Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

Home is where the baseball is

September 18, 2007

(From The Spin)

It was just about a year ago that I started to feel homesick.

I was studying abroad in London, a whopping 3,500 miles from New York. But it wasn’t the distance that made me long for home. It wasn’t England’s funny currency, or the funny way English people talked. It wasn’t even their funny way of driving on the wrong side of the street.

It was baseball.

See, the UK follows baseball like we follow Buzkashi. People just didn’t care.

Sure, there were some options. I could Skype a friend and have him give me a play-by-play, but my friend was no John Sterling. I could go to the one sports bar that claimed to show baseball games, but thanks to the time difference it closed before most games even started.

So I settled for my only other option: I bought MLB.tv, baseball’s expensive and buggy online service.

In theory, MLB.tv gave my laptop live access to all games. But in practice, it only gave me access to a frozen image of A-Rod striking out and a never-changing caption that read “Buffering… 5%.” Trying to get MLB.tv to work was the nadir of my study-abroad experience, and probably my life. I still have nightmares.

So it’s kind of a downer that now, only about 100 miles from Yankees Stadium, I’m having the same frustrating experience. Baseball fans know that these two weeks are the most important in the entire season – whether your team makes it to the playoffs or not gets decided in the next dozen or so games. And baseball fans who aren’t “phans” know that practically none of these games will get televised. For Yankees faithful, a game against the Devil Rays is just as crucial as one against the Red Sox. Unfortunately, Philadelphia cable providers don’t feel the same way.

But there’s some hope. The Fox & Hound, located at 1501 Spruce Street, is a sports bar chain that prides itself in showing “national, regional and local sporting and other televised events.” Does that include Yankees games? “Oh yeah,” said a perky F&H employee. “I feel like whenever I’m here the Yankees are on. We definitely have a package or something.”

And if you want to stay on campus, College Sophomore Adam Mandelsberg insists that MLB.tv is reliable: “It freezes up sometimes, but AirPennNet has pretty good reception.” All I know is you want to stay away from it if you’re a Mac user.

As a last resort, Yankees fans can fashion a tinfoil antenna/helmet, go to the rooftop lounge of High Rise South, tune into 880 AM, and face whichever direction the Yanks are playing.

Through all that hissing static, you might just hear a little piece of home.

The elephant in the closet

September 15, 2007

(From The Spin)

In the midst of the Larry Craig scandal, I never anticipated Arlen Specter coming out of the closet.

The Democratic Party’s closet, that is.

To recap: in June, Larry Craig, the Republican senior senator from Idaho, plays footsie in a Minnesota bathroom with the man in the adjacent stall. That man is an undercover police officer. Craig pleads guilty to disorderly conduct and vehemently denies being gay. No one believes him and his Republican colleagues call for his resignation, which he turns in September 1.

Case closed, right? Not quite. Just as it’s dying down, Arlen Specter rekindles the scandal by publicly encouraging Craig to fight the case and reconsider his resignation. To the dismay of his Republican colleagues, Craig listens and files to withdraw his guilty plea, ensuring that the controversy will remain in the headlines for months to come. Democrats and the media rejoice.

It’s a move so damaging to the Republican Party that there’s only one possible explanation:

Arlen Specter is not a Republican at all.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Specter isn’t right. He was a prosecutor, and he knows the law as well as anyone. You can definitely claim that Craig didn’t actually do anything illegal. You can posit that Craig’s arrest was unconstitutional. You can say that Craig’s guilty plea is invalid because it was made under extreme emotional duress. All these arguments are legitimate, but they’re all tangential to the key issue.

By defending Craig, Specter has betrayed his party. And by encouraging Craig to withdraw his resignation, Specter has initiated a process that will haunt the GOP when elections come a year from now. Along with the presidential race, 34 Senate seats are up for grabs. 22 of those are currently held by Republicans.

If Larry Craig has found a friend in Arlen Specter, so too has the Democratic Party.

Just come out of the closet, Arlen. We know.

Damn it feels good to use a loofah

September 10, 2007

(This was written for The Spin, opinion blog for the University of Pennsylvania.)

I still remember my first time.

I was a Sophomore living in High Rise North. The water in my apartment wasn’t running so I went next door to use my friends’ shower.

My friends were girls.

Stepping into their shower I took in a bewildering scene. Every surface was crammed with bath supplies. Big baby blue bottles touting immediate results. Little pink ones claiming to fill needs I didn’t know existed. Was skin even supposed to “glow”?

I clutched my shampoo/bodywash all-in-one and felt afraid. That’s when I saw her, dangling enticingly from the spigot like an exotic forbidden fruit. I reached out and seized her by her slick white rope. She felt good in my hands. Coarse, yet feminine. Rough, yet somehow soft. She was a delicious paradox.

She was a loofah.

nick_barr_spin_9_10_loofah.jpg

The events that transpired in the next fifteen minutes would be more fittingly documented by Lindsey. Suffice it to say that it was almost as hot as a Bill O’Reilly fantasy.

And it got me clean, too. The exfoliating action gave my skin new life; the spongy absorption ensured total coverage. That day I went to Fresh Grocer, bought my own loofah, and never looked back.

Until now. Just the other day a close friend and casual homophobe saw me carrying my periwinkle loofah to the shower and said something along the lines of:

“Dude, that’s really gay.”

His comment pierced my heart with doubt. Does using a loofah – a product targeted and definitely colored for women – compromise a guy’s masculinity? I wasn’t sure, so I turned an ear to the the vox populi.

Said College Freshman Jared Newman, “Loofahs are girly. I’m a bar-of-soap kind of guy.”

Newman’s words were troubling, but I wanted to know what the fairer sex thought. “Loofahs are great,” said College Senior Rita Schmidt. “They clean and exfoliate. Everyone should have a loofah!”

But when asked whether or not she would want her boyfriend to use one, Schmidt hesitated. “I like men who groom, but I don’t want to know about their grooming utensils.”

Schmidt’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ stance is all too revealing. Loofahs may be great for men and women alike, but they’ll never be seen as acceptable for guys until companies market them accordingly.

It shouldn’t be that hard. You wouldn’t even have to change anything – just repackage loofahs as “Man Scrubs” and give the colors impressive-sounding names like Macho Mauve and Fierce Fuchsia.

Are you listening, CVS?

A Second Look at Violence in Video Games

July 26, 2007

About a week ago a 16-year old teen stabbed his brother once in the heart with a steak knife after losing a video game and being asked to pass the controller. About six months ago a man killed his 17-month old infant daughter after she unplugged his XBox 360. These were just Philadelphia-area incidents. Who knows what’s going on nation- and worldwide.

You could condemn the killers, and plenty of people have. But my reaction is a little different. The fact that these are murders of passion separates these killers from those who premeditate the slaughter of their family members. And the fact that video games are causing these violent outbursts is worth thinking about.

Because I think that very few avid gamers can say they have never freaked out after their character dies, their quarterback throws an interception, or the power goes out. I’ve flung Playstation controllers. I’ve smacked TV screens. And it makes me wonder that maybe the only thing stopping me from being a fratricider is the fact that I don’t have a brother.

Let’s face it: video game rage is real, and no one is talking about it. In the media’s obsession with the vague connection between playing violent video games and committing real violence, the very clear connection between playing video games and getting extremely pissed off has passed under the radar.

There are 2 facts about video game rage that strike me as significant. 1, even people with normally calm tempers are prone to video game rage. It seems like it’s easier for people to get worked up over a video game than real life. 2, the murders and spaz-outs all come when something happens out-of-game. The man killed his daughter because she unplugged his XBox. The teen killed his brother because he had to give up the controller. And the German in the video is freaking out because the game has a very long load time. A pulled plug, a lost game, and a slow processor are all out-of-game incidents.

With these 2 things in mind, I can formulate a half-baked theory. Let me explain it in a kind of roundabout way.

We could split the things that make you spontaneously furious — let’s call them rage stimuli — into 2 categories. A rage stimulus can be out-of-game, an example being the revelation you are being cheated on. Or it can be in-game, an example being your quarterback throwing an interception in NFL Madden ’07. It’s my hypothesis that spontaneous crimes of passion are more likely to result from in-game rage stimuli than from out-of-game rage stimuli. That’s pure speculation — I don’t know of any relevant studies — but I have a reason for believing it’s true.

Let’s flesh out the two examples.

Case 1: You come home from work and your wife is crying. She asks you to sit down and then tells you that she has cheated on you. You are pissed! You scream. Gesticulate wildly. Cry. Maybe you slam your fist on something, but it’s totally unlikely that you get violent.

Case 2: Your team is down by 5 points late in the 4th quarter. Your quarterback, Eli Manning, throws an interception. As furious as you are, you have no in-game means of expressing it. So the rage accumulates and when your brother demands the controller you stab him in the fucking chest.

The difference is that out-of-game we are able to express our rage as it comes to us. In-game, we are unable to express our rage and so it simmers until we can find an excuse to express it out-of-game. Spontaneous violent acts like the ones mentioned above are the out-of-game products of unexpressed & inexpressible in-game rage.

If this theory is right, then violent games like Grand Theft Auto are actual cathartic rather than damaging. If something irritating happens in-game, you can kill a prostitute or beat the shit out of an old lady. And if this theory is right, more games should incorporate in-game means of expressing rage. FIFA 1998, Road to the World Cup comes to mind. In that game, which came out for the N64, you could press a button that would have your player kick the nearest player as hard as he could. It was a terrible strategy, since your player would almost always be ejected from the game. But we pressed it all the time.

More recent FIFA games haven’t had that feature. After all, violence in video games is bad, right? Don’t be so sure. If there’s anything to what I say, then it’s the lack of violence in video games that’s dangerous.