Nov 30, 2011

FERRET FIVE: Christmas Album Wish List

"Oh, no he didn't.  He went and resurrected the Ferret Five lists!!!"  Yes, yes I did.  The whole idea behind the Ferret Five list was a little list of something I was thinking about.  Like most of my blog ideas, I never saw it through to a regular feature.  But I just had to bust it out for the holidays.

Christmas albums.  I like them.  We usually buy a couple every year.  You have a few classes of them.  There are the classic ones with famous takes on Christmas songs.  I would throw things like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Ella Fitzgerald's "Baby It's Cold Outside" and Trans-Siberian Orchestra in there.  These are the essential Christmas albums that get played to death by December 11.  Then you have the quality or fresh tak Christmas album, where a famous artist actually puts some thought into crafting a Christmas album.  Faith Hill's "Joy to the World" is a good example of this.  Then you have the money grabbing album by an artist.  Everyone knows it isn't really an artistic album and is just a cash move.  They are like glorified karaoke albums.  (Or they are by an artist that makes you go, "Huh?  Do they even celebrate Christmas?"  Like Lady Gaga or Gwar.)  Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe.  Enough said.

Every year there are dozens of albums that come out.  And I have tons of them.  As I wrote in my post on multiple song versions, I have like 25 versions of "Silent Night."  (Why does everyone do THAT song?)  As a frequent purchaser of Christmas music, I feel that my voice is important when it comes to who should put out Christmas albums.  As I was listening to the 24-hour Christmas station, it popped into my head who should be the next Christmas album generators.  So, these are my five most wanted Christmas albums.  Get on it, record labels.  I want to see these next year.

  1. ADELE - I don't think there is any argument here.  The woman has incredible pipes, amazing emotion in her music, and couldn't be any more popular than she is right now.  She could totally get away with this move.  The biggest glitch is obviously her throat problems.  But I can't imagine how amazing her Christmas album would be.  Think of her singing "O Holy Night" or "Joy to the World."  Then think of what she could do with original Christmas music.  Who says holiday music has to be happy?  I think this would be a huge hit.
  2. The Avett Brothers  - They have one song on a compilation album that came out this year.  But I think they could do an incredible job with a whole album.  At our church, they have several worship bands that are in a similar neo-bluegrass genre as The Avett Brothers.  And their Christmas stuff is brilliant.  The advantage the Avetts have is that they also can completely wail like rock artist - remember they were in a punk band before their current music turn.  So they could really come up with a diverse roster of songs.  
  3. Coldplay - Their first foray into Christmas music was last year's "Christmas Lights," which quickly became one of my favorite Christmas albums.  They could pump out a couple of other genius original songs and then do nice takes on some standards.  They are very versatile and could really do a good job.  They don't shy from doing live cover songs - and usually do a phenomenal job with it.  Their collaborations (Jay-Z) and remixes could yield some neat results.  Plus they are one of the biggest bands out there, so there it would be a surefire sales success.  (I don't want to waste the spot, but this entire argument could be made for U2 as well.)
  4. Bruno Mars - I really think that Mars is in the class of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder as far as talent and sound goes.  Motown has always done a great job with Christmas albums.  So have Doo Wop bands.  Mars easily slides into both of those genres.  He could do wonders with fun songs and then completely wail on powerful ones.  Plus he teams up like crazy.  Who the heck else (besides Rhianna) could easily pair up with Eminem, B.O.B., Twilight, and Leonard Nimoy?  Plus he can mix things up and do acoustic and play everything himself.  This would be brilliant.
  5. Shania Twain - She never did a Christmas album.  Doesn't even make sense.  She's done songs on collaborations, but never an album.  Wha?!?  Faith Hill's was incredible.  And just about every Country female singer has AT LEAST one Christmas album.  I can't imagine a better way for her to re-enter the music scene.  She doesn't have to write much, if that is a problem.  She has the voice and the performance ability.  Why hasn't this happened yet?  
Those are my top five right now.  What are yours?

Nov 23, 2011

Microwave Thanksgiving

Lots of people have been doing a "30 Days of Thankfulness" on their Facebook page.  Each day, they post something they are thankful for (if they remember).  I have always thought this was very cool.  And this year I fully intended to do it.  But I forgot.  This is pretty normal for me.  I forget a lot of stuff.  I was very happy that the iPhone came out with their Reminders app.  I use that to remind me of things.  Unless I forget to put them into the app.  In which case I doubly forget.  I'm pretty helpless.  Anywho... This year I really wanted to express my thankfulness.  A lot has happened on a variety of fronts that has helped me to really appreciate all of what I have.  So, here goes 30 Days of Thankfulness in one day.  It's like a Microwave Thanksgiving.  (Oh, hey, that's where the title came from.  Heh heh.  Clever.)
  1. I am thankful for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the reason I am who I am.  Everything I do, I do for Him.  And He is at the heart of my entire life.  I can't help this and don't apologize.  Without Him, the rest of these don't matter.
  2. I am thankful for my beautiful, brilliant, awesome wife, Heather.  I don't deserve her.  From the very beginning, people told me I was "marrying up."  They think this is a revelation to me.  It is not.  I was aware of this from the very beginning.  I may be dumb, but I am not stupid.  She pushes me to be better and constantly impresses me with her amazing talents.  (You aren't going to get through this without crying.  Are you?)
  3. Josiah.  He's my firstborn.  He is patient with me learning things as I go.  I get the joy of watching him develop his talent and expand his brain.  And he's just a darn cool kid.  
  4. Natalie. She is sweet and beautiful and incredibly smart - my little princess.  She cuddles with me.  I am proud as I hear her sweet heart and watch her grow into a wonderful young lady.
  5. Gabe. He's wild and crazy and funny.  But he also loves to snuggle and hang out with me.  He is just a fun little boy and brings so many smiles (yes, some frustration too).  I'm a lucky dad.
  6. My mother.  Patricia Staples poured her life into my siblings and me.  She fought to help us to become good people, despite the challenges in our path.  And she has always been there for us, no matter how old we get.  She is the best mom I possibly could have had.
  7. My in-laws.  Many people complain about their in-laws.  I don't because there isn't anything to complain about.  Sam and Lois Crissinger are the best in-laws in the world.  They support us and love me and set incredible examples.  I consider myself so lucky to have married into their family.
  8. Holly.  She was my first best friend.  And I still deeply value her friendship.  She forced me to move out of my shell when I was younger and challenged me to be better when I was older.  She's forgiven my stupidity more times than I can count.  Plus she brought my nephew, Toby, into the world - and he's just awesome.  (Bonus Thanksgiving point!)
  9. Chris.  I always looked up to Chris and wish I could have been more like him.  He had the work ethic, the athletic talent, and ethical commitment that I wish I had and was insanely jealous about.  I still look at him and wish that I could work as hard as him and be as diligent.  He pushes me, even when he doesn't know it.  (And, unlike when we were younger, this push isn't in a wagon down a hill.)
  10. Andy and Shell.  - Heather's oldest brother and his wife (along with their two beautiful daughters, Beulah and Chayah) have been two of my biggest encouragements and cheerleaders.  I cherish the time and conversations I have with them.  I often look at them and see the kind of parents and people I want to be.
  11. Mike and Ria.  Heather's youngest brother and his wife also have been incredible encouragements to me.  They also are a reminder to not get so worked up about things - to be patient and controlled.  I can get so high strung by life, but with them, it makes me realize things aren't worth getting so upset about.  (A very similar thing that Mike's grandfather used to do to me - gave me perspective.)
  12. Dave and Lacy. Heather's cousin and his wife have grown to be more than just extended family to us.  They are as close as siblings, but also two of our best friends.  They have filled voids in our lives and allowed us to fill voids in theirs.  In addition, they let my kids smother them with love.  It is rare to have friends like them - or to have family like them.  It is unbelievably rare to have both in the same people.
  13. Extended Family.  There are so many extended family that I could fill the rest of the spots with them.  From my half-sisters, Mary and Sue, to Heather's uncle Rich.  My nieces and nephew.  My sweet Aunt Dee.  Uncle Jim and Aunt Rosie.  Mark, Sherri, and their kids.  And so many more.  The encouraging words of Nila, Paul, and Diane.  Each of them holds a special place in my heart.  And my life wouldn't be the same without any of them.
  14. Defender Ministries.   I am blessed and honored to be able to serve in a ministry where my own personal failures are able to help others.  To be able to write and teach and develop resources is a humbling thing.  Our lessons and materials have been used by thousands of people in over thirty states and over a dozen countries.  That is just incredible.  You can't help but be humbled by that.
  15. Charles Wise.  My ministry partner and one of my best friends.  It is rare to be able to have both in one person.  He is like a big brother, a dad, an uncle - he's family.  He gives me guidance, calls me on my stupid behavior, and allows me to talk a lot.  We've been through lots of ups and downs through the last seven years.  But it seems a lot easier doing it together.
  16. Live in America.  It may seem trite or cliched to say this.  But it is true.  We live in a land of plenty and opportunity.  Even at its worst, with things looking so grim, where else would you want to live?  We have so much.  We are given such an advantage over most of the world.  We are allowed to be free to worship and live how we want.  It's easy to take it for granted, which really is a testimony as to just how blessed we are.
  17. Medical Professionals and Technology at Moffitt Cancer Center.  On Monday, my mother underwent extensive surgery to remove endometrial cancer.  In days past, she probably would not have survived that.  Instead, she is already home to celebrate Thanksgiving - walking around and getting back to her life.  The doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and other personnel there helped that to happen.  I can't express enough thanks for that.  I will also lump into this the people who have made Heather's medical school experience so wonderful - the professors, preceptors, and fellow students.  (Especially Austin and Ashley Henkel. - Bonus!)
  18. Bananas.  I told Natalie today how I thanked God for bananas.  She looked at me weird.  But I do.  They are tasty.  They are a great way for me to stay on track with my food choices.  They aren't too expensive.  I just like them.
  19. Apples.  You may call me an Apple Apologist.  But I really am thankful for their products.  I love my computer, my phone, my iPod.  My wife loves her iPad.  I love the fact that their stuff makes my life easier and richer.  And it allowed me to work with some great people like Veronica Fish and Chris Anenome and the other people at R143.  
  20. Summit Church. We haven't been there long, but we are thankful for it.  I love watching my kids growing and having such a great experience.  I love having so many ways to serve for my wife and I.  It is a great church and we are thankful that we were led there.   And we get to see Erik and Tiffany Wieder a lot now.  And they are just awesome people.  (Another bonus point!)
  21. UCF. I love my alma mater.  On one hand, it allowed me to meet some great friends and have some great experiences.  It also helped East Orlando to develop - which gave us a reason to live there and work there.  I enjoy watching UCF sports.  So many experiences in my life began with my time there.  I'm thankful it was my school.
  22. College Ministry.  College Ministry changed my life.  And it changes so many other students' lives.  I am always broken hearted when I see a church think that college ministry isn't important enough.  Groups like BCM and Campus Crusade are invaluable.  In my own life, it change me forever - for the better.  In addition, it brought me into contact with people like Allen and Candy Turner, Matt and Sarah Sharp, Byron and Bern Kirkpatrick, and dozens of others that made me into who I am.  Having worked in that field for nearly a decade, I got to have so many wonderful experiences.  And I got to work with people like Connie Ricks, Brad Crawford, Rahul Agarwal, Lee Howell, Becky Crandall, Tony Olesky, and Loy Reed.  You can't help but get better in that crowd.  
  23. Holidays.  I love the fact that there are holidays.  They give you a break and a rest - often when you need it most.  But it also gives a reason to be with family and friends.  It isn't practical to drive from Florida to South Carolina on a whim.  But a holiday gives a good reason.  So that means I get to hang out this weekend with numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, and 13 on this list.  Holidays are awesome.
  24. First Years Preschool and Kindergarten.  All three of my children have now attended this school.  And it is, in my honest opinion, the best preschool in the world.  It equipped my kids to be prepared for school, developed their personalities, loved them, and taught them about God.  It has been such a blessing and built such a great foundation.  
  25. Mentors.  I can never express enough thanks for people like Eddie Gilley, Byron Kirkpatrick, Jeff Kipi, Bob Bray, Charles Wise, John Blann, Tadziu Trotsky.  Those guys invested in my life and pushed me to be better than I was.  They didn't allow me to stay in my goofy state - living a mediocre life.  They saw something worth developing and went above and beyond to work with me.  I can never express enough thanks.
  26. Memories. I'm glad that we can remember things.  That may sound stupid, but that is all I have left of people like my dad, my grandparents, and Heather's grandparents.  I may miss them, but at least I still can remember them.  So it isn't like they are completely gone.  
  27. International Community School.  One class.  One year.  It shouldn't have made such an impact on me.  But that school burrowed under my skin.  And I can't help but be thankful for it.  It rewarded me richly.  It gave me friendships with some amazing students, as well as with some terrific adults (Carrie Baker, Robyn Terwilleger, the Kreidts, Greg Willson, the Egglestons).  I still hope that at some point I can officially be a part of that school.
  28. Weight Loss.  I am glad that I no longer wheeze when I tie my shoes.  I'm not embarrassed to be in pictures.  I can play with my kids.  And I don't look like a shaved panda with a severe allergic reaction.  It's been nearly two years since I started the process, and have kept off the weight.  Unless you've been an enormous land dwelling mammal, you can't understand the freedom of being released from that.  
  29. Entertainment.  I like movies, sports, music.  I enjoy playing Angry Birds, Word with Friends, and Jetpack Joyride.  I'm glad that there are things to waste time on.  And I'm glad we live in an era where that is accessible and acceptable.  I'm thankful my days aren't spent winnowing and my evening entertainment is watching crickets mate.  I admit it - I'm soft.  I like my fun time.
  30. Hope.  I am thankful that we have hope.  It is a powerful thing.  It allows us to look to the future and dream of something better.  We can reach a different status.  We can grow a family.  We can think of something beyond this life.  To have no hope is a depressing thing.  I am thankful that is not where we have to be.  
  31. MEGA HOLIDAY BONUS!!! Friends.  I often have avoided doing these lists for fear of leaving someone out.  If I did, I hope I haven't offended you.  I am so thankful for my friends.  They are such a great blessing.  I have tried to embed many of those people in other areas.  But as a way to catch some who fell through the nets, I offer up this point.  I thank God for people like David Tarkington, Benji and Amy Stultz, Toney and Anna Sauls, Randy and Susan Gillis, Tim DeMoor, Thomas Blevins, Greg Ramer, and so many others.  I may stumble along the path, but I never walk alone thanks to these people.  

Nov 21, 2011

White Elephant

It is the holiday season.  And we all know what that means, right?  CHRISTMAS PARTY TIME!!!  Sorry, to be appropriate, I guess I should say, HOLIDAY PARTY TIME!!!  (But, let's be honest, when I have ever strived to be appropriate?)  CHRISTMAS PARTY TIME!!!

One of the best parts of any good Christmas party is . . . the Christmas Bonus.  Aside from that, though, the best thing may be the Gift Exchange.  A good party can become legendary with a good Gift Exchange.  There are several versions of this - the Yankee Swap, the $5 and under, the Cookie Exchange, and (of course) the White Elephant.  To help you, my teeming masses of blogosphere friends, with your search for the perfect gift, I will offer up some White Elephant suggestions.  I have always considered myself a very good White Elephant gift exchange participant.  But I have also kept my best ideas to myself, hoping to use them.  However, now I work at a ministry with five employees.  So we don't have gift exchanges OR Christmas parties.  My gift to you, then, is my White Elephant Gift List.

Now, there are some rules for the gift exchange participant.  I want to go through those first, so that these gift ideas don't end up getting you fired or ostracized.

  1. Know The Party Type - This is a big problem.  Many places don't define their gift exchange party, so you get an amalgam of gifts.  If you are running a party, make sure people know what they are supposed to be bringing.  If you are going to a party, make sure you ask what exactly you should bring.  I HATE it when I go to a regular $5 And Under party and some dingbat brings a fruitcake.  There isn't really good swapping going on when all the gifts aren't in the same class.
  2. Don't Bring Fruitcake - Seriously, no originality there.  Ha ha.  Everyone hates fruitcake.  Joke's over.  Also, don't bring singing fish, dancing Santas, or any other cliched item.  Be original.  And, while we are at it, stay away from $5 bills and gift cards.  Those are going to get stolen and locked immediately.  Put some thought into it.  (I can't emphasize this enough.)
  3. No Tennis Shoes - In one White Elephant exchange, I got a dirty tennis shoe.  In another, I got a blown out egg shell.  There was some laughter, but again, there is no swapping with those.  And the person who gets stuck with it feels ripped off.  So, don't bring broken or completely useless stuff.  It is just mean.
  4. Keep It Moving - Gift Exchanges can be great, but they can also drag out for hours.  If you are running the party, keep things moving.  If you are a participant, know when your number is called. Don't hide your gifts.  And don't make a big deal if you get stolen from.  Just keep things going.
  5. Clearly Define and Stick to The Rules - How many rounds?  How many times can something be stolen?  Can the first person go again at the end?  Is everything free game at that point?  You don't want the event ruined because someone got miffed at the end.  Also, don't break the money limit.  Again, it just isn't fun when someone brings a $20 gift and everything else is under $5.
  6. Know Your Crowd - There is a gold mine of suggestions by knowing the people you work with, thinking through shared history, knowing the hierarchy of your company.  Also, if your co-workers don't have senses of humor, that really hampers your flexibility.
Okay, enough preaching.  ON TO THE SUGGESTIONS!!!  These are going to be for the White Elephant Gift Exchange.  I'm not giving ones for the other types.  Remember, White Elephant gifts should be humorous and creative.  So, think about your audience and have fun.  Here are some ideas.
  • A Live White Mouse - Sure, the PETA people will probably get angry at you.  But this is a great idea!  And it is cheap.  I actually did this in college at a Student Government exchange.  The guy who got it was shaking the box and I said, "Uh, you may not want to do that." When he opened it, I guarantee you he wasn't expecting THAT!  And, it ended up being a hot item because one of the guys in our group had a snake.  
  • An Actual White Elephant - The obviousness of this gift makes it a great idea.  I also used this once.  We had a little white ceramic elephant that I used.  And, with the large number of "do it yourself" ceramics places out there, it is pretty easy to make your own if you can't find it.  A White Elephant Mug.  A White Elephant Plate.  Good stuff.
  • Framed Picture - This is an idea I had and never got to do.  If you work at a church or a company with a very identifiable leader, get a picture of this person.  (It works really well if there is already a photo that gets used for promotional materials.)  Print the picture at 8x10 or 11x13 and buy a cheap frame at a dollar store.  Then frame it and wrap it.  It's funny because no one wants to make any negative comments, because the guy is right there.  And it is also fun to see the brown nosers fight to get the picture.
  • "Men Of..." Calendar - It is so easy now to print creative gifts.  And most of them aren't that expensive, especially at places like Sam's or Costco.  Or use Snapfish when they are running a special.  My thoughts for this is to get pictures of several of your co-workers.  Candids work best, especially innocent ones that can be misconstrued in the wrong context.  Then make a 2012 Men (or Women) Of The Company Calendar.  This works GREAT for church staffs, since there is no way this would ever exist outside of a prank.
  • Justin Bieber  - No adult in their right mind will admit to liking the Beebster.  So, get something Bieberlicious and wrap it on up.  There are dolls, shirts, purses.  Lots of available options.  And, since they are aimed at kids, a lot of them are pretty reasonable.  You also could go this same route with Twilight, Big Time Rush, or anything else that makes a tweener girl screech.  [ED NOTE: My friend, Candy, reminded me that she used a Justin Bieber toothbrush at a recent party and it was a HUGE success.]
  • Fake CD - This required some Photoshop skills.  Come up with a fake band and create a fake CD. I did this for my brother-in-law one year and then put an iTunes card inside the case.  Here's how it goes:  Pick a band (Screaming Monkey Trees), come up with a cool album name (The Monkey Within), create some weird and funny cover, and then make a fake CD using some of the worst songs you can find in your iTunes library.  Or, just take advantage of the 69 cent or free songs on Amazon's MP3 store or the iTunes store.  
  • Real CD - If you can't create one yourself, go to a used CD store or Walmart and get something like The Chipmunks or Milli Vanilli.  Better yet, if you know someone in your office who loves a music style/artist that no one else likes, this is a great way to utilize that inner-office history.  Go find a copy of Polka or Tribal Music or War Chants.  Make sure you play up how bad the album is, to tweak your co-worker.  (You can do the same thing with horrible movies like Jumper or Glitter or Gigli or with horrible books like Twilight.)
  • Goofy Ornament - There are some ridiculous ornaments out there.  Find one that you just can't believe is actually offered and wrap it up.  Good rule of thumb: If you think something is beyond stupid, it is perfect for a White Elephant exchange.
  • Sports Team Items - Another chance to tap into your office knowledge.  If you have a lot of Gator fans in the office, get some FSU stuff.  If there are Seminole fans, get Miami stuff.  Alabama fans?  Stock up on Auburn gifts.  If you have one very vocal fan of something like Ohio State, find some insulting pro-Michigan stuff.  Don't be afraid to target one or two people with the gift.  That is still funny.
Well, I hope that gives you some good ideas.  And I'm sure that you will get some good ideas as you shop.  The best thing is to give yourself a little lead time.  If you wait to the last minute, that eliminates things like the homemade and home printed stuff.  Or, if you see something hilarious in July, go ahead and get it.  You know the party is coming up, so it doesn't hurt to have it on hand.  If something looks stupid, it is a good start.  And feel free to share how your gifts went.  Have a great time at the party and be a good sport. 

Nov 18, 2011

On a Pedestal

Apparently, in light of the horrific events unfolding at Penn State, there is a movement to pull down the Joe Paterno statue that currently stands outside of Beaver Stadium.  The school itself has tried to distance itself from Paterno in light of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, his former Defensive Coordinator.  I spelled out my opinions about the scandal in this sure to be Pulitzer Prize nominated post.  I went so far as to say they should fire the entire coaching staff and shutter the program until they find out what exactly is going on.  However, something just seems wrong about pulling down the statue.  I think the problem is that there ever was a statue in the first place.

It would be hard to refute the statement that Joe Paterno is one of the greatest coaches in all of American sports history.  He has the most victories in NCAA Division I football history - more than Bear Bryant or Bobby Bowden or Ron Zook.  He's won two national titles.  What is more impressive is that he did it at Penn State - a former agricultural school in Nowhere, Pennsylvania.  And, by most accounts, he did it well and clean.  The school was never hit with investigations and probations.  They kept high academic standards.  Paterno did all of that.  He was the architect of Penn State football.  And it wasn't just the program.  He was one of the first coaches to take advantage of a corporate sponsorship.  Since players cannot be paid to wear a company's products, national shoe brands will pay the coach instead.  Penn State signed with Nike years ago - back before they got heavily into creating superhero costumes for teams like Oregon and Boise State.  He's been handsomely rewarded for that.  His time spent at Penn State has brought him a lot of money, respect, and love.  In turn, he has donated a ton of money back to the school. By all accounts, he is a good man and a good leader.  He's earned his pension and his position.

But, now things start to surface.  It is like the lid is taken off of the box and the ugliness can start to come out.  People are talking about how he was stubborn and cruel.  He clashed with the administration and basically did whatever he wanted.  He really ran the school, regardless of what anyone's title read.  Some accusations are even worse.  Former Oklahoma Sooner coach (and a guy who knows a thing or two about cheating) Barry Switzer said that there is no way that Paterno did not know what was going on with Sandusky.  He said that at a big time college sports program like that, people don't get access without the coach knowing.  Other people have said that Sandusky's "retirement" was actually a penalty for the original accusation years ago.  And it is widely believed that Paterno did not do everything he could have to protect the kids involved.

I think that the shock of the situation has been so great that no one really knows what to do.  The school is trying to save its reputation.  Alumni and fans are trying to make sense of things and know if it is still okay to love Penn State and love this man.  So you have wild uncontrolled emotions flailing everywhere. This confusion has been brilliantly documents by Michael Weinreb over at  He is an alum of Penn State and has been personally wrestling with all of this and documenting it.  Brilliant articles, all of them.  The big struggle is what to do with this man who has become an icon of greatness to the school - and really all of sports.  How do these accusations affect the view of this man?  He didn't physically do anything to these kids - but his inaction allowed someone else to.  The program he built did not funnel kids to a predator - but the program he created gave the man ways to funnel kids to himself.  The culture he fostered did not force people to have an unhealthy view of him and other coaches - but the culture certainly lent itself to it, and he never discouraged it.

The problem is not so much with Joe Paterno.  It is with putting any human being in a place reserved for a god.  Really, that is what a pedestal is for.  It is putting something or someone in a place higher than others.  It is allowing us to revere and almost worship them as something greater than just the average man.  Look at the statues around you.  They are erected to recognize, honor, and inspire greatness.  Sports teams will frequently put up statues outside of their stadium to tap into a sense of loyalty and team spirit.  FSU has Chief Osceola on Renegade with a spear and an unquenchable flame with a huge sign reading "UNCONQUERED."  UCF has an awesome statue of a knight on a horse.  The Jacksonville Jaguars have a roaring jaguar.  The Bucs have their end zone pirate ship.  And Penn State had Paterno.

We have monuments throughout our country.  There is the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore.  We see people that have done great things and inspired us and put them up on a pedestal.  You don't put some useless dork up on a statue.  (Well, unless you are the city of West Palm Beach.  They had some random soldier and then that got replaced by a guy who designed a disastrous development project.  The only reason he deserved a statue was to give people something to aim the tomatoes at.)  However, there is a great danger in this.  Putting anyone up on that level is begging for problems.

These people, as great as they are, are still human.  They are flawed.  We may be drawn to their great qualities.  But there still is darkness housed in that same person.  We lift that person up and slowly focus only on the good things.  When something negative or unseemly surfaces, we are floored.  It doesn't match the refined and polished view that has been accepted.  Our faith is shaken.  And then we have to go through the messy process of tearing down the pedestal that never should have been constructed.  I see it happen in churches frequently.  Pastors are put up on a metaphorical pedestal.  People listen to their sermons and assume that this person has it all figured out.  They must know everything and being living completely blameless lives.  Many pastors foster this by never talking about anything negative in their own lives unless they have already overcome it.  Then, when the human element starts to come out - when that church member becomes more involved or some of the stuff said in staff meetings leak out - members are devastated that this man is just . . . a man.

We started attending a new church recently.  We loved our old church here, but it was smaller and the kids are at the age where they really needed an expanded children's ministry.  It was a hard decision, but we knew it was the right one.  And we consider ourselves lucky to have two churches we love and feel connected to.  The pastor at our new church is amazing - a truly gifted speaker and leader.  The temptation is to heap too much praise on him and give him too much glory.  I can see where some people there are already doing that.  It is an easy trap to fall into with a growing, thriving church.  And I am doing my best to make sure that I always remember he is a man.  He's a gifted and talented man, but still a man.  It is so easy to do this.  We do it all the time with celebrities and political figures.  Apple fans did it with Steve Jobs - pointing out his many brilliant moves while quietly ignoring the failures (Ping?) and the ugly stuff.  I am very concerned with the horde of people who have elevated Tim Tebow to this level.  Yes, he is a good man with a strong faith and a will to win.  But he's just a man.  God forbid, what happens if he was to fail?  What would happen if we found out that he was hiding a secret?  How crushed would his fans be?  (And, conversely, what kind of sick joy would his haters experience?)

That's another problem with putting people up on pedestals.  There are always going to be people who just love to knock them off.  There will always be cynics, people who refuse to believe anyone should be so loved and honored.  It goes beyond keeping things in perspective and approaching actively wanting to see this person fail.  I have seen it happen with Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, even President Obama.  There is this group of people that (basically) worships these guys and then another group that really hates these guys.  They want to see them fall on their face and laugh if and when it happens.  (Colin Cowherd, shoot, every sportswriter, I'm looking at you.)

Putting people up on a pedestal is a dangerous thing.  It invites disappointment.  No person can live up to that kind of pressure and scrutiny.  No one is that good.  All of us have shortcomings.  And even if they are minor, when someone is elevated in such a way, those shortcomings are magnified.  What could just be something we put up with Weird Uncle Larry becomes devastating when it is done by Urban Meyer.  We expect more from these people - they shouldn't be susceptible to the same things as us.  But that is unrealistic.  We shouldn't have to tear down pedestals because we shouldn't put people up there in the first place.  That isn't to say that we never look up to someone or admire anyone.  We shouldn't go through life negative and critical, assuming every person deep down inside sucks and will disappoint us.  But we should gain inspiration while remaining realistic.  And if someone tries to put us up in a places we don't belong, we shouldn't allow it.  I doubt anyone will ever put me in that place because I am the first to say that I am a messed up person that will only serve to let you down.  I am not going to hide my flaws because I know they will come out anyway - and probably at the most inopportune time.  If you find someone you really want to enshrine, learn from them and admire them.  But then pray - not TO them, but FOR them.  The pressures they face are extreme.  Not only do they have to make the right choices for themselves, but also for the people all around them looking up to them.  And if they do slip up, you won't have to pull them down from their perch.  They never will have been on one in the first place.

Nov 12, 2011

Second Verse, Same as the First

I'm kind of getting into a groove with my writing/blogging lately.  By "a groove," I mean that I am more writing for myself than for the six people who read the blog.  I have often heard that writing needs to be practiced if you want to get really good at it.  And I have found that to be true - when I get out of the habit of writing, I have a harder time getting back into the swing of it.  I also think my writing is rougher when I get back into it.  So I'm pretty glad I am starting to get back into the swing.  (You may not be, but there are plenty other options out there for you.  Like THIS for example.  See, now I'm not such a bad option.)  Of course, me writing more often means that you will probably be subjected to my oft-threatened "Why Green Superheroes Don't Work on Screen" post.  Win some, lose some.

The other night, I was watching a riveting football game between national powerhouses (that was a lie - I was watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the fiftieth time).  A commercial ran for Like Crazy - a movie starring Chekov from the new Star Trek movie that I will never even think about watching, even under duress.  In the background of the commercial, I heard a somewhat familiar song playing, but being sung by someone I hadn't heard before.  I did a quick Google search and found out it was Ingrid Michaelson singing "Can't Help Falling in Love" - alson known as "Fools Rush In."  I went ahead and got the song on iTunes and it was really good - a completely original version that really added some touching depth to the song.

It got me thinking.  I have four versions of that song in my iTunes library and really like all of them.  (There are probably several hundred takes on that song in existence.)  Do you have songs like that, where you have multiple versions that are equally entertaining?  I'm not really talking about Christmas songs.  I have nine versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," fourteen versions of "O Holy Night," twenty-one versions of "Silent Night."  There are only so many Christmas songs to record, so there is going to be a massive amount of duplication.  You have the same situation with hymns and praise songs.  I have multiple recordings of "Amazing Grace" and "Come Thou Fount" and "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever."  I'm talking about regular songs that have been recorded several times, but where the artist brings a fresh take to it each time.  I'm a sucker for remakes, especially really good ones or ones that salvage a cruddy song.  (Go listen to U2's version of Gloria Estafan's ridiculous "Everlasting Love" or Chris Daughtry's acoustic "Poker Face.") If an artist I like does a remake on some obscure album, I usually get it (find Coldplay's live take on REM's "Everybody Hurts").

It is pretty common to have two versions of a song.  Remakes happen frequently - especially in the age of shows like American IdolX Factor, and Glee (especially Glee).  But I think it is much more rare to have a song with three or more versions.  It is also hard to find songs that are uniquely and creatively remade.  Take "Unchained Melody."  Tons of people have done that song, but most of them aren't very original - they just sound like a bad karaoke version of The Righteous Brothers.  So I went through my iTunes library to find out which songs I had multiple versions of and decided to evaluate why in the world I own them all.
  • "Can't Help Falling in Love" - 4 versions - Elvis Presley, Bono, UB40, Ingrid Michaelson - This is one of those rare songs were each version is a winner.  Obviously, the original Elvis version is a classic.  Bono recorded his version for the movie Honeymoon in Vegas with Nic Cage, SJP, and James Caan (forgettable movie indeed).  It was beautiful, with Bono's falsetto floating in during the last third to add a tenderness that wasn't there in Presley's.  Right after that UB40 recorded the song for Sliver with Billy Baldwin and Sharon Stone.  (Okay, the song doesn't have a great movie track record.)  The reggae twist on the song almost transmits a joyfulness in the singer's inability to quit loving this person.  It isn't mourning or longing as much as professing love.  Then Michaelson's version is just incredible and lovely - full of aching and desperation missing in each other version.  I love all four.  
  • "For Once In My Life" - 3 versions - Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Stevie Wonder - Right off the bat, my problem is that I am sucker for Motown Stevie Wonder.  I think his version of this song is just amazing.  It is pretty special to have a song that can hold up to a Motown treatment and a too-cool Jazz version.  I'm not always the biggest Sinatra fan, but he does a decent job.  Buble is giving his version of Sinatra's version.  (When you get down to it, isn't Buble's entire career his version of Sinatra?)  To me, the Stevie song is by far the best take.
  • "Hallelujah" - 6 versions - Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, kd lang, Jason Castro, Rufus Wainright/John Cale - I'll admit it.  I never had heard of this song before Shrek.  I fell in love with it in the film (Cale's version).  The CD came with Wainright instead - another good version.  Then I got Jeff Buckley's absolute home run of a version - the one most people recognize.  Finally I purchased the Cohen original and kind of wondered how it had spawned so many remakes, unless people just were convinced they could do a better take on a beautifully written song.  Jason Castro has a surprisingly nice, but not groundbreaking, recording of it.  And kd lang's from the Winter Olympics is glorious.  This is one of those songs where all of them are going to be somewhat similar - haunting, moving, powerful.  There will be degrees of those things.  You probably won't hear a reggae version, thank goodness.  (Well, I won't buy it if there is one.) Personally, I would rank them Buckley, Cale, lang, Cohen, Rufus, Castro.  
  • "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" - 3 versions - BeeGees, Melinda Doolittle, Michael Buble - The last season of "American Idol" we really were into was Season Six.  I even got the CD at the end of the season, which is why you will see Idol versions of several songs.  This song is one of my favorites.  I love the BeeGees version.  It carries with it a level of sadness and pain that is not always evident in the disco loving group.  Buble's take is smoother, but it also incorporates the BeeGees falsetto throughout the last third - a nice move, I always felt.  Doolittle's song is stupid.  She refused to sing "how can a loser ever win" because she didn't like calling people losers.  That alone disqualifies the song.  She also sang it in her too-characteristic milquetoast style.  (I still think if she had embraced her inner Tina Turner she would have won.  Her best performances were the rocking ones.)  Admittedly, I don't have the Al Green version.  I'm probably missing out.  But I never claimed to be authoritative on music.  And his is over six minutes - a big dragged out.
  • "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" - 4 versions - Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Creedence Clearwater Revival, California Raisins - Another brilliant song.  I'm not a huge CCR fan and I am a HUGE Gladys Knight fan.  Even today, Gladys Knight could sing most divas under the table.  I think it is a riot when they bring her onto a show like Idol and she humiliates whoever it is she is supposed to duet with.  Then she kind of gives them a "nice try" look and walks off stage.  So you can guess where I land on this.  But, the Marvin Gaye version was also incredible.  I have a Motown Classics Gold album with the forty greatest Motown songs (not at all subjective).  It includes BOTH Knight's and Gaye's version - one right after another on the album.  That doesn't happen often.  The CCR version is fine with a nice Southern rock twist on the song.  But the real winner, obviously, is the California Raisins.   
  • "I Want You Back" - 3 versions - Jackson Five, The Waiting, Smokey Robinson - The Jackson Five version is awesome.  The Waiting version is fun.  The Smokey one is slow and too mellow - like a lot of Smokey's stuff.  Again, just my opinion.
  • "I'll Stand By You" - 3 versions - The Pretenders, Gina Glocksen, Glee - This is one of those "what the heck?" songs where having multiple versions don't make sense.  I never was a huge fan of The Pretenders version.  It was a bit much for me.  I got the Glocksen one on the aforementioned Idol CD.  It sounds like karaoke.  Then I got the Glee version on one of their CDs.  It was one of the dumber songs and one of the dumber sequences in the show.  Finn sang this to an ultrasound of his unborn child that wasn't really his.  Why do I have three versions of this?
  • "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - 6 versions - Judy Garland, Straight No Chaser, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (2 versions), Glee, Matthew Morrison and Gwyneth Paltrow - Here we go... This is probably the quintessential remake song.  Yes, I have six versions.  You have the original one made famous by Wizard of Oz.  Obviously a classic that has led to countless remakes and redos.  Then, along came Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and his absolutely brilliant Hawaiian ukelele version.  That completely changed the song.  The Straight No Chaser version is a mashup with Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" that owes more to Iz's classic than Oz's.  Iz himself released two takes - one stand alone and one incredible mashup with "What a Wonderful World."  Then you have the Glee version that Matthew Morrison sang at the end of Season One.  I have to give Morrison credit; he did a good job.  It is basically a remake of Iz's take, complete with ukelele.  But Morrison's voice is less island, so it makes it a little blander.  His duet with Paltrow on his solo album is kind of a mashup of both the Oz and Iz versions.  It is good, but I don't think it is as good as the Glee version.  All in all, though, you have at least two very distinct takes on the same song that are both very good in their own right.  That puts it in the class of "Can't Help Falling in Love."
  • "Imagine" - 3 versions - John Lennon, Blake Lewis, Glee - This is where I get in trouble.  I hate this song.  I don't care if it is one of the most popular songs in history or that it was written by Lennon.  I hate it.  I have always hated it.  Part of it is that I don't like some of what it says.  I can get on board for prayers for world peace.  But Lennon puts out that the way to accomplish that is get rid of a whole bunch of stuff - including God and religion.  Obviously, that kind of hits close to home for me.  I did not purchase any of these versions - they came on collections that I wanted.  I'll move on before I get blasted by the pro-Imagine crowd.
  • "In Christ Alone" - 4 versions - Travis Cottrell (2 versions), Page CXVI, Avalon - Technically, this would fall into the praise and worship category.  But it is also a very good example of how different takes can completely alter a song.  The Avalon version of this song is the pretty standard version that has been heard in churches all over the country.  It is a good song with a great message and powerful emotion.  The Page CXVI is very low key and mellow.  Personally, I think it really robs the song of its power, but some people love it.  The Travis Cottrell version is incredible.  He mashes it up with "Solid Rock" and brings in a praise team.  I have two different live versions of his of the song.  Both are great and extremely moving.  One of the big challenges of praise music recordings is to make it recognizable, but also unique.  Cottrell definitely pulls that off.
  • "Jesus Freak" - 4 versions - dcTalk, dcTalk (live), dcTalk (lounge joke), Newsboys - It is perhaps dcTalk's most famous song - a great song.  I love it.  The live version is just a more frantic version of the album version.  When Michael Tait of dcTalk became lead singer of Newsboys, they recorded a version of it.  It sounds just like the dcTalk version, except with Tait doing all the voices - which actually hurts the song.  The only version that really brings any freshness was actually put on the Jesus Freak album as a joke.  It is a lounge singer version, which I have always thought was both hilarious and clever.  
  • "My Deliverer" - 3 versions - Rich Mullins, Ragamuffin Band, dcTalk - When Rich Mullins died, he had a very rough copy of his next album recorded on tapes.  It was truly a shame because it was an AMAZING album.  So, posthumously, the album was released on two CDs - the original rough recordings by Mullins and then fully recorded and mastered versions put out by his backing band and industry friends.  The song "My Deliverer" is just an incredible song.  I prefer Rich's original take, but the full album version is also very good.  It is more upbeat and polished, which doesn't actually help it.  When Prince of Egypt came out in theaters, dcTalk made a version of this song with the lyrics changed a bit to make it more about Moses than Jesus.  I never liked the lyric alteration, but the take itself is pretty good and unique.  It adds a rock flavor, which makes it more a celebration of victory.  Rich's original was quieter, like he was reminding himself that rescue was coming and to not give up.  Each subsequent version brought less of that wounded perspective.  I have always been partial to the original - but I also like the middle movie in most trilogies the best.  I'm weird.
  • "To Make You Feel My Love" - 5 versions - Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Adele (2 versions) - Another song where every version seems to be a complete home run.  Dylan's folk take, Joel's powerful 80's piano rock version, Brooks' country ballad, and Adele's Motown diva longing. I love all the versions of the song and each artist completely makes it their own (in the words of the Idol judges).  If you didn't know better, you would think that each artist wrote it.  I first heard Joel's song and thought it was his - until a friend corrected me about Dylan.  I had another friend who swore Brooks wrote it - until I corrected him about Joel and Dylan.  And there are people who swear that Adele wrote it.  It's one of those cases where the perfect person for each generation remade the song.  (Adele is really good at this - her version of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" absolutely nails it.)
  • "Somebody to Love" - 3 versions - Queen, George Michael, Glee - There is the Queen classic.  There George Michael trying to replace Freddie Mercury (impossible) with the rest of Queen in a decent, but subpar, version.  And there is Glee mangling the Queen version.  If anyone could have replaced Freddie Mercury, it would have been George Michael.  Which shows you just how awesome Mercury was.
  • "Sway" - 4 versions - Rosemary Clooney, Michael Buble, Melinda Doolittle, Glee - Yeah, I don't understand this one either.  I can't really identify which one is better.  They all are virtually the same take.  And all of them are pretty stupid.
  • "You Really Got Me" - 3 versions - Van Halen, Sanjaya Malakar, The Chipmunks - Speaking of stupid...  What a perfect way to end this examination.  Van Halen's song is hardly a classic.  But it is typical 80s David Lee Roth led Van Halen.  Then you have the complete trainwreck Sanjaya's inexplicably bad karaoke song that really could be used as punishment.  Then you have The Frigging Chipmunks putting out a take that would be considered torture by the Geneva Convention.  This song epitomizes the hit and miss nature of multiple song versions.  You have some songs that are like a framework that a talented artist can conform in any number of directions. Then you have some songs that are like trying to bend concrete.  
Those are what I have to offer.  Feel free to hit up the comments to list your favorite song with multiples - or to let me know which ones I missed.  

Nov 10, 2011

No Defense

I have wanted to write about the Penn State scandal for several days now.  In truth, it has dominated my thoughts since this past weekend.  I heard mention of it on the news when the story first broke, so I read some of the coverage on it.  And, I wish I could un-read it.  It horrified me so much that I had trouble sleeping that night.  The next day, I sat my older kids down and explained what they needed to do if anyone approaches them in an inappropriate manner.  I told them, "Scream as loud as you can, punch them as hard as you can in their special place, run as fast as you can, and then tell me as soon as you can."  I didn't know what else to do.  What I wanted to do was to drive up to Happy Valley (ironic name, this week), find Coach Sandusky, and murder him.  That is precisely why I didn't write about this whole issue.  I didn't see any way that I could convey my thoughts without cursing, offending someone, or making me look like a violent rage-a-holic.  From the coverage I have been hearing and reading, my thoughts are not isolated.  It is amazing the number of sportswriters and sports talking heads who have expressed those exact same sentiments.

The fallout from the scandal is still being measured.  So far, the University President, Athletic Director, and a VP have exited - along with the firing of Joe Paterno.  Somehow, though, the original accuser still is coaching on the team - despite the fact that his reporting of the 2002 incident was so poor that several people hid behind the claim they "didn't fully understand the gravity of the accusation."  Personally, I think that the Board of Trustees needs to just get rid of the entire coaching staff and shutter the program for the rest of the year until the school can truly assess what in Hades is going on.

Now, apparently that last comment would get me a riot outside of my house.  There are so many horrifying and inexplicable things that have happened in the course of this scandal.  But one of the most mind scrambling is the fact that Penn State students rioted last night when news of Paterno's firing hit the airwaves.  Dannah Gresh, who is an amazing writer of purity resources, lives up near State College.  She has been tweeting about what was happening up there.  One of the things she posted (I think it was from someone else originally) was, "Too bad the rioting wasn't because a child was molested."  That's the crazy part.  AT LEAST eight boys were molested by this guy.  I say at least because the police are fielding tons of calls about other cases not related to the Grand Jury indictment.  [By the way, I refuse to say "allegedly" in all of this.  If it was one accuser, I may have some doubts.  Eight?  A three year Grand Jury investigation?  Reports that this guy was "walked in on" on FOUR separate occasions?  You don't get an "allegedly" for that.  This isn't some tv cop show where they drag five different people in and threaten to arrest them.  This was a freaking THREE YEAR Grand Jury investigation.]  The rioters were not up in arms that this kind of horror could happen right under the noses of the university.  They weren't furious that state and school resources went to this man - even after he had been accused and ADMITTED to making mistakes with young boys.  The angry hordes weren't buying pitchforks and torches because the school allowed this guy's nonprofit (which was supposed to help children) to operate on its campus running football camps.  They were mad because the people who made stupid, irresponsible, reckless decisions that led to the continued destruction of children's lives were fired for those decisions.

This is one of the things I absolutely hate about sports.  Sports fans are so passionate about their teams and players that they turn a blind eye whenever something that could tarnish that entity arises.  I can understand being shocked and not wanting to believe an accusation.  But to stubbornly defend a team, a school, an athlete in the face of mounting evidence is just asinine.  It isn't like there isn't a track record of sports personalities and groups making self-serving and immoral choices.  How many times do we need to see this play out before we start to believe that these players and teams are not deserving of that level of defense.  I remember when trouble first started to swirl around Tiger Woods.  People made all kind of statements and accusations about Tiger's wife.  Nearly twenty women later, those supporters know the truth.  But it was their first inclination to defend, defend, defend.

Two other things happened yesterday that highlighted this.  While Penn State was watching their world unravel, UCF was watching their athletic department for entirely different reasons.  UCF President John Hitt fired Athletic Director Keith Tribble and the Wide Receivers Coach.  Head Men's Basketball Coach, Donnie Jones, was suspended without pay for three games.  Several basketball players have been suspended, including Michael Jordan's sons Marcus and Jeff.  In the case of UCF, an NCAA investigation has shown that the athletic department had been getting into an improper relationship with a professional "runner" - who is a guy who guides players to specific teams and is paid for it (illegally).  Back in April, the reports began to surface.  UCF was dirty - that's how they were getting a shocking number of high quality players from Chicago.  UCF fans refused to believe it.  I myself, being a devout UCF fan and alum, wanted to doubt it.  But, there was something that didn't add up.  Partly, it was a sports entity being accused - which, in my opinion, always ends up being true.  Keith Tribble went so far in April as to say he had never met this guy, couldn't identify him.  Turns out Tribble was a big fat liar.  Now, UCF is big trouble.  They are trying to self discipline.  But it isn't going to work.  What has been the response of most UCF fans I've seen?  Shame - followed by questioning if this is going to keep us out of the Big East.

It should.  I think that the Big East should contact President Hitt and say, "I'm sorry, but that is not the kind of institution we want in our conference.  You have no control over your players or staff or coaches. Stay in the Conference USA, if they'll have you."  They SHOULD say that, but they won't.  This is the same conference that houses UConn basketball and Louisville basketball and Cincinnati sports and West Virginia (until last month).  The Big East is probably rushing even faster to get UCF now - since they proved they can cheat with the big boys.  Cheating is a prerequisite for admission.  [Truly pathetic part?  Eight of the teams in the Big East for basketball are Catholic universities - the kind of schools that shouldn't stomach cheating on any level.  And they are thinking of inviting BYU, the team who suspended their top players last year for having premarital relations with their girlfriends.  Run, BYU, run.]  Once again, the temptation for UCF fans was to defend their teams.  The temptation for the Big East is to defend their schools.

In the NFL, Ryan Clark - a safety for the Steelers - was fined $45,000 for a helmet to helmet hit on Sunday.  His response was touching and sensitive.  "If I'm going to get fined that much, I'm going to make sure I get my money's worth."  Amazing.  The NFL is trying (pathetically, but trying nonetheless) to cut down on concussions now that it is evident that brain damage from football are costing players years of their lives.  So they have ramped up the penalties for head hits.  Then you have Clark responding like that.  And, once again, Steelers fans will rush to the defense of their player.  They will complain about how the NFL singles out Pittsburgh players.  They will say the NFL is getting soft.  They will laugh at Clark's comment.  And they will get giddy the next time a Steelers player tries to paralyze someone.

We keep seeing this happen.  Football fans defend their sport and try to minimize those brain damage studies.  They defend their teams and players.  They defend behavior that is violent and uncalled for and irresponsible.  It is sad.  It is like a person loses their usual moral and ethical compass when it comes to winning a championship.  I guess that makes me a lousy sports fan.  I ditched the Dallas Cowboys around 2000 because I hated the way they did business.  I did the same thing with the Bucs a few years later.  And I did the same thing with the Yankees when the Mitchell Report hit and it showed everyone on the Yankees had a needle perpetually sticking out of their arm.  I won't ditch UCF because I went there and my tie there is different.  But I will have hard supporting the current coaching staffs until this gets fixed.

Sports isn't the only place this happens, obviously.  We see Republicans doing the same thing right now with Herman Cain.  These are the same people who wanted to crucify Bill Clinton and fire Rep Weiner over their misbehavior.  But their first response with Cain is to say it is a conspiracy.  Fans of Apple Computers refused to acknowledge anything negative they heard about Steve Jobs - even going so far as saying that what made him so great was his tendency to be a rude, abrasive, intolerant, short tempered tyrant.  We all have the desire to defend things we care about.  Unfortunately, more often than not lately, the things we want to defend don't deserve our defense.  They haven't earned such passion and loyalty.  So we are put in a position where we have to compromise our own morals and ethics to defend their lack of control.  "All programs cheat.  We just got caught.  We just are worse at hiding it."  Why should anyone who claims to have a moral guide and compass DEFEND unethical behavior?  You shouldn't.  Wrongdoing is wrong - no matter what.  Breaking the rules is wrong.  I don't care if you like the color of the jersey or the helmet logo the person is wearing.  It is wrong.  There is no circumstance that makes it okay to cheat ... or to sexual harass someone.  And there is absolutely nothing that makes it okay to sexually assault a child.

Which leads us back to Penn State.  Some people have asked what Paterno's crime was.  They say he legally had done everything he was supposed to, but he had not morally done everything.  The fact is that he ran that campus.  He ran that athletic department.  And he allowed Sandusky to remain there.  I don't even know how he could.  I doubt that I would be able and willing to have someone that I knew had hurt children around my workplace.  At the very least, Sandusky admitted to making a mistake in 1999.  Paterno then was told about another disturbing incident in 2002.  That's two.  At that point, even if he didn't understand everything, Paterno should have banished Sandusky.  He should have made trouble for his nonprofit and refused to let them operate on campus.  He should have ended the friendship.  The fact that he not only didn't do that, but allowed him on campus "all the time" and allowed him to use the athletic facilities.  He saw him in the company of young boys "from the nonprofit group" on trips.  That never triggered a question?  I believe that is is the job of all adults to defend and protect the innocent - the ones who can't defend themselves.  That includes kids.  You may think kids are annoying and hate their noise.  But you still should protect them.  That is ingrained in people.  We are built to care about others and to take care of small people.  To sacrifice children for the sake of a friendship is deplorable.  To ignore harm coming to children for the sake of a bowl bid is reprehensible.  And to be more upset about the decimation of a football team instead of the decimation of innocent lives is completely indefensible.

Nov 8, 2011

Next Iron Chef: Game Changer

I certainly never intended to do a weekly recap of Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, but that was before two things happened in this last week's episode.  First, the show positioned itself to become the greatest competition show in the history of Food Network.  Second, my entire set of picks from week one got completely turned on its head.  I realized that there actually is not an ulterior motive driving this show.  Literally, anyone can go out at any time.  And it got proved this past week when my top two landed in the bottom three and the person many expected to win went home.

Just to recap my picks, I had projected the following order:

  1. Geoffrey Zakarian
  2. Robert Irvine
  3. Anne Burrell
  4. Marcus Samuelsson
  5. Michael Chiarello
  6. Alex Guarnaschelli
  7. Elizabeth Falkner
  8. Beau MacMillan
  9. Chuck Hughes
  10. Spike Mendelsohn
Needless to say, I am a little bit nervous now.  The bottom three were Zakarian, Irvine, and Chiarello.  Burrell got throttled for playing it too safe.  Samuelsson got reamed out again for making too many dishes.  And Guarnaschelli, who looked completely outmatched last week, sailed to the first place finish without a single negative comment by any of the judges.  In fact, the top three were Falkner, Guarnaschelli, and Hughes.  MacMillan still is kind of floating around, limping on his injured ankle - which is kind of a metaphor for his involvement in this whole show.

The battle was to take stadium food and reinvent it as Kitchen Stadium Food.  (Ha, clever.)  I thought the judging as a whole was a bit odd.  Zakarian admitted that he doesn't have a freaking clue what constitutes ballpark food.  So he just made this two ridonkulous dishes that were labeled by the judges, "The best food we've eaten in this entire competition."  That earned him a seventh place finish.  Meanwhile, Hughes tossed out this hoagie that was so messy and disorganized that they could barely eat it.  Naturally, he came in second.  The only intelligent rankings were Guarnaschelli first and Chiarello last.  

The last place finish allowed viewers to finally see the reason why I can't stand Chiarello.  He made some bizarre dish and topped it off with a raw egg yolk in a shell.  The judges hated it and told him so.  Then Alton Brown, being the snotty arrogant turd he is, went on to lecture Chiarello by holding up his egg and allowing the whites to drip off.  "If you are going to use raw egg, you certainly need to make sure it doesn't look like this (whites drip off for effect).  An inability to separate an egg is hardly characteristic of an Iron Chef."  The camera cut to Chiarello.  "You didn't like the egg, fine.  Tell me and move on.  No need to beat it into the ground."  Now, don't get me wrong, I wish someone would punch Alton Brown in the mouth for his self- absorbed schtick.  But that is what he does.  That is why the Food Network put him in this position.  Brown truly believes he is smarter and better than everyone else in the food universe.  You need someone that delusional to stay tough as the host with these big shot chefs.  If I was Chiarello, I would have bristled too.  Then I would have calmly walked to the end of the table and slammed Brown's head and his ridiculous fedora into the plate of food.  It is just that every single time they interviewed Chiarello, he was basically taking the stance that there is no way he should be in last place.  There's a fine line between confidence and cockiness.  All celebrity chefs are confident.  Some are cocky.  I can't stand those guys.  Don't ask me to define it.  Using the cop out the Supreme Court created, "I just know it when I see it."

Anyway, the final showdown between the bottom two was Irvine and Chiarello.  They had to use peanuts and had thirty minutes to create a dish to highlight this.  Apparently this is is extremely difficult since all of the chefs had their eyes bug out like in a Looney Tune cartoon.  Irvine came up with a fish dish - halibut crusted with peanuts on a peanut hummus with a peanut sauce and sauteed vegetables.  It looked awesome - like something he has pulled out of thin air numerous times on Dinner Impossible.  This is exactly why I expected him to win.  He has made a career out of this kind of stuff.  

Chiarello decided to make a fettucini with peanut pesto, along with a side tomato salad.  Take a second and read that again.  He made a fettucini with peanut pesto.  No, he didn't crack open a box of Ronzoni.  He freaking MADE PASTA.  In thirty minutes.  That means he made it from scratch.  The other chefs were just stunned.  Just about every single one of them said they couldn't believe he was making pasta.  In thirty minutes.  This was the moment when I knew Irvine was going home.  You can't compete with that.  Chiarello didn't even blink about the concept of pulling it off either.  He broke down the time and just did it.  He deep fried the peanuts (What?!?) and then used them instead of pine nuts in the pesto.  Then he tossed that with his HOMEMADE PASTA.  (I still am thrown off by this.)  Wham.  

The judges didn't know what to do.  Both dishes were superb.  Irvine ended up getting voted off 2-1 because his peanut hummus was a little too gummy.  And probably because they realized that Chiarello had MADE HIS STINKING PASTA.  The rest of the chefs were visibly shaken when Irvine left.  I think that all of them thought he was going to be in it for the long run. Plus, Chiarello made a great point at the end of the show.  He said that he wasn't upset to be in the bottom two.  That had given him one more experience in a Kitchen Stadium setting than the others.  He is more of a force than I thought.  Actually, it is obvious I don't know anything about the show.  My entire evaluation structure got turned on its head.  There are several things I realized this week.
  1. Zakarian is this year's Ming Tsai.  Last year, Tsai could cook circles around everyone.  But the reason he lost was because he too often didn't follow the exact wording of the challenges.  Zakarian is in that boat.  He has more cooking ability than anyone else there.  That's obvious by the way the judges respond to his food.  But if he doesn't stick to the rules, he will get booted out.
  2. Marcus Samuelsson needs to settle the heck down.  So far, the chefs have had to create four dishes - Samuelsson has had to do five, since he was in the bottom last week.  Samuelsson has made eleven.  He always does extras, just to impress the judges.  The problem is, they aren't impressed.  They even went so far as to say that the next time he makes extras, they are going to make him tell him which ones to judge and they won't taste the others.  
  3. Alton Brown gets more annoying every year.
  4. There is a big difference between cooking for "regular people" and cooking for judges.  This is the biggest variable I missed last week.  The challenge this week was crafted for Robert Irvine.  It was basically the same thing he has done before on Dinner Impossible.  You go raid the vendors at a ballpark and come up with dishes with what you find.  I've seen that show.  Irvine excelled and everyone raved.  But, in that case, the Everyone raving was a group of regular people.  It is easier to impress regular people with cooking than experts.  Think about it - when Irvine cooks for three hundred construction workers, do you really think some foreman is going to tell the camera the flavor profiles weren't consistent?  One of Irvine's dishes was a Hot Burg.  He took hot dogs and ground them up and mixed them with the hamburgers he was making.  Brilliant.  Alton Brown said it was great.  It would have killed with average people.  But the judges were unimpressed.  That was Irvine's downfall.  He is the best chef on Food Network's roster when it comes to knowing what average people wants.  That is how he is so successful with Dinner Impossible.  That is how he does such a great job in helping people fix their restaurants on Restaurant Impossible.  That is why he is such a great coach on Worst Cooks in America.  It really is why I like him so much.  And that is precisely why couldn't be the Iron Chef.  They don't want someone who will impress the masses.  They want someone who will wow the food judging elite.  
  5. This show is going to be a LOT more exciting than I thought it would be - and that is saying a lot.  There aren't many shows that I watch live any more.  I'll let it record on my DVR and wait fifteen minutes just so I can fast forward through commercials.  The only shows that we, on a regular basis, are too excited to wait the fifteen minutes.  The first is Castle on ABC.  The second is Burn Notice on USA.  And the third is Next Iron Chef.  Pretty elite company in our house.