Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Few Christians believe basic biblical teachings

I recently came across this in a biblical commentary:

"A survey of American Christian adults by the Barna organization a few years ago revealed that less than 10 percent believe in certain basic biblical principles. Those principles included believing that the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings and reveals God-given truth; that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who still rules the world today; that salvation is a gift from God and not something you earn; that Satan is real; and that Christians have the responsibility to share their faith with non-Christians."

Obviously, statistics can be manipulated to prove anything, but if this is true, it is remarkable.

It is also big trouble.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Will inconsistent April lead to better days for Braves?

For Atlanta Braves fans, the first full month of the season has been frustrating because the team just can't seem to get it into gear. As of this writing, they are 12-13, and for every step they take forward, they take one backward.

Of course, this is a primary trait of a team playing around the .500 level. Fortunately, no other team in the National League East has gotten off to a hot start, so the Braves remain right in the thick of the race.

So far, there have been things to feel good and bad about.

The good: The highlight of the month was obviously John Smoltz getting his 3,000th career strikeout. If there was any doubt whether he would make the Hall of Fame or not, this achievement ends the discussion. He now has 210 wins plus 154 saves from when he served as closer. He is also off to a solid 3-2 start this year.

Additionally, Chipper Jones has been red hot. He has hit well above .400 this month, and the team will need his hot stick as the season unfolds.

Also, the Braves haven't missed outfielder Andruw Jones who was not re-signed after last season. He is off to a miserable start with the Dodgers. He is hitting .159 and is already getting booed.

The bad: Injuries have to be a concern. The Braves have a lot of good, young talent, but the team relies on a lot of older players. Will they be able to stay healthy? So far, the answer would have to be 'no.' Smoltz and Tom Glavine have already spent time on the disabled list, plus Chipper has missed time with leg and back issues. These three must stay healthy if the Braves are to earn a playoff berth.

There is a long way to go in the season. Most experts are picking either the Mets or the Phillies to win the division, but the Braves should be in the mix.

I have a feeling good times are ahead.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gas prices are making me choke

Well, my fellow Americans, we really find ourselves in a mess when it comes to gas prices in our country.

We have become so dependent on oil that we are again facing record gas prices. Recently, the national retail average for a gallon of gas broke the $3.50 barrier, and with the summer vacation season coming, experts expect the price to go much higher.

Of course, there is a silver lining in this for us here in Coffee Country. We can be grateful that we do not live in Florida, California, and Hawaii because some parts of those states have already seen prices break the $4 a gallon barrier.

Although Hawaii is often described as 'paradise,' that news makes me glad I live here in Tennessee. However, we can all expect to pay higher at the pump as the next few months unfold.

How much higher? Many analysts see the price for a barrel of oil rising to $125, and because of this, the country's national average for gas could reach $3.80 a gallon very soon.

A couple of weeks ago I experienced a case of gas price 'sticker shock.' I was driving home one evening from Nashville and stopped at a gas station near the interstate to fill up my tank.

As I pulled into that store's parking lot, I saw that they were selling gas for $3.40 a gallon, and I did a double take. I was stunned prices had jumped up that high so fast.

I told myself that it must be just this one station and that if I drove around Manchester I would find a much better price. However, I could not so I bought my gas and grinded my teeth about having to pay these prices.

Even though I was frustrated, deep down I knew the only person I could be upset with about this was me. After all, my reliance on gasoline as perhaps the most important resource I need to conduct my daily life was a result of decisions I've made.

And the same goes for the rest of America. We grumble about paying high prices and don't like that Exxon and other huge corporations make tidy profits, but our decisions created the marketplace that we are currently in.

For years, we have thumbed our noses at ideas like conservation and developing alternative fuel sources that could have avoided the mess we find ourselves in now. Now, the joke is on us.

The most compelling aspect of this is whether we have learned our lesson or not. Will the soaring prices cause us to change our driving habits? Will we all look for ways to avoid making unnecessary car trips?

Or will it be business as usual? Will we simply cope with this problem by putting all our fuel purchases on our credit cards and then praying that the problem will go away?

As much as I would like to believe that these high prices will force us to conserve more, I don't believe it will happen.

Whether we understand it or not, we are a nation of extravagance compared to most of the world, and a primary way we express this is by how we use our cars.

For whatever reason, many believe our vehicles are an extension of who we are and reveal a lot about us.

I tend to agree. Why else are there all these huge cars, trucks, and SUVs out on our streets?

Because of that, I don't expect things to change.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This is your brain on drugs

There are some news stories where all you can do is shake your head.

Recently, a Long Island, N.Y., man called police to report he had been robbed in a drug deal that went horribly wrong, according to an Associated Press report.

Allegedly, Christopher Canonico had been contacted by two women who wanted to buy heroin from him. However, when dealing with them, a third person approached him and robbed him of his money, wallet, and cell phone.

Remarkably, he contacted local police to report the crime. He is now charged with criminal sale and criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to the AP.

Words fail me at this point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quote of the day

"You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but an audience is like a broad -- if you're indifferent, endsville." -- Frank Sinatra, 1963.

On another note, welcome to all the Georgia Bulldog fans who visited this site today.

Monday, April 21, 2008

We get to enjoy the Titans on Thanksgiving Day this year

Last week, the National Football League released each team's schedule for the 2008 season, and the Tennessee Titans have some tasty match ups.

The first game that caught my eye was the Titans visiting the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. I know a lot of people believe the Lions don't deserve their annual showcase on this holiday because of their lousy record in recent years. I am not one of those people. The Lions are part of the tradition of playing football on this day, and tradition means a lot.

Additionally, the Titans have several fascinating home games. Of course, they host their divisional foes (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Houston). They also get visits from Green Bay and Pittsburgh. That is an attractive home slate.

Here's the schedule (I won't include pre-season games because they are the biggest rip-off in professional sports):

Sept. 7 -- vs. Jacksonville
Sept. 14 -- at Cincinnati
Sept. 21 -- vs. Houston
Sept. 28 -- vs. Minnesota
Oct. 5 -- at Baltimore
Oct. 19 -- at Kansas City
Oct. 27 -- vs. Indianapolis
Nov. 2 -- vs. Green Bay
Nov. 9 -- at Chicago
Nov. 16 -- at Jacksonville
Nov. 23 -- vs. New York Jets
Nov. 27 -- at Detroit
Dec. 7 -- vs. Cleveland
Dec. 14 -- at Houston
Dec. 21 -- vs. Pittsburgh
Dec. 28 -- at Indianapolis

The Titans have a chance to get off to a quick start because they play three of their first four games at home. Plus, they have very winnable road games at Kansas City, at Baltimore, and at Houston.

There will be more time later for further analysis, but the Titans should post a 10-6 record with this schedule. And if the offense can at least take a small step forward, they could do better than that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It was 38-years ago today...almost

When we are younger it seems like we have all the time in the world, but as we get older, we understand that time flies by.

I was reminded of how fast time moves a few days ago when I realized it was the 38th anniversary of when the Beatles officially disbanded.

Paul McCartney announced on April 10, 1970, that he was done with the group, and it was one of those moments that truly ended an era. Of course, McCartney's announcement was only a formality.

Those familiar with the band's history knows that John Lennon had told McCartney several months earlier that he wanted out of the group. In fact, McCartney worked the hardest to keep the band together.

It was only when he became fed up with the lack of interest of the other three that he shocked the world with his announcement.

Of course, the Beatles are still a bit of a lightning rod to some people. While there can be no denying they were musical revolutionaries, some point their fingers at the band as having been a corruptive influence on youth culture.

Their hairstyles caused countless young men to abandon their crew cuts and begin growing their hair long. While there is nothing wrong with that, their appearance on American shores in February 1964 seemed to snap the nation's youth out of a trance.

Remember, this was only about 10 weeks after President Kennedy's assassination, and the country was still coping with that loss. The country needed something to get excited about and the Beatles were just that for a lot of the youth.

Of course, some who criticized the group did have good points. The Beatles all used drugs and were correctly criticized for it. Because of their status as role models, their use influenced others to give drugs a try.

In fact, society in general got a lot more permissive during that time, and we are still seeing today some of the bitter fruits from that era.

However, I believe some of the criticism given to the band was too extreme.

Could the Beatles have been better role models? Of course. But the same could be said about every one of us. We are all lucky that our mistakes and indiscretions have never been on a world stage for all to see.

I tend to agree with George Harrison's assessment of the criticism the band received. In the documentary The Beatles Anthology, he said the world used the Beatles as an excuse to go crazy and then blamed them when they didn't like the result.

He's right. There is something about our human nature that doesn't like to take responsibility for our actions. We want to blame others for the decisions we make.

In the Beatles' case, they were the most famous representatives of their generation and became the natural targets of blame when the so-called bliss of the Summer of Love began creating a lot of casualties.

Harrison saw these casualties first hand. In 1967, he traveled to San Francisco, which was the self-proclaimed capital of the counterculture.

As he stated in that documentary, he had expected to find an enlightened place. However, he said he found a lot of drop-out kids who were over indulging in drugs.

He said what he found there was like visiting a "bowery."

Those don't sound like the words of somebody who was trying to lead the youth of America astray.

Those words sound like somebody who was trying to be a good role model.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The era of third grade hit squads has begun

I am a serious news junkie, and because of this, it takes a lot to really shake me up when it comes to studying the events that shape our society.

However, one of those events happened recently when the news of a plot by third graders to stab their teacher hit the headlines.

Police in Waycross, Ga., recently stated that a group of students brought a crystal paperweight, a steak knife with a broken handle, steel handcuffs and other items as part of a conspiracy to allegedly harm their teacher.

Police said the plot was organized to the point that some of the children had been assigned specific duties such as cleaning up any mess and covering classroom windows, according to multiple news reports.

Since then, reaction to this has been wide ranging. Parents of students who attend that school were understandably horrified that this could take place. However, many psychiatry experts believe the children never would have followed through on their plans.

All the students implicated have received suspensions and at this point, law enforcement officials plan to pursue charges against three of the children.

There are a lot of thoughts that spring to mind when reflecting on this situation. The first thought is that this is another example of the challenges teachers face in the classroom.

This plot was allegedly hatched because the teacher had punished one of the children for standing on a chair.

All children need discipline, but this teacher got more than he or she bargained for when delivering this punishment. Unfortunately, violence is a real issue when it comes to our educational system, and teachers deserve our respect for being willing to serve our communities in this way.

As I stated earlier in this column, it takes something pretty extreme to shake me up as I read the news every day. However, after giving it a lot more thought, this event really should not have come as a surprise.

After all, children these days are bombarded with images that people my age never had to deal with growing up.

Kids get drenched with violent images especially as it relates to television, movies, video games and other aspects of the media. When taking this into consideration, why should it surprise us when kids decide to put into action the things they see every day?

Times have changed remarkably in the last 30 years. As a boy growing up in the 1970s, the most provocative aspect of afternoon television was how tight Mary Ann's shorts were on Gilligan's Island.

Today, when kids come home from school and turn on the television, they get exposed to violence and sex in doses that couldn't have been imagined just a few years ago.

Media technology has exploded over the last 30 years. While that has helped our country in many important ways, there has been a downside. Some folks keep pushing the envelope in terms of what they can get away with and not get burned.

Because of this, I wonder if many parents truly understand what their children are being exposed to.

Many of the parents of the children involved in this plot are likely about my age. If they are still viewing television and other aspects of the media like it was when we were growing up, then they are being extremely naïve.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times have changed, and if parents are not monitoring what their children are being exposed to, then they will pay for it.

They may not pay for it now, but at some point, they will.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The wonder of fudge popsicles

Now that we are getting farther away from the cold of winter, is there no more satisfying snack on a warm day than a fudge popsicle? I can go through a box of 12 in no time. In fact, I may put that on this weekend's agenda.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

'Johnny Cash at San Quentin' is a great concert album

I have a pretty long commute to work each day, and about the only good thing regarding this is that it allows me to listen to a lot of music. Lately, I have been wearing out Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

It is impossible to overstate Johnny Cash's contribution to country music. From his earliest recordings for Sun Records in the 1950s to the Rick Rubin produced music of his final years, Cash was a true original. Through his career, he held the titles of rebel, leader, preacher, crooner, outlaw, and more. All of these personality traits are apparent on this extraordinary concert album.

Johnny Cash at San Quentin appeared only one year after his landmark and classic live album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Because of that, the San Quentin album is many times lost in the shuffle when discussing his body of work. Though the San Quentin album may lack the sense of breakthrough of the Folsom concert, it nevertheless is an excellent concert recording.

Originally recorded at the prison for a British broadcast, the album transcends what live albums usually are. Many times, live albums are simply an opportunity for an artist to make easy money by running through the hits and then releasing it to the public with little personal investment. This recording, however, is a true living document.

When the album was originally released back in 1969, it only included 10 songs from the show. However, in 1999, the entire performance was restored and that is the version of the album that I have been wearing out lately.

Because Cash had problems with the law during his wilder years, it is obvious that he strongly related to the audience for which he was performing. At one point in the concert, he rebuked the British producers who wanted him to only play the hits for their broadcast. He then asked the audience for requests, and they responded passionately. For a brief moment, Cash allowed the prisoners to have input into what entered their lives, which is exactly the type of thing prison takes away. In addition, his story of how he spent a night in the Starkville, Miss., jail is priceless.

The only hit from this set was Cash's version of Shel Silverstein’s 'A Boy Named Sue.' Also, Cash dueted with his wife June Carter on two songs: the spiritual standard 'Peace in the Valley' and John Sebastian's 'Darling Companion.' He also performed my favorite song of his 'I Walk the Line' and delivered a strong version of Bob Dylan's 'Wanted Man.'

Though there are many strong songs here, it is the give and take between Cash and his audience that made this recording truly memorable. In an age in which music has truly gone corporate, it is highly unlikely that CDs of this type will ever be made again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nashville Predators deserve tons of credit for making NHL playoffs

Given all the off-season turmoil that the Nashville Predators went through last year, it is a remarkable achievement that they snagged a playoff berth last week.

Last year, it looked like a Canadian zillionare would buy the team and move it north. Fortunately, a local ownership group came through to keep the team in Nashville. Additionally, the team's roster was gutted to dramatically reduce its payroll. In spite of this, the Predators have played well this season.

The team is the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and will face the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. Even though the Red Wings won the President's Trophy for accumulating the most points during the regular season, I think this is a pretty good match up for them.

It is definitely better than playing San Jose. This year, the Preds have gone 3-3-2 against Detroit, while going 0-4 against San Jose. Also, the Sharks bounced Nashville from the playoffs the last two years.

I don't know what the contract status of Predators' head coach Barry Trotz is, but I believe the man deserves a bonus and an extension.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hillary Clinton's long, strange trip

One year ago, the race for the Democratic nomination for president looked clear cut.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton sat comfortably atop most polls, and given how popular her husband was among Democrats when he was president, it appeared that all the stars were aligned for her to win the nomination.

All the years of supporting her husband and building her resume in the Senate were about to pay off. She was going to roll to her party's nomination and possibly all the way to the White House.

However, all her aspirations have apparently fallen apart in only one year.

One year doesn't seem like a long time, but in politics, the popularity of a candidate can change as quickly as the wind changes directions.

The emergence of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has energized many Democrats, and it has forced Clinton to play catch up for most of the last three months.

Her most impressive primary victory was probably her win in New Hampshire where polls had her trailing in the days leading up to the vote. Unfortunately, for her, that is a small state with few delegates.

Obama continues to enjoy a healthy lead in delegates, and some Democratic leaders have publicly called for Clinton to drop out of the race. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is a supporter of Obama, recently advised her to quit because it would be in the best interest of the party as it prepares for the November general election.

That is quite a fall in one year.

Additionally, although she did win important states like Florida and Michigan, the results of both of those primaries were nullified because officials there broke party rules by moving their primaries to January.

Clinton continues to push for those results to be counted or that a re-vote take place there, but her efforts appear to be gaining little traction.

Despite the calls for her to drop out of the race, she vows to go forward. The next major primary is in Pennsylvania on April 22.

This would appear to be a state right up her alley because it is an industrial state like Michigan. However, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr., recently endorsed Obama, which could cut into Clinton's lead in the polls there.

After Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina hold their primaries on May 6. There are a few primaries after that, but if she doesn't win these next three primaries, it won't matter.

In fact, all her efforts right now might be a moot point anyway.

In order to catch Obama, most pundits believe Clinton will have to not only win the remaining primaries by a landslide but also be able to persuade the party's 800 or so "superdelegates" to support her as well.

"Superdelegates" are party members who are allowed to choose any candidate that they want. They are not bound to any candidate.

The "superdelegate" concept is a crock. The whole point of the primary system was to give voters more power when selecting a nominee, but the Democrats took back some of that power with this.

Apparently, Democratic leaders don't totally trust voters when it comes to selecting their nominee.

All I know is if Obama still has his lead when the party's convention takes place this summer, but loses the party's nomination because all the "superdelegates" swing to Clinton, the Democratic Party will implode.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

MSNBC: The ‘Life in Prison’ Documentary All the Time Channel

As I have been settling in for the evening lately, I've noticed that the MSNBC news channel has been airing a lot of documentaries about life in prison.

Every night last week, it seemed there were two hours of prison documentaries followed by Keith Olbermann’s nightly attack on the Bush administration. Then after Olbermann, they went right back to the prison documentaries.

Don't get me wrong. Studying life in prison can be informative. For example, Johnny Cash's concert albums made at Folsom and San Quentin prisons are lively documents about life there.

However, MSNBC seems to have opened the floodgates when it comes to prison programming.

Am I missing something here? Is the demand for these shows that great? Or has MSNBC thrown in the towel when it comes to programming and has decided to show the same type of programs over and over again.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

'No Country for Old Men' delivers and then some

I missed No Country for Old Men when it was in the theaters, so I was pleased last weekend when I got to see it on DVD. Obviously, there was a lot of buzz around the film last year, and it won several Academy Awards.

I thought it was an outstanding film, and if you are a fan of the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou?), you won't be disappointed by it.

I wont spend a lot of time re-hashing the plot other than to say it revolves around a man who finds $2 million in drug money and is pursued by an amoral drug dealer who wants to kill him and get the money back. If you want a more detailed discussion and review of the film, click here.

However, here are some random thoughts I have. As I was watching the film, I kept wishing that I had gotten to see it on a theater screen. Suspenseful drama always plays out better on a big screen.

Also, this film is a great example that a film can be understated yet still contain a lot of suspense and thrills. The film has no musical score to manipulate our emotions, and there are chunks of the film that contain little to no dialogue.

Too many movies rely on gimmicks to manipulate suspense, but the Coen brothers did a good job of letting quietness generate the suspense inside the viewer. The first Alien film was great at that, as was many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.

If you haven't seen it, rent it. Keep in mind that it is rated 'R' and isn't for the little kiddies.