Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Midseason Report: The Five Biggest Surprises of 2009

There are some reassuring certainties, in life and football, that will never change. The Lions will always suck, the Cowboys will always be a collection of the world's greatest douchenozzles and Peyton Manning will throw for 4,000 yards every year until they nail shut his coffin, just to name a few. However, every year there are a number of dazzling success stories and abysmal failures in the NFL, and luckily for fans of attempted football comedy I'm here to recount them. Let's go down the list, shall we:

No. 5: Darren Sharper seems to have a thing for proving his critics wrong in the most emphatic way possible. After he played eight years for the Packers and burned his name into many of the club record books (as well as heading to the Pro Bowl two times), Green Bay released him after the 2004 season, thinking he was all out of gas as a player. Sharper immediately turned around, signed with the Packers' archenemies, the Minnesota Vikings, and then proceeded to crap all over the Packers by playing so well he went to the '05 Pro Bowl. Sharper went on to play three more years for the Vikings until they, like the Packers before them, released him in the 2008 offseason. Why? What else: he was all washed up. Of course, Sharper signed with the New Orleans Saints and proceeded to tear shit up. As of this writing, he has picked off seven passes and leads the league with three of 'em returned for scores. Oh, yeah, and his Saints are 7-0 through seven games. Go you, Darren.

No. 4: The 1-6 Titans and the 3-4 Panthers. Combined into one entry because of both of their ridiculous light blue uniforms, these two teams were the class of their respective conferences last year. The Titans went into the playoffs with a 13-3 record, one of the best defenses in football and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Panthers, meanwhile, settled for the No. 2 seed and had the third-best rushing attack in the game. Collectively, the two of them had shit made. Unfortunately for them, the Titans were ejected in the first round of the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens and the Panthers melted down in their first round, with quarterback Jake Delhomme throwing five interceptions (and losing a fumble) as the Cardinals stomped all over the unlucky Panthers.

This year: The Titans became the laughingstock of the league as they started out 0-6. Sure, their defensive coordinator had left to go coach another team with absurd blue uniforms (the Detroit Lions at least try for dignity by throwing in some black) and their star defensive tackle went to the Redskins in free agency. But never mind that, right? Everything's going to be okay, right? They have Kerry Collins at quarterback!

Well, since it happened to be Collins' fifteenth year, it's not much of a surprise that he folded in the first half of this year. Their excellent secondary was reduced to crap, their offense blew up under a bevy of Collins-led turnovers and they lost six games in a row, culminating in a 59-0 shellacking by the New England Patriots. After which they picked themselves up, won one game and then running back Chris Johnson (the only man who can look like a total badass wearing powder blue and white) declared that his team was going to the playoffs. Yeah. Okay.

Meanwhile, the Panthers were struggling with their own quarterback shitshow. Remember how Jake Delhomme had a total meltdown in the divisional playoffs last year? Well, the curse apparently carried over to this year, since he's thrown a league-leading 13 interceptions and lost two fumbles already. But since they just signed him to a five-year, $36 million (or something like that; they all get a little fuzzy for me once they pass twenty million freaking dollars) contract extension, they're basically stuck with him as the starter. You can guess how well that went as the Panthers started 0-3.

However, all is not lost: The Panthers have since picked themselves up to win three of four games. Sure, two of them were against some of the league's worst teams in Tampa Bay and Washington (don't even get me started on Washington), but a win's a win, right? Plus, much more importantly, guess who their other win (and the latest game) was against? Yep, the Arizona Cardinals. And not only that, but their grizzled, veteran quarterback (Delhomme's in his 11th season, so he's one too) Kurt Warner threw-guess what?-five interceptions and lost a fumble. Panthers fans can only hope that the curse has passed on to some other poor sap so they can get back to the business of winning.

No. 3: Cedric Benson. This guy was a total bust when he was first drafted, and I do mean bust. He was the fourth pick in the draft in 2005 (for those who don't know, the draft has some 276 picks each year. That makes Ced a big deal) to the Chicago Bears, and was expected to be basically the second coming of Walter Payton when they brought him in. Benson held out through all of training camp, argued with his coaches and was arrested twice in five weeks in 2007. After serving as a backup to Thomas Jones for two years, he was gifted the starting job in '07 when Jones was traded to the New York Jets. To no one's surprise, he turned out to suck and was released following the '07 season.

This being a considerable shock to Benson, I can only surmise what he might have thought. I'd imagine it'd be two things: One, "Hey, all of my problems have basically been inside my head. Nobody gets drafted No. 4 overall without the tools to play the game, so all I have to do is figure out my mental issues and I can be groovy!" Two, "Where in the league do talented fuckups always, ALWAYS get a second chance?" Yes, you guessed it, readers; the Cincinnati Bengals. Benson signed with the Bengals for one year in 2008 and performed so well that they gave him a two-year, $7 million contract shortly thereafter.

The rest is currently being written in the form of history. Benson is fourth in the NFL with 720 rushing yards and is also one of only two backs in football to currently be averaging over 100 rushing yards per game (The other is the aforementioned gigafuck, Chris Johnson.) and his Bengals are 5-2 and leading the AFC North (former Pro Bowl QB Carson Palmer having returned from a season-ending elbow injury doesn't hurt either). Best of all, he got to play the Bears two weeks ago and ran for a career-high 189 yards and one touchdown. As I can only say to a guy who gashes the shit out of a division rival: You go, sir.

No. 2: Brett Favre. Much as I wanted to bump him up the list to No. 4, Favre deserves to be down here as the second biggest surprise of the year. Admit it: You thought he was washed up. In the wake of a tumultous season with the Jets that culminated in a 1-4 meltdown and the Jets missing the playoffs, plus a major shoulder injury, people were questioning whether Favre still had the magic touch. Hell, we were full-on shouting it in the direction of Hattiesburg, Miss. When he signed with the Vikings, we all figured he'd just be handing it off to scary motherfucker Adrian Peterson forty times a game, throwing a lot of short, safe passes and a lot more picks.

Well, so much for that idea. Favre currently co-leads the league with 16 touchdown passes and his completion percentage is fourth in the NFL. Plus, he's only thrown three picks, the fourth fewest in the league after you strike two guys that are no longer starting for their teams. Hell, one of the guys above him missed a bunch of games (Donovan McNabb) and another threw his only pick on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, when it didn't mean shit (Kyle Orton). Oh, yeah, and the hated Vikings are now 7-1 and in position to run away with the NFC North. Sure, it's still early and Favre tends to wear down at the end of the year, but with a nice big heated dome to play in when the weather gets cold, you have to wonder just how far the Vikings can go.

No. 1: The 6-1 Broncos. Admit it, you're fucking shocked. I was, too, when the Broncos rocketed to 6-0 on the strength of their defense. Their defense! Hell, they were ranked 29th in the league a year ago! They were three teams away from giving up the most yards per game in the league (at a whopping 374.6 per)! This year, through seven games and a bye week, they are ranked first. Yes, you read that right. This year it's 266.7 yards per game, good enough to make them the best defense in football right now. What the hell changed?
Oh, and lest we forget, the Broncos endured perhaps the most tumultuous offseason in recent memory, up to and including the freaking Brett Favre shit-hurricane that hit Green Bay in 2008. In the 2009 offseason, it was the Broncos' turn. Understanding just what happened goes back to the last three games of the 2008 season, when the Broncos were leading the AFC North with an 8-5 record with three games to play and a three-game lead in their division over the 5-8 San Diego Chargers. All they needed was one win to clinch the division title and go to the playoffs. The Broncos then proceeded to choke it away by losing the last three games and allowing the Chargers to steal the title, thus becoming the first team in NFL history to fail that badly.

Just two days after that, the Broncos fired their two-time Super Bowl winning head coach, Mike Shanahan, and replaced him with a New England Patriots assistant coach named Josh McDaniels. Practically McDaniels' first move was to talk to the Patriots and the Chiefs about a possible three-team trade involving shipping the reigning franchise quarterback in Bronco-land, Jay Cutler, out of town. Cutler learned about it, got pissed and demanded to be shipped out of town, which after three weeks of media fuckstorm, he was. To the Chicago Bears. In return for draft picks and Kyle Orton, a middling Bears QB. Meanwhile, top receiver Brandon Marshall freaked out and started demanding a trade of his own. McDaniels and new GM Brian Xanders capped it off by drafting running back Knowshon Moreno with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft, eschewing badly needed defensive players, then went out and signed a shitton of random free agents to the point where reporters couldn't even keep track of the new guys.


So what the hell changed? Well, among those free agents were a ton of new defensive players, including veteran safety Brian Dawkins, who was let go by Philadelphia and is currently feeling his oats ala Darren Sharper. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen also went out and got the premier defensive coordinator talent on the market, ex-49ers head coach Mike Nolan. Put that together with two new cornerbacks and a linebacker from the first two rounds of the draft, add the fact that McDaniels was hired because he helped create the megafuck Patriots offense that set all kinds of records in 2007 and kept on rolling in 2008 with a backup QB, and the Broncos are suddenly dangerous bastards. They're leading the AFC West, in fact. Only the second half of the season will tell what'll happen, with them and with all of the above guys and teams, but if it's anything like this first half it will be interesting as all hell. I'll leave it to the football gods to apportion failure and success. Later, folks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thirteen Ridiculous Things that We Believe Implicitly

You ever stop to think about how batshit crazy life is? I mean, seriously, do you? I don't think you do! Consider:

-Stars. We believe that, out in space, there are gigantic balls of gas that are constantly burning and putting out light and heat. So much light and heat, in fact, that you can feel it on your skin from ninety-three million miles away. They burn so bright, in fact, that we can see them from an unimaginably far distance, more distance then it is possible for the human mind to appreciate. Giant freaking balls of freaking gas that could burn you to a crisp from a million miles away.

-Black holes. Somewhere out in space is a patch of nothingness that sucks everything that is something, right down to atoms and light, into it. It could destroy the whole Earth without even pausing to digest it. It's the ultimate movie villain, except there is no possible way to fight it, just watch while it turns everything you've ever seen into spaghetti on its way to swallowing you and the rest of your kind.

-Atoms: Picture the smallest thing you could possibly see with the naked eye. What is it, a grain of sand? Dust? A flea maybe? A particularly disappointing one-night stand? Well, there are things thousands of times smaller then that. Oh, yeah, and they make up everything you will ever see in numbers greater then you could imagine. INTIMIDATED YET?

-String theory: The idea that everything you will ever see, down to levels below even the mind-boggling tininess of the atom, is made out of the same sort of stuff your cat likes to play with.

-The Big Bang: We now believe that everything you have ever seen or met or heard of, every person you've ever talked to, everything you've ever seen or conceived of and the entirety of stars and galaxies and planets and black holes that is our universe, was once part of one object smaller then the head of a flea. And nobody knows quite why this went down, just that it did.

-Pictures: The idea that you can capture a single moment, or a series of moments in the form of video, forever. Whenever you want to.

-The Internet: A series of tubes containing every asshole with access. Along with phone lines and satellite communication, this goes along with the idea that you can talk to anyone anywhere in our huge fucking world (for a small fee and provided you have their 'contact information') in less then five minutes. EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, from your next door neighbor to fucking Nepal.

-Genetic engineering and DNA: The idea that there is a basic 'code', like computer code, for everything living on this planet AND WE KNOW HOW TO HACK IT. That frightens the pants off of me, I don't know about you. But, damn! We can hack nature and put together whatever constructs we want! Could there be anything more scary?

-Nanobots: Yes. There are robots that can live inside your body. That's really all that needs to be said.

-Space shuttles, spaceships, satellites, etc: We got people off this planet. WE PUT A MOTHERFUCKING MAN ON THE MOTHERFUCKING MOON. The moon! That little dot up there in the sky, we walked on that! Are you kidding me? We sent people up in SPACE? We got them off of this entire freaking planet?

-Nuclear weapons: The idea that there is at this very moment, scattered around the planet, enough destructive power to end all human life. All of us. Everyone. The lady who bags your groceries at the supermarket, your favorite celebrity or football star, some scientist freezing his ass off in Antarctica, you, me, everyone you've ever met. And not just us right now, but everything we have ever done. All the achievements of humankind survive right now only due to the fact that we remember them. All the inventions, all the philosophers, all the lovers, all the comedies would all be gone as if they'd never existed. Think about it.

-The Internet again. With nothing more than a click of your mouse, you can: buy or sell every commercial product imaginable, talk to a friend, order a pizza, sound off on some issue or other *cough*, tell someone you love them, listen to music, watch a movie, help a starving child, read this post, do your homework, get over your ex, whatever. Take a minute to think about that. Really, really do.


Having just blown your mind with twelve scientific concepts/horrifying realities, I'm going to take a step back and blow it again in a different way.


Yeah, love. Wanna make something of it?

No, but seriously. The idea that...
When you see that special person it just lifts you up inside, no matter how you were feeling. When the two of you are together and there really is a together, when you meet each other's needs like nobody else ever could. When you see that girl or boy and this warm, golden feeling just fills you up inside like you could skip over the moon, holding their hand beside you. When a smile from them, or a conversation, or a kiss, is all it takes to make you happy. Really, truly happy, deep down inside where there's a light in all the corners of your heart where light never used to shine. And knowing that they're just as happy as you are and feel the way that you feel.

Doesn't the fact that we as people can feel that feeling, that kind of unconditional, passionate love, just blow you away?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Packers vs. Vikings; Different venue, same bloody result.

You want to be mad at the Vikings, you know? You want to cuss them out and call them the Queens, the Queers, the nameless fucktards on the other side of the western border. You want to be mad at them because they have a habit of picking up expatriate Packers, most recently our esteemed quarterback who just waltzed into Lambeau Field like it was three years ago and threw for four touchdowns to beat his former team, 38-26. You want to hate them because they're looking like they might march through the NFC this year en route to a division title, and maybe even more then that.

But they're good people. They really are. This isn't the Love Boat fiasco of 2005. This isn't Randy Moss fake-mooning the Packer faithful. This is Adrian Peterson, a class act if ever there was one, making the Packers pay with a long screen pass to set up the decisive score from Favre to Berrian, who wasn't even supposed to play in this game. This is Percy Harvin, this year's DeSean Jackson without the hubris, becoming such a gigafuck that the Packers squib-kicked in the third quarter just to avoid giving him the ball. The Vikings just have more stars on the team; Jared Allen, who cemented his trip to the Pro Bowl this year by racking up 7.5 sacks in two nationally televised games against the Green and Gold; Sidney Rice, who was going to be the latest high pick in the draft to bottom out until Favre arrived this year and inexplicably resurrected him; Steve Hutchinson, the all-pro guard who helped create an impregnable wall for Green Bay's defenders in both games, holding the Packers without a sack in either contest.

And then there's Favre. Brett Lorenzo Favre, who by all appearances has junked everything that got him run out of Green Bay and amplified everything that kept him there for sixteen years. Favre, throwing into double coverage and coming away with the completion. Favre, tossing four touchdown passes and withstanding a furious Green Bay rally in the third quarter. Favre, jumping to check on a fallen Greg Jennings-he who caught No. 421- when he came down in front of him on the Vikings' sideline. Everything he was ripped for in the Green Bay and national media-not being a leader, throwing interceptions-he has apparently resolved. Favre, breaking the hearts of the Packer faithful one more time before finding Berrian for the game-clinching TD.

And the Packers wanted this one so badly. The fans wanted it, the team, the coaches wanted it, I wanted it so badly. And you could tell on the field. They were that boxer that, however unmatched against a more skilled opponent, battled to the end. The Vikings shut down Ryan Grant (ten carries, 30 yards). They sacked Rodgers six times. They raced up and down the field as if on jetpacks on special teams. And we were still fracking in it! Rodgers tossing two touchdowns to Spencer Havner, the converted LB's fifth and sixth career catches. Greg Jennings catching another score despite having a Viking in his shirt. Driver and Jennings both returning after devastating hits. Emotionally and physically, the Packers gave everything they had, and that just wasn't enough.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paper Rose

Another gem from English 160. Now I'm experimenting with the idea of the first-person observer, that is, the person who watches the action, sees all but experiences none of it.

The girl sat alone in a corner of the coffee shop. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I collected my low-fat Americano from the barista, saw her bury her face in her hands as I slipped a dollar in the change jar, then straighten up and tuck her hair behind her ears as I walked back to my table. She had long brown hair, almost black, that fell in front of her eyes when she shook her head. A full cup of coffee, an old-fashioned white china mug, rested on the table in front of her, spent sugar packets surrounding it like a battered halo.

The girl rummaged through her purse and took out her cell phone, stabbing fingers into the buttons before holding the device to her ear. She waited, drumming on the table with her other hand, before swearing softly and hanging up. The phone skittered across the table and fell on the empty bench beside her as she flung it on the table, and swearing more volubly now, leaned over to retrieve it. As she straightened up, fixing her hair again, I caught a glimpse of her face in the light of the afternoon sun piercing through the window of the shop. She had deep blue eyes, the color of some tropical ocean. You could look into those eyes and imagine lying on some beach together with a drink at your elbow, listening to birds chittering from the bushes as you watched the sun set.

She was watching the door. I blew on my Americano and turned towards the door as well, sipping my coffee as I did so. The box full of used cups and dishes jingled softly behind me as someone dropped a saucer in.

You should go over and talk to her.

The thought entered my head without so much as a ‘hello’ or a ‘how’s the weather’, blazing into my thoughts as only an inspiration can. I took a deep breath.

Don’t be ridiculous. She’s probably waiting for someone.

So what? They’re not here, are they?

They could be. Any minute now.

Look at her, man. She’s cute, she’s here by herself and so are you. You should go over and talk to her! She’s probably thinking right now “Why doesn’t that cute guy come over here and have a seat?”

Or she isn’t. And then-

And then what? What’s the worst that could happen?

She could say no. She could think I’m a freak for just asking, tell me to get out, tell me-
Spare me. Look, if you don’t take a chance, you’ll never win a penny.

Over in her corner, the girl shrugged her arms into her coat and picked up her china mug and saucer.

See? Now or never, man! Go talk to her! Just go do it! Come on!

I-- Oh, hell.

The inner debate ended as I pushed myself up from the wooden bench. I knocked my knee against the table, cursing as my drink twirled at the edge of the table and then, almost gracefully, dumped its contents all over my pants.

Had the girl seen me, my fears of looking like an idiot would have come entirely true; she, however, was busy hurling insults at the man with the black leather jacket who had just come through the glass door. “Bastard! Jerk! Where were you?” she fumed. “I’ve been sitting here all by myself for half an hour, looking like a complete idiot, and you’ve been—where? Where have you been?”

“Baby, I got caught up in traffic, simmer down! Simmer down!” His hands were drawn up in front of him as if to remove a steaming teakettle from a stove, but the teakettle would have none of it. “Simmer down? Simmer down! You were with her again, weren’t you! You were late for our date because you were with Jessica! I knew it!” She advanced, jabbing a finger into his chest and hissing like a viper.

While treating my soaked pants with napkins snatched from the rack behind me, I couldn’t help but watch the budding apocalypse in the middle of the shop. Conversations died like flowers in autumn as other patrons turned to stare, and even the barista put down the tip jar to see what was happening.

“I was caught up in traffic! There was some guy on the road, some guy in a Volvo that cut me off, every damn time he cut me off, I was on the highway for an hour and a half because of this sonuvabitch!” He didn’t back away from the charge, meeting her stare for angry stare. His hands tightened around a piece of white paper from his jacket pocket.

“You were with her again! God, can’t you at least tell the truth to my face?” Water began to fill the corners of her eyes. “I know you’re still in love with her, damn you! Just say it! Just say it and get it over with!”

“That is not true. That is not true!”

“I know it is, I know it, I know it…” Her anger was slowly dissolving. The man stepped hesitantly toward her and made as if to enfold her in his arms, but she planted a hand on his chest and backed away. “I love you. I love you, Marie”, came from him, but she turned away on high heels with a hand over her eyes. “Go. Just, go.”


“Just go! GO!”

The man hesitated, half-stepped towards the door, then flung the piece of paper aside and practically bolted. The girl stood like that in the middle of the shop for a second, tears now streaming past her hand and dropping off her chin. The cup fell from her other hand, rebounding from the floor and spilling coffee everywhere. A sliver of white china fell away from the mug. She swore again, mopping at her eyes with a napkin, then walked towards my table and the box of china behind me. She thrust the mug into the box. I couldn’t help looking up into her eyes, her deep blue eyes, as she paused for a moment over me. She glanced down at me sitting there, me with my soaking wet pants and grande Americano, and paused for just a moment. Tears fell from her eyes onto my table. I opened my mouth to say something, I don’t know what, but she was already striding out through the open door.

As I looked around, trying to make sense of the suddenly empty scene, my eyes fastened on the paper the man had thrown aside. It lay on the floor near my table, drowning in a puddle of coffee. I picked it up and unwrapped the outer coating. Inside was a single paper rose.

Breaking Twenty

This is one of a few pieces I've been writing for my English 160 class. This particular item was composed shortly before class, like ten minutes shortly, but I think it still turned out pretty well. Enjoy.

A stream of apple juice pours from the soft drink dispenser, pattering gently into the Styrofoam cup that its owner holds wearily beneath it. Ryan turns away with the full cup, squinting in the early morning light that gazes in through the windows, and grabs a frosted roll from the rack beside him. A plastic fork and a Styrofoam plate complete the sorry ensemble as Ryan walks back to one of the many square tables dotting the hotel cafeteria.

“Gonna make you fat, man. Slow you down.”

The owner of the voice, a wiry young boy named Terrence, looks up from a newspaper to deliver these words of wisdom. “Get some Cheerios or something”, he advises once more before diving back into the sports pages. “ATLANTA FALLS TO GIANTS” reads the headline, with a picture of a heavily muscled man caught mid-celebration beneath it.

A baleful glare is his only answer from across the table as Ryan crunches into the cinnamon roll, scattering flakes of sugar over the table like a brief snowfall. The fluorescent lights above them flicker and die momentarily, as if even they are disgusted by the early hour, before once more reviving to cast their clumsy light over the table.

The scene around them shifts as more boys descend the stairs, most trying unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns behind gloved hands. All are garbed for the outdoors, clothed in layer upon layer of sweats and UnderArmor. A few head for the small buffet, but most opt to snack on energy bars or graham crackers. Ironically, they will be outside today in the scantiest of clothing, despite all their preparations to the contrary.

“See, man? What’s all this about?” Terrence prods the roll for emphasis. The brief snowfall is over, with a dusting of sugar scattered all across the table. “You’ll never break 20 eating shit like that. Go get some real food or something. At least get a bar for later.”

“Shut up. I’m going to break twenty.”

“No, dude. What’s your best time? Twenty-fifty? You barely came in under 21 minutes, you need all the help you can get.”

For the first time, some life shows in Ryan’s eyes. “Fuck off, man. My mile time was six and a half minutes last race. That’s under 20 for a five-kilometer race.”

“Yeah, and your last mile was eight minutes. Get serious, dude! You have to pick that shit up!”

“Shut up.”

“You know I’m right, man. Stop being a pussy and just run!”

The sun finally rises fully over the horizon, washing the pale room in gold and bronze. The leaves outside the hotel kitchen are suddenly outlined in fire.

“Didn’t I just tell you to fuck off!” Ryan is on his feet now with no memory of standing. All around the room, runners huddled over their meager breakfasts look up in surprise. The newspaper lies forgotten on the table, its headline drowning in spilt apple juice. “I’m going to break 20 no matter what I eat! You watch me! You watch me go over that line at the end of the tunnel, because I will fucking well fly over it if I so choose!” Ryan stops, aware for the first time of the eyes around him, ranging from startled interest to newly awakened vigor. “And I hope you’re right beside me so you can personally watch! Let it be known, I will break 20 minutes on the damn 5K! Now, today, end of discussion! And we will win this race because I know every one of you will run with the same heart, the same balls and determination and fire, as I will! Now how about it?”

There is no dramatic pause. As soon as Ryan’s last sentence hurtles out of his mouth, the whole team is up on their feet and crowding around the two of them in a sudden, spontaneous dogpile. A breathless outpouring of chants, encouragement, curses and random noise washes over the hotel buffet. At its center, Terrence catches Ryan’s still-furious eyes. He grins, even winks, then stands up and adds his stenotorian yell to the crowded room. “LET’S DO THIS, GREYHOUNDS!!” rebounds off the walls and smashes through the automatic doors.

The Spirit World is a Crock of Shit

Dude, I don't claim to dispute werewolves, zombies, vampires, trolls, ogres, pixies, fairies, brownies, leprechauns, kappas, sea monsters, sea serpents, Megalodon, Cthulhu, goblins, dwarves, elves or anything of the sort. Hell, I hope to make a living off of them at some point in the future. But I most heartily debunk the idea of coming back after death as some sort of spirit, or further, the idea that there is life after death that you can come back from, at all, ever (in the form of a haunting or whatever). Maybe there's a heaven or a hell, but it's strictly a one-way ticket into either. Here's why.

How many people have died since we could recognizably be called humans? I'm going to go with a nice, round, hundred billion people. That's a hundred billion men, women, children, soldiers, kings, emperors, scientists, peasants, human sacrifices, people of every conceivable size, shape and stripe. So there's some diversity there (just a little, mind you) to pick and choose from.

And if you believe in ghosts, then some of those people (not all, or we'd be up to our collective balls in dead jugglers), more or less arbitrarily, get a second shot at life. Not really life, but the chance to remain on Earth and wander around and be spooky at people.

Now, keeping in mind that every conceivable personality type is also there to choose from, the first thing every ghost ever reported or suspected does upon returning to the land of the living... is skulk around and haunt some random location. Or slink into a corner and make ambiguously creepy noises. I mean, NO ghost gets back to this plane and goes "Hey! I just returned from unspeakable torment in the beyond! I think I'm gonna live a little, go out to some clubs, party down!" No. They go to their randomly chosen location and they STAY there. Forever. That seem a little odd? Doesn't it seem like at least some ghosts would opt to go live the good life?

Also, they tend to be 'seen' in about the least desirable pieces of real estate possible. Shores where ships were wrecked, creaky old houses, caves, graveyards, that whole bit. Wouldn't some ghosts take one look at a dark, dank ossuary and go "Whoa, fuck that. I'm heading for Vegas"?

We're also assuming that all ghosts instantly become morons when they arrive in the real world again. Even assuming there's some ghosts (as is commonly assumed to be the case) that are there to avenge something, or their own deaths, or to find some way to rest in peace, these ghosts apparently feel that the best way to get their point across is... making random noises. Or toppling over a bureau or something to get attention. Hey, if they can make noises, they can talk, and if they can talk they can say "Hey! Current owner of this house! Yes, you, fuckwad! I'm a ghost, my body is in the backyard, go and bury me properly! Thank you, g'bye!" No fuss, no muss, no creepy legends. And even if they can't talk, they can arrange toothpicks or something to say "I AM A GHOST. HEAR ME ROAR." on the table, right?

But the real problem here is awareness of the spirit world. Every single ghost has to have this temptation when they come back to the real world to blow the spirit world wide open, to do shit in a public place that leaves no doubt whatsoever that ghosts are in the house. And you could totally do that. Ghosts with even one of the wide repertoire of skills that are commonly ascribed to them-talking, moving shit around poltergeist-style, possessing people-could do so much shit. They could, say, head over to the White House, yank all the paintings outside and make them dance around on the front lawn. Or possess Barack Obama when he's giving a nationally televised speech and make him do handstands and backflips. Or interrupt an open-air event, steal a microphone and have at the yelling (or float it over the heads of the crowd). The possibilities are literally endless.

And don't mistake how important this would be. If you're a politician, a scientist, a tyrant, a pioneer in your field, people will remember you. But for how long? Who ran against Andrew Jackson for President? My point exactly. What's the name of the guy who discovered continental drift? Yeah, we could look it up, but whoever he is, he ain't a household name. And if you aren't lucky or skilled enough to get yourself into one of those fields, you're kinda screwed as far as remembrance goes beyond your circle of friends, family and coworkers.

The name of the guy that reveals the spirit world to actually exist, the name of the guy or gal who answers one of the most-asked questions in all of history, that name will be remembered forever. Like, for fucking ever. I'm talking Jesus, Moses, Buddha-level ever. Every person on the planet with access to the media will know your name. There'll be religions created about you, there'll be songs, epic poems, books about your life. People will call you a prophet, a saint, a devil, a god. Your name will be in science, in literature, in art, in music, present in every aspect of human life for thousands of damn years. You will have carved your name into history and achieved fame such as few men have dreamed of. You will be the ultimate Internet meme. (Albeit after you're dead.)

And you're telling me that no one, not one single solitary ghost, thinks of this idea and has the ghostly balls and cleverness to pull it off (because if they had, we would know it already). Not one. Ghosts just completely shed human nature once they arrive in the afterlife (which we're assuming they don't because they still have goals that they come back to haunt for, right?). Not one of those kings and emperors, not the greatest minds that ever lived, can figure out what to do and how to do it and get the word to the living that the spirit world exists.

And that is just a crock of shit idea.

So we're left with just two options: Either the spirit world does not exist as something people can come back from, OR Zeus is watching with his thunderbolts and is ready to vaporize every ghost who tries, for whatever reason (maybe he's just bored since Battlestar Galactica went off the air).

So for future reference: if you're in a public place and the lights start to dim, or a chair starts to wobble without anything touching it, or your teacher starts speaking Latin backwards ("Hee mo lay haa") and suddenly everything's back to normal, and then the air smells like ozone... let me know RIGHT THE FUCK AWAY and I will proceed to blow your mind.

I'm done here. Peace out, y'all (and ghosts).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Packers vs. Vikings Post-Game Wrapup

Post-game Packers vs. Vikings thoughts:

-Through four games, the Packers have five sacks. They were held without one tonight. They have two from Cullen Jenkins (defensive end) and one each from linebackers Aaron Kampman, Clay Matthews and Brandon Chillar. What happened to the pressure? Favre was allowed to sit there for four, five and even a ridiculous 7.34 seconds and throw the ball untouched. Any QB in the league can complete passes with that kind of time, not that he needed it to beat the gaping holes in our zone coverage. Maybe it’s time to start having Al Harris press more, because he was getting beaten all day by Bernard Berrian. Derrick Martin appeared to be at fault on the touchdown to Berrian.

-Eight sacks is a travesty in so many ways. All I can say is that Rodgers held the ball too long. Against another defense or with better linemen, ‘too long’ might be 4-5 seconds. Against this defense and with these tackles, it was three seconds. He has to realize that and go to whatever open man he sees first. I remember at least two sacks where he pumped once and got hit as he was reloading. There’s no time for that shit. Rodgers was running headlong into linebackers instead of scrambling. Even on his one scramble for 12 yards, he waited near the line of scrimmage for someone to get open before finally tucking and running. That speaks of him feeling the pressure and needing to throw.

-Welcome to the NFL, Jermichael Finley. Finley’s 62-yard catch and run for a score and his later 37-yard completion were masterful. Finley took a step closer to taking the No. 1 tight end position. He made a good catch on the ball at the goal line but was wrapped up by a LB before he could get to the end zone. There was a point where Finley was beating whatever safety he was matched up on. It’s nice to see that one of the pieces from the preseason has fallen into place.

-What has happened to Greg Jennings? In the past three games, he has a total of just six catches. Yes, the two against the Rams combined for 103 yards, but you have to wonder why Rodgers isn’t getting the ball to his No. 1 wideout more. Is he not open enough, or what’s going on? Last year Jennings dominated teams through the first six weeks of the season. He has done nothing of the kind this year.

-Another week, another good game from Ryan Grant. Grant has flown somewhat under the radar this season and has yet to reach 100 yards in a game, limited as he is by McCarthy’s playcalls that heavily favor the pass (only five runs in the first half this time around). Still, Grant ran hard for 51 yards on 11 carries and, for the first time in a long time, showed some pop as a receiver. He caught three screens that went for first downs, and on one of the final desperation drives made a great catch over the middle and picked up 15 yards, the first down and got out of bounds to stop the clock. That was as good of a play as I’ve seen him make this year.

-The officials certainly didn’t help the Packers this time around, flagging them for 7 penalties for 57 yards. While that’s a marked improvement (sadly), that still cannot be tolerated. Six of them came in the first half and all were costly. Woodson’s phantom PI call in the end zone that nullified his interception was pure horseshit, but it would have been wiped out anyway by an offsides call on the same play. There were a lot of blatant holds by the Vikings that went completely uncalled.

-Our secondary was just not there. Everyone was getting beat, but to be fair, the best of the best pros at CB and S will break down in coverage with zero pass rush. And when I say zero, I mean zero. Favre was hit once by Kampman. That was it. Literally, that was the only knockdown. It’s not as if Favre was stepping out of the way of pressure either, it’s that the pressure simply was not there. How hard can it be to sack a department store mannequin in the pocket?

-Having said that, holding Adrian Peterson to something like 25 carries, 56 yards is a huge step for the run defense. For the most part, the Packers swarmed to the football, didn’t let Peterson run outside the tackles and stacked him up at the line of scrimmage. Clay Matthews made an amazing play to rob Peterson of the ball on his fumble return for a TD; that seemed to take the mojo right out of Peterson. I believe that was the last carry on which he just would not go down; after that, he went to the turf more quietly and didn’t finish his runs like he did in much of the first half. For a runner who had historically torn through the Packers’ various defenses like a human tornado-only being stopped in the second game of 2007 by a knee injury-this was a pleasure to watch.

-Where’s Nick Collins gone off to? His clavicle injury will surely benefit from the bye week, but the Packers haven’t called his name since the first game of the year. He doesn’t appear to be playing aggressively and isn’t around the ball as much (just one tackle tonight). Getting him back up to form will be a major plus for this defense.

-The 2009 Packers have to be the best fourth-quarter team I have ever seen. I’m sure the stats would bear me out, but the Internet is down as I write this so I’ll have to improvise: Against the Bears, they score a dramatic game-winning TD. Against the Bengals, they rediscover offensive life near the end and are poised to win the game but run out of time. Against the Rams, they shut them out and score two TDs in the fourth quarter. And tonight against the Vikings: The defense erases Adrian Peterson from the map, finds the testicles it had been missing all night and prevents Favre from doing anything whatsoever. The offense goes into superfuck mode, mounting two long scoring drives. If we could just channel that fourth quarter excellence and make it last entire games, we would be doing to teams what we did to the Arizona Cardinals in the first half this preseason. (Obviously the internet is back now but it's late and I'm lazy.)

-Speaking of which, it is officially time for us to start living in the now (as it were) and forget completely about the 2009 preseason. Those Packers were invincible along the O-line, completed whatever passes they chose to complete, stifled opposing quarterbacks and forced enough turnovers to open their own Applebees’. These Packers are and can do none of the above, with the exception of forcing turnovers. These Packers are on pace to allow 80 sacks this season, and I can say with certainty that if we continue like this, Aaron Rodgers will not make it all the way through the year. And then we will REALLY be fucked.

-That series on the goal line pretty much summed up the night on offense. The Packers were moving the ball with impunity until they got to the five yard line of the Vikings. On first down, Grant ran for 4. On second down, a handoff to John Kuhn went nowhere as Kuhn went flying through the air to land just shy of the goal line. On third down, Rodgers’ quick (forced) pass to Finley went nowhere as the LB covering him made an exquisite tackle. On fourth down, Donald Lee dropped the TD. I very much support McCarthy’s decision to go for it there, but goddamn, that TD could have helped us out immeasurably.

-Finally, while this sucks like hell, it is not the end of the world. The Packers have a bye week to get healthy (and pray that Colledge, Jenkins and Blackmon don’t have serious injuries) at the end of which they should get Chad Clifton and Atari Bigby back. After that, we can pick our asses up and maybe make some noise in the NFC.


-Settle Rodgers down. Make it clear beyond a doubt to him that in games like that, it’s OK-hell, it’s great-to throw to your first open man. You don’t have to make a huge play every time. There were far too many moments in tonight’s game where Rodgers looked, saw something and looked again for something bigger and wound up getting sacked. That can’t happen again like it did tonight.

-Dom Capers, reshuffle your blitzes. We didn’t blitz hardly at all tonight. The one time we did that was effective, I remember, Charles Woodson got in Favre’s face and deflected the pass (although Taylor still caught the thing). Otherwise there was no pressure. This defense has produced turnovers but not sacks; let’s get some sacks.

-Sign a left tackle. I don’t care how, I don’t care whom (I think the ex-Bengal Levi Jones is the best on the market right now) but sign a goddamn left tackle over the bye week and give him some time to get acclimated. Call it shutting the barn door after the horse has fucking flown away, call it whatever you like, but do it. If Clifton goes down again and all we have to throw out against the NFL’s elite right ends is Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang, we’re going to see the same thing over and over again as we saw with Antuan Odom and Jared Allen. God, ESPN showed every one of his sack dances, and every single one made me physically sick.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Critiquing Diversity: Jokes Edition

Apparently SAFD is going to keep putting out pamphlets, no matter how bad their previous efforts have been. In that case, I'm going to keep critiquing them, because it is funny. This latest effort, on derogatory jokes, actually doesn't seem all that bad at first glance, but you never know. Let's take a closer look...

Do you think it is okay to tell derogatory jokes? Why?
Good question. Nice, makes you examine yourself, open-ended. Personally, I think it depends on who's talking and the context; I've always held the opinion that if you want to degrade your own race/sex/religion, go nuts. And if you're joking around with friends and everyone knows you don't actually hold that opinion, go for it. But as far as jokes coming from outside your race, or opinions that aren't just jokes, no way. That's when you get to slap a bitch.

Do you think this perpetuates the stereotypes or is a means of acknowledging that the stereotypes exist?
See, this isn't strictly a bad question, but you have to differentiate between the different scenarios in which the joke could be told. If it's between members of that race, than it's actually a difficult question. I would hope that it was an acknowledgment and not a desire to perpetuate the stereotype; I wouldn't want my friends calling me a kike or a moneylender on a regular basis if they meant to spread the information that all Jews are rich. (Disclaimer: I think the current financial crisis proves once and for all that we are not in charge. Jews are good with money. The crisis was caused by lousy financial discipline. Q.E.D.) As far as other scenarios go, friends joking with each other acknowledges that the stereotypes exist; jokes intended to be derogatory, of course, perpetuate the stereotypes.

(Intermission: 'Stereotype' is a very commonly used word, especially here on a LA campus, but no one seems to have come up with a good abbreviation or synonym for it yet. I think this is because of the 't's at the beginning of the syllables, which preclude shortening the word. However, I also think it needs an abbreviated form. Any suggestions?)

Would you say these jokes in front of the victim of the joke?
Well, if I was actually being racist when I said them, then I wouldn't care or would want to insult them. If I was joking around with the person, than sure, I would. But the word 'victim' implies that the person you're telling them about is not complicit in the joke, i.e. you're being racist. So if I was racist enough to tell those jokes and mean them, I wouldn't have a problem with talking in front of the target. (I'm not. Just so you know. : )

How do you respond if or when you hear these jokes?
Firstly, same shit, different day; Liberal Arts campus, people. Lots of social Democrats. Lots of tolerance. Always tailor your questions for your audience. Not a lot of these jokes are told here on campus, at least not in the way where you mean them. The only way this works is if people had them in their home town, which is very hit-or-miss. On the other hand, this question is most likely to provoke a reaction from those same people.
Secondly, let's assume for brevity's sake that these aren't jokes between friends, jokes between members of the same race, etc. If it's clear that they're making fun, or that they're between members of the same race, it's unlikely that random passerby would make any response at all. So we'll consider only truly derogatory jokes, told with intent to hurt.
Thirdly, what are you supposed to do? Get in their face and tell them to stop? Most people aren't that confrontational. If they make you angry, you've passed a litmus test of your own personal tolerance. If they make you cry, well... it's a rough world. If you don't care because it's their own problem, good for you.

What if we stopped telling them?
This is the only real lemon in this bunch. What if we stopped eating from Lowry and started foraging in the forests instead? What if this entire group spontaneously staged a musical by jumping up in a table in Kittridge and singing about diversity? Open-ended "what if" questions have no practical purpose.
But what if we actually did? Well, I'm not sure what the "we" refers to, first of all. Does it refer to the purportedly diverse but actually racist SAFD group? (Kidding. Kidding. But they're saying "we", and I sure as hell didn't write it...) How about Wooster students in general? (As I said, there's not many of those.) Or is it (probably) the broader, more idealistic "we", referring to all of humanity? Well, in that case, we would be one small step closer to total integration. I say a "small" step because eliminating the verbal expressions of racism doesn't eliminate them in the mind. So it wouldn't have much of an effect except to make the joked-about's lives a lot easier.

Speaking of whom, who exactly are we talking about here? Does this cover jokes about race, religion, etc. or is it more broad? Does it also cover jokes about grades, relative intellect, your mom or your lunch? Does it apply to all jokes, no matter the intent? We don't know because these pamphlets are frustratingly vague. Asking people to think "outside the box" is no excuse for not providing a context.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Little Tents Inspire Topics: A critique of our resident diversity group

In the last week or two, a group calling itself Student Advocates for Diversity has been leaving these paper tents around on the tables, supposedly asking tough questions about difficult topics. I think that the questions are idiotic, so I am going to answer them, although in ways that the questioners probably never intended.

There are three tents that people have been left, which I'm going to address in ascending order of intelligence. They'll be like this: Gender, Interracial Dating, Diversity.


Does the media perpetuate stereotypes about gender relations? If so, which ones, and what effect do these portrayals have on the public?
"The media?" What exactly does this mean? Are we talking about the so-called mainstream media, that is the major newspapers and television channels, or television programs? What exactly does this mean? "The media", as I have discussed, is a very broad concept. This, right now, is a form of media.
Bypassing that, there is no real answer to the second and third questions here. The answer to the first is obviously "Yes", and the question "Which ones" varies greatly depending on the type of media. Movies, for example, largely follow the convention of the male hero with a love interest. There's increasing variation in the way this convention is done, but overall this stereotype is perpetuated regardless of packaging. I would say that, depending on the media you choose to imbibe, you can find almost any stereotype of gender relations, from Friends to Desperate Housewives to love triangles. As for what effect these portrayals have, well... doesn't that depend on the person? I'm sure it conditions people to act in those ways, and makes plenty of people angry, but that's really it. And besides, is it a bad thing?

Do you think the media has an effect on how you think?
What a stupid question. Do you think the media doesn't?!

Do you think differently about your boss depending on their gender? How about your professor?
Of course. My experience has shown me that female professors and bosses are more likely to be easygoing, assign less homework, forgive absences more often, etc. Admittedly there are outliers (See Game Theory, 2009), but in general this holds true for teachers.

What advantages and disadvantages do both genders have in our society?
Holy hell. See, this is what I'm talking about. I know they're trying to spark discussion, but could you ask a more broad question? Even if you tried? Anyway, they partially answer that question in the next question...

Did you know that women earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns?
Um, where did you get that statistic? The tent doesn't say. Where does that come from? Are there studies showing this that you could give me, or is it just hearsay? I tend to be suspicious of statistics with no citations that people give me when they're trying to prove a point, which this question is...

What expectations do you have of gender roles?
In society? This is a fairly loaded question, because if you fall too far one way or the other you can be accused of being either a sexist knuckledragger or a feminazi. The question I have to ask, though, is "In what?". In the home? The workplace? The bedroom? What?

The title of each pamphlet, Let's Talk About It, seems to imply that the group is uncovering some deep secret or unpleasant issue. So far, they've failed to do that, asking embarrassingly broad questions that are impossible to actually answer and generally making very little sense. Let's see if they can do any better with interracial dating.

Interracial Dating
This seemed like an odd topic to cover; after the broad topics of the first two (Gender and Diversity), Interracial Dating is fairly specific. I suppose they were trying to connect more with people by being less abstract, but it still doesn't seem like the sort of topic that would actually get people to think. Consider:

Do you approve or disapprove of interracial relationships?
Not a bad question; certainly better than the cloudy and nonspecific questions of Gender, but still a fairly bad one. For a student at a liberal arts college, relatively 'enlightened', the answer will usually parallel my "I don't care".

Would you partake in an interracial relationship?
Personally, I already have. Otherwise, it would depend if I... liked them?

Do you think twice when you see a dark skinned male and a light skinned female displaying public affection? What about a dark skinned female and a light skinned male?
They're trying to be just a little bit too politically correct here. See, this is why I don't like political correctness, simply because it makes the same thing harder to type, like saying "dead tree innards bound with rawhide with ink on the innards" when what you mean is "book". Similarly, "light skinned male" can be shortened to "white guy" with loss of sensitivity but a rise in ease of typing.

The actual answer is "No".

What comes to mind when you see two people of different races in a relationship? Why?
I really don't have any particular thoughts when I see interracial couples. Really. And why is because it's not a big deal. Product of a liberal suburb, right here.

Does your opinion differ based on the races of a couple?
I'm going to take the opportunity here that it's more common to see white girls with black guys, particularly athletes, than it is to see white guys with black girls. I don't know why that is.


Now we come to the first, and paradoxically final, pamphlet. It's entitled simply Diversity, and features some of the more straightforward and discussion-prompting questions to date, starting with the first (and broadest) one:

What is diversity?
I have no freakin' idea what diversity is. Like most abstract concepts, you think you know what it is until someone asks you, and then you find out you really have no idea what to say. What is diversity? Is it a certain mix of students such that everyone can meet and talk to people who come from cultures different from their own? OK, sure. But how far does that extend? Are you required to represent all possible cultures, or just those who choose to attend your school? If students stay largely in their respective racial/cultural groups, is it still diverse? What about diversity of opinions and ideals? Are you required to have certain viewpoints on campus to provide a proper balance? Does that include opinions most on campus find distasteful (example: racists)? What about social groups most people find distasteful, such as skinheads? It's a fascinating topic because you really don't know what to include and what not to.

Are we, the college (student body and faculty) diverse?
See above. In fact, see above for What makes a student body diverse? too. It's just so hard to answer without asking a bunch more questions.

How can we change diversity?
Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone (U-rah!) shall we all live in peace!

Thought I'd bring you a little Jewish spirit in this time of Passover. How you change diversity I'm not sure, except by bringing in different people, obviously enough.

Is diversity important?
Absolutely. Being exposed to different ideas and cultures, especially in college, can change your freakin' life.

What have you learned from being in a diverse environment?
Well, not too much. Despite living in the international dorm for the past year, and being on the COW campus for that selfsame year, I haven't absorbed that many new ideas by osmosis alone. Mostly that some international students are great guys and girls, and some are utter douches (I don't actually know any int'l students that are utter douches, but this follows from the end of the sentence) just like anybody else. A little irony there for your diversity.

Do you think everyone has a culture or just some people?
Wow, this is slightly off topic. Well, as I said to the question of whether people are affected by the media, of fucking course. It's impossible not to have a culture, if culture is the sum of your experiences and the society you live in, which I think it is. The only people who fail that are either living on a mountain somewhere or dead, in either of which cases they have a bacterial culture. So yes, we all do.

What makes you unique/diverse?
The sum of my experiences and the fact that I'm human. For example, I've dug up mammoths in South Dakota and swum with barracuda (and spotted whales) in the Bahamas. I've been to California and to DC to see family on opposite sides of the nation. I love classical music and science fiction and will play a game of chess with you any time. Game theory drives me nuts sometimes and makes beautiful sense sometimes. I was president of the United States of Livingroom and the nation of Copperdomia (in a school setting!). I've been friends with a lot of wonderful people. Point is, everyone can list things like this because everyone is unique. I like this question not for the discussion it starts (it doesn't, really) but for the well-being it inspires, remembering all the awesome things that I've done.

This was going to be the end, but a fourth pamphlet/tent came out the other day. Sadly, it is idiotic and talks about a serious subject (Hate Crimes) with incredible naivete. Let me share this with you.

What is a hate crime?
Well, I'm not going to type it out, but the thing paraphrases in GIVING YOU a definition, so I don't feel like it needs answering...

Have you witnessed a hate crime? Did you do something about it?
Wow, not afraid to ask the tough questions here, are we. I mean, hot damn. That is loaded, especially since the only people who tend to witness these crimes are the victims and the perps. That's not so much a discussion question as it is calling you out.

Have you been a victim of a hate crime?
This catches you off-guard with all the subtlety of an axe to the tonsils. What? Have I what? How many past victims do you think came to COW?

Have you committed a hate crime?
What?! Are you serious?! This is like a detective novel, "So, did you kill Ms. Frost?" What kind of answers do they expect to get?

How do hate crimes affect people?
Usually in the form of physical damage.... I mean, this isn't that bad of a question, but after those gems above I'm less inclined to forgive the stupidity. I mean, really.

Well, that seems to be all for now. Publishing and going to bed. Better appreciate this, it's been a week in the making. Zzzzzzz...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"11:00 PM to 12:00 PM"

I have some small familiarity with the concept of weaponized pathogens such as are described in the latest episode of 24, so I thought I'd give my two cents on the subject with the episode about halfway over. One, apparently Jack is a dead man. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare neurological brain disease which is transmitted by prions. It is incurable and always fatal. The version of the disease in 24 has been modified so it can be spread through the air, the nightmare of CDC personnel.
Two, isn't 24 running low on WMDs? We've already covered nuclear explosions, electro-magnetic pulses and such before, and we definitely did biological weapons in either season 5 or 6. What next? Terminators?
Three, it still hasn't been adequately explained why Starkwood is doing what they're doing. It's like, OK. The whole nefarious scheme of Day 7 was based on Starkwood making deals in order to gain space to create and test the WMDs. What the hell are they planning on doing with them? Especially in this universe where the deals you make are uncovered in a matter of hours? They must know that the WMDs will be traced back to them, yet Jonas Hodges (the main evildoer today) doesn't seem too put out. What are they planning?
Four, who ever heard of a weaponized pathogen that wasn't contagious? This means that they want to send a message with a bunch of deaths, rather than just kill as many people as they can. So what's the message that's so important that you can risk your entire business empire, not to mention your lives, to send?

Oh, five: Is there a single person, anywhere, anytime that has gotten an executive pardon on 24 and not been immediately shot? Whatsisname who broke out Tony is a dead man walking. (Written immediately after the last commercial break. Will check back with news of death.)

Or not. The episode ends in a standoff involving miniguns, though, so anything can happen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Musical Morass

A few months ago, I wrote a Facebook note detailing why gangster rap and classic rock were essentially the same thing in different packages. Both were or are the rebellious, catchy music of their generation; both employ similar musical devices to "hook" people into listening to them and both can have very powerful (or very generic) lyrics. I want to expand upon that today by saying that both are part of a larger category, that of music which seeks to engage the listener. Classical music, on the other hand, seeks to envelop the listener. Let me tell you what I mean.

The first way to understand this difference is to look at the way percussion is used in both types of music. In the several genres I'm referring to of "hooked" music, which include alternative rock, classic rock, rap, etc., drums set the beat. Usually, any musical creativity they might have is secondary to this duty, which is the backbone of the song. This is what generates the headbanging seen at countless concerts, the jumping and shouting on dance floors and the gyrations at parties. This is what "hooked" music is built on. The drums are nearly always urging the crowd on at all points during the song.
In a classical piece, for example a symphony, the drums are there for emphasis only. The percussionist (not the 'drummer') generally doesn't play very much, but when s/he does his voice is definitely heard. A pair of cymbals crashing together like breaking waves in the middle of a piece provides a fantastic climax to a swell of music, as does the thunder of the drums whenever the percussionist is allowed to turn them loose. By doing this, they get the audience more emotionally involved with the piece.
The second huge difference is the use of lyrics. Obviously the majority of classical music has no voice parts (we are not counting choral music here, majestic though it be, for the simple reason that I know nothing about it other than there are altos, basses and sopranos involved), but it usually has either the strings or the brass section taking the melody and providing the "face" of the music. Meanwhile, rappers and lead singers provide the face time and the lyrics of the songs.
Obviously the singer doesn't have total power to determine the way the song will be received, based on the style of the instruments, but swap James Hetfield of Metallica out for Carrie Underwood and see what you get. Singers have tremendous power to shape their songs, much more so today than twenty or (my God!) thirty years ago. Back then, in traditional rock, lead guitarists had the jaw-dropping guitar solos and the fiery riffs to inspire and seduce their young fans, regardless of the song. In the majority of songs, mostly ones about rock'n'roll itself, the singer essentially put the band on cruise control and showcased his talent in the choruses. Only in the ballads could singers truly capture the youth with their soulful voices. Granted, the singer was instrumental in developing the music (wink), but the band didn't rely on him to hold the song together. Nowadays, teenagers demand more than music from the musicians; they also demand a message, something to inspire them beyond the drudgery of high school. With the lack of an accompanying mythos such as classic rock had, it is singers who had to fill the void. And fill it was what they most assuredly did. Guitar solos are now optional, as are creative bass parts and drum experimentation. The singer is what is most important, as we see in bands like My Chemical Romance, Yellowcard and especially Nickelback, where the guitarists get minimal time to do anything but strum the same chords over and over for the entire song.
Keeping that in mind, what is the role of the singer? He (usually) must take over the task of making fans jump and shout. He has to inspire them, make them scream, create a sweaty vortex of bodies to mosh in front of the stage. This is the singer's job and no one else can fill it. If he can't, the band gradually fades away for want of fans who need inspiration.
Classical instruments try like hell to avoid this. Swelling and falling through their scales, the violins and the woodwinds seek to draw the listener in. Jumping, screaming fans at a classical concert would give half the regular audience conniptions. Really, there's nothing to jump to, no inspiration that thrusts itself before your eyes. The charm of classical music lies in the subtle interplay of the instruments, for after all there can only be one lead singer. As in the beginning of Pictures at an Exhibition, where the trumpets carry the high-flown theme and the violins swell around them only to give way to woodwinds, this is the beauty-no other word will do-of classical music. The best metaphor to describe it would be that of a river, varied in turbulence but always changing. One current supersedes another, flowing over and under and enveloping its predecessor, just as the audience is enchanted by the music and slowly drawn in. This requires a patience unheard of in contemporary music, and only glimpsed in prog-rock epics such as "Close to the Edge" by Yes or "Supper's Ready" by Genesis.
The final criterion is sheer length. In a novel, say, you have time to develop themes as the book progresses. In a newspaper article, you're lucky if you can tie the piece together with a nice catchphrase. That is why there are no modern bands who make a living with 20-minute pieces, or even 10. If it's that long, it's not getting on the Billboard Top 100. Analogies aside, classical music can afford to take its time and to draw the listener in. Bands don't have that luxury; I've been to modern-day concerts by such luminaries as Linkin Park and Shinedown that were shorter, in their entirety, than a single Mahler symphony. (Okay, bad example.) To hide the lack of depth possessed by classical music, modern bands have to disguise it with flashy lyrics and overdone stagecraft.
The premise for this note may seem self-evident at first glance: going to a classical music concert and a modern rock concert gives you all the information you need, right? Well, I've been trying to figure out what this all means, and aside from proving that the audiences 400 years ago had significantly longer attention spans, what it shows more than anything is the generation gap. Young people want to make life their own, to stand up and shout and take what's theirs, to hold their lighters high (at least, if that hadn't fallen by the wayside to be replaced with cell phones) and sway to the beat. Older people and retirees, the usual devotees of classical music, have had their time. In large part, they seem to be content to be passively accepted by the music. Let's hope that similar maturity comes earlier rather than later, because we'll need anything but hotheads entering the real world in the next few years. It'll take patience and time to fix the economy, and we need to draw upon that instead of the quick fix.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Greetings and first post celebrations!

So, as anyone who's read my notes on Facebook will know, this blog is an extension of the "note" service provided by Facebook. After writing more notes to date this year than I did in all of 2008, I decided to expand into an actual blog instead of just the semblance of one. For now, effective as of the next note I publish after the one in progress, all my content will be published on here first. I will be moving notes onto here that I previously published on Facebook approximately "whenever I feel like it", and updating two or three times in a typical week.

I will cover topics that are as varied as the things I can think of, which are quite a few. To illustrate that, here's a list of topics I wrote up this morning during English class:

-Ultimate Jargon: a translation of various terms used in Ultimate Frisbee. Currently in progress and will be the last note published first on Facebook. Is being published there because it is a companion to an earlier note.
-Terminator Quantum Theory Speculation: a cursory analysis of the time travelling done in Terminator and Terminator 2. (It seems lowbrow, but let me remind you that Terminator 1 was placed in the Library of Congress last year!) Since published.
-Half-Life of Comic Strips: an brief analysis of why comic strips lose their humor, and why some strips are able to maintain high quality for long periods while others fail quickly. Forthcoming.
-Differences in Music: an analysis of the different approaches to drawing an audience in used by classic rock and classical music. Forthcoming.
-Unpublished High Tide Note: an account of some of my experiences at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament two weeks ago. Since published.
-Linguistics and Catchphrases in Pop Culture: an analysis of why words slowly lose their meaning the more they are repeated, and what consequences this has. Forthcoming.

You can see that there will be variety here. For now, I'm probably talking to myself, but I hope to eventually garner non-Facebook readers. We shall see.