Sunday, March 31, 2013

LiveScience Publishes Some Facts About Jesus

Okay, so, it's Easter. And since I traditionally take a moment to recognize holidays when they come around, that is what I will do here and now. I looked back upon last year, and although I have something reviewing, or at least acknowledging, the other major holidays, I don't seem to have anything about Easter, which i found rather odd.

Now, when I was young, not having been raised in the most religious of households, there were a few things that came to mind about Easter. Easter eggs was the biggest, and they always were bright, pastel colors, although I couldn't have told you why at the time. Also, a big, chocolate, Easter bunny, and I almost always started by biting off the ears. Finally, Easter always came in the springtime.

That was about all that I knew of Easter, and there was no basic understanding of the religious connotations.

Now, an interesting thing happened to me this weekend. My girlfriend, who is Polish, is not the most religious person that I have ever met. She hardly goes to church, for example. But she does go on certain occasions, particularly the big, religious holidays, such as Easter weekend. There were services, I think, for each day this weekend, and that included Friday evening.

So, when she told me that was where she was going on Friday, I decided to hop along for the ride.

"But, it's in Polish. You're not going to understand anything."

She was right about that. I'm not entirely that I would have understood much better had it been in English, either. But for once in my life, I thought it would be interesting to go to something like that, on such an occasion as this.

It was interesting. The colors, the ceremonies. Polish people in America, she explained, tend to be unified mostly through the church community. Now, I had told her that a part of me wished that the French community in the United States (what exists of it) would be half as united and organized as the Polish community is. Where she lives, there are several reminders of the mother land. There is a Polish deli within walking distance that she shops in, and numerous others within a few minutes drives. There are other stores and services available for the Polish community, as well. And, of course, there are Polish churches.

In other words, the Polish community has a strong presence. I just never realized how much this was centered on religion before, I guess. It made sense instantly, as soon as she told me.

Of course, I thought. That's not uncommon. That was how the French speaking community was in Canada, and in many respects, how settlers in newly colonized lands, often frontier lands for their purposes, generally held onto their cultural ties. This was true in many colonized lands, and often was the main thread tying them to a past, to traditions. So, they took it seriously, and I think this may account for why it is so much stronger still in the "New World", both in North and South America, then it is in Europe, or at least Western Europe.

In any case, I found this subject interesting. And although I am hardly the most religious person in the world (I think the typical way people like me would generally describe themselves is "Spiritual, but not religious"), I find it fascinating to learn about stuff like that.

On our way home, we had an interesting discussion in the car, which I am not going to get into here. She does not go to church all that often, and I don't blame her, since she works basically seven days of the week. But she is spiritual, and clearly appreciates the church's influence on her upbringing, which was in Poland during the days of Communism. Not surprisingly, she appreciates Pope John Paul II, who was Polish, and I have come to learn quite a bit about her.

She always seems to approach discussions with me on the subject cautiously, as if fearful. Perhaps she is afraid I will mock it, or otherwise reject it. But since I am not a part of it, my focus is on simply learning more about it. Not being recruited, just learning.

My father grew up in a traditional Catholic upbringing, although he moved away from the church. My mother, who grew up in a Jewish household, also moved away from her religion. They agreed not to impose religion, or religious viewpoints, on their children - my brother and I. They wanted us to make up our own minds when we were old enough.

When younger, I used to scoff at religion, and automatically assumed believers were duped, and deliberately closing their minds to some realities. Yet, paradoxically, it seemed almost enticing to see so many people, including classmates, that still observed religious practices, and seemed comfortable in their own skin, not self-conscious at all.

The older I got, the more I came to be curious, and started to want to learn more. With each religion that I have learned about, it started more or less the same: as a purely academic approach at first, then coming to grasp some of the elements that attracted (or could attract) people to it in the first place.

Again, that does not mean that I am a believer. It just means that I have scrapped the conceit of automatically prejudging, or at least am still trying to scrap it. People are entitled to believe what they want to believe, so long as it does not hurt anyone else. When religious beliefs do hurt others (and this certainly has happened, and still is happening), that is when I begin to get my old skepticism back, and get turned off from "religion" as a label. That is when religion is dangerous. When it gets in the way of science, or social progress, I cannot help but reject it automatically. But when the focus is where it should be, on empowering people and spreading the message of love and acceptance...well, I can certainly appreciate that!

But the other part, when people truly turn to it to improve themselves, for guidance in their lives, and to try and learn more, to strive, to find inspiration - that is when religion can be at it's best.

When religions get too mired in self-righteousness preaching, focusing too much on procedures, ceremonies, and traditions, rather than on helping people truly improve themselves, religion becomes destructive. When religions focus more on excluding rather than including, it becomes dangerous. And when religions are conveniently used as an excuse, and a vehicle, for anger, hatred, wrath, and petty human divisions, it becomes very dangerous.

Fire and brimstone religious teachings can often be the antithesis of spirituality, focusing instead on intimidation and spiritual blackmail. That is religion that I want no part of. 

Ultimately, religion is what the individual makes of it, good or bad. Prejudging and dismissing not only is wrong, but it often itself carries the same strands of arrogance and dismissiveness that nonbelievers have accused religions and their practitioners of in the first place.

I have my own ideas on religions, and will admit here to being skeptical towards organized religions in general. But I love to learn, and this weekend has been a learning process in that field.

So, in any case, it seemed appropriate today to do something with an Easter theme, and here is what I came up with: an interesting article by LiveScience, giving facts about Jesus. Also, there is a website that I found (see the link below) that describes more about this holiday, which I admittedly do not know much about.

I wish everyone who accepts it a Happy Easter! Enjoy!

Easter Science: 6 Facts About Jesus
by Tia Ghose of LiveScience Staff Writer, March 30, 2013

He may be the most famous man who ever lived, but surprisingly little is known about his life.
This Sunday (March 31), more than 2 billion Christians will celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. While there is no scientific way to know whether that supernatural event at the heart of Christianity actually happened, historians have established some facts about his life.
From his birth to his execution by the Romans, here are six facts about the historical Jesus.
1. His birth … in a manger?
Most historians believe Jesus was a real man. To test the veracity of biblical claims, historians typically compare Christian accounts of Jesus' life with historical ones recorded by Romans and Jews, most notably the historians Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.
And though a manger may or may not have figured prominently in the birth, scholars do agree that Jesus was born between 2 B.C. and 7 B.C. as part of the peasant class in a small village called Nazareth in Galilee. Historians also back the claim that Joseph, Jesus' father, was a carpenter, meaning Jesus would have gone into the family profession as well.
2. A mystical baptism
One of the pivotal moments in the New Testament is Jesus' baptism in the wilderness by a radical mystic named John the Baptist. Most historians believe this event actually occurred, and that Jesus experienced some sort of vision that led him to begin preaching. In the New Testament, Mark 1:10 (The New American Bible, Revised Edition) describes Jesus seeing "the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him." Jesus is then tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, the passage continues.
The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the mystical activities of John the Baptist, as well as his execution by King Herod. [History's 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries]
3. Reformer
After his vision, Jesus began to preach that the Earth could be changed into a "Kingdom of God." Jesus' message of reform was deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, and he likely never viewed himself as creating a new religion per se — just reforming the one he was born into, scholars say.
4. A wise teacher
Josephus not only mentions Jesus, in one passage he also describes him as a wise man and a teacher. (The passage is controversial because many historians believe a Christian author later added in phrases such as "He was the messiah" to the text, leading a few scholars to doubt the authenticity of the passage as a whole). Most historians agree, however, that Jesus was viewed as a teacher and healer in Galilee and Judea.
5. Timing of Jesus' crucifixion
Several sources mention Jesus' crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. Christian Gospels say the skies darkened for hours after the crucifixion, which historians viewed either as a miracle or a portent of dark times to come. Using astronomy, later historians have used this mention to pinpoint the death of Christ. Some tie the crucifixion to a one-minute 59-second total solar eclipse that occurred in 29 C.E., whereas others say a second total eclipse, blocking the sun for four minutes and six seconds, in 33 C.E. marked Jesus' death. (C.E. stands for Common Era or Christian Era, and is an alternative name for anno Domini, or A.D.)
Death by crucifixion was one of the goriest ends the Romans meted out, and it was typically reserved for slaves and those seen to be challenging Roman authority.
6. Historical relics
The historical veracity of various physical relics, such as the crucifixion nails and crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross, have decidedly less historical or scientific backing. Most scientific studies suggest that these relics originated long after Jesus died. But the most famous relic of Jesus, the shroud of Turin, may be on more solid footing: Whereas some parts of the shroud date to A.D. 1260, other analyses have suggested that the shroud is about as old as Jesus.
Another more recent finding, a scrap of papyrus from the early Christian era referring to Jesus' wife was unveiled last year, to much skepticism. Since then, evidence has come out to suggest the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a forgery, though the jury may still be out on that relic.
Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter @tiaghose. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on

Finally, I thought that I would add this little part, for people like me - the uninitiated. I don't actually know all that much about the specifics regarding Easter, and so there were questions that remained unanswered, like why is Easter usually in April, but occasionally in March (like this year)? Here is a Christian website that explains some of that kind of stuff.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Yet Another Deal of Over Nine Figure Deal for Quarterback

Yup, that's right. Another contract for an obscene amount of money. And this, for a quarterback that many fans and experts have been less than thrilled with. He seems to many an unproven quarterback, who at times looks elite, but at times, has played poorly. So poorly, that he has cost his team at key moments in big games. So poorly, that many were calling for him to get benched.

Surely, by now, you know that I am talking about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. He has sold a lot of jerseys for fans, and perhaps this has been augmented by his good looks. He was seen as a heartthrob, and seemed to go with that, during his famous relationship with Jessica Simpson some years back. So, I think part of the motivation here for the Cowboys is that Romo will rake in money, selling jerseys. The question many have, however, is whether or not his performance on the football field will produce enough results to justify the huge contract, or the selling of jerseys. The Cowboys have not had a winning record in any of the last three seasons, and quite a few have suggested that Romo has been a significant part of the reason why.

Romo has been viewed as an unproven entity for some time now, so this move by the Dallas Cowboys has puzzled quite a few, and become the source of some debate already, though the deal just happened earlier this weekend.

Why should he get paid so much? Has he done enough to warrant that kind of money? Some were calling for him to be benched just last season, as his mistakes proved a strong contributing factor to the Cowboys not qualifying for the playoffs for the third straight season. True, they always seem on the brink of something exceptional. And also true, Romo also seems to be on the brink of shedding his old skin and reaching the level of elite quarterback.

Yet, those things have not really happened to date. At least not with any real measure of consistency.

Romo looked great in coming off the bench to replace aging, quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 2006. Bledsoe had been brought in from Bill Parcells, who knew what he was getting. He had taken over the reins for the New England Patriots in 1993, then a struggling team that had amassed less than ten total wins in the previous three seasons (a little different than the Patriots of today, wouldn't you say?). Parcells was intent on turning the team around, and they had the first pick in the 1993 draft. Other teams were dying to get Bledsoe, who was seen as the next big thing. The San Francisco 49ers even offered all of their draft picks that year, just to obtain one man, Drew Bledsoe.

Yet, Parcells stuck with it, and got Bledsoe for New England, for a hefty contract. Together, Parcells and Bledsoe began the long process of turning the thing around in New England, and eventually, became the most recognizable faces for the franchise.

The Patriots started off 1-11 in 1993, Parcell's first with the team, before winning their last four games to close out the season in strong fashion, showing promise for the future. The next season, they were a playoff team. Two seasons after that, they were in the Super Bowl, although they lost to the Packers. Parcell's gamble with Bledsoe seemed to have paid off, although the Super Bowl was Parcell's last game as head coach in New England.

Bledsoe remained a good quarterback, but was not on the level that he had been under Parcells. He lost his starting job after an injury in 2001, when little known, young quarterback Tom Brady took over the reins. We all know what happened next.

When Tony Romo took over Bledoe's starting spot in Dallas in 2006, and then showed strong promise, there were comparisons made to Brady, and the situation that occurred in New England some years back.  Romo took his team to the playoffs, where they faced Seattle. The Cowboys were in a position to win with seconds left. All it took was a field goal, but something went wrong. Romo took the ball and tried to run it in. Famously, he was stopped short, and Seattle won the game as a result. That was the last game where Parcells was head coach in Dallas.

But Romo did not go away in 2007. In fact, he and the Cowboys enjoyed a tremendous season, finishing 13-3, easily winning the NFC East, and even enjoying being the top seed in the NFC playoffs. In their first game, Dallas faced the New York Giants, a team they had swept in the regular season. But the Giants were on a quest, and not only eliminated Dallas, they would go on to face, and defeat, Brady and the undefeated Patriots, in a contest that has since become legendary.

In the meantime, Dallas struggled. They failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2008, but they returned in 2009, and even won a playoff game against their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. But they then got blown out in Minnesota.

Since then, Dallas has achieved what I jokingly have referred to against Dallas fans as a "third place three-peat". And consistently, among the biggest question marks for the team has been the quarterback position, with Romo's struggles becoming infamous. His mistakes at key moment in contests has, at times, cost Dallas dearly.

Still, the Cowboys always seem to be on the verge of achieving some great things. They have been involved in season ending, "winner takes all" games each of the last two seasons. They lost to the Giants in 2011 (who again went on to win the Super Bowl, again against New England), and they lost to the Redskins last season. Had they won either of those two games, perhaps people would not be doubting this as much.

Image by:

One of the most vocal critics of the Cowboys move to secure Romo has been Donovan McNabb, a former divisional rival. McNabb used to be the Eagles quarterback, and has faced Romo numerous times. Here is the link for an article that reveals what McNab has to say about the Romo deal:

Ultimately, we shall see how this pans out. I don't believe that this deal would have happened without Flacco's run to the Super Bowl last season. Flacco, like Romo, had a lot of doubters for years, prior to last season. Like Romo, he had made some mistakes at key points hat cost his team some wins, and some were calling for him to be benched. But the Ravens stuck with him, and he had a tremendous, even historical, run last season, leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl, and earning not just a ring, but Super Bowl MVP honors in the process. Also, he earned a $100 million plus contract. The Super Bowl MVP, and his performance throughout the playoffs, proved a strong bargaining chip indeed.

Personally, I think the Cowboys are gambling (and taking a big gamble at that!) that Romo may have it in him to do something similar to what Flacco did. Romo, however, is 32 years old, and thus, quickly entering the age when many other quarterbacks, great quarterbacks, often enter a decline.

The question, then, is whether Romo has it in him to produce something the way that Flacco did. If it pays off for the Cowboys, then it will surely look like a smarter move for them then it seems now to many people, myself included.

Time will tell.

Here's a link to Sports Illustrated article about Romo's hefty contract:

Otherwise, in other NFL news, the New England Patriots added wide receiver Michael Jenkins to their roster, and word has it that not only is Chris Palmer refusing to ever play for the Silver and Black again, but that the Raiders actually are on the verge of trading him to the Cardinals. There are also rumors that he could simply go across the bay, to San Francisco, where one would image he would be a backup. In the meantime, the Raiders appear to have Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Matt Flynn on the way to Oakland, which casts any doubts about Palmer perhaps staying put in Oakland aside. Here are the links to those articles:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Was Miami's Loss a Good Thing?

Okay, so I made sure to add two full posts about sports yesterday to break the streak of serious, and perhaps seriously depressing, posts that I have focused on. Ironically enough, both were related to Miami teams.

So now, let me get back to depressing topics, posthaste.

Kidding, of course.

Actually, I want to keep it light for a little while longer. Within the next few days, there should be some posts on book reviews, as I am finishing "Pearl Jam Twenty", as well as "Soundgarden: Heavy Metal Crown". Both are good reads, and they have taken me quite a bit of time to finish, particularly the Soundgarden book, for whatever the reason. Not sure why, because I have enjoyed reading it. Yet, it just took some time.

For today, though, I wanted to talk a little bit about the Miami Heat.

Again, I must say that the Heat earned my respect with this winning streak. I will admit to thinking this team was more than a little contrived, when Lebron James famously (or infamously) announced that he would be bringing his talents to South Beach, while Bosh also joined. With Wade in place (and with a ring to boot), this team seemed set to take over basketball domination. I will also admit to being very happy when they had done to them by Dallas in 2011 what they had done to Dallas in 2006.

But inevitably, this team was just too good to be shut out from a championship. Last regular season, they looked good. But in the postseason, they played great, making it all the way to the NBA Finals. I was hoping that OKC would win, but they didn't. Not even close.

The Heat looked good early this season, as well. At some point in January, the Heat had a 29-14 record, and were among the leaders in the East. Then, of course, came this streak. 27 games later, they had a 56-14 record, which was tops in the league. The Bulls ended the streak a couple of nights ago (you know that already), but Miami still appears to be the strongest team in the league at the moment. Who else? San Antonio? They keep pulling a disappearing act in the playoffs. OKC? They may or may not be better than they were last season, and they lost - badly - to this Heat team. A Heat team that was not as good then as they seem to be now. Who else? The Lakers? I don't think this is as laughable as some suggest, but at least for now, the Lakers have their hands full just trying to qualify for the playoffs. The Clippers? Denver? Can someone in the East perhaps surprise Miami?

Truth is, I cannot see anyone beating them in the East. Coming close, perhaps. Stretching a tough series to six, or maybe, possibly, even seven? Sure. Beating them? No. Not anyone in the East. The West, maybe. But that already means a third straight trip to the Finals, if this proves right. And Miami would have a strong chance at repeating, for that matter. Thinking in the abstract about "the West" and the seemingly superior teams there, it seemed that it could happen. But the Heat, if they indeed make it to the NBA Finals, would only have to face one team from the West. And looking at them individually, it seems like the Heat actually match up fairly well against every team out there. That makes it hard to pick against the Miami Heat winning a second consecutive title.

Here is an interesting article ("What does the end of the Heat’s winning streak mean for Miami’s future?") by Jay Busbee of The Turnstile that actually seems to point to the end of the streak perhaps being a good thing since, surprisingly, teams in numerous sports who have enjoyed similar kinds of epic winning streaks often seem to fall short of the mark in terms of winning the championship:

Well, here are some other examples that I thought of off the top of my head. Maybe not strictly winning streaks, but highly successful teams that enjoyed historical levels of success, and how they fared:

2001 Seattle Mariners - Might as well get my weakest sport out of the way first, right? I can remember some details about the other sports performances without looking them up, but for this one, I had to cheat and look online strictly. The Seattle Mariners dominated the regular season with a 116-46 record, the most single-season wins in American League history, and it tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most wins in a single season ever. They then defeated the Cleveland Indians in the first round,  but then were themselves beaten down by the Yankees in the ALCS, losing four games to one. The Mariners are one of eight baseball teams never to have won the World Series, and are one of only two remaining never to have even qualified for a single World Series. Despite a tremendous season in 2001, that team is remembered strictly for their regular season greatness, which was not followed up with similar success in the postseason.

2007 New England Patriots - We all remember this one, right? The Patriots seemed to have everything that season. A star, stud quarterback, who enjoyed a record shattering year with 50 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. A star wide receiver who set the record for most touchdown catches in a season. An offensive line that pummeled opponents. The most explosive and unstoppable offense that the league has ever seen, before or since, scoring significantly more points than any other team in league history. An average margin of victory that was wider than any other team in league history, also before or since. Plus, significantly, they had already enjoyed tremendous success, winning three Super Bowls in a four years span earlier in the decade, and having pretty much already clinched "Team of the Decade" honors, and giving them the benefit of plenty of valuable experience, heading into the playoffs. And, of course, the big one: they were undefeated throughout the regular season. A perfect 16-0 record. A convincing victory over the Jaguars to start, with Brady once again setting a new record, this time for efficiency in a playoff game, completing 24 of 26 passes. New England held off the chargers in the AFC title game, and became only the second team in league history to go to the Super Bowl with an undefeated record. But we all know what happened next. the dream season deteriorated to a nightmare, as the Giants defensive line ravaged New England and Brady. They got roughed up, and scored a mere 14 points total. Still, they led in the final minute, only to see the famous miracle play, with Eli Manning scrambling out of a sure sack, then completing a wobbly pass to David Tyree, who caught it with one hand. The G-Men went on to score the go ahead touchdown shortly thereafter, and then the defense pounded New England into submission of their final possession. I don't believe that I have ever seen a sports team lose in such a devastating manner, and for that matter, I'm not entirely sure the Patriots ever fully recovered from that and got back into form. They have been good since, yet something always prevents them from reaching the championship form that seemed to come so easily to them for a while there.

1995-96 Chicago Bulls - Well, I never said that all of the stories were about failures. The Bulls started the season off in incredible, historical fashion, and never seemed to let up. Well, maybe a little bit, towards the end - but only a little bit! They were actually in contention to eclipse the 1986 Boston Celtics for the best home record in NBA history. Those Celtics finished with a 40-1 home record for the regular season, while the Bulls were undefeated, with eight regular season games left. But then they lost a home game to the Miami Heat (perhaps their victory over the Heat to snap the record streak was revenge, or poetic justice?). Then, in the final home game, they lost to the Indiana Pacers by a single point, and that in a game that Jordan did not play in! So, they did not have the best home record ever. But still, they did have the best away record in history, at 33-8. Also, they famously became the first (and still only) team in NBA history to reach the 70-win plateau, finishing with a 72-10 record. Like the 2007 Patriots, they won by an average margin of victory that was greater than any other team in history! Unlike the Patriots, they followed this up accordingly in the playoffs, plowing through the Eastern Conference with only one loss, then racing out to a 3-0 series lead against the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals. Seattle won the next two games, and that was the only burp in a feast of victories and successes for the Bulls that season. They went on to win Game 6 at the United Center, to clinch the historical championship, their fourth in six years. Before it was all over, Chicago would win two more championships, completely dominating the 1990's.

1995-96 Detroit Red Wings - Hoping to erase the scars from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season, the 95-96 Red Wings dominated the NHL's regular season at the same time that the 95-96 Chicago Bulls were dominating the NBA. The main difference was that the Red Wings had a really strong rival - the Colorado Avalanche. But the Red Wings seemed to have it all during the regular season, winning an NHL record 62 games, and managing to collect 131 points overall (still second behind the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who won 60 games and collected a total of 132 points and did finish the season by winning the Stanley Cup). But this team was good on a historical level, and they were the only team to not get shut out in a single regular season game that season, scoring at least one goal every game. They then dispatched the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the playoffs. But perhaps the first signs of real trouble came in the next round, when they struggled against the St. Louis Blues. they survived, but had to survive a seven-game series. But in the Western Conference Finals, they lost the first game at home to Colorado, effectively losing home ice advantage. They won game two, but lost both of the next games at Colorado. They did manage to win again in Detroit, but when the series shifted back to Colorado, the Red Wings historical season came to a close in disappointing fashion. They watched the Avalanche sweep the Panthers to hoist the Stanley Cup, although the Red Wings would go on to win the Cup two consecutive times in the seasons that followed.

1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels - UNLV had beated down opponents in the previous season, en route to dominating Duke in the NCAA Final by the most lopsided margin in history. the next season, UNLV dominated everybody that they played, finishing the regular season with a perfect 30-0 mark. It seemed that they were going to be able to achieve that rarest of feats: winning the NCAA tourney with an undefeated mark. Plus, they looked like they might do it with the most dominant team of all time, to boot. They destroyed Montana in the first round of the tournament, and then beat Georgetown to make the Sweet 16. They dispatched Utah next, and got by Seton Hall convincingly enough to get back to the Final Four, which they were favored to win again. But they had a rematch against Duke, and I remember it well. UNLV were so dominant, it was hard to imagine anyone really being able to compete with them. But Duke played them hard, and more then held their own. They actually held a slim lead in the waning minutes, and there was UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian, biting his towel nervously. But that didn't help, as Duke held on for the historic win, and exacting a huge measure of revenge against the team that had bullied them in the championship game the previous season. UNLV has never been the same since.

1990 "Iron" Mike Tyson - I know that this is not a reference to team sports, but Tyson still dominated his sport in such a fashion that it reminded many of some of the most dominant performances in sports. Tyson started off his career by knocking out each of his first 17 opponents, and perhaps reached his peak in 1988, beating former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes (knocking him out cold, the only time in Holmes's career that he was knocked out like this), and . But his most famous victory was against Michael Spinks, who entered that huge match with an undefeated 31-0 mark. Many felt that he was the "real" champion, but any doubts that Tyson was as good as he seemed evaporated very quickly, as Tyson barraged Spinks in the first round, bombarding him with punches before Spinks fell to his knees for the first time in his career. He got up, but he shouldn't have, as Tyson connected to his head, which slammed onto the canvass as Spinks fell backwards. This time, he did not get up. Tyson was at his most dominant, and seemed untouchable, heading into a fight in Tokyo that was supposed to be just another easy win, as Tyson hoped for a big payday against Evander Holyfield. As it turned out, he shouldn't have looked ahead. His opponent, Buster Douglas, had the fight of his life, and was clearly outboxing Tyson in the early rounds, while many had expected him to get knocked out early. Instead, he wore Tyson down, landing storng punches that Tyson, at first, seemed immune to. But after round after round of a beating, Tyson showed signs of being wobbly. He still was standing, however, and he started to look for that one good punch that he was so famous for. In the eight round, he landed a great uppercut, putting Douglas on the mat. But Douglas got up, and perhaps was saved by the bell. Tyson went after Douglas in the ninth, but probably overestimated how much damage he had done. Neither man focused on defense in the ninth, and it was Douglas who got the better of the round. Tyson looked ready to fall as he walked to his corner after the round. Then, in the tenth, Douglas landed a monster upper cut of his own, and completed an incredible combination to make Tyson fall for the first time in his career. Tyson did not beat the count, and despite winning championship belts afterwards, he never was quite the same again.

2005 Roger Federer - Like the 1971-72 Lakers record winning streak in basketball, or the 1972 Dolphins undefeated season in football (what was it about those sports teams of 1972, anyway?), John McEnroe's record smashing single year of 1984 seemed untouchable. Yes, I know that Federer is the most accomplished men's tennis player in history, and yes, he did wind up with the top ranking, and easily, at that. But he enjoyed the most dominance of his career in 2005, and heading into the year-end Championship Final against David Nalbandian, Federer entered with an 81-3 record. He opened up like he was on a mission, too, jumping out to a two sets to none lead. But then, he broke his hand, and had to watch as Nalbandian took advantage and, ultimately, won the match, denying Federer the chance at tying John McEnroe's all time record set in 1984. Federer, despite his dominance, finished at 81-4, still an awesome record. Plus, he was number one for an eternity, and set just about every meaningful record that was there for him. Ironically, however, despite their dominant seasons, neither Mac in 1984 nor Fed in 2005 actually won more than two Grand Slams in those years, which sets them behind quite a few others (Fed won three Grand Slams in a calendar year several times). Also, Federer faced a similar disappointment just last year, when he was set to win the Gold Medal Match at the Olympics, which would have established him as the third man in history (Agassi and Nadal being the other two) to have won all four slams and an Olympic Gold Medal (that feat is known as the career "Golden Slam"), only to lose to Murray in the final. It is hard to imagine Federer getting another shot at Olympic Gold at his age, although if there is one man who could do it, it's the Fed.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Miami Heat Streak Ends

This is a day for posting about Miami sports.

I already wrote about the change in logos and uniforms for the NFL's Miami Dolphins. But there is actually a larger sports-related story coming out of Miami today.

The Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak is over. It was the second longest winning streak in NBA history, and many were beginning to expect that the Heat would overtake the Los Angeles Lakers of the early seventies.

It didn't happen, as the Heat lost to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center last night, ending the streak at 27.

Still pretty damn good, though. It was the second longest winning streak in NBA history.

Lebron James complained about some of the rough fouls that he received during the course of the game.

Ultimately, however, Chicago took the game, and the Heat lost their first game since January! Imagine how lengthy that streak was!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of the Heat, but I will tip my hat off to them for a tremendous effort and a historical run that earned them the best record in the league (at this point, at least), and virtually locked up their top seed for the East. I have quite a bit of respect for them.

It's hard to imagine them not getting back to the NBA Finals!

Miami Dolphins change their logo

The new helmet

Okay, so, the posts lately have had a tendency to either be heavy, or to broach some serious topics indirectly (such as music reviews of bands that address very serious, weighty matters). Even the one relatively light post a few days ago, about the television series Mad Men Season 5, was written some time ago, and that series is, of course, a drama. And anyone who actually watched season 5 will surely agree with me that some very dark moments occur - I would say that it was the darkest season in the series, by far.

Here is an attempt at levity, discussing an issue that certainly is not crucial. But it just happened that I saw the new logo for the Miami Dolphins, and figured I would show it here for any interested parties. My initial reaction towards the new logo was negative, admittedly. But the more I look at it, the better it looks, and it does keep the traditional colors, which I like. Now, if the Dolphins would switch to those orange jerseys, which I think look really sharp, they would be set. The Broncos recently began to use their orange home jerseys, as a nod to the past, and they just look so much sharper! To me, the Broncos were always identifable by those bright orange jerseys, and it was their trademark. The use of those uniforms once again worked very well, and once again, you don't mistake the Broncos for anyone else.

In any case, uniform changes seem to occur more and more these days. Hopefully, I don't sound too old, but I remember when teams had basically two uniforms: home and away. There were hardly ever any major uniform or logo changes: what you saw was what you got.

But that all changed. These days, most teams seem to have a minimum of three or four different uniforms. Sure, there is still the "home" and "away". But there are now alternative versions, as well. Often times, there are throwbacks, which can be the alternative look (although not necessarily). In basketball, they even have uniforms in Spanish, as a nod to the Hispanic community.

The result of all of this? Teams wear multiple different uniform variations, and you never really known what you are going to get.

Oh, and franchises make a killing selling these to fans.

Perhaps I'm just old-fashioned, but the changes in uniforms in sports, particularly North American sports, tend to be less than thrilling.

Some work out. Others.....well, not so much.

The Seattle Seahawks had what was perhaps the most boring uniform in sports from 2002 until just last season, when they finally changed it. Also, the Buffalo Bills had a horrible uniform from 2002 until just a couple of seasons ago, when they switched back to an older style uniform. They had always had among the best uniform in the league, if you ask me, and one of the coolest logos. So, why change, like they did for nearly a decade? Especially with such crappy uniforms? Or how about those God-awful uniforms (and team name and logo to boot) with the Anaheim hockey franchise. They reduced the Mickey Mouse feel for now, but being known as the Mighty Ducks was an embarrassment.

I remember the first time (I noticed) that a team radically changed their looks. It was the 1990 Atlanta Falcons, under coach Jerry Glanville. Glanville was well known for his all-black attire on the sidelines, and he made this change for the entire Atlanta Falcons franchise when he took over as head coach. He had previously been with the Houston Oilers, and his reputation preceded him. He had implemented the run 'n shoot offense, which helped the Oilers enjoy some success. He also brought in a rough, some suggested dirty, attitude, where machismo ran through the roof. There is relatively infamous footage of him talking to one of his players before a game with the Redskins in 1991, where he asked the player if he was "scay-red" of Washington. The player smiled and obviously denied it. It was all a big joke. So was the Falcons performance on that day, as they wound up getting thrashed, 56-17.  Glanville's tenure in Atlatna did not last very long.

But those black uniforms remained, at least until 1992. Even when they changed their uniforms again, they kept the black helmets, and for the first few years, retained the black jerseys (they have since switched to red.

Now, I am not a huge baseball fan, but to my understanding, it was actually the Chicago White Sox that began the trend towards popularizing black uniforms.

The Chicago White Sox were the first, but their were a lot of uniform and logo changes that followed. The New Jersey Devils changed their red and green uniforms to red and black, just before they began to enjoy better results on the ice. Many of the expansion teams also incorporated black into their uniforms, as well.

Before long, the trend reached pretty much all the sports leagues. It seemed like there were tons of teams in each league that had either black as the dominant color of uniform, or at least featured prominently among their colors and uniforms.

I remember the days when few teams in the NFL had a lot of black in their uniforms. There were the Raiders, of course, who were well known for their simple silver and black colors and uniforms. There were the Cincinnati Bengals, with the tiger stripes uniforms (this was a prominent uniform change in 1981, but the team colors remained the same and, besides, I started following the NFL in 1981, and could not remember a time when they had different uniforms and logos than these). The New Orleans Saints had black and gold as their colors, and wore black home jerseys as well. Of course, there were the Pittsburgh Steelers, who's two main colors were black and gold. They were the only team to wear black helmets. Also, it should be noted that the Chicago Bears had official colors of navy blue and orange, but the navy blue sometimes appeared so dark, as to look black (or maybe that was just my take on it). In 1997, the Broncos switched their uniforms from the famous orange and blue to navy blue with orange highlights. Their navy blue, like the Bears, looked almost black at times, it was so dark. Since then, the Rams have also switched from a lighter blue, to a navy blue. Most recently, the Seattle Seahawks, who have perhaps changed their uniforms more than any other NFL team that I can think of, acquired very dark blue helmets, and scrapped their once traditional green with neon green that sticks out like a sore thumb.

That was it, at the time. Until the Atlanta Falcons. But the popular trend towards black opened up the floodgates. Now, the Steelers, the Falcons, the Jaguars, and the Ravens all have black helmets, while the Bears and the Broncos have very dark, navy blue that seems to border on black. Teams have also incorporated much more black into their logos and uniforms, including the Panthers, the Cardinals (who now often times wear the new black jerseys, although black used to be more of a passive color, used as a highlight or border, more than anything else). The Lions have black featured more prominently, and even have alternative black jerseys, as do the Eagles, who also darkened their once brighter green colors in favor of a much darker green.  Tampa Bay got rid of their bright orange and red colors, and now their main colors are red, pewter and, naturally, black.

In basketball, it was much the same. I remember two teams with black uniforms growing up: the Portland Trailblazers (I always thought that they had awesome uniforms) and the San Antonio Spurs. Since then, several teams have at least flirted with black uniforms, including the Chicago Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic, the Golden State Warriors, the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors, the Utah Jazz, the Sacramento Kings, and the Boston Celtics. The Brooklyn Nets have changed their uniforms as well, with the switch of locations, from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and now have simple, black and white uniforms. But it is not overdone and, if I say so myself, it actually looks good.

Don't even get me started on hockey, where it seems that the majority of teams have incorporated significant quantities of black, or very dark blue, into their uniforms. The majority of expansion teams since the early nineties, as well as some franchises switching colors, logos, and uniforms.

Perhaps the new trend, at least in the NFL, is towards incorporating more white. The Chargers, Bills, and Jets all changed their dominant helmet colors to white, in a return to older looks for each franchise. The Titans retained white helmets when they switched names and logos (they used to be the Houston Oilers).
I can only think of a handful of franchises that have not significantly altered their uniforms and/or logos in the NFL in, let's say, the past two decades or so: the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oakland Raiders, the Cleveland Browns, the Indianapolis Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers (although they changed the style of the numbers on their jerseys) and the Kansas City Chiefs. The two New York teams, the Jets and Giants reverted back to an earlier logo and uniform style, and the Bills, and 49ers also followed suit. The Golden State Warriors did the same in basketball, and the Knicks also came closer to a uniform style that is more traditional. Again, not to sound overly attached to tradition, but I think all of these uniforms look pretty decent, and do not need replacing or revising. Sometimes, tradition works.

Changes come and go as well. Getting back to the Miami Dolphins, their new logo is growing on me. It is at least a nod to tradition, retaining the colors, and the dolphin going through that orange hoop, or whatever that thing is. I am just glad that it did not incorporate an exaggeratedly aggressive cartoon dolphin, as some of the options for the franchise apparently did. This one has a bit of a style, and legendary ex-coach Don Shula already gave his approval on the new look.

A new look on their helmets and uniforms. Let's see if they can translate that to a new look where it really counts for them: on the field.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guns by Stephen King

Stephen King has already taken some heat for this essay on gun control. As he himself predicted in this essay, those who are opposed to any stronger gun control were apt to read this with the intent of picking it apart in order to discredit it. These days, in America, discrediting arguments usually means discrediting the person voicing the argument. In politics, they call that mudslinging. Yet, it has become a common feature for any political debate in general, politician or no politician.

King also predicted that many in favor of gun control would praise his words, and indeed, since I have already expressed my favoring greater gun control laws before (quite a few of them in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings), I am doing so here. I do so knowing that I am following his prediction, but this is because his essay essentially takes a common sense approach towards gun violence in this country.

Essentially, what he says makes sense. He advocates more serious background checks, and harsher penalties (jail time) for those who try to cheat a background check, as well as for those who actually use guns illegally:

The best we can do for handgun violence is to impose strict mandatory prison sentences on those who use them or carry them concealed without a license to do so (plus background check, which I'll get to).

King starts off with the way that such mass shootings are portrayed in the media, with all the hoopla and jumping through hoops that we see following every incident. It dominates news coverage, and there are certain patterns that can be seen following every incident, before it fades away into the background -as do any serious proposals for gun control. Just look at how the proposals to get rid of the very deadliest of weapons fizzled out on the floor of Congress, despite the enormous outcry to do something once and for all in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.

He mentions that the first novel that he actually completed as a teenager was a book about gun violence in a school, the novel that he published under his pen name, Richard Bachmann. This book, "Rage", he decided to pull of the shelves after several incidents involving gun violence in a school came to light. He decided to pull the book not because he felt it was responsible for the violent episodes, but rather because he felt that it hastened the process of getting these troubled young men to snap and victimize others.

His main argument is that, ultimately, the thing that will curb gun violence would be a ban on weapons that can hold many clips. Such clips allow the shooter to fire their weapons for a long time before having to stop to reload. You do not need weapons that can hold so many clips to defend your home from potential intruders, and other than for fun at a shooting range, they are used for only one purpose: to kill. He mentioned the recent, shocking shooting at Sandy Hook, and how Lanza had a Bushmaster AR-15, which is capable of firing thirty rounds in less than a minute, as well as a Glock 10 (which he used to kill himself at the end). He mowed his victims down with the Bushmaster AR-15. The principal of the school, Dawn Hochsprung, tried to physically stop Adam Lanza, but since he never had to stop and reload, there was no chance that she would succeed. Lanza used the high capacity weapon to simply shoot her down, and then go on to kill the kids:

In his war against the fist grade, Lanza fired multiple thiry-round clips.

As for the Glock: it was pried from his cold dead hands.

King challenges the popular notion that this country has a "culture of violence", which surprised me a bit, admittedly. He also refuted the argument that has been floating around that "guns are tools". Guns are not tools, they are weapons.

Also, importantly, he makes clear that gun-rights advocates are not bad people. They are not monsters, or rednecks. They are just people living their lives like everyone else. They do good things, are integral parts of the community. That said, he does challenge their reasoning behind opposing any and all measures of gun control. Ultimately, knowing that he will be dismissed as naive for so doing, he says that it wll have to be gun-owners who turn the tide and get any legislation on gun control measures passed:

Gun owners aren't dragons, and they don't have to practice.....simultaneously mourning the victims and denying the role speed-shooters play in these tragedies, forever.

He argues that it is absurd to automatically go to the most extreme scenario, and then use this argument as the basis for opposition against any measures aimed at further gun control. Speaking of opponents of gun control, he says:

"They see any control at all imposed on the sale and possession of firearms as the first move in a sinister plot to disarm the American public and render it defenseless to a government takeover; accidental shooting deaths, they argue, are just part of the price we pay for freedom..."

He also mentions President Obama's proposals in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, boiling them down to three main ones, and giving his opinion on each, from the most likely to succeed, to the least likely (I kept them in the order that he wrote them here):

- Comprehensive and universal background checks.

- Ban the sale of clips and magazines containing more than ten rounds.

- Ban the sale of assault weapons such as the Bushmaster and the AR-15.

Towards the end, he talks about the Australian experience, something that I also mentioned in some blogs favoring stronger gun control measures. To my knowledge, this remains the deadliest single mass shooting in history. On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others, with a gun that he had bought from a newspaper ad.

Unlike here in the United States, Australians did pass legislation to restrict gun access. They also set up a big buyback program to get some of the guns already out there collected.

The result? Gun deaths have declined by 60%. He also points out that, although gun advocates here (and elsewhere, probably even in Australia) might not like that statistic and argue against how effective such measures would be, these are nevertheless the facts. Not opinion.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Too Much Executive Power

There is a very interesting article out there in the New York Times Op/Ed pages. It asks the question if there is too much power in the executive branch of the American government, and certainly leans towards answering in the affirmative.

I agree with it, for the most part.

This also appears as yet further proof that the ridiculous rewarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a President that abuses these was not just premature, it was an outrage.

What had Obama done to that point to receive such a distinction? Had he, like Mandela, endured decades of enslavement, and overcome an unfair and militant government, to establish a peaceful transition to "one man, one vote" democracy? Had he, like Jimmy Carter, successfully negotiated a Mideast Peace treaty as President, or done something comparable to putting himself in dangerous places to negotiate peace, as Carter has done in his post-Presidency? Had he, like Martin Luther King, Jr., tirelessly advocated nonviolence in the face of violent response, to effect positive change and greater equality? Had he ended wars, or at least tried?

No, actually, none of those. What had he done? He had been elected President. Sure, he represented "hope and change", quite famously. Yet, the very fact that he inspired this spirit itself seems indicative that either (a), he was able to manipulate people into believing what they wanted to believe about him and/or (b) people went ahead and believed what they wanted to believe anyway, and essentially handed him the status of dreamy savior for our times. Either way, it was dangerous to give someone so much power, literally and figuratively, and to, in effect, suspend all disbelief in order to believe in the dream.

And a dream is what it was. Not only did the American electorate reward this man the Presidency, they rewarded him with virtual divinity status. The Nobel Committee followed that up, very early in his Presidency, rewarding him the supposedly prestigious Peace Prize.

Why? He had stopped the war in Iraq, right? Well, not exactly. But he stopped the war in Afghanistan? No, actually, he stepped up our involvement there. He successfully negotiated peace in the Middle East, or at least somewhere on the globe. Nope. Actually, he did not do that, either.

So, why did he win?

I think I know. Because he is not George W. Bush.

Don't get me wrong. I am certainly not defending George W. Bush here. What I am also not doing is praising a self-serving, ambitious politician with a sense of entitlement the size of a mountain.

Since taking office, Obama has proven not to be worthy of all the false hope that people placed in him, rather blindly. He said that he would shut down Guantanamo. He did not. He said that Americans did not torture, and was opposed to it during the Bush years. Did he put a solid stop to the practice? Nope, not so much. He said that he would stop the war in Iraq. Officially, he did. Yet, American troops remained for quite some time afterwards. It appears that troops in Afghanistan will see something similar next year.

What has Obama done? Well, obviously as President, he has done many things. But the ones perhaps that his supporters should take note of, and stop making excuses for, are the drone attacks, and the signing of the NDAA, which effectively suspended the constitutional right of habeas corpus.

That is the problem, of course, with having mediocrity on both ends. In the endless tug of war between the two parties, it really is the lesser of two evils or, as I have heard it referred to as well, the evil of two lessers. When one man from one party proves to be horrendous, such as George W. Bush, than the next guy from the other party who finally gets in can do no wrong, according to far too many people. They might not admit this outright, of course. But in reality, they do not scrutinize Obama nearly as closely as they did Bush. Obama can, and does, get away with whatever he wants to get away with. If the NDAA had been signed by President George W. Bush's hands, do you think Democrats and other Obama supporters would have been so quiet about it?

That was what worried me during the 2008 campaign, when that truly positive spirit, and misplaced sense of hope, was what Obama seemed to represent for far too many. he could do no wrong.

Yes, that level of enthusiasm has died off, for the most part. Even his supporters were not nearly so electrified by him as they had been back then.

The man actively campaigned for the Presidency, and the American people, or at least the electorate, latched on to every word. They gave him their support, and their hopes for the future.

I do not, and will not, demonize him like many of his opponents have done. I recognize that he is not at fault for the poor economy that he was handed, and which he borrowed money in order to try and revive. I recognize that he is not at fault for not balancing a budget that Republicans suddenly harped on, although they ignored how important it was when they themselves failed to balance it during the long years of Bush, during which time, the Republicans controlled all three branches of government for the vast majority of his two terms in office. I recognize that it was Bush, not Obama, that got our hands tied in two never ending wars, and that exaggerations about "war" in Libya was an overly convenient comparison to the inexcusable invasion of Iraq, in a war we entered with no exit strategy, and that it was Bush who seemed to be picking even more fights at the time.

Yet, the fact that Bush was worse, and infinitely worse at that, does not mean that we should allow Obama to receive our undying support no matter what. He has abused his executive power, and that is something that we Americans need to recognize. It is not because we feared a White House occupied by Romney (or worse, Perry, or Santorum, or perhaps others in the Republican field in 2012), that this man should get off scot free. After all, the President, like all elected officials, is a public servant. Not a king to rule over us. A public servant. He is supposed to serve our best interests.

Frankly, as far as I am concerned, this President has failed in that capacity, at least so far.

Has he failed as miserably as George W. Bush?

No, of course not. But are our standards now so low, have we lowered the bar so far, that this is really a cause for celebration? That he is not as bad as his predecessor?

What is it about us Americans that has us seemingly putting aside our thinking and objectivity when it is the guy that we can relate to, and criticizing everything when it is the guy that we cannot feel that we relate to?

To my mind's eye, we are missing the point of what public servants are supposed to be about. The last few Presidents are men who took an oath to serve the American people. They promised to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States". Have they done that? Bush was widely criticized for trampling on the Constitution, and Obama seems to have followed in his footsteps readily enough. I did not think it was justified under Bush, a Republican. But that does not mean that it is any better or more justifiable when it is done under Obama, a Democrat. I don't care if he was initially opposed to it, or that he acted disappointed, or like he did not really believe in what he was doing, when he signed that NDAA into law. The fact of the matter is, what he did goes against the grain of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights. That is not just some theoretical political difference of opinion. That is abuse of power, and it has happened consistently in the White House, but particularly in recent decades, and perhaps especially with these last two presidents.

In other words, we are going in the wrong direction, regardless of party affiliation.

Yet, I am not so sure that it is these two Presidents in particular, or the direction this country has been going in general for several decades, manifesting itself slowly, but surely. Perhaps it really became obvious during the Nixon years, when tapes were famously withheld, although Nixon's popularity at least suffered for it. That was not true when Reagan sold weapons to an enemy nation, or during the S&L scandal. He left office with the highest approval ratings ever at the time. The man that took that particular distinction away from him, Clinton, got rid of the Glass-Steagall Act. Also, it should be noted that both Reagan and Clinton were known as the "Teflon President" during their terms in office, and there was a good reason for this.

More recently, we had Bush, who's popularity suffered for many of the huge mistakes that he made. Yet, the list of scandals, most of them involving the corporate culture in some manner or other. During his long years in office, there were scandals involving multiple corporations (Enron, Haliburton, Blackwater), no-bid contracts, unprecedented levels of secrecy (this was defended by many supporters, but it seems to me that you only keep secrets if you have something to hide). Then there was the ridiculously named PATRIOT Act. And don't get me started on what was proposed for Patriot Act II, which thankfully, was never passed - it would have included, among other things, the government's ability to strip someone of American citizenship if they criticized the government too much! Now, that is really bordering on outright fascism, and was perhaps the most chilling thing the Bush regime ever was involved with, at least domestically. Rather inexplicably, a lot of people don't seem to recall this, let alone believe it! So, in case you are skeptical, here is one article by CNN that expands on it:

Also, you can find more at the following websites: › Keep America Safe and Free,_Title_II

Bush and his team also famously tried to make exceptions to the Geneva Convention, and actively tried to redefine torture, so that some practices would become permissible. There was a shift of power to favor the executive branch of government at the expense of the other two branches, something that some felt was a betrayal of the principle of the system of checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had put in place, to keep each branch honest.

Now, of course, we have Obama, who spoke out loudly against many of these excesses during his predecessor's tenure as a candidate, but as President, he has effectively kept way too many of these things in place. Obama certainly has not tried to shift more power back into Congress, reversing Bush's grab for more executive power, and his signing the NDAA into law is hardly a minor matter. That went directly against the grain of what he swore an oath in office to protect, and yet, he gets away with it. Some of his supporters conveniently make no mention of it, and support him fully, without any measure of scrutiny. Obama has taken advantage of that, and it almost seems that recent Presidents are pushing the envelope, seeing how much they can get away with. We, the people, are sending the  wrong message in allowing this to happen so easily. After all, they are the ones that took the oath to serve us, not the other way around.

In general, this article illustrates that, far from restraining himself, Obama seems to be embracing this power, utilizing it to the fullest while the opportunity is there, before any chance exists of coming up with some guidelines.

Read this op/ed piece from the New York Times, and see if they do not make a valid point, that the President (not just Bush, but yes, this President) has too much power, and abuses it.

Too Much Power for a President

The New York Times Editorial Page

May 30, 2012

It has been clear for years that the Obama administration believes the shadow war on terrorism gives it the power to choose targets for assassination, including Americans, without any oversight. On Tuesday, The New York Times revealed who was actually making the final decision on the biggest killings and drone strikes: President Obama himself. And that is very troubling.

Mr. Obama has demonstrated that he can be thoughtful and farsighted, but, like all occupants of the Oval Office, he is a politician, subject to the pressures of re-election. No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield — depriving Americans of their due-process rights — without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle.

How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? (It is clear, for instance, that many of those rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks weren’t terrorists.) How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead — to avoid a political charge of weakness — built up a tough-sounding list of kills?

It is too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief. The United States cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the George W. Bush administration will remember.

Mr. Obama, who campaigned against some of those abuses in 2008, should remember. But the Times article, written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, depicts him as personally choosing every target, approving every major drone strike in Yemen and Somalia and the riskiest ones in Pakistan, assisted only by his own aides and a group of national security operatives. Mr. Obama relies primarily on his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan.  

To his credit, Mr. Obama believes he should take moral responsibility for these decisions, and he has read the just-war theories of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

The Times article points out, however, that the Defense Department is currently killing suspects in Yemen without knowing their names, using criteria that have never been made public. The administration is counting all military-age males killed by drone fire as combatants without knowing that for certain, assuming they are up to no good if they are in the area. That has allowed Mr. Brennan to claim an extraordinarily low civilian death rate that smells more of expediency than morality.

In a recent speech, Mr. Brennan said the administration chooses only those who pose a real threat, not simply because they are members of Al Qaeda, and prefers to capture suspects alive. Those assurances are hardly binding, and even under Mr. Obama, scores of suspects have been killed but only one taken into American custody. The precedents now being set will be carried on by successors who may have far lower standards. Without written guidelines, they can be freely reinterpreted.  

A unilateral campaign of death is untenable. To provide real assurance, President Obama should publish clear guidelines for targeting to be carried out by nonpoliticians, making assassination truly a last resort, and allow an outside court to review the evidence before placing Americans on a kill list. And it should release the legal briefs upon which the targeted killing was based.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mad Men Season 5

Mad Men Season 5, Promotional Poster.jpg

I flew through this season. Couldn't resist. Once I knew that Netflix only showed the first four seasons, I knew I had to find a way to watch season 5, especially since the premiere of season 6 comes in a few weeks, in April.

So, I found it for cheap on Ebay, and went ahead and got it.

Season 5 shows Don happy, or so it seems. At least, at first. He legitimately seems content, with a new wife and a new life.

Of course, it does not last too long. What good would the series be if he was simply happy, and that was that? Turmoil sets in, slowly but surely. There is tension with different expectations, particularly when it becomes clear that neither of them knows what the other wants, and usually, this ends in some kind of misunderstanding and, eventually, conflict. Sometimes, you don't even know what they are fighting about or, if so, how it escalated to such an extent.

Peter Campbell continues his downward spiral, in terms of morals. Not only does having an affair not seem to bother him anymore. He begins to resemble the other men at the office, staying away from home and keeping secrets from his wife.

Roger's self-doubts continue, although he also begins to find superficial comfort in sleeping around as much as he possibly can.

Paul Kinsey, from the first three season, makes a return, although it is very strange - I don't want to ruin the surprise.

Sally is growing up, and we see her starting to really show signs of not simply being a kid anymore.

Betty is gaining weight, and there is a health scare with her. It is feared that her life might even be in danger. Also, her jealousy of Don and Megan exerts itself outwardly at times.

The office itself suffers two major losses, and within one episode of one another! In both cases, there is a measure of suddenness, a shock value - for the characters, as well as for the viewers.

Changes are afoot. We begin to see the political shift towards a more radical agenda, and we see the first real glimpses of a new spirituality from a surprising source.

Ultimately, this was another strong season. Marilyn is a wonderful edition, and we see Joan finally getting her due a bit more.

Still, I have to say that Season 4 was a bit stronger, at least for me. It packed more of an emotional punch, and the surprises tied in to the emotions more. I enjoyed season 5, but admit that it still paled by comparison to season 4. Season 4 was the peak so far, and may wind up being the peak of the series, period.

That said, I am still very much looking forward to season 6!

This is still a great television series! I hope it goes right into the seventies! I doubt it, however, as I read something recently, somewhere (not sure where) that said that there will be two more seasons. That is good, since there will be at least two more seasons. But it will not go beyond that. That said, perhaps that is a good thing also, since I would not want this series running the risk of going on too long. Some good television series do that. Indeed, it would be nice to see this series go all through the sixties, and have it end there. I personally would love to see the portrayals of the Tet Offensive and the reactions to an increasingly unpopular war, as well as the moon landing, the hippie culture, and Woodstock!

In any case, Season 6 starts on AMC on April 7th, and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it! Finally all caught up, for the first time since this series started, and ready for all new episodes to follow as they first come out, for a change!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winter Storm March 2013 Part 2

There was yet another snow storm on Saturday, March 16th. In fact, we had yet another one on Monday the 18th but, if you follow my post, you will know that not only did I not get any pictures for that particular storm, but that it was a most annoying and unwelcome storm that made the roads very slick and slippery, with a lot of accidents and incidents. But before that, there was the milder snowfall on Saturday the 16th. I was at work, but still managed to take these shots, which came out wonderfully under the circumstances (and given the obviously less than professional grade of the camera I was using at the time). Here are some of those pics:

Bright red berries add a splash of color to the winter wonderlandscape of white snow, and bare brown tree bark.  Roseland, New Jersey

Buds were showing on these trees, but were covered in frozen snow for the storm.

Here are some pictures from the previous snowstorm that did not make it to the post that I put on this blog on March 9th. Thought I would put them up here now. 

Photography is a growing hobby of mine. I never took any classes or anything like that. Hell, I took these pictures on my Kindle, which has served as my only camera for quite some time now. But still, I am learning. So, if you have any advice, or pointers, please don't hesitate! I'd love to learn more!