Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Aging Rookie

Movie quote of the week: Alan Alda as an attorney explaining how not all errors have the same consequences - "Some mistakes are like wearing white after Labor Day, but others are like invading Russia in the middle of the winter."

Which is less likely - That a kid your son knew in high school would one day be married to Demi Moore, or that a local quarterback would go on to the NFL, have a fine career, and then be named as a competitor on the wildly popular Dancing With the Stars? Since there's only one Ms. Moore, I guess that points us to the answer, but it's true that Ashton Kutcher (then known as "Chris") went to good old Washington High School in Cedar Rapids before he met her, and Kurt Warner once flung passes for the no longer existent Regis High School less than a mile away. Pretty exciting, no?

Most of the "things I plan to do in life" items that are on the list when you're past sixty will probably still be there when you shuffle off to the next life, but I now have a chance to scratch off "Read stories to school children" because of my inclusion in a group that does just that. We haven't performed any gigs yet, but we're spending lots of time in practice, trying to act a little while reading the parts of various stories and poems. The group now numbers six, including our director.
I'm a rookie at this, notwithstanding having read a mountain of bedtime stories, mostly to our kids, but also for their younguns, too. So I've "played" different animals, kings, queens, princes and princesses before. But getting the group's timing, clarity and volume just right is, like many things, harder than it looks. I've been told, for instance, to be especially careful when the word "funky" appears. Good advice. I've also been told that it's almost impossible to overact when the audience averages about eight years old.
This last item opens the door to all sorts of individual hamming. We have pieces that involve Spanish, U.S. southern and British accents, and we do characters that include amphibians (Toad and Frog), canines (dogs and coyotes), bovines, cats, foxes, dragons, fairies, evil beings and even royalty and Deity. Is it tough to keep everyone straight? Sometimes it is, especially when you play more than one part in the same story.
OK, maybe it ain't brain surgery, but it takes work to get it all right and we're getting better day by day. By the time we're ready to go I'm confident of being a better "readers' theater" performer than I am as a tennis player. I think that says something about my game, and it's not a compliment.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Late Summer Pickin's

We had a visit from a daughter and grandsons that ended just yesterday. One of the grandsons, I've mentioned before, is someone who, at five and a half, can ask LOTS of questions. Our coastal location and household collection of plastic animals got him thinking about marine life: "Do sharks have tongues?" (Yes, sort of.) "Can sharks hug?" (Hmm.) "Why am I not making a shadow?" When this last one was answered, he gave us a preview of his future self with the words "That's not fair." Yikes.

Every place has its charming "localisms", and one of ours is not taking sports so seriously as to make it a life or death kind of thing. Our paper, for instance, took advantage of the lack of a major event last weekend to feature a roller derby bout in the Sunday sports section. The visitors (the Silicon Valley Killabytes) "rolled" over the locals, but so what? Just the idea of sweaty feminine struggle, with one team featuring fishnet stockings in its official ensemble, should have been enough to get the attention of even non-fans. Anyway, I noticed.

If you had to learn the English language, how would you decipher a radio commercial for a local pharmacy which offers "test drives' for new meds to make sure there's a "good fit" for your condition? Maybe the radio stations should hire grammarians to insure against things like mixed metaphors. On the other hand, they don't need anyone to check for spelling errors. That would be a problem the TV guys would have to deal with.

I've mentioned before the capitalism creed "Find a need and fill it." which is supposed to help ambitious people do good for their societies while making good financially. This week has given us a little reminder of how quickly that little principle can be brought into play. You might have read about the epic traffic jam in northern China that has left travelers stranded on the road for days. This should first be a reminder that we would seldom be willing to trade our problems for those of another country. It also points out that countries that appear to be well-prepared for the unexpected can be caught off-guard. I remember being very impressed with the Japanese system in the 1990's until they had an earthquake in Kyoto. The government response was so bad that it changed my whole thinking on the country itself. But to return to the China thing, a minor event brought on by nothing but heavy traffic and inadequate highways, is being dealt with mile by mile by instant capitalists who offer things like bottled water at ten times the usual price or hot water for boil-up noodles at a cost to the marooned motorists way over the normal level. Think about it. Today, someone with a little vision and organization has begun a family fortune by offering $5 tuna salad sandwiches to people with no other eating option. Viva el capitalista!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shaking My Head in Disbelief

A couple of things I have commented on recently need a bit of updating. First, there's the Target thing, in which the giant retailer sought to take advantage of its new legal status in political campaigns (thanks to SCOTUS) to actually endorse the Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota, where the company is headquartered. It hasn't work so well for Target, whose stores are now frequently used as protest sites. You'd think a "person" of Target's age and experience would remember the lessons of Sunday School: you can make any choice you like, but you can't control the consequences.

It turns out that Levi Johnston, well documented non-relative of Sarah Palin does have a manager after all, and he's not the comic figure named Sol Overtown (ha ha) who I invented. The real guy is named - Tank Jones. Really. I don't know Mr. Jones' background, but he looks a little like an ex-NFL player who crossed over into management, three piece suit and all. Anyway, the Levi-Bristol Palin wedding is off, since it seems LJ has impregnated another young lady since the two broke up. Last I knew, Johnston and Jones were talking about taking it all off for Playgirl AND running for public office in, of course, Wasilla, AK, where it all began. Jones expects the latter effort to generate plenty of material for a "reality" TV show. Whatever he does, I hope he's a success, because babies don't come cheap. Good thing he's so well connected to the party of "family values".

Kellogg, ID is a town of about 2500 people in the state's northern panhandle. It was once known as a mining center, Now it's claim to fame is as a Superfund cleanup site. About 200 people work there for the EPA, which has been trying to undo the mining operation's damage to the local environment now for 20 years. Without going into great detail, there has been considerable progress, however EPA officials feel that to completely finish the job they will need an additional 150 people working full time for as long as 60 to 90 years.
What has me shaking my head is this: a considerable number of locals want the EPA to simply pack up and leave. One resident is quoted saying, "They've got their environmental science degree from some place like Berkeley and they drive their Prius to the back hills of Idaho and here are a bunch of miners and they want to do what they think is best for us." They fellow who said that - he's a lawyer. Idaho's governor, the interestingly-named Butch Otter, also wants the feds out of town on the next bus.
Aren't people interesting? The folks of Kellogg of course don't pay the EPA, and are, in fact, the main beneficiaries of their work, but some folks would evidently rather die of cancer from mining residue toxic glop than admit that somebody sent from Washington, D.C. had actually helped them. I hope if I lived in Kellogg that I'd at least have the decency to say "thanks".

Monday, August 09, 2010

TWO Happy Endings

Some stories are local and some aren't, but just about everyone likes a story with a happy ending. Today, stories from both categories are included, with the local one first.

I now know it was not a good idea to be moving furniture around on Sunday morning. That being said, the Mrs. is always looking for a new look for our furniture and decorations, and when the urge strikes her, it's pretty hard to effectively slow the process.
The family piano, probably older than me, had stood in the same spot from the time we moved in five years ago. High time, she thought, to try something else. But on its way to the other side of the room the instrument seemed to balk, then it crashed to the floor. No doubt the local seismographs noted the landing. The noise alone was great enough to wake any local late sleepers.
The Sabbath was kind of a sad one as we pondered through our church meetings how to go forward while minimizing our pain. I knew we lacked the power to get it upright, and the cabinetry appeared to have taken some hits. It was a little like a replay of the earthquake, but more emotional. After all, her church volunteer assignment involves playing the piano every week in our children's meeting.
But the Age of Miracles is evidently still with us. A pair of church brothers had heard of the disaster and came over to lend a hand in the early evening. Together we righted the poor thing and we surveyed the actual damage. The patient was upgraded from "endangered" to "curable with a little TLC", where it stands today, D (disaster) Day plus one. Next step - glue, clamps and a little patience. The keys and pedals, thank heaven, are still operable.

Now, imagine you've gone to a meeting, and hear the following, word for word, from the main speaker: "You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, a way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it?"
The shaky grammar aside, I'd be thinking where the guy has been all his life. Islam ain't new, and if this guy has lived anywhere near a library, he could have formulated some kind of answer to his own question, especially since, at fifty-five years of age, he's no kid. Is this guy a leader, a person who is able to help people settle differences or at least someone who looks forward to the future? None of them, based on this groping, clueless question.
So.. who is the guy? He's Ron Ramsey, GOP candidate for governor of Tennessee speaking last month after already running for governor for eighteen months.
Mr. Ramsey went to college and received a BS degree, and professionally has worked in real estate as well as part of the Tennessee state legislature. He is the current Lt. Governor.
Hearing his little rant in its proper context answers all the questions. He's not looking for answers, but to pander to a puzzled group of voters fearful of Sharia (Islamic) Law becoming the Tennessee standard. Why the fear? Ramsey himself brought the issue up, as if a division of Taliban cutthroats were camped across the river from Memphis intent on capturing the state by violent overthrow. Sharia Law? Puh-leeze.
Ramsey, in fact, seems to be the opposite of what people should want in a governor, but he isn't alone. Fearmongering by the national Republican Party went so well during the unlamented Bush years that southern candidates in particular see pandering instead of appealing to the best in voters as the real path to success. So Ramsey here is just trying to sound like the poor man's Dick Cheney.
What's that? I promised TWO happy ending today? Oh, right. Here it is. Ramsey lost the GOP governor nomination, so don't look for his name on the TN ballot. Yay.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Our Back-to-School Sale!

All right, I know no one's going to school for two or three weeks, but the phrase just somehow got stuck in my head. Can you stand one last World Cup laugh? I saw a cartoon with a scene at the "Home for Retired Soccer Players", who were being entertained by the Vuvuzela Trio. As the abusive triple monotone sounds filled the air, one of the aging strikers was thinking "Please. Just shoot me."

One grandson, age five, asks so many questions that his poor mother has given him permission to call ME for answers. Naturally, I'm thrilled with this, though I'm finding that communicating over the generations can be tricky. He called once wanting to know "what Darth Vader eats". I sent him an e-mail. He can't read yet, but the answer I gave was a little complicated, and I felt that this would be the best way to deliver the answer, with a little parental help. It turns out that I misunderstood his question, which was really "How does Darth Vader get food through the helmet he wears and into his mouth?" I want to try this again before he becomes a teenager.

I hope someone recalls my stated opposition to the Supreme Court decision which allows a corporate "person" to make unlimited ad contributions on behalf of a political candidate. It didn't take long for "Mr." Target, through a fuzzy-named subsidiary, to decide that "he" favors the Republican for the governor of Minnesota. I can't wait to hear how the oil, coal and other sometime polluters think about this and I may not vote at all unless I'm sure of where the two wise men, Goldman and Sachs, stand. You can trust them because they'll never ask for contributions, even if they run themselves!

Finally, I pose the following not-completely-theoretical question: If your old party had been turned out of office and seemed unsure of its tactics, undecided about its keaders and disunited about most things except to declare that anything new is "wrong for America", would you consider going...on vacation? I don't mean a real trip, but an ideological one that brings you to the door marked "Tea Party"? You could pretend to be bipartisan, even though there are next to no Democrats within the T.P. group, and you could be a little self- righteous as you called for voters to throw out ALL those "career politicians" who seem to inhabit their seats for life. You could call agin for "term limits", then forget you ever supported the idea once your guy gets safely "in". You could leave all that phoning and mailing to someone else for a change until you came back from your "trip" in another month or so. Then, if the GOP has a big day, you could say that it was the T.P. group that made the difference. If it has a lousy day, you could say it proves the "moral bankruptcy" of the two party system. Yup, this "vacation" stuff is a sure winner, and you'll have plenty left for anything you need for "back to school".