Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who is qualified to vote?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the national elections this year could be the tastiest we have seen in many years.

The Democrats have majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate, and because of this, President Barack Obama has been able to enjoy legislative successes. Nothing helps a president more than having a friendly Congress.

However, everybody in the House and a significant amount of those in the Senate are up for re-election this year. With Congressional approval ratings hovering in the 20 percent range, the possibility of a sizeable shake up exists.

Though the November elections are only a blip on the radar now, it is never too early to begin paying attention to what is going on. In a perfect world, we would be paying attention each day, but politics often hold our attention for only short periods of time. I do not know why that is, but it seems that way.

Because of this, we should all begin considering now the issues that will be most important to us when the election season begins in earnest. Too often, we approach elections like students who wait until the night before a big exam to begin studying.

We try as best we can to cram as much information into our brains at the last second, but it does not work. When we do that, we feel overwhelmed and frustrated when we start considering the challenges our nation faces. This drives many not to vote at all.

While we focus a lot on the qualifications of those who run for office, I wonder if we should focus more on the political literacy of those who vote. No, I am not advocating that we try and keep people from voting who do not follow the issues. People have a constitutional right to vote even if it is an uninformed vote.

Still, we can make sure to apply subtle (or maybe not so subtle) forms of pressure to people so they can take this year's elections seriously. Good old fashioned peer pressure was certainly effective on us when we were growing up. Maybe the same tactic can work now.

This may sound a bit harsh, but it is necessary. For something as important as electing our leaders, it is unfortunate that the process of doing it turns off so many. And I can certainly understand why so many get turned off.

It can be a difficult process to observe sometime. It is kind of like making sausage. We like eating it, but we do not necessarily like watching it get made.

The same goes with politics. We like the benefits our elected officials can bring us. However, the process can make us a little queasy.

The bottom line is the concept of accountability needs to be applied to the public, too. For all the hand-wringing people do about elected officials, many voters conveniently sugar coat their role in the process. Elected officials do not take office simply because they have been sprinkled with magic pixie dust.

We put them there, and if we keep complaining about their performance, maybe we need to re-assess our approach as to why we vote for someone.

I am picking on the people who actually bother to vote, and that may be unfair. The biggest criticism should be leveled at the people who do not bother to participate. Often, they are the ones who complain the most and the loudest.

Remember, we get the government we deserve. If we work more at it, just maybe we will be surprised at what the result will be.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A snowy Friday in Middle Tennessee

It is not often that we get good snows in Middle Tennessee. Well, Manchester got one today. Four inches had fallen when these photos were taken. I don't know how long this will last, but it was sure pretty watching it fall.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TBS does fans of 'The Office' a favor on Tuesday nights

I don't know how long this has been going on, but TBS has been showing three-hour blocks of The Office on its station every Tuesday night. I have only discovered the show in the last few months, but it is easily one of the funniest current shows on the air.

If you have nothing else to do, there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti in ruins

If ever there were an event that brought a much needed reality check to us all, it was the earthquake earlier this month in Haiti.

Unless somebody has been living under a rock, we are all aware of the 7.0-magnitude quake that pretty much destroyed the entire country in a few minutes.

An impoverished country to begin with, the citizens there watched as what little they had was smashed into a million pieces. Tens of thousands are dead and the nation's infrastructure is pretty much gone.

An entire way of life has been brought to its knees, and there is no telling how many years it will take just to restore the country to the point it was a few weeks ago.

The level of carnage there is almost unimaginable. If we all closed our eyes and tried to visualize all the reports we have heard from there, the gears of our brain would probably grind to a halt. It is almost too much for our senses to handle.

If there has been a silver lining in this mess, it has been the reaction of the international community. Generosity has ruled the day in most instances, and this will be needed as Haiti looks at a long-term recovery effort.

The American government immediately pledged $100 million plus thousands of our military. Additionally, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were appointed to head a fundraising effort that is sure to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush led a similar effort several years ago in the aftermath of the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in Asia. That fundraising effort raised approximately $1 billion, according to multiple published reports.

It is refreshing to see our nation put to the side all that things that separate us and come together when disasters like this happen. For all the petty bickering that we see in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike have shown that it is possible for them to work hand in hand when needed.

It is too bad that we usually only see this when a disaster like this takes place. It would help our nation if we saw more unity like this under less dramatic circumstances. It would help ease a lot of the cynicism that we see. Unfortunately, I do not see that happening, which I guess exposes me as a cynic as well.

The American public deserves a lot of credit for its support of the Haitian people. Times are tough for a lot of people because of the long economic slump we have experienced. Lots of people are not working and money is tight.

However, donations have flowed like rivers to organizations helping with the relief effort. A few dollars may not seem like much, but when millions of people donate that much, a whole lot of money can be raised in a relatively short amount of time.

This is a classic example of how all of us can have a positive impact on others needing help. Even if a person can only afford to donate a dollar, that dollar can buy water or food that will help get a person through an uncertain night.

Perhaps the biggest lie a person can be told is that he or she cannot make a difference. It leads to discouragement, and everybody loses when we allow that type of thought to guide our decisions. It prevents us from living the lives we are meant to live.

As for the Haitians, remember to pray for them. They have a long, hard road ahead of them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the day: Captain Beefheart's 'The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back'

Courtesy of, here are the words from Captain Beefheart's 'The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back' from his legendary 1969 album Trout Mask Replica.


There's ole Gray with 'er dove-winged hat
There's ole Green with her sewing machine
Where's the bobbin at?
Tote'n old grain in uh printed sack
The dust blows forward 'n dust blows back
And the wind blows black thru the sky
And the smokestack blows up in suns eye
What am I gonna die?
Uh white flake riverboat just flew by
Bubbles popped big
'n uh lipstick Kleenex hung on uh pointed forked twig
Reminds of the bobby girls
Never was my hobby girls
Hand full uh worms and uh pole fishin'
Cork bobbin' like uh hot red bulb
'n uh blue jay squeaks
His beak open an inch above uh creek
Gone fishin' for a week
Well I put down my bush
'n I took off my pants 'n felt free
The breeze blowin' up me 'n up the canyon
Far as I could see
It's night now and the moon looks like uh dandelion
It's black now 'n the blackbird's feedin' on rice
'n his red wings look diamonds 'n lice
I can hear the mice toes scamperin'
Gophers rumblin' in pile crater rock hole
One red bean stuck in the bottom of uh tin bowl
Hot coffee from uh krimpt up can

Me 'n my girl named Bimbo Limbo Spam

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Derek Dooley looks like a good fit for the Tennessee football program

On Friday, the University of Tennessee hired Derek Dooley as its head football coach, ending a tumultuous week. The Vol Nation went into frenzy when former coach Lane Kiffin unexpectedly quit to take the USC job. However, Dooley looks like a good choice.

A strong case can be made that Dooley has better qualifications than Kiffin when he got the job. Dooley has more head coaching experience than Kiffin and also was athletic director at Louisiana Tech when he was picked by Tennessee. Dooley also has NFL experience (with Nick Saban during his ill-fated tenure with Miami). Plus, he has recruiting and coaching experience at LSU, so he definitely knows his way around the Southeastern Conference.

At this point, Tennessee fans should feel good about his hiring. As for Kiffin, the timing of his departure during recruiting season definitely will cost the Volunteers recruits. However, one can hardly blame him for leaving. USC was his dream job, and most of us would leave one job for another if it helped our family and advanced our career. At least, that is how Kiffin looks at it.

It is time to rally around Dooley and quit whining about Kiffin.

A never ending war

Several days each week we are greeted by the news of deaths in the Afghanistan War. Recently, several CIA employees were blown up by a suicide bomber. The methods of killing may vary, but Americans continue to die.

Of course, the war will continue for the foreseeable future. When announcing that he was authorizing an additional 30,000 troops for the conflict, President Obama stated that 2011 will likely be the time when American involvement may begin to decline.

However, don't expect the war to end then. American involvement may eventually wind down, but the bloodshed there will likely continue for a long time.

Afghanistan is a country accustomed to long conflicts as those who remember the 10-year struggle with the Soviet Union can attest. Rebels there know how to survive and battle super powers, which explains why our involvement there continues.

The radicalism of the Taliban is deeply entrenched, and their leaders possess both the commitment and the will to outlast American involvement. Hopefully, I am wrong, but it will take a lot of work to boot the Taliban.

This is not meant as a slap at the American effort. The efforts of our military have been tremendous, and the successes there will have a lasting impact. Giving an oppressed people a taste of democracy is about the best gift one nation can give another.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan's internal problems were there a long time before America arrived, and they will not be going anywhere soon. It is just that at some point the people there will have to take primary responsibility for the path their nation will take.

For the time being, the big question is how the ramp up of American troops will impact the war. This is a considerable re-commitment to the war and is necessary if we are to truly neutralize the Taliban.

When a troop surge took place in the Iraq War, it was a success and is the primary reason American involvement is winding down.

In a best case scenario, the same will happen in Afghanistan. However, just because an approach worked in Iraq does not mean it will work in Afghanistan.

A primary difference in the two situations is that the president has given a general timeline regarding when America may leave. While telling the public that a draw down might occur in 2011 may have political benefits for the president, it also provides a timeline for our enemies.

Therefore, as the current surge starts to take shape, our enemies have the advantage of knowing when our government will decide that enough is enough.

That is a pretty significant advantage especially when one is fighting an enemy that relies so much on guerilla tactics. Will the Taliban simply pull back and wait for 2011? Only time will tell.

By then, America may be pre-occupied with other fronts in the War on Terror. On Christmas Day, an al Qaeda operative tried to blow up an airplane as it was preparing to land in Detroit.

The attempt was traced back to an al Qaeda cell in Yemen, and that country may become the next hot spot when it comes to this effort. We may leave Afghanistan soon, but the struggle will continue.

The War on Terror is now more than eight years old. Our government should be commended that a major terrorist attack has not happened here since 2001.

However, we are kidding ourselves if we think this conflict is anywhere near being complete. This is not a very happy thought, but we are dealing with fanatics.

And fanatics do not give up easily.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bruce Pearl magnificent in way he is handling Tennessee

To say it as been an eventful first couple of weeks of 2010 for the Tennessee men's basketball team would be an understatement. We all know the story: four players were arrested on New Year's Day on gun and drug charges. One has already been dismissed from the team while the other three remain indefinitely suspended.

In the aftermath, most expected the team to fall apart. However, that has not happened. The Vols upset then-No. 1 Kansas last Sunday and beat a good Charlotte team the game before that. In fact, a person could make a strong case that the last two games are the best games Tennessee has played all season.

Nobody knows where the season will go from here. The Vols could still collapse and limp all the way to March. The SEC opener is Thursday against Auburn, and it would not entirely surprise me if we fell flat on our faces. Or, we could continue to rally and put together a remarkable season. Who knows?

The one thing to emerge from the wreckage of this mess is that head coach Bruce Pearl is a heck of a coach both off the court and on. He is exactly the type of coach I want leading the program.

Take time to appreciate him.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's as cold as...Well, it's as cold as ice

Since the first of the year, it has been extremely cold here in Middle Tennessee, much like it has been in most of the country. When I drive to work each day, I pass by exposed rock along Interstate 24 in northern Coffee County. Usually, small amounts of water seep out of the rock, but because of the prolonged cold, the water has turned to ice.

Since Jan. 1, the ice has gotten progressively longer and longer as the photo shows. Temperatures are forecasted to return to normal by the middle of next week. The ice may be gone soon. So, if you enjoy extreme cold, enjoy it while you can.

National elections look wide open in 2010

The new year is less than two weeks old, but 2010 is already shaping up to be a volatile one in the political arena.

This is because everybody in the U.S. House of Representatives and a big chunk of the U.S. Senate is up for re-election. For many people, the idea of going through another high-profile election season is about as exciting as driving through a car wash in a convertible.

However, this is a critical year for President Barack Obama. He was only able to pass as much legislation as he did last year because he had the benefit of Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

If he were to lose that, then the last two years of his first term would be considerably bumpier. The big question is whether the voting public is in the mood to make significant changes in Washington.

The answer to that could be 'yes.' Depending on which poll a person goes by, the number of people believing Congress is doing a good job is around 25 percent. By any standard, this is a terrible approval rating. If any of us received a rating like that at our jobs, I think we would all agree we would be out of our jobs soon.

Still, we must remember this is politics, and the standards of the real world often do not get applied to elections. After all, people often complain about politics and government, but incumbents enjoy an overwhelming advantage when running for re-election.

In other words, voter's actions often do not follow their words.

Several factors should impact the upcoming elections. The aftermath of the recently passed healthcare reform legislation should play a prominent role. Last summer, a loud portion of the population angrily confronted lawmakers about the reform process.

Will we see that anger again on the campaign trail this year? At this point, anything is possible, and it would not surprise me if lawmakers running for re-election relied more on advertising instead of getting out to talk with the public.

If this happened, it would be a real shame, but advances in technology have allowed candidates to run high-profile campaigns while avoiding contact with people. In other words, get ready to be bombarded with commercials on television, radio, and the Internet.

There will be no place for us to hide.

Other issues will likely impact the campaign. The war in Afghanistan remains very unpopular with some even though national support has picked up a bit since the president pledged to send about 30,000 more soldiers there.

Unpopular wars can impact the national political scene in dramatic ways, and it does not matter if Democrats or Republicans are in charge during these times. Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Lyndon Johnson both felt the sting of criticism for their way of handling wars.

If more opposition grows, any anger directed toward President Obama would likely trickle down to the Congressional races.

Likewise, the sluggish economy continues to weigh on the country. If the country continues to suffer, then the election next November could be greatly impacted.

The bottom line is all of us will play a significant role this year in shaping the path of our government. Many avoid this responsibility by saying one person cannot make a difference.

Not only is that wrong, but that thinking has likely played a big role in getting us in our current situation.

It is time for all of us to role up our sleeves and go to work. Make sure to do your part.

It is up to us.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Will there be more jobs in 2010?

Now that healthcare reform has passed, I guess our lawmakers will be looking to ease back into a more relaxed legislative pace.

After all, they worked well into the holidays to pass this legislation, and depending on which side a person takes on the issue, either a historic success took place or the country is heading toward a fiscal nightmare in a few years.

Given the size of our current national debt, I would say that the fiscal nightmare is already here, but that is a topic for another time. At this point, my big concern is the lingering high unemployment rate.

In Tennessee and nationwide, the rate is around 10 percent. Unfortunately, even if the rate does begin to dip, I fear it will not dip quickly. We'll get a better feel for that in the next couple of months as either our economy will begin to add jobs or it won't.

As high unemployment rates continue to stay steady, it has been interesting to observe how its presence has merged into our pop culture. The best example of this is the recent George Clooney film Up in the Air.

It is an excellent film in which Clooney plays a man who fires people for a living. Referred to as a 'termination facilitator,' he works for a firm that contracts with companies to handle the dirty work of telling people they are being let go.

The film does a vivid job of recreating the firing experience people go through, and Clooney's character handles his job with charm and charisma. Of course, these are not necessarily personality traits one thinks of when it comes to people handling firings.

Though the idea of a 'termination facilitator' may seem extreme, there are lots of examples of how people are let go in impersonal ways. Firing people via teleconference or conference calls are pretty common place these days.

These impersonal approaches are part of what is fueling anger and resentment toward the corporate world. People who have loyally worked for companies for decades have seen it go out the window in the matter of a brief meeting. Up in the Air is able to present this in a way that is both creative and troubling.

Of course, this is just a movie, and movies are entertainment. Still, if this is what is being served up for entertainment, I think it says a lot about the mood of the country. However, like I said, it is an excellent film.

As we move forward in the coming months, it will be interesting to note if we see other prominent examples of this type of entertainment. After all, the work place is a ripe place when delivering social commentary and can be easily lampooned (as anyone who has ever watched The Office can attest).

Still, I hope this entertainment is not trivializing the pain that a lot of people continue to go through. For all the news that the economy may be improving, the unemployed are the ones who experience this improvement last.

As an election issue, this could become a big problem for the Democrats heading into the 2010 mid-term races. It remains to be seen how healthcare reform will impact those running for re-election. If this reform does not go over well with voters, then coupling this with a high unemployment rate could provide Republicans with a powerful one-two punch.

This year should be a tasty political year.