Tuesday, February 26, 2013


When we penned our first post on Lance Armstrong we urged him in the spirit of forgiveness to confess and repent all his sins and accomplishing that, start on the road to recovery.  Well, while he came clean with his illegal drug use, we really didn’t see any contrition during and following his staged Oprah confessional.  After all that I’m not so sure that I remain all that imbued with compassion and understanding anymore.  Seems the heinous nature of his manipulations that touched and ruined so many around him were far greater than most ever comprehended.  Armstrong didn’t just take performance enhancing drugs; he strong-armed and intimidated others to do the same and then vilified, insulted, criticized and even sued his accusers and investigators who were, of course, right all along.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USDA) report contains an affidavit by Frankie Andreu (former professional cyclist who was team captain of the U.S. Postal Service with Armstrong) which indicates that Armstrong did more than just criticize three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond for indicating “disappointment” in him, vowing to “take him (LeMond) down.”   Armstrong then is alleged to have attempted to bribe (to the tune of $300K) a former Greg LeMond teammate to claim that he had seen LeMond use the illegal oxygen-boosting drug EPO. The teammate declined the offer.  We note that LeMond’s wins were all “clean” and never disputed.

We could go on and on with the litany of Armstrong’s illegal acts and before you get halfway through you have to wonder about the heart and soul of anyone who would perpetrate these acts, let alone ponder them. There is absolutely no justification or rationalization for his behaviors.

So, should an even greater magnitude of sin render my original plea null and void?  That’s my conundrum and I am at an impasse.  I have close Friends (Texans all) who not sharing my initial perspective (and perhaps with greater insight than I) have now offered the, “I told you so.” And you know what?  They’re right… Armstrong is as bad as or worse than we ever imagined. We remind everybody that he’s only told part of the story and even with the potential that his lifetime ban on competing might be lifted, still wouldn’t totally come clean with cycling’s governing bodies. It’s only going to get worse…

We’ve gone back and read some of the threads and comments from Armstrong apologists before his confession with most either claiming a conspiracy against him or condemning his critics because, “everybody cheats.” Well, no they don’t and there was never a conspiracy against Armstrong, only a trail of evidence (much of it suppressed) where someone eventually connected the dots. Many of Lance’s defenders appear to be broken and even corrupted still mesmerized and held hostage by his tainted heroics and even denying that Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs may have precipitated his cancer. This is truly a modern tragedy.   

As many have pointed out, in our society we are quick to forgive though it all appears to revolve more around our morbid fascination with celebrity and our (anti) hero worship rather than some benevolent religious precept.  That especially includes those bad boys and girls like the now notorious Lindsay Lohan where we seem try to find some reason to forgive and end up giving her even more celebrity - becoming enablers in one sick and hideous reality show.  We have conferred on these folks the permission and opportunity to be what and who they are, acting out for our and their amusement, validating their win at any cost mantra. It would seem that in our society cheating and lying is permissible – as long as you get away with it – even if you get caught.  

And maybe that’s the lesson we take from all this.  There are going to be a lot more losers before the smoke finally clears. If all those inspired and motivated by Armstrong can recover themselves, if cycling (and all sport) can clean up its act and when we as a society finally say enough is enough and stop enabling, rather hold ourselves to a higher standard… well, maybe that’s the potential and ultimate positive we can harvest. That would appear to be the grand test. Are we up for it?


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 23, 2013


If you live in Texas and have mature oak trees on your property, you can’t help but notice the incredibly abundant acorn crop this season.  In Texas the 2012-13 crop is among the most plentiful ever. Those that follow our blog and specifically our December 2, 2012 post, Acorns, Acorns, Acorns Everywhere will know that north Texas has been spreading acorn love – and the point of this post – it isn’t over yet.

Yep, our oak trees over five months after they started to drop their acorns in late September 2012 - continue to do so.  The phenomenon that started off as wonder and amazement has turned into a pain in the butt.  A couple of weeks ago we pulled from the lawn and one of the flower beds beneath just one oak - six yardbags of acorns with each bag estimated at from 50-60 pounds. We note that same area had been raked twice before with similar harvests when the carpet of acorns exceeded one inch (do the math). The sidewalk has been swept at least twice a week since they started dropping. There is still the upper bed to contend with (the great majority of the acorns) and, yes, the acorns are still falling!

The acorns aren’t green any more, rather the mature brown nuts along with mostly the cuplets that held the nuts. It’s been raining (OK hailing) acorns for months now and we are ready for it to end.   

The squirrels and other critters including many bird species are having a feast and quite upset that this writer is hauling away what they consider their well-earned bounty.  I frankly don’t give a damn, my dear… and what about those beautiful mallards that have a renewed affection for our lawn?  They’re back and if we were in the country there would surely be deer aplenty.

The single biggest pain is keeping our cairn terrier away from the acorns and that potentially deadly gallotannin, a combination of gallic and tannic acids that resides in acorns. She has already made herself sick once.  Please understand that acorns, oak buds, oak leaves, and even the drinking water in which acorns and oak leaves have soaked, can cause oak poisoning that can lead to renal failure and death in dogs. By their very nature the acorn’s hard shell can potentially also cause an obstruction, even perforation, of the intestines, a real risk for our smaller dog. This is absolutely no laughing matter and if you love your pet, take all necessary precautions.

So, we’ve had what they call a 'Mast Year' for Acorns and the botanists/arborists really don’t know why except to speculate that it’s probably associated with the weather/climate and/or genetics - a chemical signal/cue given off by the oak trees. This phenomenon despite our 21st century technology remains what they are calling, “an amazing mystery of nature”.  Since acorns are not an overnight sensation (it takes two years to form an acorn), the mystery deepens even further. It would appear the 2011 drought followed up by a significant (for us) wet season was perfect weather for acorn production and this seemingly synchronized behavior throughout north and east Texas. They also say stressed trees drop more acorns to insure their propagation so an arborist is watching our trees closely.

We pondered that and other acorn trivia and then asked what good are they except for the wildlife that can tolerate the nuts as part of their diet and perhaps supply those nurserymen intent on restoring the great Caledonian Forest with good stock. A suspect source offered that it was an ancient British tradition to carry an acorn on their person in order to guarantee long life, good luck, immortality, youth (I guess they could go hand-in-hand), relief from pain, protection from storms, from getting lost and from those who would do them harm.

We don’t think that the Scots have any such tradition (acorn in your sporran?) though a case might be made for the Druids and the Norse. And if that acorn can keep us young, then we are unfortunately a day, or longer, late. So failing that – who cares - though as one arborist offered, “When is the last time you made oxygen?”  OK, we’re onboard.


Ned Buxton

Monday, February 4, 2013


With some notable exceptions we generally won’t jump on a subject until it’s been hashed over and over and all the available information has been revealed.  Then we try and take a mature, deliberate approach looking for other perspectives not already offered – those seemingly closest to the truth.  With everybody opining on the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax and information still being revealed, we should probably just lay low even a while longer and let the rest of the world rush by on this.  But, lots of Friends (and not) have asked our opinion and for what it’s worth – here it is. First, let’s just start by observing that this is still a convoluted mess - a ball of snakes that may ultimately make sense but we are a long way from there at this time.
We’ve read many of the posts and articles ad nauseum on Manti and watched his interview with Katie Couric.  We’ve also evaluated Jeremy Schapp’s ESPN interview with Te’o and gleaned relevant snippets from Dr. Phil McGraw’s interview with “admitted hoaxter” Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.  And even after devouring all this data it certainly appears that there is more to come.  Like many we have talked with, we just have this feeling of negative anticipation - that the next shoe is getting set to drop.  This is an ever developing story that has its mostly lows (no highs) – if it matters or anybody really cares (you should). Well, we do care but only because Te’o made such major spectacle out of the passing of his grandmother (God rest her soul) and the coincidental and equally distressing passing of Lennay Kekua, his soul-mate (on-line) girlfriend of three years due to leukemia. We were inspired by his reaction both off and on the football field though in retrospect he now looks more like a God-invoking Ray Lewis who with his Tammy Faye Baker face paint who recently postured and evangelized himself to a farewell Super Bowl victory.  Can the documentary be far behind?  We say, Remember Atlanta 2000.
Who should really care about this mess is the NFL team (Bills, Saints, Bears, Cowboys?) that may draft Manti Te’o.  First, if he was ever going to be a high draft pick, his lackluster showing in the BCS championship vs. Alabama might hurt him more than (optimistically) his apparent gullibility and naiveté.  And how did Alabama neutralize Te’o?  They ran right at him… How can we forget Alabama running back Ed Lacy running over Te’o?  Some say that at best Te’o would now appear to be a late first round draft pick especially with some NFL types opining that he is small, though while quick – not that fast. Others including ESPN have him rated as high as a fourth pick – that nothing has changed.  We will see… 

Some marketing pros say that Te’o’s brand may have been tainted by this scandal even to the tune of $4M US dollars. Of course, owners like a delusional Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys intent on perpetuating their “growing legacy of mediocrity” seems to thrive on controversy and may just consider a controversial Te’o another marketing tool especially given the injuries to Sean Lee and Demarcus Ware.  Surely jerry wouldn’t do that?  Of course, he would! In the NFL Theater who’s to say that Te’o hasn’t enhanced his marketability?

When the revelation was starting to unfold many jumped to the very plausible conclusion that Te’o fabricated the whole story in order to enhance his Heisman chances. We do know that Teo lied (and admitted doing so, “briefly”) after he “found out the truth.”  Yet, he also admitted lying to his Family about personally meeting the nonexistent Kekua.  How do you lie to your Family? When Katie Couric confronted Te’o with his lies all he could do to justify them was to rhetorically ask Couric what she would have done? Well, she probably would have told the truth though we suspect she wouldn’t have put herself in that situation in the first place.  Thank God the Heisman voters got it right…  

When this whole mess started to break wide open, though well before the admission by Tuiasosopo that he had orchestrated the hoax, a Friend looked at me and stated emphatically, “Te’o is Gay…”  I was floored, nowhere near that conclusion - an option that never even remotely occurred to me.  Now, that possibility is being bandied about and as one journalist says is, “the elephant in the room” and the most probable reason for all this.

So, while Ronaiah Tuiasosopo has admitted he perpetrated the hoax and was Lennay Kekua’s voice, we still think that we only have part of the story.  Dr. Phil’s audio experts state with a certainty that their scientific analysis of Tuiasasopo’s voice and the three voicemails from “Lennay Kekua” supplied by Manti Te’o reflect that they are one and the same person.  However, the New York Post alleges that Ronaiah’s female cousin, Tino Tuiasasopo, was actually the one speaking for hours at a time on the phone with Te’o.  This apparently from one of Tino’s cousins who told The Post, “There is no doubt whatsoever that it’s Tino.” Other audio experts advised ABC’s Good Morning America that it was, “impossible that it was a man on the phone.” That assertion points squarely to the possibility of conspiracy.

So, whose experts do we believe in this ever expanding snake pit?   A surmise – what if we choose to believe the scientific evidence as interpreted by the forensic voice analysts on the Dr. Phil show? Well I listened to the sound track. It was creepy with all the tone, inflections and subtle mannerisms of a female.  I am sure that I would have been fooled…

So, we give Manti the benefit of the doubt - that he did not participate in this hoax, rather was duped for the better part of three years – by his own admission falling in love with someone he had never met or spent any quality time with – just a voice on the other end of his phone.  STRIKE ONE. 

Then after all this drama she dies and despite his declaration of love and importance in his life, he doesn’t even go to her funeral – only sending flowers.  Te’o offered that he had conveniently and confusingly promised Kekua that he would continue to play football even if something happened to her.  STRIKE TWO.  When the hoax was uncovered Te’o stated his sending the flowers was the proof that he had been duped – vindication, all for the price of a few white roses? Note also that Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly posthumously awarded the Michigan-Notre Dame game ball to Lennay Kekua for Te’o to, “Take back to Hawaii.” Can Coach Kelly take the game ball back?

Mormon or not, celibate or not these behaviors all by themselves point to a socially dysfunctional individual who was desperately trying to salvage his credibility in the marketplace we call the human condition and at that time (knowing about the hoax) keep his Heisman chances alive.

Lawyer, sports journalist and editor for outkickthecoverage.com, Clay Travis, speaks for many with his observation that, “Either Manti Te'o is gay or he's the dumbest Notre Dame grad of all time.”  We noted that Te’o scored a credible 1540 on his SATs and earned a 3.3 GPA at Notre Dame.  No, he’s not dumb but, is he Gay?

Not that being Gay should matter or is a big deal now, but if we are to believe Chris Culliver, cornerback for the Forty-Niners, many football players don’t want to share the locker room or shower – that last safe bastion of Straight Manhood - with an openly Gay teammate.  While that ill-advised statement quickly prompted understandable condemnation by the Forty-Niners organization and an apology from Culliver, it shouldn’t be a surprise that homophobia exists in professional sports.  Now we feel that Te’o’s sexual orientation is his business though that could be guiding his thought process now that the Heisman is gone.

It would appear that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s admission that he is gay and probably in love with Te'o seals this whole mess.  He says he is confused and has now laid all this at the feet of a family friend who abused him as a child. Gads, blame everybody else but please don’t accept any responsibilities for your own actions. So now Tuiasosopo is, “just searching for his real identity.” His pedophile family friend made him do it…

Whatever Tuiasosopo’s issues, it’s easier to accept that Te’o is just plain screwed up, somewhat naïve (irresponsible) and socially dysfunctional.  It may be a reach for some to offer that Te’o is using this fabricated on-line relationship as a ruse and, “convenient cover” for “his homosexuality”.   When Couric asked Te’o if he was Gay he looked as if he was taking offense responding in macho though obviously nervous fashion, “No, far from it. Farrr from it.”  Some members of Couric’s audience laughed though we think Te’o protesteth verily too much.

All that from someone who was supposedly still grieving over Kekua (the “love of his life”) and with the tears still wet on his face - starts “dating” Alexandra del Pilar from nearby St. Mary’s College?  Even if we believe that Te’o wasn’t participating in the hoax, this reaction shows us an insensitive Te’o with two faces.  So, we see major character issues with this guy that also include lying to his Father/Family who passed those lies on to the media about meeting Kekua and fabricating details of their relationship.  Te’o also lied to his Team, a gullible Media, the Nation and then copping incredulity that he should react any other way.  STRIKE THREE.

If it hadn’t been for Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey none of this hoax would have been revealed and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to honestly know Manti Te’o up close and personal. If you want another objective take on this whole story, we encourage you to read Deadspin’s article which has not been refuted by anybody – a testament to their good reporting.  Whether or not we care now, this story matters because it reminds us of critical identity issues on the internet and how they can be easily manipulated. So, be cautious of anybody you don’t know who, uninvited, contacts you on the internet. As for online dating – well, caveat emptor.

From what we have seen so far, we are embarrassed for Notre Dame, their students, faculty and supporters and how badly their administration handled this whole mess. As ESPN opined they responded,“…in a clumsy rush to protect the school and the team's reputation, potentially at the expense of their integrity.”  The Notre Dame administration was seemingly bent more on pursuing their own football mythology and begs the question if they would have similarly responded if it had been any other student. No, we don’t invoke any other local issue though wonder about a double standard here.  

Let’s see, I now know how to pronounce Tuiasosopo’s name.  No, I wouldn’t draft Te’o.  I don’t respect him and couldn’t trust him especially in critical, rubber-hits-the-road, situations. Some have conspicuously and tearfully wondered whether Te’o will “ever trust again” though we doubt if most people care.  We are with Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press who states on the other side of the coin that trusting Te’o now, “requires an act of faith.” We agree and still think that character matters…

And finally, what about the Super Bowl billboard proposed by the animal-rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), long known for its outspoken ad campaigns.  They were going to use the image of Manti Te’o in an ad for vegetarian chicken wings. Then along comes a cease and desist order and the billboard is no longer - just fodder for some forums and this post. The ad title - “Sometimes faking it is better.” Not really….


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Have you noticed that some folks are just happier than others?  We earnestly hope that everybody knows at least one person who embraces an honest and consummately positive and enthusiastic approach to life. These optimistic and beaming souls ply their mostly involuntary style on us just by their mere presence.  Whether birthed out of misfortune or an indefatigable, seemingly genetically driven positive attitude and demeanor, their example allows us a window to see and experience (pragmatism and scientific approach aside) that proverbial half-full glass approach to life.  They encourage, motivate and inspire all they encounter and I’m lucky to know several such souls and know my life is better for knowing them.

Then you have their negative twin.  You see them in the hallway, heads down and always bitching and complaining about something in an “orgy of self-pity”.  Their glass is always half empty and they are willing to share their pain and suffering, drawing you into their web at the drop of a hat. While they are adept at identifying problems they never or rarely offer any solutions. While it’s good to relate to reality and understand challenges and opportunities, the consistent, constant barrage of negativism can drag an organization down and out.

And that doesn’t mean we should ignore or whitewash our weaknesses, rather once identified - treat them as opportunities to strengthen our organizations. If we can have a CEO and CFO, perhaps all companies should also have a CMO, a Chief Morale Officer, responsible for building modern, relevant corporate workplace cultures which in turn nurture and support high performance teams.  They’re out there in private consulting firms and in those more rarified software/hardware and IT companies. The concept works. The medical community tells us that positive attitudes have been consistently linked with reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke. This fact hasn’t escaped HR professionals intent on building healthier and more productive Employee populations.

God knows, there will always be opportunities to assist organizations to remain inspired, positively energized and directed.  We used to call that one of the primary roles of Employee Relations though that task/function now seems more presently directed at Employee communication and discipline.   That’s too bad because the maintenance of an optimistic and positive attitude can be one of the key attributes of success.   If we continue to entertain and tolerate the bad apple(s) in our midst then we do create the potential of spoiling the whole barrel. If an employee engages a critical (or any) task from a negative perspective the chances of a successful outcome are substantially diminished.  We need to identify and effectively manage all the drivers of engagement and then understand morale as a key part of an Employee’s overall performance.

Now having said all that, it’s just not that simple.  Behavioral analysts like Dan Pink are adamant that workers need three things: mastery (tools to get the job done), autonomy (independence), and purpose (rhyme, reason, direction & self-esteem) to be successful.  We believe more drivers exist but also that morale is that intangible X-factor component of all of the above that when righteously addressed, contributes to the continuing success for those enlightened companies.  Likewise, companies who fail to approach the marketplace with a positive attitude and demeanor will do their clients a great disservice and probably won’t stay in business very long. We have long known that athletic teams with a high confidence factor (and with all else equal) win more games with that applying equally to the workplace.

There are many great resources available that relate to company morale issues with most readily identified on the Internet.  Just go surfing and they will present themselves.

The point of this post is to acknowledge this X Factor and thank the special Lady from a special company for the above graphic and reminder that we always need to put our best foot forward.  If the role of CMO were ever established – she would at least be the Head Cheerleader.  She always sees the silver lining - the positive in every situation without overlooking the reality of the workplace.  You see, she has seen enough pain and heartbreak in one short lifetime that would challenge even an entire community.  But she is a Lady of consummate faith and optimism who is always willing to share her positive message even with just a smile and hallway greeting.   She has demonstrated to this writer and others of our ilk the message that one blogger recently stated, “It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.” Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s all about perspective and persistence.

As Jane Brody of the NY Times opined when reviewing Breaking Murphy’s Law by Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, “Optimism is not about being positive so much as it is about being motivated and persistent.  Dr. Segerstrom and other researchers have found that rather than giving up and walking away from difficult situations, optimists attack problems head-on. They plan a course of action, getting advice from others and staying focused on solutions.”

Brody continued, “Dr. Segerstrom wrote that when faced with uncontrollable stressors, optimists tend to react by building “existential resources” — for example, by looking for something good to come out of the situation or using the event to grow as a person in a positive way.  If you behave more optimistically, you will likely keep trying instead of giving up after an initial failure. ‘You might succeed more than you expected,’ she wrote. Even if the additional effort is not successful, it can serve as a positive learning experience, suggesting a different way to approach a similar problem the next time.”

Dale Carnegie once offered that the great ones among us can always find that silver lining, that when life hands them a lemon they turn it into lemonade. Thanks Mother T…


Ned Buxton