Saturday, January 20, 2007

Big Game Predictions

Rick the Flip here. Sorry if your bookie got to you already!

NFC Championship, New Orleans at Chicago, Chicago by 2.5 - Take ChiTown. Yes, the entire world seems to be betting on a New Orleans win. But I'm different.

AFC Championship, New England at Indianapolis, Indy by 3 - Rick the Flip spent a the past seven days glued to Boston sports radio. This means I've got all my shouting points for the AFC championship game. I've listened to and read and seen all the analysis. I spent time deconstructing the Peyton Manning press conference. I spent time watching the grainy digitally enlarged video of Rodney Harrison practicing (or not practicing) with the Patriots. Mostly, I thought about the game, and whether or not it'll be a good one. Here's the deal: it's NOT going to be as great as the game last week between the Pats and the Chargers. But it'll feature the same result. Take the Pats.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

NFL Divisional Playoffs

Rick the Flip here. Yes, I was one for three last week, but that won't stop me from making your picks this important NFL weekend. Again, the lines are from

Indianapolis at Baltimore, Baltimore by 4 - You're kidding right? I just finished reading Next Man Up, in which John Feinstein follows the Baltimore Ravens. It's a great book, and it made me appreciate Brian Billick (coach of the Ravens) and the sport of football in general. Go ahead and read it. And then take the Colts. Sorry Baltimore!

Philadelphia at New Orleans, New Orleans by 5.5 - Take Philly. I have no basis for this. It's your money, OK?

Seattle at Chicago, Chicago by 9.5 - Jeez, take Seattle. Maybe Seattle will finally break down, but Chicago could revert to some bad habits too. That's too big a spread.

New England at San Diego, San Diego by 5.5 - The brain over the heart? Or the heart over the brain? I take the heart this time. Last week I picked against the Patriots using my so-called brain. This week, I'm picking the Pats using my Patriots heart. Sunday can't get here soon enough.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Mountains Beyond Mountains is about Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH). PIH is an organization that provides health care for the poorest in our world. The organization is based on the values of Dr. Farmer, who says "I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can't buy them. You can feel ambivalent about that, because you should feel ambivalent."

Dr. Farmer is a medical doctor and a medical anthropologist who operates in the realm of the ideal. He is sincerely conflicted about acquiring any financial gain as a doctor because there are sick people, who are poor, who cannot afford his services. So he gives his services away to the poorest of the poor. To people living in Haiti, Cuba, Peru, and Russia. To "farmers" who scratch a meager subsistence off inhospitable land. To prisoners contracting diseases. To people living in shanties.

When we give money to the poor, through church or charities, we give money to organizations like Partners in Health. That money ultimately goes to people who are moved to give their time, their effort, their blood, sweat and tears. And among those good people, those saintly people, Dr. Farmer would be considered an inspiration. Dr. Farmer has built a hospital in Haiti to treat her poor. He renovated the medical world's view for treating resistant tuberculosis in Peru (with the very able work of Dr. Jim Kim, a co-founder of PIH). He has done all this in the most demanding way possible: by personally touching those patients, and being attentive to their care. "If you focus on individual patients," Jim Kim says, "you can't get sloppy."

If Farmer's life is a call to action, then such a call to action would be hard to digest, and the author, Tracy Kidder, often suggests this. "Farmer wasn't put on earth to make anyone feel comfortable, except for those lucky enough to be his patients," Kidder writes. Jim Kim said Dr. Farmer "is a model of what should be done. He's not a model for how it has to be done."

Dr. Farmer admits that his methods are somewhat unappealing. During a long hike with Dr. Farmer to help some patients, Tracy thought the good doctor would say "...if you say seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patents, you're saying that their lives matter less than some others', and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."

Living a life for others at this level is hard, and it's often a losing battle. Farmer calls this kind of work "the long defeat", and it's an appropriate description. Serving the sick poor is extremely trying; there are just too many of them. But Dr. Farmer is not without hope: "I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I'm not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don't dislike victory." And winning would be a world filled with health for everybody. That's a world I'd love to be a part of, and Dr. Farmer is going to get us there, one patient at a time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Review: Night Fall

Night Fall, by Nelson DeMille, is a classic murder mystery, with the murder being the calamitous TWA Flight 800, which crashed off the coast of Long Island in 1996. Detectives John Corey and his wife Kate Mayfield dig past the "official report" which declared the crash an accident, and discover a potential conspiracy of the highest order. The ending is completely unexpected but thoroughly recognizeable. I read this at a frenetic pace, and its final images are haunting. This is a great piece of fiction. My father-in-law got me started on Nelson DeMille books, so I was happy to give my copy to him during the holidays. I am certain he will enjoy it.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Best Books Read in 2006

My Previous Best Books: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.

I only read nine books this year. Of these, Mountains Beyond Mountains is my top pick for non-fiction, and Night Fall is my top pick for fiction.

I'll review these two books in separate BLOG entries over the next few days.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Wild Card Weekend

The NFL begins post-season play with Wild Card Weekend. Eight teams. Four games.

Here are Rick the Flip's thoroughly uninformed picks "against the spread" (lines from

Kansas City at Indianapolis, Indy by 7 - Take Indy. Home game. Manning. Team with something to prove. C'mon. This is a no-brainer. Yes, Indy's run defense is weak, but Manning's going to have the ball a few times, right?

Dallas at Seattle, Seattle by 3 - Take Dallas. I'm predicting that the Tuna will turn on that magic thing he turns on for the playoffs.

NY Jets at New England, New England by 9.5 - Tough one. Take the Jets. The Pats will win, but by 9 points? I think this game will be more of a grinder than the line suggests.

NY Giants at Philadelphia, Philadelphia by 7 - Take Philly. The Giants have stumbled into the playoffs, and the Eagles will have to escort them out. Sorry, New York!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Best Movies Watched in 2006

(This is my sixth such list. I have done this for my movie viewing in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.)

As I look at the list of movies that I watched in 2006, I'm feeling satisfied. It was a good movie viewing year (nineteen in all; six of them in the theater). And almost every one of them was a super movie.

My top three movies this year were United 93, Hoop Dreams and Miracle. My favorite of these: Miracle.

Miracle tells the story of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, when the United States beat the Russians in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. After reading "Boys of Winter" last year, I knew I wanted to get to this movie, but after a few weeks, it slipped off my radar. Truth be told, the book was so good, I didn't think a dramatic movie could do the story justice. Heck, I didn't think any movie could do the sport of ice hockey justice.

With some skepticism, I watched Miracle during the last weekend of 2006. Instead of being disappointed, I was elated and enthralled. This is a great movie. Predominantly a character study of coach Herb Brooks, the movie also honors this fast game that I love. The hockey players are truly hockey players, and their "action" scenes were shot with a style that brings home the speed and skill of this awesome game. Kurt Russell's performance (his hair, his accent, his presence) is astounding. Patricia Clarkson, who plays his wife, is quiet perfection. Noah Emmerich, who plays Brooks' assistant coach, Craig Patrick, is terrific support.

At its simplest level, this inspirational movie is a story about the very hard work that has to be done to achieve great things. The hard work done by this young hockey team will have you thinking that your own miracles are within reach. You just have to keep at it. It's the perfect movie to watch at the turning of a new year.
  • Best DVD Commentary: Arthur Agee and William Gates in Hoop Dreams. When I acquired this movie earlier in the year, it stayed in my DVD player for nearly a month. It's an incredible and important documentary, and I watched much of the movie's key scenes over and over again. But primarly, I listened to Arthur Agee and William Gates (the documentary subjects) comment over the movie. They have a natural rapport, and they filled the commentary with lots of great stories and conversation. This is a great movie, and this DVD commentary makes it worth owning.
  • Favorite Male Acting: Pierce Brosnan (The Matador)
  • Favorite Female Acting: Patricia Clarkson (Miracle)
  • Favorite Soundtrack: "Invincible"
  • Not So Good: "The General's Daughter" (book was exponentially better); "Thief"
  • Finally Glad I Watched: "Thank You For Smoking", "Invincible", "The Big Lebowski", "A History of Violence"

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Jenn's Resolve

My wife Jenn just posted her 2007 New Year's resolutions. One of them is to read 60 books. Last year, I read nine. But Jenn typically averages a book a week, so 60 is going to really test her. What will also test her is that five of her books must be classics.

As for me? One of my resolutions is to get more sleep. I should try to start that soon.