Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Times Square on New Year's Eve, Fair Use Claimed, source:  http://www.timessquarenyc.org/events/new-years-eve/index.aspx#.UsNf8PuNxRE
Greetings All:

Somewhere in the world, it's already 2014.  For those of us in the Midwest, we've got about five hours and change left before in the words of John Lennon, "...another year over, a new one just begun."  I wanted to take a few moments and sign off on 2013 primarily to says thanks to everyone who read my blog this past year, shared it and commented on it.  As I have said before, I seek topics that while not intentionally controversial, yet still (hopefully) trigger pause for thought and comment.  I also write on the stuff going on in my life that I find interesting enough to share and that may coincidentally cause some humor, or at least, on occasion, a smile.

The new year is a time to rightfully reflect on the past year and think ahead about the future one to come.  I do not believe in resolutions for they have the shelf life of a lightning bug in a jar in June.  For whatever reason, they never come to pass.  There are a number of theories on why that is.  I suspect the prime cause is that people simply do not really want to change. 

Please do take this as a dig on goal setting.  If anything, I think that goal setting is a great thing.  Again, there is a ton of information out there on that subject.  If you're looking for a book on the subject, I highly recommend Vic Johnson's Goal Setting:  13 Secrets of World Class Achievers.  I have both the audio and print version of it.  Here's the Amazon link:


I am going to write some more on that subject in the coming year, focusing specifically on the power of systems.  I am convinced that a system is nothing more than a habit that has shaved and is wearing a collared shirt.  In other words, a system, like a habit, is something you do regularly.  However, unlike a habit, systems are related and are part of a larger process.  I'm excited about this project and look forward to sharing it with you.

In the meantime, I want to wish everyone the best for the coming year.  If you had a great 2013, then bravo!  If it was not a good year, then good riddance!  If it was somewhere in between, then take tonight to focus on what was good.  Sir John Templeton, a one time the richest man in the world, told Tony Robbins that gratitude is the secret to wealth.  I'll take that advice.  Then, tomorrow, take a few minutes (or an hour) and write down how you'd like 2014 to be different and better.  I use the moleskin notebooks I get at Target in a pack of three for about $12.00.  However, any notebook will do.  If you don't have one, use a piece of scrap paper.  You can transcribe it later.  The important thing is to write it down.  Vic Johnson, Tony Robbins and the list goes on and on of folks who endorse this idea.  The process in the beginning is a bit awkward, especially if you have not done it before.  However, it does get easier.  And, by the way, it can be a lot of fun.

Adieu 2013, bonjour 2014. 

Be well my friends,

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Catch

https://www.biz.uiowa.edu/tippiemba/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/The-Catch.jpg, fair use claimed

Greetings All:

It's "bowl season," that time when a couple of dozen college football teams get the chance to play one more game.  For two teams, the National Championship is at stake.  For the rest, braggin' rights, final rankings, recruiting, and other intangibles are the prize.  Oh, and then there's one tangible matter- money.  In my head, I hear John Belushi from Animal House singing "...money, that's what I want..."

This is not a dig at college football.  Anyone who knows me even remotely knows this is a passion of mine.  I've written about it in the past and fondly recall trips to Kinnick Stadium to watch my beloved Hawkeyes play.  However, as I have gotten older, I see football from...a wider viewpoint.  There are life lessons there for all of us.  Here's one for today:  Always be ready.

That's it, always be ready.  I'll elaborate.  The photo above shows Warren Holloway making the game-winning catch in the 2005 Capital One Bowl against Louisiana State University, LSU.  Iowa and LSU will meet New Year's Day for a re-match of sorts in the Outback Bowl.  I affectionately refer to this as the "Mass at Dawn" bowl game as it is one of the first games of the day.

Back in 2005, Iowa had squandered a 24-12 lead in the 4th quarter.  Iowa had engaged in particularly poor clock management and was down to 9 seconds when then Iowa Quarterback Drew Tate launched a final pass down the field.  If you are a stats person, these are what are soberly referred to as "low percentage" plays.  In practical parlance, it means desperation.

Warren Holloway, a fifth-year senior went from a somewhat unknown to an immediate immortal in Iowa football lore.  (Well, that might be a bit over-dramatic, but go with me on this.)  As his college career was about to expire, he found himself sprinting down the field with the ball and the game in his hands.  The result was a touchdown and there was much rejoicing.  That is, if you were a Hawkeye fan.  For the LSU faithful, it was a bad dream.  There is a famous expanded photo of Holloway streaking down the field with various looks of shock and dismay on LSU fans.  Needless to say, it was not the end they were hoping for.

I am still thrilled with this win almost a decade later.  As I mentioned above, I also see a larger life lesson that can apply to all of us- always be ready.

Here's a quote from Holloway about that play from The Quad City Times on December 27, 2013:

“When I saw the ball coming my way, it felt so strange. I know there were so many people around, but it felt like I was there all alone,’’ Holloway said. “I just tried to stay calm and do the things that I do every day in practice, all the fundamentals.’’

That's sage advice.  You never know when you're be called upon to make a big play, a huge contribution.  The cynic might say that Holloway might not have even been the original choice for Tate to throw the ball.  I'll retort:  Who cares?  The point is that he was the guy who was there to catch the ball.  He was the guy who recalled those countless actions done in practice.  As Tony Robbins is fond of saying, "Repetition is the mother of skill."  I do not think it is a coincidence that they refer to repetitions as "reps" during a football practice.

As I write this post, I am reminded of the Abe Lincoln quote, "I will study and get ready and perhaps my chance will come."  Holloway probably thought that his chance would not come.  After all, he had not scored a touchdown in his entire college career.  That career was about to conclude with a goose egg in the stat book.  Still, Holloway was ready, just in case.  And Tate was throwing to Holloway.  He states in the above-referenced article that he thought he might have overthrown him.  Yet Holloway was able to match his stride and reel in the catch.  From what little I know of playing wide receiver, I understand that a good wide receiver knows he has to catch the ball regardless of how it is thrown.  Holloway did that and ended up with his first collegiate touchdown when it mattered most.

Perhaps in our lives we will never have a moment under such dramatic circumstances.  In my opinion, that should not diminish the importance of always being ready.  Sometimes the most important things we do in life are done without either witnesses or acknowledgement.  Sure, it's nice to get recognized but in the final analysis, that is simply a nice after-thought.

One might say that sports is at the mercy of the Gods of fate and luck plays an unfairly significant role in outcomes.  Fair enough.  Luck is a factor in life.  However, I would suggest this observation from one of my favorite writers, Seneca who mused, "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."
If "The Catch" was due to luck, then it was also due to the ingredients that make up luck.

In a few weeks, the college football season will end.  Few will recall who won or even played in these games with the exception of the fans of the teams.  There will be some heroics, I am sure.  I suspect that those who achieve glory on the gridiron will almost certainly recall the hours of practice under a blazing sun or bone-chilling wind.  They will have recalled the mantra of "always be ready."  Whether or not the rest of us ever snap a chinstrap or step foot onto a football field, we, too can always be ready.  After all, you never know when you'll have the chance to catch the equivalent of the ball in your endeavors.

Happy New Years & Go Hawks!




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bar's Closed on Christmas

My Dad's Bar, photo by Jeno Berta

Greetings All:

It's Christmas Eve.  Thanks to my wonderful wife, Dawn, there is terrific-smelling brisket baking for dinner tomorrow.  I'm listening to Christmas Cocktails,  a favorite album this time of year.  It's got songs by both Dean Martin and Lou Rawls after all.  Speaking of songs, below is my first attempt at writing some lyrics.  I've had the idea for this song running through my head for the past few years and I finally got around to stringing some nouns and verbs together and got somewhat of a finished project.  If you're thinking this may be of the country genre, you'd be correct.

The inspiration comes from my Dad's place.  He owns a neighborhood tavern in Northwest Davenport.  Back when my Mom was with us, he'd closed on Christmas.  If I was in town, before I got married, I'd go up about 4:00 on Christmas Eve and help him close.  We'd go home and have dinner with Mom and go to Mass the next day.  It was a special time, no doubt.

I remember one year when my Dad was heating the place with the wood-burning stove, we went up in the afternoon just to stoke the fire.  In the brief time we were there, a few of the regulars stopped by and long story short, we were open.  Needless to say, Mom was not amused and Dad went back to gas heat.

The bar business is tough.  As my Dad says, "It's not the work, it's the hours."  For those bars that are closed tomorrow, enjoy the day.  After all, if Santa takes Christmas Day off, so can you, if you wish.

“Bar’s Closed on Christmas”
lyrics by Jeno Berta ©
December 14, 2013

First Verse

It’s Christmas eve, ‘bout four o’clock,
I’m at the bar, It’s getting dark.
It’s time for me to head for home.

To the owner’s direction I glance,
Asking if he’s open tomorrow, by chance.

(This line is spoken)

He smiles and he says:


Bar’s closed on Christmas,
One day a year.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,
You can’t drink here.

Bar’s closed on Christmas,
No shots, no beer.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,
Even for reindeer.

Second Verse

My wife texts me from the mall,
Asking if our cousin’s shirt size is tall,
I’m sure glad that I’m sitting here.

But I know that stay too long,
This is the last of the jukebox’s songs,
I better finish up my beer.

It’s the night of the big Yule,
And as I set up my bar stool,
I know tomorrow I’m staying home.

(Spoken) ‘cause we all know:

Bar’s closed on Christmas,
It’s time to go.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,
Hey, is that snow?!?

Bar’s closed on Christmas,
We can’t go there.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,
And the beer fridge is bare!

Third Verse

The owner starts moppin’ the floor,
With the others, I head towards the door,
Wishing I could have just one more.

Off go the beer lights,
Santa’s suiting up for his big flight,
With a handshake to the owner I say good night.

(Spoken) …and a Merry Christmas!

He wishes me the same,
I’ll be back soon to see a game,
But I’m watching the Aloha Bowl at home.

(Spoken) Because:            


Bar’s closed on Christmas,
One day a year.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,
No cup of cheer.

Bar’s closed on Christmas
And that seems right.
Bar’s closed on Christmas,

And to all, a good night!

Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Bird Feeder

The bird feeder in our backyard, photo by Jeno Berta

Greetings All:

When we moved into our house a few year's back, there were a couple of bird feeders.  One has not survived but the photo above is of the remaining one.  We also put up another one that we acquired shortly after we moved in.  I do not fill them during the rest of the year.  Yet as soon as we get the first snow, I'm off to Hy-Vee (our local grocery store) and buy a couple of bags of the discount birdseed.

It's somewhat of a gameshow for me in filling them, as I have to climb up the small hill to get to them. The first time I did it this season, I ended up running into a burr bush and got about a million of those little fuzzy things stuck on me.  Those pants are no longer with us.  I now have a new route to take care of the feeders.

Although it is somewhat of a pain to fill them, it is something I like doing.

It's fun to watch the birds and see the unusual ones that show up for the buffet.  However, the real show is the squirrels.  Even though the feeder has the "half bowl' thing on the bottom to deter them, it is only somewhat effective.  The squirrels figure out a way to get up on the feeder.  For them, it's Golden Corral.  If I see them and the dog's around, I'll let him out to chase the squirrel away.  The dog never gets the squirrel but it's fun to watch.

Winter is not my favorite season.  It's cold, really cold.  The days are way short and doing things outside involves a bunch of layers.  Going outside in bare feet is hardly recommended.  My Camaro's top is up and its stored until April.  There are a number of things that make winter, well, winter.  If you're looking for sun and fun, either head to the airport or wait for (at least) five months.  The other option is to accept winter for what it is and appreciate the things that are not around in the summer.  The stars, for example, at least some of them, are a whole lot brighter in the winter.  Here's some more information:


There is also a simple beauty in seeing a setting sun in winter.  Today when I walked out of my office, I appreciated the view of the sky as the pink of the retreating sun mixed with the pale blue fading sky.  The bare trees were standing straight, as if at attention, respectful of the end of the day.  I'll admit, I didn't wonder it for very long (it was 3 degrees after all) but it's a view I can only see in winter.

I'll do my best to keep the bird feeder stocked this winter.  Even though its cold, it is worth it to see the birds come and add some action and a bit of color to the backyard.  When spring comes, they'll be on their own.  Until then, I am happy to keep feeding them.  They may get a free meal, but I get to watch them,...from the warmth of inside.

Be well my friends,

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas

From "A Charlie Brown Christmas"  ABC, fair use claimed.  

Greetings All:

It's the Friday night before Christmas.  We're taking a bit of a pause from the holiday/Christmas stuff and are hanging out at home.  Tomorrow (in theory) will be a day for finishing the tree and various house domestic stuff, but tonight we're hanging out.  We ended up watching, hands down, my favorite Christmas animated show, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

It came out in 1965 and remember being a little kid loving seeing it.  Those of you about my age will remember that Dolly Madison snack cakes sponsored it.  It was a minor tragedy when you missed seeing it because back in the dark ages, you either saw it live or it was gone forever, or until the next year.  I don't remember when, I think college, when the tyranny of the network schedule was broken, and I purchased the VHS copy.  That was replaced by a DVD and now its likely available on live screening.  Even though it is almost a half-century old, it is still timeless fun.

Of course, there is a serious message in it.  That message is a rejection of the commercialization of Christmas.  Linus recites the Gospel of Luke, 2:8-14, under a spotlight:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Linus walks off stage, saying to Charlie Brown, "That's the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown."

He is right.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the show.  Sure, its animation is rudimentary.  That adds to its charm.  And the music, Vince Guaraldi jazz music is about as Christmas as you can get.  George Winston has paid tribute to Guaraldi and that makes perfect sense to me.

The show is great and its something perfect to watch with your family.  I'm guessing there people who saw it as kids, watched it with their kids and now their grandkids.  That's a good thing.  The older I get, the more of a premium I put on spending time with the people who matter in my life.  When I spent the evening watching the show with my family it was the practical meaning of Christmas that Linus referenced.

I hope you can carve out some time this season to watch this show, ideally with people who matter to you.  It's a great way to celebrate the season, and the meaning of it.

Be well my friends,



A Charlie Brown Christmas is available from Amazon and here's a link (So ABC, please don't sue me for posting the photo):  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Dmovies-tv&field-keywords=a%20charlie%20brown%20christmas&sprefix=A+Charlie%2Caps%2C277

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Music Silent For 11 Months

George Winston's album, "December," image used with permission of copyright holder.

Greetings All:

The other day I looked for some music I purposely do not play except at the holidays.  For 11 months, it is silent.  It's George Winston's December.  I was introduced to this music my freshman year of college by my friend Dave.  He told me, "Buy this, you'll thank me later."  He was right.

George Winston is a pianist who has been around for a while.  He's put out a number of albums and has a strong following.  I have listened to some of his other stuff and like it fine, yet it is this album that sticks with me.

It is, to me, both peaceful and gently haunting.  It is great background music, although I prefer the Charlie Brown instrumental music or Jimmy Buffett's Christmas Island as a better choice if people are over.  I find December best suited for the end of the day, when work is done.  This music should share no stage with more clumsy entertainment.  The TV needs to be off when I listen to this music.  For me, it is a a jolt of nostalgia.  I can recall driving home from Iowa City from college, knowing a semester was complete and looking forward to seeing the friends I had not seen since the fall with this cassette playing.  Later, I got the CD.  Then, a few years ago, I downloaded it.  Various mechanisms to deliver the same amazing sounds.

Some of the songs are classics, others less well known.  My personal favorite is "Variations on the Kanon" by Pachelbel.  It begins slow, almost like a funeral march.  From that admittedly sober starting point, it moves into an uplifting melody.  It's playing right now and I usually end up closing my eyes at some point in the song and just listen.  I suppose it is as close to meditation as I get.  And yes, I am able to restrain the urge when driving.

Today I put the Camaro away for the year.  You may recall from a previous blog post that it did come back to life this spring and I did get it out on the road a bit.  Although it is a bit sad to know that there are many cold days between now and the next time I drive it, that is part of the deal for living in Iowa.  When winter comes, those things summer must yield.  As I was driving it to the garage, I played December on my phone.  In a way, that decision did not make sense.  The Camaro is all about sun and fun, a top down and rock music.  Yet as I drove past the trees bare of leaves, the snow covered fields, against a backdrop of a retreating sun in my rear-view mirror, I concluded that this was the perfect music to be playing.  It was more than seizing another opportunity to hear music that will fall silent come a few weeks.  No, it was more that that.  It was a way, at least for me, to bridge experiences that normally do not occur together.  It was a proper and fitting send-off.  When I drive the Camaro next, December will be in its own garage.

I hope this holiday season you listen to old favorites and make some new ones.  Music is important year-round but especially during the time between Thanksgiving and New Years'.  When in doubt, play the holiday music you like, for sooner than we realize, it will all be silent again.

Be well my friends,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Army-Navy Game

Public Domain and/or Fair Use Claimed
Greetings All:

Today the 114th Army-Navy game was held.  For the twelfth consecutive year, Navy won.  Before I get too far into this post, congrats to the Midshipmen of Navy.  Their 34-7 win over their arch rivals is impressive.  Despite desire, Army came up short.  won.

Those of you who know me understand my bias towards Army.  I with they would have won.  This is a loss that will stick around for a while.  It must have been a long ride back to West Point for the Cadets.

For those of you who want to read up on the game, here's a link to a couple of reports:



I do not want to dwell on this specific game.  As mentioned above, all due congrats to Navy, it was their day.  However, I see a larger picture with this game.  The Cadets and Midshipmen who fought so hard to win, to beat the other team, will soon be on the same team.  For some in a few months, for others in a few years, they will raise their right hands and swear an oath to the Constitution.  They will be presented the gold bars of Second Lieutenants or Ensigns.  They will be commissioned officers of the United States military.  Very few other competitive athletes can say that about their opponents.

I wrote in a Facebook post last year that these athletes will give their tomorrows for us and that this game day is theirs.  For the Navy players, they should revel in this victory.  For the Army players, a stinging loss, I am sure.  Nonetheless, they were part of history today.  I hope they take some comfort in that, if not tomorrow, one of these days.

There was a time when this game was the game in college football.  Schools like Notre Dame did not play Army or Navy out of a sense of nostalgia but out of self-interest.  They wanted to play the best out there.  Back in the day, these schools were the best.

It is true, that is not the case.  I suspect that if Auburn or Florida State were to play either school, the outcome would not be in doubt.  And yet I would hope that the players from the victorious  school would pause at the end of the game and listen as the Army or Navy Alma mater was sung.  That is a song whose words and melody extends beyond a stadium or even a campus.  It goes as far as a lonely mountain outpost high up in Afghanistan or a ship sailing the vast ocean.  If you find a service member, you can hear that song.

This year's Army-Navy game is in the books.   In a few weeks, the college football season will conclude.  For the seniors, it may be last time they wear a uniform.  For those on both sides of the ball at today's game, it is only the beginning of wearing a uniform.  Perhaps that is why this game is so different and important.  Perhaps that is why in some real way, it is not a game at all, just a practice for what lies ahead. 

A few hours after the Army-Navy game concluded, the Heisman Trophy was awarded.  It is the premiere award in college football.  Of the six finalists, there were none from any of the service academies.  Fair enough, these finalists are the best players in the country.  Let's bring in another Heisman winner, Nile Kinnick from the University of Iowa.  Kinnick won the 1939 trophy and below is the conclusion of his acceptance speech.

"I'd like to make a comment which in my mind, is indicative, perhaps, of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country, and that is, I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather, struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre."

Unlike most Heisman winners, Kinnick never played a down in the NFL.  He chose law school, then the Navy during World War II.  He perished in the Pacific.

When I think of Kinnick, I think more of the Cadets and Midshipmen than I do of other Heisman winners.  There are some comparisons that cannot be made on stats alone.  And there are some awards that do not sit in trophy cases but sit in the pages of history.  Unfortunately, some of those pages include battlefields.  Those who played in this year's Army-Navy game may be a part of that history.  When viewed in that context, this is more, much more, than a football game.

Be well my friends,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"We Just Made the Decision"

Auburn Stadium on November 30, 2013, Photo courtesy of Michael Fritz

Greetings All:

Auburn Coach Gus Malzhan, "We just made the decision..."  November 30, 2013

With those five words, the Auburn Head Coach just explained how events were put in motion that resulted in an amazing victory for the Auburn Tigers that evening.  Fast forward eight days later and the Auburn Tigers find themselves headed back to the National Championship game.  For those of you who are not college football fans, please indulge me with this post as it is not all about football.

But we do need to talk some more football first:

The game that Coach Malzhan is discussing was the 2013 Iron Bowl played between Auburn University and the University of Alabama.  It is a huge rivalry in college football, possibly the biggest.

Here's a link to a NYT's article on just how big this game is for the faithful on both sides:


The game was tied going into the last play when Alabama tried a long field goal.  This is kicking the ball through the uprights of the goal posts.  If that happens, the kicking team gets three points.  If not...

Well, if not, usually nothing.  The play is over and the other team gets to play offense.  But not always. Sometimes, the play does not end as the ball is "live."  In other words, the team on defense has a chance to make something happen.  That is what happened here.

Alabama missed the field goal, specifically the kick was short.  It was a live ball and Auburn had the opportunity to take the ball immediately and have the opportunity to score.  Please remember this was the last play of the game and it was tied.  If Alabama missed the field goal, the game was likely over.  Unless...

Let's bring back Coach Malzhan.  He decided that there was a chance that Alabama would come up short on the field goal.  He also decided that he would put a player in position to make the most of that opportunity.  That player was Chris Davis.

Here's the link from the Huffington Post that tells the tale and shows the actual run.  As they are allowing it to be shared on social media. I am presuming it is permissible to do the same on my little blog, so here goes:


I am not going to break down the play into great detail.  It's enough to say that that Chris Davis made the absolute most of the opportunity he had and won the game for his school.  I am confident that this play will be put into the conversation of the "great" college finishes of all time.

As significant as this is to college football (and for some that is more than enough) I see a broader application to life.  Recall Coach Malzhan's words, "We just made a decision."  Very few of us ever will make such a decision to position a player to return a missed field goal.  However, all of us can make decisions that will impact our lives.  From where we go to school, to who we marry, to decisions we make, to situations we avoid or seek out and the list goes on.  The key point is to decide and then execute.  Tony Robbins in his "Personal Power" tapes (yes, younger readers, those things from the Bronze Age of the 1980s and 90s) talked about how the word "decide" has a Latin history, meaning to "cut off."  In other words, you pick one option and eliminate other ones.  Auburn had the option to send all of its players to the line to try to block the kick.  They rejected that option.  In life, we have the opportunity to make such decisions.

One may say, "But you can't compare a decision a big-time college coach makes with my decisions."  I'd gently reply, "Sure I can."  Here's the connection:  Just as Coach Malzhan did not know how the play was going to turn out, you and I do not know how our choices will turn out.  Just as Coach Malzhan had to rely on his experience and judgment, so can we in our decisions.  Oh, and here may be the most important comparison.  Auburn relied on its ability to execute once the opportunity presented itself.  Alabama Coach Nick Saban admitted (to his credit) at his press conference that his team should have tackled Chris Smith.  The chances of running a ball 109 yards untouched is a rarity in college football.  Alabama, for whatever reason was not in position to make the play.  They did not anticipate it.

This is important in football and life.  Bobby Knight, the famed (and by some vilified) college basketball coach, has a new book out entitled, The Power of Negative Thinking.  In it, he talks about how winning and losing often comes down to the team that makes the fewer mistakes.  Looking back at this play, Coach Knight has a point here.  Here's a link to his book.


So the goal is to be comfortable making decisions and then execute, avoiding mistakes wherever possible.  You may recall a former post of mine where I reviewed Lee and Julie-Davis Colan's book, Stick with It, The Art of Adherence.  I think Lee and Julie's book about executing your strategy ties in nicely with Coach Knight's advice to avoid mistakes.  When you purposely seek to execute your strategies (and a strategy is nothing more than a decision wearing a collared shirt and having shaved) without mistakes, things will work out far better than just "winging it."  From what I saw on that final play was that the Alabama players were not expecting that result.  That was their mistake.

The good news for all of us is we do not have to worry about tackling a stellar athlete barreling down the field.  What we do have to do is decide.  Decide, and then execute, avoiding mistakes.  Sometimes we do not have a ton of time to make decisions.  That is where anticipation comes into play.  We need to constantly be aware of what is transpiring around us so we can make decisions, good decisions as soon as possible.  Then, all we can do is watch what happens, just as Coach Malzhan did.

Congrats again to the Auburn Tigers on this win, their SEC Championship and trip to the title game.  They may very well be the national champions.  Alabama will not, at least not this year.  I am certain that for as long as they play football at Alabama, they will never not be prepared for a field goal being run back.  All of us in our unique endeavors can also be looking for our chance to run back whatever opportunities may come our way.  All we have to do is just make the decision to do so.

Be well my friends,

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Passing of an Icon...and an Optimist

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mandela_-_watercolour_-_frame_-_addresses_UN_3_Dec_1999_by_Eskinder_Debebe.jpg, used with permission of owner

 Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.
--Nelson Mandela

Greetings All:

Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday, December 5, 2013.  He was 95 in calendar years.  In terms of his contributions to the world, he is ageless.  That might seem too much of a cliche, yet I will argue his record of achievement justifies it.

His story is one of the most significant of the 20th century.  Here was a man who refused to put-up with state-created, state-engineered discrimination.  Imprisoned for 27 years and tortured for most of them, he was released...at age 72.  27 years...

I did not realize that he had been offered early release if he would renounce his opposition to apartheid, the repugnant systematic, government run form of discrimination.  He refused.

When he was released on September 1, 1990 the world wondered how he would react.  Would he resume the armed struggle of his youth?  Would he seek to seize power?  If so, what scores would he settle first?  The world waited, and watched.

Mandela gave his answer.  No blood, no revenge.  He would not fixate on the past.  Instead, he would focus on the future.  A few years later, in South Africa's first fully free election, he was elected president.  One of the things I have in my office is a framed ballot I bought that was leftover from that election.  I think my Mom got it for me as a present.  On a whim, I got it framed.  I am glad I did.

1994 Copy of the South African Ballot, Public Domain/Fair Use Claimed

 Mandela served for five years and then declined to continue in office, although he could have served until he died in office.  He embraced the practice of George Washington- serve for a while, then leave.  Perhaps his country would have been better off had he done so.  After all, South Africa is far from fine.  The following is from an article that Foreign Affairs published online today (December 6, 2013) with a link to the whole story at the end:

"Yet South Africa is hardly an unqualified success story. The unemployment rate hovers just under 30 percent, and nearly a quarter of South Africans live at or near the poverty line. A United Nations report recently revealed that 1.4 million South African children live in homes that rely on dirty streams for drinking water, 1.5 million do not have access to flushing toilets, and 1.7 million live in shacks with neither washing nor cooking facilities. Almost six million South Africans have HIV/AIDS, and the country’s young population is growing rapidly: nearly 40 percent of the population was born after Mandela’s release from prison in 1990."

But in the final analysis, I will argue that his decision to step down, to step away was the right one.  He had done his duty and now, let others take up the cause.  If only those who followed had followed Mandela's example more closely...

There will be those who will not mourn Mandela's passing.  I am not saying these people are bigots, although I am sure they are out there in the shadows.  No, I am referring to those who will point out Mandela's political sympathies with socialism and his affection for Fidel.  I'm not going to get into that here.  I'll simply say that as far as choosing his associations, he chose one with a man who was at the levers of power while he was locked away, Fw de Klerk to serve in the government Mandela would lead.  The two were far from friends.  There is a link below to an article in The Guardian that goes into plenty of detail if you'd like to read more.  I'll simply leave this part of the post on the fact that two men who had every reason to not work together did.  They won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  Mandela could have put events in motion in South Africa after his release that the committee in Stockholm would have deemed unworthy of the award. 

Here's President Mandela in his own words on the Nobel Peace Prize:

"I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A man does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards, but when I was notified that I had won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr. de Klerk, I was deeply moved. The Nobel Peace Prize had a special meaning to me because of its involvement with South African history."
--Long Walk to Freedom 
And a freedom fighter he was.  Yet, he was something else.  Again, the man in his own words:

 "I Am Fundamentally an Optimist."

Perhaps that is the one quality that allowed him, empowered him to endure those nearly three decades of imprisonment and the decades before of struggle.  His simple yet wonderfully powerful belief that things could and would get better.  They did.

Mandela also was a student of history.  He recalled and paid tribute to those who came before him, fought with him and in some cases, died before he did.  One in particular is Steven Biko.  I could easily fill up another post on this man.  For now, let me just say he was an activist who was killed in police custody in 1977.  Peter Gabriel wrote a haunting song entitled "Biko."  Here are part of the lyrics:

"You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead

And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now."

Indeed, the eyes of the world are watching now.  But unlike during the struggle to rid South Africa of the ugly injustice that was Apartheid, it now watches a nation honor the passing of its greatest son.  It will watch as former oppressors and the oppressed both mourn and celebrate the life of this icon.  I'll chose to be an optimist that they will chose to work together in the best and strongest memory of their leader Nelson Mandela.  They will work together to finish what he began.  If they can, that will be the greatest monument constructed to Mandela's memory.  It will also be the most appropriate one as well.

Be well my friends.



Nelson Mandela ' Long Walk to Freedom'




Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Seeing an Old Friend in a New Place

The Logo for "me & Billy."  Used with permission of the owners

Greetings All:

The other day, I stopped by to see an old friend, Bill Collins.  I met Bill twenty years ago when I was an intern in the Scott County Attorney's Office and he was the proprietor of "Mac's Tap Room," in downtown Davenport.  Mac's was a short distance from the courthouse.  In that magical summer, I had more than a couple of lunches (and a couple of beers) at Mac's.  I referred to it as, "The Fourth Floor of the Courthouse," as a fair amount of cases got...resolved there amongst the local bar association. 

At the center of Mac's, back in the day, was Bill Collins.  Bill was born to be a barkeep.  He's got a personality that lights up the room in a room would cause Scrooge to bust out laughing BEFORE the spirits showed up.  Bill is a professional listener (a rare talent these days) and a grand master story teller.  Most important, he's a friend.

As I quoted in a post a couple weeks' back, there is a season for everything.  Bill's season with Mac's ended and he sold it, moving on to other ventures.  I still like Mac's and has one of the best bar signs around.  Still, for me, it was never the same without Bill Collins.

We moved away from the area in 2000 and when we returned, I saw Bill at one of the local Irish fests.  As an O'Neill on my Mom's side, I try to take my heritage seriously and pass it along to my kids.  We spoke briefly and made plans to get together, which we did a month or so later.  When we did, Bill mentioned that he was thinking about getting back in the business.  As he said it, I saw a gleam, ever slight, in his eyes.  As I mentioned, he was born to do this work.

Fast forward to a few days ago.  I had heard that Bill was indeed back in the business with a new public house in downtown Davenport, "me & Billys."  Except this time, he had the cavalry riding with him.  As the link to the Quad City Times article states, Bill is now in business with his family.  His daughter, Fran Maus, has taken a lead in the project, with sisters Trisha and Sarah also involved.  Bill's wife Mary is also around to help out and exert some "adult supervision."  The article's title, "New Davenport Bar is a Family Affair," is aptly named.  Here's the link to the article:


I was not sure if Bill would be there when I stopped by "me & Billy's" and I could only stay for a brief time.  However, if there was a chance my old friend was going to be there, I wanted to swing by.  He was.

Before the door closed behind me, I heard Bill's big, wonderful voice boom out my name.  There was my friend Bill, behind the bar and holding court,  exactly as he should be.  I congratulated him on the place and he graciously accepted my compliment.  Then, with an inflection that only a dad can have, he shared with me how the lion's share of the credit went to his daughters.  He was beaming with pride at what his family and his kids had done to turn the old United Cigar Company from a vacant building to a thriving, vibrant business.  This anchor for the bar is a magnificent wooden shelving unit that you can see, although it is somewhat obstructed by the two handsome guys in front of it...:).

My friend Bill Collins and I, at "me and Billy's" Photo by Jeno Berta, used with Bill's permission

I do not usually make endorsements with my blog of commercial endeavors and I have yet to eat there (but I will).  I'll make an exception here and say I really do like the place.  It is not a sports bar, it's a place that captures the essence of warm, welcoming place to have a meal and the beverage of your choice.  I have always liked downtown and this place is a welcome addition.  With a nod to the Collins ladies, you have done a great job with it.  I think Mary's comment in the Times article sums it up nicely.

"Our girls are true entrepreneurs," Mary said. "I guess just living with Bill and I has been a great example for them. We have owned different businesses. They also have the drive. It has been great to watch. They all have been very instrumental across the board. If not for them, Bill and I could not have done this."

Still, my main reason for doing this post is to share with you just how happy I am to see my old friend in a new place. I also see a larger message in this "good news" story for all of us.  If you've got a passion for something that you once did, then go back to it.  Maybe you feel that your time has passed.  For some things, that may be true.  For example, if you were an Olympic-caliber gymnast 30 years ago, then perhaps getting back on the rings in time for Rio in '16 is not likely.  However, I think for most of us, our passions, our dreams, do not require elite fitness standards.  In fact, I'd argue few them require anything remotely close to it.

There is the unknown author's quote, "Doubt kills more dreams than fear ever will."  Don't let your doubt and fears filibuster on the senate floor of your dreams.  I'm reminded of the Richard Bach quote, "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours."

Now that does not mean you should plunge into an endeavor (especially if there is a lot of $$$ involved) without a plan.  As Fran stated, "Things kept evolving with the business plan until we found the right spot."  The important thing is to keep moving forward and not lose sight of your dream.
 A few days ago, I received a great gift of seeing an old friend in a new place.  Downtown Davenport is a better place with "me and Billy's" in it.  It's a class act place run by a class act family.  And "me and Billy's" is a better place for having my friend Bill Collins there, where he belongs. 

Be well my friends,