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Sports Movies and the Power of Storytelling

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I noticed a thread on Twitter the other day where people were listing their favorite sports movies.  Challenge accepted, I thought to myself.  First, though, a little background.

My wife hates sports.  Or more correctly, she generally dislikes sports and pretty much anything involving competition and hates sports spectating.  I tend to be a very competitive person and like watching my favorite sports teams and, over the course of the nearly 22 years we’ve been married, this has led to some interesting, um, well, let’s call them discussions.  I don’t recall the topic coming up much prior to our marriage, which was probably a good thing.  To her credit, she did try to develop some interest in sports after we got married for about two months and then gave up.  It just wasn’t in her to become any kind of a fan.  While most of the time she is patient about the topic, occasionally she does inquire about my interest in sports in much same she would inquire if I had an interest in axe murderers or biochemical weapons.  Hence the “discussions.”

The topic has come up often enough that I’ve actually had to think about it and develop a more considered answer, rather than simply saying “Just cuz I do.”  It occurred to me that probably the most effective method that we humans have developed to share information is the story.  This has probably been true since the first time our ancestors were sitting in a cave around a fire and Grog started describing how he and his friends had managed to take down that woolly mammoth they were eating without get skewered by those giant tusks.  Grog, Jr. probably sat around that same campfire and took it all in with rapt attention, but as he got older, he probably thought that old man Grog surely would have done better with the mammoth if he’d thrown the spear there instead of there.  Perhaps it did work better and Grog, Jr. would have his own really good story to tell around the campfire, or perhaps he found out that the old man was smarter than he thought, which would explain Junior’s noticeable limp, but that would also make a really good story, assuming he survived.

Anyway, my point is it’s a part of our DNA to collect information and stories make collecting that information more palatable than just gathering dry facts.  Most of the information we gather, we’ll never use, but that doesn’t make the gathering of it through stories less important.  In fact, stories have become such an integral part of us that we need them, regardless of whether the information is useful.  This explains the value of music and art and a good book.  It explains why Jesus taught in parables and Shakespeare made Julius Caesar much more entertaining than just (spoiler alert!) “Brutus and Cassius stabbed Caesar, the end.”

Sports for me is a story that’s being created as I watch.  Sometimes the story is really boring when the game turns into a blowout and sometimes it’s endlessly fascinating as the game twists and turns to an unexpected conclusion.  Some people don’t have the patience or the understanding of what’s going on to get much out of sports and I get that.  Each of us has types of stories that are more attractive to us than other types and there’s no disgrace in not liking a particular type of story.  I tend to like most forms of storytelling, although opera is a bit of a stretch.  But all of us need stories in our lives and you can tell her I said so.

Sorry for getting sidetracked.  Part of the reason I think this came up is that the power of the story is sort of a recurring theme of this blog and is something I find fascinating.  I suppose if sports makes for good stories, you would think that sports movies would make for good movies, but that’s not always the case, and the fact of the matter is I’d rather watch a mediocre RomCom than a mediocre sports movie, because at least a mediocre RomCom might still make you laugh a little.  But, when a sports movie does hit, then it can really take you to ecstasy.  So on to the movies.

Once again, as with any time I make up a movie list, there are a few ground rules.  First, it has to be a movie I’ve actually seen.  Second, this is my list of my favorite movies and shouldn’t be confused with a list of the best movies in terms of quality.  If this was a “best of” list, it would be quite different, because a couple of the movies on this list are rather terrible.  Third, the movies listed below are in no particular order.  I’d go crazy trying to rank them.  Finally, if the movie is about a sport that I don’t particularly understand or enjoy watching, it is automatically at a disadvantage.  That’s the reason that movies like Victory and Bend it Like Beckham, both of which are very good movies never stood a chance of making the list. So, without further ado:

Hoosiers – My favorite memory of this movie is critic Roger Ebert’s negative reaction to it.  When he saw it, he immediately hated it because there was just no way anything like this could ever actually happen in the real world.  Actually, while a lot of the back story is changed for dramatic effect, the basics of the story are closely based on Milan, Indiana’s state championship in 1954, an event that is celebrated in Indiana to this day.  Jimmy Chitwood’s last second shot in the movie is taken at the exact same location (and in the same gym) that Bobby Plump took his last second shot against Muncie Central in 1954.

Clearly, this is Gene Hackman’s movie and he was born to play this role, but the supporting cast is pretty good, too. Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey are both very good and the kids, almost none of whom had any acting experience, are great.

CaddyshackCaddyshack is more of series of comedy skits, a la Saturday Night Live, all thrown together under a loosely framed story arc, than it is an actual movie.  Some of the skits are really awful.  In particular, I remember one scene where apparently the show’s writers decided that they had to have one skit that included both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase.  It’s terrible and almost painful to watch.  Still, it’s hard to leave a movie off this list that has so many scenes that have become a part of the culture.  Scenes, like this and this and this and this.  To this day, I’ll occasionally catch myself describing some off-beat and unimportant aspect of my life to someone by saying, “So I’ve got that going for me… which is nice.”

The Natural – “The only thing I know about the dark is you can’t see in it.”  The Natural almost has a spiritual aspect to it and I imagine that it’s inspired more sermons than any other sports movie.  Interestingly, this spiritual aspect is completely missing from the Bernard Malamud novel that the movie is based on.  In turn, the book is a fictional retelling of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  This may be about the only time in my life I’ll ever say this, but if you have a choice between the book and the movie, choose the movie.  I’m not a big Redford fan, but this may be his best acting job.

Slap Shot – The movie that made the Hanson brothers famous.  Warning:  The movie is profane and violent, so don’t watch it with the kiddies.  Oh, and one other thing.  It’s a comedy.

Raging Bull – I thought about this one a lot, as I’m not sure that boxing movies aren’t their own separate category. By their nature, they tend to be different from other sports movies. If I were ranking boxing movies, I’d go 1. Raging Bull, 2. Cinderella Man, and 3. the first Rocky movie. I’m not a big fan of the other Rocky movies, although I’ve heard great things about the latest Rocky movie from a couple of years ago. It got some Oscar nominations.

About Raging Bull, Robert DeNiro was a big star before this movie, but it seemed that his performance here moved him into a different level among acting elites. People started talking about him in terms of him being the best movie actor ever.

Miracle – I was in college when the 1980 USA hockey team beat the Soviets and it really was one of those moments that you remember where you were when it happened.  I still think it was the biggest upset in my lifetime.  The movie does a good job of putting some flesh on the story.  The ending still leaves you tingling almost as much as the actual event.

Major League – Yeah, three of my top seven are comedies.  So sue me!

I’ve never been in a Major League clubhouse before, but I’ve been told by those that have that Major League actually captures the atmosphere in the clubhouse more faithfully than any other movie about baseball.  It is a funny movie that’s definitely improved by the presence of Bob Uecker, who pretty much steals the show.

Honorable Mention:

Searching for Bobby Fischer – Since it’s about chess, I really couldn’t justify putting it on my list.  Searching for Bobby Fischer is probably better than any movie on my list.

Any Kevin Costner sports movie – I think I’ve mentioned my distaste for Kevin Costner before, but all of his sports movies (I counted five, but I could be missing a few) are a fun way to throw away a couple of hours.  If I had to choose one, I’d go with Bull Durham, but Tin Cup is pretty good too, and Costner is essentially playing the same character in both of them.  I really liked Field of Dreams when it came out, but I seem to like it less every time I watch it now.  And Shoeless Joe really was kind of a crook.

A Day in Retreat

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On Thursday I finally got around to unwrapping my wife’s Christmas present to me.  This year, she got me a day at a local retreat center, a place called the Spiritual Life Center.  I’m not sure what inspired her to get me that, but it might have had something to do with finding my stash of thousands of pages with nothing typed on them except “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  She seemed doubtful about my explanation that it’s for the novel I’m writing.  Or perhaps it’s because I’ve been wandering around the house in the middle of the night carrying an axe, something I quite naturally assumed everybody did.  Regardless, she seemed convinced that I was a little stressed.  Commitments at work and home prevented me from getting around to opening my gift until recently, but three weeks ago I finally went to the retreat center website.

The application process was relatively uncomplicated.  I only struggled with one question, when it asked me to identify my denomination.  My rule of thumb for these situations is that if the denomination of your church is five or more words long, it’s probably easier to answer “nondenominational” and move on.  It took the center a few days to respond and I was beginning to wonder if my completely innocent inquiry about the availability of an altar to perform animal sacrifices was problematic.  Finally, I got a response.  They would be happy to have me.  More email back-and-forth ensued to determine available dates (I wanted to come on a weekday, which simplified that process considerably) and cost (they suggested a “free will donation” for the night, although the $12 per meal was more of a requirement than a recommendation).

I arrived on Thursday a little after lunch (I decided to forego at least one meal expense).  Pam, the one staff person I got to know a little during my stay, was friendly and informative.  She handed me the retreat center guidelines when I got to the front desk and took me back to my room.  The center is primarily designed for group retreats, with dozens of hotel style overnight rooms along with large auditoriums and chapels covering the southern and central parts of the building.  However, on the far north side of the facility, there were six rooms set aside specifically for personal retreats and that’s where we went.  My room was comfortable, but quite spartan by hotel room standards.  No television and no phone.  I half expected Pam to confiscate my cell phone, but she didn’t mention it.  I noticed in the information packet that there was a wifi password.  I asked about that, but she didn’t respond with “We’re not savages.”  As she left, Pam announced that I was expected to change the sheets and make the bed before I checked out.  That seemed reasonable enough.

And then I was alone.  That night, I did a quick exploratory search of the wing and found out that I was REALLY alone.  In this wing, only my room was occupied.  I resisted the urge to run up and down the hallway naked.  I didn’t bring much, so unpacking only took seconds.  Once completed, I grabbed a notebook and pen (what’s a retreat without a journal?) and explored the grounds.  The retreat center itself is a part of a larger facility run by the local Catholic Diocese that includes a church, an elderly care facility, the retreat center, and a cemetery.  It’s located in suburban Wichita, so it’s not exactly a back to nature experience.  Quiet walks in the presence of God usually included the sounds of planes landing at a nearby airport and the distant hum of lawnmowers.  But they did have several trails fanning out from a small, somewhat picturesque lake, making it easy enough to find good places to be alone and on this day, it was very easy.  The retreat center only had one other group using the facility, a small cadre of less than a dozen that I decided must be a group of local Catholic business people.  To my knowledge they never used the trails, so once again I was all by my lonesome.

It was great!  Over the course of the remainder of Thursday and then Friday morning, I walked every trail, using the two gazebos and numerous benches conveniently situated on the trails to make stops and write for a while.  Thursday after dinner, I picked a gazebo with a better view of the west and did something that I haven’t done in years.  I watched a sunset for about an hour.  Friday morning was more of a challenge, because it brought occasional light rain and lightning.  I suppose it was foolish to even be outside, but it seemed important not to miss any moment of the experience before I had to leave and if I did get struck by lightning, at least the cemetery was nearby.  I got a little wet but, thankfully, not electrocuted.  Over the course of the few hours I spent there, I could feel the tension melt and my equanimity return.

I left a little before noon, again avoiding the expense of another meal (if I have one complaint, it would be that the one meal I had at the facility wasn’t worth $12).  I left a check that was a little above the recommended donation and headed out just as, in a Godly nod to the concept of irony, it began to rain in earnest.  It was time to head back to the real world and the real world was welcoming me back with something less than open arms.

But my experience was wonderful and the side benefit is this should simplify my wife’s Christmas shopping in the future.  She can keep doing this in perpetuity.

The Easter Finish

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My self-imposed writing assignment this week was to produce something about Easter.  In my life, I’ve heard at least fifty Easter sermons and I’ve read a few books, heard a few Sunday School lessons, and had a few conversations with people way more learned about the subject of Jesus’ resurrection than I am.  It should have been easy.  It wasn’t.  I thought it through for about four days, mentally writing down and then rejecting one idea after another.  I suppose part of the problem was there are just a lot of directions to go with this and another part of the problem is that, despite the sermons and books and discussions, I just don’t feel up to the task.  Ask me to write my opinion about a particular aspect of, say, Clean Water Act regulations and I can come up with something pretty definitive.  Boring, but definitive.  The resurrection and all its implications just leaves me feeling seriously out of my depth.

So let’s just start with the basics, which are the four Gospel accounts. We have four accounts of the resurrection, each of which gives its own unique set of details, and some of those details seem contradictory.  That’s not surprising given that they are all trying to describe a phenomenon that defies normal language.  It would be more surprising (and more suspicious) if the Gospels more closely agreed.  In any event, I think the contradictions are explainable, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra work.  It’s probably better just to read the stories as presented.  Matthew gives us the most details of the immediate post-resurrection aftermath.  He describes an earthquake and an angel gleaming like lightning coming down to push away the massive stone in front of the tomb, leaving the guards standing watch at the tomb nearly scared to death.  Then, in what is my favorite visual image in the entire story, the angel, almost in a moment of braggadocio, sits on top of the stone and looks down at the shocked women who have come to attend to Jesus’ body as if to say, “And you thought moving this stone would be HARD.”

My favorite verse from this story is in Luke’s account.  He has the angel saying, “Why do seek the living among the dead. He is not here. He is risen.”  It’s always a dangerous thing to take a scripture out of context and apply it to your own life, but that’s what I’ve done with this one.  The resurrection is a turning point in history, not just in world history, but in OUR history.  Jesus died for our sins, but as Paul tells us in First Corinthians 15, if there is no resurrection, Jesus’ death is pointless and stupid.  If you are a Christian, you know that there is a point in your life where the new life we know because of his death and resurrection begins and the old life ends.  Some Christians have a hard time giving up that old life and moving on.  Some non-Christians are simply incapable of giving up the old life.  Like the angel says, there is nothing in that old life but death and misery, so why stay there?

Finishing this up (appropriately so), a few words about Jesus’ last words.  About twice a year, our church has a two day seminar that will go into depth about a biblical topic.  We had one last weekend about Holy Week and, as I usually do, I picked up some interesting morsels, including a bit of knowledge about Greek financial practices.  John’s Gospel says that Jesus’ last words were “It is finished.”  I think we tend to mentally translate that into “I am finished,” or “My work here is done,” or some similar idea.  But the Greek word used there, tetelestai, actually implies something else.  In other Greek texts where the word appears, it is often used as an accounting term to indicate that a debt is paid in full or an account is closed.  What Jesus was saying was our own debts, the debts due to God for our sins, are paid in full and the account is closed.  God isn’t a heavenly accountant, tallying up the good and bad things we’ve done trying to decide if we belong with him.  He’s a God who loves us so completely that He was willing to sacrifice His son for us to close our sin accountant.  And that is what the Gospel, or good news, is all about.

And now I’m finished.  Happy Easter.

The Senior Pastor

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Today, Steve, the senior pastor of our church, is leaving that position to… I don’t know what the heck he’s going to be doing, honestly.  “Pursue other endeavors” is the phrase that we Americans frequently use to describe this situation.  Just for the record, he was not fired nor was he asked to leave.  The church is doing well and there is no hint of scandal hanging over anything.  And, as we have been told at least a hundred times in the last year since this was announced, HE IS NOT RETIRING.  We don’t excommunicate in our church, but they’ve practically promised executions at dawn for anyone using the R word.  He’s moving his office, but only to shove his ponderous amount of stuff over to another office in the church building, one that’s in a less central location and, presumably, smaller.

The church was founded nearly 30 years ago, and in that time Steve is the only senior pastor this church body has known.  As you can imagine, there is a little trepidation about this transition, particularly among the people that have been around the longest.  The new pastor, Nick, has been on staff for several years now and is an easy person to like.  As such, there’s been no effort by the congregation to break out the pitchforks and torches over this move, but change is hard and I think most people understand that this is just the first of many changes about to happen.  I dislike change as much as the next guy (or more, if my wife is to be believed), but it has to be this way.  If Nick directs his efforts at maintaining the status quo, he will surely fail and we will all be darned to heck.  I was in a Sunday School class that Nick was teaching a few months back and he brought up the subject of the transition, so I asked what kind of changes he saw coming around once he was the head guy.  His answer was measured and thoughtful and ultimately useless, so I asked the question a different way.  I tactfully replied something along the lines of, “Come on, bruh!  Are you telling me you haven’t sat in on staff and church board meetings and thought to yourself, ‘You know, if I were in charge… ?’”  He smiled a little and dismissed the idea that he’d ever thought that and then listed off a few things that he thought he would like to look at changing.  I don’t even remember what he told me now, because I didn’t really care.  I just wanted to know he had his own vision and would act on it.  I haven’t worried about the transition since then.

One last word about Steve before ending this missive.  I’ve belonged to Hope for about fifteen years now, as long as I’ve belonged to any church in my life, and you can’t hang around a place for that long without developing some interesting connections and commitments along the way.  Steve has a group of guys called his “Prayer Team” that meet monthly to talk about his next sermon and take his prayer requests for the next month.  For those of you who aren’t involved in a church, I’m not sure I can properly describe the magnitude of all of this, but these prayer requests are a big deal.  A pastor faces challenges, professionally and personally, that most of us can’t begin to comprehend.  Those in the group commit themselves to supporting Steve spiritually as he confronts these challenges.  I’ve been in that group for a while now and I’ve gotten to know Steve a little.  Certainly not at a friendship level, but at least to a point where I feel comfortable around him.  He is a good man with a lot of compassion and insight and he can weave a pretty dang good sermon.  I will miss him terribly as senior pastor.  Yeah, he’s still going to be around, likely crammed away in some horribly undersized office that used to be the janitor’s closet, and will still be a part of my life for the foreseeable future, but it’s not going to be the same.  My church, my primary place of spiritual renewal and support, is not going to be the same.  Did I mention that change is hard?

But still necessary, so bring it on!  I’m ready.

Reunion Blues

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Well, it’s reunion time.  When an event only happens every ten years, as high school reunions usually do, it’s pretty easy to forget that it’s just around the corner and I’m old enough now that I’m sure that senility played a significant role my memory lapse.  I was a little jolted when the great Facebook god informed me that a committee had been formed and the committee was digging up alums with all the subtlety of a hungry Dachshund in a prairie dog colony.  Well, it may have been a bit more subtle than that.  I got a really nice email from the really sweet and highly persuasive Linda (she’s a real estate agent, so those characteristics come in handy) asking for current information.  I took it on faith that it wasn’t a phishing scam and sent it in, along with a brief statement that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

It pained me to say that, especially to Linda (did I mention that she is really sweet and highly persuasive?).  I had to carefully wordsmith that short sentence in my email response (“As of today, my attendance is still a little uncertain.”), so that it had some thin connection to honesty.  The reunion is at the end of June and I don’t usually make plans for five minutes from now, much less three months ahead of time, so I couldn’t say that I had a previous engagement that night.  I only live forty miles away from the venue, so the travel excuse isn’t going to fly.  And I’m still a little in disbelief myself that I’m actually thinking about not going.  I’m guessing it’s about 70% I’ll go and 30% I won’t.  It’s pretty embarrassing that the “I won’t” percentage is that high.

This is the fortieth reunion, which makes it the fifth one that this class has celebrated, (we also threw in a 25th reunion for good measure). Except for the 25th, I had a lot of fun at all of them, and the 25th was simply weird, rather than bad, so I don’t have a good excuse for not attending.  There’s no Biff Tannen waiting to settle an old score, no old girlfriends looking to exact a measure of revenge.  I am on somewhat friendly terms with almost everyone I’d meet and Facebook friends with a lot of them.  Linda’s email made it sound like it will be an enjoyable experience.  The exact quote was “fun, bonfires, and memories.”

Memories!  “Aye, there’s the rub,” as I overheard my old friend Bill saying the other day.  I know that there are a lot of people that look back fondly on high school and, for a few of those people (very few, I suspect), those days were the bright spot in what’s been an otherwise difficult life.  That’s not me.  My memories of high school are mostly memories of awkward attempts at fitting in and futile efforts at trying to glean some meaning out of life.  I had far better memories from my life before high school and, once I headed for college, life almost immediately got better.  If the Tardis were to land in my backyard today and Dr. Who popped out and gave me a one time only offer to relive any year of my life, I’m definitely not picking one of those three year.  It’s not like those years were completely meaningless or troubled.  My senior year in particular shaped a lot of who I am today, as I finally began to sort through the garbage of my spiritual life.  But reliving most of those memories sounds like about as much fun as leprosy.

And that’s no one’s fault but my own.  One the most awesome and terrible facts of life is that I’m ultimately responsible for my own joy.  The years that I didn’t gain a measure of joy are on me and no one else.  That’s probably the most important lesson I learned from all of the spiritual garbage sorting I did back then.  But part of maintaining joy once you do have it is staying away from situations that take away from it.  If it’s mine to lose, what is the upside of risking it?

So given all that, why am I still likely to attend?  As it happens, that shy, socially awkward teenager has, forty years later, grown up to become, well, a shy, socially awkward adult.  I am, after all, writing a blog on a Sunday afternoon, rather than hanging out with real people.  But at least it’s a shy, socially awkward adult with the highly developed and truly awesome coping skills that come with maturity.  And being more mature means knowing that you don’t have to let your memories destroy the future joy that you can experience.  Staying home is just being a slave to your past.

So I’ll be there, probably.  I shouldn’t be too hard to find.  I’ll be the guy in the corner mumbling, “Oh, joy!”

Ode to the Mediocre – The 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament

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A dozen questions you’ve desperately wanted answered about this NCAA tournament.

If you could pick one word to describe this year’s NCAA tournament, what would it be?

Mediocre.  All of the top teams have great strengths and some fatal weakness lurking under the surface waiting to sink them.  Now personally, I don’t mind that.  That means we should have lots of really competitive games, especially in the later rounds.  The one team that could throw a monkey wrench in all of this is, as it is every year, Kentucky.  They are young and can look really terrible at times, but because they are young, they are unpredictable.  They might lose in the first round or they might get hot and trample all opposition.  There’s just no telling.  I suppose you could make the same case for Duke (also young and inconsistent).

So who will win it this year?

This year is a little bit odd in that there is no clear favorite, but about forty teams in this tournament have almost no chance at all of winning it.  In my list of teams with the best chance of winning this thing (over 3%), I have, in order of likelihood: Gonzaga, Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Arizona, West Virginia, Virginia, Baylor, Purdue, UCLA, Oregon, Florida St., Iowa St., SMU, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, and (why not) Wichita St.

So Gonzaga is your favorite?

Yup.

How comfortable are you with Gonzaga?

About as comfortable as having my proctology exam done by a porcupine.  Gonzaga is talented and experienced and aesthetically pleasing to watch (Przemek Karnowski looks like he should be in the log chopping contest at a lumberjack competition rather than playing center for a basketball team).  Since they play in the Pacific time zone and their games usually start past my bed time, I haven’t seen them much, but I did watch a rebroadcast of their loss to BYU.  They looked like a really good team, but it’s a little disturbing that, even with one of the best point guards in the country (Nigel Williams-Goss) running the team, they could wilt so badly down the stretch of a close game.  To win the championship, they’re going to have to win some close games along the way.  That BYU game was the only close game they’ve played since December.

Aren’t you a Kansas fan?

It is my privilege and my curse.

And you have them listed fourth?

I think that’s about right.  They have a very strong team that includes something that most of the other teams on that list don’t have – a guy that can create his own shot when the shot clock is winding down.  That would be Josh Jackson, who will likely be making a lot of money in the NBA next year.  This team is a beautiful tapestry that is being held together by the thinnest of threads.  If any starter on this team gets injured or suspended or in early foul trouble, they become pretty average really fast.  To think that won’t happen in a six game tournament is mustering more optimism than I can manage.

If the top teams all have defects, will this be the season that a sixteen seed finally beats a one seed?

It’s never happened before and it’s just about reached the point of becoming a statistical anomaly.  I think the sixteen seeds are 0-128, or some awful number.  It’s bound to happen sometime and this could be the year, but I gotta say that the sixteen seeds this year are particularly bad.  If I had to pick one team to pull that kind of upset, I guess I’d go with North Carolina Central (and, yes, I know they’d be playing Kansas), but unless I’m getting 500 to 1 odds, I’m not taking that bet.

What about teams from mid-major conferences?

Well, a lot of experts really like Middle Tennessee.  Vermont currently has the longest winning streak in the country and it wouldn’t be too surprising if they won a game or two.  Princeton and North Carolina-Wilmington both could mess up somebody’s bracket.  The mid-major conferences all seem a little down this year to me, so I don’t think the first two rounds are going to have more upsets than we usually see.  Of course, I’m not including Wichita State in this group, as they’ve been to a Final Four in the past few years.

Ah, the Shockers! I noticed you mentioned them earlier?

Well, first of all let me say that WSU as a ten seed is a joke, but that’s life.  I’m sure Coach Gregg Marshall will use that as motivation.  I think the thing I like most about Wichita State is that, unlike almost every other team I mentioned earlier, they seem to have about forty guys coming off of their bench.  If one or more of the starters gets in foul trouble, they’ve got multiple replacement parts ready to fit right in.  That gives them a margin for error that a lot of teams on that list would kill for.  The problem I have with the Shockers is that they’ve only played three games against NCAA tournament teams all season and lost all three.  The last of those games, against Oklahoma St. (the fifth best team in the Big-12), was particularly embarrassing and it left you wondering that maybe WSU is a bit of a paper tiger.  That was three months ago and I think they’ve improved a lot since then, but until we see them against a really good team, we just won’t know.

So who will you really enjoy watching in this tournament?

You mean other than Kansas and St. Mary’s (my other alma mater)?

Yes, who other than those two?

Well I’d like to pick UCLA, because they are a lot of fun, but I suspect that would mean more interviews with Lonzo Ball’s father, who is tedious.  I guess I’ll be playing the Ponies of SMU.  They’re short and fast and they score a lot of points.

Is there a team you’ll avoid watching?

I can’t stand watching Wisconsin. They don’t really seem to run an offense. They bring the ball down the court, randomly pass it around for a while and, when the shot clock gets close to running out, they force up a shot. I’m not sure how you can win doing that, but they seem to win pretty consistently.

Still sticking with Gonzaga?

For now. Ask me in a couple minutes and I’ll probably change my mind.

Bursting Bubbles

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John Ekdahl is a founder of something called Decision Desk Daily and a self-described expert on the Logan Act which, I am told, has nothing to do with Marvel Comics Wolverine.  A few weeks ago he created quite a stir on Twitter by asking a question addressed primarily to journalists.  “The top 3 best selling vehicles in America are pick-ups.  Question to reporters: do you personally know someone that owns one?”  The question itself seems pretty innocuous and the actual answer to the question wasn’t surprising (most of those that bothered to answer the question answered no or inferred that the answer was no).  What was surprising (at least to me; most people that know something about the subclass of human beings known as journalists were not surprised) was the vituperative nature of the answers.  It got pretty insulting, as you can read here.  One usually supposes that journalists know a little something about the American psyche, since they are writing about things that are supposed to be of interest to, you know, Americans.  When confronted with the fact that their knowledge was a bit lacking, rather than engaging in some much needed self-reflection, they turned vicious.

Of course, we all live in bubbles, and I am loathe to criticize any journalist in that situation (although, as a group, their attitude on the subject lacked something to be desired).  And if you’re looking for some political commentary on this subject, I suggest you try the blog next door, as they’re kinda into that thing.  My interest is more about what makes up these bubbles and what we should do about it.  What comprises that thin sphere of liquid that separates us from the rest of the world will be different for each of us.  Charles Murray developed an excellent test to determine how separated socially and culturally we truly are from our fellow Americans.  If you’re curious about the subject, the test is a lot more fun than your typical algebra exam.  I got a score of 59, which is pretty good.  I’m rather proud of that score, but life has provided me some inherent advantages over most people in the bubble world.  I’ve lived roughly equal thirds of my life in the country, in a small town, and in a major metropolitan area, with three years in a college town thrown in for good measure.  I spent 17 years living on the west coast, separating two stints in flyover country.  Part of my time in California was spent living in a neighborhood that was, to put it nicely, not a neighborhood that you’d want to live in without bodyguards and trained attack dogs and part of my time there was spent living in a more wealthy suburb.  And yes, I know people that own a pickup truck.  I know a lot of people that own pickup trucks and nearly all of them own them for reasons other than status.

Yet, I’m still in a bubble.  Tonight, they’ll be passing out the Grammy Awards and they will be doing so without me in televised attendance and it won’t be because of the heavily politicized overtones that I’m sure will be much in evidence.  I tried watching for a few minutes last year, but every time one the musicians or bands would play a song, I’d wonder, “Who the @#$% are these guys?”  For reasons that escape me, I seem to know a surprising (and disturbing) number of Katy Perry songs, but sometime during the past twenty years, the pop music world just passed me by without so much as a glance or an apology.

Even the church I go to is somewhat bubble inducing (and I suppose the fact that I fit into a category known as “regular churchgoer” also puts me into a bubble that is slowly shrinking).  I go to a fairly large church (average Sunday attendance is just under a thou) in the nearby Wichita suburb of Andover.  Andover is one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Wichita area.  The church leadership has done everything they can to push back against the surrounding culture and over the years, we’ve developed the reputation of being a church that will let just about anybody through the doors that isn’t strapped with explosives.  I suspect we might be just about the most economically and maybe even racially diverse church in Andover, which is still not much different than being the tallest building in Wichita.  Persons of color attending here are probably a larger percentage than the community at large, but it’s still less than 5%, I’d guess.

None of that even touches on the bubble I live in professionally or personally.  That’s doesn’t make me bad or deficient.  It just makes me normal.  Even the most interesting man in the world seems to be stuck in a rut with Dos Equis.

As I said, we’re all in some sort of bubble and if you’re happy in your bubble, more power to ya, and there is something to be said for not giving up your preconceived ideas on how the world in general and America in particular work.  Actually, strike that.  There just isn’t anything good that can come from that.  On the other hand, if you want to burst your bubble, well, this is not an advice column.  In fact, I may not be the last person you should be getting advice from, but I’m certainly in the lowest quartile for advice giving (That’s another bubble I’m in.  People who use the word “quartile.”).  But let me throw out a couple of ideas.  First, travel a little.  If you can get out of the country, that’s great, because we’re all living in the Great American Bubble, and pricking that membrane is a good thing, but what I’m thinking about here is more along the lines of getting out and about in America.  If you live on the East Coast, would it hurt you any to get to know some pickup truck drivers in Indiana or Tennessee?  I promise they don’t bite.  Well, most of them don’t.  Mark Twain’s comment about travel being fatal to prejudice is spot on.

Second, find a friend that voted for the Presidential candidate that you did NOT support and actually sit down and have a conversation with him or her.  If you have no friends that did not support your Presidential candidate, it might be time for some serious soul searching and maybe one or two new friends.  If you keep the conversation rational and without inflammatory accusation, you (and he or she) might actually learn something.  Note to people who are my friends: I’m a poor choice.  I voted third party.

That’s just some thoughts from my little bubble here in flyover country.  I’ll take a pin to mine if you’ll do the same to yours.

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Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

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