TOM BRADY RETIRES

Whatever you may think of Tom Brady now that he has officially announced his retirement from the NFL; whether you think of him as the GOAT (greatest of all time); or you believe off-field controversies like Deflategate and Spygate tarnished his (and the New England Patriots) image as the All-American boy next door; the one thing that is unassailable has been the joy that he has exhibited throughout his 22-year professional football career. 

But it wasn’t just the joy he found for himself. It was his ability to precipitate the same feeling in his teammates, and their fans, and the concomitant competitive passions he aroused in his competitors, too. Didn’t matter which side of the ball you were on, the man was a force multiplier.

Gronk & Brady after Super Bowl LV (55)
(latintimes.com)

Even at age 44, after 22 competitive seasons in a brutally violent sport, Brady played with the unabashed joy of a 10-year-old out on an open field with his buddies, like Peter Pan in a helmet and pads. 

And isn’t joy what makes sport such an important tool in teaching a proper way of living? Because it is in the doing alone that we discover the critical reward, not in the accolades or prizes that may come from it. 

As runners, whether as freshmen on the high school cross-country team, or all the way to the Olympic level, it is the baseline joy of free flowing through space with a self-generated wind in our hair, that produces the passion that supports the commitment that overcomes the injuries that salves the losses and exhilarates us in our wins. 

The question for Tom Brady now is, what else can elicit that same feeling? 

Continue reading “TOM BRADY RETIRES”

THE CHALLENGER MOMENT

The space shuttle Challenger exploded on this day, January 28, in 1986. I found this reflection from the following day.

A national tragedy. The first fatal accident involving an American spacecraft in flight, killing all seven people onboard. People compared its impact to the Kennedy assassination. Everyone knows where they were when they heard the news. Feelings nationwide are of an ecumenical loss.

Today, the day after, the stories are of coping. How it happened is far away and, in this regard, immaterial. That it happened is what we all have to deal with.

The media quickly centered on: how are the children taking this tragedy? But the sense here is that adults are more concerned about how they feel than about the way kids are taking it. The more we ask “how do you feel” to the children, the more we question how it is we feel ourselves.

To those who work among the young every day, the message is simple: “at that age, there are fast impressions and equally fast putting it all in the past.” Kids do not think more than of the moment. That is their strength. The past and future don’t count for much in youth. That’s the beauty and innocence of youth. It is adults with the scope of time who have the capacity and inclination to dwell and consider.

We compare the Challenger’s explosion to Kennedy’s assassination because our lives have encompassed both events. But we bring in child psychologists and psychiatrists to talk to kids. Why? Because we are looking for signs of understanding that we feel slipping away in ourselves. And in doing so, we create an atmosphere more dangerous than the explosion of the Challenger.

Little adults are not what kids are supposed to be. The French have a phrase for teenagers, “L’age ingrat“, meaning awkward, thankless age. That is their way.

73 seconds after takeoff

When we were young, in the early 1960s, we sat in our early morning classrooms as TVs from the audio-visual department would be wheeled in. Lights would dim, shades pulled down. And we would watch expectantly as first the Mercury, then the Apollo flights blasted off from Cape Canaveral. We held our breath collectively, believing that at any time this blast-off would turn into what happened with Challenger a full generation after our expectation of it.

But after its long string of successes, and finally the landing on the moon in October 1969, we began taking the space program for granted and out of the classrooms.

Today’s generation grew up with success in space in place, with no TVs on carts, but guns in the classroom. And death everywhere on TV serving as babysitters for the Me-generation parents. We watched the Challenger explosion on TV on videotape; it wasn’t even live. But it is the same way death is delivered every week on The A Team, Hill Street Blues, and the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. It is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the real from the imagined, hence our order of concern for the children.

In 1985, the average American watched television seven hours plus per day, up two minutes from 1984’s consumption, the previous high-water mark. The message has become lost in the electronic delivery system. Each act is followed too closely by station identification and Toyota Savings Days commercials.

We have grown up in a society inundated with death, violence, and neglect, all presented in half-hour block packages. How can it but inure us, anesthetize us to death in real life?

We want this tragedy to mean more because it stemmed from a higher cause. But true feelings spur action. We’ve shared death so many times electronically, then gone beyond to find out what’s on Dynasty at nine, eight Central on most of these ABC stations.

Action in the face of this unending barrage has been deafened by the clicks of millions of remote controls, blinded by the harsh light of the cathode rays, and been replaced by a dull shroud of personal safety as perceived from the living room couch.

The real sights and sounds of death, so remote to the young in America, are all too common in much of the outside world.

The Challenger tragedy and its aftermath only brought out our feelings of a new, perhaps just another, lost generation. We ask “how do you feel”, hoping they can and someday will.

END

BEST GAME(S) EVER?

I’ve been watching professional (American) football pretty closely since 1958 when, as a little kid in St. Louis, Missouri, wearing my Cub Scout uniform, I attended my dad’s U.S. Army Reserve year-end party at the Reserve Center on South Kingshighway. 

They held the party on 28 December, the same day as the NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium pitting the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts versus the Y.A. Tittle led New York Giants. 

As the party went on in the big room, a bunch of us took our paper plates of food into a smaller room nearby, where we huddled around a grainy black-and-white TV to watch the end of the game. 

When the Colt’s fullback, Alan “The Horse” Ameche, busted into the end zone to score the winning touchdown, ending the first overtime game in NFL championship history, Colts 23 v. Giants 17, it marked a turning point for the sport. 

It was the first NFL Championship to be seen nationwide on television (NBC), and many consider it the greatest NFL game ever played, the game that eventually led to the gridiron replacing the baseball diamond in the hearts of the American sporting (betting) public. In 2019, a panel of sportswriters voted it the best game in the NFL’s first 100 years. 

Fast-forward 64 years to this morning, 24 January 2022. Today, people are already calling yesterday‘s division-round playoff game between the Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City Chiefs and the Josh Allen led Buffalo Bills perhaps the greatest playoff game in history, with its three lead changes and 25 points in the last 1:54, and unbelievable play after unbelievable play leading to the Chiefs 42-36 win in OT.  

And they’re calling the four games played this divisional weekend, two on Saturday, then two more on Sunday, perhaps the greatest weekend of playoff football ever. 

KC Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes Strikes again (& again)

Recency bias, anybody?

OK, I will accept the weekend proposition. All four games came down to the wire, the first three ending on a last second, walk-off field goal by the visiting team.

But let’s at least be honest with ourselves. Why do you think the game on the field resembles the game on PlayStation monitors? Why all the wild, exciting plays? Simple. It’s not the same game it once was. And I’m not talking about playing both ways like in the Ice Age of the early NFL years.

Let’s see, you eliminate the concept of defense and then tout how great the offenses are. Of course, we all understand why. Kind of hard to sell brain damage and shortened lifespans. Bread and circus, and all that. 

Hey, I am addicted to it, too. And it may be a beautiful game to watch in high-def, but the brutality is right there for all to see, as well. And maybe – no, definitely we don’t have the stomach to keep watching football the way it was once played, especially after the money grew so large and the attention to weight work, PEDs, diet and violence became so extreme that lives were at stake.

Moms weren’t letting their kids get involved anymore. Pop Warner Football altered their rules to reduce the violence as numbers dropped precipitously after the onset of concussion data began to circulate.

Hell, even now, when some poor guy gets laid out on the field, the announcers quickly throw to commercial as they cart the poor soul off the field and into the blue tent on the sidelines or to the locker room to get X-rayed. And when we come back, it’s like – poof! – it never happened.

So they had to do something to take the Uber violence out. But what they’ve done is turn the game into a bowling alley without gutters, a pinball machine without a gap between the flippers. 

So, yeah, it’s fun to watch, as long as you don’t linger on the hospitalizations. But there have to be other ways to offset the violence and still retain the essential game. 

I wish they’d just go back to no face guards and less impactful helmets. That would take care of a lot of the violence right there. Hard-shell, high-impact composite helmets with steel cages bolted to the front aren’t protection devices, they are weapons. Players don’t feel the danger until they’re seeing stars or can’t feel their arms. Then, it’s too late. 

Jim David
Jim David, defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1952 until 1959

If they wore less severe headgear, they wouldn’t be as likely to lead with their noggins. They’d feel the risk and tackle differently without having to be told to. 

Imagine if in world football (soccer) they eliminated the offsides rule, THEN widened and heightened the goal? Lots more scoring, yeah, maybe even a lot more exciting, too. But not “The Beautiful game” it once was.

I’m not really saying American football should go back. But let’s at least tamp down our hosannas. It’s like getting overly excited about all the running records being set these days. 

Well, when you change the fatigue factor and energy return via shoe technology, it would be more surprising if the records didn’t fall. Not that we don’t love seeing them. But let’s not compare apples with oranges and then give apples all the credit for being red. Just saying’

END

NATURE’S PURGE

I recently noticed a study in the Journal of Geology suggesting that exploding stars in our Milky Way galaxy beginning seven million years ago initiated a domino effect that eventually led to us humans walking (and running) upright on two legs.

It’s a long setup, but the domino theory posits that a series of supernovae blasted powerful cosmic rays in all directions, and here on earth the arriving radiation triggered a chain of events that ionized the atmosphere and made it more conductive. 

This greater conductivity, in turn, increased the frequency of lightning strikes, which sparked wild fires that devastated the African forests, leading to large stretches of open savannah. 

Our ancestors, who adapted better to life on the new grasslands by walking upright, survived and thrived, leading to Homo Sapiens who have been devastating forests ever since. Who knows, maybe it’s been an homage to the stars that birthed our uprightness.

In any case, we came out of the trees as an upright running animal. But that only made our ancestors one of many running animals. What differentiated us wasn’t just our upright, two-legged locomotion. 

Along with our larger brain and opposable thumbs, it was our ability to cool while running upright that allowed us to run down our faster four-legged prey by exhausting them. While we could cool by sweating as we ran, the faster four-legged animals had to stop periodically to pant in order to cool down. It was our continuous movement, our relentless pursuit, that overcame our prey’s superior speed. 

This came to be known as “persistence hunting” and it still works today. You hear stories about it from Kenyan friends who recall doing it with their dads when they were kids. 

You want to talk about the chosen people? I’d say you have to consider that area of the planet where fossil evidence shows we humans actually got started as a species. All the oldest pre-hominid skeletal remains yet discovered have been found in Africa, whether in Ethiopia and Kenya, or 1500 miles to the west in the Toros-Menalla region in northern Chad. 

To our current knowledge, this was the original human model. Everything else north, west, east, and south has been a variation from that original environmental design. 

But so successful have we been as a species that we now have so many people in so many places, all disrupting so many other interconnected ecosystems and burning so much fossil fuel, that Mother Nature is beginning to act like an angry parent facing a disagreeable child. 

How else to describe this novel Coronavirus pandemic (and its variants), the stronger hurricanes, the more devastating floods, the larger wildfires except as a nature’s purgatives meant to discipline the planet’s bratty child? It’s all of a piece. 

Continue reading “NATURE’S PURGE”

IS AMERICA READY TO COME BACK?

Despite the GSA “ascertaining that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election”, what lingers after four years of a Donald Trump presidency is an unsettling awareness that whatever America was before, it is not that anymore. And whatever “American Exceptionalism” might have meant in the past, it does not mean that anymore, either – certainly not to the world-at-large, which once looked to America as we kids once looked to Super Man in the 1950s: “fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

Four years of Donald Trump was all the kryptonite needed to debilitate an image that had taken two centuries to build by the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. It is a testament to how fragile the structure of democracy is. 

And though Trump lost his bid for re-election, 74 million Americans still voted as if the last four years supported another four, which speaks to the dispiriting effect Trumpism will have going forward.

The elections of 2016 and 2020 have confirmed that if you inject enough fear and greed into a system, group-think will take hold and it will be impervious to logic and rationality, as feelings trump facts, and no argument, no matter how concise, will be able to shake it.

Americans, it turns out, are no different than any other human beings on the planet. The past means nothing if the future is threatened by one’s adherence to it. 

No, Trump 2016 was not a one-term aberration, a civic crie de coeur from a disenfranchised segment of the population for whom globalization wasn’t a boon but a bust. Instead, even after watching the 45th president trample every norm, upset every alliance, embrace every authoritarian, some 74 million good Americans still chose to see him as a savior rather than the lazy, ill-informed, selfish saboteur of a cherished ideal. 

Facts, it turns out, are quite mutable in this current America where fear is regnant and comeuppance due. 

Continue reading “IS AMERICA READY TO COME BACK?”

LEARNING FROM de TOCQUEVILLE IN 2020

Remember it was the French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville who first extolled the vibrancy of America’s civil society in his two-volume Democracy in America (1835 and 1840).  Forty-six years later the French people affirmed de Tocqueville when they gifted America with the Statue of Liberty (dedicated October 28, 1886).

In other words, it wasn’t us blowing our own horn, rather an outsider who saw in us something new and laudatory within the family of nations.

Historically, what made America so appealing is the same thing that made Babe Ruth so appealing. We were big and strong, but fun-loving, good-natured, and out-going, too, and maybe, endearingly, a little naive. Though originally blind to the damage done by our slave-owning past and roughshod Manifest Destiny striving, overall, America was a smile and a clap on the back, a nation less cynical than the older European societies that preceded us. And within that spirit was a readiness to lend a hand to those in need, another reflexive, Ruthian trait.

We didn’t play up our size or our might. Instead, we were ‘aw-shucks’ humble in our strength, embracing in our openness, and generous in our spirit.

What happened to that America? Continue reading “LEARNING FROM de TOCQUEVILLE IN 2020”

AMERICA IN THE BALANCE

Both political parties have staged their virtual conventions, both have set off their fireworks displays, and both have warned against the existential threat to America posed by voting for their opponent. And that is the scratch line behind which we stand in the race for the White House in 2020. Perhaps the overriding question before us is: Irrespective of the outcome, can there be anything approaching a victory given such a divergent matchup?

&

Pressured by a polarizing presidency, a viral pandemic – along the economic crisis that attends it – and street protests erupting against a backdrop of police brutalities committed against unarmed black people (like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks), America is once again searching for those elusive ties that bind at a time when there’s money and political capital to be made by the forces of denial, distrust, and opposition.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll (June 7, 2020) found that 80% of the public believes the country is out of control, while only 15% view it as being guided by a steady hand.

If we break that WSJ/NBC poll down, it is likely that we will find a wide gap in the understanding of how the nation became so polarized and what we might do to correct it, if anything.

Gadsden Flag

But the sense here, and it’s an ironic one, is that the Gadsden Flag’s “Don’t Tread On Me” brand of staunchly American individualism and anti-government sentiment that earmarked our nation as something new and revolutionary at its founding, the same individualism that helped create the American pioneering and entrepreneurial spirits that proved to be such a strength within a more widely spread homogenous population, has now become the very quality that keeps us from being able to unite in a time of crisis in a more tightly packed, yet heterogeneous society.

Imagine that, our greatest strength now part of what is working to keep us apart. So much so, that the concept of “We, the people” no longer seems applicable some 244 years after our founding. Continue reading “AMERICA IN THE BALANCE”

THE TRUMP COMEUPPANCE

“We need to make this an aberration, not our reality,“ said historian Jon Meacham when asked what he took from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s insider account of the Trump presidency, The Room Where It Happened. Yes, call 2017-2021 the Trump interregnum, a one-term crie de coeur from a long-suffering segment of the American population that Trump pandered to and then exploited for his own gain. 

But while the world-at-large is being tested by a deadly novel pathogen, with some nations passing that test better than others, I suspect that America’s 2020 triple whammy of Coronavirus, Donald Trump, and the Black Lives Matter movement is just old-fashioned karma finally come a-calling on the US of A. And that one day we may come to know that combination as the Trump Comeuppance.

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Lawmakers and the judiciary often point to Original Intent as the North star that guides our path forward as a nation. But you have to wonder how sincere our Founders’ declaration “all men are created equal” really was if after 244 years we still can’t make it apply universally. And so, after a long and, to date, blemished record in color-coordinated democratic self-rule, America has finally seen the Fates step up.

New Mount Rushmore

In a fit of 21st-century pique, the Fates presented America with a Brioni suit-wearing Apprentice President, one over-ripened with vacuous self-confidence and a truly imbecilic understanding of government and history – “everything will be simple and done quickly”, right? Then taxed him with a raging pandemic, a nuanced foreign field of play, and a long-simmering domestic social injustice brought to a boil, and let nature take its course.

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You never know what might be the catalyst for historic change. In a different time, at a different place, today’s catalyst would be just another average tragedy added to the long list of previous tragedies, like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, for instance. Horrible to see, yes, but just chalk it up as another brown man killed for being brown, the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seen it before, will see it again.

But the quickly following slow-motion kneel-lynching of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the jaw-dropping case of Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home by Louisville police who busted into the wrong house they were tasked to serve and protect, was enough to break the lockdown dam. The newly witnessed killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police just added volume to the already rushing current.

And that’s all after the Fates had given us a mulligan or two when we first got started. Continue reading “THE TRUMP COMEUPPANCE”

THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD

       3117BEF0-082B-4755-B038-F0A1C4DE61D7

If you didn’t actually see him say it yourself, you wouldn’t believe anybody who told you about it later.

“No, he didn’t. Stop it. Nobody would suggest injecting disinfectant to treat anything. What am I, an idiot? You must’ve heard wrong.”

Uh…actually, he did.

On Thursday, April 23, 2000, Mr. Trump stood behind the lectern in the White House press room at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing and mused aloud whether medical experts should study injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus. But that was only the half of it. That jaw-dropper followed his original corrective suggestion of subjecting the human body to heat and light as a possible cure.

These witless wanderings followed a presentation from William Bryan, undersecretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, who presented results of a study showing how the coronavirus deteriorates on surfaces and in the air more quickly when subjected to higher temperatures and humidity. He also said his office was studying how certain disinfectants might kill the virus more effectively than others, referencing isopropyl alcohol and bleach.

Seizing on a connection that doesn’t exist – between humans and Formica – that nobody over the age of three would ever make, Trump began inquiring about using light and heat as part of a potential cure.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan who was sitting next to Dr. Deborah Birx, medical coordinator of the White House Task Force who was experiencing a belief meltdown internally. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”

Deluded into believing he was onto something, and with rhetorical bit now firmly in his teeth, the President next floated the head-spinning theory about the potential use of disinfectants on Covid-19 patients. Continue reading “THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD”

BYE-BYE BERNIE

Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle – again.

Vt. Senator Bernie Sanders bids adieu to 2020 campaign (WireFax News)

In his 2016 campaign, a then 74-year-old Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which had engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.

This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses, Bernie followed up with convincing wins in the first two primary state elections. But then, like in `16, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine, this time in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.

Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.

Thus, Bernie’s call for a progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”. Continue reading “BYE-BYE BERNIE”