Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sports! Sports! Sports!

I normally don't delve into sports on this blog for several reasons. One, at last count there were 1,083,221 sports blogs in the United States. Two, most people refuse to believe that I have an interest in the subject, which I try not to take as an assault on my manhood.

But rather than spout off every time I have something to say, I thought I'd just let it all out in one lightning round. Here goes.

- Charlie Weis can recruit, and that's it. He should be fired at the end of the season, no matter what happens.

- Notre Dame needs to do some serious soul-searching to figure out why the sport that subsidizes all others on campus is the only one not doing well (see: men's basketball, women's basketball, women's soccer, hockey, fencing...).

- Tim Brewster is a thinner Charlie Weis.

- This is the most exciting ND basketball team in my lifetime, and that dates back to Digger Phelps' best teams of the '70s. Regardless of what happens tonight against UNC, this team is one for the ages.

- You said "Tavaris Jackson." Survey says... no.

- You said "Brad Childress." Survey says... no.

- The three best live sporting events I've ever seen are: 1) the 1977 ND thumping of USC; 2) the Minnesota Kicks (of the ill-fated NASL) defeating the NY Cosmos 9-2 at Met Stadium in a driving rainstorm; 3) the Minnesota Twins' comeback this past season against the dreaded White Sox (before handing them the division title by choking against the Royals).

- Little-known fact: ND has not had a consistently good team since signing the NBC deal. Coincidence?

- Michael Floyd is the best receiver to ever wear an Irish uniform. He will transfer or go pro after next season.

- Current ND football players with Ryan Grant Syndrome (they look mediocre while at ND; they will do well in the NFL): Jimmy Clausen, the entire secondary, most of the offensive line.

- Lacrosse is actually a fun sport to watch.

- The Wild are riding a hot goaltender. This bubble too shall burst.

- The hapless Timberwolves are better than their record. Must be a coaching thing.

- Luke Harangody is Tim Kempton on steroids, cocaine and meth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy in Theory

It's in my nature to take silver linings and look for clouds. So I must do so with the impending Obama presidency. This is a man I strongly supported, whom I voted for with glee, and whose judgment I've instinctively trusted since his now-famous DNC speech in 2004 almost had me standing and saluting in the living room.

There must be something wrong with the guy.

Here's my theory (and I use that word for a reason). You have an American male in his 40s, with a beautiful wife and two healthy, adorable daughters. He's Columbia and Harvard-educated, obviously smarter than 99.9 percent of humanity--which is exactly what you want in a president--but also focused and pragmatic enough to have beaten the Clinton Machine and won an election in an electoral landslide... despite being (truly) African American, having a "funny name," etc. etc. He's being compared to FDR and Lincoln even before taking the oath of office, and in fact he's a student of said former presidents.

This is the problem. Can you be as good as people simply by studying them? I'm not an FDR expert, but I know he lived with the debilitating effects of polio (or Guillain-Barré Syndrome, as some now believe). Lincoln was in many ways a mess, a man plagued by severe bouts of depression and who saw two of his children die before reaching their teens. Abe and FDR went through a LOT more than Obama has before leading their country.

In a bigger sense, I worry that each American generation, by virtue of our wealth and success (the last eight years not withstanding), has grown farther and farther removed from the deep and tragic hardships of its predecessors. Most of us expect to live long. We don't expect our children to die. We have drugs to mitigate every pain we might encounter, if we can afford them. The necessary self-denial of our individual and collective mortality is at an all-time high, because it's simply easier than ever before.

Is having some of those experiences a pre-requisite for good leadership and judgment? One can argue that they might hinder more than hurt, and that I'm glorifying pain, disease and depression in an almost tasteless way. I'll just say this: If Obama were exactly who he is, but had also weathered Joe Biden's (or John McCain's) personal and family tragedies, I'd feel reassured.

How terrible is that?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Subconscious Retro Sentimentality Disorder

So I'm driving a friend's car last week, and he has satellite radio. After getting my fill of Sinatra tunes on what must have been called Martini Radio, I switched over to the final preset, which must have been called "Marc Conklin's Formative Teenage Years Radio."

The song: "Shakin'" by Eddie Money. You know the tune...

Shakin' (Whoh-oh-oh-oh-on)
Snappin' her fingers (Whoh-oh-oh-oh-on)
She was movin' up and down
Round and round and round
That girl was shakin'
Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-she was shakin'

In an instant, I was transported back to 1982. South Bend, Indiana. 1235 Longfellow. Basement. Plaid couch. Off-brand Korean TV. Planter's Cheese Balls, bottle of Coke. Eyes full of MTV. Head full of LA Looks hair gel.

The odd thing was, this wasn't a song I particularly liked when I was 13. But now, 26 years later, as I headed toward the traffic light (and approached the halfway point), it struck me as not that bad, really. Quite good, in fact. God-awful lyrics, sure. But hey, Eddie had a fairly unique voice. The guitar riff was first rate. Good beat. Great hook. What's not to like?

So the question is, what has happened in my brain during those intervening years? The song is the same--it's the constant in this experiment. But I'm different. Is it a sudden change triggered by hearing the song again, or has my subconscious been slowly, meticulously making every song from my youth seem better over time?

Either way, the truth of the matter is this: More and more songs that I hated from this period now seem to range from "not that bad after all" to "downright good." Most embarrassingly, this phenomenon even applies to "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls and virtually anything by Duran Duran. Let me be clear: I DESPISED these bands at the time, choosing instead (in part because I was learning to play guitar) an allegiance with what is now called "classic rock," worshiping the virtuoso musicianship of Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, all of the Beatles and two out of three of Rush. Now, it's as if taste has flown out the window.

I've decided to call this disease SRSD, or Subconscious Retro Sentimentality Disorder. SRSD is a nervous condition that causes you to respond to songs not with your head (which still shuns them), but with your heart, which glorifies that fleeting time in life when hours could be devoted to nothing but the art of listening to music. When you could close the door to the room you shared with your brother, reach into the vinyl treasures in the Peach Tree Records crate, pull out The Cars' eponymous first album, slip on those soft, cavernous Pioneer headphones, lie back in the beanbag chair and just close your eyes.

I still love music, and I embrace the iPod age fully. I listen to Pandora on my iPhone at work all the time. I still play a little guitar, and I'm helping my son learn to play piano. Last weekend, I stood for three hours watching The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers at First Avenue in Minneapolis. But at some point, music ceases to be the soundtrack of your life, and it takes on a smaller, sadder, more auxiliary role.

Eddie Money taught me that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Son Is Not Normal

I was presented with this when I got home last night. That's "Pay to the Order of Cash, $8, for a guitar." Santa Claus is in for a rude awakening...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some Perspective

Twenty years ago, I was living in a small house in Maynooth, Ireland--a lucky college student spending his sophomore year abroad. During those nine months, I traveled to every corner and crag of the Emerald Isle, and spent time in England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Israel, as well. I saw AK-47-toting soldiers board my bus in Belfast. I watched the first intifada from a West Bank rooftop. I stayed in the house of a Hungarian woman whose only English words were, "Chicago, bang bang!" I busked on Grafton Street in Dublin and strummed "American Pie" to an enthusiastic group of native Irish-speaking publicans on the island of Inisheer. Yes, I also watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, climbed the Eiffel Tower, heard the chimes of the Glockenspiel in Munich, glided along Venetian canals, skied the Alps and celebrated Easter mass in Bethlehem. But the truest impression, especially as an American Studies major, was the revelation that I didn't really know my country until I had left it.

It left me somewhat obsessed with the concept of "perspective," that there are multiple, perhaps infinite, ways of looking at people, places and ideas. How does one acquire the perfect perspective, which theoretically allows for the best judgment? It's an impossibility. But the simple act of seeing something familiar from the outside is, without a doubt, a substantial move in the right direction.

For me, this presidential election wasn't about party, wasn't about age, wasn't about race. It was about perspective. As a quick read of Fahreed Zakaria's The Post American World drives home, a contextual, multi-lens perspective of America is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity. As the conservative columnist David Brooks recently wrote:

"There are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action. Over the past few centuries, public policy analysts have assumed that step three is the most important. But that way of thinking has failed spectacularly. So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception."

I was grateful to have a choice in this presidential election between two people who struck me as serious, perspective-rich candidates, rather than mindless ideologues. But I couldn't help wondering if their lenses of perspective were most deeply shaped by their formative experiences abroad: one as a child in a time of peace, the other as a prisoner of war.

Did we elect the candidate with the best ability to perceive, to judge and to act for the common good? After watching election returns for five hours, I found myself stringing an American flag from our front-yard maple tree at 1 in the morning. For me, the answer is clear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


And no. The Bachmann 3000 still lives. The goal two years from now: Vote out all anti-science, global-warming-denying, non-critical-thinking incurious homophobic idealogues.