Jared & Kerry

Sampling the Box of Chocolates

You Never Know What You Might Hear

Something I Read Today
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
The following is an exerpt from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I've been slowly working my way through what has so far been a stimulating and beautifully crafted bit of reading, finding many passages that I've highlighted for further consideration the next day or maybe ten years from now. This one, however, I could not help but share immediately after the first read, maybe because of my present status as a near graduate a little worn out with our traditional educational model. But I will digress and let the passage speak for itself. You really should read the whole book though; I don't think it hyperboly to say it could be the sort of book to change someone's life.

============================================================

Phaedrus' argument for the abolition of the degree and grading system produced a
nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed,
on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide
open when she said with complete candor, "Of course you can't eliminate the degree
and grading system. After all, that's what we're here for."
She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university
for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone
is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but
rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic
attitude.
The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy
this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career
of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom,
a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge
the grade was supposed to represent.
Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his
first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third
as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his
academic life was not his only life, the
pressure of other obligations or desires would create circumstances where he just
would not be able to get an assignment in.
Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent
lectures which pre sumed he'd completed the assignment might be a little more difficult
to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to
a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be
dropped. Again no penalty.
In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would
make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he
would see he wasn't learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations,
he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no
penalty would be attached.
But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody's part, would
have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. He wasn't there
for a real education in the first place and had no real business there at all. A
large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure
and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned.
The student's biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him
by years of carrot-and-whip grading, a mule mentality which said, "If you don't whip
me, I won't work." He didn't get whipped. He didn't work. And the cart of civilization,
which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along
a little slower without him.
This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the
system," is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view,
but it's not the Church attitude.
The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the sys tem" or "society" or whatever
you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of
abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to
provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.
The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would
get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he'd abandoned, in what used to be called the "school
of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would
now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his
real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that's
what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he'd found his level. But don't
count on it.
In time--six months; five years, perhaps--a change could easily begin to take place.
He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shop-work.
His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college,
would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating
mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would
like to design machinery himself. He'd think he could do a better job. He would try
modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked
because he didn't have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before
he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he'd now
found a brand of theoretical information which he'd have a lot of respect for, namely,
mechanical engineering.
So he would come back to our degreeless and grade-less school, but with a difference.
He'd no longer be a grade-motivated person. He'd be a knowledge-motivated person.
He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He'd
be a free man. He wouldn't need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if
the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape
them up by asking rude questions. He'd be there to learn something, would be paying to
learn something and they'd better come up with it.
Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless,
degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn't stop with
rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his
sphere of interest because he'd see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering
would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these
abstract studies gave him, he would be likely to branch out into other theoretical
areas that weren't directly related to
machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn't
be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by
grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact,
almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.

The Imperfections of Butler Off the Court
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
We're all happy that Butler made it to the final four. Moving on now though, let us critique the process by which tickets were distributed for one of the most historical events in this campus's history.

Plenty of other people are going to provide plenty of testimonials on the EMail system being screwed up and them not getting a link to purchase tickets in time. I'll leave that to them. I got my EMail at 12:26 PM, activation link and all. No, my issue has to do with the thought that was put into accessibility, or lack thereof, in the ticket acquisition process.

The site that tickets could be purchased through was not by any means completely inaccessible. However, it was cumbersome, coded with few accessibility concerns in mind, and required a certain amount of preparation with all forms of modern screen reading software in order to be properly navigated. This included assessment of the web site's general layout across all pages that would be visited in the ticket purchasing process, figuring out where input fields were positioned, and assessment of javascript elements on the page that might change without full page refreshes and thus the screen reader might not have immediately recognized. Not earth-shattering work, but a few minutes' effort to be sure.

I am one of the most competent and efficient users of screen reading technology I know, particularly in the context of a web browser. I navigate Facebook as seemlessly as all my sighted friends despite most blind people having many well-founded accessibility complaints with it. My screen reader spits exactly the venom I want it to, at 525 words per minute no less. If I couldn't have navigated the site in the short time tickets were available, I don't think there're very many blind people on this planet that could have.

I couldn't. The prep needed to get my barings with the screen reader on the ticket site took about two minutes. The tickets were long gone by then. If we set me as the expected standard of competency with access software, (which is putting the bar pretty high), then Butler basically shut potential blind students out from attending the final four. Even if I got the first EMail that was sent out with an activation link, the tickets would have been gone by the time the ticket purchase site could have been sufficiently assessed for use.

I'm not losing sleep over it. I'm booked Saturday and Monday night for gigs already. Even had I gotten a ticket, I had no intent of going to the final four. But Butler will be taking on two more blind students in the fall, or so I hear. Before those students make their first tuition payments, I hope someone tells them that if a campus-wide event develops rapidly, (as this one has), they can expect to have accessibility overlooked in the tustle. Butler is not alone in this failure, as students from plenty of other schools can probably document. But I'd think ensuring a fair and equal opportunity for all Butler students to gain tickets to a once in a lifetime occurrence like your own school playing the final four in its home town would be the "Butler Way". I guess that creed doesn't go quite that far. A simple but well-designed lottery system would have left a lot more people a lot more content with the proceedings, both blind and sighted.

\Imago
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
Spring came with a wakening, came with innocense and joy
Spring came with fascination and desire to deploy
Summer came with restlessness and curiosity
Summer came with longing for the things we could not be
Autumn came with knowledge, came with ego, came with pride
Autumn came with shamefulness for the things we could not hide
Winter came with anger and a bitter taste of fate
Winter came with fear for the things we could not escape
Teach me of the forest, teach me of the trees
Teach me anything, as long as you teach me
Teach me of the ocean, teach me of the seas
Teach me of the breathe and be
Imago

Elaboration of a Sort
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
I'm ranting. If you don't want to read that sort of thing, barely know or care to know me on a personal level, or were expecting Super Bowl commentary in this space, I advise you click away. You've been warned. I almost didn't even post it, 'cause it serves no useful purpose, but I shan't dare ruin one single person's night by dumping all this crap on them, so if I just dump it on the internet I feel like I've told someone and yet haven't brought any one individual down with me. I don't know if that makes sense. I don't care either.
....................
I have been advised, multiple times by multiple people, that I need to be more willing to ask for help. I have this fierce streak of independence about me. I don't know where I got it from, who nurtured it most while I was a kid, or at what point it went from wanting to be independent to being stubborn and cooking my own goose in the process. Maybe the dog did it. Maybe the blind school did it. Maybe my first VI teacher did it. Maybe my parents did it. Maybe all four. Maybe it was just me and some unfortunate firing of the wrong neurons. . Hell if I know.

I've come to find though that independence is not good enough for me. Independence means I do everything myself. That's a lonely, lonely path to travel on. And a hard one at that. Good teamwork accomplishes much more than even the most capable individual. Playing music has taught me this more than any other arena. Four virtuosos that don't develop some level of teamwork as great as four average musicians who're in each other's hearts and minds. "One band, one sound" and all that song and dance.

I guess what I really want is interdependence. I want to be able to give to others as much as they give to me. I want to be a valued player on the team, not dead weight that everyone else has to make up for.

But dead weight I am. You can sugarcoat it, justify it, explain it away with the challenges I have to overcome that not everyone has to deal with. But I don't want excuses. I want results. I want success. I want satisfaction. And I want them to be measured by the same sticks that everyone else is measured against. I don't deserve, nor do I get, a free pass because I have obstacles atypical from the average person's obstacles.

When I was younger, all the adults smoothed out the playing field. I never really realized they were doing it that much, but they did. Probably not even that consciously, to be honest. School is such a structured environment where it's easy to determine what will come next. That means I could more easily plan ahead and predetermine ways to isolate the tasks I had to accomplish into settings and situations I could easily take advantage of. They changed the rules of wrestling for the blind kid. They didn't penalize my team at band competitions when one of their percussionists sat in the corner during the sightreading portions of the affair. How many times did everyone else have to do a poster or draw a map that I was excused from doing, simply because, well, the idea of having me draw a map is just not that feasible.

You want to know what else is not that feasible? Being able to move around as well as my peers. Being able to keep my house in a state I'd feel comfortable presenting to others without spending so much time on it I have no time for anything else. Being able to cook a meal for myself (or maybe even *gasp* someone else) without it turning into a disaster. (Whoops , well, um, I think I can throw another frozen pizza in!)

To illustrate, consider the adventure that is setting up percussion gear for a performance. Make no bones about it, I don't do my share. Not for lack of trying. But when it comes time to put it up, it's just easier for someone with the vision to see all the pieces scattered around the percussion closet to round them up and assemble them in quick time so we can get rehearsing. I end up standing to the side, wondering what to do, seeing things become done the second after I identify them as a way for me to help. Other percussionists have the nerve to say, "Man, I wish I had a ready made excuse to not have to move so much of the gear." Oh, how quickly things change when you aren't expected to do them simply because you can't do them, or at least you can't do them as well as everyone else.

No matter what city I move to, no matter how good its public transit is, I will never, ever, ever be able to get myself and my drums from my house to a venue I am performing at. If I had to get my drums the four blocks from my current residence to campus, I'd have to enlist someone to drive me and my drums. It might as well be downtown. Or in Chicago. Or at the bottom of the sea.

There are a lot of nice, caring people in the world. But we live in a world where it's about getting things done. I find myself a detriment or liability to things getting done more than an asset. The saddest part of all is that always is and always will be what drives people away from me. The band might be the greatest group of guys in the world, but I'm naive to the point of stupidity to not think there's another drummer out there every bit as good as I am that doesn't need someone to come pick him up for every rehearsal and every gig. If I"m not blind, I'd be the laughing stock of the music community if I were the bum musician with no car. Maybe I am, they just don't dare vocalize it because of our politically correct societal tendencies.

This is the real world. Not every kid has to be picked for kickball anymore. And if someone can give as much as I can without incessantly taking like I do, it seems pretty obvious to me why noone wants me to be apart of anything. "Yes," they say, "I'm sure Jared could play this piece of music at my recital if I took the half hour to go over the score with him while he takes notes for later memorization." But that always is followed by, "But there's someone else that can play it just as well, and all I have to do is hand them these sheets of paper. And we'll have to set up all nonvisual cues if Jared's going to play it anyway, which is another additional complication. And will he be able to bring and set up all his own gear by himself?" Are they right? Yes. Should they probably get that more capable person, free of my adaptations, to play on the recital? Yep, I'd have to say if I were them, that's probably what I would do.

I think this is why as I've gotten older my ability to maintain relationships has taken an absolute nosedive. Your significant other, however serious that is, basically is your best friend in life at that point and time. Who wants to be best friends with someone who has a new place he needs driven to as soon as you park the car? Who wants to be best friends with someone for whom you have to run around Marsh for an hour helping him find his groceries? Who wants to be best friends with someone who can't keep their chips straight at poker because they all feel the same, meaning someone has to take on the extra task of keeping them straight for him? Who wants to be best friends with someone who does his damndest to vacuum up the dog hair that accumulates around the house, but both of you know he'll never actually get it completely done and you'll have to finish the job? Who wants to be best friends with someone who doesn't want to go out to the sports pub to watch the game, because there's no radio feed (or even an audibel TV feed most of the time.) Who wants to be best friends with someone when you know you're the one that has to take the journey back home by yourself, because he certainly isn't capable of getting himself home independently and thus permitting the roles to reverse once in a while? These things all seem fairly trivial on their own, but stack them up and then think about all the other people that're out there that don't come with these extra obligations or caveats. Can I blame people for looking elsewhere?

I wish I had something to offer that noone else did. Something that would make all the extra trouble I cause worth putting up with. But an intelligent dog, reading with your hands, and a computer program that talks beyond most people's comprehension is only cool at first. Once the novelty of the things I can do wears off, people start learning all the things I can't do. That list, I'm afraid, ends up being much longer.

If I really were as capable as everyone else, we wouldn't need things like the ADA forcing schools and employers and landlords to put a good face on having a blind student or employee or tennant. But the ADA doesn't apply to social situations. The ADA doesn't give me a way in when video games are the entertainment of the evening. The ADA doesn't apply to someone choosing from a large pool of people for a position plenty qualified people would like to have, be it professionally or personally. Everything I am apart of I have to force my way into, sometimes even make people feel guilty about not letting me in. Very, very rarely does someone say, "You know what, I want you and specifically you to fill this role in this musical endeavor, or this computer project, or this aspect of my personal life." On the rare occasions they do, the stench of pity nauseates me. I feel like the slower kid brother who the accomplished elder brother takes out once in a while with his friends just so their mother won't tell him off for excluding him. When I was a kid I was too inexperienced to tell the difference between people actually valuing my contributions and when the consequences of blatantly leaving me out simply not being worth the fallout they would cause. As I grow older, that fallout becomes less and less as everyone takes on the responsibility of carving out their own niche without the balancing hand of teachers or parents making sure everyone gets a fair shake, even the blind kid.

That is why, for all my supposed musical talent, I have been asked by a fellow student to play on exactly one recital over the course of five years while one of my roommates played two in the last three days. That is why I basically stood in the corner of the kitchen, feeling basically helpless while my roommates cooked up the food we bought. It isn't that me doing these things are impossibilities. But they're not certainties, and if someone else can do it faster, better, cleaner, why introduce all the extra potential for error that I come bundled with?

Dave Matthews said in a song, "When you give, you begin to live." Consider me well on the way to that song's title--I just might die trying. For everything I give, I have to take that much more. I blatantly and frequently depend on so many people for so many very particular things, but who really depends on me? Who is really worse off if I disappear tomorrow? The only answer I have to that question is merely the echos of my own doubt inside my head.

For Lack of a More Suitable Form of Amusement...
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
EVER BEEN GIVEN AN ENGAGEMENT RING?
No.
LONGEST RELATIONSHIP?
Six months
LAST GIFT YOU RECEIVED?
A care package from the parentals
EVER DROPPED A CELL PHONE?
Many times.
WHEN'S THE LAST TIME YOU WORKED OUT?
August
THING(S) YOU SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON?
Starbucks? *shrug*
LAST FOOD YOU ATE?
C Club
FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT THE OPPOSITE SEX?
Their voice, probably.
ONE FAVORITE SONG?
Pat Metheney - "The First Circle"
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Indianapolis.
HIGH SCHOOL YOU ATTENDED:
A combination of the Indiana School for the Blind and East Noble High School with a dabble of North Central High School for good measure
CELL PHONE SERVICE PROVIDER?
AT&T, for now
FAVORITE MALL STORE:
Dunno, the mall isn't really where you'll find me.
LONGEST JOB YOU HAD:
I guess my stint playing at the Jazz Kitchen.
DO YOU OWN A PAIR OF DICE?
Yes
DO YOU PRANK CALL PEOPLE?:
No
LAST WEDDING YOU ATTENDED:
I played a wedding in September. I honestly don't even remember the names of either of the lucky couple
FIRST FRIEND YOU'D CALL IF YOU WON THE LOTTERY:
My dad.
LAST TIME YOU SAW YOUR BEST FRIEND:
Sunday night
FAVORITE FAST FOOD RESTAURANT:
McDonalds? Fast food is fast food, really.
BIGGEST LIE YOU HAVE EVER HEARD:
You can be anything you want to be.
WHERE'S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT WITH FRIENDS??
Keystone Deli
CAN YOU COOK?
In a very inelegant, touch and go sort of way
WHAT CAR DO YOU DRIVE?
Yours?
BEST KISSER:
*shrug*
LAST TIME YOU CRIED?:
Last week
MOST DISLIKED FOODS:
Not much on hard cheeses
THING YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOURSELF:
I always try.
THING YOU DISLIKE MOST ABOUT YOURSELF:
I try too hard.
LONGEST SHIFT YOU HAVE WORKED AT A JOB?:
I programmed for 14 hours straight once
FAVORITE MOVIE?
Meh...
Can you sing?
Passably
LAST CONCERT ATTENDED?
Purely as a spectator? It's been a while, to be truthful. Icarus Ensemble at the Jazz Kitchen, I think...
LAST KISS?
August
LAST MOVIE RENTED:
Don't rent 'em.
ONE THING YOU NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT:
Keys, assuming I want to be able to get back in.
FAVORITE VACATION SPOT:
Turns out not where but who you're with that really matters
LAPTOP OR DESKTOP COMPUTER?:
I have both.
FAVORITE COMEDIAN?
David Cross has made me laugh some lately
DO YOU SMOKE?
Cigarettes are nasty things...
SLEEP WITH OR WITHOUT CLOTHES?
Boxers
WHO SLEEPS WITH YOU EVERY NIGHT?:
Kerry at the foot of the bed is as close as I get to this one.
DO LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS WORK?
I'm thinking no.
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN PULLED OVER BY THE POLICE?
Not being able to drive, they get few opportunities
PANCAKES OR FRENCH TOAST??
Pancakes
DO YOU LIKE COFFEE?:
Yes
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR EGGS?
Not present. Or part of some greater recipe, like cookies or breading on fried chicken
DO YOU BELIEVE IN ASTROLOGY?:
Utter nonsense, it is
LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?:
My dad
LAST PERSON ON YOUR MISSED CALL LIST?:
Jason
WHAT WAS THE LAST TEXT MESSAGE YOU RECIEVED?:
I don't remember, I haven't been able to get texts for almost two months
NUMBER OF PILLOWS?:
Two
PICK A LYRIC, ANY LYRIC:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free
WHAT KIND OF JELLY DO YOU LIKE ON YOUR PB & J?:
Appple
CAN YOU PLAY POOL?:
No
CAN YOU SWIM?
Yes
FAVORITE ICE CREAM?:
Honey and sweet cream
DO YOU LIKE MAPS?
Maps are the sort of thing one needs and uses but never really has a conscious like for
TELL ME A RANDOM FACT ABOUT YOURSELF:
I stayed up at all hours of the night reading in the dark as a kid, and my parents were powerless to stop me.
EVER ATTEND A THEME PARTY?
A few
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SEASON:
Spring. New life.
WHAT TIME DID YOU WAKE UP THIS MORNING?:
6:30
BEST THING ABOUT WINTER?:
Football
LAST TIME A COP GAVE YOU A TICKET?:
Again, few opportunities.
NAME OF YOUR FIRST PET?:
Rudy or Cocoa, depending on exactly what defines "my first pet"
DO YOU THINK PIRATES ARE COOL OR OVERRATED?
Vastly overrated.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING THIS WEEKEND??
Playoffs
BIRTHDATE:
January 12
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?:
Something that won't be forgotten within days of my departure
ARE YOU SMILING?:
No
DO YOU MISS SOMEONE RIGHT NOW?:
No
IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHERE WOULD YOU GO?:
Home
ARE YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL?:
No
DO YOU HAVE A CRUSH?:
Don't we all?
DOES YOUR SCHOOL START IN AUGUST?:
It did, but this August it will not
DID YOU GO ON VACATION LAST MONTH?:
Not really
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ON A CRUISE?:
Yes
DO YOU HAVE A SISTER?:
No
ARE YOU IN LOVE?:
No
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN THE HOSPITAL?:
Yes
DO YOU WISH YOU COULD SEE ANYONE PARTICULAR RIGHT NOW?
No
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO AFTER THIS SURVEY?:
Watch Big Bang Theory and/or Sportcenter

Wildcard Sunday
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
Halfway through, Wildcard Weekend has to be considered a bit underwhelming so far. The Jets got a nice win, but I really expected more from the Eagles. Even though I knew they would be outmatched in the end, they just didn't look like they even belonged in the playoffs. But I might recap those games later. I'm here now to jot down some stuff for Ravens/Patriots and Packers/Cardinals.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Can the Patriots win without Wes Welker? That's the question that's been asked all week. The Patriots did already beat the Ravens once this year, and in that game Welker had a pretty pedestrian five catches. It was his first game back after his injury early in the season, and he didn't factor into the Patriots' offense too terribly much. Julian Edelman has over 200 yards receiving in his limited time replacing Welker in the offense, and there's plenty to indicate that Welker's current renown might be in large part a product of New England's offensive system. That is enough evidence for me to think that the Patriots, for this week at least, can survive without Brady's favorite security blanket.

More important for New England is who they will have on the field. Their run defense is getting healthy towards the end of the season, starting with nose tackle Vince Wilfork's full participation in practice this week. Keeping Ray Rice in check is basically the formula for New England's success in this game, along with not allowing their secondary to be too badly exposed. The lack of quality at the receiver position for the Ravens makes the second task more manageable, so it seems logical to conclude that limiting Rice's effectiveness both as a tailback and catching passes out of the backfield will go a long way to a New England win.

Unless they're playing the Ravens or Colts, I don't care a ton for New England's chances in the playoffs this year. But Baltimore doesn't have the receivers to really attack New England's secondary properly, and New England seems to be getting healthy at the right time in some of the right spots, Welker's knee injury not withstanding. Their run defense and run offense both look better in recent weeks, and the former should really be helped out by the return of Wilfork and others. Ed Reid is the only player in the Baltimore secondary that can rattle Tom Brady from a scheming standpoint, and the Ravens do not emphasize rushing the quarterback as much as they used to. It's mostly predicated on the matchups rather than really liking what New England is doing as a team, but I'll take the Patriots at home, where they play far better.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
I'm starting to not like the look of this game. Not because I see a hole that will be Green Bay's undoing. Rather, it's that I don't see one. Everything almost seems to be falling too well for Green Bay. Arizona's hurt. The Packers have won seven of eight. Woodson's shoulder is fine. Bolden's ankle is not. There's already talk on the internet about Packers/Saints matchups or if Green Bay would rather play Dallas or Minnesota in the NFC Championship game.

And Green Bay's a young team, meaning the chances of it all going to their head are greater. But those are intangibles, hunches, and I'm hoping very much that they are wrong. By every quantifiable measure, Green Bay is a better team than Arizona. They run the ball better, have an overall better group of receivers, have (in my opinion at least) the better quarterback and (I don't think I'll get much argumetn here) have the better defense. They cause all sorts of matchup nightmares for the Arizona secondary even when it's healthy, but with Rahl and Rogers-Cromarty nursing injuries, Jennings and Driver and Finley and everyone in a green jersey should be able to stretch the field at will. Even if Kurt Warner plays well, as he is apt to do in the postseason, can he put up 31, 34, 38 points on the Green Bay defense? Because I think the Packers can score that many on Arizona without too much fuss.

Green Bay seems to be putting all the little pieces of a good team together as the regular season has wound down. For example, Brandon Jackson has emerged as an excellent third down back, excelling in pass protection, pass catching, and the occasional sweep around the end for seven yards on third and five. This has helped Ryan Grant too, as his legs are fresher. The linebacking corps is playing incredibly, and the defensive player of the year lurking in the secondary behind them makes it possible for the front seven to play aggressive, swarming defense.

There just isn't much more spin I can put on it. The NFL is the Any Given Sunday league, tripply so once the new year's calendar goes up. That of course introduces the very real possibility of an upset. But even being at home, even being the higher seed, if Arizona won tomorrow I could only call it that--an upset. And not a trivial one at that.

Two down, two to go. Enjoy!

Wildcard Saturday
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
Wildcard Weekend very easily could make a case for being the third best weekend in sports, trailing only divisional playoff weekend and the first weekend of March Madness. I can't decide if I like Wildcard Weekend or Conference Championship Weekend more. The former has more games, the latter higher stakes. Nonetheless, the playoffs are basically the NFL's present to me every year for my birthday, and I'm as excited about this year's as much as any other. Green Bay is in and looking extremely, extremely dangerous. They I will rant on tomorrow, however, For my 200th listed note on Facebook, we're previewing Wildcard Saturday!

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
The skeptics will call this game ugly football. I shun them as nonbelievers, the intricate art of defensive football lost on them in an era of 50 touchdown seasons and tight ends that are basically extra wide receivers. The final score of this game might be 13-10, and I'm completely content with that. Because both of these teams straight up know how to play defense.

Starting with the Jets, we can see how important a role defense plays in a team's becoming relevant, even today. Last year the Jets had the ageless arm of Brett Favre. That didn't work so well. Now with a foundation of running the ball and most importantly playing defense, the Jets are in the playoffs. The defense is anchored by Darrelle Revis, who has laid his claim over the course of the season to being one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, even the aging Terrell Owens, all of these receivers have lined up against Revis and been thoroughly taken out of the game. This poses huge problems for the Bengals, because they basically have one big play weapon in Chad Ochocinco. If Revis does his lock down routine on #85, the Bengals are going to have a very, very tough time putting points on the board. Their troubles will be compounded by the fact that the Jets are also the best rushing defense in the league, meaning Cincinnati cannot just mindlessly throw a gaggle of running backs at the Jets like they have other teams. Against weak rush defenses, the Bengals' lack of efficiency moving the ball through the air can be hidden by Benson, Johnson, and Scott collaborating for 200 yards rushing or some such ridiculous output. I don't see that happening against the Jets.

What poses to be the Jets undoing is their inability to capitalize on the opportunities their defense makes for them. Mark Sanchez is not Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco from last year. I thought he was a bit premature when he got drafted, and the season has shown that to be correct. Cincinnati cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have six interceptions each on the season. Between the two of them, they might be able to pick off Sanchez six times in this game alone if the Jets get behind early and start throwing the football a lot. The Jets statistically have the best rushing offense in the league, but I would argue that their stats are somewhat padded by having such little confidence in their quarterback.

If this game is close in the fourth quarter, all of a sudden the Jets will seem very capable of winning. I like them to make the big defensive stop or get the long drive in the fourth quarter with their running game to put things away. But if the Jets can't stay close in the first two quarters, things could get ugly in a hurry. The entire gameplan has to be predicated on keeping Mark Sanchez out of situations where he has to make plays, and I just don't think that's a formula for success in the playoffs. I'll take the Bengals, with the presumption that the Jets will turn the ball over a couple times in their own territory but this is the game I am least confident in this weekend. It should be a great, defensive football game.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Arizona can say they were hamming the game after they found out the Vikings had won last week. The Bengals were hamming their game, having been locked into the #3 seed. The Eagles? No, sir. They were supposed to have been playing for something. Not even a home game at that. The Eagles were playing for a home game plus a week off. And they got completely pounded by the Cowboys, who've decided that D stands for defense as much as it does for Dallas. This fact on its own speask volumes to me.

Suspect defense. Excessive reliance on the big play. An inability to protect the quarterback. This all looks very familiar to me. It looks like the Green Bay Packers back in October. Just as Green Bay didn't win games consistently with that formula, neithe rwill the Eagles. I expect the Eagles to blitz more, which may help. But I doubt it. In truth, 24 points is not an insurmountable total for an offense to overcome, especially one that is supposedly as explosive as the Eagles. No, if the Eagles are going to win, it's going to have to score more points. And I just don't see it happening. They might not miss on all of their big plays like they did last week in scoring zero points against the same Dallas defense. But let's say they get two of them for 14 points. Is that enough? Doubtful. And can they move the ball methodically or consistently against Dallas in the second half? More doubtful.

This also gives me the opportunity to address this silly notion of one team being unable to beat another three times in one season. Can a team win the first two and lose the third? Certainly. The Vikings did it to Green Bay in '04. But the truth is that this has happened nineteen times before now. The team that won the first two meetings is 12-7 all time. I haven't looked up the context behind each of those, but with numbers like that, I'm guessing the third time jinx is mostly a hoax. The twelve times a team has beaten a single opponent three times in one year I would expect has been because of a team matching up well against another has continually exploited its matchups correctly. Dallas has played the Eagles twice, and I think the Cowboys matched up real well against them both times. Dallas won in Phillie earlier in the season despite many self-inflicted miscues, and they basically ran the Eagles off the field last Sunday. Phillie feasted on victories over teams like the Giants or Bears, team that cannot stretch the field as much as Dallas. But the Eagle safeties and linebackers cannot stay at home as comfortably against the Cowboys' more wide open offense. When you factor in that Dallas can torch the Eagles front seven with their trio of running backs should the Eagles start playing the pass too heartily, I'm sort of surprised the Cowboys only rung up 24 last week. They must've taken their foot off the gas towards the end. Dallas will hit its trouble when it comes up against a team that will be able to get lots of pressure on Tony Romo, not allowing the receivers to have time to run routes that spread the field out. The Eagles will blitz their pants off tomorrow night to try and accomplish this, but they just don't have the personell to get as aggressive as you need to with Dallas and still not get burned by the delayed draw to Felix Jones or the big run after catch by Miles Austin. Give me the Cowboys, and I don't even know if the score will be all that differen than last Sunday.

I'll be back after the games tomorrow night with similar material for the Sunday games. Enjoy Wildcard Saturday!

The Gaterhing Storm
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
I finished up The Gathering Storm yesterday. I'm happy to report it is everything I wanted it to be. There is a little trepidation when approaching the first work of a series that's not written by its original author. There've been far too many science fiction tragedies spawned from people taking up the mantle who are not fit to do so.

Whether it's a sensitivity to his writing nuances or the quality of the notes Robert Jordan left behind, Brandon Sanderson does a swell job of getting the series headed back towards an end. The quality of the writing got back on track quite a lot with Knife of Dreams, but Jordan wasn't so far removed from his plodding, unwieldy storytelling of books seven through ten. Sanderson writes with an efficient confidence that actually serves the series well as it races towards the final confrontation.

Of course, Brandon Sanderson is not Robert Jordan, and it'd be a disservice and a misrepresentation of both Sanderson's work and jordan's lasting memory to call SAnderson a mere ghostwriter and caretaker for the notes Jordan left behind. The twelfth book of The Wheel of Time is written by someone differen than the first eleven, and nothing will change that. But I think Sanderson did far too well for readers to cast this aside as a well-developed fanfiction project. One bard's voice gave out, and another must take up the tale. Hardly something to make a tale not worth hearing, especially when Sanderson's prose is as musical as it is and his handle on Jordan's characters so believable.

Up next, in an entry from the curve ball department, is The Pact.

NFL Week 16
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
Friday night brought the Titans back to earthin a hurry. I'd thought I'd get a better game from them with San Diego having to have dealt wiht a tough, emotionally charged Bengals team last week. A short week is typically tougher on the traveling team, and traveling across time zones amplifies the rigors of being the road team. It was there for the taking up until kickoff, but at that point the Titans refused. I won't hear any of this nonsense about officiating either. Vince Yung's interception near the San Diego red zone and his fumble near midfield in the second quarter were fatal. If one of those drives gets seven, it's 21-10. If they both do, it's 21-17, even assuming Rivers is able to guide his team to touchdowns when they get the ball anyway. 21-10 and 21-17 are a lot easier to come back from than 21-3, and 21-3 is doubly crucial for Tennessee to avoid since their best offensive weapon is undeniably their running game.

The point of all if this is to give San Diego some credit. They're good. Real good. If they knock the Colts out of the playoffs there'll be a lot of talk about the Chargers being some mysterious, unbeatable obstacle for the Colts. =Commentators will start analyzing Indianapolis's draft choices from the prospective of trying to match up against San Diego, just like they used to talk about Indianapolis's draft choices matching up against New England. It might not be a bad idea at that. But the Chargers aren't just some novelty team that can get to Peyton Manning and then bow out in the next round. They're a team loaded with physical gifts that might be gaining a measure of poise and stability as Phillip Rivers asserts himself as the unquestioned leader of the team. Tennessee had looked better than respectable, even in their lost to Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago, and the Chargers embarrassed them. ON their own field. On Christmas!

As for today:

Seahawks at Packers
Seattle is by no means a great team, but Green Bay needs to bring a hefty measure of intensity to this game anyway. You don't want to leave complicated tie breakers to decide who gets into the playoffs. A win today and Green Bay seals the deal, since Seattle effects interdivisional record and that's what will decide a potential tie breaker against the Giants. In the grand scheme of things the Steelers needed last week's game a lot more than the Packers, but it would have been great to see Green Bay gut it out on the road against a playoff tested team. Hopefully there's no hangover from that tough loss and Green Bay gives the last fans to see a game at Lambeau this season an afternoon to enjoy. It shouldn't be excessively difficult. Seattle is terrible.

Ravens at Steelers
IN a game that pits two recent Green Bay opponents against one another, the Ravens and Steelers meet up for what could very well boil down to being an unofficial playoff game. The Steelers played very well without their heart and soul (Roethlisberger) the last time they played each other, and with Big Ben now ready to go and coming off a 500+ yard passing performance, I'm inclined to think Pittsburhg can pull off the win. Ray Rice is an excellent tailback on account of his ability to also catch passes out of the backfield. He's a dangerous player, and all the more dangerous because of how many different places he gets the football.

The problem for Baltimore is that this game is looking more and more like a 34-31 type of game than a 20-13 type of game. I'm just not sure Baltimore can win a game like that. Their secondary, highlighted by Ed Reid's lackluster season, hasn't been able to stop anybody with a respectable passing offense. Why, then, should I believe they'll keep Wallace, Ward, Holmes, Miller, etc. shackled? Baltimore's defense got older faster than their offense could mature, and I think that'll basically end up the story of their season. Look out for them once they reload in the back half of the defense in 2-10 or 2011, especially with the volatile salary cap ramifications of upcoming seasons. I think that 3-6 skid in the middle of the season will still be their undoing. They still hate that kicker that blew the Vikings game. Maybe more than ever now.

Broncos at Eagles
Everyone sure turned on Denver again real quick after the loss to Oakland last week. And rightfully so, to some extent. Oakland's a less than stellar team. But the difference between bad teams and good teams in the NFL is not that large, and Al Davis's men will always be ready to play the Broncos. So while I can't pardon Denver, I can offer an explanation on their behalf.

The serves to preface the fact that I'm taking them on the road against the current NFC East leaders. The type of short passing attack Kyle orton excels at is a decent point of attack against the Eagles' linebacking corps and secondary. Asante Samuel won't have two picks today, mostly because Orton isn't the type of quarterback that'll give him two easy opportunities for them. That's an often overlooked positive about Orton's game. No, he's not going to score from 75 yards out on the bomb, but so very rarely does he place Denver's defense in undesirable predicaments. Orton, in my view, is a distinct case of the things he does well not being immediately statistically evident, and thus he will always be undervalued. But watch this game today and see Denver win 24-20, just like Kyle Orton tends to do.

Texans at Dolphins
Another elimination game in the AFC playoff picture. If Houston doesn't win this week, one has to start really thinking their troubles in big impact games is starting to get to their heads. Some weeks the Texans just look excellent, even against decent competition like Cincinnati or San Francisco. But once the game matters, such as either of the games against the Colts, they wilt. They wilt just like flowers in a stifling heat. They come out and spot the other team 21 quick points, and by the time they've worked the jitters out it's too late. Miami controls the clock real well with their unique, run-centric offense, which will compound matters if Houston lets that happen this week specifically. Miami has let a few key games go themselves, such as last week against Tennessee or their Monday night game early in the season against Indianapolis, but they've had their struggles at the end of games. Houston has had their struggles at the beginning. And if you play like garbage in the beginning, it usually doesn't matter about the end. Just hold on to the ball, Ricky!

Jaguars at Patriots
One wonders if New England might take their foot off the gas a bit, since San Diego clinched the second seed with their domination of the Titans Friday night. Yours truly thinks having the 3rd is a huge improvement over the 4th seed for two reasons. Firstly, if the two top seeds flounder after their byes, (not unheard of), the 3rd seed gets to host the championship game. This happened to the Colts and Patriots in 2007 when Indianapolis won the Super Bowl. Does Indy beat New England that year in Foxboro? Yeah, I thought not.

The other reason the 4th seed is a decidedly worse spot to be in than the 3rd seed is that 6th seeds tend to be worse than 5th seeds. Who'd have figured, right? But seriously, the 5th seed is often a team that probably should have been a division winner but was simply in the wrong division or had a brutal schedule stretch that undid them. Over in the NFC for instance, Green Bay is a lot closer to Minnesota and New Orleans than the Cowboys and the Giants are. This doesn't appear to be especially true in the AFC this year, but we do know that the 6th seed will probably be one of the very inconsistent teams at 7-7, and so that should be decent insentive to gun for the 3rd seed. All that said, 3rd seed still just means a game at home, on the road after that barring upsets.

I don't know what to say about this game itself. I think Jacksonville is a sham. If they make the playoffs, they'll get a Colts over Broncos style 35-7 exit in the first round from Cincinnati or New England. The Patriots might just dink around with the Jaguars today to see them up close in preparation for a first round beat down. I'm taking New England, but not knowing how the Patriots will approach this game, it's not a very confident pick.

Jets at Colts
The quest for perfection continues, and the Colts have conquered all the legitimate regular season obstacles on the way to that goal. That says nothing of the playoffs, which is the real meat of the undertaking, but if Indy wants to match the 2007 Patriots' 16-0, it should be quite achievable. The Jets could present a little more of a challenge for the Colts defense than initially thought. Mark Sanchez isn't doing his team too many favors as a rookie, but the Jets do have a fantastic running game. If people are worried about the Colts defense being exposed by the Bengals or Chargers in January, this will be a notable benchmark test to observe. The reason the Colts should still be fine is that the Jets defense is founded on a lot of blitz pressure. Against less mentally precise quarterbacks this can be a nightmare. But Manning picks the blitz apart routinely. It just isn't a good matchup for New York's defensive schemes. They'll either be playing into Manning's hands or playing unfamiliar strategies, neither of which are a good thing to have to do against an offense as explosive at the Colts'.

Gonna run the rest down real quicklike, since they really aren't worth watching anyway.

Bills at Falcons: The Falcons are struggling with their second quarterback, but the Bills are down to their third. Neither run defense is very good, so if you like seeing runningbacks steal the show this might be a good game to watch. Atlanta at home.

Chiefs at Bengals: There will probably be some residual emotion hovering over the Bengals in their first home game since Chris Henry's passing. They'll want to do him proud in front of the home fans, and the Chiefs are a great team for doing such an honor.

Raiders at Browns: What might this team have done had they just given the reins to Jeff Garcia in the preseason? They are obviously better than their record, hindered by the continual mistakes of JaMarcus Russell. Derek "5 TD's or 5 INT's" Anderson is starting for Cleveland which creates a certain level of volatility in picking this game, but I really was more impressed with the Raiders than disappointed in the Broncos last week in the few minutes of their game I saw. I'll take the Raiders.

Bucks at Saints: Extra day off, at home, coming off a tough loss, trying to lock up home field for the playoffs. Check this one off for New Orleans and move along.

Panthers at Giants: I don't know if Matt Moore is the answer at the quarterback position in Carolina, but I'll say this. He looks better to me than Jake Delhomme did all season. And New York has been just flaky enough that I could see them squandering away their last gasp at a playoff spot at home against this young upstart. Panthers in the upset.

Rams at Cardinals: Arizona. St. Louis, the season is almost over. Promise. Start thinking about that draft pick.

Lions at 49ers: SF really should get back to running the football. Alex Smith's reemergence is heartwarming, but he isn't the focalpoint of the offense. Find ways to run out of the shotgun formation if that's what it takes, but Frank Gore needs to run the ball more than 16 times to win. Well, I mean, to win against teams other than the Lions. It doesn't matter what you do, you'll probably still beat the Lions.

Cowboys at Redskins: The NFL went to all this trouble to permit flex scheduling, and this is the trash we end up with on Sunday night? A 4-10 Redskins team that just got absolutely embarrassed on national TV six days ago? By a team that probably won't make the playoffs? Pitiful. And this is merely the latest in a season of terrible, terrible flex schedule choices. Taking the Cowboys.

Vikings at Bears: Jay Cutler will throw another four picks. And I'll get to laugh at him. And enjoy it. I believe if the Vikings win they clinch the second NFC seed, so that should be enough motivation for them to take care of business. They need a good ol' 35-10 romp to smooth over the Brett Favre/Brad Childress drama besides.

Happy football! The holiday that comes once a week!

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Jared & Kerry
silverstarhawk
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears, 1849

Merry Christmas, everyone.