Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lessons learned from my two year-old daughter (Dec. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor

It’s been over a year now that my daughter has been living with us. I can gladly say that she has officially lived with us longer than she lived with her foster mother. Ariana turned two in June, and people have been asking for an update on her, so here goes.She is a tough, stubborn, willful girl -- and she clearly lays claim to our household.I often wonder how much of her personality is natural and how much has been shaped by her circumstances. She was left by her birth mother at two days old and taken from her foster mother at the age of 14 months when a ragged group of Americans named the Burgesons showed up on one sweltering September day in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province of China.I guess she has a right to be a little particular. Her short life has been packed with uncertainty and trauma that most two year-olds don’t experience. I would have thought that she was too young to have it affect her at all or stick with her, but it has.Uncertain of strangers, and ever cautious in new situations, she still has some trepidation in her life. It took the better part of a year for her to open up to us. Kisses, hugs, and cuddling were not commonplace like they were with our son at her age. She was afraid of traveling in a different car than ours, being left with anyone new, and became clingy when we went to new places.It broke my heart that even after living with us for months, she was still afraid of being handed over again to someone new. For a long time, she was nervous if at least one member of our family wasn’t in the room with her at all times.But slowly, ever so slowly, her tough exterior, and the bulk of her fears, faded with the passing of time. Now, she insists on a “kiss-hug” from mom and dad on a regular basis. And when she hasn’t seen me for a while, she will sit on my lap and watch TV or read a book, or even just lean her head on me while I twiddle on the laptop. This is any daddy’s dream. And she has me wrapped around her finger -- a daddy’s girl if I ever saw one.I can’t tell you how hard it was to earn this trust and love from her -- far harder than I had ever imagined it would be. But it came eventually, and when she’s sweet, she’s the sweetest little cupcake you’ve ever seen.But she still has that stubborn side. She still won’t let us forget that she’s the princess, and she likes things her way. We stand up to her, but it’s not always pretty.Some of that is the terrible twos, and some of it is baggage from her former life. It doesn’t matter, though. All kids have a personality forged from both nature and nurture. With enough love and the proper direction, I know she’ll harness that toughness into a strength that will serve her well as she grows up and moves out on her own some day.So, after a year, we’re into a groove; a pretty normal family. My seven year-old son Reidar loves playing with his little sister. She calls him geh geh, Chinese for big brother, and really the only Chinese she still speaks on a regular basis. I’d put her language skills on par with kids a year older than her. Her mind seems to have worked overtime to catch up to her english speaking peers, to the point that she has surpassed them.Part of this is probably so she can compete with her brother. They get along pretty well, and they fight like any other siblings, and the normal rivalries are there too. The house feels like part playground and part insane asylum when they are together. It’s definitely a lively joint in the mornings when they get ready for school and daycare, and in the evenings when it’s time for dinner, homework, and baths.The next challenge for little Ari, as we call her, will come in April. This is when we will welcome the next addition to our family. I don’t know what kind of magical powers Chinese babies have, but she apparently has some affect on fertility among western women. After trying on and off for seven years to have another baby, and adopting as a result of our inability to conceive, we were finally able to become pregnant -- only after Ari came into our lives.Just another piece of evidence to support my theory that life is filled with strange ironies and even stranger coincidences. No doctor can explain this phenomena. But we aren’t the first adoptive family to experience it.How will Ari handle not being the baby anymore?I just hope we have a boy, because I’m not sure if there is room for another princess in our house.But if I’ve learned anything from my daughter, it’s that you just need to roll with the punches in life, take what it gives you, and stay strong. And I’m sure that’s what she’ll do.Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Record your family history now...before its too late (Nov. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor

Since Veterans Day was this past weekend, I was thinking -- as I always do on that day -- of the World War II veterans that I worked with on my Master’s thesis project. For the project, I interviewed several local vets, as well as some of the folks in residence at the veterans home in Grand Rapids.I also thought about one veteran in particular who just passed away a few weeks ago; and my grandfather, a World War II army vet and German prisoner of war, who passed away 10 years ago.It is estimated that over 1000 World War II vets die each day in this country. That’s why it is so important for us to record their oral histories. For my documentary project, I interviewed about a dozen vets and wives of vets from the second world war, videotaped them, and put them into a finished piece. At least one of those people I interviewed has since passed, that I know of -- I’m sure there are some who are now gone whom I have lost touch with. Just think of the information that would have been lost had I not gotten these interviews on tape. And think of what has been lost of those who were never interviewed.I often wish that I would have gotten my grandfather on videotape to get his impressions on the war, the depression, our family history, and his life in general. Unfortunately, I never got the chance, save for one cassette tape from a high school project. There are so many questions that come up from time to time in my family that we will never have answers for, and so much we could have learned if we would have sat down and taken the time to ask these questions.So, I urge everyone who has a parent, grandparent, friend or other relative of “The Greatest Generation,” as it is sometimes called -- to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Get their stories on audio or video tape. These personal histories can be treasured by future generations, and will help to preserve a part of your families own history, and the history of our nation, for that matter.The interviews don’t have to be done with expensive equipment, lighting, or sound. They don’t have to be edited together into a finished program. All you need is a camera or tape recorder, and a list of questions.I also urge people to contribute their recorded pieces to an oral history project, like the Veterans History Project, sponsored by the Library of Congress. These projects collect and catalogue oral histories from people of all walks of life, and preserve them as a record for research and education.There are also oral history projects for Native Americans, African Americans, Vietnam War veterans, and many other different categories.Because of the availability of modern technology such as home video cameras, and their widespread use, we have the opportunity to save a special piece of each of our families for future generations. So, if you have ever thought of sitting down with a relative and making a recording, don’t put it off any longer, do it today. You’ll be glad you did. If you participate in an oral history project, you might even be contributing a piece of history that was previously unknown -- it’s already happened since these projects have been set up. And most importantly of all; your children -- and your children’s children -- will thank you for it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Look out for the national liberal media! (Nov. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor

Representative Pete Hoekstra has an ad on the radio right now admonishing the “Liberal National Media.” After hearing about how they are ruining our way of life, I’m glad that I belong to the “non-biased local media.”Whew!I’m a little confused, though, as I tried to figure out just who he was talking about. Because the last time I checked, the most listened to radio personality is Rush Limbaugh, (a neo-conservative). As of 2005, Arbitron ratings indicate the show's audience to average 13.5 million listeners weekly, making it the largest radio talk show audience in the United States. Also, relative to all other television and radio programs in the United States, Limbaugh's audience has the highest percentage (56%) of hard news consumers. So, at least the liberal national media doesn’t have a hold of good old radio. Whew!On television, we’ve got the conservative, “no-spin-zone” Bill O’Reilly. O'Reilly is best known as the host of the cable news program The O'Reilly Factor, broadcast on the Fox News Channel. Between 2003 and the first half of 2006, it ranked #1 among cable news programs, averaging 2.2 million viewers daily in 2005. Well, at least on cable, the liberal national media isn’t in control. Whew!Many Republicans have shown concern in the last year or so that public broadcasting is liberal. I worked at a public broadcasting television station for a few years, and never saw the political agenda of Sesame Street, Barney, Elmo and The Antiques Roadshow. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, though.Thank goodness that Patricia Harrison, the one time co-chair of the Republican National Committee, was named president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in June, and new non-liberal programming was added, such as “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered” and “Journal Editorial Report,” -- which features the conservative Wall Street Journal's editorial board -- in order to get more conservative voices on air.Thanks to the republicans, I guess the liberal national media has been kicked out of public broadcasting. Whew!Which brings us to the commercial broadcasting networks, in which the big three have national news programs which are, shall we say, sucking wind, in the ratings department. Why? Because the traditional format of network news shows is to present the most un-biased, objective news reporting possible. BORING!The American public wants to hear opinions. They want Anderson Cooper, Bill O’Reilly, and the other “news personalities” to give them the “real inside scoop”. So viewers have flocked to cable news to be entertained and informed at the same time. Network news has shied away from controversy for years and quashed anyone with an opinion on the evening news; and the news tidbits we see in the morning on the networks are surrounded by so much fun and games that its hard to take the five minute news report even remotely seriously.So, network news is in too much of a tailspin to tow the line for the liberal media agenda. Whew!Then it must be the print media who are spearheading the liberal agenda. Here’s what the website My Direct Democracy found in their research about liberal bias in the newspaper industry:Since 1940 when industry trade magazine Editor & Publisher began tracking newspapers during presidential elections, only two Democratic candidates -- Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton in 1992 -- have ever won more endorsements than their Republican opponent. That's because newspaper publishers, who usually sign off on endorsements, tend to vote Republican (like lots of senior corporate executives), which means GOP candidates pick up more endorsements. A lot more. In 1984, President Reagan landed roughly twice as many endorsements as Democrat Walter Mondale in the president's easy reelection win. And in 1996, despite his weak showing at the polls, 179 daily newspapers endorsed Republican Bob Dole, which easily outpaced the Democrats' tally by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.So, at least the liberal national media hasn’t gotten a hold of the newspaper industry. Whew!What does that leave us with, then? Where is the liberal national media? In the minority, not the majority. Right where the conservatives want it.Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tigers know how to put the fun back in professional baseball (Oct. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor
The October classic is made of stories like this one. Forty-one year old Kenny Rogers has now thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings in the post-season, now third on the record list for such a task.Watching the veteran pitch on Sunday night was entertaining, not only because he is so hot right now, but because it is great to see how much he is enjoying himself -- talking to himself on the mound, spinning around when a strike call goes the other way, cheering on Pudge and his fielders when they make a good play or pitch call. This is baseball at its finest.In this age of prima donna players, star endorsement deals, free agent salary holdouts, and bad boy athletes, its fantastic to see a player like Rogers who is enjoying the game for what it is: a game.Craig Monroe said it best when he was interviewed after their win against the Cardinals Sunday. He remarked how he was just trying to have fun and enjoy every minute of this world series experience, and remembered how this is what he dreamed about and imagined himself doing when he played in the backyard growing up.That’s what it’s all about. Being 12 years old and hitting a tennis ball in the backyard with an aluminum bat. Making up your own rules; past the oak tree is a hit, above the hedge is a home-run, using ghost runners when you don’t have enough guys -- and most important of all, calling which players you get to pretend to be. It was also fun to imagine your own game situations -- bottom of the ninth, tying run on second, cleanup hitter up...This year’s Tiger squad represents all of the fun we remember from those childhood experiences, win or lose. Here is a bunch of guys who clearly enjoy baseball and play it for the love of the game. With their rally hats, “gum-time” and the joy they show when they get a clutch run or important win, it’s as fun to watch how they play baseball as it is to watch the actual game.How often do you see a professional sports team go into the locker-room, grab the champagne, and bring it out onto the field to celebrate with their fans? And how many times do you see an interview when the players praise each other more than themselves? Just watch an after game interview with a member of this year’s Tigers.Here is a team that is, as Kenny Rogers says, “doing it for the fans,” and glad to do it for them. There isn’t any talk of personal achievements, dissention in the locker room over changes in fielding assignments or batting roster changes, or the other kind of prima-donna behavior we are so used to seeing in professional sports today.The 2006 Detroit Tiger team is just that -- a team. A group of guys who are raising the standard of what a team can do if they are given the chance. They play for the fans and for the fun of it all.Win or lose, they have a ton of class, good sportsmanship, and are a model to young and old athletes and fans everywhere, of any sport.And if anyone deserves to take the World Series crown it’s these guys -- the team of destiny.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at

Friday, October 20, 2006

Doom is one of the baddest movie villains of all time (Sept. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Associate Editor
James Earl Jones has a commanding body of professional work. His first successes were in the theater. He won a 1969 Tony award for playing boxer Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope, and an Oscar nomination for playing the same role in a 1970 film version. I’ve enjoyed watching him (or hearing him) as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars film series, and some of my favorite roles Jones has portrayed over the years are the reclusive Salinger-like author in Field of Dreams, and the CIA chief in the Tom Clancy spy flicks The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Being a father of two, I must also mention his fine work as the voice of Mufasa in The Lion King. These performances are well known by everyone and always turn up on lists of favorite films by the esteemed actor. But I have to admit, one of my favorite roles is his portrayal of Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian. I remember seeing the film for the first time when I was thirteen years old -- a time in the early-eighties when science fiction and sword and sorcery films were just starting to pique the interest of the general public. Conan is arguably the film that started the fantasy genre explosion.At that age, I had plowed through all of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, as well as J.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books; fantasy and swordplay were at the forefront of my imagination, and Conan was right up my alley. This film is often overlooked because it is considered to be minimalist in the dialogue department. What makes up for its lack of wordiness are the fantastic visual qualities of the film, rousing score, minimal reliance on special effects, and especially the performances of its main actors, first and foremost Jones. His lines are carefully crafted and delivered in a cold, dark, malevolent tone. I have often quoted Doom’s “Infidel Defilers. They shall all drown in lakes of blood,” or my favorite line of the film, “contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him!”Even when he isn’t speaking, Jones’ portrayal of Doom is that of pure evil. He manages to make you hate him in the film’s opening scene, and throughout the film with his sinister and ominous presence alone and non-verbal posturing, and provides the audience the needed fuel to root on Schwarzenegger, (in his breakout role), to find and destroy the man who has killed his family.The film was directed by John Milius, who co-wrote and/or directed such popular and critically acclaimed films such as Apocalypse Now, The Hunt for Red October, and Red Dawn, and Conan was co-written by famed writer/director Oliver Stone. Stone and Milius hired an impressive cast around Jones, including Max Von Sydow as King Osric, and some bold casting of some brand new actors -- Schwarzenegger included.Thulsa Doom is one of the top ten movie bad guys of all time. It is amazing that Jones, so often known for playing a good guy, could pull off such an evil character portrayal. It’s a true testament to his acting ability. And while there may not have been any Oscars awarded to the film, it stands as one of the most loved and re-watched fantasy films of all time.

Middle class going the way of the dinosaur (Oct. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

There was a time in America when the man of the house was expected to earn a living, and the woman’s role was that of a home-maker, raising the children and running the household. Women broke this mold when they began to enter the workforce -- rightfully so -- and changed the model of the American family forever.While this sexist idea of the nuclear family of the fifties was rife with gender bias and unfair stereotyping, there was one part of this social arrangement which was beneficial.That was the idea that one parent worked while the other had the extremely important role of watching, raising, and nurturing the children -- a role I have performed in the past, so I know what I’m talking about.But right now, I’m in the same situation as most Americans. My wife and I both work full time, and our two children spend time in daycare. We are extremely lucky, though. Our caregivers are great with the kids, and they both enjoy the time that they spend there.But I have to admit that, there are times that I feel guilty because I no longer stay home with the kids. I worry that there are moments in my daughter’s and my son’s lives that I will miss, and I cannot ever get them back. They grow up so fast, and stay little for what seems like such a short time.What happened in this country that made it so necessary for us to all work such long hours? Why can’t we make ends meet with only one parent working?Some experts claim that anyone can make the sacrifice so that one parent can stay at home, but I know from experience that it’s difficult, if not impossible for young families to get by with only one income in today’s society. What spurred this situation? Inflation? A higher cost of living? An increased lifestyle expectation?Whatever the cause, it is a shame that we left this part of American culture behind (minus the sexist stereotyping, of course).Do we want too much? Expect too much?Is it our lust for expensive toys in our lives and big houses the cause of our need for more family income? Have Americans become too greedy? Or has inflation and the cost of living quickly exceeded our ability to meet our monthly financial obligations?What has really suffered because of this movement to the dual income society has been family. We have more disposable income, and less disposable time to enjoy our lives -- and really no way to remedy the situation.The income of the middle class in America isn’t such that we can survive without dual wage earners in each family; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and everyone else is doing the best they can to get by. According to a study commissioned recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, the middle class is being squeezed. The combination of declining real incomes and increasing expenses reduces the standard of living for the middle class. In real terms, health insurance costs have increased by nearly $900, gasoline and other energy costs have increased by over $2,300, and college education costs have increased by over $1,500 since 2000. The median U.S. family facing these three expenses would have seen its real income drop by almost $1,300 since 2000, while its real expenses would have increased by almost $5,000. So, normal Americans are making less, and putting out more of their income. The next question is, how can we make more, and spend less? From the study, it seems simple. The government needs to do its job. Lower inflation, lower taxes, give businesses the breaks that they need to pay their employees more. Decrease the costs of energy by making us less reliant on foreign oil, increase alternative energy solutions, and lower college and other education costs so they do not exceed the costs of inflation or cost of living.I know this is simplifying the issue, but it doesn’t seem all that hard when you break it down this way. I just hope it’s easy enough for the politicians who are running for office now and in 2008 to understand, because at this rate, the middle class will be eliminated completely before they figure out how keep us from becoming an endangered species.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The medical marijuana debate (Aug. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Former U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., said in March of 2004 that, "the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day." John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, disagrees. in March of 2002, he stated that "smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception, and judgment. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents."Two opposing viewpoints -- one hotly debated topic. Medical marijuana. They’re both right. Marijuana can relieve pain and symptoms of several illnesses, and it does do some damage to the human body when smoked. But cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs also do damage to the human body. Prescription drugs and alcohol can impair judgement and can lead to workplace and auto accidents as well. The difference is that prescription drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are all drugs that, when obtained properly, are not illegal.Interestingly enough, the two recreational drugs which are more popular than marijuana in America are tobacco and alcohol. What’s important to define in this debate is that those who support the use of marijuana for medical purposes do not necessarily support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use as well. These should be treated as two separate arguments. Legalization for recreational use has far too large a negative impact on society to consider; but legalization for medical purposes only, with strict guidelines and enforcement policies, could be as beneficial or even more beneficial as many other drugs currently being used in the market today.Certainly, no one has a problem with a person taking OxyContin or similar pain medications if prescribed by a doctor, even though patients can become addicted to those types of narcotics. Why is marijuana, which has yet to be proven as addictive, viewed as any different?For over 4,000 years, the cannabis plant (marijuana) had been used medicinally by a variety of cultures around the world. It was even used as medicine in the United States until 1937, when a new tax fee led to its discontinued use. In 1972, marijuana was officially placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that the government considered it to have “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Marijuana's schedule can be changed by Congress, the DEA, or the courts, however. And Congress has voted on several bills to legalize the medical use of marijuana. None of those bills were passed. The argument most often used is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has five criteria for reclassifying marijuana's schedule, and they believe that marijuana has not met those criteria. No federal court so far has ordered marijuana to be rescheduled. As a further setback to the cause, in June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that federal laws against marijuana, including its medical use, are valid. Many people in the general public seem to disagree. In a proposition put before the people of California, 56 percent of voters approved of legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. In 2002, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration began to confiscate the drug from medical users because marijuana still remains illegal under federal law. In a token move, the Investigative New Drug (IND) program of the FDA was extended by court order in 1978 to permit over a dozen patients to receive and use government-grown marijuana. Although the program was closed to new patients in 1991, the seven remaining patients each continue to receive about 300 marijuana cigarettes per month through the U.S. government. The big question is why this program hasn’t reached a conclusion as to the benefits or lack of benefits of medical marijuana after being in existence for over fifteen years.In their defense, the government has authorized a few research studies into the health effects of medical marijuana, but, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to date, still has not approved marijuana as a medicine, citing the fact that it has not gone through rigorous clinical testing like other new drugs must. Proponents state that marijuana is not a "new" drug, and it should be "grandfathered" into legality. The reason it has not gone through FDA mandated testing because the government has blocked such efforts. It seems fair that the federal government and the FDA can declare marijuana unsafe for medical use through a clinical trial like any other drug, but they refuse to do so. Perhaps they are afraid to go forward with such a trial in the fear that the drug will actually pass the trials. In the meantime, it’s a shame that so many chronic pain sufferers and terminally ill patients will continue to suffer while the government does nothing to make a final decision on the possible usefulness of marijuana to treat these patients. Medical marijuana deserves a fair trial like any other medicinal drug.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

In a global economy, buying American cars is more important than ever (Sept. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

My wife and I bought a new car recently, and every time we’re in the market for a new car, we have the same discussion. I usually say we should look at all of the cars available and judge them on their pricing and merits, and she says we should only buy American. Part of the reason I look at foreign cars over and over again is because of the prestige and allure they seem to hold -- although I’m not sure why. I think many Americans buy foreign cars for that reason, because of some perceived superiority in design or style.We have owned six cars together by my estimate in the 12 years that we’ve been married, and all of them are or were American cars. Some of them were good cars, others not so great. But isn’t that true of all products? I’m sure there are some good Japanese cars, and some clunkers.I’m a big fan of capitalism. Let the consumer vote for the automobile that he or she likes with their dollars. This will force the car companies to push the envelope, delivering the automobile with the most desirable features and the highest level of performance. If that product happens to be a foreign car, then so be it.Despite this logic, we have yet to buy a foreign car, though. And I don’t think we ever will. When we shop for Volvos and Volkswagens, we feel guilty. Having grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in a suburb of Detroit, everyone drove American cars, and almost everyone’s mother or father worked for one of the big three auto-makers. As kids, we figured that only rich people and folks who lived on the east or west coast drove foreign cars. My wife, the lifelong pro-union Democrat, had it driven into her head that she shouldn’t be found dead in a BMW.But are we making this decision with our heads or our hearts? Shouldn’t we buy the product that best fits our needs, our pocketbooks, and our safety? This could describe a foreign car or an American car, depending on our budgets and the type of car we desire. In terms of the merits of foreign vs. American cars, it's not all that clear anymore which is which. Toyotas are built in Kentucky, Hondas in Ohio, and Mercedes-Benzes in Alabama. Chrysler is owned by Germans and General Motors makes cars in Canada and Mexico. Is an automobile assembled in the U.S. with more than 50% of its parts built in another country still an American car?But we’re not really talking about where the cars or their component parts are made. An American car is one that is made by an American company, regardless of where they buy their parts or assemble the vehicles. The world economy is becoming more and more trans-global every day, and it’s only expected that auto companies will seek out the most economical ways to build their products with the least expensive labor and overhead costs.We can’t knock the auto companies for trying to stay in business by minimizing their costs. Sure, it hurts when people lose their jobs, but what do we expect them to do? American car companies cannot remain competitive with foreign car companies and continue to eat the high costs of production here in the U.S. They must out-source or die.Which is why we should continue to buy American cars. We haven’t had a trade surplus in this country since 1975, and the current trade deficit continues to grow as we gobble up foreign imported goods at an alarming rate, hurting domestic industries which manufacture or produce the same goods. The government hasn’t discouraged the trade deficit much because the influx of cheaper goods helps to stem inflation.So what is the answer? How do we buy the least expensive goods while still supporting American businesses, American industry, and American jobs. Unfortunately, that’s a hard nut to crack.When it comes down to it, there are plenty of quality American automobiles to choose from, and many are affordable, safe, and economical to drive. There isn’t any reason to run to the European or Japanese car-makers to find something that we produce right here at home.I agree, we should still use healthy competition to make the big three work harder to get our car buying dollar, but we can force them to compete amongst each other, rather than with foreign car makers, and in the process, support our own economy. With the tough economic times we face in this country, now is the time to buy American, and contribute to a stronger, more self-reliant United States of America. At the same time, we must also challenge American businesses to produce a superior product worthy of our loyalty. Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Billy Ray Cyrus still has loyal following (Manistee News Advocate Aug. 06)

MANISTEE -- Billy Ray Cyrus performed two sold out shows at the Little River Casino Resort on Sunday to a room full of extremely enthusiastic fans. Between the two performances, Cyrus signed autographs from the stage, and also held a meet and greet session for members of his fan club and others who were lucky enough to get a hold of back stage passes. Judging from the reaction of the fans Sunday night, if the ballroom at Little River would have held twice as many seats, they would have been able to fill them.After meeting with twenty or so of the more rabid fans, Cyrus was able to answer a few questions, darting outside a side door of the conference center in the middle of the construction of Little River’s forthcoming 1400 seat entertainment venue. The interview which was originally scheduled for 4:30 had been pushed to 6:30, and the 15 allotted minutes were now whittled down by his brother and road manager Mick to about five. He had good things to say about Manistee during that short time. Cyrus looked over to the ongoing construction site. “It’s growing,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of casinos, start out, across the country, from the ground floor, and when you see what it can do for the community, and what it can do for the state, what it can do for the people -- the whole attitude in general is awesome, and anytime you see something like this growing, its just such a great thing.”Most people remember Cyrus from his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Hearty”, and his infamous mullet. The success of "Achy Breaky Heart" from his first album Some Gave All helped renew the popularity of line dancing and made Cyrus a star. But the general public has deemed Cyrus a one-hit wonder since he fell off the radar in the early nineties. His hard-core fans, however, never left.Cyrus' follow-up album, It Won't Be the Last, began strong, but sales were disappointing compared to Some Gave All. He appeared on Dolly Parton’s 1993 single "Romeo", then continued to chart and release four more albums over the next six years. These were Storm in the Heartland (1994), Trail of Tears (1996), Shot Full of Love (1998) and Southern Rain (2000). He has had some success as a gospel singer with his album The Other Side in 2003. His most recent album, released in July 2006, is Wanna Be Your Joe.Most people, however, don’t know about the other albums and the years of touring Cyrus has done. They remember that one song, and that old hair-cut. Cyrus even lampooned himself on one of his albums with a cut entitled “I Want My Mullet Back.”In 2004, Blender magazine selected “Achy Breaky Heart” as the magazine's choice for "second worst song ever." Those who have written Cyrus off as a one hit wonder should note, however, that his career has included three #1 singles and six Top Ten singles, including "Could've Been Me" and "In the Heart of a Woman." Cyrus also holds the record for the longest time at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart for a debut record (17 weeks).Cyrus has always been modest and down to earth in the past, partly due to the fun had at his expense from critics -- but his recent successes in the realm of television have given him more confidence, and a bit of a harder edge; some might even say “cockiness”. Gone is the simple guy from Nashville who made it big; now he has more of the temperament seen from a Hollywood celebrity. In 2001, Cyrus began playing the lead role on the PAX (now i Network) comedy-drama Doc. Doc became the highest-rated show on the network, and continues to air in reruns on the channel. In 2005, Cyrus expanded his acting career in a stage production of “Annie Get Your Gun” in Toronto, in the role of Frank Butler. 2004 brought Cyrus another guest starring role in an episode of the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.Most recently, Cyrus and his daughter Miley starred in the first season of a new Disney Channel original television series, “Hannah Montana”. The show revolves around a young pop star (played by Miley) who adopts an alter-ego to protect her identity at school, fulfilling her wish to live life as a "normal" kid. Cyrus plays the pop star's widowed father, manager, and famous singer Robbie Ray. Footage of Robbie Ray as a famous singer in the past is actual footage and photos of Billy Ray himself as a singer. Hannah Montana is currently airing on the Disney Channel, and has received positive reviews from critics and viewers. Many of the fans at Sunday’s performance were young fans of the show and of Miley, and several in attendance were hoping that she was with her famous dad on the tour. One of Cyrus’ staff members said he likes to joke with the crowd when they ask for her and he tells them she’s back on the bus. All joking aside, of his newly famous daughter, he says, “She’s got a busy future -- she’s like me, she loves acting and she loves singing. Her whole heart’s into it.”The success of the show has made Miley a star, but according to her dad, “she’s making her second album, and doing videos for the first; she’s staying so busy, she hasn’t had time to realize how huge this thing is, but when she gets out on the road with the Cheetah Girls at the end of September, first part of October, she’s going to see first hand that (fame) is very powerful.”When asked how he has the time to fit in touring and acting on a popular Disney channel show, he replied, “I just stay busy, and I’m lucky because I love what I do. I love making music, and I love acting.” Then, as quickly as he came, and without another word, Cyrus turned and bolted for his tour bus, to get a five minute break before he went out on stage once again.And in case you’re wondering, he finished the show with “Achey Breaky Heart.” After all, he knows what the fans want. Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Slow down and enjoy the drive (Manistee News Advocate Aug. 06)

Why did the car companies decide that it was a good idea to put those "change engine oil" lights in our cars? Do they have a secret alliance with the Jiffy Lube cartel to brainwash people into getting their oil changed bi-weekly? If they think that I’m coming to the dealership to get my oil changed when that little light comes on, they’re nuts. I’m not going to pay those prices.. Does anyone really use that as their reminder to change their oil, anyway? Most of us drive far beyond the mileage counter number on the cute little sticker on the windshield. Then, we proceed to drive beyond the date that is printed on there, too. If I can ignore that sticker, I can surely ignore a light on my dashboard. I guess I don't mind that they put those “change oil” lights in the car, but good God! Make it easier to cancel them out once I actually do change the oil. The guy at the oil change place should just be able to flip a switch, but of course its not that easy. I turn on the key, turn off the key, pump the gas pedal three times in five seconds, say the magic word, cross my eyes, and do everything the owner’s manual says to turn that stupid light off, but it WON'T GO OFF! And everyone who rides in your car has to point out, "hey, you should get your oil changed, your light is on." This only adds insult to injury. Anyway, since when do I have to take advice from my car? What’s next, diet tips from the refrigerator? Wait, I saw a commercial the other day for a refrigerator that’s hooked up to the Internet and has a television built into it, so maybe that IS possible. If General Motors really wants to put a useful gadget in my car, how about linoleum flooring? The rugs in my vehicles have gone from their natural color to a dark black from coffee, pop, milk, smashed Cheerios, and all of the other wonderful fast food droppings that find their way there when my family consumes meals on long drives. With a linoleum floor, I could squeegee it clean after every road trip, maybe even toss down a little Mop ‘N Glo and get it sparkling clean again. Linoleum floors would be useful -- the change oil light doesn’t do anything for me except incite my already borderline road-rage I feel from the morons who pass me every time I pull over to let an ambulance drive by. What is the deal with that? The unwritten code of the road says, re-enter the traffic flow in the order that you pulled over for the emergency vehicle. Yeah, I’m talking about you; the guy in the white truck who passed me in front of the hospital the other day. Remember driver's education? Sure, that was decades ago, I know, but I’m sure you remember those “Blood on the Highway” movies. Well, besides admonishing drunk driving, one of the really important lessons we learned was to pull over when you see an ambulance with its lights flashing in the rear view mirror. You never know, It could be your grandmother inside there who just had a coronary and every minute may count. It doesn't mean that you get a “free pass” to go around me whenever I follow the law and pull over. What it all boils down to is that everyone is in too much of a hurry on the roads these days. If scientists actually did experiments to see how much time is saved by running yellow lights and passing people when they pull over for ambulances, I’m sure they’d find that the total savings per trip equates to only about a minute or so. Is it really worth risking life and limb to arrive at the dentist or the grocery store one minute earlier? Or maybe those people in such a hurry are rushing to Jiffy Lube to get an oil change because their little light is on...Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tune out and unplug for a while (Manistee News Advocate Aug. 06)

Technology is great, isn’t it? We can instantly communicate with people from all over the world via email or instant messenger, talk wirelessly via mobile phone with coverage almost everywhere, and receive documents over the fax machine or as email attachments. The Internet allows us to take our laptops wherever we can pick up a wireless signal, and any information we want can be obtained as quickly as we can type it into a search engine on the web.Technology has made us more efficient at home and at work, able to do more than previous generations were able to accomplish. Now that we are so efficient, we have more leisure time, work shorter hours, and can enjoy life more.What’s that you say? Oh, that we’re more efficient, we actually do more work. But that doesn’t make any sense, does it?People seem to have become addicted to “staying in touch” with their jobs. Cell phones and laptops with virtual private network connections to work make it possible for workers to connect with their jobs anytime they want, and their employers can in turn contact them any time they need to, even when it intrudes on their outside-work lives. Now, one machine can do it all. Cell phones with e-mail and instant messenger capability combine all of the work contact possibilities into one easy package. But are we more efficient because of technology, or simply more tethered to work? A survey revealed that, on average, people check their mail about five times a day, and a quarter of them cannot go without it for more than three days at a stretch. More than 4,000 people across 20 U.S. cities participated in the survey, carried out by AOL in partnership with Opinion Research.Before the advent of email, how did we use this time? To actually interact with our families? Read a book? Exercise? The extent that email has robbed us of our leisure time is immeasurable.Cell phones are an even larger encroachment on our daily lives. A survey by BBDO worldwide found that 75 percent of cell phone owners had it turned on and within reach during their waking hours, 59 percent wouldn't think of lending their cell phone to a friend for a day, and 26 percent said it was more important to go home to retrieve a cell phone than a wallet. A study by Telephia, a mobile industry tracker, found that Americans averaged 13 hours a month -- with users ages 18 to 24 racking up close to 22 hours.That’s one whole day each month spent on a cell phone. I’d rather spend that time at the beach.So, all of the free time we were supposed to have because technology made us more efficient is actually being absorbed by the same technology we so lovingly embrace. It’s amazing anyone has time to watch a sunset or walk their dog. I guess you can engage in both of those activities while talking on a cell phone, though.It gets worse.Internet addiction specialists estimate that six percent to ten percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in this country have a dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction, and they are rushing to treat it. Not only are we using the Internet too much, now we can become clinically addicted to it.When electric typewriters and Xerox machines were introduced to the business world to help save time in the workplace, nobody became addicted to them. So why are we so absorbed with new technology these days?Because communication is the lifeblood of humanity. Exchanging ideas, words, pictures, music, feelings, and just about anything else fills a basic human need. We also seek to be connected to those we care about, and those things we care about -- like work. But are employers taking advantage of our need to connect?Is it fair to ask employees to be readily accessible to their employers 24/7? And why do employers feel that they can ask their workers to be available whenever they need them?The final result of this constant attachment to the workplace is that we’ve spawned a nation of work-aholics in America, whose identities are tied solely to their careers. "It's not about long hours," says Robinson, a psychotherapist in private practice in Asheville, N.C., and author of Chained To The Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and The Clinicians Who Treat Them. "It's about the inability to turn it off. It's a question of balance."The answer seems to be just that. Balance. Americans put in the longest hours among industrialized nations on the job, nearly 2000 hours per capita, and the annual working hours in the U.S. are steadily rising. We seem to be working too much, and relaxing less.So, when you go home tonight, unplug your cell phone, turn off your computer, and let your inbox fill up. Read a book, walk the dog, or play with the kids. Technology should be a tool, not an anchor.Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Goodbye Steve Yzerman (July 06 Manistee News Advocate)

I knew it was coming, but the shock was still staggering. As I picked up a copy of the Detroit Free Press on July 4th, the enormous two-inch headline informed me that my childhood idol, Steve Yzerman, had retired. I hate to admit it, being a full grown man, but my eyes were moist and my throat tightened a bit as I read the many tributes to this Motor City hero.Stevie Y came to play for the Red Wings at the age of 18, only 5 years older than I was back in 1983. I would watch hockey faithfully with my dad back then, learning the names and positions of all the Wings, and cheering for our hometown boys despite their dismal performance year-in and year-out. When I started to play hockey myself a few years later on the frozen lakes and ponds of Oakland County, and in the wee hours of the night at a Frasier hockey rink with a group of friends who had formed a hockey club, we would emulate the scoring plays of number 19. One of the guys would float a pass to me, and I’d hammer it in, raise my arms and shout “Yzerman with the one-timer!” I never would have imagined that 22 years later, I would coach and play hockey with my son and he would make the same exclamation after a particularly well-placed shot into the back of the net. Yzerman came to Detroit during what we suburban-Detroiters call the “Dead Wings era.” During this time, Stevie Y was the entire franchise -- as the Wings failed time and time again to advance in the playoffs. We were and always have been loyal fans, though, and faithfully followed the fortunes of our hometown team. While other players came and went, The Captain, was a constant fixture, his name synonymous with Red Wing hockey, and hockey in general. Without him, Detroit never would have become “Hockey Town.” And without him, the Wings would not have brought the Stanley Cup back to Detroit after a drought of 42 years. Only the ‘84 World Series win by the Tigers brought as much pride and excitement to the motor city as winning that cup. But the Detroit Red Wings were more than a mere hockey team after winning the cup in 1997, they were now a franchise, winning it again two more times under the leadership of Yzerman, and remaining a force to be reckoned with year after year in the regular season and in the playoffs.What can you say about an athlete whose longevity and influence allowed him to serve as a role model for both me and my son? We will likely never again witness a player who stays with one team for his entire career, let alone a 22-year career. We may never see another captain who serves for 19 straight seasons. This really is an end to an important era for Detroit sports fans.It is difficult to imagine a Red Wing team without number 19 on the roster. He was a somber, quiet leader; modest, and unassuming. He led by example, playing with his heart and with sheer determination, even when his body failed him. He endured a broken collarbone, several injuries and surgeries on his knee, and nearly lost an eye to an errant puck, but he continued to play with the same level of determination while providing the same unparalleled leadership to his team. It will not be his playing ability that is lost, as much as it will be his sheer presence in the lockerroom and on the ice.Yzerman has served as a role model to sports fans and non sports fans alike. At the age of 5, he decided he wanted to play in the NHL, and not only did he achieve this goal, but he became one of the most beloved hockey players of all time, playing for one of the greatest sports franchises of all time, becoming the youngest captain in their history at the tender age of 21, and remaining so for the rest of his career -- a career that included three Stanley Cup wins, 10 All-Star team appearances, and an Olympic gold medal for his native Canada.But, I suppose, hockey will go on. Wings head coach Mike Babcock said it best, “You can’t replace Steve Yzerman.” Somehow, though, we will become accustomed to seeing the familiar “C” on the jersey of another player -- perhaps Nicklas Lidstrom -- and we will watch in awe the amazing accomplishments of another Red Wing center, like Henrik Zetterberg. The comparisons will always be there, though. Whoever Stevie Y passes the gauntlet to will forever live in his shadow, constantly working to prove themselves worthy to play for the team that Steve built, through his leadership and determination and grit; through his example of exemplary play and good sportsmanship.Yes, somehow, we will drag ourselves out of bed this fall, face the inevitability that number 19 has moved on, and learn to embrace this new era of Red Wings hockey. We can still keep Steve Yzerman in our hearts and in our memories, though, and imagine ourselves as the captain when we put the puck into an improvised net on the frozen pond, at a game at the local rink, or even in the driveway. No time would have been the “right time” for him to go as far as I’m concerned, but I understand that it is time --too many injuries, and too many miles -- and I reflect fondly on all the years he has given us, and the inspiration he has provided to scores of young and old fans alike. Thanks, captain. Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Was bringing back the Dominator a good idea? (Aug. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Dominik Hasek was at one time undeniably one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. His unique style and spectacular ability to flop around in the crease, making butterfly moves to stop shots, helped the Red Wings to win their last Stanley Cup in 2002. With their recent reacquisition of “The Dominator”, The Red Wings are now looking for a repeat performance. The Wings took a page out of their history book while looking toward the future, and signed the 41-year-old Dominator on Monday to a one-year contract worth $750,000, with incentives based on playoff performance. "Dom seems very committed and very excited about an opportunity to come back to Detroit and try to help our team win a Stanley Cup," general manager Ken Holland said. "We really see Dom coming into training camp as our No. 1 goaltender. Bringing Dom back is a real positive for our team and is very exciting." But did the Red Wings really need help in goal? They posted the NHL’s best record in the regular season with Manny Legace in the crease, but surprised fans with a first-round playoff elimination against Edmonton. It seems to be a trend in professional sports today to ignore the statistics a coach or a player has racked up during the regular season, and judge him instead solely on his playoff performance. Legace’s performance helped the Wings to get to the playoffs in the first place. Putting the blame for the first round loss squarely on his shoulders seems a little unfair.It’s no secret that Hasek is returning to Detroit after an injury-plagued season with the Ottawa Senators. He joins another Red Wings Cup-winner, Chris Osgood, who was brought back as a reserve. This goaltender lineup would have sounded like a dream three or four years ago, but today, has fans wondering if Hasek’s recurring injuries will keep him sidelined; or even if he does manage to stay healthy -- whether or not he still has the stuff that cups are made of at the age of 41. After deciding not to bring back Manny Legace, the Red Wings made finding a starting goalie their top priority. They explored the trade market, spoke to three teams and took a close look at Ed Belfour, whose 457 victories rank second on the NHL list. Negotiations broke down, though, leading Belfour to sign a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers. Belfour would have been a far better pick than Hasek, and a better fit for the Wings. It’s a shame that Holland couldn’t make this deal work. Hasek, who will begin his third stint with Detroit, earned $1.5 million with the Senators last season. Ottawa said good-bye to the six-time Vezina Trophy winner earlier this month and replaced him with former Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Martin Gerber. The Senators seem to have the right idea about gambling another season on the ailing Hasek. Detroit acquired Hasek the first time in 2001 in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, where he had been since 1992. He backstopped the Red Wings to the championship during his first season in Detroit and then retired that summer. Since coming out of retirement, Hasek hasn’t been the same sensational goal-stopper that he was in the past. Despite the controversy surrounding a retirement comeback, Hasek resurrected his career and rejoined Detroit for the 2003-04 season. That created an uncomfortable goaltending triangle with Curtis Joseph and Legace. Hasek played in just 14 games, going 8-3-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average, before a chronic groin injury ended his season, the same injury that has recurred since, and may flare up once again.Hasek was having a good season last year, going 28-10-4 with a 2.09 GAA in 43 games with Ottawa, but didn't play after injuring his groin while playing for the Czech Republic in the Turin Olympics. Hasek hoped to return during the post-season but never fully recovered. If the regular season means nothing to the Wings, and the playoffs mean everything, then the possibility of losing Hasek to a mid-season injury should have been given more weight by Ken Holland and the rest of the Wing’s management team. Hasek hasn’t played a complete season in four years. "I do all kinds of sports, testing my groin," Hasek said. "At this point, it feels great. That's my goal, to feel great the whole season." Unfortunately, hoping won’t make it happen. Hasek said he hasn't discussed his playing schedule but wouldn't mind playing 45 to 55 games. "I don't have to play 65 games like I used to. It's not necessary at all," Hasek said. "I want to be playing my best hockey when the playoffs arrive." For our sake, I hope that Hasek can make it through those 55 games without succumbing to his nagging injuries. The Wings will have a much better chance of keeping him healthy if they play Osgood and Hasek equal time, rather than the primary goalkeeper/backup goalkeeper arrangement. Hasek, 41, has a career record of 324-206-82 in 638 NHL games. He ranks fifth among active goaltenders in wins and 18th overall. His 68 shutouts are third best among active players and 12th highest on the league's career list. He also won the Hart Trophy, awarded for the NHL’s most valuable player, twice in 1997 and 1998.His record is good, but lets just hope he didn’t peak back in 2002, and that he still has a little goaltending magic left in him. Otherwise, fans in Detroit might be wishing he would have never left retirement.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

The Bush legacy (Aug. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

What will the Bush legacy be? How will he be remembered? First off, he will be remembered as a president who served during a time of extreme crisis; September 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fight to strengthen our country’s defenses against the threat of terrorism.But will the president share the same fate as president Johnson -- being forever linked with the escalation of an unpopular war with an unclear exit strategy? If his father was remembered for “read my lips, no new taxes”, George W. will be remembered for the failed attempt to find those much talked about and endlessly debated WMD’s, and for standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declaring combat operations in Iraq “over”. Whether or not the president and his administration purposely used weapons of mass destruction as a reason for the Iraq invasion -- knowing that the intelligence wasn’t correct, is the big question; one for which I don’t have the answer. Whether Bush had planned to invade Iraq before 9/11 happened in order to seek some type of closure for Bush Sr.’s gulf war is also a point of contention. Unfortunately, the truth of these accusations is difficult to determine, and I will leave that to speculation.Why we entered the war and how we entered it are no longer issues we should waste our time debating. Now that we have a protracted war in Iraq, with casualties and deaths to our soldiers growing daily, the only questions we should be asking are: how long will this war take, what is the strategy for our eventual withdrawal, and how will we know when we’ve won?The administration’s answer that setting a withdrawal date or schedule of specific troop reductions would only show weakness to the enemy is not sufficient. The U.S. could develop an exit strategy without jeopardizing our troops. I think our military leaders are intelligent and experienced enough to develop a suitable plan. If we truly believe that all nations have the right to a democratic government and sovereign rule, it seems like we would want to leave the Iraqi people to rule as they see fit and to settle their own problems now that we have deposed their dictator and freed them to proceed with a new democratic government. So, besides the war, what legacy will G.W. leave? I did a Google search for “Bush accomplishments” and got zero hits, but I’ll see if I can piece a couple of things together on my own. (Dave accuses me of plagiarizing my material off of the Internet, anyway.)Even though I’m not a huge fan of the war, Sadam Hussein was captured and is facing trial. The world is surely a better place because of this. Also, two-thirds of al-Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed.Through diplomatic negotiations, nuclear weapons programs have been disabled in Libya, and talks continue with North Korea. So far, so good.Here’s where it gets tricky. Bush has instituted the USA PATRIOT Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, track terrorists, disrupt terrorist cells, and to seize assets. The new Department of Homeland Security supplements such legislation by enabling coasts and borders to be patrolled with a closer eye. In theory, this is great.However, I tend to agree with some of the experts, who say that the USA PATRIOT ACT is taking away honest citizens' rights. The current administration is walking a very thin line when it comes to the protection of private citizens versus the rights to privacy of these same citizens.Add to this the debate over illegal wire-tapping, and the CIA leak scandal, and Bush’s security record reads like a page out of George Orwell’s 1984.Now, just so Dave doesn’t accuse me of being a bleeding-heart liberal, I would like to add that I voted for George Bush Sr. in 1988, and I worked for the Republicans in the state house for a couple of years as well. I mention these items only because I want to point out that I judge a president not by his party, but by his politics, and his record. Judging by his record, George W. Bush will be remembered as a war president, and nothing else -- except maybe “the Decider.”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Competition (July 06 News Advocate)

Human beings have a natural, genetically pre-wired need for competition. And like any other human need, such as hunger or thirst, this need must be fulfilled in order for humans to feel whole. This is why I found myself in a triathlon in Interlochen a few weeks ago. I had never competed in one, but was convinced by my wife to do so. She had always dreamed of being a “triathlete,” and I went along for the ride.After all, I couldn’t let her have bragging rights over me if I didn’t do it, too.For those of you who aren’t familiar with this multi-sport event, you swim, then bike, then run a pre-determined distance. The olympic distances are a 1500 meter (just under one mile) swim, then a 40 Kilometer (24.8 mile) bike, finishing with a 10K (6.2 mile) run. The race we participated in was a shorter version, called a “sprint,” which comprised of a 500-meter swim, a 20K bike, and a 5K run. Although it was shorter, it was just as brutal for those of us who aren’t in olympic shape.The entire course took almost two hours to complete.In 90 degree heat.I had to ask myself why we did this... Because we need to compete.Nothing feels better than accomplishing something, especially when pitted against our fellow man (or woman.) Human beings competed for millions of years for food, shelter, mates, and just about everything else. Competition is part of our genetic survival code.That is why it feels good to compete, whether or not we win or lose -- it’s in our blood. My 7 year old son is extremely competitive. This is not something we taught him. He came that way.As a father and a coach for more than one of his teams, I’ve learned that one of the hardest things to teach children is the fine balance between competitiveness and bad sportsmanship.Despite that, this is an extremely important lesson to teach; and I think at times, we shortcut it as parents and coaches, or avoid it altogether. My son has played in leagues where they keep score, and leagues where they don’t keep score. He enjoys the ones where they keep score much more -- as do most of his teammates. Even in the leagues where we tell the kids we aren’t keeping score, they do it anyway. Young athletes enjoy measuring themselves against others, just like their full-grown counterparts. Sometimes I wonder if we’re de-emphasizing competitiveness too much with our children.I agree, at a young age, its important for kids to learn the game, without the pressure of worrying whether they are scoring or not. Unfortunately, parents have ruined it for their kids over the last 10 years or so. There have been too many instances of parents being injured or even killed over children’s sporting events.And who hasn’t witnessed the “ugly parent,” who yells at his own child, or the opposing team, coaches, or officials during a game. It’s an ugly thing to see, and children don’t need to be exposed to this type of behavior. But have we gone too far in trying to shelter kids? What do we teach our children when we tell them that keeping score isn’t important? They know from watching television that there’s a winner and a loser in every game. There is an age at which kids can handle losing a game, and its good for them to learn that they won’t always end up on top in life. Its not just a cliche’ -- more can be learned from losing than winning. The difference between this lesson being a constructive or a destructive one for a child is in how the subject is broached by parents, coaches, and officials. Children’s sports can still be fun and rewarding for children when they are allowed to experience the joy of victory, as well as the agony of defeat. I think we’ve forgotten that its possible to still teach sportsmanship while keeping a tally of who performed better on a particular day.It’s a more realistic way to instruct children about sports -- and life, for that matter. Studies suggest that participation in sports can be very beneficial, fostering responsible social behaviors, greater academic success, and an appreciation of personal health and fitness. Participating on a team can also give children an important sense of belonging.Sports are opportunities for youth to learn; they provide a “practice field” for life. Learning to work as part of a team teaches children social skills that will help them in their growth into adults, not just as athletes. For youth, participating in sports develops teamwork, leadership, self-confidence,self-discipline, and coping skills. Sports also teach a respect for authority.The most important part of athletics is participation. That’s why I didn’t care if I won my age group in the Interlochen triathlon. I was there to participate, and just to see if I could finish -- even though I finished near the bottom of the heap. We don’t always give our children the credit they deserve. They’re smart enough to know right from wrong. We just need to guide them properly. If we show our kids that we are most proud of them for their participation, they don’t care whether or not they win or lose, and they’re better off in the long run.Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Defending the Clinton legacy (July 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Even six years after he left office, people still enjoy bashing Bill Clinton. He doesn’t hold a public office anymore, so it’s difficult to understand why he’s still so hotly debated. The most common complaint about Mr. Clinton is one I know Dave will bring up; that he lied to the American public about the Monica Lewinsky affair, so how do we know he wasn’t lying about anything else? Unfortunately, because of this feeling, this episode will haunt Bill’s legacy forever. I have to point out that just because he lied about an issue which was personally embarrassing and of a private nature, this does not mean that he was untruthful in his capacity as the commander in chief. Unfortunately, the media was successful in making a personal issue a public one. Because of this political fiasco, Americans have forgotten Clinton’s political record, which is very unfortunate, as it was quite impressive. # The longest economic expansion in American history -- a record 115 months of growth. # More than 22 million new jobs were created in less than eight years -- the most ever under a single administration, and more than were created in the previous twelve years.# The Lowest unemployment rate in 30 years -- from 7 percent in 1993 to just 4.0 percent in November 2000. # The lowest crime rate in 26 years -- because of President Clinton’s comprehensive anti-crime strategy of tough penalties, more police, and smart prevention, as well as common sense gun safety laws, the overall crime rate declined for 8 consecutive years, the longest continuous drop on record.# The Family and Medical Leave Act was created for 20 million Americans -- over 20 million Americans have taken unpaid leave to care for a newborn child or sick family member.# The smallest welfare rolls in 32 years -- the President signed landmark bipartisan welfare reform legislation in 1996. Since then, caseloads have been cut in half, and millions of parents have joined the workforce. # Paid off $360 billion of the national debt -- between 1998-2000, the national debt was reduced by $363 billion — the largest three-year debt pay-down in American history.# Converted the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus -- thanks in large part to the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and President Clinton’s call to save the surplus for debt reduction, Social Security, and Medicare solvency. If the Lewinsky affair was completely erased from the record books, we would be left only with this record. This list is far from complete, and is still remarkable. I challenge Republicans to debate this political legacy, rather than focus on the former president’s private life. And for the record, Dave, despite my defense of the man, I too am angry with and disappointed in President Clinton for besmirching his record so foolishly -- just not enough to forget all of the good political works he accomplished while he was in office.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Don't say 'have a nice day' unless you mean it (July 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Who first came up with “have a nice day?” And did anyone ever actually mean it? It’s an expression that has been passed down for generations now, and I’m not sure anyone knows where exactly it started.When I worked in the service industry, I never used this phrase, because I don’t think it is very sincere. We usually hear these four words as we leave a cashier at the grocery store, gas station or other similar business. We often hear it from complete strangers when we’re on the phone, as well.Generally, the amount of enthusiasm and care given to uttering it are considerably dispassionate. On the other end of the spectrum, the fake enthusiasm given to saying it are enough to cause nausea.It has become the mandatory period to any conversation where one participant of the exchange is a member of the general public, and the other, a customer.Does the guy working behind the counter at the gas station really care if I have a nice day or not? He doesn’t even look up at me when he says it, and the amount of excitement in his voice is on par with saying something like “enjoy your root canal as much as I did mine.”I haven’t ever found myself pulling into the service station in a bad mood, paid for my gas, and miraculously turned my attitude around after being asked to “have a nice day” by a complete stranger.“Why, thank you very much, young man! I think I will just go out and have a nice day! That was all I needed!”Okay, that was a little too sarcastic, I know.But why do we say it? What is it adding to the human experience? I advocate that we discontinue this worn tradition and instead replace it with a genuine, sincere conversation between customers and the businesses that they patronize. Or, as a service employee, if you choose not to engage the customer in any type of joyless banter, feel free not to do so. The lack of a conversation is better than a canned corporate sentiment doled out with the most minimal of intensity. Now, I’m not being pessimistic, or disparaging to anyone in particular. Once in a while, someone bids me a good day and I think they actually do wish me some good will. There are some actually genuine folks out there asking me to have that nicest of days -- but that is the choice of the person doing the talking -- they shouldn’t feel obligated to do so because of tradition or some ridiculous company policy.I think we need to free service industry workers from feeling that they have to wish me good will. If you are waiting on me, folks, you’re off the hook. Don’t go too far the other way, though, you still have to be pleasant.If someone leaves a bad tip, or is difficult, these hard working, often low paid service workers aren’t allowed to say “have a bad day,” so why force anyone to say the opposite if they don’t want to? When I was a waiter, (for what seemed like an eternity), there were many times that I held my tongue when people snapped their fingers at me, or treated me with a level of condescension previously reserved for bottom-feeding members of the lowest echelon of society. I found that in those situations, it was better to just not say anything at all, lest I say something I might regret. I surely didn’t want any of these bad eggs to have anything resembling a nice day after they left my company. I actually wished for quite the opposite.Why not just cast away the catch-phrase “have a nice day” forever? Blot it out of the public consciousness. Pretend it never existed. It may even feel liberating for us all, who knows?And while we’re at it, lets do away with asking each other “how are you doing today?”, when calling complete strangers on the phone. Nothing tips me off to a telemarketer more quickly than picking up the phone, hearing my first name pronounced “clean”, and then being asked how I am doing today by an unrecognized voice from some telemarketing warehouse in Idaho. He doesn’t care how I’m doing. Its just something that’s written on his little telemarketing script. Sometimes I just say “horrible, I just lost my job, my dog was hit by a car, and I found out I have cancer. How is your day going?”He lied when he pretended to care how I’m doing, so I’m just returning the favor. So, if you don’t mean it, lets do each other a favor and just skip all of the fake sentimentalities, especially “have a nice day.” Wish me a nice life, or a nice month, or something more original, instead.Cean Burgeson can contacted during one of his nice days at:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What we could learn from socialism (July 06 News Advocate)

On my recent trip to Norway, I was introduced to what is referred to as “social democracy.” From what I can gather, this means paying higher taxes in exchange for a larger range of benefits from the government. Upon hearing this idea, many Americans get scared. No politician in our country attempts to win an election by touting the need for higher taxes. I admit, I don’t like going out of pocket any more than I have to as far as Uncle Sam is concerned, but I wonder if we might pause for a moment and examine the benefits of a political system designed solely for the welfare of its citizens.The first thing that people think of when socialism is mentioned is the concept of “socialized medicine.” U.S. politicians describe a system like this as one in which access to doctors is strictly controlled and there are long lines to receive treatment or medications. In my queries of several Norwegian citizens, this doesn’t seem to be the case. None of the folks I spoke to voiced these concerns, and one of the people I interviewed was a cancer survivor who says that she received excellent care -- with no delays -- and was very happy with the way in which her disease was treated. Persons who fall ill in Norway are guaranteed medical treatment. The health service is a cornerstone of the Norwegian welfare state. Universal access to quality public health care is the Norwegian authorities’ goal. As a basic principle, health services are distributed according to need – not according to ability to pay.All of the programs under control of the Norwegian government appear to a tourist such as myself to be well administered and orderly. The public transportation was excellent, the buildings and streets were clean and well maintained, and there were walking/running/biking paths everywhere. Norway’s citizens must use these paths too, as we didn’t see a single obese person while we were there. The inhabitants I met all seemed to be happy, healthy, and content. They should be; they are far less stressed than Americans. They generally end their work day between 3 and 4 o’clock, they don’t have to pay for a college education, and they are guaranteed health and welfare benefits.Residents of Norway have a right to economic assistance and other forms of community support during illness, old age or unemployment. About 35 percent of the state’s budget is spent on the Norwegian health and social welfare system. The retirement age in Norway is 67. For the rest of their lives, retired Norwegians receive an old age pension from the National Insurance Fund. All Norwegian residents are guaranteed a minimum pension, and they receive about half their previous salaries. When pregnant, women who have been employed for at least six of the last ten months are entitled to a maternity leave with full pay. The mother can choose between 42 weeks of leave with full pay or 52 weeks with 78 percent pay. Four weeks of the leave must be taken by the father (the paternity quota). Once the children arrive and the parents return to work, the government compensates them for a portion of the funds they use for daycare, and even rewards those who don’t choose to use daycare.I tried very hard to find a drawback to socialized democracy, and I could only find one area which was a bit trickier than in our own system. There apparently was a problem with alcoholism in Norway a while back, and as a result they have a zero tolerance policy in regards to drinking and driving. As a result, you cannot purchase beer after 8 p.m. on weekdays, 6 p.m. on Saturday, and no alcohol is sold on Sundays. We have states and counties like this in the U.S., so this isn’t an entirely alien idea, and quite honestly, is limiting drinking and/or driving ever a bad idea?So why does the idea of modern socialism really scare us so much? In Norway they have free elections, a political system with several parties, (to our two), and a free press. There are state television stations, but also several commercial stations. I heard American music on the radio, and they didn’t even edit out the bad words. There are newspapers which support the mainstream as well as radical views, and the state appears to let them go about their business without intervention.I’ll tell you why I think we get so scared of this “radically different” idea of government. First off, we don’t want to increase our taxes; but if we are receiving so much more in return, why not? That leads to our second fear -- bigger government. I don’t want to live in a world where big brother controls my every move, but didn’t we elect our politicians under the guise that they would create a government that would take care of the needs of its citizenry? While no system is perfect, and I’m sure Norway’s isn’t, it’s certainly possible to extract a few of their ideas for use under our own democratic system without substantially changing the level of freedom we as Americans demand. As we stand on the brink of a social security and health-care crisis in this country, I think it would behoove our governing bodies to think outside the box a little and examine systems in use around the world that seem to be working a little better than our own.Cean Burgeson can be reached at

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How to beat the high cost of driving (June 06 News Advocate)

Why is everyone so upset about rising gasoline prices? We've seen it coming for years. It’s not like we were taken by surprise. What we should really be upset about is why we care about high gas prices, or more specifically, why we've become so reliant on gasoline. Overcoming high gasoline prices can be accomplished through cultural, rather than economic changes. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we find it necessary to seek happiness by consuming as much as possible, and by owning lots of toys. How often do you drive by a huge house that requires millions of cubic feet of natural gas to heat, there’s a sport utility vehicle and a luxury sedan in the driveway, a large boat on a trailer in the backyard, and Lord-only-knows-what assortment of jet skis, quad-runners, snowmobiles, and other fun gas-powered gadgets are jammed into the shed and garage? These same people probably have a home in the suburbs and another one up north near the lake that they motor to every weekend, pulling all of their gas-hogging toys on trailers behind them. Do we really need all of this stuff? Is the path to happiness found by zooming around a lake or in the woods? Yeah, I enjoy zooming around sometimes, too – but in moderation. I also have other hobbies that aren't powered by fossil fuels at all, believe it or not. Our parents and grandparents didn't have all of that junk and they still managed to entertain themselves somehow. Lets roll back the hands of time to pre-World War II America. They had things called streetcars in major cities that provided public transportation and folks rode them instead of using their gas-guzzling cars. People used busses and taxis, too. This is no longer the case. Currently, the U.S. passenger automobile fleet accounts for one tenth of the world's petroleum consumption. Long-distance travel was a whole different animal back then, too. Americans took trains and Greyhound busses when they wanted to get somewhere. It was a less glamorous way to travel than in the mini-van with the DVD player setup for the kiddies, but it used less gas. People also walked places or rode bicycles more, and when they did use their cars, they shopped in their own neighborhoods instead of driving 30 miles so they could go to some big-box or chain-store. Americans have the wrong idea about rising petroleum prices. They need to look at the total amount of money they’re spending on gasoline, rather than the per unit price. If we all changed our behavior and our cultural habits just a little bit, we wouldn't sweat rising prices so much. Instead of waiting for the government or the oil companies or the auto companies to fix the problem with sanctions or new technologies, let’s fix the situation ourselves. Ride your bike to work, take public transportation, shop closer to home, take one fewer long car trip this summer, and walk somewhere instead of driving when you can. Simple economic theory tells us If we decreased the demand for gasoline, the price would surely lower on its own. Perhaps this gas crisis is just what we need to get everyone to change their habits for the better. You won't hear me complaining, even if the prices go over four dollars a gallon, because I can control how much money I spend on gas overall, and everyone else can, too.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Don't call this dad Mr. Mom (4-9-06 Detroit Free Press)

When I meet somebody new, one of the first questions I am invariably asked is “what do you do for a living?” I used to tell people that I was a stay at home dad for my six year old son and one year old daughter. This usually prompts the response, “Oh, a Mr. Mom, eh?” I bite my tongue at this point, because I want to say, “No, my children have a mother. I’m still their Dad. We don’t call their mother Mrs. Dad, so why should I be called Mr. Mom?” But instead of getting into an argument, I simply nod and smile.

These same people may also think to themselves that I’m either a: a burned-out result of the business rat-race, or b: a liberal new-aged hippie type. Neither of these answers could be more false. The simple truth is that we needed daycare for our newly adopted daughter and the prospect of spending $8,000 or so a year for both kids to be raised by someone else for several hours per week was a distasteful idea for my wife and me. Her recent promotion and health insurance benefits were sufficient for us to make it on and I had the opportunity to start my own communications business out of the home, so I made the leap and quit my job.

Now I start out conversations by telling new acquaintances that I run my own business out of the house and also stay at home with our children. I don’t know why I feel embarrassed sometimes to be a stay at home parent, and I’m guilty that I do. Why is a male stay at home parent such an alien idea in the 21st century? If my wife was staying at home, no one would tell her that she’s leaving a huge gap in her resume and it’ll be harder to get back into the workforce when the time comes. No one would think she must be having a rough stretch career wise or a mid-life crisis. When a woman chooses to stay home to raise her children, the response is always, “Great! I admire you for that. I wish I could’ve done that.”

On a daily basis, I proudly join the mommies at the kids’ school parties, I carpool to hockey practices, perform the drop offs at daycare, school, and karate, and drag the kids to their doctor and dentist appointments. I bake cookies for the school bake sale, trade recipes with the other parents, and make sure the homework is done, dinners are made and the permission slips are filled out. I have my own daddy flair that I perform my duties with, though. My daughter doesn’t always have bows in her hair and wears jeans more often than skirts. I chauffer my son in the minivan with Green Day blaring instead of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” and the reward for good marks at school are a game of NHL 2006 on the Xbox. I don’t try to change who I am; I incorporate it into my current role as key parental unit.

I realize I’m not the first to do what I’m doing, and I feel a kinship with other stay at home Dads. As such, I feel an obligation to break the mold of traditional husband/wife roles and to pave the way for stay at home parents who aren’t judged by their genders, but rather by their convictions to do what is right for their families. So next time you meet a guy who tells you he’s a stay at home parent, tell him “Great! I admire you for that. I wish I could’ve done that,” because if you ever get the chance to be more active in parenting your children by staying at home, you’ll never regret the decision to do so.