Sunday, October 30, 2011

NFL Picks - Week 8 Primetime Games

In the afternoon games, I finished 8-3 and Ryan finished 7-4.  Here is the docket for the next two nights.  Let's get to them.  And enjoy the games!  -- J.L.

Dallas at Philadelphia (Sunday, 8:20 PM)

Ryan's Take: It’s Dallas week in Philadelphia and I still don’t know what to think about either team. Both teams play great at times during games and all of a sudden look like crap in other parts of the game. I think that this game will come down to turnovers and I think Dallas will get more turnovers from Michael Vick and win a close game.

Josh's Take: This is the Battle of the Enigmas. However, with my bias, I must get this out of the way...DALLAS SUCKS! Ok, I feel better now. Returning to an objective stance, the Eagles are pretty good when the lights are shining upon them, and with the homefield advantage, I believe that Philadelphia will prevail in what may be considered in the future to be an 'instant classic'.

San Diego at Kansas City (Monday, 8:30 PM)

Ryan's Take: The Chargers are a baffling team. They have all the talent in the world, but don’t play up to it. The Chiefs seem to be a team that has to play low scoring games to even stay in them. I think San Diego and Norv Turner figure it out for at least one week and beat the Chiefs.

Josh's Take: At the beginning of the season, this was an incredibly easy game to pick; now, I am not so sure. This is a tale of two teams moving in opposite directions. The Chargers look like they are on the downside whereas the Chiefs seem to be figuring it out a little more. This being the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. NFL, though, talent still prevails, and I like San Diego stepping into Arrowhead and actually 'stealing' one from Kansas City, as hard as that would have been to say just two months ago.

NFL Picks - Week 8 Daytime Games

Here are the Week 8 daytime games.  As I said last week, for the next couple of weeks, it will be just the picks for the day games; primetime games will get the full rationale and such.  Eagles draw a Sunday night game, so here's to hoping for a good slate of games all the way around.  Enjoy! -- J.L.

New Orleans at St. Louis (1 PM)

Ryan: New Orleans
Josh: New Orleans

Miami at New York Giants (1 PM)

Ryan: New York
Josh: New York

Jacksonville at Houston (1 PM)

Ryan: Houston
Josh: Houston

Arizona at Baltimore (1 PM)

Ryan: Baltimore
Josh: Baltimore

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina (1 PM)

Ryan: Carolina
Josh: Carolina

Indianapolis at Tennessee (1 PM)

Ryan: Indianapolis
Josh: Tennessee

Detroit at Denver (4:05 PM)
Ryan: Detroit
Josh: Detroit

Washington at Buffalo (4:05 PM)

Ryan: Buffalo
Josh: Buffalo

Cincinnati at Seattle (4:15 PM)

Ryan: Cincinnati
Josh: Cincinnati

New England at Pittsburgh (4:15 PM)

Ryan: New England
Josh: New England

Cleveland at San Francisco (4:15 PM)

Ryan: San Francisco
Josh: San Francisco

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Attempted Elimination Of A Meme...

Listening to the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" is always a nice moment for me.  It's a pretty song; Peter, Paul, and Mary hit the harmonies very well.

What has long bothered me is this notion that the song is somehow about drugs, and people will say this with the flimsiest of evidence, because of course it is OBVIOUS that a name like "Puff" couldn't refer to anything other than marijuana.  It actually boggles the mind that people will mindlessly buy into this.  Naturally, pop culture does its share of helping keep this definition on the weakest of evidence.  Behold this scene from the 2000 film Meet the Parents:

Greg (Ben Stiller) represents that mindless repetition that just because the name "Puff" shows up, that it NATURALLY has to represent smoking. Jack (Robert DeNiro) actually has it right - that it's just a song about a boy and his magical dragon. It truly is a fantasy song that is ultimately a song about the loss of childhood innocence and a boy who outgrows his own imagination. That just must be too hard for people to figure out, so they fall back on this meme that is based on just one word, that happens to be a name (lest we forget). I wonder if the idiots who started this meme in the 1960's were the same fools who believed that because Paul McCartney was barefoot on the Beatles' album Abbey Road, that he must have been dead. Just a thought. But I digress...

It is amusing that even Peter, Paul, and Mary have poked fun at the meme.  One would think that the words of the authors would be enough to settle this.  First, Leonard Lipton, who co-wrote the song (via Snopes):

And then Peter Yarrow (the "Peter" of the group (also via Snopes):

If that doesn't settle it, then I have nothing more to say about it to you.  One of the reasons that Don McLean refused to ever give the official authoritative meaning to "American Pie" is that he always feared the freaks who simply refused to respond to logic and the meaning that he, as the author, gave to it.  

So, what's the big deal, you ask?  Why is Lattanzi going off his rocker over the fact that people think that "Puff the Magic Dragon" is about drugs?  The answer is that this kind of thing is a microcosm of the attitude and mentality of people.  Even when confronted with the evidence to the contrary, it's just easier to retreat back into the simple mindset, even when one knows it to be false.  We want the truth, it is said, but the reality, as Jack Nicholson (in character as Col. Nathan Jessup) so bluntly put it...

We can't handle the truth.  Even in something as easy and simple as the meaning of a song.  If we can't even get that right, then how do we get the bigger things right?  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Musings...

It's Tuesday and there isn't really anything going on (which is unusual for me until Thanksgiving).  So I figured I would put together a few random thoughts and questions...

- The most depressing song I have listened to recently is Pearl Jam's rendition of "Last Kiss".  They play it in a relatively upbeat fashion, but the lyrics are just downright gloomy.

- Most teachers find the parental email asking what they (as parents) personally can do to improve their kids' grades from a B to an A to be the most aggravating ones (For the record, the answer is nothing).  I disagree.  Give me that any day of the week and twice on Saturday over the parent of the under-performing student who is deafeningly silent.

- I want to know why no one will just straight up call BS on Tony LaRussa's explanations as to why he had massive brain farts in managing his bullpen last night in the Cardinals' loss to the Rangers.  Although as of recently, LaRussa finally manned up and took responsibility for the giant snafu.

- I love weekends in which I know my football team went undefeated.

- I have been paying a little bit of attention recently to the whole Occupy...(Fill in the blank) "movement", and the only thing it has going for it right now is media attention.  There is no coherence to it other than 'eat kill tax the rich' (which has all sorts of unintended consequences in itself), and each and every day brings more revelations that the "movement" is ultimately going to cannibalize itself.  It's a Catch-22 for them: a coherent message and platform brings organization, but also makes them more susceptible to manipulation.

- Rick Perry's flat tax plan is too high.  Twenty percent is too much.  I would also keep capital gains at least a little bit.

- So Joe Biden wants to run for President in 2016?  Let him.  I can just see his platform...Vote for me or else the national murder and rape rate will skyrocket.

- Please pray for the victims of the earthquake in Turkey.  Much as with Japan earlier this year, I fear it will get worse before it gets better.

- The next 3-4 weeks are going to be hectic, to say the least.  We are the co-chairpersons of the annual Holy Redeemer Harvest Bazaar, which takes place on November 11th and 12th. This weekend, I will be making a presentation at all the Masses to gin up excitement and volunteers.  Wish us luck!

- Let's just get to Thanksgiving with everyone's health and sanity intact.  So let it be written, so let it be done...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

NFL Picks - Week 7 Primetime Games

Here are the picks for the primetime games.  Full recap will come on Tuesday.  Enjoy!  -- J.L.

Indianapolis at New Orleans (Sunday, 8:20 PM)

Ryan's Take: I think the Colts will move the ball against the Saints. I think the Saints are going to move the ball more against the Colts. New Orleans will win this one and it will be a closely contested game.

Josh's Take: Weirdly, this game will probably be an offensive shootout, as neither team plays very good defense. Ultimately, New Orleans will play better defense (relatively speaking) and pull out the win.

Baltimore at Jacksonville (Monday, 8:30 PM)

Ryan's Take: The Ravens have the best defense in the game right now and they are going to go up against a rookie in Blaine Gabbart. I think this game will be dictated by the Ravens defense and Ray Rice. Baltimore will win this game big.

Josh's Take: The Jaguars are starting a rookie quarterback, and the Ravens love to feast on such 'fresh' meat. I am surprised that ESPN allowed such a game to be played on their premier product. Baltimore walks all over Jacksonville.

NFL Picks - Week 7 Daytime Games

We are in busy season around here at Lattanzi Land. I apologize for not getting up the picks for the past two weeks. Through mid-November, we are just going to place the actual picks, but starting on the weekend of November 20th, the full explanations will be back for all the daytime games. Primetime games will still have full explanations behind the picks. Enjoy! -- J.L.

San Diego at New York Jets (1 PM)

Ryan: San Diego
Josh: New York

Chicago at Tampa Bay (London, 1 PM)

Ryan: Tampa Bay
Josh: Chicago

Seattle at Cleveland (1 PM)

Ryan: Cleveland
Josh: Cleveland

Atlanta at Detroit (1 PM)

Ryan: Detroit
Josh: Detroit

Houston at Tennessee (1 PM)

Ryan: Tennessee
Josh: Tennessee

Washington at Carolina (1 PM)

Ryan: Washington
Josh: Carolina

Denver at Miami (1 PM)

Ryan: Denver
Josh: Denver

Pittsburgh at Arizona (4:05 PM)

Ryan: Pittsburgh
Josh: Pittsburgh

Kansas City at Oakland (4:05 PM)

Ryan: Oakland
Josh: Oakland

Green Bay at Minnesota (4:15 PM)

Ryan: Green Bay
Josh: Green Bay

St. Louis at Dallas (4:15 PM)

Ryan: Dallas
Josh: Dallas

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Educational Paradox

Test days drive me nuts the most.

I know, it sounds completely counter-intuitive, but of all the days of the school year, the eight days a year I administer a test to my classes are the ones where I am the tensest and the most irritable.  Most teachers I know absolutely love test days, because they can  feel laid back and relaxed.  I am the exact opposite, and there are a few of reasons for this.

First, during a test I am always hyper-aware of what’s going on in the classroom – and thus am always on the lookout for any kind of foul play. This is not something for which I have to be constantly on the watch during a regular school day. A regular school day requires a couple of admonishments here and there for a lack of attention and preparation but not necessarily against academic dishonesty.

Secondly, giving a test bears with it the frustrations of explaining things several times that should be somewhat obvious. It’s interesting in that I don’t mind repeating myself so much during a regular class period, but during a test I absolutely hate it – especially when I had explained it at the beginning of class (or yesterday and Tuesday). I guess it has a bit to do with the fact that I don’t want to cheat the kids out of time taking the test. So much of test-taking is about momentum and getting into the frame of mind with the material. If I have to repeat myself, then it follows that I am drawing their attention away from concentrating on the test.

Thirdly, there is always the fine line of how to actually make a test, and this is one thing that only can come with experience; no amount of schoolin' can help in the art of making a test juuuuust the right length so that it isn't too short or too long.  It truly is trial and error, but the other issue is one of self-interest: how much does the teacher want to grade?  It is always an interesting question from a pedagogical point of view; different types of tests will tell you different things.  Hence, I have a little bit of everything on them.  It can tell me a lot of different things about the students, but it becomes a little more to grade.  And that's the trade off.

Two tests down.  Six more to go.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Useless Grandstanding...

So apparently, some members of the 'world's greatest deliberative body' as well as some of our finest bureaucrats have decided they need to stick their noses where they don't belong...
U.S. senators and health officials are taking on a baseball tradition older than the World Series itself: chewing tobacco on the diamond.

With the Series set to begin Wednesday between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, the senators, along with health officials from the teams' cities, want the players union to agree to a ban on chewing tobacco at games and on camera. They made the pleas in separate letters, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Quick disclaimer - I am a former smoker and I find smokeless tobacco to be repulsive at best. That being said, this is patently absurd. If they want to use chew and dip, then they should be able to do so. It's their life and freedom, and it is up to them to deal with the consequences of their actions. But that's not enough, it would seem...
"When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example," the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner.

The senators noted that millions of people will tune in to watch the World Series, including children.

"Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products," they wrote.
In Senate speech Tuesday, Durbin said, "Let's not let the health and safety of young baseball fans across America be a bargaining chip between the major league players and the owners. Let's win one for the kids across America."
This is what Senator Durbin used our taxpayer dollars to pontificate about on the floor of the Senate? Shouldn't they be working on things like how to remove burdensome regulations on businesses? Is this what our politicians are reduced to? Harassing entertainers and athletes when they are getting set to play on the biggest stage.  And for what?  To make oneself look good?

Never forget, our political masters know us better than we know ourselves.

Whatever happened to personal responsibility and parents actually, you know, raising their children with a set of standards?  Or do parents now expect the State to do that job for them too?  If our political masters were actually concerned about the health of the youth of America, they might undertake legislation that would actually put a dent into it:

Ban the NFL and football

But of course not; instead they decide to go after individual behavior that, by the way, is a choice.  You know, a choice?  But apparently, some choice is permitted while others are not.  I just get sick and tired of people who have made it their business to try and know what my business is.  Get a hint - butt out.  If Josh Hamilton and Matt Holliday want to pop a can of Skoal during the game, more power to them.  I also have the ability to say it's disgusting, and parents can teach their children about how it isn't healthy and the effects of long-term usage.

Senator Durbin, et al - shut up and go away.  Tend to your own house.  We'll tend to ours.

P.S. I'm pretty sure that Senator Durbin and Co. will have zero problem with protesters streaking across Busch Stadium during the World Series, though, because after all, they will just be 'making a statement'.  Children seeing nudity must be ok according to them, but grown men chewing tobacco isn't.  I just want to rip what is the remainder of my hair out.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Toughest Teaching...

In my class lately, we have been covering what I have termed to be Jesus' "Controversial Teachings", with the notion that in its own time and context the teachings were incredibly contentious.  Two-thousand years later, and only a couple of those are now not quite as controversial as they were to the primarily Jewish audience in the time of Christ.  The ones we covered are the following....

1) The Bread of Life (John 6)
2) Jesus forgiving sins (Mark 2, Luke 7)
3) Jesus using the name of God (YHWH) for himself (John 8)
4) The Good Samaritan (Luke 10)
5) Renunciation of Riches (Matthew 19)
6) Marriage and Divorce (Matthew 19)
7) Forgiving your fellow man (Matthew 18)

At first glance, probably #1-4 are less controversial now than they were in Jesus' time.  Many Christian denominations and churches celebrate some form of the Eucharist (correctly or not is a whole 'nother topic) and no Christian disputes that Christ forgives our sins or that he is the second person of the Blessed Trinity.  The parable of the Good Samaritan may only be controversial now because of the current laws that are named after the hero of that parable, though ironically, it is arguable that the current crop of "Good Samaritan" laws are actually antithetical to the spirit of what the Good Samaritan represents, but again, another topic for another day!  

So we are left with #5-7. 

In our day and age, at least on the surface, having to follow Jesus' command to 'sell all you have and give it to the poor' (Matthew 19:21) is very much against our borderline Mammon-worshipping society.  Wealth in ancient Jewish society was seen as a sign of one's own sinlessness, and today, it is seen as a testament to either a) blind luck or b) hard work.  Either way, there was and is a tendency to hoard for its own sake and to forget that it is only due to God's graciousness and providence that it is even possible.  

It hasn't been difficult for me, because through my life, I have never been wealthy in any pecuniary sense - most of life has been scraping by in some way, which is fine.  Sure, it's always nice to have more, but I will never begrudge others their earnings.  (One commandment that many tend to forget these days is the 10th - Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions. Unfortunately, we have an entire cottage industry that predicates their entire existence on envy.)

The issues surrounding marriage and divorce are way too numerous to recount here, but let's just say that there are hardly any people that haven't been affected by especially the latter in some way, shape, or form - whether directly or indirectly.  

This leaves us with #7, and what I consider to be the toughest teaching of Jesus to put into practice - forgiving one who sins against you.  It's interesting, because when we pray the Our Father, we recite the words 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' without any real regard as to what it means.  Jesus said that forgiveness is a constant, on-going process (hence we must forgive seventy-seven times, rather than merely seven).  

Quite honestly, there are many times when people just don't want to forgive.  We tend to concentrate on 'getting back' or 'evening the score', which was the essence of the Old Covenant's 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' admonition.  True forgiveness takes courage; a courage that not many of us possess for any length of time.  Grudges are held easily and our fallen nature makes it easy to do all these things except for what Christ called us to do. I do not exclude myself here.  I have gotten better in the past few years, but there was a time when grudges were very much a part of the deal.  I was wrong then, but I still have a ways to go. 

It's the on-going process of forgiveness that can be a deal-breaker for many, especially when you hear a lot of people mindlessly repeat the mantra 'forgive and forget'.  First of all, the default position for fallen man is to do neither of those things.  Secondly, Jesus' teaching doesn't permit forgetting; remembrance is necessary for the continued forgiveness.  However, we can stumble on that because remembering might make us angry all over again concerning the way we were wronged.   

It's never easy, of course, but as Christians, we are called to 'be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect'.  We get there, one step at a time.  It always reminds me of that one saying...

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sheer Idiocy On Display...

You decide which one is worse.

Behind door number one we have Jesse Jackson, Jr., a congressman from the state of Illinois and desirous of President Obama to just turn America into an autocratic regime:
Jackson called for full government employment of the 15 million unemployed and said that Obama should “declare a national emergency” and take “extra-constitutional” action “administratively” — without the approval of Congress — to tackle unemployment.

“I hope the president continues to exercise extraordinary constitutional means, based on the history of Congresses that have been in rebellion in the past,” Jackson said. “He’s looking administratively for ways to advance the causes of the American people, because this Congress is completely dysfunctional.”
In the interest of space, I should also note that Jackson likened opposition to the ironically and humorously titled "American Jobs Act" to the Confederate rebellion that caused the Civil War. Because obviously, a Congress doing their job to judiciously discern legislation is JUST LIKE the eleven states that seceded from the Union in 1860-61. Everyone, repeat after me: JUST LIKE SECESSION! can trade that for what's behind door number two...

Ex-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Devout and Faithful Catholic™ (yes, I am going there) decided that it wasn't enough to simply voice opposition to a bill that would prohibit federal funding for abortions under the recent health care reform bill (AKA 'Obamacare'), she needed to go over the top:
“Under this [abortion] bill, when the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene, if this bill is passed. It’s just appalling. It falls right into their -- all, it’s a health issue.”
No, it is not a health issue, Mrs. Pelosi - especially since ninety-two percent of all abortions are done for the express purpose of birth control.  It is amazing indeed that her first reaction is about her opponents wishing for death by supporting a bill.  Does she have no sense of irony whatsoever?  Or is that too much to ask?  Since abortion is a choice (as a large segment of our political masters keep telling us, anyway), then why  in the hell should a single one ever be subsidized?

Competition Is Good...

...except when it isn't, according to the Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools, Joshua Starr.
Elementary is doing this pretty well, but we need to have it more in middle and high schools," Starr said. "We need to convince folks out there that competition might not be the most important thing for our kids."
What is the most important thing, then?  It's one thing to say we put an overemphasis on competition to the detriment of other things, but it's another thing to say this:
"I'm a little concerned about the level of competition that exists these days," he said. "There's something in the American value system where we value competition over collaboration and cooperation, and if you look at how problems are actually solved in the world, many more are actually solved through cooperation and joint teamwork."
That's just a bunch of malarkey.  Cooperation and teamwork are all fine and dandy, but if there is no competition, the reasons for, ahem, TEAMWORK (and all of the implications that go along with the use of the term teamwork) simply vanish.  Competition implies a standard of some sort, and without said standards, it's a little harder to get things done.  Another problem is that Montgomery County doesn't rank their students anyway.  It's hard to compete when there is no system that allows for it.

I'll probably be in the minority in saying this, but the lack of emphasis on competition is a bit insidious.  Part of the larger problem in society, in my opinion, is that a whole generation has been brought up not knowing how to lose and how to fail.  I see it in a lot of the kids I have worked with, I see it in my own peer group, and I see it in the people who are out 'protesting' in New York, DC, and assorted other places.  Life is, for good or ill, one gigantic competition. There are winners and losers in all aspects of life, with death being the great equalizer to that end.

I have always said that the most valuable lesson my parents ever taught me was how to lose. When I was a kid, I never was just allowed to win, and if I did win, it was because I earned it, not because Mom and Dad threw the game against me.  Thus when I do lose or something bad happens, I don't just go into a hole or a funk for a long stretch of time.  Perseverance has been lost, because self-esteem has become the highest value instead of some semblance of self-reliance.

The world isn't necessarily built for failure, but no one is guaranteed success either.  The faster we learn this the better off we are.  I don't like the ever-increasing creep of not keeping score, participation trophies in lieu of actual awards, and a requirement that everyone receive something for their effort.  Why?  So we don't hurt feelings.  The problem is that kids always know the score (even in my T-ball league in the 80's when we didn't keep score, we always knew who had won and lost), participation trophies cheapen the events, and mere effort is not enough to get a reward.  It would like reward someone who burned a house down because he didn't intend to do it.  We don't pat people on the head for good intentions (paving roads to hell and all that), and we shouldn't reward effort for its own sake.

So what's next?  Are we going to play high school football games 'just for fun'?  Are colleges just going to let anyone in who has a high school diploma, which may have been given out rather than earned?  Actually, come to think of it, the whole attitude of taking away competition reeks of the whole notion of good intentions.

Or are we going to start rewarding people just for having good intentions too?

(Pardon my extreme pessimism on the subject...)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Capital Punishment...

In my classes, we have spent a bit of time recently discussing the form of execution called lapidation - better known to the masses as stoning.

It has come up because we have covered the incident in which Jesus rescues a woman caught in adultery by admonishing her accusers, "let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7), as well as talking about how blasphemy in ancient Judaism warranted a stoning of the person who committed the crime.

The kids are fascinated by it, and it never fails to spawn at least one or two (not particularly clever) drug jokes by students in every section.  But I digress...

All of this spawned a little bit of a further discussion about the nature of executions and capital punishment in general.  I am happy to discuss these things with my students, provided they can keep it on topic and at a mature level.  I had started with a point that very few will actually say and it caused a couple of gasps...

If we are going to have executions in our society, they ought to be public.

I am not a priori in favor of, or opposed to capital punishment as a method of keeping order in society; however a lot of people do lean one way or the other.  I tend to fall in with the idea that, within our modern-day society, it has become less and less of a necessity to execute criminals. I also believe that the notion of deterrence as a reason to keep execution is a bunch of nonsense.  

That being said, it is very hard to avoid saying that some people deserve to die, especially those who murder children, the elderly, and the weakest in our society.  However, that discussion is rarely had, mostly because we live in a society that conflates (unfortunately, in my opinion) retribution with revenge.  Those two principles are not the same, and the belief that they are is in many ways an exercise in sloppy intellectual practice.  

Anyway, back to the original point - starting with the premise that if we are going to have executions to begin with, they ought to be done in the public view.  What we have now is a completely sterilized process where injections are done in a room with pure white walls and a stainless steel gurney.  If execution is indeed justice being carried out by the State on behalf of the people, then the people ought to be witnesses to the action taken on their behalf. Therefore, the method of execution ought to be more public - hangings, drawing and quartering, beheadings, and the like.  

Please keep in mind that I am not necessarily advocating that we even have executions; don't misconstrue what I am saying here.  The argument here is not whether we should have it, but rather if it is going to be a given in our society, should it continue to be done behind closed doors?

I say yes.  What say you?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Projection, Thy Name Is Hugo Chavez

I seem to remember being told
something as a  kid about being
judged by the company you keep.
Just sayin'...
It's amazing that people will take anything that Venezuelan "President" Hugo Chávez says at face value - this time that the Occupy Wall Street "protests" are being "repressed".


If that is repression, then I wonder what real repression looks like.  Oh right, Venezuela itself is a good example of actual repression.  Ditto Chávez's favorite foreign country, Cuba.

Actually, the police are to be commended for not getting violent so far.  It has been some time and even though trash is piling up like a dump, people are copulating in open areas, a squad car has been defecated on, and the protesters are disrupting private making idiotic demands and have been using corporate symbols and products without the slightest hint of irony, and so on and so forth.  Oh where was I?

Ah yes, ahem, "repression".  Yes, that which Hugo Chávez is accusing people of doing to the protesters around Wall Street and other places.

Oh, and he called Mitt Romney a "crazy man", which may in fact be true, although I suspect Comrade Chávez and I would disagree on our respective reasons for believing so.

Anyway, I would call on Mr. Chávez to go back to his country, where he will continue to close down businesses, steal votes, and brutalize people who speak out against him.  That's repression. Projection, though, is so much easier, especially when you have a bunch of willing useful idiots who cheer him on.  I think the problem is not that they are repressed, but rather they are being exposed for what they are instead.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 2011 Phillies - Autopsy Edition

I have given myself exactly 12 hours to sleep and ponder the big question - what now?  This isn't like 2007 when the Phillies were just happy to be there after a miracle comeback. It also doesn't feel the same as losses from 2009 (World Series) and 2010 (NLCS), especially now, given that the team is a year older and it looks as if Ryan Howard will be missing substantial time with a potentially torn left Achilles tendon.  I am going to do this in the form of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Don't Overreact...

The Good

1) 102 wins - most in franchise history and a truly remarkable season to follow from start to finish.  Lots of great comebacks and the sheer domination of winning five consecutive division titles.  It is dynastic, even if the final result isn't the desired one.

2) The starting pitching - there were ups and downs, but this was still one of the best rotations assembled in recent history.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels were a feared trio and will be so again next season.  Halladay was simply brilliant throughout; Lee had two historically dominant months, and Hamels was at his absolute best.  Roy Oswalt upon return pitched well and Vance Worley was somewhat of a revelation.  With everyone at full strength, this rotation will carry the team next season.

3) Ryan Madson - I think he completely shut down the conversation as to whether he possesses the non-existent entity known as the 'Closer's Mentality'.  He may have thrown his final pitch with the Phillies last night, as he is a free agent and a Scott Boras client.

4) Shane Victorino - led the team in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and had hit over .300 for most of the season until his September slump.  One of the team's MVP's for the season

5) Chase Utley - he didn't return until late May, but his presence paid instant dividends for the Phillies as they started scoring a lot more runs and received a spark that they just didn't have when they had to trot out Wilson Valdez in the lineup every single day.  Utley is still the Phillies best all-around player and hopefully he will be able to play a full season in a healthy fashion.

The Bad

1) Ryan Howard's Contract - the injury on the final out of the 2011 Phillies' season brought into sharper focus the folly of Ruben Amaro's contact extension to Ryan Howard that doesn't actually begin until 2012.  The five year, $125 million contract begins in Howard's age 32 season and with a potentially torn Achilles tendon, the whole 2012 season may be thrown down the toilet.  He is regressing and has looked downright lost at the plate.  He can still carry the team at times, but not at a clip of an average of $25 million per season.  This one is on Rube, not the Big Piece.

2) Front Office Decisions - the Phillies' front office has some major decisions due this offseason.  Jimmy Rollins is a free agent, and so is Ryan Madson.  Roy Oswalt needs to have his option reviewed.  Cole Hamels has one year of arbitration left before he hits free agency.  Raul Ibanez is set to walk and needs replacing.  The movable parts of the bullpen need a major overhaul.  History says that the Phillies FO is in no way like the Eagles' FO.  The Eagles in the past 12-15 years have always seemed to have a finger on when it was time to bring a guy on and time to let go.  Ruben Amaro and co. need to build that particular sense, but given some of the personnel decisions and contracts handed out, this seems unlikely.

3) Third Base - when the Phillies signed Placido Polanco to a three year deal prior to the 2010 season, I was horrified and thought he should only have gotten two years plus a third year option.  Polanco hit around .400 in the month of April (.398 to be exact), but then went on to hit around .240 for the rest of the season.  The younger Polanco was your quintessential number two hitter - get on base, make contact, and so forth.  Now, he is a complete liability, and it shined forth in the last few months of the season and the Cardinals series.  Do they eat his 2012 salary and get a replacement, or do they live on a prayer?

The Ugly Don't Overreact

1) Early Playoff Exit - yes, it is frustrating, angering, infuriating, and a host of other negatives to watch the team scuffle as it couldn't close out a Wild-Card St. Louis team.  HOWEVER, these kinds of things are going to happen in a short playoff series.  Losing three out of five during the season may turn a couple of heads, but will never cause the sheer panic that ensues when a team loses three of five during the playoffs postseason.  Small sample sizes abound, hence the epitaph on the tombstone above.

2) Carlos Ruiz - he had a forgettable series at the plate and behind it.  His role on the team overall cannot be overstated, though.  The notion of the small sample size occurs here too - slumps happen.  Just ask Mike Schmidt about the 1983 World Series (he went 1-20).  Prior to this year, he had a career postseason OBP of .412.  Not too shabby.  

3) Hunter Pence - I wasn't a big fan of the trade that brought him to Philadelphia, but once it became clear that the die was cast, I started rooting for him to succeed enthusiastically.  He also had a forgettable series - no extra base hits, just four singles.  Like Ruiz, slumps happen, and unless there are structural issues (like Polanco), slumps will give way to hot streaks. Pence will be around for at least two more years, so he will most likely have the opportunity to make up for it in the future.

Unfortunately, it has all come to an end, in an ugly fashion.  But there is still much to which we can look forward.  Next season will bring its excitement and the roller-coaster ride known as the baseball season.  The Phillies are still the team to beat in the National League East, and so long as the pitching holds up, they will be right back here next season playing in the Division Series.

Hope Springs Eternal.

If anyone has any further Good, Bad, or Don't Overreact, put them in the comment thread or email me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Underrated Disney Song...

The Lion King is one of my favorite movies of all time - and we even own the sequel and the surprisingly amusing Lion King 1 1/2.  Most people who like the original film (and most Disney animated films) will talk about and sing the songs.  There are a lot of great songs in it - "Circle of Life", "Hakuna Matata", and "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" all come to mind.  My favorite, however, is one that is not of those three; instead, it is the platform of the evil uncle Scar: "Be Prepared".  Watch:

Jeremy Irons is absolutely outstanding in his role as Scar, and the animation and the scenes that go with the song are downright haunting.  The interplay between Scar and the hyenas (a marriage made in hell, if I ever saw one) is funny, well-written, and creepy all at the same time.  The sight of hyenas goose-stepping didn't really register when my grandmother took me and my brother to see it in 1994 (this was the famous big purse scene I mentioned in my eulogy - high comedy, indeed), but watching it as an adult with a sense of history is a bit chilling.  Scar might as well have promised bread and circus to all the hyenas.  Actually, come to think of it, he wasn't far off from that...

"Stick with me, and you'll never go hungry again!!"

No one mentions this song as a great one in the annals of Disney music, so it goes into the books as one of the most underrated songs in the canon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NFL Picks Week 4 Recap

The day of reckoning has arrived!  I went 13-3 for the weekend and Ryan went 10-6, bringing us into a dead heat after the first quarter of the season at 44-20.  With this coming week and for the next few weeks we will have a bit of an uneven schedule as byes begin.  As always, stay tuned to our weekly picks and watch as I begin to completely dominate this game!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Journey Of Faith

Growing up, I was pretty religious; my family was always involved with our parish in many different ways. I was an altar server (as was my brother), my parents were (and still are) extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and we also were involved with the parochial school and many other areas sponsored by the parish (Boy Scouts, Youth Ministry, et cetera). Despite that, I am not sure that I would have described my faith as being very strong. It’s ironic in a sense – many people in this day and age try to describe themselves as being ‘spiritual’ without being ‘religious’. I think I was the opposite, especially through my teen years.

Religion and community were just things I did. I didn't stop to think about the implications of that frequently, but I will always be grateful to our parish through my teen years when my family went through some incredibly rough times.

For good or ill, in my late teen years I began to see my faith almost exclusively as an intellectual exercise. There was almost nothing ‘spiritual’ about it at all; I became more obsessed with having the right form and the right arguments. As a result, worship became a frustrating experience if it didn’t go ‘by the book’. The musical side became a source of infuriation as trite hymns started sounding like finger nails on a chalkboard. The sin of pride within me reared its ugly head on numerous occasions, like one of the Pharisees that Jesus constantly chastised. Leaving Catholicism, however, never entered my mind, but it was clear that there was some drifting.

Despite what many people say and think, faith is not some vague blind belief. It is an engagement with a higher being; an engagement of body, mind, heart, and soul. For the longest time, I only concerned myself with the first two, and that left the others wanting. This even included the first 4-5 years of marriage. Part of the problem was leaving the spiritual engagement aside due to the fact that I teach theology for a living. It’s very easy to leave the spiritual on the side of the road in pursuit of the intellectual side of the subject. Just as I was cruising along in life as a full-minded, no-hearted intellectual Catholic, a couple of things happened that brought that house of cards crashing down.

First, my health took an unexpected turn a couple years ago and gave me a jolt in that ‘no atheists in foxholes’ type of way. And the second thing was, of course, the grave disappointment in the lack of results of the adoption process with the county. The former was more of the type of event in which a person can recover from the shock and move on, but the latter put the two of us like twisting willows in the wind. It was finally through a lot of that process that I finally got it. Through the tests and the trials, it finally became clear to me.

Now I try to see it as a total experience – the way it is SUPPOSED to be. Heart and soul are included rather than just mind and body. I try to see the meaning in what I am saying and doing. Worshipping is more than just an obligation. I don’t always succeed, I must admit; it’s very hard to escape acting like a Pharisee for a number of years, but as the proverb says, there but for the grace of God, go I.

There are a couple of scriptural passages that I always keep handy to help keep my mind straight and to remind me both of the Lord’s control of things as well as my own ability to stay focused. The former comes from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes:

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens."

This passage is actually painted above the chalkboard in my classroom. Every time I feel like we are being given a raw deal, I recite this line to myself, because I know that we are called to be parents, but it isn't our call as to WHEN this will happen.

The latter passage comes from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, which is one of the better known chapters in Scripture. However, while most people focus on the part about love (i.e. ‘love is patient’, et cetera), there is one piece that has stuck with me for a long time, although its meaning has only become clear to me in the past few years:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

Such incredibly true words and very moving as well, especially given the rest of the context about the three-fold virtues of faith, hope, and love. Both of these passages give me a particular strength and a sense of purpose and meaning.

So, the journey has been a long and arduous one, but nowhere near completion. I pray that I continue to improve myself and continue to engage all facets of my existence to my faith. There will be some stumbling, but that’s also why God gave us the gift of perseverance. I can only hope that we will be blessed soon with a child, but as stated above, there is an appointed time for it.

Thanks for reading and thanks for any thoughts or feedback and especially for your prayers.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NFL Picks - Week 4 Primetime Games

Prime time picks are in - I had a nice Sunday afternoon picking games, while Ryan faltered.  Looks like win or lose with these games, Ryan and I will be tied on Tuesday after four weeks.  I went 11-3 during the day and Ryan went 8-6 on the 'strength' of St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.  Enjoy the games!  -- J.L.

New York Jets at Baltimore (Sunday, 8:20 PM)

Ryan's Take: I have never believed in the New York Jets. I always thought they were a bit overrated because of Rex Ryan’s bravado. I think the Ravens are a good team, but still not good enough because they seem to struggle in the playoffs. I think this is a game in which the Ravens will control the clock with Ray Rice and their defense will harass Mark Sanchez all night. Baltimore wins this one.

Josh's Take: I am starting to feel silly picking the Jets to win the AFC East. However, am feeling totally vindicated so far picking the Ravens over the Steelers in the North. I just can't see the Jets stopping Ray Rice tonight. Baltimore wins the game, but they end up being losers ultimately, somehow.

Indianapolis at Tampa Bay (Monday, 8:30 PM)

Ryan's Take: I feel bad for the Colts. Their offense sucks and it just ruins the whole team. They are playing an overrated Tampa team that will continue to get praised after this game. Tampa Bay wins this game easily and I will have to continue hearing this crap about Tampa being good.

Josh's Take: Tampa Bay wins and walks all over Curtis Painter and the Colts' alleged offense. It won't be close. Book it.

NFL Picks - Week 4 Daytime Games

Today is a busy as hell day, plus the internet is acting up immensely here on my end - so I am not able to put forth a total explanation of picks. Today will be just the actual picks from me and Ryan.  He has a three game lead on me, but hopefully today will be the day that I put a dent into his lead.  Enjoy! -- J.L.

Detroit at Dallas (1 PM)

Ryan: Detroit
Josh: Detroit

Carolina at Chicago (1 PM)

Ryan: Chicago
Josh: Chicago

Pittsburgh at Houston (1 PM)

Ryan: Pittsburgh
Josh: Houston

Tennessee at Cleveland (1 PM)

Ryan: Cleveland
Josh: Tennessee

Buffalo at Cincinnati (1 PM)

Ryan: Buffalo
Josh: Buffalo

Washington at St. Louis (1 PM)

Ryan: St. Louis
Josh: Washington

Minnesota at Kansas City (1 PM)

Ryan: Minnesota
Josh: Minnesota

San Francisco at Philadelphia (1 PM)

Ryan: Philadelphia
Josh: Philadelphia

New Orleans at Jacksonville (1 PM)

Ryan: New Orleans
Josh: New Orleans

Atlanta at Seattle (4:05 PM)

Ryan: Atlanta
Josh: Atlanta

New York Giants at Arizona (4:05 PM)

Ryan: New York
Josh: New York

Denver at Green Bay (4:15 PM)

Ryan: Green Bay
Josh: Green Bay

Miami at San Diego (4:15 PM)

Ryan: San Diego
Josh: San Diego

New England at Oakland (4:15 PM)

Ryan: New England
Josh: New England

The prime time picks will have the usual thorough rationales behind the choices. Sorry for the inconvenience!