I attended Sunday's match between Chelsea FC and Club America at the new Cowboys Stadium, the $1.15 billion facility that opened a few weeks ago in Arlington. I expected the stadium to be huge, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has managed to construct a facility that is enormous even by the overcompensating standards of big-boot, tiny-johnson Texas excess.
Cowboys Stadium has the largest roof in the world that isn't supported by columns. Two arches twice as wide as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis support the roof, which is tall enough to hold the Statue of Liberty inside. The facility also has the world's largest retractable roof and the largest movable glass doors at each end zone. I don't know why these doors are needed, unless the facility is hoping to schedule meetings of the Transformers. From the outside, the stadium looks like a cross between the Legion of Doom headquarters and a Decepticon. I'm concerned that the first time the Dallas Cowboys lose a big game, the stadium will rise up in anger and reduce the Texas Rangers' ballpark next door to rubble.
During the match a massive thunderstorm raged outside, with lightning striking so close that fans gasped. Under the closed roof, you couldn't even tell the storm was bad. The stadium is larger than nature.
Inside, the view is great even from the upper deck cheap seats, which is where I sat, and the whole place is air conditioned. As the crowd of 57,000 filled out -- the stadium holds 82,000 -- blasts of cool air on my back kept the place comfortable. The carbon footprint can't be pretty. I'm guessing that every day this facility operates, the Earth's lifespan is shortened by a day. This is a fair trade.
The most amazing feature of the stadium is the world's largest HDTV, which hangs from the ceiling and faces both sidelines. Smaller side TVs hang off the sides.
The TV deserves its own name, so I've been calling it Telemanjaro.
Telemanjaro is 160 feet wide, 72 feet tall and lit by 300 million bulbs. The picture quality is flawless. From the upper deck, Telemanjaro occupies up so much of the view that you cannot see one-fourth of the fans in the stadium. It's tough to find a picture that conveys the enormity, but here's one by Erik Grande.
The field is fully visible, but it competes for your attention with Telemanjaro. The entire soccer match was broadcast on the TV as it happened. Occasionally, I glanced up to get a better view of play. Several minutes passed as I gazed in slack-jawed awe, forgetting to look back down at the field
Although this sounds like a knock against Telemanjaro, it's actually the best experience I've had watching a game from the uppermost deck of a large stadium. You don't miss anything from the nosebleeds. The gigantic screen sees all and knows all. Speaking of which, one of the Club America players desperately needs to exfoliate.
I attended the game with four other people, none of whom can afford Cowboys tickets in this economy. Making the impulsive decision to relocate from Florida to Dallas, I tried to commit us all to buying season tickets before we left the event and breaking the news to our respective spouses after we got home. (Private note to Chad, Eric, Greg and Mom: Your priorities are seriously out of whack.)
As a child of a generation raised on television, I cannot help but regard Telemanjaro as the pinnacle of human achievement. I felt a strong compulsion to worship Telemanjaro and to buy the products it advertised to stay in its favor.
Anyone who visits Dallas should make a pilgrimage to see Telemanjaro, no matter how many organs you must sell to afford Jerry's ticket prices. Fun fact: As much as two-thirds of your liver can grow back if removed.
The TV hangs above the players and weighs 660 tons, which initially made me fear that an accident might crush more than a dozen pampered millionaires to a fine paste.
But I realized quickly that Telemanjaro loves us and would not harm us, as long as we keep watching.
I have a letter to the editor in today's North Texas Daily, the student newspaper I edited back in the Mesozoic Era, to support a student fee to build a new football stadium at the University of North Texas:
As an NT alumnus and former Daily editor, I'm disappointed that the current staff of the newspaper didn't endorse the athletic fee referendum.
Fouts Field is an eyesore that detracts from the university. It's the fifth-oldest building on campus, the conditions inside are abysmal, the viewing experience is bad because of the infield track and the electrical system is so inadequate that 19 portable generators are required to host games there.
It's amazing that the Mean Green were able to win four conference championships and one bowl game while playing at Fouts.
The question here isn't really if NT needs a new stadium, it's when NT will get one. The current proposal asks less of students to support athletics than any other Texas school with a Football Bowl Subdivision program. The stadium will bring other events to Denton in addition to football, and it will enable the athletics program to attract more corporate support, more televised games and more alumni donors.
In the 17 years since I graduated, I've been amazed upon my return visits by the number of new buildings that have sprung up on campus. The Murchison Performing Arts Center, in particular, should be a point of pride for everyone associated with NT.
The new stadium has the potential to be just as important to the future of the university. I hope current students look hard at the merits of the athletic fee because I think they'll conclude, as I did, that this is a fair way to share the cost of the stadium between students, alumni, donors and corporate supporters.
Football-loving alumni like myself are chomping at the bit to get this thing built. We just can't do it on our own.
One thing you come to realize after leaving NT, if you care about the school, is that students have a short opportunity to make their mark and leave their alma mater better than when they arrived.
I think this stadium is a chance for current students to do that, and I hope that after you've looked at the issue, you'll ultimately agree.
The University of North Texas is a large public school north of Dallas with a student enrollment of 34,000, making it the third largest university in the state. Despite its size, the school lacks the financial support of the better-known institutions in Texas like UT and Texas A&M. I attended UNT from 1988-91, graduating with a bachelor of arts in journalism.
Because I'm in Florida, the Mean Green sports programs are my only real tie to the school, aside from a yearly summer pilgrimage with my kids to the campus in Denton.
It seems inarguable to me that Texas schools seeking stronger alumni support need strong athletic teams, and the decrepit Fouts Field is holding my alma mater back. There are other things that UNT does particularly well -- its music programs are nationally acclaimed, for instance -- but academics doesn't park alumni in front of their televisions every Saturday in the fall. College football gives millions of people an excuse to obsess over their school.
The timing of the vote couldn't be worse. Students are being asked to support a $7 credit hour increase in student fees at a time when the economy's imploding and the football team is 0-6 after six straight blowouts. But I think it will pass, because students know that Fouts is a dump and they'll want to be the generation of students who built a stadium. When I return to Denton, a school where I was newspaper editor and my friend Wade Duchene was student body president, the only things I can find from our time there are a tree planted on Earth Day 1990 and a weird metal plaque on the ground near the administration building that contains just two words: "Helixon-Ruuska."
When I walked past that plaque a few summers ago, I had to be one of the only passers-by in years who recognized the significance. Will Helixon and Jay Ruuska were the student body president and vice president when I arrived at UNT in 1988. I'm guessing they planted one of the trees, but because the plaque is so vague and lies flat on the ground, it looks like some kind of frontier gravestone.
Over the years I've become an obsessive Anglophile, following British football and literature with the kind of unvarnished joy that can only come from being completely ill-informed on a subject. I don't know enough about either one to become jaded, though my adoption of Tottenham Hotspur as favorite team is beginning to change that.
My love of British books is exercised by following each year's Man Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award for fiction in the U.K. The prize goes through a three-stage process with considerable hype in the British press. The Booker begins when a longlist of around 12-20 books is announced in late July. The list is winnowed down to a shortlist of around six titles in early September, then the winner is announced a month later.
Every year, I pick up a few novels on the Booker lists before the prize is awarded, hoping to read the winner beforehand and lord this over friends and family, in spite of the fact that I don't know a single person who would be excited by this accomplishment. This year my first finished Booker nominee is the longlisted Netherland, a powerfully written work by the Irish writer Joseph O'Neill that's being called the latest Great American Novel. The book's an introspective, slow-paced and mournful story of New York City that has the audacity to evoke both 9/11 and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
The novel concerns Dutch-born financial analyst Hans van den Broek, an affluent denizen of New York's Chelsea Hotel who loses the joy and purpose in his life when his wife Rachel flees both the city and their marriage after the trauma of 9/11, taking their infant son with her. Hans tells his own story, but devotes considerable energy to being the captivated narrator of another man's story -- a fast-talking and grandiose Trinidadian immigrant named Chuck Ramkissoon, a friend whose larger-than-life plan for achieving success and respectability in America is as doomed as that of Jay Gatsby.
This is not a spoiler. Readers learn early on that Ramkissoon has been found tied up and murdered in the Gowanus Canal.
The novel spends a great deal of time on cricket, the only spark in Hans' dark existence after his wife leaves. Although I know nothing of the sport that I didn't pick up from this book, it doesn't detract from the impact of O'Neill's long and lyrical passages about the role of the game in Hans' life, its role in the lives of first-generation American immigrants like Ramkissoon, and the invisibility of the game to most citizens of the United States, where cricket serves as a stand-in for other exotic foreign subjects we might want to know better after 9/11 shrank the planet. I was amused by the notion, held deeply by the cricket players in the book, that the U.S. will not become truly civilized until it embraces cricket. "There's a limit to what Americans understand," one of Ramkissoon's potential investors tells Hans. "That limit is cricket." Ramkissoon's big dream is to build a cricket pitch on an abandoned airfield in Brooklyn, believing it will attract the world's best teams, worldwide TV audiences and the long-withheld affection of Americans.
O'Neill packs the novel's 256 pages with observations about New Yorkers that are worth repeating. Two of my favorites occur in rapid succession when the heartsick and unsociable Hans finally lures a woman home, providing a welcome respite from his morose internal dialogue:
... while I changed, Danielle wandered around my apartment, as was her privilege: people in New York are authorized by convention to snoop around and mentally measure and pass comment on any real estate they're invited to step into. ...
Like an old door, every man past a certain age comes with historical warps and creaks of one kind or another, and a woman who wishes to put him to serious further use must expect to do a certain amount of sanding and planing.
In one conversation Ramkissoon uses a bit of Trinidadian slang that I really like. He derides one of his more obnoxious business associates as a pawmewan, a poor-me complainer who is always feeling sorry for himself. Hans is a huge pawmewan whose personal suffering occupies a majority of the book, but O'Neill describes the grieving and loss associated with failed marriage and parenthood with great skill.
Blogger Janice Harayda believes that Hans is an unreliable narrator, a prospect that adds considerable intrigue to Ramkissoon's murder. I don't know if I buy that, because O'Neill doggedly refuses to make Hans' life dramatic, devoting several pages at one point to an intolerably long day he wastes at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Although Netherland is by no stretch a thriller, O'Neill manages in Chuck Ramkissoon to create an unforgettable American character -- like Jay Gatsby another dreamer dead in the water.
On Wednesday, the Boston Herald apologized for a Feb. 2 story by John Tomase that reported the New England Patriots surreptitiously videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.
Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.
For the story, Tomase took the word of "a source close to the team during the 2001 season." In today's Herald, Tomase explains how he got the story wrong, but he leaves out the only real detail that matters -- the name of the person who passed along bogus information.
There has been a clamoring for me to identify the sources used in my story. This I cannot do. When a reporter promises anonymity, he can't break that promise simply because he comes under fire. I gave my word, and the day I break that word is the day sources stop talking to me.
Another word on sources: The story mentioned only a single, unnamed source because in the end, while I had multiple sources relating similar allegations, I relied on one more than the others.
I've never understood why journalists hide the names of sources who use the shield of anonymity to spread falsehoods. The agreement between a reporter and an unnamed source, like that of a criminal plaintiff accepting a plea deal to testify in court, should be conditioned on the information being truthful. A source who lies should know that it might blow up in his face. Tomase and the Herald are getting murdilated over running a fake story on the eve of the Patriots' defeat in the Super Bowl. The source remains on the loose.
Reporters have grown far too addicted to the access granted by sources who won't comment for attribution. Instead of digging around from the outside, they act as stenographers to well-connected people with inside information.
In the early '90s, I was an editor at StarText, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online newspaper. As I prepared stories for publication, I could see the "CQ notes," memos between editors and reporters that were embedded in the articles and removed before publication.
These notes sometimes revealed the identity of unnamed sources in our coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.
More than 15 years have passed, so I can probably reveal this without getting myself into trouble: The Star-Telegram's unnamed source "close to the organization" was owner Jerry Jones. The Dallas Morning News' unnamed source, according to our reporters, was head coach Jimmy Johnson. The two leading figures on the team were waging a furious battle in the press, using the cover of anonymity and pliant newspapers to keep from having to answer for their words.
But if I've said too much here, just tell people you got this information from a source close to the Star-Telegram.
In a column this morning for TownHall.Com, David W. Almasi calls me a "race-monger" for pointing out the racial implications of the LeBron James/Gisele Bundchen Vogue magazine cover. Annie Leibovitz's photo was a recreation of a famous World War I military recruitment poster, with James in the role of the woman-lusting gorilla and Bundchen as his prey. People who see King Kong in the cover are not far off the mark.
Citing Chris Rock's Saturday Night Live character Nat X, Almasi, the executive director of the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research, races to this conclusion:
Rather than judging James -- and, by extension, other blacks -- by the content of their character, skills or intellect as Vogue intended, the race-mongers instead seem more interested in bringing things down to the lowest common denominator. There never seems to be a party where they don't want to be a skunk.
After all, Nat X said that's what we wanted to see.
I contacted Almasi last week after his think tank issued a press release declaring there was "no racial double-meaning" in the cover. I wanted to see if his opinion would change after he saw the poster, which Leibovitz was clearly referencing in her shot.
As you might expect of a person who makes his living holding a rigid ideological position, Almasi didn't budge an inch. He scoffed in email at the notion there's anything racial going on, since the poster's gorilla is a German kaiser.
Surely Almasi knows that the portrayal of a black athlete as a simian is a racially provocative statement. Less than a year after Howard Cosell called an athlete a "little monkey" on Monday Night Football in 1983, a comparison he made previously of other non-black athletes, he was gone from the program. Less innocently, racists have often compared blacks to monkeys and apes.
If Leibovitz had not worked directly from an iconic gorilla/woman poster, we could have the argument Almasi wants to have about how controversies like this are drummed up by people seeing racism in places it doesn't exist. I think he'd still be wrong -- the black journalists who first spoke out against the Vogue cover have a right to find it offensive -- but it's more open to debate.
Instead, Almasi finds himself in the position of pretending there's nothing racial going on when Leibovitz intentionally cast LeBron James in the role of a gorilla.
To paraphrase Nat X, that's what she wanted us to see.
As I mentally prepare myself for the season in which the Texas Rangers will finally win the World Series, I posted Doug Glanville's latest essay on SportsFilter to mark baseball's opening night:
Doug Glanville: Baseball and the Plankton of Opportunity: "Since a baseball player has the memory of an elephant, my first spring training with the Chicago Cubs might as well have happened yesterday," nine-year Major Leaguer Doug Glanville writes in today's New York Times. "My first roommate was a sleepwalker. He woke up in the middle of the night yelling at shadows; once he crawled into my twin bed after a late-night rant. After that I slept with one eye open and a Pro Stock model M159 baseball bat nearby." More wordsmithing to mark opening night comes from George Will and William Ecenbarger.
In January, Glanville humanized the steroid controversy by explaining how fear drove some players to juice up.
Today on SportsFilter:
Critics Go Ape Over Lebron James Magazine Cover: A picture of NBA star Lebron James and the model Gisele on the cover of April's Vogue is attracting controversy over their pose. The shot taken by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz has been compared by some detractors to King Kong holding Fay Wray. ESPN.Com columnist Jemele Hill called it "memorable for all the wrong reasons." The photo is remarkably similar to "Destroy This Mad Brute" a famous World War I recruitment poster.
Update: I took a second pass at this issue for Watching the Watchers. I'm being driven mad this morning by the media's inability to discover the gorilla poster that's a clear and unmistakable inspiration for Leibovitz's photo.
I'm a fan of liberal blogger Ezra Klein, but this may be the worst sports metaphor ever:
Since all political commentary is powered by sports analogies, let's take football here. The Clinton team is playing as if this will be decided on points. But in fact, it will be decided by judges, some of them empires, some of them representatives of the crowd, some of them big donors to the stadium. And those judges are terrified of pissing off their loyal fan base. The strategy here should be making the loyal fan base like you, not trying to pummel the other team. ...
Clinton, for her part, could have scored some points with this group by forcefully defending Obama on Wright. But every time she takes a shot at one of these racially-charged controversies, she makes her own nomination less likely. She may score a point, but she turns off more fans, and thus renders more judges unable to vote for her.
Extending Klein's football analogy further, Clinton fumbled the baseball through her five hole. She may be leading by two runs after the first period, but she'll never win Lord Stanley's pennant.
When he was 11 months old, Oscar Pistorius had both his legs amputated below the knees because of a congenital condition. Now 21, Pistorius is a sprinter who runs on artificial legs called blades, as he did in July at the Golden Gala competition.
Pistorius can't compete in this year's Summer Olympics in Beijing because those blades have been ruled an unfair advantage. It's a shame he won't be allowed to compete. Seeing him round the turn in the 400 meters and take off, moving at world-record speed on metal prosthetics, accomplishes a feat that's rare in this world: Redefining the possible.
Joe Gibbs abruptly resigned today, ending his second stint with Washington's football team on significantly less successful terms than the first. In posting the story on SportsFilter and the Drudge Retort, I made the conscious decision to avoid referring to the team's racist mascot name.
Original lyrics to Washington's team song:
Hail to the Redskins
Braves on the Warpath
Fight for old Dixie
Scalp 'em, swamp 'em -- We will take 'em big score
Read 'em, weep 'em, touchdown -- we want heap more
Fight on, Fight on -- 'Till you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!
It feels awkward to refer to them simply as "Washington," but it's not that uncommon outside the U.S. where sport franchises aren't so focused on mascots. In the other football, for instance, you'll find pro teams known by their city and the designation F.C. (for Football Club), which is attractive for its plainness. I recently bought a share of AFC Wimbledon, a publicly traded soccer team that began play when its original team moved to another town.
Wandering back to my main point, I'm joining the minority of sports fans who won't play along any more with Washington's use of a contemptible racial slur. I grew up in Dallas as a Cowboys fan, so I'm sure that will be pegged as my motivation, but I'd feel the same way if the ball was on the other foot. Why does the media, so primed for racial slight that an offensive Don Imus rant got his entire show canned, continue to ignore the enthusiastic commercial use of a slur as a trademark in the nation's capitol?
While looking for a photo of the entrance to Clemson's Death Valley football stadium, I found a bizarre form of photography that's exemplified by this picture:
Jason Kottke found something unexpected in an Online Journalism Review article about page design that used eye-tracking tests on 255 people. When looking at a photo of baseball player George Brett standing at home plate while batting, men and women had different points of attention. Women focused on the area around Brett's face, while men divided their time between the Hall of Famer's face and his crotch.
I've added eye-tracking capabilities to Workbench to determine if these results are limited to athletic supporters or extend to other photographic subjects.
Look at this photo of Kottke modeling a Defunker T-shirt, then hover your mouse over the image to see real-time eye-tracking data for visitors to this weblog.
You people are sick.
Although I reported one of Wikipedia's best-known gaffes -- project founder Jimmy Wales edited his own page to remove credit from a former colleague -- I'm a defender of the project. I think it's an amazing experiment in collective fact-gathering that deserves to be nurtured, no matter how many different ways Seth Finkelstein proves it should've been smothered in infancy.
Wikipedia's response to the Zoeller suit has become another one of those gaffes.
Wales often touts Wikipedia's transparency as a virtue because the site maintains a public edit history of changes made to each page. Last September, in a game of mine's bigger between Wales and Encyclopedia Britannica Editor-in-Chief Dale Hoiberg in the Wall Street Journal, Wales made this observation:
Britannica doesn't display its rough drafts, or the articles before being checked by a copy editor; Wikipedia does. We think this sort of open transparency is healthy and results in greater quality than doing everything behind closed doors.
In response to Zoeller's suit, Wikipedia has removed all edits he claims are libelous from the history of the page. No one can go back and review the drafts that are central to the suit.
The following paragraphs, which are still in the Answers.Com mirror of Wikipedia, are the material that sent Zoeller's lawyers into attack mode:
Zoeller went public with his alcoholism and prescription drug addiction, explaining that at the time he made those statements, he was "in the process of polishing off a fifth of Jack (Daniels) after popping a handful of vicodin pills". He further detailed the violent nature of his disease, recalling how he'd viciously beat his wife Dianne and their four children while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. He also admitted feigning a ruptured spinal disc in 1985 so as to be prescribed a multitude of prescription medication. 
The lawsuit, which Zoeller filed as "John Doe," called these paragraphs reckless, false and defamatory and asked for $15,000 in damages. For 13 days, Wikipedia said he was a drunken pill-popping wife and child batterer.
Zoeller's target may be easily found, since the person's edits reveal an '80s hair metal aficionado who can't be hard to ID at a small company.
It's pretty clear that Wikipedia's only as good as the ability to identify and punish encyclopedic wrongdoers. One dirty Ratt fan might have ended the era in which anonymous cranks could edit the 12th most popular site on the web.
I attended yesterday's ACC Championship game between Wake Forest and Georgia Tech in Jacksonville, picking up two $125 lower deck tickets near the 50-yard-line. I wanted to see whether seats that good at Alltel Stadium are worth the price.
The game wasn't even close to a sellout, so there were giant packs of unhappy scalpers outside. One thing I didn't need to hear as my son and I walked in: "Lower deck seats, $5!"
The section we were in, 237, has its own entrance and a Carrabba's, Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants in an indoor mall. I didn't know this, so we entered through the main gates in lines several hundred people deep for a half-hour, holding nachos and popcorn.
In retrospect, carrying nachos through a large, tightly-packed crowd of people during cold and flu season wasn't the best idea. My open tub of cheese must have been exposed to every toxin short of Polonium 210, but I lacked the will to throw it away uneaten. I'm hoping the artificial preservatives and coloring in the cheese create an inhospitable environment for germs and viruses. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
As for the game, what's not to like about a 9-6 defensive struggle in constant drizzle as a bone-chilling breeze wafts off the St. Johns River?
The best part was taking my seven-year-old to his first football game and fielding his rapid-fire questions about the rules. He patiently asked "how do you kick a field goal?" a dozen times before I figured out he wanted to know how a coach decides to attempt one, not how the points are scored by kicking the ball through the uprights.
One I couldn't answer: What is a Demon Deacon? I couldn't think of a reason a school would adopt a well-dressed elderly Baptist deacon with devilish tendencies as a mascot.
Decked out in Wake Forest hoodies we bought on the way in as survival gear, we were so happy they won without going to overtime that some of the team's fans thought I attended the school.