Saturday, December 31, 2005

Trojan farce?

An interesting perspective on USC from Slate about why the 2005 Trojans are overrated. But mostly it pokes fun at the 24-hour non-stop lovefest that ESPN (or as some wags call it USCPN) has become. Regarding the highly-flawed methodology of the USC vs. greatest teams of all-time analysis:

The ESPNers also entertained the thought of this year's Trojans facing off against great powers from a generation ago. May noted that the 1969 Texas Longhorns ("the size of the players ... forget it, they're gonna roll over them") and the 1955 Oklahoma Sooners ("Not even close, and I look at the size of the players … their starting center was 5-8, a sophomore, and 158 pounds") would both be overwhelmed by today's Trojans. Which is probably true, though one could use this method to prove that the 2005 Temple Owls were the greatest team of all time. Fielding H. Yost's 1901 Michigan team trampled opponents by a cumulative score of 550-0. But, hey, the forward pass wasn't legal then, and those guys didn't even wear helmets. The concussions alone would make this a huge Temple blowout.

I guess we'll find out how good they are on January 4. But clearly nothing will be settled until they take on Temple.

In case you missed it

Foreign Policy magazine published its 10 stories you might have missed in 2005 and its quite an eye-opener. Among the findings:

  • Europe has a zombie constitution. Yikes!

  • The War on Drugs wasn’t a complete failure. We trained lots of South American mercenaries who can now help us fight in Iraq. And the best part is that no one in the U.S. notices or cares if they die.

  • The possible successor to North Korea’s dictator is a huge NBA fan. Can anybody say Ambassador Michael Jordan? Who needs missile defense when you have a shyhook jump shot?

  • Blame Canada and their 24 percent increase in Greenhouse gas emissions for global warming. Stick that in your Kyoto Protocol and smoke it!

  • You can say anything you want at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday afternoon and no one gives a ripshit.

  • Terrorists like to play volleyball.

  • Something is happening in India.

  • Missile defense wasn’t a COMPLETE waste of $92 billion.

  • Buying oil futures for 2030 might be a good idea.

  • 119,247 veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought VA healthcare. But why don’t we report more good news out of Iraq?
  • Friday, December 30, 2005

    Random thoughts on fandom and sport

    I’ve got the Rose Bowl fever. I’ve consumed the Burnt Orange Kool-Aid and I have to say that it tastes great. I’ve spent more time (and money) on eBay chasing tickets over the past two days than I would care to admit. But we Texas Longhorns have spent a lot of time wandering in the wilderness over the past couple of decades and now find ourselves looking into the promised land. The thought of not being there to see with my own eyes what could be the culmination of that journey was too much to bear.

    What does it mean to be a fan? It may seem silly to anyone who doesn’t feel passionately about a sports team, but being a true fan becomes part of your identity. Look at the fans of the Cubs or the Red Sox or the Yankees. Their passions run deep, and their allegiance to their team is a part of their identity and it determines who they are as much as anything in their DNA.

    Really being a fan has a lot to do with a sense of place. I think a lot of it has do with saying, “I am proud of where I am from and my team is going to show you just how great we are.” If you live in Manchester and pull for Man U or in St. Louis and root for the Cards, a lot of it has do with pride in where you live.

    Sometimes it’s more about reminding you of another time in your life. I know lots of people who root for the Cardinals or the Yankees because those were the only teams they were exposed to on the radio or TV in the little town where they lived. And certainly that’s true about college teams. It’s easy to feel like you are still a student when your rooting for your team. It’s like Garrison Keillor once said about classical music: he loves it because it stays the same no matter how old you get. It’s the same with Texas or Oklahoma or Ohio State. That’s still your school and your team no matter what else changes.

    But I’m also thinking about sport itself right now. Thinking about sport paid my mortgage for a lot a years and I was always puzzled by people who took the thing too seriously. In part, sport is an extension of celebrity culture in the U.S. We are fascinated with how much A-Rod makes or who is dating the whom or who is taking steroids. But many sports fans are rabid about the numbers – the batting averages and quarterback ratings and plus/minus percentages. My mind could never hold all those numbers. They hold no fascination for me.

    And I also think too much is made about The Significance of Sports. Life Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Most of the time, sport is just a guy chasing a ball.

    But sometimes, it’s more than that. When Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938 and Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, these events were more than just a moment in a sport. They became transcendent moments and symbols of larger cultural shifts. They also became great stories.

    So I guess I’m more interested in the stories and the themes than the stats. Kirk Bohls wrote today about who was the greater Texas coach: Mack Brown or Darrell Royal. An interesting question for the Orangebloods to ponder, but what struck me was this:

    But Royal's flair for the dramatic is what truly separated the charismatic coach, whether it was his speech-making or play-calling. He had the Wow Factor. With an innate sense for the moment, he knew what to say at every turn, and he knew when to call 53 Veer Pass to tight end Randy Peschel in the Big Shootout in 1969.

    I am fascinated with that sense of the moment – the patience required and the instinct involved in choosing the right time to speak or act. Don’t we all wish we knew how to do this in our own lives?

    Another thing I have pondered was a question someone once asked Vince Young about the Horns comeback in the Rose Bowl last season, and he said that Coach Brown told them to expect bad things to happen and not let them get you down – just go out and play your game. That’s some pretty good advice for life, I think.

    Anyway, I don’t want to overthink this too much. Reggie Bush sucks and we will destroy USC like the insignificant ants that they are. After all, like Walter Cronkite says, “We’re Texas.”

    There. I feel better now.


    Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    Alabama modern

    Yes, I am one of those people who gets all their news from the New York Times. Actually not all of it. Just most of it. The rest comes from NPR and the Daily Show.

    Here's what I found today. Evidently, Hale County in Alabama -- where James Agee and Walker Evans chronicled the plight of Depression-era sharecroppers in their classic Let Us Know Praise Famous Men is now a hotbed of modern architecture thanks to some help from a Auburn University program.

    It's nice to see modern architecture, which was meant to offer decent, affordable housing to the masses, actually do just that.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    At gloaming

    There are things I understand and things I believe. I understand that happiness is like the tide that ebbs and flows but I still believe that it is more like a summit that can be attained.

    I know that life is filled with struggle and difficulty and those are the things that ultimately build our character and make us human. But I am always searching for evidence to the contrary. And when you are looking for something you can usually find it. I had one of those moments when the tumblers of the universe fall into place -- everything clicks and time falls away and all that is left is happiness and magic captured in a perfect yet fleeting moment.

    My daughter and I went to shoot hoops at the park yesterday. It was getting late and I knew that we would have only an hour before sundown. I was in a shitty mood because the day had gotten away from me and I hadn’t done any of the things that I had wanted to (isn’t this always the case?) Finding that our two favorite basketball courts were occupied soured my mood even further.

    We discussed the characteristics of a good climbing tree. I explained to her the importance of low branches and knobs for getting a good start and rough bark to get a good footing. I told her about the old tree in the vacant lot next door to the house where I grew up and how I loved climbing that tree. I would scale to its top-most limbs and feel the tree sway and hear its leaves rattle in the breeze. Those moments were about as one with nature as I have ever been.

    All of this talk fueled her desire to climb a tree. So off we went in search of a good climbing tree.

    We found that most of the trees in Overton Park and Foster Park we not of the climbing variety. You find lots of cypress along the dry creek bed, but these really don’t make good climbing trees because the low branches have been cut away and the bark is too smooth to generate much traction. Still, we tried to climb a few only to see our attempts foiled.

    After a short walk, we found a Live Oak at one end of the park near the tennis courts. I boosted my daughter into the tree and then tried to lift my rather un-nimble 36-year-old self into the tree with no luck. Thanks, tree, for making me feel so decrepit. However, I kept trying and thanks to an old branch that my daughter had been using as a walking stick, I was able to get enough a boost to grab a branch and swing into the tree.

    Truth be told, we didn’t climb very high. My daughter wasn’t confident enough in her tree climbing abilities and my desire to climb high higher was tempered by my wish not to have this know as the Christmas that Dad fell out of a tree. But I would have thrown myself to my doom before I would suffer the humiliation of having the Fire Department rescue me.

    We sat and talked for 10 or 15 minutes before we climbed down in the golden light of the fading day. We walked and talked some more. My daughter climbed on tree stumps and postured like King Kong on the Empire State Building. We reached our car but decided to walk a little longer. We strolled a little farther down the park. In the twilight we spoke of the trees and the colors of the sunset – the soft clear blues and the ever-changing oranges, pinks, purples and yellows. I told her that nature can teach you all you need to know about which colors work well together. I showed her silhouettes of trees against the sky and we rolled down hills into piles of leaves until we stood up dizzy and laughing.

    Twilight is my favorite time of day. To be able to walk at the gloaming and share with my child the things that stir my soul was a perfect moment, an instant when time seems to stop and God whispers in your ear, “This is it. Don’t miss it.”

    That’s when my daughter told me how much kids like to walk and talk in the evenings with their dads and their friends, talking about everything and nothing. It seemed unlike her to refer to the experience as if she was talking about someone else, as if she wasn’t comfortable sharing her feelings so candidly. But then she spoke about how she like walking with me after football games in Austin as we wandered the dusky streets from the stadium back to our car.

    I hated for all of this to end. It never lasts and you have to savor it in the moment, appreciate at that very moment like when you are standing before a great work of art in a museum you know you may never visit again. However, these memories are like leaves that press in the pages of a book. You can go back and visit them and experience some of the lingering magic.

    Monday, December 26, 2005

    A Christmas story

    Christmas stories are much like the day itself – filled with magic and possibility but ultimately a little disappointing. As a child you wait the whole year for that day and as it inches closer, you anticipation rises until you feel like you will burst by Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, there’s that feeling of … well, not emptiness, but more “Is that it?”

    Most Christmas stories are the same way. Unlike old George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge, most of us don’t experience a Christmas epiphany that leaves us glad to be alive and thankful for our time.

    However, there is one story I know that captures this.

    I met Karl King at an SPJ meeting a month or so after I lost my job a few years ago. I meant to do some networking after speaking on this panel about dot-coms and electronic media or something like that. But I already knew most of the people there and none had any job leads, so I ended up talking to this old guy who wanted to talk about his book. He had some interesting stories – he went into the Marines at 14 back in 1939 and ended up in a Japanese POW camp. He went back to school after he retired from years as a broadcaster and earned his Bachelor’s degree in his sixties. I thought I might be able to put together a story about him and sell it, something to pass the time and make a few bucks.

    I met Karl at a coffee shop about a week later and spoke with him for two or three hours. And there he told me this story.

    He told me many stories about his POW days – surrendering on Corregidor and going for days without food or water, burying the dead who had rotted for days under the merciless sun, beatings, malaria and living in the dark, hot hold of a freighter steaming from the Phillipines to Japan. However, when I asked him if he held any bitterness toward the Japanese about the way he was treated, he said no. Here’s why:

    “A Japanese civilian. Mr. Miamoto, that I had worked under on several occasions, motioned for me to follow him. He led me to a corner of the shop behind some boxes. The little man had straight black hair and small moustache. His demeanor and body language reminded me of Charlie Chaplin without a cane. Squatting down on his haunches he wrote a little message using a piece of chalk. “12-24-42,” he wrote. Then he drew a Christian cross and box with a ribbon bow on top. With sign language and pointing to his writing on the shop floor, he had me understand that he was aware of our custom of giving a gift a Christmas time. With that, he produced a small paper sack and pressed into my hands his Christmas gift. It was a sack with about a teaspoon full of sugar. Mr. Miamoto indicated to me that I didn’t have to give anything in return. Back at camp that evening I heard several POWs recounting similar experiences, receiving gifts from cigarettes to candy. I later learned that Mr. Miamoto’s gift was his entire December ration of sugar.”

    Karl explained that when people ask him if he was bitter because of the way he was treated by the Japanese, he would say no. He knew groups are capable of terrible things, but individuals like Mr. Miamoto were capable of great kindness.

    Karl’s lack of bitterness is humbling. I’ve known people who have suffered far less and nurtured their anger and resentment far more. But not Karl. Instead he quotes Emerson’s essay on self-reliance. He doesn’t look at his life in terms of bad things that have happened to him, but instead in terms of his own strength and determination to overcome adversity. That is what I take from this Christmas story: many times you get what you are looking for out of life. We should all have the courage to find the joy and happiness in this word.

    Merry Christmas.