Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Endorsement

I had one of those "only in America" moments last Saturday. We went to a show put on by the local barbershop music chorus, a group you could only describe as "old". What caught my eye was that one member of the chorus bore more than a slight resemblance to those Neanderthal guys who turn up in the GEICO commercials. He was dressed the same as the others - gaudily old-fashioned, and sang along, but his long hair and beard certainly stuck out. His age was unknowable. It was as though a werewolf had joined the chorus and everyone had decided he was a swell fellow since he paid his dues and only attacked strangers after practice. The show? It depends on how you like barbershop music.

Now for the subject at hand. If my mother were alive, she would vouch that I have followed politics and elections for over 50 years. I studied political science, though I never earned a dime from that choice. Of course, like anyone else who brags about how long he's been blah blah blah, I could be wrong.
Elections are about the future, and the future frequently turns out to be different from the campaign view of what we think it will be. In 1960, Kennedy and Nixon debated the future of two small islands off the Chinese coast held by the Nationalists. Forty-eight years later, the status of these two islands is unchanged. By contrast, the 2000 campaign contained almost no mention of a nasty group governing Afghanistan known as the Taliban. No one at all made the possibility of economic crisis an issue in the last campaign two years ago.
We hire a president mainly for one thing - making good decisions. He makes so many that some are bound to be bad, but if he makes enough good ones it will make up for other weaknesses, such as being a mediocre speaker. Of course, he can call on all types of folks for advice, but is correctly held responsible for the decisions.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that I think the Bush administration has brought us a cascade of bad decisions, but Bush isn't a candidate. The two who remain at the top of the two major party tickets are both US Senators, a rare circumstance.
Senator Barack Obama has done some impressive things in his life. Top of his class at the Harvard Law School, author of two well-regarded books, with first-hand familiaity with city life as a community organizer in Chicago and a background that emphasizes different parts of the country and the world. His election as a senator four years ago was not versus heavyweight competition, but his presidential campaign victory over Hillary Clinton and a handful of other Democrats was extremely impressive. Taking the best shots his opponents could offer, he really hasn't suffered more than a couple of nicks and cuts, nor has he given in to replying to attacks with negative shots that misfired. The one item that's hard to contradict is that, at 47, he's much younger than the typical presidential candidate, and his opponents have naturally tried to exploit that.
Senator John McCain has been a Senate fixture since the early 80's. His reputation has been that of an independent Republican, unafraid to go his own way. His life history, warts and all, is well known to most Americans. He made a strong run at the GOP nomination for president in 2000, but was elbowed out of the way by some rough treatment from the Bush folks. He has consistently voted with Bush the last eight years, although he has tried to distance himself from the administration during the last phase of the campaign. His comeback over a full field of competitors during the Primary season was impressive, but he is now the oldest major candidate for president ever at 72.
So, who would make better decisions? Obama has come under fire for past relationships with a handful of characters whom GOP elites frown on, but no one can seem to come up with much that Obama's done that's actually hurt anyone. McCain, I believe, has made two errors that reflect poorly. His pick of Sarah Palin as running mate was both unexpected and, as things now look, a poor choice to independents and moderate voters. McCain had pledged to run a campaign free of the negative accusations we've come to be familiar with, but later gave way to a 100% negative TV ad strategy.
I admit that I would probably be backing the Democrat anyway, since I've now thought of myself as a political liberal for decades, but I truly feel that the country needs major changes that could best be implemented by a younger administration that owes nothing to the proven failure of the Bush debacle. Nothing against Mr. McCain, a person who has served the country well, but I don't put any faith in the popgun attacks his campaign has made on Obama. Barak Obama will learn from the mistakes he no doubt will make, but we can't base our national future on nothing but tax cuts for those already making the highest incomes. My vote goes to Obama.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Haters, Arise!

I can still remember (said the old guy) when major candidates for president refrained from nastiness when describing their opponents. Of course, this, like many things, tends to go in cycles. Right now we're in a cycle that seems to allow more of the personal stuff, partly because of the internet, and partly because talk radio seems to have made us more used to hearing some bizarre things. The "celebrity culture" enters into this, too. We all want to know (myself included) what Mr./Ms. Candidate is REALLY like. Certain sources want to give us bits and pieces that lead us to think that the candidates are really just like us, only more so - nasty people we'd have figured out if they ever came to church.
Past incidents are frequently cited. How could Obama have sat in that pew all those years and NOT objected to the Rev. Wright's anti-American rants? He must hate - America! - and he only wants to be elected to ruin our country. Is it true that Navy pilot McCain wrecked a handful of fighters, each at a cost of many millions of dollars? Did you know Biden was caught...plagiarizing? And Sarah Palin, newest on the scene here, well, there's a new little bit on her almost every day. We don't know her well, but want to connect her to someone we DO.
What's really worse is the prediction you hear declared as something that's a near certainty. Of course, no one would have believed the things that actually HAVE happened in the last 7 plus years under Bush, but the GOP never stops imagining: under Obama, we'd be individually broke within two years, the sick elderly will be euthanized to maske room for illegal immigrants in hospitals, the (name your potential enemy here) would march against a weakened US, the Boy Scouts would disband forever rather than be forced to make room for gay leaders, the Cabinet would be stuffed with white-hating toughs (in other words, Jackson and Sharpton), while prisons would be forced to dump multiple offenders on the streets. Worst of all - talk radio could lose its 10-1 conservative tilt. It would be the great day of all who "hate America", and we all know who "they" are. Almost the entire GOP campaign is now given over to this kind of gabage.
But the Democrats aren't entirely innocent. It's mean to pick on your elders, so Palin has been the target designate here. The specter of her as president has no doubt turned a great many votes, most, I am guessing, away from that possibility. To whom would she go for advice? We'd rather not think about it, but since you asked, the names Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (Jr.) come to mind. Cheney will be out of a paying job, but just a local phone call away. After all, he's been so helpful in the past.
I haven't even scratched the surface of tiny accusations that hint at something grave about Obama: the use or non use of American flag lapel pins, his birth certificate or lack of it, his grades (though they could not have been lower than McCain's), Mrs. O's bill for hotel lobster (a newspaper accusation withdrawn a day later, since she was hundreds of miles away when the pricey crustacean was supposedly served), his home deal, chumminess with a domestic terrorist turned professor, his hookup with a Chicago gangster, his legal wipeout of his opponents in his first election, and the man's posture during the Pledge of Allegiance! They don't necessarily start with McCain, but with someone no doubt who feels strongly about voting (R). And, as the man said, there's one born every minute. You just need to find the right button to push. Gosh knows we don't want to talk about REAL issues.
Hate, I have said before is and SHOULD BE legal, as long as no one is hurt. But hurting is the sole object of these character assassins, from whichever side they come. So can't we, as Rodney King asked, all just get along? Could we bring back the days (the old guy said, his eyes filling with tears) when Kennedy and Nixon treated each other with respect?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Fall Collection

I was serious last week, so this week earns somewhat lighter material, mostly just based on...paying attention.
Family milestones keep flying by. It took almost 15 years for the two of us to bring seven children into the world. Now that the children have their own turn at reproduction, it's been eleven grandchildren in just over nine years. Number eleven, a little girl, entered mortality this week. Hooray!
My little CASA boy, described earlier this year, had a growth spurt this summer. He's now nine, and officially four feet tall. You can cross him off the future linebacker list, but he's doing fine.
I mentioned earlier this year the existence of a group of local women who have taken up the martial art known as roller derby. Their last exhibition of the season was a sellout, so they must be doing something right. Either that or someone underestimated the public appetite for violence.
You might recall my explanation of the "Law of Unintended Consequences", in which doing one thing causes other, unexpected things to happen. This time we get the report that shifting huge amounts of FBI employees and resources to the cause of anti-terror has left the G-men short when it comes to detecting and preventing shenanigans on Wall Street. Whodathunkit?
I don't know just why, but Russia is having a kind of popularity contest to name the greatest Russian of all. It looks as though the winner is destined to be, not a novelist, composer, scientist or royalty. You guessed it - #1 on the Russky hearts is (actually a Georgian) Joseph Stalin.
Finally, a change in the operations at the local tennis club is bringing to an end the weekly doubles matches I've been involved with there. I'm not a member, and am understandably excluded. My partner and I (total ages about 110) managed over several months to open a gap on our opponents (combined ages of almost 150), though we lost the last set, played yesterday. Guess I'll have to look for even older opponents willing to show up at the public courts. Maybe they'll start calling me "The Dominator". Maybe not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There's Danger Here

It's pretty common at this point in an election campaign for one candidate to be trailing the other, and it's also common for the trailing candidate (and this applies to elections at all levels) to try to change the campaign with a new accusation or two against the leader. If it were sports, you'd say that the trailing team has to "make something happen". It's risky, and the accusations are frequently baseless, but if you're losing anyway....? You understand the thinking.
This time around, the economic crisis (which I don't yet understand well enough to write about, and wish my smarty-pants son would deign to explain to me) has landed heavily on the McCain campaign. No, it's not fair, but it's McCain's party that's been in charge, so he's hauling an extra load of rocks uphill toward Election Day. You get the bad with the good - ask Al Gore.
So McCain's slipping in the polls and can see the whole thing going down. His answer to all this is to try to make the entire election about, not the issues, but the opponent. Both he and Gov. Palin (I think she's attractive, but that voice! Oy!) are now concentrating on things like Senator Obama's ties to U. of Illinois professor and onetime 60's radical William Ayers. McCain/Palin darkly hint that the two are close, suggesting some kind of radical takeover plot based first, of course, on Obama's ability to be elected president. Really, it's even thinner stuff than the Reverend Wright thing that flamed up during the primaries.
The danger, you ask? Here it is. A few people believe this stuff, and for all kinds of reasons. They're taking all this pretty literally. And it's a time of economic crisis that leaves people feeling powerless in the face of forces they didn't even know existed two months ago. AND our nation leads the world in per capita gun ownership, the big majority of them in safe, careful hands. AND we nevertheless have a tradition of violence in presidential politics that runs long and deep, and ends just a blink or two ago from a historic standpoint. AND the targets of bulletts fired in anger or fear too often are black men.
Some people showing up at GOP rallies are now given to shouting things like "Traitor!" or "Kill him" at the mention of Obama's name. Do Party operatives shudder at the thought of having caused this all to happen by spreading a string of untrue accusations that actually go back over a year? I can't speak for them, but given that people can almost never think of themselves as villains, probably not. But I wonder if the thin veneer of polite society can be stretched so tightly that it leaves openings for evil to return, assuming, that is, that it ever really went away.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Orders From Above

Today we go carefully, meticulously but honestly into the world of....religion. I'm already on record as being a Latter Day Saint, active in the local congregation. The Church usually doesn't say too much about election matters, but reserves the right to do so when circumstances warrant it.
And this is California, notorious for passing on to the electorate matters sufficiently divisive that the state legislature would wish to avoid. This year we have Proposition 8. In 2000, the voters went 3-2 in favor of limiting marriage to a man and a woman, but the law that resulted was thrown out as unfair last May by four of the state's seven Supreme Court justices. Prop 8, which the Church favors, puts the same language into the state constitution. Are you with me?
But winning the vote in 16 million-voter California isn't easy, and the Church wants to get local members involved as election volunteers. Last night they waived their own rule about using local chapels for elections, inviting members in for a direct statewide satellite broadcast to reinforce the reasons for support and ask for help with donated time and money.
I was there, feeling a little conflicted. The Church, you see, is not a bottom-up organization, nor is it democratic in any way. We don't have fractious conventions, voting blocs or power plays by individual members, but we also don't have much open discussion about how things should operate. That's the tradeoff when you believe in LIVING prophets. In fact, we're specifically instructed to NOT make the Prop 8 issue something to discuss. It's already decided.
It's not that we have any real control over sexual matters, gay or straight. And no one's saying that gays will then dominate society if 8 fails. But the Church (along with some other churches) does not trust two entities. They do not trust courts to consistently rule in the Church's interest in future disputes if 8 fails. They do not trust that our society's sense of "fairness" will NOT lead to future accusations of "un"fairness against the Church. This goes to things such as church-sponsored adoption agencies, church temples in which marriage "sealings" are performed, and the teaching of "marriage" issues in the public schools. They are saying, in effect, that they understand the Law of Unintended Consequences described in this space before. Me? I don't know about the future. They want us to believe they do.
I just want to get along, and the Church usually endorses this idea, too. Treat everyone with respect and love. Let everyone worship "how, where, or what they may". It's hard to argue with that, but then that course leads to no opinion at all, which isn't the case. I've decided to vote for the proposition. I have a bumper sticker declaring my support. In for a dime, in for a dollar. But the rest? What about my vow of pacifism in the culture wars?

Sunday, October 05, 2008


When we're no longer athletic or attractive, we try to fall back on being "wise". Usually this works no better than the first two, but it's what the pundits get paid big bucks to be, week after week. And , no surprise, they are as a group pretty long in the tooth.
For most of them, "wisdom" means explaining things to the rest of us, often in ways that are as predictable as the tides. Right or wrong, they are known to be boring, and so they aren't holding up their part of the load in the task of "keeping people buying papers."
Is this bad for the future? I don't know. But wisdom can have more than one face. Here's my shot at asking questions that do have answers which are unknown to me. I'm in the dark here, too, but I think the answers would bepretty valuable.
I sat down to write the questions and came up with ten. That's too many. Let's try five, and if you like the format we can try it again:
1. How many prisoners has the US tortured, or hired other countries to torture? I demand answers on this because I cannot stand the thought of torture being done in my name (at least my country's name). Someday, there will be answers to this, most likely from the people we love to dislike - journalists. The people who bring us the answers on torture will become as well known as Woodward and Bernstein in the days of Watergate, even though the torture victims will be mostly dead.
2. Is rap the rightful successor to rock 'n roll? Someone knows this NOW, though I'm not sure who. And I'm not saying it's my kind of sound. Gosh knows I'm too old. But rock is, in my view, WAY overdue to be replaced in the marketplace by something else.
3. Did the campaign planners give Biden advice to let Sarah Palin off the hook in their debate last week in order that Biden not appear to be a bully? I still think he won the debate on points, but got the feeling he was holding back a little, perhaps to keep from reminding people that, after all, it's Cheney's job we're talking about here. Maybe it's better to be friendly and let the election break the Democrats' way without bringing up the image of "Poor Sarah". Tie the battle, win the war.
4. Does McCain REALLY think Sarah Palin could take over as president if something happened to him? After all, he only met her twice before tapping her for the assignment, which seems like WAY too few. Maybe he just won't inwardly consider that his wheels could be closer to falling off than we may realize. To me, he doesn't even seem young for someone who's 72!
5. OK, maybe too many political items on the list, but this is the time they're supposed to be here, right? Here's the last one. Is Dick Cheney still working inside the administration to promote military action against Iran? It's hard to think of power passing out of his hands graciously, and "solving the Iran problem" has been on his personal list for years. The DOD report saying Iran had given up nuke work three years ago slowed up the Bush plans, but I'm not sure they've been absolutely scuttled.
Anyone with answers they have faith in, please let me know. I'll give you the title of "Wise Pundit". At least we know the answer to this year's biggest question: Could a black man be elected president AND the Cubs win the World Series in the same year? That would be, ah, no.