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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greed is not good

Last week, I was driving to work and heard a report on NPR noting the expansion of the annual NCAA Basketball tournament to 68 teams from the current 64.

I don't watch much basketball - pro or college - except for the Gators. But after their amazing back-to-back championships in 2006-2007 it's been a little slow in Gainesville for Billy Donovan and the Gator Nation. At least we've had Tebow.

No doubt there are a plethora of pundits who could, would and will expound on the value of adding additional participants to the round-ball love-fest referred to as March Madness.

Personally, I believe it's all about the money.

In the 1987 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas' Gordon Gecko is famous for saying, "Greed is Good." 

I couldn't picture them making that movie today. The only people we would see at the theater would be wielding torches and pitchforks - not tickets.

NPR reports that the NCAA signed a 14-year, more than $10.8 billion deal that will expand television coverage beyond CBS - although they will still have sole possession of broadcast rights for the coveted Final Four. More than $10.8 billion? Does NPR not know how much more or is the NCAA just equivocating? Greed.

Another reason I don't care for the expansion of March Madness - and believe me, it won't stop at 68 - is that it plays into the new mentality that everyone is a winner. I'm all for self-esteem, but if we want everyone to be a winner, why play? I wonder how the organizers and sponsors of the NIT Tournament reacted to this news. Where will the teams come from that will be added to the NCAA tourney? I'm guessing from the NIT pool. So the NCAA gets better and the NIT, well, doesn't.

Not to mention that with a bigger pool of competitors, the NCAA and CBS will have to come up with a new name.  Either that or just pretend - like Major League Baseball - that the old one still applies. Boy's of Summer? March Madness? With more teams, I can't see the NCAA tournament fitting into March.  Oh wait. The final this year was played on April 5th. Too late.

I'm sorry to be all Johnny Raincloud about this. Coupling a sport I really don't have much interest in with a Trump Taj Mahal full of money...

 Could you fit $10.8 billion in this building?

... none of which benefits the players, is just a recipe for disaster. But here's a suggestion: next March, how about just going outside with your kids and playing basketball. That's free and a lot more enjoyable. Isn't that a mad idea?

What do you think?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Ginger Prince once more...

Paul Scholes scored a dramatic goal on Saturday to give Manchester United an injury-time victory on Derby Day. The tie at Eastlands was fraught with drama if not goal-scoring panache. United are the Cardiac Kids of English Football, albeit a bit long in the tooth these days. But oh how many times have I sat in downcast misery as the clock struck 90 minutes - only to erupt in rapturous glee the next as Solskjaer or Keane or Cantona or fill-in-the-Red-Devil-hero-of-the-day here, has wrenched a victory or crucial draw from sure defeat. This time, a day after signing a one-year contract extension, the 35 year-old Scholes provided the honors.

The Ginger Prince in flight

There is still work to be done. Even with an inspired win over their City rivals and Chelsea's somewhat shocking loss to in-form Tottenham Hotspur, United have tough games ahead in their quest for an unprecedented fourth Premiership crown on the trot. Ironically, that challenge starts next Saturday at Old Trafford against the very same Spurs that have gifted the Red Devils with championship hope once more.

So while crimson-clad fans the world over rooted their hearts out for Spurs this past weekend, next week will be spent throwing them under the proverbial bus. With any luck, the Ginger Prince will be in the driver's seat once more.

What do you think?


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Magical Mystery...

I don't know. Maybe I'm more in tune with the Vatican since watching Angels and Demons. This morning, up pops the news that the seat of Catholic power has made peace with the Beatles.

I had always imagined amazing and secretive meetings in the cloistered confines of Vatican City. Bishops, Cardinals and the Holy See praying and strategizing on how to blunt the progress of atheism and spread the love that is Jesus and His Holy church.

Frankly, I'm a little disappointed.

Someone in the Vatican has actually been keeping track of the anniversary of John Lennon's 1966 famous - or infamous - quip that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.


Forty years since the breakup of the iconic band, it's time for the Vatican to issue an official forgiveness proclamation?

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano paid glowing tribute to how the Fab Four's melodies transcend their mortal sins and " on like precious jewels."


What do you think?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cell phones are evil

I just walked across the parking lot to pick up something for lunch - all of maybe two hundred yards one-way - and noticed a young lady pulling out of the drive-through lane whilst putting her food down, driving, glancing around for other traffic, and ... talking on her cell phone.

This just struck me as wrong on several levels.

1. Isn't it rude to both the restaurant employee and the person on the other end of the call to be on the phone as you place your order, pay and pick up your food at the drive-through window?

2. Personally, I find it annoying and a little painful to have to hold my cell phone between my neck and my ear so I can use my hands for other things (like driving and shifting gears). I would imagine others would as well.

3. Pulling out of the drive-through lane while trying to accomplish several things at once tends to take a little away from all of them - something that seems a tad dangerous when one of them is paying attention to your surroundings while operating a motor vehicle.

I don't subscribe to the thought that cell phones are evil because they contain some inner demonic properties, as show in this video...

On the contrary, I believe cell phones are evil because of the cultural, societal and behavioral changes they engender in us humans.

Before everyone gets all defensive, I'll admit that I am the first to embrace all that is cool about cell phones. I've been using them since you needed a bag to carry one around.  But I still get cranky when I see people blatantly ignore rules and/or common sense in the use of their mobile phone.

Ten years ago, I was flying to Riyadh and was perturbed to note how several passengers, on our final approach to King Khalid International Airport, already had their cell phones out, on and dialing. This despite the clear instructions from the crew to wait until we were inside the terminal building to use cell phones. I tell you, if I had died because someone couldn't wait to call their buddy and say (in Arabic), "Hey, Mohammed; guess where I'm calling you from?" I would have been some cheesed off.

Since then, the airlines have caved. I have determined that the use of personal electronic devices is not really dangerous because of wireless signals causing potential interference with the aircraft's navigation systems - it must be that they're more worried about said personal electronic devices becoming personal electronic missiles in case of some mishap on approach/landing.


In the common sense category, is driving a motor vehicle while organizing your lunch, talking to your friend and trying to note any potential hazards to navigation really a good idea? Or has multitasking become so de rigueur that merely doing one important thing at a time is considered slacking?

I put today's observation in the same category as the woman I passed the other morning who was reading a book while driving down the interstate. My gosh, is driving so downright boring that we need to engage our brains in some random activity in order to stay awake?


According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, 21 states now ban texting while driving. My state (according to the table at the GHSA website) has no bans in place. Not even for school bus drivers.

I wonder where the kids get the idea that using a cell phone is OK while driving?

Even more amazing, Florida (my state) as recently as 2005 had a law banning localities from banning cell phone usage. (Business Week). Is that not evil? The state banned individual communities from enacting safety laws to protect the taxpayers.

Perhaps the cell phone isn't actually evil. Maybe it just brings out the latent evil in all of us. With lawsuits stemming from inappropriate photographs taken with cell phone cameras to the latest sexting craze, it's obvious that humanity will strive to find evil uses of this, and other, technology.

What do you think? Are cell phones evil?


Friday, April 2, 2010

A moment of lunar-see

Earlier this week, I was driving to work and saw the moon so close I thought it was crashing to earth. The sun had not yet broken the eastern horizon and our nearest satellite hung in the brightening sky like a luminous silver ball, looming low and large in the western sky.

I couldn't help but be awed by the beauty of the dawn. But there were other elements to the morning. Beauty in the shape of the aforementioned full moon, silver against the sapphire morning sky. Undulating fog as I crossed the bridge, heading due west into God's night light as it slowly set. I had never seen fog like this: I wasn't driving through it - but off to the south it rose and fell across the bay and the hidden barrier islands as if shaping itself into some kind of spectral roller coaster.

Alongside the beauty lay function - the still-new looking bridge; three lanes of pale concrete stretching across the watery blue expanse, making my journey so much shorter. We appreciate the purpose of this span even more than before - since its predecessor had been tossed aside like so many Lego blocks by the force of Hurricane Ivan. My old car still humming along, taking me to work and the slim aluminum light poles...dark now in the morning but ready to light my way home at the other end of the day.

And ugliness. The belching smokestacks of the chemical plants north of the bay. How much ugliness do we endure for the sake of modern convenience? Much more than I see in my world. Perhaps that's the trick: the better we hide the ugliness, the more we are willing to tolerate it. But this morning, white and gray smoke plumed forth from the stacks, inexorably craning into the impossibly blue sky like the pillars of Olympus - if they had been designed by some heartless, soulless character from an Ayn Rand novel.

Beauty; function; ugliness. A microcosm of our world. God created this blue planet for us to live on and care for. He gave us beauty and function, but I think that we have far surpassed ourselves as creators of ugly. Do we turn from it? Do we embrace it? Do we use it as motivation for change?

What do you think?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

I know where the Holy Grail is...

...sort of.

I watched a very interesting program on History International last night that opened with an investigation of the Kensington Runestone. The Kensington Runestone is a large slab of rock with enigmatic runes carved into the surface on several sides. A farmer, Olof Ohman, found the stone entwined in the roots of a tree he felled on his farm in 1898. The Ohman farm was located about two and a half miles northeast of Kensington, Minnesota.

What does this have to do with the Grail?

It was late, and I was tired, but as best as I could follow, the Kensington Runestone is purported to have been buried in Minnesota in the year 1362. You heard right - 130 years before Columbus discovered the New World, some other Europeans were in MN. It's pretty clear that Norse explorers had been to what is now known as North America prior to Columbus but again, what does that have to do with the Holy Grail?

As near as I can tell, the program on History International made the case that it was actually the Templars that buried the stone. The program investigated various sites in Newfoundland and the United States where artifacts and other runestones have been found. This included a trail of clues that led to the storied Oak Island Money Pit in Nova Scotia.

No one has been able to breach the ingenious booby trap that floods the pit with sea water when explorers get to a certain depth. There are many theories about what lies at the bottom of the pit - money, jewels, priceless documents, and yes - even the Holy Grail.

I started thinking about that this morning. Let's say one day someone devises a way to beat the trap and recover whatever lies at the bottom of the pit. Let's allow that it is an ancient cup of Hebrew origin. What will that mean? People will accept it as the Cup that Christ used at the Last Supper. Others will argue unto death that no one can prove he actually drank from it.

In the end, what will be gained?

It is not the cup that holds meaning for us - it is the search within all of us for life's meaning. What is God's plan for our lives? The Grail is just how that search is objectified for some.

Now, if they find the Ark of the Covenant, that would be a different story!

What do you think?