Saturday, December 24, 2011

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen ... and everyone else as well

Are we all aware that for the simple positioning of a comma, the entire meaning of one of our most beloved Christmas carols would take on an entirely different meaning?

It's true. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is, I'm sure, in our heart of hearts of Yuletide tidings (say that 10 times fast). But it doesn't mean what we all think it means, and it's because of where the comma goes.

You see, it's not "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen ..." it's "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

Same words ... comma one word over.

The first version would seem to mean be at peace, merry gentlemen, as you celebrate Christmas. The second ... correct ... version leaves room for a bit of a more robust celebration. In this case, "God Rest Ye Merry" doesn't mean "be at peace" at all. It means by all means, make merry the celebration of Christmas. You know ... eat, drink, and revel in the company of your friends and families.

I have to say I like version No. 2 ... the correct ... version much better.

This is one of many Christmas carols/songs that are either misinterpreted, or that translate badly into English, or that simply make no sense at all no matter what language you're talking about.

For example. Let's discuss "The First Noel." First of all, despite the use of the word "Noel," this is actually an English carol. Which makes it even more confusing. You could excuse the obtuse lyrics if someone told you they were translated from some old French verse. But how to you explain this line: "On a Cold Winter's Night that was so deep."

OK. Are we missing a line here? What was deep? The snow? It could be, but there's no mention of snow in the song ... and if the baby Jesus was, indeed, born in Bethlehem, it doesn't snow there very often. In fact, a cursory google of Israel and weather says that it only snows regularly in Golan Heights. Bethlehem has more of a Mediterranean climate, which means generally cold and rainy winters.

So maybe the "deep" refers to the manure in the barn where the Baby Jesus was born. Who knows? Or maybe the author was trying to convey the message that the birth of Jesus was a profound event in the history of man, and, hence, very deep. But we're getting way to analytical here.

Next on the agenda to discuss is "Silent Night," which has a rather fascinating history all of its own. It was written by an Austrian priest in 1816 and set to music two years later in Oberndorf when the organ at St. Nicholas' Church broke down on Christmas Eve. It was intended to be played at Midnight Mass with a simple guitar accompaniment.

And from those humble beginnings it has become, arguably, the most beloved Christmas carols of them all.

But that's not why we're discussing it here. We're discussing it because of the line "Round Yon Virgin, Mother and Child." This has to be a case of German being translated badly into English, because I defy anyone to tell me what-all that means.

Reminds me of the story about the kid bringing home a drawing he did at school of the nativity, with the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep, shepherds, the three kings, and this grotesque, hulking figure looming in the background.

"Who's that?" the kids mother asks.

"That's Round John Virgin," the kid replied.

My guess is that "Round Yon Virgin, Mother and Child," means "behold Mary and Jesus." Can't think of what else it could mean.

Let us proceed. "Away in a Manger" actually has two tunes with the same set of lyrics for both. One is written by someone named Murry, or Mueller, and is based loosely on a Strauss waltz. The second, which is also in 3/4 times, was written by William J. Kilpatrick in 1895. And while the tunes are radically different, they actually counterpoint each other quite well.

In 1865, English writer William Chatterton Dix had a near-death experience and, as a result, was confined to months of bed rest. He wrote many hymns during that period, including one in which he put lyrics to the tune of the popular folk song "Greensleeves." That became, of course, "What Child is This," which has the distinction of being covered quite eloquently in the 1970s by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues.

A lot of these songs are steeped in history. Did you know, for example, that "Joy to the World" was based partly on a refrain from Handel's "Messiah?" Yes, indeed. Not the entire song, perhaps, but the chorus "Let heaven and nature sing ..." was taken from the refrain "Comfort Ye" from the famous oratorio ... the same one that gave us the Hallelujah Chorus."

As Casey Stengel would say, "you could look it up." I did.

Now, speaking of odd little histories, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" is certainly unique.

It was originally written as a somber, solemn piece of music. But it was later changed to the more majestic tune we know and love today. And much of that tune was ripped off from a piece by composer Felix Mendelssohn (who brought us the traditional wedding recessional from "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," among other things). And when Mendelssohn wrote it, it was a cantata celebrating Gutenberg's invention of the printing press.

But the first time I heard it, I thought it was about some guy named Harold.

If some of the traditional carols have roundabout histories, so do our more secular songs. "Silver Bells" was ostensibly written about hearing the Salvation Army bell-ringers that are ubiquitous in New York during the holiday season (you won't find this one in Wiki ... I heard it from a Salvation Army captain during a rotary club luncheon).

The word "Christmas" never appears in "Winter Wonderland." Yet it is one of our most enduring season songs ... at least in the Northern hemisphere.

A personal favorite here is "Sleigh Ride," by Leroy Anderson, who wrote some hundreds of light concert pieces, such as "The Syncopated Clock" and "Buggler's Holiday" that were introduced by his good friend Arthur Fiedler via the Boston Pops.

"Sleigh Ride," another piece where you'll be looking all day if you seek to find the word "Christmas" in the lyrics, wasn't even written in the winter at all. It was written as an orchestral piece during a July heat wave, with lyrics, depicting a simple generic winter scene, added later. Thus, it would appear Anderson wrote "Sleigh Ride" for the same reason I might break out the DVD to "Fargo" in the middle of August ... to simulate the feeling of being able to cool off.

If you want your head to really spin, look up the origin and explanation of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Nobody's sure whether it's English or French, and the words are different depending upon which version you hear. In one there are twelve drummers drumming; and in another it's nine drummers drumming and twelve fiddlers fiddling.

This would generally speak to the belief that the song got its beginnings as one of those parlor games where everyone has to go around repeating all the stuff they'd heard prior until someone finally slips up.

And, of course, the simple scope of the gifts, and what receiving them would do to the poor person who receives them, has been the subject of many spoofs.

And then there's "We Three Kings of Orient Are." This is actually an American carol written in the mid 19th century by an Episcopalian priest in New York. And although the words are pretty ponderous (field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star ...) they make sense. They were written for a Christmas pageant, and they actually tell a story.

But I can never hear it without laughing, because I think kids of all ages, and all locales, learned to sing it this way: We three kings or orient are ... tried to smoke a rubber cigar ... it was loaded and exploded ..."

I know. I know. Dumb. But when you're 11, dumb is entertaining.

Finally, Christmas isn't Christmas without hearing certain songs. If I don't hear "Do You Hear What I Hear" at least once, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holiday season is incomplete. But here's the caveat: I can hear any one of a hundred different versions of the song, but the only one I care about is Der Bingle's. There's something about Crosby and Christmas.

It's just a nice song, with a nice sentiment. But when you find out why it was written, it just punches you right in the stomach. It was written in 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And its authors couldn't perform it without getting choked up because, as one of them put it, "you must realize we were under the threat of nuclear war at the time."

But when it comes to Der Bingel, his recording of "White Christmas" remains the best-selling single of all time. It was written by Irving Berlin and it pretty much symbolizes an old-fashioned Christmas the same way his "God Bless America" symbolizes patriotism (but did you know that Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" as a response to "God Bless America?").

What I find ironic, however, is that we all sing "White Christmas" like it's some kind of idyllic dream, yet if the weatherman even mentions the word "snow" in the days leading up to Christmas, we act as if someone snatched the Christmas pudding right out from under us.

Another "must hear:" "Father Christmas" by the Kinks, which kind of shatters the idyllic Christmas myth to smithereens and gets down to gritty reality: Leave all the toys to the little rich boys and give me money. Then there's "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake, which speaks to a number of issues: The commercialization of the holiday and the loss of childhood innocence associated with it. Following along, we have a very eclectic selection that includes poppy pieces like "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Little St. Nick" by the Beach Boys (which Brian Wilson actually once sang during a concert in the middle of July); twisted pieces such as "Christmas Wrappings" by the Waitresses and "A Christmas Song" by Jethro Tull; and Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas, War is Over" was written and recorded in 1971, with the Harlem Boys Choir providing the backing. It was kind of a combination protest and Christmas song written as the Vietnam War was raging.

But its tune was actually taken from a traditional folk song about a racehorse called "Stewball," that was sung by, among others, Peter, Paul and Mary.

Of course, the song became an instant Christmas staple in 1980 after Lennon was shot to death in New York. The other irony: Yoko Ono sings on this record. You can hear her loud and clear. In Lennon's life, she was reviled as the "woman who broke up the Beatles," yet now, all these years later, she has emerged as an almost sympathetic figure in the group's historical dynamic.

By the time John Williams stepped down as conductor of the Boston Pops I was pretty tired of him. That's because he'd always manage to sneak one of his own compositions into just about every concert, and with such a wide and distinguished palate on which to paint, I thought he slanted his concerts with too much ego. It would be like telling Picasso he could host an art show, telling him he had access to every classic ever painted, and seeing half his cubist paintings speckle the gallery.

This doesn't mean Williams was/is a hack, or that Picasso was a bad artist. It just means that John maybe could have stepped aside once in a while and featured someone else other than himself.

Yet Williams did write one of my very favorite Christmas songs, simply called "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas." I first heard it in the closing credits of "Home Alone 2," but the Pops usually play it during their Christmas show every year (yes, even with Keith Lockhart at the podium) and it captures the spirit of the season very well.

After today, they'll all be put in a box and kept on ice until, I don't know, next October. Radio stations and department stores seem to trot them out earlier and earlier every year, which really does nothing except defeat the purpose behind what makes them special in the first place. And while I know that the never-ending debate over whether we should even acknowledge the religious aspects of Christmas at all in public seems to be more divisive each year, there's no denying that, as music, a lot of these carols are very beautiful and peaceful, and that they reconnect you to your childhood faster than any other single thing you experience.

I hope they're around to enjoy for many years to come ... and that ever-encroaching commercialism doesn't eventually blunt completely their singular purpose in our lives.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Things I could do without ...

I don't want to say these things make me angry, per se, but here are a few things I could do without if I had my choice ...

Holiday trees and holiday parties. You know what? The name of the holiday is Christmas. Or it's Hanukkah. Or Quanza. Or something else. Calling something a "Christmas Tree," or holding a "Christmas party" isn't violating anyone's constitutional rights. Nobody's going to indoctrinate you, or try to shove the religious significance of Christmas (or Hanukkah) down your throat. People just go, have a good time, swap stories, have a few drinks and good conversations, exchange gifts (perhaps), and go home.

We've run so far afield of what the U.S. Constitution says about religion and the government that we've eviscerated just about every meaningful Christmas symbol there is ... and I'm not even talking about the overtly religious ones. Santa Claus? Christmas trees? Are we serious? And is it any wonder why, in this country, we can't get a single thing done if we're spending so much time stumbling around the English language trying to find substitutes for the word "Santa" and "Christmas?"

What makes this so tough to deal with is the minute someone comes up with another sickeningly politically correct substitute for word "Christmas," the religious righties come out of their holes and start lecturing us on what horrible people we are because we've taken Christ out of Christmas.

Surely there must be a happy medium here where we can all exist without this phony angst over what we call Christmas. It's just needless nit-picking.

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Onward and upward.Tim Tebow. It is, of course, his right to kneel down and thank God every time he leads the Denver Broncos to another comeback victory. And he seems genuine about it.

Yet you can’t blame people who might not feel as devout about God’s role in professional sports from being a little put off by what has come to be known as “Tebowing.”

Personally, I can do without all the “Tebowing.”

Maybe I wouldn’t feel as strongly as I do on this subject if I hadn’t heard Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox try to say it was God’s will that the Red Sox choked up a seemingly insurmountable lead in the American League wild card last September. For as many Tim Tebows as there are, there are just as many Adrian Gonzalezs too. And perhaps with that seismic split in sentiment over God’s role in sports, maybe we’d all be better off leaving Him – in this case, at least – to the priests, theologians, and the various churches and temples we attend.

Every time I see Tebow Tebowing, I’m reminded of the parable about the Plebeian and the Pharisee in the temple. It goes something like this: A Plebeian and a Pharisee go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee (and if you read the new testament much, you know that Jesus often pointed out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy) goes right up front and starts talking about how wonderful he is, how he contributes to all these charities, and how he works mightily to spread the word of God and to keep his commandments. He even says he’s thankful he is who he is, and that he’s not a gentile, and certainly not the Plebeian at the other end of the church.

The Plebeian sits in the back says, simply, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Jesus, as the Bible points out, much preferred the latter. He was not impressed with people who wore their faith on their sleeves like some kind of a cudgel or a badge. He much preferred people like the Plebeian, who acted with humility and who did the best they could to acknowledge, and work on, their imperfections.

Tebow is a great story, and no one loves a great story more than me. We could get into the whole aspect of how Tebow’s been helped immeasurably by a very good defense … very bad opponents (in terms of talent, not comportment) … and very stupid decisions on the part of the Chicago Bears. How do you run out of bounds when you lead by three points, and there’s only a minute and change to go in the game?

(Then again, as someone pointed out to me last night, “that’s when you begin to wonder whether there’s any divine intervention going on here.”)

These are facts, to be sure, but they’re not so exclusive that they should get in the way of what has been a marvelous story. This is a guy scorned by everyone from his own coach to the joker du jour on ESPN/the NFL channel/the guy down the street/every Oakland Raider fan. He finally got his chance, and – not to wear out a very shopworn clich√©, but – all he’s done is win.

It’s also easy to point out that there are buckets full of quarterbacks who have led their teams in fourth-quarter comebacks, and none perhaps more famous than the guy who sits up in the booth during ever Broncos game … Mr. “The Drive” himself … John Elway.

Every good quarterback the NFL has ever seen has a cachet of fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit, from Jim Kelly to Bart Starr to Dan Marino to Kenny Stabler to Joe Montana to Peyton Manning to Tom Brady and even Eli Manning … has engineered fourth-quarter comebacks. Even Tony Romo -- the greatest quarterback never to have won even a conference title let alone a Super Bowl (he said with sarcasm) – has brought his team back in the fourth quarter.

The difference between all of them and Tebow is that regardless of how and why they got their breaks, they are classic quarterbacks in the NFL mold. Tebow is not. And that’s what makes this such a compelling story. He was thrown into the breach because the Broncos had nobody else, and – you can be sure – the sentiment was “OK, let’s give him this shot, so that when he falls flat on his face, we’ll never have to hear about him again.”

Only he hasn’t fallen flat on his face.

Just like Michael Vick was last year’s compelling NFL story, this year’s is Tim Tebow. And just to add to the irony even further, compare and contrast the two personalities. Vick … dog fighting … prison … baggage to go along with his baggage. Tebow … God.

Could there be a more striking contrast?

Still, he needs to ditch the showy demonstrations of faith lest that become the bigger story than anything he does on the field.

Yesterday, while Tebow was leading Denver to another comeback win, Matt Ryan did the same for the Atlanta Falcons. When he was asked about it afterward, Ryan simply said, "I have great teammates."

Amen.

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Saturday, after about three months, Occupy Boston came to an end with about the most peaceful raid you could imagine. The occupiers squatted on a piece of public property named for Rose Kennedy (which is somewhat ironic, since if there's any family in politics that likes to make its empathy with the have-nots more apparent than the Kennedys, I'd like to know who).

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Occupy Boston. A lot. But one thing I could certainly do without is the knee-jerk hate that seemed to grow the longer this movement lasted.

Here's a news bulletin: Protest ain't pretty. It never was ... and it'll never be. Sometimes, I wonder just what earth we think when we glorify such protests as the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre as the act of American patriots whose sacrifice helped form a country.

All of that is true, of course. The patriots did what they did at great peril to themselves, and also knowing the risk they were taking in fanning the flames of the established order (in this case, the British). But in 1770, before history had a chance to sort it all out and cast Sam Adams and Co. as the patriots they’ve grown to be, the Boston Tea Party was a blatant act of civil disobedience … a crime, actually … that was far more destructive than anything the Occupy Bostonians did.

I have no problem with people wishing the occupiers would all go home and wash up (though, to me, that was an oversimplification of the issue). And count me among those appalled at the amount of damage they did to a beautiful section of Boston greenery. That aspect of it is truly unfortunate, and one would hope that anyone among the occupiers with the means to contribute toward the Greenway’s restoration would just do so. There is such a thing as accountability.

Yet, there was ample overreaction too. One Boston newspaper’s idea of a big picture to illustrate the occupation was of a discarded hypodermic needle. No explanation. No effort to find out what the needle may have been used for. It looked like the type of needle I used every day to inject insulin into myself, and it there’s no way of knowing whether that was the case here.

Yet the insinuation, by running it, of course, is that these people were all druggies and hippies. And that’s just irresponsible (almost as irresponsible as it was to leave the needle out there in the first place).

Among the more lucid criticisms of the occupiers was that their message wasn’t clear enough. Nobody knew what they were protesting because they never articulated it.

This might come as a shock to some people, but in this age of 30-second updates and sound bytes, “articulate” means anything that can be reduced to a snippet that can be run between commercials, or something that’ll fit neatly on a scroll at the bottom of your TV screen. Either that, or a 140-words-or-less tweet.

So holding them accountable for their “lack of message” is misleading. There was just so much to protest that it wasn’t possible to capsulate it into the type of sound byte we've all come to expect in this era of concise communication. And even if they tried to expound on their unrest, let’s be honest. After about a minute, people today stop listening.

I'm sure if I had to stumble around them every day I'd have found them more and more irritating as the time went by. Thankfully, I didn't have to. But I'm reminded that I've lived through horrendous civil rights protests where people actually got KILLED. I've lived through ugly, ugly, anti-Vietnam War protests that culminated in events such as Kent State, and saw public buildings bombed by radicals.

Nothing any of these protesters did came close to that.

Change isn't forged by timid people. Change comes as the result of protracted public unrest. To those who can't wrap themselves around this, do us all a favor and read your history. Nobody woke up one morning and said, "you know, slavery isn't a territorial issue, it’s not about “property,” and it isn’t a matter of states' rights; it's simply wrong on every level you can imagine." If they had, maybe we wouldn't have had to fight the Civil War over it.

And if protest meets with everyone's convenience, then it isn't much of a protest. It isn’t supposed to keep people in their comfort zones. Its very nature is to eject people from their comfort zones, and startle them as much as possible. Again, let’s read our history. We’d still be British subjects today had people such as John and Sam Adams hadn’t pushed and pushed, and ruffled feathers, and made people uncomfortable, and outraged them into action.

There’s a great scene in the play “1776” in which the members of the Continental Congress are debating the Declaration of Independence. Each passage meets with a sentiment among certain members of the congress that “the king might find that offensive.”

Finally, John Adams throws his hands up in disgust.

“Good GOD,” he cries out. “This is a revolution. We have to offend SOMEBODY.”

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Finally … are we getting a little carried away with an excessive reliance on “zero tolerance” as a panacea for all that ails us?

I can see cases where it’s absolutely necessary. There should be, for example, zero tolerance on matters of bullying, taunting, helmet-to-helmet hits in football, swinging your stick wildly in hockey, beanballs in baseball, and hard, flagrant fouls in basketball.

Any action, in any arena, designed specifically to hurt, humiliate or intimidate defenseless people should never be tolerated, and shame on anyone who would possibly disagree with that.

But sometimes, in our zeal to be fair, we really get in the way. I counted at least four penalties in Sunday’s Redskins-Patriots game that were just idiotic, and just so you know where I’m coming from, half of them were called on Washington.

But the reason for writing this comes from an incident in Massachusetts during the high school Super Bowls. In one game, a kid from Cathedral High School was running, unabated and unmolested, for the go-ahead touchdown when he, for a moment, pumped his fist in the air. He didn’t aim it at anyone, didn’t turn to look at anyone, he was just genuinely happy that he was putting his team ahead in the game.

He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and the touchdown was taken off the board (per a new rule that makes such penalties spot fouls as opposed to dead-ball fouls, which are assessed on the next play). The kid threw an interception on the next play, and even though there were six minutes to go in the game (which is, in high school football, constitutes more than half of the fourth quarter), Cathedral could never recover and lost the game.

What did the kid do that was so wrong? He didn’t taunt anybody. The display of joy wasn’t excessive (he may have had his hand up for two strides before dropping it back down). And it just seems that this is one case where you’re penalizing natural human reaction as opposed to orchestrated, intentional bad sportsmanship. And to me, that is wrong.

Of course, there IS another side. The first one is that these teams were warned repeatedly that anything that even remotely seemed like excessive celebrating – especially while the play was still going on – would be subject to a spot foul penalty. They all knew that going in … or should have known.

The second one is that the boy in question had already been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the game. So it’s quite possible the referee was keeping an extra eye on him and gave him no wiggle room when he showed his momentary lapse of judgment on this play.

Still, there’s a difference between being a bully on the field (in the manner of cheap shots or verbal taunting) and natural human exuberance. And the day we start making natural human exuberance an infraction is the day we need to blow the whole thing up and start over.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A mixed bag of observations ...

An extremely eclectic mixed bag of observations today … all over the board, as it were …

To begin, I don’t like Bobby Valentine and never did. There’s a difference in this world between someone who is genuinely charismatic (such as Bill Parcells) and a huckster.

I’d put Bobby V in the second category. Bobby V’s only concern in life is Bobby V.

Whatever problems that Red Sox clubhouse had in September will not be solved by Valentine’s presence. In fact, he might create a few more. People can say what they want about Terry Francona, but whatever he did worked for eight years and five months before it went sour in the final month of his final year here. That would lead me to believe it was the athletes, and not the manager, who caused the problem.

Francona had an air about him that said “as bad as things seem, we have ’em under control.” Maybe he underestimated the size and depth of the problems last September, but it was the only time in eight years that he did. The rest of the time, his reassuring steady hand was a stabilizing force in that lockerroom.

If it’s between you and Valentine, expect to be run over by a Peter Pan. Because he’ll throw you under it as fast as he can roll you over.

It’s going to be an interesting two years.

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I really don’t care about the NBA all that much unless it looks like the Celtics are going to do well. That said, however, one of the things I’d have missed if there wasn’t an NBA season was Doc Rivers.

Doc is the antithesis of Bobby Valentine and Bill Belichick … two guys who, I think, have begun to believe that they were put on this earth to reinvent their respective games (in Valentine’s case, he came out of the womb believing that).

Doc seems to be an even-tempered guy … most of the time. He doesn’t exist for his own self-aggrandizement. He doesn’t believe he walks on water. If you ask him a question, he can give you a civil, insightful answer without making it appear that you’re the dumbest person on earth (as opposed to the way Belichick took a reporter apart the other day for asking whether you can accurately gauge your group of guys if they manhandles the worst team in the league).

Yet there’s no doubt Doc gets his point across when he needs to. Nobody ever accuses Doc of being a “players’ coach,” or of coddling and enabling the troops.

Last spring, when it looked as if Rivers might call it a day here, there were plenty of fans and reporters who really dreaded that decision. And we were all happy that he reconsidered and re-upped.

So if no one else has put it this bluntly: Welcome back, Doc.

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Like I said … eclectic …

Back in the day, Barney Frank was one of the most entertaining figures in politics. Even as far back as when he was a state legislator, Frank had a fiercely caustic wit. He could cut you, and you wouldn’t even know you were bleeding until after he wiped the blood off the knife and put it back into the drawer.

His style certainly belied the image of the namby-pamby liberal who was too weak-willed, or lacked testosterone, to fight his battles in the big, bad world of politics.

But Barney always did what he did with joy and élan. You never got the sense that he felt what he did was drudgery, or that he felt the huge albatross of obligation each day he got out of bed. He took on every battle with gusto, and if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in a blaze of glory.

Last November, he survived – barely by his previous standards – a re-election fight against Sean Bielat, a U.S. Marine veteran and a businessman. He won re-election by 11 percent, and the margin, lower than his customary blowouts, could be attributed to the fact that the Republicans targeted him as Public Enemy No. 1 in the 2008 financial meltdown for arguing against implementing stronger oversight over Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. At the time, Frank said that neither mortgage giant was in any difficulty.

Hindsight being what it is, it’s obvious Frank was wrong. And politics being what they are, it's obvious Frank was not going to come out of this unscathed. Whether that’s fair or unfair isn’t the point. It’s an issue on which he was fair game for debate and interpretation.

He didn’t like it. His acceptance speech reflected his dislike for the attacks that Bielat and the Republicans leveled against him. It was obvious, listening to him that night, that the fun had gone out of it for him. And for a guy like Frank, who delighted in the byplay that makes politics such a spectator sport sometimes, that was a bad sign.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now that he’s stepped down. Times are changing, even here in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. No one could have predicted Scott Brown would now be occupying the seat in the Senate that Ted Kennedy had for 47 years. It’s hard – even now – to wrap yourself around the fact that Massachusetts’ best shot at making Brown a one-term senator (well, not EVEN a one-term senator) rests in Elizabeth Warren, who certainly has the chops to do it, but is still – in the world of Massachusetts politics – a virtual unknown.

But I think it was time for Frank to walk away. It’s obvious he doesn’t have the stomach for it anymore. And when that happens, especially in politics, it’s time to go.

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I got into a discussion with a friend the other night about music, and how much it bothered me that entertainers like Ricky Nelson made rock ‘n’ roll “acceptable” to parents of 50s and 60s teenagers, whereas guys like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the scores of African-American entertainers who pioneered the whole R&B movement struck fear and terror in the hearts and minds of adults.

The discussion allowed me to articulate a feeling I’ve always had … and one that I’ve never been able to define. And that’s this: When I was a teenager, I didn’t like entertainers who tried to water down my music so that my mother and father would like it. In fact, I couldn’t stand them.

And I couldn’t stand Ricky Nelson, who was a principal villain in that regard.

I figure if I’m going to like something, I don’t need it “dumbed down” or cleaned up for me to relate to it. Either I like it, or I don’t. Either it speaks to me or it doesn’t. I don’t need the help. And I would also hope that any kid today would be just as horrified as I was at that age when someone like Arthur Fiedler tried to make "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" legitimate by having the Boston Pops record it. Hey, Arthur, I liked you a lot. But stick to playing Beethoven and leave rock 'n' roll to the experts. OK?

A few years ago, a friend’s son decided he was going to “open my eyes” By playing an Ozzy Osbourne CD while I was visiting. I think he thought I was going to recoil in horror, and that he’d, as a result, have a pretty good laugh at my expense.

Well, he picked the wrong guy that night. I’m not saying I knew every song, but I did have an appreciation for Ozzy and that genre. Why? Because I grew up listening to Alice Cooper. And for his time, Vincent Furnier was MUCH more daring and controversial (not to mention FUN) than Ozzy was in his. In fact, I thought Ozzy rather tame by comparison.

I think of Ricky Nelson and I think of all the white artists back in those days who shamefully exploited the African-Americans who could play, write, and sing rings around them.

Years later, I saw Nelson on the Boston Common, with the Stone Canyon Band, and it was the first time I realized he had any talent. I was so used to hating him for the fact that his father shoved him down our throats at the end of all those Ozzie and Harriet shows (props to him, also, for the brilliant “Garden Party,” in which he pretty much acknowledged that the only person he was into pleasing by then was himself).

Here’s where I am: I don’t really know, or like, a lot of today’s music. But I also think these things run in cycles, and right now we’re not in a very good one.

But at the same time, I think people around my age (58) also have to understand that popular culture isn’t designed for us. We had our time.

And what a time it was. The 1960s and early 1970s may have been the perfect confluence of popular culture and current events. But I’m not sure I’d even want to experience all the elements that made that such a special time, culturally, again. We’re talking about four significant U.S. assassinations in five years (JFK, Malcolm X, MLK and RFK), an unpopular (some would say immoral) war, a political shift that allowed Richard Nixon to ascent to the White House, and, ultimately, the vision of our nation’s military opening fire on its own citizens as if they were marching in Tiananmen Square in Beijing instead of Kent State University in Ohio.

Who wants to go through that again?

So to me, it’s understandable if boomers look down their noses at today’s popular culture. It’s taken a deep plunge, and there are so many reasons why … the biggest being that there just isn’t the awareness, or the passion, or even the interest in making ourselves heard these days. People just seem to blithely go along. That’s one reason why the “Occupy” movement caught on. Finally, there were people who refused to blithely go along.

In many ways, some of the more controversial rap songs (a genre that I can’t warm up to) from a few years ago reflected that restlessness, but in a rawer, more aggressive way. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recounted their angst in four-party harmony. Rappers reflect theirs to the incessant pounding of drums and by shouting out the lyrics. I prefer the former, but I get the latter.

I just don’t care for it.

But the only thing that would make it worse would be for some Pat Boone/Justin Beiber type to get up there and start singing rap, boy-band style. That’s just insulting. And to me, that’s what listening to Ricky Nelson sing Fats Domino’s “Walkin’” was. Insulting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lay off Tim Tebow ... and other random observations

Notes, quotes and anecdotes as I wonder whether Tim Tebow is for real ...

Speaking of Tebow, this whole mania that surrounds him reminds me of Doug Flutie.

Flutie was too short, Tebow is too unorthodox. But both seem to provoke some kind of pathological disdain that -- to me -- is pretty hard to comprehend.

I've been told (though I never saw it) that Flutie could tough to take. I know his fans were tough to take sometimes. But as far as he went, and how he performed, what's to hate? Maybe he wasn't the most orthodox quarterback ever, but when he was allowed to play to his strengths, he got it done. When coaches tried to force him into things that he simply couldn't do, he came up short (no pun intended).

That's pretty easy to understand. If you were to ask Tom Brady to play like Michael Vick, Brady would -- in the words of Denver Broncos coach John Fox -- "be screwed." So, Bill Belichick, no dummy, doesn't ask Tom Brady to play like Michael Vick. The offense is designed around Brady's strengths (classic pocket passer with decent ability to sidestep a rush, above-average intelligence, ability to make quick, accurate reads, etc.), and the team succeeds because of it.

Similarly, Fox has "tweaked" (his words) the Broncos offense to better take advantage of what Tebow does best. That's fine as far as it goes. But why qualify it by saying the kid would be "screwed" if he were to suddenly be forced to play as a pocket passer? Why damn him like that? Isn't it enough that the Broncos are 4-1 with Tebow back there? What -- other than Tebow's presence on the field -- has changed since the Broncos got off to that abysmal start?

Last night, Tebow and the Broncos offense were horrible for three-and-two-thirds quarters against an above-average defense (well, we keep hearing about how great the Jets defense is, but now it's reasonable to wonder whether that's just talk). But when he had to, he took the Broncos 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

I hate to trot out the old cliche, but it may apply in this case. All Tebow does is win. And in the end, who cares how that happens? The late-great Al Davis said it best. Just win, baby.

I could do without all the proselytizing. I'm not anxious to hear him thank his "his lord and savior Jesus Christ," and that's mainly because I don't think LASJC gives a crap about pro football. But other than that, he said all the right things in that post-game interview last night, despite clear attempts from that NFL Network panel to bait him.

Could be that the kid is the real deal. And if he is, put me down as happy.

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I go back and forth on this whole "Occupy-Every-American-Big City" movement. I understand it. And I think people who say "they need a better focus; they don't even know what they're protesting" are the ones who need a little education.

That's because it isn't "just one thing." It's everything. It's things that, as a liberal, I might support; and it's things that I might vehemently oppose. But what it is mostly is a protest against the fact that the United States is now so much of an oligarchy (as opposed to being a republic) that you'd have to be blind not to see it.

Fifty years ago, there was a minority of the American public that you could honestly say had no shot at making a better life for themselves than their parents had. The opportunities were there, and if you got educated and worked hard, you could thrive in this society.

Now? That minority isn't so small anymore, and is dangerously close to being a majority. More and more people are scrambling to make ends meet, and that includes the educated. Meanwhile, in the face of this crisis (and it is a crisis) you have politicians in Washington (and elsewhere) who would have you believe that if we can all just hold out for one more year until Big Bad Obama is out of the White House all our problems will be solved.

A pox on anyone who believes that. Well, a pox on the people who would have you believe it too, but anyone who buys that line is just as guilty.

The problems we have are years in the making. They transcend political parties. Both of them are equally responsible ... perhaps for different reasons, but in what end what does that matter? This is the result of a systematic failure on everyone's part.

When Obama first got elected, the Tea Party sprung up as a reaction to his policies, specifically the health care revisions. But to me, they seemed to be more interested in protecting their status quo than they were in forcing any kind of meaningful dialogue about solutions. And their presence is keenly felt in Congress now, as there's an entire bloc of newly-minted representatives who would vote "nay" on whether the sun was out if the president opined that it was.

How's that helping anything?

The Occupy Wall Street/Boston/Portland/Whatever else movement may be messy (most of the time democracy is messy), and I'm sure it's an inconvenience (and perhaps even a blight) for people who have to deal with them every day.

And I guess that's why I go back and forth. You can't just pitch tents and squat in Dewey Square in Boston forever. At some point, there has to be an end game, just like there is in war. The longer, and more open-ended these things go, the worse it gets, and better the chances of them ending badly. Or can anyone say "Tienanmen Square?"

But I sympathize with them totally.

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I have a Facebook friend who does daily trivia. About a month ago, his question involved "The Logical Song" by "Supertramp." And I don't know why, but that just made me go back and re-investigate all the Supertramp stuff I own, or remember, and I downloaded a bunch of songs off iTunes as a result.

I always hated "Take the Long Way Home" because I thought it was -- for them -- a little too Poppy. Supertramp are in the same category as Steely Dan to me. They were both capable of putting out some pretty damn sophisticated music back in "the day," and I didn't think "Take the Long Way Home" measured up.

But the more I hear it now (which is all the time, because I'm playing those Supertramp songs practically non-stop when I'm sitting around doing mindless idling on the computer) the more I like it. It's catchy. It has a nice hook. You can dance to it. And I read somewhere that Roger Hodgson considers it one of his favorites!

But for some reason, the song "Bloody Well Right" amuses me more than any of the others they did, and that includes "The Logical Song."

But the real question is: Am I nuts? Does anyone else go through these jags, where they just become thoroughly obsessed by one particular singer or group? It's weird.

One more thing about Steely Dan (I rediscovered them about 20 or so years ago, in much the same manner I rediscovered Supertramp ... by hearing "Botthisattva" on the radio at 2 in the morning), we all know that the two principals are Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. My question is: Is there any other rocker named Walter? It just seems like such an "un-rocker" name!

And where did you get those shoes???

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Between what went on at Penn State, and the new allegations concerning Syracuse University basketball, it's beginning to appear as if we should just blow up the entire college sports model and start over. Doesn't it?

Friday, November 11, 2011

So Rick had a brain cramp ... and other observations

This is going to sound weird, me defending Rick Perry. I can't think of any scenario where I'd ever vote for Rick Perry ... for anything.

But good God. Would people please let up on him about his brain cramp the other night? First of all, these debates are endless. I'm surprised more of these candidates don't stumble and fall verbally.

But he did. I may not like him. I may even loathe him. But on this, I have some sympathy. I have the same empathy for all candidates and politicians who misspeak. The pressure not to screw up is enormous. Think about it in your own lives. The minute the microscope is on you not to screw up, the odds of that happening just increase immeasurably. The entire situation changes. You can't relax.

Now, let's consider that you're crisscrossing the country (if it's Tuesday I must be in Dubuque, Iowa) and probably operating on minimal sleep. You're crossing time zones the way I cross the street every day. To top it off, you go to some auditorium, or TV network affiliate, somebody's pancaking makeup all over you, and the whole thing just seems like a daze.

I admit I laughed when I heard it. To Perry's credit, he did too. He's been a pretty good sport about it, actually ... something that even I, an avowed opponent of his, can appreciate. Score one for him.

Perry will survive this. Whether he survives the rest of his right-wing, militarily religious platform remains to be seen. I have more faith in the American people than a lot of people. I understand folks in the rest of the country are more conservative than we eastern liberals. I understand that liberalism in tough times is a tough sell. I understand our natural tendency, when things get tough, to circle the wagons, and I understand that less and less people can afford the type of benevolence and largesse liberalism espouses.

So in that sense, I don't have a problem with conservatives, provided they're based in some reality. There are many, many ways to get things done. And if Mitt Romney proves to be the guy we choose to do it, then Mitt Romney it is.

I just don't think that man will be Rick Perry ... and I don't think it has anything to do with making a gaffe in a debate. I think in the end, people are more discerning than they're given credit for, and I think they will reject Perry for much better reasons than because he forgot about one of the three things he'll eliminate if he's elected president (I think the fact that he wants to eliminate the education department is much scarier the fact he forgot about which of the other departments he wants to gas).

So can we please leave it alone and go back to our normal bloviating?

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The only thing I can add to the above: Mitt Romney is a Mormon, so I assume he believes in God. Otherwise, why call yourself anything?

But in the event he didn't believe in God, surely he must by now. He's been given two enormous gifts: Herman Cain's sexual harassment issues and, now, Perry's gaffe (which, despite my protestations, will probably hurt him among some of our more uncompromising electorate).

With Michelle Bachmann already on life support, I'd say that unless Newt Gingrich suddenly catches fire (and sometimes, Newt's a little too cute for his own good), this nomination looks like Mitt's to lose.

But then, I thought John McCain was dead in the water at this point in 2007, and I couldn't have been more wrong. So who knows. Things change awfully fast in politics.

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Got into an on-line debate with a couple of people on Kim Kardashian and her "now-you-see-it-now-you-don't" marriage to Kris Humphries. The jist of the issue was my naivete for being somewhat outraged over the whole charade, and how I thought it was uber disrespectful for the family to throw such a crassly lavish affair for something that proved to be such a farce.

I'm not naive. I don't watch reality shows, but I think I understand their concept quite well. To me, they represent the lowest of the lowest forms of entertainment, and cannot understand what people see in them. But apparently, our need to be diverted and entertained is so great that we numbingly accept such swill to be piped into our living rooms and family rooms. So be it.

But this whole "wedding" thing goes way beyond any of that. I'm of a generation whose parents took the whole wedding thing pretty seriously. Our wedding in 1977 cost $5,000, and I can only imagine how much more the same reception would cost today.

Fathers would literally spend their last pennies to make sure their daughters had classy, dignified weddings. This was no joke. It was a serious thing ... a true cause to celebrate, and to bring people together.

The crux of my outrage has more to do with the fact that the Kardashians made a mockery out of this aspect of it. Not that Kim and the basketball player couldn't stay married more than a second. I just think that when you juxtapose the fact that there are fathers all over America who can't afford even one-tenth of what the Kardashians spent on this farce (and I'm sure it kills them that they can't), it reeks of clueless obliviousness to see what these people spent on something they obviously cared nothing about in the long run.

Somewhere, Marie Antoinette is smiling broadly.

Then there's the guy who said, apparently in all seriousness, that the Kardashians actually did a good thing because of all the people they employed by putting on such a crassly lavish affair.

I don't even know how to respond to that one.

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Actually, my favorite Kardashian anecdote is that Mike Barnacle, formerly of the Boston Globe, used to call her father, O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian, "Skunkhead."

Look at a picture of him sometime. He had a white streak in the middle of a head full of dark hair. The name was amusingly appropriate, especially when you consider the con job his defense team did on that jury.

But, hey, at last Skunkhead knew when he was out of his league. He's the guy who brought Johnnie Cochran into the game.

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Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't think our soldiers, past and present, for what they do on our behalf.

This is a complicated subject for me. I'm one of those people who think that there has to be an indisputable moral compulsion to take up arms (well nothing's ever totally indisputable, but we're talking reasons that all but the extreme antiwar lunatic fringe could at least understand). And I'm not convinced that some of our most recent military ventures fit that definition.

Be that as it may, however, whatever ambivalence I may have about the use of force, it does not extend to the people asked to fight. Yes, it's a choice. Yes, these men and women join the service voluntarily, and, as such, understand the risk they take when they do.

But there are so many reasons to enlist in the military, and while all wars are tragedies, that doesn't mean you don't need a military for national defense.

So whether I agreed or disagreed with the Iraq War, I would never condemn the soldiers who fought in it. They did their duty, and, with rare exceptions, did it honorably.

The same goes for Vietnam too.

So today, a salute to all the soldiers who have made the sacrifice to go overseas and fight, regardless of the war, and regardless of any opinions about whether they should have been sent there. They all deserve our everlasting gratitude.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why stop at Joe Paterno?

It's becoming very evident that sexual abuse of children is the great equalizer in exposing the corruption of the various cultures that infect our most revered institutions.

Whether it's the Catholic church, youth sports and other activities, or, now, college athletics, there's one common bond that unites all of them: officials have, for years, looked the other way, when it came to the perhaps the most heinous crime adults can commit: preying on innocent children.

Not only have they looked the other way, they've -- either tacitly or overtly -- allowed such behavior to flourish. How else do you explain Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston sliding known sex-offending priests from parish to parish instead of, at the very least, kicking them out of the priesthood. And how else would you explain Joe Paterno, perhaps the prototype "old coach," who enabled his erstwhile assistant, Jerry Sandusky, to continue to allegedly molest young boys long after he was apprised of the crime?

Paterno, who easily had more power at Penn State than even the president of the university (remember, we're talking about the culture of college football, where the old coach is akin to God himself), conveniently followed a chain of command he (and any coach) would have surely ignored under any other circumstances and told his athletic director of what he'd learned (through a graduate assistant) about Sandusky.

(Let's not forget, too, that at one time Sandusky was Joe Pa's trusted aide de camp and heir apparent.)

If this tragic episode doesn't bring squarely into focus the depth of the cesspool that is 21st century college athletics, I don't know what does. This isn't just an indictment against Paterno. Because while it's easy to say that a more enlightened coach might have reacted differently and gone to the authorities as soon as he learned about Sandusky's alleged acts, nobody knows that for sure. In fact, if anyone were to ask me, I'd say just the opposite. It's my guess that no big-time college coach would want his program blown up for any reason, no matter how serious. We are talking about the most golden of the golden geese here.

College football (and basketball too) brings millions of dollars to the universities that allow these systems to flourish. These are the ultimate fatted calves. Much of the economy in the communities where these universities reside base their economies on the tourism that their games create. Travel through South Bend, Indiana, sometime and you'll understand. It is a one-horse town with the University of Notre Dame sitting squarely in the middle of it. Five, six times a fall, people from all over the country descend on South Bend and vicinity, stay in the hotels, eat at the restaurants. And then they do it all over again in the winter with basketball.

It's no different in a place like Happy Valley, PA, or Ann Arbor, Michigan, or even Lincoln, Nebraska (certainly more diverse than Happy Valley, but the Cornhuskers are huge there, too).

So when something like this happens, heinous though it is, the first reaction is "we have to be careful here. One false move and we kill the golden goose."

It's no different than Cardinal Law shuffling pedophile priests around the archdiocese of Boston rather than allowing the proper authorities to handle these situations right away.

In this sense, Paterno -- as the head of the program -- is every bit as guilty as the other Penn State officials who were fired early this week of enabling Jerry Sandusky and ignoring his alleged victims. Does anybody really believe that Joe Paterno, winningest coach in NCAA football history, the man who would have, as of Saturday, coached more games than any other man in college football history, didn't have the authority to call the police if he saw, or even heard of, any possible misconduct on the part of Jerry Sandusky? This is what his defenders keep saying. It wasn't his job to deal with university investigations. That was the athletic director's job.

Baloney.

But the problem here isn't simply Paterno, and it isn't simply this particular case involving Jerry Sandusky, alleged pedophile. It's much bigger, and much sadder.

Look around. You will see, from coast to coast, systematic abuses of power at these schools, systematic rules violations, and systematic attempts by the coaches and the higher-ups, to cover up the transgressions. The fact that most of them involve recruiting violations doesn't really matter here. It's a culture that says winning, going to bowl games, and maximizing the revenue potential big-time college sports makes possible is more important that anything else. And that includes the welfare of minors unconscionably violated and exploited (allegedly!) by the likes of Jerry Sandusky.

And let us not forget something else. The second any of these allegations became public knowledge, what we saw Wednesday in the midnight firing of Paterno would have happened then, too. This is how these things work. Once the snowball starts rolling down the hill, it doesn't stop until it's picked up speed, grown in size, and trampled everything in its path. You wait. Herman Cain is toast too. He just doesn't know it yet. It's unfathomable to me that he doesn't, but that seems to be the case.

So isn't it a fair question to ask whether Joe Pa, upon hearing from his graduate assistant that his trusted assistant and friend was diddling kids in the shower, had a panicky eye on his legacy? Anyone who hangs around the game until he's 84, the way Paterno has, has to have an ego big enough to put himself ahead of just about everything else, regardless of what kind of an act he's putting on. Look at what a project it became to get Bobby Bowden out of Florida State.

Something tells me Joe Pa wasn't anxious to risk losing it all, so instead of blowing the whistle and diming Sandusky out (which would have put his entire program under a microscope and, quite possibly, cost him his job eight years sooner, before he ever got the chance to set all these records), he kicked the thing upstairs. He followed "procedure."

But then, he allowed Sandusky back onto the premises, even after he allegely knew of the accusations against the man. How do you do that? At the very least, I'd have thought he'd say to Sandusky "you're not allowed in here, ever. Maybe I can't nail you on something I've never seen you do, and maybe I'm hoping against hope that my assistant didn't see what he thought he saw. But dammit, Jerry, something went on in there and I don't want you in here."

But he didn't.

And that's unforgivable.

So when I see on TV an enraged group of Penn State students (most of them young men) kicking up a storm over Paterno's firing, I can only shake my head and wonder. Is the athletic prestige of the school worth more than its overall reputation as a safe place? Is it that important?

Or, more to the point, is Penn State's No.1 commodity college football? Does its importance in the overall academic scheme of things have more to do with bowl games and money raised than, say, cancer research?

Sadly we all know the answer to these questions. And that just brings me back to the beginning. This is an indictment against the corrupt culture that governs big-time college athletics as much as it is a scathing reflection on Joe Paterno and the people at Penn State who, rather than working toward putting an alleged sexual predator behind bars, tried instead to wish it away in order to preserve a legacy that, in hindsight, it didn't deserve anyway.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Problems with the Patriots?

Sunday wasn't a banner day in Patriots Nation. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the ball almost twice as long as the Pats in a 25-17 loss; and the fact that the game was even as close as the final score indicates is due more to the Steelers' ineptitude in the red zone than anything the Patriots did.

But let's be real. Before the season started, we had this one circled as a loss. At least I did.

You know how that goes. You examine the schedule and go right down the line ... win, lose, win, lose ... etc.

Thus far, I'm off one. I had them at 6-1 to this point, losing only to the Steelers. I had them at 13-3 for the season, losing only to the Jets at the Meadowlands, Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe that was optimistic, especially after they lost in Buffalo.

But honestly, do you see anyone on their schedule the rest of the way, other than Philadelphia, who scares you? The Giants? They could barely beat Miami.

I'm confident the Bills will come up here and lose ... and that the Patriots will easily defeat Miami wherever they play. I don't see Denver (and Tim Tebow) posing much of a threat, nor do I worry too much about the Washington Redskins ... who would appear to be done before they even reach the halfway point.

It's possible the Kansas City Chiefs could give them a game. They look as if they've turned the corner a little. But I'm counting on the Patriots' knowledge of Matt Cassel to carry the day.

So seriously? I say 12-4, which should be more than enough to make the playoffs and possibly win the AFC East.

The problem, however, is that once the Patriots get past these next two weeks, and can coast to the end of the season (except for Kansas City and Philadelphia), another problem looms. The playoffs.

In golf, you drive for show; you putt for dough. In baseball, you may win a lot of games on your offense, but good pitching will always beat good hitting. And bad pitching turns all-stars into losers.

Didn't we just see that? The Red Sox, for all the glitter in their batting order, lost because their starters forgot how to pitch. The Texas Rangers pulled a World Series fold reminiscent of the 1986 Red Sox because their relievers couldn't get anyone out when they needed to.

In football, offense may win you games, and even get you into the playoffs. But once you're there, you'd better have a mean, intimidating defense. And that, my friends, the Patriots do not have.

The Patriots have not won a playoff game since they beat San Diego in 2008 to make the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Giants primarily because New York had a snarling, mean, intimidating front four who could get after Tom Brady and make him do things he did not like to do (not to mention one fabulously lucky catch).

The reasons the Patriots haven't won are simple. Their defense isn't mean enough to win playoff football. Over the course of 16 games, they play enough bad teams so that their offense can overcome the defense's mediocrity. Plus, they've reached a point in their history, especially at home, where teams play scared against them (see Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 16).

There are enough bad teams on the Patriots' schedule that they should win 11 or 12 games even with this defense. But they don't play the Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals, both of whom have shown signs of having fierce defenses; and and if they play the Steelers again, it'll be in Pittsburgh again, unless the Steelers come down with the plague between now and then).

This spells trouble. Teams with even decent defenses beat them. Why? Because the Patriots' defenses can't stop ordinary offenses from accomplishing great things.

The Pats are 5-2, but lets examine that. They beat Miami (which no one else seems to have any trouble doing either), San Diego (the Chargers always find a way to lose up here), the Jets (somehow, if the Jets are still hanging around in January, their offense won't be in the same disarray it was earlier this season), the Oakland Raiders (which I thought, at the time, was a pretty good victory), and the Cowboys (who should have won the game, and would have had they not played scared). In every one of those games (even against Dallas), the defense had trouble getting off the field.

The Patriots, even when they were winning Super Bowls, always kept the other team's offense on the field for long periods of time. Rarely did they ever dominate the possession game. As Brady's career progressed, the Patriots morphed from being sort of a ball-control team to being one that lived and died with the big strike. That became very apparent when they signed Randy Moss.

They had a defense back then that lived and died with big plays too. Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, et al ... their forte was coming up with the right play at the right times. Perhaps way back in the beginning, when Richard Seymour was younger and not so prone to injury, that front four was imposing. But as time wore on, that defense relied on the instincts of its big play makers.

However, guys like Bruschi, Harrison, Vrabel, Teddy Johnson, Roman Pfeifer, Ry Law, and the rest, don't grow on trees. They are special. What makes them good is some combination of physical ability and smarts.

Same with Troy Brown. He was never most physically gifted guy the Patriots ever had. But he was smart. And he -- like the other aforementioned players -- knew how to win. They got it. They understood where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there, and what they were supposed to do once they got there.

Did Rodney Harrison ever take a bad angle on a ball, or a tackle? Doubtful. Did Law? Never.

Here's what I think: For six or seven years in the 2000s, the Patriots had something unique on defense. They had a special group of guys whose skills meshed with each other like a well-oiled piece of machinery. Whatever egos they had, they managed to submerge for the betterment of the team. That sounds trite, but the art of ego self-management is far easier said than done.

And try as Bill Belichick might, he probably will never get that combination of selfless-but-talented defenders ever again. Ever. That defense has to be taken apart and put back together from scratch. It needs some sort of cohesive theme to it, which it doesn't have now.

What the Patriots defense is is patchwork group of aging veterans -- castoffs, really -- who can't contribute on the field the way they used to; and a group of either inexperienced or overrated kids who just aren't cutting it. Of that group, only Jerod Mayo could take his place among the NFL elite at his position.

Here's where I think Belichick has a quandary going for himself: If he just decides to chuck it and rebuild through the draft, he runs the risk of depriving Brady that fourth Super Bowl championship ... the one that would really, truly cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats (though he may already be in that category now). Belichick may come across as an unsentimental sour old churl, but if you know anything about him, you know he has tremendous loyalty toward those who have been loyal to him.

Rather than just release Bruschi, he gave him the chance to announce his retirement with dignity and then praised him effusively when the time came. He did the same for Troy Brown.

And he should have. Bruschi and Brown were two football players. There was nothing about either of them that would a scout take notice. You had to see them over the long haul to appreciate what they brought to the team.

Brady is one better. He is another loyal soldier to Belichick who also happens to be among the smartest and most talented quarterbacks of his era. If Belichick feels as if he owes Brady his best efforts to get him another championship, well, it's easy enough to understand. That relationship has had mutual benefits. Each has turned the other into a legend.

But we've seen this so many times ... especially in Boston. The Celtics, for years, tried to patch up the holes in the wall in order to get Larry Bird another ring. And they're close to doing it again to get Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen another taste of it (though Danny Ainge screwed that one up last winter royally).

This is one of the reasons teams eventually lose their edges. They become too attached to stars who may have a year or two beyond their peak, trying everything they can to get them that one, last ride to glory. But it doesn't work that often (John Elway being one glaring exception to the rule).

Most of the time, all it does is set the team back. Can anyone say the Minnesota Vikings are better off for having given Brett Favre an extra two years? How did the Kansas City Chief make out with Joe Montana?

At least the Boston Bruins did the smart thing (though it hurt to see him go) and traded Ray Bourque to a team that seemed to be on its way toward winning a Stanley Cup.

I don't know what the answer is, except to say that's why Belichick gets the big bucks ... to make these kinds of decisions. It does take the wisdom of Solomon to figure it all out, doesn't it?

Judging from what we saw Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Patriots will win 11 or 12 games, they'll make the playoffs ... may even win the AFC East ... and then struggle because they'll be facing teams that play defense.

There's nothing mysterious about any of this. It's football. Offense fills seats. Defense wins championships.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Idle baseball chatter ...

Idle chatter while wondering when baseball became a winter sport ...

One of the worst aspects of the World Series in this era is watching baseball players run around dressed like they're about to take part in the Iditarod.

I can't watch this. Seeing Game 1 of this year's series in St. Louis gave me the same feeling I get when I see the movie Fargo on TV. It could be 90 degrees, with matching humidity, and I go running for a quilt when I see Frances McDormand and all those crazy accents coming at me.

I remember the first two games of the 2004 series at Fenway, when nighttime temperatures hit the low 40s, with drizzle to match. Game 2, the second of the two Curt Schilling Bloody Sock Stigmata affairs, was so bad at the Red Sox, who won it, booted the ball all over the field.

Afterward, someone asked Terry Francona if he should be worried about his team's wretched defense ... an odd question since the Sox won the game pretty handily.

Francona replied that he wasn't ... and that it was tough to really judge anyway since the games are being played in winter.

Amen.

If Major League Baseball ever sits down long enough to wonder why it has to end its season in midweek, and otherwise tiptoe around the National Football League, it can start by acknowledging that playing night games north of the Mason Dixon Line, in late October, is somewhat like trying to play pond hockey in Miami. The game is absurdly out of its element.

Baseball has enough going against it already. It has no sustained action, it has nuances that are totally lost on an entire generation of people who have grown up with continuous action, whether it's in their sports or their video games, and it's best aspects are both pastoral and cerebral.

It is a sport made for lazy summer days (and nights), and its best attraction might be the warm weather that goes with it. You can put up with the odd chilly April day because you know that better weather's coming.

But frigid nights in late October? Not only is it depressing to watch players with ear flaps coming out of their baseball caps, it's distressing because there's no harbinger of warmer weather. Winter just pounces on us like a sumo wrestler once the final out is made.

Why would you want to reinforce that by putting your showcase event in such horrible elements?

And Major League baseball wants to add another game to this madness? Good luck with that.

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I'm watching Josh Hamilton in Game 2, and he's hurting so badly he can barely swing the bat. But he's in there.

Cut to this year's Red Sox team, where J.D. Drew hurt his knuckle and missed a month.

And people wonder why this team hit the skids so badly in September.

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David Ortiz now says he wants to come back to the Red Sox. Apparently someone must have pointed out to him that nobody else is going to give him anything close what the Red Sox will pay him to stay.

But let's not bash Ortiz entirely. He's the second Red Sox player in a row to win the Roberto Clemente Award. And while that might not get you far in the game of baseball, it goes a long way in the game of life. Whatever else you can say about Ortiz, you can't question his commitment to give back some of what he's been given.

And for that, he deserves credit and a tip of the hat.

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I've never been a big Tony LaRussa fan. When he was with the Athletics, Peter Gammons often acted as a one-man press agent for the man that my sister affectionately calls "Pruneface."

I've been in on a couple of LaRussa post-games, and he's not the friendliest guy around. But that's not why I'm not a fan. He, more than anyone else, turned baseball into a game that approaches four hours to play. He's the guy, more than anyone else, who began this parade of what I call situational pitching that results in three pitching changes in an inning, with the requisite warmups, ad nauseum.

It's stuff like this that makes baseball such a chore to watch, especially if you're stuck in a ballpark in freezing cold Octobers.

But ...

Here he is, in another World Series he has no business being in. The Cardinals were deader than Elvis in August, and their rise to the MLB playoffs mirrored that of Tampa Bay's in the American League. The difference between TLR and Joe Maddon: The Cardinals kept going. The Rays fell hard, for the second straight year, to the Texas Rangers.

I used to laugh every time Gammons sang his praises in a column, because, to me, LaRussa's teams underachieved twice when he was with the A's. They lost in 1988 to a Dodgers team that had about one-fifth the talent his A's had; and they fell again, two years later, to the Cincinnati Reds and Lou Piniella (how hard was that for me? I can't stand the Reds, even though I have always liked Sweet Lou).

In his next foray into the Fall Classic, LaRussa and the Cardinals were cannon fodder for the dramatic rise of the Boston Red Sox, who broke the "Curse of the Bambino" at their expense.

But he redeemed himself in 2006, winning a World Series against another of today's great managers (Jim Leyland), and -- I think, anyway -- is poised to win another one this year (I hope I don't jinx anyone).

So, maybe he's not so bad after all.

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Am I the only one around here who wishes Theo Epstein would just go already? Look, the Red Sox won two World Series on his watch, but if you examine it a little bit closer, you'll find that he was nowhere near the principal architect of that first team.

To me, the player who did more to change the culture of that clubhouse in the early 2000s was Johnny Damon, and Dan Duquette brought him in. The Duke also brought us Manny, Padro, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Trot Nixon.

I'd give Theo more props for the 2007 team except that the biggest reason they won, Josh Beckett, was also a product of someone else's watch. The Red Sox made that trade while Epstein -- gorilla suit and all -- was home sulking after having quit in a huff following the 2005 season.

In truth, Theo is no better or no worse than most GMs. His free agent track record is definitely a case of hit or miss ... and the misses have been by a mile.

He's fortunate that he has one of baseball's biggest budgets, and he can always go out and try again without losing too much in the process. But the last two big-money signings (John Lackey and Carl Crawford) have proven disastrous. No amount of money can make up for those.

When the Red Sox and Francona parted ways, the general party line was that managerial gigs don't last forever, and that every now and then you need new blood.

Gee. That's exactly how I feel about Epstein.

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I'm picking St. Louis in seven.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

If I were the new Red Sox GM ...

If I got a phone call from Messrs. Henry, Werner and Lucchino asking me become the next general manager of the Red Sox, I'd take the job ... but only if I had absolute carte blanche on making personnel moves (including hiring the manager).

With that guarantee, here is what I'd do ... in order.

I'd make a strong bid to hire Tony Pena as the next manager. He seems to be the candidate best suited for the job. First, he knows what it's like to play here, so he can be a good sounding board for people like Carl Crawford (who isn't going anywhere for the next few years) who seemed intimidated this season by the heightened expectations of a rabid fan base (something Crawford didn't have in Tampa Bay). Second, there is no way Pena would allow idiots like Josh Beckett and John Lackey to get away with the crap they pulled this summer. Third, he has enough cachet around the game to stand up to guys like David Ortiz when they go off on one of their petulant rants. Fourth, he'll hire a pitching coach (I'll give him that privilege) with whom he is on the same page; and fifth, he can probably spot a catcher with major league prospects far better than anyone in that organization can at present.

Next would be a period of reckoning, since my fan base is going to be looking some after this mess of a season. First to go, via trade, is Kevin Youkilis. It's just time for him to move on, and for the Red Sox to do so as well. Youkilis had a few gooid seasons (mostly when he was positioned around some fantastic hitters), and nobody questions his hustle and desire. They do question his personality, though, and I have strong opinions when it comes to surrounding my work environment with jerks.

And to me, Youkilis is a jerk. And if you have to put up with jerks when they're helping you on the field, you don't have to put up with them when they start hitting the downsides of their careers. And this is where Youkilis is now. On the way down. See you later. I'd pull a Dan Duquette and say he's in the twilight of his career, except his career never had enough light associated with it to merit a twilight.

If, in two years, Jacoby Ellsbury makes a bee-line out the door you can blame Youkilis. He's the one who went public last season questioning Ellsbury's manhood, and his loyalty, after he broke five ribs colliding with Adrian Beltre. This insult came after genius Theo -- whom I'm happy to replace, frankly -- had a brainstorm and turned him into a left fielder. If he'd kept him where he was, he probably never would have been injured and maybe the Red Sox are good enough in 2010 to make the playoffs.

Youkilis comes across as petulant, moody, impatient, and temperamental. If this team appears unlikeable, he's one of the reasons why. We don't have to be singing Kumbaya all the time, but, come on, I don't want you to be throwing people to the wolves either.

In my world, the Red Sox need to build, position player-wise, around three people in the coming years: Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Ellsbury (I'd say Crawford, too, but getting his head straightened out will be the No. 1 in-house project for this offseason, and for 2012, and until we do that, he can't be one of the building blocks).

I question whether Ellsbury will even be here in two years, considering all the indignities he's suffered, but I'd be willing to work on him. He's worth the effort, believe me.

As Part Two of the reckoning, I'd first try to trade John Lackey, and I'd accept anything all the way down to a bag of used baseballs in return, and, if I got no takers, just flat-ass release him. Realistically, we're going to have to eat this contract, and it'll taste as bad as turnips on Thanksgiving (the only time I ever had to eat them growing up, and even then, I resisted). But it has to be done. There is no way on God's green earth I'd ever allow him to set foot in my clubhouse again. I'd have to allow him on my field if whatever team unfortunate enough to have him plays a game here, but I'd put bouncers at the door to keep him out of the clubhouse.

It's one thing to pitch as badly as he did this season. But to as miserable a person as he appeared to be? I'd rather have my teeth drilled than watch him pitch another year.

Reckoning Part Three: Trade Josh Beckett. This will be difficult. Not that I don't think he's marketable. Of course he is. But getting rid of him will mean getting rid of whatever potential for greatness he has left in him.

I'm sure it's out there. He could very well do what Roger Clemens did and rejuvenate his career by leaving here. Fine. That's a risk I'll take. You know how I don't like jerks? I dislike people who disrespect their professions even more. He was supposed to be a leader on this pitching staff. Some leader he turned out to be. I guess in one way, he was. He was the leader of a pitching staff that averaged less than five innings per start from Sept. 1 on. He was the leader of a pitching staff that, when the going got tough, they got soft.

You know what, Josh? Go drink beer on someone else's dime (not to mention time). Not mine. I'm sure there are a few KFC's in Kansas City, or Seattle, or Pittsburgh, or wherever else I might ship your ass off to. You're not going to do that here.

This, I know, leaves us even more pitching-thin than we are now (and judging from September, that's pretty damn thin). I'm not counting on Daisuke Matsuzaka, although I kind of feel obligated to invite him back just to see if there's any way he can help us.

But as for Beckett, I don't care. You have to have standards, and I should think hoisting a few cold ones while chomping on KFC grease would violate even the most basic standards. Beckett, at his age, should know better. The fact that he doesn't is quite alarming, and makes one wonder whether he'll ever get it, and become anything more than a loose cannon.

We go on. The next two moves are hard because of their sentimental value to the team. I release Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Varitek is done. Finite. I never understood how you could have your captain's main function on the team be a personal catcher for Josh "Double Down" Beckett. That's got to end. Every August, just when you need it the most, the local undertaker holds a wake for Varitek's bat (both his and Youkilis' bat are usually deader than Elvis during the stretch run).

And, really, what kind of a captain is he? He certainly couldn't do what a captain is supposed to do: be part of the self-policing force that should have jolted the Red Sox out of their September freefall. So, again, what is the value of keeping him?

It'll hurt to let Wakefield go. He's been the absolute prototype loyal soldier on this team. He's earned whatever accolades he's received over the years, and where I might expel more than a few of these guys from my foxhole, I'd want him in mine if I ever found myself in one.

But he's going to be 46. Last year, we depended on a 45-year-old man to be part of the starting rotation and watched as he painfully fumbled his way to his 200th career victory. It was right up there with waterboarding in the torture department.

I just feel as if I have to remove him from the equation for no other reason than to keep myself from depending him as "the insurance policy" ever again. If Progressive Insurance was that undependable, that hideous looking woman on TV wouldn't have a job!

Those would be my five "messages" to the rest of these guys that whatever bullshit went on in 2011 would not be looked upon kindly in 2012.

Moving forward, I'd next summon the following players to meet with myself and Mr. Pena: Crawford, Gonzalez, Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz and Jon Lester.

I'd let Pena work on Crawford. I'll tell Tony "he's all yours." Whatever has to say, or do, he has to let Crawford know that we don't want him to be Babe Ruth, or Reggie Jackson, Mark Teixeira, or whoever he thought he was supposed to be. We just want him to be Carl Crawford. That's enough.

All I want to say to Gonzalez is this: The next time you bitch about having to play ballgames on Sunday nights, I'll make sure I ship you to some team where nobody cares when you play. There are plenty of them. I'd remind him that the only reason the Boston Red Sox can afford to pay him whatever salary he's getting is because they command a large national following, which translates in to TV ratings and a rabid fan base, which translates into money, a lot of which is going in his pocket.

So it wouldn't kill him to be a little grateful and to shut up about when the games are. Thank you. That's all. Have a nice flight home. See you in February.

I'd tell Ellsbury that we we want to tear up his contract and renegotiate a new one now. I am going to do everything short of selling him shares of the team to keep him here. He is the most exciting player we've had here in years, and there's no way I'm going watch him leave here and put on another team's uniform without one hell of a fight.

The message to Papelbon and Bard is pretty simple: I am going to hire the best trainers and conditioning coaches I can find, consult the best nutritionists in the business (and I know one of the best in the business, too), and I expect them both to study and learn, so that come August and September of next season, they'll have enough gas in the tank not to fade and blow important ballgames down the stretch.

(In all seriousness, with the wealth of knowledge we have about conditioning and nutrition in the 21st century it is beyond appalling how many of these guys were flat-ass out of shape come September, and I'm not talking about the "Pound That Budweiser" club only).

Speaking of Papelbon, Bard didn't do much to convince me that he's ready to be the closer. Ergo, I have to think about getting Papelbon signed to a deal. Closers with his makeup, not to mention his willingness to be accountable, aren't that common.

Ortiz' would be a brief conversation too. Big Papi is part of the local lore. More than any other member the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox (except for maybe Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, who were only around for one of the championships), Ortiz encapsulated the joie de vivre of that bunch. He became a civic institution, and is still enough of one today that when he went into his horrendous slump two years ago, he got a ridiculously free pass from the fans. Also, he's one of the few "steroid poster boys" who managed to outlive the scandal and emerge relatively unscathed.

Papi needs to remember this the next time he pops off and interrupts the manager's pre-game press briefing over a disputed RBI (as if one is going to make that much of a difference). And he needs to remember that when, and if, the Red Sox ever name him pitching coach, he can make recommendations to the manager about whether Alfredo Acevas should be a starter or a reliever. Otherwise, STFU.

Cutting ties with Ortiz, even now, would be too painful a reminder of all that went wrong this year. He still has enough cachet for me to consider re-signing bringing him back. I'd convey all this to him, with the caveat that if he feels that compelled to go elsewhere to lower his blood pressure from all the drama, it would be advisable to ponder how many teams would pay what we'll pay him just for staying.

Lester ... boy ... we're going to make this one an old-fashioned trip to the woodshed. Stepping out of my role as the new Red Sox GM, and speaking strictly as a fan, I really want to know where he gets off being in such open defiance of a manager who nurtured him as if he was his own son. What would ever possess John Lester to violate professional protocol that badly? I mean, what nerve! This is a guy we bled for (in the spiritual sense) in 2006 when he was diagnosed with cancer. This is a guy we cheered for with abandon the following year when he pitched (and won) Game 4 of the World Series. Terry Francona made it a point to put it that way.

We stood on the seats at Fenway Park and felt as if one of our own had pitched that no-hitter in 2008. He was such a great story.

To hear that he's among the KFC Keggers is so disappointing and discouraging there aren't any words to say about it. It's the type of thing that leaves you feeling hollow, and makes you wonder why you pour so much of your energy and emotion into such over-privileged, over-indulged, and over-entitled jerks.

Stepping back into my role as GM, this is exactly the sentiment I'd relay to Jon Lester. John Lackey may be the physical manifestation of all that is wrong with professional athletes, and Josh Beckett may be the physical manifestation of all that was wrong with this team, but Jon Lester is the moral and spiritual manifestation of what it means to let people down who lived and died with you, and who believed in you as strongly as Terry Francona did. He needs to know that, and he needs someone to tell him in no uncertain terms the damage he did to himself, and his fans, in 2011. I'll take this on gladly.

I'm also going to tell him that we think that he's basically a decent guy with a decent work ethic, but that we don't see him as a leader (obviously) just yet. AND I'm going to tell him that we're looking to find a veteran pitcher with just enough left in the tank to contribute, but whose main function is to teach him how to be a leader. If Lester considers that "hiring a babysitter," so be it. Apparently he still needs one.

I read an article years ago about how Don Mattingly worked Derek Jeter when Jeter came up to the club. Mattingly, one of the classiest Yankees ever, taught Jeter how to be a Major League ballplayer, and he obviously taught him well. That's what Lester needs now. He needs someone with Mattingly's respect for the game to teach him how to be the ace of a pitching staff.

As for personnel, all I ever intend to say to Pedroia is that while we don't necessarily believe in putting the "C" on someone's jersey, if there is a captain, it's him ... and that while I believe in the "one chief" system Dick Williams used so many years ago, Petie has both mine and Pena's carte blanche to assert whatever leadership he feels he has to in that clubhouse. Those who chafe at it will be told to deal with it. If everyone played the game the way Pedroia plays it, we'd be on our way to the World Series.

I feel Lester and Clay Buchholz make a pretty good one-two combo on the mound. We obviously need more, and since -- judging from the parade of limp-armed pitchers we saw last year -- that's not coming from the minors, we're going to have to either trade for them or sign some free agents.

Now, I understand the market's not flooded with them. We'll have to do the best we can. The staff is in shambles, and losing Beckett's not going to help that any. But going forward, putting a staff together has to be priority No. 1, and it's not going to happen overnight.

I suppose I'd also give Eric Bedard a chance to get into some decent shape and see what he can do to help us. He wasn't terrible. He just wasn't in peak physical condition.

We need a third baseman, and a right fielder. I Michael Cuddyer. Always did. I also like Jeff Francoeur. I'd be happy with either, but it seems at this point, Cuddyer is the more available option.

I'd also keep Marco Scutaro around for another year. If we're so critical of the players who tanked in September, we should probably think about rewarding one of the few who didn't. Ditto Alfredo Acevas. He's got to be part of the solution, going forward. I'd invite Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers back. Albers, especially, had some moments. But man, he'd have to drop about 100 pounds, wouldn't he?

These are a few of the concerns that I think really need to be address before anyone can talk about the floating of the Titanic that was the 2011 Boston Red Sox. There's so much they have to do. Theo has to answer for some bad signings, not the least of which was Bobby Jenks, who contributed nothing. Where was the crack medical staff on this one. Speaking of which, getting a new medical staff has to be a priority. This one is horrible. Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard would be an improvement.

We're going to have to save matters of depth, the bullpen (which was terrible), and what to do about Jarrod Saltalamacchia (as he's clearly not a starting catcher in the Major Leagues). But those are relatively minor issues compared to fixing what broke down in September.

And I'm not one of those people who thinks we just have to "move on" and act as if 2011 didn't exist. It existed. It happened. And I hope these guys never forget.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weekend potpourri ... and nothing to do with sports (OK, Kat?)

A little of this and a little of that on this gorgeous autumn weekend ...

This past week, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and the presumed frontrunner in the race to unseat him next year -- Elizabeth Warren -- got into a war of words that, frankly, doesn't make the sitting senator look all that, shall we say, mature.

Here's what happened. During a debate (more like a friendly round-table discussion) between Democratic candidates, Warren, a Harvard professor, was asked what she did to get through school. The questioner (and this is important) reminded her that Brown had posed in the altogether for Cosmo, using the money to foot his educational bill.

"I kept my clothes on," Warren said, to laughter (and thankfully, there was laughter, because everyone saw it for what it was ... a light, off-the-cuff, and some might even say disarming, answer to a somewhat loaded question.

Next day, on a local morning drive-time radio show, Brown was asked what he thought of Warren's remark.

"Thank God," he said, again, to much laughter.

What followed is the very definition of "knee jerk." All the usual suspects got on their high horses about Brown's remark. Democrats called him sexist, said it was outrageous that he used "frat-boy" talk to demean Warren's appearance.

It was really a stupid thing for him to say. Nothing like reducing a senatorial campaign to "rate-them-on-a-one-to-ten-scale" lockerroom talk.

It's what he said later that really offended me, though. Brown said he didn't go to Harvard, and that he went to the school of hard knocks. There's so much wrong with this statement that it's tough to know where to begin.

First, the obvious. Warren did not go to Harvard. She started out at George Washington University in D.C., got her undergrad at the University of Houston, and then went to the Rutgers School of Law. Hardly Ground Zero for Eastern elitists.

Brown went to Tufts University (hardly a "college of hard knocks" school) and then to Boston College Law. I'd say that educationally speaking, the senator might have the upper hand in "elitism," if that's the label he's trying to pin on Warren. Graduating with a BC law degree is not too shabby.

So let's just cut that out now. Brown tries to portray himself as "everyman," and it worked in his last campaign against the politically inept Martha Coakley, who -- in somewhat of a reversal of the usual political ethic -- is a better administrator than she is a campaigner. Brown was able to box her ears off by doing the type of political pandering 101 that Coakley found odious -- such as shaking hands in front of Fenway Park on an ice-cold New Year's Day before the NHL's winter classic between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Something tells me Warren won't fall into that trap. Something also tells me she's a tad bit tougher than Coakley. She was passed over for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's directorship in part because she intimidated Republicans who would have to be instrumental in approving her nomination. With that knowledge in hand, President Obama turned to someone else (it's things like this that aggravate people who voted for the president in 2008).

So far in her public life, Warren has had no problem standing up for what she holds near and dear, so I don't see where Scott Brown's going to give her many sleepless nights. It remains to be seen, however, whether even the Massachusetts electorate, with its reputation for electing liberals, will -- in its current mood -- vote for anyone connected with Harvard.

We're not that much different than anyone else up here. The economy affects us, too. And just being associated with the cradle of east coast liberal elitism (go into the Harvard Co-op sometimes and you'll know what I mean) might put a little too much baggage on her back.

Still, I like her. And I agree with her belief that no one gets rich on his own. People who make a lot of money do so with a generous portion of help from both the public and the public sector. Good for her for reminding everybody.

One hopes the election turns on more than catty remarks about posing nude for Cosmo ... and the subsequent rebuttals and the usual fallout. In this day and age, however, I doubt it will.

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It was a simply, snarky Facebook status: "NEWS FLASH: Steve Jobs still dead." Yet the reaction was interesting.

The notion came about after I read an column by someone -- obviously not a Jobs fan -- taking people to task for their over-the-top reaction to his death earlier this week.

I posted the article on another bulletin board, where it was suggested that I had to be a liberal because the author minimized Jobs' contribution to the human condition. I hadn't thought of that. I simply thought the article had something kind of interesting to say.

But to me, the message to me wasn't about politics. It was about the way people overreact to the death of their icons -- something that goes double for Baby Boomers like myself.

And make no mistake: Steve Jobs was one of our icons as as much as he may belong to the ages. His genius is/was totally, totally lost on a lot of the people who came of age in World War II through the 1950s. What he did, more than anything else, was to move move technology forward by making it more accessible to people who didn't necessarily have a technical aptitude. Such as me.

I'm one of those guys who needs to find someone my son's age to help me with even the slightest detour with my computer. Yet even I know how to work an iPod (well, now, after he taught me).

(I've mastered the Blackberry, but the idea of converting to an iPhone is still a bit intimidating to me.)

You know how they say that computers become obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market? Well, that's because Jobs helped make it that way. As much of a genius as he was with the technology, he was even more of a genius at marketing. He used to say that people don't know what they want until you show them. And he had an uncanny ability to know exactly what to show and when to show it.

There are a thousand different ways to honor Steve Jobs in death, most of them to do with talking about all that he did for, and contributed to, our culture. He was as important to this generation as Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell were to theirs, and his legacy will certainly be on a par with theirs.

But can we please stop these shrines? And the over-emoting? And the muck-raking that's already starting to unearth itself now that he's gone? (example: "The Secret Private Life of Steve Jobs" ... the headline that greeted me when I logged onto the internet today)?

I don't care. I don't care if you're all broken up about it. And I don't care about his secret life either, unless it affects how my iPod works.

This is the downside of social networking, if you ask me (something Jobs is certainly responsible for too). It's so easy, with Facebook and Twitter, and the rest, to go from any kind of decent retrospectives to all-out mawkishness. It just becomes mind-numbing, and it cheapens the whole discussion.

Thirty years ago, when John Lennon was shot to death, there was no Facebook. No Twitter. Apple was really in it infancy. The only way to mourn the unconscionably violent death (key point!) of such a cultural icon was to go to New York and sing songs in Central Park, across from the Dakotas. The people who went actually had to do something ... and, you know, unite.

These days, there's no such spirit because all you have to do is get on Facebook and say "RIP, Steve Jobs," or post something about how hearing of his death reduced you to tears (really? I mean, seriously?). And then, after that, you go back to posting about about how good (or bad) Glee was last night, or cutting and pasting some absolutely inane political statement that 120 other people have already posted. There's no connection beyond that. At least, not to me.

The sadness in Steve Jobs' death, to me, lies in the fact that he was only 54 (four years younger than I am) and that whatever else was germinating inside his brain -- things that could have further humanized technology -- will now remain locked inside. We'll never bear witness to them. That is sad.

Years ago, there was a running joke on Saturday Night Live about Francisco Franco, whose death watch was like Waiting for Godot. SNL spoofed the whole thing by having Chevy Chase say, "this just in ... Francisco Franco still dead."

Some of the over-the-top coverage of Jobs' death reminded me of that.

And, I suppose, we'll get it some more now that Al Davis (Oakland Raiders' owner) has died. I guess it's this old, crusty New Englander's way of saying that owning a Mac, or an iPod doesn't mean you're on such intimate terms with their inventor that you have to go around acting as if someone near and dear to you just died.

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I don't have a problem with religious people. I don't see religion as superstition, and I bristle when I hear people who refer to believers as ignorant and uninformed.

To me, whatever puts you on the right path in your life has as much validity as anything else. And if that includes a belief system -- any belief system -- that works, and it doesn't intentionally aim to harm non-believers, who's to argue and tell you you're wrong.

However ...

Now that Mitt Romney is a serious contender for the presidency (in fact, I'd even say that the nomination at this point is his to lose, only because he's less scary that any of his alternatives), his Mormon faith has become an issue.

And here's where I take issue with Christians who feel qualified to demean Romney's faith. Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor (and, not surprisingly, a Rick Perry backer) says Romney's no Christian, but, rather, a member of a "cult."

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding
. Raise the red flags. He said "cult." Bad word. It conjures up images of crazed people like Jim Jones and David Koresh.

First, Mitt Romney was my governor for four years (well, it was probably two and a half, and then he set his sights on the White House and pretty much abdicated day-to-day governing unless doing so made him look good). I'm no Mitt Romney lover. In fact, I think he's one of the biggest phonies in politics.

But one thing Romney did exceptionally well during his tenure as Massachusetts governor was keep his Mormonism out of it. If you didn't know he was a Mormon, nothing he did, or said, would have given it away.

It is OK to give people with whom you disagree politically their proper props, by the way.

But having said all that, it is entirely beside the point. There is nothing more boring than listening to religious zealots find fault with those who don't follow their particular path to salvation. And nothing more irrelevant.

Here it is still only 2011, and we're going to have to wade through this stuff? We're going to have to wade through the "my God is better than your God" argument?

Who cares?

If you need a better reason for the framers of the U.S. Constitution ensuring that a specific religion never becomes too powerful a force in this country, I don't know where you're going to find it. The idea of any Christian foisting any kind of a litmus test on the political process is patently offensive, even if it comes from nutjobs like the Reverend Jeffress.

We already have enough religious extremism in this world -- everything from radical Islamists (we all know about them) to whack jobs like the Westboro Baptists and Fred Phelps, who -- by the way -- planned to picket Steve Jobs' funeral (how's that for tying up all these fragmented subjects?). The last thing we need is to enter into a debate on who's version of salvation has more validity and throw it into the process of electing our president.

I'm a Catholic. But I don't care what Romney is. I don't care if he believes that the tides that go in and out every day carry the key to salvation, or whether he finds it in a quiet walk through the woods in the early morning. In fact, if I ever found out he did, I'd probably like him a whole lot more than I do, because, frankly, those are my two favorite places to be ... walking along the beach or walking through the woods.

One of the worst things about our political climate today is that candidates feel compelled to avow some attachment to a deity. I so wish it weren't so.

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Speaking of religion, there's this:

I wonder if this is on the level. If it is, it appeals to my sense of the uber perverse.

But since the perpetrator's name is Sam Mullet, I have my doubts. Lest any of you out there doesn't know what a "mullet" is, Google it.