My Wholly Non-Expert Preseason Outlook on the 2013-2014 Green Bay Packers

No more legal-hits-that-look-illegal this year, Nick

Basically no one reads this blog other than myself (to proofread, for which I often find mistakes and get frivolously upset). However, I have something in common with sports writers: nobody will hold me accountable for my flaccid sports ken. I can make valid predictions based on firm indicators and, as a result, be the guy three months from now saying, “See, I totally called that. Everyone should respect how smart I am.” But more likely than not, I’ll be the guy who loudly praises Jermichael Finley having a breakout (can he still have one?) year while he drops a wide-open pop-pass against New York to put the Packers in what South Park would call “a sticky situation.” To which an arbitrary friend from a generic network scripted comedy would simply sound, “HEEEEE HAWWWW!”

Disclaimer: If you do not know much about me, I teach kids, which means I have a lot of free time when the weather is nice. By extension, I have made it an obsession to read Packers’ news like Kevin Spacey in Seven. I do trust my own observations as well as the observations\opinions from my fellow Packer brethren (you likely know who you are). Unfortunately I haven’t been watching the preseason games as close as I’d like. The first, I watched at a bar. I absolutely loathe watching games at the bar. Girls, you don’t want to be interrupted with the possible–but probably wrong–identity guesses of “A” while watching a Pretty Little Liars right? Same idea. I like to watch games with the same attentive detail with which I watch Breaking Bad.

The second game I watched while consuming rather strong libations. My Walter White-like precision just wasn’t where I’d like it to be. (I’ve now reached the point in my life where I’m critiquing my TV watching skills). I’m done with the gibberish, though. I’m optimistic this season and here’s why.

Eddie Lacy is not fat

Despite that photo, Lacy is not the rotund, out-of-shape bowling ball that Vikings fans want him to be. Listen, I have to see myself shirtless everyday I actually shower. I know what fat looks like. I’ve been this way for quite awhile, and I’m somewhat of an adjunct professor at strategically concealing it. The photo has since been debunked when Lacy ran all over St. Louis. I know it’s preseason, but the difference between Lacy and the other backs I’ve seen run behind Rodgers is simply this: he has vision. He has light feet and can press the circle button on a dime, which is fortuitous for a man his size, but there are plenty of athletic freaks in the NFL. What separates him is the simple fact that he reads the line much better.

Expect a butterfly effect if Lacy (above) can play like he did at Alabama. As Mr. John Collins would say, “The (roll)tides are turning!”

Packers run a zone blocking scheme, which means they all drive block on the same angle, and, in turn, create a cut back lane. This is different than the inside-on-over-outside blocking scheme which often has a clear hole dictated for the back to run through. I believe Lacy will have a nice year. He may not have huge numbers because of Aaron Rodgers, but it’s converting those sticky 3-and-1s without throwing hopeless bombs to Jordy Nelson that count.

Newsflash: Aaron Rodgers is still the best player in the NFL

The quarterback is the most important position in football. You can argue with me about that but then you’d be an idiot. Rodgers is the best QB in football. I don’t care what talking heads on ESPN say. He’s mobile! He’s agile! He hostile! Too many superficial fans of football whom I deem “Madden” fans get caught up on useless rankings. Let’s go through a couple common QB comparison arguments. 1. “Brady doesn’t have the receivers Rodgers has.” Response: When Gronkowski was healthy and Aaron Hernandez wasn’t trying to be a storyline on The Bridge, Brady had three top-tier targets to throw to with Welker in the mix. Brady is really, really good. Don’t get me wrong, but this argument annoys me. Also, this year, don’t sleep on Wes Welker Redux, a.k.a. Danny Amendola. When healthy, Amendola was a very good wide receiver with Sam Bradford. This was the smartest move New England made in the offseason.

2. “Aaron Rodgers can’t win the big game.” Response: Ok, I’ll use this one (conveniently) to compare him to Manning. Manning is great.

Packer fans only use pictures with mustachioed Aaron

Probably the greatest all-time. But right now, in 2013, he’s not Aaron Rodgers. They both have the same number of Super Bowls. Manning’s late interception wasn’t necessarily 90s MJ. Oh, and last year, I’d like you to come up with a better word than “anemic” for the Packers defense (this year should be vastly improved, and I’ll get to that). Manning had leather-bound bookends last year with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Let’s make an analogy because they’re fun. If Rodgers was an incumbent politician running for reelection, he only wins if he garners 70 percent of the electorate. Whereas most QBs need 50-55 percent to win, and 60 is considered a landslide, Rodgers has been playing an uphill battle for most of his career.

Don’t laugh at me until I’m wrong: The defense will make drastic improvements this year

Ever since Green Bay lost Cullen Jenkins, the defense hasn’t been the same. They lacked tenacity (absent Clay Matthews). I’m not going to say that playing with more of an edge will curtail their fledgling play the last few years. That is simply an attitude. A smart student with an attitude is still a smart kid. A dumb kid with an attitude is still dumb. A porous defense with an attitude is still porous. However, they’ve slowly added some key pieces for which we haven’t quite seen in total concert yet. This preseason, Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams have been out but are due back. By the very nature of preseason, pass rushers aren’t going to metaphorically run out in a trench coat naked and flash brilliance. We know what Clay Matthews can do. He’s a top notch passer and a highly-underrated run stopper. Nick Perry has much to prove. But practice reports seem to indicate that he’s getting it. Remember, he was a defensive lineman in college. This is his second year in a new position. Remember how badly you sucked at your job the first few months? I remembered how much I sucked.

Here are some other tidbits. Micah Hyde has been the surprise of camp. He played quite well against Tavon Austin last week in St. Louis. Davon House, after his admittedly terrible outing against Arizona, played much better against St. Louis and would have beaten out Sam Shields last year in camp if he hadn’t been injured. So we have Tramon Williams (starter), Sam Shields (starter), Casey Hayward (very good),  Micah Hyde>Davon House>Jerrett Bush OR Davon House>Micah Hyde>Jerrett Bush. Either way, _________ > Jerrett Bush. The Packers have serious depth at cornerback. Speaking of depth, the defensive line is really starting to come around if a few variables play out like I think they will. Ryan Pickett is getting old, but is solid nonetheless. Raji is in a contract year. First round pick Datone Jones, by all reports, has been as good as advertised. And by that I mean he’s playing like his Twitter profile picture, which looks downright Heisenberg-ish. If Jones plays up to his potential, he can free up Nick Perry to make plays, which in turn frees up Clay Matthews, which in turn lessens the burden on a talented secondary. You see what I did with that turnstile, run-on sentence? We have a domino effect of what-ifs on defense. But I’m feeling quite optimistic about it. It’s going to take time, though. I don’t expect instant success, but by week 8, we should start seeing them gel into a cohesive force (or at least something that is similarly reminiscent of 2010).

Packers 2013 schedule and, coincidentally, my Wing Stop eating schedule

  1. at San Francisco 49ers Sept. 8 @3:25
  2. Washington Redskins Sept. 15 @Noon
  3. at Cincinnati Bengals Sept. 22 @Noon
  4. BYE
  5. Detroit Lions Oct. 6 @Noon*
  6. at Baltimore Ravens Oct. 13 @Noon
  7. Cleveland Browns Oct. 20 @3:25
  8. at Minnesota Vikings Oct. 27 @7:30
  9. Chicago Bears Nov. 4 @7:40
  10. Philadelphia Eagles Nov. 10 @Noon*
  11. at New York Giants Nov. 17 @7:30
  12. Minnesota Vikings Nov. 24 @Noon
  13. at Detroit Lions Nov. 28 @11:30am
  14. Atlanta Falcons Dec. 8 @7:30
  15. At Dallas Cowboys Dec. 15 @3:25
  16. Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 22 @3:25
  17. at Chicago Bears Dec. 29 @Noon

*Denotes games I will be at

BOLD=games the Packers may likely lose

The first four games the Packers play are very tough. All three are going to be playoff contenders, and two of them may be Super Bowl contenders. I don’t expect Green Bay to win the San Francisco game. I think they’ll be a little raw, and their defense won’t quite be ready. But they aren’t going to lose all those games in bold. They’ll lose some of them, probably half. But you also have to account for the fact that they will drop a turd somewhere, like Cleveland or at Detroit. We don’t know where the turd happens. It’s not unlike those old commercials where the guy has to get out of his car and run to the gas station bathroom because he may ruin his day. It just poops (sic) up at any time, and always the wrong time. So if the Packers lose all the bold games, that puts them at 11-5. I say they’ll lose three of the five but drop a game they should win, which puts them at 12-4. I think that’s a fair assessment. I think 11-5  to 13-3 is the range where Green Bay fits. They just need to make the preseason. Once that happens, anything is possible as we saw in 2010. Why? Well, Aaron Rodgers, the Kwan. Remember the Arizona game in the 2009 postseason. He was absolutely ridiculous. The only difference was that Green Bay’s defense was slightly more horrid than Arizona’s. Let’s hope for big things, and don’t listen to what you see on TV. They are paid to talk for hours. Brevity is the soul of wit intelligence. The more one speaks, the more likely incompetence will seep out. Let’s enjoy this season, and let’s not get too distraught when a few bumps in the road inevitably occur. I’ll try, but I’ll likely become a hypocrite to my own Packer fan constitution.

Photo on 8-21-13 at 11.53 AM

Go Pack Go!

Final edit: They could likely lose some divisional games against Chicago, Detroit, or Minnesota. The NFC North will be one of the two best divisions in football this year. Still, I hold my prediction of 11-5 to 13-3. This schedule is difficult. At least Green Bay will be battle tested going into the late season.

Hollywood’s Counterintuitive Business Model and TV’s Juxtaposition

“You will make a movie called the Rest In Peace Department, and you will get Jeff Bridges to agree to do it!”

When was the last time you were genuinely excited for a movie? Sure, there are movies that contain our favorite stars, which make us (or at least me) think, “It’s (fill-in-the-blank star), he’s not going to take a garbage role.” Unbeknownst to myself, the above dialogue I have is simply me–justifying to myself–why I should retain hope for another failure. But if you’ve been alive this summer, quite the contrary has happened.

The following was the best Hollywood could come up with this summer–a time for the big-budget, big box office projects to lay themselves among the audience:

  • Iron Man 3 (success)
  • After Earth starring Will Smith (failure)
  • Hangover Part III (meh)
  • The Internship (doesn’t qualify as a summer blockbuster, but still just check out my prior review)
  • Man of Steel (OK, but there’s a disclaimer I will get to)
  • World War Z (surprisingly good, naturally expensive)
  • White House Down (Channing Tatum would have been a better pick had this been a musical)
  • The Lone Ranger (*A whistle mimic-ing the sound of Fat Man falling out of the Enola Gay*)
  • Pacific Rim (Blockbuster budget, moderate success)
  • Grown Ups 2 (This is a franchise?)
  • Red 2 (See above parenthetical)
  • R.I.P.D. (Oh come on, now!)
  • Wolverine (Didn’t they make this already?)
  • 2 Guns (moderate success based on exceptional casting)
  • Elysium (Matt Damon probably thinks this is a smart movie)
  • Kick Ass 2  (TBD, but the first was actually pretty good)
  • jOBS (TBD, reviews haven’t been great) 

Time to put on my Captain Hindsight uniform and say there are some serious turds in that bowl. R.I.P.D. are you kidding? I understand that a movie script can, in fact, be well done before it goes through the Hollywood machine, but this is an unforgivable concept. The two sci-fi movies, After Earth and Elysium, both are heavy with the political themes and are no where near living up to expectations. So what does that say about the movie market? Perhaps we don’t want to sit through an editorial disguised as art. But seriously, another Wolverine-based movie? Another Iron Man? Franchises galore. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

There are few auteurs left in the film business. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Inception) is one. His brother wrote Man of Steel, which is why I can hold out hope for that it would be a much more original take on a tried-and-true tale. Peter Berg, the director of films such as The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights, had to make Battleship (god-awful) in order to make his baby, Lone Survivor. Battleship is a Transformers spinoff. Hollywood is addicted to CGI like crack. It cannot stop. It firmly believes that more action set pieces will drive audience interest.

I figured my internal gripes were hipster-like grievances until I started seeing prominent authorities in the industry speak up about it. Steven Spielberg, whose name in the byline of a film title adds a chunk of revenue itself, remarked the following to a group of USC film students:

That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown [in Hollywood]. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.

According to the Huffington Post, “Spielberg lamented that it’s becoming harder and harder for even brand-name filmmakers to get their projects into movie theaters. To wit: “Lincoln,” which was a critical and commercial success for the director, nearly ended up on HBO, he told the audience. Unestablished talent, meanwhile, has run into trouble getting their projects greenlit at all, because their ideas are “too fringe-y” for studios.”

The Economist has cooborated this sentiment by calling Hollywood exectives “paranoid and insecure. Adding, “between 2007 and 2011, pre-tax profits of the five studios controlled by large media conglomerates (Disney, Universal, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros) fell by around 40%, says Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley. He reckons the studios account for less than 10% of their parent companies’ profits today, and by 2020 their share will decline to only around 5%. That is because the “big six” studios (the other is Sony Pictures, owned by the eponymous electronics maker) are growing more slowly than TV. In 2012 Time Warner grossed $12 billion from film, up 20% from 2002. That compares with a more than 84% rise in the company’s TV-network revenues during the period, to $14.2 billion”

George Lucas, who was speaking at the event with Spiellberg, opined, “the pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller.”

So Lincoln struggled to get funding but apparently no one was sober enough to shut down R.I.P.D.? Deadline Hollywood recently reported that Spiellberg couldn’t “square his vision of [American Sniper] with [the given] budget.” One would think that if there are any safe bets for a movie to be profitable, having the director of Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, E.T., etc. would certainly help.  Oh, and Bradley Cooper is set to play the lead role. I would go see it, and I’ve reached that age where I frequently give up on movies.

Steven Soderbergh, the director Ocean’s 11/12/13 and HBO’s Behind the Candelabra (among others), ranted about the industry in a speech at the San Francisco film festival:

The meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, which is what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies, don’t watch movies for pleasure, deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.

In essence, studios find it necessary to put all their chips on one number to gain 36:1 profits with the reasoning that the movie, once greenlit and successful (two big hurdles) will become a continued (franchised) success. See: Batman, X-Men, Iron Man, Man of Steel, the Hangover, and so on. When these comic book adventure films were a novelty, they were a novelty. That luster has since worn off, and audiences don’t get excited about it. The tried and true method of all great films is having a great narrative, a great, wait for it, story!

“We are a species that is driven by narrative,” Soderbergh added.

Hollywood has abandoned the story ship, and boarded the Battleship. “Special effects are what audiences want,” says the executives whose sole focus is the bottom line. 2 Guns and soon-to-be Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg basically agrees. “They are spending so much money to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes with these effects-driven movies,” Wahlberg said.

If you experience anything enough, be it a Prime-cut steak, an exotic vacation, whatever, excess will deteriorate the desire to experience it again. Las Vegas is an adult playground, but if you live there and indulge in the  vices festivities “on the reg” you will inevitably miss the mundane lifestyle of suburban middle America. Jurassic Park was awesome when it first came out. The special effects were mind-blowing. 15 years later, those same effects have been overused. They are simply add-on features to a car. But consumers don’t buy a car for add-on features. They buy a car for transportation. Consumers primarily watch a movie for a strong narrative.

The market for narrative has always been there. Do you want proof? Look no further than cable TV. The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, The Americans, Mad Men. Even the shows with the loftiest budgets still don’t compare to the money pit that is John Carter. TV writers are the ultimate middle manager. They must do more with less. They must create a better story with fewer set pieces or big name actors. Who was John Hamm before Mad Men? Can you watch Elf now and see Peter Dinklage in his original role and not think Tyrion Lannister? Byran Cranston is now synonymous with perhaps the most iconic role in TV, Walter White. These are career defining roles in TV.

If I said this 10 years ago, people would think I’d be crazy (partly because I’d be 14 and my TV apptetite consisted of Carson Daly on TRL), but right now, in 2013, TV programming is much, much better than anything in film.

Vince Gilligan, the brains behind Breaking Bad, had this to say about the difference between TV and film:

I love movies, and I love TV. In TV, you have the time to get deeper into a character, but movies are a two-hour block of time in which we get transported to another place. We’ll always have Paris, and we’ll always have movies. But we’re going through a time, unfortunately, when the big movie studios are run by folks that are more obsessed than ever with the bottom line and who probably love movies less than any studio hierarchy that’s ever existed in my life. Back in the day, when the Irving Thalbergs and Louis B. Mayers ran the business, those guys could bite your head off. Those guys were tough sons of bitches, but they loved movies. They weren’t obsessed with counting beans. The problem with the movie business now is that it’s marketing-driven—driven by demographics, by spreadsheets and flowcharts and all this shit that has nothing to do with storytelling. But the movie itself, the structure of the movie, will always be with us. And occasionally a really great movie for grown-ups does sneak through.

In short, the bottom-line-obsessed executives need to leave art to the artists. AMC was never on my radar until Mad Men and Breaking Bad came out. Now they’ve built a brand which tells their audience they are willing to take a chance on originality. FX did the same when they started out with The Shield and Nip/Tuck. They brought HBO drama to basic cable. As a consequence, TV has proliferated into a medium that has become much more entertaining (and cheaper) than film. TV has undercut film, and it’s filled with irony.

An unexpected twist in this whole debacle is seeing film industry regulars converting to TV. Scorsese serves as an executive producer for Boardwalk Empire. David Fincher worked on House of Cards. Names like Kevin Bacon and Kevin Spacey, once indigenous to film, are migrating to the TV landscape. Creative freedom is something all artists strive for. One must survive, so a paycheck is ultimately more important. But for entertainment’s sake, these artists must not be subjugated to recycled story lines with new tricks.

TV is the best example, but not the only one. Video games have become technological wonders. Developing teams are auteurs in their own right, placing their stamp on masterpieces such as Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid. The publisher acts as the film industry executives. Call of Duty 4, developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, was a mega success. It contained brand new gaming infrastructure, redesigned and streamlined with state-of-the-art gameplay. Yesterday, Infinity Ward (minus two if it’s lead developers) unveiled Call of Duty Ghosts’ multiplayer, which is its first for the upcoming next generation consoles, X Box One and Playstation 4. This is Call of Duty’s sixth iteration since Modern Warfare came out. The innovation is little. They’ve doubled down on what worked before, hoping to fool audiences by using the word “innovation.” Meanwhile, Naughty Dog put out perhaps the generation’s best game in The Last of Us on the Playstation 3, a less powerful machine. Activision, and they are perfectly entitled to this, decided to copy what works to retain their audience. But the reason the game was so successful in the first place was precisely because it was a hallmark for video game innovation.  Unfortunately, innovation looks bleak when the captains of industry are in no hurry to change what works.

 Tom Bissell of Grantland perfectly summarized my point:

[T]he amount of work required to make The Last of Us is basically unimaginable to anyone outside game development. Games with this amount of detail and polish are possible only when dozens of men and women voluntarily elect to damage themselves and their lives for the entertainment benefit of strangers.” He continued, “Sony undoubtedly recognized from the start the hard uphill battle The Last of Us had in front of it, which means the game was probably intended as a prestige project done both for the good of the medium and to burnish studio and platform pride. Obviously, that’s a somewhat cynical way of looking at things. Less cynical would be to say, ‘The Last of Us is a masterpiece.'”

The writing is on the wall. Now if only those who wield the green flame can read it. And we, as consumers, aren’t completely innocent. We must better speak our minds via the mighty dollar.

Braun Over Brains

One piece of Wepfer Wisdom I pass down to my students is cynical and self-indulgent, but today it has been reinforced as containing at least a sliver of truth.

Are you ready? OK, here goes:

Yes, I understand that many don’t really care to read when there are videos and commentaries posted in formats in which the premises and conclusions arrive much more efficiently. However, reading and writing are marital partners, they are communication’s yin and yang. One cannot read well if he or she cannot write well and vice versa (I stole that part from a professor). With that said, cultivating one’s own ability to read, to write, and, by extension, to speak can work wonders for pseudo intelligence. Even if you aren’t an expert on a subject, if you throw in enough four-syllable adjectives, a large enough continent of readers/viewers will deem your intelligence to be adequate for their attention.

I could expand on this, but I won’t. What I want to get at is how perception can trick reality. So Ryan Braun is guilty. He has passively accepted his guilt by receiving the suspension without appeal. Remember his press conference, though? He sure had me fooled. He even alleged, albeit through the backdoor, that Dino Laurenzi tampered with his sample. Full disclosure: I know who he is, and have been enrolled at the same grade/high schools as his son/daughters. It was extremely tough to believe Braun after learning the identity. As a Braun fan, I wanted desperately to believe him, too. But going back to the press conference, it all harkens back to his dense, convincing use of language.

Despite  of the fact that there have been many inaccurate, erroneous, and completely fabricated stories regarding this issue, I have maintained the integrity of the confidentiality of the process…We’re a part of a process where you’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent, it’s the opposite of the American judicial system and this is not an innocent-until-proven-guilty situation, so if we’re held to that standard, it’s only fair that everybody else is held to that exact same standard.

Read that statement, and then watch the clip. They are equally impressive considering that (often) athletes do not possess the faculty to impress the fans, sports writers, and the general public all while avoiding professional sports’ banal, innocuous lexicon. (“We just put forth a great team effort. These guys are just a great group of guys, and I couldn’t do it alone” –anyone in a team sport) He used enough syllables, spoke with enough conviction that he won back a portion of his fans despite getting off on a technicality.

Politicians work the same way. They are media puppeteers using creative jargon to manipulate the masses for personal benefit. But let’s face it: the evidence strongly indicates that Ryan Braun is a cheater. I guess I don’t care that much. I’m sure he can still be a solid player, and I won’t blacklist him from my shirsey-wearing repertoire. It looks like Braun certainly wasn’t thinking by hooking up with folks at the Biogenesis lab (there’s a pun in that last sentence somewhere I think). I do hope, though, in the aftermath that Mr. Laurenzi gets a sincere apology. I think it will come down to Braun having large enough post-PED balls to do so.

P.S. Training camp opens this week and my mind will be committed elsewhere. This will all blow over, and I’ll be prepping my fantasy league draft. GO PACK GO!

Book Review: The Unwinding by George Packer

Subtitled “An Inner History of the New America,” George Packer provides readers with America’s institutional transformation in the last 40-ish years. He does so not with a chronological timeline, but rather through smaller vignettes, histories of particular individuals who have worked in the industries that have either reformed, evaporated, or prematurely adapted. The main characters to see such a transformation include Tammy Thomas, a native Youngstown, Ohioan and African American who grew up in a city with an economy predicated on manufacturing; Jeff Connaughton, a man who climbed through the ranks to become one of Joe Biden’s top staffers; and Dean Price, a southern entrepreneur whose life’s mantra had been crystalized by Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

Those are the main characters–they are the repeated story lines that help define our new America. However, Packer also includes two other running threads throughout: Tampa and Silicon Valley. The former is the epicenter of the housing crisis and ground-zero for those affected by the  “Great Recession.” The latter is the history of how housing prices in Silicon Valley went from a modest ~150K to an astounding ~800K. Well, not the prices specifically, but how Silicon Valley became the hub for the information age, the cabal for some of our country’s greatest new thinkers. Silicon Valley’s main character is Peter Theil, the founder of PayPal and now a hedge fund manager (you may have seen him for about 30 seconds in The Social Network where Zuckerberg walks into an office late and poorly dressed at the advice of Sean Parker).

Lastly, Packer includes even smaller vignettes–contemporary prominent figures in American culture: Jay Z, Oprah Winfrey, Newt Gingrich, Sam Walton, Andrew Breitbart, Colin Powell, Alice Waters, Robert Rubin, and Elizabeth Warren. Having read Andrew Breitbart’s Righteous IndignationI was already privy to much of the source material that Packer provides. His role as a media magnate can’t go unnoticed, and perhaps I thought his role in modern media was still understated. (In Righteous Indignation, the section where Breitbart outlines his panel discussion on Real Time with Bill Maher is positively riveting). My favorite mini-history is probably Speaker Gingrich’s. During the height of Gingrich’s power,  I was much more focused on Tommy Pickles and what the rest of the Rugrats were doing, but I have since followed his political footprint. The chapter was a nice insight as to what the term “career politician” actually means. We throw it around as a pejorative platitude; however, you actually see someone who’s a master at character assassination, someone–as stated in the novel–holds a cache of terms that can be strung together to fire up a base. It became known as the Gingrich lexicon:

He recruited Republican candidates around the country and trained them with his own words and ideas on video tapes and cassettes, like a motivational speaker, understanding the language was key to power. His memos included vocabulary lessons: if you discuss your opponent with words like betray bizarre bosses bureaucratic liberal lie limit(s) obsolete pathetic radical shame sick stagnation…you had [Democrats] on the defensive,

The main story I found most fascinating was Jeff Cannoughton. He started as an idealist, a bonafide “Biden guy.” (He became inspired when he heard Biden speak while he was a college student in Alabama) He first worked on Wall Street, a place where he discovered the inner workings of the financial system all while making himself a nice payout. Eventually the idea of working for Senator Joe Biden began to itch far too much, and he worked for the Senator as a staffer. In my opinion, there can’t enough news about low, mid, or even high-level staffers for seasoned politicians. The idealism that Cannoughton started with started to fade. He noticed that the same joke Biden opened his speech to a youthful Cannoughton hadn’t  changed. Biden was using the same ice-breaking material for decades. During the impending financial crisis, Cannoughton grew increasingly frustrated by the Washington gridlock. He was convinced that money had far too much influence on politics. Oddly enough, Cannoughton left Biden to work on K-street as a lobbyist.

This was the biggest eye opener for me. If you’ve seen House of Cards on Netflix, you may have noticed how quick politicians will throw each other under the bus in order to climb the ladder (cue Littlefinger in Game of Thrones). As a correlary, one will see how political ideologies don’t quite matter once dollars and cents are involved. Cannoughton had maintained the ideals of Democrats for years. Once he got a job working as lobbyist, he used his networking to work alongside Republicans to represent the interests of their clients regardless of ideology. Here are few tidbits that summarize the place that lobbying had/has in Washington:

Wealth added to their power, power swelled their wealth. They connected special interests to party officials using the adhesive of fundraising. They ate breakfast with politicians, lunch with the heads of trade associations, and dinner with other Professional Democrats. Behind their desks were ‘power walls’–photo galleries showing them smiling next to the highest ranking politicians they knew. Their loyalty was to the firm first, then their former boss in politics, then their party, and then–if he was a Democrat–the president.

Or, how about couples in Washington?

Certain couples belonged to the subset of Washington’s permanent class having to do with the financial sector, the Wall Street–Washington axis–Treasury officials, Banking Committee staffers, regulators. Connaughton called it the blob. Members of the financial blob were unusually tight with one another. In the case of one couple, the husband was an ex-lobbyist who worked on a key Senate committee, the wife an ex-Treasury official who went over to the SEC. They networked night and day, playing the long game, and when the two of them decided to cash in for good, they would be worth a lot of money.

To paraphrase, principles don’t exist inside the beltway of the D.C. elites. Political talking points are merely the pieces to the chess board that is our current political landscape. The best man or woman for the job is negligible. Ever wonder why Susan Rice was at first nominated for Secretary of State before John Kerry? Based on my latest read, I’d say she was climbing that ladder by voluntarily taking a few shots (Benghazi) for Obama and in turn was promised the Secretary of State job. As I read Cannoughton’s story, House of Cards became less and less fictional. Rep. Underwood’s relationship with his wife made much more sense. Its basis as a professional relationship became palpably real.

Meanwhile, in the land of actual people known as the continental United States, people are suffering. Tammy Thomas, who managed to raise two children on a factory job by herself, was now struggling for work. The steel mills that peppered the Youngstown area were now being sold and liquidated to other companies. The jobs were leaving, and people were suffering. Dean Price, an entrepreneur whose goal was to take advantage of peak oil (the point at which oil production has hit it’s peak–supply will no longer be able to keep up with demand–and oil prices will soar) and locally manufacture biodiesel was perhaps ahead of his time. Also, people in Tampa, Florida are foreclosing at a record rate. Some of the blame rests in Washington’s Community Reinvestment Act, which ostensibly gave away loans to people unable to pay them. To compound that, banks were packaging these piss-poor loans in what are called “Mortgaged-Backed Securities.” The mortgages were so sliced and diced that it was simply impossible the trace where the original mortgage belonged. Housing prices soared, people flipped homes, families bought these artificially inflated homes, and then the market crashed. Suddenly the only real middle class asset–a home–became worth a fraction of what it was payed for. Your 500K house can now only sell for 200K. All while politicians and lobbyists muck it up to create meaningless legislation. (While working in a high-ranking staff position for then Senator Ted Kaufman, Cannoughton described Biden and Obama as “financial illiterates.”)

It’s difficult the tell, but it seems Packer leans left. The book, though, is not polemic. Instead, it presents exact histories and asks the reader to think about it. I certainly found the lobbying industry in Washington to be an absolute farce. Though I understand the basis for the Citizens United case, I can’t help but think that lobbying has actually disenfranchised free speech. Real entrepreneurs–the ones who create something from nothing–must face the reality of failure all while established rank and file politicians create their own exclusive Facebook where political ideology is more of a brand than a way of life. Those same entrepreneurs must have their interests represented in Washington to increase their chance at success (grants, favorable legislation, etc.). Ayn Rand was also on to something with Wesley Mouch, the sleazy Washington insider.

Though I have ideas for how to solve such a function, I’m sure they’d be far too radical for those of whom only keep a house in their home district to maintain a seat in the capitol. I vote to decentralize Washington. Why, besides the White House, do representatives need to be there for more than a couple weeks a year? We are in the age of information, where FaceTime has revolutionized long-distance relationships. You can’t tell me there isn’t a way to create a hyper-secure encrypted communication line between Senators and Congressmen/women. Detach these people from the beltway. Make them live within their own mistakes or successes. Also, please tell me with a straight face that government isn’t too big. I dare you.

Green Energy: Where Politics and Advertising Meet

 

This morning, Breitbart News posted an article on environmental researcher Ozzie Zehner’s latest findings that posit, from construction to destruction, electric vehicles are more harmful to the environment than standard gas-powered vehicles.

Zehner’s findings suggest looking at the damage to the environment a car does comprehensively–from its beginnings as a manufactured piece of metal to its eventual resting place in a junkyard. When taking all of these factors into account, one must consider the impact of disposing the car batteries and the frequent charging, which draws power from sources that are fueled by, among other things, coal. To that end, buying a Chevy Volt, for example, will be more harmful to the environment than a Hyundai Sonata. The economic benefits of the latter–alongside this newfound suggestion that a Sonata is also more environmentally friendly–offer very little real purpose for the electric car outside, of course, the stigma that comes with being “green.”

Zehner furthers this point by looking at what Justin Beiber’s manager, Scooter Braun, said to him when Bieber was given a car on his 18th birthday: “We wanted to make sure, since you love cars, that when you are on the road you are always looking environmentally friendly, and we decided to get you a car that would make you stand out a little bit.”

Certainly  the narrative trumps the facts. Consumers who drive hybrids, notably the Prius, are the same as the ones who drive jacked-up trucks in the city. It’s a statement.

In reviewing Zehner’s blog and a Huffington Post book review, it appears that Zehner himself isn’t against the use of alternative energy. He is more concerned with the market forces that are imposed on the energy market via government intervention:

“It’s what I call a boomerang effect. When we subsidize wind power or any other energy technology, this exerts a downward pressure on energy prices, and demand subsequently strengthens. We return to where we started — with high demand and so-called insufficient supply. Taller or more efficient wind turbines are just another way of throwing [the boomerang] harder.”

When government subsidizes energy, particularly green energy, it’s hiding the true cost of energy. Demand strengthens because price has been artificially lowered. It’s not truly changing consumer habits, but it is changing how much taxpayer money is pumped into the system.

In fact, Zehrner’s bottom-line thesis is a cultural one. He suggests the rate at which we procreate “happens to be a rate that is appropriate for the aggregate ecological endowment for our planet.” Fewer consumers on the planet simply correlates to less consuming.

My bottom line thesis is a little different: Green energy has become a message and an advertisement. It’s the chicken and egg theory. I don’t quite remember if it was first a phenomenal advertising speil to get consumers feeling good about how they consume energy or an idea propagated by media types (a la Gore). Either way, I’m a little scared that green energy is simply an advertisement co-opted by a media as an irrefutable factual platform.

Think about it this way: consumers buy Ray-Ban sunglasses because of the identity, status, and “coolness” associated with them. They obviously don’t buy them for price tag. And their performance as an ocular light shield isn’t substantially better than what one would find at Gander Mountain.  They are buying the name “Ray-Ban” and the stigma associated with them, and that is great. Now, let’s substitute some key terms and see how it translates.

Consumers buy a Toyota Prius because of the “greenness” associated with it. They obviously don’t buy it for the price tag. And its performance as a green machine isn’t substantially better than what one would find on a cheaper gas-powered car. They are buying the name “Prius” and the stigma associated with it, and that is…scary. We’ve reached the intersection between dogma and stigma. I can only imagine how happy Don Draper would be to have the cooperation of political pundits and government officials to push products that he represents.

My Two Sense: The Washington Redskins’ Name

Sometimes I wonder what life is like in less prosperous countries where time and work are directly proportional to one’s ability to survive. Does person A get into a debate with person B about person C’s name? Of course not, they have better things to do. Unfortunately, I’ve settled on this simple idea: people will complain. It doesn’t matter how great life is (see: Jay Gatsby), each and every day a human will compose a problem out of his or her imagination. In America, we do it to an exhaustive extent. The PC–politically correct–Gestapo are out there in full force, waiting to command and conquer the world one (non) issue at a time.

When I get worked up about this, I always think back to the South Park episode where the boys call the bikers “fags.” Once the episode reaches the classic South Park denouement, we get the boys explaining how the word “fag” has changed meaning over the years. In essence, it’s meaning has evolved because it’s been abused by adolescent children. It no longer is a pejorative  for gay people; rather, it simply means–colloquially–asshole, which I guess is a bit of a paradox, but I digress. This is exactly how the Redskins have evolved. Does anyone truly think about the derogatory nature of the word? As a Packer fan, I’m fully aware of our origin story, and yet I don’t find myself cheering for Green Bay because of their fantastic meat packing beginnings.

Whenever I do read an article about this, I get annoyed (see, people without problems create problems). Published on Grantland, the author of the article writes for the Nation and is a fan of the Redskins. Oh wow, another politico weighing in on the sports arena. Hey John Kerry, how was your visit to Lambart (sic) Field? I read Mr. Zirin’s article and came away with nothing. He merely lambastes Daniel Snyder along with his perennial lackluster team. While all true, this doesn’t solve the problem. It’s simply a public relations shitball slung in Synder’s direction. And that’s how it works. No real substantive debate. No, simply a smear campaign until Synder and co. are too toxic to mop up the waste.

Now I want to make it clear. I’m not advocating for either side. I don’t care one iota what happens. I just can’t stand political correctness. Ironically enough (or maybe not, depending on your bias), it was Redskins’ QB, RG3, who tweeted this gem out there:

“You called me my real name?”

So does context matter? Is derogatory a subjective value, with the variable being the intent? Example: Many girls call their friends their “bitches” or, in some dialects, “betches.” In this close circle, an insult is actually a term of endearment. As a guy, I expect to be called a penis or dickhead (Frued was on to something, huh?) upon entering a room. It’s expected. Not giving a friend a perverse nickname is an insult in some circles. I argue that context is as important as the word itself. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny were calling the bikers “fags” with a context that has been usurped over the years to mean 2013’s version of asshole, not Webster’s stuck up, old boring person’s original definition. Words evolve. Just read Shakespeare to find out. Anyways, what if the Redskins’ name was originally a term of endearment? This comes from Michael Tomasky:

The nickname had been the brainchild of George Preston Marshall, a laundry magnate and flamboyant showman who had bought the Boston Braves football team in 1932. As his second head coach, Marshall hired William “Lone Star” Dietz, a journeyman coach at the collegiate level whose mother was most likely a Sioux. It was in “honor” of Dietz, who coached the team for just two seasons and who at Marshall’s urging willingly put on war paint and Indian feathers before home games, that Marshall changed the team’s name to the Redskins. When Marshall, frustrated by Boston fans’ lack of support, moved the franchise to the nation’s capital in 1937, the coach was gone, but the team name stayed.

Tomasky doesn’t elaborate on his use of quotations. I’ll just “assume” he wasn’t quite sure of the real motive behind the naming. Either way, the name does have a genesis that fits my prior rant about intent. Marshall may have been a racist, but he may have also held Coach Dietz in high esteem. I suspect the two had a fairly collegial relationship, which indicates that the name Redskins indeed has an origin story filled with respect, not with hate.

Who cares, though? Well, Mike Florio does. I frequent ProFootballTalk because I’ve bailed the ESPN mothership. However, when I escape the sensationalist ESPN, I encounter the PC/NBC-owned ProFootball talk. For the media to push an agenda, it isn’t about propagating falsehoods. While that does happen on FOX, CNN, and MSNBC, it’s not the prominent driver in pushing said agenda. No. The real culprit: story selection, or media narrative. Florio obviously doesn’t like the Redskins name; thus, he will pick up on any story in which he finds parallel to his own contrived angst. I wonder if he’s ever read this article:

Robert Green, retired chief of the Patawomeck Tribe in Virginia, told the paper that he has no objection to the team’s name.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Green said. “About 98 percent of my tribe is Redskins fans, and it doesn’t offend them, either.”

Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, said that his tribe generally feels the same way.

“I’m a Redskins fan, and I don’t think there’s any intention for (the nickname) to be derogatory. The majority of the people in my tribe don’t have a problem with it. There are a few who do, and we respect their feelings.”

It goes without saying that there will never be uniform support for any one person. Even Jesus, who is edged by President Lincoln, only has a 90 percent approval rating. No one’s goal should be to convince everyone. Rather, it should be a goal for everyone to stop caring about the menial issues that we create for ourselves. It’s exhausting. It’s stress and energy that could be spent dealing with real problems like raising children or working. But then again, when you’re job is to write about sports, you may try to make it out to be more important than it actually is, which is entertainment.

Book Review: The Outpost by Jake Tapper

What makes HBO’s The Wire a great series is, well, many things; however, what struck me most was when I’d be watching, I’d forget that it was dramatized fiction. It seemed all too real. When approached at a micro level, you found yourself cheering for violent criminals. The disconnect between the homicide/narcotics detectives and high-ranking officials in the police department made too much sense to be fiction. At the macro level, it’s a commentary on institutional dysfunction. One gets to see where seemingly objective statistics and numbers can be misconstrued as progress, where goals and initiatives can only result in a better world for all. Yet, once we see people operating with their own prejudices, biases, motives, etc., we find how organizations falter. In the same way The Wire portrays this, so does Jake Tapper in his thoroughly researched, entertaining-yet-horrific account of the war in Afghanistan entitled The Outpost. 

Enter 2006. The United States military, in act of utter hubris, decided to build a presence in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan along the Hindu Kush mountains. This is the same area the Soviets attempted to take over in the late 70s and 80s. Despite superior technology, the Soviets found themselves on the losing end. But how did that happen? A layman would shrug it off as inferior training or perhaps shallow morale. Despite all this, and despite reluctance from some lower-ranking analysts, the outposts would be built. Each one started with one name, and, when I finished the book, would end with another–named after a fallen hero.

In the grand scheme, the Army brass thought these outposts to be indicators of progress–a march forward. However, those making the decisions weren’t the ones dealing with the day-to-day operations. The goal, among other things, was to build transportation infrastructure into the region making the logistical nightmare of delivering supplies a little easier. The process came by way of employing the locals. This would prove futile as the locals, battle-hardened peoples with a penchant for playing both sides, couldn’t police the region enough to maintain consistent work. Despite the Army’s efforts, the road would never get built, making helicopter drops the only method of delivery.

Prior to this book, I’ve read my fair share of modern military accounts: Lone Survivor, Generation Kill, Fearless, and American Sniper. All of these, including The Outpost, have put into words the tragedy that comes with war. However, The Outpost is the most difficult to get through because chapter after chapter, soldier after soldier, death happens. A significant number would enter, and then another significant number wouldn’t return. Tapper, being a journalist (currently as the host of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper) writes with brevity, and it works. The gruesome tragedies that incur amongst our own are horrific and detailed. This passage was one in particular that stuck out to me:

“Inside the bird, a cold calm came over the men. They knew what their purpose was. Portis thought, I’m not going to come back from this mission. This is it. This is how I’m going to die. He had written his wife, Alison, a farewell letter and given it to his brother to present to her should he not return. She would be taken care of. Portis got choked up for a second, and then he made his peace with what awaited him in the valley. This is what he signed up for…putting pen to paper, he drew a diagram and began planning with his men how they would exit the helicopter, run for cover, and then join the fight to save Combat Outpost Keating.”

To put this into context, Combat Outpost Keating was set to ship out. Word spread and the Taliban executed their biggest attack yet. The attack came in the early morning and wouldn’t finish until nightfall. Soldiers who were hurt wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the “golden hour”–the idea that if a soldier is wounded in battle, he or she has a 90% chance at survival if given medical attention within an hour. Since the only way in was by helicopter, and RPGs were falling like rain, the golden hour was awash. Soldiers like Portis in the above passage were aware of their situation. They simply made peace with the fact that they will die. The romance of dying for your country becomes negligible. These proud few willingly became the most selfless individuals on the planet because they were brothers in arms, they died fighting for each other, and most frustrating, for a whole lot of people wearing YOLO hats or a media that use these exact battles as political capital for mindless punditry.

I found it difficult to read a soldier’s heartwarming and humanizing backstory only to see him die. I would hold on hope that Hollywood would intervene with a dramatic recovery. But real life isn’t Hollywood. As the KIA numbers increased, so did my respect for what these troops did. While I sat in the basement of crummy college house slamming cheap beer with friends, soldiers my age were selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way. This is a required read just to realize how well each and every free American has it.

At the micro level, you get to see the great work that individuals did day in and day out. Work that no one ever talked about at home. Counterinsurgency, the idea of creating a bond with the locals to ensure a more open dialogue, made real progress. It took time, energy, and death. And when General McChrystal and President Obama get in a rift that becomes public in Rolling Stone, the chips start to fall. Troop levels fluctuate, eventually pulling the plug on the operation altogether, which begs the ultimate question: What was the effort here worth. Despite the small victories in battle, was the American presence in Nuristan worth it? That question is never really answered, but I’m ambivalent about it. It seems that we gained an experience that will change future operations out there. This question, along with the residents of Nursitan and it’s surrounding hamlets, is a fickle matter.

Altogether, the read is necessary for understanding why progress isn’t as fast as everyone would like it to be. And this is microscopic in terms of information needed to judge the war effort in general. I won’t pretend to have the answers, and I don’t think Tapper does either. His voice is largely absent throughout the whole book besides the epilogue in which asks a few fair questions. Do not read this and expect an endorsement of neither President Bush or President Obama. The focus is to highlight the heroic nature of our troops. What is interesting, though, is how politics directly affects real people. Rarely do the ones behind the microphone actually have to practice what they preach. In that, I find that overt praise for a high-ranking politician for a war victory to be naive. War is an animal. The president is the owner of the animal. However, the ones responsible to taming that animal are the soldiers.

I know I’m late here, but I urge any and all to read more about our troops, so on Memorial Day, you can actually acknowledge the ones who have paid the ultimate sacrifice by name rather than provide us with a generic Facebook post. I would recommend starting with The Outpost.

On behalf of 20 somethings,

Thank You!

Movie Review: The Internship

The Internship, starring Luke Wilson (left) and Vince Vaughn (right), hits theaters today.

 

Movie review: It’s PG-13.

 

Translation: Wedding Crashers on TBS is unwatchable.

 

As a Write This…

 

Coincidentally, Gallardo threw one of his best games after his DUI arrest. When asked for comment, he said, “I’m better when I’m drunk.”

 

In this segment, I write about whichever is currently lighting up my Twitter feed. Today’s story: the MLB will be pursuing suspensions up to 100 games against Ryan Bryan and Alex Rodriguez, among others. The Milwaukee Brewers (homer speaking) are out of it. Last year’s youth was a confluence of supbar fan expectations and exploited potential. As any fan knows, though, potential usually seems to subside, it reaches an equilibrium, which if you are a Brewers fan, is quite ironic considering their baseline for success is .500.

On June 4, the Brewers have posted a pitiful, don’t-check-your-outgoing-text-messages-last-night 21-35 record. They are over 16 games out of first place, and that youthful potential that seemed so promising, has fulfilled what potential usually does–it subsides. Jean Segura not withstanding, the Brewers could be on their way to an all-out foreclosure. Rickie Weeks, hitting below the Mendoza line, is as confident as Henry Rowengartner at the plate (at least he gets walks). Yovanni Gallardo isn’t developing into the ace that Attanasio and company suspected; their pitching as a whole is simply devoid of adequate talent. And Ryan Braun, the perennial all-star, now looks to be on the 100 day DL (designated liar) list.

The season is over.

If MLB: The Show wanted to hail itself as a true baseball simulator, your star player, nicknamed whichever sophomoric portmanteau one can think of, has to miss the rest of the year for injecting human growth hormones.  SCE San Diego can simply market the simulation as therapy for hapless fans like myself. The hardscrabble fandom that it takes to be a Brewer fan, however, shouldn’t demand sympathy, because…Packers. It’s June, and training camp opens in late July.

Go Pack Go