Monday, January 23, 2017

Week 20 NFL Notes


What is worse—getting blown-out, or losing a close game? I suppose for Packer fans it is disappointing that this season wasn’t a repeat of the 2010 season, when the Packers blew-out the favored Falcons 48-21 along the way to a Super Bowl victory. The outcome of this season’s NFC Championship game was never in doubt, thanks to a Packer defense that carried on as it had in the fourth quarter last week—practically non-existent in a 44-21 rout, so that Packer fans at least had lots of time to absorb the result. No sacks and no interceptions is no way to keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in check, especially with Aaron Rodgers supposedly suffering from some illness. Although the Packers entered the game “full strength” with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison playing, that might not have been as helpful to the cause if their injuries limited their effectiveness, much like Robert Griffin III hurt the Redskins’ chances by staying in the game after injuring his knee in the first quarter of an eventual loss to the Seahawks in the 2012 Wild Card round. 

Nevertheless, the Packers did advance farther than anyone believed after a four-game losing streak mid-way in the season. The Packers did silence those annoying Cowboys/Dak Prescott bandwagon fanatics for at least a couple more weeks, and for me that victory was satisfying in the way the Wisconsin Badgers upset the “experts” by beating a 38-0 Kentucky team (that supposedly could compete against the lower-rung NBA teams) in the NCAA Final Four a few years ago; they might not have won the finals against Duke, but at least they insured that they would be more than a mere footnote because of that victory. 

The AFC Championship game was no more competitive. Antonio Brown was supposedly suspended for live streaming a locker room speech by his coach, but with things quickly going south for the Steelers that was just a forgotten detail. Not that it mattered at that much, with Le’Veon Bell out of commission most of the game and Tom Brady slicing-and-dicing the Steeler secondary, completing 32 of 42 passes for 382 yards on the way to a 36-17 victory for the Patriots. 

This Super Bowl will at least have historical significance in the fact that Bill Belichick will have an opportunity to match Vince Lombardi’s five titles, although it took Lombardi just seven years, and Belichick 16 years. Needless-to-say, I’m rooting for the Falcons.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Will weak opposition to Trump's Back to the Future sequel help keep this country stuck in a reactionary past?



The other day, Donald Trump practiced his State of the Union speech before a lily-white millionaire and billionaire donor audience, and of course he repeated the disingenuous self-promotion and praising those in his elitist inner circle of “beautiful people,” relatives and friends. These were the people who were going to make America “great” again, at least for themselves. Trump also told us that he was “proud” of his cabinet picks. One suspects, of course, that when Trump first learned the shocking truth that he had actually been elected president, he was initially so discombobulated that he confused his loyal “alt-right” supporters by suggesting that he intended to be president of all Americans, not just their insular, bigoted minority. But since then Trump has apparently been a lap dog for Steve Bannon and other alt-right “advisors,” accepting their “suggestions” for helping guide him on ruling the country. 

Trump’s press secretary defended his failure to include a single Hispanic in his cabinet by claiming that only the “best and brightest” were selected, which to her credit CNN’s Ana Navarro—a Republican—took great offense to. The reality is that hardly anyone that on Trump’s proposed cabinet is actually “qualified” for their prospective position. The  Interior Department is to be headed by someone who has the “right” pro-business credentials, but just because he is from a Montana boondock doesn’t mean he knows anything being a steward of the land—in fact quite the opposite is indicated by his record; under him, the designated head of the EPA only has a record of dissent and stalling in regard to his responsibilities. 

The former Marine general who is the proposed Secretary of Defense has publicly expressed contempt for “bureaucracy”—meaning civilian oversight of the military, which is supposed to be the point the post. Trump’s new energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, once demanded the abolishment of the post. Trump’s proposed Attorney General has record of contempt for civil and voting rights, and we could go on and on from there with Trump’s “picks” for other positions, most of whom have either a military or billionaire background—and utterly out-of-touch with the problems facing most Americans. Reagan’s “trickledown” philosophy didn’t work then, and it won’t now—or ever—save for the rich and self-privileged. 

These are the people who are going to make America “great” again. What does this mean? It means returning America to its past of white supremacy, to the narrative described by Richard Slotkin in his classic study Regeneration Through Violence

But their apparent independence of time and consequence is an illusion; a closely woven chain of time and consequence binds their world to ours. Set the statuesque figures and their piled trophies in motion through space and time, and a more familiar landscape emerges—the whale, buffalo, and bear hunted to the verge of extinction for pleasure in killing and “scalped” for fame and the profit in hides by men like Buffalo Bill; the buffalo meat left to rot, till acres of prairie were covered with heaps of whitened bones then ground for fertilizer; the Indian debased, impoverished, and killed in return for his gifts; the land and its people, its “dark” people especially, economically exploited and wasted; the warfare between man and nature, between race and race, exalted as a kind of heroic ideal; the piles of wrecked and rusted cars, heaped like Tartar pyramids of cracked, weather-browned, rain-rotted skulls, to signify our passage through the land.

We are at a crossroads. In many ways, 2017 is like 2009. We expected “change” in 2009, but what kind of change? It was the kind of “change” that Republicans and the far-right most abhorred and feared: The country rallying behind an at least initially popular Democratic president, fearful of thought that he might actually do important things that only Democrats would get credit for. But then again, the “change” some people were expecting was a cordial, cooperative atmosphere between the parties, and little else. For his part, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that it was his fervent desire to work with Republicans to do what was best for the country, and he actually believed that this was possible. But Republicans were having none of this; even those who may initially have been swept-up in a brief period of goodwill were forced to contend with the intense of antipathy toward Obama of a—let’s not kid ourselves—racist base that opposed any Obama policy position simply because he was Obama, and black. Just looking at him was enough to drive them over the edge and into the dark side of their psyche. Those of you who wish to can continue to lie to and about yourselves. 

So will the world change overnight? No matter what Trump does in the first 100 days, the only people likely to notice a change (or should expect one soon) are those in danger of losing their health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and businesses that want to operate without the constraints of regulation. What both of these promise is the further widening of the gap between the well-off and not so well-off. This has been happening since Reagan became president and labor rights became something that is “bad,” or least people have been led to believe this is the case. But when you have executives making 9-figure “salaries” that are paid for by people on the other end losing their jobs, well there is something that is just not “right” about that, especially when it is not always clear what those executives do to “earn” such largesse.

So what does the “opposition” to Trump look like? Probably something more impotent than what Obama was forced to deal with. Take for example this threatened  “womxn’s march” on Washington, DC and in scattered locales after Trump’s inauguration. I don’t blame black women participants who want hypocritical white women to stay away; after all, the fact that the white female vote for Hillary Clinton was the precise percentage of that for Obama in 2012 only proves that Clinton’s gender was only a “detail,” that for those who this detail was important were naturally Democratic voters, and was otherwise hardly a factor for the majority of the white female voters; race and ethnic prejudice among white women was likely a more important factor than gender in their voting. It is useful to note that Clinton’s unethical and irresponsible behavior as Secretary of State apparently did have an important impact on the white male vote; the relatively scandal-free Obama administration received 5 percent more of the white male vote in the 2012 election than Clinton did, and this clearly was the difference in Midwestern states that Trump won by narrow margins.

Of course, the other “natural” opposition to Trump, black Americans, didn’t help their cause much over the past year or so with the so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement, the hypocrisy of which is self-evident in the fact that 90 percent of black lives taken are by other blacks who apparently have a different idea of whose lives “matter.” What the BLM movement really “meant” is that blacks don’t like feeling marginalized in white (and increasingly Asian elite) society. Unfortunately white society is constantly being bombarded with images of innocent people—mainly white—being murdered by black men, or in the recent case of a mentally-disabled white man, being tortured and mutilated by a gang of male and female attackers in the name of hatred of Trump. Loud, brash, rude and even violent behavior would naturally turn-down the empathy dial of many white voters in face of these competing images, who instead of being made to feel “guilty,” instead voted for someone they thought could protect them from these social vigilantes.

Hispanics have more reason than anyone to oppose Trump, especially after his deliberate snub of any Hispanic for a position in his cabinet. If he wanted to dispel any notion that his many racist comments about Hispanics in the past were not out of personal prejudice, he could have selected someone, even for a minor position. But he did not do this, and this was because we should take his hate as it is. Hispanics have very little presence in the media despite being 17 percent of the population, so even if they were willing, any anti-Trump commentary will be "token"--especially in the face of the black and white female stranglehold on "victimization."Since he is such a friend of Vladimir Putin, who has used his power to accumulate $85 billion in personal wealth, and engineer the murder of political opponents, maybe we should remember what Abraham Lincoln wrote about those who work on the paranoia and fear of others:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

What about the “liberal” opposition, the talking heads in and out of the media? Are you talking about the people who were too fearful of speaking the truth because they were afraid they might be implicated as well—especially in regard Trump anti-Hispanic hate talk, which they freely disseminated and rarely confronted? Why didn’t the media beat into the heads of the ignorant what health care was like before “Obamacare”? Why didn’t they tell us that the only “difference” between then and now was that tens of millions couldn’t afford health insurance back then, and now they can? Why haven’t we been told that because of so many uninsured, that health care costs were out-of-control because people could not afford even preventative care? Of course, Trump is someone who is so conceited and narcissistic that he is will ignore or attack the media in any case, even while he takes the country down with him.

The next four years will without doubt be a song-and-dance show, with Trump the master of a three-ring-circus defending the actions of his cadre of unqualified players who only want to destroy the country and “remake” it in their own image, meaning, well, we know what that means. It isn’t the “American” image, but all the “pretty people” and rich and powerful who constitute the only reality that he knows. Those “little people” who voted for him because he fed them hate will be fed little else.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Week 19 NFL Notes



The city of Los Angeles is now home to two NFL teams that don’t have much place to go but “up,” this time the Chargers from San Diego. This should not have come as a “shock” to Charger fans; the owner had been threatening to do this for years if the city had not approved funding for a new stadium, which everyone seems to agree had to happen sometime if the football team was to stay. It was a question of will, and there seemed to be none of it from local politicians, the NFL, league owners and ultimately, the “fans.” There are those who claim that fans were “stabbed in the back,” but in the most recent referendum, 58 percent of the “fans” voted against partial city funding for a new stadium. Why? Because they didn’t believe the threat to move the team? Or they just didn’t really care if the team stayed or not?

We have seen this dynamic played out in Seattle. Unlike in Sacramento, where the city and the NBA worked overtime to insure that the Kings stayed in town, Seattle and its “fans” just let an Oklahoma businessman and commissioner David Stern take their NBA franchise away. We don’t have to quibble about the “reasons”; it was simply allowed to happen because, let’s face it, hardly anyone really cared. After all, in the final years, the team wasn’t winning, and there was no “superstar” or charismatic personality on the team that a “fan” could have a vicarious connection to. 

After a few years, a relatively unknown businessman with local connections named Chris Hanson saw himself as a “savior,” offering to help build a state-of-art facility for both the NBA and the NHL. He even bought the land for the project. “Fans” were excited; the city was initially “excited” and so even was the county council The only people who were not “excited” was the Seattle Times editorial board, which railed against the proposal day and night for reasons that seemed arbitrary and mean-spirited, and the Port of Seattle, which felt the “pulse” behind the fa├žade, and decided there was not enough real public support that it couldn’t ignore, like the support for new facilities for the Seahawks and the Mariners that it had to accept or face intense public anger if it opposed. 

Today, Hanson is being vilified—even after offering to pay for a new arena through private funding only. Mike Salk on the local ESPN affiliate has the hypocrisy now to criticize Hanson for not doing offering this “sooner.” Isn’t this arena is supposed to be for the benefit of the community? Maybe there are those who think not; you have the new mayor with a particular insular worldview and a female-dominated city council that opposes the Hanson proposal out of sheer arbitrary whim. Don’t tell me they have other more important “priorities”; both the mayor and the city council have done absolutely nothing to solve the problem of homelessness and low-income housing in Seattle—in fact have been completely spineless in the face of opposition from the better off in this city. Yet when someone offers them something for nothing, what do they do? They trumpet a “new” phony proposal to “renovate” Key Arena, which is just plain nonsense; it needs to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up—and the city isn’t going to support that, and without it no NBA team is returning. And this talk about an NHL team—even the Seattle Times barely mentioned the local WHL team’s run to the league finals last season, a team that doesn’t even play in Key Arena, but way in the Kent boondock. 

But I’m not a Seattle fan of anything, and much better news awaits:

Packers 34 Cowboys 31 ESPN’s Steven A. Smith is a big Aaron Rodgers guy, and he found it impossible to believe how new ESPN “analyst” Donavan McNabb (the quarterback that Rush Limbaugh was fired from his ESPN commentator job for criticizing) could give the Packers no chance in beating the Cowboys. McNabb claimed that the Packer team that had lost to the Cowboys 30-16 were still the same team that was playing now. Smith pointed out the fallacy of this simplistic reasoning, that the Packers over the past seven games had found its rhythm, and were clearly the hottest team running, and Rodgers was playing as well as he had ever played. But when politics and bandwagon fandom is involved, reason has no place.

The Cowboys were the consensus pick, but were they really the “better” team? The Cowboy lost two of their last three games, and they were still playing with a rookie quarterback. We’ve seen this before; Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie too, when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 record and lost his first playoff game. The reality was that the Cowboys; season was too good to be true, and as the team on role, the Packers led 28-13 in the fourth quarter. Yes, there were some nervous moments, when shades of the 2014 NFC title game against the Seahawks lurking, when the Packers led 19-7 before an impossible late game collapse. Yes, Dak Prescott found his rhythm, leading three straight scoring drives against the suddenly sieve-like Packer defense. Prescott would throw for 302 yards, and Ezekiel Elliot would run for 125 yards. 

But in the end, the Cowboys lost to the team that wasn’t faking everyone out like they did all season. A 56-yard field goal by Mason Crosby helped stem the tide, and with the Packers facing a third and 20 at their own 32 yard line, overtime beckoning, Rodgers—who had thrown three Hail Mary passes for touchdowns these past two seasons—had a magic pass for this game too, even without both Jordy Nelson and Davante Adam: a perfectly timed and place rope down the sideline into the hands and tap-dancing feet of Jared Cook, stopping the clock with 3 seconds remaining at the Cowboys 33 with only time for Crosby’s game winner. For Packer fans, we did not see enough of this cold-blooded play from Brett Favre; but from Rodgers, it almost to be expected.

McNabb and his partner on their ESPN radio show afterwards opened with a somber, dirge-like performance, advising the losers both on the field and in the booth to drown out their sorrows at the bar with Crown Royal. The Cowboy bandwagonners advised that they trade Tony Romo immediately to provide “help” for Zak and “Zeke” for next season, not considering that this season might actually be a “freak” occurrence (the first Aikman/Irvin/Smith Cowboy team was 1-15), making the same kind of assumptions made about Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin 3 that turned out to be pipe dreams.

Steelers 18 Chiefs 16 The ailing diva Ben Roethlisberger didn’t do much in this game, and fortunately he didn’t have to. Le’Veon Bell ran for 170 yards, and Alex Smith once more demonstrated that he is simply does not have sufficient confidence or arm strength to take a team on his shoulders or cajole them to victory in a winnable ball game. The Chiefs defense allowed six scoring drives, but kept the Steelers out of the end zone each time. But quarterbacks like Smith have this inability to take advantage of such assistance. Whenever scoring 20 points in a game is putting too much “pressure” on a team, one wonders why a team even bothers to play when it has such low expectations. The Chiefs are without doubt a good team that is just coasting because it is only getting “competent” play out of the quarterback position.

Falcons 36 Seahawks 20 I happen to be of the belief that the Seahawks “run” is over. Their defense is inconsistent (the Legion of Boo, rather than Boom), and their quarterback play  is no longer feared because the unpredictable has become predictable. Yet for all of that the Seahawks still held that “wild card” that puts unease in the mind of opponents, that in the past they have shown that if an opponent gets too comfortable with a lead, the Seahawk offense will suddenly spring to life, and the opponent will become too dazed and confused to respond. There was still a “chance” with the score 29-13 in the fourth quarter, two touchdowns and two two-point conversions away from a new day. But this time it was Matt Ryan and the Falcons that kept the foot firmly on the accelerator, and this time it was Russell Wilson trying to do too much at end, throwing two interceptions against a team that was more confident in it destiny.

Patriots 34 Texans 16 The Texans’ defense gave Tom Brady fits all night, but again, if your opponent is offensively incompetent, doing just enough is good enough. That the Texans were still just one score down early in the fourth quarter is a testament to its defense, but in the end, it didn’t do enough. If the Texans had a good running game, they might have had a chance by keeping Brady off the field. But it all depended upon Brock Osweiler, who is a quarterback who seems to be much less than what is advertised. He is 6-8 and yet can only throw pint-sized passes. Every time he threw the ball downfield, nothing good happened. He can see over the heads of everyone, yet he threw three costly and dimwitted interceptions. The Patriots easily played their worst game of the year (even compared to the loss against the Seahawks), yet because they have a winning mentality and have no sympathy for fools, even a game effort by the Texan defense was not going to be rewarded with anything more than an honorable mention.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wild Card NFL Notes



After an overtime loss to the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship game following one of Brett Favre’s many heartbreaking interceptions, and the 15-1 team’s blowout loss to the Giants in the 2011 Divisional round, the Packers were obviously looking for a bit of redemption in their third playoff matchup in the Mike McCarthy era. It didn’t start out promisingly, with Aaron Rodgers reverting to early season “form” and Jordy Nelson out with an injured rib. But the Packer defense only allowed two field goals before Rodgers decided to stop looking for Nelson and seek out the returning Randall Cobb, a just as dependable target in the past. After the Packers took advantage of a short field to take the lead on a Davante Adams touchdown grab, with 12 seconds left in the first half on a fourth-and-2, Cobb caught a 42-yard Hail Mary from Rodgers to go into halftime with a 14-6. Although the Giants scored again to make it a one-point game, Cobb caught two more touchdown passes and the Packers never looked back, this time embarrassing the Giants 38-13.

After a slow start, Rodgers had his best game since the 2009 Wild Card game against the Cardinals, when he threw for more than 400 yards. Rodgers, who finished the game with 362 yards and four touchdowns, completed 15 of his last 19 passes for 249 yards. Somewhat disturbing is taking five sacks, but give that the Giants were the second best scoring defense in the NFL in temperatures in the single digits, the Packers’ impressive performance was certainly a positive indicator of how they can perform against the Cowboys next week, who lost to the Giants twice this season. If Nelson returns, things could get “ugly” for “America’s Team.”

Other Wild Card scores, none of them competitive, and none of them as unexpected as the Packer win:

Steelers 30 Dolphins 12 Matt Moore wasn’t bad in this game, but Jay Ajayi was, running for just 33 yards on 16 carries. Moore’s counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, was hurt and threw two interceptions, but with LeVeon Bell rushing for 167 yards the Steelers were able to grind out a win as they took advantage of Dolphin mistakes, including a fumble inside the Steeler 10, and an interception that led to a short-field score.

Seahawks 26 Lions 6 The Lions continued their swan dive, losing their fourth game in a row, coinciding with Matthew Stafford’s injured finger. Thomas Rawls had a “breakout” game, rushing for 161 yards for the Seahawks previously listless running game. Still, it was only a 10-6 game entering the fourth quarter when Stafford’s comeback efforts to force a decision were obviously more a liability. Matt Ryan will not enter next week’s game injured. 

Texans 27 Raiders 14 The Texans took a 20-7 lead into halftime as Brock Osweiler had one of his better starts, and it was fortunate that he manage to give them that, because he did nothing in the second half, and not for lack of trying. The 12-4 Raiders were forced to play their third-stringer, Connor Cook, and in a playoff environment, the result was just barely predictable.