Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Month That Was - December 2008

The Month That Was - December 2008: Kiss another year goodbye, so I'm starting to think about projects for next year. I need to start getting this place (this site) organized and sorted out. First, all the media I review are now going to get their own posts rather than doing "flick notes" and "reading roundups". This will make it easier for folks to zero in on things when they do web searches. Second, I want to get all the travel reports that are linked to the left worked into the actual blog, so I will likely be editing and reposting them as "travel rewinds" or something like that, and getting all the pictures up on SmugMug; the goal is to get all the content in the blog or on SmugMug, again for the sake of searching and linking.

My writing projects are to either finish Misspent Youth and/or my top secret other project, and to get Apple Pie and Business as Usual formatted for the Kindle. Figure I'll finish about half of everyting I want done.

Right now Michigan is swirl of dead tree brown and salt road grey. The only remedy, of course, is travel planning. But that'll wait until the new year.

The End of Vegas?
Book Look: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Book Look: Europe's Last Summer
Book Look: Last Night at the Lobster
The Decline and Fall of HBO
Christmas in New York
Football (With Regrets)

The End of Vegas?

The End of Vegas?: For I don't know how many years now I have spent my Thanksgiving in Las Vegas. (Photos on SmugMug.)I don't know whether it's me or the city, but I simply don't feel the excitement I used to feel going there. Bill Simmons once wrote that there are three places in the U.S. where just being there makes you feel like you're in a movie: Manhattan, Bourbon Street, and the Vegas Strip. But familiarity takes all that away. I don't get those feelings anymore after multiple visits, especially in Vegas.

I used to get geeked up for blackjack sessions, but once I mastered basic strategy it became rote (plus they started getting all namby-pamby on the rules like shortening the payouts for a blackjack). I tried the other table games, mostly just to have had the experience, but again, once I had done it I didn't feel compelled to continue. Poker was good for a while, and it can be a stimulating challenge; on the other hand, I don't ever recall being at a poker table that was fun (like a good blackjack table). The only gambling left for me is NFL betting.

Likewise, I've experienced the other aspects of Vegas life now. I was never truly interested in clubbing, other than as an observer of humanity. They are generally horrible places where if you want to sit you have to buy $400 table service otherwise you get to stand and order $15 drinks provided you can elbow your way to the bar. No conversation can be had over the music. The shows can be fun, but how many Cirque du Soliels can you see before they start to run together in a colorful blur? Gentlemen's clubs? Even the best come off as seamy.

So now I tend to haunt the sports books and visit my favorite restaurants -- Vegas has not let me down food-wise. It's hard to imagine more great food concentrated in walking distance than you get on the Strip. The big new development since I was last on the Strip is the Palazzo, which is an addition to the Venetian. It has its own upscale shopping mall and its own canals and some truly top notch restaurants, the best of which was Carnevino, Mario Batali's Italian Steakhouse. I forwent steak and had the Ravioli Di Stracotto, a duck liver ravioli in a balsamic sauce. It may have been the single most tasty thing I have ever eaten in my life. Also at Palazzo is Cut, Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse where I snacked on some tasty steak tartare, and Woo, a nouveau Asian spot with an awesome ginger chicken dumpling appetizer (I did a lot of snacking around, rather than big meals). I indulged in sushi and sake for the first time in ages; it was a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Generally with respect to the Strip I know where I want to go and what I want to eat and who I want to bet on. As a result, two nights on the strip was just about right. Friday morning, when the masses were flowing into the city for the long weekend I was on my way out, headed toward San Diego.

There are two paths to San Diego from Las Vegas. One is to head westward towards L.A. and then swing south just before you get into the meat of Los Angeles. That's the fast way -- maybe 5 hours. The other option is to head south out of Vegas, through the desert. Once outside the city, the landscape goes barren fast. In Michigan we often find ourselves dodging squirrels and chipmunks as they dart through traffic in pursuit of God knows what. South of Vegas, you see a little critter making its way across the road and by the time you get up to it, you realize it's a tarantula. Three times I sped past these hairy beasts, all eight legs working to get them across the tarmac. Ick.

These long straight roads take you through the Mojave Desert and skirt Joshua Tree National Park. Apart from the tarantulas, all that exists are a few dusty little towns and a few outdoorsy resorts geared toward four-wheeling (which looks like an awful lot of fun). Then, after a few hours, civilization suddenly reappears in all its glory. Resort communities spring up fully-formed and golf course-green: Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, etc. The whole area exists as a way for west coasters to get away from urban life and escape to "The Desert". (We have a similar habit here in Michigan we call "Going Up North".) The streets are all lined with symmetric rows of palm trees while BMWs and Lexuses weave in and out of the gated communities and country clubs. These folks have more money than God, and play more golf than Him, too.

I only had time to stop for a late lunch in Palm Desert, but I was thinking it would surely be nice to hang there. I took a brief walk up El Paseo, which looks to be the Main Street of Palm Desert -- shops, restaurants, etc. -- and had a nice al fresco lunch at City Grill, then it was off to meet Chevy Chase and Ted Knight on the first tee at Bushwood. Actually, it was back on the road to San Diego.

And this is where taking the road less travelled paid off. Exiting Palm Desert you find yourself on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail for a brief period, which entails snaking through hairpin turns up through astounding photo-worthy mountain passes. It turns out that locked between the shiny worlds of Las Vegas and L.A. are some strikingly scenic high desert vistas. From there on it's a dash down from the peaks to the coast and into San Diego, or more specifically, Del Mar.

I have never "gotten" Los Angeles. I know it is supposed to be paradigmatic of Southern California and its praises are raised in story and song, but I don't see the attraction, relatively speaking. If you are not in the film industry, or angling to get in, I see absolutely no reason anyone would prefer L.A. to San Diego. I find San Diego to be about the most beautiful large city I have ever seen. It is a city of easy charm versus the teeth gritted smile of Los Angeles.

North of San Diego sits the famed suburb of La Jolla, and just beyond that sits Del Mar -- possibly a bit downscale from La Jolla, but equally beautiful if not more so. The first time I was in San Diego, several years ago on business, on my one free day I rented a car and asked the desk jockey where he would go if he had one day at the beach. He said would go to Del Mar which, in his opinion, had the most beautiful beach in Southern California. I took his advice back then, and this time I went back. I have to admit that I have kind of fallen in love with Del Mar.

Del Mar seems nothing more than a little surfside town with a main shopping and dining area and a couple of state parks along the shoreline. There is a famous racetrack there, and Torrey Pines Park, which constitute its main public attractions, but my impression is the vibe is still that of a small, beach community. I snagged a decent room at the Best Western Stratford Inn, which is a five minute walk to the bluff overlooking the beach. You walk down a very pretty little side street and come to a set of railroad tracks over the shore along which runs Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner service, from San Diego all the way up past L.A. to San Luis Obispo (gotta try that sometime). You can walk north along the bluff looking down on the beach (or climbing down to hit the surf), eventually the bluff slopes down and merges with the beach proper at Powerhouse Park, where everyone gathers for the sunset. Me, I could have hung out shooting pictures all day and fantasizing about learning to surf.

San Diego proper is only a few minutes away and my only full day free was dominated by a visit to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. I had picked the perfect day, it was sunny and not too hot. I managed to be one of the first into the zoo and got to enjoy it before it got too crowded. The SD Zoo is an exceptionally well-designed place. Most all the critters are easily viewable, the exception being the pandas, for which the viewing line was ludicrously long from the opening of the gates. They have foot-saving busses that run throughout the park and an aerial tram that takes you from the far end back to the entrance.

Outside the Zoo are the other attractions of Balboa Park which is, effectively, a museum campus -- Art, Photography, Air & Space, History (both natural and manmade), Cultural this and that -- all with a certain local angle to them. The grounds are nicely landscaped. It is a place where San Diegans go to promenade on a sunny afternoon. I snagged a bite to eat from one of the cart vendors and found a comfy spot on the lawn to watch the world go by for an hour or so in the late afternoon. I do awfully like San Diego. And in my visits (maybe 4 of them over the years) I have just scratched the surface.

After a sunset photo shoot and a quick dinner back in Del Mar, I was up the next morning and headed back towards Vegas. In an effort to save time I took the road more traveled back. Ugly gray freeway all the way; hideous truck stop towns outside L.A.; a bizarre place called Primm just inside the Nevada border that looked like a parody of commercialism: a huge flashy casino and outlet mall in the middle of a barren desert. And for the hundreds of miles from L.A. to just outside Vegas the traffic was stop and go in the other direction as the folks I passed on the way out Friday were returning to the West Coast from their long holiday weekends. What a living hell for them: After a grueling Thanksgiving with the annoying relatives, you crawl through traffic, turkey-nauseated, to the Vegas strip, spend the weekend overpaying for your room, overeating in buffets, and losing your shirt in blackjack or on the slots, then you claw your way back to L.A. at a snail's pace. Thank you, God, for making me a contrarian.

I closed out my trip on the outskirts of Vegas at the Red Rock Resort. I chose Red Rock for three reasons: 1) I could easily make the run into the strip to collect on my NFL bets (I broke roughly even), 2) it is about the nearest place to Red Rock Canyon State Park, and 3) it was supposed to be beautiful. All three were true. Red Rock Resort has a sweet pool area and would probably be a killer spot to hang in the summer when pool time is an option. The rooms are big and awesome with high-def flat screens and gigantic marble bathrooms. There are a ton of restaurants on the property; you could have a decent trip if you never left the resort. But that would be silly because Red Rock Canyon is only 7 miles away.

Red Rock Canyon is called that because it is dominated by a canyon of reddish rock, go figure. But there really is a good deal of geological diversity in relatively small area (it's barely a blip on the map relative to major national parks). Technically it is not a National Park, but a National Conservation Area, which I believe differs from a park in that there are minimal facilities and maintenance. Basically it's just a chunk of land that no one is allowed to develop. There is a 13-mile one way road through the place with a visitor's center at the start. There are a handful of parking areas and overlooks, each with a primitive restroom and a trash can. From many of the stops there are hiking trails through various regions, generally starting from the road and heading into the canyonland.

I took off for a quick hike through an area called the Calico Tanks, and promptly found myself off the trail, with no idea where I had lost it. This is par for the course considering my hiking habits and usually I pass it off to my congenital trailblindness, but this time I cut myself some slack in that these are some very poorly marked trails over and around boulders; I think it would be tough for even experienced hikers to keep on these trails.

The good news is that I was able to make my way fairly deep into the crevices and recesses of the canyon. Surrounded by towering walls of red boulders, it was eerily dark and astoundingly quiet. The only sounds came from within the strewn-about thickets where birds engaged in periodic screeching matches. I am not particularly aware of what might be termed the "spiritual essence" of a place, but some combination of isolation, security, silence, and the cool desert air inside that canyon made me feel as though I was in some sort of secret hiding place.

Apparently a fit chap with some time on his hands could make his way all the way to the top of the ridge, scrambling up large boulders the whole way, no special rock climbing skills needed. I debated finding my way back to the car to drop off my Nikon then doing just that, but decided against it. I wanted to see the rest of the park. As it was, I still got to do a good deal of rock-hopping, followed by crab-walking down the steeper parts just finding my way back to the trail. Good fun; definitely lined up for a return visit. The remainder of the road loop is lovely and offers some decent desert hiking, just not the drama of the red rocks proper.

So that's how I spent my Thanksgiving. Despite my misgivings above, I'll likely go back next year. Even if the Strip is fading in esteem, Vegas offers all the opportunity I need to Southwest exploration. I still have never been to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam (damn contrarian). Besides, by next year Wynn's Encore and MGM's City Center will be open, and I have to see those. There's plenty of opportunity left for giving thanks in Sin City.

Photos on SmugMug.

Book Look: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Book Look: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: I've written about Murakami's fiction before. I'm a big fan. I confess I didn't know he was such a dedicated runner. And this book is a short, quick reading, deceptively simple memoir about his avocation. He talks about how he runs, where he runs, when he runs, and most interestingly, what he thinks about why he runs. There is nothing special about this book beyond the fact that it is exceptionally personal -- a rare thing for the somewhat withdrawn Murakami. Over the years, he had just recorded his thoughts about running and has followed them to a deeper understanding of himself and the world, and organized them into this book. It is not profound in any way, but there is a sort of elegiac quality to the resigned acceptance of things. If you run, you will almost certainly identify with some of the sentiments. If you don't, you probably will too.

Book Look: Europe's Last Summer

Book Look: Europe's Last Summer by David Fromkin: I have always had an odd fascination for WW1, specifically the events surrounding its outset. The romantic view of WW1 is that, apart from being a horrific from a military standpoint, it was a clean demarcation of modernity. Although the old order had been crumbling from within for decades, the Great War was the nail in the coffin. It ushered in the world we know and love by kicking off the bloodiest century in human history.

That's cynical comment, but not inaccurate. Modernity has brought us in the West very good lives for the most part, but there is also much we have lost, as Fromkin reminds us early on when he notes that in the summer before the war it was possible to travel anywhere without a passport, take up residence anywhere with no documentation, and generally live wherever and however you wanted with little or no interaction with any governmental authority whatsoever. Although there has been undeniable scientific and industrial progress, and there has arguably been a good deal of social progress in some quarters, those simple freedoms are gone from us now and likely never to return. How did this happen? Or put another way, who or what really started WW1?

Fromkin does a bang up job of incorporating relatively recent scholarship into his analysis. This is the sort of stuff that wasn't really known when I was memorizing WW1 facts in junior high school. (And now that it is known, the topic is likely no longer in public school curricula.) As revisionism goes, this is very mild. It's more of a clarification -- a well-reasoned expansion of context. In the end Fromkin concludes that the culpability rests primarily with the German General Staff. However, he also notes a striking bit of irony. As events tumbled toward finality, the only ones who could have and would have likely stopped them were two paragons of the old order, living parodies of obnoxious monarchs, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (by then assassinated) and Kaiser Wilhelm II (effectively neutered by the German political establishment). Modernity was born of blood not from the death throes of the old order, but from self-inflicted wounds.

Book Look: Last Night at the Lobster

Book Look: Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan: What a perfect slice of life. Manny is the manager of a Red Lobster on its last day of business. The outlet is closing and Manny is being transferred to a nearby Olive Garden (and taking a corresponding demotion to Assistant Manager). Things are complicated by the fact that a massive snowstorm is upon them so the place is empty, and that he can select five employees to bring with him to Olive Garden, then rest get to pound the pavement for a new job. Things are further complicated because Manny is still hopelessly infatuated with one of the waitresses to the point of having elevated their erstwhile affair into heavenly bliss.

Among its many virtues, Lobster gets the whole day in the life of a franchise restaurant dead on perfect. An old chain restaurant employee (such as myself) cannot stop nodding in recognition at virtually every setting and all the little actions and attitudes that fill the day. Although I worry those details may make things seem a bit slow going for folks not familiar with that life.

The bigger achievement is the portrayal of Manny. An underachieving, aging, everyman with an excess of belly that disturbs him and a longing to recapture the one passionate time in his life. Manny is a true believer. It's the last day the restaurant will be open, but he is going through the processes and following the guidelines as best he can, all the while understanding and honoring of the disinterest of other employees. He soldiers on trying to do the right and responsible thing when it doesn't count a whit if the place is open or closed or clean or filthy. He hopes by hanging on to paychecks he can keep enough staff from deserting so he can stay open, but whatever chance there was for a solid final performance is lost in the debilitating snowstorm. He's down to a skeleton crew of folks who are really just hanging out to help him through the end.

The final insult comes when a bus load of seniors show up and he's convinced they can do one last heroic act to get them served and satisfied, except all they want is to make use of the bathroom and get back on the road. Manny laments his lost chance to do something special, mirroring his lament for his lost lover. Only for the briefest moment does he sense that the fact that some staff actually stuck it out to closing, despite already having their checks, despite being terminated the next day, despite simply not caring about their jobs, for no reason other than to support him, counts as a special achievement. It's an act of gratitude that he has earned over the years for his basic honorability despite the negativity and disappointment of his staff.

There are millions of people like Manny out there. They have lost any pretense of their own special value, without anything hope for passion or greatness, yet they press on, working hard and being responsible because it is the right thing to do and because they know no other way. They are the finest of the faithful. All they can hope for is some marginal form of justice in the end; meanwhile dirtbags, deviants, and sore thumbs get their stories told and wallow in their own infamy.

Well done Stewart O'Nan! More people should write books like this.

The Decline and Fall of HBO

The Decline and Fall of HBO: I suppose True Blood was OK. That is to say, it's not worth watching other than as a mild distraction. The concept of vampires as an oppressed minority with religious and quasi-right wing human supremacist forces out to get them is about as heavy-handed and conceptually confused as anything I have seen. It also appears to have no actual point. Beyond that, True Blood is a generic combo of soap opera and murder mystery, just add vampires. Attempts at humor are not particularly funny. Attempts at suspense are not particularly arresting. Attempts at romance descend into dull pseudo-porn. Producer Alan Ball's reputation now rests on American Beauty, an overwrought movie which gets exponentially worse with age; Six Feet Under, which had one great season, and one good one, and also has no staying power; and the shrug-inducing True Blood.

(By the way: I am already sick to death of frickin' vampires. Let's declare a moratorium on any more vampire crap. Let the undead rest in peace for a while, wouldja?)

A better pointless time waster is Entourage because it doesn't profess to be anything more than tissue-thin and therefore doesn't require the effort to be disappointed, and you only end up wasting 30 minutes instead of an hour. Plus, there is always The Piven to liven things up.

Upcoming for HBO is a sitcom called Hung and I refuse to describe the premise, but you can probably guess. I'll just say that if you are one of those people who believes TV is a lurid cesspool, you're about to get a reload of ammo, as if you needed it. All this is made more poignant because they have just re-run the final season of the finest TV show ever made, Deadwood.

I know some people claim The Wire to be best, but they are wrong. That show's source of brilliance was the treatment of the series as a contemporary Greek Tragedy, but it was marred by the very contemporary setting it so valued. In the end outside forces like David Simon's axe grinding weighed heavily on it, and I grew to sense an uncomfortable voyeurism, as if it a certain class of elitist progressives were gawking at the portrayal of some horrible primitives, while congratulating themselves on their broad-minded evaluations. The ambition for social relevance inevitably makes the living reaction to the show part of the experience; "contemporary" is a double-edged sword. I rank The Wire at #3.

The Sopranos also bears mentioning, but to be honest, it was 6+ seasons when it should have been about 4. There were stretches that were carried almost entirely by James Gandolfini. However, it benefitted supremely from Matt Weiner's subtle and honest insights into humanity (now obvious thanks to Mad Men). The characters were as deep and the relationships as complex as any ever created. The Sopranos comes in at #2.

Deadwood rises above the others simply by the scope of its ambition. The Wire was about impotence in the face of a cold-hearted, dehumanizing system. The Sopranos was about the lies we tell ourselves and how we work to preserve them. Excellent and timeless themes, no doubt; well-plumbed throughout the history of the arts. But Deadwood was about how civilization emerges from barbarism. Go find examples of that anywhere else in the arts or humanities. Forgive me if I don't wait. If it wasn't totally original, it was pretty rare. And I'll wager anything you do find in a similar vein is mawkishly simple in comparison. More likely you'll find high-minded expositions about how we are no different from savages.

But more than that is the language. As far as I know Deadwood is the only TV show, and one of the few recent works of drama in any form, to use the English language in something other than a utilitarian, realistic way. The dialogue had a rhythm and tone all its own -- it approached having a meter. People spoke in complete sentences and paragraphs. There were regularly soliloquies. All of this was intermixed with some of the most poetic profanity imaginable. I know the gangsters and gangstas in the other two shows had the lingo right for their idioms, but that was for the sake of genuineness. The dialogue in Deadwood wasn't aiming to be genuine; it was aiming to be beautiful. And it was. Just an amazing work of art.

Deadwood never got a chance to end, because it was more important to have time slots for something like Hung. Where once HBO had the balls to greenlight epic drama, they now only have the balls to greenlight epic genitals.

Christmas in New York

Christmas in New York: I flew into DC to meet Miss Kate and we took the Amtrak up to NYC for Christmas Day. We quickly came to the realization that the traditional Christmas, where a family stays in huddled around the tree, is long gone. The streets were packed. Rockefeller Center was packed stem to stern with cops directing the foot traffic. It was simply astounding how many people were scurrying about. We walked up toward Central Park and tried to get into the Oak Room in the Plaza for a drink -- no go. We finally found some respite from the crowds in Central Park itself which was quite lovely even in bare-treed winter, although that too took a little bit of seeking out the path less travelled. There was even a line for the horse and carriage rides.

With sundown approaching we made our way to the Lobby Bar in the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle for a pre-dinner drink. Stylish and expensive, don't bother unless you have some green. Drinks are twenty bucks each. Next we made it to BLT Market in the Ritz-Carlton for a very tasty, if somewhat overpriced dinner; eight dollars for a cup of tea and they add in a 20% gratuity on a table of 2 -- shameful, but that's the Big Apple. Then it was time for the train ride back to DC. A short but enjoyable adventure that was appropriately festive and certainly beat the hell out of sitting home watching old movies.

The next day we hit the newly renovated Smithsonian Museum of American History and it was filled to the brim; folks lined up outside just about every exhibit. Sheesh. So we made our way over to the Freer/Sackler museum of Asian Art, a real hidden gem and deceptively large. I like Asian art and one nice thing about the Freer/Sackler Museum is that it is never crowded. Currently there is a big exhibit on Indian art that was fascinating in many ways, but with all the wandering of the previous day, my feet were throbbing. After a last beer in Crystal City, Kate dropped me at Reagan National and I was winging my way home.

Travelling on holidays can be good, but it works best if you are heading away from standard tourist destinations. My ultimate lesson for the holiday season: It pays to be a contrarian.

Photos on SmugMug.

Football (With Regrets)

Football (With Regrets): I can't do it. I can't make it through the whole year without writing about football. Sorry, but the Dolphins won their division (by a tie-breaker, but still) and in the process slammed the door on that insufferable diva, Brett Favre. That cannot go unnoted.

I knew I was going to have withdrawal over giving up my NFL column, but you can't imagine the self-control it took not to go off on novel-length savaging of Lord Favre when he was doing his little golly-I-changed-my-mind-about-retiring-why-are-you-being-so-mean-to-me episode at the outset of the season. Favre has always been overrated and manipulative, but he finally reached Terrell Owens level selfishness.

In case you don't remember, the Packers, having already named Aaron Rodgers as the starting QB before the King decided to Return, did the honorable thing and kept their promise to a guy who patiently waited in the wings all those years while The Diva was padding his consecutive start streak. They offered Brett the back-up job, even though he would be a locker room cancer at that point. Playing second fiddle was, as you can guess, intolerable to Ms., I mean Brett Favre.

So after all the wheedling and whinnying, His Lordship ended up on traded to the Jets. Having landed His Royal Brettness, the Jets summarily shipped their previous starting QB, Chad Pennington, to lowly 1-15 Miami, where this supposed mediocrity would mingle with existing mediocrities and offer no sort of threat to the Jets, even though they are in the same division. Favre must have been in hog heaven at that point. Not only did he have all the attention he could ever want, but he had the reputations of two other QBs (Rodgers and Pennington) hinging on his performance. Imagine the boundless self-validation of wielding such influence.

In the beginning of the season, things were going exactly as planned. The Jets were winning and sports journalists were trumpeting the glory of Lord Favre across the land. The Jets were brilliant and Favre was a true-life superhero. Still, even with Brett at his high point, there were flaws that were apparent to anyone who follows closely. You have no idea how many times I came close to punching out a column at that point, but I would have needed to new keyboard for every paragraph from hitting the keys so hard.

Readers who kept up with my erstwhile football column will remember that there are rules for having a winning football team. The first rule is: The Offensive Line is the Most Important Part of Your Team. That rule doesn't really have much bearing since the Jets O-line was marginally better than average. The second rule is: A Reliable, Consistent and Accurate Quarterback is better that a Star that Makes Big Plays. That does apply.

Another thing readers of my football column will recall is that I that place a lot of faith the cold, heartless statistical analysis that comes from Football Outsiders. That analysis indicated for most of the year, that Favre was putting up a less than middle-of the-road year at best. He was benefitting from a ridiculously easy schedule more than anything (as was all the AFC East). Meanwhile, down in Miami, where mediocrity was supposed to rule the day, the Fins were hanging in there with Jets and the Pats for the division lead, and Chad Pennington was putting together an outstanding season, albeit with roughly the same easy schedule benefit.

But it was still all about Favre -- he may throw an interception for every touchdown, but he's a game changer. You're never out of the game if Brett is your QB. Just knowing he's behind center raises the play of the entire team. God how I hate that nonsense. You can imagine how frustrating it was for me to watch that crap. And for a while it looked like injustice would be served as the Jets had the postseason in sight.

Sometimes, however, even in this chaotic world of chance and happenstance, things work out the way they are should. It seems that all the praise and puffery couldn't mask the truth forever. The Jets began to crumble. True to his history, the King of Intangibles started winging the ball to the guys in the wrong jerseys. In week 13 Favre could only manage 17 points against the Broncos, who were sporting the second worst defense in the NFL since 1995 (again, per Football Outsiders -- the 2008 Broncos are second only to the 2008 Lions). In week 16, against the craptastic Seattle Seahawks who had nothing to play for, he couldn't even manage a touchdown.

Down south, the Dolphins were still plugging away with Pennington doing what he always does (when he's not injured) -- being accurate, sticking to the plan, following his progressions, not wasting passes, and never drawing attention to himself. The Fins won four straight going into week 17, including 3 on the road. AS a result, they were in the driver's seat for the final week showdown with the Jets, a match heightened by Pennington's returning to the place he was cast out of for "someone better".

When truth, justice and beauty all coincide, it's a rare and wonderful thing to behold. The Fins played smart and steady. Chad completed 73% of his passes with 2 TDs and no interceptions. Brett completed only 50% with a single TD and 3 big ol' gunslinger interceptions. His final desperate pass of the game, and possibly his career, was an illegal forward lateral. In the immortal words of Nelson: Ha Ha.

So the Fins deservedly get the playoff berth and The Diva gets to go home and contemplate his next dramatic episode. Back in Green Bay Aaron Rodgers had a fine year, finishing as a top ten QB (per Football Outsiders), but the Pack simply didn't have anything go their way. Their play-by-play performance suggested they should have ended up with nine-ish wins -- instead they got six. Look for a big rebound next year as the statistical flukery reverts to the mean. That'll cook the Legend of Gunslinger for good.

In the fallout, the Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, having discarded a better QB for a worse one and costing themselves a postseason berth, needed a fall guy. One of the only-hinted-at issues of the Jets season was a simmering conflict between the coach, Eric Mangini, who is a system guy, and The Diva, who didn't like to be told what to do or how to play. Mangini would sometimes question The Diva on his improvised decision-making. This is Something You Do Not Do To His Brettness and Tannenbaum had to side with Brett or admit he messed up by making the trade in the first place. Mangini was fired after the game. You live by The Brett, you die by The Brett.

The whole story is just 900 kinds of awesome. I wish I had written about it now, so I could look back at all the doubters and say "Neener, neener, neener"!