Wednesday, February 27, 2013

You Say Sequester, and I Say Sequesta

What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time.
 - Don Zimmer (baseball player, coach)

Remember when it was fashionable to give 110%? Set aside your mathematical annoyances with that idiom. The fact is, there was a time when going above and beyond was the norm. And as Don Zimmer says, what we lack in talent can be overcome with effort. If there was ever a truer distillation of what it means to be an American, I doubt it. 

Call it the Protestant Work Ethic, or American Exceptionalism, that’s just what is expected and what we do. It is our God given legacy. And with it we created amazing things during our two-and-a-half centuries of taking on big stuff. Good or bad we conquered the continent, created industry, built railroads, invented cool shit like planes and computers. We built giant damns, and canals. We conquered disease and shot humans to the moon and back. And don’t forget, we kicked major butt in World War II! We are a nation that gives 110%. 

Or at least we were.

When the whole notion of the sequester emerged about a year and a half ago it seemed so remote in both time and probability that I, like probably most of us, never gave it much consideration. Now, with a day to go, it not only seems probable, but inevitable. And what will be the result? Oh, about 90%. 

The feds will slice off 10%, or so, of most everything and we’ll just see what happens. Sure, there is plenty of hand-wringing on Capitol Hill and in the White House, but little real action. But let’s be fair. Can we really expect our elected officials to solve this complex fiscal challenge by giving 90%?  Of course not! And we should cut them some slack. Give ‘em a break. After all, they work pretty hard the rest of the time raising all that money to get re-elected. Solving a national crises is hard work. It requires knowledge and skills and the ability to work and play nice with others. If not talent for those things, at least hustle and desire, as Don Zimmer would say. And should we have such lofty expectations of our leaders? Should we?

I think its time! Time for a national debate and an open dialogue. An open dialogue that gets to the heart of our problems as a people and of this great and noble experiment of democracy. It’s time to face our reality and destiny. 

And that is: We just aren’t up to it anymore. There was a time when we gave 110%. When we rallied and took on big problems. But now we are tired. All those inventions and wars take their toll. And we are getting on in our years. We aren’t spry teens or young adults like we were a century ago. As a nation we are at middle age, if not a bit past. Our national knees are sore and we have hair growing out of our republic's ears. If you look at the other great democracies and empires we should consider ourselves lucky to have had a run of 250 years. Sure, there are the Romans, and the Venetians who had really long runs, but plenty others never lasted this long. The great colonial powers like Spain, Great Britain, and Portugal had only a couple or three centuries on top. Even the cradle of our Western Civilization, Hellenistic Greece, had a heyday that lasted not even 200 years. So why not be happy with our exceptional run? It was a great time we had. But now? Now maybe is the time for all good men and women to be satisfied that we can muster about 90%. Which is what our leaders seem to be able to muster.

There has been plenty written by smarter and better-educated people than I about the decline of our great nation. And I’m sure some will read this and think I’m just giving up. They say I am a quitter and that I have no faith in our ability to rise up. To that I’d say they are wrong! I am not a quitter and am not giving up. If I said I was a quitter it would be to say I am satisfied with defeat. And I’m not! At least about 90% not. So I am not giving up! I’m just starting to consider, perhaps, that maybe I’ll just give 90% too. It is, after all, our leaders we look to for guidance and inspiration. And if they are content with 90% then who am I to say otherwise.

And the more I think of it, the better I feel!

So starting Friday, I’m going to begin my own sequester. I’m just going to dial everything down from a 10 to a 9. Whatever it is that I do that I do all the way, I’m going to do most of the way. That should do it. 

Since I drive about 10% over the speed limit, on average, this should be good. I’ll avoid most of the speed camera tickets I get. And I probably average a glass or two of wine (or scotch) per night. One less per week won’t kill me. I should cut back anyway. My boys probably won’t miss me the 10% I won’t spend with them. And Lori, well, hmmm, I’ll need to think out what 10% she’ll do without. But 10% fewer calories, less exercise, less work, less pay, less TV, less reading, less going to the bathroom. 10% less yard work and idle conversations. 10% of everything! This could be liberating! 

At this point in my blog posts I typically try wrapping with some clever summary. Maybe some insight that I think you, dear reader, will enjoy. Perhaps even something you can take forward to help in some way. But, frankly, I think I’ve put about 90% of the effort I want to on this.

The end.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Help Me ID this Bird

Hawk on white oak in our back yard
It's not Walden, nor a Sand County, but our little inner suburban 1/8 acre supports a decent wildlife variety. Beyond squirrels, our neighborhood has deer, and the occasional fox. One year we came home and discovered, sadly, a dead raccoon on our front yard. We called animal patrol, concerned about rabies, but once dead, not much can be done but dispose of the poor critter. I've also seen mice and, unfortunately, rats who are fond of our compost bin.

We also get a good assortment of birds. We have lots of trees, and our bird feeders help. Today, instead of sparrows and grackles we were visitedby a hawk! Which may explain why I haven't seen mice lately. According to my Waterford Press pocket naturalist guide from the Audubon society, for Maryland and DC Birds, it's either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Red-shouldered Hawk. It appears to be a juvenile, so I can't be certain.

Any ideas?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Schrodinger's Cup of Coffee

I was driving from one meeting to another and stopped at a mini-mart for a protein bar and cup of coffee. At the second meeting I finished my coffee and refilled the cup with water then drove off to my third meeting. After my third meeting, now about 2:30 p.m., as I was walking to my car, I ducked into another mini-mart. I grabbed another protein bar. I was having my mid-afternoon slump and thought of getting more coffee but grabbed a V-8 instead. I got to my car, and saw the coffee cup from earlier in the center console cup holder. “I wonder if there is any left?” I asked myself as I got in. I held the cup and shook it gently. It was about 1/3 full! I drove off and ate my protein bar and finished what was in the coffee cup from that first mini-mart.

It wasn’t until I finished that last sip of what I thought was coffee that I realized I was drinking . . . water! I had completely forgotten I had refilled the cup with water and thought I was just drinking cold leftover coffee that had sat in a cold car for a couple hours. I laughed at myself, then my fatigue returned.

Did I really just drink a third of a cup of water thinking it was cold coffee?

Funny thing how the brain can trick itself. I was tired and thought of getting coffee and by the time I got to my car and saw the cup, I created what liquid was left as coffee in my mind. For a few moments I was mildly amused if not disoriented. I thought of studies regarding the trustworthiness of eyewitnesses, the placebo effect, our perceptions and prejudices of self and others, and those absolute “truths” we hang onto so dearly. If I could trick myself into drinking water as coffee, what else was I capable of? If I could turn water into coffee, what about (wait for it) . . . wine?

A friend of mine loaned me the book Biocentrism a few months ago and I’m listening to it again on Audiobooks. The author gets into quantum physics and other crazy science to describe a “new” theory about all that is. In a nutshell, it is our consciousness that creates the universe. Not the other way around. The author calls this Biocentrism.

It’s an intriguing book and I confess to not really understanding any of the quantum physics, which is okay, since no one really does. But to extend from quantum physics and the perplexing behaviors of energy and matter and how our consciousness both comprehends and, and the same time, affects matter at the particle level is too much for me.

But then again there is the coffee cup with water in it. Like Schrödinger’s Cat, both alive and dead, that cup held both coffee and water, or at least the probability of both, until I observed it. But I wanted it to be coffee and so it was coffee, to me, for at least a few minutes. Had someone taken that cup away before I finished, I would probably still think I had drank coffee. My observation was pre-biased towards coffee, thus it was.

I like to think I am a rationale, objective human. I like to think that before drawing a conclusion, I methodically collect information, assess it, then make an informed decision. The truth is something else, of course. I am not a purely rational, Spock-like creature assigning probabilities to outcomes then acting accordingly. Emotions and desires always get in the way. And though I like to think I am mindful of the fact that I can create whole realities in my brain it sure doesn’t stop me.

  • Lori is a couple minutes late and it turns into a car accident.
  • My son has a fever and it’s automatically bacterial meningitis.
  • This blog post is so insightful and clever that you all share it with everyone and it goes viral!

Good to the last drop!
Of course, each of those fantasies is possible. They each have a probability greater than zero. But they aren’t likely. Rather than consider the 99% probability that is reality, I’ll spend most of my time worrying or fantasizing over the 1%. There is nothing wrong with being ready for the low probability high impact event. But prudence tells us to focus on what's most likely. To be more rational. But a purely rational existence seems boring. And pure worry and fantasy would require a different medication. There is some healthy, happy balance in there somewhere.

Finding that happy balance takes time. Maybe a lifetime. As for consciousness, reality, relative truths, quantum physics? Bah! Who needs any of it? At least, for now, I can be satisfied with knowing how much I can save on coffee. For me, it comes free, right out of the tap!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hospice


The call came yesterday. Not the call, but a call. Lori’s mom, Elaine, is being moved to Hospice. Elaine has been not well for several years. A decade ago she beat cancer. But that was just the start of a long and steady decline. Last year Lori’s dad and Elaine were moved to assisted living. Elaine hasn’t been well this winter and fought pneumonia and various other ailments.

I only got to know Lori’s mom after she was sick and frail. I wish I had gotten to know her when she was younger and more energetic but even when confined to a bed in a nursing home, it was easy to see the remnants of someone full of piss and vinegar.

I first met Elaine the spring of 2011. Lori and I had met a few months earlier and quickly fell in love. Meeting the parents is an obvious next step in a relationship but it's different in your 40s and when you're widowed. I already had a full compliment of in-laws. When I started to stretch my legs and date again I considered the theory of finding another mate. But the consideration or theory of a new set of in-laws, strangely, never crossed my mind. So when we drove from DC to Lancaster, PA to “meet the parents” it had a peculiar tonality. I had been through this before, hadn’t I?

“But I have to do it again? Really? Well, okay, then” I said to whatever or whomever listens when I talk to myself, “If that’s what needs to happen.”

We met, we went out to lunch and it was all lovely. Her parents are wonderful, salt of the earth people. They grew up in Western Pennsylvania and are the result of generations of strong men and proud women. Her dad was quiet with bright eyes. Her mom? Chatty but sarcastic, with an endearing self-depreciating quality. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I remember it was pleasant, and basically what we all talk about the first time we meet each other:

“What’s my job? How about my kids? Oh, my parents? They met in grad school. I was born in Illinois but we moved to New Jersey when I was five.” Stuff like that.

And I tried to learn more about them. He was retired so I asked about his career. And, what was Lori like as a child? How has Lancaster changed? It was not so much the words but rather the time we shared. And now, looking back, that was one of only two times the four of us: Lori and I, and her parents, spent together that was not in a hospital or in the assisted living facility.

Our lunch ended and it was time to move on. We left the restaurant and that is when I noticed, truly, that age was not just creeping, but had crept up on them. Her dad, thin and wiry, needed a bit of assistance to get Elaine out of her wheelchair and into the minivan. I helped as best I could without getting in the way. Her mom seemed fatigued from the adventure. This was all new territory for me. I was happy to lend an arm, but was never exactly sure how or when. We drove back to the family home, I got a mini-tour, chatted briefly, then Lori and I said goodbye and returned to DC. Less than a year later they were both in assisted living.

Earlier today, during a conversation on the phone, through tears, Lori told me she wished I had gotten to know her mom before she was sick. I said, “I know. I do too, but I did get a sense of who she was.” And I said that in part having gotten to know her mom, briefly, but more because of what I know of Lori:  Strong, proud, not afraid to speak her mind, yet sensitive, loving and not afraid to be afraid. These are qualities I love about Lori and qualities I imagine I would have admired in her mom.

It’s sad to see Lori’s mom’s decline. And it’s sadder to see Lori’s sadness knowing there is not much I can do to make it better. It just has to play itself out, as it will. Lori lost a best friend to breast cancer a few years ago before we met. Her friend was young; in her late 30’s leaving a husband and 3 kids. She is still very close to them. Her friend was moved to Hospice and died within the week. I know death from a different perspective. My wife died suddenly and tragically. There was no anticipation and preparation nor Hospice. But we both have been through this before in our own ways. Maybe it helps prepare us. Maybe it just makes us aware that more sadness will come.

In some of the “widow circles” I now travel, there is a macabre debate, of sorts, about whether it's better to lose someone quickly and unexpectedly, like a car crash, or not, like from cancer. I used to speculate on an answer, but now think it’s moot. To say one way has plusses and the other minuses is to suggest that one has plusses at all. And there are no plusses.

When a loved one dies, regardless, it hurts. Badly. It hurts in a way that I believe we have yet to create adequate words to describe in the English language. Though it seems pointless to even try, here are some: It’s dizzying, confusing, confounding. It makes no sense. At one moment this person, this life force and energy exists. Then it's gone. The whole world seems to list to one side and for a while it feels like you are walking sideways on a slope and just might slide off the edge. But the best explanation is: it's inexplicable.

What is true for us, though, is the profound mystery of our short lives is again manifest in our home. The membrane that separates the present and living from the past and those who have died, is visible again. The expected pain from our anticipated loss is so real we can nearly touch it. It reminds us of our own short lives which will end soon enough. We've snapped out of the day-to-day banality and wonder what is it all for? Is there a reason? Or is it just some cruel hoax or folly?

We turn those questions around and around for no good reason for there is no good answer.

But I cling to one hope. One hope that I hope is truth: That the pain we feel is the reflection of the love we create. And the more acute our pain is the evidence of that love we created. In the end, that is what is left.

And Elaine was, and is, clearly well-loved.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Forward on Climate


Dear all,
Now that Valentine’s Day has wound down, I’d like to draw your attention to this coming Sunday for the Forward on Climate rally.  If you are in the DC area, please go. If not, please send a message to your political leaders.

The environmental movement has not done well. It has not done well for a couple reasons. One has to do with the “holier than though” attitude the movement has tended towards. Beyond the 20-30% of us that are hard-core tree-huggers, many feel we talk down do them and it re-enforces that “liberal elite” label. We need to be honest with that fact and figure out different ways to communicate. That’s one reason we have failed and I'll say more on that in a later post.

But second, and perhaps more confounding, is the nature of the problem and what I'd like to share today. The problem of Global Warming is so big and, all the science aside, so abstract, it’s hard for most of us to connect our personal behaviors and consumer choices to what is happening. Even if we admit that it’s a problem, the solution seems too far away or complicated to solve. Katrina and Sandy have started to change that. Those events are bringing the reality of what might be with a warming climate to our homes. But those not directly affected won't "feel" the impact.

But this is not the first time, as a society, we've struggled with abstract science. Until the great tobacco litigation settlements a decade or so ago, the tobacco industry hid behind its own science. “Sure, it’s possible that smoking caused that persons emphysema or lung cancer, but there are so many possible factors that can contribute to emphysema or lung cancer that there is no way to be certain that smoking is what killed your father. In fact, some people smoke and never get lung cancer.” 

Case dismissed.

Likewise, did global warming cause Sandy? Maybe, but how do you know it wouldn't have happened anyway? And we don't know. At least we don't know with 100% certainty.

So, did global warming cause Sandy? I think that is the wrong question. Because in this world certainty just doesn’t exist. Think of these personal examples:

Wearing seatbelts: Will a seatbelt guarantee you’ll survive a crash? No, but it improves your odds.
Having a good diet and regular exercise: If I eat well and exercise I’ll will live longer, right? Will live longer? More like 'should live longer,' but it’s still not a guarantee.
Good schools: Sending my kids to the best schools will make them better people. Yup, a good chance it will, but not a guarantee.

During the last administration we learned of something called the Cheney Doctrine. The Cheney Doctrine basically said that if an event had at least a 1% chance of happening we needed to take action. Dick Cheney was talking about terrorism specifically, and geo-political threats more generally, and used it as part of a justification for wars and a tremendous increase in U.S. military spending.

And back to tobacco: The tobacco industry finally lost when inside documents revealed that they did know that smoking increased, without a doubt, the probability of developing one of a number of chronic health conditions diminishing quality and life expectancy. Yet, it’s still possible you may smoke your entire life and live a good long time. But I won’t bet on it.

Which leads me back to Global Warming. Sure, we can continue our current use of carbon-based fuel sources and pump CO2 into the atmosphere and, who knows, maybe it will all work out. Maybe there is some unknown climate affect that will balance it all out that we haven’t yet discovered. Or maybe this is a natural cycle and it’s just a coincidence that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is corresponding to temperature increases and retreating polar ice. But I’m not going to bet on that either.

At this point in the essay would be a good time to get into data regarding the scary climate corner we are painted into. But I’m just going to give you three numbers and then ask you to read this article. Here are the numbers:

+2° C (3.6 F): Rise in global temperature before it gets really bad.
565 Gigatons: Amount of additional CO2 we can release into the atmosphere before exceeding +2° C
2795 Gigatons: Amount of CO2  that will be released by current oil/coal/gas as proven reserves are consumed.

And that last number is the scariest one. Since this comes from industry’s proven reserves it is coming out of the ground. It is factored into the industry’s asset valuations and reflected in their stock prices. To not take it out of the ground will require the petroleum industry to radically change. And like we saw with tobacco it took many years and lots of litigation.

The science is no longer disputable and we are way past the time when the Cheney Doctrine should have been invoked. Historically we have been a nation that took on big problems. Our list of great inventions that have altered and benefited the course of humanity is long. Why don't we think we can solve this problem too? Our political leaders have done very little to develop a coherent strategy to move beyond carbon-based energy sources and lead us into our future. But, maybe, the obstructionists’ time in Congress is finally coming to an end. We can hope. But hope isn’t enough. It’s time for action and we, the people, need to lead the nation forward.

If you can, please join us on the Mall this Sunday. If not, pick up the phone, or email your Congressional Representative and Senators.

Thanks,
John

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pitchers and Catchers

One hundred twenty-three days.

For some things, it’s not really that long. For other things, like when there is no baseball and you are 7 years old, it’s a very long time.

We are Washington Nationals fans. We’ve been Nats fans since the day they arrived (with apologies to my hometown Philly fans). I traveled to Washington's first game (in Philly) to watch Termel Sledge hit the first Nationals homer in a loss to the Phillies. In 2010 I took the boys, then 7 and 4, to spring training to see Stephen Strasburg pitch. He gave up two-homers and struck out everyone else. At least that’s what I remember. We go to games. My older son has learned how to keep score from his grandfather, my father-in-law, and even keeps score when we watch on TV. Like I did, my boys play little league. We have a pitch-back in the backyard and neighbors painted a home plate in the street where we play wiffle ball.

We love baseball. It is our family sport.

Game 5: Cardinals v. Nats, during happier times.
Here is D.C., we are still figuring out certain things about life with baseball. Like, don’t schedule things in October. This used to not be such a problem. The night of game 4 of the playoff series with the Cardinals I had to go to an event with Lori. I assumed someone would think to have a TV, but no. This was the game where Jayson Werth clobbered a walk-off homer in the 9th. Nowhere could I find the game except on my iPhone with the MLB app. I was huddled in the corner with a friend and we went crazy with the win and, in an impulse, decided we HAD to go to game 5. I clicked on the Stubhub app and within about 10 minutes had 4 left field tickets.

What an amazing and gut-wrenching game. I’ve told others that in the future, my boys will tell their friends they were there. They were at that game. They’ll tell the story in their own way. The experience of being so close to victory and then having it vanish into the cold, dark night. To go from a peak moment of anticipatory joy to the valley of sudden defeat so quickly. It’s still hard to fathom how our team lost that night. But they did. In a stunning and historic fashion.

After Ryan Zimmerman’s pop out to 2nd base to end the game, as the Cardinals rushed the field in celebration, we sat there, along with the others, stunned. What had just happened? This must be a bad dream. It was incomprehensible.

But it wasn’t. It was real. And I sat there with Lori and the boys and reached over to hug them as they buried their heads in their arms to hide their tears, which soon became hard, full sobs. Then tears filled my eyes. Fans began their slow, zombie like walk of despair up the aisle to the concourse behind us. A few would look up and see us now alone in our row except for our misery.  A couple men came over to offer condolences; tried to share a few words of encouragement: “tough loss boys, it was a good year, though.” That sort of thing. One man, early 60's, in full Nats gear, jacket, cap, came over. Misty eyed he looked down at the boys and explained that he’d lived his entire life in Washington. Grew up a Senators fan, and said, “I know just how you feel.” Choking back tears, he turned and walked away.

And that’s how it is. Some get lucky like I did. I came of age in the late 70’s and early 80’s as a Phillies fan. Those were great years. Our team won it all! But some aren’t so lucky. They are born in the wrong town in the wrong year. Their team never wins.

Still in shock and disbelief we shuffled with the remaining others to the metro stop. “It was a good year,” I tried to convince myself. But it doesn’t work that way. There is always one more place to go. One more level to reach. Until you win everything there can be no true satisfaction with having just a “good year.”

The escalator took us down to the platform and we slid into the next train car with the others. A few Cardinals fans were slapping each other. The rest of us just stared at the floor or our reflections in the black windows. Some leaned against each other too exhausted to sleep as we waited for our train to leave.

After a minute or two my younger son broke the silence: “Dad?”
“Yes?”
“When is the World Series?
“Well, they still have to play the League Championship Series, then comes the World Series. So in about 10 days or so.”

“Dad?”
“Yeah?”
“How much time do the baseball players take off before they start playing again?”

I looked up and caught the eye of an older man sitting across from my son. He looked at me and we gave each other the slightest of smiles.

“Well, son, pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training sometime in mid February.” My son looked down at his fingers and started counting.

And there it was: No matter the outcome, at least in baseball, there is always next year.

That was 122 days ago. Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, on the 123rd day since we last had baseball.

And I like our chances.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Wii Lives ...


... Or, what I learned about loss and love from Super Mario Brothers

“I hate losing. I hate losing more than I ever want to win.”
Billy Beane, Moneyball

We became a Wii-U family this past Christmas. For the uninitiated, the Wii-U is the long awaited upgrade to Nintendo’s Wii home video gaming system.  Our first generation Wii conveniently died about 6 weeks before Christmas; almost on the day Nintendo launched its Wii-U. So it was with much anticipation and joy that Santa delivered a Wii-U.

And we enjoyed the Wii-U. For a while, that is.

Image courtesy Nintendo
Now, for the next part of this story, I have to explain a little about Super Mario Bros. First, the older brother chooses a character: Mario. Then the younger brother selects the other character: Luigi. Then they set out in a magical fantasyland collecting coins, avoiding various hazards and bad critters, to eventually get to a castle to defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.  Controlled by the two siblings, Mario and Luigi travel through video space. As they travel forward, the view on the screen follows the characters as if a movie camera is following the two characters running along. This makes sense. But, this means if one, like the older brother, is faster and more skilled than younger brother and the distance between the two gets too much, the slower character falls out of “camera” view, disappears for a moment, then reappears in what looks like a giant soap bubble. He remains suspended in the soap bubble until the other person, in the lead, touches them. The bubble pops, and on they go.

And like any activity with older brothers and younger brothers, there is a lot of playing catch-up. I don’t need to be watching to know when this happens. I know this happens when I hear:

“Wait up. Stop! Can’t you just Stop?!? I told you to Stop! You’re not letting me play!!!”

What is the saying? ‘Life imitates Super Mario Bros?’

Over the course of the Winter break the frustration rose until it boiled over. And I did what any highly evolved father would do. I yelled at them and banned them from the Wii-U for a full week.

One Week! Did you hear me?!? And for every day you act up, I add another day! Got it?

I unplugged the unit, put the controllers in a bag and hid it all in a closet. That’ll show ‘em.  And it did, in fact. They cried and complained, for a bit, about it being unfair and so forth. And they grieved the loss. But what was done was done. The end. But I was kicking myself. For two reasons: First, for instituting a week long punishment that I would have to enforce. And second for buying the goddamned video game console in the first place. Had we not had it, no fight, no punishment, no grieving that loss.

But a curious thing happened. They stopped fighting. For the whole week. I even overheard the older telling the younger to calm down or “Dad will take away the Wii-U for longer.”

Success?

A shared this story with a career and organizational development consultant I've worked with and she shared this article which describes recent research showing that our distaste and aversion to loss is greater than our desire for equivalent gains. Interesting. And it makes sense.

There are two ways I look at this.

The Buddha taught us that, in part, to end our suffering we must end our greed. It is our desire for those things that we want, or our need to cling to those things we already have, our possessions, that create suffering. And can imagine the Buddha smiling knowingly when I removed the Wii-U. That's one way I look at this.

The other way is subtler. I think of my own loss. I can see back to earlier relationships how the fear of losing the relationship actually held me back. There was the friendship I was afraid I’d somehow loose if I asked her out and she said ‘no.’  Then there was the fear of having truly open conversations, to share differences and disappointments with an early mate for fear of scaring her away and loosing her. But instead I sacrificed a deeper intimacy that we never created. Not until a few years later when I met Amy did I have a better understanding of how important it was to risk losing something to get something. It didn't happen overnight, but it happened, and we came to know in our own way that to fully love also meant to risk fully loosing. I just didn’t really think I’d loose her when I did.

Now I’m with someone else. Having already lost one love of my life I see even more clearly the paradox of risking loss to create love. Sure, I still have fears and insecurities and worries. But it’s different now.

Maybe I’m over analyzing all this. The boys got out of hand and they lost a privilege. End of story. Yet the paradox remains: What are those things I have which I fear losing? Where do I cling to something that creates some level of my suffering? And what is it I fear letting go of which prevents me from gaining something even greater?

Whether in our personal relationships, when we hold back for some fear, or with friends, or in the workplace, or even our national leaders? Where are those places where we are more concerned about not losing, like Billy Beane, at the cost of something greater?

Mario and Luigi still have much to teach us.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday Mass


Our First Reading is from the Book of Exodus:
Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron [who] made it into a molten calf;  . . .  Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

If you’ve had the least bit of bible study, or seen a Charlton Heston movie, you know what comes next. And it’s not happy times. Moses returns, losses it, destroys the golden calf and pounds it into powder, mixes it with water and has the “stiff-necked” Hebrews drink it. Then a bunch of people get killed. Oye!

Now, those who know me know I’m not so much a bible-thumping, keep holy the Lords day, have no craven idols, kind of guy. I self identify as agnostic, with atheist and Buddhist proclivities. I attend a Unitarian Universalist church for Christ sake. But when I think about what the Super Bowl has become for us I think about the passage from Exodus and the Golden Calf.

I like football. I’m not one of those guys who watches football all weekend long. I don’t play office pools nor participate in any fantasy leagues. I’m more of a baseball guy, really, and I just don’t have the time to devote to watching sports like I used to. But I still like to watch the Super Bowl and have friends over to watch with me (which we ARE doing!). And as much as I hate to admit it, I will probably get into some debate over which commercial is better, the new $10 Million VW ad, or the GEICO ad. And was Beyonce lip-syncing or not?

Let’s be honest: football is a violent sport. Surely there is the pure athleticism that is something to admire. The human physical potential manifest as big, fast, strong, men leaping and catching and running is a wonder to behold. But the element of danger when two of those big, fast, men crash into each other is undeniably part of the thrill. It is a bloody, dangerous affair.

But I’m not writing this because football is dangerous and that so many former NFLers wind up crippled or with severe brain trauma. That is for another blog post. I’m writing this because of the spectacle American Football has become.  The NFL in general and the Super Bowl in particular has grown into a freakish caricature of our American over-consumptive tendencies.

We know the statistics almost by heart:

  • $3.5 Million+ for a 30 second commercial
  • 110 Million viewers
  • 1.2 Billion (with a ‘B’) chicken wings will be consumed
  • $10 Billion globally bet on the game

These are big numbers; almost biblical. I'll leave it to someone else to calculate how many teachers salaries this would cover, or pre-natal care for it would pay for. The fact is, this over-the-top entertainment event creates the profit it does because we are willing to pay for it. It's a simple matter of the marketplace collectively paying for what it thinks the event is worth. It is free-market capitalism at its best. And so what? So what if so many of us spend all that money or eat all that food? Is anything really hurt by all this consumption?

Consider this: In many ways the Super Bowl has developed a life of its own. It's not just the championship game for a particular sport, like the World Series or even the NCAA Basketball Championship. The Super Bowl is a spectacle spectacular. The lead up to the game. The interviews. The commercials. The half-time show. The parties and eating and drinking. The sanctioned and friendly betting. No other singular event brings it all together for the whole nation like the Super Bowl.

In our national debates on the economy and deficits, fiscal cliffs, and sequestrations, we can't seem to come to anything resembling a compromise or forward direction. Many Americans are unemployed or underemployed, yet we gladly, eagerly even, come together and participate as economic consumers in the the High Holy Day of the Secular Football Calendar. For a few hours we can forget about the problems of the nation and the world and enjoy our post-modern incarnation of bread and circus. The biggest difference between us is no longer Democrat or Republican not fiscal policy positions but whether you root for the Ravens or the Niners, or whether its the game or the commercials or half-time show that is most important.  We have the Super Bowl and all is okay. All is normal and we are safe. But it is not real. We have to remember it is just a distraction away from that which is truly meaningful and important: Those we love, those less fortunate, to do what we can to lift up the human spirit. That is what counts. The Super Bowl? It is spectacle and we need to be mindful and remember that. And I guess that's my point. So it is within this context that the Super Bowl has become a false idol. Our Golden Calf.

Meanwhile, can someone pass me the blue cheese dressing?