27 August, 2008

All our eggs in one basket...no thanks

Back in the 1950’s, the idea that what was good for General Motors was good for America was a matter of faith. But I wonder if that’s still the case. The same goes for the rest of the Big Three.

In recent months, the entire North American auto industry—foreign companies included—has been rocked by skyrocketing fuel prices, and the response has been more than a little telling.

Honda, with its lineup of high-quality, fuel-efficient automobiles can't build its vehicles fast enough. Toyota, despite taking an unprecedented hit in terms of profitability, is quickly setting about the business of re-tooling. And the Big Three? Well, GM’s answer to the Toyota Prius is a hybrid Yukon that gets a whopping 21 miles per gallon. Over at Ford, management recently announced that after a generation of playing catch-up, it was finally going to close the quality gap with Toyota—in a couple of years.

Oh yeah, and apparently the Big Three are going to need $50 billion in cheap government loans to accomplish all this, despite years of making money hand over fist producing high-margin SUVs. Whatever happened to American leadership? Ford tough? GM innovation? It’s starting to get embarrassing.

It’s also getting a little scary. Pinning the U.S. economy’s future on unwieldy, shortsighted corporations like General Motors is starting to look a lot like booking first-class passage on the Titanic. For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, the decline of the domestic auto industry has long since been a simple fact of life. The Big Three have been losing market share for decades. Now they want the taxpayer—you and me—to loan them $50 billion.

Of course, at this point we are hardly in a position to say no. An industry analyst recently said a General Motors bankruptcy would be the economic equivalent of setting off a nuclear bomb, and he’s right. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. government can’t take at least some kind of action.

First, any low-cost loans should be predicated on some serious changes in leadership. I don’t know whether running an automotive company is actually rocket science. But it is pretty apparent that in the case of GM’s Rick Wagoner, in particular, whatever it is, the current bunch of people in charge ain’t got it.

Second, if the U.S. government is going to start financing the automotive industry, let’s invest in the entire automotive industry—not just the cloistered bunch running things in Michigan. There are a number of interesting startups out there, companies like California-based electric carmakers ZAP and Tesla Motors. Unlike their more established counterparts in Detroit, these companies are truly lean, hungry and innovative. They have to be to stay in business. GM claims it will have an electric car on the market by 2010, but ZAP and Tesla Motors are building cars right now. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually get a jump on the folks over at Nissan & Mitsubishi for once?

It’s a basic tenant of investing that your portfolio needs to be diverse if you are going to prosper over the long term. The same goes for the domestic automotive industry. It’s time for some truly fresh blood in the domestic auto industry. What’s good for America is no longer just what’s good for the Big Three.

25 August, 2008

Hard to play by the rules when they are a moving target

This is an excerpt from an article on Slate.com that I thought really raised some interesting points. I really want to believe Phelps won that one, but when you really look into the details, I guess it depends on what your definition of "is" is....
Did Michael Phelps really earn eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics?

In his next-to-last medal race, the 100-meter butterfly, Phelps trailed Milorad Cavic all the way to the wall. Nobody who saw the race in real time, including Phelps' mother, thought he had won. Yet the scoreboard showed him beating Cavic by one-hundredth of a second.
"The scoreboard said I got my hand on the wall first," Phelps declared afterward. The Boston Globe, like other American newspapers, agreed: "Phelps got his hand on the wall first." Cornel Marculescu, head of the world swimming federation, FINA, confirmed the verdict: "There is no doubt the first arrival was Michael Phelps." The race referee added: "There are no doubts. It was very clear that [Cavic] touched second."

Sorry, but none of these assurances holds water. The scoreboard doesn't tell you which swimmer arrived, touched, or got his hand on the wall first. It tells you which swimmer, in the milliseconds after touching the wall, applied enough force to trigger an electronic touch pad. As to whether Phelps touched first, there's plenty of unresolved doubt.
The human eye, in real time and basic video replay, suggests Cavic won. But that could be an optical illusion. Cavic takes one big stroke toward the wall, then glides to it with fingers extended. Phelps does the opposite: He shortens his stroke so he can squeeze in one more truncated stroke. He gambles that the speed he gets from the extra launch will make up for the additional time it requires. Cavic leads but closes the distance to the wall slowly; Phelps trails but closes the distance fast. In ultraslow-motion replays, it looks as though Cavic has reached the wall while Phelps is still closing. But these replays break down Cavic's glide to such short increments that you can't really tell whether he has stopped.
Marculescu says there's ''absolutely no doubt'' who won, because the clock registered Phelps' arrival first, and "the touch stops the clock.'' Not true. A touch doesn't stop the clock. The touch pad is designed to require a certain degree of force, because otherwise, slight pressure from the water would trigger it. "You can't just put your fingertips on the pad, you really have to push it," the race timekeeper explains. A FINA vice president says the crucial moment is "the instant of depression, of activation of the touch pad, not contact with the pad."

On Saturday, a week after the race, FINA tried to squelch the controversy by releasing 4 pairs of digital frames that track the two swimmers side by side as they reach the wall. "In the third set of images, with Phelps on the left, it is clear he is really pushing hard, while Cavic, on the right, is just arriving," the timekeeper told the Associated Press.
Again, not true. In the pictures, Cavic appears to have arrived by the second frame, if not the first—at a minimum, tying Phelps. And Phelps is moving so much faster and more forcefully that you have to wonder: Given the delay between contact and pressure, if the touch pad recorded Phelps' pressure only one-hundredth of a second before Cavic's, how likely is it that Cavic made initial contact before Phelps did?
Technically, the question of who touched first doesn't matter. FINA and the Olympics honchos agreed beforehand to use the touch pads; the touch pads require pressure; all swimmers and their coaches should know this. But that technical argument leaves two ugly, unresolved problems. One is that FINA, the timekeeper, the referee, and the media keep telling us, falsely, that Phelps "touched," "arrived," and "got his hand on the wall" first. "In our sport, it's who touches first," Marculescu told the AP on Saturday. Bull. It's not who touches first. It's who triggers the sensor first.
The other problem is that even FINA isn't sure how much pressure the touch pads require. On Saturday, Marculescu told the New York Times that the threshold was 3 kilograms per square centimeter. But in the same article, a FINA vice president said the threshold was 1.5 kilograms. If FINA's executives don't know the correct number, is it reasonable to expect Cavic to know it? And if he had realized how much pressure was required, would he have shortened his stroke as Phelps did, trying to trigger the sensor first, instead of trying to touch the wall first?
I'm not saying the touch-pad system is fishy. It beats the heck out of the old stopwatch method, not to mention the mysteries of judging gymnastics. It's the fairest, most precise system around. And that's the point: Even the most precise system leaves a gray area. In this case, it's the area between touching and pressing. Did Phelps beat Cavic to the wall? We'll never know.

24 October, 2007

The California Conflagration

As I'm writing, blessedly unseasonable rain and snow is falling upon the Southern California fires that have devoured over 3,300 homes and 1,100 square miles. This is a wonderful turn of events, although the TV newscasts, after a week of nonstop coverage of the conflagrations, are now warning of that tragicomic offspring of wildfire: mudslides.

But that's life in California: one disaster after another. California is a particularly fragile place for 35 million people to live in. And the cost of cramming more people into the state keeps rising.
Brushfires and mudslides used to seem more amusing because they afflicted Hollywood celebrities significantly more often than average citizens. This was not just a matter of God's good taste. Average citizens lived in the cheaper and safer flatlands. The rich poised precariously in the hills, where construction and maintenance costs are higher—especially if you want your home to survive what Mother Nature keeps up her sleeve.

But the plains of Southern California filled up long ago. So the ever-growing population has been spilling into the more treacherous wild areas. This is regularly denounced as "sprawl," which implies that individuals are wastefully consuming more and more land per capita. But in California the driver has been population growth. According to a 2003 Center for Immigration Studies report, from 1982 to 1997 the total number of developed acres in California grew by 32 percent, but the per capita usage was up only two percent. Essentially all of California's population growth in the 1990s was due to new immigrants or births to foreign-born women. (Indeed, close to one and a half million more American-born citizens moved out of California during the 1990s than moved in from other states.)

As low-income immigrants pour into Southern California's lowlands, crowding the freeways and overstressing the older cities' public schools, the middle class (at least the ones who don't leave the state) have responded by taking to the hills. The hill country's environment is benign most of the year. But the local ecosystem evolved to require periodic blazes. Up through American Indian times, these brushfires were frequent and thus relatively mild.

Unfortunately, we modern people haven't really figured out how to manage the chaparral and pine forests yet—especially when the canyons and mountains are home to housing. The best-known remedy, controlled burns, is disliked by people who live in the backcountry because they pollute the air, and they can jump out of control. The 2000 Los Alamos fire set by the Forest Service ended up destroying hundreds of structures.
Thus the policy has been to try to suppress all fires. This, however, causes fuel in the form of dry brush and dead trees to build up each decade, inevitably leading to infernos like those of 1993 and 2003. Indeed, an order of magnitude more homes could have burned this year if the hot Santa Ana winds had blown for another week.
It’s just California's problem? ‘fraid not! Taxpayers across the country always end up chipping in, through government disaster loans, new federal firefighting and forestry management programs, lower stock market prices for insurance companies, and other forms of burden-sharing.

And, in some ways, that's fair, because so much of California's current crisis traces back to the federal refusal to adequately enforce immigration laws.
California desperately needs a slower population growth rate until it learns how its current vast population can live with its lovely but sometime lethal landscape. And the state's burgeoning numbers are solely driven by immigration.

The logical solution: cut back on immigration. Reality is literally lighting a fire under us.

22 October, 2007

Cowboy up!

Gene Autry must be spinning in his grave.

"Many of my peers think Blackwater is oftentimes out of control. They often act like cowboys over here ... not seeming to play by the same rules everyone else tries to play by."
- A senior U.S. commander in Iraq, quoted anonymously in The Washington Post

And as for the many cowboys who work for a living on the range in the Golden Spread, they need some sort of massive public relations campaign to counter the damage being done to their image.

That great icon of the American West - the cowboy - is now a derogatory term.
Thanks to the Blackwater scandal currently stagnating in Congress, the cowboy is being lassoed and blamed for the failure of U.S. foreign and military policy. Blackwater USA is a private company that provides security in Iraq. Blackwater is under fire for allegedly violent and deadly actions by its employees, many of them former members of the U.S. military, against Iraqi civilians.

Erik Prince - the company's chairman and a former Navy SEAL - testified Tuesday before Congress, denying the "cowboy" allegations. "Blackwater cowboys" is now the term used to describe those who allegedly shoot and kill Iraqi civilians. As of Wednesday, there were more than 730,000 references to this term in cyberspace. An Associated Press headline from last week read "Cowboy Aggression Works for Blackwater."

Last month, The New Zealand Herald ran a story about private security in Iraq. Supposedly, at a meeting of such groups, there was a concern of "an influx of criminals and cowboys" working in private security in Iraq. The world of blogs - many of which are the junior high bathroom wall of journalism - rode herd also: "In any other country in the world it would be called cold-blooded murder and these Blackwater 'cowboys' would be sent to jail for life."

Calling someone a "cowboy" is often the sticks-and-stones attack style of the media. The Guardian, Britain's liberal newspaper, once referred to President Bush as a "hopelessly inarticulate, trigger-happy cowboy." Better cowboy up, cowboys. Your good name is well on its way to politically correct hyphen-word status. There's the n-word, the b-word, the h-word. The c-word is already taken, right? I'll have to update my vulgarity meter. How about the cow-word?

Speaking of Autry, he is credited for creating the "Cowboy Code." The first rule is the cowboy must not shoot first, hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage. Real cowboys will have to excuse the media brand being applied to "cowboy" by those whose only relationship to a horse is acting like the rear end of one.

03 October, 2007

Why I hate (and love) C-Span

I find myself in sunny Auburn, Indiana this fine evening, ruminating over the last few days since I posted to this blog. Last night, I had quite a bit of trouble sleeping. Now, I am quite used to spending nights in a hotel (167 nights so far this year), but no matter how many times I stay in a Holiday Inn Express, I have never found a comfortable bed.

So, after an hour or so of tossing and turning, I gave in to insomnia and clicked the TV back on about midnight or so. After channel surfing through the vast wasteland of infomercials, sitcom reruns and assorted celbri-crap, I happened upon good ol' C-Span. Now if anything can put me to sleep, it's gotta be this channel, right?

C-Span was replaying the Blackwater hearings from earlier in the day. Erik Prince, company founder and CEO (and brother of Betsy DeVos) was testiying about his companies activities in Iraq over the last 4 years as a private security contractor working under the Department of Defense and now, the State Department. Part of the debate was the discussion of the cost-justification of using private enterprise contractors versus active-duty military.

One of things that absolutely frustrates me to no end is the inability of television and print media to actually cover an issue. They would much rather spend inches of columns and minutes of air-time discussing pointless items about who is dating who than actually devote the time to discuss something of substance that affects all of us. That's why I really like C-Span, issues is what they do. Finally!! I get to see something intellectually stimulating, right?

Oops...I forgot. While the medium is set up to discuss issues, the players involved - not so much. For the next 3 and a half hours, I sat watching a train wreck of pompous, grandstanding, ill-informed and flat-out ignorant doofi demonstrate to everyone watching why our government is so ineffective. Both sides of the aisle completely wasted the opportunity to have a constructive discussion as how to best use tax dollars and how we should set our policy going forward. No, why do that? There's name calling to do!! We're discussing Blackwater...I know, I'm going to go on a 3 minute rant about MoveOn.org! And I'm going to answer that rant by complaining about Rush Limbaugh!

As if the posturing about unrelated issues wasn't vomit-inducing enough, the complete lack of preparation by these congressmen blew me away. One Democart demanded to know why Blackwater had not incarcerated their personnel who had been terminated for improperly discharging their weapons. When he was told that Blackwater could not detain people because they were not a law enforcement agency, he exploded and demanded to know whose fault that was. Hello?!?!?! It's your fault - Congress made the law!! A Republican senator from Indiana responded to this exchange, not by using facts or even reasoning, but by claiming that all Democrats hate profit and want to see rich people suffer. Thankfully I was able to stop from smothering myself with a pillow.

This is the reason why I sometimes hate C-Span. Our elected leaders choose to self-aggrandize rather than govern and lead. And all the posturing seems to be done for the benefit of the cameras. The chairman of the committee, Henry Waxman, actually addressed "the viewers" when ranting about something completely unrelated to the issue at hand. Is this what we've sunk to? Is being "electable" and "telegenic" more important than visionary and inspiring?

I know we started on this slippery slope during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, but I can't just give up hope that our integrity is a lost cause. I can only hope that one day C-Span can put me to sleep because of the depth of the issues being discussed and not because I exhaust myself screaming "You morons!!" at my TV.

25 September, 2007

The Juice gets the squeeze...

By now you've all heard that O.J. Simpson was arrested Sunday in Las Vegas for allegedly stealing, among other things, his own signed memorabilia from a hotel room. This is a bit like me being arrested for stealing copies of my own signed canceled checks. Both would be difficult to explain away and yet, somehow, O.J. attempting to reclaim pictures and items from a time before he was the most reviled man in America, is both tragic and appropriate. And completely expected.

Simpson disputes this characterization, telling the Associated Press, that it was a "self organized sting operation." Which makes perfect sense. Because if there's one person I want to organize a sting operation, it's O.J. Simpson. Especially if he consults with Kato Kaelin in advance. If we sent these two guys to Tora Bora, Osama would be done for. Would anyone else love to see the transcripts of the planning of the sting operation? It's probably as confusing and malformed as the University of Michigan's punt coverage instruction. Plus I'm convinced this phrase was used, "Remember cats, we got to keep the po-po's out of this."

Simpson claims, according to the AP, that he entered the room after pretending to be interested in reacquiring the suit he wore in 1995 when he was acquitted of the double murder. Presumably the only reason Simpson would be interested in the suit is because he could then sell it for even more money than he already sold it for. So he'd be re-scalping his suit. Classy.
Who buys this suit in the first place? There isn't a double murder Hall of Fame. And even if there was, everyone knows the glove is what you'd want. How odd would it be to go to some rich guy's place and see that he had this suit? It would be almost as awkward as visiting LeBron James and having to say something nice about the statue of himself he's created or visiting Monica Lewinsky and seeing her blue dress hanging on the wall. Having said that, right now several defense attorneys reading this column are smacking themselves on the side of the head for not buying the suit and using it as a prop for their DUI commercials on television.

Regardless O.J. has been charged with 10 felonies. Ten! Including kidnapping, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon. Even Michael Vick was blown away by this many charges. Worse for O.J., he was initially denied bail, which is pretty solid evidence that he's being treated differently than most defendants charged with crimes in Las Vegas. Pacman flew in and out on the same day of his felony charges. Fortunately O.J. has been keeping himself busy in his jail cell reading -- I'm not making this up -- The Purpose Driven Life. Although one does presume that this makes his quest to find the real killers of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman much more difficult.

A legal prediction for you: If allowed by his/her superiors, some ambitious Clark County (Las Vegas) district attorney is going to refuse to plea this case out and attempt to get convictions on as many counts as possible. Getting O.J. convicted would make several attorneys' careers and lead to lucrative paydays down the line. Not to mention the heinous Nancy Grace would blow smoke up your keister for an entire year. Which, for prosecutors, is like being nominated to the Supreme Court.

Since Nevada state law requires that the robbery with a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon convictions be served consecutively (as opposed to concurrently) O.J. is facing enough prison time to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life. I think everyone sort of assumed that O.J. would eventually get himself back in trouble, but not over autographed memorabilia. It's almost like O.J. thinks the law doesn't apply to him.

My favorite O.J. anecdote comes from Miami, where it was reported by a former University of Miami football player, that O.J. had approached Kellen Winslow Jr. at a Coral Gables mall shortly after Winslow's "I'm a soldier" rant. O.J. told Winslow that he knew from his personal experience that you had to be careful of the media. Yeah, that's definitely the lesson I would have taken from being acquitted of double homicide, too. The media just completely made up that entire story. Nevertheless here are six further O.J. questions that come to mind after the latest arrest:

1. Who does O.J. hang out with now? It seems like being charged with double murder would have a tendency to whittle down the friend list. Can you think of someone you would least rather be out in a bar with? What if O.J. turned to you while you were drinking and said, "Get me a screwdriver." I'm just saying this might be confusing.
2. Do black people think O.J. was framed again? These stories and polls are inevitable.
3. Reportedly, among the items taken, were some autographed cleats from Joe Montana. Don't you hope Montana gets drawn into this case? I'm praying that Stephon Marbury is somehow involved as well. There's no better witness on earth.
4. Could O.J. still beat me in a sprint? Admit it, you were pretty impressed at what good shape he was in for 60 years old. The Juice even had cool jeans on. Do the jeans help him pick up women? Can anything help this?
5. Why does the sports memorabilia dealer also have a photo of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover that was reportedly taken? Is there any overlap in the market here? How many sports fans even know who J. Edgar Hoover is? Are there that many people who call up the memorabilia guy and say, "I want Joe Montana cleats and a framed photograph of J. Edgar Hoover. Also, if you've got them, Rudyard Kipling's pajamas."
6. How has O.J. only paid $10,000 of his civil judgment to the deceased families? He had to get at least that much for the suit, right? What about the new 2k legends football game? Where's his money going? These memorabilia shows seem like easy ways to get celebrities tripped up because they get paid in cash. I wouldn't be surprised to see the IRS sniffing around the Simpson tax returns as these felony cases proceed.

19 September, 2007

Why "Cameragate" could be the best thing that ever happened to New England...

Perhaps the oddest thing about a very odd week in the history of the New England Patriots, a franchise that has known its share of very odd weeks, was the identity of the commissioner who finally brought the hammer down on the lawless regime of Bill Belichick (last seen stalking the sidelines dressed like he'd just knocked over a 7-Eleven while his enraged team performed public ritual murder on the San Diego Chargers). Way back in 1970, Sen. Charles Goodell, R-N.Y., lost his political career at least in part because he took legislative action to curb the unilateralist excesses of Richard Nixon. (Sen. Goodell lost to William F. Buckley's less-easily parodied brother James.) So, here's his kid, Roger, conducting himself in such a way that he probably should be standing on a balcony somewhere, his medals gleaming in the tropical sun. No wonder Nixon lusted after the job of the commissioner of the National Football League. Everything about the position would appeal to him.

Anyway, seeing a Goodell acting as the New Sheriff in Town—to use the John Ford-ism that's become trendy among America's sporty press—has brought out the latent authoritarian in everyone, it seems. He'd already knuckled Pacman Jones for gunplay, Michael Vick for aggravated Rovercide, and Dallas quarterback coach Wade Wilson for practicing pharmacy without either or a license or a decent lie. Goodell couldn't very well have taken a pass on laying the wood to Belichick, who went out of his way to steal defensive signals on a sideline only 20 miles or so from Goodell's desk. In truth, he should have suspended Coach Beyond-The-Law for a couple of games, too, but a half-million bucks is a considerable fine, and the loss of a draft pick makes any football executive cry. People who have been waiting six years to see the Patriots get their comeuppance seemed generally quite happy with Goodell. And then the game started.

Quite simply, no NFL team in recent memory has played a game as well from start to finish as New England did Sunday night. The 38-14 final is not even remotely a measure of it. Neither is the 407-201 margin in total offense, or the 35:46 to 24:14 gap in the time of possession. This was one football operation beating the other one into the ground. The Patriots built this lead in the offseason. San Diego canned head coach Marty Schottenheimer because he lost a playoff game to the Patriots, replacing him with Norv Turner, who has now coached 325 NFL teams in his life. For their part, the Patriots picked up receivers Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and, most notably, Randy Moss to give Tom Brady some actual weapons to use. They also signed Adalius Thomas, a frighteningly athletic linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens. It was Thomas who broke the game open, stepping in front of a terrible Philip Rivers pass and outracing all of the Chargers more than 65 yards for a touchdown. By the time Thomas made his play, Brady already had used two of the other newcomers, Welker and Moss, to carve up the Charger secondary, the latter on a 23-yard post route that bisected two San Diego defenders and was as perfectly an executed football play as ever has been. Brady looked off the defenders and came back to Moss, who found the ball on his fingertips as he crossed the goal line at full speed.

On the other side of the ball, Thomas has given Belichick so many options on defense that the coach's creativity is at floodtide, and the team doesn't even feel the absence of all-pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour and explosive safety Rodney Harrison, the latter of whom Goodell earlier busted on a banned-substances rap. The beating was so obvious and thorough that the postgame commentary from the Patriots had more to do with the vicissitudes of the previous five days than it did with the problems inherent in beating a team that went 14-2 last season. There was all manner of chortling and gloating about how the team had managed to overcome the stigma of the media's pointing out that its head coach had gotten caught behaving like an arrogant jackass. A team this good, this dominant, got to cast itself in its own mind as outraged innocents battling to stick it to The Man.

It was like watching conservatives talk about how Michael Moore was picking on them while they were running the entire government.

It's why, absent catastrophic injury, New England can win every football game it plays this season.

For years, the rest of the NFL has chafed at the ability of the Patriots to play Poor Widdle Us while pushing the envelope of league regulations on everything from the injury list, to media obligations, to what you can and can't do on the sidelines. If, ironically, Goodell is Nixon as "the president," then Belichick is the Nixon who hired the "plumbers," right down to the ludicrous written statement that remains his only public comment on the affair and which lacks only a reference to his mother, the saint, to match old Tricky's farewell speech for unmitigated smarm. When Belichick finally got caught this week, you may have noticed that the rest of the league wasn't exactly rallying to his side. Jerome Bettis grabbed onto a retroactive alibi for having been whipped by New England over the past decade, and Tony Dungy offered up a plaintive "what-about-the-children" rumination that was just inches from actual sincerity. This was not an accident. In many ways, everybody in the NFL is against the Patriots, and a lot of them have damned good reason for being so.

However, the only thing that New England didn't pick up in the offseason was a cause, and now it has one, especially if the investigation is as thorough and ongoing as Goodell seems to be saying it will be. It is possible that we will have a revelation a week in which New England's "integrity" comes into question. More ill-feeling. More bad blood. More grist for Belichick's endlessly grinding motivation mill. Moreover, the players seemed all week to resent most that their work in winning three Super Bowls suddenly had been devalued by their coach's misbehavior. That's the obverse of a general feeling that has arisen among Patriots in recent years—that their own talents have been made subordinate to their coach's alleged genius.
One of these is inspiration enough. Both of them together is a volatile mix. If more sordid details come out, and Goodell feels obligated to suspend Belichick for a week, the New England players themselves might beat some team 100-0. The whole mishegas puts the 1972 Miami Dolphins' distinction as the only team to play an entire NFL season undefeated in serious jeopardy. Roger Goodell did the right thing last week, but he also created a situation in which, come February, when the Patriots win the Super Bowl, and he has to hand the trophy to Bill Belichick, it's perfectly plausible to wonder if it shouldn't be the other way around.

13 September, 2007

The morning routine...

Wow...8 months since I last updated this blog. I actually had to check my web browsing histroy to remember the name of the site. So sad. I have decided to make a resolution to myself (I know, I know...it's September, not January. Work with me here a little, will ya?) that I will try to update this puppy at least once a week. Since I usually tend to suck at keeping resolutions, we'll see how this one works out.

Fall is finally just around the corner, and with it comes all the things I tend to associate with the season. Crisp morning air, football games, falling leaves...and the sound of my children complaining about having to get up early for school. Ahhhh, I love the smell of whining in the morning!!! Few things bring joy to a fathers heart like watching his beloved offspring stagger around the kitchen at 7:00 in the morning like extras from "Night of the Living Dead".

This year marks the beginning of my youngest sons scholastic career. Seth is a mischievous little 5 year old who will proudly tell anyone who will listen that he now gets to go to all-day kindergarten. He is more fired up than I have ever seen him about all the cool things he gets to do now. He gets to ride the bus, he gets to eat lunch at school, he gets to hang out with "the big kids". While his older brother and sister wander around the kitchen in the morning like condemned inmates, he sits at the table eating his cereal with the biggest grin on his face. I asked him the other day what he was so happy about and he looked at me with a very serious look on his face and said "Dad, I get to go learn all of my letters. How cool is that?"
Wow. Kinda made me stop and think. I miss having that kind of joy about what I'm doing each day. Some mornings it feels like I'm the one staggering about like a zombie, just going through the motions. Seems like I'm always trying to find that next big project, the one that'll make a difference , the one that'll get me noticed. Looking at that little guy makes me realize that I don't need to be searching for that one big thing that I'm supposed to be doing that's going to bring meaning to my life. It's the little things, the stuff like Seth learning his ABC's that's cool. I get to be Dad to three awesome kids and try and help shape their lives. How cool is that? It's not curing cancer or solving world hunger or even balancing my companies budget, but you know what? It means a whole lot more to me.
So thanks, little guy. You got to help Dad remember what he's here for. How cool is that?

02 November, 2006

Election Season

Normally, I am what you might call a news junkie of the highest order. Be it magazines, blogs, e-zines or newspapers, I tend to consume information like Chris Farley at a Twinkie factory. I even have BBC world news set as my #1 preset on my radio.

All that being said, this is the time of year where I seriously consider pulling a Ted Kaczinski and locking myself in a remote cabin, all the while composing my manifesto railing about the evils of modern technology. What is the source of my frustration? Election season!!

During election season, a trip to the "Letters to the Editor" section of any major newspaper turns into a minefield of half-truths, conspiracy theories and some partisan ranting that would make any self-medicated street person proud. Near as I can tell, the political "opinions" tend to fall into 1 of 4 categories:
  1. George W. Bush & the Republican party are the source for all things evil in the world today and are the cause of war, pestilence, poverty, hunger and the inexplicable popularity of Ryan Seacrest.
  2. The Democratic party hates America, does not support our troops, is a bunch of lily-livered wussbags and are nothing but (this cliche is my favorite) bleeding-heart liberals.
  3. I am voting for [fill in candidate's name here] because they are on my side. The other guy doesn't care about the working family (oddly enough, both sides of the aisle use this one).
  4. Sombody ought to do somehting about [fill in flavor of the month issue].

Please, some one make it stop. My 6 year old and 4 year old argue with more intelligence than the candidates for governor or senator in my home state of Michigan. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor seem set on bending the truth more than Uri Geller used to do to spoons. Debbie Stabenow in the race for Senate is going with the old tried-and-true political method of "If I say it enough times, it must be true!" in her race against Mike Bouchard. She has advanced the claim that Mike Bouchard served on the board of a company that outsourced jobs overseas...a pretty damning claim in the state of Michigan.

Problem is, the company in question (Jackson National Life Insurance) is quite sure it never outsourced a single job and is demanding a retraction. Stabenow's response? "Well, we stand by our ads becuase it's what we see as the truth." Interesting...too bad that doesn't work in other aspects of life. "Sir, we can't sell you this car because your claim of income of one gazillion dollars is untrue." "Well, I stand my claim because it what's I see as the truth."

The privilege of voting is what makes our country unique. The entire concept of candidates making their cases and informed voters selecting the best leader is the highest form of government on the earth today. Unfortunately, our society is now the equivalent of a high school lockerroom - only the prettiest and most telegenic have a shot at success and all substance it thrown to the wayside. Kinda sad that twice the amount of people who will vote for our government this November 7th will vote for an "American Idol" in a few months.

So now I will retreat into my Fortress of Solitude until the election has ended and the political brouhaha dies down...at least for a few months anyway.

16 October, 2006

Miami - Florida International...One unfortunate event or a snapshot of todays society?

Vegging out in front the tube after a day with the family on Saturday, I caught the late Sportscenter before I headed off for a couple of hours of shut-eye. The announcers threw out out one of those wonderful "teasers" before the break about another ugly University of Miami incident (okay, I'll admit it, I bit and hung on through 2 and a half minutes of late-night advertising).

What they showed over the next couple of minutes was the sporting equivalent of a train wreck. Players for both teams slugging it out like it was a scene from some Scottish battlefield...all that was missing was a blue face-painted William Wallace to come charging out out of the bleachers, broadsword in hand. It was not pretty to say the least. But then that little voice in my head (the one that always seems to get me into trouble) started to whisper into my subconcious..."C'mon, it was the heat of the moment. There's a lot of adrenaline out there. What happens on the field isn't the same as real life."

But is that the truth? Does one's actions depend on the situation you're in? Do circumstances absolve us of our responsibility to do the right thing?

The phrase "perfect storm" refers to the simultaneous occurrence of events that taken individually would be far less powerful than the result of their chance combination. Such occurrences are rare by their very nature, so that even a slight change in any one event contributing to the perfect storm would lessen its overall impact.

The melee that erupted in the third quarter of the Florida International-Miami game Saturday was a perfect storm. A complex matrix of factors was involved and is being trumpeted across the sports and educational landscape: The campuses of the two teams are nine miles apart, the Miami team is in a frustrating period, Miami coach Larry Coker is under fire, the Canes' reputation for thuggery seems to be returning, and the weaker opponent started the fight. The debacle is the subject of much evaluation and moralizing. It has evoked heartfelt apologies from FIU and Miami coaches and officials, and disciplinary action from each school and conference.

The aftermath is predictable except for one aspect. We are acting as if we are surprised. How could rational thinkers possibly be surprised? The surprise should be that we do not have more unbridled violence in our sports. We live in a culture that celebrates belligerence like we once celebrated religious holidays. We live in a culture in which a large percentage of fathers have abdicated responsibility to raise their children. We live in a culture in which many parents would rather be friends with their children than disciplinarians of their children.

Our kids play video games that make the FIU-Miami brawl look like a Sunday school picnic. We pack huge arenas to watch grotesque actors impersonate competitive athletes while bashing each other with metal folding chairs and throwing referees out of the rings. We allow our children to listen to song lyrics that call into question the most basic attributes of human decency. We pay millions of dollars to radio talk hawks like Howard Stern, who pound away at the fabric of reason and diplomacy. Football fans believe it is their absolute right to scream obscenities into the faces of coaches, coaches' families, players and players' families. No one is pressing for the solution to this growing menace. No one is putting it into context. "The coach must take responsibility," pontificates the former coach. "Fire the coach!" scream the boosters (who, by the way, always scream, "Fire the coach!"). "I wish the coach would teach my son how to behave," exclaim the parents.

The quasi-disciplinary response reminds me of an old story of a community in the North Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. The twists and turns in the two-lane roads around the secluded village were so severe that cars periodically slid off the pavement and rolled down the mountainside with disastrous consequences. The astute town government met, and over a few mason jars of a locally produced beverage, made a landmark decision. "We gonna do something about this problem with our roads," stated the mayor. "We gonna build a hospital at the bottom of the hill where most of them cars end up."

It has been a while since I was in the middle of one of these fights, but once one has been there, one never forgets the fear and adrenaline rush. When you watch the films, it is hard to convince yourself that you actually did the things you did. You watch normally staid, reserved men, including yourself, going absolutely berserk, and you begin to question the whole premise of violent sports. Then you evaluate, take a hard look at yourself, and realize the truth. This kind of behavior lurks just beneath the surface of competitive athletes -- all the time.

Strong coaches and mature team leaders must come together, discuss their behavior, decide what must be done with the team, get it done, and go on about the business of playing hard and fair. The pitiful penalties will accomplish nothing. If they worked, the Clemson-South Carolina fiasco of 2004 would have been our last such incident.

There are two pains in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. You choose. I choose. At times like this, the entire leadership cadre of organized sport chooses. We are at a crucial juncture. How we choose here will make all the difference in the potential perfect storms to come.