Saturday, May 31, 2008

My new favorite Wildcat

Twenty years ago Sean Elliot led the University of Arizona to the NCAA basketball Final Four. For some reason that I've never really figured out, a 12-year-old kid living in Amherst, NY adopted the Tucson school as his favorite. The UofA lost its first game in the Final Four, but a fan was born. When I eventually enrolled at UofA I half-joked the Sean Elliot was the reason I attended school 2,000 miles away from home in a scorching hot desert.

Through the years, the UofA basketball team has been the team that I've lived and died with the most. While I was at college I suffered the ignominy of a first round upset (during a time when we were the de rigeur pick to be the fave that went down early). But that was obliterated on the scale by being courtside for a national championship.

I grew up a Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres fan. I've sufferend through too many bad sports jokes, but my college sports life (one college basketball national championship, three softball titles, a damn good women's volleyball team, one great football season) redeemed that.

So this yeah when the Wildcat basketball program exploded/imploded (as the legendary coach Lute Olson took a leave of absence, endured a public divorce, showed himself to be arrogant during a holier-than-thou press conference, fired/lost his entire assitant coaching staff, suffered the early departures of his best players) my ultimate sports high, that one shining moment I could always point to and say "I was there. I was part of that," had dimmed.

But I realized that on Thursday night things had a chance to turn courtesy of the UofA softball team. In the hyper-competitive world of college basketball, no one is really a dynasty, but the UofA softball Wildcats are. And unlike in pro sports or even in major college sports like football, it's not because of astronomical money spent on players' salaries or facilities and coaches' salaries. So I never felt dirty rooting for the goliath. I think also because every interview I'd ever seen with coach Mike Candrea and more importantly the women who played on the team, I always felt proud that they were Wildcats. Yeah, it's corny, but I think that kind of camaraderie is part of the best thing about college and sports.

Last year, I bragged in my blog about pitcher Taryne Mowatt who at 5-6 threw more than 1,000 pitches in all eight games to win the program's 8th national title. I never felt prouder to be a Wildcat. She wasn't in this for longterm professional glory and riches. She wasn't in it for a shoe contract. She was in it for at least to some degree the same reason we play sports as children, for joy, teammates, competition and excellence.

Well earlier today when the Wildcats lost to Alabama finishing the WCWS 0-2 and going home really early, I don't think I ever felt so sad as a Wildcat. To me Mowatt embodied the best parts of sports and seeing her so sad at the end was heartbreaking. Because this was it for her and the other seniors. Sure they might play for the national team some day or in the "pro" league, but it won't be anything close to the same. And as of now the national team won't have Olympics to play in, so this really was it. I hate seeing someone not end on the high note (even if they at least at one point has a high note). Brett Michaels sang that it's better to have lost and loved than never to have loved at all, but still ...

Taryne Mowatt is such a talent, but also an underdog (hell, even Candrea said that he wasn't sure about recruiting her) and I feel like she always repped the university at its pinnacle. Not having her on the field next year is gonna hurt. Amazingly, she's got something that Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott (two pithcers generaly considered better in the all-time rankings) don't have, a national championship (and also a Most Outstanding player in the tournament award). Hell, she's got two championships.

So to the Arizona Wildcats 2008 softball team, I raise a metaphorical glass. Good-bye Taryne Mowatt and Callista Balko and Adrienne Acton, we shall miss you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Short dispatch from vacation

I rode a mechanical bull. I am hurt.

Daisy Duke's I shall return. Bull I shall own you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another reason to hate Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh has criticized California Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia), who has introduced legislation that would make it illegal to drive with a dog on your lap. I think the only thing that I can say in response is: "IT'S FUCKING LEGAL TO DRIVE WITH A FUCKING DOG ON YOUR FUCKING LAP?"

Are you kidding me? Seriously, it's legal to have a living, breathing, sitting, shedding, tail-wagging, pooping, potentially car-sicking, panting, barking, jumping, shifting hairy distraction on your lap while you operate a high-speed, multi-ton piece of potentially lethal machinery?

Here are some stats from the L.A. Times ...

There were at least 128 accidents in the state last year in which a factor was inattention caused by animals in the vehicle, according to the California Highway Patrol. Those included one fatality and 68 injuries.

Maze noted that a crash last month in Modesto involved a woman driving with her cat.

"It scratched her in the face and she went out of control and hit a power pole," Maze said.

I say keep fighting Bob Maze. That people, including the director of the Peterson Automotive Museum, are up in arms over one legislator's attempt to make a non-sensical dangerous practice illegal stupefies me, literally. I find myself unable to express my incredulity.

Kill me now.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Think good thoughts

Living in Los Angeles, I've seen some stark financial contrasts in lifestyle, especially working at a county-wide non-profit teen newspaper that includes staff writers from tony zip codes in Beverly Hills and Brentwood (kids whose parents by them BMW Z30s for their birthdays) to the much more impoverished areas of South and East Los Angeles (kids who can't come to the office because they can't afford the $5 daypass on public trans, and if they could would take the 2.5-hour bus trip because the parents were working on Saturday).

The contrast is unsettling to me in a general sense of income disparity (then again I'm a socialist pretty much), but by and large I am OK with it in that the students who come from wealthy backgrounds tend to be incredibly empathetic, do not flaunt (even those who drive the nice rides) and have strong commitments to social justice. Some of my favorite students ever come from wealthy backgrounds and except for knowing their zip codes, I'd never even consider them wealthy given their work ethics, humbleness and lack of materialism. And would it not be the apex of ridiculous unfairness to begrudge them their parents' success?

However, come college admissions time I'm confronted with the longterm consequences of these varied upbringings. Most of our students attend four-year college and virtually all begin some kind of post-highschool education, which is awesome. But the students from wealthier backgrounds with parents who are college graduates (esp. when American-born) and who attended strong high schools with lots of college counselors and who could afford SAT-type prep classes end up choosing among Stanford, an Ivy, UCLA, Berkeley and other super-reputable colleges, our other students' lists are smaller (b/c they couldn't afford to apply to as many schools) and more likely to include the Cal-States and often not the Ivys.

This is NOT to say that the elite-reputed schools offer better educations for everyone. THEY ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY do not. For me the best school was the University of Arizona; though I know I could have done the work at a UCLA or Northwestern. But I knew what I wanted in a school ... far away, bigtime athletics, lots and lots of majors and a-non CUTTHROAT environment, affordable. I got that and it started me on a life course that has taken me to a dream job, so how the fuck can I complain?

But though it's a dream job, it of course has it's challenges. Talking with a friend yesterday, she remarked that as I share stories about the students at L.A. Youth she sometimes gets a little envious that I get to hang out with such cool, brilliant, idealistic kids. When I see that they might not be able to pursue their dreams because of money problems, it's the most frustrating thing ever (well that might be tied with students who don't have that problem but short-circuit themselves because they squander advantages). It makes me want to be ridiculously wealthy so that I can help them. Sadly, when tuition at many private schools is more than $30,000 a year I am far outside the realm of being able to assist.

This all brings me to RGC, one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest, coolest students I've ever worked with. She wants to be a fashion designer. She's got skills, I've seen some of her sketches and they're great. She's been admitted to Parsons (Project Runway school) but the school costs an estimated $50,000-plus per year (tuition plus housing et al). They've offered her like $7,500 per year. She's an immigrant (yeah, she's legal) so not entitled to the federal student loan program or Pell Grant program. She has a scholarship but if she goes for more, the school has already said that it'll cut its aid offer.

She's on a plane right now headed to NYC to tour the school and hopes to meet with a financial aid counselor at the school to make her case. We met with her this past week to give her a pep talk and offer advice about how to make her case. I helped her with her appeal letter. Now all I can do is sit powerless hoping that she's successful (first in being able to schedule a meeting, second in acing it). So think good thoughts.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A huge personal milestone!

By my count I have now been to 100 concerts! Wow! This includes festivals, benefits, tiny shows at McCabe's Guitar Shop and stadium sized shows. It doesn't include The Jackson's Victory Tour from fourth grade. That was not a concert of choice. It includes one free show (Indigo Girls at the Plaza in Albany), which was huge and a full-length show. It does not include free shows at Amoeba Music and includes just one of the two Gemma Hayes shows at the Hotel Cafe. The second show was just five or six songs.

The bands/artists I've seen most often at four times each: Rilo Kiley, The Shins, Tift Merritt.

Three times: Coldplay, R.E.M., Regina Spektor, Neko Case (solo), Bright Eyes, Arcade Fire, Rachael Yamagata

Twice: The New Pornographers, Joanna Newsom, Damien Rice, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Belle and Sebastian, Stars, Alison Krauss, The Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Gemma Hayes, The Pipettes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Jenny Lewis, Brandi Carlile, Wilco (really kinda 1.5).

People I've seen just once and really want to see again: The Decemberists, Radiohead (I have tix for another show), Sufjan Stevens, Zooey Deschanel.

People I've never seen whom I really want to: Prince, Pink Floyd, Spirit of the West, M.I.A., The White Stripes.

• The first show was 10,000 Maniacs at Darien Lake with my high school friend Jeremy

• I think one of the coolest things for me is that show 100 was Rilo Kiley, my favorite band! How cool is that?

Fave venues: The Hotel Cafe, Troubadour, Hollywood Bowl

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Improve your vocab and help feed the hungry

Help end world hunger It's so easy and simple that it sounds like a scam. Take a vocabulary quiz and for each word you choose the correct synonym for 20 grains of rice will be donated to the hungry.

In about 20 minutes of playing I have donated 1,380 grains of rice. A miniscule amount, I know. But ... since the site launched October 7, 2007, they've raised ... 30,423,902,770. says there are 29,000 grains of rice in a pound, which means that according to these numbers has donated more than 1,049,100 pounds of rice!!!

Here's the Washington Post's blurb about the site ...

What's the Word? We Can Help Feed the Hungry.

Sunday, November 4, 2007; Page N02

What if just knowing what a word meant could help feed hungry people around the world? Well, at FreeRice ( it does. Go to the site, which launched last month, and you'll see a word and four definitions. Choose the right meaning and the site's advertisers will donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program, a United Nations agency that is the world's largest humanitarian organization. Keep on guessing (the quiz gets progressively more arduous, not to mention vexatious), and for each correct answer 10 more grains of rice will head to people who need it.

Now, admittedly, 10 grains is a piddling amount. But the totals have grown exponentially. On Oct. 7, the day the site launched, 830 grains of rice were donated. Barely a bowlful. Eight days later, the total was 6,403,920. And when this article went to press, 537,163,380 grains of rice had been donated. That's more than 14 metric tons. Not bad for a month's worth of people figuring out definitions. Want a sample? Okay, does the word "pettifogger" mean a mine entrance, an unscrupulous lawyer, avoidance or potpourri?

The site is the brainchild of John Breen, a 50-year-old computer programmer from Bloomington, Ind., who has tackled hunger online before, first with the Hunger Site ( and, earlier this year, with the launch of, a poverty awareness site that he hopes people will visit to learn about helping to get more funding for international poverty relief.

"I wanted to have something fun to do that wasn't just a waste of time and had some vaguely redeeming value," Breen says with a laugh. He decided on the vocabulary quiz -- and entered all 10,000 words and definitions himself -- after watching his son preparing for the SAT.

"It's hard to get people to read about hunger and poverty," Breen says. "It's kind of depressing, so I had to think of an entertaining way to draw people in. Hopefully, they'll also click on to and find out what needs to be done."

Oh, and if in your clicking you come across "pettifogger," it means unscrupulous lawyer. Yeah, it's sort of cheating to tell you, but it's for a good cause.

-- Joe Heim

My vocab level is up to 40. The site goes up to 55, but most people don't exceed 48, according to the site.