Archive for January, 2009

Super Bowl Special: The Top Ten Mega-Sporting Events (5-1)

So in honor of Super Bowl Sunday, I’ve compiled a list of my Top Ten Mega-Sporting Events. The first five I wrote about in part one, which to recap were:

10. Triple Crown 9. The Grand Slams of Golf and Tennis 8. NBA Championships 7. Bowl Championship Series and 6. World Cup Soccer

And now I present to you my top 5 Mega-Sporting Events:

5. The Olympics (Summer) – Frankly, I’m never as interested in the actual competitions as I think I’m going to be, but this is just a cool concept and always a huge spectacle (perhaps never bigger than it was this year in Beijing). It was even cooler when it was limited to amateur athletes, but that distinction is so blurred now I can understand why that qualification disappeared. I love the fact that the Olympics are in certain ways totally separate from politics, and yet in other ways totally tied to politics as well. Plus, you can’t have any more tradition and historical significance than you get with the Olympics. The Winter Olympics are cool, as well, but I’m even less interested in those events.

4. World Series – I love baseball. As a native St. Louisan, it’s kind of a pre-requisite, given that the Cardinals are by far one of the top 10 franchises in all of professional sports. Going to a baseball game is one of the most enjoyable leisure activities in this world. I have so many incredible childhood memories that involve the sport, and certainly one of the best moments in my recent life was when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006. I really wish I could put the World Series higher, but i have to accept the fact that baseball is no longer America’s game now, let alone the world’s (I mean, it is kind of arrogant to use the word ‘World’ in your championship when your only claim to that title is the Blue Jays – in fact, the World Baseball Challenge is an emerging competition that has a lot of potential). I don’t know if it’s the aftermath of the whole steroids era, or maybe still lingering resentment from the strike, or maybe the talent dilution from expansion (particularly with pitching), or the way the Yankees continually make a mockery of the game’s economics, but baseball just doesn’t feel as relevant anymore.

3. Stanley Cup - People who don’t love hockey – and that includes the vast majority of Americans – won’t get this one, but I love the Stanley Cup playoffs. True, it goes on for far too long (as does the NHL regular season), but the excitement of a postseason hockey game is almost overwhelming for me and my fragile heart. Nearly every rush up and down the ice is dramatic, and the intensity only increases as you get closer and closer to the end of the third period in a tight game. And if you happen to be lucky enough to get a sudden death overtime, there’s nothing better. My St. Louis Blues used to hold the longest postseason appearance streak among any professional sports team – a dubious feat given they never won the Cup in those 24 years – so it’s been quite sad to watch the team miss the playoffs the past several seasons. (Mark my words, however: The Blues have some amazing young talent that will lead the team back to the postseason next year at the latest, and to their first Cup within 5 years).

2. Super Bowl - I talked enough about this one in the lead-in to the original column, so I don’t have much to add here. But I just figured I’d throw in a photo of my most memorable Super Bowl moment here to the right. (I find it fascinating that I abandoned the Cardinals franchise when they left for Phoenix, and even started relishing in their failures, while I now root for a franchise that never played a game while I lived in St. Louis. If I have time, I hope to write a post this weekend on the psychology of fan loyalty. BTW, this weekend, for a variety of reasons, I will be rooting mightily for the Arizona Cardinals).

1. March Madness – OK, this is probably at least as much about gambling as it is about sport, but is there any postseason experience more thrilling than the NCAA College Basketball 64-team tournament?? I so look forward to those first two weekends, when you can just plop yourself down in front of the TV and watch game after game after game, and it’s almost a given that you are going to get enjoy at least several buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers, and huge upsets. Even people who don’t like basketball or don’t know much about it usually enter an office pool of some sort, making what happens in March matter for almost everyone in America. For fans of teams still in the hunt (or gamblers with intact brackets), the drama only builds as the tournament rolls on to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, and then the Final Four. When each round of your tournament gets its own special name, you know you’re talking about a postseason done right. There is nothing else like it in the sports world.

Ok, so that’s my list. Did I miss anything? What would you change? Let ‘er rip in the comments!!

Super Bowl Special: The Top Ten Mega-Sporting Events (10-6)

The Super Bowl is upon us. It’s a remarkable event, able to bring together the vast majority of Americans, calling them to a rather inert form of action in living rooms and bars all across this great land. In this Age of Entertainment Plenitude, with the hundreds of TV channels and thousands of other diversionary options we now enjoy, it’s a remarkable feat. Some watch for the game, which usually disappoints, some watch for the ads, which usually disappoint, some may even watch for the halftime entertainment, which always disappoints, but most watch because, well, everyone else is doing it.

For the sheer scope and spectacle of the event alone, the Super Bowl surely ranks as one of best sporting events in the world. But where exactly does it rank? Well, I have listed below my list of the Top 10 Mega-Sporting Events in the world.

(Realize, however, I can’t help but create this list with my own personal sports biases, meaning for example that you will not find any auto racing event here, even though I am quite aware the Indy 500 and Nextel Cup Chase provide chills and thrills to millions of Americans. I am also being pretty strict in my definition of sport, meaning The World Series of Poker, Nathan’s International July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest, and The Strongest Man competition – all events I enjoy watching immensely – have also been left off the list. Golf, for some reason, still counted.)

So without further ado …

10) Triple Crown – I can’t say I know or care much about horse racing, but I must admit watching these amazing, noble beasts compete fills me with all sorts of powerful, mixed emotions. The animal lover in me cringes at how the sport uses and at times abuses the horses (watching a horse get put down after a severe injury is almost unbearable), but I also agree with the people who argue that many of these horses, especially the legendary ones, take an enormous amount of pride and enjoyment from running and racing. Horse racing has a long and storied history in America – I encourage people to see the movie Seabiscuit for one of its meaningful chapters – and the fact that no horse has won the elusive Triple Crown title for 30 years only increases its mystique. Obviously, the Kentucky Derby is by far the best-known and most-watched race in the Triple Crown, but I have a fondness for the Belmont Stakes, where a few years ago I bet $5 on Sarava, who spoiled Big Brown’s chance at a Triple Crown and at 70-1 odds became the biggest underdog to win in the race’s history.

9) Tennis and Golf Grand Slams – If three competitions are good, then four must be better, right?? Right! Now, I’m putting these two together because I view tennis and golf as pretty similar: Individual sports – played mostly by rich, white people (at least in America) – that can be quite monotonous to watch, but at times create compelling theater, such as any match Nadal and Federer play (like this weekend at the Australian open) and last year’s U.S. Open, when little-known Rocco Mediate took a hobbled Tiger Woods to a sudden death playoff before finally succumbing to defeat on the 91st hole of the tournament. The grand slams in each sport consist of the four major tournaments, none of which I can highlight as clearly standing out above the others (though if I had to pick, I’d go with the Masters in golf and Wimbledon in tennis because they don’t have generic names). Both golf and tennis are sports I generally don’t care much about, but when the grand slam tournaments roll around, I usually start paying attention.

8) NBA Championship – While I’m well aware for most people this would be higher, I’ve always sort of thought of pro basketball as a crappy sport. This is partly because my hometown St. Louis never (edit: in my lifetime) had a team that I grew to love and root for, and partly because pro basketball is a crappy sport. Why do i say that? Well, basketball is supposed to be a team game, but you can’t usually tell by watching the NBA as every man seems to playing out on his own island and defense seems an afterthought. I think the game may actually be too easy for players, as baskets seem to fall with amazing ease. Compared to the excitement of the college game, where you can almost always feel the energy and the players’ pure love of the sport, pro basketball is a big disappointment. No player really seems to get too worked up until the end of the game, so I feel like you can totally miss the first three quarters of a match and still get at least three-quarters worth of the excitement. For me, the NBA Playoffs are kind of like the fourth quarter for the regular season. It’s the time to start watching. Intensities and rivalries heat up significantly, making the game exciting again.

7) BCS – Whereas pro basketball gets substantially better in the postseason, college football oddly takes the other tact by engaging in one of the most atrocious contraptions in sports today: The Bowl Championship Series. It was bad enough when college football had its 200-odd bowl games, all sponsored by corporate America, the vast majority of which were soulless and meaningless events designed only to put a few million more dollars in the coffers of universities. But then when college football fans cried out for a postseason that meant something, that could actually produce an undisputed champion, the powers that be came up with the wretched Bowl Championship Series, which is designed only to put a few hundred million more dollars in the coffers of universities. Everyone knows some sort of college football playoff system would be infinitely more exciting, including President Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the current system is so profitable, that not even the wishes of the most powerful man in the world will be heeded anytime soon.

6) World Cup – I know for 90%-plus of sports fans on Earth, this would probably be No. 1 on the list. But again, I can’t help but let my personal preferences color this ranking. I just don’t love soccer. It’s okay. The players are clearly tremendous athletes. But all that running, with so little scoring, kind of just reminds of a mouse going in circles on a wheel (which is exactly what auto racing reminds me of, except machines and not athletes are doing almost all the work). Plus, all that player diving and writhing after every little piece of contact is totally obnoxious. What can I say? I’m American, and in America, we play soccer as little kids, then move on to bigger and better things. But I have to admit, I get a little riled up for the World Cup – I even got up in the wee hours of the morning in 2002 and invited my cousins over to watch the US try to make its mark in the soccer world.

Ok, that’s No. 6-10. The Top 5 Mega-Sporting Events in the next post.

MOFT: Episode 7 (Well, duh…)

Can there be any question as to what My One Favorite Thing this week was? Could it be any more obvious?? I mean, clearly, it was Rick Warren’s Invocation Speech. Duh. What a beautiful testimonial to the goodness of god, the power of prayer and the righteousness of Scripture!

Ok, ok, i keeeed. i keeeed. MOFT of the week was obviously the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, which more than two million people witnessed in person, and another 38 million people saw on the telly. It was a glorious event, and nothing – not a less-than-perfect handling of crowd control and seating, not a bungled recitation of the oath of office, not an inaugural speech that lacked the fancy rhetoric and beautiful poetry of some of Obama’s best performances, not another sickening 5%-plus stock market decline, and not even the presence of one anti-gay reverend could dampen the meaning and importance of last Tuesday.

The hard part for Obama and for the rest of America is still to come. The president is not just trying to lower expectations when he talks of the difficulties this country is facing. They are serious, and they are numerous. And there are no guarantees for success. Obama may be intelligent and well-spoken, flexible and principled – qualities sorely lacking in the White House these last eight years – but the questions of his competence and capabilities won’t be answered for some time. We should keep a watchful eye on his performance, and guard against the kind of blind loyalty and lack of reflection many on the other side fell victim to in recent years.

But last Tuesday, for the first time in a long time, it made sense to hope that better times are ahead. It made sense to hope that America could be all that it once was and more – productive, respected, compassionate, true to its most hallowed ideals – for we now have a leader who seems up to the enormous tasks at hand.

For one day, at least, hope felt like it was more than just an empty word, more than just a campaign slogan. It felt real. Tangible. Something you could hold onto. And for one day, at least, that was more than enough reason to smile.

Obama’s Inaugural Address : The (Almost) Line-by-line review

A friend of mine asked me on Facebook what I thought of Obama’s speech yesterday, and I told him my initial reaction was ‘ho-hum.’ It did a good job of listing the challenges we face as a nation and world, and of calling us to action. I thought its foreign policy section was particularly strong. But the address by itself didn’t move me much on an emotional level, and I certainly didn’t think it had any of those memorable, JFK-worthy turns of phrases that would be quoted fifty years down the road.

Yet, I decided to reread the transcript again to see if I missed anything. As I kind of expected, it was better the second time around. I thought there was a more cohesive theme centered around responsibility, both individual and societal, than I remember getting from listening to the speech. I still think it lacked some emotional heft, and I still don’t see those quotable lines that will stand the test of time, but overall, it was well-constructed.

I hereby offer my (almost) line-by-line review:

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My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

It’s a good beginning, with that three-phrase construction (humbled, grateful, mindful) that all good speeches, and Obama’s in particular, use so effectively. This will be the only time we hear W’s name, but he throws some pointed daggers at the former (how good does that sound!) president for his policies later in the speech.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

When I first heard the speech, I thought the phrase ‘Gathering clouds and raging storms’ was a bit too much. Don’t gathering clouds precede raging storms? If he is specifically talking about this time, and not just generally, then i think gathering clouds would have been sufficient. As bad as things are today, they’ve certainly been worse in our history. Inflation under 5%, unemployment under 8%, no terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11. Part of my issue with government’s response to the current economic crisis is we are throwing trillions of dollars at a problem which we don’t yet fully understand and which likely will need time to get resolved no matter how much stimulus we throw at it. Economies go through cycles…it’s par for the course. Overreacting, at the expense of any fiscal restraint, would be unwise.

The same is true with our foreign policy situation. Islamic fundamentalism is a very real threat. But overstating the threat, and thereby overreacting and overreaching with our strategies, only leads us to engage in intractable and irrelevant conflicts which can often end up making matters worse.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

This is to me seems like a lost chance for one of those memorable lines. ‘But know this, America – they will be met’ won’t cut it. Meeting challenges just doesn’t sound that impressive (‘How do you do, Challenge? My name is Barack.’)

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

‘The time has come to set aside childish things’ is a good line, though Obama can’t take credit for it. The rest of the paragraph is just full of cliched platitudes.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

All well and good, but what’s wrong with preferring leisure 8) (That’s just me pursuing ‘my full measure of happiness!”) And “the makers of things”? Really?!?

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Another three-pack of repetitive phrasing. This one works well.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

“Worked till their hands were raw” is one of the cliched phrases that Obama sometimes overuses. Struggled and sacrificed would have sufficed.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

I really do hope we are ready to stop putting off unpleasant decisions, as I do feel that is one of the major reasons we are in the current crisis. But I’m not sure I’ve heard anything yet from Obama to suggest those are forthcoming.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

One of his best paragraphs. It’s the call to action paragraph and there are some rather specific goals he is setting out here – some doable, some probably not, all important.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Just like it takes two to tango in an argument, it takes two to let go of an argument. Here he is addressing the concerns of the other side, letting it be known that he will not just be your father’s liberal, but that government will only spend when it can do so wisely and effectively. I hope the other side is similarly willing to let go of those stale political arguments and work toward compromise.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

Starts off with another line for the economic conservatives and free-market proponents in the crowd, before laying down the hammer by letting it be known that regulation and income redistribution will not be completely unavoidable. I love the content, even if the wording isn’t very poetic — “depended not just on the size of our GDP, but on the reach of our prosperity” and “nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous” just aren’t very pretty.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers … our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Now this is the shit. It’s poetic, it’s forceful, and it is a direct slap in the face to the arrogance and imperialism of the Bush Doctrine, the Patriot Act, the Iraq war, and all of the other shortsighted foreign policy maneuvers of the old administration.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Another common Obama trick. Argue forcefully for one side of an argument – in this case, the quiet retreat from various military entanglements and the militaristic policies of the Bush administration – but then end the thought by throwing a bone to the other side of the spectrum – in this case, a little bit of gonna-kill-the-terrorists macho, jingoistic talk.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Alright! A nod to the non-believers!! But even without that welcome addition, this is a great noble sentiment, if perhaps a bit idealized (there’s still plenty of hatred and division even still in our own country, and the world is a long way away from watching the lines of tribe dissolve and revealing our common humanity.)

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

A direct nod to the Muslim community, which is pretty smart given how badly our reputation has suffered there over the past eight years. We will never win over the Islamic fundamentalists, but even moderate Muslims have felt understandably threatened by recent American policy. And I don’t buy the argument I’ve heard that Islam is too extreme and violent a religion to ever embrace Western ideals like democracy and liberty. This paragraph also  includes one of his best sentences – “your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” That one may stick around.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

The obligatory salute to American troops. But it’s well-written, tying it into the speech’s larger theme of responsibility, service and sacrifice, with a poetic nod to our own heroic past – “just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.”

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

This is where I thought the speech fell flat again. I usually hate it when politicians reference specific individuals, but in this case the examples seem too generic and cliched to really hit home emotionally. The last line in particular seems awkward and disconnected – a fireman battling flames and a parent nurturing a child are too different of concepts to be in the same sentence.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

The heart and true purpose of the speech – that the creation of America and its continued greatness has depended upon the solid values and  work ethic of its citizens, and that we must re-embrace those characteristics if are to move ahead again.  “The price and the promise of citizenship” is a sweet phrase. I like the reference to his African father, which makes the theme personal, and subtly brings up the historical significance of the moment without overemphasizing it the point of alienating anyone.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

If you can’t come up with any memorable quotes of your own, there’s no harm in using the poetry of past leaders, especially when it involves an appropriate metaphor to current circumstances and dovetails in nicely to the meaning you are trying to impart.

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

It’s a solid finish, harkening back to his storm metaphors from the opening lines. I certainly hope that as we work to solve the current problems we face that Obama remembers these words because the future of our children’s children is most certainly in jeopardy.

Questions: The Inaugural Edition

OK, so I didn’t find a way to scrounge up an Inauguration ticket. I’m certainly not going to spend one of the most beautiful weeks in recent memory being bitter. Over at dagblog.com, A-man and the Big O are at least making me feel like I’m there with their insanely comprehensive coverage (although how about a little more multimedia please!). In the meantime, I’ve been asked to do a special Inauguration version of my Questions column, and I’m happy to do it as part of my own little contribution. Now you need to contribute by answering! (As always, more comments on dagblog.com)

1) I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the inevitable references.

Isn’t it awesome that America will officially inaugurate its first black president one day after the country celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? How much credit do you think Dr. King can take for making this inauguration a possibility? Do you think Obama will reference King’s mountaintop speech, i have a dream speech, both or neither in his inaugural address?

2) A well-stocked Cabinet?

Aside from the Clintonites, I’m not too familiar with much of Obama’s cabinet. Which nomination are you most impressed with and why? What about the worst selection (Richardson not an option)?

3) The over/under.

Give me a time estimate, down to the seconds, for the length of Obama’s inauguration speech. Closest to the actual number wins nothing but the mad respect of all the losers.

4) In case Orlando has some free time in DC.

What’s your favorite tourist attraction in Washington D.C.?

5) For the love of god.

Will Rev. Rick Warren utter the word Jesus or Jesus Christ in his inauguration invocation. If so, how many times will he say it? If not, what word or phrase will he utter that will be closest (i.e. savior, Holy Trinity, son of God, the big J.C., etc.)?

6) First line of business.

What will be the first executive order signed by Obama? What about the first bill passed by Congress?

7) I still cannot believe his reign is over.

George W: What do you think will be the first non-vacation(ranch)-related thing of significance he does after leaving office?

8) The pundits.

Whose television coverage of the Inauguration will you be watching the most? Whose opinion of Obama’s inaugural address are you most interested in hearing?

9) It’s never too early to think ahead.

OK, let’s keep thinking big: What will be the next minority or oppressed group to reach the highest office in the land? Hispanic, Jewish, Gay, Female, Asian (I know, I know, I’ve excluded a ton of others) … List them in order of likelihood.

10) Biggest miracle of the week: Black man become POTUS, Passenger plane crashes in river without any fatalities, Cardinals make the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history?

Super Bowl Winner, Final Score and MVP Predictions please. For those of you who don’t care about the game or follow sports, please predict whether Springsteen’s halftime act will suck ass or not.

USAir Flight 1549: Do you believe?

So I was watching next-day coverage of the Hudson River airplane crash on CNN today and at some point one of the anchors brings up God and says something to the effect, “And if you’re not already religious, something like this may make you believe.”

And it made me wonder,

<—————————

IS THIS PROOF OF GOD??

<—————————

Well, of course not.

Look, what happened in New York yesterday was amazing. I’ll go even so far as to call it a miracle, in the sense that the very happy outcome was also a very unlikely one (although this fascinating and potentially useful Time article says a surprisingly high 76% of passengers in serious plane accidents survive).

But it’s another thing entirely to believe that God was responsible for what transpired, that He or She or It was the reason why the 155 people aboard USAir Flight 1549 survived yesterday’s crash.

First of all, that kind of blind faith minimizes the heroics of the people involved in yesterday’s events – the pilot who steered an engine-less plane safely into the middle of a river in one of the country’s most populous metropolitan areas, the passengers and crew who took charge of the plane’s evacuation, the ferry boat operators and other good Samaritans who helped in the rescue effort.

Secondly, if we are to give credit to God for yesterday’s good news, mustn’t that mean we also hold him responsible for all the crappy things that happen in this world. If we are to say that for some reason God thought those 155 people yesterday were worthy of being saved, then we must also admit that God thought all 230 people on TWA Flight 800, and all 1,836 people in Hurricane Katrina, and all 2,974 people in the 9/11 attack, and all 225,000 people in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and all 6 million people in the Holocaust, that God thought all of them deserved to die (of course, some evangelicals have argued just that – that these tragedies have all served some sort of divine purpose).

Don’t get me wrong: It’s nearly as tough for me to understand how someone can be an atheist, certain of God’s absence, as it is to understand how someone can be just as certain that there is a God (and even more incredibly, that they know what such a God is like). As far as I’m concerned, the Hudson River Airplane Miracle is no more evidence that God exists than the picture of the two towers above is proof that He doesn’t. But I’d venture to say that if you were to line up all the wonderful miracles that occur in this world alongside all the awful tragedies that happen, the list would be overwhelmed by the depressing side of the ledger.

But true believers have an easy, pat response when a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy occurs: “God works in mysterious ways.” I’ve heard people say that all the time to mourners who have watched their children die or suffered some other overwhelming loss, and the insensitivity of the sentiment astounds me.

If it gives comfort to you to think that there is a just and merciful God out there who has a plan for each and every one of us – a plan that we will never in our earthly existence fully understand but one that may at times require the deaths of innocent infants, the destruction of entire cities and the occasional systematic slaughter of millions of citizens – then who am I to take away your comfort and solace?? I cannot prove otherwise.

But as for me, I’ll stick with what I know. That life is usually short and sometimes sweet. It is precious and precarious. That bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. That for no other reason than there is already enough pain and suffering in this world, that I must do what I can to balance out the scales – by enjoying myself while I’m alive and able, by spreading joy and love to others, by being grateful for the blessings I have … and by celebrating happy moments like yesterday’s miracle, without ascribing to it some kind of divine meaning.

MOFT: Episode 6 (Chase’s New ATMs)

It doesn’t take much for a bank to make me happy. Give me online access, a good interest rate, a bunch of branches, and I’m all good. Heck, lately I’m just thrilled when my chosen banking institutions don’t implode and go boom.

But just because I’m easily satisfied doesn’t mean a bank often gets my juices flowing. Yet that’s exactly what happened this week as my main bank, JP Morgan Chase, installed sweet new ATMs that take the latest MOFT (My One Favorite Thing) title. I don’t know if Chase used TARP money to finance these new contraptions, but if so, consider it money well spent!

What’s so great about these new ATMs? It’s all about the deposits, baby. It used to be that whenever I wanted to deposit a check, I’d have to stand in line at the counter with all the deposit slips and envelopes and wait until one of the few chained pens that actually still had ink in them became free. I’d then fill out a bunch of uncomfortably personal information – account numbers, address, etc. – with strangers looking over my shoulder (waiting for their own shot with that elusive working pen), before getting back in line to wait for an ATM. Sure, the process only took several minutes, but my time is valuable, ya hear.

So imagine my delight when I stop by my nearest Chase branch and see these fancy new ATMs, which will take your loose checks, sans envelopes or deposit slips. Shove a bunch of them all together in the slot and watch the machine somehow magically decode the amount of each check (sometimes it fails to read handwriting and asks you to manually type in the amount – I was tempted to put in one meeeeelioon dollars, but somehow didn’t think my girlfriend had that much in her account). The ATM will even print your receipt with images of the deposited checks.

Ok, maybe it’s not very impressive. But all you hear about lately is how stupid bankers have been and how they’re responsible for much of the economic mess this country is in. And I just want to give props where props are due.

Though Chase yesterday reported its fourth-quarter profit fell 76 percent from the year-ago period, the bank remains in an enviably solid position, having acted the least stupidly during the mortgage and credit bubble. And now they are exploiting their relative largesse by placing themselves squarely at the forefront of cutting-edge ATM technology. Bravo, Chase … This check’s for you!


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