Friday, September 5, 2008

Obama, Paradoxical Lessons, and Football!

Still holding off on the Guatemala entry. It was two-and-a-half months ago, so the passionate afterglow that goes along with it has retreated a bit. But I'll conjure my thoughts up again soon enough.

After the national conventions of the two political major parties, I really don't have anything very new or original to say. Fact is, Obama has always taken the high road, advocating his ideas never stooping to smear his opponent. His campaign has been tight, efficient, and well-run with a clear, unwavering message of needed change in Washington. His Veep pick in Biden was a very good one, probably the best available choice he had. And most of all, he has that natural-born ability to inspire. He takes us to that other place every time he speaks, hopeful and magical. And his use of Springsteen's "The Rising" as a campaign song sure don't hurt his chances in my mind.

We had a training for AmeriCorps at Sedge Island near Island Beach State Park at the Jersey Shore back in May. There, before Obama had even won the democratic nomination from Hillary, I made a surprise announcement on the beachfront before my Corpsmates declaring Obama would be our next president. I hope my foresight is right. I will say here that it is 99.9% certain Obama will win all the same states Kerry won in '04. He is also currently leading the polls in Iowa (where he won the caucuses over Hillary in January), New Mexico (where they got SuperDem Bill Richardson), and Colorado (the Democratic National Convention was in Denver), which puts him over the 270 electoral threshold. At minimum, those are the only states he needs to snatch up in order to clinch the presidency. Obama don't need no Ohio, Florida, or Virginny to win it (Florida is leaning Republican while Ohio and Virginia are virtually tied) but McCain definitely does. Obama might also turn Nevada and Montana blue. So, unless Obama seriously Obotches the debates, he's won this thing--it's his election to lose in November.

I found a handout from an AmeriCorps "Disaster Preparedness" training when I was sifting through my old materials from my recently completed program. The training seemed pretty useless at the time, telling us about crisis management and how to come to together when Katrina-style catastrophes strike. This handout, though, has some simple lessons that you can bridge over to your approach to life. Take from it what you will, but it sure gave be some ying-yang feelings. Here are the lessons:

1. Be Prepared.
2. You will never be completely prepared.
3. Accept chaos.
4. Emphasize order and structure.
5. People can behave at their worst during a crisis.
6. Crisis can bring out the best in people.
7. Expect that people are resilient, will recover, and a sense of normalcy will be restored.
8. Expect that nothing will ever be quite the same again after a significant crisis.
9. Good judgement is the product of experience.
10. Experience is the product of mistakes.

Ah yes, football season is here. After a seven month drought, I have the comfort of knowing there will never be a Sunday without football until the last weekend of January, the weekend before the Big Game. Football is powerful stuff. And not just because the players are beastly. When the favorite team of a devoted fan succeeds, especially after a longwinded winless streak, it brings the fan long-awaited glory-filled feelings of jubilation. It's almost religious. In fact, you could make the argument that the Church of Football has, in essence, replaced the Church of God on American Sundays. Instead of cheering for the Lord in the sanctuary, we're cheering for our Herculean gridiron heroes on the couch.
At Rutgers University in NJ it's been reported that the head football coach makes more money than any other university staff member, including the university president. There's mad crazy money in football. They rack in the dough from ticket sales, merch sales, sponsors--they run the gamut. We all know money leads to more funding for better programs, better facilities, better professors, better everything. And it's not just physical things that you buy. A winning football team can instill pride in an institution (or a city if we're talking about the NFL) and bring about a true sense of unity. No matter what race we are, what our income is, or where we grew up, we can all be football fans. It's something common that anybody can latch onto.
I'm thinking about the Saints right now down in New Orleans. The city was evacuated upon the warning of the imminent storm Hurricane Gustav earlier this week. Looking at the footage, the levees barely held and the place is still in shambles from Katrina three years prior. I was down there 21 months ago with a Lutheran group from Gettysburg College and I saw the calamity firsthand. But I also soaked in the N'awlinz spirit through the people I met and the music I heard. The Saints were a shitty football team leading up to the 2005 season, but after Katrina, they seemed to kick it up a notch. They were one game away from the Super Bowl in 2006 (they lost to the Chicago Bears). I genuinely believe the success of the Saints lifted up the hopes of that flood-ridden city in some oblique, intangible way.
Then there's the fantasy football phenomenon. It's a lot like stock-trading. You have a draft at the start of the season where you pick players at each position that you think will perform the best. You get to start or bench your players each week based on their past performance or based on what the matchup looks like for that week or based on what all the analysts are saying. The value of a player rises if he scores 3 TD's. If you think the 3 TD's is just a fluke, then you might want to trade the guy. Trade now while his value is high! Do you pick the old veteran with 10 years experience running on creaky knees OR the new fresh-outta-college hotshot who doesn't quite know the NFL ropes yet? Tough choices all the time. Then there is the moral dilemma of picking fantasy players from teams you don't much like. Doing that would force you to root for a player on a team you despise, just so you can squeak out an unsatisfying victory. I intentionally crippled myself this year, opting for only players I like. Thus, my team is weaker and less likely to win, but funwise it's better this way. Team loyalty trumps bad-tasting triumph. To sum up, fantasy football is a frivolous, addictive, albeit highly recommended activity that allows for practice in morals, hypothesizing, and swindling your friends.

To me, and so many others, football matters. God almighty, it's here at last.

Go Giants!