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Jags are Camping!

Love it! Quarterbacks and rookies reported today. The rest of the squad will be in camp beginning on Thursday.

I have a lot of optimism for this team, and much of it rests with T.J. Yeldon. I think he's got a great package of skills, and that his running style will complement the type of ball-control offense Coach Bradley wants to run. 

The Jags want to play hard-nosed defense and take care of the ball on offense. I think they'll put a premium on sustaining long drives, and a lot of that will come down to the recently renovated offensive line and Yeldon's ability to get those tough yards between the tackles. 

It was fun watching the RBC Canadian Open last week (great showing by Day and Hearn), but I have to admit that I'm really happy that the calendar is turning back toward football. 

Think about it...

From here until February, we'll have no more weekends without the sport!


Emaciation and Dread...

It's always baffled me how such an inconsequential little virus could have had such a great influence on humanity throughout our history. The flu, that same industrious contagion that spells doom for the alien invaders in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, has cyclically laid waste to the human species in our short and difficult time on the planet. 

I've largely avoided any major bouts of influenza in my life. I've had the occasional passing cold, but nothing on the magnitude of what I experienced last week.

My daughter might have brought the stuff home from day camp, because she was impacted first. Last Friday night, she awoke shortly after midnight and began to vomit. The unpleasantness impacted her for a few hours, but she was chipper and back at the business of being six the next day. 

Kids--so resilient!

And yet, when I look at the 2014 flu mortality rates, I see that last year's strain really did hurt a lot of children. When I think about how bad it hit me, I'm grateful that Lyla was able to whip it so easily. In the future, we'll never take a bug like this for granted again. Kids and the elderly face particularly tough battles with influenza, so it's prudent to take any early signs of the illness very seriously.

Anyway, we had an ordinary weekend. On Monday, I called my wife and asked her if she wanted to go out on a hike.

"Uhhhmpppllffff!" she moaned into the phone. "Sick..."

And indeed, when I arrived home she was lying on the bathroom floor. She'd filled a garbage bag with vomit in the car on the way home from work, and she was still having a hard time of it when Lyla and I made it home from camp. It was brutal. 

I took Lyla to the YMCA and we had an ordinary time there. I weighed in at 192 (healthy weight for me) and brought Lyla home after our workout, and that's when I noticed a peculiar, terrible, horrible thing.

Damn, was I ever sick.

Not just any sick, but the sickest I've been in thirty-eight years on the planet. Between about 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. I puked more than I've ever puked in my whole life--probably in all other instances put together. I lost so much water weight that I spent the entire night cramping. My calf muscles balled up into little iron knots, and I had to pace the room dozens of times just to keep from crying out in pain. 

I couldn't keep any fluids down, and it wasn't until we went to our family practitioner on Tuesday that I saw the full extent of my illness. I weighed in at 175.7, less than 24 hours after tipping the scales at the YMCA. I was given a shot to ease my nausea (thankfully, it allowed me to begin forcing fluids and I was able to infuse some life back into my frame, which had pulled tight like a the strings on a guitar) and a prescription for Tamiflu. Jeanne got one as well, and we've been on the road to recover over this past week. 

I'm back up to 192, and I've been able to get a few longer runs in over these last two days. What I'm stunned by is the general destruction that the flu--which the CDC noted mutated in late 2014, making last year's vaccine largely ineffectual--wrought on my body. I didn't get my full wind back in terms of running for a week. The headache associated with my dehydration was unlike anything I'd experienced before ("blinding" isn't merely some folksy idiom), and the cramping was so painful that I thought I might tear some of the muscles in my legs. Worse than anything was the thirst. I simply lie there in bed with a cold glass of ice water within reach, knowing full well that my body would not tolerate it.

When I read about the 20-40 million people that perished in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, my heart goes out to them and their families. It's a horrible illness, and one that we too often take for granted. Thankfully, the Tamiflu and other medications that we took turned things around quickly for us.

Never again, though, will I think of the flu as some innocent little bug--some cartoon germ that can be suppressed with a can of chicken noodle soup. No sir, the flu is one bad dude, and I'm going to remember that come November when the annual news cavalcade about washing hands and covering coughing mouths hits the airwaves.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The Doof Warrior

What's not to like about Mad Max: Fury Road? From scene one--a tight closeup on a two-headed lizard--to the show's redemptive final act (ascension of the victorious women juxtaposed with the cascading streams of precious, liberated water) there is a visual consistency and narrative urgency that never lets up. I literally squirmed in my seat in spots while watching this well-received masterwork (it's been hovering between 8.5 and 9.2 on IMDB since its release). 

Tom Hardy barely speaks in his turn as Max, but that's okay. His actions and expressions say as much as we need to know about him. He's tough, singularly driven, compassionate (in spots), creative, and pure. This guy makes a hell of a blood bag, folks. He's also nigh impossible to kill.

Charlize Theron gives a spell-binding performance as Imperator Furiosa. I forgot she could be this good, and that's a shame, because when given a good vehicle she is the best there is. She plays a feminist with one arm--a rebel with the combination of skill and morality that this war-torn hell needs to lift itself up out of the debris of the apocalypse.

Oh, and then there's that. George Miller killed it here. This landscape, from those creepy crows on stilts to the dunes outside the former green place to Immortan Joe's skull castle, is amazing. I don't know where they get the extras, but these poor folks look so emaciated and ravaged by the end times that it makes the audience uncomfortable. Give Miller credit. He wanted to make a two-hour car chase, and he did that. But he gave it a true heart and soul. It's so much more than a mere "Mad Max" film. There's beauty in the staging as well; take a look at that night scene if you need evidence. I like the authentic '80s corn (that clinking "Fury Road" in the opening credits) in comparison with the modern use of filters and effects. 

Immortan Joe is creepy. That doof warrior is creepy. The fall-out boys are creepy. Rictus Erectus is creepy. Anybody who goes to war with his own rock band is awesome. Hell, the whole damned thing is creepy, and awesome, and delightfully so. 

I'd like to see it again real soon...

This is a solid 'A' film and the best thing I've seen since last year's Interstellar.


The Visit (2015)

So looking forward to this one. Seems like a great example of the uncanny in film...


It Takes A Village...

No matter how many times you go through a manuscript, there is likely a number of errors that will escape your critical eye. Man, I've worked with some great editors over the years, and I'm always stunned when they return a story and there are mistakes that stick out like a vestigial tail when you get a second set of eyes on the work.
Building a book is not a solitary venture, that's for sure. Thank your local copy editor...


Making Progress in a Post-9/11 Surveillance State

Politicians of all persuasions--including Ron Wyden, Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul--compromised on the American Freedom Act, a bill that President Obama signed that is designed to limit the widespread, suspicionless surveillance of American citizens. The legislation leaves in place some NSA provisions for spying (lets hope that the abuse of stipulative labeling is minimal here) on suspected "lone-wolf" terrorists and those that frequently dispose of cheap cellular phones.

But all in all, the legislation draws some pretty clear lines between what the government can collect and warehouse in terms of the telephone conversations of average American citizens. It would now take a court order to access the private telephone conversations that are no longer be curated by the NSA. Instead, these conversations are held by private vendors, creating another barrier that acts as a protection of privacy.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the legislation, they do lament that it could have gone further to protect the civil liberties of American citizens. ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer called this a milestone victory, and noted that this legislation does, in some ways, exonerate Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and patriot.

I've been waiting for this for years, and I think that it signals a significant healing in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and an important restoration of privacy protections to the U.S. people. I don't think that we can allow President Obama to take the credit on this one. It took democrats, republicans, and libertarians alike--along with the sustained and meticulous pressure of groups like the ACLU and EFF--to make this happen. And in what is surely one of the largest personal sacrifices in matters of recent public controversy, we can't overlook the actions of Edward Snowden in exposing these data-collection practices. I hope the American Freedom Act signals the beginning of the creation of a pathway home for him.


A Pair of Interesting Texts...

Matt Kaplan's Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite is a fascinating amalgamation of history, myth, media theory, and popular culture. Kaplan is a science writer with a keen ability to turn a phrase and a nice eye for detail. These chapters tread the line between the academic and the popular effortlessly, and it's one of the more interesting non-fiction pieces I've read in recent years. 

W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America has a similar approach to prose style, but it looks much more deeply into how history and popular culture both inform and remediate each other and our narrative tradition. Poole has a deep knowledge of film and narrative, and his work represents an accessible, insightful tour of twentieth-century America.