Saturday, January 31, 2009

I've got dem ol' Super Bowl blues, again, Mama

Tomorrow, life as we know it in the United States will come to a complete halt.

It won't be because of an event of national importance. It will be because of a football game when the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers play in Super Bowl XLIII.

Stores will be empty. The streets will be deserted. It will probably be a good time to be a police officer because most communities will be nice and quiet while the game is being played.

As much as I enjoy football, I really get turned off by all the Super Bowl hype. Don't get me wrong; when the game begins, I will have my pizza and favorite cold beverage in front of me.

However, all the build up to the game is a complete bore. ESPN has been virtually unwatchable during the last few days because of all the super hype, and NBC won’t be much better on Sunday when it airs hour after hour of its pre-game show.

It seems these media outlets are bending over backwards to convince us that our lives will somehow be incomplete if we don’t watch the game. If this year's game is like other years, their efforts will be successful because most Super Bowls are among the most highly rated programs on television each year.

As for the teams and the players, I have a lot of respect for them and admire their dedication. There are lots of opinions regarding the large salaries athletes receive. While I agree athletes in some sports are overpaid, I don't feel that way about National Football League players.

As far as I am concerned, they earn every dollar they make. Every time they take the field, they put their long-term health in jeopardy just to entertain us. Because of the level of violence we see in their games, I sometimes wonder if fans have become desensitized to what these men put themselves through.

For example, consider the injury Baltimore Ravens' running back Willis McGahee suffered during the AFC championship game against the Steelers. McGahee circled out of the backfield to catch a pass and was violently tackled just as he received the ball.

For several minutes, he laid nearly motionless on the field. Players from both teams were concerned and gathered around him. Some players prayed.

However, as this was unfolding, Steelers' officials loudly played rock and roll music through the stadium's public address system. Even though McGahee could have been seriously injured, it didn't seem to matter. The party had to go on.

So, as McGahee was wheeled off the field on a cart, the fans were serenaded to songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 'Down on the Corner.' I love Creedence, but that was not the time or place for one of their songs.

In all the flash and hype of the Super Bowl, the game often gets lost in the shuffle. There is a lot of focus on the commercials aired during the game. Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have their commercials aired, and then have to wait as their efforts are 'graded' in the court of public opinion.

Major national publications like 'USA Today' often deliver the final word about whether these commercials are good or bad. If the media gives a commercial 'thumbs down,' then tons of money and months of effort have been wasted.

Additionally, the half time show gets a lot of attention. This year, Bruce Springsteen is the featured performer.

Let's hope he doesn’t have a 'wardrobe malfunction' like Janet Jackson did a few years ago.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Look for Cardinals to edge Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII

Well, this Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers play in Super Bowl XLIII. The wise guys in Las Vegas say Pittsburgh is the favorite, but I'm not so sure. While I concede that I am always a sucker when it comes to underdogs, I don't care. I'm picking the Cardinals.

Let's get the superlatives regarding the Steelers out of the way first. Their defense is excellent, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already has the experience of leading Pittsburgh to one Super Bowl title. Still, I'm going with the Cardinals.

Arizona's offense gets most of the headlines. Quarterback Kurt Warner has enjoyed a remarkable comeback season. Throwing to wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston doesn't hurt, but the Cards running game has been helping in the playoffs, too. During the regular season, running back Edgerrin James looked washed up. However, he has found a spark in the last three games. He hasn't been great, but he's been good enough to force defenses to respect the run.

However, the Cardinals' defense is the key to the game. During the regular season, they were wildly inconsistent, giving up more than 40 points in games against the Jets and Patriots. In the playoffs, the unit has found its stride. In the first round, the Cards shut down the Atlanta Falcons potent running game led by Michael Turner. In the next game against the Carolina Panthers, they embarrassed quarterback Jake Delhomme, who committed six turnovers. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game, they played a good first half then did just enough to pull out the win.

I've watched a lot of NFL games over the years, but I've never typed the following words: The Arizona Cardinals are going to be Super Bowl champion.

The pick: Arizona 27 Pittsburgh 20

My picks two weeks ago: 1-3 (.250), Overall: 62-37 (.626)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Quote of the day

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." – President John Kennedy, inaugural address January 20, 1961.

In the almost 50 years since President Kennedy issued this challenge to our country, ask yourself this: Has America answered his call to action?

In my opinion, no. While there is a level of volunteerism in our society that is commendable, I think the majority of people expect to be served instead of serving others. This is especially true when it comes to all levels of government.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The long, bleak winter

As months go, January is a dreary month. Falling in the shadow of the holiday season, there really isn't much to recommend it.

True, early January is exciting. The New Year has begun and most people are optimistic about the months to come. However, this feeling wears off quickly.

At this point, we are confronted with what January really is. From a financial point of view, most people have to deal with the aftermath of how they overextended themselves when it comes to Christmas purchases.

If it isn't the reality of the credit card bills arriving in our mailboxes, then it's the emptiness of our savings' accounts that cause a lot of anxiety.

When it comes to dreariness though, much of it occurs because of the weather and dullness of nature. We may take it for granted but nature adds a tremendous amount to the quality of our daily lives.

Right now, when we look outside we mostly see a charcoal gray landscape. Nothing is blooming. There are no vivid colors. The whole thing blends into nothingness.

Additionally, the weather tends to isolate us. It becomes a lot easier to stay home during the evening than to venture out for fun because of the cold. This leads to what some folks call "cabin fever."

I hate cabin fever. Even though I am a homebody by nature, I really dislike having to stay there when we go through the bitterly low temperatures that we experienced a week or so ago.

When this feeling sets in, it produces a restlessness that cannot be satisfied. None of my interests are able to tide me over. All I feel is that I don't want to be where I am and that San Diego might not be that bad a place to live despite being in California.

However, it is at times like this that I have to remind myself to be patient. This is because the dreariness of January has a purpose. It may not seem that way as we are going through it, but there is a purpose.

After all, a person can't truly appreciate the good aspects of life without going through some of the bad. Winter confines us in ways that many don't enjoy. When we are confined, we feel out of control, which is probably why I dislike cabin fever so much. Instead of staying home because I enjoy it, I'm being forced to do so by the weather, and I don't like that feeling.

Still, help is on the way. Even though it doesn't feel like it right now, spring is just around the corner. In only a matter of weeks, the charcoal landscape will give way to all sorts of vivid colors.

Even though spring begins in late March, look for the change to actually begin in late February. The temperatures will slowly moderate, and many early blooming flowers and trees will begin to show growth.

The older I get, the more I appreciate spring. Much like bears awakening from hibernation, we leave the warmth of our homes and become more active outside during spring.

The pace of life picks up in a dramatic and better way. How could it not? Spring is a time of rebirth, and if a season of rebirth does not put more pep in your step, then I do not know what will.

So, hang on, those of you suffering from cabin fever. The days of dreariness are dwindling.

It may seem like it is far away, but it will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clint Eastwood delivers again with 'Gran Torino'

As I wrote when I saw Clint Eastwood's Changeling a few months ago, Eastwood has been on a creative hot streak. Add Gran Torino to his growing list of excellent movies.

For a detailed review of the film, click here. There is no way to sugar-coat it, but Eastwood's character is an embittered, elderly racist. Obviously, 'racist' is an overused word these days, but it fits here. In the film, his character uses just about every slang word I know to describe ethnic groups.

However, the film follows his character's rehabilitation through an unlikely relationship he develops with his Vietnamese neighbors. I won't discuss it in order to avoid spoiling the film for those of you who see it.

The film is rated 'R' and deservedly so because of the language and some violence. So, consider yourself warned.

Still, it is an excellent film.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And so we have a new president....

Today, President Barack Obama took the oath of office and became the 44th president in United States' history. Once again, the country has shown the world just how unique we are by transferring power in an orderly and non-violent manner. Many other countries do this as well, but because of our nation's prominent status in the world, I believe it is especially noteworthy when we do it.

Regardless of a person's political ideology, I hope all people will lift President Obama up in prayer. That doesn't mean that a person can't disagree with his politics, but we need to make a point of praying for him on a regular basis.

Our country is at a crossroad in many ways. If you believe prayer works, then pray for him.

Monday, January 19, 2009

See you on the other side, Brother Raymond

How Beautiful Heaven Must Be
A.P. Bland, owner

We read of a place that's called heaven
It's made for the pure and the free
These truths in God's Word He hath given
How beautiful heaven must be

How beautiful heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful heaven must be

In heaven no drooping or pining
No wishing for elsewhere to be
God's light is forever there shining
How beautiful heaven must be

How beautiful heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful heaven must be

Pure waters of life there are flowing
And all who will drink may be free
Rare jewels of splendor are glowing
How beautiful heaven must be

How beautiful heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful heaven must be

The angels so sweetly are singing
Up there by the beautiful sea
Sweet chords from their gold harps are ringing
How beautiful heaven must be

How beautiful heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful heaven must be

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Never start smoking

Like most people my age, I have made my share of mistakes. However, one mistake I'm glad I never made was to start smoking.

We all have things we dislike, and cigarettes rank near the top of what I dislike.

I've never understood the appeal of them. They smell bad, and walking into a smoke-filled room is about as much fun as having 10-inch needles stabbed into your eyes.

When I was younger, I admit that I tried them a couple of times, but the bad taste they produced caused me not to try them any more. Not only do they taste bad, but they also impact how food tastes when we eat.

The most frustrating aspect of smoking is how addictive it is. Talk to a person who has smoked for a while, and they can provide stories of the times they've tried to quit only to give up.

I know several people who are smart and appear to have as much will power as the next person, but they can't kick this habit.

As I've gotten older I've developed a lot more compassion for people in this situation than I used to have. When I was younger, I just couldn’t understand why a person would smoke when knowing all the harm that they cause.

While I still feel that way to a certain extent, I'm not as hard hearted as I used to be. Lately, I've been around people who have tried to quit and seen the frustration they experienced when they failed.

A very common New Year's resolution for smokers is to kick the habit. I have one friend and co-worker who is currently trying that, and he is doing it cold turkey. He smoked his last cigarette on New Year's Eve, and as of this writing, he has not smoked another one.

However, it hasn't been easy. He missed a couple of days of work because he felt flat-out terrible, and he still isn't himself.

At the peak of his smoking, he only smoked about one pack a day, which is a pretty small habit compare to other smokers. I can only imagine the struggles somebody with a three or four-pack-a-day habit would go through when trying to quit.

When looking at all the harm cigarettes do, it's amazing that they still maintain a pretty high profile in our society. I won't bore you with a long diatribe of how damaging cigarettes can be. We've known for decades about the link between smoking and cancer, heart disease and other problems.

Still, I can't help but wonder how cigarettes would be received if they were presented as a brand new product today. I can only speculate, but I imagine they would not have anywhere near the stature they currently have.

Because this product has been around for such a long time, cigarettes have been allowed to stay available though with plenty of warnings. If it were a brand new product, I would like to believe the public would reject them with extreme prejudice. However, some people will always be attracted to danger so I'm sure there would be an audience for them.

As for smokers trying to quit, I hope we all will be sensitive to their needs and be supportive when possible. Their attempts to quit are noble. Quitting will not only benefit them but others around them.

After all, it's really sad to see smokers who are banished outside to smoke on these cold winter days. It shows how addictive smoking can be.

Help your neighbor if possible.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Despite decent start, Vols play remains uneven

On the surface, Tennessee's men's basketball team is off to a good start. Their overall record is 10-5 with a 1-1 record in SEC play. However, the Volunteers have been frustratingly inconsistent lately, but that should be expected from a team with so many young players.

After a hot start that included wins against Georgetown and Marquette, the Vols have been inconsistent with two losses to Gonzaga and a thrashing by Kansas. However, the key game may have been a narrow win over Belmont. In that game, the Bruins used a zone defense that stymied the Vols at times. Since then, opponents have been using the zone with success because the young Vols still aren't comfortable playing against it.

In the SEC opener against Georgia last Saturday, I was surprised the Bulldogs didn't play more zone, especially in the second half when they led by 10 points. Because of that, the Vols gained control of the game's tempo and fought back to win 86-77. Against Kentucky, the Vols' defense was a disaster. Jodie Meeks torched them for 54 points, and Tennessee seemed a step behind the Wildcats all game.

As said above, the Vols have a lot of young and new talent. Heralded freshman Scotty Hopson is still searching to develop his complete game. He has a sweet jump shot, but too often, he relies simply on that and doesn't put the ball on the floor to get to the basket. Junior college transfer Bobby Maze is handling his point guard duties reasonably well, but he has been up and down. Cameron Tatum provided a spark in the second game against Gonzaga, but he seems content to shoot only long jump shots.

Tyler Smith remains the team's leader, and the Vols would be up a creek without him. He poured in 24 points with 11 rebounds against Georgia despite a very sore knee. Wayne Chism has been a force in the low post. J.P. Prince has also played well, but hasn't reclaimed the form he had before he missed three games with an injured ankle.

Right now, the sum of the Vols' parts don't equal a whole. If the Vols are serious about repeating as SEC champion, they need to become a more cohesive unit. Their talent alone ensures a NCAA tournament berth, but they won't go far without improvement.

Hopefully, Saturday's game against South Carolina will be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The word for today is: 'flummox'

I like the word 'flummox.' Webster's dictionary defines it as: To confuse, confound, or perplex.

To illustrate this definition in a meaningful way, consider the following usages:

  1. Alabama coach Nick Saban looked flummoxed as he watched the Crimson Tide lose to Utah in the Sugar Bowl, which embarrassed the entire Southeastern Conference.
  2. The media in Miami appeared flummoxed when Nick Saban decided to take the job at Alabama after he insisted for weeks that he would not abandon the Dolphins, making Saban look bad.
  3. Alabama coach Nick Saban was flummoxed when he had to suspend All-American offensive lineman Andre Smith before the Sugar Bowl for alleged inappropriate contact with a sports agent, which, if true, continued a long tradition of Alabama players violating NCAA rules.

You see, it really is a great word, but I guess it depends on how you use it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just let the man pray

The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is less than two weeks away, and at this point, the biggest controversy of the event may be a prayer.

Recently, Obama selected Christian pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. Since then, there has been an outcry regarding the selection of Warren and whether he will use Jesus' name in the prayer.

Warren is from California, and his selection for this honor was quickly criticized by homosexual rights activists. Warren supported Proposition 8, which California voters passed in last November's election that banned homosexual marriage.

Gay activists felt that Warren's selection was insensitive to their cause. Obama defended his decision saying that he wanted his inauguration to reflect diverse views and that he remained an advocate of gay rights, according to the Associated Press.

Homosexual marriage is one of the touchiest social issues in our country. The outcry against Warren was especially ironic because the gay rights movement often stresses how important 'tolerance' should be when it comes to advancing their cause.

However, the spirit of tolerance in noticeably absent from their handling of this matter. Warren opposes their agenda so they want to shut him up. So much for tolerance.

Tolerance is a two-way street, but too often, groups want to use it as a smoke screen to advance their agenda while stifling opposing points of view. This is just another example of this.

Another element of this controversy is whether Warren will use Jesus' name in the prayer. In both of President Bush's inaugurations, prayers were led that included Jesus, and it created controversy then, too. There was at least one lawsuit as a result of this, but it was eventually dismissed.

Let's look at this again from the perspective of tolerance. If a Christian is going to be asked to lead a prayer at this event, how in the world can he not be allowed to mention Jesus? If a Christian is going to lead the prayer, don't other people have a responsibility to be tolerant with how that person prays?

After all, without Jesus, there is no Christianity. Leaving Jesus out of a Christian prayer is like trying to breathe without oxygen. It just doesn't work.

Of course, there are others who feel that there must be sensitivity toward people of other faiths. Given how politically fractured our nation is, the last thing we need is for prayer to be a source of division at the inauguration. An inauguration is an event that is supposed to unify Americans and squabbling over an issue like this brings tension.

While that argument has some merit, I believe there are some aspects of life that require a firm attitude, and a person's faith is one of those aspects.

When it comes to religion and spirituality, our nation has been waffling toward a view where everything goes in recent years. Our nation's idea of religious tolerance has resulted in all religions being poured into one blender and mixed together until God is portrayed as one generic blob.

The bottom line is that religions practiced in our country have profound differences. Special interest groups can try and water this down all they want, but it won't change the truth.

Call me crazy, but I believe our nation is strong enough to handle these differences. We don't need to be protected from the possibility of having our feelings hurt.

Americans are strong and resilient. We also have a free will. If a person doesn't want to pray in the name of Jesus, he can choose not to.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It will be tight, but expect Titans to knock off Ravens to advance in NFL playoffs

After a well-earned week off, the Tennessee Titans host the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday as part of the American Football Conference's semi-finals. The Titans edged the Ravens 13-10 in week five, but Baltimore is a much better team now, especially on offense.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is playing much better than he was earlier in the season. Also, the Ravens have developed a three-headed running attack consisting of LeRon McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice. While the 'running back by committee' approach is usually one to be avoided, the Ravens have made it work. Additionally, the Ravens' defense is first rate. Take it from somebody who had their defense in a fantasy football league, the unit makes a lot of big plays.

The Titans, on the other hand, are a lot like the Ravens. They will emphasize the running game, but if the Ravens commit to stuffing the run, quarterback Kerry Collins has shown he can carry the load if necessary. Defensively, a lot is riding on the health of Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosche. Both are expected to start. If they can both go, then the Titans' defense becomes a stone wall. If not, things will be interesting.

Playing at home and with a full head of steam, I'm taking the Titans.

The pick: Tennessee 23 Baltimore 14

Other picks: Pittsburgh over San Diego, Carolina over Arizona, New York Giants over Philadelphia

Previous week's picks: 4-2 (.667), Overall: 61-34 (.642)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Songs to begin 2009 with

I spend way too much time driving each week. However, the upside of this is that I get to listen to a lot of CDs as I cruise down the interstate. Here are a few songs you might want to check out as 2009 begins.

'I'm Waiting for the Day' -- The Beach Boys
'Let's Go Away for a While' -- The Beach Boys
'Mysterious Ways' -- U2
'Beautiful Day' -- U2
'One' -- U2
'Until the End of the World' -- U2
'Staring at the Sun' -- U2
'The First Time' -- U2
'I Looked Away' -- Derek and the Dominos
'Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?' -- Derek and the Dominos
'Little Wing' -- Derek and the Dominos
'Slip Kid' -- The Who
'Blue, Red, and Grey' -- The Who
'Eminence Front' -- The Who
'Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)/Take Me to the Pilot' -- The Who

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Embrace the new year

For better or worse, 2008 now belongs to the history books. It was a volatile year in many ways.

An obvious example of this was the economy as energy costs soared for a while, and the government had to play a major role in bailing out banks.

Most experts agree that the recession we are in will likely continue for a while, so don't look for much good news from the economy in early 2009. Recessions can be scary especially if a person is looking at the possibility of losing his job.

Job losses are especially difficult to manage in our society because the United States is so materialistic. Many people are leveraged to the hilt when it comes to debt so adversity like losing a job compounds their already shaky financial position. The love of money has gotten a lot of us in trouble.

Between our economic problems and the war on terror, I don't envy the position Barack Obama will be in when he is sworn in as president in a couple of weeks. The seat behind the desk in the Oval Office is red hot.

However, on a personal level, how should we look at the new year? As I just outlined, there are a lot of challenges in front of us.

An appealing aspect of a new year is that it is a time of beginnings. At this point, 2009 is a blank canvas, and it is up to us to paint what the year will become.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that the problems we face have gone away, but we do have a lot of power when it comes to how the year will unfold.

Unfortunately, I don't think many people realize that they have this power. I believe that many people view themselves as being at the mercy of their circumstances. Whether it is dealing with bosses in the work place or the personal relationships we have, I think many people view their lives as being 'reactive' rather than 'proactive.'

To a certain extent, I agree with that. We can't always control our circumstances and that makes us feel uncertain and vulnerable. Nobody likes that feeling.

However, I also believe that too many people use this vulnerability as an excuse not to be more aggressive in their lives. It's easy to settle into a rut and believe that we cannot make a difference.

While it's true that many of us cannot change the world, we can definitely have an impact on our little corner of it. None of us may have the opportunity to impact the world on a global stage like a politician, but all of us can contribute positively to our community.

As for what a person should specifically do, I can't provide that. A person has to figure out his or her role on their own. But I do know there is a lot of work to be done, and there aren't nearly enough workers.

Flash forward to one year from now. Hopefully, we will all be here and be able to reflect on how we handled 2009. How are we going to look back at it?

Will we look back at it with regret because we didn't do the things we should have done? Or will we look back and marvel at all we were able to accomplish in one year? A lot can be accomplished in a year; it just takes the commitment to pursue our personal goals.

I've given you your blank canvas.

The rest is up to you.