Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cheney's 180

Homemade sign outside a local ESL classroom: "Practice reading, speak the most often you can." That's OK. It sounds a little like Yoda, but I get it, and have no doubt it's better than what the student could have done a year or two ago. Buena suerte, amigo.

Our town was famous for a minute or two this last weekend. A local young man, famous as a fire- breathing college linebacker went #38 in the annual NFL Player Draft. The young man himself wasn't thrilled. He had thought he was going to San Diego (in the first round, of course), but instead is bound for Cincinnati, which is the NFL equivalent of Mogadishu. Anyway, good luck to him, too.

I read an odd little item in the paper today. I knew things in Zimbabwe were pretty bad (as much as you can know from sitting here reading, anyway), but they are evidently even worse than I had thought. Whole herds of elephants, numbering in the hundreds, have crossed the river out of Zimbabwe into neighboring Zambia in their daily wandering for food. This isn't a laughing matter to the Zambians, because elephants are well-known big eaters, and can do plenty of damage to things just by ambling through. Let's hope these animals, whose only natural enemy seems to be Man, can find a way through this before the locals reach for the rifles. I'd like to speak for a pachederm myself: "He followed me home. Can I keep him? I promise to feed him every day. Can I? Can I?" I guess the whole thing gives new meaning to the phrase "voting with your feet."

On to our title subject. There's no getting around the fact that Dick Cheney is my least favorite former public servant. A particular trait he was known for in his White House stint, which even his friends, I believe, would have to admit, is his obsession with secrecy. Normally people couldn't even pry out of him the normal details of his office, which he thought of as some kind of White House neocon Bat Cave. Ask him a question and he would tell you exactly what he wanted to, and no more, assuming you got anything at all.
That's why his latest claim and request seems so disingenuous. On FOX News (where else?) he claimed that it wasn't fair to talk about torture without knowing the whole story. "Yeah, well maybe we roughed up a few of those terrorist towel heads" he said in so many words. "but we got so much from these gutless wonders just from squeezin' their cojones a little, you know, we saved lots of American lives in the process. All that needs to be in the record, not just the so-called 'torture' part. Anyway, we hired lawyers to tell us it was OK, and they did."
Wait. If Cheney had information that was supportive of the un-torture they were conducting, why didn't he leak it in order to get McCain elected and improve his own (under two bits) popularity numbers? He asks for disclosure NOW in a classic 180 degree flip flop. when he could have disclosed for years, but didn't. Has he any proof, other than his own oft proven wrong say-so, that such information even exists? Most military familiar with the practice say it is unlikely to produce credible information. How does Cheney know better?
How indeed? The more I think about our former VEEP, the creepier he seems. I think we may have dodged a bullet while he was in office. Did you know he claims to have personal moles keeping him in the information loop even today? I hope the next time I see him he's being played by someone else in a movie. I'm pretty sure his character won't be the good guy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One Question

This is a bonus blog. It contains both a story and a bit of a mystery. The clues are scattered through the story, and the question is: What occasion or event is being described? If your life is full of stress, just skip the whole thing and wait for next week's regular blog.

In the last year or so, my name has become known as a possible candidate to fill tennis foursomes at our "sad sack" tennis club. This week I turned out to be the "go-to" guy for the oldest foursome of all, with the other three all over EIGHTY years old. As the junior guy in the group I was paired with the oldest fellow, who's a competitive old buzzard, though he can't cover much ground anymore. The results? Ah, forgettable.
The upside is that they invite me to lunch. The conversation is friendly, and Pete, whose eastern accent gives him away as "not bein' from around here" starts to talk about having the choice of two teams to go see during his growing up years, in a city which has just opened a brand new and expensive ballpark. I ask which players he had seen in those long gone days and he replies with the names of several Hall of Fame members.
This is very impressive to me, though Pete seems pretty nonchalant. Then he mentions that he was there on a certain day known by people throughout the world. The scene was reconstructed in a movie, one which has brought tears to the eyes of millions. Perhaps the most famous player of all was present, but was not the center of attention.
Here are two other clues: this took place on a holiday, just weeks before the outbreak of war. OK, here are the questions: (I know the title says "One Question", but why limit the fun?) Who are we talking about here? What was the occasion? The date and place? And, for the true hardcore, what was the movie? First prize is a free lifetime subscription to this blog. That's MY lifetime, just so everyone understands. I will probably publicize the winners, if there are any. The answers will be forthcoming around May Day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I've been reluctant, and still am, to comment much on the Obama administration. The main reason for this is simple - how can you tell the effectiveness of a policy just days or weeks after it was put in place? I think that's just silly. What I can say is that the president is doing his best to undo some of his predecessor's less-attractive tendencies, particularly on the international side. No doubt some of what he's doing will turn out to be wrong, but we are a long way from being able to sift the wheat from the tares. Americans right now have to be something they are not good at - patient.
What's more interesting to me is how the minority Republican Party is reacting to the new guy, and what it says about them. I have to say that right now, though these things can change in a hurry and in ways no one can predict, the GOP has - "nothin' ".
NO leaders to speak of. The House has John Boehner (did I spell that right?), who sees his job as leader of the House GOP as a daily procession to the nearest microphones to which he can say, in so many words - "No. We can't support that." Even if you beg for alternatives, you won't get much. The Party's strength is now people with less education - folks from the South and West who take their talking points straight off the radio. And on radio, big plans about new policies and new directions take a back seat to the kind of stuff you could call "guess what he did today". If GOP Senate leader Mike McConnell were to walk down the center stripe in the middle of town all he could draw would be honks to get out of the way.
The same applies to possible candidates. Last I heard of Mitt Romney he was raising funds for a three-term GOP Senate dinosaur (Bennett), trying to promote him as a "revolutionary". Pathetic. Newt Gingrich gets his mug on FOX News pretty often, but the last time all he could do was cluck cluck about Obama shaking hands (SHAKING HANDS!) with Hugo Chavez. I have read that Bobby Jindahl is a very smart guy, but who can tell me what his job is now, or where he's from? Anybody?......?
Did you catch last week's Tea Party thing? Holding several hundred of these little affairs might be impressive, until you find out that it was FOX News that got it all going. The Republican loonies were in attendance, but how do you protest high taxes when your take-home pay just went UP, even if not by much, due to a tax CUT? Our local Party drew decently in a pretty liberal enclave, but it had no official host, only impromptu speakers (which is to say, old guys) and no unifying message at all. The realization that they were demonstrating on behalf of the nation's best paid people, who face the ugly prospect of a 2% tax hike (at a rate far lower than the top marginal rates of Eisenhower, Nixon or Reagan) just doesn't seem to get through. The same could be said for the notion that the interests of those at the TOP of the financial food chain may not be the same as the rest of us. And why would it? That item seldom gets much play on the radio.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tickets, Please

It is usually true that the old saying holds up - you DO "get what you pay for". Some events (we're talking sports now, folks) command dramatically high prices, but don't always deliver. Big boxing matches come to mind. Thousand dollar ducats can turn into trash with a first round knockout. Plenty of Super Bowls were yawners, but there has never been a refund given.
But the opposite is also true. Some things may be worth MORE than we paid for. I know this, having seen some of the most exciting womens softball just last weekend for the cost of $3! Admittedly everyone has their own view of these things, but I'm willing to list here some events I may never see first hand, but would LIKE to:

The Drake Relays - This takes place in Des Moines every year in April. Weather condition can be good or terrible, but where else can you see junior high girl runners followed by world
class hurdlers and sprinters? They love it there, and I kick myself for never having gone.

Sumo wrestling - Sure, go ahead and laugh. Those fat guys who wear diapers and roll
around in the dirt? Absolutely. What a great chance to learn about Japan, and to watch
very specialized athletes disguised in layers of fat. I'd even put up with the smoking and
betting if someone were to help me understand it all.

Bull fighting - About all I know about this is that the bulls always lose, and that Hemingway
wrote about it. Even HE admitted it's not for everyone. But wouldn't it be worth it just
once to see what it's all about? And just so you know, this one exception doesn't mean I
would have any interest in blood sports involving other animals. Fighting cocks? Dogs?

Rodeo - Sure, we've all seen a little of this stuff. It's a huge mismatch of middle-sized
cowboy/athletes vs. BIG animals. If anything, it's become a little TOO mainstream,
including commentary on the animals. Still, you have to respect those guys, who never
seem to have too much to say. Maybe that's because they're in constant pain.

Acrobats - These guys are like gymnasts on a dare. They put themselves in jeopardy
doing tricks that defy gravity and require more strength per pound than what humans are
usually capable of. They've got to train long and hard, and the Chinese ones are probably
just trying to get a gig in Vegas rather than spend their lives making things that end up for
sale at Wal-Mart.

Maybe not what you were thinking off the regular TV events? That's part of the idea. Why travel the country to watch Tiger Woods play when you can see him (although he's no longer on the GM payroll selling Buicks) every week on TV when he's healthy? Let's go see someone so obscure that he's willing to risk - REALLY risk it all - to succeed.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Highlights From the World of Sports

Like most sports fans, I was watching the Final Four getting played out over the weekend. Familiar schools, familiar coaches, the usual huge arena, but also some new faces. Did you catch the name of the big man for UConn (that's the University of Connecticut for you athletically unhip)? Meet Mr. Hazeem Thebeet, not your typical New Englander. No doubt I'm not the first to think of this, but if Mr. T. ever graduates or leaves the campus in order to take his game to, as they say, "the next level", someone is sure to write a headline reading "Thebeet Goes On". Sorry.

And speaking of basketball, did you see any of the footage that came from the Obama family's visit to the Queen last week? Nothing against Her Majesty, who never forgets her role in these things, but did you see her attempt to stand next to Michelle Obama? It made me wish someone would feed Michelle the post pass. She could have turned and dunked on the Queen, hat and all since she has about a foot on the diminutive monarch.

The northernmost city in California is a place called Crescent City. Up until lately it has been famous for only one thing - a tsunami that rolled through in 1964. You'd need a spuercomputer to know how it happened, but Crescent City, under 10,000 people, now has a person on the verge of fame. He's Roger McCovey, a high school heavyweight wrestler. It's amazing enough that he's a two-time state champion. He has also placed high in two national tournaments. All this in spite of his giving up 30 lb. or more in all his matches to guys who can weigh up to around 285 lb. Oh, the kid is muscular, all right, but he's more like 220 or so. He's obliged to be quicker and have superior technique to stay on top of opponents, who usually end up counting the overhead lights as he pins them. I tried wrestling as a teenager and can testify that per minute it's the most grueling af any sport not involving punching or climbing mountains. Good luck to young Mr. McCovey. He is a certified winner.

And speaking of certification, I decided to do something this year that I never have before. I'm keeping track, for no justifiable reason, of my tennis results. I don't know which was more surprising - that I played 33 sets in March, a month with plenty of rain and unpredictable wind, OR that 23 of those sets ended with a "W'. Maybe it doesn't say much for my opponents - guys who are losing to a corpulant grandpa who's now past 60. I guess it means they're certified losers.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Up There and Down There

Back last summer during the NBC broadcasts from the Beijing Olympic Games, they sometimes took time off from sports to try to give viewers a little insight on the host country. That's not easy because China is so vast and complex, but a few of the little visits to the outlying areas were, I thought, interesting.

One of these spots was about the panda bear farm, where dedicated employees worked to increase production of a rare Chinese export to the rest of the world - pandas themselves. I don't recall when this little enterprise was started, but no doubt early on someone concluded that the production of little pandas depended in large part on at least one male willing to frequently share his, ah, affections with the females.

Once they settled on the identity of this lucky father, it was up to everyone to treat the big boar like some kind of rock star. Nothing but the best for Big Daddy (not his real name of course). Special diet, lots of attention from the staff, and a personal intern assigned to keep repeating to him over and over the words "You da man!"

Has it worked? Well, they've had a setback or two, notably a tragic earthquake a couple of years ago, but the spot contained one shot of a dozen or so employees sitting in a row with two impossibly cute panda cubs each on their laps. The Big Guy is doing his part.

Now, on a completely unrelated matter, I had a dream the other nioght. This one featured the difference in post-mortality conditions between two places we coulf refer to as "Up There" and "Down There". If it's possible for a dream to be a "wake-up call" then this was it. I'm a changed dude even if the cause of the dream was from an overuse of barbeque sauce.
Up There it's partly cloudy, with temps in the sixties and seventies unless you plan to go swimming, when it goes to about eighty five. Winds are always light, the grass is green and growing, but lawnmowers make no noise. Down There it's just below forty on a good day. Blustery winds and a lack of sunlight mean that the piles of grungy, dirt-covered snow shoveled from parking lots never seem to disappear.
Up There the people are friendly and fun to be around. You meet ex-professors who have learned to not take themselves too seriously, along with musicians, painters, sculptors, and the occaisional former famous person willing to tell you the real truth about anything they had been involved in of a productive, society-aiding nature. Down There, you are matched with people unlike yourself: self-centered teenagers, chainsmoking bullying bosses, former TV evangelists who demand better treatment (but, of course, don't get it), and math geniuses who swear they can forecast the stock market and insist on showing you their formulae, which seem to be gibberish.
Up There the meals are satisfying without requiring long elaborate recipes, and international dishes are plentiful. Down There, you have to eat what you have hunted or fished for, and cooking involves lots of unsolicited advice from extended family members from the Old Country.
Up There a tennis court is available whenever you need one, and the racquets and strings are perfect. People move around the court with ease since they have no more physical problems, and they are generous in giving you the benefit on line calls. Down There, you can play once a year based on a performance review, and your foursome includes spin shot artists, lobbers and blatant cheaters. Your court is pockmarked cement, and your raquet is made of wood with a tiny sweet spot. You play under bleak skies in the gusty wind and struggle just to work up a sweat.
Up There there are plenty of interesting channels, all in high def and stereo sound. Vin Scully and Harry Cary do all the baseball games, and Red Barber does color commentary. It goes without saying that all talk radio is liberal, but without being preachy. Down There, you only get one channel, which sometimes goes fuzzy without an explanation. Every day it's Spanish-speaking soap operas all day, NASCAR races with lots of commercials, thick southern accented commentary (shouted, of course, due to all the other noise) every night, followed by Saturday only programming from PBS, The Best of Rush and capped off with comedies about smart, thin women who turn their idiotic, fat husbands into sobbing hulks of goo with just a word. The children all agree with the moms. Dad is a loser.
I awoke from this dream in a cold sweat, finding my blankets tangled and my bare feet sticking out the bottom of the bed. Then I remembered and breathed a sigh of relief. It's April Fools Day.