May 2009 Archives

R.I.P. Jack Bauer.....PLEASE!!!

"24" has just - mercifully - finished its seventh season.  As Jack lay on his death bed, receiving remarkably progressive advice from an imam that he pray to Allah to be able to forgive himself, I couldn't stop myself from saying "I can't believe I waited almost a year for this!"  With the writers' strike last year, a lot of shows were delayed or truncated, but they managed to come out of it fine ("Lost" immediately comes to mind).  Not so with my (formerly) favorite show.  The strike sapped the momentum, and it just never got its legs back.

There were hints of what was to come in the beginning of season 6.  Jack, recently released from a year in a Chinese prison (during which he didn't utter a word to his captors), breaks down and cries like a little girl after he sees a mushroom cloud over Valencia.  Season 1-5 Jack would have responded with "Who detonated that nuke?!? I will find you and KILL YOU!!!!  Season 6 Jack tearfully declares "I can't do this anymore.  Boo hoo."

Season 7 opens with Jack facing a Senate subcommittee investigating CTU.  Rather than facing questions along the lines of "If CTU was in charge of intelligence gathering and fighting terrorists, then why was it so easy to infiltrate and attack?!?!?" we had to endure "Did you hurt bad guys' feelings?"  Season 1-5 Jack would have declared "I did what I needed to do to save a snot-wiper like you.  Now, get out of my way, I have bad guys to kill!!!"  Season 7 Jack said "I am tormented by what I have done.  Please forgive me.

We don't want an Oprah-fied wimp protecting us from terrorists.  We want a man's man, who isn't afraid to raise his voice and (if necessary) inflict a little bit of pain to find out where the bomb is.  We want Chuck Norris, not Alan Alda.  Heroes are supposed to be superhuman, not pre-menstrual.  Jack spent more time this season discussing his emotions than he did fighting terror.  Unacceptable.

But what really bothered me about Jack's death bed apology to the imam to forgive him for his misdeeds against Muslims is that Islamic terrorism played a very tiny roll in any of the seven seasons, and I can't think of Jack torturing any innocent Muslims.  This seemed very forced and didn't mesh well with the previous seasons.  He should have called his sister-in-law and begged forgiveness for killing his brother and leaving her a widowed mother.  Or he could have called his ex girlfriend Audrey and apologized for torturing her ex-husband because he believed (mistakenly) that he was involved with the bad guys.  Also, after he tortured the dude, he interfered with the CTU operating room doctors, leading directly to his death.  Perhaps he could have called her up and asked that she forgive this....except, he couldn't because she is in a mental institution, broken by what he did to her.  (I think the producers of "24" should call all of us and beg forgiveness for not having that mountain lion eat Kim back in season 2).

The final moments of the season finale didn't actually show Jack dying.  For all we know, he's about to undergo "gender reassignment surgery" and "Jack" will now be "Jackee'" and the show will now be called "224".  And if that's the case, the show would be not be any worse than it was this past season.

Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, let Jack Bauer die.

Lessons in Humiliation...errr.... Humility

My best friend Chris and I competed in our first triathlon last week.  While we have finished six marathons together, nothing could prepare us for the mental and emotional beat down handed out by an Olympic length tri.  Yes, we could swim the 1500 meters it required to finish.  Yes, 25 miles on a bike will make you feel like you spent the night sitting on top of a spiked flag pole, but we could do it.  And 6.2 miles running?  Please.  We do that before breakfast.  Although we'd never done these feats back to back to back, and although a heat wave caused morning temperatures to top 100 degrees, we were ready to swim, bike, and run!!!

But we weren't quite ready for the emasculation that we would suffer.  First, when we arrived at the starting line, volunteers with Sharpies scribed our bib numbers on each arm.  When we asked why that was necessary, a volunteer responded "It's so we can identify the body should you drown or get run over."  Mmmm-kay.  Maybe he was kidding.  Then, our age was written on each calf.  I can't think of any explanation other than sheer humiliation for this data bit being permanently marked upon my leg.  Words cannot properly express the depth of one's embarrassment of having a 60 year old woman (it's written right there on her calf in case you wondered how old she was) run past you like you are standing still.

But before I could experience having someone older than my mother leave me in the dust, I had to get through the swim.  It's a swimming start, which means your age group is herded into mile-deep water and you are instructed to tread water for approximately twelve hours while they let the previous group clear the area.  Once that happens, a horn is sounded and a stampede of arms and legs thrashes all about until you figure out that it's safer to swim behind the pack than in it and start to fall back.  Safer, that is, until the next group to start catches up to you and then the whole mosh-pit-in-the-water thing begins anew.  At least I think it was the next group of swimmers.  With water too murky to see for than 3 inches in front of you, it's impossible to tell who is kicking and punching you.  For all I know, Chris was taking out some long-held aggressions on me and blaming it on mud weasels.

Getting out of the water, we run to our bikes.  After jumping on, we are guided out to the street and pointed in the proper direction.  For the next two hours, the only sound I hear is "On your left!!!" as bike after bike flies past me like I am parked.  Maybe it's the fact that I am a runner and not a biker.  Maybe it's the heat - 102 degrees is freakin' hot, no matter how you slice it.  Maybe it's because my $200 Scwhinn I got at Wal-Mart isn't the finely-crafted racing machine that these other riders have (I did have one rider laugh and say to me "You're riding that in a race?  You are a super-stud!" as he breezed past me).  Whatever the reason, after 25 miles I was ready to get off my steed, and I am sure it was more than happy to be rid of me.

By the time Grandma zipped past me, I had banished all hope of finishing with any dignity and resigned myself to being happy just to finish.  "Why are all these old people in so much better shape than I am?"  I kept asking myself.  "Steroids" is the only answer that made sense to me.

As we turned the corner and headed for the finish line, there was Stephanie, camera phone in hand to record the event. "Boy that bike shirt makes your gut look big" she remarked while reviewing the photos.  "Do you think those extra 25 pounds slowed you down?"  What a ridiculous thought.  It was obviously my choice to live steroid-free that cost me this race.

The Universe is in Harmony Again

Anquan Boldin is everything that I love about football.  He's tough, a competitor, and plays even when injured.  He's not the fastest receiver on the field nor is he as gifted as his co-worker Larry Fitzgerald.  But what he lacks in raw football skill he makes up with his heart. After literally getting his face broken at the end of the Jets game, he was back on the field a few weeks later and as productive as ever. When Stephanie and I took the kids up to Cardinals training camp for autograph day, the first player we sought out was Q.  Stephanie even told him that he was the very reason she loves watching the Cardinals play.

Drew Rosenhaus, on the other hand, is everything I hate about football.  He is Boldin's (and a lot of other players') agent.  He is obnoxious, provocative, and a fomenter of discord.  One of his most famous tactics is to send text messages and e mails to NFL GMs (and reporters covering those teams) informing them of the fact that some of his clients are available for trade - except the clients in question were not available for trade.  Rather, they were wanting new contracts, and the Drew Rosenhaus method of getting them more money involves trying to make the GM's life miserable to the point that a trade is the easiest way out of town.  This sours the relationship that the team has with the players, but also (and way more importantly) the relationship the player has with the fans.  We fans want our teams to keep our good players and then add more to the team, making it better.  We do not want our favorites acting like spoiled children, complaining to the press that $5 million a year is an insult.

So, we Q-philes have been suffering a love/hate relationship with our favorite player.  On the one hand he is the Cardinals.  On the other hand, he employs as his agent someone who is willing to poison the well and break up our team.  We've had to deal with this cognitive dissonance for years, and it has made us question our love for Q.

No longer.  Today, we get news that Boldin is dumping Rosenhaus.  ESPN is reporting that Q has informed RosenSatan that he is getting kicked to the curb.  All is right in the football universe.


My Problem With People Who Have A Problem With Gay Marriage

In the entry below I have listed my primary objections to the way that gay marriage is being instituted in this country.  If you haven't read it yet, I do not at all address at all my views on homosexuality because, frankly, it is irrelevant to the argument.  Marriage is  the real issue, not homosexuality.  In that same vein, I'd like to voice my primary contention with the actions and attitudes of many who oppose gay marriage.

The most common argument I encounter from gay marriage opponents is that we need to protect marriage, and allowing gays to marry would undermine heterosexual marriage.  Now, one may state that allowing gays to marry would undermine the definition of marriage, but it certainly would not undermine heterosexual marriage itself.  You know what undermines heterosexual marriage more than anything else?  Divorce.

For all the energy spent protesting Adam and Steve at the city hall getting their marriage licenses (and, yes, I understand that an awful lot of the anger comes from the way that the marriage laws came to pass - see the entry below) I don't see any energy spent demonstrating against no fault divorce.  As I posted below, marriage (in the form of the nuclear family) is the very foundation upon which our society is built.  Having a stable family is vital in raising healthy children and developing them into productive adults who contribute to society.  Marriage encourages and fosters this.  Divorce and absentee parenting (more commonly the father being MIA) tear at this foundation.  One of the most powerful predictors of poverty is being raised by a single mother.  Likewise, you are far more likely to end up incarcerated if you were raised by your mother alone than by two parents.  Allowing or not allowing gays to marry each other is not going to alter this one bit.

Marriage, as we are dealing with it in the courts and in the media, is a civil arrangement, sanctioned by the state and subject to its rules.  It is basically a contract similar to a business partnership, but with the added wrinkle of needing to sort out the condition of the children should things break up.  If the state wants to recognize two people wishing to pool their assets and make a commitment to each other, why should we stop it?  Society is better off when people settle down, commit to one another, and follow through on those commitments.  

For me, that is separate and distinct from the religious side of marriage, which has its own sets of customs and rules.  If my church decided that it would accommodate and conduct gay weddings, I would have a problem with that.  But that is a separate issue altogether.

My Problem With Gay Marriage

By now, most everybody has formed an opinion on the issue of gay marriage, and adding another voice to the argument is not really constructive if it's just to repeat the same thing that lots of other are saying.  So, let me list some reasons that may not be getting a lot of traction from others, beginning with the more high-minded and philosophical and progressing down to the selfish and utilitarian.

First, let me acknowledge and proclaim that my love for this country is vast and deep.  Almost stalker-like.  If I had to list the best 5 countries in the history of the world, that list would read "1. USA, 2. USA, 3. USA, 4. USA, 5. USA."  We are a free, tolerant, open nation accepting all who live here (even if they are here illegally.  But that's another issue)  One of the most fundamental things about this great nation is that we are ruled by laws rather than men, and those laws are accessible to we the people, and are subject to change based upon the will of the people.  We directly elect those people responsible for making our laws, and they respond to our wishes.  Unpopular or unfair laws do not remain laws very long.  That is an awesome thing about our country, and lies at the very heart of our government.

On the other side of the coin, when that system is disregarded, ignored, circumvented, or bypassed, I have a serious problem with it.  It offends me to no end.  I don't like my system of government tampered with and stories of obvious ballot box irregularities make me want to punch someone in the face.  Voter fraud = treason in my book.  Likewise, when hot button issues are punted to the courts to let law be implemented by judicial fiat, my blood boils.  Courts are not places of compromise.  They are not places of deliberation of the will of the people, and most judges who decide these controversial subjects do not face election.  They are insulated, and therefore (to my mind) ill-suited to impose law upon the rest of us, especially when those laws are immune from change or repeal.

The issue of gay marriage does not belong in the courts, but rather in the legislatures of each state.  If the people of a state wish to debate the issue and decide to define marriage to include two (or more) same-sex people, then so be it.  Let legislators state their case, cast their vote, and then face the people on election day.  That's how we do things in this country. Alas, legislators are only too happy to allow courts to decide this issue (as well as most other hot button issues).  Abortion, affirmative action, etc. are decided by courts because legislators have decided it is better for them politically not to take a stand.  They would rather not have to face voters after having taken a stand.

Gay marriage is being imposed upon many states not through legislative deliberation in which each side is heard and compromise is reached.  Rather, it is court-ordered in a one-size-fits-all manner.  Most offensive is the way in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to pass a bill providing for gay marriage. Ponder that for a bit.  Judges ordering elected representatives what to do.  And the fact that the Court looked at the state constitution of Massachusetts for their justification is a real head scratcher.  The state Constitution of Massachusetts was written by John Adams, and included such phrases as "it being the right and the duty of all people to acknowledge and worship God" and called for public days of prayer to be paid for by the state.  Something tells me that john Adams would disagree with the Court's interpretation of his document.

My second philosophical problem with gay marriage is that states should be allowed to define what certain things mean, and what certain things do not mean.  If the state wishes for marriage to mean "one man and one woman" it should be within the state's right to do so.  When activists sue the state to have the definition changed, and a judge agrees and orders the change, then the train has really left the rails.  If the definitions of things are constantly open to revision and expansion, then those things have lost their meaning.  Why should redefinition of marriage be stopped at two same-sex couples?  Why not three?  And why should marriage be defined in sexual terms, anyway?  Why shouldn't two siblings be allowed to take advantage of the benefits that society has bestowed upon married couples?  Or a mother and her child?  At some point the state not only has the right but also the obligation to definitively proclaim "this institution means this, and not that."  Even proponents of gay marriage would seem to agree with this.  They just disagree on what the definition should be.

But why would three people wish to marry?  Or siblings?  Or parents and their children?  It has been said so often that it has become trite, but the nuclear family is the very foundation upon which our society has been built.  It is useful and desirable to encourage and support the nuclear family.  Therefore, certain benefits and privileges have been bestowed upon married couples, both by the public as well as private sectors.  Community property, shared health benefits, the ability to make medical decisions, etc. are all commonly-understood benefits of marriage.  It is understandable that those who are not in heterosexual marriages would wish to take advantage of these benefits.  And not just for gay couples.  If a pair of adult siblings live together and care for one another the way a married couple would, then why shouldn't they have the same rights that a married heterosexual couple does?  In that regard, the whole field of civil unions has become more high profile and should be considered as a way for couples (or even larger groups of people) to enter into a state-recognized contract, in which each party bestows rights upon the other.

And that's where it gets really thorny for me, and leads me to my final, most self-centered point.  As an owner of a small business, I offer medical insurance as a benefit.  The more elastic the definition of marriage becomes, the greater the financial exposure and burden become.  Insurance companies are in the business of numbers.  The greater the risk that the insurance company calculates it faces, the higher my premiums become.  One of the most frequently-stated reasons given by gay marriage proponents for wishing to be married is to obtain spousal health benefits.  The assumption is that these benefits will be subsidized by some third party, because if they weren't then why bother getting married to get the coverage - if you could get the same coverage for the same money as a single person, the marriage offers no advantage.  Someone has to pay for that savings, and, as an employer, I would rather not have to pay it.  Is that selfish?  Probably.  But it isn't any more selfish than somebody wanting to change the definition of marriage so that they can save some money on health insurance, is it?

Too Big to Fail

Imagine this: you are placed in charge of the federal government and given carte blanche to do whatever you seemed appropriate to fix what is broken and to solve problems.  The first item that lands on your desk is the following: you must decide which of two companies to assist financially, and which to let struggle and possibly fail.  They are ABC Corp and XYZ, Inc.  Both are manufacturing concerns who employ scores of thousands of people.  Both are in the same industry and are direct competitors with each other.

ABC Corp has burdensome contracts with labor unions, which has led to high labor costs, generous retirement benefits, and out of control health benefit obligations.  There are nearly 4 retirees for every current worker.  Because of these obligations, hourly labor costs per employee are 50% higher for ABC Corp than for XYZ.  To make matters worse, ABC Corp's credit rating has dropped over the past fews years to the point that it is having a hard time borrowing money.  And for good reason - it has a hard time paying its debts.  ABC's products have a reputation (whether it is valid or not) of being inferior to XYZ's, and sales have slipped.  It is considering filing bankruptcy.  In the past 15 years, ABC has shed more than 80,000 jobs to help stay afloat.

XYZ, Inc, on the other hand, is in sound financial condition, for a variety of reasons.  First, its reputation for quality is very good, given that the best 10 products in its field as rated by Consumer Reports are all made by XYZ.  This has led to solid sales, especially for repeat buyers.  Labor costs are under control.  While it pays its employees a comparable hourly rate to ABC, fringe benefits are more in line with other Fortune 500 companies, especially legacy costs (those paid to employees no longer working).  Its credit is good, and it has been expanding its manufacturing capacity to meet increased demand.  While ABC has been cutting its workforce, XYZ has added more than 90,000 people to its payroll in the US.

Given these facts, would company is worthy of assistance and which should be allowed to fend for itself?  Where would the money be better spent - on ABC Corp or XYZ?

This isn't merely an academic exercise.  ABC Corp is the American auto industry, while XYZ is the US component of the Japanese auto industry.  Our current administration is telling us that GM and Chrysler are "too big to fail", that we need to pour billions upon billions of dollars into these monstrosities.  What they fail to grasp is that lack of capital is not what got the US auto industry into this mess - a bad business model did.  The market is punishing Chrysler and GM for bad decisions they have made in the past.  Rather than trying to stave off the inevitable, our government needs to listen to what our free market is saying loud and clear: these companies are financially unsound.

But if GM and Chrysler stop making cars, what will happen to all those people who work for the auto industry and its related sub-industries?  That's really a red herring, a question meant to distract us from the fact that our money is being wasted on these poorly-managed institutions.  If GM stops making cars, the American public won't stop buying cars.  There will be just as much demand as before.  Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. will increase manufacturing capacity to meet this demand.  It makes much better financial sense to take all that money that we're throwing away on GM and lend it to Japanese auto makers so that they can build more factories and employ those people laid off by GM and Chrysler.  The only thing is - they don't need the federal government to lend them any money.   Their credit is strong enough that banks will lend them money, because they are confident that it will be repaid.

U2: The Best Rock Bad Ever?


It is at crisis points such as this (football season is still months away while my beloved basball team dwells in the cellar with no hope in sight) that I am left to ponder the great Questions of Our Times.  Ninja vs Pirate, Samurai vs Ninja, Aquaman vs. Borat, etc. are all worthy of reflection.  But the one that I keep coming back to is "Who is the best rock band ever?"

Some of the obvious bands to consider inlcude the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Who - worthy candidates all.  But all are flawed, in one way or another.  The Beatles went through a drugged-out phase in which they produced such drivel as Revolution #9, I'm Fixing a Hole, and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.  Plus, they had Ringo Starr.  

The Stones?  They lost their touch about 25 years ago, yet still keep on putting out (mediocre) albums.  Tattoo You was the beginning of the end, and it's all been weak since then.  So, count Mick and the other zombies out.  The Who and Led Zeppelin started with a bang, had solid periods, then faded toward the end.

Consider U2.  They have been making records since the early 1980's - nearly 30 years.  Each new album is something solid in its own right, and fans do not purchase (or download) the new stuff out of a sense of duty, or hoping against hope that the band has finally returned to its roots.

Now, U2 is not my favorite band.  Van Halen, by far, holds that distinction.  (If you wonder why I don't consider VH to be the best rock band ever, just say the words "Sammy Hagar" over and over until you figure it out.)  U2 is maybe in my top 5 or 6.  But, I have to give them them their due and nominate them as the Best Rock Band Ever.

Mike Vick

Michael Vick was released this week from his stint in the pokey, and will start his job soon as a construction worker.  I honestly don't know whether I should feel pity on him that he has squandered his talent and his money, and now faces the prospect of being shut out of the NFL forever, or whether I should feel satisfied by the fact that he is being punished for what he did.

On the one hand, the only skill he has (presumably) is playing football.  His major in college wasn't finance or electrical engineering, and the only marketable talents he developed during his two brief years in higher education were football-related.  If he isn't re-instated by the NFL commissioner, he'll have to follow some other path to earn a living (recall that he filed bankruptcy and has no money), and anything that does not involve him padding up and taking the field on Sunday mornings is going to be far less lucrative, so, being a Second Chances kind of guy, I feel pity.  A little.

On the other hand, this dog fighting thing wasn't Vick's first brush with the law.  Early in his NFL career, a truck that he owned was used by a couple of his friends to deal marijuana. Vick was never charged, but Falcons coach Dan Reeves used the opportunity to lecture the young QB on the importance of having high quality people as friends, and told him that he needed to associate himself with better people than he had been used to.  The advice was apparently disregarded, as soon thereafter some members of his entourage were busted on tape stealing a watch at the airport in Atlanta, although Vick was never charged.  These run ins with The Man should have alerted him that he needed to straighten up.  He ignored the warnings and eventually was arrested for acts far worse that stealing a watch.

One nagging thing that rolls around in the vacuum of my mind is this: If Michael Vick were as good a football player as Kobe Bryant is a basketball player, and if he played for the Dallas Cowboys rather than the Atlanta Falcons, would his career have been interrupted?  Would there have been the outage and sentiment to punish him?  Considering that in Kobe's case he was able to pay off his accuser while Vick had no such opportunity, I am left to wonder

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