Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Magnificent Seventh: Tiger Starts His Year with a Win and Closes in on One of Golf's Most Hallowed Records . . . or Does He?

Tiger Woods roared from 2 shots back on Sunday to win the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California, to defeat Charles Howell III by 2 strokes. His surge was an impressive display of power, touch, and consummate skill under pressure. In other words, it was typical Tiger Woods.

He closed with a 6 under par 66 and claimed his seventh consecutive PGA Tour victory, dating back to his win at the Open Championship at Hoylake in July 2006.

This is the second-longest streak in PGA Tour history, behind only Byron Nelson, who won 11 straight PGA tournaments in 1945. Before he sank his par putt on 18 to seal the victory, Tiger's streak of six-in-a-row had tied him fo second-plac in the record book with Ben Hogan's run in 1948 and his own streak of six straight wins over two seasons in 1999 and 2000.

Still, as with the debate over what to call his string of 4 straight majors victories in 2000-01, how to define this streak of consecutive PGA Tour tournaments has caused a minor controversy among some golf fans. Then, it was whether or not to call Tiger's achievement the Grand Slam, a term coined by O.B. Keeler after Bobby Jones won the U.S. and British Amateur Championships and the U.S. Open and Open Championship in 1930. Many self-described traditionalists claimed that to be labeled as such, the true Grand Slam had to be achieved in a calendar year. Others said that winning four consecutive majors was the criteria, regardless of whether the feat was achieved in a single year or over the course of two seasons. Thus, the "Tiger Slam" was born.

Now, many of these same "traditionalists" are arguing that Tiger's streak ended last year either when he lost in the first round of the HSBC Match Play last September or when he finished in 2nd place in stroke play events in Europe and Asia. Those who defend the streak say that, as with Byron Nelson's 11 straight wins, the streak only applies to PGA Tour tournaments.

Both sides present cogent arguments. The traditionalists say that Byron Nelson's streak should stand alone, regardless of how many consecutive PGA Tour tournaments Tiger Woods wins, because Nelson's PGA Tour tournament streak was not interrupted by losses in non-PGA Tour events. These traditionalists argue that those who claim the streak is now at 7 are, in effect, giving Tiger a "mulligan". They have a point, but the fact that Nelson's streak included a victory at the Miami Four Ball, in which he teamed with Harold (Jug) McSpaden to win four matches, simply highlights the fact that comparing the PGA Tour in 1945 to the PGA Tour in 2006-07 is an impossible task.

The defenders of Tiger's streak state that it applies to PGA Tour tournaments, and that, by definition, Tiger Woods has now won the last seven PGA Tour tournaments in which he has competed. The PGA Tour does not recognize Tiger Woods' non-tour victories in its official records and statistics, how then can non-tour losses be counted against a PGA Tour winning streak? In that sense an analogy can be drawn to a major league baseball player who, after hitting in 30 straight MLB games, plays a few exhibition games in Japan in which he goes hitless. When he returns to MLB play, his hit streak would still stand at 30 games.

For what it's worth, Tiger Woods himself has stated his streak ended at 6 last year. It is obvious that he is not particularly concerned as to what others label his current run of stellar play. He is focused on doing what he does best, winning tournaments and adding to his already considerable legacy. Golf's best golfer started 2007 the way he ended 2006, playing great golf and poised to resume his assault on the sport's record books. He is far and away the best in the game today and probably the best golfer of all time. I would hope that is something on which both sides in the "streak debate" can agree.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Return of the Queen: Serena Williams wins the 2007 Australian Open; What does it mean for her and what does it say about the state of the WTA?

The 2007 Australian Open's Women's Final lasted only 63 minutes. It probably seemed like an eternity to top-seeded (and the new world's #1 when the WTA announces its new rankings on Monday) Maria Sharapova of Russia, as she was beaten convincingly, 6-1, 6-2, by unseeded Serena Williams of the United States.

In her defense, Sharapova definitely did not bring her "A" game. She served up six double faults against only three aces. Her first serve percentage was only 51%, and, when forced to deliver a second serve to a focused Williams, Sharapova won only 26% of those points. She also faced an opponent seemingly (and incongruously) at the peak of her considerable powers. Serena Williams played perhaps the best and cleanest tennis of her career. She hit 28 winners against only 13 unforced errors. It was a dominating performance, and Williams announced to the tennis world that, when focused and injury-free, she is still arguably the women's game's most talented player and definitely its fiercest competitor.

A return to championship form by Serena Williams is obviously good for the WTA Tour. Justine Henin, the world's number 1 heading into the Australian Open, withdrew for personal reasons, making Sharapova the top-seeded player in Melbourne. Lindsay Davenport announced her retirement in mid-December. Kim Clijsters declared before the start of the year that this season would be her last. Amelie Mauresmo, despite winning two majors in 2006, still delivers performances that cause observers to wonder about her mental toughness. Her play in Australia, which culminated in a loss to unseeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in the 4th Round, did nothing to quiet the naysayers. The third-seed, 2004 U.S. Open Champion, Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, also lost in the 4th round, to the 16th seed, Shahar Peer of Israel. After a first-round scare against France's Camille Pin, Sharapova had a comparatively easier time than Williams making it to the finals. During the final three rounds, however, her powerful first serve, an integral part of her game, deserted her. Her opponents in the quarterfinals, Anna Chakvetadze of Russia, and semifinals, Clijsters, were unable to take advantage. In the finals, she met an opponent who did.

The quarterfinal runs of Peer and Safarova were great stories, as was 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova's advancing to the semifinals. Still, it is a case of "good news, bad news" for the WTA when unheralded players do not seem to have to play their best tennis to knock out two of the top three seeds at a slam, and the top seed is obliterated in the final in just over one hour. Parity is wonderful, but only when parity also produces competitive and exciting matches.

In that sense, Serena Williams' victory, her third win at the Australia Open, and the eighth major championship of her career, is also a case of "good news, bad news". The good news is that one of women's tennis' most exciting performers is back. The bad news is that an unseeded player with questionable fitness and little match play coming into the tournament won it all, while several of the top seeds displayed woefully inconsistent serves and erratic ground strokes. While a stirring run by Serena Williams may have answered many questions about her commitment to the sport, it may have also raised many questions about the current quality of the women's game.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

When Antony Met Cleopatra: Episode 2 of Season 2 of HBO's "Rome"

After the bloody conclusion to the events of Episode 1, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo return to Vorenus' home. Vorenus tosses the decapitated head of Erastes Fulmen into a corner, and lies down. He stares despondently at the ceiling.

In the streets of the Aventine, there is utter chaos and gang violence in the wake of Erastes Fulmen's death.

In the next shot, we see that Pullo and his new bride, Eirene, are living with Vorenus. Eirene is quite worried. She calls Casa de Vorenus a "house of death," and worries that any child the two of them conceived within its walls would be "a monster". Wow, for most of last season this woman didn't say a word, now it's nag, nag, nag.

Pullo, newly married and even more newly hen-pecked, decides to have that long overdue chat with his old friend. We learn that a month has passed since the opening scene, and Vorenus looks like he might not have moved in that entire time.

Vorenus blames himself for the deaths of his wife, his children, and Caesar. Viewing things from his perspective, this is a very logical conclusion.

Meanwhile, Atia and Marc Antony are having a discussion about Cleopatra, who has just arrived in Rome. Atia's son, Octavian, asks Antony why he hasn't yet received Caesar's money in accordance with the great man's last will and testament. Antony assures him that he'll see to it. Octavian seems less than convinced.

Antony and Cleopatra meet to broker a deal. Cleopatra wants Antony to pledge to protect her throne with Roman military strength. In exchange, Antony wants 10 grain shipments per month for Rome, and a monthly payment of 48,000 denarii's as a "personal gift". Posca and Cleopatra's chief servant and counsel, Charmian, haggle over the "personal gift", finally settling on a monthly sum of 42,000 denarii's. (I think these two would make a very cute couple, by the way)

Antony wants an even more personal gift from Cleopatra. Cleopatra says that it's possible, but only if Antony fist acknowledges her son, Caesarion, as a lawful son of the late Gaius Julius Caesar Dictator. Antony refuses, and earns himself a slap in the process.

As she leaves her sit-down with Marc Antony, Cleopatra spies Titus Pullo amidst the crowd waiting for an audience with the consul. The two exchange a look that makes it clear neither has forgotten their "encounter" roughly 9 months before Caesarion's birth.

Marcus Tullus Cicero is the next person to meet with Antony. Cicero seems to grown a spine since the last time since we saw him last, and we quickly learn why. Antony personally summoned him back to Rome to endorse the list of candidates for the upcoming elections. Antony claims that Posca discovered this list among Caesar's papers. Cicero sees right through him, and makes it clear that he knows these potential candidates paid Antony (through Posca) to get their names put on a list drawn up long after Caesar's body was cold.

After saying that he knows Antony can't kill him because he needs him to run the Senate, says that he will provide his endorsement of these candidates, but only if he's allowed to strike the names of the worst scoundrels off of the list. Antony grudgingly agrees, but it's clear there is still plenty of bad blood between these two.

Marc Antony is obviously not enjoying the business of running Rome. He calls an early end to the day's business. As he heads for home accompanied by his guards, Titus Pullo steps forward and tells Antony about the condition Lucius Vorenus is in. Marc Antony accompanies Pullo to Vorenus' House of Death for an intervention, Roman style.

It becomes obvious from the start that Marc Antony certainly knows his man. He starts off with a dose of tough love. Antony expresses his disgust with Vorenus' condition. Antony tells him that he (Vorenus) is responsible for Caesar's death and that his name is "disgraced forever". He asks Vorenus why he has not done his duty and opened his own stomach. Vorenus answers that Dis, Roman god of the Underworld, is his master and that Dis wants him to suffer more before taking his life. Antony tells him that he is Vorenus' master, by sacred oath under the standard of the 13th Legion.

Antony picks up Erastes Fulmen's rotting head (which hadn't been moved), and tosses it outside. He asks Vorenus if he would like a chance at redemption.

At the house of Atia of the Julii, Octavian observes the preparation for his mother's dinner party. He sees several hard-looking men sharpening their blades outside. He puts two and two together rather quickly when he sees that Servilia, still Antony's hostage, has been dragged to the party. He knows that his mother doesn't plan on letting Servilia leave alive.

Atia stages a show of reconciliation with Servilia. She says that it is enough for her to know that she's won and to see Servilia humbled. The two women exchange a formal kiss. Octavian confronts his mother, and, after she confirms that Antony has no knowledge of her plan to murder his hostage, he quickly fills Antony in on the details. Antony and Atia argue briefly. He wins, and Atia tells her armed henchmen that their services will not be required.

Cleopatra makes a grand entrance to the party. Her son, Caesarion, accompanies her. Cleopatra is in full seductress mode, which entrances Antony and threatens Atia. After dinner has been served and consumed, Cleopatra makes ready to depart. She tells Atia that she "[has] made a friend for life." As the two exchange their own formal kiss, Atia whispers to her new-found friend, "[d]ie screaming, you pig-spawned trollop."

Atia's sometime henchman (and sometime lover), Timon, returns home to find that his older brothr, Levi, has resurfaced in Rome after 9 years in Jerusalem. Although Levi claims at first that he's come to Rome to expand his business, the spice, cloth, and oil trade, Timon finally gets him to admit the truth. Levi was forced to leave Jerusalem because he spoke too freely about the Pharisees' "licking the boots of Roman soldiers." Timon warns his brother that he's in Rome now, and that he doesn't want to see his wife and children placed in any jeopardy.

On the Aventine, the priests of Concord (Concordia), goddess of harmony, call a meeting of all the captains of the collegia. They are the ones responsible for the gang violence as each is trying to claim a share of the power and authority on the Aventine that once belonged to Erastes Fulmen. We cut to Pullo, who is trying to get Vorenus cleaned up.

Vorenus parley with the captains. He says that the Aventine college is now his, by the authority of Mark Antony. He tells the captains that they are to stop their fighting, and, in exchange for a generous stipend, are to help him maintain law and order on the Aventine Hill. When one man, Gaius Acerbo, asks why anyone should do business with a "poor, cursed, hounded beast . . ." Vorenus responds grabbing the sacred statue of Concord and smashing it to pieces. He declares himself a son of Hades. The captains quickly realize that a man willing to desecrate the statue of a goddess and announce his allegiance to the Underworld is not likely to balk at much of anything when it comes to mere mortals.

Octavian confronts Antony again about Caesar's money. Antony again puts him off. The young man goes to his sister, Octavia, and informs her of his plans to fill the leadership vacuum left by Caesar's death. She laughs, until she realizes that her brother is deadly serious.

A public announcement is made that Octavian has given the common people the money promised them in Caesar's will. Atia and Antony burst into Octavian's bedroom. They are upset about the announcement. They are even more upset when Octavian tells them that he has borrowed against his inheritance from Caesar (already legally in his name) to the tune of several million sesterces, and that he plans to enter public life. Atia strikes her son. Surprisingly, he hits her back. A physical struggle ensues between Antony and Octavian. In the end, Antony overpowers Octavian, and only Atia prevents him from choking the young man to death. Octavian, though physically over-matched, doesn't back down. He shouts at a departing Antony that the consul is "not fit to lead Rome".

Pullo is interviewing candidates to fill vacant positions of authority within the Aventine college. Ironic, since Pullo, along with Vorenus, was responsible for the violent deaths that caused these positions to become vacant in the first place. Mascius, one of their old comrades from the 13th Legion, shows up, ready to join their "merry band". Mascius said he'd heard word that a "black-hearted villain" in league with the gods of the underworld had taken over the Aventine. A man named Lucius Vorenus. Vorenus chuckles at this, but Pullo warns him that the gods do not like that sort of thing. Vorenus asks him "[w]hat more can the gods do to me? How can they punish me now?" He seems to think these are rhetorical questions.

Servilia and Cicero are celebrating what they think is wonderful news: the falling out between Antony and Octavian. Cicero, while pleased, thinks that Octavian cannot hope to rival Antony. Servilia thinks otherwise, commenting that Caesar would not have chosen his heir on a whim. She wants the Senate to invite her son to return to Rome. Cicero says that the wiser strategy would be to wait and see how things play out.

Octavian has left both his mother's house and Rome itself. In the letter he left for Atia, he expresses his displeasure over the fact that she took Antony's side over his. He says that he is still intent upon pursuing a political career, and that he hopes that one day his mother will realize "the gravity of [her] mistake."

Octavian and his men depart Rome. On a dusty Italian road, they pass a slave transport. Octavian pays the transport no mind, but, as the episode ends, we see that among these slaves are: Vorenus' daughters, Vorena the Elder and Vorena the Younger; their aunt, Lyde; and Lucius, the son of Vorenus' late wife, Niobe.

A Sense of Betrayal: Another Fantasy Congress Update

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

A few days ago, I went through these five stages of the grieving process after I logged onto the home site of "Fantasy Congress" and discovered that the League I'd joined had been reset, and that I would have to draft a brand new team. I'd received no advanced warning from my League's commissioner.

So, after the fifteen minutes it took me to move from denial to acceptance, I tightened my belt, rolled up my sleeves, and selected the legislators who would comprise Bayou Boyz Mark II.

Out of a sense of loyalty and fair play, I tried to select the same members I'd drafted the first time around. Sadly, a few of my competitors had alread snatched up a few of my previous picks.

So, here's my new roster. Many of the names are the same, but there are a few newcomers


Spencer Bachus (R)
Howard Berman (D)
John Murtha (D)
Nancy Pelosi (D)

Supporting Cast

Mary Bono (R)
Elijah Cummings (D)
Jesse L. Jackson (D)
Tom Udall (D)


Rodney Alexander (R)
Raul Grijalva (D)
Kendrick Meek (D)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D)

Upper Senators

Joseph Biden (D)
Ted Kennedy (D)

Lower Senators

Evan Bayh (D)
Hillary Clinton (D)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Real Obama Question: What Would His Candidacy Tell Us About Ourselves?

At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, a young first-term Senator stepped out of the shadows and into the national limelight. Though he did not emerge from that convention as his party’s nominee for either the Presidency or the Vice-Presidency, Sen. John F. Kennedy turned that national exposure into a surge of momentum that eventually carried him all the way to the White House.

The buzz surrounding Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois reminds many seasoned Beltway observers of Pres. John F. Kennedy at a similar point in his political career. Sen. Obama gained national prominence at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Though he has not announced that he is a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, such an announcement seems, at this point, to be a fait accompli.

Despite his current q-ratings, it will be very difficult for Sen. Obama to secure his party’s nomination, much less the White House itself. Nonetheless, it seems inevitable that his candidacy will represent a watershed moment in American politics. It is likely to provide concrete evidence of our society’s true attitudes towards race, ethnicity, and even religious tolerance. It will hopefully force us to examine the often-hypocritical stance we take towards information about politicians’ past behavior, particularly when it comes to recreational drug use. We have a history of being quick to condemn behavior that, in ourselves, we are just as quick to label “youthful indiscretions”.

The Positives

Sen. Obama is young, articulate, and photogenic. He presents himself with a directness and candor that stands in stark contrast to those politicians who often seem incapable of providing straightforward answers to even the most unambiguous questions.

He is inarguably intelligent. Obama is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, who served as President of the Law Review. He taught at the University of Chicago while working for a firm specializing in civil rights law.

Sen. Obama also seems to know, whether by instinct or observation, how to market himself. He recognized at the very start of his political career that some skeletons should be exhumed and displayed as early as possible. Sen. Obama revealed his teenaged drug use in an autobiography published before his first political campaign. When asked by Jay Leno whether he inhaled, he simply replied “That was the point.” This answer showed a politician capable of thinking on his feet. It also showed a man with the ability and willingness to admit to his mistakes without coming across as either “preachy” or hypocritical. To many, that statement turned a potential land mine into a minor issue.

Barack Obama was not a member of the United States Senate when many of his potential opponents were faced with the decision whether or not to authorize the President to invade Iraq. As such, he does not have to contend with charges that he rubber-stamped what is now seen by many as a fundamentally flawed policy. Nor does he have to contend with charges that he flip-flopped on the issue, supporting the Bush agenda when it enjoyed immense popular support only to withdraw that support when that popularity began to wane.

The Negatives

Sen. Obama’s opponents are certain to highlight his lack of experience, particularly with respect to national politics and international issues. Expect them to bring this up early and often. Unfortunately for Obama, Pres. Bush’s current approval ratings mean that he cannot even defend himself by asserting that his level of experience is at least on par with that of George W. Bush when he took office in January 2001.

He also faces the same Catch-22 facing any Democrat seeking to gain the White House in 2008. It will be impossible for him to win the general election without securing his party’s nomination. Yet the stance on issues that he might have to take to secure that nomination might make him unpalatable to voters in the general election.

If history is any guide, the idea that “every boy can be President” is a myth with no basis in reality. No non-white male and only one non-Protestant has ever been elected President of the United States. If, 46 years ago, many voters wondered whether or not a son of Joseph P. Kennedy would take direct orders from the Vatican while seated in the Oval Office, what sort of concerns might the voting public have about a multiracial candidate with the middle name of "Hussein", who was educated, however briefly, at what one magazine report described as a madrassa (Islamic religious school) in Indonesia? From the fifth grade on, Sen. Obama attended and eventually graduated from a preparatory school in Honolulu, Hawaii. Still, the issue of his alleged “Muslim education” (a thinly veiled accusation of Muslim indoctrination) has already been raised.

The flip side to the fact that Obama does not carry any baggage with respect to Iraq, is that he will now have to choose his stance on the war very, very carefully. Voters have had a comparatively long time to process and evaluate the stances on the war taken by his opponents, however conflicting and contradictory they may be. If Sen. Obama makes a statement or casts a vote that proves unpopular, he will not have very long to recover before the primary season rolls around.

Ultimately though, the largest obstacle Sen. Obama faces is that he is in danger of “peaking” too soon. A great deal of his appeal lies in the fact that he’s a fresh face, a possible alternative to the seemingly preordained nomination of Sen. Hilary Clinton. As much as Americans love underdogs, we have a similar distaste for overwhelming favorites. Even if we know the little guy’s not going to win, we cheer for him loudly all the same. But it’s only January 2007. How can a fresh face remain fresh between now and the start of primary season in 2008? Only time will tell.

On Monday, January 22, CNN filed a story from Indonesia regarding the early education of Barack Obama. According to CNN, Sen. Obama attended the Basuki school in Jakarta, Indonesia, for two years, before transferring to a Catholic school. CNN interviewed one of Sen. Obama's classmates, as well as the Basuki school's deputy headmaster. Both men stated that the school was not and never had been an Islamic school.

Just Get Over It?! A Virginia Lawmaker's advice to blacks about slavery

On Tuesday, January 16, 2007, a member of the Virginia state legislature said that black people should "get over" slavery. Del. Frank D. Hargrove, age 79, made his statements in the course of voicing opposition to a proposed measure that would apologize on behalf of the state to the descendants of slaves. Hargrove’s main point was that, since slavery ended nearly 140 years ago, Virginia’s black citizens should just “get over it”.

Needless to say, black lawmakers in Virginia (and elsewhere) were swift to denounce Hargrove's comments. I also denounce Hargrove's comments.

140 years is a long time, and if this measure were advocating some form of monetary reparation, I could see several reasons for voicing an objection, the main one being simple unfeasibility. It would be one thing if there existed a major corporation that, upon examination, was actually Virginia Confederated Slave Holdings d/b/a RicherThanSinCo. RicherThanSinCo. could, of course, be easily traced to a partnership between and among Virginia’s wealthiest plantation owners. This is not the case, however. Reparations would end up coming from the pockets of taxpayers. Many of these taxpayers would be the descendants of individuals who were not slaveowners or otherwise direct beneficiaries of the slave system. For others, at what point do the sins of the father no longer apply?

By that same token, there was a time, a generation or two removed from slavery, when determining just how much might have been owed to whom and by whom could, at least in theory, have been a viable option. With the passage of time, and as more time continues to pass, this is just not going to happen.

The issue of monetary reparations, whatever its original merits, has, unfortunately, become a boogeyman that pundits and politicians alike trot out to frighten members of the public who don’t understand that it’s an idea with little to no hope of ever becoming a reality.

An apology, though, is an entirely different story. An apology constitutes an important symbolic gesture. An apology represents more than just an explicit recognition of the inhumanity and barbarity of the system of chattel slavery that existed in the antebellum South. An apology is also an implicit recognition of the racial inequities that continued long after slavery ended. It is a recognition of the damaging legacy of racial violence and Jim Crow. In short, an apology would cost Virginia nothing, but its value would be immeasurable.

Blacks don’t need to “just get over” slavery. Legislators like Frank Hargrove just need to “get it”.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fantasy Congress Update: Who's Hot and Who's Not

As I described in an earlier blog entry, I signed up for a public league in Fantasy Congress in late October 2006. Obviously, this was before the November elections, and I did my homework before selecting my team of legislators. I listened to the pundits. I walked the streets, trying to gauge public opinion. I watched C-SPAN. I called several psychic hotlines. In the end, I gambled all on the belief that the Democrats would gain control of both Houses of Congress. The gamble paid off. Well, it paid off in a figurative sense. No money changed hands, or anything like that.

It’s been almost three months since I joined the league. It’s high time to see how my team, the “Bayou Boyz” is doing.

The Top Gun

So far, my team MVP has been Rep. Mary Bono from California’s 45th District. She’s my leading scorer with 95 points. Rep. Bono co-sponsored H.R. 6429, the purpose of which is to treat payments by charitable organizations to a certain class of firefighters as exempt payments. This piece of legislation alone was worth 40 points. If/when it meets with Presidential approval, there will be plenty more points where those came from. Unfortunately, with the Dems having taken control, I may eventually have to bench Rep. Bono. Still, I will never forget her contribution.

Pulling Their Weight

Rep. Charles Rangel, of New York’s 15th District, has definitely been a solid contributor. His 85 points make him my team’s second-leading scorer. I didn’t join the league until the House of Representatives had already passed this piece of legislation, but H.R. 1472 was passed by the Senate on November 16 and signed by President Bush on December 18. This meant 80 points for the Bayou Boyz. The purpose of the bill, incidentally, was to designate the U.S. Postal Service Facility on 167 E. 124th Street in New York, New York, as the “Tito Puente Post Office Building.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

Tito Puente

Rep. Spencer Bachus, 6th District, Alabama, has chipped in with 30 points. He co-sponsored H.R. 6345, passed by the Senate on December 8. This bill’s purpose is to make a conforming amendment to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act with respect to the exemption of certain insured depository institutions.

Waiting for Them to "Heat Up"

The Junior Senator from New York, Hilary Rodham Clinton, is also on my team. I know her presidential aspirations might be a distraction, but I’m confident in her ability to multi-task. She’s scored 10 points so far, from 2 pieces of legislation addressing, respectively, nuclear terrorism and the collection of crime data relating to the occurrence of school-related crime in elementary schools and secondary schools.

Rep. Barney Frank of the 4th District of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has contributed 5 points. I’m expecting big things from Rep. Frank this legislative session.


I’m confident that the rest of my lineup, which includes the Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and seasoned veterans like Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Evan Bayh, and Sen. Joe Biden, and Rep. John Murtha, will be a finely honed legislative machine.

The Bayou Boyz are currently ranked 46th out of 100 teams. Keep in mind, however, that I joined the league much later in the game than many of those currently ranked ahead of me.

What I’ve Learned

I went through a brief period my third year of law school during which I watched quite a bit of C-SPAN. Since signing up to play Fantasy Congress, I’ve once again been tuning in to C-SPAN and C-SPAN2. I discovered that if we were attending the same cocktail party, I’d only recognize Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada if he were wearing a nametag and sporting a button that said “Kiss Me, I’m the New Senate Majority Leader”. I’ve also been reminded of why I stopped watching C-SPAN during my third year of law school. I’m not saying that these Congressional sessions can get boring, but . . .hmm, actually that’s exactly what I’m saying. I guess, at the end of the day, I’d rather watch paint dry than watch the television equivalent of someone describing the paint-drying process. I’m just old-fashioned that way, I guess.

Ultimately, for me, Fantasy Congress is not just about competing against a bunch of people I don’t know and will likely never meet. No, Fantasy Congress is about much more than that. Of course, I’d be disappointed with a poor finish. I could see myself being devastated to the point where, after smashing my computer in a fit of rage, I might lapse into a state of near catatonic despondency. But, that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s clear to me already that this league has spurred me to take a much closer look at this country’s legislative process. And that’s the essence of Fantasy Congress.

Fantasy Congress

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Patriots vs. Colts?! No, this one is all about Brady vs. Manning

They are inarguably the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation. With respect to enshrinement in Canton, it seems not a question of if, but when.

Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, has led his team to 3 Super Bowl victories, winning the MVP trophy in 2 of them. He is the heir apparent as football’s greatest clutch performer to his childhood hero, Joe Montana.

Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, has won 2 league MVP awards and holds the NFL record for touchdowns in a single season. He is on pace to re-write the record book. Still, one can’t help but look at his post-season results, and think that he might end up supplanting Dan Marino as the “best quarterback never to win a Super Bowl”. Despite his prolific numbers, Manning usually takes a back seat to Brady come playoff time; and playoff time is when great players become legends.

Strangely enough, these two very different quarterbacks have taken very similar paths to get to this point in the 2006-07 season. Both put up very good but great, by their standards, regular season numbers. Both led teams that were, at various points in the season, written off as pretenders and not contenders. Their teams have won one home playoff game and one road playoff game each. In these games, neither superstar quarterback really played like one.

This postseason, Manning, the prolific passer has put up downright pedestrian numbers. In victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, he threw more touchdowns than interceptions, and in neither game did he top the 300-yard mark.

Meanwhile, the normally unflappable and ever-consistent Brady followed a strong performance against the New York Jets with a game against the San Diego Chargers that he’d probably just as soon forget. If not for a heads-up play by Troy Brown, Captain Comeback’s third interception of the game would likely have heralded the end of the Patriots’ season.

We all know how important this game is for Peyton Manning. He is playing in another AFC Championship Game, at home, against the team that has knocked him out of the playoffs on several occasions, and the quarterback whose 3 Super Bowl rings simply add fuel to the “Manning can’t win the big one” fire.

Still, the stakes are surprisingly high for Tom Brady, as well. His reputation as an all-time great quarterback hinges on his being a winner. It’s never been about numbers with Brady. Rather, it’s been about his ability to rise to the occasion. This is why so many fans and pundits alike rank him ahead of Peyton Manning, despite Manning’s statistical superiority. Since capturing that third Super Bowl, Joe Cool Version 2.0 has not always done so. A Colts’ win, particularly if they follow it up with a victory in Super Bowl XLI, would be seen by some as an indication that Peyton Manning had moved to the Head of the Class.

So, for these two great, young quarterbacks, this game is about far more than which team will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLI. This game is about legacies. Can Peyton Manning put to rest the contention that he can’t win the big game on the big stage? Can Tom Brady silence any whispers that his anointing as his generation's Joe Montana was premature? This is a game you don’t want to miss.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No Thunder Down Under

It’s January. Tennis’ first major of 2007 is being played in Melbourne, Australia at, arguably, the finest tennis facility in the world.

There are great storylines.

Can Roger Federer continue his dominance? Can Rafael Nadal put in a strong performance on a surface many feel suits his game almost as well as his beloved clay? Can James Blake take that next step and move from “feel good story” to “serious contender”? Can Andy Roddick show that his performances at the end of last year’s hardcourt season were not a fluke? Which Marat Safin will show up?

On the women’s side, can Amelie Mauresmo defend her title and put to rest once and for all any questions about her mental toughness? Can Maria Sharapova win a second consecutive major title and secure the #1 ranking? Is Serena Williams serious about her comeback or is she simply “talking the talk”?

In spite of these positive factors, as usual, I find that I’m not particularly interested in the Australian Open.

Believe me, I have my reasons.

Are you people familiar with the concept of an off-season?

Tennis players often complain (justifiably) that their season goes on too long. The final of the year-end Tennis Masters Cup was played on November 20. The deciding match of the Davis Cup Final (won by Russia over Argentina) was played on December 4. Less than 6 weeks later, they’re playing the first round of the Aussie Open.

I contend that it’s not only the players who need a break. The fans need one, too. Only golf’s off-season is shorter, and they don’t play the Masters in mid-January.

Too many other sports viewing options

If you’re a sports junkie like me, you’ve got a lot on your plate at this time of year. The NFL Playoffs are in full swing. In college basketball, teams have just started playing their all-important conference schedules. The NBA season is nearing the mid-way point.

Something’s gotta give, and, for me, that something ends up being tennis.

3. Time Zone Issues

I know I’m going to sound like the stereotypical “Ugly American”, but I’m just being honest. In order for me to watch any of these matches live, I would have to stay up until the wee small hours of the morning. As much as I love tennis, I’m not pulling an all-nighter just so I can see whether David Nalbandian can make it to the Round of 16.

The matches are re-broadcast the next day, but, in this era of constant sports updates (via television, radio, or internet), it would practically require my locking myself in a sensory deprivation chamber in order for me to not find out the outcome of these matches before they’re re-broadcast. Again, as much as I love tennis, I’m not watching too many matches the outcome of which I already know.

4. The Power of History

In 1988, the Australian Open completed its transformation into the tournament many now know and love: rebound ace courts; a retractable roof; and everything done first-class.

Unfortunately, there are those of us who still remember when the Australian Open was the red-headed stepchild of sports’ major championships. I remember when the Aussie Open was played in December and the top players did not exactly flock to the tournament. In fact, they stayed away in droves.

I truly became a tennis fan in 1981. I loved Bjorn Borg and hated John McEnroe. During the early to mid-1980s, I generally did not find out who had won the Australian Open until I heard the player’s name mentioned during a French Open broadcast that next June. But wait, there’s more.

If anyone ever asks you who won the 1986 Australian Open, men’s or women’s side, and you draw a blank, don’t panic. It’s a trick question. There was no Aussie Open played in 1986. I know it was done because the championship was being moved back to its original January date, but that still eroded almost all of its credibility in my young mind. 20 years later, the Australian Open has regained much of that credibility, but not all of it.

5. Rebound Ace and the Agassi Factor

(If you’re an Andre Agassi fan, read the following at your own risk)

As stated above, starting in 1988, the Australian Open moved from the grass courts at Kooyong to the Rebound Ace hardcourts of Melbourne (nee Flinders) Park. Little did I know at that time that this would one day be a source of tremendous bitterness.

Rebound Ace, particularly in the January Australian heat, is a dangerous surface. If a player can walk away (preferably under his own power) with only a mild ankle sprain or two, he should probably consider himself lucky. That, however, is not why I’m bitter.

You see, once they started to play the Aussie Open on Rebound Ace, it meant that, technically, tennis’ 4 major championships were now played on 4 different surfaces: Rebound Ace hardcourt; clay; grass; and Har-Tru hardcourt. Fast forward to June 6, 1999, a date which will live in infamy. That was the date on which Andre Agassi defeated Andrei Medvedev to win the French Open Championship. This gave Agassi his 4th major title and made him one of only a handful of men to win all of tennis’ major championships.

This means that, until Roger Federer wins the French Open, I will have to listen to Agassi fans ramble on (ad nauseam) about the fact that their beloved ‘Dre is the only men’s player to win grand slam titles on 4 different surfaces. Granted, 99% of them don’t know what makes a Rebound Ace hardcourt different from a Har-Tru hardcourt, but that won’t stop them from waxing poetic about their hero’s unmatched accomplishment. They will cite it as compelling evidence that a player who wasn’t the greatest of his own era somehow merits consideration as the G.O.A.T. (greatest player of all time).

So, those are my reasons for not being as big a fan of the Australian Open as I am of tennis’ other three “slams”.

Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi oi, oi!

"Caesar is Dead, Long Live Caesar" (Season Premiere of "Rome" on HBO)

After a hiatus of over a year, Season 2 of “Rome” picks up right where Season 1 left off.

Caesar is dead. The great man is right where we last saw him, lying dead in a pool of his own blood on the floor of the Senate. His slave, Posca, is by his side, weeping as he sees what they’ve done to his “dominus”.

Just outside the Senate, Mark Antony is confronted by Quintus Pompey and several other armed men. They seem intent on making sure that Antony won’t be grieving Caesar for very long. Antony fights them off and makes a run for it.

A very shaken Brutus, one of the assassins and the figurehead of the assassination itself, returns home. His mother, Servilia, who spent the last episodes of Season 1 pushing him towards Caesar’s murder, continues guiding her son towards a role, “Savior of the Republic” to which he seems ill-suited and in which he seems uninterested.

In other news, our two main protagonists, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo seem to have switched identities.

Stable, family man Vorenus has seen his wife commit suicide only minutes after he’s discovered that the child she’s been passing off as Vorenus’ grandson is actually her son by another man. Vorenus’ daughters arrive on the scene to find their mother dead and their father having seemingly lost his mind. A crazed Vorenus curses his sobbing children and wanders off in a daze. He learns of Caesar’s death, but it is not clear if Vorenus has figured out that many will blame him for it. He was supposed to have been Caesar’s personal bodyguard in the Senate, but was lured away from his duties through the machinations of Servilia.

Unstable, hard-partying Pullo, meanwhile, proposes to his former slave, Eirene. She accepts (after he promises her dresses, food, shelter, and no beatings) but the couple’s newlywed bliss is interrupted by news of Caesar’s death. To his credit, Pullo doesn’t shoot the messenger. He does, however, knock him off his horse before stealing it from the poor man. With his wife in tow, Pullo rides hard for Rome.

At the house of Atia, the balance of power is shifting. While the mistress of the house weeps in the arms of one of her slaves, her children, Octavian and Octavia, have put two and two together and figured out they played an unwitting role in Caesar’s assassination. Servilia was only able to lure Vorenus from Caesar’s side because of information that Octavian gave to Octavia, who in turn gave it to Servilia.

Atia wants to flee the city, but Octavian, shrewdly, argues that the better course of action is to sit tight and wait things out. A disheveled Antony shows up, vowing vengeance against Caesar’s killers.

At the house of the late, great Gaius Julius Caesar Dictator, Antony, Atia, Octavian, and Octavia are in attendance as Posca reads the contents of Caesar’s will. Posca gets his freedom, the common people get some money, and Octavian receives the remainder of Caesar’s estate and a posthumous adoption as Caesar’s son, to boot. Antony gets nothing, and is none too pleased about it. Although Antony claims that Caesar’s will is worthless, as his killers will simply declare that he was a tyrant, thus rendering all his acts null and void. Octavian is the only one who realizes that the assassins have painted themselves into a legal corner. If they declare Caesar a tyrant, they lose all rank and protection since Caesar was the one who appointed them to their current offices in the first place. Antony remains unconvinced, but Octavian is able to sway Atia with two simple sentences.

“If the will stands, and it might, you are mother to the richest man in Rome. If the will is broken, Servilia has that honor.”

Antony goes to the house of Brutus and Servilia. He uses Octavian’s line of reasoning in most persuasive fashion. They accept Antony’s offer of a truce, agreeing that Brutus and Antony will deliver the orations at Caesar’s public funeral. (In a later scene we see Antony’s unorthodox and definitely R-rated preparation for the funeral)

Pullo arrives in Rome and helps Vorenus regain a modicum of his former sanity. Vorenus is racked with guilt over having cursed his children. When he discovers that the children were taken by his old enemy Erastes Fulmen, he feels even guiltier.

Servilia, Caesar’s former lover and the true architect of his death, goes to the great man’s house to pay her respects. She is confronted by Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia. Servilia is coldly courteous. Calpurnia responds by spitting in her face. Twice. The exquisite Lindsay Duncan, who portrays Servilia, captures her character’s mixed emotions perfectly as she views the corpse of the great enemy who was also the love of her life.

The events of Caesar’s funeral are related to us through one of Erastes Fulmen’s henchmen. He tells his drinking companions that Brutus’ speech went over like flatulence in a cathedral, while Antony played to the masses and whipped them into a frenzy, particularly after displaying Caesar’s bloody toga and throwing it into the ranks of what had quickly become a bloodthirsty mob. At the end of it all, Brutus leaves the city on a thin pretext and Servilia remains at Antony’s home as his guest (read: hostage).

Episode 1 ends with Vorenus and Pullo confronting Erastes Fulmen. After butchering Fulmen’s henchmen, the two demand to know the whereabouts of Vorenus’ children. Fulmen tells Vorenus that he killed them before tossing their bodies into the Tiber River. Vorenus decapitates him, and the last thing we see is Vorenus carrying the head of Erastes Fulmen through the streets with Pullo trailing behind him.

All in all, this was a great episode. It’s marvelous to see that a show can keep a story interesting, even when its viewing audience knows the eventual outcome. (Did you catch that, “Smallville”?)

The groundwork for this period in Rome’s history was laid out for us. The power vacuum and instability caused by Caesar’s death and the eventual power struggle between Antony and Octavian.

Et tu, Brute?