Tuesday, October 3, 2017

De-escalation time

This was my Facebook status yesterday morning as news from the Vegas massacre was coming in:

And while we squabble passionately about whether it's appropriate to sit out the national anthem, 50+ people get killed and hundreds more wounded in the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history... Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families... We (including me) tend to get too worked up over small fish like the various opinions that people have in their heads. WE (this country is called the *United* States of America) have got bigger fish to fry, and may I humbly suggest that it would be a good idea to stop posting snarky comments accusing people of being racist, communist, sexist, or fascist because we disagree with them about the role of government... That's all.

In light of that, I am holding off on publishing the post I was about 95 percent done writing when news of the massacre broke.

Not that it accused anybody of being racist, communist, sexist, or fascist. But it was about the anthem protests by NFL players and President Trump's reaction to them, and as we all know, that topic tends to be a wedge rather than an adhesive.

With the exception of a few vile journalists and cynical politicians, America as a whole has reacted humanely and as one to what happened in Vegas. Just like we have done in the face of tragic and evil events throughout history. Just like we did after the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year, when the targeted population was very different from that one targeted in Vegas (a big thanks to Michael Medved for drawing that particular comparison).

When the chips are down, we consistently show our goodness and our proclivity to regard all of our fellow humans simply as that -- human beings with their own dreams and desires, not dagger-drawn mascots for various groups pitted against each other. As I head off to the mountains for my annual fall hiking trip, that is the America I will think of and be proud of.

Until next time, take care.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my kids skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind them as they trick-or-treat on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games at which the fans are loud and the bands are blaring...and most of all, college games in which Auburn is winning and the song you keep hearing begins with the line: War Eagle, fly down the field / ever to conquer, never to yield!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

et ceteras

Trump at Turtle Bay
Whether you love our 45th president or hate him, he hit a home run Tuesday at the United Nations.

From his unambiguous declaration that North Korea's nuclear shenanigans will not stand ("No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.") to his equally unambiguous and perfectly segued call to action against Iran ("We face this decision not only in North Korea. It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime -- one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.") Donald Trump hit the precise notes that the world needs to hear from the leader of the free world.

From an international vision of enlightened, self-determining, and symbiotically cooperating nations ("The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free...Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.") to a clear-eyed disavowal of centralized power ("The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing...The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.") he articulated a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it exists, and of how the world can and should improve.

As with all speeches, the ultimate proof will be in the pudding that comes. Will the actions Trump takes (and does not take) through the remainder of his time in office be consistent with what he said Tuesday? Will he actually confront evil and will he inspire persuade other nations to do so as well, to advance our mutual interests and shared values? Only the coming months and years will tell, but as far as speeches go in real time, Tuesday's was one of the best a sitting president has given in ages.

Don't get me wrong. It's always better having football than not having it. But is it just me, or does the start of this football season seem awfully flat at both the college and pro levels? There have been some good games, of course, and some good story lines, but nothing has really grabbed my attention and made by pulse go up.

I'm sure Florida beating Tennessee on that Hail Mary was exciting if you're a Florida fan, but when I saw it all I could think was that it proved there are Pop Warner Youth League coaches who no more about football than Tennessee's head coahc Butch Jones and defesnive coordinator Bob Shoop. How is it that with five seconds left and giving up a 60+-yard pass being the only way the game wouldn't go to overtime, they failed to call an alignment with a bunch of defensive backs deployed in the deep secondary to guard against what was sure to come? How is it that they had only two guys back there covering all that real estate? Come on.

Jaromir Jagr is the second leading scorer in NHL history, and while he may be 45 years old he is also coming off a season in which he banged out 46 points and was, despite playing significant minutes, the only player on his team to not miss a game all season. It was a surprise that the Panthers did not offer him a new contract when his expired in July, especially since he was only asking for a one-year deal which meant they wouldn't have been taking a gamble on term -- but it is an even bigger surprise that nobody else has signed him either, with him being open about his desire to play and about not wanting to break a team's bank and with him being a much, much better player than many of the other wingers who are sure to be on NHL rosters when the season starts in two weeks. If Jagr's career ends because no one will sign him when he has so much gas left in his tank, it will be a stain on the league.

It was not good to learn that Brian Boyle has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Though not a superstar, he is one if my favorite players to ever don the Tampa Bay Lightning sweater. A hockey player's hockey player, Boyle is one of those blue collar guys who does the supposedly small things supremely well to help his team prevail -- win faceoffs, forecheck to establish zone time, poke pucks away from opponents' sticks. The good news it sounds like the diagnosis was made very early and the prognosis is very good, and there is no doubt he has the right mindset, so I am confident he'll beat this. Best of luck, Brian.

...that's all I have for tonight. Take care

Monday, September 18, 2017

When a journalist behaves like a jackass

Below is an email I received Friday from internationally known journalist Ryan Lambert, who writes for Yahoo Sports on their hockey site Puck Daddy. Other than me having italicized his email to distinguish it from the rest of the text in this post, this is precisely as it came from him, lack of capitalization and all:

hey snowflake, take your "stick to sports" 700-word email that you know for sure I would never care about and put it in the toilet. it really doesn't matter to me what you or any other MAGA loser thinks.

you're on the wrong side of history. can't imagine why you would send me this email except to cry about it.

get lost.

I think that tells you all you need to know about the kind of person Lambert is, especially since my email to which he was responding actually stated that I read his articles "almost every day and find them to be both good and enjoyable."

I emailed him directly, rather than comment in the comments section of one of his articles, for the specific reason that I know such comments tend to result in people jumping in and being rude and disrespectful without saying anything substantive. My aim was to avoid their ilk, but little did I know that Lambert would show himself to be one of them.

What originally prompted me to write was his increasing tendency to drop political opinions in the middle of his sports columns without bothering to provide any support for those opinions -- unlike his sports opinions, which he does explain and support.

In my email, I pointed out that he tends to attack the character of those who disagree with him on politics but does not bother to explain why his political views are better or why his opponents' are bad. Instead, he merely proclaims that those whose politics differ from his are low-IQ bigots and then he scurries away. (Yes, when you consider what I just typed, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by his infantile response to me, but nonetheless I am -- so maybe I am stupid after all!)

Anyway, it's amusing that Lambert called me a snowflake when he was the one acting with nothing but emotional incontinence and I was the one offering reasoned thoughts.

It's also amusing that he called me a "MAGA loser," seeing as how I published several things during the 2016 election that were fiercely critical of Donald Trump. (MAGA stands for "Make America Great Again.")

Part of me thinks I should stop this post right now and hit the "publish" button. Another part of me thinks I should show what I meant when I just said that my email to Lambert offered "reasoned thoughts." Well, I'm the kind of person who likes to back up what I say, and I do not want to make anyone guess wrong about the tenor of my email to Lambert, so here is what I wrote about one of his recent columns (my email was obviously not italicized, but the underlines were there):

In a September 6th piece you declared the Chicago Blackhawks logo "racist as hell," and said that anyone who claims otherwise "has a weird ulterior motive" and is uttering "the kind of thing dumbass white people say." Yet you did not explain why you think the logo is racist at all, much less racist as hell (other than linking to an article by Greg Wyshyski in which he too failed to explain how it is racist, though at least he engaged in the not very intellectual task of citing a lone example of a 7-year-old child not liking a similar logo that is worn by a youth team in a different country). If the Blackhawks logo is so racist then it should be extremely easy to explain why, but neither you nor Greg did (could?).

And you sure "as hell" did not explain what makes white people "dumbass" when they beg to differ about the Blackhawks logo. It is simply a picture of a Native American visage - a generally accurate picture that is not a caricature and does not belittle. The team name Blackhawks derives from an old US military unit that was named after a Native American leader named Black Hawk. He fought against the US in this country's early years, and was an important historical figure who wrote the first-ever Native American autobiography. The hockey team's logo has probably done more to keep his memory alive than all of the textbooks, documentaries, college lectures, magazine articles, and newspaper columns ever produced - all of them combined. So yes, there is a very logical, very substantiated argument not only for the logo not being racist, but for it being the opposite of racist, and you have not offered the slightest counter to that argument. Instead, what you have done is engage in name-calling and character defamation against those who suggest that maybe you should offer an actual argument.

I also addressed another column, by writing this:

Today, in response to Max Domi's suggestion that the NHL should increase the size of the goal cage, you wrote: "Leave it to the MAGA guy to push a dumb idea that a bunch of people already came up with." And that was literally all you said on the subject. I too am not a fan of the idea (because I think it would cheapen scoring and make inter-era statistical comparisons harder than they already are) but it seems like your sole intent in commenting on Domi's sports idea was to levy a clear implication that people who support Donald Trump are "dumb." That is a personal attack, and if you suggest such a thing in writing you have a professional and ethical obligation to support it, which you did not.

I was not all lovey dovey in my email, but I laid my reasoning out and left it open to debate -- after having identified myself to Lambert as a daily reader who enjoys his columns. And the way I ended my email doesn't really amount to fighting words: "I think you should reconsider slipping political asides into your columns if you aren't going to elaborate on them. That's all."

To which he responded with all the intelligence and maturity of a middle schooler making fart jokes while masturbating in the boy's room.

Remember, we are talking about a well-known person who is on Yahoo's payroll for the specific purpose of trafficking in opinions.

There is a wonderful feistiness to the opinion business and that feistiness belongs there, assuming the person being feisty has made his point and addressed counter-arguments raised by those on the other side. In other words, I would never expect Ryan Lambert to adopt a "customer is always right" attitude when dealing with his readers -- but I do expect a man who enjoys jabbing his sharp elbows at people to be, shall we say, a wee bit tougher when those people jab their own elbows back at him. Calling them "losers" and telling them to "get lost" without bothering to even acknowledge what they said, much less address what they said, is a pathetic sign of intellectual impotence.

In fact, it is so pathetic that I gave Lambert the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe he didn't actually read what I said. After all, his characterization of it as a "'stick to sports' 700-word email" seemed to miss the fact that it specifically said: "There is of course nothing wrong with a sportswriter having political opinions, and if a sportswriter explains/supports his political opinion when he brings it up in a sports column, I would not have a problem with him doing so even though one of the main reasons people follow sports is to get away from the constant drumbeat of politics."

So maybe he just saw my subject line ("political comments detracting from your hockey articles") and replied without taking the time to read? Who has time to read my long-winded brain droppings, anyway?

So today I emailed him back, saying only this: "Amusing reply. My only question is: Did you read the email or were you reacting only to the subject line?"

And this was his response, once again typed without expending the energy of moving his finger over to the shift key to capitalize: "yeah i read it and it's one of my great regrets. you're awful. don't email me."

I suspect (but don't know) that Ryan Lambert's priggish attitude and inability to engage in rational debate over his political and social views is not unusual among journalists, because I suspect (but again, don't know) that they hold those views dearly despite having never taken the time to think them through or put them to the test.

The good news is that my grudge-holding (I cannot write this post and simultaneously claim there is no grudge here) doesn't extend to me refusing to read Lambert's hockey columns. In fact, I read his new one this very evening and it is quite good.

But should you ever find yourself wondering if he's a great guy or if he's open to a productive, good faith exchange of ideas, be aware that he's not. And should you ever wonder if his non-hockey beliefs stem from him possessing knowledge and pondering it, be aware that the evidence suggests they do not.

When a man behaves like a jackass and disrespects people who debate in good faith, it tends to be because he's a jackass who acts in bad faith.

I suppose I just engaged in a little name-calling myself... but at least I have a basis for it, and that basis consists of words from the donkey's own mouth.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bring back the fire

In many ways, America was founded by a tax revolt. Yes, human rights and the freedom of individuals against authoritarian governments were the sacred principles, but taxation -- governments confiscating from people the fruits of their labor -- was one of the primary violations of rights and liberty that spurred our founders to take up arms against the crown. That anti-tax spirit has remained strong and even somewhat bipartisan ever since, as evidenced by the 1960's "JFK tax cuts" being passed under LBJ, and by Ronald Reagan's sweeping cuts helping propel him to a 49-state landslide reelection, and by even the tax-loving Bill Clinton being forced to promise lower rates in order to get elected.

But unfortunately, these days we don't hear as much griping about taxes these days as we used to -- at least not in public -- and that does not bode well for public knowledge or national vigor.

As reported yesterday in this article, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, on average, Americans spend more money each year on taxes than they do on food and clothing combined. The average annual household tax bill is $10,489, whereas the average annual food-plus-clothing bill is $9,006, which works out to a difference of more than 16 percent. Perhaps more alarming, that tax bill increased by more than 45 percent from 2013 to 2016 (from $7,203 to $10,489) and that sure as hell ain't because the average household income increased by that much.

These days, if anyone complains about taxes they will be told by noisy know-nothings that they are nothing more than greedy money-grubbers who only care about "tax cuts for the rich." What they don't realize is that that average annual household tax bill does not come only in the form of federal income taxes (which plenty of low income families don't pay) but in the form of all stripes of federal, state, and local taxation.

One big problem is that millions of Americans are economically harmed by taxes but are unaware of it, thanks (?) to paycheck withholding. They never think about what they are paying because it gets heisted from their own paychecks before they ever see it; and since they don't have to write a check or hand over their debit card number when April 15th rolls around, they do not realize what they are being forced to shell out.

The same is true with sales taxes. They get added to the bill when you pay for dinner, buy a new jacket, or whatever, but because you don't swipe a second transaction to send money to Master Government, it never quite registers in the brain how much you're paying Master Government.

And it's not like we are getting a good return on investment from all those tax dollars we shell out. Our infrastructure is out of date and questionably maintained. Our electrical grid is not hardened to protect it from an EMP attack that would wipe it out and instantly send us back to the stone age. In many ways and in many jurisdictions, our justice system is anything but. Our metastasized bureaucracies stifle our personal freedom and obstruct our ability to innovate. And although our military is well-armed, in many areas of vital importance it is shockingly shrunken and spread way too thin.

It is long past time for the American people to reassert their control over the American government. Becoming mad as hell about the taxes we are forced to pay would be a good first step in that direction. 'Tis time to rekindle the anti-tax fire that has fueled our nation from the start.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kickoff Time

The first two games of the 2017 college football season take place tonight, so it feels right to republish my post from nine years ago:

College football finally returns this week, and in the coming month campuses will come alive all over the land. From Baton Rouge to Boulder and Clemson to Corvallis and Morgantown to Madison, alumni will return in their RV’s and the aroma of beer and beef will waft through their tailgate parties.

There is nothing on earth like college football. Because a single loss can take you out of the running for the national title and maybe even your conference title, college football has the most important regular season in all of American sports.

It is the only sport in which you can win every game but one, yet the whole year is remembered in a bad light because the one loss came against your archrival. Likewise, it is the only sport in which a season-ending win against your archrival can turn an otherwise bad year into one worth celebrating.

In different corners of America, longtime rivals play for chintzy but endearing objects: Minnesota and Michigan for the Little Brown Jug, Purdue and Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Tennessee and Kentucky for the Beer Barrel.

Alumni from different schools argue that not only does their alma matter have the best football team on any given Saturday, but that every aspect of their alma matter is better than every aspect of every other school in America.

It is obvious that Auburn’s “War Eagle” is the greatest fight song ever played. Yet Michigan grads will tell you that no song is as stirring as “The Victors.”

It is obvious that the sweeping angles of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium make it the best place on earth to watch a football game. Yet Arizona State grads will tell you there’s no better place than the upper deck of Sun Devil Stadium at sundown, from which you can watch a game and see the desert turn to fire at the same time.

And it is obvious that Auburn-Alabama is the most heated rivalry in the world. Yet, inexplicably, some will say that title belongs to Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma or Army-Navy.

Meanwhile, Tennessee grads claim that the greatest pre-game tradition in America is the procession of their Vol Navy, when alumni arrive by boats on the Tennessee River.

And Wisconsin grads claim that the greatest post-game tradition is their Fifth Quarter, when the band stays in the stadium to play and the fans stay in the stadium to party, regardless of who won.

As someone who was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, I watch Bucs games while feeling my stomach boil with intensity, but I have little interest in spending hours of my life watching other professional games. On the other hand, as someone who graduated from Auburn, I watch Auburn games while feeling heart-stopping anxiety – and I also watch any other college game that’s on TV when Auburn is not. I will stay up into the wee hours of the morning to see Boise State vs. Hawaii and enjoy every minute of it.

College football fans do things like that. And they wonder about all kinds of topics that relate to the sport but not to their school, such as: Will Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno end the year with more career victories? Will Ohio State make it to the national championship game yet again, only to get embarrassed yet again? Will Notre Dame continue its downward spiral that enables millions of Americans to revel in schadenfreude?

No other sport can match college football’s blend of pageantry, passion, and season-long drama. So cue the marching bands, let the cheerleaders adorn our televisions, and let us all argue about who’s number one. I am ready.

Note: It's interesting to re-read this post and think about what has changed. Bowden and Paterno are no longer coaching... Paterno is no longer even walking the Earth, and his once stainless reputation has been shredded by the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal... Ohio State has, yes, made it to the national championship; but far from getting embarrassed, the Buckeyes won it resoundingly... the BCS has given way to playoffs... a lot happens as time passes, my friends.

Monday, August 14, 2017

V-J Day

72 years ago today, the bloodiest war in human history came to an end when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The announcement of Japan's surrender set off celebraions around the globe, including the one in Times Square during which this iconic picture was taken.

After six years, during which more than 60 million people from 27 different countries were killed, World War II was finally over. In the United States, August 15th came to be known as V-J Day, for Victory in Japan Day, since our European enemies had surrendered three months earlier.

Despite the fact that America was brought into the war when it was bombed by Japan, and despite the fact that atomic weapons were used to hasten the war's end, and despite enormous cultural differences, the two countries became strong and lasting friends whose alliance is now one of the most dependable on earth.

That is a direct result of the respectful and helping way America dealt with Japan after the war ended. One of the reasons we are unique in world history is that as conflicts conclude, we always seek to befriend our antagonists and to better their lot as well as our own. That fact needs to be burned into the hearts and minds of those who believe America is always the aggessor.

In my younger days, V-J Day was noted on calendars. Today it is not. This is not how it should be.

The Greatest Generation is rapidly passing to the other side of eternity's veil. Before its members are gone, may the rest of us thank them for the freedom they transmitted to us. And may we resolve that their sacrifice shall never be forgotten, and that it shall not have been made in vain.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 3 of ?

This is the third post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first two can be read here and here.

My previous installment argued that the meticulous workings of nature could not have resulted from random chance; in other words, that the facts of life on Earth, made possible by Earth's placement at this precise distance from the sun, furnishes overwhelming evidence of a Creator.

That premise is far from original.

Going back at least as far as Cicero (who died in 43 B.C.) many thinkers have expressed variations of the watchmaker analogy, which holds that the universe functions in ways that are as finely tuned as an always-accurate timepiece, and that it thus implies the existence of a divine watchmaker. Those thinkers include such scientific titans as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes.

Thomas Paine was one of America's most brilliant founding fathers. He was also an opponent of organized religion, and his 1794 book The Age of Reason fiercely criticized many parts of the Bible itself. Yet, based on logic and deduction, even he was a firm believer in the Divine -- so much so that right there in The Age of Reason he stated "the creation we behold is the real and ever-existing word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaimeth his power, it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence."

The same year Thomas Paine died in New York, a baby was born in Shrewsbury, England, who would grow to up to become a leading man of science. At the age of 50, that man wrote a book and concluded it with a sentence in which he professed that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one." At the age of 64 he remarked that (emphasis mine) "the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God." Six years after that, in a private letter, he wrote the words "I have never been an Atheist." That man was Charles Darwin, and the book in which he talked of life being "breathed by the Creator" was On the Origin of Species, the very same one in which he posited the theory of evolution.

Three years before Darwin died, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. Einstein also lived to assert "I am not an atheist," and in 1936 he wrote that (emphasis mine) "in all the laws of the universe is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must be humble."

Francis Collins, who currently heads the Human Genome Project and is director of America's National Institutes of Health, wrote the following for CNN: "I have found that there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

The more we learn about science (whether the science be biology, astronomy, physics, or anything else) the more evidence we find that the world and universe were deliberately designed. Not only do we find more evidence, we find continuously stronger evidence, for we always learn that nature is even more complex and entwined than we thought the day before but that it continues to hum along no matter what -- like a flawless watch crafted by an infallible watchmaker, if you don't mind me going back to the old analogy.

But of course you would never know this by listening to the combined forces of our cultural vanguards and mainstream media, or as I have decided to start calling them, the CMC, for Culture-Media Complex.

The religion of choice for members of the CMC is atheism, though they often try to obscure that fact by calling themselves merely "agnostic" or "secular." And in order to advance and defend their religion, they wield the exact same tools they accuse preachers from other faiths of using: fervor and rigidity.

The CMC's fervor and rigidity are evident from the way its members start off by suggesting that they are smarter than those who believe in God, then use that suggestion to automatically dismiss the thought that there might be empirical evidence of God. With a figurative wave of their hand and implied roll of their eyes, all they need do is utter that "everyone knows" there's no evidence of God and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded, and their like-minded co-stars and co-hosts nod in agreement and start tsk-tsk'ing about Bible-thumping rubes in backwater hick towns. All the while, no one in the CMC ever gets asked to provide any support for what they say, and none of them ever get asked to comprehend or even acknowledge the many rational reasons for thinking differently than they do.

Unfortunately this same impulse (to wall one's self off from opposing thoughts and evidence) plagues the world of science as well. And the impulse is exponentially worse in the world of science, because even though scientists are supposed to evaluate all evidence and consider all possibilities before reaching any conclusions, many of them do the exact opposite when it comes to the central question facing humankind. They are humans, not robots, and just like poets and politicians and accountants and everyone else, scientists can be very guilty of the ancient sins of pride, arrogance, and pre-judgment; their job title does not erase their humanity, nor does their schooling prevent confirmation bias in their work.

Scientists, seemingly above all others, should grasp the enormity of the conundrum I mentioned in my previous post when talking about how life on Earth could have come to be after the big bang: "The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero."

Of course there is no shortage of scientists who have looked at the conundrum and concluded that a deity exists. Their conclusions are also based on their evaluation of the bottomless intricacy of life's continued existence, for example the functioning of gills that allow fish to breathe underwater; the presence of hundreds of different kinds of wings that allow thousands of different kinds of creatures to take to the skies; the physiological slowdown that allows Siberian brown bears to survive the long foodless winter by hibernating until it's over; and the symbiotic relationship between Joshua trees and yucca moths that allows both species to survive in the harsh habitat of the Mojave uplands, where a disappearance of either species would cause the other to go extinct.

But of course there is also no shortage of scientists who reflexively ignore the conundrum without giving it a passing thought, who never bother to look at evidence of a deity because they reject out of hand the very notion of a deity. Their knee-jerk rejection of contrary input is decidedly unscientific and renders them extremely vulnerable to the second half of Keirkegaard's warning: There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Regrettably, the CMC automatically portrays scientists from the latter camp as credible and those from the former camp as nutty... and meanwhile, scientists from a third camp -- those who have yet to study the matter, or who have started to study it but have not yet drawn conclusions -- seem practically invisible because they aren't mentioned at all... and this state of affairs is shameful, because it leaves billions of us ordinary people misinformed about the topic that happens to be the most important one in each of our lives.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 2 of ?

This is the second post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first can be read here.

All living things are comprised of cells -- other than microscopic germs that consist of just a single cell, such as bacteria.

To get an idea of how incomprehensibly small cells are, consider that one teaspoon of soil is home to 40 million bacteria, and despite being so numerous in such a tiny space, they are invisible to the naked eye, even in their aggregate.

The average-sized human body is built of 37.2 trillion cells, and to put that number into perspective, consider that in order to travel 37.2 trillion miles you would need to make the journey to the sun and back more than 200,000 times, with every one of those 200,000+ journeys being 186 million miles round-trip.

Living things exist and function because all of their infinitesimally tiny cells do their jobs and work in concert. Each cell is made up of component parts which include (but are not limited to) the membrane that protects it from invasion; the ribosomes that manufacture protein; the endoplasmic reticulum through which protein is transported; and deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA, that double-helix-shaped molecule which determines the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, whether we can curl our tongues, whether we can wiggle our ears, ad infinitum.

If you were a bear in western Canada belonging to the species known as black bear, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your fur was in fact black, or whether it was one of the other colors your species sports in that part of the world: brown, cinnamon, or white.

If you were a dachshund living with your owner in Munich, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your hair was smooth and dapple or wiry and brown.

Each of our eyes consists of millions of cells (six million in the cones alone) and receives light through the cornea, which bends it upon entry... the pupil then controls the intensity of that bended light, which proceeds to strike the lens, which in turn focuses it to the retina through a gelatinous substance... then, having received that focused light, the retina transforms it into an electrical impulse and sends it to the brain along the optic nerve, and the brain takes that electrical impulse and translates it into an image... and all of that happening, unfathomably fast, is how we see.

But of course, our eyes are neither the only nor the best to be found. Whereas human eyes have some 30,000 cones in the fovea, which is the most sensitive part of the retina, falcon eyes have around 1,000,000... and whereas we have one fovea per eye, falcons have two... and whereas our brains cannot perceive more than 20 events per second from the information sent by our eyes, falcons can perceive 70 to 80 per second from the information sent by their eyes -- which, in the words of British naturalist Helen Macdonald, means that "events in time that we perceive as a blur, like a dragonfly zipping past our eyes, are much slower to them...allow(ing) them to stretch out a foot at full speed to grab a bird or a dragonfly from the air."

And on the opposite end of the predator-prey spectrum is the common house fly, whose eye has not one lens but thousands. Their eyes do not enable them to see far, but do enable them to detect the slightest of movements so quickly that it is almost impossible for us to swat them (or predators to snatch them) before they dash away.

All of which brings me to the words penned by William Peter Blatty in his pilosophical novel Legion: "Someone had created the world. Made sense. For why would an eye want to form? To see? And why should it see? In order to survive? And why should it survive? And why? And why? The child's question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age."

The secularists of our age -- the God deniers, if you will -- would have you believe that this all occurred by random.

They would have you believe that after the big bang 14 billion years ago, random dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form stars and planets... and some of those dust and particles accidentally formed our sun... and some of them accidentally formed Earth at the precise distance from the sun that its heat, vitamins, etc., arrive at Earth in exactly the right amounts to make life possible... and some of the particles coalesced to accidentally wrap Earth in an atmosphere that accidentally includes oxygen, which is necessary for life.

They would have you believe that as dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form Earth, a googoplex of indescribably miniature (to the point of being invisible) bits of matter collided together in just such a way that they accidentally created cells and accidentally arranged those cells just how they needed to be arranged to form eyes that could see and lungs that could breathe and ears that could hear and tongues that could taste... and et cetera and et cetera, from the deepest seas to the highest peaks, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles, with each accidentally created organism just happening to be perfectly designed to survive in whatever its accidentally created habitat happens to be.

The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero. This is a very inconvenient truth for secularists, particularly atheists, many of whom remain oddly unaware of it, while those who are aware of it tend to ignore rather than address it -- and yet they would have you believe that their scientific acumen is superior to that of people who comprehend the math and ask them to stop ignoring and start addressing.

The secularists would have you think you are nuts for concluding that the infinitely interconnected complexity of the world and universe must be by design. But what makes more sense: Concluding that it occurred by design, or believing that it occurred by mathematically impossible happenstance?

To be continued...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off To See The Wizard

It's hard to believe how much time has flown by, but it was six years ago to today that Sarah and I watched "The Wizard Oz" on the big screen. On this anniversary of that great Daddy-Daughter Day, I figured I would go ahead and republish the piece I wrote about it at the time:

It is somehow reassuring that today's children are just as familiar with The Wizard of Oz as prior generations were, even though it has been 72 years since the movie was released. I file it under the category of "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same." And I file yesterday afternoon, when Sarah and I went to watch it on the big screen, under the category of "Great Daddy-Daughter Memories."

Downtown Tampa is home to one of America's best examples of a movie theater from Hollywood's golden age, back when they all had one auditorium and were often extravagant in their decor. Designed by John Eberson and opened in 1926, the Tampa Theater is bedecked with red upholstery and Greco-Roman statues, and its auditorium evokes a Mediterranean courtyard at dusk: The screen is surrounded by castle walls, while the ceiling is painted dark blue like the twilight sky, fitted with tiny lights reminiscent of stars.

I took advantage of my cell phone camera while we were there. Here is a view of the floor level, taken beneath the balcony after the movie was over and almost everyone had left:

Here is one taken from our seats in the balcony, when the organist was providing pre-show entertainment:

And here is another one taken from our seats, looking into the corner to give a sense of how high the walls go. To add to the perspective, keep in mind that we were sitting in the lower third of the balcony:

As part of its Summer Classics Series, the theater broke out Oz for matinee screenings this weekend. Sarah was fascinated with the opulence and I appreciated being able to watch a cinema classic while sitting inside a classic cinema. Even if you have seen a movie before, there is something different about seeing it on the big screen.

The event was touted as a singalong, and as you can tell from the following picture, the lyrics appeared on screen. I certainly didn't sing, nor did the bare majority of people in the audience, but quite a few did.

There were other examples of audience participation that, um, you just wouldn't get at home. Every time the Wicked Witch appeared (or Miss Gultch, her Kansas incarnation) large numbers of people hissed at her. And they applauded when she melted and whenever Toto made an escape.

Yes, some people came in costume, and not all of them were kids. One trio of folks who -- well, I will just say they probably got the senior's discount -- dressed up like the Lollipop Guild.

Yesterday was far from Sarah's first time watching The Wizard of Oz, but it was the first time she realized it was all a dream. She has already asked to go again next summer.

I can't believe that with all the pictures I took, I failed to take any of us. I (or Erika) will make up for that next time, but for now I leave you with the photo that turned out to be yesterday's coolest by far. I was taking one of the Scarecrow on screen and apparently my shutter snapped just as the next frame, of Dorothy, was coming round -- because you can see both their images on the screen, with hers fainter:

Note: "Movie palace" (or "picture palace" in the U.K.) was the name given to the style of theaters designed by Eberson and other cinema architects of his time. For a list of 150 of his creations, most of which are now closed and not all of which were in the U.S., go here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thoughts On Divinity: Part 1 of ?

Talking about your belief in God is uncomfortable because it leads to people questioning your intelligence. However, this present age might be the most important one in history for believers to talk about God and explain why they believe in Him.

G.K. Chesterton is said to have remarked that "when a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." Evidence that those words are true litters every corner of modern America, and comes in the form of everything from social pathologies run amok to flaky nonsense being considered deep thinking.

The social pathologies I'm talking about -- fatherlessness, substance abuse, welfare dependency, obtaining your sense of belonging from gang members and ideologues rather than family members and mentors, etc. -- are not new, but their commonness is, and I do not believe it's a coincidence that they have grown to their highest levels at the precise moment in history that our belief in God has shrunk to its lowest level.

The American ideal -- indeed, the human ideal -- is based not on people having (in the words of P.J. O'Rourke) "the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums," but on people knowing (in the words of Pope John Paul II) "that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." It is tragic that so many Americans have lost sight of this, but then again, when massive numbers of Americans believe there is no God, it's inevitable that massive numbers of Americans will have a self-centered worldview in which everything revolves around them and whatever their whims and desires of the moment happen to be.

*     *     *     *     *

Life and its many problems are complex and sometimes the answers are too, but oftentimes the answers are not complex. After all, simple causes frequently have far-reaching effects, and an increase in the number of people who believe in God would go a long way toward curing our earthly ills -- and note that I am not even talking about following a religion or joining a church, but simply believing in God.

For those of us who do believe, one of the annoying things about contemporary culture is how quick and eager its vanguards are to call us ignorant and stupid, when they themselves are ignorant and they themselves usually operate on emotion rather than intellect.

Most of the vanguards couldn't pass an elementary school science test, yet they toss the word "science" around like a shibboleth because they are under the false impression that science and religion are at odds -- and based on that false impression, they assume that by pretending to be aligned with science they are somehow confirming they're smarter than those who logically believe that the infinitely complex, intricately connected, and supremely balanced wonders of nature are not some accidental result of an origin-free firecracker that went bang for no reason.

But of course, the irritation I just displayed is unbecoming. There is nothing wrong with skepticism -- I myself have a skeptical nature -- and there is no denying that the people I called cultural vanguards have a reason for their skepticism.

In many of their minds, people who believe in God have no reason for doing so other than an unsophisticated desire to cling to childhood fantasies about an invisible friend. Many of them see believers as people who live their lives hoping/assuming that at some moment a deus ex machina will magically appear and solve all their problems with no effort on their own part. And the vanguards' skepticism is given wings by the undeniable fact that God has never sat down on their couches looking like Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman and talked to them.

On top of that, add the fact that the vanguards rarely if ever engage in conversations with believers, and their skepticism becomes a self-sustaining fire: They are of the earnest opinion that believers come to their faith by ignoring evidence and refusing to grow up, and so they portray believers that way without ever hearing (much less understanding) that the overwhelming majority of believers arrive at their faith after contemplating the world's facts and enigmas through agonizing periods of doubt and reflection.

They automatically reject the idea of God without entertaining the abundant evidence that He exists (often not even realizing that there is such evidence), yet they portray as fools anyone who unautomatically accepts the idea of God after having scrutinized both the evidence of His existence and the evidence of His non-existence. This means that they reject the Scientific Method while acting as if they are science's avatar, and because they hold massive sway in the popular culture, their bogus portrayals of believers (and equally bogus portrayals of non-believers) have become accepted as a reality they are not.

As a result, living, breathing human beings suffer because the vanguards' rejection of God fuels a socially domineering rejection of God, which in turn renders people uninformed and leads them astray.

It is far past time for the logical -- and yes, scientific -- reasons for believing in God to be explained and understood.

*     *     *     *     *

So what am I to do as a 46-year-old father of two and husband of one, who leads an ordinary and unremarkable life and whose blog is read by dozens, maybe scores, but definitely not by hundreds or thousands or millions?

I do not seem like much of a messenger for any "come to God!" post, for I swear like a sailor and am too fond of beer and often disdain the way I was designed by the God whose existence I feel driven to affirm.

But I do feel driven to affirm His existence, and do feel qualified to do so. Maybe "what am I to do?" amounts to laying out my reasons for believing and publishing them and hoping that each individual who reads them will consider them fairly and without prejudgment.

In my Easter post this year I wrote that "I believe in God not on faith alone but also on evidence (though that's a whole other blog post)..." Well, it's time for that whole other blog post to get written, but it is going to be several posts, not one, because the subject matter is too important and too large to be limited to a handful of paragraphs.

Consider this piece to be the first in a series, as I will start "making my case" for God in the next one, which I hope to publish soon.

The series will probably be intermittent, as I might write posts about other topics in between writing posts about this one, but I consider this topic to be transcendent and I hope you will follow along.

Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mankind's Greatest Hour

Today, as we fire up our grills and crack open our beers, let us remember why we even have a July 4th holiday: to commemorate the greatest act of shared, selfless courage the world has ever seen.

Everybody should know that Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Most people know the names of a handful of the 56 men who signed it, such as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and of course Jefferson himself. But few people seem to realize that when those men signed their names, they were committing what was considered an act of treason against the British crown, punishable by death. Those men were property owners who were successful in their lives and businesses. Their lives were comfortable and they stood to lose everything by signing the Declaration -- yet they chose to sign it anyway, because they knew that casting off the crown and forming a new government based on individual liberty was the right thing to do, not only for their own descendants but for all of humanity. And here is what happened to some of those men after they signed the Declaration:

Five of them became prisoners of war.

Nearly one-sixth of them died before the war ended.

British forces burned, and/or looted, the homes and properties of nearly one-third of them.

When the British did that to the property of William Floyd, he and his family fled and spent the next seven years living as refugees without income. His wife died two years before the war ended.

After being forced into the wilderness by British forces, John Hart struggled to make his way home. When he finally got there, he found that his wife was dead and his 13 children were missing. He died without ever seeing them again.

Richard Stockton was dragged from his bed and sent to prison while his property was ravaged. From the day of his release from prison until the day he died, he had to rely on charity from others to feed his family.

Francis Lewis’s wife was imprisoned and beaten. Meanwhile, his wealth was plundered. His last years were spent as a widower living in poverty.

Thomas Nelson Jr.’s home was captured and occupied by British General Cornwallis, who used it as what we would now call an operations center. Therefore, Nelson ordered his troops to destroy his own home with cannon fire during the Battle of Yorktown. To assist in funding the war, he used his own credit to borrow 2 million dollars, which today would equal more than 25 billion dollars. Repaying that debt bankrupted him, and when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It is a safe bet that fewer than one percent of our citizens have ever heard of these people, much less know anything about the devastating sacrifices they made so that future generations could have the freedom necessary to build the kind of upwardly-mobile, always-progressing society we would come to take for granted.

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a wonderful gift called America, and we owe it to our children to make sure we don’t allow that gift to be destroyed. We should never hear the words “Fourth of July” without feeling a skip in our heart and a tear in our eye.

Much thanks to Jeff Jacoby, the late Paul Harvey, and all the others who have written and spoken about the fates of the signers, to keep their story alive.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sowell

Thomas-Sowell-in-1974-900.jpg (900×884)

I started this blog on June 30, 2008, which makes today the tenth June 30th of its existence. Although the first post was about political turmoil in Zimbabwe, six of the next eight June 30th posts were acknowledgments of the birthday of my all-time favorite non-fiction writer, Thomas Sowell.

As far as I'm concerned, him deciding to retire from writing at the end of last year is no reason for the birthday acknowledgments to stop. If a nation truly values diversity, it should openly celebrate a black man who lives in the San Francisco Area while being an unapologetic conservative with a strong libertarian bent.

Sowell was born 87 years ago today in Gastonia, North Carolina, when Jim Crow was flogging the American South and the Great Depression was preparing to throttle the American economy. In that moment, the odds of a bright future could not have seemed high for an infant such as he; but fortunately, he grew up to become the kind of man who turns his shoulder against the odds and does not waste his time caring what others have to say about him.

Sowell was the fifth child of a widow (his father died while she was pregnant with him) and as a youth he moved to Harlem, where he was raised by his great-aunt and her two daughters. After dropping out of high school because he needed to earn money for the struggling household, Sowell tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers and worked in a machine shop and was a deliveryman for Western Union... and then he was drafted by the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Korean War.

Following his military service, Sowell earned his GED and attended Howard. Because of his extremely high scores on board exams and recommendations from two of his professors, he was accepted at Harvard, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1958.

One year later he graduated with his master's from Columbia, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago, where he studied under the legendary Milton Friedman (speaking of which, his salute to Friedman five years ago is a must-read).

Sowell -- unlike most of the world's curriculum vitae-obsessed snobs, who pass themselves off as intellectuals while holding conformist views and walling themselves off from opposing thoughts -- is an authentic thinker who follows the evidence and facts wherever they might lead.

I once watched an interview in which he was asked to name his three favorite presidents, and he answered by saying FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, then proceeding to explain his exact reasons for liking each of them despite their very obvious differences. Clearly, he is a man who regards labels with the disdain they deserve.

Although Sowell was an avowed Marxist throughout his twenties and into his thirties, a lifetime of study, analysis, and living led him to become one of the staunchest and most eloquent advocates of limited government and free markets that you will ever find. Clearly, he is a man who is unafraid to put his mind and instincts to the test without any fear of accepting the results.

Over the decades, the books and syndicated columns he published have been like philosophical manna for me and many others, covering a vast range of sociological, political, and philosophical issues. My personal favorite is his 1995 book The Vision of the Anointed, but there are many great ones including (just to name a few) such books as Migrations and Cultures, Rhetoric or Reality?, Late-Talking Children, Ethnic America, Basic Economics, Race and Economics, Inside American Education, and Dismantling America.

And then there is his 2005 classic Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Admit it: You gotta read that based on the title alone, don't you? Go ahead and do so because you won't be disappointed, regardless of your political bent or party affiliation.

A big part of my misses the fact that Thomas Sowell hung up his pen/keyboard last December. I first become aware of him when I read one of his syndicated columns in the Tampa Tribune back in 1992, and over the quarter-century between that day and his retirement I always looked forward to seeing what he had to say about things. There is literally no other human being whose opinion on public issues I hold in higher esteem.

But a bigger part of me is very happy for Thomas Sowell, for he hung up that pen/keyboard on his own terms, in his own time, and is using the rest of the gas in his tank the way he wants to.

His mind is still sharp as a tack after 87 years on this planet, and rather than stressing over the state of word affairs he is spending his time visiting his beloved Yosemite National Park and photographing this planet's many beautiful sights.

Yes, he is known as a writer, but has been an expert photographer for more than 65 years, which is obvious if you check out any of his work on Google Photos.

And if you do that, you should also go ahead and visit his own web site which has all kinds of stuff on it.

Your life has been "in full," Mr. Sowell, and is appreciated. May it have many years remaining on this side of eternity.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All Rounds Done, Part Three

The NHL playoffs ended more than two weeks ago, so I really should stop writing about them, but first I feel like listing what I consider to be the best goals scored during them.

So, below are my picks for the Top 15, in no particular order, along with links for watching them.

You might ask: Why 15 instead of some other number? Well, I have to admit that 15 is a bit random. On the one hand, limiting the list to 5 or 10 would, in my rarely humble opinion, cause too many fine goals to go unrecognized. But on the other hand, extending the list to 25 would seem too long, even though it too would still result in fine goals being controversially excluded. And so I have decided on 15.

Since there were probably about 30 goals scored this post-season that deserve being included on a top 15 list, but, obviously, there only 15 spots to give out, I have proudly engaged in some affirmative action -- which is to say that I have made a point to include goals that represent certain categories, such as redirects, one-timers, etc.

But dammit I'm rambling and need to stop, so here are the 15. And fyi, although most of the links go directly to video, some go to articles that include embedded video of the particular goal, which means you'll need to scroll down after you open the link...

In Game Three of Round Two, Connor McDavid's pivot and pot saw him undress Sami Vatanen then rifle a top-shelf shot past John Gibson -- a shot that flew so rapidly Gibson still hasn't seen it.

At full speed this goal by Auston Matthews looks good, not spectacular... but then you watch in slow motion and realize it was a virtuoso performance, with him stopping the hotly bouncing puck and snapping it over Braden Holtby's arm and under the crossbar on one of the tightest angles imaginable, all in a split second.

We always marvel at quick-release shots, the kind that leave a stick so fast they're behind the goalie before he has a chance to react. On May 1st Evgeny Kuznetsov showed why we should also marvel at the opposite kind of goal, the kind created by patience: Collecting a pass down low from Marcus Johansson, he shifted the puck about on his stick blade while calmly waiting for Marc-Andre Fleury to be so committed to the bottom half of the cage that he couldn't guard the top half -- and once Fleury was so committed, Kuznetsov coolly deposited the puck over him and he never stood a chance.

Fleury was also victimized by patience on this beauty by Andre Burakovsky, who stole the puck near his own blueline and then charged through the neutral zone into the offensive end... then eluded Chad Ruhwedel... then held his fire just long enough to freeze Fleury before burying a shot high glove side.

Corey Perry's double overtime winner versus Edmonton featured classic dipsy doodle stickwork through the slot capped off with, yes, just the right amount of patience (fyi, the slow motion reply starts at the 1:08 mark).

It's rare to see someone snipe the far top corner as good as Jakob Silfverberg did to open the scoring in the Western Conference Final.

It's equally rare (if not rarer) to see someone thread the needle as good as Hampus Lindholm did on this zipping wrister later in that same game to force OT.

Though they don't display mind-bending creativity, there is always something awe-inspiring about one-timer rockets that, like I mentioned above, a goalie has no chance to react to. There were several worthy candidates from that category this year, but due to their "no mind-bending creativity" nature I opted to include only one on this list. The one I chose is this blast by Vladimir Tarasenko, because it happened late in the third period against Nashville and won the game. Please notice how he played the puck without a hiccup after it deflected off a teammate's skate (fyi, the highlight is in the second video in the article to which I linked.)

Bobby Ryan's overtime breakaway blast to win Game One of the Eastern Conference Final featured the precise set of skill and specificity that makes hockey fun.

Colton Sissons's conference-winning bagger in Game Six against Anaheim was an almost perfect example of a teamwork goal. After bringing the pick into the offensive zone, Sissons was knocked off of it and back towards the middle -- but with teammate Calle Jarnkrok jumping up to take possession of the suddenly loose puck, he sidled over to the low part of the left circle, where Jarnkrok saw him and fed him with a perfect cross-ice pass that he banged home for what proved to be the winner.

Nashville delivered another almost perfect example of a teamwork goal on this one in Game Four of the Stanley Cup Final, when an upending Mike Fisher managed to scoop the puck forward to Viktor Arvidsson, who in turn snapped it past Matt Murray with a wicked wrister.

Pontus Aberg's quick-but-patient, crease-crossing lamp-lighter to open the scoring in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final was masterful.

Backhanders off the high, inside, far edge of the post don't come any better than this one by Bryan Rust.

And wraparounds don't come any better than this one by Frderick Gaudreau.

Redirect goals don't get the respect they deserve. It takes incredible awareness, quickness, and skill to tap a fast-moving puck as it rifles by you, changing its trajectory so suddenly that a goalie has no chance to do anything about it. Check out Evgeni Malkin's shifty one against Ottawa that tied up Game One of the ECF.

And finally, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin showed how to make an opponent pay for "playing prevent," as the former slipped a pass back to the latter and the latter netted it up into the far corner.

Gotta love this game!

Friday, June 23, 2017

All Rounds Done, Part Two

Time for some more closing thoughts about the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Since I already opined about the Nashville Predators who came up short, today's post focuses on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the whole ball of wax for the second year in a row.

The blueprint
Last season, the Pens' championship ale was perfected with a brew of scoring depth, team defense, confident goaltending, and veteran leaders whose example was followed by high-performing whippersnappers. This season's was brewed with the same ingredients and strategy, although the steps taken to get it from raw material to finished product appeared quite different.

The 2016 Pens blew opponents out in dominating fashion and controlled the action for long stretches of time, whereas 2017's were usually outshot and often had to deal with their opponents controlling the action for long stretches of time -- yet they managed to win it all anyway, for they knew how to capitalize on opportunities, deal with pressure, and deliver in the clutch.

Last season Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin led the team in playoff points with 22, 19, and 18 respectively; this season they were the league's top three playoff points scorers with Malkin having 28, Crosby 27, and Kessel 23... Last season, rookie Bryan Rust impressed with 6 playoff goals, including the one that won the Eastern Conference Final; this season, rookie Jake Guentzel made an enormous splash by potting 13 playoff goals (second most by a rookie in NHL history) and accounting for 21 total playoff points (tied for the most ever by an NHL rookie).

If you think the above numbers suggest that the Pens scored at an even greater clip this post-season than last, you're not going crazy. Last spring they tallied 73 goals in 24 playoff games and this spring rang up 77 in 25, which works out to an increase of 0.04 per game... And while they had nail-biting victories like 1-0 over Ottawa in Game Two of the ECF, they also enjoyed blowout victories like 7-0 over Ottawa in Game Five, 6-2 over Washington in Game Two of the second round, and 6-0 over Nashville in Game Five of the SCF... All of which puts a big asterisk on my previous remark about them controlling opponents last spring but getting controlled by opponents this spring. Clearly the Pens are a club that has mastered the art of being highly efficient, cashing in chances, and making opponents pay.

And on top of that there was the goaltender factor: Last year rookie Matt Murray took over for injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury and proceeded to play every post-season game steady as a rock, so much so that he seized the role of starter going forward. But this time around, Murray got injured before Game One of Round One, so Fleury resumed his role as starter and proceeded to play every game of the first two rounds plus the first three of the ECF -- and played spectacular, rescuing the Pens several times by delivering victories in games they should have lost.

Murray, by then fully recovered, returned to the net for good in the second period of Game Three and was his usual solid self. And when the klieg lights shined brightest and hottest, he did something remarkable by pitching shutouts in the last two games of the SCF, thus taking a series that was tied 2-2 (and seemed to be tilting in Nashville's favor) and transforming it into a 4-2 Pittsburgh triumph that will appear fairly comfortable when looked at in history books.

Fleury is a 13-season veteran who ranks as Pittburgh's all-time winningest goalie and who has three Stanley Cups, two All-Star appearances, one Olympic gold, and one team MVP to his name. Murray, on the other hand, has played less than two full seasons in the NHL and has already won two Stanley Cups in a starting and starring role, something no other goalie in history has ever managed to pull off.

When you think about everything above, the blueprint the Penguins followed seems invincible. They were the best team this season and were going to win no matter what. Looking at things with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, Nashville never had a chance.

A Best Pen
Let's revisit the matter of Marc-Andre Fleury. If anyone ever makes a list of the all-time best Pittsburgh Penguins, Fleury won't rank #1 and probably won't be close, seeing as how the team's sweater has been worn by players whose names rank among the highest of cotton: Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin. Nevertheless, Fleury deserves to be on the list and recognized as one of the best Penguins ever.

A partial snapshot of his career success can be found three paragraphs above, and going back to how excellent he was in this year's second round, I will simply quote my own May 11th post: Washington frequently controlled long stretches of play in their offensive zone...They banked 32 or more shots on goal in five of the games and never registered less than 26, whereas Pittsburgh was thrice held to 18 or fewer shots on goal and only twice registered more than 22. For the series, the Caps outshot the Pens by a staggering 229-154. But in the end, none of that mattered...The reason Pittsburgh's superior efficiency was able to make a difference was that Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending was nothing short of brilliant. He kept the Penguins in games until their snipers were able to ripple the nets and thereby fire darts through Washington hearts. He faced 75 more shots than Washington's Braden Holtby and surrendered fewer goals -- and many of his saves were so spectacular they qualified as grand larceny.

And check out the final three games he completed during this year's Stanley Cup run: A Game Seven shutout of Washington to win that series and a Game Two shutout of Ottawa to even the ECF, sandwiched around an overtime loss in which he gave up just one goal in regulation and finished with a .943 save percentage (i.e., a loss that was not his fault).

Fleury is not the first athlete to become known as a team-first guy, but he is probably the most accomplished athlete to be known more for that personality than for his accomplishments. Ever since he played his first NHL game (for the Penguins in October 2003) he has embraced the city and its fans and made it clear that playing in this town, for this team, was how he wanted to spend his entire career.

Fleury does what is best for the team and never lets his ego obscure the big picture. When he got sidelined by concussions in 2016, it was assumed that he would resume his starting role after he recovered, but the much younger Murray performed so well in relief that Fleury became a back-up after more than a decade as the top dog. He accepted that reality without complaining, and when called upon to fill in he continued to deliver by posting an 18-10-7 record during the 2016-17 regular season and 9-6 mark during the 2017 playoffs.

When Murray returned to the net during the ECF and Fleury was again relegated to back-up duty, he did not complain even though he was largely responsible for having gotten the team that far: He understood the reasoning and kept himself ready in case he was called upon again.

If George Harrison had been a hockey player, he would have been Marc-Andre Fleury, and if Fleury was a musician he would be Harrison: The impactful and influential yet unassuming Beatle, the one who played splendid guitar and composed "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," "Something," "Taxman," and "Old Brown Shoe," the one without whom the band could not have been the same and yet was happy to sit in the background while John and Paul got the headlines.

All of which makes current reality suck, even though it should be joyous after Fleury played a major role in the Pens winning their third championship in his time there... for realty is that the NHL has a salary cap; the 32-year-old Fleury has a contract with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million, whereas the 23-year-old Murray carries a cap hit of only $3.75 million; the rules prevent a team and player from ripping up an existing contract and writing a new one even if they want to; there was an expansion draft this week, in which teams could only protect one goaltender from being plucked off their roster by the NHL's new squad, the Las Vegas Golden Knights; and teams have to think long-term, not short-term... some time ago, this reality reared its ugly head and made it clear that there was no logical way for the Pens not to expose Fleury in the expansion draft, which meant that as the season wound down, everyone knew that Fleury's time in Pittsburgh was ending... and sure enough, when the expansion draft happened two days ago, the Golden Knights plucked him away from the city and team he loves.

This is excruciating if you have any emotional bones in your body, and becomes even more excruciating when you consider that Fleury's contract has a no movement clause. Under the rules of the expansion draft, that would have forced the Penguins to protect him, which would put their long-term future in jeopardy considering his age and cap hit and the near certainty that Vegas would have plucked goalie-of-the-future Murray off of Pittsburgh's roster; and so with an eye on that uncomfortable fact of life, the team approached Fleury in February and asked him to waive his no movement clause for the obvious reason. He agreed to do so because he understood the reality, and knew it was best for the franchise that had given him a chance all those years ago, and both sides kept their agreement secret until after the Stanley Cup was won twelve days ago. So yes, just like George Harrison always aimed to do what was best for the music and the band, Marc-Andre Fleury always aims to do what is best for the game and the team.

When players cleaned out their lockers last Thursday and spoke to the media for their final time as the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, Fleury openly wept. When asked what he would miss most about Pittsburgh if Vegas came calling, he answered with a single word: "Everything."

So yes, the business side of sports sucks, and life itself can suck even when you are standing on what appears to be its pinnacle and your bank account is flush.

Then came this Wednesday, when the Golden Knights picked him on what happened to be the 14th anniversary of the day he was selected by the Penguins in the 2003 entry draft. Fleury walked onto the stage to give what he expected would be "a quick wave," and was caught by surprise when the Vegas crowd erupted in a thunderous and prolonged standing ovation. In a post-draft fan forum, Golden Knights partisans chanted his name and one of them shouted "I love you," to which he responded by saying "I love you too."

The world would be a better place if more people had personalities like that of the high-achieving man from Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, the man whose masculinity is not drawn into question by the fact that fellow players call him "Flower" because that's what his surname means in his native French.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are among the best forwards to ever play the game, and they have spent their entire careers in the 'Burgh, They could have gone elsewhere and grabbed higher salaries by playing for teams that wouldn't need to find room under the cap for both of them. And if they played in larger and more media-centric markets like New York or Boston or Toronto, they would likely be getting more endorsement deals than they get playing in Western PA. But they are happy with their status in the City of Bridges and eager to pursue championships above all else, and so they remain.

"Sid and Geno" have a kind of loyalty that is in line with Marc-Andre Fleury's. Wedded to their long-term team success -- eleven straight playoff appearances, five trips to the conference finals, four conference championships, and three Stanley Cups including the first back-to-back Cups of the cap era -- that kind of loyalty will make their names go down in history much deeper than if they had left for other digs.

They are an interesting tandem. Both are superb shooters and superb passers, though Malkin is known more his sniping shots and Crosby more for his artful passes... Though known for speed and skill rather than fisticuffs, they are both (especially Malkin) more than willing to throw punches and get their hands dirty when the situation warrants it... Their offensive prowess has gotten so much press over the years that their defensive prowess goes almost unnoticed; however, if you pay attention to their defensive play you will see that it (especially Crosby's) is outstanding.

I mention Crosby and Malkin because how can I not? As good as they are as individual players, their careers are joined at the hip. As true as it is that this Penguins team would not have won the Cup without Fleury's brilliance against Washington, it is also true that they would not have won it without the scoring and leadership of the centermen from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and Magnitogorsk, Russia. Despite how long they have played -- their careers are already approaching three times the length of the average NHL career -- they are still in their primes, having just finished 1-2 in points for this year's playoffs and with Crosby having led the league in goals during the regular season.

Previous generations were blessed to see Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay play simultaneously for the Red Wings, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull for the Blackhawks, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito for the Bruins, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier for the Islanders, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier for the Oilers, Mario Lemieuz and Jaromir Jagr for the Penguins, Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov for the Red Wings, and Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg for the Avalanche. Right now we have Crosby and Malkin to watch, and they right rank there with those other tandems.

It is often hard to appreciate something while it is happening. Appreciation usually comes only with benefit of hindsight. Hopefully, hockey fans today, even those who are Pittsburgh-haters, realize how special it is to watch Crosby and Malkin skate for the same organ-eye-zation.

As noted above, these Penguins are the first team to win back to back Cups in the salary cap era. Surely you've heard they are also the first team to pull off back to back Cups since Detroit a couple decades ago, back in 1997 and 1998.

And of course, the Penguins also won the Cup in 2009 (and went to the SCF in 2008) with some of the same important pieces that made up 2017's puzzle.

So do they count as a dynasty? I think so, especially when you consider how different the league is today than it was in the past.

And are they the best "modern" dynasty? There is certainly a fascinating debate to be had there, when we also have this decade's Blackhawks and the 1990's-2000's Red Wings and 1990's-2000's Devils to choose from. But I will save that debate for another time and another post, because I have said more than enough for today.

This was an outstanding Pittsburgh Penguins team and what they did will go down in history. It was fun to watch.