Monday, December 29, 2008

Bangs and Whimpers

Which one of those poets was it that gave us the lines
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang, but a whimper.
It used to be more important to know a poem or two. Anyway, the verse seems to address the conclusion of the Bush administration, although I believe there are BOTH bangs and whimpers taking place.
First, the bangs. Israel is providing more than a few as we speak, responding to bombing from Hamas as only they (and perhaps we) know how. It seems the current missile attack will be followed by the usual ground attack, all of it aimed at "peace". Will the Israelis pull out in order to allow the region a period to cool off and settle things with diplomacy? Yes, when the damage done is enough that diplomacy no longer matters. Things can change quickly, but as of today it appears that President Obama's first international task will be getting the Israelis to withdraw. Good luck.
The stock market went BANG on its way down. Usually you can't get economists to agree on the time of day, but now they're all saying things could get much worse before improving. At some point, a brave guy will start buying stocks as a precursor to recovery, but that hasn't happened yet, either.
A little BANG echo was in the revealing that a mutual fund bigshot, Mr. Madoff (pronounced "Made off") had actually run a crooked Ponzi scheme - initial investors are rewarded with false high returns funded by later investors - lasting almost the length of the Bush administration. Our investment watchdogs, the SEC, were nowhere near learning of the scheme. Madoff turned himself in. Damage? A little north of $50 billion.
As for whimpers. Mrs. Bush and Secretary Rice provided twin whines that the Bush days will be better appreciated in future years. Since one's signed on for life and the other one for the full eight years, you could hardly expect anything different from those two, escecially with FOX News leading the softball assault on the First Lady.
But it's not just the judgment of History that's the concern of other whimperers. Morton Kondracke, one of the newpaper pundit elite, says that the Obama administration should abandon all efforts to investigate criminal charges against Bush officials. It would hurt the morale of the CIA and other spooks, he says, who then might be reluctant to undertake a "dirty job" assignment from their CO. It's hard to believe Kondracke makes this argument with a straight face, but there it is. And here I had thought we had settled the "government of laws and not men" argment a long time ago, if not in Jefferson's day, then certainly in Nixon's. I guess being able to write what he did is what defines a guy as part of the pundit elite.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Conundrum

All of a sudden, there are too many things to write about if I'm to finish ripping the Bush Administration by Inauguration Day. On the other hand, it is Christmas Eve, hardly the time to be writing mean things about Dick Cheney that he'll never see or worry about. I've said all I plan to about the Right's phony "war on Christmas". I wrote it a year ago and nothing's changed. It's a conundrum - writing now, I mean.
So let's settle on something neutral. Baseball, for instance. Teams and players come and go at such a pace that most people can be forgiven for not knowing a thing about the Tampa Bay Rays or that the last game of old Yankee Stadium has already been played.
But some players, I submit, deserve perhaps even more than the attention they get from the local fans. Take, for instance, the recently retired Greg Maddox. All he did was his job, superbly, for over 20 years, not only as a pitcher, but a part-time hitter, fielder and even occasional base runner.
Fair or not, pitching success depends on inches, or fractions of inches, on specific pitches delivered in very specific situations. At this, Maddoz seemed to always be a pitch or two ahead of his competitors - major league hitters. His was not the the blinding fastball approach of a Roger Clemens or the whirligig breaking balls served up by Pedro Martinez. He just wanted to beat the batters any way he could, with as few pitches as possible. The glamore could go to someone else, Maddox saw his job as simply doing everything needed to hang up the "w", then prepare for his next start.
He became known for several rather rare trademarks. The first, in a world which now features the average major league game lasting three hours or more, the Maddox starts often were over in closer to two hours, oweing to the pitcher's goal of self preservation. In addition, he was a wonder of endurance. All he did was win 13 games or more as a starter for 20 consecutive years. Sure, he finally wore out, but he's now 44 years old.
They didn't hire him to hit, but in the National League, pitchers are called on to do just that, and he did it creditably every year. He had speed good enough to be a pinch runner when needed, and he won more Golden Glove awards for fielding his position than most kids get these days for "participation" in Summer School Art.
But his game didn't bring forth gasps from the crowd, and he could walk in many US cities without being recognized. All he did was to surpass the normal unofficial standard for Hall of Fame induction by almost 20%, winning almost 360 games in his career. He never had a bad headline for off the field troubles and helped his main team, the Atlanta Braves, dominate their division for over a decade. If he had been a physicist, his name would have been Einstein.
Have a nice, long, happy retirement, Man. You've earned it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Leftovers - "The Tour"

It was fun a few weeks ago coming up with the best, most and worst of several things. Here's a couple more that occurred to me lately.
Best Sports Nickname - This one should go to basketball's Julius Erving - "Doctor J". The Doc was always articulate and soft-spoken. In his early ABA (those striped ball guys) days, he wasn't just "The Franchise", but the entire league! "Doctor" seemed to fit the kind of person he still is today in his 50's. By the way, "The Doctor" replaced a pretty bad, though graphic, nickname tribute to his huge hands - "The Claw".
Worst Sports Nickname - There was a Jewish baseball player who they tried to promote as the "Rabbi of Swat" way back in the 20's, but I think the worst sports nickname is the one they hung on future Hall of Famer Karl Malone. He probably spent his career wondering what he had done to the fans to deserve being known as "The Mailman." The explanation of the no-sense moniker was that "he always delivers". Sounds like something from a team's P.R. guy, which it no doubt was.

I looked over some election statistics and found something no one else in the world has discovered, which I now share with you. The presidential vote in Utah (McCain 63%, Obama 34%) is the exact mirror image of the vote in Humboldt County CA, with Obama at 63%, McCain 34%. Other than the possibility that people in these two places don't see things the same way, what could this mean? I'm working on that.

President Bush, you may have noticed, is using the last few weeks of his interminable second term to speak to mostly friendly audiences and TV correspondents making the case one more time for his decisions. You could call it a "Farewell Tour" or "Goodbye Tour", though no one could call it an "Apology Tour", because he doesn't do that. A name that might apply better would be the "It's Not My Fault Tour".
So whose fault is it? Two groups are set up to take the fall. The first is our intelligence operation guys, the spooks who supposedly got it wrong regarding Iraq's WMD's. Anyone who has spent any time with independent sources on this question knows that the spies came up with exactly what they were told to, though not in so many words. Bush took office looking for a reason to attack Iraq, though he left this detail out of the campaign, and, no surprise, found one, although it turned out to be coimpletly bogus.
Our upcoming depression also needs a fall guy, and that, indicates Mr. Bush, are the previous administrations that helped poorer people qualify for home loans. Of course, if a bad situation comes to you due to a previous policy flaw, it's then up to YOU to get the policy changed isn't it? Anyway, the current Bush plea is pretty far removed from Truman's "The Buck Stops Here".
Even Dick Cheney, he of the popularity rating under 20%, has something to say. Oh yeah, he DID have something to do with torturing a guy or two, but we got so much from those weasels that it was worth it, no question. OF COURSE it's worth it when no one will ask you the tough questions, hold you accountable, cut your pension, raise your taxes or cut the didvidends on war-connected stocks. I bet he can't wait to head out to his well-stocked, multi-million dollar fishing pond. Who needs Wyoming anynore when you've got the whole East Coast for fun and games?

Monday, December 08, 2008

As THEY See Things

I can't launch into this week's entry without divulging a fact that few people know. They announced all the college football bowl games and all the opponents yesterday. Some look like interesting games, but that's another subject. What strikes me is that, while the sad (or was it "dismal"?) practitioners of the science of economics tell us to get used to the idea of reacquainting ourselves with Mr. Hard Times Depression again, the promoters and hype merchants who think up these bowl games now have plans for, are you ready? - 34 games and accompanying pageants! That's a long way from the days when the originators of the Rose Bowl had a hard time deciding whether to feature football or chariot races at the original Pasadena event about a hundred years ago. By the way, my Hawkeyes look like a solid pick vs. the Gamecocks, national bird of the University of South Carolina, in the Outback Bowl, a Florida event honoring a restaurant chain with an Australian theme. Go figure.

Let's assume you aren't one of those families with deals that allow you to pick movie rentals right from your laptop, and that you actually still go into stores to pick your flicks. Let me guess at the categories you don't go to, and make a little suggestion. You stay away from the room packed with porn. Our local store, in fact, replaced that room altogether because stolen tape values consistently ran ahead of revenue. The old room now has tanning booths. Anyway, depending on your preferences, you might also steer clear of horror movies, great wrestling moments. documentaries (which you promise yourself to watch some day), rap concert videos and foreign films.
That's where I'd like to make a little suggestion. We can learn from foreign films, and some of them are actually pretty entertaining. I think you can tell certain things about a country by the movies it produces. People in certain other countries, I think, may see themselves as less violent, more verbal, and more concerned with character than the average American (remember, this may be THEIR view).
It is true that you can't do other things while watching these movies from afar. You have to keep your eye on the subtitles unless you can remember Grandma Corleone's Italian. But I sometimes give these features a try, figuring that the bad stuff from overseas will never make it this far, and what does could be worth a look. I hasten to add that this theory doesn't always work, but hey, it's sure cheaper than spending 15 minutes watching "Hancock" before leaving the theater in disgust.
Some of the stories in these movies are terrific. Take your pick: A Japanese man decides out of nowhere that he wants to learn to dance - a thing so UN-Japanese that he feels he must do it in secret. A handful of Czech air force pilots are forced to walk away from their aircraft because of the NAZI takeover, but then find their way to England, where they join the pilot-starved RAF just as the Battle of Britain begins. An Italian adolescent secretly observes the problems of a local young war widow. A businessman takes a tremendous risk by planning to take a South American river boat OVER a mountain pass to a neighboring river. A German accordion player is so taken by a sample of American zydeco music that it changes his life. The captain and crew of a German U-Boat in World War Two struggle just to stay alive. And so on.
I must have watched movies from at least a dozen countries. Of course, not all of them are memorable, and I confess that a few made little or no sense at all. But if you're not afraid to see actors you don't know, in stories you haven't heard, speaking words you don't understand, showing life as seen in a different country, you could do a lot worse than to go ahead on this little suggestion, trying to see things as they do.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


There's a certain type of sports fan who not only wants to know who won and by how much, but also has to see a half page of statistics ("stats") to get a good idea ofwhy the game went the way it did. Naturally, each sport has different measures to fit this description.
Politics is somewhat similar. The only real measure of winning is, of course, getting more votes. But election analysts try to measure voting trends among different types of people in order to guess what went right or wrong in the campaign. Before the election, these stats come from polls. After Election Day, it's "exit poll data" - things people who have already voted are willing to tell you about why they voted the way they did.
We're getting those stats now from Obama vs. McCain. White males over 30 turns out to be the group strongest for McCain, at 57 to 41 percent. As one might guess, this group's overall importance has diminished over the years, and now represents just 28% of all voters.
And one might also guess (correctly) that Senator McCain didn't do as well among other voting groups. Voters UNDER 30, for instance, went for Obama by 66 to 32 percent, not a good sign for the GOP future, since no poll back to 1972 shows such a discrepancy between two major party candidates. Younger voters this time also tended to be more racially diverse and female than in previous elections. Of course, over time, young voters get older, which frequently means they become more conservative, but that has yet to happen. Obama, to no one's surprise carried the black vote by an enormous 19-to-1 margin, though it should be pointed out that other Democratic candidates in recent elections have done almost as well. Young Hispanics, perhaps due to GOP opposition to immigration reform, went almost 4-to-1 for Obama (two-to-one for all Hispanics), while Asian American voters went 3-to-2 in the same direction.
Democrats count on a heavy female majority, but that had dwindled some since Clinton (16%), down to 3% for Kerry. Obama got it back to 13%. And women now comprise 53% of all voters, another long-term challenge for Republicans.
I personally don't doubt that the Republican Party will yet have many good days. But I have to wonder if it once again will be on the backs of old white guys. That old hose may no longer beable to get the job done. The question of "Where do we go for more votes?" is the question being asked among the well-healed analysts out there. They know they've got to pay close attention to the stats.