Sunday, November 30, 2014

Week 13 NFL notes

In Week 13 of the NFL season, Colt McCoy started for the Washington Redskins in place of Robert Griffin III against the Indianapolis Colts, and had the best game of his career, completing 31of 47 passes for 392 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. This compares to RGIII’s 313 yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions in the two previous games. However, it seems that the Redskins’ defense apparently decided to join RGIII on the bench in a 49-27 drubbing. Andrew Luck threw for 370 yards and five touchdowns on just 27 pass attempts, and the Colts averaged just a shade under 10 yards per play. I’m not sure what anyway should take away from this game; it was another loss after all, but given the overall more productive play of even Kirk Cousins, I don’t see how it “benefits” RGIII’s case at all. 

Other early games of interest was that despite Ben Roethlisberger going nuts on back-to-back drives totaling 193 yards in the final six minutes of the game, it was too little and too late to overcome an early advantage by the New Orleans Saints, who with a 5-7 record are still in first place in the NFC South. Drew Brees had a below average game in yards passing, but threw for five TDs and both of Roethlisberger’s interceptions led to touchdowns for the Saints. 

Elsewhere in the early games, the Chargers, Bengals and Jaguars all came from behind to score one-point victories; in Jacksonville’s case, it was a rally from 21-points down against the Giants, when Eli Manning did not even “help” their cause by throwing not a single interception—just losing two fumbles. Buffalo beat Cleveland to run both teams’ record to 7-5, as if they are going anywhere. Of interest here is Johnny “Football” Manziel’s first meaningful time on the field. He didn’t embarrass himself, running for score and completing 5 of 8 for 63 yards and no interceptions. It can even be said that Cleveland (which lost 26-10) actually outscored Buffalo 7-6 during Manziel’s appearance. And how about those St. Louis Rams? They are almost proving that the NFC West is as strong as initially thought, blowing out a Raiders team 52-0—you know, the same Raiders team that just a few weeks ago lost by a single score at Seattle.

In the afternoon games, the Arizona Cardinals continue their slide into potential irrelevance by losing to a highly beatable Atlanta team. Drew Stanton wasn’t awful, but for the second straight week the Cardinals supposed top defense was, allowing 500 yards of total offense. Arizona still leads the NFC West by one game over Seattle, but all of a sudden the Seahawks look to be the favorite to eventually win the division, if by default. 

The Really Big Game of the day was, of course, New England at Green Bay. I admit that I was a bit nervous about this game, but the Packers’ defense kept Tom Brady and the Patriots off the field for most of the game, limiting their scoring opportunities. On offense, Aaron Rodgers’ passing led the Packers on the key drive of the game, accounting for all 81 yards on a march in the final minute of the first half—which gave the Packers a 23-14 lead and would prove to be the difference. Neither team did much in the sub-freezing temperatures in the second half, and Packers held on for their most impressive win of the year, 26-21.

Overturning of Rice suspension demonstrates that due process is not a lost right--even for NFL players

The recent ruling by Judge Barbara Jones in the Ray Rice appeal of his indefinite suspension makes it clear that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell badly overreached himself. Jones found that Rice had successfully completed the punitive requirements dictated by the criminal courts, and that the NFL initially suspending Rice for two games, and then four additional games following the public response to that first video, did not amount to an abuse of authority. 

But Goodell’s actions after the release of the edited second video inside the elevator released by news outlets—upon which the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely—was found to be illegal. Goodell “justification” for the indefinite suspension—claiming that he had been “lied” to by Rice--was clearly a self-serving claim, since Rice had admitted to striking his fiancé inside the elevator, and his testimony largely was not at variance with what the videos showed.

The ruling noted that Rice and his then fiancé (now wife) Janay Rice had consumed a large quantity of alcohol prior to the incident. It was also noted that just prior to entering the elevator, Janay Rice slapped Rice in the face (domestic violence Act 1). Immediately after they entered the elevator, Janay Rice strikes Rice in the face again (domestic violence Act 2). The elevator video then shows Janay. Rice attempting to strike Rice a third time, at which point Rice responds in the way that has drawn so much outrage and hypocrisy. Both Rice and his fiancé were arrested for domestic assault, but neither pursued charges and neither claimed to be injured. 

Janay Rice has since acknowledged her own culpability, although it seems that victim advocates find her attempts to accept responsibility for her own actions as problematic to their own agenda. Despite the fact that Janay Rice has appeared on several programs on her own speaking to this, some commentators (like frequent Tiger Woods critic Ian O’Connor) claim that Goodell made a “mistake” by allowing Janay Rice to appear with Rice at their meeting, this seems a little absurd since their story has never changed from its initial telling—and videos don’t lie, at least those that are not edited. 

Jones found that the claim by Goodell and other NFL representatives that they had been “lied” to at the original meeting with Rice and his wife could not be sustained; in fact, she noted that Goodell had a “poor recollection” of what had been said at the meeting. She also noted that it was clear that the NFL had violated the collective bargaining agreement on player punishment, and that further there was no justification for Goodell to add additional punishments on Rice, that he acted solely in response to public pressure. Jones found the indefinite suspension “arbitrary,” that Goodell abused his discretion, and ordered the additional suspension vacated. Reportedly four teams are interested in Rice’s services.

No doubt this means that Adrian Peterson will also have a strong case if he appeals his indefinite suspension, despite the fact he was not charged with a crime.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Germany leading the way for energy "self-sufficiency"?

We all know that the ready availability of fossil fuel, particularly oil, will someday soon be in decline and eventually run out; even delusional right-wingers know that, except that some of them are salivating at the prospect of taking to their guns in some future Apocalyptic adventure,  or they believe that they will be transported to some mythical higher place and be “renewed”—hopefully in the manner of Logan’s Run.  Oil to run our vehicles, power our industry and heat our homes is no longer cheap, but still available in sufficient quantities for now, so while people are aware that there is finite supply left, it is not something for them to worry about, at least not right now.

Some countries, of course, are aware of that they must begin some movement toward so-called “renewable” energy sources that doesn’t necessarily include nuclear energy and limited opportunities for dam construction. Fusion power has proved to be beyond the capacities of human ingenuity, and solar power requires excessively expensive hardware (and besides, Ronald Reagan thought it was a waste of time). Wind power generation seems to be a popular choice, and the U.S. and others have begun a crash programming to at least try it out. 

Harnessing this potential on a national scale does seem daunting however, since in the U.S. it would require hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of such units to meet most of the energy needs of this country, and that doesn’t even address the issue of transportation power mechanisms.

One country, Denmark, has gone far in employing renewable energy to serve its needs; but it is a small country with a modest population. One of its neighbors with a far larger population and economy seems to believe it can also deploy renewable sources to meet most of its energy needs, within the next few decades. This country is Germany, which for the past several years has been in the midst of a massive infrastructure project, of the scale not seen in the country since the construction of the Autobahn system. The goal of this project is nothing less than near complete independence from fossil fuels in the generation of electrical power by 2050. This includes the construction of power generation plants connected to off-shore and on-shore wind farms, and electrical lines that will carry this power into the industrial heartland of southern Germany. 

All of this is just the beginning of an extremely expensive operation that many believe will hurt the German economy at a time when the EU is experiencing slow or negative economic growth. German business have been particularly skeptical—in large part because much of the cost of overruns is being placed on them, in the form of tariffs that are being paid to companies involved in renewable energy sources to maintain their commercial viability until the project is completed—still many decades away. Consumers have also been “hit” with surcharges on their energy bill to help fund the project. And, naturally, fossil fuel interests have also weighed with their “concerns.”

Still, those who are supporters of the scheme point to the mythical German “ingenuity” and the “successes” like Feldheim, a farming village of about 150 people, which is being touted as an example of how this is all supposed to work. 43 wind turbines, a biogas plant (using ground-up corn stocks and a slurry made from livestock dung) and a back-up woodchip burning facility all pitch-in to serve the community’s electrical and heating needs.  On a national scale, that would suggest that the country would require upwards of 6 million wind turbines. 

Some of the more “practical” of mind call the project a “pipe dream,” claiming that future energy policy is better served by the use of “hybrid” technologies and power generation, providing the example of “flex fuel” vehicles that can use multiple fuel sources, like gasoline, ethanol and electricity—anything to decrease dependency on foreign oil. This is fine for the short-term, but again it is only a delaying action for long-term solutions.

If Germany is in fact successful in weaning even half its energy needs away from fossil fuels in the coming decades despite its cost, the project should be viewed as a remarkable and farsighted success, and a model for what—and what not—to do. But by then, will it be too late for some countries, like the U.S. and China, to “jump start” their own “solutions” that will be at an even more prohibitive cost?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving NFL notes

Thanksgiving NFL football included perennial participant Detroit finding some offensive life after falling behind the hopeless Chicago Bears 14-3 in the first quarter, as Matthew Stafford threw for 390 yards in 34-17 victory going away. I’m of course not particularly pleased with this result, since it means that the Green Bay Packers must defeat the suddenly unbeatable New England Patriots Sunday to remain in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. As for the Chicago Bears, more and more the firing of Lovie Smith looks like a mistake; although Smith’s Tampa Bay team is playing well below preseason expectations, there is no doubt that the Bears would have been more competitive defensively than they seem to be playing now.

Meanwhile, despite some “home cooking” from the game officials—13 penalties for 100 yards compared to just 3 for 20 yards for the home team—the Seattle Seahawks won a surprisingly easy victory over the San Francisco 49ers, 19-3. Both teams featured returning players on defense, but it was Seattle’s who made the greater impact. Offensively, one should note that for the second straight week, the Seahawks were held to four field goals in five scoring drives. 

Finally, Philadelphia “surprised” many observers who are still not convinced that Mark Sanchez is not only the best backup quarterback in league, but is playing like the starting quarterback he once was. In the past 4¾ games he has played the Eagles are 4-1, with Sanchez playing the best stretch of games that he has ever played. There have been his detractors no matter what he does; after a blow-out victory in which he threw for 332 yards and had no turnovers, complaints could still be heard about his 54 percent completion percentage in the game. Sanchez is currently completing 63.4 percent of passes this season. Yesterday on the national radio broadcast, there was a complaint that the game could have been a bigger blowout win than 33-10 against Dallas, if the Eagles had not settle for three field goals instead of touchdowns, hinting not too subtly that Sanchez was at fault; funny how you only hear how “great” Russell Wilson is when in the past two weeks on 10 scoring drives, the Seahawks “settled” for 8 field goals.

Next week the Eagles will play Seattle in Philadelphia. Given the way the Seahawks defense has been playing recently, I’m not placing any bets on the Eagles chances of winning that game; after all, they were hardly competitive against Green Bay. It will be a “homecoming” of sorts against Pete Carroll, his former college coach at USC—who had advised Sanchez to spend another year in college because he wasn’t “ready” for the NFL.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Maybe the country would be better off without Texas

Back in the 2010, there was a great deal of controversy in regard to the Texas Board of Education’s intention to rewrite history in the right-wing way; it recently approved multiple-modified history textbooks by a strict party-line vote, with all 10 Republicans voting for them, and all five Democrats (all minorities) voted against them. The party split itself demonstrates how right-wing Texas is trying to ignore the future and turn back the hands of time. It will ultimately fail; already a majority of Texas school children are minority, and the percentage will only grow. The voter ID law which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately allowed in the past election showed how the right-wing is desperate to avoid eventual annihilation of at least its political power, and the Board of Education’s decisions on history teaching showed that it is unwilling to acknowledge this eventuality. 

While the right-wing members claim that more minorities than ever are mentioned in the new history texts, those who battled discrimination—of which Texas was as bad an offender as any Deep South state—in the quest for equal rights are given short shrift; incidental mentions of minorities take great pains not to educate minority students about the racism and discrimination of the past—and which continues today, albeit in more “subtle” ways. The racial terminology of the right has changed only in its cunning hypocrisy. 

The new texts are to include lavish praise on right-wing and conservative politicians and organizations—and provide almost no attention to minority politicians and civil rights activists (they, do however, mention feminist “icon” Margaret Sanger, since she advocated eugenics and abortion for the socially “unfit” and racial minorities). In every instance, the word “democracy” is replaced with “republic”; Of course, most historians and political scientists define this country as a “democracy”; the reason why the current breed of Republicans prefer the alternative term—besides the obvious—is that it implies rule by the privileged few.

One suspects that the right-wing’s intention is to “instill” in the minds of minority students that white people are in “control,” the reasons why, and why it should stay that way. It’s a fait accompli. Hopefully (for Republicans) enough will accept the second-class status the new history texts will attempt to implant in them, that some may actually vote against their own interests and for the white Republican. 

This past summer, Mike Binelli of Rolling Stone magazine profiled the current sad state of Texas politics. Remember in 2008 when left-wing commentators declared the Republican Party “dead,” because women and minority voters would “overwhelm” it’s mostly white male, voting base? That hasn’t happened, in large part because white female voters are not as “progressive” as some like to believe; the large majority are, in their own way, just as much and perhaps more self-involved about their “privileges” and victimology than white men.  This explains why 58 percent voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and why the first female governor of the state of Wisconsin, or Democrat Wendy Davis in Texas, were not elected. 

I have already written about how fear of losing political control of state government—and through redistricting, control of the U.S House of Representatives—has persuaded states currently under Republican sway to pass laws intended to suppress minority voting. The one in Texas is particularly restrictive, and while the U.S. Supreme Court did not overturn lower court decisions to ban other such laws, it did see fit to overturn the ban of the Texas law, probably because the right-wing of the Court was “offended” by the strong language used by the Latino federal judge, who recorded a litany of continuing voter suppression laws passed in Texas in his decision; right-wing extremists like Scalia, Alito and Thomas don’t like their crimes of “judgment” thrown in their faces.

But things are much worse than that in the state where John F. Kennedy was assassinated; the extremist hate that was “shocking” to us then is hardly the “old news” we pretend to think of it as. In many ways, it is just as bad if not worse. Binelli writes that far-right extremist groups in Texas, like American Patriots, are everywhere. Paranoia about “gun rights, land rights, the surveillance state, genetically modified food and assorted other ‘liberty issues’” is such that when asked for evidence of this, the answer is likely to be "I don't know! That's the problem!" Binelli comments that “I couldn't have put it any better myself. They don't know; that's the problem. After nearly six years of pumping out cynical horror stories involving our nefarious president and a Washington bureaucracy run amok, the right-wing fear machine has managed to reduce its target audience to a quivering state of waking nightmare, jumping at shadows.” 

Binelli also noted that a prerequisite for being a right-wing bonafide in Texas—especially in the Tea Party—is “running around all the time screaming about how much (they) hate Obama." One Texas candidate for state office warned voters that "If I don't win, I don't care who does, because Texas isn't going to be able to survive, I'm afraid I know it sounds pretty dire. But I've read the last chapter of the book. I've seen the end of the movie. I know how it turns out." Binelli notes that most of the listeners of this speech were carrying weapons out for all to see. And they think that they are "the good guys”—and “good guys” always “win.” In Texas, of course, the “good guys” have to lie, cheat and physically threaten to “win.”

Dan Patrick (not to be confused with the former ESPN sportscaster) won election as the lieutenant governor of Texas, where as president of the state senate he will wield considerable power. This fanatic hosted his own right-wing radio program, which of course means he has no self-control whatever. Patrick apparently believes that anyone to the left of Adolf Hitler is too “liberal.” Binelli notes that an indication of just how extremist Texas has become is that Patrick defeated in the Republican primary two “establishment” candidates who would have been considered too extreme in other states. One, Jerry Patterson, noted with some bitterness that many voters “don't understand what the hell they (politicians like Patrick) were talking about. They were gullible. I think the Tea Party was a great thing. But it's at a crossroads now. The problem with the Tea Party right now is, they can be had very easily…You have a bunch of angry folks who are, frankly, angry for good reason, but they are also very, very gullible.”

Patterson blames his own primary loss on his support of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country if they serve in the military. Even this was too much for the state’s Hispanophobes: "All you got to do is say certain phrases and words – fill-in-the-blank cliché – and they go 'rah-rah' and applaud and you're the man. 'Secure our borders.' 'No amnesty.' 'Build a fence.' We have a history in this state, you know? My opponent for land commissioner last time was a guy named Hector Uribe. His family had been here for, I think, seven or eight generations. He was a Tejano. He had more Texas roots than I did. Notwithstanding that, somebody made some kind of pop-off comment about, you know, 'that Mexican,' or something like that. And I jumped on their shit. We have Tejanos who died at the Alamo! The vice president of the Republic of Texas was Lorenzo de Zavala. Juan Seguín was a hero at the Battle of San Jacinto. Those folks are just as Texan as we are.”

Patterson went on to say that "I'm not worried about Battleground Texas. I'm worried about the Republican Party. We should lose to them (Democrats) as opposed to surrender. Some of the stuff we're doing now is going to result in . . . well, actually, not a surrender, but a fight to the death, where all of us lose on the Republican side. We just got dumber than a rock. And immigration is one of those issues."

Unfortunately, Patterson’s call for common sense and accommodation with the future of the state is in short supply in Texas. Wide support for “open carry”—meaning the “right” to pack in full view anything up to and beyond a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile anywhere—is obviously a measure of the fear and paranoia of many people in the state. Some may claim that it is merely an “expression” of “in-your-face” civil liberty, but the reality is that the hate that actually inspires it is real and pervasive. While not all whites in Texas are “crazy” with paranoia and government conspiracy theorizing, it nevertheless must be observed that what FDR said so many decades ago, that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, seems to be the norm in Texas. Again, there is no actual proof of evil-doing to back-up such sentiments as "I truly believe there are people who would take away our freedoms and rule us by fiat. We're fighting a war with words. But if we fail, we will be fighting it with real guns, and my children's blood." 

We may be living in “dangerous” times, but the question is, who are the really dangerous people? Certainly we must put the people who most fear the loss of their “privileges” more than anyone. And who really wants to live in Texas anyways? Sure, there were many jobs created in the state after the 2008 financial bankster meltdown, but most of them are low-paying and minimum wage jobs, and the state has the highest “growth rate” of poverty. Health care benefits are only for well-off; the company I worked for at the airport offered a health care plan that was illegal in the state of Washington and classified as a “scam” by the state insurance commissioner. But it was “allowed” because the “situs” of the company is in Texas—where such scams against public welfare are “legal.”

I spent two years in Texas when I was in the Army, and never wanted to go back there. It’s odd, but many white people in Texas (and the South, for that matter) claim to be “Christians.” But these people have perverted religion no differently than Muslims who preach murder as the “path” to “paradise.” One wonders if any of these people ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” On the Sermon on the Mount, he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”; “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”; “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”; “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ”

Jesus clearly wasn’t talking about those with hatred of their fellow man in their hearts, or those blinded by fear, paranoia, racism, bigotry or their own self-serving greed. Nor was he talking about “open carry” fanatics “protecting” these “rights.” If there is a hell, that is where they should all be heading.