Saturday, February 06, 2016

TRUSTed??


Senator Ted Cruz in his run to be the Republican presidential candidate has positioned himself as a sincere Washington outsider who wears his Christian faith not only on his sleeve, but across his chest too. He proclaims that he is a dedicated evangelical Christian by deep conviction and lives by its primary principals. His TRUSTed signs help him push his brand that as a practicing evangelical Christian he is trustworthy and upright. His approached served him well in Iowa, and likely play well in South Carolina.



In light of recent actions will his branding and his claims to be a committed evangelical Christian become the ground of his undoing? Evangelical Christians hold that professed faith is evidenced through one’s conduct and actions. While no one is expected to be flawless, Evangelicals hold one’s profession can be questioned if conduct consistently does not match faith statements.   



One of those primary Evangelical values is the that a person of faith must support one’s church financially. That financial support should be more than a token sum. Most Evangelicals expect that support to be a tithe, 10%, of all one’s income. It is commonly held that if one does not tithe then one’s faith is rightly to be questioned by the church’s leadership.



The public has been learning that Cruz has not been financially supporting his church. His statement that he had not been financially supporting his church ring hallow amongst those of who have evangelical roots. Saying that he was building his family’s cash reserves and establishing a family trust is problematic for the vast majority of households in the church have income below Cruz’s and if they did the same as Cruz over 95% of churches would be closed for lack of funds.



Will the news that Cruz has not been financially supporting his church create tensions in the eyes of evangelical voters and cause them to question his profession of faith?  Or will Evangelicals rationalize it, giving him a pass on his lack of tithing even though such a pass would not normally be given to others in their church who seek to be viewed as leaders?



Then just as the Iowa caucus were starting the Cruz campaign spread a rumor that Ben Carson was withdrawing. The same messages instructed their caucus precinct chairs to inform caucus attendees, particularly Carson supporters, that if they supported Cruz attendees would be wasting their votes. Anecdotal reports from caucus Evangelical attendees indicates that that numerous people changed their votes on the news and enlarged Cruz’s win.



Carson had no such plans to withdraw. On Tuesday, the day after the Iowa caucus, Cruz stated it was an accidental error and not something intentionally constructed and pushed by his team. We are all aware that rumors on the lips of one or two can take flight, sometimes creating havoc and destroying lives. Cruz offered an apology to Carson, an apology that was accepted.



Unfortunately, subsequent evidence contradicts Cruz’s Tuesday statement. Copies and the breath of the voice mails, text messages and emails indicate that the messages were not only intentional but were spreading downright falsehoods. The inner circle of Cruz’s team was involved. While Carson accepted Cruz’s apology, he is rightly put out if the apology was offered on false ground. Will Evangelicals now see Cruz as a typical obfuscating calculating Washington insider doing whatever he needs to say and do to win, a scheming chameleon changing to fit the terrain?



Will the TRUSTed brand be start some to wonder if it is not a sign that Cruz is the opposite of the sign?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Gives with “In Bill We Doubt”?


I read yesterday an AP article by unknown author(s) entitled, “In Bill We Doubt” that was published in the local paper. The author(s) are unknown as the article lacked a byline. The author( is a criticism of numerous decisions made by Bill Belichick over the last part of the past season. While I’m neither a Belichick nor a Patriot fan, I have great respect for him. His success as a coach is outstanding. His knowledge of the game, planning and strategies, and the utilization of his team to hamper the other team’s strengths and attack their shortcomings is beyond those held by nearly all other coaches at any level.

 

Belichick has delivered championship teams so frequently that it some, including the article’s author, seems to think that if Patriot’s are not in the Super Bowl every year that something is wrong. In the author’s view, what is wrong is Belichick. The tenor of the article is that Belichick is an exhausted coach who has lost his edge.

As the all wise Monday armchair coach the author lists several “instead if he had….” moments that occurred over the final portion of the season and in the last game against Denver. The implication is that if Belichick was not on the downside that the Patriots would again be winning this year’s Super Bowl instead of being bystanders to the game.  

 

Posturing as an expert this Monday comfy armchair coach is more pompous than balanced. Any  Monday armchair coach from the comfort of his chair and knowledge of the results has the luxury of time to consider and suggest different options. Such Monday coaches can say “they should have done…” as they pick apart particular decisions that did not work out.   

Two of the decisions for which the author lambasts Belichick were two late 4th quarter calls to go for it on the two 4th and short situations instead of kicking field goals. The author reasons that if they had gone for at least one of those field goals, the Patriots would have defeated the Broncos by one or two points. The math seems simple and the conclusion drawn by seems to lack any flaws. Yet there is a significant flaw in the assumption made by the arm-chair coach….that every play would have been the same.

 

The author makes his condemnation on the assumption that Broncos would have played the game in the exact same matter if their lead had been 5 points instead of 8. Highly skilled coaches match a strategy of the moment to the current game situation. Just to tie, the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion. An 8 point lead focused the Broncos strategy upon running down the clock, forcing New England to start using their time-outs. Hence, the Broncos narrowed the range of their offensive calls as they became focused upon plays that would run down the clock. With New England in such a posture the Patriots defense enabled the Patriots to focus upon run plays. With the pass game, Manning’s strength, off the table, the Patriots were able to get the ball back more quickly and in better field position than if the Broncos remained in a more aggressive posture with Manning passing at the same rate as earlier in the game.

 

Now if, the lead had as a result of a field goal was down to 5 points, the Broncos would likely have been more aggressive as they focused upon at least off-setting the New England field goal with one of their own. While the Broncos may still have gone 3 and out, it was just as likely that a more aggressive posture would have yielded them two or three first downs and when they kicked the ball, left New England deeper into their own zone and with more plays to run to get down the field to score the winning touchdown.  

Drawing from his knowledge of his team, how the other team responds in one set of conditions versus another, the condition of his players at a given moment and how well his team has been handling the situations the opposing team executed, a coach is called upon to make real-time split-second decisions. The coach making such calls stands on the pre-event/play side of history whereas the arm-chair critic stands luxuriously on the post-side of history arguing for plays that none can attack as the plays were not executed.

The author overlooks three parts of Belichick’s and the Patriot’s successful formula…their comfort with running more risky plays, such as going for the 4th down and short play. They have had better success than most other teams and such success has yielded them championships. Further, they have also had a good level of success in putting their opponents in the uncomfortable position of having to run high risk plays, and to run them with little success. The comfort and success of running high risk plays are common features of championship teams. Few teams that play it safe by taking the safe low-risk options rarely become champions.

Let’s not fool ourselves if Patriot’s had made one of the 4th downs, and then one the game, the attackers would be proclaiming Belichick’s boldness and skills. I doubt few of those who are attacking Belichick for his calls, including the author, were crying out in their living rooms in the seconds before the 4th down attempt, “No, no, kick the field goal.” I suspect that most were hoping that the Patriot’s charm would hold.

 

If Belichick had gone for one of the field goals, and if with a different set of play calls Manning had lead his team deep down the field, what would have been the author’s thoughts if  the Patriots found themselves out of time.  I suspect the author would be attacking Belichick for not showing confidence in his team by going for it on the 4th downs in question and for taking the sure more modest points to narrow the score for a few minutes. The author would be lamenting that Belichick did not go for the victory when a successful 4th down play would have put New England in an excellent position to score a touchdown.

 

And that is the sham of the Monday coach, he is right as he knows what the outcome and one has little ground to criticize an option not exercised. The fact that some calls did not work out, does not diminish my respect. With his record, much more would need to happen before we should question or doubt his judgment.
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Back to Wearing An Old Fashion Watch


I stopped wearing a watch in 2010. I reasoned I didn't need one. If I was driving, my car dashboard had the time. The television cable box told the time. If I was at my computer, a glance at the bottom corner gave me the time. If I was away from the desk, car or home, my cell told the time in several different ways, from a read out on the top of the screen to an app that gave me the time in multiple time cities and time zones. It was the same for my iPad. And with most being tied to the atomic clock, they were always accurate than my Timex which needed the occasional adjustment. Hence I reasoned, why wear a time telling instrument when clocks in various forms were all around me.

 

I started to change my mind this past spring. By May I decided to look for new watch, one that would be far more fashionable than the old Timex. Yet the price had to be right for my budget.

 

By early summer I concluded that when I’m away from my car, desk and not using the iPad that there are times when having a watch is wise. While my cell phone was normally with me, there are times when using a cell phone to check the time is problematic because each us being prone to make snap judgments upon what we perceive others doing.

 

For example, if you are in a conversation with an acquaintance, and that person asks you to meet them in 15 minutes to help them set something up, and you’re not wearing a watch, what do you do? You would may well look at your phone to note the current time so as to meet the person at the appointed time. While the person with whom you are speaking may notice you checking the time, an onlooker over 40 years of age will likely judge the action differently.

Their perception is their reality, and without a fuller understanding create a conclusion in their mind that doesn't match with how the two participants are viewing matters. Being of the older generation where watch wearing was almost universal in my younger years, I’ve fallen into the trap of misjudging someone in this way once until I realized that the young lady in question rarely wore a watch and wasn't doing so at that moment. She was not being rude to the person at all. In fact it was the opposite. By ensuring she would be at the appointed time as requested she was being respectful and responsible. Have I been judged the same? I'm certain that I've been judged by others in the similar manner for whenever the question of time comes in a conversation would at my time piece, the phone. Yet to an observing person, they likely would not interpret a look at the phone in the same way as they would for a person checking of a watch.

 

Last spring while attending a business meeting in Fairfax. The members were seated in a square discussing the association’s budget. The only clock in the room was on the wall opposite me. During the discussion I noticed a member directly across from me looking at his cell several times. At first my impression was that he was checking his email and that there was a lack of interest and focus upon the business at hand. Minutes later a subsequent statement to the issue at hand indicated he had been following the discussion. Shortly after making his comment, he again checked his phone and left the meeting while apologizing for having to leave early. It was then that I noticed that like me he was not wearing a watch. My earlier interpretation was not only erroneous and did a disservice to him for he was not checking his email or disengaged from the business at hand, he was checking his watch to ensure that he left on time.

 

In the subsequent weeks I decided to look for a new watch. While I thought of buying one of the fancy electronic watches from which one can surf the net, I decided not to go in that direction. They are bulky, not overly stylish and their technology would soon be dated. So I focused upon an old fashion style watch that would be stylish and easily last 25+ years. It also had to fit the budget…a $300 to $800 watch was well out of my price range, and not justifiable. Nor was a $25 Timex the watch for me. I've finally found a lovely and stylish watch that was being sold a fantastic price point.

 

So that is why I’ve returned to wearing a watch a few weeks ago.      

 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

2015 Italy Trip, Day Eight, Nine and Ten – Milan, Italy

When first planning the trip Milan was primarily the arrival and departure city. The first draft schedule had us arriving in the city of 1.3 million (5+ million including the suburbs) the day prior to our departing flight, taking a few sites and then leaving the next morning. The Milan 2015 Expo and the da Vinci’s Last Supper changed those plans. 

Milan is a modern city with a modern business district with skyscrapers. Like other European cities, Milan has two city centers....the old historic central city and the modern business district many miles away from the old central city. 

Given all that is being done to preserve what remains of this classic artistic work, it is not easy to get in to see Da Vinci’s work on the wall of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. Viewings take place in 15 minute blocks with no more than 25 people per group. Walk-up tickets are hard to secure…such as when a scheduled person does not arrive on time. Tickets are best secured 4 to 6 months ahead. As we had done so our day was scheduled around our afternoon viewing time.

The work is in poor shape due to the techniques and paint da Vinci used, moisture in the wall from an underground stream and the fluctuations of weather as the mural is painted on an exterior wall. Over the centuries work has been done to repair the painting….including special cleanings and repeated touching up of the paint. Today, after extensive restoration work to remove all the touch up paint layers, we have only about 45% of the original left, but what remains is still impresses. The symbolisms, the subtle messages in the position of the bodies, hands, feet and facial expressions are powerful. The original must have been stunning (the picture of the Last Supper is not mine as taking pictures of it is prohibited). We have a good idea of what the original looked like as Giovanni Rizzoli under the supervision of da Vinci painted on canvas a full scale copy. Rizzoli's copy is on display in London England at the Royal Academy of Arts.

After viewing the Last Supper we visited the grounds of the Sforza Castle which was on the way back to our apartment. The castle first built in the 1300s was added onto the expanded throughout the centuries into a huge fortress. The castle is so vast that it houses nine different art collections and museums as well as a rare book library. As it was late in the day we didn’t have sufficient time before closing to do any of the collections. Visiting the collections and museums would be left to another day.  

On the second day we headed to the Milan Expo for the day. Arriving as the gates open we found that long lines were already forming at the pavilions. Long lines from the outset of the day are inevitable as the pavilions don’t open until an hour after the gates open. The Milan Expo is designed with the pavilions flanking one main street. Though we visited several pavilions, as the morning progressed the lines became longer. By 12:30 we took a break for lunch and had difficulty finding any place to sit…all the lunch lines were about a half hour long.

After lunch we looked cueing up for the Italian pavilion but with a 2.5+ hour line we changed our minds. With other lines becoming well more than hour long, and the central street a mass of people moving slowly along together, by 2:30 we decided it was time for us to leave. The Milan Expo was such a disappointment that we both agree that we are not likely to visit another Expo in the future.    

On the way to the Milan Duomo early Sunday morning we walked around Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. Built in the 1860s and 1870s this covered shopping mall is one of the oldest malls still operating. With glass vaulted ceilings, decorative stone work and stone flooring, the Galleria is well worth viewing.

The Duomo (Cathedral) which dominates that area of the city is too ornate and gaudy for my taste. To say it is grand and elaborate would be an understatement. The Cathedral is located in an older part of the city and well removed from the modern skyscrapers of the modern business district. The Duomo is the 5th largest church in the world and took nearly 700 years to build it (started in 1386 and was completed in 1865). Its stonework is currently undergoing needed cleaning to restore it back to its glistening white condition.  Its many roof is adorned with such a multitude of spires that a trip to the roof is now an attraction that can be accessed for a price. Once on the roof, one has a wonderful unobstructed view of that area of the city.

As we were visiting on a Sunday, we elected to take in one of the several worship services taking place over the course of the morning. While not anywhere close to the nature of St. Mark’s in Venice, the interior d├ęcor and artwork is rich. The space is expansive with marble floors, high vaulted ceilings and multistory stone colonnades.

We spent the end of the day relaxing, walking around our area of the city and having dinner before returning to our apartment to prepare for our journey home.

While flying into Milan passing through customs and immigration was efficient, our departure process was different. We had to do high amount of walking to get from the train terminal to immigration control, and a long walk from immigration control the airline’s check-in in, then another long walk to security and then a long walk to the gate. Our total walk time was about a half hour, excluding the time waiting in line. Arriving at the airport at least two hours before one’s Milan flight is definitely advised for Milan, and when you arrive at the aircraft gate be prepared to find seating for less than a quarter of the passengers.






Saturday, October 10, 2015

2015 Italy Trip, Day Six and Seven – Verona, Italy

Leaving Venice mid morning we arrived little more than an hour later in Verona, the second city on our list as a potential base and home.

With the train station about a 10 minute walk to Piazza Bra, we decided to walk even though the skies threatened rain showers. Unfortunately, we took the wrong exit from the station, extending the distance and time to get to our apartment. Just past the halfway point we were getting wet in the rain. Our travel jackets and hair getting more soaked by the minute. Coming across a restaurant we stopped for lunch and hope the rain would pass…not only were the staff most helpful and understanding but the meal was absolutely delightful. By the time we finished lunch the rain had ended and we had dried out.

Our apartment was a minute’s walk from Piazza Bra well within the early medieval city and on the edge of the Roman city. The city has evidence of three fortresses and walls…the Roman walls, the early medieval city and the thick late medieval city walls. Today the late medieval broad walls with its fortresses that were designed to resist cannon shells have been turned into a parkway that runs from the river on the east side to the river on the west (the old city sits inside a “U” in the Adige River).  


Like Parma, Verona is in the lush agricultural Po Valley. Serving as the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and The Taming of the Screw, Verona has a population of just over 265,000 (725,000 people in the greater region). The northern Italy city has long been a transportation hub that today is on the main rail line between Venice and Milan, and at the end of the Brenner Pass route into Austria. Lake Garda is less than a 20 minute drive to the northwest and the ski resorts of the Dolomite Mountains to the north.


 Our first afternoon evening was given to visiting our immediate area, the Arena and Piazza Bra, and then walking through the ancient shopping street Via Mazzini to another major square, Piazza della Erbe. Built by the Romans before the Roman Coliseum, the Arena is still used today as a major venue for concerts. With a renown summer opera season, opera is its most common entertainment. Unfortunately all but a small portion of the outer ring no longer exists due to a 12th century earthquake.

Originally seating 30,000 the Arena seats only half that number today for concerts. As we sat and walked around the inside of the Arena we both wondered what it would be like to attend a musical performance in the 2,000 year old venue. Artists take such pride in having performed there that they often mention it in their professional summaries that are printed in concert brochures (when we went to Carmen at the Kennedy Center, one of the major performers had the Arena as one of four notable places where he had performed).

I was struck that many of streets in the old city have marble walkways and streets. A number of the smaller main streets that don’t carry large heavy vehicles are marble. With marble quarries nearby, the builders of 1,800-2,200 years ago were making do with what they had nearby.

The Arena isn’t the only antiquity performance site still in use in Verona. Just across the Adige River, almost opposite the Roman bridge Ponte di Petra, is an outdoor theatre built into hillside, the Teatro Romano. We were unable to tour the theatre as a stage and lighting from a recent event was being dismantled.


The Ponte di Petra, built in the second century before Christ, is one of two ancient bridges in use today by pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the river. Ponte di Petra, like the 14th century Castelvecchio Bridge, was destroyed by retreating Nazi troops in World War II. Both bridges were carefully rebuilt using much of the recovered original material as possible.

The medieval Castelvecchio Bridge crosses the river at the Castelvecchio, a red bricked castle. Today the castle is a city park and museum.

As it was at the end of our street we passed through the Porta Borsari several times. Porta Borsari, an archway entry built in the 2nd century as an entrance into the Roman city. It stands today astride a major shopping street. Since Porta Borsari was the main entryway into the city, it was more elaborately constructed and decorated than other entry ways.

We spent a good portion of our full day in Verona walking the streets and visiting four medieval churches…Verona’s Duomo built in the 12th century,  San Zeno Basilica also from the 12th century (its bell tower is mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy), the 13th century Sant’Anastasia and San Fermo Maggiore. The space of each of the four churches is filled with artwork used to explain and remind biblical stories to worshippers, many of whom had little to no reading skills when the churches were erected.


We didn't venture off to see the "home" of Juliet and her balcony. Seeing the home of this fictional character was not high on our list as it is for other visitors.
      

Overall, we enjoyed our stay in Verona. Thursday, over dinner at a Piazza Bra restaurant we wished we could stay longer in Verona. We loved the city’s character and feel...and knew that we could readily live here.