Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers throwback uniforms made my retinas burst

As they say, the socks make the uniform...
Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?  In the past, I have written about the excellent throwback uniforms worn by some NFL teams (among them the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Chicago Bears).  However, the limits of good taste were pushed by the Steelers today.

What do the players look like most?  Bumble bees?  Pirates?  Prisoners on a chain gang?  Guys who ate too many eggs and just couldn't keep them down?

At a time when Hurricane Sandy is punishing the Northeast, the last thing the poor beleaguered people of that region needed was this.  Disposing of them at a public bonfire might be a good idea.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Obama and Romney both provided memorable campaign lowlights

Election Day is now only a little more than one week away, and for some, it cannot come soon enough. Of course, it has already come and gone for people taking advantage of the early voting period.
For those people, they can kick back and turn down the noise associated with the election process. They have a unique opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet until the votes are counted.
There are many races on the ballot, but the big one is for the presidency. Regardless of who a person votes for, I think it is important to remember that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appear to be decent and intelligent men who are trying to offer their services to the country. They both have many positive qualities.
Despite this, both men have made substantial missteps during the campaign, resulting in situations that have left us shaking our heads.
For the president, his primary misstep has been the whole tone of his campaign. It has been vastly different compared to 2008. Back then, he swept up the nation with optimism in a campaign that promised "hope" and "change." Our nation was in a big mess then (as is the case now), but his campaign in 2008 had an idealism that is rare in national politics.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case with his current campaign. This year's effort has been marred by negativity, negativity, and more negativity. When talking about negativity, I am not referring to his criticizing of Romney's political record. That is fair game. I am referring to the unseemly personal attacks that are nothing more than cheap shots.
However, this approach has been effective to a certain degree. For several months, the president had effectively turned Romney into just another rich guy who would not talk about his taxes and did not care about the middle class.
At the first presidential debate, this changed as much of America got a good look at Romney for perhaps the first time. After that, Romney surged in the polls. Many attribute the surge to Obama’s poor performance in that debate, but it was likely that voters saw Romney in a way that did not fit the image projected by the president's campaign.
The president, on the other hand, has come across as just another politician who will do what it takes to get elected. It is always a red flag when an incumbent does not run on his record, and Obama has done a lot of this.
Just like Obama, Romney has made big mistakes. His most unfortunate one was his infamous "47 percent" comment. He was caught at a private function stating that 47 percent of the public were going to vote for President Obama anyway because they were dependent on the government and viewed themselves as victims.
He implied the people in this group were a bunch of slackers who did not want to take personal responsibility for their lives, and it was up to the government to take care of them.
His statements were a textbook example of how over-generalizing complex issues can result in ridiculous statements. Defenders of Romney claimed it was unfair that the statements were recorded undercover at a private event. However, it is important that these comments came to light.
Comments like these are examples of what politicians say behind closed doors when the prying eye of the media is not there. Candidates often change their tune depending on who their audience is, and these comments were mean and condescending.
To his credit, Romney has admitted he was wrong, but children often say the same thing when caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The perfect ending for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

To be elected president, a candidate must win 270 electoral votes. Based on what is being reported, there is at least one scenario where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could end up tied with 269 electoral votes each. 

This may not reflect well on me, but I wish this would happen. As shrill as this entire campaign has been, it would be a fitting climax. 

If that happened, the House of Representatives would choose the president and the Senate would choose the vice president. Because of the parties that control those bodies, it means Romney would likely be chosen president and Joe Biden vice president. The result would be a MADHOUSE!!!!! A MADHOUSE!!!!!

Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Withering civility in a testy political season

We are only a few weeks away from the presidential election, and civility continues to erode when it comes to discussing the important issues of the day.

This is not happening just among the candidates running for office, but among people like you and me. On the bright side, it is good that people are feeling so passionately about the issues, but the end result of this passion is that we appear to be becoming more polarized than ever.
Let us look at the candidates in the presidential race. We are definitely seeing an overload of negative campaigning and attempts to make the other look like a royal idiot. Some negativity is acceptable, but the key is balance.
When it comes to negativity, it is perfectly okay for candidates to criticize the records of their opponents. For example, it is fine for President Barack Obama to be critical of Mitt Romney’s stances on issues and other parts of his political background. Equally, Romney has the right to go after Obama’s track record as president and be critical when appropriate.
However, where they both go wrong is when the attacks get personal and try to reduce the other to nothing more than a cartoon figure. For months, the Obama campaign has painted Romney as a rich guy who does not pay his taxes and does not care about the middle class.
On the other hand, the Romney campaign has played the same game by trying to reduce Obama to nothing more than an empty suit who is aloof and really has nothing of substance to say.
This lack of civility was also on display during the vice presidential debate. Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly laughed and sneered as his opponent Paul Ryan tried to make his points. Seriously, did Biden really think it would be effective to laugh while a serious discussion about Iran’s nuclear capabilities was taking place? It was another low moment in a campaign of lows.
Of course, this lack of civility has a trickle down effect. We see it take place through the mainstream media every day. Conflict is the mother’s milk of the 24-hour news channels where opponents verbally duke it out in a vain attempt to make points.
I really do not understand how this became such a popular technique for the networks to use. The conflict often overtakes the points trying to be made. Because of this, viewers are turned off and the words spoken by those people often come across like the braying of donkeys.
The trickle down effect also flows down to the general public. I recently read a story on the Cable News Network’s web site that stated one-fifth of the people who use social media have ended on-line friendships simply because of political disagreements.
A person could make the point that a friendship must not have been very meaningful if it was ended because of a political difference, but I have seen relationships severed for a lot less than that.
The bottom line is our nation has become more and more polarized in recent years when it comes to political issues. We choose sides and become enemies if people have the audacity to see issues differently than we do.
It is a crying shame that it has come to this. It used to be that the deepest relationships we had with people were ones where we could sharply disagree but still have dinner afterward.
However, it is not too late. We can all step back from the ledge we are looking over if we become a little less focused on ourselves and more on other people. This is an old recipe for happiness, but it still works.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New movie 'Argo' worth your time and attention

I recently caught the new Ben Affleck film Argo and I heartily recommend it.  Set in the late 1970s and early 80s, its plot focuses on attempts to rescue American citizens hiding in the Canadian embassy in Iran just after the United States' embassy was seized.

I have read some criticism of the film because some feel the Canadians' role in the event was watered down somewhat.  I do not know about that, but remember this is a Hollywood movie and not a historical documentary.  I believe the essence of the event was communicated to the audience, and we often see movies where filmmakers might have to manipulate some events for the sake of the plot.
The film co-stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin.  It is rated R mostly for language so it is not a film to take the kiddies to.  It is worth your time.
Click here for a more in-depth review.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

John Fogerty's 'The Blue Ridge Rangers' is an excellent but unusual album

John Fogerty = The Blue Ridge Rangers
As rock and roll entered the late 1960s, many artists were knee deep in psychodelia and intent on pushing music to its cosmic limits. Albums like the Beatles' Sgt Pepper in 1967 showed that almost anything was possible as musical concepts were getting more and more linear. But as surely as all things in life run in cycles, some artists began returning to a simpler approach to music while still standing in psychodelia's shadow.

Out of that return emerged what became known as 'country-rock' music. Ushered in primarily by Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline albums, rock musicians began showing how country music influenced them. It was in this setting that The Blue Ridge Rangers released their first album. 

The Blue Ridge Rangers name is actually a joke. John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame performed the entire album. He played all the instruments: guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, steel guitar, banjo, percussion, triangle and more. When originally released, the only place his named appeared was for the producer's credit on the back of the record jacket. All the songs were traditional country and gospel songs that he did not write. 

This was his first album after the hugely successful CCR broke up in 1972. Faced with making an album on his own, he found a way to make music without having to live up to the lofty expectations that his name produced. The music was the total focus and not the person making it. While he sacrificed commercial success by hiding behind the Rangers' moniker, he produced a gem of an album that is almost forgotten 40 years later. 

The album's high point is his version of the well-known Christian hymn 'Working on a Building (For My Lord).' At his peak, Fogerty's voice was one of the most potent forces in rock and roll history, and he used it with great success on this song. Multi-tracking his vocals so that it sounded like an entire church choir, he effectively communicated the song's message with the passion and fervor one would expect to hear at a revival service. 

His rousing version of Hank Williams' 'Jambalaya (On the Bayou)' was the only hit from the record, cracking the top 20. Kicking off the chorus each time with the cry of 'Well, Jambalie,' Fogerty's vocals made the song his own in a way countless folks who covered the song were unable to do. The song is a good illustration of how an artist can re-interpret a song in a new and vital way while not betraying the song's original essence. In other words, it is completely the opposite of Michael Bolton's assassination of the Otis Redding classic '(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay' a few years ago. 

Musicians are all inspired by someone or something. However, most times, they are unable to directly pay homage to the inspirations that helped mold them into what they became. This album is one of those rare instances where the listener gets to hear the musical influences that helped inspire a great musician to choose the life he chose. And that is pretty neat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tennessee win at Mississippi State absolutely crucial on many levels

Big stakes at Mississippi State on Saturday
The Tennessee Volunteers have played several big games already this year.  The opening win against North Carolina State was critical to wash away part of the bad taste of how the 2011 season ended.  The Florida game was an opportunity to show the team could compete on a national stage but proved the Vols were not quite ready yet.  The Georgia game showed the Volunteers are improving on the road but have not gotten over the hump when it comes to winning a big game away from home.

This brings us to this week's road game at Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs are unbeaten and ranked in the Top 20.  Since it is an 8 p.m. game, their fans should have plenty of time to get well lubricated for the game.  This is an opportunity for them to beat a quality program on national television.  Some may argue whether Tennessee is a quality program, but the history of our program guarantees that people still pay attention to what we are doing.  Not all programs can say that.
As for Tennessee, the stakes are high.  A road win against this quality opponent would be another step in the rebuilding of the program. The Vols came close against Georgia, and a win here could be a springboard to an excellent second half of the season.  If we lose, it will be another frustrating loss that drops the team's record to 3-3 with back-to-back games against Alabama and South Carolina coming up.  Additionally, if we lose to State, Bama, and Carolina, the team's record will be 3-5 and the vultures may start circling Knoxville when it comes to head coach Derek Dooley's future.
Personally, I believe Dooley deserves another season when considering the horrible status of the program when he took over.  However, we all know that fairness is not always a part of the college football landscape.  A win would do the program and Dooley a lot of good, but a loss continues the uncertainty we have lived with since Phillip Fulmer was fired.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Iran trouble bubbling and not going away

It would be stating the obvious to refer to the Middle East as the most turbulent part of the world. The United States recently wound down a long and costly war in Iraq, and for many, it was not a minute too soon.
Additionally, we will remain embroiled in Afghanistan for a least a couple more years. We have been there since late 2001, and a lot of personal sacrifice has been given in order to battle the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In some respects, the Afghanistan conflict is starting to feel a little like a forgotten war. For such an important war, we rarely see much in-depth coverage of it in the mainstream media. We hear reports when people die, but do we really hear enough deep analysis of what is going on there? My answer would be 'no,' but that is a question people will have to answer in their own hearts.
However, even if our troops do leave in 2014, the Middle East's drama is doubtful to go away. This is because as long as Israel is there, then enemies of that country will be looking for ways to hamstring it.
Israel is America's most important friend in that region. Though it is often a tinderbox of activity, there can be no denying its importance when it comes to America’s interests in the Middle East.
This was especially apparent recently when international leaders spoke at the United Nations' General Assembly. The attention of United States and Israeli leaders was firmly on the growing threat of Iran's nuclear program.
Despite the focus on Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, Iran continues in its role as thorn in the side of America in the region. A primary way this is manifesting itself is through the nuclear program Iran is currently developing.
Iran's president is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and to put is mildly, he is a kook. He is a hostile opponent of Israel not to mention his own people. Life in Iran is why every American should be happy that we live in this country.
Since the late 1970s, the country has been under the thumb of a conservative Islamic government and citizens there publicly oppose the government at their own risk. Human rights violations are well documented there, and if anybody does not believe that, just spend a little time on-line because there is plenty of research to back that up.
Additionally, Ahmadinejad denies Israel's right to exist and even goes as far as to proclaim the Holocaust did not occur. The Holocaust occurred in World War II as the Nazis extinguished six million Jews. If Ahmadinejad takes such extreme stances, isn’t it understandable why the Israeli government has gotten so jumpy as Iran has developed its nuclear capabilities?
After all, would not the United States get equally jumpy if a nearby country developed weapons capabilities we were uncomfortable with? Am I the only one who remembers the Cuban missile crisis?
Though most international experts are unified in believing that a nuclear Iran is a terrible idea, there is a lot of disagreement about how to handle it. Sanctions have hurt Iran but it apparently has not deterred the development of the program.
There has been some tension between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the course to take. Both believe in deterring Iran, but the Israeli leader wants firmer accountability of Iran when monitoring what they are doing.
This is not an issue that is going away. If recent history shows us anything, the Iranians can be very creative when hiding what they are doing. In other words, we should not believe anything they say. Their leader hates America and Israel.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quote of the day: Thomas Jefferson

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."  -- Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

God: the Father of mercies

Hundreds of terms have been used to describe God, but one of the best ones is recorded in II Corinthians of the Bible where the Apostle Paul referred to Him as the 'Father of mercies.' This term, which appears in the third verse of chapter one (King James translation), makes an important point. Above all things, God is merciful.

First of all, what is mercy? There are a lot of definitions, but I define it as showing compassion toward others who might not necessarily deserve it. In a spiritual context, God showed mercy toward mankind by providing a plan of Salvation through Jesus. He made available to everybody a way to spend eternity with Him if they will accept that Jesus was crucified as an atonement for their sins and that Jesus rose on the third day.

If a person accepts this, He will protect them from His holy judgment against the world. It is important to remember that God was not obligated in any way to provide a way for us. Mankind rebelled and chose to sin against Him causing a barrier to be brought down between us and Him. He gave us paradise, but it just wasn't enough for us. However, because of His mercy, He provided a way out of a circumstance that was totally hopeless.

Today, there are many who scoff at the notion of God being merciful because of the serious problems in the world. There is war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, and indifference in Europe and the United States. Many say, how could a loving and merciful God allow all this to happen?

However, the things I just listed are man made. If this world genuinely turned toward God, these problems would go away. This is because if we interacted with each other with the love of God in our hearts then it would be harder for us to inflict the pain we currently do on each other.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to be prepared for the next life. Your past does not matter; go to Him. God loves you and wants to spend eternity with you.

Take it from somebody who is the chiefest of sinners, He is waiting for you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival defines American rock and roll

From left:  Tom Fogerty, John Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford
Though its heyday was brief, Creedence Clearwater Revival produced more memorable songs than just about any group in rock and roll history. Led by lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Fogerty, the group only released seven albums. However, a staggering five of them were released in 1969 and 1970.

Here is a look at my personal top ten:

'Up Around the Bend' -- Appearing on the album 'Cosmo's Factory,' this song is the walking definition of a toe-tapping hit single. Reaching #4 on the Billboard singles chart, it has all the traits of classic CCR: Fogerty's growling vocals, the whiplash rhythm section of bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford, stinging guitar work, and an infectious beat. If this song does not make you smile, you better check your pulse.

'Have You Ever Seen the Rain?' -- This song hit #8 on the charts and may have the most tastefully performed Hammond organ work I have ever heard. The real intrigue of the song is its melancholy lyrics that Fogerty later revealed were inspired by the group's impending break up. The song appeared on their 'Pendulum' album, which was the last to include all four members of the group. Rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty left the band shortly after its release.

'It Came Out of the Sky' -- An album track from 1969's 'Willy and the Poorboys,' this song is a slice of life from that era. The references to Spiro Agnew and Ronald Reagan may make the song a little dated, but it rocks.

'Fortunate Son' -- Clocking in at only 2:20 in length, this song says more about class warfare than just about any song in the rock era. At the time, it was specifically applicable to those who were and were not serving in Vietnam, but the song's lyrics are so universal that they can apply to many other circumstances.

'Born on the Bayou' -- The opening song on the group's second album, 'Bayou Country,' this tune was the first to introduce their signature swampy sound. It was also the first place I heard the verb 'chooglin' as in 'chooglin' on down to New Orleans.'

'Proud Mary' -- Also appearing on the 'Bayou Country' album, this is the song that even casual fans know even though they usually incorrectly identify it as 'Rollin' on the River.'

'Green River -- The title track from their third album, I've always looked at it as a continuation of 'Proud Mary.' If 'Green River' isn't a brother to that song, then it's definitely a first cousin. It makes another case for utopia by the river side.

'Someday Never Comes' -- This was the group's final top 40 single, but it hardly follows the CCR formula. It is a chilling song of family neglect that is passed down from one generation to the next. Fogerty said later this was written during a tough period in his marriage, and he was just trying to explain his feelings to his kids.

'Bad Moon Rising' -- Old Testament prophecy meets Revelation type imagery in this song. And things aren't looking so good.

'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' -- Though known mostly for its short, tight songs, CCR did have extended jams on their albums. Their version of the Marvin Gaye hit is probably the best example of this and clocks in at a little over 11 minutes.

Big decision coming with presidential election one month away

It is a little more than one month until Election Day when voters will decide whether President Barack Obama will get to serve a second term or Republican nominee Mitt Romney will get the opportunity to lead our country.
Based on what I have read, most people reading this have already made up their minds for who they will vote. Barring a remarkable event, there is little chance these people will have a change of heart.
I do not know whether this is good or bad, but it is an indicator that Obama and Romney are chasing a small group of undecided voters who could tilt the election one way or the other.
Couple that with the apathetic people who will not bother to vote and this small pool of undecided voters gets that much smaller. Of course, apathetic people have a right to their apathy in much the same way that passionate people have a right to their passion. In some respects, it is a shame these apathetic people will not bother to vote.
However, if these voters are apathetic to the point that they are uninformed on the issues, then maybe it is a good idea they are staying home. I do not want to ride in a car if the driver has not bothered to get a license and the same principle applies to people who vote. If a person does not have basic knowledge about what is going on, then I will not shed a tear if they choose not to vote.
For the people who do vote, the election is basically a referendum on how well President Obama has done in the last four years. Of course, there are wildly diverging points of view on this.
Supporters of the president will point out our struggles of the last four years would have been much worse if he had not taken steps like supporting the quarter-of-a-trillion dollar stimulus package that was meant to help our economy as it sputtered. The supporters state he inherited a big mess, and it was so large that four years was not enough time to produce substantial improvement.
Critics will point out the last four years have been a failure in which unemployment has remained above eight percent, and many economists predict problems will continue. They will say the president has taken a big government approach that has yielded few results, and it has resulted in a national debt now above $16 trillion. They feel more debt will strangle the long-term prospects of the country.
Usually, I do not publicly state for who I will vote and I will not now. But I do have some pretty deep feelings about the upcoming election.
Deep in my heart, I believe this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime. Our country’s challenges are real and cannot be solved overnight.
The economy remains in a mess. We are still fighting a war in Afghanistan even though nobody seems to want to talk about it.
I fear our standing in the international community is slipping as the recent protests by radical Muslims demonstrate.
Whether it will be Obama or Romney who will lead us in the coming four years, I hope all of us will dedicate ourselves to holding our elected officials more accountable. For several years, the primary goals of our leaders seem to have been to maintain power rather than actually lead.
That is not a knock at one person or one political party. There is plenty of blame to go around, and we need to do a better job of clearing our throats when monitoring them.
It is our government, you know.