Monday, March 23, 2015

Sam Reads: Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann

"Sam Reads" will be a series of reflections on books I've recently read. For my own record and memory, I often jot down any impressions or interesting things from a book or my experience reading it. As I'm spending time writing these already and there was no good reason I could think of not to document them here to share with any that might care to read. This will not be a plot outline, contains no spoilers, and will not ruin the book in any way if one so chooses to read it in the future, which I would recommend to all.

This novel by the 1929 Nobel Prize winner came to me free of charge. I acquired it, along with many others, from my school library's end of year discard pile. It sat on my bookshelf for the better part of a year before it caught my eye one day last month while I was looking for something to read. I picked it from the piles initially because I enjoyed The Magic Mountain and had been wanting to read more Mann. I have always been intrigued by the legend of Faust as well, so I was excited to read a recent German master's adaptation of the folk story into a more modern era.

The subject of the book is a young virtuoso named Adrian Leverkühn. The narrator is a childhood friend who relates the story from the first person. He is writing during the Second World War about events that took place just before, during WWI, and in the following interwar period. At the time of the telling, our narrator, Serenus Zeitblom is an old man looking on as Germany ecstatically marches down the path to its destruction. He watches as his sons run off to join the army powerless to utter any protest. He knows these atrocities against humanity will have to be paid for at some point.

Doctor Faustus is a novel jammed pack with ideas. The narrator does not just tell us what he and the other characters were doing, but what they were talking about and thinking, as well. Mann frequently uses lectures or discussions between characters to introduce theories or thoughts that appear unrelated to the plot, but advance and support the themes and motifs of the story. There is a lot of analysis of music and musical theory that goes way over my head; though I did like the idea of music being a blend of the mathematical, analytical side of the brain and the creative, inspired, poetic side, and thus the most human of arts. A song does require some logical order or pattern, but is cold and empty without the individual pouring their soul into its creation.

Then there was the discussion by the conservative gentlemen's table of Sorel's theory of mankind naturally tending toward a totalitarian government, a popular belief during the defeatist years between the wars, and a chilling Hitler harbinger during the democracy "experiment," as they dub it, in Deutschland. I disagree with the position, but what these reactionary scholars predicted about the future of democracy is unfortunately prophetic. In the future democracies, parliaments or representative bodies will not be sufficient to keep the country running, and "in its stead the masses would have in the future to be provided with mythical fictions, devised like primitive battle-cries, to release and activate political energies," so Mann paraphrases Sorel. No matter what your political views are, you can probably see some truth in there somewhere.

There are literally dozens of such digressions, from whether art should strive to be popular with the common folk and whether popularity was an artistic merit or demerit, to what Christian doctrine applied politically as a socialist society would look like, but we need to talk a little bit about our anti-hero, Maestro Adrian. His deal with the devil is not a handshake and brimstone or Robert Johnson at the crossroads. His pact is sealed when he intentionally contracts syphilis from a prostitute, his haetera esmerelda, or poisonous butterfly. He was already a prodigy at this point, but his desire to be a great composer overpowers all else. He sacrifices his long term health in order to push the bounds of his creativity to the very brink of madness, though this is not just a physical phenomenon, as it becomes clear later that he intended to invoke the demonic with this act.

It is tempting to think that, because this is a more modern and less fantastic adaptation of the Faustian story, it is all a delusion created by his progressively maddening state. And yet, there are many aspects of the story that this theory would not explain. The one thing striking to me is that Leverkühn receives only artistic insight and the power to complete it out of the bargain. Wealth, love, even widespread fame and recognition during his time are all denied to him. At one point, he talks about how true genius and a genuine breakthrough out of the contemporary conventions requires a knowledge and embracing on not just the light, but the dark side too.

So, I'm getting close to end of book, and I realize that I've skipped a page. I tried to flip back, but when I look closer, the pages were bound together in a single sheet. Several pages near the end of the book were never cut apart and are stuck together in this way. That can only mean that no one has ever read this far into the book and noticed. Then I look at the title page. It was printed in 1975. I check the old catalog card in the back, and it had never been checked out! The book was was in brand new condition. It had been sitting on shelf neglected for 40 years waiting for me. I thought this was a little sad. Wasn't there one student that was into history and wanted to read a novel written during WWII from an anti-Nazi but German perspective? Or one music student that loved classical and wanted to know more about composition or musical theory? Not one that became interested in the Faust story, or read one of Mann's other books and wanted to continue? Doctor Faustus would have satisfied all of them. Granted this book was difficult even for me, an former English major in college and avid reader today, but no one had ever even tried. On the other hand, the book eventually found it's way to me instead of sitting on the shelf another 40 years, in pristine condition, and was finally read. Who knows, it might be lent away and read again, so the book may yet receive a better second life.

To me, the main character's deal with the devil parallels the seduction of the good German people by the man with the tiny mustache. The poisonous butterfly is a perfect metaphor for both. Adrian, and the German people, were looking only at the beautiful side of the deal and what may come of it while willfully ignoring the negative aspects lurking just below and making it all possible. Leverkühn's obsession with creating transcendent music mirrors the 3rd Reich's fanatical quest to fulfill Germany's right and destiny to be the next European and world superpower. But when your glory is derived from the oppression and slaughter of others, those crimes must eventually be paid for.

The perspective of the secretly dissenting German watching as the horrors of WWII unfurled before him was haunting to me. It's hard to argue with the fact that the United States is the world's evil empire now. I too look on as our country engages other countries in ways we do not support or condone, but there isn't much I can do on my own to stop it. Perhaps this karmic universal justice that came for Germany and Adrian Leverkühn will one day come for my country, leaving only wreck and ruin in its wake. Maybe the ship can't be righted and we will have to pay too one day for the seeds of violence and discord this country sowed around the world. I can certainly relate to the last line of the book when the narrator prays, "God be merciful to thy poor soul, my friend, my Fatherland." To sum up, I'd say this book came into my hands as fresh as the day it was published in more than one way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why True Detective Ended the Only Way It Should and Could Have

SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD! If you have not seen the season finale of True Detective yet, go watch it now then come back. 

Judging from what I have read online and heard from friends, it seems part of the True Detective audience was a little let down by the series finale. The eighth and final episode unveiled no grand twist or revelation. Neither of the two protagonists, Marty Hart or Rust Cohle, was the mysterious Yellow King, or even involved at any level with the killings. There was no hidden connection between either's past or family and the evil lurking deep in the Bayou. If the viewer had explored around a bit in the literary and mythic context of the universe these characters live in, then they would have known the happy ending we received was the only way this series should or even could have concluded. 

NicPizzolatto's tale is so rich in symbols and clues, so steeped in philosophy and so thought provoking that it that it allowed if not encouraged the imaginations of its audience to wander off toward the bizarrest possibilities. The Detectives Gilbough and Papania interviewing Hart and Cohle seem almost like stand-ins for the audience in the story. They have a strange murder to solve, somehow find a connection to the '95 case and are so mystified by what they hear about it that they are convinced there must be more to the story. They are right in that, and they have to probe deeper than the information in the reports to get the whole truth, but in their suspicion of Rust's possible involvement, they are as guilty as the audience in searching for what might be an easier answer in the wrong places.  

We must keep sight of the fact that the name of the show is named "True" Detective. When Marty claims to be working on a book to get case files for he and Rust's investigation, he claims he's dabbling in the "true crime" genre. This spirit of authenticity is also reflected in the show's title which was also the name of a long running true crime magazine which, while sometimes fictionalized and always sensationalized, based its content on true criminals and true crimes. What made this program a phenomenon that captivated its audience was the portrayal of Cohle and Hart as complicated studies in characters, not one dimensional stock heroes or villains. This TV show wasn't even really about the murders or the Yellow King or Carcosa. The magnifying glass is really applied to these two main characters, their own separate personal problems and the relationship between them. They are as close to real people as we encounter on our various screens and watchers were so enthralled because Harrelson and McConaughey made those characters so interesting and yet still relatable. They are just like us struggling with their own beliefs, dealing with their own issues and failing to live up their own ideals when they get thrust into an arena of unspeakable evil. 

I think some people so desperately wanted some major twist or for one of the two protagonists to be the Yellow King because it would have established one as the good guy and the other as the bad guy. They are both seriously flawed individuals, but turns out, they are both at root good men with their own ideas of responsibility. When we first meet Marty, he appears to be living the American Dream. He has a good job, a house, a hot wife and two adorable kids. We quickly learn that he has some demons lurking below the surface. His job is emotionally draining, so he compensates with alcohol and sexy young sidepieces. He justifies his behavior as necessary decompression from his stressful profession and tells himself it's for the good of the family. He wears the mask of happy family man and keeps telling himself everything is fine even as his life is falling into shambles around him. He can't look at the reality of his situation or take responsibility for his actions because he refuses to see how he's hurting the people around him. 

Rust wears a different kind of mask, but his nihilism and cold, intellectual rationality is a front as well. He had a life much like Marty's until tragedy struck and he took a rapid spiral downward. He was forced to live a lie in his extended stint undercover. He built up a wall of philosophy and science to convince himself that it's all meaningless, to reinforce the denial of his cares, his pains and his own miserable true self beneath that imposing facade. He wants to convince others that he really knows everything about himself and life and the universe because it reaffirms the lie he tells himself that he really does know better than everyone else and has it all figured out. This is why Cohle so delights in pointing out how other people cling to their delusions. This doesn't fill the hole inside of him though and he operates under his own set of delusions he will not acknowledge. His assurance of the meaningless of it all rings more and more hollow as the plot progresses because it becomes so obvious that he does care; he cares about his lost daughter, cares about these other missing children that no one else seems to and ultimately cares about his partner. 

The lives and philosophies of the two detectives are so directly opposed and clash so violently at times that we want the television to tell us which to approve of and which to condemn. Earlier, many thought Rust's affinity for darkness and taste in literature made him the likely suspect behind the murders. Toward the end of the series, I know others that were pointing the finger toward Marty because of his more mysterious motivations. We know a lot more about the events that made Rust the person he eventually becomes, but we know a lot less about Marty's past prior to when we meet him in 1995. We don't know what kind of man he really is and he never offers any explanation for his actions.

There was no such antihero in True Detective. An antihero can be recognized by a lack heroic qualities like courage or altruism and/or being inferior in intelligence, purpose or motivation. Neither of our two detectives fit this definition. Hart and Cohle have personal demons, just as we all do. Those demons don't make either of them bad people any more or less than people in general are. The tragic flaw is an essential part of the hero. The hero can't start off perfect, but has to overcome some weakness in his character in order to defeat the monster. There is no black and white dynamic between Hart and Cohle. They are both true heroes, just ones that each come with a healthy heaping of hamartia.  

Again, this is True Detective, not Fake Detective or Fantasy Detective we are talking about here. If one of the them was revealed to be the Yellow King, or there was some other dramatic and unexpected twist, would it still be as true to life? In reality, it's always the most likely conclusion is the most probable one. One telling scene is when Marty brings up the classic detective's curse in his interview, the answer being right in front of your nose the whole time, but your attention was elsewhere. Both Marty and Rust were too preoccupied with the masks they wear in life to notice the answer was in fact right underneath their noses. Errol Childress may not seem to be the most logical suspect at face appearance, but once all the evidence shown to us, he is the only person that has a connection to the parish and schools, the Tuttle family, and the tall man with scars/ green spaghetti monster/ Yellow King stories. Had Cohle questioned the man cutting the grass at all, he may have noticed the scars back then early in the investigation. 

I would never say Nic Pizzolatto made a mistake, because I think the show is masterful, but consider how different it would have been if the second to last episode didn't conclude with a close up of Childress and his facial scars. Cut out that scene, then how would viewers have reacted to the opening scene of the eighth episode? People would have lost their mind. Once you show him there, everyone knows he must be involved, but are still expecting a further development out of the finale. Take out that shot at the end of the penultimate episode though and I bet there are zero theories on the internet leading up to the finale saying that the seeming simpleton on the lawn mower is the best candidate for the Yellow King.

What else can we know about the world these characters inhabit based on the abundance of symbolism, motif and allusion? The direct reference to Robert W. Chambers' collection of stories, "The King in Yellow" provides the Yellow King and Carcosa. The supernatural and existential horror vibe that is present throughout the story line is very reminiscent of the work of HP Lovecraft. So, if Pizzolatto is incorporating elements and themes from these kinds of books, and also explicitly citing one, then what can these books tell us about Marty and Rust?

 In Lovecraft's stories, evil is not something inside the protagonist. Evil is a strange, primordial, even alien force in the universe. The Old Gods, Cthullu and crew, are beings of terrible power older than Earth herself. The evil people are the ones who become seduced by their arcane, but natural, power and commit horrible acts to appease or summon these Old Ones. Lovecraft's protagonists are usually good, God-fearing people that happen to get a little too close to one of these beings or their cults and are pushed to the brink of madness and terror by what they witness. 

That's our Hart and Cohle. Neither one of them could have been the killer in this mythos. They were just regular men who try to be good but usually fail. They just brush against one of these unknowable and irrational forces. They aren't able to face the scope of what they encountered and are eager to accept a more rational, if still horrible, solution. A meth lab connected to a biker gang kidnapping women and children was awful enough. Both of them were too busy with their own shit going on to recognize the totality of what they got a glimpse of. It was right there in front of them, but they refused to face up to the realities of the situation. 

"The King in Yellow" refers to a play mentioned in Chambers' stories that produces madness in the audience if seen or read in its entirety. The only characters or dialogue from "The King in Yellow" that is shared with the reader is:

"Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!"

The evil in the world of True Detective wears no masks. It needs no double life. It is unmistakable when you meet it. It dwells deep in the Louisiana swamps beyond the reach of law and civilization. It is where humanity has no control over the raw power of nature. It is there that these ancient gods abide. Lovecraft believed humanity could only comprehend a small shred of cosmic existence. These gods and monsters represent the powers in the universe that can't be affected or even understood by mere men. It is not so much that these old gods are actually evil or hostile toward us, but that they are so beyond us that we are as inconsequential to them and their goals as insects are to us. The show did a phenomenal job recreating this mood of sinister awesomeness in nature with the wild, untamed filming locations used throughout the show, but especially so in the final showdown at Childress's personal Carcosa.

I, for one, thought the ending was great and it generally went as I expected. Our heroes overcome their flaws, remove their masks, look at themselves honestly in the mirror and are able to work together and catch the person most directly responsible for these killings, even as the shadowy figures behind the scenes slip away. As Rust says, "We didn't get em all, Marty,' and Marty says, 'We ain't going to. This isn't that kind of world." The Tuttle's, the men in masks in the video, the institutional corruption in the state and the church complicit in these killings will not be held responsible. 

These deep rooted conspiracies parallel the unspeakable and unknowable power of Lovecraft's Old Ones. They exist outside the control and jurisdiction of ordinary people. One doesn't deal with these forces by taking them on directly, but by realizing that there are some things that are impossible for an individual to control and concentrating on the areas one still can have some influence. They paid their debt to society and Dora Lang and Marie Fonteneax and all the other victims. They did their part in taking down Errol Childress, who was probably the primary killer in recent times even if they won't touch the larger systematic conspiracy that the lawn mower man was just one product of. Good men, like Rust and Marty, do what is in their power to make the world a better place and that's all that can be expected out of them or anyone.

The best part of it was the super happy ending that was unexpected even to me. Marty and Rust prove themselves true heroes by getting over their egos and getting their man. They both suffer serious injuries, but live to see a brighter tomorrow. Their personality differences were so diametrically contrasted that their relationship brought these issues to the surface. Rust openly mocks the ideas of love or meaning while Marty clings to these illusions.  Rust hides behind his pretense of apathy while still longing for what Marty possesses and pisses on. Cohle had to go through having a daughter die and seeing his marriage fall apart afterwards. He is jealous of his partner, we can see that in the scene when Rust brings back his partner's lawnmower and seems to be actually enjoying himself while drinking ice tea and hanging out with Marty's wife and kids. 

Their reunion and cooperation are only possible because both men finally face up to what they were inside. Even in the early years, there was still always a mutual respect between them, so once that tension and animosity from their personality conflicts were removed, they found themselves completely capable to team up and finish the job. From that point, the bromance blossoms despite what that liar Matthew McConaughey said in an interview during the run up to the launch of the show; "Yeah, you’re never going to see us get chummy. There are no pink bows wrapping this up." ( 

Rust's transformation shows a glimmer of hope in this bleak nightmare that is usually absent in the story cycle of Chambers or in Lovecraft's Cthullu mythos. The man who was so resolutely cool and atheist throughout the show has a near death experience as a result from his battle with Childress. As he is about to let go, he feels, clearly, unmistakably and tangibly, the love of his departed daughter. In the closing scene he talks about "The only story. The oldest; light vs. dark." Rust saw that light at the end of the tunnel he so despisingly mocked earlier. He has experienced that there is something good in life and in the universe although it may seem dominantly dark and unforgiving. As he says to close the series, "Once there was only dark. If you ask me the light's winning." The smallest candle is able to banish darkness, but no weight of darkness can smother even a newly kindled light. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday Night Pick: Seahawks Go to the Desert

Seahawks @ Cardinals +6.5

Seattle owns the record of the elite team that most predicted them to be this going into this year, but I think this team has a lot of questions to answer before they're considered a serious contender. The makeshift offensive line has been a problem after it was a great strength in 2012, allowing 2.8 sacks per game after they gave up just 1.6 last year. Russell Wilson has not responded well to the extra pressure either. The young star has lost as many fumbles already as his did all his rookie season (3), his passer efficiency ratings are down and his interception to touchdown ratio is up. Wilson has particularly struggled on the road where 70.6 is his highest quarterback rating he could muster over the three games. I like the Cardinals with their good defense, at home against the spread. However, as the Seahawks' record suggests, Wilson and his team have been their best late when the game is on the line. While Seattle likely comes out on top in a close game, they will have to start showing they can be the same dominant force they are at home when on the road if they wish to realize their Super Bowl ambitions.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Night Pick: Colts @ Chargers

Colts -1.5 @ Chargers

The Colts have "Lucked" their way into having the number one pick with a generational level talent quarterback available twice now in 15 years. Some franchises haven't even had one guy like that in their whole history! Luck seems to be the real deal, and his late game heroics this season have been nothing short of astounding, however, I think it is the new prized acquisition in Indy that will be a big factor tonight. Many have started to question the wisdom in trading a first round pick for a running back that has not looked special in the box score either with his old team or in his brief tenure with the Colts since. I still believe in Richardson though, and I think he looked at his best running down the clock late in the game against Seattle. His yards per carry didn't look impressive for the game, but he gained a lot of those yards in the 4th quarter when his bruising style of running is especially hard for defenses to deal with. He still has burst, good straight line speed and breaks a lot of tackles, so I expect the yards to come eventually. Look for it to start tonight against a San Diego run defense that is giving up 4.9 yards per carry, which ranks bottom five in the league.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I Ching Picks: Redskins @ Cowboys in Prime Time

Redskins +5.5 @Cowboys

Hexagram 48: The Well

For the Redskins to have a chance in tonight's game, they will have to revert back to the dominant running team they were in 2012. Alfred Morris in particular is a guy that they need to get going. In the sweep of Dallas last year, Washington went to Morris early, often, late, but always to great effect. Morris carried the ball 57 times for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Cowboys last year. If the 'Skins are able to run the ball effectively, Romo and the potent offenses will spend more time on the sidelines and the play action pass should open up for Robert Griffin III as well. Dallas has shown glimpses of their potential, most notably pushing the Broncos to the limit last week, but they are still not a model of consistency by any stretch of the imagination.

I Ching Pro Football Picks 2013- Week 6

For a primer on the I Ching, how it works and I how I use it to pick games, click here
My pick in bold. Lines taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’em Game- finished 2012 in top 3% of entrants against the spread
(follow my entry here )

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

1:00 PM EST

Bengals -7.5 @ Bills
Hexagram 27: The Gaping Maw
The pass rush of the Cincinnati Bengals got off to a bit of a slow start, tallying just two sacks in their first two games, but the defensive line is now starting to play up to their immense talent. They have taken down the opposing passer 11 times in the three contests since.  This uptick in pressure has coincided with the reemergence of star defensive tackle Geno Atkins. After establishing himself last season as a dominant force on the inside against the run and rushing the quarterback (12.5 sacks in 2012), Atkins opened this season by being about as invisible as a 300 pound man can be, failing to even register a single tackle in two of the first three games. Part of his slow start can be attributed to more attention and game planning being geared toward him due to his heightened profile, but for the Bengals defense to be at their best, they need Geno to be his usual disruptive self. He has been much closer to his 2012 form the last two times out, making eight total tackles, two and a half sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits.  The Bills offensive line seems unlikely to slow him down as they have already struggled this year with strong, athletic interior defensive linemen. In their loss to the New York Jets, they conceded two of their eight sacks and five further hits on their quarterback to defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, a player of similar size and ability to the Bengals’ stud. There is probably no good defense to play for young quarterback making his first start for the team, but Geno and the Bengals have to represent one of the worst imaginable possible matchups. I don’t foresee the Thad Lewis era in Buffalo being anymore of a hit than“Tuel Time” was. 

Lions @ Browns +2.5
Hexagram 46: Ascending
Cleveland’s chances to extend their improbable three game winning streak will get a serious boost if Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson misses his second straight game. Missing Megatron, the Lions offense looked like a shadow of themselves in their loss last week in Green Bay. After quarterback Matt Stafford averaged over 315 yards per game over the first quarter of the season, the Lions passing game accounted for just 222 yards against the Packers. They also came into that game averaging over 30 points per game and had scored at least 20 in all four games to that point, but were able to score just nine in game number five. If Johnson doesn’t play, it may be the big player receiver on the other team that makes the biggest impact. The Browns’ run has been inspired in no small part by the return of receiver Josh Gordon. The Baylor product has provided Cleveland with a legitimate deep threat as he has recorded a reception over 30 yards in every game since his return. Detroit has been susceptible to getting beat deep, their 11 completions allowed over 25 yards rank near the bottom of the league, and Gordon could be in for another big day if the Lions don’t pay special attention to where he is on the field.

Packers @ Ravens +3.5
Hexagram 24: Turning Point
Baltimore experienced a sort of Super Bowl hangover through the season’s first quarter. They stand at 3-2, but the blowout loss to Denver in the season’s opener and Joe Flacco’s five interception performance in their other defeat stick out much more than any of their three wins. This point spread, the second time they’ve been underdogs at home, indicates that most think something is still missing from last year’s champs, but I think this is the game that perception starts to change. This has less to do with the Ravens’ improving significantly or adding a piece that pushes them over the top and more to do with how their relative strengths and weaknesses matchup against the Pack. The offensive line was such a major concern that they made a rare in season trade to shore up their left tackle position. New acquisition Eugene Monroe represents an immediate upgrade and he will likely have an opportunity here to get adjusted against a Green Bay pass rush that has been mostly toothless in the past when Clay Matthews is out of the lineup. Another worrying problem they’ve had is Joe Flacco throwing to the wrong team in the games they have lost. The Super MVP has thrown seven interceptions in their two losses (both road games) against just one pick in their three wins. The Packers defense has yet to come up with many big plays and have been particularly uncharacteristic in the lack of interceptions (just 2) so far. The Pack have failed on their first two road games against 2012 playoff qualifiers and based on how these teams stack up, I think they will fall to 0-3 on the year away from Lambeau while the Ravens will be deemed as “back” due to their first win over quality competition.

Raiders @ Chiefs -9.5
Hexagram 49: Molting
The most astounding part of Kansas City’s transformation is that they have managed to turn it around with mostly the exact same players. A lot of their talent has come by virtue of drafting near the top of the draft for several years and they were likely anyway to improve some just by virtue of regressing (progressing?) to the mean, but the core of this 5-0 team is the essentially the same group of guys who experienced victory just twice in sixteen games last year. Quarterback is the position where an upgrade can change a team’s fortunes most dramatically, but Alex Smith, while being a steady guy who takes care of the ball and won’t lose you the game, has never been a guy who makes a big individual impact on his own. Thus, much of the credit must be given to the coaching staff for implementing better strategy and putting their gifted players in good position to succeed at their jobs. Much has been written of Andy Reid’s work with Alex Smith and the offense, but the biggest differences are in the other two phases of the game. New coordinators on defense and special teams have inspired their units to be among the best in the league. Bob Sutton, hired to run the defense, brought with him experience working at the college level and a decade plus of working under one of the most innovative defensive minds of the game in the Jets’ Rex Ryan. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub came with an impressive pedigree as well as his Chicago teams finished in the top three in the special teams rankings for eight straight years under his tutelage. His Chiefs edition is currently in familiar position for him, ranked 2nd in special teams for Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) statistic. Sutton’s unit (ranked 1st in defensive DVOA) will be tested by the Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders’ running game, which has averaged over 135 yards per game on the ground over the four games Pryor has played. Fortunately for KC, they have a pair of fast outside linebackers that can both pressure and contain the young Oakland qb, and the coach to put them in the right position to do so. I expect the Sutton-led defense to once again lead the charge and for the Chiefs’ metamorphosis from also rans to run the table? to continue.

Rams @ Texans -7.5
Hexagram 22: Grace
The only apparent connection between Matt Schaub and grace would be his recent fall from. The vultures are now circling the Texans quarterback after a month in which he became the first player ever to throw an interception returned by the defense for a touchdown in four consecutive games. He has been so bad at times that I have invented a new word to describe his play. The word is “impoorsive.” You couldn’t describe Schaub’s play as unimpressive. That would convey a sense of not making any impression on you at all and being blasé or uninteresting. This is not the case. It’s not impressive in the positive way, but it does make you take note of just how dreadful some of his decisions have been and this is kind of compelling in its own way. If you want a clearer definition of impoorsive, watch the flailing Schaub lob an intended screen pass right into the arms of maybe the best corner in the league to cheat his team out of a big upset win ( Or for a non-football example, the closest parallel I can think of are the “We Love Russia” Youtube compilations ( In both cases, you watch because the fails are so cringing; painful to watch yet impossible to look away from. The closest synonym might be appalling, but there isn’t the same sense of disgust or aversion to it. Sure, the reaction is mainly to the epicness of the failures, but at the same time you also have to admire the balls it takes to throw into triple coverage or wakeboard on a flooded street behind a car or drive a vehicle on the highway that is missing some of its wheels. The consequences may be ghastly, but to even be in a situation to fail so badly, one must have the courage (or stupidity, there’s a fine line) to ignore all the potential risks of an action and just do it anyway. It’s bad, but it’s impressive in a way. Hence, impoorsive. As impoorsive as Schuab has been though, this is the kind of attitude a quarterback needs to have. The bad decisions must be managed of course, but a passer still need to have the will to put the ball in the air and give his playmakers a chance to make an impact. For better or worse, Schaub has at least done that and I foresee he will have much greater luck against a St. Louis outfit that allowed 136 yards, including a 67 yard touchdown reception, to Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon in his first game back from suspension.

Panthers @ Vikings -2.5
Hexagram 9: Taming the Insignificant
Sometimes, news from the football world reminds us just how unimportant football ultimately is. This week was such a case with the passing of Adrian Peterson’s young son. As a father of a young child myself, I ran through a gamut of emotions upon first hearing the news. I obviously felt revulsion to the action and to the assaulter who committed this vile crime of child abuse. I reflected for a moment how I would feel if I was in AP’s Nikes and felt a tremor of icy panic run down my spine. But after getting over the disgust and the self-concern, I mostly just felt deep, deep sympathy for this man in the midst of realizing every parent’s worst fear. Somehow, AP is going to play in this game. I don’t understand quite how he could do this, but we at times we need our work and we need our distractions to get through tough times. If he wants to go back to what he knows, what he is good at, what is meaningful to him, to honor his son's memory, than I will not judge him for that. The game here is of secondary importance compared to what already happened, but I wouldn’t bet against AP in such an emotionally charged atmosphere. Peterson will obviously be dedicating this game to his lost son, and I think it’s pretty certain he puts together a performance to make his little man proud, wherever he may be watching. I send all my thoughts, prayers and good energy to the Peterson family in this time of tragedy.

Steelers @ Jets -2.5
Hexagram 23: Falling Apart
With the parity of today’s National Football League, even the mightiest perennial contender can suddenly fall into mediocrity. Such seems to be the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the nine years since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, they have made the playoffs six times, went to four conference championships, three Super Bowls and won two. It seems likely this will be the first time in the Big Ben era that the Steelers will fail to reach the postseason in two consecutive seasons considering their 8-8 record in 2012 and their 0-4 start to this season. The collapse may seem sudden, but the foundation has been creaking for some time now. The Steelers received the godsend of a franchise qb in the draft, but after those winning their Super Bowls, the compensation they had to give Roethlisberger hampered their salary cap flexibility. Pittsburgh rarely signs other teams’ free agents anyway, but the kind of cap space they had to devote to one guy also hurt their ability to resign the players on their own team with expiring contracts. To run a team this way and stay competitive year in and year out, the front office must nail every single draft to reinforce the depth and replace the guys they let walk. This has been one of the Steelers’ keys to their success for a long time, but their performance the last few years has paled to their historical record. I think the depth is depleted to some degree in Pittsburgh, and I think this big, athletic and physical Jets team will abuse them on the line of scrimmage.

Eagles @ Buccaneers +1.5
Hexagram 64: Near Completion
Tampa Bay is 0-4, but it’s hard to imagine a better game for a winless team to play. They are at home and underdogs after a bye week likely facing the backup quarterback of the opposing team. I think Nick Foles played well against the Giants in relief last week, but I expect him to find much tougher sledding against a Bucs defense that features a run stuffing front seven and one of the best corners in the game. Their quarterback Mike Glennon wasn’t a starter to begin the year either, but he has the much more favorable matchup in the opposing defense. The Eagles defense is ranked in the bottom ten in the league in terms of yards per play at 5.9. Tampa should be able to control the ball on the ground with running back Doug Martin, perhaps even giving his rookie quarterback some easy throws to build confidence early in his career.

4:05 PM 

Jaguars +27.5 @ Broncos
Hexagram 10: Treading the Road
As the highest NFL point spread in recorded history would indicate, these teams could not be more diametrically opposed. Denver is 5-0 and has won their games by an average 18.2 points which represents the best point differential in the league. Jacksonville has yet to win a game and is worst in the same category losing their five games by an average of 22.4 points. Whereas everything has gone right for Peyton Manning and the Broncos, things have gone just as wrong for the Jags. The two sides of their revolving door of Gabbert and Henne at quarterback have been equally ineffective. They lost their second overall pick Luke Joeckel for the season just after trading the guy whose spot he was going to take at left tackle. Their eleven giveaways on offense and ten sacks for the defense both rank among the league’s worst. And yet, they have showed up and played hard every game this year. They had their best outing of the year last week in a two touchdown loss against the Rams. That doesn’t sound great, but what impressed me was how a team with every reason to roll over on the road fought back in the 4th quarter and closed it to one score. If not for the self-inflicted damage via turnovers, they very well could have won that game. Despite the ill fortune and current dearth of talent, I think Gus Bradley will be a good coach for this team in the long run, provided he gets that opportunity. If they keep coming out and fighting, the luck of the Jags will shift eventually. I mentioned in the Steelers game about the razor thin margins that separate the good teams from the average teams, or even great teams from good teams. I think this is true even for in this case, although Jax is definitely a few ticks below the Broncos. Nonetheless, it’s a safe prediction to say the Broncos will win, even win comfortably, however, I think the talent level between even the best and worst team is not as big as appears, and blowouts cannot be predicted with any certainty. That was a lot of words to write about the Jaguars. Long and arduous, just like their 2013 season so far, or their hike up to Mile High.

Titans +13.5 @ Seahawks
Hexagram 39: Obstruction
I know, it’s blasphemy to go against Seattle at home. I almost never ever do it. Usually Blank @ Seattle –blank is easy money, but I don’t like this matchup for them. Like the previous game, I’m pretty sure the home team will win, especially if it’s a close game and comes down to Russell Wilson vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick, but this is too many points to give this good of a defense. The Titans are a top ten defense in yards per game, have the 5th most sacks in the league and an emerging challenger to Richard Sherman’s best corner in the league championship belt in Alterraun Verner. Verner has contributed six turnovers on defense alone with his four picks and two fumbles recovered. The Seahawks offensive line is missing its two best starters, and the makeshift replacement line is currently ranked as the second worst in the league according to ProFootballFocus. They will have to deal with a deep and disruptive defensive line that is responsible for most of the team's sacks and one of Tennessee’s strengths. Seattle hasn’t delivered an explosive offensive performance outside of their big win over the aforementioned Jaguars, and I’m not convinced they will come out of their shells against this defense.

4:25 PM

Saints +2.5 @ Patriots
Hexagram 20: Contemplation
In a beauty of a game like this, the viewer just gets to sit back and watch two masters at work. Drew Brees has been at the top of his game this year, leading his team out to an undefeated record, while his counterpart has been less than his usual greatness. I expect Tom Brady to snap out of his funk and get back to throwing touchdown passes eventually, but with Gronk still at least a week away and facing a much improved New Orleans defense, I’m not sure it will be this one.  I’m taking the quarterback in better form, and possibly the better defense considering the state of the New England defensive line and getting the points as well.

Cardinals +11.5 @ 49ers
Hexagram 34: Great Strength
Cardinals too good of a defense. Too many points. Niners have been inconsistent on offense. See: TEN @ SEA.

Sunday Night and Monday Night games coming soon….

Last Week: 7-7

Season: 35-43

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday Night Pick: Little Giants

Giants @ Bears -7.5

Hexagram 12: Standstill

This Giants team is not going anywhere. I have persisted in thinking that they would eventually get it together, to my picks' great detriment, based on the thinking that they showed they still had the potential for explosive offense Week 1, they do this almost every year, they couldn't keep turning the ball over that much and the defense had to be a little better than they looked early on. However, I'm now ready to conclude that this Giant team is not going to turn it around. They can't block anyone, had zero semblance of a running game before they lost David Wilson for several weeks due to injury, rank in the bottom ten in passing and rushing defense and have given up at least 31 points in every game. Their four turnovers per game over the first five by far outpaces the rest of the league in this ignominious category. The Bears have shortcomings of their own, but should get a confidence boost at home out of this one. If they can establish Matt Forte and the ground game while also bringing constant pressure in the face of Eli Manning, that should be enough to get Chicago a win. Given the G-Men's early returns, there should be little trouble in accomplishing these goals.