Friday, August 31, 2007


I read an odd statistic this week, then forgot where I had seen it. For every 100 Americans, men, women and children, there are now 90 guns. One more category in which we're now number one in the world. I can't remember who's number two, but they're way back at around 60 per 100 people. Iraq's in the top five, no doubt due to the 100,000 or so weapons given out by General Petreus which happened to get lost along the way to protecting us here, 6000 miles away. But that's OK. They can always make (and charge for) more guns. And the Iraqis can now take pride in something other than their powerhouse national soccer team. They got guns, too, baby.

September's coming. That's the month we were told to wait for when that same General Petreus is obliged to give us a report on the status of the "Troop Surge". Here, using my powers of prediction, is what it's liable to say, keeping in mind that the only version most Americans will see is a TV screen summary of under 100 words. It will use phrases like "on the ground", but also technical phrases meant to be understood only if you speak the kind of language they know in the Pentagon.
"Our men have done an excellent job of penetrating enemy perimeters in certain sectors, and new alliances with previous protagonists promise petulant progress." The report, besides this kind of blather will correctly finger the Iraqis for not measuring up to our "benchmark" standards which are supposed to measure political progress. At the same time, everyone from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the individual bigshots still there will chirp in unison that we cannot risk leaving Iraq, and that doing so would only mean more violence with Iraqis as victims.
Friends, you can read all this when it hits the fan, or you can simply believe me now - we're not going anywhere until the president says so, and that will probably be when the president's first name ain't George. We thought the guy was stubborn in his first term? We didn't know the half of it. The chances of leaving, reports, casualties, deficits and even GOP ruin notwithstanding, are less than the chances of Bush phoning Al Gore to congratulate him on his Oscar win.
See how democracy works? All the countries we used to call allies want us to leave. Most Americans no longer can see a free, democratic Iraq on the horizon, and want us to leave and redeploy troops for what is supposed to be their real job - fighting terrorism. And Iraqis, who Bush keeps declaring are grateful to us, want us out in even larger numbers. They promise not to even pretend to want to attack us any more if we'll just leave.
But our commander in chief says we're staying, and until Congress works up the nerve to cut off and defeat funding requests that will have our kids paying the war bills to Halliburton until the Second Coming, that's where it sits. And the sign we're not staying will be this: all the road graders pushing tons of Iraqi sand and dirt around to make the world's largest embassy. the world's largest military bases for the world's largest military occupation will stop and drive onto ships which will then, finally, head home. Until that day comes, keep your sons in training for desert war.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I Surprise Myself

Are the very rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald contended, different from you and me? I'm not sure, but I know Mitt Romney is in that category unless you set the bar insanely high. No, that shouldn't bar him from campaigning for president. Ross Perot, Steve Forbes and John Edwards are just a few of the well-heeled who have tossed their elegant hats into the candidate ring. No doubt others will come along.
But staying with Mr. Romney, he's been described in this space before, not in especially good terms, either. He has stuck devoutly to the "Win the nomination before trying to get votes from the center" strategy. The message to the GOP faithful seems to be "I'm pretty much like these other white guys, but handsomer, more virtuous and, fer sure, way richer. I'm not only like Reagan, I'm what he aspired to be." His next play for Democratic votes will be his first, so there isn't much for a guy like me to warm up to yet, maybe ever.
Of course, there are a couple of ties I will admit to regarding the Mittster. We're both Mormons, and we both attended BYU. When I saw him get attacked in a nasty way in the Sunday paper I surprised myself by writing the paper, getting off a few shots at the syndicated columnist who was the guilty party, and defending Mitt, sort of.
What got me a little riled was, first, the columnist, who's picture made her look a little like Queen Latifa, made up a snide nickname for Romney - "Big Love" - which she then repeated 10 times in a single column! Isn't that a little crude considering there's only been one Mrs. Mitt, a standard which is useless, I suppose, for picking presidential ability but just what the Righteous Right always claim they want in a candidate.
She then faulted Mitt for not spending time on the campaign trail explaining Mormon doctrine to her satisfaction. Really? Does she make that demand of any other candidate? No, what she really wants is to see Mitt squirm trying to answer oddball questions about Mormonism from folks as adept in theology as in earthquake predicting. This from someone disinclined, I guess, to use the internet, the public library or the phone book to get answers. On top of that, the woman is syndicated from Kansas City, the one place outside of Salt Lake City almost overflowing with Mormon history sites, all with free admission, all staffed by nice older folks primed to answer questions. She even hinted that Romney's donors expected him to act as a church mouthpiece. Does she know that?
I mentioned all this in my snappy letter to our local rag, which I suppose they'll print one of these days. I guess someone has to stand up to defend even rich guys with (presumably) thick skins. I just didn't like someone ripping Romney without any real facts in hand. It's like stealing when you pretend to be a pundit, but have nothing of substance to offer. People like that just hope no one notices. Anyway, I noticed, and so while I may never hitch up on the Romney star, I guess we have enough in common that I felt like defending him - once.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

He's Back

"Discuss the Bush Administration assault on the U.S. Constitution in the early years of the 21st century. Be specific as to techniques and the circumstances which made it possible. Name the enablers of this semi-coup and its implications for today. Why was the news media so ineffectual in opposing the "neocons"?
Somewhere in the answer to this upper-division history class exam of the future you would find mention of Karl Rove. He will not be treated kindly in any test booklet that earns an "A". And that's about all I want to say about Mr. Rove.

Still summer, and unless you think Mitt Romney's straw poll "victory" in Iowa was a big deal, fixed rules and all, then nothing much happened.
So let's look at the future for a minute. Another PBS Blockbuster multi-hour epic documentary is in your future. This one, like the ones about the Civil War, Baseball and Jazz (and some others that weren't quite so epic) comes to us from Ken Burns. The subject this time around is the Second World War, the single most history changing event of the 20th Century.
So, how do YOU feel about Ken Burns and his penchant for doing big BIG projects on historical events we should all know something about, but are a little vague about nonetheless? Sure, they did a lousy job of teaching these things in high school, and we were into other things that we had to know for our major to devote much attention in college. Grandpas all over the country sensed correctly that their war stories would be ignored, so they never bothered to tell them at all. So here we are, sorely in need of a refresher course, this one to be given first hand by aging vets (instead of historians) before they all pass on. We NEED this, piano effects and all, right?
Hey, I think so. And I really like the Burns productions, overblown though they might seem at times. I even tried once to add a Burns type piano riff to a Sunday school class. My pianist did a great job, but the class members paid no attention and the effect went right over their heads.
I admit that Burns himself is a little irritating. He never seems to get older, with a 1966 haircut that retains its original color 'a la Reagan or Mitt Romney. These productions have to involve dozens of employees. I wonder how often he chews them out, and how loudly? You think he fires many people?
At the very least we should admit that this is pretty big stuff, and that it's not likely to be told any better in our lifetime. We should do our best to see it. I plan to.
We used to have a weekend flea market here in one of the former lumber mills that dot the county. I was introduced to the "security manager" of the place, a guy who seemed about 120 . He told me in an accent not usually heard here that he had earned a living dismantling lumber mills all over the Northwest, but that he had also been at Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked. I had no reason not to believe him, and now think it's a good idea that his story, the WHOLE story of that generation , should be told.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sweet Agony

Congress ran up the white flag once more last week before leaving on summer recess, and so the focus changes to other things. One of our daughters attended a Mitt Romney affair near her home. She came away with a good impression of the food served and feeling that Romney is mostly a good man, but she also concluded that she must change her registration from independent to Democrat. She just couldn't buy the message being sold at the Romney-Rama.

If I mention baseball this week, you may think immediately of Barry Bonds, the sport's new career home run king. Whole barrels of ink are consumed on that subject each day, and Bonds is a complex person. Let's therefore pass on the subject of Mr. B. and concentrate on something that happens, and thank God it does, every year.
I'm speaking of the pennant race. Two thirds of the games are played, and the seasons of some of Major League Baseball's well known teams are over, at least in terms of progressing to a World Series. The last two winners, Chicago's White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals are mired in mediocrity with some of the other teams you may have forgotten: The Baltimore Orioles, The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, The Pittsburgh Pirates and Bond's team the, San Francisco Giants. Their fans can only take note of individual milestones, trade possibilities and future prospects - pretty thin gruel for the off season.
For other fans, this is magic time. There are about 50 games remaining, with half the teams retaining some hope of making the playoffs. Here are the reasons the situation is made for excitement, while 16 teams compete for eight playoff spots.
1. The "game within a game". To those bored with the pace of baseball I suggest - the pitching and batting IS part of the action. It can get pretty complex as lefties and righties face each other in looking for a tiny edge from one pitch to the next. Of course, that's for fans who are already sold, and have no kids to wrestle with. It goes with #2, which is...
2. Second guessing the strategies. When to pinch-hit, steal, pull a pitcher, pitchout anticipating a steal attempt or bunt. Since they've been playing for a hundred years, there are no new strategies, but going AGAINST the odds is a strategy too.
3. Your team in April "controls its own destiny", but come September they may need help from someone playing a rival. Watching the scoreboard to check out games going on somewhere else means that there is MORE than one game to get excited about. How great is that?
4. Playing with pain. Nobody this late in the season is playing with no discomfort. When do you rest your home run hitter? When do relief pitchers get some relief of their own, and how do you rest someone without giving away that Player X can now, because of a rib injury that occurred in June, be beaten by a slider thrown to a particular spot?
5. "Clutch guys". Even the best teams lose about 40% of their games, while the worst ones win about 40%. This makes every game potentially competitive. Is there someone you can count on to come through with a hit or a strikeout MORE often in a pennant race? This leads us to...
6. Grace Under Pressure. To the fans, it's really just a game or a season, but to the players, this is their LIFE. Fifty guys from all over the world are lined up to take the job of anyone thought to be not worth the big money anymore. And it's all out there for everyone to see. Sure, they're professionals, but that only means they're expected to get the job done. Not surprisingly, they sometimes don't. They may LOOK calm, but of course, the other team's guys are watching, too.
I hope that's helpful. The fans have no exam at season's end, so this isn't like war and peace, or even like getting your degree. But to the true fans, it's sometimes more.