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A Few Thoughts on the NFL...

I'm the poor sucker that drafted Jordy Nelson mere hours prior to his ACL injury. I've had Jordy on my teams multiple times, and he's taken me to a few fantasy league championships. His injury hurts, not just because he was in great shape and primed to have another fine season, but because it happened in such a useless game. 

I understand why the owners want to keep the preseason in its present state. It's a revenue cow for them. But I think it needs to be shortened, and here's why:

  • Modern NFL athletes stay in shape year round. With the amount of offseason preparation they do together, they don't need four games to round into form.
  • Injuries derail the hopes of some teams before there is even a meaningful snap. Ask the Packers and the Panthers how they feel about these games. 
  • Fans get hosed. I'd love to purchase season tickets to watch my beloved Jaguars, but two of these games are beyond useless for fans to watch. The first and fourth games are glorified auditions for those final few roster spots.
I'm okay with moving to eighteen regular-season games (if collectively bargained by the players union) and shortening the preseason a bit. That would preserve the owners' skin in the game while giving the fans another meaningful game in the season-ticket package.

I'm also okay with keeping the sixteen-game schedule and switching to two games (the better of the two options, though I doubt owners would leave money out there on the table). 

Here's the deal: with the NFL abolishing the blackout rule and the current owners fat on television revenue, it's already hard to get fans into these stadiums. The product is amazing on television, and paying for season tickets when two of the games mean less than nothing is losing its appeal more and more each year. Something has to change, and there has to be a productive meeting place somewhere in the middle...

If these Jaguars can stay healthy and protect The Bank (Everbank Field), this team can get out of the box really well. Blake Bortles has full command of an improved offense. The offensive line looks really good and I expect big things from Hurns and Robinson. The defense will continue to play well in 2015, I think, and we'll get a huge boost when Marks is off of rehab. The first two games (Panthers and Dolphins) are at home, and both seem winnable. 

Tyler Lockett is tearing things up in Seattle. Exciting player, with a lot of upside.

Lamar Miller looks good in Miami, and is catching the ball out of the backfield really well.

Expect big things from Delanie Walker. He and Marcus will develop a fine chemistry this year in Tennessee.

I wonder what Robert Griffin III could do in an offense that better suited him? His rookie year was amazing, until the knee injuries piled up. It seems that Mike Shanahan was the only coach that could really design a winning gameplan for him.

Jeremy Hill will lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage this year.

Davante Adams and Markus Wheaton can have break-out years in 2015.

Sam Bradford is going to put up video game stats in Philadelphia, until the inevitable injury strikes.

Jaguars go 9-7 and remain in the wildcard hunt through December!


The Beauty of Literary Diversity

I've spent the last few months in Westeros.

And Dorne.

And Mereen.

And Valyria, and, and, and...

The Song of Ice and Fire series has been great, and I'm thankful that I've read these books. Doing so has added a dimension of depth in characterization and setting that has only enhanced my appreciation for HBO's fine television series. George R.R. Martin's books provide such nuance into the politics, way of life, and social structure of these environments (I particularly love learning the backstories and legends surrounding these various noble houses), and it's a staggering literary achievement to breathe such vivid life into a fictional world.

That said, I can finally see the end of A Dance with Dragons and I'll be happy to check out for a while. Honestly, I know that Martin is hard at work on The Winds of Winter, and that fans are clamoring for its release, but I have a bit of fatigue. I miss my mainstays. I miss jumping around between King, Lansdale, Barron, Hiaasen, Dorsey, Kellerman, Hill and whatever horror anthologies catch my fancy. I miss my weekly forays into digital short stories and all of the good work being written by up-and-coming authors that can be found at places like Nightmare Magazine and Clarkesworld.

I won't deny that I've ducked out along the way. One has to in order to stay sane. I have two half-finished novels that I've been reading on my nightstand, and I've read a few dozen horror short stories in the last year (I knocked out four from Bentley Little's The Collection just yesterday). I re-read everything I'm teaching in my literature section at the college, and that always feels like getting together with close friends.

But the fact is, I'm a hedge knight pushing my exhausted garron down those last few frozen leagues toward Winterfell and, dang it, I'm determined to get there. I've never read a series (Dark Towar or LOTR included) in which I've felt so compelled to stay in the environment and adopt a linear reading approach. This is a compliment to Martin. His world-building is so thorough that full comprehension kind of demands immersion. 

These are great books and, like the rest of the SFF community, I'll be happy when the next one is released. But I'll be honest--I'm also stoked to have these books behind me so that I can get back out there and drink more fully from the stream of great storytelling! 


The Ultimate Anthology: "The Man in the Woods"

I read this amazing short story last night, and it's been bumping around in my head all morning. Jackson's writing is just so...urgent and compelling. Even when she's holding things back, the prose is luxuriant and evocative. It's a rare writer whose use of adjectives is just so calculated and precise that one stops mid-sentence to marvel at just how that apt term was employed.

This one drips with mythology and menace. It's a slow build to a haunting final scene. And that last line? My, what a way to pay off a story.

While I adore "The Lottery" and all of its wicked charm, I think this is actually a better story. It certainly becomes a highlight of the grand little collection I'm putting together here...

The Ultimate Anthology

"The Man in the Woods" ~ Shirley Jackson
"The Drowned Life" ~ Jeffrey Ford
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" ~ Stephen King
"Voluntary Committal" ~ Joe Hill
"The Pear Shaped Man" ~ George R.R. Martin
"The Small Assassin" ~ Ray Bradbury
"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" ~ Peter S. Beagle


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...