Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mrs. P. Attempts To Go To Washington

Is it wrong to join in the chorus of those making fun of Governor Sarah Palin, Republican candidate for vice-president? Should we judge her more by the content of her character and less by the hard-sounding, sometimes hard-to-follow words that spill out of her mouth when asked even gentle questions by friendly folks like Sean Hannity? Does she get a little slack on account of her gender in the fear that her struggling campaign might keep qualified women from seeking our nation's highest office for decades to come?
My answers to these questions are: yes, yes, and, sadly, no.
I can't claim to know anything about Alaska first hand, but the impression I get is that it is truly unlike anything here in the "lower 48". It's over twice the size of Texas, but with fewer people than St. Louis. It's a place where the climate alone can kill you if you're not prepared, in which your neighbor might be three DAYS away by dogsled. If things REALLY go badly, the dogs start to think of YOU as dinner. This is not a place which offers the luxury of subtlety. As Bush once remarked (about himself), they don't DO nuance up there.
Which brings us back to the Governor. I think she deserves credit for trying to bring Alaska out of the dark night of one-party corruptible rule, in which a guy like Senator Ted Stevens, it seems, could command a phalanx of local mayors to do his yard work. She saw, somehow, that the state was ready to leave behind life as a kind of Arctic Louisiana, collecting around $9 in federal funds for every $5 spent. If the world's paying $100 plus for oil, well, it's not just good news for those A-rabs, is it?
No, the governor and her husband, after a rocky start (a little pregnancy) have gone on to do well in this tough territory, even outside the political business. And she's an attractive woman, probably using the glasses to tone down her glamour. She gives a fine speech, long on punchlines, short on details. But who needs to hear all that stuff? Let's just drill! Anyway, she gets points for being aggresive and forward thinking for the state.
But as admirable as those qualities are, they don't make you ready to be president. Vice president? Well, on a day-to-day basis, anyone who can fog a mirror and take directions can handle the Veep's "duties", at least from the standpoint of the Constitution. And gosh knows no one looks forward to a repeat of the Cheney"Heart of Darkness" regime from inside the Bush administration.
But here's where we have to join the chorus of naysayers. Mrs. P. just isn't qualified to run all the switches, levers and spinning wheels of the world's most complex country, the U.S. The jump between veep and president is the difference between jogging around the block and trying to run through a pack of arctic wolves to get home. No, it's not fair, and no, it shouldn't discourage women candidates since other countries have had competent (sometimes better!) leadership from a whole group of women. McCain probably knew all this, but he chose Palin anyway despite his own age and health, because he needed to jazz up the ticket. His gamble could very well mean the start AND end of Mrs. P.'s national exposure. Hey, Senator - Christine Todd Whitman wouldn't pick up your call?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Party Party

I bet most of you missed a little story that hit the papers last week. I guess all stories other than our imploding economy are small stories, but this one was almost funny in an old-fashioned way. An office of the Department of the Interior in Denver has responsibility for granting things like oil leases. Naturally, the folks in the office, who I cannot swear are all Dick Cheney blood oath Republicans, have lots of contact with representatives from oil companies.
In fact, they had way TOO MUCH contact with the oil folks. Turns out that in addition to gifts (100 plus in number, but none of them in the class of a "total bribe") , Conoco sent over some "employees" who turned out to be hookers. Can you envision just how this little detail was discussed in the office, post-party?
"Well, that was quite an...event."
"Hey. Do you think those women were all petroleum engineers? I'm not sure."
"Let's see. There was... what were their names? Supple Suzy, Ravishing Rachel and Pamela the Punisher. You know, when you think about it, they didn't use any of the usual industrial lingo. And I haven't met any engineers with tattoos on their, um, bodies before. But I just thought it was a really good meeting."
"Can you be a little more specific? Just how do you mean 'good'"?
"You know there was that moment where Suzie started squirting whipped cream all around. Did you notice that?"
"Nope. Is that what's in your hair?"
"Beats me. Uh, maybe a little."
" What about the booze they had with them?"
"Hey, women come around this office all the time with that stuff. At least, that's what I, ah, heard the boss say."
"That's right. Nothing unusual there."
"But they seemed real patriotic, too. Did you notice?"
"You mean when we stopped drinking for a minute and faced the President's picture, and Rachel said something about him being a real man? Is that what you mean?"
"Right. Although she did say it in kind of a funny way."
"Hey, I think maybe I know what's going on."
Together: "What?"
"The next time they come, let's ask those three if they got their training at Nevada Las Vegas. I heard their program for engineers is different from anyone in the country."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Three Olymic Snapshots

I promise to never become one of those boring sports guys. You know who I mean - the type who show you why someone's zone defense won't stop Joe Quarterback, OR are sure that The Thunderclaps will "Go Big" with their first draft pick OR let you know how much The Fighting Tunas can pay for a guy nicknamed "Da Neighborhood" before bumping up onto the salary cap. Other guys do all that better and, anyway, who cares?
Still, there are some moments you shouldn't miss, even if you don't read the sports page. Here are three brief ones, all from last month's Olympics in Beijing. All, I think, deserve to be remembered.
First, the appealingly-named Lo Lo Jones was in the 100 meter hurdles final against the rest of the world's best. She had made up ground after a so-so start, and had taken the lead, but was too far ahead of her usual steps to miss hurdle number 9, whacking it with her lead foot pretty hard and killing her speed. In the blink of an eye, the rest of the field moved past her, and in another blink, she finished, on her feet, but in 7th place. All she could do was kneel on the track, taking a kind of fetal position, left alone in front of 80,000 people, knowing her chance was...gone. The other competitors gave her a few pats on the back, no doubt because they had all been there once or twice themselves. But it took her a long time to finally get up and walk off the track, where network people waited to ask the obvious: "How does it feel?"
Stephanie Brown Trafton will never be known as America's Sweetheart. She's 6'4", and checks in at around 225 lb. She's a discus thrower, and the Olympic gods were smiling as her 203' throw beat her competitors' heaves by a full meter. But who says big girls can't be articulate? She admitted to NBC in a nice-sounding voice, that she had had the same Olympic hero since watching the LA Games in 1984 as a child - famed pee wee gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who must have been around 4' 9" and maybe 80 lb. in her Wheaties box picture prime. The lesson? We can take inspiration from different sources. What's important is what works for YOU.
A casual reader might go "Hmmm" in observing the American medal sweep in the men's 400 meter sprint. But getting a medal meant that you had to have run the metric lap in under 45 seconds. One of those runners, David Neville, showed he wanted a medal more than just about anyone when, coming down the stretch in the last few yards, he DOVE headfirst over the finish line, onto the track, not to win the gold, but for BRONZE. The strategy worked, and he came away without injury, though it sure LOOKED painful. There are times, it seems, when wanting something really bad helps get you home just a tiny bit faster, and that's all that's needed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

True, But Useless

Did you catch the item on our former Attorney General Mr. Gonzales last week? The man charged with enforcing the law equally for all federal matters was instructed on the DAY HE TOOK OFFICE about how handling sensitive materials was to be done, using safes in secured areas within the Justice Department. That SAME DAY, Mr. Gonzales confesses, he simply took a briefcase full of such materials home. No, he didn't lock them up there - he had forgotten, he says, his home safe's combination. There's not even a record of his having locked the briefcase! His penalty for this careless, to say the least, oversight? Nothing. The folks NOW in charge of enforcing the law found a new kind of defense - being clueless enough to be above suspicion. Really. Come to think of it, that was pretty much Reagan's defense regarding Iran-Contra, and THAT worked out nicely indeed.

I've discovered something lots of older folks may have noticed about themselves. Lots of things about me are kind of....dated. History, sports, music, literature, politics - if I'm saying something that reveals great knowledge, chances are that the knowledge itself is too old to be useful to most people. Since the household now lacks anyone under 50, I don't see this trend reversing. Even the Iran-Contra reference above is more than 20 years old - oy!
Try out the following questions, answers will be found at the bottom. The higher the score, the closer to geezerdom you may be, though it's also possible you've decided to study the broad changes of that long ago epoch, the Twentieth Century.
1. The Eisenhower campaign's nickname for Democrat Adlai Stevenson?
2. Which Ali retinue member FIRST said "Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee."?
3. Of the three tennis-playing Amritraj brothers, the one who played in a James Bond movie?
4. The only Buddy Holly song recorded by the Beatles?
5. The vice president Ford dumped off the GOP ticket in 1976?
6. Jackie Joyner-Kersee's famous sister in law?
7. Boxing middleweight whose fatal beating was written about by Norman Mailer?
8. Elvis' original recording label?
9. Bush I's code name for Bill Clinton?
10. Roman-origin name of the lawyer/hero in "To Kill a Mockingbird"?
I could, of course, go on. The downside is, naturally, NOT knowing nearly as much about people who are NOW considered the big change makers. In fact I'm sometimes embarrassed when I do know something that stumps all the elders around me. Nobody likes to be thought of as having a big head, although is it YOUR fault when you just know more than the folks around you who spent their lives doing useful things like knowing how to work plumbing or raising children? These are, I would say, a tough collection of questions to score 100%, but they aren't so daunting to specialists of a given field.
I promised the answers. Here they are:
1. "egghead"
2. Drew "Bundini" Brown
3. Vijay, whose character was also "Vijay". But I dont't quite remenber WHICH movie it was.
4. "Words of Love"
5. Nelson Rockefeller
6. the late Florence Griffith Joyner, "Flo-Jo"
7. Bennie "The Kid" Paret
8. Sun Records (Memphis)
9. "Elvis"
10. "Atticus" Finch, played by Gregory Peck
There you go. And no mention of Richard Nixon (until now), my favorite history guy to go on about, along with Howard Cosell, Howard Hughes, Barry Gordy, Brian Epstein, "Superbrat", "That Big Bear", Brother Malcom, the guy who gave us Michael Corleone, "Clyde Cool" and Marvin. Here's an offer. Big props for anyone who can identify all those in the previous sentence.