A Slice of Americana: The Super Duper Bowl

The San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl XXIX troph...

The San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl XXIX trophy on display at the 49ers’ Family Day at Candlestick Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again we are about to celebrate our uniquely American holiday, the Super Bowl, that extravaganza of commercialism made fun in commercials spiced up with bone and brain crushing hits provided by the players  and socially acceptable soft porn provided by the cheerleaders, not to mention an occasional clothing malfunction.  Also, reportedly it is only second to Thanksgiving as a food fest.

I’m not knocking it, I enjoy it and this year I hope to enjoy it more because I think both teams are very good.  On one side the unstoppable force, a Peyton Manning controlled offense.  On the other an immovable object, the Seattle defense, not to mention the young Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson, who has a magical poise and a sixth sense as to what to do when.  He is one of those who are much better than his stats.

Hey, move over and pass the Doritos.

But before I go I want to share a little research with you.   For years I have believed the story that Kansas City Chief’s owner Lamar Hunt, who was central to  the super bowl idea, also was responsible for the name.   The story goes that during a meeting of the team owners several weeks before the  game January 15, 1967 , Hunt referred to it spontaneously as a super bowl, getting the “super” from super balls that his kids played with, and “bowl” from the season ending college bowl games…..an idea probably helped along by ball and bowl being similar.

That was what I was going to share with you so at a pause during the game or a surprisingly dumb commercial you could impress everyone with your historical knowledge.   However, I decided to double check the story so I wouldn’t be adding one more tainted “truth” to the cyber library.   I’m glad I did, too, after reading an article by  Henry Fetter in this week’s The Atlantic:  How the Super Bowl Got It’s Name:  The Real Story.

He cites various references using the name, or close to it,  months before Hunt supposedly came up with the term, including what may be the earliest:  “On June 10 (1966) New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley looked ahead to “a new superduper football game for what amounts to the championship of the world.”

Dailey came up with that months before the big game, and you can imagine how that could morph into the final form.    At any rate, now if someone brings up the Hunt story, you can school him if you wish, especially if you bone up some more by reading the article linked above.

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The State of the Union Blah, Blah, Blah…

English: U.S. President greets Senator on the ...

English: U.S. President greets Senator on the floor of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol before delivering the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight President Obama gives the State of the Union message.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn seemed to sum up the likely national response:  “Well, first of all, the vast majority of America ain’t going to pay attention to this speech and the vast majority of America ain’t  going to pay attention to any of the responses to it.”   The ain’t-s are his way of sounding Oklahoman.   Of course, he plans to quit the Senate before his term ends, so he may be even more jaded than the average Congressman.

I’ll be a part of that majority not paying attention tonight.   In case you are in doubt, I like the president, think him a remarkable man and believe historians will give him decent grades on his presidency, given the multitude of crises he’s had to face on almost a daily basis, accentuated by a Republican party who has so little to offer that most of their efforts have been spent in vilifying and obstructing him.  Their opposition to him is what has kept them together, but these days the seams are splitting like a cheap suit.

The “responses” Coburn refers to will be made by three different members of the Republican party, while a normal party would only have one.  This is further evidence that the Republicans are morphing from a political party into a simmering family feud which is only going to get nastier.

Still, despite my liking the president and disliking the mess the Republicans have made of their party, I just can’t stand to listen to one more Obama speech, as they seem too far removed from dealing with the nitty gritty of actually producing functional change.   Maybe he will surprise me.  I hope he does, but if so I can wait til  tomorrow to hear about it.

What interests me more today is an editorial by Katrina vanden Heuvel:  The Promise of Transpartisanship.   In case you don’t know, she is the editor and publisher of the Nation, which seems to me the ideological equivalent on the far left of the  National Review on the far right, in both cases not usually my go to sources.

But this piece is unique in that vanden Heuvel points out a number of instances of diverse Congressmen and other unlikely cohorts  in  joint efforts that make  sense to someone like me who is more or less in the middle.

For example, David Vitter (R-La.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are working together opposing government bailouts of big banks, while  vanden Heuvel and conservative George Will are applauding their efforts  on the sidelines.

Talk about strange bedfellows.   I have no idea how the proposals vanden Heuvel cites will fare over time, but at least they imply the possibility of opposites attracting when it comes to given issues.   Perhaps the way out of gridlock and Republican chaos is for more joint efforts on selected issues by otherwise staunch foes.   Click the article title above to read more.

Sorry Mr. President, but that  gives me more hope for change than anything you or the three Republican respondents are  likely to say this evening.

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Why I Write About the Greater Middle East

In my post last week I asked for feedback on my blog and received none.

Greater Middle East

Greater Middle East (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, none, not one.   I have to say I am surprised, but not terribly so when I consider my own reading of blogs and editorials, glancing at many and reading some and seldom leaving comments.    It is the way we are these days.  So much information available to us,  and so little time, a situation exacerbated by the misshaping of information to fit someone’s political ideology.   We can not even begin to integrate all that information because so much of it is suspect.

It often strikes me that we have more knowledge and less collective understanding than ever.

If you like a post you linger longer.  If not you move on sooner.   No need to comment unless you really want to and why would you really want to?  Ingest it or just move on.

Hey, I’ll just assume those of you who read this fairly regularly feel the way the reader cited last time  does:  “I’ve enjoyed receiving (the) American Titanic blog this year. You put it together judiciously, pacing its frequency and length just right, to be of passing interest each time. I like your generously including further web-refs, for anyone wanting to follow-through on a particular subject.”

Love that comment.

The other response to my post I listed was from my close friend Judy.  Since she doesn’t want to read about the Mid-East – too complex and too removed from her life – I want to say something about why I want to write about it, even  if hardly anyone else wants to read it.

I want to write about it because of its complexity and its potential for rocking our world.  I have paid attention to world affairs for nearly 50 years and believe I can give some useful perspective to the burgeoning chaos that envelops the region.

Three factors have guided our foreign policy towards the Greater Middle East:  Oil, regional stability and nuclear weapons, either already there or potentially so.  Of course, the three are tied together and all linked to Israel, both a staunch ally and source of ongoing problems.  In our desire to maintain stability, so our sources of oil remained reliable, we often backed dictators, such as the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak of Eygpt and, lest we forget, Saddam Hussein, before he got too big for his britches and invaded Kuwait.

We placed our faith in strong men who could keep their  internal politics stable, and all things considered, that vast region had been much more stable than it is today.

The Greater Middle East has become much more difficult to deal with now, as the age of the strong man has diminished and the age of republics has yet to arrive.  What we take for granted as democratic processes has not been experienced by most of this region.  Except for Israel, India and possibly Turkey, the nature of rule is either strong men, some pretending to lead democracies, chaos or semi-chaos.  Trying to make sense of this gigantic region is particularly difficult these days because so much is unpredictable.

I think I have some useful perspective and worthwhile thoughts on that collective tumult, and so that’s why I will return to the subject again and again in upcoming months.   Much will happen and it won’t be easy judging events when they do.

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My Approach to the News: A Request for Feedback

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come April I will have been writing this blog for two years, initially posting twice a week, but more like once a week for several months now.  I am not an expert in any sense regarding what I write about, but  am more willing than most to try to sort out the news to a point where I feel I have a useful insight or two, which I in turn share with you, my readers.

What I try to do is to take some political, economic or cultural issue and shape it in a thumb nail sketch that is digestible to those leaning left or right.  We live in a time with so much information at our fingers tips spun to fit political ideologies (or at least largely shaped by them), that people are avoiding the news in increasing numbers, not only because most of it is bad, but because it is extremely difficult to make sense of anything.   And, even if sense can be made, we feel impotent to change anything.   Who needs the frustration?  But, that does not bode well for the future of this republic for reasons that are obvious.

The blog is my way of carving out a small space where moderates on left and right might find sufficient common value and comfort in my perspective to want to read more over time.   One reader sees the blog in a way that pleases me:

“I’ve enjoyed receiving (the) American Titanic blog this year. You put it together judiciously, pacing its frequency and length just right, to be of passing interest each time. I like your generously including further web-refs, for anyone wanting to follow-through on a particular subject.”

I’m happy to hear that, but of course everyone is not her.   I would like to hear from more readers as to what you like or do not like about the blog.  I am particularly interested in what turns you off about the blog, so I might consider altering my topics or at least how I approach them.  If most do not want to hear what I have to say, I had better change something.

Here is a longer response to the blog from a very close friend, Judy.   Judy’s  response isn’t gratifying like the one listed above, but gives me more to reflect upon.

Judy:   “I don’t like to read anything about the Middle East.  Nothing that doesn’t affect me or I can’t affect.  I read about technology, healthcare, education, public policy, government and human interest.  I don’t read about trauma or disasters.  I get overwhelmed by the tragedy in the world.  I just don’t want to read about it.  It is just too much. 

I also read items with which I have a personal connection.  My daughter Emily has lived in Spain, Argentina and Ecuador, so articles about them catch my attention.  Also, a friend’s boyfriend is Turkish, so I will glance at something about Turkey. “

So, what topics or the way I approach them tend to attract you or turn you away when glancing at my blog?  Please respond using the Leave a comment button at the bottom of this post.   I will “publish” a selection of comments (unless you want yours to be private) and respond to the general responsive gist in a future post.

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Chris Christie Sat on a Wall. Chris Christie had a Great Fall. Can all the King’s Horses and ….?

The biggest political news of the moment is the emails released revealing that Chris Christie’s top aids prompted that shutdown of the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey last September as political payback for the Democrat mayor of the adjacent town failing to endorse Christie for New Jersey governor.  Christie laughed off accusations at the time, but he’s not laughing now.

Instead he’s having a press conference this morning to try to convince us all that he knew nothing about these shennanigans by his top aids and he is outraged by the revelations.  If  his presidential hopes survive this mess he’s an even better politician than I have thought, though these skills diminished in my eyes when he chose to have a separate election for the governorship costing New Jersey some 20 plus millions of dollars.   He gave some high sounding b. s. reason but there is little doubt that the separate election’s true value was to make his margin of victory all the more impressive to a national audience.   This from a governor who constantly avows he does what is best for New Jersey.  Certainly those misspent millions contradict that claim.

And despite that huge victory, his aides still decided to teach the recalcitrant mayor of Fort Lee, N. J. a lesson, this despite endangering some people’s lives due to the traffic jam, not to mention disrupting the lives of many others.  How ugly is that?

If your news watching is restricted to planet FOX, this may still be news to you because they barely covered it yesterday.   The fact that their news director Roger Ailes was a big backer of Christie for president last time around just might have something to do with that omission in fairness and balance.

I noticed they brought up the subject this morning, but it was like an appetizer prior to the bigger meal covering the never ending congressional investigations by Republicans of Benghazi, the IRS and of course Obamacare.   I give Chris Wallace some points on being fair and balanced on his weekend panel show, but I see little balance elsewhere on that planet.

Not that  MSNBC , an entirely different planet, is all that balanced, either, but they at least don’t make it their motto, which makes Fox a more deserving target for derision.

As far as politicians go, I have actually liked Christie, though if he ever tried to bully me as he is wont to do it could change my mind.   In a  post last January I picked him as the most likely Republican presidential candidate  even though I distained the ridiculously early attention to the subject.   At least I said my piece and have shut up about it until now.  By the way, I think my implying Rand Paul was a putz as a presidential candidate has held up well.

I am not gleeful about this revelation, like let’s say Rachel Madow or Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, for whom this seemed a second Christmas.  I was believing Christie was both better and smarter than this situation implies.   Christie’s knowledge of the payback plan has not yet been proven, and I don’t want to be like Darrell Issa (R.)  with his investigations in the House whereby he begins his inquiries first asserting guilt and then setting about trying to prove it.

However, as has been pointed out by various commentators left and right, Christie is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  If he convinces us he did not know about this heavy handed retribution, his image of being a hands-on governor takes a huge hit.  And, of course, if it is proven he did know about those actions, well sayonara White House and perhaps even the governor’s mansion as well.   The sharp politician able to work across party lines would suddenly look like the stereotypical Jersey thug, a real life production of “the emperor has no  clothes”.

I would actually like to see Christie somehow triumph over this, though I don’t see how he can.  Perhaps I just like being right and now doubt I was right about this guy.

I want to stop before I see the press conference and become tempted to go on and on and ………………………………………………………………………..

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AFGHANISTAN: A Look on the Bright Side

Are you snickering?  I must confess juxtaposing “brights side” with “Afghanistan” prompts a laughing impulse in me, though not a happy laugh to be sure.  The image of so many years with our troops there, and what they and their families have sacrificed, the billions poured in and the feared nightmare that when we leave, the government will eventually fall, the Taliban will take over again and Al Qaeda will feel right at home…..again.    Back to square one.

That grim vision has been bolstered by a pessimistic intelligence report the outline of which recently appearing in the Washington Post.   However, on Thursday Michael O’ Hanlon, an intelligence expert with the Brookings Institution (*1), argued that the future there may be brighter than predicted.

Not that O’Hanlon’s word is golden, but his view seems worthy of consideration (*2), certainly given our general pessimism about the future of Afghanistan, especially in terms of our own security.  To summarize his key points:

First:  “…intelligence analysts tend toward pessimism because it is far less professionally embarrassing to be pleasantly surprised by developments in a given country than to appear complacent as troubles brew.”

Second:  The Afghan troops held their ground in 2013 despite the steady decline of the number of  U. S.  troops.   The number of deaths of NATO troops was down 75% below the highest figures in the war and the main cities were safer than it appears, ” the occasional spectacular attack notwithstanding.”

Third:  The presidential race in April seems to be shaping up pretty well, with the major candidates in favor of strong ties with the U. S.   Also, by implication, the infuriatingly difficult  Hamid Karzai will no longer be president (I added the “infuriatingly difficult”).

Fourth:  Even if a new security agreement is not reached with Karzai between now and April, an agreement seems likely once he’s out of office.

O’Hanlon concludes:  “At an annual cost of perhaps 10 percent of recent expenses over the past half-decade, and with far lower loss of life, the United States, working with the international community and many Afghan reformers and patriots, has a decent chance of holding on to most of the gains made over the past dozen years — and, crucially, preventing the Taliban from resuming political control of Afghanistan. There is still a powerful case for interpreting the facts in a hopeful vein.”

Here is a link to his editorial.

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(*1)  Though portrayed as liberal from the right, the  Brookings Institution is the most generally respected “think tank” in the country as judged by its research being sited by the greatest number of sources by far.   The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is probably the most respected conservative leaning think tank, which is why I have a link to it on my Blogroll shown to the upper left.

(*2)  O’Hanlon has a mixed record of intelligence predictions over the years, but who doesn’t.   Here is an article criticizing his optimism regarding a visit to Iraq in 2007.   He was initially a supporter of that war, but later admitted his mistake given the poor preparation by the Bush administration for a post-war strategy.