Monday, November 14, 2011

Cities bringing the smackdown to "Occupy;" why it'll prove a mistake

                The weekend crackdown on several big-city “Occupy” protests is odd on many counts.  Occupy sites in Denver, Portland, Oakland and Nashville have either been recently evicted or are under the threat of an impending removal.  While local authorities claim the forceful removal of these groups is to protect public health and safety, in reality local governments are simply sick and tired of these protestors.   Can you blame them?  I’m a supporter of the movement myself, but even I can see how one would want to get rid of dissent, especially if one had the power to do so.  Though the protests may have been quaint at first, a nice example of young people becoming politically active and utilizing their Constitutionally protected free-speech rights, to civic leaders their just becoming a pain in the ass. 

In some ways local mayors probably initially liked the protestors in that their actions drew some national media attention to their cities. Yet local leadership has been spending so much money patrolling the protests, clearing sites, even using heavy construction equipment to demolish snow igloos (Denver) the costs associated began to mount.  Citing vague and indefinable justifications like “public safety,” “public health,” and “sanitation” local authorities have finally brought the smack down to many city Occupy protests.  Though many conservatives likely wonder what took leadership so long, the ouster of these many groups will prove to be a mistake. Here’s why:

1.        By removing the Occupiers, a city removes the need for a constant police presence. No more riot-gear-clad police, no more overtime hours racking up, no more budget-busting late night engagement.  By removing the Occupiers, cities have taken away an easy target for those disparaging conservatives.  No longer will conservatives be able to whine about the expense being caused by these protestors to the local municipalities.  No longer will conservatives be able to label the protestors as a bunch of do-nothing bums who need to get a job.  Mistake #1

2.       By kicking the protestors out before winter, cities are doing the movement a huge favor.  Rather than having to suffer through the bitter cold of the coming winter months, the same cold which pundits felt would be the doom of the movement, Occupiers now can simply show up each day or on weekends to protest.  Thanks to the cities kicking them out, the protestors don’t have to look weak when they pack up because of the cold, the movement won’t suffer the embarrassment of lagging numbers camping out, and conservatives won’t be able to rip the protestors for not being strong enough to suffer for something.  Mistake #2.

3.       By evicting the protestors, cities have become exhibit A for the Occupiers .  What’s more convincing of the problems of big government that’s at the bidding of corporations than when that same government is seen all over the media dragging people away, spraying folks with pepper spray, and beating protestors with batons.  These evictions are just reinforcing the foundations of the movement while giving them priceless TV time and media attention.  If cities want the Occupiers to give up they’d be a lot wiser to just ignore them. Let them freeze out all winter, leave them to rot, keep the police away, and most importantly don’t do anything to the protestors to draw media attention.  In time, the media and the attention of the nation would divert to the next story.  After all, in our visual culture, what’s out of sight is out of mind.  By bringing all the media focus to the protests because of the evictions, cities are doing the movements a huge favor. Mistake #3.

The truth is, most government leaders just don’t get it, and why should they? Why should they support a movement which calls attention to the very system which keeps so many of them in power? It’s the massive political donations of corporations—oh wait, “persons”—which fund the campaign efforts of so many (all) politicians and causes their political terms to be 2,4, or 6 years of just giving paybacks to those “people” (corporations) that supported them during their campaign.  Nope, they don’t get it, and for anyone who’s a supporter of the Occupy movement, we’re better off that they don’t.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Success with (Dis)Honor at Penn State.

 Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past week has by now heard something about the Penn State scandal.  The story is too unbelievable, too stunning, and too disturbing to rehash.  All we as spectators can do is ask the mystifying questions: how could this go on for so long? How come no one said anything? How could anyone pretend nothing happened?  Why was everyone apparently more concerned about themselves and their school than about the children? The more I learn about this story the more I just shake my head in utter bewilderment; why?
Is there anything, any words, from the entire English language that could be formed into a sentence that could begin to answer these and other questions???
Thoughts on Penn State:
1.       PSU doesn’t deserve football if this is what they are willing to allow this to go on.
2.       The “Death Penalty” should be applied to the program.  This is a loss of” institutional control” if there ever was such a thing.
3.       “Joe Pa” was successful, but not honorable. When honor and morality were desperately needed, he was lacking.
4.       An entire administration sold its soul for football. The President, the Athletic Director, a Vice President and for God’s sake Mike McQueary?
5.        Happy Valley will never be the same. They painted over the Jerry Sandusky moral, but perhaps they should have left it to be always reminded what they allowed for football glory.
Criticisms of PSU are all over the web these days and rightly so, but I’d also like to ask a bigger question.  Penn State is not alone, college football is entirely driven by money and winning; the two are interrelated.  Winning brings money, money tends to bring winning.  NCAA BCS football presidents have bought into the cult of money and success; those are the only two things that matter. The ridiculous BCS conference realignments are about noting more than money; school presidents are chasing after a pay day and they’re more than willing to look the other way now and then in order to keep a good thing going.  After all, you don’t win, you don’t make money.  Academic fraud? Sex parties? Sex abuse? Sweep it under the rug; we’ve got games to win and money to make; why should we sacrifice money for morals?
If it only stopped there, because really this is a bigger problem in American culture; our obsession with money and winning. “You ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t trying.” “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” “Winning is like shaving—you do it every day or you end up looking like a bum.” Sports fans are the worst example, we may cheer for the good guy, but we’ll always cheer for a winner. It’s amazing how fast we can forgive an athlete for an ethical failure if they are successful on the field play.  We teach our kids that in the “real” world there are always “winners” and “losers;” does there always have to be losers?  Does there always need to be winners?
If winning is the ultimate value in a society, people will do anything and everything to get there.  Penn State won; they even did so legally—yet morally? Far from it. And that’s the problem; just because I win within the confines of the law, does that make it morally right? And that’s not even getting into all the illegal stuff often done to win—and I’m not talking about just sports here.  Capitalism is all about declaring winners and losers, and to the winners go the spoils.  We see from PSU, that a company can be legal in winning, but far from moral. 
We as a society have got to take a hard look at our own values, because we’re ultimately hypocrites if we scorn the actions at Penn State, yet still promote a “win at all cost” culture in which money and winning are the only things that matter.  With all the money floating around college football to be had, it’s no wonder teams constantly push the edges to win and get a chunk of that pie.  It’s no different in our society, there’s wealth galore out there, and as long as money is God, we shouldn’t be surprised when individuals, colleges, companies, and corporations go all out to win—even if that means losing their soul.
What’s the Bible verse about gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul?
Yeah, America, that’s us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tim Tebow 3.0: the blueprint for success

It’s strange how deathly silent the sports media has been on Tim Tebow after the Broncos recent win. Despite being more than willing to trash Tebow after his horrific performance against the Lions, there only seems to be a few sentences here and there about this past Sunday’s success.  But to begin, I’d like to point out 2 things:

1.        Tebow’s struggles were against some pretty good teams.  Yes, the Dolphins are 1-7 but they just smashed the Chiefs on the road and the week before nearly beat the Giants on the road as well.  The Lions, as everyone seemed to forget, are a very good team this year. Not only that, but they were coming off a 2 game losing streak and determined to get back to their winning ways.  The Lions are 6-2, hardly an accident or fluke at this point.  Not only that, but the Lions (along with the Dolphins) have a very good defensive line, and against the below-average Denver offensive line, Tebow never stood a chance.  Heck, even Tom Brady looked horrible last week when he was constantly pressured and hit. As the saying goes, “it all starts up front.” Tim Tebow’s success or failure will largely be dependent on the performance of the O-line.

2.       The Broncos are just a bad team in general. Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are getting lots of love, and deservedly so, but the Panthers and Vikings are far better teams all around.  Carolina’s record the last 3 years: 12-4, 8-8, 2-14.  Three years ago they won 12 games! Their demise was due to poor QB play (Delhomme, Moore, and Claussen).  Throw in a decent QB and they’re competitive, yet for all Newton brings to the table, the team is still 2-6.   The Vikings are another example: 10-6, 12-4, 6-10.  This is a team that was a Brett Favre interception away from the Super Bowl two years ago!  This is a team that has arguably the best RB in football in Adrian Peterson. Again, what’s been the demise of this team? Poor QB play from Favre last year and Donovan McNabb this year; Ponder is 1-1, with that one win coming against the Panthers.  Given the all-around talent, both teams should improve with decent QB play.  The player who should be getting criticized is Blaine Gabbert; the Jaguars are 1-5 when he starts.  Jacksonville’s record the last 3 years: 5-11, 7-9, 8-8.  This was a team on the upswing and having a decent QB would continue that upward trend, yet Gabbert’s poor play is pulling them down.   Oh, and Denver’s record the past 3 years: 8-8, 8-8, 4-12 (and remember after that 6-0 start in ’10 they went 6-20).  Denver was clearly a team on downside before Tebow even got a start. 

I predicted (see my Facebook) that Denver would beat the Raiders and the Chiefs.  So far I’m 50% right.  Playing against average to below-average teams will provide a clearer picture of what Tebow can do. Last week was a solid foundation from which to build on if the Broncos wish to go all-in on Tebow.  Certainly one game is not enough of a sample size, but it does provide a blueprint on how to succeed.  Play strong defense, run the ball well, and don’t turn the ball over.  These are certainly easier said than done, but these three things were certainly true of John Fox’s Carolina teams so there’s no reason to think he can’t make it work here.

The real question is whether Denver wants to build around Tebow; because for the offense to succeed around him, the team must acquire players that will fit in a similar offense to which he ran at Florida (the zone-option read play was hugely successful against the Raiders). Are the Broncos willing to take that big of a risk? We’re talking 2-3 years of drafting players to fit into this system and then if that doesn’t work, another 2-3 years fixing the mess.  It means drafting a La’Michael James next year instead of a Landry Jones next year, and so on.  Is Elway—whom himself was the conventional NFL gunslinger QB willing to go against everything he knows and everything the NFL has been for the last decade-plus—willing to take a shot on Tim Tebow and take the risk necessary to acquire the personnel necessary for the system to work? I doubt it.  Starting Tim Tebow was more about shutting the fans up and saying “I told you so” when he failed.  So far it isn’t working as the Broncos are 2-1 so far under Tebow, but time will tell.

Can Tim Tebow be successful in the NFL? I think so, but not in the conventional “Brady/Manning” mold. Will Tebow ever throw for 300+ yards and complete 65% of his passes? I doubt it. But Tebow did account for nearly 250 yard of offense last game, and ten yards running is as good as ten yards passing in my book.  Converting all those runs to passes, his line would be 22/33, 242 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT with a QB rating of 108.3. Decent stat-lines I’d say. With a solid defense and good running game, the Broncos would be a very competitive team.  Can the Broncos win with Tebow? It’s all up to John Elway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

If America is a Christian nation, we’re sure not acting like it

There is a lot of negativity these days surrounding government assistance programs; so-called “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid and Medicare. Many people find themselves “benefitting” from such programs because of mistakes they have made—like poor financial or social choices.  Throughout the media, from the talking heads to the political pundits, I hear complaints that taxing the wealthy, asking them to pay their “fair share” to help fund these programs is essentially punishing the wealthy for their success.   Beyond penalizing these “job creators” for their achievement, taxing them to fund “entitlement” programs essentially is an enablement to those receiving those benefits. 

The people I hear complaining are also the ones who like to say that America is a “Christian nation,” or at least that America was founded on “Judeo-Christian values.”  Let’s go with that.  What then are three core values of Christianity?  I would say grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Since the Bible is considered the foundational document for Christianity, we should look at what this sacred book has to say about these values and perhaps more importantly, what the Bible describes about God and God’s relation to these values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

So what does the Bible say about God’s grace? It’s overflowing.  How about God’s forgiveness? Never ending.  And what about God’s mercy? Always available.  What did Jesus teach us about forgiveness?  Forgive 70 x 7; forgiveness is to be a continuing, never ending practice of Christians.    

Just because the Bible describes a way of living, just because God demonstrates these values to us every day, “Your mercies are new every morning,” doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to practice those same values ourselves.  Far from easy, it’s extremely difficult; giving someone second, third, even fourth chances is hard, very hard.  I get that sometimes we want people to face the negative repercussions of their poor decisions they have made—that’s human.   Guess what’s not human? God.  Somehow God is able to repeatedly forgive us for our faults. Somehow God’s grace is enough. Somehow God can handle not giving us what we “deserve.” God’s mercy is incomprehensible. 

These things are all understood in the context of individual human beings, but if you hold to these theological positions and you understand America to be founded as a Christian nation or at least on Judeo/Christian values, shouldn’t that mean a commitment by America on a political/governmental level to practice these same values?  Therefore, wouldn’t “returning to the values our nation was founded on” mean a return to the Godly, Christian values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness? If America was founded as such, America as a nation—in the social, political, and governmental decisions it makes should be acting in ways to promote the values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

So when I heard all the negativity regarding government assistance programs, regarding second chances—even giving people what they may or may not deserve—what comes through is unwillingness by America to practice these values of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

If God is willing to forgive us our sins, show us mercy by saving us from hell, and be magnificently gracious by giving us an eternity in heaven, shouldn’t we as Christians and as citizens of this “Christian” nation be more than willing to demonstrate to others these same values?  Yes, people have issues, many of their own making, but lest we say “they don’t deserve it,” perhaps we should remember that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

If you believe these things to be true

If you believe this nation to be a Christian nation

We should forgive, we should show mercy, and we should be gracious as a nation, even to those who “don’t deserve it.”  For if not, we simply have to admit we as Americans simply are not acting that Christian.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Choosing to Love

My wife and I are strange people who don’t pay for a television provider.  It’s nice in a way because when the cable or satellite company comes to sell their service and asks how much I pay for TV and I tell them I don’t have either, they tend to be dumbfounded and leave me alone.  That being said I also think DTV is a big scam between the government and those TV providers in that DTV sucks.   I can finally watch football on Sundays thanks to my father-in-law giving me his old converter box!

Since I haven’t taken the time to wire up my totally awesome 10 year old, tube TV with the curved screen to the DTV box, my wife and I tend to watch quite a bit of Netflix (and no we didn’t go for that Quickster crap either).   One night when trolling the new TV show releases we found this show “Life Unexpected” that looked interesting and we started watching (The one negative of TV shows on Netflix is that most of them are not being made anymore so you end up getting into something that only has 26 episodes which you’re already halfway through…)

The whole story of the show is based around a male and a female who had a “one night stand” in high school; the girl got pregnant and decided to give the baby up for adoption. Well, like 16 years later this girl tracks down her father and mother seeking “emancipation.”  Due to some medical problem early in her childhood, she was never adopted and had been bounced around the foster system.  Long story short the birth parents (who were not a couple) are given joint custody of the daughter after she flops at her “emancipation” hearing. 

Sure enough, like any good drama, there’s a love triangle, and this one is between the birth mom, the birth mom’s boyfriend, and the father who’s suddenly back in the picture and brings back old feelings.  So there’s this back and forth drama in multiple episodes about who loves who, who is “meant” for each other, blah, blah, blah.  Well, finally the mom and the boyfriend –turned –fiancé get married—only before the wedding the father is struggling with feelings for the mom, who herself is struggling with feelings for the father.  Well, conveniently neither one is willing to admit it to the other, yet the day of the wedding the mom sits in the church with her daughter unsure of her desire to marry the other guy.  It’s the wise beyond her years daughter who reminds her mom that just as she had this fantasy that her parents would marry and they would live happily ever after, these feelings by her mom for her father were also a fantasy.  She reminds her mom that “what you have with (the fiancé) is real.” After all, “it’s not having feelings for two people that matters, it’s what you choose to do about them”

 The episode comes to an incredible end.  Sure enough the father makes one of those dramatic attempts to get to the church to stop the wedding only to get stuck in traffic; he bursts in through the double doors of the church just as they finish their vows.  There he stands, there they stand, looking back and forth at each other; we see the father’s desperation, the groom’s bewilderment, and the bride’s... Well, we’re not sure—until she turns, looks at the groom, and kisses him.  What’s captured in that shot is nothing short of spectacular.

More powerfully than my words can ever express, the images display that love is ultimately a choice. By turning away, by looking at her groom, by initiating the kiss the bride showed that despite whatever feelings she may have had, she was going to CHOOSE to love this man.  It’s quite beautiful.

What struck me was how counter-cultural this episode was, for feeling are equated with love in our entertainment culture; love is something that just happens, it’s almost accidental—“I fell for you.”  Feelings are almost always portrayed to be this overpowering force which can’t be defeated (Seredipity) and happen suddenly (Failure to Launch, The Proposal). Oh, and that cliché of running into the church almost always works (Made of Honor).  Yet this episode demonstrated clearly and powerfully that love is actually a choice!

This is an important reminder for all of us in marriages or committed relationships.  “Feelings” for another will develop and crushes will happen – these same experiences we laugh about from our childhood we take seriously now.  It’s Crazy; yet so many of us buy into it every day.  “But I felt something, there was a spark;” are we slaves to our feelings? Do we not have a brain?

I would bet that everyone who has ever been in a long-term committed relationship has at one time or another had feelings for another person outside of that relationship. Yet, “it’s not having feelings for two people that matters, it’s what you choose to do about them.”  We are presented with a choice, who will we choose to love?  We can go after the fantasy or we can stick with what real. Choose wisely. 

(If you’d like to watch the episode I’m referring to its season 1 episode 13 of “Life Unexpected” on Netflix.  And after watching just that one episode you’ll understand why it’s not still being aired on the CW, it’s not nearly trashy enough for that network!)