Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Go Spartans! Beat the Dawgs!

The Michigan State University Spartans take on the the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Bowl, Orlando, Florida, on New Year's Day.

I love my Spartans. I don't expect them to win, though. I'd say MSU's shot at winning is 25 to 30%. The Bulldogs, I think, are a more talented team (despite their 9-3 record which matches MSU's) and they are playing what is virtually a home game.

If MSU wins it will be because the defense plays perfectly, Ringer runs for over 100 yards, and Spartan receivers hang onto the damned ball. The receivers need to make Brian Hoyer's job a bit easier or it will be a sad day in Orlando for them.

Either way, I'm looking forward to the game. I'm proud of the Spartans. Go Green! Go White! Go State!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Death of a young wife and mom

It's odd how we can be so moved, devastated even, by the loss of someone we've never met. We are touched by celebrity deaths as if we were their acquaintances. That makes some kind of sense because there's an illusion of "knowing" a celebrity.

What is strange is how painful the death of a complete stranger. Three days ago a young (34) wife and mother of three children (two with disabilities) from our church died of cancer. She was only diagnosed in late fall. No one expected she would be gone so quickly. God took her two days before Christmas, perhaps the worst time for a family to lose a daughter, wife and mother.

I never met this young woman. My wife met her briefly because had worked with one of her children in Sunday School. My wife sobbed when we heard the news. I've been in shock. A little hole has been poked in souls. The sadness is palpable. Maybe it's easy to feel that family's pain because we are young(er) parents. I cannot imagine losing my wife at such a young age (or at all for that matter.)

When a young person dies, more questions are raised than get answered. Why God did you take her now? Why did you leave her young children motherless? Only God knows the timing of tragedies. All I know is that it is painful to imagine being in this family's shoes.

Quite possibly, the lesson for me is to be unceasingly thankful for the blessings of my beautiful, wonderful wife and daughter He has given me. Maybe I am supposed to remember that others are suffering and could use our support. This horrible tragedy is a chance for the rest of us to show love to this family in crisis. I hope that our family and our church step to the plate.

Deadly Sin No. 2: Gluttony

In the post-modern world, it seems that people really don't believe in sin. Certainly, things that many used to believe were sinful are acceptable behaviors today. To think of overeating, a very common practice in our culture, as sin is probably to some laughable.

Every year after Christmas, though, I know why the early (6th Century) Church identified "gluttony" (latin: gula) as a sin. I feel that "sin's" grip on my body. As wonderful as feasting can be, I feel poisoned after the holidays. Christmas is toxic.

Here's what I ate yesterday (sorry if this seems like too much information):

* Leftover Indian food for breakfast
* About a dozen shrimp
* 10-15 crackers, about 1/2 w/slices of cheese
* Some chips and salsa
* Small scoop of mashed potatoes with gravy
* Small salad
* 2 slices of ham
* Piece of cheesecake
* Some fruit salad
* 2 bottles of Guinness Draught
* 1 bottle of Modelo Especial
* Small glass of egg nog
* 1/2 bag of Smart Food (R) Popcorn
* Maybe 2 cookies
* 5 small cups of Diet Dr. Pepper
* 20 oz. (lousy) gas station coffee
* About 8-10 asparagus stalks

This doesn't include all the junk I ate on Christmas eve: potato chips; rhubarb pie; lasagna; more lousy coffee; pre-made garlic bread; Diet Coke. Yuck. Reading this makes me want to never eat again.

I want to cleanse this stuff from my body. I want all the sugar and fat and carbs and processed garbage out. Now!

I fully and completely understand the blame for how I feel lies with me. A little more discipline yesterday should have been exercised.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Have a safe, happy, merry, wonderful Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Black House Ceilidh

We had the opportunity to see (the second time for me) a great Christmas concert last night. The Black House Ceilidh performed at the Kerrytown Concert House last night and Friday to sell out crowds.

The Black House Ceilidh is a fantastic group. They play instruments you don't often hear in folk music: viola de gamba; highland bagpipes; viheula. The band members, as I understand, know each other through the Michigan Renaissance Festival where each regularly perform individually. Their sound (and stage dress) has a Renaissance feel, but there is a lot of celtic, English folk and Spanish in there sound. BHC do not mic their instruments; the show has a very clean, soothing feel because of that. Each person in the group is a very gifted musician with a wide range of influences.

Here's the band's myspace page:


The show was primarily a holiday program, but a few songs that were more broadly "religious" or with winter themes were part of the set. Their CD, Upon A Winter's Eve, is a perfect disc if you love more traditional Yuletide songs. I highly recommend you order it before the holiday arrives. You can get the CD or download the songs from these sites:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama gets it. Other Liberals don't.

The newest skirmish in the "culture war" flared up after President-elect Obama's team announced that evangelical mega-church pastor and best selling author, Rick Warren, would offer a prayer at the inauguration.

The controversy surrounds Mr. Warren's public opposition to gay marriage and his support of a constitutional ban on that practice in California:
[H]is role has angered gay rights campaigners, particularly since Warren supported California's controversial Proposition 8, which voters approved in November and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman - effectively banning gay marriage even though it has previously been legal in the state.

The president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, wrote to Obama saying: "By inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans have a place at your table."
This isn't the only group to have criticized Mr. Obama's selection of Mr. Warren. The story is all over the news and, according to those stories, lots of left wing groups have expressed displeasure on this matter.

Of course none of the critics have bothered to talk about Rick Warren's work on AIDS. Here's just one of many articles on his ministry to AIDS-afflicted people.


In my view, President-elect Obama got it right in his response:

Obama responded to the furore at his press conference saying: "It is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans...It's important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."
Liberal activists: just because your candidate for President won does not mean you are only the folks welcome to the table. For years, those of you on the left have bemoaned that the United States is not an inclusive place, that people are excluded from the rights and benefits of this country on the basis of race, nationality, religion and sexual preference (and that has been true in many ways.)

No doubt, you miss the irony of calling for the exclusion from President-elect Obama's inauguration of a person who has a different worldview from yours. Those that have cried the loudest about being excluded would love nothing more than to exclude so-called evangelicals from participation in the celebration of Mr. Obama's election for no other reason than they disagree with evangelicals.

You really don't want inclusion. You don't want a nation in which all can participate. You want everyone in this country to say, "Hey, whatever you want to do, however you want to live, that's fine by me."

Expecting -- demanding -- others not to agree with you, and then trying to prvent them from participating in certain events when they do not, is textbook intolerance. Spare me your speeches about tolerance because you don't practice. In fact, you don't even believe in it.

I'm not the a big fan of President-elect Obama. He says all the right things, though, on issues like this. We are all Americans. Somehow, someway, we have to find unity. When there cannot be unity of opinion or belief, at least we can agree to live and let live.

Missed a perfect teaching/loving opportunity

For a reasonably intelligent person, I can really be an idiot at times. My precious little kiddo was willing to help me shovel the snow this morning. There's a lot snow to shovel, believe me.

She just wanted to spend time with her "Daddy." She wanted my attention. She wanted my approval. She wanted to serve and be helpful.

What did I do? I got impatient. I snapped at her a few times because she was "in the way" or doing something wrong. I barked a few times out of the frustration of the work. It took a long time, even with her help. It is hard work. Ignoring the enormity of her heart, the sweetness of her intent, I focused instead on the task. Even then I didn't slow down enough to teach her how to help or even explain how she could help.

I did thank her. I apologized for being snapping a few times. I paid her a little bit of cash to reward her hard work, even though she hadn't asked for or expected it. I explained that I got impatient because the job took a long time (at least 1 1/2 hours) and was very tiring. Those are not good excuses. She's more important than the driveway.

Why do I do these things? Why do I forget what is important? Why do I value those things that mean nothing at all? Why do I hurt my family?

I love the smell of gas/2 cycle mix in the morning

We got buried in snow last night so neighbors were out this morning with their snowblowers, clearing their driveways. The carbon-sweet smell of burning gas/oil mix hung in the air as I was pelted in the face by tiny balls of hail.

Shoveling a really long driveway is back-breaking work. There will be a lot more for me to shovel when I get home. I need to get my own snowblower.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

These are words uttered by Eric Liddell, "The Flying Scotsman," in Chariots of Fire. Mr. Liddell was a devout Christian and an Olympic gold medalist. He was incredibly gifted but put his faith in God before his own personal goals and desires. He surrendered his chance at a gold medal in his strongest event because he wouldn't run on "the Lord's day."

Our family watched Chariots of Fire last night (my third time seeing it) and it was as if those words grabbed hold of me and shook me.

My wife and I -- more her than me -- have lately been trying to feel God, to experience Him on more than an intellectual or even doctrinal level. We have both been seeking heart knowledge moreso than head knowledge. I've not wanted anything mystical or supernatural necessarily. I just want to feel God in the details of my life.

My wife has been reading lots of great stuff. Just in the last few days, we've talked about or read about worshipping God just in the doing of our daily activities.

She read and related to me something by Parker J. Palmer and since I heard it, I've been asking God to help me give Him my work; every letter I type, every phone call I take, every conversation I have. Those mundane things are our lives. I've been all but begging God to show me how those things have meaning, to show me how those things can even be worship.

I am not there. Sitting through a conference this morning, I wanted to gouge my eyes out in frustration. Nothing of that could I see as having any significance. Hopefully someday I'll be able to replace the frustration and boredom with joy.

Eric Liddell's words shook me because he voiced what I hope to someday feel: God's pleasure. He felt his reason for being. He could feel God's love.

Someday perhaps...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tomorrow Never Knows: the first "Trip Hop" song

Trip Hop, according to allwords.com, is defined as:
  1. A genre of slow dance music combining elements of hip hop with melodic, often psychedelic, sounds and impressionistic lyrics
Etymology: A portmanteau of trip (in the sense "drug-induced hallucinations", alluding to psychedelic music) and hip hop.

Webster's online dictionary says:
probably blend of 2trip (high from a psychedelic drug) + hip-hop
: electronic dance music usually based on a slow hip-hop beat and incorporating hypnotic synthesized and prerecorded sounds

According to the wikipedia article on it, "Trip Hop" has its origins in England's Hop Hop and House music scenes of the early to mid 1990's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trip_hop

In 1966, The Beatles recorded "Tomorrow Never Knows," which founds its way onto Revolver. Famously, it was the first pop rock record to use "tape loops." Paul McCartney picked up this trick in London's avante garde scene and shared it with his fellow Beatles.

In describing the yet-unreleased Revolver album, Paul credits himself with making the strange tape loops that would be used on the recording 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' This is confirmed by Beatles studio engineer Geoff Emerick - who, in writings and interviews, agrees that these tape loops were made at home by Paul, who then excitedly brought them into the studio for everyone to hear during the very early stages of the album project.

Of course, John Lennon did entire albums of tape loops and electronic sounds in the late 60's after falling in with Yoko. But the origin of their use in the group -- and popular music more broadly -- is Paul McCarntey.

The lyrics are almost the definition of psychedelic. Accounts vary, but John Lennon came up with the words to the song either influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead or Timothy Leary's The Psychedelic Experience.

The psychedelic lyrics, the low, rumbling bass, the heavy drums, the tape looped-sounds; all hallmarks of what is now called "Trip Hop". Once again, the Beatles were decades ahead of their time.

Oasis at the Palace of Auburn Hills, December 13, 2008

Playing to a half empty (but enthusiastic) arena, Oasis was in typical form meaning big, loud, brash, bombastic. The set list was (in no particular order):

Rock n' Roll Star
Shock of the Lightning
Cigarettes & Alcohol
Song Bird
Slide Away
Waiting for the Rapture
To Be Where There's Life
Morning Glory
Importance of Being Idle
Meaning of Soul
I'm Outta Time
Falling Down
Ain't Got Nothin' on Me
Don't Look Back in Anger
The Masterplan
Champagne Supernova
I Am The Walrus

Oasis always puts on a good show. I've seen better from them, though. This was the weakest of the four Detroit area shows I've seen. Still, it was very good.

Liam was his usual strutting self. As I was side stage, I could see him repeatedly motioning to the sound crew something about his microphone (either the PA or monitors.) He joked with the crowd and the people behind me couldn't understand that he said a tamborine was too expensive to give away but he could take cash or credit card for it. Nevertheless, before the evening was over he tossed 2 tamborines and 1 microphone into the first few rows. Nice souvenirs.

Noel greeted the crowd several times. He joked that the keyboard player, Jay Darlington, was "the Shroud of Turin," a hysterical comment if you've ever seen Jay (a Jesus look-alike if there ever was one.) Some exuberant but possibly confused fan threw 1 shoe on the stage, which ended up being great fodder for Noel who asked the crowd to "own up" to being the owner of the other shoe. At the end of the show, he walked off stage with the shoe and handed it to a security guard.

The new drummer Chris Sharrock sounded great. He's a stick tosser and twirler, a little unusual for Oasis.

As a huge Oasis fan, this show was a tad sad for me because there were so many empty seats. Oasis's booking agent should be fired immediately for booking them in a 22,000 seat venue in Michigan in the middle of a recession (and with no local radio support for the new album.) The Palace is simply too big for an Oasis show here in Detroit.

The fellas have a dedicated following here in America, but it's miniscule compared to the United Kingdom. Oasis is nothing more nor less than a big guitar rock and roll band. Why they don't translate here well is beyond me. They might be the most misunderstood band of the last 30 years. You either get them or you don't. Unfortunately not too many in Detroit get what they're all about or they would have packed the place to the rafters.

Monday, December 8, 2008

These memories do not lose their meaning

I was only 9 years old but by that time, my life had been deeply affected by the Beatles. To say that I was a huge fan is a tremendous understatement. The Beatles were and still are one of my great interests, a real passion. Their music and affect on western culture were things that I could talk about that helped me bond with my dad. The music was great, too. I loved it for its own sake.

I'll never forget my pop telling me ,"Sean, one of the Beatles was killed tonight." "What? Knock it off. Stop being a jerk, Pop!" "I'm serious," he said. "Someone shot John Lennon."

In the following days, I was glued to the TV. For months -- maybe years -- I saved all the articles I clipped out of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. When I could get my hands on news magazines like Time -- we had those at school but not at home -- I clipped out the articles and photos from them, too. Probably within a month of John's murder, I chose him as my biography subject for a school paper.

My aunt bought a copy of Double Fantasy when it came out, which was just a month or so before John was killed. In the week before his death, I had already listened to the album on her record player. I remember "(Just Like) Starting Over" being on America's Top 40 or some radio show like that. Of course, after his death, I played that record every time I went to my aunt's house.

It really shook me, his death. I'm not so sure that I fully understood death, but the violence of it really stunned me. I could not fathom why someone would want to kill one of the Beatles, or anyone for that matter. The sadness on the faces of people all over the world, as seen on the news every night for a week or more, really caught my attention. As much as I knew that John Lennon had been known worldwide, until I saw the news coverage on TV, the immensity of his loss was not something I could have imagined. I missed Beatlemania entirely and did not have that as a frame of reference.

Twenty-eight years later I still remember that day. I remember the days and weeks that followed. These memories flood my mind every December 8 for the last 27 years.

While this certainly was an extraordinary (and horrendously tragic) event which is forever burned into my mind, it no longer holds any kind of sadness for me, at least not a sadness that I could feel or express. John Lennon was a brilliant man: funny, immensely creative; a great rock and roll singer; a humanitarian of sorts. Like many of the rest of us, he was also deeply flawed, a person burdened with a deep pain and sadness most if not all his life.

Unfortunately, John has become something of a god since his passing. Certainly, he was worshiped and adored as a Beatle, but he seems to have been elevated to deity status after his death. John never had the answer for himself, let alone for the rest of us. I appreciate his contributions to the world of art, music and pop culture. But he was a man, a brilliant one. Nothing more, nothing less. Human or not, we miss him nonetheless.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I hate Christmas

Well, OK, that's a bit of a stretch. I don't actually hate it. It's more accurate to say that I don't like what Christmas has become. Other than time together with family, for which people really don't need an excuse to gather, the holiday is pretty devoid of meaning.

It's empty, hollow, shallow, plastic. It's about Santa Claus and reindeer, about snowmen and elves. It's about stuffing your face full of food until you need to unbuckle your pants so you can sit down. It's about being jammed into shopping malls to buy stuff for people that they don't need with money we don't have.

A certain element in our society -- a tiny but vocal minority -- has insisted that Christmas be so devoid of any Christian connotation that retailers, who don't mind taking our billions of dollars during the holiday season, fear offending customers with the radical words, "Merry Christmas."

That same tiny but vocal minority has fits over little baby Jesus laying quietly in a manger...on public property. I guess we're all much much safer if the little lad takes his naps on private property. Maybe it's the camel crap and angels flying around that really bothers them.

I decided a few years back that people can have the Christmas they want: an empty early winter gift exchange party. I would like to do what the old school Presbyterians did and opt out of the holiday but, alas, I have family and friends that expect my participation. Of course, for my daughter the holiday is special and fun and I do enjoy the fun she has. I wish I could see the day through her eyes.

If I could, I'd spend the day down at a soup kitchen. I want Christmas to move me again. I want it to be raw! I want to spend the day doing something that will really change someone. I want something that will cleanse the soul of the secular commercialism. I want to feel it again or leave it to decay in peace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hurtling toward eternity

Each tick of the clock takes us closer to the end of our all too short stay on earth.


Each breath we take is one breath less in the final tally.


Each beat of the heart, the muscle grows weaker.


The minute I was born I started to die.

Today looks like yesterday. I can't tell that the end is coming, but I know that it will...eventually.

My life is a sentence in an encyclopedia set -- no, a punctuation mark! I'm one song on the radio. Begins. Ends. Done.

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Am I making the most of my time? Have I lived in vain? What have I left -- will I leave -- on the table?

Monday, November 17, 2008

OK, you can stop showing off now

Alright Obama-Biden supporters, it's time to take down your Obama for Prez yard signs.

Before election day was over, many of the McCain-Palin signs in my neighborhood were in recycle bins. But Obama signs still stand all over the place. In fact, very few have come down in my neighborhood. Within a few days of the election, a tree branch fell on the sign in my neighbor's front yard, crushing the sign. Did she take the sign down? Of course not. She moved the branch out into the street and stood the crumpled sign back where it was.

Obama won. You supported him. You picked a winner. We get it. Cheers to you for going along with the majority. You should be very proud of that.

I'm not going to bring you a plate of cookies. I'm not going to pat you on the back or say "Congratulations" when I see you outside shoveling snow. You're not going to win a medal.

DISCLAIMER: If you cannot tell, I didn't support Mr. Obama. However, I'm only slightly upset that he won and the yard signs don't truly bother me. I do think that there is a little bit of attention whoring going on, though.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Veteran's Day salute to my uncles

My dad had one older brother and my mom has two. I think the world of them and wanted to tell you all why.

Uncle D.: He's my dad's older brother. D. is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's smart, incredibly funny, very interesting, very sweet and very loving. Everytime I see him, I'm greeted with a big old smack on the lips. His voice is deep and smooth like silk, very soothing, which makes taking to him pleasant. Peppered throughout his conversations are a lot of "hells" and "shits" and "damns" and "JEE-zus Khrist," but most of those words are used for emphasis, not in anger. I hardly notice that he's cursing. D. greets everyone with a look in the eye and a firm handshake, but he's not cheesy salesman-type; it's all genuine. I love going into stores or restaurants with him because he usually talks to workers there very pleasantly, jovially, always getting them to laugh or smile. His wit is razor sharp and cat-quick. About every fourth sentence out of his mouth makes me laugh. A few glasses of wine really brings out his brilliant humor.

My dad, the little brother, had many of these fine qualities. Dad was incredibly bright, charming, funny and interesting. Unfortunately, he was a bit of a troubled person at various points in my life. When I felt like I couldn’t look to my father as a role model, I had D. While I have to say that my dad was a lot of fun, there was little security or stability he could provide a little boy. D., though, was (and is) a great family man. I always saw him as a model husband to my dear sweet aunt and great dad to my cousins. Visiting them – I only would see them once or twice a year growing up – always felt very warm. He was a model, I felt, for adult responsibility: work, pay your bills, raise your kids and have fun trying.

D. is kind. I always feel loved, like I might be just a little something more than a nephew. My daughter really doesn’t have a grandfather, and D. does have his own grandkids, but I feel like he has enough love left over to give some to my daughter. I can’t wait for us to see him (and the rest of his family) again, hopefully very soon.

Uncle E.: Mom’s oldest brother, E., is extremely generous. His heart must take up his entire 6-foot-plus frame. I’ve always really liked E. even though he can be quite a grouch. As a kid, I thought he was like Archie Bunker. In fact, I made the mistake of calling him that to someone, and it got back to him. But, he could be cranky and mean, so what I said wasn’t unfair. As much as he sometimes roars, I know he likes the people he roars at. He shows it through his generosity. For my 16th birthday he bought me a car! What a present! It needed a new engine so he bought that, too. We spent that fall and winter putting in the engine – it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did but there were problems – and got to know each other quite well over those months. I really liked his company and learned a lot from him, about cars and life. Some fundamental changes have taken place in his life the last few years. His sweetness and generosity have come to the fore and his grouchiness has somewhat receded. I really enjoy seeing him, though I don’t make the efforts I should to do so. No doubt, he has not been the easiest person in the world to live with, but Uncle E. loves, cherishes and protects my aunt. Like my other uncles, he is a funny guy. A good sense of humor runs on both sides of my family.

Uncle B.: Everyone, I think, has an Uncle B.. Mine’s the best, though. I do what I do, professionally, because of him. I work where I work because I grew up around him and his law school friends. It was almost like all his buddies were my uncles, too. He taught me how to read, how to play baseball, and how to throw and catch a football. He bought me my first bike and taught me how to ride it. His love for learning and reading rubbed off on me. My childhood love of baseball came from him.

More importantly, when I did not have an everyday father figure, Uncle B. was there as the man in my life. He came home from the Army when I was two or three and immediately took quite a liking to me. It didn’t hurt that he was so close to his little sister, my mom. Uncle B. would take to my Detroit Tigers games with his law school friends. I was the decoy for sneaking beer into the stadium. “Sean, say ‘hi’ to the nice man,” he would say, as he used my four year old body to shield his coat which was bulging with bottles of beer. Going to games, when the average person could afford to do that often, was one of our favorite things to do. When the Tigers went to the World Series in 1984, he shelled out $100 to take me. I even got a program and a Tigers jersey out of the deal. Every year for my birthday and Christmas, I got a $100 from him, even into my early 20's. Amazingly, he describes himself as “cheap.”

Even moreso than with my Uncle D., I have always felt like a son to Uncle B.. When his first child was born, I was seven and, obviously, not part of his immediately family. He lied to the hospital staff and told them I was his son so that I could see my brand new baby cousin. I can still see her through the glass, 29 years later. I felt so special that he wanted to share that moment with me. I don’t even think my aunt’s brothers and sisters got to see the baby until she came home!

Uncle B. taught me honesty, integrity, generosity (he’s much better at that than me) and how to do things the right way. He taught me to love my country and value family. Hard work and getting the most out of life are things he showed me through his actions.

I am blessed beyond belief to have such great uncles. Uncle D. and Uncle E. were in the Air Force. Uncle B. was in the Army. Each served during Viet Nam, but only E. was unlucky enough to serve there. On Veteran’s Day, I salute my uncles. They are great Americans and even better men.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud yet gravely concerned

I did not support Barack Obama and I've never made that a secret. I am disappointed that he will be our next President, not because I do not like him as a person and certainly not because of the color of his skin. I disagree with his proposed policies -- his platform -- and fear his lack of experience.

That said, some part of me is delighted that he was elected. The older I get and the more I learn about America's past racial sins, the more I understand the pain, frustration, suspicion and anger of minorities in our country, most notably African-Americans. For good reason, many of our black brothers and sisters never believed they would see this day. Rightly, the felt that America did not have it within her to elect a black man to the highest office of the land, the most powerful man in the world.

With them I celebrate this victory. It proves, yet again, what many of us have been saying for years. In the United States a man or woman should be, and most often is, judged by his or her character and ability, not by the color of his or her skin. Anyone who thinks that is not true must now explain how scores of millions of white men and women elected an African-American to the presidency.

Is racism dead in America? I think institutional racism is dead and has been for some time. Are bigotry and prejudice dead? No. Sadly, they never will be. There will always be someone who hates another because of his religion or ethnic background. But the fact that millions of Americans elected an African-American, of Muslim ancestry, to the White House suggests that bigotry has been pushed off into the corners and recesses of our society.

As please as I am about all that, I have concerns, serious concerns. Obama and the Democratic Congress want America to look like Europe or Canada. We are headed to an expansion of socialist policies and programs not seen since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. And that makes me squeamish. I also fear that Obama will change the face of the Supreme Court for decades to come. Legislating from the bench and overturning centuries of traditions and values will become the Court's trademarks post Obama.

This is a constitutional republic. The people have spoken. Nay they have shouted! I stand by that. I pray God's blessing on President Elect Obama and all the men and women who will take positions within his government. May the Lord guide and protect them from harm.

Monday, November 3, 2008

President Joe Sixpack

I am continually amazed at how every election year, especially in presidential elections years, the media blathers on and on about candidate x's attempt to "connect with Joe Sixpack." Presidential candidates go on Saturday Night Live or The Late Show with David Letterman to convince us that they have a sense of humor. They take off their ties, roll up their sleeves and go and and do "normal people" stuff. Heck, they even tell us in plain English, "I'm a normal person, just like you."

They play this game in reverse, too. "Joe the Plumber" was this year's everyman that John McCain told us would be best served by his administration. Joe the Plumber, we are told, is just like you and me and just like the candidate himself. Politicians have done this for years, maybe centuries. They love to tell the electorate how they know what "hockey moms" want or how they have spokes to a working mother of five and identified her needs and struggles. Bill Clinton even felt our pain.

Apparently this sham works. People want to feel that their elected leaders can identify with them. To some extent, that is entirely necessary. The President, especially, needs to know what is happening to his (or her) citizens. How can he (or she) serve us if he doesn't know what the heck is going on down here at street level?

But just because he needs to understand us doesn't mean he needs to be one of us. I don't want a President that is just your "average Joe." I want a person who is one in a million, nay one in a trillion. The President should be brilliant. He should inspire. He should know how to win. He should know how to stand tall when the rest of us would be blown over by the winds of turmoil.

John Kennedy was a rich kid from a privileged (but self made) family. The romanticism that surrounds him to this day was because he lived and carried himself like an American king. He was royalty. He was a better man than Joe Sixpack. He had a beautiful wife and family. His administration: Camelot. He wanted America to be something better than it already was, not to be complacent with our comfortable place in the world.

Ronald Reagan, though not an intellectual giant, was a larger-than-life figure. He had a vision for what America should be. In his mind, America would take down communism across the globe without the launching of a single atomic weapon. He'd get the economy up and running again, driving down inflation and creating jobs. Terrorists would fear him. Our hostages in Iran would come home. His presence conveyed that he believed in the nobility of his goals, he intended to keep his promises, and he dared to dream that America could do during his presidency what numerous presidents before him had failed to achieve.

Give me John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. I don't want to be lead by a person who feels he needs to convince me that he's just like me. If I wanted my leaders to be just like me, I'd run for office myself.

I wish politicians would stop this game of conning the people into believing they are "just regular folk." Inspire us to do greater things ourselves. Get us off the couch and out into our communities. Ask us what we can do for our country. Bring the citizens of this great nation up to your level, Mr. President, don't drag yourself down to ours.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Little brother knocked big brother out cold

It took a half dozen years to do it, but the Michigan State Spartans finally beat the (once) mighty Michigan Wolverines. It took 18 years to do that at Michigan Stadium. The score: MSU 35, UM 21.

The score wasn't even that close. Michigan got a free touchdown from the replay official. There is no doubt that the controversial pylon play was not a TD and Jim Delany, Big Ten Commish and UM grad, said as much. MSU also missed 3 field goal opportunities.

Javon Ringer hung 194 yards on your pourous defense and scored 2 TDs. A former walk-on receiver, Blair White, had 4 catches for 143 yards, including a 61 yard TD. A former walk-on...

MSU didn't get any help from clock operators or uncalled penalties. This game was a drubbing, an old-fashioned ass-whoopin'.

Wolverines fans have already tried to downplay their loss, claiming MSU was lucky to catch UM in a "rebuilding year." I won't even waste my time highlighting all the raw talent on UM's team. Lets just say that if coaches around the country could take entire rosters and had to chose between UM's and MSU's, they'd probably pick UM's.

The "it's a rebuilding year" excuse is lame. It's loser talk. MSU has been perpetually "rebuilding" since Duffy Daugherty last walked the sidelines. In fact, they've been rebuilding my entire life! If we need to discount victories during the opponent's "rebuilding years," UM's last 31 victories over MSU have to be tossed out the window.

I couldn't be more happy for the Spartans. Wolverines, your program is terrible this year. Don't look for sympathy from me. Since your favorite son, Mike Hart, made his "little brother" comments about MSU last year, your team is 3 and 8. Mark Dantonio tried to warn you: pride comes before the fall.

Take heart: you'll be back. If MSU takes care of business, maybe this will remain a competitive rivalry.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The death of the adverb

It seems that no matter what the media, I daily read or hear people who have no idea what an adverb is or how to use it. I really should start keeping track of the numerous examples I see of this on the internet. I follow local sports somewhat closely, and sports fans, writers and talk show hosts seem to be the worst offenders. Surprisingly, many of these folks have college degrees or at least some college under their belts.

Day after day, I read or hear something like these:
  • The receiver ran the route perfect!
  • He gets down the field quick.
  • Drive safe.
  • He did that nice.
How can they not possibly know that those adverbs should be "perfectly," "quickly," "safely," and "nicely"? Any middle schooler has learned this stuff.

Similarly, people do not seem to know when to correctly use "good" instead of "well" and vice versa. "I like your picture. You did real good." No, he or she did real well.

I have no idea why I'm ranting about this. But the slow destruction of the English language is driving me to my grave quick...err I mean quickly.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Michigan State University: THE university of Michigan

It's rivalry week. MSU vs. UM. Trot out all the cliches: backyard brawl; civil war; brother against brother. Blah blah blah.

The Spartans roll into Michigan Stadium favored by 5.5 after both teams were completely blown off the field last Saturday. MSU is still in Big Ten title contention, though they have to get lucky to share the title this year. MSU needs one more win in the next five games to guarantee a bowl trip. A win Saturday keeps their hopes alive for a New Year's Day bowl.

UM, for the first time in my lifetime, is playing just to get to .500. If they win the rest of their games -- which isn't going to happen -- they can go 7-5. The Wolverines are not used to be in that position. With a conference title completely out of the question and a bowl berth not very likely, UM can play spoiler to the Spartans. A win Saturday earns them a bit of respectability...at least temporarily.

As bad as Michigan is this year, I think they could shock the Spartans. MSU hasn't beaten UM since 2001 and hasn't won in Ann Arbor since 1990. I don't put much stock in history. Different coaches. Different players. Different circumstances. Mentally, though, the Spartans have to forget that the last time an MSU team beat UM on the road, most of these Spartans were in diapers.

State should and probably will win this game. The Spartans want this one badly. Mark Dantonio hates UM and emphasizes this game as maybe the most important single game on the schedule. The kids should be ready to play. The Wolverines are a lousy team this year -- I say that not as a put down or insult but as a statement of fact. This is MSU's opportunity to beat a team that has been better than them almost every year in the last 40 years (with some notable but few exceptions.)

My pick: MSU 31, UM 24.

Go Green! Go White! Beat the Wolverines!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not yet ready for the big time

The Ohio State Buckeyes blew the Michigan State Spartans off the field today. Sadly, this game was over before the end of the first quarter. MSU was maybe the better team in the 3rd quarter, but they were too far in a hole by then.

MSU's future looks bright. But today's game was supposed to be their opportunity to show that the future is now. A win would have probably meant that the Spartans would have a special season. Now we have to wonder whether they can return to form and find ways to win the remaining games.

The Spartans take on the hated Wolverines next Saturday. Michigan is a talented team that is playing lousy football and which has some mental problems. It's a game State should win. But will the embarrassing loss to OSU linger? MSU hasn't beaten Michigan since 2001 and hasn't won at the big hole in the ground (Michigan Stadium) since 1990. Can they get over that hurdle? Can they break those ugly streaks?

What they do Saturday will show us how much they have improved over last season. Last year was a lot of fun. But if this program wants to develop into a championship-caliber program, 8 wins this season should be the minimal expectation, especially now the Spartans already have 6 wins under their belt. C'mon, boys, beat the Wolverines. Show 'em that Spartans football is back and that today's game was just a bump in the road.

More about the MSU-UM game in the coming days...

Go State!

Beat Michigan!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ringo goes barmy

Having heard the flap created over this video message to his fans, I have to say that Ringo's behavior seems more odd after having viewed it. There is no doubt that Ringo could have found a better way to express what he said. "Peace and love, peace and love..." seems all so insincere in this video.

Nevertheless, Ringo owes the fans nothing beyond what he has given over decades! George Harrison had a great quote in the Anthology about what it was like to be a Beatle: "They (the fans) gave their money and they gave their screams,but the Beatles gave their nervous systems. They used us as an excuse to go mad, the world did, and then blamed it on us."

When they were at the height of their popularity, the Beatles faced death threats, could go nowhere in public without being mobbed. A "diplomat" at the British Embassy in America once snipped off -- without permission -- a lock of Ringo's hair while at a party. George was punched in the face once because Pete Best was replaced by Ringo. Oddballs used to bring handicapped people backstage at Beatles shows, and were asked to touch them as if they had healing power (at least that's how the Beatles saw it.) Worst of all, John was shot to death and George almost stabbed to death by so-called "fans." They gave the world the best rock n' roll that ever has been or ever will be made. I don't think they owe us a thing more.

Ringo has probably tired of signing items for collectibles dealers/traders.

Cheers to Ringo. Go live your golden years as you see fit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Spartans! Prepare for glory!

My MSU Spartans take on the Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday in East Lansing. These two hard-hitting, run-first teams will line up and punch each other in the mouths. MSU coach Mark Dantonio looks to best his former boss and mentor, Jim Tressel. A slew of MSU kids from Ohio -- Javon Ringer, Brian Hoyer, Justin Kershaw, Greg Jones and B.J. Cunningham, to name a few -- no doubt want to prove something against the football power in the home state.

For the first time in years, the 6-1 Spartans look like they actually deserve to be ranked. This will be a tough game, one they aren't expected to win, but the Spartans will play well, maybe even upset the more talented Buckeyes. They certainly have the mental and physical toughness to make OSU pay for every point they get.

I'm pretty excited about this game. After years of horrible football in East Lansing, a lot of credibility has returned. The coaches know what they are doing. The players give maximum effort on every play. They also play pretty smartly.

On paper, Ohio State has more talent, but they've shown some weaknesses over the last few weeks. They are certainly beatable.

If I had to bet straight up, I would take the Spartans in a close upset. The game really could go either way. Win or lose, this is a different Spartans team. I am proud of they way they play and represent the University.

Go State! Michigan State, I mean.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Godspeed to the sound of the pounding

Oasis's 7th studio album, Dig Out Your Soul, is out and it's great. Though Oasis left behind so-called Brit-Pop nearly a decade ago, DOYS is even further removed from the sounds that made Oasis the biggest band in the world in the mid to late 90's.

This is a heavy guitar rock album with lots of feedback and electronic noodling. If you think of music as a wall -- thanks Mr. Spector -- Oasis has built a monster of brick and mortar, the brick heavy, crunchy guitars, the mortar slapped on electronic effects and reverb. But it's straight-forward rock. No games. No gimmicks. Just rock and roll.

Noticeably absent from this Oasis work is any sort of anthem a la "All Around The World." As has been the trend on Oasis albums of the new millenium, Beatle-isms -- blatant Fab Four rip offs -- are rare. Don't Believe The Truth had "A Bell Will Ring," which was a purposeful attempt to recreate the sounds on Revolver. There's nothing like that on DOYS. The closest they come to nicking from the Beatles is the (fabulous) outro to "The Turning," a near carbon copy of the guitar intro to "Dear Prudence."

Tired of stealing from the greats -- or perhaps having left no classic song un-pinched -- Oasis has borrowed bits and pieces from their own catalog. To their credit, most of the re-treading has been quite subtle and probably only noticeable to people that pay close attention to their the "deep cuts." With each album, Oasis continues to expand on its own sound. Fourteen years after their debut album, they sound like...well...Oasis. If you doubt this, pick up a Jet album and look for all the bits and pieces they've swiped from the Gallaghers (and others.)

DOYS opens with "Bag It Up," a medium tempo grungy bit with a stomping back beat. It has the energy to kick open the door to the album.

"The Turning" is equal parts "I Can See a Liar" and "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" from Standing On The Shoulder of Giants, though stronger lyrically than either of those two numbers. It's one of many big guitar songs and the first of two songs about "the rapture." I wonder if Noel has some interest in the Christian notion of "rapture" or if the word simply appealed to him. The outro, as mentioned, is great. It's a 90 degree turn from the body of the song, reminscent of "Cry Baby Cry" ending with McCartney's "Can you take me back where I came from, can you take me back...?"

Noel sings "Waiting for the Rapture," which, on first listen, I almost mistook for The Doors' "Five to One." Here, Noel dreams of a girl that has come to save him from "the rapture," or, perhaps, he is saving her from it. Probably meaningless.

"Shock of the Ligtning" is the most obvious "hit," a big guitar, three chord sock in the nose. Liam's on top of his game vocally, a great counter-point to the rather repetitive guitar riffs. It has a pinch of "Hindu Times" (from Heathen Chemistry) flavor. Shock is as good of a rock song as Oasis has put out in years. The best line in the song: "So godspeed to the sound of the pounding." Mega!

If you're familiar with "Let's All Make Believe," you'll get the vibe of "I'm Outta Time." This is the more intelligent, less cliche child of "Stop Crying Your Heart Out." It's something of a power ballad, the only truly "poppy" song on the album. For the first time since "Song Bird," Liam actually sings! He sounds great, too. The last few albums have hinted at the toll years of smoking and drinking were taking on his voice. On Outta Time, he sings falsetto like a castrato. (OK, maybe not quite that high.) EDIT: I originally overlooked that Liam wrote this song. Very nice work. It excuses the weaknesses in "Ain't Got Nothin' on Me." See below.

The second it starts, you'll be tempted to sing, "Ev'rybody's talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism..." as (Get Off Your) High Horse Lady opens with that familiar stomp-and-clap. Noel takes the vocals on a tune that just feels like it would fit well somewhere on Ram or McCartney. Unfortunately, Noel's vocals are run through a garbage mic or with a bit of reverb. Whatever the effect, it sounds like he's singing into a tin can. Still, the song has a nice little groove to it.

"Falling Down," another Noel-sung bit, is driven by bass, drums and strings. Underneath that, listen to the sweet little guitar hook. Songs like this are reminders of what a good singer Noel can be. There are a lot of little things going on in this song. I'm tempted to say "Falling Down" has bits of "Roll It Over" and "Who Feels Love," but that would be misleading. It's something of a new sound for Oasis.

"To Be Where There's Life" opens with sitar and funky bass riffs. Imagine a trip-hop tune with vocals by Liam and some psychadelic mists swirling around it all. It might be Oasis's biggest departure from their more classic sound. One might call it "experimental," but that's too cliche and a perhaps a slight exaggeration. Different (for Oasis) certainly works.

"Ain't Got Nothin' On Me" is a Liam-penned song and very obviously so. Even with a few years songwriting practice under his belt, Liam would do us all a service by leaving the song writing to his big brother. This is one of the songs that leaked last spring. Noel's "I Wanna Live A Dream (In My Record Machine)," which was leaked at the same time, should've made the album in its place. It's the worst song on the album but, yet, not horrible by any stretch.

"The Nature of Reality," Andy Bell's contribution, is feedback laden. It's a bastard child of "Helter Skelter" as done by the likes of U2 and Oasis themselves. It's a heavy hitter, with in-your-face guitars, big, banging drums, and pseudo-spiritual lyrics.

Liam's other song, "Soldier On," is better than Ain't Got Nothin'. The intro sounds almost exactly like "Who Feels Love," and Liam's vocals sound trippy. It's a three chord song. To his credit, Liam's vocals do most of the work.

In all, this is a pretty impressive album. As much as bits and pieces are familar, Dig Out Your Soul is its own work. It pays homage to the band's more recent past without repeating those mistakes. It's new and fresh(which should be expected after a 3 plus year break since Don't Believe The Truth.) Oasis have proved, once again, that they are a high octane rock band, British cousins of great guitar rock groups like the Black Crowes. Two thumbs up. Five stars. Run, don't walk, to your nearest music retailer to pick up this one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Resurrection Mary

One of my favorite ghost stories is about Chicago's Resurrection Mary. Hers is a fascinating story. I definitely believe in supernatural encounters, but I don't believe in ghosts in the sense of spirits of the dearly departed being trapped on earth. Regardless of whether any of this is true, it's a great story.

I first heard the story while watching Unsolved Mysteries back in the early '90's. I told the story to some friends while we were camping and I freaked everyone out. I still get goosebumps watching the video. Check it out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sidelined by illness

A little over a week ago, I felt a twinge of burning in my throat. It is allergy season so I chalked it up as something I could manage with some Benadryl. Every year this happens and every year I assume I'm just allergic to something.

Unfortunately, this has turned into a full-blown infection of some kind. Maybe it's just a generic upper respiratory infection. Maybe it's a sinus infection. Maybe it's strep throat. All I know is that it has made it very hard to function at home and at work. It has kept me out of the gym and from blogging.

I love this time of year. September is fantastic. For whatever reason, I can't seem to manage to get through it feeling healthy.

Hopefully the doctor will get me on something that will turn this around in quick order.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Judge, jury and executioner

"...judge, jury and executioner..." Is there a more tired, melodramatic cliche? I think not.

I see or hear this one a lot. Anytime a person doesn't like that another person gets to make a decision that will affect him, he claims that the other person is acting as judge, jury and executioner, implying that the other's decision is overreaching and flawed.

The most recent use I saw of this phrase was today. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's so-called "dream team" of lawyer is trying to stop, through the Michigan courts, Governor Jennifer Granholm from proceeding with her hearing tomorrow which may result in Mr. Kilpatrick's removal from office due to "official misconduct." One of Mr. Kilpatrick's lawyer expressed dismay with a court ruling allowing the Governor's hearing to go forward because it is "set up for the governor to be judge, jury and executioner in this case."

I'm not sure if Mr. Kilpatrick's attorney understands this, but the Mayor will not be executed no matter what the Governor decides. The worst she can do is remove him from office. She will serve as a quasi judge if you will. Many legal matters are decided without juries so the cliche doesn't work well on that level either.

Personally, I hope Kilpatrick is removed by the Governor. But more than that, I hope the hearing is done fairly and impartially, giving him every opportunity to "execute" himself.

Friday, August 29, 2008

College Football is here!

My MSU Spartans take on the Cal Golden Bears tomorrow. I'm so pumped! To me, this is better than Christmas, Halloween and St. Patrick's Day combined.

My fellow Spartans and college football fans, if this video doesn't get you excited for college football, I don't know what will.

Go State! Beat the Bears!

Go Utah Utes! Beat the Wolverines!

Go San Diego State! Beat the Irish!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Blind Date"

A dear friend mine -- a big brother, really -- has written and directed a great little, short play, Blind Date. It's clever and fun. Check it out for yourself.

Bryan graduated from Michigan State University, went to law school for a stretch, had a few jobs here in the Detroit area. My impression was that he was bitten by the acting bug after taking some improvisation classes at Detroit's Second City theater. He got involved in a local improv group that really did some funny stuff, put on some great shows. About 10 years ago, he decided to pursue his dream of being an actor and moved to New York City. I don't know everything he's done, but he teaches acting, has been in the movie 27 Dresses, done commercial work and written and directed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've turned into hyper-vigilant old guy

I'm not sure that I would have cared a few years ago. Maybe. Maybe not. Last night, though, I cared. Tremendously. On my way home from a late work session -- trying to stay on top of things before our long weekend up north -- I saw some kids walking down the road not too far from my house breaking signs. Yep, these four geniuses about 16 to 20 years old had broken one office building's parking lot sign and were starting work on another as I drove back to follow them.

I didn't have my cell phone so I had to drive to the police station, describe the kids as best I could to the dispatch officer and hope they got someone out there in time to find the kids.

This is hardly a major crime. But it infuriated me. I so wanted the police to nail these "punks." What if they were out breaking wooden fences or porch posts or other property in peoples' yards? Surely that would be worthy of a phone call or trip to the police station. So why did I feel like a hyper-vigilant old guy, a tattle-tale?

I definitely don't want to live in a community where vandalism is ignored or fluffed off as minor. A few years ago, we moved away from the town in which I had grown up because, among other things, things like I saw last night were becoming more common, or at least seemingly so.

I've found myself not only being concerned for the local businesses and neighbors but also being motivated to protect my own investment. When there have been issues in the area over the last several years, I've caught myself saying, "I pay too much in taxes to put up with _______." That minding the wallet mentality is maybe what has turned me into hyper-vigilant old guy. Perhaps if my motivation was purely altruistic, I could convince myself I'm "civic minded."

Be that as it may, I don't see myself changing back to the young guy that didn't care what others did. I fully expect I'll become more crotchety.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"You bring your stoniest crows and I'll take care of the rest."

This was the last thing I said in my last (of many) dreams last night. I cannot remember who I was talking to and I have no clue what it means. There's something poetic about it even though it is pure nonsense.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

She's Back

Yesterday, my daughter brought home from the farm day camp the goat that we had over the July 4th weekend, Java. Man, has she changed.

She's obviously bigger, has longer horns, moves quicker, runs faster, is more fidgety and will hardly drink from a bottle. When she was here last, she would sit on my lap or curl up on one of our living room chairs, but now she is (almost) constantly scavaging for food, kind of like a human toddler that has to put everything in his mouth.

Java's still sweet; very hard not to like. But she's not a little baby anymore. My wife warned me -- because I joked about keeping her -- that Java wouldn't be a cute baby animal forever.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is kind of like an old friend, from whom you've grown apart, visiting for the evening. It's been nice to see her, but I'll be glad when she heads back to the farm.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My gridiron Glory

In our neighborhood, there was always a game of some kind going: baseball, football, basketball, pickle, 500, home run derby, wiffle ball, catch. Once late August hit, it was football time. There were always enough kids eager to play that we could put together two teams of at least 6 kids. Football for us was something like Arena Football: short field, all passing with full-on tackling. No one ran the ball. Being somewhere in the middle of the pack age-wise, I was never the best or worst player on the field. Before puberty, I was a bit pudgy and not quite as fleet of foot as some of the older kids.

Something changed when I turned 12. I became fast. I grew up, slimmed down and I had a pretty good motor. On vacation in North Carolina, playing two-hand touch football with kids from all over the country, I tore up the field. I returned a “kick off” (we threw the ball in those days) from endzone to endzone without being touched. I felt good. I knew I could be a really good football player. When we got back home to Michigan, I convinced my folks to put me in little league football and I was put on the team with two good friends of mine from the neighborhood, Jimmy and Jeff.

The required physical exam was interesting, to say the least. It was the first time I ever had to drop my pants, turn my head to the left and “cough.” I was thankful to have a male doctor do that exam. I passed so all I needed was the $60 – my parents’ money – for the year and I was all set to play.

Practice was like nothing I had ever seen. We practiced at the same place where all my neighborhood games had been: the grounds of John Glenn High School in Westland. This was my first exposure to organized football with coaches and pads and uniforms and exercises and cheerleaders...It was quite an eye-opener.

The first day was registration. I remember a mad scramble to pull the best pads, pants, socks, etc. out of huge piles of used equipment. Then the “fun” began.

In football they’re called “two-a-days” meaning there are two practice sessions each day. Yes, even little league teams that are supposed to be for fun and recreation go through “two-a-days.” It was early August, before school resumed, and it was brutally hot. We were running, doing “down-ups,” push ups, calisthenics and, worst of all, leg lifts. Punches to the stomach never felt as bad as holding my legs 4-6 inches off the ground for 30 seconds at a time. Nelligan, the lazy kid on the team that most players despised, cheated by holding his legs over a foot off the ground when the coaches weren’t looking. Every chance he got to make practice easier, he took it. Never one to be the hardest worker in life, Nelligan’s laziness shocked even me. Why was he playing if he wasn’t willing to do what the coaches told us to do?

“Hit the pole!” is what one of the assistant coaches would yell to send us on our quarter mile round-trip run across the school’s athletic field and back. When you messed up on an assignment or fought with a teammate or smarted off to a coach, you had to “hit the pole.” I was a pretty mild-mannered kid, but I used to get into it with that coach’s son – one of the biggest whiners I’ve ever met – so I had to “hit the pole” a few times a week.

The field wasn’t full of nice grass. It was dusty and weedy. Undressing after late summer and early fall practices involved ten minute sessions of removing pickers from your shoe laces, socks and even jerseys.

Our coaches were an interesting cast of characters, a few of whom I didn’t like at all. Head coach Wager was a jerk, not because he was tough, just because he wasn’t likable. If he liked kids, he didn’t seem to show it (though credit to him for volunteering his time to coach us.) Coach Nordbeck was a decent guy but left most of the coaching to Wager (whose son was one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet.) Coach Stothers had a son on our team and a daughter on our cheerleading squad. He seemed patient and reasonable. One of the younger coaches, whose name escapes me, was a good guy but a bit unrefined, to put it mildly. We had one black player on our team, a guy I really, really like to this day, but the young coach seemed to forget that when he talked about the “fast n*****s” on one of cross-town teams. Shameful.

Coach Wager used some colorful phrases that, at the time, I thought were completely ridiculous, but which now make me chuckle. Maybe they are funny because they showed that he took too seriously a game that I was playing purely for fun:

“I want you on him like flies on shit!” “Stink on shit” was another lovely metaphor.

Coach Wager: What the hell were you doing out there?
Me: I was blocking _______
Coach Wager: Blocking him? You’re supposed to be covering that guy. Instead you’re out there playing ‘grab ass’ with ______.

Football wouldn’t be football without cursing, now would it?

I thought I was fast, and maybe I was. But there were kids on the team that were either faster than me or had more football experience. Instead of landing a spot as a receiver or running back – I fancied myself a white Billy Sims – I was a second string offensive and defensive lineman. The season, for both the team and me individually, was ugly. When I was on offensive line during games, I’d jump offsides. When I was on the d-line, I was regularly being put on my back by 14 year olds that were 30 pounds heavier than me. I don’t think I made a positive contribution to the team the entire season, but perhaps I’m being hard on myself. I do know this: I was bad enough that I knew organized football wasn’t my bag.

I did like the Friday before games. All of us Comets were supposed to wear our jerseys to school. I had a sense of pride in being a football player, being part of a team, being a guy that could handle the rough and tough gridiron culture.

The highlight of the season might have actually been our team banquet. One of the members of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers was our honored guest. No, we didn’t get Anthony Carter or Bobby Hebert, but it was pretty cool to have a Panther there to talk to us and sign autographs. The Panthers were the USFL champs that year, so it was something of an honor.

25 years later, the memories of football are warm, fun. Way back in the fall of 1983, a sport I thought I loved was something of a burden and certainly a disappointment. Dreams of playing in the NFL were squashed by the time we had played our third game. I wrote myself off as too small and too ignorant of the finer points of the game to give football another try the next season. Two-and-a-half decades later, though, as corny as it sounds, I think I learned some things about sports, life and, most importantly, the person I was then becoming.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I've got a fever and the only prescription is...MSU Spartans football!

Every year, at the end of July or beginning of August, I get so excited for Michigan State football. It's as if I have some sort of internal alarm clock that goes off telling me that it's almost time for football.

I was a season ticket holder for about 6 years, and have watched the Spartans faithfully since I graduated back in '93. Sadly, I got tired of the pain and frustration of watching them embarrass themselves.

After I gave up my season tickets two years ago, I hoped I would find another hobby or interest more fulfilling than watching the Spartans. I am less obsessed than I was a few years ago, but I can't give it up entirely. The famous line from Brokeback Mountain sums up best my feelings about MSU football:
I wish I knew how to quit you.
As unofficial summer quickly wanes, I'm feeling compelled to keep my Saturdays from Labor Day weekend to Thanksgiving completely clear. To get what I can out of the nice weather we're having, I'm trying to cram a full summer of stuff into the next three weekends. Once fall rolls around, I'm gonna want to be in front of the tube watching the fellas in Green and White.

Maybe you understand this type of passion. I know a lot of other Spartans fans feel the same way. If you want to get keyed up for the season, check out some of the videos on the video bar. They'll make you want to fast-forward through August.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Governor Granholm: earn my vote!

Governor Jennifer Granholm has a chance to earn this non-supporter's vote. I have never been her biggest fan, but she can win me (and probably tens of thousands like me) by removing Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office.

In May, the Detroit City Council, asked the Governor to exercise her constitutional power to remove Hizzonner from office. I do not claim to understand how the Governor can do this, but it is pretty well agreed that she can (assuming due process is afforded.)

Kilpatrick should have never been re-elected. In a democracy, people sometimes make awful choices, and Kilpatrick showed plenty of character flaws and poor decision making in his first term. His recent criminal trouble, arising from a wrongful termination civil suit that cost the people of Detroit nearly $9,000,000, is well documented.

Kwame has added to that trouble by shoving a Sheriff's deputy off his sister's porch -- he says he "gently escorted" the officer -- who was on the property to serve subpoena on another individual. How can the head of a major metropolitan police force lead it with any credibility when he shows his utter contempt for the law and law enforcement insofar as it applies to him and his family? Check out the story for yourselves. He made some horribly racist comments as well to the officers.

Kilpatrick is a thug. He's a bigot. He's harming the city. The good people of Detroit deserve better.

In a move that would take massive political intestinal fortitude, Governor Granholm could relieve the people of Detroit of this man. She would have to ax one of her own, a Democrat. She would risk alienating tens of thousands of people in the City of Detroit, even those who don't care for Kilpatrick. But, the right thing to do is to do the right thing (an old friend of mine used to say.)

Kwame is not fit for office. The Governor would earn the respect of many detractors in the state if she did the right thing. I know that I would vote for her next time around if she pulled the trigger on Kilpatrick, even if I do not agree with her on the bulk of the other issues. Character and courage in politics should be rewarded.

EDIT: In my exuberance over the possibility that Governor Granholm could and might actually remove Mayor Kilpatrick from office, it completely escaped my mind that Mrs. Granholm cannot "earn my vote," at least not for Governor, as she is subject to term limits. This is her second and final term. However, her political life presumably does not end when she leaves Lansing. I expect she'll turn up elsewhere, perhaps running for elected office, perhaps seeking an appointment.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Bad things happen to good people."

It's true that "bad things happen to good people." But a local criminal defense firm that advertises on the radio has stretched the intended meaning of this statement to absurd lengths.

This firm -- I can't remember the name -- kicks off its radio spots with one of its attorneys making this rather obvious statement. From there, he talks about how the firm "aggressively" represents its clients in criminal matters like drunk driving, drug offenses, and other felony and misdemeanor matters.

I'm all for aggressive, effective criminal defense. Everyone is entitled to competent representation and, if it gets to that point, a fair trial. But please spare me the nauseating talk that someone who finds himself in criminal trouble has had something bad happen to him.

If you have had six cocktails and driven home from the bar, that did not happen to you. You made a choice to drink and drive. If you broke into someone's home, you didn't just find yourself there, with their TV in your arms. You made a choice to violate someone else's rights.

I would be less bothered by this if the ad said, "Sometimes good people make awful decisions. If that is you, we're here to help..."

Perhaps I'm sensitive about this today because there was recently a "home invasion" in our neighborhood. I'm sure our neighbors feel angry and violated. I know I would. Hopefully the police will catch the kid that did it and he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Luckily, there is a general description of the burglar.

If they catch the twerp, I know what will happen. Sadly, he'll be remorseful after he has been charged, tell the court what a great kid he's been all his life and say how sorry he is to the family. I believe in second chances, but I won't believe this kid if it plays out that way. You know better not to go into someone's home to steal things. If you don't, there is no amount of "sorry" that will change you.

He might hire the law firm on the radio and be told how him invading our neighbor's home was a "bad thing that happened to him." Pitiful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If Batman and The Joker had a kid

This guy

plus this guy


this guy

I'm just sayin'...

Holy hype, Batman!

The summer of 1989 was great. I had just graduated from high school and was headed off to college. I had my first real girlfriend. That didn’t work out so well, but I learned quite a few lessons about “love.” I had a good job, earned a (small) college scholarship, spent my last summer at home with friends and saw The Who in concert at the Pontiac Silverdome. It was something of a coming-of-age time for me. My mind, this week, has raced back to that summer because of all the Batman hype. That summer saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger, the original movie version about the “Dark Knight.”

Batman was everywhere that year. T-shirts, action figures, soundtracks (two of them, one by Prince, the other by Danny Elfman), posters, “happy meals” and other Batman stuff filled stores and fast food joints. One of my classmates – I won’t mention his name since I don’t know the statute of limitations on vandalism – painted the bat logo on yellow traffic signs all over town. Batmania hit us full force.

The movie was great. We hoped it would be better (read: darker, more serious) than the campy 60's TV show starring Adam West, and our wish was granted. That Batman film, I remember, was supposedly modeled after the “Dark Knight” storyline that had just been put out by DC Comics a few years earlier. While it was flawed in certain ways, the 1989 re-telling of the story had an edge that we had never seen with comic books-turned-tv-shows-or-movies. It only took two movies for Joel Schumacher to wash away the grittiness that Burton had given to Batman.

Enter Chris Nolan. With Batman Begins, the “Dark Knight” version of Batman was resurrected. The Dark Knight, its sequel, released last Friday, has shattered opening weekend box office records. The death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, might have something to do with that. But, make no mistake, this movie got hype like no movie has since Batman in 1989 because it is a great film. There has, perhaps, never been a more mesmerizing on-screen villain than Ledger’s Joker. The story, the acting, the cinematography – everything about the film is really top-notch. Don’t take my word for it; see it for yourself.

This isn’t a movie review, though. This is about the hype and the excitement the movie has generated. Batman is everywhere! The old Batman videos are flying off video store shelves (pun intended.) Movie critics and fans alike are talking about the film, even suggesting it might (or should) win an Oscar. Can you imagine a movie based on a comic book getting serious recognition from the bores that vote on the Oscars? Well, it seems like, in the least, the Academy (don’t you love how the members refer to it as “the Academy” [said with nasally, snobby voice]?) is going to have to seriously consider awarding Heath Ledger an Oscar in one of the actor categories.

Internet message boards are flooded with discussions about the comic book and almost
universally positive movie reviews. Kids are begging their parents to take them to see the movie. Parents are getting babysitters so they can catch it a second time within the first week. Batmania has grabbed hold of the country. Everyone seems to have been bitten.

I have always preferred Spider-man to Batman, although Batman was a close second. Spiderman 3, though, certainly didn’t live up to the hype it generated. Part of me is bummed that my childhood hero let a guy in a black cape dethrone him. But, hey, if the best comic book movie ever made happens to be about “the bat,” so be it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I want to be here

Last summer, during our stay with my uncle in Traverse City, we took an afternoon trip out to one of my favorite places on the planet, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As always, it was lovely.

The boiling-hot sand made my daughter and I want to take a dip in nice, cool, refreshing water, so we drove north when we left the park. More or less by accident, we found ourselves in Glen Haven, Michigan, a tiny town right on Lake Michigan, just south of the Manitou Islands.

I had heard of Glen Haven but had never been there. It's west of Glen Arbor, which is well-known vacation destination right down the road. Glen Haven is a town with a stop light, a boat museum, a restaurant and a few other small businesses. The beach is long, stretching out for miles in both directions. The water is crystal clear, the bottom lined with stones that glisten in the summer sunlight. It was like heaven to bathe in the water that hot day.

I'm not one for taking too many vacations. Glen Haven is at least five hours drive from my house; thus, gas prices and time are deterrents to visiting. Still, I'm tempted to wake everyone up Saturday morning, put them in the van and start driving. I want to be there before summer ends.

I didn't take this photo. But that's what it looks like. What a gorgeous place. We Michiganders take our Great Lakes for granted.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Air Hockey Stanley Cup (and lessons in patience and kindness)

I just happened to stop at a Salvation Army Thrift Store on the way home from a surprise trip to court -- which is a story in and of itself -- and had to pass a large, old air hockey table to get into the store. $19.99 is what the "Must Sell!" tag said was the price. The table, similar to the picture but larger and on legs, was in pretty darn good shape.

Normally I don't buy big items like that at Salvation Army (or anywhere for that matter.) But one payment of $19.99 and that game could be mine? Sold! Well, sort of.

I did some browsing but on my way out, I walked right over to the air hockey table just as a lady in her 60's was approaching it from the parking lot. We both arrived at the table at the same time. A sign taped to it says "It works!" but she wanted proof. Knowing she was thinking of buying my table, I was ready to pull the ca$h out and load it in the van. The lady was really sweet, asking me questions about where to get a puck -- someone had stolen original pucks -- and would it be easy to find one. I was tempted to tell her, "Yeah, they're almost impossible to find. You'll probably have to get lucky and find a used pick on e-bay or craigslist." I knew that would poison the purchase for her. But the "better angels of my nature" convinced me I should be truthful and just pray she didn't want to bother with such a burdensome purchase. "I think you can get pucks for these at Target or sporting goods stores," I replied.

We both went to the counter, her wanting to have someone test the table, me hoping she would get distracted by some nice jewelry or a blouse. A kind volunteer gladly plugged in the table and I went out to take a closer look, thinking the lady would be right behind me. While I was feeling the air pulse through the holes and running my hand over the table top, she was in the store trying to purchase my air hockey table. I was bummed out but not angry.

I could have said, "Hey, lady, I was here first!" but that confrontation isn't in my nature. When I told the volunteers I was satisfied and ready to buy the table at that moment, they asked her what she was doing. "I just put that on my charge card. But, tell you what, since it's you (meaning me) that wants it, you can have it." She seemed genuinely happy to do that for me and I was genuinely happy to accept. It was my air hockey table after all. I thanked her several times and she went on her way in the store.

The cynic in me figured that she just didn't want to be bothered with finding parts and getting this thing home. It is a huge table and needs two men to carry or even lift it. I found that out the hard way. Some assembly and dis-assembly was necessary, plus I had to go to a few stores before I found a puck. This was a several hour project today for me, so I feel good having spared her the trouble. Joking aside, I am thankful for her kind gesture.

It's in the garage now. I put Pledge on the playing surface and felt on the bottom of the paddles. Game on! The kiddo and I played for nearly an hour tonight. She's new(er) to the game but eventually she'll be able to destroy me. A playoff for some kind of trophy, a mini Stanley Cup perhaps, would be perfectly fitting. Since Red Wing Chris Osgood lives about a mile away and we have four paddles, I'll see if "Ozzie" wants to be on my team and the kiddo can have one of her neighborhood friends on hers. I think that's fair.

$19.99 (plus tax, gas and the cost of a few pucks and some felt) was a pretty good price to pay to be reminded that there are selfless people out there like the lady at Salvo. Better yet, I get hours of enjoyment with my daughter, another activity during which we can talk, laugh, bond and make memories. I don't think I could have made a better use of that money than that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Fat Eyes" and Preparation H ®

Did you know that Preparation H®, "The Relief Expert," not only relieves the pain and inflammation associated with hemorrhoids, but you can also use it to reduce swelling on other tissue?

I recently learned that it is a great cure for puffiness under the eyes. I'm probably vainer than I should be for a guy, but, when I'm tired I get really heavy, dark bags under my eyes and they make me look old. Preparation H ®, can you help me?

A friend of ours pointed out that bags under the eyes is caused by fatty tissue, not water. When our group of friends (church home group) heard that, my new nickname became "Fat Eyes." Man, I love that new nickname! I think I'll have it put on a shirt.

We all agreed that I could try Preparation H ® for my "fat eyes," but maybe I should avoid double-dipping from the same tube purchased for standard Preparation H ® use.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Long walk down the hallway

It was in April when Grandma was told her cancer had returned, moved from her colon into the liver. She only had months to live. Mom and Gram came by my office to tell me on the way back from the hospital. I cried in the parking lot. That was the beginning a three month goodbye.

That Sunday in church, she stood up and told the entire congregation the diagnosis and said she was “ready to go home,” meaning Heaven. She wanted to see her mother, father, brothers, sisters – all those dear to her that had gone on before. Gram knew she would miss us or, more accurately, us miss her, and that made her want to hang on just a bit longer. My mother, who lost my Pop just the year before, was her best friend. Gram didn’t want Mom to suffer another loss so soon, but she was tired from years of horrible pain in her knees -- bone on bone -- and declining health.

I was at her house just about every night after work. Kindly, sweetly, lovingly, she left her home to me, the first grandchild, a fact which, nine years later makes me simultaneously immensely proud and tremendously guilty. What had I done to deserve that? She laid it out for me but, still, I know I hadn’t earned it. Those next few months I spent time with her and cleaning her home and yard. It would be dishonest to say that I wasn’t doing those things for myself. Everyone
knew I would be moving in after she was gone. But I did want her to see and enjoy a clean yard and spruced up home. Was that understood by her or others?

For the first month or so, the decline seemed gradual. Gram could eat and get around the house with help. It changed suddenly one night. That night, which I hadn’t thought of in nine years, came storming back to memory tonight while watching Grey’s Anatomy. I know that sounds ridiculous, but something in that show opened the floodgates. Regardless of what brought it to mind, I was transported back to that evening. Gram was tired and wanted to go to bed. Luckily my mom and I were both there to move her from the living room to her bed.

That night, Gram could not get up out of her chair. She was almost completely dead weight. Mom and I snapped at each other, gritted teeth, and accused each other of botching the mission. The frustration in the air could almost be tasted. It took us nearly an hour to get Gram from the chair in her living room to her bed. Mom and I were exhausted, physically and emotionally. I don’t think either of us expected to have to endure that when we went over that night. I knew nothing of physically caring for or helping someone. The frustration of our ineptitude and sadness
of the impending loss set us at each other’s throats. Gram wasn’t happy with any of this either. Three scared and angry people battled the limitations of a dying body to amble down a small hallway.

Hospice soon took over the care, with Mom, a nurse, helping as much as possible. At least for me, that made things much easier. Gram was in a hospital bed in her living room which provided the minor blessing of not having to move her throughout the house. She couldn’t eat much, but she was with us mentally until the last few days.

Months before she was diagnosed, I had planned a trip with friends. At that time, I had a small sail boat I had just bought and planned to sail that entire long weekend. Knowing she was near the end, I took the trip. I never really believed she would be gone before I returned. I guessed she had another week. She passed the day before I was supposed to return.

Gram died quietly, peacefully (I am told) on July 11, 1998. She missed our August wedding. She died on my cousin’s, her second grandchild’s, 19th birthday.

Regret really doesn’t do a whole lot of good. You cannot go back and change the past. But, if I could, there are a few things I would have done differently before and after Gram passed. So many things, in fact, could have and should have been done differently. I know I’m making more of my (perceived) failings than I should. But, I hope I honored her in the way I handled her death, moved into/took over her home and property, and cared for her in the time before she died. She had a generous, giving spirit. Did I honor that by being generous to others? No.

That hour long walk from the living room to the bedroom; I’ll never forget it...or her.