Best of 2017

News flash: I’m not as prolific a blogger as I used to be.

The first couple of years of the Axis of Ego saw me post at least once a week.  Usually twice.  Sometimes more.

Those days are lonnnnnnng gone.  This is only my twelfth post of the entire year, and a few of those dozen were re-posts of older articles.  One of them was my “Best of 2016” post!

But there’s a helpful upside to my part-time status: Putting together the “Best of the Year” article is much, much easier.

Something Special: The Mountaintop (4/10): This was the final episode of the Something Special podcast series.  The series covered the 1991 Washington Redskins’ championship season.  It was a lot of work, some of it tedious, but, technical glitches aside, all of it enjoyable.

Let Me Tell You About Sundays (7/14): I like my job.  A lot.  In some ways, more than any job I’ve ever had.  This one explains why.  I feel fortunate and humbled to be able to write for a living—even if it did take me over a decade to get here.

Real Americans (8/14): “It’s the best thing you have ever written.  I am very proud.” – My mom.

Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi (12/20): This is very recent, but I think it captures and crystallizes some of the problems that a lot of people seem to have with Episode VIII.  The more I’ve contemplated this movie, the less enamored I am with it.  I wrote this review within 24 hours of seeing The Last Jedi, so I may have been even more harsh had I written this a week later.

And that’s it!  There’s not much else to report for 2017.  I’ll try to do better in 2018, but I think I’ve said some version of that each of the past two years, only to publish significantly fewer pieces than I did the year before.  I suppose anyone who is actually a fan of this blog (heaven help you) should be rooting for my unemployment.

Happy New Year!

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Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi

I’m proud to say that I made it to The Last Jedi spoiler-free.

But I did collect one bit of relevant information prior to seeing it.  I saw that the Rotten Tomatoes score was a strong 93%, with a robust sample size of over 300 reviews.  It was an even more impressive 96% with top critics.  What gave me pause, though, was that the audience score tracked 40 points below the critics’ score.  I had never heard of that kind of spread in that direction.

Once I saw Episode VIII, the deficit made perfect sense.

The Last Jedi feels at once too much and too little.  Laid out on paper, the number of elements Rian Johnson attempted to cram into this film seems excessive.  Episode VIII is the longest Star Wars film ever at a whopping two hours and 33 minutes, yet, at the same time, it also doesn’t seem long enough to flesh out all of the necessary components.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like.  The battle sequences are good, although there was probably one too many (again, note that runtime).  The score, as always, was phenomenal.  I thought Luke’s story had the correct conclusion.  Mark Hamill played him with the right amount of cheekiness, mixed properly with the cynicism he’s acquired since we last knew him in Episode VI.  Luke has always been my favorite character, and I thought Hamill’s performance was pitch-perfect, despite the fact that Luke is excessively jaded at the outset, a curious choice with which Hamill himself sharply disagreed.

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Papa, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

In light of the recent comments of American hero and self-made millionaire John Schnatter, I thought it might be worth revisiting my once-debilitating obsession with his delectable cuisine. Enjoy!

The Axis of Ego

It’s safe to say that I’m a fat guy pizza aficionado.  Papa John’s is my favorite among the chain pizza “restaurants.”  In fact, placing a Sunday order to PJ’s is an almost-weekly ritual during football season.  Put simply, I’m a frequent customer.

Even if I had taken several days off from going to the gym, even if I had noticed a little more roundness in my face, even if I had eaten pizza at work earlier in the week, none of those fact patterns would have enough negative momentum to shame me into refraining from obtaining a pie (or two[1]) if the mood struck me.

That’s why it’s so remarkable that I recently found myself on to the Papa John’s website, my belly empty and my head full—full of mozzarella-covered visions of gluttony, that is—and wound up logging off in disgust without ordering anything.

What could cause such a strange—some…

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Flirting with the End of the World

With the passing of Stanislav Petrov, I thought it would be a good time to revisit his story.

I can say without exaggeration that Petrov saved the world in 1983.

The Axis of Ego

RussianEarlyWarningSystemIn my second run at a storytelling podcast, I thought I’d shift gears and shoot for something more historical than personal.

I tackle a crucial but probably underreported event that arguably affected just about every single person on the planet.

This is the story of the most important man in the world.

Chances are, you don’t know his name.

But you probably owe him a thank you.

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Real Americans

I’m not going to address this past weekend’s events specifically.  There are already hundreds of columns covering every aspect of what happened in Charlottesville (and what is happening, to a lesser extent, in Seattle and Richmond and elsewhere).

Instead, I’d like to refer back to something I wrote about a different terrorist attack a few years ago, this one not on American soil.  Toward the end of the piece, I discussed what makes our nation unique.  That’s the portion that’s relevant to our present conversation.

In the United States, although our record is obviously imperfect, propositions such as “anyone can become an American,” and “we’re a nation of immigrants” are woven into the fabric of our national identity.

It’s much tougher for someone to convince you to engage in anti-American activity when you feel you are, in every sense, an American . . .

When we speak of American Exceptionalism, those of us who still believe in such a concept point to E pluribus unum as an underpinning of that idea. The bargain is a simple one: An immigrant may become fully American in a way that he may never be able to become fully French or fully Russian or fully Dutch.

There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

Do that, and everything our nation has to offer can become as available to the immigrant and children of immigrants as it is to me. I look—with pride—at a new citizen as every bit a “real” American as I am.

That is our magic.

That is what makes us great.

That is American Exceptionalism.

That is also why we must always preserve that value. It is the mechanism by which a nation of immigrants remains a nation, rather than a litany of bickering factions segregated by blood or holy book.

Every American must believe that this is our land. All of us. Whether we were born citizens or not. Whether we’ve been here for generations or months. Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

Everyone must remain invested in our nation’s culture and her well-being. The way to make sure this happens is to stress shared values and opportunity, not highlight differences in an attempt to divide us into aggrieved categories.

We’ve done a better job of that than Europe has, and I think our culture has benefited greatly as a result. I can only hope that we continue to do so. But protecting those values, like protecting most things that matter, will take work.

By every one of us.  Tirelessly.  In word and deed.

For the rest of our lives.

Emphasis mine.

I was writing then about our country’s ability to assimilate other cultures into the essence of America.  But recent events have highlighted the flipside of this proposition—something I didn’t discuss at length in 2013.

In order for all of this to work, there must be a willingness to agree to the “American idea.”  That means that those who are ostensibly already part of the fabric of our nation have to accept the idea upon which our society is built.  That’s the true American exceptionalism of which I spoke.

It isn’t merely the concept of “tolerance.”  That’s important.  But it is also the commitment to the idea that anyone who is willing to be a law-abiding member of our society is as fully a part of that society as any of us.

To reiterate: Every American must believe that this is our land.  All of us.  Whether we were born citizens or not.  Whether we’ve been here for generations or months.  Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

This is not merely the begrudging acceptance of a legal status.  This is the notion that it benefits us, and it makes our lives better, to ensure that all Americans, even ones who are not “like us,” are a part of this endeavor.

It does not mean we must all agree on any political issue.  Quite the contrary.  That, too, is part of our magic.  But we must be willing to resolve those differences through democratic means—including vigorous protest, so long as it remains peaceful.

But ideologies rooted in racial supremacy and/or violence are anathema to this grand idea.  Recall the one proviso I mentioned in 2013: There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

The mistake I made then was not clarifying that this bargain doesn’t apply only to new Americans.

It applies to all of us.

Those who lack the courage to embrace the American idea because they are too afraid to let go of their “tribal” identity cannot become fully American.  Even if their family has been here for hundreds of years.  People who have only lawlessness and hatred and violence and fear-mongering to give to our society have no place in our society, whether they were born here or not.

I must confess that I pity them.  They are depriving themselves of the full, wondrous, unique experience of what it means to be American—an experience for which the soulless, insipidly narrow, anything-but-unique pursuit of ethnic superiority is no substitute.

The question now is are we willing to prevent these forces from undermining those who do accept the American idea?  (Hint: That effort doesn’t begin with punching anyone.)

We’re still a long way from becoming that cesspool of bickering, identity-obsessed factions about which I warned.

But we’re a bit closer than we were last week.

Nonetheless, I remain cautiously optimistic.  The United States is a land of 330 million people.  I am resolute in the belief that the clear majority, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity, occupation, or religion, accepts the fundamental premise upon which the best version of America is based.  These are the Real Americans.

However, as I said before, protecting that beautiful premise will take work.  By every one of us.  In word and deed.  Tirelessly.  For the rest of our lives.

Let’s begin.

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Let Me Tell You About Sundays

Let me tell you about Sundays.

Sundays are terrific.  You can run errands or be lazy.  You can go to church or sleep in.  You can watch a game or read a book.  You can eat brunch or work out.  You can do nothing at all—or all of the above!

In case it isn’t obvious from that ringing endorsement, I like Sundays.  I don’t want anything else that I’m about to say make it seem like my love for Sundays is lacking.  I refuse to be pigeonholed as some kind of anti-Sunday zealot!

Disclaimers notwithstanding, I’ve always had a very particular problem with Sundays.  Ever since I was a little boy, Sundays—specifically, Sunday evenings—have been unfailingly accompanied by what might best be called . . . a mild sense of dread.

Whether when I was in school (even when I liked school) or when I was working (even when I liked my job), there was this tiny feeling of tension, invariably spawned when the shadows grew long and the sun began to disappear into the horizon.   The darkness was a signal that I would have to think about responsibilities again in a few, short hours.

Sometimes that feeling could properly be called “worry,” but not often.  Monday’s obstacles weren’t necessarily things I didn’t want to face.  Even when I relished those challenges, that Sunday-night feeling was still there.

Most of the time, it was merely the awareness of constraint.  Of a lack of freedom.  Or, at least, a lack of preference.  It was the knowledge that, come Monday morning, I would rather be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else.

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Father’s Day (Redux)

It was.

Hello, old friends!

Long time, no write.

Since it’s Father’s Day (and I’ve been incredibly delinquent in updating this site in recent months), I’m taking this opportunity to share a storytelling podcast I recorded last year.  The topic is my favorite Father’s Day, with a heavy side-order of Red Sox baseball.

It’s pretty good.  Enjoy.  And Happy Father’s Day.

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Something Special: The Mountaintop

In the final episode of “Something Special,” the Washington Redskins tangle with the potent Buffalo Bills, featuring Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and a host of top-level players at the height of their powers.

There’s not much mystery about how this one ends, but the story of Washington’s ultimate triumph should be enough to bring a smile to any Redskins fan’s face, even 25 years later. We can never forget Joe Gibbs, Charles Mann, Mark Rypien, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Wilber Marshall, Gary Clark, Earnest Byner, Brad Edwards, Joe Jacoby, Brian Mitchell, and so many others who played crucial roles on this team.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and I also hope it brought back some good memories for older Redskins fans while introducing younger fans to this team for perhaps the first time.

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2017 Edition)

I don’t know anything about college basketball.

But I accept that fact now.

The turning point was hearing that Cal State Bakersfield finished in first place in the WAC this year.  Cal State Bakersfield?!?  The WAC?!?

A hurried online search and one glance at the conference standings made me realize that I am totally lost.  Hell, even after looking at the WAC standings, I wasn’t sure what two or three of the schools were, much less where they were.

UTRGV? Grand Canyon?  Chicago State?  These sound like made-up colleges that play the protagonist’s team in a 1990s sports movie.

And, wait a second, how is Chicago State in the WAC, anyway?

You know what—don’t answer that.

The point is that the acceptance of my obliviousness is wonderful, as it allows me to fill out my NCAA Tournament bracket in about five minutes.

I no longer have to go through the charade of laboring over picks as if I have some clue about who these teams are or how they match up.  There’s not much imagination in what you see below.  There’s certainly no expertise.

However, my bracket still makes for cheap and easy content.  Here goes!

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Something Special: Second Chances

Fresh off of a convincing win against the Atlanta Falcons a week earlier, the Washington Redskins now looked to knock off the Detroit Lions and advance to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in ten years.

The Lions had already lost to the Redskins 45-0 in the first game of the season, but a lot had happened since early September.  This was a healthier, sharper Detroit squad than the one Washington had dispatched in week one.

On the other hand, the Lions had never won in Washington in six decades of trying.

The full story of the 1991 NFC Championship can be heard here:

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