Saturday, December 23, 2006

Profile: The Chair

A few weeks ago there was a minor dispute over the hardly-prestigious and practically-insignificant position of the “vice-president” of the Jordanian Journalists Union. At the time of the elections, there was an agreement between the two candidates to alternate holding the position over the term of the council. When the first half of the term expired, one of them refused to honor the agreement and held on to the “chair” claiming that he was the highest vote-getter anyway and that there is nothing official that binds him to giving it up, hence the case was taken to some constitutional court. Then, both disputing “journalists” came to their senses and realized that they are fighting to be “in charge” (using the term very loosely) of a distinguished group of brain-dead high-school failures, flag-waving regime fawners, who are one step away from being issued a drum and a trumpet each (actually many of them already received the musical instruments, and a decent few opted for the gag). So they worked the situation out and avoided further embarrassment.

A few months earlier, the one-time influential Jordanian left, represented by the various midget-sized invisible communist parties, decided to regroup and held an “enormous” conference gathering historic figures along with old and new comrades trying to unite, and revive some of the glory days. The comrades’ main dispute, which eventually led to the failure of the unity attempt, was over the selection of the “Central Committee” members. A secretary general of a current completely obscure party insisted on holding such a seat and refused to settle for a position on the less-prestigious “Executive Committee”, making an argument for his “weight” and historic contribution to the struggle. The funny thing is that the whole gathering including current and historic leaders, current and former members, organizers, supporters, and bystanders could not have completed the load of a small Coaster bus.

If we examine the situation on this elementary level, can we blame a king for trading-in his father for a chair (or even a mattress)? Can we blame another king for back-stabbing his brother, another for sending his dad to a mental institute or another for even conspiring to murder him when the stakes are that high?! If the chair on a school students-council at the fifth grade level may lead to bloodshed, can we blame the owner of a country and everything on it for threatening to destroy anything that comes close to his throne and or another one who is willing to collaborate with the devil (i.e. Israel in the case of the late King Hussein and Jordan) to preserve the chair?

Imagine being responsible for a group of five people. One cannot understand who covets such a situation! Leadership usually contains some privileges, but in reality the main and (maybe only) purpose of these privileges is to allow the leader to perform the DUTIES. So you are the group leader of the five on a trip. They all hand you their money so that you can be in charge of the food supply for the whole trip. A few egotistical emotions may flow in your system as a result of being in possession of all the money. Maybe some feelings of pride and some sense of control. But practically you should be very worried: You are responsible for making the money last for the whole trip; you have to be aware of the collective fortune at all time and cannot lose it or everyone will starve; your integrity maybe subjected to questioning in the case of any misfortune (even at the level of one below-average meal served), and that is only the money planning duties! Seriously, who fights for that?

The chair becomes an issue of dispute and a life-long target in the case when the benefits become exceedingly disproportionate to the duties, with the most extreme example being the leadership of every third world country (unlimited resources for ZERO duties or responsibility). This phenomenon drags down from the palaces to every other organization and is apparent at every other position that comes with a title. It is actually very analogous to the situation of the army ranks in the countries with dormant/doormat armies. If you are a Marshall, General, or the holder of any other red-collar position in the notorious Jordanian army (zero battles over the past 35 years, and literarily zero wins over its whole existence) one may imagine the ratio of your privileges to your duties: They are almost approaching the above mentioned Royal level. If your rank is a little lower, you are still carrying yourself with that same power-trip mentality and you may believe that you have a certain level of a social status, but practically you are responsible for some duties that you need to address (mainly licking the boots of those of higher ranks) and your privileges may be limited to canceling your traffic fines and maybe reached its ultimate heights by getting a seat for your kid at the university. In an empty show-off society even the most insignificant of acknowledgements: “Look, here comes the assistant co-supervisor of the regional conference for Vacuum and Nothingness” can be a source of vindication and will give the fake sense of accomplishment to a worthless soul, let alone the effect of the titles of the “Majesty and Co.” variety.

Of course, the power hunger and the passion for being in charge could be a human desire that may not be that effortless to control and suppress. Any “position”, no matter how trivial, can very tempting and can be almost impossible to secede. That is why those who managed to perform that seemingly-impossible feat and forfeit a power position have engraved their names in the history books: Nasser’s cemented his legacy among the Arab leaders and took it to a whole new level by considering resignation. (Imagine the glory that the late Yasser Arafat could have earned if he had set an example for a system of authority rotation and managed to create such a precedent in our area. (On a separate note: It is even more saddening and infuriating when you see people fighting over a non-existent chair)). Che Guevara’s legacy depends on the effect it has on those who studies his biography: (Some may see him as the symbol of all revolution, some see him as the Don Quixote of our century, some see him as the example of perseverance and morality, and some just think that his mug looks “cool” on a T-shirt or a strapless top) but his legendary status emerged from the fact that he did not get glued to the first chair he had achieved and he elevated over the meager governmental position. Otherwise he would have ended up being his revolution comrade Castro: A one time respected revolutionary turned into a mockery of an autocrat. George Washington could have installed himself (and allegedly was offered to be) KING at certain points of the American history, yet he retired to a plantation after presiding over a constitution that limited the presidents to four years in power. The republican ideal he has set allows the modern day empire to hand each American president his chair after 8 years (literally, since the former presidents actual chair is placed in his memorial presidential library and museum), hand him a thank you note, and allows the country to infuse new blood at the top of its executive branch. The irony here reaches its peak when you observe a whole crew of highly-educated, super-qualified, ultra-intelligent people who are handpicked to perform their respective tasks being relieved of their duties and replaced to assure rejuvenation and “freshness” at the top of the pyramid, while in other parts of the world you have semi-illiterate delusionals with speech impediments “leading” nations decades after decades.

On the bright side in some places of the world there do exist a character called a living ex-president and there is a decent chance for a head of state to walk away from the great responsibility in a dignified way: Not on the hands of a conspiring son, not on the hands of an army general who slaughters him along with the next three generations of his family, nor would it be on the hands of a foreign army who would take his beloved chair and…..execute him on it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Review: Social Equality (II)

A look at the injustices and dangers of capitalism in the second installment of Earnest Mandel’s “From Class Society to Communism”.

As the first part of this review tried to introduce the human dilemma of “Socialism vs. Barbarism” and briefly discuss a few issues associated with socialism (mainly its relationship with religion and the effects of the failure of the Soviet experience), this section tries to emphasize the necessity of a social equality system, through the exposure of the inherited injustices and exploitations of the capitalistic system in two main areas: The appropriation of surplus value and Imperialism. Dire injustices that should not be tolerated by any unselfish self-respecting human being and that should eventually lead humanity to ditch this primitive jungle-themed system.

To understand the main exploit of the capitalist system, one has to be familiar with the concept of “surplus value”: the base of the whole capitalist industrialized economy. To spare the reader an essay in Marxist theory here is the most basic example on surplus value appropriation: You hire a skilled worker (carpenter) to make a chair. You buy the wood for 5 currency units, you pay the worker 5 units and spend another 5 units on expenses (tools, space,…). Now you sell the chair for 25 units. The wood value and expense are “constants”: they just cost that much. That means that the 10 units “profit” that you ended up making are the surplus value that belongs to the worker, but you appropriated it for the single reason that you owned the capital (that allowed for you to buy the raw material) and that you own the means of production. The worker deserved 15 units for his work (as evident by the final price of the chair), but you practically stole his money.

Now Notice the following facts associated with this issue:
-The early capital and early fortunes appeared as a result of parasitic exploiting of the revenues of other classes: The landlords and nobility who exploited peasants as an example, and the transfer of goods and commodities across the markets (which was practically based on deception and pillage), as an other main method. However it is still simply a result of transfer of value, and the global gain of the society is scarcely increased: Some lose what others gain. However the modern capitalistic approach no longer swallows surplus value by circulation, it made surplus value a part of the production process by buying the labor power other than paying a fair return for labor. Hence turning labor itself into a commodity. The main aim of production became solely the accumulation of more capital, which led to huge exploitation of the working class.

-The capitalist has no right to treat labor as a commodity and has no right to appropriate the surplus value. Capitalists prefers to define capital as any instrument of labor, or even vaguer, “any durable goods” (According to Ernest Mandel this definition implies that the first monkey to hit a banana tree with a stick is the first capitalist!). The Marxist definition of capital is: Any value that is increased by surplus value or which attempts to acquire surplus value. One can make the point that socialism does not fight against personal ownership as much as it fights against the ownership of means of productions, that allows one minor class in society to benefit from and capitalize on its inherited status (ownership of wealth, that is turned into capital) to continue to exploit the majority of the society and make their life miserable for the sole purpose of the accumulation of more wealth.

-One may be tempted to make the argument that these members of the exploited working class may have options to improve their situation, by:
a. Refusing to sell their labor power.
The working masses do not have the freedom of choice. The capitalist society is based on forcing people to sell their labor. Actually Mandel defines the proletariat as the class that is obliged by the economic constraints to sell their labor continuously in order to survive. The proletariat is obliged to accept the price dictated by the normal capitalist conditions of the “labor market” as the price for its labor power. A price that is usually just sufficient to buy commodities satisfying those “basic needs” which are recognized socially.
[As a follow up to the last statement, notice how the capitalist system prefers its working class to have some purchasing power (after all who is going to buy all the consumer-goods?). Hence, it is constantly trying to change the proletariat definition of socially-demanded “basic needs” through constant advertisement and popular culture. However during the time of crisis (from the capitalist standpoint) like a crisis of overproduction (which ironically enough is the result of the excessive work done for minimal wages), these working classes are left to face unemployment (and even starvation) in those times of depression, economic recovery, or any other times where the capitalists feels that their return is not being maximized].

b. Seeking self-employment, entrepreneurial opportunities and small businesses.
The capitalist society is based on the centralization of capital. They may want to lead people to believe that anyone can mange to be “capitalists” but the chances are minimal, and the system is constructed over “the big fish devouring the little fish” strategy. Large enterprises defeat smaller ones, hence the big enterprises and firms expand incessantly while small businesses continue to have a very low success rates (especially outside the services sector) even in a country like the USA. Mandel presents a chart (as an indication) that shows that the percentage of the self-employed in the USA has decreased from 37% in 1880 to 9 % in 1970, while the wage-earners percentage reached 90% that year (1970).
The rare feel-good success story of the self-employed who benefited from a situation as improbable as winning the lottery keeps the working class under the illusion that this is a “fair” system where equal opportunities (to exploit people) are offered to everybody, while in reality, the this cannot be farther than the truth.

Another dangerous characteristic of capitalism is the phenomenon of surplus capital (abundant capital resulting from monopolies) that will lead to capitalist countries to seek new fields of investments and hence imperialism. As long as capitalism operated in the world market merely to sell its good and buy raw materials there was no major interest in the conquest of new territories by military force. But since the capital invested in a country is usually recovered after many years, the imperialist countries needs to establish permanent control over the countries they have invested capital in.

Now, Notice that:
-Young imperialist powers try to use the change in the balance of forces to modify the distribution of the world investment fields in their favor by means of wars. These are wars for new fields, sources of raw materials, control of the markets, and not wars for political ideas (and to quote Mandel “not for against democracy, or against autocracy or fascism). This is a major step towards barbarism.

-Imperialism is one of the principal sources of the under-development in two-thirds of the world. The colonial and semi-colonial (formally an independent state but under a foreign thumb) countries are vastly exploited by the imperialists. Every part of these countries’ economies is subordinated to the interest and dictates of foreign capital. The penetration of foreign capital may appear to provide some development of productive forces, maybe create a few small industrial towns and may develop a proletarian embryo, but it has been historically proven that the standard of living in such countries has stagnated or even fallen as a result of this penetration. Notice that this chronic under-development in these dependant countries is not due to lack of local capital or resources. On the contrary, these resources are exploited by the imperialists and the underdevelopment is sustained by constantly discouraging productive investments and industrialization, which leads to immense under employment (both quantitative and qualitative) of these countries populations.

-There has been a recent move from direct to indirect imperialist domination as a result of the national liberation movements all over the world. This change has created a new social layer in the dependant countries: the state bureaucracy. This bureaucracy sets itself up as a defendant and representative of national interests while in fact profiting from its imperialist-supported leadership to indulge in large scale private accumulation. These bureaucracies and autocratic governments that are allied with the foreign monopolies, the national merchants and usurers and the army are a burden on their populations and are another layer of servers to the imperialist capital, under a national cover. The rejection of capitalism (even in its deformed version being enforced on these countries) is a first step towards liberation from the imperialist influence and from the state-in-service-of-foreign- capital agents and representatives.

(Dear three readers: If you have managed to read through this one, you deserve the Abu Shreek Distinguished Individual Award (very prestigious by the way, and recognized in three countries and two Caribbean islands). This was supposed to be an idiot’s intro to a version of Socialism, which appears to have gone slightly in the wrong (a step higher) direction. I appreciate your patience, although the two parts seem to have completely missed the target audience. Well, maybe the third would be more palatable, but I highly doubt it).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Profile: Corruption Cure

With the conclusion of another worthless event in the form of a conference,can we afford to wonder who is carrying the throne of corruption in Jordan? Absolutely not!

A few years back and when Jordan was under the ownership of the late King Hussein a group of veteran politicians and political activists were discussing the issue of corruption in one of these “political salons”, when a reckless individual uttered the statement (رأس الفساد سيد البلاد). Of course, an internal intelligence schmuck of the 5 JDs-per-report variety (can you say police-state?) reported him to the “specialized-departments” and he was going to face trial (constitutionally!) for “tongue elongation”. Well, he was lucky enough to have some “connections” and was spared the (up to three years of) jail time for an observation he could not keep to himself.

Now you are free to believe that the biggest corruption scandal in Jordan is some obscure minister of municipality and the "mega-deal" involving some defected garbage trucks, but Abu Shreek would rather disagree. When your so-called parliament continues to be headed by two household icons of corruption, well then maybe your problem extends a little farther than a garbage truck. Corruption has an undeniable trickle-down effect and blaming or even chasing the bottom of the illness is pointless, achieves minimal gains and almost impossible. The problem is at the top, higher than you can imagine, and as the Arabic poet says “If you are courageous enough, go after the snake’s head not its tail”.

At this point it is obvious that the successive Jordanian governments, that usually reach their respective expiration dates within two years at the most, are interchangeable and practically irrelevant. Starting from the prime minister to whoever random, unqualified (technically, politically and even charismatically) names join him in the few-months “expedition”, they all have the decision-making power of a castrated slave working in a medieval palace. The sole decision-making, policy-scheming, budget-swallowing power in the country is the palace (Again, it is all constitutional).
Now, autocratic regimes adopt a Machiavellian approach in building multiple layers of beneficiaries and parasites at the highest ranks, to assure loyalty and stability of the throne, and then the regime would sponsor them, interchange them, and keep them within slapping distance if they ever think about stepping out of line. Hence, instead of corruption being a disease that needs to be uprooted, it becomes another tool in the hands of a tyrant. This leads to a state-sponsored, agreed-upon situation where corruption is a characteristic of the regime regardless how of much they act like they are “bothered” by it. [It maybe easier to imagine how such a notorious approach works if you see it on a smaller (organizational) scale. Take the “Palestinian Authority” under the late Yasser Arafat. The situation was not even close to a self-government (let alone a state) and the politically-slick Yasser Arafat managed to create a corrupt layer in such a way that when one of his parasites even thought about adopting a line slightly threatening to his absolute despotism and power-trip, then the corruption scandal is brought out, destroying all political credibility and the “once-important-government-figure” may even get publicly executed without a trial.]

It is very understandable to see people who are benefiting from such policies being the first to defend it relentlessly, and step up against the argument above. You cannot expect a quasi-illiterate parasite who ended up with power and wealth beyond belief to profess to the fact that if not for the way our country is run, and if we were a law-based society, he/she would be occupying the bottom level of the society ranks. Does anyone in their right mind expect that so-called parliament to pass any laws that could suppress high-level corruption, when 99% of its members (both elected and assigned) are THE FIGURES of corruption in Jordan?! How is this assembly ( قعدة مضافة) expected to pass “The Declaration of Assets” laws when they are the main people who have to answer to it? And how does an educated, well-informed individual buy into and defend such an approach and claim that this is the only feasible option that we have?
[On a humorous note just imagine if the “How did you earn that fortune?”-law was applied to the Royal Jewels. It would be really hard to come up with sources for the oil-sheikhs-like fortune, when the only documented sources of income are a used tricycle and some CIA payments].

Now, since Abu Shreek is a positive person and prefers to offer solutions other than constantly complaining, here is a suggestion to dismantle corruption and cure its effects: After the second stage of the true political reform (First stage: The palace takes a relative back seat and the historic “political figures” are eliminated from political life. Second stage: Academic research-based election laws that guarantee a capable representation that will form a palace-independent government. [See Profile: The Reform ]), the assets of every Jordanian who has ever assumed a “high rank” official position since 1990 is frozen and subjected to an independent audit. (With in-advance apologies to the three people who did not “illegally benefit from their positions” (the polite way of saying thief), but desperate times call for desperate measures). Once all the illegally earned money is confiscated their Excellencies, their Highnesses, their Holinesses, their Eminences and all the other empty titles holders can choose between enrolling on a social security payment plan (equal to that of the average retired government employee), or if they prefer to remain active, they can choose joining a re-institutionalizing program compatible with their minimal acquired skills that could benefit the society. A Former corrupt Minister of Water Resources: Train to be a skilled plumber. Former corrupt highly decorated army general who has never schemed a training maneuver let alone fought a battle: Train to be a boy scout-leader. A broker who sold the donated oil shipment in the international market: Diesel truck driver. And so on.

The regime should not treat its people as ignorant, brain-dead picture-waving masses. The regime should not choose and be satisfied with its opposition to be in the form of reactionary incompetent forces like the historically-regime-collaborating Muslim brotherhood, tribal leaders who feel left out of the pie-sharing, worthless tabloids and street rumors. And the regime should know that there are people who refuse to buy into meaningless for-show conferences featuring people lecturing anti-corruption when they ought to be serving jail time for corruption.

On a final note, despite the severity of the issue, the corruption problem remains solvable under its current regime-sponsored format. (And if you prefer a faster solution than the aforementioned five-to ten-year slightly-ambitious plan, a simpler option would be the application of law in every walk of life on every level (from the Royal family finances to traffic tickets).
But here what could be a more serious problem: If we know that there is some sort of corruption among high-ranked politicians, among the top army officers, at the top of the intelligence department, at the top of the police department, at the top of our higher-education institutes and we know that a bribe of $2000 can buy you a Jordanian nationality; and in the middle of all that the King who enjoys undisputed powers and tremendous sum of authority and respect is oblivious to it and helpless against it, then who is running the show? And where do you draw the line between a “state” and a “circus”?

Friday, December 08, 2006

NFL: A Quarter to Go

A quick look at the top teams in the league between weeks 7-13.

For the first time since the beginning of the salary cap era, there are some wider-spread complaints against “Parity”. Unfortunately this year, (which is just like every other NFL season: happens to be a “weird” season), the word parity is a synonym for mediocrity. After 8 games 15 out of the 32 teams were either at 0.500, one game above or one game below. By week 13 there are 16 teams who are 6-6, 7-5 and 5-7. Gamblers (an integral part of football) are going crazy: Nothing is making sense. Veteran gamblers have been sitting out the rest of the season since week 7 and waiting for the playoffs. A sports writer (who is a much better comedian than he is a handicapper) is more than 6 games behind his wife in picking games, and his wife is picking the games randomly. There could be many reasons for this phenomenon: (Bad Quarterbacks (Can you find a third pro-bowl QB in the NFC (Alex Smith?)), injuries that tend to level the playing field, a good team looking past a bad team, a revenge match, …, and of course parity that make all the teams so thin at many positions) which leaves all the teams on an equal inconsistent leveled grounds. The result: Teams that looked like contenders early in the year are doubtful to even earn a playoffs spot (Denver, Jacksonville) and teams who were considered Oakland-ish bad have hopes of a wild card (San Francisco).

NFC Contenders:

Big Win: Indianapolis
Big Loss: Washington
What a big difference between the two games against the Giants. They play New York at home and gets dominated in week7, go for the (scary, often-criticized, debatable-at-best ) QB change and their season looks like a lost hope. Then, after beating the Colts they gain so much confidence that they never mentioned the heart-breaker against Washington and would not get bothered by the loss of their defensive captain Greg Ellis. One thing that is going in favor of this team is how healthy it has stayed (jinx alert). Other than the injury to Ellis and Tyson Thompson early in the year (both IR-ed) their injury report last week was: NONE! Just imagine if thy have drafted Manny Lawson, Mathias Kiwanuka or DeMeco Ryans other than Bobby Carpentar.

Big Win: NY Giants, NY Jets
Big Loss: Miami
A QB controversy on week 13 is not a good sign. After they got hammered by Miami at home, the fake aura around this team (and even its defense) started to fade. They bounced back nicely against the Giants and the Jets, but neither game was a dominant performance and as usual an incompetent offense got carried by the defense (10 more takeaways than anyone else in the league) and special teams (Devin Hester for MVP?). Rex Grossman cannot expect to keep winning games with performances like those against the Jets, Pats and Vikings in the past three weeks, and Tommie Harris injury better be not very serious. On the bright side, they have already clinched their division and in the NFC they are a SuperBowl candidate for sure.

New Orleans

Big Win: Atlanta
Big Loss: Pittsburgh
They keep their slot among the big boys proving that they sure belong. The win against the Falcons (The Vick finger game) in week 12 all but secured them the division. The losses against the top two AFC North teams may be understandable but (believe it or not) playoffs contenders should not be losing to the Steelers (a must-beat time at this point of the year) .But now they face a tough stretch (starting against the Cowboys Sunday night) with injuries to Joe Horn and rookie of the year Marques Colston. Their run stopper DT Hollis Thomas is also suspended (steroids) for the last four games. But MVP candidate Drew Brees and a very underrated defense should carry them to a playoffs birth.

Big Win: St. Louis, Denver
Big Loss: San Francisco
They had Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris simultaneously starting at QB and RB for a while! But thanks to the pathetic division, they’ve practically clinched it. After they beat the Rams for the second time, the team that generated some buzz over a few empty wins early in the year, the Rams spiraled down the drain. San Francisco threatened the Seahawks for a second after a few wins capped by an upset in SF, but of course the 49ers came down to earth the following week against the Saints. The Seahawks are still not hitting on all cylinders (especially on offense, given that Hasselbeck was not having his best year even before he got hurt). They lost some depth at the DT position after losing Marcus Tubbs and Michael Boulware lost his starting job (poor performance) but if they use the last 3 of four games against scrubs (ARI, SF, TB) to fine tune they could be dangerous in the playoffs.

Wild Card candidates (in the order of their chances):

Big Win: Carolina
Big Loss: Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville
They go from embarrassing dead-in-the water on Sunday night to a playoffs contender on the next Monday night. That is how the Eagles roller-coaster season is playing out. What a tough stretch they had from the 6th until the 11th week!! Now all of a sudden they control their own destiny (with games against the Giants and the Falcons) and with Jeff Garcia (who?) in the perfect system for his skills, they have a chance. Of course they still have the same old problems (inconsistent running game, thin at the LB position), but they are much improved at Wide Receiver, deep at the defensive line and Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins (without the overreaction and the theatrics) anchor a solid secondary.

New York Giants
Big Win: Cowboys (week 7)
Big Loss: Tennessee
Four losses in a row and the team has the outlook of a deteriorating team. It was obvious that its winning streak of 5 games was overrated, and this team never really had the outlook of the best team in the NFC even after that season-peak win against the Cowboys. Just too much drama and too much dysfunction. They were also hit hard by injuries (Luke Petitgout, Amani Toomer, Michael Strahan and the DEs, the LBs) and their rebuilt secondary played much worse than expected (especially Will Demps). The Tennessee game was the back breaker and a terrible way to get ready for the game of the season against the Cowboys (in which they played very well), but it may be hard to recover behind a still-shaky and inconsistent QB.

Big Win: None
Big Loss: Philadelphia
Since their win against Baltimore in week 6 this team has only two wins, and they came against Tampa Bay and St. Louis! This is a team that was considered a contender early in the year, but not anymore, and it’s almost inexplicable. It is true that their offensive line is depleted (after loosing the LT Travelle Wharton early, they lost C Justin Hartwig), but they do not appear impressive on either side on the ball. Jake Delhomme usually a good “bus driver” has single handedly cost them at least three games (and now he has a thumb injury). The defensive line has officially crossed into the overrated area and I cannot see where Julius Peppers’ MVP candidacy is coming from. The running game that sued to ba a staple is non-existent since they have not found a back in the mold of Stephen Davis. Just an average team and it shows in its 6-6 record.

Big Win: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
Big Loss: Detroit, Cleveland
So they out-slug the Steelers and the Bengals in back to back weeks and Mike Vick is the second coming of Dan Marino then they lose three straight. Note: No playoffs teams should lose to the Lions or the Browns this late in the year, let alone lose to them back to back. The running game that they benefited from early in the year has disappeared (unless you want to consider Vick’s ball-waving scrambles a “running game”) and to quote their owner: “I have three number one receivers and none of them can catch the ball” (Warrants the question: is Ashley Lelie still in the league?) and you may add a QB who cannot throw the ball, but can sure point the finger. They had some injuries (highlighted of course by the annual season-long John Abraham injury), but this team’s defense is hardly a difference maker, and that include overrated (after two years in? is it even possible to become overrated before you even prove you belong in the league) D’Angelo Hall.

Dishonorable mentions: (Sorry you don’t have a chance despite what you think) : Washington, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Francisco.

AFC Contenders:

San Diego
Big Win: Cincinnati, Denver
Big Loss: Kansas City
They are riding a six game winning streak after that a shocking upset loss against KC in week 7. The come-from-behind win against the Bengals proved to them that they can out-score anyone and gave them more confidence in ProBowl-candidate Philip Rivers. Next weeks rematch against Denver should be a big key in clinching the division. LaDanian Tomlinson (who scored 4 TDs against Denver in the first meeting) is a deserving MVP candidate and after managing his touches early in the (Michael Turner relieved him of a few carries and then completely disappeared) he is fresh and is carrying the majority of the offensive load. The defense is giving a relatively high number of points (41 against the Bengals and 20+ points in 6 of their last 7), but Shawne Merriman is back from his steroids suspension, Marlon McCree is a needed-intimidating (dirty?) presence in the secondary and rookie LB Marques Harris has the best celebration move in the league.

Big Win: Denver, New England
Big Loss: Tennessee
Let's just say that this team does not scare anyone this year (keeping in mind that they did not scare many playoffs team in the past, when they were in better shape). The peak of their season was when they took on Denver and New England on the road in back to back weeks and that made them feel that they do not need to blow people up to show that they are a good team. The loss against a Romo-juvenated Cowboys team was not that bad (they lost it on the final drive), but the loss against Tennessee exposed their usual late-year problems (worn out defense and the lack of defensive playmakers, Manning play-calling with the game on the line, and the lack of overall toughness). However, they still share the best record in the league and cannot be ruled out of a long playoffs run if some breaks go their way.

New England
Big Win: Chicago
Big Loss: NY Jets
One could argue that the Patriots have secured their division after week 8. If they would’ve won that week 11 matchup against the Jets, it would have been officially over. But there is a feeling that this team maybe on cruise control, and some times it is hard to reignite the switch on demand, keeping in mind that this is not the same defense of the past couple of years. The loss of Junior Seau left them with special-teamers Tully Banta-Cain and LB/S Don Davis playing extended minutes. The secondary situation without Rodney Harrison, and with Chad Scott and James Sanders also seeing a lot of playing time, is not very comforting. But this is a Playoffs seasoned team that has not lost on the road all year (only team with such feat, the Colts are the only undefeated at home) with an excellent QB, a running game, and an outstanding coach (although he may have seemed to over think himself in some situations this year).

Big Win: Cincinnati (week 9)
Big Loss: Cincinnati (week13)
Their offense showed its true colors once again during the latest Bengals game. They were completely shut out (until a garbage time TD) without turning the ball over and without even surrendering a sack! Steve McNair had a good stretch of games against average opponents and Jamal Lewis finally showed some life, but they only scored more than 30 points once all year (week 8 against the Saints). This will make the defense job very hard (as usual) (Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott are ProBowl candidates) and their field position will be hurt by the loss of KR B.J Sams for the year. They have one more game against a winning team (KC) and with 9 wins thus far they should be a shoe-in to the playoffs.

Wild Card candidates (in no particular order):

Big Win: Baltimore (week 13)
Big Loss: Chargers
Their early 4-2 record quickly crashed after 3 straight losses to the Falcons, Ravens and Chargers. After week 10 and with a 4-5 record their playoffs hopes looked really dim. But give them and coach Marvin Lewis big credit for bouncing back with 3 straight wins (including the Saints on the road, and the must win against the Ravens). The defense has stepped up tremendously allowing (zero, 7, 14) points in the last three games (the three best outings all year). The LBs are doing a much better job against the run (credit the return of Brian Simmons, the play of Caleb Miller and improving rookie Ahmad Brooks). On offense, the retooled offensive line (after the losses of LT Levi Jones and C Rich Braham) are giving Carson Palmer more time, which is essential for their offensive scheme and for the QBs comfort. Even WR Chad Johnson is playing much better since he started being a little more quiet.

New York Jets
Big Win: New England
Big Loss: Cleveland
The most improved team in the second half of the season, and a proof that if you come prepared to win the games you are supposed to win, you can end up in the playoffs. Other than the motivated win against New England (a game that you can argue the Patriots did not care for that much, playing their sloppiest football in years) this Jets team does not have any big upsets or huge wins. They just took care of business against “weaker” teams, credit to their rookie coach Eric Mangini . Chad Pennington is a smart QB and WR Jerricho Cotchery is making enough plays that he should be considered for the Pro Bowl. They could have dealt with the RBs situation a little better. All these backs (Leaon Washington, Cedrick Houston, Kevan Barlow (when he was part of the rotation)) are decent players and the running back by committee approach works best when the players have defined roles. On defense they are solid (11th in total points allowed), and feature some stars playing very well (LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Shaum Ellis and Bryan Thomas) S Kerry Rhodes but without too many difference-making plays.

Big Win: None
Big Loss: San Diego, Kansas City
Here is a team that may have reached its peak around the fourth week of the season. In the last 7 weeks their wins came against Oakland and Pittsburgh. They are riding a three-game losing streak and just went through a QB change, starting a rookie!! The running game that used to be there go-to-weapon has considerably diminished (regardless of whether its Mike Bell or Tatum Bell), and maybe the loss of the LT (Matt Lepsis) will end up hurting any team even no matter what kind of blocking technique is using. The defense that was lights-out early surrendered 34 to the Colts (the “lets pick on Darrent Williams” game) and 35 to San Diego. Injuries and lack of depth are starting to show their effect on the defense (the only rotation player at the DL is Elvis Dumervil and the overworked trio at LB does not have any reliable subs (maybe Nate Webster)). If not for games against Arizona and San Francisco it would be certain that they would miss the playoffs.

Big Win: NY Giants, Miami
Big Loss: Houston (TWICE)
The ultimate two-faced team of the year. A team that can go on the road against the Eagles (week 8, when the Eagles still had the most prolific offense in the league) and hold them to 6 points, drop a beat down on an average team like Tennessee 37-7, in between two losses to the Texans!! If not for the tough closing schedule (Pats and Colts at home, Chiefs and Titans on the road), they would be a very strong candidate for the playoffs. Despite injuries their defense continues to hold up, and they have one of the best running games in the league (Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor). The switch to David Garrard does not look like a bad move, and all this team lacks is some confidence and something remotely resembling a fan-base.

Kansas City
Big Win: San Diego, Denver
Big Loss: Cleveland
The Chiefs deserve big credit for keeping it together despite the early injury to Trent Green, the new comers to the offensive line, the no-name receivers, the slow start of TE Tony Gonzalez and everything else. They have wins against their division rivals and the Seahawks (granted a depleted Seattle team but still), and a lot of the credit has to go to Larry Johnson, also an MVP candidate (30+ touches in 5 of the last six games (41 against the Chargers). He has 310 rushing attempts followed by Chester Taylor and williw Parker 265!). The defense is also playing much better this year and maybe Herman Edwards deserves some credit for that. The problem is losses like the one against Miami and Cleveland last week that could be an indicator that this team may not be that good after all. If the Chiefs are to get into the playoffs they have to prove they belong with at least two wins in their final tough four (Baltimore, @SD, @Oakland, Jacksonville).

Dishonorable mentions: (That was a little too late. Maybe next year, or maybe if you were in the NFC): Miami, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Tennessee.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Archive: Poem-based Story

Abu Shreek “literature-ating” at the Sixth grade level.

Abu Shreek is not a big fan of English poetry. Its main tools lack the strength that could make it special: Similes and metaphors are not powerful enough and can be equally and more effectively employed outside of poetry. The rhythm is mainly created through the (end- word) rhymes and when the rhymes are missing it becomes almost impossible to feel any musical tempo to the words. Many times the ambiguity and the exaggeration in the use of words overpower the point. Of course this is a mere personal opinion that is not meant to undermine those who write or appreciate this art. It may be the result of the exposure to the “specialness” of Arabic poetry with its strict rules and its multiple associated sciences. (البلاغة و العروض ).

One day, a slacking student asked for help in a home work (Reads: I have no chance of passing anyway, so can you please at least save me the embarrassment of missing another homework). The assignment: Write a story to describe what happened to the man in Simon Armitage’s “About His Person” explaining how and why he died using the objects in the poem to build the story. Two problems: 600 words and convincing the teacher that the below-average student did actually write it. (Hoping neither of them is among Abu Shreek’s three readers).

So here is the poem, followed by the short story based on it:


Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked.
A pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
A rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation.
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A giveaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
A keepsake banked in the heart of a locket.
No gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
A ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.

It has been a month since she has left and he decided he had enough. He rubbed the itchy spot on his finger-where the wedding ring used to shine-for the final time, grabbed a piece of paper in one hand and a small bottle in the other. He just cannot take it anymore. Maybe someone like him was not ready for someone like her in the first place.

He was supposed to be a writer. He could have got a job in a factory or a farm like all his friends. He even had a chance to get an office job, with a desk, a phone and a decent salary. But he was always fascinated by the art of words, and he was determined to make the world hear him.

But realizing a dream comes with a heavy price. Sometimes, life can be very hard for a struggling unknown writer. Money was not always available, but he did not care. He did not care that he hardly ever ate a decent meal. He did not care that he could not afford to go to a movie theatre, or attend a party. He-kind of-did not care that he had no friends. Books made up for all of that. The minute he sat in his usual corner in the library, and started reading and writing, he forgot about hunger. His entertainment was the stories he read and his friends became their characters. At times he felt unhappy, lonely and hungry, but he always managed to be “satisfied”.

Until that one spring day. Early spring days were the hardest for him. The warm sun, the blooming flowers, the singing birds, and the lively streets full of smiling faces. All that reminded him how miserable he is. But that day when he arrived home, he pulled out his little diary, just like he does every night, and he wrote:

-“Today, I saw the most beautiful creature on earth, I smiled and she smiled back…”.

The following night he opened a new page and wrote:
-“Today, after hours of hesitation, I managed to talk to her. She was even more fascinating when she (timidly) talked to me…”.

-“Today, I handed her the poem that I wrote especially for her, and I quickly left…”

-“Today, I walked her home. She told me how much she hated working at her father’s shop. She liked the poem so much, and to show how much she appreciated it, she gave me her picture. I am staring at the picture as I am writing this.”


-“Today we decided we want to get married. And we did. April 1st is the happiest day of my life”.

It did not take a long time before she decided to leave him. The few years they spent together were very hard on both of them. His career never took off and her demands never stopped. He loved her a lot, but that was never enough. And now he is back to the brutal loneliness. He thought about asking her to come back. He was going to write her something begging her to change her mind and come back mind and return. But what should he write? A new poem? The same old poem?

While he was staring around the room, trying to come up with the perfect words: the only thing missing from the ready-to-send card, his eyes caught a crumbled piece of paper that seemed familiar. It was another one of her shopping lists that he was never able to cross a single item off of. He reached in his pockets, took another look at the list, and pulled out the loose change. He counted the money, looked at the clock that has not moved a single tick during all of last month, and he thought to himself: “This should be more than enough for a bottle of fine rat poison”.