Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Black Coffee: A True Story With No Change

Today I write a simple story with a complex meaning. Read it for what it’s worth to you, but I suggest you read it to the end where there's space for your comments and concerns:

Many years ago, it was my father who drank his coffee black; my mother loved her morning blend with ample amounts of additives: the basic milk/cream/half&half and sugar.

Though my perception was that Dad was far from a health nut, he regularly chided Mom for her demand for the coffee softeners. It wasn’t every morning that he suggested, “Annie Laurie, you should really learn to drink your coffee black to allow yourself to enjoy the true taste that comes through with a freshly brewed.” Or something as such. Nearly every day.

One morning Dad challenged Mom to give it a try but, he told her, that one day would not be enough to break her from the milk/cream/half&half and sugar routine. He said, “First take a sip and let’s see your reaction.”

She did which resulted in a face that exclaimed a bitter taste. She didn’t want to have any part of it, but Dad got her to drink the entire black cup of coffee that day and not have another made her way. In doing so, he challenged her to drink black-only coffee for 21 straight days, three complete weeks. He promised at the end, she would stick with black.

The second day brought the same bitter reaction from Mom. Dad chuckled and said she would eventually see his way. Days 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 were much of the same. The second week was like the first and then came days 15-21.

No different than the previous two weeks. Maybe it seemed to Dad that Mom’s reaction to black-only coffee was subsiding; maybe he thought he would win the challenge. He was encouraged as Mom drank cup after cup of black coffee for the final week.

Dad’s thought process was simple. He was encouraging a behavioral change for Mom. He was trying to show that habits can be overcome, that removing oneself from a situation is the way to make a change for the better, the better in his mind. He was convinced that by Mom staying distant from the milk/cream/half&half and sugar for 21 days that she would be able to do so forever.

Then came day 22. Mom was seated at the dining room table as usual for breakfast. The coffee was perked by Dad. He poured a substantial cup but this time, unlike that of the previous 21 days, he allowed for space at the top for what Mom had previously introduced on a regular basis. He supplied a spoon, the sugar bowl and a small pitcher of milk/cream/half&half.

“OK, Annie Laurie,” he encouraged. “Now fix your coffee as you wish, as you did before this challenge.”

She obliged, dishing in at least a full spoon full, maybe two, of sugar. She poured a substantial amount of the white liquid, filling the cup nearly to the brim. So as not to spill a drop along the outer edges of the cup, Mom cautiously stirred the combination of coffee and the sugar and the milk/cream/half&half, and then placed the spoon in the saucer.

Carefully but surely, she reached for the cup and raised it to her lips, taking deep breaths of the elixir through the nose so she could get the full flavor into her system before the liquid hit her tongue. Then she sipped, not once but twice.

Dad watched and waited. He knew she would wince, just knowing she had developed a taste for black coffee and that as bitter as the 21 days had been, the sweetness of what she had just tasted would push her back to black only. But he was wrong.

As Mom lowered the cup to the saucer, a smile like no other before, came across her face. She had an expression of pure joy, unlike the 21 days of misery she had been through by not having what she wanted. “Mmmmmmm!,” she said. “Now that’s good coffee.”

I am much like my mother.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Nazi Flight Attendant of US Airways

US Airways flyers beware. There’s a flight attendant who roams the aisles of Wisconsin Air, flying under the US Airways banner, with whom you do not want to come in contact. She steals personal property, and she threatens passengers, both against company policy. This is a true story, and the only reason there’s no name or badge number mentioned within is because she broke that company rule as well, not supplying an inquiring passenger the information necessary to file a complaint. “You have the flight number,” she said, offering no more than a gotcha grin as she literally marched to the front of the plane.

It was this past Tuesday. I was on my way from Syracuse NY, to where I had flown earlier in the day on business, to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Booked through US Airways, the flight up was RDU to DCA (Washington Reagan) with a connection to Syracuse, Hancock International. I departed at 8:20 a.m. from Raleigh; arrived in Syracuse prior to noon. The return—Syracuse to Philadelphia to RDU—was scheduled for 6:35 p.m., giving me just the right amount of time to visit the customer near downtown. Matter of fact, the meeting went so well, it concluded early and a business associate and I found ourselves in the only bar in a pitiful wing of the Syracuse Airport, a wing only occupied by US Airways, possibly only by those affiliated airlines US Airways employes to move its customers into many small destinations.

Neither of us wanted more than a snack, our first meal following early morning breakfast, and a Coke or Pepsi, whichever is the official soft drink of that port. Each of us enjoyed the carbonated fountain drink served over ice in a 12-ounce clear plastic cup. Matter of fact, we each had one complete refill, not right for my weight but okay because of my recent loss of 10 pounds. (Amazing what a dramatic reduction in alcohol intake does along with just enough food to fill my stomach.) We discussed the client meeting and plotted strategy, waiting for our flights, mine at 6:35 p.m. and his shortly after 7:00 p.m. It was just before six o’clock when I asked the bartender for another hit of Coke or Pepsi, whichever the official drink is, stopping the pour just past the halfway mark on the plastic cup, now something I owned. My property; bought and paid for. I owned the drink and was transferring it to my body but I also owned that cup and the ice there within.

It was just a few steps to Gate 8 where boarding commenced shortly thereafter. With soft drink in hand, I presented my boarding pass to the gate agent who welcomed me to the flight and who said nothing about the liquid pleasure I was toting. Down the ramp and onto the CRJ, Flight 3677, and right past a pleasant flight attendant, who welcomed me and the other passengers. As it turns out, looks and demeanor can be deceiving. As it turns out, if there’s a wicked-witch of flight attendants, a Nazi of the Air Wisconsin/US Airways airways, a head-case who wants to be a general but obviously is no more than a private with an attitude, a bad-ass-don’t-get-in-my-way attitude, it was this lone flight attendant, described by one female traveler on that flight as a “bitch who is obviously having her period.”

As the passengers were settling in, taking seats, stowing luggage overhead and underneath seats, the flight attendant tried to make announcements, obviously pissed she was only talking to some of the passengers. The others, as usually, were paying her no attention. She asked for consideration three times, the third as if she were standing in front of a third grade glass of students, nearly yelling and demanding consideration and respect. As her voice grew stronger, more people turned towards the front of the plane as she waited for the remainder to do the same. Finally, with complete quiet all around and a stunned cabin of customers, she made her detailed announcements as if she were staring in some Oscar winning role, demanding respect. It was not necessary.

Then she started down the aisle with deliberate movement, looking left and right, demanding that if you were not wearing it, stow it, either overhead of under the seat in front of you. The lady next to me was fishing through her pocketbook in search of God-knows what and the flight attendant said in a no-compromise tone, “That purse goes under the seat in front of you.” And she stayed there until it did. She stopped at the exit row, directly behind me and lectured on exactly what to do in an emergency and asked one person to repeat what she had just said. She even asked another US Airways flight attendant who was on the plane for transportation to another location to move from the rear of the plane to the empty seat across the aisle and one row back from me. “If we have an emergency,” she told her, “I’d like someone with experience in this row.” I wondered if that second attendant had actual experience necessary and then hoped not.

After sweeping the remainder of the plane, she started back to the front and stopped at my seat, 7C. Originally, I had been assigned to 7D. But a 53-year old women and her new-born baby (yes, 53-year old new mother), assigned to 7C, were in my seat. The flight attendant, to her credit, switched our seats because of three oxygen bags on the 7D side of the aisle. She lingered over me a moment and demanded that I relinquish my cup of ice. Now, so as to not have conflicting stories, here’s the email I sent Tuesday afternoon to Air Wisconsin, at the request of a person there, outlining what happened:

I was sipping the drink, nearly completed, crunching the ice which helps my cough, especially when my throat is dry. We were taxing toward the runway when the flight attendant approached and said she would take my cup for me. I told her that she didn’t need to do that. I was not through with it. She said that I did not understand, that she was going to take it due to rules and regulations. I challenged her on that, asking for the rule and regulation, saying it could not possibly be an FAA rule or regulation. She said I could look it up later on the Internet. I then again refused to give her the cup—which was my property—and she said if I didn’t she would ask the pilot to return to the terminal/gate and leave me there. She then demanded that I give her the cup. I was stunned at what she was saying. Then, she actually reached down and took it from me. I asked for her name and badge number. She refused saying I had the flight number and could call the airline to get the information. I then turned to another US Airways flight attendant who was on the plan to catch another flight or go home and who was seated a row back, across the aisle, to ask her if what just happened was right. She started telling me about picking up service items, but I quickly told her that the cup was mine, not provided by the airlines and that I could keep it as I had done on many other flights. She stood by the active flight attendant, saying I was wrong. I started to challenge her on her statement when the active flight attendant returned and asked if I was arguing with the second flight attendant. I told her I was not arguing, that I was asking questions about what had just happened. The seated flight attendant confirmed that to the active flight attendant who then turned to me and said, “I do not like your attitude. Any more from you and I will have the plane return to the gate and have you removed.” She then moved forward to the front of the aircraft and began talking on the communications line, but I do not know to whom she was speaking. There were no more confrontations the rest of the flight. Nothing was said when I departed the plane.

Continuing in the email: After departing flight 3677, I headed for my connection, US Airways flight 1759, stopping at a yogurt stand, buying a six-ounce cup of yogurt. I boarded the plane with the cup and a plastic spoon, and at no time during the flight did any flight attendant demand the cup. One asked me late in the flight if I wanted her to take the cup; I declined; she said I must really be nursing the yogurt and moved along. I retained the cup until I exited the plane.

Point proven. So, much of the day Wednesday included trying to contact US Airways but without success. I was told to write an email, to send a letter to corporate, but that I could not talk to anyone at anytime unless I received a return telephone call. It’s nice to know that a company that wants my business will not answer my calls. That’s US Airways for you. Bum organization if you ask me.

I also called the Syracuse Airport police department. An officer told me I could not charge the flight attendant with theft or communicating a threat. I was also told by Officer Finney with whom I talked on the telephone that if I wanted the telephone number of the police chief I could call directory assistance or look it up on the internet. She also wouldn’t spell her last name or give me her badge number. My guess is she might be related to that flight attendant. Sounded like it anyway. When I told the police officer that because of her attitude I would consider no more travel to Syracuse to spend money there, she said she didn’t care. I did talk with a concerned lady, at the Syracuse Airport authority, who was appalled at the attitude of the police officer, concerned about the flight attendant and would talk with her boss about it.

In calling Air Wisconsin, I talked with Julie Hemingway who was extremely nice and concerned. She listened to my story and then spoke with Mr. Bill Palmer a managing director for training of flight attendants. When she called me a little later, she confirmed what I knew all along: The cup was my property and the flight attendant should not have demanded it much less taken it from me. Also, the flight attendant is required to give me her first name and badge number. I was told by Ms. Hemingway that she will be reprimanded for these actions. I suggested firing her was a good solution. Ms. Hemingway also asked that I send an email outlining everything, which I did.

In the email, I continued with:
—I am asking for an official apology from US Airways, Air Wisconsin and the flight attendant. (This is not one blanket apology; this comes from three people.)
—I want Mr. Palmer or another Air Wisconsin official to tell me in an email that the stealing of the cup was wrong, that I should have been allowed to keep the cup for as long as I wish.
—I want Mr. Palmer or another Air Wisconsin official to tell me in an email that the flight attendant broke company rules and regulations by not providing at a minimum her first name and badge number.

I was simply trying to get home Tuesday evening and had to deal with that woman, the flight attendant from hell, the one who steals, threatens and refuses to follow rules and regulations as outlined and required by her employer. It has caused me reason for pause when it comes to scheduling flights with US Airways and Air Wisconsin, though AW can rectify this with me by providing me with what I am asking.

I await the response in writing and will continue this story one way or another. I promise Air Wisconsin that I will gladly publish its response, but will also publish it's lack thereof.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wolfpack Football: 7-5 Overall; 3-5 ACC

With just a little over two weeks before the opening game, it’s time to predict how NC State’s football team will compete this season, the fourth of coach Tom O’Brien whose troops for the past three years are 16-21 overall and 9-15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The closest the Wolfpack has come to a winning season under O’Brien was in 2008 with a 6-6 regular season and a 4-4 conference slate. But, State lost its bowl game that season.

Even though NC State fans, self-included, are absolutely without a doubt THE most optimistic college football fans anywhere and everywhere, a quick look at the schedule with five Sports Illustrated top 25 teams—#10 Virginia Tech, #13 North Carolina, #14 Georgia Tech, #18 Cincinnati, #25 Florida State—on board, there’s a good chance the O’Brien-led Wolfpack will turn in a repeat non-winning record performance in 2010.

The writers at SI predict an ACC record of 3-5 and an overall 6-6 mark, and, looking over the line-up of opposition this fall, it’s easy to agree, giving State conference wins over Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland and non-conference wins over Western Carolina, Central Florida and East Carolina. If the Sports Illustrated prediction holds, the silver lining to the cloud is that Athletics Director Debbie Yow does not get a bonus for the Wolfpack placing sixth or better in the league. The Pack would tie for third in the Atlantic Division but four teams from the Coastal Division would have better league marks, so, assuming a combined league and not a Divisional finish, State would tie for seventh. Of course, that’s just the sub-plot to football (and basketball). If you’ve forgotten, check out Ms. Yow’s contract on the July 2 posting in this space.

Anyway, instead of looking at personnel—which if this is Tom’s fourth season, it must be that he now has four sets of recruits and only a few red-shirted seniors are left over from Chuck Amato—I’m going to focus on the schedule and show how the Wolfpack could do a lot better. By the way, one current assistant coach told me that many of Chuck’s players were just not the caliber necessary to compete at NC State. Whatever.

On the other hand, in Sunday’s The News & Observer, there was a story about NC State’s secondary, an article which started out with a play sophomore cornerback CJ Wilson made on the first day of practice this summer, stopping a back-pedal coverage of a receiver to step in front of the intended pass-catcher and coming up with an interception. Wilson told the reporter he would not have made that play last fall. Quote from Wilson: “I didn’t watch enough film. I was young. I wasn’t in the film room as much as I needed to be. I was inexperienced.”

Okay, he was a freshman but where the hell were the coaches, demanding Wilson and other get into the film room, to learn to be better. I’m not a professional at coaching, just a sideline observer, but I do believe that if anyone needs to be hand-held into the film room and into the weight training room, it’s freshmen first, followed by sophomores and then juniors and seniors, the latter two knowing better than to stay away. “I was inexperienced.” Give me a break.

But I digress. Let’s take a swing through the 2010 Wolfpack schedule in a different way:

Should win games but relaxing will not be good games: Sept 4 Western Carolina at home; Sept 11 at Central Florida; Oct 10 Boston College at home; Nov 13 Wake Forest at home; and, Nov 27 at Maryland. Even though these are considered the “easy” games, and even though NC State has more and better talent than each of these five, the Wolfpack needs to play its best football for these five games, no let-up because a little slip here and there will create a disastrous season: 5-0 overall; 3-0 in the ACC.

No chance games: Sept 25 at Georgia Tech; and, Oct 2 Virginia Tech at home. Two games against two programs that are far-above what’s happening at NC State right now. Georgia Tech’s offense will create havoc on State’s defense; Virginia Tech offensive ground game will create havoc on State’s defense. 0-2 overall and 0-2 in the league.

Toss-up game: Nov 6 at Clemson. This could be close with State winning or a runaway with Clemson on top. I’ll go with the latter because of the excitement coach Dabo Swinney’s got going with his program and his fans. A little charisma goes a long way in Death Valley. It would do the same in Raleigh. 0-1 in over and the ACC.

Two games which maybe the most important to the program this year: Sept 16 Cincinnati at home; Oct 28 Florida State at home. Both of these games are Thursday nights; both are on ESPN; these are the two most important games on the schedule by far because of the significance of winning in front of a national television audience. There’s a chance NC State could win both, at least the game against Cincinnati. If the cards fall correctly, the Wolfpack will be 2-0 heading in the Cincinnati game and riding a wave of something, maybe not excitement, but just enough to play well enough to win that game. The Florida State game is a different story. Seminoles are too tough this year. 1-1 overall; 0-1 in the ACC.

Two games of most importance to the fans: Oct 16 at East Carolina; Nov 20 at North Carolina. I recall beating East Carolina in Carter-Finley Stadium a couple of seasons ago, and one of those purple clad people making a ridiculous remark that went something like this: “You State fans kill me. If there’s just one game you want to win each season it’s against East Carolina.” She needs to get a life. There is at least one other game of a little more importance than East Carolina, and if you ask me, every game on the schedule is more important than the East Carolina game, a game scheduled for NC State by the North Carolina General Assembly with threats of appropriations being pulled from the NC State campus. NC State should win this one in Greenville; State would always beat East Carolina. On the other hand, the three-game winning streak against North Carolina will probably come to an end as the Tar Heels have a wonderful team filled with professional athletes…oops…football players who accepted something from agents. No sour grapes here. If State had players the agents wanted, the Wolfpack might be better: 1-1 overall; 0-1 in the conference.

Final record: 7-5 overall; 3-5 in the ACC.

The key, then, to a winning season, to give Debbie Yow a reason to rejoice because she will not have to deal with a coach on a four-season non-winning record run, is beating Cincinnati and doing everything else that’s obvious. There’s no incentive in Yow’s contract for the football team going to a bowl game, but I believe there is for O’Brien. And, with wins over Western Carolina, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Boston College, East Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland, according to contractual agreements, he’ll deserve the bonus. State fans will rejoice, buy tickets to a bowl game and call the season successful.

From where I sit, NC State could and should do better every year. But then, I'm one of the most optimistic college football fans ever.
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Thanks to the two or three loyal readers who wrote last week to ask me where I’ve been. Well, my day job has been extremely busy and this writing gig has taken a back seat. I’ll post when I post and let you know when I post. Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What Makes For Interesting Reading?

Question: Can you lose something you do not have now and have never had previously?
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Below my last post, the one about the writer from The News & Observer who wanted my sources for athletics department personnel who favored the Judge in the case about whether cheerleading is a sport for Title IX reporting purposes, are two comments, one from BobLee of BobLeeSays.com and one from my nephew Jordan. No not nephew Jordan, the son of my younger brother, but nephew Jordan, the son of one of my brothers-in-law.

When BobLee speaks, it’s simply hard to take him seriously, though in many respects he has some serious responses to serious questions and some humorous answers to not so serious statements and some serious answers to stupid inquiries and some funny, tongue in cheek and (as nephew Jordan said) sarcastic returns for those who are dead serious about what they speak.

In response to the cheerleader post, the unexpected second in a series of one scheduled post, BobLee covered, as nephew Jordan, the one who lives in North Carolina and not the one who lives in South Carolina, pointed out lots of subjects in just eight sentences. (That’s a low number for total subjects in the fewest lines for BobLee.) And, nephew Jordan could not determine if BobLee is simply brilliant in his effort or totally bizarre. I’m here to tell you, nephew Jordan, BobLee is both and anyone who reads his stuff should remember that going in.

Nephew Jordan, an educated soul who matriculated at UNC-Chapel Hill (see post of July 30: “How About Another Beer?”) is confused. He thinks what BobLee said is funny but can’t determine if BobLee is using a “clever compliment which adds to the conversation, or just lousy sarcasm.” Well, nephew Jordan, use your educated mind to understand this: when confused about the difference between causation and correlation, remember that beating a tom-tom during an eclipse will always bring back the sun.” Or this one, as Jim Valvano used a lot (though he may have gotten it from Vince Scully): “Statistics are used like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.”

That BobLee likes the designated hitter rule means he hates managing baseball, at least that’s what I think. Not sure about nephew Jordan on that one. But that’s not the point here, so let’s move on. Eventually I’ve got to get back to the first line of today’s story.

BobLee, though he has a serious side, is always trying to be funny through sarcasm which is easy for an elder statesman to do, and nephew Jordan is just a year or two removed from that college degree ceremony, and he’s tries to show a serious side to what he says and writes. In his response to BobLee, I can tell he’s not trying to be humorous. He’s asking legitimate questions though he probably would have refrained from answering at all if he had perused just one of BobLee’s postings. (Did I give you that website: bobleesays.com?)

At the end, nephew Jordan, the one on the in-law side, sums his thoughts in a similar fashion to a good friend who knows the other nephew Jordan, my brother’s son, and not this Jordan. That friend will toss out all sorts of hypotheses; he will make many statements as he tries to get to the end of what he wants to say, and then he say, “My point being…” followed by a rehash and summary of what he just said in which he also tries to draw to his listener to his way of thinking with, “Don’t you think…” Good technique, friend. When you answer “no” he ends the conversation.

Nephew Jordan does it this way: “The question then is: Does the way readers interpret a writer’s ‘intent’ determine whether or not it is interesting writing?”

Actually, I think nephew Jordan is looking too deeply at the intent of a writer and what is written. The only way to tell is by knowing the writer and asking the intent. Many writers have no intent except to fill space. Others intend to embarrass; some intend to report the results but fall into opinion when such is actually inappropriate. I wonder what nephew Jordan’s intent was when he asked that last question. Maybe he would like a philosophical reply from me, or better yet from BobLee. I’m sure, if he’s gotten this far in reading today, BobLee will add a comment to today’s post as well as beneath nephew Jordan’s inquiry about BobLee in the previous post.

So, with writer’s intent on our mind, let’s take a brief look at a Sunday Op-Ed (for those unknowing, that means opinion pieces on the page opposite the primary editorial page of a newspaper) piece in The News & Observer. It was written by Ellis Hankins, executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and David Thompson, executive director of the NC Association of County Commissioners, not the more famous DT who played basketball at NC State in the 1970s.

The subject of their OP-Ed story is about taxes (anytime those two write, it’s usually about taxes) and the desire by the State of North Carolina to collect sales and/or use tax on items purchased via the Internet, items which are not taxed at the sale. Here’s part of the Op-Ed piece: “Every time you or I order a book from Amazon, we owe a use tax that is the same as the sales tax. The difference is the method of collection. If a seller such as Amazon does not collect the sales tax, the buyer is supposed to pay the use tax on items purchased out of state for use in the state. But many do not pay the tax, and that burden just gets shifted elsewhere. North Carolina and its cities and counties are losing about $190 million annually from this failure.”

Back to my original question: Can you lose something you do not have now and have never had previously? Mr. Hankins and Mr. Thompson are obviously smart people, but if there was no $190 million to begin with, the state, cities and counties cannot lose it. In other words, only if it has been collected up front can it be lost through bad investment or misplacing the cash or buying real estate at the beach for personal use. In actuality, many items may be purchased over the Internet without payment of sales tax, and those individuals who make the purchases and do not submit a use tax, may be skirting the law, but the tax due is not lost. It was never gained; it should never be part of a budget which bets on the come. Understand is as selling, my profession: Nothing sold until it is purchased.

So, nephew Jordan, what is the “intent” of what I wrote today? Do you have any idea or are you reading just to further your education? And, BobLee, any thoughts? I would hate to lose statements from each of you, but then, you may have them and never submit. Therefore nothing is lost; but then your knowledge on me is not gained either. So there. My point being…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rah, Rah For The N&O's Leah Friedman

The nerve of a newspaper reporter who wants me to name my sources! Especially in an email inquiry and request. Especially from a reporter from The News & Observer, the local king of not revealing sources for fear of not getting more information from those who kiss and tell.

It was last Friday at 3:27 p.m. when the email hit my “Inbox” of Outlook. It was from Leah Friedman, who also goes by the pen-name, The Triangle Troubleshooter, though her columns are signed, and many times she clarifies situations, while many times she actually helps a person in need of resolution. But, she’s also a reporter, assigned to various topics, sometimes news, sometimes, well, fluff.

The email was about the…well…here it is: My name is Leah Friedman, and I'm a reporter with the News & Observer. I am writing a story about the recent cheerleading court decision out of Connecticut, and I've been told you blogged about it. I'm wondering if you know anyone involved with NCSU athletics who agrees with this decision.

I started to answer in writing, to tell her, yes I do know of some directly and indirectly connected with the NC State University Department of Athletics who are on the side of United States District Judge Stephan Underhill who ruled for purposes of reporting under Title IX that Cheerleading is not a sport. But instead of writing, I decided to call her, to talk handset to handset. The conversation was short and pleasant and resulted in just what I thought.

“What? Are you going to rehash the story (which ran in The News & Observer, Wednesday, July 22)?” I asked.

“Oh, we never rehash stories,” she said which made me laugh. She said she was assigned to write a story from the local angle, and when she submitted her article, it had no quotes from anyone who favored the Judge. Initially, her editor rejected the story and wanted more. She said, in so many words that it would be nice to have someone at NC State, someone in the Athletics Department, who agrees with the decision. “So, I’m asking around. I was told you blogged about it and may know someone there who would talk with me,” she said.

My laugh grew louder, though only inside, not outwardly so she could hear. Here was a reporter asking someone to name a source. I failed to ask her if she would ever do the same for me in return, but I knew the answer would be negative. Newspapers and their reporters think they have the only right to sources. They think they are entitled to know more than everyone else, to get to sources and never tell who those informants are. Hell, reporters will rot in jail before telling the courts, even if it means by revealing a name or two a case could be won and a criminal would be brought to justice. So I knew that if I did her a favor and let her create a little more controversy about NC State, there’s little reason to think that if I needed a name later in life she would agree to return the favor.

So, she had no one for her rehash of the subject, at least from inside the NCSU Athletics Department, who agreed with the Judge, but she found plenty of people, obvious people, who disagreed with the Judge who wrote: “Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

Yes, I blogged about it a few days ago, the day after the ruling, the same day the story ran in The N&O which would have been the opportune time for The N&O to write a sidebar with a local flavor. In my blog, I noted that in this case, the Judge was upset at Quinnipiac College for substituting the “competitive cheer” squad of 24 girls for a nine-member girls’ volleyball team all in the name of meeting Title IX requirements. It was one of the many ways Quinnipiac was cooking the books, lying to the feds to make sure it was in compliance with equal opportunity for all. It was using, and still wants to use, the cheerleaders to make quota, and for that the cheerleaders should be insulted.

So, Ms. Friedman took off locally, asking the question: Is cheerleading a sport. As written in her rehash of the subject in The N&O, she got answers from:
—Harold Trammel, the Wolfpack’s cheerleading coach: “If you look at what we do, it's hard not to categorize us as a sport. It takes a lot of athletic ability to do what we do.” No doubt.
—Kaylee Allen, a current member of the State squad who said, in pointing out how hard they work on their “game” but whose reasoning is not very deep in thought: “We compete to win a title, and all other sports compete for a title as well.” Duh!
—Whitney Rigsbee, a former Appalachian State cheerleader who was equally deep: "We are very organized. We have coaches and trainers.” Double duh!

In reality, many university and college athletics departments and high schools treat cheerleading as a sport, a team sponsored by the department with coaches and trainers. And, in reality for liability reasons, it’s good to give the Pep Squad some organization, leadership and medical attention. I recall when I was in college we had well-balanced cheerleading squad of some but not all good looking woman and most out of shape men who tossed back a beer or two prior to the football and basketball games. They all did their flips and built funny off-balanced pyramids. But at one basketball game, during halftime, the squad decided to put on a show that should have been reserved for the professionals: The Wolfpack gymnastics team. In the midst of the tosses and tumbles, one of the men got a little aggressive with his approach and when he leaped over a small human mass, he overshot the padding laid out on the Reynolds Coliseum floor and landed on his mouth, chipping a tooth or two. Direction for him was quick. I believe it was off the squad.

I agree today’s cheerleaders work hard, are in shape, are organized, compete for trophies, and are much different than the cheerleaders of years gone by. But cheerleading as a sport still doesn’t fit with me. It’s an ancillary part of college athletics, not a primary sport for competition sake or for Title IX reporting. And, I do know people in several college athletics departments, not just NC State, who agree with me and with Judge Underhill.

But there’s no way whatsoever that I’ll share those names, those sources with Lead Friedman who did a fair job of rehashing a story that was at least 10 days old. I hated to rehash it here today, but at least I came up with a different angle, thanks to that email request for my sources who agree with me. Write me again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"How About Another Beer?"

My soon-to-be 34 year old son, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, called yesterday to talk. He does that every now and then, sometimes just to update me on the progress of his daughter, my granddaughter, who is nearly two years old, and sometimes to talk about his home and his effort to sell and move to a larger house in a nicer neighborhood, and sometimes to talk sports, UNC-Chapel Hill athletics in general and spectacular recruiting classes by basketball coach Roy Williams and football coach Butch Davis and the prospects for the coming season, in particular. Nothing could be finer, he says in so many words.

Usually in the conversation, especially when talking about UNC-Chapel Hill athletics, especially when discussing—though it’s a one-sided talk (if you can believe I can listen without talking)—the UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball programs, my son alludes to the respect his school and teams must be granted if for no reason other than the school is UNC-Chapel Hill and his teams are the UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels. I can hear it coming from day-dreaming miles away while he jabbers and when he pauses for a breath, which usually leads to some statement or comment on my part that riles his dander and turns the conversation into what seems like a heated debate, one that others in our family circle interpret as an argument to beat all arguments which usually ends with one of us saying, “How about another beer?”

This doesn’t happen when we just talk about college athletics and our educational preferences; we could be talking war and peace, religion, how to cook a steak, securing the car seat for his daughter/my granddaughter, navigating to pick up pizza for dinner, liberal-conservative, taxes…well…you probably get it. We really love each other but we also love to joust just long and loud enough to hear from others in the midst who want us to stop for fear of all out warfare. I think my son and I enjoy watching the others get upset as they think we are about to come to fisticuffs when we are really just debating with our own style. Did someone ask, “How about another beer?”

Yesterday, as he talked about UNC-Chapel Hill and I listened, which is very hard to do because of my allegiance to NC State University and my Wolfpack, as the conversation was more ho-hum than riling, he asked a favor of me. “Next time you’re talking with Tom O’Brien,” he said as if I have regular conversations with the Wolfpack football coach who is entering in his fourth season and has a 3-0 record against UNC-Chapel Hill, “next time you talk with him, would you tell him to quit referring to NC State as the Flagship University in the UNC system. You and I both know it’s North Carolina and not NC State.”

That’s when the conversation turned from mundane to Much Ado About Nothing especially when I told him TOB is correct, that NC State University is the Flagship of the State University system in North Carolina for various reasons including total attendance, number of degree granting programs. Then he gave me the company line that UNC-Chapel Hill is the oldest in the state and that there’s a reason the system is called the UNC System and not the NC State System. I told him that at one time UNC-Chapel Hill may have been considered the Flagship school, but that NC State had surpassed UNC-Chapel Hill in many important ways and that NC State University does much more for the State of North Carolina than UNC-Chapel Hill ever has. He counts doctors and lawyers as more important to the state than agriculturalists and textile people and engineers. And he retorted (firmly but mildly) with something about asking any person in the state and across the nation which school in the UNC System is the Flagship of the system and the response would be his choice, UNC-Chapel Hill, which by the way, is the official name of the school located in the same town as the General Administration offices for the University of North Carolina (system).

Uneducated may have been the word I used to describe those who would choose UNC-Chapel Hill over NC State University which officially is NC State University at Raleigh because the stupid and jealous legislators, mostly UNC-Chapel Hill degree holders of some type, who helped create the System of State Schools made my school add “at Raleigh” if their school, UNC, the first chartered public school in the Universe I’m told on many occasion by graduates thereof, had to add “-Chapel Hill” to the end of UNC. By the way, those ignorant legislators along with UNC System President Bill Friday, a graduate of NC State College (and a classmate one year ahead of my Dad) wanted to re-moniker NC State College which was originally NC A&M, or something like that, as UNC-Raleigh to, what words shall I put in their mouths, bring the school in line and not give it a name apart from the System, or something such as that. As a matter of fact, if Friday and his band of lawmakers had had their way, there would have been UNC-Boone; UNC-Cullowhee, UNC-Elizabeth City, and UNC-Durham (now that sounds just right).

About the time the conversation with my son was starting to get into the ditches because neither one of us will ever budge from this because he wants respect for namesake and I want to rile because of namesake, his mother, a graduate of UNC-Cullowhee and inherently a UNC-Chapel Hill faithful because her Dad and two brothers and one son and several nieces and nephews and cousins attended UNC-Chapel Hill (legacy is the damndest reason for loyalty but then of course, on my side of the ledger, one of my relatives with the last name of Brooks was a founder of NC State), returned home from work and could hear my side of the telephone talk. The unpleasant look on her face was a warning of terrible things to come if I just didn’t let it go, tell him he was right (but not in the condescending tone I seem to be so capable of at times as this) and move on.

“You’re Mom’s home,” I interrupted the debate. “I better talk with her.” Which I did and in which I had to explain the topic of the telephone talk and about which I had to quickly explain my reasoning because she was taking his side. Of course, not only because she’s his mother but because UNC-Chapel Hill fans demand respect based on age more than anything else. Oops, not her age, but the age of their favorite school.

I didn’t have to but I turned to Wikipedia and looked up Flagship. I’ve heard the word for most of my life, especially when listening to NC State Wolfpack athletics. “This is WPTF. 680 AM, the flagship station of the Wolfpack Sports Network.” Which was true then because that’s where the Wolfpack Sports Radio Network started. Today, there is no Flagship radio station, though, WRAL-FM 101.5 in Raleigh thinks it is because it’s the home for NC State football and basketball broadcasts in NC State’s hometown though sometimes the Wolfpack can be heard on 99.9 FM, the ESPN affiliate in Holly Springs. We also know that “Flagship” comes from the Navy fleet leading ship. But we also know that Flagship in a Navy fleet can change and has over time.

So, from Wikipedia:
The phrase flagship campus or flagship university is often used with reference to state university systems in the United States, which often comprise numerous campuses in widely-separated locations. In this context, flagship means the original campus from which the system grew. Fulfilling the naval analogy, it is often (though not always) the site of the administrative headquarters for the system. A flagship campus is often a land-grant school dating from the wave of state university foundings that followed the Morrill Act of 1863.

According to a Robert M. Berdahl, former Cal-Berkeley chancellor, “flagship” came into existence in the 1950s when the Morrill Act schools were joined by a newer campuses built in a wave of postwar expansion of state university system. Because of their age, the flagship campuses of a system are often the largest and best financed and are perceived as elite. Berdahl comments that “those of us in ‘systems’ of higher education are frequently actively discouraged from using the term ‘flagship’ to refer to our campuses because it is seen as hurtful to the self-esteem of colleagues at other institutions in our systems. The use of the term is seen by some as elitist and boastful. It is viewed by many, in the context of the politics of higher education, as ‘politically incorrect.’ Only in the safe company of alumni is one permitted to use the term.” Nevertheless, it is common for state university officials to use the term “flagship” in official contexts, e.g. “It is a pleasure to report to the General Assembly on the accomplishments and initiatives of the State's Flagship University,” said Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr, President, University of Maryland, College Park as he testified to the Maryland General Assembly in 2006.

Here’s the interesting part: Yes, UNC-Chapel Hill was founded first and was the only campus of the University of North Carolina for 136 years, at least that’s what the UNC General Administration website tells us. When NC State was established in 1887, while it was state-supported, it was not a subset of UNC-Chapel Hill. Neither was Women’s College in Greensboro, but in 1931, the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina and included all three, all equal partners in that definition of UNC. It was only logical to use that name to represent the State of North Carolina. The system grew from there to today: 17 campuses, not all with the UNC designation in front of the city of location.

So, in reality, though UNC-Chapel Hill may be the oldest, it is not necessarily the Flagship of the UNC System as the elitist and boastful want it to be. And, neither is NC State University; nor is Women’s College, now UNC-Greensboro. And because to say so might cause someone to think you are elitist and boastful, even if you have a three-game football winning streak, next time I see Tom O’Brien, I’ll relay the message from my son. We at NC State University do not want either to be hurtful to the self-esteem of our brethren at sister school UNC-Chapel Hill or to be seen as elitist and boastful; there are enough elitist and boastful associated with UNC-Chapel Hill, and they can think of themselves that way all they want.

Though I must admit to rile a UNC-Chapel Hill fan is fun and easy to do; those Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia SC do it regularly. “How about another beer?”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Charges Dropped! My NC State Boys Are Free!

Thank goodness for the letter of the law. Thank goodness for an off-duty Raleigh police officer who didn’t follow proper procedure in searching a residence of football players—NC State football players at that—and discovering marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Thank goodness for defense lawyers who asked a judge to toss out—or suppress—the evidence in the case against three of four football players with charges related to the find because proper legal procedures were not followed in the “bust,” which was by accident anyway. And, thank goodness for the judge, Keith Gregory, a graduate of the North Carolina Central University law school, who had the insight and courage to grant the motion to suppress to the defense lawyers.

Speaking about Judge Gregory, James Jackson, the lawyer representing Wolfpack defensive player J.R. Sweezy, is quoted in today’s The News & Observer: “Fortunately for us, we are a nation of laws, and it takes a highly courageous judge to follow those laws, especially when there's a case that has such high-profile status.” Once the evidence was hidden by the court, the charges were dropped. Justice speaks! My boys are free!

Now, thank goodness even more, that three of the marijuana four—Sweezy, Jake Vermiglio and Markus Kuhn—are liberated, that the charges are dropped, and the players return to fulltime status with Tom O’Brien’s—and my for goodness sake—NC State football team. The charges in total for the three were, but now gone, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and maintaining a dwelling for the use of a controlled substance. Another player, George Bryan, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference tight end, continues to face the charge about maintaining a dwelling and has a scheduled court date of Sept 3, the day before the Wolfpack opens the 2010 campaign against Western Carolina, Saturday, September 4. Kickoff set for 6 pm; tickets available, for sure, so call 919-865-1510; can be seen on ESPN3 unless you’re internet access is with Time Warner Cable.

The details of the incident have been much publicized so there is no need to rehash the particulars. I wrote about this situation April 27 (look it up and read it again if you wish) and at the time called for strong and swift action against the four by O’Brien. I even said the four could be found not-guilty, though it never crossed my mind that the charges could be dropped, but that the reputation of NC State and of O’Brien’s program had been tarnished because of the charges and arrests. I feel the same now and that public flogging would be a better solution than to say it was handled internally, if indeed it has been.

Just because the charges were dropped doesn’t mean those three didn’t have possession of marijuana or the paraphernalia, etc. It means the letter of the law wasn’t followed in conducting the search. Because O’Brien has not publically revealed what measures of punishment have been taken, we can only trust that some meaningful action has been transacted. Maybe there’s some Public Records Request that covers that. But, this is another chapter in college athletics that slaps black eye on the NC State program despite the growing idea that legalizing marijuana is the way to go. Even if it was, would O’Brien and other coaches allow their players to partake?

For the most part, it seems it is O’Brien’s method to keep disciplinary actions private, but such a method always makes one wonder. With the exception of Sweezy who was suspended from some of spring practice (wow!) because of a legal situation in Mooresville, O’Brien’s disciplinary actions have been private. Personally, I think it is best to be public with the actions even if legal action is pending. I trust that just because the charges were dropped, O’Brien hasn’t dropped disciplinary action. I trust that if he confronted the four and held a truth section, each would admit to him their obvious guilt.

That aside, thank goodness again for the legal system which has now done justice thus far, at least for three, and has kept O’Brien from suspending the players from actual playing time, we think but we do not know because O’Brien isn’t talking except to tell the media Monday that all the players will be with the team when it starts pre-season practice. Now, with much of the legal stuff out of the way and with the players, all who could have a positive impact on the team and its results this season, there are fewer places to lay blame if the Wolfpack has another losing season.

And, that’s good because I want O’Brien and the Wolfpack to have all available personnel. I want the team to succeed come hell or high water. That’s because I am a Wolfpack fan first, and always want the legal system to get our boys and girls out of the legal system as quickly and as quietly as possible. Thank goodness to all those involved in this case. Or should I be reminded of that famous John Selden quote about ignorance of the law excuses no man? Not the football players, not the coaches, not the off-duty police officer, not the judge. Oh well, life moves on.

Monday, July 26, 2010

NCAA-UNC Probe: The Players ARE The Thing

Ignorance of the law excuses no man: Not that all men know the law, but because 'tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.— John Selden, English antiquarian & jurist (1584 - 1654) (from www.thequotationspage.com)
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With all due respect to A.C. Snow, one of my long-time advisors on language, grammar and writing, if some (not sure how many at this point) college football players at North Carolina have accepted favors from sports agents, the guilt lies with those college football players, and not with either the enormous system of amateur games we know as intercollegiate athletics or the agents.

A.C., who was an advisor to the NC State University student newspaper, The Technician, way back when I was in college and beginning a writing passion, pens a weekly Sunday column for The News & Observer. His topics vary and are sometime folksy, writing about his love of his home area of Dobson NC or of trips to the Emerald Coast of North Carolina or about his beloved Tar Heels football and basketball teams about who he will be quick to write private notes of disappointment and disgust. His Sunday space is one of the early morning enjoyments of my Sunday reading of the newspaper, though sometimes I save it for last, hoping it to be an enduring piece, one that stays with me for at the very least until Monday morning when I might write him an email.

It seems that since I started writing Actions and Reactions nearly every day since the middle of December, I’ve heard less from A.C., though he tells me every now and then that my blog is one of the few he reads. He seems to enjoy my efforts, though he has reacted occasionally with his own style of constructive criticism, telling me straight up not to attack, especially those of known integrity, especially those at his long-time employ. I always take him under advisement but do not always follow his suggestions to the letter of the law, his decree which is more of a suggestion.

Today, I started to write him an email about yesterday’s column, but it turned into too much of a soap box to send solely to him. Today, I take to task his most recent proposition that the problems with athletes who break rules set forth by the NCAA (and laws of the state for that matter) are the cause of big-time athletics. While he surely did not write the headline—The players are not the thing—on the upper left of page 10D, that’s about as close and true a reflection of what A.C. wrote this week as could fit on those two lines of those two columns of space.

He wrote Sunday under the thesis that some believe the world as we know it in Chapel Hill is coming to an end because Marvin Austin, Greg Little and possibly others may have strayed from the rules of the college athletes game by associating with and possible taking a favor or two from a sports agent. I think the only people who believe the Chicken Little Theory (to which A.C. refers) is at hand in that sanctuary are only those of light blue blood. And, they are trying to get over it by blaming the agent and not the athletes who might not have known how to say no. The rest of us look at this situation as a comedy act, finally getting a laugh at the perfect world we are told that exists between Carrboro and Durham. Obviously, Chapel Hill, its participants and its followers have their faults.

But A.C. takes a wrong turn in laying the blame on the system and not the participants. He says the athletes are merely pawns (his words) at the colleges which he and many others think are farm clubs for professional sports (his words again). When you get down to it, most universities—especially UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University and others of the same level—are farm clubs for professional leagues of business: law firms, hospitals, engineering and textile companies, mega-agricultural producers, and, of all things, newspapers.

As time has passed from when I was in school with fewer than 10,000 students at State to over 30,000 today and as budgets increase exponentially and as salaries grow to allow administrators earn incomes comparable to a private business with budgets and numbers of employees as large and larger, we have seen unbelievable growth of educational institutions while at the same time a prostitution of the same. Universities—NC State and UNC included—sell their academic souls everyday to private business so there are additional resources of money and gifts-in-kind in exchange for “free” research and underpaid hired help available to help private business get an edge, to grow, to flourish.

While A.C., and our good friend Bill Friday, the former UNC System President whose wisdom and judgment is always sought when it comes to college athletics, try to voice opposition to the growth of college athletics, it is that over abundance and tremendous successes of college athletics programs that have had an huge effect on the increased overall interest in universities as a whole, leading many who would not contribute one thin dime to the academic side of tracks to give handsomely and wholesomely to the bricks and mortar and books and professors that improve what really makes a university great without the positive and negative recognition through the sports pages.

I’m sick and tired of the high and mighty journalists and educators trying to knock down what has taken years to build up, especially when it actually helps the institutions. I have yet to see 60,000 fans purchase tickets at $25+ a pop to watch a surgeon perform open heart surgery; I have yet to see ESPN pay mega bucks to televise one meeting of a university Board of Trustees or better yet a meeting of the NC State and UNC Board of Trustees meeting together as if they were doing battle. Journalists are quick to complain about the relationship between college athletics and private industries such as Nike which puts lots of money and gifts-in-kind into college athletics departments. But that’s no different than the mega dollars flowing from private business to academic departments of colleges in exchange for special research so that private business can do better, make more money, all at a research and development rate lower than what it would require in house. Did I say prostitution of academics?

Yes, there’s a lot of money that flows in and out of college athletics programs, into the hands of the coaches and administrators (hey, A.C., please write something about the ludicrous contract Debbie Yow just received to be the Athletics Director at NC State or is it all relative to what a CEO at a comparable size business would garner), and not into the pockets of athletes. But that’s the way it is and should be. The money is not about the athletes, mere pawns in the overall scheme of things.

The athletes do not have to attend these colleges unless they want to get a free ride to an education that otherwise would cost them mega bucks, many of whom could not afford to pay themselves. The high school athletes are given the opportunity to use the colleges as proving ground for their professional career, but they are also being given the chance to get a college degree, if they so choose to take that path. Most actually do; few end up as a professional in the sport of choice.

A.C. writes, and I quote from his last paragraph of Sunday’s column, “It is rank hypocrisy to ask college athletes to live up to the letter of ethical standards when evidence that coaches and school administrations are doing the same is woefully obscure.” Who says? A.C., you’ve thrown a wide blanket over college sports and basically said everyone involved who is not an athlete is guilty of bypassing the rules. That’s a strong and wrong accusation.

Also one who criticizes television’s control of college sports, A.C. complains about games played every day and at times that seem ridiculous. He dislikes, as do we all, the commercials, especially when we are at the games. He doesn’t enjoy the special relationship college athletics has with television networks. That’s the stance of most newspaper writers and reporters because those who take exception to the huge ratings of televised sports events usually have no ratings whatsoever. In comparison, ESPN, which basically funds a lot of college sports today, has ratings just a wee bit larger than The News & Observer and all the other newspapers in the United States put together.

If Marvin Austin, Greg Little and friends are guilty of breaking the NCAA law, there will be due justice applied which may bring harm to the success of North Carolina football this season. That would be Austin’s or Little’s fault, not that of anyone else, even the agent who may have broken North Carolina law by enticing Austin, Little et al. This story is about the players and their association with and possible favors from an agent, which is against NCAA rules and regulations for the athletes. Yes, A.C., we’ll keep it in perspective, but do not try to turn the focus away from the perpetrators by writing another rant about the hugeness of college sports. Its growth is no more out of line as is that of colleges in general. I stand by my premise that neither NC State not UNC would be at the high level of success and public standing they are today without the benefit of the large and successful athletics programs at each.

And, please, do not tell me the athletes just do not know the NCAA law, an extensive and complicated list of guidelines to follow throughout a college athletics career. John Selden said it very well many years ago: “Ignorance of the law excuses no man.” College athletes know there are rules by which they are to abide, though they may not know the exact letter of such regulations. However, considering they are college students, they should be smart enough to ask if what they are about to do is right or wrong. If wrong, let them be judged by their actions and not by their surroundings, no matter how much dislike there may be for big time, big budgeted college athletics and over-zealous agents just trying to get ahead.

In the case of the NCAA investigation into actions of several players on the North Carolina Tar Heels football team, the sky is not falling, but the players ARE the thing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not Hoity-Toity: Just Down To Earth Joe Biden


Some may say I was fortunate and others would say unfortunate, but last night I attended by design and desire the Democratic Party fundraiser at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Inn at which Vice President Joe Biden spoke, presenting a pretty good case for the re-election of his party for at the very least the coming election cycle, that in two years and one more after that.

While there was a smattering of enthusiastic, but not wildly fervent, applause throughout the talk—a mixture of a prepared teleprompter text and much given speech with a local flavor and old-time political saying sprinkled throughout—I was not willing to put my hands together about everything he said, but I did enjoy being there, especially to hear the Vice President of the United States, especially Joe Biden who, I believe, among all those who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, would have been the best President if elected.

Reason: he knows how to relate to all people at all times, not just an elite group of thinkers one day or a specific group of a certain race or ethnic background the next: he knows how not just to give a straight message but weave it as a story, drawing in his audience as he knows the neighborhood while taking his listeners to other parts of America and around the world, giving a perspective that only Biden can do with his charming smile and serious face and delivery.

Another reason I think he would have made a good President is because of his legislative negotiating skills. Believe it or not, he knew how to get along with Jesse Helms, and that speaks volumes to being able to pass laws with votes from both sides of the aisles. Maybe it’s because of his long-time service in Congress and the many friends he made and the respect he gained from nearly all members of the House and Senate and, while that may not have translated positively if he were President, I feel he would have been able to work closer with Republicans, much closer as President than President Obama has.

Last night’s affair was not your hoity-toity gathering, despite the announced minimum $500 required to get in (there were plenty there who paid less and plenty who contributed more). In today’s report of the function by Rob Christensen of The News & Observer, you are led to believe it was more extravagant than it was. Rob reported, “They grazed on hors d’oeuvres such as beef tenderloin on crispy wonton, crab crostini, and spinach and local goat cheese profiteroles.” All true but these were just bite-size finger foods being offer by the highly competent Carolina Inn wait staff, the same as if they were working a get-together by a Rams Club group prior to a football game or a UNC Board of Governors reception or a fraternity reunion. By the way, Rob left out two of my favorites being offered: some little fried green tomato thingy and the entire plate of dessert cookies, all bite size.

While there were plenty of lawyers, legislators, candidates and other back-slappers in attendance, and while Governor Bev Perdue did the quick introduction so she could share the stage with the Vice President, this was more of blue-collar than high-dollar function—the cash bar offered a substantial glass of wine for $5.00 and premium beer (thank goodness for the New Castle) for only $4.00 a bottle—intended to rally the Democratic troops—especially those who can help with additional fundraising—for the fall election than it was to put some much needed cash into the Democratic National Committee’s bank account. From my view, both were accomplished.

While Mr. Biden’s speech—purely the Company line—was interesting and made points with the faithful while trying to box into a corner the just-say-no Republicans and their failed policies of the eight years of the most recent Bush Administration, I attended for various reasons, not all to be revealed here, of which the utmost was to see and hear Biden in a small setting.

He’s the Vice President, for gosh sakes and I had the opportunity to be there. I went to see and hear President Obama when he came to Raleigh’s Broughton High School last July. I figured seeing Biden would be a lot more entertaining and give me a better perspective of why vote Democratic. He was and he did, though doing the latter is not exactly where I am now or expect to be later.

In a strange way, I’ve admired Biden, while not agreeing with him much of the time, for many years. He says too much sometimes and offers information he should keep to himself, but that’s not all bad. We know him to be down to earth as if he wants to pull you aside and give you some inside stuff to something. He’s got a secret, and he’s going to tell someone. It might as well be you. I’d love to have a sit-down with him in a secluded watering hole and get the inside scoop on his life, politics and other topics. As Vice President, he’s got to miss those types of opportunities.

One more reason for going: After the speech, he came down from the stage and worked the rope line, talking directly to and shaking the hand of at least a hundred of those there. It was fun and interesting to see him do this. He showed genuine concern when someone related a problem and he joined in laughter even when what was said was not funny but the person saying it thought so. He worked that rope line longer than he spoke to the entire group. He posed for photos take by a staff member with small cameras and cell phones, giving those who stayed a memento for life.

And, that’s one of those reasons I went. Got it! Thanks, Joe, for the photo opp, but especially for being yourself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rah-Rah For Federal Judge Stephan Underhill

Excuse my huge ear to ear grin and my exuberance today, but I’m sending kudos and possibly several bouquets of flowers to United States District Court Judge Stephan Underhill who yesterday ruled what I and many others have been saying for years: Cheerleading is NOT a sport, at least it’s not an official sport as far as colleges using it to meet Title IX gender-equity requirements, those of the 1972 federal law that commands equal opportunities for men and women in athletics.

The ruling came out of a court case he heard in Connecticut involving Quinnipiac University—the same school that offers political polling results used by media and candidates—which had shelved its women’s volleyball team for budgetary reasons (isn’t that always the case) and replaced it with a cheerleading squad involved in competition, not a team just standing on sidelines of football and basketball games and other athletics events and say “Rah! Rah!” The story at Quinnipiac is bigger than just the Cheer Squad. It seems the University has been cooking the books with the Title IX requirements. More on that later, but a now a local-interest interlude:

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, three schools list Competitive Cheerleading on their websites: Virginia Tech is one of the three. The other two are: Maryland and NC State. Now we may know one of the reasons by Debbie Yow to want to move from being Athletics Director at Maryland to being Athletics Director at NC State: Competitive Cheerleading. And, this might have been the reason Chancellor Randy Woodson wanted Yow to come to Raleigh. While Purdue doesn’t have a competitive cheer squad, maybe he wanted to make sure the new AD wanted to keep it at State. It all makes sense now.

At Quinnipiac, it was announced in 2009 that the women’s volleyball team would be dropped for budgetary reasons and be replaced with the competitive cheer team. You should check out the Cheer Squad section of the Quinnipiac Bobcats website: 30 players (all women) and three fulltime coaches (all women). Over at the Volleyball page: nine players (all women); one paid coach (a woman) and one volunteer coach (a man). Amazing stuff, or maybe not.

It appears the school wants to make the move—eliminating nine and adding 30 (or more—to keep it in compliance with Title IX. But the Judge will have nothing to do with that. In his ruling, he wrote: “Competitive cheer may, sometime in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.” He instructed the school to report back within 60 days with a plan to keep the volleyball team—members of which who had sued the school over the announced dropping of the sport—and comply with Title IX rules.

Quinnipiac officials responded by saying that instead of continuing the volleyball program, it would start a women’s rugby team. That’s probably because it needs bodies—female bodies—and if 30 women cheerleaders are eliminated as varsity competitors, the numbers from a rugby team would offset the differential. The Judge had good reason to rule in favor of the volleyball players and against the school. Title IX says, according to an Associated Press account of this case, “An activity can be considered a sport under Title IX if it meets specific criteria. It must have coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season and a governing organization. The activity also must have competition as its primary goal - not merely the support of other athletic teams.”

The trial, more importantly, also revealed how Quinnipiac has been cooking the books in the gender equity area. The Judge found something that’s common at all colleges and universities in reporting Title IX facts and figures: participation instead of athletes. For instance, at Quinnipiac, there’s a men’s cross country team and there are cross country, indoor track and outdoor track for women. When one female athlete participates in all three team sports, she’s counted as three different participants. At NC State, it’s likely that Russell Wilson, football quarterback and multi-purpose baseball player, is counted twice. And, any person on any team is counted. So, even at NC State, a women’s cross country runner is counted there as well as on the indoor and outdoor track teams, but then so are the duplicate men.

But, wait, there’s more to the evil doings at Quinnipiac that trusted name in political polling. The book-cooking gets a little deeper. For instance, the Judge discovered the baseball and men’s lacrosse teams were dropping names from the rosters for reporting purposes in the fall and then adding team members to the roster in the spring for the season. This reduces male participants. At the same time, names were added to the softball team for reporting purposes and them eliminating them for the season. Now that’s integrity.

While the headline in this matter is that a Federal Judge says cheerleading is NOT a sport, and while I sing praises for this opinion, one that I’ve had all along no matter how many national cheerleading titles NC State has won—and by the way, NC State does not report cheerleading for Title IX purposes and, anyway, there are equal number of men and women on the squad and because NC State feels cheerleading does not fall into the Title IX guidelines for being considered a sport—the real winner in this could be women’s athletics and female athletes. If Judge Underhill’s ruling stands, all colleges and universities and probably high schools will have to review how the numbers are counted, resulting in an increase for the women.

And, as far as the headline, I’ll say it again: It thrills me to no end for a federal judge to say that cheerleading is not a sport, no matter how hard they work to be in shape and do all those fancy twists, turns and flips. If it is, then remove them from the sidelines at football and basketball games and create a schedule of competition with other cheerleading squads from other universities. Train and hire rules officials and judges who do not host summer camps to prevent bias in point-giving. In other words, if cheerleading is to be a sport along the lines of football, basketball, tennis, golf, etc., then treat it the same. In all the years I been watching college sports, I have never seen a men’s or women’s tennis team along the sidelines at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium leading the fans in rah-rahing. Why is the competitive cheerleading squad doing that?

A problem I see to making cheerleading a full-fledged sport: Who will stand along those sidelines cheering on the cheerleaders? And, if a squad is chosen for that, then one day, it too will want varsity status. It just doesn’t end, does it? Anyway, Rah-Rah for Judge Underhill!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hapless Duke Football; Hopeless Texting

Tuesday, when, at lunch in Miami (North Bay Village, actually, on the 79th Street Causeway), sitting on the deck at Shuckers overlooking the north bay with breezes to strong putting napkins in your lap was not possible, I finally got around to reading the sports section of USA Today and was quick to see a photo on page 3 of Carl Franks squatting along the sideline when he was head coach at Duke in 2003. The story came with a note that Duke has the number one historically hapless football program in the six major conferences according to the website LostLetterman.com.

I was quick to take a photo of the photo with my Blackberry phone and sent it via text message to two Duke fans who were just as quick to respond with something about the Blue Devils football win over NC State last fall. Just as quick as they were to respond with their response about a one-year superiority over the Wolfpack, they also failed to remember the category: Historically Hapless Football Programs. Enough said. Hand downs!

That was just after midday between appointments. It was later in the evening, just after 7:00 when I heard from one of the two again, this time through instant messaging as I was back at the bar at Shuckers, work done for the day, knocking back Amber Bocks and eating calamari while I think he was at home experimenting with Zinfandel instead of his standard Merlot or single malt something, though he claimed he was drinking a white zinfandel from the Biltmore Grape-Growing Land and Winery. Best I can figure out is he was licking the inside of the bottle of Biltmore’s Zinfandel Blanc de Noir. (“Pretty good with salsa,” he explained via text.) The phrase “blanc de noir” is a French term meaning “white wine from red grapes” and which could be a pale pink wine made from zinfandel grapes. How and why he came about with that bottle, there is probably no easy answer. Why and how I was drinking Amber Bock can be explained but not now.

Anyway, I noticed across the bottom of the SportsCenter screen hanging slightly above the Shuckers bar that Mike Garrett, the athletics director at Southern California, is out and Pat Hayden is in as the Trojans try to change its nasty and rule breaking image. I mentioned that in a text it to him. “Garret was an (expletive),” he returned. “He got (former Duke football coach) Mike McGee fired at his first USC job.” McGee was athletics director at USC west (LA CA) and USC east (Columbia SC), his second USC job. Actually, I believe, he was AD at both schools at the same time for several days, weeks, whatever, trying to wrap up one job while starting the other.

My response to his mention of McGee leaving Southern Cal for Southern Car was “Yeah” as I tried to steer away from a long discussion about anything Duke other than what I started several hours earlier. The short reaction was not what he wanted to hear or read, so, then he forced the conversation in this direction:

Him: “Wait. I start talking about Duke guys and all I get is ‘yeah’?”
Me: “They could have hired Debbie Yow. She’s available and has eight national titles in field hockey and women’s lacrosse.”
Him: “Yeah, you guys jumped too early.”
Me: “Not ‘you guys.’ Chancellor (Randy) Woodson jumped. He’s not one of us.”
Him: “So the Purdue guy isn’t a Wolfie?”
Me: “Not a Wolfie yet. You have to earn it.”
Him: “Yes, just like my daughter (a State student).”
Me: “She’s close but not there yet. Too much fuss about the importance of cheerleading.”
Him: “She will have a red class ring next year just like you Dad’s, which she will be very proud of.”
Me: “Not LIKE my dad’s. She’s close; just tell her to drop the rah-rah squad importance. She also pulls for Duke too much. Good Wolfies, true Wolfies, don’t do that.”
Him: “Smart ones do.”

Me: “No. To be a real, true Wolfie, you hope Carolina and Duke lose everything, and when the two play each other, we hope they finish the game so late the newspapers do not have coverage. She hasn’t taken the oath, not earned the right to be a Wolfie. Anyone, if they can get in, can pay to go (to State) and get a degree (if they do the work), but it takes a commitment to be a Wolfie for life. She sat at Carter-Finley Stadium last fall and pulled for Duke (to beat State), and two years ago, she was there pulling for South Carolina because one of her high school friends plays for South Carolina. That’s not a true Wolfie.”

Him: “Yeah, I guess just going to college for four years doesn’t count at State. That’s like earning a degree anywhere else in three years.”
Me: “Like at Duke where the requirements are only 75 percent of the NCSU requirements. Hard to get into Duke; easy to get a degree there. Half the students and most of the athletes couldn’t cut it at State. Sounds like my post for tomorrow.”
Him: “Right. You really believe that. I think State is a great school but academically it isn’t Duke. I’m good at helping you with column subjects.”
Me: “Other way around. Professors are easy at Duke to make sure they have high graduation rates. School policy.”
Him: “It only takes me 20 minutes, and you have another column.”
Me: “Battery going dead. This State grad lost his wall charger in Tampa. Keep it coming.”
Him: “Wonder who got Shakespeare going?”

Then it was back to talking about wine, before the battery really went dead and spent timeout in the rental-mobile getting its strength back on the car charger. When the Blackberry came back to life two hours later, the conversation continued and didn’t miss a beat.

Me: “The N&O got Marvin Austin’s Twitter transcript and wrote a story. Believe it or not, the writer actually used “(sic)” after misspelled and misused words. On Twitter! It’s okay on Twitter and the N&O writer does that!”

Him: “Oh, you State guys are so happy UNC may be in trouble after all your Wolfpack inequities. Almost like me reveling in the Wake County school system’s problems after all the grief Raleigh has given Durham.”

Me: “Only on probation or sanctions the last time Duke was: 1972-73.”
Him: “But we are mature enough to learn from our mistakes and not revel in the problems of our brother institutions.”
Me: “How much Zin have you had tonight?”
Him: “Enough. By the way, we both wish we have football players that agents wanted to take to South Beach.”

Maybe so, but Duke’s got to get over that top spot on that historically hapless football programs before that’ll happen. From the USA Today report: Duke is all kinds of atrocious on the gridiron, having won three bowl games in the program’s history—the last one 50 years ago. And the Blue Devils have been home for the holidays every year since the 1994 season. Duke has gone almost all downhill since Steve Spurrier left to coach Florida in 1990. That includes a 23-game losing streak from 1999-2001 because, as former head coach Carl Franks put it, “Winning football games has certainly been harder than I anticipated.”

Historically, speaking to my two buddies, NC State is nowhere close to the haplessness of Duke when it comes to football. On the other hand, if the Wolfpack has a fifth straight losing season…

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marvin, Greg, Weslye And Barry, Oh My!

A regular reader here was surprised last Friday when I opted to write about a Blue Devil and not the Tar Heels. I chose to report on the Tribeca Tavern Blue Devil Burger and not about the NCAA’s freshest meat: the North Carolina Tar Heels’ Marvin Austin and Greg Little who reportedly have been interviewed by NCAA reps for some sort of alleged wrong-doing with an agent or something like that by the highest collegiate governing body in the land until President Obama decides the Justice Department needs to intercede and strike down unrighteous and unfair and down-right stupid rules and regulations by which colleges and their athletes are supposed to live.

I passed on UNC last Friday because, well, I didn’t have as much information as I wanted and needed and by the time I started to put fingers on the keys and words on the screen, the burger at Tribeca was a lot more appealing that what two football players at North Carolina were or were not doing with an agent or anyone else. It’s not surprising to me what college athletes with superior abilities do—purposely or not—to enhance their earning power as they move through minor league… college …football on their way to being professionals.

But today is different. More info means a lot more fun. What pushed me to jump into today’s subject was the revelation Sunday that Weslye Saunders, tight end at the University of South Carolina, son of The News & Observer controversial columnist Barry Saunders, and Durham native, is also involved in the NCAA look into wrong-doing. Reportedly, he has been interviewed by NCAA investigators about who paid for what on a trip to Florida earlier this year.

To those who know Weslye, it is surprising that he would be involved in doing anything wrong other than choosing to go to South Carolina instead of North Carolina when he had that option because he and Greg Little spent a lot of growing up time with each other while playing for different high schools in Durham at the same time. Over there, some of the thinking is that they would matriculate to the same college. But that didn’t work out. Seems as if Barry, the N&O writer, didn’t like the UNC offer. For some odd reason, Duke was not in the loop in that one.

What’s also surprising about Weslye is that he has no reason at this point to get involved with an agent because his daddy, Barry, is close friends with a Durham lawyer and sports agent, James D. “Butch” Williams, and Weslye has been friends and playmates with Mr. Williams son, Marshall. If indeed, Weslye, Marvin and Greg are involved in some non-NCAA sanctioned and allowed activities with an agent, let’s do hope for their sake and the reputation of North Carolina and South Carolina that’s it’s all a misunderstanding and involved some sort of backyard barbeque at the home of the aforementioned Mr. Williams.

Of course, Mr. Williams, for all we know, is not involved in this whatsoever. It has to do with someone paying for the threesome going to Miami earlier this spring on someone else’s tab. Funny thing about three people going to Miami at the same time at someone else’s expense. I guess lightning strikes in the same place at different times. (If you’re lost, think Miami Heat, LeBron, Wade, Bosh.)

But the story doesn’t end there. Let’s tie this into a nice bundle that’s more exciting to me than the pristine reputation of our brethren in Chapel Hill being tarnished over the allegations and the investigation and the bullet dodging. It has to do with Daddy Saunders and his employer and his no-comment to his employer’s employees. While the story originated with ESPN’s Joe Schad, it was quickly picked up by the website gogamecocks.com which is not the official site of the University of South Carolina which is gamecocksonline.cstv.com. The website gogamecocks.com is the property of The State newspaper of Columbia SC, and The State is the property of McClatchy which owns The News & Observer which employees (I assume he’s still on the regular payroll) Barry Saunders.

While there are tons of people who dislike Saunders and the basic tone of his columns, I know he’s more of a teddy bear based on his presentation and questions and answers during a meeting of the N&O’s Community Panel a couple of years ago when I was a member of the now defunct committee of non-N&O employed people who gathered once a month to critic the newspaper and offer suggestions for making it better, some of which was taken seriously and some of which was not. In that meeting, Barry basically told us not to take him too seriously. His job, he told us, is to drive readership through his writing, that he didn’t necessarily believe everything he espoused, that he knew what to say and when to say it to rile the reader and bring in more viewership, his primary job. So, when you read Barry’s column, consider what I just said and don’t get your dander up.

But, while he came across as a teddy bear to the Community Panel, there’s one person who today doesn’t believe that. He’s Weslye. I have it on good authority from those who know Weslye and Barry that if younger Saunders has done something wrong according to NCAA standards, whether the standards are right or wrong in the eyes of anyone, Weslye has more to worry about than NCAA sanctions against him and how his coach Steve Spurrier will deal with it. He has to worry about how Barry is dealing with it and will later.

I’m not surprised that Barry will not say anything to anyone about the situation. He’s not stupid by any means and publically I think he will let the story play out. But, Barry and his son are also being protected by Barry’s employer, at least by those who control the news articles in the print and on-line editions. What’s interesting is that the Sports Editor of The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer is the same person. The N&O offered a lip-service version of the Weslye situation today while the Charlotte Observer and website offered an article written by The State, a little closer to the source and a little more in-depth. In that story was the line: "Saunders was suspended from the team for approximately a week in January because of attitude problems and his failure to attend the first team meeting of the spring semester." While that suspension at that time of year really doesn’t mean anything, I wonder why The N&O just didn’t go with the story that was better and not a re-write just to get a local by-line. Probably because the N&O sports staff (those in Raleigh) are not very deep when it comes to writing about anything.

So, to my reader who wanted to know why not write about this stuff last Friday, I still contend that last Friday, the Blue Devil Burger was a better subject. But today, with the direct connect to The News & Observer through Barry Saunders and the weak coverage by its sports staff, it’s much sexier.

By the way, while it’s fun to watch North Carolina faithful to squirm and yell “witch hunt,” the winner in all of this with Marvin Austin, Greg Little and, now, Weslye Saunders, if there is one, is Quan Sturdivant who now takes a back seat to alleged wrong-doing by Carolina athletes, both North and South.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm A Fan: The Blue Devil Burger At Tribeca

Now, I’m a Blue Devil fan. Ok, ok. All my Wolfpacker friends, don’t faint. It’s not the team or the college in Durham NC that’s on the good side of my radar today. That, for reasons known by many, would never happen. But every now and then, you run into something that convinces you that the substance is a lot more important than the name. It happened last night.

It was our second visit to Tribeca Tavern at the corner of High House Road and Davis Drive in Cary. The first visit, soon after Rocky Top Hospitality, a Raleigh-based restaurateur with a total of six eateries, took over the spot from a failed effort of someone else, was good on service and attention but not so memorable to me with food and drink.

But, after reading an encouraging restaurant review by Greg Cox of The News & Observer, we knew there would be a second visit at an opportune time. Last night was apt for various reasons, the least of which was needing to spend the money out but the obvious of which was to get out of the house on a hot, steamy evening and enjoy someone else’s cool atmosphere and hot food.

The Cox review had proclaimed the burgers as above the worth of consumption, noting the delicacies are formed daily from “locally” raised cattle. As a matter of fact, Rocky Top and Tribeca uses locally produced bread and vegetables as well as beef. From the menu, which seems to have escaped the premises last night, but which can also be downloaded from http://www.tribecataverncary.com/menu/:

“At Tribeca Tavern we use all-natural Blue Ribbon Angus beef from Coastal Cattle Company in Beaufort County, NC. The cows are hand fed all-natural feed, mother’s milk, Bermuda grass & hay twice daily. No growth hormones, additives, antibiotics or chemical feed is EVER used. We grind burgers in house every single day adding ribeye & filet trimmings to obtain the perfect fat content for an over the top flavorful burger that will change your life! We are proud to support NC farmers & growers. This spring/summer we are featuring Romaine lettuce from PIK Produce - Kenly, NC & Trust heirloom tomatoes from Barham Farms – Zebulon, NC. All of our bread is baked daily at Neomonde bakery in Cary, NC. & all Burgers are served with Mt. Olive, NC pickles.”

While the fish tacos, made last night with locally harvested catfish (not sure which lake), were a delicious repeat selection for the other side of the four-top table in the quieter back room at Tribeca after asking to be moved from a similar selection just outside the noisy kitchen door, I went right to the Chef’s Burger menu, a miniature of the larger display and one that’s only for burger selections. I’m quick to stop short of saying “hamburger” because that refers to a patty of ground beef, and that mixture with the trimmings of ribeye and filet give the burgers at Tribeca a better taste than just ground beef or ground chuck, my when-cooking-at-home-on-the-grill selection of ground red meat.

But, it’s more than that. On the main menu, you’ll find veggie burgers, turkey burgers, crab burgers and salmon burgers. And, on the burger menu is a ground lamb choice, the Jimmy The Greek, with Chapel Hill Feta, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and tzatziki sauce. There’s “The” Breakfast Burger: 5 ounces of ground beef with a 5-ounce sausage patty, “Hoop” cheddar, sliced ham, oven roasted tomatoes, pepper bacon, and fried egg. And (are you seated with your heart-attack pills at your side), there’s Glutton’s Glory: 10-ounce beef patty, 8-ounce Kobe patty, 8-ounce lamb patty, 5-ounce spicy sausage, “Hoop” cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack & American cheeses, 8 slices of bacon & fried salami on batter brioche. While the Greek and the Breakfast burgers sell for $14 and $13, respectively, the Glutton has a $40 list price with this disclaimer: Only $20 of 1 person finishes it in house! Hand me those pills and call the EMT.

After reading about The Wolfpack burger—two 5-ounce beef patties, NC pepper jack, pepper bacon, BBQ sauce, topped with a beer battered onion ring, lettuce, tomato & onion for $11—and laughing at the appropriateness of the Tar-Heel burger—ground beef, red wine glazed onions, Carolina Moon Brie, lettuce, tomato & onion for $11 (if you don’t get it call former Florida State basketball player Sam Cassell)—and after studying the other unique burger selections and descriptions, I settled on the Blue Devil, a combination of ground beef with Cajun spaces, Roaring 40’s blue cheese, friend jalapeƱos, pepper bacon, lettuce, tomato & onion for $11.

It was delicious, just as is. I suggest that additional condiments are not required at first glance. No mustard; no mayo; definitely no ketchup. The Blue Devil (and I’m sure the other burgers) is tasty just as is. At the very least take a couple of bites before proceeding with the other junk that will change the taste from being life altering. And, it was cooked perfect for me. I requested medium, and it was pink and juicy, just how I like my burgers. One side dish came with it and the choice of sweet potato fries (the waffle shaped kind) with a small cup of rum maple sauce for dipping was excellent.

Tribeca also supports North Carolina beers on draft with at least nine selections plus Rocky Top’s own Mash House beers produced at its Mash House Brewery & Chophouse in Fayetteville. The Mash House choices are: Blonde, Red, IPA, Hefeweizen, Stout and Porter. As I’ve become fond of New Castle, the bartender, as we waited for a table, suggested I try the Mash House Red, described as light bodied and very drinkable, a traditional Irish Ale. Scrumptious is a good utterance. But do not be fooled by the words “light bodied” as the color is dark but the taste is as advertised.

An at the table, the combination of the Mash House Red and the Blue Devil burger was perfect, at least for me. I enjoy spicy food. The Cajun seasoning was not so piquant, and the fried jalapeƱos gave the burger a nice kick. The pepper bacon was a nice touch and the onion was just right. Overall, the burger and the beer were excellent. I’m now a fan of both, especially the Blue Devil, not easy for a Wolfpacker to admit, but, in this case, once tried, I’m sure some of my closest Red & White followers would agree.