NFL Predictions

September 13, 2013

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It is football season again. By the time this article is published, the first week of the regular season will already be on the books. The following is my prediction of what the results of this season will be. In 17 weeks we will see just how right or wrong I am, at least as far as the playoffs go.

Division 2012 2013 Prediction
AFC East New England New England
AFC North Baltimore Cincinnati
AFC South Houston Houston
AFC West Denver Denver
AFC Wild Card Indianapolis Indianapolis
AFC Wild Card Cincinnati Pittsburgh
NFC East Washington New York
NFC North Green Bay Green Bay
NFC South Atlanta Atlanta
NFC West San Francisco Seattle
NFC Wild Card Seattle San Francisco
NFC Wild Card Minnesota Minnesota

 

  • Exiting Playoffs: Baltimore, Washington – Baltimore defense is just too weak, RGIII will get hurt.
  • Joining Playoffs: New York Giants, Pittsburgh – both purely on defense
  • San Francisco moves from division champion to wild card – Keapernick will get hurt
  • Cincinnati and Seattle move from wild card to division champion – Overwhelming talent
  • All four divisional playoff games will be blowouts (more than 14 point victories)

 

Super Bowl: Atlanta vs Houston

Super Bowl Champion: Atlanta Falcons

 

Living with Parkinson’s

April 8, 2013

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Disclaimer

The following is a true story. The names have been changed to protect privacy and because I have not verified some of them.

Background

My mother is a two time cancer survivor who, at the time of this writing, is 79 year old and fighting Parkinson’s. She is a fighter and is determined to live life to the fullest as long as she has life to live. Her battle with Parkinson’s is especially difficult since she is exceptionally intelligent with an excellent memory and predilection to learning and reading. Parkinson’s slowly reduces brain function but first affects motor skills resulting in the patient becoming trapped in a body that will not do their bidding.

In addition to the fight with Parkinson’s, my mother recently had hip replacement surgery. For quite a while she has had difficulty walking. This difficulty was written off as a symptom of the Parkinson’s. First looking at the knee, then at nerves, and all the time struggling with communications between a Parkinson’s patient and doctors, the hip was determined to be the problem. Since it took a long time to isolate the problem, the hip was severely deteriorated, but still repairable.

The surgery was successful, yet she continued to drag the affected leg. Meetings with the surgeon just confirmed the success of the repair, but could not address the continued lack of functionality. My parents took this to mean that although the pain had been relieved, the possibility of walking free of aides was not in the offering. Resigned to that fact, they purchased a new scooter and made sure that the walker was in good repair.

The Story

Because of the Parkinson’s, my mother has a quarterly meeting with her “Brain” doctors. These experts have been working with my mother for close to ten years. They have tried various cocktails of medications to restrict the progress of the Parkinson’s. They have also monitored her remaining functions and recommended exercises to maintain as much mobility as possible. Once a year, an MRI is performed to map her brain and locate any additional damage from the disease. The quarterly appointment that follows the MRI is generally a more extensive meeting that includes discussions with both of my parents to assure that they understand what is happening and what to expect.

This year showed that there was a retardation of the progress of the disease, which is wonderful news. The older doctor of the practice spent talked with my parents for almost an hour, showing them the MRI pictures, pointing out the areas of damage and explaining the functions that are affected by that damage. The younger doctor then spent some time with them basically agreeing with all that his older partner had said.

As he prepared to leave, he asked if my parents had any questions. My father decided to use this opportunity to ask about the dragging of the leg even after the hip replacement. One of the physical therapists had suggested that there was possibly nerve damage or that my mother had suffered a mild stroke. The doctor immediately changed his demeanor and started an additional evaluation.

This evaluation included having my mother lay back and raiser her legs individually and together, bending her knees and performing simulated stomach crunches. Then he had her stand up and try to balance, lifting one leg at a time, holding arms out and even trying to touch her nose with her finger with her eyes closed. All of this resulted in his diagnosis that there was not nerve damage nor had there been a stroke.

The doctor had my mother sit back down and started to talk. “Mrs. Shaw, you need to regain you confidence in your body. You have had a lot of pain for a long time, but now that pain is gone. You have feared falling due to the weakness of your leg, but that weakness is gone. You need to trust that you can use that leg.” My father hoped that the doctor’s speech would have an impact, but it seemed identical to what the therapists had suggested during the hip rehabilitation.

At this point the doctor stepped back. “Mrs. Shaw, you need to step proudly, lift your knees high, keep your chin up and focus on your destination. Concentrate on not shuffling.” He lifted his chin and raised his leg high as if marching in place, then lifted the other. As he lifted that leg, his pant leg rose to expose a metal rod. The doctor was an amputee. His leg from the knee down was a metal rod. Both of my parents were shocked. There had been no evidence of this disability in the ten years they had been working with the doctor. There could not have been a better instructor for my mother.

Although she still used the walker, she marched out of that office with her head high, My father had trouble keeping up with her as she moved across the parking lot to the van. Over the next few weeks, she increased her mobility with her own therapy. She still needs the walker for major outings, but can navigate around the house with just a cane or by using furniture and walls for steadying. Her goal is to graduate to just the cane when out shopping or going to get the mail. The freedom that she has gained since the doctor showed her how to overcome adversity by example, has let her work in her gardens and simply enjoy the outdoors.

The Parkinson’s is still progressing and many of the things she enjoyed are not available to her anymore, but mobility is not currently as severely restricted as it once was. All victories in the fight with Parkinson’s are worth celebrating. I personally want to honor the doctor who has had his own fight with adversity and had used that adversity to help others.

 

He Shall Be Called Francis

March 15, 2013

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Pope Francis Portrait Painting

Pope Francis

The council of Cardinals has spoken. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been named Pope and had taken the name of Francis. What do we know of this man? He is 76 years old. He is a Jesuit, the first of this order ever elected to the papacy. He is from the Americas, again the first ever from that region. He has taken the name of Francis, the first Pope to take that name.

In choosing the name Francis, he has already started a frenzy of speculation. Did he select the name to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, a wealthy young man who turned his life to living in poverty and helping all in need? That is the current line in the news. Did he take the name from Saint Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit order) to which he belongs? His motives have not been explained, but in the long run, does it matter?

The airwaves have also been filled with speculation of how the new Pope will make the Catholic Church “Relevant”. This is a spectacularly arrogant question posed by human secularists. They have been trying to train generations of children to consider religion to be marginalized and have had some success, probably on the order of 20 million people who really agree with them. With this backing they want to know how the Pope will make a church of 1 billion people relevant.

The question that is really being asked is, how is the Pope going to steer the Catholic Church to be more in line with the teachings of the American media and academia? Specifically, the pundits want to know how the Pope is going to embrace gay marriage and abortion. They will be shocked and appalled that he considers adoption by same sex couples to be child abuse and that he considers abortion to be murder. These are basic teachings of the Church that do not change just because of public opinion polls in New York City.

Will the Pope institute changes? Definitely. Will those changes deviate from the fundamental teachings of the Church? Definitely not. Every person in the world has their own beliefs and desires, those are not the concern of the Pope. The Pope has the responsibility of steering the largest single religious organization and organism in the world. He has to care for, speak for, answer for and teach over 1 billion people. In some ways he represents all Christians, even those who have specifically denied his authority.

Will his stance on cultural issues hold back the Church? To some the answer will be yes, to others the adherence to tradition will be comforting in a troubled world. All of us can pray that he makes good decisions and if you are religious, that he listens to the Holy Spirit and does what is right in the eye of God without consideration of the acclamations of men.

 

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The Election of a New Pope

March 11, 2013

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These are historic times. For the first time since the late 1200s, a Pope has resigned. Like a monarch, the Pope has never really had an opportunity to retire, they have died in place. Even the other Pope who resigned, Celestine V, did not really retire. Shortly after his departure the next Pope had him arrested and imprisoned for the last two years of his life. Celestine (nee Peter) considered himself too old to fill the post which he held for only 15 months. He had been a hermit, and wanted to return to that life. He was in his mid to late 80s, the records are not that precise.

The current events could possibly be one of the most intelligent moves made by an elder statesman in recent history. Pope Benedict recognized that his age was impeding his ability to function as the Pope and he is stepping aside. This is a grand opportunity for all of the Cardinals to be involved in the conclave without the overshadowing cloud of morning for a deceased Pope. In the modern age, access has not been as much of a problem as in the past. At least half of the Cardinals must be present, but until the 20th century, there was seldom more than that minimum available. The conclave is supposed to start ten days after the death (or resignation) of the last Pope. The conclave should not last very long, but history has shown conclaves to last years.

The conclave is closed, no communications with the outside world until a decision is made. This isolation provides a contemplative atmosphere to allow the Cardinals to pray and listen for direction from the Holy Spirit. To the non-religious and even to non Catholics, this may seem quaint or odd, but the Cardinals do meditate and try to discern the best choice by a spiritual method. The votes are written on slips of paper, which are counted first to make sure there are only as many votes as Cardinals, then for a majority vote for each name. These ballots are burned whether there is a choice or not. Chemicals are added to the ballots to make the smote black when there is no choice and white when a choice has been made. The choice is made when one name gets more than 2/3s of the vote. Any Catholic man older than 18 is eligible, but for the last 200 years, the choice has almost exclusively from the council of Cardinals.

When the new Pope is selected, there are several major issues that will have to be addressed. Some of these issues have not been mentioned in any media, but are important none the less. High on the list and mostly forgotten is the fait of several priests who were accused of sexual abuse who have taken refuge in the Vatican. It is interesting that the Church has taken the stand that there are no boarders when discussion American immigration policy, but the boarders of the Vatican are intact for protecting a small group from prosecution. There is an assumption of innocence, but running and hiding in the Vatican does not allow justice to be served. The Church has complete sway on matters spiritual within the Church, but matters of civil crime must be addressed by civil authorities.

Another major issue that is not high on the public attention, is the reorganization of the Church hierarchy. The balance of Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals is still based on the distribution of the Church in the fifteenth century. The tradition of the leader of a specific parish having a certain position must be addressed, similar to the dead districts in the English Parliament. There are a disproportionate number of high offices in Italy and a sad lack in Latin America.

Married Priests are an issue as well. Many would claim that this is an innovation, but in truth, priests were not required to be celibate for several centuries into the history of the Church. Peter the Apostle himself was married. Celibacy is a special commitment. Celibate priests will always be necessary for the health of the Church, but allowing married priests will prevent the crisis of priesthood that has been building over the last few decades. It may surprise many that there are married priests in the Church. If an Anglican, Episcopal or Orthodox priest converts to Catholicism, that Priest may be a priest in the Catholic Church without having to give up his wife.

The new Pope will have many additional concerns. He must address them while having the specter of the resigned Pope living just on the edge of view. He must continue the drive that Pope John-Paul II started in developing interest in the Church among young people. He must continue the fiscal cleaning that Pope Benedict started to keep the Church solvent.

In the end, the Cardinals will choose. For the good of the Church, all Catholics and most Christians are praying for their choice to be inspired.

Review: Hotel Transylvania

March 4, 2013

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Here is another in a series of movie reviews. This week, the topic is “Hotel Transylvania”. The basic story is a protective single dad with a teenage daughter who wants her freedom. The twist is that they are vampires, not the sparkling melodramatic vampires from “Twilight”, but a cartoon version of Count Dracula and his daughter. To protect his daughter, the Count builds a resort for monsters, safe from people.

The movie covers just the weekend of Mavis’ (the count’s daughter) birthday. All of the classic monsters are in attendance, but the security is not what the count thinks it is. A human shows up. The mayhem and slapstick that ensues involves the Count trying not to kill the uninvited guest and hiding him from the rest of the monsters. This is both to save his resort and protect his daughter. The problem is, the young people fall in love.

This is definitely a family, focusing on younger children, type movie. Great escape from politics, world events and the economy. It is a cartoon, so do not expect much in deep thought. Fun for all and worth renting. It is long past being in theaters, even rerun and discount theaters.

 

Movie Review: Parental Guidance

February 25, 2013

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Here is another in a series of movie reviews. Since the Oscars were handed out Sunday night, reviewing a relatively minor movie seemed appropriate. This week, the topic is “Parental Guidance”. The basic story is a set of grandparents are asked to watch their grand children for a week while their daughter spends some alone time with her husband. The grand parents, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, are not the favored grandparents. Their only child, Marisa Tomei, does not trust them to take care of her children in the correct way, since they did such a bad job with her.

Marisa’s character has bought into all of the most modern fads in child rearing; no sugar, no direct confrontation, no winners or losers. Her parents are much more conventional. The movie explores the absurdities of the modern method and the conflict of old school versus new age. It also deals with adults addressing their own relationship issues using children as the mode of communication.

The kids carry most of the movie, but Billy Crystal has finally gotten back to the rapid fire delivery that made him a success in the eighties and nineties. Bette Midler is just wonderful, as she is in almost every role that she has ever played. Bette and the character whom she plays, help Billy and his character in every way except final enlightenment. That comes from the kids, and the son in law, Tom Everett Scott.

The film is enjoyable throughout. Many of the scenes are formula, but they work. It is an uplifting storey, the type that we all need to see from time to time. It has already finished its pass through the major theaters, but it is showing in the discount cinemas and will be on video soon. It is worth the time to watch.

The Harbaugh Super Bowl

February 4, 2013

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Super Bowl XLVII is now in the history books. It was the story of two halves. In the first half, the Baltimore Ravens simply out classed the San Francisco 49ers. It was 21-6 at half time and looked to be out of control. A half time of Beyoncé interrupted the action, but Baltimore followed up by returning the second half kick off 108 yards for a touch down, 28-6.

Then everything changed. First, the lights went out in Georgia, sorry, in the Super Dome. Actually just half of the lights went out. When the lights came back on, the 49ers came on, 17 un-answered points, 28-23. Baltimore got a field goal, but San Fran continued the come back with a touch down, but missed the 2 point conversion, 31-29. But that was all she wrote. Baltimore got another field goal and gave up a safety with only 4 seconds to go. Final score 34-31 with Baltimore winning their second Super Bowl.

Had San Francisco succeeded in their come back from 22 point behind, it would have been a super bowl record. No team has recovered from more than a 10 point deficit. The result was a very exciting game after an apparent blow out beginning.

The MVP of the game was Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback. Although he played well, I would have bestowed the award on either Ed Reed, the Ravens Safety, or Jacoby Jones, the Ravens return specialist, who kept the Ravens in good field position and scored on his own. What is most important is that this win was an entire team effort by the Baltimore Ravens. Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens and all of their fans

Movie Review – The Hobbit

January 31, 2013

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Peter Jackson has released the first of three films based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. He is cashing in on his success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Many people are questioning how he can make three movies from one book when he made three movies from six books (three volumes of two books each). This has a simple answer, because he wants to.

If you are a purist, you will not like this movie. If you did not like Lord of the Rings, you will not like this movie. If you liked Lord of the Rings, but do not like humor in this setting, you will not like this movie. If however, you are willing to accept Jackson’s interpretation of the book and understand that the book was written as a children’s story as opposed to the Lord of the Rings which is a young adult story, you will like the movie.

Like Jackson’s other efforts, the scenery is spectacular, the characters are unique and the story is well told. He has added characters and developed back story into the main plot. He has altered character development and situations both as artistic license and to make it something that can be shown on a movie screen. There are just some things that can be written that cannot be translated into film.

In my opinion, the characters of Bilbo and Gollum are portrayed spectacularly well. The characters of the Dwarves who are actually developed (there are 13 of them) deviate from the book, but not necessarily in a bad way. In the book, many of the dwarves are not sympathetic to others, while they are much more humane in the movie.

The comic relief is almost too much. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin provide breaks in an otherwise depressing series of events. In The Hobbit, the serious events provide breaks from the comic relief. Again this is acceptable as this is a children’s story.

Ian McKellen is by far the best part of the movie as he portrays Gandalf the Grey again. It almost seems he was born to play this part. Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving return in their previous roles as Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond. Although Elrond is in the book, the others are not, again this is part of Jackson’s effort to bring the back story to the foreground.

Elijah Wood and Ian Holm return with cameos as Frodo and an old Bilbo to bring everyone back to middle earth. Martin Freeman plays the young Bilbo, but Richard Armitage as Thoren Oakenshield is by far the star of this movie. The actor and the character take center stage from early in the film to the closing credits.

All in all, this is a good film. If you fall into any of the “will not like” categories I listed in the first paragraph, wait for it to come out on video, but I still recommend it even for you. If you do not fall into the “will not like” categories, this is one movie that falls into worth the full price at the theatre.

 

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NFL Pro Bowl

January 28, 2013

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The Pro Bowl is the all star game for professional football. This year, the National Football Conference won in pretty convincing fashion. This is interesting since they were missing more of their selected players than the American Football Conference. This year they are back in Hawaii rather than in the Super Bowl venue, but again this year, the game is between the championship games and the Super Bowl. The commissioner made a not so veiled threat the if the game was not played up to NFL standards, the game would be deleted from the schedule. This was due to the lack luster effort the last two years (55-41 and 59-41).

The change in location in 2010 (2009 season) to the Super Bowl venue and the move to before the Super Bowl were both moves by the commissioner to make it a better game. Let’s face it, the game has suffered from both of these moves. The game is supposed to be a reward for players who are recognized for their performance and it is a reward for fans to see their players one last time this season. By moving the venue, the reward for the players was reduced. By moving the date, the reward for the fans has been removed.

Here are the negatives; players from the Super Bowl teams are not there. Fans of the non-Super Bowl teams really have nothing left after this week end. Sure, true football fans will watch the Super Bowl, along with many people who only tune in for the final game, but there is really nothing for most of the fans.

The other change that the commissioner made to the Pro Bowl was to try to give it meaning. The conference that wins is considered the home team in the Super Bowl the next year. This does not actually mean much, but it does define who chooses what uniforms they wear (in general home is dark and away is light) and who calls the coin toss. There is no advantage statistically for home team or coin toss since it is played on a neutral field. This is still the most useful change the commissioner made and the only one I don’t think should be reversed.

I do not know what criteria the commissioner will use to determine the continuance of the Pro Bowl in the future. I would like to think that he realizes just how important this game is to players and fans, even if it is not the hard fought battle of a regular season game. Congratulations to all of the players selected, especially those who were enjoying their first times. Here is hoping that we get to see this celebration for years to come.

49ers and Ravens Win Conference Championship Games

January 21, 2013

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Joe Flacco

Joe Cool is headed to the Super Bowl.

So the Super Bowl is set. The Harbaugh brothers will face off in New Orleans in two weeks. My prediction of Atlanta vs Houston was completely wrong. The majority of the sports talk community was only half right, predicting a New England San Francisco match up.

Let’s review the story lines beyond the sibling rivalry. This will be the sixth trip to the big game by San Francisco. It has been a long time since the Montana – Rice and Young-Rice days. There will be many hours of radio dedicated to comparing and contrasting the current version of the 49ers with the historical version. The Ravens have also been a long time away from the Super Bowl, but they do have a connection. Ray Lewis was there for the first on and will play his last game as a Raven in the Super Bowl again.

Both of the teams are undefeated in the Super Bowl with San Francisco posting five wins and Baltimore posting one. With a win, San Francisco fans will start talking about how they are the best. They will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers with six wins, but will claim superiority based on being undefeated. They made same claims when they were tied with Pittsburgh and Dallas for five wins even though those teams had made it to more Super Bowls. Well each fan base can claim as they please. Using that logic, with a win, the Ravens will jump ahead of the 49ers in the list of winners, being undefeated with two wins.

These two teams represent some of the best offense and defense available in the league. Pure offense did not drive the participants this year, nor did pure defense. Overall, my evaluation is that these two teams are very evenly matched. This should be a very good, hard played, close game. Even if you are not a fan of either team, even if you are not a typical professional football fan, you are very likely going to be one of the millions of viewers or at least participate in a Super Bowl party. You have two weeks to plan. Party responsibly, and enjoy the game.

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