Thursday, May 31, 2007

A John Mellencamp song never heard on the radio

As I was going through my music collection, I came across a song I had not listened to in a long time, but it is probably the best song John Mellencamp has ever done. It is a track from his 1985 album "Scarecrow" titled "Minutes to Memories." Like most artists with a long track record, this is another example of the best being buried on an album from long ago.

The subject matter is an area that has been well traveled: it deals with an old man trying to give a young man advice about the life he is about to live. Though the material is familiar, it is handled with care. For a rock song, it is quite wordy, but it has a lot to say.

I won't bore you with an extended analysis of it. However, the old man gives lots of good advice that many youngsters (and others) should heed today. Life is not a free ride. No one said it would be easy. Family and friends will be the best part of your life. Time passes quickly and tends to sweep away the dreams people have. An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind.

It is a song worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ode to spring

It only got warm a few weeks ago, but spring is already on its last legs. Kudzu, heat, humidity, and all their other summer cohorts are beginning their relentless assault on us. I guess I am part dog because when it turns hot I prefer to lay in the shade and not move. Just give me plenty of water and rub my belly occasionally, and I will be happy.

I don't like summer. I will only mention that about 1,000 times in the next three months, but let me go ahead and get it off my chest. I just don't like it. Bah! The only good thing I can say about it is that it is the gateway to the best season -- autumn.

However, spring is special in many ways. I like the cool weather of late March. The days are often gray and breezy, but they slowly give way to more moderate temperatures.

April is one of the most underrated months of the year. It is the last month until late in the year where a person can comfortably wear a sweatshirt with shorts. It's a beautiful month as well because nature begins blooming in earnest.

May is a tricky month. We still have some cool snaps, but we are starting to make the turn toward summer. Today, it might as well be summer because it is hot. It is 'spring' in name only. It's an imposter just going through the motions until the season officially changes.

So, farewell spring. I know you have a few weeks left on the calendar, but you are already gone. You have gone and left us with summer.

Thanks for nothing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Will Braves' win get them out of their funk?

The Braves edged Milwaukee today 2-1 in what I hope will be the first step in forgetting about getting swept by the Phillies over the weekend. Atlanta looked out of sync in losing three straight to the Phillies. However, today's game showed glimmers of hope in some areas where the Braves need improvement.

Starting pitcher Chuck James looked sharp today. As I wrote on May 23, James is one of the Braves pitchers that need to step up and he did so today. He pitched six innings and only gave up one run to earn the win

Also, Andruw Jones hit a home run today and has now hit homers in two consecutive games. Today's bomb was important because it was to the opposite field. It just made it over the right field wall, and if he starts hitting with power to the opposite field, he should begin leaving some of his hitting woes behind him. Still, his batting average remains a frosty .219.

The Braves have won only seven of their last 17 games. Until Andruw hits more consistently and Chipper Jones gets back in the line up, the struggles could continue. Fortunately, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are the starting pitchers in the next two games.

Soaring gas prices to keep ripping our budgets to shreds

Most folks consider the Memorial Day weekend to be the unofficial start of the summer travel season.

It is the first long, holiday weekend most of us have had since Christmas and that means we can't wait to hit the road to go to some place warm and relaxing.

However, if most folks were like me this weekend, that trip was a short one. Why? It is because soaring gas prices are taking a bigger bite than ever out of our household budgets.

Locally, gas prices are hovering around the $3 per gallon level, but we should consider ourselves lucky when compared to other places in the country.

Prices are hovering around $4 per gallon in cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Of course, those are large metropolitan areas that are well known for their high taxes, but the point is prices will likely surge higher as summer unfolds.

The impact of increased prices is being felt by all. The average U.S. household is now paying $1,000 more a year for gasoline than it did only five years ago, according to consumer groups who have monitored prices.

The Associated Press recently reported that the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Union both say households are spending 85 percent more for gas than they did in 2002. They also stated that rural residents have been hit harder than urban dwellers, spending about 20 percent more than folks in the city.

Rising gas prices have been a problem for years, but nobody really wants to step up and tackle the problem. Drivers blame oil companies, but we really haven't done much to reduce our driving in recent years.

If nothing else, we have gone in the other direction. Despite our grumbling, SUVs and other large vehicles continue to dominate our highways.

These vehicles have big tanks and have relatively low gas mileage. This is not a winning combination when trying to combat the challenges of a tight budget.

Take a while to look around the next time you are driving on the interstate. In any given 10-minute time period, the doors of your car will get blown off by all sorts of large vehicles driven by people willing to knock you into the ditch if you get in their way.

'Restraint' is not practiced by most drivers, yet we whine about the prices we pay at the pump. The hypocrisy is pretty obvious.

Then, of course, there are the oil companies that promise us they are not overcharging for their products.

They present us a variety of reasons why prices are higher: demand is greater for oil this time of year; there is a shortage of refineries making it more difficult to stockpile their product; environmental laws make the process of making gasoline more costly; and so forth.

Frankly, all their reasons could be true, but it is difficult to say.

I tend to have a short fuse with massive corporations especially when they have me over a barrel. After all, their products are among the most necessary in our country and play a central role in keeping our daily schedules on track.

Still, it is really frustrating. The bottom line is that we have nobody to blame but ourselves for this problem.

Despite our whining, most Americans have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay through the nose for gasoline. Given the sense of entitlement we feel about most things these days, I get the feeling most drivers believe it is their constitutional right to have as big a car as possible regardless of the consequences.

Therefore, don't expect the situation to change much. Predictably, prices will decline somewhat later in the year, but the impact will be minimal.

Who knows? Maybe prices will tumble all the way down to $2 a gallon. That would be quite a drop compared to what we are getting accustomed to.

However, it wasn't that long ago when $2 a gallon bit with the same pain as $3 a gallon does now.

Don't be surprised if you are reading this blog a year from now, and we are longing for the good old days when we only paid $3.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Happy Memorial Day

As a nation, we tend to water down the true meaning behind many of the holidays we observe. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with Memorial Day. I'm afraid many view it only as an excuse not to go to work. It is just another day to kick back and revel in the wild, animal luxury that we all enjoy.

While I also enjoy wild, animal luxury, we do need to spend some time Monday remembering why we observe this holiday. In order to gain some perspective, here is the official national proclamation regarding this year's observance of Memorial Day. It provides a framework for how we should approach this day.

The proclamation:

On Memorial Day, Americans pause with solemn gratitude and deep respect for all our fallen service men and women who have given their lives for our country and our freedom.

Through the generations, the courageous and selfless patriots of our Armed Forces have secured our liberty and borne its great and precious cost. When it has mattered most, patriots from every corner of our Nation have taken up arms to uphold the ideals that make our country a beacon of hope and freedom for the entire world. By answering the call of duty with valor and unrelenting determination, they have set a standard of courage and idealism that inspires us all.

All Americans honor the memory of the lives that have been lost in defense of our freedom. Our Nation mourns them, and their example of strength and perseverance gives us resolve. We are also thankful to those who have stood by our service men and women in times of war and times of peace.

Today, the members of our Armed Forces follow in a proud tradition handed down to them by the heroes that served before them. They are protecting our Nation, advancing the blessings of freedom, and laying the foundation for a more peaceful tomorrow through service that exemplifies the good and decent character of our Nation. America is grateful to all those who have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States, and we will never forget their sacrifices for our liberty.

On Memorial Day, we honor all those who have fallen by remembering their noble sacrifice for freedom. We also pray for our troops, their families, and for the peace we all seek.
In respect for their devotion to America, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 11, 1950, as amended (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated the minute beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 28, 2007, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer. I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day. I encourage the media to participate in these observances. I also request the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States, and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control. I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Giant rats the size of cats have invaded Florida

In what is surely one of the Sunshine State's proudest moments, rats the size of cats have invaded Florida. Folks, I wouldn't kid about such an important matter. The article included below provides all the shocking and horrifying details.

I am sure many of you will be traveling this holiday weekend and are likely Florida bound. As unnerving as this is, try not to worry. After all, cat-sized rats can't be that dangerous, right? I wonder if they purr? I'm sure if you hand over your wallet quietly, they will let you go on your way.

Florida tries to wipe out cat-sized African rats

Deep in the heart of the Florida Keys, wildlife officials are laying bait laced with poison to try to wipe out a colony of enormous African rats that could threaten crops and other animals.

U.S. federal and state officials are beginning the final phase of a two-year project to eradicate the Gambian pouched rats, which can grow to the size of a cat and began reproducing in the remote area about eight years ago.

"This is the only place in the United States where this is occurring," said Gary Witmer, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"They don't belong here and they need to be controlled."

A former exotic pet breeder, living in a small house, bred the species and allowed the critters to escape.

Without eradication, wildlife officials fear the rats could eventually make their way onto the Florida mainland where they could quickly destroy fragile ecosystems.

"They could cause a lot of damage," Witmer said.

The Gambian rats "don't have any real friends, that we can tell," said Scott Hardin, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's exotic species coordinator.

The rats can weigh 6 to 9 pounds (2.7-4 kg), with body shades ranging from brown to gray. They have large ears, black, beady eyes, hamster-like pouched facial cheeks, sharp teeth and distinctive long, stringy and white-marked tails.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Corporate hypocrisy at its worst during Imus controversy

By now, the Don Imus controversy has been picked apart from almost every conceivable angle.

Imus, who was one of the most powerful broadcasters in the country, lost his job last month after making a racial and sexist slur against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Imus issued an apology that was accepted by the team, but by then, he was out of his job.

Last week, he was back in the news when it was reported that he may sue CBS for terminating him.

When looking back at this event, there are many lessons to be learned. Words are a mighty powerful weapon and when folks in the media misuse them, it is often impossible to heal the damage.

Imus has nobody to blame but himself. He made his living for years taking shots at people, and he more than anybody should have known that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed.

However, there are more people than Imus who deserve criticism in this controversy.

Besides him, perhaps the most outrageous behavior in this mess was by CBS Radio and the MSNBC cable channel.

CBS broadcasted Imus' show on the radio and MSNBC showed it each weekday morning on television, and both made millions of dollars because of his popularity.

Executives at both networks showed once again just how quickly they can wet their pants when faced with the possibility of losing a sizeable revenue stream.

Obviously, they stalled and hoped the controversy would go away. However, once big-time sponsors like American Express and General Motors dumped the show, it became apparent Imus wouldn't survive.

My biggest beef is the self-serving way CBS dismissed him. CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves made statements that included concern about how language used by Imus effects young people, particularly African-American women.

He said that weighed heavily on his mind as this decision was being made, according to the Associated Press.

What? Imus has a long history of making provocative statements. Moonves had no problem cashing the checks generated by Imus' program when there was no controversy, but now he has this crisis of conscience? Very convenient.

Imus has been ripping people for years.

At one time, I was a viewer of his program. When MSNBC first started broadcasting it, I watched it for a while because I was looking for a good morning program to watch as I started my day.

While I did enjoy the politicians and journalists that he had as guests, I was turned off by the frequent cheap shots the show took. Frankly, I thought the show was mean.

Maybe this qualifies me to be the head of CBS because Moonves was obviously not in touch with this show's style if we believe his comments. Then again, maybe he suffers from a nasty case of selective amnesia.

Of course, the next obvious question is: what becomes of Imus? My guess is that he will be fine. In a few months, he will likely follow Howard Stern into the land of satellite radio where anything goes.

He will definitely be back. Though I believe he should have been fired for his comments, I don't believe he is a racist even though his statements can definitely be classified as that.

He was a vocal supporter of black politician Harold Ford, Jr., when he ran against Bob Corker in last year's senatorial election in Tennessee. Of course, Ford didn't utter a word in support of Imus during all this.

He also helped shine a much needed light on the slow response to post-Katrina New Orleans. He believed people there were being ignored because they were black and poor.

Like all of us, Imus appears to be a complicated person, and it is important to view him not just as he has been presented to us through the media filter.

Forgiveness is important even when people say remarkably dumb things. He apologized to the Rutgers team, and they accepted his apology.

Certainly, he has paid a big price for his folly and will continue to do so in the coming months.

He is at a crossroads in his life, and let's hope he chooses wisely.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Braves entering tough six-week stretch

As a long time Atlanta Braves fan, it is gratifying to see that they have rebounded nicely from last year's losing record. Last year was the first time in 14 years that the Braves did not win their division. It was odd not seeing them in the playoffs, but they appear to have it back in gear this year.

The next month and a half will go a long way toward deciding whether the Braves are a legitimate threat to win the National League Eastern Division or if they will fall back into the race for a wild card berth. Starting with last weekend's series at Boston, the Braves are now in the most challenging stretch of their schedule. Here are the teams/series they will play during this stretch: at Boston, vs. New York Mets, vs. Philadelphia, at Milwaukee, at Chicago Cubs, vs. Florida, vs. Chicago Cubs, at Minnesota, at Cleveland, vs. Boston, and vs. Detroit.

That is quite a stretch. I can't imagine a team playing a tougher interleague schedule. Check out the last four series. They play the Twins, Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers. That is as tough as it gets.

The team's biggest weakness right now is the back half of the starting rotation. Chuck James and Kyle Davies have been wildly inconsistent. James (4-4 record, 4.13 ERA) had a strong outing against Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago so hopefully he is turning it around. Davies (2-2, 4.47) also has struggled even though he had a solid outing against the Mets on Tuesday.

Because of the many off days early in the season, the Braves have not really needed a fifth starter. However, as the season gets rolling, they really need somebody to step up. Mark Redmond (0-4, 11.63) failed in that role in April and was released on Tuesday. Anthony Lerew (0-2, 7.71) got the next chance but has since landed on the disabled list. If nobody emerges, the other four starters may get worn out by the time September rolls around.

The rest of the team looks solid and manager Bobby Cox certainly has a good track record of getting the most out of his players.

It should be a fun summer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Quote of the day

"I shouldn't say I'm a vegetarian because I love sweets." -- singer LaToya Jackson

I know, I know; the Jackson family is such an easy target that I almost regret posting this.

But then again, maybe LaToya has a point. When you consider all the cows and pigs that are slaughtered each year just so I can enjoy funnel cakes and hot fudge sundaes, it brings me to my knees in sorrow. And I'm not even counting all the dogs killed in South Korea.

Chris, I think it's time to look in the mirror. Maybe I should give up my bacon-flavored Tootsie Pops.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Times getting rougher for Christians in Iraq

America has sacrificed thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars trying to bring freedom to Iraq, but recent reports show the country has a long way to go when it comes to providing one fundamental liberty we hold dear.

Our Constitution provides citizens with the right to worship freely, and if we choose, we can attend places of worship without any real fear. Of course, this is a freedom that many Americans take for granted, but that is a column for another time.

Simply put, it is really difficult to be a Christian in Iraq right now, according to organizations that monitor religious rights abuses.

For example, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom had this to say about the plight of Christians there: “These (Christian) groups face widespread violence from Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadists, and they also suffer pervasive discrimination and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias.”

The commission also stated that up to 50 percent of Christians have already fled the country because of conditions there. Since Christians only make up a small percentage of the religious landscape there to begin with, the faith’s influence continues to weaken in that region.

Ironically, most groups who monitor religious rights abuses generally agree that Christians there had more religious freedom during Saddam Hussein’s reign than now.

For all of his Islamic posturing, Hussein really did not view Christians as a threat. However, after he was ousted, insurgents began targeting them, which has led to the current dangerous climate.

This has to be one of the most frustrating elements of the war. Hussein was a weasel, and the world is not missing him now that he is gone. But the religious freedom of people who share the same faith as millions of Americans has gotten progressively worse since his removal.

This fact adds yet another big log to the firestorm of debate regarding what our role in that country should be.

After all, if something as fundamental as the right to worship God freely cannot be guaranteed, what does this say about the current state of the Iraqi War?

At this point, it would be easy to go down an inflammatory road, but we must remain patient. Iraq is in turmoil, and it affects every aspect of life there including how a person wants to worship God.

Much like the United States went through deep periods of turmoil during its infancy, Iraq is doing the same.

Because of this, there will be no easy or quick answers to resolve issues relating to religious freedom. That is the sad but brutal truth. The situation Iraqi Christians find themselves in will not get better any time soon.

As somebody so far away, it is heartbreaking to watch this unfold. People are literally risking their lives just to go to church. Given the religious apathy that saturates many in America, can we say we would be as committed as the Iraqi Christians if we were in their shoes?

It is a question that should tug us in the deepest places of our heart.

If history tells us anything, it tells us that people don’t truly appreciate the rights they have until those rights get threatened. For instance, we are grateful for the freedom we enjoy, but didn’t we enjoy it just a little bit more after the terrorists attacked us on 9/11?

The 9/11 attacks splashed cold water in our faces, and made us realize that liberty comes at a cost. Plus, the attacks made us realize that there are people who would love nothing more than to take that liberty away from us.

The attacks caused us to re-affirm that our way of life is worth fighting for and that paved the way for the War on Terror.

Well, the Christians in Iraq are showing that they are willing to fight for Jesus. They put their lives in jeopardy each day to do that.

As for Christians in America, we should be praying for these people. We also must monitor the situation there to see if there is any way we can help. Web sites like do a good job providing updates on the religious climate in countries like Iraq and around the world.

That is the least we can do.

Friday, May 18, 2007

French workers whine the most but the United States isn't far behind

For those of us who find endless humor in the French, a recent study by the FDS research group that crowned workers in that country as the biggest whiners in the world was just another piece of the puzzle that explains why those folks are so salty.

However, what really caught my eye was that U.S. workers ranked fourth in the study. Fourth? America is one of the most economically blessed countries in the world yet we are ranked fourth in whining?

Now, before you say it, let me beat you to the punch. Studies like these cannot always be taken at face value because it is important to always look at the motives and/or possible biases of those performing the study. I gladly concede that I don’t know anything about the FDS research group and what might have been their reasoning for gathering this data.

Still, the study’s results do make me squirm a little. If a person spends just a little time looking around them, they will quickly know that our society does like to groan and moan about things they do not like. Take it from somebody who has spent years in the customer service industry, I know first hand how folks won’t think twice about pouring out their wrath on you.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to believe that the impatience many show in their personal life will also show up in their attitude toward their employer.

Oddly, workers in Thailand ranked toward the bottom on the list of whiners, meaning they don’t whine much at all. Compared to the wealthy United States, that country is quite poor. Given what our materialistic world tells us, the wealthiest should be the most content.

But, then again, I guess it all depends on how you define ‘wealthy.’

Thursday, May 17, 2007

ESPN continues smooching up the Yankees

It is at this time each year that ESPN's penchant for favoritism reaches almost unbearable levels. Because as the weather gets warmer and the baseball season kicks into high gear, ESPN pumps up the volume in its worshipping of the New York Yankees.

I'm not being naïve here. I understand the Yankees rank right up there with the Dallas Cowboys and Notre Dame football in terms of interest. But enough is enough. That gurgling sound you hear is my choking on Yankee pin stripes.

The latest hoopla surrounding the signing of Roger Clemens was unbearable. For several days, listeners could turn on ESPN radio at any time and hear any number of "experts" waxing romantic about the Yankees' chances now that the Rocket was back to pitch for them.

However, the experts won't tell it like it is. Any team can be competitive if they have a $700 million payroll like New York (of course, I'm exaggerating for effect. The Yankees only have a $600 million payroll this year).

Of course, the real hoot is that the Bombers are not really competitive. Right now, they are just another .500 team that is going nowhere. But the geniuses at ESPN don't care. The self-proclaimed 'worldwide leader in sports' is content to pander to the large New York media market. ESPN is nothing more than a tabloid newspaper. It’s the 'New York Post' with lots of flashing lights.

Clemens is expected to make his Yankees' debut in a few weeks, and there is a chance his first start could be against the Boston Red Sox. Even casual baseball fans know the Sox are the Yanks biggest rival. If this happens, sports coverage as we know it will come to a stop. ESPN will cram it so far down our throats that it may come out another portion of our bodies.

I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don’t mock the importance of a strong noggin

At various times in my life, I have been accused of having both a large and hard head. Well, for you mockers out there, that is not as big of an insult as you think it is. As the following example shows, having a healthy melon can be a big bonus.

Consider this recent news story:

MILWAUKEE - Ryan Lipscomb lived to tell how it felt to have a truck run over his head. "Really strange," he said.

Lipscomb, 26 of Seattle, suffered a concussion but was otherwise unhurt. He was shaken up, especially after he saw his mangled helmet.

Lipscomb, a graduate student in medical physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was riding down a bike path in Madison on Friday afternoon. As he approached an intersection, he said, he noticed the oncoming delivery truck preparing to make a right turn in front of him.

The truck wasn't going to stop, Lipscomb said, so he slammed on his brakes, flipping his bike and landing in the street.

A moment later the truck rolled over his head.

"I didn't see it coming, but I sure felt it roll over my head," he told The Capital Times newspaper. "It feels really strange to have a truck run over your head."

His black helmet was flattened, tread marks visible on the cracked frame.

Lipscomb was taken to a hospital and released about three hours later.

In a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Lipscomb said he has had some lingering headaches and a stiff neck.

"All things considered, that's about as good as it can get," he said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So, what's the point of this site?

The point? I really don’t know. Must this have a point? When viewing all the baloney that is floating around the internet, it’s hard to believe much of it has a point. If you don’t believe me, just pick a topic at random and Google it and see what kind of response you get.

Really, I’m just going to write about what is interesting to me and hopefully, to you. Topics will likely range from politics to spirituality to music to baseball to just about anything of interest. I agree that that is pretty broad, but the internet is a pretty broad medium.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Welcome to the blog....

Welcome to my blog everybody. This is still a work in progress so expect things to change some during the next few weeks. However, the format here will be simple and laid back. Please feel free to post comments when you are so moved. As this project moves forward, I want this to be a site where people of all ages can visit so let’s keep the dialogue mature and clean. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, but I also want this to be a clean, well-lighted place (as Hemingway once wrote).