Saturday, May 16, 2015

Today's Tune: U2 - The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) (Live in Vancouver 2015)

U2's opening night of Innocence + Experience in Vancouver

By Barry Egan
15 May 2015

Bono, of the band U2, throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver, Thursday, May, 14, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Bono, of the band U2, throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver, Thursday, May, 14, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A SLUMBERING giant awoke last night near the snow-capped Grouse Mountains in Canada.

Or to put it another way, U2 came back to the world stage last night in front of 20,000 fans at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
It was not quite the return of four all-conquering superheroes but more like four men who have been through the wars before coming out the other side... with a brilliant new album that got denigrated.
The brilliance of the current Songs of Innocence album was obscured by the PR disaster that was the iTunes download debacle.

"Divisive" wouldn’t begin to describe it.
So U2 had a lot to prove last night.
Fail on this tour and U2 would be looking at a fatal loss of relevancy.
So no pressure, then.

Would Bono - after his dreadful accident in Central Park last November - be able to cut it as a performer?
No longer jumping Jack Flash -  more limping hack trash.  No longer the young Dub who jumped down off the stage at Live Aid during Bad … now a battered 55 year old man held together by surgical pins, like a rock-star Frankenstein.
The answer to most of the above questions is, mercifully, that U2 – on the basis of what they did on stage last night in Canada – have no worries about the future.
They opened at 9pm with a blitzkrieg bop version of The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), which was quickly followed by Out Of Control.

“We’re a band from the Northside of Dublin,” Bono told Canada, introducing the song “This is one of our first singles [released in 1980]."
I’m glad to say that Ballymum boyo Bono still rocks like a beautiful bastard. After Out Of Control, they segued into Vertigo then an unsurprisingly emotive, even empowering, I Will Follow.
“A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by his hand
If he stops to think he starts to cry
Oh why,” he sang of his late mother.
And U2, with one of the greatest back-catalogues of songs from any band in the world, still have the power to move the listener to tears – both of joy and sadness.

When Bono et al are at full throttle, as they are on Until The End Of The World and Bullet The Blue Sky, the very walls of  Rogers Arena seem to shake with the excitement of it all. It is at times like these when you realise just how magical these four fellas from the Northside of Dublin actually are. And why they are such a big part of our lives – and the zeitgeist.
So it would be a grave mistake to write off U2 as a music entity just because you don’t like a) U2 moving their tax affairs to Holland,  b) Bono once shaking George Bush’s hand or c) that Bono has more money than you or I.
U2's Innocence + Experience is certainly not a normal rock show.  Take That it certainly isn’t.
Advance reports indicated that it would be an autobiographical piece of rock theatre that owed more to Beckett than Bowie.
And yes, the opening image of the show is a single light bulb swinging forlornly inside Bono’s bedroom as a teenager at 10 Cedarwood Road in Dublin's Finglas/Ballymum, but it is all rather compelling.
Bono sings on Cedarwood Road, the sixth song into the set last night: "You can’t return to where you never left. I’m still standing on that street."
Unless you have a heart of stone, this is all quite moving. 
It is here inside Bono’s bedroom that we will hear young Paul Hewson listen to the records -  courtesy of Joey Ramone and The Clash among many others -   that made him want to be a singer called Bono. There is plenty of dark psychoanalysis of Bono’s youth, not least on the emotionally lacerating Iris (Hold Me Close), where the U2 singer sings about the moment his life crumbled to dust when he was 14:  his mother Iris died.

So far, so bleak.
So far, so Beckett.
As Bono half-joked in an interview with The New York Times last week,  “People will walk out into the aisles not buying T-shirts but having counselling, and wondering, ‘Where did the fun go?’”
In reality, there was plenty of fun last night in Vancouver. Mysterious Ways, followed by Desire and The Sweetest Thing had everyone in the audience showing their allegiances.
Bullet The Blue Sky was magnificent, as was – as ever – Sunday Bloody Sunday followed by the overwhelming raw power of Raised By Wolves. Pride of course, was a defining moment of the night. There was no songs, perhaps understandably, from the last album No Lines On The Horizon.
It was an incredible night in Canada. (And I say this having seen U2 in concert in Miami, New York, Boston, LA, Paris, Rotterdam, Glasgow, Prague, San Francisco , Rome, London, to name a few of their gigs,  over the years.)
Any fears that U2 were putting on an over-reaching and pretentious rock opera heavy on concept and low on emotion are  dismissed as soon as Bono bursts into  the singular beauty of tonight's opener The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) . 
Every one of the 20,000 in the audience are bopping along to the sonic splendor of U2’s punk homage with Bono singing – and the audience singing the words back to him – “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred: heard a song that made sense out of the world.”
The crowd are held in thrall to every “wooah” from Bono, every soaring guitar riff from The Edge, every beat from Larry begin the kit and every whoosh from Adam’s bass-lines.
The crowd also hang on Bono’s every word like he is their personal Jesus.

The songs set forth Bono’s personal criteria of spiritual longing - restless search even.
The images (of Guggi on a horse, of the Dublin bombings of 1974 ) are even more powerful when it is set against the songs. Raised by Wolves shone with a beautiful sadness. But nothing compared to the terrible beauty of Iris (Hold Me Close.)
He introduced the song by saying if you are can’t discuss the past then you are stuck in the past. “This is for you, Iris,” the boy inside the man Bono said.
In the darkness of the vast arena last night, Bono then sang:
The star
That gives us light
Has been gone a while
But it’s not an illusion
The ache
In my heart
Is so much a part of who I am
Something in your eyes
Took a thousand years to get here
It was like Bono was singing to his late mum, as much to God,  for deliverance.
Everyone in Rogers Arena last night was transported to a different world as Bono sang these words. I’m sure Larry Mullen was at that exact moment thinking of his late father, who died last weekend in Dublin.
Last night in Vancouver it was a night for reflection – and dancing, as U2, lest we forget, have some cracking tunes. 
As the title of the show Innocence + Experience suggests, this is not Cats. This is a show that comes with a narrative about the human condition. It is far from French existentialism that Bono was reared but if this show is about anything, it is as much about the meaning of death (of mothers, of victims of bombings, of dreams) as it is about life.
(Before the show I listened at the hotel to  California (There is No End to Love), where Bono sings "I’ve seen for myself/There’s no end to grief", is a kick to the heart. It said it all. They didn't play it at the show.)
The first half of show is called Innocence. 
There was be an interval, something of a first for a U2 show. Then the second half saw U2 walk down a giant walkway to the opposite end of the arena to play the second part of the show, which was called Experience. (I hope you're all paying attention at the back. Because I'll be asking questions at the end.)
360, U2’s last concert tour from 2009 through 2011, earned  the band an eye-watering €653 million in ticket sales from playing stadiums globally to crowds of upwards of 80,000.
Innocence + Experience is a much more stripped-back affair, with U2 playing indoor venues to dramatically smaller crowds.
Be that as it may, for the last few days on the eve of their Innocence and Experience world tour U2  have owned Vancouver. Irish bars downtown are full of U2 fans celebrating Bono, Larry, The Edge and Adam in their midst.
On Thursday morning, the group from Ireland was on the front page of Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper under the headline, How Long Must They Sing This Song?
The truth is, thousands of people have travelled from all over the world (some even sleeping on the pavement outside Rogers Arena here in Vancouver to get the best view of the stage) to hear U2 sing their songs during a two hour show  last night - and again tomorrow. They’ll get to see an incredible performance from a band that unapologetically refuse to fade from view.
The crowd gave them a standing ovation as the came off to With Or Without You.
Five minutes later, the band from the Northside of Dublin encored in Vancouver with City Of Blinding Lights, Beautiful Day, Where The Streets Have No Name and  Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. 

Richard John Neuhaus, Warts and All

A new biography captures the life and times of a brilliant, headstrong champion of faith in the public square.

By Richard Mouw
May 15, 2015

Richard John Neuhaus

Even Damon Linker likes this book. His online review describes it as “an admirably balanced and carefully researched biography.” That is no small praise from someone who does not come off looking very good in Randy Boygoda’s lengthy biography of Richard John Neuhaus. After serving for five years on the editorial staff of First Things, Linker left the magazine, ostensibly over a disagreement with chief editor Neuhaus’s strong support for the Iraq war. Subsequently Linker wrote a book, The Theocons: Secular America Under Seige, which depicts Neuhaus as leading a movement to reshape American life into a right-wing theocracy. Boyagoda, a Canadian writer and novelist, rightly sees this as a gross misrepresentation.
Not that Boyagoda rejects all criticism of his subject. Even those of us who count ourselves as friends and intellectual compatriots will nod knowingly at Boyagoda’s portrait of a headstrong leader who never quite lost the “cocky, clever preacher’s kid” demeanor of his youth, and who all too frequently engaged in “caustic and clever put-downs.” Some of the book’s most poignant stories are about how these traits sometimes resulted in wounded friendships and strained relationships with family. Boyagoda gives much attention, for example, to lifelong tensions between Neuhaus and his father, a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor in Ontario, Canada. All too often, his adult life included temporary disruptions in friendships, and in some cases permanent breaks.
This is certainly a “warts and all” biography, but Boyagoda’s Neuhaus still emerges as a brilliant, complex leader of deep principles. And he was a person of fairly consistent principles—a pattern that may not seem obvious from the surface facts. Having started as a leftist founder-leader of the anti-war Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam and an active participant in the civil rights movement, Neuhaus gradually evolved into a “neo-conservative” who enjoyed direct access to political leaders like George W. Bush. Ecclesiastically, he departed from the Missouri Synod Lutherans and then after a stopover in mainline Lutheranism, entered the Catholic priesthood.
But there was an underlying continuity in all of this. During his leftist years, Neuhaus was vocal in his opposition to abortion and openly critical of the ideological excesses of many of his fellow travelers. In his more conservative later years, he was equally critical of excesses on the Religious Right. And when, as a churchman he finally crossed the Tiber, he provided a decidedly Lutheran rationale for his move into Catholicism. Martin Luther’s single concern in leaving the Roman church, Neuhaus argued, was its refusal to let him preach justification by grace through faith alone. Now that Rome once again allows that message, Neuhaus insisted, separation is no longer legitimate.
Read the rest of the review by clicking on the link below:

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Liberals Ruined College

College should be a place of new ideas and challenging views. Instead, liberals have made it a place of fear and intimidation.

By Kirsten Powers
May 11, 2015

The root of nearly every free-speech infringement on campuses across the country is that someone—almost always a liberal—has been offended or has sniffed out a potential offense in the making. Then, the silencing campaign begins. The offender must be punished, not just for justice’s sake, but also to send the message to anyone else on campus that should he or she stray off the leftist script, they too might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, or even expelled. If the illiberal left can preemptively silence opposing speakers or opposing groups— such as getting a speech or event canceled, or denying campus recognition for a group—even better.
In a 2014 interview with New York magazine, comedian Chris Rock told journalist Frank Rich that he had stopped playing college campuses because of how easily the audiences were offended. Rock said he realized some time around 2006 that “This is not as much fun as it used to be” and noted George Carlin had felt the same way before he died. Rock attributed it to “Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’ No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’ You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.” Sadly, Rock admitted that the climate of hypersensitivity had forced him and other comedians into self-censorship.
This Orwellian climate of intimidation and fear chills free speech and thought. On college campuses it is particularly insidious. Higher education should provide an environment to test new ideas, debate theories, encounter challenging information, and figure out what one believes. Campuses should be places where students are able to make mistakes without fear of retribution. If there is no margin for error, it is impossible to receive a meaningful education.
Instead, the politically correct university is a world of land mines, where faculty and students have no idea what innocuous comment might be seen as an offense. In December 2014, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, sent an email to the student body in the wake of the outcry over two different grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed African-American men. The subject heading read “All Lives Matter” and the email opened with, “As members of the Smith community we are struggling, and we are hurting.” She wrote, “We raise our voices in protest.” She outlined campus actions that would be taken to “heal those in pain” and to “teach, learn and share what we know” and to “work for equity and justice.”
Shortly thereafter, McCartney sent another email. This one was to apologize for the first. What had she done? She explained she had been informed by students “the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against black people.” She quoted two students, one of whom said, “The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body.” The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that a Smith sophomore complained that by writing “All Lives Matter,” “It felt like [McCartney] was invalidating the experience of black lives.” Another Smith sophomore told the Gazette, “A lot of my news feed was negative remarks about her as a person.” In her apology email McCartney closed by affirming her commitment to “working as a white ally.”
McCartney clearly was trying to support the students and was sympathetic to their concerns and issues. Despite the best of intentions, she caused grievous offense. The result of a simple mistake was personal condemnation by students. If nefarious motives are imputed in this situation, it’s not hard to extrapolate what would, and does, happen to actual critics who are not obsequiously affirming the illiberal left.
In an article in the Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer—a lawyer and free-speech advocate—declared, “Academic freedom is declining. The belief that free speech rights don’t include the right to speak offensively is now firmly entrenched on campuses and enforced by repressive speech or harassment codes. Campus censors don’t generally riot in response to presumptively offensive speech, but they do steal newspapers containing articles they don’t like, vandalize displays they find offensive, and disrupt speeches they’d rather not hear. They insist that hate speech isn’t free speech and that people who indulge in it should be punished. No one should be surprised when a professor at an elite university calls for the arrest of ‘Sam Bacile’ [who made the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims] while simultaneously claiming to value the First Amendment.”
On today’s campuses, left-leaning administrators, professors, and students are working overtime in their campaign of silencing dissent, and their unofficial tactics of ostracizing, smearing, and humiliation are highly effective. But what is even more chilling—and more far reaching—is the official power they abuse to ensure the silencing of views they don’t like. They’ve invented a labyrinth of anti-free speech tools that include “speech codes,” “free speech zones,” censorship, investigations by campus “diversity and tolerance offices,” and denial of due process. They craft “anti-harassment policies” and “anti-violence policies” that are speech codes in disguise. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) 2014 report on campus free speech, “Spotlight on Speech Codes,” close to 60 percent of the four hundred–plus colleges they surveyed “seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students.” Only 16 of the schools reviewed in 2014 had no policies restricting protected speech. Their 2015 report found that of the 437 schools they surveyed, “more than 55 percent maintain severely restrictive, ‘red light’ speech codes—policies that clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff attributed the slight drop to outside pressure from free-speech groups and lawsuits.
For many Americans the term “speech code” sends shivers up the spine. Yet these noxious and un-American codes have become commonplace on college campuses across the United States. They are typically so broad that they could include literally anything and are subject to the interpretation of school administrators, who frequently fail to operate as honest brokers. In the hands of the illiberal left, the speech codes are weapons to silence anyone—professors, students, visiting speakers—who expresses a view that deviates from the left’s worldview or ideology. Speech that offends them is redefined as “harassment” or “hate speech” both of which are barred by most campus speech codes. At Colorado College, a private liberal arts college, administrators invented a “violence” policy that was used to punish non-violent speech. The consequences of violating a speech code are serious: it can often lead to public shaming, censoring, firings, suspensions, or expulsions, often with no due process.
Many of the incidents sound too absurd to be true. But true they are. Consider, for example, how Yale University put the kibosh on its Freshman Class Council’s T-shirt designed for the Yale-Harvard football game. The problem? The shirt quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line from This Side of Paradise, that, “I think of all Harvard men as sissies.” The word “sissy” was deemed offensive to gay people. Or how about the Brandeis professor who was found guilty of racial harassment—with no formal hearing—for explaining, indeed criticizing, the word “wetbacks.” Simply saying the word was crime enough. Another professor, this time at the University of Central Florida, was suspended for making a joke in class equating his tough exam questions to a “killing spree.” A student reported the joke to the school’s administration. The professor promptly received a letter suspending him from teaching and banning him from campus. He was reinstated after the case went public.
The vaguely worded campus speech codes proliferating across the country turn every person with the ability to exercise his or her vocal cords into an offender in the making. New York University prohibits “insulting, teasing, mocking, degrading or ridiculing another person or group.” The College of the Holy Cross prohibits speech “causing emotional injury through careless or reckless behavior.” The University of Connecticut issued a “Policy Statement on Harassment” that bans “actions that intimidate, humiliate, or demean persons or groups, or that undermine their security or self-esteem.” Virginia State University’s 2012–13 student handbook bars students from “offend[ing] ... a member of the University community.” But who decides what’s “offensive”? The illiberal left, of course.
The list goes on and on. The University of Wisconsin-Stout at one point had an Information Technology policy prohibiting the distribution of messages that included offensive comments about a list of attributes including hair color. Fordham University’s policy prohibited using email to “insult.” It gets worse: Lafayette College—a private university—instituted a “Bias Response Team” which exists to “respond to acts of intolerance.” A “bias-related incident” was “any incident in which an action taken by a person or group is perceived to be malicious ... toward another person or group.” Is it really wise to have a policy that depends on the perception of offense by college-aged students? Other schools have bias-reporting programs encouraging students to report incidents.
Speech codes create a chilling environment where all it takes is one accusation, true or not, to ruin someone’s academic career. The intent or reputation or integrity of the accused is of little import. If someone “perceives” you have said or acted in a racist way, then the bar for guilt has been met. If a person claims you caused them “harm” by saying something that offended them, case closed.
In November 2013, more than two dozen graduate students at UCLA entered the classroom of their professor and announced a protest against a “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been the victims of racial “microaggression,” a term invented in the 1970s that has been recently repurposed as a silencing tactic. A common definition cited is that racial microaggressions “are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.” Like all these new categories, literally anything can be a microaggression.
So what were the racial microaggressions that spawned the interruption of a class at the University of California at Los Angeles? One student alleged that when the professor changed her capitalization of the word “indigenous” to lowercase he was disrespecting her ideological point of view. Another proof point of racial animus was the professor’s insistence that the students use the Chicago Manual of Style for citation format (the protesting students preferred the less formal American Psychological Association manual). After trying to speak with one male student from his class, the kindly 79-year-old professor was accused of battery for reaching out to touch him. The professor, Val Rust, a widely respected scholar in the field of comparative education, was hung out to dry by the UCLA administration, which treated a professor’s stylistic changes to student papers as a racist attack. The school instructed Rust to stay off the Graduate School of Education and Information Services for one year. In response to the various incidents, UCLA also commissioned an “Independent Investigative Report on Acts of Bias and Discrimination Involving Faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles.” The report recommended investigations, saying that “investigations might deter those who would engage in such conduct, even if their actions would likely not constitute a violation of university policy.”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This is how the NFL let deflate-gate get out of control and ridiculous

May 13, 2015
With anger still simmering, an appeal coming and Ted Wells holding a fiery teleconference Tuesday to attack Tom Brady's agent (professionalism straight out of the WWE), it's fair to say we are far from the end of deflate-gate.
A first-year attorney could lampoon Wells' report, and Brady has hired the prominent Jeffrey Kessler, so expect the four-game suspension to be halved on appeal. We'll see about the New England Patriots' lost draft picks and $1 million fine.
Still, at this point it's worth contemplating the totality of evidence, as Wells likes to write. And what's apparent is deflate-gate was more misdemeanor than felony, a molehill that commissioner Roger Goodell's office turned into a mountain via incompetence, vengeance or both.
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Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft don't see eye-to-eye on the deflate-gate punishment. (AP)
Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft don't see eye-to-eye on the deflate-gate punishment. (AP)
The idea a Patriots lackey carried game balls into a bathroom and took a little air out via a needle prior to the AFC championship game is a relatively moderate rule violation – and a comical bit of gamesmanship. It's wrong and deserves punishment but not something that should merit a four-month, multi-million dollar investigation and the tsk-tsking of over-the-top pious law-and-order types.
"It's not ISIS," Tom Brady said back in January.
Wells should have focused on that line rather than whine about Brady not handing over electronic communication that may not exist (did he expect to find a confessional email chain with
It doesn't matter whether you think Brady and New England are guilty or innocent, punished properly or inappropriately. Me? I go with common sense and common sense says the Patriots' equipment guys did it to gain some advantage and Brady was approving of the act. Yet the biggest take away from this tiresome ordeal is how Goodell's lack of touch, vision, courage and guile created a circus.
Start with this: the story didn't go big until ESPN reported about 24 hours after the game that the NFL had discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs were measured to be more than 2 pounds per square inch below the league minimum of 12.5.
That gave a subject that almost no one knew much about context, significance and potentially sinister intent. ESPN cited a nebulous "league source" at a time when it's believed no one outside the NFL office knew the actual measurements.
Of course, that story wasn't true. It wasn't even close to true. Wells' report showed that none of the footballs, each measured twice, were that underinflated.
At that very moment, the NFL had to know the story wasn't true. Yet it did nothing.
So the league either created a fake story that was extremely prejudicial to the Patriots by leaking inaccurate information or someone else did it and the league office let it run wild rather than correct it with the actual air pressure measurements. It's tough to figure out which scenario is worse for Goodell.
Once it appeared the Patriots were up to something big then the public and media rightfully demanded a serious investigation into what wasn't that serious of a story. Goodell didn't steer this to the truth and away from the heated condemnation of a signature player and the validity of a Super Bowl participant (and soon champion).
He instead commissioned Wells' report, lending credence to a false narrative. Abdicating his authority to Wells led to the build-up for the report, which allowed a pack of Manhattan lawyers to serve as the cops, judge and jury.
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Tom Brady is appealing a four-game suspension for his role in deflate-gate. (Getty Images)
Tom Brady is appealing a four-game suspension for his role in deflate-gate. (Getty Images)
There is probably no report without that demonstrably false ESPN story. What would be the point?
Goodell could have looked at the pressure levels, saw that in the context of natural weather-related deflation it was fairly insignificant, doled out some kind of fine or even sanction and killed the kerfuffle in its tracks. It would have saved his league from all sorts of negative headlines and conspiracy theories.
A good commissioner would've done just that. He's supposed to "protect the shield," not provide talk radio fodder. There is just no way Adam Silver, Paul Tagliabue or David Stern lets this go down.
Even more bizarre, an NFL senior vice president emailed a letter to the Patriots stating that "one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi … [and] in contrast each of the Colts game balls that was inspected met the requirements."
Those assertions were untrue.
No gameball was measured below 10.5 and most were in the 11s, which is within an acceptable range of natural deflation. Three of the four Colts footballs as measured by one gauge were below 12.5, although also within the weather realm (it's uncertain the NFL knew anything about Ideal Gas Law at the time).
Wells' report brushed this off as "miscommunication" but it's quite a miscommunication.
The NFL either had no idea what it was doing and was just making up facts without checking or, in a more draconian reading of it, it was trying to scare and/or silence the franchise into compliance by trumping up evidence.
What's also clear is the NFL never cared about a whole lot about the inflation levels of footballs, probably because it doesn't impact the game very much. The refs check the footballs pregame with a pressure gauge (which vary wildly) and that's about it. It's all a loose guess. In November, when Carolina and Minnesota were caught trying to doctor the footballs by warming them on a cold day, they each got a warning and everyone laughed at the story.
The Colts sent the league an email the week of the AFC title game with concerns about the Pats' footballs. The NFL ignored it, instead employing a process so casual that there is a viable counterargument that the league never even proved the footballs were deflated.
Even then the competitive advantage is debatable, if not negligible. Brady was better in the second half against the Colts. As Peter King points out, across his career he is almost exactly as effective on the road (when Pats personnel would have no access to pregame footballs) as at home (when "The Deflator" might operate).
The Patriots and Brady seemingly deserve some sanction, if only for having someone carry the footballs into a bathroom, but this grew beyond reason.
This wasn’t important to the NFL until the NFL retroactively made it important.
Nearly everyone is enjoying the haughty Patriots getting their comeuppance here and that's understandable. However, even if you think in the end Brady was secretly commanding this operation (as I suspect), is this how the commissioner's office should work?
What happens when the next time it's your team's time?

Vatican to Sign First Treaty With ‘State of Palestine’


May 13, 2015

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets Pope Francis in Ramallah, West Bank, on May 25, 2014

ROME—The Vatican said it would soon sign its first treaty with the “State of Palestine,” lending legal weight to a recognition it has extended for more than two years and drawing swift criticism from Israel.
The Holy See has had diplomatic relations with the Palestinians since 1994, and has referred to the “State of Palestine” in official documents since the United Nations admitted a Palestinian nonmember observer state in 2012.
The agreement announced Wednesday, which a joint Vatican-Palestinian statement said will be signed in the near future, is the result of talks that began in 2000.
It comes four days before Pope Francis canonizes two Palestinian saints in St. Peter’s Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to attend the ceremony.
The treaty’s text wasn’t released, but Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told the Vatican-run newspaper the accord covers the activities and legal status of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian Territories.
A “very elaborate and detailed” section deals with “religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” Msgr. Camilleri said. Other sections deal with property and tax questions, as well as the scope of Catholic media and charitable activities. Msgr. Camilleri voiced hope other Muslim-majority countries would follow the Palestinian example of recognizing the religious freedom of Christians and other minorities.
He said he also hoped the deal would help, “if only in an indirect way,” to promote the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the realization of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel decried the recognition. “Israel was disappointed to hear of the Holy See’s decision to agree to the final version of the agreement with the Palestinians,” said Israel’s foreign ministry. “This does not promote the peace process and a Palestinian return to the negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next steps accordingly.”
In Washington, Obama administration officials were reserved in their reaction to the Vatican move, refraining from offering any criticism or expressing disappointment. Instead, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. position – that Palestinian statehood must result from negotiations with Israel, and not be imposed by outside nations or international institutions.
Israel has been on the defensive diplomatically, as the Palestinians push state recognition in international organizations. Israeli diplomats and experts expect international pressure on the country to rise in response to concerns Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu’s new conservative government won’t promote a two-state solution. His coalition partner Jewish Home calls for the annexation of 60% of the West Bank.
The U.S. generally defends Israel from outside pressure. But that stance has been shifting in recent months. During the height of friction between the U.S. and Israeli governments over Mr. Netanyahu’s March address to the U.S. Congress, the White House signaled a possible change, saying it might not reject U.N. demands for a settlement of differences between the two sides.
Palestinian officials said the pending Vatican agreement was another example of solidifying international support for recognizing that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip andEast Jerusalem constitute a sovereign state under occupation by Israel, territories Israel considers disputed.
“It’s recognition that Palestinians are acting on their commitment to the two-state solution, while Israel is deliberately destroying it,’’ said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization. “We look at the Vatican recognition as having more than just diplomatic significance. It also has symbolic and moral significance.’’
Recently, France said it plans to sponsor a U.N. Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, giving the sides two years to reach a deal or risk unilateral recognition. Aside from the Vatican, Sweden is the only other European government that recognizes a Palestinian state.
Vatican recognition could add to momentum among European governments and parliaments to push for bilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, said Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat who has expressed support for foreign recognition of a Palestinian state as a way of pressuring Israel. “Vatican recognition doesn’t stand alone. It has an impact on other countries that are now discussing it,’’ he said.
On a visit to the region in May 2014, Pope Francis called forcefully for a two-state solution and irked Israeli officials by unexpectedly stopping to pray at a controversial Israeli-built separation wall on the West Bank. He also called on Palestinian authorities to treat members of their Christian minority as full citizens and to guarantee their religious freedom.
Two weeks after his visit, the pope hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres and Mr. Abbas in the Vatican Gardens, where the three prayed for peace in the Holy Land.
The Vatican has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1994, but the two have yet to sign an agreement on property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic church in Israel, something the Vatican has with other countries with which it has diplomatic ties. Msgr. Camilleri said a treaty with Israel is “almost ready and I hope that it will be signed soon.”
Write to Joshua Mitnick at

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Five reasons why the NFL got the deflate-gate punishment dead wrong

May 11, 2015

The NFL made a circus out of deflate-gate, and it made sure in the end it got the reaction it wanted from the general public.
That's the only way to figure the miscues the NFL made with its unprecedented and overdone punishments for the New England Patriots in deflating footballs (an issue, as we'll see, the league never cared about before).
The NFL screwed up this punishment, going for the standing ovation from a mostly Patriots-hating public (all good teams are hated, and the Patriots surely rub people the wrong way) instead of doing what was right.
Here are five reasons the NFL got the punishment so, so wrong:
The NFL did not care much about football tampering, until it fit its agenda
How do I know the NFL didn't care about ball tampering before? Well, there are two cases in which it did practically nothing, seeing them as the misdemeanors they were. Many people have brought these situations up in previous days, including's Mike Reiss. They are perfect examples of the NFL's hypocrisy when it came to the Patriots.
Last season, the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings were caught, on a cold day, using sideline heaters to warm up footballs. That's against the rules. You can argue that it's not the same level as deflating footballs in a bathroom, but it has the same effect: something outside of the rules to make the football easier to grip and catch. The Panthers and Vikings were ... warned. That's it.
Now, even if you don't think it's the same level crime, it is at least similar in nature, and the difference between no punishment at all and what the Patriots got shows the NFL wanted to make an example out of New England. The NFL was pandering to the crowd, whether that was Pats-hating fans of 31 Pats-hating owners.
Also, in 2012 the San Diego Chargers used towels with an adhesive substance on their game ballsand didn't give them up to the NFL immediately when ordered to do so. If you think the Panthers-Vikings thing was just some honest mistake, it's a lot harder to convince anyone that there was no intent by the Chargers to gain an advantage. And the Chargers' punishment? A $20,000 fine. That's it.
The NFL recently started caring about game ball manipulation, about the time of last season's AFC championship game apparently. Heck, the league didn't even immediately act when the Indianapolis Colts told the NFL the day before that game that they were concerned about the Patriots deflating game balls. Doesn't sound like a league that was too concerned about the issue, does it? I don't believe there was necessarily a sting, I just think the league didn't care about the issue. Until it saw which way the public wind was blowing, that is.
The precedents are so out of line with the Patriots' discipline, it's hard to reconcile in a way that makes any sense.
The argument that Spygate mattered doesn't hold up in Brady's suspension
View photo
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
If you want to say the Patriots' part of the suspension ($1 million fine and two lost draft picks) is harsh because of Spygate, the videotaping scandal, I won't waste much time arguing. But when it comes to Brady's suspension, it's wrong to throw the two controversies together.
Brady was on the Patriots when they were videotaping signals. If there was a benefit to be had from it, he benefited. But he was not a part of the Patriots' wrongdoing in that scandal. Brady wasn't punished. He wasn't implicated in any wrongdoing. Spygate was on Bill Belichick. Not Brady. Punishing Brady extra because the team was involved in Spygate is just looking for a convenient excuse. It doesn't hold up in reality.
The Patriots as an organization were not found to be responsible for wrongdoing
If we're going solely on Ted Wells' report in the Patriots' punishment, then let's see what the Patriots as an organization did wrong. This passage comes after the report says that assistant equipment manager John Jastremski and officials locker room attendant Jim McNally probably conspired to deflate game balls and Brady probably knew something was going on:
"We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules described in this Report. In particular, we do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick or any other Patriots coach in the matters investigated."
So, no wrongdoing equals a $1 million fine and two lost draft picks? Huh. It seems the NFL used the Wells report when it was convenient and ignored it when it wasn't.
The NFL saying the Patriots and Brady didn't cooperate is not accurate
In the second paragraph of the NFL's statement on the punishment, it says "the failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation" was a reason for the harsh penalty. Again, this is the NFL using an easily digestible phrase that people can parrot but doesn't hold up if you have read the report. In fact, the line "the Patriots provided substantial cooperation throughout the investigation" appears in Wells' report. Page 23, if you're interested.
The Patriots did cooperate. They turned over text message records of employees, security tapes, secured interviews with dozens of their employees. "The failure to cooperate" is the NFL's pandering at its worst. The "failure to cooperate" is this: The Patriots say McNally was made available for four interviews but the investigators were turned down when a fifth interview was requested. Brady met with investigators, answered all their questions, but refused to provide text messages and emails. That's it. That's the extent of "failure to cooperate." There are no other examples of any lack of Patriots cooperation in the report. And the way the NFL embarrassed Jastremski with the long story about the ball he had autographed after Brady reached 50,000 yards in his career, something that had no point in the report other than to show up Jastremski, I can't say Brady did the wrong thing. 
If you want to see how the NFL was pandering to get a visceral reaction from fans while being less than forthright, the "failure to cooperate" reach is it.
There's no evidence of Brady's wrongdoing
I'm not talking about old quarterbacks saying what Brady should have known or the Wells report's many "probablys" by connecting dots. I'm talking about evidence that Brady had any say in deflating footballs. Evidence. Not conjecture. Facts.
Here's the entire Wells Report. Read it through. Find the evidence (not Wells' opinion, but evidence) that Brady was explicitly involved in Jastremski and McNally probably conspiring to deflate footballs. Hit me up on Twitter @YahooSchwab with that evidence if you want. I asked for it last week. Still haven't had anyone find any.
If you want to roll your eyes and say that Brady kept his hands clean like a football Tony Soprano, fine. If you want to judge him based on connecting a million dots, that's your right. But if the NFL is going to take four games from Brady without pay (about $2 million) and permanently damage the reputation of one of the greatest players in NFL history, I want more than someone saying "Well he had to have known!" I would like to see some evidence. Facts. Not conjecture or an opinion. Evidence. There simply is none.
And there was also no excuse for the NFL screwing up this punishment so badly, either.