Monday, May 31, 2010

If possible, would Keith Olbermann have Barack Obama's baby?

A question to ponder:

If it were physically possible, would MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann allow himself to be impregnated by Barack Obama so he could deliver the president's child?

I know this is one of those hypothetical questions for which we will never know the answer, but I think he would.

In fact, I think Olbermann would be downright giddy at the opportunity to do so.

It would give a whole new meaning to the term 'public service.'

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day's importance

For most Americans, this is a three-day weekend because of the Memorial Day holiday that falls on Monday.

Of course, the importance of holidays varies from person to person. For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer. Cook outs and spending time with friends will be the agenda for most folks on Monday.

Additionally, many people will hit the road to enjoy a little relaxation out of town. The recession is still limiting the options most people have when it comes to traveling, but a small trip is better than no trip.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Life blazes at a remarkable pace, and it should be considered a blessing whenever we can all pause and have a moment of peace.

However, we all must take a moment on Monday to remember why this holiday is observed. More and more, it seems like we view our holidays as a reason to party without any focus on why the holiday was created.

When it comes to Memorial Day, the holiday was established to remember the men and women who gave their lives serving our country in the military. The number of people who have done this is enormous.

More than one million have died while serving during wartime, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 400,000 died during World War II alone.

If those numbers do not snap you back into reality, I can not think of anything else that will.

Obviously, our country's history would have been quite different without the willingness of these people to sacrifice themselves like they did. Without their commitment, tyrants around the world would have faced a lot less opposition.

If Adolf Hitler had led Germany to victory in World War II, the world would have become a much more miserable place. We all would have learned how to goosestep at a very young age.

For me, it is difficult to put all this into perspective because I never served in the military. I have loved ones who have, but of course, that is not the same thing.

I recently watched the film Saving Private Ryan, which graphically re-enacted the storming of Normandy Beach during D-Day.

Before you say it, let me write what I know you are thinking. That was just a movie, and we have to be very careful regarding how we interpret Hollywood's attempts to portray historical events.

I understand that.

However, if the film only presented a small percentage of what it was like, then it should provide us insight into how our soldiers have sacrificed throughout our country's history. The horror of D-Day played a major role in allowing us to live the lives we are enjoying now.

If nothing else, this should make us think about how we use the freedom these people fought and died for.

Freedom is easy to take for granted. I know I do it all the time.

It is easy to get complacent and believe that our freedom can never be taken from us. After all, we are the mighty and unstoppable United States of America.

There are lots of threats to the freedom we enjoy, but complacency could be the one thing that eventually brings our country down.

It is part of our nature to take things for granted, and if we do that with freedom, we will one day wake up and wonder where it has gone.

So, on Monday, spend time considering the sacrifices many have made for our country.

Despite our nation's struggles, it could be a whole lot worse. And that time could come right soon.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm starting to like the Atlanta Braves chances

Since I have been a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, it is difficult for me to be objective when writing about their chances this season. Still, the more I watch the team, the more I like their chances to make the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Phillies remain the team to beat in the National League Eastern Division. However, the Braves are emerging as a team deep with talent that can beat an opponent with its hitting or pitching.

The big story this year is the emergence of rookie Jason Heyward. He has given the Braves some much needed power from the right field position. He is hitting .290 with nine home runs at this point. It remains to be seen whether he can keep this pace up. As the Braves make their way through the league a second time, it will interesting to see if teams have found holes in his swing. If they have, then Heyward will have to make adjustments, and for young players, that can often be difficult.

The Braves also have dependable bats with Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado. If everyone can remain healthy (which has been a problem for Jones as he has gotten older), the team should consistently produce runs.

Starting pitching remains a strength. Tim Hudson continues his strong return from arm problems that cost him most of last season. Currently he has five wins with an ERA just over two runs. Tommy Hanson continues to mature, and his long-term prospects remain excellent. Derek Lowe has six wins, but he has struggled with an ERA around five runs per game for most of the year. Given his track record, he should rebound and produce 13-15 wins this year.

As for the bullpen, Billy Wagner has been good as the closer. As his career has advanced, he has had arm troubles. He says this will be his last season. If he remains healthy, he could be the best closer the Braves have had in 20 years. If not, then the bullpen could become the team's weakness.

Obviously, it is early in the season. The Braves are 24-22 (as of this posting), but when a person considers that they had a nine-game losing streak early on, the overall record becomes a little more impressive.

I am looking forward to the summer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Obama snub of Nashville flood victims is shameful

The month of May began with a nearly unprecedented flood in Nashville that resulted in approximately 20 deaths and $2 billion in damage. In my book, that is a catastrophe. Take it from somebody who lives an hour from the city and works there. Some people have suffered deeply.

In the aftermath of this, I have been wondering more and more where President Barack Obama has been in all this. True, federal financial relief has been approved for those impacted, and some administration officials have visited the city.

Still, I am amazed that the president apparently feels that this disaster does not deserve a brief visit to the city. In late April, he attended a memorial service for 29 West Virginia miners who were killed while working. I am glad he did that because it was appropriate. Still, the Nashville disaster has resulted in almost as many deaths and considerably more damage.

My cynical side tells me this is all about politics. Tennessee is a solidly 'red' state that voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. West Virginia is a Democratic stronghold.

So, has the president avoided coming to Nashville because he views it as politically unfriendly? Does he believe Tennessee is a lost cause heading into his 2012 re-election campaign making it a small priority to him?

I hope the answer to both questions is 'no.' However, I fear the answer is 'yes.'

Truth and cynicism are often the same.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Our long national nightmare is over

For those of you who regularly visit this blog, I am sure you have noticed that I have not updated it in a while. I have hated to neglect it, but it has been a busy couple of weeks. I spent about a week in New Jersey as part of my job, and I have spent the last few days tending to chores I had to postpone while traveling.

I should now be able to resume my regular blogging with my most recent posting just below this message.

Thanks for your patience and for visiting this site.

More on this issue...

A week or so ago, I wrote about the quality of television programming that we receive as part of the agreement we have with our service providers.

I spotlighted the E! entertainment network and the MSNBC news network as two channels to avoid if at all possible. As I thought about that, I realized that my previous column was incomplete.

I had a lot more ideas that I had to leave on the editing room floor so here are some other networks that should be avoided.

The Oxygen network is the network that was co-founded by media mogul Oprah Winfrey. There may be no more loyal audience than the one that follows Winfrey. If she says a book is good, then sales of that book explode. For her magazine, she puts herself on the cover each month instead of other media personalities or politicians. She is right to do that because she knows it is her face that sells her magazine, and nobody else but her can cause sales of it to improve.

The network was sold to NBC in 2007 for a tidy $925 million in an impressive example of how capitalism works. However, Winfrey's impact on the network still remains.

Keeping this in mind, I realize I may be putting my safety in jeopardy by criticizing the Oxygen network. Will her loyal supporters cause me to wake up someday with a horse's head in my bed? Time will tell on that, but there is no disputing that Oxygen's programming is lightweight. A show that must have a lot of popularity is Snapped because it seems to be on every time I turn to that channel. It is a true crime show that features women who murdered the men in their lives. And, like many other networks, Oxygen is on the reality-television bandwagon with shows focused on women behaving badly.

The network is an example of how flash and noise often add up to nothing. If I had the choice of watching either Oxygen or Telemundo, I would choose Telemundo, and I don't even speak Spanish.

Another network that has to be on this hit list is TruTV. The network tries to separate itself from the reality television genre by saying it is about 'actuality' not reality.

During the daytime, the network focuses on issues in courtrooms. However, after the sun goes down, it is all about shows that focus on home-made videos and the ways in which people embarrass themselves.

On these shows, celebrities like Tonya Harding, Danny Bonaduce, and Todd Bridges provide witty comments as clip after video clip shows people acting drunk, getting hit in the groin by someone, and/or acting stupid while somebody gets it on camera.

Now, I am sure Harding, Bonaduce, and Bridges are all very nice people in real life. But when I watch this, I have to wonder why they were chosen to do the ridiculing.

Harding is a former ice skater who allegedly played a role in the attempted knee-capping of rival Nancy Kerrigan prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Bonaduce was a child star on the show The Partridge Family who has lived an unpredictable and varied adult life. Bridges was also a child star on Diff'rent Strokes and later had problems with the law.

I know we are a nation obsessed with being on television. However, I would think twice before sending embarrassing video of yourself to their show. If you find yourself being ridiculed by them, it is my opinion that your life is not exactly working out. Please try something different.

The bottom line is we are all blessed with only so many years to live. Don't waste time watching these networks.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Never watch these...

I was recently talking with a friend at my job who told me that his television was not working. He has not had it fixed, and frankly, he sounded like he did not miss it that much.

Sure, he missed some aspects of it, but overall, I got the impression that he had been blessed in many ways by not having it as a distraction. He said he might fix it or buy a new one later in the year when the football season starts, but as for now, the silence was nice.

This got me thinking about my television viewing habits. I have an expanded basic cable package that has only around 70 channels. I say 'only' in an ironic way. When I was growing up in the early 1970s, my family had cable. It consisted of three channels from Chattanooga, three from Huntsville, Ala., and four from Nashville.

As technology has exploded, we have a lot more opportunity for information through television, but that is not always good. After talking with my friend, I pondered how much bang for the buck I was getting from my television options.

Out of the 70 channels I have, I probably only watch 15 or so with regularity. As for the rest, I have viewed them but tossed them out of my viewing routine.

In analyzing all these channels, there are certain ones to be avoided in almost all situations.

The E! network devotes itself to the Hollywood community, and its content is the Mount Everest of inconsequential programming. Hosts of their programs swoon when reporting the most banal news about celebrities.

People around the world have access to American television through various forms of technology. I have to wonder what they think of America when they watch E!. After all, most of us form our opinions about another countries based on what we see through the media.

The idea that people in Africa or Asia watch this network and believe this is a good representation of America makes me want to run away and hide. E! contributes nothing of value to our society. And that is quite a statement when considering how much junk is on television these days.

As for news programming, it looks bleak as well. I almost selected Fox News as the network to avoid in this category. After all, it is pretty obvious that they slant their analysis of the news from a conservative political ideology. However, a person cannot argue with the success it has had from a ratings perspective.

Despite that network's flaws, the news network to avoid has to be MSNBC. This is because the network is guilty of one of the most unpardonable traits when it comes to the news. That trait is hypocrisy.

Like Fox, MSNBC wears its politics on its sleeve. They use the same tactics as Fox to reach viewers, but from a liberal political viewpoint. This is not where the hypocrisy shows itself. The hypocrisy is that MSNBC repeatedly criticizes Fox for that network's approach to reporting news though they use the same tactics.

The whole thing makes me want to choke. Fox may be biased, but MSNBC insults our intelligence by thinking we will not see through their tactics. And, by the way, Keith Olbermann is not the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.

Olbermann is much better at sports, which he showed while at ESPN.

There are several other networks I could include here, but time prevents it. There is a lot on television that should make us scratch our heads.

Just use common sense when deciding which shows to watch.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is Jim Thorpe the greatest athlete of all time?

I've been studying the sports career of Jim Thorpe lately, and a compelling argument could be made that he is the greatest athlete of all time.

Here is a partial list of his accomplishments:

1. He won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics.
2. He played both college and professional football with such skill that he was inducted into the halls of fame at both levels.
3. He played baseball well enough to play in Major League Baseball for several years with a handful of teams.
4. In 1950, the Associated Press voted him the greatest athlete of the first half of the century.
5. In 1999, he ranked third on a list of greatest athletes of the century. Given how short America's attention span is, this is remarkable because his career(s) ended by the mid 1920s.

I may write more about this later because his is a remarkable story.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' is an overrated album

Let me begin by writing that I believe The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an excellent album. If I have a long drive facing me, I have no problem sticking it in the CD player as I hit the road. However, sometimes the legend of an album can overwhelm its actual quality.

This album is more important for its cultural impact than its alleged greatness. Released in the summer of 1967, it was the next step in the maturation of the band. The Beatles were striving to be artists that expanded what rock and roll could be. They were tired of being the objects of screams at concerts.

They had already abandoned tours because their 1966 concert tour was the last they ever did. Artistically, they were growing as the remarkable Revolver album showed that same year. If 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is not their greatest song, then it is definitely in the top five. It was the triumphant finale to Revolver.

After that, they entered the studio to begin recording what would become Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, they spent such a long time in the studio that there became a need to release a single to maintain their visibility. They released what could easily be considered the greatest two-sided single of all time. 'Penny Lane' backed with 'Strawberry Fields Forever' presented John Lennon and Paul McCartney at their absolute best. 'Penny Lane' was Paul's and it was shimmering. It's a wonderful example of what a pop single should be. John's 'Strawberry Fields Forever' seems like a logical extension of his 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' Dreamlike in its presentation, it succeeds more as an image than a typical pop song.

However, by choosing these two songs for the single, it cost them the opportunity to make their greatest album. Sgt. Pepper's... has some truly great songs: 'With a Little Help from My Friends,' 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' 'A Day in the Life' and the title song are all top flight. The problem is that some of the deep album cuts are not quite up to snuff.

'She's Leaving Home' sounds like a remake of 'Eleanor Rigby' from the year before but less successful. 'For the Benefit of Mr. Kite' has lyrics literally taken from a carnival poster. 'Within You Without You' was one of George Harrison's less successful attempts to incorporate Indian music into The Beatles' sound. 'When I'm Sixty-four' is cute but inconsequential.

Drop two of those songs and replace them with 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and Sgt. Pepper's... becomes a monster. There would be no doubting that it deserved the mythic status it has received. The bottom line is that this album is revered because the album is the result of great timing. The so-called 'Summer of Love' was unfolding in 1967, and the people wanted something to rally around. Since The Beatles were not touring anymore, this album became the object of their desire.

In reviewing The Beatles body of work, I consider this their fourth best album. It ranks behind The Beatles (The White Album), Revolver, and Abbey Road. It's true. Each of these three albums is more diverse than Sgt. Pepper's..., and Harrison's blooming songwriting talents almost put him on equal status with Lennon and McCartney.

Like I wrote at the beginning, Sgt. Pepper's... is an excellent album. However, does it deserve to be ranked ahead of the other three albums I just listed? An objective mind would reply: 'No.'

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baseball's warm embrace

Well, May arrived today, and as this month begins, we can sense that our thoughts are leaning more toward summer.

After all, we are only weeks away from Memorial Day, which many say is the unofficial start to summer. I don't like that proclamation because it takes away from the importance of the holiday. It is another example of how the commercialization of our culture strips away the meaning of a holiday, making it just another day to go out and spend money.

I could go on regarding that topic, but that is another column for another time.

Still, there are some unmistakable activities that we associate with this time of year. For me, one of those events is baseball. Whether it is on the Little League or professional level, baseball and the month of May were made for each other.

By this time of the year, almost our entire country has put the cold temperatures of the past few months behind us. Baseball helps us as we emerge from the unofficial hibernation that forces most of us indoors during winter.

Even the pace of the sport matches what our needs are as we spend more time outdoors. Some folks complain that baseball games are too long. There is some validity to that complaint, but as the days grow longer, the game gives us the excuse to go to a game and enjoy life.

Baseball has been called America’s national pastime, but many folks now say that title should go to professional football. Perhaps this shift in attitude reflects how our nation is changing.

We live in a time in which meals can be prepared in five minutes in a microwave. The media used to be a refuge for folks wanting deep explorations of today's important issues. However, with the advent of 'USA Today,' the emphasis is now on short bursts of information rather than detailed analysis.

In other words, people lack the focus or attention span to dedicate themselves to events that require patience. When comparing baseball and football, we can see how this conflict plays itself out.

Football relies on short bursts of action. Every 40 to 60 seconds a play happens and rarely gives the viewer the chance to talk much to the people around them. The football season often appears to be over almost as quickly as it began. Since teams only play one game a week, all the focus for fans is on three intense hours per week.

Baseball, on the other hand, unfolds at a more leisurely pace. As each pitch is thrown, people can carry on a conversation with the friend or loved one that is there with them. On the major league level, most teams play five or six games a week. So, instead of a single focus, our attention is spread out through the weeks as we follow our favorite teams. While the football season zooms by, the baseball season gently passes throughout the year. It begins in the rebirth of spring and ends as the leaves fall from the trees in autumn.

An analogy that has been made to the two sports is that football is like a one-night stand. There is a lot of energy and emotion for a brief time and then it is over. Conversely, baseball is like a lovely April to October romance that unfolds each day. Because of this pace, it allows people to savor the romance from day to day. There is not much savoring with football.

Though people have tried to destroy baseball over the years (steroids, greedy owners, etc.), its survival serves as a testimony to its greatness.