Friday, November 30, 2012

And now I take a break...

We have reached one of those times, where I must take a break from this blog.  Oh, how it must break your hearts, but unfortunately, I have no other choice.  At some point soon, I will return, but I do not know when this will occur.  Stand firm and rock on! 

Passing the buck

We try our best to be consistent in our decision making, but try as we might, we are often unable to do it. This problem is a trait that most of us share in common. It is one of the most fundamental parts of our human nature.
Our decision making can be impacted for a number of reasons, but one of the most common ones deals with how emotionally involved we are in a situation when trying to come to a conclusion.
When thinking rationally, I believe most of us would agree that matters involving our government usually are much more important than matters in the trivial world of sports. After all, our government makes decisions that directly impact our lives while sports only provide periodic moments of entertainment.
With that in mind, why do we hold people in the sports world more accountable for their actions than people in politics? This is not the case in every situation, but we see this more often than not.
Consider what we have seen in the news lately. In late November, the University of Tennessee fired its head football coach after failing to find success on the gridiron. Derek Dooley inherited a mess when he was hired three years ago at the school.
However, during his time there, he was unable to clean up the mess and was let go. Fair enough. College coaches at big schools are paid tons of money, and they understand the expectations and pressure when they take the job. Coach Dooley did some good things at Tennessee, but it did not work out.
His situation was unique in that he was only given three years to fix the program's problems. Most rebuilding situations take more than three years, but the team took a step backward this year. Supporters of the coach would argue he was not given enough time to succeed, and they might be correct.
Unfortunately for Dooley, the fan base got restless and all the negativity built with each loss. Despite the brevity of his tenure, the emotion reached a point where he had to go.
Compare the quick hook Dooley got with our attitudes toward politicians, especially on the national level. Early in November, we held an election and very few of the incumbents were voted out of office.
The president was re-elected, as well as most of the people in the House of Representatives and Senate. This is despite our nation’s struggles economically and in other areas. As voters, most of us made the choice to continue with the hand we had been dealt.
Keep in mind, my comments are not meant to be anti-Republican or anti-Democrat. My curiosity centers on why we are willing to be so patient in certain aspects of our society and impatient in others.
For example, approval rates in polls are generally quite low when measuring attitudes toward Congress. Despite this, as a nation, we chose to keep the Senate in control of the Democrats and the House of Representatives in the hands of the Republicans.
As much as we say we want change and accountability we do not follow through. Our idea of change is usually wanting other people to be thrown out of office instead of our own representatives. Therefore, few get voted out.
So, where has this approach gotten us? It has gotten us $16 trillion in debt and an unemployment rate of almost eight percent. It has resulted in our country being extremely politically divided. Working together is becoming more of an obsolete concept.
What should we do? Maybe the time has come to hold our officials as accountable as some of us held Derek Dooley.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Black Friday blues

In case a person hasn't heard, yesterday was Black Friday. I can't imagine anybody hasn't heard of it because the event receives as much publicity as the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrated on Thursday.
Black Friday is a manufactured event in which the focus is on how much shopping our country does in anticipation of Christmas. If ever there was an event that displayed the United States’ obsession with materialism, it is this event. And it is tremendously disappointing.
After all, in the eyes of many, Christmas will not exactly be Christmas unless we all run out and spend ourselves blind. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy buying gifts for loved ones and consider it a blessing to be able to show those around me how I feel about them.
However, things are being taken too far. How far? Let us begin with the actions of many national retail chains on Thanksgiving.
Not too long ago, Thanksgiving was a holiday in which most reputable businesses would shut down for the day to allow their employees to spend time with their families. Unless somebody worked in the area of essential services (police, fire, news/communication, etc.), there was a good chance they would enjoy a day off.
This attitude is slowly changing, and we saw evidence of that on Thursday. Many national chains opened on Thanksgiving night to get a jump on Black Friday. Several opened at 8 or 9 pm Thanksgiving night and stayed open through the night into Friday.
I know times are tough economically and businesses need to exploit every opportunity to make money. But seriously, do we really have to spoil a national day of Thanksgiving so people can tumble over each other to buy things they do not really need anyway? Can’t we wait one more day before we do that?
Unfortunately, I see Thanksgiving going the way of other holidays in terms of how it is respected. I am old enough to remember when holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day resulted in many businesses being shut down so their employees could observe the holiday. Not anymore. Those days are business as usual for most companies now.
Now, it appears the same treatment is being given to Thanksgiving. How long will it be before most businesses are observing normal working hours on this day? After all, a major component for many on this holiday is to give thanks to God for how our nation has been blessed. As our country becomes more secularized, will the need for a day of Thanksgiving be watered down or eliminated?
Don't laugh. It would be easy to write me off as hysterical and paranoid on this topic, but as Bobby Dylan sang:  The times they are a-changin'.
It is hard for me to respect a company that would not allow its employees to have Thanksgiving off as a holiday. Additionally, I will be keeping a close eye on what companies will be open on Christmas as well. My money talks (and so does yours), and if I catch wind of a company showing such disrespect toward its people, then it will be difficult for me to spend money there.
While some may scoff and believe that one person cannot make a difference, I will respectfully remind those people that many of the messes in our country are because people simply will not take a stand against issues that are wrong.
As a country, we worship at the altar of materialism. We look the other way most of the time. Can't we just draw the line and let Thanksgiving and Christmas remain special days? It is not much to ask.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Derek Dooley could never quite get over the hump at Tennessee

The Power T
Tennessee fired Derek Dooley as head coach on Sunday, but it did not come as a shock.  Even before Saturday's dismantling at Vanderbilt, it appeared he would be leaving.  The loss to the Commodores cemented everything and maybe sped up the process a little.

I have misgivings about his termination.  He inherited a mess when he took over primarily because Tennessee had two head coaches in the previous two years before he arrived.  Because of all the turnover, the program basically lost two recruiting classes and the cupboard was bare in terms of talent. Dooley did a good job building up the talent, and the next coach will reap the benefits of that.
Dooley's fatal flaw was that he could never quite get the team over the hump in big games. All season, his team was competitive but could not make the big play when needed.  Though this was particularly acute this year, it happened over and over during his tenure.
For example, in his first season, the Vols played Oregon in the second game. Tennessee fought to a 13-13 draw in the first half.  The Ducks were loaded that year, and Tennessee admirably battled them until midway through the third quarter.  Then, Oregon hit a couple of big plays, including an interception return for a touchdown, and the game was basically done.  Oregon won 48-13.
Saturday's game was basically a repeat of that.  Despite a sloppy first half, Tennessee only trailed bowl-bound Vanderbilt by three points, 13-10.  However, the Commodores outplayed the Vols in the third quarter and coasted after that.  Final:  41-18.
I wish Coach Dooley the best because he worked hard for the school.  It just did not work out, but he did leave the program better than it was when he took over.  He deserves credit for that.

Keeping it together

In the immediate aftermath of the election earlier this month, the public’s reaction was something to behold. Obviously, people were going to be excited or disappointed based upon the candidate for which they voted.
I witnessed a lot of regrettable behavior that only validates how polarized we are as a country. I know the stakes are high in a presidential election, and in a sense, it is good that people feel so deeply about it because it shows they care. In recent years, there has been much discussion about voter apathy, so all this emotion can be considered good in that respect.
However, some behavior I witnessed clearly crossed the line. Much of the poor behavior was witnessed through social media like Twitter and Facebook. As good as those resources are, they can be used for bad, and this badness was there for all to see on election night.
Social media can bring out the bad in us if we let it. After all, it is a lot easier to insult somebody if we are not doing it to his face. It’s true that these resources do require a name be put with comments made, but many people definitely let the expletives fly when they do not have to worry about a person in front of them.
People on both sides of the spectrum were in rare form. Some who voted for Romney bemoaned that the president's re-election marked the beginning of the end of America as a super power. Some attempted to tie Obama’s selection to the end times in Biblical prophecy in which world power would be shifted back to the Middle East. It's clear that some of these people view Obama as something more than a man who just wants to serve his country (and not in a good way).
On the other side, some of the president’s supporters reduced Romney to just another rich white guy, but did it in profane ways. His family and religion were attacked in very narrow-minded ways. Like Obama, I believe Romney was a man who just wanted to serve his country, but people had plenty of venom for him, too.
I know a lot of these things were said during the campaign, but the vitriol, profanity and anger were taken to another level on election night. I have refrained from using direct quotes from people to back up my points. However, just a little time spent researching on-line backs up my point.
The obvious question is:  Where do we go from here? This behavior clearly shows our country’s polarization remains deeply entrenched. Our leaders made good faith comments about wanting to work together, but we have heard that all before. We heard the same thing after the 2008 election, and how far did that go?  Not far because the same problem was worse four years later.
We are all going to continue to disagree with each other. However, if the power of our disagreements continues to intensify, we may reach a point of not turning back. Our unity may erode in a substantial way, and our country may become as fragmented as Europe. This possibility keeps me awake at night.
I don't want to believe that can happen, but a lot has changed in my short life. Life has become much more of a blood sport where humility and graciousness have taken a back seat to winning at all costs.
It is tainting our political discourse, and it is wearing moderates like me out. Moderates are usually the ones left to clean up the messes of extremists.  If we vacate the arena of debate, our country may eventually hit rock bottom.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New St. Louis Cardinals uniforms are first rate

A good retro look...
A recent trend in Major League Baseball has been the addition of alternate uniforms by teams.  For example, the Atlanta Braves added a uniform worn only during weekend home games last year.  It was a cream-colored uni based on what the team wore in 1966, and it was a big hit.  
The St. Louis Cardinals recently announced a new uniform addition that also has a nice retro feel to it and will be worn during home games on Saturdays next season.  This Yahoo! article goes more in-depth about it, and the most interesting aspect of the uniform is that it presents something new while still embracing the team's tradition.  The Cardinals have as much tradition as any team in the National League, and it is nice that the team was able to achieve this.
Well done, Cardinals.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Andy Kaufman was out there, but he was funny

Muttonchop sideburns never really went out of style
Lately, I have been re-reading Bob Zmuda's book Andy Kaufman Revealed in which he reveals many of the secrets of Kaufman's comedy career. Zmuda was the obvious one to do the revealing because he was Kaufman's little known collaborator and played a big role in some of his most outrageous stunts. If Kaufman gets credit for being a genius then Zmuda deserves a big tip of the hat for being a guiding force behind his humor.

Of course, calling Kaufman a genius is debatable for some. Personally, I believe he was a genius, but if somebody's idea of a comedian/performance artist is somebody who just comes out and does jokes, then I can understand why a person would not like him. The first routine I can remember him doing was his "Great Gatsby" routine. In that, he read F. Scott Fitzgerald's book wearing a tuxedo and speaking in a really exaggerated British accent. There were laughs at first, but as he continued to read there was dead silence followed minutes later by boredom, boos, and catcalls. Eventually, he gave the audience an option. They could either continue listening to him read the book or they could listen to a record he had brought. The audience enthusiastically chose the record, which, of course, was a recording of him reading The Great Gatsby in that exaggerated British accent. Big laughs.

Perhaps the best thing I liked about him was that he could successfully blur the line between reality and entertainment. In other words, he could make the viewer question whether what he was watching was just a comedy routine or was this something that was legitimately happening. The most famous example of this was when he "wrestled" professional wrestler Jerry Lawler in Memphis. Lawler performed two pile driver moves on Kaufman in which he dropped him on his head. Kaufman was removed from the wrestling ring by stretcher, and he and Lawler appeared days later on Late Night with David Letterman. On the show, with Kaufman wearing a neck brace, Lawler slapped him across the face so hard that it knocked him out of his chair. After returning from the commercial break, Kaufman launched a string of profanities with such anger that it was hard to believe it wasn't real. It appeared that comedy had transformed into some kind of weird personal confrontation.

Of course, it wasn't real. Zmuda's book revealed that it had all been staged. The pile drivers in the ring, the slap across the face on Letterman's show, and the profanity-laced tirade were all fake. It was the best form of performance art because it sucked the viewer right in. It made the viewer have to decide whether this was real or not.

Kaufman did not last much longer after that. He developed cancer and died at age 35. However, there is one interesting tidbit in Zmuda's book. He said one idea Kaufman was toying with was faking his own death, and then coming back 10 years later. Kaufman said that if he were to fake his death he would do it by pretending to have cancer.

Interesting. Of course it has been more than 10 years since Kaufman died, and he hasn't come back. Plus, Zmuda was with Kaufman during his illness so he can verify his death.

Still, it would be one of the most memorable comedy bits of all time if he was lurking out there. Who knows?  He may even be reading this right now.

You never know.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Experiencing history again

Depending on how a person uses it, YouTube is either a wonderful blessing that can bring the world to a person's fingertips or a bummer where the banal and insipid are memorialized for posterity.
In other words, YouTube is like any other creation. It can be used for good or bad just like anything else on the Internet. A primary way I enjoy YouTube is that it allows me to experience historical events as they happened.
Documentaries on significant events are often very easy to find, but they are not quite the same as living through the actual event as it happened. YouTube allows us to do this to a certain extent.
Of course, the primary limitation of this service is that video of live events in real time only goes back 70 years or so. Therefore, a huge chunk of human history must be visualized in our minds.
However, the events we have available to us is breathtaking. For example, one of the most important events to happen in the early television era was the assassination of President John Kennedy. By using the resources available on YouTube, a person can relive the initial reports of his shooting delivered by Walter Cronkite.
There are other clips that walk the viewer through the aftermath of the crime, including the shooting of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and the burial of the president. All of this information is there at our fingertips begging to be viewed.
For somebody like me who was not alive when those events took place, YouTube is an invaluable resource when trying to understand that time. Doing this allows us to see events unfiltered before the interpreters of history began providing their two-cents worth.
There are also plenty of clips of other momentous events. For example, the first moon landing that occurred 1969 is an extraordinary one. Incredibly, it has been more than 40 years since this happened, and it would be fascinating to see how this would be presented to us today if we went there again.
Fortunately, we have access to video that allows us to experience the thrill of Neil Armstrong first stepping on to the moon’s surface. Compared to today, the technology then appears primitive both in terms of what the astronauts used and the tools the media used to communicate it to us.
Other space agency events are chronicled including the tragic failure of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. This is one event that was burned in my heart as a 21 year old, but when I went back and reviewed the news clips from that day, they were not quite like I remembered.
Perhaps that is normal. Sometimes, when we experience something memorable, we remember events just a little bit differently than they actually occurred.
For example, one of the most oft-quoted lines from the film Casablanca is the line: “Play it again, Sam.” However, the big problem with that is the line was never uttered in the film. The song “As Time Goes By” is played so often in the film that many believe it had to be said, but it was not. The same goes with our memory when remembering shocking events; our emotion often recalls things that were not quite there.
For this reason, the ability to go back and experience them again brings order to our memories, and we remember events for what they really were. Even the most skilled observers of history have their memories fogged sometimes.
I could go on and on with examples of how this is beneficial, but I think you get the picture. YouTube can marvel us if we let it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forget about a warming trend in Barrow this weekend

As frequent readers of this blog know, I like checking out the weather in Barrow, Alaska, from time to time. Barrow is the northernmost permanent settlement in the United States.  It suffers unbearable cold and considerable darkness depending on the time of year.

Here in Tennessee, we will enjoy something of a warming trend this weekend.  The weather people say it will be 70 on Saturday and in the upper 60s on Sunday.  No such luck for Barrow.  It will be cloudy this weekend with a high of 18 on Saturday and a high of 15 on Sunday.

So, here is a cyber tip of the cap to the folks there.  It must be tough, but I'm sure they must love it there to put up with it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Obama will win the election on Tuesday

Keep in mind this is not an endorsement because I do not endorse candidates.  That said, I believe President Obama will win re-election on Tuesday.  I have digested more polls than I care to recall and read oodles of political information from organizations all over the ideological spectrum.  Based on that, signs point to the president winning. Many national polls have it very close, but we do not elect the president through a general election.  We elect the president through the Electoral College. The polls are close in Ohio (a key state) but most show Obama ahead by between one to five points. Even the polls on FOX show Obama with a lead there.  It would take a miracle for Romney to win if he loses Ohio.  I suppose a miracle could happen, but I don't see it.

Quote of the day: Mark Twain

"The two most important days of your life are:  the day you were born, and the day you find out why."  -- by Mark Twain, an American writer of some note.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Will Obama win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote?

Mercifully, the presidential race comes to a close on Tuesday. All the pontificating will end, and most of us will go back to living normal lives without candidates trying to convince us how great they are. However, this experience has included more than candidates.
For example:  Polls. I am sick of polls. Each day, several organizations release polls telling us how the race is going in various states and across the nation as a whole. It is all a bunch of noise to me because news organizations rarely release information about the methodology used to create these polls. Still, the possibilities indicated by them are intriguing.
Perhaps the most fascinating possibility is the chance one candidate will win the popular vote and the other the Electoral College. To be elected president, a candidate must win 270 votes in the Electoral College. In a sense, it does not matter who wins the popular vote because 270 is the magic number.
Because of Mitt Romney's popularity throughout a big chunk of the country, some pundits are floating the real possibility that he could win the popular vote, but President Obama still win the Electoral College.
Our country is incredibly polarized when it comes to politics, and if this happens, the roof might blow off. However, we must not forget that this very scenario happened only 12 years ago.
Tennessee's Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush won the electoral vote and became president. Democrats cried foul, and the climax of the election was unique to be sure because of the problems in Florida.
Those poor folks in Florida demonstrated how easy it is to mess up an election. Because of their errors, many claimed the presidency was stolen from Gore. However, this was not the case. The bitter irony for Gore is that he would have won if he had simply won his home state.
In the aftermath of all that, there were cries from a lot of people to do away with the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote. Of course, most of the people who said that were Democrats upset about the election while Republicans steadfastly defended the current system.
However, if Romney won the popular vote but lost the election, there would be a complete role reversal. Democrats would get the White House while Republicans would be on the outside looking in. Do we really believe Republicans would go gently into that good night?
Not hardly. I am sure many of them would cry just as loudly as Democrats did in 2000. Some of the Democrats would be in the awkward position of supporting a process some denounced only a decade ago.
In addition to this, there is one other possibility that is even spicier. Apparently, there is at least one scenario in which Obama and Romney could tie with 269 electoral votes each. In this case, the House of Representatives would select the president and the Senate would choose the vice president.
Because of the parties that control those bodies, Romney would likely be selected president and Joe Biden vice president.
This may not reflect well on me, but I would love to see this scenario play out. After the shrillness of the campaign, it would be a fitting way to bring it all to a close. Both sides have beaten the other to a bloody pulp the last few months. This has occurred to the great annoyance of many citizens.
What better way for election night to end with neither candidate being able to say they won? I think it would be tremendously symbolic, but then again, not all people like to live through history being made.