Thursday, May 15, 2014

Panem et Circenses part 2 (part 1 wil follow)

We penetrated the Homeland frontier just a week before the Super Bowl was played in East Rutherford, NJ, in the new $1.2 billion MetLife stadium. Due to frequent
snow and what used to be known as polar weather before the poles melted, we didn't get out very much, except for a day or two in the metastasizing malls of Paramus. The Garden State Plaza was the largest shopping center in the East, perhaps in the world, when it was built, and since then it's only gotten bigger. It now has sections of valet parking for those intimidated by the vast parking areas or too infirm to walk from their outer reaches. While I've always disliked malls, I must admit that the vastness of the GSP, plus the rather tasteful paving used throughout, makes it one of the few places in northern New Jersey where you can go for a long and pleasant walk when the frozen snow covers everything outside. You only have to learn to ignore the shops.

I had hoped that the blizzard conditions would intensify, making the first cold weather Super Bowl an epic catastrophe with thousands of drunken fans overrunning local emergency rooms for frostbite relief but alas, the weather eased off for twenty-four hours and the blizzard conditions only returned after the game when disheartened Denver fans found themselves stranded by inadequate public transit and canceled flights. The game, even if not played in conditions banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was indeed a catastrophe. A friend of my son-in-law showed up to watch the game with us, bearing large quantities of pizza. Everyone but me was in the kitchen as the game got underway and after the first play from scrimmage, the score was already 2-0 Seattle.

This trip was full of nostalgia for me and this first play reminded me of my own aborted football career. As a fourteen year old true sophomore third string junior varsity quarterback aspirant I was inserted into the lineup for the final series of a hopelessly compromised late season game. Under pressure, on my first and only play, I threw the ball up in the direction I thought someone would catch it, just before being smothered by the entire defensive line. Indeed, someone did catch the ball and ran it back for a pick 6. The following season, just like one of my NFL favorites, Kurt Warner, I was stocking shelves at a supermarket after school, as well as becoming something of a beer expert. Unlike Kurt, I never got another chance at football, which was probably all to the good since even in college, beer connoisseur or not, my weight never surged beyond 160 lbs,(73 KG.).

Back at the Super Bowl, by the time the pizza was sliced, Denver was down 8-0 and the game continued its long downhill spiral. Peyton Manning won't be working in a supermarket next season. He'll be back, promoting nearly every product sold in the supermarket on TV, in addition to his day job of QB for the Denver Broncos for a cool $20 million. He's better than the game outcome suggested and I wish him well in his comeback from well remunerated humiliation.

The one positive from the game was that Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame player and coach, and never known as a shrinking violet, agreed with me that playing a championship game on a February night in NJ was stupid and unfair to players and fans alike. I'm afraid Mike won't be back as an NFL TV commentator next season.

No sooner was the pizza consumed than the hype for the Winter Olympics grew to a crescendo. That's not unusual for a major TV sports extravaganza but the strange thing here was that the vast amount of promotion seemed to be about politics rather than sports. President Obama was apparently embarrassed by having had Vladimir Putin bail out Uncle Sam's ass by negotiating settlements with Iran and Syria to avoid yet more disastrous wars. Rather than showing some gratitude, the US Congress, the media and the administration launched a non-stop campaign of hate and ridicule against Russia. But then, Putin had also given asylum to Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who had done the unforgivable by exposing crimes of the US Government against its people and its Constitution, and a crackdown on whistle blowers has been the one area where Obama has displayed a steely resolve. Putin may like to be photographed bare-chested but from all the
pictures in the news, you would think he never wore a shirt. Congressmen talked of boycotting the Olympics because Putin had announced policies nearly as hostile to gay people as those of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Obama made a point of neither attending the games himself nor sending anyone from his family or Administration, though he stopped short of an official boycott. He did appoint Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King as official US emissaries to the Olympics in a “so there!” gesture.

During the anti-Russian campaign, the rock group Pussy Riot was also in the news. They were getting out of jail in Russia, where they had been for some months after convictions on charges of “hooliganism motivated by anti-religious hatred”. Meanwhile, back in the USA, three anti-nuclear peace activists, an 82 year-old nun and two men, 57 and 63 respectively, were up for sentencing. They had cut through security fences at an Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear weapon production and storage facility, hung banners and painted Biblical slogans on walls in blood. They were originally charged with misdemeanor offenses of trespassing and vandalism, for which they could have faced one year prison terms, but the Obama Administration, not to be outdone by Putin in cracking down on dissidents, upped the ante to multiple felony charges with potential sentences up to thirty-five years. By the way, these three terrorists breached the largest nuclear weapons facility without encountering any security personnel. To date we've heard of no prosecution for criminal negligence of any of the functionaries entrusted with security.

Vast media attention was given to the inadequacies of the Olympic planning and the quality and color of the drinking water in Sochi. This may have all been a smokescreen because while Putin was concentrating on keeping his games safe from Chechen terrorists, an alphabet soup of American agencies, including the CIA, FBI, NSA, NED, IMF and the State Department, was fomenting coups in Venezuela and Ukraine.. It didn't go as planned in Venezuela but with the help of Andriy
Parubiy and his neo-Nazi militia, they successfully staged a coup in Ukraine reminiscent of the earlier glory days in Iran and Chile. With the elected president chased out of the country, our man Yats was hastily installed to run the disfunctional country and see if IMF austerity will work better there than in Greece or Spain.

The opening ceremonies were splendid and temporarily muted the anti-Russian campaign. The Americans narrowly won the opening competition for most tasteless ceremonial outfits by wearing the American flag as seen by someone on LSD. The Germans took silver by flaunting a well-intentioned multi-colored homage to the rainbow coalition, which simply came off as garish and ugly.
The Irish olive drab military outfits with splotches of orange and green took the bronze. They were simply ugly.

We've enjoyed the Olympics and while we tend to appreciate great athletic achievement regardless of the nationality of the athletes, we were pleased to see the Russians do so well on their home turf in the face of so much hostility. Some Russian Olympians courageously offered up symbolic support for the beleaguered Pussy Riot. We waited in vain for some American athletes to indicate their displeasure with the brutal treatment of American political prisoners, but there are, after all, those Wheaties endorsements to think about. Seeing little Norway lead the medals chase in the early days was a cheerful surprise. As an American, I was happy with the remarkable successes of skiers Bode Miller, Mikaela Schiffren and Ted Ligedy but given the jingoistic mood in America, the failure of the US hockey team to reach the final brought more a sense of relief than disappointment.

The star of the Olympics for our family, in part due her strong physical resemblance to our five-year old grandson Willie, was the sixteen-year-old Russian figure skater, Yulia Lipnitsaya. 
She blew her chance for the gold in the women's finals, but her earlier routines simply lit up the games. The US gold medalists in ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, were brilliant and dominated their event, but if ice dancing is a legitimate winter games sport, I see no reason why ballet performances should not be entered into competition at the summer games.

The biggest surprise of the games to this observer was the failure of the US team to succeed in those strange games which combine cross country skiing and shooting. Our skiers excel in the Alpine events as well as in the trick skiing and snow boarding events, and the US is the most heavily armed, gun-crazy nation on earth. Where was the NRA? How could they allow peace-loving countries like Norway and Germany to outdo us in gun-toting events?

The closing ceremonies were as impressive as the opening ceremonies, although they were spoiled somewhat toward the end by the appearance of cloyingly cute, enormous inflated bear, seemingly on loan from Disney studios. Nevertheless, the games did their job, entertaining the public and distracting it from the more serious competitions played out in the worlds of politics, economics and the military.