Saturday, July 28, 2012

Enjoy the good times

The shooting rampage that took place in Colorado last week reminds us that mayhem can take place anywhere at any time.
A few hundred people thought they were going to spend a fun night at the movies, but their lives changed forever. For some, their lives ended. Dozens of others were injured and the remainder likely received emotional damage they will carry for the rest of their lives.
Intellectually, we all know our lives can end at any second. We know that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and we understand that if one person snaps that it can have a tremendous impact on us.
Still, all the preparation in the world cannot totally steady us when life changing events take place. Sometimes we get caught in the path of the whirlwind when we are at our most vulnerable. When this happens, the results are often brutal and leave deep scars.
As for the event in Colorado, I am sure we will continue to hear a lot of analysis regarding why the killer did what he did. Though this analysis is meaningful in some respects, much of it is overdone.
After all, how much insight can the "experts" we keep seeing in the media really have if they have not examined the killer? At best, they can only speculate. Some of the speculation is helpful, but it is really nothing better than an educated guest.
Of course, the point of all this speculation is to understand why people cross the line and commit horrible crimes like these. In the last decade or so, we have seen these crimes take place in high schools, on military installations, and on university campuses, to name a few.
The truly scary aspect of all this is the total randomness of it. Because of this, there is really no way we can prepare for it. Are we really going to stop attending movies because of the possibility of something like this happening here? No, we are not, and the one step many of us can take when these things happen is to continue living our lives as normally as possible.
If we try to live a life in which we are constantly looking over our shoulders, then we will be miserable people. We have no control over if a madman will snap and start killing people. The same goes for other events like the loss of jobs or natural disasters.
As much as we like to be in control of our lives, there are so many aspects of it that are out of our hands. Every day, we see news reports of tornadoes doing damage. As much as we know that is real, it does not prepare us when we are the ones being chased by one of those storms.
The bottom line is that we live in a world where bad things happen to good people. We do not live in paradise or any sort of utopia. Because of this, we are guaranteed that we all will go through seasons of suffering.
This may sound somewhat cynical, but it is the truth. Just because truth can be rough does not make it cynical. It is just the way it is.
Because of this, maybe we should all appreciate the good seasons and the many blessings we get to enjoy. Despite these dark times we live in, the positives often outweigh the negatives by a large margin.
If we focus on this, it will certainly help when the dark times do come. This is because we all know that darkness only stays a nighttime in most cases.
Good times are often just around the corner.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Joe Paterno's restless sleep

It has been a little more than a week since the release of the Freeh Report. The report outlined the lack of action Penn State officials took as pedophile Jerry Sandusky preyed on children on their campus.
It is all hard to believe, but by this point in our lives, maybe none of us should ever be shocked by anything that happens. As long as human beings are able to be self-centered, then decisions like the ones made there will continue to happen.
According to the Freeh Report, head football coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials were aware of the 1998 criminal investigation regarding Sandusky and his alleged abuse of a boy. Though the investigation did not result in charges at that time against Sandusky, there was compelling information that should have resulted in him not having access to university facilities anymore.
However, Penn State officials did nothing, and Sandusky continued using the school’s facilities to abuse boys. The report concluded, "In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."
Most of the focus has been on Paterno. For better or worse, head football coaches are one of the most highly visible people on university campuses these days. Paterno was especially powerful at Penn State, and because of this, he has taken more heat than others involved in this.
One of the report's conclusions is the lack of action by officials was done to avoid bad publicity for the university and the football program. If this is the case, it represents a new low. In many ways, college sports stink to high heaven when it comes to corruption, and it is difficult to find a much worse case than this.
What makes this harder to fathom is that Paterno and Penn State had been put on a pedestal as an example of how college sports and academia could work together in a positive way. Looking back at it, a lot of the exalting of the school was from within. The school carried itself with a lot of pride when it came to the ways it did business.
As with most aspects of life, pride often precedes the fall, and this is certainly the case here. Penn State’s values now come across as shrill and self-righteous in many ways. Paterno was critical of many aspects of college sports and sometimes pointed out others he felt were not worthy.
He famously once said he did not want to leave football to the Jackie Sherrill’s and Barry Switzer’s of the world. Both Sherrill and Switzer were coaches who had problems with the NCAA and its rules. Though both those men ran programs that broke rules, neither came close to the horror associated with the Penn State situation.
Of course, Paterno is dead now. He died earlier this year of cancer only months after being ousted as head coach. It would have been interesting to hear him talk about the situation. His family has spoken out in his defense, and I can only imagine the nightmare that is their lives right now.
The bottom line is this is a cautionary tale of how careful we should be when looking up to people we respect. Despite his bad decisions, Paterno did a lot of good. However, he was only a man and capable of making big mistakes like the rest of us.
It is easy to throw rocks at others, but all of us need to realize that evil dominoes can begin tumbling if we lose sight of what is right and wrong. It happened to Paterno, and it can happen to us.
Never lose sight of that fact.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hairstyle Hall of Fame: Yul Brynner

No Hairstyle Hall of Fame could be complete without actor Yul Brynner.  Very distinct and distinguished.  The irony of this photo is that it shows him smoking.  Before he died of cancer, he famously blamed his impending death on that habit.  So, the lesson to be learned is that it is okay to shave your head but never take up smoking.  Seriously.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

University of Tennessee football has three things going for it heading into the season

Tennessee Volunteers' fans have experienced a tidal wave of mediocrity during the last four seasons. During this time, the team has a total record of only 23-27 and has not experienced a 10-win season since 2007. The Vols are also coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the early twentieth century. On top of that, last season ended with a thud as the Vols delivered their worst performance in recent memory as they lost to Kentucky.
There has not been a lot to cheer about. However, things are looking up. Within every dark cloud, there are silver linings, and there are at least three of them heading into the 2012 season.
The first cause for optimism is experience. Because of the massive transition the team has gone through in the last three years, many young players have gotten a ton of playing time early in their careers. Tennessee has 10 starters returning on offense and nine returning on defense. No other team in the Southeastern Conference has this much returning experience.  Couple this with the steady increase in the talent level on the team and there are plenty of quality young players competing with the starters.
The second cause is a more serviceable schedule this season. Last year, Tennessee played LSU and Alabama in back-to-back games. In November, the team played at Arkansas.  All three teams were ranked in the top ten, and the young Vols were overmatched by the Tigers, Tide and Razorbacks. This year, LSU and Arkansas are not on the schedule and have been replaced by Missouri and Mississippi State. Both are good teams, but clearly are not in the same class as last season's foes.
The third cause for optimism is because Tennessee plays in the Eastern Division. Let’s face it; the East is a much easier division than the West. I am not suggesting the team is poised to make a run at the Eastern Division title, but when playing in a meat grinder like the SEC, any scheduling break is welcomed. For a program looking to re-establish itself, conference wins are necessary when it comes to turning the corner.
Tennessee has a chance to be significantly improved this year. This will be discussed more in the coming weeks, but the darkest of the Volunteers’ rebuilding days are behind them.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Our current menace

During the summer, I enjoy driving around and enjoying the beautiful countryside. We have several places around here that are particularly scenic. Because of this, people who enjoy nature should consider themselves blessed to be living in this area.
It is more difficult to do this in cities. After all, there is not a lot that can be done to dress up a large metropolitan blob. However, in smaller communities, it is possible to have development while maintaining natural beauty.
Still, achieving this balance can be particularly challenging right now. This is because a local election is right around the corner, and the signs candidates put up to ask for our vote should be considered a form of urban blight.
I understand why they do this. Any means necessary must be used to get their names in front of prospective voters, and this is a way commonly used in this part of the country. Since the signs are often clustered together in high traffic areas, it is difficult for any of them to stick out and gain our attention. There was one that achieved some notoriety in Manchester recently, but that attention had more to do with what it said about a candidate instead of seeking a vote.
Still, candidates use this method. Until the prevailing conventional wisdom about their effectiveness changes, I am sure they will continue to use them as a way to reach us.
However, there are other ways they could communicate with us, but for some reason, many choose not to do so. Social media and other Internet venues are ripe with possibilities when it comes to getting local candidates in front of voters, but it seems many are unable or unwilling to embrace this approach. Candidates on the national and state level do this, but locally, not so much.
This is too bad because the opportunity is there. There are a few local officials that have web sites or Facebook profiles, and the ones I have seen allow those people to get their positions across to citizens in a way that is unfiltered by the local media.
There are pros and cons to this. Our local media is a watchdog that should be challenging all representatives on their positions and actions. If information is unfiltered, voters have to be careful that they are not falling for a bunch of propaganda.  After all, during an election year, some candidates will tell us what we want to hear so they can get our vote.
Despite this danger, the potential is there for effective dialogue between candidates and the public. More and more, voters feel alienated from the process. They feel their voices are not being heard which adds to the cynicism many feel.
Candidates who are willing to reach out to voters through these methods have a real opportunity to separate themselves from the pack. Frankly, candidates who do not use on-line resources are being lazy and are not showing they can adapt to the changing times. Is this a quality we want to see from a candidate? I will let voters answer that question themselves, but the answer is obvious.
By suggesting these alternative forms of communication, I am not suggesting that traditional methods of campaigning be abandoned. Despite their ugliness, the roadside signs do have their place.
But we live in a new age and candidates must show an ability to think outside the box. If they cannot embrace new ways to campaign for our vote, what does this say about their ability to try fresh approaches when dealing with our local problems?
Again, the answer is obvious. Hopefully, more will soon use these outlets.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Worst SEC non-conference games for 2012

There is no question the Southeastern Conference is the toughest league when it comes to college football.  Each week teams go through a meat grinder while competing for the conference title. It is a wicked tough task.
Perhaps because of this, schools often take breathers when it comes to non-conference schedules. Typically, each team plays one tough non-conference foe, but the remaining three are often against smaller schools.
Some of these matchups can be intriguing, but most are not.  In fact, these games against smaller schools should be avoided by everybody.  They are a waste of time from a competition point of view.  There might be one huge upset every three or four years, but overall, they are just not worth it.
So, after reviewing the schedules of all 14 SEC teams, here are the weakest non-conference foes each team plays.
LSU -- The Tigers play Towson on September 29.  Towson is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, what used to be called Division 1-AA).  SEC teams should never play teams from this subdivision. 
Alabama -- The Crimson Tide plays Western Carolina on November 17.  Carolina is another FCS team and went only 1-10 last season.
Arkansas -- The Razorbacks play Jacksonville State on September 1.  State, which is also a FCS team, did beat Ole Miss back in 2010, but Arkansas is not Ole Miss.
Mississippi State -- The Bulldogs open with Jackson State on September 1.  Again, another FCS team.
Auburn -- The Tigers host New Mexico State on November 3.  While not a FCS team, New Mexico State is one of the weaker teams in the Western Athletic Conference.
Texas A&M -- The Aggies face Sam Houston State on November 17.  State is a FCS team, but they went 14-1 and made it all the way to the FCS Championship game last year.  So, if there is a major upset lurking in these games, this could be the one.
Ole Miss -- The Rebels play Central Arkansas on September 1.  I am going to cut the Rebels a little slack.  They are coming off an awful year and face one of the toughest schedules in the country.  One preseason publication has them playing the second toughest schedule in the nation.
Florida -- The Gators host Jacksonville State on November 17.  This is State’s second appearance on this list.  Apparently, the administration at that school wants to put its team through as much pain as possible.
Georgia -- The Bulldogs host Georgia Southern on November 17.  This game is a little more plausible because it is an in-state matchup.  Still, it is pretty lame despite the fact that Georgia Southern has a pretty strong program on the FCS level.
South Carolina -- The Gamecocks host Wofford on November 17.  This is another in-state matchup, but it is still lame.
Tennessee -- The Volunteers host Georgia State on September 8.  The Vols should win their home opener pretty easily.
Missouri -- The Tigers host SE Louisiana on Sept. 1.  Though a lightweight opponent, this matchup is not jaw-droppingly bad.
Vanderbilt -- The Commodores host Presbyterian on September 15.  Expect this game to draw only about 18,000 fans when it is played.
Kentucky -- The Wildcats host Samford on November 17.  UK fans will be paying attention to basketball by this time anyway.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Summer's best aspect: Baseball and the Atlanta Braves

In the last couple of weeks, it has been unbearably hot. Though this is a problem that will come and go with the season, there is one aspect of summer that makes this time of year particularly sweet.
Yes, it is baseball season, and the pennant races are about to crank into high gear in Major League Baseball. As I write this, I can already hear the sighs of exasperation from people who do not like the game. They say the season is too long and the games are too boring.
Well, those people are wrong – dead wrong. I have loved the game since I was a boy, and I do not anticipate my heart changing anytime soon.
Major League Baseball survives even though its own caretakers have done their best to kill it in the last couple of decades. Bloated salaries, steroids, labor stoppages, and court cases have dropped a big wet blanket on the joy that goes along with the game.
Still, it perseveres almost in spite of itself. A reason it survives is because it is unlike most sports in several ways. The most important difference is that it allows fans the chance to develop a day-to-day relationship with their favorite teams.
Sports like football play once a week, while others play only two or three times a week. However, most major league teams play at least six games a week. Because of this, the bitter disappointment of last night’s loss can be wiped away within 24 hours. Or the momentum developed through a previous night’s win can be built upon very soon.
This constancy allows fans to become deeply invested in the performance of their teams. A win can make a person’s day. A loss can cause a person to turn the television off and roll over and go to sleep.
In this instant communication age we live in, the daily routine of baseball provides plenty of fodder for discussion. The fortunes of a team seemingly changes many times because of this.
My favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, is an excellent example of this. We are only three months into the season, and the team has already experienced a whole lot of ups and downs.
The team opened the season with four consecutive losses and looked bad doing it. When reading the Internet message boards, a person would have thought the world was coming to an end. People wanted to fire the manager, trade players and send others back down to the minor leagues. People thought this failure was certainly a continuation of 2011’s late-season collapse.
Then, the team got on a hot streak. The Braves won 26 of their next 38 games. The offense put up big numbers, the bullpen was solid, and the starting pitching held its own. When I visited those same message boards, all was great. Talk of winning the World Series was in the air.
Then the team dipped again in May, losing eight games in a row. A lot of the same problems from early April resurfaced and so did a lot of the complaints from the fans. Since then, the Braves have been a wobbling kind of machine that has been inconsistent. This has left fans frustrated or excited depending on the night.
I do not see that type of fan interaction on a daily basis in other sports. Though some might argue how good this is, it does make baseball unique.
July 4 is the unofficial midway point of the season and much excitement is yet to unfold.
My advice is to pick a team and enjoy. Just don’t pick the Yankees.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin suffered big misstep with media

Two steps forward and one step back. At least, this is the way every day seems to me. All of us try very hard, but occasionally, we do something that is wrong or offensive.
I could not help but think of this principle several weeks ago when Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin made some unfortunate comments about his hiring practices when it comes to selecting assistant coaches. He was talking in an informal way on a Nashville radio station when he made his comments.
As published in The Tennessean, he said:  "I've been saying it for a long time. I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife. If she looks the part, and she’s a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal. There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him."
So, in order to be hired by Franklin, a coach has to have a smokin’ hot wife? That is what he meant by the term "D-1 recruit." He said he was joking when he made the comments, but if he has been saying this for a long time, I have to wonder if this is not partly true. After all, many people try to use humor to put across their ideas.
After receiving a talk from his boss, Franklin apologized. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he was sincere. However, he apologized by Twitter, which has always struck me as the last resort when it comes to giving apologies. Twitter comes across as a way for people to say they are sorry in the most benign way possible and not get their hands dirty.
Of course, my big concern with Franklin’s comments is how he emphasized the physical attractiveness of a woman when determining her quality as a wife. His comments seem to indicate that a man without an extremely attractive woman is somehow deficient in some way.
Unfortunately, his comments represent a common mistake when it comes to determining beauty. Physical looks is just one component when determining beauty. I am sure most of us have met somebody who is very physically attractive, but after getting to know them better, we learn there is absolutely nothing beautiful about them.
However, the attitude put forth by Franklin can lead us down a slippery slope. This leads to the objectifying of women and leads generation after generation of females into having to live up to this distorted stereotype of what beauty should be.
True, Franklin is just a football coach, and who cares what he thinks about beauty? Still, his comments show how this mentality manifests itself in all aspects of life. After all, this concept of beauty is repeatedly thrown in our faces.
Certainly, we see this in advertising. When we watch a car commercial, we often see a beautiful woman standing beside the vehicle being described. If a company is selling toothpaste, then undoubtedly, there will be a vivacious young woman convincing us that our lives will be a misery if we do not use the brand she uses.
I could go on and on, but I think we all get the point. We have to be very careful when determining who or what is beautiful.
Additionally, it struck me odd how quickly the Franklin controversy blew over. It seems the Nashville media often grades Vanderbilt sports on a curve so they let a lot of things go. If somebody like University of Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley had made these comments, the controversy would have been much longer lasting.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Some coming good: The college football season is nearing

Last Saturday morning was just another hectic morning for me. I was running errands and doing my best to keep my head above water.
I was at a local, massive store buying my groceries. Under normal conditions, this is not my favorite chore to do, and the addition of the crowd I was fighting added a little bit more sauce to the goose.
I was dodging all the shopping carts while doing my best to be cordial to the people I was encountering. However, all I wanted to do at this point was buy my food and get out of there.
Then, it happened. I was nearing the magazine section though my thoughts were really on finding a register without a long line. When I buy groceries I tend to be all business, and if a person has ever encountered me at these times, they understand what I am referring to.
It is nothing personal. I just want to finish the task and enjoy my Saturday. But when I passed the magazine rack, my day began to take a sudden turn for the better.
This is because as I passed shelf after shelf of overflowing magazines I saw one that reminded me that good days are to come.  That’s right – the pre-season college football magazines are now for sale.
For many, this may seem like a minor thing. The college football season does not begin until Labor Day weekend, and there is a whole lot of living to be done between now and then.
Trust me, I know this. Still, I cannot help but think ahead to this glorious time. It is a time when the doldrums of summer are passing away, and we can rally around symbols that passionately stir emotions deep down in a lot of us.
It did not even matter that a lot of the magazines had photos of Alabama players on the cover. It was just nice to see that college football is soon to return to my life like an old familiar friend. Besides, the recent plague that is Alabama football will soon pass. As the Good Book says, there are seasons of joy and seasons of sadness, and I am sure this time of pestilence known as the “Nick Saban Era” will end sooner if not later.
So, as we all can see, even during the darkest of times, we have many symbols that we can rally around and have hope. For many, one the biggest symbols is college football. Now, we could have quite a debate about whether this is a good thing.
After all, many feel too much emphasis is put on sports especially at major universities. What do big-time sports really have to do with the mission of a school? It is a valid point, but not all aspects of life have to make sense. We all have some passions that do not make sense if we stop and try to think of them in logical terms.
Also, there are other moral questions that can tug at our hearts when it comes to college football. For example, the sport is a multi-zillion dollar industry, but the players only get their scholarships. True, those scholarships can be worth a ton of money, but what about players that come from impoverished backgrounds and could really use a little more money now?
And what about injuries? The National Football League is now being taken to court by former players with long-term health issues. Will the same happen soon on the college level?
All good questions, but I am going to take time this autumn and enjoy college football.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jerry Sandusky and the role of evil

Last month, a Pennsylvania jury convicted Jerry Sandusky of 45 crimes related to child sexual abuse. In recent years, America has become more of an “anything goes” society, and because of this, we have rarely seen the type of sweeping condemnation that has been directed at Sandusky.
In this case, it is justified. In many respects, Sandusky is a nightmare come to life. He is a person who was perceived to be a nice man with a big heart who helped children. He founded an organization specifically set up to help at-risk youth.  Toss in his reputation as a respected football coach at Penn State, and he appeared almost too good to be true.
Of course, he was too good to be true. The almost unbelievable savagery that he inflicted on his victims was remarkable in the worst sense of the word. There is also an on-going investigation about whether Penn State officials knew about some of this and did nothing, then perjured themselves in front of a grand jury investigating Sandusky. So, this case may not quite be done yet.
After all this, there is one final lesson we must take from this case. This lesson is that evil is alive and well in our society. For people trying to understand why a grown man would get his pleasure from sodomizing a 10-year-old boy, there is only one answer: evil.
Though some may think this is a simple-minded approach to understanding this situation, it really is not. Mankind has worked hard in recent years to elevate himself above what he really is. Evil will always tempt us, and sometimes it will try in grand ways that are unimaginable.
Evil manifests itself every day, but we do not always stop to see it. Graphic examples like the Sandusky case grab our attention, but there is a lot more to it than that. Need other examples?  Check out the civil war going on in Syria and the limp noodle attention it is getting from the rest of the world.
Still, we see evil in much more subtle ways. Simply ignoring the needs of those around us is a form of evil that is common, and our hearts have become calloused to the point that some of us simply do not try anymore.
I know those are harsh words. We prefer to think of evil in large and grotesque terms like Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky’s deeds are a king-size example of evil, but when we only look at the obvious examples, it becomes easier to overlook the little things.
If we do not take the time to consider the role of evil in our society and our reaction to it, it becomes that much easier for it to roam free. It may be a cliché to refer to evil as a beast prowling the countryside, but it is not that far off.
Evil destroys everything in its path. It destroys its victims, but also those who did the deeds. If anybody doubts this, go back and review the video of Sandusky the night he was convicted.
As he left the courthouse, he had a bewildered look on his face. He looked like he wanted to say something but did not know what to say. The expression on his face appeared to say: “How did I get here?”
If we are not careful, we all could get to a point where we are asking that exact question. True, none of us may commit crimes as horrible as Sandusky, but we can all make big mistakes that have a tremendous impact on those around us.
So, we better stay on our toes.