Monday, June 29, 2009

Farewell to the King of Pop

I was saddened to hear of the death of Michael Jackson last week. Jackson, self-knighted and acknowledged by many as the "King of Pop" had spent much of the last decade and half out of the spotlight amidst allegations of inappropriate relations with a minor and awkward brushes with the public around his rather eccentric life. For the most part, he slipped out of the public spotlight as well as my own.

I think people tend to have a special place in their heart with their first music star, and Michael Jackson was probably the guy for me. As a seven year-old, Michael Jackson was the man, and everyone in my 2nd grade class loved his music (until it was uncool to do so a few years later, in which people would lie about ever owning Thriller, which still today is the best-selling record of all time). I remember my older brother and I getting pumped up about finally getting our vinyl copy of Thriller and listening to those tracks over and over. That record was stacked, with Billie Jean, Beat It, Wanna Be Starting Something, The Girl Is Mine and the title track all getting significant airplay in the house of our childhood.

I actually really liked a lot of his post-Thriller music - Smooth Criminal is a timeless groove with the barely decipherable "Annie, are you okay?" interspersed throughout the song. And I had a special appreciation for his public-service-announcement songs such as "Man in the Mirror" and "Heal the World" which appealed to people to make the world a better place through enacting change. It might come off as preachy and lame if not for the fact that Michael Jackson was such a generous benefactor to charities himself. Plus, the songs were pretty catchy.

Of course, I never knew the guy personally, but what saddens me as I look upon his death is that I think the public never fully appreciated Michael Jackson for his brilliance and (I sense) good-heartedness while he was alive. In an age of self-destructive artists who revel in homemade sex tapes, drug binges and lyrics which glorify misogyny, promiscuity or the gangster culture, the artist that the public largely turned its back on was largely an eccentric who did a lot good - whether it be through charities to help the sick, poor and hungry. One wonders if such immense success and fortune combined with such harsh treatment led to cynicism, distrust and isolation.

So I don't care if it's uncool or not - Michael Jackson's music definitely rocks. I felt that way as a seven year-old and I feel that way now. And he's still the undisputed "King of Pop" in my book.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shades of 20 Years Ago

Like many others, I've been playing close attention to the happenings in Iran, where demonstrators continue to rally in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi, who controversially lost the presidential election the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid accusations of voting fraud. The protests have evolved, or perhaps expanded into a larger themes around democracy and civil rights for women, and with news of deadly clashes between demonstrators and riot policy, there's anticipation that the turmoil will get worse.

Like many others, I couldn't help but recall the events twenty years ago in Beijing, where demonstrations largely comprised of university students began to rally in support of democratic reform. After a short standoff with Communist party leaders who demanded that they disperse and halt their "counterrevolutionary activities", the defiant students were crushed by military forces, a rampage that was broadcast globally by news services. The number of those killed still wildly varied somewhere between 1000 and 8000.

I remember President George H.W. Bush's response to the massacre, and as a youngster who was ethnically Chinese and pro-democracy, I found it woefully understated and muted. Yes, he did suspend military sales and visits, but words about expressing "grave concern" seemed insufficient. As a young teenager, I admit that I had a perhaps unrealistic view of how politics and diplomacy worked. President Bush was being pragmatic, and clearly my hopes for him to condemn more forcefully the crackdown and to intervene militarily or by giving financial support to an underground democratic movement was naive and wrongheaded in retrospect.

Interestingly, President Obama is facing the same criticism of his handling of the Iran turmoil. Critics argue that his measured tones are insufficient, and that if his principles of democracy and hope are truly things he hold dear, he should act and speak more forcefully, political expediency be damned. I tend to believe that his measured response is the right one. The kiss of death to reformer Moussavi would to be promoted and lauded by the West. When a seemingly common ground of rallies is "Death to America!", props from the American president is probably not an endorsement that he'd welcome.

For the Iranian leaders and protesters, they have the benefit of looking back into history 20 years ago and studying the actions of those who went before them in Beijing. There is an opportunity here to usher in a new and better age for the Iranian people without the collateral damage of thousands killed. Let's hope that the leaders and demonstrators can find that common ground and succeed where their Chinese predecessors failed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Overlooking More Serious Offenses

Gee, somehow Reilly left out that Bryant, a married father of one at the time, was charged with a rape for which the trial coincidentally ended when the accused refused to testify after agreeing with Bryant on a large monetary settlement.

Hmm... maybe that's possibly one reason why people don't like him? You think?

That rankles me a little more than the belief that "he hogs the ball". Hmm... maybe Reilly is simply reflecting the though process of the average sports fan: I can get past cheating on his newlywed wife by forcing himself sexually upon an unwilling participant, but the fact that he doesn't kick the ball out to the open man when he's double-teamed, that's unforgivable.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Not Quite Feeling The Draft

Nice article from's Joe Posnanski about the fool's gold in the Major League Baseball draft. This draft had a little more attention than it had in past years, largely due to the emergence of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and live television coverage for the first time.

No necessarily trying to be a spoilsport, Posnanski correctly points out that while most professional drafts showcase a great of players that never make the major leagues, the percentage is even worse in baseball. In fact, the players that eventually become stars are from all rounds. Given a 50-round draft with 30+ teams per round, the large miss rate, plus the inability to trade draft picks - there's little gravitas or suspense. Posnanski uses the good example of Paul Konerko to illustrate what success from the draft looks like. If you were excited about Konerko, you had to wait eight years and two teams later to have your hopes fulfilled.

As for me, I think there's some hope for the MLB draft to be at least a little more entertaining. In addition to allowing teams to trade draft picks, I think you need to have some clever commentators who can recycle hackneyed catchphrases about prospects and have columnists like's Bill Simmons make snarky jokes around double entendres with sexual undertones. For example commentator Hubie Brown is famous for his common talent assessment phrases "incredible upside", "great athleticism", "plays above the rim" and "long" (the phrase that makes Bill Simmons giggle like a 6-year-old). 

The baseball analogy would be Peter Gammons saying something along the lines of, "Dustin Ackley has great makeup and field instincts. As a batter, he has great plate coverage and he can really stroke it." (insert Bill Simmons chuckling)

As for the Yankees, they picked up Slade Heathcott with their first pick of the draft. I'll look forward to him contributing eight years and two teams from now. And if he bucks the odds and becomes the next Josh Hamilton, then I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Not A Competitor, Just A Bad Loser

A great article by Phil Taylor in Sports Illustrated lifts the commonly false veneer of "fierce competitiveness" and exposes it for what it really is - poor sportsmanship. Taylor cites Lebron James' refusal to shake hands with victorious players from the Orlando Magic following the Magic's Eastern Conference Championship triumph. While a number of pundits look at actions such as these and comment laud fierce competitors who hate to lose promote creeds that a real winner who never takes losing well, or as Vince Lombardi supposedly said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser, period."

Taylor writes: "James has grown up in an era in which the definition of a great competitor has been badly skewed. We heap so much praise on an athlete who "hates to lose" that some players don't even recognize when that hatred goes too far. It's been said that Michael Jordan would have cheated his own grandmother to win at cards. That's not passion. That's unhealthy."

He's spot on. Sports society has wrongly promoted and deified the "fierce competitor" right along with the showboater. It's not surprising that much of these behaviors is aligned with our own base instincts to be a pompous winner and a petulant loser. 

I recently played a memory card game with Daniel, and when the game ended, I had seven pairs of "matched cards" and Daniel had six. I asked Daniel, "Who won?" and Daniel answered, "I did!" I then proceeded to ask Daniel to count how many pairs we each had, and eventually, he conceded begrudgingly (with a good amount of whining) that seven was more than six. He was not happy with it, so it led to a conversation about while he didn't need to like losing, but he needed to be fair and gracious when he lost. He could keep practicing and doing his best and maybe he would do better next time.

He then proceeded to cream me in the next game ten to three. And honestly, it wasn't like I was letting him win. His sportsmanship as a winner was better, though maybe I should cream him in some more competitions just to make sure the lesson took.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

C'mon, What About Five Guys?

Congratulations to In-N-Out burger, which won the (presumably) coveted title of "best hamburger in the nation" according to a recent survey of fast-food eaters. I think In-N-Out makes a good burger, but you have to give props to Five Guys, which was conspicuously absent from the rankings. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't have both of these guys in the competition, it's hardly a legitimate contest.

Congratulations to my beloved Long John Silver's for winning "Best Fish". As far as I'm concerned, I can't see how there was possibly any competition in that race. I've heard that Ivar's Seafood in the Seattle area is a worthy competitor, but that I've never tried it. And don't even mention that Arthur's Treachers garbage.

I'm also convinced that the snide Zagat comment that "They might as well fry the drinks, too" was clearly a shot towards Long John Silver's. It's probably fair criticism right up there with, "Eat this meal and you'll be drinking gallons of water the night afterwards."

I can attest to McDonald's being extremely child friendly. In fact, the Saturday before we left for Aruba, I took Daniel to McDonald's for a nice father-son lunch. We talked over Chicken McNuggets and afterwards I let him run around in the maze of suspended tubes in the PlayPlace. Hopefully he'll always remember those fond memories more than obesity brought on by his father's poor choice of eateries.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guns in Suburban Schools

I was a little alarmed to hear last week that a rival middle school of mine growing up was the scene of an incident where a man with a gun held the superintendent hostage at South Orangetown Middle School in Blauvelt, NY. While I didn't go to this school, it was in a rival district and the site where my "Mighty Midgets" soccer team held its practices. It's also has the indoor pool where I learned to swim taking town-organized swim lessons during my childhood summers.

One of the comments made by a reader seemed to ask a good question, about the wisdom of leaving schools largely "open and accessible" to visitors once school is in session. Now I'm sure that a lot has changed in the decades since I've been to school, but I seem to remember that it was pretty easy to walk in unmolested into the school and roam the classrooms. There were no security guards in these suburban schools, and while you were instructed by a sign to "please sign in with the office", you could theoretically choose not to wander around unfettered.

Contrast that with many office buildings, including mine, where you need to get your photo ID taken and provide official identification in order to get past the key-coded secure doors and uniformed security guards manning every entrance into the building. Thankfully, there are no metal detectors, and I'd hate to see it ever come to that.

You want to have a good balance of safety while setting the tone that a place of learning doesn't need to be fortress. The incident in South Orangetown was probably an outlier, but that's likely cold comfort to parents who have children at that school.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Weird Fascination With Airplane Disasters

I have a weird fascination with airplane disasters. I don't think it's based on some premonition that I'll depart this world as my Airbus experiences a catastrophic mechanical failure. Perhaps it has to do with a childhood interest in aviation mixed with the engineering geek in me wondering how something so large could somehow go airborne - and how something so powerful and intricately designed could malfunction so terribly. 

Over the years, I would pour over magazine articles detailing the Korean Airlines Flight 007 (shot down by a Soviet fighter jet), United Airlines Flight 232 (a miracle crash landing in a Iowa cornfield) and USAir Flight 427 (catastrophic rudder failure on a 737 - a model I used to fly every week as a consultant). I'd watch National Geographic shows like Seconds From Disaster which provided dramatizations of the events leading up to the crash.

Interestingly, I was traveling by air during the days of two major plane disasters. Just last week on early Monday morning, an Air France jetliner went down in the Atlantic en route to Paris from Rio. As we were planning to board our plane from Newark Airport to Aruba, Sarah and I watched CNN from our gate, which reported breaking news of a missing airliner. Many years ago in 1992, I had a similar experience when I had flown to Los Angeles on a TWA airliner to visit my cousins and a friend who's mother was dying of cancer. When I landed that evening, my cousin said to me, "Wow, weren't you a little freaked out after you heard the news?"

"What are you talking about?"

"A different TWA airplane flying from New York crashed. I think everyone died." The flight she was referring to was TWA Flight 800, which was brought down apparently from an electrical short in a near empty fuel tank.

But just remember folks, the safety of flying commercial airliners are unmatched - as long as your measuring by deaths per mile and not deaths per trip.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Searching for Natalee Holloway

I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a company "award trip" recently to the beautiful island of Aruba. And despite my cheeky title, no, I wasn't there to look for Natalee Holloway, and I decided that it would be best if I didn't choose to jokingly use that my response to the Aruban immigration airport officer's question of, "What brings you to Aruba?"

Sarah and I enjoyed ourselves, though we definitely missed the kids. We mingled with a number of co-workers but had plenty of time to do things on our own, whether that was lying on the beach and sipping drinks, hiking around beautiful Arikok National Park, or kayaking to and snorkeling around De Palm Island. We also were able to indulge in some Aruban-Dutch and French cuisine, much of which was excellent. The seafood was fresh, the beaches were warm and the water was crystal blue. 

Interestingly, I did ask our kayak tour guide, Ervin, what he thought of the whole Natalee Holloway episode, and he was of the opinion that the whole thing was a hoax, and that Natalee took a boat off to South American mainland and is living a bohemian life somewhere. He also expressed antipathy towards Ms. Holloway's mother who he felt unfairly maligned the good people of Aruba, who had provided free transportation and accommodations for a month while using up the entire annual Aruban police budget in an effort to solve the case.

Most meaningful to me was the last evening before we left Aruba, where Sarah and I spent some time praying on the moonlit shore. We prayed for our own dedication to the Lord and for our family - knowing that even as we enjoyed the trip, we wanted to appreciate the Giver more than the gift itself. We remembered that the reward for faith was in the good pleasure of God, not in the approval or perks provided by man. And we were conscious to pray that those things would never wrongly entice us to serve any master besides Him.

It was all in all, a very good time of refreshing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Priests and Marriage

Interesting news broke recently when Father Alberto Cutie, an internationally known Catholic priest who admitted having a romantic affair and breaking his vow of celibacy, joined the Episcopal Church where he will be pursue priesthood.

This follows a great deal of discussion around whether the Catholic Church should revisit the tenet of obligatory celibacy for Catholic priests. I had browsed a title of one commentary blaring "Celibacy should be rethought" and my knee-jerk reaction was this was a typical secularist attack on tradition with superficial arguments of societal changes and such - pretty much ignoring the very essence of why I at least presume and hope that people join the priesthood in the first place. That is, how might I best give myself to the Lord?

I was pleasantly surprised that the editorial wasn't anti-Christian or anti-Catholic rhetoric being spewed by a humanist who hated all of the "antiquated" ideals of religion. It was actually a well though out and church-centric composition coming from a Rev. Donald Cozzens, a Catholic priest and theology professor who is presumably celibate. So instead of anti-religion rhetoric spewing the superiority of postmodern thinking, what the article addresses church doctrine and the high regard of both the priesthood and the sacraments. Cozzens asks, "Isn't it possible that God would call an individual to the priesthood and to the sacrament of marriage?

Cozzens understands that celibacy is a gift, and a valued one, per 1 Corinthians 7, particularly verses 32 through 35. But he also makes the point that there is nothing that ties that particular gift as a prerequisite to church-based ministry. Even retired archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan believes that obligatory celibacy is not a matter of dogma, and thus open for discussion. For Protestants who live in the sola scriptura realm, the lack of connection between the gift of singleness and church-based ministry has largely made celibacy a non-issue for those considering a call to ministry. This burden is very real for Catholics brothers who are considering the ministry. As Cozzens notes:

I wonder if church officials understand the burden they place on the shoulders of a man who believes he is called to priestly ministry but not to celibacy. Certainly, a married priesthood will have burdens of its own and, sadly, scandals of its own -- infidelity and abuse among others. But it should be left to the individual priest and seminarian to determine whether or not he is blessed with the gift of celibacy. A mandated "gift," after all, is really no gift at all.

Yes, a married priesthood will not be immune from scandals, but then again, it's not as if the Catholic Church hasn't been through this fire drill up to their necks in the past decade. The greater tragedy, I fear, will be hundreds if not thousands of men who want to serve Christ and the Church in ministry who will have to make a false choice not to do.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twittering Away

I've decided to join Twitter after hearing all of the buzz around how this means of connecting people will revolutionize relationships, one summer after I decided to join the blogosphere. After a couple of days, I'm still not sure what to make of it.

My initial impressions are that Twitter is essentially a short-form blog so instead of boring people with my long-winded drivel, I can waste less of people's time by giving them concise drivel. Excellent. Also, Twitter allows us to see the short-form musings of our friends interspersed with our own in chronological order.

Eh, I'll stick with it for a little. If nothing else, I need to keep my technology adoption sharp so I can keep up with my kids when they're a little older.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Preaching the Gospel in Word and Deed

There's a great article from Christianity Today which brings some balance to the oft-misused contention that the Gospel resonates sufficiently from our actions, and thus words become peripheral if not optional. In reality, the article is more of a closer look at the true intentions and a quick ministry study of Saint Francis of Assisi, but I'm going to focus on one aspect.

The article mentions specifically the quote attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi - "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." The author points out not only is there a great deal of doubt from historians that these words ever came from Francis, but an objective look at his ministry reflects values contrary to that creed. Apparently, Francis was not shy is speaking truth in love and pronouncing truth.

What that quote and underlying sentiment has unfortunately become is a cop-out for many, including myself, to be timid (as opposed to bold) when it comes to the Gospel and the Gospel's impact upon my life. This came to mind recently when I was at a Session meeting discussing an upcoming church discussion about how faith should inform everything else in our lives, specifically vocation.

What I've noticed is that the pendulum has swung perhaps a little too much in the "faith and work is not just about how I find opportunities to witness to my coworkers" area, which too often means that you never witness to your coworkers. In the past ten years, there's been this momentum within the faith in the workplace movement which is all about find out how your vocation is a part of the greater redemptive work in the Kingdom of God - which generally means that you do your work with integrity and honesty and you do your work with a deliberate understanding and aspiration that it fits into the greater part of God's plan. 

What often gets lost in that lofty rhetoric is the details of what that actually means in the personal level. To say that "working with integrity with God as your boss" is what it means to be a workplace Christian can dangerously become "being a Christian is about being an honest and sincere person" - and you'll largely conform. And of course it's important to work with integrity, but to be intentional about workplace tools around communal workplace prayer, Bible study and even relational evangelism is something that should be encouraged, as well.

So as the article says, it's true that words without deeds are empty. What I also think is true is that sometimes the "quiet faith" is highly overrated. As a friend at church recently shared, if you're surrounded by non-Christians friends and they complain about people who boldly evangelize, wondering "why they can't be quiet Christians just like you", that is not a reason to be encouraged. Or put another way, our quest to not be known as Christians for the wrong reasons doesn't mean our Christian faith should not be known at all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fame at a Price People Aren't Willing to Pay

A recent commentary did a nice job in asking the rhetorical question of why pseudo-celebrities (such as reality television stars) sign the privacy of their lives away for money and express outrage when their lives are mysteriously under public scrutiny. The article references the buzz around alleged affairs by the two adult stars of Jon & Kate Plus 8 as an example of the reality-show variety, but also mentions Brooke Shields as an example of "professional" celebrity which inexplicably appeals for a firewall to be placed upon her private life.

The author points out hypocrisy on the part of these (pseudo) celebrities, with Kate Gosselin of “Jon & Kate” appealing for privacy at a publicity appearance in Michigan, and Brooke Shields complaining about access to her life when she bared her soul and her mental health issues on an episode of Oprah. I think there's some merit here. Celebrity life comes with some privileges along with some baggage. As a celebrity, you're paid remarkably well and you're given a platform to espouse your views (e.g. anti-war, gay rights, defense of marriage, animal rights, pro-life) when chances are you have no more credibility or knowledge of these topics than the neighbors who live with me. You're given the sympathy and support of millions of fans when hardship hits your life while others make do with a small circle of family of friends. While I think people should take, let's say, Sean Penn's foreign policy musings, with a grain of salt given his lack of credentials, I don't begrudge him his right to use his platform. As a celebrity who has earned his celebrity though his craft, he has that right.

But that right comes with the baggage that comes along with it. There are two sides to that "fame" coin. This applies all the more to the reality television pseudo-celebrities who have stumbled into fame largely as a result of a television network brainstorming sessions on how we can make everyday people entertaining. It's safe to say that these folks never had any grand ambitions to become celebrities. Most of these people had "normal" lives before celebrity and they made a conscious choice to trade that in for a lucrative television contract. If you really dislike it, just walk away. The American public has a very short memory and you will be forgotten and subsequently left alone. 

As for me, I could never quite see the appeal of reality television. How real is a life lived in front of cameras and a crew? Plus, I have plenty of everyday drama and comedy in my own life that I'm emotionally vested in - I don't need to tune in to see child tantrums, random conversations and humorous visits to the supermarket. Most of those experiences aren't Emmy-worthy and they don't come with a soundtrack, but they're just right for me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

But Would it Keep LeBron in Cleveland?

There's been quite a buzz in the news that a group of Chinese investors are in serious talks to acquire a large ownership share of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Conventional logic says that the move is being made by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for two reasons, one of which is really embedded within the other. First, the leader of the Chinese group, Kenny Huang, is a guru when it comes to brokering sponsorship deals connecting American sports franchises with Chinese companies with the blessing of the Chinese government. He's remarkably connected (e.g. he's probably more corrupt than most Chicago politicians). In any case, the massive consumer base with increasing potential is a tremendous untapped market.

The second reason is that Gilbert needs to desperately keep LeBron James with the team after his current contract expires after 2010. LeBron, besides being arguably the best player in the league, is a businessman who knows that it's important to raise his global profile. If Gilbert feels that Kenny Huang and his Chinese counterparts can provide that to LeBron, it only increases his ability to convince LeBron to stay.

It might work. In this increasingly connected world where streaming video over the Internet is becoming the common means of viewing sports and anyone who has a computer can view almost anything, it's not certain that LeBron is going to get any more exposure being, let's say, a New York Knick, any more than he would be than being in Cleveland. His games will be broadcast regardless of who he plays for, because he's that good. I don't think his global appeal is going to be affected by where he chooses to play in the NBA.

But if he ever wants to be celebrated within New York City, that's something that he'd have to come here to do. I get the sense if you asked people like Derek Jeter, Joe Namath, and Mark Messier - they'd say that there's something special about winning on the largest stage and being celebrated by a city that fancies itself as the capital of the world.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Agony of Defeat in Sports Management

Interesting article last week in the New York Times about the recession hitting those who dream of a career in sports management. An area which traditionally has taken advantage of people willing to work for peanuts in exchange for the privilege of working near the glow of famous athletes is tightening the belt even tighter, as the supply of experienced GM-wannabes dwarfs dwindling open positions as money spent on sports shrinks.

As I had written in a previous post, I had once dreamed about a career in sports management myself, until reality set in. The truth is that there are so precious few slots available to be the next Pat Gillick, Theo Epstein, Rod Thorn or Lou Lamoriello. If you want to be a GM, you need to have a combination of expertise in scouting, contract law, and finance to navigate through the collective bargaining and salary cap labyrinths. Winning your fantasy football league (as I have done) doesn't mean that you qualify for that position. And the vast majority of positions are far less glorious, and usually involve grunt work and menial analyst-like paper-pushing. Think of it as an entry level job at a bank, except at 75% less pay - I only know this because many years ago, a friend of mine bought me a gag gift of a one-month subscription at at sports job recruiting website.

But I do admire those who hold steadfast to their dreams of a job in sports. If you're willing to accept the downside risk, why not go for it?