Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Not-Quite All Star Game

I remember a time when All-Star games were fun as a kid. It was a mid-season break in the NBA and MLB, and a last hurrah of football after the Super Bowl before going seven months without another game. (I honestly don't think I ever saw an NHL All-Star game - something that continues today)

You took a lot of pride seeing your team's representative playing with the best of the best in the league. That meant one year watching Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman in the NBA. Another time it was Barry Sanders in the NFL. I even remember Cecil Fielder making the final out in one game, winning it all for the American League.

But I can't watch the Pro Bowl nowadays. It's not football. It's not an athletic contest; it's a popularity contest.

Football is dangerous, so I don't get why teams would allow their best players to risk injury in a meaningless exhibition game. Didn't we have a lockout last year that was based partly on the fact that there are too many preseason games? But now we have a postseason game that is, albeit different, but is still meaningless.

In the first place, you're not playing for anything. Rules are altered in a way that wouldn't fly with fans in a regular season game. Quarterbacks can't call audibles. Three wide receivers can't line up on one side of the ball. Offenses have to use a tight end on every play. Defenses can't blitz. All defenses run a 4-3 formation. No press coverage until you get to the 5-yard line.

Essentially the NFL dumbs down the game to keep teams from getting too hardcore about winning. So why play it then?

Another problem I have is how players are selected. It should be the best players of that season in the game. Instead, we have something like in economics called a "lagging indicator." Players like the Lions' Matthew Stafford were snubbed for players such as Cam Newton after throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 TDs.

It's possible Stafford could go next year as the third quarterback or 1st alternate, granted Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are still the best two QBs in the NFC. After those two, there's kind of a bottleneck with Stafford, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Newton. Either way, Stafford has a good shot at going to Hawaii next year.

Even if you are picked, it's not a slight to skip the game altogether. Players who have injuries that would otherwise play through them in a regular season game duck the Pro Bowl. Last year, Ndamukong Suh went and had surgery on his shoulder, despite winning the most votes of any defensive tackle and being named an All-Pro. This year, Calvin Johnson is skipping the game because of a sore Achilles tendon.

More to the point, guess which teams are guaranteed not to have representatives, despite having selections? The two Super Bowl contenders. Why? It's obvious the fans have caught on. It was only last year that the NFL, once they switched the dates of Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, saw its highest number of viewers for the game (technically the NFL started this in 2010, but viewership was up to 13.4 million last year). It fills a void between the Conference Championships and the biggest game of all.

So really, what's the point of this game if nothing else, it gives Roger Goodell another chance to pitch his 18-game schedule plan for the next CBA? Just kill it now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wow, People Are Still Stupid

Normally I won't read any "Letters to the Editor" section of any newspaper. Not because I'm against people expressing their right to free speech, but because they're stupid. If I sound elitist, it's because I am.

I have very little concern for the "common man's" opinion. Newspapers feel obligated to allow for everyone to chime in on a story, which is understandable. It facilitates discussion on relevant topics. But the discussion is almost always worthless when people have little clue what they're talking about. Even worse, if you ever want to find out what crazies do with their free time, look at the comments section of any news organization's website. The truthers, birthers, and everyone else come out in droves.

Last week, I broke one of my own rules and read through that very section in the Detroit Free Press. One of the letters the paper published was from a citizen of Troy being critical of their non-partisan elections for city office.

The writer doesn't like non-partisan elections because he believes that lack of party affiliation allows for candidates to hide their true selves from the public. At the center of his criticism was the Mayor of Troy, Janice Daniels, who apparently doesn't like gay people. She said so one time on facebook. Once this little "gaffe" was revealed publicly, she received an appropriate level of condemnation for her words.

The Mayor's response was something well short of an apology. She pointed out that the comments were made before she even considered running. That should make it all better, right? Well no, it won't. Having an openly homophobic Mayor isn't good, especially for a wealthy suburb town like Troy that has reputation for being cosmopolitan. But that's another topic for another time.

Our writer friend seems to think that had she run as a Republican (she most likely is given her involvement with the Tea Party), we would have known right away that she possesses all the negative traits of Republicans. Unfortunately, this person seems to make the same mistake a lot of people make: linking local politics to national politics.

There are a few reasons many local governments have non-partisan elections. They're too small to address national issues. There isn't a Republican or Democratic way to fix streetlights and potholes. Cities are often highly partisan one way or another, prohibiting the minority partisans from running for office. Plus, a party label is nothing more than an endorsement of coalitions.

Cities like Troy have no say in whether or not gay and lesbian couples can get married. They can't outlaw guns. They are simply creatures of the state, meaning what the state can bring you into the world, and it can take you out. Local governments provide basic community services that we cannot otherwise receive from the private sector, like law enforcement.

Some cities in Michigan do have partisan ballots on their city councils. Cities like Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor have that and what you see is one side has a monopoly. Such monopolies discourage those of a different political persuasion from getting involved in local politics.

More to the point, it's not uncommon if someone does seek elected office on the local level, they often join the other party in an attempt to get elected, or remain elected like in Ann Arbor when Marcia Higgins switched sides and Stephen Rapundalo left the Republicans to run for city council as a Democrat). Conservative Republicans can't win in a town like Ann Arbor.

So, even though we know for a fact that Mayor Daniels is a Tea Party activist, it doesn't mean everyone elected to office on one slate will tow the party line, especially at the local level where they can't really do the things they can do in Lansing or Washington. Are we okay with that?

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Now a Race

Apparently, Newt Gingrich won South Carolina. Apparently, by a lot of votes. I expected Mitt Romney to either a) win, or b) lose by a small percentage. Neither happened. Instead, Gingrich got about 40% to Romney's 28%.

I think two factors played an important role here: the "documentary" known as the King of Bain (watch the full video here), and the breaking news on Thursday that Gingrich's second wife Marianne accused her former husband of wanting to have an "open marriage." The documentary alone, might not have been so damaging, but the media highlighted what Romney's Republican critics had claimed during his time at Bain Capital: he was a corporate raider who shed jobs in the name of profits. Even if you didn't watch the video (I didn't), you knew what it was about, and the media's reporting of it made the message stick.

The second factor is somewhat ironic, somewhat funny given that Republicans often pander to the "family values" wing of their party. Here you have Newt Gingrich, a Presidential candidate two days away from one of the most important primaries, having a huge bombshell dropped in his lap - an accusation that he wanted to stay married with his then-second wife and continue his extramarital affair with the woman, Callista Bisek (now Gingrich), who is now his third wife. As Gingrich is a champion of social conservatives' causes, you would think they would be outraged by this, given his prior history of cheating on his first wife, Jackie, with his then-soon-to-be second wife, Marianne.

Alas, you would be wrong. The night of the South Carolina Republican Debate, moderator John King wasted little time and asked Gingrich with the very first question if he had a response to the charges. Instead of defending himself, he attacks the media for attacking him, making him the victim in all this. The crowd goes wild, and he rides off to victory by an impressive margin two days later.

Now, let's suppose Gingrich's second wife fabricated the story, since we can't prove either way if it's true or not. It's public knowledge he already had two affairs, so we can establish a pattern of behavior. Even if the second Mrs. Gingrich wasn't being truthful, why are so many social conservatives so quick to circle the wagons around the guy WHO IS ON HIS THIRD MARRIAGE????

I blame ideological tribalism (a term I picked up from Bob Somerby). Basically, it's the idea that people who are of a certain ideology or political leaning tend to have a belief that the people who think like them are virtuous, and that those who they are opposed to are at worst, a bunch of are idiots, liars, and crooks. It can never be that one of your own is one of those three.

Take my word for it, it's not something limited to conservatives and Republicans. I hear very little criticism from liberals about Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, or Rachel Maddow, even though all three are guilty of being very fast and loose with facts in their documentaries or reporting. Probably because everyone's pride is at stake, and no one has the stones to call out one of their own.

As with Gingrich, we are left with more of the same. It's now a race, but I suspect it will be over by Super Tuesday. Romney has the establishment behind him, and they tend to carry the real weight in primary politics. I suspect as the coming weeks unfold, we'll see more party insiders who once worked with Gingrich dishing enough dirt to bring him down and ultimately undo his campaign.

If you're hoping a long and costly Republican primary will help Obama in November, think again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Didn't Black Out on January 18

Well, I didn't jump on the bandwagon and black my page out on January 18 like some of the websites I visit.

I suppose I should be more adamant in my opposition to the legislation, but I'll be honest, I'm not that tech savvy enough to make a call. If you twisted my arm, I'd be opposed. The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) sounds good, but apparently websites like Wikipedia took a position that the SOPA legislation would harm the streaming of content on the web.

The SOPA bill makes me think of the Napster controversy from twelve years ago when you had this website that made it possible to download music without having to pay the artists who created it. I pretty much sided with Lars Ulrich who was the most visible opponent of Napster, simply because Metallica has the right to be compensated for their works.

But the problem with legislation like SOPA, as I understand it, it's too vague to actually work. It's supposed to protect intellectual property, but it doesn't specify what I can and can't download, so technically, I could be downloading a file off the web illegally without even knowing it.

It also means that websites like Wikipedia would be required to self-monitor their own website for improper usage. According to the website, they could link their users to website that infringes on copyright laws. How many sites does Wikipedia link to? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

Perhaps lost in all of this discussion is the fact that the politicians attempting to pass this legislation have little clue if any how the internet works. I'm no internet genius myself, but I'm not writing the laws that govern how we use it. Furthermore, how long has the internet been a commodity we commonly use? Close to twenty years, and yet in that time, how many people have we elected to Congress that have the capacity to understand how the internet works? It looks like if we can put a number on it, it isn't much.

Take this quote from Adam Theirer who wrote after a November 16 Congressional hearing, "the techno-ignorance of Congress was on full display. Member after member admitted that they really didn’t have any idea what impact SOPA’s regulatory provisions would have on the DNS, online security, or much of anything else." I found this quote from a Wikipedia article that best sums up our elected officials' capacity to regulate the internet.

In the end, I don't know. It wouldn't have made a difference either way if I had blacked this page out. I'm still playing around with the gadgets. Even though you could copy a javascript code, I didn't know where to put it.

Did Dana Milbank Say Something Reasonable?

My God, straight from the Washington Post came this from Dana Milbank:

If the “choice” rally participants really wanted to preserve legal abortion, they’d be wise to drop the sky-is-falling warnings about Roe and to acknowledge that the other side, and most Americans, have legitimate concerns. Not every compromise means a slippery slope to the back alley.

I am of the "choice" side of the argument, but even I admit, I spend more time criticizing the people that I agree with for their tactics and how they say things, rather than the merits for which they stand their ground.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Clash of MLK's Legacy and Modern Image

Today we had a holiday in America. Perhaps you've heard of it - Martin Luther King Day. Perhaps you know the history or the image that is cultivated of our most famous modern day civil rights leader. But probably not.

In today's world, we lionize Dr. King. We think of him as one who led the struggle for equal opportunity, and often times in doing so we forget a few important things: he was a radical, he was not the only civil rights leader of his era, and he wasn't always as popular among Americans or even within the movement.

I remember first learning of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the fourth grade. I suppose it's always ongoing, but the one to which I'm specifically talking about occurred in the 1950s and '60s. But after having gone through college and studied African-American history more in-depth, it amazes me how different white and black Americans have learned of King.

It seems like in the white schools the history gets a lot of white washing. Dr. King was the "good civil rights" leader who preached peace as opposed to the "bad" ones, namely people like Malcolm X, who preached violence and all that stuff. Of course, history is almost never that simple, and in a way because of this, history has been rather unkind to people like Malcolm X.

It was quite the eye opener when I went to college and heard how he was discussed among African-American students. His history became much more complex. Of course, he was lionized; the fact that he is referred to sometimes as simply "Martin" the way Malcolm X is referred to as "Malcolm" is a testament to just how much of an impact each had. But he was spoken of in a much more complex manner.

A more detailed history of Dr. King is that he held radical views. He was greatly influenced by the likes of another radical, Mahatma Gandhi, who led the independence movement in India from British colonization. Gandhi's call for nonviolence and passive resistance was a cornerstone to King's tactics, like the Montgomery boycott. But there was much more to him than that.

He was one of the first leaders to call for a type of reparations for past injustices. He didn't think it was possible to provide for direct compensation for past injustices such as slavery or Jim Crow, but it was possible to provide $50 billion over the course of ten years to all disadvantaged groups (not just African-Americans) to address the needs of poverty, lack of access to education, and to combat other social ills such as broken homes.

He was also a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. In a speech delivered exactly a year before his assassination, he said that the war was means for colonization and that the United States was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

Nonetheless, towards the final years of his life, he wasn't the consensus civil rights leader that we think of today. In the years following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, his methods were often in conflict with other leaders who were more vocally hostile discrimination. As the decade wore on, the movement took a more militant tone with leaders like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Stokely Carmichael calling for black nationalism. Passive resistance was no longer good enough as acts of economic discrimination and police brutality followed African-Americans out of the Deep South and into cities like Detroit and Los Angeles.

Public opinion of him has changed in the time since his assassination. According to Gallup, Dr. King had a favorable rating of 33% in 1966 - last August it was up to 94%. That same year, 50% of whites believed he was "hurting the Negro cause, while only 36% said he was helping, according to a Harris Poll.*

It's an ugly truth, but assassinations have a way of changing our views of someone, regardless of what they stood for (see Lincoln, Kennedy).

* (Thanks to The Monkey Cage for providing those stats).

And Then There Were Five

Sadly, Jon Huntsman ended his presidential campaign today. It's not like anyone didn't see this coming. But the person most qualified to be President of the United States on the GOP side barely made a blip on the radar in 2012.

Huntsman's general election chances were promising. He served as an ambassador to China under the Obama administration. He was a successful two-term Governor of Utah. He had been a successful entrepreneur.

But it was his moderate views that made him an unwanted commodity in an increasingly hardline Republican Party. He never stood a chance in the primary. Too often he was seen as another Mitt Romney, a moderate who recognized civil unions for gays and lesbians. He believes in evolution and he criticized the Tea Party Caucus for bringing the country to the brink of default on our debt.

If anything, his staffers were right - the only votes he was getting were ones that would have otherwise gone to Romney. Like Huntsman, Romney is seen as the moderate among the grassroots base of the party. While Huntsman has authentic claims to being pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment, his ties to the Obama Administration meant most Republicans took one quick look and knew right away they wouldn't like him, regardless of his intellect and experience.

Let us not forget the "Mormon" issue as well. Various polls show that Romney's faith would have been a liability among the evangelical voters, who comprise about 44% of the Republican vote. If it hurt Romney, it would have hurt Huntsman the same.

I guess we're one step closer to the Romney coronation.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

GOP - South Carolina Style

Yesterday I wondered if Republicans were watching the Broncos-Patriots game, who were they cheering for? Broncos-Patriots was like Jesus vs. America. The Broncos have Jesus, a la Tim Tebow, and the Patriots are well, the Patriots. If you root for one, you're against the other, right? So if you're for Jesus, you're anti-American. But if you're for America, you're a godless heathen. What happens if you take the Republicans' two most sacred things and make them fight? Well, Jesus gets his ass kicked 45-10.

But speaking of Christians and Republicans...Mitt Romney. Romney will win his party's nomination, but he won't get much love from the grassroots conservative base of the GOP. I guess to their credit, they can spot a fake a million miles away. But they did nominate John McCain and George H. W. Bush in the post-Reagan world.

Romney won the first two rounds of the GOP's nominating contests, Iowa and New Hampshire. He barely got by Iowa, which his critics immediately seized an opportunity to move the goal posts and declare lost by winning the whole thing by a mere eight votes. Ouch. To me, he won. A win's a win. The talk leading up to the New Hampshire Primary was that he had to win by 15 points in order to really "win." Well, he did exceed that expectation.

I'm not sympathetic to Romney. He's very contrived, wooden, and inauthentic. He attacks Jon Huntsman for having served in the Obama administration, while as he admits, was spending the last three years trying to defeat this administration. Nothing like playing to the crowd to score a cheap applause.

As Hunstman stoically pointed out, he was serving his country, just as his sons are in the Navy, regardless of the President's affiliation. A good line for people like me, but then again, people like me are outvoted 12-1 every time.

But there's never a genuine moment with Romney. How many people can recall an unscripted moment with the former Governor? He's got a few lines to say and he's sticking with them. Even if it means completely not answering a question in a debate, in an interview, in a conference.

South Carolina is going to be a different fight altogether. In Iowa, you had a large share of evangelical voters; in New Hampshire, you did not. South Carolina is the first RED state of the red state primaries. As hard as Romney must try to win over those evangelical conservative voters in the Palmetto State, he knows he's better served by candidates Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry splitting those votes and walking away with at least 25% of the vote, regardless if he wins or loses.

Romney is in an enviable position in South Carolina. He doesn't have to win, but he might. He just has to tread water for the next six days and hope the conservatives don't coalesce around Ricks Perry or Santorum (or Newtie).

But South Carolina is tough. The 2000 GOP Primary got nasty once it headed to South Carolina. Team Bush notoriously started the use of push polls against John McCain. They would make calls (I think they were robocalls if I'm not mistaken) to random homes, falsely stating that McCain had fathered a black child. (The child in question was Bridget, the daughter they adopted from Bangladesh.)

Romney's challengers have six more days to tear him down, tear each other down, or build themselves up in order to put them in position to compete with him for the next few weeks. I wonder if the most vulnerable candidate is Rick Perry. Perry invested so much time in this state because he knew he had no shot at New Hampshire. If he fails to place at least a close second, I think it hurts his chances in Florida, ten days later, and then after that, he's done.

The great thing about this - we've got six more days to find out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hong Kong Disconnected with China

I came across this article in the Washington Post today about Hong Kong. According to Robert Chung of Hong Kong University's Public Opinion Program, "Hong Kongers" (I didn't know that's how they referred to themselves) identify very little with China.

This doesn't surprise me at all. I went to Hong Kong with my dad in July of 1990 and spent a week there. First of all, that city was a blast. I never had so much fun at a place like that.

When we went, it was still a British territory/colony. Dad explained that Hong Kong was under a century-long lease to the United Kingdom from China and that the city would return to Chinese control in 1997.

We never got deep into politics, as most 10-year-olds have very little concern with such things, but from time-to-time the subject would pop up. Dozens of times I might have seen a shop selling t-shirts that showed a painter painting a Chinese flag over the Union Jack and it read "Hong Kong: 1897 - 1997." Looking back, I can see it was likely intended to stir fears about China's impeding takeover.

One late afternoon, we were walking the city and came across a display by some anti-Chinese activists. The Tiananmen Square massacre happened only a year earlier, so the fears of an autocratic regime imposing its will on Hong Kong seemed very plausible. I saw pictures of some of the most violent and grotesque things people do to each other. One picture showed the body of a protester after it had been run over by a tank. If it were a Hollywood production, nobody would have bought it.

As of today, nothing of that sort has happened to Hong Kong since its transition. Today, China and Hong Kong recognize the "One Country, Two Systems" policy. It is a capitalist utopia existing inside a Maoist empire. But today's article in the WaPo got me thinking about how much sense Dr. Chung's survey made.

Because Hong Kong had been under British control for virtually all of today's Hong Konger's lives, why would anyone there identify with the mainland Chinese? Sure, they look alike, have the same names, and even speak the same language, but so do people in the American North and South.

Chinese officials and pro-communist party media has denounced the survey, calling it "unscientific" and an attempt to divide the people of Hong Kong from their compatriots. While the survey itself does make sense that people who were under British rule their whole lives feel little connection to their mainland counterparts, I'm more worried about any sort of crackdown on the city itself.

Hong Kong is like a paradise. The freedoms Hong Kongers enjoy is nothing like what you see on mainland China. I would hate to see it turn into another Beirut.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Not a Chance

First came this, and then I heard this, and yet I still have no chance with either. *sigh*

Liking the New Layout So Far

Well, I ditched the old classic layout and am now using the updated templates that blogger provides me. So far, so good.

I created a twitter widget on the right hand side as well. This is actually getting to be kind of fun. I will continually update the links sections on the right as I find more blogs to frequent.

And So It Was Not To Be

A few hours ago, we Detroit Lions fans were able to rejoin in an annual tradition known as the NFL Playoffs for the first time in a dozen years. And in just a little over three hours, we sat back and watched as our hopes for Super Bowl promise come to an unhappy ending with a 45-28 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.

I could be saddened, and maybe I should be, but I won't. There's a common perception in the NFL that we make predictions that establish our expectations for the season prior to the opening kickoff. Then, just as the season progresses, our expectations change depending on the team's performance. We Lions fans were no different than anybody, but looking back on the season, I can honestly, my expectations were satisfied.

Prior to the season, based on how Lions' GM Martin Mayhew had been making personnel decisions, I expected this team to have a legitimate shot at breaking the 10-win barrier and making a serious playoff run. Both expectations were satisfied. What I did not expect was for this team to make a serious run deep into the playoffs. Tonight's loss was not what I would call "satisfying," but it did reinforce what I had strongly believed all along: this team is good, but not yet great.

The game started with the Lions receiving the ball first, and quarterback Matthew Stafford taking the team in a flawlessly executed offensive drive that lasted eight plays and went eighty yards for a touchdown. For the first half, the Lions held their own and went into halftime with a 14-10 lead. They were actually making a game of it.

But the second half came, and Saints' quarterback Drew Brees led his team to its first lead of the game with a touchdown after only a 1:30 in the third quarter. Brees effectively took over, and the Lions' defense could not respond. Two straight scores gave the Saints a ten point lead before Stafford and Lions answered with another touchdown by Stafford running the ball on a bootleg, putting the Lions to within three.

However, Brees was able to not only manage a small lead, but keep the ball on multiple fourth down conversions (they never used the punter in the game). The Saints scored twice again, going ahead 38-21 before Stafford responded with a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson with less than half the fourth quarter remaining. The Saints put up one more touchdown after a Stafford interception, taking a 45-28 lead. With their last chance, Stafford threw a second pick to Jabari Greer, who had intercepted him minutes earlier. That was Greer's second of the game; he only had one pick all year. Just to show the team's dominance, the Saints managed to take the ball all the way to the Lions' goal line, but decided to kill the clock in a victory formation rather than pile on.

It was pretty obvious by the end of the third quarter that we would not be seeing another week of Lions football. Sure, it's depressing to see your team lose. But putting it all in context, what we Lions fans have been through in over a decade, our sadness is fleeting.

We are no longer the laughingstock of the NFL. Detroit now has a legitimate NFL team again. And unlike the 1990s, this team will not have a string of disappointing, underachieving W-L records, like going 9-7 because we beat Super Bowl contenders like Dallas and San Francisco, but lost to teams like Tampa Bay (the pre-1997 Buccaneers were gawdawful for years).

Around this time in year's past, I was always looking forward to the draft. In 2012, I'll still get excited by it. But now I know we're not drafting for franchise players. We're drafting for need.

Like, a secondary perhaps? Maybe an interior offensive lineman? Maybe even look to replace a few players who are getting long in the tooth, like Kyle Vanden Bosch or Jeff Backus.

Supposedly, this draft is pretty light on corners. But I don't care. I'm all smiles for the next eight to ten years. Sure, there will be setbacks from time to time.

But you know what? I bet, Matthew Stafford will do something for this franchise, this city, and this state that no one's been able to do in the Super Bowl era - bring home the Lombardi Trophy. That I firmly believe.

So, I'm disappointed with last night's result. But I'm not distraught. Next year, my anticipation will grow, as will the rest of Detroit's.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

On Tap: Lions at Saints

I would be remiss I didn't at least blog about tonight's game at 8:00 pm, would I?

The Detroit Lions play the New Orleans Saints at the Super Dome in NOLA. This is the first playoff appearance for the Lions since 1999. Among the other firsts for the Detroit, it is the first playoff appearance for players such as Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, both drafted by former Lions' President and GM Matt Millen, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, both drafted after Millen was fired in 2008, the first for Lions current GM Martin Mayhew, and Head Coach Jim Schwartz.

Even though the game is taking place in New Orleans, it's a big night in Detroit. The odds are stacked against the Lions, but I don't think a win is impossible, just unlikely.

First, the Saints have a dynamic offense led by QB Drew Brees, who just surpassed Dan Marino's record of 5,084 passing yards in a season (interestingly enough, Stafford was within fifty yards of the same record). Brees has one of the most balanced offenses, ever. The Saints running game is led by rookie Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles is used as a 3rd down, change of pace type back.

But the bread and butter of this offense is its receiving, complete with four quality wide receivers led by Marques Colston, and followed by Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem. Added to that, is the emergence of second year tight end Jimmy Graham, who had ninety nine receptions and eleven touchdowns this year.

This game is expected to be a shootout. The Lions' offense can almost go toe-to-toe with the Saints, except in one area: the running game. Prior to the season, Mayhew drafted halfback Mikel Leshoure and his "ground and pound game" to complement Jahvid Best's speed on the outside and his pass catching, play making abilities. But both were lost to injury for the year, with Leshoure blowing his achilles' tendon the first week of training camp, and Best suffering another concussion, which may possibly spell the end of his career.

The Lions were lucky enough to find former third round pick Kevin Smith available after not offering him another contract at the end of the 2010 season. Smith showed promise at the start, but a high ankle sprain has limited his productivity ever since. If all three can come back next year, the Lions may be able to have one of the most prolific running attacks to go along with their passing attack.

The passing game is the strength of this offense, led by QB Matthew Stafford who just set team records in passing yardage and touchdowns. Stafford has one of the strongest arms...ever. After being able to stay healthy an entire season, the second biggest concern for the Lions' franchise QB was his accuracy, and he has improved on that in each of his first three seasons.

The Lions have a receiving corps that can match the Saints, led by Calvin Johnson, perhaps the best in the game today. Johnson is complemented by veteran Nate Burleson, who started off sluggish earlier in the year, but has come on strong as of late. Rookie Titus Young was drafted in the second round, and despite some mental lapses, he has shown tremendous promise and looks to be a fixture for years to come.

Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler complete the receiving corps. Pettigrew is still improving, but he still drops passes at critical moments. Scheffler has shown himself to be a dangerous threat in the slot, but at times disappears from the offense altogether.

The biggest question for Detroit is, can the defense contain enough of the Saints' offense in order to allow their offense a chance to pull off an upset? The last time these teams met was on December 4 at the Super Dome for Sunday Night Football. The Saints took the game, 31-17. Depending on who you ask, it was either a "blowout" or it was "close."

I do not think it was a blowout, per se, but the Lions committed a lot of egregious penalties - eleven - that cost them 107 yards of field position. This was a nationally televised game coming off a previously nationally televised game where Lions' DT Suh stomped on a Green Bay Packers O-lineman, causing a two-game suspension. Suh wasn't there in New Orleans, but rookie Nick Fairley was. For a quarter.

If Suh shows up, and Fairley plays like he did a month ago, the front four may create enough disruption to help a porous secondary that can't stop elite QBs like Brees on their own. The last time these teams played, the Lions came within seven points, before the Saints pulled away in the fourth quarter.

The Lions can't allow the Saints to get in their heads. They are emotional, but sometimes those emotions spill over, causing them to be thrown off their game (or out in the case of Suh).

Detroit gets free safety Louis Delmas back, who they need desperately. This team lacks a No. 1 cornerback, and any help from Delmas is a huge plus.

But I think the key difference here will be the Saints' offense over Detroit's. They've been tested and they have a ring. What distinguishes the Saints' passing game over Detroit's is their offensive line. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are the best offensive guard tandems in the NFL, and Jermon Bushrod is a very capable tackle.

I suspect this game will go to the fourth quarter, with the Saints' home field edge and experience winning the day on a late turnover.

===========================================================

Lions 28
Saints 38

Update at 2300 hours on 1/8/2012: I was not aware going into the game that Saints' RB Mark Ingram was out. My bad. But they still did damage with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

Some New Things (and some old)

I went back to the old background. Instead of changing it up with some of the new templates from blogger, I went back to the original blue background. There just isn't enough time in the day for me to play around and tinker with all of the newer layouts and so forth.

But I did manage to add a twitter widget, so now my blog looks a little more up to date. Now I'm trying to add an Analytics (or "addthis") address bar. I want it to show up at the bottom of every post, but I think it'll wind up on the right side of the page.

If anyone's got some advice how to change that, please feel free to share. Or, tell me how this page sucks.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Is Romney's GOP Nomination a Fait Accompli?

I can understand the frustration among the most conservative of Republican voters as to their wariness of nominating Mitt Romney as their standard bearer for the 2012 presidential election. Even though Romney won the Iowa Caucus last Tuesday by a mere eight votes over Rick Santorum, it seems obvious there's a ceiling to the amount of support Romney can expect in contests where it's Republican v. Republican.

For the better part of six months now, it seems that Romney's ascension to the GOP nomination is all but a given, and that the only thing standing in his way are a series of quick risings and falls among various contenders. First, it was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who quit after a disappointing showing in a straw poll. Another Minnesota pol, Michelle Bachmann, also turned out to be a quick flame out.

From Bachmann, the GOP base swooned over several more conservative candidates, only to see them all fall by the wayside as each were undone by a media microscope that exposed each candidate's weaknesses as quickly as they reached the pinnacles of their respective popularity. Rick Perry was the Texas Governor who reminded us of another Governor from the Lone Star State running twelve years earlier. He raised cash hand over fist until a series of debates exposed him for being seriously unprepared for how different federal office is from Austin.

Herman Cain came after Perry. Cain, a businessman who sold pizzas, showed off his conservative bona fides to a Tea Party crowd eager to shake the "racism" label that has dogged them since they began organizing at public venues two years ago. An old youtube clip shows Cain from almost twenty years ago going toe-to-toe with then-President Clinton over his healthcare plan and holding his own. His popularity came when he won a Florida Straw Poll. He rose to front-runner status as quickly as he fell after various reports and multiple allegations of sexual harassment emerged from his time as the President of the National Restaurants Association. His biggest contribution to the race was his 9-9-9 plan which called for a national sales tax, an income tax, and transaction tax, all at 9%. Despite his best efforts to prove otherwise, in-depth analyses showed that his tax plan would've been a tax hike for 84% of the country. Due to his campaign's awkward and clumsy handling of sexual harassment allegations, and then another of adultery, Cain's popularity fell, and then by December, his campaign was suspended.

Newt Gingrich was next to benefit from Cain's fall. Despite his past marital indiscretions, conservatives looked to him as the Romney alternative as he had a past of being the conservative "ideas man," he was a polished debater, and he was the driving opposition during the Clinton years. He tended to embellish his own resume, however. While claiming to be "an academic," Gingrich never really published. Furthermore, his arrogant proclamations in the media that he was going to be the nominee (he even began speaking as if he already wrapped up the nomination by speculating Romney would be on his list of potential VPs) were undermined as early as last week when he declared he wasn't going to win in Iowa. A SuperPAC known as "Restore Our Future" ran ads on behalf of Romney, demolished Gingrich's character, placed doubts inside the minds of supporters as to his credentials, and allowed Romney to avoid having to go negative himself. If that isn't passive-aggressive, I don't know what is.

As Gingrich fell, the next to rise up was a former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum. Santorum had a successful political career. He was elected to Congress in 1990 and then to the US Senate in 1994 in a Republican wave (the same one that catapulted Gingrich to the Speakership). His election was distinguishable by the fact that he was a conservative Republican who won a statewide office in one of the three biggest swing states. In a state that had elected liberal Republicans like Arlen Specter, Hugh Scott, and John Heinz, Santorum was an outlier. His ascension as the new anti-Romney could not have come at a better time, as he rose in the polls and finished a mere eight votes behind Romney to place second Tuesday.

Santorum is much like previous GOP also-rans, highly conservative, an intellectual lightweight, but sincere about what he says. Whereas candidates like Romney and Jon Huntsman have to dumb themselves down or modify previous stances, or Gingrich who has to talk with his chest puffed five inches out, Santorum fits the mold vacated by Bachmann and Cain. He can feel good about his candidacy right now. But come the next few weeks (or days for that matter), he'll face the same microscope that took down previous rivals.

Santorum could consolidate the anti-Romney sentiment within the GOP, but given his organization, his lack of resources, and whether he can withstand a higher level of scrutiny from the media and opposition, I highly doubt it. The anti-Romney vote, if it were consolidated to just one, or possibly two, candidates could wipe Mitt Romney off the map and out of GOP contention.

I suspect that in the coming days, we'll see just how far Santorum can go, given that New Hampshire is up next, and the voters there are less socially conservative than Iowans or South Carolinians. I'm guessing this thing is Romney's to lose, and we've known this now for three years going.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Hello Playoffs

Yesterday the 2011 NFL season ended...

AND THE LIONS MADE THE PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!

The last time anyone could say that was in 1999, and even then they only backed into the playoffs after losing their final four games.

The season was special from the get-go. After finishing 2010 with four straight wins to go 6-10, expectations were high in this city and across the country. Many commentators picked the Lions as their "it" team of 2011.

In April, the Lions drafted a defensive tackle, Nick Fairley, out of Auburn with their 1st Round pick. They then selected a running back Mikel LeShoure and a wide receiver, Titus Young. While Martin Mayhew did little to address a porous secondary, he did manage to sign two solid linebackers in Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch, which settled the defense's front seven.

While many of us were fretting at the sight of a possible work stoppage, both the NFL and its union, the NFLPA reached a new collective bargaining agreement that made the whole regular season possible. The only casualty was the Hall of Fame Game, which is largely a waste anyway, since it's one more meaningless game that two teams have to play in a preseason that has too many games as it is.

When the preseason arrived, the Lions dominated, going 4-0. While they didn't have any meaningful victories, they did stoke fears among fans who remembered the dreadful 0-16 season where they had also gone 4-0 in the preseason. Yet the key difference between the 2008 team and the 2011 team, was that the 2011 team had some actual talent. The '08 team did have Calvin Johnson, but there was no franchise quarterback, no defense, and no coaching staff that could adequately prepare a team and implement a game plan.

The team started off hot. They went 5-0 for the first time since 1956 and were the talk of the league. Their start coincided with the Detroit Tigers' playoff run. Detroit was buzzing. Included in that start were two come from behind victories at Minnesota and at Dallas where the Lions were down 20-0 and 23-0 at halftime respectively. A billboard along I-94 in Detroit showed a lion and a tiger with the warning: "Beware of cats." The name "Stafford" became a buzz word as at various sporting events around the city; you could hear fans screaming "STAFFORD!!!" at random times in games that had nothing to do with football.

Then came an eight-week stretch (including a bye week) where the Lions lost five of their next seven, and suddenly Detroit was 7-5 and outside the playoff bubble. A little dust up and the end of the Lions' first loss to San Francisco where Coach Jim Schwartz got into it with 49ers' Coach Jim Harbaugh in the post-game handshake was embarrassing for the team. The loss coincided with the Tigers' elimination from the ALCS a few days before.

Along the way, the Lions earned a reputation as a "dirty" team, and the anchor of its defense, Ndamukong Suh, was voted as the dirtiest player in the league. I contest such claims because (1) I'm a homer, and (2) there are plenty of other examples of dirtier players in the league, like the Steelers' James Harrison and Hines Ward. Suh didn't help himself on Thanksgiving day by driving Green Bay Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the turf three times and then stomping on him once.

The stomp, while not as damaging as Albert Haynesworth's stomp on Andre Gurode five years earlier, caused Suh to have a two-game suspension. On top of that, Suh's clumsy handling of the matter hurt his popularity around the league. His failure to apologize to Dietrich-Smith after the game, a half-hearted apology on facebook the next day, and then ending a weekly radio interview abruptly after he came back only reinforced the negative things that his detractors were saying about him.

Eventually, the Lions regrouped and won three in a row against the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers. I went to the Vikings game, and watched them almost give the game away after taking a 21-0 lead. The game ended with the referees missing an obvious facemask penalty on Lions' DeAndre Levy, which would've given the Vikings a fresh set of downs and the ball on the 1-yard line. Lucky for us, the refs blew a call that actually went in our favor, for once.

Raiders game was the most dramatic as Detroit was down 27-14 with under eight minutes to go before Stafford pulled the team together and scored with a TD pass to Calvin Johnson. The Raiders game guaranteed the Lions' first winning season since 2000, and it included the return of Suh after his suspension, and his game-winning field goal block against Sebastian Janikowski.

The Chargers' game wasn't even close. The Lions dominated on both sides of the ball and secured its first playoff berth in twelve years. For me, the icing on the cake was the night before, former Lions' GM Matt Millen predicted the Chargers would win. To his defense, the Chargers had gotten hot, despite a lackluster start to the season. But his failed prediction was gravy. He predicted the Lions would lose, and instead, not only did they win, but they made the playoffs, something he never could pull off in eight years.

The season ended in Green Bay with a loss. This game was expected to be a Lions' win. Green Bay already secured the No. 1 seed with the best record in the NFC (and the NFL, for that matter), so it was expected that Packers' coach Mike McCarthy would sit his best players. He did, at least most of them. QB Aaron Rodgers, LB Clay Matthews, and CB Charles Woodson all sat out. While the Lions got off to a 9-0 start, backup QB Matt Flynn threw for over 450 yards and five TDs. Stafford also threw for over 500 yards and five TDs, but threw an interception on the final play of the game, giving the Packers the win.

Yesterday's loss was embarrassing. Despite the fact that the Pack sat only three (as far as I know) starters, the Lions won't be able to live that one down for a while. If Matt Flynn (Rodgers' backup) is 75% as good as he was against the Lions (and the Packers have that good of depth on their team), then maybe it isn't so bad, but your average common man won't remember all those nuances. They'll just remember that the Lions couldn't beat Green Bay's second string.

So, we're 10-6. 10-6 is good. I actually predicted they'd go 10-6, generically. According to my schedule I had on my fridge, I had them going 11-5 game-by-game, and I went 12-4 predicting those outcomes. I missed on San Francisco, at Chicago, Green Bay (on Thanksgiving), and San Diego. Not bad for the past three years. I said in 2009 they'd be 3-13; they were 2-14. In 2010, I said 5-11; they were 6-10.

And now, we're in the playoffs. This Saturday, Detroit goes to New Orleans. The city is still revved up for the playoffs. The only negative is the bad taste left in our mouths after yesterday's loss. Detroit had a chance to get another monkey off our backs. By beating Green Bay at home, the Lions would've ended the 20-game winning streak they had over us.

Yet, because of this season, we got a lot of other monkeys off our backs. We had a winning season. We won ten games. We made the playoffs. We found a franchise QB (STAHHF-FAHD!!!!). Last year, Coach Schwartz ended the NFL-record longest road losing streak (a record that was previously held by guess who - Detroit). The year before, he ended the nightmarish 19-game losing streak and gave us our first win in almost two years.

You can say a lot of what Coach Schwartz is doing is about monkeys. Yesterday's game was a chance to rid us of one more. It didn't happen, but there's always next year. For now, let's focus on beating New Orleans. And then winning a Super Bowl. I'll take those monkeys off our backs over winning a game at Green Bay.