Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada Wins Hockey Gold - And It's Easy To See Why

This is what I get for being a "sports pessimist."

Below is post that I wrote just as the third period of the gold medal men's hockey game started. So convinced was I that Canada would win, that I got a jump start on re-capping the game from my own little non-hockey watching perspective.

I know Canada still went on to win anyway, but none the less...for all my observations on why Team USA had lost - or was going to lose...they managed to pull out a goal with only a few seconds left in regulation to move the game in to overtime. Unexpected to say the least and a great way to finish up the game.

Despite the unanticipated excitement at the end of the game, I think most of my observations are still valid - it's just that Team USA made it much, much more interesting...

Congratulations to Team Canada for a well deserved and nicely won gold medal in the Olympics hockey competition.

I watched the game today hoping for a USA victory, but in all honesty knowing that it would be extremely difficult to do vs. a very, very good Canadian team in the tournament final. Sure, USA beat them early on, but that's not the same as the gold medal game.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a normal hockey watcher, so I don't know enough to say what it was that either team did well or poorly all game long that resulted in the final score. But, I do know a couple things that were clear as day to me in watching the action - things that led directly to the outcome:
  • Turnovers in front of the goal killed Team USA. They turned the puck over many times directly in front of their own goal. This resulted in scores for Canada. For you football fans, this would be like your offense fumbling the ball away to the opponent right down there on your own goal line. It was pretty simple to see that USA did this all too often, and not at all surprising that a team with as many good players as Canada would capitalize with goals. (POST-GAME NOTE: This is how Canada also scored their final and winning goal in OT.)
  • An inability for Team USA to control the puck in their offensive end. Just a lot of missed passes, flubbed shots and inability to really control the puck. You'd like to say that Canada's defense was just so good that it forced this, but I have to say it just looked like poor play from the USA.
  • Extremely poor power play from the USA. When you have a man advantage, you have a great chance to score. Team USA couldn't even keep it in the offensive zone during their power plays, so they naturally did not score any power play goals. Too bad because they had their chances.
  • Finally, I would say that Team Canada just played an overall better game. They were just a little more on the money with their passes, defense and penalty killing. And that's what it's easy to say..."congratulations Canada, you deserve the gold. Well done!"
Team USA wins the silver, only the fourth medal it's ever won in men's Winter Olympics ice hockey and that ain't bad.

With the Olympics over, I'm now looking forward to the start of the Seattle Sounders soccer season in March and the World Cup in June.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Photo Tripples - Columns of Colors

With more than 1,000 pictures I've taken now in my Flickr Photostream, I thought it might be fun to feature some short sets that showcase some common themes.

I think three is the right number to make the point, so I'll call the sets "Photo Tripples." I'll try and post a few sets per week over the next few weeks.

To kick things off, here is a set of picutres that all have "Columns of Colors"...

(Photos taken by Marc Osborn: A Charleston, SC street; girls attending April Fair in Seville, Spain; art on the streets of Vancouver, BC.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A First for Me Today (And It Includes Guns)

Today, I did something I have never done before.

I shot a gun.

Yep, in 40 years on this planet I have done a lot of things, been to many places and had a lot of experiences. But I had never fired a weapon.

I have always wondered what it would be like. I mean, our country has the most guns per capita than any other in the world and they are such a part of our culture. I wanted to see what - if anything - I was missing out on.

The fact that the facility right next to my office building over in Redmond is a gun range...and the fact that a buddy of mine from work invited me over there to give it a try...just was too good to pass up. I was able to act on my curiosity when the opportunity arose.

All that said, for any of you who - like me until just today - had never fired a gun, I thought you might be interested in what it was like and my take on the experience...

Guns are loud! Sure, you know on some level that guns make a loud noise when fired, but just how loud literally shakes you scull and buzzes your eardrums when you walk into the concrete confines of a gun range. This happened to me as the fist guy on the range when we walked through the door was firing a HUGE ass weapon of some sort. Earphones or plugs are a necessity.
Pistols are easy to fire. At least that's the case with the 9mm Beretta that we used today (see picture at left). Slip in the clip, click the action into place and the safety off and you're ready to go. Squeezing the trigger is easy and there is not a big kick when it fires. Some, but nothing jarring. Within a couple shots I was hitting the target that we'd placed about 3o yards away. For variety, we moved the target around a bit...nearer, farther...and then tried shooting using the gun's site and then not using it. I did best at mid range using the site. After working our way through a few magazines of ammo, we were done. All told...25 min. or so.

There was no great "rush" or any fear. I was actually glad to realize that I was neither "turned on" by firing a gun nor afraid of it. If either had happened, I think I'd be a bit concerned about myself. Such was not the case, however, and I think I have a healthy respect for what a gun can do first hand without feeling like it somehow makes me feel bigger or tougher or something.

Some of the targets were odd and disturbing. You could purchase a different variety of targts to shoot at. About half of them were traditional targets. You know, white paper with concentric circles with a bulls eye in the middle or an outline of a human figure. However, you could also buy a target that looked like Osama bin Laden or any number of targets that were zombies in various garb - a Nazi, a Hells Angle type, a woman (kinda disturbing, that one) and a vaugely hip-hop looking guy (again, kinda disturbing). Depite their appearance as zombies, I thought there were some other messages being sent there. Oh well, I've only ever been to one gun range, so I'll just let it go.

Even a group of Japanese tourists likes to shoot guns. How do I know that? Because a group of young Japanese tourists (they were clearly visiting from Japan) had taken over about half of the gun range when we were there. Some were firing pistols and some shooting what looked like an assault rifle. Not sure what their motivation was, but it crossed my mind that between Japanese being typically enamored by American movies and culture and the fact that gun laws are much stricter in Japan (but hey, gun laws in virtually every nation are stricter that the U.S.) these people may have wanted to experience what shooting a gun was like. I mean, lets face it. Through our movies, TV shows, video games, crime rates and our foreign policy, to people from most countries around the world, the USA = guns. So, it was not too surprising to me to see some non-Americans at the range.

Americans have access to some serious fire power. The gun store right next to the range featured fire arms of all types, from the simple revolver, hunting rifles, handguns of all types and all the way up to assault rifles that clearly are more at home in the military than in anyone's private posession. Our freedom to possess firearms is vitually unlimited...and the gun store makes sure you have all options within the law. Which are a lot of options. It just struck me that with all that freedom needs to come responsibility, and it personally didn't strike me as responsible to sell semi-automatic assault rifles to the public. I know it's legal, but that's my opinion.

So there you go. A few observations on the occassion of my firing a gun for the first time. Will I be joining the NRA, buying a gun and saying things like, "...from my cold dead hand!" while raising my weapon above my head for applause? No. I won't. But, now at least I have an experience firing a gun to draw from as I ponder about how people use and think about them.

Nike Ad During Olympics Features The Hours

The other day while watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I saw an advertisment for Nike that used a song from a band I listened to a couple years ago and liked.

You may know the ad and the song I'm talking about. It's the one showing athletes in action with the song saying how it's not where you're from but where you're going, not that you get knocked down but how quick you get up. You can see the ad by clicking HERE.

Anyway, that song in the ad is called "Ali in The Jungle" by a band called The Hours. The title of the refers to a miracle comeback by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" bout in 1974. More broadly, the theme of the song is a compelling call for you to be resilient, never give up despite the odds and to make the very most out of whatever situation you find yourself in. The lyrics use examples of people like Ali, Helen Keller, British footballer Tony Adams, and even Beethoven who all overcame some major obstacle in life to achieve something big.

Hearing the song again for the first time in a year to two, I instantly went to my iPod and played both albums by The Hours (Narcissus Road and See The Light) and enjoyed thoroughly. Many of their songs take on topics you don't hear too often in today's music scene.

Not all music needs to be serious or carry a profound message. I get that. Hell, I like some pop tunes too. But, I also extra appreciate a band that has a meaningful message and delivers it well because I think that these days, music is perhaps the one way that people will actually listen to new or different ideas.

An example of how The Hours deliver on this, take their song "Love Is An Action." It is indeed a love song, but unlike 99% of love songs that deliver some form of the message "I love you baby," The Hours lay out simply just what love really is with lines like:

We'll stand side-by-side until the day we die.
All we need is trust and trust is all we have.
Love is an action. It's something you do. Talk is cheap man. It means nothing at all.

That's right. The song urges you to see love as an action - something that you do for your loved one, family and friends. Those actions are based on trust. These are the meaningful elements of love. They are what will last and mean the most. Actions expresses true love more than any words you might be able to string together and spit out. To my mind, the song is a call to show love through actions rather than falling back on just saying things about love.

As another example of taking on topics not usually heard in songs, "These Days" is unusual for its call for a better sense of community since we're all in this world together. You don't hear too much of that in today's music scene obsessed with bling, "the dace floor," getting it on and simply rocking out. Here are a few lines...

If there's ever a time we need to come together
The time is now when everything is falling apart
It's no rehearsal, soon we'll be gone forever
These days are all we have
These days are all we have and I'm gonna take you with me...

This song calls it out like it is. Look, we're only on this earth so long. All we have are the days left to us on the planet. What are we going to do with them? Lets try and do the best by ourselves and each other in the time we have.

And, The Hours have a sense of humor too with bits like these lines from their song "Love You More"...

I love you more than Caravaggio
I love you more than all of my hooded tops
I love you more than Tony Soprano
For those who do not know me thats a f*#k of a lot

Anyway, check out The Hours. If you like thoughtful lyrics and compelling, driving music, I think you'll like them. The band gets extra points from me as two of the members - Anthony Genn and Martin Slattery - were previously members of Joe Stummer & The Mescaleros before Joe sadly died of a heart ailment in 2002.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How About USA Hockey, Eh?

Hey hose heads, USA men's hockey just beat the Canadians 5-3 in the Winter Olympics! And, they did so looking good in "throwback" 1960 style uniforms. This was a big win and completes a 3-0 record for the first round of the tournament. Nice!

I do not watch hockey much, but I really like checking out the Olympics version with nation vs. nation. In the old days, the USA and all other nations not named the USSR fielded teams of NHL or pro players allowed. And, predictably, the USA didn't do so well - only winning gold in 1960 and 1980. The USSR fielded teams of "amature" players from their military whose duty just happened to be playing hockey 365 days a year. Guess who won a lot of Olympic medals in the 60s, 70s, and 80s? But, that's all changed in the 1990s as since then pros are allowed to participate.

Anyway, regardless of era, when Canadians are living and dying for the pseudo sport of curling, they are living and dying for the very real sport of ice hockey. And, over the decades they have won a bunch of Olympic medals in the sport, although they suffered from the same "armatures only" rules for a long time too.

Since pro players have been allowed to play in the Olympics, countries like the USA, Canada, Sweden and others have suddenly become big time competitors for the three medals on offer every four years.

Therefore - these days - the USA vs. Canada is one of the best match ups you could possibly think of for an Olympic hockey game. This proved to be the case Sunday night. Featuring a lot of back and forth action, great passing, many shots on goal (mostly by Canada), and many great saves by both goalies...the Americans jumped out to an early lead and persevered to never fell behind. Canada tied it up a couple times, but that was not enough to do the trick.

I viewed the game with an novice fan's eye. But, having watched enough team sports of other varieties over the years, I can tell you that regardless of the sport that penalties (or for you b-ball fans, fouls) and turnovers will absolutely KILL you. On Sunday, despite a very aggressive and impressive effort, team Canada committed too many turnovers and penalties to win against a good USA team.

To wit, the US took advantage of Canadian turnovers twice to score goals, netted a power play goal following a Canadian penalty and then slipped in a goal late when the Canadians pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. And then, the USA played inspired defense against big time offense from Canada. I think the shots on goal were something like 25 to 10 or something, but the Americans held them off. In particular, the Canadians put on a fast, furious and desperate barrage of shots on goal in the last five minutes of the game that the USA somehow, some way stopped.

So, a BIG win for Team USA.

However, I wonder. Have they just had their moment in the hockey sun? Is it all down hill from here? Or, will they use the win as a springboard into the medal round with a short at Gold or Silver? We shall see. Beating Canada is a good sign, and along with the other two wins the team has earned in first round play they will now not need to play an extra game for the next round. Things are looking good for now.

I know this though. I saw a great hockey game tonight, and I will be watching team USA until they are eliminated.

Until then...take off eh, team USA is on a roll!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Day

Lot of talk today in the media and bloggosphere about Tiger.

I could not care less about a rich golfer's out of control sex life, marital problems, lying, etc.

But I do think real tigers are interesting. They are big, beautiful, fast, dangerous, endangered animals. And, we saw one in the wild when Diane and I visited India in 1999.

So, might I suggest we all replace focus on "Tiger" with a little contemplation of "a tiger."

Below are some pictures I took when the big cat walked across our path in India. You can see more pictures of from our trip to India HERE and more pictures of Tigers generally (not taken by me) by clicking HERE.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

US Supreme Court: Company = Person

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case regarding "corporate personhood" that reversed limitations on how much money corporations can donate to political campaigns.

Loaded with conservative judges, the court decided that the law cannot discriminate between companies and individuals when it comes to free speech. Free speech for individuals includes the right to donate funds to third-party political advocacy groups...the type of groups that produce "Swift Boat" advertising during campaigns. So, like an individual, companies can now spend essentially whatever amount they want on political campaigns in this way where before there were understandable limits.

And guess what? Less than a month later, a big DC lobbying firms is counseling corporations on how they can use this new ruling to pour massive amounts of money into campaigns without public scrutiny.

In addition to the influx of unlimited amounts of money into the political arena via elections funding, the primary thing that's disturbing about this is how the ruling puts corporations on the same footing as human beings.

Sure, companies are made up of people, but they are not a person. The sole purpose of a corporation is to make profit. They have no moral obligation to society at all. They exist to make profit. That's it. So, they spend money to support candidates that help that profit mission. As of this Supreme Court ruling, they can now spend more than ever.

For those of you thinking that this is not all that bad or perhaps no big deal, ponder this: Is the Exon Corporation the same as your baby girl or boy? Do you think GE is the same as your grandmother? Do those companies have the same interests as you do for your family? The defense of our nation? The education of your children? For disease prevention? For creating a job in the US for your brother or uncle? No. They do not. The could not care less about these things. Only making money. And now, they will have more say than ever in influencing who gets elected to government. Thanks Supreme Court.

Finally, I would also add that conservatives often cry loud and long about "activist" judges on the bench. Well, the decision in question here is clearly "activist" as it changes long standing law to the clear benefit of some and the clear detriment of most. But hypocrisy is not new to politics generally and no stranger to conservatives by any stretch.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The U.S. is Lame at Biathlon - But Why?

Tuesday while running a fast five miles on the treadmill at the gym, I watched the Winter Olympics men's biathlon. You know, the sport where the athletes cross-country ski, but then stop periodically to shoot targets. As a race with shooting, it's pretty entertaining to watch, and it's requires the participants to be extremely good athletes.

Virtually all the competitors were European, and the only three North Americans finished at the very back of the field. The lone U.S. competitor finished 37th - behind a lot of French, Austrian, Norwegians, Finns, Swedes, Poles and others.

As I watched, I asked myself...shouldn't this be a sport that Americans absolutely crush in?

I mean, think about what's needed for this sport and what we in the United States have at our disposal:
  • We have a big population to draw athletes from - far more than the nations that are good at biathlon. Sure, most good athletes here go into the more mainstream sports, but with 300 million people, you'd think we could come up with a half dozen or so who are as good as anybody in the world. Put it this way...France manages to field a top 5 biathlete. They're out there kinkin' our ass. Why can't we be competitive?
  • We have plenty of the nation cold enough and covered in snow every winter for athletes to practice. I get why nations like Israel, Nigeria and Mexico don't field teams. But here in the U.S., we have the Northwest, Midwest, Northeast, Utah, Colorado, California...all of these places offer ample places to practice and develop first class biatheletes.
  • We are a gun culture. Guns, guns, guns. Huntin', target shootin' and who knows what else. Americans love them some guns. We have the highest rate of guns per capita in the world. Our nation is armed to the teeth. Yep, we love guns and think they are cool. You would think that the good old U.S.A. would not want to take second fiddle to anyone when it comes to shooting sports.
  • We have the facilities. Lake Placid, Salt Lake City and Squaw Valley have all hosted the Winter Olympics and have facilities for training.
We have all the advantages, but can't field a top 36 biathlete. It's a mystery to me.

Oh well, at least we're good at downhill skiing and ice skating.

Regional "Uniform" Watch - Phoenix

When Diane and I travel, I like to observe all kinds of things. How people act, what they eat, what they look like, how they interact with each other, architecture, art, food, sights, sounds, smells, name it, I'm checking it out. In foreign nations, this is an all day extravaganza hitting on most of these things at all times.

When we travel domestically as we did this past weekend to the Phoenix area for a Presidents' Day sunny get away, the pickings are usually a lot slimmer for observing given how much of our nation is increasingly similar to all other parts.

But one thing I've noticed is that in certain areas of the U.S. you can pick out common "uniforms" or set of clothing that people wear that are not like where we're from in the Northwest. These are ways of dressing that I observe a high percentage of people wearing where we're visiting...but that are also not like what we see at home.

I spotted a number of regional "uniforms" in our trip to the U.S. southeast last year. You can check those observations out by reading my post HERE.

Anyway, the Phoenix area proved to the breeding ground for another unique and perhaps regional "uniform" that I clocked over our 48 hours in "the valley of the sun."

Namely, I observed that a high percentage of guys between the ages of approximately 18-30 were wearing this lovely combination:
  • A colored short sleeved t-shirt splattered with scripty black writing and designs that were not clear to read or determine what they were...just swirly scrip and lines.
  • Blue jeans with frilly back pockets and that flare out at the foot (often with a raggedy edge at the cuff).
  • A leather belt.
  • Pointy leather shoes OR fashion "athletic" shoes (not actual athletic shoes).
  • Some sort of modern looking sunglasses.
  • A healthy dose of hair gel.
You got all that in your mind? Imagine about every fifth guy you see walking around Phoenix or Scottsdale rocking that look. It's not something I've seen in Seattle or other parts of the country that I travel to for business or pleasure.

If you're like me then you may agree with the name I've given this look. Yes, ladies and gentleman, this look can only be dubbed what it is...The Duchebag.

Hey, I'm a live and-let-liver, and I realize that every generation wears fashions that piss off older people, but seriously...what is it about that combination that is supposed to be cool or masculine or rebellious? Could it be the the flared jeans for guys? The embroidered ass pockets? Pointy shoes? Vague pseudo-tattoo designs on the shirt? The answer is...none of them do the trick. It's a narcissistic, fashion design label worshiping, shallow Lemming reality TV generation look that shows little imagination and no rebellion whatsoever. Pretty lame.

So, reporting from the intersection of travel and fashion observation, I therefore leave you with The Duchebag look to ponder. See if you spot it in your area.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Great Presidents Behaving Badly...And Bad Presidents Behaving Good

On this President's Day I thought I'd turn things around a little bit and cite some good things that some of our worst presidents did and some of the worst things some of our best presidents did.

Using my list of Top Five Best and Wost U.S. Presidents from earlier this weekend, below are some fun facts you may not have known...

Great Presidents Behaving Badly

George Washington. He was a slave owner his entire adult life, including his time as President. He even tried to get an exemption from a new law in Pennsylvania abolishing slavery in the state by saying that he only lived in the state because Philadelphia was the capital of the nation (which it was in the 1790s). Washington did eventually emancipate all his slaves, but only after his death as part of his will.

Thomas Jefferson. As president, he pushed for and signed a law banning trade between the United States and other nations called The Embargo Act. This led to a major economic downturn. Jefferson also signed a law outlawing black Americans from carrying the U.S. mail. He was no fan of women participating in government, saying, "The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I." Famously, Jefferson is also accused of carrying on an affair with one of his slaves while President.

Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended the right habeus corpus -enabling the government to hold anyone prisoner for unlimited time for any or no reason. Most agree this was a dubious decision at best, but even some of those critics understand the context that the Civil War played in Lincoln's thinking.

Teddy Roosevelt. He signed into law a policy that established the Untied States' "right" to intervene in other countries affairs - especially smaller nations near the United States - to keep them stable. That little maneuver was, in my opinion, less about the concern for the well being of people in places like Panama, Cuba or Guatemala and more about ensuring a stable and "business-friendly" countries for U.S. businesses seeking to make money there. All too often, this has meant U.S. support for dictators who accommodate business while enriching themselves on loans from our government and kickbacks from companies while ignoring their impoverished citizenry - ensuring unrest and violence in the region during the 20th century.

Franklin Roosevelt. While president, it is widely believed that FDR carried on an extra-marital affair with his secretary. Caving in to war rage and racism felt of much of the country following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, he signed Executive Order 9066 - imprisoning all first generation Japanese immigrants and their American citizen children. Also, the Pearl Harbor attack happened on his watch. Some say he knew the attack was likely, but did not command the military to stop it because he knew the only way to get into the war...and therefore address the more sinister threat to the world that the Hitler-led Nazi Germany represented...was by an attack. Finally, fearing his hard won economic reforms of his first would not pass muster with the Supreme Court in his second term Roosevelt championed a bill that would enable the president to appoint additional Supreme Court Justices. Following a series of about faces, resignations and even one death among the Supreme Court justices the motivation for the bill abated and it ultimately was voted down. But, it all shows that FDR was willing to do some very controversial things to get his New Deal passed and permanent.

Bad Presidents Behaving Good

James Buchanan. I've looked into this guy, and I have to say...there really isn't anything good I could find that he enacted, championed or did during his one term in office. He was inactive, sympathetic to the South and slave owners rights, uninterested in expanding civil rights or education to the masses and, well, I just can't find anything good on him. So there you go. James Buchanan - first class duchebag.

Ulysses S. Grant. He ordered the military to suppress activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the typically violent post-Civil War south. He won passage of the 15th Ammendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits governments in the United States (Federal, state, local, etc.) from denying anyone (men) the right to vote based on race, color or previously having been a slave. He established Yellowstone as the first U.S. National Park.

Herbert Hoover. He enabled law enforcement to prosecute gangsters such as Al Capone on tax evasion charges. He initiated major Federal dam building projects to generate energy for the growing country. The largest one is now called The Hoover Dam. He set aside 3 million acres of land for the U.S. National Parks system. He created an anti-trust unit of the Justice Department. He canceled private oil company leases on public lands.

Richard Nixon. Nixon presided over the largest period of desegregation of U.S. schools in the country's history. He supported the Equal Rights Ammendment to the Constitution. He signed into law the Equal Employment Opportunity Act outlawing workplace discrimination. He proposed healthcare reform to extend universal, affordable health coverage to all Americans. Like previous and subsequent Presidents, he was unsuccessful in getting his measures passed in Congress and signed into law. He opened dialog with communist China, taking the first initial steps that paved the way for a now more open and free-market China.

George W. Bush. So complete were his blunders domestically, economically, environmentally and overseas that it is difficult for me to find good things to say about Bush's tenure as president. We're talkin' James Buchanan territory here. I will try and be kind to say that he did effectively rally Americans' spirits in the post-9/11 attack timeframe.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Presidents' Day: Top 5 Best/Worst

To kick off this Presidents' Day weekend, I've created my own "Best" and "Worst" U.S. Presidents list. I think there's a lot to learn by who was successful in that office and who was not, why and what the implications may be for now and into the future.

Sure, there are Presidents who are certainly candidates for either the good or bad category not on my list, and not every one I've listed is 100% good or 100% bad. But, I've tried to select presidents who in my opinion (and I believe objectively) had a monumental and lasting impact on our nation in either a good or bad way. To put another way, had we not had these specific leaders at the precicely right (or wrong) time, the history of our nation would be either terribly worse or terribly better respectively.

On Presidents Day itself, I'll "reverse course" and do a post about some bad things the good presidents did and some good things the bad presidents did.

But for now, here's my list. See if you agree.

Top 5 Greatest U.S. Presidents
Listed in chronological order:

George Washington (Independent, 1789-1797). Washington makes the list not just because he was the first US President, but for the tremendous job he did holding the Union together in the nation's very first and shaky years. At a time when some were calling for - believe it or not - an American monarchy, when there was a percentage of the population still loyal to England, when many states would rather have just gone their own way rather than join a Union, Washington was the person to keep the piecces together and point to a common way forward. Perhaps nobody other than the revered top general from the victorious Continental Army could have done this. No doubt among our very best.

Thomas Jefferson (Democratic Republican Party, 1801-1809). Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independance, a major leader of the American Revolution, governor of Virginia, founder of the University of Virginia and major proponent of a relatively limited federal government, the separation of church and state and, well, many other things that have become the cornderstone of American freedoms. For those works alone, he would be remembered as a great American. But, none of those things are really associated with him when he was president. Serving as top man from 1801 to 1809, Jefferson led the nation through many of its early years and accomplishing a lot. For example, his administration executed the Louisanna Purchase that doubled the size of the country, sponsored the Lewis & Clark expedition, established the U.S. military accademy, signed the law making it illegal to import slaves into the United States (but certainly not ending slave trade by any stretch of the imagination) among other actions. I personally also like how Jefferson was very suspicious of the aristocracy (even though he was pretty much one of them), banks and the need to shake things up every now and again if they became untennable or stale. His tenure as President following Washington and Adams served the nation well as a republican (small "r") counterbalance to the Federalist agenda of the previous two administrations. A giant if we ever had one.

Abraham Lincoln (Republican Party, 1861-1865). Perhaps no other president faced as daughting and critical circumstances during his time as president than Lincoln. Following the disintigration of the Union by the secession and aggression of southern states, Lincoln perservered to rally the nation and pursecute a military campain to re-establish the full Union. Also known as The American Civil War, this conflict was a monumental time in our nation's history, and Lincoln our leader in it. And, in that fight, Lincoln found an even higher calling to rally the nation...the abolition of slavery through the issuance of The Emancipation Proclamation. For these two accomplishments alone - saving the Union and abolishing slavery - Lincoln stands as one of our greats and, in my opinion, perhaps our greatest president.

Teddy Roosevelt (Republican Party, 1901 - 1909). While perhaps not as universally revered today as he was, say, in the first half of the 20th Century, there is a reason "TR" is on Mount Rushmore. Actually, there are several resons he makes my top five list. First, he came into office following the assassination of President McKinnley, assuming the top post from his position as Vice President. Not an easy task. TR also ran an administration that started to bring the United States into a more modern era. For example, he championed laws to regulate and curb dangerous business monopolies (often called "trusts" back then), enacted some of the first consumer protections from dishonest business practices, stood for a strong but not internationally aggressive military policy ("speak softly but carry a big stick"), and as a strong conservationist he initated the U.S. National Park System. These were big moves for an early time...dragging the nation in many ways forward towards a transformed nation.

Frankin Delano Roosevelt (Democratic Party, 1933-1945). You want to talk about accomplishiments? How about leading the nation out of the depths of The Great Depression and leading us through the largest war in our - if not the entire world's - history. Well, FDR did both. Lets not minimize this stuff. Seriously, at the time when FDR came into office, the nation was in REAL trouble with the financial and econimic system collapsed and our very way of life under serious threat.

An unfettered, unregulated laissez-faire approach to the economy and government had led the country to near ruin. There was no such thing as social security, no health insurance for the poor, no meaningful regulation of financial markets, very few labor laws - zero safety net for Americans unless you happened to be rich - an isolationist policy aboard and other elements that led to the crash of 1929 and the ensuing massive unemployment and associated problems that plagued the nation.

The alteratives were to do nothing in hopes that "the market" would magically correct things or to inject the resources of the Federal goverment to try and aid the current situation short term and to avoid the same thing from happening in the long term. Guess which choice FDR made?

Realizing that "do nothing" invited catastrophy for our society and the very real chance of a turn to the extreme right or extreme left in attempts to fix the situation, Roosevelt instead introduced and pushed through Congress a comprehensive legisative program for relief, recovery and reform called the New Deal . It helped create jobs, address holes in our system and re-build our economy. In short, FDR made the fundamental leap that the Federal goverment does indeed have a role to play in ensuring the well being of society. Relying on business and charity is not enough. We are, after all, all in this together at some level. While these concepts ended up being the prevailing mindset for goverment in ensuing decades, they also were (and still are) an outlook of America that conservatives have been trying to undo ever since...and I may add they had their greatest succes in doing so in the 1990s and 2000s. Guess where that got us? Again.

As for leading our country in World War II against both Hitler and the Japanese? Well, FDR was exactly the right guy to do it. Masterfully working with allies, he was at the center of devising the strategy that ultimately felled both foes. Not to sell Winson Churchill short (he is another GIANT of the 20th Century), or to minimize the ruthless pursuit of the war against Germany by Stalin and the Soviet Union, but no victory - or certainly no victory in the relatively timely and advantageous way to unfolded under his leadership. Sure, some say he "sold out" eastern Europe by ceding it to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, but do you really think we could have or would have benefitted from engaging in a "hot" war with Stalin's Red Army immediately following WW II? No. Finally, in both his domestic and wartime leadership, FDR also gave Americans a boost of confidence in these times of troubles - a brave face in light of worldwide dangers, a bright outlook and "can do" attitude in the face of dire economic circumstances. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Honorable mention: John F. Kennedy (Democratic Party, 1960-1963). Perhaps not a "great" president given his tragically limited time in office, he did preside during the critical Cuban Missle Crisis. His leadership helped pull the world back from the brink of nuclear war with the USSR. For this alone, not to mention other achievments such as initiating the U.S. space program, JFK is honorable mention for great president.


Worst 5 U.S. Presidents

James Buchanan (Democratic Party, 1857-1861). As president immediately before the Civil War, Buchanan rates low in my opinon for...well...not doing anything. Personally believing in slave owners' rights, he staked out positions like it was illegal for the South to leave the Union, but it was also illegal for the Union to go to war over it, and slavery was bad but it was not legal for the Federal goverment to do anything about it. His statement on the issue of whether slavery should be allowed in new states and territories was, "happily, a matter of but little practical importance." His term functioned as a pressure cooker regarding North/South relations that blew up just after he left office with the breakout of the Civil War. Had he been more creative, committal and forward looking, perhaps history could have turned out differently.

Ulysses S. Grant (Republican, 1869-1877). U.S. Grant was a Civil War hero - the Union general that finally and decisively defeated the breakaway Confederates. It is no surprise that he was easily elected presdient when he ran not long after the conclusion of the war. What is surprising is how bad a president he ended up being. For someone blessed with the ability to lead and command, he presided over an adminstration rife with graft, corruption and horrible decision making - leading to economic downturns (Panic of 1873), a series of high profile scandals and an overall not good era for the United States. Amazingly, he was elected for a second term. This is possibly, even likely, due to his war hero status and who he was running against.

Herbert Hoover (Republican, 1929-1933). Hoover was the president when the sock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression quickly hit afterwards. But simply presiding in office when these events took place is not why I regard him poorly among our presidents. No, it's his - and to be fair, his predicesors Coolige and Harding in the 1920s - championing of Federal degregulation of business and finance markets along with massive tax cuts for the wealthy and business that paved the way for crash and depression to happen in the first place. (By the way, does this sound familiar to you?) And, unlike his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, Hoover felt that the goverment should have a very limited - if any - role in solving the nation's economic woes. His idea of a recovery plan? Volunteerism. Seriously, the man believed that the way to pull the country out of massive and wide-spread economic depression was to rely on companies and individuals to voluteer to help each other out of the goodness of their hearts...and that's about it. He felt that goverment intrusion would errode "self-reliance" and "individuality."The result of this reaction to the Depression? Twenty four percent unemployment, massive homelessness, poverty for huge chunks of American citizens...and the springing up of shanty towns for the poor that were accurately called "Hoovervilles." Hoover was not a bad person and actually proved himself to be quite a good ex-President. But as President, I rate him as one of our worst.

Richard Nixon (Republican, 1969-1974). Ah, tricky Dick. Yes, he is the only president to resign while in office. Of course, he did this due to his likely impeachment on grounds he orchestrated an elaborate scheme to cover up the Watergate political break-ins made by members of his re-election campaign. But, his lying and coverup of Watergate is not the only reason Nixon is among our worst presidents in my opinion. Let me give you three more: 1) the covert and illegal war in Cambodia launched by Nixon that ended up deepening our problems in Southeast Asia rather than helping them (not to mention getting so many people killed), 2) his aggressive appeal to "the silent majority" of Americans and for "law and order" were code (and practice) for extending policies that hurt minorities and women and curbed civil rights and social justice for all, and 3) his use of politican and law enforcement agencies to spy on, intimidate and martinalize those who he consider "enemies." Nixon's parnoia and poor decision making on a number of key areas certainly set our nation backwards on a number of fronts.

George W. Bush (Republican, 2000-2008). Some may say that it's too early to judge W, that only history can do that. Well, I'm going to go ahead and spectulate that "history" will judge Bush as one of our worst presidents. The monumental, profound and long-lasting screw ups that this man sanctioned and presided over will weigh down our country for decades. Bush has a long history of absolutely running anything he touches into the ground, only to have others come in and clean up after him. His time as president proved to be a tragic extension of that track record. There are so many things to cover, but here are a few that make my point:

  • 9/11 happened on his watch. Remember, the worst attack on the United States in our nation's history happened in his term, on his watch and under his command of our military and intelligence services. Ignoring clear warnings from intellience services that Bin Laden was likely to attack the U.S. using airliners as weapons, Bush did virtually nothing and, well, you know the rest of the sad story.

  • His call for and Republican passage of tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of financial and other markets led directly to our current economic problems. The lessons of the 1920s and Herbert Hoover were not learned. This moved us from a nation with a surpluss to a defecit, from a country with nearly "full" employment to nearly 10% unemployment, going from a respected economic power to a faltering one.

  • He used 9/11 as an excuse for a number of radical changes and actions - both foreign and domestic. The most significant of which was to invade Iraq...a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. That war has lasted more than six years, cost untold number of lives and a bloody fortune that could have been spent domestically. A close second was initiating laws and policies such as The Patriot Act and others that circumvent the Constitutional protections of privacy, search and seizure, right to a fair trial and more.

  • His administration appointed buddies and cronies to high positions and the American public paid the price. This is best exhibited in the whole Hurricane Katrina fiasco in which Bush buddy and horse breeding association guy "Brownie" was in charge of...well, scewing up big time the response to the storm and it's aftermath. This ended up costing some people their lives, and others their livelihoods.
  • Environmental incompetence. What a missed opportunity! At the very moment our country could use a transition to a "green" economy and all the historic economic and health benefits this could have brought to the U.S., Bush and company rewarded their oil industry buddies instead of forward and long term for all Americans. And what is the result? A tragic, and perhaps nationally fatal, missed opportunity to transition our economy, preserve the global environment and keep our edge on the rest of the world.

Dishonorable mention: Andrew Johnson (Democratic Party...and others...1865-1869). Succeeding the assassinated Lincoln, Johnson presided over the reconstruction period following the Civil War. He did this badly, becoming the first predident Congress attempted to kick out of office via impeachment.


Presidents' Day Weekend kicker. The President I bet you never heard of is...Chester Arthur. Check him out HERE.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thoughts On Super Bowl XLIV

Here are my thoughts on Super Bowl XLIV...
  • It was a good game - sometimes the Super Bowl is a really dreary game to watch. Not this time. Close action, comebacks, trick plays, great performances on both sides of the ball by both teams, and really - despite the end score - the outcome was in question until the pick thrown by Manning late in the game.
  • The officiating was actually good - unlike the absolute moron-athon of refereeing in the Super Bowl played in by the Seahawks a few years ago, the officiating in this game seemed right on the money. In Super Bowl XL there were phantom TDs scored by the Steelers (seriously, watch it 100 times over and Big Ben is NOT in the end zone), phantom holding calls against the Seahawks, phantom pass interference calls (again, against the Seahawks) and more...all having a direct impact on the outcome of the game. This year, the zebras got the tricky ones right (the NO Saint's player scoring that 2 point conversion, the Saint's recovery of the on-side kick) and did not screw up the rest of the game with too many or obviously incorrect penalties.
  • I liked the unexpected outcome - I liked the fact that the team that was supposed to lose won. Unlike movies, TV and most other types of entertainment, sports offers an unknown outcome. Sure, one team may be favored or likely to win, but you don't know until you play the game.
  • I have sympathy for Colts fans - believe me, I'm sympathetic to Colts fans. Why? Well, my Oregon Ducks lost a close Rose Bowl game this January despite being favored over Ohio State. And, despite having struggled much of the game, the Ducks were in position to re-take the lead and put the hammer down on the Buckeyes. But, as they were moving in to score the go-ahead TD, they fumbled the ball and lost it. From there on in, it was a very unlikely scenario that the Ducks could win...and they didn't. So, Colt fans, I feel your pain. Your team may indeed be "the better team" overall, but on Sunday the Saints were better...not by much mind you...but a little better. And, your team made one fatal mistake that cost it big time. Hey, at least you all won the Super Bowl a few years ago and will probably be favored to make it back again next year.
  • The commercials were really lame - not a good crop this year in my opinion. Babies talking about day trading? A house made out of Bud Lite cans? The old Chicago Bears doing a short parody of their song from the 1980s? A dog tricking a guy into giving him his Doritos? Guys walking around without any pants on? Building a human bridge so a truck full of Bud can get into town? Seriously? Oh man, these are baaaaad TV commercials....mostly because they were boring and predictable. Some people liked the Snickers ad where a guy who isn't pulling his weight during a backyard football game is depicted by Betty White until he eats a Snickers bar and gets back to being his real self. But...yeah...really? Not very imaginative. The only one that came close to eliciting any type of response from me was the Miller High Life ad in which the company "gave over" its ad time to four or five small business owners who quickly (and humorously) introduced themselves and their company names.
  • The Who are over the hill - I am a Who fan. Any of you not Who fans need to go back and listen to their music. This was a ground breaking band from London that rivaled the Beatles in the 60s and the Stones in the 70s. Pete Townsend is a musical genius and the Who created some major, major rock songs. But, they're old now. And it shows. Diane and I saw them live 10 years or so ago and at that point they were still vital and, to me, relevant. They also still had original bassist John Entwistle back then. He subsequently died a few years ago. Anyway, at best the Super Bowl halftime gave those not in the know about the Who perhaps something to look into. For me, it was just a reminder that all people get old - even rock stars.
  • I was really glad to hunker down and watch a whole Super Bowl - because I am usually traveling for work on Super Bowl Sunday, this was the first Super Bowl since the Seahawks played in the big game that I was able to be at home, on my own couch and watch the entire game. Usually I'm in some hotel bar at a industry event watching bits and pieces of the game as I chat up colleagues, media and others.