Sunday, May 27, 2012

June is a good time for breaks

It is Memorial Day weekend as I write this, and I hope everybody is spending time reflecting on why we have this holiday.  It is different than Veteran's Day in that the focus is on those who gave their lives serving our country.  If nothing else, this is a time for deep thought.

In terms of blog business, I will be taking one of my periodic breaks in June.  It is shaping up to be a very busy month, and I will not have the time to devote a lot of time to it. I appreciate the understanding, and I look forward to returning around the first of July.

Until then, I hope everybody has a great sixth month of the year.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Settling for less

We live in difficult times in a lot of ways, and it is always encouraging when we hear a little bit of good news. Who does not like good news? After all, the economy is a mess. Our political scene often resembles a scene out of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Plus, even the simplest of pleasures costs an arm and a leg these days.
Because of this, it appears we are lowering our standards when it comes to what we consider ‘good news.’ Let us consider some of the news the media has reported in recent weeks, and we will specifically start with the recent drop in gas prices.
After threatening to slip above the $4 a gallon level, gas prices have begun settling downward. Some prices have threatened to drop below the $3.30 level locally. However, should we really consider this good news?
While lower prices are a relief in some respects, the current prices still should not be greeted with cheers. Despite this, some media outlets are reporting these prices as if we should all drop down on our hands and knees and kiss the ground because we are paying only $3.30 a gallon.
The national news channels on television have performed little in-depth analysis about why prices got so high in the first place. Some of the business channels did, and their reporting has sometimes been used on the news channels. Still, do not let them condition us into believing the drop is actually good news.
If this happens, then the oil companies and everybody else associated with this industry have us exactly where they want us. If $3.30 becomes the acceptable normal standard, then the chances of it dropping below that are zero percent.
Some media also reported with equal enthusiasm the recent drop in the state’s unemployment rate down to 7.8 percent. Again, any drop is helpful, but is it really good news? ‘The Tennessean’ must have thought so because it had the news splashed on its front page, pointing out the rate was at its lowest in several years.
Should we all be walking around shouting ‘Hooray!’? No! We are not anywhere close to being where we should be when it comes to employment. The job market has stunk in recent years so there is a tendency to rejoice over the slightest gain. Do not let people (or the media) persuade us things are better than they really are.
At this point, some reading this may be thinking that I am being overly pessimistic or cynical. After all, can’t we enjoy some momentary gains after the sludge of the last few years?
A person can, but that person would be standing on a slippery slope. It can become too easy for all of us to settle for second best instead of setting the bar high. When we do that once or twice, it becomes easier to do it again and again and again.
This applies to issues like the ones written about in this column or the circumstances of our lives. Too often, we settle instead of being willing to put it all on the line and swing for the fences.
I understand that mind set. It requires little risk, and we convince ourselves it is the safest road to take. This may be the case, but in the long run, it becomes unsatisfying. Then, after years of compromising, we realize life is not what we want it to be, and we start living with the sad reality of what life might have been if we had had different standards.
It is chilling when that happens. So do not do it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Johnny Cash TV show a real hidden treasure

A great feeling we all experience is when we stumble across something wonderful without expecting it. It seems we spend a lot of time trying to find things that provide enjoyment or fulfillment, but often we find the best treasures when we are not even trying.
I love music. I love many different genres, and we are all fortunate we live in an area that is so musically diverse. You name it; we pretty much have it here. If a person does not believe this, then he should open his eyes. The MusicTree and Bonnaroo festivals in the coming weeks should provide ample evidence of this.
As for my own recent experience, it began by accident at Cracker Barrel. Like most people who eat there, I was going through the restaurant’s gift shop after eating a meal. I was looking through their DVD section, which is usually a mixed bag. Their selections to choose from are usually pretty random. For example, if a person is looking for Season Three of ‘The Sonny and Cher Show’ then this would be a good place to visit.
However, after looking through their selections, I found a real gem. ‘The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show (1969-71)’ includes some remarkable music. Even though Cash’s television show aired for only a couple of seasons, he crammed many remarkable performances into the show’s history.
If the DVD included only Cash performances, it would be a superior disc. And it definitely provides plenty of those. Well-known hits such as ‘I Walk the Line’ and ‘A Boy Named Sue’ are presented as well as lesser known performances of ‘Hey Porter’ and ‘Man in Black.’
Cash’s impact on country and pop music cannot be overstated, I won’t try to summarize this here. Last month, the Manchester Art Center hosted a tribute to his legacy and his impact is felt on communities like ours all over the world.
What causes this DVD to transcend from being ‘good’ to ‘great’ is the inclusion of guest musicians from all parts of the music scene back then.
From country music, there are performances by legends still at the top of their game. Merle Haggard sings a duet of ‘Sing Me Back Home’ with Cash. Loretta Lynn delivers a lovely version of ‘I Know How.’ Tammy Wynette performs her classic ‘Stand By Your Man.’ George Jones sings a medley of his hits that includes ‘The Race Is On’ and ‘She Thinks I Still Care.’
This is all overwhelming when taking it in one dose. But the greatness does not stop there.
From rock and roll, Creedence Clearwater Revival sings ‘Bad Moon Rising.’ At this point in 1969, CCR was well on its way to claiming the title of top rock band in the world as the Beatles were breaking up.
Cash’s friendship with Bob Dylan brought the legendary singer-songwriter to his show. On the DVD, Dylan sings ‘I Threw It All Away,’ and though it is not one of his major songs, any performance of his at the Ryman Auditorium (where the show was filmed) is of important historical significance.
Neil Young earned a standing ovation for his delivery of ‘The Needle and the Damage Done.’ Cash and Joni Mitchell collaborated on a wonderful version of ‘The Long Black Veil.’
Additionally, the DVD includes Ray Charles singing a version of ‘Ring of Fire’ that brings the house down.
I know this column has sounded like a commercial for this DVD, but it includes music that must be heard. The fact that I stumbled upon it by accident at a Cracker Barrel just adds to the good fortune that I feel for owning it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quote of the day: Pressing questions

"Do they make swaddling clothes for adults?  If so, would you wear them?" -- George Costanza from Seinfeld.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

John Fogerty’s ‘Wrote a Song for Everyone’ expected this fall

I am really behind the curve on this one, but John Fogerty’s next album, Wrote a Song for Everyone, is due this fall but with an interesting twist. Much of the album will be remakes of classic Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes with various artists.  For example, he will remake ‘Fortunate Son’ with the Foo Fighters and ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ with Bob Seger.  Other artists expected to be on the album are Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, My Morning Jacket, Alan Jackson, Dawes, and Miranda Lambert.  There will be some new songs as well, but I have not heard what they are yet.

The National League frontrunner is...

Though I think the early frontrunner in the American League is the Texas Rangers, I am far less certain about the National League.  There are at least three teams that could emerge as the team to beat.  Of course, it is early in the season so other teams could bound to the front, but right now, I am focused on three.  One of those teams is my beloved Atlanta Braves, but since I have bored you all in other postings about them, I will keep my comments on them brief.  The Braves continue to roll early in the season, including a sweep of defending World Series champion St. Louis last weekend.  It was a statement series for the Braves because the Cardinals aced them out of the last playoff spot last year en route to the title.  If the Braves keep hitting, I like their chances.
The Cardinals also deserve a good, hard look. The Cards and the Braves rank one-two in runs scored in the league. Never underestimate an organization that is used to winning.  The Cardinals have the most World Series titles in the National League (11), and intangibles like this give a good team an extra edge.  Also, the Central Division is hardly as competitive as the Eastern Division where the Braves play. Seriously, who else is good in the Central?  Milwaukee won it last year but have bumbled and stumbled so far this year.  The loss of Prince Fielder has left a gaping hole. After them, who else could emerge there?  The Cubs? Pirates? Astros? You get the point.  If the Brewers do not pull it together, the Cardinals could coast to the postseason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been red hot in the Western Division.  Strong starting pitching and Matt Kemp have been enough.  Of course, Kemp is dealing with a hamstring injury so a bumpy road could be ahead in the short term.  Again, the Dodgers have a similar, enviable situation like the Cardinals – they play in a relatively easy division.  The San Francisco Giants have good starting pitching but cannot score consistently.  The San Diego Padres stink and are definitely in rebuilding mode.  The Colorado Rockies are fun to watch because the ball is jumping out of Coors Field more than in recent years.  High scoring games are entertaining, but their pitching staff may be in shreds by July.
So, it could be the Dodgers...or the Cardinals...or the Braves...or somebody else.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Texas Rangers looking like the team to beat in the American League (so far)

We are fast approaching the one-quarter point of the Major League Baseball season, and the Texas Rangers look powerful as they attempt to repeat as American League champion. Heading into the season, I thought the American League race looked like a four-headed beast.  The Detroit Tigers earned a lot of pre-season hype, mostly because of the strength of their pitching and the addition of free agent Prince Fielder. I must admit that I hopped on that bandwagon, but it has not worked out so far. The Tigers are a respectable 17-17 and are only one game out of first place in their division, but they really have not caught fire. Obviously, there is a lot of baseball left to be played, but at this point, it looks like the sum of their parts are not equaling a whole.  They play in a weak division, and if nothing else, that probably guarantees a divisional title.
Additionally, the Eastern Division is not as strong as in previous years. Sure, there is a lot offense there, but the pitching staffs of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox often resemble a rag-arm factory.  The Yankees task got that much tougher when closer Mariano Rivera was lost for the season with a knee injury.  The class of that division may turn out to be the Tampa Bay Rays. Anchored by David Price, the team has a formidable starting pitching rotation.  Evan Longoria is their best hitter, and his batting average was .327 when he was lost to a hamstring injury.  He is expected to return in a few weeks, and if the Rays can tread water until then, expect them to be the likely winner of the division.  I know the Baltimore Orioles are currently leading, but I do not expect them to hold on.
However, the class of the American League is the Texas Rangers.  I don’t know why so many people shied away from them before the season. True, their pitching took a hit when C. J. Wilson signed with the Angels in the offseason. However, his loss has been absorbed, and when the team is hitting, they cannot be stopped.  The team is currently 23-12 and already leads their division by five games.  The big story has been outfielder Josh Hamilton who is hitting .402 with 18 home runs and 44 runs batted in.  He is being touted as a triple-crown contender, and why not?  He is knocking the crap out of the ball, and if he stays healthy (easier said than done with him), he should have a marvelous year.  Japanese import Yu Darvish has replaced Wilson nicely.  He already had five wins with a 2.84 ERA.  Will he sustain this?  Typically, new pitchers benefit from their anonymity the first time they go through the league then struggle when teams get a second look at them.  This could happen to him, but he appears to have good tools.
The season is long, and I will revisit this topic again.  However, the Rangers look strong and exciting.

Five years of 'The Nightly Daily'

Well, today is the fifth birthday of this blog.  While not a seismic event in the history of cyberspace, I do enjoy doing this.  I don't get to do it as much as I would like, but it is nice to have as a hobby.  Thanks to those of you who read this on a regular basis.  There will be more to come.  Soon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Junior Seau and men dying young

America is a country fixated on sports, and I think one of the reasons for this is that it provides an escape from the daily grind of life.
We are all very busy people, and it seems our lives become more stressful and intense by the day. Because of this, we need something light and frivolous to distract us. Instead of sitting at home worrying about a project at work that is overwhelming us, we can turn on the television and cheer on the home team.
Sports also play a role in developing a sense of community. Let’s face it; sports often provide a way for us to bond together. People from diverse backgrounds can come together and share a common goal.
If the Tennessee Titans or Nashville Predators win a big game, then everybody shares in that. It does not matter if a person is living in a fancy mansion or a modest apartment. Their team has won, and for one brief moment, we are all unified.
Living in this bubble can be nice. Unfortunately, real life punctures this dream world occasionally. This happened earlier this month when football legend and certain Hall-of-Famer Junior Seau died at age 43.
He was found in his daughter’s bedroom, and he had a gunshot wound to his chest and a gun by his side. Officials quickly ruled the death a suicide.
Why would a man who had a remarkable career and the respect of his peers and the public end his life this way? While we do not know for sure at this point, his death is the latest in a series in which former NFL players died young and for some, their deaths may have been spurred by long-term injuries from their playing days.
For example, not too long ago former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson also committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. A primary reason Duerson ended his life this way was so experts could study his brain to determine the long-term damage playing football had on him.
While it is not known if Seau’s primary reason for killing himself in this manner was for this purpose, his brain is also expected to be studied and his method of suicide will allow this to take place. The bottom line is Seau’s death will continue to be a story in the coming months. Results from the study of his brain will likely be big news.
This is because more and more former National Football League players are suing the league because of long-term health issues they are having. A primary bone of contention revolves around concussions.
Many players state the league did not take seriously the long-term consequences of repeated concussions years ago, and the price is being paid now. The league disagrees.
If study of Seau’s brain supports either side, then expect that information to be used publically in a dramatic way. Do not underestimate the stakes in this situation. Professional football is a billion dollar industry, and both sides will likely use any means necessary to make their points.
As fans, this controversy should be very sobering for us. As much as we love football, the sacrifices being made by players are real and irreversible in some cases. We often do not think about this when a big hit takes place on the field. We only want results and for our team to win.
While nobody forces these players to play this game, maybe we all need to become more sensitive to the suffering going on around us. Should entertainment be this brutal? I love my football, but the conflict in my heart is growing.
How about you?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I’ve lost my keys

There are many glorious aspects to growing older. For me, the most important one is that it has become easier to put life’s events into their proper perspective. After all, if we dwell too much on some events, we can let them tie us up into knots.
On the other hand, there are some not so glorious aspects about growing older. For those of you in your late 40s like me, I am sure it is easy to rattle off several changes we have experienced since hitting middle age.
However, the one change that is most on my mind right now is my forgetfulness. It is an old cliché, but there are times I think I would forget my head if it was not attached to my body. Here is a recent example:
On a Monday morning, I was about to leave for work, and I reached to pick up my car keys. Unfortunately, they were not on my bedroom dresser where I usually keep them. I was confused about this, but since I was on the verge of being late, I found my spare set and left for the day.
As I backed out of my driveway, I decided the keys had to be in my car. When I got to work, I gave it a thorough search. I got down on my knees and bent my body in ways that would make an Olympic gymnast proud. It’s not easy to search a Ford Focus, you know.
The good news is I found 37 cents, a Buddy Holly compact disc I thought I had lost, and some cough drops likely bought during the Bush administration. Unfortunately, no keys.
At this point, I started retracing my steps from the previous day in my mind. Surely, my keys had to be at one of those places. In the coming days, I revisited every one of them. I stopped by my church and searched the area where I had sat the previous Sunday. No success.
I placed a call to a restaurant I had dined at and nobody had seen them. I retraced my steps in my driveway and my neighborhood. Still, no success.
I am sure at this point some reading this are wondering why I did not give up and get a new pair made. For better or worse, stubbornness is a central ingredient of my personality. It helps sometimes, and it hurts sometimes.
Because of this, I decided to take my search up a notch. Perhaps, I had done something stupid with them without realizing. So, my search took me to places I did not want to go – my garbage cans.
A person has to swallow his pride to prowl through his garbage. I am not just talking about the small cans in my house. I plunged into the large container outside that we all roll to the curb once a week. If nothing else, I gained an appreciation for the amount of waste I produce and my lousy diet. Seriously, I eat way too many Hot Pockets. But, again, no keys.
Finally, I decided to search inside my house again. I had already turned it upside down with no success. No room was safe as I made my sweep, and as much as I would like to write that I found them, I cannot.
I began to think my story was heading toward an unhappy ending until last Sunday morning. I was rummaging through my sock drawer, and down at the bottom were the keys. Why would I put my keys in my sock drawer?
I have no clue. I’m just chalking it up to being 47.