Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The General

Our crack Rumor Debunking Department went to work to get to the bottom of the story that said that the speakers at last week's CPAC gathering (the big Conservative convention held in Washington) all got together and exchanged speeches after drawing names out of a hat, and then GAVE them just to see if anyone would notice. No, says our staff. No truth to the rumor. Now, as to the rumor that all the speeches were written by the same GUY, we're still, ah, working on that one.

No one would be blamed for seeing that Al Haig had passed away, and wondering, "Al Haig? Hmm. Was he once the vice president or was he the guy who invented the Frisbee?" There was at least one VP named Al (Gore), and the Frisbee inventor did also pass away last week, but Mr. Haig was a man who took on several governmental roles, mostly in service to Republican administrations.
By training, he was a military officer. But that's a title that may not actually fully describe one's duties. After all, Eisenhower first became known in that capacity, and George Marshall (Remember the postwar Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe?) was also the kind of military man with talent to spare for the civilian side.
Haig's specialty was getting people to agree on things while making them think THEY deserved all the credit. That's what your job is when you help run NATO, which he did, or when you're Secretary of State, which he also was. It was Nixon who spotted Haig's abilities and made use of them, making his name much better known in the process.
In fact, the Nixon years were the real zenith of Haig's career. He came to the Nixon Administration as Chief of Staff, replacing the highly partisan Bob Haldeman. Since he was not in the line of possible Watergate crooks, he was a little freer to work with all the parties involved, which was itself pretty complicated.
Imagine seeing, sometime before your peers in government, that it would be best for the country for your boss to resign, and to get him to do so, while thinking it was HIS (Nixon's) decision. Haig, by the way, had to take on, because no one else would, some of the decision making powers of the president, whose mental state suffered as his inner defense mechanisms kicked into gear and his circle of trusted allies shrank to a handful of confidants. Haig also had the job of assuring Gerald Ford, the VP who hadn't been elected at all, and who had been ratified as the disgraced Agnew's replacement less than a year before, that the option of a presidential pardon was open, but was NOT! a price for the resignation itself. The nation, without knowing it, owes Haig its thanks for bringing these events into place, all without a shot being fired or even so much as a violent threat being made.
All this was, in fact, so subtle that when Haig himself decided to run for president in 1988, he was unable to state his greatest qualification for the job - that he had been closer to being president than any of his competitors. Since it had been 14 years since Haig's feat of ending the long Nixonian nightmare, everyone had already forgotten, and George "I was out of the loop!" Bush became the nominee.
Is there any lesson to this? I think it's this: The nation is more divided along partisan lines today than in the early 1970's, and members of the administration (yes, both parties) seem more attached to their bosses than to the nation's overall well being. Haig gave us the best of the other kind, handling things in the best way possible for the long term, even though it meant that his party had to suffer in the short term. Thank you, General.

Monday, February 15, 2010

V-Day? P-Day?

Have Valentines Day and Presidents Day ever been consecutive before? I suppose they have, but I guess just to ask the question means it isn't too important.

Marking the former, the Old Guy quartet (not our actual name) regrouped again to provide singing valentines all over town to raise scholarship funds. I'm still the tenor. Our leader, Mac, who recently turned 80 years old, is such a nice guy that he had us sing for a teenage girl at the local high school in the MIDDLE of biology class even though her boyfriend had no money. Yes, we're still wearing the garish embroidered vests with pink shirts. I'm not sure how much we took in, but we must have made a dozen or more stops in just a day.

In honor of the latter, have you heard about the mysterious billboard in Minnesota with G. W. Bush's picture and the question "Do you miss me yet?" Speaking only for myself, I do miss some of the funny things the Bush Administration used to do in the cause of neo-conservatism, but Bush and (even more) Cheney are well down the list of things I want back. Cheney especially seems to refuse to stop defending his boss's eight-year cascade of bad decisions. I want my country's VP to be smiling and shaking hands at the Olympic Games, not secretly plotting against real AND pretend enemies - the ones with a (D) attached to their Congressional I.D. What was it Republicans used to say with such glee- "Elections have consequences"? This means you, Dick. Go away.

From the Department of: Meet the New Boss - Same as the Old Boss: I noticed a headline in the paper last week. It went something like "Iranians Mark Revolution Anniversary by Cracking Down on Protests". Well, they never said they were actually replacing the Shah with anything like democracy, but perhaps someone should mention that merely pretending that everyone agrees with the government heavies doesn't mean they actually do - or that they should.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must be a strange place in which to live. The color red and things that are heart-shaped are legal there - most of the time. They are not legal during the days preceding Valentines Day, which is thought to be another corrupt Western idea aimed at ruining the flower of Saudi youth. The royal bigshots back this up by permitting quasi-official religious thugs to rough up merchants who ignore this little edict. It's a bit like this country would be if Phyllis Schlafly had been elected President For Life. And hooking up with the Saudis seems like having a group of short-tempered, knob-headed, blaster-wielding Klingons as your best pals. Not much fun.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Counterculture Comeback

Whew! In the last month or so, we've had two sizable earthquakes, over 10 inches of rain and some high winds as well. The upside? Nothing to shovel and perhaps a little attendance uptick at church. We get the message, Lord!

From the Go Figure Dept: Answering questions after giving a speech in which she criticized President Obama for using a TelePrompter, Sarah Palin consulted notes written on her hands. One of the notes was scratched out.

None of our eleven grandchildren is old enough to be a football fan, but the word came back that a couple of them really thought the Superbowl halftime show with The Who was pretty cool.
That got me to thinking. The Superbowl itself and The Who both got started in the mid-to-late 1960's. At the time, they would have represented opposite ends of the entertainment industry spectrum. The NFL's real product, crypto-violence, was presented with the idea that Americans do this better than anyone else. The NFL itself wasn't new, but it was finally out of the shadow of the immensely popular college game. Almost 50 years later, that's still the case, with the League having long proved itself as the best-run, most profitable pro sports confederation on the planet. Are they "The Establishment"? Absolutely.
The Who was just another rock band, but made it a point to show themselves as long-haired rebels willing to do about anything to shock people. They destroyed their instruments on stage and pointed their skinny British fingers at everything older than they were to scream their ascendancy, with the intent of "taking over". By comparison, the Rolling Stones seemed to just want to re-enthrone one of rock music's roots, rhythm and blues, while the Beatles freely borrowed from a wide variety of musical forms. The face they showed the public was usually smiling in an effort to keep their fans' parents from becoming any more hostile than necessary.
Do you see where I'm headed here? The chances of the NFL and The Who combining to put on a show of any kind in those days would have been no more likely than J. Edgar Hoover hosting the leaders of the Black Panthers for barbecue at FBI headquarters.
But time changes things. The Counterculture can become mainstream. Things that were considered "edgy" get to be commonplace. Rappers turn up as character actors on TV dramas, Wall Street sharpies pay big money to hear Sarah Palin speak and once-scary music by The Doors gets played on the radio alongside "It's My Party (and I'll Cry if I Want to)" without a second thought.
I don't know how the NFL and The Who, with band members now the age of NFL owners themselves, decided they now had mutual interests, but I suppose someone deserves credit and will therefore never be hungry again. It goes to show that we can't know the tastes and culture of the future, try as we might to get ahead of the curve. That's how it goes when you're talking 'bout my g-g-generation.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Mixed Company

It's that time again - the time we pretend to be football experts and pick the winner of the Super (yawn) Bowl. This year it's the Indianapolis Colts, who, in the distant past, played in Baltimore. Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, has more TV face time than Joe Biden, and that's just in Manning's commercials! Anyway, his team is a well-oiled machine so focused on the Super Bowl that it tossed away the chance to go through the regular season unbeaten by giving their regulars more rest. They're ready.
This year's opposition is the New Orleans Saints, a franchise which goes back forty years or so, but has an even more lackluster history than last year's runner-up Phoenix Cardinals. The Saints, who were once so bad that fans took to putting paper bags over their faces to hide their identities, finally have had a great year, and should provide adequate enough competition to keep folks watching those pricey commercials. Please wake me when it's over.

When we moved here, I wasn't sure what kind of schedule I'd have, but I knew I wanted to meet tennis players and - play. I did that more quickly than I would have thought, and have written about it in this space.
One thing we lacked through most of this time was women players. But that has changed. We now number Vicki as one of our regulars, which means she even shows up early to help dry up the courts when needed.
Vicki's experience with us is not her first in tennis. She already had a serviceable baseline game. But something in her must have clicked a few months ago, when she started showing up every day with an attitude that allowed her to learn the complexities of doubles as played locally while sharing with us guys some the details of her life.
She's in her forties, the divorced mom of two teenage daughters and the owner of a tiny sushi restaurant which has a name that means "lunch box". She's as tall as most of us, but doesn't hit a hard serve. Her daily efforts are paying off in terms of dealing with that old female tennis bugaboo, playing at the net. And she now has two of the same racquet, a dead giveaway that she's serious about her game.
Things on our local courts aren't just different. They're better. Vicki contributes in ways that men just don't consider. She brought cupcakes once, and another time she gave me a pair of purple shoestrings, really just because she likes the color. And she has all the inside dope on the local high school girls basketball team, for whom she keeps the statistics. She'll even "sit out" awhile to allow guys on their lunch breaks to play more. And I think the cursing is down a little.
The statistic we are all after, of course, is more "W"s. But unless your team is in the Super Bowl, winning isn't everything. So it is with tennis. Mixed company means an improvement.