Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Change of Heart

A few days ago I heard that former Vice President Richard Cheney had a heart transplant.

We often speak of our hearts. She has a good heart. He broke my heart. He is heartless. You have no heart.

The heart is the organ that will determine our physical well being, and, if the attributions are correct can fill us up with joy or bring us to our knees when we are emotionally distraught.

So what happens when you get a heart transplant? Do you still have the same sensibilities? Are you hurt by the same events that were painful to you when you had your old heart? Do you love the same people as intensely as you had previously.

Say, your heart was broken. Would a transplant allow you greater resiliency. It seems silly to think so. So, if your heart was broken and then you had a heart transplant and still your heart was broken, then apparently it could not have been your heart that was broken in the first place.

What was?

Will Dick Cheney have any greater or less remorse now than he did a month ago for things he might have done in the past. Will he go home and greet his wife and say, "Sorry spouse. I've got this new heart and it seems as if I love Jane Jones from Poughkeepsie. Let me get my hat and I will be off."?

Probably not.

In South Pacific, the lead sings that on some enchanted evening, you may meet a stranger and fall in love. And nobody can explain why, "Who can explain it, who can tell you why. Fools give you reasons wise men never try."

If it is not the heart that creates the attraction, and there is no logic that can explain the attraction, why do we fall in love.

I will ask Dick Cheney the next time I see him.

Friday, March 23, 2012

syracuse zone

Last night I watched the final 10 minutes or so of the Syracuse/Wisconsin game. Last week I saw nearly the entirety of the UNC-Asheville//Syracuse first round match-up.

For years, Syracuse University has played a zone, and only a zone, defense. A zone, for the uninitiated, is a defense which requires defenders to defend an area of the court--a zone--as opposed to playing a man to man defense. In a man to man, each player on the defense is assigned an individual on the offense to guard.

Purists like Bobby Knight and the retired coach at my alma mater, Dr. Richard Sauers, hate to play a zone. The man to man can be a more aggressive way to defend and also allows each person a specific assignment when it comes to screening off offensive players who attempt to get a rebound.

But Syracuse always, always, plays a zone. And the zone is confounding. It is confounding because sometimes it is so porous that a team like UNC Asheville which plays in a B level Big South conference is able to penetrate it for easy shots. Sometimes it is lazy so a University of Vermont team can easily shoot jump shots over it and defeat a much more talented squad. However, last night, the University of Wisconsin could not penetrate the zone for anything. They had fifteen seconds left at the end of the game to get in position for a winning shot. Fifteen seconds is a long time in basketball. They had to settle for a forced long shot which banged away allowing Syracuse to win. It seemed as if no pass could get inside of the zone and no passes could go anywhere but away from the basket.

There is an inverse metaphor here that applies to people. In one of my favorite books, I Know this Much is True the main character's stepfather's mantra for his stepkids is "defense, defense." Be careful about what can bruise you. Defend your heart.

It is wise to play a zone like Syracuse's in basketball. The object of the defending team is to make it different to score the goal. However, in life we want just the opposite. We want the zone that can be penetrated. Sure, we need to defend our heart some because otherwise selfish people will take advantage, but we do want to be able to let our guard down to permit others to penetrate us and reach our hearts. That is the goal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


When I was a kid the NIT was a big deal. It was, as difficult it may be for 40 somethings and younger to understand, a bigger deal than the NCAA tournament. Teams would accept an NIT bid and would reject an NCAA invitation.

That has changed 180 degrees. Now the NIT is where you go if you were not invited to the big dance. Weakish teams might consider NIT an opportunity, but strong teams who feel disrespected because the NCAA ignored them, think of the NIT as a booby prize. And the games often reflect this.

On Monday night Middle Tennessee State defeated a much stronger Tennessee team that played as if they felt goofy about being seen in the NIT, like a beauty queen hiding in the shadows because she accepted a date with someone not on the A team. Also on Monday Miami, a good team during the year, came out against Minnesota as if they had just been emptying a keg, and could not wait to get back to the suds.

The announcers for these games have often not pulled their punches when discussing how lamely strong teams were performing. This less than full effort reflects how much emotion influences behavior. Rest assured that if Miami was playing in the Sweet Sixteen NCAA games this weekend there would be a different team on the court. The players are not playing for money in either the NIT or the NCAA. If emotion was not the key variable, why would the NCAA teams be playing as if they are at 78 rpm, and the NIT teams at 33.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Last night I returned from my return to Las Vegas. My brother and I rendezvoused as we have many times and enjoyed the first two days of the tournament. Thirty two games in two days.

The boys are still there. I arrived late Wednesday night, checked in, and then thought I would take a walk on the strip before my brother arrived. I see a fellow waiting for the elevator; beer in one hand, bottle of vodka, in the other. I asked him if he was all set. He said he was, and then offered me "a pull". This is a term I have not heard before, but I got it. I declined the offer.

On Thursday we sat next to a fellow who was up and down like a yoyo rooting for whoever he had his money on. Syracuse was driving him mad. All around us were pontificating bettors and self deprecating fellows shaking their collective heads.

The prices have gone up; a couple of beers in the casino set us back 14 dollars, and Bobby got a container of soup from a chinese--in hotel--restaurant for 15 bananas. I don't know how many won tons were in there, but that is some expensive soup. Two coffees in the lobby set us back 7.

But lots of fun. A character on Friday night was holding court while smoking one of the largest cigars I have ever seen. Some very fun quips. A guy behind us in the same establishment, was losing his shirt and regularly told the world that he "could-not-believe-it." People are adorned in outfits that would be prohibited in most communities. Most panhandlers had the predictable signs requesting money for food or shelter. A more candid beggar had a sign that read, "Why Lie, Need Beer."

My cab driver on Wednesday night was from Cuba. On Saturday morning from Ethiopa. I can only imagine what they are thinking is normal in America.

I first went to March Madness in 2001, because my brother had read an article that read 100 things before you die. If you are a sports fan, treat yourself and do this once. In Baltimore on my way out, I met one man who had been coming to Las Vegas for more than ten years. On the plane from Baltimore I sat next to a slender fellow who said this was the 17th consecutive year he and his college cronies will be getting together. On Friday night a contingent of septugenarians from Missouri were kibbitzing on their annual reunion. And now each contingent is planning for next year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Earlier this evening I wrote that Iona could be a sleeper in the tournament--perhaps the VCU of this year's March. Last year VCU was invited to play and the decision was criticized. Then all VCU did was win its play-in game, then two games to get to the sweet sixteen, and then two more games to get to the final four. Iona was similarly criticized when they were invited to play this year. They had, however, averaged over 80 points a game during this season and the Gaels have terrific athletes.

In the first half Iona went ahead of BYU by 25 points. I felt mildly pleased with my ability to predict games. This, I should have known from past experience, was a grand hallucination. I have written about (a) how it is almost impossible to predict college basketball games and (b) how often I am incorrect when I attempt to make predictions.

When I wrote that Iona might be a sleeper, I did not mean that they would fall asleep. But go to sleep they did. There are people well into their nocturnal zs who are more awake than Iona was in the second half. I truly have never seen a team choke more completely than Iona just did, blowing a 25 point lead and losing to BYU. Not only did they miss everything they put up, they played about as dumb a brand of basketball as a team can play. On two occasions a play worked brilliantly for a dunk, but instead of dunking it the player tried to bank it in and missed. On another occasion a player all alone looked like a frightened teenager and did not finish the shot. Knucklehead plays after knucklehead plays.

In the two play contests tonight teams that led the entire game blew huge leads to allow their opponent to come back and win. In the book I mention how I met one fellow who after a game gave me some sage advice. "This just goes to show one thing" he said. "What is that I asked". His response was simple "You just don't know."

Another fellow in Las Vegas years back told me that if I wanted a winner, just listen to what he says, and go bet on the other team. This is my advice to any reader of my blogs. If I say, go with the Jackrabbits, bet on Baylor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bonding and Betting Redux

In a few minutes the madness of march will begin, at least the introduction to the madness. The NCAA has expanded the field to 68 since I wrote "...Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas." Tonight two of the preliminary games take place with the first starting at 630 eastern time. Another game follows at about 9. This second game between Iona and BYU will be interesting. Iona has been widely criticized for its inclusion in the dance. Last year so was VCU. VCU made it to the final four. Iona could be a sleeper this year as well.

I am going back. The book is written about the 2007 tournament, but I returned in 2008 to do some fact checking (though I still missed at least one thing) and in 2009 I went out at the suggestion of the publisher to blog from the casinos. Now, after a two year absence I want to see what has changed.

The games are spread out a bit differently than before. Games will be played all day, but it is not until later in the afternoon when four games will start relatively concurrently. I wonder if the madness in the casinos that typically began as early as 7 a.m. with people racing to get seats in front of the sets, will not be the same, and the zaniness will be reserved until later in the day.

I wonder if more women will attend. When I first went to the games in 2001, it was a very rare sight to see a woman sitting among the beer inhaling crowd. In 2009, it was not as uncommon. Will the complainers be whining as much, the pontificators as certain of what cannot be certain, the cheering sections as rabid. Wisconsin plays one of the early games on Thursday. Will the Grateful Red be out in force--will a Michigan State contingent break out in the fight song (as they have in the past when I've been there) when they play their first game on Friday night.

Let me know if you have a lock. I love Alabama against Creighton, and will be surprised if St. Louis cannot play Memphis tough. For some reason I think the Jackrabbits will be able to stay close to a Baylor that may be looking past the Albuquerque games to the regionals. And I think Connecticut goes down early--and should not have been invited.

It is now 630 eastern time. Post time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

In da blood

My father tells a great story about how he was trying to motivate an underachieving student. The student, a troublemaker--or more like troublemaker-light, was apparently bright but did not do any work. So, my dad calls in the student's father for a conversation.

This, I will digress, was always--among my peers at least, a genuine threat. When a teacher said, I'm going to speak to your parents, it was nervous time if you grew up in the fifties and early sixties. From what I have heard now the fear has reversed. Kids now tell the teachers that if they don't stop picking on them, they will tell their folks. And, as I understand it, in some school districts this threat can have the desired effects.

But back to the (true) story, my dad in what was probably 1959 tells the underperforming kid that he wants to speak to his parents. So in comes the father to talk to my dad about his son who is smart, but is not doing any work.

The dad listens to my dad and then responds evenly. "Mr. Zaremba, It's in da blood. My father was that way, I am that way, my kids are that way. It's in da blood."

When my father heard this response, he figured there was not much hope. If the dad thought it was in da blood, the kid was not going to do his homework.

Today, I was watching the halftime show of the Vermont--Stony Brook game. Stony Brook a team I predicted might go far in the big dance after I saw them play beautifully earlier this season, could not beat Vermont in the championship game that results in a ticket to the big dance. (The same Vermont team that lost to the previously winless Binghamton Bearcats two weeks ago).

During the halftime show the announcers played a tape of the Lamar coach berating his seniors after a tough loss. He attacked their character, their work ethic, and conjectured that his team might not win another game. The tape was played because since this public tongue lashing Lamar had not lost a single game, and in fact won again today to punch their ticket to the big dance that starts this week.

If you were a basketball fan, the words, the mannerisms, the motivational style of the coach doing the talking would have made you sweat just a little the way you do when you are stunned.

The coach was Pat Knight, the son of coach Bobby Knight, and son of a gun if it didn't seem as if Bobby Knight had gone to make-up and somehow come out looking like a thirty something year old.

Not all children behave like their parents, but in this case it was eerie watching this post game tirade and recalling just how the former Indiana coach would get on his players. For a terrific read about Bobby Knight's m.o. I suggest the book, A Season on the Brink which chronicles one of the Indiana seasons in the mid 80s. If today's video clip is available on youtube, take a look. Then tell me if, in this case at least, it's in da blood.


Last night, the Boston Celtics were leading the Portland Trailblazers by over thirty points at halftime.

On Wednesday night, two days ago, the Boston Celtics were obliterated by the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers by over thirty points.

Go figure. The Sixers are a little better than the Trailblazers but not sixty points better, probably not five points better. So, how does a team go up by thirty one night, and get demolished by thirty on the next?

Does Sinatra croon the answer in That's Life? Sport works as a metaphor for everyday experiences so often, so maybe that is just the way it is. Somedays we feel like we cannot fail at anything, and other times we wonder who would want to spend fifteen minutes with us. How much of this rollercoaster is a function of our dealings with others--Trailblazers or Sixers--and how much of it is our own personal wiring and actions.

In basketball, the quality of play will even out. The Celtics probably just had two peculiar games, or perhaps the second game was a reaction to the stinker on Wednesday. And maybe that is the way it is for us, over time our true nature will be apparent--and occasionally we will react to disappointments with behavior that will tend to make us happier. I do think that sometimes a particular state can become so common that there are no efforts to try to change. A dismal sports team may get so used to losing, that they dont bother trying to succeed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

jump start

The Boston Red Sox begin the 2012 season coming off a disastrous finish to 2011. The Sox were ahead of competitors for much of last year only to collapse like an old bridge chair during the last two weeks of September.

The Red Sox hired a new manager and general manager. The team has implictly and explicitly apologized to its fans for behavior that seemed counterproductive: for example and most often noted, pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse during games when they were not pitching. The 2011 manager let things go. I was crazy about Tito Francona, the manager. He treated his players like adults, but apparently that was not an accurate assessment of their maturity. So, the team was out of shape both physically and mentally and could not beat teams with far less talent during the pennant run. The result was that the team folded ignominiously.

Yesterday, the Red Sox began their spring training season. In what has become a tradition, the Sox began spring training with a double header playing both Northeastern, my school, and Boston College in the same day. Sometimes it is BC first and then NU, and other years, like this one, Northeastern is the first team to play the Red Sox.

The Sox are on the right track. I am not sure what track the younguns from my school might be on. The score yesterday might have been heartening to the Red Sox nation, but dispiriting to NU. The final: Boston Red Sox 25, Northeastern 0. Not sure the Yankees are fretting just yet.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

the madness begins

This weekend the month of sports madness begins with conference tournaments. Today Murray State eked out a victory against Tennessee State and consequently punched its ticket to the big dance that begins on the ides of March. UNC Asheville will be invited to the big dance as well because of the team's victory against Virginia Military Institute. Quarterfinal games in the America East and Colonial Athletic Association are being played today and in each of these I have a horse in the race. My alma mater has already beaten New Hampshire advancing to tomorrow's semi finals, and the school that employs me, Northeastern, will tip off against Virginia Commonwealth University in a few moments after defeating William and Mary last night.

There are no fewer than 28 basketball games that will be cable or broadcast today in the Boston vicinity. This means that 28 collections of advertisers know that there will be a large viewing audience consuming the fare and, the advertisers hope, paying attention to their persuasive messages. There will be more people paying attention to basketball games today, then have paid attention to me in my classes in 36 years of college teaching.

It is the one and done nature of the tournaments that holds so much appeal. Tennessee State is done now that it has lost. Some teams in these conference tournaments can be invited to others, but what makes fans rabid at these games is the sense that there is no tomorrow for many participants and their followers.

If you do not like sports, and are living with a basketball fan, my suggestion is to visit Peru or some other nation beyond the US borders for the next four weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Break Up the Bearcats

March Madness is in its early stages. This week the first rounds of some of the conference tournaments have begun. Last night the America East tournament began with the two bottom teams playing to earn the right to play again in the next round.

A few days ago SUNY Binghamton was 0 for the season. Then they beat Vermont, a team that could go to the NCAA. Yesterday they beat UMBC and therefore have amassed two wins in 2011-2012. They are still alive. It would be stunning if the Bearcats somehow win tomorrow against a very good Stony Brook team. It is a very unlikely scenario. But the Bearcats could win again. My guess is that every member of the Bearcats is dreaming of an eventuality, however improbable, that would land them in the Big Dance. America.

On another note, something occurred a few minutes ago that is worth mentioning and is indicative of a repeated theme in this blog: the reason why sports captivates the interests of so many. I went to the post office at about 1 pm on March 2nd, today. There is a very snazzy digital display in this Boston post office that tells a customer the time and date. The time they had right. The date was listed as March 3rd. While awaiting my date with the clerk I figured out why the date was wrong. The snazzy clock did not compute leap year. My very unsnazzy digital watch got leap year spot on a few days ago. So did my computer. But the government display had it wrong. It was, though, a very snazzy time/date sign. So, the date was off...

What people like about sports is that you can count on it. There are twenty minute halves and if someone were to make the half 20 minutes and five seconds, it would be corrected instantly. No such efficiency can be guaranteed elsewhere. When I had my date with the clerk he told me that they will change the date in the post office when they have some time. Maybe. They will change the clock in the America East tournament game when the 2-28 Bearcats play Stony Brook the instant there is a realization of an error.