Friday, December 24, 2010

BAH HUMBUG

First of all, I sincerely want to wish everyone out there in cyberspace a Merry Christmas tomorrow. I realize that the word “Christmas” has fallen out of favor in our society and is now treated publicly as but one of the days in this “holiday season.” But let’s face it, out of all the red letter days this time of year, Christmas is truly the “high holiday.” Chanukah is merely a minor festival that has taken on a greater significance because Jewish people felt the need for some sort of meaningful analogue to Christmas. As for Kwanzaa, let’s not forget that 45 years ago, it didn’t even exist. In fact, Kwanzaa, as a festival, is only 31 years older than Festivus. Since I celebrate Chanukah, one poor-man’s Christmas, I have no standing to disparage Kwanzaa, Festivus, the Winter Solstice festival, or any other holiday that marks the beginning of winter. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have forgotten the holiday that has become one of the two holiest days of the Christian year. If I want Christians to treat Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover with particular respect, I have to extend the same courtesy to Christmas and Easter.

So, tomorrow, let’s all take the time to remember the figure of Jesus of Nazareth and all that he preached in the name of love, peace, tolerance, and reverence. And whenever you see a Christian – please don’t wish him or her “Happy Holidays.” Not tomorrow. For that matter, not today either. The words are “Merry Christmas.” And the holiday is religious, not merely secular. There are plenty of secular days in a year. Let’s not obliterate the few days that one community or another has set aside to honor what is most holy.

The obliteration of “Christmas” in the American consciousness is but the first of my pet peeves this week. In fact, while I may have begun my blog post today with a tribute to Christmas, I plan to continue this post with a series of additional kvetches that is hardly consistent with the upbeat spirit of the holiday. But that’s fine – after all, it’s not like I’m a Christian. I can kvetch as much as I want. So here goes.

Next Pet Peeve – The Combatants in the Holy Land

While we’re on the subject of holiness, let’s take a little time to reflect on the goings-on in the Holy Land. “The Holy Land” is actually a Christian term, not a Jewish one. But since it’s Christmas time, the term seems strangely appropriate. Or is it? If you’ve been paying any attention to the region, you’ve noticed that Israel has turned up the spigot on settlements in the West Bank. I’m talking settlements that go far into pre-67 Palestine, well east of any possible border in a viable two-state arrangement.

Interestingly, folks on both sides of the Great Divide are acknowledging that the settlements are being built in places that increasingly threaten the idea of Palestinian control over a contiguous West Bank. The settlers are trumpeting this fact. They make no bones about supporting what most of us view as a “one-state solution” west of the Jordan River. In that sense, their view is similar to that of roughly half of the Palestinians. The only difference is that the one state would be controlled primarily by the Jews, in the settlers’ vision, and by the Arabs, in the vision of the Palestinians.

To be sure, the shrewd settlers and Palestinians claim to be two-staters and not one-staters. To the settlers, the “Palestinian State” already exists. Its name is Jordan. Presumably, these settlers would march the West Bank Arabs across the Jordan River and they would never be heard from again. Of course, in the real world, there are two chances that will happen: slim and none.

The chance isn’t much better that we’ll see the realization of the vision of many Palestinian “two-staters,” who hope that the Palestinians will soon be given their state in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the remaining land called “Israel” an Arab minority will grow and grow until it eventually seizes control over that democracy as well. I’ve called that the two-STAGE solution, and the result is the same as the one-state solution advocated by Palestinian militants. Either way, we’re not talking about peace.

This Christmas season, my plea is for the Christians among us – including President Obama – to take an active role in the Middle East peace process. Demand of the Israelis that they renounce the aggressive building out of settlements. And demand of the Palestinians that they support a permanent majority-Jewish state in pre-67 Israel. Christians must become Zionists and Palestinian Nationalists. Either one without the other is a formula for perpetual war.

Next Pet Peeve: The State of the American Main-Stream Media

So, did you get the memo yet? Obama has been re-elected! It’s another landslide! Well, OK, I’m not supposed to be putting it quite so bluntly just yet. I guess we all have to go through the motions in a couple of years to hold primaries, conventions, debates, and even a general election. But to those of us in the know, all of that will just be a formality. Clearly, the President has demonstrated in the past two weeks that he can take the lemon of the Midterm election and use it to make lemonade in record time. Why, if he had been the captain of the Titanic, he could have turned that boat around on a dime. “Iceberg?” Captain Obama might have chuckled. “Oh you mean that little thing in our rear view mirror? Not a problem. I just channeled Jeff Spicoli, and told that block of ice, ‘Here’s the deal, dude. You avoid my ship, and I’ll admire you as a cool work of nature.’ That and a twist of the steering wheel, and voila, we’re all safe and sound.”

The media used to tell us that Reagan had Teflon. Now, we’re all but told that Obama comes equipped with a cape. Faster than a speeding bullet, he (and his minions) can pass bills to support 9/11 responders, enhance nutrition for schoolchildren, promote food safety, limit nuclear weapons in Russia, restore benefits for the unemployed, block excessively loud TV ads, maintain pay for doctors to treat Medicare patients, keep the Government open until March, allow gays to serve in the military, and, finally, provide “a sweeping tax package that will spare millions of Americans from tax hikes set to take effect in the new year.” Those words in quotes come from yesterday’s edition of the Express, a sister publication of the Washington Post. That’s their take on Obama’s tax bill. It went on to further trumpet the tax-cut deal without saying anything about the bill’s effects on the national debt or the rising inequalities of wealth in America.

I do want to be fair: Obama and the liberals and moderates in Congress deserve plenty of credit for passing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That is truly a landmark bill. Plus, I doubt it would have been passed with a Republican in the White House. The last point might also be said about the new child nutrition and food safety legislation, but that’s as far as I’ll go. With respect to most of the other bills, it’s likely that the main reason the Republican leadership opposed them is to make Obama look impotent and irrelevant. Seriously, who wants the Russians to have tons of nukes?

So yes, I heartily praise Obama – and the election of 2008 -- for getting some favorable legislation through the Lame Duck Congress, and especially for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s repeal. But let’s not fool ourselves that Obama is ushering in a new era of progressive changes. And please, let’s not fool ourselves that the tax bill is a compromise. It was a right-wing rout.

Notwithstanding the realities, the main-stream media can’t say enough these days to kiss the President’s feet. It’s as if all the “deals” that have been made in the past month represent the death-knell to partisanship and the beginning of unity Government. And in each case, we’re told, the Government is only doing what the people want. (For example, even though the polls indicated popular support for letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire, we keep getting regaled by polls indicating that the people supported the tax deal. Frankly, however, polls tell you whatever you want to hear. It all depends on how you ask the question.) What can be better than serving the will of the people, right?

I’ll tell you what – providing leadership in the form of enunciating a vision and fighting to implement it. In this case, the vision I have in mind is one that would address our environmental crisis, the scourge of our ever-expanding national debt, the insanity of our distribution of wealth, and the absurdity of serving as the world’s policeman. It appears that the main-stream media has little to say about these concerns. They’re too busy fawning to do any real investigative journalism or provide any truly hard-hitting analysis.

One of the more salient signs of the media’s decline involves their track record on one of the bills mentioned above: the legislation to provide aid to the 9/11 First Responders, who are dying at alarming numbers from heart disease and cancer. From what I can tell, this no-brainer of a cause received virtually no attention whatsoever in the media, with one exception: comedian Jon Stewart seized upon it like a dog with a bone. Eventually, the politicians listened, and a deal was struck. But as to why ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and the big macha syndicated columnists were AWOL … that I just can’t explain. Something tells me that the best and the brightest aren’t going into journalism these days.

Next Pet Peeve – Abandoning Old School Football

Have you seen what has become of the National Football League lately? Have you actually tried watching a game? I’ve been watching a lot of them. Then again, I’m an addict – and if things don’t change, I may well be in the market for methadone.

OK, Mr. Commissioner, you can relax. I’m not going anywhere. The NFL Sunday Ticket will be a Spiro-family staple in 2011 and beyond. But that doesn’t make me a happy camper. I want your league to return to the football of my youth.

Remember when big bruising fullbacks used to terrorize defenses? Remember when it was difficult to complete a 15 or 20 yard pass, and it wasn’t exactly a gimme to complete a 5 to 10 yard pass? Remember “three yards and a cloud of dust”? That was football.

This being an age of instant gratification, the league apparently doesn’t believe that Americans can handle hard-nosed running, tough defense, or – perish the thought – punting the ball. We need big play after big play. We need to look into the quarterback’s eyes and see the confidence that he can score at will. We need passing, passing, passing, and more passing. And we even changed the rules to make it happen.

If you look at the top 20 quarterbacks in history in terms of “passer rating,” only one (Otto Graham) played before 1979. In fact, plenty of lousy quarterbacks today have significantly higher passer ratings than hall of fame quarterbacks from the 70s, 60s and 50s. Progress? Hardly. It has merely turned football into a track meet.

If you’d like to see more running, more defense, and more close games, here’s the place to start: revoke the rule that eliminated “bump and run” coverage. Return the game to the time when fast, but strong, cornerbacks used to push and shove receivers all over the field and were permitted to do so as long as the ball was not in the air. As it stands now, a rule implemented in 1978 prohibited such contact once the receiver was five yards from the line of scrimmage. That change, combined with a rule liberalizing the way offensive lineman can pass protect, radically altered the game of football.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that we need to protect quarterbacks from some of the hits that were viewed as legal decades back. I recognize that defensive players are bigger, stronger and faster than in earlier generations, and they pack a more potent punch. But if you want to protect a quarterback, the best way is to encourage more running and less passing. Frankly, you’ll also protect some of the receivers from the vicious hits they’ve been taking lately.

So why not give it a try? Bring back the bump-and-run. Give cornerbacks some more parity with wide receivers. Make football tougher and more competitive (for 16-6 games are a whole lot more competitive than 35-14 games, wouldn’t you say?). If it doesn’t work and the kids cry out for more points and more passing, you can always go back to the present rules.

Please, just consider these stats. Sonny Jurgensen’s career passing rating of 82.6 is less than Brian Griese’s. Johnny Unitas’s rating of 78.2 is less than that of Jimmy Everett. And Joe Namath’s 65.5 rating is less than that of Steve Dils. The only reason I know the name of Steve Dils is because he played for my college team. I doubt too many football fans have heard of him, and yet he was a more efficient passer than Hall of Famer and legend, Joe Namath. Clearly, what people call football today is an altogether different sport than what my friends and I fell in love with in the 60s.

1 comment:

Nagarjuna said...

Daniel, excellent post, as usual. My only disagreement with it concerns your suggestion regarding American football.

I disagree that we should make it more "Old School." Instead, I think we should eliminate it from the national stage and that the best way to do this is to stop patronizing it in any way, shape, or form.

It's a barbarity that breaks down bodies, bruises brains into premature debility and senility, and feeds the basest instincts of its fans for savage violence.

It's a national scourge that should die a hasty death.