Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hope and the Pittsburgh Pirates

In many ways, good news has been in short supply in recent weeks. There has been political chaos, child murder cases, stifling heat, and media scandals.

Other than for cynics and pessimists, we have been going through a depressing stretch. Then again, cynics and pessimists are probably depressed in some way all the time, but that is a different story for a different time.

Even outlets we use to escape the problems of every day life have had strife. Sports are an outlet many people use, but the labor problems in the National Football League were an irritant for most of the year.

However, if we keep looking there is good news to be found. An excellent example of this is the Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball.

The Pirates are one of the most storied franchises in that sport, but since 1993, the team has been a laughingstock. Perennial losers, the Battling Bucs have been cannon fodder for most of the National League.

But this year, the team has improved. So far this summer, the young team has held its own in the Central Division and remains in competition for first place. Will this continue? It is too soon to tell, but my advice to Pirates' fans is to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Though I have been an Atlanta Braves fan for most of my life, I must admit a soft spot for the Pirates. As I became aware of baseball as a boy in the early 1970s, Pittsburgh was a team I gravitated toward.

This was likely because of the death of their remarkable right fielder Roberto Clemente. Clemente was killed on New Year's Eve 1972 while rushing supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

To this day, I do not totally understand why his death impacted me. In fourth grade, I remember doing a book report on a Clemente biography. It was a thick book authored by Kal Wagenheim, and it was a formidable undertaking compared to some of my other classmates.

Because of this, I have been following the events in Pittsburgh this year with interest. With only a $45 million payroll, the team has already won series against big market teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox.

While $45 million seems like a lot of money (and it is), it is chump change compared to the budgets of those teams, which have payrolls in the hundreds of millions. We are witnessing a classic example of the little guy sticking it to the big guy. And who does not love that?

I am most excited for the Pirates' fans. It is a wonderful experience when a person loves a bad team for a long time and then that team turns it around.

I experienced this with the Braves. For most of the '70s and '80s, the Braves were bad. When I say 'bad,' I mean the team was awful in some seasons. Especially in the late '80s, the team seemed to flirt with 100 losses each year.

That all turned around in 1991 when the Braves won their division and played for the National League championship. Who did they play? Ironically, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates of the early '90s were excellent and provided the last whiff of baseball success for that franchise until now.

The Braves beat the Pirates for the National League championship in both 1991 and '92. The Braves are in contention for the playoffs this year, too. It would be additional irony if they met in the playoffs, and the Pirates got to even the score for what happened two decades ago.

I would not like that, but it would be a great story.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011 Coffee County football schedule

For those interested:

Aug. 19 -- at Shelbyville

Aug. 26 -- vs. Marshall County

Sept. 2 -- Bye week

Sept. 9 -- vs. Tullahoma

Sept. 16 -- at White County

Sept. 23 -- at Independence

Sept. 30 -- vs. Warren County

Oct. 7 -- vs. Lincoln County

Oct. 14 -- vs. Cumberland County

Oct. 21 -- at Franklin County

Oct. 28 -- at Cookeville

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rupert Murdoch's outer limits

At times in the past, I have wondered what it must be like to be Rupert Murdoch. If money and power are what makes this world turn then a case can be made that he is the most influential man on the planet.

Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of News Corp. The company has vast holdings when it comes to the media, and whenever there is a ripple in his world, we should all take notice.

This has been happening lately to News Corp.’s tabloids in Great Britain. In recent months, a scandal erupted in which it appears members of the now-defunct 'News of the World' tabloid hacked into the voice mails of people to swipe information.

These tactics were not just limited to public figures. The most horrendous example included the alleged hacking of the voice mail of a parent whose child had been murdered. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to lose a child in such a manner, and the tactics used by the tabloid to get a scoop outraged that nation.

Since then, News Corp. officials have been on the defensive, primarily by groveling to the British government and the public. Several apologies have been made, but it appears this situation will be investigated for the foreseeable future.

So, how does this impact us here in America? Maybe not so much right now, but it does open the door to some interesting speculation.

After all, News Corp also owns some major players on the American media scene. The Fox News Channel, 'The Wall Street Journal,' and the 'New York Post' all fall under the umbrella of this massive company.

Therefore, a reasonable person might wonder if the tactics used in Great Britain have also been used here. At this point, there is no evidence this has happened, but when one crack emerges in a large organization, several more usually follow.

The bottom line is the tactics used by News Corp. in Great Britain is an example of the brutal competition that sometimes takes place in the media.

We live in a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week media world, and the competition to get the next big story can be jawdropping. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that major media outlets do not bend the rules sometimes when getting some stories.

Of course, there is a big difference between pushing the envelope and using the tactics the 'News of the World' used. In fact, pushing the envelope can be healthy when it comes to serving the public.

Media competition can be especially helpful to communities like Coffee County. Multiple media outlets in our county guarantee competition for important stories.

If the county only had one media source, then it would be tempting for that outlet to become lazy and fat. What would be their motivation to go out and pursue stories that serve the public interest? My guess is they would give in to the temptation to sit back and rake in the advertising dollars while not doing much else.

As for Murdoch, I do not spend much time wondering about him these days. In a sense, his organization is sitting in a pot of boiling oil and many want to turn the heat up even higher.

His tabloids in Great Britain took plenty of cheap shots over the years, and it appears many are relishing the opportunity to even the score. Even in the hyper-competitive media world, it is important to treat people with respect.

After all, lives and fortunes can change with a snap of the fingers. I sure would hate to face a pack of angry wolves if I was plummeting back down to earth.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

That's a handsome meat loaf sandwich

A person I work with recently enjoyed this meat loaf sandwich for lunch. If a person does not understand the wonder of a meat loaf sandwich, then I hope this photo helps communicate that to him. Seriously, kneel before the power of the sandwich.

(Photo courtesy of Omar Durkee)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Casey Anthony's media circus

Our around-the-clock media circus is at its most intense when it sinks its teeth into a juicy crime and the inevitable court trial that follows it.

Ever since the O.J. Simpson case back in the 1990s, media outlets have always been on the lookout for the next big thing. The type of story that will allow cable news channels to fill huge blocks of its programming with constant discussion of a story.

Of course, the most recent example of this was the case involving Casey Anthony in Florida. She was charged with murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee and for three years, outlets like HLN waited like panting dogs for her trial to begin.

Much like Simpson, Anthony was convicted by the media almost from the beginning. Led by carnival barkers like HLN's Nancy Grace, it appeared inconceivable to the media that she would be acquitted. Each night, this point of view was fed to a national audience.

However, as we all know, that is what happened. Except for four counts of lying to law enforcement officials, Anthony was acquitted of all charges and was released from jail today.

Please understand that this column is not meant to be some sort of defense of Anthony. She is a convicted liar, and her behavior in the aftermath of her child's death was astonishing. I do not know what makes this woman tick, but she appears very troubled.

The point of this column is about the media's tendency to overreach when covering these trials and the public's willingness to go along for the ride. This is clearly a partnership. Many people want to heap all the blame on the media, but the media would not supply this if there was not a willing audience for it.

My frustration is that the public simply does not expect more out of the media. People appear content to simply watch and latch on to whatever story is served up for them.

At a time when our nation has numerous economic problems and is at war, we appear more concerned about a murder trial that deals with sex, mystery and betrayal.

Where are our priorities? While I agree that the murder of a two-year-old girl is important, the sad truth is that crimes like this happen on a semi-regular basis. So, why did this trial grab our attention?

It appealed because it had an attractive defendant who liked to party at the most inappropriate times. It appealed because that defendant would say just about anything to explain what happened no matter how preposterous or unsupported it was.

In the aftermath of all this, I think we all know what will happen to Anthony. Though she will likely become a social pariah, she also will get rich. Media outlets will pay to get her story, and it would not surprise me if she helped write a book about her life that will be on the shelves by Christmas.

Her story is not going away anytime soon. We live in a 'reality TV show' world and her life has been one for the last three years. Why should we expect that to change?

As for the public, my hope is that we take some time and reflect on these 'made for TV' court trials that are served to us. Lots of important stories go unreported while we focus on events like this.

Our priorities likely are a primary reason our country is so messed up. We lack the patience or commitment to deal with the real problems we face. So, we bury our faces in stories like the Anthony trial.

We get what we deserve.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Scorsese biography of George Harrison to air on HBO in October

For fans of the Beatles, there was good news recently when it was announced that a documentary produced by Martin Scorsese about ex-Beatle George Harrison will air on HBO in October.

Scorsese is one of the best filmmakers of his generation and has a successful track record when it comes to documentaries involving rock and roll figures. He directed The Last Waltz that recorded the farewell performance of the Band (though they resurfaced in various forms after that). He was also involved in a well-received documentary about Bob Dylan in 2005 titled No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

As for Harrison, the 'quiet Beatle' may finally get the attention he deserved during his life. The other three Beatles had more extroverted personalities and that guaranteed he would be lost in the shuffle somewhat.

However, one of the most interesting aspects of the Beatles' story was how Harrison began to flower as their career progressed. Early on, he seemed almost content to stand in the background. Slowly, he began to help shape their sound by introducing instruments like the sitar.

By the time the band was nearing its break up, he was writing songs that were as good as John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's. On the Abbey Road album, how many of their songs measure up to Harrison's 'Here Comes the Sun' or 'Something'? Not many. Certainly, Lennon's 'Come Together,' but Harrison's songs hold up better than just about any other song on the album.

Hopefully, this documentary will give Harrison the treatment he deserves.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Red hot days await

The forecasted high temperature for Middle Tennessee tomorrow is 97 degrees with the heat index expected to be more than 105 degrees. The high temperature in Barrow, AK, is expected to be 41 degrees. As much as I love Tennessee, I know where I would rather be on Tuesday.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's time to pay attention to the 2012 presidential campaign

It is July, and the temperatures are sky high as we trudge through another summer. However, our thoughts need to be turning to the winter when the 2012 presidential campaign kicks into high gear.

Whether we like it or not, the major caucuses and primaries for the campaign begin about seven months from now. That is less time than the length of an average pregnancy.

Because of this, we need to begin pondering the race. On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama will likely face little meaningful opposition as he moves toward getting his party’s nomination.

The president is truly gifted when it comes to fundraising, and some experts predict he will raise as much as $1 billion dollars to spend against his Republican challenger. This alone refutes the long-time stereotype that the GOP is the only party of big money. The pockets on the Democratic side plunge plenty deep as well.

The race for the Republican nomination continues to take shape. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been anointed the early frontrunner, but I do not see how anybody can be a frontrunner at this point.

True, Romney ran for the nomination in 2008 and probably has the edge when it comes to name recognition. However, the Republican candidates have not been in front of a large audience in a meaningful way yet.

Also, there are some people who are considering running who have not made up their mind yet. So, let us ease up on all this frontrunner talk.

Another person getting some early recognition from Republicans is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. She is a darling of the Tea Party set so it will be critical for her to appeal to moderate Republicans as well.

If her campaign continues to progress, it will be interesting to see if the mainstream media treats her with the blatant sexism it has with other women candidates in recent years.

The most obvious and dreadful example of this was how the media treated Hillary Clinton when she ran against Obama in 2008. While they tossed softball question after softball question to Obama, Clinton was peppered with serious policy questions like she was a hockey goalie.

I have no problem with our presidential candidates being placed under intense scrutiny, but Clinton got the heat applied to her way more intensely than Obama did.

Another example of sexism from that campaign was the treatment of Sarah Palin. Because of her looks and style, many tried to dismiss her as a lightweight. While she has many shortcomings when it comes to politics, the intensity of the early attempts to marginalize her was breathtaking.

For those reading this who believe it is too early to start focusing on 2012, my advice is to wake up. Our country faces monumental problems right now.

Unemployment remains above nine percent in many states. Energy costs are still unacceptably high. Prices have been slowly rising at the grocery store. When prices for fundamentals like food and gasoline are high, politicians need to be put on the hot seat.

The basic questions we need to ask ourselves are: On a personal level, are you better off than you were four years ago? On a national level, is our nation better off than it was four years ago?

The way those questions are answered should guide how a person votes. Then again, I am assuming most people reading this will actually vote. Voter apathy remains a demon, and the sad truth is most reading this will not vote.

Just what we need – four more years of whining from a constituency who can not be bothered to get involved.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tennessee Volunteers open 2011 season in exactly two months against Montana

Right now, it is blazing hot in July, but relief is just around the corner. The Tennessee Volunteers open their 2011 football season on Sept. 3 against the Montana Grizzlies in Knoxville. The Grizzlies are from the Big Sky Conference and play in the FCS subdivision. If Tennessee is going to play an FCS team, I wonder why they chose to play a team of Montana's caliber.

Last year, the Grizzlies went 7-4. It was not a good enough record to make the playoffs, but the program has a tremendous tradition. Before last year, the team had made the playoffs 17 seasons in a row and won the national championship in 1995 and 2001. If we are playing a team from the FCS, shouldn't we be playing a weaker team than this?

Last year, we opened against a weak Tennessee-Martin team and won 50-0. I don't see this happening against Montana. We should win, but this game will be tougher than most expect.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A computerless world

There can be no disagreement that the personal computer has revolutionized how our world functions. While the term 'personal computer' can be broadly defined, I am referring to the computers that most of us have in our homes.

In the last few decades, the capabilities of this technology have made our lives more efficient. By providing access to the Internet, we can do just about anything from the comfort of our homes.

Of course, computers at home provide a lot more services than Internet access. The point is this creation has changed home life much like television did a couple of generations ago.

With this in mind, an interesting dilemma would be if we suddenly found ourselves with no access to a computer at home. How would this impact us? Would this necessarily be bad?

A couple of weeks ago I found myself without a computer at home for a few days because of some technical problems. How did I survive this? Pretty well, actually.

The convenience of technology has become a crutch in many ways. Like the microwave oven has simplified cooking meals, the personal computer has made relatively easy chores like typing this posting a whole lot easier.

Not having a computer did inconvenience me in some ways, but in other ways, it was liberating. I began realizing how much time I had been spending on my computer instead of working on other pursuits. My weekday evenings changed dramatically without having access to it.

On a normal evening, I would come home from work, and after a quick dinner, I would drift to my computer where I would spend most of the evening tinkering with hobbies and other interests.

I would play games, work on my fantasy baseball teams, read the headlines of the day, spend too much time on Facebook, and then wander off to bed. In other words, my evenings usually were not very exciting.

Without my computer, I realized I had a lot of extra free time. A couple of the evenings I would start getting restless around 7:30 because I knew I should be doing something, but I did not know what to do.

This is when I discovered there was plenty to do. For example, with daylight lasting until 8 p.m. this time of year, I got reminded of how great it is to take a walk at sunset during the summer.

Also, I actually began to read books again. I am not talking about the electronic creations by, but an honest to goodness book where a person can cradle the spine of the book in his hands while reading.

Who would have thought that would be a missing pleasure? There is nothing quite like taking an old book off the shelf and reading about subjects I had not thought about for a long time. It was like re-discovering a long lost friend.

Now, I have my computer back. Since its return, I have drifted back to some of my old behaviors. After all, my fantasy baseball teams are not going to manage themselves.

However, I do feel that I have developed a little more balance in my home life. Instead of staring at a computer screen for a few hours each night, I now devote my time to other tasks and pleasures.

Computers are great, but they can also be distracting. The same can be said about television and other technologies that enchant us. We all like to be enchanted by the interests in our lives.

The problem comes when we get too enchanted. The days pass fast enough as it is. Time does not need any extra help.