Monday, October 26, 2009

The Daily Rag

I hear quite a bit these days about how newspapers are on the skids, and that they'll soon disappear altogether, replaced by superior methods of delivering the news.
Maybe it's showing my age to say so, but I think that would be a sad day. Yes, there are plenty of ways to get news, and plenty of ways to express your opinions besides an old-fashioned letter to the editor, no question.
I think that misses the point. To me, the value of a paper is in the things it includes that you're not looking for before you discover them. Just yesterday I saw a notice of a chiropractor I know who's joining the staff of an office located in a town a few miles south of ours. I had no idea.
Our local paper is really nothing special. But having said that, there's really a wealth of things there if you just know where to look. Who would have thought, for instance, that you can learn in the paper how to give CPR to your dog. Laying aside the question of whether you'd want to help Spot in his hour of need, there's even a picture included to show you how to go about it, from which I'm still a bit woozy.
The same issue of the daily rag showed what a 115 lb. halibut looks like between two smiling fishermen who won't go hungry for a long time. But the picture that impressed me most was of a 70 ft. blue whale which had not survived a run-in with a small ship used by a government agency precisely to keep track of these creatures. The whale had washed up on a beach, and the picture showed two men climbing on its remains. Sure, we've seen whales before, but usually not in proximity with things we already know the size of. In this case, the relationship of the two men to the carcass was about the same as that of cockroaches to an adolescent boy. I was amazed.
And there were even more amazing things in the sports section. One local football team thrashed another by the score of 72-o. The losing school proved the following week that the trouncing was no fluke, losing again, this time by 48-0. But the same school's girls soccer team handed out a pounding of its own, winning by 14-0. No wonder teenagers run the risk of mental instability. What if you were parents of student athletes on both teams? How would you deal with that? And what internet source would inform you that one football team's chief touchdown scorers are named Mohorovich and Vainuku, both no doubt strapping American youth?
Computers are fine, I guess. But I hope we never lose the daily paper with all the great detail it gives us of life we can get nowhere else. If I'm showing my age, well, I probably do that every week anyway. Who's got the comics?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good Luck, Your Majesty

For some reason I always wanted the chance to use the phrase "For those of you scoring at home..." It's a baseball reference that a radio play-by-play guy like the Dodgers' Vin Scully might use for the part of his vast audience using a pencil form to "score" the game. The phrase would be followed by a numerical description of a complex play recording just who had handled the ball.
So, for those of you scoring at home, Mona's E-room bill for the kidney stone was given at around $3500, approved by the insurance company at $2500, which then paid $500, leaving the rest (the deductible part) to be paid by her medical savings account. Do you get the idea? It takes a pretty big bill to generate a claim that's more than one or two month's premium.

Do you know anything about Uganda? My own knowledge is tiny, but I find it increasing as I read the story of Charles Wesley Mumbere, the expatriot Ugandan who until recently was a nurse's aid in Harrisburg, PA. His new job carries a bit more heft. He's the king.
All right, he isn't king of the entire country, and his duties are supposed to exclude political matters, but it's still quite a change. His part of the country (if it could be said to be "his") includes about 300,000 people in the mountainous region of Rwenzururu ("Mountains of the Moon"). There are no hospitals in the area. The "palace" is a single story whitewashed building, and the legislative council building which hosted the new king's induction, is made of, for lack of a better term, straw.
Mr. Murere's personal story is, as you could guess, pretty complicated, but the most interesting part to me is that though he never forgot or renounced his birth country, he never tried to exploit his Ugandan status in this country. A former boss in Harrisburg described him as "very hard working, very loyal and very private." I can't describe how I got this impression, but a picture I saw of him wearing a suit made me think that he looked kindly and compassionate, about as far removed from the Idi Amin Ugandan dictator type as possible. He's now 56, having spent almost half his life in the U.S.
Gosh knows Uganda has its problems, but what would go through your mind if someone offered the job of king to you - the chance to give orders after more than two decades of taking them in a useful but humble job? I think it might take a good deal of self-discipline and inner humility to keep the trappings of royalty, yes, even in a poor country, from going to your head.
As I say, my knowledge of Uganda is tiny, but I'm glad this little item came out, the result of an interview with a newspaper in Harrisburg. Perhaps Mr. M. will be such a royal success that other countries will look to the people who toil in humble jobs as potential leaders. To Mr. Mombere, I simply say, "Good luck, Your Majesty."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Big Guy Comes Up Short of His "Dream"

It's 900 miles to Utah, some of it over and around mountains. But we went anyway to celebrate Mom's 95th birthday. The trip went well, and so did the celebrating. One of the trip's high points happened at a college volleyball match. Grandson Lance, age 5, took a look around the arena, which includes the names and logos of all the league competitors. He didn't think much of T.C.U.'s mascot, the Horned Frogs, which he misidentified as "Lizards". Well, they're both reptiles, so that's pretty close.

Have you been following the saga of Rush Limbaugh's quest to realize a lifelong dream to become an NFL owner? It's a story that shows the meeting of business, entertainment, politics and even race in today's society in such a way as we haven't seen since the first O.J. Simpson trial.
There isn't room to include all the details, and, to be sure, there is more than one version of what happened. But the story seems to begin with Dave Checketts, a sports executive who has had his hand in many enterprises with mixed results. Checketts approached Limbaugh as a potential minority member of a group that would buy the struggling St. Louis Rams.
But buying an NFL franchise isn't like laying out money for a pair of socks. The other owners have to approve the sale, and there's the sticking point. These aren't dumb guys by any stretch. They know Limbaugh as someone who lost a little gig on ESPN by introducing race into a discussion of NFL quarterbacks. He is fond of using the term "race hustler" on his radio tirades, which he applies without mercy to Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other non-whites with certain celebrity, particularly if they happen to be left of center politically. It goes without saying that Limbaugh's next compliment to President Obama will be his first.
It's not known for certain just when Limbaugh's name came up in Checketts' negotiations with the league, but when it became public, the roof caved in on the Big Guy. After all, over half of NFL players are African-Americans, and competing owners might not be thrilled with a colleague who blasts some debatable opinions to a radio audience in the millions every weekday. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, also no fool, told Checketts that Limbaugh would have to be dropped from the purchasing group.
Did Limbaugh try to turn bad news into a good story that showed his side of things while lambasting his cursed foes standing in the way of the fulfilling of his dreams? In a word - oh, yeah. Limbaugh's audience, the self-proclaimed "dittoheads" got a full fifteen minutes of outrage that included every Limbaugh nemesis mentioned above, including Obama, who had no input on the deal at all. El Rushbo claims that Checketts will have to fire him from the group, and blamed the "race hustlers" for the disappointment, as if they regularly gave orders to NFL owners.
OK, maybe it isn't hard for me to choke back tears for Limbaugh, but I, too, find an upside in this little drama. The dittoheads have something more interesting than tales of Limbaugh's golf outings (yawn) to listen to.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Football Nation

I really enjoy the Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, especially when the athletes march in smiling and waving. The TV network gives you an interesting item or two about the country, then it's off to the next one.
Some countries become known for excellence in certain sports. The Finnish ski jumpers, the Bulgarian weightlifters, the Dutch speed skaters, the Kenyan distance runners, the Jamaican sprinters, and the Italians, who not only have a darned fine soccer team, but look great in their outfits. And the list goes on.
A handful of countries are associated with sports that they don't even have Olympics competition. Japanese sumo wrestlers, cricket, strictly a Commonwealth item, or dog sledding, excluded because of the focus on, well, dogs, horses being the only animal that gets Olympic participation of any kind.
That gets us to the biggest exception of all - American football, a sport which soaks up so much resources in this country that it's a wonder we have money left over to devote to anything else.
Consider. Even football teams at the high school level take upwards of forty players or more, while the golf team can ride in a single vehicle. Large universities count on their football teams, not only to finance all the other non-revenue (which means "money-losing") teams, but to fuel the donations of the entire institution. Football requires assistant coaches by the dozen, medical staffs that could step into Iraq without missing a beat, and other support personnel (cheerleaders, groundskeepers, equipment managers and a marching band) enough to require a major general to keep track of it all. No wonder the football coach at state-owned colleges is often the best-paid person of all state employees, including the governor.
Do Americans get all this? Oh, yeah. They've got whole networks toiling to keep them informed of all the action - high school, college and the king of all pro sport leagues, the NFL. This behemoth collects billions for TV rights, branded products, and its own video productions before a single kickoff takes place. The constant swirl of information makes the average fan think his knowledge is superior, which in turn fuels a huge betting interest in games each week. The league doesn't collect from the bookies directly, but betting interest, like rooting interest, keeps those TV sets on long into Sunday evenings every fall. Even Major League Baseball bends over backwards to try to keep its games, even the World Series!, from competing on TV with the regular season NFL contests.
Is there a down side to all this? Sure. Injuries happen at a rate which makes one think of a huge pile of broken body parts. Spots are taken in college classes that might have gone to better academic candidates than the football players. Players sometimes suffer from a kind of extended childhood, in which their needs are supplied by people employed to keep the players happy. A certain cynicism becomes dominant in a world in which ignoring certain rules becomes the rule. But so far, we don't want to let go of something that seems so much more exciting than real life. We have become Football Nation.