Wednesday, December 27, 2006

don't them apples taste good

Forgot to add one necessary element to my last post. Eli Manning sucks and is one of the most spoiled, immature, annoying little brats to ever make it to professional sports. Just watching him lose, in person, would do wonders for my sense of justice in the world. I can't say anything about the Giants without dishing out a well-deserved Eli slam. And for those of you who say truth isn't funnier than fiction, check out Philip Rivers (whom the Giants traded, and then some, to get the whining Eli a few years back) having a Pro Bowl season and helping lead the Chargers to the best record in the AFC. What comes around goes around, Eli.

another good weekend

This year is closing in a great way so far. Spent the Saturday before last in D.C. with friends. Spent several hours in the Smithsonian looking at cool stuff, including an awesome exhibit of early biblical texts. Wandered around some usual capitol sites and saw the White House Christmas tree (which was actually kinda dumb but it sounds cool). Spent three days last week in/near the D.C. area. Saw more Smithsonian stuff. Saw Handel's Messiah at the Kennedy Center, in what was one of the best artsy things I can remember attending. Even signed up for a young professionals' group to go see it with, no less. Met people I wouldn't have met otherwise. Got lost trying to get into Arlington National Cemetery the hard way (i.e., by purposely not taking the Metro to the "Arlington Cemetery" stop and getting off there) and enjoyed it because wandering in cities rocks when you're not on a schedule.

And it's just going to keep getting better. Not only might I find myself with another very short work week next week, which technically isn't part of this year but counts anyway as a continuation, but I'll be heading up to D.C. yet again this Saturday. I feel like I've been up there more than in the office recently. And I have! This time I hope to spend several hundred dollars at REI on Saturday, meaning they'll have so much stuff so deeply discounted that I'll add truckloads to my collection for pennies on the dollar. Almost. Anyway, should be a good sale. After that I need to find something to do in D.C. for the day, but that's never been hard. And Tim will probably hang around all day too because he'll of course be at the REI sale. That and we decided last-minute to go to the Redskins game Saturday night.

I'll wait a second to let that last bit sink in... Yeah, re-read it just to make sure you read it right... Yup, it does say that... I haven't been to an NFL game since junior high but I'm finally getting to go. Sure, we dropped some not-so-small change for seats in row 15 of section 422, but I'm sure they wouldn't sell the tickets if you couldn't at least make out the green patch way down there. Hey, it's a football game. In December. We could get to sit through a blizzard, which is the only way a real football fan should ever attend an NFL game in December. So what if it obscures our view and we can't even see the field much less make out any action. We'd still be physically at the game. Whatever happens it'll be awesome. Best of all, this will be a big game.

Check that -- it will be a huge game. This is the last week of the regular season and the Deadskins are of course out of the playoff hunt. But their bitter division rivals, none other than the much-hated-by-all-Washington-fans Giants, control their own playoff destiny and must win to get in. If there was ever a rivalry game to be at, this just might be it. This could be like Army-Navy or Michigan-OSU in that the home team could suck all year and yet have a successful season just by crushing the hopes of its rival. As they say, when it comes to rivalries the only thing better than winning is watching your opponent lose.

Consider the circumstances leading up to the game. The Deadskins have a bad record but have been playing everybody close lately and even thumped the mighty Saints on the road a couple of weeks ago. The Giants, on the other hand, have been playing like crap for the entire second half of the season -- they're 1-6 since the midway point -- and are right there with the Colts for least deserving team still in the playoff picture. And now they must come to Washington and figure out how to get out with a win!? Come to think of it, just getting out of FedExField alive might be a higher priority. I'm sure the 'Skins are still seething from getting beat down 19-3 at the Meadowlands earlier this year so they should be looking to exact some revenge. And what better way to take vengeance into their own hands than shatter the Giants' postseason dreams?

So we have a team playing under the pressure of what is basically already a playoff-like scenario versus a team playing only to make sure its rival also gets to watch the playoffs from home. Man, it's a great week to hate the G-Men. I almost feel some pity for any fans that hapless bunch still has left. Ha! Who am I kidding? I need to bring plenty of salt to the game so I can add to their misery. I'm usually not much of a Deadskins fan but I'll be yelling for them all game come Saturday night. Even from so high in the stands my noise won't reach the field.

I can't wait. Heck, with Stupid Bowl tickets way out of reach, this could be the greatest sports event I'll attend for a long time.

some real law enforcement

On the way home from work this evening I heard a commercial that caught my attention. Maryland and Virginia cops are -- gasp! -- cracking down on drunk drivers (which they always are if you believe the hype). But this one said that statistics show that a drunk driving conviction in these two states will cost somewhere between $5,000 and $20,000. Needless to say I was a little surprised. And also needless to say, I took note to stay off the roads after drinking anything or even sniffing alcohol. That's a penalty with teeth.

Well, maybe. After thinking about it, I suspect they're talking about lost wages and court costs and stuff, not actual fines. After all, a DUI around here results in an automatic license suspension (I think it costs good money to get it active again), hefty fines, jail or community service time, and the list probably goes on. Add all that stuff up and, yeah, you're gonna lose some money there, especially if you can't drive to work.* So even if you don't have to shell out a few grand up front, you're going to lose it when all those other things start kicking in.

But the good part of this is at least the cops are speaking a language people understand. If they go off on the moral tangent, which should matter but in today's society doesn't, or start talking about the long-term effects of a DUI conviction on one's record, folks aren't going to connect enough to care. It's too easy to ignore abstract consequences like that. But if they threaten to ruin someone's life for the short term then they'll get an audience fast. I think that's how penalties ought to work. For serious and incredibly stupid offenses that are indefensible, make the punishment so unbearable that nobody would dare risk breaking the law lest they get caught and wish they were dead.

History is on my side here. Take the colonial witchcraft craze, for example. People were scared to death to even appear to be friendly with animals, be seen in the wrong places or with the wrong people, etc. Was it because they hated being called a witch? No, it was because they hated the certain suffering and death that would come as a result of being called a witch. The consequences were severe enough to stamp out even everyday activities that had been commonly accepted. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages is another example of the potential penalty being harsh enough to cause folks to greatly alter their lifestyles in a short amount of time to avoid it.

Even today this is evident, though unfortunately not often in the law enforcement arena. Political correctness is one obvious example. Forget about the intent or actual results of any words or actions, people aren't going to do something if they know they'll probably cripple or lose their career over it. Or consider sports. Why have the miniscule fines and suspensions failed to deter moronic behavior like brawling or doing drugs? Because the penalty isn't great enough to get players' attention. It doesn't matter if they get caught if their game or their life isn't significantly hampered for it.

The conclusion is clear. If law enforcement officers want something to stop, they need to not only present a significant threat of nabbing any offenders but also ratchet up the cost of doing business. They don't just need to make the consequences greater than the rewards, they need to make them so many times greater that people won't even consider trying to skirt the law. The penalty should be so far beyond "reasonable" that it's scary to even think about.

There are two basic necessities to any effective rule: a measurable chance of getting caught when breaking it and a severe penalty for getting caught. Take away one or both of those and the rule becomes meaningless.

* A guy I know at work got burned recently on that and got a waiver to drive to and from work but that's all. From what I know, he wasn't even allowed to do so much as stop and buy groceries. I guess the cops expected others to do that for him or something. But at least he could get to work.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

goals vs. laziness

I had started this bit in the previous post but didn't like how it jumped topics, so here it is on its own. Kinda.

One hindrance I keep running into, be it wanting to write more, learn more, do more, or whatever, is that any ability and desire that I have is more than compensated for by my laziness and lack of diligence when it comes to bettering myself. As I've said so many times before, my getting an engineering degree is a testament to my intelligence because I was too lazy and spent too little effort learning the material to have gotten my degree through the blood/sweat/tears method. Unfortunately this seems to have gone from a side effect of my dislike for my major course of study to a character trait that needs to be defeated before I can really do much in the way of further study or even hobbies and such. (In some sense it was always there I guess, but I can remember reading a LOT when I was younger and studying hard for classes like chemistry and senior English in high school, and even in college I spent a lot of time on interesting stuff like management concepts and statics. But anymore there's very little if anything that I really take a passion to doing.) I guess that's one of the consequences of my engineering education. I got what I was after, but the process beat out of me that drive and love for learning that I so desperately need these days.

Fred Reed calls this lack of enough motivation to improve oneself shiftlessness and I think that captures what I'm getting at. Not only does it cause trouble now, but it's a huge obstacle to any formal education that might otherwise be in my future. For example, I wouldn't mind trying to learn a bit more in my current field and maybe earn a graduate degree or two so I could get into more big-picture stuff that deals more with theory and new ideas. I also think I'd love being a contract lawyer of some sort who worked with patents or land deeds or association clauses or whatever, because I tend to enjoy the creativity behind legalese and word games. But such would require a heck of a lot of arduous effort and in my current state I'm just not up to that kind of work output.

Oddly, and mighty unfortunately, shiftlessness seems like an especially hard character trait to defeat. It requires what's on the other side of the obstacle to get past the obstacle, if that makes any sense. It's similar to depression in that sense. Both depression and shiftlessness require that the ends be used in the means. This implies some sort of outside interference, be it the Spirit, others, whatever. Otherwise the end goal could not be reached.* I guess that's why the whole accountability thing works so well -- it provides that outside influence that has to be there. It's also one reason why boot camp works so well. It doesn't matter how much motivation you happen to have at any particular moment if someone is right there to provide all the outside motivation and "support" you need.

So, back to the familiar position of staring at the same old problem. Maybe if I just sit here and do nothing things will miraculously change. Or maybe if I ignore it long enough it will just kinda fade away. Or maybe if I try to avoid it then it can be as big a problem as it wants and it still won't matter to me. But I've given each of those methods a few tries in life and I don't remember any of them working for me yet. Oh well.

Anyway, it's 2:41 AM and I'm out of ideas to keep blogging about or to even wrap up this post. I guess that one cup of sugar in that spiced wine has some serious effects. Speaking of which, I did the alcohol before blogging and it didn't seem to counter my standard negativity as well this time. The test sample must not be large enough. I'll drink more next time.

* This seems at first similar to the process by which we gain saving faith, but it's different in that someone who wants to be saved has already been interfered with, if you will. There's no barrier there that someone could want to pass but need outside assistance to actually cross. This would imply that there are people who want to be saved but are confined to hoping God throws them a lifeline of some sort, which is nonsense. If they want to cross it at all then they've already received the help they need.

one of the benefits of blogging feeling like I'm in grade school again. Some folks have probably noticed over the years that I tend to be a perfectionist at just about everything I do. This includes blogging. I can't stand bad language usage, especially on simple stuff like spelling and grammar, and I tend to have a very negative -- probably overly negative -- impression of folks who can't use their own language well enough to at least put thoughts together coherently. That includes myself. So I usually hit at least once per post just to check spelling, and multiple times if I have to look up meanings. But I'd much rather learn words and/or make sure I'm using them correctly correctly than let myself slip and become yet another idiot in the world can't communicate on paper/computer well. I'm hopeless enough with talking so I need to at least be able to communicate well through writing emails and such.

Since I'm already on this topic, it never ceases to amaze me how few people there are in the world can really write well, or even on a mediocre level. I would think this is a simple skill that any smart person should have by default -- and there is an abundance of very smart people in the world -- but for some reason it's as if proper English usage just gets lost in the shuffle somewhere and so a lot of folks get to college or the real world without it. And that's not just because I'm an engineer working with a bunch of geeks who avoided learning good English throughout their educational careers. I used to run into this sort of thing all the time in college too,* and a lot of people I know now who I could basically be reciting this post to are not engineers and have what should be a respectable liberal arts background.

Maybe schools stopped teaching basic writing skills before my generation went through. I say this because the problem seems less prevalent among older folks, though there are certainly some old people out there who can't write worth squat. But they can usually write at least well enough for someone to follow what they're saying. As for some of the younger crowd...let's just say there are some very dense peeps out there who couldn't put together a grammatically correct paragraph to save their lives. I kinda hesitate to say too much lest I make myself out to be a snob, but to me that's pathetic. So I admit I am a bit snobbish here in that I have a very hard time tolerating a lack of simple language skills among folks who grew up using the language and so I have less respect for such folks. Simple writing is easy enough and used often enough that any person in a professional career should have picked up basic skills in it well before entering the workforce.

What perhaps bothers me most about this problem is that bad writing seems so widely accepted these days. It's as if very few people even care. Or maybe so few know enough to recognize crap when they see it. Either way, it's annoying to see something I think is vitally important to a person's overall professional aptitude be regarded so lightly by basically the rest of the population save a few. It's yet another thing that makes me want to get into a career where I can use and build on what writing ability I have and use it to do something greater than what I do now. I mean, I'm not some awesome wordsmith or author or anything, but compared to what I often see around me it seems that God gave me a gift that I unfortunately have very few outlets by which to apply.

* This seems a good time to rant about an experience in college. A student had written a very good article for the Arkansas Traveler about roleplaying games and Christianity, and showed that there are a lot of Christians out there who play D&D and similar games regularly and don't see any problem whatsoever with them. I liked it so much that I wrote a short letter to the editor expressing my agreement with the author and supporting his conclusions with some of my own experiences. But the printed version that appeared in the newspaper was butchered beyond belief. The 'tards that put the paper together had randomly put in commas and paragraphs and such to divide up my letter such that it wasn't recognizable as what I had written and was barely readable at all. I was so pissed that I almost went to the paper's office and chewed out the crap-for-brains editor who was guilty of such stupidity, but realized I'd be arguing with people so stupid they probably wouldn't even follow what I said or care that they screwed up. That still angers me today and hopefully I'll never have to read anything any of them produced, at least not before they go back to third grade and start over from there. And just think, most if not all of those folks were journalism majors. Most if not all graduated from the U of A and went to work with that pathetic skill set. That's makin' my alma mater look great!

gotta love them maryland roads

As with most semi-major car maintenance appointments, my recent trip to the auto place for tires ended up costing hundreds more dollars than I expected. Seems like there's always a myraid of problems with my car and whenever I get it checked it's just a matter of how much I want to spend and how much I want to roll the dice on. And there's always a little of both.

I've known for a while I needed new tires on the front, as they'd been getting well worn and were in poor shape from the cupping problem they'd had for a while. So, as usual, I decided to save money and only replace the front ones and leave the back ones alone. So I'm not exactly maximizing safety, which could be especially dumb for someone who wrecked his previous car when its back tires came loose on ice, but hey, gotta save money somewhere. And in hopes of solving the cupping problem, I decided to get an alignment done as well. Turns out it needed an inner tire rod replaced -- ouch. It also needed some camber bolts (I think) in the back to bring the rear wheels into spec for the alignment, but the guy said those aren't absolutely necessary so I passed on that. Heck, I'll wreck the car before I have to replace that small stuff. That's how it usually works. But a few hundred dollars later and the craziness in the front should be fixed, right?

Yeah. On the way to D.C. yesterday, with the new tires, the front end wobbled like nothing I've felt before. I've never had a car that didn't shake a little at high speeds, but whereas in the past it's been an issue of not knowing what's going (or gone) bad and how expensive it could be, this time it was actually uncomfortable to drive. That didn't suck as much once I realized I could just drive even faster and the vibration would lessen, but it was still inconvenient. (Speaking of that trip, the new tires didn't stop me from hydroplaning at least three times that I remember on the way home. Losing control, however slight, three times in a single trip is a first for me. It didn't do much for my confidence in those tires' grip heading into snow/ice season.)

Anyway, I am going somewhere with this. I went in this morning and had the mechanics check the work they did yesterday to find the problem, and it checked out fine. But they did show me that all four of my wheels are bent such that they wobble to varying degrees and that's what's been causing the trouble. I asked the guy if that's usually due to hitting bumps and potholes and stuff, and he said yes, that's almost always the cause. My trips on the motocross courses that pass for public roads in and around D.C., and on some of the horrible roads around here on which manholes are recessed so far they might as well not be there, immediately came to mind. The guys at least swapped the wheels around to put the two best ones on the front, at no charge (one reason why I've been to that place several times). But it still sucks that the tires will probably wear unevenly. I suspect one reason the vibration only came about with new tires is that the old ones had worn too much on the edges and so the wheel movement wasn't as noticeable.

So, in light of that, I'd like to give a big shout out to the fine (government-paid) folks who keep the highways and biways of Maryland in top form. I'm so glad the roads I drive on aren't hurting my car. It's also great to know that the huge chunk of each paycheck that gets yoinked for state taxes (check the list, Maryland is way up there) and county taxes -- get that, even the county gets a piece of the income tax action -- is producing results accordingly.

This state blows.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

cool twist on those matching games

You know those games/tests that ask you a few questions, or a lot of questions, and then pair you up with some historical figure or beast of the wild or whatever that you supposedly resemble? Well, developed a cool version of it in which you can "Adopt a Playoff Team". First choose what team you usually root for then answer five questions, and it tells you what team still in contention you can jump on the bandwagon for if your team is already out or gets nixed. Pretty awesome. One of the best parts is, the intro includes two classic quotes from the past several years -- Mora's "Playoffs?" one and Edwards' "play to win the game" outburst, the latter being the greatest quote in NFL history.

I of course chose the Bears as my team of choice, but ended up with the Broncos as my bandwagon team. Thankfully it asks a different set of questions each time, so I still had a chance to get a team that will actually make the playoffs. The second time around I got the Colts. Not a bad bandwagon team at all, except that they've been suffering from the same "we thought the season was over" syndrome as da Bears over the past few weeks. But given that Grossman is still starting for Chicago and the defense quit showing up a couple of weeks ago, maybe I should get a head start and just pull for Indy from here on.

Warning: The game is an interactive video, so if you're on dial-up it could take a few days to complete.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

speaking of great stuff

Three posts in a row about good things in the world. How 'bout that? I should probably consume alcohol just prior to blogging more often. Or maybe I shouldn't, lest I too quickly run out of good things in the world to blog about.

Anyway, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is right there with Mannheim Steamroller as makers of the best Christmas tunes I've heard. I actually haven't listened to a lot of their stuff, but what I have heard is on par with MS. They work from the same basic principle of taking traditional Christmas carols and spicing them up a bit, only they do it with guitars and drums. I've often wondered before why nobody, or at least nobody I ever heard, set Christmas carols to rock music. But now I can stop wondering. And, for those of you to whom it matters, whoever does the storylines for their albums seems to have a Christian bent.

I only buy a handful of CD's a year and I've picked up two TSO ones in the past two weeks. I rarely play music at home anymore and I'm actually listening to "The Lost Christmas Eve" now. That says a lot.

speaking of great stores

Those of you who have never been to an REI store have never had a truly great shopping experience. That place is to me what Vegas is to a compulsive gambler or the Russian black market is to a jihadist. I could spend hours in there just gazing at all their cool stuff (and I did exactly that today). I haven't yet emerged from there without having spent into triple digits -- and I don't intend to snap that streak anytime soon. I have no doubt at all that, if given a blank check to spend on only "necessary" stuff, I could drop $3,000 and have barely gotten started. When I crunch out my budget for next year REI may be a line item by itself (seriously).

The staff has always been helpful, and today even saved me money by advising that I want until an upcoming clearance sale to buy some expensive stuff. They have product info bulletins on lots of stuff, which I grabbed several of today. In other words, folks like me who have little outdoors experience and know next to nothing about gear can learn quick and educated purchases. They have regular clearance sales with markdowns so good REI has to be right up there with the now-legendary Kohl's for good discounts. And since it's technically a nonprofit co-op, members like yours truly get a kickback on some purchases and a dividend check every year. Not only that, but members get access to special sales -- there's one coming up this Saturday that I may rent a U-Haul to drive up for.

Seriously, REI basically replaces wherever else one would go for outdoor adventure gear. The website (see above) is great, but the store is better because you can gawk at the real stuff and not just pictures. If there's not one close enough to go to regularly, you need to consider relocating.

Come to think of it, with both REI and IKEA being on the same exit off the Beltway I could be making regular trips up that direction. That's good in that it's convenient, but bad in that it could prevent me from saving much money toward a house. But at least my stockpile of outdoors stuff would grow and I'd have good enough furniture that I wouldn't need a massive house to fit it all. (And enter the broken record about Jesse's chances of ever affording a dwelling of any sort out here or pretty much anywhere sans overseas.) A workable tradeoff methinks.

furniture (and furniture buying) that makes sense

Finally went to IKEA today. I've been meaning to go there for months now just to see what it's like. And since it's on the same D.C. Beltway exit as REI (which, translated, means "the greatest store on earth"), I decided to stop by for a bit after adding to my cache of outdoor gear.

I wasn't sure what to think of it going in, as it seems to be amazingly popular with all the wrong folks. By reputation it comes off as one of those trendy fads, a new craze in home decor -- it is a Swedish chain after all, and it seems everyone in my age demographic wants to be and act European these days. But this trendiness generally dooms a place to totally suck because it'll have all the ugliest modern trash that people can dream up. Not wanting to make my humble abode look like it's inhabited by metrosexuals, I have no interest in such junk. But hey, you never know until you check it out.

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised. It has a convenient floor design to it that works very well for traffic flow and eliminates the annoying hassle of having to haul a heavy box all over the store. The upper floor is all displays (with lots of room mock-ups with the pieces labeled) and the lower floor is small stuff and Lowe's-esque warehouse space where you find the number of the piece you want and take it to the nearby checkout aisles. They have a very wide selection of furnishings and a wide range of prices too. Yeah, some of it is ugly or just plain ridiculous, such as the bright red computer desk or the stainless steel toilet seat cover. (Seriously, I couldn't make this up.) But there's a lot of really nice stuff in there at very reasonable prices. I'd go as far as saying that IKEA probably just surpassed Pier 1 Imports as Jesse's new favorite furniture store.

One distinction about IKEA's offerings jumped out at me. A lot of it just "makes sense", for lack of a better way to put it. It's versatile, ergonomic, and space-friendly in ways that the usual American stuff I see isn't.* It's as if they're aiming at folks living in small places who want to make the most of both their furniture and their living space. This is surely due in part to its roots and designers being in Europe, where not everyone lives in McMansions and wants to pile up the biggest hoard of whatever anybody else has on the block. Over there, folks get what they need to live and make it work. (As much as I don't like the Euros' ideas on a lot of things, one must give credit where it's due.) The designers at IKEA seem to realize there are people in the world who care more about making due with the living space they have than filling every room in their house with oversized fluff stuff that could only be designed to accommodate Americans' girth.

Take the computer desks, for example. (That's what I originally went in to look at, though I was quickly sidetracked by the rest of their wares.) Several had fold-up work surfaces that conveniently get out of the way when not in use, plenty of movable shelf units, modular drawers on wheels that could fit beside or under the desk, interchangeable supports, and a lot more features that don't come to mind now. The dining room sets are another example. Where else can you find a reasonable table and four chairs for $60? Sure, it's plain and the chairs are small, but it does what a dining room set needs to do and fits neatly into the smallest rooms. (The store folks wisely put a lot of stuff in small spaces and often even advertised the square footage of the display to drive the point home.) Again, a lot of those also seem to have been designed with limited space in mind.

Another thing worth mentioning is how lightweight and comparatively easy to work with most of the goods were. Yes, this can be a bad thing, and a few pieces did seem a little shoddy (some creaking, plastic connector pieces). But most of it was well-made from what I could tell -- not as strong as some other stuff one could buy, but a heck of a lot better than Wal-Mart screw-lock crap and easier to move around and rearrange than a lot of what I usually see. Not everything one owns needs to be able to ride out five tornadoes. And a lot of that bulkier stuff isn't all that well made anyway.

The one potential drawback I could see is that it all has to be assembled at home. Michelle Malkin wrote one heck of a bitch post some time back, probably a couple of years by now, about how bad their directions are for even the most simple stuff. This could lead to headaches, or worse yet, stuff that's too hard to put together well and so it ends up being rickety or wobbly or whatever. Any time user error is introduced into something, the finished product suffers.

But still, I was greatly impressed by their stock. Maybe I just don't go to the right places, but I've never seen these concepts of conserving space and maximizing resources so prevalent in any other store I've been in. I remember looking at living room sets, and none of the traditional furniture stores had jack that was reasonably small or less than several hundred dollars. Now I see why so many yuppie types are so high on IKEA. For anyone living in something other than an oversized house (i.e., pretty much everyone living in urban areas), the place is a cost-effective one stop shop for all interior needs.

* This reminds me of other great furniture "innovations" that America has imported, such as futons and simple pieces made from lightweight wood. Clearly our excess and decadence in this country have led us to take too much for granted, whereas in most of the rest of the world people still have to think about such things as functionality and versatility. It's nice, and amazing, to see stores that sell such stuff taking off in a culture that is in so many ways built around a lack of awareness of simple concepts like living within one's means and stretching one's resources.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

another one down

Just got curious, too curious, and checked the going price on 2007 Avalanche's. They start at $33,035 MSRP. Damn. Another dream smashed into the rocks. I guess I'm back to the drawing board to try to figure out how the hell other people on the planet afford this crap. Oh well, better schedule another trip to Vegas soon I guess.

Dunno if it's a good thing or not, but I'm starting to gain some understanding into why otherwise sane people can spend a lot of money chasing an all-but-impossible goal. I guess gambling is to adults what sports is to high school jocks. Even though you know in the back of your mind the thrill will wear off eventually and you'll have little to show for your efforts except lost time, it's nice to think you'll be one of the few to reach the lofty heights everyone always dreams about. And the quest is fun until the end. For a lot of people, gambling their money away is about the most excitement they see, and since humans (especially men) crave that, it goes without saying that anything that can offer such adventure in a world otherwise devoid of it is going to be a huge industry. Enter prostitution, pornography, and so much other trash out there. There's of course a lot more to say here but I'll stop now while it's still Sunday night and not Monday morning.

Well, not quite so fast. I guess this all wraps back to the same thing in the end that keeps coming to mind these days. The more we have, the more we think we can get along without God, and so money/stuff/whatever just leads us to delude ourselves. The logical conclusion is that one should want less so that he'll rely on God for more, but the leap between knowing and doing is just too big there. That's one significant difference between me and folks like missionaries, "follow your own path" types, or others I aspire to be like. The dream and desire is there, but the actual willingness to basically give up all the material junk and false joy is missing. Makes sense upstairs but is too hard to put into practice. As the old saying goes, talk is cheap until you walk the walk.

In a weird sorta way, I thank God that the way I/we live makes so little sense to me and I feel so alone and lost in our society. If I were ever able to get comfortable and just fit into a world that beats the life out of humanity as well as ours does, it wouldn't speak well for my ability to see and stand for truth. Stubbornness and refusal to accept norms has its advantages I suppose.

finally got a christmas tree

Check this out:

Jesse's Amazingly Awesome Christmas Tree
Okay, so it's kinda small. But it's still a Christmas tree, no less real than those contraptions everyone else has these days. And it's even decorated too, so no extra work needed. Best of all, it's plenty big enough for all of my presents to fit under it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

a story about real athletes

Gene Wojciechowski has written a great article for about some of this past year's football players, coaches, and managers who played through some trying (to say the least) circumstances. Check it out here. It's well worth the read and offers solid proof that there are some true heroes in the ocean of money and hype that college football has become. It also shows the rest of us what real hardship can look like.
Real courage has more to do with the soul than the stats. It is about the simple, honorable act of trying to overcome an adversity that would otherwise render most of us into puddles of tears. It is about something as elemental as the human spirit.

- Gene Wojciechowski

Sunday, December 03, 2006

oh the weirdness...

Just realized something while flipping through a birthday will be on Easter Sunday this coming year. Tell me that isn't borderline freaky. It's a good thing I'm not any more superstitious than I am. Not that I'd know what to infer from such a coincidence. But still, that's just plain weird.

more on stuff not related to football

...but continually brought up in a football context nonetheless. That last post got me thinking so now I'm rolling. Bill Simmons, a.k.a. The Sports Guy, hit the nail on the head with another one of my pet peeves. Football commentators that talk too much -- that is, any at all -- about junk not immediately pertinent to the game at hand have no place in the booth. The Sports Guy explains this obvious concept in more detail here, but I'll elaborate a little on my own.

Have you ever tried to sit down and watch a game you're really interested in, such that it's not just "on" but you're actually trying to pay attention to it, and one or more loudmouths in the room ramble on about crap not related to the game being played? Then you most surely know how it makes your blood boil and you just want to beat them into silence and even proceed to beat them after that point has been reached so you can then focus on your game, right? That, to a lesser extent, is the feeling I get when I'm watching a game and the sportscasters keep jabbering about topics not pertinent to the game. Rather than contributing insight and tidbits of sports wisdom that might otherwise go unnoticed, their talking actually detracts from the game and makes it harder to follow the action.

I think I speak for most football fans when I say we watch games because we are -- gasp! -- into football. We don't watch because we want to hear about players' personal lives or care about what X big-name celebrity who is in attendance thinks of what's going on. So spare us the pointless crap and give us guys like Madden and Keith Jackson (ABC's college football play-by-play guy, not the Arkansas color commentator, for those familiar with the latter -- those Arkansas' Jackson is pretty good too) who know football and will stick to each play as it happens, and the specifics of a team's preparations or other such things that directly impact what's happening on the field, and not wander off into subject matter that has little or no relevance to what we're watching.

To this end, I will offer some suggestions to current and up-and-coming football sportscasters...

* Give lots of numbers. Those matter in football. "Third and short" doesn't tell me as much as "third and two." But I know that much more about what I'm seeing if you actually say the number. This includes in-game stats, too. If a guy is tearing it up or not doing jack then I want to hear that. That gives me a better picture of how the whole game is and has been going. This is actually a huge advance of following games online vice on the tube -- stats are updated in real time and one can easily track things like completions and tackles and stuff. But it still doesn't do justice to a football guy talking about ebbs and flows he sees. So let's have more of it.

* Never, ever, ever invite a non-football guy into the booth and proceed to have a conversation with him while there's a game going on, or invite a football guy into the booth and force him to talk about something other than what's going on out there on the field. That stuff can be interesting at times, but it should never take place in lieu of the booth regulars doing their job of providing good game coverage.

* Do away with the buffoons on the field that have no more knowledge of the game than most of the viewers. To be honest, it seems that they're often young, pretty women who have probably been given face time for reasons other than their gridiron intellect. So maybe this sounds sexist. I don't care. It's a real problem with games. Sideline reporters especially need to know and understand the game; Simmons does a good job of explaining this. Guys like Lynn Swann can infer from what they see and understand what's happening down there in a way that allows them to add valuable color commentary to games. Some average Joe Fan, or some woman who clearly knows so little about football one is only left to suspect she was put on the crew to satisfy some diversity quota on somebody's desk, cannot do this. As importantly, he/she doesn't have that "one of us" kind of respect needed to interact with the players on their level. And so nothing is added except maybe a small dose of comic relief every now and then. And the poor sideline reporter appears more often than not to be put on the spot and forced to fill dead air time with some stupid scrap of info that means nothing or is so blatantly obvious it needn't be said.

For the purpose of illustration, allow me to digress for a paragraph here and relate one of the greatest moments in the history of televised sports. The Eagles were playing on Monday Night Football a few years ago, in the days when the notorious Melissa Stark was the sideline correspondent for ABC. After the first half ended and the teams were heading off the field, Stark did the customary interview-a-coach thing and stopped Andy Reid on his way into the locker room. (In fairness to Stark, the Eagles hadn't had a good half and Reid probably wasn't thrilled to have to stop and deal with her on his way to addressing his players.) She started off with a dumb question along the lines of, "What do you need to do to get back in this game?" Unfortunately I don't remember the exact question but I remember thinking it was a bad one as she asked it. Without missing a beat, Reid responded, "Melissa, I can't believe you just asked me that question", or something to that effect. Then, instead of trotting away or throwing her a lifeline of some sort, he just stood there with that stoic Andy Reid look on his face and waited for another. A clearly rattled Stark managed to sputter out a couple more questions, an all-business Reid gave vague "say something to get rid of her" answers, and the interview was over. I actually felt sorry for Stark, as she was probably fed the question or couldn't think of anything better and Reid just completely put her in her place. I can't do it justice here, but it was one of the funniest sports moments I can remember seeing. I'm laughing now just thinking of it. Great stuff. Ant it demonstrates how having a clueless field correspondent on a crew can lead to some humor.

* Don't have guys in the booth that tend to dominate conversations. They'll ramble on about all kinds of crap or be so intent on explaining their own point of view that the perhaps helpful commentary of others in the booth will be lost.

* Don't have guys in the booth that clearly hate each other. They'll just throw jabs back and forth and detract from the game. This has been a big problem on MNF back in the McGwire-Theismann days, or with Greg Gumbel and pretty much anybody. Come to think of it, McGwire was a problem case for the previous bullet point too. He was probably the root of the trouble with that crew. Too bad, I always wanted to hear what Theismann had to say and yet he never seemed to say enough.

* Probably most importantly, get guys who speak to football fans and not casual sports fans or folks who only watch because they have to (i.e., someone else in the room has commandeered the remote). Catering to these latter types will only piss off the real footbal fans watching and it probably won't net very many more fans who will continually want to tune in. They can find what they're looking for outside of sports programming. Stick to your true target audience and make sure they get what they want and don't start hating your crappy sportscasting.

There are more points here I'm sure, but I can't think of them now. (Why do so many of my blog posts end like that?) But that's a good start. If only I could dictate the rules of football broadcast booths...

the saints and hurricane katrina

John Clayton of ESPN just struck a nerve with this bit from his latest article: "New Orleans fans deserved something like this following the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina." Clamp it, John. Let's all just STFU already with the way-overplayed Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Saints stories. Okay, Katrina sucked big time. And it sucks that so many people were displaced from New Orleans, including the Saints. But please, please knock it off with that "feel good story of the year" crap. If I read or hear one more sports pundit go on about how the Saints and/or their fans "deserve" this because of that hurricane I'm gonna shoot somebody. The NFL is about football, not heart-touching emotional junk that belongs in the daytime talk shows.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against pulling for the Saints. I've come to kinda like them myself just because I'm tired of all the gushing some of their hugely overrated divisional counterparts (read: Atlanta, to a lesser extent Carolina) get year in and year out. But if you do root for the Saints then at least do so because they're a damn good team making a solid push at the playoffs, or because they've pulled off a nice turnaround from last year, or because a rookie coach is doing wonders with them, or because you're just a Saints fan, but not because we want them to make us feel better about the disenfranchised of the world. That's not what football or sports in general is about. And when we make it about that, we take the sport out of sports.

Come to think of it, there needs to be an auto-shutdown rule here similar to that Hitler one. You know, the one that says the first idiot to mention Hitler or Nazis in any argument not directly concerned with Hitler or Nazis automatically loses the argument and the issue is considered settled. Well, the first Oprah wanna-be that mentions Hurricane Katrina when the Saints are being discussed should have to shut up right then and there and cease to participate in any further sports-related discussion for the duration of the event at hand. That would solve a lot of problems I think.

To set the example, since my post title breaks that rule I'll shut up now.