Thursday, June 30, 2016

Which CFL Team Are You?

Last week, the 2016 Canadian Football League season began. For many Americans, the CFL is somewhere between a quirky parallel world and a bizarre afterthought. To others, it’s a desperate stopgap when their baseball team is foundering and there’s no other team sports to watch. I’m not a die-hard CFL fan per se, but if there’s a game on TV (thanks, ESPN!) I’ll tune in.

If you are among the minority of NFL fans that need a desperate pigskin fix, you might be surprised to know that the CFL draws some interesting parallels.

BC Lions: If any CFL team adopted and embraced the over-hyped “west coast offense” of the 1980s, look no further than Vancouver. The Lions are also a team that was very good in the 2000s but are now in rebuilding mode. Compares to: 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Chargers
Calgary Stampeders: They have a stifling pass-rush defense, but their run-to-set-up-the-pass offense doesn’t really compare to anyone in particular. At the same time, they’ve had a lot of alumni that used to play for Bears, Vikings, and Chiefs’ secondary and practice squads.
Edmonton Eskimos: The offense finally clicked last year, giving the Esks their first title in over a decade. They don’t seem to have a lot of personality, though. Compares to: Colts, Panthers, Broncos
Saskatchewan Roughriders: The green and silver play in Regina, arguably the most rural and socially conservative city in Canada. Deep south football fans might relate to that. They’re also the only major sports team in the entire province. Compares to: Titans, Bucs, Falcons, Saints
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: At 22 seasons and counting, the Bombers have the longest Grey Cup drought in the league. Their fans are loyal, if not grumpy and self-deprecating. Compares to: Jets, Cardinals, Lions, Bills

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: These longtime also-rans lost the Grey Cup in 2013 and 2014, so hope springs eternal. Historically a bridesmaid, rarely a bride. They have the same colors as the Steelers, and Hamilton is also a steel town, but they also compare to the Bengals, Dolphins, and Redskins.
Montreal Alouettes: The most dominant team of the past decade or so might mesh well with New England football fans, but Larks fans don’t treat this as a religious experience. Plus, the core of those championship teams is starting to age. Compares to: Eagles, Ravens, Giants
Ottawa Redblacks: There is a history of football in Canada’s capital city, but it came to a halt when the Renegades folded in the mid-2000s. An expansion team with the same colors (but not the same name) emerged in 2013, going through most of the same growing pains new franchises go through. Compares to: Jaguars, Browns, Texans, Raiders
Toronto Argonauts: The team with a tradition of winning, and the team everyone else in the league hates. “They don’t rebuild, they reload.” Enough said. Compares to: Packers, Patriots, Cowboys

Happy Canada Day!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Precedent for President

It may surprise some people that this year's wacky presidential race may have some historical precedent. The rules that outline how a national election can be organized have not changed much since the U.S. Constitution was written nearly 230 years ago, which has made for drama and high tension. The 2000 race, determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, was the most recent example of a presidential race reaching an photo finish, to put it mildly. The election of 1824, much like today, was the culmination of years of unsettled tension reaching an ugly crescendo.

To set the scene: leading up to 1824, the original two-party system that emerged in the early days of the republic had disintegrated. The Federalist Party collapsed, leaving the Democratic Republicans (today's Democrats, more or less) without a viable opponent. The Dem-Reps controlled all three branches of government, with laws and legislation being passed without much opposition. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the crushing defeat following the War of 1812, Americans sought unity. This time period of unilateralism became known as "The Era of Good Feelings." It was pleasant enough on the surface, but unsustainable and rotting from within.

President James Monroe strove to downplay partisan affiliation, with the ultimate goal of national unity and eliminating parties altogether from national politics. For that reason, his agenda and The Era of Good Feelings are almost synonymous with each other. To prevent upheaval and discourage rivalries, political opponents like John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams were given high-ranking positions in Monroe's cabinet.  On the national level, Monroe was well-liked enough to be reelected in 1820 with all but one electoral vote; William Plumer, an elector from New Hampshire, thought Monroe was incompetent and put his support behind the younger Adams.

When Monroe chose not to seek a third term in 1824, all the delicate alliances our fifth president had built slowly came crashing down. His heir apparent, Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins was not only unpopular but also in poor health (indeed, Tompkins died three months after leaving office). The Democratic-Republicans were faced with a wide-open race; the traditional Congressional caucus, the precursor to today's conventions, chose Treasury Sec. William H. Crawford to succeed Monroe. However, the caucus was sparsely attended and perceived as undemocratic. Crawford stayed in the race, but he quickly found himself lagging behind three upstarts: Secretary Adams, General Andrew Jackson, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay.

John Quincy Adams, the son of a former president, was well liked by the last vestiges of the Federalist Party but mostly aligned with the Democratic-Republicans. Rep. Clay, a populist rabble-rouser, made Appalachia (then the U.S. west) his stronghold. General Jackson, the one non-politician in the race, was a respected war hero with a strong following in rural areas, especially in the South and mid-Atlantic states. Adams and Crawford split the east, with Adams holding a narrow advantage in New England. They all conflicted over policy, especially in regard to tariffs, but this would be a race of both favorite sons as well as geography.

There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution that enables a two-party system; historically, most of our federal elections have been set by two semi-rigid party platforms, but it has been largely happenstance. Third parties have come and gone with a short wave of momentum but limited long-term impact. For its time, an election with four viable presidential candidates was unprecedented. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun was briefly a fifth option, but opted to seek the vice presidential nomination; his political beliefs were more aligned with Jackson's, but he made no effort to distance himself from Adams.

Once all the votes were tallied in December 1824 (there was no consensus election day at the time), none of the four candidates got the 50% of the popular vote needed to win. Andrew Jackson carried 41.4% of the vote, hardly a majority. Because of a provision in the 12th Amendment, the top three candidates would have to be elected in a special vote my Congress. Clay, who finished fourth, was eliminated but opted to endorse Adams. It was enough to sway Congress to vote narrowly in favor Adams' presidency. In return, Adams made the controversial choice to appoint Clay his Secretary of State. The Democratic-Republicans ceased to be shortly after.

For the first time in American history, a candidate that won the popular vote failed to get enough electoral votes to win the presidency. The election of 1828 was not only a rematch, but a moratorium of sorts for Adams' middling term in office. The pulse of the nation was still polarized, but Jackson had more popular support --and the electoral votes necessary-- to quash Adams' quest for reelection.

I suppose in this convoluted analogy, Hillary Clinton is Adams, Donald Trump is Jackson, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is Crawford, and Bernie Sanders is Clay. The former two make far more sense than the latter two; Clinton is the safe establishment candidate, while Trump is the known brand with the mix of outsider appeal and worrisome baggage. Maybe Sanders' supporters will come around to vote for Hillary, but there is a long road ahead and many compromises to be made. For disenfranchised Republicans, Gary Johnson might actually make more sense than the bloviating, opportunistic Trump. In spite of the circus atmosphere, there is a unique precedent.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

My 11th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Emmy time again? Not quite, as the nominations won't be announced for a few weeks. However, the 2015-16 TV season is for all intents and purposes over; with a dramatic amount of turnover from last year (especially in the Best Drama and Best Variety categories) there is a slew of fresh faces and familiar faces in new locales alike to make anyone's prognostication look valid. At the same time, where there are several returning shows that are practically locks for a nomination, there are various upstarts and overlooked talents that could make their case.

With that said, here is my 2016 Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Joanne Froggett, Downtown Abbey; Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Regina King, The Leftovers; Constance Zimmer, UnREAL.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Jim Carter, Downton Abbey; Alan Cumming, The Good Wife; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; Damien Lewis, Billions; Christian Slater, Mr. Robot.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Allison Janney, Mom; Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Judith Light, Transparent; Kate McKinnon, SNL.
Supporting Actror, Comedy: Louie Anderson, Buckets; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Adam Driver, Girls; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family; Tony Hale, Veep.

Leading Actress, Drama: Claire Danes, Homeland; Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Taraji P. Henson, Empire; Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black; Maura Tierney, The Affair; Robin Wright, House of Cards.
Leading Actor, Drama: Bobby Cannavale, Vinyl; Kyle Chandler, Bloodline; Rami Malek, Mr. Robot; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards.
Leading Actress, Comedy: Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie; Michaela Watkins, Casual; Constance Wu, Fresh Off the Boat.
Leading Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Aziz Ansari, Master of None; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth; William H. Macy, Shameless; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent.

Best Variety Talk Series: "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," TBS; "Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC; "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," HBO; "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS; "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," NBC.
Best Variety Sketch Series: "Drunk History," Comedy Central; "Inside Amy Schumer," Comedy Central; "Key & Peele," Comedy Central; "Portlandia," IFC; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
Best Limited Series: "11.22.63," Netflix; "American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson," FX; "American Horror Story: Hotel," FX; "Fargo," FX; "The Night Manager," AMC; "Show Me a Hero," HBO.
Best Dramatic Series: "Better Call Saul," AMC; "Downton Abbey," BBC/PBS; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "The Good Wife," CBS; "House of Cards," Netflix; "Orange is the New Black," Netflix.
Best Comedy Series: "Broad City," Comedy Central; "The Last Man on Earth," Fox; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Transparent," Amazon Prime; "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix; "Veep," HBO.