Elster's World

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sc-Fi With A Side Order Of Life's Lessons - Galactica's Final Flight

So I'm not sure what exactly it says about me that the only thing that can drag me out of my quasi-retirement from blogging is not the depressing US economy, the depressing state of the housing market, the depressing state of Israeli politics of the depressing state of anything else in the world - rather the series finale of one of my favorite tv shows of all time - Battlestar Galactica.

The truth is I've started and abandoned at least half a dozen posts since I last wrote some such nonsense about the Jets - and I've written a dozen more in my head that I never even started typing. I simply don't have the juice to write these days; real life seems to have changed me to the point where I lack the creativity I once had - or at least thought I had.

But enough about these depressing things. Tonight I just want to blog about my thoughts on BSG. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FINALE - OR ARE CONTEMPLATING WATCHING THIS SERIES ONE DAY (WHICH I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE ANYONE READING THIS TO DO), PLEASE STOP READING THIS POST.

When they first announced a re-imagining of the BSG series I was mildly excited and skeptical. I loved the original, campy BSG - right down to the silly Daggit (fake dog). I certainly had no thoughts of watching it. Any any such thoughts were out the window when they announced Starbuck was going to be a chick. Starbuck? A chick? How is that going to work?

But a friend got me season one on DVD and told me to give the pilot a whirl. He said I'd be hooked and I'd thank him forever. Well I watched the pilot. I got hooked. And I'll be thanking him forever.

In its first season I blogged about how the remake was better than the original. But praise like that simply doesn't do this series justice. The show morphed after the first season - from a wonderful drama that just happened to take place in space - to a true morality play - tackling all the tough issues - drugs (remember the pilots taking speed in 33 Minutes to keep awake) to questions of abortion, terrorism and the morality of suicide bombing to in its end, the existence of god and the idea of a master plan.

While the creators of the show have no insights into the nature of god - they do raise some excellent points. The show ends with a warning and a lesson - man (and Cylon) is, by nature a destructive animal. When left to his own devices, man will eventually be destructive. This is the pattern of the world of Galactica, from Kobol to the colonies, from Earth One and New Caprica - eventually man finds a way to destroy himself. The show ends with a positive message - that, perhaps this time (Earth Two) things will be different - that maybe, just maybe, the pattern of destruction, even by accident, won't repeat.

Look at our history - world wars, Holy Roman Empires, death camps - is the show so far off on its message? Is man simply a destructive machine destined to destroy everything he creates?

Further - Is BSG's god - the god who builds and walks away - only to move the pieces in the right direction towards the next rebuild - the real version of god? Blaspheme of course - but I have met many a smart person who held this belief. All pretty heady stuff for a sci-fi clanker.

The funny thing about me is I usually prefer shows that don't require me to think. While I'm no dummy, I like my entertainment to be an escape from using my brain. But BSG (and Lost) are highly worthy exceptions. Never well received by the masses, but highly critically acclaimed, BSG raises all the hard questions - and often even sares to answer them. I have a tremendous respect for that.

Yes, just a tv show. But so much more.

My last plea - to anyone who might read this. Go get your hands on the pilot and watch it. If it grabs you like it did me (and many other people who got sucked in based on my recommendation), you'll thank me for it later.

But be prepared to learn a thing or two along the way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Since It's Been So Long...

- I heard WFAN's Evan and what's his name (Jaren?) show this afternoon and they had on JJ Pooh-tz right after his presser. He certainly sounds like the real deal - comfortable with himself, comfortable with being the set-up guy for "Freddie", comfortable with the bright lights on New York and comfortable with a rivalry with the hated Phillies. Pooh-tz admitted he's never been a part of a rivalry before (not much to be rivals about in Seattle), but he can probably get into it.

- Speaking of Seattle, I think the Jets will win on Sunday - only because the drama that sets up for the following week against Miami - Pennington and Parcels vs. Favre and the Mangenius for first place in the East and a playoff spot. Way too juicy to not happen.

I hope.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm A Believer

Call me a cynical Jet fan. Call me a victim of too many Get Your Hopes Up Only To Have Them Crushed By The Same Old Jets. But despite the four victories in a row after a bad loss to the Raiders and despite the big (if not flawed) win against the Pats in New England last week, I still was not ready to believe the 2008 New York Jets were a very good football team.

I expected a tough, hard fought game against the Titans in Tennessee today, a game the Jets were going to lose something like 17-13, and my thought process was "Geez I hope Favre doesn't get too beat up on Sunday". In other words, I didn't believe.

But after the 34-13 pasting of the Titans, I admit I'm becoming a true believer. I believe that Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were the right offseason moves - not only stabilizing the offensive line but slowly forming it into one of the better lines in the league (slowly as in - this is an ongoing process). I believe the trade for Kris Jenkins has turned the Jets into one of the better run stuffing teams in the league. I believe that Thomas Jones is actually a good, tough runner when he has stronger blockers like Tony Richardson leading the way. I even believe that Ty Law has helped solidify the secondary. I continue to believe that Revis is a true shutdown corner.

All in all, I am starting to really believe in the New York Jets. The team has been up to the challenge in their two biggest games (back to back no less) in the season - a credit to both their own unity as well as their coaching staff. Brett Favre, after many early season struggles, is looking more comfortable in the system and, in turn, is making alot more smart throws than dumb throws.

The Jets ripped off 192 yards on the ground against one of the best rushing defenses in the league, owning the clock in the first half but making me very nervous with the number of points they let slip away in the first half (the drive that failed at the 2.5 yard line and the Leon Washington fumble to be exact). Despite the 10-3 lead, I was not feeling particularly good if only because the Jets played too well to only be up 7 at the half. Like Simms said, when 2 good teams play each other, usually they each will go on a run at some point in the game. But the Titans had some really bad miscues and the Jets jumped all over them and that was all she wrote. Even Mangini managed a post game smile as he walked over to Coach Fisher. Nice bounce back game for Coles. And it would be a shame to not mention the inspired play of Eric Barton since Harris went down with the groin.

Now the coach must keep the troops focused for a game against Denver next week - good passing teams exploit the Jets worst quality, their pass defense.

But I think he will - since I've become a believer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Super Bowl Thursday

Really, there is no other way to describe it. Tomorrow night's tilt against the Patriots in the dreaded land of Foxboro, is the Jets regular season Super Bowl. Sure, beating the undefeated Titans will be a nice feather in the cap. Sure finishing the season 2-0 against the Bills and hated Dolphins will be awesome. But beating the Patriots on Thursday is actually a so-called "must win" for the jets for several reasons:

- It will plant them solely in first place in the East - a pretty swell place to be with 10 down as 6 to go. The Jets will then be in the driver's seat to get first place in the East and secure a possible bye and home playoff game (yes I know I'm getting way ahead of myself but hey the jets are 6-3 for pete's sakes). It will put destiny pretty much in their own hands in terms of winning their games will take care of their playoff positioning.

- It will make next week's probably loss to the Titans less painful. If the Jets lose next week and sit at 7-4, big whoop. But suddenly adrift at 6-5? Not so good. The Titans first loss is going to come against a bad team that "shocks" the Titans, not a possible playoff matchup. So if the Jets lose this week, they are staring at a 2 game losing streak in my book. (Hopefully Joe will be showing me these last two sentences when the Jets are jumping around the field 2 Sundays from now and point out what an idiot I am.)

- It's a tremendous statement game. It says - "we can walk into Foxboro, stare down the team that pretty much owns us, and win that game with no fear." A loss has just the opposite effect - it shows the Jets aren't ready for the big time - will struggle to earn a wild card spot, and will get crushed on the road in the first round by Pittsburgh or Indy.

- The Pats are ripe for a loss. No Brady. No Adalius Thomas. No running game to speak of. The Jets don't really have any significant injuries and are firing on all cylinders. If the Jets can't win it with this kind of mismatch, what kind of chance will they have next season when the pats have re-tooled?

- If the Jets can run with Thomas Jones, Favre can exploit their bad secondary. The Jets are running now as well as they have in a long time. The Pats have a great front 7 (though diminished by injuriy to Thomas), but if the Jets line can create room for Jones, that will open things up for the passing game.

So there it is - a Super Bowl type setting in the regular season.

I will not be making a prediction on the game.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rough Times Ahead

Heard on CNBC this morning:

"What's the difference between a Hedge Fund manager and a pigeon? A pigeon can still make a deposit on a Ferrari."

Haha. Well, it is kind of funny. Obviously in a sad way. The economy is slumping badly, led by the destruction of the banking industry and its satellites. All the predictable results follow. The stock market tanks, there's no money to be had - the banks have tightened up their lending (finally). The whole slump feeds on itself causing a correction, recession and/or depression. It remains to be seen which of the three happens, though I think even the most bullish will admit we are past correction and into recession.

The scary part to me? The real estate bubble has yet to burst. Prices for offices building are still way too high. I'm afraid of what happens to the overall market when this last ingredient is added to the mix.

The truth is, the last ten years have led people to believe that there are only good times, that real estate and hedges and hedge funds are cash machines with arrows that only go north. The lack of fiscal responsiblity is amazing. Those who made this mess are now paying a very terrible price.

Sadly, they have taken us all with them.


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In other sad news, I can't help but have a bad feeling about Sunday's game. Sure the Raiders are terrible, but isn't this exactly the type of game the Jets would always lose? The absolute sure thing? I think the Jets will win in the Black Hole but I fear it will be ugly and very close.

In happier news:

The Jets signed Calvin Pace to be a pass rushing specialist after he racked up a whopping 6 1/2 QB kills last season. Of course, the Jets didn't get a pass rushing specialist. Instead they got an all-around linebacker who plays the run and pass very well. He has made up for David Harris' slow start and has allowed guys like Bryan Thomas to focus more on pressuring the Quarterback. Has he had more of an impact that Kris Jenkins? Probably not - Jenkins has made the Jets defensive line relevant again, something I didn't think was possible.

On the whole, the Jets defensive acquisitions this year have been very good. Pace and Jenkins have helped shore up the front seven (the Jets have been very good against the run this season) and Dwight Lowery won the starting cornerback job as a rookie. He has been uneven, but more good than bad. The jury is still out on Vernon Golston.

On the offensive side of the ball, the new arrivals rank like this. Favre, Keller, Faneca/Woody.......the Franks and Richardson. As John Madden would say, Favre is Favre. Keller has fit in nicely and needs more touches. The addition of Faneca was supposed to turn the Jets into an elite offensive line. Since they cannot run the ball, the are not elite - though they do pass block well. Richardson has been a non-factor in helping the running game and Franks is...I'm not sure what Franks is.

Overall, I'm still not sure what about this Jets team. I doubt the Jets are too sure about their team. Still the team is 3-2 going into games at Oakland, home against KC, at Buffalo then home for St. Louis. Thus, they have a legitimate chance at being 7-2 or 6-3 going into their second joust with New England (yes, I know that I'm getting ahead of myself). So you can't really complan about that.

Anyway - the key to surviving bad times in economic sense and in sports sense is to be well prepared, then strap on your helmet and take the worst of it as best you can.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Slooooow Friday

Since I'm sitting here anyway reading about sports online, I might as well write about sports online (I'm sure Joe would disagree):

Mets Post-Mortem

All in all, another horrifically disappointing season. There were some ups (most notably the All Star Break run, Johan Santana living up to expectations, Delgado's return to performance enhancing...I mean his second half surge, Mike Pelfrey's breakout, Ryan Church's April, Jerry Manuel's run and the return of Duaner Sanchez - ok the last one was a joke) but there were mostly downs (including David Wright's quiet 124 RBI, the bullpen, John Maine's injuries, Pedro, the bullpen, Alou's quad, the bullpen, Willie's first half, the bullpen, Carlos Delgado's first half and the bullpen - oh and let's not forget Billy Wagner's 120 blown saves and the meltdown of his arm down the stretch..again).

At the end of the day, a team that's been built to WIN NOW has managed to not make the playoffs two straight years. The blame - well there's plenty of blame to go around. Omar Minaya did an awful job of constructing the bullpen (did the Mets really need two lefty specialists?) and for all the accumulation of "power arms", Aaron Heilman was the only guy who could throw harder than 90 miles an hour for the majority of the season. Minaya was silly to rely on Alou and Pedro - both famously falling apart in their twilight years (and yes Joe - I will still defend the Pedro signing for all eternity so feel free NOT to bring it up below) and was bailed out only because Nick evans and The Murph managed to be effective players in left - neither of their natural positions. Willie was just terrible this season until he was infamously canned at 2:00 am in California - another embarrassment for the front office. David Wright had a statistically great season but every Met fan will tell you he astoundingly morphed into A-Rod this year. Carlos Beltran was way too quiet for way too much of the season after making the "team to beat" statement in March (no Carlos, we haven't forgotten) and Oliver Perez was way too inconsistent.

(Speaking of which, when the evil Scot Boras starts shopping him around for 6 years at 14 million per, wouldn't you rather take C.C. Sabbathia at 7 years and 18 million per? At least he's totally money And then you have a rotation of Santana, Sabbathia, Pelfrey, Maine and Parnell or Neise - hey it aint my money. But my point is, there's no way the Mets should overpay for Perez)

Minaya got an extension and hopefully the Mets will work out something with Manuel. Minaya must must must fix the bullpen, upgrade left, hope the Murph can play second base, find a number 5 starter on the cheap, find a closer and upgrade the bullpen (notice a theme here?).

So that's the Mets.

Jets Quarterly Report

The Jets went into the season with new acquisitions and high hopes. After the first four games they are pretty much exactly where everyone thought they would be: 2-2. How are they getting there?

QB - Favre is an upgrade over Pennington - to me that's not opinion, it's a fact. Obviously he comes with risk that Chad never did (terrible picks, crazy decisions) but he gives the offense a new dimension - he buys himself time to make throws and he can get the ball down field...HARD. he had an awful game against the Chargers (but the team did too) and he was brilliant against the cards. He's somewhere in between those 2 games - and should get better as he clicks more with his receivers. Grade B+ (on the way up)

RB - Um, well let's see. Thomas Jones has been awful (I admit, i did not see that coming) and Leon Washington has been underused (though he's not an every down back) but he's too small to be a good blocker. Tony Richardson has not made an impact. Offensive line hasn't helped the cause. Grade D+

Receivers/Tight Ends - Getting better as the season goes on. Coles and Cotchery are a good tandem and have shown the ability to stretch the field with a stronger armed QB. Keller is good and Chasney Stuckey is showing why he was the original name of Joe's fantasy football team (until his season ending injury). Chris Baker has been quiet so far this season. Not a big fan of Bubba Franks. A

Line - In a few words - not bad pass protecting but terrible running. Have not seen any signs that Alan Faneca is making the players around him better. One of the writers I read said Brick has been better this season and I'll take his word for it. If the line can improve significantly from where it is right now, the jets are a good offensive team. C

Defensive Line - Much better against the run. Actually pressuring the QB. Jenkins has been good, Ellis has been good and I've even heard the name "Coleman" this season. The backups aren't making too much of an impact. B+

Linebackers - So in retrospect, wouldn't an inside of Harris and Vilma have been an upgrade over Harris/Barton? Is Barton the best late hitter in football? Is it possible that he's lost 5 steps? In other words, the inside LB's haven't been very good. Calvin Pace has really impressed me this season against the pass AND run and it's nice to see that Bryan Thomas can play well every other year. Really, that's nice. Vernon Gholston's 7 sacks have been remarkable. B

Secondary - There's Rhodes and Reevis, half a Lowery and pray for rain. Is the suspension of Eric Smith really a bad thing for the Jets? Eric Smith is such a made up name anyway - it sounds like the name you'd put on a hotel register if you were there for an affair. By the way, I'm officially adding Reevis to the Shut Down Corner roster and I'm also begging Rhodes to start making more fantasy plays for me. C

The Jets defense has for the last few years made nice strides after the bye week. if that continues, and the offensive line gets better, i believe the Jets are a 10-6 playoff team.

Knicks and Rangers

New personnel (Rangers), new system (Knicks) so everything remains to be seen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Faith

Chana at The Curious Jew has quite a blog post up about her struggles as a Jew . It's very long post, and I'm certainly not doing it any favors by putting its essence into one line, but what I took of it is basically her struggle to be an individual in a religion that requires a large amount of conformity to basic ideals. There is very little wriggle room for you to have beliefs outside of those ideals. There's much more to it, but that's the main theme that ELSTER took away. Feel free to read it and form your own theme.

I have thought alot about the struggle of Individual vs. Jew. That's not exactly what I'm going to write about here. In short though, I've heard Rabbonim speak about the fact that there is room for individuality in Judaism and in fact, one should use their individual talents (assuming you have any) to serve God. It's a nice sentiment and if you don't study on it too hard, I guess it's an answer to the issue.

But Chana's post thrust a larger issue into my head. In my comment response, I noted that it is my belief that most Jews struggle with issues of faith at some point or another in their lives. Many simply aren't intellectually honest enough to deal with it. They simply shove it to that dark place inside themselves where you put all those things you don't like dwelling on and let it simmer there until death.

Do I believe in God? You bet. But why? And to what extent? What does it even mean to believe in God? These are much harder questions to answer.

I was brought up in an observant home where no one ever questioned Judaism's principles or beliefs. They existed, we followed them, end of story. As I get older, I find nothing in life is as black and white as my parents taught me. Maybe it's better for things to be black and white, it's certainly a lot simpler to not have to study the other side, but I digress.

Joe and I have touched on this issue in our emails and live discussions. If an infant dies, or a young child, or a married man or woman universally held to be a wonderful human being, it's certainly "God's Will". But how does God's will fit into the teaching of a fair and just god? How can it ever be considered FAIR for a 3 week old baby to die of SIDS? How is it just? We comfort a mourner that her 7 year old son's death is part of Hashems' plan which we simply do not understand. And while I believe this to be the case (the idea that the world is simply a random continuum of events is too scary for me to even contemplate), I feel it's cold comfort at best.

So many questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. Did dinosaurs exist? I say they did. Many Rabbonim will argue they did not. Does anyone really believe their bones are here as a grand test? Am I failing as a proper Jew because I believe something that is not well accepted in the Jewish faith?

I have failings. Many. As I grow older, I am more willing to see the other side of things. less rigid. If homosexuality is something that is inherent in you, something literally put inside some people BY God, how can we simply say to them suck it up? How can that be a fair test for anyone?

I once met a very, very smart person who went off the derech. Her reasons were a combination of a bad chareidi high school experience as well as the fact that there were simply too many questions that she couldn't answer. Stock answers simply do not work for everyone. Neither does the maxim that "this is the way it is so don't question it". For intellectuals and others who like to use their brains, sometimes this doesn't fly. Not everyone will be willing to make the Leap of Faith.

We are taught that the rabbonim exist on another plane - that their teachings are almost literally the word of Hashem and we cannot think of them as mere mortals like the rest of us. We cannot ascribe to them the same failings that we have. They do not suffer from temptation, lust, greed or more simply, lack of knowledge. But when Rabbonim over extend their Gedarim, their fences, to the point of insanity - when they ban Jewish music concerts and wholesale internet bans, when they protect child molesters and the like, when they use their influence to keep families together that would actually be better off apart, how can I look at them as those of a higher order? Have I failed as a Jew?

I remember this past Erev Pesach i drove to Brooklyn to catch a Shiva Shacharis. My plan was to go early so I would have plenty of time to burn chometz and prepare for Pesach. A Garmin screwup put me on the wrong side of Brooklyn and as I raced to get to davening on time, I got stuck behind not one, but 2 garbage trucks making pickups on streets too narrow to pass or back up. I remember thinking to myself, exasperated, "I try to do a mitzvah, I try to do the right thing, and THIS is my reward?"

What's my absolute defining proof that God exists? The world around us, it's natural beauty but the variety of beauty in its different parts. The almost perfect machine that is the human body - the intelligence in humans. The animals. These things cannot have been created by pure chance. Even if you hold from the Big bang, the big bang had to have a switch thrower behind it.

Maybe you think this is a silly reason for belief. That's ok with me. I have believed in sillier things for sillier reasons. For example, I believed that firing Willie Randolph would suddenly make the bullpen better and look how that turned out.

Ani maamin B'emunah Sh'leima - these are the words we say. Our belief is to be a perfect one. Whole in every way without even the hint of doubt. We are asked as Jews to give ourselves totally and completely over to something we cannot see, cannot hear or feel. we are asked as Jews to conform to these ideas. we are encouraged to not question them in schools. Is there any wonder why people who have had more ....radical shall we say strains of religion foisted upon them their whole lives suddenly turn off the derech? Are we to be surprised by this?

Ok - I feel as though I have rambled on enough about this issue - especially since my audience has dwindled down to Jewboy. so let me wrap it up with the reason I've written this all out. Yomim Noraim are almost upon us. next week is Rosh Hashana, followed by Yom Kippur. In recent years I find it increasingly difficult to daven on these days with the same intensity and fear i had when I was younger. It's not like I have less to ask for or I did less sinning this year. Rather, I feel I have opened the door in my head to too many new ideas - that I've lost some of my spark that I used to have. I thought that maybe spelling it all out would help get me closer to where i need to be.

So thanks for keeping the faith.