The Unbridled Pragmatist
smart enough to know how dumb we are


I love sports, all sports.  I remember once as a kid visiting family in England.  This was pre-internet, and my cousins didn’t even have cable.  I sat with my older cousin, he was probably 17 and I was 9, watching cricket.  I had no idea what was happening, but it was sports and it was on television, so I watched.

Fast forward to me at 27, with two glorious days off work, a couch and a flatscreen tv.  I understand Christmas is a time for family and friends, but for me college and pro football ARE my friends.  And I did not get to see my friends during Christmas.

I get that the NBA dominates Christmas.  I remember being glued to the tv in high school watching MJ battle the nerds from Utah on Christmas night, and I watched and enjoyed some of the games on Christmas day.  But let us not forget football is the horsepower in the sports engine, the bourbon in the egg nog.  People don’t like slow cars, and nobody drinks virgin egg nog. 

You mean to tell me that of 34 college bowl games not a single one could have been scheduled on Christmas?  Am I the only one who sees the potential for ratings?  You have almost the entire country off work, sitting at home, with NO FOOTBALL to watch?  Note to NBC, ABC, Spike, Versus, ESPN 1-7 and any other awful local sports affiliate; don’t complain about loss of advertising revenue when you refuse to capitalize on holidays stuffed with terrible programming.

The TV options on Christmas Day were so bad I ended up watching portions of three different Rocky movies.  I saw the end of II, the beginning of III and most of IV.  What is more amazing, the options were so bad my mother and sister — two decidedly anti-sport/boxing movie women — watched Sly Stallone mumble his way through Philadelphia with me.  By the time Rock knocked out Drago I even convinced my sister Rocky IV singlehandedly ended the Cold War.

Christmas morning, before my mom and sister arrived, my dad asked what football games were on.  I told him there weren’t any, he refused my claim, got up and checked the sports page.  He was astonished.  So was I.


The potential of Chrysler closing all 30 plants is undoubtedly sad and will leave many thousands of people in an incredible bind over the coming holiday weeks.  What needs to be pointed out, shouted from the top of Capitol Hill if necessary, is how incredibly transparent this move is in an attempt to force through the Auto Bailout.  What this should confirm is the need for bankruptcy and reorganization for the distressed automakers, Chrysler chief among them.

Chrysler is obviously reeling from the credit crisis and fears of deflation.  Why would a consumer suffer through the frustrating and often fruitless process of securing a loan in current market conditions when the possibility of cheaper prices in the future exist?  What the heads of Detroit aren’t admitting is Chrysler was suffering mightily prior to the fall, dating back to the 70’s, when number crunchers deemed their existing pension and health care plans insolvent for the future.  The guarantees the company made simply would not hold up over time; both the company and management knew it, however, both preferred to go ostrich style.  The current business model simply does not hold up.  Declare bankruptcy and reorganize, a bailout simply delays the inevitable.  Seriously, does anybody even drive a Chrysler?  What is the most popular model?

What is most jarring are rumors from GM that idiot Wagoner wants to close the only ace left up GM’s sleeve: The Chevy Volt.  Word is GM is considering delaying the plant that makes the engine for the Volt, the electric car much of the Detroit future hinges upon.  GM is telling America they refuse to make a product that will both sell and be a standard bearer for ecological vehicles throughout the world unless they get their bailout.  This is the equivalent of the fat kid storming off the playground because he doesn’t get picked on either team, only the fat kid takes the ball with him.  Maybe Wagoner should drop the albatross around GM’s neck, Hummer.  Wagoner personally sought out the Hummer deal despite evidence of rising oil costs and shifts in consumer behavior towards SUVs in the mid-90s.   Wagoner persevered, tying one more brick around GM in rising waters.  Now, instead of shedding excessive costs, Wagoner wants to shut down the only hope of future earning potential with the Volt.  Shortsighted, check.  Ignorant, check.  A blatant attempt to force Congress into a bailout, check.

Get these idiots out of Detroit, while there is still something to salvage.  Bankruptcy, no bailout.


The 2008 season presents an interesting crossroads for the Washington Redskins.  The organizational patriarch, Joe Gibbs, resigned from the team in January of 2008 after losing a first round playoff game to the Seattle Seahawks.  The same Seattle team that knocked the Skins out of the playoffs in 2006, and in a move that wreaked of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” theory the Skins responded by hiring Seattle quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn.



Now is where things get interesting.  Zorn has no previous head coaching experience.  Zorn has no previous coordinating experience.  Zorn has never called an NFL play; Zorn has never even called an NFL timeout.  What Zorn has done is work with quarterbacks, young ones, and make them great.  That is what Skins owner Dan Snyder came here to do, and that is what Zorn pledges to accomplish with quarterback Jason Campbell.  Even as head coach Zorn spends at least an hour a day with the quarterbacks, often more than an hour.



But the Skins issues are greater than quarterback.  By the playoffs last year relics Reche Caldwell and Keenan McCardell were catching passes, three starting offensive linemen were hurt, and the best player on the field, safety Sean Taylor, was brutally murdered.  Somehow, the team responded and went on the late season playoff run.



What does it all mean for 2008?  No one is sure, but players and coaches alike are talking about a return to the playoffs.  Taking a look at the schedule, let’s see how real the possibility is.



Three of the first five games are division games on the road.  This is a cruel task for any team, let alone a young Skins team with a rookie head coach.  The NFL opener against the Giants will be emotionally charged, as the Giants celebrate their Super Bowl triumph in front of their home fans for the first time.  If the Skins can make it through week 6 with a .500 record or better they will be in good shape; even better if they can steal a road win against a division opponent.



Week 7 and 8 are winnable games; the Browns at home and the Lions on the road.  Though the Browns were a formidable offense last year, they will no longer sneak on teams, and the Lions remain a hapless team.  Winning these two games is imperative with the most crucial part of the schedule to come.



Approaching a Monday night showdown with the Steelers, the Skins enter the game at 5-3, and FedEx Field will be rocking.  Beating the Steelers, the Skins go to the bye week on an emotional high with a 6-3 record.  The following week and the hated Cowboys come to town; Skins win, splitting the series.  At 7-3 and control in the division the Skins head out west to play the Seahawks.  Note to the scheduling committee, Skins have been shipped to Seattle three years in a row, how about some bicoastal retribution?  An emotional letdown, along with the cross country flight on a short week, results in a loss, putting the Skins at 7-4 through 12 weeks.



With five games left the Skins will be favored in three.  Through guile, determination and the burgeoning offensive prowess of the burgundy and gold I want to predict four wins out of five.  Rational thought leads me to predict three wins; Giants at home, Ravens and 49ers on the road.



After 18 weeks and 16 games, the Washington Redskins stand at 10-6.  The playoffs reached for the third time in four years, the Skins look to play the final game in Tampa.  History is on the Redskin’s side; after every Giant Super Bowl triumph the Redskins have won the following Super Bowl.  I learned in elementary school that history repeats itself.  Who isn’t ready for some football?


When the news broke that Tiger Woods would miss the remainder of golf season after knee surgery I was sad.  Not sad for Tiger, who will rehab with his gorgeous wife on their majestic Florida estate, but sad for me.  I am selfish, and I wanted more incredible golf from the world’s most famous athlete.


Could anyone with a pulse who watched Tiger’s one legged US Open triumph last month not want more?  I could only imagine the theatrics of Tiger wearing a red sweater on Sunday at Royal Birkdale; stalking the world’s oldest golf championship.  Instead we will watch the British Open without the best player on the planet.  Imagine the Godfather without Brando, Wimbledon without Federer, the jungle with no lion.


Missing the unbelievable feats Tiger serves up to the world — from last months win at Torrey Pines to his field obliterating first major victory at Augusta — undoubtedly creates a void in the golf world.  An argument exists that Tiger’s dominance is actually bad for golf; his conquests so exulting that his absence is unbearable.  The critics will point to the coming months as golf television ratings decline.  However, television ratings do not tell the story.


Statistics can be swayed, proving or disproving a myriad of theories.  The truth is Tiger transcends golf, like Jordan transcended hoops or Ali transcended boxing. 

I will never forget when MJ won his final championship in 1998, getting a call from my grandmother the next day.  She stayed up and watched the whole game, recalling how excited she was when MJ buried that jumper over Bryon Russell.  



A similar phone call came in 2001 after Tiger’s win at the Masters.  I never knew my grandma watched golf, now she knew the phrase Tiger Slam.  No matter how animated Sergio gets or how long a putt Lee Westwood buries, they will inspire no calls from my grandmother.


I am not the only one who will miss Tiger.  Of course the networks will miss Tiger, ratings will drop.  Advertising for the majors is already locked in; the networks will get their money.  The Fed Ex Cup will take a hit, but Tiger only played in three of the tournaments last year. 



The Ryder Cup?  Tiger doesn’t play his best in the Ryder Cup.  You don’t send a Green Beret to a diplomatic meet and greet; Tiger isn’t ingrained to be a team player.  He wants to win by beating everyone else on the course.


Those who should be most thankful for Tiger?  Those with the most to lose?  His fellow players.  Purses at golf tournaments have ballooned to over $270 million this year.  In 1997, Tiger’s first year as a pro, there were nine players earning over $1 million on tour; today that number has soared to 99.  The players don’t have each other to thank, or the internet, or the Golf Channel; they should all address thank you notes to one Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.


There are two people who should be happy Tiger is gone for a while; whoever wins the next two majors.  The guy holding the Claret Jug and later the Wannamaker Trophy will be on Tiger’s list, and he will be coming for them in ’09.


 While it appears everyone is caught up in the euphoric return to the NBA crown of the Boston Celtics, I have a lingering feeling that we were tricked.  All year, the Celtics played selfless hoops; making the extra pass, providing great help defense, rebounding as a team with all five players protecting and attacking the rim.  The Boston run to the title was celebrated as the validation of three future Hall of Famers who deserved whatever praise was thrown their way.  The coach who was so openly questioned had delivered a title, cue the Disney music.


Then the blowout happened.  Boston was up thirty, they were up forty, the game was out of reach for the Lakers midway through the third quarter (if not before).  I was prepared to be happy for Boston, a city whose sports franchises evoke my vitriol, since they had played the right way and earned the title. 


The right thing to do was call off the dogs, dribble out the shot clock, and let the game end.  Instead the Celtics kept shooting threes, kept throwing alley oops, despicable acts by what is known to be a classy franchise.  When Kevin Garnett blocked a Lamar Odom shot with less than five minutes left and an insurmountable lead I was applauding the effort, when he continued to talk trash to Odom is when my stomach began to turn.  As the starters were pulled out the Celtic bench kept the sophomoric behavior going with the pinnacle being the alley oop to Tony Allen under two minutes with a 30+ lead.  The on court behavior reminded me of another Boston team, the New England Patriots and their affinity for belittling beaten opponents by running up the score.  Instead it was the Celtics and their media savvy coach Doc Rivers.


Perhaps Doc didn’t notice the on court action since his hands were so full on the sideline.  When the cameras showed the Celtic bench with less than four minutes left it looked like a circus clown car pulled up and dropped off 100 hundred babies, baby mommas, and various other hangers on.  The Celtic sideline was so full it would have been impossible for an inbounds play, not to mention the player certainly would have slipped. 


That’s right, Paul Pierce dumped the cooler of Gatorade on his coach, perhaps for the first time in basketball history.  This football tradition doesn’t carry over to the hardwood for just that reason, it is HARDWOOD!  The liquid will not soak up in the ground, rather just sit on the court until people inevitably slip and fall.  The announcers lacked the courage to call Pierce, Rivers, or the Celtics for any of this buffoonish behavior.


The postgame celebration was no better.  Garnett gave one of the least intelligible, gibberish victory speeches on record, though Michelle Tafoya should have realized the boorishness of the interview and given up.  The players on the podium celebrated and partied like sailors pulling into port for the first time in six months.  Even the owner joined in the slovenly effort, with an egregious jump on top of the trophy podium.


The Celtics had a great year, and played great team basketball.  They deserve to be congratulated for their play, unfortunately there antics in the waning minutes of championship 17 tainted it all.


I recently returned from a trip to Panama that included a voyage through the Panama Canal.  Below is my record of events; kind of long so get into a comfortable reading position.



Tuesday May 13, 10:15 pm


The anticipation, combined with the heat, made it hard to fall asleep. I definitely wasn’t nervous, and anxious may even be overstating it, but a combination of nerves and excitement for the following morning’s events made the previous two days of my Panamanian adventure seem like a blur.


There is something offsetting arriving in a foreign country in the middle of the night.  When my sister and I arrived in Panama City ten minutes after 1am we were both a little out of it; waking up hastily to complete customs forms and inadvertently messing up (friendly advice: to fill out one family form you need to be husband and wife, not brother and sister).  The airport was on par with the finest in the world: LCD screens displaying arrivals and departures, customary horse shoe shaped baggage claim, even the airport bar with unhappy servers, average food and inflated prices. The scenic skyline of the city in the distance drew immediate comparison to Miami, perhaps only bigger.  The roads to the hotel were fully paved, well lit, and clearly marked; we even stopped at a 24 hour grocery store to pick up late night snacks.  While Panama is still a developing country, Panama City was unlike any Latin American city I had ever visited.


The hotel was pleasant, the Country Inn in the Balboa district, with central air conditioning my personal highlight.  I am hopelessly American when it comes to my ever present desire for cold air and iced drinks, throughout my travels one of my first stops when I get back to the States is a 7-11 soda fountain.  The hotel is located canal-front (imagine beach front instead a giant canal) with incredible views of the passing ships silhouetted against the lush green landscape with the Bridge of the Americas cutting across the sky.  The size and frequency of the ships is astounding, any hour of the day a floating strip mall cruises past, the global economy never in fuller view.

 View from hotel balcony with Bridge of the Americas in background


When we asked our cab driver for a good lunch spot in Old Town, he said Casablanca with no hesitation.  Now I know why.  We sat in Bolivar square, if not the heart of old town then the lung, mesmerized by the classical European architecture of the square, surrounded by a chapel, hotels, restaurants and wine bars.  My mom swore she could be in Italy; we all agreed.  I drank an Atlas, a Panamanian beer, and wouldn’t have cared if the food ever arrived.  When it did I was surprised, impressed, and happy I went with the waitress’s recommendation.  The menu translated “shrimp with hot sauce”, however what came out were four huge shrimp (heads still on, a little gross but I handled it) in a sweet delectable garlic sauce that finished with a spicy kick.  My food was delicious, as were the chicken and beef skewers the others at the table ordered.  After lunch we walked through Old Town, seeing the presidential palace, national theater, and classic Victorian architecture next to facades of crumbling buildings.  For the first time in Panama we saw glimpses of the poverty Latin America often displays, though we witnessed no begging in the streets nor aggressive roadside vendors.


When we made it back to the hotel we were waiting for the call that would define the trip; our approval to sail through the Panama Canal.  The Panama Canal is the most scrutinized waterway in the world, the process of getting a time allotment to cross is exacting.  The inspector visited our boat, a 58 foot sloop, measured bow to stern, port to starboard, and asked questions about every lever, switch and toilet seat.  Like most Panamanians we encountered, Ana was very pleasant and helpful, but the Canal process is not a matter to be taken lightly.  When we found out we were approved and assigned a time that worked out great for all the traveling parties involved, I was relieved and my mom was thrilled; her months of planning were actually going to work out.  She literally jumped around for about 10 minutes shouting “We get to go!”  If I learn one thing on this trip it is where my goofy side comes from.  It was Monday night and Tribute, our sailboat, was set to cross the canal at 7:30 am Wednesday morning.


Tuesday consisted of paying necessary fees in accordance with the ACP (Panama Canal Authority), some relaxing by the pool (more for me than anybody else, the advantage of being marginally useless) and a trip to the Miraflores locks and museum.  The canal is an impressive feat of engineering, often dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, and that it was built in 1914 is that much more extraordinary.  The locks were cool and educational, watching a ship raise 30 feet in 10 minutes is a sight to behold, and I also got an eye witness account of my future duties as a line handler. 


Every vessel that goes through the canal must take an advisor to oversee the vessel through the canal.  The captain still controls the boat, in our case my mom’s husband Neil, though the advisor gives all instructions and ultimately has the final say.  To assist in the process, specifically going through the locks, four linehandlers are hired.  The linehandlers job is to take the ropes (read lines) thrown onto the boat in the locks and successfully tie them onto the boat, giving the boat stability as the thousands of gallons of water flood the lock allowing the 30 foot raise or drop.  Typically linehandlers are experienced, local men.  In our case we had three experienced local guys, and me.  No wonder I couldn’t sleep.


Wednesday May 14, 6:04 pm


The initial disappointment was severe; we were all under the opinion that not only would we make it through the canal but we may do so early.  Visions of hot water showers and a meal on flat ground danced in our heads like kids on Christmas Eve.  Our day got off to an early start; Neil picked up our linehandlers at the dock of Playita de Amador at 6:30 am.  Our advisor arrived to the boat around 7:30 and all parties were pleased to hear we had been allotted to cross the first set of locks, Miraflores, at 9 am.


The linehandlers consisted of Junior, Luis, Tim, and me.  Junior and Tim have a combined 50 years of experience working on the canal, Luis is in his first year of canal work though he has crossed the canal as a linehandler at least 10 times.  The advisor, Rudolfo, attended the US Merchant Marine Academy, works full time on the canal as a tug boat operator, and in his days off works as an advisor.  Only later would I come to realize how valuable Rudlofo’s knowledge of tug boats would be.


I was nervous for the first set of locks; massive concrete structures that look like nautical prisons, especially once you are locked inside by a set of gates forty feet high.  Linehandling is grunt work, not much mental prowess involved, though a good arm workout.  A line is thrown down from the locks, tied to a line on the boat, and then pulled back up to the lock.  The idea is to keep the line taught holding the boat steady as the water floods into the lock.  The boat we shared the Miraflores lock with was massive, the Ocean Prelate, a British ship in transit from South Korea.  The lock measures roughly 110 feet side to side, the Ocean Prelate measured 106.  This ship was the size of my high school, thousands and thousands of pounds of grain shoved onto its steel hull, and I was holding a rope making sure Tribute and the Ocean Prelate didn’t high five; my nerves were warranted


The first set of locks went well, a series of two raising us from Pacific sea level to the Miraflores Lake, and we entered the lake looking to pass the Ocean Prelate.  We maintained the highest speed we could in the narrow lake, five knots, passing freighters, tankers, cargo ships and a Panamanian navy ship.  We successfully got in front of the Prelate and got into the Pedro Miguel lock for a Noon passage.  The 200 foot lock was occupied with just us and a tugboat; we tied directly onto the tug on our port side.  I didn’t even get to handle a line.


From the Pedro Miguel we crossed the narrowest part of the canal, the Culebra Cut.  The Culebra Cut was the hardest section of the canal to build, hundreds of men lost their lives in the construction and setbacks were constant due to the steep grade of the surrounding land.  Motoring through the cut we reached a speed of over eight knots, a fine speed for a sailboat of our size.  We were able to maintain this speed for sometime, continuing as we entered the Gatun Lake.  Gatun Lake was the largest man made lake ever built until 1936; the panorama was astounding.  My sister Bonnie said “maybe emerald or teal green, I have never seen water that color before.”  While the depth of the channel maintained at least 45 feet, we were never more than 50 yards from the jungle lined shore; trees, bushes, swamp grasses, flowers and the occasional floating log.  Outside of the buoyed channel Rudolfo pointed out the arbors sin muerto, or the trees that wouldn’t die.  Any venture out of the channel would cause disastrous results; the water between the shore and buoys was littered with the arbors sin muerto; trees rooted in the ground, peaking slightly above the water line.  Contact with any would render Tribute inoperable. 


We got into the Banana Channel, a narrow stretch through Gatun Lake ships larger than 80 feet cannot enter, and Neil wanted a break.  He asked me to steer, and I happily obliged.  Since we were under power, required throughout the canal regardless of sails, I knew I could handle it though the Banana Channel was the most challenging stretch of water I navigated.  The course curved left and right, with a particularly hairy right turn, close to a 60 degrees, that I was slow to react to.  The boat sped ahead at 8.3 knots and I was bearing straight for an island, if I didn’t hit the arbors sin muerto first, and I kind of freaked out.  Prior to this turn I caressed the wheel and all turns were smooth. This turn was jerky, the way people drive in video games with no consequences.  Serendipitously the course straightened back out and I was able to gain control, we eased back into full speed ahead.


We approached the Gatun locks and were surrounded by the normal cadre of massive boats; some at anchor while a few motored in neutral.  Rudolfo commented that one large Dutch ship, the Belmark, had two tugboats next to it.  As we entered the clearing of the anchorage Rudolfo radioed the lock station, only for the return transmission to be inaudible.  He tried again, same result.  He said to me, despite my hairy right turn most of the others were asleep, “I have a bad feeling he was telling me we would not make passage until the morning.”


Rudolfo’s hearing was correct, as we motored closer to the locks Gatun station informed us there was one more Pacific crossing and there was no room for us.  Sure enough, Rudolfo explained, the Belmark would cross with the two tugboats.  If the Belmark had one tugboat we would cross as well; with two there was no room for Tribute.


That leaves me here, tied to a mooring point somewhere in the middle of the Panamanian jungle, some 20 miles from the Atlantic and 30 from the Pacific.  Our location is beautiful, more lush green landscape with freshwater for swimming.  I dove in the water earlier to my sisters screams out of fear for crocodiles.  The fears are real, both Rudlofo and my fellow linehandlers confirmed they have seen los crocos in these waters.  My swim was quick.  Sitting on the boat we can hear the throaty screams of the howler monkeys, a cacophony of birds chirping, and the dull buzz of cicadas and crickets.  Within sight of our mooring point are three freighters, surely (fingers crossed) one of which we will share a lock with tomorrow.



Panama has been exceptionally impressive, though there have been reminders of how little control we have and that the way of life is different here.  My first reminder came Tuesday when I got into a cab.  My mom and sister sat in the back or they might have made us get out; when the driver started the van there was no key in the ignition, he simply grabbed an electrical box below the steering column and rubbed some wires together.  I chose discretion rather than questioning; at best this was how Tony started his van, at worst, Tony was stealing this van, those were questions I did not want to know answers.


The lack of control was cemented today when Rudolfo said, “We are not going through today, tomorrow probably.”  Our initial reaction was disappointment, and as Americans regimented to schedules we were dumbfounded and slightly pissed off.  Within a few minutes we realized things were beyond our control, best to enjoy it. 


I am not sure who gets my bed tonight, since Junior, Luis, Tim and I are now all bunkmates.  I also don’t know what the plan is after dinner, since it may be hard to fall asleep at 7:45 pm; the discussed options have been dvds, charades or cards.  The hard part will be handling the language barrier.  I do know I have been stuck worse places than a Panamanian jungle, listening to howler monkeys, watching the sun set against a backdrop of vibrant greenery glowing from the lights of the ocean liners.  The disappointment is long gone, the night has been embraced, and I can’t wait to play charades with Junior.  Sometimes giving up control is the best idea.


Thursday May 15, 11:11 am


I have never been stranded on a dessert island – though I did get lost at Wild World once as a kid – but I can understand the feeling of desperation that must set in.  Last night when we were told we would not cross the Gatun locks we were assured the first north bound passage, probably another early morning with our advisor arriving at 7 am.  Advisors do not stay the night with the boat as linehandlers do, and we bid farewell to Rudolfo yesterday.  Before Rudolfo left the ACP radioed to let us know 7 am wasn’t happening, more likely 11 am.  It is now 11:15 am and we were told we should have an advisor by 12:30 pm.


Every small motorboat in the harbor is now hopefully watched, the thought of our advisor coming aboard and leading us to the Atlantic a pleasant vision.  At this point real plans are in jeopardy, my sister and I are on the red-eye out of Panama City back to DC tonight at midnight, and the drive back to Panama City is at least 90 minutes.  Add to that the three hours still left to finish canal transversal and time is becoming precious.  We are not yet at a crisis point, though I definitely predict some restless moments in the future. 


The swim we went for this morning was refreshing, though it was quickly shut down by the ACP as they sternly told us not to return to the water (again los crocos).  In the meantime I sit and sweat on the deck; done with both Esquire and Vanity Fair, I have no choice but to return to the uber-serious text of Guns, Germs & Steel.    I continue to watch each boat with the hopeful eyes of Gilligan escaping his island, minus the dopey hat or a perky Mary Anne to keep me company.


Thursday May 15, 5:15 pm


We made it, we actually made it.  My feelings are a cocktail of relief, exhaustion, excitement and wonder.  After dropping off the linehandlers at the Panama Yacht Club in Colon, imagine the roughest parts of Baltimore with palm trees, reality set in that I crossed the Panama Canal.


The descent to the Atlantic did not mirror the peaceful journey we took the day before, where a nice boat ride was briefly interrupted by a few locks.  The Atlantic passage puts the smaller vessels in front of the large ones, and we shared all three Gatun locks with a US Navy cargo ship, the Cape Knox of Norfolk.  Our new advisor William, a dead ringer for Terrell Owens, explained we would enter the lock before the giant grey ship.  Watching the Knox creep into the lock and approach our stern at a snails pace reminded me of a scene from Star Wars.  Hans Solo and his Millenium Falcon are captured by Darth Vader; the Falcon is slowly brought into the Empire’s colossal starship.  Now imagine Tirbute as the Falcon only with no Jedi mind tricks to save us, just me holding a rope.


As the Knox moved closer the currents in the lock stirred, more and more as the Knox drew ever closer.  The water threw Tribute about, and my starboard stern line position took the brunt of the punishment.  Perhaps a cruel twist of fate, perhaps intentional slight by the other linehandlers, I later learned my position is generally regarded as the hardest line to handle on smaller vessels descending the canal.  My lack of experience, nor particular strength, no doubt aided the turbulence.


The uproar in the locks only grew as we descended; Gatun Locks consists of three consecutive locks with the final opening into the Caribbean Sea.  The lower the boats get the choppier the water, as both the fresh and salt water merge and the tides of the Caribbean, with the Atlantic Ocean behind it, rush into the locks.  Both the second and third lock required me to use every pound on my 190 lb frame, leveraging my body to pull the line ever tighter as the boat dropped with the 30 feet of water.  At times my body was almost parallel to the boat, pulling with just my arms a distant memory of the Pacific locks.  Junior once had to assist me, and for the third and final lock I used some science to my advantage and ran my rope through a wench.


By the time the final gate opened on the final lock any euphoric feeling was absent, just relief and exhaustion.  The exercise was slightly more than an hour; the physical toll was taxing, not to mention the fear of harming my family or Neil’s boat.  Once Neil pushed the throttle to full speed, and we were back out on the open water, I realized the accomplishment and allowed some minor mental accolades.  As William disembarked the ship (he actually just jumped onto another boat in the middle of the channel, these dudes are crazy) he made a point to tell me how good I did and he would go through with me again.  Perhaps it was lip service, but I’m buying it.  Later my mom and Neil told me how proud they were, which was nice, though William’s words mean more.


We entered The Flats, where ships anchor as they approach from the Atlantic side and await southern passage through the canal, and I remembered my first encounter with the Grand Canyon.  I’ll never forget how shocked I was at the magnitude and vastness of the Canyon, much as I will never forget the amount of and enormity of the ships waiting for northern passage.  They were too many to count, huge ships in every direction on the horizon.  Oil tankers from Yemen, car carriers from Korea, a rusted out cargo ship from Liberia; the huge ships ubiquitous, the nations of origin like a UN meeting.


The Caribbean water was a turquoise I had seen, and I was happy to see again; the wind blew and the sun came through a few clouds.  We had made it, I had done my part, and I will never forget it.


Defining credibility in media has always been difficult, since the explosion of blog’s that definition has gotten even harder.  A journalist’s credibility has long been associated with their press pass; the invitation to cover events validating that individual’s reliability to provide factual news information.  As bloggers are slowly embraced by news makers, though not necessarily respected by mainstream media, credibility of the journalist has changed.


The changing landscape of journalistic credibility is illustrated throughout the political landscape.  For decades television provided brief sound bites of politicians while the newspapers would offer more in depth coverage of policy and lawmaking.  Today blogs are constantly updating, often reporting nothing more than mere conjecture, with campaigns and legislative staffs assigning employees to monitor the blogosphere.  In the sports world there are countless sites devoted only to conjecture, be it potential trades a franchise should make or the cyber meeting point to fire a coach or general manager.


The blurred line between credentialed reporter and blogger has skewed the public perception of reliable information.  Gone is the antiquated notion that factual information can only come from a major network or newspaper; stories are often broken online by obtaining photos or scoops from people present at functions or rallies.  Many credentialed reporters are even confirming stories or leads taken from the blogs. 


Reliable information needs to be properly sourced and attributed regardless of the vehicle presenting.  In an age of Wikipedia, information needs more substantiating than merely reading something online, there has to be factual confirmation of news prior to reporting no matter what.  The old saying “you can’t believe everything you read” holds just as true in 2008 as it did in 1908, though the mediums have certainly changed.


It takes an inexact combination of cool, aloofness, and physical stature to pull off a flat top, a look very few men can rock.  One who can, and I had the pleasure of meeting, is the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, Mr. Jim Zorn.

Through my favorite trade association the Redskins invited my buddy plus guest to an intimate wine and cheese gathering with Coach Zorn.  The event was catered to high rollers the Redskin organization likes to show the red carpet to; I stuck out like a frat guy at a Shins concert.  Arriving at Redskin Park was exciting; I pulled into Clinton Portis parking spot with no delay.  After a moment I realized security would probably realize CP wasn’t driving that hot Accord and have me towed so I moved.  I have been to Redskin Park before, but never inside, and the gleaming silver of the three Lombardi trophies grabs your eye as soon as you enter the building.  There are old team photos lining the halls and another trophy case showing some of the teams Halas trophies and other memorabilia. 

The staff we dealt with was very nice and accommodating, we got a private tour which took us through the training room, weight room and players lounge.  While the excitement of seeing the enormous whirlpool Randy Thomas soaks in was palpable, I was surprised both by the size and modernity of the weight room.  I expected a cavernous contemporary facility, instead the gym was smaller than your average health club, lacking in aesthetic pleasure.

Ultimately weight rooms do not make the team, the coach does.  Unsure of my thoughts on Zorn prior to meeting him, I am a big fan now.  Approachable and down to earth, Zorn seemed like a genuinely good guy, the type that will win the hearts of both fans and players in the coming months and years.  Zorn was actually interested in our connection with the event, asking us what we do.  My buddy explained the advocacy work he does, then Zorn turned to me and I explained I really had no reason to be there and was just a big fan tagging along.  Curious and a little nervous what Zorn’s reaction would be, he paused a beat, let out an electrifying smile, reared back and gave me a big high five.  I don’t know that I have ever enjoyed a high five more.  Our conversation continued covering a range of topics including DC weather and kayaking, Zorn can connect with anybody.

Zorn’s only request was that we give him a chance, be fair as he begins his coaching career.  “No tomatoes, ok?” was his exact request.  Coach Zorn you have my word there will be no tomatoes, and if one brief meeting is any indication, this charismatic flat top will have the folks of DC singing Hail to the Skins in no time.


Decency and taste in journalism have long been issues in the journalism world.  The advent of the internet has only heightened public awareness of the vulgarities on display throughout the world. The information, particularly visual, available online has changed what the public sees and is aware of.


The information available online leaves the journalist in a precarious spot; the public has access to often graphic pictures yet the journalist is hamstrung in reporting by public realms of decency.  The present administration has only furthered the grip on decency standards to the point that journalists often err on the side of caution rather than draw hefty fines or penalties. 


The reality is in a country as large as the US, and with the incredibly varied opinions throughout its citizenry, there can be no one definition of decency.  Much like Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s explanation of pornography, “I know it when I see it”, decency and taste are boundaries most noticeable when crossed.  When the Associated Press snapped the now infamous picture of Kim Phuc running naked from her burning Vietnamese village there was outrage, though that picture was necessary to illustrate to the world the horrors that were happening in South East Asia at the time.  Conversely, when Brittany Spears appears without clothing all over the internet there is no context that validates that as newsworthy, decency and taste would be trampled if those photos were ever published by a reputable news source.


Government regulation of decency and taste often applies a sword where a scalpel is necessary.  There is no perfect solution, individual journalists should be held to high standards to only report and display newsworthy and decent material.




 I rarely make the trip over the river; Virginia is almost as exotic to me as Burkina Faso.  The combination of my buddy’s band, Tom McBride & the Atomic, and my first visit to Iota proved enough to make the trip to Arlington. 

Iota is a cool venue, maybe 1/3 the size of the main stage at Black Cat.  The club offered a good beer selection, bars flanking the stage on each side, exposed brick with various murals painted.  The acoustics were good, not too loud which often happens in small clubs, with appropriate lighting; the stage decorated by blue and white Christmas lights.  The bartenders were friendly and service was good, a nice contrast to other venues in the city where hipster condescension is the attitude of choice.  The club was comfortable in its simplicity, allowing intimacy between the band and audience.  My only complaint is smoking indoors, you forget about it until that first person lights up next to you.  The high ceilings allowed most smoke to dissipate, but upon leaving the bar that unfortunate familiar smell lingered on my shirt, I realized another reason to stay north of the Potomac. 

McBride and Co. put on a good performance despite only playing one previous show.  The five piece band included keyboards and sax accompanying the traditional bass, guitar/vocals, drums.  Mostly McBride originals were played, a cohesion belying the band’s lack of familiarity, a Ween cover mixed in riled up the crowd.  The sax player, Colin Crawford, provided a distinct sound, his addition a certain asset to the band.  The final two songs of the night brought the most reaction from the crowd.  The first a McBride original, Flying Pete, featured strong vocals from McBride with each band member playing a brief solo.  The crowd yelling for one more song, the band happily obliged with the Johnny Cash classic Folsom Prison Blues.  When McBride belted out “I hear the train a coming” smiles flashed across many in the crowd, others sang along — nothing beats live music and cold Budweiser.