NFL Playoff Saturday

The Pats held off the Ravens in a wonderfully watchable game, 35 – 31. They now await the winner of tomorrow’s Colts – Broncos game.

This one wasn’t decided until there was only 1:39 left in the game, when Flacco was intercepted in the end zone by Duron Harmon. After three kneeldowns the Pats punted, the receiver made a dumb mistake and ran for the sidelines rather than calling for a fair catch, and then Flacco heaved a Hail Mary pass into the end zone from about 60 yards away. It was batted back into the field of play and fell harmlessly to the ground.

The second game has the Panthers facing the Seahawks. It’s underway, and with 9:02 left in the first quarter there’s no score.

Double standard

Every time there’s a horrific attack on innocents by guys who scream “Allahu Akbar” while they’re shooting or bombing we can count on immediate cries from the right wing and even from the more sensible middle of “Where are all the responsible Muslims? Why don’t they condemn these actions right now?”

Leaving aside the fact that Fox News rarely shows or tells its viewers about all the Muslim clerics that do condemn terrorist activities immediately, I’m curious. Where was the demand that millions of Christians go into the streets to protest the murder of Dr. George Tiller by a rabid pro-life activist? Where was the widespread condemnation of all those people who helped Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph hide from the Feds for as long as he did? Where were the street protests when a white supremacist shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin? Why did no one call for mass protests against each one of the several hundred arson, bombing and property crimes that have occurred at abortion providers’ clinics?

Why, for that matter, is the white guy who shot up that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 not called a terrorist, whereas any brown-skinned shooter or bomber automatically is?

As Charlie Pierce frequently says, this is not About Race because nothing ever is About Race.

Charlie Hebdo

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there were 61 members of that tribe killed in 2014. 27 of them were murdered.

Create a 2015 spreadsheet and enter 12 victims into the murder column.

Religious extremism is nothing new, but it surely seems to manifest more often these days. I don’t know how to stop it, either. The zealots don’t appear to listen to their reputed leaders unless the leaders tell them what they want to hear, which is no way to run an organization or a cult or any social program.

What’s the critics’ problem with Billy Joel, anyway?

I admit that I have never paid a great deal of attention to Billy Joel, mostly because I was overseas when his career started in the early 1970s (“Piano Man,” his first hit, was released in 1973) and then when I got back to the States I had gotten out of the habit of listening to music on the radio. So I’m only casually familiar with him. I know some of the hits (is it possible to avoid “New York State of Mind” whenever there’s a sports team from the Big Apple which does well?), but I have never owned a single song or album of his. I’ve gotten the distinct impression that the rock critics aren’t particularly fond of him or his music.

Then I watched and listened to the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song award ceremony PBS televised last Friday night, during which Joel became the sixth winner. Preceding him were Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Carole King. It occurred to me that if he’s considered to be in that kind of company maybe I should listen to more of his music.

I went out the following day with a gift card I happened to have and got “Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume I and II”. This is excellent pop music, written and performed brilliantly.

So what the heck is it that has the critics unhappy with him? While you’re thinking about that, listen to Kevin Spacey play the harmonica and sing the opening two verses of “Piano Man” during that ceremony the other night.

Not quite a disappointment, but . . .

I took a couple of hours and $21 and went to my local cineplex to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies today.

First off, if you want snappy dialogue, go elsewhere. Maybe go see Into the Woods, or Big Eyes, or maybe even Mockingjay. If old Westerns are called shoot-‘em-ups, then this should be called a slice-‘em-up. There’s virtually nothing in the film but battle scenes with orcs, dwarves, elves and men all trying to cut each other’s heads off.

Secondly, there was a huge deus ex machina at the end. Anyone who’s read the book knows that Beorn the skin-changer appears to aid the good guys in the final battle. He does in the movie too, but there’s no explanation of who he is, not even an “Oh look, it’s Beorn!” exclamation from anyone. Suddenly this bear drops from an eagle’s claws and there he is.

Other quibbles: Tauriel, who was not in the original book in the first place, was banished by the Elven-King Thranduil from Mirkwood, but it appears by the end of the movie that he’s rescinded that edict. Since she never appears elsewhere we can imagine she went off to a nunnery in Mirkwood after Kili’s death, but she probably didn’t. Legolas is furious with his father Thranduil because of her banishment and refuses to go home, so Thranduil tells him to go find the Dunedain, particularly some guy among their number who’s called Strider. Thus does Director Jackson indulge in major foreshadowing.

Crow on the menu

I said and thought negative things about the Dallas Cowboys at the beginning of the season, and they have proven me wrong, winning today’s wild-card game against the Detroit Lions.

I do wonder about that pass interference call that was made by the officials at 8:18 of the 4th quarter with the Lions driving and then ruled “no flag” without explaining why they picked it up. That cost the Lions a first down and possibly the game. They had to punt the ball away on 4th and 1 and Dallas scored with 2:24 left in the game.

Regardless, now the Cowboys get to play Green Bay next weekend on “the frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field. It’s a reprise of the 1967 “Ice Bowl”.

Rats! I missed this one

Amidst 39 bowl games there was bound to be one I wish I’d seen, and it turns out to be yesterday’s Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. The winning Houston Cougars were down 31-6 with fourteen minutes left in the game and came back to score 29 points including a two-point conversion with 1:06 left in the game to win 35-34.

Here are the video highlights from ESPN.

Playoffs? Playoffs?

With apologies to Jim Mora, today’s first two NCAA Division 1 football playoffs ever were wildly successful, I thought.

First, in the Rose Bowl, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota led his Oregon Ducks past Florida State and last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston in a rout, 59-20.

In the other playoff game at the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State surprised a lot of people by defeating Alabama 42-35 in a game which became a nail-biter at the end. Leading by two touchdowns with 3:24 left, the Buckeyes gave up a 51-yard pass to let the Crimson Tide get close to the end zone, then gave up a six-yard pass with 1:59 left, which cut their lead to one touchdown. Alabama tried an onside kick but it was recovered by OSU, which promptly gave the ball back after using only 26 seconds of the clock. The game ended with an OSU interception of a ‘Bama Hail Mary pass in the end zone.

Both games were exciting, but in different ways. The Oregon-FSU game had several long runs and pass plays as well as five turnovers by the Seminoles, while the OSU-Alabama game’s outcome was in doubt till the end. So now we wait till Monday, January 12 at 8:30PM ET to see which of today’s winners goes home as Champion of the 2015 NCAA FBS Division football world.