Monday, June 30, 2008

Check out 'Decade' for a great Neil Young sampler

Musically, Neil Young has always been a wandering spirit. From folk music to hard edge rock and roll to country to rockabilly, Young's catalogue has a little bit of everything. Saying his music is eclectic is a vast understatement. He has always been fearless when following his musical heart, and his album Decade is a fine example of that.

Taken all at once, this collection of his best from 1966-76 is quite breathtaking. Most "Best of..." albums are simply a collection of obvious songs slapped together for mass consumption. When comparing this compilation against the norm, it is all the more impressive. This album drips talent.

At this point of his career, Young was all over the place, and fortunately, this album captures each place he visited. Songs from his years in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young are here, as well as his solo work.

From his earliest work, the listener quickly learns that Young is unpredictable. Songs from his Buffalo Springfield period are a clear indicator of that. "Mr. Soul" is a forceful attack drenched in fuzzy guitar and aggressive vocals. "Broken Arrow," on the other hand, is more of a surreal collage in which diverse parts are woven together into an inventive whole. "I Am a Child" contains charm and innocence that perfectly reflects the song's title.

From his CSN&Y years, he communicates the despair of isolation on "Helpless." Other songs in this vain stand apart from the sweet harmonies for which the group was most known. "Ohio" features guitar work so jagged that it draws blood.

However, his solo work really elevates this album. His work with the back-up band Crazy Horse showcases his rock and roll chops. Songs like "Cinnamon Girl" and "Down by the River" deftly mix melancholia and power. So does "Cowgirl in the Sand," which Young said he wrote when he had a 103-degree fever.

Other songs include "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Tonight's the Night," which tackle the subject of untimely death. In both songs, Young laments the deaths of friends from drug overdoses. His eulogies for both are moving while not condoning the behavior that caused their deaths.

Young had his greatest commercial success when he recorded the album Harvest in Nashville. Songs from that album make up an impressive chunk of this compilation. "Heart of Gold" hit the top of the charts and other songs like "Old Man" communicates a yearning that illustrates how people from different generations are connected by their heart's emotions.

Some critics have dismissed his songs from Harvest, calling them sentimental jingles instead of poetry. In this case, they miss the point big time. Just because an artist takes a more simplistic approach, it does not mean he compromises his artistic ambition.

Being a fan of Young is not a passive activity. He shuns the idea of formulaic record making, which means he quickly moves from one musical style to another. That can be frustrating if a person enjoys only one of his musical styles. The positive side of that is that he continually challenges the listener. And that is very rare these days.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Russert's death leaves big shoes to fill

Political news coverage took a big hit recently when NBC's Tim Russert died on June 13 of a heart attack.

It was a big hit not just because Russert was an extremely popular journalist, but also because he was one of the best.

In an era where personal bias and opinion stains a lot of political reporting, Russert had a well-earned reputation for being one of the fairest journalists in the business.

Despite starting his career as an important figure in Democratic politics, he exhibited little personal bias after changing careers and becoming a member of the media.

When a guest appeared on "Meet the Press," it mattered little whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. Russert would relentlessly research his guest and pound them with questions.

However, Russert's influence at NBC carried much beyond "Meet the Press." Despite Brian Williams’ anchoring of "The Night News" and Tom Brokaw still occasionally appearing on the network, Russert was the dominant force when it came to the network's political coverage.

Under normal circumstances, he would be difficult to replace, but his absence will be felt even more at NBC because this is a presidential election year.

Because of this, the big question is: How will NBC handle his loss? This question was at least partly answered when it was announced that Brokaw will handle "Meet the Press" for the election season.

However, don't expect a permanent host to be named for quite a while. Out of respect for Russert, that announcement will likely not be made soon.

Additionally, the show is the most prestigious political talk show on television. Though there will be lots of pressure to quickly name a permanent successor, I doubt it will be a decision made hastily.

Within the network, there doesn't appear to be someone who can match the tone that Russert set for the show. After Brokaw fulfills his duties, options appear to be wide open when it comes to selecting a permanent host.

Some folks have floated Chris Matthews as an option, who currently has a show on MSNBC. Even though Matthews eats and sleeps politics, he would be a bad match for the show.

Russert's trademark was keeping his questioning down the middle while grilling his guests. It was objective journalism that allowed viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Matthews, however, doesn't hesitate to interject his opinions on his show. Like Russert, Matthews' career began in Democratic politics, but unlike him, it is usually pretty easy to tell what politicians he favors. For example, it is painfully clear that he is touting Sen. Barack Obama in this year's presidential race.

If he got involved with "Meet the Press," objectivity would be thrown out the window, and the show would take a severe credibility hit.

The bottom line is he just wouldn't be a good fit.

After him, it is pretty much anybody's guess at this point.

This year's election is already taking shape as a hotly contested race. It will be interesting to see how Russert's absence will impact the reporting of it.

Often times, it is the media that sets the tone for a political race. In losing one of its most important members, the tone will definitely be different.

Though it is a cheesy analogy, Russert's loss is almost like a football team that loses its quarterback before the big game. Somebody will have to step forward to fill his void.

And that will be one of the most interesting sub-plots this autumn.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Luckiest person in the world (this week anyway)

How often does a person survive getting struck by lightning and then win the lottery the next day? My guess is not often.

However, 16-year-old BreAnna Helsel of Blanchard, Mich., recently accomplished that.

According to an Associated Press story, she was struck by lightning at her family home. After surviving that, officials at the hospital she was treated at suggested she buy a lottery ticket because she had been so lucky.

The next day her mother bought her a ticket and she won $20.

My advice to her is that she should quit while she is ahead.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sports becoming a vast wasteland

Like most men, I am an avid sports fan. Every season of the year provides me a sport that I can live vicariously through.

Now that summer is arriving, most of my focus will be on baseball, but it was also fun recently watching the Boston Celtics reclaim their place at the top of professional basketball royalty.

And, of course, this part of the country is deeply passionate about football on just about all levels. Even though the weather is hot, it does not take much effort to start up an intense football discussion.

Despite all the enjoyment sports provide, there has been a growing dark side to the games people play. All major sports have been tainted by serious scandals in recent years.

In the just completed professional basketball season, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth regarding the claims of former NBA referee Tim Donaghy that a playoff game was fixed.

Donaghy was the referee who got in trouble with the law for gambling on NBA games and made his allegation as part of his attempts to receive a light sentence. NBA Commissioner David Stern dismissed his allegation as a desperate attempt by a felon to avoid jail.

Stern has a point, but after all the other scandals we've seen, a sports fan can't help but be a little suspicious.

A few weeks ago the National Football League saw another dust up in the controversy involving the New England Patriots and questions about their videoing other teams in violation of league rules.

Last year, the team and its head coach received hefty fines from the league for their wrong doings. However, a former team employee was recently questioned about other possible videos the team made, but at this point, it has not resulted in more punishment.

The only result from this recent incident is that it caused more negative publicity for the league because it reminded everybody that the NFL's premiere team of this decade may have achieved its titles by cheating.

And, let's not forget about baseball. Of all the sports tainted by scandal, professional baseball is the leader of the pack.

The sport is currently exiting what will go down in record books as the "steroids era." This scandal reached a new low in recent months when legendary pitcher Roger Clemens testified before Congress regarding his alleged steroids usage.

If that isn't enough scandal, then get ready for the Summer Olympics. If track and field were more popular, then the drug scandals in that sport would have gotten much more publicity than it has.

Track star Marion Jones, who won multiple medals in the 2000 Olympics in Australia, now sits in jail because she confessed to lying to investigators when they asked about drugs in her sport.

Track and field has been infested with performance enhancing drugs for years, and this may be part of the reason the Olympics have lost some of its luster.

So what does this all mean? As an adult, I can understand that the mistakes of these people show that they are human like the rest of us. It doesn't matter how rich or famous or successful a person is, they are vulnerable to making bad decisions like the rest of us.

My main concern is for young people who are watching all this happen. Our cynical society impacts them in ways I never had to deal with when I was growing up.

Now, they have to watch their sports heroes get reduced to rubble.

It must be difficult.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pampers are becoming the tool of choice for some drug dealers

We all know that drug dealers will go to creative lengths to smuggle their inventory, but a recent arrest highlights how creative they can be.

According to a recent Associated Press story, Frank Kaye Jr. faces up to 40 years in prison after allegedly attempting to smuggle 257 grams of heroin in a diaper he was wearing.

The car Kaye was in was pulled over for a traffic violation and after obtaining permission to search the vehicle, a drug sniffing dog found the drugs.

I don't know much about the heroin marketplace, but would a junkie really buy some smack if he knew it had been stored in an adult diaper that was being worn?

I bet he still would, but he would feel really dirty afterward.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who is Agur and why should I care?

Most people attribute the Book of Proverbs' authorship to Solomon, but he did not write the entire book. Others wrote the final two chapters. However, although the writers are different, the wisdom is no less insightful and is well worth consideration.

A man named Agur wrote the first nine verses of chapter thirty, but we do not know much about him. Scripture identifies him as the son of Jakeh, but that is about all historians know for sure. Some historians do not believe he was an Israelite.

Although we do not know much about him, these nine verses contain practical wisdom that we can all apply to our lives. This passage is most notable for his prayer for deliverance from economic extremes. However, there are other verses worth examining as well.

In verse two, we can immediately recognize that Agur was a humble and intelligent man. How do we know this? Because he immediately stated his lack of understanding and need for enlightenment from God. Usually, if a person is candid enough to admit the need for God's wisdom, it is a good indicator that he or she is truly intelligent.

In verse four, Agur asked a series of rhetorical questions that emphasized God's greatness, and that He is the source to which all people should turn for life's answers. Just as people today attempt to answer life's questions without His help, we need to follow Agur's advice and look for daily help from God. If we lean too heavily on our own knowledge, we risk being led astray.

In verses five and six, he emphasized that God is perfect, and He is available to us for comfort and guidance. Knowing that God is perfect helps us because it means He is completely dependable. Relationships with people may come and go in our lives, but He will always be there no matter what.

The passage's final three verses contain Agur's plea for protection. He wanted God to protect him from falsehoods and lies and the dull aching pain they can bring. He also wanted protection from poverty and riches.

Agur was obviously aware of the impact materialism can have on us. If he had too little, it would be tempting for him to steal to provide for himself, bringing dishonor to God. If he had too much, it might lead to arrogance in which he viewed himself as the source of his wealth and not God. In America, we certainly have problems when it comes to material wealth and the impact it has on us.

Though this passage is only nine verses in length, it resonates with themes that are still true today. The passage breaks down the complexity of our lives in ways that bring much needed simplicity. If for no other reason, these nine verses deserve our study.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Desperate times call for desperate measures

We all get email messages sent from friends and acquaintances that are supposed to be true, but upon further digging, we find out the information may not be credible.

I don't know if this is the case regarding the following information below, but because of skyrocketing gas prices, it sounds plausible to me.

Here is the text of a message I recently received:

"A woman said her son found his license plate missing so he called the police to file a report. They told him people were stealing the plates to get free gas. Given the rise in gas prices, people have taken to stealing license plates, putting them on their car, then getting gas and running. The gas station will have 'your' license plate number and you could be in trouble for 'pump and run.' Check your car periodically to be sure you still have a plate. If you should find it missing, file a report immediately! Keep an eye on your license plate! Make sure you always know it's there! When the license plate is reported as the 'drive off vehicle,' it's you they contact! Be aware! Be aware of your license plates, most of us never look to see if the plates are there or not."

Given the pain at the pump we are all feeling, it wouldn't surprise me if this was true.

Keep your guard up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Is the Iraq War a failure?

As the presidential campaign continues to unfold, the Iraq War will remain one of the most important topics debated.

Our sluggish economy and the high prices of food and gasoline have been getting more of the issue spotlight recently, but the war and how it should be handled will hound the candidates all the way to November.

Public opinion polls continue to show the war is unpopular. Most people just want it to go away, and the Bush administration has received stinging criticism regarding how it has handled it.

If a person were to spend a few minutes surfing the Internet on this topic, he would be buried in an avalanche of opinions regarding whether the war has been a success or failure.

The main points of the war's critics should be familiar to us all by now. A recent book accused President Bush of manipulating intelligence reports in order to justify going into this conflict.

Additionally, the amount of people killed and wounded has caused many people to ponder whether the human cost has been worth it. More than 4,000 American service men and women have died while thousands more Iraqis have perished.

These issues plus the enormous financial cost of the war have caused many to state that the war is a failure.

While I respect those points of view, it is important to remember what Iraq was like before the war. An Iraqi citizen at that time lived every second being ruled by Saddam Hussein.

As Americans, it is difficult to understand what those people went through during Hussein's reign of terror. I know I can't possibly understand it.

Hussein’s atrocities have been well documented. He used nerve gas against his own people resulting in thousands of deaths. During his reign, tens of thousands of Kurdish people "disappeared."

The level of mayhem he created was so high that it could almost be considered cartoonish, but unfortunately for the Iraqi people it was all too real.

For all the flaws and missteps of the Iraq War, it has produced one important thing for those people. The war has given them hope.

Under Saddam, they had no hope for a better way of life. His boot was planted firmly against their necks, and if they tried to break free, retaliation against them would have been swift and brutal.

Now, Iraqis have the opportunity to determine what kind of country they will have. Of course, there is no predicting how that will unfold.

In the instant gratification society that we live in, I am afraid people will view the war as a failure if Iraq is not a stable democracy like ours when our troops leave.

That would be a big mistake. Whether our troops are in the country or not, Iraq faces years or decades of struggle to become a strong and stable country.

Remember, the United States did not declare its independence from Great Britain and suddenly become a stable super power. Forty years after our declaration, we were still struggling for freedom. A clear example of this was when the British burned the White House down in 1814.

The bottom line is the Iraqi people do have the opportunity for a better tomorrow because of the United States' efforts in this war.

While those directing our war efforts deserve some criticism, our magnificent troops deserve credit for giving the Iraqis the opportunity to be free like us.

When looking at it this way, how could anybody consider the war a failure?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert, R.I.P.

NBC's news division has gone down the crapper in the last few years, but Tim Russert remained a first-rate interviewer and journalist.

He was one of the good ones.

And now he is gone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Quote of the day

"I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman." -- Homer Simpson.

Sometimes when you're feeling down, you just gotta hear from Homer.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The coolest football helmets of all time?

I was surfing on the Internet when I came across this story that listed the coolest professional football helmets in history. To read the story, click here.

A few thoughts:

I have always preferred the old school Buffalo Bills helmet (#11 on the list). I think it is one of the most underrated helmets in history. The old helmet has a much cleaner look while their current helmet logo looks like a stain on a carpet.

The writer also deserves kudos for including the San Diego Chargers helmet worn from 1961-73. I thought it should have been ranked higher than #9 on the list. In fact, the Chargers entire uniform from that era is first rate.

It is difficult to argue with his inclusion of some of the classics (Colts, Packers, Steelers, etc.). Some helmets just withstand the test of time.

Also, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet from 1976-96 was a nice touch. Very underrated.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bonnaroo, part two: the 'Tower of Babel' comes to Manchester

In ancient times, mankind constructed the 'Tower of Babel' that was intended to reach into the heavens. However, it was a tower built for the glorification of man and not God. The result was punishment from God that scattered people throughout the earth and jumbled their languages (read Genesis 11 in the Old Testament for more information).

I thought about that tower when I visited my local Wal-Mart today. In preparation for Bonnaroo, there were stacks of beer and bottled water that reached high into the air. Not quite a tower, but it was a whole lot of beer and water.

What does this mean? I don't know. I just hope Manchester fares better during Bonnaroo than those people did back then.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bonnaroo approacheth

If it is June in Coffee County then it must be time for the Bonnaroo music festival.

This coming week, tens of thousands of people will be traveling from all over the world to spend a week in Manchester. From a musical perspective, Manchester will be the center of the universe as some of the biggest acts in music come to play here.

The flavor of our community will change quite a bit in the next few days. Some of us will see things we probably haven't seen in a long time, and this will likely be in both good and bad ways.

If events unfold like they have in previous years, merchants should expect to enjoy a busy and profitable week.

My guess is the Wal-Mart parking lot will be packed with cars that have license plates from most of the states in the country. If you think I'm kidding, just spend a few minutes driving around the parking lot and see for yourself.

As a life long Manchester resident, my prayer is that the week will unfold peacefully. A lot of people will be coming to our little town, and we must be willing to help our guests whenever necessary.

Whether we like it or not, the perception of Manchester that outsiders have will largely be shaped by how we handle this event. In addition to our local media, state and national media will visit here, and how we receive them will play a big role in what our town's reputation will be.

Of course, there are negative aspects to this event. With a crowd this big coming, there will be lots of drug and alcohol abuse. Deaths have occurred in the past because of this, and we can only pray that that will not happen again.

Additionally, the general inconvenience of the event will affect us local residents. We can expect to wait a little longer in line whenever we go to buy groceries or gasoline.

I'm interested to see how this event will impact the price of gas. Obviously, prices have rocketed off the charts in the last few months, but will the increased demand for gas caused by Bonnaroo result in even higher prices here locally?

I sure hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me if we were to see a spike in prices. After all, greater demand drives higher prices.

Despite these inconveniences, the event has come a long way in regards to how it impacts local residents. The first year was a fiasco in terms of traffic control as cars were backed up for miles on the interstate for many hours.

However, event organizers and local officials are to be commended for dramatic improvements in getting people into the site in an efficient manner. Traffic has been a real breeze the last couple of years when compared to the first year. I'm sure there will be some problems. When so many people converge on a relatively small place, all the planning in the world will not be able to snuff out every issue.

Basically, the impact of this event on us is still pretty much the same as in previous years.

The bottom line is it is like most situations in life -- it is what you make of it. The masses are coming whether a person likes it or not.

So, as a community, our goal should be to do whatever it takes to make this event unfold as smoothly as possible. By doing this, we will greatly aid our local officials and event organizers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Time for an update on our friends in Barrow, Alaska

Even though summer is a few weeks away, temperatures this week are sizzling above 90 degrees for the first time this year. It may still be spring, but it doesn't feel like it outside.

As I've done before, when the heat gets to me I like to take a look at the temperature in Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is the northernmost permanent settlement in the United States and just knowing it is cool somewhere in our country makes me feel better.

The forecast there for the rest of the week calls for temperatures in the upper 30s with a chance of rain.

Interestingly, Barrow is currently going through a cycle where they have daylight for all 24 hours of the day.

Personally, I think this is pretty neat, but I bet it drives the owls crazy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Be wise: Invest in Barber half dollars and Indian Head cents

Since I was a teenager, I have had an interest in old coins -- mostly United States coins from the 19th and early 20th centuries. If I have learned anything, it is that the Barber half dollar and the Indian Head cent have been the most consistent performers over the years.

The Barber half dollar (known as this because the coin was designed by Charles E. Barber) has consistently increased in value. Made of .90000 silver, part of the reason for this increase is because silver continues to blossom in value (particularly in the last year or so). Another reason may be because they are generally more affordable than the Morgan silver dollar that was minted around the same time as Barbers (which were minted from 1892 through 1915). The Morgan silver dollar is probably the most popular non-gold coin.

As for the Indian Head cent, I don't have a good reason why it has been such a steady performer. Maybe it is because it was the penny that was used before our current Lincoln cent. Whatever the reason, it has been very dependable.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Democrats' compromise for Michigan, Florida delegates a complete crock

On Saturday, the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee decided to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan at this year's convention despite voting last year to strip both states of their delegates. This happened after the states scheduled their primaries on dates that were against party rules.

In this compromise, both states' full delegations will be seated, but each delegate was allowed a half-vote only.

A half-vote? I don't know a lot about Michigan, but it is obvious the folks in Florida don't know what they are doing when it comes to elections. After the fiasco in 2000's presidential election, I assumed they would get their act together, but Democratic Party leaders in that state really let their citizens down by screwing up their primary.

The Democrats should have either stood by their decision last year to allow no delegates from these states or they should have allowed the delegates full-vote status. This kind of reminds me of the 'three-fifths compromise' back in the 18th century. You can look it up.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Much ado about nothing

In the daily grind of a presidential campaign, it is fascinating to watch how an off-the-cuff remark by a candidate can be blown way out of proportion.

This recently happened to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton when she was talking to the editorial board of a South Dakota newspaper.

South Dakota's primary is on Tuesday, and she was responding to a question about all the pressure she is receiving from Democrats to drop out of the race. Barring an unforeseen event, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee in November's general election.

Responding to the question she said: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don't understand it."

All Clinton was trying to say was that there is a historical precedent for Democratic campaigns lasting into June, and that she had the right to continue her campaign because of that.

However, her opponents and critics immediately jumped on her reference to Robert Kennedy and expressed outrage. An Obama spokesman said her comment "has no place in this campaign."

Eventually, Clinton made an apology, but I'm still trying to understand what was so offensive about her remark.

Obviously, her critics thought she was wrong to bring Robert Kennedy's murder into the political arena, but there was nothing in her comment that was offensive. She was simply stating a fact about recent Democratic campaigns and that the 1968 campaign did last into June.

She was not insensitive to Kennedy's memory in any way. Unfortunately, for her, she is the target of Democratic leaders who want her out of the way so there can be nothing to deflect attention away from Obama.

Because of this, they will exploit any comment she makes to marginalize her.

The truly fascinating aspect of this is that the same people who are pounding her also dream of an Obama/Clinton presidential ticket.

They believe with Obama's charisma and Clinton's ability to attract women voters that they would be unstoppable against the Republicans in November.

At this point, I would have to agree with that. Obama's charisma seems to intoxicate people and unless there is an "October surprise" lurking in the shadows, I don't see him losing to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Adding Clinton as the vice presidential nominee would provide Democrats with a powerful ticket.

However, they should not get their hopes up just yet.

After years of being the darlings of the Democratic Party, the Clintons have taken quite a battering over the last few months. Former President Bill Clinton has become an afterthought on the campaign trail, and Mrs. Clinton recently made a comment about how she has been the victim of sexism.

Don't expect their wounds to heal quickly. When people have been on top, it is difficult to accept being second banana, and that is what Mrs. Clinton would be if she accepted a vice presidential offer.

So, at this point, it is hard to imagine that she will be the Democrats' vice presidential nominee. Obama may offer it to her as a way for her to gracefully exit the campaign spotlight, but it's hard to believe that she would accept it.

However, if there is anything we know about the Clintons, it is that they do not stay down long when they have been knocked to the ground.

Hillary Clinton will remain a presence on the political scene as a senator.

Who knows? She may have another chance at the White House some day.