Sunday, October 23, 2011

Polls, polls, polls

We are slightly more than one year away from the next presidential election, and people seeking that office will be using every tool available to measure how they are doing.

Polls are a common tool used by candidates and other outside organizations to measure their success. Since President Barak Obama is not facing opposition for the Democratic nomination, much of the polling focus is on the Republican candidates right now.

In the last few months, we have seen wild swings when measuring the field of candidates. Since the beginning, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been a GOP frontrunner while others have surged and fallen.

During the summer, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann found some success then faded when Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race. Perry has floundered recently in the polls, and Herman Cain has taken his place as the primary challenger to Romney.

Will Cain have this same success next month? Who knows? The presidential race is a marathon. This means it is too early to discount anybody who is running.

However, we have to be very careful regarding how much influence we allow polls to have over us. As a society, we like receiving updates in short and definite terms. Therefore, polls are attractive to us because they give us an update that shows who is winning and who is not.

Despite this, polls can be misleading. The methodology an organization uses while compiling data is critical, but we hear little discussion about how a poll is tabulated. All we hear are the final results.

Because of this, it is necessary that we take a close look at who takes a poll. News organizations often sponsor these polls, and as we know, some news organizations have bias when it comes to politics.

Therefore, if we read a poll sponsored by MSNBC that is hurtful to a Republican candidate, we need to remember MSNBC's politics lean to the left. Does this necessarily mean the poll cannot be trusted? No, but it is one of the many factors we must consider when digesting information.

The same applies to an outfit like Fox News. Fox leans to the right, and that must be acknowledged when analyzing data about the president or other Democratic leaders.

Many of the polls we are currently seeing are national polls that measure a candidate's popularity. While these polls may have some merit in providing us the pulse of the race, they fall way short when providing information about a candidate's electability.

These general polls are not useful because this is not how we elect the president. We elect a chief executive through the Electoral College. If we genuinely want to use polls to determine who is a frontrunner in the race, we have to use a more specific approach.

The easiest way would be to take polls in all states. Pollsters could give respondents in each state a choice between the president and a specific Republican challenger to measure the strength of both sides. Based on those results, assign the number of electoral votes each state has to the candidate who led in the poll.

Adding up those results will give us a much better idea who is a player in the race.

Most of the polls we see now are not doing this. People who perform these polls appear content to only provide a snapshot of what the field is like today.

This is not necessarily bad. Snapshots have their place, but we have to remember that they do not tell the complete story.

The unfortunate fact is that many are using these snapshots to determine who the most qualified candidate in the race is. And that is a little scary.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Titans beginning critical three-game homestand following bye week

At the beginning of the season, I believe most Tennessee Titans fans would have been content with a 3-2 start. With so many questions unanswered back in August, most people were hoping the team would just be competitive.

However, in hindsight, it is difficult not to look back at the first five games and not be a little disappointed. This is because the Titans really should have a 4-1 record. The lethargic 16-14 loss to Jacksonville in the opening game is frustrating. Since that game, the Jaguars have not won another game and stand at 1-5.

However, the Titans are in first place in the AFC South with a half-game lead over Houston. The Texans come to Nashville this week, and a win would give the team some cushion in the standings. Actually, the next three games could make or break the Titans season.

After the Houston game, there are two more home games, coming against Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The Colts are winless and are finding life without Peyton Manning to be a struggle. Cincinnati is 4-2, and the rookie tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Greene has been one of the surprises of the early season.

If Tennessee wins these three games, they would be 6-2 at the midway point of the season. If they lose one, the team would still be on pace to win 10 wins and have a good shot at the playoffs.

The big question is whether or not the team can continue their improved play. It is possible, but the Titans must get better production out of running back Chris Johnson. He only has one 100-yard game this season and is averaging around 50 yards a game. He will eventually break out, but it needs to happen soon.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (1,414 yards passing, nine touchdowns) has been excellent, and his passing has carried the offense through five games. However, circumstances show that this will not continue. After all, he is a 36-year-old quarterback with a history of back problems. At some point, the aches and pains of the season will catch up with him. All the more reason the running game must get revved up.

Additionally, the improvement of the defense must continue. Before the loss to Pittsburgh, the Titans had the number one defense in the league. The Titans lost to the Steelers 38-17. Were the problems in that game an indicator that the defense is coming back down to earth?

Lots of questions remain to be answered. Last year, the Titans began 5-3 before slumping to a final 6-10 record. This could still happen this year. But, right now, I am enjoying the winning.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Watch for walkers

As I have grown older, walking has become my favorite form of exercise. Most days in the late afternoon, I take a brisk walk near my home in Manchester.

Fortunately, I have plenty of room to take my jaunts. I live near the city park, and during my lifetime, the city has done a nice job developing the park for walkers. From humble origins, a nice greenway has been developed that is a blessing for the city.

The path I usually take meanders through the park back under the Murfreesboro highway. At that point, I take the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill and walk back toward the town square.

The hill there is steep, and in recent years, I have appreciated more what a formidable adversary gravity is. It didn't used to be that challenging, but the relentless march of age has made it more difficult.

A few years ago, the city put a walk signal at the intersection of Fort Street and the highway. I like that because I enjoy walking through the town square as I make my way home. All a person has to do is press a button, and the sign there tells him or her when it is time to cross the road.

In theory, this is a very safe way to cross the road, but I have recently had to cut out that portion of my walk. Unfortunately, many drivers do not know or care that there is a walk signal there for pedestrians. More than once I have had to dance around cars that have tried to turn me into road kill.

The most recent example was a couple of weeks ago. I was walking across the road when a driver turning from Fort Street on to the Murfreesboro highway almost knocked me off my feet. The driver was talking on a cell phone, did not slow down, and missed me by only a couple of feet.

It made me angry, and I wish I had done a better job of thinking on my feet. If I had, I possibly could have gotten the driver’s license plate information. Better yet, I could have "bumped" into the car and flopped onto the pavement.

After that, I could have made one quick call to Bart Durham, and I would have been on the road to Easy Street. There are many healthy-looking people in his commercials that have gotten a lot of money. Durham makes it look simple.

All kidding aside, the unfortunate aspect of my experiences is that I do not think there is anything that can be done to thwart these uncaring drivers. If drivers see people walking across the road and still do not slow down, then they obviously do not care.

I know I am stereotyping here somewhat. The majority of drivers are fine. However, it just takes a few reckless people to cause a horrifying accident.

My thoughts keep going back to that last driver who cut me off. She was talking on her cell phone and appeared oblivious to what was going on.

Her actions are a sign of times. Some people believe they are so important that they can't be away from their phones for a few minutes. Technology is nice, but I view driving my car as an opportunity to get some peace and quiet. Obviously, others do not think that way.

I still take a nice walk. I've just had to modify it somewhat.

That's too bad. Then again, I don't want to become someone's personal hood ornament.

The entire purpose of my walks is to get into better physical shape and not to become a stain on the road.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A movie without popcorn is still a movie

Recently, I attended a movie, and the price for a large "container" of popcorn was $8.10. Maybe I am a little out of touch here, but who wants to pay eight dollars for popcorn?

The movie I went to see was Moneyball, and it is excellent. Click here for a review of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I did not miss the popcorn one bit.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Quote of the day: Steve Spurrier strikes again

"Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that." -- spoken by South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier following his team's 54-3 trouncing of Kentucky on Saturday. Always the master of the back-handed complement, Spurrier found a way to needle his opponent's ineptitude, while masking it as praise.

There's a bad moon rising

If it is October, it means we are currently experiencing one of the most difficult and horrifying parts of the year. That's right: it is the start of the new television season for the major networks.

This can be a dark and foreboding time. Maybe I am an entertainment snob, but most of what is served to us by the television networks is garbage. Most of it is lightweight and lacking merit. These shows are the equivalent of eating dry toast. They are satisfying in no way and are forgotten as soon as we consume them.

The refreshing part of this is that many of the new shows will likely be cancelled by the time this posting ends. Networks tend to have a quick trigger finger when cancelling new shows and that can be good because many of these terminations are mercy killings.

Still, it never ceases to amaze me that we have so little good entertainment on television these days. The amount of television programming we have access to has exploded during the last 30 years.

When I was a boy, cable television consisted of viewing three stations out of Nashville, Chattanooga, and Huntsville. That was it. Back then, this access seemed like an extravagance, but it was nothing compared to what was to follow.

Beginning in the late 1970s, we got access to 24-hour-a-day movie, sports, and news channels. For a time, it felt like we were exploring an entertainment frontier, but soon, the novelty of it all faded.

Today, we can have access to hundreds of channels, depending on what type of channels we subscribe to. I only have access to about 60 channels on my cable package, but I must admit that I only watch a handful of those.

Some nights I aimlessly surf my channels, looking for entertainment. However, most nights I am disappointed.

The explosion of 'reality' programming has contributed to this lack of entertainment. While there are a few good reality programs, most seem uninspired. One evening, I spent some time watching one channel that dedicated most of its programming to shows in which cars were repossessed from people.

I'm not kidding. The plots of these shows consisted of employees from repossession companies going to get cars from people. Inevitably, people would see their cars being taken, and they would run out and confront the workers. Profanity and violence often followed, and then I realized that I just wasted 10 minutes of my life watching that.

How am I going to get those 10 minutes back? Of course, I can't. It was yet another entertainment decision gone up in smoke.

I'm not naïve enough to think that those shows actually reflected reality. The confrontations appeared staged, and the people involved played for the cameras. So, it's come to this? Fake reality programs?

Reality programs are not the only culprit. There are a lot of bombastic and over-the-top programs. Many of the news and sports programs presented to us are a lot more sensationalistic than they need to be.

Many mundane news stories are presented to us as if they are of vital, national importance. The slightest tilt in the stock market is covered as if it is the end of life as we know it. I know the market can be a good barometer of where our country is economically, but sometimes investors just need to grow a backbone and calm down.

The older I get the more I realize that I am happier when I turn the television off. It can be a bad presence in my house.

Maybe I am the only one who feels this way. However, I don't think so.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How much is too much information?

Public figures pay a tremendous price these days. Scrutiny comes from all angles, and the blinding glare of the spotlight has to be difficult at times.

The term 'public figure' can apply to a wide spectrum of people. It can apply to people in politics, entertainment, sports, and many other areas. Just about anybody with any notoriety can be considered a public figure, and there are plenty of people who want to either build them up or knock them down.

For public figures, the scrutiny they are under also applies to their private lives. An indiscretion made 20 years ago can become a front page story because finding dirty laundry on people is big business.

This type of spotlight likely prevents many good and qualified people from stepping forward and serving others. After all, who wants that type of scrutiny? We have all made big mistakes. Isn't providing for the public enough?

Recently, the impact of this scrutiny was made even more apparent with the release of the book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Payton played running back for the Chicago Bears for many years and is considered by most to be one of the greatest players in professional football history.

Payton earned the nickname 'Sweetness' for his unique personality in a rough and tumble sport. He died in 1999, and the book takes an in-depth look at his life. The book includes personal problems Payton had, including abuse of prescription drugs, martial infidelity, and other issues.

The release of the book sparked a renewed debate about how much is too much when studying the life of a public figure. Additionally, since Payton has been dead for 12 years, many stated that it was not fair to air his problems without him being able to defend himself.

The defenders of Payton have a point. He was just a football player. Didn't he give enough by having his body beaten to a pulp while entertaining us as a player? Is his personal life relevant to how we interpret his contribution to his profession?

On the other hand, isn't the personal life of a person whose reputation was partially built on his personal conduct important?

It is a tough issue. When is enough, enough?

In politics, this issue came to light in a biography recently released about Sarah Palin. Palin is a possible presidential candidate and was the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008. In the biography, there was information included about her sex life 20 years ago.

Again, where does the line need to be drawn? Palin is obviously a public figure, and the political arena is a totally different situation compared to Payton’s life as an athlete. Politicians deserve intense scrutiny especially if there is a possibility they may hold office.

Still, did the digging into Palin's life go too far? What can an alleged liaison that took place 20 years ago tell us about the qualifications of somebody for office now? If the behavior had been recent, then that might be more relevant. Though personal conduct is important, this type of dirt digging may not be a positive contribution to the political process.

The bottom line is this type of scrutiny is not going anywhere. As long as people have an appetite for it, authors will continue to serve it up. People love scandal, and the selling of it often attracts people.

However, the final conclusion we should draw from this is that nobody is perfect. It does matter how exalted a person is. We all have skeletons in our personal closets. If we try to claim otherwise, then we are either lying or living in denial.

Remember that when reading about somebody else.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quote of the day

"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever." -- Isaiah 40:8 in The Holy Bible

Monday, October 3, 2011

Volunteers showing progress compared to last year

With last Saturday's win against Buffalo, the Tennessee Volunteers have now completed one-third of the 2011 schedule. How does the team shape up compared to where it was last season? Pretty well.

This year's Vols are 3-1 compared to 2-2 at this point last year. Though the Vols played poorly in losing to Florida, the team has also showed progress. A solid win over a pretty good Cincinnati team and thrashings of Montana and Buffalo are much better than last year.

In the first four games last year, the team was convincingly beaten by Florida and Oregon. The Vols were fortunate to beat Alabama-Birmingham in overtime. In that game, the Blazers missed five field goals and dominated the statistics. Truthfully, Tennessee should have been 1-3 after four games last year.

This year, the next four games will make or break Tennessee's year. The next four are: vs. Georgia, vs. LSU, at Alabama and vs. South Carolina. The saving grace of this stretch is that three of the games are at home. However, it is still a daunting stretch.

Last year, Tennessee was soundly beaten by three of those four teams (Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina) while losing a heartbreaking game to LSU on the last play. Unless the running game greatly improves, the Vols may meet the same fate again this year.

These teams are good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Keeping it real

At this time, America appears to be a restless nation. There is not much contentment, and a casual glimpse around our national landscape proves this.

Economically and politically, there is a lot of upheaval. Our leaders in Washington cannot agree on much. Each side points its fingers at the other in a vain attempt to advance its own agenda.

This gridlock is frustrating, and it is not going away anytime soon. Next year, voters will go to the polls again to elect officials that will hopefully guide us in a more successful direction. However, next year's results will likely rubber stamp the divide that we have seen in our country for the last 12 years.

People in the red states will likely vote in a more conservative way, and people in blue states will point more to the left. Obviously, the political climate could change in the next 13 months, but I do not think so. Everybody has their heels dug in right now, and that is not likely to change.

The struggles of our economy are also feeding our nation's discontent. It is hard to feel upbeat when unemployment remains nearly 10 percent on the local, state and national level.

When money is not coming in the door, feeling content is as elusive as a hot day in January. At this time, contentment looks like a distant figure on the horizon that becomes a mirage when we get closer to it.

Much like our political situation, our economic mess is not leaving anytime soon. Unemployment is expected to remain above nine percent heading into 2012. If a person is financially prospering right now, he should be extra grateful because there are a lot of people who are not.

During tough times in the past, people often sought distraction in entertainment. We have all heard stories of how people went to the movies during the Great Depression to forget about the troubles of the day. This type of escapism is important. If people brood over problems it can compound the issues that plague some people.

Unfortunately, this escapism is not as easy as in the past. For those who have not gone to the movies lately, it costs an arm and a leg just to buy a ticket, a box of popcorn and a cold drink. Multiply that by a factor of four and it is very difficult for a family to spend a quiet evening at the movies.

True, there are more outlets for entertainment than many years ago, but those are often lacking when it comes to quality.

So, if contentment is elusive these days, what can be done to get it back? Perhaps we should take a closer look at what we are looking for as the source of our contentment. Though many of the examples listed above are important, none have a lasting place in our lives.

Politicians will come and go. Economically, there will always be seasons of prosperity and want in our lives. Entertainment is so trivial that we often forget what we have watched the next day.

Maybe we should be taking a closer look at the parts of our lives that have a lasting impact such as our spiritual, family and friendship needs. When the hustle and bustle of our lives die down, these three areas are often the most important when shaping whether we are content or not.

Sometimes the stress associated with some of the topics written earlier can cause these areas to fragment. Relationships become strained. It becomes easier to blame others or God.

However, in the long run, these are the only things of lasting value we have. We should treat them accordingly.

Getting back in the saddle....

After experiencing a case of 'life interruptus,' The Nightly Daily is now ready to resume regular postings. It is autumn, and I am ready to go. As always, if you disagree with anything I write, remember what you pay to read this stuff.