Tuesday, June 27, 2006

who will ever forget this?

It's an inside joke, but here's the lasting scene from the wedding:

Dustin, if I ever get married (i.e., if hell ever freezes over) you'd better say something that cool at my wedding or I'm gonna feel left out.

My favorite pic from the wedding -- us groomsmen in the bar room with me doing my best old west impression.

some real basketball analysis

Check out this heavy dose of basketball analysis (via Mark Cuban). Wow...now that's some real number-crunching. Out with the generic, cliche'-ridden commentary, and in with the good stuff. It's also a helpful serving of truth and logic in an argument that could use the objectivity. Not that there was much question as to how big of a role the officials played in how Game 5 went down, but this puts what we already knew in a more bulletproof form. Very interesting reading for any basketball fan, and you don't have to be a math whiz to follow his argument.

enough of the snooping already

Just read this article at ESPN.com about how the private lives of sports stars are exposed and followed more than ever these days. In effect, they're becoming celebrities in that their entire lives, not just their sports exploits, are somehow of interest to throngs of people. Players of old, like Babe Ruth and Joe Namath, could get away with basically ignoring the press unless they wanted the publicity. Their hard-living styles were known to some extent, but they didn't have to constantly answer questions about every person they were seen with or every party they went to. Today's players don't have that privilege, though, and so they must watch their every move lest some Peeping Tom somewhere snap a picture of them that could become the next huge gossip story.

What a bunch of bullbleep, I say. Who cares who Larry Eustacy hangs out with on his own time? So what if Roethlisberger gets sloshed at parties every so often? What does it matter to us? It's sad that there are enough pathetic Americans out there who care about this useless crap to make it worth publishing to some geek with nothing better to do. It's as if the sort of muck that was once reserved for only the most gullible idiots of society is now being peddled as important news that means more than squat to some civilized person somewhere in the world. I guess the incredibly-stupid-but-scary snooping phenomenon is creeping into the sports world as well as every other part of society.

Okay, if it's obvious there are laws being broken -- I mean real laws, not driving violations and measly fines and crap -- and people getting hurt, then maybe we should care. And then only maybe, depending on whether or not we could do anything about it anyway (likely not) or use the example to discourage such behavior, or if it could remove said star from our sportscasts for a length of time. If some dude goes Ray Lewis and kills a guy, we ought to know so we can stop cheering for a murderer. If another dude goes Michael Pittman and makes a daily habit out of beating his wife, we should know so we can condemn such abuse and not support the guy. If a team wants to emulate the maidens of Northwestern's soccer program and put new players, willing or unwilling, through hell and back just so they can play sports, that sort of hazing should be made known and prevented from recurring.

But if somebody is doing something that's not unusual for people of that age and not clearly illegal in any way then it's none of our business. And that's especially true if it's something we might even do ourselves from time to time, or at least used to when we were in their demographic. Why not just assume they're normal human beings like the rest of us when they're not on the field and move on? Isn't that fair?

Oh, okay, off-field actions can affect on-field performance. Agreed. So let the team deal with that when on-field performance isn't up to par. Take Babe Ruth, for example. If he can live that crazy lifestyle and still be the best player to ever step foot on a baseball diamond, more power to him. We don't have to endorse the way they live off the field, and there's room for encouraging a player to set a good example, but we shouldn't harass them and ridicule minor actions regardless of our purpose.

Look, let's love (and hate) and follow sports stars for their on-field achievements, not for their off-field lives. Sure, it's cool to hear when such heroes give back their money and time, and we need to hear about those who use their status to get around the law or harm others, but spare us the useless details. I mean, is it necessary for anyone -- anyone -- to know that Matt Leinart was seen shopping with Paris Hilton? What the hell difference does it make who he spends his down time with? Nonsense, y'all. Plus, if we want to gawk at the juicy and bizarre habits of stars when they're not being stars, Hollyweird has a much wackier cast of freaks by which we can be entertained. Let's leave the sports to the athletes and leave the worthless entertainment to the worthless entertainers.

UPDATE: Mark Cuban has a related post here that addresses the media feeding frenzy over the everyday side of sports stars, Ozzie Guillen in particular. It seems these guys no longer have the right to be themselves and say what they want. Or at least that's what the media mongers would have us believe.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

mark cuban rocks

If I were the owner of a pro sports franchise, Mark Cuban would be my example to emulate. The dude is hands-down the coolest owner in sports and one of the coolest people in sports, period. It's nice to have a guy who actually seems like a regular fan who bought a team because he liked the game and not just the money he could make from it. And he's not afraid to say what he thinks, about the refs or the league rules or other teams or his own team or anything else he has an opinion on. The guy is such a blast of realness to an otherwise aloof, arrogant, greedy bunch of corporate pigs.

For example, check out the following quote from this post on Cuban's blog (taken from Mike Straka's foxnews.com Grrr! column). This was Cuban's take on part of an interview session with reporters in the locker room after the Mavs dropped Game 5 of the NBA Finals to the Heat in overtime.
"I told them I would [be happy to answer questions] if they asked good questions and didn't ask the same clich├ęd questions they had asked after other games. It was interesting how quiet everyone got.

"Then someone asked, 'Is this your worst loss ever?' What the f*** kind of question is that? Is this for a VH1 special? 'Worst Losses Ever?' If it was, then maybe it was a decent question. Otherwise, how do you answer that question?

... So I told the reporter to "Ask me a real f***ing question".
Right on. Is this guy cool or what? Anyone who will just be himself in any situation, regardless of how popular it makes him or how much I happen to agree with him, is good peoples in my book. Hopefully he'll be hanging around the league for many years to come.

Monday, June 12, 2006

preview of coming attractions...maybe

Random stuff I've intended to try to answer for a while and haven't done so yet, mostly because they'll be crazy long posts. But maybe listing them here will help me remember...

What does true, authentic humility look like?
Who do I want to be?
What would be some cool stuff to do in Europe?
Is shyness/reservedness really the disease it seems to be?
Is Tom's "theory" as true as it appears to be?

Anyway, there went a whole night spent accomplishing very little. Some things never change...

pets > humans

In keeping with the anti-humanity kick I've been on recently, and with my desire to get a dog (that will likely have to wait at least another year), here are some reasons off the top of my head why pets are often the best friends to hang out with. This list is basically tailored to dogs but I'm sure some items apply to other animals as well.

1. Pets accept you for who you are -- they don't make you feel bad if you say or do the wrong stuff.
2. If you call pets names or curse at them, they'll forgive you and still like you just as much as before.
3. Pets are always cool with just lounging about and doing nothing.
4. If you get mad at pets, they'll get over it in no time.
5. Pets are a lot lower-maintenance than most friends are.
6. Pets are a hell of a lot lower-maintenance than a significant other would be.
7. Pets are easy to please -- just give 'em food and attention every now and then and they're happy. (See #5 and #6.)
8. Pets don't cost as much money as humans. (Definitely see #6.)
9. Pets don't take up as much space as humans. (Again, see #6. I'll stop now.)
10. Pets always want to have fun.
11. Pets don't have a list of standards and expectations you have to meet. (Just kidding. See #6.)
12. Pets don't talk all the time and drive you nuts. (I'm starting to see why #6 doesn't apply to me.)
13. If pets are making noise, you can tell them to shut up and they'll actually shut up!
14. Pets always love you regardless of whether or not you happen to love them at the time.
15. Pets can be taught to do amazing tricks that most humans can't do.
16. Pets intuitively know how you're feeling and know how to make you feel better.
17. Pets never complain about anything. Or if they do, see #13.
18. Pets are predictable. (Whoa...you know it.)
19. Pets can be trained.
20. Pets will actually remember what you trained them.
21. Pets don't care how messy your place is.
22. Pets help you keep a place cleaner in that they make sure there is never food on the floor for more than a few minutes.
23. Pets make sure nothing is on your property that shouldn't be there.
24. Pets will always give away when they did something they know to be wrong.
25. Pets are better than humans at keeping secrets.
26. Pets will politely listen and pay attention to you without talking back or interrupting.
27. Pets are funnier to be around.
28. Pets don't mind acting stupid every now and then, and they don't care if you do either.

I'm sure there are more here that I'm not thinking of. And humans aren't all bad. But if I had to take one over the other to be surrounded by...that's too easy. I'd be buying a lot of dog food.

keep 'em comin'!

Jesse's activity calendar just keeps filling up, baby! Just this evening I've set in stone some dates for a camping trip in mid-July, a weekend float trip on the Potomac in mid-August, and a four-day bike ride in early September. Throw in a possible road trip to the one and only Cedar Point -- something that hasn't happened in several summers but I refuse to give up on the idea -- and other various day trips of interest, and I might just have a good next few months after all.

As a gentle reminder...Havasu Falls. September. Three and a half months away.

and there are so many of these out there...

my kinda trail

Sunday, June 11, 2006

some awesome quotes

Just finished reading the latest issue of The Week and this week's closer is a collection of "unconvincing apologies" taken from a new book. Some of the clips are too good not to post...
If they required the resignation of all congressmen who have slept with young ladies, you wouldn't have a Congress. -- William Mencarow, press secretary for Rep. Daniel Crane, who got in trouble for sleeping with a 17-year-old female page.
Wow...okay. That guy would probably know, too. But is he really saying anything we didn't already know? (This reminds me of something I read once about how the overall criminal background of Congress as a whole is far worse than that of the average American company. No wonder our country is so screwed up these days.)

The story behind the apology is the draw for this next one:
I made a very unfortunate and insensitive remark. It was the wrong thing to do, and I have no excuse for it. -- Sen. John McCain, apologizing for saying at a Republican fundraiser that the reason Chelsea Clinton is "so ugly" is that "she's the child of Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton."
That's freakin' great! McCain is one of my favorite Republicrats to hate, but I must admit the guy just picked up some of my respect. Everybody has a good side!
It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil-rights movement. We regret the omission. --The Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader.
Oh, yeah, sorry about that stuff back there we forgot to cover. No big deal though, it's not like it was a huge part of our history or anything. It wasn't even news back then. But, to the paper's credit, at least it realized the error and apologized. In 2004.

environmentalism gone wild

Was just reading a letter from my leasing office here in wonderful apartment-land, and it seems that copperhead snakes are "a 'protected' species and cannot be legally harmed" because they're indigenous to southern Maryland. Yeah, that's right. A poisonous snake that has no obvious positive effect on civilization or the natural environment cannot be harmed. So they can harm us at will, but we can't harm them to prevent them from harming us. What the heck kind of bullbleep is that? What could possibly possess some numbskull somewhere in the government to give these things any kind of protection? The world is better off without them. Oh, they eat other stuff? Let modern technology take care of that. Or introduce a bunch of king snakes to the area and let them feast on the critters. Come to think of it, they'll also keep the copperhead population in check. Win-win, baby.

People can't kill poisonous snakes on their own property. What a nanny state we're living in these days. Ain't freedom great?

that whole people thing

It's late and I shouldn't be blogging, but I managed to get one of my computers up and running this afternoon -- without totally wiping the hard drive clean, no less -- so I figure I have some catching up to do. That and this is one of those times where I'm a little too pissed off at things in general to go to sleep and seem to be in an observant and introspective mood so I'll sit here and type for a while. Come to think of it, I've been musing over this sort of stuff for some time so I probably have a lot more to say than will be said here. I do wonder if I should be putting some of my thoughts down for all the world to see, lest the wrong people eventually read this and take some of it wrong or react negatively. But what the heck, might as well type something. And from the start of my blogging career my main goal was to be as honest and open as possible and especially not let suspicions of what others might think have any influence on what I post, so, in ebonics terms, it's time to keep it real.

Anyway, as the story begins...I just got back from somebody's house, at which I watched a good movie and then listened for a couple of hours while others discussed a wide range of topics that seemed to eventually settle on how best to minister to lost and broken communities. The key word there is "listened", as I can't say I participated much. Perhaps this discussion was unique in that it zeroed in on something I haven't thought about all that much and have little experience in, and thus I should expect to do more listening and less talking. But I left feeling like every time I had something to say I was either cut off or ignored. I guess I think too slow or something. One has to be able (and willing) to speak at the first outbreak of silence and rudely talk over others to be heard in such situations. Makes me wonder why I waste my time trying to associate with people in the first place.

For someone like me, feeling that way is to be expected from time to time. I'm just not an outgoing, assertive kind of person and so I tend to be the quiet one when there are a few loudmouths or dominant (read: disrespectful) talkers in the room. I also don't force myself into conversations easily. It's frustrating oftentimes but something I've come to expect and more or less accept as a staple of life, so I try not to let myself get too worked up over such times. But the problem is, I've been getting that feeling a lot lately, as in the past few months or so.

Feeling awkward or left out with respect to social stuff has been the story of most my interactions with people. Even upon arriving here in Maryland, I was stuck in "this sucks" mode for quite a while and struggled to relate to anyone God placed in my life. But then I seemed to be making a lot of social/emotional progress in getting to know folks and even growing a lot in the social skills department. Heck, I had even become an extrovert at times. Basically I seemed to be gaining confidence around others in leaps and bounds. But nowadays I catch myself reverting back to my old ways in that I have to just do the "grin and bear it" thing a lot of the time around most people and I find myself just wanting to vanish into my own little corner of the world so I don't have to deal with the annoying quirks of others that seem to be ever present.

Probably the main thing is that for some months I've been stressed out and concerned beyond what I can handle -- certainly not a new theme in my life -- and I've learned that in such situations my ability and desire to relate to people is one of the first things to drop off. Work hasn't been going great (to be more correct, it's been even more dreadful recently) for reasons I can't really figure out, I feel like I haven't really connected a lot with anyone in my church and some recent developments make me wonder if I should do some looking around,* I haven't been able to save squat for money toward a future house or even a reasonable rainy-day fund, people I've come to know and appreciate in a lot of ways have left the area, and on and on. In general things just aren't looking up these days and I'm having a lot of trouble finding reasons to believe things will get better, in the near future or even ever (in this life anyway). For someone like me, who likes to see results and feel assured that his days are achieving something real and tangible that he can see and measure, that's not good and leads to much fretting about what I must do to change things.

There's a bit more to be said here I think. For better or for worse, my faith needs to see fruit to keep growing. I'm not the Job type who can just take endless abuse and cling to something that doesn't seem to be helping or providing any cover, nor am I the Noah type who can doggedly press on when things seem pointless and one must base his hope on impossibly long odds. I don't have much patience for things that don't show some sign of working out or at least not being a waste of time.

In a whole life sense, I need something to bank on and, when nothing else seems to be working, say "at least I have this, and I can keep succeeding in this." Thus, in a faith sense, I need to see hard evidence that my faith is actually making my life better and is worth the effort I put into it (which admittedly hasn't been much for a while). Yeah, that's basically idolatry that comes from a lack of trust, but seeing that and really taking it to heart and believing it are two vastly different things.

But it also seems that I've been having to deal with more obnoxious people lately. (Not that people are like that intentionally, but their personalities and tendency to dominate any conversation at the expense of others make them that way.) I don't like having to listen to someone drone on without making any real points, and I especially don't like being cut off when I speak or not even being able to speak at all because everyone else is jabbering too much. I'm not the type to talk over others, and yet, much to my shame, I find myself doing that on frequent occasions these days when others around me practice such rudeness. I have also always hated being around people who are eager to exalt themselves or talk about their own life in minute detail. Not that I mind learning about others -- I love hearing about how others are doing and their life experiences that have gotten them to where they are and stuff -- and I understand that sometimes just listening to whatever someone wants to say is the best thing one can do to help that person. But let's not make it a habit, okay? Really, if I gave a crap about the very inner workings of your mind or the details of some obscure childhood story of yours, I'd just ask. The fact that I didn't eagerly dig for more info when you mentioned it should reveal that I probably don't give a damn. If I look like I'm only feigning minimal interest to avoid needlessly offending you or making you feel bad, it just might be because that's exactly what I'm doing.**

Perhaps I'm too picky or critical of others, but doesn't such aforementioned stuff show disrespect toward and disinterest in others? I don't think it's too much to ask someone to show a reasonable amount of respect and appreciation of those around them. Or maybe my definition of respect is that one must fit perfectly into my little box of how I want them to be. Maybe I'm just completely screwed up and will always be socially backward and unable to cope with certain types of people. Heck. I don't know. But I do know I'm just pissed off and irritated at the human race right about now. (Yeah, including myself.)

I think one reason I grew to like the Christian singles group I'm in so much is that, in short, the folks are like me in a few key ways. It has plenty of easy-to-relate-to people in it who are interesting to listen and talk to and are also respectful of others and not in the habit of making themselves the center of attention. (Not that I fit this criteria exactly, but that's how I try to be and how I tend to picture myself.) The group members are generally easy to get along with, and I figured that such behavior must come from age and maturity -- not that I'm claiming to somehow be more mature than others just because I'm quiet, but that talkative folks eventually learn to tone down a bit and respect the rest of us more just as quiet folks like myself gradually learn how to talk to and relate to people more.

I think it's also due to humility (something I've been dwelling on and thinking about a lot lately) on the part of others, in that they don't really get in another person's space, so to speak, but rather reveal some level of understanding and wisdom in the way they defer to those around them and aren't quick to spout off whatever comes to their mind. I feel like I've been drifting away from this attitude a bit myself, as I often find myself blurting out thoughts and carrying on about topics barely related to the discussion at hand, but hopefully being around others will help me recapture some of that lost humility. Seeing people like that makes me realize how few really humble and caring people there are in the world. This in turn makes me realize that I need to be one of them.

But, my [age = maturity] and [Christian singles group = respectful people who are easy to be around] theories seem to have been shattered lately. More and more I find myself suffering through the antics of one or more people in a discussion, and I guess it's starting to wear on me. I may not show it but my frustration level has been off the charts in recent weeks. I don't know if the people and attitudes have changed so much or I've just grown weary of what I've managed to deal with for a while. But I'm tired of leaving group meetings and discussions and such wondering if I actually gained anything from those hours I just spent in the presence of others. I'm tired of people hijacking discussions when there was actually a decent exchange of ideas taking place. I'm tired of people cutting other people off without at least letting them finish a short point. I'm tired of people talking over others and even shouting others down just so their points can be heard. I'm tired of feeling hopeless and inept in dealing with others because I can't beat these flappers at their own game (the latter being a good thing of course).

I mean, we're all Christians here, right? Shouldn't we, of all people in the world, be able to have a deep, passionate, intelligent discussion without trampling each other? How do we engage the world if we can't engage each other and make each person feel appreciated? Geez...I really hope this is just a Jesse thing and my skewed view of the world makes me take things wrong and draw wacky conclusions about what I see. But things just seem to be getting out of hand.

(As an aside, the real trouble with that above stuff is, I notice pretty much all of that in myself from time to time. Hey, maybe God put it there so I'd see my own faults and realize how annoying it is when people do to me what I unwittingly do to others. If that's the case then I'm glad for it and I sure hope I learn a lot about how to work with others. Maybe I'm just getting too talkative at times and notice flaws in others because I'm playing their game more than I realize. In any case, hopefully there's a lot to be gained from such experiences.)

Probably as a result of this, I sometimes find myself wondering about Christians in general, which admittedly is not many steps away from turning the questions toward Christianity itself. These days that'd be dangerous ground for me to be on so I'd really rather not get there. Yet I find myself within view, so to speak. Why is it that my closest friends have almost*** always been nonbelievers or at least less-than-perfect believers that I have some vices in common with? A lot of non-Christians I know are cool with me just being who I am, which means showing a lot of blemishes. They're also cool with me talking in faith terms and saying "God" or "Jesus" every now and then, and are sometimes even curious about it. (They may not appreciate it in the way that I do, but at least I don't feel guilty for bringing it up.) And I'm okay with them being who they are and I don't rush to chastise them for encroaching upon my perfectly pure little world. Heck, I grew up in their world and still struggle with a lot of its bad habits.

But as for typical Christians, the story is a little different. I'm cool with them being themselves, but I'm not convinced it goes both ways. If I actually told them how I really feel or slipped up by alluding to the wrong topic or interest or dropping the wrong words in their presence, I would (and often do) feel this immediate pang of shame and embarrassment for having not kept that aspect of myself properly hidden from their view. At times it seems like such a chore to be around Christians and we all seem so fake. It's really too bad it's like this, and this is a huge topic that I won't delve into any more for now, but it seems to be more the norm than I would have guessed some years ago. Sometimes experience teaches you things you don't want to know.

Overall, my people skills just aren't all there right now. The ability doesn't seem to be there and the desire sure as heck isn't; the first is probably a result of the second. But I also realize that withdrawing from others would be a bad idea and would only worsen whatever the problem is in the long run. I'm sure it's not all me and it's not all them, but I wish I could just rewind the clock a few months to when I seemed to be in good spirits around folks. I guess the tough thing is that it once again has me wondering why I'm so poorly endowed with social skills and how I can be accepted and appreciated more by others -- at least that's how it feels on my end. And in a grand sense, I still can't quite decipher how I'm supposed to fit into this world and work in it when so much of daily life is so painful. Alas, at least there's sleep at the end of each day...

* I'm not a big fan of church-hopping because it reveals an obvious focus on self and lack of attention to what one can contribute back to the church. Leaving a church you used to like because it just doesn't "feel right" anymore or get you excited like it used to is wrong every time methinks. Now if that church has made changes or strayed from some of the reasons you liked it, such that it's no longer the church you felt at home in and agreed with, that's different. And that's where I find myself. There have been changes that I don't like, but then again I have been going for well over a year and building relationships there to some extent, so I do have some roots there. I'm inclined to think my dissatisfaction is due more to me than to the church. But I also never visited any other churches around here before deciding this was the one, so I don't know much about any others. It's a fine line that's hard to define.

** A blog seems to be a handy tool for expressing one's thoughts on such things. Take this post, for example. It's basically meaningless and nobody would want to sit there and listen to me ramble on for several minutes about it, but reading is different. You're reading this, aren't you? And if you don't want to read it you just don't. No harm done.

*** Were it not for my mentor from my early days at UIUC the "almost" wouldn't be there. He's the only one I can think of off-hand that doesn't fit my generalization.