Monday, February 8, 2016

I Guess There Was A Football Game Last Night

Seriously.
I was out of town all day, and didn't get back in until Lady Gaga was on TV. I was very hungry and don't have the money to eat out at the moment, so I made myself some dinner before even venturing to the television, and by that time it was 3-0 and Carolina was punting. I watched for about thirty minutes before the comfort of the couch lulled me to sleep, and fortunately I missed the rest of the game. Seriously.
I like football. I do. And if there was a team in the game that I had some passion for, I certainly would have been more into the proceedings yesterday than I was. But yesterday's game was kind of a snapshot of why football has turned into something more of a spectacle, and a show, rather than the game I used to play and enjoy watching. And before I get off on this screed, I want to point out a few things that were and are generally overlooked.
As a former defensive player, one of the reasons I am indifferent about today's Football Explorer 12 is that I hate the way the rules and officiating have been changed to favor the offenses. The ticky-tacky rules about touching pass receivers, the way any hard hit is penalized whether it is to the head or not, and the way offensive players are allowed to move up and down and back and forth before the ball is snapped are huge changes from the way the game was even ten years ago, and the former linebacker in me is disgusted by them all. Why not just play flag or touch football, if you can't hit anyone, or play defense? It bugs the crap out of me, when the average game is a procession of yellow flags, officials' conferences, and "personal fouls" because someone got the snot smacked out of them a few inches out of bounds or because a receiver ducked his head after a defensive player was already in the air.
Having said that, a rather encouraging trend has been emerging the last few years. For most of my life, the conventional wisdom was that defense won championships, but the assertion was actually not backed by the facts so much. Up until about 2007, the best offenses in the league won Super Bowls a little more often than the league's best defenses. But in the last decade or so, with the rules changes that have allowed even historically offensively challenged teams like the Bengals and Cardinals to light up scoreboards, it has been the league's best defenses that have been walking away with the trophy with monotonous regularity. And yesterday, it was very clear that these were the two best defensive teams in football, and the game they were playing was one that the Steel Curtain and Purple People Eaters would have recognized and enjoyed.
But the modern game reared its ugly head, and changed the direction of the game early and irreversibly. I commented on it on Facebook and caught a raft of crap, but I'm not backing down from it. With the score 3-0 late in the first quarter, Carolina had the ball somewhat deep in their own territory. On first down, Cam Newton threw a pass over the middle that Jerricho Cotchery juggled but appeared to catch for 25 yards. The officials ruled incomplete, and the Panthers challenged. While the play was being reviewed, CBS showed several angles, three of which clearly showed that the ball never hit the ground, even as Cotchery rolled over twice and then stood up, which should meet even the NFL's ridiculous "through the act of making the catch" rules that define "possession" more stringently than biologists define "alive." After looking at the play for four minutes, the referee came back on the field, and announced that the play stood as called,
Huh?
Every person in the United States had just seen, six ways to Sunday, that the ball had been caught. And the officials that work the Super Bowl aren't some random crew; they are supposedly there on merit, the best that the league has to offer. How the hell does this happen? I'm aware that there was a change in emphasis this year with replays, that there were orders from On High that unless a call was clearly, egregiously wrong, to let the call on the field stand, in the interests of "keeping the game moving" or some other nonsense that is a transparent cover for "too many officials were being exposed as incompetent" and "a league that measures profits in billions of dollars doesn't want to spring for full-time officials and will compromise its on-field product to save a few thousand bucks." There are several thousand reasons why it is a good thing that I am not a coach of a professional team, and that situation is one of them. I would have thrown a tantrum for the ages with the whole world watching. There is no excuse at all for blowing that call. In the championship game, in what has become the Ultimate Game for the entire world, at least in the years when there is no World Cup, above all else you would think that you want the game decided on the field, with every call correct. The game takes four freaking hours anyway; take two extra minutes and make sure that the call is right.
And it turned the game around. Instead of a first down around the 50, it was second and ten at the 20, and after a draw went nowhere, on 3rd and ten the Broncos brought everybody, the ball was stripped out, and the fumble was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. All of a sudden, it's a ten-point game, and the entire dynamic of the contest changed irrevocably.
To those of my friends that say, "Bad calls happen,"...bullshit. That was completely avoidable, it changed the game, and most irritating of all, it changed the game in favor of the most transparently commercially motivated sports league's most obvious corporate whore, Peyton Motherfucking Manning. I am beyond sick of this drawling, "Omaha"-belching, multi-millionaire pitching every product he can get a camera to sit still for in order. Great, now he's won two rings. With the teams he's been on, he should have won five or six, eight or nine if you throw in his college chokes. His team won in spite of him yesterday, too, and he didn't have the good grace to call it a career in the chaos after the game, too, so we're going have his cornpone ass inflicted on us for another year at least, with him featured in every third commercial and that sickening orange jersey being seen everywhere. The Broncos might have won the game anyway--but for Christ's sake, they didn't need any extra help. The offense didn't get a touchdown until three minutes were left; take those seven points away at that time, and an entirely different game unfolds
The thing is, the Broncos won because their defense is amazingly, remarkably good. This team has two of the best pass rushers of my lifetime, a defensive line that ranks among the best ever in general, a defensive backfield that is remarkably good (and exposed the undeniable fact that, 17-1 record or no, a Super Bowl-winning team almost has to have a number-one receiver better than Jerricho Cotchery on the roster, and Carolina really doesn't), and real good linebackers, too. It's hard to believe that this is the same team that two years ago got their heads handed to them by Seattle. Of course, it isn't the same team; eight of the eleven starters on defense weren't on that team.
And it was some long overdue recognition for one of the game's best second bananas (and one that wasn't a bad first banana, either). Wade Phillips is an old man now. He has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the league since the 1980's. His father was a good coach that famously always came up short of a ring, and up to this point in his career, so had Wade. Wade was the head coach of the Broncos at one time, as well as the Cowboys and the Bills, and honestly, the jobs he did at those places look a lot better in retrospect than they did at the time. As a fan of a team that has not made the playoffs since Wade coached them, when my high school junior daughter was an infant, and whose current coach is another second-generation defensive-minded coach that is becoming more of a buffoon show with every passing season, I felt a real jolt of pleasure knowing that this guy finally got his ring. Because more than anyone else on the Denver sideline, players included, he deserved one.
Anyway, hockey season is in full swing, and there is a remarkable story to follow in Premier League soccer, for those of us that are interested in sports that one doesn't have to be a genetic freak to play. And hopefully we are done with Jim Nantz and Bruno Mars and a multi-billion dollar league whose officials can't toss a coin right or see what Stevie frigging Wonder could see on a replay.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: HALF A WORLD

Joe Abercrombie is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. Half a World picks up the story that  Half a King told, years into the future. The basic plot isn't too different from the previous book, but the hero--heroine, to be precise--is a somewhat more interesting character that undergoes a transformation from condemned prisoner to champion of sagas. The tales of politics and intrigue in this fictional world are highly evocative of modern political alliances, and the description of the journey undertaken here owes much to many epics. But the action is always engaging, and the development of relationships in this series is very deft, amazing in fact for a book of this genre. And one thing that has become clear in the books of Abercrombie is that he does not go for one-dimensional characters; every main and quite a few minor characters are first and foremost people, with flaws and attributes that compete for preeminence in every single person's journey. It took me less than a day to read this book; it is that good. And I find myself hoping that the next installment is available soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: I, RIPPER

I don't remember when the first time I read about the "Jack the Ripper" murders was, but I know I was still in grade school. I would say that no unsolved series of crimes has generated more interest in the last 125 years than these grisly killings in London in 1888. I, Ripper is a novel by Stephen Hunter that purports to be an account of the diaries of both the Ripper himself and the journalist that chronicled his spree that became very interested in finding his identity.
I don't know enough about the background of the case to know whether the information presented her is factual. I do know that as the book moves toward its conclusion, it becomes harder to read, especially since the attempt to frame a man for the crimes is tediously constructed and takes forever to come to a conclusion. The eventual climax reached in the book is as easy to see coming as the Rockies are driving west through Kansas, and my least favorite suspense novel plot device, the dropping in of madly important information out of the blue fifty pages before the end of the book which impacts hugely on the solution, is freely used here. This isn't an awful book, but considering the timeless nature of the material, it could have been done a lot better--especially since the author admits, at the end, that he took so many liberties with the facts as known as to make this more fiction than fictionalized treatment of a real story.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Thaw Starting?

I've had a pretty good week, in a lot of ways. My car has been getting fixed; I've had some job interviews; I have another set up for early next week. Sabrina and I have been sharing her car without incident. I've been getting used to the new routines in other areas, and the monkey cage, while not totally quiet, isn't out of hand. I've gotten on the same page with the landlord, and that's been a relief. I've been staying away from meetings, and while I'm not totally sure that's a good idea for the long run, it's been a balm for the soul in the short run--no added drama, no people involving me in their nonsense.
I'm not counting any chickens yet, believe me. It can all fall through. The domestic peace can just as easily fall apart, at a moment's notice, as well. I didn't expect any of the problems that have happened in the last few months before they happened. But I'm pretty grateful that it's all stayed manageable to this point, and that although I've felt emotionally wobbly at times, I've not fallen completely down. And that the only way to get through troubled times is to keep moving, keep trying, keep working on things. It doesn't always get the desired results. If I had my way, I'd get a great job with benefits, never have to deal with any troubles in relationships ever again and live happily ever after, find a perfect balance among all areas of my life. Not likely to happen. But no reason to stop striving for the best results that I can.
And no reason to stop trying to be a better person, too. It's been a lot tougher to deal with the monkey cage this time around. When trust gets violated, it's very difficult to build it back up, even if the other party is doing all they can do to make matters right. There's a part of me--I think a primal part of all of us--that wants to go the eye for an eye route. I know that there isn't any satisfaction to be had with that, and that giving back ground in my own personal journey toward integrity and loyalty would lead to no good result. And with so much free time on my hands lately--well, temptation has been overwhelming at times, and the tendency to overthink matters is near-constant. It's been a struggle. But I'm still managing to stay, barely, on the bright side.
And there is also the natural belief that good behavior should be rewarded. The rewards have been there; I listed some of them earlier. But the nature of the beast is that if it isn't what we want or are looking for, those rewards seem shallow, empty, insufficient. I've been fighting that feeling a lot, too. I have this fantasy that I'm going to be one of these aesthetic mystic sort of people that takes every challenge in life with a placid manner and a bemused grin on my face. That hasn't happened in almost fifty-three years on this earth, and it's not going to start now, I'm sure.
But again, as one of my best friends keeps telling me, there's nothing wrong with aiming high. Even if one falls short, you've still done quite well.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED

One of my favorite movies of this millennium was The Departed, a mob thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson. At the time, it was widely known that it was based on the story of then-fugitive Whitey Bulger, who had been the crime boss in Boston for decades--and who had also been an FBI informant. Bulger eventually was found in 2011, and brought to trial in 2013. TJ English's Where the Bodies Are Buried is an account of his trial, and of Bulger's entire career, largely as told by his associates.
And the story that emerges is perhaps the most ugly chapter in American jurisprudence. It is impossible to read this book and not come away thinking that the legal system is hopelessly compromised and corrupt. Bulger and his fellow informants were protected for everything that they did, including several murders. Innocent people were framed and sent to jail for decades. The FBI "handlers" of Bulger, his state senator brother, and prosecutors in the US federal system actively took payoffs, favors, and connived to keep Bulger free for over twenty years--refusing to alert potential murder targets that they were in danger, telling Bulger when trouble was coming (the Massachusetts State Police were not in on the scam), and faking not only evidence, but "information" that Bulger was supposedly furnishing.
This book made squirm with discomfort several times. And the FBI and the Justice Department not only continue to stonewall--but they are actively still protecting those that constructed and carried out the deception. An ex-agent that testified in the Bulger trial was accused of perjury and other crimes and is currently awaiting trial, simply because he blew the whistle at the time on what was happening and testified about it. And we would be fools to think that this doesn't happen in other places. I'm not going to give that much information, but those of you that regularly read this space know that someone that mattered (and matters) to me has been in the grip of the "justice system" for a couple of years, and a whole lot of what has happened with this individual (who I hasten to add is not blameless for the situation) has been fishy, that the consequences have seemed driven by factors other than abstract justice.
And reading stuff like this sure makes you wonder just how thoroughly the game is rigged.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Re-Evaluating Dogma

I've largely tried to stay out of a controversy in my specialized part of the world. The heroin epidemic is raging like a California forest fire in the middle of a drought. That's not news. There are few detoxes, few long-term programs, few people in positions of power that have any understanding of addiction. That's not news. There is a growing awareness that the epidemic has its roots in the soil of what American society has become. That's news, but knowing something and actually changing anything on a deep, significant level are not remotely the same things, and frankly is going to be damn difficult to achieve because there are too many interests currently wielding power and influence in our society that benefit from the status quo. That's not really news either.
And unfortunately, the internal divisions in the recovery community regarding one of the few semi-effective tools in treating active opioid addiction are not news either. I have never been addicted to opiates; my drug of choice was not physically addicting and did not cause the physical challenges that opioid use and abuse does. As such, for a long time, I didn't really pay a lot of attention to issues surrounding opioid use, including the debate over whether people that participated in a drug-replacement program under medical supervision (at the time, methadone) were actually clean. My view was that if they were taking the drug under the guidelines of a doctor, with the ultimate aim of getting off it completely, and if they followed through the regimen to the end, then whether or not they were "clean" was a non-issue. To me, it was a medical, not a moral or a semantic or a lifestyle, concern.
In the last few years, Suboxone has become the new focus of this debate. Again, I didn't have cause to pay a whole lot of attention to it, but I was more or less forced to pay attention when a controversy erupted a few years ago whether someone that was using Suboxone (referred to heretofore as "subs") under a doctor's supervision could be allowed to share their experience, strength, and hope in fellowship-sanctioned meetings in institutions (rehabs, jails, etc). There was a substantial minority within the fellowship that adamantly maintained, and still does, that people on subs, even under a doctor's supervision and that follow instructions rigidly, are not truly "clean" because they are still, even if under medical advice, "using" a mind-altering, mood-changing substance. When this contretemps started a few years ago, my view hadn't changed, but I was not terribly invested in the issue, either. It was not part of my own experience, it wasn't directly affecting anyone that I knew well, and I didn't see any major adverse effects in the fellowship.
That is no longer true.
As mentioned, heroin use is now an epidemic, nationwide and locally. It has started to directly affect me in a few ways. In the last few months, an ex of mine and I have been in regular contact. She relapsed about twenty months ago, and simply has not been able to put heroin down. In the last few months, I have seen this person suffer physical agony like I have seen no one else suffer in my entire life--imagine the most virulent flu you have ever had, triple the pain level, and then try to deal with it for seven to ten days without any medication to alleviate symptoms. I have also seen and heard others who are struggling mightily to put and keep it down; it has been a eye-opening, extremely powerful experience for me. In the past, I was inclined to believe that tales of withdrawal were exaggerated, part of the normal addict mindset of attention-seeking, dramatic, all-or-nothing tendency to turn every experience into a saga worthy of Homer. I know better now.
But still, my views didn't totally crystallize to one side or the other of the debate until recently. My ex is on a waiting list, currently, for a rehab an hour away, fervently hoping that she will be put on subs. She has obtained subs a few times in the last month or so, and the change from the shivering, whimpering wreck she is when in the throes of withdrawal to a functional human being within two hours' time is like watching one of those Snickers commercials on TV, when Danny Trejo turns into Marcia Brady. And one of the things she said to me, repeatedly, when she was trying to make arrangements to get on the waiting list was that she didn't feel like she could count her clean time until she was weaned off subs, eventually. I thought that was her way to of trying to maintain some intellectual consistency; when she was clean before, she was quite vocally in the "Suboxone is not clean" camp. But I thought, and told her so, that she was silly for even contemplating those kind of thoughts; no one should care about whatever a particular date is when trying to stop using. And one of the things we come to learn in the recovery process is that recovery and clean time are not synonymous. Our first step talks about "addiction," not a specific substance, and the reason that the program has relevance to those of us who have not used in many years is the program addresses, above all else, "unmanageability."
I have come to believe, with the fervor of a missionary, that subs, whatever else it may or may not be, is undeniably a tool that leads to greater manageability in early recovery. And when experienced members focus obsessively on whether or not someone on subs is "clean," we are defeating our essential purpose, which is to create and maintain an atmosphere where addicts feel welcome and "a part of." It's not enough to say that "you're welcome here, even though you're on subs;" there's no need, no reason at all, to add the comment afterward "even though you're not really clean." It's divisive and not welcoming, and frankly, as the past few years have proved, it's not a view that is universally accepted, not by a long shot. I've really come to believe that pushing such views does much more harm than good, and that those that insist on making it a front-burner issue are violating the principles of "anonymity" (the principle that we are all equal) and erecting barriers to assimilation and comfort level in the fellowship.
You're entitled to your personal opinions. You're not entitled to speak for the fellowship. And I'm sorry, but the evidence is growing overwhelming that we are losing potential and current members by insisting on enforcing dogma. Many treatment facilities are hesitant about recommending that patients get involved with our fellowship because of the strident views of a vocal minority. And yesterday was the clincher for me. A guy that's been around the fellowship for a couple of years opened the meeting by sharing that he had recently returned to the rooms after a relapse, was on subs through a doctor's program--and took himself off them because he didn't feel like he was "really" clean. He is, needless to say, struggling like an eel on a deck of a boat right now. He is not the first person who has said similar things recently; I can think of seven people that have expressed similar thoughts, whether in the rooms or trying to get back, in the last three months. And for some, it's enough to not want to be a part of the fellowship.
And when we drive people away, people that are on Suboxone but otherwise getting their lives together, we are not helping people achieve the freedom from active addiction that is our only promise. There are plenty of people in the rooms who have completed Suboxone treatment and stayed clean for long periods of time. To insist that the first few days and months of the time that they were free from active addiction is somehow not "real" is not our place, and we certainly have no "obligation" to tell them otherwise when they are first coming in the door, trying desperately to find a new way to live. The last thing someone who is putting the nightmare of active addiction behind needs to worry about is whether or not the quality of their "recovery" meets someone else's opinion and standard of "clean."
There will be time to figure that out later. Right now, instilling and nurturing a desire to come back is paramount, and the best way of accomplishing that is to not push our views down people's throats. Most of us agree that religious dogma is odious. So why do we try to enforce our own dogma so zealously? It's just as odious, and not attractive to anyone. Much less newcomers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Politics Takes The Spotlight

Some notes regarding the Iowa caucus results:
1) For all of you worried about a possible President Trump, last night ought to have been a wake up call. Trump is someone that is used to bullying his way to the results he wants, and in politics, that really doesn't go that far. His appeal, such as it is, is to angry people--but those are not the kind of people that show up at caucuses and that vote in primaries. Trump tapped into a deep well of dissatisfaction--but he simply does not have the organization to exploit it to the fullest. He's not going to go away anytime soon, if at all, but I do think that the most significant sound we heard last night was the hissing of some of the air coming out of his balloon.
1a) And perhaps the most influential long-term result is that all the Big Money that has been either been staying on the sidelines or been shoveled at hopeless candidates is going to start to be aimed at viable alternatives to Trump--most likely Rubio. And if there is one thing that Trump has proven over the course of thirty-five years, he is very averse to spending his own money if he is going to run into resistance to getting what he wants. I really do think that by the end of April, he will be an interesting footnote in future histories.
1b) A fascinating possibility also emerged last night: the Republican establishment hates Ted Cruz almost as much as they hate Trump, and that is likely to hinder Cruz' efforts to build on last night's win, too. Wouldn't it be something if Trump has a sizable bloc of delegates, in a third place position, when the Republican convention comes along? The art of the deal, indeed.
2) I found the bottom of the polling more interesting than the top. Somehow, despite three solid months of evidence that he is a delusional, moronic, prevaricating fraud , nearly ten percent of the people that voted in this caucus voted for Ben Carson. Hole...Lee...Shit.
2a) Rand Paul, despite being invisible for months, got nearly 5% of the vote. They're a small group, but I think the Paul core is the most dedicated out there.
2b) Bush is done.
2c) The name at the bottom of the real candidate list? Chris Christie. Which is a tiny sliver of hope that all is not lost in the country.
2d) It's hard to remember that Jim Gilmore was still in the race. But the man won 12 votes last night. Twelve! If I was running a media campaign, I would put out an APB to try to find these twelve people in Iowa and find out what in God's name possessed them to cast a vote for Gilmore. And then, every four years, these twelve ought to get together like the 1972 Dolphins alumni and celebrate with surf and turf dinners and bottles of bubbly every time every candidate on the ballot tallies thirteen votes. Twelve!
3) In the sane people bracket, Hillary Clinton managed to win a bare majority of both votes and one more delegate than the Bern. While some are disappointed that Sanders didn't actually win, the fact is that even two weeks ago, the idea that he would finish in a dead heat with her in Iowa seemed outlandish. He has a very big lead in New Hampshire, too, which means he is going to be viable heading into March. Sanders has tapped into a deep pool of disillusionment and anger, just like Trump--but with a difference; these are people that actually believe that our institutions might still work, if the right people are in charge. Sanders has also mobilized the young--something that Obama managed to do eight years ago, creating a wave he rode right into the White House. I don't know if Sanders can pull this off--but when he announced his candidacy, he was fifty points behind Clinton in national polling.
He ain't fifty points behind now, that's for sure.
4) Why would anyone watch television on caucus/primary/election nights? What's on the Web is so much interesting, diverse, and entertaining than any of the bland, formulaic, tired talking heads on mainstream media, including Fox. You can see those people, if you want, online as well. But stuff like 538, Politico, political blogs, and just general forums are fascinating to go through as the night progresses.
I was hoping Sanders would actually win, but he sure didn't lose last night. On to New Hampshire.