Friday, July 31, 2015

Inflated Balls

Boy, did Tom Brady put the 'douche' back in 'douchebag' or what?. Whether or not he's actually the Death Spawn of Satan is still under investigation. What we know definitively - I mean beyond the fact that he's a douchebag - is that he is a cheater. He is a liar. And he's not going to the Hall of Fame. Sorry Pats' fans, it just ain't happening now. There are plenty of scumbags in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but most of them became known low-lifes after they'd already been enshrined. A known liar, cheater, self-important pompous rude asshole married to a super model just isn't going to the Hall of Fame.

Ok, I'm lying. I don't really believe he's not going to the Hall of Fame. I'm just hoping. I've heard many apologists for Brady argue that no one in his right mind could argue that all of Brady's 'success' is due to cheating. That really isn't the point.  The point is that the fact that there is a question about the legitimacy of even one of his Super Bowls negates all of his Super Bowls.  All of his records.  All of his 'greatness'. While football has never had the kind of unwritten morals clause that baseball does regarding it's shrine of immortality [and it's a good thing because otherwise there'd be about 11 members of the Hall of Fame], I'd put Brady's odds of making the Hall at about 80% right now. That's if nothing else comes to light between now and the time when he mercifully retires. But - and here's where hope resides - I'd put the odds of nothing else coming to light at about 10%. After cheating and lying for 15 years, you don't just suddenly stop. Ask Pete Rose.

Keep in mind, I'm not impartial. I don't even pretend to be. With me, it's personal. In my lifetime, I've seen my Eagles make it into two Super Bowls. They never stood a chance in the first one [January 1981]. In the other one [February 2005], however, they had a solid chance. Man-for-man, the Eagles and Patriots were well-matched. Then, once the game began, not so much. At halftime, more than one Eagles player was heard to say, "It's like they [the Patriots] know the fucking play [we've called] before we even get off [hike] the ball." An interesting quote. It was repeated to media-types after the game by more than a few Birds. No one thought much of that until two years later when it was discovered that the Patriots' Fuhrer, Bill Belichick, had been filming other teams' practices for years in order to learn his opponents' signals. Two years after the fact, we finally learned that the Patriots did, indeed, 'know the fucking play' the Eagles were calling.

This discovery should have been the biggest scandal in NFL history. Instead, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell - who might as well marry Patriots' owner Robert Kraft for all of the time he's spent lying down next to him the past nine, years - incredibly destroyed the evidence "in the interest of the game" and slapped some fines and lost draft picks against the Pats and claimed that justice had been served.

That's why, when this deflated balls scandal hit, I was stunned that Goodell didn't just destroy the balls. That he actually investigated it and - I'm serious about this - suspended Brady for four games is something that still shocks me. Then the other day he did the unthinkable and sustained the decision.  I was sure he'd vacate it or at least cut 2-3 games off the suspension. Now, Brady is going to take this all the way to the Supreme Court. Because no one has ever told Tom he was wrong. Tom has never not gotten his way. Tom thinks the world is all about him and that the rest of us are just hanging on hooks waiting around until he walks into the room, when we jump down to perform our roles in the play that is his life.

Athletes are mostly sociopaths. Well, maybe that's a broad brush. Nonetheless, I'd argue that  - other than the Mafia - there is no profession with a higher percentage of sociopaths in it than professional athletes. O.J. Simpson, Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth...and that's just the NFL. And just off the top of my head. We know this. It's when they are publicly identified as sociopaths that we tend to get annoyed - unless the athlete plays for our team. As a Yankees' fan, I deal with this with Alex Rodriguez. Like most Patriots fans, as a die hard Yankees fan I choose to ignore my team's star sociopath's transgressions as the homeruns and wins [although only one championship so far] pile up.

So, kudos to Roger Goodell. With his sustaining Brady's suspension, the Commissioner's balls are finally properly inflated.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Your Face-Book

For the longest time, I've felt that - for all of the social media outlets we have - something was missing. I am not on anything beyond Facebook, so I'm no expert.  But, as far as I know, there is no social media site solely dedicated to bad news. One of my biggest criticisms about Facebook is how happy everybody is - strike that: how happy they say they are. It's disgusting. I mean, I am obviously fond of all of these people that are my 'Friends' - hence the 'friending' thereof. And I wish nothing but the best for them.  I just don't want to read about it everyday.

As thrilled as I am that your little offspring won the spelling bee, swam the English Channel and split an atom, reading about it makes me feel a bit more inadequate as a parent than I already do. And as thrilled as I am that you love your spouse, your soul mate, the love of your life, all I see in that photo you just posted is someone older, fatter and less attractive than I saw when I was at your wedding. And that's just you. I'm not even going to get into what happened to your spouse. And lest anyone accuse me of casting stones and glass houses and whatever, believe me, I know: in 2015 I resemble myself in 1993 about as much as Tom Brady resembles me now. I'm a fucking mess; so, I'm not knocking anyone.  It is what it is..

So, I'm proposing to some entrepreneur out there the idea of a social networking site dedicated solely to the shitty things happening to you. I haven't decided on a title yet, but In Your Face-Book is my working title. It would be a no-holds-barred opportunity to let everyone know just how bad things are going. You'd be kicked off the site if you posted anything that could be construed as remotely positive.  Even a posting that is neither bad nor good would earn you a five-day ban from the site.

I know how I would fill my posts. But how would others? Here are some samples:

Joseph Schmendrick: Spent $500 to take the family to the waterpark. What a fucking nightmare: it was 104-degrees; little Benny threw up on a priest sitting in front of us on the boogie-board ride; my lovely spouse Ethel bitched and moaned the whole time - when she wasn't screaming at my daughter for forgetting her pads even though she's menstruating; then got a $200 speeding ticket on the way home.  I told the cop I was speeding to "get the fuck away from the worst day of my life" - and Barney smiled and said, "I guess it just got worse." I hate everybody. Fuck off.

Edward Philipenis: What a fucking nightmare! Took my son to his first rock concert - some group called The Bloody Asses. OMG. Parking was $50, everyone in the parking lot was pierced, tattooed and in various stages of inebriation, and the music was so bad that not only my ears but my eyes bled. Then, all through the concert, my son - my underage son - was bitching that I wouldn't let him have a beer. After my 12th, I relented. I bought him one and when an usher saw me give it to him, two cops came out of nowhere, cuffed me and threw me in a 'holding' area in the arena where my cellmates were 20 people in greater stages of drunkenness than the ones in the parking lot - only now I was confined with them in a small 8x11 cell. Bloody asses indeed.

Jennifer Stein Lipschutz Mendelsson Steinberg: Last time I come home early from work: I walk in the door and there's John - my 'loving spouse' - cock-deep inside the mailman.  Neither wind, nor snow, nor anal sex shall delay us from our appointed rounds. I'm going to my room to masturbate and then I'll call a lawyer in the morning. Can't wait to share this story the next time some asshole asks me, "How's John?"  "Well, the mailman fell on his dick."

Elizabeth Smith Smith: I hate these fucking kids and if I have to spend one more minute with them I'm going to drown myself in the tub. I can stand having ugly children. I can even tolerate having stupid children.  It's ok, I've come to terms with that. It's having belligerent, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, ill-tempered little bastards that I can't tolerate. I'd love to post a great photo of the kids smiling with their arms around each other, but the only way I'd get that shot would be to chloroform them both and stage the photo by maneuvering their limp limbs, propping up their lips with toothpicks to get a smile. I wish I'd never married that prick. Happy Fucking Birthday, Elliott. You douchebag.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Wilbury Twist

Did you know that for just under $400 you can have an entire office shipped in 25 boxes, a mere 16 miles into your basement? It's true. I saw it myself. As what some would euphemistically call this 'new' phase of my life unfolds, I'm coming to many revelations like that one. Another is that - like Jimmy Hoffa - you can completely disappear and no one will notice.  It's like that great stanza from The Traveling Wilburys' "Wilbury Twist":

Turn the lights down low
Put your blindfold on
You'll never know
When your friends have gone
It could be years before you're missed
Everybody's trying to do the Wilbury Twist

And I didn't even need to turn the lights down low.

So, will I ever get back to where I was? Like the blog title says, the answer's at the end. What I do know is that I've seen this movie before: a 46-year old man who had worked his whole life, full-time, unexpectedly stumbles and never fully regains the status he had. For the next 18 years he finished his working life, earning a salary certainly, and paying bills, but never making what he once earned. I saw the way his self-esteem was taken - never to fully return to what it had been. It could be years before you're missed.

Of course the two circumstances are vastly different. That fact, however, will not get in the way of a good paranoia. Honestly, though, I'm still too numb to panic. It's actually not dissimilar to being told you have cancer. You'd think at first the only thing you'd be thinking about is dying. You don't. Or, at least I didn't.  I thought about my family, but other than that my mind was wiped clean of pretty much any thought. I knew there were bad things coming; I knew that the outlook medically was very good, though; I 'knew' I wasn't going to die or anything, because no one dies from this kind of cancer. Fucked up? Sure. Irrevocably changed physically? Certainly. But not dead.

Those fears came later as I got closer to the actual surgery and it became more clear to me how much more intricate my surgery was going to be than 'normal'.  Because of the location of the tumors, instead of a 90-minute operation, it would be four hours. Instead of transfer directly to a room it would be 24+ hours in the ICU.

Similarly, right now my mind is in 'blank/numb' status. There are things I have to do - like emptying 25 boxes - and I'm doing them. But often I drift through the day without much thought [granted, maybe that's not so different from the first 46 years].  Occasionally there will be anger. Sadness. Fear. Regret. But I'm still in the stage where I throw in A Hard Day's Night or Ken Burns' Baseball or an episode of The Rockford Files, Everybody Loves Raymond or The Muppet Show and lose myself.

Eventually, I know I have to find me.  Just not today.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: American Reckoning by Christian G. Appy

American exceptionalism - the belief that Americans really are different [read: better] than the rest of the world is an idea that is older than the country itself. In American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian G. Appy takes aim at that concept and how [according to him] it led us into Vietnam and guided us in the 50 years thereafter. It's safe to say that there won't be any book signings for Mr. Appy - a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst - at your local VFW anytime soon.

Appy defines American exceptionalism as the belief that Americans are inherently good; act with only the best of intentions; and - most importantly - that an American life holds more value than any other human life. Appy argues that this hubris remains as strong in 2015 - if not stronger - than it did in 1975 when the last U.S. personnel left Vietnam.

One of Appy's main goals in writing this book is to debunk what he sees as the numerous 'myths' surrounding Vietnam. Among those:

*The U.S. dropped a disproportionate number of bombs on South Vietnam during the war, as compared to those dropped on North Vietnam. For one thing, according to Appy, while the bombing of North Vietnam lasted from 1965-68 and again in 1972, the bombing of South Vietnam lasted the length of the war [1962-75].  As such, again according to Appy, the United States dropped 4,000,000 tons of bombs on South Vietnam, compared with 1,000,000 tons on North Vietnam.  Indeed, Appy claims that no other country in world history has been attacked with as many bombs for as long as South Vietnam was - at the hands of the United States of America.

*According to Appy, a search of the New York Times database from 1851-1946 using the phrase "Communist aggression" yields exactly 8 articles.  As you would expect, it then jumps after 1946-1960 to 2,714 articles. What's amazing, though, is that during what was claimed by American officials to be a major war whose purpose was to fight that communist aggression - the phrase appeared in only 833 articles from 1961-1975.

*Appy argues that it is a myth that - had he lived - President John F. Kennedy would not have gone full-bore into Vietnam like President Lyndon Johnson did. Obviously, we'll never know. But if you can predict a man's future behavior based on a study of his previous actions and reactions, Appy makes the believable case that JFK was just as firm as LBJ in his belief that he would not be known as the President who "lost" Vietnam.

*Appy places the blame for the Cuban Missile Crisis almost solely on Kennedy. Putting aside his almost universally-praised handling of the crisis once it started, Appy said that JFK blamed himself for boxing America in. Before even knowing about the missiles, Kennedy had said that the U.S. would not tolerate nuclear missiles on Cuba. Once the presence of the missiles was known by the government, Kennedy's own national security team considered the missiles a 'domestic political problem" not a military problem.  Indeed, no one on the secret Executive Committee [ExComm] thought the missiles in Cuba meant that Americans faced any greater threat to their lives than they had before the missiles were in Cuba. The world was just as dangerous with or without the missiles. But JFK had publicly stated he wouldn't tolerate the missiles. If he backed down now, JFK feared, he'd be viewed by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and - worse, by his own people - as a 'paper tiger'

Small cracks in the belief in American exceptionalism occurred years before Vietnam.  But the first significant change occurred in September 1965 when U.S. Senator William Fulbright [D, Ark.] addressed the Senate for two hours to denounce a U.S. Cold War policy based on the idea of American exceptionalism.  Appy claims it was one of the first times that a member of the establishment publicly questioned the validity of both the policy and the idea that underpins American exceptionalism. Appy cites Fulbright's speech as a major epoch - the start of a change that led to the eventual backlash against the war and even against the United States by its own people.

The following year, Fulbright chaired televised hearings on both the war and the Cold War policies of the U.S.  One of the witnesses was George Kennan who - as a U.S. diplomat 19 years earlier - had written a seminal article that coined the term 'containment'.  In that article Kennan wrote that U.S. policy should be a long and firm "containment of Russian expansive tendencies." Now, however, in 1966 Kennan would say that, "The spectacle of Americans inflicting grievous injury on the lives of a poor and helpless people profoundly detrimental to the image we would like [the world] to hold of this country."

As indicated by the second half of the subtitle of the book, "The Vietnam War and our National Identity", Appy looks beyond Vietnam to how we currently identify ourselves.  He argues that the belief in American exceptionalism is alive and well. A significant staple of this argument is the most controversial aspect of Appy's book - the way he looks at the American veteran. According to Appy, we have raised the American soldier to exalted status. Without even thinking, when we see a soldier we are programmed to say "Thank you for your service to our country" without knowing exactly what that 'service' was. Without knowing  what - if any - killing they did, whether they killed innocent civilians. Without knowing anything.

This was particularly true after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Appy argues that 9/11 restored any cracks in the edifice of American exceptionalism. President George W. Bush couched the invasion of Iraq not only as a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction' but as the United States coming to the aid of an oppressed people with the aim of helping them establish a democracy. Throughout both wars, whenever U.S. soldiers did commit atrocities or violated the Geneva Convention - something that Appy neglects to mention occurs in any war ever fought in world history - American exceptionalism remained intact by ascribing these as the acts of "a few bad apples" being responsible. Instead, Appy argues, whether it is in Vietnam or Afghanistan, American soldiers have acted no differently than German soldiers did in World War II.

To buttress the idea of American exceptionalism in the face of these atrocities, a key phrase was born: "This is not who we are". This became a mantra repeated by American officials time and time again.  When six American soldiers burned at least 100 copies of the Koran in February 2012,  U.S. General John Allen said, "This is not who we are." When an American soldier entered two villages in Kandahar [Afghanistan] in March 2012 and killed 16 civilians, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "Like many Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the killings of innocent Afghan villagers this weekend..... This is not who we are."

Indeed, Appy points out that - even when U.S. officials acknowledge the wrongdoings of U.S. soldiers, it is in the context of how the act(s) damages America - not how it damages the victims. Essentially, Appy argues, when lecturing U.S. soldiers on why they should not commit these acts, they are told not to do so because it will undermine the idea of American exceptionalism.

And that, according to Appy, is who we are.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Answer's at the End

So, as I was saying....Actually, it's been over - or nearly - 4 years since I've 'said' anything in a blog post. I used to write quite a bit once the Lord invented blogging. Then, for whatever reason, I stopped. No, I don't know why I stopped writing and I'm not sure I ever will. Certainly not in this first blog post anyway. Life has been strange. There's a shocker I'm sure no one can relate to.  I've had some major life changes in the past four plus years...and the hits keep coming.

When I was younger, the problems were different - I won't say less significant because that's demeaning to the younger me. They were just as serious to me then as these far more serious problems are to me now. Still, there is a difference, of course. It's one thing to worry about the girlfriend's abrupt departure and another to worry about whether or not you'll die [leaving behind a wife and two kids] on the table when they're attempting to remove two tumors on your thyroid that have inexplicably wrapped themselves around your carotid artery. Still, at the time, that girl's departure was just as painful. Everything is relative, right? That is, relative to our experience up to that time.

Up to this point in time, though, I hope I've seen near the worst. I say 'near' because I'm realistic enough to know that the worst is yet to come. If I'm to be honest with myself, I have more good days behind me than I do ahead of me.  That's not pessimistic - it's reality. Odds are, I have about another 30 or so years left to live, presuming the cells that generated those tumors don't get creative and put tumors somewhere from which they can't be removed. Over those next 30 years, odds are I'll have at least one heart attack, multiple battles with my prostate, more aches and pains [physical and mental], and very few days where I sit back and go, 'Life is good'.  To be fair, it's not as though I've done a whole hell of a lot of that ['Life is good', that is] over the last 46+ years. Just not in my nature, I'm afraid. Always a worrier. Never much of an 'enjoyer'.

Still, at least I've gotten to the point where I no longer blame myself for that.  It's my chemical makeup and it is what it is. It can be managed, not 'fixed'. Like the Yankees' starting pitching. So, there are some things that are better at 46 than at 16. Not many, but a few. Being more at peace with myself and who I am [and who I am not, despite my best efforts and/or dreams] is one of them. There's a great ad-lib that John Lennon does at the end a song he recorded [but never finished] in 1980 called 'Borrowed Time'.  It goes like this:

Oh yes, it all seemed so bloody easy then
Ya' know, like
What to wear? Very serious-like, ya' know
How am I gonna get rid of the pimples?
Does she really love me?
All that crap.
But now I don't bother about that shit no more
I KNOW she loves me.
All I gotta bother about
Is standin' up

I loved those lines when I was 16 but never fully understood them until recently. So, all is not gloom and doom. Well, it's gloom with an awareness of doom, maybe. But at least I have the self-realization to know that - rather than beat myself for 'bad' decisions - the secret o'life is: you make the best decision you can based on the information you have AT THE TIME.

And, then, the answer's at the end.