The Hot Corner: That Adrian Peterson Case…

Oh my.  Well, the NFL ruling on Adrian Peterson came down yesterday, and it was about what I expected – a suspension for the rest of the season.  And you knew it was going to come down hard after he basically rebuked the NFL’s hearing on Friday, issuing a statement afterwards pointed at the NFL’s disciplinary inconsistencies.  Odd the timing there, poking the bear after it was already awake and growling at you.

What I found most awful about the ruling, though, wasn’t the decree itself, but the ridiculously paternalistic wording of Goodell in it, in which he basically chided Peterson for his behavior, and went on about his lack of remorse.  Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure Roger Goodell is supposed to be judging Peterson about his remorse or lack thereof.  Who is he to make that call?  If Goodell had a degree in psychology, maybe that’d be fair play, but he doesn’t – he has a degree in economics.  Goodell scolding Peterson over his remorse would be like Peterson offering Ryan Suter tips on his slapshot.  Except that what Goodell is doing is really worse – he’s using his opinion as part of the formula in his ruling.

You see, here’s the thing.  Peterson owes the NFL nothing – his case was a criminal case, which proceeded through normal criminal channels.  He was suspended and stayed quiet for the duration.  He pleaded to a misdemeanor and avoided a felony count as a result.  And the NFL, to its serious discredit, does not have a concrete disciplinary process in existence.  This is really the crux of the matter – punishments are inconsistent and impossible to predict, and generally speaking, trying to fight a punishment only means more punishment.  Goodell is, after all, the judge, jury, executioner, and appeals judge of the NFL.  And so far, there’s no set standard for discipline, no roadmap to follow that tells a player “if I do this, I can expect that to happen to me.”  The NFLPA and Adrian Peterson are right about that – the process is almost completely arbitrary, and I have a hunch that Goodell likes it that way.

Which is why I’m not surprised by this situation.  If you ask me, the NFLPA is taking an opportunity to really push back on Goodell here; they’re using the Peterson case as a highlight.  Remember – Ray Rice only got a 2-week suspension for knocking his wife out until more incriminating evidence came out, at which point the entire process became a colossal clusterfuck for the NFL.  And everything since then has hinged on that – the NFL is willing to demolish Adrian Peterson to help salvage the brand.  And I think the NFLPA realizes that.  I sincerely doubt Adrian Peterson spurned Goodell’s wish for a hearing last Friday on his own; I have no doubt that he had a union rep in his ear, telling him that if he wanted any leverage of his own, he had to buck up against Goodell.  And, in reality, that’s bullshit – Goodell is happy to rain fire on AP and has the leverage to do so, especially since public opinion of AP is kinda low, even here in Minnesota.  It helps that there’s a nice out in his contract for the Vikings after this year, too.  But I think the NFLPA recognizes that this is a golden opportunity – a high profile case that highlights the inconsistencies of the NFL’s process – that they can use as a platform in a long-term game to push back on Goodell.  Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but you can almost feel the NFLPA gearing up for a showdown as players become increasingly frustrated with the process.

Now, I should reiterate here – I in no way defend Adrian Peterson’s actions.  Child abuse is a heinous crime.  However, it is a crime that many people still consider to be standard behavior, an accepted and lauded way to raise a well-mannered child.  The downside is that punishing people doesn’t educate them.  Adrian Peterson has been remarkably tone-deaf during this entire process, which tells me two things – first, that this type of discipline was very firmly ingrained in his upbringing, and second, that no one seems to be teaching him otherwise.  When the news first broke, I remember thinking of what a great PR opportunity it was for the NFL after Ray Rice – they could suspend AP for awhile, during his legal proceedings, and really push the education angle; get AP some classes, teach him, and let him be a spokesperson against child abuse going forward.  But that didn’t happen.

See, here’s where the real problem lies – the NFL likes to think of its players as role models for communities and children.  Let me be the first to say that is a patently absurd idea.  Football players are not role models by default; no one is.  Some are, sure – Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, whatever.  But if the NFL wants to have guys front-and-center in the public arena, maybe they should pick and choose and vet these guys a bit.  Because frankly, many NFL players are not role models – they’re just people, many from impoverished backgrounds, trying to make a living.  A living that they make by playing an incredibly violent, incredibly macho sport.  Just because you strap on a helmet, end up on TV, and can catch a ball doesn’t make you a hero to me.  This isn’t just a football thing, either – it goes for all sports, and really, all walks of life.  Bill Gates is an admirable philanthropist, but it doesn’t make every Microsoft employee a community role model, you know?

The NFL didn’t always push its players like this – I don’t remember this nonsense growing up.  Some guys were role models, yeah – we loved Barry Sanders in Detroit, for example, and we loved him because he was exceptionally talented and exceptionally humble.  But I don’t remember hearing about crap like this all the time; occasionally, a player did something stupid, but there wasn’t an insane spectacle about it, because no one assumed anyone was looking to said random player to be a role model.  That wasn’t how Paul Tagliabue’s NFL ran.  But it is now Roger Goodell’s NFL runs – every player under the microscope, expected to be a paragon of virtue.  And, lo and behold, that’s not working so well.  Turns out, not every NFL player is a paragon of virtue.  Maybe, just maybe, the solution isn’t to punish these men – these men of adrenaline and strength and machismo who play an ultra-violent sport – perhaps it’s to just let them be who they are, and not cast any kind of special light on that at all, and let normalcy reign.

Adrian Peterson is not a role model.  He’s not a criminal, either.  He’s a football player, a running back.  His job is to run faster than other people or plow them over.  He’s a father whose upbringing taught him to give a rude child a whoopin’.  He’s a man who was never taught otherwise.  You can fault him that, sure.  But I think the failure in this situation goes well beyond Adrian Peterson.

The World According to PW: The Right NOT to Vote

i was in college when the whole “Vote or Die” campaign was going on, a movement largely to try and get Bush out of office.  Understandable.  I was sort of interested, sort of galvanized.  It probably got me to pay attention a little more than I might have otherwise, to critically examine my vote.  I should note that 2004 was the first Presidential election I was eligible to vote for.

I ended up not voting in the 2004 election.  I did vote in the 2008 election.  I did not vote in 2012.  I have never voted in a midterm election, outside of specific ballot propositions I felt strongly about (i.e. gay marriage equality).  I do this because I apply critical thought to my vote – I believe the right to vote is just that, a right, and should be treated with a certain amount of respect.  In the end, a democracy is as good as its populace – the better the vote, the better the democracy.  But what are we supposed to do when the democracy begins to erode, and the options provided are insufficient?  That’s become my major concern – the options we’re presented between candidates are shockingly subpar, to the point that people commonly refer to “choosing the lesser evil” when it comes to the vote.  I cannot stand for that.

Voting is an integral part of a democracy; it’s the part where the populace basically implicitly extends permission to those in power, via the vote.  We put out our vote, and by doing so, we claim responsibility – or at least implicit agreement – over the system in place.  By voting, we take part in a process, therefore validating said process.  If we vote, we are party to the results.  And as the political system of America continues to slowly crumble, pebble by pebble, people keep voting.  Not only do people keep voting, but I see more voting propaganda than I’ve ever seen before.  Not vote?  GASP!  What sort of person thinks like that?

Here’s the thing.  I don’t always vote.  I abstain because it is my right to abstain, and I believe it is especially important to abstain when you cannot support the options given.  Continuing with what I said above, I believe that the only way to truly affect change in the modern democracy is to abstain from it.  Think about it.  We can talk all we want about the vote, but if both candidates end up being hyperpartisan buffoons who can’t begin to imagine life on Main Street and are clearly bought by Wall Street, what’s the best solution?  Is it to trot out 30% to vote for one or the other?  Is it to write in some hapless third-party candidate who won’t win?  I think it’s simply to not vote.  Is that unreasonable to you?  To think that situation is possible?  Because Congress has a 15-20% approval rating last time I checked, and the country re-elected more than 90% of their Congressmen.  Isn’t that the definition of insanty – to repeat the same action and expect a different result?  And yet, here we are.

Regardless of how powerful those in power may be, they require the vote.  It’s a critical part of the American democratic process, and it’s a crucial part of the half-illusion that the people have any control over anything.  But voting has largely become a sideshow – it’s almost entirely symbolic, because the game is rigged between powerful candidates that aren’t that different from each other, and while they may speak to Main Street on the campaign trail, the truth is that the lobbyists run the show.  Even the most promising of candidates end up owned by lobbyists in the end, it seems.  So how do we fight that?

We fight it by not voting.  That might sound radical, but go with me here.  Voting is of huge symbolic importance.  Per above, it’s the people’s implicit agreement to the system as it is.  As long as we vote, we take part in and honor the system as it is.  And the system, I think most people would (hopefully) say, is failing.  Sure, it’s not terrible bad, but it’s not working as intended.  The only change?  Stop voting.

Really.  Stop voting.  Or just vote on what’s important to you – like state/region/city proposals that actually will affect your life.  But stop voting for people, for characters on TV.  Stop giving them power.  You want that power back?  Take it back by not voting.  Think about it as an observer.  If the candidates suck and only 15% come out to vote, does it mean anything?  Not really.  But imagine for a moment, that there are two terrible candidates… and everyone wakes up, and no votes end up tallied.  The system is completely predicated on the vote.  The system stops without the vote.  The greatest message we have is our vote.  Take it back.

There’s a reason that voting propaganda is going up and up during this hyperpartisan era of politics.  That reason is because the powerful realize how important the vote is.  They want people voting.  They especially want dumb people voting.  Sorry to anyone offended by that, but let’s face it – how many people actually educate themselves on the issues?  Did you read up on your Congressman and his opponent in the recent midterm election?  Can you give me a detailed synopsis of what both of them stand for, what their primary initiatives would be?  Because if you can’t, you’re an irresponsible voter.

Just because something is a right doesn’t mean it’s an automatic given – these things often have to be earned and worked for.  Rights are ideals, things to honor and strive for.  We have a right to the pursuit of happiness; that doesn’t guarantee happiness.  We have the right to marry; it doesn’t guarantee a husband or wife for everyone.  We have the right to vote; it doesn’t mean everyone should vote.  I support some sort of voter qualification act, be it an online exam or something else readily available and accessible.  The founding fathers never meant for all men to vote; they intended a republic, not a democracy.  I disagree with denying the vote based on things like gender or race, of course; but I do think there should be a qualifying metric – the country would be the better for it.

But this will never come from the top – the people in power like the system as it is.  There’s a class of people who have gotten incredibly rich by manipulating the system, and they continue to do so right now.  And they want everyone voting.  They want people who react to soundbytes and hysteria and don’t take the time to research.  I think about my ex-wife, who had many lovely qualities, but one thing that bugged me to no end – she voted.  Not once in our marriage did we ever have a constructive discussion on politics; she didn’t like to talk about it and she didn’t take time to educate herself on it.  I don’t mind not talking politics with a partner, but I’d hope they’d be knowledgeable about their world.  Anyway, she always voted.  I’d ask her why – “Because my daddy always told me I should.”  That was her reason.  And to her credit, she’d do a minor crash course on the issues prior to an election, but nothing detailed enough to go far past the soundbytes.  To be fair, she did come from a pretty liberal family that tended to vote the party line, and that’s a very similar problem to what I’m describing right now, besides.  Vote because you know what you’re voting for; not because you’re voting the way you always vote, or how your mom voted, or because you heard a soundbyte, or because a celebrity filmed a hip commercial.  Respect your vote – it’s more powerful than you think.

I always think of Dead Poets Society when I think about this.  There’s a scene about conformity that is probably my favorite scene in the movie.  Robin Williams’ character takes his class out to the courtyard, and he tells them all to walk.  He places no restrictions on them, telling them to walk however they feel like; they have the right to walk.  After a bit, he notices Charlie leaning against a pillar, and asks him if he’ll be joining the exercise.  With a grin, Charlie responds – “exercising the right not to walk.”  Williams smiles and nods.  “Thank you, Mr. Dalton.  You just illustrated the point.”  And that’s my point here, in this post.  The right not to vote is just as important as the right to vote.  Knowing when not to vote is just as important as knowing when to vote.  Do not let anyone tell you that you should vote, or that you have to vote; if anything, remind them that they are not required to pick between two uninspiring candidates.  After all, as soon as everyone has to vote, is required to vote, the vote loses its power.  Never let it come to that.

Behind the Screen: World of WarCraft and the Evolution of the MMO

I’m a gamer.  Well, that’s not really true.  I used to be a gamer – there, that’s more accurate.  What gaming I do now tends to be retreads, sequels, or simple nostalgia – outside of indie games on Steam, I haven’t played a “new” franchise in… hell, probably close to eight years.  But I still pay attention to well-established franchises in my history that I remain interested in – the Diablo games, the StarCraft games, Civilization, and so on.  I tend to buy new/redone versions of old games, as well, so for instance, I recently picked up Final Fantasy 7 and 8 on Steam.  But truly new games?  They’re largely beyond me now; I just don’t have the energy or desire to invest in something I have no familiarity in.

That said, I still play two MMORPGs on-and-off.  The first one was my first MMO – Final Fantasy XI.  The second is, of course, World of WarCraft, because what MMO player didn’t play that at some point?  Both games are enjoyable on some level, frustrating on others, and totally not worth my time in yet others.  But I still poke them on occasion.  The primary reason I do this is because, as games, they’ve changed greatly.  In fact, neither game is what it was when it was initially released.  They’re almost completely different games, other than the basic skeleton.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last three years, as both WoW and FFXI have undergone serious changes to support a smaller playerbase and a lack of incoming newbies.  But last week, in preparation for the next WoW expansion, Warlords of Draenor, WoW’s lead designer sat down for an enlightening interview.

The short of it is this – there are no “next-gen” MMOs.  When Blizzard canceled their rumored next-gen MMO, the almost completely unknown entity “Project Titan,” I considered it the death knell for the genre.  Much of what Hazzikostas says supports my theory, which is basically that the world of gaming is no longer primed for such games.  This is the world of Candy Crush success, where the most popular games aren’t games at all, but apps.  The idea of sitting down for an 8-hour gaming marathon is almost stigma again, something that’s frowned upon when people look up from their smartphones.

I’ve always thought that the MMO genre was born out of necessity, filling a void that a specific set of gamers was craving.  You see, the Super Nintendo era (’91-96) and the Playstation era (’97-’01) were basically golden eras of RPGs.  I won’t even begin to list the lovely games that came out during that time, 40-80 hour monoliths of epic story and patience.  But as the Playstation 2 era began in 2002, those games faded away – the simple, enjoyable, menu-based games that focused on story to offset boring interfaces.  Games became flashier, and most RPGs turned into action-RPGs.  Some Japanese RPGs still came over, but the frequency was much lower, and an entire group of gamers accustomed to long, arduous games was suddenly adrift.

Enter the MMO.  To keep up with advancing technology and instill a greater sense of… wonder, I guess… to the boring old RPG, companies put their games online, bringing tons upon tons of “heroes” into single worlds.  Those gamers, starved for the intensity of old-school RPGs, came.  Some of them came from the early predecessors, like Ultima Online and EverQuest, as well, of course.  Two games always stood out for me – FFXI and WoW.  Two reasons here; first, because both had major franchises to draw from, and second, they were (and still are) very different games, whereas many MMOs after WoW simply tried to imitate its formula.

Anyway.  The thing about playing a user-defined character for potentially years is that you sort of bond with the character.  You don’t want to give it up.  It becomes a deterrent from moving onto another MMO.  You put in all that work, raiding and gaining achievements and making unique weapons, whatever… and it makes the newer game much less enticing.  Eventually, Square-Enix managed to do this to some degree with FFXIV, but that is quite an anomaly.  Blizzard has chosen the other path, the one I expected all along – they gave up.  They realize their WoW players are most likely going to continue to play WoW regardless, and that to create a brand new MMO would only siphon WoW’s playerbase; they’d end up with two games to maintain that are basically sharing a playerbase, instead of two major games with distinct player bases.  It’s not cost-effective, not for development or for maintenance.  So instead, per the article above, Blizzard did the most logical thing available – they doubled down on WoW.

I’m not a big WoW fan anymore, but I can really appreciate Hazzikostas’ vision for the game.  He says it himself – the next-gen MMO is the current-gen MMO.  Warlords of Draenor is basically an entirely different game, an updated game, from vanilla WoW.  He carries the point further, pointing out that the average player of WoW when it launched was most likely a young adult or student of some sort, with lots of time on their hands; he’s realistic enough to realize that those players still make up most of the player base – as a result, he points out that the average current player of WoW is probably an adult, most likely with a career, possibly with a spouse or children.  That person simply would not be able to play original WoW anymore.  And that, to me, is exactly why there are no new MMOs.

The result of this – both in WoW and in FFXI and probably others – is that MMOs, which were once incredible grinds, have become incredibly player-friendly.  Shortcuts have been introduced.  Grinds reduced.  Mini-games with little-to-no bearing on the main story, but are fun and require only small bits of time, have been introduced for impulse gaming.  This has mixed results; raids in WoW are far more merciful, but the loss of the detailed talent tree is unfortunate.  People wax nostalgic for the “hardcore days,” and bemoan players who weren’t present for them.  But really, no one wants those.  We look back with rose-colored glasses, remembering days of misbegotten youth when we had time to burn and the only thing to do at 1am on a Wednesday night was spend a couple hours dying repeatedly to a raid boss or camping a notorious world-spawn, not worried about being late to class or sleep-deprived the next day.  We all liked those days.  But the fact is, we aren’t those people anymore.  That core gamer group is adults now, people with bedtimes and responsibilities.  It’s a change, and I’m rather impressed by Blizzard’s open awareness of it.

So Warlords of Draenor comes, and Hazzikostas has the right idea in mind.  WarCraft will continue to roll on, because why wouldn’t it?  More expansions will come, perhaps smaller in scope and continually adapting to the player base as it grows.  Those young 30-somethings playing now may have toddlers and young children; in five years they’ll have pre-teens, and their time usage will change again.  But again, Blizzard is conscious of that.

The gaming horizon still lacks for quality RPGs – the MMO remains the last bastion of the epic RPG, unless you enjoy action-RPGs, which have always been a mixed bag for me.  And like them or not, MMOs have the range to tell stories that even the best Japanese RPGs could not come close to (well, a select handful of the best still sit on top, but still).  But accessibility was always the problem – the storylines culminated in major events that required a skilled group.  Seeing those restrictions relaxed, and seeing these games open their maws wider, allowing for greater and greater degrees of casual players, well, it’s a good thing.  Because wax nostalgic or not about the “old hardcore days,” people and demographics change, and the only way an interactive genre survives is to keep up with its player base.  And that’s exactly what WoW is doing, so far with success.  I can applaud that, even if I’m part of that group who reads the above interview, looks at Warlords of Draenor, and gives a little shrug, having felt life moved on, saying “Nah, it’s just not for me anymore.”

The Hot Corner: Are the Lions for Real? And a bit on V-Mart and AP…

I promised it last week – we’re looking at the Detroit Lions today, and I’m damn happy to be doing it after their win over Miami.

Football’s a strange, fickle thing.  All sports are, really.  You go into the season, every team down on paper looking great or not great, and conclusions are drawn.  Then a funny thing happens – they actually start playing games.  Sometimes those prognostications turn out… sometimes they don’t.

The Lions have looked good on paper for awhile.  Every year for at least four years has been a year of hope for a beleaguered fanbase hungry for… anything.  Success came in 2012 with a playoff appearance, albeit a mercilessly short one.  But that was a young team, still only 4 years removed from the NFL’s only 0-16 season; the loss was expected, a growing pain before better things came along.  But those better things didn’t come along.  Instead, the team became aggressive and undisciplined, perfectly reflecting a coach who (I believe) preached those things behind closed doors.  Jim Schwartz wasn’t a bad coach; he was the absolute right coach for the 0-16 Lions.  But he was not the guy to take them to the playoff promised land.

I didn’t like the Caldwell hire.  I still don’t.  I think Caldwell is fatally bland in his style in a league that rewards a certain amount of moxie.  Caldwell, however, brought in two very worthy up-and-comers to be his coordinators, and they’ve done wonders.  Teryl Austin, the defensive coordinator, in particular, should receive praise upon adulation upon praise this offseason if the Lions continue to do so well.  Joe Lombardi, the offensive coordinator… well, the jury’s still out there.  The offense has been up-and-down, and the players (especially Stafford) still look like they’re adapting to the scheme change.  And, of course, the Lions haven’t fielded a fully healthy offense since Week 1 or 2.

That last part, in particular, gives me an insane amount of hope.  You see, I’ve thrown caution to the wind – I’m drinking the Honolulu Blue & Silver Kool-Aid.  I’m gulping it this year.  Because the Lions look exactly like a Super Bowl winner right now.  Go back through the last several winners – none of them were flawless midseason teams (sorry Denver).  They all looked good, though – but they all needed to take one more step, to find their groove.  This Lions team is 7-2 and has yet to find their groove.  Sure, they’re spot-on defensively, but they have an offense capable of putting up big points that has underperformed so far.  No one’s looking at them yet and realizing that if the offense starts to really click, this team becomes an immediate juggernaut.  Not only that, but this team looks mentally poised for it – they’re all hungry; they’re tired of being doormats, tired of the losing.  They’re excited.  They’re amped.  They don’t seem to think they deserve to win; but they do expect to win.  This is a huge mental leap, and it’s where this season’s luck is going to play huge – they know they can win in the last two minutes when they have a chance to.  Sure, they’ve gotten lucky – but guess what?  All good teams, all Super Bowl winners, snake a few lucky victories in the season – and they learn from them, get an edge from them.

The next three games are big for the Lions.  The Cardinals in Arizona, then the Patriots in Foxboro, then the Bears for Thanksgiving on a short week.  The Arizona game in particular looms large – it’s the meeting of the NFC’s surprise #1 and #2 teams; the winner of that game makes a statement and takes firm hold on the conference 1-seed.  Playing the Brady-led Patriots at Foxboro, well, that’s always a measuring stick of a game.  And Thanksgiving… well, it’s our annual Super Bowl Substitute.  It’s a big game for the fans.  If the Lions can come out of that stretch 2-1 – for a season line of 9-3 – they’ll be golden, with their final four games (not necessarily in this order) against Tampa Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, and Green Bay.  The hope is that the Week 17 matchup in Lambeau will be meaningless for playoff seeding (and that we’ll win anyway).

But make no mistake – this looks like an ascendant Lions team, their flaws aside.  And what flaws I’m seeing, besides the logic-defying kicking problems, seem limited to adjusting to a new scheme and getting everyone healthy.  These early season injuries, though?  The Lions are winning in spite of them, and better now than later – they could field an entirely healthy team in January, and if they do, and if that scheme has settled in and Prater is hitting FGs… well, this team could go all the way.  I’ve never said that about the Lions and felt completely confident about it, but I am now – this is a team that looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and I’m all in.

So, Victor Martinez re-signed with the Tigers.  Who knew?  I wasn’t expecting that.  I guess he must like the team; he is one of the big clubhouse leaders, to be sure.  And the money’s big.  But still, I feel like other teams pursuing him might be better long-term World Series contenders than the Tigers are.  But if the Tigers can add a couple more guys and solidify things, they can still make a good run in 2015.  But we said that about 2014, too, and that didn’t happen.  Still, the re-addition of V-Mart is a huge boost to the lineup and Cabrera in particular, as even if Victor’s numbers return to reality, he remains a potent .300/.300 switch hitter who’ll ensure Miggy sees good pitches.

I have to think they’ll go get Torii Hunter back now.  Even at $5M for one year, it just makes sense if they’re going to make another hard push in 2015.  The outfield prospects aren’t ready yet, and the market isn’t great.  Pick up Torii for another year and give Collins and Moya both a chance to prove themselves or platoon with him.

So this Adrian Peterson seems to be coming to a finale.  What a frustrating thing.  I mean, as a Lions fan, not seeing AP in the Vikings’ backfield is great.  But from a sheer reality perspective, I’m still stunned at what a mess this became.  Part of it was the timing with the Ray Rice incident, and part of it is Minnesotan sensibilities, too, but still.  I feel bad for the guy; he switched his kid and ended up in a mess.  He didn’t know better; it seemed clear that it was how he was raised, and what was expected from a father.  I thought it was a great opportunity for education and tolerance, but things swung the other way.  I just can’t help but think “hey, how is he supposed to know better if no one ever taught him”?  It’s a lot like the Michael Vick situation, in that Vick was only doing what he thought was perfectly normal and acceptable.  Outside of his community, it wasn’t; but he had no way of knowing that, just as AP had no way of knowing.  I doubt Chris Spielman or Leslie Frazier was sitting AP down for parenting lessons.  But maybe they should have been, and I wish the NFL and the Vikings had decided to do that as their course of action.

Now we have an awkward waiting period, as the league is going to decide on AP’s fate now that he pled out to a misdemeanor charge.  That’s pretty bogus, especially since they’re pushing it back to after this weekend.  Why not now?  I’ll tell you why – because I don’t think the Vikings want to face the PR of having to choose to play him or not.  The players and fans will welcome him back, I think, but the organization seems done with him.  They have a pretty nice built-in low cap hit if they cut him this offseason; even without this child abuse scandal, it seemed a very possible course of action, especially after drafting McKinnon.  Now?  It seems all but assured.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wylfs are whispering in Goodell’s ear right now, telling him to draw this out, to make sure they don’t have to face that choice.  They’d rather him rot on the commissioner’s exempt list rather than risk him playing and rushing his way back into the hearts of fans, then facing the PR flak of cutting him.  As it stands, if he doesn’t play again this year, I don’t think there’ll be much reaction to cutting him in the offseason.  He’ll just be looked at as another Randy Moss-ish figure in Minnesota sports history; immensely talented, fun to watch, beloved, but misunderstood and departed too soon.

The Pen Is Mightier: Gone Girl and Pop-Lit

I read a lot, and when inspired (or when I can manufacture it), I write.  The Pen Is Mightier is my segment to talk about what I’m reading, what I’m writing, why I’m writing, or all of those things and more.  Whatever works.

I’m going to start out with Gone Girl, which I read a couple weeks ago.  I was intrigued by the idea of it; I’ll admit, I got turned onto it via the movie release.  But I always try to expose myself to source material before an adaptation, so I got a copy of Gone Girl and zipped through it.

Gone Girl is a fascinating book in some ways.  I find popular literature to always be especially intriguing – why is this particular story catching fire at this particular time?  I felt the same way about Fifty Shades of Grey.  Grey isn’t a very good book.  Besides the many ways in which it violates a lot of things the kink community takes pretty seriously (like consent and negotiation), it’s just a poorly written story, period.  It’s bad writing.  It reads like fan-fiction, and of course, it actually is.  Twilight fan-fiction, at that… which brings us to another piece of major pop-lit from recent history.  Why do these things catch fire when they do?

I will say this – Gone Girl is better than the other two books mentioned above.  I actually thoroughly enjoyed it as a casual read.  It read fast and crisply, with good pacing and a certain intensity.  I like to say that I read books for three reasons – for self-education as a writer (i.e. reading to see a certain style), because I’m interested in the subject matter, or because I’m being compelled by the narrative.  Good pop-lit should compel the reader, and Gone Girl does that in spades.  Even when you get past the twist (if it’s really a twist?) at the middle and near the end, you still want to see how things get resolved.  That is one thing the book does – it keeps you off-balance.  Experienced readers learn to anticipate twists and turns; Gone Girl embraces that by leaving plenty to happen after the twists, leaving the reader motivated.  It’s good technique.

That said, Gone Girl is patently ridiculous in a most delightful way.  It is, without doubt, one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever read.  The narrative is just stunning, but not because of twists – because of sheer depravity and psychopathy.  This was what made it such a good read to me, personally; I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  That said, Flynn seemed to write herself into corners at times.  Maybe it was because I recognized from the start that first-person tone can be an “unreliable/biased narrator.”  I never trusted Nick or Amy fully; as a result, anything either of them revealed, either in narration or flashback, was always up for debate.  Truths are objective, but perception almost never is, after all.  And kudos to Flynn for that – she nails the unreliable narrator, and her use of first-person narration was quite delightful.

Nick and Amy, in particular, are exceedingly well-crafted characters.  As a writer myself, I can’t help but be impressed with how – in the first part – she captures the nuances of unhappiness that can creep into a strained marriage.  Perhaps the book stuck with me in part because I’ve been there; I know what it is to move to a shitty town for marriage, and what it is to be trapped there while life falls apart, and how that corrodes a young marriage irreversibly.  That definitely resonated.  And I was hugely impressed with how Flynn captured that in a way that made neither character a villain; as in so many relationships gone wrong, they just stopped communicating and understanding each other, and everything just spins out of control from that central dysfunction.  It’s good stuff.  Nick comes off as an aw-shucks homeboy, but he’s kind of an asshole, too.  Amy, well, it’s hard to get deep into Amy without dredging up spoilers; that said, her issues are likewise impressively laid out, and Flynn delves both characters’ backgrounds well enough that you can completely understand how Nick and Amy end up being who they are.

I’m very curious to see the movie.  First-person narration in a book is great, but rarely translates into a movie.  The book rolls along nicely in three parts; I can’t see the movie moving at the same pace.  What I do see, though, is truly inspired casting.  Without even thinking about it, I found it natural to imagine Ben Affleck as Nick – it just fits.  Similarly, Rosamund Pike as Amy is perfection.  And Neil Patrick Harris as Desi is just.. truly inspired.  So while I generally don’t go nuts for a movie based on a book, in this case, I’m very intrigued on a creative level to see how they make Gone Girl work on film.

Currently reading:  Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)

Most recently finished: The Night Eternal (del Toro / Hogan)

The World According to PW: Prepare for the Inevitable Snowpocalypses!

So, The World According to PW is my soapbox rants.  I’ll try to stay on point, try to be relevant, but in the end, it’s about whatever’s bugging me in a given week.  I was going to go on about voting today, about certain political views I have, but I’l save that for later now, because something else struck my nerve today.

I popped onto weather.com before leaving work, to check what the overnight low would be, and see what the weekend forecast was for Minneapolis, as I plan to be out and about some this weekend.  I was greeted by this image:

polarinvasion

And this set me off.  Well, it prompted this post.  Because, if you haven’t noticed, over the past… oh, three or so years, it seems like, every minor weather fluctuation is AN EMERGENCY.  It’s not so much the blatant headline grabs, like the “snowpocalypses” of my subject line, but the minor language use of sites like weather.com.

Look at the language in play here – the polar air invasion.  That’s aggressive language, meant to invoke fear and trepidation.  The polar air is invading.  It’s hostile!  It’s coming for your children!  But… not really.  The polar air in question is simply being pushed by a typhoon in the Pacific (all typhoons are in the Pacific, by the way).  It’s a fairly normal weather event, although the typhoon in question – Nuri – is definitely a big one.  But still, it’s just a typhoon rolling towards Alaska, which is in turn giving that north Canadian air a firm kick southward.  It’s basic cause-and-effect.

What it is not, however, is some sort of arctic invasion.  In fact, the only thing that this is going to result in is some November snow (which is a normal thing) and some cold temps – highs in the 20s.  None of which are particularly abnormal for Minnesota in November.  Sure, they’re a slap in the face right now, since we’re sitting happy in the 40s and low 50s, but we’ve had some luck with a pretty mild fall this year.

This leads me to my greater observation about weather reporting.  Climate change aside, and I can get into that another time, the way weather is reported has changed.  In this media-driven society we live in now, soundbytes and headlines get hits and ratings; responsible estimates do not.  I’ve been aware of this trend especially over the last three years, when I started bicycling to work, and have noticed the language used for weather reporting growing more and more aggressive and threatening.  There’s no such thing as a simple storm anymore; everything is advertised as some kind of potential catastrophe.  Watch the national weather forecasts this winter, especially, and see what I mean.  Any storm that has the potential to drop 3″ or more of snow will be heralded as some kind of seasonal doom.

I suppose all we can do, then, as consumers of media, is choose responsible avenues to get our news from.  In Minnesota, we have the benefit of Paul Douglas, who does excellent work for the Star-Tribune, tempering national or regional forecasts with his own scientific background and his long-term anecdotal knowledge from living in the region for decades.  It’s refreshing to see someone take a look at the big forecasts and spin them more responsibly.  Sometimes it’s sobering, but it’s almost always good reading, and reasonably accurate.  When the nation is bracing for the next Snowpocalypse, I’m glad I can read someone who’ll look at the same stuff and say, “Yeah, maybe, but probably not.  Relax.”  Weather can be a terrifying thing, no doubt – the raw power of nature is absolutely sublime… but we shouldn’t be manipulated by irresponsible reporting to fear it.  So sit back, when the snow comes.  Get a hot cup of tea or coffee, or warm up some cider or brandy.  Sit down and watch it fall, and enjoy whatever aspects of winter you do.  Sit on a balcony and listen to the crisp crunching of it falling.  But enjoy it.  Because we can’t control it, and while I advocate weather awareness, I don’t think we should be worried about any polar invasions.

Behind The Screen: Broadchurch, Serial, and the State of the Mystery

I came into some free time lately, and finally got around to a show I’ve been itching to watch for almost a year – Broadchurch.  As a Doctor Who fan, I absolutely adore David Tennant; he’s “my” Doctor, and always will be.  I enjoy seeing him in other things, such as the Hamlet he did with Patrick Stewart.  I was very curious to see this Broadchurch show, then, not only because of Tennant’s lead, but because of what I’d heard from it – about a year ago, when I heard of Broadchurch, I’d finished the first two seasons of the Killing and read the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, so I was pretty much full-on into the foreign mystery/crime formula.

I should preface by saying that I detest the way the American television/movie media sells crime and mystery right now.  The Law & Order model, popularized and disseminated across television over years has absolutely wrecked the format, focusing on the episodic crime and following the case over all else.  This is nothing new; it was done this way as long as I can remember, looking back further to more tame shows like Matlock or Murder, She Wrote (thanks Grandma!).  But Law & Order, and the subsequent brand off-shoots (SVU, etc), and the subsequent formula off-shoots (NCIS, etc) ended up dominating TV in an entirely different way, and let’s face it – it’s gotten tired.

The Europeans have a different model in play, one that David Fincher aimed at with his legendary cult classic Twin Peaks, which I’ll admit I haven’t watched (it’s… aged).  That said, I know the general outline of it, how it moves, because I know that the Killing basically co-opted the formula.  In Twin Peaks, they asked who killed Laura Palmer; in the Killing, it was Rosie Larsen.  In either case, the show wasn’t really a crime show.  Yes, a crime occurred, and was the central narrative focus, but the show itself was… a dramatic mystery?  A drama primarily, because the point of the shows was to explore how the crime affected the living; a mystery still because the whodunnit aspect played large.  That’s my fascination, something that European crime dramas do incredibly – how the crime, how the event, affects the living.

Broadchurch might be the pinnacle of this.  I still find the first two seasons of the Killing to be absolutely incredible, but even the Killing saved a major reveal for the end, even if it was incredibly, admirably, and just… ah, so heartbreaking.  So terrible.  We’re big on that; the reveal.  We feel it coming sometimes, brace for it, bask in it.  Broadchurch took a different road altogether; while the season explores the murder of a boy in a small coastal town and ravages the lives of everyone to do so, the reveal of who did it is done by the end of the seventh episode.  I had figured it out by then, personally (I won’t get into how, as it might be spoiler-y), so I was left wondering – what’s going to be the final episode’s payoff?  I came into the final episode completely open, not sure what to expect.

I was blown away.  The final episode of Broadchurch is one of the most powerful single episodes of television I’ve ever watched.  Going in knowing, the writers are masterful in letting the knowledge ripple through town – the agony of the answer worse than the horrible question.  The murder itself was devastating; the reveal of the murderer shattering.  You almost wish it went unsolved instead, that this community be spared tragedy upon tragedy.  I’ll admit; I’m a creative person, a sentimentalist, and I try to let myself feel what the writers intend.  I will weep if something moves me so strongly.  Broadchurch’s final episode did something nothing else ever has – it held me on edge all episode long, choked up and teetering between a gasping sob or the ability to lean back and swallow it.  Incredible.

This model, how a crime ripples through a society being the primary focus of a mystery, is nothing new, and it’s being well mapped out now.  Other British shows that are available via Netflix – Luther, The Fall, Happy Valley, etc – use that formula.  And while I find it more entertaining and more realistic than the Law & Order vehicle, it’s still a formula, and it’s still going to end up tired eventually.  And that said, it’s a far more exhausting formula.  I was listening to a podcast this past week, I think it was one of the Grantland Pop Culture podcasts with Andy Greenwald, and Greenwald basically asked the obvious question – how long can audiences endure watching people suffer such intense misery?  It’s a question worth asking, and it’s something to consider as some of these recent landmark mysteries move into second seasons soon – both Broadchurch and True Detective have second seasons on the way this coming year.  How will they fare?

Following that theme, NPR and This American Life have brought us Serial, which I should say is quite amazing.  It’s not really a mystery per se; it’s investigative reporting on a case from 1999, told in roughly 45-minute long weekly episodes.  Sarah Koenig, the journalist helming this, delves deep into the case, exploring it and talking to everyone involved, recording the conversations and sharing them along with her observations.  It’s hard to tell where Serial will go; it’s true-crime – as Mike Pesca at Slate pointed out in his podcast, it may not have the resolution the audience seeks, or a resolution at all.

But I don’t think that’s the point of Serial.  As good as it is, I think Serial is better an exploration of the American justice system, how it works in a real-world way, stripped away from the Law & Order formula above.  There’s no glorification of any aspect of Serial; it’s a questionable story coated with grime from the start, and Koenig is eager to get her hands dirty with it, to her credit.  She dives in and begins going through the facts, pointing out sharply when things don’t match up well, and questioning obvious things like why the cops accepted this shaky story over that one, or why Adnan’s (the prosecuted fellow) defense attorney decided not to pursue certain avenues of evidence or circumstance.  It’s sort of sobering, after growing up on the fantastic police procedural shows, really.  I think it’s a very healthy dose of reality.

That said, Serial still exploits the formula above – the episodes are somewhat topical, following this path or that, as they lead to whatever finale Koenig has planned, if it’s planned at all yet.  She admitted on Pesca’s podcast herself that she wasn’t sure how it would end yet, and they were still putting episodes together, so she wasn’t even sure how many episodes it would end up being.  This is cool by me; I hope for many, because it’s a very engaging story and well-told by Koenig.  But that sort of fluidity is somewhat startling, too, and leans to Pesca’s concerns that the resolution may not be satisfying.

After all, from what I can tell from Serial so far, the idea of proving Adnan’s innocence seems far-fetched – he’s been in prison for 15 years now and has been denied appeals.  Any evidence Koenig may turn up may not be reliable or even exist anymore.  But this just leans to my assertion above – that Serial is largely just an exploration, both of the justice system and of crime in general; what motivates people to do what they do, not just the major players, but the minor players, too.  And she does make the point early on – if you’re called to questioning about something ancillary to your life, how well will you remember the specific events of a specific day from two or three weeks ago?  She teases it in the first episode – do you remember what you ate, when you got wherever you went, if you did anything out-of-the-ordinary, if so when and for how long, etc.  We focus on routine and can say, “yeah, I probably grocery shopped on Friday” – but you may not remember for sure, let alone for how long, or when, or what you bought.  But those kinds of details are what a case can hinge on, as Serial demonstrates.

In a way, I think these recent developments have made the potential of the mystery darker and more ominous – Matlock’s gray suits and Jessica’s flower garden are no more, replaced now with explorations of open emotional wounds as we see communities deal with the ramifications of a crime.  I like it; I don’t think mysteries should be about the dead, but about the living, after all.  What it really is isn’t an exploration of death, then, but of grief – and grief is something we tend to eschew.  Look at Broadchurch again; the entire show is about grief, and how people deal with grief.  Some people close up; some people act out; almost nobody acts normal.  It’s a raw, frightening thing to watch, touching on a sort of fear and emotion that a knife-wielding maniac can’t come close to.  But Greenwald’s point remains – as good as these shows are, how much misery, how much grief, can we stand to watch before we tire of it?