Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The walls have ears

I spoke to a media class at Wichita State University today about how journalism has evolved in recent years. I was the one being taught, however, about how much society has changed in the past decade or so. I listened as the students talked before class started about who was texting whom, what they saw on Facebook, and whatever happened to the reviews of the last speaker, which had been posted online? It occurred to me that they would be reviewing my presentation as well ---- and that portions of them could end up online. That meant my audience wasn't just the 15 to 20 students in the classroom, but those who are on Facebook or Twitter (if anyone tweeted my comments) or some other form of social media. Would I say something off the cuff that might end up on Facebook and leave me red-faced later because its context had been stripped away? Talk about motivation to watch one's words....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaching girls to know the difference

"We need to teach our daughters to distinguish between a man who flatters her - and a man who compliments her. A man who spends money on her - and a man who invests in her. A man who views her as property - and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her - and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women - and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man...And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."

I don't know who wrote the above statement, but they nailed it. For years I've told friends the key to solving so many of society's ills would be for women to stop putting up with bad behavior from men - and for men to treat women with the respect, dignity and kindness they deserve.

But so many women seem to be willing to do almost anything not to be alone, and so many men view women as property, as play things to do with as they will.

Over the years, more than a dozen women have wanted to marry me - many simply because they didn't want to be alone. The ink on their divorce papers wasn't even dry yet. Others were simply a matter of bad timing or a "bad fit." Not that either of us was bad, just that we shouldn't marry each other. I haven't given up hope, though I'm sure others wonder if I'll ever "settle down." When the time is right and the person is right, I have faith it will happen.

I've always viewed relationships of all labels as investments. Over time, they'll bear great fruit and grow stronger. That takes effort, and not everyone wants to bother with that. Sometimes, you just have to "let go," and greet the next day...the next week...the next month.

But I've forged countless quality friendships along the way, and to me it seems the only wise way to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A harsh winter ahead?

After seeing the squirrels scurrying around like mad this afternoon, I'm suddenly suspecting it's going to be an early - and harsh - winter.

They were on a mission, and my intrusion didn't even disrupt their work. I was on one of my afternoon walks, and usually they high-tail it up a tree. But not today. They looked at me as if to say, "Get out of my way! I'm busy!"

I usually don't see this behavior from the squirrels for another few weeks. I hope I'm wrong, and the squirrels are just getting a jump on storing food up for winter (no pun intended).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What does Jesus look like?

That's a question many artists have attempted to answer through the centuries. I've just learned of one image that's earned a unique endorsement.

Akiana Kramarik, widely proclaimed a child prodigy as a painter and poet, painted this image of Jesus when she was 8 --- from visions she had had of heaven beginning at the age of 4. She's 15 now.

She's been featured on CNN, PBS and Oprah Winfrey's talk show, among others. I first learned of it when reading "Heaven is for Real," an account of the Burpo family of Imperial, Neb., after their young son Colton suffered a burst appendix and nearly died at the age of 3.

After his against-the-odds recovery, Colton began sharing bits and pieces about a trip to heaven and back. His accounts included seeing things he couldn't possibly have seen from the operating room, and seeing and talking to relatives who had died long before he was born.

One of the things his parents noticed was that whenever they came across a painting of Jesus, he would tell them that Jesus didn't look like that. There was always something wrong with it.

Until his father came across Akiana's painting "Prince of Peace: The Resurrection" in early 2007. It was included in a story about Akiana by CNN. Todd Burpo was struck by how similar Akiana's descriptions of Jesus and heaven were to what his son Colton had shared...and that she had grown up with parents who were atheists, never talked about God and had no television and few books in the house.

Todd called Colton down to the basement and showed him the image, asking, "What's wrong with this one?"

Colton looked at it in silence for a long time, his face serious.

Finally, he turned and said, "Dad, this one's right."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My NFL picks

The NFL season got under way Thursday, and hit full stride today. I haven't been as eager as many, perhaps because my Denver Broncos are deep in the throes of recovering from the dreadful McDaniels era.

Or it may simply be that I realize football isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

After all, opening weekend falls on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But I've made pigskin prognostications for most of my life, so there's no reason to stop now. A strike wiped out the off-season and even early training camps, so there's even more unpredictability than normal as the 2011 season gets under way.

That means my chances of looking dumb with these picks are even better!


1. New England
2. Jets
3. Miami
4. Buffalo

1. Pittsburgh
2. Baltimore
3. Cleveland
4. Cincinnati

1. Houston
2. Indianapolis
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

1. San Diego
2. Kansas City
3. Denver
4. Oakland


1. Philadelphia
2. Dallas
3. Giants
4. Washington

1. Green Bay
2. Chicago
3. Minnesota
4. Detroit

1. New Orleans
2. Atlanta
3. Tampa Bay
4. Carolina

1. St. Louis
2. Arizona
3. San Francisco
4. Seattle

Wild Cards
AFC: Jets, Baltimore
NFC: Atlanta, Dallas
Super Bowl: New England vs. Green Bay
Champion: Green Bay

Jack Buck's 9/11 poem

As a baseball fan, I found legendary St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster Jack Buck's poem touching and profound. Here it is. You'll see why.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sizing up Serie A

Purists will tell you the best soccer (or "football," as they call it almost everywhere except in the U.S.) is played in Italy, that the best tactics and technicians can be found in Serie A.

One of the more compelling arguments for that stance can be found in the World Cup, where Italy has become a world power - winning titles or at least advancing deep into the tournament every four years even when far more talented teams are knocked out. But that argument also seems sepia-toned in recent years, with Italian teams failing to impress in the Champions League or UEFA Cup (or its pale successor, the Europa League).

Perhaps the best way to sum up the Serie A this days can be found in words written recently by Soccernet's Roberto Gotta:

"Almost every year, a match-fixing scandal erupts, leading to point deductions, bans and a general feeling that what we see out on the pitch - especially results from March onwards - should not be trusted in its entirety. The Lega Serie A, the top-flight's governing body, is a fractious assortment of owners and directors who should be sued for improper use of the term 'league' by bona fide organisations like the NFL, as the clear goal of most of them is to create an uneven playing field and a financial divide with the others.
Most games are played in dilapidated, uncomfortable grounds where access is complicated by a general lack of advance information about something as simple as how to get a ticket..."

And yet people are drawn to Serie A, as if to see whether the football fashionistas can craft more sublime play - not unlike checking the runways of Milan to watch for the next stunning clothing trend.

So I'll offer my picks for Serie A this season, which seems to have more teams poised to pursue the prized Scudetto than in many years. At the bottom end of the table, this year's newly promoted teams offer intrigue of their own. And so, without further ado....

1. AC Milan - Milan ended Internazionale's 5-year reign as champions last season, and seem well-positioned to defend their title. With Pato, Ibrahimovic and Cassano up front and Seedorf and Ambrosini feeding them crosses, Milan has the firepower to trouble any back four.

2. Napoli - Shrewd acquisitions have strengthened a team that finished third last season, and Naples could celebrate its first title since the legendary Mardona strolled in the shadows of Mount Vesuvius. This is a team with real flair, but the title could be determined by the strength of the defense.

3. Internazionale - Dethroned and in disarray, no one seems to know what formations the 2010 Champions League winners will favor. Selling Samuel Eto'o to cut the wage bill can't help but make Inter fans fret. The team seems a step slower, too. But there's still a number of world-class players on the squad, though, so Inter can't be counted out.

4. Juventus - A new stadium and a bundle of new faces for the Old Lady of Italian soccer. But will all the changes bring a change in fortune for the titans from the Italian Alps? Historically, such dramatic change doesn't succeed quickly.

5. Roma - Just as Juventus fell on hard times in recent years (relatively speaking) for one of the nation's football giants, Roma appears ripe for a dip in form. A new owner, from America no less, and dissension in the playing staff are combining to drift a cloud over the team as the season gets under way.

6. Lazio - Rome's "other" team seems well-placed to finish higher in the table than their illustrious arch rivals.

7. Udinese - Shorn of much of the talent that earned Udinese a surprise Champions League spot last season, this team is a favorite among pundits to slip to mid-table mediocrity. But I'm reading that coach Francesco Guidolin has recruited wisely, and this could be a better team than expected.

8. Bologna - One of Italy's more successful teams years ago has re-established itself in the top flight. And the Bolognese seem primed for a climb up the table this season by adding quality depth.

9. Fiorentina - Gone are the heady days of the Champions League for the Viola. That won't please the fans, but free-spending ways have to be a thing of the past or the plunge into relegation territory that baffled observers recently won't be just an anomaly.

10. Genoa - An ambitious club that hasn't matched its expectations, Genoa has endured mid-table mediocrity - with the exception of one foray into the UEFA Cup - since returning to the top flight several years ago. There's little to suggest that will change this season, either.

11. Chievo Verona - Any team nicknamed the Flying Donkeys deserves a smile and a casual rooting interest. This team has done remarkably well living on a shoestring budget - having earned a Champions League and UEFA Cup spot despite having only been in the top flight for the first time in its history this decade. Nothing that dramatic this season, however.

12. Palermo - Key personnel losses could see Palermo dive to near the relegation places, particularly if backroom unrest isn't settled soon.

13. Parma - From here on down, relegation worries will linger. If someone were to tell me Parma is relegated, I wouldn't be surprised. They've been up and down more than once in the past decade.

14. Cesena - Remarkably managed to stay in Serie A last season after two consecutive promotions. I'm hard-pressed to remember the last time that happened. Some nice additions should keep the Seahorses in the top flight another year as well.

15. Catania - The Sicilian derbies with Palermo give the Serie A some of its strongest flavor. But Catania appears to be weaker this year, and for a team that has flirted often with relegation that spells trouble.

16. Siena - A promising coach and more steel in defense should do just enough to keep Siena from dropping straight back down to Serie B.

17. Cagliari - Masters at staving off the drop, Cagliari may not be so fortunate this year.

18. Lecce - They try to play attractive, attacking football, but that has led to an awful lot of goals given up on the counter-attack.

19. Novara - Like Cesena last year, reached Serie A after back-to-back promotions. They play attractive football, and may be helped by the fact that the bottom third of Serie A is filled with weak teams.

20. Atalanta - Starting in a 6-point hole due to match-fixing won't help what promised to be a challenging campaign at all. Reggina overcame it a few years ago, but that was swimming against the tide.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This "courting candle" has won my heart

It arrived as a gift from a friend of mine who is an accomplished cook.

A rather large, hefty box, and I was genuinely disappointed when it wasn't an assortment of treats she'd crafted in the kitchen.

It was, instead, this odd-looking contraption that resembled a lariat wrapped around a metal stand. Except the "lariat" wasn't strands of rope --- it was wax.

Google called it a "courting candle," which made for a few good-natured teases of my flustered friend. Back in the Middle Ages, candles such as this were used by a parent to time how long suitors could spend with their daughters. The "rope candle" was pulled through a clip, and the flame would burn down to the metal clasp and die out. Favored fellas were given more time. Unsatisfactory souls were given "the short end of the stick."

I had no such challenges facing me. But beeswax, my benevolent gift-bearer informed me, helps quell allergies. And I am entirely too familiar with allergies.

She loves her beeswax candles, and thought I'd appreciate them as well. She was right. When I'm feeling particularly irritated by the air on a given day, I pull up a longer stretch of the candle. If it hasn't been a bad day, I go with a shorter portion. The candles I have seem to have an aroma resembling vanilla ---- not pungent, not unpleasant. Just fine, thank you very much.

If anything, these candles are courting my nose. And I've learned a thing or three about them over the past several months. If you don't clear some space for the wick before you light it, you might need two or three matches to get the flame to take hold. Cupping your hands around the tiny wisp of flame in its early moments seems to help it take hold.

And until you hear the flame crackle, you don't know for sure that the flame won't die. Why that is, I have no idea. I've just learned that's how this candle seems to work. And darned if that clip that holds the rope candle in place doesn't also put it out. I guess by choking off the fuel supply for the flame.

I'm usually nodding off by the time the flame goes out, so it's a good thing the candle is self-extinguishing.....though subconsciously I must admit I don't fall asleep before the candle is out.

Give it a try sometime ---- you may find your heart....or your nose....won over by these unique candles.