Friday, January 23, 2009

it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

I grew up in the volatile, exciting, and often strident 60s and 70s, finishing high school in the 'spirit of '76' bicentennial year. During my formative years -

• John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated
• The culture of divorce and promiscuity took root and blossomed
• Watts burned and riots rocked Chicago during the Democratic National Convention
• America surrendered in war for the first time when it pulled out of Viet Nam - unless you count Korea, which was at best a stalemate
• Terrorists killed athletes at the Olympics
• There was an energy crisis
• Commercial airlines and cruise ships were hi-jacked (and yes, my future wife was a 'stewardess' on that 1978 Delta flight that got redirected to Havana)
• The American auto industry lost its preeminent role
• A president was impeached and removed from office
• Disco conquered the airwaves - yikes
• The U.S. Olympic basketball team lost its first ever international game to the U.S.S.R. in a highly controversial ending
• Oh, and 'we' landed on the moon

Whatever you think of Jimmy Carter 'the President,' he made a number of profound statements that summed up where America was a month before the end of my teens years in a speech he gave on July 15, 1979.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else - public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Ironically, Carter's greatest failing may have been the palpable sense of pessimism - a near doom? - that pervaded his demeanor and words throughout his presidency. And in case you are wondering, yes, this was part of his famous "malaise" speech. How was I going to argue with that? I didn't feel very confident about the future myself.

It was Ronald Reagan who seemed to understand Carter's words better than Carter himself and brought a positive buoyancy to the American psyche over much of the next decade. Some say he was just in the right place at the right time and got lucky that the business cycle turned around but even his most ardent critics have to admit his sense of optimism may have helped change some things.

In a Tale of Two Cities (1859) Charles Dickens penned the immortal phrase: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, he showed how the peasants were oppressed and brutalized by the aristocracy and how in turn they were indiscriminately brutalized by the revolutionaries. (Brazilian author, educator, and reformer Paulo Freire described the psychological movement from oppressed to oppressor in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed [1968] that described freedom movements in South America.)

There is a lot of hand-wringing today. And for reason. There is a plethora of real and pervasive international, national, ethnic, economic, moral, social, personal, and spiritual problems. And yes, the American auto industry is reeling yet again.

Maybe it is the end of an era of prosperity and more importantly opportunity. But I suspect that the real reality is what Dickens described; we are living in the best of times and the worst of times. Even if consumer confidence was up and economic indicators were through the roof - the best of times for some - if there are oppressors and oppressed then it is still the worst of times ... for somebody.

And yet a focus on such 'realism' simply doesn't ignite passions and energize dreams. And what are dreams but what Carter called 'confidence in the future' ... the belief - as unrealistic as it might seem - that my plans and actions can create a new reality. I can do something to build a better world.

Jesus said, ' the poor you will always have with you' (Matthew 26:11) - very realistic - but men and women who have faith in Him have been at the forefront of compassionate ministry.

Even as companies fall there are people who still work to build new companies ... and succeed.

Today is just like other days. The best of times. The worst of times. You may fall to one side of that equation personally. No matter. As a psychology professor said in a graduate class I took: I don't care where you've been or even where you are ... I want to know where you're going!

So where are you going? What does the future look like to you?

Friday, January 9, 2009

imagine tat!

A friend in my age range - let's not get too specific and just say somewhere between age 49 and 51 - just got a major tattoo.

I was at one of my 14-year-old's AAU basketball games a couple Saturday's ago and the mom of one of the players from the other team had also recently got 'tatted' up; a shoulder to wrist floral arrangement on both arms. Naive as I am, I kept thinking she had some sort of arm-nylons on under her sleeveless t-shirt. That's what I explained to Amy who elbowed me because she thought I was looking over there too much.

Of course head for the local high school or even middle school and you'll see an alarming number of young people with low ride jeans, high rise shirts, and lots of tattooed skin. And then there's the girls.

The old adage claimed that "clothes make the man," which seems way too superficial, just as getting worked up about tattoos seems judgmental, turning a matter of taste into a moral issue. Right?

Along those lines my grandpa insisted you could tell everything you needed to know about a potential job candidate from his shoes: "you don't have to be rich to have your shoes shined." He obviously hadn't anticipated casual Fridays and Ecco comfort shoes.

But back to tattoos. Just in case you were wondering -

* 15% of Americans have been tattooed - about 40 million people
* 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 have been tattooed
* Democrats(18%) are more tattooed than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%)
* Geographically the West (20%) outpaces the East (14%), Midwest (14%), and South (15%) among adults with tattoos
* About 20% of those who have been tattooed regret it, with the number one cause of regret being the person's name in the tattoo (16%); 11% admit "it was stupid"
* Of those with tattoos 26% feel more attractive, while 5% feel more intelligent; 29% feel more rebellious and 57% of those without a tattoo agree that those with tattoos look more rebellious
* On google searches, more people are interested in Angelina's tattoos than any other celebrity

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Besides proving that Democrats have a higher propensity toward rebelliousness, that Brad may or may not find tattoos attractive depending on which news source you take most seriously in the grocery store checkout line, and that the 5% of those who are tattooed may not be smart enough to know that ink on skin didn't make them more intelligent, the conclusion really is quite evident and irrefutable ... kids, the answer is still no ... under no circumstance are you to get a tattoo!

Not even if you want a heart with Mom and Dad inside it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

time for a college football playoff? only if ...

Utah knocked off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a couple days ago, lifting their record to 13-0. Shouldn't that give them a claim as college football's national champions? Or how about Texas who beat Oklahoma who is playing for the title against Florida?

I'm somewhat of a traditionalist - okay, a little mix of iconoclast and traditionalist - so I've never had a dog in the we-must-have-a-playoff-for-Division-I-college-football fight. I can see both sides of the debate.

The arguments against a D-I college football (CFB) playoff include -

* the bowl system generates more income for schools and communities than a playoff would
* a little controversy keeps interest level high
* the bowl system is a reward to the kids - and allows many schools to claim some form of a championship
* college football is healthy so why mess with something that's already working
* college football is about tradition and the bowls with their parades and pageantry are definitely traditional
* extra games associated with a playoff would cut into student-athletes' academic studies

There is an answer for and to every point above. I'm oversimplifying but here's the quick responses in corresponding order: playoffs would generate NFL type of dollars; controversy is not good when the 'best team' gets ripped off due to system rules; you can still keep some form of the bowl system but some of the bowls would go away (and need to go away); sure CFB is healthy but so is basketball and people absolutely love March Madness and filling in their brackets; again, you can keep some of the bowls as part of the playoff system; hey, if athletes from the lower divisions of CFB can do a playoffs and handle the academic work load at some rigorous universities, why can't the D-I kids?

Like I said, I have no dog in this fight - something Michael Vick wishes he could have said - so you pick the answers you like best and you won't get me worked up. As you can tell with the associated arguments above, most solutions try to incorporate traditional bowls into the playoff equation. And this is where I have a problem. In fact, I would go so far as to say, dump the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) completely and return to stand-alone bowls with a vote at the end of the year or go strictly with a playoff for the top eight teams. But don't mix the two.


Bowls were never set up to determine a national champion. Bowls were about rewarding kids with travel, gifts, and a televized game and giving alums and fans a warm weather place to go for a vacation. As a result the bowls have always favored warm weather schools and penalized cold weather schools.

Warm weather schools can recruit and play a style of football that doesn't have to change as the leaves fall off of trees. (Texas Tech needs to bring their passing attack to Madison, Wisconsin, in late November to test my theory.) Warm weather schools often travel less distance (and many times stay in-state) for a near home field advantage in bowl season. (USC's last home game every year is the Rose Bowl! Of course, if the mighty Trojans would stop getting upset by 30-point underdogs they would have to play for a championship instead of relying on ESPN to crown them as best-ever each year.) The pundits discuss and explore home field issues, including weather conditions, in depth and ad nauseum in the NFL - no one wants to go to Green Bay in December I've heard - but college analysts conveniently ignore that reality.

Oh, you're a Buckeye fan and are just making excuses. Let's face it, the best football is played in the SEC and Big 12 South! Weather is a non-issue.

Uh oh. The topic of discussion just changed! And yes, I confess, I am defending my much-maligned Buckeyes and the Big 10 and its quality of football as evidenced by the last few bowl seasons. Realistically, I can accept that the Big 10 is down the past two or three years and the SEC is up based on year end results - but there's an even more telling statistic that argues against the kind of disparity being argued. It's number of players in the NFL. The score card reads:

SEC - 263 players / 137 starters
ACC - 238 players / 121 starters
Big Ten - 234 players / 105 starters
Pac-10 - 183 players / 70 starters
Big 12 - 176 players / 72 starters
Big East - 84 players / 33 starters

So admittedly there is a power shift toward the southeast USA, but not to the degree it's been propagated by fans who claim if you ain't cheating you ain't really trying.

But back to CFB playoffs! I'm all for the top eight teams forming a bracket to set up a Super Bowl type climax to the CFB season - because we all know how great SB games are most years! (Sarcasm font on.) But not if all games are played in warm weather sites.

After all, since weather is just an excuse, shouldn't Gator, Trojan, and Seminole fans get to experience football the way it was meant to be played ... outdoors in December in Ann Arbor, Columbus, Happy Valley or other northern climes?

That's a thought that warms my heart!