Saturday, November 22, 2008

Playbook Smarts

Sometimes I wonder why I watch sports. Why I put so much time and investment into an interest that often leaves me angry or depressed. There was seriously contemplation this week as to whether it was time to hang up the jerseys, hats, banner, and foam fingers to retire into a less emotional activity like crossword puzzles or sudoku. With more thought I realized that even though my love of sports causes much angst and exhaustion, it has taught me so many valuable life lessons. I am a Buffalo Bills fan, the team famous for dominating the AFC for four straight years in the 90s, only to lose the Super Bowl with each visit. Cheering for my home state of New York’s only team (the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey) comes with a special set of challenges, but some of these challenges contributed to me becoming the person I am today.

The Bills taught me about disappointment and heartbreak. Scott Norwood was the first man to break my heart. Although Buffalo had many opportunities to score in their 1990 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, it is hard to forget the moment, or the man, that ended a magical season for the Bills. With the score 19 to 20 with only seconds left in the game, Scott Norwood’s 47 yard field goal that would have won the game for Buffalo sailed outside the uprights. Scott Norwood is to Bills fans what Bill Buckner is to Red Sox fans. Just as no fan will ever forget Buckner letting a routine grounder roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series, no fan will ever forget Norwood’s missed field goal. Just like it was yesterday, I recall sitting in my living room, holding my breath for what seemed like an eternity, the ball flying through the air in slow motion, and the crushing words finally uttered by the television crew; wide right. Just the mere words “wide right” send a shutter down my spine and bring back vivid memories of the crushed hopes and dreams of that season. As a Bills fan living in Giants country, this loss was especially devastating. Just like sports, life is full of devastation, and learning to overcome it is what makes each of us stronger.

The Bills taught me about humility. How a person celebrates a victory is just as important as how a person accepts a loss. It is important to be humble in times of victory for many reasons. No one likes a pompous winner just as no one likes a sore loser and the Bills are humble when they win, and noble and magnanimous when they lose. During their four Super Bowl appearances they were America’s underdogs with the support of millions; people just wanted the nice guys to win. Surviving crushing losses does help one learn all about humility; when one understand the emotions of humiliating loses they are less apt to throw a win in their opponents face. Even outside of sports we have winning moments; job promotions, raises, eBay victories. It is important to celebrate, but not at the expense of the “loser.” (note to The Husband: I am still working on this life lesson when it comes to board games.)

The Bills taught me about perseverance. Buffalo came very close to missing out on their fourth Super Bowl appearance. The Houston Oilers (RIP) went into the locker room at halftime of the 1993 AFC wild card playoff game beating The Bills 28 – 3. One minute and forty-one seconds into the third quarter, the Oilers scored again making the score 35 -3. Most people turned off the game since no team has ever recovered from that large of a deficit. Then the Bills decided to play a little football, managed to tie the game at 38, and ultimately won 41 – 38 in overtime; the largest comeback in NFL history is affectionately referred to as just “The Comeback.” In this game the Bills proved that any comeback is possible. Lesson learned; no matter what the odds, giving up is never an option.

The Bills taught me never to get my hopes up. Buffalo might hold the record for the biggest comeback, but they must hold some unofficial record for most heartbreaking, final second losses. As a Bills fan you quickly learns what Yogi Berra meant when he said “It ain’t over till it’s over.” No matter how big a lead the Bills have it is dangerous to assume they have the win until the final seconds of the clock are done clicking and television coverage has actually switched over to another game (or 60 minutes). One game that epitomizes the Bills propensity to blow it late is the game is dubbed “The Music City Miracle.” In the AFC wild card playoff game in 2000 the Tennessee Titans defeated Buffalo 22 to 16 in a crazy play that included multiple lateral passes that left everyone watching with their jaws hitting the ground. It was astonishing; no one could believe a team could come back and win in such a grand and unique fashion, no one that is except for Buffalo Bills fans who come to expect their team to be on the losing side of these historic games. This game also provided a very good lesson on the power of revenge; the Titans were once the Houston Oilers, that team the Bills defeated in the biggest comeback in NFL history.

The Bills taught me to study history, because it often repeats itself. When Buffalo had the opportunity to win in the final seconds of their Monday night match-up against the Cleveland every fan deep down in their hearts knew what was going to happen. The similarity between the Bills final play of the game and the final play of the 1990 Super Bowl again the Giants was sickening. Just like Scott Norwood, Rian Lindell was given the opportunity to win a big game with a field goal from 47 yards. Just like Scott Norwood, Rian Lindell took that 47 yard field goal and kicked it wide right. It was like déjà vu. It is important to learn from your past mistakes, and to go the extra yard to set up a better chance for success.

Buffalo Bills football made me a stronger, hopeful, and more realistic person. So as much as this week’s loss made me consider swearing off of football there are still far too many valuable lessons the game, and my team, can teach me. I just wish there were more lessons that included winning.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quote of the Week

The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
- Ronald Reagan

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote of the Week

The topics of human rights and equality deserve more than one quote...

Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today.
- Malcolm X

Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.
- Robert Ingersoll

I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot.
- Horace Greeley

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mawage is not what bwings us togeder

The passage of Proposition 8, that discriminatory, civil rights revoking California amendment banning marriage between same sex couples, makes me so mad it is impossible articulate my thoughts in any constructive manner. As a (non-practicing) political scientist it saddens me how frequently history must repeat itself before we learn that our constitutions, federal or state, are not documents made for banning legal rights but for granting them. The now defunct 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, the one that took away American’s rights to buy, consume, or transport alcohol, lasted only thirteen years and is now blamed for an increase in drinking and the rise of organized crime. See what happens when we take away people’s rights? The Bill of Rights, and everything it stands for, is desecrated each time we add something that limits anyone’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness (including that pesky 16th amendment legalizing the federal income tax). Rather then go on and on with all the angry thoughts going through my head, I am going to reprint a piece (with some edits) I did as a guest contributor to during the 2004 election season. It is just as relevant now as it was 4 years ago.

11/4/2004- Marriage, specifically, the definition of marriage, was a major focus of conservatives during our recent presidential elections and the subject of referendums on 11 state ballots. I initially thought our government had gotten involved with the issue because of the monetary implications of allowing gay couples to wed. Recognizing same-sex unions means these couples would receive the same legal rights to health insurance, social security benefits, and welfare benefits equating to greater costs incurred by corporations and our government. To get more people on the support bandwagon, I believed the government was cleverly disguising this as a moral issue rather than an economic to garner more support from the religious right.

Much to my surprise, President Bush announced that although he disagrees with same-sex marriage, he supports civil unions:

"I view the definition of marriage difference from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman," Bush said. "Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass ... laws that enable people to you know, be able to have rights, like others." - W

With this apparent flip-flop of support for legally recognizing same-sex unions, it is a wonder why so much time and energy is being devoted to adding amendments to state laws and our US constitution banning same-sex marriages. This is not a political issue, it is a linguistic issue. If Bush himself believes that same-sex couples deserve the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, then this push is simply around a definition of a word. I don’t believe it is in the best interest of our society to have our government start taking on the responsibilities of maintaining dictionaries. Don’t we have Webster’s for that?

marriage n.
1. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
2. The state of being married; wedlock.
3. A common-law marriage.
4. A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage.

civil union n. : a voluntary union for life (or until divorce) of adult parties of the same sex; "parties to a civil union have all the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under Vermont law as spouses in a marriage"

Webster’s has spoken. So long as Bush and other anti-gay marriage/pro-gay civil union supporters agree that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as straight couples, then Webster’s can make a few updates to their definitions and we can be done with it. What difference does it make what we call it so long as everyone has the same legal rights? Whether we are bound by a Pastor in a Church, a Rabbi in a synagogue, a judge in a courthouse or Elvis in Vegas, our government’s responsibility is to honor the legality of the union, it is up to Webster’s to describe words, and it is up to each couple to define their own marriage to ensure its success.

If we really think about this debate, doesn’t it seem silly that government bodies are wasting time, money, and precious resources determining whether they are going to recognize a marriage? Should all couples, homosexual or heterosexual, be granted a civil-union by the government and leave the word marriage out of the equation? Frankly, I would rather have my own relationship defined as a civil union these days. All I want from the law is to recognize the legality of our relationship for the purposes of property, insurance, benefits, and next of kin rights. I don’t want my relationship to be defined by people trying to defend the so-called “sanctity” of marriage through discrimination. How is defending the “sanctity” of marriage by discriminating homosexuals any different then how the “sanctity” of marriage was once protected by banning womens' right to vote or how the "sanctity" of our society was once protected by segregation? Discrimination is discrimination no matter who it is against. If the government wants to define marriage as an institution that discriminates against gays and lesbians then frankly I want nothing to do with that institution.

For other thoughts on this topic I strongly encourage you read Nancy’s piece on My Blog Is Not For You, or Keith Olbermann’s piece on MSNBC.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Quote of the Week

It would be a service to mankind if the pill were available in slot machines and the cigarette were placed on prescription.
- Malcolm Potts, MD

It needs to become as easy to get hold of a condom in a poor country as Coca-Cola.
- Clare Short

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote of No Confidence

After George Bush lost the poplar vote in 2000 but won the Electoral College, and therefore the election, there were outcries across the land from people who deemed the Electoral College system as undemocratic and antiquated. Some people argued there is no reason to have the Electoral College in our modern society, the basis for its existence outdated. This assumes the reasons our forefathers developed the Electoral College methodology is history, but honestly, their concerns are just as legitimate today as they were 200 plus years ago.

The Electoral College was proposed as a means of ensuring small states still had a say in Presidential Elections, assuring the President would continue to listen to the concerns of small states rather than focus on just larger states. While the size of the haul in California, Texas, New York, and Florida is substantial, a win on election night requires a candidate to carry other states. From a mathematical standpoint this is very important to listen the opinions and interests of every state in the Union. The nine largest states account for a little over 50% of the US population yet adding up the electoral votes from these same 9 states yields only 241, 29 shy of the 270 needed to carry an election, giving small states a place on the Presidential election stage.

Enough with the simple civics lesson on states' rights. Most people know the other reason our forefathers developed the Electoral College; they did not trust the common man. They feared a tyrannical candidate could and would manipulate citizens in a popular vote. They did not trust the judgment of the general population, people who could barely read their ballot, to make the right choice. Many are outraged when they learn our forefathers were so pompous and arrogant that they did not believe the people could not be trusted to vote intelligently. Some who support the abolishment of the Electoral College argue that citizens of today hold the intelligence and knowledge necessary to vote. While my feelings on the Electoral College are pretty neutral, the argument that the entire population of the United States is smart enough to vote makes me laugh uncontrollably; there are still plenty of common men (and women) who I don’t trust have the intelligence to make an informed decision.

Statistically speaking 50% of the population is of below average intelligence. Simple math, half the people are above average, half are below. This is not drawing the line where “smart” is, just the median. Campaign managers are well aware that people who are educated, involved, and flat out smarter will take the time to learn the facts about a candidate, formulate opinions, research voting records, and make an informed decision. These are not the individuals that campaigns focus their time, energy, and money upon. Instead millions upon millions of dollars are spent to sway the vote of the very same people our forefathers were fearful of voting in the first place.

Campaigns target the lowest common denominator; people who do not have the time or intelligence to perform the due diligence on the issues and facts to make an informed decision. They present half-facts or total opinions to mislead voters on how a candidate stands. As an Independent I received more political mail in one month then I’ve received Victoria’s Secret catalogs in a lifetime. Every person from every party sent no less than 4 to 5 mailers and each one spoke in vague terminology, requiring the ability to read between the lines. One candidate claimed to “support the measures necessary to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and lower the prices of fuel for you and your family.” Something we can all stand behind, right? Except after doing some research on the candidate these “measures necessary” weren’t focused on things I support like building renewable energy sources, increasing public transportation options, or encouraging the development of fuel efficient cars. Nope, the “measures necessary” was to continue our dependence on oil by supporting offshore drilling and Alaskan oil exploration. Another candidate aimed to “protect employee rights” which as far as I could tell by his record meant allowing pharmacists to stop filling prescriptions for birth control or selling condoms.

Very popular this year is the email forwards aimed at discrediting candidates. Most of these emails are filled with blatant lies that are easily disprooved. The issue is most people don’t take the time to research the validity of the emailed information and take the contents as fact. There are countless people basing their vote on misleading emails that are not monitored for libel defamation because they are not official messages from the campaign. Anyone naïve enough to believe that these mass-forwarded messages did not start at the keyboard of some campaign worker has obviously been living under a rock for their entire existence; campaigns love nothing more than free, effective advertising.

Not only is the “common man” manipulated by campaign tactics, apparently the common man is so clueless to the complexity of running a country that they think the best candidate is someone just like them. It might be important for politicians to understand the struggles of the common man, but the last thing we need is someone in office just like the Average Joe. I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t want the leader of the free world to be a person I can grab a beer with. Not that I don’t love and respect all the people I do beers with, but none of us have the knowledge, drive, desire, and perseverance it takes to effectively govern a nation. While these strange polls that make Ben Franklin do somersaults in his grave provide entertainment to some, they frighten me. There are actually people whose egos are so inflated that they vote for a candidate who is the kind of person they can watch a football game with. The qualities I look for in a person I catch a ballgame with are incredibly different then the qualities I look for in a person running our country. Candidates actually have to dumb themselves down at times because there are so many people who vote for the person they think is most like them. No wonder we have so many idiots in office. (Note: For a well written commentary on this subject, please take the time to visit The Katie Girl Project.)

People often say they don’t vote because there are no good candidates, but there are no good candidates because the good ones are eliminated early in the game. Egotistically voting for a person who you can grab a beer with partnered with the manipulation of the unintelligent and uninformed is partially to blame for our lack of choices in elections. People are choosing to elect candidates who remind them of the guy next door, or the girl they had a crush on growing up, rather then the most qualified and experienced individuals. Our state and national elections are no better then the popularity contest of an average student council election where the nerdy geek gets beat out by the dumb jock. People continuously write off the nerdy geeks, the very people who possess the intelligence and insight to manage a city, state, or country, as socially inadequate or weird and then complain that their ballot choices are limited.

Until people take their voting seriously, understand the issues, research the candidates, and give the process more time and energy then they do choosing a meal at Applebee’s, then we’ll never have top notch leadership in our nation. Stop reading email forwards, mute the commercials, and throw out the political postcards. Take the time to visit The League of Women Voters or On the Issues to learn more about who you’re voting for. Take the issues tests on Speakout Vote Match or Glassbooth to see which candidate aligns with your personal beliefs. Don’t be common; be informed, not influenced.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
- Winston Churchill