Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The ethical treatment of animals

I could see it coming for years. Perhaps it was when I first saw a mouse in the basement of my childhood home. Questioning the morality of setting a trap to break the neck of the tiny rodent, I pleaded with my parents to let it live while quietly wishing would it go away on its own. When the critter's offspring made their way upstairs into the kitchen and den, then ultimately up to the second floor where my bedroom was, not only was I setting the traps myself, but I went from timidly disposing the trap and the dead mouse together all the while keeping my eyes closed, to looking the little buggers in the eye as I loosened the spring trap, thereby releasing their lifeless bodies into the trash so I could reset the bloody instrument of death.

Maybe I saw it coming when I read an article in high school saying the problem of world hunger could be solved simply if the highly inefficient system of devoting millions of acres of farmland to raising feed crop for livestock were instead devoted to raising crops intended solely for human consumption. I toyed with the idea of becoming a vegetarian myself, but never stuck to my guns, I just liked eating meat too much.

That didn't stop me from having ferocious arguments with my father about the morality of eating animals, since it was a luxury I felt, we could learn to live without. My reasoning was there would be enough food for everyone, the animals we ate would be spared, and we would all live happily ever after. My father countered my argument by saying: "shut up, you don't know what you're talking about." Having experienced real hardship in his life, the loss of both his parents before his tenth birthday, the first hand experience of war, the occupation of his country by two hostile foreign powers, leaving his homeland for a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on his back and lots of ambition, my father, God rest his soul, didn't have the luxury of time on his hands to philosophize about what he was eating. He experienced times in his life when just having something to eat at all was enough. That feeling never left him.

Not having had that problem, what occurred to me back in my formative years was that one day, society would have to come to grips with our relationship with animals. On that day I reckoned, it would no longer suffice to justify our treatment of animals by simply stating that the difference was this: animals are animals, period. They're not human beings. "But aren't people animals too?" I'd ask. "Shut up, you talk too much" was the answer I got.

That only strengthened my resolve. My brazenness regarding our rodent intruders and my fondness for eating animal flesh notwithstanding, I could not bring myself to feel superior to non-human animals. For example, I never bought into the idea perpetuated by the religious, that human beings had souls while other animals did not. Nor did I agree with my mother's less metaphysical assertion that animals only acted upon instinct, not logic or acquired knowledge like humans.

My formative years coincided with a period in history when ideas about how people treated each other were turned upside down. Civil rights was the burning issue of the day along with the Vietnam War and the battle for equal rights for women. All those issues centered around ethics and morality, the struggle between the "us versus them" mentality, and the idea that all human beings deserve to be treated equally with respect and dignity. Hard to believe given the way people continue to treat one another today, but I truly believe we have come a long way in our society since those days. This country is more racially and ethnically diverse than at any time in its history and I believe, all the better for it.

Back in the seventies while I was having all those arguments with my father, it occurred to me that once the battle for the ethical treatment of human beings would be won, there would be new battles to be fought, as there always have been throughout human history. One of those battles I thought  to myself, would be the struggle for animal rights.

Sure enough, in 1980 the organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was founded. There are lots of animal welfare organizations that pre-date PETA, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) comes immediately to mind. The difference is that PETA's goal is not humane treatment, but equality for animals; its catchy slogan, "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way" tells us in no uncertain terms that this is an organization with radical ideals.

It's the letter "E" in PETA that is the organization's linchpin, and what is the most complicated aspect of the group. On the surface, the idea of the ethical treatment of animals is not troubling. After all, anyone with half a conscience understands that animals at the very least experience pain and would agree that it is unethical to make an animal needlessly suffer.

But ethics go much deeper than that. It's not difficult to determine basic right from wrong when it comes to human beings. That's because people of all colors and creeds have come to accept an axiom that serves as their moral guidepost, one that stands alone above all others. It has been around as long as people have been making rules of behavior, and it forms the backbone of just about every religion and legal system we have devised. So by and large how to we determine if our intended actions are ethical? We ask ourselves this simple question: "How would I like it if somebody did that to me?"

Now suppose we apply that "Golden Rule" to our treatment of animals. Since we wouldn't want ourselves or our children to be killed and eaten, applying the Golden Rule to animals obviously would preclude eating them. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Taking the application of ethics to determine our relationship with animals to its logical conclusion, any domestication of animals would have to be considered unethical, since we expect as human beings that it is our inherent right to have free will to determine our lives.

This means that every animal from a lion in a zoo, to a pig or horse on a farm, to a lab rat in a cage, to a goldfish in a bowl, ethically speaking, should be allowed the freedom to choose its own destiny. Anything less, PETA and its allies argue, is tantamount to slavery.

I should point out that PETA does not advocate releasing domesticated animals into the wild, far from it; but they do say we'd all be better off had the domestication of animals never happened in the first place.

Now I'm not going to slam PETA or similar minded organizations, they are a committed bunch whose heart is in the right place. As you can see from reading the top of this post, I asked those questions myself at one time; in a way I'm cut from the same cloth.

Unlike PETA members however, when I was a teenager I felt I had to reconcile my shortcomings when it came the inconsistencies of my feelings about animals and my actions that were very unlikely to change anytime soon. It turned out the answer to the problem was ridiculously simple.

We got a cat.

Before long, our mouse problem was solved. Of course, death by cat is much more gruesome than the trap. But I reasoned that has been nature's way of population control for eons, and who was I to argue with Mother Nature?

The cat experience made me understand that we humans live part time in two worlds, the natural world and the man made one. As much as we may try to avoid the former in favor of the latter, we can't completely avoid the laws of nature. We all experience bad weather, we all get sick, and even though we may be able to put it off, at some point we will all die. The man made world has done a good job of making nature's less appealing aspects more bearable for many of us but in the end, we are all at the mercy of its whims.

A big difference between the natural world and the man made world is that in nature, there is no concept of ethics. In nature, it is the strong who survive to live another day, while the weak inevitably perish. There are animals who by nature are predators and other animals who are prey. Most predators are both. By human standards, this system in inherently unfair. In the anthropomorphic world of fairy tales, nature documentaries  and Disney films, we root for the underdog: the poor three little pigs against the big bad wolf, the Emperor penguin mother on her unbearably long quest for food for her family against the seal that wants to eat her, or the brave, morally superior lion king Mufasa against his corrupt brother Scar.

But nature could not care less about the plight of the poor penguin and her starving family back home, any more than it cares who leads the pride of lions, evil Scar or noble Mufasa. Nature doesn't care, it simply adapts.

Right and wrong are man made concepts. I have no idea whether some animals share these concepts.  My guess is that most wild animals, (large herbivores like elephants and gorillas may be an exception), are so busy, engaged with everyday survival that even if they could, developing systems of ethics would not be particularly beneficial to them from an evolutionary standpoint.

Through domestication which began thousands of years ago, human beings brought animals into their own world of right and wrong, of laws and ethics. Gradually over time, changing ideas of ethics, and most importantly, the decline of our dependence upon animals, our attitudes toward them have changed. A PETA member might argue that since domesticated animals have been forcibly removed from the natural world to reside in the human one, they deserve to benefit from the same laws that protect human beings. In one of their tracts, PETA says this :
Animals surely deserve to live their lives free from suffering and exploitation.
The paradox is that statement flies in the face of their saying animals should never have been domesticated in the first place. It seems PETA is as guilty as anyone when it comes to anthropomorphizing nature. As opposed to domesticated animals, animals in the wild have no rights whatsoever, they have only their strength, perseverance and their will to survive to protect them.  No animal in nature is ever free from suffering and exploitation. No animal in nature dies of old age.

I said earlier that the day of reckoning would soon be at hand. I was reminded of that when I heard the story about the new mayor of New York City waging a controversial campaign to ban horse drawn carriages in that city. The horse carriages, in Mayor Bill de Blasio's words' are:
...not humane; they're not appropriate to the year 2014; it's over.
I find it an interesting debate because it illustrates the widely divergent opinions we have on the treatment of animals, even within the animal welfare community. PETA (who has  remained uncharacteristically silent on this issue as far as I can tell), would argue that putting any animal to work, especially for "entertainment" purposes, is unethical. The ASPCA has argued that while they don't object to working animals per se, putting an animal in the dangerous environment of the streets of New York, constitutes animal cruelty. Other animal advocates have countered no, these animals have been bred particularly for this type of work, and it does them no harm at all. Still others would say quite reasonably: "an out of work horse is a dead horse."

The thing that troubles me about the horse carriage issue in New York is that the mayor and his allies are prepared to wipe out an entire business and the livelihoods of people based solely on personal conviction, rather than credible, objective, evidence. Whether the horse carriages are "humane" or not is opinion, not fact. The mayor is certainly entitled to his beliefs as much as anyone, however running a city based upon a mayor's personal conviction is in my opinion no different than running any government based upon an elected official's religious views.

Clearly we have a long way to go before we can learn to justly adjudicate issues regarding animal rights. As we have no Golden Rule regarding animals we can all rally around, it's going to be a struggle. PETA and other radical animal rights groups don't do themselves any favors by making statements like this one:
Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable.
Species prejudice, really?

There is also a backlash against PETA from other pro-animal rights groups regarding their support of euthanasia over so called "no-kill" shelters which in effect sentence unwanted animals to lifetime confinement in a cage.

Full disclosure: I happen to agree with PETA on that one, as well as several other stances of theirs.

I do think the tide is turning and if the current New York animal rights struggle is any indication, we'll be seeing a lot more controversial struggles regarding animals in the near future.

For what it's worth, my theory is this: nature for better or worse has put human beings at the top of the food chain. We are far and away the most adaptable and as a result, successful species of life on the planet, (with the possible exception of rats and cockroaches). The fact that we evolved to eat meat is neither right nor wrong, as nothing in nature can be judged by those criteria. Therefore the personal choice to eat meat, even when there is an alternative, cannot be unethical; it is simply put, part of our nature.

As for our other employment of animals this is what I think:
  • Animals and humans have lived together for thousands of years. Contrary to what many in the animal rights movements believe, I feel it has for the most part been a mutually beneficial relationship, certainly not without exceptions. 
  • I believe that zoos when well designed, play an important role in society, educating and sometimes inspiring visitors about wildlife, ecology, and the natural world. 
  • I believe that while countless animals have died in scientific studies, their lives were not lost in vain, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, since many of us even owe our lives to their sacrifice. 
  • I find it very difficult indeed to question the ethics of employing working animals such as those who give help to the blind, comfort to the sick and grieving, and countless other valuable services.
  • Likewise for pets who often provide the only loving companionship their people experience.
In return, I believe that it is our moral imperative to treat every living creature with honor and respect. We are without a doubt responsible for the animals we created and for their welfare. As I said before, no animal should suffer needlessly.

Having said that, as a part time resident of the natural world, I am a human being and as such, I am compelled to put members of my own species first, just as I believe nature intended it to be.

Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it. It's continuously a work in progress and make no claims for it being bulletproof. 

We humans may not be the masters of the universe we think we are. Yet the power is surely within our hands to destroy all life (save perhaps the rats and the cockroaches) on our tiny planet. In that vein, we truly as it says in Genesis, have dominion over the world and all those that live in it. Since that is the case, it would behoove us to rule wisely.

Unfortunately, we're not a very wise species, we can't even figure out how to best get along with each other, let alone the other species with whom we share this planet.

Hold on tight my friends, it's going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Carriage Trade

Riding in a horse drawn carriage through Central Park on a snowy winter's day is a unique urban experience.  I wouldn't personally know since I've never shelled out the fifty bucks not including tip for a twenty minute buggy ride, but it sure looks swell. If the new mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio gets his way, that iconic 150 year New York institution will soon go the way of Gage & Tollner, Penn Station and the automat.

One of de Blasio's campaign promises, along with other "progressive" issues such as universal pre-K, and the growing problem of income equality in the Big Apple, was to ban the the horse carriages. Citing cruelty to animals, the mayor said:
We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape in New York City... They're not humane; they're not appropriate to the year 2014; it's over.
While de Blasio's other big ticket issues are on the back burner, the mayor is going full steam ahead with his plan to put hundreds of New Yorkers, both human and equine, out of work. Not to worry says the mayor, the future of the horses is secure as provisions for all of them have been assured on farms designed to take care of former work horses. As for the humans, the mayor has told them there will be jobs waiting for them as drivers of the new electric powered "vintage style" automobiles that are planned to replace the carriages. That is of course if they can come up with the $150,000 medallion fee.

Two groups, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Annimals (ASPCA) and a group called New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), are staunchly in favor of the ban. The director of the New York branch of another another animal advocacy group, Friends of Animals had this to say about the condition of the horses:
They are shackled into their carriages, pulling through streets of a chaotic unnatural environment and go back to their cells... They need the ability to graze and roam freely. They never get that in New York. They live a life of total confinement, day after day.
Some of that may be correct, however there are strict rules in place governing the treatment of the animals. The horses get every other day off, they are not permitted to work in temperatures below 18F or above 90F, and they each get five weeks vacation in the country every year. From all the accounts I've read, each carriage horse resides in a well maintained stall whose size is mandated by the city to be no less than 64 square feet, about the size of a great many New York City apartments and hotel rooms.

Many New Yorkers of the species Homo sapiens in fact would be more than happy to live under those conditions.

It's true the streets of New York City may have been a chaotic, unnatural environment for the horses' distant wild relatives. Not so for the horses of today which are the result of domestication and breeding that has gone on some say for over 6000 years. The carriage horses are draft horses, bred specifically to pull heavy loads. Draft horses have been doing this kind of work in the county and city alike for millennia; it is in their nature to pull things just as it is the nature of a thoroughbred to run, a retriever to retrieve, and a sheep dog to herd. One can say these animals are just as much the creation of human beings and as such are just as unnatural as cars, streets and traffic jams.

The big difference of course is that animals are living beings. Just as we created them, we have the responsibility to care for their welfare. With a few rare exceptions, the people in New York's carriage industry have proven to do just that. The most sensible piece I've read about the horses themselves was written a couple years ago and was published on a web site devoted to sustainability issues called, (what else?) Tree Hugger.com. You can read that piece written by Jaymi Heimbuch here. In a nutshell, she writes that the horses of New York City live and work in no worse conditions than the humans.

Not surprisingly, the people working in the industry are less than thrilled with the prospect of losing their livelihoods. Most of them consider themselves horse people, not gearheads. Driving a car through the busy New York streets while being expected to give tours at the same time, is not the same thing as doing it while at the reins of a carriage. Clearly it's not a slam dunk by any means that the horse people will make a successful transition to the cars, even if they wanted to.

The New York City horse carriages provide a valuable service not only to tourists who can afford to ride in them, but also to the countless men, women and children, New Yorkers and visitors alike, who get the chance to see, hear, to of course smell, and on occasion interact with the animals. My own experience of observing the horse drawn carriages while walking through Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Law Olmsted's beautiful Central Park, smack dab in the middle of the magnificent concrete jungle of Manhattan is this: an overwhelming feeling that all is right with the world. They just happen to be one of those lovely things that make New York, well, New York.

Incidentally, the cars that Mayor de Blasio and others have proposed to replace the carriages look similar to the car used in the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. If you're old like me and can remember the film, that car could fly. If the mayor's new cars could also fly, even I would pay the fifty bucks for a short ride. Grounded however, I can't imagine many people would find the experience appealing for that price.

One might assume the new mayor of the largest, most important city in this country would have more pressing matters at hand than 250 or so well cared for animals. A cynic might even suggest that beyond an overwhelming concern for the horses' well being, the mayor might have an ulterior motive. Well it turns out he does.

It just so happens that one of the major contributors to the mayor's election campaign was a fellow by the name of Steven Nislick. Nislick founded NYCLASS, one of the the organizations mentioned above. For years he has been a major critic of the carriage companies and the stables that house the animals. He also gave a significant amount of money to a group focused on defeating de Blasio's primary opponent, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was opposed to the ban. Nislick also happens to be a very successful real estate developer. While he denies it, it has been widely speculated that Nislick has set his sights on the land where several horse stables currently sit upon, valuable Manhattan real estate on the West Side. With the carriages and stables gone, one would assume that the land they occupy would become available, and someone (hmmm someone like Nislick perhaps?) could get in on the action. Adding fuel to the fire, an anti-carriage leaflet in 2008 distributed by Nislick stated:
Currently, the stables consist of 64,000 square feet of valuable real estate on lots that could accommodate up to 150,000 square feet of development. These lots could be sold for new development.
Again it's only speculation that Steve Nislick and Mayor de Blasio's motivations are not entirely pure. But it would seem if they were truly concerned about animal welfare, especially the fate of domesticated horses, there would be bigger fish to fry. Why for example doesn't the mayor go after the horse racing industry? One of the most storied race tracks in America sits within de Blasio's jurisdiction. It's called Aqueduct Racetrack and it has been a fixture in South Ozone Park in Queens since 1894. The racing industry has a dreadful record when it comes to animal welfare. Where the carriage industry often takes in animals that would otherwise be rejected, breeders of race horses annually produce thousands more animals than can adequately be taken care of after their racing days are over. Given that the life expectancy of a horse is about fifteen years longer than the average racing career, most race horses face uncertain fates after retirement, many of them are shipped off to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. In some cases, those are the lucky ones.

As far as I know, de Blasio has not uttered a word about the humaneness, or lack thereof, of horse racing. The jobs and revenue that the horse carriages bring into the city are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the vast potential of the racetrack and it's adjacent "racino." If you believe that Mayor de Blasio will make an impassioned demand to make Aqueduct and its casino go away for the sake of the horses' quality of life, then I have a nice bridge spanning the East River you may be interested in buying.

The mayor's prompt action regarding the ban has drawn ridicule in many circles from the New York Times to Rush Limbaugh. Already a favorite target of Limbaugh's, the horse issue has given the bellicose right-wing commentator/entertainer plenty of fodder for his diatribes against the mayor and his progressive agenda. At best, if the mayor is indeed sincere (and I have every reason to believe he is) in his concern for the animals' well being, putting this particular issue at the forefront of his administration in City Hall makes him appear frivolous and out of touch, given all the serious issues he must deal with. At worst, given his relationship with Nislick, even the suspicion of impropriety which certainly exists now, makes the new mayor appear to be a demagogue and a hypocrite, playing on the emotions of a small but vociferous group of well intentioned people, (the carriage opponents), as a springboard for his political ambitions. His actions as far as this issue is concerned will do little to promote his ambitious plans of helping the less fortunate people of New York, and perhaps will even go a long way to destroy them.

On the first day of this year, addressing the state of economic inequality in NYC in his inaugural address to his new constituents, newly sworn in Mayor de Blasio had this to say:
So let me be clear. When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City.
By attempting to destroy an industry, its infrastructure, the other businesses that support it, and the working class jobs that go along with them, Mayor Bill de Blasio is perhaps unwittingly taking his city yet another step closer toward his stated goal of "One City".

One City that is, made up entirely of millionaires.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Yeah Yeah Yeah

Another fiftieth anniversary has come and gone. In case you've been living in a cave, you no doubt know that exactly fifty years ago yesterday, the Beatles made their first American appearance. Over seventy million people watched that performance live on the Ed Sullivan Show, making it the most viewed American television program at the time. This past Super Bowl set a new record of 111 million viewers, but when you consider the population in 1964 was about sixty percent of what it is today, a slightly greater percentage of Americans watched the Fab Four on the telly that Sunday evening than watched last week's Super Bowl.

Like the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, I managed to stay clear of much of the hoopla, not because I'm not interested, but because as anyone who knows me well can tell you, I've simply spent way too much of my life devoted to the subject. I was five in February of 1964 and since I didn't have older siblings, the greatest influence in my life at the time was my father. He thought the Beatles and the whole fuss surrounding them were silly, and naturally at the time, so did I.

Years later as I moved away from my father's strong sphere of influence, I more than made up for lost time and became obsessed with the Beatles. As a pre-teen and teen, I barely listened to anything else. I can honestly say that I know way more about John Paul George and Ringo than anybody outside their family and small circle of friends has business to, and wish that at least some of my brain cells devoted them were trained upon something else.

That's precisely why I avoided the TV special devoted to them that aired on the same network at the exact time as the original. The other reason is that my two favorite Beatles were not likely to appear live on the show, which is beside the point.

Well it so happened that I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the car yesterday, and I did listen to a local radio show devoted to the Beatles and the anniversary. The radio host spent not a small amount of time sharing his opinion that nothing in our world today would be as it is without the Beatles. Even this long time Beatles fan(atic) had to take exception.

I argued in my post written on the anniversary of JFK's assassination last November that we have perhaps over-stated that event's importance regarding subsequent history, (beyond of course the human tragedy). I suppose the same question can be asked of the Beatles' influence. The fact is, the world in 1963 and 1964 was already on the verge of tremendous change, even revolution. The two coincidental events that took place just a little more than two months apart, the assassination of the president and the introduction of the Beatles, just happened to take place at a pivotal moment in history.

The big difference is that the assassination was a unique event, far from inevitable. On the other hand, had it not been for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, other people would have no doubt stepped in to fill the void. Eventually men would have still grown their hair long, women still would have cut their hair short, burned their bras, and demanded their rightful place in society. There still would have been dissatisfaction with the establishment, its rules and restrictions. Teenagers would still have become the majority consumers of popular culture and pop-culture would still have become overwhelmingly centered around the young. Our cities would have still burned because of the inequality and injustice in our society, and the war in Vietnam would have still become a quagmire.

And people still would have longed for more love in the world and made the plea to give peace a chance.

The only difference I believe is that without the Beatles, we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun along the way.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Super Bore?

Armchair quarterbacks and critics alike are denouncing this past Sunday's 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks as the most boring mid-winter classic ever. Even my mother who despises football complained to me about the lopsided outcome. It's not too surprising when something promoted up the wazoo doesn't live up to all the hype, it is subject to the same hyperbole as everything else that surrounds the event known as the Super Bowl. People forget that most NFL championship games fall short of the promise expected of what almost always proves to be the most watched television show of the year. Despite the lack of drama, this year's Super Bowl proved to be the most watched television show in US history. According to Nielsen, an "average of 111.5-million" tuned into this game which broke the record of, you guessed it, another Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the only television show that consistently gains viewers.

Yes, I was one of those viewers. Truth be told, unless my team is in the big game, something that has happened exactly two times since I started caring about such things, I'm not all that interested in the Super Bowl. Like that other crowd pleaser the Academy Awards, I only occasionally tune in. My son however is a big football fan and for months he has looked forward to this game as it happened to fall on the eve of his birthday. In honor of him more than anything else, I watched most of the game from kickoff to the final down.

In honor of my daughter, I even watched the half-time show. This one featured the hyper-talented Bruno Mars whose high intensity performance conjured up the spirits of James Brown and the Temptations as well as allowing his own considerable charm and skills to show through. For some reason unknown to me, the middle of his performance was interrupted by an appearance of the ancient Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now I think they're a perfectly good band, deserving as much as any other big name act to perform in that high profile venue. I haven't a clue, and don't care enough to find out, but I imagine the reason The RHCPs were invited to crash Mars's party was that the brains behind the show believed the Bruno Mars label alone wasn't enough of a draw to prevent old timers like me from leaving the set and go into the kitchen for dinner. (Unfortunately, we did just that after halftime forcing us to miss Percy Harvin's brilliant kickoff return.)

Although the performers and producers handled the Mars/Peppers transition seamlessly, it seemed odd and unnecessary to include both acts. I feel the same way about the pre-game ceremonies featuring Queen Latifah singing America the Beautiful AND soprano Renee Fleming singing the Star Spangled Banner. Both performances were stunning but one would have been enough, either one. It seems as if the producers of the Super Bowl want to have a little something for everybody, just like the old Ed Sullivan Show. The only thing missing were the plate twirlers and Topo Gigio.

Those contrivances in a nutshell, are what I hate about the Super Bowl. There is not one single aspect, from the endless pre-during-post-game babble, to the halftime performances, to the most popular, talked about feature of the whole deal, the commercials, that hasn't been conceived of, debated, and packaged months if not years in advance. After the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" ten years ago, it seems that the powers that be will go to any length possible to avoid anything that smacks of spontaneity. That's why last year's power outage during the game in New Orleans was treated with all the gravitas of a breach in national security. "HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?" screamed headlines all over the country the following day.

There is only one exception to the no spontaneity rule, the game itself. That's exactly what makes sporting events such great drama; the means and the outcome are not pre-determined. Any thoughts that football or any other legitimate sport is not entirely on the up and up, had to have been extinguished this Sunday. After all, no one in their right mind would have scripted the game as this one turned out. All the hype about this Super Bowl pitted the perviously unstoppable Bronco offense led by the great quarterback Peyton Manning against the hungry, tenacious defense of the Seahawks. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made headlines two weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game by making the game saving deflection of a likely winning touchdown pass by San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Immediately after the game he made some boneheaded, self-aggrandizing comments which got him into hot water. Of course the hyperbole machine couldn't get enough of the nonsense:

Was Peyton Manning indeed the greatest quarterback of all time?

Would the self-proclaimed greatest cornerback of all time Richard Sherman back up his words?

Stay tuned...

In this case however the hype was justified. Just like the past World Series, the two teams that faced each other in this year's Super Bowl were the two best teams in the league, if regular season records mean anything to you. This game had all the makings of a matchup of strength against strength, the best offense squared off against a young, quick, and audacious defense. Most folks picked the Broncos, but the oddsmakers only gave the Denver team a two and one half point edge. It looked to everyone that it would be a game for the ages.

Until the first play from scrimmage that is. If you saw the game, I don't need to tell you what happened. If you're one of the 200 million Americans who didn't see it, you clearly don't care and probably gave up on this post long ago.

Despite the terrible beginning (a safety after a bad snap), I'm sure all 111-plus million people watching the game, myself included, had every belief this was a mere speed bump on Peyton Manning's road to his second Super Bowl Championship.

But it was not. Things went from bad to worse for Denver as the Seattle defense found solutions to everything in Manning's bag of tricks, mostly by getting in his face before he had a chance to throw the ball. Denver wasn't able to convert a first down until mid way through the second quarter. Finally as they were driving deep into Seattle territory, Manning was hit while throwing a pass which was picked off by linebacker (and game MVP) Malcolm Smith who ran the ball back 69 yards for a touchdown.

Despite all that, and trailing 22-0 at the half, at least 110 million of us still had faith in Manning's ability  to pull this one out. Then came the aforementioned Percy Harvin kickoff return on the first play of the second half, and at that point, oh maybe 80 million of us started to lose hope.

Peyton Manning was able to mount a successful drive by the end of the third quarter which led to a touchdown and two point conversion but by that point it was all academic. His counterpart, second year man Russell Wilson had a good game even though he didn't really need to, his team's defense and special teams together put up enough points on their own to handily defeat the Broncos.

So was the game boring? Well it certainly wasn't an edge of your seat, nail biter if that's what you mean. But that doesn't mean it was lacking in drama. There was an epic quality fit for Greek tragedy in Peyton Manning's downfall. Certainly one of the best quarterbacks of my lifetime, if not the game's history, and one of the most recognized and likable athletes in the game, Manning's achilles heel it seems is the ability to win the big game. His record in playoff games is now 11-12. Pretty impressive if you compare it to say, me, but when compared to his peers in the top echelon of NFL QBs, well not so much.  Incidentally, Manning is 1 and 2 in Super Bowls, that one victory coming at the expense of Rex Grossman (himself not on the list of all time great quarterbacks), and OK everybody say it in unison, the Chicago Bears.

But give credit where it's due, the real story of this game is the Seattle Seahawks, a team that as they say, was running on all cylinders. Their win over a great Bronco team was devastating on every level. It was truly a magnificent performance, one that is certainly worthy of accolades. Anyone who appreciates the game of football has got to admire the team, including Richard Sherman who more than redeemed himself, and its coaches.

In case you're wondering, no this wasn't the biggest blowout in NFL history, that one came in 1990 as the 49ers and Joe Montana (himself on the short list of all time greatest QBs) beat another great quarterback, John Elway and the Broncos, 55-10. For the record, this Sunday's game came in fourth.

And which game came in second on the list of Super Bowl blowouts you ask? OK maybe you didn't ask. Why of course the most memorable Super Bowl of all time, game number XX in 1986 when ahem, the Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10. Was that game boring?

Certainly not if you were a Bears fan.

So the real question is, if you're not a Seahawks fan, or someone who had money riding on them, was this game boring? Well frankly for me, an underdog team (if only slightly) shutting down a tremendously successful offense, beating them and their future Hall of Fame quarterback in every aspect of the game was very impressive. Beyond that, it was very satisfying that they did it in such an unexpected way, flying in the faces of all the speculators and pundits, and especially the producers of the event, who most certainly would have planned if they could to have, for the game be more of a contest.

Just how unexpected and outrageous was the Seahawks beating the Broncos 43-8?

I'd say maybe as unexpected as a team from Seattle winning any kind of major sports championship.

Possibly it was as ridiculous as a Super Bowl played outdoors in New Jersey.

Or maybe even as outrageous as...

Bob Dylan in a commercial selling cars.

Naw, that could never happen.