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.


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.


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???


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.