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Football thoughts the weekend of October 6

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 9, 2018

Boy, what a lousy weekend for my favorite college and professional football teams. Both were exposed for what they are: each has a terrible coach.

Texas was lucky. They had the good fortune to play a lot better than Oklahoma, with an improved but hardly exceptional team. Although the game was exciting to watch and ended up seemingly close, Oklahoma was never going to win that game, and if they had, they wouldn’t have deserved to.

Oklahoma’s defense was unconscionably terrible. What happened to Mike Stoops should have happened at least two years ago. As it is, Oklahoma has squandered two years of outstanding offensive football talent with one of the worst defenses in college football.

OU gave up more than 500 yards against Texas, which averages out to about 6.8 yards per snap. Texas didn’t punt until the 3rd quarter, but hey, if you’re making 6.8 yards a play, why would you need to? Remember when OU coach Barry Switzer used to say OU would “hang a half a hundred on ‘em?” Well, Texas hung almost half a hundred (48 points) on the Sooners. 

To be clear, OU’s offense, the late, desperate rally notwithstanding, did not distinguish itself either. Of all the people I would not have expected to cave under the pressure of the Cotton Bowl crowd, Tyler Murray came down to earth, and was another reason OU lost.

OU had three turnovers, and Texas had none. Ordinarily, that would doom a team right there. But there are turnovers and critical turnovers, and Murray had two of the latter. He threw a pass to an open receiver that would have been a touchdown had he not thrown it short and into the hands of a Texas defensive back. Later, he fumbled close to the Texas goal line. You simply can’t win like that.

I don’t know exactly what is going to happen to these two teams the rest of the season, but I don’t think either one of them is finished losing.

The Houston Texans are a better football team than Dallas, which obscured the Cowboy’s fatal flaw in a close game. Dallas’ defense has improved, but it was painfully obvious that Houston’s defensive line is better. Clowney and Watts are both beasts. And, Houston has a primo pass receiver, which Dallas does not possess.

Dallas played gamely, but without a coherent offensive strategy, and when it came time for head coach Jason Garrett to walk on water in overtime, Garrett passed water instead. Dallas is on its way to yet another 8-8 range season, and it will be thus until Dallas gets a coach other than Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett.

Football Thoughts – Weekend of September 29-30

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 1, 2018

My beloved Oklahoma Sooners beat Baylor University soundly Saturday – 66 to 33. It was a blowout according to the offensive stats, but I found it painful to watch. OU has a playoff caliber offense. Our defense ranks somewhere in the top 125, but just barely. It was terrible.

OU’s defense was terrible the last two years also, but they recruited some really good players, particularly in the defensive backfield, where they had been truly woeful, and things looked like they were getting tightened up early in this season, but they seem to be regressing.

In the Bob Stoops era, OU had a reputation for having recruiting classes not as impressive as some other schools, but developing their talent significantly better than other teams. The last two years, it appears more like we are recruiting better defensive talent and failing to develop it.

So far this year, the defense has been on the field so long, it has already played a whole season of bad football in just five games. Sad as it is to say it, I still think OU lost on the deal when co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables left OU for Clemson and Mike Stoops stayed. The comparative statistics between Clemson and OU pretty clearly bear this out.

Oddly, OU may be able to get through the Big XII with this defense (though I doubt it), because of the offense is so good, and because most Big XII teams have bad defenses, too.

Many Big XII teams don’t even make a pretense of trying to play defense. They just sling the ball around and hope they have more points than the opponent at the end of the game.

Texas’ defense seems to be improving, but the best defense may belong to West Virginia. They held Texas Tech to 34 points this week, a team that averaged 52 points over its first four games. Call it damning with faint praise. Still, I don’t look forward to playing West Virginia in Morgantown at the end of the season.

For a change, the top billed game between Penn State and Ohio State turned out to be the best one. But both head coaches made some really bone head calls. Neither of these teams frightens me.

I went to the sports bar Sunday morning and had Dallas Cowboy football for breakfast, my favorite kind. The Cowboys seem to be the inverse of OU. Their defense seems to have improved, but the offense is struggling. I thought they looked awful, but they won on a last minute field goal, and a win is a win. It occurred to someone on the coaching staff to put the ball into the hands of Ezekiel Elliott, which helped. He seems finally to have recovered from not playing all preseason.  

It is clear watching both the college and the pro game, however, that the new “protect the quarterback” rules are so confusing they make it almost impossible for the referees to call a game. They don’t know whether to shit or go blind. I saw call after call of roughing the passer and targeting that made no sense at all. At this rate, soon, shaking the quarterback’s hand at the coin toss is going to draw a flag.

 

Thinking of Robert Browning

Posted in Reviews - of books, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 18, 2018

When I was young, and first read Robert Browning’s lines, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be,” I assumed it was a love poem to his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Spoiler alert: the poem is more complicated than that.)

Since Browning and Barrett were known to have a true love – they married secretly in 1844 against her father’s wishes, she was disinherited, and they left England to live in Florence – I took his supposed thesis on good authority.

As Cynthia and I were together into our 60s and me into my 70s, I interpreted the prescience of these lines clearly and personally.

What that couplet doesn’t convey, however, about graying, loving couples, is that for one of the parties, the worst is yet to be also.

At some point, one will die before the other, and the remaining lover will be left alone to grieve over the loss of a love that was growing deeper and richer with the years. It follows that the greater the love, the greater the grief.

It turns out that Browning wrote the poem on a more metaphysical theme and about the philosophy of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167). It was published in 1864, not to Elizabeth, but three years after her death in 1861.

Robert and Elizabeth did not really grow old together. They were married 17 years when she died at 55, a little less time than Cynthia and I were together permanently. Browning lived another 28 years without her, until his death in 1889.

Still, I think that, though Browning’s poem may have dealt ostensibly with theistic paradox, his heart and mind were wistfully on Elizabeth when he wrote that first couplet.  His last 28 years had, I suspect, a mournful undercurrent.

 

 

Cowboys Season Kick-off

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 11, 2018

I went to my favorite sports bar to watch the Cowboys play the Carolina Panthers, because game was blacked out in the Phoenix market for the Cardinals game, which aired at the same time. I felt pretty football wise after watching what of the Dallas Cowboys game I could stomach. It confirmed my predictions, expectations and worst case fears.

First of all, I never expected the Cowboys to beat the Panthers. The Panthers are simply a better team. I’m sorry, wishful Cowboy fans, but the Panther’s quarterback-running back tandem of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey is better than the Cowboy tandem of Prescott and Elliott, in part because they had actually played in the preseason.

The Cowboys played almost exactly as I expected. The defense was markedly improved. Dallas held the Panthers to 16 points. Tom Landry used to tell his defenses that if they held the opponent to 17 points or under, his offense would win the game. He was always right. 

That said, like the team overall, the defense was undisciplined; jumping off side, crashing the quarterback when they should have been holding the edge, etc.) Lack of discipline is strictly a coaching issue. Good coaches don’t stand for it.

The offense was, how shall I say this charitably? Rusty. Uncharitably, they stank on ice (even my spell checker doesn’t know how to conjugate the verb “to stink” properly).

This is what you get when a team’s key players hadn’t played enough in preseason, or at all.  Penalties galore, a signature feature of an undisciplined Jason Garrett coached team.

I watched through three beers and the third quarter, until I just couldn’t watch any more, and came home. In the fourth quarter, after three scoreless ones, the Cowboys produced an 8 point whimper.   

And, it might have helped a little if the Cowboys hadn’t cut their great field goal kicker Dan Bailey, in favor of a misfiring rookie. 

I watched some of the Cleveland Browns game with interest. They were spirited, but hapless. They tied, 21-21. Ben Roethlisberger gave up three interceptions and a lost fumble, and all the Browns could do was tie. They had a chance to win with a makeable last second field goal, but botched it. I see Baker Mayfield, or a riot, in the Browns’ near future. Mayfield would have won this game for Cleveland. 

My beloved Sooners, on the other hand, are playing super. They just need to avoid too many injuries and the unexpected upset (remember the inexplicable Iowa State debacle) to have an excellent season.

 

 

NFL Kick-off 2018

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 7, 2018

The NFL kicked off its season officially with a Thursday night game between the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, a team the Eagles defeated to get into the Super Bowl.

I respect both of these teams, and I expected a good game. It was exciting, but the game stank on ice. It was one of the worst exciting NFL games I ever watched.

The game was exciting only due to the teams’ mutual ineptitude. I stopped counting in exasperation, but the stats said the number of accepted penalties in the game was 26.

With one very notable exception – Julio Jones (10 catches for 169 yards) – everything about this night stank. The game stank, the players stank, the officiating stank, the replay officiating stank, the rules stank, even the weather stank.

To be fair to the officials and the replay people, the Rules Committee seems to be making the game almost impossible to officiate. Many of the new rules and clarifications of existing ones invite confusion. Julio Jones had an 11th spectacular, obvious catch under the new, nuanced but not improved, rules, which everyone, including the announcers and their rules expert in the booth said it clearly was, and the officials and replay officials debated at length before deciding it wasn’t.

Between the stops for penalties, challenges and official replays, not to mention the 45 minute rain delay, the game seemed to go on for the length of a Bible.

I think another factor contributing to this sloppy game is a change in philosophy among teams about use of players during preseason. Teams used to be cautious about risking injury to their key players by limiting their exposure, but all players got enough snaps to be ready for the season opener.

Today, many teams hold their key players out for most or even all preseason snaps. It’s not completely crazy. These guys are so costly, that you can understand why owners might not want to risk an injury to them. But, it will result in the kind of rusty play I saw last night, not to mention rendering preseason games, and their ticket prices, a sham and a scandal, respectively.

If I’m right about this, and, well, I am, we will see many more sloppy first games this coming weekend.

 

Oh, the Eagles won 18-12. zzzzzzzzzzz

 

 

Preseason NFL Football

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on August 29, 2018

I watched some NFL football this preseason, as usual, but also as usual, only in small amounts and not with a lot of enthusiasm. I only watch the first quarter of preseason games at most, because that’s about the only time the starters play. That said, I’m always grateful to see football start up again.

For the same reason that starters only play a quarter or less in most preseason games, NFL preseason tickets should cost at most no more than one fourth of a regular season ticket, but that’s a Carol for another Christmas.

Oddly, the last game of most teams’ preseason can be worth watching, because teams generally hold their starters out and use the game for a last long look at the players fighting for the last few open roster spots, and give those players one last chance to make an impression. You generally see a lot of hustle, and occasionally see a player break through. Good stuff.

Some – most, actually – of these players still won’t make the roster, but they could end up on someone’s taxi squad, or even picked up by another team based on their play in that final game. Teams will all have footage of their play to review if need be.

Several teams impressed. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers looked crisp. I like their running back – Christian McCaffrey. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots looked like, well, how the New England Patriots always look. Oakland impressed me. The Chargers looked good, though they always do, early. Minnesota can play. Philadelphia will be competitive again if they can get a quarterback on the field.

Of interest to me is the Cleveland Browns, who didn’t win a single game last year, but who got Baker Mayfield with their No. 1 pick in the draft as their booby prize.

Mayfield is not the starter. The Browns traded for a decent starter, Tyrod Taylor, who they got from the Bills this year. But Mayfield has a spark very few players have, and a competitive spirt that Cleveland needs desperately. There’s never been a team dumb enough or otherwise able to keep Mayfield off the field. (“Field” is part of his name.) It will be interesting to see what Cleveland does with Mayfield, but they need to do something.

That said, the rest of the team is still terrible. They will win a few games this year, but they need a lot more pieces, and I’m not sure the present management can find them with a flashlight and a bow fiddle. But Mayfield will make them better.

Sadly, little impressed me about my Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys’ defense has clearly improved, and it has the potential to become even better. Their excellent offensive line is banged up and/or ill. The rest is the same old, same old. Same owner. Same coach, which in the case of the Cowboys are one in the same. (The coach – Jason Garrett – wanted to play the starting quarterback and running back for at least a half to prepare them for the season, and the owner – Jerry Jones – did not. The players did not play. Who’s the coach?)

That’s a big part of the problem. The team has little or no respect for the coach, because the players know he’s just a marionette whose strings are pulled by Jerry Jones. (I don’t respect Garrett either, but that’s because I just don’t think he is a good coach.) There’s no reason to take Garrett seriously.

Among the unfortunate results of this woeful dynamic is that there is no discipline, no focus. Dallas’ first two punt receptions were both fumbled and both lost, one for touchdown. It was painful to watch, and I turned it off. I read the next morning that the Cowboys lost eight turnovers! Does that sound like a team ready to compete?  Sounds more like last year’s Cleveland Browns to me.

I’ll repeat my years old mantra: Jerry Jones is the best owner in the NFL, but he is a menace when he thinks he knows something about football, which he does frequently enough to damage them. The Cowboys will not succeed again until there is a new coach and Jones lets him actually coach. Jones has succeeded this way before but cannot see it. He ran off two Super Bowl winning coaches (technically three), who simply wouldn’t put up with his interference.

(BTW, the Arizona Cardinals, a team I watch, living in Arizona, also seems in trouble. They got Sam Bradford, another former OU player and among the most accurate passers I have ever seen, but, other than Larry Fitzpatrick, no one on the team can catch a pass. Bradford threw several passes into the hands of receivers who promptly dropped them. Bradford left the game after just a couple of series, rolling his eyes.)

 

John McCain

Posted in Politics and Justice by EloiSVM42 on August 28, 2018

John McCain, one of my own personal senators, passed away last weekend, so I feel I should write something about him. In these circumstances, the Shakespearian “Mark Anthony” rule typically applies, but I have written about McCain before, so in the interest of intellectual consistency, these remarks cannot be all praise. I refer to him as the senior senile senator from Arizona, for crying out loud. But let’s begin with the praise.

McCain behaved as a true patriot and statesman regarding the Vietnam War, which gave him some significant moral suasion with me:

When he was offered release from a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, where he was being tortured regularly, he refused to leave until his men were released also, so there he remained there until the end of the war. That is pure courage and heroism.

Thereafter, he opposed President George W. Bush regarding our own torture of prisoners of war, and bless him for that.

Likewise, he was among the first public figures to argue for reconciliation and return to normal relations with Vietnam after the war. A lesser man would have remained angry and vengeful, but McCain was able to look forward.

Later, at a campaign event against Barak Obama in the 2008 election, he politely corrected an ignorant, wretched woman, a religiously intolerant xenophobe, who called Obama an Arab, but she meant Muslim and nigger, and said Obama was a decent man, when it was clear the Republican base didn’t feel that way at all. That took political courage and decency.

Finally, among his very last votes in the Senate, he put an end to Republicans’ attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Now to the unpraiseworthy stuff. McCain was not a Maverick, but a garden variety right wing conservative until circa 2000. But after he was smeared viciously by President Bush in the South Carolina primary, he sensed where the wind was blowing in the Republican Party and shifted to the rabid right, remaining there, with the ACA vote exception, for the rest of his life.

McCain never saw a war he didn’t approve of, or want to join or to start. He stood shoulder to shoulder with John Bolton in this regard (Senator Lindsay Graham sat at McCain’s feet). As head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he saw the answer to every problem as a war.

Campaigning for the presidency against Barak Obama, he selected for his Vice Presidential running mate Sarah Palin, a women as unfit for the office of president, should it have come to that, as its current occupant. It was an unconscionable decision.

And on his very last important vote in the Senate, McCain supported the odious tax cuts that enriched himself and a very small number of other extremely rich people at the expense of the general American population. Hardly a principled vote.

That is both sides of my view of Senator McCain.

 

 

 

John Wayne Movies

Posted in Reviews - of books, mostly by EloiSVM42 on August 26, 2018

I’ve been thinking about John Wayne movies. Well, actually I’ve been thinking about Cynthia, which led to thinking about John Wayne Movies. Cynthia didn’t care for them. She thought he wasn’t a particularly good actor and that his movies were dated and politically incorrect. And, she was no big fan of westerns. She was right about all this, of course, up to a point.

Probably alone among John Wayne fans, my favorite of his movies is Donovan’s Reef. I love that movie. But talk about dated and politically incorrect. It is so much so that in the ending scene, Wayne puts his love interest over his knee and spanks her. And, of course, there is the obligatory, improbable, barroom brawl scene.

On the other hand, the movie makes a subtle but clear anti-racism statement, and takes a hard poke at Puritanism.

Plus, it has some interesting supporting cast members, including Lee Marvin, Dorothy Lamour, Cesar Romero, Jack Warden, Edgar Buchanan, some, but not all, playing against type. Patrick Wayne has a small, uncredited role as an Australian naval officer, butchering an Aussie accent.

Finally, the movie was shot in Kauai, Hawai’i, so the scenery is beautiful.  What’s not to like about that?

Another of my favorite Wayne movies is McClintock, an admittedly pedestrian western with a truly over-the-top brawl in a mud hole. Cynthia hated this movie and couldn’t understand why I liked it. Well, for one thing, Maureen O’Hara was in it, and Chill Wills. Plus, the movie takes a hard view of the mistreatment of American Indians, particularly on the part of government officials who were supposed to look after them. In those days, Indian Affairs officials were a loathsome, incompetent and corrupt lot.

The Quite Man is, without question, a truly, flat out great movie (also with Maureen O’Hara). And I liked Rooster Cogburn (but, boy, Glenn Campbell was a terrible actor). The rest of the John Wayne movies, including the acclaimed The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, are to me take ‘em or leave ‘em, and I wouldn’t argue with Cynthia about them.

Why I Blog

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on August 25, 2018

I began a blog after I retired. This is my 500th blog post. I began blogging for two reasons. First, putting my thoughts down on paper aids my thinking. Actually, it’s the second step – editing – that most helps. Once my thought is written down, I can subject it to more precise scrutiny. Do I mean precisely what I wrote? Is it factually correct? Do the adjectives and adverbs modify my noun or verb as I mean them to? In other words, am I writing what I mean say, and does what I wrote reflect what I am really thinking?

The second reason I started blogging is that I want my children to know where and for what I stand, as they make their own decisions in life. Like most parents, I suspect, as my children were leaving the nest, I thought of so many things I wanted them to know before they fledged but hadn’t yet told them, so the blog is my way of chasing after them as they fly off, with last minute cautions, counsel, encouragement, advice and tears.

I thought about writing down all my beliefs and philosophy in a book for my children, but it would have been a short book. I don’t have many absolute beliefs, and my children know those already. So, I stumbled on the idea of making commentary on the important events of each week, as I rated them, anyway, as a kind of ongoing, real time position statement.

However, like so many, my writing and thinking has been high-jacked by President Trump, whose behavior is as mesmerizing as it is odious. I have been writing about him constantly, which has become a not only infuriating but depressing task. Journalists have to do it, but at least they are being paid. I suspect, however, that many of them find the job distasteful and enervating.  

But I don’t have to do it, not least because other, professional writers are doing it better, and so I’m not going to for a while.

Truth to tell, since Cynthia died recently, none of this seems nearly as important to me anymore. My life is sad enough these days without thinking about Trump, so I’m going to try not to. I’m going to take a two month sabbatical from Trump news, and if I enjoy it as much as I think I may, maybe longer.

I’ll continue to write the occasional blog, on no particular timetable and about anything that I find interesting, positive and having nothing to do with Trump or his administration. But until at least mid-October, I’m not going to let him add to the sadness of my days any more.

One final, parting shot. Trump is a pig of a human being. He’s less than a pig. He’s a pig part. And the worst thing about him, the most depressing thing, is that we elected him. I am choking on what that signifies about us as a nation, and I just don’t want to think about it anymore.

 

What will it take to break the fever?

Posted in Politics and Justice by EloiSVM42 on August 16, 2018

Forget about achieving bipartisanship. What will it take to end the febrile animosity between the parties enough to get something, anything, constructive, logical, and reasonably farsighted done?

I’m not even sure where all this began, but I have a theory. Some say it began with the Vietnam War; some say the murders of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and some point to Nixon and the Watergate scandal, all of which damaged our trust in our institutions, and they should have.

The Roe v Wade decision in 1973 certainly animated religious conservatives.

“Women’s lib” unsettled a lot of misogynistic, self-satisfied males. Then there’s income inequality, which began up-ticking circa 1980, when President Reagan told us greed is good, and many were stupid enough to believe him.

Some think it’s the dawning on us of the realities of (inevitable) globalization. President Clinton’s alpha male indiscretions off put many, even though he was a popular, successful president, and somehow this offense was transferred over to his wife, who has suffered for it.

And, of course, the flashpoint today is fear of the increase of Hispanics in the country and their influence on our culture.

But we’ve had all of these issues before – turmoil over wars, poor presidents, economic disruption and scandal (remember the Gilded Age?) and immigration fears – without such fever for so long.

The answer seems to me that these events were as kindling piled one piece on another over time, which were ignited by the election of Barak Obama. A black man in the white house was the last straw for some people.

The resulting revulsion put an egregiously unqualified man in the white house instead, one deplored by the majority but adored by a base of very angry people. A big chuck of this base, demographically, are white, uneducated males and their mates and, to put mildly and politely, religious conservatives (read wingnuts). In other words, the base got one of its own, or at least someone who talked and acted like one.

It is clear to me that I am a part of the problem. I do not respect these people. I don’t like ignorance, particularly determined ignorance; or bigotry, or misogyny, or xenophobia. I just don’t like people who think like that – in fact, I loathe and despise them – and I look down on them, which they obviously sense and resent from people like me.

That said, there is no doubt that both major political parties have failed these fellow citizens. But they have also failed themselves, particularly in regard to education.

Most civil wars – for that is what this vicious polarization has become – end from exhaustion. Both sides just wear themselves out fighting to the death over every little issue, however trivial, until things just melt down. (Frankly, I’m pretty sure that most people don’t really want this nonsense to continue any longer, already.)

Maybe that will happen here, but I’m skeptical it will happen soon. I anticipate a reaction to the antics of the current administration in November, but if that occurs, it won’t make Trump’s base any less angry. Channeling Punxsutawney Phil, it will just forecast six more years of contention.

But by then, I think something else will occur to alter our distasteful stalemate: the demographic shift that is already well underway, inexorable, and irreversible, will begin to swamp the current reactionary thrust. Politicians will recognize it and react to it or perish, just as they did when blacks became a dominant voting population in the south.

The Trump administration and its minions, especially Fox News, conflate immigration and “illegal” immigration to stoke xenophobic impulses. So called “illegal” immigrants can’t vote. They are no threat to politicians, only a convenient target. Immigrant citizens, on the other hand, are a growing, necessary fact, and I do not think they – legal, voting immigrants – will forget how they are being characterized by Republicans today, for a long time. (Likewise, I think Republican black voters will be counted on the fingers of one hand forever after Trump. Ditto, Asians.)

We need immigrants. We need skilled immigrants and unskilled one, and we sure as hell aren’t going to attract them from Norway. First, there aren’t enough Norwegian immigrants to meet our demand (though there were many in the 1800s). And second, who in his right mind would migrate here from Norway in this political environment? On the other hand, I would move there in a heartbeat myself if it weren’t so damn cold.

When we were in college together, a dear friend opined that he would be glad when we are all the same shade of brown. He has forgotten that observation, but I remember it vividly, and I understand and agree with his sentiment, which was to see an end to racial turmoil.  But I don’t want us all to be the same shade. It’s too monotonous, not to mention monotone. I welcome the diversity, now more than ever, and I think that, in the long term, it will ultimately break the fever.