Thursday, February 26, 2009

'Dylan on Dylan' set for release on March 10

I received an e-mail from recently announcing it would have the new book Dylan on Dylan for sale on March 10. The book is a collection of 29 interviews Bob Dylan gave between 1962 and 2004. Included in the book will be his famous 1966 interview with Playboy magazine in which he was at his surrealistic best. Additionally, the book includes several of the lengthy interviews he has given to Rolling Stone magazine over the years.

For his fans, the book should be great.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hillary Clinton whiffs in first visit to China as Secretary of State

Back on February 15, I wrote about the need of the Obama administration to hold abusers of human and religious rights accountable. How is the new administration doing? Consider this comment from new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent visit to Beijing, China:

"Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crises."

In other words, it will be business as usual when it comes to holding China accountable for its atrocious human rights record. Clinton did make some comments about having frank discussions with China about this issue, but I have not heard many specifics.

Money triumphs over blood....again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the day

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are worse thoughts to start the day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A different take on the Alex Rodriguez steroids scandal

I am an unapologetic professional baseball fan.

Despite the efforts of players to cheat the game by using steroids and greedy owners who are dumb enough to give average players bloated salaries, I still love the game.

When a person considers all the scandals the sport has gone through in the last two decades, it is amazing the game remains as popular as it is. Attendance remains high even though the sport has been passed by the National Football League as America's favorite pastime.

Of course, baseball recently received another body blow when New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez admitted that he used steroids from 2001-03.

Rodriguez's admission was an especially painful one for baseball's establishment. He was the one they hoped would lead the sport out of the steroid era.

Many of the game's important records that were set in recent years were by players allegedly linked to steroids. An obvious example of this was when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. In many ways, that record is baseball's most important achievement.

However, because of all the controversy surrounding Bonds, the celebration of his achievement was muted.

There are other examples. When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both pursued the sport's single season home run record in 1998, there was initial jubilation, but that faded after both players were linked to possible steroid use.

These events, among others, stained baseball deeply. This is why Rodriguez's recent confession is so important.

Rodriguez is the game's best player. If he continues hitting home runs at the pace he is now, he will pass Bonds as baseball's home run king. Many viewed him as the person who could sweep the stain of steroids out of baseball's record book.

Until recently, he had not been associated with steroids in any way. However, a test he took earlier this decade was leaked to the media, and Rodriguez admitted that he used the juice while a player with the Texas Rangers.

He said he started taking it after signing his record busting $252 million contract with that team. He said he felt the pressure to perform at a high level every day.

Since then, it has been open season on Rodriguez. He has been criticized in every conceivable way, and the scrutiny intensified when the Yankees reported to spring training last week. I don't envy what he is going through.

Even though he has nobody but himself to blame, I feel a lot of compassion toward him.

This compassion is not based on the fact that he plays for the Yankees. I do not like the Yankees. If the earth where Yankee Stadium is located were to open up and swallow the huge ball park, I would be wearing a smile that reaches from ear to ear.

My compassion is that he made a big mistake and now he has to deal with it in the white-hot heat of the public stage.

Though none of us have probably used steroids, we have all made big mistakes that we hope will remain in our past. Because of that, we need to be grateful that we will not have to go through what Rodriguez will.

The New York media will hound every step he takes. When the season begins, he will play road games in cities all around the country. Can you imagine what the fans in Boston will say? My guess is it will be pretty rough going.

So, even if you don't like Rodriguez, be grateful you are not in his shoes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Does George Costanza work in Madison, Wis?

When I saw this story I couldn’t help but think about the Seinfeld episode in which George tries to get fired from his job with the New York Yankees so he can take a job with the New York Mets. Of course, George fails so he isn’t let out of his contract and another person gets the job.

As for the man in the story below, I gotta give him points for chutzpah.

Man hoping to get fired allegedly trashes eatery

Fri Feb 13, 8:37 pm ET

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A restaurant worker was accused of trashing the place in an attempt to get fired and collect unemployment compensation. A criminal complaint filed Thursday said a 35-year-old man showed up at a Qdoba restaurant and started throwing brownies and cookies on the floor.

The man then went into the kitchen and threw pots and pans around, then went into a storage area and threw boxes of hot sauce on the floor.

Police said the man told them he was trying to get fired and couldn't collect unemployment if he simply quit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The impact of one person: the Apostle Paul's example

When examining the lives of people in the Bible, the Apostle Paul’s life is one of the most important testimonies we can study. Coming from an unlikely background, his devotion to the Gospel is a tremendously inspiring topic. His sacrifices played a major role in the spreading of Christianity during the important early years of the faith.

Like many other Biblical figures, Paul’s selection to spread the Word is an example of how God often chooses people that seem to be the least likely candidates to serve Him. He certainly fits that category. His conversion turned a persecutor of the early church into one of its most powerful advocates.

Galatians 1:11-24 gives a brief synopsis of Paul’s pre-Christian life. Raised a Jew, he was an exceptional student and surpassed most of his piers in knowledge and zeal for that faith. His zeal was so passionate that he aggressively participated in persecuting Christian believers. He wrote in Galatians 1:13 about "how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it."

However, after his encounter with the Lord on Damascus Road, his passionate zeal became focused on the Good News of Jesus Christ. Acts 9 details Saul’s (as he was also known) encounter with the Lord, and his conversion. Imagine the impact his conversion had on the culture at that point. Today, what if one of the biggest opponents of Christianity suddenly converted? For example, Osama bin Laden. If you think I am stretching it with this comparison, think some more on it. What would be the effect of a bin Laden conversion? Paul’s persecution of the early church was brutal, and it was not that different from religious extremism we are seeing today.

Following his conversion, Paul passionately worked for the Lord. He repeatedly faced rejection and resistance to what he was doing. One commentary I have describes him as a "remarkably hearty man" because of the hardships he encountered. II Corinthians 11:23-27 provides a brief list of afflictions he encountered: imprisonment, flogging, lashing, beating, stoning, shipwreck, sleep deprivation, hunger, and thirst. Somehow, the description "remarkably hearty" does not do him justice.

In addition, in II Corinthians, Paul states in Chapter 12 how he had received "a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." Most believe he was referring to a physical affliction of some kind, but it is unclear what the affliction was. However, as the phrase “thorn in my flesh” indicates, it was definitely something painful.

Obviously, this is a very short version of Paul’s testimony. For anyone reading this who may not know much about Christianity, Paul’s life is worth reading about. If nothing else, he is interesting to read about as a historical figure.

For believers, however, his testimony is something to carefully consider. The Apostle Paul was obviously a special man, but we are all special to God. Though He may never call us to service on Paul’s scale, studying the Apostle’s life should force us to consider our place within Christianity.

Am I seeking God’s will in terms of what He wants of me? If so, what should my next step be? If not, what stumbling blocks am I allowing to get in my way?

It is all food for thought. Sometimes understanding what God's will is for our lives can be complex. Then again, maybe we just think it is complex.

Source material: "Freed to Serve: Galatians and Ephesians," a commentary from David C. Cook Ministries; The Holy Bible

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tennessee's men face tough road to win SEC East

Well, it's mid-February, and for college basketball fans, it means teams are entering the season's home stretch and are jockeying for berths in the NCAA tournament. As we've seen all season, the Tennessee Volunteer's men's basketball team has been inconsistent. However, the team is tied for first in the SEC Eastern Division as the stretch drive begins.

With a 7-3 conference record, Tennessee is tied with South Carolina and Kentucky for the top spot, and Florida lurks only one game behind them. For the Volunteers, the schedule is not kind the rest of the way. Four of their remaining six regular season games are on the road, beginning Wednesday at Ole Miss. More importantly, the Vols still have to play road games at Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky.

When comparing the schedules of the teams involved, Florida may be the one with the easiest path to the divisional title. In addition to playing Tennessee at home, they also get South Carolina and Kentucky at home. So, if a person places a lot of stock on home games, the Gators may be the team to beat.

However, Tennessee has played well on the road in SEC play. The Vols are 3-1 on the road with the only loss being a heartbreaking one-point decision at Auburn. Still, there is a big difference between winning at Arkansas and at Kentucky.

In the remaining six games, I look for the Vols to go 3-3. They should win the two remaining home games against Alabama and Mississippi State. Plus, they should be good enough to win at least one of the remaining road games.

If that happens, the Vols will finish with a 10-6 conference record. It probably won't be good enough to win the division, but it should lock up an NCAA tournament berth. The Vols played a challenging non-conference schedule, and if everything shakes out like I have predicted, their overall record will be 19-11. If the Vols were to add one or two wins in the SEC tournament, it would make their case for the NCAA tourney that much stronger.

It's almost tournament time. Take time to enjoy the following weeks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Count your blessings during hardship

If a person spends some time reading a newspaper, he or she will get a quick education regarding the challenges America faces.

For the sake of this column, I'll only focus on our economic problems, but I believe most of us understand our problems are not limited to the recession.

However, the recession is dominating our lives in many ways. The national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent, and the rate is slightly higher than that here in Tennessee.

For those of us who invest our money into a 401k, the return on that has been miserable for quite a while. When I last looked at my money, I wanted to go screaming into the night.

On top of that, we've heard countless stories about home foreclosures and some statistics claim one out of 10 households is behind on its mortgage.

It's all pretty grim. Still, things could be worse. Our fundamental freedoms remain intact, and that is not a claim that can be made by other countries.

For example, the International Christian Concern recently released its annual 'Hall of Shame' top ten list of countries that persecute Christians. Here are the countries on the list: North Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, Eritrea, and Vietnam.

North Korea's inclusion on the list should come as no surprise. The regime is well-known for its abuse of citizens when it comes to religion and other aspects of life. During a national famine several years ago, the government chose to let folks starve instead of taking outside help. So, be grateful you are not a North Korean.

Iraq's inclusion on the list is frustrating and for obvious reasons. In the last few years, a lot of American blood has been spilled to provide that country freedom. Unfortunately, their idea of a free society is different than what we have in mind.

Obviously, one country cannot go into another and make it conform to certain types of values. Countries have tried that for centuries and failed. However, one of the most ironic aspects of Iraq's inclusion on this list is that many experts state Christians were actually safer during Saddam Hussein's regime than they are now.

Of course, Hussein was a tyrant and had to go. Still, the plight of Christians there is one of the saddest byproducts of the war.

China is a perennial occupant on this list. The Chinese government did a nice job of making their country look pretty during last summer's Olympics, but the religious persecution continues. The Chinese government's actions during the Olympics were the equivalent of putting a pig in a dress. The dress may have been beautiful, but it was still a pig. And what is going on in that country stinks like a pig.

According to the organization's web site, the ICC's Jeremy Sewall had this to say about this year's list: "This report reminds us of the need for constant vigilance in the struggle to defend the fundamental human right of religious freedom. Instead of allowing religious persecution to be swept under the rug, we call on journalists and all concerned individuals to help shine the light on persecution in 2009."

He is absolutely right. As President Barack Obama develops his foreign policy, religious freedom should be a cornerstone in how he works with countries that have a history of this type of abuse.

If Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton don't do this, they are taking the easy way out.

For the sake of people in those countries, let's hope they don't.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What is spinning in my CD player these days?

Here are some tasty songs I am listening to that you might want to check out (if you have not already):

'Salt of the Earth' -- The Rolling Stones
'Dead Flowers' -- The Rolling Stones
'Shine a Light' -- The Rolling Stones
'Surrender' -- Cheap Trick
'Across the Great Divide' -- The Band
'Whispering Pines' -- The Band
'Something in the Air' -- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
'San Francisco Bay Blues' -- Eric Clapton
'True Love Ways' -- Buddy Holly
'Here Comes the Sun' -- The Beatles
'Take Me with U' -- Prince and the Revolution

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quote of the day

"What happened to me? Did I lose my talent? Am I ever gonna be good again?" -- spoken by 'Steve Zissou' as portrayed by Bill Murray in the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

We've all felt like that at some point.....haven't we?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bruce Springsteen to headline Bonnaroo 2009

I know I am a few days late on this, but Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be headlining Bonnaroo 2009 here in Manchester. It was announced last week, but what can I say? I'm a little slow these days. Others performing at the festival will be Phish, Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard, and a lot of bands I have never heard of.

I have only seen Springsteen in concert once. It was in either 1984 or '85 in Murfreesboro at Murphy Center. Before I saw the show, I had heard stories about his prowess in sustaining three- and four-hour concerts. I was skeptical, but I left the show a believer. He and his band were first-rate, and that performance was probably the best concert I have ever seen.

I thought he still had some moves during his performance during the Super Bowl halftime show. However, that performance was only 12-minutes long. Still, after all these years, it looks like he can carry the load.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sad sacks on parade

I have never understood reality television. Well, that is not entirely true. I do understand it to a certain extent.

Most reality programs provide opportunities for average people like you and me to appear on television. The circumstances vary depending on the type of show, but the bottom line is most people equate being on television with stardom.

Stardom can be a double-edged sword. The most well-known reality program is probably 'American Idol' that appears on the Fox network. On that show, people from all walks of life compete to become singing stars.

However, some of the most well-known people that appear on the show are the ones who don't come close to winning. Some of the early episodes of each season are focused on those who audition and fail.

When I say fail, I don't just mean that they get rejected. I'm talking about people who are so laughably bad that they achieve a level of notoriety because they stink. They stink so bad that they are the subject of jokes nationwide after they fall on their faces on the show.

Of course, 'American Idol' exploits this. They enjoy parading these people in front of the cameras. I'd like to believe that a lot of these contestants know that they are not any good and are doing the show just for fun, but I do not believe that is the case.

I think they really believe they are good. So, their stardom is achieved by looking bad because they are talentless, and because of the way the show's judges destroy their dreams.

We live in a pretty cynical world when something like this passes for entertainment, but I guess this is where we are as a nation.

There are other shows that thrive on making their guests look stupid. Weekday afternoon programming is packed with courtroom shows. Basically, these shows consist of two opposing parties who agree to come on the show and settle their differences in front of a judge.

The disputes do get settled, but inevitably, somebody gets humiliated. When I see these shows, I just do not understand how a rationally thinking person would agree to go on them.

I watched part of one of these shows recently during my lunch period at work. The dispute being discussed included how one person retaliated against another person when she thought she had been slighted by the other.

And how did this person retaliate? The person had taken human excrement and put it in the jacket pocket of the other person.

Classy stuff, huh?

The rest of the program was basically a catfight between the two parties while the judge tried to insert a few comments while maintaining order in the court.

Of course, the reason there are so many shows like this is that there is an audience for it. After all, television networks are in it for the money, and if money can be made this way, what do they care? Money is money to them.

It is easy to criticize executives who create these shows, but they are only giving the public what it wants. We are the ones sitting in front of the televisions and settling for this type of entertainment.

If we raised our standards regarding what we watch, then the powers that make television shows would take notice and adjust accordingly.

Our attitude toward entertainment is all wrong. I think many of us believe that we have to accept what is shoveled to us.

However, we are the ones with the power. We need to start using it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thursday's lament

Did you ever reach a point where you became absolutely fed up with one aspect of your life? That you were sick and tired of having that aspect impact you in such a negative way?

I have got to blow this up. Splinter it into smithereens. I think I will.


So, is this really a lament?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'Layla and other assorted love songs' by Derek and the Dominos is brutal and beautiful

Many times, it seems that artists produce great work during times of deep personal turmoil. In a sense, the turmoil overtakes them and helps push the work to places so creatively honest that it is unlikely the artist could have produced it under normal circumstances. The anguish takes the artist to his very core in which he bares his soul for all to see. The anguish that drives this record is heartbreak.

Most people know the 'Derek' in this band is guitar legend Eric Clapton. At this point in his life, Clapton was a full-fledged rock and roll 'god.' He spent most of the 1960s bouncing from band to band, going from the Yardbirds to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to Cream to Blind Faith in only a few years. His legend grew with each stop, but he was uneasy in the spotlight. With the Dominos, he sought to play the music he loved with the mask of anonymity.

When Clapton started making this record, his heart was reeling. He had fallen in love with his good friend George Harrison's wife, Patti. When she returned to her husband, he was devastated and the hopeless despair that gripped his heart fueled most of this record. Though he and Patti would eventually marry, on this record he sought solace back in the arms of his beloved blues music and the horrors of heroin.

Backed by members of the Delaney and Bonnie touring band, Clapton leads the listener on a first hand tour of the pain of unrequited love. The song titles tell it all. Songs like: 'Why Does Love Got to be So Sad,' 'Nobody Knows You When You Are Down and Out,' 'Have You Ever Loved a Woman,' and 'Thorn Tree in the Garden' reverberate with mournful angst. Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers sat in on many of the recording sessions. His artful slide guitar work pushed Clapton to new heights. The word 'legend' is thrown around much too lightly. However, Clapton and Allman are legends, and they pushed each other to rarefied places on these songs.

The most well known song from this set is obviously 'Layla.' Clapton specifically wrote this song about his relationship with Patti Harrison. Rock critic Dave Marsh said this is one of the few songs where a singer or writer reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing him is akin to witnessing a murder or suicide. He is right. During this song, Clapton is teetering on the cliff's edge and is not sure whether to jump or not.

From the opening burst of guitars by Clapton and Allman, the song careens through each verse with vocals that define terror. By the final verse, the singer reaches his breaking point: "Let's make the best of the situation/Before I finally go insane/Please don't say we'll never find a way/Or tell me all my love's in vain."

Then come the final guitar solos where Clapton and Allman duel each other by pushing their slide guitar talents higher and higher. Then the guitars grow quiet, and Jim Gordon's piano work pushes the song to its gentle conclusion with guitars gently weeping in the background.

If it is possible for an album to have an aura around it, this one does. It is dark, brooding, and exhausting.

Though he has made good music throughout his career, nothing else Clapton has produced comes close to this. In a way, I am glad because it probably means tranquility has come into his heart. This record is hard to listen to, but at the same time, the listener knows it would be wrong not to listen. When somebody opens his heart to you like this, it would be a sin not to listen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why do Nashville TV stations have newscasts at 4 a.m.?

When I go to bed most nights, I have a habit of falling asleep with the television on. I don't know why, but it just works out that way. I have noticed when I wake up during the night that most of Nashville's television stations begin newscasts as early as 4 a.m. The time varies between the stations, but these folks are on the air early.

I know we are a 24-hour-a-day news cycle world, but do we really need this? It's good to get the news headlines and weather when first waking up, but this seems like overkill. What happens in Nashville overnight that is serious enough to warrant being on the air this early? Not much, I believe.

On the bright side, I get to start the day looking at Sharon Puckett. Is it just me or has she really held up well over the years?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Abe Vigoda is alive

Good news as February begins: Abe Vigoda is alive.

If you don't believe me, click here.