Thursday, November 30, 2006

To The Knightstown Filmmakers...

How's it going, guys? Just wanted to take a moment to direct your attention to a friend of mine, himself a filmmaker, who caught wind of my blog post about your movie and the fallout from it, and wrote a post of his own to address the matter. Clicking here will direct you to his blog, and clicking here will take you directly to the post in question.

I'm fairly new to the blog-o-verse, but Shane has been around it awhile longer - so his post will be seen and read by more people than will mine have been. Thus, the word gets out a little bit more...

In fact, the word is getting out even more than that. If you Google the searth string ["knighstown" AND "teddy bears"], you get 367 hits, some of which can be found by clicking below:

When Teddy Bears Attack, Students Get Expelled

First Amendment Center

Raw Story

And on other blogs...

Nothing To Do With Arbroath

Shakespeare's Sister

And here I thought I was the only one who was going to see the article in the Star and take note.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Couple Of Updates

• I got an anonymous comment today on my post about the Knightstown High School teddy bear movie controversy. The comment was from one of the four students who was expelled for making the movie - and he thanked me for my support, which I thought was pretty cool. He apparently found my blog post by Googling for information on the brouhaha. Turns out you get about 58 results when you Google the search string [“Knightstown High School” AND “Teddy Bear Master”], and the Blog-O-Rama is one of the hits. Most of them are links back to the article from the Indianapolis Star, which I referred to in my post; and most of the rest are the same story reported in other news media (print, radio, and television) around the state.

• The letter to the editor I referred to in this post was printed in the November 27th issue of the Star, albeit in somewhat castrated form. The Star has a new thing called Talk Back, which is an online forum in which readers can offer their feedback on items on the Star’s web site. My letter can be found here, and the comments to it can be found here - a total of 38 comments the last time I checked. Reading some of these comments - and believe me when I say it’s only necessary to skim them in order to get the point - only reaffirms my belief that very angry people should not, under any circumstances, have access to guns.

• Not to take anything away from the joyous orgy of rushing that was Joseph Addai's day in the Hoosier Dome on Sunday, but here is something that annoys me. There are no pictures in today's paper of Reggie Wayne's one-handed sideline catch from the first quarter. There is a picture of Reggie Wayne giving the first down signal with his arm AFTER the catch - but no pictures of the catch itself. Nothing, Nathan, Nada. Plenty of pictures of Addai, as there should be, but none of Wayne's catch.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ladies And Gentlemen...Joseph Addai

I was all set to make my case for why the Colts are still the best team in the league, but the Bears saved me the trouble, though, by losing to a team the Colts beat - despite five, count ‘em, FIVE New England turnovers. Normally you can’t turn the ball over five times and still win the game - unless you’re one of the elite teams in the league and your opponent is a turnover machine that is now, for sure, the most overrated team in the league.

But enough of that - it is now time for The Blog-O-Rama to turn its attention to the ridiculous numbers put up by Colts rookie tailback Joseph Addai, who finally burst out for an evening of rushing the likes of which the Colts were hoping for when they drafted him - and which probably still came as a shocker. He rushed for 171 yards on 24 carries, for an astonishing 7.1 yards-per-carry average - and he caught two passes for 37 yards, which gave him a total of 208 yards from scrimmage. He also rushed for four touchdowns, which tied a Colts record. He is also only the second person in the history of the NFL to rush for three touchdowns of longer than ten yards in one half of play. The other person? Eric Dickerson, who did it in 1988 - when he was playing for the Colts. Something else about Addai, and this is important - if you were watching closely, you may have noticed the way he falls when he gets tackled. He protects the ball in two ways - by covering it with both of his hands, and by going down in such a way that he puts his body between the ball and the ground. Butterfingers Rhodes (who actually looked good tonight) would do well to take that lesson to heart.

Other than Addai, the rest of the numbers for the Colts are pretty ordinary. Manning threw for less than 200 yards for only the second time this year. Reggie Wayne had four catches for 77 yards and a score. Robert Mathis did have two forced fumbles near the end of the game, which was nice to see.

Actually, there is one other thing I have to mention, and that is Reggie Wayne’s catch on the sideline early in the game. That would be the ball he hauled in completely with one hand and arm, just before he tapped the tippiest part of his tiptoes on the turf to stay inbounds before hurtling out of play. Marvin Harrison had a similar catch a couple of years ago, when he flung his body out horizontally and hauled in a catch one-handed - except that he ended up with both hands cradling the ball as he came down, and he was in the open field and did not have to worry about getting his feet down to stay inbounds. That was an amazing catch, no doubt about it; and Harrison has had plenty of catches in his career where he danced with his toes to stay inbounds - but Reggie Wayne grabbed that ball out of the air with one hand and hauled it down that way, while hitting the inbounds part of the field with his toes, just barely. Absolutely incredible.

So that’s it, pretty much. The rush defense was awful, as usual, but the Eagles offense was equally awful, apart from Brian Westbrook, who had 124 yards on 20 carries (6.2) and a score, to go with 46 yards on 7 receptions, for 170 yards from scrimmage. Philadelphia amassed a total of 300 yards for the game - Westbrook had 170 of those yards.

Now for a few other things. I have finally conceded defeat on my pick of the New York Football Giants to go to the Super Bowl. Yes, injuries have decimated this team, particularly on defense; and yes, Manning the younger is still a little bit green, still suffering from some of the same problems with composure that plagued Manning the elder during his first few years in the league; but they also have a coach - Tom Coughlin, who might be the most overrated coach in the league - who bitched last week about Tiki Barber airing the team’s dirty laundry in public, and who then went right out and did the same thing during the post-game conference today! He called out Manning for the last pick, the one that probably cost NYG the game. This is the same nimrod who couldn’t get it done in Jacksonville, despite having Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, and Fred Taylor in the primes of their careers.

The Blog-O-Rama’s Power Rankings - I know, there’s still a Monday night game, but even if Seattle shut Green Bay out 100-0, they still wouldn’t make it onto this list, so here they are:

5. Dallas - The only reason they squeak in here is because they’ve won three in a row (one of which was against the Colts) and Denver has lost two in a row. Otherwise, this would be an all-AFC list, because the NFC is just an awful, awful conference.

4. New England - Brutal schedule and a depleted roster had everybody counting the Patriots out this year, but here they are at the top of the division and looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. I would have them third over Baltimore, but the Patriots are a meager 1-3 against good teams. Their best win is at NYJ in week 2.

3. Baltimore - The Ravens are 9-2 with Steve McNair under center. They were 6-10 a year ago with Kyle Boller at quarterback. And yet you still hear people talking about how much better they are now that Brian Billick is calling the plays. He’s not the one running those plays, though.

2. San Diego - The Bolts are scary good, and LaDanian Tomlinson is hands down the best player in the league - but they got the fear of Fouts knocked into ‘em by the hapless Oakland Raiders this afternoon. They can go as deep as Tomlinson can carry them, and that could mean the Super Bowl, if they can manage to force a few turnovers against the Colts - whom they will presumably play in the AFC title game.

1. Indianapolis - Joseph Addai has arrived, which means that opposing defenses now have to prepare to be assaulted on the ground as well as through the air (not to mention having to watch out for Terrence Wilkins in the return game). The only team that can beat the Colts is the Colts - turnovers can still rattle Manning to the point that the effectiveness of the offense is eliminated. The only way the Colts don’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Miami is if one of their playoff opponents can fluster Manning with a couple of picks early in the game.

The Blog-O-Rama’s MVP Picks

3. Steve McNair - The key to Baltimore’s resurgence has been resurrecting the offense, and that comes down to McNair being better than Kyle Boller. I thought of putting Tony Romo here, but the Ravens have a better record and McNair is a proven winner who has been to the Super Bowl.

2. Peyton Manning - I’m still not sure Tomlinson is more valuable to his team than Manning is. But I’m also not sure that Manning is more valuable to his team than Tomlinson. I give a slight edge to Tomlinson this week because of the way Manning came unglued against the Cowboys last week.

1. LaDanian Tomlinson - See above. And hell, maybe I’ll reconsider after the stats are all updated and I can pore over the numbers a bit more. In the meantime, LT has rushed for 14 touchdowns in the last five games and has only fumbled twice. And he got one of those fumbles back.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

President Theodore Roosevelt Is Rolling Over And Over In His Grave

The Saturday edition of the Indianapolis Star reports here that four students from Knightstown High School have been expelled for making a movie. Well, that’s not entirely true. The article headlines by saying that two of the four students have sued to be reinstated at the high school - their expulsion was a result of having made a movie.

The name of the movie? The Teddy Bear Master. The premise? Killer teddy bears attack a teacher in the classroom. Seriously. Teddy bears. The problem? The teacher in the movie bears the same last name as an actual teacher at Knightstown High School. Not goofy enough, you say? Needs a bit more to be really ridiculous and over the top? Okay, here you go. The movie’s dramatic denouement (which is French for denouement)? The students in the classroom fight off the teddy bears (and presumably save the teacher, although the Star omits this information - in case maybe you were planning to buy a copy of the movie and wanted to be surprised?).

The real life teacher felt threatened. By teddy bears. From a homemade movie spoof that was as unrelated to school as possible, apart from the fact that the real life teacher and the character in the movie share the same last name. It was not a school project.

The ACLU is backing one of the kids who is suing to get back into school. (On the off chance that there were any conservative Republican readers of this blog, I have now lost them, by committing that most unholy of sins - defending people who are being defended by the ACLU, which, for conservatives, has apparently leapfrogged past money as the root of all evil.)

One more thing: apparently some of the movie had been posted on MySpace, and this was noted in the school district’s response to the ACLU in which the district gave its reasons for the expulsions. Seems the students, while at school, could have accessed the movie by way of MySpace.

I must be missing something. Right? The school district expelled four students for making a teddy bear slasher movie AND allows its students access to MySpace while they are at school? Paging Margaret Spellings: These children are being left behind!

Now, before this goes any further, let me make it very clear that I understand how difficult it must be to give the benefit of the doubt in a situation like this, in a post-Columbine world; but surely there was someone in the administration at Knightstown High School, who was in the know about this situation between when the fact of the movie became known and when the students were expelled, who thought to him- or herself that there is quite the difference between kids who talk about actually killing teachers or other students and about bringing guns to school, and kids who made a movie about killer teddy bears.

Did I mention that the teacher’s students fight off the bears at the end of the movie? How did this element of context wind up lost in translation? Or is there simply a black and white line, and once that line is crossed, there’s no going back? Did the people in charge at Knightstown simply conclude that the line had been crossed and then take the next step? Did it never occur to any of those people to sit these kids down and talk to them about it, maybe let them know that personal expression, while certainly a good thing, can sometimes make others uncomfortable? Did they give the kids the chance to hear that argument and respond to it? Did they give the kids the chance to tell their side of the story?

Or have we just gotten to the point in this country where every single thing that isn’t baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet must then obviously be turban-wrapped and muttering incoherent slogans from the Qur’an while fiddling with the explosives in its shoes?

Just because a kid has his wallet on a chain and buys all his clothes at Hot Topic doesn’t mean he’s a fucking sociopath - but if this is always the knee-jerk way that society reacts to the way he tries to express himself, how long do you think it will be before he winds up that way?

Know why there was a massacre at Columbine High School in 1999? It wasn’t because Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were outcasts who had been picked on one too many times and hatched a plan to get even. No, Columbine happened because those two kids had access to guns. Period.

The kids in Knightstown were making a movie, not hatching a plot. Was the movie in bad taste? Yeah, probably. But it was just a movie. Maybe after the winter break the students in the Knightstown High School art class can teach the administration a bit about perspective.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rediscovering Keith Olbermann

In a previous post, I mentioned my take on those comments John Kerry made about how failing to take advantage of education could get you stuck in Iraq - and in that post I noted my opinion that Kerry had meant one thing while the Republicans had spun something else entirely.

And the whole thing died down, as these blips on the radar so often do. Then why, you ask, am I bringing it up again? The answer is because of an article I found on the MSNBC page for their nightly news show called Countown, hosted by Keith Olbermann. In another previous post, I mentioned that I had started reading Olbermann's new book, based on his "Worst Person In The World" bit that he does every night at the end of Countdown.

Since then, I have from time to time scooted over to the Countown page to check out the day's Worst Person In The World, and that was what I was doing toninght when an article, off to the side, caught my eye.

Olbermann: Bush owes troops apology, not Kerry

Man...I thought I had venom in my heart for President Bush, but Olbermann, much more of a public figure than little old me, positively seethes with loathing for our dear leader. His article explains yet another way to interpret what Kerry said, and while I still believe in the validity of the point I made, I think Olbermann might be even more on target - especially when you factor in the words Kerry's camp said he was supposed to have spoken. I'm just a loud-mouthed blogger - Olbermann is an actual journalist, and clearly did a better job of getting to the bottom of Kerry's remarks than I did.

Yeah, I know, I'm behind the times. I should have seen this article weeks ago when it was posted, but I just recently began dialing up MSNBC from time to time. Would that I had discovered this oasis of free thinking sooner. I revisit the topic here not to dredge up the Kerry story, but rather to call attention to Olbermann and his article. He was always my favorite SportsCenter host, in large part because he was always both extremely funny and extremely adept in his use of language. My respect for him has only grown since I read the book and started reading his articles on the Countdown web site. His views are very liberal, and he is an incredibly talented writer. And, with the advent of the "Worst Person In The World Bit," he has returned somewhat to the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor he so often displayed on SportsCenter.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

For Your Consideration

Be warned - The only way I can really talk about this movie is by revealing pretty much everything it has to offer in terms of plot structure, from the basic premise down to all the things that happen to the characters at the end. If you would rather not know what happens, you should skip the ninth paragraph.

This is the latest film from Christoper Guest and his troupe of talented comedic actors and actresses (Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind), which finds Guest playing the director of a movie that gets a brief whiff of Oscar buzz for one of its principals (Catherine O’Hara), a whiff of Oscar buzz that quickly steamrolls through the actors, the publicist, and one of the other actor’s agents, but never seems to affect the director or the producer (a wonderfully ditzy Jennifer Coolidge).

There comes a point in the making of the troupe’s movie, Home For Purim, when a pair of studio execs shows up on set and wants the writers to make some tweaks to the picture so that it will appeal to a broader audience. Specifically, they want the writers to tone down what they call the “Jewish-NESS” of the movie - which tells the story of a Jewish family that comes home for one last Purim celebration with their dying mother.

At this point, the film (For Your Consideration, not Home For Purim) comes off the rails completely. I suspect that it is possible that Christopher Guest (and co-writer Eugene Levy) might have done this intentionally, to illustrate the devastating effect studio executives can have when they try to dabble in the creative end of making movies.

Possible...but not terribly likely. If that was Guest’s and Levy’s intent, then they are brave souls for trying to make that kind of point - and it might even have been a commendable effort...if the movie had been funny. But it’s not.

If that was not their intent, then For Your Consideration is just astronomically bad. Catastrophically and irretrievably awful. A tedious exercise in forced laughs and wooden direction that is just embarrassing. For someone who so perfectly skewered small town theatre, dog shows, and the bygone era of folk music, Guest with this film seems simply to set up one aspect of filmmaking in Hollywood, take aim, and fire. Bang. Then another aspect, aim, and fire. And in a really robotic way.

As the last two segments of the film unfolded, which I describe below, I kept thinking to myself that it was some kind of dream sequence, that I was watching the dreams (or perhaps nightmares) of one or multiple members of the Home For Purim cast. Indeed, as the scenes went on, I kept thinking that it had to go back and pick up where it had left off with the studio executives pitching their tweaks to the writers. It just had to.

But it didn’t. If it had, the movie could perhaps have been salvaged. Up until the arrival of the studio execs, it had that absurdly likable quality that each of the three previous films had. Here, then, is the balance of the film, almost all of which I honestly beileved, for probably twenty minutes as it unfolded, had to be the stuff of truly haunted dreams.

At the end of the scene in which the studio executives bring their idea of tweaking the ethnicity of the picture to the writers, Guest fades to black. In the next scene, the title of the other movie has been changed from Home For Purim to Home For Thanksgiving. The Oscar buzz is in high gear, and the three actors whose names have been associated with the buzz are making the rounds on those celebrity tabloid shows - the ones you see on network television between the 6:30 world news and the start of prime time. After the wrap party for Home For Thanksgiving, there is another fade to black. The movie then plods mirthlessly to its abrupt conclusion by revealing the Oscar nominations (no one from Home For Thanksgiving has been nominated for anything - except perhaps for the only one of the main players who had not previously gotten any buzz, although the scene is somewhat ambiguous and is left unresolved), and then showing what happens to the actors once the air has gone out of their sails and their movie has tanked.

If there are any positives to be drawn from this mess they are these: First, Fred Willard, playing one of those celebrity tabloid hosts, almost steals the show (as he did in Best In Show, which I think is the best of this troupe’s four pictures). His casual delivery and expert sense of timing do bring the occasional laugh, but you can tell by the look in his eyes that he has some sense of how Herculean (or perhaps Sisyphean) is his task. Second, the movie is mercifully short, clocking in at around ninety minutes or so. Had it been much longer, it surely would have been one of those movies where you’re looking at your watch and wondering when it’s just going to end, already.

I may have gone into this movie with overly-inflated expectations, having thoroughly enjoyed the first three films. Going into any movie with your expectations too high can have devastating results on your opinion of the movie once you get to the end (The Da Vinci Code, The King, and Down In The Valley are examples from movies I have seen lately). At the bottom, though, I don’t really believe my expectations were too high - the buzz around this film was never as big as the buzz around, nor was the trailer as funny as the one for, A Mighty Wind. Even after giving serious thought to what Guest and Levy might have been saying by delivering a malicious stab (instead of this troupe's usual playful skewer), I think the final answer is that this movie just sucks.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

There And Back Again...Or Not

Peter Jackson is out as director for New Line's Hobbit project, according to Monday's Studio Briefing on IMDb. Apparently there is bad blood between Jackson and the studio, to do with a lawsuit Jackson filed last year alleging that New Line bilked him out of millions of dollars for the first movie in the Lord Of The Rings series because of fraudulent revenue reporting. I suppose they'll find someone else to direct the picture, and I guess the movie will probably be okay...but what a remakrable example of petty business bickering doing damage to art. Ugh...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Point Of A Gun

UPDATE: I got a call from one of the editorial people at the Star, asking me to verify that I had written a letter to the editor. I called her back and let her know that I had, so that might mean that they are going to print my letter on Thursday. Here's a link to the Star's letters page, if anyone is interested.

The two paragraphs in italics, below, are my response to this letter to the editor, written by an idiot from Danville. Go figure. Anyway, I tried to be somewhat restrained in what I sent to the Star, but my verbose nature began to get the better of me while I was writing the response, and I wound up with enough material for a tasty blog post. I present it here because I'm sure the Star won't print it.

There are two problems with Mr. Kenneth Dewey’s Nov. 21 letter about gun laws. The first is his claim that gun laws are not enforced - an efficient way of passing the buck on guns to the cops, who are doing their best to enforce the laws. Laws against carrying guns and hiding them in your trunk can’t be enforced without probable cause, because of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. The illegal sale of guns by dealers is a red herring - the guns are being sold legally in the store and then illegally on the street; and, again, the Fourth Amendment protects the owners of gun stores. The second problem is when he passes the buck again, from guns to people when he says that anything can be used as a weapon to kill someone. This is true, except guns are more effective and far too easy to get.

Creating stricter gun laws is the only way to reduce gun crimes, because it is the only way to reduce the number of guns that exist. The people who make guns will always turn a blind eye to the horrors being committed with the products they make, so it is left to government to step in and make laws since the people can’t or won’t understand just how dangerous guns are. The failed war on drugs is proof that blindfolded enforcement will never solve the problem. There will always be people who want to do drugs, and there will always be people who want to kill other people with guns. We can’t force people to do right, but we can force people to do without.

The gun people love to stand behind the Second Amendment, although none of them really seem to understand it. The gun people are what we call strict constructionists when it comes to interpreting the Constitution, and that means they interpret the Constitution based more on what the words say specifically than on the spirit with which the words were written. The Second Amendment says that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. What it does not say - but what it does, in fact, mean, especially when viewed in context along with the Third and Fourth Amendments - is that the people have the right to keep and bear arms in the defense of their homes. This was back in a time when a major war had just been fought by a breakaway people who were trying to make it in a foreign land - self-preservation was right at the top of their list of priorities. Thus, the people were empowered to secure their homes, something that municipal police departments and county sheriff’s departments were later created to do. The times have changed, but the law, as written, has not.

The Second Amendment was never meant to allow for people to carry guns in state parks - even though that is now legal here in the cosmopolitan state of Indiana. It was never meant to allow for people to possess automatic weapons. The true brilliance of our Founding Fathers - and don’t forget that these guys we glorify for founding our country were mostly tobacco planters and slave owners - is shown by the fact that they created a constitituion that could be changed over the years to remain consistent with the times. I personally think the Second Amendment should be repealed, as it is no longer relevant. This won’t happen, of course, because the NRA has grown too powerful and bought too many Republicans. Also, the gun manufacturers aren’t going to grow consciences overnight - hell, probably ever at all.

Thus, if it’s going to continue to exist, then it has to be restricted with gun laws that are designed to discourage the further manufacture and use of guns. It is the nature of Americans to embrace, whether they know it or not, the title of that 4 Non Blondes album from 1992 - Bigger, Better, Faster, More! - the pursuit of happiness thrusts us blindly along that path. Unfortunately, it is no longer the province of most Americans - who, it can only be assumed, watch so much television more because of inertia than because of actual interest - to embrace temperance, and that’s where government regulation comes into play. In cases where we can’t or won’t understand what’s good for us and what isn’t the government is in place to pass laws that protect us from ourselves.

And there need to be a hell of a lot more gun laws, so that the number of guns on the street - regardless of their (dubious) legality - is drastically reduced. Guns give criminals the advantage, and opponents of gun control are basically just helping to arm the criminals.

Why Democrats Suck (#1)

I take a lot of shots at Republicans and conservatives in my blog postings, but the Democrats can be just as bad. Okay, not just as bad, but just because they're not Republicans doesn't mean they're perfect. I prefer Democrats to Republicans in places like Congress because Democrats typically are a bit more liberal than Republicans - especially since the Republicans have gotten so tight with the Christian right, one of the many painful consequences of the Bush administration.

But not all Democrats get a pass here in the Blog-O-Rama, and today I have my sights set on Congressman Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York who says we should bring back the draft in order to shore up the troop levels currently in Iraq and to make sure we have enough troops for potential future operations in Iran and North Korea. He also speculates - check out the CNN article here - that people in Congress might not have been so quick to vote for, and might be less likely to vote in the future for, operations in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, if there was the potential that kids in their constituencies might be called to serve against their will.

Way to exploit the kids there, Chuck. Are you telling me that Iraq isn't already enough like Vietnam? Now they want to bring back the draft that people were dodging a generation ago, for the same reason(s) they'd dodge it now, if it came back? It would never pass, of course - not in Congress, where the people passing it would eventually have to run for re-election - but that isn't even the point. What do you think Mahmoud Ahamdinejad, President of Iran, and Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader of North Korea, would think of us, the United States, if we brought back the draft? They each already believe that the United States has a secret plan brewing to invade each of their countries - how much warmer and fuzzier would they feel to learn that the United States is drafting legislation - which would surely be against the will of its people - that would begin a massive forced increase in our number of troops?

Part of his reasoning for why we need to bring back the draft is that it is inexcusable to send people back for second and third tours in Iraq; and while a more touchy-feely person might agree with this assertion, I disagree, because it is founded on a faulty premise - that of the war in Iraq being justified. It isn't. It never was, and never has been. If the stated objectives of this war - regardless of the reasoning behind those objectives - had been achieved as originally conceived, we would not be having this conversation. We would be out of Iraq. But we aren't - because the war has been bungled and mismanaged almost from day one. It is the Titanic, in the space between when it collided with the iceberg and when it sank. In 1912, there was nothing that could stop the Titanic from sinking once it started taking on water. In 2006, there are ways that the war in Iraq can be righted, but the problem is that President Bush, to right the ship, would have to admit fault, ask for help, and come to terms with the failures of his presidency. None of these things is likely to happen between now and when Hillary Clinton is sworn in as President on January 20, 2009. Bush will hand his failed war off to the next President just as Lyndon Johnson did in 1968 - and the best that we can hope for in Iraq is that Hillary Clinton does a better job of cleaning up than Nixon did.

This, then, is how the Democrats are so far reacting to re-gaining power in Congress. First, Nancy Pelosi takes a somewhat contentious stand when she backs John Murtha, of Pennsylvaina, to be House Majority Leader, instead of Steny Hoyer, the currenty Minority Whip and a man with whom she has had a strained professional relationship since they ran against each other for Minority Whip in 2001. I have no preference for either over the other, but find it interesting and a little unsettling that Pelosi’s first quasi-official act as Speaker of the House is to, essentially, thumb her nose at one of her collegaues. I’m all for thumbing your nose at folks, but the bloom isn’t even off the rose yet, you know? How do you expect the more conservative Democrats (and there is no small number of them, out there - Murtha among them), to say nothing of the Republicans, to play nice and invite you to join in all the reindeer games if you’re pulling this kind of shit before you even take your oath?

Second, today’s contestant, Charles Rangel - who was re-elected to his House seat with a staggering 94% of the vote - wants to bring back the draft. Apparently this is his little pet project in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, this is not the best time to be trotting it out - not while we’re at war (even if it is a dumb war we aren’t going to win - which it is) and not as your party is about to come back to power.

The Dems are putting the cart before the horse, counting their chickens before they’re hatched, etcetera, etcetera. There was a lot of hope in the air on November 7th, when the Dems won back the House; and there was more hope in the air on November 8th, when it finally became clear that the Dems had also won back the Senate. I felt a lot of hope - and even did my best to turn a deaf ear to those pundits who were saying that the American people had voted less FOR Democrats than they voted AGAINST Republicans. I knew Nancy Pelosi was a little bit nuts, but was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not losing my hope that the Dems will begin the process of cleaning up the mess Bush has made in Washington and around the world, and I am not reconsidering giving Nancy Pelosi the benefit of the doubt, either. Yet. But these two examples prove that Democrats suck a little bit, too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fran, Dan, and Peyton

Today’s loss to the Cowboys revealed that I was incorrect in thinking that the Colts had made progress in a certain area - that of Peyton Manning’s ability to bounce back from mistakes, his ability not to become rattled. Dropped passes and interceptions both contributed to his frustration and demonstrated that Peyton Manning is not just the guy we will hand the ball to when we need to win - today’s mistakes also demonstrated that he is the guy who will be holding the ball when we lose.

You can’t blame the rush defense and you can’t blame Bill Parcells for throwing in the red challenge flag. In fact, you have to sort of commend Bill Parcells for throwing in the red challenge flag. (I didn’t get to see the game, or much of it, at any rate, as I was at work. I also didn’t get to listen to much of it, either, since we were busier than we had expected to be and were somewhat grossly understaffed. I don’t know what the timing was on the tossing of the red flag - although it seems somewhat strange that the Colts were able to start and complete the play before anyone noticed that the red flag had gone out. Regardless, you can’t blame that red flag or the results of its tossing for the fact that the Colts lost this game.) If the red flag went in before the play that ended with a Ben Utecht touchdown started, then it’s a brilliant football move by a brilliant football mind. If not, it’s cheating; but I suspect that it was actually a brilliant football move by a brilliant football mind.

Nope - this one is on Manning. He was unable to do what he had done in each of the other games this season, which was to take the team on his shoulders and carry them to victory. The other part of why the Colts lost is the reason that Manning was unable to do today what he had been able to do in the previous nine games - and that other part is Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who did something no other team has tried to do to the Colts yet this year. He got his defense to come at Manning.

All of the other teams this year have been content just to hammer away at the Colts rush defense with their runningbacks - and just sort of hope that either the Colts would make mistakes, or that their team could score some points against the Colts rush defense. The only other team that really came at Manning was the Patriots, but apparently Manning has built a shell around his impression of the Patriots, and is no longer intimidated enough by them to get rattled.

Parcells got his defense to bring everything but the kitchen sink at Manning, and they had him shellshocked all day. The lesson, then, is this: the rush defense is a red herring. The only hope a team has to beat the Colts is to try to get to Manning, and to hope that he makes a couple of costly mistakes - a team that can do that can beat the Colts. It’s been a glaring weakness in a quarterback who is otherwise the most complete player in the league. It was a weakness I thought Manning had conquered, with his consistency and collectedness as the proof of it this season. I was wrong.

Now, about that rush defense - it gave up only 117 yards today, to the tune of 3.3 yards per carry. In the last two games, the Colts have given up only 228 yards on the ground, a 114 yards per game average. That’s currently about middle of the pack in the NFL this year.

I mentioned dropped passes earlier - Manning completed only 20 of his 39 passes today, or 51.3%. He’s only thrown a lower completion percentage in one other game this year, when he completed just 14 of 31 tosses against Jacksonville, for 45.2% - and that game was in the Hoosier Dome. This was only Manning’s third game with less than 60% of his passes complete. The third was a 20 for 36 (55.6%) effort at New England.

He had previously thrown only three picks all season - he threw two today, and one went back for a touchdown. Take out those 7 points, and the Colts are at least back in it. Then again, if you put back the 6 points Dallas failed to earn when Mike Vanderjagt missed two field goals, it’s still a close game. Manning also fumbled twice, and lost one of them.

Reggie Wayne was one of the few bright spots for the Colts - 7 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be starting in the Pro Bowl, never mind just playing in it. One other (somewhat) bright spot is that the defense, overall, has only given up three touchdowns in the last two games. Unfortunately, the Colts defense is nowhere near good enough to mitigate the kinds of mistakes on offense that have been made in the last two games.

Manning IS good enough to mitigate the mistakes the rest of the team makes, most of the time. But is it asking too much to ask him to win the game every week? Yes, that is asking him too much - Joseph Addai and Butterfingers Rhodes should be able to carry the load some weeks, and the defense is good enough to force turnovers that lead to quick points, and Terrence Wilkins has proven to be a positively scary return man. There are other options, other ways to score points and create opportunities. But when those things don't work, or when they don't work well enough, then they just have to hand the ball to Manning and tell him he has to win the game for them.

And you don’t even have to tell him that. He’s the smartest guy in football - he knows the score, so to speak, long before we do. But he just hasn’t learned to play with the kind of fire that it takes to get that job done every week - he still can’t play under real pressure. And real pressure is the only kind of pressure they have in the playoffs. Not candy-ass pressure like Billy Joel or that dopey Queen/David Bowie song that Vanilla Ice stole from. No, we’re talking about South African diamond mine pressure here. And the Colts just don’t have an answer - you can’t play polite, tea party football and win a Super Bowl.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - Tony Dungy is never going to win a Super Bowl - and that is sad, because he is a great coach, and an even better person. I don’t like it much - but it’s the truth. Something else that’s sad, and this is not something I have ever said before - but I’m saying it now, and I’ll stand by it.

Peyton Manning is never going to win a Super Bowl, either.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Low Prices? Low Scruples, Too.

Now, for crying out loud. Here is a CNN article that has Wal-Mart accusing former United States Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards of cutting in line to get one of the new PlayStation 3 game consoles.

The ex-Senator and potential 2008 Presidential hopeful (please the court, the state requests permission to chuckle) acknowledged that someone on his staff had contacted Wal-Mart and dropped Edwards’ name inappropriately. The article says that Edwards says that the staffer was trying to get a console for himself, but Wal-Mart says that the staffer was trying to procure a console for the ex-Senator’s family.

Edwards has lately been criticizing Wal-Mart - correctly - over its labor standards (they refuse to let their employees form a union, and the average hourly wage at Wal-Mart is about $9), and Wal-Mart seems to be stomping on this faux pas pretty hard in an effort to make the ex-Senator look bad. This is the same company that had to stop using its “Buy American!” slogan because it turned out that most of the clothes they sold were actually being made overseas. It’s also the same company that has two-thirds of its stores in states that went for Bush in 2004.

Here’s part of what the Wal-Mart statement said: “While the rest of America's working families are waiting patiently in line, Senator Edwards wants to cut to the front.” Picks on the ex-Senator by name and says nothing about the staffer who actually tried to cut the end-run-around. That’s what CNN has on their web site, not the complete statement. MSNBC has the same article, which came from the Associated Press and does not include the full text of the statement from Wal-Mart. Probably doesn’t matter, though - the above quote is clearly meant to take a direct shot at Edwards and is simply mean-spirited, when both sides acknowledge that it was an Edwards staffer who committed the gaffe.

It’s just petty, Wal-Mart taking a shot at a Dem because they know they can. He’s not even really a contender for the 2008 Democratic nomination for President - and never will be, as he is far too close to John Kerry. If the Dems lose in 2008 - and it’s a distinct possibility, even with Bush as unpopular as he is, because the GOP will nominate either Rudy Guiliani or John McCain - it will be because John Kerry between now and then says or does even more to drag the party down. Guiliani is a head-case and a publicity hound, but on the plus side, he has no radical right-wing agenda; and McCain, one of the few Republicans who will actually work both sides of the aisle, is probably as good as the Republicans get - and is far more electable now than he was in any of the previous campaigns in which he has run.

At this point, it boils down to four heavyweights, and a lot of little guys who may or may not get to move up the line if someone ahead of them steps aside - and that could happen, as has already been seen with the announcement by Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, that he would not run for President in 2008.

That leaves Hillary Clinton (the frontrunner) and Barack Obama for the Dems, and Rudy Guiliani and John McCain for the GOP (they might as well be neck and neck). John Edwards is an afterthought, and this Wal-Mart non-story is just petty bullshit being trumped up by Republicans who are pissed off that they lost Congress in the midterms. They should be more pissed at their President - because the American people voted mostly for Dems on November 7th not because they thought the Dems were better, but because they associated the Republicans with Bush and finally voted, as they should have in 2004, to dump him and his politics and his attitude and his policies.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Way The Cookie Crumbles

Part One - 2:06 PM

Okay, I am resigned to the fact that I am going to spend the day indoors, awaiting the furnace guy and hoping that he can fix whatever has gone wonky with my furnace so that we can get warm again here at Chez Peddie. I’m not a fan of resigning myself to spending the day in the house when there are things that could be done outside, but hey - when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Lynchburg Lemonade.

And it occurred to me that I could fire up the oven to get some heat going in the house - and then it also occurred to me that that would at least be a waste of resources (surely no one would have gone to the trouble of inventing a furnace if the oven were an effective home heating appliance), and possibly dangerous, too - although it is an electric oven.

The next thought was that I could use the oven to cook something - that would generate heat, not be dangerous, and not be a waste of resources, as I would have something to eat when it was done; but that idea came with a problem, too, and that problem was that cooking something in the oven - and, being a guy, my first thought, of course, was pizza - would be over too quickly, the oven would cool probably before I was done eating the pizza, and I’d be right back to square one.

And then, finally, I thought of baking cookies - something I have never thought of to do myself before. Cookies would take longer, would force me to make cookie dough, which would at least get me doing somehting, instead of standing in various rooms in the house muttering, “Fuck, it’s cold in here!”, and could be done over and over again, thereby generating heat for a good part of the afternoon - not, maybe, enough to keep the house comfortable for the rest of the day, but maybe enough to last until the chap from the furnace people shows up to fix the furnace.

Something else that just occurred to me: guys will unwrap a pizza, throw it in the oven - of course it’s the kind of pizza that doesn’t require you to preheat the oven - and it’s done just like that. Women will take the time to mix up the perfect cookie dough, pre-heat the oven until it’s exactly as hot as it needs to be for baking, then bake a batch of cookies and do it over and over and over again, sometimes all afternoon and into the evening. Huh. That thought is simultaneously funny and vaguely unsettling.

I zipped over to my parents’ house to get some cookie recipes from my mom, and then hit the grocery store and spent more time in the baking needs aisle than I have probably done cumulatively in all past trips to the grocery store since I was born. I got home at 1:30, the furnace people had not called (having said they could have someone here between 2 and 4 and promising to call thirty minutes ahead of time), and the house was at 57º.

I set out the baking igredients on the counter, put a twelve-pack of Stella Artois in the refrigerator to get cold - and yes, jokes about leaving them out in the living room to get cold had crossed my mind - and am getting ready to make my first batch of cookie dough. Today’s contestants are going to be Milk Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Scotchies, and Snickerdoodles.

I will post updates as the batches of cookies come out of the oven - this will be an interactive cookie-baking experience. If anyone wants to pop by for cookies, feel free.

Part Two - 2:14 PM

And we’re off to a rousing start. I have one stick of butter, two eggs, and no shortening. Crap. Also no cream of tartar, which apparently has few uses except for making Snickerdoodles. So it’s off to the grocery store again. I am so fucking useless.

Part Three - 4:00 PM

Oatmeal Scotchies call for something called “quick oats,” which I was unable to search long enough for on my second trip to the grocery store - a trip which almost did not happen because the furnace guy called me just as I was about to walk out the door, at about 2:15. He told me that he would have a chap out to look at my furnace in 25-30 minutes, which I thought would be just enough time to get to the grocery store and back.

It was just enough time - I was 25 minutes exactly to and from the grocery store, but, alas, did not come away with quick oats. Instead, I decided to use a recipe, on the back of the shortening can that I got on the second trip, to make Peanut Butter isntead of Oatmeal Scotchies. The only downside is that Amy will probably not have any peanut butter left when she gets back from her conference in Nashville.

So, I’m back home, 25 minutes later, but the furnace guy - a friendly fellow called Daniel - is later than the estimate in getting to my house. I, of course, think I have missed him, so delay on starting the cookies while I wait for him and then call the furnace people to see if I did, in fact, miss him.

And then he arrived, deduced the problem with the furnace in about three minutes, and waited on hold with the guy he gets his parts from for about fifteen minutes, then got the authorization to proceed and took off to get the part. He’ll be back in probably about an hour, with the part, and will have me up and running, I would guess, before time for Jeopardy! (although if it’s still Celebrity Jeopardy!, I won’t care much).

And I’ll be sitting here in my newly-warm house with about $45 worth of cookie ingredients and probably no more desire to bake cookies. Actually, if you take out the $14 for the Stella Artois, it’s only $32 for the cookie ingredients, but still. Of course, by the time the furnace is furnacing again, the Stella Artois will be cold - and I’ll have to start thinking about what to do for dinner.

See - a post like this is the danger of a blogger (who also happens to be a writer) who has a whole day on his hands and nothing much to do. I apologize profusely to anyone who pored through this remarkable assortment of words in the hopes that they would get to see me describe my utter failure at baking cookies. But have faith - who knows? There is still light left in the day. There may yet be cookies - and there may yet be utter cookie failure.

Part Four - 4:44 PM

First batch of Milk Chocolate Chip is in the oven. 8-10 minutes on 375º. The furnace guy has not yet returned, but the Stella Artois is nice and cold. Time to throw on the new Dixie Chicks record and see how good it is.

Part Five - 5:01 PM

It seems that when my oven reads 370º, it doesn’t precisely mean it. The recipe called for the cookies to bake at 375º for 8-10 minutes. So when the oven got to 370º and just decided to hover there, I moved it up a notch to 380º, at which point it then displayed 375º, but wasn’t actually even close. The first batch seem to be melting onto the tray - but what’s this??

I just heard my furnace kick on. It takes a few seconds between when it cycles on and when the blower starts to vent hot air into the room, and I shall await those few seconds right here at the—

And there it is. Sweet mother of pearl - there is hot air coming out of something in this house besides me. And the cookies are starting to smell like cookies, but they still look sort of odd. Stay tuned.

Part Six - 5:10 PM

The first batch of cookies is out of the oven, and they actually seem to be of uniform shape - wonder of wonders. They are cooling on a cooling rack that I have placed on the dining room table next to where I set up my computer so I could work on this post at the same time that I worked on the cookies. I might actually have done this right - which means that after all that effort to warm up the oven in order to warm up my house, the furnace is working again, and I have nine cookies to show for it.

The furnace guy is writing up a ticket for the job, and after that is settled, I shall taste one of my cookies and then put batch #2 in the oven. It’s way out ahead of Jeopardy! time, and though most of my day is shot I feel...well, not exactly like I have accomplished anything - but more like I managed to not exactly do nothing.

Part The Conclusion - 5:48 PM

The house is warm again - sitting currently at 64º, which is downright balmy compared to where I was three hours ago - the second batch of Milk Chocolate Chip is in the oven, and I have lost the desire to make any more cookies.

The second batch is now done, and they look better than the first batch did. The final tally is 25 cookies in just under four hours, including a second trip to the grocery store and a furnace repair visit.

For those of you who made it to the end, thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing a part of my day with me. Peace.

Shut Up and Sing

Prior to seeing this movie, I had heard all of one song by the Dixie Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier,” which is excellent) and knew little about the band apart from what lead singer Natalie Maines had said about President Bush during a concert in London in 2003, just before the war in Iraq started. I don’t recall exactly what I thought when I heard about what she had said, nor exactly what my feelings on the war were at that time. I recall being surprised to hear that a country singer had spoken out against Bush in that way, and I bought the Entertainment Weekly that had them on the cover with mock-up epithets written on their naked bodies; I don’t know exactly where this episode falls in my declining opinion of President Bush, but suspect that the backlash against Maines probably helped my thinking along in that regard.

In the time since her comment, of course, much has changed - “Travelin’ Soldier” was still the only bit of their music I had heard before I saw the movie - but pretty much everything else is light years from the way it was in 2003 before the war started. I recall thinking when the whole thing began that the Dixie Chicks were done, that that one tiny remark had cost them their careers and that it would be state fairs they would be playing for the rest of their lives, if they were lucky.

Luckily, though - for me, for music, for the ladies themselves, of course - the remark did not have that effect. What happened instead was that they regrouped, took stock of where they were in their personal and professional lives, and then dug their heels in and started working on a new record. A number of the songs from that record are featured throughout the film, in various stages of development and performance.

But they are not the same band - as though it could have been expected that they would come out the other side unchanged by what had happened. I suspect that they are a better band, though since I don’t know any of their previous music cannot rightly say - although the songs from the new record are very strong, lyrically and musically.

I suspect that they have also changed the face of country music - or perhaps just split the fan base down the middle - on one side, the mountain folk whose knuckles drag on the ground when they walk and who still think (insofar as they are able) that Dubya is doing a heckuvva job; and on the other, a more sophisticated group of people who actually cared more about the music than what Natalie Maines said on stage, and who still care more about the music now.

I get the sense from the movie that they have come to terms with the fact that they have irrevocably lost their fan base in the Ozarks - at one point, Maines, who attends a startling number of meetings positioned horizontally on a couch, is saying “maybe” as her response to everything her manager is saying to her about how the band will be back in two years, in 2005, with a new record, new tour, etc. After hearing her answer him with “maybe” going on half a dozen times, he asks, timidly, if they are, in fact, going to do another record.

Her answer is that it may not be a country record, and he exclaims that that is fine, almost as though he had half-assumed that the band would not record another country record - and as though he could not have cared less what kind of record it was, so long as there was one. (The record is a country record, but there are other things in there - put an ear to it, and you can hear...could it be...power chords? Yep. There are power chords in there, and not a little hint of the blues and hard rock in Natalie’s voice.)

Because for Natalie Maines, everything the band has done, since that night in London, in terms not only of plain surviving, but also of reclaiming their place in the upper echelon not just of country music, but of all music - is personal. Not personal in the sense that she feels sorry for herself for what she said - far from it - but personal in the sense that she was simply not going to allow everything the band had accomplished to be taken away from them because of the ignorance of a handful of country radio program directors and a legion of confederate hilljacks who don’t have enough active brain cells to understand anything that isn’t spoon-fed to them by ultra-conservative right-wing sociopaths like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, President Bush, and Darth Cheney.

I don’t like country music very much, but I like the Dixie Chicks, even though all I have heard is “Travelin’ Soldier” and the stuff from the movie. All three are extremely gifted musicians and singers - Martie Maguire could play a fiddle blindfolded, Natalie Maines (whom I suspect of having perfect pitch) sings with a power and intensity I have rarely experienced while listening to music (a lot of people sing with power and intensity, but most sacrfice tone quality in doing so - people like Zach De La Rocha, Chris Cornell, and James Hetfield; some of those who don’t sacrifice tone quality in pursuit of power and intensity include Dolores O’Riordan, Ed Vedder, and Geddy Lee; but there is one singer who could, in his prime, howl with the best of them and yet always sound as crystal clear as the best ride cymbal in the world - and that singer is Robert Plant.), and the three-part harmonies are just haunting - use caution whence you steer your ship, lest you draw nigh upon these sirens unawares.

The Dixie Chicks did not just survive - they thrived. Their new record went #1 on Billboard’s Hot 200 without the benefit of any significant radio airplay, a feat no other country act could ever hope to achieve, and one which few other bands of any genre could ever hope to achieve. I can’t remember the last time the credits rolled and I felt more excited by the movie I had just seen.

I had planned to spend tomorrow (that would be Friday, for those who keep normal hours) taking a solo trip to Bloomington - Amy is off to a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend - and, after seeing Shut Up And Sing, listening to the new Dixie Chicks record down and back; but it seems that our furnace has quit working, so I am finishing up this blog post while my thermostat sits at a cool 59º, and will have to, instead of going to Bloomington, call the home warranty people in the morning and have them come check out my furnace. After that, though, first stop is for the new record. If a trip to Bloomington is still in the cards at that point, smashing; if not, it won’t matter, as long as healthy chunks of tomorrow are spent listening to Taking The Long Way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So Keith, Hypothetically Speaking...

Last night I started reading The Worst Person In The World: And 202 Strong Contenders, by Keith Olbermann, late of the MSNBC nightly news show Countdown and once upon a time of ESPN’s SportsCenter. On his MSNBC show, Olbermann has a bit he does at the end of the program, during which he lists the three worst people in the world for that day - it can be pretty much anyone for anything horrible that they have done, provided Olbermann catches it during some portion of the day’s news cycle.

Today, I read about a new book coming out, authored by O.J. Simpson, that, according to this article on CNN, purports to be Simpson telling how he could have done it if he had been the one who had killed his ex-wife and her friend. According to Simpson’s publisher, the book is “his confession.”

Did I mention there’s a television interview to go along with the new book? Would you be surprised to learn that the interview will air on the Fox news network? Would you be surprised to learn that the interview will be shown at the end of November, just as sweeps - one-month periods that happen three times a year (in February, May, and November) during which ratings are measured and advertising fees based on those ratings are evaluated - are winding down?

I don’t even know where to begin - my mind is positively reeling with visions of the apocalypse. Marcia Clark and Chris Darden in a bar somewhere in Tahiti, doing Jägerbombs and popping X...Lance Ito in a bunker in an undisclosed location with a loaded Glock and enough food to last through the winter...and I’d bet the house, the farm, and the cot that Kato slept on that Johnnie Cochran is out there, somewhere in the ether, and grinning, sipping three fingers of Chivas that he just dipped his cigar into before lighting it.

The R.E.M. song “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” blares in my head. “Proud To Be An American” has got to be near the top of any list of dopey slogans that have lost the lion’s share of their cachet over the last, what...say five or six years? My mom always said that actions have consequences. In science, they say that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Apparently that does not apply to celebrities, to has-been football stars who pass the time by making inane Police Squad movies, to oil company CEOs who go before Senate committess but are not required to be put under oath.

Sometimes I wonder what makes people do shit like this; are they born wretched, or do they have to work at it? People will buy his book...and watch his interview on Fox; and they will do it for the same reasons they slow down on the highway when they pass a bad traffic accident - some things are so revolting that they have to be seen to be believed, or seen so they can be talked about the next day, to friends who might have missed it. Two people are dead, and their murderer is about to become a best-selling author.

This, then, is my list of the worst people in the world - today’s version, at any rate. An homage to Keith Olbermann, who amused me and enlightened me during many an episode of SportsCenter a decade ago, and has now written an amusing little book about crappy people.

The bronze goes to Rupert Murdoch, Grand Poobah of News Corporation and the man behind the creation of the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986. Shame on you, Rupe, for for allowing this garbage to sully the airwaves - not that what you broadcast on your network, apart from The Simpsons, is otherwise much more respectable, but this simply has to be a new low - even for Fox.

The runner-up is Judith Regan, of Regan books, who is publishing Simpson’s book. Is it that important that your kids go to the best schools and that your house has one of those refrigerators that will upload a list of needed groceries to your cell phone? Once your kids grow up and learn about this, what you have done by publishing this book, they shall hang their heads in shame - perhaps à la the Dixie Chicks that our President is from their state - and will be right to do so.

And the gold goes to Orenthal James Simpson. Juice, you committed (double) premeditated murder and bought the best team of lawyers you could get, with nothing but the goal of establishing reasonable doubt as their job requirement. You vowed to go after the “real” killer upon your acquittal, yet did not immediately fling yourself from the Golden Gate Bridge or step in front of a bus. You kept playng golf while Nicole and Ron were placed into boxes and planted in the earth. (I suppose it’s possible that one or both of them were cremated, but I don’t have the energy at this point to seek out that information.) And now you’re dredging it all up again in order to make money that you won’t pay to the Goldmans to settle the civil lawsuit against you. This is almost enough for me to wish that the mythology of religion were true, so that I could believe in hell and be certain that you will rot in it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

God Creates Dinosaurs, God Destroys Dinosaurs, God Creates Man, Man Destroys God, Man Creates Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs Eat Man, Woman Inherits The Earth.

Damien Zekants, husband of my good friend Ana, has entered the blog-o-verse. Huzzah. He can be found here, and his first, uh, meaty, post rails against an Australian Muslim cleric who suggested, in an article recapped here, that scantily-clad women are basically "uncovered meat."

He apologized for his remarks - so does Pat Robertson when he deep throats his own foot - but you know what that kind of apology amounts to?

Equine fecal matter.

From the song "Nothingman," by Pearl Jam: "Some words when spoken...can't be taken back."

Conservatives backtrack faster than bad typists and Michael Jackson during his Moonwalk phase.

I have to admit that the thought of Australian Muslim clerics never even crossed my mind. But that's the beauty of the Internet (and of NPR) - all of that information is at your fingertips, provided you have at least a rudimentary grasp of typing and know how to construct a decent Google search string. All you need is someone to flick you in the back of the head and say - Hey! Look what else is out there, sports fan!

So go check him out. While you're at it, check out Ana's blog, too. She's got some new stuff up there, and promises more - this is splendid. It's a good day in Blogville.

(Postscript: No god created man - or woman or dinosaour, for that matter. Man created god becuase he did not yet have the tools to comprehend astronomy or meteorology.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wanted: Two Hands That Can Hold Onto A Football - Apply In Person At Dominic Rhodes' Locker

I have just called myself for a third false start penalty as I try to write the opening to this post - because I just don’t have a clue what I want to say about the game today. Actually, that’s not entirely true - I just can’t make up my mind as to how I want to treat the Dominic Rhodes thing. I suppose I’ll just get to it when I get to it.

Something I definitely want to draw attention to is the fact that the defense did not give up a touchdown today; and, right up to the Ben Utecht fumble at the end of the first half, which came at an absolutely heartbreaking moment during what had been a very well run two-minute drill, the run defense was actually looking like it had made some strides, both in terms of closing on the ball and making tackles that the runningback could not break.

For your consideration - the Colts gave up 111 yards on 31 carries today, for a 3.6 yards per carry average that is well below their 5.1 yards per carry average for the year so far. The 111 for the game is also well below their 165.4 average for the year. The pass defense was even better, giving up a scant 51 yards, a whopping 120 yards better than their 171.8 yards per game average so far this year. Thus...the Colts defense gave up a grand total of 162 yards, which is 175 yards less than their per game average this season.

And yes, I’ll grant you that they were playing the hapless Buffalo Bills, whose 250.5 yards per game of total offense is good enough for 30th in the league—and the game was in the Hoosier Dome. Nevertheless, you rarely hear people talk about how a bad defense is going to turn its season around when a team with a bad offense comes up on the schedule; the way you hear it is the other way around, and even more so when the team with the bad offense is used to playing in the cold in Buffalo and comes into the 72˚ Hoosier Dome. But that’s not what happened today in the Dome.

What happened today in the Dome was that the Colts defense shut a team down for the first time this year and held them to three field goals. The problem is that the performance by the defense is going to be overshadowed by the two fumbles committed by the team that was second in turnover differential going into this game at plus-10. Only Baltimore, at plus-14, was better than the Colts.

Late in the first half, Ben Utecht fumbled as he went down on a play in the aforementioned two-minute drill. Up to that point in the drive, the Colts had been moving the ball well and were looking at a touchdown that would have put them up 17-3 and getting the ball back to start the second half. Instead, Utecht lost the ball and Terrence McGee picked it up and ran it back 67 yards for a Buffalo touchdown that tied the game at 10 and brought a hush to the sellout crowd at the Hoosier Dome. Momentum - gone. The only upside was that the Colts were getting the ball back in the second half, and the most consistent thing about the team so far this year, apart from the play of Manning, has been the adjustments they make at halftime to come out more complete and ready to win in the third quarter.

The Rhodes fumble late in the game was almost another story altogether. Butterfingers was stripped of the ball near midfield, and the Bills wasted little time in setting themselves up for a field goal attempt that, if good, would have given them a 19-17 lead with seven or eight minutes left. And then Dwight Freeney got his first full sack of the season, dropping Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman for a 7-yard loss that made the field goal attempt long enough that Rian Lindell missed it. Shanked it, in fact. It left his foot and looked like a home run for about half a second before it angled wide right like someone had popped a thumb up its ass.

Oh, man...I almost went down to the basement to look for the tar and feathers, although I think we are out. Apart from the fumble, Rhodes actually had an okay day (14 carries for 72 yards and a decent 5.1 yards per carry - not bad at all, really, until you look at Addai’s line, which was 13 carries for 78 yards, a 6.0 average, and a touchdown). But it’s those fumbles that worry me. Dominic Rhodes is this season’s tragedy waiting to happen - he’s the fumble in the AFC title game that will let Denver or New England or San Diego get back into a game the Colts were getting ready to salt away. I know Rhodes had a monster season in 2001 after the eventually-Cardinal-to-be blew out his knee - I picked him up off of waivers for my fantasy team the very day he helped the Colts beat Kansas City - but seriously, D...what have you done for me lately, apart from hand the ball off to the guys in the jerseys that don’t look like yours? I don’t think he should be getting paid for that. In fact...I think he should have to pay a New Stadium fine for every fucking fumble he has this year. Hell, make it a retroactive fine to when he joined the team. Cut the uninformed taxpayers some kind of break so they quit bitching that it’s the stadium’s fault that crime is going up in the city.

The Colts are the first team ever to open two consecutive seasons by going 9-0, and that’s a nice thing to have done and all, and I like that we haven’t lost a game - but it’s probably going to happen at some point. And if it’s practically impossible to go 16-0 in the modern NFL, just how hard do you think it’s going to be to go 19-0 in the modern NFL? There are no comebacks in the playoffs - you can’t lose a game, shake it off, learn from your mistakes, maybe call home to mom for a hug over the phone, and then go back and make it right in the next game.

It’s one and done in the playoffs, and that means that it comes down to teams with heart and fire and drive - teams that don’t come out flat and stinking the place up in the first quarter, only to fix those mistakes later and then roll to victory. And quite honestly, that’s the only flaw with this team - that they let the other team come out and dictate the terms of the game. Now, someone with a more optimistic outlook might think of that as “luring the other team into our trap,” and that’s fine - that may even be what they’re doing.

But the Chargers are lurking out there with big, scary traps of their own...LaDanian Tomlinson ran 22 times for 104 yards and FOUR TOUCHDOWNS this afternoon, as the Chargers put up 49 points on Cincinnati to go 7-2. And even though the Bengals are having what can only be thought of as a rough season so far, they still have a high-octane offense that put up 41 points against San Diego. The Bengals really have to be hating that, because those 41 points would have been good enough for a win against ANY other team that played today, including the Colts and the Bears, who had a monster second half and slaughtered the New York Football Giants in a match-up that might come around again in the playoffs.

The cream of the NFL crop are beginning to bare their teeth, as the second half of the season gets under way and teams start to think about the playoffs and how deep they can go in those playoffs. Here are my top five teams in the league right now. All five are complete, dangerous teams that should contend for their conference’s championship.

5. NYG - You could probably argue that Baltimore, with a better record, should be in this list ahead of the Giants; but the Giants have had a tougher schedule, and Eli is looking more and more like his big brother - his drop into the pocket and quick release are almost identical to Peyton’s, and the Giants are using the stretch play to great advantage with Tiki Barber in the backfield. Their monster schedule is a lot easier from here on out, and if they get healthy on defense, the Giants are going to into the playoffs with a full head of steam.

4. Denver - The Broncos have been consistently good all year, but that might not cut it in the second half of the season; unfortunately for the Broncos, a bizarre scheduling quirk has them playing San Diego twice in the next four games, and San Diego is heating up faster than any team in the league. The Bronco offense will have to step up huge in the next few weeks, or they might find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in.

3. Chicago - If Dominic Rhodes is the Colts disaster waiting to happen, then Rex Grossman is Chicago’s. When he’s on, this team is nigh on impossible to beat. But when his concentration slips, the Bears have a tendency to collapse - and if that happens in the playoffs, it’s all over.

2. San Diego - Just as dangerous as the Colts, and getting hot at the right time. Apart from the two Denver games, the schedule is cake from here on in - they finish at home against Arizona (albeit in a game that won’t matter if they beat Denver both times). If they roll into the playoffs as hot as they are right now, they’ll find a way to beat the Colts.

1. Indianapolis - Peyton Manning is the smartest player in the league, but conservative coaching keeps them from foaming at the mouth when they come out of the gate. I have them over San Diego only because they haven’t lost yet. The schedule is light from here on out, and they’ll have to work hard to keep from looking ahead to the playoffs; but until they can start doing in the first quarter what they have been very good at doing in the third quarter - crushing the hope of their opponent - then this is a team that’s asking for trouble. Of the five teams on this list, these guys are the most likely to make an improbably early exit from the playoffs.

And finally, I’m going to complain a bit about the television commentators this afternoon - Dick Enberg and, I think, Boomer Esiason. Enberg has been broadcasting games for something like 132 years now, and should have learned a few things in that time. One of those things is that a stretch play is not the same thing as a draw. Boomer corrected him, sort of, and called the play, which was to Joseph Addai at some point in the first half, though I don’t recall precisely when, a “mini-stretch play.” I guess that was closer, except that the play was still a draw and Boomer - who has run a few of them in his life, I suspect - still didn’t see it for what it was. Enberg at one point also referred to the sellout crowd of 55,000 at the Hoosier Dome. Okay. Yeah, except the Hoosier Dome holds a shade over 57,000 for Colts home games. Probably that’s in a media guide somewhere. Maybe we should messenger one of those over to Enberg. Toward the end of the game he referred to the team as the Baltimore Colts - which they haven’t been for twenty-two years now.

I’m used to listening to Bob Lamey call the game on radio, since I am at work for most of these affairs; and even though Bob Lamey can be awfully negative at times, spying out doom and defeat around a corner where neither lurk, he’s a lot of fun to listen to when things go well for the Colts, and he knows the team well, knows their history well, and so knows what he’s talking about when he calls the game.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

Billed as a comedy, the new Will Ferrell movie does have its share of laughs; but at bottom, it’s quite a bit darker than the trailer would have you believe. A writer (Emma Thompson), whose novels always seem to end with the death of her hero, is suffering writer’s block as she tries to figure out a way to off her latest hero, Harold Crick (Ferrell). Little does she know that her latest character is actually a real person, who begins to hear the narration of the end of her novel in his head.

Crick is an IRS agent who conducts audits of people who have committed various violations of tax law. The cast of characters around him: a baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), and a fellow IRS agent (Tony Hale), are all tricked-out extremes of character—as is Crick himself—he counts brush strokes while brushing his teeth at night, among a host of other numerical idiosyncracies. Gyllenhaal’s baker is being audited because she only paid 78% of her taxes the previous year, and she tells Crick to his face that she paid the taxes for parks and school buses and whatnot, but omitted the taxes that would have gone to corporate bailouts and other socially unacceptable endeavors; Hoffman’s professor is brilliant and flighty and wildly eccentric (note his remarkable coffee compulsions); and Hale’s fellow IRS agent dreams of Space Camp and works on math at the dinner table.

Locked into routine, Crick is oblivious to the fact that he is alive until he hears the voice of the narrator of his story announce that his death is impending. This realization births a second, more important one—that he is utterly helpless outside the narrow scope of the routine of his existence. He seeks guidance from a psychiatrist, which leads him to Professor Hilbert, who uses literature to illustrate the broad dynamics of comedy and tragedy in life, and urges Crick to develop his acquaintance with Ana Pascal, the baker.

At this point, the pitfalls of formula begin to invade the film as Harold begins to flirt with Ana, who, for reasons passing understanding (except, perhaps, to say that her Bohemian spirit lets her see the sliver lining in every touch of grey, but even this is probably a stretch), responds to his clumsy posturings. She gives him milk and cookies, because his mommy never did, and he likes the milk and cookies, because he likes her. As Harold begins to “live his life,” as instructed by Hilbert, he indulges in things he has wanted before in passing but never seriously pursued.

Which brings us to a bona fide MacGuffin - Harold has always wanted to learn to play guitar, so he buys a butt-ugly, broken down Stratocaster and develops the calluses on his fingers and manages to learn how to play the thing. When he brings flours to Ana - flours, for the baker, as opposed to flowers - she invites him up to her apartment. (What he says to her between showing her the flours and going up to her apartment is simply so absurd that you have to suspend your disbelief as a defense mechanism - there is no polite request by the filmmakers that you do so - and if there had been, the film would likely have ground to a halt.) And, lo and behold, completely without any previous establishing shot, we find that she has a guitar lying mostly-unplayed on her couch. He picks it up and plays it - at her behest and while she is off-screen - and she finds herself so taken with his off-key caterwauling that she reciprocates the absurd pronouncement he advanced when he offered her the flours.

And thus Harold’s previously unfulfilled wants in life - like those of most men, learning to play guitar and having sex with ridiculously beautiful women (or perhaps your standard, garden-variety lady, but I happen to think that Maggie Gyllenhaal is positively stunningly beautiful) - are achieved. Cue formula once again, and we find that the writer, Karen Eiffel, has broken her block. Shortly thereafter, Harold discovers who the voice in his head is in real life, by way of the little television in Hilbert’s office - which advances the plot here but, unlike the guitar on the couch, DID have a prior establishing shot in one of Harold’s first meetings with the professor.

From here to the end, things go rather as you would expect them to, although it is a delight to watch Emma Thompson come to terms with her role in what Nathanael West in Miss Lonelyhearts would have called “the Christ business.”

There is in this film a pervading sense of greatness nearly missed, of life almost ended without having been lived - and though these ideas are held up by the religious notion that a god of some sort points us in the direction we are meant to travel, the performances of the main cast (Ferrell, Gyllenhaal, Thompson, and Hoffman) are so evocative as to make you pretty sure they could have done it on their own, without the help of any god.

Stranger Than Fiction was not quite what I thought it would be, but at the same time it wound up being quite a lot more than I had hoped for; and I think that means that it’s pretty good. I won’t go so far as to call the film challenging, but for this group of players (apart from Gyllenhaal, who more often than not tends to take the trickier indie roles) it is a breath of fresh air, a thing to ponder while you’re watching it and ponder even more after the credits have rolled.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Notes On The Election

I stared to write a blog about the election last night, while a number of races were still too close to call - specifically the U.S. Senate races in Missouri, Tennessee, Montana, and Virginia - but did not post it. Re-reading it now, I realize that most of it is no longer relevant - much of what I noted were real-time updates on those aforementioned Senate races, and a brief recap of the fact that the Dems had won the House, along with a lament that they would probably not also win the Senate.

What a difference nearly a day makes. Now the Dems have secured the Senate (Republican incumbent George Allen seems unlikely to request a recount in the tight Virginia race, as reported here by CNN) as well as the House, Donald Rumsfeld has resigned (more in a moment on why Bush should have waited to do this), and Nancy Pelosi is about to be installed as the Speaker of the House.

She will be the first woman ever to hold that post, and she will also become the most powerful woman in the history of the United States. I also like the fact that she is ultra-liberal (which sort of goes with the territory when you come from San Francisco). The results of yesterday’s election - though not as satisfying as ousting Bush from office would have been in 2004 - clearly spell the end of King George the Second’s “my way or the highway” style of running the show in Washington. There will hopefully be a return to a real system of checks and balances. It’s probably too much to expect that we will now move full steam ahead on truly practical and progressive issues like embryonic stem-call research, gay marriage, universal health care, energy independence, environmental activism, and gun control - but it’s a step in the right direction.

But back to Rumsfeld for a moment. Clearly, the White House had planned this response in the case of a major win by the Dems last night; and it’s the right thing to do, of course, as Rumsfeld has just become downright dotty in his dotage, and is no longer fit to manage anything more taxing than, say, a rural Dairy Queen. Why just pull the trigger on it like that, though? Bush has got nothing else to lose - he has no more elections himself, and Congress will be in the hands of the Dems for the remainder of his time in office.

He could have made those Dems in Congress fight for it, could have made them expend some of their “political capital” (remember how Bush used that phrase after he was re-elected?) on getting done something that was going to be done anyway. Surely there are still some gun-toting hilljacks sitting Boo Radley-style behind deadbolted doors in shacks somewhere in the backwoods of Montana or the foothills of Colorado, who still think that Rumsfeld is the right man for the job. Bush could have “stayed the course” on his embattled Secretary of Defense and forced the Dems to get nasty from the start - because you know they would have gone for Rumsfeld as soon as all the oaths had been taken and the new leaders been confirmed by chamber vote.

I don’t really believe Bush has had a change of heart and decided to play nice now that the American people have finally cuckolded him; and so I am at a loss on this one. Maybe he’s throwing the Dems a bone? Saying, look, here’s something I’ll do for you. Would you maybe consider not raping me in the butthole for the next two years?

Around Indiana, it seems as though about sixty ballot data cards were lost last night, after the polls closed - which explains why some races are still not decided. One of those races is for State Representative in Indiana House District 89, which is the district I live in, and for which office John Barnes, who taught me U.S. History during first period my junior year in high school, is running. Mr. Barnes is running against an entrenched Republican incumbent who refused to debate John Barnes all throughout the summer. The House Republican Congressional Committee - here’s a bunch of scumbags who should have been in the World Trade Center on September 11th, on some floor above where the planes hit* - ran ads saying John Barnes was “wrong on education,” despite the fact that he has been a teacher for twenty-eight years in Warren Township. (These ads are separate from the ones that Larry Buell ran - those ads were not offensive and did not mention his opponent.)

At any rate, that race is still up in the air, with 16 precincts still out there, the results of which are presumably out there among the lost data cards (of which 20 were reported by WISH-TV on tonight’s 11 o’clock news to be still outstanding). Those results could include my votes. My vote for John Barnes. I suppose they will be found one day - and hey, maybe next year when we vote for Mayor, the election will run smoothly. At least there’s a chance of it, as our hapless Clerk of the Circuit Court, Doris Anne Sadler, is moving on to bigger and better things; she is term-limited, thank goodness, and her days of botching elections - at least in this county - are over.

The next few paragraphs are my thoughts from last night that are still vaguely relevant today - to the extent that any of my wacky ramblings on this blog might be thought of as relevant.

Unfortunately, however, there are not more seats going to Democrats in both chambers of Congress. No matter how you look at it, the war in Iraq is a disaster—whether you agreed with it in principle three years ago and have come to change your mind in the time since as you have watched it turn more and more into the kind of quagmire that Vietnam was, or whether you were completely against it from the outset—but there is something much worse than the fact that President Bush and his war hawks do not have a clear plan to right the ship in Iraq. What’s worse is that they don’t seem to understand why their plan has not worked.

“You’ve fallen victim to one of the classic blunders - the most well known of which is, never get involved in a land war in Asia!” So says Vizzini in The Princess Bride, when he thinks he has bested Westley in a game of wits with the princess as the prize.

There are still way too many people in this country who are afraid, to one degree or another, about things and people that are not plain old white bread American; and that’s why Republicans go to the polls on election day. There are also too many people who think that their voices won’t be heard, that the way they think is no longer relevant in the increasingly conservative United States; and that’s why so many Democrats stay home on election day.

Once upon a time, back in college, I would have loudly upbraided a former roommate of mine for spending as much time as I am now doing analyzing election results. I sit here at my computer, while most people are sleeping, anxiously reloading the CNN web pages over and over and over again, waiiting to see if Congress will go to the Dems. Why not wait until morning and check again, you might ask? Because this is important to me, and I want to know now. I want to know as soon as it happens. Because issues matter, and the way we treat people matters, and the way we comport ourselves as Americans to the rest of the world matters. Because I’m older, too, I guess. I have a wife, a mortgage, and a baby on the way. On the tropic isle of Avalon, in circa 1993 Bloomington, Indiana, I would never have imagined this.

I also never would have imagined myself without my ponytail, but like they say in those commercials, though I don’t recall what the commercials are for - life comes at you fast.

* - Yes, this is harsh. It’s also an exaggeration. Of course I do not wish that anyone else had been in those buildings on that day. But I do think that the kind of people who run the ads that were run this election season by BOTH the Republican House Congressional Committee (local and national) and the Democratic House Congressional Committee (local and national) should have something done to them to get it through their fucking heads that those kinds of ads just don’t belong in the public discourse. I know. Let’s use an example of capital punishment George Carlin joked about on one of his records (Back In Town, I think it was) - you dip a guy in brown gravy and lock him in a small room with a wolverine that’s high on angel dust. Feel free to send me your ideas, too. We’ll publish the best ones in a future issue of our happy little newsletter.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Bit More On The Cover 2’s something that’s just odd. The Colts are dead last in the league in rush defense at 165.4 yards per game. The Titans are a tad better at 163.5 rush yards given up per game. The next team up the list is NYJ, which is giving up 143 yards per game on the ground.

Give that one a second to sink in. The rush defense of the Colts isn’t just bad; it’s catastrophically bad - except that the catastrophe of actually losing a game has not yet occurred, technically speaking (although the Tennessee game sure felt like a loss).

By contrast, the Colts - are you ready for this? - are third in the league in passing yards given up per game. Only Oakland and Chicago are giving up fewer yards in the air than are the Colts. Yeah...Oakland. I’m not kidding.

I talked about this a bit last night in my aside to Shane commenting on his comment that he was frustrated with Tony Dungy’s Tampa Cover 2 scheme in view of the fact that the Colts are giving up so many yards on the ground. I’m thinking about it a little bit more now, and now I’m starting to believe that Dungy is actually planning his defense KNOWING that the opposing tailback is going to have a great day against the Colts. Then he locks down everything else in terms of defense, gives the ball to Manning, and asks him to win the game.

I really hate to go the NBA for an analogy here, but it fits. This is the same kind of defensive scheme you would use if you were playing, say, the Cavaliers. You know LeBron James is going to get his points, and you know you can’t stop it, no matter what kind of defense you throw at them. So, instead of trying to stop something you know can’t be stopped, you make your guys focus on stopping everything else - in effect, you tell your guys to force LeBron James, by himself, to beat your whole team.

By giving up the rush defense, Tony Dungy is basically daring each opponent’s tailback to beat Peyton Manning one on one. I was a long time coming to this conclusion, and probably would not have made it at all until I looked at the stats tonight on ESPN’s web site. On the main stats page, you will find six different categories, three each on offense and defense, that give you the top five guys in each category for the whole league. On offense, the categories are quarterback rating, rushing yards, and receiving yards. On defense, the categories are tackles, sacks, and interceptions.

It will not - or should not, at any rate - surprise you to see Peyton Manning leading the league in quarterback rating; it should also not surprise you to see both Marvin Harrison AND Reggie Wayne in the top five in receiving yards; what will surprise you is to see that the top two guys in tackles are Cato June and Gary Brackett, both Colts linebackers. read that right; the two guys with the most tackles in the whole league are part of the atrocious Colts rush defense. What in the world could this possibly mean? The Colts are making tackles, but still giving up tons of yards on the ground. Yep...that’s what it means.

So why is that? It’s because the Colts have done so much to perfect their pass rush over the years, and the two key components to that are Dwight Freeney and the Cover 2.

(Okay, okay - what the hell is the Cover 2, right? It’s a defensive scheme that focuses on pass defense rather than rush defense. A normal defensive scheme has four defensive linemen at the line of scrimmage to collide with the opponent’s offensive linemen, who are trying to make holes for the tailback and protecting the quarterback. The linebackers are a second layer of defense against the run, there to stop a squeaky tailback who gets past the defensive linemen. The third layer of defense against the run is the strong safety, a defensive back who plays behind the linebackers but not all the way out in the open field. That’s where the free safety is, a defensive back who plays more like a cornerback, and whose job it is to guard the middle part of the open field against long passes over the middle. In the Cover 2, the strong safety drops back into deep pass coverage with the free safety, with the hope that his presence takes away a receiving option for the quarterback. The quarterback, on pass plays, takes three quick looks, first at his number one receiver, then at his number two receiver, then at either his number three receiver or his pass-catching tight end. An extra defensive back on one of those options should force the quarterback to take extra time in the pocket - which should allow a good defensive end enough time to get around the offensive tackle and make a beeline at the quarterback. If the quarterback gets a pass off, the extra defensive back is another body out there in the open field who can pull down an interception; if the quarterback can’t get a pass off, then he is flushed out of the pocket by the defensive end and is either sacked for forced to throw the ball away or throw a screen pass to his tailback, who is by now out in the flat, and hopefully aware of the busted play.)

(The Tampa Cover 2 differs slightly from the standard Cover 2 - in the Tampa scheme, a linebacker drops into the defensive backfield - where the strong safety would ordinarily have been - and roams around there. I suspect that Tampa used Derrick Brooks for this role, and that the reason the Colts don't use the Tampa Cover 2 is because they have never had a linebacker who was as talented as Brooks.)

You can see the problem now, right? A good Cover 2 leaves the open field behind the linebackers even more open, and when a tailback gets through the linebackers, he can get a lot of yards before someone can catch up to him. That’s one of the reasons that an effective Cover 2 should also utilize the blitz, which crowds the line of scrimmage and should shore up the holes a tailback might squeak through - and puts even more pressure on the quarterback.

The Cover 2, then, is actually little more than a fairly sophisticaed prevent defense - which is a scheme that gives up ten or less yards and tries not to give up big plays or scores - that is also designed to generate turnovers. But it asks a lot of linebackers, who have to cover more of the field behind the line of scrimmage because of the absence of the strong safety. This is the weakness in the Colts rush defense - and it has not been helped by the loss of a talented linebacker in each of the last three offseasons.

But if you think about it...maybe that’s part of the plan - they let the talented linebacker go before they have to pay him more than they can afford, because they know the rush defense is not going to be their strong suit, and that leaves more money for shoring up the offense and the defensive line and the special teams.

And so the plan, then, has always been this - to give up the rush yards because they know they have no choice, and then go out and do everything else as best they can; and that has always meant handing the ball to Peyton Manning and asking him to win the game.

One of the reasons that that plan has failed in the past is because Manning has always been too hard on himself and always had a hard time bouncing back from mistakes. But there is something different in his eyes this year. And it seems to me that his release has gotten sharper and his arm has gotten stronger - he’s throwing the fast, precise kinds of passes this year that Dan Marino used to throw.

And maybe...just has something to do with Edgerrin James not being in the backfield with Manning. You always heard Manning talk about how close he and James were, and how well they meshed on the field -and last year James proved that he could shoulder the workload and carry the team, since opposing defenses were so focused on Manning and preventing him from throwing 49 touchdowns like he did in 2004.

But you know what? Even with all of that, you have to concede that Edgerrin James was never really a team player. This is the guy who would go back to Miami every summer to work out, the guy who never came to summer school, the guy who was very vocal about his dislike for preseason games - the guy who was, basically, the antithesis of Manning, who might be the best prepared player who has ever suited up in the National Football League.

And you’ll never hear Manning say it in public, and probably never in private, either, but it had to frustrate him that James wasn’t always around, wasn’t always on the same page as the rest of the team; but James is gone now, presumably enjoying the climate in Arizona and doing his best to come to terms with the fact that the Cardinals are simply one of the worst organizations in major league professional sports. The L.A. Clippers, from time to time, make the playoffs. The Detroit Tigers lost 119 games three years ago, yet managed to thrash the Yankees this year before losing to the Cardinals in the World Series. The Arizona Cardinals just suck. They hired Dennis Green - WILLINGLY - as their head coach. What does that say about their commitment to winning?

Anyway, here’s my point - Cato June and Gary Brackett are leading the league in tackles, which means that the rush defense, though porous, is not giving up touchdowns. What they are doing is letting opposing teams stay on the field just long enough that our offense gets a rest. I’m also not saying that they are givng up yards on purpose; I have no doubt that these cats are doing their best every week. I just don’t think the defensive scheme is set up in a way that gives them the tools they need to succeed.

This is a team game, though; and if one part of the team has to take a bullet for the good of the squad, then maybe that just has to be. Maybe it also means that people talk about the rush defense to the point of forgetting to talk about the fact that Manning is on his way to a third MVP award. Maybe the rush defense is there to shrug the way Atlas did, to take the pressure off of Manning, and to actually be a key component to the undefeated machine that is this year’s Colts team. Maybe it’s all part of a grand plan that has slowly, but surely, come to fruition. Maybe this year is the year.

Regardless, do this for me: next time you watch a Colts game, keep your eyes on Manning’s eyes, all game, and tell me what you see there. Do you see the same guy who used to look like he would burst into tears if he threw a pick? The guy who would berate himself for missing a wide open receiver when he ran a botched stretch play instead? You won’t see that guy. What you will see is the look of a cat who knows he’s the best player on the field, the best player in the whole fucking league, come to that.

Peyton Manning has always been told that he’s the best player in the league, that he’s the guy you build teams around, that he’s the guy dads want their kids to play like in Pop Warner. The difference this year is that he believes it.