witness if an indictment is ever handed down against him. Still, Hollywood has told me that these cheating husbands (except for the guy from "The Howling") are capable of redemption and should be given second chances. Can't we give Barry the chance?

(b) We think he's cheated on his taxes.

"None of them ever want to pay taxes again. Ever." "Armageddon" (1998)

Doesn't Bruce Willis sum up the way we all feel on this one?

I'm not going to get into a whole he said she said thing here. Again, nothing's been proven and those who say Barry's guilty clearly have their own axe to grind.

There are only a few instances in which Hollywood presents the tax man as the hero of the story. In "The Shawshank Redemption", his knowledge of how to beat the clear intentions of the federal tax code eventually helps Tim Robbins escape from prison.

Just remember, to side against Barry on this one means that you're siding with the IRS. Just chew on that for a minute or two.

(5) I just don't like the guy.

"I'm not perfect, but who are we kidding, neither are you. And you want to know what? I dig it." "Wedding Crashers" (2005)

This is really a combination of the four reasons previously noted, plus anything else one can come up with.

One thing Hollywood has definitely taught me is that I can still root for drunkards, murderers, and thieves. We all contribute something and we're all capable of redemption.

Bogart started off "The African Queen" as a drunken layabout. He ended the movie as a heroic newlywed and all it cost him was an old boat and several cases of gin.

Eastwood's Man With No Name often did some very, very bad things. Even when he had a name and had gotten a little soft in "Unforgiven", we're still supposed to root for him despite the bloody crimes he'd committed.

Martin Lawrence nearly made us forget that he was a largely unrepentant jewel thief in "Blue Streak". He portrayed another thief-as-protagonist in "What's the Worst That Could Happen?".

In every role he's been given to this point, Vin Diesel proved that neither talent nor looks were necessary ingredients for stardom. (I'm quite sure that last one's not related to my point, but I've just always wanted to get it out.)

So, the next time you're ready to judge Barry Bonds, think of the times you've been selfish and surly. Think of the times in which you've been tempted to cheat or cut corners. Then think of all the movies you've seen in which this behavior is not only tolerated but actually encouraged. If you can cheer for the leading men in the movies I've mentioned above, then you can certainly find it within yourself to cheer for Barry Bonds.

Play ball!