The Newest American Hero

07/6/2007, 9:15 am -- by | 2 Comments

This year, for the first time, I watched the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Contest. It wasn’t so much an intentional decision as it was happenstance — I turned on the TV just as it was coming on.

I already knew some of the backstory leading up to the event. Kobayashi, the longtime Japanese champion of the event (by large margins, for several years running) was being challenged by American Joey Chestnut, who had broken the world record in another contest a few weeks back. News then leaked of a Kobayashi jaw injury and possible withdrawal, leading many to wonder if he was ducking competition or preparing excuses. Kobayashi apparently then had acupuncture and showed up ready to compete.

As the event began and these two men raced to a lead on the rest of the field at a record-setting pace, I had a hard time watching. I’m a bit squeamish by nature and the contortions of the human body necessary to consume a hot dog and bun every eleven seconds are perverse to observe. At the same time it was riveting — I couldn’t stop watching.

I focused mainly on the graphic that continually updated the score, averting my eyes from a direct view of such significant self-abuse. After what seemed like an interminable period of forced gluttony, Chestnut had built a lead of five hotdogs and seemed to be in control. Then I looked at the clock and saw there were more than eight minutes remaining. Twelve minutes is a long time to eat without stopping.

The drama built until, with less than a minute left, Kobayashi had come back to tie, and the two men matched each other dog for horrible dog. But then, in the closing seconds, Kobayashi suffered a “reversal.” I’ll spare you too many details, but must mention that this great competitor continued to try to reverse this reversal, even after the bell had sounded and spitting seemed a far more desirable option. After the judges consulted instant replay — I almost wish I was kidding — Kobayashi was given a small penalty and Chestnut was officially victorious, 66 to 63. Both men shattered the previous contest record of 53½, as well as the former world record of 59½.

But perhaps the best part of the entire spectacle was the announcing. Regarding Joey Chestnut, one announcer remarked, “You Google ‘American hero’ tomorrow, you’re going to get Abe Lincoln, possibly Neil Armstrong, Taylor Hicks, and of course this man — Joey Chestnut.”

That’s right. American heroes — the man some consider the greatest American president, the first man on the moon, the American Idol winner from two seasons ago, and a guy with great control of his upper abdominal muscles. That about covers it. (Incidentally, actually Googling ‘American hero’ yields results for the TV show The Greatest American Hero, Ronald Reagan, and of course, G.I. Joe).

Aside from repeatedly calling Chestnut an American hero — even before the contest was over — and referring to his triumph as the greatest moment in the history of American sport, the announcers really kept things in perspective. But it was all part of the extravaganza, and as Joey Chestnut stood there smiling and sweating, stomach roiling, draped in our flag and basking in the adoration, I couldn’t help but find the whole thing uniquely, absurdly, and comically liberating.

A Call for Normalcy

06/22/2007, 4:30 pm -- by | No Comments

Every once in a while, an invention comes along that changes our way of life so completely and seamlessly, we can no longer imagine our lives without it, even if we were alive long before it came. When I was young, microwave ovens were a solid example of this phenomenon. Within a few years they went from nonexistent to omnipresent, as an increasingly impatient populace grew increasingly dependent.

The most recent example would have to be the cell phone. As recently as 2000, I couldn’t imagine owning a cell phone since, after all, I was neither a businessman nor a drug dealer. Now I struggle to find an 11-year-old without one.

More than that, everyone expects everyone else to be reachable all the time. Gone are the days of coming home to check your messages; no one can miss you. I recently encountered a woman who was disappointed she forgot her cell phone at home, even though she would only be gone for two hours and was going to be in a meeting that would require her to turn her cell phone off.

But of course that’s if she turned it off. People now apparently need to be available during movies, class, and church. Again, no one even seems to remember a time when people would just have to wait a couple hours to reach you. Every call has taken on an absurd level of urgency. Some people will actually get offended if their call is not answered. Despite laws regulating their use during driving, most people are loath to let a call go unanswered and finish their ten-minute drive before returning the call. Cell phones are practically glued to people’s ears, and thanks to Bluetooth, this is coming closer to being literally true (this hands-free technology also makes it much harder to tell who the true crazies are, since everyone now walks around waving their arms, talking to no one in particular).

I’m not decrying the proliferation of cell phones. I myself have one and enjoy the increased communications it affords me. I just find it fascinating the way technology changes not only our capabilities, but along with it our standards and expectations.

Dot What?

05/25/2007, 4:30 pm -- by | No Comments

On this, the day before his brother’s wedding, we present a post from the Best of Josh, originally published on November 2, 2006.

The other day I met a charming young lady who needed some information from me. She gave me her email address which ended with I had never seen that particular suffix before, and I was curious, so I asked.

“Phillip Morris. I work for Marlboro.”


“Yeah, we’re not the most popular company right now.”

Now let me be clear about a few things here. First off, I think smoking is terrible, for all the obvious reasons. And I could never work for a such a company because I wouldn’t be able to reconcile this with my convictions.

Having said that, I think the lawsuits against these companies are laughable. I also don’t think people who work for these companies are any more morally responsible than the corner store clerk that sells the cigarrettes, and we don’t vilify them.

But the fact remains that these companies have taken a huge PR hit. There are some pretty aggressive ad campaigns with them in the crosshairs (although I really enjoy the Phillip Morris-produced anti-tobacco ads. They’re almost as funny as the comercials that come on during televised poker where some casino guy tells you, “There are some times when you shouldn’t gamble.” Yeah, right.). The executives have been portrayed as outright murderous pariahs, and justifiably so in many cases.

I don’t say all this to bash the woman in question. She seems like a nice enough person. I’m just saying that if I had to give my email to a total stranger for non-work related matters, I think I would have a back-up. Something that didn’t sound like

My Best Teacher

05/18/2007, 3:00 pm -- by | No Comments

It seems a bit strange to think of him as my best teacher. There were certainly times when his style left me cringing. But in a way, coming through our clashes in style with my affection for his teaching still intact, is what confirms for me that he was my best.

He taught me freshman high school geometry, and he was certainly brilliant, and a bit eccentric. We walked in the first day to be greeted by a video camera. We each took our place, one at a time, front and center, said our first and last names, and he called out a row and seat from his memorized seating chart.

When my turn came, I dutifully called out, “Joshua Jones.”

“Joshua Douglas Jones?”

“Yeah.” I was puzzled. How many Josh Joneses were in this class anyway?

It turned out he just really liked my middle name, and rarely referred to me by any moniker that didn’t include some version of it. Joshua Douglas, Mr. Douglas, even J.D. Jones. It’s the kind of thing that in high school will simultaneously embarrass you and endear someone to you.

More importantly, he was a man with a passion for teaching that came through in everything he did. He was the teacher who used any object lesson or memory device, no matter how goofy. He would stretch you by making you figure things out rather than just telling you all the answers. He gave plenty of extra credit, for everything from solving the toughest problem first to memorizing pi to 100 places — even for bringing in comic strips referring to geometric properties. One time he brought in a box of donuts and gave them out, one by one, to the students who correctly solved that day’s class problems quickest. As someone who possesses both a quickness in problem solving and a strong love of donuts, this was my ideal form of education.

There was only one real problem — the man believed very strongly in homework, at least an hour’s worth per night. I, on the other hand, would eventually be labeled by him as “philosophically opposed” to it. That may have given my ninth grade ideology a bit too much credit, but the fact remained: I didn’t do most of the assignments. This would have posed a problem, except I was absolutely killing all his tests and quizzes, including those of the pop variety that occurred at least a couple times per week. I wasn’t unprepared for class, or failing to learn — I just prepared and learned in my own quicker, more efficient manner.

And so, eventually, as an educator, this posed a problem for him.

For a while he tried to break me, assigning quiz values to random homework assignments. I figured out a way to anticipate the most likely culprits, ensuring those were done. Then he tried to get me to come in after school before my bus arrived to do the assignments before going home. I found reasons to be unavailable. The only thing I truly feared was public humiliation in front of my classmates, but he was too good a man to apply anything more than the gentlest of pressures in the class setting, despite my unlucky seat directly beneath his lecturing perch.

As the year progressed and I continued to outperform most of my fellow students in class while ignoring most of his assignments out of class, he began to soften. Finally, one day another teacher came in and he asked her in front of the class, “Is there a point to forcing a student to do homework assignments if they can learn the material without it? What is the purpose of homework?”

I don’t remember her answer. I don’t think he even really wanted one. I knew he was talking to me.

I got through the year, grades intact. The next year his homework policy was changed to allow students to turn in their assignments with items omitted if the students deemed them redundant or unnecessary.

If I’ve had one problem with institutional education, it’s been that too many people, students and teachers alike, forget that the point of the whole exercise is learning. He didn’t. He let me learn to my full ability.

I never really thanked him.

Evildoers Beware

05/11/2007, 5:09 pm -- by | 4 Comments

I’m planning to go see the new Spiderman movie tomorrow, and it reminds me that I’ve always wanted a superpower. Flying would probably be my first choice. I used to dream about flying all the time when I was younger, although in my dreams it was a lot more like swimming underwater, very slow going and difficult to take off. Recently I discovered I actually have a superpower of sorts. It’s not all that impressive as superpowers go, but here it is. Steve Nash

I can instantly tell who the most famous or popular white professional basketball player is at any given time.

It’s true. All I have to do is step onto certain courts and wait to see what the players there call me. When I was very young, it was always Larry Bird, obviously. As I got older, John Stockton was the recurring theme, with flashes of Christian Laettner, Keith Van Horn, and even Arvydas Sabonis. Right now, the answer is easily Steve Nash. Elgin Baylor

Of course, every now and again my power experiences a slight glitch. Some guys will call me “old school” or “fundamental,” which are basically nice ways to say, “You don’t jump very high,” and “I’m much quicker than you.” Times like these I start hearing names like Jerry West. I even heard Elgin Baylor the other day. Maybe there’s some subtle nuance of my game that reminded him of Elgin, but I’m guessing this was just a slight technical difficulty with my power.

Anyway, if anyone can figure out a way I can fight crime with this particular power, or at least get my own comic book, please let me know.

Program Error

05/4/2007, 12:30 pm -- by | 1 Comment

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to fulfill a few of my remaining elective credit hours by taking a class in computer programming. Halfway through the second quarter, our teacher disappeared and lost his job. He was replaced by perhaps the worst teacher I have ever had on any level.

The heart of the problem was his inability to admit a mistake. Programming is based on mathematical principles that are consistently reproducible — it’s completely objective. One might think this would make it difficult, even impossible, to deny a mistake when the results reveal one, but he found a way. His pride simply could not let him acknowledge he was wrong.

It played out the same way many times over. A friend of mine in the class was more adept than most at noticing mathematical inconsistencies in our assignments — but not very adept at behavioral pattern recognition, as you’ll soon see. The reasonable thing to do seemed to be to alert our teacher to the mistake. It was usually quite minor, a simple mistake, but something that would nonetheless result in a wasted class period and lines and lines of useless code. My friend wanted to save us all that wasted time following the wrong direction.

Our teacher would never even entertain the possibility. He would emphatically tell my friend he had no idea what he was talking about. My friend, certain truth was on his side, would persist, only to draw our teacher’s increased ire. Back and forth they would go until our teacher’s yelling, verbal abuse, and public humiliation reached the point necessary to send my friend slinking back to his seat.

Of course, the man would still have a problem on his hands, since my friend was indeed right, and by the end of the class period everyone would have an incorrect program. So he would wait ten minutes or so, letting everyone go the wrong way, and then he would make an announcement. He had randomly changed his mind about the way he wanted the assignment done. He told us to make an alteration in our figures, the exact change my friend had suggested, as if we hadn’t heard them arguing right in front of us just minutes before. And somehow he did this with a straight face, as a room full of people who had trusted him went back to square one.

This exact scenario played out multiple times, each time with my friend taking the brunt of this man’s arrogant wrath. It didn’t take long for me to decide I just wasn’t going to listen to this so-called educator anymore. When I noticed a mistake, I would simply correct it in my program. I wouldn’t try to convince our teacher; I would do what I knew was right. He had lost all intellectual authority.

One thing he did teach me: effective leadership is understanding that infallibility and credibility are not synonymous — they’re mutually exclusive.

Play Ball

04/27/2007, 3:15 pm -- by | 3 Comments

After a prolonged period of meteorological schizophrenia, it appears as though spring is permanently here. And with its arrival, I have just one piece of advice — go play wiffleball. I don’t want to hear that you’re not an athlete, or that you’re not into sports, because wiffleball isn’t really a sport. And yet the beauty of the game is that it is the closest thing we have to pure sport this side of Calvinball.

Wiffleball isn’t a conventional sport because the physics of the ball as it moves through the air levels the playing field in a way rarely seen outside of inner-tube water polo. Anyone can play. Anyone can be a star. Anyone can throw a pitch Tim Wakefield only dreams about. Anyone, no matter how good they are at normal sports, can strike out. Anyone, no matter how bad they are at normal sports, can make the game- winning play.

But what defines true sport in its purest form? It certainly isn’t broadcasting rights or multi-million dollar contracts. It isn’t even a universal set of reproducible rules. It’s about a group of competitors coming together on their own turf and their own terms, striving for the goal or purpose of their game, all the while realizing the striving is the purpose.

Go grab your friends and get your wiffle on. Maybe you’ll poke your finger in one of the holes and pull the wiffle balk. Maybe you’ll channel your childhood (and mine) and circumvent a house instead of bases. Maybe you’ll have a game whose participants, rules and dimensions can never be captured again. Either way, you won’t find a cheaper or more genuine thrill.

Bweinh! Soundtrack — Crash Test Dummies

04/22/2007, 6:00 pm -- by | 6 Comments

Every weekend, a different Bweinh!tributor will discuss a song or songwriter that inspires or interests them. Read the first three soundtrack entries here, here, and here.

Growing up, my parents discouraged listening to secular music, concerned about the influence of the negative themes so prevalent in the genre. There wasn’t any radio play in our house, and I didn’t own my first album until I was sixteen. That was the year my best friend lived with us, and he convinced my brother and me that the three of us should join Columbia House together. We could each get three free albums up front, and then each be on the hook for one additional album in the future.

I knew next to nothing about music at the time, and simply picked groups that produced one song I remembered liking. Through this blind dart throwing, I ended up with a cassette that would help shape my taste in musical style, vocal quality, and lyrical ingenuity. In fact, I ended up with one of the best albums you’ve probably never heard — God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies.

You may remember their one hit, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” At the time, this song led me to believe that, if nothing else, they were a safe choice with no swearing or explicit content. And there was just something about them that caught my interest.

Their lead singer has an incredibly unique voice, so unusually deep that a few years later Steve theorized that perhaps the reason they never had another hit was that he had died of lung cancer. Although there was lyrical support for this theory (“How come I just smoke and smoke and smoke, and curse every butt I spit out?” ; “I’ve had my lungs checked out with X-rays” ; “Maybe I can change the test results that I will get back”), it was decidedly untrue. His voice was unlike anything else I’d heard, captivating, resonating, and decidedly non-pop.

The music relies heavily on acoustic guitar and piano (two of my favorites), and alternates between haunting and happy, with a sound all its own. But what sets the album apart the most are the lyrics. Sometimes they were just plain goofy, but ultimately, this was an album that made me think, that made me question. They covered everything from the pretentiousness of art (“Which should be my favorite paintings?”) to unexpectedly running into an ex (“Like catching a sniff of tequila in the morning, but I’ll try — try to keep my food down”) to psychics (“Would she keep it secret if death stood before me?”).

While they’re clearly not a Christian band, several lyrics suggest a level of Biblical knowledge. My favorite example is the title track, a twist on the creation story. While not meant to be consistent with the Biblical account (God creates blankets and sits in the shade having a picnic with his newly created people), there are many other allusions. At one point the people question God: “If your eye got poked out in this life, would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife?” This reminds me of the Pharisees questioning Jesus about a woman who married several brothers who all died, trying to trick Him. In the song, after God answers the question with an unrelated story, the people still don’t understand, asking, “Was that a parable or a very subtle joke?” The band continues this struggle to understand in a more serious vein in other songs with lyrics like, “Why does God cause things like tornadoes and train wrecks?,” and “When everything seems nicely planned out, well the human race will come and smack your face.”

With this last sentiment I actually couldn’t agree more. We as humans have done a great job messing up the world. Like the Crash Test Dummies, this often leaves me with lots of questions and uncertainty. But this album has also reminded me how glad I am that even when I don’t have all the answers, I know the one who does.

I know the Truth.

Greg Oden Declares Eligibility for Basketball Seniors Tour

04/20/2007, 2:30 pm -- by | No Comments

Greg OdenWeeks of speculation were laid to rest today as Greg Oden announced he would forgo the remainder of his scholastic eligibility, making him available for the upcoming Basketball Seniors Tour draft. Of the athletes who qualify for the Tour draft, which begins at age 55, Oden is seen as the clear-cut number one pick.

“You don’t normally see guys coming into our league who still have that kind of athleticism,” raved one scout.

“And we’re pretty sure his broken wrist last year was not the result of osteoporosis.”

Although the decision was widely anticipated, until today, no one knew for sure if Oden’s professed love for college would outweigh the prestige and riches waiting if he declared.

“I really enjoyed the chance to go back to school,” Oden commented to the throngs gathered at today’s press conference. “They’re right when they say it’s never too late. And I hate to leave so soon. I feel like I still had a lot to learn about the history of rock and roll. But my stock is high right now. I mean, you can’t go any higher than number one, can you?

“Seriously, can you? I didn’t really make it to math class this year.”

Oden declined to comment on whether his decision was affected by his grandson’s impending enrollment at OSU next fall.

The 7-foot sexagenarian closed by summing up in a concise message what took agonizing months to decide:

“My time is now. I’m not getting any younger.”

Circling the Wagons

04/13/2007, 2:30 pm -- by | 4 Comments

There has been a lot of talk on the radio lately about the firing of Don Imus. Many fellow radio hosts, clearly not the most unbiased crowd, have been rallying to his defense, going so far as to call the decision “tragic” and “a disgrace.” Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m having a hard time getting worked up about Don Imus no longer having a platform to spread his particular brand of “humor.”

One of the big complaints by his defenders is that the decision was made for the “wrong reasons.” First off, they’re offended at the perception that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have perhaps successfully brought pressure to bear. I’m not necessarily a fan of either man, and certainly Sharpton should be disgraced by his vilification of the Duke lacrosse players now known to be innocent. But leaving their opportunism and grandstanding aside as red herrings, ultimately this situation comes back to CBS, and of course, to Imus himself.

The other “wrong reason” that has so offended the sensibilities of the radio brethren is that the decision was made not on ethical grounds, but because of money. I would like to pose a challenge to anyone making this argument: find me one decision a broadcast company makes that is not based on money. They are in business to make money, not because they personally enjoy enlarging certain people’s ego and opinions. The only reason Don Imus had a job in the first place was because he garnered ratings and successfully made money for his station. That’s the way business works.

Don Imus is a bigot. This can be stated unequivocally, and his choice of words, on-air and off, not to mention his choice of underlings, have proven this over the last two decades. Even his supporters generally concede this, with one host even going so far as to mount a defense summarized as, “Well, he’s a repeat offender, so why should he be fired this time?” Don Imus is free to believe what he wants, and is even free to say what he wants. Freedom of speech is one of the greatest things about this country. But there is no constitutional right to be given a frequency to daily broadcast your speech, and certainly no guarantee to be paid to do it. Imus’s job was to talk, and so it stands to reason that he would specifically be held accountable for the things he said, and how they affected his company’s image and bottom line.

I’m still having a hard time believing the world is any worse off today without the racism that once daily reached the masses, thanks to Don Imus and the formerly enabling CBS.

And a Good Day To You

04/6/2007, 2:50 pm -- by | No Comments

A common question, even amongst those of the faith, is why Good Friday is called good. I think it’s a fair question, not because I don’t think the day is aptly named, but because I’ve started to wonder why we treat the day the way we do. I’m actually starting to think today is the most underrated of all holidays.

From a secular standpoint, today has never “caught on.” Unlike Christmas and Easter, it has no consumerist traditions to mix with its true meaning. There are no catchy greetings or songs or mascots. It’s just a day off that results in a long weekend, putting it on par with President’s Day (only without the automotive sales) or Labor Day (only without the cookout). The only thing that sets the day apart is a three-hour church service — not the greatest hook for selling candy and greeting cards.

Within the church, Good Friday has always been treated as a very somber day. This seems reasonable, since it commemorates someone’s death. Particularly since the release of the film The Passion, there is a real sense of empathy for what Christ suffered. Certainly this day is an excellent opportunity to reflect on our own need for repentance from the things we have done that put Christ in that position.

But I also think there needs to be more celebration on Good Friday. I don’t think today should just be an appendage to the impending celebration of Easter. Obviously the resurrection was cause for celebration, but so was his death. Just because they didn’t realize it 2000 years ago doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it now. Because we know dying was his purpose, death would be conquered, and that this would set the very foundation of our faith, his death can’t only be viewed as a tragedy.

It would have been tragic if he hadn’t died.

As Paul noted, if Christ had not been raised, our faith is futile. But it was at the moment of his death that the sacrifice was made for our sins. The temple curtain was torn in two, the barrier separating us from God was removed forever, and the price had been paid for our forgiveness.

He died to give me life. I don’t take it lightly, but I do rejoice.

Going Home Again

03/30/2007, 10:00 am -- by | No Comments

One afternoon the three of us decided to set out on an expedition to rediscover one of our old forts. It had been two years since it had been in active use; we had moved on to new territory. Our reasons for the search are long since forgotten, if we ever had any. Maybe we thought we’d left something useful there, maybe we were on a greatest forts tour. Whatever the case, we headed to the campfire circle and out into the woods.

Not too far down the path we came across something that vaguely looked kind of like where the fort maybe should have been. But it couldn’t be; we vividly remembered it being much more impressive. So on we went.

As we got deeper into the woods, we began to wonder why it had never seemed to take this long to reach the fort before. But we couldn’t possibly have passed it yet. Surely we would recognize our own fort.

As we journeyed deeper into the brush, a tree branch knocked off my glasses. My surroundings became a blur. I can’t see anything without my glasses.

“What kind of bush is that?”

Continued here!

This Just In

03/23/2007, 1:00 pm -- by | 5 Comments

Headline on — Pro Wrestlers Allegedly Linked To Steroid Ring

Say it ain’t so! Next you’ll be telling me the matches are fixed!

I know America is still only slowly waking up to the reality that mainstream pro athletes use performance-enhancing drugs far more than we once thought. But for anyone still wondering how many pro wrestlers and body builders use steroids, let me help you out:

All of them.

I’m going to go ahead and assume I didn’t shatter anyone’s innocence with that revelation. But let’s revisit the question of our mainstream athletes — what’s going on? Call me jaded, but depending on the sport, I’m pretty sure they’re all using as well. At the very least, I assume anyone accused is probably guilty.

I know we take a great deal of pride in our legal system’s presumption of innocence, but this is not about sending someone to jail, despite the illegality of many of these substances. This is about realizing that tainted nutritional supplements, mishandled samples, false positives, and B12 shots from teammates, although convenient excuses, can’t possibly be responsible every time. In fact, they probably never were.

I understand why we want to believe. Part of the enjoyment of watching these athletes perform hinges on our amazement at their physical abilities, which are far more impressive if they’re natural gifts, not unhealthy chemical upgrades. Sports have also traditionally been imbued with a sense of purity and honor. This is perhaps most true and most troubling in the Olympics; we’re raised to believe in the magic of the Games, but it’s painfully obvious that all the sprinters are doping. We may still want to believe in the records, in the spirit of the Games, but it’s getting more and more implausible. The question is not if they’re juicing, but when and whether they’ll be caught. How long can we even pretend to believe?

Like many sports fans, my disenchantment actually stems from baseball. I was raised by my dad to be a fan of the San Francisco Giants, just as his dad raised him. The first summer I really got into the team was the summer of ’93, the year they had two 20-game winners, a record-setting closer, an MVP masher, and 103 wins, but still missed the playoffs to the hated Braves by one game — the year before the wild card.

It was also the summer of arrival for that MVP masher, Mr. Barry Bonds. We stole him in free agency from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and over the next decade, he almost single-handedly made us contenders every season. He was the best ballplayer of my time, and he played for my team.

But in the late ’90s, at an age when most athletes begin to decline, he saw an otherworldly jump in production, amidst increasing whispers that something foul was afoot. Every Bonds at-bat was a must-see event, every season made me proud to be a Giants fan, even as speculation mounted. As my dad and I clung to our hope and the lack of proof, Bonds kept setting astronomical records, culminating in carrying us to within 5 outs of a 2002 championship we should have won.

Then, in 2003, the BALCO scandal broke, exposing numerous athletes, including Bonds, as probable users. As my dad clung to his last shred of hope that it was a mistake, I experienced a much different and unexpected emotion. I was relieved the Giants lost the World Series; a victory would have been tainted for me.

And so this season I’m left to feel ambivalent about the best player of my lifetime, playing for my favorite team and potentially breaking the most hallowed record in all of sports. With new testing, I’d like to think he’s not juicing now, or that the bulk of his stats amassed before the late-career body change were clean. I still support his case for the Hall of Fame.

But the facts remain — there are people working very hard to stay ahead of drug detection. Athletes can be dirty for years, sometimes even entire careers, and not test positive, so it’s far more likely there are guilty athletes we don’t suspect than that there are innocent athletes we do. I’m sorry, but I’ve just lost my ability to believe.

Daylight Savings Time

03/16/2007, 12:25 pm -- by | No Comments

DanielI’m kicking myself. I feel there’s nothing I can say but “I’m sorry.” As the last man out the door at week’s end here at Bweinh!, I should have used last Friday’s article to issue a Daylight Savings reminder. I know at least one person it would have saved.

The relative dearth of Daylight Savings reminders has come to baffle me in recent years. It seems pretty important, the kind of thing that should be noted everywhere. Posters should be put up around town, commercials should air at least once an hour, major websites should have a headline, that sort of thing. But the only place I ever seem to get reminded is church. I guess the rest of the world figures you’ve got an entire day to catch up if you’re a little slow.

Since my parents are pastors, I never had to worry about Daylight Savings growing up, at least not for myself. Sometimes I worried if we’d be the only ones in church that week, but that’s about it. Since I’ve been an adult, it’s been a little more complicated, particularly during the period of my life when I wasn’t working for a church. During that time, my “strategy” for keeping up with the clock changes basically involved someone mentioning it offhand on either Friday or Saturday, followed by surprise I made no attempt to hide.

PhilBelieve it or not, this method has some holes. Last year, my roommate was away for the weekend, I didn’t make my customary Saturday call to the folks, and I didn’t go out. Days later, my girlfriend at the time said she should have called to remind me, but, um, didn’t. Even so, I still could have been saved by my friendly neighborhood cell towers. I use my cell phone as an alarm clock, and these clocks update automatically. My alarm should have gone off at the new correct time; from there it’s debatable if I would have figured out why, or even noticed that the rest of my clocks didn’t match up.

Instead, my alarm didn’t go off at all, and I was awakened by a call from my pastor. It was 10 AM, time for Sunday School, but I wasn’t present, despite my scheduled participation (more on that in a minute). I was entirely confused, even after she informed me of Daylight Savings. My alarm still should have gone off at the wrong 8:30, after all, but my alarm was still set and my clock now showed the correct time. Then I realized: instead of updating at the standard 2 AM, my clock corrected itself at 8 AM, sprung forward to 9, and passed over my wakeup call.

Phil Back Since church at the time was a 35-minute drive from my house, I had to skip my Sunday School duties that week. Each week I had been dressing up as a different Biblical Superhero and acting out the story. We had character cards the kids could collect — for instance, “Lion Master,” with the story of Daniel on the back, and “Water Walker,” a more aquatic-themed costume with the story of Peter. During the week I took the card to the thrift store and bought supplies to match the costume as closely as I could. Costume making is actually something I’ve enjoyed since childhood, and although my replications weren’t professional, they also weren’t half-bad, if I dare say so myself.

Anyway, my character for that week was “Wind Rider,” based on Philip and the time he preached the Gospel to an Ethiopian, then was whisked away instantly to another city miles away. And there I was, miles from where I needed to be, wondering if just maybe that week’s costume might actually work.

Listen Up!

03/9/2007, 10:30 am -- by | 5 Comments

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by commercials. I have little doubt that if the Lord hadn’t called me into ministry I would have studied advertising. Even now, I like to break it down, analyzing the techniques and messages.

I have a bit of a soft spot for the “Not available in stores!” approach to television advertising. With its cornball acting, too good to be true design, call in the next five minutes ultimatum, and $X.99 price (but wait, there’s more!), it’s a tried and true formula for hundreds of products, none of which I have ever seen in anyone’s home.

Today I want to take a look at a product I just recently discovered: the Listen Up! personal sound amplifier. It promises to “turn ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” Basically, it appears to be a microphone shaped like an iPod.

Why would you want such a product? For one, it’s “so powerful, you can hear a pin drop from across the room!” Of course, depending on the surface, you may already be able to do that on your own — and that’s not a very coveted ability anyway.

But the Listen Up! does have a wide array of desirable and legitimate purposes, like if you wanted to watch TV with the volume down after your spouse was already asleep: very considerate. Or if you needed a little help hearing the pastor’s sermon: very pious. Or if you were trying to get a keener experience from your nature walks: very serene. Or if you wanted to listen in on people’s private conversations from across a crowded room: very creepy.

I couldn’t believe this last point was being used as a serious sales technique, even if the manufacturers anticipated that interest in the product would tend toward the sinister. First off, strictly from a credibility standpoint, I’m a bit dubious that $14.99 (but wait, there’s more!) is enough to get you the kind of parabolic technology you’d need to focus on one particular voice in a room full of noise. But more importantly, I can’t believe a company would acknowledge, let alone endorse, this antisocial use of their product.

So the next time you look across the room at the guy in ear buds you assume is rocking out, remember: he just might be a low-budget spy wondering why the entire room is so loud.

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