Tuesday, January 31, 2012

31 entries in 31 days to start 2012!

So, here it is: the first "perfect" month for this blog, by which I actually had an entry (and a fairly sizable one at that) each and every day this month! This might seem a small accomplishment, but I had let this blog lapse for a long time, and only fairly recently took it up again. Mostly, it was for the challenge of it, because writing short pieces never seemed to be my forte. So, I wanted to see how long I could keep it up, aiming for one entry for the first 20 days of the new year. Once I reached this, the thought arose, "Why not just go for a "perfect" month?" And so I did, and so here I am, not so much celebrating as acknowledging it. It is a nice thought to know that I managed to do it, although there were times (tonight included) where I started the blog entry not really knowing what I could possibly write about, feeling tired and discouraged. Yet, I did manage it, so that feels like a bit of an accomplishment! It was not exactly a New Year's Resolution, but it began to be a goal of mine, without ever actually voicing it to myself. It was more of a "Wouldn't that be nice?" kind of a thing. But now that it's a fait accompli, perhaps I will make an effort to just keep this thing going. Maybe it is a statement on how strong it has been this year, or how weak I was the other two years, but there are already noticeably more entries this young year than in the two prior years combined!

That said, I figured I would answer a recent question placed to me, regarding where my interest in writing came from. Here are some of my reflections on the matter: 

Every now and again, I am asked where my interest in writing comes from. Was there perhaps a particular author that really got me interested in trying my hand at writing? (The answer is yes, by the way. In Fact, I can credit more than one author, really). Had I tried other creative outlets? (Again, the answer is yes, although none of them "fit" as well as writing has.)

Truth is, though, I think my interest in writing originated with (who else?) my mom. She worked in the city as a secretary when my brother and I were very young, and I was impressed when her boss (who herself was a very accomplished, intelligent, and capable woman, but a bit full of herself and with an apparent nasty streak about her) told me that she would scribble some thoughts down on a piece of paper and leave it on my mom's desk, and it would be transformed into a very well written, cohesive letter that basically said everything that she had wanted and intended to say, and better than the way she would or could have said it, to boot! So, yes, I was impressed, and I wanted to be able to do that on my own, someday!

My mom is still a secretary, although she unfortunately hates her job. I would imagine that she still has that ability, yes. Keep in mind, I was just a kid when all of this stuff with her notes and her boss's compliment took place. She reads a lot (more than me, and perhaps more than anyone I know, even!), and she is very intelligent and independent thinking. It is an amazing ability to be able to write the way that she does, and sound so professional in the bargain. 

So, it seems that she can be credited more than anybody else, perhaps, for the abilities that I possess with writing. I wanted to be able to write more creatively and, eventually, when I got old enough, and mature enough, to understand some of the subtleties to it, I think I began to "get" it a bit more. It began to show in college especially, when compliments about my writing began to seem normal.

That said, I also should say this: either writing is in you, or it is not. I know some people who write absolutely beautifully, and who are very intelligent and capable in their own right, but have not ever really tried their hand at writing. There are various reasons for this, of course. But it is interesting to know that some people just do not have enough of an interest to pursue it, although their writing abilities, their intelligence, and their eloquence in expressing themselves so often seems in such abundance! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Somewhere Around Midnight

So, I was driving around the other day, listening to the radio, and there was one song that came on which I had not heard in quite a while. the first chords started to play, and I knew it was a song that I liked, but still could not place it. Finally, when the lyrics started, I pulled over so that i could more fully enjoy the experience of this song.

It was a song that I was introduced to a few years ago by my then girlfriend, so it has that set of memories associated to it. I grew quite addicted to the song, and listened to it repeatedly in the isolation of my overnight job, enjoying every sweet note and lyric.

Yet, hearing it again like that, and having seen more changed in my life gave the song a new twist, almost like looking at a jewel from a different angle. There was a new quality to it, perhaps new applicability. That makes for a great song, in my book. I think it is a testament to the artist and the creation that it can evoke so many powerful memories in various different circumstances. Usually, the best artists can only do that, right? That is what is so great about music, and art in general, for that matter. They allow us to reach out to others, to connect, to perhaps not feel so all alone. To understand that we are not nearly as isolated in apparent solitude (at least at times) as we perhaps expected. It helps us to understand that others often times have had the same, or at least very similar, experiences. Although we are often told to hide away our emotions, to not wear them on our sleeves, it can be nice to know that others can relate to our pain far more than we feel they can while we are going through it.

When you are going through a painful experience, it often seems like everyone else is living in a world of happiness and lightheartedness that you are apparently not privy to. So, a song like this, for example, can help allow you to achieve a healthier and more balanced perspective.

I have plenty of favorite artists and songs, of course, like anyone. But music perhaps means more to me than most, as do many of the arts. In particular, lyrics are important to me, and these lyrics are beautiful, and really speak to me. They spoke to me back when I was first introduced to the song, and they spoke to me again the other day, when I find myself in completely different circumstances, informed by more recent experiences. Things invariably change in life, yet these songs, once recorded, remain the same. The group may do another version, or some other group might cover it. But the original work is still there, and has not been altered. You get to hear that version the way you originally did, and there is a universal quality to it that is unique. This is not just true of music, of course, but to the arts in general. I write, and I read. Every now and again, I reread a book that I originally read some years ago, and it seems entirely different than I remember it. of course, it is not different. I am. My life's experiences have changed me, and found me more mature, with a different set of experiences, or "baggage", with which to view it from. So when I reread a book, or listen again to a song, or watch a movie, that I was once more familiar with, it becomes a "fresh" and "new" experience in a unique sort of way. That is what makes art unique, and allows it to be so universally applicable. the more we experience, the more we might "get" a piece of work that the artist had out there all along. It is us that has changed, not the piece. It is our interpretation of that same work.

Below, I offer the lyrics to this beautiful song:

The Airborne Toxic Event – Sometime Around Midnight Lyrics
And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that’s when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano’s this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she’s wearing
you haven’t seen her for a while.
But you know, that she’s watching.
She’s laughing, she’s turning.
She’s holding her tonic like a cross.
The room’s suddenly spinning.
She walks up and asks how you are.
So you can smell her perfume.
You can see her lying naked in your arms.
And so there’s a change, in your emotions.
And all these memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind.
Of the curl of your bodies,
like two perfect circles entwined.
And you feel hopeless and homeless
and lost in the haze of the wine.
Then she leaves, with someone you don’t know.
But she makes sure you saw her.
She looks right at you and bolts.
As she walks out the door,
your blood boiling
your stomach in ropes.
Oh and when your friends say,
“What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Then you walk, under the streetlights.
And you’re too drunk to notice,
that everyone is staring at you.
You just don’t care what you look like,
the world is falling around you.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You know that she’ll break you in two.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness...

So, with my new schedule presently on weekends providing me with more time, and thus more freedom, with which to do things, the major thing that I have picked up (and am thankful for) has been hiking. Yup, I have been hiking lately, since this schedule changed, like never before. With all of this extra time on the weekends, how better to take advantage then this? So, it should not come as a shock that I met my friend (he with the dogs) for a nice, lengthy hike at Ramapo Reservation yesterday, prior to my shift starting.

That in itself is not what this post is about, although I have been making a conscious effort to steer clear of the two topics that seemed to dominate these blogs the last few weeks: football and politics. I will write about each of them, probably sooner rather than later. Certainly, football will be reviewed after the Super Bowl, and I cannot promise that it will not be mentioned beforehand, either. Politics? Well, it is a subject that I am getting increasingly sick of over the years, and for which there is little faith remaining with it for me. Yet, it has always been a source of fascination, reflection, and discussion, and it remains the case. However, when I leaf through my blog and see a whole section dominated by one or both of these two topics, it seems that the best thing to do is at least try and have a switch of topics. Also, I have been making more of an effort than usual to be appreciative of all that I have been blessed with in my life, and although I still need practice, it does not hurt to mention when there are examples of this gratitude.

So, yesterday's hike was a perfect example. You see, we have been trying to get out and hike new, unfamiliar trails. We went to Harriman State Park a couple of weekends ago, and decided to try Ramapo yesterday. But being the absent minded fools that we both apparently are, neither of us remembered to actually bring a map of either one, so we hiked them by winging it, by and by. Not the smartest idea, right?

We paid the price at Harriman, walking seven lengthy miles of the least interesting trail, most likely, in all of Harriman State Park. It seemed yesterday that we were going to pay another price, and that this one might cost me, specifically. It was not too late, but it was getting later, and I had the responsibility of a shift that I had to be on time with. Suddenly, it seemed that my watch was a new source of interest and fascination, because I kept rolling up my sleeve and stealing glances. We sat down for a minute, so that he could call someone to check online, and see if we could be provided with directions back to the parking lot.

Just then, we saw someone approaching. It was an attractive woman who was actually running the trail (can't imagine!). She stopped and told us the way we needed to get back, and as we walked and found all of the things that she specifically mentioned, it turned out her directions were spot on!

Yet, there was more to it than that. She told us to finish the orange trail, which literally ended five minutes later, then walk down a road for five to ten minutes, until we reached "the ruins" and saw the yellow trails. That was what we did, and "the ruins" were the beautiful remains of an old, abandoned stone house, with a trail clearly marked in yellow running to the side of it. We had been hiking for hours by then, and many miles our feet had trodden, yet many more, apparently, we needed to go. I will admit to sighing as I looked up the hill, already imagining how my legs were going to burn after this one. Sucking it up, I walked, and let the dog that I was holding the leash of (his name is Petey) pull me half the way uphill, which actually helped!

When we got close to the top, we saw someone approaching. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and we had encountered numerous people, so this was not surprising. But what was surprising was that we recognized this person! It was the original woman who had given us the directions back! She had run all that way because she had been nervous that she had been unclear, or provided bad directions! She just wanted to make sire that we would get back okay.

She walked with us for quite a bit after that, and we learned about her. She was preparing for 50 kilometer races through just such woods as these, and we compared some of the experiences of the different hiking sites that we had done. The benefits of this site, and the pitfalls of that one. So on and so forth, right?

In any case, when she was satisfied that we knew where we were, she continued on her merry way. We walked back, and got back in the parking lot, only to find her yet again. She laughed and was glad to see we had made it back. She was wiped out, and was going to call it a day. I thanked her again, as we headed towards our own car, and our own day.

It was not a major incident or anything, but just a nice reminder that there are some really cool and trusting people, such as this woman who went out of her way to help two fully grown men, both strangers, in the middle of already fairly isolated woods. She went above and beyond what she needed to do, or would have been expected to do, and for that, I am very thankful! Her actions were very sweet, and it just seemed like a good thing to acknowledge this kind act in this blog, although she is obviously not likely to read it anytime soon. I thank her, whoever she is, and all those anonymous people that I am not mentioning in my life who provided just such little acts of kindness that go such a long way towards restoring some faith in our fellow people!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A shining influence...

I have been thinking a bit lately about my late grandfather, who died in June of 1989. Not entirely sure why, but every so often, he comes to mind. There were four or five things that he really got me interested in, and which have retained my interest, albeit to varying degrees, ever since.
One of these would be American football, which I started watching with him, the first few games or so that I can recall. He was a Jets fan, and while I am a Giants fan first and foremost, I always maintained a healthy like and respect of the Jets, and they were always my second favorite team – perhaps because they were the other local team, but mostly, I think, because I had too muhc respect for him to actively pull against his team.
Another would be chess, which he also got me into. In fact, it would be fair to say that he taught me how to play. He loved to play, so much so that he even made his own board and pieces (I still have these). I still remember fondly the smell of those pieces (which have since gone away, unfortunately), because you could still distinctly smell the wood varnish that he used on them. Unfortunately, he was not particularly strong in chess, although he would study the game in newspapers and even one or two chess books. Although very young, I started to beat him before very long, until eventually, it became routine. Being the obnoxious little boy that I was (and still am, largely), I remember raising my arms in victory after the first win ever against him, and then running around the house like a brat out of hell, telling everyone that I had beaten him. But those wins became routine, and stories abound about how he used to lose quite often. Yet, he always was ready to play, which was a sign of a good sport. He used to sit there calmly, whistling air, mostly, and study the board carefully, to his credit. He was not perhaps the best in chess, but he was probably the best sport I have ever seen, and I credit him for having the patience to teach a small boy with limited patience of his own.
He was also very well educated, and had a fairly extensive personal library at home. I admired his dignified manner and intellectual curiosity, and used to gaze up at the tall shelves, which were filled with books (and mind you, this was before the internet age!), and could easily imagine myself with just such a library someday. I wanted to gain knowledge and wisdom, and handle myself in the same respectful manner that he did. In a world that was constantly changing and growing, there seems all too often to be less and less room for good manners. Yet, he retained his. I never saw him lose his classiness, and his books, and books in general, came to more or less symbolize that for me after a while. I associated them with him, and felt almost like it was a throwback to a mysterious era of the past that I had never personally seen. That spoke to me, and while I did manage to get a decent sized library of books (and other things) of my own, the class with which he conducted himself on a day to day basis is something that I still strive for and hope to achieve. It seems that he made the world a better place for his being a part of it, and someday, I hope to be able to say that of myself, when I reach the winter of my life.
Finally, there is one other thing that he passed on to me, which is one of the things that I most enjoy, and yet sometimes feel alone in. He was an avid collector of stamps, and had quite the collection – and again, remember that this was pre-internet days. He did not buy his stamps on Ebay, like I admittedly often do. His collection was a mixture of purchases, as well as of things that people sent him, and things that he picked up in his travels. This collection of his fascinated me as a young boy, and it was not long before I attempted to have a stamp collection of my very own, modeled after his. Perusing through his collection almost felt to me a little like the closest thing to traveling the world while sitting in an armchair that I couild get. When leafing through his colelction, the stamps on display, from countries literally the world over, showed the character, the values, the historical figres and events, of each of these nations. They showed important landmarks, whether natural or made by human beings. They gave a glimpse of the mindset of these places, and it was always just so fascinating to leaf through these pages. At the time, it felt more civilized then anything that I could reach in my own little world of action figures and comic books and cartoons.
I could not hope yet to read some of those sophisticated and imtimidating books of his personal library, but the stamps were much more readily accessible, and so I kind of took to them, if you will. They were, in a sense, my window to the world, and although my collection has been rather on again off again, I always seem to return to them at some point. Not surprisingly, I often gravitate to those stamps that were so memorable in his collection, and make sure that I have them in my own collection, but it still never feels quite the same as his own collection. Technically, I have more stamps, most likely, and a more thorough, perhaps even more valuable, collection. Yet, it feels relatively hollow, because again, this is the age of the ineternet and all manner of modern day conveniences. You hardly really have to try in order to get whatever thing you were searching for, specifically, as far as stamps (and other material) things go. He managed to obtain a rich collection over the course of decades, and organized them beautifully, meticulously.
His stamp and book collection were indicative of a yearning to constantly learn more about this world, to understand. He was a man of science (and I certainly cannot claim to be that), yet his library also consisted of some very cool and modern literary works. One of my favorite authors is Kurt Vonnegut, and I was surprised, years after getting into him, to find some Vonnegut books amongst the many books on his shelf. That is a credit to him, and in such moments like this, when I glimpse the man that he was through my own man's eyes, rather than through the boy's eyes that I possessed at the time, that I gain an even deeper appreciation for him.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

From sunrise to sunset....

So, after politics and football have dominated these blog entries lately, it seems more than time for a little shift in gears, n'est ce pas? Not that I will not be writing about those things again. You never fully know what you are going to write until you are actually writing it. However, this was something that was on my mind a bit lately, and when it came up, the words just flowed. So, it seemed appropriate to share.
I was asked recently whether I am more of a morning person or a night person, and, as usual perhaps with me, the answer is a bit more complex than it might initially appear to be.
I used to be much more exclusively a night person, as well. Funny thing is that my mother is exclusively a morning person, and it was never unusual for her to be in bed (even if she was reading) by 8pm or so, sometimes even earlier! My father and brother (and I, for quite a while) were more night owls. That began to change for me over the years, right around the time that my son was born. I began to be more disciplined, on many levels. Started to wake up really early, in order to write and/or walk. I began to really enjoy it, and it stemmed form a memory I had many years ago when still a kid. We were visiting France, and my aunt was taking us to the family vacation house that they had about four or so hours away. She got us up very early - it was still dark out. I felt pained, and did not want to wake up. But we were driving, and everything was dark, the world still seemed asleep. These normally busy roads were completely quiet, we were the only car out, if memory serves correctly, for quite a bit. there was almost a romantic feeling to this, a bit of solitude. I enjoyed watching the dark of night yield o the break of day, watching the world wake up. That was what I enjoyed (and still enjoy) when i wake up that early now. The peace and quiet of night, and getting much done (hopefully) while the world still sleeps, then officially starting your day with a feeling that you accomplished a lot already, first thing in the morning.
So, I was not always a morning person, but I almost feel like one now. At least, I can be one. Then again, I work an overnight job, so maybe not completely. But  a lot of what I like about the night shift is the same as I liked about waking up early - that ability to get a lot done while everyone else is still asleep, and then watching the black of night slowly give way. It gets slightly lighter, and you can start to see things in greater detail, although at first it is still shades of gray in a world of gray. But the light picks up, becomes stronger, and the world becomes more colorful. You can see things more clearly and in detail. Often times, the dawn's light bathes the world in a pastel, pinkish hue, and it is truly beautiful at these points, and I am thankful for having had the discipline to get up so early. Eventually, of course, this too gives way to regular daytime, as the sun begins it's journey from the eastern sky to the western sky, before it dips down below the western hills to sleep for the night, before beginning it's bus day again tomorrow.
Of course, I am also a big fan of sunsets. On my weekend jobs, I have taken to watching the sunsets in the evenings. The place is set upon a bluff above a park that the company owns, and this gives out on a wonderful view of the wooded foothills in the west. When the sun sets there, all of the beautiful pastel colors are mirrored in the ponds, and so it becomes quite the colorful palate. It usually only lasts too short, but the memories last much longer! I have seen some beauitufl sunsets there!
Yet, the most beautiful sunset that I ever saw was not there, but in Seattle, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Not surprisingly, if you are familiar with the area. When we first arrived there, it was nighttime, and so we could not see anything. But in the morning, when I first stepped outside, I looked to the right, and saw the wonderful, snowcapped mountains of the majestic Cascades. When I looked left, I saw the beautiful waters of Puget Sound, with the snow-clad, jagged peaks of the Olympic Mountains jutting out on the other side of the sound. Beautiful!
It was those same Olympic Mountain range that were such a part of the most breathtaking sunset I ever saw. It got late in Seattle very late in May, and so we ate a late dinner at a restaurant right off of Puget Sound, arriving while it was still very much daylight. There was a basketball game on, a playoff game. The Seattle Supersonics had won the West the year prior, and were trying to get another shot at the championship. The crowd went nuts every time that the Sonics did anything positive, and initially, I was paying attention to this.
But the sun was slowly sinking to the west, right where the Olympic Mountain Range, and Mount Olympic in particular, were situated. As the sun sank down, it bathed the snows of the mountain in a pink light, which were mirrored off the waters of Puget Sound. The sky behind the mountains was amazing, and it was the most picture-perfect sunset that I have ever seen! What made it strange was that no one else seemed to be noticing, so engrossed were they in the silly game. I was glad to pay attention to what really mattered most to me that evening. It is rare when we find something truly beautiful, that we can remember quite vividly years and years, perhaps even decades, later. Here I am, almost fifteen years later, writing about that one magical sunset, just to illustrate how a moment can become immortal. Mt. Olympus seemed such a mythical name for a mountain, and the range that is named after it. These are strikingly beautiful mountains to begin with, but at that moment, they more than lived up to their name!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

State of the Union Part 2

Yes, so, that was a relatively short summary of Obama's speech yesterday, which if he loses the upcoming election, would in fact be the last State of the Union address that he gives. That said, I expect that he will, in fact, win another term in office.
One interesting proposal that he desires to see, apparently, is a law that would force all kids to stay in school until they either graduate, or at least turn the age of 18. Seeing the steady deterioration of the education system in this country, and furthermore being saddened by the failures of the "No Child Left Behind" policies of the Bush Administration that Obama and many Democrats, to say nothing of Bush's Republicans, seem to so firmly believe in, maybe this is at least a measure that could help students, and at least is designed to assist them and show the importance of an education. Right now, I believe the age that a student can drop out in is 16, but 16 year old kids are not adults, and may not understand the full ramifications of their actions just yet. So this is an interesting proposal, although it may not be the most realistic. We shall see.
On the environment, he sounded the same bell as always, calling for an end to tax cuts and breaks for the oil industry and other major polluters, and favored increased investment in clean energy sources, announcing a federal incentive that would stimulate clean energy research and production domestically. That sounds good, but is it enough? If there is one issue that I feel Obama has not done nearly enough with short of political posturing, it is in regards to clean air and the environment.
There is another response to Obama's speech that I think merits mentioning, although it certainly was not covered by any major media on any prominent level that I am aware of. It is from the Occupy protestors, because they certainly nonetheless did get a lot of attention towards the end of last year, and have managed to add to the overall debate about our way of life at least as much as the Tea Party did when they first arrived on the scene a few years ago. I am not a fan of the Tea Party, and they never seemed to really have anything new to say, anyway. They just rehashed many of the same old arguments, only taking it to a greater extreme, and expressing anger. The Occupiers, on the other hand, began to call into question the entire banking system that we have entrenched in the modern industrialized nations, and they have become an international movement. Although you do not hear as much about them lately as perhaps a few months ago, I am confident that they will continue to make news, and that there will be more protests throughout the world. They are not done yet. The Tea Party? Who knows? I do not think they were ever all that relevant to begin with. So, I was interested in hearing what the Occupiers had to say about Obama's address, and in case you were to, here is a link:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address

President Obama gave his State of the Union address last evening, and essentially told Americans much that he was expected to say. While jobs are on the rise, the country is still hurting. The economy is not where it should be, and the middle class is in serious jeopardy. Is that supposed to be breaking news?
He did offer a counterpoint to the attention received by all of the Republican debates as of late. With the two frontrunners, Romney and Gingrich making seem likely, even perhaps inevitable, what recently seemed at some point impossible, and at least unlikely: the reelection of Barack Obama. But that is what you get when you get a self-proclaimed intellectual elite in Gingrich, who famously had to step down from his leading role in Congress back in the 90's after it was discovered that he had been having extramarital affairs. This, after proclaiming President Clinton a bad leader for such indiscretions, and advocating his impeachment. That is also what you get when you have a rich jackass like Romney who is out of touch with the average person, and condescendingly mocks those who are out of work and struggling by claiming that he knows what it is like to be without a job. Yeah, right. Like we all have two hundred million dollars to fall back on in the event we lose our jobs. We should all be so lucky. He famously was photographed seemingly getting his shoes shined, like a king with his servants kneeling before him.
President Obama's most important words, perhaps, were in trying to reestablish some measure of fairness in the tax code. The rich should pay more taxes, not less. This has become his most famous selling point, yet strangely, perhaps, the most controversial one, perhaps. He used himself and members of Congress as examples last night, telling the country:
"When I get a tax break I don't need and the country can't afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference - like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That's not right. Americans know it's not right. They know that this generation's success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That's how we'll reduce our deficit. That's an America built to last."
He went on to give a great sound bite (almost all politicians, save for perhaps John Kerry, are great at these kinds of sound bites, aren't they?), saying that a greater fairness can be established, but there needs to be, he said, "No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs."
The President said that the middle class was in serious jeopardy, and that the "basic American promise" was in serious risk. This much is true, and the President believes that it is largely due to decades and decades of reforming the tax codes and changing the laws so that the rich can reap the most benefits, and programs intended to benefit people are cut year after year, making life less affordable if you are not rich. The famous "Robin Hood in reverse" policies that the republicans in particular seem to advocate, although they disguise it with language of "freedom" and fear mongering over European-style "socialism", even hinting at "communism", those age old catchwords that strike fear into many prejudiced American minds. Anyone familiar with the way Europeans have benefits might wonder why. What is so wrong with affordable medical care and medicines? What is so wrong with better public transportation and better worker rights and protections? What is so wrong with more affordable child care, or free university education (assuming you qualify)? What is so wrong with enjoying an abundance of vacation time? But those questions re not asked, at least not enough, here in the United States, and I believe we are the worse for it.
Now, I certainly do not agree with President Obama with everything. I have disagreed with him very strongly, most recently, with his signing the NDAA bill into law, which in effect gives the President the right to arrest and incarcerate indefinitely anyone he wants, in effect, without trial, or indeed, even without giving reasons. It eliminates the age old right of habeas corpus, and seems yet another of many steps this country is taking towards an end to freedom and the beginning of fascism. He had been vehemently opposed to it, supposedly, before he signed it into law. When signing it, he promised he himself would not use it. But then again, he had already promised to oppose it and not sign it into law, and he could not hold that promise, could he?
I also was aggravated by his stance, or perhaps more appropriately, his lack of a stance, in his environmental policies. He has been crafting his Clean Air Bill for some time, but without ever seeming to complete it. Much like Clinton, he seems to be keeping it on the backburner, since it seems not an important enough issue for him – most likely because it is not a politically profitable issue.
I am not overly fond of too many comparisons with Clinton, because Clinton was the consummate politician. He was not named "Slick Willy" for nothing, after all. For all of the talk (and it even sounded convincing at the time) of how important doing everything we can for the environment was, Clinton did not do nearly as much as he promised, and a huge bulk of the legislation that that administration passed was done in the final 72 hours of the administration, a slick political maneuver if ever there was one. He had eight years, ultimately, to work with, and yet the vast majority of the work came in the final three days that he was in office, knowing full well that the next incoming President would get rid of these measures in a hurry. Also, he proclaimed to have paid down more than 60% of the national debt, which technically was true, because these were paid off by short term loans. In other words, he simply transferred the nation's debts from longer term loans to shorter ones, but yes, technically, those longer term loans were in fact paid. America still owed the same amount of money, but it was to different people, and so his claim was correct – in a manner of speaking. But it was misleading, and the very symbol of political posturing. Is that the "change" we can look forward to with Obama?
Now, all that said, I do hope that he at least prevents the Republicans from getting the White House back in 2012, and believe that he will in fact win the election. I do not agree with everything that he has done, but hardly agree with anything that his predecessor did, and do not want a return to Republican rule. I am not a Democrat, to be sure, but I never voted for a Republican in my life, and they loudly proclaim the most ridiculous things, and double talk their way into securing the best privileged for the wealthy elite. It is amazing to me that they have enjoyed such a long and virtually undisturbed run of success, but the country simply cannot afford them right now. Obama's greatest value is to hold them in check, and I think he will do that much, at least. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

I needed a day to let it all sink in, but now that clarity has settled in, here comes the preview for the upcoming Super Bowl.
The Patriots are making their seventh overall Super Bowl appearance, and have a record of 3-3 in the prior Super Bowl games. The Giants are making their 5th overall appearance, and are 3-1 in the previous appearances. So, both teams are looking to hoist the trophy for a fourth time in franchise history.
New England is impressive, as they always are. They finished the season 13-3, an offensive juggernaut. Tom Brady is forever immortalizing his status and proving his credentials to rank amongst the greatest quarterbacks of all time, leading another record setting offense. They won their last eight games of the regular season, the last loss being the home game to the Giants. Since then, they managed to clinch everything that they could, earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They absolutely destroyed the Broncos in the divisional round, and then played a hard-hitting Ravens team that was intent on knocking off the Pats in New England for the second time in three seasons (they had eliminated the Patriots in New England in the 2009 Wildcard Game).
The outcome was indeed in doubt. New England seemed always in good position to win, but the Ravens kept clawing their way back. Ultimately, it famously came down to the field goal attempt n the waning seconds of the 4th quarter, and we all know how that turned out. Their placekicker, Cundiff, missed the kick, and it sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl, for the first time since they lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The same Giants that they will be facing in Super Bowl XLVI.
I had the opportunity to see the Giants in these playoffs, during the one home game that they hosted against the Atlanta Falcons. There was a special feeling there, and I do not mean, simply, the nice feeling of finally being there for a playoff game, although that was undeniably special, particularly enjoying it with my son.
No, what was special was the feeling that there was something unique about these Giants, that after a long season in which not much seemed to go right (starting, really, prior to the start of the season, when they seemed to lose talent, and not replace it quickly enough to field a competitive team). That feeling started to become clearer for me when the Giants enjoyed success early in the season, and then it went away when they experienced that dreadful, four game losing streak. But it grew again, specifically when they played the Packers the first time. You see, the Packers were undefeated at the time at 11-0, and looking to make history with a potentially undefeated season, and a winning streak that would soon be approaching the record books. It was much like the way he 2007 season ended, with the Patriots hoping to complete a perfect 16-0 regular season record at Giants Stadium. Both games saw the road team (the Patriots in 2007, the Packers in 2011) win by the same score, 38-35. Both games saw them extend their bid for perfection continued at the Giants expense. Yet, in both cases, the Giants would enjoy the last laugh once the postseason rolled around.
The Giants, famously, ended the Patriots bid for perfection in the Super Bowl. To be sure, it was very close. New England got as close to completing the "perfect season" as anyone really could have done without actually completing it, losing the lead to the Giants with 34 seconds left on the clock, and then not being able to answer in the scant amount of time left. But it was that first game between the two teams, the one that the Giants lost, that really got the ball rolling. That was the game where the Giants seemed to gain confidence that they were a better team than their own record (10-6 after the Patriots regular season finale game in 2007) indicated, and which, I believed, fed their confidence and allowed them to catch fire at the right time, heading into the playoffs with aton of momentum, enough to win three consecutive games on the road against Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay, and then hold off New England (just barely!) to pull off an incredible upset in the Super Bowl.
The Packers regular season game reminded me a lot of that. Same score, same surprised reaction that the Giants, the team that was supposed to be dead in the water, had put up such a fight against the heavily favored, well oiled machine that was the Green Bay Packers at that point. It was not exactly the same circumstances, yet it did very much the same for the Giants that the loss to the Patriots had done years before: it showed them just how good they could be.
The next game was a must win in Dallas. The Giants needed to win in order simply to realistically stay alive in the division, and they got the job done. Then came the letdown against the Redskins, although maybe that was just the wake up call the Giants needed, precisely when they needed it. It looked like a bad loss, and maybe that is what it was. Maybe that was what this team used as a reminder that nothing just comes to you, you have to earn it.
There were two games left on their regular season schedule, and come what may, the Giants needed to win both. They controlled their own destiny, and if they won those two games, they would be division champs. The first game was a "road" game against the Jets, although it was played at the stadium the two teams share. It was a highly billed showdown, right before Christmas, and both teams needed the win. In effect, it was as close to a playoff game as these two teams had ever had, and the Giants, after a sluggish start, came to dominate it. It took a while, to be sure, and they really only fully secured it in the fourth quarter, but they did secure it, thus effectively eliminating the Jets, for all intents and purposes, and setting up a winner takes all showdown at home against a familiar opponent, the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants raced out to a commanding 21-0 lead, dominating Dallas as well, until the Cowboys rallied with some quick points to pull within a touchdown late in the game. But after that, the Giants got a field goal, and the physical defense got to the Cowboys, who turned the ball, and the season, over to the Giants, who secured the division and a home game in the playoffs.
Then came the dominance in the Wild Card against Atlanta, in effect shutting out the Falcons offense en route to a 24-2 victory, earning them a rematch against the heavily favored Packers, who had finished the season with an impressive 15-1 record, and looked to complete what could have been considered the most successful season in Green Bay's history.
By then, the similarities to the 2007 Giants were becoming more obvious, and I predicted that the Giants would win. What nobody could foresee was that the Giants would dominate. The Packers had lost one game all season, a bad loss where they played poorly against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. Otherwise, they had pretty well handled everyone else.
So when the Giants were playing well enough to lead late in the first half by a score of 13-10, and had the ball, it was surprising to most people. When Eli Manning threw a Hail Mary pas that was completed to give the Giants a commanding 20-10 lead for halftime, then it was becoming clearer. What was shocking to me, though, was the manner in which New York completely dominated Green bay in the second half. The Packers responded, as you would expect champions to do. But the Giants, emerging champions themselves, kept answering them back, with interest, en route to a 37-20 rout of the defending champions.
Next up was a trip to San Fransisco to face an old rival that was reinvented in the 49ers, who were reminiscent, in fact, of many of those old Giants teams of the 1980's and early 1990's. This team played very conservatively, made few mistakes, and would not likely give the Giants anything in terms of mistakes. Indeed, San Fransisco gave the Giants the hardest test of the playoffs thus far, but the game went into overtime, and the 49ers, rather uncharacteristically, made a mistake. In fact, they made two crucial mistakes throughout the game, both by the same member of the team. Bu the final one gave the Giants possession deep in their own territory, close enough for a field goal attempt to clinch it, and the Giants were able to capitalize shortly thereafter, earning them this trip to the Super Bowl, their second in five years.
So now, the rematch against New England. Yes, I am picking the Giants to win this Super Bowl, based on that strong feeling of déjà vu that this team gave me of the 2007 campaign that earned them the surprising championship. They just feel like a team that is peaking at the right time. They were riddled with injuries all season, they were underdogs all season (and the Patriots are favored in this one once again, being touted as a 3 or so point favorite to open the Vegas line), and they seemed plagued with inconsistencies in their play all season. But as the season was ending, something happened, something changed. This team seemed to come together at precisely that moment when people were writing them off. They swept Dallas, knocking them out. They knocked out the Jets from playoff contention, then knocked out the Atlanta Falcons, the Green Bay Packers, and the San Fransisco 49ers from the playoffs.
Some people seem to feel that the Giants showed vulnerabilities in the Championship Game, claiming that the Giants should have won more convincingly. Perhaps, but there are counters. First of all, San Fransisco is a tough team, and the Giants were on the road. Also, the Patriots themselves, who are rolling with a ten game winning streak, barely hung on at home against the Ravens. That was hardly the most convincing win that they enjoyed this season, either. Indeed, they came close, very close to losing, while the Giants won soundly against a very tough opponent on the road, although it was close throughout. There were no crucial missed field goals or horrible calls against the 49ers. The Giants just beat them. They won by earning it.
I predict they will earn another one. They will beat the Patriots again in the Super Bowl. I am never good with predictions of scores, but I will predict that they will win not so much by a blowout, but simply by outplaying New England, by clearly being better on that day. I will go ahead and say that, at the end of Super Bowl Sunday,  the Giants will become only the fifth team to have won at least four Super Bowl trophies!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Giants & the Patriots in the Super Bowl Again: A Rivalry for the Ages?

The Giants won the NFC title game off of the foot of David Tyne in yet another overtime decision, for the second time in five years. Almost the same exact scenario as two years ago. This time, it was in soggy San Fransisco, rather than the place that they played at last week as well as five years ago, that being the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay. Should it be any surprise that the team that they are playing against next would happen to be the same opponent as back then, as well?
That's right, the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl as well, for the first time since these two teams met five years. So both teams are back there, having overcome what obstacles lay in their way these past few years to reach this superb level of play again. Since the Super Bowl XLII classic, neither team had actually won a single playoff game between them prior to this postseason, which is odd for two Super Bowl teams, let alone two teams that would have a rematch within a few years of their meeting there.
The Patriots played in the earlier game, hosting the tough Baltimore Ravens, who can never be taken lightly. Baltimore was tough again, and it seemed an up and down game, where the outcome was not at all certain at any point, until that last field goal attempt sailed wide and secured victory for New England. The Patriots got the victory, but it was a nail biter in a game that was a contrast in styles.
So with the Patriots winning, the NFC Title Game participants knew who they would be playing. It remained to be seen, of course, which team would actually earn the right to be there, though. I have already mentioned some of the storied history between these two teams. They had met in seven prior postseason games, with the 49ers entering this game with a slight 4-3 playoff edge. New York came in red hot, having won four consecutive games, the two last games of the regular season against the Jets and then the Cowboys to secure the division title, and the two postseason games against the Falcons and the Packers. They had more recent playoff experience, as well, with the obvious example of their 2007-08 Super Bowl season, as well as other appearances, when they had failed to win a game.
Yet, the 49ers had a lot of momentum entering this game, coming off their best season in well over a decade, since at least 1997. They finished with a solid 13-3 record, behind Coach Jim Harbaugh, who instilled a very solid return to basics. This was not like those 49ers teams of past greatness, with the ball being thrown around all over the field by Montana or even Young, and putting up an alarming amount of points. This 49ers team was about as conservative as you could get. In fact, they bore an eerie resemblance to the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by Jim Harbaugh's brother, John. That family must have been getting nervous about the prospect of two brothers coaching each other in the Super Bowl, but it was not to be. Not this year, anyway.
It was a tough and punishing, physical game. Home field in soggy San Fransisco was pretty big for the 49ers, although not nearly as big as it proved to be last weekend against New Orleans Saints, a game that will surely be immortalized by 49ers fans, who have numerous such games to fall back on and bask in. But at least for one day, the Giants would prove a different opponent, and the result was a different story. The 49ers made some crucial mistakes. They did not make many of them, to be sure. Yet, the ones that they made, proved very costly. Deadly, in fact. Particularly once the game went into overtime.
And so, here we go again. The New York Giants and the New England Patriots, playing for it all, this time in Indianapolis.
So, what I wonder is where this will rank now among Super Bowl rivalries. That still largely depends on the outcome, I think. If the Giants win, then this rivalry might be regarded in similar manner to the Steelers and Cowboys Super Bowl rivalry of the 1970's. Both teams enjoyed tremendous success during that era, and they both won multiple championships. But between the two of them, people remember that Pittsburgh won both meetings, and that is really all that matters for most people, because people tend to remember who won, not who lost.
            If New England wins, then it changes things a bit. They would each have a Super Bowl win apiece, and it would be a bit more similar to the Redskins and Dolphins, who met twice, with each team winning one, although that was ten years apart, and it is arguable, at best, whether it could fairly be considered a Super Bowl rematch.
            There have been numerous rematches in Super Bowl history, but most of them have been decidedly in the favor of one team. I already mentioned the Steelers over the Cowboys, although it should be noted here that these two teams actually met three times, the only two teams to have achieved that. The third meeting was in a different era, and with different results – this time, the Cowboys winning it to immortalize their "Team of the Decade" dynasty of the 1990's, much like the Steelers Super Bowl sweep of the Cowboys in the 1970's immortalized Pittsburgh's "Team of the Decade" dynasty of the 1970's.
            Otherwise, besides the Redskins and Dolphins, there have been a couple of other Super Bowl rematches. The Cowboys and Bills met in consecutive years in the Super Bowl, yet this is not considered a classic Super Bowl matchup, since the Bills not only lost both meetings, but indeed, lost all four appearances that they were involved in  The 49ers and the Bengals met twice, in Super Bowl XVI (which was the first Super Bowl that yours truly can remember watching), and then again in Super Bowl XXIII. San Fransisco won both meetings, yet the Bengals played them extremely well, and should have won that last meeting, with a dropped Montana interception pass by Bengal defender Billups in the last minute of play that could have iced the victory for them (the Bengals led at the time). The drive continued, and eventually, Montana hit John Taylor with 34 seconds left to secure the victory, and the title. Like the other Super Bowl rematches, it helped them secure that "Team of the Decade" distinction for the 1980's.
            No one knows yet what this coming Super Bowl has in store, and how it will rank individually with other Super Bowls, or what it will do to immortalize this increasingly fabled and intense rivalry. They certainly seem to have met in some of the most interesting games in the last five seasons. Obviously, the two Super Bowls, one of which has yet to be played. The other two were some of the best regular season games you could hope to watch, and I would be willing to bet that this Super Bowl will be every bit as close. 
           So, this is not a Super Bowl preview. Not yet. I am trying to soak it all in, and will reflect on both teams and their recent history, as well as their history together, with that other very memorable Super Bowl that these two teams famously met in, and the meeting earlier this season, as well as the seasons that they experienced, to get to this stage, and how each has been rolling thus far. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Romney and Newt, Newt and Romney

So, did Mitt Romney have a bad week, or what?
He started it off seemingly completely in command of the Republican Presidential race, in the driver's seat at least, and most people already had him as the de facto winner. After all, not many people had won both the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire, and since it seemed that he had done both, he was off to a historically solid start, and seemed the clear leader, at the very least. He tried to play it off in a cool manner, either, beginning attacks more on President Obama, then on his fellow Republicans, in an apparent attempt to seem "above the fray", and not muddled in party politics, but the apparent Republican challenger to President Obama.
Next thing you know, it comes out that he, in fact, did not actually win the Iowa caucus, and that Santorum had in fact pulled it off. Then yesterday, to close out the week, he loses the South Carolina primary to that man that he just seemingly cannot shake off no matter what he does, New Gingrich. Suddenly, Romney seems to be trailing in the Republican race, and at the very least, he has some serious challengers, particularly Newt Gingrich. Things are not all roses in the Romney camp.
So, what happened, then? So many conservatives are leery of Romney. They seem hesitant, even overly hesitant, to admit that he is their representative, and the clear front runner in the Republican race. So much so, in fact, that he no longer really seems clearly in command. Maybe it is because he is a Mormon, and that is a cause for alarm for conservatives, particularly for those who are born again Christians, and frown upon Mormonism. Perhaps it is because Romney seems too "liberal" in their eyes, having set up a health care program in his blue "heathen" state of Massachusetts. Perhaps it is the fear that Romney is the consummate politician,  that is is so extremely well polished, and tries to play everything too safe, to the point that it is hard to see the real man behind all of that political makeup that he so carefully hides behind at every turn. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above.
Now good ol' Newt Gingrich is back as the conservative's darling, telling everyone that he represents true conservatism. I heard him (I believe it was on FOX News) the other day, telling the cameras that what America needs is a true conservative like him, and that Romney is a "moderate", thus implying that he is not fit to represent the hard core Republicans. I remember when the word "liberal" became a bad word in this country. Now, in this age of more extremities (refer an earlier blog of mine from just a few days ago to see what I mean by this), even being a "moderate" is not enough, because that word sounds weak and filled with compromise, in an age when the "real conservatives" want to force everything that they desire through, no matter how they need to do it. That is how the country has gotten to be so divided, it seems to me, and how the Republicans in Wisconsin attacked the unions. That seems to be an alarming message, promising more of the same.
What I find particularly egregious with Newt Gingrich is his posturing as some responsible and intellectual, sound politician and esteemed professor of history. Seriously? This is the same guy that loudly proclaimed that wanted to impeach Clinton for having a blow job in the Oval Office (let's call a spade a spade here, because that was really what it was all about, in the end), but who himself had numerous affairs (each of his previous marriages had ended because he was having affairs). He preaches the traditional platform of the party of "family values", yet he himself clearly cannot live up to them. In the 1990's, he preached his "Contract for America", yet he was rightly criticized for being so willing to shut down the government when he could not get his way, which was a large part of the reason that Clinton managed to surge back up in the polls, and eventually won an easy reelection in 1996, after seemingly being dead in the water and unofficially a lame duck President following the Republican resurgence of 1994, largely behind Newt Gingrich himself. .
I think that history just might be repeating itself. Obama seemed to reach almost divine status leading up to his election in 2008, and everyone expected great things from him. Before long, when it was finally discovered that he was all too human, just one man with limitations and imperfections, and that he would not, in fact, wave a magic wand to fix all of the things that were so clearly wrong with the country, Obama was turned into the devil incarnate. People slapped Hitler mustaches on him and seemed to threaten him, almost promising to bring their guns with them the next time they protested in Washington. Much like the "Contract for America", Newt's brainchild, rejuvenated the conservatives in the 90's against the Democratic momentum following Clinton's election, the Tea Party similarly was the shot in the arm the conservatives apparently needed to respond to the momentum that Obama's election generated for the Democrats.
Yet, that is not where the similarities apparently end, I think. Much like Newt's movement in the 1990's, the Tea Party movement which seemed to be such a political force not too long ago has lost much of it's former momentum, to the point that it has become a political liability. Suddenly, as sure as it seemed Obama was towards an inevitable election defeat because his approval ratings seemed so low, he now seems poised to win the election, possibly even handily. Much like Clinton in the 1990's.
If that is the case, then history does indeed seem to be repeating itself. Moreover, how fitting would it be to see Newt as the final candidate that represents the Republican Party in that election? After all, it was Gingrich's cohort, Bob Dole, who won the 1996 Republican nomination, only to lose badly to Clinton. I can think of no better choice to follow in those footsteps, and lose to Obama in 2008, which would almost certainly end his political career once and for all, much like the 1996 defeat ended Dole's political career. Maybe then he can star in male impotency commercials, like Bob Dole did a few years after the loss.
And really, who else do the Republicans have, anyway? They apparently do not like Romney, and they are certainly not alone in that regard. Santorum does not seem strong enough to really pull off that major of an upset, and his homophobic rantings, while perhaps catering to the hard core conservative base, probably alienated most Americans more than anything, and would hurt him in a more general election that is not exclusively for Republicans. Despite wearing his conservative credentials on his sleeve, Santorum hardly even seems capable of making a dent in the Republican race, so how could he hope to win an overall race?
What about Ron Paul? He always seems to be right there, lingering in the background, right? Nobody can likely boast the loyalty of his followers, who border on the rabid. Could he possibly be the next Republican to challenge for the White House? It seems highly unlikely. While Republicans dislike and do not trust Romney, they seem to despise Paul, to the point that his very sanity is put into question. It almost seems like they are rluctant to admit that he even exists, and they quickly try and sweep his presence under the rug, systematically trying to make him at least appear irrelvant, and not a “serious” choice. In fact, it still strikes me as odd that he so doggedly chooses to run as a Republican, since he would likely make more noise, and go much further, running as an independent, down the line. Maybe even he will end up doing just that. But as for his chances of wining the Republican nomination? That hardly seems likely, does it?
So, perhaps it is destiny. Perhaps Newt Gingrich is destined to win the Republican nomination, and then head towards an inevitable defeat by the man he so clearly despises (but is there any other kind of man in Newt's book, other than himself and those few who agree with him on everything?). He is a history professor, after all, so maybe this lesson is something that he would concede: history does in fact seem to repeat itself.
At the very least, even he can likely admit that all of this politial infighting inside of the challenging party trying to win back the White House is not likely helping their overall cause, but hurting it. Right now. All Obama and his team have to do is sit back and let the Republicans hurl insults and stage attacks on one another, doing perhaps irrepreable damage to the reputation of their opponents in the meantime. Whoever emerges as the ultimate winner, Obama will almost assuredly utilize all of the mudslinging arguments later on, and use them against his ultimate opponent, using the words of Republicans themselves against them, and likely to great effect en route to another four years in office, something that seemed almost impossible not very long ago, but that, at least for the moment, seems more and more inevitable, as time passes. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Ah, the weather outside is frightful!
But then again, it has not really been frightful since maybe late October, really, when we received a surprising snowfall. Around my area, which is at a higher altitude then much of the rest of New Jersey, we had nineteen inches dumped on us! It was a seemingly freak, unseasonable storm much too early for the season, yet seemed to fit in perfectly with all of the odd and/or extreme weather that we witnessed and experienced throughout last year, with a very cold and snowy winter in the beginning, many floods along the way, a devastating hurricane, and the snowstorm in October. It also seemed to be a harbinger of things to come, and I was not the only one to think that!
Yet, here we are, late in January, and there really has not been any significant snow or winter weather to speak of! In fact, it has often been unseasonably warm or at least mild. Perhaps the biggest thing, the identifying marker, has not so much been the consistent cold or snow, like last year, but the inconsistency of the weather patterns, where it goes from mild, even reasonably warm, to brutally cold, then back to mild, then back again to cold, and so on and so forth. I am not sure if anyone predicted this or not, but I think it is safe to say that it certainly is not the winter most everyone expected it to be.
I have no proclivity to postulate about the changing weather patterns, and have no intention of getting up on a soap box and going on about global warming, or anything.  We have all heard such things aplenty by now, although the strange and inconsistent weather speaks for itself on that score, I think. It is not just that it is strange weather lately, but that the strangeness of the weather has itself become the norm. We may speculate, but the truth is nobody seems to be able to predict such things accurately. But it was not always that way. It used to be that we would consistently count on cold winters with significant snowfalls. That was the norm in this region (northern New Jersey). Upm until recently, that was only to be expected.
So why is it that people nowadays act so shocked at the mere thought of snow? I know that it can be a pain in the rear. When some think of snow, they get really psyched, thinking of the peace and calm and beauty of a beautiful winter wonderland after waking up the morning after an overnight snowstorm, or perhaps a fresh coat of powder on the slopes, for prime skiing condition. For me, admittedly, snow means shoveling and sore hands and back aches, or white knuckle driving under already stressful conditions made all the worse by so many countless idiots on the road! So, yes, I do understand how much more stressful winter can be, on many levels. That said, it needs to be recognized that it is only a natural thing that happens every since year, yet everyone freaks out about it, as if it is some unpleasant and unnatural phenomenon that is somehow a fluke an will not repeat itself.
All I will say is that it is a bit surprising, not to say annoying, that people seem to react as if these kinds of storms are such a major inconvenience, even seemingly unnatural. I live in a cold weather area, and the people that live here do, too, and should know that. We have not gone a winter that I am aware of without any snow whatsoever, and we are not likely to get one anytime soon, either. Frankly, if we did, chances are it would not be a positive sign!
Plus, winter allows us to truly appreciate the milder temperatures of spring, and the return of new life. Young, bright green on the trees and leaves and vegetation, young chicks calling to their moms, their hungry mouths gaping wide open. The days are already getting longer, all the signs are there. Spring is on it's way, and in about eight or so weeks, this winter will probably be history (although you never know nowadays, do you?). And remember all of those hot and stuffy, disgusting days of intense heat and excessive humidity? That is why I appreciate simply being able to breathe easier during the cold of winter. It definitely has it's advantages, after all.
Why get angry over something that we can't change, anyway? At least, collectively, we hope we are not changing it, don't we? Otherwise, that may actually confirm the global warming "theory" to even the most skeptical minds, although there will likely always be someone denying what's right in front of their eyes, right? So, some people may hope that the winters are not so bad, that they will not find themselves getting stuck in the snow somehow, or whatever. It might just be better if we can start by accepting it, and not fighting it at all costs mentally. It will happen every year anyway, no matter what we do. For now, it seems a nice reminder of what still remains a reality for this northern New Jersey region, as we have always known it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

AFC Championship Game Preview

So, I previewed the NFC Championship Game yesterday, and it's only natural, then, that I do so now with the AFC Championship Game.
The thing is, it's tricky. Sometimes, you can pretty much have a good idea of who is going to win well ahead of time. I got a strong feeling last year that the Packers were destined to win, because they were just red hot at that point, and it was hard to imagine the Bears actually making it to the Super Bowl. The Steelers always do well at home, so although I hoped the Jets would win, it seemed likely that Pittsburgh would get back to the Super Bowl.
This year, though, it's a bit tougher. The Giants are hot and seem to be peaking at the right time, so I picked them, although it's certainly not a laughable notion to think the 49ers will win. Still, the Giants are my pick to come out of the NFC.
In the AFC, however, it is not as clear cut. Instinct tells me that both teams are vulnerable. The Ravens and the Patriots both seemed a bit shaky towards the end of the season, although they both managed at least to hang on and clinch their top two seeds, respectively.
In the case of the Ravens, it seemed that they just got to the finish line before stumbling. They managed to sweep the Steelers, a team that they had a bad history against in the recent past. Yet, the Steelers kept nipping at their heels, and the Ravens could not seem to get any cushion to feel that their divisional lead was comfortable. A bad loss or two here and there certainly did not help matters. Of course, Baltimore did hang on and win the division, and the Steelers had a bad loss themselves in the Wildcard, to Tim Tebow and the Broncos., who themselves lost to the Patriots last week in a blowout.
The Ravens played the Houston Texans, who have a tremendous defense themselves, perhaps even better than the Ravens defense, arguably. Baltimore won, but not nearly by the margin of comfort that I expected. They did not play anywhere near as well, and yes, I am aware that the Texans had a little something to do with that, of course. Yet, the expectations for the Ravens are higher than that, and so they now made me a bit nervous. They are usually such a stellar team, but there seems to be some games against weaker opponents where they get away with something and manage to escape disaster. Be that as it may, that should not be the case in the playoffs. Sure, Houston is tough, but the Ravens should have been tougher, less mistake-prone, and more fired up, seemingly. That was not a good sign, going on the road, into New England, one of the most daunting places to have to play.
A lot has been made of Baltimore's playoff successes these last few years, being the only team to have won at least one playoff game in each of the last four seasons. As impressive as that is, that also means that they are one of only two teams (the Jets are the other team) that won that many playoff games during that stretch that has yet to make it to the Super Bowl. In recent years (dating back to 2006), they were eliminated twice by the Steelers, and twice by the Colts. Neither of those teams are left, of course, and the Ravens already defeated New England on the road in the playoffs, a couple of years ago. Yet, both teams are different now then they were then, and this will be a different game, obviously. The Ravens were sharp in that game, and they would have to return to that form to have a chance. They certainly cannot repeat the way that they played in that last game against the Texans. The recent controversies with quarterback Joe Flacco are not likely to help matters, either. They need to keep focused if they are going to win, and such distractions are surely not helping matters.
The Patriots, as mentioned earlier, destroyed the Broncos in the playoffs, and so are likely everyone's favorites to get back to the Super Bowl. Yet, people forget, they seemed to struggle towards the end of the season, allowing both Miami and Buffalo to take sizable leads in New England. As impressive as it may have been to stage the subsequent comebacks that the Patriots pulled off to secure home field advantage, they nonetheless showed some vulnerabilities as well, although they certainly left no doubt against Denver last weekend. They are playing very sharply, crisply, and surely have playoff more experience with all of those Super Bowl appearances, right? Well, keep in mind that prior to the victory over Denver, New England had not won a playoff game since the undefeated 2007 season that wasn't. The shocking loss to the Giants was the first of three postseason losses in a row, one of which was to these same Ravens. The win against Denver kind of got the monkey off their back, yet the 8-8 Broncos are a team you would expect the Patriots to beat handily, especially at home. The Ravens are a different story.
Yet, the Broncos have a solid defense as well, and the Patriots sliced them up. They looked dangerous, and they have home field advantage.
So, it's a good contest, with no surefire bet. The Patriots seem very good, and have many advantages. However, the Ravens, at their best, are capable of beating the Patriots in New England, but they would indeed have to play their best. Any mistakes, especially early, could give New England some free opportunities and points, and this the Ravens cannot afford. It's a battle of one of the traditional elite defenses with the Ravens, versus the explosive offense of the Patriots.  Yet, something tells me that the Ravens offense, and particularly Flacco's handling of it, just might decide this one. If the Patirots are as opportunistic as they were last weekend, and the Ravens offense struggles again, it could be a long afternoon. If they are effective, however, then New England will have a tough time. That said, the Ravens obviously cannot get into a shootout with the Pats, because they cannot win that way. They will have to find a way to contain Brady & Company, which is easier said then done.
All in all, I expected the Ravens to win this game, honestly. Yet, the way that they have been playing, and especially with how weak they have tended to be on the road, I see the Patriots pulling it off right now, instead. These teams are fairly evenly matched, so nothing would surprise me. But if I had to put my money down on somebody, I would say it's New England in a tight one, capitalizing on mistakes by Baltimore. This one will likely go into the fourth quarter, and a rout by either team is unlikely. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NFC Championship Game Preview

The Giants and the 49ers have such a storied history together, and it makes for an incredible rivalry. The first season that I ever really started following football, way back in 1981, they met during the regular season, and again, they met during the playoffs. The Giants had just beaten the defending NFC champions, the Eagles, in Philadelphia. They had gone eighteen years without qualifying for the post season once, but their fortunes had changed, and they were building up towards something special. The win in Philly qualified them to meet the 49ers, who also had been a losing team for some time, but had turned it around under wizard coach Bill Walsh, and cool, calm, collected young quarterback Joe Montana.
The 49ers won that meeting, 38-24. The next week, they would go on to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, largely because of one of the most famous plays in NFL history, "The Catch", when Dwight Clark reached up high to catch a high ball from Joe Montana that he had seemed to be throwing away under pressure from Dallas defenders. It earned San Fransisco it's first ever Super Bowl appearance, which it also won.
The Giants fortunes sank for the next couple of years, but they returned the the playoffs in 1984, again winning a playoff game on the road, this time against the Los Angeles Rams. Once again, also, this qualified them for a divisional round playoff meeting against (who else?) the San Fransisco 49ers. The defense fought harder this time, but the 15-1 49ers proved just a bit too much still, and defeated the Giants, 21-10, en route to their second Super Bowl victory.
Bill Parcells had become the Giants coach by then, and he worked hard to make sure the Giants improved and were disciplined and ready. The next season, the Giants stepped it up, and became a team that many people watched, with predictions of great things to come. They finished with a 10-6 record, and hosted their first playoff game in decades, hosting the defending Super Bowl champion San Fransisco 49ers, and dominated them, 17-3. They went to the divisional round once again, but there, they met the most dominant team that I have ever seen, the 1985 Chicago Bears, who dismantled the New York Giants, 21-0. The Giants lost that game, and in fact were blanked, but many people cite that game as the first real signs that the Giants were building themselves up towards greater accomplishments for the future.
The future for the Giants was 1986, and Parcells made sure the Giants took the right steps forward. They lost the season opener, and lost midway through the season against the Seahawks, and then never lost again, winning the rest of the way. One of those victories came on a Monday Night in San Fransisco, where Phil Simms hit Mark Bavaro in the 2nd half, who then broke numerous tackles and dragged several defenders to gain a first down, and was the shot the Giants needed to rejuvenate them and come back from far behind to win, 21-17, ultimately. The Giants pulled off nine straight victories to end the season with a 14-2 record, earning them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their first meeting was, of course, against the NFC West champion 49ers, once again. It was the third meeting in a row in the playoffs between the two teams, and the most famous play happened early in the game, when a wide open Jerry Rice inexplicably dropped a pass prior to running in the end zone, something the 49ers never recovered from. The Giants took over the game. They bullied and bruised San Fransisco, knocking Montana out of the game, scoring on defense and offense, and obliterating their opponents, 49-3. They would go on to win the NFC Championship, and then their first ever Super Bowl.
The Giants then struggled for a couple of seasons, but returned to strong form in 1989, which was supposed to be a rebuilding season for them, following two consecutive seasons missing the playoffs. Instead, they went 12-4, winning their division and earning the second seed, although they lost their first game. In the meantime, San Fransisco had gone on to have a spectacular season in 1988, with one of the keys being a come from behind fourth quarter comeback victory at Giants Stadium, 20-17, early in the season, perhaps setting the tone for both teams. The meeting in 1989 went for the 49ers as well, although the Giants had proven a tough test. Still, the 49ers won the Super Bowl again following the 1989 season, becoming the first team in a decade to win back to back Super Bowls, their fourth in a decade, and enough to earn them "Team of the Decade" honors, and marking them as one of the greatest teams of all time.
From that point onwards, the 49ers were on a mission to start off the new decade on the right foot, and win a third straight Super Bowl, something that no team had, or has, managed to achieve. The Giants also were ready to make a strong run and, indeed, both teams started off red hot. They were set to meet in the early December, what would have been the 12th game for each team, and they both had started off with undefeated, 10-0 starts. Almost everyone anticipated the "Clash of the Titans" would be between two undefeated teams, but they both rather inexplicably lost their next games prior to meeting. Still, a meeting of 10-1 teams was pretty good, and it became the second most watched Monday Night Football game of all time, up to that time. The 49ers won, 7-3, in the lowest scoring affair of the season. The 49ers had the inside track on home field advantage, while the Giants were struggling. A couple of weeks later, the y would lose again, this time to the seemingly red-hot Buffalo Bills, and lose starting quarterback Phil Simms for the season in the process. It seemed that the Giants promising season had come crashing and burning down.
Yet, they hung on to the 2nd seed in the NFC, at least, where they met the Chicago Bears. Some thought the Bears a better team, and that they would defeat the Giants. But Jeff Hostetler, stepping up for the injured Phil Simms, added some new dimensions to the offense, and his mobility was a threat that Chicago was not prepared for. The Giants, with two weeks off, had an incredible game plan, and destroyed the Chicago Bears, 31-3, a bit of revenge for the 1985 drubbing. That victory earned them another Championship Game appearance against a very familiar opponent by now, the San Fransisco 49ers.
That was an epic game, and still ranks among my favorite football games of all time. The 49ers played like the champions that they were, and held the Giants without a touchdown. Yet, it was a mark of how strong the Giants defense was that they managed to stay in the game from beginning to end, holding the 49ers to a mere 13 points, meaning that in their two combined meetings, the 49ers had scored a total of 20 points, which was less than they scored in their average game that season! The Giants had allowed the sole touchdown in the 3rd quarter, falling behind 13-6, but they chipped away at the lead with field goals, closing to within a point late in the 4th quarter. Once again, the Giants had knocked QB Joe Montana out of a playoff game, when Leonard Marshall caught up to him and hit him from behind, just before he released the ball, a vicious, but clean, hit.. Neither team had given up the ball, until Eric Howard hit 49ers back Roger Craig and knocked the ball loose, which Lawrence Taylor managed to recover. The Giants offense now went back to work, working their way down the field while simultaneously killing the clock. With 4 seconds left, the Giants sent in Matt Bahr, who split the uprights to give the Giants a 15-13 victory that earned them the right to their second Super Bowl appearance, this time against the same Buffalo Bills that had defeated them about one month earlier. The Giants pulled off the victory with a razor thin margin, 20-19.
The two teams would meet on the first Monday Night Football game of the 1991 season, and it was very similar to the NFC Championship game, just seven or so months earlier. Low-scoring, hard-hitting, and with the Giants pulling off a last second victory off the foot of Matt Bahr. It seemed like a great start, but in fact, both teams would struggle and eventually miss the playoffs.
They met in the playoffs one more time in the nineties, following the 1993 season, and San Fransisco destroyed the Giants then, 44-3, exacting revenge from the 1986 playoff meeting.
The two teams would meet again in the playoffs following the 2002 season, and the Giants looked like the stronger of the two teams for much of it, jumping out to a 38-14 lead. But the 49ers mounted an incredible comeback, the second biggest comeback in NFL Playoff history, and went on to win, 39-38. The Giants still had a chance to win it on the last play of the game with a field goal, but the snap went wrong, and the Giants never got it off properly, thus preserving the 49ers win.
The San Fransisco 49ers were the "Team of the Decade" in the 1980's, and were the winningest team in terms of percentage of any decade in the 90's, a record that the Indianapolis Colts managed to break the following decade. San Fransisco won the Super Bowl again following the1994 season. Yet, no team had greater meaningful success against them during their true glory years than the Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs three times overall, twice when the 49ers boasted the title of defending champions, and got some key victories against them during the regular season, as well.
This is, of course, a different era, and these two teams are different than those teams of the past. The 49ers are more conservative, and seem almost to be more similar to those Giants teams of old. After years of futility, they put it all together this season, and look as good as they have in a long time. The Giants, in the meantime, managed to win the Super Bowl in 2007, and have shown some strong form towards the end of this season, winning the last two games of the season to earn the division title, then dominating the Falcons at home, and 15-1 Green Bay at Lambeau, in order to qualify for this Championship Game.
The two teams have met in seven postseasons, with the 49ers holding the slight edge in the series, 4-3. However, in my lifetime, the Giants are undefeated at 4-0 in Championship Game appearances, and I think they will stretch that impressive undefeated mark to 5-0 this time around.
I'm going to go ahead and predict a Giants victory.