Monday, March 30, 2009

Ode to spring, No. 2

I don't mean to beat this concept to death (I posted something similar to this on March 23), but I came across some great spring colors as I was out and about today. There is nothing better than blooming flowers after several days of rain.

Roman Catholics in Detroit upset with the Tigers

Roman Catholics have expressed displeasure with baseball's Detroit Tigers because the team will start its home opener on Good Friday during the time of day that Jesus' crucifixion and death took place. All major league teams play on April 10, but the Tigers are the only one to begin a game during Jesus' time on the cross.

While I sharply disagree with many of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings, I respect them for bringing this issue up. We are a sports crazy society, and a team's home opener is big news for any city. However, it is important to keep our priorities in order.

We'll get to enjoy baseball throughout the spring and summer (unless the Braves tank it early in the season).

There is a time for everything. The least the Tigers could do is push back the game's starting time out of respect.

Erin Andrews and the price of fame

In many ways, the blog-o-sphere is a place where anything goes. Of course, this can be for good things or bad things. For a famous person, blogs are often a place where he or she can get free publicity. Conversely, blogs can also make famous people a target, in which information can be made up with little accountability.

Consider this recent comment by ESPN's Erin Andrews: "There's been situations where stuff that's been false has been written (about me on the internet). We've kinda had to take action on our own. Whether it's my agents or lawyers or stuff. It's kind of hard to stay away from it....It's amazing that people can write the stuff that they write and not be held accountable for it. Can you imagine if you and I went on air or on the radio and said some of the stuff that these people get away with. We'd be fired. It's unbelievable."

There was a point early in my life where being famous would have been attractive. Not now. Anonymity is just fine with me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Suicide and the global recession

The impact of our nation's recession is deepening with each passing day. As President Barack Obama attempts to assure us that we will bounce back from our economic setbacks, the numbers paint a gloomy story.

Last week, it was announced that the unemployment rate in Tennessee has risen to 9.1 percent. This was an increase from 8.6 percent the previous month.

The national media often focuses on other aspects of our economy like the stock market to determine if the economy is getting healthier. However, the unemployment rate should be our primary focus.

After all, if more people are still losing their jobs, then our economy can't be getting healthier.

What sometimes gets lost in all the coverage of this issue is that the recession is not just an American problem. We are going through a worldwide recession, and folks in other countries are suffering just as much as we are.

For example, Japan is limping right along with the United States. CNN recently had an interesting story about how that nation's slowdown is impacting its citizens.

During my lifetime, I have watched Japan blossom into a superpower when it comes to commerce. For most of us, our homes contain all sorts of appliances and equipment from Japanese companies.

Additionally, Japanese companies have brought lots of jobs to Middle Tennessee.

For people in that country, the economic setbacks are unprecedented for this current generation. And a lot of people are not taking it well.

The CNN story focused on Aokigahara Forest in Japan. According to the story, the forest is known for two things: a breathtaking view of Mount Fuji and it's a popular spot for people to commit suicide.

In a country where a person's identity is often associated with the type of job they have, the recent economic downturn has pushed many people over the edge.

In January, there were 2,645 suicides in Japan, which was a 15 percent increase over the same period last year. Authorities at the forest have posted security cameras in an attempt to prevent the killings.

Because March is the end of the Japanese fiscal year, authorities fear the total will continue to increase because of anticipated bad news about the economy.

Unfortunately, by committing suicide, many Japanese are choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

We need to be careful not to underestimate the emotional toll the problems in America and Japan are creating. When a person is suffering financial strain, it often produces a feeling like the walls are closing in. It can feel suffocating. Maybe it is just another form of claustrophobia.

When it comes to attitudes toward jobs, I do not believe that Americans and the Japanese are that different. Americans often derive a certain amount of identity from their profession.

Here in America, I believe this often applies more to men than women. I hope that does not sound sexist because I am sure many women fall into the same trap that men do. However, it has been my experience that more men are susceptible to this.

The bottom line is there are a lot of hurting people right now. If you have a job, be grateful that you have it.

At best, our economy can be described as a wobbly machine. It may be functioning, but it is not anywhere close to performing at maximum capacity.

Better days will come, and let us hope it will be soon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hannah Storm making 'SportsCenter' worth watching again

For the last several years, I have been unable to stomach ESPN's SportsCenter. This is primarily because of the people delivering the information on the program. There is an emphasis on smarminess and lame humor that usually has me rolling my eyes a few minutes into the program. Plus, the anchors provide a steady dose of editorializing. They have their pet teams they support, and it shows.

However, in recent months, I have been warming up to the program somewhat. A lot of the same problems remain, but the network has made some smart changes regarding its weekday morning format. Instead of showing repeats of the previous night's broadcast over and over again, the broadcasts are now being done live. The most important ingredient of this has been the hiring of Hannah Storm as one of the anchors.

Prior to SportsCenter, Storm was one of the hosts on The Early Show on CBS. Before that, most sports fans remember her from her stints at CNN and NBC. She has a personality that communicates warmth, plus she is razor sharp when it comes to knowledge of sports. Not all of ESPN's on-air talent have those two traits. Storm has brought some new blood to SportsCenter that was desperately needed.

Let us hope ESPN executives leave her alone so she can do what she does best.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seeking comfort during troubled times

As we proceed through our lives in this harsh and imperfect world, the search for peace and comfort becomes harder. A casual glance at the evening news clearly shows that brokenness is this world's king, and Ole Scratch will not ease up until Jesus returns. Fortunately, nobody has to go through all this alone.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3, the Apostle Paul wrote that God is the "God of all comfort," which is one of His most relevant characteristics in our splintered society today. That is not to say some of God's attributes are irrelevant, but the comfort He provides us through the Holy Spirit is one of the tonics we need most. Comfort soothes even the most broken heart.

In his excellent book The Glorious Journey, Charles Stanley wrote: "Comfort is found not in the absence of pain but in the midst of it. So many hurting Christians believe their walk with the Lord is not as it should be because of their intense pain. They don't feel comfortable. Feeling comfortable and being comforted are two different things. The first is a nice feeling but tends to come and go, as feelings do. The second is a fact based on the Comforter, not on circumstances. And He does not come and go: 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'(Hebrews 13:5)."

As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, there is a season for everything in our lives. As surely as summer turns into fall, unexpected events occur. People lose jobs, relationships crumble, and people die causing our pain level to change. However, the One who comforts never changes or leaves. He is there just as much during good times, but our human nature sometimes blinds us to that fact.

No one is immune to this. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote that he had a "thorn in my flesh" so troublesome that he cried out to God in despair. Also, Jesus prayed before His arrest and crucifixion for God to "take this cup from me" if possible. So take heart, we are all in good company.

If you are a person suffering a lot of pain, know that this is a bond we all share and you are not alone. One of Satan's most common tactics is to isolate people so that they feel like nobody could understand. If the Holy Spirit puts it on your heart to reach out to somebody, be brave and take that chance. Or, if on the other hand, you suspect somebody around you is experiencing a lot of pain and you feel spiritually led to reach out to him or her, try to do that. It could be a delicate situation, but the potential for good is beyond measure. Remember, we were born to love one another.

Regardless of your situation, always remember you are not alone. Even if circumstances are not as you would like, remember God is there, and He cares. Man is fallible but not Him.

Reference materials: The Holy Bible, 'The Glorious Journey' by Charles Stanley

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ode to spring

As I was running errands on Saturday, I noticed that nature is kicking it into high gear when it comes to the vividness of spring. The only camera I had with me was the one in my cell phone, so these images lack sharpness. Still, I think they get the point across.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vols' loss in NCAAs typifies season

If Tennessee's 77-75 loss to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA tournament showed us anything, it showed that the Vols were inconsistent right down to the end this season. This year, the Volunteers showed flashes of brilliance that would be quickly followed by breakdowns on defense and offense.

This happened against Oklahoma State. Against the Cowboys, Tennessee blew a seven-point first-half lead as we allowed OSU to shoot 57 percent from the floor in the game's first 20 minutes. Still, at the end, we had a chance to win but Tyler Smith missed a three-point shot in the final seconds.

Still, this season shows just how far Tennessee's program has come in the first four years of coach Bruce Pearl's tenure. For many, this was a disappointing year. However, four years ago, most fans would have been happy with a team that won 21 games, claimed the SEC Eastern Division championship, and made the NCAA tournament. So, instead of focusing on what went wrong, we should be congratulating the team on a job well done.

Looking toward next year, all of our top players are eligible to return. The question is whether Smith will come back or not. At the start of the season, the conventional wisdom was that he would leave. However, The Tennessean reported a couple of weeks ago that the odds were 50-50 that he would return.

Despite this season's frustration, Tennessee will definitely be the frontrunner to repeat as divisional champion if he returns. Even if he does not, the Vols will still challenge for the title.

So, the future is bright.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NCAA March Madness: I am officially jinxing North Carolina, Missouri, Pittsburgh and Louisville

Well, for college basketball fans, the best month of the year has arrived as the NCAA men's and women's tournaments are starting. It is a time of year when fans are tempted to call in sick to their employers just to watch a little basketball. There is nothing wrong with a case of March Madness flu.

I will start with the women's tournament because it is the easiest to forecast. The women's tourney can be summed up in one word: Connecticut. The Connecticut Huskies are undefeated and have dominated women's basketball this year. If they do not win the tournament, it will be an upset of historic proportions.

As for the men's tourney, picking a winner is much trickier. As certain as the women's game has been this year, the men's has been wildly uncertain. Because of this, there will be no attempt to pick a winner. However, here are the teams that will likely win each regional to advance to the final four.

South Regional – North Carolina. Tyler Hansbrough gets most of the publicity, but guard Ty Lawson is the real leader of the Tar Heels. Of course, Lawson is struggling with a toe injury that caused him to miss the ACC tournament. If he is healthy, Carolina will advance to the final four. If not, the regional is more wide open. For now, the pick is Carolina.

West Regional – Missouri. The Tigers played in the shadow of Kansas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 all year, but they are dangerous. They are the third seed in the West behind Connecticut and Memphis. However, Connecticut's problems at point guard will catch up with them, and Memphis is overrated. True, Memphis has won 26 in a row, but they play in a limp noodle conference. DeMarre Carroll leads the Tigers in both scoring and rebounding. Watch out for Mizzou.

East Regional – Pittsburgh. Forward DeJuan Blair is one of the best rebounders in the country, but he also leads his team in field goal percentage. Despite being upset by West Virginia in the Big East tournament, the Panthers remain formidable. Just ask Connecticut, which lost to Pittsburgh twice this season.

Midwest Regional – Louisville. It is painful to pick two Big East teams to reach the final four, but it should happen. The Cardinals have won nine games in a row, including a beat down of Syracuse to win the Big East conference tournament. Keep your eye on Terrence Williams, who leads the team in assists and steals. He is flat-out fantastic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quote of the day

"I live in that solitude which is painful in youth but delicious in the years of maturity." -- Albert Einstein.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Barry Manilow as weapon of mass destruction?

As the old cliché goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This cliché usually comes into play when people are attempting to solve a problem, and the conventional ways of handling it do not work.

An unusual example of this happened recently in New Zealand. City officials in Christchurch were confronted with solving the problem of unruly teens that were hanging out in its central mall district, according to the Associated Press.

Their solution? The Central City Business Association decided to pipe in music by American pop singer Barry Manilow in an attempt to calm the teens down, according to the AP.

The merchants face legitimate problems because of this situation. The group that hangs out at the mall often get drunk, use drugs, and leave behind garbage. I think merchants in any country would be frustrated by this.

Nothing else has worked, so now they place their hope in the mellow stylings of Manilow. For those not familiar with Manilow, he has sold millions of records with easy listening songs like 'Mandy,' 'Copacabana,' and 'I Write the Songs.'

For a person that has my musical tastes, his music is easy to ridicule. I consider his songs to be one step above elevator music. But, then again, I am sure there are a lot of people who do not like the music I do.

Like most things, the court of public opinion is where the quality of Manilow's music can be judged. If that is the case, then he is a talented performer. Like I wrote earlier, he has sold millions of records. His level of success is not something that can be ignored.

I guess that is why people in a small country on the other side of the world can view him as a resource to use when dealing with their problem.

When discussing this issue, Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said, "The intention is to change the environment in a positive way...I did not say Barry Manilow is a weapon of mass destruction."

That is funny because I have considered his music to be a weapon of mass destruction for years. I felt that way before the term 'weapon of mass destruction' was even invented.

I have always thought that his music is where brain cells go to die. If I had to choose between listening to his music and watching paint dry the choice would be easy: I would be watching the paint.

I know I am being harsh, but we all have things that we do not like. Musical tastes (like many things) are quite subjective. Still, I would like to be a fly on the wall there in New Zealand as this solution is being applied.

True, it may drive away teenagers, but I wonder how this will impact adults. We all mellow somewhat as we grow older, so maybe the adults will embrace this solution.

As for the teenagers, I expect some backlash. It has been a long time since I was a teenager. I know I was rebellious during my teen years, and I do not believe kids have changed that much over the years.

If that is the case, I can see a scenario in which more and more teens will go to the mall just to make the point that they cannot be driven away.

After they have made their point, they will likely go away and search for a new place to hang out.

If that happens, chalk up a big win for Barry Manilow.

Results do not lie.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I cannot get away from 'Apollo 13' these days

Have you ever gone through a stretch where every time you turn on the television, you keep running into the same movie? I have been going through that with Apollo 13 lately. That is not a bad thing. It is an excellent film that stars Tom Hanks and a strong supporting cast. It is about the ill-fated voyage of Apollo 13 in 1970 that started for the moon but had to abort because of technical problems.

If you get a chance to watch it, I encourage you to do so. For more information about the film, click here.

Still, I cannot seem to get away from it these days. I went through the same thing with The Shawshank Redemption a couple of years ago.

I guess there are worse things to endure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SEC tourney results will not impact Tennessee's seeding in NCAA tourney much

All things considered, the regular season ended fine for the University of Tennessee men's basketball team. After weeks of frustration and inconsistency, the Volunteers posted road wins at Florida and at South Carolina to clinch the SEC Eastern Division title. In terms of the upcoming SEC tournament in Tampa, this is significant because the Volunteers will get a first round bye.

Based on recent history, Tennessee will need all the help it can get in the SEC tourney. The Vols have perennially underachieved in this event and have not won it since 1979. So, based on past performance, Vols' fans should not get their hopes up. Still, anything can happen when we take the court on Friday.

However, I do not believe our performance in the tourney will impact our seeding for the NCAA tournament. Most of the major sports web sites have predictions regarding what teams will get into the tourney and where they will be seeded. ESPN's Bracketology currently has Tennessee as a number six seed. Personally, I believe that is too low. Given the strong schedule the Vols played plus our success in road games, I believe we should at least be seeded fifth.

The SEC is not getting much respect regarding its strength, so that is hurting Tennessee as well. Perhaps that will work in our favor. The Volunteers play the best when we play with a chip on our shoulders. If we enter the NCAA tourney with that frame of mind, we may have a chance to do some damage.

Let us hope so.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tread lightly in Mexico

In recent years, most news relating to the United States' relationship with Mexico has focused on the number of people leaving there to illegally enter our country.

There are still millions of undocumented people from Mexico in America, but in recent weeks, there has been a new aspect of our relationship with our neighbor that has been spotlighted in the media.

However, this aspect is not very pretty.

In the last couple of years, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has led a war on drugs there that has been hard fought. Last year, more than 6,000 deaths occurred as the government cracked down on drug war lords, according to the Associated Press.

These deaths have occurred not only because of law enforcement personnel there, but also because the war lords have been fighting among themselves for the best routes to smuggle their drugs, according to the AP.

While this would seem to be a Mexican problem, the United States plays a major role in this as well. Obviously, the biggest customers of the drug war lords are people here in the United States who want to use their products.

There is no denying it: the United States has an insatiable appetite for drugs, and the reason the war lords in Mexico have become so powerful is partly because of the millions of dollars they get from America.

Our country remains in a deep recession, but people remain willing to buy drugs. If anybody can explain the logic of that to me, I would be happy to listen. Maybe it is a testimony about how strong the addiction to drugs can be.

The drug war there is impacting America in unexpected ways. Spring break is approaching for students all around the country. Tens of thousands of U.S. students go to Mexico during spring break, and many universities are warning them about the dangers there.

The upside of spring break is that it gives a lot of hard working students a chance to blow off some steam. The downside is that they often do that with alcohol and drugs, and doing that could make them quite vulnerable to the danger going on there.

My advice is that it may be a good year for students to do their spring breaking here in America. Why take risks that are not necessary?

When studying Mexico's war on drugs, it has caused me to re-think the issue of illegal immigration. In the past, I have oversimplified the issue somewhat. I thought it was often a case of people just coming here to improve their economic opportunities.

However, this might not be entirely the case. While I still believe money is the primary reason people sneak into America, it is reasonable to assume that the violence in Mexico may be a secondary factor that brings folks here.

And because of this, I can certainly understand how a Mexican would not like to go back home. Violence and poverty would motivate anybody to flee where they live.

While I have compassion for folks in this situation, my comments should not be interpreted as a call to grant amnesty to those here illegally. Having a secure United States/Mexico border still remains a big priority when it comes to our homeland security.

Still, the stories of violence in Mexico should broaden our perspective regarding those trying to enter our nation. Parts of that nation are basically involved in a civil war.

If the civil war there is anything like the one America had, it has to be pulling them apart.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obama vows to fight for his $3 trillion budget....but why?

Last weekend, President Barack Obama said that he is ready to fight regarding his recently unveiled $3 trillion budget. Among other things, the budget attempts to restructure our government's approach to health care, energy, and education, according to the Associated Press.

Obama said: "I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight. My message to them is this: So am I."

My question is: Why all the tough talk? Democrats have control of both the Senate and House of Representatives. Since his party still remains deeply in love with him, the budget should sail through Congress.

There are times when a president must talk tough. This was not one of them. If he uses this communication technique on a regular basis, people will tune him out.

And the last person who should be tuned out is a president.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Haynesworth's loss is big for Titans but manageable

Many Tennessee Titans' fans were upset last week when defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins. Haynesworth is a dominating player and losing him will force the Titans to make adjustments. However, the Titans have a good defense, and in time, the team will be able to overcome his loss.

As for Haynesworth, I do not blame him one bit for taking the Redskins' offer. There is no loyalty in the National Football League. Teams do not think twice about discarding players when they are of no use to them anymore. Why should not players do the same thing? Players only have a few years to earn as much money as they can. I hope he does well in Washington.

However, the loss of Haynesworth could have a positive impact on the Titans. All the money they were going to use to re-sign him can now be used on other free agents. It is no secret that help is needed at wide receiver though the pool of players available is kind of shallow. The Titans signed ex-Steeler Nate Washington on Monday, so hopefully that is a step in the right direction. Additionally, they have re-signed quarterback Kerry Collins and a few other players.

I am sorry the Titans lost Haynesworth, but the team will be fine.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The worst is yet to come

Since the start of President Barack Obama's administration in January, his primary focus has been on jumpstarting our nation's feeble economy.

Last month, a stimulus package was passed by Congress that Obama hopes will improve the overall situation. Of course, Obama has stated that the package will not be a quick fix, and it will take quite a while to get things moving in a positive direction.

On that, I agree with the president. We did not get in this mess overnight, and we will not get out of it overnight.

So, how bad might it get in the coming months? Last week, the Federal Reserve downgraded its predictions for our nation's economic performance. Late last year, the Fed predicted that national unemployment in 2009 would reach between 7.1 and 7.6 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Only two months and two days into the year, our unemployment is already 7.6 percent. Therefore, the Fed's experts went back to the drawing board and are now projecting that unemployment will settle between 8.5 and 8.8 percent this year.

Additionally, the Fed is forecasting the economy will decrease between 0.5 and 1.3 percent, according to the AP.

So, for those of you optimistic about the nearly $800 billion stimulus package that recently was passed, it is time to come back down to earth. As I wrote a few paragraphs ago, our problems are going to take a long time to fix.

It is admirable that our lawmakers are attempting to reach out to the country and help ease our pain, but I am cynical about whether this package will help that much. Large federal programs often fall short of expectations.

For example, President Franklin Roosevelt is often lauded for the New Deal that attempted to help citizens during the Great Depression. While it did get some people back to work, people often forget that unemployment remained above 10 percent well into FDR's second term.

World War II is what eventually brought us out of the Depression because it required manufacturing needs that forced the creation of new jobs.

Hopefully, it will not require another world war to bring us out of our current problems. If World War III were to happen, the problems we face now would be like one raindrop in the middle of a thunderstorm.

So, how should we approach our current situation? Instead of waiting for our government to solve all our problems, we should do what Americans do best. We need to work hard, save our money, and help our neighbors the best we can.

I know that is not a very sophisticated formula, but it has brought our country more success than failure. In fact, straying from this formula is likely what has brought us to our current problems.

We have worked hard, but we have not saved our money. We have overextended ourselves, and many find themselves trying to maintain a lifestyle they could not afford in the first place.

As sad as this is, maybe this is a lesson our nation needs to learn so it will be better in the long run. Our generation has embraced materialism and what has it gotten us? It has gotten us a lot of nice toys, but also a lot of debt.

If nothing else, we can teach the next generation about our mistakes. We should at least do that because they are the ones who are going to be paying the tab for our excesses.

Let us hope they won't get too mad at us when we tell them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Seven inches of glorious snow in Manchester

Anybody who watched television on Saturday knows the weather people were in full snow alert mode. The reports I saw called for one to two inches of it. Given how little snow we get here, I expected to wake up Sunday and be greeted by a dusting.

When I went to bed just before midnight it was sleeting. About 5 a.m., I woke up and looked out the window, and I could see the ground was white. Because it was still dark, I could not see how much snow there was, but I went back to sleep happy in the thought that we got a little of the white stuff.

However, when I got up at 7:30, I finally saw how much we had received. I took my trusty ruler out in the yard, and it showed that my neighborhood had gotten seven inches. When I did my measurement, it was not snowing at all. So that means, all the snow had to have fallen between midnight and roughly 7 a.m. That is a lot of snow in a short amount of time. I'm sorry I missed seeing it.

I guess March has come in like a lion. Significant snows in March are rare, but they do happen. Last year, we received three inches on one day in March. Additionally, the Superstorm of 1993 happened in March, and we got 10 inches here in Manchester.

So, enjoy the snow.