Whither the NFL?

February 9, 2010

As a contrarian and New Yorker I have to take issue with much of the post-Super Bowl chatter that I’ve heard.  Though there was a decent narrative (local wunderkind Peyton Manning takes on his hometown team, a franchise representing a beleaguered city) I do not believe it was a great game.  The NFL has continuously approved rule changes that favor the passing game.  Not only does this cheapen certain benchmarks (10 NFL QB’s threw for 4,000 plus yards this season) it brings a great imbalance to the game.

I have great respect for Drew Brees’ efficiency and the highly cerebral approach and rigorous preparation of Peyton Manning.  I also recognize that there great skill is required to protect these passers as well as these offensive linemen do.  Quick: think about the number of sacks and relative pressure in this Super Bowl; now compare that to how the Giants rattled Tom Brady’s cage two years prior.

But getting quick leads on opponents because of big passing plays leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  Watching a team march down the field consuming yardage and game clock like a pack of ravenous animals is true victory.  It is disheartening for a defense to be pushed backwards – it requires a psychological victory that the passing game simply does not.  While I recognize that Peyton Manning has revolutionized the position and I have tremendous respect for his ability to process, analyze and disect a defense in roughly 40 seconds, I’m not as impressed by the fact that “there’s no defense for a perfect throw”.  Watching a 300 guard pull block or a big halfback get out to the next level and take on a middle linebacker is not as aesthetically pleasing to the untrained eye, but it’s what football’s always been about to me.

“Smart bombs” and aerial bombing campaigns do not give us actual victory or any real sense of a “mission accomplished”.  Territorial acquisition is control.


February 7, 2010

I’m thoroughly confused by Sarah Palin’s latest interview with Fox News. This is not to suggest that there are things she says which are non-confusing as that’s hardly the case, just that we seem to have crossed a new threshold of nonsensical living-in-the-pastness.

The former Alaska governor, in an interview Saturday on the sidelines of the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, said President Obama’s “lack of experience” has held him back his first year in office and that she would put her credentials up against his any day.

Let’s say, just for arguments sake, that McCain’s experience campaign was valid in 2008. After all, he had been in the Senate much longer than Obama’s four years. And now let’s even say that Barack Obama circa 2008 and Sarah Palin circa 2008 had a similar amount of experience. I don’t believe that to be the case, but someone could make an argument for it.

But how is an experience campaign going to make any sense in 2012? Barack Obama does not have the experience to be president–because he has only been president for one term? Also, what credentials is she planning to match against President Obama? Four years as president vs. a resignation as governor of Alaska. If voters rejected an experience campaign when it was slightly valid, how is it going to work when it is patently false?

The vacuum chamber of conservative media may be hurting her here. She needs to understand the concerns of virtual Americans since there probably aren’t enough real ones to elect her.

A Modest Proposal

February 3, 2010

America, its been good. You’ve had a good run. You’ve spread some democracy, ended some world wars, and invented consumerism. But I think that it is time to throw in the towel. Yes, I realize we are still at the height of our power; the 90 and early 00s will probably be thought of as the zenith of American power; an untrammeled moment of imperial might, unprecedented power, and utter stupidity. But this is precisely reason to bow out now. For already the music is playing. Do we really want to do the whole decline and fall thing?

Is it really worth it to go on like the Western Roman Empire, only to be battered down by heaping crowds of Goths (probably, in our case rising sea levels, ridic desertification, and loads of cheap, shoddy Chinese products)? Or will we go on in the way of the Eastern Romans, sadly transforming into sad parodies of ourselves, our institutions keeping their names, but becoming little more than keywords we hold for nostalgic value? Do we really want our princeps to become a βασιλευς? I think not. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-time readers know that one of our regular features is best picture predictions. This year we went 8/10, guessing that “Invictus” would be the apartheid movie nominated (it wasn’t; “District 9” was), and that “The Hangover” would be the movie picked to tell the mainstream, “Hey–we’re still cool” (it wasn’t; “The Blind Side” was). Since I just defended the melodrama yesterday, it will sound rather hypocritical of me to attack the selection of “The Blind Side,” but….there’s no reason that this movie should have been nominated for Best Picture, and its inclusion can only be considered as another attempt by dandified cosmopolitans to embrace tea party values.

Now, I like Sandra Bullock; “Speed” is easily one of the best action movies of the ’90s, and “The Net” truly captured the potential pratfalls of the internet age and our subsequent loss of privacy. I’m glad she was nominated for an Academy Award for leading actress since she clearly elevated what would have been a poor man’s “The Express” into a cultural phenomenon. But I can’t escape the feeling that one of three not-very-good-reasons led to TBS’ nomination: 1) academy members don’t watch enough movies to vote fully informed; 2) Hollywood is patting itself on the back for continuing to recycle plots and further their dominance of archetypal mythology; 3) An ill-founded embrace of populism.

Nominating “The Blind Side” is like Obama’s bank tax: you can defend it as smart policy given the circumstances, but the timing suggests an appeal to crowds for the sake of an appeal to crowds. Will more people watch the Oscars now? Probably–though the inclusion of movies like “Inglourious Basterds,” “Up,” and “Avatar” would have helped anyway. The Academy seems to be going full-press, hoping that a turn to big box-office films will salvage the midterms.

That Monsieur Hammerskjold and I disagree about the relative merit of “The Hurt Locker” is no secret to…well, the two of us.  But his underestimation of this film in such a public forum leaves me with no choice but to defend its honor.  No, this was not a planned “point-counter-point” on our part.  This is merely an argument 1) on behalf of the best film of the year and 2) that it is much better than “Point Break”.

Dash’s points are well taken.  Mrs. Bigelow’s films pursue a similar aesthetic in service of a similar question.  She is interested in the adrenaline junkie, the ultra-modern adventurer who seeks thrills for his own sake.  The gendered language is purposeful here because Bigelow foucses on a central myth of the American male: rugged, individualistic, glory-seeking despite the odds and a hostile environment.  However, it is only with “The Hurt Locker” that she has made something truly salient.

Again, I agree with Dash that “Point Break” is better than is usually thought, though our reasons are quite different.  I read that movie as a subtle yet substantial critique of one aspect of American culture through one particulr incarnation of the myth of the American male just mentioned.  To watch legitimate celebrities (Swayze and Reeves) wax pseudo-philosophical and seek faux-enlightenment at the barrel of a gun is a clever, pithy (hat-tip Dash) and ultimately withering critique of the American west coast.  The movie shows how southern California co-opts and corrupts legitimate spiritual traditions and how even those who purport to reject its plastic, disposable version of consumer capitalism are co-opted by it.  Utah, from America’s interior (and frontier at that!) is also co-opted by it.  (The fact that he is an FBI agent is extremely interesting given the disproportionate number of Mormons who enthusiastically serve in that particular agency).  Though on its surface American culture (and in this film Bigelow has her guns aimed at Hollywood) appears inane and insane, it is also built upon violence.

However, “Point Break” is limited by its gimmicky conceit.  Read the rest of this entry »

Politics as Drinking Game

January 22, 2010

In the wake of Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, and other left-of-“right-of-center” bloggers have complained that today’s GOP is treating politics as only a game of Red Team vs. Blue Team, without regard to substantive policymaking. The GOP reflexively opposes everything Obama does, they say, painting it as socialist no matter how centrist it actually is.  One consequence of this strategy is that Democrats have tacked to the center, relative to the desires of their base, only to have that centrism depicted in the fair and balanced media as radical leftism. This dynamic has produced what David Leonhardt, in an NYT op-ed, calls a health care package that is “politically partisan but substantively bipartisan.”

Politics is both a game and more than a game. When we talk about political gamesmanship, we’re assuming that the game in question is zero-sum: each side’s goal is to have more seats in Congress, more governors, and more presidents (i.e., one) than the other. On the other hand, especially in Obama’s pragmatic mode, the substance of politics is non-zero-sum: each party’s goal is to advance some policies that will, they think, benefit the whole nation. Of course it’s possible to conceive of the substance of politics as non-zero-sum, and to conceive of the federal government as a weapon with which to rob some citizens for the benefit of others. Pre-Civil-War sectional politics was zero-sum like that — although “Abraham Lincoln”* did his best to reinterpret it as non-zero-sum. But each party needs to win a zero-sum game in order to advance their agenda in the non-zero-sum realm of politics. In other words, we can think of politics as a complex game in which a non-zero-sum game is wrapped inside a zero-sum game, and the goal is to win the non-zero-sum game by implementing the best policies. This holds true for Democrats as well as Republicans. The problem that Sullivan et al have identified is that the GOP has forgotten that the goal of the zero-sum game is to win the non-zero-sum game, and that conversely Obama is so focused on the non-zero-sum game that he has neglected the zero-sum game, which remains crucially important to his supporters and opponents alike. It remains so partly for practical reasons (you need it to win the non-zero-sum game) and partly for emotional reasons (all politics is tribal). If only there were some way to turn the destructive passions unleashed by tribal politics into a constructive channel …

This brings me to my modest, Lincolnian proposal. Let’s redirect some of the destructive energies at play in the zero-sum game into a game of ambiguous mathematics: a drinking game. Everybody picks a team, either red or blue. At the end of the year, you tally up your team’s wins (Congressional seat pickups, etc.) and have one drink for each. If you’re on the red team you drink the “Red Elephant.” If you’re on the blue team you drink the “Blue Donkey.” This game would teach both sides a lesson about the perils of getting drunk on power. Nobody would want to pick up more than, say, 10 seats.

David Broder, if you are reading this, please mention me in your column.


The Red Elephant

1 oz bourbon (Evan Williams) or rye whiskey (Rittenhouse)

1oz Campari

1oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

– shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled coupe glass

The Blue Donkey

1.5 oz gin (Bombay Dry)

.75 oz blue curacao

.75 oz lemon juice

– shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass

* see my bio