This, That, and the Other

October 13, 2008

Who was the first person to ever get bored? I find myself pondering this as I am, as you would expect after such a question, bored out of my skull (which is an odd phrase anyway). But really, when you take a look at the big picture, modern technologies have made life so much easier in so many ways that we’ve managed to under-use ourselves. Hence boredom. Perhaps it is my own lack of historical knowledge, but it seems as though there was so much physical effort put into every day tasks, that rest and “free time” was really a luxury to be fully taken advantage of.

Boredom takes effort, that’s my opinion on it. It’s an effort to not find anything to do. We all have things to do, but it’s in avoiding them that we drone ourselves out. Currently, I’m at work (don’t worry, it’s my lunch hour). I’ve got things to do, but none of them are pressing or due for a long while, and as such I am avoiding them. Sure, I could finish these things off, but then I’d have nothing to do, and that’s a concept that many of us can’t seem to handle, myself included. So at least it’s there. But what to do in the meantime? These are the difficult questions I face each day.

Interestingly enough (in my view anyway), the weather played a substantial role in the quietness of my life over the last three or so weeks. My phone went with me to the Michigan State v. Florida Atlantic football game, that was played in what was basically a continuous downpour. Despite not getting water damaged (which is probably a cell-phone miracle) my phone managed to cease any and all functioning after the game. This didn’t really upset me. I don’t like the phone. It’s generally awkward and tends to end up bothering me when I’d rather that it not. Anyway, my replacement phone came and so did the intrusions that come along with it. Funny how having a phone and an e-mail address is what constitutes being in contact with the world nowadays.

Speaking of Michigan State Football (that would make more sense if you knew how my brain functioned, or didn’t), I was excited to see them beat Northwestern pretty convincingly on Saturday. Javon Ringer did his thing again, which is becoming a nice little expectation to have. But it was at the beginning of the 4th Quarter when I realized how conditioned I was when it came to MSU football games. MSU was ahead 17 points going into the 4th quarter. Most fans would be excited (as I was) and relaxed (as I was not) with that kind of lead. It’s getting better, but when you’ve grown up with it you take those extra precautions not to get burned.

And as much as I love Ringer (not that I know him personally) and as great as he is on the football field, Sam Bradford has to be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy right now. Yes, Oklahoma lost to Texas, but Bradford had a great game throwing for 5 touchdowns. McCoy’s team won, but Bradford played better. It turns out, 22 players are on a football field at a time. It wasn’t Bradford vs. McCoy. I was impressed with Texas. That’s a great team. Bradford’s a great quarterback.

And as for the Heisman Trophy, the voting process bothers me. It bothers a lot of people. It has basically turned into an award for the starting QB on the best team in the country. The trophy is supposed to go to the Most Outstanding Player, not the most valuable. Somewhere along the way, that got completely thrown to the side. If there’s a great player who plays for a bad team, they should absolutely be considered for the award. In fact, it truly is more impressive for a player to put up great numbers on a bad team than it is on a great team. But through a cruel twist of fate it ends up working against them. Just another example of how mass groups of people are generally stupid.

As John Stewart put it, “For anybody out there who has been living in a cave let me say this, congratulations…” As we are all aware, the U.S. economy is in the crapper. Banks are failing, Wall Street is in full-on panic mode, and the Bush Administration is pushing a $700 billion bailout plan. I’m not really sure how I feel about the bailout plan, so I’ll leave that alone. In fact, I’m not touching any of it.

What is clear is this: The United States primarily functions on panic. Whether it be terrorism, a lack of moral standards, a high profile crime, the 2004 Presidential Election, or the current economic collapse, the primary response is panic. Take a look at Hurricane Ike. Ike was heading for Texas. Somewhere down South somebody freaked out that it would damage the oil infrastructure, so they raised their prices. Others noticed and changed their prices. Then, in what may have been a world record for largest game of “Telephone” ever played, people started calling everybody they knew to inform them of the gas price surge. Lines were almost immediately formed at gas stations all around the country. Somehow, everyone seemed surprised. But it was the same reaction this country had to every previous “disaster” going back to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. That one event changed the psychology of an entire country.

Panic is now a fixed mentality for U.S. citizens. It is essentially unavoidable. The run on gas prior to Hurricane Ike has helped start up a rather inconvenient gas shortage in the Southeast. Gas stations are closing down and pumps are dry. How should we respond? By panicking more, obviously. Take this winner of a quote for example, “No gas. What will we do? We won’t be able to do anything. We can’t go to work. We can’t do anything.” This came from a driver, or perhaps a sitter, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Similar sentiments were shared in Charlotte, North Carolina, “This is it; I’m stuck…I can’t go get my child, I can’t go get my husband, I can’t provide for my family.” Clearly, this is prelude to a disaster of epic proportions.

The most disturbing part of this, for me, is the utter dependence that our society has on automobiles. Now, as a Michigan resident, I am fully aware of the benefits of the auto industry, and, as a traveler, am also aware at the freedoms and conveniences that a car provides. But, that said, are we seriously that lazy? Are we really so dependent on our cars that a lack of gas means that we are stuck wherever we end up when the tank runs dry? I could be wrong here, but I, for one, am not entirely convinced that our legs and feet were created to alternately push a gas pedal and brake (and a clutch for those of you who are awesome enough to own a stick-shift). It’s times, and comments, like these that make me wonder if we really will end up like all of the humans did in the Pixar movie Wall-E (which was excellent by the way). Except, I don’t think the whites and blacks will really kill off all of the Asians, Latinos, Hispanics, Indians, etc. along the way (I’d include Native Americans, but I’m not betting against our history on that one). Anybody else notice that?

Somewhere along the way, it became an unwritten rule that you can no longer walk down the street to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. It became unacceptable to ride your bike into work, or just about anywhere else. I’m not sure if it was the helmet thing or not (suggestions for cool bike helmets welcome), but seeing someone on a bike somehow managed to give us a sense of superiority. “I’m in a car. I can go faster. Loser.” We would think these things to ourselves. Meanwhile, they were thinking, “Fatty.” In reality, if more of us biked into work, those people would be in better shape and it would help clear the roads for those who really do need to drive. Thin out traffic. Reduce pollution. Stay healthier. Simple, right? Probably not.

I’m not trying to say that cars are evil. Cars are great. But when did we become so utterly reliant on them? When did our legs become the things that got us from the house to the car, and back again? We need to re-think things a little bit. Not in the, scrap every car in the world sense, but in really thinking how much we really need to use them. Are you shopping for $300 in groceries, or do you just need milk? How about biking two or three miles into work? Little things.

Unfortunately, the question of how to alleviate the panic reaction in our society is a much more complicated question. The events of September 11, 2001 (there’s an overused phrase) have damaged our societal psychological make-up, and that doesn’t get fixed by one or two people. It doesn’t get fixed in one or two years. But it does start at the top with The Leadership, and it’s not just the President. It’s pastors, parents, principals and teachers as well as our elected officials and CEOs. We need people of strength and character in these positions, and it’s our responsibility to provide the checks necessary to make sure that is the case. We cannot live as a blind society as we have been. That’s a big part of the reason we are in the state we are in right now.

Like they say, “You sleep in the bed you make.” Maybe I should find a cave (don’t worry, I’ll hike there).


September 19, 2008

In general, I like to think that each individual person is relatively intelligent. I’m not always able to convince myself of this principle, but it’s something I try to hold onto. (Conversely, I am completely convinced that groups of people are entirely unintelligent and prone to idiotic thinking and moribund tendencies.) Unfortunately, but like most people, there are some things that people tend to do that just bother me in that odd unsettling kind of way. Some examples:

– Elevator etiquette. This covers a wide range of gaffes, but the most common seem to be repeatedly pressing the up/down button (somehow assuming this actually helps speed up the process), watching someone else press the up/down button and then walking up to press the same button whilst giving a look like they didn’t do it right, or staring at you as if you are directly responsible for the slowness of the elevator. The two that bother me the most, however, are the people who stand directly in front of the elevator door and refusing to move out of the way of those who are trying to get off, and the people who believe they are too good to wait an extra 30 seconds and use the service elevators with signs that read something like “Maintenance Personnel Only.” Somehow, elevators have somehow brought out the negatives in people that stairs had managed, for so long, to avoid. So much for that.

– Driving habits: You’ve all seen them. They talk on the phone, swerve three lanes at a time, drive 25 mph over/under the speed limit, tailgate just about anything, and whatever else. The two (I’ll stick with that number today I suppose) that bug me the most? People who insist on texting while they drive (because, obviously, nothing could ever happen on the road while you’re looking down) and people who don’t use their blinker. The blinker is the simplest courtesy you can offer while in a car but is often overlooked. The confusion on their faces if you dare to honk at them can be priceless though. Texting is, altogether, idiotic. I was recently provided with an opportunity to watch a driver slam into the back of another car because she was texting and didn’t realize that 15 other cars were stopped at the traffic light during the 5 o’clock hour. What would have been amusing (if it weren’t so irrationally upsetting) was watching her get out of the car to swear at the driver of the parked car for stopping so suddenly. I guess sitting at a red light for 15 seconds can be considered by some to be a rude proposition. Fortunately, three other drivers popped out of their cars to give her a piece of their collective minds. Not surprisingly, the police officers didn’t buy her side of the story (whatever she managed to b.s. to them) either.

– Work etiquette. I have the privilege (or horror, rather) of sharing a cubicle with another employee two days every week. I am appalled at the number of texts, personal phone calls, and other recreational activities that permeate their unconscionable attitude. Heavy sighs and crass language follow just about every work request. Upon receiving a phone call, one of the first words from their mouth is, “chillin’,” which, I suppose, is true considering their definitely not working. The computer screen is continually adjusted away from me with flashes of ire as I, apparently, am interrupting whatever it is that their doing. What’s even more surprising is the number of personal phone calls, consisting of some new offer or opportunity, come to our main office line in an effort to get a hold of them. Somehow, they don’t see this as a problem. I, on the other hand, am forced to listen to one side of whatever inane “conversation” that happens to be going on at the time.

Everyone has their buttons, the things that bug them. These just happen to be a few of mine. Well, most of them really. I find that it is usually pretty easy for me to just let things slide, especially considering many of my own eccentricities. But, for each person, there are those little things that just get under your skin. Those pet peeves. Well, these are mine.

Why does everybody seem to care so much about Tom Brady? Well, let me change that. People don’t really care about Tom Brady, they care about Tom Brady’s left knee. It’s strange, but it’s true. Even more remarkable is that, I would guess, about 95% of people only care about his injury because of Fantasy Football. I’ll own up to it, I play Fantasy Football. But unlike the other guys I play with (and most people around the country), I’ll root for my fantasy player to have a bad game and for his team to lose. (Obviously, I’d like him to have a good game and have his team lose, but that doesn’t always go hand-in-hand) I’m only 25, so I don’t think the “old-fashioned” argument works so well here, but the game should always be about the team, not the player.

Fantasy Football is a hobby, and, honestly, I don’t spend that much time on it. Maybe, as a Detroit Lions fan, I should try and focus less on the real game and more on the fantasy team, but that just doesn’t work for me. The point of the game is for the team to win, not for some player to do massively well so a few people can pretend to look smart for a week. Fantasy Football and gambling have both played big roles in breaking down the NFL. Most argue that the NFL is better than ever, but, to me and a lot of others, it’s more boring than ever. The players aren’t safe anymore and fewer and fewer people actually care about the game. Players whine about just about anything they can think of. Coaches are fired in a New York Minute. Ticket prices are absurd. Respect has gone out the window in favor of self-celebration and controversy. The NFL has exploded with ego, and it’s despicable.

Gambling has really gone under the radar as it relates to the NFL. I’m not sure how this is possible, but nobody seems to care. I spaced out for a while during lunch today and started wondering how much money was lost by how many people this last Sunday because of one guy’s left knee. It’s stupid, irresponsible, and foolish. And somehow it is considered to be just a part of the game. Anything goes as long as it brings in money and interest.

The Brady thing really bugs me though. Suddenly, there is an outpouring of sympathy. He is held up as a hero, though no one could give you any good reason why. He is regarded as one of the “few, really good guys” in the league, somehow overlooking the smug, “me first” attitude along with getting a woman pregnant and then shacking up with a supermodel. Wow, such a role model. He is a very public example of someone I hope my kids (who are currently theoretical) don’t grow up to be.

A View From The Press Box

September 7, 2008

This Saturday, my dad and I were treated to a couple of press passes for the Michigan State v. Eastern Michigan game, and it was quite an experience. Everything was top notch, from the view, environment, food and the service. The game itself was rather enjoyable as well, as it is always fun to see MSU play a good game and, of course, win. Anyway, I haven’t yet had the chance to go through the Skandalaris Center (which is rather impressive looking in its own right, and has garnered rave reviews), but the Press Boxes were a wonderful upgrade to the stadium from a few years back. It is a great way to take in a game.

And so, this college football season is well under way and promises to deliver on all of the blind optimism and controversy that seems to surround each season. I am, admittedly, a Big Ten fan, but couldn’t help but root for Bowling Green to beat Minnesota this week. Minnesota managed to win without much trouble, but it’s really just that Brewster bothers me. He and Ron Zook don’t exactly exude the straight-forward, honest approach. Probably why I was glad to see Missouri beat Illinois (and I’m not Missouri fan). We’ll see what comes of the year, but I won’t be sad to see either of those two teams lose on any given Saturday.

Moving from the college game to the NFL, this afternoon the Detroit Lions kicked off their season in typical fashion, losing rather convincingly to the 2nd worst NFL team from the 2007 season. Optimism abounds. Given how horrible they have been for so long, it actually has become funny, even as a fan. Maybe it’s a bad joke. Maybe it’s an inside joke. Either way, I think it’s pretty funny. I won’t be expecting any sort of amazing turnaround as long as Ford Jr. runs the team and Matt Millen is involved. Hire any coach you want, bring in any players you want, it still isn’t getting fixed. They aren’t even close to being any good, so let’s stop pretending it could ever happen.

Until next weekend. Well, for football (Thursday games don’t count).

Here we are in the middle of the Republican National Convention, and I feel like throwing up. Somehow, there are still two months left before the actual election. Both parties are recklessly attacking each other without any clue as to what is actually going on and what people actually think. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that people are really all that big on thinking. In case you haven’t noticed, apparently Barack Obama is black (and according to many a Muslim as well) and Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton are women. These seem to be the two biggest issues.

What it comes down to for me is this: McCain’s stances on Iraq, health care, and the economy are pretty out of whack, and Obama actually has some pretty interesting ideas. The Iraq stuff really is the scariest part though, even more so than McCain’s general policy agreements with President Bush (check the Congressional Quarterly’s Voting Studies).

Maybe I should go on vacation. These campaigns are brutal.

Update: I watched McCain’s speech last night, as the RNC came to a close, and was completely floored by his comments on education. McCain condemned the public school system. I guess if you’re a part of that “private schools world” then it probably doesn’t seem like a stretch to show no remorse about the possibility of killing off the publics, and that’s exactly what he personifies. Frightening.

To sum up their speeches: What Obama said, and what McCain said.

A Look Back

August 23, 2008

Even though this isn’t my first year not going back to school (it’s only my 2nd though), the start of the school year gets me thinking back to where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Indirectly, it seems, I end up thinking about where I am now, but it’s really more of a residual effect coming from the “done/will do” thoughts.

This week my cousin Lisa moved in to her new dorm room at MSU to start her freshman year. Three years ago, her older sister began her first year of college at UM (much to the dismay of the rest of her family). They are the first of my cousins to get to college, and only two others are even in high school. What’s different for me is that I remember when Lisa was born, so now I’m feeling pretty old. That’s pretty bad when you’re 25 and you feel old. I’m sure sticking around a big college area doesn’t really help, but that’s kind of how it is right now. It’s just interesting to me that it was seven years ago when I started my freshman year.
Seven years is a long time when you’re 25.

I look back with fondness on my time at MSU. Sure, I had my fair share of ups and downs, but the downs don’t really seem all that bad with those seven years to gain some perspective. There’s a couple of things I wish I would have done differently (taking my classes more seriously in general, for example), but nothing overly different from what most graduates would say. One thing I wish I would have done was to live in the dorms. Somehow I managed to avoid that, which usually feels like a good thing, but I wonder what kinds of different experiences I would have had being exposed to that environment 24/7. I did end up spending a lot of time and nights in the dorms anyway, but nothing like what it would have been if that’s where I lived. Who knows? I’m not really sure I even care all that much. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about with Lisa now moved in for her freshman year.

I went to the Philippines for a month in the Summer of 2006 with Food for the Hungry. Ever since, it’s been an experience that continually finds its way into my mind. There were so many different things that went on, so many things we saw, so many people we met that it’s hard not to think about it. In fact, I’m not sure that, even two years later, I’ve really digested it all. Unfortunately, my contact with people there has been limited, which really bothers me at times. I just went through all of my pictures (from numerous trips and events) to find which ones I wanted to print off and had a little bit of a difficult time going through my Philippines pictures. It’s on my heart a lot. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m assuming it means something. I need the discipline to try and figure it out. So far, it hasn’t been there. It’s been a long two years in a lot of ways.

When I think about the places I’ve been and what I’ve seen, it gets me thinking a little bit of where I want to go. Mostly, I have no idea. I’m not even sure what I’m doing now (or why), so the “where am I going” question tends to go overlooked. At the moment, just about the only thing I’m thinking about in that respect is where do I want to go for my next trip. I went to Germany and a couple other places last summer with some friends, and I was in the Philippines (though that wasn’t really a vacation type of trip) the summer before. I went to London for a week later last summer as well. So, it’s kind of like, “where next?” I want to go to Africa, but I’d really like to go with my friend Hannah, who’s from there, and that isn’t looking likely any time soon. So we’ll see about that. I have some other friends I’d like to go see, but I don’t ever seem to do anything. Something needs to happen.

Honestly, I feel as though I complain far too much for how easy my life is. When the big difficulty in life is trying to find out what to do next (this involves a new job as well, but I manage to keep putting that off as well), you’ve got things pretty darn good. I need to keep reminding myself of that, but, for as much as I like to talk to myself, I manage to keep finding ways to avoid that conversation. Baby steps (or something).

If I end up disappearing sometime this fall, it’s safe to assume I finally went somewhere. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it. I’m not.