Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A strange year

Thinking back over 2009, I've found it to have been a rather odd year. I wouldn't call it a great year, nor was it horrible.

I speak personally, not broadly or globally, by the way. Why I have been blessed not to have been directly negatively affected by the miserable economy, something of a malaise has seemingly set in, especially here in Michigan. Even though things have been mostly good in my personal life, it's been hard to ignore the shared social dysthymia. The negativity seems to rub off to some degree. There's a good in that. I've been able to remain thankful for the blessings I have by the constant reminder that people around me have things much worse.

One celebrity death really bothered me. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych passed away back in April. I can count on one hand the celebrity deaths that have really shook me and affected me deeply. For whatever reason, his was one. It was a low point in the year.

Our family has had numerous personal challenges. But we've enjoyed some triumphs as well. Those, perhaps, are too personal to share in detail. Ultimately I believe those things have drawn me closer to my wife and daughter and certainly to God. At least it would seem that way.

An old friend of mine nearly died several times. Waiting for a friend -- the mother of young children -- to either get better or die is quite hard on the system. One does not even need to be particularly close to be jolted by something like that. Thankfully she appears to be making a full recovery and should be home with her family soon.

I tried as best as I could to unplug from the larger world this year. I don't really read the hard news, I don't watch TV, I don't follow domestic or international politics. I'm paying as little attention as possible to things like Michael Jackson's death and Tiger Woods' personal troubles. You could say that I've buried my head in the sand. I'd say that I've tried to reduce stress and give up fretting about things over which I have no control. That approach has been quite liberating.

2009 has been a year of seeking to know more about God. I think I started the year considering the possibility that either He does not exist or that He doesn't exist in the way or form which I have always understood him to exist. That feeling seemed to pass, helped along by reading about the conversion of a former world-renown atheist who is now a theist. By fall I had not only gotten past these little feelings of doubt, but I went hard the other way. I've been thirsting for knowledge about who God is, not as much in an experiential way but more in an intellectual way.

More to come... (maybe)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The great setup

Trash culture. I hate it! I do my level best to ignore it. We don't have cable and I don't look at tabloid internet sites. But you'd have to live up in the mountains in Tibet to avoid the Tiger Woods story. I don't know the details about his affairs and I certainly don't care to know them. If it were up to me, I wouldn't know anything at all about his personally life.

The world we live in, though, is not my ideal society. We feast on the misery of others. We build them up to great heights by paying attention to the details of what they wear on the red carpet and what their babies look like. We load their bank vaults by going to see their movies and watch them play their games. We make them American royalty but commit regicide as soon as they make a mistake.

This is exactly what we are seeing with Tiger Woods. Before he was even eligible to turn pro, we anointed him the next Jack Nicklaus. Corporations, with money from us consumers, made him a millionaire many times over with endorsement and advertisement money. Would they have paid him if you didn't buy their products? No. All that wealth is really a gift from you to him.

But now he has sinned -- multiple times. And the finger-wagging, name-calling, and judgment has begun. A man who was two weeks ago a hero -- practically a national treasure -- is now a pariah. Women especially seem to be tearing him to shreds over his (inexcusable) infidelity. It's interesting that JFK, RFK and Bill Clinton are still seen as heroes despite their identical moral failings, but that's another story for another time.

The moral outrage over Tiger's philandering is particularly galling to me. Is that because I don't think he was wrong? No. Am I galled because I don't think affairs with multiple women isn't serious? No. I'm peeved because: a) the moral outrage seems disproportionately high; b) the people most loudly calling for his head fail to recognize Tiger has done really what our society has, in many ways, said is acceptable. People scoff at the notion of traditional values. Marital fidelity is one of those cornerstone moral principles that is fluid and situational. We crucify Tiger woods for cheating but say nothing about the 50% or so married average Joes and Janes that do exactly this. Worse yet, we encourage divorce for those that are "unhappy," whatever that might mean.

Even more to the root of the matter, we have created an amoral sexually charged culture that encourages sexual behavior outside of marriage. If it doesn't matter if are married before you have sex with each other, why should it matter if you have sex with someone while married to another? What's really the difference? It's just a pleasure activity, after all, right?

Men are taught to be hyper-sexual, less so by their male peers, than advertisers and corporations who stand to make fortunes by selling us beer by showing us guys partying with young, beautiful bikini-clad girls. Why do we expect men to behave in dignified ways when we promise them all the sex they can get if they wear the right aftershave?

Our society is sex, sex, sex. Porn is now "mainstream" and "normalized." But if you have sex when we tell you not to, you deserve our wrath. We dangle it in front of our young mens' faces and tell them not to have it.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would de-sexualize as much of the media as possible and give people books to read instead of TV to watch. Perhaps that would break the cycle of making kings for the purpose of later pulling down their kingdoms.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wolverines developing a seige mentality

I know it's a pretty tiny sample size, but I get a lot of sense of what is happening among U of M fans -- the true blue bloods, not so much the Walverines -- talking to my U of M fan/season tix holder co-worker. He knows a lot of people in/around Schembechler Hall. He's become quite the fan of mgoblog and likes to relay to me stuff said/written there.

I've noticed lately that he wants to talk about the Rather Hall fight. He's repeatedly said Winston shouldn't have been able to "walk from jail onto the practice field," and, by comparison praises Rich Rod for dumping Milano (the kid that beat the crap out of Steve Kampfer) and Justin Feagin.

His new thing is to constantly bitch about Rosenberg and the Free Press. He goes on and on about how the Freep never bothered talking to "victims" of the Rather Hall fight and only talked to parents. He complains about Rosenberg's "hatchet job" on Rich Rod and the whole extra practice crap. UM's not getting a fair shake in the media, especially Rich Rod, as far as he is concerned. He says this is the general consensus.

The hardcores are circling the wagons. They're getting defensive about the way MSU is covered vs the way UM is covered. The local media is now "out to get them" (my words.)

But when I gently suggest to him this has been the way MSU has been treated for 30+ years, he likes to pin that back on Perles, Ferguson and all the division that has been in the program. He doesn't seem to want to consider that the media made more out of the negatives and less out of the positives.

This is an interesting time to watch UM football (the program, not the games.) You can almost smell the fear and paranoia.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are biofuels really the answer?

I'm all for alternative, non-petroleum-based fuel sources. I look happily forward to a future fueled by wind, solar, geothermal and hydrogen.

While biofuels have their advantages, they might be making the supposed "global warming" problem worse. The reason is simple: massive deforestation is taking place to meet the explosive demand for land for biofuel crops.

This is not a newly recognized problem. Environmentalists have been watching this happen for several years now and have tried to point this out, but no one seems to want to hear about it.

Here's just one article on the subject.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Now that's the Christmas spirit!

UPLAND, Calif. (AP) — Police say a Wal-Mart store in Southern California closed its doors for several hours before dawn after some Black Friday shoppers began fighting over bargain merchandise.

Lt. Jim Etchason says officers in Upland, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, were called to the store at about 2:44 a.m. and helped herd customers into the parking lot.

The store began allowing groups of customers back inside shortly before 6 a.m.

Etchason says by that time, everybody was getting along.

He says there were no injuries and no arrests.

Wal-Mart changed its procedures for Black Friday crowd control after a guard was asphyxiated last year when crowds broke down the doors of a store in New York state.


The older I get and the more stories I read like this, the more I think I'm going to follow the Puritans and not celebrate Christmas at all. The holiday has drifted so far from any sacred meaning that it's is almost laughable to think of it as some sort of holy event.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Remembering the Mayflower Compact

As Thanksgiving approaches, some of us traditionalists think back to the harrowing experiences of the first English settlers in what is now the United States. My first ancestor to reach America's shore, George Aldrich, came here somewhere between 1628 and 1631 (I've seen various dates), after the initial wave of so-called Pilgrims in the early 1620's.

Of course we all know of the Mayflower, the most famous of Pilgrim ships. What doesn't seem to get much attention in post-modern America is the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the British colonies. It's a beautiful expression of their loyalty to God as well as king and country.

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.
For me this is a good reminder of the religious foundations of this great nation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Swine Flu (?) hits home

It's possible my daughter has contracted H1N1. She's miserable and it is believed that the friend she spent much of the weekend with caught it from her little brother. Nothing is confirmed, but supposedly Swine Flu is the only flu really being seen in the area.

I'm not worried about the long term affects. I'm sure once my daughter gets passed whatever she might have, she'll be fine. The "scary" part is waiting for whatever this is to cycle through the rest of us in the house. It will be complete chaos if our daughter is sick and my wife and I can't work. Or, perhaps, it would be completely chill with all three of us laying around, moaning and groaning, doing nothing.

We'll see.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Defend the poor and fatherless...

3 Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 82:3-4. The Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is full of this type of admonishment. This is neither the time nor space to fully expound on that topic. But if you doubt that Jews and Christians are called to live in this way -- whether they've done successfully is a different matter -- you do not have a good grasp of the Judeo-Christian morality.

What I hope most honest Christians would tell you is that to care for others isn't simply a nice thing to do. It's a commandment. In fact, in its most general form that is the "greatest" of all commandments:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40.

One of many points of debate between observant Jews and Christians and atheistic secular humanists is the role that altruism plays in the world or, more to the point, how it got here in the first place. Christians would typically say that good put care and concern for our fellow man at the core of our being. It comes from above and did not evolve accidentally.

Humanists, looking at it from a scientific point of view, point to altruistic traits in various animals species as evidence that it can (and did) evolve through natural selection. That, of course, is something of an oversimplification of the position, but you get the point. Ultimately, atheists would say altruism, like everything else, really exists by accident. Google "altruistic bees" for more sophisticated discussions on this point.

I'm not a man of science. I know enough only to be dangerous (probably more to myself than others.) But I do grasp that evolutionistic altruism would tend to violate the principle of natural selection. A lot of scientists agree and say, for that reason, that what we see in nature is "pseudoaltruism," acts that appear to benefit others at the expense of the actor, but which ultimately benefit the actor.

To me that is all highly fascinating but, as far as human beings go, it's beside the point. If you believe a revealed, personal God exists, like the God of the Bible, you might find that altruism is something external or, perhaps, that it is a command. You might believe -- and your belief would square with the Bible -- that we should act to benefit others, even at great personal cost, and even if we do not want to do so.

The atheist has no such conviction, or at least need not have one. In the natural world, caring for the poor and infirmed is actually detrimental to a species because it either maintains an organism that should die, thus diverting resources away from healthy ones that will be replenishing the gene pool, or it causes weak organisms to create (weak) offspring. I am reminded of this by my wife when tending to the plants and flowers. She has reminded me a number of times to cut away dead flowers, leaves and stems so that resources can be divided to the healthier parts of the plant.

Of course we humans would never be so animalistic to apply that kind of thinking to human relations. We'd never starve or kill the sick, bedwetters, homosexuals, mentally disabled, Jews, or any other "undesirables." We'd never think of sterilizing humans to protect the gene pool.

Back to the point. Christians -- honest ones -- have to care for their fellow man whether they want to or not. All kinds of good, kind-hearted atheists or non-believers of other stripes might (and certainly often do) care for people, but they don't have to. Without an external moral compass, one that supersedes their own personal will or longings or desires, they would be right, based on their own view of nature, to disregard the needs of everyone else but themselves. That they often don't follow what they believe to be the way of nature suggests that they are bathed in the light of Christian morality, whether they like it or not.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Upside down and backwards

I just finished watching Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, a nice film about the extraordinary life and talents of Dr. Ben Carson, perhaps the world's leading pediatric neurosurgeon. His story is incredibly inspiring, to say the least. But the inspiration is not what is gnawing at me at the moment. The movie suggests that Dr. Carson has been handsomely, materially rewarded for his brilliant life's work; that was hardly a focal point of the movie. Yet, it occurred to me that perhaps doctors are not paid enough.

Oh, sure, many doctors in our society have nice homes and nice cars. They "rake in the big bucks," as Joe Six Pack might say. This is not the time and place for a full blown discussion on the matter, but there are a lot of doctors that will tell you it is getting harder and harder to make a nice living practicing medicine. The shortage of primary care doctors and nurses we keep hearing about in the discussion of health care is, my guess, due in part to salary. How much money do you have to make to repay $200,000 in student loans? The answer: a lot!

I recently heard a so-called "expert" on health care and insurance matters weighing in on the health care reform debate. With regard to insurance, he in essence said that it should not function with a profit element. I've heard others over the years suggest that doctors themselves make too much money, either stating outright or implying that they should work for the good of mankind.

The juxtaposition between the movie and some of the talk coming out of the health care debate struck me. Doctors don't make enough money. What could be more important than our health? If you're humanistic and you assign the highest value to your life on earth, one would suspect that your health -- and the health of others -- would be your highest value. After all, if you don't have a quality life, or life at all, you have nothing. It seems simplistically obvious, but doctors and other health care workers provide us the goods and services we should value most high. One would think, then, they we should pay the most or most generously reward those that serve our highest values. Our society is not like that, though.

We reward professional athletes, TV and movie stars and popular musicians most richly. We also talk about them more. I, frankly, had never heard of Dr. Carson and his amazing contributions (in God's name) to mankind. But I did hear that Madonna supposedly had an affair with A-Rod and that Jessica Simpson's dog was carried off by a coyote. All those folks I mentioned -- and probably their pets -- are worth more than just about any doctor you can name.

This suggests to me that entertainment is our highest value or at least a higher value than our physical and mental health. Tom Cruise makes $20Million for each bad movie he does, but bright kids don't go to medical school because they can't make enough money to pay back what it costs for the education.

Instead of socializing medicine, could we please socialize entertainment? Let's expand the paygrades and payscales of athletes and actors and actresses across the board. Pay them a comfortable wage for entertaining us and make entertainment more affordable. It seems more in line with the values we give lip service to if we were to pay a dollar to see a movie and $40 for a visit with my doctor rather than to pay $10 to see the movie and expect someone else to pick up the cost of the office visit.

There are things more immediately necessary to our well being than even medical care. Food, clothing and shelter are much more basic needs and they are universal. Yet, we have not taken the profit motive out of any of those. Do you think Gap would sell clothes if it were not allowed to profit by doing it? Would chain grocery stores stay in business if they were expected to operate at break-even levels? Would builders manufacturer homes to feel good about themselves? The answer to those questions is the same: no. Since we have no problem letting others make profit by providing these essentials, why do we complain about doctors or hospitals operating for profit?

Thankfully, there are still great people out there practicing medicine. Let's hope that we continue to reward them, perhaps more graciously than we do.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


A society of Jimmy Jets

Like Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange, eyes pried open, the images are unavoidable. Murder, sex, economic downturns, famine, lying politicians, spoiled-brat professional athletes, kids floating away in spacecraft-shaped balloons – human misery. It's all there, no matter where you go. The only relief from the retinal assault is the momentary splash of the drops on the eyes.

Oh, it's not quite that bad. One can hide in closets or maybe in the shower, I suppose. But dare venture out in public and you will be bombarded with flashing, flickering, blinking images? Why, because there are TVs everywhere

  • Gas pumps
  • Elevators
  • Bathrooms
  • Hallways at fine inns and hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Churches
  • Mini-vans and SUVs
  • Even in attorneys' offices (not the lobbies, the offices themselves.)

  • If someone came here from the past he'd find a very Orwellian-looking world, with “tele-screens” in places once thought unimaginable to most rational people. It's not so much that Big Brother's watching us, but we're certainly watching him. We can't even eat a bite of food or even use the bathroom free from “news” and information, the overwhelming majority of it having nothing whatsoever to do with our daily lives. There's just too much TV.

    Americans try to slow their racing minds by Yoga, meditation and some very enlightened-sounding practices. They might not have racing minds if they weren't cluttering what is left of their non-working time with TV. Dr. Timothy Leary once famously said, “Tune in, turn on and drop out.” Apparently his listeners thought he was talking about television. It's too bad he didn't say, “Tune out, turn off and drop it out the window.”

    All of this reminds me of the almost prophetic brilliant little poem by Shel Silverstein from his collection, Where the Sidewalk Ends, "Jimmy Jet and His TV Set"

    I'll tell you the story of Jimmy Jet --
    And you know what I tell you is true.
    He loved to watch his TV set
    Almost as much as you.

    He watched all day, he watched all night
    Till he grew pale and lean,
    From "The Early Show" to "The Late Late Show"
    And all the shows between.

    He watched till his eyes were frozen wide,
    And his bottom grew into his chair.
    And his chin turned into a tuning dial,
    And antennae grew out of his hair.

    And his brains turned into TV tubes,
    And his face to a TV screen.
    And two knobs saying "VERT." and "HORIZ."
    Grew where his ears had been.

    And he grew a plug that looked like a tail
    So we plugged in little Jim.
    And now instead of him watching TV
    We all sit around and watch him.

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Out of the mouths of babes

    An often misquoted and misunderstood biblical phrase, “out of the mouths of babes,” is loosely used to convey the sense that children, perhaps unfettered by world-weariness, often express wisdom that is beyond (or at least forgotten by) their elders. Sadly, in my experience, that is not often enough the case.

    I read a nice article in today’s Plymouth Observer entitled “Sending a Message: Kids divided on texting while driving ban.” You can read the entire article here: http://www.hometownlife.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009910080660

    The article is quite an eye opener. Oh, it’s not shocking that kids would text while driving. Maddeningly, I see this happening almost daily. The people who can least afford to be distracted on the road, inexperienced drivers, yack on their cell phones incessantly and text with an alarming frequency. I’m actually surprised these days when I pass a teen driver that is not on his or her phone. And I’m not exaggerating.

    What did shock me in the article is that some of them, knowing the danger they are putting themselves and others in by distracted driving, think a ban on driving-while-texting is a bad idea or it goes too far. Here are some of the more disheartening quotes from some local high schoolers:

    Kristyn Sturtz, a 16-year-old Plymouth High School junior, said she has stopped text messaging while driving, but she opposes a federal ban because “people are going to do it anyway” and she believes the law would be ineffective.

    Still, Sturtz said, “I know people who have gotten in crashes (while texting). No one has gotten hurt, but cars have been totaled.”

    Ah, the old “people are going to do it anyway” reason for not passing laws. I suppose we should take the drunk driving statutes off the books because people continue to drink and drive.

    This young lady admittedly texts while driving but won’t stop unless the feds step in and ban the practice:

    Kara Bongiovanni, a 17-year-old Canton High School senior, said she doesn’t typically initiate texting while driving, but she reads and responds when others text her. “I try to make it to a red light before I respond, but I do read it while I’m driving, though,” she said.

    Still, Bongiovanni said she would stop texting while driving altogether if state or federal lawmakers impose a ban — an idea she supports.

    Apparently it seems advisable to her only to read texts while driving but not actually respond until she is at a red light. This is at least a step in the right direction.

    This boy perhaps expresses the most startling sentiment of all: he regularly texts and drives but the law should find a “middle ground” to regulate his behavior. An all out ban, he seems to suggest, would disconnect his poor soul during his commute:

    Alex Gravlin, a 16-year-old Salem High School junior, said an outright ban goes too far. He suggested efforts to find “a middle ground” in the controversy, although he isn’t sure what it would be.

    Gravlin said he often prefers quick text messaging over formal phone conversations, and he said it’s a practice he engages in “from the time school gets out until I go to bed.” He conceded he texts while driving “every now and then,” but he usually tries to do it when he is stopped at a red light.

    I hate to sound like a finger-wagger, but this is a safety issue. Drivers that feel this way could kill themselves or others.

    There’s another issue at work her, too. People just can’t seem to unplug even for a few minutes, teens in particular. This thinking is lost on me. Why is responding immediately to some inane teen jibber-jabber more important than paying attention to the road for a few minutes?

    Now this kid gets it. She seems to have a head on her shoulders:

    Amy Paladino, a 17-year-old Canton High School senior, said she has completely stopped sending or reading texts while she is driving, and she supports a ban.“I never text while I’m driving. I just let them pile up until I’m done driving,” she said, adding that she became fearful after seeing stories about people who have died while texting and driving.

    “I don’t want that to be me,” Paladino said.

    See how simple that is? If only more of her peers would listen to her.

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    unOriginal Sin

    I'm a Christian and consider myself more or less a fundamentalist. In my case that means I believe the Bible is true and tells literal, objective, truths. Like many things in life, though, that's not without qualification or exception. Even the most conservative Bible believer would have to admit that some things in the Bible are not intended to be taken literally but, rather, are figurative, symbolic or allegorical. It is hard to imagine that most of what is in the Book of Revelation will occur exactly as it is written and described. Jesus told parables to explain principles, but they weren't stories that had actually occurred as told.

    For the last few years, I've had to come to grips with this issue as it pertains to the creation story told in the Book of Genesis, man's origins, God's role in our creation, evolution, etc. Lately I've settled comfortably into accepting that the Bible as a whole, and Genesis in particular, can be (and is) true in its essence but not literally true in every respect. Being frank, I do not believe, for instance that the entire earth and all the creatures on it were created in 6 (human) days within the last 10,000 or so years. I do not take as scientific fact that woman was created from the rib of man or that Adam and Eve lived in a garden paradise.

    There's no place here to say why I no longer believe those things, but let's just say my doubt about the literal truth of the creation story goes back to this: there was no one there witness creation unfolding as it occurred. Who was around to see light created and set apart from darkness? How are we to know when the creatures of the earth were created since that occurred before life was breathed into Adam? Unlike the life of Jesus, which was witnessed and observed, no one was around to see the void that was the earth before God set his hand to all the finishing touches.

    Certainly, I have no problem believing God created us through processes that the Bible never intended to describe nor which its authors could have understood or explained. Darwinistic randomness makes no sense to me at all and "intelligent design," or something close it, seems the best explanation of how things came to be.

    Because so much of the creation and origin of man story in the Bible is, to me, figurative, I do not buy that sin necessarily originated in two people. The amazing thing that hit me the other day though is whether or not Adam and Eve literally ate from a "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the Garden of Eden is beside the point. Whether or not sin originated in those two naked people, somewhere in Mesopotamia, really doesn't matter a whole lot. What matters is that sin did originate somewhere. It's here and there's no getting around it. There's no denying it. There's no avoiding it. Only a fool could look at the whole of human history -- or even the last few months of news -- and conclude that sin does not exist.

    Even beyond that, what struck me for the first time in my 38 years of life is that I am daily confronted with choosing between God's plan for my life or my own plans. I am daily tempted to eat from the proverbial tree, disregarding the warnings of dire consequences. Often times I do not eat; other times I do. The "fall of man" plays out in me continuously. I will not be able to give an account to God that pins my failings on Adam. I am tempted, I have ate and, but for God's grace, I would be expelled from paradise. The story of the fall of Adam and Eve is story. It's my story. It's our story. It may not have ever happened -- or it may have -- all those thousands of years ago somewhere in present day Iraq, but it happens daily with me. I have to choose between God's system and man's system. I pray for the strength to choose wisely.

    Go State!

    Tomorrow's MSU's biggest (football) game of the season. The Spartans take on the hated Wolverines of the University of Michigan. Michigan's off to a great start this season and MSU is...well...off to a not-so-great start. But the winner of this game is not decided by past records or even what has happened so far this season. The game will be won or lost on the field (obviously) tomorrow. Throw out the record books! Throw in every other ridiculous college football cliche that comes to mind.

    As bad as State's season has been so far, a victory over Michigan wouldn't shock me at all. MSU's probably not as bad as the record suggests and UM's not as good as its record suggests. Gun to my head, I'd pick the Wolverines to win. But I have a pretty good feeling about this game. I say it's a 55-45 chance UM wins. Why? I don't know. Even people that know alot more about college football than me often get these things wrong.

    Go Green! Go White! Go State!

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    How is it that...

    Spider-Man can stick to walls if he wears gloves and shoes? Wouldn't his spider-sticky skin need to make contact with the wall to stay on it?

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Gym etiquette rules you won't see anywhere but here

    If you belong to a gym, you know that most of them post safety and etiquette rules like "Please re-rack weights after use," or "Use a spotter for all heavy lifting." The standard rules, for the most part, are good ones and make lots of sense. Sometimes, though, the rules that posted are maybe those that should have been posted first.

    I've been going to my gym for 15 years and and I've seen all of the following violated. Perhaps that has happened because no one bothered telling my fellow gym members the rules. So I'll post the rules here so everyone is on notice:
    • In the community shower (no stalls), do not shave or otherwise groom your nether regions. Please perform all personal hygiene of that nature at home.
    • Do not give yourself a haircut over one of the lockerroom sinks. If you must cut all your hair in the lockerroom, please remove all of it from the sink, floor or from wherever it falls.
    • Do not flatuate, either audibly or silently, near someone while he or she is lifting weights.
    • Listen to your own music through headphones, not through speakers attached to your CD or MP3 player.
    • Benches are not tables or storage areas for towels, purses, MP3 players, cell phones, water or drink bottles, membership cards or any other personal items. Do not make your fellow members ask you to remove your personal belongings from benches or other equipment so same can be used for intended purposes.
    • Do not ogle or stare at nude fellow club members.
    • Do not ask fellow club members what types of lotions, powders or creams they use on their bodies.
    • Do not talk incessantly to strangers, especially about your workout regimen, what music you like, or what you think of the President's health care plan.
    I hope this list helps.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009

    Football's back! But...

    I'm having a hard time getting excited about it. Five years ago, I lived for college football, mostly for Michigan State football. I loved spending entire Saturdays -- or as much of those days as I could manage -- watching games from all over the country. The turning point for me came when MSU's coach was John L. Smith and his teams only managed four (4) wins a few seasons in a row. Some might say I jumped off the bandwagon. I never stopped loving MSU football, but when they bottomed out it was a wake-up call for me that there are more important (and entertaining) things in life than college football.

    The last few years I've tried to carve out enough time each fall Saturday to watch the Spartans. I make no time for other games, even ones that would be great to watch. Family and other personal time is more fun when it's balanced with a little football, and vice versa.

    Yesterday I watched the Spartans trounce lowly Montana State, 44-3, in the season opener in East Lansing. The game, quite frankly, was boring. When there is nothing at stake, it's simply harder to enjoy the game. I don't regret spending 3 hours and $25 to watch the game at a local watering hole, but I don't think I would have been heartbroken to have missed the game, either.

    This fall I'm actually more excited about the Beatles remastered CDs than I am football. Surely that will wear off once I actually get my box set from amazon.com. For now, though, hearing that great music remixed and remastered is all I can think about (in terms of entertainment.) It's hard to focus on much else. Next week can't come soon enough.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Mean Janeane

    I had the displeasure of reading "What puts the ROFL into Janeane Garofalo and Her Liberal Lefto-Pink Comedy" interview in the August edition of The Word (an otherwise superb
    Brit music and entertainment rag.) A few things jumped out at me. The interview was example no. 478 of why I couldn't care less what celebrities have to say about the world. It was also one of thousands examples out there of how supposedly "compassionate, open-minded" lefties often show themselves to be nothing more than hateful, angry, spiteful, bitter people who would silence anyone opposing their world view.

    I used to like Ms. Garofalo back in her The Ben Stiller Show days. Today, though, I really have no use for her. She's just another pissed off Hollywood type. She's supposedly smart, but she misses the irony of the bread and butter of her stand-up routine: trashing conservatives. Her reaction to the so-called "tea party protests" staged across the US a few months back was to call its participants a bunch of "teabagging rednecks." In the article she calls conservatives that oppose gay marriage "those closet queens" who are "so full of self-lating vitriol and hatefulness." Maybe the most blatant example of her bitterness is: "Look at it this way -- you have to be damaged goods to respond to the message of a right-wing movement an dyou have to be even more damaged to want to share that message with your tribe."

    Where is the open-mindedness in that? Where is the "I'm OK, you're OK" spirit of this liberal age? Wouldn't a true liberal -- if he or she were sticking to the rhetoric of "inclusiveness" -- say, "Hey, we disagree with you on the right on the facts," and leave it at that? Name calling is what people do when either they've lost the argument or fear the other side.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Negotiating from a position of strength

    I left a courthouse this morning after a completely unfruitful meeting. On the way into the parking garage I was greeted by one of the regular street guys. (I don't know whether he is homeless, but he hangs out in the area.) Normally this gentleman says, "Hey, what's happening?" and we go our separate ways. Today, though, was different.

    As I approached he put his arms up in the air and greeted me like an old friend. Being the friendly guy I am, I stopped to chat.

    "What's going on, fella?" I asked.

    "Oh, man, just trying get me a little something to eat."

    "Would you take two dollars?" I asked, as if I were obliged to give him anything at all.

    "I'd take $20 but I know if I ask you won't give it to me, right?"

    "Right. That's not going to happen," was my response with a smile.

    "OK, two dollars will work."

    "Here you go. Get some food."

    "Thanks man, have a blessed day, brotha."

    As I walked away I laughed at myself, not for giving him the money, but because I asked him if what I offered was sufficient. What kind of negotiating is that? In the business we call that "bargaining against yourself."

    The exit from the parking garage took me right past my new friend's spot. I looked over to see him talking on a cell phone.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Being tacky and desperate, apparently, is now a crime


    Cops: Father Used Son To Pick Up Women

    Child Asks Women To Meet Father, Police Say

    POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009
    UPDATED: 1:15 pm EDT August 11, 2009
    Authorities say a 48-year-old Utica man faces a disorderly conduct charge after he used his 7-year-old son to try and meet women in a park.Utica police Detective Sgt. David Faber says the man instructed his son on Sunday evening to ask women "if they would like to meet his dad so he could have a mother." When the women in suburban Detroit's Grant Park "would refuse, the boy would get upset and cry."Faber said the women rejected the suspect. But his ploy unsettled several men in the park and led to a confrontation.The man was arrested and posted a $100 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court within 10 days.The suspect told police he is divorced and has weekend visitation rights.Police will notify Macomb County Child Protective Services.

    What this man allegedly did was pretty tasteless. I was certainly desperate and a bit creepy. There's something mildly offensive about it. But a crime? I thought we had the right in this country to be embarrass ourselves now and again.

    Really, the Utica police and prosecutor need to find something better to do than waste tax payer resources on this.

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Horrifying, disgusting, disturbing and funny all at once

    I've been reading James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It's incredibly good, much better than I expected.

    Today I read JJ's recount of a priest's lecture about Hell and judgment given to a group of young Catholic schoolboys on "retreat." This bit goes for pages, but it's loaded with brilliant bits. This one stood out for me. It made me cringe and laugh (out loud.)

    The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone too which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench: and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and un-breathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jellylike mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then image this sickening stench , multiplied a million fold and a million fold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine this and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.

    I wish I knew why that made me laugh because I don't think it was intended to be funny, at least not in the context of the story.

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Healthcare rant

    Setting aside any concerns I have about "national health insurance," "single-payer insurance" (nice euphemism) or "socialized medicine," I want to address a gripe I have with my fellow Americans. Maybe
    "nationalized" health care is the answer. I'll leave that to the experts. But irrespective of the answer to that question, I'm convinced that my fellow Americans turned into a bunch of crybaby sponges.

    I understand that there are some significant gaps in health coverage in this country. I get it. I also think that people are too quick to ignore that we have the best health care services and technology in the world. Improving access to those services and/or technology shouldn't require a complete overhaul of the system. It would certainly be supremely foolish to take steps that would tear that down.

    Nevertheless, what I tend to hear people say isn't that they can't get the health care they need, but that it's "expensive." Well, folks, the best things in life are expensive. That's just the way things are.

    A dear friend of mine was complaining this past Friday how much he resents that hospitals and doctors "screw you in the ***" to provide treatment. He didn't seem to answer how the doctors and nurses are supposed to be paid, how the medical equipment is supposed to be purchased and maintained, or how the ulitilites are supposed to be paid by the hospital or clinic without there being a charge. There is a lot of overhead in healthcare, and the better the care the more it's going to cost. The better the automobile, the more it's going to cost. What's the difference?

    I'd suspect that my disgruntled friend, if he stopped and thought about it, would rather get the best care at a higher cost than lousy care at bargain basement rates. Perhaps not. Perhaps he wants limited care that doesn't cost him a thing. I know I'd rather have top-notch care. I only have one body, one life.

    My biggest gripe with Americans is that there is developing an attitude among them that they are entitled to health care at someone else's expense. I've heard people bitch and complain about having to pay for visits to their doctors' offices who have $1,200 TVs and who do Vegas a few times a year. You really think you have money in your pocket to entertain yourself but that money should not be used for your most basic need, i.e. your own health? Really? Sorry, but I don't want to pay for your health care if you don't care enough to pay for your own.

    No one (or more accurately, very few) complains about having to buy food (especially when they eat out) or having to pay for housing. But your medical care is just as basic as those things. Why wouldn't you pay to take care of yourself? You pay to stuff your face at the local buffet, so why not kick in $50 for your doctor's visit?

    You're not owed a thing. Reexamine how you prioritize your spending and then we can talk about whether I should chip in to help pay your medical bills. It's time to grow up.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Intentionally misleading title?

    I stumbled on the following internet news link headline/title at yahoo.com

    Darwin's 150-year-old theory vindicated...by jellyfish
    ("Darwin's 150-year-old theory vindicated...by jellyfish," my.yahoo.com, 7/29/09").

    Based on that title my suspicion was that the article would explain how Darwin's theory of evolution, which is 150 years old this year, is supported, or even "proved" by jellyfish.

    It turns out, however, that the article is about the 50-some year old theory of Charles Darwin's grandson, also named Charles Darwin, about role wildlife plays in creating ocean currents. Here's the heart of the article:

    PARIS (AFP) – Creatures large and small may play an unsuspectedly important role in the stirring of ocean waters, according to a study released Wednesday.

    So-called ocean mixing entails the transfer of cold and warm waters between the equator and poles, as well as between the icy, nutrient-rich depths and the sun-soaked top layer.

    It plays a crucial part in marine biodiversity and, scientists now suspect, in maintaining Earth's climate.

    The notion that fish and other sea swimmers might somehow contribute significantly to currents as they moved forward was first proposed in the mid-1950s by Charles Darwin, grandson of the the legendary evolutionary biologist of the same name.

    But this was dismissed by modern scientists as a fishy story.

    In 1960s, experiments compared the wake turbulence created by sea creatures with overall ocean turbulence. They showed that the whirls kicked up by microscopic plankton or even fish quickly dissipated in dense, viscous water.

    On this evidence, sea creatures seemed to contribute nothing to ocean mixing. The clear conclusion was that the only drivers of note were shifting winds and tides, tied to the gravitational tug-of-war within our Solar System.

    But the new study, published in the British science journal Nature, goes a long way toward rehabilitating the 20th century Darwin, and uses the quiet pulse of the jellyfish to prove the case.

    The scientific findings in this article have nothing to do with Darwin's 150 year old theory. I recognize that article title is different at the source, but the link title is what the reader first sees and clicks to reach the article.

    My first, somewhat paranoid, reaction was to think that the article was purposefully misleading to draw readers. My second and even more paranoid reaction was that the title was intended to suggest to those that didn't read the article that new research on jellyfish has somehow strengthened the theory of evolution. Does Yahoo and/or the AFP hope to subtly prop up a controversial theory like evolution because of some socio-political or religious agenda?

    Perhaps I'm overthinking this.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Thank you, Frank

    When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
    People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years
    So opens Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Angela's Ashes, Sadly, Frank passed away yesterday at 78 of skin cancer-related complications.

    Angela's Ashes, if not the best (non-fiction) book I've ever read, is certainly my favorite. It moved me in a way that no other book has. Mr. McCourt's ability to express sorrow in vivid but often humorous ways is unmatched. Though I'm hardly a literature expert, I'm somewhat well read. His lyrical style is as good as any I've seen.

    Something about his writing, including his subsequent books, 'Tis and Teacher Man, reached all the way to my core. I found Angela's Ashes at a time in my life when I was trying to find myself. As a spoiled American I certainly could not relate to the depths of the poverty and misery experienced by McCourt familyand their confederates in Limerick, Ireland during the Great Depression. But there was a familiarity to it all.

    At that time in my life, in the process of trying to find my own identity, I latched on pretty heavily to my Irish ancestry. Looking back, I think that was my way of connecting to my father who gave me most of my Irish blood. Perhaps, though, there was more to it. Maybe, just maybe, our DNA has a "memory" of its own. Those ancestors of mine that left Limerick, Ireland for America in the late 1880's likely experienced their own "miserable Irish Catholic childhoods." In a symbolic sense, Angela's Ashes, for me, was akin to finding one's great-grandfather's diary in the trunk in the attic. It wasn't my great-great-grandfather's story, but it certainly could have been.

    Whatever the case may be, Frank's writing helped patch some holes in my existent. More accurately, Angela's Ashes caused me to look at myself and those who came before me with more depth of clarity, with more of an eye toward the long strands that connect our history (or family history) to us today.

    Reading 'Tis and Teacher Man were less heady than all that. All stories that have beginnings need endings and these two books rounded out the story that we all wanted to see end happily. By those books I was reminded that no matter where you come from, you can make something of yourself with a lot determination and a little dumb luck. It never hurts to be reminded of that.

    All that aside, Mr. McCourt's books are fantastic reads. They are highly entertaining. For the hours of reading pleasure I had, if nothing else, Frank deserves a big thank you.

    God bless you, Frank. Thank you for sharing your incredible life with me/us.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    "Support Your Local EVERYTHING!"

    So read a bumper sticker on a vehicle I was behind yesterday. Next to that sticker was one for the local university-affiliated public radio station. The car, not surprisingly, was headed toward that university, which is Ypsilanti, Michigan.

    What immediately jumped out at me was that the car was a Honda Accord. Anyone familiar with Ypsilanti knows that in it or around it, GM and Ford both manufacture vehicles (or major parts of vehicles, like transmissions and such.) Ypsilanti is a short drive from the Motor City.

    I'm not one to get to preachy. I don't admonish others to "buy American"; it's not my place to make that decision for people. Lots of true patriots buy cars with foreign name plates.

    What I does get me, though, is that people that do not practice what they preach. In this case, this person's "local EVERYTHING" includes American manufactured domestic vehicles. Literally, there are vehicles that are "local," but she chose a car made in Tennessee or perhaps even Japan. Perhaps the bumper sticker should've said "Support Your Local (Almost) EVERYTHING" or "Support Your Local EVERYTHING (Except Major Purchase Items Like Vehicles").

    I'm not sure what's more inconsistent, that bumper sticker on that car or the one I saw last year with a drawing of a cell phone that said "Hang Up and Drive." When I passed the driver of that car he was, you guessed it, talking on his cell phone.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009


    Balancing friendships with work, family life and just the day-to-day responsibilities of adulthood is very difficult.

    It's easier, actually, just to let something go. Marriage and family obviously is the most important, so it's the friendships have to get the ax. But that does not happen without consequence.

    The solution: build walls. Stay nestled safe behind them.

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    Lake Huron

    Before I get to the point, here's a little bit of background. We're blessed here in Michigan to be surrounded by the incredible (indescribable) Great Lakes. There's nothing better, in my opinion, than beautiful freshwater shoreline.

    Unfortunately, the closest bit of Great Lake to us is the strip of Lake Erie that touches the southeastern corner of the state. Although much cleaner than in the past, Lake Erie seems too dirty. The water is dark and mirky. The surface in the swimming areas is silty, slimy and squishy. The state and metro parks along that stretch aren't particularly scenic. Park users litter and leave cigarette butts all over the beach. In a word: ugly.

    To get enjoy clean Great Lake water but not have to drive over three hours, last summer we decided to see what Lake Huron was like in the Port Huron area. My fear was that it would be too industrial there and, thus, dirty. I was wrong. We enjoyed a great day at Conger Lighthouse Beach. The water and beach areas were clean, the crowds were nice. The drawback was that the current was a little too strong near the mouth of Lake Huron (it ends there and flows into the St. Clair River.)

    Yesterday we trekked up to that area but went a few miles farther north/up the shore. There we went to Lakeport State Park. If you're looking for a nice park in that area, I'd recommend. It's not big on amenities, but the beach is nice, the water is clean and there is plenty of picnicing areas. The beach is pebbly/stony, but about 100 feet out from shore there is a nice sand bar. Outside the designated "swim area," there is another nice sandbar.

    Along the beach is a marshy area where the kids found frogs, turtles and other little critters. We also saw a family of snakes on the support beam of the park's pedestrian bridge/overpass.

    All in all it was a very nice day. More than that, I'm starting to realize that Lake Huron seems to be a rather unappreciated body of water. Everyone in our state knows of the beauty of Lakes Michigan and Superior, but there's never much mention one way or another about Huron. If we were considering buying lakefront property, I'd be happy to be there. I also think it's worth the 1.5 hour drive to make semi-regular day visits.

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    The Farce of July

    I love my country and I love July 4. Maybe that's why I get dispirited every year in the run-up to the big day. It's great that people get together with family and friends, BBQ, go to the beach, watch fireworks, etc. It's a holiday. It's also a badly need day off for some who work too hard and too much.

    All those things should be secondary byproducts of the holiday. The 4th is not about picnics and being out in the sun. It's about remembering the sacrifices that were made to make this country our own, to govern ourselves, to be free of the arbitrary decisions of a crazy (literally) king halfway on the other side of the Atlantic.

    Just stop to consider what guts it took for the Founding Fathers to declare independence. Many of them were landed gentry. They were set. British practices, no doubt, were in some cases taking money out of their pockets. But I've not seen evidence that any of them were turned to paupers because of English taxation or the like.

    The decision to split from mother England was largely made on principle. The risk: their lives. Back then, treason was punishable by death. It was certainly treasonous to attempt to oust the Kingdom of Great Britain from America. After all, this was a British colony. The reminder of the risks taken by the signators to the Declaration of Independence is stated plainly in the last sentence of that great document:
    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
    It's not my place to tell you how to celebrate this great holiday. This certainly should not be understood as condemning or judging folks who try to make the holiday a celebration of family or friends or just a fun day off work. I just hope that the "true meaning" of the celebration does not get lost in all the fun.

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    What took you so long?

    Nearly four years after the IRA permanently put its arms "beyond use," i.e. decommissioned, the Ulster Defence Alliance and the Ulster Volunteer Force, announced that those groups are also decommissioning. It appears that this is on the first stage of the Protestant paramilitary decommissioning.

    I'm interested to see the reaction by Unionists/Loyalists and Nationalists/Republicans. I'm not convinced that they are happily coexisting, but this certainly can't hurt moving those communities closer together. The hardliners will never be happy, I'm afraid.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Injuries stink!

    I hurt my back yesterday working out. I feel like an old man now. It's very frustrating being sidelined by injury. Oh well. Maybe I need the extra rest.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Would you let me finish?!

    Here's an exchange I find more and more common at drive-through windows:

    Distorted Voice Through Crackly Speaker: Hi, welcome to ____. Would you like to try one of our ____ meals? It's only $___.

    Me: No thanks, I'd like a...

    DVTCS: Go ahead with your order when you're ready.

    Me: I'd like a _____ with...

    DVTCS: (Interrupts) Would that be all?

    Me: No. I'd also like a ______ and I need 2...

    DVCTS: (Interrupts again) Anything else?

    Me: Yes! I would also like a _____ blank and that's it!

    DVTCS: Would you like fries or a drink with that?

    Me: No. (Grits teeth) Just the ____, the ____ and the ____.

    DVTCS: Thank you your total comes to $5.** (unintelligible). Please pull around.

    Me: I'm sorry, how much was that? I couldn't hear it.

    DVTCS: $5.**

    Me: (Mumble to myself, "Ah, forget it. She can tell me the total at the window.")

    Fast food places are frustrating in this way. Either the suggest sell you and won't let you get your order out the way you want it, or they don't let you finish placing your order. The speakers at those places are so lousy you can't understand half of what they say.

    That's my rant for the day.

    Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    Witness to a death

    At least once a year I am lucky (or unlucky) enough to be in court when some case or matter of notoriety is being heard. It's not uncommon to see TV crews outside of the courts that I frequent. Sometimes I'm actually in the courtroom where the matter is being hard. Yesterday was just such a day.

    While waiting to see the judge, I sat through the hearing on an injunction to halt the demolition of what remained of Tiger Stadium. For legal reasons that aren't terribly exciting or dramatic, Judge Edwards agreed with the City of Detroit and the Economic Development Corporation that complete demolition should not be further delayed. In essence, the court seemed convinced that because there appeared no likelihood of any sources of funding that could save the stadium and the costs to keep her standing were mounting, that the rest of the building should be scrapped.

    Tiger Stadium was a site for so many of my fondest childhood memories. But I said goodbye to it 10 years ago when I walked out of it for the last time.

    Leaving a piece of her shell standing for a yet additional indefinite amount of time seems pointless. Perhaps the people in this area that have strong feelings about the stadium issue, one way or another, can move on and devote time and resources to improving other sites within the city. Lord knows that Detroit needs all the help she can get.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    "Real men" don't use duct tape

    For the last few days, I've noticed my favorite local sports talk station running commercials for some sort of "real man" contest that involves duct tape. Duct tape?

    I'm not so stiff that I don't recognize it's all in good fun. I also have noticed that people are serious about using duct tape to fix stuff on their car or around their house. That's kind of the guy's thing right now: "I can fix anything with a roll of duct tape."

    Fellas, duct tape is for duct work. It's not for keeping your mirror on your car, for the handle of your hockey stick, or for repairing a torn window screen. A "real man" would only use that stuff in a pinch and only temporarily.

    When I was in college, I had my car window smashed in early spring. I had to drive home 80 miles without a window, so I had to use duct tape and visqueen to cover the hole. That "fix" held me over for about a week until I could get a replacement window. Then I took part my car door and dropped in the glass myself. After putting the door back together the window was like new. If I could fix a car window for about $50 and maybe 2 hours of work, any "real man" could. If you guys are driving around with duct tape and plastic for a car window, you need to turn in your man card.

    My dad fixed stuff all the time. He made permanent fixes. Duct tape was never involved. Learn to fix stuff. . . the right way. That's what a "real man" would do.

    Monday, June 1, 2009


    There's a snobby, sophisticated part of me that tries to convince myself that I'm not a typical couch potato pro sports fan, that I have a rich, fulfilling life not determined or affected by watching other men play a game. I do have a rich, fulfilling life, but I'm kidding myself to think that sports isn't part of that. Sports in general is much lower on my list of priorities than it had been in years past. But it's important.

    Right now I'm riveted by the Detroit Red Wings' annual deep playoff run. I wish I didn't care because it's affecting my sleep and my ability to do all the other things I love. But I can't tear myself away from it. As many problems as there are with the NHL, pro hockey's gotta be the most exciting sport there is. I just can't get enough.

    I love being angry at the biased broadcasters. I love hating the "goons" on the other team. I go crazy when the Wings put the puck in the net or get into a scrape with the other team.

    It's animalistic and a little scary. The amount of excitability in me is nothing short of shocking. It's a tame form of bloodlust...and I crave it.

    The Detroit Red Wings, once again, seem to be in control of the Stanley Cup finals. The series is by no means over, but odds are they will win it and bring home the Stanley Cup for the 5th time since 1997. I can't wait for tomorrow night. Bring on game 3!

    Monday, May 25, 2009


    I can't believe it! My little girl is 9! Well, she'll be 9 in two days.

    Parents will understand the paradox that the years seem to have flown by, yet, it seems like an eternity since she was a baby. Without photographs or video -- luckily we have a lot of both -- I would hardly remember what she sounded like and looked like when she was small.

    The so-called "tween" years are a lot of fun. I love watching her grow. I'm convinced that my daughter, somehow, is my purpose, my raison d'être. As she becomes more mature, more of a complete (for lack of a better term) person, I see my destiny, in a sense, unfolding. It's really cool . . . and kind of scary. I just hope that I've done the right things so far and will continue to shephard her through this crazy life until she is ready to start her own flock.

    I love her so much! She's my baby girl! I can't wait to tell her this in the morning.

    Happy Birthday, Munkins. You're the best thing -- or at least tied for first with your mom -- that ever happened to your old man.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Quixtar, TEAM and Me: The End

    PREFACE: A few months back I decided to write in several parts my experience as a member of TEAM (f/k/a Team of Destiny) and as a Quixtar "Independent Business Owner" (IBO.) I left the story for awhile but return to it now, skipping over all the bits in the middle and going right to the end.

    As I have previously stated, I have no particular axe to grind with individuals in this industry or these organizations. I just want to chronicle how it worked out for me.

    When I last left this tale, I was just starting to get into the business. Someday I'll return to some of the happenings that took place while I was going full steam ahead, trying to build the business, but not today.

    I knew I was effectively done in the business in February 2007 when I attended a monthly TEAM seminar in Saginaw, Michigan. The featured speakers were Tim and Amy Marks. Prior to that seminar, I had tried very hard to get some prospective IBOs and one active IBO in my downline to come with me. My wife was (and had been) ill, leaving me to attend the seminars by myself. Not only is it a bit lonely to sit in the stands by yourself, it's not easy to build your business if others are not enthused about it.

    I sat that evening in the nosebleed seats of the Dow Center listening to the Markses talk about all their stuff. I'm not interested in their material wealth -- which TEAM people are encouraged to flaunt -- or that they get to spend time with their kids, at least not after hearing about it all several dozen times. I certainly didn't want to hear it as I sat there alone in the stands, watching others talk about their success while my business seemed to be dead in the water. Besides that, I think I was struggling with some low grade depression. My wife was ill, I was working hard at work and in TEAM/Quixtar, it was dead of winter and I was spending lots of money to be in that cold, dark place, wearing a suit on a Saturday night. It was miserable. I was done, though unofficially so. I left the Dow Center in tears knowing my dreams were not going to be met, at least not this way.

    Not too long after that February seminar, I did my taxes. The amount of financial failure was almost shocking. From June through December 2006, I think we spent over $6,000 in travel, hotel, books and CDs, meeting and seminar tickets, website and membership fees, dining, parking and other expenses related to the business. I made a whopping $93 "income" in return. $93! Even better yet, the $93 was taxable income (offset, of course, by my massive losses.) You know where the $93 came from? That was our aggregate "rebate" on products we bought through Quixtar/Amway. We spent roughly $2,500 to get that $93. How's that for "passive, residual" income? At least I got to write off the $6,000 plus as deductible business expenses.

    Anymore involvement with TEAM after that was purely out of obligation or guilt. I attended a few weekly meetings and kicked around the idea of attending the national seminar in St. Louis by myself. It didn't happen and I'm glad I didn't waste the time and money. I also stopped taking calls from my upline/mentors. Everytime I talked to him, my failures just felt heightened. TEAM does a really good job of trying to convince you that you can succeed. The problem is that if you don't see success -- I saw virtually no signs that I was going anywhere -- you feel like you are letting down TEAM, yourself, your family and God almighty Himself.

    We stayed "on system" for another few months, meaning we had CDs shipped to our house weekly. That stopped after my wife emailed our uplines that June and asked to take us off system. For 2007, I made ZERO dollars and had about $2,000 in expenses, maybe a little less. Again, I got to write off those expenses as business losses. I would have rather had the cash in hand, though.

    You can read elsewhere how TEAM leaders split with (were kicked out of) Quixtar in the summer of 2007. To their credit, guys like Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady made themselves targets of the Amway crowd by constantly nagging Quixtar to lower its prices. The final straw came, as I understand it, when Woodward, Brady, Billy Florence, and some others raised hell over Quixtar taking on the name Amway. They knew that "selling Amway" would be the death of many of us. It was hard enough to sell Quixtar's system to people but to call it Amway would have been damned near impossible.

    As much as I admired their principled stand against Amway -- I never wanted to be part of that company -- I was disappointed that Woodward et al changed their tune on Quixtar. When I was in TEAM, essentially signing up people as Quixtar IBOs, I was trained by TEAM that, for numerous reasons, this whole thing was not a "pyramid scam" or one of those "pyramid thingies." But when Woodward and the others split from Amway/Quixtar and lawsuits started flying, what did they allege in court pleadings that Amway/Quixtar was? You guessed it. An "illegal pyramid scheme." Interesting how that changed overnight.

    I've been away from TEAM, Amway/Quixtar and the people I knew from that business for about 2 years now. I'm happier not being in the business. Still, though, I felt anchored to it in some weird way. I also felt the need to defend the business model when I've seen criticism of it online. Perhaps that's just my way of convincing myself I hadn't made a poor decision and wasted lots of money. As much as we did, indeed, waste a lot of money, I think both my wife and I grew in positive ways from the experience. I see success differently. I think I know a bit more about business, I know a lot more about myself, and I know what types of things fit my personality type. Rather than me needing a complete overhaul to fit within a fairly rigid system -- I couldn't even choose my own tie or suit colors -- I try to take the strengths I have and apply those to the things I have to do and, when possible, adapt to new or unfamiliar circumstances. I see the value in growth or adaptation but not to the point of self denial or, worse, self death.

    My life in TEAM, though over a few years back, was effectively buried for good a few weeks ago. I held onto thousands of dollars of CDs and books in the event I ever got back into the business. Once it became obvious I was never going to return to the business, I held onto all that stuff hoping to sell it. I put ads up on craigslist, offering that stuff for next to nothing, and go no response. Months went by and that crap took up a full box in our garage. Trash Amnesty day came along -- you can throw out anything you like other than hazardous materials -- 2 Fridays ago and I decided, "Aw, to hell with it. Put all that stuff out at the curb and see if some of the garbage pickers want it." Within hours, those books and CDs -- hundreds -- were gone. Only book style packs were left and I'm sure they ended up in the trash.

    A smile came over my face when I saw someone else had taken all that material. Part of me hoped that whoever took the books and CDs would learn something. Another part of me thought, "Ha ha! Sucker!" And yet another part of me was simply glad to have them gone; they were symbols of failure I no longer wished to keep in my life.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    Life on hold

    The hobbies and things I love the most: writing, exercising, playing bass, and reading have all been on hold the last few weeks. Why? Because the Detroit Red Wings are in the playoffs. They're sucking up a lot of my free time. I love it but I feel disconnected from my routines.

    The problem isn't just that there are games to watch, but that the damned games (3 of them) have started after 10:00 p.m. Craziness. I've stayed up until 2:00 a.m. or later 3 times in the last week or so. It just throws off everything.

    I write about sports a fair amount on this blog, but I'm actually not a huge sports fan, at least not compared to a lot of guys these days. There are men that do nothing but watch sports every night of the week. I try to keep time for my family, Church and hobbies and keep sports watching to a minimum. But when the Red Wings are in the playoffs or MSU's in March Madness, I have to watch. I just can't pull myself away from the games. I make all the sacrifices I can to see every play.

    The Red Wings are playing game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals tonight and the winner moves onto the conference finals. Tonight's game is huge. I just have to see it, no matter how rusty I'm getting on bass or how little sleep I will get. And I won't regret it at all.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    Random stuff I don't understand (Part 1)

    Braille at drive-up ATMs -- Drive-up ATMs are always situated so that the driver's side of the vehicle has access to the screen and keypad. So why do they almost always have information on them in Braille? If a person is so vision impaired that he or she must read in Braille, what is he or she doing driving? Walk-up ATMs are a different story, altogether.

    Handicapped parking spots at a fitness center -- I know, I know. At least in our state, all public places that have parking must allot a specific number of spots for handicapped parking. For nearly every public place out there, that law makes sense. We want disabled people to have easy access to public places. But that makes little or no sense at a gym.

    The gym to which I belong has has 4 handicapped spots in front of and to each side of the front door. There is no elevator inside the building but it is a two story facility. If you want to use the second floor, you have to be able to get up the steps. Otherwise you're stuck either using treadmills and stairclimbers, weights or the swimming pool.

    Whatever the case may be, if you are in the gym it is to exercise. If you can exert yourself enough to get into the pool or up the stairs, you can walk or wheel yourself from anywhere in the parking lot. If you can't move an extra 50 feet is there anything you can do in the gym? I'm not blasting handicapped folks or begrudging them a good parking spot, just wondering what the point is in parking right next to the door of a fitness center.

    There will be more brilliant observations from me *wink* as I make them.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009

    "Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in."

    Oh dear lord. That was one of a number of simply awful bits of dialog in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The writers of what otherwise could have been a really good comic book movie took every cliche that one could seemingly brainstorm and threw 'em all in the movie.

    I'm not going to attempt a full review of the movie. Critics who get paid to do that stuff would do a better job than me. Let's just say I like the movie because I've liked all the X-Men movies and Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine. I forgive it a lot of deficiencies because of the subject matter.

    Much of the acting was subpar and, as suggested, the dialog was even worse. Also, the timelines in the movie didn't match either the comic book history or even the movie itself. I think the Marvel purists will probably go nuts about stuff like that.

    All its failings aside, it's a good shoot 'em up...errr...slice 'em up flick. It's worth the price of admission unless you have particularly discriminating tastes. Just be prepared for some real groaners.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Until NPR mentioned it . . .

    it never occurred to me that Mark Sanchez, the USC quarterback drafted by the New York Jets in the first round of this weekend's draft (no. 5 overall), is "Mexican-American."

    I watched USC a few times last season. I certainly recognized the last name Sanchez as being latino. But I never viewed him as a "Mexican-American quarterback" or a "latino player." That type of thinking, to me, is foolishness. He's an American. He's a football player.

    Giving NPR the benefit of the doubt, I think the angle it was trying to take by discussing, in detail, Mr. Sanchez's ethnicity was to highlight that it apparently has significance in the latino community of southern California.

    I'm not sure why, though, that would be especially noteworthy. It is not as if Mr. Sanchez is the latino Jackie Robinson of football. He's hardly the first latin player in the NFL. As of the 2007 season, there were no less than 24 latinos in the NFL. http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/27860

    He definitely isn't the first high profile latino in American pro sports. Latin American players essentially dominate Major League Basesball.

    My favorite baseball player as a kid (who played a bit before my time) was Roberto Clemente. Not only was he Puerto Rican, he was of African descent. I think I was drawn to him because my Puerto Rican father was a big fan and told me stories about what a great player he had been. But I wasn't drawn to him because he was Puerto Rican. Had he been a lousy player, he would have gone unnoticed.

    Which brings me back to the point. If we truly want to be a "color blind" society, we should stop looking at people as members of an ethnicity and, instead, look at them as people who have things to offer society. Mark Sanchez will succeed or fail on the field regardless of his last name or the country from which his ancestors came. He'll either be a good quarterback or he won't be. He'll make us all proud if he works hard and does his best.

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Born gay?

    This isn't gay bashing and shouldn't be understood that way. But I think it's fair game for critical discussion and it's ok for us heterosexuals to talk about the issue.

    The rationale I hear most for the acceptance of homosexuality and, by extension, for the expansion of gay rights is that some folks are just "born gay." A relative, who is very conservative, recently said to me, "Science will soon prove that people are born gay. They cannot help it. Why would anyone choose that lifestyle. It's too hard."

    Anyone who has had even a high school level psychology course is familiar with the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture. Are we born with certain traits? Does our environment shape who we become? Or are we a combination of predispositions and environment? The debate has never been completely resolved, but I've always understood that the medical and mental health communities long ago accepted the idea that we are born with certain traits and/or dispositions and our environment shapes us.

    For whatever reason, though, that answer has not been good enough for some when it comes to the question of sexuality. If I were an alcoholic, no psychologist in his/her right mind would ignore environment in attempting to help me. There's not a decent professional out there who would say, "Ignore what happened in your past. You are an alcoholic purely by accident of birth, by random genetic dumb luck." So why do we do this with sexuality?

    There's a very interesting article from CNN entitled "Why women are leaving men for other women."

    It's just an article. Its (the article's) conclusions or assumptions really carry no wait as far as I am concerned. But it quotes some interesting studies that suggest that it's hardly a matter of genetics which orientation we choose or live out. If you find that notion offensive, take issue with the so-called experts.

    Here are some interesting bits from the article, with emphasis added by me:

    But experts like Binnie Klein, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist and lecturer in Yale's department of psychiatry, agree that alternative relationships are on the rise.

    "It's clear that a change in sexual orientation is imaginable to more people than ever before, and there's more opportunity -- and acceptance -- to cross over the line," says Klein, noting that a half-dozen of her married female patients in the past few years have fallen in love with women. "Most are afraid that if they don't go for it, they'll end up with regrets.

    * * *

    Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, Ph.D, a professor of English and gender and women's studies at the University of Kentucky and author of "Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body," also agrees that in the current environment, more women may be stepping out of the conventional gender box.

    "When a taboo is lifted or diminished, it's going to leave people freer to pursue things," she says.

    "So it makes sense that we would see women, for all sorts of reasons, walking through that door now that the culture has cracked it open. Of course, we shouldn't imagine that we're living in a world where all sexual choices are possible. Just look at the cast of 'The L Word' and it's clear that only a certain kind of lesbian -- slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way -- is acceptable to mainstream


    Over the past several decades, scientists have struggled in fits and starts to get a handle on sexual orientation. Born or bred? Can it change during one's lifetime?

    A handful of studies in the 1990s, most of them focused on men, suggested that homosexuality is hardwired. In one study, researchers linked DNA markers in the Xq28 region of the X chromosome to gay males. But a subsequent larger study failed to replicate the results, leaving the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association to speculate that sexual orientation probably has multiple causes, including environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.

    Today, however, a new line of research is beginning to approach sexual orientation as much less fixed than previously thought, especially when it comes to women. The idea that human sexuality forms a continuum has been around since 1948, when Alfred Kinsey introduced his famous seven-point scale, with zero representing complete heterosexuality, 6 signifying complete homosexuality, and bisexuality in the middle, where many of the men and women he interviewed fell.

    The new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies is "sexual fluidity."

    "People always ask me if this research means everyone is bisexual. No, it doesn't," says Lisa Diamond, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2008 book "Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire."

    "Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something a woman can control."

    These aren't anti-gay right wingers drawing these conclusions. These are studies (or at least observations) done by highly educated folks at liberal institutions. Anyone questioning the validity of them would be hard-pressed to do so on the basis of some sort of anti-gay bias.

    Are these conclusions valid? I certainly wouldn't die on that hill. I'll let the so-called experts defend their own work. They certainly are consistent with the very broad concept that who we are -- all aspects of our lives -- is shaped by many factors.