Monday, August 31, 2009

President Obama's season of strife and war

I am sure there are a lot of benefits that President Obama gets to enjoy because he is president. However, right now, a person could not pay me enough to take his job.

The president always sits on the hot seat. Every candidate knows this when he or she runs for that office. Obama certainly knew that adversity would await him when he was winning last year.

I wonder if he thought it would get this severe though. Healthcare reform, a bumbling economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many other issues have the American public restless.

Let's face it; I don't think many of our elected officials expected the firm push back they have gotten from citizens regarding healthcare reform.

I am sure they expected it to a certain degree. After all, this is why they tried to get it passed through Congress before the August recess. It is always a lot easier to deal with the public's fury after legislation has been passed and nothing can be done.

Of course, that is not exactly correct. Voters have the power to correct any misrepresentation they feel they have received from their elected officials. All it takes is a large turnout during the next election, which many Congressmen will likely face in 2010.

From a strictly political perspective, Democrats have really bungled healthcare reform. Until this issue, Republicans were having problems opposing the president on issues that grabbed the public's attention.

Well, they have a whopper of an issue now, and it will be interesting to see if they can exploit it enough to defeat Democrats next year. If Democrats do become vulnerable on this, it will be the first significant test of how strong the coat tails of President Obama are.

Obama's approval ratings are already slipping in the polls. If this continues, things could get iffy for all Democrats next year.

Internationally, the wars continue. America's involvement in the Iraqi conflict is winding down somewhat, but do not expect that to be the case in Afghanistan. The president has committed us there for the long term.

Though Americans with short memories may question why we are committing so much effort to Afghanistan, it is really important. If we do not, the country will fall back into the hands of the Taliban, and the country will be as it was before the 2001 terrorist attacks in America.

Afghanistan would go right back to being a safe haven for terrorists to train and devise plans to attack their foes. In a sense, we would be back at square one when it comes to the war on terror.

While Obama has gotten some static from the far left wing of his party on this, his stance on this should come as no surprise. During last year's campaign, he said that there should have been more of an emphasis on Afghanistan all along in comparison to Iraq.

I think a lot of Obama's supporters were so dead set on getting out of Iraq that they did not listen to what he was saying on Afghanistan. Then again, there are elements within his party that apparently feel that there are never any reasons to go to war. I hope none of those people ever get elected president.

The bottom line is America continues to face a lot of challenges.

I hope that all of us continue to play an active role in dealing with these challenges. Despite the criticism of some media outlets, political activism is an important element of any democracy.

If that goes away, then the powerbrokers will be unchecked.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A day at Old Stone Fort

Old Stone Fort is a state archaeological park in Manchester, Tennessee. It primarily served as a Native American ceremonial gathering ground and dates back almost 2,000 years. It is notable for many things, including its beautiful natural scenery. Here are some photos I took during a recent visit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quote of the day: Ephesians 4:31-32

Ephesians 4:31-32 (KJV): "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

'Tenderhearted' is the key word here. If we can become more compassionate, understanding, and sensitive toward each other, things will improve. Just make sure you have been forgiven.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bob Dylan circa 1966

Reporter: "What is the most important thing in your life these days?"

"Well, I've got a monkey wrench collection, and I'm very interested in that."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Healthcare protests producing remarkable political theater

The recent protests relating to healthcare reform have been dramatic and breathtaking.

As elected officials have attempted to explain President Obama's healthcare reform package during the August recess, they have been hit right between the eyes with opposition.

As somebody who enjoys watching democracy in action, these last few weeks have been exciting. I have complained many times on this blog about the apathy of the American public when it comes to politics.

Well, I am happily eating crow. 'Apathetic' is about the last word that I would use to describe the events we have seen.

People have become motivated on both sides of the issue, and this passion guarantees that the controversy will remain in the forefront in coming weeks.

However, it has been distressing to read statements and reports from politicians that have been critical of what we have seen. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi even said that some of the protesters against the proposal are un-American.

Really? I thought the First Amendment guaranteed the right to freely speak even if it meant shaking a few politicians out of their comfort zones.

When the passion of some of the protests began receiving coverage in the mainstream media, supporters of the president's reform efforts began stating that these protests were being orchestrated by those with right-wing interests.

If Democrats were sincerely surprised by this, then they were laughably naïve. However, it is more likely that they used this rhetoric to brush off the protesters as lunatics that did not reflect the attitudes of mainstream America.

Well, their efforts have failed. Town hall meetings have been packed all over the country, and I think all of us can agree that this tidal waive of protest is not simply the work of right-wing politicians.

At this point, Democrats have to be kicking themselves. If they had gotten this reform package passed before the August recess, then they could have spared themselves all these headaches. True, they would have likely faced protests, but probably not on the level we are currently seeing.

Now, when they return to Washington, the echoes of protests by millions of Americans will be fresh in their memories. It will be interesting to see what they do.

When Obama ran for the presidency, he ran on a platform of change that included reforming the healthcare industry. Regardless of whether a person supports what he is doing now, he is trying to do that.

When it comes to creating genuine change, a leader sometimes has to go forward with what he thinks is right even when the majority opposes him.

Will the president and the rest of the Democrats do that? In some ways, the efforts of the protesters are moot. Democrats have majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. If they feel this version of healthcare reform is so important, they can pass it without much effort.

If they do this, they will be vilified by many, but they will have the satisfaction of doing what they think is correct.

Or, will they succumb to the temptation to save their own back sides? Federal mid-term elections are next year and a lot of the people voting on this will be running for re-election.

Will they become more concerned about getting re-elected than supporting the reform package? Politicians are notorious for putting self-preservation ahead of almost everything else.

The most important aspect of all this is that the American people have made their voices heard.

If people still doubt they can create change, all they have to do is open their eyes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It will be Florida and the five stooges in the SEC East this year

The Florida Gators will dominate the SEC Eastern Division this year. They are clearly the best team in the division and will beat Alabama in December in the SEC championship game.

In looking at the East, the Gators will likely be better this year while the other five teams will be the same or regress compared to 2008.

Here is how it should shake out:

1. Florida -- Quarterback Tim Tebow is the best SEC quarterback since Peyton Manning, and he should have won the Heisman Trophy last year. All starters return on an athletic and aggressive defense. Last year, the Gators beat their SEC East rivals by an average of 39.8 points per game. The most challenging game they will likely face is when they play at LSU in early October. There are not many sure things in sports, but Florida looks like one.

2. Georgia -- The Bulldogs should finish in second place, but they will take a step back this year because of the loss of quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno. True, Georgia has an experienced and solid offensive line, but they have lost too many playmakers. Wide receiver A.J. Green is excellent, but can new quarterback Joe Cox get him the ball enough? We will find out in a hurry because Georgia has road games at Oklahoma State and Arkansas in September. The home games that month are not easy ones either: vs. South Carolina and Arizona State.

3. Tennessee -- The time for talking is over for new Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin. The Volunteers will have a new look this year, but will it translate into more wins? Quarterback Jonathan Crompton has been solid in fall practice. If he can just be consistent this year, it will benefit the team greatly. If freshman running back Bryce Brown's eligibility can be cleared up, he should give them a much needed boost when it comes to providing big plays. Their first big test is on Sept. 12 against a much improved UCLA team.

4. South Carolina -- Has college football passed by Gamecocks' head coach Steve Spurrier? Entering his fifth season at Carolina, he has not been able to recapture the magic he had at Florida. He has not developed a first-rate quarterback while there. Current quarterback Stephen Garcia likely has the best raw talent of any signal caller Spurrier has had at Carolina. However, he has not blossomed. If he does not, it looks like another seven-win season for the Gamecocks.

5. Vanderbilt -- Coach Bobby Johnson has done a remarkable job building the Vanderbilt program. Most would agree that the Commodores have more quality depth than at any other time in the program's history. In the SEC, this is a must. If Vanderbilt wants to visit another bowl game, it must find a way to steal a conference game on the road. The Commodores have done this in recent years, and South Carolina may be the best opportunity this year. Vandy won there in 2007.

6. Kentucky -- Offense could be Kentucky's undoing this year. Quarterback Mike Hartline has to be better this year, and the Wildcats need more production from their running backs and wide receivers. The defense looks solid and will be led by cornerback Trevard Lindley, linebacker Micah Johnson, and defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alabama should edge LSU, Ole Miss in competitive SEC West

Heading into the 2009 SEC football season, there can be no doubting that most of the season's drama will come from the Western Division. Resurgent Alabama attempts to repeat as divisional champion, while LSU and Ole Miss will both field strongly competitive clubs.

It looks like a long and exciting season. Here is how it should shake out:

1. Alabama -- The Crimson Tide has a ton of experienced and explosive talent this year. It begins with a defense that returns eight starters. Nose tackle Terrence Cody is rock solid, and linebacker Rolando McClain is exceptional. Offensively, the big concern is the lack of experience of quarterback Greg McElroy. Many SEC teams struggled last year with shaky quarterback play. If he does not deliver, it may be the Tide's turn to struggle.

2. LSU -- The collapse of the Tigers' defense was one the most shocking SEC stories in 2008. Five times LSU gave up at least 30 points. The addition of long-time Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis should give LSU the necessary kick in the rear end its defense needs. The schedule may be the Tigers biggest foe this year. In addition to playing national champion Florida at home, they must travel to Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss. That will be a daunting challenge.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebels have been the darling of many preseason publications and was picked as high as sixth in the nation by one of them. Quarterback Jevan Snead is the best SEC quarterback not named Tim Tebow. Sixteen starters anchor a team that has a favorable schedule. The Rebels three toughest conference games are at home (LSU, Alabama, Tennessee). Wins in two of those three games could net Ole Miss a divisional title. The Rebels are the only SEC West team to have never played in the conference championship game.

4. Arkansas -- If there is a dark horse team in the West, it is Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a lot of depth at running back and wide receiver. Also, transfer quarterback Ryan Mallet is now eligible, meaning the offense should be exciting. Some improvement was flashed late last year when the Razorbacks closed out the season with a 31-30 upset of LSU. If the defense improves, Arkansas could be a fascinating team to watch.

5. Auburn -- The Tigers finally settled on a quarterback over the weekend, deciding to go with Chris Todd. Kodi Burns is moving to wide receiver and could see some backfield action in the Wildcat formation. The one thing Auburn has going for it is that eight of its 12 games are at home. This may guarantee a lower-tier bowl berth, but it is definitely a transition year down on the Plains.

6. Mississippi State -- Speaking of transition years, this will be one for the Bulldogs. Running back Anthony Dixon is the only bright spot on offense. New head coach Dan Mullen will attempt to install the spread offense, but the lack of talent on that side of the ball guarantees a lot of growing pains. Mississippi State has a good defense that I believe will be worn down as the season goes along. It will spend too much time on the field.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Single Christians being failed by churches?

It is no secret that during times of strife people become a lot more open to spirituality and religion.

We can apply this to what people have experienced during the recession. People have been losing jobs and suffered all types of assaults on their lives. Spirituality has played a role in dealing with this situation.

However, there is one segment of people that appear to be getting uneasy as they have attempted to investigate spiritual avenues.

In increasing numbers, unmarried people are expressing frustration with their efforts to grow spiritually. They feel like they may be falling through the cracks when it comes to involvement with churches.

Let me say right up front that the information I am about to relate was derived from discussions I have had with single friends and comments I have read on the Internet.

Therefore, this column is primarily going to be an observational one based on what I have heard others say or write. Don't expect much research data to be presented because it does not seem to exist.

The general consensus from these people is that churches mean well when it comes to serving single people, but they lack the desire or the focus to do it.

For example, a friend of mine who attended a large church in Nashville approached an associate pastor. He needed guidance regarding the issues a single man deals with in every day life.

He said the response he received dealt with the church's attempts to begin a singles ministry and the hope that it would increase the fellowship among unmarried folks.

When my friend heard the term 'singles ministry,' a red flag immediately went up. From his past experience, these types of ministries were nothing more than social organizations that hoped to pair Christians up for marriage.

His needs were not like that. He was not feeling a need for marriage. He simply wanted assistance dealing with the landmines of every day life.

As our culture has changed, so has marriage's role in it. People are single for a variety of reasons. Some are waiting until they have established their careers to get married.

Additionally, there are others who do not have a compelling desire for marriage. Let's face it; marriage is not a cure for everything that ails a person. The divorce rate is high, and many marriages are kept together simply for the sake of children or financial debt.

On the other hand, there are singles who desperately want to be married, but for whatever reason, it has not happened for them. Then, when they attend church functions that seem more geared toward married people and their children, it can be like pouring salt into an open wound.

Because of this, isolation can set in for the single person. A person feels more like an outsider in a church body that is meant to be a family.

This doesn't mean that singles are critical of the focus on families and children. However, many do begin to ask themselves: What about me?

Even good things can be carried too far and this may be the case with the attention churches give to married people and children. Obviously, these people need a lot of attention, but it should not be at the expense of others.

It is apparent that the classic approach of dealing with the needs of singles is not working.

These people are begging for help, but are feeling like lost voices in the wilderness.

There are no easy answers for this. Let's hope churches become more aware that questions are being asked.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My love affair with Johnsonville bratwurst continues

All of us have certain foods that we can seemingly eat forever.

Lately, Johnsonville bratwurst has been my eating passion. For reasons I cannot explain, I have become a remorseless eating machine when it comes to their hot-dog-sized smoked brat. Just grill them up, apply a little mustard and ketchup, and I am good for a while.

Once you eat bratwurst, you will never go back to hot dogs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

College football review for now; SEC picks coming soon

The college football season is a little more than three weeks away, and for most of us, it is the most exciting time of the sports year. Nothing quite beats college football. It has passion and pageantry that the other sports cannot touch.

The Nightly Daily's third annual Southeastern Conference pre-season predictions are coming soon (probably next week, but nothing is finalized yet). However, as frequent readers of this blog know, college football postings have already been presented for several weeks.

In case you missed any of those previous stories, here are links to take you to them. Just click on your team's link, and as always, thanks for reading.

Click here for the Tennessee Volunteers
Click here for the Vanderbilt Commodores
Click here for the MTSU Blue Raiders
Click here for the Alabama Crimson Tide
Click here for the Ole Miss Rebels
Click here for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quote of the day: C. S. Lewis was right

"Let's pray that the human race never escapes Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere." -- C. S. Lewis

If we ever found human life on another planet, let's just leave them alone. We've screwed up our world. We don't need to help them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tennessee Titans throwback uniforms are fantastic

As the photo shows, the throwback uniforms the Tennessee Titans will wear for a few games this year are great. They were first unveiled in last night's Hall of Fame game in Canton, OH. They are replicas of the uniforms worn by the 1960 Houston Oilers.

I'm an old school guy by nature so this type of promotion fascinates me. This is done a lot in baseball as well and a lot of the Negro League uniforms they wear are beautiful.

In addition to last night's game, the Titans will wear these uniforms three times during the regular season. They will be worn on Sept. 27 against the Jets, on Oct. 18 against the Patriots, and against the Bills again on Nov. 15.

It works for me.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Talk radio's double-edged sword

I have reached one unavoidable conclusion: I am sick and tired of talk radio.

In many ways, I feel quite conflicted about this because talk radio embodies many characteristics that make this country great.

It is a public forum where people can come together to discuss important issues whether they be in news, sports, or current events.

It gives average people the opportunity to let their voices be heard. In this age where most people feel their opinions are not taken seriously, talk radio lets people give their two-cents worth.

In some ways, it is an antidote for a lot of the complacency that we see in our country. Let's face it; there are many important issues that most people just do not care about.

Issues ranging from politics to religion draw yawns from most people.

However, talk radio at least gets discussion flowing regarding these issues. If nothing else, this discussion raises awareness.

Despite the positive aspects of talk radio there are other characteristics that are not so good. In fact, many of the medium's positive aspects have an equal and opposite negative characteristic.

While talk radio does provide an open forum for views, it is often a little too unfiltered. Put simply, there are a lot of folks who call these radio shows who do not know what they are talking about.

In the years I have listened to talk radio, I have heard some real whoppers. For example, there is a fairly large segment of people who still do not believe that men have actually walked on the moon.

They feel it was an elaborate hoax by the government to trick the Russians and taxpayers.

Also, I have found that conspiracy buffs and talk radio audiences are often comrades in arms. This is because conspiracy fits nicely within the talk radio culture.

Recently, I was suffering a sleepless night so I decided to turn on the radio to hear a little talk.

What I heard was a perfectly rational man giving a detailed analysis of why he believes Abraham Lincoln was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy of wealthy European Jewish bankers.

He said John Wilkes Booth was simply the trigger man, but the Jews were the driving force behind the killing.

That's right folks; Lincoln was not killed by a bitter confederate loyalist. It was all the Jews fault.

Hey, I can't make this stuff up. Some of this stuff is better than vaudeville and is certainly more interesting than a lot of radio entertainment these days.

And this does not only apply to folks who call these shows. Many times, talk radio hosts are as goofy as some of the callers.

For every good radio broadcaster that provides thought-provoking talk, there seems to be another who is a blowhard who is obviously pandering for ratings.

What it all comes down to is that if we are going to have free speech in our country, we all have to be willing to compromise a little.

If we are going to discuss topics in the marketplace of ideas, we have to allow folks to speak who drive us a little crazy from time to time.

After all, if we are a country that is strong enough to let nuts take the microphone, then I believe that says a lot about our country.

However, it does wear on me every now and then.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I still don't get televised poker

I was surfing through my television channels the other night, and I stumbled across two networks that were both showing poker at the same time. I don't understand the appeal of televised poker. Obviously, this must draw good ratings because I see it all the time, and it has been televised for several years. Still, how entertaining is it to watch four or five people play cards?

A lot of times these people wear sunglasses so their opponents cannot see their eyes. I guess that makes sense, but it makes them look like they are wearing masks. So, we are basically watching people playing cards who are wearing masks.

Sorry, but I've got better things to plunging 10-inch steel needles into my eyes.

And watching C-SPAN.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Despite coaching change, same problems face the Tennessee Volunteers heading into '09

There has been a lot of change in Knoxville since last year. Coach Phillip Fulmer, arguably the second most important figure in Tennessee Volunteer football history, was let go after the team collapsed and staggered through a 5-7 season.

Enter Lane Kiffin. He has an impressive resume when it comes to recruiting and making headlines, but he has no experience leading a major college football program. However, it is his challenge to get the Vols' program back on track.

His hiring has generated a lot of excitement, and reports indicate that the returning players have embraced his approach. Enthusiasm is nice, but the Vols still face the same problems that hampered them most of last year.

The offense was abysmal in 2008, and much of the same personnel return this year. Seven starters including quarterback Jonathan Crompton are back. Tennessee was held to 14 points or less in seven of its 12 games last year. Just a little more output and the Vols would have posted a winning record and gone to a bowl. Tennessee better hope incoming freshman super recruit Bryce Brown can contribute sooner rather than later.

The defense returns only five starters, but fortunately for Tennessee fans, one is free safety Eric Berry. Berry is one of the top five players in the country. In a perfect world, he would be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy, but voters for that award are notoriously stupid. Click here to see UT's web site touting Berry's Heisman candidacy.

In some respects, the Vols catch a break with this year's schedule. Here it is:

Sept. 5: vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 12: vs. UCLA
Sept. 19: at Florida
Sept. 26: vs. Ohio
Oct. 3: vs. Auburn
Oct. 10: vs. Georgia
Oct. 24: at Alabama
Oct. 31: vs. South Carolina
Nov. 7: vs. Memphis
Nov. 14: at Ole Miss
Nov. 21: vs. Vanderbilt
Nov. 28: at Kentucky

Eight of Tennessee's 12 games are at home, including five of the first six. The opener against Western Kentucky looks inviting, but the Vols lost at home to Wyoming last year and struggled to beat Northern Illinois. So, don't mark that one down as an automatic win. The loss to UCLA in last season's opener set the tone for the year, and payback would be sweet with a win in week two.

The Vols must go 3-1 in September. There is no way they will beat Florida so wins against the other three are mandatory if they want a winning season and a trip to a bowl.

Tennessee should be able to squeeze out seven wins this year. The toughest games are on the road (Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss) so they will have to clean up at home.

This is definitely a transition year for the Vols.

Monday, August 3, 2009

'Public Enemies' is a well-told, violent story that is worth seeing

After weeks of delay, I finally got to see the new Johnny Depp film Public Enemies, and I can recommend it. It does not sniff greatness, but it is a very good film featuring strong performances by Depp as bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale as federal agent Melvin Purvis.

Of course, the setting of the film is in the 1930s when robbers like Dillinger were becoming folk heroes during the Great Depression. Purvis was the agent assigned by J. Edgar Hoover to stop him by any means necessary.

The action scenes and cinematography are both first rate. Director Michael Mann effectively uses hand-held cameras to intensify the confusion and fury of the gun-battle scenes. Mann has an impressive resume of films to his credit, including The Last of the Mohicans and Heat. While this film is not in the league of those two, it is substantially better than the disappointing Ali.

If the film has a weakness, it is the lack of character development of Dillinger and Purvis. If we knew more about why they became the men they were, I think it would have added more dramatic tension to the film. Mann opted for a straightforward telling of Purvis' pursuit of Dillinger, and it works. Still, I don't think the film quite became what it could have been.

Depp's portrayal of Dillinger is appropriately ruthless and charismatic. Bale's performance as the stoic lawman is successful as well.

It is rated 'R' for violence and profanity.

For another take on this film, click here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I wouldn't want to be in Erin Andrews' shoes

Deep down, most of us have wondered at one time or another what it would be like to be famous. How would it feel to be on the receiving end of so much attention and love? It would have to be great, wouldn't it? America is a fame-driven culture so lives must become easy when people make it to the top.

Of course, I am romanticizing things. Fame does not take away problems. It may remove some, but there are other problems just waiting to take their place.

ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews is famous, but she has experienced the dark side of fame in recent weeks after it was discovered that a wacko videotaped her while she was relaxing alone in a hotel room.

In the coming weeks, she will return to her job covering college sports. She is a good reporter, but some of her fame was attained because she is quite attractive. College men have always taken a liking to her, and I'm guessing the scrutiny they place on her will go through the roof when she visits campuses this fall covering football.

I'm sure she likes her job, but I'm not sure anybody should have to go through what she is about to go through.

Fame isn't all it is built up to be.

I'll take my quiet life in my small town and be content with that.

Who needs all that other crap?