On Giving Advice

Do you give advice?

I do.

I tend to hand out a lot of advice, actually. This is partly because I’m a fascinating man with a wide variety of life experiences, and partly because I know everything about everything. Well, I mean, I was wrong once. I thought I was wrong, but it turned out I was right. Now, there is a certain art to handing out advice. A technique, if you will, that will readily distinguish the classic and selfless conveyor of valuable information from the sort of random mumbling nutbag often found on street corners and public transportation. (And because I know that someone who thinks they’re clever will at this point ask ‘which one are you again?’ I’ll go ahead and assert that I am the selfless conveyor, and not the mumbling nutbag.)

If you want to be able to give good advice, here are some things that I have found to be helpful. Like the Ten Commandments, the first two are the most important.

1. Start by asking “Do you want my advice?” This helps you avoid wasting your time on someone who is not going to listen to you. Also, there are only a few things in this world more unwelcome than unsolicited advice and adhering to this rule may help you avoid getting thrown out of a window,

2. You have to listen. Even if they’re boring, you still have to listen. Listening is the key to giving good advice.

These next three aren’t always strictly necessary but like with a magician, people often appreciate a little showmanship, it makes them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

3. Start by leaning back in your chair. If you like, and you’re not too clumsy, maybe tip it back onto two legs. This indicates that you’re looking at The Big Picture, and appreciating their problem’s place in The Wider Scope of Things.

4. Narrow your eyes. This indicates that you’re bringing all of your considerable brain-power to bear on the problem. You may also wish to make some sort of sucking sound with your teeth, to indicate that you’re thinking really hard.

5. Lean forward again and/or let your chair thump back onto all four legs. This indicates that you’re come to a decision, and are now ready to render a verdict in the case of Person You Know v. Problem.

Now we come to the actual advice giving.

6. Extend your dominant hand and wag your index finger in their general direction. This focuses their attention and primes them for the pearls of wisdom you’re about to bestow. Then preface your remarks with one of the following phrases: ‘I tell you what…’; ‘You know what you oughta do…’ or ‘Here’s what you oughta do…’ It’s a nice little formality before the chaos, kind of like how the The Star-Spangled Banner is played before a Lions game.

7. Depending on the kind of advice handed out, it may be necessary to add some sort of disclaimer. These may include, but are not limited to, such statements as ‘but that’s just me…’ or ‘I’m not a lawyer, though.’

It should be noted that, all jokes aside, giving advice is an actual responsibility and should be taken fairly seriously.

– Don’t give people bad advice on purpose because you think it’s funny. That’s a dick move.

– Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear, tell them what you honestly think is the best thing for them to do.

– Don’t tell what you want them to do, or what will work out best for you. That’s also a dick move, especially the latter.

– Tell them honestly what you think is the best thing for them to do and then leave it be. At this point, it’s up to them. Whether they take your advice or not, if you’ve done the best you can by them, then your conscience is clear.

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The Gift Of Figuring It Out Yourself

I was thinking about Gideon the other day.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Gideon, well, you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000. Gideon’s story can be found in the book of Judges, chapters 6-8 specifically, if you want to read it for yourself. But basically, it runs like this:

Gideon is going about his normal day, doing his normal day work and all of a sudden God shows up and says ‘Hey, I want you to free the Israelites from foreign oppression, work yourself up an army son.’ And then, and this is the important part, he disappears without saying a whole lot more. Gideon isn’t super convinced at first that God has found the right cat for the job, but he warms to the task after a bit and works himself up an army. He marches this army down to a spring and then God shows up again and says ‘Eh, you might have actually done too good a job here, son. I don’t want y’all thinking you did this by yourself. Tell you what, how about you keep about 1% of your soldiers there and tell the rest they can bounce.’ And then, again he disappears without saying a whole lot more. So now Gideon is left without about 300 dudes to take on this vast foreign army that’s camped below him. He and a buddy of his sneak on down to the enemy camp to do a little reconnaissance and there he finds out that the enemy soldiers are already assuming they’re going to lose to him. So he goes back up to his camp, puts together this devious plan and then goes and ambushes the enemy out of their pants. A fearful slaughter ensues, princes and kings and chieftains are slain, and with the enemy not really in a position to do a whole lot of oppressing anymore, Gideon goes back and settles down to a long life of not ruling Israel.

Yeah, it is a great story, and I do tell it well, thanks for noticing. But I do hear rumblings of discontent from the audience there in the back. The question of modern-day relevance has been raised. I will admit it is a fair question. Without relevance to the modern reader, what is so special about this story that I take the time to share it? I might as well maunder on about the Iliad or Anabasis. One of the great things about the Bible, as opposed to other ancient texts that concern themselves with the doings of heroes and deities, is that there is nothing in the Bible that is not relevant to your life right now here today. Like Native Americans using every part of the buffalo, there is nothing in there that you can’t use for one purpose or another.

So here is where I break it down. God showed up, gave Gideon a job and then left. Gideon figured out how to do the job largely on his own, working within the society he lived in and using the existing social structures of the day. Then God showed up, gave him a more difficult job and vanished again. Gideon figured out how to do that job, again using the resources he had at the time. And I imagine that the skills he learned from these experiences stood him in good stead and improved his life from that point forward.

Very rarely is God ever going to show up and tell you do a specific thing and then tell you to leave at a specific time so you can take a specific route so you can talk to a specific person about how to specifically do that thing. Most of the time, He does what He did with Gideon. He shows up, tells you he wants a specific thing from you, and then vanishes like America’s interest in soccer did once we were eliminated from the World Cup. He could tell you exactly what to do to accomplish His end. He could guide your path with infinite precision, making sure you never put a foot wrong. But if that was what he wanted, He wouldn’t have bothered giving us free will, which I can only imagine is a pain in His ass occasionally.

God doesn’t do it this way because He likes to watch us bumble around and knock into life’s sharp corners and be generally mystified as to what He wants. He does it this way because He’s giving us the gift of figuring it out for ourselves. He wants us to grow and stretch. To do things we didn’t think we could or weren’t sure we were the right person for. And once we’ve done those things, we’ll find that we’re set up with skills and lessons from experience that will be useful for the rest of our lives. If God has given you a desire, but seemingly none of the tools or skill sets you think you need, and it seems scary and out of your reach, and you turn to the Bible but can’t seem to find anything in there that addresses your situation, just maybe you’re being given the gift of figuring it out.

So get to figurin’. That army isn’t going to conquer itself, you know.

There Are Three Types Of People In The World…

…those who can count, and those who can’t.

Last time I wrote about some of the things my father used to tell me and my brothers, and the various pieces of advice he handed down about life in general. I mentioned something I called the 20-60-20 Rule and I said that I would explain what it was in the near future. Well, the future is now, you lucky people.

About ten years or so ago, I got myself into some fairly serious financial difficulties through bad decisions. And then I compounded those difficulties with arrogance and an ostrich like tendency to stick my head in the sand. I don’t know if any of you are huge Keanu Reeves fans. I can take him or leave him myself but I did see a movie he was in called ‘The Replacements.’ There is a scene in that movie where he talks about how fear is like quicksand and struggling against it just makes you sink quicker.

This is exactly how I felt trying to deal with this on my own.

Finally I had to acknowledge that I couldn’t do it on my own and I called my father. Making that phone call is one of the top five hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, and easily the most humbling. My father helped me find my way out of that particular maze without just stepping in and fixing it for me. The details of how he did that are not germane to this particular entry, but do deserve to be elucidated on in the future as there were and are a wealth of temporal and spiritual lessons to be had from the way both he and I responded to the situation.

As we finished up, he told me something that has always stuck with me, and that I have, in turn, passed on to more than few people. Chances are, if you’ve ever asked me for advice or for help with a problem, you’ve probably heard some form of the following.

“In this world”, my father told me, “there are generally three types of people. There’s a bottom 20%, a vast middle ground of 60%, and a top 20%.[At this point he paused, as I still do when I tell this story, to mentally check that he’d gotten his percentages right.] Now this bottom 20%, they tend to just bumble through life, and bad things constantly happen to them, and they’re always constantly at a loss as to why. And it’s because, you see, they make mistakes, like everybody does, but they never learn from them. And not only do they not learn from their mistakes, but they also fail to apply the lessons that they don’t learn in a wider context.”

“And then you have this vast middle ground of 60% of people. These people bumble through life as well, but they have it a little better than the bottom 20%. Because when they make mistakes, they do tend to learn from them, but only as far as that specific situation is concerned. They never manage to apply that lesson in a broader context to their lives, or construct a general life principle from it.”

“That top 20%, though, these people go through life, and yeah, they inevitably make mistakes as well. You can’t avoid doing that. But they learn from those mistakes. And more importantly, they know how to apply those lessons in a broader context. They can formulate general life principles from those events.”

“Now, that top 20% is where you want to be. Yeah, you’re probably going to slip down into that middle 60% occasionally. Nobody is always on the ball. But as soon as you realize that you have, you need to smarten up and fix it. And whatever you do, you don’t ever want to slip all the way down to that bottom 20%, because those people lead unhappy, unfulfilling lives.”

I’ve tried to be in that top 20% ever since I heard that little speech. Occasionally, I have slipped down into that middle 60%, but when I realized it, I did smarten up and fix it. I think I’ve also managed to stay clear of that bottom 20%. Because I’ve been there and I’m in no real hurry to go back. And because like the city of Detroit, it’s a place that seems almost deliberately designed to make you regret being there and make you want to never come back.

Monkey Bible Lessons

When I was younger, my father told me a lot of useful things. He told me about the 20/60/20 rule of human nature, which I will elaborate on in this space in the very near future. He told me that someone who kisses ass upwards and kicks ass downwards is not someone you want to work with or for. He told me that if you measure twice, you only have to cut once. And he told me that nobody’s life is ever wasted, because they can always be used as a bad example. I mentioned this last saying to a buddy of mine a while back and then elaborated on it, saying that it could also be applicable in a more general theological sense, that there is nothing in God’s creation that could not be used to illustrate a spiritual principle, either as a positive or a negative.

My buddy was, shall we say, somewhat un-convinced as to the applicability of this statement. The conversation continued from there and a while later I used the phrase ‘like a monkey humping a coconut’ to illustrate furious yet useless activity. That admittedly crude phrase was seized upon by my buddy and I was challenged to prove my earlier statement by fashioning a spiritual principle from it. So here we go:

Now, if you’ve ever seen a coconut, you might think that it’s not really designed to be accosted in such a fashion. In fact, given it’s exterior, you could be forgiven for assuming that it’s designed expressly to avoid being accosted in such a fashion. But sometimes a monkey will get all horned up and he’ll use the wrong head to make his decisions with. Like the young man in Proverbs 7, he’ll ignore all the warning signs and he’ll go ahead and he’ll hump that coconut. There isn’t really a fix for that with monkeys, but for a guy who has used the wrong head to make his decisions, the good news is that you do get a fix for that.

Something else that might happen with the monkey is that, having ignored the aforementioned warning signs, he will persist until his monkey lust is satiated. Unfortunately, this may also result in his having rubbed his little monkey unit raw on the coconut. Not having recourse to monkey HMO’s, this sad condition will go untreated and has a very real possibility of ending in infection, blood poisoning, and death. I like to think that my readership is generally smart enough that I don’t need to belabor the parallels to be found in this particular example, so I’ll just leave this here and move on.

Sometimes, the monkey escapes that particular consequence of his actions, only to arrive at the same destination by another road. He finishes up with his coconut, and now he’s tired, and spent, and not really paying attention to the world around him. You know what gets ahold of monkeys that aren’t paying attention? Things that eat monkeys. That is the exact reason that the Apostle Peter tells us to be watchful. Because there is a serpent out there that likes nothing better than snatching up and devouring people who are distracted by the results of their bad choices and who aren’t really paying attention.

Last, but not least, sometimes nothing happens to the monkey. No infections, no blood poisoning, no snake bites, nothing. Just because you’ve not experienced negative consequences from your bad choices, though, that doesn’t mean that you were doing the right thing after all. That would be the wrong lesson to take away. Bad choices are still bad choices regardless of the consequences (or lack thereof) they engender. And if you don’t recognize that larger concept, learn from it, and also learn how to apply it, it’s going to repeat on you like a street vendor burrito.

Sometimes, though, there is grace. Next time I’ll tell y’all about how I received some grace, and learned the 20/60/20 rule at the same time.

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How To Say You’re Sorry

I have been married for roughly seven months now and I think I have both made and received more apologies in that seven months than in all the preceding thirty-seven years of my life. It’s been a bit of a hard row to hoe because I am, by temperament, not inclined to apologize and/or admit the possibility of my being wrong. On the flip side, I am also not inclined to be apologized to unless that apology comes with some grovelling as well.  It’s not one of the more sparkling ‘for public display’ corners of my personality.

But there is nothing like marriage for pointing out to you exactly how much of a dick you are, while at the same time, providing you with all the motivation you need to fix that. And there is nothing like having to apologize -and mean it- to scrub the hubris out of your soul, which leads us to our starting point.

Don’t Apologize if You Don’t Mean It – If you’re not actually sorry, don’t tell someone you are. A) it’s a lie and now you have to deal with flaming trousers on top of everything else and B) you’ve just compounded whatever offense you’ve committed with insincerity. You live with this person. They know you better than anyone. Do you really think they’re not going to know you’re not being honest? Get it together.

Be Specific – Know what you’re apologizing for and state that specifically. Don’t be vague and don’t beat around the bush. ‘I’m sorry for anything I said that hurt your feelings’ is bad. ‘I’m sorry I hurt your feelings’ is better, but ‘When I said ‘How’d you do your hair, jumper cables?’ I hurt your feelings and I apologize for that’ is the best.

Own Your Bad Behavior – This is often the hardest part. Admitting that it is, in fact, you who dealt it in this instance is not for amateurs. Stay the course, though, because nobody likes the non-apology apology. Don’t say things like ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ or ‘If I hurt anyone, I will apologize.’ That throws the behavior back on them, makes them responsible for your mistakes and just generally cheapens the whole process. It’s tempting, because it allows you to not actually admit to anything and remain the Good Guy at least in your own mind. Don’t succumb to that lure, though. Because passive-aggressive leads to weasel words and weasel words lead to politics and once you start down that road, forever will it dominate your destiny.

Put A Period On That Bad Boy – Are you familiar with that axiom that says that if someone says something that is followed by a ‘but’ that whatever follows the ‘but’ will invariably invalidate the first half of the sentence? It’s the same with apologies. Don’t say ‘I’m sorry for/I did/I said X, but you…’ NO. BAD. WRONG. Those need to be two very separate and distinct sentences. For best results, they shouldn’t even appear in the same paragraph, because they are often two separate discussions. Also, don’t rush through your apology so you can point out whatever horrible things the other person did. Remember, there is a time and place. Smooth down the road before you try and travel on it to a different destination.

Be Gracious – This ties in somewhat with what I wrote earlier about receiving generosity. How you receive an apology is almost as important as how you make one. It’s a lot like winning championships: The key is to act like you’ve been there before.  Be gracious and be forgiving, because soon enough you’re going to be on the opposite end of this process. Don’t be like the man in the parable, who is forgiven the huge debt and refuses to forgive a small one in turn. Don’t walk people through a step-by-step refutation of their grievous sins and make them grovel. You’re not the Spanish Inquisition.

You put all those things together and you’ll be able to steer your way through the inevitable marital discord. I say inevitable because as much as you may have been convinced of it when you asked her to marry you, or when you saw him as you walked down the aisle, neither of you are perfect and you’re going to get plenty of chances to put this into practice.

Does It Matter…?

When I first started writing this, I resolved that it would be a good deal less knee-jerk reactionary than my first effort. Less bitching and moaning about current events, less topical ruminations, more general usefulness. Topical is alright, in its place, but it’s ephemeral. The issue that I’d been so fired up about six months (or six weeks) ago, I could barely remember the specifics of or why I cared when I went back and re-read some of those old posts. So I thought that in this new effort, I would either post stuff that’s funny, because it’s always going to be funny, or I would post stuff that has a general relevant usefulness. Stuff that elaborates or elucidates on a general life principle so it will always be useful whenever I or anyone else goes back and reads these old posts.

I say all that right up front because my original opening sentence was ‘So the Left Behind movie opens this weekend…’ and I’m fairly certain every movie blogger, every Christian blogger and every ‘cultural’ blogger has already covered it ad infinitum. So to assuage the niggling feeling of hypocrisy that says even Charles Foster Kane stuck to his Statement of Principles longer than three weeks, I’m going to try to develop this into that general sort of usefulness.

Whenever I get all riled about something or other, one of the things Kate tends to say to me once I get done venting my spleen about whatever has drawn my ire(past subjects have included the color commentator on Fox Sports, obnoxious commercials, and the attitude of that one girl on ‘Project Runway’ which I should point out I only watch because I love my wife.) is ‘Does it matter?’ At first, this really aggravated me, because it seemed kind of self-righteously dismissive. And then I actually thought about it, and put it together with what I know of Kate and her character(on the whole, sterling) and I realized that she was right. She wasn’t coming from from a place of self-righteous dismissal, but of perspective. She wasn’t saying ‘You’re an idiot and I’m judging you for wasting your time thinking about/feeling these things’ she was saying ‘There may be better ways in which you could use your resources.’

And here is where I bring this back around and zoom off in the direction of the End of Days like I was doing a perfectly executed bootlegger turn. I’m not any kind of theologian, but I’ve always figured if you believe that God has an ultimate endgame in mind for His creation (which I do) that belief should imply, in turn, the faith that an omniscient and omnipotent God knows what he is doing vis-a-vis that endgame. I’ve also always figured it’s that omniscience and omnipotence which makes the belief that anybody can figure out the specifics of the endgame with any kind of certainty somewhat arrogant. I think the book of ‘Revelations’ was given to us less as a riddle to be decoded so that we can smugly have the inside track on what is going to happen, and more as a sort of celestial movie trailer so we have a general idea that it’s coming and don’t get left behind when everyone else goes to the theater, so to speak.

I also think that this is one of those ‘grey areas’ of Christianity that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians. What someone believes about the Rapture is not a hill anyone needs to die on and does not make them any more or less a Christian. Personally, it’s all I can do to live out the teachings of the Bible in my day-to-day life. I fight my own Battle of Armageddon every day in my own heart. I don’t need to worry about whether or not at some undefined point in the future I’m going to be teleported to Heaven vs. living in some sort of underground resistance movement when it’s all I can do some days to even remember, much less practice, the Great Commandment.

So what I’m saying about Rapture debates, the general ‘end-times’ fever that grips Western Christianity every so often and the ‘grey areas’ of Christianity in general is, I guess, ‘Does it matter?’

Now, You Might Feel A Sting…

When I started dating the woman would become my wife, I also started going to her church. It’s called Mill City. It was started by her brother-in-law(Pastor Mike) and she has invested a good deal of work into it herself, so it’s pretty important to her. I was kind of in between churches myself, having just changed my work schedule, and I was never really one to be super committed to any one specific church or denomination in the first place. So I followed the general theme of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians and had no real trouble making her church my church.

It’s a good church. The kind of church we need more of. A real put your money where your mouth is, walk the talk kind of church. For the last couple of weeks, Pastor Mike has been preaching on ‘What Christians Do’ and the week before last he talked about generosity, both temporal generosity and a generosity of spirit(AKA ‘grace’ AKA giving people the benefit of the doubt). Over lunch, Kate and I were talking about how we had both been impressed by the sermon in different ways and we resolved to try and be more generous, both with each other and with the world in general. And do you know what I found out?

Being generous is easy.

But receiving generosity? That is daaaaaamn hard. Surprisingly and obnoxiously hard.

This kind of took me by surprise, because before this, if you had asked me which I thought would be harder, giving or receiving, I would have looked at you like you were an idiot and said ‘Duh. Giving.’ After all, it’s giving that requires action on the part of the giver. They’re the ones who actually have to go and do something. They have to spend money, or time, or gas. They have to pick something up and go get something or generally put themselves out for another person. But once I actually sat and thought about it, it became apparent fairly quickly that as far as I was concerned(and while I make no claims as regards being an archetype, I would be surprised if this were not, by and large, universal), giving was much easier than receiving.

Yeah, I may be putting myself out momentarily, but the intangibles are all flowing back my way. Personally, I get a little rush out of giving people things. You find something that somebody you know can really use, or that they really want. You give it to them, and you get to see their face light up and you get to bask in the gratitude and feel that glow that says ‘Yeah, I am a pretty great guy, after all. Look at me being all thoughtful.’

But receiving? Receiving is the exact opposite of that. It means that I have to let someone else do something for me and that is humbling. And being humbled, even momentarily and/or inadvertently and with the best of intentions on the part of the giver, is unpleasant. It’s often necessary, like having a rotten tooth pulled. But like having a rotten tooth pulled, it’s also not an experience I seek out. And then I feel that sting, that sting that says pride is messing with me. But if there is one thing I learned from ‘Pulp Fiction’ other than that you should stay out of pawnshop basements in L.A., it’s that pride never helps, it only hurts.

Generosity also demands a response. I’m not saying that the giver is necessarily demanding a response(although they may)but that even if they don’t, the act itself demands a response. Gratitude. An acknowledgement that someone else is better suited, more qualified, more experienced, or just better placed than I am. An acknowledgement that I was deficient in some way, that I failed to measure up some way, that I needed some measure of grace.

I think this is because every act of temporal generosity is a reflection of God’s generosity to humanity. Every bit of grace that someone extends to us mirrors the grace that Christ showed us at the cross. And much like how humanity instinctively feels the pull of that act, that from us Christ’s sacrifice demands a response,  so too do the little acts of grace that mirror it demand a response.

And that’s maybe why receiving is harder than giving. Because it brings us back to the cross, and reminds us of our need for grace and, maybe, reminds us to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Here endeth the lesson.

Sorry, Andy, This Is The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

I loves me some football. I love it like a fat kid loves cake. I love it almost as much as I love pro wrestling. Despite what you might hear from Andy Williams, this is the most wonderful time of the year. On the other hand, as anyone who has ever been married or had kids will tell you, nothing can piss you off like something or someone you love. The following are things that have pissed me off about football at one time or another, in no particular order.

Ricky Williams – How hard is it to not smoke pot? You don’t even have to do anything for it. All you have to do is not do something. It’s easy to not do things, I don’t do stuff all day. Plus, at the salary he was getting, it’s like getting paid millions of dollars not to do things. I don’t do stuff for free, there’s no telling what I’d not do for millions of dollars. Plus, every stoner for forty years has been telling the rest of us(ad infinitum, ad nauseum) that pot is non-addictive, so he doesn’t even that half-assed wretched excuse.

Terrell Owens – I put Owens’ name here because he’s the most egregious example that springs to mind, but you can sub in whatever overrated RB, WR, or QB you like. I’d love to buy T.O for he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth. Nobody would have to pay me to not smoke pot then, I’d already have a metric crap-ton of money. In the ‘Wasting the Talents the Good Lord Gave You’ Sweepstakes T.O comes in first. It’s a crying shame he can’t just keep his damn mouth shut and play the game. If there were any justice, he’d be quickly forgotten and the next time he touched a football, it’d be because he was tossing one back and forth with his co-workers at Foot Locker after the mall closes.

Red McCombs – I think Red missed his calling as a blackmailer. He did have balls of solid brass though, I’ll give him that. First he passed off a bunch of perennial choke artists as a football team. Then, despite being able to drop the price of a stadium and not even notice, he told the city that if they didn’t build him a stadium for his Keystone Kops out of their (and by ‘their’ I mean ‘my’) pockets, he’d move the team. The Vikings can’t find the end zone, what makes him think they can find the highway out of town? This tactic has proved so successful that I have since been dunned for a Twins stadium as well. How about y’all build decent teams before you build stadiums?

That Guy Who Was On Fox Sports With Jim Brown, Terry Bradshaw, And Howie Long; I Think His Name Is Chris Something. – You remember that game they used to play on Sesame Street called “Which One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here?’ That’s what you’ve got here. This guy was the Potsie of Fox Sports. Plus that stupid grin he had made me want to shove his face into a box of tacks.

Randy Moss – I think he can be summed up in one sentence. ‘I only play when I feel like playing.’ Great job, Randy, way to cornhole every other guy on your team. Dick. And am I alone in thinking the afro is one of the stupidest hairstyles in history, second only to white guys with dreadlocks?

John Madden – Hey, I was as big a fan of Brett Favre as the next guy. But Madden seemed to take it to a whole ‘nother creepy level. He seemed like he was a hair away from having a shrine in his basement and dancing around it Silence of the Lambs style. “Would you pass it to me? I would. I’d pass it to me so hard…” And speaking of No. 4…

Brett Favre – Dude, I loved watching you play. You’re one of the reasons I’ve been a Packers fan for as long as I can remember. But you made the same mistake that the X-Files made: You stayed on one season too long, and by then, it was just kind of embarrassing. When it came to retirement, you should have gone out like Shawn Michaels, and not like Ric Flair.

That One Guy At My Bar Who Wears A Team Jersey And Paints His Face To Sit On A Barstool and Watch Monday Night Football. – That’s just sad. It’s almost as sad as people who dress as wizards or Jedis to go to the movies. Oh, and buddy, just FYI, they can’t hear you through the TV so you don’t need to holler at the top of your lungs. I, on the other hand, am not deaf, so you don’t need to yell ‘CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT? at me from half an inch away (or 95.7 deciliters if you’re using metric)

Janet Jackson – It was thanks to her(well, her and Justin Timberlake) I had to listen to a deafening cacophony of back and forth bullshit for six months. The only thing worse than the ‘American Family Defense Organization’ maundering on about ‘the children’ are the people who take the bait. Football isn’t about politics, it’s about hitting some receiver so hard he forgets his own name for a minute. Besides, half time shows are perennially and legendarily lame. The only reason you should be watching the half time show is so that later you can make fun of whatever one-hit wonder making the most of their fifteen minutes shows up or the geriatric rockers they dragged out and propped up.

Bandwagon Fans – If you’ve ever been a fan of a sports team, and I mean a real fan, and not a Facebook “fan”, you know why bandwagon fans are on this list. And if you don’t, you probably are one(and wearing a Patriots jersey). The Beer-Seller – Six bucks? For two dollars more I can go to the grocery store and get six beers. But wait, if I do, I can’t bring them into the stadium. Damn. Guess I’ll have to watch the game in the comfort of my living room where I can lay on the couch and, when the commercials come on, flip it over to oh, I don’t know, all of the other football games that are on. And speaking of commercials…

The Guy Who Pioneered The ‘Clever’ Commercial – Because for every Budweiser frog, there’s a score of ‘WASSSSSUPPP!’s and for that alone he deserves to rot in hell. Plus, it’s given rise to people thinking it’s acceptable to admit that they only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Watching the Super Bowl for the commercials is like ordering a 25 oz porterhouse for the parsley they put on the side of the plate when they bring it you.

Wild Cards – Bah. What’s next, you going to replace the Lombardi Trophy with participation ribbons that everybody gets in case someone gets their feelings hurt? If you’re not good enough to get into the playoffs based on your regular season record, you don’t deserve to be in them. You shouldn’t get an extra chance based on someone else’s efforts(or lack thereof). This is the adult real world, you don’t get prizes for trying hard, or for almost making it.

The NE Patriots – Everything about the Patriots annoys me. The only thing worse than a Patriots fan is a Raiders fan. Tom Brady is a vacuous black hole of overrated smug and Bill Belichek is a cheater. I’m actually glad they went undefeated right up to the Super Bowl. It made watching Eli Manning come into the Super Bowl a 20 to 1 underdog and embarrass the living hell out of the Patriots one of the best Super Bowls I can remember.

People Who Take Fantasy Football Too Seriously – Remember earlier in the list where I talked about guys who paint their faces to watch televised games at a bar and how it was the jock equivalent of those sad clowns who dress up to go the movies? This is right there with that. Guys who take fantasy football too seriously are right up there with people who talk about their World of Warcraft character like it’s a real person. Dude, it’s a game. It’s even more of a game than regular games because it’s a game about a game. Nobody cares about your pages and pages of stats. Football isn’t about stats, it’s about heart and unpredictability and that anything can happen on any given Sunday. If you want to jerk it to numbers, that’s what fantasy baseball is for.

10 Books

I was tagged the other day for one of those ‘challenges’ that seem to float around social media whenever people’s brain space isn’t occupied by being Outraged by whatever Bad Thing is popular that particular week. Normally I would decline to participate(cue strains of ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’)but this one is something I actually have thoughts on being that it enjoins me to talk the 10 books or authors that have most influenced my life. Plus I thought I could make it serve double duty as a post. So here we are.

The Bible – First and foremost, number one with a bullet. No other book ever written has influenced my life the way this one has, either by it’s presence or by it’s absence. There is not a single word in there that is not true, and there is not a single word in there that will not be relevant to your life at some point. It handily answers the old philosophical question “How then shall a man live?” Recommended works: All of it. But if you’re pressed for time, start with James, or Romans and move on from there. 

William Shakespeare – Classics are classics for a reason and Shakespeare is the classic. Shakespeare is so famous, he’s made other people famous. The only reason Marlowe or Bacon are remembered to the extent that they are is because they were his contemporaries. He had such a grasp of the fundamentals of human nature that his works are just as relevant and accessible to modern audiences as they were to Elizabethan ones. You add to that the beauty and the poetry of his language and it’s no wonder his works have survived for 500 years. If you ever get a chance to see one of his plays performed live, take it. If not, you’ll have to settle for just reading them but as second place finishes go, that’s about as good a one as you’re ever going to find. Recommended works: Henry V, Macbeth, Coriolanus

Rudyard Kipling – When I was about eight or so, my father gave me a collected edition of Rudyard Kipling’s works. This began my love affair both with collected editions and Victorian literature. I read that book cover to cover more times that I can count. Then I looked for works of his that weren’t in my edition. I found that he had written poetry as well and that began my education in poetry(as well as solidifying my distaste for poems that don’t rhyme.) Looking for similar authors led to me to at least one other author on this list. Recommended works: Stalky and Co., Plain Tales From the Hills, Barrack-Room Ballads 

 A.C. Doyle – Someone I found thanks my interest in Kipling was Doyle. I started with an ‘illustrated novel for children’ version of ‘The Speckled Band’ and took off from there. I went through all of his Holmes stories and novels and then looked around for what else he had written. I read his historical fiction and his short stories about the medical profession in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and his non-fiction work on the Boer War and spiritualism. These last lead to related works on the subject and on the phenomenon of the latter in Western civilization. Recommended works: The White Company, The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, The Great Boer War, A Study in Scarlet.

H. Rider Haggard – When I was twelve or so, my parents rented a movie called ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ from a video store. It starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone. I was absolutely enthralled and watched that movie so many times I could practically recite. Having since gone back in my adulthood and revisited that movie, it is truly terrible in almost every respect but it did lead me to the book it was made from(well, shared a title with, anyways). Haggard spent most of his life in the Crown Colony of S. Africa and it shows in his writing. His writings were the archetypal Victorian adventure novels, full of Great White Hunters, Lost Cities, Noble (and Decidedly Un-Noble) Savages, Sudden Reverses and Daring Escapes. Like Kipling’s India, Haggard’s Africa comes out through the page via his prose and it’s a shame he’s not more widely known.  Recommended Works: King Solomon’s Mines, She, Allan Quatermain.

The Screwtape Letters – I come back and re-read Screwtape every year or so and there is always something new in there, or some point that Lewis makes that I had forgotten. Although on the surface it appears to largely address the problems and concerns of pre- and mid war British society, once started it will reveal itself as still relevant to a good deal of modern society. If you pick up a copy, make sure you get one that also includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  

Republican Party Reptile – When I was 13 or so, I spent a dime and bought a book from a library sale that had an alligator wearing a suit and holding a drink on the cover and it was entitled ‘Republican Party Reptile.’ In terms of value given for money spent, that was one of the best dimes I have ever spent. The book in question was a collection of satirical essays by P.J. O’Rourke. Written from a libertarian perspective, that book blew my 13 year old mind. I went and looked up some of the people he mentioned and then some of the people they mentioned. It was though that collection that I found and read F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and J.S. Mill. It’s also how I found William F. Buckley and National Review

P.J. O’Rourke – Republican Party Reptile deserves special mention, but once I found that I also looked around for what else P.J. had written. A good many of his books are still on my shelves and they have gone a long way in shaping my own thoughts on politics and the general role of the government in society. And like I said up above, his books proved to be, in the way that all good books do,  gateway books to other authors and other books. Recommended Works: Republican Party Reptile, Parliament of Whores, Eat the Rich 

Robert A. Heinlein – One of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. Heinlein is one of those authors that you can read when you’re 13 or so and enjoy it for all the space opera heroics and then you go back and you read him as an adult and you discover whole new layers to his writings. What you thought was just pulp fiction space opera is still that, and still enjoyable on that level BUT it also becomes an elaborate illustration of a philosophical point or a treatise on how a society might be ordered. Recommended Works: Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Glory Road, The Puppet Masters  

Bernard Cornwell – I wouldn’t say he’s influential in the same way that Haggard or the Bible has been, but I’ve read almost everything he’s published, so he makes the list. Cornwell is quite possibly the best author of historical fiction writing today. His books are always meticulously researched and his bibliographies always lead to other interesting books as well. He writes through several different eras and viewpoints and his books are always worth the read. Recommended Works: Richard Sharpe series, The Saxon Chronicles 

Hopefully I’m Better At Sticking To This Then C.F. Kane Was

Y’all remember the bit in Citizen Kane where Kane sets out to be a crusading journalist and publishes a ‘Statement of Principles?’ regarding how he’s going to run his newspaper? This piece here is my nod to that great movie, and that scene, although hopefully without the foreshadowing and irony. 

A few years ago, I used to write a blog. It was a general mish-mash of politics, movies, books, and stupid jokes. Some of the political articles were knee-jerk reactions to immediate events and were maybe a bit more strident and lacking in nuance than was absolutely necessary.

What with one thing and another, I stopped updating it and let it slide (further) into irrelevance. A while back, my father told me that he always enjoyed reading the stuff I wrote and that I should pick it back up. I’ve had a couple of people(chief among them my wife, Kate) since then echo him and I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I can always use a new hobby and if I put a little thought and care into this instead just winging it out there, who knows what will happen to it. I figure I can still maunder on about books and movies like I usually do, and about cooking, which is another hobby I’ve picked up in the last year or two, and general life stuff.

I think I might steer clear of politics as far as ‘current events’ goes because those posts, by their very nature, quickly become dated. And because they have a tendency to cause people to get shouty. If/when I do write about politics, I’m going to try and limit it to a ‘foundational principles’ sort of perspective – because that’s what’s important, not the knee-jerk response to a specific event. And because there are more important things in life than being mad at whoever happens to be President for doing/not doing whatever the hell it is he’s done/not done.

I’m shooting to update this at least once a week, hopefully more. The title won’t ever change, but the stinger underneath will, depending on what it is I’m writing about at any given time. This week’s is a quote from Archer that seemed apropos when I couldn’t think of anything to put there. Feel free to leave a comment about how brilliant I am or, alternatively, detailing my various spiritual and moral failings but do me a favor and try to keep the language PG-13-ish. My mother might read this and she’s a God-fearing lady who doesn’t like bad language. Plus I’d probably wind up having to explain some of it and that’s just awkward.