Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Life Intrudes

I am keeping an eye on something which may (or may not) take place at my old alma mater. It could result in a true verbal eruption in this space, or it may just pass. In the meantime here's something I read about in one of our local papers. I wasn't there, so I'll try hard to not add to the story.

If you know where to look in the local paper, you could find a game, a meet or an athletic event of some kind to watch almost every day, particularly if there are several high schools in the area. There's no guarantee that any of these events will include anything you haven't seen before, but once in awhile, life can throw out some real curve balls, pardon the figure of speech.
Not long ago, a softball team (this means girls, you know) from a rather distant city came to our area for a double header against one of the local high school outfits. I don't know how these two teams were scheduled, but on this day the visitors found themselves in big trouble right away. The home team's hitting, pitching and fielding were all superior, resulting in a 22-1 hammering even with the use of a "mercy" rule which ends a game early if the margin between the teams is great enough. That would have been bad enough, but the visitors had only brought one pitcher, and it was her task to try to improve things in the second game. On top of all this, she was asthmatic, and the pollen can get thick around here in March.
Game two was no improvement on the opener. The pitcher found it harder to throw strikes, and the ones she did manage were whacked pretty hard around the field. With the score already 15-0 in the first inning, two runners on base and only one out, the coach of the visitors became aware that his pitcher had started to cry. He called a timeout and gathered his entire team around the pitcher in an effort to give the 16 year-old hurler a chance to regain her
composure. After a few minutes, the coach turned to go back to the bench, but heard sobs again before crossing the base line. He reversed his course back to the mound, looked over the situation, then called an umpire over and said a few words before turning with his pitcher, not back to the bench, but on a long stroll out towards left field. Game over. The teams gave each other a cheer and were joined by the 50 or so family and friends on hand to watch. The visitors waited while the coach and pitcher continued their conference in the outfield, which was unhurried.
When we call on young people to perform as athletes, they don't always perform with great strength or speed, but they do their best to retain whatever emotions they may be feeling at the time until the game, the match, the race is completed. However, on rare occasions, life intrudes just enough to remind us that the kids we're rooting for are still works in progress, not quite ready for all the bumps that life deals out. Good luck to that visiting team. Let's hope they have another pitcher on the roster, that they take advantage of upcoming chances to put up "W"'s, and that the trip home had a few laughs to go along with the tears. And hats off to the coach who put the welfare of his players first in what must have been a tough situation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

An Oval Adventure

I saw a little validation of my latest political thesis over the weekend looking at columns written by dependably conservative types - you know, members of the RWPC (Right Wing Pundits Club). Sure enough, instead of attacking their enemy (Democrats) on anything major, they were writing a little defensively - George Will warning about pro-gun control stances and Charles Krauthammer on why Dick Cheney should NOT be considered crazy as a result of his circulatory problems.

Which makes me think that I could leave politics alone for a little while. It's pretty clear that the Bush heyday is past, and that Americans will more than likely spend the remainder of the term wondering how they could have voted for such a dope in the first place. It leaves me with other things to examine for (I hope) your benefit.

Last summer I became aware of an attempt taking place locally to set one of those obscure human performance records. It wasn't something silly like the record for the longest roller-skating conga line, but an attempt to break the distance traveled in a human-powered vehicle in a 24 hour period. Gee, I thought. How often does a guy get a shot at seeing a world record at a place (the local racetrack) maybe five minutes away? I decided to go see.
I drove to the track, unstopped by anyone, and parked in the almost empty lot. I saw a vehicle which looked like a cross between a silver-plated cigar and a 1930's version of a rocket ship circling the 1/3 mile oval track at a modest speed. The rider couldn't be seen, though you could see the bike tires meeting the track. The raceway contained maybe thirty people of all ages, many of whom seemed involved with an active role or two in the effort. Our track had been chosen for this attempt because of a combination of cool weather, low winds and a smooth paved surface.
Like many endurance events, there was little in the way of "action". One lap followed another, all completed within a second or two of each other. The rider, a Canadian with an impossible Polish name, couldn't see much except for a stripe painted on to the track to guide him around. One of the entourage held up a sign for him which he viewed from a narrow slit as each lap was completion while the rest of us clapped and yelled encouragement. I guessed his speed at around 30 miles/hr., and was surprised to see that his cigar-shell was almost free of commercial decals. The vehicle was virtually noiseless.
The 24 hours ended late in the morning after I had watched for less than an hour. The record was broken! I don't remember the exact total distance, but it was something over 600 miles. The shell was removed with the rider looking surprisingly fresh for having completed such an ordeal. The local media (this is probably the smallest two-newspaper city in North America) were on hand to cover the event, and they proceeded to interview the rider. The rest of us threw up some cheers and went home, happier that we had seen something that, if not life-changing, was certainly worth being noted and remembered.
What causes people to train endlessly to set these impressive though obscure records? There was a great investment in training, not to mention the expenses of the support staff. All for an article in publications like Bike Endurance Monthly or The Journal of Human Performance and the ability to claim, if briefly, a world record. I couldn't pretend to read the minds of those involved here, but I salute and admire them. May more of us think of ways to change, if only in tiny ways, the world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Hits Keep Coming

I grew up in the age of AM radio, with top 40 hits as a main format. About every hour, someone was bound to say something like, “K blah blah blah, where the hits just keep on coming!” The message was effective enough to be remembered about 40 years later.

I mention this because our current administration seems to be suffering more than its share of “hits,” all reflecting on the President’s ability to remember what government is meant to be and whom it is to serve.The hits seem to come in spurts, with the latest involving the Justice Department, including the FBI, and the VA organization. Scooter Libby was convicted, but an appeal might keep him out of the Big House until the presidential pardon that The Scooter earned carrying water for the Vice President in the campaign to smear whistleblower Joe Wilson arrives.

But I’ve already written about that debacle several weeks ago. Here are the new ones (summarized into the shortest possible space): bad management at the nation’s military hospitals leads to poor conditions for recovering soldiers, The FBI misreported a great increase in snooping on Americans in the last two years, and finally, the Department of Justice fires a number of local prosecutors for what appear to be political reasons, then try to cover it up.. As I write, another booboo, this one involving the Corps of Engineers’ service in the New Orleans area POST-Katrina, has surfaced.

I listen to one guy on the radio who theorizes thus: These screwups are permitted to happen in order to give Republicans the opportunity to say “Big government just doesn’t work, and all these functions should be privatized to others who can handle them.”. If an earthquake hits, just sit tight and wait for help. Halliburton is sending a truck from Dubai which should arrive in a week or so. Have your credit cards ready.

I’m no doubt biased in all this, but it’s hard to think of any president having two worse back-to-back years, at least since Nixon. Congress didn’t fare much better with a string of scandals, all tied to Republicans. And those years were preceded by the Iraqi invasion and followed by the 2007 stuff already mentioned. All this from the guy with the MBA who was going to show us how it should be done and with the help of the always “around power” religious right, who backed Bush in spite of his failure to keep promises to them.

This streak of clinkers has put the right back on its heels. They have less time to attack because they’re obliged to defend what’s already happened. Working class families (those “Reagan Democrats you used to hear so much about) may have seen their jobs outsourced to China, probably losing health care benefits in the process. They see that phony issues like flag abuse, school vouchers and doctor assisted suicide are just things meant to keep them distracted from what they could (and should) howl about: the war, health care, the abandonment of the Constitution, the treatment of vets, etc. I heard the normally sneering Laura Ingraham whining yesterday on the radio in the role of Rip Van Winkle, suddenly awake to the fact that things hadn’t turned out as planned when the brave GOP marched into office on the basis of a one-vote mandate.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Right Meets!

Do you know what CPAC stands for, or at least what it stood for last week? It's the Conservative Political Action Conference held last week in (where else) Washington. The right-handed summit, if you will, drew thousands of participants. I'm 3,000 miles away, so I didn't make it. Too bad. I have had an interest in the political right since the days I was in high school and, like Senator Clinton at the time, interested in Barry Goldwater. I even recall writing a paper which forecast a big comeback for the GOP (which, if you don't know, stands for Grand Old Party, meaning the Republicans) in 1966. After their disaster in 1964, they could hardly have gone further DOWN, and so my prediction was correct.
But the right isn't just the Republicans. You have several subgroups involved here. There's Big Business, which pretends it isn't political at all and spreads its influence by means other than attending a convention. You won't see a massive booth with the words "BIG OIL" on a giant banner. You would see organizations which are lined up to speak up for small businesses. Their job description includes explaining to Americans once again why increasing the minimum wage would be a disaster for all even though it hasn't been changed now in TEN years. The religious right is very prominent at such affairs, reminding all that THEY won it all in '04, and no one should forget it. The single-issue crowds (no abortions, no same-sex unions, school tuition vouchers for the devout, no new or old taxes, firearms for all, abolish the IRS, mandatory prayer everywhere, no fetal stem cell research, etc.) were no doubt all in attendance.
The news coverage for the event centered on the appearance of seven or eight presidential candidates, each pledging to be true to the conservative school if elected. They took tiny pokes at each other and generally tried to make a good first impression, all except for Senator McCain, who had better things to do in Utah. According to one report, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani didn't score well in a 40 minute long ramble while Mitt Romney did well in 20 minutes, generating lots of applause and showing that he was still hitched to his FIRST wife.
So, what's wrong with this picture? For one thing, instead of bragging on what a success the Bush administration had going in its interminable second term, the crowd was most thrilled by another name - Reagan. Cheney was there, but no one whispered at the chance of a presidential run by the Dickster, as they used to. No one bragged about Gonzales' latest plan to protect Americans by snooping on them. No one talked about democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq. The crowd couldn't decide whether to applaud or gasp when toxic shocker Ann Coulter indicated that John Edwards was a "faggot", so they did both. It was a bit like they were reverting to their old role as sneering outsiders poking fun at all they weren't responsible for, instead of being heart and soul of a debacle led by a clueless former playboy who seems to be caught off guard by every piece of bad news. A few years ago at this type of event you could have gotten plenty of arguments over why Dick Cheney was a better Christian than Jimmy Carter. Now it's more like a group realization that the chance for the right to run all three constitutional branches of government in their own image is over, and that it failed.