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Super Bowl 50: Why Carolina Must Win


Super Bowl 50 is almost here, and the Carolina Panthers have been the most exciting team all season—largely due to quarterback Cam Newton. No one in the NFL is more fun to watch, mostly because no one is having more fun than he is. Newton is quick on his feet, launches the ball downfield with pinpoint accuracy and can evade defenders and run the ball himself. And the whole time, he has a giant grin on his face and the best dance moves in professional sports. Man, I can’t wait to see him walk all over Tom Brady and the New—wait, what? Okay, watching Carolina own the Denver Broncos will be pretty good, I guess. I was really looking forward, though, to seeing Newton’s full-bodied laugh juxtaposed with that pouty face Brady gets when things don’t go his way. Not to mention that with both teams’ having big, quick, dynamic players, a Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl would have been a way more exciting game. But enough dwelling on what could have been. The bright side of the actual matchup is that you can feel really good about both teams’ being here. The Panthers finished a difficult regular-season schedule with only one loss. They absolutely deserve their Super Bowl spot. Same goes for the Broncos. Denver wasn’t guaranteed to get this far; the team showed progress early on with a seven-game winning streak, but Peyton Manning’s injuries started to affect his play. During November’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Manning couldn’t complete a pass and threw four interceptions before being benched in favor of Brock Osweiler (who turned out to be a talented QB in his own right, leading the Broncos to three consecutive victories, including one over the then-undefeated Patriots). When Manning returned for the postseason, he played the best games we’ve seen from him in a long time. With recent reports of his impending retirement, it’s nice to see a talented QB go out on a high note like this. Peyton Manning (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney) “This,” of course, being the AFC championship, not the Super Bowl. Because let me make this clear: Not only do I think the Panthers are going to win, I think the future of football as a sport depends upon their winning. Here we have two quarterbacks who are essentially polar opposites. Manning is undeniably talented. He’s got a powerful arm and is a great strategist who knows exactly where to put the ball to get a big completion. He can size up the defense before the snap and call the perfect play to counter it. He’ll be remembered as one of the best of his generation. Manning is measured, stoic and restrained—everything the NFL wants from its QBs. And that’s his problem. After years of doing it, he’s boring. Watching Manning is like watching a computer play the game. A Broncos win is a victory for reliable, risk-averse football. Newton and the Panthers, however, are unpredictable. They improvise. They can pass, run, scramble and sometimes do all three in one play. This is a team that can do this. And don’t forget this trick play from 2011. The only team that seems to remember that it’s getting paid to play a game and that games should be enjoyable. A Panthers win is a victory for experimentation, risk taking and just plain fun. And yes, they will win. The Broncos owe a lot of this season’s victories to their brilliant defense. As Manning’s injuries worsened, the defense prevented opposing teams from putting up enough points to win. But they’ll have a much harder time stopping the Panthers—with so many options, it’s almost impossible to predict what Carolina will do. Even if Denver’s defense does break one of their plays, the Panthers can adapt and turn it into something else entirely. Now there’s no guarantee the Panthers defense can stop Manning, but I’m thinking Carolina’s offense will put enough points on the board that it won’t matter. Still, the Panthers can win on defense if they get into Manning’s head quickly. He doesn’t shake off adversity well. Once things start going bad for him, he tends to get discouraged and the rest of the game speeds downhill from there. Remember Super Bowl XLVIII? One crappy snap in the first play, and Manning could barely manage to put up eight points in four quarters, as if he’d just given up. If the Panthers defense can get to him early and often, nothing will stand between them and their first Super Bowl victory. Prediction: Panthers 34, Broncos 28 Super Bowl 50 airs live on CBS at 6:30 p.m. eastern time, Sunday, February 7. Feature photo of Cam Newton: Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini

by Nick Mangione

Feb 5, 2016

Flick Pick: Hail, Caesar!


Coen brothers aficionados, rejoice! Their latest flick, Hail, Caesar!, is finally out this weekend and it’s everything you have come to expect from the four-time Academy Award–winning duo’s work. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood "fixer" in 1950s Studio City who has his hands full with a movie in production, Hail, Caesar! Its lead actor, icon Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), has been kidnapped by an organization called The Future. Now Mannix must work overtime with the biggest names in the business—who have problems of their own—to gather the ransom money he needs to save the star. Hail, Caesar! could be interpreted as the Coens' ode to the world of cinema. Their love for filmmaking and the industry is apparent. The all-star ensemble of recognizable faces each echo an icon from the golden era of Hollywood. The casting is perfect across the board, with Coen newbies Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum joining previous collaborators Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand. Behind the camera, cinematographer Roger Deakins partners with the Coens for a 12th production. With appearances by a virtually unknown, yet unforgettable, Alden Ehrenreich and funny guy Jonah Hill, it’s clear the brothers have a knack for humor. The quick-witted dialogue in Hail, Caesar! resembles that of cinephile favorite O' Brother Where Art Thou?, both of which comprise the Numbskull Trilogy, along with 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty. Lit in the warm hues of sunny, classic Hollywood, we can already tell this is a must-see for fans of the Coens' goofier work. Photos: © Universal Pictures /Everett Collection

by Stephanie Adams

Feb 4, 2016

The Portable Veblen—a Smart and Squirrelly Novel


The Portable Veblen is an unusual book. There’s plenty recognizable about it: Two people who are very different from each other fall in love; difficulty and chaos ensue. But several less common tropes also feature—the woman in the relationship has a friend who’s a squirrel, to take the most glaring example. Is she crazy, or is her whimsy more lucid than her boyfriend’s belief that money and prestige will grant him the stability his childhood lacked? This question, and the conflict between the couple’s disparate worldviews, gives the book its tension and momentum, often in weird and unexpected ways. Author Elizabeth McKenzie (photo by Linda Ozaki) Veblen Amundsen-Hovda is a 30-year-old temporary office worker in Palo Alto, California. Materialistically unambitious, she is a passionate translator of Norwegian literature for the Norwegian Diaspora Project—work that pays, so far anyway, only in intellectual satisfaction. She’s particularly interested in the writings of Norwegian American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, after whom she was named. The other Veblen was a critic of capitalism best known for his idea of “conspicuous consumption,” a theory the young Veblen takes very much to heart. In order to avoid a life of existential emptiness, Veblen sews her own clothes, rents a small ramshackle cottage nobody else wants and refuses to look for a better-paying job. As other reviewers have noted, Veblen is a kind of manic pixie dream girl—though not nearly as flat as this character tends to be—and a clear foil for her boyfriend, an ambitious young doctor named Paul. Raised by a pair of marijuana-growing hippies in Humboldt County, California, Paul Vreeland has spent his life elbowing his way into the mainstream. A physician at Stanford, where Veblen also works, Paul is already moving on to a role at the major medical conglomerate Hutmacher Pharmaceuticals when the couple meet. Paul’s pending corporate affiliation bodes badly for both his moral compass and his relationship with the idealistic Veblen. Dr. Vreeland, however, justifies his new position by telling himself that Hutmacher has the resources to fast-track FDA approval of his medical device (a tool for treating traumatic brain injury by punching a hole in the skull), thus getting it into the hands of the people who need it—servicemen and -women on the front lines of America’s wars. His product will help people, he reasons, so what does it matter if he gets rich in the process? The ethical questions about the medical field’s relationship with big pharma are interesting and important (though in some cases the specifics are slightly outdated), but they aren’t author Elizabeth McKenzie’s main focus. That rests solidly in the love story. “It was clear that your choice of mate would shape the rest of your life in ways you couldn’t begin to know,” McKenzie writes. Can two individuals with strong personalities and heaps of familial baggage sustain a loving relationship? The Portable Veblen wants to know. Does compromise always favor one party, or is balance possible? How can we settle the trauma of the past in order to create a healthy relationship in the present? Paul and Veblen both have plenty of past trauma to deal with. Veblen’s father, Rudgear, possibly insane, was unequivocally damaged by his service in Vietnam. (His favorite phrase, And he was never the same again, clearly applies to his own case.) Her mother, Melanie, is a self-pitying hypochondriac who rules Veblen’s life with neediness and guilt. In addition to Paul’s own eccentric parents, his older brother, Justin, is mentally disabled, and Paul suffers from the conviction that Justin’s needs have always overshadowed his own. Naturally, Paul and Veblen handle these problems in very different ways: “In addition to biting herself, another way Veblen dealt with emotional distress was to fixate on ideological concerns.” While Paul uses material striving to cope with the world and prove himself, Veblen’s obsession with moral altruism and living the “right” way functions similarly. The novel suggests both tactics are unbalanced. The reader may reasonably expect a literary novel to side with Veblen on this one, but McKenzie offers empathy for Paul, allowing his fiancée to eventually recognize that the trap of conspicuous consumption can ensnare not only the shallow and stupid but also intelligent people harboring deep existential angst, like Paul. Although I didn’t love or see the need for the random photos scattered throughout (is there a reader who doesn’t know what a chicken burrito or bag of clothes from a thrift shop looks like?), and sometimes the discussions Veblen has with her squirrel buddy wear a bit thin, The Portable Veblen is overall an enjoyable book. What kept me going past these bumps was that I liked Paul and Veblen, perhaps more so because I didn’t like them all the time. In other words, despite (or because of) the weirdness, McKenzie’s characters feel real. The philosophical confrontation is relevant, and the descriptions of the California setting lend necessary literary beauty to what could have all too easily turned into a lecture. If you’re looking to step away from reality for a while to better understand how to live in it, you could do much worse than The Portable Veblen. Feature Photo: Flickr

by Emily Burns Morgan

Feb 4, 2016

Is It Really Possible to Win a Caucus? Go Ask Alice


“What is a caucus race?” said Alice. “Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” On the Dodo’s racecourse, Alice and her animal friends began running in circles, haphazardly, this way and that. After half an hour or so, the Dodo arbitrarily pronounced the race over. “But who has won?” the animals asked. “Everybody has won!” declared the Dodo. Which is to say, of course, that nobody has won.  Ted Cruz took the Iowa Republican caucus on Monday night, and Hillary Clinton squeaked by on the Democratic side, but nobody woke up a winner on Tuesday morning. Like the Wonderland creatures in “A Caucus Race and a Long Tale”—Lewis Carroll’s satire of Britain’s political caucuses, which he slipped into chapter three of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—today’s GOP contenders in particular are running around in haphazard circles, simply trying to outlast one another rather than get anywhere. And for those of us watching from the sidelines, things keep getting curiouser and curiouser: Donald Trump blames a tough debate question on a journalist’s menstruation, Carly Fiorina summons dead babies on boardroom tables, and Ben Carson supports prison reform because “a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.” A race to out-nonsense one another is, like the Dodo’s caucus, a contest without a victor. John Adams (Wikimedia) Now that caucus season is finally under way, many of us find ourselves wondering (in secret, mostly—we dare not admit our political ignorance) the same question as Alice: What is a caucus? The query was yesterday’s top Google autofill for “Wha—?” (which itself is probably one of Google’s more common query openers), and the subject remains, along with the electoral college and the phone book filibuster, one of the murkier areas of the democratic process. Let’s try to shed some light on it. By traditional definition, a caucus is a meeting among members of a political party to determine a candidate for election. In colonial times, these closed-door assemblies were restricted to powerful men, and because of the participants’ prodigious tobacco use, caucuses were often simply known as “smoke-filled rooms.” These men selected from a list of candidates one or two to enter the general election. In a February 1763 diary entry, future U.S. president John Adams wrote:

by Gabriel Rosenberg

Feb 3, 2016

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