Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl Prediction


When it comes to the Super Bowl, you can pretty much bet on anything.

For example, you can get odds on the color of the gatorade that will dumped on the winning coach (I like orange at 7 to 1) or you can bet the over/under on the length of Jennifer Hudson's rendition of the National Anthem (The current line is 1 minute, 54 seconds).

And you can also bet on the set list for Sprinsteen's half-time show - or at least you could until earlier today.

Here's my prediction:

1. Radio Nowhere
2. Glory Days
3. My Lucky Day
4. Born to Run

But I'll be more specific. When he sings "Glory Days," he will substitute football lyrics for the baseball ones. To wit:

I had a friend was a big football player
back in high school
He could throw that pigskin by you
Make you look like a fool boy...

Now can I get odds on that?


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Confessions of an Antisocial Apostate or "Why I Skip the Super Bowl"


I rarely watch the Super Bowl.

I watched last year and I watched Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 but that was only because, my team, the New York Football Giants, was playing. And I caught the last few minutes in 2004 when Adam Vinatieri’s field goal sealed the win for the Patriots. But the last time I actually sat down to watch a non-Giant Super Bowl, John Elway was playing. It has been more than a decade.

Blowing off the Super Bowl feels like apostasy. Well actually, double apostasy. Not only am I a red-blooded American male, but I work in advertising.

The strange thing is, I like football. OK, I happen to like baseball more. And maybe I don’t relish watching football the way I did when I was a kid, but that seems normal enough with age. There is still plenty about the game that I enjoy - the anticipation of those Autumn Sundays, the gladiator-like theater of the arena, the athleticism of a great run or catch, the pain and glory of rooting for a team, the smash-mouth pleasure of it all, and the Monday-Morning quarterbacking and arguments at the water cooler. Still, I can’t bring myself to watch the Super Bowl.

Here is my problem. Super Bowl Sunday is a national day of observance, bearing all of the ritualistic trappings and social obligations of a religious holiday. But it isn’t enough to worship, that is, to watch the game before the altar of some giant screen. You have to do something for the occasion. Like Christmas or New Year’s Eve, it is an event that calls for parties and plans and hanging out with people you wouldn’t hang out with otherwise. I hate Super Bowl parties. For me, watching television rarely works as a communal activity. Yes I suppose there is something to having a shared experience – the conversations, the cheering and the chicken wings. But Super Bowl parties have always struck me as a way to spend time with people without really spending time with them. (“Oh don’t mind him, he’s watching the game.”)

It sounds terribly antisocial of me. But watching the game by myself doesn’t really appeal to me either. There is still this overriding sense of pressure, this sense that you MUST watch this game and swallow all of the hype and the ads and spectacle for the masses. And then there’s the time commitment. Between the pre-game coverage, the extended television time-outs, the halftime show, and post-game wrap-up, we are talking about anywhere from five to 10 hours.

As acts of rebellion go, mine is rather modest. But here is my strategy. On Super Bowl Sunday, I like to pretend that the rest of the world is frozen in time in front of their giant screens. While they are trapped in their own dimension, eating nachos and pizza, drinking beer, thinking they are having a good time, here is the chance to seize the day and do something special with the time before you. Read a book, clean your closet, paint a picture, write a letter, call a friend (who is not a football fan), re-arrange your sock drawer or make that list of resolutions you thought about making on New Year’s Eve. Make it yours. It’s an opportunity to strike a blow against social convention and orthodoxy and take back the day.

Oh, but don’t forget to watch Springsteen at half-time. You really must.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day


Some random observations and thoughts on this historic day:

As exciting and inspiring as the day was, I'm sure glad I wasn't in DC. You couldn't pay me. Crowded, cold, jacked up prices and one port-o-john per 1,000 people? No thank you. That's what television is for.

Rick Warren's invocation was dreadful, truly an awful embarrassment. Sure, I can appreciate the rationale and the politics behind the choice, but Obama should never have invited this self-aggrandizing, sectarian crackpot.

So in administering the oath, Chief Justice Roberts and Obama fumbled the exchange. Is this disconnect between the President and the Chief Justice a sign of things to come?

On to the speech. It was good speech and Obama did an excellent job. But for all of the eloquence and inspiration, the substance of his address wasn't all that remarkable or memorable. What will be remembered by history is the occasion, not the actual speech.

I still think my favorite line of his speech was: "We will restore science to its rightful place." Refreshing.

One other interesting touch was Obama's inclusion of "non-believers." I'm trying to remember an occasion when a U.S. President even acknowledged atheists or agnostics as valued citizens. That's pretty amazing when you consider that atheists and agnostics comprise somewhere between 15 and 20% of the population.

(And to be fair, we can argue that it's not accurate to refer to atheists as "non-believers." Atheists believe...they believe in reason and explanations of the world based on evidence).

I liked the classical music - I thought it sounded great.

But did we really need the poet?

It was interesting that the one historical figure that Obama quoted at length was George Washington. An unsual choice, especially for a liberal politician. You'd expect maybe Jefferson, FDR, Lincoln, Kennedy or MLK. Why Washington? Because Washington strived to appear above partisanship and to put love of country, and the greater good, first. He wasn't really above partisanship - he was both human and a politician, but that was the ideal that he stood for. Obama was clever to tap into that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

United We Stand


But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.
-- Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address 1801

We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America
-- Barack Obama, November 4, 2008.

For all that is new and different about Barack Obama, the message of unity he extends is a time-honored tradition. Since Jefferson took office in 1801, the incoming President has always sought to heal political divisions and make a show of unity. Whether the effort is seen as cynical or sincere depends on your own view of politics, but it's certainly the case that any incoming President has an interest in winning over his doubters and detractors, boosting his popularity and building consensus.

In Obama's case, communicating a message of unity goes to his strengths as politician - a political style that is conciliatory and pragmatic and, of course, his skills as an orator. It will be interesting to see how he goes about delivering his message of unity at the inaugural address today.

Two observations though:

1). For all of the rancor and partisanship in American politics, our country is not nearly as divided as members of the media make it seem. Sure, Obama has his work cut out for him, but "unity" isn't really a problem. We are far more unified than we were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s. Or for that matter 1801, when Jefferson took office.

2) Whether it's a Democrat or Republican who takes the oath of office, there's something truly inspiring about the peaceful transition of power - it is an occasion that is still so rare in many parts of the globe. We tend to focus on the many things that are wrong with our government, but seeing the orderly transition of power is a reminder that the fundamentals of our Constitution really do work.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Canadian Terrorists Strike Again


I’ve often wondered what New York’s Native Americans thought in 1609 when they first saw Henry Hudson sailing up the Hudson River in the 85-foot Half Moon. Was it big news? Did they gawk? Were they frightened? Did they see this strangely shaped European vessel as a thing of wonder, or as harbinger of their doom? Perhaps neither. After all, many natives had heard tales of Europeans. Some had encountered their sailing ships before and perhaps even traded with them. It had been almost a century since another European, Verrazano, in the service of France, sailed into New York harbor. Still, it must have caused some excitement.

And just yesterday, 400 years after Hudson made his New York debut, the river that bears his name saw another splash of excitement. A commercial jet, which had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport, was forced to make an emergency landing right onto the river, just west of Midtown Manhattan. Incredibly, all 150 passengers and the the crew were rescued.

Now I fly occasionally and I am one of those people who routinely disregards the flight attendants when they give their instructions before take-off. “In the event of water landing…” Water landing? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Isn’t “water landing” just a nice way of saying crash? Well no. Thanks to the skill of a US Airways pilot, I now appreciate the difference. Most especially, so do the 150 passengers on the flight. So it’s a feel good story of rescue and resourcefulness, an intrepid pilot, plucky New Yorkers and blessed good fortune. (The pilot, Captain Sullenberger already had over 100,000 fans on Facebook - and counting).

But there’s a dark side to this story as well. What forced the emergency landing? What caused the plane’s engines to fail? Well, the official story is that a “double bird strike” took out both of the plane’s engines. But as a savvy and cynical New Yorker, I’ve learned, ever since 9/11, to disbelieve all “official” explanations. After all, the “official” version of 9/11 would have us believe that 19 Islamist hijackers crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center. Well, by know, everyone knows the real truth – it was the Canadians.

A double bird strike? Now what kind of birds would be so cunning and malevolent as to pull off a move as complicated and daring as the double strike? And then it hit me.

Why of course.