“From bikes to trains to video games it’s the biggest toy store there is,
I don’t wanna grow up, ’cause if I did, I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R’ Us kid!”
–Someone very, very wise
Before I get into this week’s headlines, I would like to personally pay homage to Amazon.com for letting me complete my holiday shopping despite the second consecutive week of inclement weekend weather we experienced up here in New York.
Oh, and thank you Jeff Reed (sorry Steelers fans) for miss-kicking my Jets to victory last Sunday in an anything but classic 6-0 football contest. I will say this, though: Curtis Martin Ã¢â‚¬â€œ who rushed for a whopping 174 yards on 30 carries on a frozen plastic Meadowlands field Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is the consummate professional, and if the Jets ever do let Curtis go it will feel like we’re losing a classy, game-time warrior, similar to that of an Andy Pettite.
As a Mets fan, by the way, I loved every minute of the anguish expressed by Yankee fans on WFAN radio since Pettite announced his decision to sign with his hometown Houston Astros. It’s plain to see that the old I think I am the infallible King of Mordor George Steinbrenner has reared his ugly head yet again, but it’s also fun for us fans in the Baseball Shire to realize that the One World Series Ring to Rule Them All is becoming more and more out of reach Ã¢â‚¬â€œ like this extended Lord of the Rings metaphor Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with every Yankee-less year gone by. (Yeah, I am 64 % geek, and that’s on the Charles Nelson Reilly/Boof from Teen Wolf scale.)
Time to get it all down on paper and shake these headlines out (like a Polaroid picture):
News: Saddam Hussein Captured While Disguised As Santa Claus
In the media:
Associated Press reporter Christopher Torchia broke the news of Saddam Hussein’s capture:
BAGHDAD, Iraq – American troops seized a haggard Saddam Hussein in a cramped hole near one of his palaces Sunday, a humiliating fate for one of history’s most brutal dictators. U.S. officials said Saddam faces tough interrogations Ã¢â‚¬â€ about ongoing attacks against occupation forces, and his regime’s banned weapons programs.
The man who waged and lost two wars against the United States and its allies was armed with a pistol when captured in a Styrofoam-covered underground hide-out, but did not resist, the U.S. military said.
In the broadcast images, he resembled a desperate fugitive, not an all-powerful president who had ordered his army to fight to the death.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer told a news conference. “The tyrant is a prisoner.”
“He was just caught like a rat,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, whose 4th Infantry Division troops staged the raid. “When you’re in the bottom of a hole you can’t fight back.”
Whether Saddam’s capture would curtail Iraq’s insurgency, however, was unclear. President Bush cautioned that more anti-coalition attacks were expected, and Odierno said the lack of communications equipment in the hide-out indicated Saddam was not commanding the resistance.
U.S. officials declined to specify Saddam’s whereabouts, saying late Sunday only that he had been moved to a secure location. The Dubai-based Arab TV station Al-Arabiya said he was taken to Qatar, though that could not be confirmed.
During the arrest of Saddam, U.S. troops discovered “descriptive written material of significant value,” another U.S. commander told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. He declined to say whether the material related to the anti-coalition resistance.
Saddam, who could face trial before a new Iraqi tribunal for war crimes, was defiant when top Iraqi officials visited him in captivity hours later Ã¢â‚¬â€ people at the meeting said he refused to admit to human rights abuses.
Saddam will now “face the justice he denied to millions,” said President Bush, whose troops and intelligence agents had been searching in vain for Saddam since April. “In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over.”
The raid by 600 soldiers and special forces took place Saturday night at a farm in Adwar, 10 miles from Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, less than three hours after the pivotal tip was received from an Iraqi.
The informant was a member of a family close to Saddam,” Odierno told reporters in Tikrit. “Finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.”
After a helicopter took Saddam to Baghdad, U.S. officials brought in former regime officials, including deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, to confirm Saddam’s identity, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Eager to prove to Iraqis that Saddam was in custody, the U.S. military showed video of the ousted leader, haggard and gray-bearded, as a military doctor examined him. In Baghdad, radio stations played jubilant music and some bus passengers shouted, “They got Saddam! They got Saddam!”
In northern Kirkuk, eight people were killed and 80 wounded by shots fired in the air during celebrations of the capture, said hospital official Shehab Ahmed.
“I’m very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now,” said Yehya Hassan, 35, of Baghdad. “Now we can start a new beginning.”
But some residents of Adwar recalled fondly how Saddam used to swim in the nearby Tigris River and bemoaned the capture of the leader who donated generously to area residents.
“This is bad news to all Iraqis,” said Ammar Zidan, 21. “Even if they captured Saddam Hussein, we are all Saddam Hussein. We want freedom and independence from the Americans.”
Saddam was captured almost five months after his sons, Qusai and Odai, were killed July 22 in a gunbattle with U.S. troops in the northern city of Mosul. Coalition officials hoped the sons’ deaths would weaken the Iraqi resistance; instead the guerrilla campaign escalated.
In the latest attack Ã¢â‚¬â€ before Saddam’s capture was announced Ã¢â‚¬â€ a suspected suicide bomber detonated explosives in a car outside a police station Sunday morning west of Baghdad, killing at least 17 and wounding 33, the U.S. military said. Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier died while trying to disarm a roadside bomb south of the capital Ã¢â‚¬â€ the 453rd soldier to die in Iraq.
Saddam was one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives, along with Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network who has not been caught despite a manhunt since November 2001.
The United States put a $25 million bounty for Saddam, as it did for bin Laden, but it was not known immediately if anyone has a claim to the money. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said he could not give any information on the reward.
U.S. troops found Saddam hiding in an underground crawl space at the walled compound, Odierno said. The entrance to the hide-out Ã¢â‚¬â€ covered with Styrofoam, rugs and dirt Ã¢â‚¬â€ was a few feet from small, mud-brick hut where Saddam had been staying.
Saddam was “very disoriented” as soldiers brought him out of the hole, Odierno said. A Pentagon diagram showed the hiding place as a 6-foot-deep vertical tunnel, with a shorter tunnel branching out horizontally from one side. A pipe to the concrete surface at ground level provided air.
Two other Iraqis Ã¢â‚¬â€ described as low-level regime figures Ã¢â‚¬â€ were arrested in the raid, and soldiers found two Kalashnikov rifles, a pistol and $750,000 in $100 bills.
Sanchez saw Saddam overnight and said the deposed leader “has been cooperative and is talkative.” He described Saddam as “a tired man, a man resigned to his fate.”
“He didn’t seem apologetic. He seemed defiant, trying to find excuses for the crimes in the same way he did in the past,” said Adel Abdel-Mahdi, a senior official of a Shiite Muslim political party who, along with other Iraqi leaders, visited Saddam in captivity.
“When we told him, ‘If you go to the streets now, you will see the people celebrating,'” Abdel-Mahdi said. “He answered, ‘Those are mobs.’ When we told him about the mass graves, he replied, ‘Those are thieves.'”
U.S. intelligence and military officials launched an effort a few weeks ago to penetrate Saddam’s support network around Tikrit, a U.S. official said. Suspected members of the network were identified and targeted for capture or questioning.
Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, said Saddam will face a public trial “so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes.”
However, U.S. authorities have not yet determined when Ã¢â‚¬â€ or whether Ã¢â‚¬â€ to hand Saddam over to the Iraqis for a war crimes trial or what his status would be. Amnesty International said Saddam should be given POW status and allowed visits by the international Red Cross.
After invading Iraq on March 20 and setting up their headquarters in a presidential palace compound in Baghdad, U.S. troops placed the reward on Saddam’s head and deployed thousands of soldiers to search for him.
His capture leaves 13 figures at large from a Most Wanted list of 55 regime officials. The highest ranking fugitive is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a close Saddam aide who U.S. officials say may be directly organizing resistance.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the capture, saying Saddam “has gone from power, he won’t be coming back.”
“Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq,” Blair said.
Stock markets rallied early Monday across the Asia-Pacific region as traders bet Saddam’s capture could mark a turning point in the conflict.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the capture “offered an opportunity to give fresh impetus to the search for peace and stability in Iraq.”
In Sweden, former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he hoped information about the existence of purported weapons of mass destruction, or lack thereof, could be gleaned from Saddam.
“He ought to know quite a lot and be able to tell the story and we all want to get to the bottom of the barrel,” Blix said.
Credit: Associated Press
Aside from being one of the biggest news stories of the past twenty years, it was also perfect timing from a comical standpoint. Look at these pictures of Saddam Hussein before and after his capture:
Is it any coincidence that Saddam’s new look is comparable to our Jolly Old St. Nick? Perhaps our favorite former torturous dictator became a masochist himself and crept out of his hole last week to catch “Bad Santa” and the Loews Baghdad Multiplex. He could have been so turned on by Billy Bob’s performance that he decided to pattern himself after the lead character, hence the new, more distinguished-looking Saddam was born.
After all, who do you really know these days Ã¢â‚¬â€œ outside of Ron Jeremy and Chuck from the “Guess Who” board game Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that sports just a mustache and no beard?
Meanwhile, the guy who truly loses out in this whole scenario Ã¢â‚¬â€œ besides (overly pompous) lead Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is none other than Mr. Kringle himself. Can you really go on delivering presents to little kids every year knowing that you look like the most remorseless and tyrannical ruler since Adolph Hitler?
My solution: let’s place a call to Carson and the gang at “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and give St. Nick that makeover he desperately needs to save face.
The moral of this story is don’t f*ck with America. That, and even eternally revered fat guys with white beards and red suits could use an occasional pedicure and Armani gift certificate.
Sports: Is Two A Crowd for Monday Night Football?
In the media:
ESPN reprinted the following Associated Press article about the NFL’s desire to expand its Monday Night Football lineup:
NEW YORK — NFL owners may be asked to consider the possibility of two Monday night games each week to avoid the recurring problem of meaningless late-season games in the league’s showcase telecast.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue floated the idea in the second of a two-part interview aired Thursday night on HBO’s “Inside the NFL.”
“We’d like to look to see if we could put more than one game in the prime-time window,” he said. “The one that is more attractive would be telecast nationally; the other could be telecast regionally.”
The Monday night schedule is released in early spring. Teams with winning records the previous year normally play in the majority of the prime-time games.
But salary-cap induced parity has led to drastic annual fluctuations. If this season ended now, nine of last season’s 12 playoff teams would miss the postseason, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, who played in the Super Bowl.
So, ABC has been asking the league for the flexibility to switch a Sunday game to Monday late in a season to avoid a meaningless matchup. Fox and CBS, which have the contracts for Sunday games, have resisted, suggesting that they would lose viewers if there was a late switch that took an attractive matchup from their schedule.
Tagliabue said a late switch also would inconvenience fans with tickets for a game. His alternative would be the two games.
That would have to be approved by the networks and the owners, perhaps at league meetings in March. He did not say what financial arrangements would be involved, although ABC would have to make a financial concession to the network that loses a Sunday game.
Last year, the owners discussed the possibility of switching Sunday and Monday night games. Because of opposition from Fox and CBS, no vote was taken.
Credit: The Associated Press, via ESPN.com
As a die-hard football fan (and with the Jets I always die hard), this potential move by the NFL is a no-brainer. The parity in the league has gotten to a point where even the formerly hapless Cincinnati Bengals can post a winning season. As a result, it’s become virtually impossible for schedule-makers to predict exactly which football games deserve the lone Monday night slot for the following football season.
For instance, this past spring, the Jets vs. the Raiders would have been considered a marquee match-up since it involved two teams that got passed the first round of the AFC Playoffs. As this season unfolded, however, putting that game on Monday night would have been a disaster nationally, because both teams struggled early and often in 2003. Luckily, this game was not relegated for the Monday slot, but the case and point are the same.
By adding a second game, the NFL gives football fans a much better chance of seeing a late-season Monday night contest that has playoff implications for one of the teams involved. The fact that Paul Tagliabue made this suggestion himself continues his long string of making moves that are best for his league. He has not succumbed to the alluring trap of mass-marketing the wrong player and then having to live with his indiscretions (see David Stern and Kobe Bryant); he has not been saddled with a potential league shutdown that has befallen Gary Bettman’s NHL; and finally, his league has a strict if not airtight drug policy, something that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig can only dream of.
Ultimately, this can and probably will turn out to be just another feather in the cap of a brilliant man who makes more good than bad come to fruition in his professional football playground.
Entertainment, Wrestling, and Legal News: Lionel Tate Gets a Second Chance at Life, and to Remind Us Again He Didn’t Imitate Art
In the media:
This story was initially reported by the Associated Press and CNN.com. It was also picked up by 411mania.com’s Chief Editor, Ashish Pabari, and posted in the wrestling zone of the site:
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — A Florida appellate court ordered a new trial Wednesday for a teen-age boy who is serving a life sentence for killing a 6-year-old playmate when he was 12-years-old, raising questions about the Florida law that allows child murderers to be locked away with no hope of parole.
The judges at the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that Lionel Tate’s first-degree murder conviction and life sentence should be reversed because Tate’s competency should have been evaluated before the trial. The boy’s lawyers had claimed he was imitating pro wrestlers when he killed Tiffany Eunick in July 1999.
The family turned down a plea bargain before the trial that would have given him a three-year sentence.
“A competency hearing should have been held particularly given the complexity of the legal proceedings” and Tate’s age, the judges wrote in a nine-page ruling.
Tate’s attorney argued before a state appellate court that the boy, was too immature to understand what was at stake when he was on trial in 1999.
Tate was convicted of first-degree murder as an adult and sentenced to life without parole, as state law requires. He now lives in a maximum-security juvenile prison. Whether he will be now released pending his retrial wasn’t immediately known.
His attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, has said that Tate’s refusal of the plea offer shows how “clueless” he was about court proceedings.
When the three-judge panel heard the appeal in September, Judge Martha C. Warner asked prosecutors what safeguards protect a young child from Florida’s broad law that allows any person, regardless of age, to be prosecuted as an adult.
“There’s no discretion exercised at all in this — no societal judgment,” she said then. “Age is not a consideration. That is what was argued through the whole trial.”
Judge Fred A. Hazouri asked then what is to stop prosecutors from charging a 6-year-old with murder if the child gets angry at a Little League game, picks up a bat and kills a teammate.
“At what point do we say as a society that that is just too young?” Hazouri said.
Assistant Attorney General Debra Rescigno would not answer then what age would provide a reasonable cutoff for a murder conviction.
She said Tate’s life sentence was deserved because he horrifically beat the girl for more than five minutes.
No one disputed that the 170-pound Lionel beat Tiffany to death in the Pembroke Park home he shared with his mother, who was baby-sitting for the 48-pound girl. Kathleen Grossett-Tate, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, was asleep at the time.
An autopsy showed Tiffany suffered a fractured skull, lacerated liver, broken rib, internal hemorrhaging and cuts and bruises.
Tate’s trial attorneys argued he accidentally killed her while imitating the moves of professional wrestlers he saw on television.
Lionel told police that he picked Tiffany up and accidentally hit her head against a table. He later made a videotape with a court-appointed psychologist where he claimed to have accidentally thrown Tiffany into a stair handrail and a wall while trying to throw her onto a sofa.
But the defense’s own experts conceded that Lionel’s story would not have accounted for all of Tiffany’s injuries, which one prosecution expert said were comparable to falling from a three-story building.
Family members had refused the plea bargain because they insisted he was innocent.
There is no question in my mind that Lionel Tate got a raw deal when he was tried as an adult at the age of 14 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The fact that this case went forward in 1999 without a competency test is further proof that this young adult deserves a second trial, especially since he is now 16 and perhaps (hopefully) wiser to what’s at stake when one gets tried to court.
The reason I consider this story to be just as important in the realm of entertainment as it is in the general news sector is because when this case first broke professional wrestling came under severe fire by radical TV censorship advocates such as the Parents Television Council. These groups wanted to directly link Tate’s wrongful actions to WWE programming, claiming that Tate imitated art by copying the wrestling moves he saw on television on a little girl.
According to an article from the Miami Herald published on July 4th, 2002, the PTC was forced to retract its claim that Tate was heavily influenced by WWE programming, most notably Stone Cold Steve Austin. Part of the retraction reads:
For example, we were told by a source that Lionel Tate was watching a WWE program when he assaulted Tiffany Eunick. In fact, Lionel Tate was watching the “Flintstones” and a cartoon entitled “Cow and Chicken.” We were also told, by a source, that Lionel Tate killed Tiffany Eunick while executing a wrestling move unique to a WWE character called the “Stone Cold Stunner”.
We have since learned that this was not true, nor was there any evidence that it was true. It is now well documented that after the Tate trial concluded, the presiding Judge said it was “inconceivable” that Tiffany Eunick’s injuries were caused by Lionel Tate mimicking wrestling moves.
As this case unfolds for the second time, it is crucial for us to remember two things: 1) Lionel Tate should still be punished for his actions, but perhaps there is a solution where he can be punished without having to spend the rest of his life behind bars. (My suggestion would be lifetime probation with severe consequences for any further indiscretions); and 2) Our freedom of expression is still, in this modern day and age, being constantly challenged in the court system.
And since the groups that spearhead this movement of censorship base their convincing theories on bullshit most of the time, it’s up to us to make sure that we protect this freedom by reminding them of times when they were wrong as often as possible.
Chris’ Wild Card Commentary:
Emmet Otter Meets American Idol
My favorite holiday special of all-time is Jim Henson’s feel-good tale of two poor otters that risk their modest assets to buy each other a memorable Christmas gift.
Of course, I am talking about none other than “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,” which features a town-wide, Muppet-filled talent contest as its centerpiece, and includes narration by Henson staple Kermit the Frog.
I have watched every year as young Emmet Otter puts a hole in the family washtub so he can join up with his friends to form “The Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug-Band.” Meanwhile, Emmet’s mom, Alice Otter, is forced to sell Emmet’s tool chest so she can sew up a nice new outfit for the talent show.
Emmet wants to put a down payment on a piano for Alice Ã¢â‚¬â€œ who had to hock it after Pa Otter died Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and Alice wants to win the $40 contest prize so she can blow it all on a brand new guitar with mother-of-pearl inlay for her beleaguered son. Aside from each other’s impressive acts, the only thing standing in the way of the two otters’ lavish dreams is the heavy metal band from the other side of town: “The Nightmare.”
As it turns out, “The Nightmare” turns out to be too much to handle for Alice and the Jug-Band, and the three judges Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which included sophisticated restaurant entrepreneur Doc Bullfrog and snooty rich girl Gretchen Fox Ã¢â‚¬â€œ voted the bad boys from the neighboring town of Riverbottom as talent show champions.
Before shedding tears for Alice and Emmet, however, rest assured that it all works out well in the end for the two otters that took chances to give each other a little Christmas cheer. (I won’t tell you exactly how it ends in case you want to check it out for yourselves.)
Whereas three judges decided the winners of the talent contest, I feel like things would have turned out differently if Simon, Paula, and Randy were around to offer their snickering comments about each performance. And if we were able to vote ourselves for the winners, I have a feeling that Alice Otter might have gotten the nod for being a soloist who outshined the two groups.
Paula would have complemented all the groups in the contest, but she would have loved Emmet’s voice the most for “its sheer vulnerability.”
Randy, meanwhile, would have confused all of the participants by saying “Hey dog, that was hot.” There were, in fact, no dogs in the contest, but rather otters, frogs, snakes, bears, fish, muskrats, and other non-canine contestants.
Finally, Simon would have liked The Nightmare for their “accessible edginess”, but he would have chided the FHJJB for being “campy and pathetic.” He would have praised Alice the most, however, saying “I don’t know about the dress, but talent-wise that was by far the most impressive performance of the competition.” This gets a rousing ovation from the crowd, who hang on Simon’s every word because he has a British accent.
After a record number of phone calls received by the American Idol machines, host Ryan Seahorse would read off the final tally, which gives Alice Otter a victory so slight that the difference in voting was less than 1 percent. The Nightmare would place second, with Emmet and his crew finishing a distant third.
Alice Otter perhaps could go from her big AI win to sell millions of copies of her debut album, “The Otter-sy” while The Nightmare’s album holds steady on the heavy metal charts.
And on a sad note, Emmet Otter, after inking a deal with RCA, would most likely get dropped into oblivion due to poor sales, a weak voice, and trying to grow an Afro not fit for an otter.
Before I sign off, I wanted to thank you for all of your emails in regards to last week’s column. If you feel like dropping a line or two about this column or anything else in the world of current events and popular culture, feel free to email me with any of your thoughts at email@example.com. If you send it, I’ll read it, guaranteed.
That’s all for now PEACE and happy holidays!
Chris Biscuiti is also a columnist for the 411mania wrestling zone and for moodspins.
Thursday’s Xbox Word: Green