Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Some Hither, Others Yon

Wherein your humble narrator continues his obscure ravings, toiling selflessly in the relative anonymity of the modern blogosphere...

Two of the more impressive Internet commentators I've come across -- and come to admire -- are Glenn Greenwald, who publishes a lengthy daily political column for Salon, and Gregg Easterbrook, who writes for ESPN's Page 2 in wide-ranging and desultory form, on multiple myriads of matters. Besides the superfluous extra consonant at the end of their first names, these writers share an admirable girth of output that never fails to entertain and inform.

For instance, in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Easterbrook is likely to switch from a discussion of the Tampa Bay Cover 2 to sheer wonderment at "why ancestors of the Paleo-Indians (would) have walked more than 1,000 miles across the Bering land bridge if they had no way of knowing a bountiful new land was on the other side?" Or suddenly cut from wondering why anyone would still punt to Devin Hester to give us statistics about the types of vehicles that are likely to be involved in California highway accidents, then more football talk before a quick sidebar detour into Christmas music showing up earlier and earlier in the year.

Glenn Greenwald is strictly politics, but his output is even more impressive. He writes a lengthy piece every day -- not Monday through Friday, mind you, but every day of the week, Saturday and Sunday included. You can go check the archive; there's no record of the guy ever taking a day off, anyway.

Greenwald writes about the follies, fallacies and deliberate falsities of the Bush administration and, more importantly, their minions of toadies and loyal sycophants in the corporate media. For instance, he recently took yuppie putz Rich Lowry to task for not only being a chickenhawk cheerleader for eternal war, but for never owning up to his repeated mistakes and falsehoods related to the Iraq war; Lowry is only the latest neocon apologist to take a fact-finding trip to Iraq's Green Zone and then, upon returning home, predictably report on how well the war is going and then brand critics of Bush and his war critics as treasonous freedom haters.

I strongly suggest adding both Greenwald and Easterbrook to your reading rotation, or just bookmark them for future perusal. More highly recommendatory praise I would be loath to offer due to my own selfishly egocentric considerations.
For some unknown but serendipitous reason, I am now on my second book about New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement that eventually became New York. Following Henry Hudson's journey on behalf of the Dutch (he actually was looking for a direct route to Asia), waves of adventurers and settlers made the long trip across the Atlantic.

The Small Island at the Center of the World, The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, by Russell Shorto, makes great use of recently translated records of the fledgling Dutch colony in the years leading up to the English takeover in 1664. From the start, Manhattan was self-consciously diverse, ambitious and tolerant -- displaying a chutzpah totally in keeping with its later rightfully celebrated spunk. Shorto skillfully traces the colonists' demands for self-determination and self-government to the Enlightenment ideas in the air at the time; the inspiration of Descartes, for example, looms large in the development of New Amsterdam figures like Adriaen van der Donck.

The Shorto book is fascinating on just so many levels. There's the backdrop of the religious wars between the British and the Dutch, the trade wars between Spain and everyone else, the wars the American colonists waged against the Native population. Then there is the subplot of Peter Stuyvesant, representing the reactionary forces of Calvinism, trying to keep the unruly inhabitants of the island in line, many of whom, with New Amsterdam's many taverns and illicit activities, were as drunk with beer and alcohol as they were on the heady brew of freedom.

Except for the very southern tip of Manhattan surrounding Fort Amsterdam, the rest of the island was unexplored wilderness, but the colonists got on amazingly well with the native tribes. In addition to lower Manhattan, there were also small Dutch and English settlements in what is now Jersey City, Hoboken, Harlem, Yonkers, Flushing, Hempstead, and parts of Brooklyn.

The Dutch also settled the territory around present-day Albany, some 150 miles up the Hudson River from New Amsterdam. The settlers called the area Beverwijck after the beaver trade with the Indians that drove the economic activity of the colony.

Janny Venema's Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664 is a much tougher read because of its more scholarly, dissertation-like prose. Where Shorto went out of his way to create a compelling narrative that is almost aggressively modern in tone (at one point Shorto invokes the name of Joey Ramone to make a point!), Venema unabashedly piles on the dry facts and statistics, interspersed with journal entries and anecdotes from the period.

I've searched several libraries but these two seemingly are the only books dealing exclusively with New Amsterdam's founding. I suppose the next best bet is a bio of Pete Stuyvesant, who really came to life in the Shorto book as something more than a one-dimensional historical cutout best known for surrendering to the British.
Moving ahead several centuries, the U.S. has managed to piss off three major world powers in the space of less than a week -- and that doesn't even include the ongoing damage being fostered on our behalf in the Middle East. First we upset Turkey with a proclamation calling attention to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians following WWI. Then we further damage relations with Russia with our insistence on developing a Star Wars type missile defense system that likely will never be functional, operational or effective despite billions or even trillions of taxpayer dollars.
Now China is expressing its outrage at President Bush meeting with the Dalai Lama in the White House, saying, in language startlingly similar to that of Turkey following the Armenian affair, that it will have an "extremely serious impact" on relations between the two countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also in Iran warning against further American interference in the region. With both Russia and China getting a large share of their oil supply directly from Iran, the stage is set for additional deterioration of the always precarious balance between war and peace that has existed since the end of the cold war.

Pakistan is another case in point of a potential tinderbox. North Korea is still a totalitarian nightmare state. Rwanda is a continuing black eye to humanity of biblical proportions. These are not the good old days for billions and billions of people.
But how about that crazy National Football League? Now that I've had a few days to dwell on it, I can take some positives away from Dallas getting drubbed by the Boston Belicheats on Sunday. For instance, we did fight back from early 14-0 and 21-10 deficits to take the lead in the 3rd quarter, 24-21. Of course, the Cowboys D did give up 27 more points after that, while we only managed 3 more, but didn't I just say we were stressing positives. Damn me!

Also, and most significantly Tony Romo bounced back from the Buffalo game to have a steady if unspectacular game. The problem wasn't the offense in this game, aside from another slow start where they got absolutely nothing on the first 3 possessions; the problem was never stopping Tom Brady on 3rd down, not getting the ball back for the offense. And the penalties, 12 for 100 after 3 quarters. Some of them were drive-killing daggers. But there I go again with negatives!

Obviously, you have to be impressed with the efficiency of the New England offense, but good offensive teams can move the ball against their defense. It's more a case of defensive schemes that are superior, although obviously there's a wealth of talent on that side of the ball, and now they get Richard Seymour back, in my opinion their best player on either side of the ball -- an absolute beast on the defensive line.
Tony Romo has now started 16 games since replacing Drew Bledsoe last year, the equivalent of one full NFL season. And if fans needed statistical justification or numerical confirmation for what their eyes have shown them, that the franchise has finally found its man after years of searching for the worthy successor to its last great QB, Troy Aikman, well, here it is: Romo has 4,348 yards passing in his first 16 regular season starts. That's second in NFL history -- only 5 fewer than Kurt Warner threw for in 1999, the year he won his first league MVP trophy and led the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl. More importantly, Romo is 11-5 as a starter in those games, with 31 TDs against 19 INTs.

Not a bad omen, if you ask me. And not to blow my own horn -- I don't even have a horn unless you refer to a certain prominent organ as a horn -- but what the hell. I called Romo a potential star on this very blog five full weeks before he was inserted into the lineup to relieve a struggling Bledsoe to start the second half against the Giants in Game 6 last year. You can look it up in the archives. On September 12, 2006, in a post mostly devoted to my ruminations on 9/11/2001, I snuck in a few sports observations near the end. After a season opening loss to the Jags last year, I wrote:

"One more similar underperformance by Bledsoe and I think Bill Parcells will be hard-pressed not to make a QB switch and go with soon-to-be-famous Tony Romo. You heard it here first."

That's the kind of prescient foresight my innumerable readers have come to expect from this space. And who am I to disappoint them?

See why I was worried about the Giants. They're 4-2, in the midst of a 4-game winning streak, and now have upcoming games against two more tomato cans of the NFL: the Dolphins and 49ers. I didn't want them getting on any kind of roll leading up the rematch against the Cowboys on November 11. Incidentally, or maybe not, the Giants will be coming off a bye week heading into that game. Hopefully, the Cowboys will be at full strength by then, with WR Terry Glenn coming back from injury, DT Terry "Tank" Johnson returning from suspension, and CB Anthony Henry fully healed.

NFC teams should also be worried about the Saints based on their performance against the Seattle Seahawks. Now, how much of New Orleans' dominant outing Sunday night is due to the suddenly reeling Hawks is debatable, but it sure looked like the Saints offense of last year, with RB Reggie Bush breaking out with his best game of the year and QB Drew Brees spreading the ball around effectively.

The Seahawks were also badly outcoached, with Saints head man Sean Payton several steps ahead of counterpart Mike Holmgrem all night. After Seattle cut the Saints lead to 28-17 with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter, they chose to go for an onside kick even after New Orleans put their hands team on the field. The Saints predictably recovered at the Seattle 42, and proceeded to run more time off the clock. Then when the Seahawks got the ball back and drove to the Saints 10, they went for the TD on 4th down instead of kicking the FG, cutting the lead to 8, and extending the game. Bad, bad coaching.

San Diego just made a trade to address one of their few weak spots. They get Chris Chambers from Miami for a 2nd round pick next year. Good deal for both teams, I think, because Chambers was not gonna excel in Miami with their QB situation, while the Chargers will use him to stretch the field, making their offense even more dangerous.

Tampa Bay, decimated by injuries to the RB position, acquired Michael Bennett from the Chiefs. Bennett, who had some good years for the Vikings, is still only 29 years old. In 2002, he made the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,296 yards and catching passes for another 351 yards. Fun Wikipedia fact: Bennett once clocked in at an unbelievable 4.13 for the 40-yard dash, one of the fastest times ever recorded, and he has "4.13" tattooed on his calves.

Bad news for Ron Springs, the former NFL player and father of current Redskins CB Shawn Springs: he's lapsed into a coma seven months after undergoing kidney transplant surgery. The organ was donated by Everson Walls, his ex-teammate with the Cowboys during the 1980s. Springs was a tough, slashing runner in the '80s and hopefully he comes back from this latest setback.

Better news for Kevin Everett: the Buffalo Bills TE has been making solid progress since suffering a severe spinal cord injury earlier in the season. He's been able to push himself in a wheelchair as he continues his physical therapy, and can now open and close both hands.

Vikings rookie RB Adrian Peterson, fresh off a 224-yard rampage against the Bears, just might already be the best back in all of football. He made Chicago's gasping and grasping defenders look like extras in a Heisman Trophy promotional highlight reel. The Bears certainly won't be the last team to suffer that indignity, but here's hoping a different fate awaits Peterson's next opponent, your Cowboys of Dallas city, who host the mighty Minnesota Norsemen this coming Sunday.


jimithegreek said...


Wardens World said...

Well, the Packers are gonna hang in there. I'm tellin' ya, the Saints are not dead. Their schedule coming up is weak as tissue paper. Eagles are flawed. Giants do worry me: 3 good running backs, passing game, offensive line solid; still think the D is a little overrated, but after we just gave up 48, maybe this isn't the time to call other teams overrated. But don't forget Tampa Bay. I know Serge won't! Garcia gives them a good chance in every game; the D is getting better every week. Love the NFL!