Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One Young Hour a Day

Among the curses of war is that of homeless refugees. With Iraq, the surrounding nations bear most of the refugee burden, which totals in the millions. The USA has taken 7,000 Iraqis in, and lamely promises to do better. In the meantime, neutral Sweden has admitted 40,000 Iraqis. One city has taken in more of Iraq's huddled masses than all of the US - and Canada.

If you were to list some things that are common in the lives of younger adults, what would be included? Career choice and progress, raising children, attending and participating in sports, lots of inter-gender "cuddly time", dancing, home improvements, taking on new challenges, etc.
I'm no kid. I guess I've described this before, but when you can remember the original Mouseketeers palling around with Walt Disney on black and white TV, no one's calling you "kid" anymore. So, from that list above, the only one that still applies is the one about sports.
I admit it. I get the chance to play my game almost daily now. It's tennis. Sometimes it's with guys on their lunch break on two courts near downtown. It's noisy, there are sometimes puddles to sweep up, the quality of play is often spotty, and we never know who, from a group of a dozen or so, is coming. But that's OK. Our unstated bylaws guarantee everyone a chance to show his stuff. A woman showed up once. She thought she was a player, but had been misinformed. We serve 'em up when the weather allows every weekday, with some guys involved Saturday and Sunday, too.
Once a week I get to play at the club, a term which sounds WAY more glamorous than it is. One of our every-week opponents is in his eighties and used to play with good opponents, but he's now stuck with us. He doesn't cover much court, but he surprises us with trick shots every week. My partner and I cannot do better than play dead even against him and his partner, a bald guy my age who moves like a greyhound. At the club they have indoor courts, so we never get rained out, which can be a local problem.
I'm never sure whether or not I can actually improve. You'd think all this play would help, and I guess it does, but it's still a rear guard action. I never know when it will seem easy and when nothing will work. The biggest question is - how much longer can I play AT ALL? In the meantime, there's no league, no recorded scores, and we sometimes have stop in the middle of a set. We've played a tournament or two amongst ourselves, but we're so unofficial that the city won't even give us keys to the park's restrooms. Oy.
Winning at this stage means less, but I know when I've played decently and when nothing has worked. It's not like golf, where there's a score measuring you against the course. I've seen the local high school players, and we're as good as most of them. At a certain point, you just have to give the other guy the calls he deserves, treasure the good shots, forget the bad ones and be thankful to be a young person for one hour a day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Teams

Around here there are two college-level softball teams. They aren't competitors, but their fortunes this year could not have been more different. The Lady Jacks (men's teams there are "Lumberjacks") are a solid, salty outfit. As of Sunday they stood at 44-14 on the year. I've seen them play. They go whole weeks without committing an error, have top level pitching and start each game expecting to break through sometime and deliver a decisive hit or defensive play. But if you were to see them out of uniform, you wouldn't take much note. As a group, they are slightly built, fast and gifted with great hand/eye coordination, but nothing about them screams "athlete" until they start to play. They've been very good over a long time, so they know how to recruit, too.
Then there's the College of the Redwoods (community college) Corsairs. This team has existed quite a while, too. Their coach wasn't dragged up from the mortuary science lab this spring. She's been around, and with some good years on the books. She could tell you more about what happened this year. Their season is over, breaking all records in futility with a (and here I need an adjective - take your pick: futile, stupefying, soul-sucking, pathetic, catastrophic, disastrous, scream-inducing, teeth-grinding, ego-destroying, life-altering, vomit-causing) 2 wins and 37 losses. The last 34 losses were (gulp) consecutive. They posted zero wins in their league, were shut out numerous times, and were saved/pitied by the "mercy rule" (umpire ends the game when one team is up by, I think, eight or nine runs) almost every weekend.
There were some games in which they threatened besides the pair they actually won. But a Chinese philosopher would describe them as consisting of "three nos" - no pitching, no hitting and no fielding. Did they ever just "quit"? Only they could say, but they actually lost one game in which the entire lineup had at least one hit. I think that one was something like 12-7. The games start to look skip-able once you've lost 15 or 20 in a row, but there was no time when they didn't have at least nine players show up for duty. That's saying something, too, because the road trips from here are like touring Europe.
What do you say when your kids and grandkids ask if you ever played any "real" softball, as opposed to the local slow pitch beer league? Would you tell the truth, or just lie and hope no one ever found out? I admit I played on a winless football team, but we did better the following year. But then the year after THAT they were winless again. So watchyagonna do?
Here's my contribution - The College of the Redwoods Corsairs 2008 2-37 Softball Team Top Ten List 10., 9., 8., 7., 6., NCAA rules state that teams with less than three wins can only have a "Top Five" list. OK, geez. 5. Voted by the league as "favorite opponents" 4. Team song - "Beautiful Loser" 3. Good news! All freshman lineup means all starters return 2. Bad news! All starters could return if no one flunks out, gets married or goes to jail! 1. "Coarse air" is what you have when the coach is cussing out the team after blowing both ends of a double header.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Smoking Gun

From the Department of You think being a dictator is easy?: Venezuela, in an effort to keep children from cynicism, defiance and rebellion, has cancelled "The Simpsons" from child viewing TV time. The replacement? Reruns of "Baywatch". Everyone loves a happy ending.

Seven foot, 300 lb. hoopster Shaquille O'Niell on what happened when he dived into the stands after a loose ball: "I tried to miss the kids."

About a week ago, ABC News revealed the existence in 2002-3 of the Principals Committee - chaired by National Security adviser Condi Rice, this group included bigshots Cheney, Ashcroft, Powell, Rumsfeld and Tenet. This group, meeting regularly in the White House Situation Room, had the job of deciding how to treat early prisoners taken on the so-called War on Terror. They took their duties very seriously, directing the CIA on which "advanced interrogation techniques" to use, and in what frequency. The controversial method of turning the conversation known as "waterboarding" was absolutely one of the options, and it was used on at least three individuals. Over a hundred died, though it hasn't been revealed how, or how loudly they passed to the next world. President Bush has confirmed the existence of the committee and its duties. The committee members could not have been more involved if they had been given individual whips and cattle prods.
Do you see what makes this, to use an overused cliche, a "smoking gun"? While declaring to the world with a straight face that "We don't torture" (GWB might have meant that "we" referred only to himself, Laura and the twins), Bush knew of a committee of the highest possible stature working on that very issue, although how to administer rather than prevent it. All he had to do to be in on the meeting was to go down the hall and open the door.
OK, I hear you groaning, but what can we do about that now? Speaker Pelosi says there won't be any impeachment. Withholding government pensions wouldn't even make them give up Cuban cigars. Any future Democratic administration would need witnesses to conduct any prosecution, which would take years anyway. We're stuck, aren't we?
I have a tiny suggestion. One year ago, Mr. Cheney came and spoke at the BYU graduation assembly. He was pretty reserved, not speaking politically, and only for about fifteen minutes. Large changes had to be made to the ceremony itself to accomodate the VEEP, but that wasn't Cheney's fault. He was just the guest. He was also given an honorary degree.
I suggest that BYU, a Christian institution if there ever was one, where loving kindness is a tradition as well established as football teams known for their passing attacks, contact the VP's office directly. They should say "Mr. Cheney, we know you, like all Republicans, believe in personal accountability. Frankly we are concerned about your role as part of the Principals Committee and that group's involvement in prisoner abuse. We know it was a few years ago, so we'll give you a chance to review your records and call us back. But right now, we are thinking of withdrawing the degree. You can keep the actual certificate if you like. We'll just remove the record of it. Oh yeah, we can do that. It's our school. We think one week is enough time, but you can let us know if you need more. If we don't hear from you, then look for a press release that confirms our change of heart. After all, we wouldn't have awarded it in the first place if we had known. I mean, we're strict, but we don't support torture. Geez. That's fair, don't you think? OK, talk to you soon. Bye."
I don't see anything wrong with that approach. It shows our old school has a little backbone, but it's not intended as an insult. They give awards for things done, so why not take them away for the same reason? They threw a guy out of school in the seventies for reporting to the Nixon campaign while working for the Muskie campaign, and no one died over that one. The nation's vice president should be someone a lot more responsible than some schmuck student, right? Anyway, that's my plan. I think I'll write old BYU and tell them about it. Heck, maybe they'll give ME an award.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

GOP Good Guys

Did you notice General Petraeus' testimony to the Senate this week? The man has some serious skills. I don't mean his military skills, which won't be known for decades. I mean his political skills. Here was his thesis: "My plan for the Surge went great, but not so great that we can bring any troops home. Beyond that I have almost nothing to say." Dish that message to Congress for a day without losing your head, and you have political dexterity in the Jedi range.

Now, in regard to this week's title. It's true that I'm no Republican, but that doesn't mean I regard all GOP big shots as bad guys. Some of them, I think, would make pretty good neighbors - the rare kind with lots of stories, NONE of them boring. Would I vote for any of them? I guess it would depend on the opposition, and how badly I wanted the neighbor to stay in town.
I saw Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector on TV a week or so ago. He's written his own story of overcoming cancer and is now promoting the book. Spector goes back quite a long time. He was part of the staff of the Warren Commission which investigated the Kennedy assassination. His latest high profile stance was in opposition to Alberto Gonzales, the feckless Bush flunky who was way over his head as Attorney General.
It was easy to see that Spector is a person of character, not always popular in his own party, but happy to be alive after the cancer and still not jaded after a long Senate career. Now in his seventies, he gives the impression of wanting to outlast the century-old Strom Thurmond. I'm not sure that's a good idea.
Do you know the name Chuck Grassley? Another long time senator, Grassley has perfected the art of being low profile. The man is as dependable as the tides. Never misses a vote. Visits all of Iowa's ninety nine counties every year, and gives out the image of someone who stepped off the farm a month or two ago. You know his name will never turn up on any scandal list, but his voting record is pretty boring, too.
Grassley spent lots of time in the back pocket of Bob Dole, another guy you have to respect. Wounded in WW II, he's been tying his necktie one-handed for over sixty years. He got a reputation back in Kansas as someone who could not be outworked, and he took that rep to Washington where he led Senate Republicans until he ran for president in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton. One day in that campaign, he fell a few feet through a railing at a rally. Someone later asked if it had been a tough day on the campaign trail. His reply was something like, "I got up, didn't I?" He was smart enough to remake himself from the small-town lawyer from a stark little town in western Kansas, the kind of place Eisenhower had gone to West Point in order to leave. I think the regard he and Clinton seemed to give each other in that campaign was genuine, and tells us a little about both of them.
And there are others. Jesse Helms was the most conservative man in the Senate, but he was always friendly to Washington tourists, and not just those from North Carolina. He made friends with rocker Bono late in his career. My old congressman Jim Leach was no more charismatic than a lumpy sweater which he wore to an event at the local library. The sole agenda item was Leach patiently answering one silly question after another, all subjects eligible, giving low key answers until the questions finally petered out.
As someone in this space has written a few weeks back, politics can be a rough old business. But it's wrong to think that therefore everyone in American politics is some kind of shark. Some are good, reliable, principled people, even some of the Republicans.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Tough Old Business

The past couple of weeks or so, we've had this kind of roiling controversy regarding Barack Obama, his religion, his pastor, and what, if anything, one tells us about the other. I personally feel that this issue does not have the importance to carry into the general election season, but that it's a good idea to get it down so that we can see how it once was viewed. If nothing else, it shows us that politics at the presidential level can be a tough old business, with few rules except to do whatever it takes to win.
Six months or so ago, the internet filled with stories that alleged that Obama had been raised a Muslim, and that his candidacy represented the blackest kind of plot - to take over for Islam the government of the USA in the only legal way possible. By election.
Those stories petered out when it was found that the Obama family have been long time members of an African American Christian church in Chicago.
New stories started to appear. This church's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, it is alleged, is a black hate monger, a purveyor of anti-American, race-baiting verbal dynamite who had put the Obamas under his spell. Never mind that Obama had already written two books without a word of hate, that there are no gangs of young Wright followers terrorizing white Chicagoans in his name, or that his church members seem to be like other black folks, living and working in the mostly white world without a hint of rebellion. No sir. They had some pretty awful-sounding (to white ears) stuff on YouTube proving that Obama himself must be full of hate, or else he would have left the church and taken his family, too.
You've heard of "guilt by association", the technique that was used by the Far Right in the 1950's to ruin the careers of a good number of Hollywood writers who had any earlier connection to the Communist Party. You may have heard the phrase "tarred with the same brush". Obama's been on the receiving end of the 2008 version of these terms. The surprising part is that this smear tactic has changed so little over the years. Of course most of the accusers are simply mainstream Republicans, anxious to turn the race issue , which has torpedoed a good many Republican candidates in this decade, against a popular Democrat who, up to now, had enjoyed an almost spotless image.
The circumstances required that he make a reply to the charges, and he did, in Philadelphia. The speech he gave has been widely and highly regarded. Obama seems very much at ease when speaking, a trait many office holders wish they had. He removed himself from the most controversial of the Rev. Wright's statements, but did not renounce their friendship.
I have to think that Americans will realize in time what sort of attack this has been. Of course, the Right got away with some sleazy stuff in the last two elections ( in my humble opinion) without enough people noticing. I'd call this little skirmish a postage stamp-sized attack on someone who neither had nor will attack them. If Barack Obama was a racist we would certainly know it already. You can't hide what you really are when you're running for president. Too many people are watching. Closely.
As I repeat, I feel this "issue" will disappear, either from lack of new information or just the realization that there was nothing there to begin with. But here it is, on record, waiting to be exploited in some other way on another day. When it happens again, you'll notice, won't you?