Saturday, January 30, 2010

The best dog ever!

We lost a beloved family member yesterday when our son's dog Rigby was put to sleep due to multiple health issues. Rigby was around 13 years of age and had enjoyed a long and fruitful life, and was much loved by our immediate and extended family, and even participated in our son's wedding a few years ago!

Our son obtained Rigby from a friend's brother as one of several puppies of an unintentional litter of mixed breeds. He was half black Labrador, half Akita, and a very unique looking dog, tipping the scales at around 100 pounds at full maturity. After reaching adulthood Rigby had the coarse coat of an Akita, but his Akita-sized ears were floppy like a Lab's. And his tail was generally up and curled a bit over his back, somewhat like a coat hanger! One could always gauge his mood by whether his tail was up or not, and for many years, as long as Rigby was fully awake, his tail was up.

As a puppy, of course, he was very cute and had enormous feet, so we knew what he would grow into. As time passed and he and his master moved from living away from home to moving back in with us and back out again, we had lots of time with Rigby, even keeping him in our household for several months after our son moved to Colorado not long after graduating from college. Night after night, Rigby would keep vigil at a window off our stairwell, gazing out at the driveway and street hoping to see his master.

Rigby also patrolled the street from his windowside perch, barking at anyone who passed for a long time and certainly barking a warning to those who came up our walk, friend or foe. He was better than a doorbell and more reliable than a security system!

And when his master DID return to see him, or we returned home from, well, anywhere, what a reception we received! Squealing, snorting, running to and fro, gathering the toy of the moment to show to those who returned (the norm was a plush hedgehog squeeze toy that we simply named after its brand name, Booda--Rigby must have had twenty of those over the years!). And it usually took a few minutes for him to regain his composure, but we never minded!

Early in Rigby's life, though, he was not so friendly and agreeable with those he didn't know, as his aggressive instincts were generally activated by the sight of people (with dogs, particularly) while out for walks. He would bristle and stiffen, and sometimes bark deeply in an effort to protect us and ward off these potential intruders. But he was always very loving with those close to him, and gradually he began to be lovable to all, provided no one appeared to be threatened. Our son returned from Colorado to gather more of his belongings a few months after moving, and one of those items was Rigby himself. The boys had the opportunity to live with other young men and dogs in a camp setting in rural Colorado and my wife and I believe to this day that it was this experience that really mellowed Rigby and made him far less aggressive to others, and he remained that way until the end.

And what a life he had, living in a couple of states, traveling with his master, being with lots of people and other dogs. Once while in Colorado Rigby was inadvertently pinned under a house trailer as it was being moved. Our son feared the absolute worst, based on Rigby's cries, but upon examination by a veterinarian, he was pronounced lucky but fine (our son wasn't, but eventually was OK). And he had bizarre food allergies, so our son had to buy exotic dog food from vets made with duck, salmon and other unusual ingredients. Yet whenever he was with us, whether as a semi-permanent resident or as a house guest, the deal that Rigby and I had was that he would get the last bite of any sandwich, a rule that Rigby came to expect by rote and that I was pleased to uphold.

Somewhere along the line I started calling him "Higby" instead of his true name. It was an affectation, and Rigby didn't care. He just wanted to be with someone.

And he'll always be with all of us. Rest in peace, old friend.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quit, or don't, but get on with it

Sunday's NFL conference championship games yielded one expected outcome (the Colts advancing to their second Super Bowl in four years) and one stupendously exciting game, in which the New Orleans Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings for the right to play in their very first Super Bowl.

The big story all year for the Vikings has been Brett Favre, the 40-year-old oft-retired quarterback who let his team to a fine season marked with a high level of accomplishment for both the team and numerous individuals, including Favre himself. Truth be told, the Vikings were a decent quarterback away from a great record, with a stifling defense and all-world halfback Adrian Peterson. But the story was Favre, in his second comeback in as many years, having apparently been convinced to come back with a healed shoulder and a big chip on it against the Green Bay Packers. It seems the Packers tired of Favre's will-he-or-won't-he antics year after year and two years ago they essentially let him go, opting to grant the starting quarterback job to Aaron Rodgers (who himself led the Pack into the playoffs). Favre appears to have been out for revenge ever since, burning to show his critics (especially those in the Packer front office) that he could still produce at a high level.

If that's what this season was about, fine, mission accomplished. Favre had great stats and the Vikings won a whole bunch of games. However, since this fellow often seems to have multiple motivations for coming or going (his departure press conferences have been annual events for the past several years), my advice to him, for the benefit of his legacy and for the football world in general, is exactly as my title says: quit, or don't, but get on with it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What just happened?

I spent a strange week this week, with my company observing the MLK Day holiday and then on the road for three days. Needless to say my consumption of news was a little disjointed, but suffice it to say that I was stunned at some of what transpired over the past few days.....

First and foremost, congratulations to Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown for capturing a U.S. Senate seat that had been occupied by the late Ted Kennedy for the past 47 years. Quite a feat, and now the Democrats only have a nine-vote majority in the Senate. From the cheap seats where I am, the "filibuster-proof" majority had not helped the Dems ram through every single piece of legislation, so I don't see much changing a a result of a slightly smaller majority.

What I do see changing, though, is the overall political landscape as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday, which paves the way for corporations to spend as much as they like in advertising and other activities designed to sway voter opinions and legally influence election outcomes. What concerns me is that now that this will be in the open, instead of concealed in political action committees and such, these corporate entities (a good many of whom have received assistance from the Bush and Obama administrations) will now exert a lot of influence. When I heard this I thought of the cover of a book that was written just after Richard Nixon was elected President in the late '60's. The name of the book was "The Selling of the President" and while I don't remember the author, what I DO remember was the cover art: Nixon's face on the front of a pack of cigarettes, and I presume the book forwarded the argument that Nixon was elected in much the same way that a product is sold to the buying public. So get ready for political candidates who have more sizzle than steak in the coming years, as image will truly be everything in politics, even more so than today.

Finally, it's made me feel pretty proud to be an American to see how we as a country have responded to the recent earthquake and aftershock in Haiti. To see an impoverished country's citizens lose what little they had is disconcerting, to be sure, but when you add a corrupt government and little hope of a self-recovery and you know that these people need and deserve whatever help we can provide. I just saw a news item that the Haitian government plans to move around 400,000 people into temporary settlements, presumably to get them away from the ruins in and around Port-Au-Prince and the disease that will surely follow those medieval conditions, so good for them in acting proactively. And the port has been reopened, so there should be a better mechanism for getting relief supplies into the country.



Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So much for loyalty

Two things have come up in the last few days about which I feel compelled to comment.....

Here's the first: NBC decided that keeping Jay Leno in the fold to host a 10:00 PM version of his "Tonight Show" would revolutionize prime-time television, and NBC was to be congratulated for determining that hiring Jay at an ungodly salary would still be cheaper than paying the freight on five one-hour dramas to fill the Monday-Friday 10:00 PM time slot. This was all decided AFTER they had committed the traditional "Tonight Show" slot several years ago to Conan O'Brien, who replaced David Letterman in the 12:35 AM time slot several years ago. All Conan did was exactly what he was told: present a mostly funny show, close it out, move himself, his family, his on-air team and his writing and producing staff to southern California (because that's where the "Tonight Show" is done, you know).

In the interest of full disclosure, note that I was always a Letterman fan, so when NBC turned on him in favor of Jay Leno so many years ago, I went with Dave to CBS and on those rare occasions when I'm up that late, I watch Letterman. Jay was never that funny to me, still isn't, and Conan isn't bad but he's very much an acquired taste, in my opinion.

So, if you've read the recent articles, NBC last week announced it had cancelled Leno's revolutionary prime-time show and publicly proposed creating a 30 minute slot for Jay at 11:35. That's if O'Brien goes along and agrees to move the "Tonight Show" to 12:05. Conan announced yesterday that he doesn't really think that it's still the same show if it airs at 12:05 AM, so the ball's back in NBC's court. What a mess, and it serves NBC right. This is, after all, the same network that screwed David Letterman many years ago, cancelled "Hill Street Blues" so many years ago and had to be prodded to leave "Seinfeld" alone to find an audience, which eventually became universally hailed as one of the best sitcoms ever.

Now to my second exhibit: Lane Kiffin, the one-and-done head football coach at the University of Tennessee. This young man of 34 has already found ways to alienate an NFL owner and now the entire fan base of one of the southeast's best-known (for sports) universities. In agreeing to leave Tennessee after one year to go back to the University of Southern California as head football coach Kiffin demonstrates in one majestic swoop what's wrong with major sports. Let's remember that he was unemployed (and deemed by some unemployable) last year around this time when Tennessee boldly offered him their head coaching position. No ties to the southeast, where college football is a way of life and recruiting is the the life blood of that way of life. Yet in he came, with lots of noise and bluster and braggadocio and NCAA and SEC reprimands and now he claims he's leaving Tennessee better than he found it. My read is that Knoxville, TN wasn't a big enough pond for this fish.

What I find particularly amusing is that at USC Kiffin will replace Pete Carroll, a longtime NFL head coach and assistant, who decided that it would be better to take the money and go back to the NFL rather than stick around to see what the NCAA has in store for the Trojan Nation at USC. Rumors have abounded for years that Carroll and his staff (many of whom will now return to USC under Kiffin) had played fast and loose with the rules and regulations surrounding student-athlete recruitment, so Carroll's getting out before the hammer falls.

Contrast that with the classy tenure and graceful departure of Rich Brooks, Kentucky's recently retired head football coach. Need I say more?

One more aside that really isn't tied to loyalty: I find Mark McGwire to lack credibility in his recent "apologies" about his steroid use, as he's almost acting as though he didn't have a choice, he only used it in small doses, etc. Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote a fine column recently on this and similar situations, and I agree with Paul: I'm done with all of these "contrite" athletes and their "apologies" and how they're "ready to move on." I am, too.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Closet geeks, unite

I admit it, I'm something of a gadget geek. Always have been, as a matter of fact.

I'm not sure where this started, but when I was a kid I wanted our family to have a TV with remote control in the worst way. My late father used to laugh when my brothers and I would lobby for a remote control, saying that he didn't need that as long as he had us!

As a teen and an avid music lover I got very tired of having to wait my turn to get access to the family stereo, so after I got an after-school job my first purchase, naturally, was my own stereo, to which I added over the years. To show you how much that stereo meant to me, I kept the components until about eighteen months ago. And I'll be 50 next year, for those who are keeping score.

I always wanted a good stereo in my cars, too, and until I was able to buy cars with decent built-in stereo (with tape and eventually CD) capabilities, I always added the best aftermarket unit I could afford. I have memories, not so fond, of spending long afternoons and evenings alone or with friends struggling to figure out how to connect an add-on radio or tape deck to my car-of-the-moment. And despite not having been brought up with any particular emphasis on being handy, I was always successful.

Now, that's not to say that I am always 100% cutting edge. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. And while I don't rely on others to change the channel (though I could have when my kids were younger), I am guilty of not getting with the program in certain ways. I was very slow to switch from 8-track tapes to cassettes, and from cassettes to CDs. My son now has a rather large collection of what were my cassettes, collected over twenty or so years. And when I jettisoned my ancient stereo equipment recently, along with it I sold off my record collection, with some of the titles dating back thirty-five years or more.

I didn't have a cellphone until an employer required me to have one and agreed to pay for service. I was very late in getting an iPod, too, but had been playing around with digital music for a while. I don't have caller ID on my land-line phone (yes, we still have one), but like it very much on my cellphone account.

Now, on the subject of TVs, my wife and I very much enjoy the home theater experience and have made a variety of investments in that regard. Our current setup includes a 52 inch LCD HDTV, a Blu-Ray high-definition disc player and a Bose sound system. Not like going to the movies, but the popcorn's a lot cheaper and the seats are considerably more comfortable.

And I'm writing this entry not on any old Windows PC but on a Mac, which I very much wanted for many years and am elated with it nearly two years after its purchase.

Technology is our friend, and I remind myself all the time that all of these devices are here to improve our lives. Although it doesn't always seem that way......

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We'll miss you, Coach Brooks

Seven football seasons ago, Kentucky fans were angry. Their team had just been placed on probation as a result of events that occurred under the previous coach, the current coach had led the team to a surprising seven win season, and the athletics director did not see fit to match a generous offer from another university to keep that coach on the job in Lexington.

That's the situation Rich Brooks inherited when he accepted the head football coaching job at the University of Kentucky seven years ago. Many fans were upset that Kentucky had not lured a "big-name" coach or at least one with a recent history of success at the collegiate level. Brooks hadn't coached a single game in college in a number of years, having served as a head coach and defensive coordinator for professional teams. Rumors swirled that Kentucky had too aggressively pursued one or two high-profile candidates, only to be turned down late in the selection process, or that it had offered the job to nearly everyone in the coaching profession, and they had all declined Kentucky's offers.

But not Rich Brooks.

In he came, and the immediate results were not great. Kentucky was on probation, meaning that they had limited scholarships to offer prospective players and could not play in the postseason. These two factors kept a lot of top-shelf recruits from committing to Kentucky, and the talent level and quantity both suffered.

But gradually more high-quality players agreed to come to the University of Kentucky and the most recently completed season represented the first time in school history that the football team had qualified for post-season play in four consecutive years.

This most recent season was trying for a lot of reasons, beginning with high hopes and ending with two disappointing losses, and it seems that those two losses, along with other factors, led Coach Brooks to announce his retirement yesterday. The program should move ahead seamlessly, having named Brooks' successor two years ago, but it will miss the fiery competitor that fans and especially players have come to know, respect and love over the last seven years.

As a local newspaper columnist wrote, they don't make them like Rich Brooks anymore. And that's a shame, because of his drive, competitiveness and integrity. And he will be badly missed.

Thanks, coach, for letting Kentucky fans be unabashed in their support of this football program!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The year isn't all that's new....

Well, here we are, 2010, and I suppose now we'll have to get used to saying "twenty-ten" to signify this year. I heard three television personalities correct themselves when first referring to the new year at "two thousand ten." But here's what else is new:

Airline security lines will be longer and screening will be more thorough, or so we're being told.

The United States is closing embassies in other countries for the umpteenth time.

Health care reform will be a reality, albeit in a form probably not originally intended.

It's cold, even in places where it ordinarily isn't.

Most everyone you know is on a new diet or eating plan or exercise plan or all of the above.

NBA players are apparently being advised not to bring guns onto the court, as many appear to have them most everywhere else.

Tiger Woods is no longer a sought-after product endorser.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will not repeat as Super Bowl champs.

The New York Yankees begin the year as defending World Series champs. Oh, wait, that's not all that new.

Oh, and one more thing that's new....my company saw fit to move me to a territory more geographically appropriate to our Kentucky home, so I'll still be traveling but just not as far. And with the item at the top of the list, that's a most welcome change.

Happy new year!

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