Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Senator Ted

Before proceeding to today's real topic, I can't seem to shake the subject of athletics - women's athletics, in particular. Our local school has a woman who finished 2nd in the NCAA Division II hammer throw. Do I need to explain that the "hammer" in question here does not come from a hardware store? Good. I'll proceed. I've never actually seen her in action, though I have seen her picture, along with comments that she usually gives up 30-40 lb. to larger competitors, which I think must be true. This tells me two things. First, our local gal (who still has a shot at qualifying for the Olympic Trials) is probably inch for lb., one of the best throwers on earth AND it's time for descriptions of women athletes to include their weight, which seems to be one of the final frontiers to treating female athletes JUST as athletes and not some elusive feminine personna. For the curious, she LOOKS about 5'7" and 140 or so, just a little bigger than my HEAD. Hooray for Audrey!

In the US Senate, they try to show a little care for one another. It's a place where older people predominate, and the members, like many older folks, have been through some tough personal trials. It's not unusual to see Senate members engaged in some form of actual close contact, partly to increase influence and partly as a kind of silent token of good will. This happens even between senators who would not be natural political allies.
Once in awhile, it becomes known that a Senate member is seriously ill, and great sympathy is expressed, even to a senator from one corner of the political spectrum. It happened with the late Senator Hubert Humphrey, with Senator Barry Goldwater and with others, many times in days when the Senate seemed less polarized than now.
It should be happening now to Senator Ted Kennedy. Diagnosed last week with a serious brain cancer condition, Kennedy has served in the Senate since 1962, and, contrary to what you might think, is a popular figure there, with many good friends on both sides of the aisle. The Senate has been Ted Kennedy's public home, much more so than any other Kennedy family member.
Not only that , he has labored to try to make society's natural distribution of goods and services a little more equitable. That makes him a liberal, I guess, but he has been a go-to guy for pieces of legislation, cosponsoring with names representing the entire American political
spectrum. So many of them expressed shock over Kennedy's condition.
But we must remember that this is the age of polarization. Kennedy's face has helped raise billions of dollars - for Republicans, who shamelessly use him as a kind of anti-poster boy. Democrats have done the same thing, of course. But readers of my main on-line paper in the West cannot as yet get themselves to say many kind things about him. Some are shockingly mean, gloating over the incident almost 40 years ago in which a young Senate staffer was drowned, partly because of Kennedy's negligence. I guess it's understandable that while the public might not understand every nuance of what does and does not qualify as public corruption, they can and do grasp on to certain things with super tenacity no matter HOW Long ago something happened.
I think we look better when we can finally not so much overlook as remember, but then let it go publicly. There will always be time for retribution if we want it badly enough. How much better to stop, recognize, but then move on, knowing that He who always judges correctly will never let something really this big ever slip through the cracks.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What I Meant to Say

If things go as planned, this week will feature TWO blog entries and bring the total number to an even 100. Thanks again to our younger son for suggesting this format of self expression, which has saved me many times from zeroing in on my spouse's forehead as a place to bounce opinions into thin air. And if I may be permitted a single vain question, does anyone have a favorite entry over these almost two years of blogging? I might mention mine if I get around to it.
But first, it's back to the campaign. If I concentrated on the twists and turns that seem to happen every week in this year's presidential race, I'd be writing about nothing else, and I'm told that wouldn't be so great. So, do you know who Keith Olbermann is? He was once a pretty well-known sports guy, but has since morphed into a fire-breathing commentator on MS-NBC who's famous for loud, serious, in-your-face rants which go for several minutes, usually aimed either at President Bush or neocon FOX NEWS bully Bill O'Reilly.
This weekend he crossed the aisle to take on Senator Hillary Clinton for once again bringing up the subject of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination almost precisely 40 years after it happened, and in the same week that Senator Ted Kennedy received a grave medical diagnosis of his own.
Clinton's explanation seems at first to match pretty well with the video footage, given before bigshots at a newspaper in South Dakota, if that's not a contradiction in itself. Her point was something like "Well, lots of important things in campaigns have happened in June. My husband didn't wrap up his first nomination until June. Then we remember Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June...' as she ticked off the reasons to NOT give up her campaign.
On the other hand, the following must be noted: This was not her first offhand mention of the RFK death, she is certainly accustomed to a microphone picking up every word she says by now, mentioning such a horrible possibility when her opponent, a black man, has already endured plenty of death threats seems to almost invite such an attempt, to say nothing of such a mention simply being in bad taste, as Americans try to get over a long string of actual and attempted assassinations which go back to before Lincoln and carry into the very recent past.
Mrs. Clinton quickly apologized, though it must be said that it was one of those not-very-sincere apologies that start with the word "if", and end without the words that let you know the offender is truly sorry. Senator Obama, not anxious to create a new issue when he is within arm's length of the Party nomination, accepted her explanation.
What were her true thoughts as the electrical impulses streaked from her brain to her lips and tongue? That, I believe is almost unknowable, perhaps even to the Senator herself. But I do recall making a comment in this space a few months ago to the effect that people who are very thick-skinned when criticism is sent their way may also be slow to recognize when offense is given, and slow to see another's pain. Perhaps deep in her consciousness may be a feeling that goes something like this: "Oh, come on. You think he's the only one in this race to have to duck an insult or deal with unfair treatment? I've been dealing with things in the public square that would bring down an African elephant if they were weapons. He's not taking me out of this race. I belong here, and he's just going to have to deal with it. Think Rove and those guys from the GOP will get out of his way without being taken out one way or another? Think again, friend." It seems a bit ironic that we're speaking of someone who's the wife of the guy who made us think "I FEEL your pain."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Graduation Time Notes

Time to catch up on things that are either odd or just surprising. I never want to be one of those jaded guys who's always saying "I'm not surprised." You know the type I'm talking about.

Some of you would rather pierce your own eyelids than try to understand sports jargon, but it still has to be said. Our local gals became national NCAA Division II softball champions last Saturday. Their games were not walkovers. One went 17 innings! Pitcher Lizzie Prescott went 41 innings in four games and only gave up ONE run. I hope they rename something on campus in her honor.

We planned a trip for some church members Saturday to one of the temples. An older guy with a handicap from a 25 year-old head injury suffered in a motorcycle accident wanted to go, but I wasn't sure he should. The trip takes eleven hours or more even in good circumstances. He solved the problem for us ---by dying in his sleep about 25 hours before we were scheduled to leave. R.I.P., Norm.

I was looking for 0ur City Hall to declare a holiday last week - Show Off Your Tatoo Day. Our usually moderate temp soared to a steamy 79 degrees, a new record!

Two items pertaining to President Bush: he recently said something so strange as to make me wrinkle my brow. Did he actually say that in recognition of the Iraq war and casualties from it, he decided to give up.......golf? Exactly how did he feel the American public was going to react to that? The second item: one day after the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that we needed to "engage" with Iran, Mr. Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset, accused Barack Obama, though not by name, of "appeasement" for wanting to meet with the leaders of Iran. Naturally, he cited World War II Germany as the model. Fellas, can't you at least get on the same page?

Finally, we finish where we started - with a female athletic team. A group of local women have been beating each other up practicing the macho (maybe in their case "facha") sport of roller derby. Yes, roller derby. They now plan to showcase their skills in an exhibition. These women, I must add, do not represent any school or college. They just love to deal out pain. Anyway, the proceeds from admission ($7 a seat and down) will go towards - preventing domestic violence. That's like serving Meat Lover's pizza at a gathering of Jewish vegetarians.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Mortal Lock

Two amazing local items start this week's offerings. First, our neighbors claim to have chased a bear from their garage. I didn't see it, but we do live in an area that's woodsy despite being within walking distance of plenty of "city" sites. They claim this ursine was upwards of 300 pounds and has a taste for their garbage. When chased out, they say, the bear strolled casually down into a nearby gully, unafraid of humanity. We're keeping the garage door shut.

A few weeks ago I described a local college softball team in glowing terms. This last weekend they hosted a six-team NCAA double elimination tournament in one of eight regional events around the country. Things didn't look good when the locals (top seed) lost to the bottom seed in the first game, which consigned them to the exhausting losers' bracket. From there, a small miracle occurred as the Lady Jacks rolled off six straight wins in four days to come out winners. They're still dancing in the streets of Arcata.

Have you ever heard the word "unitary"? Have you ever heard of the Federalist Society? Both these connect to what may be the most long-lasting legacy of the feckless Bush Administration. A "unitary" (and this is not a term which goes way back) executive is what the president is, according to a certain way of looking at the Constitution. His powers, especially in war (which need not be declared) are not only nearly unlimited, they are unchallengeable. Secrets can be kept in perpetuity, laws broken, treaties flaunted, rights violated. Even the Constitution itself can be ignored, and neither Congress nor the federal court system has any recourse. This theory says, in effect, that when the chips are down, this is a government of men and not laws. Does it seem like the kind of theory the Bush/Cheney folks could buy into? Oh, yeah.
The Federalist Society, named for the nation's first semi-organized political party, is made up of judges from around the country who subscribe to the unitary executive philosophy. I don't know how many card-carrying members there are. Not being a member, I have a natural dislike of such a group. I think it was Groucho Marx who said "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member." I'd be surprised if there wasn't plenty of networking and other schmoozing in the society, though I'd guess they'd be less likely to celebrate their snooty status with strippers in cakes or other cheesey delights.
Alright, I hear you again - "Pleeeeze sir, what does this have to do with MEEEEE?" Here's the news. It's too late to lock the door on these folks. They already make up a gang of four in the Supreme Court (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) needing just one ally to make their philosophy the law of the land until overruled at some far future point. Sad to say, in the meantime you can expect a long string of decisions that favor executive power in government, corporate power in business and consigning individuals to the "spare parts" bin of society. These guys know who nominated them, and are not above returning a favor or two to the GOP. They don't have to recuse themselves when there's a conflict of interest, their job description makes them immune to changes in public opinion, and they can serve until the day they shuffle off this mortal coil. They answer only to history, and they are ready to show us just what an "activist judge" is when certain cases come before them. Get used to it. They'll be on the regressive side of every question until the Bushes are presidents your grandkids never heard of. In betting parlance, these guys are a "mortal lock" to dominate legal jurisprudence for decades. Good luck to the Republic.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Little Guy

We traveled last weekend to the Great Northwest, and found ourselves looking at a very high waterfall east of Seattle. Among the other spectators I noticed a tall guy, pretty clearly an American with one of those Rasta dreadlock kind of 'dos, though it wasn't especially long. He had what appeared to be a striking Asian girlfriend. I didn't intend to listen in on their conversation, but was still surprised to hear them speaking...in Japanese. It was one of those "only in America" moments.

My two sons and five daughters are almost grown and doing well. Four are now parents. I have five grandsons and five granddaughters, also fine, but all of them live far from here, hundreds of miles. I feel more than a bit guilty, but what can I do?
In this state we have a thing called CASA, which stands for "Court Appointed Special Advocate". An adult looks after one or more children whose families have disappeared from underneath them. I volunteered to take the training two years ago. The Ghost of Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol" had a line I just couldn't shake. The Ghost got impatient when Scrooge tried to patronize him by saying that Marley, while alive, had been "good at business". "Business!", wailed the ghost. "Mankind was my business!" It's true. If you're not serving someone, somehow, you should make changes in your life until you can.
In the fall of '06, I got assigned to look after little JR, whose name I don't use for security purposes. He had just turned seven and lived with a foster mother not very far away. My assignment, then and now, is essentially to see that he's getting through life OK despite the fact that his mom failed him (drugs) and his father was never involved. Since then he has moved to the other end of town to be with the nephew of his mother's ex-boyfriend and his family. Follow that? It's actually an improvement, though he didn't know the new family before arriving. You've got to be open to change in this kind of system, and he is, or at least he pretends to be.
I hesitate to describe him because I know it sounds creepy for a guy to talk this way about a young boy. But believe me when I say that he is beyond cute. He has pure blond hair and bright blue eyes. He sometimes has trouble because he's undersized compared to most 3rd graders at only about four feet and 50 lb. So he may not be future linebacker material, but he climbs like a monkey and is always impressive around playground equipment. He's also smart, and will let you know that you have bored him by asking the same question more than once.
We're....playmates. I see him every couple of weeks and try to pry the details of his life out of him while he tries to be pretty stoical about it all by saying relatively little. We go to various spots around the city. He loves the Mall, the parks, the beach, the movies, and a place called Bounce-A-Rama. He likes checking out the pawn shop for the latest in used video games. He eats like someone else will take it if it doesn't get in his mouth fast, and he has a knack for getting all the money I may have on me on a given day to be spent on him. I...just can't stay mad at him.
But I do get mad now and then, because he's not all that happy, though he pretends to be, and this sometimes leads to him making me uncomfortable. He once, in a stoical moment, told me all he needed to be happy was nice weather and no bullies in his life. He confessed later that there were, in fact, plenty of bullies capable of giving him trouble, which I believe, having seen some of his hulking classmates (girls, too!). I stick up for him to the social workers and am trying to work with the new foster family to see that everything is simpatico. I went to court a few times to see his mother's parental rights dissolve as she disappeared for months at a time.
I'm no hero in this, because other CASA volunteers end up in situations that are far more complicated. I just can't stand the thought of him growing up angry at everyone and everything because his mom disappeared on him. So my grandkids are getting plenty of love at home, THEIR homes, and I get to give a little attention to a little guy who needs it right here. He said he was going to invite me to his 9th birthday party in September. We'll see.