Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The GOWGs Hang On

Before explaining today's odd title, it's worthwhile to ponder a pair of questions asked by four and five year-old grandchildren during our recent family gathering. I don't know if he's a future physicist, but one of the grandsons wanted to know "Why does ice cream melt?" The hard part there would be, I think, matching the answer to the level of the question. The other one still has me puzzled. "Why do rattlesnakes have rattles?"

Now, as to what a GOWG could be, let me first observe that they were a large part of my younger life. They dominated the schools, ran the towns and owned and operated factories while doing as little as possible to protect our air and water. They presided in the churches and coached all the teams, using phrases that were meant to inspire the players like "This, girls, is a football". As coaches they were all strictly "old school" because there was no other school at all.
The GOWG outlook on the world was simple - be suspicious of all others. The less those benighted folks looked and acted like "us", the less they could be trusted. Even our own leaders were suspected of being "too soft" or "too green" or "too anxious to appease". This way of thinking was constantly reflected in editorial cartoons in which other countries, especially the old Soviet Union and China, were seen as firebreathing menaces looming over a cowering Uncle Sam.
Have you figured it out yet? I'm surprised that I seem to be the only one who has thought up the term - "Grouchy Old White Guys".
The GOWG heyday is now past. Women, often better trained than the GOWGs, compete with men for jobs, and youth now get more than one way of coaching. Churches have learned that sneering at their younger members is a dangerous practice when membership trends downward. Businessmen, at least the smarter ones, understand that every kind of enterprise comes with its own set of government regulations, and that these rules, while adding to their expense, also keep the field (whatever it is) more free of cut-rate, fly-by-night operators.
But we'd be wrong to think that GOWGs don't hang on in our society. I was sure that my old school would gradually change from its strict reputation to become more intellectually open, but the place seems to have new strict rules every year, extending to things like unauthorized group singing! GOWGs and their successors are easy to find in Congress (yes, they are largely Republicans), and turn up on editorial pages every day. Bill O'Reilly, arguably the current King of the GOWGs, writes in today's paper. The cause? Defending Dick Cheney with the offhand (and factless) dismissal of a charge made aginst the former Veep by investigative reporter Sy Hersh. Cheney himself is so GOWG as to earn lifetime status, but then, you knew that without even knowing the term.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We Get Together

The local Cancer Society chapter found a great way to promote Cancer Awareness Month. There's going to be a drawing, with the winner to receive - are you ready? A free colonoscopy check!! Who says we don't have the world's greatest healthcare system? USA! USA!

We just concluded a big family gathering. The occasion? My, ah, birthday. One of those that ends in a zero. The household went in a heartbeat from two people to fifteen, with more at a nearby motel. Five of the eleven total grandchildren made it, none over the age of five. Consumption of all kinds spiked immediately. Garbage production quadrupled. Airplane tickets, full tanks of gas and various junk foods were all supplied. The gathering started last Thursday and ended today (Tuesday), with the departure of our oldest son & family. Twelve hours later, we're catching up on laundry and checking out the birthday CD's. We aren't sure if everyone left something behind or not, but we can vouch for the large carbon footprint of the whole affair.
Of course, stimulating the economy can be fun, and we had plenty of that. Geography keeps us from gathering more often from the nation's four major time zones, so we try to make up for months of phone and e-mail only contacts.
Here are the highlights, not all planned in advance: my regular partner and I took on our younger son and one of the sons in law in a game of no-mercy tennis doubles. Chalk up a "W" for the old guys. Maybe next time we'll be forced to compete in skateboarding or some other young guy duel. We gathered in a Chinese restaurant and offered praise and thanks for each other. A few gifts were opened, including one from the two-piece suit fairy. We cooked at the beach on the Pacific, not easy when rain is getting blown in by a stiff, cold wind. A decision that may change a family's future was made, and another one was announced.
But if I had to pick my favorite high point of the weekend, it was our chance to sing together to a congregation of 150 or so at church. This was especially nice because the family is no longer united in its beliefs, though we try not to let that get in the way of enjoying each other. We had practiced, and I was pretty sure that getting musical training at the same high school (youngest excepted) would pay off. We achieved four part harmony, not in a show off way, but in conveying a spiritual feeling to the congregation. They're almost all now friends of the wife and me, but unknown to the rest of us except for our youngest daughter. We overcame our winter coughs and were, if you can say this about something at church, a hit. No applause, but lots of compliments after the meeting. It was fun being gracious too, believe me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To Tell You the Truth....

There's hope out there for Republicans desperate to regain the White House. A well-known Republican has stated his possible candidacy for president in 2012 during this, the first two months of the Obama administration. He says it will be a decision which he will make with his current (third) wife. No, it isn't Rush Limbaugh, who couldn't afford the pay cut to president. It's Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker Limbaugh sometimes referred to as "Mr. Newt". He'll be 69 years old in 2012, three years younger than John McCain was in 2008. I can't wait for the fresh-faced crowds of young Americans to join in the chant, "Newt! Newt! Newt!"

During the past 10 days you may have heard fond memories expressed about the just-departed Paul Harvey, whose career in radio began shortly after the INVENTION of the radio. He was 90 when they finally tore the microphone out of his cold, dead hands. He always seemed to be a cheerful, smiling person, but, to tell you the truth, I didn't like his "character", a word I use because I realize that having someone in your home via media every day is NOT the same as actually knowing him.
And I admit, it's not in good taste to rip the dead when they're not around to defend themselves. But here are my gripes with the man: he changed his views over the years, but didn't admit it. He consciously chose one group of Americans (older people) over others and, since they didn't pay him, had almost no regard for the people of other countries. His mix of "news and commentary" left people unsure when one ended and the other began. His use of the term "Page two" was his own green light to go into commercial mode, something he did with great enthusiasm, but not backed by research other than "Angel and I LOVE it!" His radio personna, which I would summarize in the phrase "I know more about this than you, kid." helped open the door to the radio vampires who today prowl the conservative talk dungeons of the AM dial.
I saw him once. Waaayyy back in the late 60's he visited our campus, which was unlike other college campuses in that it was staunchly pro-war (Vietnam). Harvey was probably aware of this as he referred to the recent resignation of Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense. "What we need now is a Secretary of Offense!" was a line that generated a roar of approval. The standing ovation was almost automatic.
Yet a few years ago on radio he referred to an overnight coup in an African country. He managed to dehumanize the people there by claiming not to know how to pronounce the new dictator's name, then he begged that we (the US) stay out of the situation, as if only his words could swing the White House away from such a foolish decision. He may have actually come to think of himself as the spokesman (as if there weren't plenty already) for Americans over 70. Anyway, that's how I thought of him.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is It Spring Yet?

Well, maybe it isn't spring just yet. That doesn't mean there aren't interesting things all around us. For instance, last week I went to see a basketball doubleheader (women. then men) at the local State U. The womens game turned into a rout, which gave the bench players a chance to show their stuff to the hometown crowd. One of these was a freshman guard who wore one of those clear plastic hockey-style masks, presumably to protect a once-broken nose from getting busted again. I doubt she wears it off the court, but I couldn't help wondering - What if you went to pick up your date and she answered the door wearing this little device? Whoa, I'm thinking. Maybe not a good sign.

The Democrats aren't above trying a sneaky strategy as long as no one gets knifed in the process. Their latest is to informally pin the badge of "GOP Party Leader" on radio megabully Rush Limbaugh. It's just a psychological thing, of course, but you have to say that the Party is lacking a face for that role just now. I saw Limbaugh on network TV last night and was (what's the word?) repelled. No wonder the man makes his living on the radio. He must be pushing 300 lb. these days, and the open-collar shirt look was just short of disgusting. All he lacked was the trademark cigar the size of a cucumber which he often brandishes like a weapon. I admit - if I was a Democrat seeking office, I'd want Limbaugh's mug up there next to my opponent the way the Bush 41 campaign used Willie Horton's scary visage 20 years ago to beat Michael Dukakis.

Now some lighter stuff. A few weeks ago I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the founding of Motown Records. Stevie Wonder was just a kid at the time, so he wasn't in on the actual founding, but soon became one of the label's biggest names and remains a popular figure all over the world. He's accustomed to getting awards, but a few months back the Library of Congress decided to honor him with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Not your everyday "attaboy".
The White House somehow got in on the awarding, and that's how we learned some things about the new First Family. Michelle Obama talked about how her grandfather let her play Stevie records at home, and that the two of them listened as they played the records "over and over" with the volume turned up. The President said that he doubted that there would have been any relationship between the two of them if he had not already been a big Stevie fan. I liked reading that. It's nice to hear that the First Lady and I would like some of the same music. And it's nice to hear someone comfortable enough with themselves that they didn't feel compelled to tell some phony story about playing "God Bless America" or some cowboy song every day before breakfast. Hats off to the Obama family.