Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's time for fantasy baseball

I am in the process of putting a fantasy baseball league together. I have a few slots remaining so if anybody is interested in participating, e-mail me at the address on the top of this page.

It doesn't cost anything. The league is just a bunch of folks who enjoy baseball and fantasy sports.

All I ask is that you maintain your team and don't abandon it if you start doing bad. If you do that, I will find you and hurt you (not really, but don't abandon your team).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tennessee is now the center of the college basketball universe

Consider this: The University of Tennessee is now the home of the defending national champion in women's basketball and the current number one team in men's basketball.

As a graduate of the school, I won't pretend to be objective about this. It is a wonderful time to be a hoops' fan of UT.

For years, the men's program had been a great source of frustration because it was obvious the school had the resources to build a top flight program. However, there always seemed to be a missing ingredient. Some years we had good players, but a coach who did not know how to use them. Other years, we had a coach who would work his butt off, but didn't have the talent to get the team over the hump. Congratulations to Coach Bruce Pearl and his team for getting everything to come together.

As for the women's program, what can you say about Pat Summitt? Her resume of seven national championships and countless conference championships speaks for itself. Not only is she successful, but she is also classy. She has never embarrassed the school in the way that somebody like Bobby Knight has.

There is still a long way to go in the season for both teams. The men play at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, and one has to wonder how much the Vols will have left in the tank after their emotional victory over Memphis. It is one thing to be ranked number one. It is something entirely different to stay there.

Whatever happens, it will be a lot of fun watching both teams play down the stretch and then into the tournament.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Roger Clemens' hearing achieved nothing

Recently, the baseball and political world collided when a congressional hearing was held that featured legendary pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee.

McNamee, of course, had named Clemens in the Mitchell Report as someone he injected with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH). The Mitchell Report was undertaken by Major League Baseball as one last attempt to understand the impact steroids have had on the sport during the last decade or so.

The testimony of Clemens and McNamee was fascinating to watch. Clemens emphatically denied ever taking any illegal drugs during his career, while McNamee continued to maintain that he had.

Obviously, one of them was lying in a big way, but both spoke with such conviction that it was difficult to get a feel one way or the other as to who was being truthful.

However, one question kept dancing in my mind while I was watching this and it was: Why was Congress investigating this?

Congressional hearings had already been held a couple of years ago regarding the impact of steroids on the sport. At those hearings, Mark McGwire famously refused to answer questions on the subject. Also, slugger Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger at the committee and denied ever taking steroids.

Of course, Palmeiro flunked a drug test only a few months after those hearings and has apparently fallen off the face of the earth since then. He left the sport in disgrace.

Nothing new was gained from the Clemens' hearing other than hearing both sides air their dirty laundry in public.

However, as we all know, the one thing that politicians seem to love more than anything is free publicity. With this hearing, they knew they were guaranteed to get plenty of that.

And they were right. The major cable news networks carried significant chunks of the hearing. ESPN's cameras offered coverage both on television and the internet. C-SPAN replayed the hearing that evening for those who didn't have the chance to watch it during the day.

Our elected officials presided over a circus and got maximum exposure for doing so. They did not care about the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that got flushed down the toilet so that this extravaganza could take place.

To many of our elected officials, taxpayer money is just like toilet paper. It is an easily replaceable resource, and when reserves get low, they simply go out and get more.

They demonstrate this attitude every day, but rarely do we get to see an example as blatant as the Clemens' hearing. Another circus like this is probably just around the corner.

As for Clemens and McNamee, I thought they both came off looking bad. Clemens repeatedly refused taking steroids and HGH despite some pretty compelling testimony that he did.

His good friend and fellow pitcher Andy Pettitte told congressional investigators that Clemens told him several years ago that he had taken HGH.

Additionally, Clemens' wife Debbie admitted that McNamee had injected her with HGH. If his own wife was supplied with HGH by McNamee, is it really that big of a stretch to suspect that Clemens also had been injected with it?

Also, two other players fingered by McNamee in the Mitchell Report have admitted what he said about them was true. If McNamee told the truth about those two players, why would he lie about Clemens?

As for McNamee, he didn't exactly come off smelling like a rose during his testimony. Congressional questioners got him to admit that he had repeatedly lied to the media and federal investigators during the time he had been investigated.

Obviously, that damages his credibility and should cause us all to think twice about anything he has to say. Then again, just because he lied in the past does not mean he is not telling the truth now.

As written earlier, one of these two is obviously lying. The passing of time has a tendency to reveal who is telling the truth and who is not.

Let's hope this happens in this case. Even though this event was a circus, one of these two is guilty of lying under oath to Congress.

This is a serious offense, and the guilty party should be prosecuted.

If this doesn't happen, then the crime of perjury should be removed from the law books.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prediction: Memphis will edge UT in Saturday's showdown

I've watched a lot of Tennessee Volunteer basketball over the years, and a person could make a pretty compelling argument that Saturday's game at Memphis is the biggest game in the program's history.

True, it is not a conference game. However, Memphis is unbeaten and the top ranked team in the country, while Tennessee is 24-2 and ranked second. This would be a huge game if it were played in November much less late February. Both teams are fine tuning themselves in preparation for the NCAA tourney next month.

I watched Memphis play Alabama-Birmingham last Saturday, and they were fortunate to win. They trailed by seven with only a minute and a half remaining. However, they outscored the Blazers 9-1 the rest of the way and squeaked out the win. Frankly, I thought they got the benefit of a couple of calls from the officials, but the bottom line is they won.

This should be a fun game. It gives both teams a break from the grind of their conference schedules. Memphis has looked a little unmotivated the last couple of weeks because they play in a weak conference in which they are clearly the best team.

However, I expect them to be razor sharp against the Vols. Both like to play an up tempo style that should guarantee a high score.

Since the game is being played in Memphis, I think the edge goes to them. Experts say having home court advantage is worth four points in college basketball so expect the margin of victory to be about that amount. If it was being played in Knoxville, I'd be taking the Vols. I think it is that close a match up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Some pennies net a man $10.7 million

I have always had an interest in coin collecting so a recent auction of rare American cents caught my attention.

Walter J. Husak, who is owner of an aerospace-part manufacturing company, recently had 301 pennies in his collection auctioned off. There were some real jewels in his collection, including a 1793 cent that was only produced for two weeks before Congress abandoned the coin because of its design.

According to the Associated Press, the presale estimate of the coins was that they were worth about $7 million, but the auction hauled in $10.7 million.

For those looking for long-term investments, coins aren't a bad choice. They won't soar in value overnight, but over the long run, they consistently appreciate.

So, in this case, a penny saved is more than a penny earned.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Excellent movie: 'The Shawshank Redemption'

A gift I got for my recent birthday (it's official: I've outlasted Elvis) was a copy of The Shawshank Redemption on DVD. This was the first time I've seen the uncut version of the film since it first came out in the mid 90s. It was as good as I remembered it being.

As I've said in other postings, I'm no movie critic so if you want to read a good review of the film click here. However, I like just about everything regarding this film.

I've read some reviews that criticized it for having a slow pace. I completely disagree. The key to this film is its dialogue (both from the interaction of the characters and the narrator), and the film's pace lets us get to know the characters before the main plot action begins. Director Frank Darabont used a similar technique when he made The Green Mile.

Though the film is set in a prison, it has a real family feel to it. Especially gratifying is watching the development of the friendship between Andy (played by Tim Robbins) and Red (played by Morgan Freeman). The film avoids all the clich├ęs that one often associates with prison films. The characters are three-dimensional, and the talented actors do a nice job of bringing them to life.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the edited version of the film was on TV almost every night (especially on TNT). Since then, it seems to have disappeared so seek it out. It deserves to be part of your collection.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's never over until it's over

History is littered with people who faced overwhelming odds.

Whether it was David when he faced Goliath or the New York Giants when they played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there are lots of examples of people who could have given up based on the situation they were in.

For other examples look no further than our current presidential race.

Last year, Arizona Sen. John McCain's bid for the presidency looked to be unraveling in its infancy. Key staff members left the campaign and most pundits predicted a quick end to McCain's bid.

The perception was that his campaign was in disarray, and as we all know, perception is one of the most important ingredients of political campaigns these days.

It doesn't matter what the facts are. If the perception of a candidate is negative, then he or she has a much steeper mountain to climb than other candidates.

In McCain's case, he found himself buried in the polls, and the future was bleak.

Fortunately for him, he did not fold under the pressure. He simply kept plugging along, and now he is the frontrunner for the Republican Party's nomination.

The fact that McCain did not quit should not have surprised us. After all, he spent years in the brutal hands of the Vietnamese as a prisoner of war during that conflict.

Whether a person is a supporter of McCain or not, he has to be admired for his resiliency during his Vietnam experience and for not giving up on his presidential bid when most said he had no chance.

He now has an overwhelming lead in delegates, and only has to deal with pesky Mike Huckabee between now and the Republican convention this summer.

A similar situation is unfolding for the Democratic nomination. Last year, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had a solid lead in all the polls.

With the experience of the Clinton political machine behind her, it looked like smooth sailing to her party's nomination.

It would have been easy for other candidates to pack it in and begin focusing on running in 2012. However, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama didn't do that.

The more he got his face in front of the public, the more his personal charisma began to win over voters.

While some critics dismiss Obama as an empty suit, his ability to communicate is obvious. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both showed how important it is to have excellent communication skills.

People will never confuse Reagan and Clinton from an ideological point of view, but it cannot be denied that both understood how to communicate to the hearts of voters.

Some might claim that they both knew how to manipulate voters, but even that shows they understood how to present a message to the public.

As for Obama, his persistence has put him in a dogfight with Mrs. Clinton, and the race for the nomination likely won't be decided for another couple of months.

So, what can be learned from all this?

I started this column by stating that history is littered with people who faced overwhelming odds but continued despite that.

Most of the lives being led today are lives that will not be recorded in the history books. However, everybody at some point will face overwhelming odds in which they have to decide whether to give up or keep moving forward.

If you haven't found yourself in a situation like this, you will eventually. In all our lives, there is a season for everything.

We will all experience seasons of prosperity and happiness. But we will also experience seasons of angst and despair.

As surely as the sun rises in the east, we will all at some point face a moment in which the odds are against us.

The toughest decision is knowing when to keep moving forward or to retreat. As we all know, knowing when to retreat is often as important as knowing when to move forward.

Unfortunately, I can't provide you any special insight when faced with this decision.

All I can say is pray about it and do the best you can.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Elvis Costello to play the Ryman Auditorium on April 23

Tickets for Elvis Costello's performance at the Ryman on April 23 go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m.

I like his stuff. If you are looking for an introduction to his music, consider The Very Best of Elvis Costello that Rhino Records released a few years ago. It has all the essential songs plus some well chosen album cuts.

You could do a lot worse.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pearl Jam, Metallica to headline Bonnaroo 2008

Pearl Jam and Metallica are going to headline Bonnaroo 2008, which is held each June in Manchester, TN. This is probably old news to those who closely follow the event, but because it is held in my town I thought it was worth posting. Several weeks ago, there was a big rumor that Led Zeppelin would play at the event, but that isn't the case (at least at this point).

Among the comedians performing is Janeane Garofalo. I only mention this because I wonder if Joltin' Django will consider attending just so he can chuck chili dogs at her. If he does, I hope he brings his own. If he buys them at the site, they will likely cost $10 a dog.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apathetic Christians strike again

As we all know, advances in technology during the last few decades have made it easier to receive information.

Whether it is on television, in a newspaper, or in cyberspace, news spreads rapidly. This is a good thing because a person can never have too much access to information.

However, for public figures, it means every word they speak is analyzed and re-analyzed until it is ground into a fine powder. This isn't a problem when times are good.

The big problem for them comes when they say something stupid. A slip of the tongue or a lapse in judgment can turn a person's life upside down as their mistake becomes cannon fodder for the media.

And as we have all seen before, once the public shows an interest in a person's mistake, the media will beat the topic to death until it is time to move on to the next issue of the day.

Recently, one of the biggest gaffes of this type was made by somebody who is a member of the media.

ESPN personality Dana Jacobson put her foot in her mouth when she spoke at a roast for two of her colleagues at the network.

Usually, roasts are a forum where people come to make jokes at the expense of those who are being honored at the event. Unfortunately for Jacobson, she went too far and the fallout had to have been a public embarrassment for her.

According to The Press of Atlantic City, she was "swilling Vodka" and "cursing like a sailor" while speaking at the event.

However, her biggest mistake was when she allegedly starting dropping f-bombs and made an anti-Jesus slur. When speaking about the University of Notre Dame she allegedly said "F--- Notre Dame. F--- Touchdown Jesus. F--- Jesus."

Notice that I said "allegedly" because ESPN has failed to release video or a transcript of the event so this can be officially verified. Apparently, ESPN has no problem pointing its white hot spotlight at others when they make mistakes, but they are willing to close ranks to protect one of their own.

Jacobson was suspended for one week, and she has already returned to the air.

However, the one aspect of this controversy that caught my attention was that no uproar was created by it.

For example, radio shock jock Don Imus lost his lucrative morning show last year when he made a derogatory slur about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. As offensive as Imus' comment was, it pales in comparison to the slur that Jacobson made against Jesus.

However, she appears to have gotten little more than a slap on the wrist from her employer.

Let me be clear -- I don't have that big a problem with ESPN letting her keep her job. Forgiveness is critical, and showing mercy toward somebody who is genuinely sorry (as Jacobson appears to be) is something we need to see more of these days. However, I thought her suspension was too short.

My main beef is that her comments generated little outrage. Suppose she had said the same about Mohammed or Jews or African Americans or homosexuals.

Given the climate that we currently live in, I believe the reaction would have been far more hostile and Jacobson would have been in a lot more hot water.

So, who is to blame here?

I suppose we can blame ESPN for her relatively light punishment, but it was only doing what most corporations do when faced with this type of situation.

ESPN downplayed the incident, punished the person who made the mistake, and then prayed that nobody would make a big stink about the matter.

And that is exactly what happened. The situation came and went fairly quietly.

I guess my frustration should be directed at Christians. A public figure made a shockingly insulting comment about Jesus, and believers barely uttered a peep.

Christians like to complain that their faith is under attack, but when an opportunity comes along to stand up for their faith, they sit quietly like a puppy.

As a Christian, it makes me sad to realize that my brothers and sisters don't mind rolling over and being a punching bag.

I guess it's just a sign of the times.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Quote of the day

Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV): "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'"

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I'm looking forward to spring

As I have gotten older, I have become less patient with winter. Maybe it is because it is sandwiched between my two favorite seasons, spring and fall.

For whatever reason, I hope we have an early spring. Here in Tennessee, if you watch nature closely, you can see the slow turn toward spring begin in late February. The temperatures get a little warmer during the day, and it is not quite as cold at night.

Obviously, we will still have cold stretches, but the moderate temperatures of spring are just around the corner. I don't know how you folks who live up north can stand it. I'd love living up there in the summer, but this time of year would drive me nuts.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Does Bruce Pearl own Billy Donovan?

On Tuesday night, Florida comes to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols (19-2 overall, 6-1 conference) lead the SEC Eastern Division, but the Gators (18-4, 5-2) are only one game behind them.

The Gators lost almost everybody from their national title team but had played well until getting thumped by Arkansas 80-61 on Saturday. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off impressive road wins at Mississippi State and at Alabama.

Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl is 3-1 against Florida since coming to Knoxville, which is even more impressive when remembering that the Gators have won the last two national titles. Even with all his success, Florida Coach Billy Donovan has only managed to beat Tennessee once in Pearl's first two seasons at UT.

In football, we have all heard for years how Florida has gotten into the head of Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer has an excellent record, but his losing record against Florida is something Gator fans love to needle him about.

Because of this, it is only fair to ask the same question of Billy Donovan. Donovan is only 1-3 against Pearl. Has Pearl and Tennessee gotten inside Donovan's head? Does Bruce Pearl own Billy Donovan?

Florida's program will never be better than it has been the last couple of years, but the Gators have struggled against the Vols.

Will this happen again Tuesday night? We’ll see...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tennessee key on Super Tuesday

Football's Super Bowl occurred today, but a political version of that will take place on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, more than 20 states will hold primaries and just a couple of months ago, it was believed that the results would play a big role in determining the frontrunner for the Democratic and Republican nominations.

However, this does not appear to be the case. The races in both parties are still wide open, and unless something unexpected happens on Tuesday, it will be that way as the campaign moves forward.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama enjoyed an impressive win in South Carolina and has a lot of momentum. However, anybody who doubts the power of the Clinton political machine should think twice.

If nothing else, the Clinton family has shown they are relentless campaigners who have experienced many highs and lows over the years.

On the Republican side, it is a three-horse race. Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and to a lesser extent former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee lead the way.

The most embarrassed Republican at this point has to be former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He skipped the early contests to focus on the Florida primary last Tuesday and failed miserably.

He placed a distant third, and his entire campaign strategy has to be considered one of the dumbest in recent years. It doesn't quite rank as high as when Walter Mondale pledged to raise taxes as the Democratic nominee in the 1984 election.

Of course, Mondale knew he was likely to get steamrolled by incumbent Ronald Reagan anyway, so it's understandable that he would try a risky campaign technique. Still, his approach was a stinker.

As for Tuesday's primary here in Tennessee, it is a must win for both Obama and Clinton. Both candidates have begun paying more attention to the state, but it is distressing that they are only focusing on the large metropolitan areas.

I guess that can be forgiven because so many states are up for grabs, but still it's a shame that they won't lavish attention on Tennessee voters like they did in New Hampshire and Iowa.

As for the Republicans, the race here in our state only became more interesting a few days ago. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson would have been a shoe in, but he dropped out of the race after a poor showing in South Carolina.

Now, candidates are taking a greater interest in the state.

So, how should we approach Tuesday?

First, please go vote. I know I am stating the obvious but since tons of eligible voters don't do this, I felt it was worth stating. However, reader, since you have gotten this far into this column, I feel confident you have a lot of interest in elections and will do the right thing.

Of course, if you haven't registered to vote, then you can't vote in the primary. In this case, make sure to register so that you can vote in the general election in November.

Second, do a lot of personal research. Voters rely way too much on television and radio commercials when it comes to forming an opinion about a candidate. Many commercials are manipulative and don't tell the whole story. This is especially true when it comes to attack ads about another candidate.

Technology has made it easer than ever to find information regarding a candidate. I know it may be too close to our primary to do a lot of research, but the information is out there if a person is willing to do a little digging. Don't be lazy.

Last, don't pay attention to polls. Polls may help campaigns gauge voter sentiment, but the media tends to drown us with them. Polls subconsciously affect us when making a decision.

After all, how many times have you not voted for a candidate simply because you don't believe he has a chance to win? Paying too much attention to polls often drives that type of thinking.

Polls often aren't reliable. In this election, some polls showed that Barack Obama would beat Hillary Clinton by 10 percent in New Hampshire only days before voters went to cast their ballot, but she beat him.

Anything can still happen during this election.

The one question you must ask yourself is whether you are going to sit on the sidelines or get off the couch and participate. You can do that Tuesday.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Super Bowl pick: Unfortunately, it's the Patriots

Well, the Super Bowl finally arrives on Sunday, and I have reached the inescapable conclusion that I have to pick New England. Last week, I wrote that I will be cheering for New York and that has not changed. It would be nice to see a Manning (in this case, Eli) win the championship for a second consecutive year.

But I don't see it happening. A lot has been made of their previous meeting in December in which New England beat New York 38-35. The Patriots trailed by 12 points in the second half, but they pulled the game out late. Additionally, the Patriots have played a lot of relatively close games down the stretch compared to their games early in the season when they were blowing teams out.

Keep in mind, the Patriots have a pass first offense, and they only began playing close games when the weather turned cold, which impacts teams that have that approach. The Super Bowl will be played in Arizona in a dome. The weather will be perfect for the Patriots' style of offense.

The Pats will score a lot of points as they try to finish the season undefeated and stake their claim as the best professional team ever.

The pick: New England 38 New York 20