Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hopefully Not Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

A recent article on CNN.com reported the growth of hate groups in light of President Obama's ascension and a struggling economy. While disappointing, it's not terribly surprising. And while I want to be careful about aligning strict immigration laws to hate groups and racism in general, it's suspected that Proposition 187 in California was largely a political motivated attempt to scapegoat illegal immigrants to divert attention away from terrible fiscal discipline on behalf of the state government. In the Simpsons episode, "Much Apu About Nothing", it's obvious that immigrants were targeted in a hate-fueled effort to blame them for the increase in taxes due to bear protection services. The result? Apu had to scramble to get his citizenship and Groundskeeper Willie was deported, only to show up at the next episode.

The title of the article, "Growing hate groups blame Obama, economy" is a bit of a misnomer, because it's not as if the hate groups blame the economy or Obama for their hate; it's more accurate to say that Obama's election and a struggling economy have fueled the hate. I can understand the theory that President Obama "gives a face to the enemy", that it serves a propaganda purpose in terms of white supremacists selling that years of liberal brainwashing have led to Obama's power and his plan to destroy the white Christian values. And the scapegoating in the midst of economic hardship, as mentioned earlier, is pretty easy to do. Sad.

Well, I for one am a proud member of the mud race taking away jobs from hard-working white families and trying to slowly impose my mongrel culture to eliminate the proud heritage of the superior white culture which created this great land of America. I hope that I will either someday go back where my railroad-laying slant-eyed laundry boy ancestors came from, or otherwise stop complaining about racism.

Man, I need to stop trolling racist websites.

Friday, February 27, 2009

New York Arms Race

With the start of Spring Training, there's a feeling of anticipation in the air even with the weather still frigid in New York. With the Yankees and Mets players reporting to Tampa and Port St. Lucie, respectively, fans of both teams can start to dream about the upcoming season. Along with this comes more of my attention diverted to sports radio podcasts.

WFAN radio host Mike Francesa recently spoke with Mets beat reporter Ed Coleman about the state of the Mets, and one of the things I found difficult to understand was his pessimism around the Mets starting rotation as compared to the Yankees, which is largely why he doesn't believe the Mets will make the playoffs. I'm a Yankee fan, but it seems to me that Francesa, who's a big-time Yankee fan might not be quite objective on the matter. Here's part of Francesa's rant:

"[The Mets] have improved the bullpen... but who's going to win 15 games other than Santana? If you look at the Yankees, I can give you five guys, and all of those five could win 15 games. On the Mets - Pelfrey, is he a given for 15 games? No. Maine, is he a given for 15 games? No. Other than Santana, where is your starting pitcher who is going to win 15 games?"

Off the bat, you need to notice how Francesa subtly changes the criteria. He first challenges "who's going to win 15 games" on the Mets, but lowers the bar when to "who could win 15 games" when it comes to the Yankees. It's a very different question. So let's look at the two projected starting rotations and evaluate:

New York Yankees
1. C.C. Sabathia - will be stud, but is moving into a better hitting league and a very good hitting division. You could make an argument that his numbers will worsen a little, but he'll still be excellent. He can win 15 games, no sweat.
2. Chien-Ming Wang - the pride of Taiwan has had some terrific seasons, but he's coming off of a foot surgery which knocked him out of the last two-thirds of last season. Isn't it fair to consider him a question mark? Could he win 15 games? Sure, but given his recovery I'm not sure it's a lock.
3. A.J. Burnett - great pitcher and fantastic stuff. But the guy hasn't pitched a full season healthy except for last year. He's another pitcher who could 15 games easily, but don't you need to factor in a terrible injury history? He's as likely to go on the DL in July and miss the rest of the season.
4. Andy Pettitte - a bulldog who has been consistently excellent, but this isn't the Pettitte of 1996 - 2001. Pettitte faded badly in the second half of last year, and pitching the full year he won 14 games. He's another year older, so how is he a lock to win 15 games?
5. Joba Chamberlain - the guy oozes talent and has nasty stuff, but he hasn't pitched more than 100 innings in the major leagues, and he won 4 games last year. How can you say he'll win 15 games with great confidence?


New York Mets
1. Johan Santana - he's probably the best pitcher in baseball. He would have won 20+ games last year if he had a half-decent bullpen. With K-Rod and Putz he should get his 20 games without a problem.
2. Mike Pelfrey - Pelfrey's finally coming into his own pitching to the potential that made him a high first-round draft pick. Wang might be more likely to win 15, but not by much given that he's coming off an injury.
3. John Maine - Maine won 15 games two years ago, and was on pace to match that last year until he got hurt. He's not much less likely to hit 15 victories than Burnett. Maine's been hurt one season, Burnett's been hurt 9 of the past 10.
4. Oliver Perez - amazing stuff and can be unhittable or terrible on alternating starts. He's as likely to win 20 games as he is to win 10. His likelihood of winning 15 isn't much different than Pettitte's - it's a choice between stuff and consistency.
5. Livan Hernandez - this guy's been around forever and while he's had some good years, he's mostly labeled as an "innings eater", which is code for "he's not that great". But he's hit double-digit wins in the past nine, count 'em, nine years. Is he really less likely to hit 15 wins than Joba, who has yet to pitch 100 innings in the major leagues?

So there it is - I'm not saying that the Mets have a better starting rotation than the Yankees. I just don't think it's quite as lopsided as Francesa implies it is.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Long Way from Space Invaders

There's a controversy brewing over the release of a video game which depicts the stalking and raping of a woman and her two daughters. The game, titled "RapeLay" has raised the ire of anti-violence activists as well as number of politicians, who are working to get video game distributors in the United States to not carry the game. eBay and Amazon.com have already banned the game from their sites.

Of course, the concept is absolutely despicable and sick. I remember the good old days when Atari used to be cutting edge and the game Combat showed a box with a stick shooting block pellets at another block with a stick. Of course, that paled in comparison with Space Invaders, with its fast moving action with rows of bad guys descending down upon the earth. Atari was topped by Intellivision; Intellivision was topped by ColecoVision. Then we made a big jump into Super Mario Brothers on the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System which started the next wave of Super NES / Genesis; then Gamecube / Saturn / Playstation; sequels of the aforementioned; and finally to our present generation of consoles with amazing graphics and gameplay.

What I didn't notice after a while is how the games themselves have evolved. I remember playing the original Resident Evil, which was pretty gory, and had heard of the violence depicted in the Grand Theft Auto series, but rape? Wow, are you serious? Lest I sound like the grumpy old man, what happened to benign side-scroller games when you you jump over flowers and stomp on evil fantasy characters? 

I wonder if the move to ban some of these games is going to find itself on some slippery ground. While politicians are fantastic at grandstanding, we're largely a society that likes to pick its battles, often at the expense of consistent principles. Specifically, if RapeLay has been assessed a "Mature" rating, only to be sold to those 18 or over, is there any more legitimacy to ban it any more than pornography, any movie that depicts rape, or any other violent video game targeted for adults only? 

There are many politicians who willingly take donations from producers, directors, and actors in Hollywood who balk at censorship, stating that "what they depict on film, as abhorrent as some scenes are, are simply a reflection of things that happen in this world" and that they should not be unfairly burdened with teaching moral lessons or making moral judgments around the things they depict on film. Basically, "If you don't like it, don't watch the movie, but don't you dare infringe on my right to show it and market it." The argument could go, why should video game manufacturers be held to a different standard?

Believe me, I'm not a fan of the game and I find the concept absolutely deplorable. It just seems to me that those who have eliminated standards (keep your religious values out of the arts!) from arts and media altogether in the name of freedom of expression are going to have a tough time setting boundaries that don't come off as arbitrary or hypocritical.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Churches and Stewardship

A little more than a month ago, I was given the privilege to give a seminar at the EPIC East Coast Conference around stewardship, where I spoke to a number of university students about the difference between ownership and stewardship using the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 as a guiding text. Some of the key points of the seminar included the key areas of struggle for the Christian in terms of stewardship, including spiritual gifts, time and money.
We also covered some common manifestations of a heart of bad stewardship. I had outlined four attitudes specifically:

Entitlement“I deserve X because I’m so hard-working / smart / etc..”
Misplaced Ambition“As long as I’m glorified / happy / rich / respected…”
Apathy“I don’t care.”
Ego-Centrism“If I can’t be the best, I don’t want to play.”

It's interesting, because I believe it's the prevalence of these same behaviors which are responsible for many of the personal finance crises which are popping up all over the place in this tattered economy.  At the core, it really is a spiritual problem, which is why I believe that many people are appropriately turning to church for money advice.

The article on CNN.com also details a number of churches and ministries which are doing a fantastic job not just sharing practical knowledge about how money should be managed, but building an important foundation in terms of the fundamentals of stewardship. As instructor Kevin Stacia says, "We always want members of the church and our community to be grounded in how God wants us to manage the things he has entrusted us with. We want to give people an avenue to get knowledge and understanding."

I hope that these courses really do an ample job of focusing on the heart issue of stewardship instead of merely giving them a bag of money-saving tricks. Otherwise, we may simply end up with a bunch of people who are embittered and/or entitled at just a higher level of income. Without the fundamental understanding that God is Master over all that we have and all that we are, money will continue to ensnare both rich and poor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rotten Tomatoes for Doctors

There's an interesting article on FoxNews.com about the controversy around doctors forcing patients to waive their right to post feedback on a number of "doctor review" websites. I can sympathize with both sides of this debate. One one hand, why should doctors be shielded from the right to provide publicly available customer service feedback the same way that any other consumer of a good or service can? If I go to eBay and somebody sells me an iPod which I find later on happens to have a volume control problem and has half the memory than promised, I have every right to skewer the seller in my rating so the next potential buyer can beware.

On the other hand, the doctors have two issues with such websites, one which I think is easily remedied and thus not completely legitimate and the other which I believe is more valid. First, doctors argue that people who are not truly patients of theirs (e.g. competing physicians, ex-wives, an angry medical school roommate) can write fraudulent negative reviews in an attempt to slander and hurt the doctor's practice. My retort is that by creating a incident survey system either managed by the managed care organization or the physician, you can provide safeguards which would ensure that feedback is solicited only from patients on a per appointment basis. An example of this is when you eat at a fast-food restaurant and the receipt lists a number for you to call or a website for your to visit along with a unique ID which you need to provide to give feedback. Problem solved.

The more legitimate concern for doctors is the same one voiced in the article by Dr. Wendy Mariner, who states, "Patients may be able to evaluate whether a physician is responsive, courteous, on time, provides useful info to the patient," she said, "but they cannot judge the most important issues concerning medical care."

That's largely true. A patient isn't going to be able to provide the most important metrics around white-blood cell count, tumor shrinkage or lung capacity beyond a general sense of "how do I feel". An even greater issue that I see is that the doctor's "performance" is going to be largely tied into a patient's adherence to physician prescribed medicine and healthy living. If a patient gets constantly sick because he refuses to take his blood pressure medication, should that reflect negatively upon the physician?

Also, the reality is that people don't like to hear bad news or directives from the doctor, even when the doctor is right. We'll use the below exchange as an example. I have friends and family who are doctors, and I've heard the following exchange multiple times:

Joe Patient: Doc, I'm feeling tired all the time and I cough a lot.
Dr. Smiley: Well Joe, you might want to stop smoking with the help of a nicotine patch and watch what you eat. Your cholesterol is still way too high. If you can exercise just a few...
Joe Patient: (irritated) Eh, just give me some meds.

So Joe Patient goes home pissed because instead of giving him a clean of health and cheering him up, Dr. Smiley had the audacity to recommend some lifestyle changes that could save his life. What a downer. Joe Patient goes to his computer, logs onto RateMD.com, and skewers Dr. Smiley as an unfriendly dictatorial blowhard. That's clearly not fair, and God forbid we unintentionally incentivize physicians to be "well liked" at the expense of being truthful and effective. Naturally, the best doctors can be both.

But provided that you can ensure protection from fraudulent posts and limit feedback on things which are within the patient's ability to assess, I think it's a good idea. Lord knows that I've gone through some terrible physicians in my lifetime.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Stressful Lives of American High Schoolers

Sad news in New York City, where a student at the prestigious Dalton School leapt to his death, in an act that was witnessed by a group of fourth-graders. While investigators are initially ruling this as a suicide, the details are still unknown at this time, though one student described the victim as being depressed of late. There's a member of our church who ministers to students in that school though FOCUS, and I'm sure he would covet our prayers especially at this time.

I think once you leave that period of your life, it's easy to take for granted just how stressful that life can be. Those years are fraught with crisis around parents, friendships, romantic relationships, and not least the pressure (as I'm sure there was at Dalton) to be a high achiever so you can get into a top-notch university. The pressure can be unbearable. So it perplexes me when there are suggestions that it's actually a good thing to ratchet that pressure up twenty or thirty times over.

In 2005, Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim wrote a book titled "Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers--and How You Can Too". Not ashamed to prejudge this book I never read in its entirety, I immediately hated the book simply on principle. Besides unhelpfully painting Asian success with a broad brush, it typecast Asian parenting, erroneously established incorrect preconceptions about the definition of "success" and shared some "best practices" which I'd frankly deem developmentally and emotionally dangerous. An article in the New York Times made it evident that the authors were big believers in their formula success, all which can be yours for $13.

Are some practices, such as giving tough love, bribing your kids to read and study and with money and candy or loading them up with supplemental lessons, effective? It could be, but the question always emerges: What exactly is the end goal, academic achievement or spiritual excellence (which doesn't mean the kid should be failing classes)? And what are the unintended consequences of achieving that goal? Emotional scarring? Family dysfunctionality? Spiritual desolation? Self-loathing?

To illustrate, I close with an Amazon.com review of the book from a username "Herstory":

I was raised in a very traditional Chinese family. Oh yes, I even now attend an Ivy League school. One slight problem, my father used to terrify me by yelling at me and calling me "stupid", "lazy", and "useless" whenever I got a math problem wrong. This was during trigonometry lessons when I was in 5th grade.

So, raise your kids the asian way, and they'll turn out to be valedictorians (like I was), Ivy-league students (like I am), and on anti-depressant medication (like I am).

They'll also refuse to speak to you after they leave for college. I have not spoken to my father for about 5 years. Not a word.

Oh yeah, the asian parenting also turned me into a raging feminist whose mission is out to punish every single father who tells his straight-A daughter that she is stupid, fat or ugly simply because she didn't know the graph of cosine.

Isn't that terrible? How in the world could someone Asian not know the graph for cosine?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Woman's Best Friend

A highly publicized news story this week revolved around an (apparently not so much) domesticated chimpanzee's vicious attack on an owner's friend, which led to the shooting death of the chimp. While I'm not trying to downplay the horrible injuries of the victim, which include gouged eyes, a face so pummeled that it was blood soaked, and crushed hands, what I find particularly disturbing is the bizarre relationship that the owner, Sandra Herold, had with Travis, her chimp.

As detailed in an article in the New York Post:

"She fed him filet mignon and lobster tails. They shared cozy glasses of wine. They bathed and slept together. He tenderly brushed her hair. She gave him gifts and sweet kisses. He drew her pictures."

Besides the fact that my wife is indignant that Travis "out-romances" me - I can hear it right now, "You never draw me pictures!" - details about the intimate relationship shared between the owner and pet are pretty shocking. Some of the closeness is understandable when given the context of the deaths of her daughter and husband, but I can't help but think that it's tragic that she was either unable or unwilling to find sufficient human friendship which could offer her the support, compassion, love and affection that everybody needs and deserves.

Lest we completely cast her away as a crazy kook, I have a friend who had a really traumatic period in his life where his dog provided the unconditional love and tenderness that he desperately needed when everything else around him was falling apart. He attributes the loyalty and affection of his dog as key factor in perhaps keeping him from committing suicide or falling into deeper depression, and as a Christian, he muses hopefully that his dog will be in heaven (perhaps he was inspired by the Don Bluth movie).

But it's not just him. Thousands of pet owners spend thousands of dollars for medical care, grooming, "education", and even recreation for their pets, even at amounts greater than are spent for humans. Perhaps we ought to consider if we as a society over-value our animal friends, or maybe consider the root cause that human beings are so rotten that people would much rather invest time and energy in animal friendships?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sportsmanship in High School Athletics

I miss the camaraderie and excitement of high school athletics. I was on the varsity tennis team, and in addition to the thrill of victory and the more common agony of defeat, our time together was marked with goofing off on long bus rides for away matches and occasional brushes with immortality. One story I'll relate touches on sportsmanship, a situation where my doubles partner and I exhibited very little of it, and the opponents responded in kind.

My doubles partner, Andy and I were creaming this other pair from a school up in Cornwall. They were pretty awful and I believe we "bageled" them (6-0, 6-0). Both of the kids on the other team simply weren't that good, and after a while Andy started making inappropriate, yet hilarious, disparaging comments under his breath so that I could hear him but our opponents could not. Understandably pissed that they were getting destroyed by opponents who were grinning at them, they then resorted to serving the ball directly at our heads, which prompted Andy to say loudly enough so only I could hear, "Holy sh*t Mike, these guys suck! Now they're aiming for us and they're not even coming close." At this point I was cracking up laughing, which certainly angered our opponents even more. I felt bad about laughing, but whenever I tried to stop, Andy would make another snarky remark and I'd be doubled over in laughter again.

So at the end of the match, we shook hands per tennis etiquette and as we met at the net, I managed a sheepish "Sorry guys..." to which one of our opponents nonchalantly said, "No problem, gook."

Andy and I just stood there stunned as they walked away, while they other guy turned around to us and said sneered threateningly, "You guys better watch it..." Ah, the honor and moral lessons of high school sports. The incident pretty much ended there. I'm not sure what I would've said back anyway: "Hey, I'm not Korean. Didn't you mean 'chink'?" or "Uh, you neglected to throw an anti-semitic remark towards my Jewish doubles partner..." or "Thanks for being so gracious, caucasian."

Recently, there were two bits of news related to sportsmanship - one which has been publicized a little more broadly than the other. In Dallas, a girls basketball team from The Covenant School crushed Dallas Academy 100-0, after which the Covenant coach was fired for refusing to apologize for running up the score. The fact that a state-championship caliber school beating up on a school which specialized in kids with learning disabilities was bad enough - the fact that Covenant was still operating a press defense and not simply burn the shot clock during offense was inexcusable. Apparently the Covenant coach is a disciple of college basketball coach Billy Tubbs, who responded to complaints around running up the score by saying, “If they don’t like it, they should get better.”

On the flip side, another story about sportsmanship which I'd like to see get more publicized emerged recently from ESPN, which shared about a team which conspired to purposely miss two foul shots in support of a grieving opponent. Johntell Franklin had recently lost his mother to cancer but had decided at the last moment that he still wanted to play in his Milwaukee-Madison team's game against DeKalb. Because Franklin's name wasn't in the scorebook, DeKalb would be given two technical foul shots.

DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman tried to tell referees that he didn't want his team to get the foul shots, but unable to "waive" them, he did the next best thing. Together with his team, they agreed that they would roll the ball on the floor under the basket twice, essentially missing the foul shots on purpose. This action touched the Milwaukee-Madison coach so much that he wrote a letter to the local newspaper in DeKalb lauding the actions of their team.

That's sportsmanship. Kudos to Dave Rohlman and his boys. It's my sincere hope that my children follow their example and turn away from mercilessly running up the score, chuckling at their overmatched opponents or resorting to racist name-calling. After all, there are far more politically correct ways to insult an opponent.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Re-calibration of Human Capital Markets

Consistent with the dreary news of the state of Detroit's local economy that I had mentioned in a previous post, there was a recent article in the New York Times that outlined more specifically of the bleak or non-existent future for white-collar workers in Detroit. 15,000 white-collar job cuts occurred last year, and up to 3000 more are anticipated by May, this time without the cushion of generous buyout packages. Another article in the Financial Times reported that GM would cut executive salaries by 10% with other managerial levels seeing between 3 to 7% cuts, a phenomenon which is occurring all over the state.

It seems quite possible that we'll see similar cuts, even if not at the same scale, around the country if not the world. I was talked to a couple of friends who live nearby this past weekend and asked them if they knew anyone who had been let go or have been unemployed for some time. The wife mentioned that for the most part her immediate circle of friends were thus far unaffected but she knew of at least one friend who worked in the financial services industry where "half their friends were unemployed and looking for work."

A recent msnbc.com article also hints at greater "underemployment", where people want to work full-time are forced to work part-time, the effect of which is similar when overqualified people are forced to take lower paying jobs simply out of need for survival. I wonder if, as I anticipate, the job market continues to get worse along with the economy, that we'll see a significant re-calibration of the human capital markets or put another way, will companies en masse proactively begin to slash salaries to account for an oversupply of qualified professionals in light of shrinking demand?

There's a scene in the movie Wall Street where Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen) is in his apartment presenting his new strategy for Bluestar Airlines to some union reps. One of the parts of his pitch is: "Don't sell a seat to a guy for 79 bucks when he's willing to pay 379." In that same vein, why would a company pay a person $120,000 when he's willing stay at that job for $100,000? Would Chief Financial Officers be interested in conspiring with Chief Talent Officers to play a game of "chicken" with its workforce, essentially telling colleagues, "We're going to slash your salaries 15% across the board because we know you don't have any other options. If you don't like it, quit. There are twenty people out there who would kill to have your job."

As for the fear that unmotivated employees will slack off as a form of protest? Response: People aren't so prideful that they're willing to perform poorly enough to put themselves at risk losing their jobs in such a terrible job market. As for the fear that employees will bolt as soon as things get better? Response: As long as companies are proactive in bringing salaries back up and offer forms of "loyalty bonuses" once things get better, they'll bank on employees having short memories and all will be forgiven.

It's an unpleasant scenario, but I'm sure CFOs have thought of this. And if they haven't, are they really acting in the best interests of the stakeholders?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Better To Be the "Faithful Dad" than "Cool Dad"

 I think all of us, to some degree, struggle with being "people pleasers". Now on one hand, it's easy to question, "What's wrong with that? We ought not to be striving to be despised and hated, should we?" Certainly not, but most people recognize that there's a line that we cross when our attempts to gain approval in the eyes of others causes us to do morally dubious things or when our change betrays who we fundamentally are or what we believe.

I thought about this as I read an article about booze-serving parents being held accountable for a tragic alcohol-fueled accident where a teenager died. Now, I hear stories of instances where parents serve their child wine for religious or traditional reasons, or even serve alcohol in a controlled environment to their child to teach them a lesson (which sometimes backfires). The pending criminal case wasn't either of those situations, but rather a situation where they were providing the booze for a teenage party.

Now even if there's a tinge of stupid logic along the lines of, "Junior's going to get tanked with his friends anyway, so I might as well serve them alcohol here at the house so they can enjoy it responsibly," the decision to serve booze to your kid and his friends really does reek of a failure to say 'no', likely driven by a fear of being the "anal-retentive, non-understanding uncool parent" or desire to be the "hip parent".

Sarah and I once read parts of the book "How Children Raise Parents" by Dan Allender. It was a pretty good book, and what I remember most vividly was that the books premise that your children are constantly (often silently) asking two underlying questions:
  1. "Am I loved?"
  2. "Can I get my way?"
The correct parental response is to the first is constant, strong and resounding "Yes".  The correct response to the second is a gentle and loving "No," specifically when those desires are in conflict, as they often are with young kids, with the heart of God which we will forever seek to follow.

The voice I want to hear from Daniel and Sophia is not so much "You're a cool dad" - or even "You were a great dad" when they're older, though I certainly wouldn't mind that.  I think the most assuring words will come from the Lord if and when He tells me "Well done, good and faithful servant.  You were a faithful and loving father to your children."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tea Eggs and Truth in Advertising

I was initially very excited when I came upon an article on CNN.com titled "Eating his way to a six-pack with 16 eggs a day". I thought excitedly of scarfing down tea (brown) eggs, a favorite food of mine from my childhood - a food which I ate so many at one sitting when I was eight years old that I got sick. Who would've thought that secret of getting a, uh... I mean keeping my six-pack would be to overdose on eggs?  A regular diet with lots of tea eggs and cheese eggs (my personal recipe includes three eggs scrambled with two slides of American cheese) sounded awfully good to me.

Unfortunately, a closer look at the article notes that the dieter in question, Jason Dinant, also diligently goes through an intense workout routine which included ab crunches, cycling on a stationary bike and using weights for his upper body. The moral of the story is that there really is no way to eat your way to good health without exercise.  I've gone to Subway on occasion to take advantage of their $5 footlong promotion I'm definitely not losing weight like Jared. Well, softball season starts in two months.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Wonder if Someone's Earning Big-Time Royalties

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. In celebration of the holiday, I'd like to dust off and bring out the famous (or infamous) poem/reflection which is e-mailed around college Christian fellowships and youth groups. Yes, it's "Soul Food", a.k.a. "On His Plan For You", a.k.a. "On His Plan For Your Mate" (titles apparently vary based on geographical location and denomination):

Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone
to have a deep soul relationship with another, to be loved thoroughly and exclusively.
But God, to a Christian says, "No, not until you are satisfied, fulfilled and content with being loved by Me alone.
I love you my child.
And until you discover that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found, You will not be united with another until you are united with Me...
exclusive of anyone or anything else, exclusive of any other desires or longings.
I want you to stop planning, stop wishing, and allow Me to give you the most thrilling plan existing... one you can't imagine.
I want you to have the best!
Please allow me to bring it to you.
You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing that satisfaction knowing that I Am.
Keep listening and learning the things I tell you.
You just wait, that's all.
Don't be anxious, don't worry.
Don't look around at the things other's have gotten or that I have given them.
Don't look at the things you think you want.
You just keep looking off and away up to Me, or you'll miss what I want to show you.
And then, when you're ready, I'll surprise you with a love far more wonderful than any you would ever dream.
You see, until you are ready and until the one I have for you is ready (for I am working even at this very minute to have both of you ready at the same time), until you both are satisfied exclusively with Me and the life I prepared for you, you won't be able to experience the love that exemplifies your relationship with Me... and thus, the perfect love.
And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love.
I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your relationship with Me and to enjoy materially and concretely the everlasting union of beauty and perfection and the love that I offer you with Myself.
Know that I love you utterly. I am God Almighty. Believe it and be satisfied.

This e-mail is probably up there with "Proctor & Gamble is run by Satan worshippers" as far as forwarded e-mails by Christians. I personally think it's just about as idiotic. Okay, I'm kidding - that's overly harsh. There are certainly some redeeming things about the core message of waiting patiently on the Lord, but here are a couple of issues I've had with this over the years:
  1. The poem somewhat implies that it's bad or automatically idolatrous to deeply love a human being. It's also portrays God as somewhat dismissive or unsympathetic to human loneliness.
  2. The poem seems to think that we'll get a mate upon being satisfied and completely content in God's love. That never "completely" happens this side of Glory. If this condition was truly the case, God would never give any of us spouses. It also reeks of "do this, and then I'll do this for you", which diminishes God's grace.
  3. Similar to above, being "satisfied exclusively with Me" seems a pre-requisite to bringing two people together. That's simply not true or again, nobody would be brought together.

To be fair, I used to think this was really clever and deep when I was younger, and it still might be edifying... if you're eighteen years old. I'll remind myself to send this to my kids twelve years from now.

As for Valentine's Day, I share similar sentiments with columnist Roland Martin around the stupidity of the holiday and the hope that people would choose not to get sucked into what is essentially a commercial racket. We should be encouraging each other to show love, appreciation and affection every day of the year, not just on a day which is strategically placed between other major shopping holidays. Don't be a mindless sheep pressured by the commercial syndicates and marketing brainwashers to buy mass-produced chocolates, week-old flowers and a card with a message whipped up by a starving poet living in his parents' basement. It's pathetic to see how desperate businesses are to try to exploit people's sense of inadequacy to buy unnecessary... ooh, the new Blackberry Curve 8900 is out!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Playing "What If" and Living in the Past

Two things that it's commonly known that you shouldn't do is play "what if" and live in the past. Despite the wisdom in that, I occassionally do a little both of those things, as evidenced by my browsing through the mobile news sites of philly.com and the Detroit Free Press.

To be frank, I've had these news sites on my Blackberry largely because they were, at least a few years ago, two of the only regional news portals that were available in mobile, or WAP, format. My interest in Philadelphia is understandable given that I spent four intense years of my life there going to college, where my spiritual growth really took root and I established some of my sweetest friendships.

Detroit? Okay, maybe that one is more of a pure "ooh, they have a WAP-enabled site where I can read on my Blackberry regional news and read with schadenfreude the laments of sports columnists when New York sports team whip Detroit sports teams." But I do actually have a connection with Detroit that might be even deeper if life had unfolded a little differently.

In my second year of business school at Columbia, I was recruited by Ford and subsequently given an offer as a Financial Analyst. I was flown out for the "sell" weekend, which was unique from any other recruiting junket that I had been on. For one, the sheer volume of people that Ford was recruiting was off the charts. There must have been literally two hundred people who they were "mass" selling, mixing undergraduate recruits and advanced degree recruits.

We were in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, and the entire hotel seemed to have been bought out by Ford for the purposes of the weekend. Jacques Nasser, at the time the head of Ford, gave a standard pitch about the benefits for working for Ford, and somehow in the course of his speech mentioned that he drove an Aston Martin, which at the time was part of the Ford family. The afternoon activity consisted of us going to the Ford test track to test-drive vehicles, having the opportunity to run the slalom or speed around the oval track. Later that evening, me and five other recruits were driven by chauffeur to a Ford executive's house for dinner. Nice touch.

After the weekend, a Ford recruiter, who was Columbia Business School alum called me told me that one of the reasons that I should come was that "you'll be someone from a top-tier school and have advantages over the many others here who don't have your pedigree. There are a lot of people here who are from mediocre schools." Yup - either appeal to the supposed poor caliber of my prospective co-workers or my insecurity of competing against and working with the best; that's the ticket. Why he took that tact to sway me I'm still not exactly sure (it probably had more of a negative effect on my decision, which was unlikely to be affirmative in the first place given my previous employers sponsorship of my MBA and the fact I had started dating my wife-to be), but I ended up declining within a week.

Even though I always felt that me ending up in Detroit was a one in a hundred chance, I wonder what life might have been different. For a second, even if I were to isolate this musing to just my professional life, I shudder to think about how much more I'd be in the eye of the storm of the economic crisis. Reading today about the loss of 3400 white-collar jobs at GM and have read through the years of the slow disintegration of the "Big Three" automakers and the devastation of the local economy - I feel both compassion for those who have been affected and relief for myself. From the executive with whom I had dinner, to my recruiter, to the all the people who I met that sell weekend who ultimately took jobs at Ford - I wonder how many of those people were unceremoniously but traumatically dumped in the past year. Maybe it's summed up by the strange and morally questionable lyrics sung by Bono in Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" in reference to famine victims starving in Africa: "Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Applying the Old Testament in Parenting

One of the common things that people struggle with is how to apply certain parts of the Old Testament to their daily lives (I might as well give a shameless plug to a book written by my Senior Pastor which addresses this). In contrast, applying any of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and most of the parables in the Gospels is fairly straightforward. But how do you respond in faith to a passage around a genealogy, a census, or measurements and specifications of a place and articles of worship?

Recently having read through 1 and 2Samuel, I've adopted some of the Old Testament language and admonishment in my everyday interactions with my kids. Daniel is highly protective of the little world he has created on top of his train table, where I've helped him construct a system of intersecting and overlapping trains and tracks with bridges and overpasses. One of his biggest challenges is keeping his little sister Sophia from wrecking it, who can't seem to keep herself from moving tracks out of place or pulling train cars apart.

Now Daniel often neglects his duties as a good big brother and good son by either failing to keep the basement floor clear of small toys which cause great pain when Sarah and I step on them while trying to get the laundry, or by being rough with Sophia in terms of not sharing toys with her or making sure she has other things to play with.

So recently after Daniel again neglected to clean the Matchbox cars which had been strewn on the floor for three days straight, I told him, channeling the Old Testament prophets, "Daniel, because you have neglected to follow my decrees to clean up the floor and have become a stiff-necked boy, I will deliver your train table into the hands of Sophia. She shall strike with my judgment your steam engines, bridges and switching tracks. But turn back, repent and clean up the floor, and maybe I'll help you rebuild your tracks. Thus sayeth your Dad." And then I let Sophia waddle over and play with Daniel's trains as he screamed bloody murder. Don't worry, she didn't mess things up too much.

I thought it was sort of funny, and ultimately Daniel cleaned up the basement and we rebuilt his little train universe. Did Daniel find it amusing initially? No - all there was from him was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

God's Mercy in Emptiness

A few weeks ago, one of the members in our church shared about a past short-term mission in which he spent time ministering to a man who was stricken by leprosy. He gave a brief, but informative overview of the disease, which despite it's paucity compared to biblical times, has not completely been eradicated in this world.

Leprosy, he explained, does not directly lead to the damage to skin and limbs. Instead, lack of nerve function in leprous areas of the body make those parts impervious to pain. As a result, a body part can be unknowingly but terribly damaged, scratched, lacerated, bruised and even broken, but the failure to feel pain in that area lead to continued damage unbeknownst to the afflicted. Eventually, gangrene and infection settle in, and loss of body parts and sometimes death follows.

Sarah and I were talking in the car on our way to church on Sunday, and we started talking about what great mercy there was in the sense of "emptiness". We realized that when we have failed to avail ourselves to the means of grace - which we cleverly remember in our church with the acronym FWPSM (Fellowship, Word, Prayer, Sacrament, and Mission) - our lives begin to feel purposeless and empty. Sure, in our sin we can fool ourselves temporarily by throwing ourselves in our work, our children, or even odd diversions either here or there in the form of music, sports, entertainment, social outings, vacation, or your random shopping binge; but ultimately life begins to feel empty.

And this is God's mercy, isn't it? Insomuch as we sense dryness and misery when we have not put God and the Kingdom in its proper perspective, we ought to be immeasurably grateful that, to use the leprosy analogy, that we correctly should feel the "pain". Or put another way, how tragic would it be if we were to be oblivious to the futility and meaninglessness of lives which were truly futile and meaningless?

To waste life and to not be cognizant of running towards a path of destruction and eternal insignificance is nothing short of tragic. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. We all ought to pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and "spiritual nerves" to feel - even when the feeling feels pretty lousy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A-Rod & Steroids: Is Anyone Surprised?

There's been a great deal of noise since the news broke that arguably the greatest player in baseball, Yankees stud third baseman Alex Rodriguez had failed a steroids test in 2003, a charge which he openly confessed to in an interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons yesterday.

My reaction is this: Is anyone really surprised by any of this?

Am I disappointed? Sure I am. I'm a Yankees fan and I had held out hope that the fact that A-Rod's body type didn't seem to have changed a great deal since his days with the Mariners attested to his "all natural" physique. But given that so many other major home run hitters and power pitchers have been implicated in taking performance-enhancing drugs, none of this is surprising. 

We've had defiant and articulate superstars like Rafael Palmeiro, nice guys like Mark McGwire, devout Christians like Andy Pettitte, and speedy smaller guys like Alex Sanchez. There is nobody in Major League Baseball who would surprise me if I were to find out they were caught taking either steroids or human-growth hormone. Perhaps that it's a sad commentary that my expectations have become so low, but such is the result of constant and pervasive revelations. Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard, and even the guy who is continuously held up as the quintessential "respect the game" player, Derek Jeter - allegations around any of these guys wouldn't make me blink.

Looking forward, Major League Baseball has to find a way to move forward from this.  The biggest star from the most famous team just got outed.  It's time to use this as an opportunity to ventilate the stink of not just A-Rod's sins, but everyone else who has been abusing performance-enhancing drugs. Wipe the slate clean, get everyone on a fair playing field (i.e. drug free) and move on.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Viva "Viva La Vida"

Congratulations to Coldplay for "Viva La Vida" winning song of the year at the Grammy Awards. I actually love the song myself, and have run up the iPod play count up to 78 or so. Add to that the fact that I've played it so many times in the car that Daniel completely recognizes it and chirps, "Hey, that's Daddy's favorite song!" when he hears it in the mall and can sing the tune of the chorus.

What I think is amazing is the relationship between Apple's choice of songs that they pimp on iTunes commercials and the fact those songs subsequently become extremely popular. It's what I would call "the iTunes commercial effect" - before the song was released, a widely broadcast commercial showed Chris Martin and his Coldplay mates singing an excerpt from "Viva La Vida" with the trademark iTunes special effects, ending with the announcement that for a time at least, the song would be exclusively available on iTunes. iTunes introduced U2's "Vertigo" a few years ago with similar success.

It's a brilliant marketing move, because it surely was a boon for iTunes, and it certainly served Coldplay well, too. So the question arises of whether the chicken or egg came first - that is, did Apple have the prescience to constantly choose great songs which they know will be massive hits even before they're released to the public? Or did the introductory buzz that iTunes generated launch the song into success?

In any case, it's a great song. One which I've stopped bothering trying to figure out any sort of profound interpretation of its lyrics.

Heart Attacks Go Down in UK, While Papa John's Stock Plunges

In a refreshing example of corporate responsibility, Papa John's founder John Schnatter has gone on record advising customers not to eat more than a slice or two of pizza.  Granted, Schnatter was put on the defensive with a question about whether he felt the UK government's anti-obesity drive was going to hurt pizza sales.  He pretty much had a choice of either saying:
  • "Of course not. Do you seriously think people are going stop scarfing down pizzas because David Beckham and Posh Spice show up on a public service ad and tell them not to?  You guys have no self control and will continue to poison yourselves."
  • "What are you talking about? It's perfectly healthy. That grease dripping from the crust is just full of liquid gold."
  • Or what he actually said, a more or less true statement which was his best course of action.
It's probably not the first time a company leader has advised the paying customer base to use less of his or her product, but it's laudable anyway.  I suppose a cynic could say that it's far more advantageous to keep pizza addicts alive for the long-term so you can have reliable and steady consumers of their product as opposed to binge eaters who will be dead in six months. I wonder if your average heroin dealer considers the same thing.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Misunderstanding Psalm 127 Perhaps?

Psalm 127 tells us, "Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him."

In what some might be a related line of thinking, a woman who has just given birth to octuplets is embroiled in controversy as people debate whether she'll be able to adequately care for her now 14 children as a single mother. The mother, Nadya Suleman, insists that she'll have no problem providing for her children once she goes back to college and pursues a career in counseling.

I don't want to rain on her parade and I really hope and pray for the best for her and her children, but there's much in the article that makes me concerned that she doesn't fully grasp the monumental task at hand. Maybe she has a blind faith that things will take care of themselves, for better or for worse. But has she considered:
  • Who will care for her fourteen children while she goes to class and studies for her counseling degree?
  • How will she find sufficient time away from studying to provide ample individual attention of each of her 14 kids, who will have different emotional needs and personalities?
  • How will she financially provide for the food, housing and shelter for her and her fourteen children while she's a student?
  • What job will she seek which simultaneously provides food and clothing for 14 children while providing ample work-life balance so she can devote time to love and nurture them?

This is not all to say that it can't be done. But consider her own words: "All I wanted ... was to be a mom. That's all I ever wanted in my life." While I can't speak specifically about being a mom, being a parent is a multi-faceted calling. You're not just playing with the kids. As a father I play the role of disciplinarian, comforter, counselor, educator, spiritual advisor, financial provider, butler, maid, repairman, nurse, chef, chauffeur and waiter, just to name a few of the roles. Nadya, I really hope you understand that this is what your role as a mother encompasses, and don't hold your breath banking on major economies of scale.

There are times when Sarah and I find ourselves absolutely physically exhausted while raising our two children. I remember when we just had Daniel during a particularly trying time as he was struggling sleeping through the night, we wondered out loud how on earth a single-mother could manage to find sufficient rest to help put to sleep, feed, change, comfort, nurture, and play with a baby while maintaining a full-time job. I can't imagine what it's like with eight... and I really can't imagine what it's like with having six other older children.

She also goes on to say: "That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family, and I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that I really lacked, [a] feeling of self and identity ... I felt powerless."

Children are a blessing, indeed, and I can't put into words how much I love my two children. But her longing for a large family sounds frightingly close to a vain attempt to find purpose from an previously unhappy life - to find a balm for an empty soul. As wonderful as children are, they are no more likely than to bring ulimate satisfaction than marriage, money, sex or fame. Lest I speak with my plank in my own eye, I recognize that I have my own idols, but that idolatry radar is blinking just a little bit. Everytime somebody makes a major life decision which is ultimately an attempt to fulfill "something that was missing" - I tend to raise a red flag.

Nothing is impossible with God. I hope for the sake of her children that she finds the way to make it work.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Christians in Political Exile

There's an excellent column written by Chuck Colson in Christianity Today around the new reality of evangelical Christianity's "exile" from the power seat in government, and how believers might best respond in this new political environment. Indeed, the tenor within D.C. seems miles away from the days that Carter talked openly about being "born again", Reagan called upon the "moral majority" and even the Christian rhetoric of Bush II seems like a tattered remnant of a time when being a Christian didn't seem so utterly out of place on the Beltway.

So what would be a faithful response in light of a Congress which as Colson says is: "radically committed not only to abortion rights but also to adding sexual orientation to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which could prevent faith-based organizations from considering sexual orientation in hiring decisions"? My not so faithful or gracious response is to again wonder with some frustration whether my Christian brethren around the country who cast votes which helped create this situation have any sort of remorse or misgivings whatsoever, but beyond that Colson reminds us that as tempting as it might seem, to retreat back into a shell of personal and hidden faith, never to speak boldly about biblical principles is certainly not the way to go.

Colson correctly stresses that any sort of activism and influence must come from deep-rooted person faith and a desire to do justice and love mercy to the glory of God, not merely an activism that clothes itself in Christian rhetoric as a cheap political trick. We must live lives of faith and conviction in a way which influences our neighbor, but also be bold in fighting for and advocating systemic change.

In a conversation with my pastor over lunch, we discussed what the Christian response to injustice of different forms and our obligation to go beyond living our own convictions without care of others' actions. For example, if you believe that pornography is morally wrong, is it enough to simply not partake in it and encourage that others similarly abstain? Or do Christians have an obligation to fight to make pornography illegal for everyone, even though others with different or no religious backgrounds may disagree? Let's use abortion instead. Is it enough that a Christian personally chooses not to have abortions and will hire only obstetricians who don't perform abortions? Or should the Christian be obligated to make such a procedure illegal for everyone, even though others with different or no religious backgrounds may disagree? One might say, and I'd agree, that the abortion issue is distinct due to the paramount nature of the sanctity of life, but I know many wouldn't necessarily agree.

The marriage of faith and politics is complicated. I do not believe they absolutely should not mix, but certainly mixing them should be done with some caution, much wisdom, and much humility. Colson definitely provides some good guidelines, and he's someone that has a bit of experience in the area.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

That's The Way You End Partisanship

I have to give major props to President Obama for inviting a slew of Democratic and Republican members of Congress over to the White House for a Super Bowl party. In what is probably an underrated example of how President Obama is living out his pledge to create a better non-partisan culture in Washington, he had members of Congress as well as their families join his family and watch the big game and play Nintendo Wii. Oatmeal cookies were served, but I'd assume that buffalo wings and other food was probably whipped up by the White House chef.

Romans 12:20 tells us, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Now it doesn't say anything inviting them over for football, so again I commend President Obama from going beyond the biblical mandate.

He also modeled the hospitality for which we are admonished to do in Hebrews 13:2, by opening his home to not strangers in this case, but members of a political party which are looking forward to putting him back in the private sector by 2013. Did he inadvertently entertain angels? Of course not, they're politicians - pretty much as far as you can get from angelic besides tobacco manufacturing or pornography. But seriously, the thought of President Obama taking coats, showing guests where the bathroom is and introducing his kids to other members of Congress' kids makes me feel pretty good. I don't see eye to eye with President Obama on a number of issues, but he seems like a guy I'd enjoy hanging out with. So President Obama, if you're ever in the area and want to play a game of foosball, come on over.

So in the simple act of inviting members of Congress, many of those from an opposing political party, and walking around the room with a platter of oatmeal cookies, President Obama has provided a couple of good examples of what servant leadership looks like. Naturally, what's incumbent for all of us to do is to emulate Jesus Christ, the quintessential servant leader; and to also pray for President Obama to similarly emulate Christ's example.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Government Control of Spending

As an update to my post around Senator Claire McCaskill's proposed legislation around caps for executive compensation in companies which had accepted federal bailout funds, it looks like President Obama is going to move forward with his own version of the legislation. Consistent with my previous post, I commend him for putting action behind his words, though I may disagree with the wisdom of his actions.

I can understand the anger in response to seeing large bonuses being paid to those in the financial services industry, especially in light of the large bailout packages that some, not all, received. But do we really want the government to mandate how companies choose to invest their funds, whether through human capital (i.e. salaries to retain and attract the best talent) or otherwise? Will companies which accepted bailout money need signed government approval for any major capital expenditures or strategic initiatives greater than $10 million? How about line item approval for anything in the company operation plan that seems unwise or excessive? Is this fear of unintended consequences of compensation caps (e.g. the loss of the best talent in the company) going to dissuade companies from taking federal money, as Senator Mitch McConnell points out?

To what degree should the government intercede in the stewardship decisions of groups or individuals? To draw a parallel, pretend that every welfare recipient was forbidden to go on vacation or purchase anything "entertainment-related" (e.g. television, audio electronic equipment, music, digital media, outside dining, expensive clothes). On some calculating, albeit cold-blooded, level, that might make sense - hard-working taxpayer money should be used to put clothes on a welfare recipient's family and food on the table, not buy the family cable television service, a weekend vacation, or new Nike sneakers; after all, they can listen to a radio for entertainment, visit local parks for a getaway, do their food shopping at Dollar Tree, and do all their clothes shopping in Salvation Army Thrift Stores. Do we really want government assistance to have those sort of strings attached?

Should good stewardship be encouraged? Absolutely, and that should be the case whether a company is public, private, receiving bailout money or not. What I get concerned about is how rigidly this is enforced and mandated by the government, and whether such principles are applied evenly. For those who want both the executive compensation caps and mandatory-purchasing at Salvation Army Thrift Stores for welfare recipients, at least you're consistent.

What's Next, Drive By Shoeings?

In what might be an ominous sign of a growing movement, a protester in Cambridge, England threw an athletic shoe at Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. This brazen attack followed a similar incident seven weeks ago when President Bush dodged shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist.

Obviously, I'm glad that Wen and Bush were dodging thrown shoes as opposed to bullets fired from a concealed handgun, but I wonder if this "throw footwear at a world leader you dislike" trend is going to apiral out of control. What's next? Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ducking away from a leather sandal on a visit to Qu├ębec City? South Korean President Lee Myung-bak dodging a fake Prada shoe made in a local factory in Pusan? If French President Nicolas Sarkozy gets a wooden clog hurled at him in a visit to Amsterdam, is the offense upgraded to attempted murder because of the hardness of the shoe?

Stop the madness. Think of the children.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And This Was the Less Painful Alternative?

A cringe-inducing health article from the Associated Press announced that surgeons had removed a woman's kidney through her vagina in an innovative procedure which will reduce pain, scarring, and recovery time.

The patient, Kimberly Johnson said "It was easier than childbirth," which immediately led to these two reactions from me:
  1. I am very grateful for my wife for bearing and birthing our two kids.
  2. "It was easier than childbirth" is right up there with saying "It was more exciting than watching paint dry."  Not exactly an overwhelming endorsement.
It might very well be innovative and a great advance in surgical technology, but if the choice is ever given to me to remove my appendix through my rectum, I'll take the scalpel and the old-fashioned procedure, please.

If You Hate it So Much, Boycott It

In a previous post, I had expressed my disappointment of an allegedly critical book that Joe Torre had written with the help of Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, "The Yankee Years". I had been clear about my opinion that excerpts that were supposedly included which divulged things that Torre only could have observed in the clubhouse or in a meeting firsthand should not have been shared. 

The book comes out today, and Torre will be signing his book at the following locations:

February 3rd at Barnes and Noble on 5th ave. in Manhattan @ 12:30 PM
February 3rd at the Yogi Berra Museum @ 7:00 PM
February 4th at Borders on Broadway in Manhattan @ 1:00 PM
February 4th at Book-Ends in Ridgewood, NJ @ 7:00 PM

For all the hordes of Yankee fans who have expressed their anger on WFAN or ESPN Radio, you have a more productive way of expressing your disapproval.  The reality is that the outpouring of rage on the airwaves (much which I think is a little over the top) doesn't bother Torre one bit.  He's already been on Larry King Live and has expressed his incredulousness at the outcry, and has encouraged people to buy the book and judge it in its entirety.  If you really don't like what Torre's done, the course of action is simple:
  • Boycott Joe Torre's book.
  • Encourage others to boycott Joe Torre's book.
Look, Joe Torre has made plenty of money from managing the Yankees, plus he got a handsome advance for the book.  The residuals he's going to earn with each sold copy isn't going to make a big difference, but think of it as a Yankee fan's way of taking part of the voting process by voting with your wallet. Attend a book signing and fold your arms and glare at him while shaking your head but refuse to plunk down $40 out of principle. You can even cough "turncoat" and "traitor" loudly in his direction until security asks you to leave.

If you think as many other fans do that Torre's done nothing wrong, spend a little money to buy the book (which I hear that controversy aside is a pretty good read) and consider going to a book signing and getting the autograph of someone who I think is a lock Hall of Famer.  Thank Joe for his years of service at the helm of the Yankees, express regret that many fans have turned against him and wish him the best in the upcoming 2009 season.

If you're me, you'll put the book on reserve at the public library and get the best of both worlds.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Milestone in Our Marriage

For the first time in more than six years of marriage, Sarah made me sleep on the couch.

Okay, it's not nearly as juicy as it sounds, and I'm not divulging any gossip that should stay within the confines of our relationship (Who do you think I am, Joe Torre?)  The truth of the matter is my chest cold (which might be croup or an upper respiratory infection or bronchitis or pneumonia for all I know) not only made it impossible for me to sleep, but my constant coughing, hacking, and wheezing accompanied with tossing and turning made it impossible for my wife to fall asleep. My poor wife, who had three hours of sleep the night before trying to take care of her two sick kids and sick husband, very lovingly suggested that I consider sleeping in the living room on the couch at around 1 in the morning. I was still awake unable to sleep anyway, so I didn't object.

So I stumbled down the stairs and I think I probably managed to get a few hours of shut eye. I need to find a way that I can sleep while standing up where I have less difficulty breathing. Either that or I need to get equine-strength night-time medicine. If I find myself on the couch again tonight, I might as well catch some Letterman and Conan.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Great Game and a Winner in Defeat

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers for pulling out Super Bowl XLIII in a beauty of a game, 27-23. Ben Roethlisberger, your gritty game-winning drive was impressive. I hope you will keep your success in perspective in the same way Kurt Warner has, and that you'll emulate his example of a man of faith, which is something I'm glad to see you share.

Kurt Warner, surely the loss stings, but I hope that you can take some solace in what I believe was a Hall of Fame-clinching performance. Most people didn't give you much of a chance, and you came oh so close. Nobody's laughing at the Cardinals anymore.

There's something else I couldn't help but notice as I was increasingly rooting for the Cardinals to pull the game out - there were some eerie similarities with Super Bowl XLII where my beloved Giants knocked off the Patriots. Both teams had plucky underdogs (Giants and Cardinals) keep the game close against the favorites. With a few minutes left, both the Giants and Cardinals trailed by four, needing a touchdown to go ahead. Both teams got those touchdowns.

The difference was that the Cardinals' offensive explosiveness ended up leaving the door open for the Steelers. Kurt Warner's quick touchdown strike to Larry Fitzgerald left a little more than two minutes for the Steelers to come back and win. Eli Manning's touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress left Tom Brady with 35 seconds to go, and the Patriots ended up turning the ball over on downs. As a side note, my buddy and hardcore Patriots fan Dave insists that if Brady had used the middle of the field and taken the 15 to 20 yards the Giants were seemingly giving to Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk, the Patriots could have easily driven for a tying field goal. Oh well, I guess we'll never know, but it's good to use every opportunity to rehash that game.

Here's what I didn't like about Super Bowl XLIII:

1) James Harrison. You're a good player and had a great play to end the first half. But beating on and punching Aaron Francisco, a safety 40 pounds lighter than you cost your team 15 yards and pretty much swayed all the people watching who weren't Steelers or Cardinals fans to root hard for the Cards. Punk.

2) The Commercials. Very disappointing. Pepsi had a couple of decent ones, including the montage of past and present parallels as well as the Diet Pepsi commercial with men getting knocked around. I thought the best one was the Doritos "crystal ball" commercial with honorable mention to the the CareerBuilder.com "it might be time" commercial. Besides those, nothing really made me laugh out loud. And goodness, can somebody ban GoDaddy.com from churning out any more of these sexually-provacative and stupid Super Bowl commercials?