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Quantum Free Will

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So I’m sitting in church just before things were finally going to get interesting, when this thought occurs to me.  I had a few seconds before the music started which allowed me some time to ruminate on it and I managed to give the thought a little substance.  Now I’m going to share it with you lucky few that happen to read this.  I think I’ve figured out the whole free will vs. predestination thing.

Now I know all of you Arminians and Calvinists out there will be extremely happy to hear that a problem that you’ve been arguing about for five centuries or so, I was able to solve in a couple of minutes of thought, and I wouldn’t be opposed to you sharing your gratitude in the form of cash, unmarked bearer bonds, or even gold doubloons, if that’s what suits you.  Please, no personal checks.  But here’s how I figured it out.

You see, all I had to do was look at the problem from the standpoint of a common example given when discussing relativity.  Let’s say you’re sitting in a train, watching the countryside fly past you.  To your perspective, it is the countryside that is in motion while you’re motionless inside the train.  Along the way, you pass Jesse James, who was intending to rob the train, but his horse came up lame just before the train got to him.  So Jesse is standing next to his now useless horse, while your train passes by.  To Jesse’s perspective, the train is the object in motion and he is motionless (and pretty danged angry at his horse as well, although that’s not really relevant).  Who is right?  Well, according to quantum physics, perception is reality, so both observers are right, because what they perceive from their perspective is what is actually happening.

Now let’s make a couple of modifications to the story.  Suppose the train you’re on is the train of life. As your train goes along, you are faced with all kinds of decisions about minor, trivial stuff like whether you will have an eternal life of complete joy, love, and peace, or spend eternity in the fires of hell.  From your perspective, you are actually making this choice (or practicing free will) and, as I mentioned earlier, perception is reality.  However, outside this life train is some random heavenly being observing your train from just outside of our space/time reality.  To this being’s perspective, these decisions will appear foreordained, so predestination seems correct.

So which is right?  Clearly both are and simultaneously so.  You’re welcome!

Now, I know that all of you theologians that are reading this are thinking to yourselves, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”  And you’re not alone in that regard, as certainly all of the physicists that are reading this are thinking the same thing.  After the church service was over, I mentioned my theory to a friend of mine who happens to be an engineer.  He suggested that I should be drug tested.  Then he changed the subject.

Nonetheless, I think this is groundbreaking stuff that I’ve come up with and if I get to church early next week, I intend to solve the paradox of a good God’s omnipotence in the face of the existence of evil.

Or maybe I’ll just work a Sudoku.

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Super Bowl LII and the Decline of the NFL

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Plans change.  I’ve been doing a Super Bowl prediction post for a few years now and looking back, I’ve clearly developed something of a pattern.  I usually hold off on the prediction while I write on something else football related at the beginning of the post.  It doesn’t have to be THAT football related.  In 2015, I wrote about how my father’s recent death would affect my Super Bowl viewing habits.  This year, I was going to write about Super Bowls with extreme quarterback mismatches, like we’re seeing for this year’s Super Bowl.  Meaning no disrespect to Nick Foles, who is clearly a great guy, but Tom Brady is in a wee bit of a different echelon than Mr. Foles.  A week of listening to the blather on talk radio on the way to work each morning changed my plans.

I tend to listen to a lot of sports talk radio on the way to work.  Doing so this week meant a catching a lot of talk about the upcoming game and you really got a sense that the NFL brass and the television networks that broadcast their games together just made a down payment on a houseboat in Egypt because they are living in de Nial (Thank you, thank you!  I’m here all week!).  In one interview, the head honcho himself, Roger Goodell, deflected without really answering the one question he was asked about the precipitous drop in TV ratings this season.  He also didn’t really answer the one question he was asked about the AMVETS commercial that the NFL decided not to run, a commercial that asked people to stand for the national anthem.  Apart from that interview (which had a noticeable lack of followup questions about both of those issues), there was an amazing amount of happy talk about how wonderful things are in the NFL land.  Which, I hear is somewhere in Egypt.

Once I get to work in the morning, I step through the door in my office and find myself transported into an alternate bizarro-world universe, where the NFL is evil incarnate.  We have a number of people in our office that spent the year boycotting NFL games because of the National Anthem controversy and even a few of them that are proselytizing those of us that aren’t participating in the boycott.  Okay, I work at a military base and you’d expect the national anthem controversy to be a particularly big deal here, but I get the impression that the boycott got a lot more traction outside of the base confines than the NFL would care to admit.

As a general rule, I don’t do boycotts.  I mean, I suppose I would boycott girl scout cookies if they were made out of real girl scouts, but if I really decided to boycott every organization out there that offended me in some manner, after a while I’d probably have to live under a bridge.  I like NFL football and I especially like fantasy football (Ummmm! Spreadsheets!), so I intend to keep watching for the time being.

But the NFL needs to sell that houseboat and get to work.  They’ve already lost a lot of fans that they aren’t getting back.  They can’t afford to lose any more over stupid decisions about Super Bowl commercials.

But on to my fearless prediction.  As I mentioned, what I originally intended for this post was a discussion of what we could expect from a Super Bowl with an extreme mismatch at the quarterback position, which is what this Super Bowl provides us.  Such a mismatch doesn’t happen often, but it does happen enough that we can glean some information.  This post is long enough already, so I’ll spare you some of the details, especially since it turns out about like you’d expect.  The team with the much superior quarterback usually wins.  I only went back 20 years, but see Super Bowls 47, 41, 37 and 33, if you need evidence. But it’s not always so. In the season leading up to Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning was a shadow of what he used to be and actually got benched because he was playing so badly (the official story was that he was recovering from injury).  Manning and Denver still won fairly easily over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.  In Super Bowl 37, Rich Gannon had a sensational season for the Oakland Raiders, but they still got thrashed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the relatively pedestrian Brad Johnson at quarterback.  Those winning teams had one important thing in common.  Both Denver in Super Bowl 50 and Tampa Bay in Super Bowl 37 had excellent, almost historic, defenses.

You know something?  The Philadelphia Eagles have an excellent defense.  Not sure if it’s a historic defense, but it’s pretty darned good, perhaps the best in the NFL this season.

So I think this game is going to be pretty close, especially when you consider that Nick Foles is probably better than Brad Johnson and might even be better than shadow Peyton Manning.  I also think it will be low scoring.  And I think Patriots coach Bill Bellichek figures out a way to win it.

Patriots – 17, Eagles – 14.

Be It Resolved Again

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Well, we’re almost a month into 2018.  I guess I can scrap that New Year’s resolution about not procrastinating.

I wrote my opinion about New Year’s resolutions last year.  To save you some time, I’ll provide a Reader’s Digest version:  I think they’re largely a waste of time, so I don’t do them much, and especially not about procrastination.  But if I were doing them, I’d lay down some strict ground rules.  The goals must be challenging, but achievable and they must be something that’s within your control.  Also, I thought it best that they be something that can be broken down into smaller pieces to keep them from becoming overwhelming.  And there was also something in there about how chess players approach problem solving, which was a lot more interesting in my head than it was when I wrote it down.

We had a small “incident” at work a few weeks ago that prompted me to add one more thought to the whole resolution thing.

My supervisor is a friend of mine, or as much of a friend as a supervisor can be.  On those days when I hate my job, I’m not going to be confiding in her about how much I hate my job or whether she is responsible for that hatred, but otherwise she’s okay.  A few weeks ago, her husband nearly died.  He keeled over in the church lobby after he’d dropped off his young children for youth activities on a Wednesday evening.  Apparently, when a person has a pulmonary embolism that’s so bad that you pass out, you’ve got an 86% chance of never making it to the hospital.  He beat the odds and has already gotten back to a relatively normal life, but such events cause most people that aren’t completely self-absorbed to give a little thought to the subject of mortality, particularly when the event in question happens to someone who is relatively young.  In this instance, the dude is somewhere in the vicinity of 45, which is pretty young, at least compared to me.

This is probably the oldest and most overused cliché in the English language, but life really is short.  Lord knows we are reminded of that every time we pick up a newspaper, but it still seems like it’s awfully easy to forget, or perhaps we humans are simply hardwired to pretend it’s not so.  I’m old enough (barely) to have a little perspective on these things and I know that “Life is short” as personal precept can be used for all kinds of irresponsible behavior.  Life is short shouldn’t be an invitation to deliberately make it even shorter.  Life may be short, but it’s still a gift that mustn’t be abused.  But it’s a gift that shouldn’t be kept in its original box either.  I think most of us know where the line between the extremes is drawn.

I’m aware that “Life is short” is not a resolution, but perhaps when we draw up our resolutions, that thought should color our resolution mosaic.  What’s the point in setting a bunch of resolutions if they kill the joy we can feel in appreciation for the life we have.

Sound advice on resolutions, I think.  Or it would have been if I’d written this a month ago when people were actually making resolutions.  Stupid procrastination!

Hero

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(Writer’s note:  I wrote this three years ago, just a week after my father died.  He was an interesting and quirky guy and it seemed important to memorialize that somehow.  Now, three years on, I’m glad I did and I thought I’d reprint it.)

The Battle of the Bulge in World War II was the last gasp of the German military, the last desperate attempt to stem the Allied tide that flooded across France and now threatened to wash into Germany itself.  After the battle, it’s likely that almost everyone in the hierarchy of the German command could see that defeat was inevitable.  Of course, Hitler didn’t think so and his was the only opinion that mattered, so the war dragged on.  The history books will tell you that, following the battle, the Nazis began moving more troops away from the western front to the east to fight the Russians, because they feared retribution from the Soviets far more than they did the Western Allies.  Tell that to any soldier who fought on the western front and you’ll likely get a look of stunned disbelief.  They will tell you that the Germans fought to hold every inch of ground they could and that each inch the Allies took was paid for in a horrific amount of blood.

So it was that men from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 346th Regiment , the 87th Division found themselves pinned down by the Germans near the village of Schoenberg, Belgium, just days after the Battle of the Bulge was concluded.  During the fight, several of the men were killed or wounded and a few managed to escape back down the road that they had moved up just hours earlier.  One of the men that escaped was a squad leader by the name of James Tieman.  He knew that there were wounded left behind along the road they’d just retreated down and that all of the medics in their company were either dead or wounded.  He wanted to go back and retrieve the wounded and maybe bring back the dead bodies, but obviously he couldn’t do it alone and he asked for help.  Needless to say, the request was met with something less than enthusiasm.  Portions of the road were fairly open and there was still a full-fledged battle going on.  One man stated emphatically that he wouldn’t go back for a million dollars and that seemed to be the prevailing opinion.  Finally, one man did step forward.  He was Private Wilfred Pettus.

Pettus and Tieman had both grown up in rural western Missouri during the Great Depression, so it wasn’t surprising that they became friends as they moved across Europe.  Most of the people in the squadron were easterners from places like New York and New Jersey.  Regional prejudices were more strongly held in those days.  Most easterners thought midwesterners were hicks and rubes and not terribly bright.  Most midwesterners thought easterners were stuck-up elitists.  Pettus didn’t think much of the easterners, but he did like Tieman.  I would guess that they spoke the same language.

Just moments earlier, Pettus had nearly been killed twice in two incidents that had been separated by only a few seconds.  He’d shot a bazooka at a house on the edge of the village that they believed might be protecting a machine gunner and possibly a spotter.  He missed, and the shot attracted enough attention that he found himself being shot at himself.  One bullet whizzed past his head so close that it made his right ear ring.  He dove for cover in a depression in the road, but even that wouldn’t prove safe as the Germans began peppering the area with mortar shells.  One landed about ten feet from him and struck a nearby soldier, killing him instantly.  Between that soldier and Pettus was another man, Pettus’s bazooka assistant.  This guy was a large man (about 6’5” and maybe 260 pounds, by Pettus’s estimate).  He took the brunt of the explosion and also died immediately, but the man’s size protected Pettus from harm, although he did catch a piece of shrapnel in his forefinger.  One of the bazooka shells was thrown a considerable distance in the blast and it now exploded in a bright phosphorescent display that convinced the survivors that they’d better make a run for it.

And now two of them were sneaking back to where they’d just come.  By the time they arrived, the shooting had died down and they were able to get to the area unscathed.  They discovered a lot of dead soldiers, but there were a few survivors.  Neither Pettus nor Tieman were medics, but they dressed their wounds as best they could, covered the wounded with blankets, and waited until darkness provided them with some cover.  In the interim, they made improvised stretchers by wrapping blankets around two poles and pulling the poles taut so the blankets wouldn’t slip.  Using the self-made stretchers, they were able to get four of the wounded to medical care in four separate trips.  The mission was not 100% successful.  One of the men was almost dead when they got to him and he died a short time later.  But the other three did survive.

The battle raged over the course of the next several days and according to his brief memoir about his time in the Army, there were at least two more near misses for Private Pettus.  His platoon took heavy casualties.  Eventually, the platoon was reassigned to a new location a few miles away.  Their heroics didn’t go unnoticed by the men that saw it.  One of the men, an Army Sergeant, told Tieman and Pettus that he was going to write them up for citations.

It would be nice if this story had a happy, feel-good ending but those rarely occur in war and most people that fight in wars feel lucky just to survive and go home after it is over.  Tieman and Pettus didn’t get their citation.  A few weeks after the battle, the aforementioned Army Sergeant started talking about having his way with an 11-year old German girl that the platoon had run across at a house that they had stopped at.  Pettus confronted the man and he backed down, but that ended any talk about citations.  “I don’t think he was smart enough to do the paperwork,” Pettus would write later.

A few weeks later in another battle, Tieman took a bullet through the neck, causing massive blood loss.  Pettus got to him seconds later and was able to stop the bleeding only by sticking a finger into the wound.  The bleeding stopped enough that Tieman was able to talk to Pettus for while as Pettus frantically looked for a way to get him help.  He finally got the attention of a jeep that took Tieman to an aid station, but he died before he got there.

A few weeks after that, Pettus received word that his brother was killed during fighting near Magdeburg, Germany.

Pettus would survive and go home and he did receive a Purple Heart for the finger wound.  After the war, he would go on to a highly successful life, at least by any measurable standards that actually count for anything.  He received multiple college degrees and had a long career as a chemistry professor at a junior college in Kansas.  He was married for 57 years to the love of his life and fathered three children that also did pretty well with their lives.

In his lifetime, Pettus had little use for the science fiction genre and it is completely certain that he never actually read Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card.  Nonetheless, in his later years, Pettus felt compelled to fill that role for those he had met in his war experiences, often telling their stories when he had the chance.  Eventually, he even went to Blackburn, Missouri to seek out any of Tieman’s relatives that he could find.  They were long since gone, but he did find out that the nearby American Legion building had been named after Tieman.  He considered that appropriate.

Around 2003, he wrote a brief memoir about all of his experiences relating to the war.  The story is raw and painful and difficult to read in spots.  Pettus pulled no punches about his experiences, even discussing his own flaws and regrets as it related to the conflagration.  Yet, its honesty also has a special beauty that doesn’t wilt even as it is describing the most horrific events.  In its own way, it’s priceless.

Pettus died on January 11th 2015.  He was 91.

Dad rarely talked about his war experiences as I was growing up.  I suppose he thought it was too much for children to handle, although he didn’t talk about them much with anyone else as far as I know.  I first heard about this story in the same way that children have been learning stories about their parents for as long as there have been stories to hide from children.  I pretended to be asleep in my bedroom while the grownups talked in the living room.

Even in this instance, it wasn’t my dad telling the story.  We were visiting my grandparents and Mom was relating the story to them.  For reasons that I don’t remember, Dad couldn’t make that trip.  Like most children (I think I was about seven or eight), I maintained a certain reverence for my parents and this story only made Dad grow in stature in my eyes.  My dad fought in World War II!  And while he was there, he did something amazing!  It didn’t change my perspective on him, but I did think it was just pretty darned cool.

Dad wasn’t totally against telling his war stories and we did hear a few.  He seemed especially partial to the ones that were self-deprecating or amusing in some other way.  I think every chemistry class he ever taught got to hear the story of the Army’s highly liberal use of DDT to combat head lice, a standard policy that would be met with abject horror today.  There was another story involving a raid on an abandoned farmhouse that held numerous bottles of Champagne.  As you can imagine with a group of very young men, it did not go well, although at least nobody died.  If a war experience actually involved someone dying, he clung to that story with the grip of a professional arm wrestler.

I don’t know how long my mother had to pester him to get him to write it all down, but it was for at least ten years.  Finally, in the early 2000’s he began writing and completed his reminiscences around 2003.  He asked me to edit it.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  There were a lot of grammatical problems (mostly attributable to age, I think; he was an excellent writer when he was younger) and I didn’t know how far I wanted to go in editing it.  I was scared to death that I might actually change the content and, after the first time I read it, I knew that to do so would almost be a crime.  After every change I made, I would compare the new text to the original and if the change somehow changed the message, I changed it back.  It took a while, but after I was done, he seemed okay with it.  The final result was about forty pages long and even today, it can be difficult for me to read.  Maybe, especially so now that he has passed away.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Mom’s influence in getting Dad to write all of this down, but ultimately he never did anything that he didn’t want to do.  Over the years, I often wondered what changed in his life that convinced him to finally confront his past.  I still don’t know for sure, but I think the best clue I have is from the final paragraph he wrote in his missive:

Some six or seven years ago, around 1994 or 1995, I was asked to be a part of a program at Circle High School, Towanda, Kansas, in which several veterans were asked to talk to some high school students about their service and war experiences.  I was able to wear my old army uniform as I have always been thin.  One particular class containing several senior boys asked me if I had been involved in combat where people I knew were killed.  I looked at them.  They looked about the same age as some of the kids I saw get killed.  Suddenly it seemed very unfair that I was able to be lucky and survive, have a good life and a great family and the kids I saw killed never got to experience that.  For an instant, I thought I was going to shed tears in front of them.  I looked out the window for an instant and got control of myself.  We had a fine discussion.

I’m sure it was very fine.  Thanks, Dad, for everything.

An Abundance of Average – The NFL Playoff Quarterbacks in 2018

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Last year, I took a personal habit of mine and turned it into a blog post by ranking the twelve quarterbacks in this year’s NFL playoffs.  I’ve been doing this ranking for years just for my own amusement and I had fun writing it for the blog last year, so I thought I’d do it again.

However, I have to confess that part of the fun of writing on this topic was that last year’s playoff quarterbacks were so danged good.  I predicted that seven of the twelve will be in the Hall of Fame someday, and a couple of the remaining five quarterbacks were at least decent.  By comparison, this year’s list is somewhat depressing.  There are fewer Hall of Famers here and the quarterbacks that might be heading to the HOF had down years statistically.  Still, I intend to struggle forward as best I can.

So just to review what criteria I’m using for this ranking, I’m looking at three things.  First, how each quarterback did statistically this season.  Second, what kind of career statistical level have they established.  Finally, gut instinct.

As I said last year, this list isn’t for everyone and probably isn’t for most people.  I suppose that’s particularly true in a season where the popularity of the NFL took a serious tumble.  But I’m not getting paid for this, so I don’t care.

1.  Tom Brady (New England) – He had the greatest season ever of any quarterback over forty.  However, if you’re a Tom Brady hater, there is some hope if you look hard enough.  In the last four games of the season, he wasn’t his normal Tom Brady self and in a couple of those games he was downright terrible.  I’m not sure that the word “terrible” has ever been used to describe Tom Brady, but he really just didn’t look good at all.  And then you have to remind yourself that Brady really is forty and he took a lot of hits this season behind an offensive line that isn’t your typically Patriot offensive line.

I don’t expect this to be a problem in their first playoff game.  The Patriots get a first round bye, so he can get some needed rest.  It might be a problem in their second game, should they get that far.

I mentioned last year that Brady is in the discussion for being the best quarterback ever.  Brady effectively ended that discussion with his excellent season this year.

2.  Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) – Roethlisberger didn’t have the statistical season that the other quarterbacks at the top of this list had.  That’s a little surprising because Pittsburgh probably has the best receiving corps in the NFL, so you would expect his numbers to be bolstered rather than hindered by the talent that surrounds him.  But Pittsburgh also has the best running back in the NFL, so Big Ben doesn’t have to throw the ball as much as most of these other guys do.  I’m of the opinion that he’s a little overrated (he was, once again, near the league lead in interceptions thrown), but he’s still a lock to get into the HOF.

3. Drew Brees (New Orleans) – Had a solid season that was so far below his career norms that it was a little shocking.  For the first time in his career, Brees can rely on a great running game, which might be the equal to that of the Steelers.  He didn’t have to throw the ball as much, which is a good thing for his career longevity.  Brees is only a little more than a year younger than Brady and nobody is mentioning him as a threat to Brady for best quarterback ever.  I do think there’s a good discussion to be had that he’s in the top five all time.

4.  Matt Ryan (Atlanta) – The top four guys on this list were all below their career norms and Ryan is the one that’s the hardest to explain.  The receiving corps and offensive line didn’t have an overabundance of injuries.  He’s still got Julio Jones to throw to.  I suppose the best explanation is that opponents made some adjustments defensively and the Falcons didn’t make the right counteradjustments.  Still, Ryan did sneak his team into the playoffs and a good playoff run would bolster his HOF case.  Unlike the three guys ahead of him on this list, his HOF case actually needs bolstering.  He could really use two more good seasons, at least.

5. Alex Smith (Kansas City) – Alex was easily the toughest quarterback to rate this season.  Depending on your criteria, he could have ranked anywhere from first to ninth. He had a great season, maybe the best season of anyone on this list.  The problem is that this year is so out of whack with his career that it gives you one of those eating-homemade-ice-cream-too-fast headaches just looking at it. You could take his stat line from this season and fit it into Aaron Rodgers’ career and it wouldn’t look out of place, which is why it looks VERY out of place in Smith’s career. I don’t think he’s ever been a top ten QB before.

At 33, Alex has almost no chance at getting into the Hall of Fame without a ticket.  However, if he strings together another two or three seasons like this one, he might be worth considering.

6. Cam Newton (Carolina) – Newton has a lot better chance of getting to the HOF than Alex Smith, but he’s got a sort of weird and off-putting personality that seems to grate on people.  Numbers live on long past what people remember about you personally, so I suspect he’s close, perhaps another two or three good seasons away from a date in Canton.  Another appearance in the Super Bowl would help a lot.

7. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams) – A good example of why you should never give up on a quarterback after one season.  Goff was so bad in his rookie year that the Rams ownership was looking for a replacement.  Needless to say, season two has gone much better.  My one concern is that the Rams haven’t played a lot of games where they had to rely on Goff to make a drive to win the game.  At some point in the playoffs, he’s going to have to do that.

Goff is too young to speculate about a Hall of Fame type of career, but he’s off to a good start. However…

8. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) – You could have said many of the same things about Marcus Mariota after last season that they are saying about Jared Goff this season.  Mariota was all kinds of terrible this year and the Titans made the playoffs in spite of him, rather than because of him.  Still, the talent is there and he might find another gear now that the games really mean something.  Mariota’s skill set is a lot like Russell Wilson’s, but his actual ability seems a long ways from matching Wilson’s.

Mariota is still very young and could spend the rest of his career making us forget that this season ever happened.  His HOF case is in a ditch, however.

9. Case Keenum (Minnesota) – Like Alex Smith, a very hard quarterback to rate and for many of the same reasons.  Keenum took over the Vikings QB spot early in the year after Sam Bradford suffered his nine hundredth serious injury.  Keenum did very well.  The problem is that he’s never been even close to being this good in any previous season.  He’s always been mediocre, even for a backup quarterback.  Maybe I should just throw caution to the wind and rate him higher, but I want to see more proof before I go any farther than this.

Keenum could become the first HOF quarterback that spent most of his career as a backup.  And I’m next in line for the throne in Westeros.

10. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) – The Jags were quite the story this season, as no one, including me, thought they could be this good.  The thing you hear most about Jacksonville is something along the lines of, “Imagine how good they could be if they had a REAL quarterback.”

My sense is that’s grossly unfair to Bortles, as he wasn’t at all terrible this season and for some games, he was quite good.  The rumor is that he’s, well, let’s just say he’s not the easiest guy to get along with.  I would think that having a quarterback with a bad personality is worse than having a weird personality like Cam Newton, but I’ve got a bias toward weird personalities, since I’ve got one myself.  But I also suspect that the whole personality thing is overblown.  Now that he’s had a chance to get his career back on track, I think he’ll become a nice, average or better NFL quarterback, but that’s probably his ceiling.

11. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) – While last year’s list had many future Hall of Famers, the bottom of the list was much worse than the bottom of this year’s list.  Tyrod Taylor is actually pretty good okay unembarrassing and there’s probably about fifteen ten three teams that would trade for him immediately if they could find a way to get him.  He seems like a good guy that’s overcome some limitations to make a nice NFL career.  Buffalo’s chances to get far in the playoffs aren’t good, but if they win a few games, I’d think that would improve his reputation.

12. Nick Foles (Philadelphia) – Like Keenum, Foles is a career backup that got his shot because of an injury to the starter, in this case Carson Wentz.  Or perhaps I should say ANOTHER shot.  I think this makes his third or fourth try at glory.  In some of his past quarterback lives, he’s looked very good, but he never seems to be able to sustain it.  The three games he’s played since becoming a starter have been a microcosm of his career.  The first game was really good.  The last two were really bad.  The Eagles have a good shot at getting to the Super Bowl despite his inconsistency, so he’s going to get some chances to win over his critics.

Carson Wentz would have rated fifth on this list if he were healthy.

Now it’s time for my fearless predictions for the playoffs this week:

Tennessee/Kansas City – Being a Chiefs fan this season has been a special type of brutal.  For five weeks, they were the best team in the NFL and for the next seven weeks, they were the worst team in the NFL.  It’s a rarely mentioned little secret that KC has looked very good in their last four games.  The Titans have one the best defenses in the NFL, so I don’t think it will be easy, but I expect the Chiefs to win 24-20

Atlanta/Los Angeles Rams – Playoff experience is one of those intangibles that’s just hard to put a number on.  Last year, Atlanta was expected to struggle because of a lack of playoff experience and they made it to the Super Bowl.  This year, the Rams are in the same boat.  I guess I have a little more faith in Matt Ryan than Jared Goff.  But just a little. Falcons – 35, Rams – 34.

Buffalo/Jacksonville – Ugh. I think I’ll take a nap while this one is on.  Two really good defenses and two struggling offenses.  Jacksonville – 3, Buffalo – 2.

Carolina/New Orleans – This one could be fun.  The Saints defense is good, but Carolina always seems to find a way to get enough points to stay close.  I think I’ll go with the home team. Saints 31-23.

Opening Presents

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I was a weird kid.  Fortunately, the weirdness didn’t extend to torturing animals or making explosives, but I did a lot of stuff as a routine habit that, at the very least, neither of my sisters did and I doubt that many of my peer group did as well.  One of these odd habits first manifested itself on Christmas day around the age of ten.  I’d wake up early and roust myself out of bed when all was completely quiet around the house.  By “early,” I mean relatively speaking.  It was usually around eight o’clock.  When allowed to do so, my sisters could sleep until noon and my parents stayed up late on Christmas eve putting presents under the tree.  They were nowhere to be found.  I’d silently step out to the living room and turn on all the lights hung on the Christmas tree and around the fireplace.  Occasionally, if I thought I could get away with it without getting into trouble, I’d light some of the 16,000 candles my mother had carefully placed around the room as Christmas decorations.  Mom didn’t believe that there was such a thing as overdecorating when it came to Christmas and I’m sure that our living room was probably the most festively attired place in Butler County.  Perhaps you could include several of the surrounding counties as well.

The effect was completely awesome.  We lived in the country and the living room windows overlooked a scenic view to the west of the house.  With the morning sunlight filtering over the top of the house against the prairie backdrop and the lights and candles illuminating the living room, the place would almost glow with warmth and beauty.  I’d get something to drink from the kitchen and find a comfortable chair and just sit and watch.

Depending on the circumstances, the “sit and watch” portion of this exercise could go on for a while.  Sometimes we had places to go and the grandparent’s house was a three hour trip, so on those days I wouldn’t have to wait long before the household was in frantic motion as we tried to get out to the car at a decent hour.  Other times, I might just be sitting there absorbing all the glory of the scene for over an hour.

I hope I’ve done this slice-of-life scene justice.  It was wonderful as a kid and I still do my Christmas day “early wake-up call” an adult, when circumstances allow.  The problem with this tale is that, if the story ended there, the gifts never get opened.

Christmas is when Christians celebrate the ultimate gift, God giving Himself to save us from ourselves.  But that gift comes with a whole lot of other gifts.  I suppose eternal life would be at the top of the list, but the list goes far beyond that.  Total forgiveness, complete peace, a new life, a real purpose and destiny, the list literally never ends.  Some of those gifts require almost nothing more than for us to sit and watch and enjoy them.  But eventually, if we’re really going to fully live the life that God wants us to live, we’re going to have to get moving.  Eventually we’re going to have to open some presents.

So, finally, Merry Christmas to you, dear reader.  And tomorrow, as you open up the gifts around the tree, don’t neglect to seek out and open all the gifts that God desperately wants you to open.  It will be worth it.

The Christmas Show

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I can sometimes be a bit critical of my adopted home town, and I have been often enough in this blog.  However, the town truly does have an adorable streak, and I’m not just saying that because of all of the threats to burn down my house.  Well, at least that’s not the only reason.  Perhaps its most wonderful characteristic is its ability to do Christmas right.  In a post from last year, I mentioned the annual Christmas Festival, a sweet and quaint affair that usually attracts a pretty sizable crowd and did so again this year.  I should probably as an aside mention that I made good on my promise in that post to get through the year without punching a mime in the face.  I’ve made a similar promise for next year and I’m cautiously optimistic about doing it again.  Interestingly, that’s not the only Christmas event in town, or even the biggest.  Five years ago, a local church (the same one with the aforementioned mime troupe) decided to do their own Christmas show, a three day event in the middle of December.  It consists of a series of living outdoor dioramas, each depicting an event in the Christmas story.  The first year they did it, it was more of a local thing, with almost no advertising beyond the large sign in front of the church.  It has since grown into a major event, with advertisements on electronic billboards all over the Wichita metro area.  Attendance is usually pretty good and probably a little better than the Christmas festival, which is more of a community only event.

Setup for this event starts in October and requires a rather sizable amount of effort.  I know this because I drive by the church on my way to and from work every weekday and the hive of activity is impressive to behold.  Since I get this nearly daily reminder of the event, I’m always making a mental note to add it to my calendar, but something always gets in the way.  The first two years, it was inertia.  For the third year, I actually got to the parking lot on the last day, but it was pretty late in the schedule and I didn’t have the patience to wait in line.  Last year, we had a cold snap the weekend of the show which ran counter to my desire to not freeze to death.  They could have been passing out gold coins at the door and that wouldn’t have been enough incentive for me to stand in line in the subzero wind chill, or to spend half a hour visiting the each of the outdoor stations.  Call me a wimp (and many have, but not specifically for this), but that’s just asking a bit too much.  This year, the temperature was a toasty 45 degrees, so I gave it another shot.

The plan was to get there before the 6:30 opening, but home events interceded and I didn’t arrive until 6:45.  As it happened, that was too late. There were already about a hundred people lined up outside the church when I got there.  But this year I was determined to see it through, so I took a deep breath and grabbed my place in line.  It took me about thirty minutes of slowly shuffling along and occasionally checking my cell phone to see how my fantasy football team was doing before I finally reach the door. When I reached the door, I realized that the line inside the church was actually longer than the line outside. Once again, I thought about heading back to the car before taking another deep breath and stepping inside.

That part of the line took another 40 minutes, but at least my fantasy team was doing well so it didn’t seem so bad.  When I finally reached the end of the line, a group of 30 of us was hastily escorted down a hallway and stuffed into a small room.  Once seated, we were given a brief lecture on show decorum.  Stay with your guide at all times, we were warned.  Stay clear of the horses, who were rookies to the show and deemed somewhat unpredictable.  The other animals, which consisted of a camel, a donkey, and a few sheep and goats, would be okay for children to pet as long as the children were supervised.  Don’t step into the numerous fire pits placed at strategic locations around the churchyard.  I thought that last one would be obvious, but there were numerous small children in attendance, so it didn’t hurt to actually say it.  Finally, we were instructed to turn off our cell phones.  I ruefully pulled mine out and shut it down.  No more fantasy football for the evening.

Then our guide arrived, an elderly gentleman sporting flowing white and blue robes and a fake Jewish accent.  He told us his name was Tobias, or maybe Tobiah.  I was never quite sure how he was pronouncing it and I think he might have been alternating between the two.  We started in Nazareth and worked our way around the churchyard to all of the various scenes from the Nativity, all the while dodging angry Roman soldiers, some on foot and some on horseback.  Most of the acting was actually pretty good, although Herod didn’t seem nearly sinister enough.  However, the star of the show was clearly the camel.  The other animals were visibly bored with the proceedings and three days of nonstop human interaction had taken their toll, but the camel was eating up all of the attention.  He would pace around his pen for a while and then stop next to the fence and allow the kids to pet him and the parents to take a picture.  Then he’d go back to pacing again while simultaneously maintaining a regal demeanor.  Our guide told us he was from a faraway land called “Tanganyika.”  That was an inside joke for the locals.  On the west side of Wichita, there is a local zoo called the Tanganyika Wildlife Park.  The last stop was at the manger with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the baby Jesus.  We sang a carol and got a quick altar call style of message from the guide, who mercifully dropped the fake accent for his closing speech.  Then we hustled out of the chill into the church, where there were snacks and liquid refreshments.  It was getting past my bedtime, so I didn’t linger.

Once I got home (about an hour later than expected), my wife asked if all the trouble was worth it and I said that it was.  Despite the long lines and the lack of updates on my fantasy team, I’d actually enjoyed myself. Then she asked if I would go back next year. I surprised her by saying no.

I might change my mind if they starting handing out gold coins.

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