Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

Let’s take a break from the world of sports and other news to bring this extremely important public service announcement.  For lunch today, we decided to order 10 pizzas for everyone in office.  After much debate, we ended up settling on 5 pizzas to contain strictly some type of combination of meat and cheese, while the other 5 pizzas would have a potpourri of greens, onions, olives and mushrooms upon the insistence of a couple of people.  Of course, within 5 minutes of the pizzas arriving, there was a lone slice of sausage remaining while 4 1/2 pizzas with the green stuff continued to lay around, leaving dozens of hungry people to turn to cannibalism.

Here’s the lesson that needs to be hammered home here: if you’re ordering pizza for 4 or more people, ONLY ORDER MEAT AND CHEESE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY.  If for some reason there is someone that simply can’t or won’t eat meat (which it must be noted is a crime against humanity), then an exception for a plain cheese or spinach pizza is acceptable.  I don’t care if it’s just you ordering a pizza along with Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck, and Dom DeLuise – once you get to 4 people in a group, pizza is about sticking to the basics.  There needs to be a muzzle put on “that guy” that insists upon ordering some wacky combination of toppings, because the fact of the matter is that he’ll end up eating one slice of it and then head on to the sausage and pepperoni.  I’ve ordered pizza in large groups hundreds of times in my life and the fucked-up ingredient pizza ends up laying untouched while people stab each other over the last piece of pepperoni EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME.

Look, I’m the furthest thing from a picky eater.  The two most prominent athletic inspirations in my life are Michael Jordan and Kobayashi.  Yet, there are simply quite a few things that I normally enjoy, such as onions and peppers, that I just can’t stand on pizza (on a related subject, I’d rather check out how Shaq’s ass tastes than eat another mushroom in my life – just a personal preference there).  For me, pizza is about dead animals and cheese – end of discussion.  This is also the case for 99% of the rest of humanity, which is the reason why the choices of pizza at mass gatherings such as sporting events, rock concerts, and political protests are always limited to sausage, pepperoni, or cheese (with the glorious meat lover’s option thrown in every once in awhile – if bacon on pizza is wrong, then I don’t want to be right).

Once again, the lesson for ordering pizza in a group is (1) meat, (2) cheese, and (3) shoot any dissenters.  When it comes to ordering pizza, you need to put the sickle down like Soviet Russia.

Rants about this past weekend’s Illini and Bears games are forthcoming.

(Image from MeighanMag)

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A few articles that I have come across over the past few days have brought up a number of loaded issues regarding race and class in the Chicago area. The New Republic looks at the Chicago area’s transformation to a Paris-style inverted geographic class structure, where the wealthy are increasingly living in or near the center of town and the poor are pushed to the outer suburbs of the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, the Freakonomics blog had an open-ended discussion on America’s most racist city, with Chicago appearing to come right behind Boston with the dubious distinction in the opinion of most commenters. Finally, even the decision by Starbucks to close stores across the country is interpreted by some to have a racial tint when such closings happen to be in areas with larger black populations (most notably, Chicago’s South Suburbs). Although the diversity of the racial, ethnic, religious and other groups within the Chicago area is as high as any place in the United States, the perception remains that city and its surrounding suburbs are extremely segregated.

There are significant arguments that most of Chicago’s racial segregation is rooted more in class differences over anything else. The urban core of Chicago has been rapidly gentrifying over the past decade, with neighborhoods that used to be considered ghettos turning into affluent enclaves for yuppies and hipsters. (Certain people really like gentrification.) The author of the New Republic article, who grew up in what would now be called the West Loop, referenced the incredible changes in the area around UIC, which is something that I can personally attest to. My father worked the bulk of his career at UIC and up until the late-1990s, the thought of walking around the fringes of campus after it got dark out was considered to be a death wish. My family always joked that we could buy back the hubcaps from my father’s car at the Maxwell Street market every week since they were stolen so frequently. Now, the housing projects have almost entirely been eradicated from the area while condos and townhomes that run into the upper six and seven figures line the streets. It’s not quite a West Side version of Lincoln Park as of yet, but it looks a whole lot more like the wealthy North Side neighborhood than the areas immediately adjacent to University Village to the south and west. While there has been plenty of negative press about how people have been pushed out of their old neighborhoods, at end of the day, I believe that gentrification is better as a whole than “managed growth” (which essentially means restrictions on new investment). Certainly, Chicago is a whole lot better off than its Midwestern brethren of Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cleveland as a result of gentrification with businesses and residents correspondingly moving into the area as opposed to out. The utopian vision would be that neighborhoods could improve on a linear basis where a blighted neighborhood can gradually become “middle class” in a neat and predictable fashion, but the reality is that urban development in Chicago (and other strong cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston) is coupled with a Tipping Point phenomenon – the change in a neighborhood is very slow until it hits a certain critical mass of affluence and trendiness, where it then transforms rapidly from one extreme on the income scale to another. This could also be a reflection of society as a whole where there is a greater bifurcation between the upper and lower classes with a smaller middle class. Despite the significant rise in cost of living expenses in the city, on the whole, when the choice is to be more like Manhattan or Detroit, most reasonable people would choose Manhattan.

However, is what is happening in Chicago, Boston, New York and other cities with rapidly gentrifying urban cores really just about class? I grew up in Chicago’s South Suburbs, which have long been considered the forgotten stepchild of the region. Even while being Polese (half-Polish and half-Chinese), I was always pretty well aware that even the more affluent South Suburban areas of Homewood and Flossmoor were treated with different standards by businesses and even government agencies than the North and West Suburbs and had long theorized that it was because of race. For example, when I took the Metra on the Illinois Central line to the city from downtown Homewood as a kid, every rider had to purchase a ticket prior to getting on board and then put it through a turnstile in order to get onto the train platform. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I took the Milwaukee North line to visit my then-girlfriend now-wife when she lived by Libertyville, I was perplexed that I could get on the train itself, much less the platform, without a ticket and could even purchase it on board. I came to find out this was indeed the case on every single Metra line in the Chicago area – except, of course, for the Illinois Central line that runs through the South Side of Chicago and the South Suburbs. This was rectified in 2003 (not exactly ancient history) where the Illinois Central line is now treated in the same manner as all of the other lines, but this shows where the South Side was treated on the area’s totem pole where its residents couldn’t be trusted to even get onto a train. Plenty of other train lines went through (and continue to go through) high crime areas such as Joliet and Waukegan, yet it’s hard not to notice that the Illinois Central is the one line that cuts through more predominantly African-American neighborhoods and suburbs compared to the others.

After spending my years since graduating from college and law school living at certain points in Chinatown (more like the gentrified South Loop economically than the rest of the South Side), Roscoe Village, Libertyville and now Naperville (all the while either going to school or working in the Loop), it was easy for me to forget that there are places in this world that are begging for places such as Starbucks (and for that matter, any type of retail and restaurants other than fast food) instead of attending the latest NIMBY protest. The news of the Starbucks exit from Country Club Hills brought back those old feelings that the South Side is still being neglected in the region. There are three Starbucks shops within a two block radius in downtown Naperville – yes, in downtown Naperville, not downtown Chicago – while there is a Starbucks on the first floor of the Store Formerly Known as Marshall Field’s on State Street, another one on the bottom floor of the store and yet another across the street. All the while, a middle class suburb such as Country Club Hills supposedly can’t support just one Starbucks even though suburbs to the north and west still have free-flowing coffee with similar economic demographics (but significantly different racial compositions).

I would be the first to tell you that I’m essentially an Ayn Rand objectivist when it comes to economic policy and business decisions and have absolutely no qualms about any entity leaving an area for financial reasons. At the same time, I don’t think that Starbucks has made any type of nefarious racially-tinged decision with respect to closing the Country Club Hills location or any of its other stores. Yet, it would be blind to state that race isn’t a major factor in where people move to, which in turn businesses will follow. My childhood hometown of Glenwood was over 90% white back in 1980. The average income of its residents hasn’t substantively changed since then, yet whites have increasingly moved out of the town (mostly to Southwest Suburbs west of I-57 such as Tinley Park and Orland Park) to the point where it is now a majority black town. This isn’t a comment as to whether this is good or bad, but rather an observation that this relatively fast and very drastic racial change had little relation to changes in income or class demographics (as is often argued about racial changes in gentrifying areas). Does Glenwood have a classic case of white flight that occurred in neighboring Harvey and Chicago Heights long ago? Was it perceptions about crime (whether or not they are true) that spurred people to move? As much as I have tried to use this blog to present possible solutions to issues ranging from sports to politics, I’m at a loss as how to address these issues when we have been looking at the exact same pattern repeat itself over and over.

(Image from uic.edu)

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Since the Bulls made a decent run in the NBA Playoffs (I’ll have some thoughts on the Bulls heading into the offseason after Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery), I haven’t had the opportunity to focus on baseball too much yet. Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to sulk over the Bulls’ ugly performance last Thursday to be closed off by the Pistons since Chicago’s city baseball series was rekindled on Friday. Needless to say, this past weekend’s crosstown series between the White Sox and Cubs at Wrigley Field was a display of how shaky both of the bullpens in Chicago are at this point. As your resident White Sox fan, witnessing A.J. Pierzynski deal the crushing blow to the Cubs with a grand slam on the one-year anniversary of Michael Barrett’s cheap shot on the South Side catcher was sweet justice. Of course, all of this was in the wake of Ozzie Guillen’s insane and profanity-laced phone call into the Mike North show on Friday in an argument over A.J.’s playing time. Other than Jim McMahon and Dennis Rodman, I can’t think of any other Chicago athlete that’s been involved in as many controversies as Pierzynski – it’s a serious constant here. Some other random thoughts from another wacky city series:

  • I was taken aback by the sight of Emperor Palpatine calling the game in the WGN broadcast booth on Sunday, but I then realized that it was Hawk Harrelson in a black hooded sweatshirt.
  • In the battle of the pitchers involved in the latest trade between the Sox and Cubs, those being David Aardsma and Neal Cotts, there were no winners but a lot of losers.
  • Good sign for White Sox fans: the team is batting an atrocious .223, with Paul Konerko hovering around the Mendoza line, yet this team is still a game over .500. The greatest strength for the Sox coming into the season was supposed to the offense and even though that hasn’t happened so far, Konerko is going to come around, particularly with Jim Thome getting back into the lineup. So, the fact that the Sox are keeping pace in spite of some absolutely horrendous offensive stats is a very good thing.
  • Bad sign for Cubs fans: Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis have a combined 9-3 record and ERAs under 2.80, yet the team is still a game under .500. As a consummate fantasy baseball player, I know all about the statistical histories of Lilly and Marquis – eventually, they will both royally suck. Therefore, the fact that the Cubs aren’t over .500 when their two shakiest pitchers have unexpectedly pitched out of this world is a very bad thing.
  • I’ll say something nice about Bud Selig for once: his push to start interleague play has been a fantastic development for baseball even though plenty of people criticized it when it was initially implemented.
  • Of course, I’ll quickly qualify the preceding statement with the following criticism: the two unchallenged marquee interleague matchups are the White Sox – Cubs and Yankees – Mets (no others come close in terms of intensity and interest), so why do these two series take place at the exact same time every year? The NFL and NBA do everything that they can to schedule their marquee games in a balanced manner so that there’s maximum national exposure for those matchups, yet Major League Baseball always schedules the Chicago and New York intra-city series on the same two weekends every season for no good reason. Maybe it’s just me, but I would think that the nationwide Fox and ESPN audiences would want the opportunity to watch both of these intense rivalries as opposed to only one of them or, say, some “exciting” Giants – Mets or Braves – Padres games (both national telecasts on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in the next few weeks). This seems as simple as moving Opening Day to the first Sunday in April so that it doesn’t conflict with the NCAA Tournament Championship Game and the average fan can spend the whole day watching games without having to miss work or school, but common sense hasn’t ever been one of Bud Selig’s strongest attributes.

Anyway, this wasn’t the best weekend for Sox fans, yet it at least ended on an uptick. Fortunately, the White Sox get another shot at the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field in a month.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

As you can tell, I have schizophrenic mood swings about the Bulls going from loving their tenacity one moment to despising the fact that they still need a low-post offensive presence and/or a go-to playmaker the next minute. This week, after two awful and despicable games against the Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, I’m finally resigned to the latter. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll continue to cheer for the Bulls like crazy until the bitter end and still think they can take a couple of games at the United Center, but I won’t be fooled again into thinking that this is a championship-caliber ball club. Some people might be content with a nice team with good character guys that play really hard every night. You can definitely count me out of that group – I was spoiled by growing up with the greatest player that ever lived in Michael Jordan and a dominant dynasty in the 1990s, so I want championships. Unless the Bulls are able to hit the NBA lottery jackpot with either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant or make a monster move for Kevin Garnett or someone of his caliber, this team is going to be competitive but come up short for the foreseeable future. Anyone who thinks that the Pistons “won without any superstars” seem to ignore that they have an entire starting lineup of players that have made the All-Star Game plus a sixth man in Antonio McDyess that has done so, as well. I think Luol Deng still has the goods to be a complete NBA player, but the Bulls still need a true star if they ever want to win it all again.

As I end this rant, here are some links:

(1) ABC Sets Spring 2010 as the End of ‘Lost’ (New York Times) - I won’t go into one of my pleads to watch this show a la “Friday Night Lights” since “Lost” is admittedly tough to get into unless you’ve watched it from the beginning, but I’m probably one of the few people that believe that the second half of this season has been very good and number of the episodes have been as gripping and well-written as anything else on television (and I’m not really a sci-fi guy outside of my childhood love for “Star Wars”).  Hopefully, the 2010 deadline will quell the constant calls for “answers” – I mean, there isn’t much point to “Lost” without the questions.

(2) You’re a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well (Wall Street Journal) (FYI – this Journal article was free at the time of this posting, so you don’t need a subscription to see it) – What those with common surnames (i.e. Smith) do to get some better Google search results for their names or even naming their kids to get maximum relevancy for them.

(3) Till Death (Or I Find Someone Else) Do Us Part (Chicagoist) – If you live in Chicago, you’ve probably heard about the, uh, expressive advertisement by one of my fellow members of the legal profession.  For those that haven’t yet, well that’s why I’m here to serve you.

(4) Illini’s Weber All Jazzed Up (Chicago Tribune) – If the Bulls don’t get past the Pistons this round (at this point, that’s a 95% likelihood), the Frank the Tank household is going to go Jazz crazy with Deron Williams (he’s guiding the Utah offense right now with the poise of how he led the 2005 Illini, which is amazing considering that he’s only a 2nd-year player – just an incredible leap from his long rookie season) and Dee Brown.

And finally…

(5) Retirement Good For Mayweather, Bad For Us (Fox Sports) – I didn’t end up springing the 60 bucks for the Oscar De La Hoya – Floyd Mayweather fight on Saturday, but it was the first urge that I’ve had to even consider watching boxing since the last Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield match.  However, I did run across a showing of “When We Were Kings” on television a few days ago and took the opportunity to watch it again.  This is the fantastic Oscar-winning documentary about the Muhammad Ali - George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Africa with incredible footage of the weeks leading up to the fight (not to mention the fight itself) and significant commentary from Norman Mailer and the late George Plimpton.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the film, but it reminded me again of how this is a fascinating time capsule as it relates to today’s world.

First, there’s no greater tragic irony than the fact that Muhammad Ali, whose rapid-fire verbosity and off-the-cuff conversations are shown at full tilt in the film, now suffers from a degenerative disease that essentially prevents him from speaking.  Conceptually, you might understand how much Ali was a talker before along with the general effects of Parkinson’s Disease, but comparing the images of his non-stop personality from “When We Were Kings” to how he is today is stunning and awful.  Plus, his current image as being a diplomatic peacemaker is a 180-degree turn from the Rumble in the Jungle days – his politically militant attitude as a disciple of Malcolm X was on full display at the time.

Second, George Foreman had a transformation of a completely different nature.  Most people of my generation grew up with an image of the boxer as a somewhat lovable bear of a man that named all of his kids George Foreman and being the face of one of the most successful (if not the most successful) celebrity endorsements in history with his indoor grills.  Back in the 1970s, however, Foreman basically had a public reputation on the level of Ron Artest today only without the wacky personality.  It’s tough for me to think of any public figure that turned his image around in a more dramatic fashion.

Third, Don King, who essentially made his big-time debut as a promoter with the Rumble in the Jungle and gets a prominent amount of screen time in the film, is exactly the same.

Fourth, James Brown, who performed prior to the fight and also got a good amount of screen time, was as militant as Ali.

Finally, there is the bygone era of when championship boxing matches were paid attention to at the level of the Super Bowl today.  Boxing’s future isn’t going to hinge on whether Floyd Mayweather retires – the only real way that there will be a turnaround is if a big-time fight gets back onto the major networks where everyone can watch without having to shell out the equivalent of another month’s cable bill.  In the meantime, go watch “When We Were Kings” even if you’re not a boxing or sports fan if only because everyone needs to see a true lasting image of Muhammad Ali in his prime.

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At the beginning of the year, I was supremely confident in the advancement of the Bulls and even predicted that they would make it to the NBA Finals. Still, after the way that they faltered against the Nets on the last day of the regular season, I was questioning aloud the team’s intestinal fortitude, even after beating the Heat in the round 1 opener of the NBA Playoffs. However, by the end of the third quarter on Friday night in game 3, my belief in the Bulls was resurrected. I saw a team that answered every single charge from the defending champs that will ultimately put multiple players into the Hall of Fame with poise and efficiency. In game 4, they did the exact same thing by taking one last punch from the Heat and then completely knocking them out. I’ll be honest – I thought that this was going to be a 7-game barn burner as opposed to a Bulls sweep. Yet, with the way the Bulls took out Miami with such vigor and strength, I’m ready for a true revitalization of our rivalry with the Pistons. It’s going to be a tough road and who knows whether the Bulls can hang with the Detroit team that they’re modeled after, but I can’t wait to see NBA basketball being played into May in Chicago once again.

On to some more links:

(1) Deng’s Emergence Isn’t Totally Unexpected (ESPN.com) - I don’t agree with Scoop Jackson very often, but I’m right with him in understanding long before the Heat series that Luol Deng would be the key to the Bulls when no one else noticed him. Here’s what I said in my NBA Preview in November: “The real X-factor is how much Luol Deng improves this season. If he stays injury-free, he could very well become the top all around player on the team that’s the go-to guy that the Bulls have been lacking. In my opinion, how well the Bulls will do this season will depend upon the progress of Luol Deng more than anyone else.” That is the first and last time that I’ve said anything right on this blog.

(2) ‘Idol’ Gives Back, We Give Up (Moraes on TV – Washington Post) - As a whole, I enjoy the pomp and circumstance of “American Idol”.  However, when Elvis was brought back from the dead to do a duet with Celine Dion, I almost ralphed on the couch.

(3) The Latest Must-Have for Yuppies: A Blog About the Neighborhood (New York Times) – I grew up as a south side White Sox fan and despised Wrigleyville for its yuppie quotient.  When I presented this reasoning to my wife one day, she looked at me increduously, called me out as a hypocrite and basically said that I was one of the biggest yuppies that she had ever met.  After feverishly denying this, I then took a look at myself and came to a disheartening conclusion. I have a house in Naperville after previously living only blocks away from Wrigley Field (not Wrigleyville per se, but close enough), got business and law degrees, actually crave Chipotle burritos, would take a foreign luxury sedan over a Detroit muscle car as a dream car any day of the week, don’t mind a Starbucks every once in awhile and would rather go to Ravinia than a rock concert these days. In other words, my wife was right – I have become one of yuppies I used to abhor. Really, I used to be cool… seriously, OK? I’m still a Sox fan, so that counts for something, right? Right???

(4) The Right Pick, Despite Wrong Agent (Chicago Tribune) – The Bears took tight end Greg Olsen from Miami in the first round of the NFL Draft, who looks like a beast, yet all anyone seems to care about right now is that he’s represented by Drew Rosenhaus. The slick agent also represents Lance Briggs, who is pretty much holding up the status of the Bears linebacker core for next year with his insistence on getting a long-term contract into place. Still, the fact is that Rosenhaus has a number of the top players in the NFL and it’s likely the Bears are going to have to deal with him for a long time.  I just hope that both parties can work to get mutually beneficial deals into place (unlike, say, the apparent inability of the White Sox to get anything done with baseball super agent Scott Boras).

As a side note on the NFL Draft, I’ve been saying ever since that I started this blog that Brady Quinn was overrated (I fail to see how anyone could have reasonably thought that he was in the same class as JaMarcus Russell after this year’s Sugar Bowl), but the way that he dropped down all the way to #22 after being projected to go as high as even #2 made Matt Leinart’s time in the waiting room last year look like a nice Saturday in the park.  The Browns would have been insane to take Quinn at #3 and made the right call with Joe Thomas, yet subsequently being able to get the quarterback they wanted much later in the first round (and for a lot less money) was the draft day coup.

Also, I enjoyed the fact that the Detroit Lions actually had little choice other than to take Calvin Johnson, who is yet another wide receiver for that team.  There was little questioning of this move since Johnson was almost unanimously considered the best athlete in this year’s draft class, but Matt Millen’s development of marquee first round wide receiver draft choices has been about as successful as the long term growth of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for the Cubs.  It’s just unbelieveable that after using high first round choices on wide receivers in four of the last five years, the Lions still fell like that they had a need there.

Finally, my gut reaction to the New England Patriots getting Randy Moss in exchange for a fourth round draft pick was a great move.  There are going to be voices out there stating that the Pats shouldn’t be bringing trouble into their locker room, but the fact is that the team needs a top flight wideout and they grabbed someone who is still one of the best talents in the NFL.  Something tells me that Moss is going to have a bit more success getting back into the end zone with Tom Brady at quarterback instead of Aaron Brooks.  Honestly, I’m glad Moss didn’t end up with the Packers as was rumored for the last few weeks.  A lot of Green Bay fans might have had a visceral reaction to that thought, but judging by how that team went 8-8 last year, adding a top wideout would have made that team even more competitive immediately.  Fans can get over prior enemies pretty quickly (see Dennis Rodman with the Bulls) when they help you win after turning to your side.

And finally…

(5) Michael Jordan Ready To Bag Champaign Coeds (Deadspin) – Those that know me understand that my love for the University of Illinois knows no bounds while Michael Jordan will forever be my idol.  So, with the announcement that Jeff Jordan is heading to Illinois, the thought of MJ being on the prowl in Campustown makes me smile.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Some long overdue links:

(1) Nothing Fluky About This Power Final Four (ESPN.com) - As I alluded to in Sunday’s post, the upshot of having few upsets so far in the NCAA Tournament is that the Final Four is set up to be one of the most competitive ever.  Saturday’s games are going to be extremely compelling, with the Florida-UCLA rematch of last year’s championship game and Roy Hibbert of Georgetown being one of the few people (if not the only person) in the country that has the size to at least put some type of containment on Ohio State’s Greg Oden that doesn’t involve simply getting the Buckeye prodigy into foul trouble.  The college sports world has been anticipating the thought of Florida-Ohio State matchups for national championships in both football and basketball and with the way the two teams have used their size advantages, I’ll put the Gators and Buckeyes in the championship game.  I’ve liked Ohio State to win it all from the get-go with the Oden-Mike Conley, Jr. combination and with the way that senior guard Ron Lewis has torched everyone over the last three games, I’m staying with my Big Ten brethren to go all the way.  This should be a classic weekend of college basketball.

(2) Donovan Has Yet to Rule Out a Job Change (Kentucky.com) – I know that I might be in the minority in not believing that the Kentucky job is the papacy of college basketball and can’t be turned down, but Billy Donovan would be nuts to leave Gainesville for Lexington.  I’ve heard the arguments that Florida will always be a football school first and foremost while hoops is religion in Kentucky, so Donovan ought to move to one of the nation’s marquee programs.  However, with the way that college sports have trended since the creation of the BCS, there are actually few things better for a basketball program than to have a strong football program to leverage itself off of.  Look at the teams that have risen to power in basketball over the past few years in addition to Florida: Ohio State, Texas, Texas A&M, Wisconsin – all schools that used football money to upgrade their basketball facilities that have attracted top recruits.  Add on how USC made it to the Sweet Sixteen this season and will be enrolling O.J. Mayo next year, the nation’s top basketball recruit, and we have yet another football power getting some love on the basketball front.  Plus, let’s face it, you can get top recruits to come from anywhere and visit Florida.  Just as Donovan’s football counterpart Urban Meyer knew that the tradition and rabid fan base at Notre Dame couldn’t make up for the combination of support and sunshine in Gainesville, the similar tradition and rabid fan base at Kentucky is fool’s gold in this situation.

(3) Darwin’s God (New York Times) – This is a lengthy article but I highly recommend taking some time to read it.  Essentially, scientists have been studying whether (a) humans are naturally predisposed to believing in God or a higher power and (b) that predisposition is a result of evolution.  Absolutely a fascinating subject.

(4) The Best TV Show… You’re Not Watching (Chicago Tribune) – If my plea for you to watch ‘Friday Night Lights’ from October didn’t convince you to watch this fantastic show, maybe this in-depth write-up from the Tribune’s television critic will get you to take some action.  C’mon people – restore my faith in the taste of the American public.

And finally…

(5) Yakov Smirnoff (Wikipedia) – Don’t ask me how I ended up on the biography of Yakov Smirnoff while performing “research” on Wikipedia, but finding out who his roommate used to be might be one of the top ten random facts that I’ve ever encountered.  In Soviet Russia, Wikipedia researches you!

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As I thaw off here in Chicago, here are some links:

(1) Where Does Disaster XLI Rank? (Chicago Tribune) - Steve Rosenbloom’s ranking of Chicago’s worst sports disasters. As I noted in the aftermath of this year’s Super Bowl, the only time that I ever felt worse after a sports event than the Bears’ performance on Sunday was the Illini basketball teams’ loss in the 2005 National Championship Game. I can understand Rosenbloom’s ranking of the 2003 NLCS above Super Bowl XLI from a broader Chicago sports fan perspective (even though I personally didn’t feel much distraught from that event as a diehard White Sox fan), but I’m not sure how anything could have been more disasterous than the Black Sox scandal during the 1919 World Series.

(2) Bears Offseason Preview I: The Quarterback (Da’ Bears Blog) - Believe me, I have a love-hate relationship with Rex Grossman as much as anyone. However, are we really at the point where David Carr is the answer? Yikes!

(3) Illinois Has Rivals Fuming About Its Recruiting Coup (New York Times) - Ron Zook is drawing attention across the nation with a top flight recruiting class coming to Champaign next season. Of course, a lot of it stems from what he could possibly be promising such highly-rated recruits. I’ll have many more thoughts on the Illini recruiting situations for football and basketball very soon.

(4) Tempo-Free Aerial: Point Per Possession vs. Opponent PPP (Big Ten Wonk) - A quick chart showing the relative strengths of Big Ten basketball teams during conference play so far.

(5) We Hear That’s Why MJ Did It, Too (Chicagoist) - John Paxson put down a David Stern-esque hammer on Tyrus Thomas for the rookie’s comments on only particpating in the Slam Dunk Contest for the money.

(6) Mars Scraps Snickers Ad After Complaints (Washington Post) - I like to fancy my site as an equal opportunity blog. That being said, am I supposed to feel bad that I thought that this ad was actually one of the few entertaining spots from Sunday?

(7) Sweet Home Sports – A new Chicago sports blog that features the talented authors of the Chi-Sox Blog and Fleece the Pig, Flog the Pony.

And finally…

(8) In the Eye of the Beholder (Wall Street Journal) – What happens when a survey of the American public reveals that the Bellagio is one of the top 25 favorite buildings and structures in the country? Architects go apeshit, of course.

(UPDATE: I couldn’t leave this article from the Chicago Sun-Times on the University of Illinois “Girls of Engineering” calendar off of the links today. Since I was a business major – meaning that I was able to partake in binge drinking with little consequence at Illinois while still under the guise of a “practical” academic program – I’ll just let my readers that attended or are attending the College of Engineering comment on this.)

(Image from Chicago Tribune)