Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our Hearts to Follow Our Voices

I remember that during my early college days, one of the music leaders from InterVarsity Christian fellowship prefaced the singing of "Shine, Jesus, Shine" by sharing about how this song had become particularly meaningful to him over the summer, and he admonished us not to sing the song if we really didn't mean it.

That experience made me think, "Is that the standard that we ought to hold? Is that a good examples of how we should exhort others?" And for a while, it shaped my perspective around how I should approach worship (which I think was healthy) and how I felt others should approach worship (which I think ended up being unhealthy). Let me explain.

I think it was fine for my to examine myself and challenge myself to "own" the words that I was singing. I think what was unhelpful was to use it as tool of judgment. This mindset turned me into the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, who would disdainfully judge the unworthiness of my younger brother. I would have friends on the periphery of the faith who would come to fellowship and really get into praise and worship, belting out lyrics while raising their hands and instead of celebrating that I saw glimpses of them encountering Jesus in a real way, I was overly caught up in the misalignment of their singing of praise and worship and other parts of their lives. It turned me into the Pharisee which stewed while Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors.

This comes to mind when people are singing all over the country are singing Christmas Carols. If you take a look at many of the lyrics in these traditional songs, they're no joke - they speak explicitly and reverently about the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And because of the tradition of the holiday, those with little or no inclination towards Jesus are singing these songs - even harmonizing if they have some vocal skills. So if you're a person of devout faith, you can either be frustrated of the seeming incongruity of them singing songs which declare and celebrate the coming of the Lord; or you can hope that something this Christmas season causes them to pause and think when they sing of the the "Newborn King" along the lines of "Newborn King... King of what? Who is Jesus and why did he come, and why should I care?"

Our singing isn't to be treated like communion in the PCA, where you are calling judgment upon yourself if you partake without believing. For the believer and the non-believer alike, the things that we sing are always going to be a little misaligned with the reality of our being at the moment. Even for the devout Christian, we don't sing with complete sincerity our praise due to our own sin and fallenness - the lyrics are aspirational to some degree, with a implied prayer that God would mold our hearts to meet the very lofty words that we sing. Christians can pray the same prayer for their friends and neighbors who will be belting out Christmas carols this season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Living the (Real) Dream

The question is often asked: What's your dream job? The answer, of course, changes over time as your tastes get refined and you become more and more familiar with the downsides of jobs you once thought of as being blissful. And then one day, you wake up and may find yourself perfectly content in your present state in a job which looks nothing like the "dream job" answers you gave when you were young. This dawned upon me as I read about the interesting story about Keith Fitzhugh, a former college football standout and NFL hopeful to recently turned down a practice squad roster spot on the New York Jets to keep his job as a conductor, citing family considerations, notably his ailing father.

Fitzhugh has deservedly gotten plaudits from many members of the media, but I think what's most admirable is that he doesn't portray his situation with any tinge of bitterness or resignation. He's not a train engineer because life stinks, and he has to accept it. He legitimately likes the craft and gets his engine revved up for the prospect of being an engineer. In many ways, he's living the real dream - a job which he likes with reasonable job security, and a chance to closely support the people that he loves.

So if push comes to shove, what's the most important thing in our lives? If we would say that we'd like to be able to spend a reasonable amount of time with our family, have a life outside of work, not living in material need, while having a stimulating job working with decent people which helps provide the aforementioned things, it's possible that many of us are in the vicinity of living the dream. Heck, Andy Pettitte doesn't see his family seven months of the year (hence the retirement talk) and Derek Jeter despises the co-worker who plays to his right. Scratch under the veneer of the typical "dream jobs" (Hollywood star, professional athlete, government leader, world traveller), and you'll find that there are always downsides.

Maybe we can all learn a little from Keith Fitzhugh around a healthy perspective around what's really important. If we did that, we might find ourselves a little more grateful and content around the current work of our hands than we are.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sympathy for the Fraudster

I had written a post more than a year ago when Bernie Madoff went from being an obscure wealth manager to a notorious swindler whose pyramid scheme ruined scores of lives, decimating retirement accounts and lifetime savings of victims. When it was revealed that the charade had done little but provide Madoff a lifetime of opulent living and had bilked his victims out of their money, there was understandable rage towards a man who had lived on the hog at the expense of others.

The constant refrain when Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison - essentially a life sentence for the 72-year old man - the constant refrain was that the penalty wasn't enough. How could life in a minimum security prison possibly serve as restitution for the lives that he had shattered, forcing hopeful retirees back to the workforce or to live with relatives, even driving one man to commit suicide upon realizing that his entire life savings had been wiped out.

Somehow, this past weekend's news about the suicide of his son, Mark, has somewhat quieted those voices, and fairly so. Insomuch that it's true that there is no greater punishment to see your loved ones suffer, I'm not sure if there's anything worse than to know that your own son's blood is on your hands - that your misdeeds have marginalized, shamed and terrified your son to the point that he would hang himself with a dog leash with your 2-year old grandson sleeping in the room next door. Even the most embittered and vindictive victim of the Ponzi scheme would find no satisfaction in such punishment. In fact, most have spoken up lamenting Mark's suicide, noting that while it doesn't at all bring back the funds squandered, it simply adds more victims to the crime, such as a son who will now grow up without a father. In the loneliness of his jail cell, what can Bernie Madoff be thinking besides: It wasn't worth it. Of if I could only take it all back.

I can't help but see a deeper message here about the toxicity of sin. Whether it's a massive Ponzi scheme or my own pride - there's something about sin that tends to aggressively take out more and more victims beyond what the eye can see or the mind can conceive. The short-term gratification is exactly that - short-term, and the negative ramifications tend to linger and spread in unexpected places. And like Bernie Madoff, our own misdeeds probably beg the rhetorical question in retrospect: was it worth it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Falling off the Cliff

Big news rocked the baseball world Tuesday morning around the word that free agent pitching ace Cliff Lee would spurn larger contract offers from both the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees to return to the Philadelphia Phillies, the team which he helped lead to a National League pennant in 2009. While I root for the Phillies, my allegiance is ultimately to the Yankees, so I have to admit that this left me with some mixed feelings. Here are some of my thoughts:
  • Yes, Cliff Lee is still going to make a lot of money ($120 million over five years), but the fact that he left up to $28 million on the table to return to the Phillies is amazing. $28 million is still $28 million (an amount which most us will never see in our lifetimes). The thought only six years ago that someone would take less money to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies would have been inconceivable. Whatever happened to reputation of those "horrible" fans?
  • Apparently, Cliff Lee and his wife really loved Philadelphia, and Cliff felt that his time as a Phillie was the happiest he's ever been as a baseball player (maybe he liked the cheesteaks, too). There's a lot to be said about liking your co-workers. I recently had a conversation with my boss (who I like) where we agreed that given the choice between a crappy job working with good people and a great job working with jerks, you'd take the former all the time. Cliff Lee's playing with guys who he likes and a manager he likes - oh, and he still gets $120 million.
  • That Phillies rotation is pretty scary. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels present a ridiculous starting four where the fourth starter is a World Series MVP. Heck, if they keep Joe Blanton as a fifth starter, you now have a fifth starter who used to be the ace of the Oakland A's three years ago.
  • I have to wonder if there's going to be any jealousy from Roy Halladay. As good as Lee is, Halladay will probably still take his place as the ace of the staff, and the Phillies held the line on a three year, $60 million contract extension for Halladay last year. For Lee, they made an exception and broke the bank. Sure, Halladay isn't exactly sweating the welfare rolls with his $60 million, but wouldn't there be any jealousy (see Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez)? Apparently not, according to some sources.
  • It's a great signing, but wasn't everyone crowning the Phillies the World Series champions last year before they fell to the San Francisco Giants? And doesn't everyone remember the killer Braves rotation of the 1990's with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery/Denny Neagle, which won only one World Series as opposed to the predicted dynasty? Those "unbeatable" rotations were taken out by my Yankees (twice) and by less heralded rotations led by Kevin Brown, Sterling Hitchcock and Andy Ashby (Padres). There's no guarantee.
  • As for my Yankees, I'm oddly not too bothered. For one, I'm not convinced that Lee will live up to his contract, thinking that $150 million is a lot to pay for a non-power pitcher. If Lee is somewhere between Andy Pettitte and Tom Glavine, that's impressive, but I'm not sure I'd put him in the Top Five over the next five years.
  • As I wrote in a previous post, there's something "just" about the Yankees losing out on Cliff Lee. I had written that in light of the abuse that a handful of obnoxious Yankees fans heaped on Cliff Lee's wife, part of me hoped that Lee would stick it to the Yankee fans by proverbially spitting back at them.
  • But yes, the Yankees are pretty much screwed next year. With the Red Sox getting Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and the Yankees countering with a signing a formerly non-tendered Russell Martin, let's just say the rivalry momentum has turned in a big way. The reality is that unless Phil Hughes becomes vintage Josh Beckett (possible), A.J. Burnett goes back to at least 2009 form (hopeful) and Ivan Nova turns into Ubaldo Jiminez (highly improbable), the rotation is going to be the third best in the division.
  • But it's even worse to be a Mets fan. Let's see, the Phillies, which have completely dominated this "rivalry" in the past three years, just signed the best free agent pitcher to set up a historically good rotation. The Mets, on the other hand, were unable to re-sign long-reliever and spot starter Hisanori Takahashi. They did however get some good news when their closer pleaded out an assault charge.
So go Phillies. I hope that your historically good rotation fares better than the Braves of the mid-90's. Unless you're playing the Yankees, of course.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

With Friends Like These...

I can't help but find it interesting that the knee-jerk reaction from a political party which just got their clocks cleaned in the latest election is to entrench towards the most radical elements and fire their guns at the President who is not only the leader of their party but also their most important ally. I lean towards to the right politically, but I'm not sure how this makes any sense if you're a progressive who wants to advance your agenda.

The latest example of this is rumblings from the left wing is that they'll mount a primary challenge to an Obama presidential reelection campaign in 2012. How is this going to help a President who is desperately trying to hold a fragile coalition together of moderates from both parties to accomplish as much as he possibly can to address current economic and diplomatic crises? Weakening their own candidate will do nothing but increase the chances that a Republican candidate (which they'd despise far more than Obama) would win. Do they seriously think that somebody like Russ Feingold or Howard Dean would even be competitive in a national election? Or is it more likely that this is posturing to force Obama to put the priority back on progressive pet issues ("Get us a single payer system goshdarnit!") which decimated their party in the past election in the first place? How is this helping your cause at all?

I suppose it cuts to the hearts of the political inner-conflict. Is it better to compromise on your principles and win or to stand firmly on your principles and lose? Of course, the question comes down to determining which parts of your platform are non-negotiable and which are nice to have. The farther you go out to the ends of the pole, the more non-negotiables there tend to be, and in conjunction with the plethora of non-negotiables on the other side of the political fence, you inevitably have gridlock in the government.

Despite my conservative leanings, there's actually a lot that I like about President Obama. I may disagree with him on a number of positions, but I respect that he's making an effort to govern from the center. If progressives are correct that the Republicans are evil nihilists who are hell bent on stalling the government while holding the country hostage as part of a singularly focused conspiracy to make sure that Obama loses in 2012, how does essentially doing the same thing to him on the left solve the problem? Take the tax deal brokered by the President and Republican leaders, for example. If the Democrats undercut the President and drive the country towards an impasse leading to tax hikes for everybody, it further adds fuel to the fire that President Obama is an ineffective leader and should be replaced ("Heck, he can't even govern his own party!" the pundits will crow.)

There's plenty of guilt on both sides of the aisle here. Even if basic game theory doesn't convince the Democrats to get behind their President, I hope that the desire to do what's best to the country will. Yes, they might be frustrated by the perception or reality of Republican intransigence - but their own intransigence will do nothing to advance their cause.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In College Football, Winning’s Not Everything, It's the Only Thing

University of Miami head football coach Randy Shannon was fired after another sub-par year for the Hurricanes, a once proud program which has never quite recaptured the mojo from the days of Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis (sort of). What I thought was telling is the common theme that resonated in almost every news article about the firing, namely that Shannon brought a once scandal-ridden program back to respectability, he instilled discipline and academic accountability leading to a team which played by the rules, didn’t get in trouble, with much improved graduation rates. Despite this, he was canned.

I’m not naïve, and I realize that you can’t ignore mediocrity on the field. The University of Miami still believes that given its history, attractive campus and location in the heart of fantastic football recruiting grounds, they can still command national (or at least ACC) championship contending teams, despite not having the resources of a public university. 7-5 won’t get you’re the big bowl payouts and it doesn’t get you the publicity that you need to boost recruiting and raise the profile of the school.

It bothers me less that Shannon got fired that other coaches seem to have their horrible records off the field overlooked. I get that winning’s critical, but aren’t school administrations and athletic departments going to give more than a token weight towards the conduct and graduation rates of student-athletes? Too often it seems like winning covers a multitude of sins, and who can blame coaches for responding in kind to behave in a way which served their best interests? For all the talk from university presidents that "all of these factors matter", their actions seem to indicate otherwise. Lose and you get fired without question. Have pitiful graduation rates and half your team arrested for sexual assault leads to the follow-up question of "But you did win the conference championship in the past three years, right?" Aren't college coaches sadly but understandably going to conform to this incentive model?

Or put another way, unless Randy Shannon has tremendous character (and it seems that he does), why wouldn’t he be tempted to essentially say, “Okay, not going to make that same mistake again. Next time I get a head coaching gig, I’m going to deprioritize character, disciple and academics. We’re going to bring in the best football players notwithstanding character issues and focus on football instead. Forget about making them go to classes (or better yet, we’ll just hire a tutor to do their work for them), because we don’t want them to be distracted from what’s really important. Get arrested? We’ll sit you for the opening drive – but we have a championship to win.

Yes, I know that it’s supposedly a false choice, and that a handful of coaches have been able to win and have held the players accountable to succeed in the classroom and off the field. But they just don't make 'em like John Wooden anymore.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

To Be Sheep Among Wolves

A good friend and mentor of mine, the Urban Christian, recently posted on his blog a reasonable challenge for Christians for us to revisit prejudices that often are held around those with devout faith entering fields which have been traditionally difficult for Christians to navigate a good intersection of faith and work, such as entertainment, the arts, politics and investment banking. He correctly cites the importance of Christians having a “leavening effect” upon those who are in those areas, noting that abandoning those fields without sending and supporting those who might bring the gospel. Indeed, the gospel must be brought to the ends of the earth, and to those vocational areas in which salt and light are scarce.

I largely agree, but I think there’s a balance that needs to be made here. When I was an undergraduate at Wharton, I saw with alarming frequency devout Christians from campus fellowships who with more than a little arrogance believed that they were going to be the one person (who despite the failures of those before them) didn’t compromise their faith – that they would evangelize the trading desk at Goldman, would boldly prophesy against the idols of greed, debauchery and gluttony. At least that was the said ambition. But that's what rarely happened.

Time and time again, the entry-level grunt would fold like a wet suit under the intimidating gaze of a managing director or SVP within a year. Maybe it started the first week when he was asked to work on a Sunday (well, I can always download an online sermon, right?), or asked about religious nut-jobs (gosh, I don’t want to lumped into those people, maybe I’d better keep quiet). Then separated from fellowship and accountability, said fellow comforms to their workplace culture of workaholism and pride, eventually stops identifying himself or herself as a Christian altogether while looking disdainfully back at that “devout” time in college as a naïve and idealistic phase.

Of course this isn’t the case with everyone who enters these “difficult” fields. But in my experience there are far more people who tend to want to minimize the dangers of walking as a sheep among wolves in these fields, as opposed to people who are truly being called by God who need to be prodded. Or put another way:

1) By our sin nature, we are naturally inclined to conform to this world.
2) The people who are gifted in these fields, regardless of spiritual state, tend to be driven and achievement-oriented and ambitious.
3) Given this achievement-oriented nature of Christians who are gifted in these fields, they are more likely to err on the side of “rashly going for it, because I want it all" as opposed to “over cautiousness” These are the ambitious-types, after all.

For the past ten years when I’ve counseled college students who are seeking business careers, and when asked about the challenges of being a Christian in particularly “difficult” business fields, I tell them the following:

1) There are people who God has gifted to be evangelists in these areas who are particularly gifted to be bold about their faith without fear of the disapproval of man, proclaiming the gospel though actions and words while not compromising or conforming those the often idolatrous and fallen culture in that field. They can interact freely and comfortably with people who are inclined to ridicule and hate Christians and still speak naturally about the work of Jesus in their lives in a way which resonates with others.
2) You need to be brutally honest with yourself and seek from Christians who know you well because there’s a good chance that you are not one of those people. I can appreciate that you hope you are and you wish you are. But that may not be you.
3) If you think that you are the exceptional person who can stand strong without compromise, read point #2 really carefully again.

Coining the phrase of my friend, I agree that Christians shouldn't "look down upon" these professions at all - we should support those and pray for those in these fields. However, we need to call a spade and spade and recognize that rationalization is often rampant (though not universal) in those Christians who wish to go into these fields and that the lives that are often most changed are those the well-meaning Christian - for the worse. I think have credibility when I say this because it's possible I've been (to a degree) guilty on both counts. But as yet another testament to God's overwhelming grace - yes, I've been blessed see God's redeeming in work with co-workers firsthand, notwithstanding my shortcomings.

But lest this seem like a downer, I certainly wouldn't advocate analysis paralysis around "calling" (this is another topic altogether, go read Charlie Drew's book on calling if you'd like). While I call for brutal honesty when discerning a vocation, I think the bigger imperative is for Christians in the workplace to consciously and deliberately "have a leavening effect" on their office and their field., regardless of whatever field that is. The individual challenge to each of us is this: If you're not praying specifically about this and can't articulate a strategy around this, maybe you should start. You may say that you want integration of your faith and your work, but your actions say otherwise.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Conditional Praise

In a recent game between the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Steve Johnson flubbed an easy catch in overtime which would have given the Bills a stunning upset win against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers. What ended up getting the most press was his reaction after the game.

Making game-costing mistakes happens all the time in sports. Usually, sports reporters will get trite sound bites from regretful athletes along the lines of “I just didn’t make the plays I needed to” or “I take responsibility for this loss” or “I didn’t do my job and it cost my team.” What was unique and newsworthy about Johnson’s reaction is that he went to his Twitter account and blamed God:


The rant was interesting on a number of levels. I appreciated the candor and honesty of Johnson’s tweet, because I think it says a great deal about the misunderstanding of God’s work in the midst of athletic competitions and more importantly, the propensity that all Christians (including myself) have to subconsciously expect some correlation between our devotion and “success” as defined by the world.

Tackling (no pun intended) the first point, I find it interesting when athletes give glory to Jesus Christ after sports victories when talking to sideline reporters. This is, for the most part, all well and good. We should absolutely give glory and thanks to God and recognize that He is the source of our gifts, talents and opportunities. However, what never happens (or at least I’ve never seen it) is giving thanks to God in the midst of a tough loss. For example, I’ve never seen a boxer say after losing by split decision, “First of all, I’d like to thank God for giving me the strength to be a contender in the IBF. Even though I lost a tough fight, Jesus kept me and (opponent) Dedrick Tatum more or less healthy after a 15 round fight and I’m still as strong as a bull. See y’all at the evening service.” God equips and God enables, and for that we should give thanks - period. The results - whether it’s an outcome of a competitive event or admittance into a program or job opportunity - are things that with faith we can look and trust in His sovereign grace - but we should never assume that worldly 'success' is what will inevitably happen.

The related second point is that Steve Johnson makes the telling, but honest, connection between his praise of and devotion to God and the results of the game. This is painfully evident in the "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!"

Lest we pile on Steve, I need to say that Christians do this all the time. I do this all the time. It just tends to be subconscious and manifests itself into bitterness as opposed to angry tweets.

I remember that I had started business school in the fall of 1999 and was going through a rough patch, when I heard the single most impactful Tim Keller sermon during my time at Redeemer. Reverend Keller said something along these lines:
You can be completely obedient yet profoundly rebellious in your relationship with God. How? We do this when our obedience leads to a sense of entitlement where our natural tendency is to question why God hasn’t given us the relationship, job or life circumstances that we think we deserve in light of our spiritual obedience and service. You’re not in a loving relationship with God; you’ve put yourself on the throne and have made God someone who you can manipulate into giving you what you want. How will you know if you have this sort of relationship with God? You're bitter and resentful of your circumstances.
That sermon hit me like a ton of bricks. And that’s why I sympathize with Johnson’s tweet with more empathy as opposed to harsh judgment. But yes, Steve, just as you tweeted, you actually will learn from this, just in the way that I have learned from my own difficult seasons in life – not the least of the lessons is that God’s faithfulness doesn’t mean we’re immune from us making mistakes at inopportune times, but it does mean His grace is sufficient to carry us through the aftermath of those mistakes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Real Consequences for Boorish Fans

I've written in the past about terrible fan behavior at ballgames, but a recent story about an 8-year old kid who got roughed up by a disgruntled (and drunk) Cleveland Browns fan really underscores how bad the situation has become. Apparently, after the Browns lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the New York Jets in Cleveland, a kid wearing a Jets jersey (his father was born in New York) was physically tackled by a drunk fan in the parking lot, after fleeing the stadium when food and profanity rained down after the Jets winning touchdown.

I'm not picking on Cleveland, because I know that boorish fans exist all over the place. What I find stupid are comments along the lines of: "Well, if people wear opposing jerseys to a sporting event, they're asking for trouble."

No they're not. Have we really become a society where people are conceding their physical safety by going to an sporting event wearing the opposing team's paraphernalia? I'm not talking about Red Sox fans chanting "2004!" to Yankee fans or Giants fans chanting "18-1!" to Patriots fans. I'll even grudgingly accept some harsh language (although I think people need to use discretion especially with children) - though "Romo is a homo" and "Suck my d*ck Tom Brady" aren't just unnecessary - they aren't at all creative or funny. But is physical harm ever acceptable in these cases? If my legal understanding of "assault" and/or "battery" are correct, I don't think they should be.

And for crying out loud, we really need to revisit the alcohol service at these sporting events. Yes, I know that they're big moneymakers for the stadiums and teams, but isn't it painfully obvious that we need more meaningful policing of excessive drinking leading to unacceptable behavior of fans? I'm not saying that we should eliminate alcohol sales, but it doesn't take a mass breathalyzer to realize that sitting in stadium full of people, there are a whole lots of people who are drinking who shouldn't have had that last drink... or the one before that.

Sports teams need to put real teeth into penalizing bad behavior, such as canceling the PSL's or season tickets of fans of bad behaviors, regardless of whether the season-ticket holder was involved. Do you think you'd be careful about who you sold your tickets to if you're PSL was at stake? How about banning people to local sporting events for a period of 12 to 24 months?

Perhaps the greatest consequence that will resonate with fans is losing player and free agents who are completely turned off by their boorish behavior. That's why part of me, despite my Yankee fan leanings, wants to see Cliff Lee accept less money and stay with Texas while spurning the Yankees, and say during his press conference, "To be honest, I was pretty excited about the prospect of being a Yankee until a couple of fans harassed and spit on my wife." Maybe that would lead to some self-policing and better behavior.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Only $45M? Derek Jeter's Got Minka Kelly to Feed

As a Yankees fan, I need to weigh in on the Derek Jeter free agency controversy. How much should the Yankees offer to the iconic shortstop and captain, who has been nothing but professional in his actions on and off the field, and has been a clutch performer in the regular seasons since coming up in 1996, winning five World Series championships in the3 process.

I like Jeter. I like him a lot. I'm grateful for his contributions in turning a franchise which had lost his way into perennial contenders. But I cannot and will not respect him squeezing the Yankees front office for every last penny given (1) he's clearly not the same player he was in his prime, (2) he's coming off his worst season and (3) it's fair to say that he's underperformed his just expired $21 million / year contract the last couple of years.

According to a number of sports news sources, the Yankees are willing to pay a generous premium for "intangibles" and for past goodwill to the tune of $21 millions dollars a year for three years, which I think is at least twice as much as he's worth as a ballplayer. What slightly irritates me is word that Jeter is unhappy about the thought of a pay-cut and wants at least a four year deal for around the same per season money. That's ludicrous.

Are you kidding me? From a baseball perspective, $21 million per for three years is a gift. Does Jeter really have the nerve to be insulted or unhappy with this offer? In an sputtering job economy, is he really going to be so stupid as to turn this down? I'd be careful about how he positioned this if I were him, lest this become only slightly easier to swallow when former NBA malcontent (and coach choker) Latrell Sprewell infamously said upon receiving an "insulting" contract extension offer of 3 years / $30 million dollars, "I got my family to feed."

I resonate with the "hardliner" in the Yankees front office who said, "Tell him the deal is three years at $15 million a year, take it or leave it. Wait him out and he'll wind up taking it. Where's he gonna go, Cincinnati?" That's a fair deal, and the $21 million per year is a ridiculously generous deal.

And for Yankees fans who say, "The Yankees have plenty of money, just pay the man!" It's just not that simple. Yes, the Yankees are loaded, but the reality is that even that organization has a budget, especially when a luxury tax forces them to pay double for any payroll dollar over a certain threshold. Paying Jeter that additional $5 million means less flexibility to get, let's say, Chris Carpenter, Grady Sizemore or Mark Buehrle in a midseason trade. That additional year in 2014 might mean that you can't go out and get David Price or Tim Lincecum as a free agent.

The Yankees have all the leverage here. If they message this well and make it clear that they've made reasonable attempts to keep Jeter in New York, and he still thumbs his nose at $15 million a year, I can't see this ending up good for him if he ends his career in another uniform - especially if the Yankees win another World Series while his contract becomes an albatross on another team.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Your Fault I Lost My Temper

In a bizarre report from the Star-Ledger, a New Jersey woman has been accused ot purposely antagonizing drivers to tailgate her. What exactly is the crime? Being criminally annoying? Does that mean if I succumb to road rage and tailgate someone, I can file a report against the driver who drove ten miles below the speed limit in the fast line, citing that their bad driving caused me to succumb to criminal road rage? I find this somewhat disconcerting in how we assess blame when conflicts boil over into acts of anger.

I'm not necessarily saying that the accused is without fault. According to the article, Karen Born had filed 22 police reports and it's possible that she was a little nuts. What does concern me is that at face value, charging the lady with the crime is tantamount to my son Daniel hitting my preschool daughter Sophia and saying, "She made me mad," and then me punishing my daughter for antagonizing my son, while letting Daniel off scot-free.

Heck, it's not confined to kids. When adults fight (not that my wife and I ever fight, of course), don't we pull out the same lame excuse? "Why do you have so nasty about it?" "Because you're not listening to me!" And of course the more horrible version of it can be seen in domestic abuse or child abuse, when a husband beats a wife or child because "she was nagging me" or "the kid was driving me crazy". The whole phenomena is based upon the false premise that you are not responsible for your own actions. Or put another way, you can hold others accountable for "making you" do the wrong thing.

So in any conflict, I try to eliminate that construct from any argument or conflict that I'm either arbitrating or in the middle of. Take away all notions of, "You made me lose my temper" or "You made me do it." Nobody has the power to compel retribution, revenge or anger provided that there's due self-control. And certainly nobody compels physical violence. You also see this in the inner-city notion of "respect". When someone doesn't feel that they've been "disrespected", the seemingly acceptable way to deal with it is through violence instead of simply walking away. This has to change.

As difficult as it is to honor the biblical mandate to turn the other cheek, it's clear to me that the accountability around acting in anger lies in ourselves. The shifting of that accountability isn't just bad for the soul, it's potentially bad for society.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Legalized Most Dangerous Drug

A recent study from a British medical journal suggests that alcohol - not heroin, crack, speed, marijuana or cocaine - has the greatest potential harm to the individual and others. To me, the study cuts both ways - it shows the potential implications of legalizing other "harmless" drugs such as marijuana, but it also opens the good question of, "Gee, we seem awfully tolerant of a highly addictive drug that kills a heck of a lot of people physically, emotionally and financially." Yes, you can absolutely lump tobacco into this as well (more on this later).

On the first point, there's a vocal segment that argues for the legalization of marijuana, arguing that it's relatively non-addictive. Nobody will try to convince you that it has no impact upon someone's cognitive, motor and judgment skills - so the argument is "it's not any worse than alcohol, so legalize it." That leads to the question of, do you want to deal with the repercussions of many more innocent people being killed by drivers who are impaired by marijuana? If we all agree of the damage that alcohol does to people and families, do we want to replicate for yet another drug under the cop-out of, "People should it use this legally and responsibly, and it's just a shame when abuse ruins the lives of others."

On the second point, I do also agree that the tobacco and alcohol exception from the controlled substance designation can seem arbitrary. I'll share some words from comedian Chris Rock, from an excerpt from his book, Rock This!:
People say we should just legalize drugs and deal with it.

Let me clue you in.

The only reason drugs aren't legal is because white guys didn't think of making cocaine first. If drugs were made in America by white guys, they would have been legal twnety years ago-when we could have enjoyed them.

Should we legalize drugs? I don't know. Imagine America a year after drugs are cool. There'd be drug sales everywhere. You could buy them at Macy's or Price Club or Pathmark-just like alcohol, tobacco and gum. The Macy's TV ad would be "This week Macy's got crack! You think JC Penney's got crack? We got crack! And with every $35 purchase of Estee Lauder products, a dime bag of crack in its own designer vial, suitable for reuse again and again."
The opinions expressed in these paragraphs above are solely those of Chris Rock and not necessarily shared by the Suburban Family Guy - though he does find them really funny.

In one of his stand up routines, Chris Rock expounds upon the first paragraph around the "white-owned" alcohol and tobacco industries, pointing out it's inexplicably placed on a different category as the other drugs despite the fact that it's likely that "one of us will drive home from this concert and get killed by someone impaired by alcohol." I have to admit, his words are not only hilarious, but it sort of makes you think. The question is, why is the answer to default to the least common denominator of legalizing all drugs?

I'm not arguing for a return to early 20th century prohibition per se, but I'm seeing some blurry lines behind the things we tolerate in society and the things that we apparently don't. And I think we all agree that there's clearly a negative impact which is bad for many and deadly for some.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Trails to the Walkman

After thirty years of distinguished service, Sony is retiring the Walkman personal cassette player which a staple of teens and young adults of recent generations. As a lover of electronics, the Walkman has always held a special part in my heart, and I can reflect fondly of the past Walkmen that I've had, as well as the non-Sony imitations which have come and gone.

I still remember my other brother and I were hoping to get one of these things in the early 80's. At that time, we were relegated to listening to cassettes of taped-off-the-radio music in a boom box, and we hoped to bring something a little less bulky to listen in the back seat during long car rides. Besides, my parents were probably not particularly fond of having to hear Air Supply, Men at Work, Kenny Rogers, the Go-Go's and Michael Jackson blaring from the back of the car.

The first portable device was a Taiwanese knockoff device that our cousin and aunt gave to us. It was white with blue trim, and broke within a month. We then proceeded to buy a bulky (about the size of a VHS cassette), but still somewhat portable model from General Electric, which you could only fast-forward but not reverse. That device had some staying power, but still obviously stunk. I think it was only until I was in sixth grade (in the mid-80's) before I went to CTY that I was finally permitted to splurge and get the real thing, and while my heart was set on getting the gold standard metal cased "cassette-box"-sized Walkman which cost about $100, I settled for a $60 version which was a little bulky which had two groundbreaking features: (1) MegaBass and (2) the ability to manually configure three preset radio stations which could be changed with three mini-radial tuners in the inside cover.

While this was one of only two "authentic" (Sony-branded) Walkmen that I owned, the portable radio/cassette player has been something that has played a big part of my life, being something that I would constantly carry with me during walks and as I fell asleep. The device, for better or worse, had an impact on our culture as it eschewed "community listening" in favor of "listen to whatever you want as an individual". I can recall certain songs played on my Walkman in solitude during different seasons (good and bad) in my life. And even today, the Walkman still comes in handy for late night sports games, when I really should get some sleep, but I can't resist knowing how my team is doing.

It's likely that someday we might be making the same eulogy for the iPod, and people will similarly reflect upon how that device was that odd companion which made music accessible and personal at random times in one's life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Raising Kids to Be Good Spouses

A recent article on caught my eye, addressing the impact that mothers having on their sons growing up to become good husbands. Naturally, I think that there's a profound impact that both parents have upon both genders of children; I'd even argue that the "same gender" parent has a more direct impact, because of the likelihood that the child will mimic behavior that the parent sees, or more specifically, a daughter can't help but imitate mom's actions and behaviors towards dad, and a son can't help but imitate dad's actions and behaviors towards mom.

Dad: Tell me! Who taught you to do this stuff?
Kid: You, all right? I learned it from watching you.
Serious-sounding off-screen narrator: Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.
The truth of the matter is that if I need to consciously think about the example I'm setting for my son, I'm already in trouble. Ideally, I should model good husband character and behavior first and foremost because it's the right and honorable thing to do. The fact that it provides a good example is a inevitable side benefit. I hope that my relationship with my wife is overwhelmingly loving, selfless, giving, compassionate, supportive, sympathetic, humble, patient and my wife sees that in spade. That my son notices and may imitate in the future would be great.

Of course, the negative is a double-whammy. My failures as a husband will get noticed, and I can only hope that for those failures my son will acknowledge his father's failures, forgive him for them, and not emulate those traits in his own marriage.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Pilgrimage Down Amnesia Lane Redux

A few Sundays ago, our family went back to Emmanuel Presbyterian Church to celebrate the church's tenth anniversary. As a former launch team member and Ruling Elder at Emmanuel, I was given the honor of sharing about my nine-years worth of experience at the church, going back to 2000 when we started visioning for a church plant in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in New York City.

It was a great celebration and a great time to catch up, albeit briefly, with a lot of old church friends. In addition to talks given at the service, a number of talks were given after the service by other former members while we feasted on lunch and cake. Music, which had been commissioned for the occasion, was performed, and we watched in reflection as videos commemorated the many events, people and milestones which marked Emmanuel's evolution and growth as a church.

We were predictably greeted with a lot a warmth, as well as many "Look how big Daniel and Sophia are!"-type comments towards our kids. Given the number of people who we saw (and still know) and limited time, there wasn't much time beyond more than "life is good but busy, kids are exhausting but wonderful" sound bites. Sarah was bawling for much of the service, getting caught in the emotion of returning to a church, pastors and friends which meant so much to her and her family.

I was a little more even-keeled about it. It's not as if I love EPC any less or didn't relish the long time we spent there. Maybe I've (hopefully not coldly) come to grips that our faith journey often involves moving from different communities which love us and shape us. But God has always been faithful in terms of bringing great friends and brothers and sisters - even if those relationships look different. This dawned upon me while I was at a fundraising banquet for First Choice, an unplanned pregnancy ministry. The table that Sarah and I "hosted" was filled with our friends from Montclair Redeemer, our current church home. I'm grateful that I don't have to choose between or compare friends - all are special, and all will be particularly prominent during a particular season of life.

In any case, here's what I shared that Sunday. I reprint not because this has the inspiration of a Winston Churchill or spiritual power of a Jonathan Edwards speech, but because given the themes which I believe are common with many great church experiences, it'll be a nice reminder to me (or anyone) else of how God is faithful to His church - and how He is the foundation of "great church experiences". Here it is:
More than ten years ago, about a dozen people gathered in Cynthia Lyman’s apartment just down the street and thought, what are the possibilities? The vision at the time was to plant a church in Morningside Heights that would strategically position us to reach out to the university population a stone’s throw away, the yuppie population to the south, and the under-represented minority population to the north.
We would have high-energy worship, we would be community and neighborhood focused, we would have gospel-centered biblical preaching which would be relevant to a post-modern culture and satisfy both the soul and the mind. We’d be a congregation small enough where people could know each other on a first name basis and we’d have deep enough relationships where we could “do life” together and go below the surface in encouraging, admonishing and loving one another.
The handful of people who were on that Launch Team all believed in this vision. And when I wasn’t distracted checking out the cute Korean chick who would eventually become my wife, I would relish in the anticipation and excitement of serving in a ministry which was passionate about Scripture, reaching those who needed to hear the Good News, and bringing Jesus’ lordship over all things in people’s lives.
What I didn’t expect is just how much I would be blessed being a congregant at this same church, having the opportunity to be sharpened by those same sermons, living in community with those same people, and being challenged by the words and examples of my pastors and fellow congregants.
During my time at Emmanuel, I got married and I had kids, two of the most wonderful but sometimes traumatizing times of transition times in someone’s life. I only exaggerate a little when I say that Emmanuel was instrumental in keeping both my sanity and my wife’s sanity intact. If you were here at Emmanuel while I was here, believe me when I tell you that even if we never had a sit-down serious conversation about marriage, kids, work or life, you have influenced my perspective in these areas. Most of those are in the arena of “that’s something I really should do” as opposed to “Wow, that’s just awful”
But in seriousness, I learned a great deal because we talked openly about these things and our pastors and elders made the effort to teach us what the Word had to say about these things. We talked about body image, we talked about homosexuality, we talked about fear of failure, we talked about politics in the Church, we talked about uncontrollable kids, we talked the insatiable hunger for status and money, we talked about pornography, we talked about being lonely in a city of 8 million people.
Here at Emmanuel, I learned that God’s grace really is sufficient and that God’s grace is amazing. At Emmanuel, there is no glory and no honor in false facades that “everything is fine” when they’re really not. I’ve never known a church which has lived out 2 Corinthians 12:9 as earnestly as Emmanuel, when the apostle Paul speaks of the Lord telling him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." And therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Here at Emmanuel, I deepened my understanding of servant leadership as modeled by our pastors, learning that people responded less to titles of authority but more to authentic and genuine sacrificial love. I renewed my love of service and shepherding others, not out of obligation or duty, but as an extension and joyful response of God’s love for me. I remembered that there are few things that bring greater joy than to make disciples and grow disciples of Christ.
As I stand here this morning, I know that I’m just one of the many stories at Emmanuel which can attest to God’s faithfulness to His people and to His church. There are three or four hundred other stories which could be shared about how this church was a place of healing, how this church a place for growth, how this church was a place where someone fell in love with Jesus for the first time, and how this church was a place where they rekindled their faith. As a congregation we have celebrated together: people coming to Christ, friends getting married, friends finding jobs after long layoffs, children being born, reconciled relationships. We have also mourned together in the midst of tragedy and loss: Brett Tabak, Yilo Cheng and Mark Ellis are just three of the people who I wish were sitting with us in these seats this morning..
I hope we all, especially those who are currently in this congregation, realize how blessed we are to have Charlie Drew and Scott Strickman as our pastors, men who love the Word and love their flock, who deftly combine wisdom, grace, humor and compassion. We should acknowledge the service of the Ruling Elders in the past ten years, notably Jim Ziglar who generously devotes so much of his time as the lone ruling elder currently on the Session. We should recognize the amazing work of the EMT members, past and present, who have injected mercy and justice into the DNA of the congregation. We are grateful for the patience and love of those who care for and teach our children each Sunday. We applaud those musicians who draw us and lead us regularly into praise and worship. As you can see by those who quietly arrive early and stay late to set up and break down the A/V equipment, chairs and communion materials, this church is filled with faithful servants. I am humbled by your example.
Recognizing all of what I just said, this church has not endured and thrived because the people inside its walls are perfect. Our church’s journey has not been without its bumps and missteps. The hard reality is that despite the abundant testimony of those here today who will speak of how sweet their Emmanuel experience was, I’m not so naïve as to not realize that there are people who left this church under some clouds, with even angry or bitter feelings that they were not loved or cared for as they needed to be. As a church, we have sometimes fallen short. I know that as a former member and a leader in this church, there are things that I wish I had done that I didn’t do, and there were things that I wish I did differently.
No, this church has not endured because of the perfection and good intentions of its leaders and members. This church has endured because Christ, the head of the church is faithful and has been faithful to His bride. Jesus our Emmanuel is the reason that Emmanuel Presbyterian Church has made such a difference in the lives of so many. We are all simply broken vessels along for the ride, and it’s been a great one for so many of us. As someone who had been here for nine years, we all have great seats in the house to see God at work.
As I close, I want to say to those of you who today are members at Emmanuel, thank you for your faithfulness in continuing the legacy that was started ten years ago.
If you’re sitting in the congregation as a current member and struggle at times, feeling discouraged about investing in relationships which seem to come and go as people migrate in and out of this great city, please know that your labor is not in vain – the movement just means that you’ve either touched a lot of lives coming from and going to all over the world; or that you have an opportunity to touch a lot of lives coming from and going to all over the world.
We are all sojourners here, and all of us, by the grace of God, have been both vessels and recipients of God’s transforming power in our lives at Emmanuel. We will always be connected by a common vision: To know Emmanuel and to advance his peace in our community. And the work that God has done here is worth celebrating and giving thanks for, and that is true today – and it will still be true many years from now when you, like me, have long since left this church.
I then proceeded to (multiple choice):

A) Hurl myself from the pulpit onto the cheering congregation and crowd surf.
B) Make a quick exit away from a furious congregation which gnashed their teeth as they ripped off their clothes and started to pick up stones.
C) Walk away to cheers, returning for an encore as people in the congregation held up cigarette lighters and cell phones and screamed "Stairway to Heaven! Stairway to Heaven!"
D) Meekly creep away as the crowd shouted, "You (stink)! Bring on Jinna Chung!"
E) Close in prayer.

It was E, though any of the other options would've made for a more interesting day. Even without that, I'd say it was a pretty special day nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Suburban Family Guy's Fantasy Football 2010-2011 Midseason Update

As we're about midway through the Fantasy Football regular season, it's time for the midseason update for the teams in leagues which I oversee as commissioner. I do, however, want to give a shout out to my team in my buddy-from-B-school's-brother's league, which knowing I wouldn't be able to manage actively, chose to turn into a novelty team:

Offensive Players
QB Alex Smith (SF - QB)
WR Roy Williams (Dal - WR)
WR Steve Smith (Car - WR)
WR Brad Smith (NYJ - WR)
RB Steven Jackson (StL - RB)
RB DeAngelo Williams (Car - RB)
TE Alex Smith (Cle - TE)
BN Troy Smith (SF - QB)
BN Steve Smith (NYG - WR)
BN Ricky Williams (Mia - RB)
K Mason Crosby (GB - K)
Defensive Players
D Derrick Johnson (KC - LB)
D Daryl Smith (Jac - LB)
DB Tramon Williams (GB - CB)
DB Alphonso Smith (Det - CB)
DL Justin Smith (SF - DE)
DL Mario Williams (Hou - DE)
BN Madieu Williams (Min - S)
BN Kyle Williams (Buf - DT)
BN Corey Williams (Det - DT)

I present to you Smith Williams LLP, a team full of players with common names, mostly Smith and Williams, though I had to throw in some Jacksons and Johnsons to fill out the roster - and there's no placekicker with a generic last name. What's amazing is my team is actually competitive and beat three teams which are being actively managed. Can you imagine how irritated those owners were to lose to a novelty team? In the alternate reality of this team, I'd love to see the head coach yell, "Hey Smith, get over here!" and have ten people turn around and ask, "Who me?"

Now to the league updates (not including this past weekend's action):

The Emmanuel Classic
The parity in this league is amazing, and there's clearly evidence that after a year under many of these team owners' belts, they are wiser and smarter. For one, people aren't making bonehead moves like trading away (cough) Tom Brady and Antonio Gates for nowhere close to value, ignoring the axiom to never deal a great player for two good ones, etc. Sure we have some guys that obviously don't care and aren't managing their teams, but as I told one manager irritated at their inactivity, "What do you want me to do? Nag them for not being a loser and wasting their time like the rest of us?" Here's where we stand:

1 Gigantor (Cummings) 6-1
Alan's put together a strong team this year, and has rattled off an important wins against the Rabid Hamsters, ANSKY, and Pablo only falling to Beginner's Luck? when key performers Matt Schaub, Miles Austin and Ricky Williams fell flat. He's since made some nice pickups, including Danny Woodhead He does have a big game coming up against yours truly, which will similarly be a "see how good we really are" game for the Sharks.

2 Wyld Stallyns (Fehringer) 6-1
Will, whose team motto is "BONVM LINGUAE PROPINQVVM LATINAE DICTVM", has only fell to the Beginner's Luck (hmm... do you see a pattern here?), while also scoring quality wins against ... almost everyone else except Gigantor. I'd have to say that Wyld Stallyns is in a good place, and his team might have steamrolled everyone else if Tom Brady was having a Tom Brady-type season, for which all hope disappeared when the Pats traded away Randy Moss. Without a superhuman Brady, WyldStallyns might be ripe to get picked off.

3 Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 5-2
I need to again point out that Rich Kwon is a man who knew pretty much nothing about football a year ago, yet rallied to make playoffs and ended up as the runner up in our league. I'm very impressed with his squad, and with a stud QB (Drew Brees) and the best TE in the league (Antonio Gates), Rich is my midseason pick to go all the way. Strangely, even though he dealt the only loss to the only two 1-loss teams in our league, he had dropped to straight decisions (Not gonna give out free marketing).com and MoonWater at the start of the season, before realizing that there's more important things than his new teaching job and cultivating his relationship with his then new girlfriend. Since that epiphany, he's been unstoppable. Look out league.

4 (Not gonna give out free marketing).com (Yeoh) 5-2
Chris is the first person to admit that he doesn't belong in this slot, given that he's hardly touched his team, apparently too busy with his kid. To be fair, three of his wins are against people who also aren't managing their teams. The other win was against Beginner's Luck (see above comment) and MoonWater (which I can't explain). Unless Chris decided to jump back in, his team is going to get exposed soon.

5 The Rabid Hamsters (Cheng) 4-3
I love how when Chin approaches you to make a deal, he'll point out how awful your team is and how you shouldn't just take him up on his gracious offer, but you should send him a check for his generosity. This is the intense competitor that you drives the animal within. If you're going to commit a crime in Brooklyn, just don't do it on his watch. Crime never sleeps, and neither than Chin. Anyway, back to Fantasy Football... good team, mediocre receivers, but given his obsession with making moves (60 thusfar) and attention to detail, he'll likely go deep into the playoffs.

6 Short Hills Sharks (Kuo) 4-3
Not going to spend a lot of time here. I like my team - on any given day I can beat anyone else in this league. I said "can", not "will".

7 ANSKY (Lee) 3-4
I gotta say that I think Phenom Phil has backslid a little from his impressive performance last year. I know like many other Yankees fans, he's a little down, but I haven't seen the masterful waiver wire pickups and shrewd trades that I saw more of last year. Don't get me wrong, ANSKY is still a dangerous team, I just thought he'd be scoring in Gigantor or Beginner's Luck? territory. Plus he needs to step up his YouTube clip highlighting.

8 Pablo (Huang) 3-4
Now that last year's champ Steve Lee isn't around to fleece our friend Paul, Pablo has positioned himself well to break his one year playoff drought. What's going to help is that while he's 3-4, he's had a heckuva lot of points scored against him by other good teams. In other words, the law of averages should help him. Plus, he has two games left to play against the Mosquitos and (Not going to give out free marketing).com

9 MoonWater (Lien) 3-4
Rob started off so strong, including a convincing win over Beginners Luck? scoring 174 points, but has since tailed off. He hasn't been helped by crippling injuries to Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Dallas Clark.

10 Dennis (Lee) 2-5
I hear that Dennis is very good softball player. Apparently that didn't transfer to his non-existent and unmotivated Fantasy Football skills

11 Mosquitos (Dombrowski) 1-6
I caught a tweet from Justin conceding that "He has no idea how to play Fantasy Football". I concede that he's correct.

12 Team Singletary (Lin) 0-7
We all congratulate Luke and Branda on their beautiful new place in Summit! How about those 49ers... oops, never mind.

The Redeemer Montclair Classic
The parity in this league isn't quite there, which is to be expected in a league's first year. People are learning how to play and the growing pains of "Oh crap, I probably shouldn't have dropped Tom Brady just because he had a 'bye'" or "Wait, you mean that you don' t get points credit for players that are sitting in the bench?" or "Hey, is it a problem that my defensive players are no longer in the NFL?" must come and go. That being said, I'm glad that people in my new home church are learning how to be awful stewards of their time.

1 Shark Fin Soup (Houng) 6-1
Abe's been wicked good, the only blemish so far being an opening week loss to yours truly. He's rebounded nicely from the season-ending injury to Jessica Simpson's ex-boyfriend by trading DE James Hall or Joe Flacco? Lopsided trade, you say? Yes, you and the rest of the universe agree - with the exception of the rest of the owners of this league, apparently. In any case, look for Abe to be in the hunt to the very end - especially if he next manages to convince Randy Lovelace to trade Reggie Wayne for "an excellent kicker".

2 Chatham Coasters 6-1
Ming's continues to burn up the waiver wire, with 50 moves so far this season. This isn't a backhanded compliment, but it's impressive that he's been able to make the most with a roster which isn't all the impressive. He has a very good QB in Philip Rivers who's the league leading point getter. Beyond that, Miles Austin just isn't that impressive without Jessica Simpson's ex-boyfriend, Pierre Thomas is banged up, and Joseph Addai splits carries. C'mon, Ming, in one of those 50 moves you couldn't find a hidden gem like Arian Foster or Hakeem Nicks?

3 Short Hills Sharks 5-1-1
With my slightly underachieving squad, I've got 'em right where I want 'em.

4 BLITZkrieg 4-3
This is impressive. Pastor Erik Swanson was in the running for most neglected team for while, and then suddenly made a slew of shrewd moves. He has a stinky, but high-point getting QB in Carson Palmer, two great RB's in Chris Johnson and Arian Foster, a great WR in Roddy White. However, he has suspect individual defensive players, which might be his Achilles' heel. Most importantly, my kids are learning about Jesus in Sunday School, and for that I am very grateful for Erik's efforts towards that end.

5 Haste The Day 3-4
Len has a deceptively dangerous team. Yes he's a game under .500, but this team is explosive, with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Turner and a surprising Brandon Lloyd. Tom Brady is steady, even if he's not putting up the Tecmo Bowl numbers he was putting up a few years ago. My bet is that he ends up on top... at least amongst the non-Asians in the league. By the way, as a tip of my cap to Len, "Haste the Day" is a Christian metal group. Don't laugh, I'm actually a fan of the Cross Movement (Christian rap).

6 Naked Mole Rats 3-4
Len's boy David is the active son in the league, and occasionally will surprise us with a burst of victories or good natured trash talk. Unfortunately, he's sort of checked out of late organizing a big paintball event. Just remember, David - paintball leaves welts and glory is fleeting - fantasy football is glory that lasts forever. Not really, but it sure sounded good.

7 Los Cranford Finest 3-5
Carlos, where are you? I'm not even talking about your fantasy team - I'm talking about Devin showing up without her better half at church recently. In any case, Carlos is doing a bang-up job with his team and making Cranford proud, leaving Sal Perednia as the Mets to Carlos' Yankees or the Nets to Carlos' Knicks.

8 Pretentious Preacher 3-5
Peter, are you playing? It's funny, Peter drops by on the league every now and then to drop people who are injured, but doesn't replace them. He played this past week with eight active players. It would be taunting if he was trying to win with just eight people, but he's not. Is this further commentary on Pastor Randy Lovelace which is going over my head?

9 No Punt Intended 2-4-1
I've gotta hand it to Andy - he's been a spoiler for my team, having pulled off an "upset" tie with my team last week after Hakeem Nicks and Lawrence Tynes both exploded last Monday night against the Cowboys. I was thrilled with the outcome for the Giants, less thrilled with the effect on my fantasy team.

10 Team Vlaanderen 2-5
Pastor Randy's doesn't have a bad team, which makes his 10th place ranking surprising. Sure, he's had his pocket picked in a terrible trade (the aforementioned Joe Flacco for James Hall trade), but all in all, this isn't a bad squad. His latest sermon series is on forgiveness, not "configuring a killer fantasy football roster", so perhaps he's not as sharp as he could be. I'm personally glad he has his priorities in order.

11 STRIKEforce 2-5
Dennis tells me that he's enjoying playing fantasy football, and I love his attitude. I think he's going to love playing it even more when he starts winning, which will lead to increasingly obsessive behavior as he scrapes to get to the playoffs, then winning in the playoffs, and then winning a championship. Maybe for his sake his team will remain mediocre.

12 Sal's Saints 2-5
We love Sal, but perhaps we can chalk his underachieving team to his cast of shady characters: Braylon Edwards (DWI), Kenny Britt (bar fight), Kellen Winslow (reckless motorcycle riding) and Ahmad Bradshaw (jail sentence for underage crimes, petty larceny) aren't exactly choir boys. Even his placekicker was charged with possession of the date-rape drug. Character counts - which is why my quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not Enough Money for Free Time

A recent article in Time observed that people generally do a poor job in terms of trading off time and money, or more specifically, we tend to overvalue money and the expense of time, which is truly more valuable. As the head of study notes:
"Work is necessary to pay the bill and contributes to an individual's sense of productivity and self-esteem, but the number of hours Americans spend working frequently exceeds that required to provide these benefits."
This is basically another way of saying that we perceive a level of work needed to provide which is much higher than reality. I'm not sure that this is completely true, because it leaves out the very large variable of the "what" in terms of "what is needed to provide." Most people, right or wrong, have a desire to live somewhere above the poverty level, allowing for a degree of amenity, comfort, leisure and luxury. What that level of amenity, comfort, leisure and luxury level is entirely up the individual or household. This manifests itself in the size of the house, the type of car you drive, the type of school your kids go to, the proximity to and frequency of going of cultural and entertainment events, the frequency and type of vacations a family goes to, etc.

I acknowledge that it tends to be a viscous cycle, particularly for breadwinners in the family. Many people who live large and want the best of everything often have and need to keep jobs which are extremely demanding from a work-life balance perspective. It begs the question, when do you actually have time to enjoy all these perks that you're high salary has purchased?

Maybe the question people need to ask themselves is more: do I really need these things to make me and my family truly happy and content? At the end of the day, would I rather have had more time spent "hanging out" with the family at home as opposed to rare slices of diversion-filled intense family time in the far reaches of the world?

Maybe the point is that people always seem to give the right answer: I value quality time more. But actions seem to betray those answers. I think this is largely where the "we need" and the "we want" becomes largely blurry, and self-introspection is very much lacking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Squirrel Under My Car

A couple of Sundays ago, a squirrel jumped into traffic ahead of the family SUV about a hundred yards ahead in a two-lane highway. The squirrel scampered almost past the fast lane (on which I was driving) and then stopped as a car buzzed by it on the slow lane. The squirrel scampered back towards the median and then reversed back towards across the original destination ... as our SUV bore down on it.

A split second passed as I silently pleaded for it to get out of the way. I glanced at my rear view mirror and knew that with cars zooming behind me, I wasn't going to slam on the brakes.

The squirrel zig-zagged back and forth across my lane, seemingly confused, and as we drove past it we heard a sickening "thump".

"Arrgh, you killed it!" Sarah wailed, "Did you see that poor squirrel? The poor thing was confused and didn't know which way to go!" as I quickly defended myself, pointing out the cars that were tailgating me and not wanting to be our family at risk to be rear-ended by a stampede of cars.

My three-year old daughter sitting in the back apparently was too busy singing and missed out on what had transpired but wanted to know what the ruckus was and inquired, "What happened? What did daddy kill?" (Daniel was strangely silent with what I thought was a half-smile on his face. I'm pretty sure it was because he was just spacing out. Of course, if it was a case of nascent sadism, that's very disturbing, so I'll have to keep my eye on that.)

Before soon everyone was talking over each other, with my wife repeatedly lamenting "Poor squirrel! Why didn't you stop?" and Sophia continuing to ask repeatedly "What did daddy kill?" I managed to say between gritted teeth to my wife, "Honey, drop it - I don't need to relive it, and I don't want to scar Sophia."

So Sarah answered Sophia in Korean (which Sophia didn't understand), and Sophia quickly lost interest and resumed singing while Sarah silently mourned for the squirrel.

As for me, I did feel bad for running over the squirrel, and the more that my wife "personified" the squirrel, the more I felt worse - but I pretty much got over it two minutes after it happened. I did find it interesting how much my attitude had changed the three other times I was involved in squirrel road-kill incidents in my younger days. Yes, I remember every single one of them. There was the time my dad ran over a squirrel on Veterans Memorial Highway on the way to fishing when I was six - which distressed me and put a big dampener on that outing. There was my mom hitting the squirrel on the way to CTY in Lancaster, leading me to angrily berate my mom for not braking hard given that there were no other cars in sight. And there was the time I was driving to school as a high school junior and nailed a squirrel on that same Veterans Memorial Highway, making me depressed for the rest of that day.

Have I become jaded to believe life is unfair and life sometimes sucks, and sometimes you get hit by a car? Maybe recognizing the bigger problems in the world have made me less sensitive to the well-being of a random local rodent. Has my fondness for small fuzzy creatures dissipated now that I'm an adult homeowner who fumes at the damage that chipmunks have done to my yard? Maybe having kids have given me a new perspective on the "little ones" who are truly worthy of my protection?

For the record, I'm sorry I hit the squirrel.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

But He Was So Good on the Old "NFL Today"

Sportscaster Brent Musburger blindsided most of the sports world when he told a group of journalism students that athletes should be permitted to use steroids under a doctor's supervision. Musburger proceeded to tell the students that negative perceptions around steroids and its health risks were the result of uninformed "journalism youngsters" who "got too deeply involved in something they didn't no too much about."

It seems too much like a bizarre rant from someone who was suffering from a low-carbohydrate diet, which caused him to suffer a chemical imbalance in conjunction with consuming alcohol (inside joke referencing story here). Musburger apparently seemed to believe that the things that we read about steroids is tainted because any sort of doctor anecdotes are tainted as they are passed along by journalists. Whew, that's a relief, now that I know that it I ought to disregard any news passed along by journalists, I can significantly prune my reading material.

Now back to the odd premise, does Musburger really think that the use of steroids is a good thing? I guess to his point, "they work", but with the downside of significant adverse health effects. Doesn't anyone remember Lyle Alzado, who succumbed to cancer largely attributed to his steroid abuse? How about the well publicized case of teenager Tyler Hooten, who experience a host of mental health problems related to steroid abuse, leading to his suicide?

Does Musburger really equate the legitimate use of steroids in a therapeutic medical context with the use as a athletic performance enhancer?

It's not quite as bad as Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder's rant about black athletes, but it's clearly not a shining moment from the old "NFL Today" cast.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When Freedom of Speech and "Hate Speech" Collide

It's not surprising that in the midst of picketing of Marines' funerals and plans to burn Qurans that the Supreme Court has had the question of how the constitutional right of free speech still applies in growing swell of incidents where people are calling for greater action against actions and speech that are considered to be hateful or offensive. Or put another way, our country is becoming increasingly polarized in terms of perspectives, views and values and the First Amendment may very well be caught in the crossfire between the sanctity of free speech and the growing instances where one group of people feel their civil rights are being violated.

I think Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer had it right when he made it clear that when it comes to speech and expression, things that we as individuals or a society may find morally wrong or ethically wrong must be protected as a fundamental protected right. This is going to become all the more critical as the diversity of thought and belief continue, and groups understandably use the law as an end around to marginalize those who believe differently then they do. The fundamental definition of "hate speech" is likely going to evolve depending on the epicenter of societal norms.

The case in Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell cuts to the heart of the matter. Shirvell, in a personal blog he kept outside of work, "lambasted 21-year-old Christopher Armstrong as a racist with a 'radical homosexual agenda.'" Shirvell, who is in some hot water given the context of his beliefs and his state position, is just one of a number of people who similarly under scrutiny for their actions outside of work. I'm not defending Shirvell or other people cited in the article (a state trooper who was a member of the KKK and a NJ Transit employee who burned a Quran), but I am concerned about the deprivation of people's livelihoods (and the government's tacit approval of this) based on nothing that goes on at work and a person's personal conviction and beliefs.

The issue then becomes: even if we agree that freedom of speech, even "hate speech" is protected from criminal prosecution, to what degrees to public or private employees reserve the right to punish that speech (done outside the workplace) through censure or termination? And when there's growing threat that a Christian biblical interpretation of marriage is being viewed as hate-mongering, how would that be different that any discriminatory hiring practice which has the same effect of penalizing orthodox Christians?

Depending on how the winds of change continue to go, the message will be clear for those who have "unpopular" beliefs or convictions: If you value your job, you'd better keep those beliefs to yourself.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 MLB Championship Series Preview

Happily, my two favored teams swept through the Division Series with the Phillies using dominating pitching (and a historical no-hitter from Roy Halladay) to sweep the Reds. The Yankees ended the Twins season with a too easy playoff beatdown (in other news, grass is green and the sky is blue). Now both of those teams will face stiffer competition.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants
On paper, one would think that the pitching staffs are both terrific but the Phillies much better offense gives them the edge. Unfortunately for the Phillies, great pitching always neutralizes a great offense, thus giving the Phillies little margin for error. It's completely conceivable that the Giants, with their stellar four man rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner matching up favorably with the Phillies Big Three of Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and it's quite possible for the Giants to win a series of 2-0 or 2-1 games.

The Braves didn't do any favor for the Phillies, with Brooks Conrad having an unbelievably horrid fielding Game 3, including allowing the winning run to score as a routine ground ball skipped between his legs. With that loss, the Giants were able to keep their rotation lined up and allow Lincecum to start Game 1.

At the end though, the home field plus the edge in playoff experience does make a difference, and the Phillies pull off a hard found series win to bring them back to the World Series for the third ear in a row.

Phillies in six.

New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers
Unlike the Braves, the Rays actually did a favor for the the already-punched-their ticket-in-the-Championship-Series team by stretching the Rangers to five games, which meant that ace Cliff Lee won't be able to pitch until Game 3 of the ALCS (it's notable that Lee would be able to pitch Game 7). While it looks like the Yankees won't try to line up C.C. Sabathia for three starts (Games 1, 3, 7) and instead put A.J. Burnett in the rotation, the advantage still holds as it's entirely possible that the series could be over in five or six games, thus leaving Lee with only one start.

Are the Yankees as good as they were last year? Maybe not, though it's clear that this team presumed Achilles' heel, starting pitching, isn't quite as bad as feared. In fact, it's reasonable to surmise that Sabathia and Pettitte are just as good as last year, and Phil Hughes, who pitched six innings of shutout ball in Game 3, might be better than A.J. Burnett last year. Time will tell.

Not having home field will be tough for the Yankees, but the vote here says that needing to use Cliff Lee in Game 5 in the ALDS costs the Rangers the series.

Yankees in six.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Passing it Down

A little more than a week ago, I had the opportunity to accompany my wife as her piano student played the Israeli and American national anthems before the exhibition game between New Jersey Nets and Maccabi Haifa. As the teacher, my wife received complimentary tickets and we decided to make a date night out of it. The game was was marked by heavy security (protecting against a "Munich"-type tragedy), a sparse crowd (I'd put it at 4000 Maccabi fans, maybe 1000 Nets fans) and a nice performance by stud rookie Derrick Favors (whom the the Nuggets may very will regret not trading for in the aborted Carmelo Anthony deal).

Anyway, my main musing isn't about the game as much as how cool it was to have my wife go to big event from her student. Cynics can point out that the student happened to be the nephew of the Haifa Heat's owner and scream nepotism, but the fact of the matter is that the kid played keyboard on center court in the Prudential Center with 5000 people watching and did it with ice water in his veins. He definitely proved that his mettle and artistry. It was great to see Sarah give him some words of encouragement and reminders to "tell the story" in his playing - to ensure that not only focus on the technical aspect of his play, but to weave emotion and narrative into a piece of music. I know my wife was proud of her student, and I was proud of Sarah.

There's great joy in passing along a skill to the next generation and seeing them grow and succeed with those same skills. For teachers who are fortunate enough to experience and witness manifestations of that phenomena (often it's much more subtle than a national anthem performance at a basketball game), it can become even a more valuable reward than the X dollar per hour that they get paid.

So the question I ask myself is: professionally, what will be my legacy? Who in my workplace can I say that I've been able to mentor, coach and grow so that they can achieve heights that they otherwise would not be able to?