Flash Forward

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CastleTV Series

Eh, what's that picture of "Castle" doing there?  Well, I really, really wanted to review "Castle," my favorite TV show at the moment.  Alas, a friend of a friend captured what I like perfectly in her review, and I can't say anything without it being overly, um, derivative.  So, I'll just point you there and add that the show keeps getting better as the characters settle into their roles.  It's definitely worth setting aside an hour on Monday nights or otherwise allocating DVR memory for later...

Which leaves me with "Flash Forward," a new series that is a thoughtful counterpoint to the tongue-in-cheek cleverness of "Castle."  In other words, this is not as pointed a review.  I think; therefore I ramble. Sorry.

flash_forward_cast

The premise of "Flash Forward" is that everyone on earth blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, each with a vision of their future in exactly 6 months (if they were asleep or dead at that specific point in the future then they didn't see anything).  If asked, most people would probably like to have a vision six months ahead, but as the show indicates, it's not necessarily comforting knowledge. The show has a number of characters who approach personal and professional challenges represented by these visions, each confronted with two questions.  Is the vision trustworthy?  Can it be altered?

Detour --> My son recently contributed to a classroom debate between free will and fate, defending the position of fate for 8-9 minutes, for which I applaud him.  For anyone who knows my son, it is understood that this shocked his teacher, his classmates, and himself as he might be regarded a learner by osmosis.  That would be by outward appearance, but he's listening.  Anyway...

Most of the class took the modern or American or Western or logical view that we do, in fact, have free will.  A simple definition might be that we decide to do the thing that we most want to do at the moment of choosing.  Granted, we may not do what we would really like to do, but outside considerations such as obligations, laws, others' perceptions, etc. are all inputs that inform the decisions we make.  Still, given the net influence of the weight of all that we bring to mind, we do make a choice that best resolves these.  Admittedly, some might lean to the oppose pole terming it as the least objectionable, but that describes our contentment with the choice, not the process of getting there.  (For those looking for an "out," as the rock band Rush put it, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.")

Rather than focus on the crux at the time of choosing, my son observed that the choices that existed are irrelevant and only the result remains. 

For example, the fact that you could have chosen a Pepsi is irrelevant because you drank a Coke, and that is unalterable.  Regardless of how you arrived at that decision in your mind, the evidence of your life is that you drank what you drank, and there is no avoiding it or changing it.  It happened, so from the day you were born, you were destined to drink it, and drink it you did.  And if it was a Diet Coke, you probably still have that unpleasant after taste.

His point is not necessarily a persuasive point, but it's a thoughtful one that even creeps into the minds of people who would consider themselves immune to being fatalists.  There are always those soul searching times in which people raise their fist at the cosmos and question karma, God's plan for their life, randomness theory or root cause, among others.  Why did (fill in the blank) happen to me?

Return from Detour -->  As with any ensemble cast, there's a danger that there will be too many plots, subplots, and unworthy plodding to make any discernible progress towards the promised vision.  We know what the end looks like.  Or should look like.  Or might look like.  Let's get there.

So far, the writers have done a very good job of keeping the characters in close tangents to the central story of an FBI Agent's investigation into the event, enabled by his own recollection of of seeing his related clue board in 6 months time.  Questions abound.  Are the pictures truly clues?  Or are they self-fulfilling nonsense as they exist only because he saw them in the future?  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The show is loaded with logic conundrums, which are fun, even if they're unlikely to all be untangled.

Currently, the show is tackling two questions of major plot interest.  Who or what is responsible?  And, are the decisions made in the unfolding of events already accounted for in that fateful vision or can it be altered?   These questions are sufficient for now (and quite entertaining), but science fiction leanings aside, after identifying a responsible group and means of causing the global blackout, the show may be challenged to explain how people "flash forward" six months ahead.

Not a detour --> As my son speculated in his defense of fate, it's a matter of perspective on time itself.  If one were to view time as a timeline, then it's difficult to see ahead from any point on that line. But from places outside of that line, the entirety can be viewed as a whole.  Whichever tact is taken, how well they answer that question will ultimately define whether the show holds under its inviting but heavy premise.  Will the show remain "in the moment" for its free will answers?  Or will it depart into the metaphysical for a solution to its own riddle? 

And please, let's not get as lost as "Lost."

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The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

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My familiarity with The Flaming Lips began with The Soft Bulletin, which remains not only one of my favorite Lips' albums, but favorites of all time.  It was, from start to finish, a very well considered effort to make the most out of each song musically, and it was tied together lyrically to mean... something.  It could be considered a soundtrack to a movie that didn't exist, or, at minimum a concept album.

Fast forward a decade beyond a steady decline in ambition and corresponding rise in concert-ready big beats, and I still look forward to a new Lips' release.  Embryonic, on the whole, represents an effort to return to the grandeur of a bigger vision.  Flaming Lips - Embryonic But, rather than trying to make each song the best that it can be, they intentionally focus on keeping an experimental edge.

At 70 minutes and with 18 songs spanning two CDs, this translates to no songs that beg inclusion on an iPod playlist, and a ton of filler - primarily the instrumentals.  That said, it does demand repeated listenings.  Songs that are, at first, off-putting eventually settle into a consideration of the whole of it.  In other words, I've given Embryonic its chances and found something better than indicated by my first reaction - always a good indicator for music with an enduring quality.  Unfortunately, there's little in the way of amusement, lyrics, or aural enjoyment to suspect that I'll ever want to listen to this much.

And, as frustrating, is the realization that had the Lips not feared of covering old ground, this could have been a hugely successful effort (as a single CD) that would rival The Soft Bulletin.   Songs such as "The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine," "Evil," "Worm Mountain," and "Watching the Planets" could have been the foundation for something greater.  Instead, the intruding electronic "bleeps," an unhealthy dose of jarring noises, and a filtering of leadman Wayne Coyne's voice beyond its endearing qualities set this effort far back.

They get high marks for effort and their willingness to boldly go somewhere different, but Embryonic is proof that not every idea is a good idea.  It's much like a blockbuster actor who gets a side deal for a more challenging role in a low budget flick.  They get artistic credit, but no goes to see it.  In any case, the Lips present one of the best concert experiences you'll ever find, should the opportunity arise.

Suggested Tracks: "Worm Mountain," "Watching the Planets"

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

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An Apple - Someday

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Back in my High School years (E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, VA), I had a friend who built his own computer. I don't recall much other than it didn't look like much, and it had a simple LED display that may have shown numbers. That doesn't seem such a big deal now, and I don't know if it was really a big deal then, but I was impressed. Soon enough, he was seemingly the city's personal computer expert. He worked at a newly opened Apple store doing the "tech work," apple iiplus which soon allowed him to afford an Apple IIplus computer. I don't recall what computers were used for then, but it had a wicked version of a Space Invaders type game which we enjoyed while listening to The Boss, Stevie Nicks, Billy Squier and others. From all that, understand that my first experience with Apple products included a very good vibe.

Today I read that Apple’s profits had increased 47% in the fourth quarter. Of course, they've refashioned themselves as a personal electronics company as much as a computer company now, and they've done well at it.

Th1979 Sony Walkmane idea of a portable audio device wasn't First Gen iPodexactly new when they introduced the iPod. About the time of playing Space Invaders, I also could take my favorite tunes with me on my Sony Walkman. It was a clunky player, but it didn't seem so at the time.

Obviously, with the iPod, Apple took advantage of the digital age and developed a player that was intuitively simple to operate and elegant in its design, as such things go. Despite a begrudging attitude towards the iTunes control of media, it’s popularity was such that people, including Wall Street, almost forgot Apple made computers.

Next came the iPhone, with apps for everything under the sun (currently being bloated to include everything in the universe). Again, it was a well designed product in both function and appearance. It’s inherent usefulness and savvy marketing overcame the associated abusive data fees from AT&T, and Apple once again overcame their self-inflicted obstacles.

Comparatively speaking, these products overshadow Apple's iMac computer line, which account for less than a 10% market share. These have been defended over the years by staunch loyalists, particularly by graphic artists. Otherwise, the general public (well, okay, this is all about my opinion anyway!) has looked at Apple as a fine example of a company that thinks much too highly of itself for the price that it puts upon its computers. Given the considerable ill-will towards Microsoft in general, Windows specifically, hardware incompatibilities, and security risks, it speaks volumes that individuals and businesses will choose PCs over Macs. Why? Because they cost half as much. (To be fair, Apple has not seriously attempted to cater to computer gamers, which can't be ignored in their lack of larger market share. And Linux may boast of a better PC future, but it's not a well marketed path to date, and it has Bill Gates, Inc. to topple).

I think iMac's future looks very bright, for two reasons. First is the overall price point of computers. My first computer, around 1992, was a Gateway 486-dx250, which doesn’t mean much now. It had a 200MB hard drive, a gargantuan 8MB of RAM, and, I think, a 9600 baud fax/modem, which had a connection speed that a tortoise could outrun. All for the low, low price of $3500. By comparison in computing power, the speed of light can now be had for well under $1k. The result of this is that computers have become a disposable product with an expected life span of 2-3 years at which point any major hardware failure begets a debate between investing in something half dead vs. buying “newer and faster."

Secondly, there is a sense of inherited goodwill towards the Apple brand. Consumers have been pleased with Apple's portable devices, and iMacs, though still more expensive, benefit from a long standing tradition of “We don’t have PC problems” and smart interfaces. Regardless of their niche, they've enjoyed a reputation of "it just works."

As pleased iPod and iPhone users come to that point in time when it’s time to replace their computers, it seems Apple should benefit handsomely. Translated to a personal level: I’m not hoping my PC will die, but I’m looking forward to checking out what Apple has to offer when my HP is laid to rest.

Apple Computers

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Asleep at the Wheel

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It's weird how thoughts come around, and how many of them come to me while driving. Last night I was driving my daughter home, after dropping off her boyfriend following her High School Homecoming dance. It was late, and she was tired after a full day. I was playing Mark Knopfler's rather sleepy sounding latest CD, and within a few minutes, she was laying her head back and getting a quick snooze.

For whatever reason, it's those moments when my children and/or wife are sleeping in the car, that I'm most sensitive to the trust that they have placed in me as a father and husband to drive safely, and, correspondingly, it's when I feel the most awareness of my responsibility to do so.

I could say that this thought is more relevant as my kids enter adulthood and begin making their own driving decisions. Certainly, it's part of being a parent. But it didn't start that recently. We learn responsibility gradually as kids and develop deeper understandings as we mature.

In my 20's, there were times when I would drive long distances on business a lot, and I'd drive "through" a period when I could barely keep my eyes open. This was somehow justifiable in considerations of distance, velocity, and expected time of arrival. And stupid. But I was aware of what I was doing, and it was very much a conscious decision to continue to drive. When I hear of accidents involving drivers who fall asleep, I suspect that they too made a decision to try to keep driving through their tiredness. It's not excusable.

I've since gotten wiser, and am quite willing to pull over either to stretch, grab a dose of caffeine, or take a short nap. Regarding the last, there is a faint recollection of Michael Jordan's father being killed at a rest stop where he was sleeping, but I don't dwell on it. I just recognize that you never know what will happen. We weigh risk without thinking about it, and often don't have to do so. The hazards of a rest stop are far less than the hazards of driving with eyelids closed.

As I drove last night, the streets weren't busy, but I couldn't help but wonder as cars passed if the other drivers were fully awake (and sober) and paying attention to their driving. Or perhaps they were alternately texting, eating a late night hamburger and coding their GPS. The ease of our travel is possibly makes us under-appreciate a life activity that consumes so much time and upon which we are so dependent, but it's so much a fabric of our daily lives that we do so with a presupposed expectation of arriving safely. After all, we do arrive safely. Except those rare times when we don't.

There's risk everywhere, and we tend to turn a blind eye to it until something bad happens - usually to others. We tend to process "bad news" rather than dwell on it, because if we did, consideration of the odds might become paralyzing. Life has risk. We can't avoid it, but we can manage it by being responsible for our behavior.

Which brings me to 6 year old Falcon Heene, who, it was believed, was carried aloft byHeene balloon his father's experimental hot air balloon across the skies of Denver earlier this week. I'll assume that those reading this, just for a moment, imagined themselves in the position of that child before shutting it off from the fear involved.

It has not yet been decided whether his father, Richard Heene, (and possibly the rest of the family) staged this as a publicity stunt, but I assume that Falcon's stating that he was hiding "for the show" will be thoroughly questioned by the authorities even if he is better coached by his father in the meantime.

In any case, this entire episode resulted from Mr. Keene's irresponsibility, and his actions deserve consequences. I would hope that Mr. Keene is presented with something similar to the following two options.

1) If it was not a hoax - Sanctions from the Colorado child protection services are warranted for recklessly endangering his sons by equipping an inadequately supervised hot air balloon in the backyard, or

2) Hoax - an invoice for all of the emergency services called into the effort as well as business costs from delayed flight operations at the Denver airport. Plus court fees. And community service. And... whatever else an offended judge might feel is deserved.

Fortunately, not all lessons must be learned from personal experience. But I hope Mr. Heene pays for his, if only to help others think responsibly about the things they do everyday.

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Robin Trower - Live @ Variety Playhouse

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It's not common for me to see any artist in concert twice, so seeing Robin Trower twice in the same year is something of a surprise.  Especially considering that before I saw him in Las Vegas, I didn't own any of his albums and wasn't that familiar with his work.

But Las Vegas was a good show, and for half the price, his tour continued through Atlanta last night.  I had some friends that wanted to see him, and that was enough of an excuse for an evening out.  Variety Playhouse is my favorite concert venue locally - you can get close to the stage if you arrive early enough, and even if you're in the back, there's still a good view and good audio as well.

The only negative from the Vegas show was that my assigned seat was far afield to the right of stage.  Trower plays on the left hand side, and he doesn't make an effort to turn one way or another to allow the full audience to watch him play his Stratocaster.  Therefore: get there early; claim stage left.

What to do about dinner then?  We ventured to one of many colorful dining spots in Atlanta's Five Points neighborhood, this time visiting The Vortex.  This restaurant made some news recently when it decided to disallow those under 18 years old and remain a bar - with smoking allowed.  It had been a fairly popular place for area families to go for hamburgers, but they chose their direction and are proud of it.  Does it look like the kind of place you would want to take your kids?  (Sorry.  Wait until they're old enough to smoke.)

Vortex

We ate in an upstairs area that happened to be free of smokers during our stay, and the jerk burger (served with Ruinationtater tots) was as good as advertised, though I'd probably try a different burger next time.  This was accompanied by Stone Brewery's Ruination India Pale Ale, which said "hoppy!" from the first taste.  By far, this was the liveliest and best IPA I've had to date.  The label on the bottle was an entertaining read as well.

varietyplayhouse

Anyway, Variety Playhouse is a converted movie theater, complete with seats.  We arrived to find most of these occupied, but, amazingly, no one was standing in the open floor area in front of the stage.  We set the trend, and others quickly followed.  This is when General Admission tickets really pay off.Marshall Ruffin Trio

The Marshall Ruffin Trio was the opening act.   I'd never heard of them, which isn't unusual for opening acts.  Mr. Ruffin played an energized set, his lyrics included some Christian themes, and his hollow body arch top guitar - made in 1964 by a maker I couldn't read - had a great tone.  He was supported by seemingly the happiest person to ever bang a drum and a talented stand up bassist.  Great start to the evening.

As for Robin Trower, it was a solid show. Robin Trower - Variety Playhouse

The set list was quite a bit different from Vegas, but his show still clocked  in at 90 minutes.  It's apparent that not all of the solos are pre-planned as "Bridge of Sighs," likely the fans' favorite, enjoyed a lengthy solo.  It must be a boring gig to be in his supporting cast, as they basically exist to keep a beat and set things up for the next solo.Robin Trower - Variety Playhouse

Trower is a very skilled guitarist, and watching him, he feels the sounds he's playing as evidenced through a variety of facial distortions.  Guitarists tend to find a "sound" that suits them - Trower has a different tone that doesn't necessarily tend to sparkle on solos, although the same notes played by Santana or Clapton might. 

Robin Trower - Variety Playhouse It also seemed he remains detached from the public venue and concentrates fully on the sounds from his guitar.  He rarely acknowledged the crowd but seemed to fully enjoy just playing his songs, whether or not someone was listening.

And that translates to his sound.  His songs don't tend to be emotional by the notes he chooses, butRobin Trower - Variety Playhouse rather he focuses on getting an exacting  "sound" out of the guitar - it could be said that he plays from a different place, but he's true to that vision.  It's difficult to describe, but at the amplification levels he uses, even the slightest tones have to be made with perfect execution - perhaps with the cost being a song's potential. 

That said, aside from the rousing version of "Bridge of Sighs," my favorite was "Time and Emotion," an instrumental from his last CD that holds up as well or better as much of his earlier work... and which, expectedly, took me back to memories of driving through Death Valley.

And that's pretty much a summary of the concert.  His songs generally lack memorable tunes and the guitar solos are technically stellar.  Despite holding a defining place in the development of rock trios, Trower will likely remain one of the lesser known Guitar Heroes.

Still, at age 64, I can only hope that I'll still want to listen to rock music, and, as impressively, want it LOUD.

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Fast Food for a Fast Life

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Another Saturday - another reason I don't get to sleep in.  This time, it was to take my daughter to her High School for the SAT II tests.  I've never been much into health foods, but I know it's important to eat in the morning, so we did what we always do when taking her to school.  McDonald's drive-thru.  Go ahead, laugh.  It hasn't short-circuited her brain yet.

Please don't think that I would subject my daughter to something I'm not willing to do to myself.  No wheat bran granola something or another for me, later. Nosirree.  That'll be two (2) #1 Combos, with medium Cokes, please.

Upon receiving my hash browns... well, I have to digress.  They were hot, which is a requirement for a satisfactory hash brown.  I know this because, over the years, I've become a connoisseur of McDonald's hashbrowns, a brand of hash brown which continually ranks above their competitors.  But on a taste scale of 1-10, they were only a five. Why?  Well, to begin with, they were slightly too greasy, which is a common but forgivable ailment (after all, they're cooked in a "deep fat fryer"), but the oil was overdue for a change-out, giving it a (refers to dictionary.com and fails for finding a suitable adjective and settles on...) gooky flavor.

Second digression.  Purveyors of quality fried foods should be required to taste a sample from each batch.  Really.  I mean it.  Additionally, I remain very suspicious that gooky fried foods tend to be dropped into carryout bags as customers are less likely to return and complain.  Okay, rant over.

Back to the original story, upon receiving my hash browns of yet unproven quality, I noticed that the Monopoly pieces are back. Again.  My daughter and I quickly peeled these and... boring real estate.  There was a time when I accumulated large collections of non-winning Monopoly tokens, because I used to drive a lot on business.  But I also got a fair amount of free food.monopoly  It was fun. Now, I rarely get free food tokens anymore.  It's sad, really.

But, years ago, there are fonder memories of big winnings - Cokes, fries, and even, yes, Quarter Pounders.  My wife and I first discovered McDonald's Monopoly when visiting her parents in Atlanta, after which we returned home to Birmingham.  This was back in antiquity, approximately 1987 p.k. (pre-kids).  Each token was revealed by tearing strips off the sides, which, as amusements go, was worth stopping by every McDonald's we could find along I-20.

I have to say, those were the good ol' days, lemme tell ya.  You could drive up to the menu board, order Cokes, get to the window, and ask for Monopoly tickets, best done with my wife leaning over from the passenger seat with a pleading look.  They often would give handfuls at a time, enough so that even amongst the all-too-common real estate pieces, we would score on free food items, like a Coke and fries to be used at the next exit.  High livin', that.

A couple years later, McDonald's, to our regret, probably paid a high dollar consultant to tell them that they may actually sell more product if the pieces were attached to the packaging, rather than trusting their window staff to responsibly hand out the goodies by whatever guidelines they had.   That expectantteenie beanies visit to McD's was a dark day, indeed, when they made that change.  It's just not the same anymore.  Sniff.

McDonald's pulled us back in years later with the Teenie Beanies in Kids Meals, posing a digestive obstacle that we, as loving parents, surmounted to better provide for our kids.  The Monopoly games continued every year, but... I guess we outgrew it.

And now our kids are outgrowing us.  It's funny how little things like Monopoly tokens stir related thoughts, but we've been a part of their game since before our kids were born, and our oldest isn't far from leaving the nest.  Maybe I'll get a Big Mac token before she graduates.

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In Defense of Organized Religion

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I guess I consider myself a fan of the rock band, U2.  They’ve made some great songs over their career, and I like their sound.  The band, and particularly their lead singer, Bono, is well known for human rights efforts, and their lyrics often reflect aspirations for social justice, equality, love, peace, etc.  And even a casual fan is aware of a regular reference to spiritual themes throughout their body of work.  They(Photo Credit: Robb D. Cohen/ www.robbsphotos.com) played in Atlanta last night, which I didn't attend due to ticket prices and likely poor sound quality.  The day prior, the local newspaper published an article which caught my attention, “U2: Faith in the ear of the hearer.” 

The title of the article stands on its own with one exception.  Faith comes from somewhere, and is “heard,” whether aurally or in writing.  The problem, for me, is when faith is purportedly related to the message that U2 is providing.  Bono is prodigious at “preaching” ethics both on and off stage, but when it comes to spirituality, his message has consistently been what might be summed up in the title of a great song from the band’s best album, Joshua Tree, titled “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  The point is that a more befitting title to the article would be “U2: Lack of faith in the voice of the singer.”

This isn’t to say Bono is not a spiritual person.  He alludes frequently in his songs to biblical references and has an obvious disdain for "the church."  But even as he rejects the power structures of religion and yearns for a power that would make things right, he has also never revealed an abiding faith.  He’s not alone in the plethora of musical artists who capture such thoughts in songs.  Debating the origins of life, its meaning, and our eventual destiny is ultimately a question that every person faces, and it’s not surprising that it is reflected in the arts in its many varied forms. 

Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc… the practicing faithful of the religions are "spiritual" people.  But in current parlance, a spiritual person is not defined by organized religions, but, in fact, more regularly excludes them.  The author of the article puts this as follows:

“The rejection of organized religion is reflected in many young Americans, which in polling have described themselves as not religious, but definitely spiritual.”

Well, what the heck does that actually mean?  By rejecting the Gods of existing religions, one's hopes for a meaningful spirituality is certainly challenged.  And it's not like people buy into "new and improved" spiritual ideas (sorry, L. Ron Hubbard).  This leaves, I would think, only a metaphysical “hoped for,” something to soothe the physical hurts of living without the offending cost of obligations in return.  In short, the revered Obi-Wan Kenobi put it rightly in the original Star Wars when he said:

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.” 

If the idea makes you feel better, use it, I guess.

I could venture different directions from here, but, in a rather judgmental way, I would accuse those who find satisfaction in being “a spiritual person” as lazy thinkers.  At least those who accept or reject established religions recognize that if there is an ultimate truth about God then it must be revealed to us.  With suspicions abounding regarding the human role in relating these revelations, it is the trustworthiness of their origins and the coherence of their theologies that must be tested. 

Absent of divine revelation, seekers of spirituality suffer from a never ending possibility of beliefs (well, this suited me well, but that suits me even better) and a lack of trust that comes from practices or guides that have no authority.  More plainly, it’s hard to say what you believe when you fervently practice believing in "something" that has nothing attached to it.  But at least you're sincere about the effort.  Welcome to today’s “spirituality.”  

So I find it interesting on an intellectual level and shaming on a theistic level, that churches would hold U2charists, or that a pastor would state that “I think U2’s music, particularly Bono’s lyrics, are perfect for the context of church and worship.” 

Really? 

I understand that churches would (and should) engage in the socially relevant as a means to attract the curious to their doors, as some who seek may find answers there. But to mix U2’s nebulous “spirituality” with church sacraments can only reinforce an observed trend that denominational churches are content to dilute their beliefs for social acceptance.  In some regards, Bono is right to reject "the church," or at least its modern tendencies. An institution that bases its existence on firm revelation but changes its answers is hardly a worthy place to ask life’s most meaningful questions. 

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Learning How to Win

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Last year, I attended the Clemson-Maryland football game with my father-in-law which resulted in yet another inexplicable defeat to an out-classed opponent.  A couple weeks later, I patted myself on the back as I had accurately predicted the end of an underachieving coaching staff.

Fast forward one year.  Dabo Swinney, a great recruiter and the former Wide Receivers coach, is now the Head Coach.  Yesterday, Clemson lost to another Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Imagesinferior Maryland team, 21-24, despite ample opportunities to salvage the game.

Former coach Tommy Bowden did many things right when it came to leading the Clemson football program.  Talented recruits, facilities improvement, good academic results, minimal negative headlines.  But when it came to Saturdays in the autumn, he had his share of big wins, but he had more bewildering losses than a supportive fan base can be expected to endure. Add an aloofness and repetitive mantra of excuses to his post-game conferences, and it became clear things weren't going to get better.

Swinney is different.  He seems to have carried on the things Bowden did well, but he is clearly passionate about what he does, and holds himself, his staff, and others accountable.  He's a leader, and despite the three losses early in this season, I continue to think he is a good choice.  The excuses for losing... well, they're pretty much the same.  But they conclude with: "We've got to learn how to win."

In reading the post mortems in the regional newspapers, it appears that sportswriters agree.  A penalty at a critical time, a dropped pass, a missed assignment, a misread on an open receiver, a missed field goal kick... all teams have these issues, but winning teams do them less frequently, usually.  But it seems within the quote that winning is something teachable. 

Tim Tebow to the contrary, I don't see how you can teach a player to execute when it really, really matters, when they can't execute at times less critical in the game.  Maryland had lesser talent, yet they managed to do what was necessary to win.  Did they have a class on that? And Tebow (Florida's superhuman quarterback for those not knowing) is a winner because he executes throughout the game, not just in the clutch moments.  So, teaching a team, or a player, "how to win" seems to be publicly digestible hogwash, and it's disappointing that sports writers let it pass as something substantive.

Despite a few defensive lapses, the problems for Clemson continue to be offensive.  The offensive line is better than last year, but they can't be considered "good" by any means.  They don't create large holes for the running backs, and they're lost when it comes to handling blitzes.  Therefore, it's difficult to judge the development of a freshman quarterback who has to run for his life on any predicted passing play.  The wide receivers haven't helped, dropping passes that they shouldn't and failing to separate from defenders to give the quarterback a target.  Basically, despite a single very talented offensive player, CJ Spiller, Clemson's offense just isn't good.

So how do you teach them how to win?

The test for Swinney will be loyalty to his own coaching staff.  The offensive line coach hasn't shown positive results in many years and should go.  Clemson has to recruit that position better than it has, and there's little evidence to show to recruits that their Pro aspirations will be helped. 

The more difficult decision will be to change offensive coordinators.  Although he's young and an improvement over his predecessor, Clemson continues to use the same playbook that promises explosive mismatches but implodes over its inability to master first downs. 

It's the Offensive Coordinator's job to know what plays the offense is actually good at executing, and call those plays when down and distance matter.  Clemson needs to completely re-think what they do, and that requires someone new to step in and change the playbook.  Talent notwithstanding, the only way for the same players to move forward in the seasons to come is to buy into something different, as they have already done this year in their head coach and new defensive schemes. 

As evidenced by Maryland, it doesn't take lots of talent to win.  It's the coach's job to figure out how to win with the talent he has on hand.

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