Month: November 2014

Thursday is the new Friday

After a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with my and Haley’s families, we decided it would be a good idea to stop at Wal-mart on our way home to pick up a Christmas tree.  It’s our first Christmas together, so it only makes sense to get a tree.

Wal-Mart decided to start their “Black Friday” sale on Thursday night, blissfully unaware of the definition of Thursday.  In addition to Wal-Mart’s slippery grip of the days of the week, the corporate giant has proved their dedication to giving absolutely not one bother about their employees.  I don’t want to sound like a whiny hipster and blame corporate greed and the big businesses for destroying the very fabric of the American way of life.  I’m just saying I think making your employees work on Thanksgiving is a pretty uncool thing to do.  I understand some places need to be open; restaurants (for people who may not have family on Thanksgiving), gas stations, hospitals, etc.  The necessary things.  Opening a store where people are only buying a new television and 2 for $4 reindeer underwear can wait until the morning.

Anyway, enough whining.  Haley and I made the adult decision to get our first Christmas tree at Wal-mart, at 7:30 pm, on (Blackish?) Thursday.  We arrived at the store to find the monstrous parking lot nearly filled to capacity.

“I hate you,” I said to Haley.

We found a parking spot approximately 13 miles from the entrance to the store, and began our walk into the white-trash mecca of unlimited joy and wonder.  As we approached the store, I noticed most of the patrons exiting had televisions.  I would later find out Wal-mart began their sales at 6 pm on Thanksgiving, and the television was their door buster.  I think it was a 48 inch television for like $200.  That math does not add up.  You could not buy a decent television from a one-armed blind guy in the middle of a packed black market bazaar in the heart of Lagos for $200.

However, I wasn’t here to judge or belittle the purchases of my fellow humans.  I was here for a tree.

The front of the store looked like, no kidding, the entrance to an internment camp.  Three police cars sat at different locations around the parking lot, as a line of cars extended what looked like a few hundreds yards into an adjacent parking lot.  On the opposite end of this line, store associates assisted customers in loading goods into their vehicles.  This line of cars was the TV line!  It was the literal definition of a drive-in theater.  My mind was blown.

We then entered the store.  Somehow, there were still shopping carts available, a fact I considered to be nothing short of a miracle, and definitive proof of Wal-mart possessing an unlimited supply of everything.  The store seemed brighter this day.  We entered and the bright light hit my eyes like an angry NFL player.

It was utter pandemonium.  Directly in front of me, the store manager, clad in a shirt and tie, appeared cool and collected, greeting shoppers and assisting anyone who needed help.  It wasn’t until I got closer I saw his eyes.  His cold, dead eyes.  It sent chills down my spine.  This was not a man who wanted to be here on Thanksgiving.  To my left, a plethora of blue-polo-shirt-wearing store associates were rigorously checking every single item on every single receipt.  I estimate these brave ladies read several hundred billion receipts that evening.

Surprisingly, to my right a uniformed police officer was sitting in a chair.  I considered making a joke, but thought better of it.

Haley and I had a goal in mind:  a Christmas tree.  We took a cart and began our journey.  We took an immediate right, towards the garden section, witnessing dozens of frenzied, screaming store patrons lugging around thousands of dollars worth of nonsense.  The first guy I saw only had groceries in his cart!  Literally, he had a 24 pack each of ginger ale and root beer, as well as several microwaveable dinners, fresh fruits and veggies, and some milk.  This was either the most uncaring human being in existence, or he simply was not aware of the day.

Other carts were full of everything.  One lady had an Xbox One, several iPads, and a metal garbage can.  I presume not all of those items are gifts.  I saw one confused man in a shirt from Cher’s 1989 World Tour with three shopping carts PACKED with items.  I saw wives yell at husbands, moms yell at daughters, store associates yell at each other, and cashiers yell at everyone.

The displays were insane.  Our long aisle had a display that could perhaps best be categorized as “just throw that stuff wherever” which occupied about 1/2 of the floor space.  I quickly made the executive decision to ditch the shopping cart, pushing it into an empty aisle like I was attempting to lose my wanted level in Grand Theft Auto.

We found the trees, quickly decided on one that was a perfect mixture of fake and not too fake, and grabbed it.  Some other miscellaneous items later we were ready to check out.

“Wow,” I said.  “For how busy they are the lines aren’t too bad.”

This optimism was quickly crushed into oblivion by a store clerk who politely told us to go to the back of the store to get in line.

“Uh, okay, thanks,” I said, confused.  I figured she saw we only had four things, so she was sending us to jewelry or electronics to ring us up quicker.  How nice of her.

Another store clerk saw us and asked if we were ready to check out our items.  She quickly pointed us to another store clerk who eloquently said, “just go stand where the balloons are that say ‘stand here'”.

Duely noted, store clerk.

I then realized we weren’t being guided to some super secret checkout line for the special people like me who just wanted to get a Christmas tree and go home.  We were placed in the back of the apparel section, with roughly 10 people ahead of us, all with full carts, and thennnnnnn we got in line at an actual register.

This was not good news.

“I’m going to scout the cashiers,” I said.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with this practice, I’m sure I can’t possibly be the only one who does this subconsciously.  Anyway “scouting the cashiers” is a practice I’ve adopted recently.  For example, say you’re at the grocery store and you’re ready to check out.  Most people, I think, go up and down the row of lanes, checking to see which line has the fewest number of people, thus having the shortest wait.  I take that one step further.  While I’m shopping, I always take note of the employee on each register.  I then scout their strengths an weaknesses as a cashier, and then access a score.  Obviously, speed is a huge factor, and rightfully most important.  But I also consider age, gender, physical appearance, and attentiveness.  Sure, I may be shallow, but a mean, older lady with a swastika tattoo on her inner forearm is not someone I want to buy milk from.  No sir.  Anyway, I’ll spare details, but for your own fufure reference the best cashiers are usually younger women, aged 18-24.  You want to look for a girl because they typically move faster in the checkout line then their male counterparts (I haven’t figured out why).  They are usually very attentive, meaning better service, and being young and spry allows speed and effieceicy.

So I went to the front of the store to scout me a cashier.  I returned to Haley with my scouting report, and fortunately had about 3-4 cashiers worthy of joining my team.  We chose the appropriate line, where two young ladies who overheard my scouting report thanked us.  A few minutes later, our new friends were split from us, where we joined a new line.  I noticed this line was moving much slower, evidenced by the fact the two folks who plagiarized my scouting report ended up getting line before us.  A man in front of us became aggressive when the lady directly in front of us had the nerve to accidentally bump her cart into his.

I wouldn’t have been mad if I saw a fight.

The line slowly crept forward.  Aggressive man accidentally stepped over a forbidden imaginary line, forcing a store clerk to declare, “Sir!  I need you to step back behind that line!”

I declared this female store clerk as “Nazi lady.”

So Nazi lady goose-stepped around the store, ensuring no one in our cattle car lines had the nerve to break the barrier of her invisible forcefield.  I heard the lady in front of us refer to Nazi lady as “Nazi lady”.  This made me happy.

Nazi lady then yelled for Chris.  Chris didn’t come.  She then yelled at another store clerk.

“Where’s Chris,” Nazi lady predictably said.

Chris finally showed up in all his glory, like an angel descending from the highest heavens to carry a razor scooter or Lite-Brite or whatever kids play with these days to some predetermined destination.  He was a magnificent specimen.  This is the last anyone would see of Chris.

Mericfually, after an hour in this line, Nazi lady ushered us over.  “Go over to Holly,” Nazi lady said.

I kind of stared at her and innocently declared, “I don’t know Holly.”

I might as well have asked her if it was okay to use a diaper because the look of confusion in her face was priceless.  “Just go over to that lady there,” Nazi lady said.

Several people in line laughed.  I heard one woman tell her friend my heroic tale of unbridled hilarity.  I was their hero, like a white knight of the downtrodden people of Blackish Thursday.

Holly told us to get in the “10 items or less” line.  Thanks, Holly!  This would’ve been helpful news 45 minutes ago.  Grr.

After another 15 minutes, the frustrated teenage boy checking us out wished us an emotionless good night that he didn’t mean, but was required to reluctantly blurt out.  I didn’t share his sentiment, because I know my words meant nothing to him.  He didn’t care if I lived or died.

The team of receipt ladies checked our receipt.  For a woman who has just read the binary equivalent of War and Peace, she was surprisingly chipper.  It was only like 8:45 pm at this point, so maybe her shift just started.  What a night she was in for.  She wished us a good night as well, and I told her I hoped her night was awesome because one-upping the kindness of strangers is kind of my thing.

We then walked 13 miles back to my car and loaded up our stuff.  Four items, an hour and 15 minutes later, and we were ready to hit the road.

If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s to buy a Christmas tree on December 26th and then wait until the next year, like a reasonable human being.  Now excuse me while my cats destroy my new tree.

Fantasy Football Advice (from a non-professional)

For reasons I’ll never fully understand, I always, ALWAYS read Matthew Berry’s weekly fantasy football column, specifically his Love/Hate list.  If you aren’t aware, Matthew Berry is a “fantasy football expert” who provides ESPN (the worldwide leader in sports..real sports) insight regarding fantasy football.  As you might remember, I’m an active participant in fantasy football, and I’ve played every year since I was 14 years-old.

That being said, I’ve read an awful lot of Matthew Berry’s advice.  I’m not a huge fan of Berry, but I don’t hate the guy.  I mean he’s just a guy.  He’s not a former athlete, he’s not a former coach, he’s a guy with a journalism degree who gets paid six figures to talk about a game within a sport, which happens to be a multibillion dollar industry.  This, I guess, qualifies Berry as a “fantasy football professional”.  Berry is among many analysts hired by ESPN and other networks to be the go-to fantasy guru, providing expert advice that somehow isn’t available to the public.

I’ve never understood how on earth he gets paid to do this.  Or anyone.  I mean, I read his columns, so clearly I’m actively participating in granting him an audience, but I’ve noticed a lot of times his advice (and the advice of most analysts) is often incorrect.

A weatherman is paid to report weather.  However, every weather man is trained in meteorology to a degree, and has a team of professional “weather experts” tracking weather to determine if it’s going to snow on Tuesday.  I don’t have numbers in front of me, but I predict weathermen are probably correct 90% of the time.  The other 10% they are wrong, and people lose their minds.  If a 90% success rate is low enough where people call for your job, then what hope is there for anyone else?  The weather, even though you have a good idea at predicting it, is unpredictable.  Sure, you can give a good educated guess, but at the end of the day things can change at a minute’s notice.

I look at every weekly fantasy football ranking as a weather forecast.  I’ll use Cordarrelle Patterson as an example.  Patterson, according to Berry, was projected to have a pretty decent game, scoring 11 points in standard leagues.  How did they arrive at this specific number?  It’s just like weather.  Let’s pretend like Cordarrelle Patterson is a tornado.  Tornados can be a devastating, disruptive force of nature (like the dynamic Patterson).  To predict when a Tornado (Patterson) will strike, several factors are considered.  Setting is a good thing to look at.  A tornado is much more likely to do horrendous damage to a flat area (the Chicago Bears defense) than a rocky, mountainous region (Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman).  Another factor to consider is trends.  Let’s say this tornado struck with devastating effects at the very beginning of the season (Patterson scored 18 points week 1).  Even though the tornado has been a low-end EF1 (Patterson has been having a poor season), we still know it’s capable of delivering EF4 results because of earlier happenings.  So, the tornado, hitting a flat, plained area (Chicago Bears, who allowed 50 points the week prior) and with the tornado’s ability to produce lots of damage (Patterson’s playmaking and explosive athleticism) means the tornado was projected to score 11 standard points against Chicago on Sunday.

Tornado Patterson ended up scoring 1 point.  One catch for 14 yards.  Not only did the tornado fail to touch down, it barely produced any gusts.

This is week I decided maybe the “fantasy experts” don’t know what they are talking about, and people need to quit flooding Matthew Berry’s inbox with hate mail.  The dude isn’t Nostradamus, he’s basically the weatherman making guesses you could probably make.

That being said, I thought maybe I would try my hand at some fantasy football advice.  Most 10-12 team standard leagues have playoffs coming up, and week 13 of the NFL season plays a huge part in determining seedings.

Trust your gut

If you are the type of person to rely strictly on projections, then this bit of advice is specifically geared towards your sheep brain.  In almost every week of this season, Pierre Garcon has been projected to score in the double digits for most of them.  He’s actually completed this task one time. Yet, week after week, there he is with a “12” next to his name indicating the “experts” believe this glowing symbol of mediocrity might catch a garbage touchdown.  Don’t be a rankings slave.  Make your own decisions, which means…

Do your homework 

Fantasy football is 75% luck.  At least.  Sure, you put the work in drafting the team, conducting trades, and working the waiver wire, but all of that is meaningless when it comes to fantasy football itself.  One of my best friends possess as much football knowledge as I’ve ever heard and he’s never won a league.  Another one of my close friends knows almost nothing about fantasy football other than the sparse details he’e read in Sports illustrated, and he is dominating his league.  These are both instances of good and bad luck.  However, both of these guys did well in the other 25%.  Nate, the unlucky guy, always drafts well, but has often been the victim of injuries or bad circumstances.  But he’s always towards the top of the league in roster moves, meaning he’s studying the trends and picking up guys he thinks can help him.  Logan, the lucky guy, read up on fantasy football, drafted a great team, and things have definitely worked out in his favor.  I’m not saying his season has been entirely luck, or Nate’s seasons have been entirely bad luck, because luck is a variable you just can’t account for.  But doing your homework is a good way to try and overcome.

Use your brain

If it’s December, don’t start a guy who kicks outdoors in a cold weather city.  I don’t care how good he is.  If Robert Griffin is the quarterback throwing to your wideouts, don’t be surprised if they don’t see a pass thrown their way all game.  Some things in fantasy are unpredictable, and some things aren’t.

Ignore the experts

In other words, don’t become a slave to the rankings.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  We tend to marginalize a guy’s worth based on where he sits in a weekly composite ranking from four dudes who know nothing more than you, but are paid exponentially more money to do so.  Part of this involves using your own brain.  As an adult, making your own choices is just a good life skill.  Most importantly…

It’s just a game

If you are in the playoffs, awesome.  If you aren’t, that’s fine too.  Don’t be a gloating, arrogant moron if you are, and don’t be a whiny, crying sore loser if you aren’t.  It’s okay to fail in life sometimes, especially when you are playing a game entirely dependent on the performance of someone else.  Sure, overweight guy in the Cowboys hat, you would’ve made that catch.  Dez Bryant is the worst football player on the planet for dropping that ball that was tossed into triple coverage that he had to jump four and a half feet in the air to even touch.  I’m sure next year Jerry Jones will marvel at your 5’8″ 260 pound doughy body and be in complete awe of the magnificent physical specimen he is beholding.  But Dez Bryant and his back-to-back-to back 1000 yard 10 touchdown seasons suggest maybe it’s okay for him to drop the ball once in a while.  Don’t be an idiot.  Remember, the players don’t care whether you win or lose, and neither do your friends.  No one remembers (or cares) who wins the league if it isn’t them, so do your best to not alienate fellow members in the process.  And please, for the love of God, remember it’s just a fun thing to do with friends that’s supposed to make watching football more fun.

Giving thanks

The grand jury ruling in the Mike Brown/Darren Wilson saga has obviously been a topic of controversy and divide over the last 24 hours.  Naturally, pretty much everyone has an opinion about the issue, and such a polarizing topic is toxic is racial, political, and societal relations, as differing ideals can present scrutiny to those whose thoughts conflict with one another.

It’s also almost Thanksgiving.  That’s way more positive to write about, and really there’s nothing I can publicly say about the Ferguson case that will influence anyone’s thinking at all.  That being said, here’s some things I’m incredibly thankful for this year.

Most notably in 2014, I got married.  I’m very thankful to have found someone who I can always count on to be on my team no matter what.  Being with Haley is incredibly rewarding and it brings me so much joy knowing I have at have one concrete, definitive absolute in my life.  There’s still a lot of questions I constantly ask myself about my future, but the most important thing is I know she’s part of it, and for that I’m thankful.

I also got a new cat this year.  Her name is Pearl.  She’s probably the most aesthetically pleasing animal to ever exist, and I’m happy we have her in our lives.  I’m also thankful for our first cat, Ace, who I suspect is finally thankful to have a playmate and new friend.

I’m thankful for my family.  My mom and dad were awesome through the whole wedding planning process, and I’ll always remember how scared I was to tell them I wanted to propose to Haley.  I was a wreck and so worried they wouldn’t approve, but they are awesome and totally had my back.  The level of love and support my mom and dad have provided me has been a driving force in my life since the time I was younger, and I will always be thankful of them.  Being married also means I got a new family, and I’m thankful to be a member of Haley’s family as well.

I will thank my brother and sister separately, because Jay and Shannon are really an extension of my family, because our closeness in age means I consider both of them friends.  I’m thankful Shannon never gave into all the typical high school stuff and came out pretty alright (mostly).  Despite how awful of a person she is, she’s a pretty great human being.  My brother Jay, in addition to being one of my best friends, was the best man in my wedding, and went above and beyond when planning the bachelor party, giving gifts and support, and gave a pretty good speech.  I’m thankful I remain close to him even though I’m not that close to home, and I’m thankful he left his old, crappy job to become the coach of a young, crappy soccer team.

I also consider my group of friends to be the best group of friends in existence.  I’m sure you have good friends, but mine are better.  To put everything in perspective, our wedding videographer, DJ, and several guests said our wedding was “the best dry wedding they’ve ever been to.”  Haley and I made a choice to have a dry wedding, an issue we both firmly stood behind.  My friends enjoy drinking, so instead of sulking and complaining, or even leaving early, they ended up making the wedding reception amazing.  For that, I am thankful to you guys, and you know who you are.  In addition to being wedding MVP’s, I’m thankful my friends have managed to maintain a close relationship with me even though I’m not around.  Even though sometimes 400 text messages a day gets annoying, I’m always happy to read every one.  Don’t let them fool you, they are good human beings, as evidenced by the fact they actually take the time to read this thing, which I am also thankful for.

Finally, I think it’s important to thank God.  There’s a lot of good that’s happened to me in the past year, and I know He’s a big part of it.

I think no matter what, taking some time to really reflect on what’s important over the holidays, especially given the controversy in Missouri.  No matter how you feel about the verdict, we still live in a great country, and I think we should all be thankful to live in such a place.

And never underestimate the power of giving thanks.  It humbles you and reminds you of all the great gifts life has given you.

Scared? or naw

The US is reaching a critical point in their talks over Iran running a nuclear energy program.   The US and other members of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) are seeking to prevent an Iranian nuclear program from gaining any steam.  Iranian officials, although hushed, have assured the acting NPT officials any nuclear program is for energy purposes only.  Obviously, nations like the US who consider Iran an “enemy” are concerned with the small Middle Eastern country’s abilities to acquire nuclear capabilities.  The talks in the coming days will tell us more.

I’ve read a lot of articles regarding this issue.  Many people are scared of a nuclear Iran.  I’m the ever optimistic type of person, and I am not a fan of rampant panic and hysteria, so I’m going to attempt to clear some heads by providing some reasons why a nuclear Iran isn’t really a big deal.

Before I get started, you may be thinking, “that’s very naive and ridiculous of you to think, Dan, the idea of a nuclear Iran not being a big deal.”  Honestly, you might be right.  Maybe I am being totally boneheaded.  But, that’s the fun of writing without being paid; you don’t have to be loyal to anyone but yourself.  Annnnnnd away we go.

Currently, there are eight countries known to be “nuclear armed”.  This means they may posses nuclear weapons and materials, but may not possess warheads or any sort of deliver method for a nuclear weapon.  In other words, the technology is there, but the know-how may be lacking.  Five of these countries are members of the NPT, which basically seeks to quell the spread of nuclear weapons and allows members to enjoy nuclear benefits of the members with nuclear capabilities.  It’s sort of like welfare for bombs.  The five countries part of the NPT are the US, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom.  The remaining countries in possession of nuclear technology are Pakistan, India, and North Korea.  A ninth country, Israel,  is “believed” to be in possession of nuclear weapons, because they are pretty tight-lipped about it, but just to clear up any ambiguity Israel definitely, 100% has nuclear weapons.  Of these nine countries, you will recognize three as being direct allies to the US (Israel, UK, and France), one we will hang out with but are but basically only like since they gave us free pandas (China), and one frenemy (Russia, duh).  Pakistan and India exist, but really they just hate each other more than anything (they hate each other because of the Kashmir region between the countries).  Finally, we have the scary country, North Korea.  North Korea, in addition to being everyone’s enemy, is known to spend an irresponsible amount of its hilariously low GDP on military excursions.  Part of that went to the development of nuclear weapons.  But, did you know North Korea is still decades behind the rest of the world in technological advances?  While their neighbors to the South are creating talking robot lawnmowers that fly, North Korea is still fighting with guns you probably used in the Medal of Honor video game when you stormed Normandy Beach.  Needless to say, North Korea has not yet developed the capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.  So, even if North Korea launched a nuclear bomb towards the US, it would likely travel 40 miles into the ocean before harmlessly falling into the water.  All of this news is significant (and relevant, I swear) because it’s suggested Iran is nowhere near capable of launching a long-range missile.  Their technology just won’t allow it.

But, what if another country swooped in and tried to help Iran?  Today Iran has, literally, about five allies, which include Lebanon, Russia (kind of), Venezuela (but probably not anymore), Palestine (which I guess isn’t technically a country), and …. I guess that’s it.  Lebanon and Iran are bros could Lebanon has Hezbollah, a “terrorist group” that hates Israel.  Since Iran hates Israel too, they are friends.  Iran and Venezuela were cool because Iran’s president Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez hated capitalism.  Chavez is now deceased, so I’m not sure if they are still seeing each other or not.  Palestine, if you haven’t heard, HATES Israel, and since hating Israel seems to be a hallmark requirement in the Iranian Friendship Liberation, they teamed up with Palestine.  And finally, Russia, who you may remember has nuclear capabilities, have always been in a loose alliance with Iran, helping out whenever the can.  But if you remember correctly, so did we until a while ago.  Russia probably wouldn’t help Iran develop the capability to deliver a warhead with malicious intent because if Russia wanted to attack the US, it probably would by itself.  A less terrifying theory is Russia is a member of the NPT, meaning it’s unlikely they would aid anyone is actually creating nuclear weapons, since that would be the exact opposite of the term “non-proliferation”.

Iran hates America though?  Well, they do, but not that much.  In fact, the person who matters in Iran,  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad, is kind of “meh” about America.  Yeah, he’s been upset about our involvement in the Middle East, but he has also vehemently condemned the 9/11 attacks and generally hates the idea of terrorism altogether.  It’s unlikely he would authorize a nuclear attack on America, knowing he might get one good cheap shot, but America (and our allies) would make quick work of turning Iran into a parking lot.

The main concern regarding any sort of Iranian aggression is anything directed towards Israel.  Iran, as you may remember, hates Israel.  The “meh” attitude towards America is staunchly countered with a “wanting to wipe their country from the earth” attitude towards Israel.  However, much like America, Israel has one of the best militaries in the world.  There’s a reason Iran always talks trash but never makes a move; because they know Israel would hit back much harder, and the consequences would be dire.  Even if Israel was attacked, forcing the US to jump in and have their back, it’s likely Iran would be a smoldering pile of rubble before our planes even landed.

I may be naive, but it’s entirely possible Iran isn’t lying about their intentions with nuclear power.  Nuclear energy is extremely clean and efficient, so a switch to nuclear power may be Iran trying to better themselves.  Even if Iran wanted nuclear bombs, could you really blame them?  Their greatest enemy in the entire world is rumored (and totally does) have a nuclear program.  Two nations a stones throw away, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile, Iran is stuck with nothing.  Honestly, they might be feeling a little defenseless.  What if the United States entirely disbanded it’s nuclear program, but suddenly Canada and Mexico started stockpiling nuclear warheads?  That would make anyone uneasy, even if we are peaceful with the countries in question.  It’s like when your neighbor gets a trampoline.  Suddenly, you need that trampoline since both of your neighbors have one.  It will make you feel uneasy if you don’t.  Nukes are like trampolines, is what I’m saying.  Russia had nukes in Cuba during the 60’s and the fact they even existed almost started World War Three.  Imagine how vulnerable Iran must feel.  I think I can understand them wanting nuclear weapons, especially for defensive purposes

I’m not suggesting a nuclear Iran is the greatest thing that can happen, because it’s not.  Iran is a pretty volatile country, and it’s entirely possible having a nuclear weapon isn’t the ideal situation from a security standpoint.  But keep in mind, a nuclear bomb has been used on an enemy twice in the history of history.  Care to guess which country is responsible for both?

I’m just saying, a nuclear Iran isn’t the end of the world.  If North Korea hasn’t managed to blindly explode themselves with an errant nuclear warhead, I think the rest of the world is going to be just fine.

Paying it Forward

There are certain truths in this world that are absolute:  you will pay income taxes, rain will fall from the sky, and “Renegade” by Styx is the greatest song ever written.  Some unavoidable truths, such as those, are really just part of life, meaning we accept them and move on.  We tend to fight other things we think are true, but then are proven wrong.

I believe there’s good in all people.  Here’s a story about that being profoundly incorrect.

My senior year of college was a pretty busy time for me.  I had just gotten engaged, I was finishing up my final semester with a full class load, I was working part-time as a sportswriter for a newspaper, and I was in the midst of applying to graduate school.  The marriage thing was set in stone, I never had a problem keeping my grades up, and I was covering two or three sporting events a week, mostly doing my writing at night to meet deadlines.  Really, the only bit of stress I had (despite how busy things were) was the application process for grad school.  The school I wanted to attend seemed to be the perfect fit.  They required a 3.0 GPA for acceptance, and mine was higher than that so I was good there.  They encouraged people with writing experience to apply.  I was putting out pretty quality sports stories, and I had samples ready to submit from my time as an undergrad.  They also required two letters of recommendation from college professors.  This is the one I was least worried about, as I already had two professors in mind.

The first professor was in the journalism department of my undergraduate institution.  She was the sweetest lady at the school, and I’d been in her classes five separate times.  She always wrote lots of comments on my writing, which I liked, because she was honest with her praise, and delivered appropriate criticism.  She even had a day set aside where she cancelled class so students could come to her office, one by one, and she could give a face to face analysis of our writing.  She discussed strengths and weaknesses, and even offered to help us.  She was always available for help, and was my favorite professor.  So of course, being the amazing woman she was, she typed me up  a great recommendation letter.  Fortunately for me, she has attended the school I was applying to, even serving as an adjunct professor for a period of time.  It meant a lot she did that for me, and to this day I’m thankful for her actions.

The second professor was a little trickier.  I had two in mind, but only wanted to pick one.  The first professor I considered asking was a political science professor.  My major was in journalism, but I’d also considered going to law school because of my interest in economics and government, so over the course of my time as an undergrad, I’d also taken this professor five times.

But, I figured it would probably be better to get my second recommendation from a professor who can better access my skill set as a journalism major.  I took three classes with this second professor.  He described these courses as “three of the hardest courses you will find at this college.”  Taking his challenge, I went ahead and aced all three classes, so I figured he was a perfect person to ask.  However, I was having some trouble getting hold of him, so I just shot a quick email.  I guess it really wasn’t quick, because I went into a pretty fair amount of detail, and quite frankly I probably sounded a little pathetic.  I don’t have the exact copy, but I remember fairly vividly, so here’s a paraphrased rendition of that email:

Dr. ……,

I’m sorry to bother you, and I’m not even so sure you will remember me, but I was a student of yours in COMM 330,450,467.  I’m reaching out to you today because I’ve recently begun the process of applying to graduate school, so I am currently trying to acquire some letters of recommendation.  I only need two, and I was hoping I could ask you to write me one, because I feel your three classes were some of the most challenging, rigorous courses I’ve taken here at … .  I did well in these classes, and I was hoping you would possibly vouch for my abilities as a student.  A letter from you would mean a tremendous amount to me because I have a great deal of respect for you as a professor, and the knowledge I gained in your courses was vital to my learning journey.  Again, I deeply apologize for the burden, and I completely understand if you decline my request.  I’m sure you are asked this a lot, and I’m sure you’re busy with other things, to which I also understand.  If you could just let me know that would be great.  Thanks so much

As you can see, it’s totally pathetic how much I made myself sound like a wandering beggar, needing his heroic charity just for a hot meal.  Anyway, a week or so passed, and I really did understand because I’m sure he had other stuff going on.  So I didn’t mind too much.  However, another 10 days passed since my original email, so I typed a follow-up, basically reiterating everything I said, asking if he received my first message, telling him again I understand if he says no, and then, of course, profusely apologizing for my complete intrusion on his personal life.

Another day passed.  Eighteen days after my original email I check my inbox and I get this response:  (I don’t have a screen shot of the original email anymore, but this is the exact, verbatim, word for word account of what this professor typed back to me)

Dan,

Yes, I got your message.  I was on vacation on didn’t think I would be bothered with such trivial issues such as student questions.

I was shocked.  Keep in mind, this was the most tenured professor in the communication department of my school, and his wife served as the chairmen for the School of Communication.

I didn’t respond.  How could I have?  There’s nothing I could have said.  I wanted to say so much, but I needed to be the bigger person.

I told people about this.  No one in the administration, mind you, but I disclosed this to my friends, my family, and to Haley.  I couldn’t believe it.  I think what bothered me more than anything is the fact this guy was a professor with a Ph D.  That means years ago, he had to do the same thing I did.  Before he applied to grad school, he had to seek goodwill of professors to write him a letter of recommendation.  He completely ignored the good deed someone did for him years ago, and completely spat in my face.

I don’t think I was unreasonable.  I don’t think I was terribly bothersome.  I even told him I totally understood if he said no.  If he would’ve emailed me back and said “No, Dan, I don’t want to write you a letter of recommendation,” I would have been completely 100% okay with that.  The God’s honest truth is a really did respect this guy as a professor, and he seemed like the type of guy who would help a student out.

I will never forget this exchange.  I think about it everyday.  I got over the anger quickly.  But I’ll never forget how I was treated.  More than anything, his actions have inspired me.  I hope someday I’m in a position to help a kid out.  I pray I’m given the opportunity to help make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s something as simple as writing a letter of recommendation.  His negative attitude in that email drives me every day to be a positive influence when I’m his age.  Maybe someday a kid with a blog will write a post about me, only he will talk about how I wrote him a nice letter.

If you take nothing else away from this story, just learn to pay it forward.  Even though the negativity of someone you respect completely takes the wind out of your sails, don’t be angry.  Use the emotions from that experience to do something positive.

For privacy reasons, I will not be disclosing this individual’s identity.  I’m not one to burn bridges or hold grudges, so I will not publicly attach his name to an article that is portraying him in a very negative light.

The good news, the political science professor, being the awesome guy he is, wrote me a great letter of recommendation.  He’s also the type of guy to take his shirt off his own back and give it to you if you ever needed it.

It goes to show, there really is good in everyone.

Jail or no jail

Let’s pretend for a moment I’ve written a groundbreaking, important story instead of the usual garbage I write about politics and basketball.  In this bit of prose, I manage to report actual news, and CNN sends me an email asking if they can run my story.  I tell them no because I hate CNN so then Yahoo! calls me and asks the same thing and I tell them go for it.  In the first day, my story gets 300,000 views.  The next day, it’s up to a million and Good Morning America picks it up where another 10 million people view it.  By now, this news is legitimate, mainstream media.

In this hypothetical story, I’ve been emailing back and forth with an anonymous source who has provided me insight regarding this story.  I trust the source, and they trust me too, so they’ve asked to not be identified in the story.  I’ve promised this source I would do my very best to maintain their anonymity, but nothing is absolute.

The FBI gets word of my story, and they come knocking at my door.  They want to know who my anonymous source is, because this person may have information pertinent to this case.  I refuse to disclose the name of my source.

Two weeks later, a subpoena is in my mailbox.  The FBI is commanding I turn over any information I have about this source, including emails, notes, and the source’s name.  I’ve also been compelled to appear in court.  I hire a lawyer.

The lawyer tells me I have two choices:  I cooperate fully, turn over any material, including the source’s name, and I’m good to go.  Or, I refuse to burn my source, in which case I will be held in contempt of court, and likely serve some jail time.  If anything regarding this case goes to trial, I can be held for the duration.

What should I do?

This hypothetical scenario is a very real ethical and professional conundrum faced by journalists all the time.  Judith Miller, a former reporter for the New York Times, went to jail for over 80 days for refusing to disclose a source.  These things happen.  Remember, this is a lose-lose scenario.  Let’s say you pick door number one:  you burn the source, cut a deal, and avoid jail time.  You have just effectively lied to a person who trusted you, broke one of the most important ethical rules of journalism, and possibly jeopardized the rest of your career, as most people will be hesitant to talk to someone who ratted a source to save themselves.  What’s behind door number two?  You refuse to disclose the source and the judge sentences you to an indefinite jail sentence, ending whenever the trial concludes, possibly months from now.  But you get to serve that jail sentence with your head held high, knowing you stuck it to the man, and defended journalistic principles.  You might even consider yourself a hero.

I was asked this same question a few weeks ago in class, if I would take a jail sentence to protect a source.  Everyone in the room immediately said “yes, absolutely, I would go to jail every single time to protect a source,” which is fine, but I don’t they considered both sides.

Yes, protecting your source means you’ve acted with journalistic integrity.  But have you?  What if your source had pertinent, important knowledge not only relevant to a case, but imperative to its conclusion?  By protecting this source, you have effectively compromised the justice system by stalling proceedings, and you’ve done it by being an indirect, de facto obstruction of justice.

I don’t mean to suggest burning the source is the right thing to do.  I’ve pondered this question almost everyday since my professor first asked it.  For me, it’s almost impossible to answer.  I’ll leave that up to you.

The Rise and Fall of Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas, for a brief period of time, was one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA.  Arenas had a knack for making huge plays, clutch performances, and obnoxious antics, all of which made him a fan favorite in Washington D.C., home to Arenas’ Wizards team.  Between 2004-07, Arenas averaged nearly 28 points a game, leading his team into the playoffs each of those years.  In 2008, Arenas was awarded with a huge contract extension, almost certainly ensuring he would retire a Wizard.  Unfortunately, two years later Arenas would be the center of a controversy that would ultimately derail his prosperous NBA career.

Arenas first became nationally recognized as a scoring point guard at the basketball powerhouse University of Arizona.  “The second we saw him, there we no doubt about his potential,” said legendary head coach Lute Olson, who recruited Arenas.  Playing alongside Richard Jefferson, a future NBA all-star, Arenas averaged nearly 17 points per game his sophomore year, leading the Wildcats to a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  The Wildcats marched right through the NCAA tournament during the 2000-01 season, defeating their opponents by an average margin of 16 points a game, setting themselves up for a meeting with the number 1 seeded Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship game.  Arenas had an awful game, shooting 4-13 from the floor, scoring only 10 points, as the Blue Devils defeated the Wildcats 82-72.

After a productive college career, Arenas entered the 2001 NBA draft.  Despite strong consideration from many teams in the first round, Arenas fell to the second round, being selected with the second pick of the second round by the Golden State Warriors.  Arenas would wear a 0 on his jersey later to signify the number of minutes experts predicted he would play in the NBA.

Arenas had two very good years in Golden State, only averaging 10 points in his rookie campaign before emerging as a consistent scoring threat, scoring 18 points per game in his sophomore year as an NBA player.  Since he was a second round pick, Arenas was eligible to test free agency, which he did, earning a 6 year $60 million contract from the Washington Wizards.  Arenas instantly became the teams best player in 2003, averaging 19 points per game.  In 2004, with the help of backcourt mate Larry Hughes, the Wizards become a playoff contender, lead by Arenas and his nearly 26 points per game.  The next season, Arenas averaged almost 30 points a game (fourth in the league), two steals a game (also fourth), and six assists, a very high number for a volume scorer such as Arenas.  The Wizards would lose in the  round of the playoffs, although Arenas averaged over 34 points a game in the opening series.  The 2007 season saw Arenas score a career high 60 points in a game, making him one of only 22 players in NBA history to accomplish that feat.

By 2008, Arenas had established himself as one of the best players in the NBA.  He was also ready to begin talking a contract extension.  The Wizards were a perennial playoff team, but always were forced to exit early.  Arenas wanted to stay in Washington, but also wanted to be sure the team could compete for a championship.  The Golden State Warriors offered Arenas a max deal, 5 year $100, the $20 million annual salary richer than the Wizards could afford.  However, the Wizards presented Arenas with a 6 year, $111 million deal which forced Arenas to take a slight pay cut, but promised to bring in more talented players to help him win a championship.  Arenas accepted the Wizard’s offer.

Because of a torn MCL the season prior, Arenas’ 2008-09 NBA season was short, playing in only two games.

The 2009-10 season started on a more hopeful note, as a still only 28 year-old Arena’s seemed to be back to his normal self, averaging nearly 23 points per game over the first third of the season.

In December of 2009, rumors circulated that Arenas was storing firearms in his team locker, a violation of both building rules for the Washington Wizards, but also of D.C. ordinances.  Arenas, however, voluntarily turned his firearms over to security, hoping to calm the issue.  Unfortunately, reports surfaced days later that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton pointed the unloaded firearms at one another during a heated locker room argument over gambling debts.  This compelled both D.C. authorities and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate.

Weeks later, Arenas, during a pregame celebration routine, gathered his teammates and “shot them” with finger guns, an act meant to be a satirical representation of his legal troubles.  The NBA suspended Arenas indefinitely for this action, and one week later Arenas plead guilty to charges of unlawfully carrying an unlicensed pistol outside the home or office.  Arenas was suspended for the rest of the season.

The next season, after getting back to a decent start, the Wizards traded Arenas to the Orlando Magic, where he became a backup behind Jameer Nelson.  Arenas only started two games during the 2010-11 season, averaging only eight points per game.

After that season, Arenas was cut by the Magic and signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, having his worst NBA season, averaging only four points per game.  Arenas now plays for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.

At age 29, coming off an injury but still in the prime of his career, Arenas’ NBA career ended because of a locker room incident involving weapons.  Some would’ve argued the three-time all-star was in the midst of a borderline Hall of Fame career, before it was tragically cut short by bad judgement.

After Arenas’ return to the league after his season long suspension, he was a pariah with his home team, despite delivering some of the best seasons of basketball anyone had ever season.  One season before, the fans loved him, selling out Arenas jerseys all over Washington, referring to their beloved star as “Agent Zero” or “Hibachi”, a name Arenas had given himself because of his ability to get hot from the floor.  The very next, Arenas was an outcast, an afterthought.  He was a forgotten fallen star for the franchise he helped build up into an Eastern Conference contender for six years straight.

Now, people will remember the guy who threw away an excellent career because of poor judgement.  No one will remember the guy who donated $100 for every point he scored during the 2006-07 season to Washington D.C. schools, a number amounting to over $210,000.  No one will remember the guy who took pay cuts to remain loyal to a team that proved it wasn’t as loyal to him.

This was all for possessing unloaded guns.  Yes, possession of these guns was illegal, a felony in fact.  And yes, pointing a weapon at another person, unloaded or not, is also felony.  But are Arenas’ crimes as bad as Greg Hardy or Ray Rice?  Greg Hardy is still technically a member of his NFL team, being paid a full salary while not being required to play in games, despite being charged with domestic abuse.  Rice has been suspended indefinitely for knocking his wife unconscious in a hotel elevator, but surely an arbitrator somewhere will overrule the suspension, freeing Rice up to one day play in the NFL again.

One stupid decision ruined the career of Gilbert Arenas, and there’s no doubt he would take it back.  But before you make judgements about the man’s legacy, just remember the type of man he was.