Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nigger: Just a Word, or Something More?


A Philadelphia Police Officer is in some hot water today thanks to racial comments he made while escorting a college student journalist.

It brings to the fore a legitimate question: are words such as 'nigger', 'spic', 'gook', 'harp', 'nip', 'chink', 'fag' or 'gook' simply that, words, or are they more?

I've heard this argument made any number of times, that these are just words, and if people are going to keep getting offended by words like 'nigger' then they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of taking offense.

True enough in that any discussion on this issue, be it in the local newspapers, at the office water cooler, in an interview room at a police facility, on the internet, or in the halls of Congress or the United Nations is not going to change people's habits. It is not going to stop people from using these words, either in their most benign sense or their most derogatory.

I have also heard the argument as a question why, for instance, black people are so offended by the word 'nigger' when uttered by a white man or anyone from any other race, and yet are willing to toss it around with ease amongst one another?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Islamism Series: Back to Afghanistan

For a land-locked nation that is basically a pile of rock and sand, Afghanistan holds some serious sway in the international community. The reasons are many, but they are sometimes difficult to grasp until you look more closely.

Afghanistan is bordered on the west by an Islamic nuclear-power wannabe ruled by a mad President in Iran, and on the east by the already nuclear-powered and increasingly fractious Pakistan.

There is even a small slice of northeastern Afghanistan that borders up against a Communist behemoth known as China. Along its northern borders lie a trio of former Soviet states in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Its land-locked status means that it has virtually no natural water supplies. There are no seas against which it borders, no rivers running through it, no lakes in which water has gathered. In short, there is very little of the life-sustaining, not to mention economy-sustaining water that is necessary for a country and people to survive, let alone thrive.

The median age is less than 18 years, which might make you wonder where are all the adults? Many of them are simply dead, as the average life expectancy is only a little over 44 years.

Because of the poor economic conditions there is a high risk of infectious diseases and wide-scale problems with other illnesses such as malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and 'bird flu' influenza strains.

So why does everyone care so much about a country that is so desolate and so inhospitable? Simply because of its strategic location as a 'buffer zone'.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Conquering Fear

Just one week until Palm Sunday, and just two until the glory of Easter Sunday. For those Christians who go to church next weekend and receive their palm branches, do you know what it is that they are supposed to help you recall and what they represent?

The palm branches are representative of those waved by the adoring crowds at Jesus Christ during his triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem in the days prior to his arrest, persecution, sacrificial death, and His rising from the tomb.

Before any of these events had taken place, there was a true sense of excitement and urgency among many of the people as the sacred occasion of the Passover approached.

Passover itself is the perhaps the single most important event on the Jewish calendar. It is a remembrance of the night that God struck down the first-born of Egypt in a show of power that led directly to the deliverance of the Jewish people out of the bondage of centuries of slavery.

As the angel of death moved about the nation taking the lives of those Egyptian first-born, it passed over those houses whose doors were marked with blood. This was a sign that God had told Moses to pass along among his chosen people so that they might be distinguished and saved.

It became a great custom among the Jews to travel to the great city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate this day, and in fact an entire great festival had been set up around the feast.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AIDS: Serious Problem Requiring Serious Solution

In July of 2008, the World Health Organization in conjunction with the United Nations released a report which stated that approximately 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS.

With a world population of over 6 billion people, that means the percentage of human beings with this illness is about .0055 of the total world population.

In other words, while we may be talking about a lot of people, we are not talking about a significant number. Better than 99% of the people on earth do not have this illness, and there is a reason for that.

The reason is that it is spread in its greatest numbers by far through irresponsible sexual practices, and the greatest number of those by far in the advanced world come through homosexual practices.

By far the highest numbers of AIDS cases in the world can be seen in sub-Saharan Africa, that area of Africa below the Sahara desert, where approximately 2/3 of all the cases on earth can be found. It is highly likely that this area of the world is where the AIDS virus first found its way into the human population.

There are serious problems in this part of the world largely attributable to poverty and a lack of education, which themselves are perpetuated by the autocratic and despotic governments.

At the individual and familial level the results are involving shortcomings in personal hygiene and the overall lack of cleanliness, combined with the social problems of acceptance of multiple sexual partners at any one time.

In short, AIDS came out of Africa and remains at its strongest there, and around the rest of the world it has spread largely due to irresponsible and deviant sexual practices. Anyone who tells you anything else is simply perpetrating a fraud on you.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conspiracy, Betrayal, Denial

We are now just three weeks away from Easter Sunday, which along with Christmas Day is the celebration of one of the two greatest events in the history of mankind.

On that day of Easter we will celebrate the great victory of Jesus Christ over death, his rising from the grave into which he entered as a repentance for the sins of man.

But besides that sin for which his death was payment, there was a human process of actual conspiracy and betrayal that served as the mechanization leading to his crucifixion. And near that end there were a series of denials from his most beloved and respected friend and follower.

As the Bible tells it in the New Testament gospel of Luke, with the Passover festival about to begin the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put him to death. They feared Jesus' popularity among the people, and that many of his teachings were outside the bounds, some directly in conflict with, the tenets of the Jewish faith.

The Gospel of Matthew tells that they assembled in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and consulted on how best to effect his arrest and eventual execution. Their initial plan was to have this plot carried out after the festival was over, because as both Matthew and Mark tell us, they feared "a riot among the people", such was Jesus' popularity.

Their plots against him came together more suddenly than they wanted because, the fact is, they were not in charge of things. As Luke tells it, Satan "entered into" one of Jesus' twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, who approached the temple guards and the chief priests with an offer to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in exchange for money.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

2009 World Baseball Classic Reaches Finale

While many sports fans are preoccupied this weekend with the opening rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and their own bracket pools, another big tournament is coming to a conclusion. The 2nd-ever World Baseball Classic has been taking place over the past two weeks, and the original 16 competing nations have been whittled down to a Final Four through two rounds of play. Opening round drama was provided by a tremendous pair of upset victories by the Netherlands in eliminating the powerful team from the Dominican Republic. In this past week's 2nd round, it was a dramatic 3-run rally in the bottom of the 9th inning by the U.S. against Puerto Rico that enabled the Americans to advance into the semi-finals. Meanwhile the Cuban team was eliminated, meaning that for the first time in almost five decades they will not reach the finals of a major international tournament. Advancing into those semis which will take place tonight and tomorrow night are the United States, Venezuela, Korea, and the defending WBC champions from Japan. While the game of baseball was invented in the United States and became our 'National Pasttime', and while the depth of talent in America remains far above that in other nations, the fact is that the rest of the world has caught up at the top levels of competition. The team rosters in Major League Baseball are now made up of 40% players from nations outside the United States. Teams from the South American nations such as Venezuela and Mexico, from the Caribbean such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominicans, and from Asia in Japan and Korea, as well as the team from Canada are all highly competitive and most are now capable of winning any international competition, even one involving professional players. In today's first semi-final, Korea will battle the Venezuelans. The Koreans advanced to the semis back in the first WBC in 2006, and used that success as a springboard to winning the gold medal at last year's summer Olympics in China. They have just one Major League player in young Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, and have perhaps the youngest team in the semis. They also have the best defense in the tournament and a pitching staff that is sporting a 3.05 ERA. Their offense is led by third baseman Bum Ho Lee, who is hitting .375 with 3 homers and 6 rbi and first baseman Tae Kyun Kim, who is hitting .364 with 2 homers and 9 rbi during the tourney. Venezuela is loaded with 21 players from MLB, including stars such as Bobby Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, and Melvin Mora. They have the best offense in the tournament, hitting .309 as a team with almost half of their hits going for extra bases. It is a classic matchup of great pitching and defense against big bats. The pitching matchup will feature Carlos Silva for Venezuela against Suk-Min Yoon for Korea. Yoon has not yet allowed a run in the tournament. The other semi-final will take place on Sunday night pitting the United States against defending champion Japan. The Japanese are fully capable of winning again with a veteran cast of formidable players led by living legend outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and two of the best pitchers in the world in Daisuke 'Dice K' Matsuzaka and young phenom Yu Darvish. The Japanese team suffered a serious blow in their last game when slugging first baseman Suichi Murata, who was hitting .320 with 2 homers and 7 rbi, suffered a torn right hamstring and will miss the rest of the tournament. His loss takes most of the power from Japan's lineup, but they still have the pitching, speed, and experience to win it all. The Americans' 9th inning rally against Puerto Rico advanced them to the semis after missing them in 2006. This year's squad is led by third baseman David Wright, shortstop Derek Jeter, and a pair of Phillies in Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, along with a number of other familiar big leaguers including Ryan Braun, Brian Roberts, Brian McCann, and Evan Longoria. The depth of American talent has allowed them to overcome injuries to Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. The semi-final pitching matchup will be one of talented veterans, with the Red Sox ace 'Dice K' going for Japan against Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt for Team USA. The weekend's semi-final winners will advance to the championship game of the WBC on Monday night. Whichever teams are involved, it will surely be a baseball classic worthy of your attention. In the 2006 WBC, the Japanese offense opened up on Cuba for a 10-6 win that ended a classic three-week period of play, and this year has been no less exciting. So while you follow the NCAA basketball tourney this weekend, remember too that on the next three nights you can also follow the best that international baseball has to offer with the conclusion of the 2nd-ever World Baseball Classic. NOTE: The games of the WBC can be followed on ESPN and ESPN2, and the title of this story is a link to further information on the topic, in this case to the official WBC website complete with video, stats, and feature columns.

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIG: Angina-Inducing Greed

For those of you who may have just read the headlines and listened to the featured story blurbs on the news regarding insurance giants IAG with passing interest, I will try to give you a simplistic version.

Let's start with the basics. Who or what exactly is the American International Group?

Well, AIG is by their own information "a world leader in insurance and financial services" and "the leading international insurance organization with operations in more than 130 countries and jurisdictions."

Heady stuff, right? I mean, we are talking about the worldwide leader in insurance services and one of the largest financial services organizations on earth as well. We are talking here about the real money. Not just big money, but 'real' money. The kind of money that moves governments and shakes nations.

The folks at AIG are just one of many financial services companies that have undertaken huge losses and faced dire straights as the American economy has gone into reverse over the past year. They blame their particular problems largely on what are called 'credit default swaps" (CDS) in the industry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Best There Ever Was

At age 36 and still competing at the highest level, he is the best there ever was at his position in professional sports. And this isn't some easy position either. Take the biggest and baddest NFL lineman, the toughest NBA front court player, or any hard-nosed MLB catcher and put them in his position for just one practice and that player would be running for the bench within seconds. Well, not running, more like skating. Because the sport that we are talking about is professional ice hockey, the position is that of the goaltender, and the player is named Martin Brodeur. He is the goaltender for the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League, a position which he has manned for that fortunate team for the past 15 seasons. The lucky local favorites, our own Philadelphia Flyers, have been forced to play in the same division as Brodeur and the Devils for the entirety of his career, and more often than not his presence has been the difference. In those 15 seasons the Devils have won the NHL's Atlantic Division title 7 times while the Flyers have won 5 division titles. The two teams have finished 1-2 in the division nine times in that span. This is what is termed a legitimate rivalry, folks, and so the Flyers and we fans have gotten to see far more of Marty Brodeur between the pipes than most any other opposition goaltender. Lucky us. While the regular season battles have been epic and usually tight, there is no comparison when it comes to the post-season. Brodeur has led the Devils to three Stanley Cup championships in his career: his rookie year in the spring of 1995, again in 2000, and most recently in 2003. The Devils also reached the Cup finals in 2001 before losing to Colorado. In that same time span the Flyers have played for Lord Stanley's Cup only one time, over a decade ago now in the spring of 1997 when they were drubbed in four straight games by the Detroit Red Wings. Before the arrival of Brodeur, the Devils were almost a hockey laughingstock. Born in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, they played two seasons in KC before relocating and becoming the Colorado Rockies. It was here in Colorado that the Flyers got their first taste of real competition with the franchise, eliminating the Rockies in a 2-game mini-playoff sweep in 1978. The franchise then finally moved to North Jersey for the 1982-83 season and did not make the playoffs for its first five seasons in New Jersey. The Devils finally began to become a regular playoff team in the early 90's, and it was then that Martin Brodeur came on the scene. He had been the Devils 1st round draft choice, the 20th player selected overall, back in the 1990 NHL Draft. The Flyers selected Mike Ricci as the 4th overall pick that same year, and a number of future NHL greats went before Brodeur including Jaromir Jagr, Keith Primeau, Owen Nolan, Derian Hatcher and Keith Tkachuk. In 1994, Brodeur won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year and led the underdog club to a dramatic 7th game loss in the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers. The following season the Devils eliminated the Flyers in six games in the conference finals before defeating the Detroit Red Wings for their first-ever Stanley Cup victory. This period launched the great pro career of Martin Brodeur, one that has included those 3 Stanley Cups, 4 Vezina Trophy awards as the NHL's top goaltender, 4 Jennings Trophy awards for allowing the least goals in the NHL. Brodeur has also starred internationally for his native Canada, leading them to a 2002 Olympic gold medal and a 2004 World Cup championship as the starting goalie. He also shares the distinction with the Flyers' Ron Hextall in being the only two goalies to score goals themselves in both the regular season and the playoffs. Brodeur is the only goalie in NHL history to score a game-winning goal. And last night, Martin Brodeur became the winningest goaltender in NHL history when he made 30 saves as the Devils defeated the Chicago Black Hawks by a 3-2 score in front of his home fans at the Prudential Center in Newark. I became a hockey fan as a 10-year old at the end of the 1972 season when the Flyers missed the playoffs by allowing a last-second goal in the final game of the season, and have enjoyed almost four decades of the best goaltending in NHL history. I watched the greatest 2-year display of playoff goaltending in the games' history by the Flyers Bernie Parent, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups and playoff MVP's in 1974 & 1975. I have seen some of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game play in the prime of their careers including Parent, Hextall, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek, Billy Smith, Pelle Lindbergh, Eddie Belfour, Tom Barrasso, and the great Patrick Roy. But for my money none was greater over a sustained period of time than Martin Brodeur. With his 552nd victory and the achievement in becoming the NHL's all-time winningest goaltender added to all of his other team and individual achievements, and in appreciation of him as a tremendous rival to my own beloved Philadelphia Flyers, it is no stretch at all for me to consider Martin Brodeur as the best there ever was.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Too Big For His Britches

When I was a kid our older relatives used to have a saying for when someone got too full of themselves, or got too arrogant, or when someone was constantly pushing the limits too far. They would say that this person was 'too big for his britches', an analogy relating to someone who got so big they were about to burst out of their pants.

This would often be followed by an admonition that the person was going to 'get what they had coming to them' one of these days when the 'chickens come home to roost'.

Well, the far-too-big-for-his-britches Vince Fumo finally welcomed home the chickens yesterday. After decades of shady backroom politics, the former State Senator and political giant was found guilty yesterday on 137 counts including fraud, obstruction of justice, tax offenses, and conspiracy.

When the time comes for sentencing, prosecutors will be seeking to send the now 65-year old Fumo away to prison for more than a decade, meaning that the once mighty kingpin could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Just a day earlier, with the jury holding its deliberations, his typically slimy but skilled defense lawyers attempted one final bit of legal tap-dancing in an effort to free their client.

They tried to have a juror thrown off the case and possibly a mistrial declared that would at least temporarily free their client. The reasoning? One of the jurors potentially posted on Facebook that there would be a "big announcement on Monday" in regards to the case.

Oh no, the entirety of a lengthy criminal court case with numerous witnesses and mountains of evidence tossed out because one juror made an innocuous comment on a social networking website! The horror of this violation of prudential conduct!

Monday, March 16, 2009

TV Watch: American Idol

On September 4th, 2002, Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson stood on-stage for the announcement of the winner of the first-ever "American Idol" television singing contest.

'Idol' was supposed to be a simple little summer 'replacement' series, something to fill the summer months when viewership and advertising revenues are lower due to the main network programs moving into reruns. The show proved a stunning success, and the finale drew over 50 million viewers for this final announcement.

The program's three recording industry judges: industry executive and manager Simon Cowell, producer and manager Randy Jackson, and former hit recording artist and choreographer Paula Abdul had selected the participants from a national casting call, but it was the public who voted via cellphone for the finalists. When their results were tabulated and announced on that early September evening, it was Kelly Clarkson who was crowned as the first-ever American Idol winner.

In the ensuing years, Clarkson has gone on to become a major pop star with nine Top-10 chart hits including 'A Moment Like This', 'Miss Independent' (for which she received a Grammy nomination), 'Breakaway', 'Never Again', and the Grammy-winning 'Since U Been Gone' among others. Her latest hit, 'My Life Would Suck Without You' is the #1 song in both the United States and Great Britain. Clarkson has proven to be a huge success story and beloved alumni for the show which is now in it's 8th season, but she is not the only one.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

He Who Sows Discord Among Brothers

For the past six weeks this regular 'Sunday Sermon' series has covered Proverbs 6:16-19 in which the Bible speaks of "6 Things the Lord Hates (7 an Abomination)", and today we wrap the discussion with that 7th and final item.

This item speaks particularly to families, and serves as both a calling and a warning not only to brothers and sisters, but to anyone who would sow discord within a family situation.

In past weeks we have spoken of people with 'Haughty Eyes', basically those who think they are better than others. We have spoken of 'A Lying Tongue', but the seventh item addresses not only liars but also those who use truthful situations to sow discord.

We have spoken of 'Hands That Shed Innocent Blood', but the seventh need not lead necessarily to physical bloodshed in accomplishing what is still its own brand of violence. In 'A Heart That Plots Wicked Schemes' we spoke very much of the person in this seventh item and the intentional nature of their actions.

In 'Feet That Run Swiftly to Evil' we spoke of how some just can't wait to pounce on an other's misfortune and also who seem almost joyful when approaching evil. Last week we spoke of 'The False Witness', the gossiper among man and he who not only will lie among friends, but who also is willing to take his lie all the way into an official proceeding or on to an official document.

It is all of these six things which the Bible says that the Lord hates which together lead to perhaps the worst of them all, the seventh which is an abomination in his eyes.

In the earliest book of the Bible, 'Genesis', God teaches us that the family is of utmost importance, and warns against turning against your family. He begins to teach the lesson in the story of the very first brothers, Cain and Abel.

When Cain becomes jealous of Abel, God says to Cain "If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door; his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master." 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March Madness

The Temple Owls men's basketball team dumped the St. Joseph's Hawks by a score of 79-65 on Thursday, advancing Temple into the Atlantic Ten tournament semi-finals.

The Archbishop Carroll Patriots boys basketball team overcame the Neumann-Goretti Saints in a 70-65 classic to advance into the PIAA Class AAA state semi-finals.

These two results knocked my college and high school alma maters out of their respective tournaments and ended their seasons, but were just the beginnings of 'March Madness', the most fun and entertaining time of the year for true basketball fans.

The conference and NCAA tournament championship tournaments in college basketball and the state championship tournaments in high school basketball which each take place this month are far more dramatic and entertaining than anything that the NBA can usually come up with in their pro playoffs which begin in May.

In fact, the NCAA tournament draws the attention of even the casual sports fan both in watching the games and in following the progression of the 'bracket pools' that dominate many office conversations.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Real American Hero: Donald Rudolph

They are leaving us now on a daily basis, the American armed service veterans who served and fought during the greatest military conflict in the history of the planet Earth.

The youngest of the men and women who served their country, whose efforts secured freedom and democracy for generations to come, and who have survived to continue as living representatives of those long-ago days are now in their 80's.

On May 30th, 2006, the advancement of age and the ravages of illness finally took from us a man who the Imperial Japanese could not. On that date, 85-year old Donald Rudolph of Minnesota died from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

He left behind his wife, Helen Rudolph, who remains with us for now to tell the story to their three grandchildren of a man on whom "the fellas in his platoon relied on for leadership" and who he had said was doing "his duty to protect them because they were going to protect him." 

The story of Donald Rudolph, particularly his actions on February 5th, 1945, is one that deserves to be known and remembered by all Americans.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The False Witness

She spreads the rumors that are not true, sometimes willing to do so even when she knows they are false. He takes the witness stand in court, swears an oath to God that he will tell the truth, and then lies knowingly.

According to the Bible in Proverbs 6:16-19, one of those things that we have been talking about the past few Sundays which the Lord hates is 'The False Witness'.

These individuals use many of the characteristics of those whom we have talked about in previous weeks: lying, plotting, scheming, stabbing people in the back, and often doing so enthusiastically.

There is even an inside term for what this person is capable of in the police lingo of my own law enforcement profession: testilying. It is a merger of the words 'testifying' and 'lying', and basically refers to those times when police officers themselves lie under oath in a court proceeding.

Shocked that it happens, and that a police officer with two decades in the field such as myself would speak of it? You shouldn't be. Every Judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and cop knows that it happens.

This is not to say that every cop lies, or that cops who are willing to lie in court do so all the time. This is not the case at all. But it does happen, and it happens for one simple reason that should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. That reason is that police officers are human beings, and human beings lie.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Classic Baseball

March 16th, 2006 was a huge day in the annals of the storied game of baseball, our national pasttime here in America. The occasion was the 2nd round game of the first-ever World Baseball Classic between the heavily favored team from the United States and the team from Mexico. The Americans came into this inaugural tournament pitting the world's best pro players against one another as the favorites to win it all. After all, the game was invented here, and the U.S. team was filled with mega-stars and living legends with names like Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Roger Clemens, Chase Utley, and Derek Jeter. The Americans had moved through the tournament to that point with a lackluster 3-2 record, but just needed this win over the Mexicans to advance into the final round of play. Mexico was also 3-2, but due to the tie-breakers in place they had no shot at advancing. All they could hope to do would be to play the role of spoiler. On the day before St. Patrick's Day in 2006, they shocked the world and did just that, shutting down the powerful American bats in a shocking 2-1 win that eliminated the U.S. stars from the tournament. The favored Americans had not even reached the semi-finals. Tournament organizers and television sponsors feared that the all-international flavor would be a killer to their ratings and to this initial effort. Why would anyone, especially in the U.S., care about and follow the tourney now that the American stars were out? But then a funny thing happened on the way to international baseball oblivion. An entertaining tournament broke out among the final four teams. In a Latin American semi-final, the vaunted 'amateurs' from Cuba defeated a team from the Dominican Republic that featured its own collection of Major League Baseball stars such as David 'Big Papi' Ortiz, Moises Alou, and Miguel Tejada. The Cubans thrilling 3-1 victory was secured by a legendary multi-inning relief performance from big, imposing pitcher Pedro Lazo, and the team from the little baseball-proud nation would move into its 37th consecutive finals in international competition. Joining them would be the equally proud and even more historically baseball-crazed nation of Japan. The Japanese team used phenomenal pitching, team speed, and the leadership of superstar Ichiro Suzuki to defeat the previously undefeated team from South Korea by a 6-0 score. While the finals would not have the Americans, they would have a dynamic matchup of contrasting cultures and passionate fans as Cuba and Japan took the field. The Japanese had made it into the semi-finals only because of that stunning American loss to Mexico, and they decided to make the most of their 2nd chance by actually winning the whole tournament. Their bats came alive against Cuba's normally solid pitchers, and on March 20th, 2006 Japan's players mobbed one another on the field at San Diego's Petco Park in celebration (pictured) of winning the first World Baseball Classic by a 10-6 score. The tournament had not only survived the early American knockout, but it had thrived over the course of a two-week display of baseball prowess and national pride. So now here we are three years later about to begin the action and excitement all over again. Once again the team from the USA is favored. The 2009 American team returns Jeter, Jones, and Jake Peavy and includes younger stars like David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, and the World Series champion Phillies own Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. But as we learned three years ago, there is plenty of talent in the baseball world, and a champion could emerge from any number of nations. The Cubans are actually favored by some this time. They play in what looks like an easy opening round bracket, so they should reach the semi-finals again. Led by Ichiro and starting pitcher 'Dice K' Matsuzaka, defending champion Japan will again be formidable. The Japanese team will show off perhaps the most talked about young pitcher on the planet in 22-year old sensation Yu Darvish. The Dominicans will again be strong despite the loss of Alex Rodriguez to injury. They will field an exciting club led by Big Papi's veteran presence behind young superstars Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. The other semi-finalist from '06 was South Korea, who had gone through pool play undefeated. The Koreans used that experience as a springboard to the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, and have a powerful offense. The teams from Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico all have enough talent that if they get a strong pitching performance on a given day, they certainly could knock off the big boys and pull a stunner to equal that of the Mexicans over the U.S. back in 2006. The other nations trying to reach the finals at Dodger Stadium are Australia, China, Italy, South Africa, Taiwan, and the Netherlands, and each will be fighting for at least one victory for national pride. The 2009 World Baseball Classic should once again prove interesting and entertaining for any fan to follow, no matter which nations are playing one another. The tournament is beginning now, and is being covered on television at both ESPN2 and the all-new MLB network. Check your listings and watch some of the WBC games, which especially as they move into the later rounds will prove to be truly classic baseball. NOTE: As always, the title of this entry is actually a link to more information on the subject, this time to the home website of the World Baseball Classic.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Good Old Days

Do you know that weird sensation of connection to your roots that you often feel when you see an old family member, friend, lover, teammate, or co-worker for the first time in years, maybe even decades?

Depending on the circumstances of your meet, it sometimes doesn't hit you until later. But almost always we go through that exercise in mental nostalgia which carries us back to those younger days and the experiences that we shared with this individual.

The innocent memories of childhood. The fun times of high school or college. The struggles and amusement involved in our early work years. The thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat on sporting fields.

The life, death, and love of family. Sometimes that person is linked to another person, or a group of others, and our memories will branch off towards those folks.

Well these types of memories and feelings have been happening to me more and more lately thanks to the social networking website called Facebook. I have stumbled across more family members and old friends on the internet thanks to this popular behemoth than I could ever have imagined.

People who I worked with years ago. Those who I hung out with on the corners of South Philly as a youth. Some who I played ball with as an adult. And being a police officer for the past 19 years there are cops, both old and new acquaintances. Lots of cops. The site allows you to mentally catch-up with these people.

We share small biographies of what we've been up to, photos of our family members and friends, videos of some of our life experiences, music and other media that we enjoy, and conversations with one another and each other.

These meetings of late have also driven home another point to me as well. My own memories of what is classically referred to as 'the good old days' are truly long gone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Faith in Eagles Management

There has been much lamenting and gnashing of teeth in Eagles Nation over the past week or so as players like Lito Sheppard, Sean Considine, Correll Buckhalter, and most especially Brian Dawkins have either been traded away or left the team via free agency.

You also have the two twin towers of the offensive line for the past decade, Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, very much in doubt as to their own returns for next season. Tight End L.J. Smith is shopping his services and is believed not wanted back by the Birds. These players make up a huge portion of the success that the Philadelphia Eagles football team has enjoyed over the past decade.

But as they leave it is important to note that this current Philadelphia Eagles management team of owner Jeffrey Lurie, team President Joe Banner, and GM/Coach Andy Reid almost always knows when to say 'when' with a player, no matter that player's reputation or popularity. From Duce Staley to Jeremiah Trotter to Hugh Douglas, the Eagles knew when it was time to say goodbye.

Probably the lone exception was Terrell Owens, and is there anyone out there as an Eagles fan who really wanted him to stay after all the histrionics and drama that he created?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TV Watch: Taking Chance

Every other review that I've done in these 'TV Watch' items has been about a television series, and so HBO's "Taking Chance" is the first movie-length program that has made the grade.

An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, this true story is one of the most moving and emotional war films of all-time, yet it contains no more than a couple minutes of actual combat action. Instead, "Taking Chance" tells the story of two men who never meet in life, but whose paths cross in a most unusual and pivotal manner.

Kevin Bacon plays the starring role of United States Marine Colonel Michael Strobl who served his country well in Operation Desert Storm back in the early 1990's and who then drifted later in his career into an office-type desk job position. Strobl is now an analyst with the Department of Defense, and he struggles with his desk job role, particularly when he passes over an opportunity to serve in Iraq in order to remain home and close to his wife and two young children.

His struggle is that of a former warrior who still feels the call of the battlefield, and the responsibility that only those who have warn the uniform can know. That responsibility is not only for your country or municipality, as those in the military or in other uniformed service such as police officers know, but also to your fellow men and women in uniform.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Grass-Roots Support for Philly's Embattled Cops

On Halloween morning in 2007, police officer Chuck Cassidy of the city's 35th district pulled up to a local Dunkin' Donuts to perform a routine security check and perhaps grab a fresh cup of joe to begin his work day. The bright sunshine of the morning combined with the lesser light inside the shop made it impossible for him to see inside the establishment.

Little did he know as he pulled open the door to that innocent coffee and donut shop, one that he had entered many times before, that it would be the last door he would ever open. Inside was an armed robber who turned and fired a gunshot into Cassidy before the officer ever knew what hit him.

Thus began the most deadly string of murders of Philly's Finest in decades. Just seven months after Cassidy's murder, in May of 2008, Sergeant Steve Liczbinski responded to a robbery in progress taking place at a bank branch inside a supermarket of his 24th police district. It would be the final call of his career, as Liczbinski was also gunned down in cold blood by the robbers.

Philly cops and their supporters mourned the loss of these two popular officers throughout the summer of 2008. Little did they know it was not over yet. Not nearly. In early September the city's police were again driven to shock when officer Isabel 'Izzie' Nazario was killed. She and her partner were involved in a vehicular pursuit of a stolen car, though not in direct pursuit, when the driver suddenly emerged from a blind intersection and slammed into their cruiser at full speed.

The loss of a third officer in less than a year seemed like dirt being rubbed into an already open wound. Then the unthinkable happened. Just a couple of weeks later, still in September, officer Pat McDonald pulled over a vehicle for a simple traffic violation, something that many of the city's police officers do every single day, something that I did hundreds of times. Only this would be Pat's final car stop. This time the driver was a wanted man, and he decided to shoot and kill Pat McDonald rather than risk returning to jail.

It was official, Philly's cops were under siege.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Feet That Run Swiftly to Evil

Continuing in the 'Sunday Sermon' series (each entry of which can be read by clicking in to the label below this posting) with the fifth of the six things that the Lord hates from Proverbs 6:16-19 in the Bible's 'Old Testament.'

This time we are discussing those times that we not only sin, not only plan and plot to sin, but we rush to it enthusiastically, even happily. Of course we know that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Some of us know that all too well.

And yet despite that knowledge we not only fail to control our appetites, we not only allow ourselves to remain obese, but we rush to the ice cream aisle at the grocery store for some Haagen Dazs or Breyers or Turkey Hill.

We know that lust is a deadly sin, but we dive into that sexual affair anyway. We not only plan and plot to make time for physical intimacy with that illicit partner, but we rush happily and excitedly to those liaisons.

We all understand that greed is a deadly sin, but we all too often succumb to the mantra spoken by Michael Douglas' character of Gordon Gekko (pictured) in the 1987 motion picture 'Wall Street': "..greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works." Especially when it comes to money, we want more.

Wanting more isn't the bad thing. What is bad about it is when we want that 'more money' so badly that we cut corners to get it, possibly even commit fraud and other crimes. When we take away from others what is rightly theirs, including time with us from our families.