Monday, May 27, 2013

Tennessee Volunteers facing another transition season in football in 2013

A bowl would be nice.
The University of Tennessee has one of the most storied programs in college football history, but the last five years have been rough going. The bad news for the program is tough times likely lie ahead for the 2013 season.
Since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008, the program has been spinning its wheels. Lane Kiffin’s one-year tenure left the school’s fan base wondering how he could have been hired in the first place. The only bright spots were that he was able to beat Georgia and South Carolina.
The situation went from bad to worse during the three-year Derek Dooley era. Dooley did manage a Music City Bowl appearance in 2010, but the program quickly slid into the abyss his final two years.
Last year, the team stumbled to a 5-7 record in which the defense was historically bad. In eight games, the defense gave up 35 or more points. In two of those games, Tennessee allowed opponents to score more than 50.
However, the program turned a corner of sorts when Butch Jones was hired as head coach last December. Since then, he has said all the right things. On short notice, he was able to salvage a top 20 recruiting class and the 2014 class is off to a good start.
He has done a magnificent job off the field in reconnecting with former players and rejuvenating the fan base. His work handling the intangibles of his job has been outstanding. An indicator of this was when more than 61,000 turned out for the spring game, which was the most for that event since 1986.
Now comes the hard part. What will the Volunteers look like in 2013? Tennessee fans have had their patience worn thin the last five years, and it looks like they will have to be patient for at least one more year. The bottom line is the team is thin and inexperienced in important areas.
Defensively, it could be considered a positive that many starters return, but since that squad was so bad last year, is this really a good thing? It would be easy to say that nothing could be as bad as last year, but this does not mean success is just around the corner.
However, there are some things to feel good about. The team is switching back to a 4-3 base defense, and the team had some success with this in 2011. Last year, the secondary fell apart when safety Brian Randolph injured his knee against Florida and was lost for the season. His recovery is progressing and along with Justin Coleman and LaDarrell McNeil, a fine nucleus could be there in the secondary.
Offensively, lots of question marks remain. A talented offensive line returns, but there are many unknowns at quarterback and wide receiver. Junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterson were essentially co-starters at quarterback during spring practice, but neither separated themselves from the other.
At wide receiver, there is some solid potential but nobody close to the talent at that position last year. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom, Alton “Pig” Howard, and Devrin Young are the names to watch there, but considerable work remains to get ready for this season’s formidable schedule.
Playing in the Southeastern Conference is a tough place to be when rebuilding, and the Volunteers face a challenging schedule. Road games include trips to Oregon, Florida, and Alabama.
Tennessee’s on-field goals must be conservative this year. Finishing with a 6-6 record would be a good achievement for this squad considering all the question marks.
Tennessee is one of only two major college football programs never to have lost more than seven games in a season (Ohio State is the other). If the Vols survive this season with that achievement in tact, then 2013 will have to be considered a success.

The two different worlds of Jodi Arias and Dr. Kermit Gosnell

I do not pretend to understand why the mainstream media chooses some stories to emphasize more than others. I gave up trying to do that long ago after my attempts to understand yielded nothing but pounding headaches.
However, there have been two recent court cases that have caused me to scratch my head once again. The two cases involve Jodi Arias and Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
The only way people could not know of the Arias case is if they have been living in a cave in South America for the last four months. Actually, that lifestyle sounds more appealing than having to live through the excruciating detail in which the mainstream media has brought us this case.
Arias was recently convicted of first degree murder of her ex-boyfriend. During the trial, the media micro-analyzed every morsel of information provided. Explicit details about sex lives, Mormon religious beliefs, and gruesome details about the killing were presented in eyebrow-raising detail.
Every year or two, the media anoints certain stories to cram down the throats of the public, and I guess this one was chosen for early 2013. I know no formal votes are taken on such things. Things just turn out this way.
However, when so much time and energy is presented to one trial, others fall through the cracks. The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia is one trial that did not receive anywhere near the amount of coverage it deserved.
Gosnell is an abortion doctor who was charged with four counts of first degree murder, and among the allegations were that he was responsible for the snipping of spinal cords of premature babies born alive. He was convicted on three of those counts.
Call me crazy, but the potential murder of newborn babies by a doctor seems a lot more compelling than the sex life of Jodi Arias. Despite this, the Gosnell case went largely ignored by the mainstream media.
I credit columnist and pundit Kirsten Powers for practically shaming the media into providing what little coverage was reported. After her efforts, some light was shown on the trial but nowhere near what should have been.
There have been plenty of excuses. Some rationalized that the testimony in the Gosnell trial was just too graphic to be reported. I agree the testimony was graphic, but the subject matter was infinitely more important than the circus surrounding the Arias trial. And the Arias trial was definitely graphic when it came to evidence reported.
The biggest disappointment of the Gosnell trial was how quiet pro-choice abortion rights groups were. There was not much criticism of Gosnell, and what little there was came late.
As for why one trial got so much coverage and one did not, I am not naïve. The Arias trial was one that titillated. It had sex, obsession, romance, murder and a lot of other things that appeal to us.
On the other hand, the Gosnell trial dealt with issues that are difficult to talk about and are polarizing to the public. Still, it is hard to believe people would be more interested in a woman whacking her ex-boyfriend compared to a doctor accused of murdering babies.
However, maybe this is the culture we live in. Even when watching our justice system, we want to be entertained and want to use it as a form of escapism. I do not want to believe this is the case, but television networks and web sites know what types of stories will cause people to be interested.
And, apparently, the Gosnell trial was not one of those trials. I guess we can only take so much when watching the news over our evening dinner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The withering Old Stone Fort Golf Course

For golfers my age in this area, most of us learned how to play at the Old Stone Fort Golf Course.  Of course, it was shut down a couple of years ago, narrowing the options for local golfers.  I had some free time today, so I went down there to wander around and see what was left.  It now has weeds and is generally unkept, but since it is still part of the state park there, people can still use it for walking trails and such.

This photo is from the view of what used to be the first tee box.  Though the place produces the vibe of a ghost town, I still felt a lot of good memories as I walked around.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Freedom without discipline

We Americans sure love our freedom, and if we believe somebody is trying to interfere with it, we do not hesitate to stand our ground.
This phenomenon manifests itself in numerous ways both here at home and internationally. For example, we have been fighting a war in Afghanistan since 2001 in the aftermath of an attack by extremists on our country.
Islamic extremists killed thousands of Americans and made us fear our way of life was in danger. Because of this, the beat has been going on in Afghanistan for almost 12 years. In some ways, it almost feels like the conflict has become a forgotten war because it has been going on so long.
Maybe this is because the mainstream media really does not dedicate the amount of coverage to it that it deserves. During the Obama administration, the war has become less of a media issue compared to the Bush administration, or at least it seems that way.
We see this standing up for freedom on an everyday level here in our country, too. As a society, we constantly try to redefine some of the most basic elements of our country in order to insure everybody’s freedom is being protected. There has been a lot of disagreement on some of these issues, and they will continue to play out in coming years.
There are no easy answers. For example, the definition of marital unions has been changed in several states, and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will make some big decisions regarding it. For all the apathy in our country, this is one issue in which apparently everybody has an opinion.
The definition of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” can be pretty broad, and as our country continues, the interpretation of that phrase will have a big impact on us all.
For all the freedom we have, do we have to consider at some point that a society can have too much freedom? If so, where is the cutting off point?
The Bill of Rights guarantees us freedom of speech, but we can’t go into a crowded movie theater and scream “Fire!” just because we feel we have the right to do it. There are limits to our freedoms, and we will continue to test those limits like we have since the founding of our country.
However, as the definition of freedom continues to evolve, I hope we do not forget how important discipline is in defining this concept. Depending on the circumstances, discipline can restrain us, but it can also protect us from ourselves sometimes.
We can become so blinded by the concept of freedom that we feel nothing should stand in its way. While that sounds ridiculous in some ways, it is not that farfetched today.
Just as Islamic extremists have threatened our country, extremists from within America can be just as dangerous. It is does not matter if they come from the far left or the far right of the political spectrum. When groups lose sight of the common good, then they tend to favor a version of America where their vision rules and everybody else should just sit and take it.
It requires discipline to consider the needs of everybody when it comes to making a country work. Though many may not want to admit it, discipline is probably one of the key ingredients that causes freedom to thrive. If we lose that, watch out.
So, as our country moves forward, I hope we will all have the discipline to put the needs of everybody on the same level as our own. This is not always easy to do, but it would be a refreshing change.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Passing the buck

We all have to put up with a lot of noise in our lives each day, but sometimes we hear words spoken that cause us to pause and think.
For whatever reason, I have repeatedly been in situations lately where I have heard discussions about our country’s direction and who is responsible for it. In each situation, I did not offer much input, preferring to be a fly on the wall. Many times, a person can learn more about the mood of a situation by just listening instead of leaping into the middle of it.
Based on what I heard, there are many people who believe our nation has started down a slippery slope with little chance for recovery. According to them, times are bad, and there is not much hope our current leadership can do much to help.
I discount that point of view to a certain degree. For better or worse, I have always been a ‘glass-is-half-full’ kind of man. While I concede the United States has many problems on its plate, we still live in a formidable country. I would not want to live any place else.
I guess the aspect of these discussions that intrigued me most was the amount of finger pointing taking place. Some people pointed their fingers right at President Obama and the Democrats and felt it was their entire fault. Others laid the blame right at the feet of Republicans. There were others who blamed everybody and decried the fact that nobody seems to be able to work together.
However, in each of these discussions, a recurring theme was how none of them put our current problems in any type of historical context.
For example, our nation has a national debt of almost $17 trillion that is currently growing by a staggering $900 billion each fiscal year. Based on the talk I heard, most people appear to believe this problem sprouted up overnight with absolutely no warning.
Of course, this is totally incorrect. The era of big federal government can at least be traced back to President Johnson’s administration in the 1960s. This approach has continued, and we have little consensus about how to pay for all we want. Even though this problem has been a long time coming, many people want to simple-mindedly heap all the blame on our current representatives (though they do deserve their share of blame).
The same goes for social issues like gay marriage. For me, it amazes me how many people appear to believe this issue simply showed up out of thin air. For anybody paying attention, we know the gay rights movement has been gaining momentum for decades. In a modern sense, it can be traced back to the Stonewall Rebellion of the late 1960s, and there have been other milestones of that movement as time has unfolded. My comments should not be misinterpreted as either support or rejection of the gay rights movement. My point is that some people have proven themselves totally clueless about even knowing it was going on.
I guess the overwhelming emotion I felt as I listened to these people was that it is better late than never when it comes to paying attention to what is going on around us. Apathy is real, and the tragedy is that most people never pay attention. In the 2012 presidential election, 90 million people who were eligible to vote did not. I guess ‘American Idol’ must have been on that day.
The bottom line is we need to at least be paying attention to what is going on. We do not have to agree, but let us try to be knowledgeable about what we are talking about.