Thursday, January 7, 2016

Concussion and The Big Short

                      Past Tragedies Occurred, Future Protections Unclear
                                              Review by Ken Burke
Supermodel Nina Kindblad demonstrates the latest in E.R. chic
 For those of you who have read my last posting (with a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which may have become the highest-grossing-domestic movie ever by the time you read this), you know that my wife, Nina, and I had to postpone our trip to Cuba because of problems she’s having with her right hip and leg.  Well, just to let you know that she likes to keep things medically interesting we had another trip to the emergency room last Saturday night after having just seen Carol (Todd Haynes)—excellent film, review to come soon—and sitting down for looked like a delicious Italian dinner (no reference to the restaurant here because what happened next wasn’t their fault) when she started getting feverish, felt like electrical currents were shooting up and down both legs, and was scared almost to death (me too) that she was having a stroke.  We quickly got an ambulance to the scene, determined that the stroke option was unlikely (thank God or Whoever runs the universe), but off she went to the hospital with me following behind as pasta sauce was dripping from our rapidly-assembled-to-go-bag (sadly I had to return the 2 glasses of wine as guzzling them down before I jumped in the car didn’t seem like the best decision to make, even in a state of semi-panic).  A few hours later after the symptoms had disappeared, various tests showed no problems, and the best diagnosis was a freak occurrence from a combination of a hidden virus (well, it may not be hidden anymore as I’ve had the standard-wintertime-miserable-cold ever since) and low potassium (a daily banana has now been added to her diet), we were home again with the dinner in the refrigerator awaiting future consumption.  All of this is in prelude to saying that I’ll be cranking out these reviews as best I can get to them in the weeks ahead but medical issues may interrupt so just keep an eye out for my postings as they may appear on a regular schedule or more erratically.

 I’ll also note that my readership remains high in Russia—thanks, guys—with Google’s latest count (of what time frame I’m never sure) showing my Slavic fans with 1,241 pageviews vs. a mere 717 for my 2nd-place-U.S. readership; beyond that, the country counts are much smaller but still global-wide with Canada, several of the European countries, India, China, and Australia all nicely-represented in the top 10.  I appreciate this entire readership and send out joyous Happy New Year wishes to all, far and wide (even if a bit late).  For this first posting of 2016 (or whatever year you're living in, depending on your heritage) I'll note that It’s been awhile since I’ve done a combo review but the content of the films under observation this time seems to justify such an approach, in that they both deal with horrible circumstances that have occurred in recent years in American society (although indicative of similar crises in times past throughout the 20th century U.S.), with both of them generating responses in attempts to address the underlying causes of the problems but none of the attempted solutions have yet taken effective-hold due to resistance from invested interests (although that last part is more in my editorializing than in the content of the films).  As they’re both based in real events (as so much of Hollywood’s notable product has been this year), I’ll take them chronologically relative to their content but stir them together in the review based on their underlying links despite complete surface differences in what their plots portray.
                      Concussion (Peter Landessman)
Nigerian doctor Bennet Omalu, living and working in 2002 Pittsburgh, autopsies former Steelers star Mike Webster, dead at age 50 from horrible complications, finding a brain disorder that’s resulted from his career of taking blows to the head but when he examines the brains of other deceased NFL players to find similar results the league challenges his credibility.
                     The Big Short (Adam McKay)
In 2005 hedge fund manager Michael Burry discovers a terrible weakness in the U.S. housing market which he predicts will collapse in a couple of years so, despite the general chaos that will cause in the overall economy, he bets big on such a failure (much to the concern of his investors), as does another manager, Mark Baum, who also anticipates the impending crash.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
What Happens: In Concussion we journey back to 2002 Pittsburgh, PA where football’s Steelers are the pride of the local fans, especially if they plow into their opponents and play through injuries for the glory of victory.  Fame takes its toll, though, on beloved former center “Iron” Mike Webster (David Morse) whose 4-time-Super Bowl-champ/Pro Football Hall of Fame-life has deteriorated badly following his retirement so that he’s been reduced to living in his pickup truck, dealing with awful pain and hallucinations, voluntarily pulling his own teeth out then sticking them back in again with superglue, and using a Taser on himself in order to sleep at night.  When he’s found dead in the truck at age 50 an autopsy is performed by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a multi-degreed-forensic pathologist from Nigeria, now living in Pittsburgh, working for the Allegheny County coroner’s office.  Strangely enough, Webster’s brain looks like that of a much-older-dementia-burdened-man which Omalu determines is the result of repeated hits to the head during his gridiron career (an estimated 70,000 over 18 years on the field), so that these concussions have caused what Omalu terms chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a finding he publishes with the help of former Steelers team doctor, Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), and others, although its findings are ignored by the NFL.  Omalu continues to explore his hypothesis, though,
finding similar symptoms in other deceased National Football League (NFL) players so he ultimately convinces new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) to hold a forum on player safety, but Omalu isn’t allowed to participate in it as Bailes must present their evidence instead.  It hardly mattered who gave the testimony, though, as nothing comes of the inquiry except threats to Omalu and his wife (a Kenyan nurse), Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)—who suffers a miscarriage—and the arrest of supportive County Coroner Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) on trumped-up-charges.  Bennet and Prema move to Lodi, CA for a low-key-San Joaquin County-coroner’s office job, although he’s vindicated when former NFL Players Association exec Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) commits suicide due to his concussion-related-problems, leaving a note in support of Omalu; this leads to an offer for Omalu to become the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia but he turns it down to remain in Lodi doing local autopsies with the implication that it’s for the protection of young local football players in hopes they won’t suffer the same tragedies as the pros.  The NFL is forced to start taking concussion injuries seriously, but as pre-closing-credits-graphics tell us, when they were sued through class action by 4,500 former players they got off with a $765 million settlement but no admission of guilt nor release of evidence.

 Roughly during the time that Omalu was fighting his battles to have CTE taken seriously (not at all aware at the beginning of his quest how powerful the NFL is nor how fully-unwilling many fans are to not have this vicious game “softened” up any, no matter its impact on the health of the players) there was another crisis brewing in the U.S. but one that would have an even wider society-wide-impact (which actually became worldwide as it continued to unfold).  Now we’re in 2005 in San Jose, CA where Dr. (medical, not Ph.D.) Michael Burry (Christian Bale) has left medicine to focus on his other long-time-interest, financial investing, through his Scion Capital LLC hedge fund.  By doing market analysis that eluded other top minds in his field he realizes that the housing boom of the early years of this century was built upon a “wealth” of risky subprime loans ripe for default (along with bundled bonds based on these bad investments) when the new, underfinanced homeowners would have to bail out in a few years, undermining a market segment that everyone else (including Burry’s investors) considered rock solid, so he generates anger and despair within Scion when he puts over a billion into credit default swaps which (as best I understand it, after getting satirical stock market lessons within the film from celebrities such as actors Margot Robbie [in a bubble bath—just silly but also referencing the housing bubble set to burst in 2007] and Selena Gomez, TV chef Anthony Bourdain) pay off for him if the housing market collapses.  Stock trader
Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) gets wind of Burry’s scheme, decides to do the same while accidently bringing another hedge fund manager, Mark Baum (Steve Carell), into his plan, where they discover that the predicted collapse is even more likely because flimsy bondscollateralized debt obligations (CDOs)have improperly been given AAA ratings when the rating agencies play games with each other.  Another accident allows a couple of eager, hungry novices, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), to get their own credit default swap deal with the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).  Burry’s predictions come true during 2007-08 when housing, financial institutions, and the anticipated investments of hard-working-but-naïve-people all fall into disaster, which results in big payouts for our protagonists although only Burry is fully real, with the others merely based on actual players in these scams), but all involved see—too late to stop the momentum or at least to remove themselves from the crisis, although Baum delays as long as possible—how their unscrupulous (but completely legal) plot almost ruins the entire U.S. economy (and the resulting linkages to the global market system as a whole) so at least some of them suffer a bit spiritually while immensely profiting materially.* 

*Burry made $100 million on this, his investors another $725 million, as Scion had returns of 489.34% in 2000-2008, while the “more secure” S&P 500 returned only 2% (this info comes from a 2010 Vanity Fair article, which is actually a lengthy excerpt from Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine [2010], which serves as the foundation for the current film).

Composite photo of Dr. Bennet Omalu and Will Smith
So What? In Concussion early on we get a sense of Dr. Omalu’s forensic gifts as he’s offering trial testimony (where he also states his many academic/medical qualifications) which helps save an innocent man from conviction, even though his intense autopsy methods to determine cause of death are not at all appreciated by his gruff, budget-conscious supervisor, Daniel Sullivan (Mike O’Malley), while even his normally-supportive chief, Dr. Wecht, asks him to be “less of an artist” on the postmortem operating table.  Yet had it not been for that constant, focused determination to find out from his deceased victims, “How did you die?  You’ve got to help me,” we might still be sending aspiring-youngers-on-up-to-professional-football players out into life-threatening-brutal-confrontations with lingering results that don’t show up like bruises and broken bones, often aren’t appreciated by coaches and rabid fans who want their teams to win at all costs to the combatants because there’s an endless supply of eager would-be-superstars waiting to take the place of someone carried out on a stretcher (illustrated in the film with an actual ESPN clip where the hosts gleefully present the Top 5 tackles of the day, with their energy rising in proportion to the severity of the hit).  For those of us like me, especially, whose athletic abilities are largely limited to exercise bikes (not even regular 2-wheelers, which I’ve not yet learned how to ride for fear of broken sexagenarian [look it up if needed; it has nothing to do with orgasms, sorry to say] bones) and treadmills, I would have have no idea of this crisis without having been made aware in recent years of concussion results and related traumas that such horrors were happening to anyone (except boxers, whom I’d assume are in danger of mental disorders given the direct pounding their unprotected bodies endure), because I’d buy into the false security that the helmet protects the brain from repeated hard knocks except for violent collisions that cause blackout or spinal injury.

 However, thanks to the determination of Dr. Omalu and others who continue to force the NFL, sports supervisors from junior high on up, and parents more concerned with trophies than their children’s health to admit how dangerous football really is (not that other sports don’t easily allow injuries but most don’t intentionally require huge bodies to crash into each other with such brute force), there is at least some attention now being given to preventing head contact as we come to better understand its lasting damage while the search continues for a truly-functional-protective-helmet (here are links that might further prove useful: retired NFL player Thomas Jones explains what a concussion feels like, a short informational video discusses brain injury while offering links to many other videos on this topic, an article offers info on current actions being taken by the NFL to address these concerns, along with options for much longer videos on this topic for you to explore if you care to in the cluster of Related Links for Concussion to be found far below).

 I’ll offer you additional linked information for The Big Short also, but here the videos suggested include a quite long one given that there’s just 1 additional option for this film in the Related Links section noted below, compared to the several shorter ones down there for Concussion.  As a warm-up for your consideration, here’s Michael Lewis explaining why he thinks the 2007 bank bailout was a mistake (even though it was supported at the time by then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke and Senator Hillary Clinton, with the latter since admitting it shouldn’t have happened [just as she now says her vote in favor of the Iraq War was another mistake; were it not for the frightening specter of Donald Trump or any of the other current GOP alternatives, I might have nagging reasons to question why this email-scandal-plagued-candidate is almost assured of my vote in November—as much as I’d like to finally see a woman gain the U.S. Presidency, I just wish the most likely one to do so wasn't traveling with so much bruised baggage, sure to set off another stalemate war in Congress if when she does win]); if that argument intrigues you then here’s Lewis at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business on September 13, 2010 giving a much longer talk (1:13:04), going into considerably more detail about how he sees the future of the financial industry and the responsibility of today’s MBA students to offer better leadership than we currently enjoy (this site will also show you links to considerably more videos about Lewis and his concerns about Wall Street; you might also know Lewis from others of his books that have been made into notable films: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game [2003]—about Oakland Athletics baseball—to Moneyball [Bennett Miller, 2011], with Brad Pitt as calculating General Manager Billy Beane, and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game [2006]—about Michael Oher and college football—to The Blind Side [John Lee Hancock, 2009] for which Sandra Bullock won a Best Actress Oscar). That aforementioned link connected far below to this film allows Lewis and some of the involved filmmakers to apply some of these concerns to the related content of The Big Short.

 The reason why I’m recommending all of this extra-filmic-material from Lewis is that you’ll likely get no satisfaction from the film in terms of how the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (enough statistics in this link to choke a horse) happened due to the greed of those who set its conditions into motion yet so little is now in place in terms of regulation that would likely prevent something like this from happening again (at least when our economy, with its lingering employment problems, is once again stabilized into a predictable upward mode rather than the Wall Street roller coaster—connected to our overdependence on the current “crumbling-cookie” fortunes of China—that we’ve again collectively suffered through in 2015 [with an auspicious start in 2016, as January 4 yielded the biggest-opening-day-stock-market-losses since 2008]).  As has been noted by other criticisms I’ve read of this film, it’s forced to walk a delicate line between giving you reason to root for the Bale and Carell characters (OK, here's a completely useless digression: I never realized until I saw this film and the roundtable link far below how little putty they needed for Steve’s fake nose in Foxcatcher [Miller, 2014]; he’s got quite a schnoz of his own, so no wonder you don’t see many profile shots of him) in triumphing over the results originally intended only for those involved with all of the shady deals that set up the collapse while still having some reason to admire them for their concern about how what they were betting against could easily be the ruination of millions of workers whose jobs, savings, homes, and dignity disappeared while almost none of the Wall Street wonkers responsible for this mess ever had to lose money, pay a fine, or go to jail for the misery they helped inflict on countless others.  The Big Short’s an entertaining look at ambition, playing the system (even if all those various inserted-explanations of terms and processes may not jell while watching the story), and the morality that attempts to intrude on the schemers while the rest of us are getting schlonged (Yes, it's dirty; look it up, Trump!) by their actions, but ultimately we have to admit that our “heroes” are getting fabulously rich by helping create a climate of financial failure for others.  I guess that makes them antiheroes at best, while the true villains still run free to concoct more subterfuges to enhance their profits at the expense of our still-declining-middle-class.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Some negative accounts I’ve read about Concussion (and there’re a good number of them, as it tallied only 63% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 56% at Metacritic; more details in the links far below) say that the problems are twofold: (1) Dr. Omalu is presented as too nice, too correct in his discoveries, too tolerant of the insults that are heaped upon him (he does get angry at the “blind side” attitudes of those who forcefully dismiss his medical findings, just so their lucrative careers—financed in large part by those who'd soon become Great Recession-hit-fans that probably shouldn’t be spending so much of their hard-earned-cash on horribly-overpriced-tickets and team paraphernalia—but it’s hard at times to see past the charming persona of Will Smith to a man being demeaned for daring to challenge the fundamental operations of the national-pastime-cash-cow; in looking at images of the actual Dr. Omalu I can’t help but think that Forest Whitaker would have been a more natural casting decision but possibly the production team felt they needed the star-power of Smith to counter what they likely assumed would be an NFL-end-run on their film similar to the one the industry tried to pull on the real-life-Dr. Omalu); (2) The film isn’t hard enough on the NFL, it seems too sanitized in an attempt to keep the anticipated-counter-attack to a minimum.  In regard to point 2, there’s a reality when a sports business clashes with a movie business (both are ultimately entertainment empires, but with consumers’ dollars being a bit harder to come by these days thanks to the lingering recessionary-impact neither of these giants wants to concede too much to the other’s bottom line) that when the sports entity does “own a day of the week” (at least during autumn and early winter) you don’t want to disturb the sleeping tiger too much (go here for a scathing exploration of “Sony’s [film’s distributor] capitulation to the NFL’s point of view,” admittedly published last September prior to a screening of the finished product).

 For me, the NFL looks bad enough already in Concussion not to need further condemnation, but I had enough football to last me a couple of lifetimes while living in Texas (Ball High School Tornadoes, Galveston; University of Texas Longhorns, Austin; Dallas Cowboys; thus, I offer no pompously-negative-attitudes toward jacked-up Steelers fans and their expectations of stay-on-the-field-determination on the part of their team because you can find that kind of rabid-win-at-all-costs-home-town-enthusiasm anywhere you look in this country, even here in Oakland where the Raiders have given their fans little to cheer about for the last few decades [despite the Al Davis mantra: “Just win baby!”]—for what it’s worth, though, the day I saw Concussion, December 27, 2015, the Steelers lost 20-17 to the Baltimore Ravens, so maybe a ghost does haunt them at times, as with all NFL teams), allowing me to be easily-satisfied with anything that puts the spotlight on this all-too-brutal-contemporary-gladiator-exhibition (although I do watch the Super Bowl each year in that I still appreciate the finesse of the game when it’s not just about behemoths crashing into each other); I suppose the NFL indictment in this film could be more scathing, but with so many actual people being depicted I’m sure that eggshell-walks-around-potential-lawsuits were a constant consideration throughout the writing and production of Concussion.  What’s troubling to me is that what Omalu exposed so long ago still hasn’t been properly fixed (despite proactive-penalties and experiments with helmet design) even though thousands of kids up through mature adults are still exposing themselves to a potential life of misery on football fields throughout our country.  It’s well past time to put more heat on the industry and school systems—elementary through college—rather than pandering to fan demands for “smash mouth action,” alumni demands for winning records, and coaches’ demands for “real manhood.”  If Concussion has a failing, it’s not in the intentions nor the solid acting but rather in this last complaint, of not hitting hard enough on how the lifetime-injury-potential filters down to ordinary teenagers never hoping for an NFL career, not just highly-paid-pros whose skills might find resonance off the field yet still within the sport.

 Conversely, I don’t see that The Big Short should be faulted for not pounding harder on the lack-of-punishment-aspect of the impact of the Great Recession (even though, as is, it’s difficult to get too caught up in the success of the “failure-bettors” given that their triumphs are only possible through the misery of millions of others whose lives face various levels of financial, occupational, and personal ruin) because the film, as constructed, is already a damning indictment of the pitiless-ambition that allows respectable institutions (including the regulatory agencies intended to keep the others in a mode of reasonable-rather-than-atrocious-profit-acquisition) to concoct ever-more-complicated-tactics in order to bilk money out of innocent investors and home-buyers, with the semi-protagonists (anyone who makes this much of a profit by anticipating the fall of the American economy still has a sense of villainy—at least until they’re willing to share some of that loot: just contact me at the email address at the end of this posting to make arrangements) of The Big Short, Burry and Baum (excellent name for a law firm; maybe those guys could have used their instant-millions to set up a counselor-corps to go after the kinds of people that ultimately made them so rich—wouldn’t that be ironic?—but if you want fantasy you should see a Star Wars episode rather than wait for this idea to take hold, with all due respect to Sen. Bernie Sanders diligent campaign focus in this direction).  Sadly enough, though, by showing us that if ambition overtakes whatever scruples you’re trying to live by (as Baum ultimately caves in to the pleas of his partners to cash in his lucrative swaps as the financial façade is crumbling before there’s no longer money to be made on this tragedy) you can still get rich even by manipulating the manipulators there’s little here to encourage rightful actions, especially with a looming big payoff.  

 That may be where The Big Short comes up a bit short, compared to more blatant indictments (a word you never see enough of where scheming-big-time-money-managers are concerned) of capitalism’s excesses as presented in damning critiques such as Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987) or The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013; review in our January 4, 2014 posting) because in this recent exploration of what goes on where money beyond most of our means is concerned there’s no failure if you’re visionary or predatory enough, as long as you act decisively to take advantage where no one else has yet found the opportunity.  This kind of treachery (even when you brood about it) must keep Karl Marx in a constant state of grave-spin (at least until he's offered a nice royalty for adapting Das Kapital [3 volumes: 1867, 1885, 1984] to a musical starring Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber; see how long it takes for you to get that image out of your mind).

 What I can’t get out of my mind in thinking about a Musical Metaphor that speaks to these 2 films, which I think should be Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (from his 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin’) because it also deals with an account of a horribly-unnecessary-tragedy based on real events, in this case the cold-blooded-murder of a 51-year-old Black waitress, Hattie Carroll, by a young White man of privilege (could this be an early case of "affluenza"?), William Zantzinger, in Baltimore, MD at the Emerson Hotel’s Spinsters’ Ball on February 9, 1963, when stone-drunk “Billy” used his cane on her for no good reason, causing her death a few hours later from a massive brain hemorrhage.  So, we’ve already got the diseases of excess wealth and cerebral trauma brought in but the most relevant part is that Zantzinger, initially charged with murder, claimed no memory of the attack due to his drunkenness, saw the charges reduced to manslaughter due to a medical “finding” (from NFL doctors?) that her death came about because of stress reaction to his abuse, and—worst of all—he was given a mere 6-month-sentence, thus facing a life of mild retribution with
few difficulties, all-too-sadly-reminiscent of any football medics who choose to bear no post-career-responsibility for the terribly-shattered, concussion-crippled-lives of former players as well as financial-industry-titans generally bearing no responsibility for the misery their  monitary-manipulations caused through the Great Recession of roughly a decade ago.  Just for an interesting inter-media-connection I’ll encourage you to listen to my chosen Metaphor at as sung by Mason Jennings but lip-synced by Christian Bale as Jack Rollins, an early-1960s avatar of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ marvelous fictionalized-biography of Mr. Zimmerman, I’m Not There (2007), which is the next following link on YouTube after this video if you care to watch the entire film (1:37:32) for free (a bit speeded up—you can tell from the pitch quality of the dialogue and the songs—and the image squeezed a bit from its full widescreen ratio, but you get what you pay for; if you like it, I highly encourage a rental or purchase of a proper version of this magnificent concept where Dylan is broken up into 6 fictionalized personas).  But if you want the real thing, here’s a live performance by Bob (no accompanying visuals, alas) at from the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England from May 7, 1965.  That should keep you busy until I visit again soon with reviews of 2 more interrelated films, Carol (Haynes) and The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2015’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 28, 2016 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2015 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success that you might want to monitor here, and the actual award-winners)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2015

Here’s more information about Concussion: (5:30 discussion of how this film will anger the NFL [incorporates the above trailer again]) and the documentary they reference at http://www.pbs. org/wgbh/frontline/film/league-of-denial/ (League of Denial a 1:53:41 PBS Frontline report on concussion problems in football and denials from NFL officials, including a lengthy focus on the real versions of Concussion’s “Iron” Mike Webster and Dr. Bennet Omalu), along with (6:09, an update on this topic about San Francisco 49ers emerging star Chris Borland who retired very young rather than risk a life compromised by concussions—this site will also lead you directly into the above PBS documentary but chopped up into 9 segments).  You might also be interested in some comments from Dr. Omalu at about why anyone under 18 shouldn’t be playing football, another position sure to further increase his ongoing-unpopularity with the NFL.

Here’s more information about The Big Short: (37:00 discussion with director/co-screenwriter Michael McKay, original non-fiction-Big Short-book-author Michael Lewis, actors Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling [be prepared for an ad interruption about halfway through])

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. January 2016, Donald Trump:
    “It’s a Sunday, who the hell wants to watch these crummy games? I just want to watch the end. By the way — okay, let me go there for a second. Let me end that story. So we gave them Iraq, we’re stupid. We’re stupid. I’ll change things. Believe me, I’ll change things. And again, we’re going to be so respected. I don’t want to use the word ‘feared.’ What I just said about a game — so I’m watching a game yesterday. What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — it was done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?

    “Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause] It’s true. It’s true. The outcome of games has been changed by what used to be phenomenal, phenomenal stuff. Now these are rough guys, these are rough guys. These guys — what they’re doing is incredible, but I looked at it and I watched yesterday in particular. So many flags, right? So many flags. And I could imagine a guy like Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus, who was really rough, and some of these guys sitting there watching. ‘Wow, what a beautiful tackle.’ ‘Fifteen yards! That’s — the game is over.’ You can’t kick a field goal any more.”

    1. Hi rj, Thanks for this; given what's happening in our current political wars it couldn't be more timely nor relevant to Concussion. By the way, my slightly flippant comment about the Steelers in the review above is already starting to haunt me a bit as--despite a not-fully-stellar record in 2015--they've advanced in the first round of the playoffs by slipping past Cincinnati 18-16; you just never know who God's really likes, I guess, concussions or not. Ken

    2. Cincinnati's brutal head tackle gave the Steeler receiver a concussion and handed the game over to the Pittsburgh (rightfully so) after the resulting penalties. Trump's "pro-concussion" rant would be unbelievable from a guy down the street sitting in a bar, much less from the Republican Presidential front runner.

  2. Hi rj, Thank for the clarification on the Steelers-Bengals situation; damn, that a was horrible cheap shot! I guess it's Satan rather than God keeping tabs on these games, although unlike the Rolling Stones I have no "Sympathy for the Devil." I don't have any sympathy for Trump either; what horrible things to say about the way in which athletes' lives are brutalized just for "sport." Ken