Home

In Praise of the Terrible

Leave a comment

Last week, I listed my five favorite science fiction television programs.  That was fun and I’d do something like that every week, but I clearly couldn’t get away with it for very long for a lot of obvious reasons, not least of which is that after a while, I’d start to bore myself.  But doing that list got me to thinking about one other way that the glory that is Netflix (or Amazon or Hulu, or one of the other wifi entertainment options available these days) has dramatically improved our lives.  Not only can we watch programs and movies that are really good, we can watch some of the worst programming ever created.  Stuff that’s so bad, it’s actually kind of fun to watch.

Granted, you have to have a bit of masochism in your soul to derive pleasure from the failed attempts of others at creating entertainment, and if you have that type of personality like I do, I’m sure the right combination of therapy and medication will fix you right up.  I am presently doing neither therapy nor medication, so I still get my jollies from watching dumpster fire television programming.

A few months ago, my wife and I binge-watched (or at least did the equivalent of binge-watching that us elderly folk can manage) a program originally aired on the SyFy channel called Wynonna Earp.  It’s a Canadian production, but I wouldn’t hold that against them.  The story follows the escapades of Wyatt Earp’s great-granddaughter, as she uses the special powers granted her as a birthright to fight a marauding band of “revenants,” sort of a wild west version of undead bad guys.  Eventually, a team forms around her to provide assistance as she carries out this supernatural war.  If all this sounds familiar, it’s because about 90% of this is a blatant ripoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, enough so that I wonder why Joss Whedon hasn’t sued the producers yet.  And it would be every bit as good as Buffy if it weren’t for some of that trivial stuff like writing, directing, and acting.  Sometimes, the parallels almost get a little bizarre.  During the course of the first season, one of the characters (Wynonna’s sister) develops a lesbian relationship with another character.  It was almost like the writers were sitting around a table in intense concentration trying to create a credible plot and one of them in a moment of inspiration spoke up and said, “Hey, maybe we should have a lesbian relationship. After all, it worked on Buffy!”  I suspect the phrase, “It worked on Buffy,” was used a lot in all of their production meetings

Yeah, I get that it’s supposed to be campy, so a lot of what comes off as poor quality is intentional.  But Buffy itself was originally supposed to be a campy ripoff of vampire movies and I’m not sure doing camp on camp is quite what I’d call creative.  Anyway, we actually muddled through all thirteen episodes of the first season and I expect we’ll probably muddle through the twelve episodes of the second season at some point.  It’s not like it’s a joyless experience.  The show is pretty funny in spots and some of the humor is actually intentional.

And speaking of humor, or in this instance, the lack thereof, our most recent binge-watching escapade is another SyFy offering called Van Helsing.  Like Wynonna Earp (and Buffy, for that matter), the show centers around a woman with special powers to fight, in this instance, vampires, but here the parallels come to a screeching halt and the show actually has a lot more in common with The Walking Dead than it does with Buffy.  Like The Walking Dead, this show envisions a dystopian future where humans are barely surviving, except instead instead of being challenged by mindless zombies, the intrepid band of survivors is fighting off reasonably intelligent vampires.  Like The Walking Dead, our intrepid survivors are fighting each other just as much as they are fighting the vampires and they are constantly running afoul of other groups of survivors.  Also like The Walking Dead, watching this show is a completely humorless exercise, unless you get your jollies from massive amounts of blood and gore.  Van Helsing is expected back for a second season, so now is the time to buy some stock in companies that manufacture fake blood.

Categorizing Van Helsing as a terrible show is a little unfair.  The acting isn’t that bad and the story line is actually pretty engrossing, which is why we stuck with it for a whole season.  Nonetheless, I do suspect that the show has more “idiot plot” devises than any show I’ve ever seen, another characteristic it has with The Walking Dead.  The characters are constantly doing things that anyone with an IQ above that of a moderately intelligent turnip wouldn’t consider doing.

Neither of these shows is as bad as some of the bad shows of my youth.  People my age will remember that in the 60’s, Gilligan’s Island lasted an entire three seasons.  Gilligan’s Island was worse than either of these show, which I think proves that you don’t have be good to be successful, a point I’ve proven many times in my professional career and marriage as well.  For television, it all comes down to finding an audience, or in this instance dupes,that will come back and keep watching.

It looks like we fit the description of dupes.

Advertisements

The Claflin Miracle

Leave a comment

Prologue

In the manner that it’s run, high school football officiating has one important rule in common with Fight Club in that the first rule of high school football officiating is you don’t talk about high school football officiating, especially not on social media.  The first football season after I got on Facebook (somewhere around 2010), I’d write a little summary of every game and post it on Facebook for my friends.  I tried to be cute and funny about how the game went and I tried to make the post as inoffensive as possible.  I’ve no real evidence that the officiating ruling elite in the State of Kansas were hacking my Facebook account or even that they know who I am (at least I hope they don’t), but about halfway through that season, the Association, as we sometimes refer to it, sent out the fabled “sternly worded letter” stating that we were not under any circumstances to discuss games on social media.  If someone said something about a player, coach, athletic director, or another official and it got back to them, then there’d be hell to pay for the offending official.  I’d no reason to think that the letter was directed specifically at me, but still feeling severely chastened, I stopped the posts.

So in writing this, I’m taking my life into my own hands.  Well, not exactly.  Despite rumors to the contrary, the Association isn’t really the mafia and I doubt that I’d be looking at anything worse than probation or possibly some kind of suspension.  And it’s been nine years since this game was played and nobody comes out of this story looking bad at all.  Or almost nobody, but we’ll get to that later.  Maybe I should take a moment here to say that the story you are about to read is true, except for the parts I just made up because I couldn’t remember the details.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty and the innocent.

So let’s get this show rolling with an opening line that I think every single story ever written about football should open with:  “It all started with Michael Buble…”

Chapter One – Cursed be Michael Buble

You see, our head linesman, Matt, had a wedding anniversary coming up and he was able to acquire tickets to a Michael Buble concert in Wichita, his wife being a big fan.  The problem for our officiating crew was that the offending concert happened to be on a Friday night, meaning he was going to miss our upcoming game between schools representing two of the great metropolises in Kansas, Claflin (population 624) and Pretty Prairie (population 672).  That late in the season, it was an important game for determining who went on to the 8-man State Football Tournament and both teams were still in the running for a playoff spot.  It was important as an officiating crew that we be at our best and clearly Matt was putting a much higher priority on his marriage than this football game, a serious mistake.  Fortunately, Matt let our crew chief Mark know well in advance and we were able to find a substitute with a good reputation, pseudonymously named Lucas.  We were still pretty comfortable that we could do our job well.  But that was before another official in our crew vanished.

Chapter Two – The Case of the Disappearing Back Judge

On Friday afternoon, we all met to carpool from Wichita to Claflin, about a ninety minute trip.  Well almost all of us.  One guy, John, our back judge, didn’t show.  We waited for a while.  We made phone calls.  We sent texts.  Finally, we called his parents.  His mother informed us that John would not be going to the game.  We got no explanation and the phone call was short and uncomfortable.

The mystery of what happened to John went on for almost another two weeks, as we searched for clues.  We were beginning to suspect that John had been murdered by his parents.  Finally, a friend of mine suggested that I try the Sedgwick County Detention Center website.  Once there, it didn’t take long.  John was in the pokey on the somewhat vague charge of “Failure to Appear.”  We never did find out what he was supposed to appear for, although it must have been somewhat important because he was jailed for over a month.  John missed the rest of the season and was summarily fired from our crew for next season.

It was too late to find a substitute, so we would just have to be down a man.  That’s actually a pretty big deal for a high school football officiating crew.  College and NFL officiating crews have eight officials.  High school crews are usually at five, except in the states where football takes on a more religious tone, like Texas and Florida.  For this game we would be missing 20% of our crew, with another 20% being new to us.  We were a bit concerned.  The trip to Claflin took on a comfortable air of joviality, but I couldn’t help worrying that this could be a tough night.

Chapter 3 – In Which a Close Game Turns into a Blowout

It wasn’t long into the game before my fears were allayed.  The playing conditions were difficult, as we had 30 to 40 miles per hour winds for most of the game, but the teams were well coached and the players played hard and with a lot of sportsmanship, helping each other up after each hard tackle and always addressing us as sir.  We rarely had to throw a flag and Lucas was doing a great job covering the Pretty Prairie sideline.  I don’t remember either coach ever complaining about a call.  Some games, you can’t help thinking, “They just can’t possibly pay us enough to make this worth it.”  And some games you can’t help chuckling to yourself and thinking, “I get to be here to watch this and they’re actually PAYING me do it!”  This was one of those games.  Both teams had sizable crowds rooting for them which added even more depth to the atmosphere.

The wind played a huge factor in the game, as all twelve touchdowns were scored by the team with the wind at their back.  Pretty Prairie had the wind first and jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.  Claflin had the wind in the second quarter and tied it at 14.  For the second half, the wind was back with Pretty Prairie and the Bulldogs acted like they’d added rocket boosters to their shoes at halftime.  Pretty Prairie rarely threw the ball, but something about have the wind at their backs made them run like gazelles through the suddenly porous Claflin defense.  The third quarter ended with Pretty Prairie Bulldogs ahead 40-14.  It looked like a blowout.

Chapter 4 – In Which a Blowout Turns into a Close Game

My job as line judge for this game was to officiate next to the Claflin sideline.  I’ve officiated a lot of games and I’ve officiated on the sidelines next to a lot of teams that are getting trampled.  I know the atmosphere on the sideline when a team has no chance and that’s what I expected on the Claflin sideline in between the third and fourth quarters.  Some coaches yell a lot at their players trying for one last bit of motivation in a lost cause.  Some lose interest and stay pretty quiet.

The Claflin sideline was different than any sideline that I’d ever seen in a blowout.  The coach was calm and in control.  He called over his players and reminded them of how hard they’d worked in the off-season and that games like this one were the reason they’d worked so hard.  Then he talked strategy.  They were going to pass on almost every down and each pass should be near the sideline.  Once the receiver got as far down field as he could, he was to step out of bounds to stop the clock.  He almost sounded like he expected to win.

That, of course, was too absurd to even consider, but he sounded like he believed it and the belief apparently rubbed off on his players as well, because the momentum of the game changed almost instantly.  The players followed his instructions flawlessly.  With each play the ball carrier immediately got out of bounds once he’d made as much yardage as he could.  The Wildcats drove the ball down the field and scored.  That seemed to inspire the defense and they stopped Pretty Prairie and forced a punt, and the pattern repeated itself.  Another score, another punt, another score, another punt.  Now the score was 40-36 and Claflin had the ball back with over two minutes left and once again they moved the ball down the field.  This time, Pretty Prairie seemed to adjust and the drive stalled about 20 yards from the end zone.  On fourth down, Claflin threw a desperation pass near the goal line and it was almost intercepted and fell incomplete. There was only about a minute left and Claflin still had two time outs.

Pretty Prairie tried to get a first down to ice the game and almost succeeded, coming up just a couple of yards short, forcing Claflin to use their last time out and leaving just ten seconds on the clock.  Pretty Prairie decided to punt on fourth down and the punt against the wind was short and began to bounce crazily around the field.  It looked for a moment like the game would end with the ball bouncing around on the field while it was being futilely chased by Claflin players.  Finally, one of them fell on the ball and the clock stopped on the change of possession with just two seconds left.  All of those plays running out of bounds to stop the clock and all of those time outs had saved exactly two seconds.  Claflin was forty yards from the end zone.

Chapter 5 – The Play

One of the problems with being an official working the sideline when you don’t have a back judge is that the sideline officials have to cover a whole lot of ground on deep passes and are responsible for half of the field.  In this situation, however, you KNOW that the team with the ball has to throw it deep, so it’s pretty easy to decide where to position yourself.  I just followed the receiver on my side of the field that was going deepest.  In this instance, Claflin actually had two guys on my side going deep and two on the other side of the field doing the same, so I just followed them along the sideline to about the ten yard line and waited and watched.

Pretty Prairie rushed two linemen and had six guys back covering the four pass receivers.  This made it harder for the receivers to get open, but it also meant that the quarterback was unhindered as he waited for his receivers run their pass pattern.  The receiver closest to me broke toward the center of the field and the defender closest to him also broke that way.  Then the receiver cut back the other direction toward the sideline and just for a second caught the defender off-guard.  He was open, but just barely, and now he was in the end zone.  I wondered if the quarterback would see him, but I didn’t have to wonder long.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the quarterback set himself and throw the ball high and as far as he could toward my sideline.

In a ten year career, that was my first time in such a situation, but it was amazing how calm I felt. The play seemed to be breaking in front of me in slow motion and instructions started rolling through my head. Stay put, because a moving official can’t see as well. Stay on the sideline and make sure he’s inbounds. Above all, don’t blow this.

The ball came down and the receiver went into a slide about two yards from the sideline. The ball hit him in the hands and he cradled it into his stomach just before he slid out of bounds. I heard fans behind me starting to scream.  I hesitated for a second and thought, are you sure?  Then I raised my hands to signal a touchdown.

I didn’t expect the chaos that followed.  Fans were screaming.  Players and coaches were running past me, mobbing their teammate.  Pretty Prairie players were lying on the ground in agony.  The game was over, but weird rules for playoff tiebreakers meant we had to run an extra point try following the touchdown, so we had to clear the field.  To their credit, Claflin took a knee on the try ending the game.  The final score, Claflin-42, Pretty Prairie-40.

Epilogue and Other Miscellaneous Addenda

I tried to find out if the Association keeps a record book on the biggest fourth quarter comeback in Kansas high school history.  If they are keeping it, they are also keeping it well hidden.  I would think winning after trailing by 26 point would be at least in the top ten of fourth quarter comebacks, but I can’t say for sure.

Claflin would finish second in their district and go to state.  Goessel, one of the best teams in the state in 2008 would win their district.  Claflin would win their first round game and then lose to Baileyville, the team that would win the state eight-man title that year.

Pretty Prairie lost another close game to Goessel in the last game of the season and would finish third in their district.  Only two teams qualify for State in each district, so they didn’t qualify.  Their only losses were to Goessel and Claflin.

John got his “get out of jail free” card about a month later.  Next year, he was working for a different crew.  We still see him around at area officials meetings, but I never found the guts to ask him what he was in for.  Eventually, it just didn’t seem that important.

Crews qualify to work state tournament games based on votes received from athletic directors and administrators.  In 2008, we actually got to work a state tournament game, in no small part because of votes John had helped us earn.  John was still marking off the days on the wall of his cell when the game was played, so we worked it without him.  It was a quarterfinals game between undefeated Goessel and undefeated Madison.  It was also a great game that was decided by a desperation, last second pass.  This time, the pass barely fell to the ground incomplete.

Matt is still married, so perhaps he has his priorities set exactly right after all.  Or perhaps there’s some magic in the dulcet voice of Michael Buble.  All I know is he missed a heck of a game.

The Sci Fi Five

Leave a comment

This year, we’ve got two brand, spanking new science fiction shows on the four bigger noncable networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC).  The Orville premiered about a month ago on Fox and Star Trek: Discovery showed up last weekend on CBS.  That’s unusual.  I can’t remember the last time we’ve had two prime time major network sci fi shows on the air at the same time.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time CBS had any science fiction series.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve been thinking about the sci fi shows I’ve really enjoyed over the years.  I’ve been reading science fiction since almost the time I learned to read (“See Dick run. See Jane determine that Dick is an android cylon and blast him with her phaser.”)  I’ve been watching science fiction on television since I was old enough to sneak past my parents to watch Star Trek.  For reasons that I can’t remember, it was prohibited in our household.

Based on what I’ve seen so far with the new shows, I’d say The Orville is pretty good, albeit a little disappointing, and I still haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery.  The early reviews are scary bad so I might miss it.  This confluence of events got me reminiscing about all the other sci fi series I’ve seen over the years, and you know I love to put together a list, so I put together a list.  This is the top five list of the sci fi shows I’ve enjoyed the most over the years.

But as with all of my lists, we have to establish some ground rules.  First, it’s got to be a show I’ve seen.  I’ve heard some great things (and some bad things) about Westworld, but I haven’t seen it, so it’s off. That rule is a bit of a hindrance since I cut the cable on the SciFi channel about four years ago.  Second, no superheroes, so no Supergirl or Agents of Shield or a host of other shows of that genre, whatever it is.  Also, no shows that would fit more comfortably into the fantasy genre.  Finally, if there was much doubt about whether it qualified for science fiction, I left it off the list.  I don’t know what genre category Mr. Robot falls into, but I don’t think it’s sci fi.  The Twilight Zone was the hardest one to decide on, since many, if not most, of it’s shows had strong science fiction elements.  I couldn’t really decide, so I flipped a coin and it lost.

So, without further ado and in no real order, since the order would change depending on which day of the week you asked, here we go.

Babylon 5 – Yeah, the first season was a little weak, and the last season was undecipherable.  But those three seasons in between, oh boy!  Some of the best stuff on television, regardless of genre.  Some of the writing was almost Shakespearean in quality.  I recently saw a video on YouTube that listed the video creator’s top 10 best episodes of Babylon 5.  The list was good and I don’t think I’d change much on it, but it was interesting that it didn’t include the episode Z’ha’dum from season three.  I wouldn’t have included it either, but the episode did have one of the most dramatic moments in any science fiction series ever (“Jump! Jump now!”) and also had one of the most memorable soliloquies in science fiction history coming from the character G’Kar (the best quote: “There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of a soul that has lost its way.”).

Firefly – I don’t know what happened either, although I’ve read a lot of theories.  Fox apparently opened up the bank vault to convince Joss Whedon, fresh off of his success with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” to do this series on their network and then did everything they could to sabotage the series once they got it.  Still, for its only season, the show had great writing and the cast really had some special chemistry.  The movie Serenity acted as a nice unofficial second season.  I guess there are still rumors it could come back, although I doubt that they could ever recapture what made it enjoyable in the first place.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 – I struggled with how to handle the whole Star Trek thing.  Each series has its fans except, possibly, the new series on CBS.  What I finally decided to do was pick what I thought was the best series of the bunch (TOS, TNG, DS9, STV, and Enterprise) and rate it and leave the rest of them off.  That’s unfair to the rest of them, especially The Next Generation, which really should be on the list somewhere, but I wanted to keep the list to five.  Otherwise, I’d be writing this post for weeks.

I opted for DS9, because I thought it had the best captain and the characters were all well developed and really interesting.  Odo and Quark have possibly the best respect/hate relationship in science fiction history.

The Expanse – My wife and I binge-watched this series a few weeks ago.  There is always a temptation to overvalue the things you’ve seen most recently, but I don’t think I’m doing that here.  It’s just really good.  It’s based on a series of novels and stories by James S. A. Corey (yeah, I know it’s a pseudonym, but if the writers want to hide their identities, who am I to argue) and it’s a gritty, interesting show.  It also has the distinction of being the most plausible series on the list.

Doctor Who – Probably not as good as some of the shows I left off the list, but you can’t argue with longevity.

I left off some shows that I really wanted to include, but I had to draw a line somewhere.  Probably the show that came closest to making the list was The X-Files, which barely made it over that sci fi/not sci fi line I was talking about earlier.  I also thought about Stargate: SG1, which was the most amusing show I considered and Farscape, which gets credit for being an interesting, fairly original idea.  Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version, not the 1980 version, which I’m pretty sure won’t be on anyone’s good list) would have made the list, if it had stayed anywhere near as good as it was in the first season.  It didn’t.

9/11 – Not a Reminiscence

Leave a comment

This past week, we had the 16th anniversary of 9/11.  I admit some surprise as to the number of “Where Were You” reminiscences that I saw through the week.  Sixteen years after Pearl Harbor was December 7th, 1961.  I was all of three years old at the time, and my only memory from that age is wanting to kill my little sister, but I don’t think Pearl Harbor garnered the same attention.  I was 21 when we hit the 16th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination on November 22nd, 1979, so I recall that time period quite well. There were very few of these reminiscences.  By that point, those types of stories were relegated to the “five” years.  We saw a lot of stories about Kennedy when we hit the 20th anniversary and the 25th anniversary and so on, but not many in the in-between years.  Clearly, 9/11 is different and it might be a good idea to figure out why.

Well, if you’re looking for answers to that question, you’d be better served hunting down someone with a psychology degree than reading this blog, but lack of a proper education on a subject has rarely stopped me from opining about it, so here goes nothing.  I think there’s several reasons, but probably the most important is that in many respects the disaster is still rippling through our cultural ocean.  After Pearl Harbor, we fought a war and the war had a distinct endpoint, an endpoint where we defeated the attackers.  The Kennedy assassination had an endpoint.  The guy that did it got captured and then he got assassinated and all that was left was getting used to the new President and the drama surrounding the investigation.  Eventually, that drama subsided, although it clearly didn’t go away completely.  There weren’t a lot of articles about Kennedy in November 1979, but the ones you could find were almost exclusively about the “coverup.”

The attack on 9/11 was different, is different.  Last week’s attack on the London Tube is proof that we still haven’t reached an endpoint on that tragedy, and there’s plenty more proof beyond that.  We still have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re still being groped by strangers at airports in the name of “safety” and “security.”  There was no endpoint and it looks like there won’t be in my lifetime.  No decisive battle, no surrender by Al Qaeda.  Terrorists aren’t really into that kind of thing.  Even Bin Laden’s death didn’t really solve anything.

That’s not to say that interest in 9/11 won’t die out.  Unlike a lot my fellow minions from the Baby Boomer generation, I actually think rather highly of the Millennials.  The ones I know are decent, thoughtful, hard-working people.  But for the majority of them, 9/11 isn’t particularly real in the same way that Pearl Harbor wasn’t real to me.  Most of them aren’t old enough to remember it very well and for the older members of Millennial, Intl., it was only a part of the continually changing landscape of adolescence.  Some of them probably dropped everything and enlisted.  Most of them were glad there wasn’t a draft.  Those cultural ripples (the terror attacks and the resulting day to day chaos they cause) still affect them, but when ripples are all you know or can remember, the ocean seems calm even when it’s not.  The time is close when these are the people that are going to be in charge.

I have no problem with the reminiscences.  It’s an important and mostly healthy way to cope with a disaster.  Maybe I’ll be motivated to do one next year.  Maybe not, but perhaps my generation should also be focusing on passing along a bit of important information that all of us that have survived until now still know to be true.  Things were better than this once.  They can be better again.

The NFL in 2017

Leave a comment

This is my annual “Make Embarrassing Predictions for the Upcoming NFL Season” blog post, so gird your loins ladies and gentlemen, but first a few words about something that struck me when I put these predictions together.

There hasn’t been much said about this among NFL commenters that I’ve heard, but there are an extraordinary number of really bad teams in the NFL this year.  The Browns are bad.  The Bears are bad.  The Rams are bad.  The 49ers are bad.  The Jets might be historically bad.  I suspect there will be a couple of other teams we can add to that list by midseason that are doing a good job of hiding their badness in the preseason (my guess would be the Giants or the Bills; it could be a rough year for football in the state of New York).  I’d also guess that one of those teams I listed will turn out to be better than everyone thinks (I’m guessing it’s the 49ers, but it could be any of them except the Jets), but it’s still more than likely that 20-25% of the teams in the league this year are going to stink.

Now, I haven’t actually done the homework of looking at previous seasons to determine how unique this situation is.  Maybe this isn’t as unusual as I think it is and surely there are teams that go 3-13 or worse every season, but most of the time those teams still looked like they belonged on the same field with their betters.  This year just looks like it’s going to be a lot of blowouts.  Attendance and television viewership were down last year, so having several non-competitive teams in the league isn’t going to improve that situation.

More than any other professional sports league, the NFL prides itself in its parity, so I suspect that this hasn’t been lost on the great minds in the higher echelons of the League even if no one is talking about it.  Not much they can do about it at this point and maybe nothing needs to be done.  Some of those bad teams are poised to turn it around in a year or two.  For instance, I love the management in Cleveland and their devotion to analytics.   I think it will pay off eventually, maybe by next year.  The lack of parity could be temporary, but if it’s not and we’re still seeing lots of bad football games into next season, it might be a sign that there are some cracks in the Shield.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Actually, last year’s predictions weren’t that embarrassing, as I had New England winning the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, I had them winning against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that crashed under an onslaught of injuries.  I had Atlanta at 8-8.

AFC East – New England (12-4), Miami (8-8), Buffalo (6-10), New York Jets (1-15)

I guess I’m out on my own island about New England, as I’m not that sold on them.  They’ve got a 40-year old quarterback, their best wide receiver just got hurt and is out for the year, and their running game is a bit of a mess.  Rob Gronkowski better not get injured again or scoring points may get a little dicey.  Fortunately for the Patriots, the defense is still great and the division is still terrible.  Miami made the playoffs last year, so now it’s just a function of how well they adapt to new quarterback Jay Cutler.  They’ll be around playoff contention again this year.

AFC North – Pittsburgh (13-3), Baltimore (10-6), Cincinnati (8-8), Cleveland (3-13)

In last year’s post, I had Pittsburgh at 10-6 and said that I thought the defense was a little weak.  Well, it was a little weak at first, but it got steadily better as the season went along and was actually pretty good by the end of the year.  If that trend continues, I think maybe they can squeeze one more good year out of the aging trio of Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown.  I think Baltimore has got just enough offense to hang with them for a while.

AFC South – Tennessee (11-5), Houston (8-8), Indianapolis (7-9), Jacksonville (5-11)

I really like Marcus Mariota a lot, as he seems to be a taller version of Russell Wilson.  The Titans have surrounded him with better offensive weapons this year, so I’m expecting a small step forward in a pretty weak division.  Houston is still trying to win without a legitimate NFL quarterback, although maybe DeShaun Watson is the answer.  Indy will be good if Andrew Luck stays healthy, but there’s almost no chance of that happening.  Jacksonville thinks they’ve fixed their defensive problems with free agents, but they’re kidding themselves.

AFC West – Oakland (11-5), Kansas City (9-7), Denver (8-8), Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)

For a long time, Los Angeles had no NFL franchises and now they are on a trend to have 32 franchises by 2047.  I think the Chargers can’t possibly have as many injuries as they had last year, so they’re bound to be better, but this division is still loaded with really good teams, so the Chargers aren’t winning it.  The only thing keeping the Raiders from football immortality is their defense and the defense should be just barely good enough this year to get to the division title.  As a Chiefs fan, this annoys me worse than chigger bites, but I sense a little chaos in Chiefs Kingdom.  Firing your General Manager two month before training camp is a bit odd.  I think a little dropoff is to be expected.  Denver, like Houston, is experimenting with playing this season without a quarterback this.

NFC East – Dallas (11-5), Philadelphia (8-8), Washington (7-9), New York Giants (7-9)

I think we’ll see a slight drop from the Cowboys, and it’s not because of Ezekiel Elliott’s legal problems.  I think Dak Prescott is going to be great, but it’s not uncommon for rookie quarterbacks that take the league by storm to fall back a little in their second year.  I’m a little higher on Carson Wentz in Philly this year.  Those two are going to have some interesting battles over the next several years.  Like last season, the difference between the top and bottom in this division is small.

NFC North – Green Bay (12-4), Detroit (9-7), Minnesota (7-9), Chicago (3-13)

I thought last year might be the last hurrah for the aging bunch in Green Bay, but I still don’t see anybody challenging them and, of course, they still have AARON FREAKIN’ RODGERS, the best quarterback since Da Vinci was drawing up plays for the Florentine Falcons in the 15th century.  Detroit is a legitimate contender, as is Minnesota if Sam Bradford doesn’t injure himself walking the dog or playing video games.

NFC South – Atlanta (10-6), Carolina (10-6), Tampa Bay (9-7), New Orleans (7-9)

This is the most competitive division in the NFL this year.  I think Atlanta’s defense will make a step forward this year and put them at the top of the division again, but if I’m wrong any of the other three teams could win it.  I’m going with Carolina to make the biggest jump because they weren’t as bad as last year’s 6-10 record would indicate and I think Ron Rivera is a legitimately good coach.  In Tampa, I’m still not sold on Jameis Winston from a character standpoint, but he does seems to be a pretty good quarterback.

NFC West – Seattle (12-4), Arizona (10-6), San Francisco (4-12), Los Angeles Rams (3-13)

The NFC West is the only division in the NFL that has two of those really bad teams, which should be of great benefit to the two good teams in the division, the Seahawks and the Cardinals.  Seattle is under a lot of pressure to win this year, as the aging defense is about to break up into free agent parts very soon.  I think they’ll do pretty well. Arizona should stay healthy enough this season to sneak into the playoff picture aided by four likely wins against the 49ers and Rams.

Playoffs:

AFC – Pittsburgh, New England, Oakland, Tennessee, Baltimore, Kansas City

NFC – Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta, Carolina, Arizona

Super Bowl:

Green Bay – 38, Pittsburgh – 31.

The Lottery

Leave a comment

About ten years ago, my wife and decided to engage in a little (very little) fun.  Neither of us had ever played Powerball before because, well, we’re smart.  I suppose you’ve heard the oft repeated joke that the lottery is a tax on people that are bad at math.  When the subject of the lottery came up around the office water cooler, I could be pretty derisive about other people’s stupidity.  Adding to that is the fact that we’re both practicing Christians and Christians don’t play games of chance for possible personal gain because, umm, they just don’t, okay.  There’s no specific Biblical provisions against gambling per se, although I had one pastor describe such activities as a lack of faith and a misuse of the blessings God has given us.  That argument makes sense to me, but I’m a little biased.

Well, a few years ago we were driving along and came across an electronic sign breathlessly announcing that the Powerball was now over $500 million and, lacking anything better to do, we started a conversation about it.  I would imagine that something similar happened in the Garden of Eden, although I would hope that Adam and Eve’s motivations were a little more profound than the ennui you get traversing Wichita.  You can probably guess where the conversation went and, like in the Garden of Eden, I totally blame my wife.  We decided to buy a ticket, but with two strict ground rules.  We would only buy one ticket and we would only play when the jackpot was over $500 million.  Over the years, we’ve abided by those rules without fail, meaning that since we had that conversation, we’ve bought about eight tickets.

The fun we get in playing doesn’t come from the expectation of possibly winning.  We both know better than that.  The fun comes when we have the purely hypothetical conversation about what we’d do with $500 million dollars.  It’s a little like making plans to drop everything, sell the house, and move to Mars.  It’s not going to happen, but it’s fun to speculate.

This past week, following the rules meant buying two tickets within about four days time, as no one won the $500 million Powerball on Saturday, meaning that it rolled into a $700 million jackpot on Wednesday.  Perhaps that was the trigger that made me think about all of this in a more analytical manner and made me realize that we are doing it all wrong.  Maybe, I thought, we ought to change to rules so that I only buy a ticket once a year and then only when the jackpot was really low instead of really high.

Let’s imagine for a happy moment that we won a million dollars.  Now a mil isn’t anywhere near $500 million, but it’s still a lot of money.  I’m surely not sending it back because it’s too small.  But a million dollars isn’t going to appreciably change our lives.  I’ve no idea what the taxes on a million dollar windfall would be, but I imagine it’s pretty steep, maybe 50%.  That gets us down to $500,000.  Some of it goes to our church (Thank you, God!) and some of it goes to fixing all the things around our house that are currently falling down.  Or maybe we sell the house and move somewhere else.  It’s just the two of us and neither of us enjoys housekeeping that much, so we’re definitely not getting a larger place.  Maybe we get a car to replace the ’98 Ford Escort currently hogging valuable space in the garage.  I could throw a shot putt farther and faster than that thing can go.  Maybe we make a trip or two.  I’m sure we’d throw a little love to a few relatives and friends.  Perhaps that would leave enough that we could do a little investing and I could retire a few months earlier than I’d planned, or perhaps not.  Every time I do the math, the money runs out pretty quickly.  Life would be good, but not a lot different than it is right now.

Now, let’s think about winning $500 million.  Now that’s the kind of money that would completely demolish your life as you know it.  I think the State of Kansas has a privacy rule that allows you to win the money and remain anonymous, but you’ve just won $500 million.  There is no way you can keep that under a blanket for more than a couple of days, at best.  Friends talk.  Reporters dig.  Neighbors would speculate on why all of the guys wearing suits and sunglasses and carrying handguns are suddenly hanging around the house.  I have this vision of me pulling around the corner on the way home the day after winning the $500 million and seeing two dozen minivans parked along the street.  Some of the vans are with local news, some of them are guys with “can’t miss investment opportunities,” and some of them are hackers trying to break into my wifi.  And those are just the bad hackers, as I’m sure that better hackers don’t need the proximity.

The point is, with that much money you wouldn’t get to decide whether to stay in your home or move.  You’d have to move.  If nothing else, eventually your neighbors would get annoyed with all the distractions and force you out.  And since handling that kind of money is a full time venture, you’d have to quit your job and have to curtail your activities outside of work.  And money like that doesn’t just test your character, it also tests the character of your friends and family.  Doubtlessly, a few of them would stop thinking about you as that sweet guy with the pleasant disposition and serene countenance and start considering you their own personal bank account.  I’d guess that by the time a year has passed, you’re going to have a totally different set of friends and few family members that are no longer speaking to you.

So winning that kind of money would take a baseball bat to your life and the more I think about it, the more I think that the result I just described is as inevitable as holy wars in the holy land.  Not that I’d turn the money down if I won it.  That’s a challenge I wouldn’t mind trying to take on (Please, God, let me show you that the money wouldn’t ruin me!).  But it would have to come with some understanding that there’d be a lot of misery in the midst of the money.  I suspect that there’s some magic number in suddenly getting lots of unearned money where below that number the winnings are fun and above the number the winnings are pain inducing.

If you haven’t already guessed, we didn’t win the Powerball jackpot.  Some schmuck in Massachusetts stole our money.  Anyone know where I can buy a cheap, unmarked minivan?

Speaking my Mind

Leave a comment

For a bunch of reasons that I’ve discussed in previous posts (You could look it up!), I don’t discuss politics on this blog very often.  I’ve got a lot of good reasons for this, but ultimately it comes down to three things.  First, it takes a lot of work to write about politics.  Being an effective and informed voter in our country requires effort and education.  You’ve got to know something about current events, but that also requires that you know something about the motivations behind these events, which requires that you know something about recent historical activity surrounding these events, which requires that you know something about history in general so that you can understand the principles that each side of the political argument is using to buttress its opinion.  And by history, I mean all of it, right back to that time Org fought Grog over that last piece of mastodon meat at the dinner table.  And that’s just to VOTE in our society.  To write effectively and knowledgeably about politics requires someone that’s willing to do mountains of research that the average voter (in this case, me) just doesn’t have time to do.  As it happens, I have a job.  Occasionally, the people that employ me actually expect me to show up for this job and perform work.  The existence of this job prevents me from having the time that it takes to write about politics in any meaningful way.  That’s just the way it is and if I don’t like it, I can always completely shred the remainder of my dignity and become a journalist.

Which brings me to the second reason, which is my job. I’m a Government employee and the Government generally frowns up political activity among it’s serfs.  It’s not a firm prohibition from all political activity, but the limitations are explicit and they are beaten into our consciousness at regular intervals.  If you’re wondering, yes, I do fine these limitations confining, but the reasons behind them aren’t at all capricious, and if I thought they went too far, I could always change jobs.

The third reason is simple enough.  I hate getting people angry at me.  It’s hard for me to write a Facebook post (or respond to someone else’s Facebook post) about a highly charged political issue because I know roughly half of the people that read it will hate it and a few of them will decide that they dislike me for being such a dunderhead.  When one of those people responds negatively, I have to fight the urge to apologize.  Yep, I know it’s a character flaw.  I am frequently amazed that, at 58, I still have so many character flaws.  That is probably why I worship a God that loves me despite these flaws, because at my age they just aren’t going away.

And despite all of this, here I am writing about politics.  I am not having fun, but it seemed like the right thing to do this time.

The tragedy in Charlottesville eight days ago was basically a grenade, throwing political shrapnel in several directions at once and some of that shrapnel was directed at the First Amendment.  After all of my earlier talk about getting people angry, it might surprise you to know that I am something of a First Amendment absolutist.  A free society just can’t stay free very long if we don’t allow all kinds of speech and that includes speech by detestable groups like the Klan and the Nazis.  I’d like to think that this is so obvious that I wouldn’t have to worry about defending it, but I know better.  In my lifetime, free speech has always been under assault.  The attackers have changed.  The motives for the attackers have changed.  The attack hasn’t.

So I wasn’t surprised to find a lot of my Facebook friends going after free speech.  One of the posts was a particularly poignant attack on “hate speech” that called for banning it.  It was posted by a younger Facebook friend that rarely posts on Facebook (I am told that millenials have their own social media outlets).  It was well written and I’m glad she posted it, even though I disagree with banning hate speech, because it was her post that prompted me to write this.  That’s how free speech is supposed to work.  And I get it. I really do. It’s hard not to see what happened in Charlottesville and think that we have to prevent it from reoccurring and that the best way to do that is to keep people from spewing forth toxic sludge from their pie holes.

But who’s going to decide what’s really hate speech?  I’ve heard several hate speech ban advocates try to answer that question and I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory answer.

Let’s just speculate for a moment.  Suppose we live in an America where we’ve just gutted the First Amendment and Congress has passed anti-hate speech laws.  Who exactly gets to define what hate speech is?  Well in this country, that’s easy.  Congress gets to define it legally as best they can and the Executive branch of the government gets to figure out how to enforce it.  (This example assumes that the Supreme Court is off on a drunken binge somewhere.)  No matter how tightly you write any law, the Executive branch has some leeway in how its interpreted. Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he defines “hate speech” as “speech that attacks me.”  I’m not sure that I’m comfortable living in an America where that’s the definition of hate speech.

It’s going to be hard to do no matter how you want to try it.  Back in the days when the country was struggling with how to regulate pornography, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated that he didn’t know how to define it, but “…I know it when I see it.”  With all due respect to the esteemed Justice, that’s a terrible opinion when dealing with pornography and if that’s the approach we decide to take with hate speech, I can guarantee you that’s a recipe for totalitarianism.  It won’t be long before the definition of “hate speech” will devolve from “things that Nazis and Klansmen believe” to “political opinions that the people in charge disagree with.”  In affairs of government, human nature is as unstoppable as entropy.

And there’s no evidence that hate speech laws prevent tragedies like the one in Charlottesville anyway.  The European Union already has some restrictions on speech and most countries in the EU have their own restrictions.  Did those restrictions stop what happened in BarcelonaIn Finland?  Disturbed individuals like James Fields are just waiting for an excuse to explode and kill.  Making particularly deviant political views illegal aren’t going to stop people like that from hearing what they want to hear any more than making heroin illegal stopped the use of heroin.

As is always the case, the best way to stop hate speech is better speech, better arguments, better education.  Banning hate speech is simply a first step to a loss of the rights promised to us in the First Amendment and, eventually to all of our rights.  There are better ways.

Older Entries

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

It's THE Flyover Country to You!

A blog about Kansas, the Midwest, and the World