Thursday, October 06, 2005

game on

So hockey's back, and my team, the New York Rangers, somehow pulled a win out of its collective patoot last night. Of course, I didn't see it, as I turned the game off when the Flyers went up 3-1. Not that I particularly regret turning the game off - for one thing, I'm sure that there will be many, many, many 3-1 deficits the Rangers will fail to come back from this season, and turning off games will be a useful habit to acquire; for another thing, turning off the game enabled me to turn my attention towards helping my girlfriend pick out a sexy Halloween costume.

The restart of hockey is a little bittersweet for me. It's a game I grew up absolutely adoring. I threw myself into its history and tradition with absolute abandon. I revered the Original Six, the Expansion Six, the Stanley Cup, the golden age of the 1980s and the best year of NHL hockey ever - 1994, of course. I loved how hockey reflected its place and time - it could be at once a distinctly Canadian game meant for cold winter nights, a warm living room, comfy sweats and thick, syrupy lager (not that I drank much thick, syrupy lager growing up), and also an social game, meant to be enjoyed in good company (or, at least, enthusiastic company). Like baseball through the spring and summer, it marked time as we all slogged on through the colder seasons. It would never be as huge as baseball or football, but it didn't have to be - it was a charming, entertaining sport mindful of its past.

And then it all sorta spun out of control, leaving my fandom behind in a spray of ice. Whereas other leagues would weigh the question of expansion carefully, NHL teams multiplied like a virus (seemingly just so that the existing NHL owners could keep on collecting those sweet franchise fees), throwing the sport's competitive balance and the talent pool out of whack. Players with skill and creative minds drowned in a sea of guys who represented the new ideal in a hockey player - at least 6'3", at least marginal on skates, at least a semblance of playmaking ability, and could clutch and grab a lot. The ice shrank when the players grew, choking those who could provide the spark that catapulted the sport to success in the first place. Players began switching teams at a dizzying rate. And yes, my team, the Rangers, decided to take a decade-long sabbatical, with Madison Square Garden's head doofus Charles Dolan leaving the fate of its proud hockey franchise (and the franchise's passionate, beleaguered fans) in the hands of a has-been who would rather be fishing anyway (though to be fair, his frequent vacations means there's less time in which he can fuck things up).

So it might be a long, long time before I appreciate hockey again the way I used to. The sport has a lot of work to do. It has to reconnect with a history it disrespected, and it has to prove that it will let the cream of the league rise to the top, as it once did. Third-line checkers and grinders have their place (the third line, for instance), but no one wants to see a sport dominated by them. People, myself included, want to see skill and want to have fun, and it's not even the primitive desire to see cool shit like one-timers and breakaways go down (though that's part of it) - I think sports fans appreciate excellence in performance, and the NHL has to prove that excellence - not brute strength - will be its main requirement for on-ice success.

For what it's worth, it's always fun when one of my teams causes Philly fans to start booing their team (especially after coming back in droves following a year-long "fuck you"), so hockey's reboot can't be all bad.

the "46" presidency

In 1985, the Chicago Bears "46" defense laid waste to the rest of the National Football League. The philosophy was simple - blitz, blitz, blitz. And then more blitzing. Though the alignment was risky - 10 men (out of 11) within two yards of the line of scrimmage and only one safety back (in case a quarterback was lucky enough to get a throw off) - it paid huge dividends for the '85 Bears, who won 15 games in the regular season, stomped through the playoffs and won one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history.

The "46" defense was the brainchild of coordinator Buddy Ryan, who brought it with him to head coaching stops here in Philly and in Arizona. And though some of his defenses after 1985 were very good, his results were inevitably subject to the law of diminishing returns. For the strength of the "46" was not in its alignment, but in its personnel and in the context in which it was used. With defensive stars like Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and rookie sensation William "Fridge" Perry, the Bears had the perfect people to man the "46" - people who could actually get to the quarterback. And 1985 was the first time it was worked to perfection, instilling shock and awe in the hearts and minds of opposing quarterbacks and blockers who hadn't been subjected to anything quite like it before. It was the perfect storm - the men were right and the time was right, and it gave the Bears their only Super Bowl win.

But the "46" defense is hardly perfect. If the men in a defense that's implemented it can't get to the QB, there's virtually no protection against a big play. And even if they can get to the QB, offenses eventually adjust - making it impossible to line up in a "46" formation every time out. Today, no team exclusively plays the "46" (though the Ravens are trying this year, with mixed results). Defenses will show it from time to time, but most defensive coordinators also call for the traditional 4-3, for semi-traditional 3-4 packages, for nickel packages, dime packages, they call for zone blitzes, etc., etc.

Hold on, hold on... I know your eyes are glazing over, but I'm getting to my point. With falling poll numbers and scandals surrounding him, President Bush is addressing the nation with what his administration is calling a "major" address on the war on terror. In other words, he's calling for something straight out of the playbook of 2003 and/or 2004 - back when scaring the shit out of the nation could reverse dropping numbers or distract the populace from some other fuck-up or piece of bad news. Or when calling something "major" could trick the media into giving accordingly major airtime to his standard stump speech.

The two-pronged problem for Bush is this - 1) it's not 2003 or 2004 anymore, falling poll numbers and numerous scandals surround his White House and the GOP, the hurricanes have exposed this administration to some extent and the GWoT is hardly even in the news anymore, and 2) fear appeals inevitably lose their power if they're overused. Yet he's going to try to play the "terra" card once again - possibly because it's all he has left. Who knows?

All I know is that what once worked beautifully when the planets were in alignment now stands a good chance of going over like a fart in yoga class because the world has changed and he hasn't. I could be snarky and say his administration is stuck in a "pre-2005 mindset," but I'm just going to call his "the 46 presidency." When it was the right place and time for it, his governing style produced enormous amounts of political capital. And now, he's running right smack into the law of diminishing returns.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

a serious question

OK... here's the deal.

You're an ensign on the Starship Enterprise, and you beam down to a planet where the men all dress unfortunately. Uh oh! You've violated local laws by accidentally stepping on a plant or something while throwing around the indigenous equivalent of a Nerf football. A horrible fate awaits you within the local criminal justice system - you've been sentenced to have the soundtrack from a 1980s movie playing in your head for the rest of your life. The good news is, the locals will let you choose which movie the score will come from.

What's it gonna be? The locals immediately place the works of John Williams, James Horner, Alan Silvestri and Jerry Whatshisface (Goldschlager?) off-limits.

I've made my choice: the wacky, Burt Bacharach-fueled soundtrack from "Arthur." I'd link to Windows Media samples of the theme, but there is none that I can find other than that Christopher Cross shit. Though apparently you can buy the Japanese import version of the soundtrack on Amazon for $249.00. Take my word for it - it's totally worth it.

Right, so anyway, that's playing in my head. For the rest of my life. And there's really no worries; since I'm an ensign on the Starship Enterprise in this little scenario, I'll get therapy from Counselor Troi, who afterwards will inevitably pity me for my condition and try to cheer me up by seducing me. Which is cool, I guess, except for the strains of Arthur's Theme pounding the insides of my skull during the lovin'.

So what would YOU have playing in your noggin for the rest of your life?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

darn it

Long Beach Island, NJ
September 25, 2005


Woodland, NJ
September 23, 2005

Monday, October 03, 2005

playing devil's advocate

While Democrats and the left apparently love the nomination of White House counsel and Bush crony Harriet Miers to the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court, and while conservatives are running around like headless chickens at the thought of another David Souter donning a SCOTUS robe, my first thoughts are that this will turn out to be a long-term victory for the modern conservative movement.

Kos mentions how many on the left see weakness in Bush's White House in the aftermath of the nomination announcement. Assuming that Miers is indeed another Souter (which could turn out to be completely off-base), I think this is actually a shrewd move by a Bush administration which has the future of conservatism in mind; if Miers is another Souter, it seems unlikely that Roe v. Wade would be in any danger.

This is the key - the modern conservative movement has largely been fueled in recent years by the very thought of wiping away decades of liberal law and jurisprudence, with Roe at the top of the list. Conservatives have literally waited decades for this morning's announcement, and their utter disappointment belies what just could be a brilliant political maneuver. If Bush gave conservatives exactly what they wanted - a frothing-at-the-mouth, bible-thumping Republican put on Earth by God to don the robes, protect the unborn and smite the liberal heathen - the conservative movement would eventually have lost a major reason for its existence and continued momentum.

In its fifth year, the Bush administration is essentially politically dead. So why not take one for the team, get bashed by its core supporters for a little while (what are they gonna do? vote Democrat?), and ensure that another generation of conservatives will chase a dangling carrot? Conservatism is a movement defined and fueled by perpetual warfare at all levels - militarily, politically and culturally. Assuming Roe is safe, Bush saw to it today that the culture warriors will be fighting for a long, long time - and, more importantly, getting out the GOP vote for a long, long time.

quick thought, then back to work

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone."
- A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

(ok, so it's not technically my thought, but it is very appropriate today).