Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be Careful Where You Put Blame In Jaguars Loss

Looks like Dominic Rhodes was right. Today at Lucas Oil Field the big brother got the best of his up and coming younger sibling as the Jaguars fell to a well prepared Colts team 34-24.

The 10 point victory both is and is not misleading. Tyjuan Hagler's 41 yard onside kick off return was a garbage score but the Jaguars 67 rushing yards discloses the fact that Jacksonville was playing from behind the entire game thanks to a rebirth of the feared Peyton Manning.

Sure would have been nice to see the faulty one.

If we are being totally honest, had Austin Collie not been taken out due to a concussion Manning might have doubled his output. With the weapons of Collie, Garcon and Wayne at his disposal, the first half was a clinic on how to confuse a defense. Jaguars defenders were turned around and out of position as if they were looking for that last seat in a game of musical chairs.

There was, however, no quit from the visitors. Garrard, statistically, out performed his counterpart and save an overthrow of Jason Hill that was intercepted on a sure scoring drive, he might just have been the hero we have seen in some of the great wins this season. Behind some shaky protection which allowed David to get pounded on multiple occasions, number nine kept picking himself off the turf, allowing the surprising Jaguars to show everyone that you had better be prepared to play 60 minutes of football.

And it was not just David making plays. There was a Mike Thomas punt return for a touchdown, a Marcedes Lewis acrobatic one handed catch and a wasted sack by Daryl Smith.

In the end there were simply too many mistakes to overcome. The aforementioned interception, an unfortunate fumbled punt by Thomas, problems with the toss pitch and a questionable fourth down attempt are but a few guffaws that the Colts managed to avoid while the Jaguars monopolized them.

However, when all is said and done, I blame myself.

I knew my role in this team's success and I failed to live up to my obligation. The same long sleeve teal performance shirt was worn over my gray Nike cold weather shirt (temperature appropriate). The beard was not cut, except for the bits of mustache hair which had begun to obscure my mouth.

But instead of the Jaguars visor or Live Strong head warmer I grabbed my Jaguars ski cap. There was a third layer on the torso: a short sleeved UNF tee shirt. For the first time all season I watched an away game from other than the comfort of my own home.

Consider this. The good luck beard, Amish style, began growing before the home game versus the Titans. After that travesty the full beard was adopted. Since then loses made perfect sense based on what I did. I was on the Appalachian Trail for the Kansas City game and I was in the gym for the first half of the Giants game.

Dressed properly and in attendance for the home games, while on the coach for all of the Cowboys and Titans games, the formula was obvious but my hubris got the best of me when I agreed to cheer on the teal and black from Chicago Pizza at the Jacksonville Landing.

Now in my defense my daughter was performing at the Landing at 4:15 so I would have missed her troop's rendition of songs from Suessical the Musical. But I have seen it twice already this month. Watching a Jaguars home playoff game is a rare bird that has not shown it's beak in 11 years. The decision should have been easy regardless of what the wife and kid said.

The universe has its laws and she is unforgiving when you break them.

So while you are reading the articles and listening to the comments on who to blame and why, give the players and coaches some slack. This one is on me.

- Brian Fullford

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Sportswriting History

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Bit of Christmas Glee

The standard reply when asked if I really watch Glee is usually, "Well I have a 10 year old daughter and she just loves it." Truth is, I love it too. It is a weekly one hour musical that often serves to tug at some string within my heart.

Tonight's Christmas episode embraced The Grinch storyline with Sue Sylvester as the loathsome green antagonist. There may be no better villain in all of TV land. It also included a comical portrayal of Brittany and her belief that Santa Claus is real.

Looking beyond what has become a tired storyline of Finn and Rachel was the embodiment of what many want from the season: belief in better.

Finn consistently pressed to look beyond the verbal and physical revulsion to the choir caroling through classrooms. He pressed that others had it worse when the club came across Sue's Grinch inspired trashing of their tree, choir room and theft of gifts for needy children.

Brittany, to the shock of her friends, treated Christmas as if she were five. Artie, her wheel chair bound boyfriend, pleaded that no one disclose the truth. He had them go to the mall to sit on Santa's lap to show they too believed. They even went as far to ask the football coach (a hefty woman) to dress up as Santa and break into Brittany's house so she could take back the Christmas wish the mall Santa said he would honor: that Artie would walk.

What each managed to do was elevate those around them.

Finn's demand for being in the season found the club in the teacher's lounge where a cold Sue's heart was eventually melted. As she watched her fellow educators donate what little they had to replace the pilfered gifts, the power of giving finally overcame her years of holiday pain.

Brittany's belief inspired someone (we were made to believe the coach as she smile secretly outside the choir room doors) to pay a large sum of money to purchase a device which helped Artie walk. With the students questioning who made such a sacrifice, they happily attributed it to a Christmas miracle.

For a moment there was a collective belief things could get better.

In the end the glee club, at Sue's bidding and with Sue, are found in Schuester's house decorating a new tree with all the "stolen" presents under it. Ms Sylvester discloses the truth of how and why and we end with the two enemies wishing each other a Merry Christmas, refuting Will's belief that he would be alone for Christmas.

There is not a whole lot of digging to be done here: the message is obvious. As was recently noted by a friend on Facebook, "If people put half as much effort coming up with solutions to problems as they do complaining about problems the world would be a better place."

It is as basic as Camus's call to imagine Sisyphus happy: Or in the words of historian Howard Zinn:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.”
The season is about something which transcends any religion which claims ownership and it is a sentiment which is not isolated to believing in any deity. It is a simple reminder that a single act, one which serves to make at least one person happier, will contain within it the fact of immediate change and the hope for permanence.
We should not be ashamed or feel stupid that we sometimes need to be reminded of this truth. Some of us can not remember where we left our keys, our glasses or our wallet half the time. Maybe that is really what the message is: Beyond being hopeful that our actions can change others, the belief that an other's actions can change us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thoreau is Thankfully Low on Oil

I replace the oil in my car because the engine needs it to run efficiently and cleanly. My engine is not concerned with alternate theories of peformance. It was built in a way which requires a degree of maintenance, of which draining and refilling the oil tank in short regular intervals is a necessity. If there is resistance within the engine then it will overheat and die.

Humanity is not like an engine. Progress is contingent upon friction. In school, children are challenged to consider new ideas, and hopefully process facts not as static events but items through which greater questions can be asked and answered.

But not all progress is good nor is all friction beneficial. Friendships have been lost due to constant irritation.

Henry David Thoreau reminded me of these things while I sought his comfort from beyond the grave. Having recently read commentary on the tweet by Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson along with biased political commentary implying only Republicans are incompetent, I sought out words of solace. This is the one of many which stood out.

Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.
Henry David Thoreau

The religious element is obvious, though often forgotten. As one who has worked with children and youth in a church setting, there is such a strong desire by many parents and educators to ensure a sanitized approach to their belief system. Doubt is not promoted for fear of falling. When has weakness become something which we honor?

But the extension of doubt and faith, first, must be directed at the individual. Friction discloses many things, of which a lack of patience and ignorance hold the standard.

Where is the educators faith that the child and the teacher will attain a level of communication which will edify? Where is my faith in self that allows me to digest news without a poisonous level of disdain for the source or those who align to the opinions?

Approaching the Other's argument requires a level of doubt to our own position. In turn the want is that faith in our ability to disrobe those items which fail to retain validity will be dropped.

Yet there is never dignity lost in saying, "Let me think on this."

While looking for a selfish easement, Mr. Thoreau turned the mirror. If our reading, our speaking and our watching is only a service to where we are then it is best to remain locked away. The perenial faith is that "good for" will win out. The doubt is the accessory.

My reminder is that unless disclosed, there can be no understanding of how the other sees it. I must be allowed to see my faith justified. I must understand to where my faith should be applied. This cannot be given without doubt.

The wisdom is knowing when viscosity serves the room.

Friday, November 26, 2010

ST:TNG, Law and Order:UK and Thoughts on Justice

A day of work started with Star Trek: The Next Generation. "The Best of Both Worlds", a two part episode in which captain Jean-Luc Picard is captured by The Borg. During the scope of the storyline First Office William Riker assumes the position of Captain and is forced to make a decision: destroy The Borg ship with Picard still on board or hold off an try to formulate a plan to save Picard and then, hopefully, defeat the far superior enemy.

For those who know, Picard cannot die and therefore it is merely a matter of following the story to see how Riker solves the dilemma.

It is the classic argument of the one versus the many, expect in this instance the many would be humanity itself. Resistance is futile, as you know.

What Riker does it fore go the crew's pleas for more time as he knows defeating The Borg is far more important than one man's life. In the end, however, it is the act of saving Picard which allows them to place a command into The Borg collective which causes the ship to self destruct.

I am by no means a Science Fiction geek, but I do love the philosophical problems that ST:TNG often presented. It was the my Philosophy of Mind class where we watched Commander Data on trial to determine his personhood which hooked me.

What I didn't expect was the Law and Order: UK marathon which BBC America was running immediately after "Best of Both Worlds". One of the episodes told the story of a youth who killed his friend. There were a few questions the show investigated. One was whether some people are born bad. In other words, can anti-social or criminal behavior be passed on from parent to child.

Nature versus nurture.

A more intriguing question was how justice could be found. The defendant, a 14 year old boy, had already been in the juvenile penile system. Being small in build made him as much a victim within the prison as his victims were outside of it.

The mother of the victim wants punishment: she wants the defendant in prison. But as one of the lawyers notes, what justice can be had by putting the boy back into a world which will only continue to teach him violence? Can he be saved by being in an environment framed by love and hope?

The real question here is who is justice for. Are we looking at justice for this single victim only or are we looking at justice for the society they both lived in? Is it not a greater justice to make every attempt to change this child's person?

The psychology of an adult compared to that of youth is significantly different. As we get older it becomes more difficult to change; either by choice or by ability. It would seem that justice would be more served by trying to secure the future of our society, if the potential exists, than simply satisfying an immediate need.

At the close of the episode one of the lawyers from the D.A.'s office meets with the boy in prison and tells him he is to young to be a lost cause.

It isn't an easy question and our heart will always go out to the victim. But victim and justice, no matter how we try, are not black and white terms. They also do not solely apply to or serve those who are subject of the crime itself. Unlike the clean finish where humanity is saved from The Borg, we can't really be sure what the lost cause is in "real life".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jamele Hill is not Courageous

ESPN journalist Jamele Hill has a new article which questions whether race is still an issue with black NFL quarterbacks. I was made aware of it earlier today by Michael C. Wright, another ESPN reporter who covers the Chicago sports scene. On Twitter, Mike framed the article by saying it was "courageous" of her to confront the topic.

Before I address the content of the article it is worth noting that I have been following Wright for quite some time and have usually enjoyed his tweets along with his reporting on sports in general. But after reading the article his use of the word "courage" seemed very misplaced.

Upon engaging him in a conversation on twitter, in which I questioned the merits of the piece, he resorted to calling me "typical", stating "the truth hurts" and then blocked me from following him. Above and beyond the generalizations he used the tired and worn out response of "if you don't like it, read something else."

Fascinating that someone who presents material for public consumption would find his only recourse to basically turn around and walk away from the discussion. That Hill wrote the article implies she considers it a point to consider, at the very least. That Wright felt the need to publicly support and defend what he called her "opinion" puts him in a position for public inquiry as well.

The further irony is not lost on me, that he would use the words "truth" and "opinion" within the same discussion. Follow the conversation based on his replies.

I noted I read the article and found it lacking merit.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf Needless to say, I think I see where u stand.

I claimed that she spent the article making claims then back tracking on them.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf No back tracking. It's called handling it w/kids gloves already knowing the typical backlash to something like that.

I stated that if she felt there was a race issue then she might want to evaluate the QB situation in Jacksonville.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf She's been there. Jax has no choice w/QB now. Plus u saw how hard folks worked 2 get Byron outta there.

I do not recall the specific reply.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf It's a column. Her opinion. If u don't like her opinion u can always read something else.

I noted that reasonable discourse is why these articles are written for public consumption.

mikecwright Michael C. Wright


@imbwf The truth hurts, they say. Not worth continuing. Your mind is made up. Typical.

Unfortunately I cannot pull the actual messages I sent as that would allow for a truly balanced picture.

Wright obviously feels that there is a race issue in the NFL and a failure to concede the validity of Hill's article is typical of a certain segment of society. Did Wright know I was white? I did not ask but considering the topic his choice of words begs the question of what his bias is regarding those who would disagree with him.

The question must then go to the article itself.

Hill's claim is based on three examples and she starts with them.

Has anyone else noticed all the drama surrounding black quarterbacks during this NFL season?

• Jason Campbell, who has been fighting for his job all season in Oakland, was benched for the second time this year against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

• Six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb was replaced by Rex Grossman during the final 1:50 of a close game against the Detroit Lions earlier this month because Redskins coach Mike Shanahan claimed Grossman was better suited to run the team's two-minute offense. Shanahan questioned McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance."

• And on Sunday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher demoted Vince Young to benchwarmer after Young threw a tantrum following Tennessee's 19-16 loss to Washington. Although thumb surgery is the official reason Young's season is over, Fisher made it clear before he knew the severity of Young's injury that his 27-year-old quarterback was being removed as the starter.

The immediate point is that team issues involving black quarterbacks is different than that of white quarterbacks. Now rather than continuing on with supporting evidence, Hill notes the following:

  • Has anyone else noticed all the drama surrounding black quarterbacks during this NFL season? I'm not calling anyone out for being racist, and I realize this might seem like an odd conversation to have considering that Michael Vick is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.
  • I'm also not overlooking the facts that Campbell played poorly in the games in which he was benched
  • That Young's antics in Tennessee are largely to blame for his problems with Fisher, and that Shanahan has had difficult relationships with plenty of white quarterbacks in the past.

So then is there a problem? Hill's claim is yes.

• But it still seems as if race is playing a role in how some black quarterbacks are treated, managed, perceived and, ultimately, judged.

Confusing? It is to me. She cites examples in which black quarterbacks were being treated, offers counter examples, then follow up by saying there "seems" to be a problem.

Why then does she choose race to be the cohesive element? When Shanahan made the move to bench McNabb for Grossman I chalked it up to a desperate coach making a bad decision. McNabb has since been signed to an extension. The problems with Young are well detailed and Fisher was never a fan of the draft pick.

That he's had to deal with an immature prima dona hasn't helped ease the friction.

Though she points out "But Campbell's shortcomings are rarely clarified with the same perspective as some white quarterbacks.", she doesn't offer any strong counter examples. The two she does present are Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning.

She claims Manning's lack of criticism for the late game interception against New England would've received much criticism if it were McNabb. With respect to Palmer she asks if why he isn't labeled as an "underachiever" as Campbell has been.

Is this the best we get?

Looking at the body of work, Manning has significantly out performed McNabb. Palmer has been handcuffed by injuries and significant personel problems in Cincinnati. Hill's claim is predicated on the reader accepting that the two comparisons are of quarterbacks with equal backgrounds and upon equal performance.

One attempt at doing so is to note McNabb's 17 fourth quarter comebacks and 25 game winning drives. Per Pro-Football Reference Manning has 37 reported and 28 actual fourth quarter comebacks.

The correlation between Palmer and Campbell is qualified by Palmer's recent record and that he has only had two winning season in seven years. Campbell, however, didn't have a single winning season in four years at Washington. So Campbell gets the pass because of the rotation offensive coordinators? She also further fails to note that Palmer's worst season, in which he started a majority of the games, was a seven loss season and that one of the two playoff games he was in saw him get injured early in the game.

So much for the 1:1 comparison.

My favorite, however, is where she compares Young's injury to Favre's injury, stating that Brett is considered tough will Vince is being a "brat". Considering she already noted that Young is a bit of a head case, and has used injuries to get out of playing, does she honestly want us to believe that Favre's body of work warrants a comparison? Favre gets the nod because he is also mentally tough, which has nothing to do with him being white.

What I found most damning were these statements.

• Most African-Americans are familiar with the notion that we have to be twice as good just to be considered equal with whites. And considering that there are only six black starting quarterbacks in the NFL, there isn't a lot of room for error.

• I'm not saying black quarterbacks are above criticism or that race plays a role every time one of them loses his job. White quarterbacks are benched and second-guessed, too, same as black ones. It comes with the position, regardless of race. But if most of us agree that racism is still an issue in this country, how can we dismiss its influence in sports?

First, the statement that blacks have to be twice as good to be considered equal with whites is a convenient foundation to start from. It paints blacks as victims of an unfair system on the whole. This isn't consistent with Hill's earlier premise that this is happening to "some" black quarterbacks. Obviously they all do not have to be twice as good. But if you want to single out race as the mitigating factor you first have to label your oppressor.

Second, if we agree that racism is still an issue in this country, why does it stop with white on black racism? ESPN recently ran an article on Peyton Hillis noting he is more than just a "white" running back. Is Hill willing to acknowledge that there may be some racism with respect to white positions at certain positions?

When Jamele Hill asks if racism is still an issue for NFL quarterbacks, it actually speaks to society on the whole and the answer is an obvious yes.

However, by throwing around the word "racism" so cavalierly it assumes she knows the intent behind the actions of those involved with McNabb, Campbell and Young. Is she calling Shanahan, Cable and Fisher racists? And if not them, then who?

Hill has presented us with an argument which goes roughly along the lines of "it could be this or it could be that..." She uses the history of bias towards white quarterbacks as evidence that these three examples "could" fall into that same category. The problem is that beyond her speculation there is not any compelling reason to make us accept her premise.

What I see from Hill and Wright are two people who assume racism is an element of the problem and make an effort to find it, regardless of whether there is any validity to the opinion. There is nothing courageous about yelling fire in a movie theater because you think the steam coming from the kitchen is smoke. This is lazy journalism meant to get website hits.

As Wright so appropriately stated: "the truth hurts." Yes, Mike, the truth does hurt.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Greater A Failure?

When I consider the impact that websites like Facebook and MySpace have brought upon society, I am not convinced that our present generation can fairly evaluate the level of positive or negative change experienced. Consider the cultural change of the late 1960's. The rebellion against authority, to some, signaled a decline of western civilization. Yet as time passed and adjustments were made, America managed to assimilate that idealism and move forward.

With respect to the internet and social media, the technology has really done nothing more than create an easier means of gathering. Now you don't need to go to someone's house or a rally, you can simply make a comment and your 300 or so friends can engage you in dialogue.

So while these can appear as nothing more than an opportunity to have someone look at us, we should be careful not to confuse the ease of something with a new vice.

Where we might find problems is in how we process this wealth of information. For example, in reviewing the "info" of friends (and friends of friends) I am able to see their success based on relationships and\or occupation. Naturally I may compare this to my life and evaluate myself and the decisions I have made.

Now in the past this may have been something, on such a grand scale, that I would have dealt with through a class reunion or a holiday party. However, what Facebook (to use a specific example) allows me is immediate access to even more standards of success. It would not be a reach to state that someone with low self esteem might find such information and indictment of their own failures. In turn, others may be comfortable enough with self and feel sincere joy for their friends or they may see this virtual relationship as a means of networking so to improve their condition.

A great question will always be that which asks to what extent our humanity is eroded or complemented through technology. Advertisers know that persistent imagery through pictures or language can persuade the person to make a specific choice. How different is it to see hundreds of people writing of how much money they make or posting pictures of all the events they go to?

In the end we are accountable for knowing our weaknesses and choosing a world in which they do not control us. Maybe it isn't a good idea to accept every friend request. Maybe we should unfriend those who post links and opinions which cause stress or animosity. The attention we think we're getting can never replace the negative impact which might be pushing us towards failure.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How We Process

One thing we should all come to expect from elections is the increased level of hatred and ignorance which is conveyed by citizens across the political spectrum. The "my party" mentality is exhibited in the mantra to "vote the party line", which in itself implies a level of absolutism that should offend. Though masked as an ideological difference, the very idea that a political party, which is framed by a specific dogma, has the ability to solve the problems society presents may be the single most deceptive aspect of their pitch.

When ad campaigns focus their attention on qualifying someone as an "Obama Liberal" or a "Tea Party Conservative", the expectation is that the observer will correlate the phrase to a preconceived notion of the individual or group and subsequently your decision will not be made based on information supplied but distinct experiences and preconceived notions. When we fall for such a tactic we find ourselves lost as our decision is not based on the idea but on the presumption of the idea.

I found a post from 2007 by a Maria Binz-Sharf that referenced a talk on human information processing at the Columbia Business School. The speaker was a Thomas Mussweiler from the University of Cologne. Binz-Sharf writes:

Mussweiler went on to talk about various factors that influence the comparisons we make, most importantly the standards we employ for comparing information. His experiments used a technique called “priming” to activate certain standards – for example, subjects were asked to judge a trait in a person. The result shows that priming a trait concept (such as aggressiveness) will induce the subject to judge the target person according to that trait. In other words, once activated, standards are spontaneously compared to the target person.
We shouldn't be so naive as to expect us to remove "priming" from how we approach the world and the people we experience in the world. Doing so would eliminate a basic element of survival. We are obligated to discern a person or situation based on observable elements and in doing so can react in a manner which might ensure safety or success.

However, not all situations warrant an immediate reaction and it is those times, in which a more academic or cognitive approach is prudent if not responsible. For example, we don't succeed in college by our first experience of the text or idea. We evaluate what is being said, we look at alternate options and then formulate an opinion or response. The key is being able, to the best of our ability, to defend the position while being sympathetic to the counter argument. If I learned anything from my philosophy professors it is that.

Going back to the election, how then are decisions being made? If we are asked to judge a candidate through a narrow lense, how informed and accurate (and accurate is used very loosely here) can that decision be? Liberal, conservative, religious, democrat, republican, those terms don't really mean anything until we approach the idea. And even then it becomes a matter of understanding how the idea is to be applied.

Here is where the processing of information becomes our tipping point. If the scope is narrow then our understanding of cause and effect is narrow. For example, liberal idea A and conservative idea B, though appearing mutually exclusive, actually compliment each other to the extent that they address potential scenario K, O and W. The exclusivity, if we're not careful, is assumed based on nothing more than an association fallacy.

Politics were a convenient example as we just experienced the mid-term elections, but the idea of processing came about from a day spent sitting, talking at the St. John's Town Center. Manner of dress, a look or a physical display is observed and the mind tries to qualify the participant. A specific example that fascinated were drivers as they approached cross walks. Some waved the pedestrian by with such aggressiveness that they almost seemed bothered. I couldn't help but wonder what the driver saw the pedestrian as and therefore how they were processing this impediment to their destination.

While discussing this, my friend Josh spoke of how he marveled at the inherent complexity of the human being. In reflecting upon his comment I find it more appropriate than when he initially said it. How we process can be correlated to a lie and how entangled one gets when lying. The difficulty in not only making a decision but then making that next decision is contingent upon how informed the first choice was. If, like a lie, there is no depth of understanding then confusion prevails and we eventually become overwhelmed by choices for which we are unprepared.

As Binz-Scharf furthered noted, "I kept asking myself how the way we process information relates to how we search for it." This seems to me the integral first step. Am I looking to disprove or prove and if so am I approaching it with a bias. For example, is the pedestrian walking slowly across the street on purpose (i.e. it is a personal attack towards me)?

An old mentor once told me that if you go into a debate with the thought that you have nothing new to learn then there is no reason to engage your opponent. I can't imagine a more difficult task we are then asked to complete: Take the time to formulate the opinion only to hold it open to change. Yet isn't that the very nature of learning?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Story and a Man's Funeral

I drove down to Winter Park, FL with my wife and mother to attend the funeral of a friend's father. The name is not important to you so I won't mention it. Giving a name to the person won't cause you to feel any greater sympathy for those who mourn him. It will only serve to give title to a stranger, much like understanding a story from its title.

So better served am I to tell you what he did. He was a reputable lawyer in Winter Park, FL with more ties to the community than kudzu on a South Carolina hill. He fathered two children and was married to a beautiful and proper southern woman for 57 years. His collegiate life saw him get a degree from both the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

His business sense allowed him to make decisions which furthered his career and overall quality of life. He was well liked and well respected, a man whose word was enough. Apart from his family, his most prized efforts were related to his faith and the rewards reaped by the community churches from this love. That he proudly served his country in the USAF must be a close second as his funeral echoed voices calling each to our attention.

I did not attend the viewing because I do not like them. Call it a weakness or simply a preference, but that final memory is not what I desire. The dead look dead and no artist can change that. In my past I've seen a 19 year old who I used to baby sit and the father of a close friend, posed and decorated to give their best side: that of being alive. It is the ghost of the child’s potential lost and that father's cancer beaten body which keeps me away.

So we left on Monday morning, with all of nature giving her best to bring joy to the moment. It was a Baptist funeral so I suffered through the usual references to Christ and eternity. I respect the faith and I understand why it is done, but I would simply rather hear about the man who died.

There were brief notes of his wit and confidence, and those made me both laugh and smile. That his faith was so prominent may explain the crisp joy that washed through the room along with the rays of sunlight through well kept glass. It was refreshing.

The casket was draped in the American flag, which would eventually be given to the widow at the gravesite. The flag's colors stood out against the white washed walls and common colored pews. We would follow casket and flag roughly 200 yards, where they would then be separated.

It was once we left the church that it all became poetic. The church stood inside what one might consider a country club and therefore flanking the church was a golf course. In order to walk from the church to the cemetery you had to pass one of the holes: I believe it was number three.

Moving through the sun and shade we walked along the street and past the tee box of hole number three. Sitting in the golf cart was a man and a woman, I'd guess mid-twenties. He appeared to know the sport as he surveyed the straight shot, not minding the people and cars passing behind him. Though there were two sets of clubs I did not see her hit, nor did I see her even attempt to leave the cart. Maybe being with him on this day was enough.

Coming in view of the final act, we could see the pallbearers pulling the casket from the hearse with the remaining family standing around it, still not exhibiting any visual signs of suffering. There was the usual green tent which protected the family, preacher and casket from any of the elements. We stood a bit back, almost too far to hear any words spoken.

While two Air Force representatives folded the flag that topped the casket, a train could be heard in the distance, blowing its horn as if to announce the arrival of a new soul. Sun, clouds and wind seemed to alternate their presence as if to view the final act before this man's body was lowered to its fate.

The only break in the order was a required second attempt at getting the flag to its final shape. I could not see where the fault was but it did not matter. Participants waited, as if relishing even more time to be in the moment.

Once folded the flag was brought over to the bugler, so he could honor the memory with a stirring and tight rendition of Taps. Apart from the tree frogs who chattered amongst themselves, giving us brief moments of respite while they caught their breath, everything on earth seemed attentive to the now.

The landscape was immaculate and the decorations were perfect. No part of the score was off key and every actor fulfilled their role with expertise. I wondered what must the golfers and greens keepers think of us, or if they thought of us at all. Surely this was common to them and every sound or movement, from person or nature, was nothing more than an unnamed thing: Or just a thing with the name "funeral".

But isn't that the problem with a story? You can't appreciate it without hearing the words and experiencing how it constitutes the world. Just saying its title affords me nothing beyond associating the words with my experiences which may not bear any resemblance to the world between birth and death.

It is never just a thing: it is always a story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Self Serving Music List

There is a radio station here in Jacksonville, FL. It is a sports talk radio station that often finds itself doing very little sports talk. When you mention 1010XL there are some who will cringe or illicit signs of disgust, stating the hosts offer nothing tangible to those looking for quality sports dialogue. A fair complaint if you are someone fully immersed in all that is sports.

I care about football. Baseball, basketball, golf and NASCAR could never be mentioned again and I would not lose any sleep. If you can appreciate the entertainment world, on the whole, then you may find yourself laughing at the likes of Dan Hicken or Rick Ballou as they tangent off to the land of American Idol or the best beer to drink.

The other day Ballou and Frank Frangie were discussing music (as they often do). Rick had, in a state of boredom, created a list of his top 50 bands. Now the average person tends to quantify things in tens. We leave the big lists to the professionals like Rolling Stone or People magazine.

So I thought, "Could I come up with my top 50 bands?" The cool thing is that Ballou's list consisted of music from Led Zeppelin to Barry Manilow. As I listened to him defend his list it was the honesty that stood out. He actually took a considerable amount of time to carefully place each musician, with an emphasis on accuracy.

Now how often do we do that? Is it not the case that our list is burdened with who we've listened to most recently or simply who we remember at the time?

With a good week under my belt, and some serious thought expended, I feel ready to attempt this. For any good list there must be guidelines, but what the hell is needed here? Am I going to require the band\artist to have made some existential impact on me? And do they have to stand the test of time? If so, what is the cut off date?

My musical integrity refuses to let rules dictate anything. Still, simple entertainment must be tapered with impact so to order. But rock and roll is about rebellion, so damn the torpedoes and let the chips fall where they may. Ugh! Cliches.

These may not be the best bands in the world and a I would bet at least four you may never have heard of. The key element is that at some point they brought me great joy and probably still do. Leaving out bands like The Rolling Stones, Beatles and The Who will surely warrant some concerns as to my musical taste. They are good, I just never was totally into them. That being said, this isn't a "best of" which considers cultural and\or groundbreaking musical impact. This is my individual taste.

I am sure I'll come back in a week and adjust this (these lists are never fixed) but thanks to Billy Bond for walking through parts of my past. Because of him adjustments were made. And I received quite a tongue lashing for leaving out great 80's bands such as The Outfield and Journey.

For fun, if we've been friends for a while try to list my top 5 before you get to the bottom.

"Rock and roll, stops the traffic!" - Bono

50. Counting Crows - Saw them live recently. Great story telling.
49. The Choir - Found them in college. First Alt\Christian band. Special to Kerry and me.
48. Incubus - Deep lyrics. Went from hard to funk to straight rock.
47. The Sisters of Mercy - Timeless goth band.
46. Neil Diamond - I don't even need to explain the awesomeness that is Neil.
45. The Cure - Was never crazy about them but always liked them.
44. Ministry - Best noise on the planet.
43. Def Leppard - 80's rock at its finest. High -n- Dry is a classic.
42. REO Speedwagon - A guilty pleasure? Riding the Storm Out is but one of many greats.
41. Split Enz\Crowded House - This is good pop music. Even the Finn's solo stuff is good.
40. Bon Jovi - Another 80's great. Still doing it today.
39. John Mayer - I know he was shoved down our throats but the guy can write and play.
38. Foo Fighters - Just good rock.
37. Lit - Liked them when I was younger. Loved them once my son got into them. Just fun music.
36. Maroon 5 - Not a song I don't like. Best cover of Highway to Hell I've ever heard.
35. The Ramones - They just have to be here. I mean "beat on the brat with a baseball bat." You know there just had to be something deeper going on.
34. Everclear - Music wasn't complex but Alex conveyed poverty and the struggle of kids well.
33. Son Volt - You better think when you listen to Jay. I love a good story teller. I'm not a country music guy, but Jay's greatest overcomes that.
32. The Eagles\Don Henley - One of the first bands I ever liked. Owned Hotel California at age 9.
31. My Chemical Romance - I consider them one of modern greats. Black Parade is a classic.
30. Coldplay - What can I say. The write solid pop music. Yellow still moves me.
29. The Clash - One of the first bands with a conscience I ever heard. They changed many.
28. Nirvana - For the short time they had a huge impact. And after Cobain's death it remained.
27. Bruce Springsteen - Grows on me year after year. I'm a sucker for a story teller and guitar if you don't know.
26. Kings of Leon - Listen to all their cds. I can't believe I didn't find them sooner.
25. The Jam\Style Council\Paul Weller - A genius. Cool music. Thinking music. Rebel music.
24. Stone Temple Pilots - For years this was a band that never left the rotation.
23. The B-52's - Saw Rock Lobster on SNL late 70's. Deserve "Best Party Band" title.
22. Collective Soul - Another one w\o musical complexity but the hooks never get tired.
21. Morrissey\The Smiths - Actually found Morrissey first. Speak from a world that isn't mine.
20. Robert Plant\Led Zeppelin - Zep grew on me. Solo Plant was an immediate love. Because of him I'm listening to Bluegrass.
19. Pearl Jam - They just make great music. A band whose passion moves you.
18. The Doors - There is something about Morrison and Manzarek.
17. Queen - Freddie Mercury had rare voice. Maybe the best rock\pop band ever.
16. The Pixies - Frank Black was a punch in the gut. Crazy lyricist.
15. The Police\Sting - Some people just have a gift. I don't think there is a song I don't like.
14. The Lost Dogs - Christian country band with a sense of humor. Deserve more popularity.
13. Edie Brickell\New Bohemians - Her voice and presence still move me. NB were tight.
12. Adam Again - Another Christian\Alt band. Gene Eugene wrote for the common man and the common soul.
11. Jars of Clay - These guys are compassion set to music. When I feel bad, I put them on. Even without the belief I appreciate the passion.
10. The Call - Michael Been was Gene Eugene before I knew Gene. Moving lyrics. Weller, Haseltine, Farrar, Eugene and Been may be my favorite lyricists.
9. Iron Maiden - Took literature and made it music. Great themes. Great shows.
8. Pink Floyd - One of the bands of which I can look to the past and see actual days of my life.
7. INXS - Damn you Hutchens. Another great party band. I have yet to tire of them.
6. The Connells - Jangle rock at its finest. They should have been stars. Never a bad show.
5. R.E.M. - Lost them a bit after Green. But the discs prior are classics. Never travel w\o them.
4. Toad the Wet Sprocket - Between them and Jars of Clay, they just make me feel good.
3. NIN - Trent Reznor always spoke to that darker side. Yet I always found hope in NIN.
2. U2 - Maybe a shocker? One of the two bands I found as a young teenager that just spoke to me.
1. Rush - I asked my mom to buy me 2112 for getting an A in Advanced History. It was history from there. If you're a guy you have to like Rush.

(Honorable mention: Elvis Costello, Guns and Roses, Van Halen\Hagar, Metallica, Alice in Chains, Duran Duran, Mission UK, A-ha, Death Cab for Cutie and Tears for Fears)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Black Box

When I was in the sixth grade I was Charlie Brown in the play You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. It was actually a musical but the cast was not required to sing. In a misunderstanding of my request to sing a part, I was given a song that was grossly higher than my range. Though nervous and lacking confidence I managed to get through my two (or three...hard to recall) performances and the adults were kind enough not to be honest with respect to my vocal prowess.

The experience was as memorable then as it is now. An old scrapbook maintains a picture of the cast and I have been grateful to have found some of them via Facebook.

If you have never experienced acting you are missing out on one of life's great rushes. That is if you can get beyond the thought of having people observe you with the high expectation of being entertained, which can be a monumental task. There is a nakedness about performing, which demands a denial of self. Surely you have heard actors speak of "knowing the character" and "becoming the character". The thought of displaying something which is not us can almost be unnatural.

This past school year my friend Josh asked me to be a guest speaker for the newly formed Philosophy Club at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. It had been a considerable amount of time since I had actually read, much less done, any "real" philosophy. With joy and anxiety I exposed Nietzsche and Philosophy of Mind to the students. What I didn't know that this would also serve as a gateway back to the stage.

Josh is an incredibly talented writer and we had gotten together the summer before the school year to hash out some ideas. He was wanting to write a play. Roughly 10 months later, and thanks to some of the discussions and topics in the Philosophy Club, Josh was asking me about a play focusing on self. "The Creationists", he would come to call it, would take place from a literary perspective, in which characters would have dialogue with their narrator and eventually would seek definition independent of the "other".

Heidegger. Kierkegaard. Sartre. Camus. My heart was beating considerably faster and would almost stop when Josh asked me to play the Narrator.

The remainder of the cast would be populated by students Josh knew from Douglas Anderson. It is at this point where the humility began to take hold. There have been many events in my life in which adults would assume a level of authority and knowledge over kids simply because they were adults, even when it was obvious the kids were more educated. That I felt inferior to my surroundings gave me a small sense of pride, a rare moment when you see good in yourself.

Time would pass, there would be script changes and more characters were eventually added. I would come to befriend these gifted teenagers and found myself observing their mannerisms and approach to craft. When we had our first staged reading I was but a voice from behind the stage. The others sat on bar stools, in front of the it should be.

What was so compelling at that time was the number of people who came to Bollero's just to watch us read this play. Teachers, parents, friends and students, all in support of Josh and these young actors. I was experiencing the arts in real time. With real emotion. It wasn't a theory in a book or a review on the internet. It wasn't a crowded theater amongst the pretentious and the commoner. These were people who lived the idea that art matters and through participation the world is better.

After considering the comments given during the reading, Josh began to rewrite for an actual staged production. This would require us to actually act out the play while holding the script in hand.

I would like to point out two significant elements of the process which moved me. First, the way in which Josh opened himself up to the criticism was so admirable and new. It is something you must do to create and it is at this point I realized it takes a confident person to disrobe the way he did. The credit too goes to the audience in that all words were constructive and done out of love for Josh and the work itself.

Second was Josh's willingness to change. Once rewritten, the entire piece, though holding onto certain elements, had a newness about it. So much that upon reading the two drafts you might think they were distinct plays. It is a selflessness to entertain rather than demanding acceptance of the "me".

Put into uncomfortable or new situations I have a tendency to be vocal and joke, probably beyond what is acceptable. One could go as far as to say I can be offensive. This is one of those moments when you see the bad in yourself. To their credit, and maybe it is because I am at heart immature, the students embraced this 42 year old stranger.

Though being entertained and disruptive in opposition to Josh's want of order, I had quiet concern that my line delivery and stage awareness was making the actors and my writer question my participation.

When asked the replies were supportive but I felt lied to.

The day of the show I ran through my lines, trying to get a better feel for the character. If you have not picked up on it, I was now to be on stage. This meant knowing were to be and when to be there. That Saturday prior I had failed every time to nail my locations. However, by showtime, and after a quick run through, Josh complimented me on my progress and I could tell his faith was restored.

At Douglas Anderson they have this room called a black box. It is here where we would perform. The dimensions of the room seemed to be a perfect square. There were curtains on three of the four walls, with the back wall being the only one which you could actually move while behind the curtains. The last wall was fronted by a riser with roughly eight rows for which you could put 10 chairs per row.

I am guessing with these figures. What I can present as fact is that it was standing room only.

It is in this black box that they practice their acting. Anything more than that I cannot, with any true knowledge, convey. The box was foreign land. What I do know is the lights stay on and it is hot.

Being the first on stage and to speak found me lonely and failing as my first few lines were jagged and weak. But confidence came, both from within and from cast, and I left the stage floating. There was laughter and emotional silence. At the end the ovation was loud and we were all smiling. None more than Josh who had just observed those he entrusted with his creation, convey it in a manner which made him proud.

Four days later and I am still emotional just thinking about the positive reviews. But more than that were the moments shared with these teenagers and Josh. People dedicated to creating. How proud their parents must be of them. I watched as they hugged, laughed and ran about the room as if the award for best something had just been won.

The irony of the black box was not lost on me. This space, absent of natural light and dark as an empty universe was not lonely and limiting like a prison cell. It wasn't a space we went into so to hide from the world. It was the exact opposite: more like a birthing room where nothing but love and joy were allowed to reside. I literally felt changed. I felt baptized.

Josh. Bradley. J'Royce. Maisaa. Tyler. Chris. Kai. These are their names. I cannot conceive of a world in which they are not successful. Am I naive? Being too emotional? Maybe I am still in the black box while the world moves around me. So much better there. Where is my totem?