GELFAND’S WORLD - I was going to write about the Super Bowl or about Ukraine. So I think I'll write about both and maybe a few words about Rick Caruso's candidacy.
A naive question from a post-WWII baby
Growing up in the post-WWII era, the repeated question that people asked was why the people of western Europe (and Germany) did nothing to stop the Third Reich. We learned of the Munich Pact (Chamberlain's "peace for our time") and so forth. The take home lesson was a repeat of that old saw, "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Admittedly the military situation was different in those days. But still, the world found itself in a bind what with Germany demanding parts of Czechoslovakia while the Italian version of Fascism attempted to extend its control into parts of North Africa.
When I was growing up, we were continually talked to about the Good Germans, Chamberlain, and the failure to defend ourselves individually and in groups.
In June 1941, Hitler launched an invasion of the Soviet Union that was ultimately to kill millions of people on both sides and eventually led to Germany's defeat. But in the meanwhile, the blood flowed, whole regions and populations were wiped out, and military conquest in Europe continued as a reality.
So here is my ever so naive question: What is so different about Putin invading Ukraine -- isn't it the mirror of what Hitler did to Russia three-quarters of a century ago? Wouldn't it be just another case of one European super-power sending its army against another? And like Czechoslovakia, Poland, the USSR, and France in a previous generation, wouldn't Ukraine be the newest victim of what was supposed to be an outmoded era?
And this implies the following question: Why are the NATO countries failing to amass their own troops as close to the potential Ukraine battlefield as possible -- possibly even in Ukraine itself?
I realize there is another side to the argument. A number of years ago, when Russia was overtly messing with the eastern part of Ukraine, I spoke to a friend who had worked in the U.S. diplomatic service. His view was that there was little or no American national interest in that part of the world. It's true that little that happened at that time seemed to affect our way of life except perhaps the creation of a precedent, namely that Russia could get away with actions that might previously have been prevented by the existence of an active and well-equipped NATO.
There is one more difference. When the Soviet Union officially disbanded, the Russian sphere of influence was reduced markedly, and the NATO sphere of influence expanded on the east. It's not surprising that a KGB officer who managed to take charge might want to reverse some of the changes. I don't read minds, so I can't tell you that Putin wants to return the internal autonomy and external power of the USSR, but his behavior seems to support that supposition.
So why don't the leaders of Germany, France, the UK, and others, taking note of what history taught us, start moving their own troops in position to repel a Russian advance? The answer may be oil and natural gas, but is this enough of an excuse to redo Munich?
56 minutes of the Stupor Bowl followed by 4 minutes of excitement
About midway through the third quarter, I looked away from the TV and mused, "the Rams have a chance to prevent violence in downtown Los Angeles. All they have to do is keep on playing the way they're playing -- and lose. And L.A. natives will go to bed quietly instead of vandalizing busses and turning cars over."
For some reason, the Rams figured out how to turn what had been an awfully dull mid-game into an exciting ending which included both offensive and defensive brinksmanship. The quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who had been brought in at great cost, got his Super Bowl championship. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald got his championship. And the team even got me as a rooter for the first time in decades. Until a couple of weeks ago, I only referred to them as the Cleveland-Los Angeles-Orange County-St Louis-Inglewood Rams.
I guess they have established themselves as the Los Angeles Rams once again, at least for another 25 years or so, at which point we can expect the future owners to start looking for some city to buy them a new stadium.
But enough about how right-wing billionaires extort public gifts from taxpayers. This was an athletic victory among two pretty extraordinary teams. It didn't hurt for Ram fans that Cincinnati kept getting penalty after penalty right up against their own goal line with only a couple of minutes left. The fact that the Ram defense was able to protect its slim lead at the very end was the icing on the cake.
In truth, the Rams could have engineered a blowout in the first half had it not been for a couple of almighty errors. But they were close at the end of the half and that was enough.
The final score of 23 - 20 shows how little offense was achieved. But it is also the general fact that winning teams tend to be winners by having terrific defenses. Where the Bengals stuffed the Ram running game, the Ram defense did an excellent job in keeping the Cincinnati passing attack under control most of the time. Still, I didn't see any quarterback in this game who was up to the standards of at least two or three others who managed to lose in the playoffs. Would Tom Brady have missed as many passes as Stafford did?
And of course, there was that stolen touchdown by the Bengals, in which the receiver grabbed the Ram defender by the face mask and threw him to the ground just before catching the pass. Cincinnati really should have been held to 13 points total..
One other point that is in keeping with how Midwesterners like to hate on California or at least pretend at it. This game was played in weather not only picture perfect, it was perfect even as the Midwesterners were enduring what used to be a typical midwestern winter. Cincinnati as of this writing is 22 degrees Fahrenheit, although it may break freezing for a couple of hours in the middle of the day on Monday.
How one pro called it: Brian Lowry of CNN summarized things very well here in everything from the halftime show to the commercials that worked to those that really didn't.
Still, I wonder whether we've gone on a couple of decades too long in being obsessed with Super Bowl commercials. There just hasn't been enough there in recent years.
There was a time when people actually looked forward to them. The Budweiser horses playing a game of pickup football in a pasture was probably the best of the lot. This year, they were just commercials. In fact, although I tried to watch a lot of them, it became the truth that for many of them, I didn't really understand what product or service was being hawked -- at least until the very end of the commercial. It also became an issue that the network was crowding huge numbers of relatively short ads into the time available.
In recent years, there has been a pre-Super-Bowl television show that reviews previous commercials as if they were some major comedic or cultural achievement. The best I can say for this tradition is that times have changed. The modern Super Bowl commercial is put together with a lot of computer generated graphics and without a lot of wit. A punchline like in that Budweiser commercial -- "Usually they go for two" -- is not going to be found among the modern variety as best I can predict.
Ignoring the cultural and political aspects of Super Bowl LVI, what of the game itself? I think that there is a pretty good argument that this was a pretty good game, if not the greatest of all time. And unlike the first Super Bowl, the NFL did not keep it off of Los Angeles television screens.
Rick Caruso: Is he the Harold Stassen of Los Angeles politics, although Stassen at least entered the primaries?
Once again we have Rick Caruso as a possible candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. He has created buzz about a possible candidacy for years and years. This time he claims to be serious. From the standpoint of the average voter, I would suggest some of the following:
We know nothing about him.
What we do know is that he is a real estate developer worth gazillions.
We don't really know what, if anything, he stands for.
People tend to vote for people who have already held office.
Finally, what makes anyone think that government and business have anything to do with each other? It is true that government involves a lot of business principles, but it is not true that the reverse holds. There is a certain level of diplomacy and politics in doing business deals, but it is not the politics that happens in a place like the City Council.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])