Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things to Like About Obama

We had a near miss at Christmas. You've all read about the Nigerian with the smuggled explosives trying to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit. The credit for foiling the plan goes to passengers who got the guy under control before things went boom.
Evidently, some breaks in the intelligence chain allowed the guy to get on the plane despite his being known as a potential terrorist. The question I think we're left with is: given the fact that no one was hurt, and that the plotter is in custody, does this incident go down as a success or a failure? If it's someone else's job to keep us safe before anything blows up, then you could hardly say they succeeded. On the other hand, there were something like 25 plots to kill Hitler, some of which failed just by bad luck, but all of them were spun as successes by NAZI propaganda guys.
I'm not sure what to think here, but I have to think that ONE plot will succeed in killing people if enough plans are put into operation. Does that mean I'm prepared to be sad all over again? No, but it's a big country, and it's impossible to have perfect freedom AND perfect safety.

Now, it's been eleven months since Barack Obama took office. That's not long enough, despite what Right-wing radio might claim, to judge someone as a success or failure in the job. The consequences of a given action often take a long time to play out across the world. But I CAN say that there are several things about Mr. Obama that could/should merit a little praise.
1. He dresses well. He looks good in a suit and manages, within that small range, to avoid looking like a walking cliche.
2. He's good at giving speeches. Some of them have actually made a difference, or at least been remembered for more than a day or two. Speaking casually is a tougher job for any president, mainly because the wrong choice of phrase or term can put whole markets into a tailspin.
3. It's easy to like the First Family's other members. Like Laura Bush, Michelle Obama is a little out of the line of political fire, and most Americans look for reasons to like her instead of combing each utterance looking for things to hate.
4. He's a worker. He's getting around the world while not neglecting the Home agenda. Keeping those two in balance is kind of tricky. People, for instance, used to accuse Nixon of knowing more about Chile than Chicago.
5. He knows big issues shouldn't be handled on the fly. I have expressed doubts about the Afghan decision, but I sure can't say they didn't look at all sides before finally deciding.
6. He lets others do the most partisan operating while appearing to be above the wrangling. You want to stay off that slippery slope and let others point out the other side's goofs and hypocritical stances. Lots of silly accusations, which I refer to as "popgun attacks" just don't deserve responses. At any rate, they'll never stop, regardless of how they're dealt with.
7. He didn't fall for the argument that said EVERYTHING Bush did was bad, and so we must always do the OPPOSITE. It's appealing, but too simple.
8. He hasn't taken premature credit for things that don't yet show real evidence of success. No "Mission Accomplished" banner.
9. He's been able to use the talents of people who might not be natural allies: The Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and some others.
10. Just by being president, he gives hope to minorities and people whose lives have featured too much bad luck, that things can be better.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Two Sides of Christmas

Either from boredom or just to create one more headline, the folks at the Associated Press hold a little (under 200 votes) election every year to name the Male and Female Athletes of the Year. There's no big cup or a load 'o cash involved. Maybe they get one of those fancy fountain pens, but I'm not sure.
This year the award went to Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR champ the last four years running. He edged out tennis king Roger Federer and World's Fastest Human Usain Bolt.
This brings up the question: Are NASCAR drivers really athletes? I mean, more than the average teen capable of three hours straight in front of the latest video game? I have my doubts, which are based on the following premise: You could take a pro tennis player and turn him into a competent driver in MUCH less time than it would take to peel off all the advertising from a stock car driver's ensemble and proceed to make him a tennis player. And, yes, I'm including the time it would take for the tennis player to learn to speak "American Southern", a NASCAR must..

I don't think I'm breaking new ground by noting that Christmas has two sides. There's the religious side, and, for lack of a better term, the celebratory side. Economically, it's no contest. The sale of Christmas presents overtook religious observances in their importance to the GDP long ago. Entire boards of directors have to rouse themselves from drowsily presiding over giant corporations and actually pay attention to sales figures during November and December to see if there will be any problem with the annual bonus plans or whether collateral commercial damages make more layoffs necessary.
I never worked at a business that depended much on Christmas, but I suppose if it wasn't this season that's so crucial, it would be another one. After all, was it the retailers that made things the way they are? OK, maybe it was, but no one's forced to show up at "doorbuster sales" at 4 A.M., right? And just because someone says that handguns and ammo make great stocking stuffers, that doesn't make it a fact, right? Not to mention that we don't have to listen when someone comes up with yet another lame parody of "The Night Before Christmas" aimed at unloading stuff bought in error, do we?
The religious side of the season is fine, though sometimes there's a creeping use of religion for commercial purposes, like Glen Beck's tearjerker creation ""The Christmas Sweater" and a thousand other things that can't be prohibited. At church, the speakers (non of them paid) make an effort to be original, but that's a tough assignment. Perhaps we should just get our religious side moving by attending a performance of "The Messiah", then just doing something humble but useful for someone else, perhaps for someone a little removed from the list of the usual list of suspects.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Best & Worst of the Oughts

In the Department of Major Oops we notice this week that the Republican Party was slightly off in previous statements that Bush administration White House e-mails were all accounted for - except for those "lost" into cyberspace. A dedicated search just turned up another 22 million of the little missives, though we won't know their contents for some time yet.

When there's no real news, or when the news is so complex that it only serves to wrinkle our brows, we turn to lists of the "best & worst". If the year ends in a "9" the lists get the designation "of the decade" even though the decade really doesn't end until the end of the year ending in "0".
That being said, there are a thousand categories I either have no useful knowledge of or little interest in. Some categories are really so subjective ("best movie theme", "best concept album") as to be pretty useless. So, no cell phone winner, no nominee for best action movie, new robot, or techno-rock group.
In no order at all, the decade's best/worst:
best tennis player (male) - Roger Federer. Nobody wins EVERY time out, but The Fed competing in big tournament finals all over the world is almost as predictable as the tides. He's also a nice guy, though not perfect.
best baseball player - Albert Pujols. You know it's going well when he's the UNANIMOUS league MVP. What's amazing is that he seems to deserve it EVERY year.
worst Supreme Court decision - Bush v. Gore. This decision was so convoluted that the Court specified that the ruling NOT be used to determine future cases. The practical results of the ruling were also, IMHO, bad for mankind.
worst Supreme Court nominee - Harriet Miers, whose office just happened to be down the hall from Bush's. He couldn't even get the GOP bigshots on board for this one. She was quickly replaced by corporate soldier Alito.
worst corporate acquisition - Time Warner's purchase of AOL. By the time the two were dissolved, 90% of the latter's value had gone poof.
worst new valueless security - If your broker ever mentions the term "unlisted credit default swaps", start running, not walking, toward the exits, and don't wait for a definition.
best idea for new homes - "Green design".
Proof that some things are unknowable - the BCS system for determining the top college football team. All you can depend on are complaints about the system.
Smartest guys on the Street - Goldman Sachs, which just keeps landing on its feet even when its competitors are going down the toilet into financial history.
worst civil servant (appointed) - Alberto Gonzales, who seemed to think that Attorney General was something the Bushes had invented for him to be able to serve the Family.
worst civil servant (elected) - His Malevolence, Vice President Dick Cheney.
worst presidential campaign - Take your pick of Gore, Kerry or Clinton ('08).
best-run presidential campaign - Obama '08.
most pretentious claim (political) - GWB's "God wants me to be president."
worst new TV screamer - FOX's Glenn Beck, unfortunately a co-religionist. worst presidential decision - The invasion of Iraq. Let's hope the recently announced Afghan escalation doesn't make the same list.
best tennis player (female) - She's no angel, but it's still Serena Williams.
Christmas miracle (09) - Family friends Holly and Diego have twins after years of trying. The difference in size between the babies is so great that if holding both, you need to switch sides every few minutes to avoid having to see a chiropractor.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On a Role

This week's Ironic Corner notes that at Liberty University of Lynchburg, VA, a creation of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, conducting an on-campus protest of any kind without administration permission is forbidden.

In the Hope Springs Eternal department, I see that Rush Limbaugh is headed to the marriage alter for the fourth time. Since the bride-to-be is just over half his age, it's evident that either he's still a handsome dude, or perhaps she just goes crazy for guys with a nine figure net worth. It's unknown how many attorneys will be in the official wedding party.

And the Quote of the Week goes to local attorney and National Guard veteran Allan Dollison, who notes in regard to Afghanistan "It's very, very hard to teach people that they're going to have to kill their own people". In fairness to Dollison, he was actually trying to make the point that peaceful means seem to make more friends than violence.

I hesitated when asked a couple of weeks ago to take on the role of St. Nicholas at the congregation's Christmas dinner and party. The last two years, they had tried to portray Santa as a kind of scold, disappointed in the greediness of just about everyone. It's not that that message is so awful - I just didn't think Santa, a fun-loving guy if there ever was one, should be the one delivering the rebuke. Oh, no, I was told. You won't be Santa, but St. Nicholas, and you'll have a costume of your own and the freedom to say whatever you like in about five minutes. I agreed.
I have noticed over the years that every little job, no matter how simple it appears, can be fouled up, most of them in many ways. I didn't want to foul this up because some little children might go away thinking the wrong thing, for the wrong reason. I had some plans on how to pull it off, sure. But that didn't keep me from being nervous.
Luckily. I had help. The local costume shop put together an outfit that didn't look like Santa's at all. St. Nick came off as more of a 19th century party host/big game hunter type.I had a guy help me with a mobile microphone, and he had help getting the big guy heard, but not scary/loud to the littlest tykes. The beard and hair the costume folks came up with were terrific. actually came together pretty well. I didn't have to shout at the 150 or so people there, didn't have to take kids on my knee one by one, and was gone after a few minutes, reading Luke 2 in just a bit more of a story telling mode than you usually get at church. I don't think any of the little moppets were scared, and while no one give out any tips, several people were kind about the whole thing the following day in our regular meetings. I'm left to wonder if I could find a way to work in a tennis racket next year, ya think?