Monday, November 26, 2007

Late Fall Rumors

If I, your humble pundit, didn't have claim to the inside scoop on certain things, then I wouldn't have much claim on being a pundit, would I? In an effort, therefore, to keep my license to blather intact, here is some choice stuff I'm sure you haven't heard.
Jerry Seinfeld's flic "Bee Movie" is a commercial, if not especially a critical success. Doing the rounds of promotion, Seinfeld appeared on "Charlie Rose" and admitted to the host that he will do just about anything to get his three young children to laugh. The rumor? His next production will feature just Seinfeld himself making faces and strange noises at the camera for 90 minutes. This opus will also be marketed differently: 50 cents a ticket and continuous shows from 5 AM until 7 PM, when the regular movie crowd shows up. That way the under-5 crowd will get plenty of looks at it.
Toastmasters International, the subject of last week's blog, is considering a new way to be paid for services rendered. Since many a marriage has been lengthened by letting non-member spouses go without hearing all the opinions coming from the mind of the Toastmaster spouse, the club may now charge a fee based on the member spouse's promise to NOT give speeches at home. Anyway, that's the rumor. The no-listen fee would be negotiable.
They finally found a way to intercept and translate messages sent between whales. Some of it, frankly, is kind of boring: "Hey, baby. Get to this ocean often?" That kind of thing. One message, though, was picked up last week which came out "Warning. The humans are hunting whales again after 40 years of leaving us alone. Avoid all human contact. Run silent. Run deep, and for gosh sakes, stop singing!" Another project to crack the code of camels hasn't turned up much except the noises which evidently translate to "Death to America!"and "Got any water?"
Finally, we have a niece who lives in southern California. She's the mother of a three year-old. Before heading out to church recently, she asked him if Jesus had ever spoken to him. "Yes", answered the toddler. "Really? What did he say to you?" the mother asked. "He spoke Spanish" was all she could get from him. Rumor has it, though, that she's still trying to get the message, syllable by syllable to have something to translate. So far it's "ee'-hoe bway'-no."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Overcoming Terror

Mike Huckabee, of all people, backed up what I said a couple of months ago about a certain approach to the issue of abortion. I wrote that the Romney view ("let the states handle it, as they did before Roe v. Wade") was a little like Stephen A. Douglas' view of slavery. Huckabee said the same thing, but in response to Fred Thompson. Make sense?

They say the thing which scares people more than any other thing is the prospect of....speaking in public. I come from a whole tribe of people who have largely licked that problem by having little children speak almost from the time they can speak at all. It works for the Mormons reasonably well, but what about the rest of us?
Well, there's Toastmasters International, set up about eighty years ago to help folks develop speaking skills and, in the process, overcome the terror. I've been a member (at about a dollar a week, for over twenty years. Every club is a little different, but the idea is to get practice in front of a small group of friends you trust until you're ready to take your stuff to the next level.
Here's what you would find in a normal meeting. There could be ten to twenty people attending, and the meeting assignments (which rotate to different people each time) include:
The Toastmaster - He doesn't say very much, but it's his job to see that the meeting is organized and rolling forward. He makes introductions and lets you know what's coming up next. This assignment, I have found, is much harder than it appears, if done correctly.
Speakers - Give prepared speeches lasting up to ten minutes or so. Notes are permitted, but reading the speech is frowned upon. Topics are pretty open.
The Table Topics Master - He/She asks questions requiring 1-2 minute spontaneous responses. The responses, called "Table Topics", may or may not be difficult.
The Wordmaster - Gives us a word which might be a bit of a stretch to use in conversation, but shouldn't be unheard of.
The "Ah" counter - Actually counts nonword speech, including "ah", "um", "er", and Reagan's favorite, "Well". This person might also raise questions of grammar and usage in a report given near the end of the meeting.
"Evaluator" - In two-three minutes, gives a critique of a prepared speech. It should include compliments as well as suggestions for improvement.
There are other assignment, too. The whole idea is to make progress in speaking something you do with friends. They HAVE to listen, as do you when it's their turn. They can construct their own written critiques, which the speaker retains for future reference. Every meeting should be FUN, and has failed if it doesn't meet that simple test. I keep going, not so much because I have speaking assignments, but because I enjoy the time I spend with these (sometimes) new friends.
My friends. I urge you to do as I have done. Join the Toastmasters International. Do it for the love of your family and country! Do it for the friends who are obliged to listen. Do it - for yourself!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pat's Prayer

Before proceeding to this week's subject I should mention two things. I was viewing the news from Pakistan. It was the day the protesters seemed to consist mainly of lawyers. Having heard protesters of a different time and place as belonging to the "counter-culture", I couldn't help wondering if these well-dressed rebels would constitute Pakistan's "counter-counter culture."
Norman Mailer passed away over the weekend. I was too young to understand some of his novels fully, but learned quite a bit from his personal accounts of war protests, political conventions and boxing. He understood Ali long before the sports writers had a clue, and his writing about Nixon was irreplaceable.

If you were a fly on the wall of Pat Robertson's bedroom, you might hear something like this:
"Lord, it's me, Pat. It's time for our daily meeting. I know some people call it prayer, but you and I have been tight for so long I just think 'meeting' says it better. I don't hear anything, so I'll just assume you're listening.
At your instruction I have invested in wars, tragedies and catastrophes. Thanks Lord. It's been such a bonanza that our fundraising budget can be cut 10% and replaced by my own brand of TV blather that the little people have come to love so much.
You wanted to know about that Giuliani thing? Sure, Lord. Now stick with me a minute here. I actually thought you might wonder how I, your, ah, partner, could endorse someone for president who has no religious thoughts or qualifications whatever, who is a terrible human being and the worst family man who has ever lived. You might ask why not endorse that Huckleberry fellow from Arkansas or that holier-than-thou Brownback, though he gave up, so I was right in not backing him. Romney? Hey, Lord I figured he already had way more blessings than he was entitled to just by being so rich. Anyway, being governor of Massachusetts isn't so bad, is it? I know his term is over, but the Red Sox won another World Series and the Patriots may never lose again! Anyway, those Mormons think they know you better than I do. I just can't have that. I don't know why they don't all just stay in that Utah desert, or whatever they call it.
Anyway, Lord, here's my thinking on Rudy. He's going to owe us BIG TIME. All I need from you is a little help pushing some of the brothers my way. No! Not brothers. We'll never get any of them. I mean the other kingmaker/clergy guys like Dobson and, uh, anyone else that hasn't got themselves in trouble doing those nasty things. Bauer? Yeah, I almost forget him. OK, I'll let Keyes on too, but only if he promises to keep quiet. We can't have too many Catholics, or there goes the South, ya know? We'll jump on a stage together with Giuliani. It will be the greatest thing in New York since they organized the Five Families.
Wham! Hilary won't know what hit her. Next thing you know it'll be MORNING IN AMERICA all over again, and I, I mean we, can get down to getting rid of that inheritance tax forever. I promise to double investments in the big bomb makers and private armies and we'll drive the libs right out of town. Hell, maybe I'll BUY me a private army. Sorry, Lord. I just get so excited working with you.
That's all I've got tonight. I knew you'd come around when I explained it. Yeah, same time tomorrow night. Tell Jerry Falwell hi for me. Hey, you don't think "Giuliani" sounds too much like 'jew something', do you? I'm just trying to keep all those good Republicans down South, you know. 'Night."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Suppose you were serving in an organization, with the specific function of formulating policy. There's someone else in the same organization, at the same executive level, whose job it is to receive what you have produced and put it into action - what people love to call "implementation" on their resumes.
After awhile you notice, however, that things aren't going into action exactly as you planned. Some things get ignored, while others are altered beyond recognition. The organization seems to be reeling from these disconnects, with lots of complaints from its funders.
You are naturally concerned, but any attempt to work things out with your counterpart is met with failure. It's as though your implementation guy is working strictly on his own, regardless of your efforts to make the policy clear. Finally, you confront him personally, but am surprised when he says "Gotcha! I always keep my fingers crossed behind my back, allowing me to ignore anything you say. You don't count at all, and I'm going to keep doing things exactly the way I want to. Bug off, man."
Your reaction? What if you are Congress, and the implementation guy is President Bush? Is the name David Arrington familiar? He took the job of Scooter Libby as Cheney's chief of staff. His specialty, however, is the "Signing Statement", a nonconstitutional device that the administration regards as a kind of "King's X", that allows the executive branch to ignore Congress, or, at least, anything from Congress they don't like.
No, the Bush folks didn't invent the device, but they have brought it near perfection by using it (and I am being truthful here) hundreds of times, usually including some reference to the president's status as commander-in-chief as if that alone trumped everything else. The net result? The administration feels it can go around Congress every day and every way they care to.
None of this is secret, yet the Signing Statement is still untested in any court. Congress has no plan I know of to address the situation, nor does the President or especially Mr. Addington. I admit I'm bothered that the President can so blithely put himself above the law, but until many more people feel the same way, change.