Monthly Archives: February 2011

these grapes are sour and blighted by phylloxera

2/9/11

Folks who aren’t into basketball, turn away now, I MEAN IT. Because this is going to be a niche post for UNC hoops devotees, and you’re going to wonder why a bunch of otherwise-nice and normal-seeming people want to take a napalm flamethrower and turn Dook University into a brownfield Superfund site replete with unexploded mines.

I know that people who complain about the refs after a lost basketball game are usually childish spoilsports who don’t have the grace to acknowledge their team has a lot more problems than the officiating. I also know that people who complain about the refs after a loss also begin their diatribes “I never complain about the refs, but…”

I get all that, and I’ve always been loath to bitch about the referees for the reasons stated above, and because there’s so much else about Dook that is worthy of our disgust. But when you’ve got a game that is as evenly-matched and as close as ours was last night, it’s an established fact: the referees can dictate the winner, and often do. And last night’s refereeing was partial, unjust, inconsistent and a CLINIC of HOME COOKIN’ BULLSHIT.

I freely admit Carolina has been at the receiving end of the ref’s largesse back in Dean Smith’s day, in fact, Koach K will still lecture you about it if you’re stuck in an elevator with the man. I’ll even go out on a limb and say there were one or two questionable calls in last night’s game that went in our favor.

But the way the referees dictated the ebb and flow of the game, marring our brilliant first half with some ultimately fatal calls… oh, it just makes me want to fucking barf. Here’s just a smattering:

• Dexter Strickland, playing backup point guard because a member of our team had to go home to his mommy, has a brilliant fast break during one of our runs; Kyle Singler gets there late, slips under him for one of the most obvious fouls in basketball… but it’s called an offensive foul by the ref. Dex has to sit with three phantom fouls, which means Kendall Marshall had to guard Nolan Smith for the whole 2nd half, and our rotation is fucked.

• Tyler Zeller does the same thing on the other end of the floor; it’s called a blocking foul, and Dook gets a 3-point play. This happens over and over.

• John Henson takes the ball for a loopy left-handed running hook, and replay shows two white Dookie hands battering him TWICE en route, no call.

• Harrison Barnes gets the steal around the 3-minute mark of the first half, is intentionally fouled TWICE as he goes up for the lay-in, but no call.

• John Henson gets a great rebound, lands near the baseline. Two Dookies commence beating the SHIT out of him, karate-chopping his arms, and he moves to get away from the blows. Refs call him for traveling.

• skip to the end, when Tyler Zeller gets the ball down low. We’re down four points with 50 seconds left. He tries to shoot, but is positively HAMMERED by THREE different Dook players – one of whom pushes him in the back as he flails – and no whistle. They get the rebound, game over. If he’d gotten the call, or if he’d made it plus the foul, then we’re talking about a one-possession game.

Dook shot twice as many three pointers as us, and yet they had only 16 fouls called on them, versus 23 on us. Stat geeks call that an “anomaly”, but I call it “a hunk of burning ratshit”.

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By the end, our team was so flustered and off-balance by the officiating, we had no idea what to do. Klown Kollege was not called for a one moving pick, or one push, thus turning basketball – usually a game I compare to art and ballet – into a fucking scrum. Those motherfuckers are incapable of an offensive play that doesn’t involve a stiff-arm or a hook. They grab jerseys, they hand-check, and they stall the ball after a made basket in order to get their defense set up.

And whether it’s due to racism, or reverse racism, or getting caught up in the lockstep fuckpants of Kameron Indoor Stadium, these refs helped Dook fuel a comeback, and solidified their lead straight to the end. Like I said, I’ve seen 51 of these UNC-Dook matchups and hardly ever say anything about the refs. I’m happy to admit we played the second half with low intensity, I know we missed some big shots, but this was a game decided by the officials, not the teams.

I will be at the Dook home game in March, my 26th in a row, and I will be accompanied by my 5-year-old daughter. She takes things like fairness very seriously, so if we don’t get a game called both ways consistently, they’re going to have the both of us to contend with, and she has lungs that can blanch the stripes off a zebra. Remember that, refs.

paradise refocused

2/8/11

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Things aren’t really supposed to happen like this. I always thought Dean Smith retired about five years too early, but now I see him as a genius: he stepped down just as web browsers became popular, and saved himself the agony of daily pelting. He excused himself from Barcalounging pontificators, message boards oozing with acid, moronic tweets, and Facebook diatribes from sour-grape head cases. He retired a gentleman and a hero.

In a way, the mercurial Roy Williams, with mood swings like Maine in April and able to cry on a dime, is the perfect coach for the new era. Only Roy could have taken the core message from Dean and Guthridge (“play hard, smart, and together” and “winning is nice, but family is forever”) and delivered it to kids with enough pianissimo and fortissimo for it to get through.

We now live in a time when a couple of stupid Twitter comments can get your whole football team shitcanned for a season. We know far too much about the daily peccadillos of our players, and way too much ink is spilled on every last rumor. I remember in 1990 – the year I wrote that infamous An Insider’s Guide to Hating Duke – we actually having a pretty crappy year. We’d already lost to Missouri, Alabama, Iowa, Georgetown, and Colorado State(!) – we went on to lose three more ACC games in a row, lost to UVA in the first round of the ACC Tournament, and were barely saved by Rick Fox’s last-second basket against #1 Oklahoma in the NCAA’s.

How much shit do you think Dean Smith would have suffered from punditry, forum posts and “Around the Horn” back then? It would have been sickening, and it would have led to the kind of see-saw yo-yo-ing fair-weather fan base you’re seeing right now. Everyone would be glued to Jerry Stackhouse’s Twitter feed to see if he was still interested in coming to our school.

I’m not some crusty Luddite who wants to turn back the clock (hell, I’m writing this on a blog, for chrissake) but I do want to simplify matters: LET US GET BACK TO WHAT IS IMPORTANT. The grevious and grotesque way our previous point guard left is not important. The batshit inappropriate Facebook thread of clearly deluded ex-players (and their parents!) is not important.

What is important is this: that university in Durham, NC stands for something. It stands for a way of life, a mode of thinking, and a rich history of almost painstakingly consistent behavior. What you saw in them in 1989, they possessed in 2003. When you experienced what they did in 1992, know they are still made of the same stuff in 2010. In a world that is ever-changing, where firmware upgrades happen via satellite, and your status can go from “married” to “it’s complicated” in a fiber-optic heartbeat, they’ve managed to stay exactly the same.

Which is why, 2 or 3 times a year, it’s up to us to

TAKE THEM DOWN.

gather moss and be gone

2/6/11

I have a kidney stone that has not yet passed, cloaking my life in stultifying misery since 2:30am Saturday morning, spending the night at the hospital and the weekend in bed… it’s demoralizing in all kinds of ways (duration, etc.) but the hardest thing to take is that I thought I’d cured myself of them. The last one was in 2002, and I had already spiked the football in the end zone and taken home the Kidney Trophy.

This one was worse by far, and continues to be. There is some poetic irony here – I have always done pretty much anything to be free of physical pain, I fear it more than most people I know, and have been haunted by “sensory integration issues” since I was a child. I suppose it stands to reason, then, that I get blindsided by the worse pain your body has to offer.

Somebody say something funny, touching, lighthearted or a story with unicorns in it, please.

this carpet tastes invigorating

2/3/11

First they came and took our intercourse away, then they came and took our drugs, then they legislated Fun out of existence, and here we stand: without Jarts, without diving boards, our heads sealed in bike helmets, no longer able to climb our neighbors’ trees for fear of million-dollar jury settlements. BUT NOW THEY HAVE GONE TOO FAR.

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I’m sorry, but that is a hunk of STAGGERINGLY UNFAIR BULLSHIT. The one thing you could always count on, when all the boxed wine had been drunk, when all the conversation had been exhausted, was a fantastic, messy bout of delirious cunnilingus. Sure, actual sex was just too serious and too intimate, but if you wanted all the ecstasy with very little recrimination and “what did that mean” hysteria, we were always able to unleash our inner fellatrix and cunning-and-willing linguist.

I say this as someone who was really amazing at the act itself. This is not bragging; in fact, it was borne out of utter dorkdom. My sexuality bloomed so late that it necessarily became something of an intellectual pursuit – and I recruited a few female friends my junior year at Carolina to show me (in a passionately Platonic way) exactly what to do, what no to do, how long to do it, and some special tricks. For that, I’m forever indebted, and they know who they are (hey!).

For any guy just starting out in the business, it’s like stepping into the cockpit of a 747, what with so many dials and knobs and weird buttons that make noise when you touch them. But after months of intensive training, it got to be something I absolutely relished.

Oral is the killer app of sex. It is to orgasm what texting is to cellphones: intimate yet uncomplicated, essential yet superfluous, it can save your night yet be dismissed in one breath. It can mean whatever you want it to mean, which is usually “I really, really think you’re stunning, and since we’re young and should have many experiences, tonight let’s do something awesome.”

AND NOW, FINALLY, THEY TOOK IT AWAY. I’m sorry, but uvula cancer? Esophageal dysplasia? Can’t anything stay sacrosanct? Up next: Scalp Massage May Unleash Alzheimer’s! Lightly Kissing Ear Implicated In Scrotal Leprosy!

Sure, most people are bad at oral sex, and it’ll give some women an excuse to say no to another lumbering oaf going down on them and licking all the wrong things, and looking up at them for approval like a sad dog. It might also give some men a break from the occasional lady who attacks your unit like an arc welder trying to hack through carbon steel pipe.

But for those of us who miss the good old days of De La Soul, amaretto sours and oral sex, this is one last ignominy that really hurts. It’s enough to get you on a high diving board with an armful of Jarts, popping Vioxx chased by sticks of butter, cackling “YOU MIGHT’VE TAKEN EVERYTHING ELSE, BUT YOU DON’T GET MY DIGNITY!”

living in a state of the nile

2/2/11

I’m honored to have Joan Petit taking over the blog today – she and I met in a kitchen in Chapel Hill about 17 years ago, talked for hours, and through the miracle of the internet I still get to know what she thinks (and sometimes comments as “jp”). Anyway, she just got back from living in Egypt, and I’ve been following her tweets for all the relevant news.

I asked her to write a “What the Hell is Going On in Egypt? For Dummies” blog, and she consented. Without excessive ado, here’s Joan…

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I used to live in Egypt… in Cairo to be precise. For my first year, I walked through Tahrir Square every day, then famous for the Egyptian Museum, a large and ugly government building, and McDonald’s – but now famous as the main site of Egyptians’ protests against the corrupt Mubarak regime. All told, my family and I spent two years in Cairo during my tenure as a librarian at the American University in Cairo.

I’m not a Middle East expert, or an Egyptian expert. I will also confess that I never visited the Egyptian Museum (oops), though I did make it to the Pyramids, and even into one Pyramid, a few times. But I did gain an understanding of my adopted home, the kind I can only really get when I spend time someplace. So, as friends have asked me questions about the uprising of late, I’ve tried to my best to interpret Egypt for them. Also, as a librarian, I feel compelled to answer all questions asked of me and refer you to other sources.

Let’s start with this one: How Not to Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt. (I share this because my very smart friend K told me in confidence that she had said half of these things. She said I had an obligation to share the truth! Who could resist such a calling?)

So let’s talk about Mubarak. Please don’t think he’s some benevolent dictator just because the US has called him a friend, and because you don’t hear so much about the terrible stuff that’s happened over the past 30 years in the name of “stability”.

When I was there, I learned this: Egyptians have no right of free speech or assembly. They are terrified of the police. There’s been a state of emergency for 30 years, with tens of thousands held. Egyptians are not allowed to criticize the president, the punishment for which is one year in prison. They were often politically apathetic because that’s a whole lot easier than being angrier all the time (which is why these protests caught so many people by surprise).

Egyptians do have many freedoms, however, and life there is very different than in the Persian Gulf. For example, the internet is not censored (well, not until last week) and men download porn freely; women drive and work, even if they do cover their hair and sometimes their faces. And because there are so many tourists in Egypt (and perhaps western expats), you can find pockets that feel very western – tourists wearing tanks and short-shorts at the Pyramids, and men and women in tiny swimsuits in Sharm el Sheikh.

And the government is officially secular, so while Egypt is predominantly Muslim, about 10% are Christian (including, notably, the garbage collectors, who live in disgusting, trash-covered slums), and they’re generally allowed to live in peace.

But Mubarak, who is now sending mercenaries and plainclothes cops to attack journalists and protesters, hasn’t been a good guy for a long time.

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In the spring of 2008, Egyptians were getting increasingly frustrated with rising bread prices, and a young woman named Esraa Rashid helped start a Facebook group calling for a mass strike on April 6, Mubarak’s birthday. The group gained over 70,000 followers.

On the day of the strike, I went to work, walked up the metro exit to Tahrir, and was greeted by riot police in droves. There were no protesters, and the police were keeping their eyes on every Egyptian nearby (as a white American woman, I garnered no notice). Soon after, however, Esraa arrived at Tahrir and was arrested and jailed for two weeks.

In February of 2009, German-Egyptian blogger and peace activist Philip Rizk, also a grad student on my campus, was taken from his home in the middle of the night by Egyptian security forces. His crime? In addition to writing a pseudonymous blog, he joined a six-mile peace walk in support of Palestinians in Gaza. He was jailed for four nights, during which time he was interrogated and beaten around the clock. Some people were surprised, thinking his relative privilege and dual-citizenship would protect him. Instead, the Egyptian government hacked into his email, blog, and other online accounts and attempted to destroy it all.

These two stories are only the tip of the iceberg. (On a sidenote: while in Egypt, I had my students blog their homework. The content was benign – I warned them against doing otherwise – but it was wonderful to see them learn how easy it was to share information with the world.)

Why is this uprising happening now? It’s hard to say. The poor aren’t doing well. A lot of young men are unemployed, which also means they can’t get married or even have girlfriends. Egyptians hate Mubarak and his relationship with Israel. The state has been cracking down on bloggers. They were inspired by Tunisia. All pieces of a whole, perhaps.

And how does the US fit into all this? Well, it’s complicated. Undoubtedly you’ve been hearing about the billions of dollars we send both to Israel and Egypt. That money buys peace on the border; that money supports the Camp David Accords. Egyptians hate Israel with a passion you can’t even begin to understand (or at least I couldn’t). But the Israeli-Egyptian alliance is the key to the US’s aims for peace, which is why Obama has been so frustratingly reluctant to speak more strongly against Mubarak.

And now – At this point, no one can say what will happen. I’ve been following Twitter pretty obsessively (this list, put together by a Reuters journalist, is a great starting point). I’m also interested to read the thoughts of our fellow Tar Heel and former Daily Tar Heel editor, the journalist Thanassis Cambanis (also, buy his book!). And of course I hope you all know of Al Jazeera’s live stream in English. It’s excellent, much better than CNN or other American network coverage. The New York Times isn’t so shabby either.

My fear is that Mubarak won’t leave and he’ll keep sending more thugs with guns (or the army) to attack protesters, and that the western media will leave or become less interested. And then, people will either be murdered by their government, or, if they go home, arrested one by one.

But there can be no turning back now. Egyptians are calling Friday the Day of Departure. But, some are running out of food and water and might be ready to give up. Can they make it? I am very worried, but also very hopeful for the Egyptian people.

And, by the way, this isn’t an Islamist revolution. All political parties except Mubarak’s are outlawed in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood (which, in Egypt, is nothing close to radical) is the only one that manages to keep itself together. But when people pray in Cairo–well, that’s nothing. That’s like getting a latte in the US. Muslims pray five times a day, even when they are protesting.

Here’s some compelling stuff you might want to read or watch.

Asma Mahfouz appeals to Egyptian men to come to Tahrir. This is in Arabic with subtitles, but the desperation is loud and clear.

Activist Mona Seif talks to Al Jazeera from Tahrir Square.

If you have questions, or if I’ve made any mistakes here, let me know in the comments, and I’ll respond. Thanks to Ian for giving me a chance to chatter about one of my favorite topics.

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