Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kicking It 2017

Ok, here's a quick league to league run down for the upcoming 2017 NFL season.

AFC East

Starts and ends with the New England Patriots as the favorite team of any good fascist mostly got better since winning the Super Bowl after spotting the Falcons a 28-3 lead. Sure, they lost Julian Edelman and don't have an edge rusher but they added speedy wideout Brandin Cooks and another white guy, RB Rex Burkhead. Gronk is back. No, they won't go undefeated but you can pretty much guarantee 13 wins as they'll get almost half playing the rest of the crummy division. Smokin' Jay Cutler was on his way to the broadcast booth when he got a call from Adam Gase in Miami after Ryan Tannehill was knocked out for the year. He might guide the Dolphins to a .500 season so long as RB Jay Ajayi has more than 3 big games, WR DeVante Parker makes the expected leap and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can avoid stomping related suspension. If it were any other division, the Buffalo Bills would have a strong claim on the cellar but they were out-firesaled by the New York Jets. Is there an adjective for 'almost completely bereft of talent'? LeSean McCoy is still great but might struggle with the new outside zone blocking scheme while QB Tyrod Taylor now doesn't have any targets to go along with his lack of accuracy: Bills get 3 wins. And those JETS? Quick, name a Jets receiver? QB? Yeah, 0-16 baby.

AFC North

Ben Roethlisberger's 35 year-old body may be 93, but he'll lead the league's best offense backed up by an improving defense. Le'Veon Bell's running style be simply described as patient? Imperturbable? Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant. Too many weapons to not win at least 8, maybe 11-5, so they can lose to the Patriots in the playoffs. The buzz around Baltimore is the Ravens defense might reclaim the best in the league title but I don't think bringing in Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead will be enough to turn around the Joe Flacco led offense leaving them around 9-7. You know, maybe the Cleveland Browns finish above the Cincinnati Bengals provided rookie DeShone Kizer allows them to jump off the QB carousel of the past couple decades (by my count Kizer will be the 27th starting QB since the franchise was (re)awarded to Cleveland). Regardless, I like what they've been doing, creatively amassing high draft picks while the Bengals are even boring when they're good; well, AJ Green is a beast I suppose. Browns celebrate a 5-11 and the Bengals and their porous offensive line bemoan a 4-12.

AFC South

The Tennessee Titans quietly had a great 2016/17 and will take the next step this year, getting their first sniff of the playoffs in a decade. The offense that scored 30.8 points/game over an eight game stretch last year has added #5 overall pick WR Corey Davis and WR Eric Decker to catch passes with TE Delanie Walker from Marcus Mariota, who will by an MVP contender, and can also hand off to RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Did you know Dick LeBeau brought his defensive scheme to Dixie from Pittsburgh? 11-5. Meanwhile the Houston Texans have a defense featuring JJ Watt, Whitney Merciless and Jadeveon Clowney. That and the fact that Brock Lobster is not longer their QB gives them a shot at the playoffs at 9-7. Swapping in Scott Tolzien for Andrew Luck at QB wouldn't work for any team and I'm thinking Luck may be out a bit which will doom the Indianapolis Colts to a losing 6-10 season alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars need to pray #4 pick RB Leonard Fournette can deliver a power running game to compensate for the erratic play of their QB, Blake Bortles, who visibly regressed last year. Heck, the Jags could wind up above the Colts if all their defensive talent gels (I say they'll feature the best cornerback duo in the NFL in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey; about all I can see on the Colts D is rookie Malik Hooker.

AFC West

Beastmode is back, now in Oakland, where the Raiders (for a couple years) should take control of the division. Matching his power running (and TE Jared Cook, yeah, that Jared Cook) with the 2nd best offensive line in football could be fun to watch. Second half of last season (until the broken leg) MVP Derek Carr may get even better so if the defense is simply average they'll finish 11-5, even once again with the Kansas City Chiefs. WR Tyreek Hill electrifies the pedestrian Alex Smith-led offense with his world class speed, scoring from anywhere while the bend but don't break defense does enough to get them into the playoffs. I simply hate the sound of the Los Angeles Chargers, their new head coach, Anthony Lynn, even seemed to want to forget it when his hiring was announced to the press. Screw Dean Spanos cause otherwise I would've liked this team. 8-8. Yeah, the Denver Broncos' defense is still awesome, but Von Miller and Co. can't carry this team forever, they'll fall to 7-9.

NFC East

In bizzarro NFL parity world, the division went from NFC Least to Beast in a season led by the Dallas Cowboys and their rookie sensation duo, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. Enough of the offense returns to cover the immense holes on defense to keep them in the playoffs at 10-6. The Giants have added weapons to run alongside Odell Beckam Jr., but Eli's arm is slowly turning into a noodle and the sorry offensive line won't open holes for a running game to grind out the wins their (perhaps) league best defense will serve to them. Still should finish around 10-6, too. You can just as easily flip a coin to determine who will finish 3-4, the Philadelphia Eagles or the Washington Redskins. Both teams revamped their receiving package and have the same QBs coming back (though the 'Skins opted to tag theirs again instead of committing), but the Eagles brought in Lagarrette Blount to upgrade their running game and have the better defense, give them 9-7 and the 'Skins 7-9.

NFC North

Yeah, yeah, the Packers ran the table last year when they needed to and then did this a year after the whole RELAX thing, but they managed to throw away another season of Rogers excellence in the end. This year, they'll need a wildcard to get to the big game as the Minnesota Vikings will win the division thanks to overpaying to upgrade their horrible offensive line to try to keep QB Sam Bradford alive (the team's QB of the future, not Teddy Bridgewater) and open holes for rookie RB Dalvin Cook and Raiders import Latavius Murray. The defense is amongst the best in the league. 11-5. That's about where the Green Bay Packers will finish with the same old back shoulder throw to Jordy Nelson, horrible run play calling and a defense forcing Rodgers into miraculous comebacks. Meanwhile, the Lions will slip a little, but if 3rd year RB Ameer Abdullah can stay healthy for once, it might not be too horrible in Detroit. Well, at least in comparison to Chicago, where he Bears decided to pay a 10-foot giraffe who hasn't started a game in 3 years a bazillion bucks and then give up a boatload to the 49ers on draft day to move a spot to take a QB the Niners weren't taking anyway. Oh, and then proceed to let their best WR walk without replacing him. At least they've got RB Jordan Howard but they'll compete with the Jets for next year's #1 draft pick. 2-14.

NFC South

28-3. It'll ring in their ears all year, but the Atlanta Falcons should stay buck the Super Bowl hangover despite seeing offensive guru Kyle Shanahan leave for California. Too much talent on both sides of the ball. Julio Jones is a beast, too bad no one will remember this catch in the SB. Just when you think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are gonna make the jump, they learn they'll have to play 16 games without a bye, guaranteed recipe for injury disaster. I dislike Desean Jackson but have to admit he's able to take the top off defenses meaning Jameis Winston and WR Mike Evans are gonna have themselves a season. The defense went from giving up 29 points per game in the first half of the year to 17.1 in the second. 10-6. The division is stacked: the Panthers should have a wildcard shot as as well having added Christian McCaffery in the first round, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are still around, 9-7; and even the New Orleans Saints as Drew Brees is still throwing darts and they've added Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara to Mark Ingram to their running back stable. 7-9.

NFC West

Ughh, the Shithawks. Yes, the Seattle Seahawks should walk away with the division once again; Russell Wilson is healthy, he's got some targets, the offensive line should be better (well, at least it can't be worse, can it?) and one of the running backs should pan out while they still have a great defense. 12-4. In the desert, RB David Johnson will carry the Arizona Cardinals on his back on his way to an MVP and WR Larry Fitzgerald seems like he'll be good until he's 50, but the quietly dominant defense lost five starters and QB Carson Palmer ain't getting any younger. 8-8. There's lots of buzz that the bottom two teams from California will be better this year, and I suppose it's true, but let's pump the breaks. QB Jared Goff will be better for the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers made some great offseason moves, including fleecing the Bears on draft day where they also snagged a couple of potential defensive stars. It also looks like Aaron Donald has finally reported to the team, RB Todd Gurley will likely be somewhere between his rookie phenom and sophamore slump self and maybe new WR Sammy Watkins can be healthier than he was in Buffalo making the Rams a 6-10 team. You'll know things are bad in San Fran if C.J. Beathard becomes the starting QB, but having Kyle Shanahan instead of Chip Kelley coaching automatically doubles their win total. Unfortunately it was only two last year. 4-12.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


It was 'post-truth' if you're an Oxford Dictionary type, 'xenophobia' if you're more into, 'surreal' got a shout out from Meriam-Webster, but it took the American Dialect Society to get 2016 right by naming 'dumpster fire' their word of the year. Well, at least for the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers who battled to the bottom for right to the #1 draft pick. And Hillary Clinton who battled it out to finish #1 with the 1%. Certainly, it is surreal that more folks in the US lost their shit when a quarterback took a knee than when a misogynistic used car salesman took the oath or office, both of which had a lot to do with the xenophobia enabled and propagated by our post-truth media. Is it time to send in the clown car? Sure, that too, but more importantly it's time for the annual Americana extravaganza as the New England Patriots will face the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, February 6th in Super Bowl LI.

The Donald and the NFL are even more intertwined than you may know. Yeah, there's the whole USFL thing. Remember when Trump bought the New Jersey Generals and then tried to orchestrate a merger with the NFL which wound up crashing the whole league thanks to his tremendous business acumen? Yeah, that was bigly when he said of his then-spring league "If God wanted football in the spring he wouldn't have created baseball." The man has simply tremendous instincts to go along with the best words. Even more germane, Trump himself so much as admitted that he wouldn't have even run for president had his 2014 bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills been successful. The winning $1.4 billion bid came from Terry Pegula beating Trump's even billion dollar bid; what a difference $400 million makes, as he reflected prior to the election, "I'm glad, because if I bought the Buffalo Bills, I probably would not be doing what I'm doing now [running for president], which is much more important ... I would have done a good job with the team, but I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now."

Ah, what might have been, something about 52% of America (and most of the world) along with 30 other NFL teams are pondering right now after a gruelling season which ended in disappointment. How did we get here? Well, when it comes to a Trump presidency, that's easy, as when asked on election day, 75% of voters polled said "America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful" and 72% agreed "the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful". So, they decided to drain the swamp by electing to put a billionaire in charge to nominate other billionaires into positions from which they'll be sure to change the rules of the game that made them billionaires. Um, right. Instead, the public will get more of the same shock doctrine treatment of the past 35 years, the bait and switch. Mapping the road to the Superb Owl is equally Byzantine, and, therefore, merits a quick look back at the dumpster fire xenophobic surrealness that made the NFL season feel every bit as post truth as the political one.

The Dumpster Fire or California Dreamin'

The season kicked off with a team in Los Angeles for the first time in 22 years but their week one 28-0 loss to the Niners was a portend of things to come. The Rams only managed to scrape together four wins all year (including a TD-less first victory) and San Francisco wouldn't win another until week 16, beating the, um, Rams again. Adding to the dumpster fireness of it all, in hindsight the Niners might even want to give that victory back as it cost them the number one draft pick when the Cleveland Browns picked up their first and only victory that same week. We pity the Browns, but no one really expected RGIII to rally this team. Also falling into this category were the Bears, Jaguars, Jets and Chargers finishing with a pair of 3-13 and 5-11 seasons respectively. Yes, the Bears biting really bad Cutler-less, the promising Jags being dragged down by Bortles' regression, and the Jets crashing after their pilot Fitzpatrick forgot how to find Marshall were all spectacular flame outs, but most of the smouldering stench from football wafting over America is coming from California.

Of course that quarterback who took a knee in the opening paragraph was San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, doing so as a sign of protest during the national anthem. Early season ratings woes had many pointing to his protest as the reason as some polls showed a third of fans were tuning out due to him. Just as an outsider looking in on America couldn't fathom the significance of such an act, those who took offence to such a seemingly innocuous act can't come to grips with the irrationality of their anger let alone understand his reasons for marking his indignation with the state of police on black violence in America. Most of the former crowd have never been exposed to the jingoism that comes part and parcel with being a true American, from daily pledges of allegiance to forced displays of supporting the troops to Trump's peon to North Korea, 'Day of Patriotic Devotion', while the majority of the latter have never been exposed to ideas that don't fall into the American Exceptionalism Pandora's Box of propaganda. It's easy to work people into a frenzy over someone choosing to make a silent statement of protest during a moment when most are supposedly celebrating the fact they live in a country that promotes the freedom to express oneself so long as they are incessantly bombarded with the message that those who conform succeed while those who dissent don't.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, Los Angeles, after being bereft of an NFL team for 22 years, now finds itself with not one but two teams. A year ago, NFL owners were seduced by Rams owner Stan Kroenke into allowing him to abandon St. Louis (leaving the city with the bill) with dreamy visions of building an LA football Shangri-La to host everything from Rams games to Super Bowls, and, as we learned 12 months later, San Los Angeles Chargers games. Yes, somehow by moving from San Diego to Los Angeles where they'll be about the 10th favorite sports team, the value of the club jumped a billion dollars, so, why not? Having grown bored with simply killing its players, the NFL seems to have decided to follow the nation's lead and turn the gun on itself. Much as electing Trump president will likely kick America's downfall into hyperdrive after a short lived bump, the NFL's franchise relocations are as sure to hasten its demise. One may feel pity for the country, as they really were left with no better choice, in fact, I could be convinced Clinton would have been worse just as I can buy some of the arguments for moving the Rams, but damn, did the NFL, or more specifically, team president and CEO Dean Spanos, have to move the Chargers to LA, too? While I'm sad for the city of San Diego and their fans, I'm proud that they stood up and said no to introducing a new hotel tax in order to pay for a new stadium.

While the need for a new stadium was the given reason for a move, it's a bit fishy given that there was clearly a lucrative option to build a Spanos-owned stadium in San Diego while this arrangement means the team will play in a renovated soccer stadium holding at most 30,000 for a couple of years before moving in to rent the Kroenke-controlled Rams stadium. Add in the Rams abysmally attended games last year and the almost given fact that the Chargers will garner even less enthusiasm as they aren't even wanted and the $650 million franchise relocation fee yet somehow still increase in value by a billion, you'd be right to ask, WTF? Stop me if this magic sounds familiar. Attendance revenue doesn't depend on selling tickets anymore, instead, the team sells licenses to buy the rights to buy tickets to sit in the seats. When the Niners moved to Santa Clara, the one-time cost for rights per seat varied between $2,000 and $80,000 earning the team $530 million. No, these aren't season tickets, it's the cost for the right to buy season tickets and it's a lifetime contract. The Chargers, drawing on a larger market will likely charge more, much more. Oh, and then there's the luxury boxes, again, the Niners made $400 million. Any wonder why Spanos doesn't care if they lose all their fans? Much as the Dow Jones reaching 20,000 thanks to the tiny slice of Americans who hold all of the wealth of the nation needing somewhere to put it, Tinseltown has enough well heeled suckers who will keep the Chargers coffers brimming. As with American capitalism, the problem is easy to diagnose: without a thriving middle class, nothing supports a 20,000 Dow; without a dedicated fan base, a $3 billion franchise has foundations built on sand. Outsource enough fans and just as if you outsource enough jobs, you eventually won't have enough customers to support your valuations.

A bright spot in this is that team's will no longer be able to play the 'we'll move the franchise to Los Angeles if you don't pay up' extortion card in negotiations with cities for better stadium deals. The NFL, with the artificial scarcity created by it's legal monopoly status, is a kind of microcosm of US 'capitalism' where rules are made to benefit the few at the expense of the many; in this case, using the leverage obtained by pitting cities and states against each other to force them to hand over ever more public money to subsidize billionaires. Making matters worse, the promised economic returns rarely materialize as new stadiums don't generate significant growth. Pharmaceutical companies fleece the sick with impunity thanks to patent laws preventing generic drugs from entering the market which enables the price of a pill to jump from $18 to $750 on a whim. The entire financial industry benefits from a nearly $100 billion annual implicit 'too big to fail' subsidy, not to mention the trillions skimmed from the public in bailouts back in '08. Tech firms get the same artificial protection as Big Pharma thanks to copyrights and are the most devious when it comes to taking advantage of deliberately created or neglected loopholes in order to avoid taxes. Oil companies take the cake, however, globally benefiting from upward of $5.3 trillion yearly in hand outs when externalities are taken into consideration. 

Given this, it should come as no surprise that Trump's first executive order was to kill people. Obamacare, or the ACA, was by no means perfect and was simply a Heritage Foundation created corporate giveaway to the insurance industry, but at the very least it gave tens of millions access to health care. With no plan in place to replace it, about 50 million Americans will find themselves unable to visit a doctor which should speed up the suddenly increasing mortality rate and start pushing down life expectancy. The glory of profit driven health care is that  a country with about 5% of the world's population spends between 40 and 50% of global spending on health with outcomes that fall well short of other developed nations. Depending on who's measuring, the US is also responsible for about 40% of global military spending. The bang for the buck of spending about as much as the next ten countries is hard to see when their military doesn't seem to so much win wars as create future enemies to justify further spending. The military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of has even spawned its own mutant offspring in the prison industrial complex which seems to serve the same self-perpetuating purpose. Housing 25% of the world's prisoners has become big business that each American resident pays about $260 per year for, up from $77 in 1980 despite the fact that violent crime has dropped about 45% during the past two decades. I wonder where all this money is going? What was I saying, oh yeah, team's moving. Speaking of criminals, did I mention that the Oakland Raiders will probably be moving to Las Vegas thanks to $750 million in public money being put up. Yes, seems a perfect lead into...

The Surreal Reich

Sure, if you listened to the political pundits last year you would've been convinced the world had turned upside down, but really, there's nothing as bizarre as sports and the NFL is no exception. This year marked the first time since 2003 that both teams that made the previous Super Bowl missed the playoffs as both the Panthers and Broncos took a tumble. Cam Newton couldn't recapture last season's lightning in a bottle and the Broncos defense couldn't carry a rookie QB despite having Aqib Talib one-upping Plaxico Burress; not only did he shoot himself in the leg after winning the Super Bowl, but he managed to get voted into the next Pro-Bowl. Remember when the Minnesota Vikings were the last undefeated team? Yeah, in October it looked like their gamble to splash out on QB Sam Bradford to replace Teddy Bridgewater (he of the non-contact knee disintegration) was a stroke of genius. They went into their bye as the last undefeated team after disposing of the Texans 31-13 October 10th, meaning they were 5-0 when they next played on October 24th. Yeah, they missed the playoffs while the Texans made it to the party despite starting one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, a $72 million fiasco. Making it worse, they somehow won a playoff game thus ensuring two absolutely horrible post-season games to watch.

Speaking of post-season futility, the Bengals opted to skip the whole one-and-done thing by only scraping together six wins, while the Lions did make the dance only to lose to the Seahawks in the Wildcard round to add another year to their quarter century drought and setting a new record by losing their ninth straight playoff game. Bizarrely, the Bucs actually flirted with playoff contention, and, in fact, were theoretically in the hunt almost until the final whistle of the season. However, they would have needed to beat the Panthers, the Lions to beat the Packers and the Redskins to tie the Giants in week 17, apparently 60,000-to-1 odds. Why not in a year that featured ties in back to back weekends, including fittingly in one of the games played in London this year, one of four played outside of the US? Meanwhile, the window closed another year on the Saints to win with Brees and Luck failed to step back up to expectations and fell short of winning the worst division in football. And the Eagles, well, after going all in on a rookie QB, they started well but predictably faded as the year wore on.

Yeah, the football season was off the wall in more ways than just the sudden inability of kickers to hit extra points (12 on one Sunday alone), but the rest of the world proved even wackier. Nothing more so than the hooting and hollering from the so-called left on either side of the Atlantic as instead of recognizing their role in laying the groundwork for Brexit and Trump, they are instead behaving like children throwing their toys out of their crib. It was the neoliberal economic disaster their policies ensured that produced the poor and uneducated they blame for voting the wrong way. Eight years of supporting a man who's done nothing but stabilize and then advance the neoliberal world order followed up by flailing about for excuses why Clinton lost, from the electoral college to a Putin plot, will get about as much done as Obama's promise to close Guantanamo. Fascism is first and foremost a response to the structural crises of modern capitalism, regardless of whether it's the 1930s or the one that began with the financial meltdown in 2008. The consequences of transferring $14 trillion in public money to criminal enterprises on Wall Street, a landscape of endemic poverty, militarized police and prison industrial complex were Obama's Weimar Republic seedbed that sprouted Trumpkin. The Clinton camp and the Remainers failure was their refusal to challenge what Trump and the Brexiters promised to: the status quo governed by transnational capital and their technocratic minions.

The NFL eschews the term equality and instead uses the word parity to describe their goal of creating a league in which any team can find themselves playing in the Superb Owl in order to avoid being branded with the socialist label. Yet it is a level playing field that drives the success of the league, America's lack of which, in economic terms, best explains Trump's triumph. Think of what inequality and resultant poverty does to a society in terms of what CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, does to an NFL player. The severe repetitive blows to the head produce concussions which damage the brain and lead to the progressive, degenerative disease which drives many to suicide. Looking at counties which flipped from Obama to Trump we find a strong correlation with what researchers call deaths of despair, suicides, opioids and liver disease. These are people who were left behind, economically pummelled by free trade and deindustrialization, leaving them worse off than their parents and despairing for their children. The annual death toll from overdosing quadrupled between 1999 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently reported that more than 33,000 people died of an overdose in 2015, but it's likelier closer to 50,000. The same year, more than 35,000 people died from gun violence, including 22,000 suicides.

Granted, it does seem a bit surreal to hand the nuclear football off to a man with such thin skin, orange at that, but sorry, it's not surprising given the alternative voters were offered. Yes, granting a con man known for bilking the public of billions and declaring bankruptcy the combination to a trillion dollar economy does seem a tad preposterous, but should we be nonplussed? Would you be surprised that one of the first people Trump killed as president was coincidentally the eight-year-old daughter of the first American Obama killed? Or that the Nobel Peace Prize winner had also later killed his American born son and dropped over 26,000 bombs in seven different countries in his final year in office? Remember war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

Xenophobia, Racism and (the not-so-new) Americanism

No offence to the Ravens, Cardinals, Titans, Dolphins or Giants, but I've gotta shoehorn them in somewhere here. The former pair underperformed while the latter two outperformed expectations by sliding into the playoffs and the Titans gave the most hope for doing the same next year. The Ravens jumped out to a 3-0 start but sputtered down the stretch which is to be expected when your biggest offensive weapon is your kicker. A disappointing 7-8-1 season left Cardinals fans feeling let down considering they had to feel coming into the year that the Super Bowl was within reach. Getting caught drunk driving turned out to be the best way for a Cardinal to have a chance to win it all as WR Michael Floyd found out; another great lesson in morality taught by the NFL. Once Arian Foster finally called it quits, the Dolphins rode RB Jay Ajayi's four 200-yard games into a one and done post-season appearance and the Giants were forced to surf the waves of prima donna WR Odell Beckham Jr's periodic outbursts against man or inanimate kicking nets and were also dismissed in the Wildcard round. It's hard to figure how the Titans didn't knock off the Texans to win the AFC South until you remember they lost to the Jaguars on Christmas Eve; next year Mariota and co. should be ready to take the next step.

Year in and year out we've got the Washington Redskins to remind us of how xenophobia was used to help build America; asserting that Native Americans were different from European colonizers justified genocide. QB Kirk Cousins earned himself a big contract but his game ending 2nd half interceptions in week 17 against a Giants team with nothing to play for also ended Washington's season. It's in Buffalo, yes home of the very Bills whose purchase by Donald Trump may have averted his presidential bid, where we find the xenophobic thread to tie in to the story. On paper, another 7-9 Bills season is unremarkable (they're averaging 6.5 wins a season in the 21st century), but one could argue this year's version may have done better had the team not been torn apart by, yep, you guessed it, Trump.

Seems head coach/blowhard Rex Ryan, who took the Jets to the playoffs his first two seasons as head coach only to miss his next six post-seasons, was a vocal Trump supporter. So, in addition to having openly racist Richie Incognito in the locker room, you've got a coach actively inciting racists, "And so many times, you’ll see people—a lot of people—want to say the same thing. But there’s a big difference: They don’t have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don’t have the courage to say it. And Donald Trump certainly has the courage to say it." No wonder an anonymous Bills player was quoted saying, "I see Trump as someone who is hostile to people of color, and the fact that Rex supports him made me look at him completely differently, and not in a positive way."

Unsurprisingly, a straw poll of 43 NFL players before the election had 21 white players all saying they planned on voting for Trump, while 20 of the 22 black players planned on voting for Clinton. Trumps idea of reaching out the black community was a meeting with NFL legends Ray Lewis and Jim Brown on the same day he sat down to chat with future presidential hopeful Kanye West. Lewis proclaimed "black or white is irrelevant" while Brown enthused, "[W]hat he (Trump) went through ... he got my admiration". Yeah, perhaps if Ray Lewis hadn't been an NFL star he would have found out how most blacks are treated by the American penal system for his part in murder. Meanwhile, no one better than Jim Brown to speak on behalf of black women in America, at least those who enjoy being beaten.

At the heart of nationalism, Americanism in the USA, is the belief that one country is somehow superior to others. It therefore follows that its citizens have exclusive qualities not found in the inferior others, an unsurprisingly easy sell for politicians. Fear is the most powerful weapon of the propagandist and so while sowing divisions in the locker room may not work, convincing people that the other is intent on taking your job or even your life motivates individuals to invest more in groups to which they belong and, conversely, to act more aggressively towards those with different cultural worldviews and national or ethnic identities. Whether it is test subjects who opt to more severely punish those who disparage their political views after being asked to think about death, Iranian students primed by writing about what it feels like to physically die being more supportive of martyrdom attacks than control groups, or Americans primed in the same way showing more support for extreme military attacks, Terror Management Theory best explains the vicious circle of violence the world now finds itself in. Yes, it even explains elections as it has predictably demonstrated that reminders of our mortality leads us to vote for more hawkishly conservative candidates.

Trump's salesman instinct in spotting his mark's weakness combined with his savvy for manipulating the media swept him into the Whitehouse and is now distracting his detractors while he and his supporters implement their agenda: Make America Great Again which simply translates to stop and turn back the clock, but instead of a mythical 'better' time, the destination is one out of time where most of the social, scientific and environmental gains of the last 30 years are erased or simply ignored. Enter an Exxon executive who will directly profit from lifting sanctions on Russia becoming Secretary of State to join other cabinet climate change deniers such as the energy and interior secretaries to push a pro-fossil fuel agenda to slow the green energy led transformation which, otherwise unimpeded, would soon turn black gold into worthless tar.

It would normally be phantasmagorical to have a Secretary of Education who doesn't believe in public education, and, in fact, profits from an already staggeringly large student loan industry of $1.3 trillion through her ownership of debt collection agencies. How about six Trump appointments from Goldman Sachs, the very vampire squid he railed against Clinton being too close to during the election, including a former Goldman partner as Treasury Secretary and the former president and “number two” at Goldman the top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair. Guess it's no different than promising to give the power back to the people and then nominating a Supreme Court justice who favors increasing corporate power and taking away the power to control one's own body. An Attorney General who may or may not have protected KKK members accused of lynching in Alabama, but definitely did say he thought the Klan was "okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."

A Secretary of Agriculture whose history, friends and beliefs show that he'll do everything in his power to promote the destructive practices of industrial agriculture and simply pray that the inevitable droughts and other disasters his policies cause will abate. Guess it's no more bizarre than feeding beef cattle Skittles. A Labor Secretary who hates workers, having created working conditions in which 2/3 of his female workers reported sexual harassment and paying them so little many are forced to go onto public assistance which cost tax payers $247 million a year; a drop in the bucket of the $153 billion a year low wage employers receive in such subsidies. A net neutrality foe to head the FCC. We could go on forever but would be amiss if we left out the head of the Environmental Protection Agency who himself launched 14 lawsuits against the agency and has fought tooth and nail against protecting drinking water at a time when Flint, Michigan has been without potable water for almost two years and at least 33 other municipalities have it just as bad.

Even National Park employees are enemies of the state so it wasn't surprising to see Trump's first week in office conclude by fulfilling a campaign promise by signing an executive order to temporarily ban immigration from seven Muslim countries. Trump was clearly trolling by timing it to coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day, or perhaps he was just highlighting his lack of human empathy. It's hard not to see the similarities of refusing to accept refugees today with the refusal to accept them in 1939; mainly Jews being herded into Hitler's gas chambers then, mostly Muslims destined to die today as a result of US interventions (ie. invasions, regime support or bombing). As this move is meant to keep America safe, it's uncanny that the seven banned nations don't include the four countries the 9/11 terrorists came from: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates; nor does it include Russia, the country of origin of the Boston Marathon terrorists. Maybe that's because instead of increasing safety, it will do the exact opposite and plays right into the hands of extremists. Serendipitously, no countries in which Trump has business dealings was included which must mean that Muslims are only dangerous if they don't sell us oil or help Trump build towers.

Post-Truth, Post-Season, Post-Mortem

Sure a couple other teams got in to the playoffs, but really, only eight had a realistic shot at winning it all: the Seahawks, Raiders, Chiefs, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, Falcons and Patriots. Gotta say though, the post-season to this point has been, shall we say, deplorable? Seriously, only two of the games have been decided by less than 13 points, and one of those featured a team winning without even scoring a touchdown leaving the Super Bowl with a lot to make up for. The Seahawks limped through much of the year on Russell Wilson's bad ankle but navigated their way to the NFC West crown and a wildcard win over the Lions, but not having Earl Thomas proved too much as they were overwhelmed by the Falcons. Similarly, the Raiders couldn't overcome the loss of hitherto MVP candidate Derek Carr in a week 17 loss after a hugely promising 12-4 season as they fell to the offensively impotent Texans in the opening round. Thanks in part to Carr's broken leg, their methodical efficiency and a speed freak named Tyreek, the Chiefs were able to claim the AFC West crown but couldn't score more than the Steelers kicker in the Divisional matchup. And the Cowboys, what can I say? They were the better team against the Packers in the same round and should have years of success ahead riding Dak's arm, Zeke's legs and their offensive line, but saw their hopes evaporate thanks to a bit of Rodgers magic in a 34-31 barnburner.

The conference championship games were both snoozefests. The Packers had just enough to beat the 'boys but couldn't run the table all the way through Atlanta. Last year it was 'Relax', this year it was 'I feel we can run the table', and sure enough after making this claim following a 42-24 thrashing at the hands of the 'skins, Aaron Rodgers silenced the whispers of his detractors and went on a tear. No running game? Throw a wide receiver into the backfield. No defense? Just score more points than your opponent. Losing control of a divisional playoff game that was in hand but is now slipping away? Draw up a play in the huddle and do this. They had nothing left against the Falcons and were torn apart, 44-21. At least the Steelers kept it mildly interesting in the first half before fading in the 3rd quarter and falling to the Patriots 36-17. Any team with Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Rapelisberger will challenge, but I've got a feeling a piece might be missing next year, be it Big Ben retiring or Brown turning his talents to Facebook live fulltime.

The coulda, woulda, shoulda inside of me whispers if only Derek Carr hadn't broken his leg and the Cowboys fallen so far behind the Pack in the first half we might have had a pair of compelling games. Thing is, just because I want it to be true doesn't make it reality, and so I can turn my attention to the Super Bowl. Or not. Wasn't that holding on the last offensive play of the game for the Packers to set up the game winning field goal to beat the Cowboys? When else has a 22 yard gain been wiped out due to unsportsmanlike conduct being called for violating a little known substitution rule. The late game pass interference that might have been holding which nullified an interception seems a bit off, too. Come to think of it, the last time these teams met in the playoffs, it sure looked like Dez caught it to everyone but Packers fans and the zebras who overturned the call. Really? You're telling me there's enough evidence to overturn the completion call? Sure, the refs made a few questionable calls and no-calls in the Cowboys-Packers game, and the Pack seem to be the beneficiary of them more often than not, but it would be crazy and a distraction to blame a close loss on external factors that can't be proven, wouldn't it? Welcome to the world of Clinton supporters, from simple voter to media spin doctors, who've spent much of the last two months trying to convince us that those evil Ruskies not only infiltrated America's media landscape and polluted it with fake news but also hacked the election to swing it in Trumps favor.

The prevailing narrative is that we now live in a post-truth world where everyone has conflicting evidence to contradict alternative-facts, truths are twisted into clickbait canards and the very fabric of reality seems torn asunder. Seems Trumps election has spurred a resurgence in interest in Orwell's 1984, rocketing it to the top of best-seller lists. However, they'd be better off reading Brave New World as this isn't a post-truth world, it's nothing but what it's always been, a world of lies. Sure, we've got a real estate tycoon cum reality show star for a US President, but should that really be surprising? He took advantage of America's weakness to find success in all three roles: a credulous naivete in the promise of the American Dream. Frustratingly, we'll believe anything, but once we become invested in that belief we become fiercely loyal to it, thereby making it near-impossible to dislodge and easy to confirm, extend and further entrench. Trump repeating the fallacy that torture works is true for those previously sold the idea by Hollywood in Zero Dark Thirty. What was most likely a Democratic party email leak is easily conflated with fake news which we're told was produced by Russians who are easily transformed into Putin's online army that hacked the election results for 50% of Clinton voters who are blind to the proof the emails provided that the Democratic party not only conspired to smear Bernie Sanders but also worked to promote Trump as the Republican nominee in something called the Pied Piper strategy.

Politics is propaganda, which is simply public relations in the US and elsewhere to sell a principle-free liberal or conservative brand, much as sugar-free Coke or Pepsi to provide a simulacrum of choice. Many drink one brand or the other because it is a quick, relatively inexpensive beverage option in their otherwise harried struggle to make ends meet; simply repeating a lie makes it the truth to this group, an effect known as illusory truth. Others, because they have never been exposed to the idea that there are better options, aided and abetted by our media filter bubbles. Others still because they have been eternally bombarded with messaging on how bad the other brand is, here, think of the deluge of ad hominem attacks we are exposed to. Most dangerously, there are those who drink one or the other and not only think there is a difference, but stridently defend their choice and actively work to prevent other options from arising on the market, and here we find the big lie that America can be made great again by doubling down on the failures of the past. Economics trickles down every bit as much as Trump enjoys Russian golden showers but you'll believe the former if your conscience needs soothing for the violence your lifestyle inflicts on the poor and the latter if it helps your brain deal with the cognitive dissonance brought on by a Trump presidency you were assured could never happen.

It took under a year for the meaning of the term fake news to go from deliberately false stories circulated on social media for advertising revenue to deliberate misinformation from either Putin or Soros depending on your brand choice to anything that falls out of line with the liberal establishment or Alt-Right groupthink to "anything I don't agree with". Ironically, the freedom we've been afforded to construct our own realities thanks to the Internet has put us even more under control of the propagandists. Convinced that Al Gore's flying around in a jet makes climate change a hoax? You'll love Trump's restarting the KXL and Dakota Access pipelines. Believe Israel’s wall is a 'security fence' and its colonies are 'settlements' which are 'disputed' rather than illegal? You'll be certain Trump's wall is a security necessity. Certain that Planned Parenthood uses tax dollars to provide abortion services? You'll support the reinstatement of the global gag rule. Unless you're a true psychopath, cognitive dissonance makes it impossible to acknowledge the violence that all these positions entail, from the acceleration of extinction of life on this planet to methodically wiping out a culture, and condemning thousands or even millions of women to death.

The problem works on three interplaying, reinforcing levels in our brains, our media, and our economic system. Any information we are exposed to is believed at least momentarily in order to understand it and only then do we choose to accept or reject it. Accepting is easy, rejecting takes energy and given our natural biases we are susceptible to manipulation and once we've bought in, as mentioned, the backfire effect makes us believe certain facts even more fervently when presented with facts which contradict it. Modern technology has opened the floodgates of information and the constant deluge ensures that a lot of crap will stick, a result of what is known as cognitive load. The media, with its supposed objective approach to controversial issues, exacerbates the problem by routinely presenting falsehoods with seemingly balanced debate; think anthropogenic climate change, with a scientist on one side representing 97% of the field and another facing him expressing the views of 3%. When a newspaper issues a retraction, or runs headlines such as "Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That 'Millions of People Voted Illegally,'", they perversely reinforce the very claim they mean to debunk.

Add to that the built in subservience to power, courting the corporate kind to secure advertising revenue and the political to secure access, and we end up with WMDs in Iraq and Roundup in our cereal. Trump's penchant for making outrageous statements isn't a sign of lunacy but a ploy to grab headlines that he knows will be propagated by a media model ruled by online advertising where truth is whatever produces the most eyeballs. Steve "Trump's Goebbels" Bannon's claim that "the media is the opposition" and should "keep its mouth shut", is as duplicitous as the media's meltdown over Trump's looseness with the truth when their symbiotic relationship is considered. They helped him win the election and he delivered record audiences and readers: Fox +68%, CNN +128%, MSNBC +98% over last year during primetime and the NY Times saw a ten fold increase in new subscription shortly after the election versus the same period in 2015. So while we stand agape at Team Trump's tantrum over crowd sizes, illegal voters and 'alternative facts', we momentarily forget that actions speak louder than words and wind up with a Holocaust denier, a racist and a homophobe on the National Security Council.

You'd be hard pressed to find a team that elicits stronger conflicting beliefs than the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick is either a genius or a Sith Lord thanks in large part to 2007's Spygate scandal, Tom Brady is GOAT or a cheater thanks to Deflategate. Supporters shut out the hate and criticism by compartmentalizing it as jealousy of their success, after all, they've played in 11 of the last 16 AFC championships, including the last six, winning six of the eleven, and now have the chance to win their fifth Super Bowl over that time. As a hater, confirmation bias kicks in for any negative story regardless of whether the animosity stems from fantasy football frustration suffered playing Patriot running back roulette, the fact they don't represent a city but a six-state area or something legitimate like the Brady inspired 'Tuck Rule'. Nevertheless, even a few haters could be rooting to see Roger Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Brady, Belichek and owner Robert Kraft the year Goodell suspended Brady the first four games of the season for his role in Deflategate.

Without Brady, the Pats managed to go 3-1, even winning a game in ridiculous fashion with their 3rd string QB starting. Another piece missing much of the season, and will be for the Super Bowl, was all-world TE Rob Gronkowski, making their 14-2 season and romp through the playoffs all the more remarkable. Brady passed Peyton Manning for all time wins, LaGarette Blount went over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and a seeming hodgepodge of pass catchers seemed to take turns coming up with big games. The 34-16 final score over the Texans in the divisional round is actually a little deceiving as the Houston defense was able to keep their team in the game for a while, but the 36-17 route of the Steelers was even more dominating that the score indicates. The offense will be there, but the key to beating the Falcons will be slowing the offense, and this might be the Patriots team to do it as they finished #1 in the league in defensive scoring by almost three points a game. Given that they finished eighth in yards given up, they seem to be the perfect bend but don't break defense to stop Atlanta.

Nobody's stopped the Falcons since the Chiefs eked out a 29-28 win December 4th in week 13. I kept waiting for them to fold this season but instead they just got stronger on both sides of the ball. It's the offense that gets and deserves all the attention but the defense, sporting four rookies and four 2nd year players led by Vic Beasley and his NFL leading 15 1/2 sacks, has come around, seemingly peaking against the red hot Packers in the Conference championship after smothering the Seahawks in the divisional round. Credit 2nd year Falcons coach, former Seahawk defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, for quilting this unit together over the year. However, it's the offense that is this team's calling card beginning with presumptive league MVP, QB Matt Ryan, and his favorite target, and possible best (definitely top 3) wide receiver in the league, Julio Jones. The one-two punch of RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman gives the offense balance while WRs Mohamed Sanu, a key offseason acquisiton from the Bengals, and Taylor Gabriel, a sparkplug picked up off the trash heap from the Browns, give Matty Ice even more weapons. Oh, and it didn't hurt that their five offensive linemen were the only group in the league to start every game this year.

In contrast to the Patriots consistency, the Falcons had never before in franchise history put together back to back winning seasons prior to 2010. Only one player on the roster, Dwight Freeney, has even been to a Super Bowl. The only other time Atlanta reached the Super Bowl was in 1999, XXXIII, when their safety, Eugene Robinson, was arrested the night before the game for soliciting a prostitute and they were blown out by the Broncos 34-19. These Rise Up Falcons feel more deserving than those Dirty Birds; they led the league in scoring with 33.8ppg (7th all time in the NFL) on their way to setting a franchise record with 540 points. Yet, the biggest factor that may be playing in their favor is, ironically, Atlanta sports franchises practically perennial patheticness. In a year that saw the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years and the city of Cleveland actually get a championship from the Cavaliers what could be more fitting that Atlanta winning the Super Bowl seeing as the city's franchises win a championship every 170 years. Yep, between the NHL's Flames (now in Calgary) and Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets), the NBA's Hawks, MLB's Braves and the NFL's Falcons, there's a total of one championship, the 1995 Braves. For pity sake, it's hard not to root for the underdog, especially given the Patriots run of glory.

Yeah, the Vegas line opened with the Patriots favored by a field goal. Even though 65% of the money has gone on them, the line's held steady, almost like the bookies know something we don't. Despite the over/under being a Super Bowl record 58.5, 62% of better are taking over. Not sure if it'll be a shootout, but I'm hoping it makes up for this playoff season and the harbingers are there. The Super Bowl wraps up 2016 sports, a year that gave us a 5000-1 EPL champion in Leicester, the Cubs winning the World Series after more than a century in extra innings in game 7, the Cavs, a team from Cleveland of all places, winning game 7 after down 3-1 while at Golden State to take the NBA crown, Villanova hitting a game winning buzzer beater in the NCAA Final Four, Clemson scoring the last second touchdown to win the college football National Championship to beat Alabama and even an exciting Grey Cup as the underdog Ottawa Redblacks pulled off an OT win. All signs point to a good game with epic potential as the #1 scoring offense faces the #1 scoring defense for the sixth time in NFL history.

It's almost a given the two QBs will perform but I think it'll come down to the ground game, or, more specifically, the running backs, running and receiving. On paper, it looks like a LaGarrette Blount game for the Patriots as the Falcons defense is fast but slightly undersized so if he can get going he'll be tough to bring down. At the same time, the Falcons gave up the most receptions, yards and receiving TDs to RBs in the league which should make Dion Lewis the key piece in Belichick's game plan. However, knowing Belitricks, he'll put the focus on James White or something. Both Falcons running backs will need to play big roles toting the rock and catching out of the backfield as the Patriots will focus on taking out teams' best players, in this case, Julio Jones, who will get his, but won't be allowed to dominate. Atlanta's three lowest rushing performances of the season (52 yards against Tampa Bay, 52 yards against Seattle and 48 yards against Philadelphia) accounted for three of their five losses. If the Falcons score early, which they've done scoring opening drive touchdowns in their last eight games, they'll be able to stay balanced enough to win the game.

Underappreciated Patriots' defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has remodeled his group after losing linebacker Jerod Mayo to retirement at age 29, defensive end Chandler Jones to a trade before the season started and then another linebacker Jamie Collins to another trade mid-season. Yes, despite losing their captain linebacker and their two best pass-rusher, the latter two of Belichick's choosing due to their upcoming free-agency, in about eight months, the unit finished #1 in points given up; yes, Patricia is an actual rocket scientist. Two years ago Dan Quinn's Seahawks defense couldn't stop the Patriots and now he's gotta do it without the Legion of Boom. While the Falcons defense compiled a lowly 27th ranked DVOA over the whole season they've gotten better since losing arguably their best player, Desmond Trufant; they allowed 28.7 point per game their first nine with him and just 20.8 their past nine having stymied Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers their past four games. If the big stage doesn't get to all the young first and second year players, they'll give the offense every chance to win even if the Patriots will be sporting the white kits. Let's just hope Belichick wears his red hoodie again with the sleeves cut off:

Oh, and two more reason I'll be pulling for the Falcons: Brady's bromance with Donald Trump and this, the only known picture to exist with Bill Belichick smiling:

Yeah, that about settles it. Falcons against the spread and even straight up. Maybe 34-31.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Blame Game

I'd best begin with a confession. Upon waking to Donald Trump's victory speech my first reaction was to smirk and giggle. It wasn't shock. It wasn't fear. It was really happening. The United States of America had chosen a parasitic clown over the TPTB's(*) chosen one. Yes, America, and by extension, the rest of the world had gotten what they deserved; there could be no more appropriate personae to become 'the leader of the free world'.

I fell asleep last night with an inkling this was going to happen. Around 3am Central European time I made the call that the election wasn't going to be called any time soon and had better just get some sleep and see the results in the morning. I had just enough sense to hit the print screen with the tally in Florida until that point:

A 28 vote difference, click on it, with almost 8 million counted.

Predictably, upon switching over to Facebook after watching the Donald's speech, I was met with a slew of memes and status updates expressing utter incredulity. From the cliche Jean Luc Picard facepalm to the brilliant
Britain: Brexit was the stupidest, most self-destructive act a country could untertake
USA: Hold my drink.
A random sampling of status updates:
- As my lovely mother would say: "HORSESHIT".
- i think we may all be fucked- what is happening.... this isn't real.
- go home 2016. you're drunk.
- Don't even know what to post. This is truly depressing. Uneducated white male kills hope in one single night. Time to go eat nuts and gum.
- god help us all
- Sronald Sramp. Really?
- Sits in dark, nervously bouncing right leg up and down, scratching head, rubbing eyes, hoping I'm hallucinating with what I see as the results of this election 
- OMG. I feel sick.
The obvious question I have is how is everyone so surprised? Given that the times we live in afford us access to so much information, how could so many people be so wrong about the result? Obviously, the answer is in the question. It was precisely that information that not only made a Trump presidency an inevitability, but also ensured that the majority of the world woke up to the same WTF feeling. Like scared animals, most will lash out, but instead of asking what's the matter with handing more power to control the information narrative from Hollywood to our houses to our corporate overlords (ie. the ATT - Time/Warner merger), to poison us in order to provide us with pills (the Monsanto - Bayer merger), to dominate our bar tabs (SABMiller - AB InBev merger), and tell us what to think about it (FaceTwitAmazOogle), most will be asking what's the matter with Kansas.

Living here in Poland has given me a near-unique view. Not only do I keep abreast with news from across the Atlantic and the pulse of how people are reading it but I'm also granted insight into how the media lens of non-Americans is focused on world events. My first inkling that the world was in for a surprise came early on election day (3am EST in America) as both my writing classes were devoted to the US election. A quick straw poll of my students gave Clinton the presidency unanimously. Every. Single. Student. 

Now, you have to realize that nothing is unanimously agreed upon here in politics, in fact, there may be just as much polarization in Poland as in America. So the obvious follow-up question was how was it that they all shared the same opinion. The answers all had the same theme, Trump's a racist pig. And, I queried, how do you all know that? Where did you get your information? To a man (and woman), Facebook, a few youtube clips. A combination of memes, celebrity comments and debate song parodies. And Hillary, what did they know about her? Well, um, experience. She had lots of that. And health care, and children, won't anyone think of the children? So, I had to ask, what of their policies? What did the candidates propose to actually, you know, do as president? Beyond build a wall, nothing, crickets.

So, having been exposed to a non-stop barrage of anti-Trump propaganda interspersed with the odd reminder that Hillary Clinton is, in fact, a woman, and you know, it's time that America elects a woman, of course every one of my students woke up to a November surprise this morning. So, what about my Facebook wall? The majority of reactions came from the Americas, surely, living close to the source they should have been better prepared for the eventuality of a Trump victory. Um, yeah, er, I mean no. From what I can tell, most people were no better, and by better I mean in a more balanced way, informed than my Polish 22-year-old students. Just as these kids were caught off-guard by the election of a nationalistic whack job party here at home last October, Europe was stunned by an island kingdom choosing to push away from the continent this summer and the world was blown away by a pumpkin turning into a president after the clock struck midnight today, and we can all thank our self-imposed media bubbles for the deception.

Yes, another shock. Your media isn't unbiased. It isn't balanced. It isn't independent. It is owned and controlled by the same people that have been the beneficiaries of the current system, the one that Hillary Clinton represented. Is it any wonder that reading the Washington Post or the New York Times over the past couple of months must have been much akin to the experience of Soviet's had reading Pravda in the 1980s? Sure, Trump got lots of free publicity thanks to his misogyny/racism/ignorance, but it certainly wasn't flattering. Meanwhile, any Hillary howler was glossed over and attributed to either something those crazy conspiracy theorists say (Bengazi! e-mails! Clinton Foundation!) or, if not, then obviously the work of the Putin because you know, it's somehow alright that she delivered speeches to Goldman Sachs for millions in which she said the opposite of what she told the public, or that Clinton Foundation benefactors were richly rewarded by her state department so long as it's Russia's doing in informing us. Wikileaks is so much worse than quid pro quo. Let's face it climate change, a subject on which 97% of scientist agree, is given a more balanced treatment, with a denier on on one side and a scientist on the other in any on screen debate, than the candidates were given in this election.

What's that? You don't personally know anyone from Buchanon County, Virginia, home of Trump's staunchest supporters. Guess what? Most Brits that we're exposed to don't know anyone from Boston (the one in England), the area that voted Leave most vehemently. Nor do I know anyone from Siedlce, halfway between Warsaw and Belarus, the stronghold of the current Polish government, PiS. Well guess what? Many of these people haven't shared in the rewards of system over the past few decades and many of them vote. Neither you, me, nor the New York Times have any contact with what has increasingly become 'the other'. Americans no longer move to new towns for economic opportunity but to be near like-minded people, we work in fields where our colleagues all wear the uniform of the same team, and we watch the same TV series as the people we stay in touch with on Facebook. That's why the result probably blindsided you as badly as it did the New York Times; here's a graph charting the percentage chance of victory last night. Oops, they did it again:

If we live in a democracy then we need to expect that when the majority is receiving an ever diminishing slice of the economic pie, eventually they'll stand up and say no. When a broken system offers two bad choices, we shouldn't be surprised that the people make a bad choice. The previous PO government in Poland offered many people nothing. Even worse, the Brexit referendum itself should never have been held as there are other issues that the will of the people is being more egregiously contravened such as the privatization of the NHS, but Cameron believed he could use it to woo UKIP support. That's right, it was nothing but a political ploy. Well, that sure backfired, didn't it? Surprisingly, 52% took the opportunity to rid themselves of what they see, justifiably, as an undemocratic weight around their necks.

And America? Would I have voted for Donald Trump? Of course not. But I'd have never voted Clinton either. You mean a continuation of her husband's economic policies, you know, the ones that set the scene for the financial meltdown in 2008. Yes, it was every bit as much Bill's fault as George's thanks to his support for NAFTA (hello TPP!) or the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act, aka the Financial Services Modernization Act, aka, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, aka, allowing banks to run the economy. No thanks. So maybe we should have been sold on her foreign policy, you know, her vaunted experience as a senator and Secretary of State? Oh, you mean supporting a war hawk who voted for the war in Iraq, helped orchestrate the coup in Honduras, installed Victoria Nuland in Eastern Europe to help foment the putch in Ukraine and advocates a no-fly zone in Syria, the last two being nothing short of openly attempting to instigate a war against Russia?

Hmmm, with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, I think I'll take the known-unknown over the known-known. Yes, Trump is a joke, but he's a damn good one played upon a world that deserves him. Yes, I admit my smirk is fading by the moment as I realize the Republicans now control the House, Senate and White House, the latter meaning there will soon be a right leaning Supreme Court. However, the Democratic Party, with the support of America's liberals, didn't need to conspire to nominate Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Bernie would've won this election in a landslide as it wasn't so much a bunch of racists voting for a pussy-grabbing business failure as it was a protest vote against the current system. Trump knew it, just watch his final ad. If you're angry today, don't blame Billy-Bob in North Carolina, instead take a look in the mirror and decide if perhaps you look a little like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (yike, I know).

*The Powers That Be

If you managed to get this far, you must have some time, so here, watch this:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Howling Fantods

It happens every year, such is the bane of a teacher, one who chooses to take full advantage of his three months holiday by doing as little as possible. With Septembers entrance and the idea of October becoming increasingly real come the howling fantods, a David Foster Wallace coined term for what the urban dictionary defines as 'a stage 4 case of the heebie jeebies'. The intense feeling of both fear and repulsion isn't necessarily generated by the students or actual teaching, but everything that comes with it: going to meetings (and sitting through hours of pablum in order to pick up the two or three crucial facts), preparing syllabuses (and the never ending discussion over whether it should be syllabi or syllabuses), preparing and grading exams and essays (and suffering the inevitable erosion in optimism every teacher has for a new batch of students abilities) , maintaining attendance lists and records of grades (and navigating the minefield of absence excuses and exceptions to the rules), opening and responding to the tsunami-like onslaught of emails (and resisting the incessant temptation to type what I really feel). In short, the bureaucracy.

Parallel to this, however, September also brings the promise of a new NFL season and the accompanying hopes and aspirations for both real and fantasy teams. Yet, even here one must be careful not to dwell too deeply as football is sad if you think about it too long. Then again, thinking about near anything to do with the state of humanity too long these days is a sure-fire avenue to abhorrence of the state of anything from pop culture to humanity's future, health care to warfare, ecology to theology, and robotics to politics. Alas, with a hat tip to Hunter S., ain't that the most fear and loathing inducing of them all; November is just around the corner meaning either Hillary Clinton (Shillary Clintoon) or Donald Trump (Drumpf) will become the most powerful person on the planet.

"Chill", you say, "after all, at worst, things have always looked this bleak from certain angles, at best, humanity is continuing its unstoppable march of progress, and really, much of the fear is a consequence of this progress as it's thanks to the abundance of information our shiny technology makes available that things look so desperate." Ahhh, young grasshopper, knowledge is not wisdom, information is not even knowledge, and, worse, what passes for information today is not even that as it is far more often mindless drivel designed to drive eyeballs to screens or shameless propaganda. Driven by biology, we seek ever greater data highs, mindlessly scrolling in search of the next hit while in bed, in the car, on the tram or sitting amidst friends and family. Instead of expanding our world, the result has been to shrink or simply limit the endless spectrum of possibilities which exist thereby driving us to the two most extremes: yes or no, black or white, good or evil, Coke or Pepsi, Republican or Democrat, Cuntservative or Libtard.

By reducing our thought processes to such binary thinking, this deluge of data makes it impossible to support one side on some issues and agree with another on different issues as the media landscape has adapted to satisfy our natural instinct to confirm our biases. The Manichaen worldview that results allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we feel intelligent, we feel superior. Reflection is impossible in this reductionist landscape and we begin to rely on words such as "always" and "never" while ignoring the infinite nuances which exist and instead slip back to the way we saw the world as children. Simplicity's a virtue in a pop song or when a head coach instructs his players, but a dangerous weapon when spilling from the mouth of a demagogue.

Anyhoo, before I get too far ahead of myself, let's get back to the upcoming NFL season. As is tradition around here, we'll go through the league making predictions about how every team will do while giving all you fantasy football freaks a few players to target in your upcoming drafts using their ADP (average draft position) from Fantasy Football Calculator best on 12-team PPR leagues. Parallel to this, each division will be accompanied by one of the world's eight biggest problems. Tall task you say? Hut, hut, hut!

NFC East - Cowboys, 'Skins, Eagles, Giants and greed

This once mighty division has fallen on hard times. Gone are the days of the Triplets, the Hogs, the Helmet Catch, and, um, whatever glory the Eagles have ever enjoyed. Jaworski? Cunningham? Anyway, the division that has won the most Super Bowls since the 1970 merger (12) is now probably the worst in the league. I'm not calling the Cowboys this year after Romo broke his back (ok, a bone in his back) after breaking his collar bone twice last year. If the Dak Prescott Cowboys win 8, I'll be happy. Instead, it'll be the loathsome 'skins playing a single playoff game this year. The Giants vie for first but fade down the stretch while the Eagles will save the Cowboys from finishing last as last week they decided to sell their present for the future.

Yet it's Dallas that has the most lucrative fantasy gem. Maybe. I feel RB Ekekiel, aka Zeke, aka Eze Elliot, aka Easy E (at least that's how all the cool kids podcasters are calling him) will be a top 3 back, book it. Whether you draft him fourth (which I will be doing) or if he should come later in the RB1 run is a coin flip, but I'm betting on a full work load behind the best line in football is #4 worthy despite Romo's injury. Tony's broken back does knock Dez way down to the late 2nd round though and makes TE Jay Witten waiver wire fodder for half a year. Dak's only draftable in 2QB leagues. Today. The 'skins running game will be led by Matt Jones who I'm not drafting in his early 7th round range. Watch his shoulder and fumble-itis, making UFA Robert Kelley an interesting last round flyer. TE Jordan Reed is too expensive at the end of the 3rd thanks to his injury risk but QB Kirk Cousin is worth snagging in the 10th. Rookie phenom WR Josh Doctson had buzz but can't get on the field, I'd only take DeSean Jackson from their receiver corp at #83, he's damn quick and consistent when healthy and looks good.

Eli is always a safe late QB if you play the waiting game on the position. I'm kinda dreading being 3rd in any draft as you've gotta take OBJ, Odell Beckham Jr. but don't think he's gonna be worth the price. WR Sterling Sharpe is an expensive rookie at the top of the bottom of the seventh, I'm saving for another freshman, but Victor Cruz could be worth a dart if he comes back at 80% of his two-years-ago-self. Rashad Jennings played lights out to finish '15 after a disastrous 4-headed monster experiment in NY, I'd take a shot on him at #77. It's PPR, so think about Vereen at the end but leave the rookie Paul Perkins alone along with any Giants TEs. It's rookie QB Carson Wentz time now that Sam Bradford has been sold for picks but not for your team. TE Zach Ertz is more intriguing at his end of the 8th price thanks to the rookie dump off tendency provided he's healed. Leave WR Jordan Matthews alone at 65, stone hands or attention lapses, but I like both Ryan Mathews as a workhouse at the beginning of the 6th and sparkplug Darren Sproles at his bargain basement price.

Doubtless, a sharp-eyed rabblerouser will have noticed my not using the full name of the Washington Football Club. Their media programmed knee-jerk reaction would likely be to call me a libtard. Instead of using the name controversy to, well, throw names at each other, the team should have just given in to the logical end of the game and sold the rights. No more upset Native Americans, no more apoplectic people screaming about political correctness. Simply replaced by the American way. Profit at the expense of progress. For the owners at least as I'm sure it would net Daniel Snyder a few hundred million minimum. Could it be worth a billion? Seriously.

Snyder joined Cowboy owner Jerry Jones at the top of the worst owner list a couple years back in large part due to greed which has played its hand in destroying their franchises as it has in corrupting the so-called free market capitalist system. Once upon a time owners had a greater stake in what their workers created as both made a long-term commitment to wealth generation, wealth that wasn't quarterly profits but progress. The incentive today is skewed towards get yours while you can, all too often at the expense of others, which has resulted in the largest transfer of monetary wealth from the have nots and have somes to the haves in history over the past 35 years. With this comes the power to perpetuate and calcify the current social order into the future. Income elasticity falls to zero as the American Dream falls victim to the greed that birthed it The most instructive illustration of how much more of society's creation the rich are skimming is in this chart:

Yeah, that's the percentage of total income taken home by the richest 0.01% (one out of 10000 people). Notice their earning over six times the proportion they did in the 1970s. Oh, and thanks to the supposed efforts to solve the financial crisis (caused at least in part by this inequality) such as quantitative easing, inequality has dramatically worsened in the past few years. Oh, and wait until the robots take over, things will get worse fast, cause then the owners of capital won't have to pay anybody anything. Riddle me this Batman. How does an economic system driven by consumption survive when the consumers aren't able to, well, consume? Answer. It can't or, better, it does for a while, and then one day it doesn't.

NFC West - Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and nationalism

Just a few years back the west sent a division winner to the playoffs with a losing record and now has two Super Bowl contenders along with a now struggling team just 3 years removed from the big dance and a franchise in LA! I do hate the Shithawks, I mean Jesus Christ that self-righteous '12' thing the fans have, and did Russell Wilson instagram himself losing his virginity to some B star no one out of the US has heard of? But they'll hold off the Cardinals for the crown; Wilson's also a football freak and better than old man Carson Palmer. The Rams have another #1 pick falling flat, but they don't need Jared Goff to keep the 49ers in the basement of the division. San Francisco could be historically bad offensively while at least LA has RB Todd Gurley.

Todd's the stud here but just by a hair as a case could be made to take Cardinal RB David Johnson ahead of him. Regardless of the order, it's Easy E, DJ and Gurley as the top 3 RBs ahead of All Day and Lamar in my mind. Both Thomas Rawls and Carlos Hyde carry high risk for 4th rounders, the former hasn't played in preseason following surgery after his gruesome season ending ankle injury last year and the latter suffered the dreaded concussion in the Niners second preseason game. At one point this preseason, the Cardinals WR trio of Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown were going back-to-back-to back in the 5th round, the former two still are and might be too pricey but take advantage of Brown's concussion (that's a bit off, no?) and grab him at his mid-7th round sale price. James Baldwin is too expensive thanks to all those TDs last year, expect regression, but 2nd year speedster Tyler Lockett is worth a 7th round prick if John Brown's gone, especially if you're league counts return yards and TDs. Don't touch any of the 49ers or Rams wide-outs, ok, a case could be made for Tavon Austin in the 10th, but don't buy the Torrey Smith hype as the QB situation in San Francisco is a clusterfuck. I'm not buying the other QBs here either as both Wilson and Palmer are overpriced for different reasons and you never take Case Keenum. Tight ends come to this division to die (Jimmy Graham please stand up).

Speaking of standing up, you might have heard 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick stood up by sitting down during the national anthem the other day. Seriously, in a jingoistic ritual that would mystify most foreign observers, the Star Spangled Banner is played before every game, with people doffing their hats and singing the lyrics while tears stream down their face. You might have seen it during a Super Bowl or something. Anyway, believing they are the freest people in the world, Americans are completely oblivious to the propagandistic and conformity inducing effects such ritualized behaviors have, um, I mean little kids pledge allegiance to a classroom flag every day. So, for the first time in awhile, a professional athlete has put his endorsement deals in danger (ok, granted, his flagging abilities has lowered his earning potential, we're not talking about Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Casius Clay/Mohammed Ali level here) to lodge his protest that the country isn't living up to its bargain. In response, this is the vitriol that millions are exposed to in order to maintain the deflect, divide and maintain the status quo:

Of course this tactic isn't unique to America unfortunately as a decade of economic crisis, a 15-year-old-turning-perpetual or perhaps civilizational, Huntingtonian war and ensuing refugee crisis are stewing together to produce a nasty nationalistic edge in much of the world. The near year old government of Poland, where I've been living for almost a decade, has succeeded in transforming the country using the same crap. Here, we've got an unelected dictator (ok Jaroslaw Kaczynski does have a seat in the Sejm, the parliament), who blames the Russians for killing his twin brother, the Germans for spreading gender ideology (really, they think gender's a 'disease' akin to homosexuality here), and refugees for having parasites. Besides destroying the constitutional court, media independence and privacy, so far the biggest thing they've done is try to push the percentage of baby strollers used by parents to carry actual babies above that used to haul cans and bottles by bums. I think its hoped that giving families 500 zloty (about $150) per month for every child after the first will solve the demographic problem so they won't be forced to allow immigrants in as most other countries do to plug the looming pension gap. Strangely enough, the drumbeat to war against Russia isn't only being played in Poland where they're taunting Putin with a new missile shield courtesy of America, which makes Trump the safer choice over Hillary but he'll have to lose because supposedly he's a racist and she's not. Or something.

NFC North - Vikings, Packers, Bears, Lions and corporate welfare

The black and blue division features the most storied team in the league, a Saturday Night Live skit, AP also known as AD and a toothless Panthera leo. The first, the Green Bay Packers should regain the division crown provided RB Eddie Lacy keeps his weight under 250 lbs and WR Jordy Nelson is 90% of his pre-ACL tear self to help QB Aaron Rogers recapture his 2014 form. The gruesome, non-contact, season ending injury to Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater during practice forced the team to mortgage the future to bring in Sam Bradford. Not sold on the move but he's an upgrade on Shaun Hill and should put them in the wildcard hunt. The Lions lost Megatron (WR Calvin Johnson) to retirement but picked up WR Marvin Jones to pick up the slack in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's (the best name in football) scheme. If anyone can topple the Packers, it'll be the Lions if they play like they did in the 2nd half of last season when they went 6-2. The Bears need too many things to go right to really challenge: QB Smokin' Jay Cutler needs to care, WR Alshon Jeffery needs to stay healthy, 2nd year WR Kevin White needs to learn to run routes and RB Jeremy Langford needs to channel his inner Matt Forte.

On the fantasy side, I believe Langford is undervalued in the 4th and Lacy will be worth his ADP in the 2nd while I'd take AP if he dropped to me at the tail end of the 1st but still don't trust Ameer Abdullah, though he could be a league changer if he breaks out as a bellcow 7th round pick. At WR, Alshon Jeffery is too much injury risk for my blood at 23rd. Don't draft Kevin White. Could be Marvin Jones or Golden Tate being the 1A or 1B, that's why they're near back to back at the front of the 6th and worth it. Or Jordy Nelson, or even Randall Cobb for that matter if the aforementioned ACL frees him up to be his #2 self. Jordy's a little high at 18 but I'm buying Cobb in the middle of the 3rd. All the Vikings receivers took too big a hit for me to buy. The breakout TE could very well be former Ram fan tormentor Jared Cook catching balls in Green Bay. From Aaron Rogers. Who is too rich for my blood; if I want a reasonably priced QB in this division it would be Stafford who you can nab in the 11th. It's a tempting strategy to wait on him, but watch who your opponents have drafted, you may have to reach to the 10th for him if say someone like Taylor goes before you pick.

The Vikings will host their first game in brand spanking new, aptly named US Bank Stadium. Perfect name for the welfare teat suckling pair, the NFL and banks. We'll never compute how much world wide public debt was taken on just for the last crisis on behalf of the banks. US citizens took on about $30 trillion for the bailouts alone. A crisis which was mostly caused by income inequality which has since gotten worse thank to the bank saving bailouts and quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the Vikings are the latest in a line of public coffer looters as the land of 10,000 lakes is at least an extra half billion deeper in debt thanks to owner Zygi Wilf doing what the system is designed to do. Take money from the bottom and funnel it up. Did you know that not only did the Rams leave St. Louis for Los Angeles but they also left the city over $100 million in debt to repay for the stadium they had to build the Rams the previous time he threatened to move the team to LA? Oh, the Vikings get the 2018 Super Bowl, which may earn the city money, but only those who own the means to make it, ie. the owner class. Bread and Circuses for the masses to distract them from noticing that their taxes subsidize Walmart's ability to pay workers less than survival wages, pay tens of billions of Wall Streets bonuses, pay Big Oil tens of billions in subsidies (almost $500 billion a year worldwide), pay hundreds of billions to Big Pharma so they can charge patients hundreds for a single pill, and pay the MIC trillions to wage wars in their name.

NFC South - Falcons, Saints, Bucs and Panthers and oil and plastic

Seven months removed from their near Cinderella run to the championship the Panthers should be the strongest team in their division once again as they return much the same team, minus CB Josh Norman but plus WR Kelvin Benjamin. It never pays to pick the Buccaneers, but I'll peg them at two here as Lovie Smith isn't anywhere near them this year. One should never underestimate a Drew Brees led team but the Saints Super Bowl window closes a little more this year while they languish in 3rd and the Falcons bring up the rear.

Real life and fantasy talent abound in this division starting at QB, except for Matt Ryan who seems to have completely lost the plot. Nevertheless, Cam Newton at 35, Drew Brees at 63, and Jameis Winston at 128 are all draftable, but I like them in reverse order for biggest bang for the buck. Julio Jones has to depend on Ryan to get him the ball but he's still worth a top three pick while Mohamed Sanu across from him over from the Bengals looks good and a bargain at the end of the 11th. Buc WR Mike Evans is the other stud here and should benefit from improved QB play and so-called 'positive TD regression' making me want him more than Dez, putting him in the top 10 WRs. Heads up, fellow Buc Vincent Jackson doesn't look finished, I like him at #126. The Panthers somehow got by with WR Ted Ginn last year but both Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess will be the guys; although, I couldn't pull the trigger on Kelvin at the beginning of the fourth, Devin's a deal in the ninth. The Saints WR suffer from diffusion as Brees spreads it out so much making Brandin Cooks and rookie Michael Thomas too pricey at #25 and #119, but Willie Snead's on my radar if he falls to the end of the eighth. At TE, Greg Olsen is always solid but too high at the start of the 5th, stay away the Bucs, don't get suckered into buying Austin Sefarian Jenkins potential, ditto the Falcons as I don't even know their TE, but watch Coby Fleener in the TE happy Saints offense; I'm buying at #76.

My wife had plastic at number one in terms of the scariest thing facing us these days. Can't blame her, people spend a buck on piece of junk that will be used once and then stick around about 1000 years. If you don't know what microbeads are, check it out, messed up. And oil? What woe can't be pinned on it? Climate change? War? Yet, governments such as the US subsidize its production far more than renewable energy. How messed up it that? Paying companies to use up crud that is killing us instead of promoting self-reliance. Never mind that July was the hottest month ever recorded, or that it was the 15th consecutive monthly record, enough people have been convinced that there's no way that human activity could have any hand in changing the climate by their tardification source of choice, be it religious based, media based or simply economics based. That last one is the cudgel many try to use to bash the otherwise rational into submission: why try to save ourselves from extinction by curbing and cutting reliance on fossil fuels when doing so will cause us all to go broke; which of course means we'll starve to death. I'm sure this one even works on the people of Baton Rough, latest victims of a once in a thousand year climate event that I'm sure had nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change. Don't worry, they've got nothing on the people of Alberta still living in denial about what happened in Fort McMurray where at least they got to make a few bucks before what they were doing caused the place to burn to the ground.

AFC East - Dolphins, Patriots, Bills, Jets and privilege and racism

Oh my god I hate this division. The Patriots have won it seven years in a row and 13 of the last 15, and not even sidelining QB Tom Brady for the first four games (yes, Deflategate is still a thing in a world stuck on repeat) will take the title away from them. I mean who's gonna beat them here? The Jets? You mean the team that missed the playoffs thanks to three consecutive drive killing interceptions in the last game of the year? The Dolphins? Really? You think Arian Foster is going to save a team that couldn't figure out how to use Lamar Miller? The Bills? Rex Ryan's Bills? You do know he brought in his brother Rob to run the defense, right? Bills fans seem to really hate tables. I prefer ignoring this division all together, screw you Patriots, go ahead and win a division that no one cares about.

You know what, maybe you should just ignore this division in fantasy too. Except maybe TE Rob Gronkowski. A lot's been made of the shrinking gap between Gronk and the rest of the TEs, but I'm not buying it. Take Gronk in the middle of the 2nd or ignore the position until much later. The Pats 2nd TE, Martellus Bennett is the only other draftable TE here. I hate Jordan Cameron and do the Jets even have one? Whether you pick QB Tom Brady depends on your draft and bench space; if you choose to take him in the 6th, you'll need to pick up someone like Tyrod Taylor at 119, or one of the Ryans, Fitzpatrick at 160 or Tannehill at 164 in the last couple rounds. Leave them all and target Derek Carr or Matthew Stafford thanks to their first four game opponents. LeSean McCoy is attractive as an RB1 in the late second as is Matt Forte in the mid-fourth but I can't stomach either Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins or any of the Patriot running backs. The best WR in the division is 32 years old so I'd have trouble taking Brandon Marshall at the end of the 1st round. Jarvis Landry is a PPR machine and makes a great WR2 if he slides to you in the 3rd. If you're confident that Sammy Watkins has relearned how to run, he was a monster at the end of last year and would make a good consolation if someone scoops Laundry on you but I'm not taking 4-game-Bradyless-post broken foot Julian Edelman in the same round. Yes, Eric Decker is worth his fourth round slot, but I never take his boringness, I'm not down on DeVante Parker at 103 but might take a shot on teamate Kenny Stills with my last positional pick in the 13th. The other flyers are Pats WRs Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell, but they'll be available on waivers.

I admit that I hate the Pats for no other reason than the aura of entitlement that seems to surround them. This privilege inevitably results in them doing all kinds of crap they think they're allowed to do because of who they are and even if they get caught, the price they'll have to pay makes the penalty worth it, kind of like, say, the way banks behave. Cheat, win a title, pay a fine. Cheat, make billions, pay a few million. Same goes for the oil companies, ditto the insurance business, etc... It's gotten to the point where not only do the corporations and super wealthy feel entitled to special treatment but the public expects it as well. Yet, deep down, the majority doesn't accept it and are in need of someone to give a voice to their grievances, someone not afraid to speak their mind even if it upsets a few apple carts.

Here's what I love. This nouveau alt-right constantly claim to being held hostage by political correctness; the libtard thought police is limiting their rights. Yet, the mere mention that support for the Trumps, Brexits, La Pens or Kaczynskis of the world is at least in part a product of racism is somehow taboo despite it being indisputably true. First, look at some of the supporters, be they KKK members in the US or ONR supporters in Poland, regardless of whether or not they are the majority, they represent a significant slice and they are racists, not just the silent kind, but the truly evil kind. Second, listen to their words; gone are the halcyon days of subtle dog whistle calls to violence and replaced with the overtly racist Trump calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals and rapists or Kaczynski claiming refugees carry "parasites and protozoa" or other Polish politicians calling them "human trash". Thanks to dialogue's impossibility in today's polarized political reality, simply stating these things automatically gets you labelled as an enemy of the state, or citizens of "the worst sort". The inevitable outcome of such talk is the violence against minorities we see spiking around the world. It's a wonder the very people inciting the hatred by denouncing foreigners can even act surprised when emigrants from their own country are murdered abroad. Maybe this is how the world was caught off guard by Hitler.

AFC West - Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders and war

Well, this is weird. You win the Super Bowl with the worst quarterback in the league who will be remembered by many as the greatest in history capping off a run of five straight division titles only to come into the next year without a QB. I'm picking the Broncos to tumble to third as both the Chiefs and Raiders leapfrog them leaving the Chargers to languish in the basement. The Chiefs finished last year with a ten game winning streak and will ride the return of RB Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston to the division crown. The Raiders are stacked with young talent and earn a wildcard birth while Denver adjusts downward to the most-Manning era and the Chargers give up the most points in the league. Fear not, Oakland will come out losers as that prick Mark Davis figures out a way to get Las Vegas to pay for a new stadium for the Raiders next year.

Oakland has the shiniest fantasy toys: RB Latavius Murray might be too high at the end of the 3rd with rookie DeAndre Washington (worth his #133) lurking, but Amari Cooper should dominate his second year justifying his #20 position, and fellow WR Michael Crabtree and QB Derek Carr are steals at #81 and #106. There might not be any draftable TEs in Oakland, but the Chargers have one of the greatest looking to break the TE TD record - Antonio Gates is worth every penny of the 102 spot. WR Keenan Allen was on his way to a record season before a freaky kidney laceration, he could be a bargain even at #14 as is 2nd year RB Melvin Gordon and PPR god Danny Woodhead; draft them happily at 51 and 56. With his team trailing all the time, QB Philip Rivers should be good value at the tail end of the 8th round. The Chiefs might win the division but their offense is boring, I mean their QB won't even be drafted. Sure Jeremy Maclin showed that KC WRs can actually score TDs but he's just a tad overpriced at the beginning of the 4th. There's too much risk in the backfield as Jamaal Charles comes back from his 2nd ACL and turns 30 just after Christmas at the 2/3 turn, but scoop up his backup Spencer Ware in the 8th or 9th. TE Travis Kelce should provide just enough return to justify a 6th round pick. In Denver, I always avoid running backs, will stay away from the QBs, would take WRs Demaryius Thomas in the late 3rd and Emmanuel Sanders in the 7th and am more than intrigued by their TE Virgil Green who you should be able to pick up for free off waivers.

Never mind the clusterfuck that is Syriqistan, the chicken hawks have their sites set on a bigger conflict: Russia. Bored with siphoning off wealth from the productive economy, arming opposing sides of conflicts, scattering arms around the world and fudging the books to the tune of $6.5 trillion in a single year, and eager to justify spending over $1.5 trillion dollars on a plane that doesn't work, it's clear that the military industrial complex is intent on pushing us into a conflict with armageddon-like consequences. Step one, foment a faux revolution in Ukraine. Step two, continue to flaunt promises to not expand into Eastern Europe by continuing to do so by building a missile shield in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic (but say it's to protect the west from Iran!) while embarking on a trillion dollar nuclear arsenal upgrade, Step three, pound the public with a deluge of evil empire, Putin is bad, faux hacking stories. Step four, put a war hawk in the Oval Office. Sit back and wait for the fireworks:

AFC North - Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals, and the failure of experts

Ah, the AFC North home to a franchise that honestly believes they can do no wrong despite being even more evil than most, another better known as the Bungles, one that should be the Colts, and, um, the Shit Stains. Seriously, the Stillers, er, Steelers are led by Rapey McGreyPenis and are rumored to have the best offense, like, totally ever, but since they can't get everyone on the field at the same time due to suspensions, we'll never know. Meanwhile, the Bengals proved last January that it is actually scientifically impossible for them to win a playoff game no matter how much better they are than their opponent. Despite winning two Super Bowl victories since Art Modell magically created the Ravens, they'll never be a real team. And Cleveland, well, what can you say? They'll always be the Browns. The Bengals will win the division again only to lose their first playoff game, the Stillers will field enough players to fight for a wildcard, the Ravens will win more games than last years dismal five but only manage third yet will hold off the resurgent, yes, resurgent Browns who nevertheless stay in the cellar.

Fantasy gold awaits the aggressive claim staker here particularly at WR from surefire #1 Antonio Brown and slightly overpriced #5 AJ Green to the ultimate risk/reward choices of Josh Gordon and Steve Smith Sr. An early 5th round pick seems to steep for Flash as he's suspended the first four games and all it takes is one more toke for him to find himself out of the league while for some reason I'll gamble the last pick of the 12th on a 37-year-old returning from a double ruptured achilles. In between, Kamar Aiken at 115, Mohamed Sanu (142), and rookies Corey Coleman (127) and Tyler Boyd (143) are all reasonably priced, Terrell Pryor at 174 and Mike Wallace in the previous slot are great for larger league players. At QB, Big Ben takes too much punishment to stay intact all year while RGIII knee will fold at some point but they could be paired with someone like undrafted Joe Flacco. The Red Rifle's (Andy Dalton) 137 seems like a bargain to me. Want a high-upside RB at a discount price? Well, here's La'Veon Bell who you can get at #12 because he's suspended the first three games, after which he could be the highest point getter in the league. Grab him, but you'll need an extra roster spot for his replacement DeAngelo Williams and you'll need to grab him before #68. I'll always take pass catching Giovanni Bernard at #60 over bulldozer Jeremy Hill at #50 but vice-versa in Cleveland as Isaiah Crowell's 112 is more appealing than Duke Johnson's 70. Skip the mess that is the Ravens backfield. Tremendous value in descending order at TE: Jesse James (undrafted, so free), Gary Barnidge (79), Tyler Eifert (116, cheap as dirt but will miss a few games meaning you'll need to draft another TE). Again, I'm passing on the Ravens carousel here.

Despite the best efforts of think tanks, media pundits and sages to convince us that the likes of Drumpf and Brexit are merely the by-product of stupid people voting against their self-interests, they are, in fact, in large part the product of years of poisoning the well of public dialogue, decades of a quid pro quo relationship among the so-called cognoscenti, the traditional media and the ruling class. Once upon a time much of research done was carried out in universities and laboratories that were for the most part publicly funded. However, as neoliberal policies were implemented, shrinking tax revenue, particularly from the rich and corporations, strangling funding to public institutions, such as NASA and universities, and deregulating everything from the financial industry to the labor market, the majority of research came to depend on private financing. Not only did this make once autonomous institutions dependent on corporate sponsorship but it also gave rise to the rapid expansion of influence wielded by so-called think tanks. You know, those benevolent sounding places that provide the majority of panelists on TV debates and commentary in newspaper articles such as the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, RAND, and the Center for American Progress.

The world's a complicated place so clearly we need experts in fields requiring years or decades of study to provide guidance. Yet, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the fatal flaw here, but at least one, Upton Sinclair, put it into words, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!". In football, as in much of the capitalist model, this arrangement often works. Taking the example of the NFL draft, the owner, unless he's Jerry Jones, might have the final say in draft choices, but he relies on a myriad of scouts (experts) to give him advice as s/he is unable to keep track of all the variables that factor into each decision, much like the average voter in the voting booth. Those who give advice that results in positive outcomes, say, suggesting a seventh round draft choice who turns out to become a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, earn increased trust in the future while those who recommended taking JaMarcus Russell with the #1 pick overall lose the confidence of the owner or their job as there is a direct line of accountability  between the scout and owner.

Now, think of that aforementioned average citizen. (S)he has been assured by a leading economist/military adviser/university academic that the policies included in the platform of the Republicrat party benefit him/her. Now, 30+ years later, after faithfully marking an X next to that party's candidate every couple of years, s/he is no better, or even worse, off than s/he was 30+ years ago. S/he can't fire the experts who led her astray, and in fact many of those very experts are now in higher positions. Why? For the simple reason that the advice wasn't intended to benefit the voter but instead those who paid for the advice in the first place. What? An economist arguing in favor of NAFTA then and TTIP today? A four-star general advocating war in Iraq yesterday and somewhere else tomorrow? A geologist producing a report paid for by Haliburton which claims there's no earthquake risk of fracking in Oklahoma? No wonder we have lunatics running around claiming vaccines cause autism, 9/11 was an inside job and the world is run by the Bildebergs. It's surprising more people don't.

Examples abound, from the seemingly benign to the unequivocally asinine to the, um, well, those with the effects of strychnine. Obamacare, drones, and free trade all sound good to both those selling the idea and the ADD-suffering electorate. After all, who could be against increasing the number of people with access to health care, reducing the number of soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins and expanding job-producing trade? Alas, the assurances of Grima Wormtongue couldn't do a better job of keeping the promises of such spells intact in the mind of the populace while doing the exact opposite. The scam of Obamacare was to sell the idea of moving toward healthcare coverage for everyone while disguising its primary purpose, to extend the healthcare market of the for-profit private insurance industry. Its inevitable failure is inscribed in its fundamental contradiction: providing affordable quality healthcare on the condition of satisfying the profit prerogative of capitalist corporations. Regardless of what the Atlantic tries to convince you, health care is a right, not a business. What better way to win the war on terror than blowing up bad guys by remote control? A doubly effective message combining the vision of technological progress while inoculating the TV news consuming public from the horrors of Vietnam-style numbers of returning body bags. So long as no one notices the terrorists don't hate us for our freedoms but for blowing up their hospitals and wedding parties. Finally, loosing trade from the constraints of bureaucracy is the image most think of thanks to the 'free' of free trade. Well, the experts forget to tell you about the non-free part where corporations use cheap labor to pad their executive compensation packages instead of paying middle-class wages to workers at home and gives those same corporation the power to overturn national laws if they interfere with profits through secret tribunals known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS).

AFC South - Colts, Texans, Titans, Jaguars, and terrorism

After years of having the division as a playground, the Colts stumbled to an 8-8 record as the Texans advanced to the playoffs. If Indy's offensive line finds away to stop QB Andrew Luck from being pummelled play after play they should find their way back to the top, but it's not a gimme. And I don't think it's the Texans who will challenge them but the Jaguars who after a decade of irrelevance finally, at least on paper, have what it take to take the division. Houston battles into December but fall short while the Titans, though slightly improved from last year, remain in the cellar.

I'm all in on former Dolphin, now Texan RB Lamar Miller as I picked him up both in my 10 team PPR snake draft and 20 team auction (yes, 20 teams!). Couldn't say no at the price, 12th pick and $45 respectively so I say he's worth his current #11 ADP. Teammate Nuk Hopkins is a bit overpriced at #6 as the rookie pairing of Will Fuller and Braxton Miller syphon away a few of his targets. Will's worth a shot at #128. I like the Jag players over the Colts, of the WR Allens, I'd buy Robinson at #10 but maybe not Hurns at #67. Both RBs are interesting too, taking either Chris Ivory at #87 or TJ Yeldon at #91 while TE Julius Thomas is intriguing at #98 and QB Blake Bortles could make the leap to elite so grab him at the end of the 7th. Did you notice Luck wasn't Luck even before getting shut down for the year suffering from a half dozen ailments that would each incapacitate us mortals? I'm not in on him at #59 nor WR TY Hilton at #29 but would take Donte Moncrief in the fourth and TE Dwayne Allen, without Coby Fleener around, in the 11th. Don't take Frank Gore regardless of how many yards the stats say he somehow wound up with last year. I can't help liking all the Titans but the RBs may be going too high. I know they paid a lot to bring him DeMarco Murray, but he was awful last year in Philadelphia and the rookie Derrick Henry will vulture some TDs making them both overbought at #41 and #72 respectively. They'll be a run first team, but QB Marcus Mariota (141), TE Delanie Walker (66) and new WRs Rishard Mathews (152) from the Dolphins and rookie Tajae Sharpe (113) are worth taking at their ADPs.

How else to segue into terrorism beyond saying it's simply unbelievable that we could take something so obviously complex that it would drive someone to kill themselves and others, and try to fit it into a neat narrative. No, it's messier than that, so I'll try:

The problem isn't that they hate us for our freedoms.
The problem is that we sell arms to Saudi Arabia so they can bomb the shit out of Yemeni hospitals and wedding parties.
The problem isn't that Obama is a secret Muslim.
The problem is that he sits atop a mostly-secret, lacking in any oversight extra-judicial program to kill military-aged Muslim males with drones which also happens to hit the occasional wedding party.
The problem isn't that Obama and Hillary founded ISIS.
The problem is the US produces and sells over half of the world's arms, loses over half of the of the guns they ship to war zones, metastasizing a U.S. imperium that’s often supporting both sides of the conflict, arming the world and widening the so-called "War on Terror".
The problem is not Muslims infiltrating the west and forcing us to wear burkinis.
The problem is blowback from western colonization from Algeria to Iraq and America’s War on Terror catalyzing an unprecedented global humanitarian nightmare while the media ignored the damning conclusions of the U.K.’s Chilcot Report and the troubling details of the long-anticipated "28 Pages" on Saudi involvement in 9/11.

And that's before I even get started on Palestine.

The Long and the Short of it

For the most part I've lost the taste for making predictions, but I always make an exception for football. The NFC should come down to the usual suspects, the Shithawks, Cardinals, Packers and Panthers so I'll stick my neck out and say the Cardinals advance to the dance. A lot needs to happen but most importantly Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy, the rest should take care of itself. In the AFC I'm looking for a new team to finally rise above the Pats and Broncos. The Kansas City Chiefs, yes, the red tomato, Andy Reid-led Chiefs make it to their first Super Bowl since IV in 1970 when they beat the Minnesota Vikings. That's as far as I'll go today.

Try to enjoy your football while you can as it may not be around much longer. Much as the present system's internal contradictions will bring about it's collapse or revolution, a game whose object is to hurl one's body with as much force as possible at another isn't long for this world. Concussions, the culture of violence along with the feeling of impunity it engenders in those who play all argue for its termination. Add to that the looting of public coffers, the deep rooted sexism, and even the horrible diet of those attending games and its hard to argue against pulling the plug. Ah, but the fact that it helps the rich get richer while the rest of us suffer thanks to both football and the major problems in the world tell me both will continue as long as we allow them to. This November, when faced with a choice between the two most hated candidates in history, one will still win as the majority are still convinced there's no other way. Funny how people gloss over the fact that when voting for the lesser of two evils you are still voting for evil.