Monday, November 9, 2009

Newsweek Copies Lost?

Newsweek posted a fun video today that summarizes the decade in 7 minutes (hattip Dan.) Astute Lost fans will note that the style, tone, and cadence of the video is exactly copied from the famous Lost recap video. Both even start with "here's all you need to know about ___ in ___ minutes" and feature a plane flying in the opening seconds. The narrators are different people but they speak the same. Lost has finally made it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hanging Chad

The grim news came down yesterday for Chad Pennington and the Miami Dolphins: Pennington's shoulder injury will cause him to miss the rest of the 2009 season. Normally I would rejoice at the prospect of the rival Dolphins losing their starting QB for the season, but Pennington is a player I genuinely like and I am sad to see injuries plague his career once again. He hasn't lived up to the potential he showed early on, but he has still put together a nice career for himself, posting a career winning record as a starter, winning 2 division titles and making the playoffs 4 times in 8 years, being the only player in NFL history to win the Comeback Player of the Year award twice, and posting a career completion percentage of 66.1%, good enough for #1 of all-time. Sadly, every time his career showed promise, it was set back by injuries soon thereafter.
The most bizarre thing about this injury is how remarkably predictable it was. Indeed, his career trajectory has followed the "every other year" phenomenon: he has literally switched off between being successful and being injured and thus unsuccessful. Let's examine:

2002: Pennington takes over the starting job in week 5. The Jets finish the season on an 8-3 run to win the AFC East and destroy the Colts 41-0 in the playoffs before losing to Oakland the following week.

2003: Pennington injures his shoulder in a preseason game against the Giants, misses the first 6 games of the year and the Jets go 6-10.

2004: The Jets start out 5-0, finish 10-6, and make the playoffs. They beat the Chargers in OT in the wild card round but then lose to the Steelers in OT the following week. We haven't forgotten yet, Doug Brien.

2005: Pennington's off-season surgery apparently didn't take. He re-injures his shoulder in week 3 against Jacksonville and doesn't return that year. The Jets finished 4-12.

2006: Pennington posted career highs for the season in completions, passing attempts, and passing yardage with 3,352 yards, starting all sixteen games for the first time. He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year and the Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs under rookie coach Eric Mangini.

2007: Pennington injures his ankle in a week 1 blowout loss to the Patriots, forcing him to miss week 2. He would return but led the Jets to a 1-7 start, throwing 7 INTs in the 7 games he started, before being benched in favor of Kellen Clemens. The Jets would finish 4-12.

2008: The Jets traded for Brett Favre weeks before the season and released Pennington. He was picked up by the Dolphins, for whom he quickly won the starting job. He finished the 2008 season with 3653 yards, 19 TD and only seven interceptions, a passer rating of 97.4, started all sixteen games and led the 'Phins to an 11-5 record and AFC East title. For the second time in his career, he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

2009: Pennington re-injures his shoulder in a week 3 loss to the Chargers, dropping Miami to 0-3. It is announced that he will miss the rest of the season and be replaced by another Chad (Henne.) Dolphins' 2009 success: TBD.

So there you have it. Pennington's career has literally followed a good year, bad year, good year, bad year formula. In his career's four even-year seasons his teams have gone 40-24, made the playoffs all 4 years, and won 2 division titles. In his four odd-year seasons, his teams have gone 14-37 (including the Dolphins 0-3 so far from 2009) and missed the playoffs in all 4 years. I can't think of any rational reason why things worked out this way for Chad, but the story of his career is pretty easy to follow. That said, with Pennington being a free agent this off-season, let's see if there is a team out there smart enough to take a chance on him in 2010 and exploit his uncanny even-year success.

Follow The Turnovers

Even casual NFL fans recognize what a crucial role turnovers play week in, week out, and thus citing the turnover battle as the key to a game is a common occurrence among analysts. However, a game in which the progression of turnovers has such an acute impact on the ebb and flow of a back and forth game, as it did in Sunday's game between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, is not as prevalent.

Take notice: Already up 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, the Jets forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and cashed in for another TD to exert early control of the game. The Jets' defense fed off this momentum and forced back-to-back 3-and-out's on the Titans first two possessions and the Jets closed out the 1st quarter up 14-0 and looked like they were about to deliver a potential knockout punch as they were driving in Titans' territory. However, on the 2nd play of the 2nd quarter, the Jets made a mistake of their own, as Mark Sanchez coughed up a wet ball that the Titans recovered. Ten plays later, Lendale White was gliding into the endzone to cut the lead to 14-7. Suddenly, we had a game.

The Jets' offense went into stall and their defense started letting up and allowed the Titans to start moving the ball. The Titans had taken over control of the game. (Their one hiccup during this stretch and thus the lone exception to the turnover flow of the game was a Kerry Collins interception - courtesy of Eric Smith - late in the 2nd quarter that the Jets failed to convert into points.) They notched a late FG to cut the Jets lead to 14-10.

Another Jets' miscue, as Jay Feely kicked the ball off out of bounds, got the Titans started in the 2nd half. The Titans proceeded to go 60 yards on 7 plays in just over 3 minutes to take a 17-14 lead. The Jets had blown a 14-0 lead, their defense, which had held the Pats and Texans without a TD in the first 2 games had just given up 2 in the last 13 minutes and hadn't even put up much of a fight. Maybe I was wrong last week; these were the same 'ol Jets.

The Jets continued to look flat on their next two drives and the game seemed to be slipping away, until Ryan Mouton muffed a punt, the Jets recovered it, converted it into 7, and retook the lead 21-17 lead with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. The Jets added a FG early in the 4th quarter to extend their lead to 7. Driving in Titans' territory with 7 minutes to go, they appeared on their way to icing the game, but a high Mark Sanchez pass sailed off the fingertips of Chansi Stuckey and into the arms of safety Chris Hope to give the Titans new life. However, 5 plays later, Collins returned the favor and threw a pass that was picked off by David Harris to end the Titans' last legitimate scoring threat. They got the ball one last time after that, but lost a combined 13 yards on 4 plays to end the game, sending the Jets to 3-0.

As I said earlier, there is nothing groundbreaking about an NFL game in which the story of the game was turnovers. That turnovers dictate who wins and loses is one of the sacred rules of the league. It's just that you don't often see the turnovers directly impact the ups and downs and rapid momentum swings of the game to the extent that they did in this one.

Other Game Notes:
  • This was my first game in attendance this year, made possible by the kindness of the NFL moving the game to 1:00 to accommodate Jewish fans who were observing Yom Kippur, as John Mearsheimer screamed "I told you so!"
  • Mark Sanchez became the 1st rookie QB to lead his team to a 3-0 start. Not a flawless game for him by any stretch but it was good to see him bounce back from adversity and mistakes and to be able to make big plays when he needed to. His 1st quarter TD scramble is the defining moment of his pro career so far, a play that I am sure had Rex Ryan grab him and say "great job kid, but don't ever do that again."
  • David Clowney was inactive this week because he "tweeted" something earlier in the week that angered Rex Ryan. I wish Ryan had the power to bench all twitter users from participating in life. Maybe one day...
  • It was comforting to see that even though the defense was shaky at times, they came up big when they needed to late in the game. The Titans last six drives: 1) 3 and out, 2) 3 and out, 3) one 1st down and then 3 and out, 4) 3 and out, 5) interception, 6) one first down and then 4 and out to end the game.

Friday, September 25, 2009

U2 at Giants Stadium

Last night I had the fortune of seeing U2 perform at Giants Stadium, the third time I have seen Bono and the boys, arguably the biggest band in the world these days, perform live. I am not going to spend too much time breaking down the show or the setlist, which was a typical mix of new songs from their latest record and interspersed among their hit classics. Rather, I will briefly discuss the quality about this band and its shows that I think makes them the elite live act they have been for years.

Every time I have seen U2 perform, I have been absolutely blown away by the extents to which they go to in order to make their shows a spectacle and an unforgettable experience. Given their popularity and the quality of their music, they could very easily just play a normal endstage show in stadiums and arenas, play their 15 popular songs for 2 hours and they would easily sell out. They would still make millions upon millions of dollars and probably be just as successful. If I was that successful, that's probably what I would do. Indeed, that's what most bands do. But not U2.

Every single tour, they have some sort of need to push the envelope further and turn their concerts into more than just the musical experience that most concerts are. On this tour, they introduced The Claw, an enormous, spectacular spaceship-like sound and light stage with rotating and swiveling bridges that allow the band members to access the various catwalks around the stage. Having been lucky enough to secure general admission tickets and gain entrance to the innermost circle of The Claw's borders, we had an up close perspective for all of its abilities. It was one of the most amazing productions I have ever witnessed.

Simply put, this band "gets it." They have been playing for 30 years and are likely the biggest band in the world, yet they still act like they have something to prove, like if they don't do something fresh and mind-blowing, they won't make it as a band. That sort of attitude is one I think very few people apply to their careers, and they deserve tremendous praise for it. As long as they keep touring, I will keep going to their shows. Let's hope they continue for many years to come.

Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day / She's A Rainbow (snippet) / Blackbird (snippet)
No Line On The Horizon
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet)
Unknown Caller
Until The End Of The World
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
The Unforgettable Fire
Mofo (snippet)/City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo / It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It) (snippet)
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / Miss You (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
Encore Break
Amazing Grace (snippet)/ Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love(snippet)
Encore Break 2
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Out of Touch, Out of Time

One of the pervasive complaints leveled by Mets fans this season has been that ownership and the front office are out of touch with the pulse of their fan base when it comes to the little things that either please or upset fans. This phenomenon has manifested itself repeatedly through various fixtures and features of the Mets' new home, Citi Field.

Ranging from major complaints, such as the naming of the stadium's main entrance after a player that never played a game in a Mets uniform (Jackie Robinson) and painting the outfield wall black, rather than the traditional Mets blue, to petty ones, such as the dressing the Citi Field ushers in maroon shirts that are the same color as the Mets' biggest rival (Phillies), many fans have expressed the belief that there is a disconnect between the Mets' brass and its fan base.

The latest transgression (which was pointed out to me by Eric, the other night) is the addition of a new advertisement down the outfield lines. Where previously resided a billboard for "Teammates" now hangs one for a swiss army knife company named "Victorinox," a company whose name is nearly identical to that of the most reviled player on the Mets' most hated rival, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino.

Now do I actually care about the billboards that hang at Citi Field? Well yes, to the extent that they be aesthetically pleasing and not belong to no-name corporations that make the stadium look pathetic. But do I actually care about the names of the companies that advertise there and their potential likeness to that of MLB players? No, not really. Practically speaking, this ad has no impact on anything and does not matter at all. Further, most of these complaints are admittedly, the types of things that nobody notices when a team is in 1st place and everybody throws a fit over when you are 20 games out.

However, this ad is simply the latest in a series of incidents that clearly demonstrates that when it comes to understanding their fans and being able to get the little things right, the Mets' front office is clueless. In a million years, would Fenway Park ever hang an advertisement for Jetter Cleaning Company? How about an ad at Yankee Stadium for Papi underwear brand - see that happening any time soon?

Bill Simmons of ESPN has often claimed that every professional sports franchise needs to hire what he calls a VP of Common Sense: "someone who cracks the inner circle of the decision-making process along with the GM, assistant GM, head scout, head coach, owner and whomever else. One catch: the VP of CS doesn't attend meetings, scout prospects, watch any film or listen to any inside information or opinions; he lives the life of a common fan. They just bring him in when they're ready to make a big decision, lay everything out and wait for his unbiased reaction." I wholeheartedly agree, except I would extend the VP's role to the small things as well, to anything and everything that could potentially be noticed by fans. If I was hired for this position, when they would have come to me with a new ad for Victorinox, I would have replied, "you mean like Shane Victorino" and nixed it. Again, these things don't really matter practically in the big picture, but they go a long way in perpetuating the belief that the people running the organization just don't get it. And if they don't get it when it comes to the small things, how will they figure it out when it comes to the big ones?


I applied for a job I found online late last night, attaching my resume and pasting a cover letter in the body of the email. About a minute later, I received a bounce back email, informing me that my email could not be delivered, but instead had been quarantined by the organization's email filters because it contained profanity. I found this very puzzling, as I believe I am start enough not to use obscenities in a cover letter when applying for a job. I quickly perused the email and discovered that the word that must have been flagged was the word "cum," as in "magna cum laude." I immediately removed the phrase from my email and resent it and am excited about the possibility of being considered for this position, now that any mention of my Latin honors have been eradicated.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why Are Jews Liberal?

Earlier this month, Norman Podhoretz of Commentator published a book entitled "Why Are Jews Liberal?" I did not read it. I did, however, read Leon Wieseltier's review of the same name in the New York Times Book Review. And then re-read it this past weekend.

The book, reportedly, attempts to critically examine the history of the American Jewish community's support of liberalism and the Democratic party with a goal of figuring out why this purported calamity continues. He tries figure out what he is missing and why Jews continue to support Democrats and believe in liberal ideals, when, in his opinion, doing so is not in their best interests.

If I had been asked to review this book, I would have had much to say on the matter. The crux of what that would have been has already been attended to by good 'ol Leon. As Wieseltier points out, "Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish." Surely, any rational, intelligent person with basic abilities to craft an argument can point to parts of the Bible that espouse liberal values and others that have conservative ideals. Indeed, one can probably find libertarian, communist, fascist, totalitarian, and anarchist undertones in various biblical stories and commandments.

One of my elementary school teachers once commented that the Torah is not merely a book of stories or a book of laws but rather a "guide to life." While my more cynical side would be prone to shrug off this observation, there is a part of me that understands what he meant. With one caveat: the Torah is a guide to life, but not necessarily a fixed, rigid guide to life; you can make of it what you want, figure out what makes sense and is meaningful to you. The Torah is a guide to life in the sense that it provides a framework and a system of values, some of which you might agree with and others you might find abhorrent. To me, living a "Torah life," to use a term from my youth, means incorporating values of the Torah into your life and living your life in a manner that is consistent with those values.

In that regard, "Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish." The premise that Judaism is liberal alone or conservative alone is preposterous. Judaism is different to every person who accepts it, observes it, and practices it -- or at least it should be. Jews are liberals and Jews are conservatives. If most people have a goal and a desire to reconcile their political views with their religious beliefs and/or affiliations (and the very premise of Podhoretz's book seems to be that they do), then I can only assume that those Jews who are conservative find that there are a greater number of Jewish values (or at least important ones that appeal to them) that overlap and are consistent with conservatism than liberalism and that those Jews who are liberal, vice versa.

As a liberal American Jew (and one who is proud of all 3 of those modifiers) I can say that, for me, this is certainly the case. To me, the most important and beautiful parts of the Torah are those that not only are not at odds with my liberalism but rather are consistent with and complementary to my liberalism. The Torah teaches us to be sympathetic when it commands us not to oppress the widow or orphan (and by extension all those that are downtrodden) and teaches us to be empathetic when we are commanded to love the stranger/convert for we "were strangers in the land of Egypt." (As I have written elsewhere, I believe this verse more than any other in the Bible captures and defines the depth and breadth of the American experience.) Correspondingly, my views on issues such as tax policy and health care are more in line with Democrats than Republicans (in contrast to certain outspoken Republican rabbis who believe universal health care is a goal that is only slightly more desirable than everyone having equal access to "a health club, a high-priced French restaurant and a Lexus.") My understanding of Jewish history and Antisemitism appeals to my sense of empathy to those groups who have also suffered the horrors of discrimination and prejudice and thus my beliefs on treatment of minorities and equal rights for homosexuals once again align with the Democratic party. Further, that history has taught me to be exceedingly wary of policies that attempt to infuse religion into government and thus abrogate the separation of church and state; see here, my views on abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research, etc. I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say that my liberal politics and my Jewishness are caused by one another, but they certainly overlap and intersect.

"But what about Israel," Podhoretz might ask. He would point out that most of Israel's critics lie in the liberal wing of the Democratic party and that conservatives are, by and large, more sympathetic towards Israel than liberals. Republicans are better for Israel than Democrats, he would argue, so how can American Jews continue to overwhelmingly support the Democratic party? Once again, Podhoretz's conclusion rests on faulty premises because, of course, your opinion on which party is better for Israel will rest largely on your politics. If you believe that pro-Israel means pro-settlements, that there is no possibility of a political solution to the conflict, and that all criticism of the Israeli government is proof of anti-Israel tendencies (unless, of course, it is the disengagement from Gaza you are protesting), then you will likely believe that Republicans are better for Israel than Democrats. If, however, you believe that settlement expansion is not in Israel's long-term interest, that the status quo is unsustainable, and that a two-state solution is the only practical, realistic end to the conflict, then odds are you vote Democrat. This is not groundbreaking, of course. It is a simple political calculus that Podhoretz reportedly opts to ignore, much like many conservatives who cling to the arrogant and absurd belief that right wing Jews love Israel more dearly than left wing Jews.

In the end, however, this issue is not just about aligning political affiliations with interests on a particular issue, a point Wieseltier so eloquently captures. "In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity...It is not a delusion, not a treason, to vote against your own economic interest. It is a recognition of the multiplicity of interests, the many purposes, that make up a citizen’s life." No one issue, even one as important and close to home as Israel's security, should carry enough weight to shape a person's entire worldview. And while an intelligent American Jew can rationally and legitimately vote liberally or conservatively in conjunction with or as an expression of his religion, it appears that more of us think like me than like Norman Podhoretz, and overwhelmingly so.