Thursday, September 30, 2010

Around the Horn of Current Stuff

It's fall. It's an election year. Most of my favorite teams are either in action, or are about to be. There are are new TV shows which might merit attention beyond casual.There is, in fact, an abundance of things to write about.
Since this blog mainly owes its existence to my personal desire to unload opinions that relate to political things, here is a partial list of things in this area that are of current interest:
Control of the US House of Representatives in the next term
The impact of Tea Party candidates
Possible future GOP presidential candidates
Polarization of Congress and of Society in general
How a Republican minority can keep the majority from reaching its legislative goals
The blog's other main pillar is sports. Take your pick:
My alma mater BYU changes leagues for the second time since my graduation
Is Federer the greatest of all time, or could it be Nadal?
Will my Iowa Hawkeyes have what it takes to play in the Rose Bowl?
The most memorable events of the almost finished baseball season?
Will my current injury keep me off the tennis courts much longer?

Given all that, let's start with something noteworthy from the weather, the facts of which are unarguable. It has been very nice here lately in this tiny corner of California. But the majority of Golden Staters can't say that. Just the other day it was a full 50 degrees hotter in downtown LA than here, where it was 63 for a high. No wonder we feel more than a little detached from the Angelinos.

Carl Paladino is the official Republican candidate for governor of New York. His nomination was secured in the new old fashioned way, being a favorite of that cutting edge group, the Tea Party. His campaign, however, looks like a loser at this point, as he trails Democrat Andrew Cuomo by something like 30 points in polls. Just yesterday Paladino threatened a reporter whose paper based in Albany has evidently attempted to get material on Paladino's ten year-old daughter born out of wedlock. His words, caught on cell phone camera as these things now tend to be, included the threat to have the reporter "taken out" if his daughter were not left alone. Who says family values are out of fashion?

And, in a completely unrelated matter, we got our first look this week at the latest Ken Burns epic, this one a four hour extension of the memorable work "Baseball". The ground covered includes the 1990's and the current decade. As expected, there are portraits of individual players who both were are now prominent, with the inevitable statistical highlights scattered among the observations of journalists and intellectuals, many of them quite personal. The piano background, so common in Burns' documentaries, is still there, and the highlights are great, as one would expect. Naturally, Burns can just barely resist making all of recent baseball the mere backdrop for the struggle of the Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox. It is noted, for instance, that Sox faithful went to cemeteries to leave the good news (WE WON the SERIES!) on the graves of dear departed fans.
But the really big story of the time was the use of illegal steroids by MLB players and that scandal's legacy to the whole game. The usual big name suspects are named for the record, none more so than the enigmatic home run career champion Barry Bonds. Barry gets, and no doubt deserves, WAY more attention than just about everyone else, though it's not the kind of attention one would normally desire. So - is the production worth four hours of your time to sit and watch? Absolutely.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mostly Tiny Stuff

I was a little surprised to notice that, two months ago. I passed the milestone of four years writing this blog. Some opinions were and are bigger than others, but I hope I never run out of them.

Do you recall the mention of Vania King, one half of the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles Championship team despite her diminutive (5'5", 130 lb.) size? Darned if she, with the same partner, didn't repeat the feat, winning the U.S. Open concluded earlier this month.

And while we're recognizing tennis players, lets give some love to Mardy Fish, who lead the US to a Davis Cup victory over Columbia last weekend. Before you sneer, I should mention that Fish won all three matches he played in as many days totaling eleven hours of action in a refitted bullring in Bogota, a city with an altitude of 8,700 feet. Fish has also become a hero to weight loss enthusiasts following his dropping thirty pounds after surgery less than a year ago. If that's not enough, Mr. Fish is hardly a kid in terms of pro tennis. He's pushing thirty. Well done, amigo.

I caught a piece of evidence that supports the theory that the vampires are now hot stuff. Sure, there's the books and the movies - they could be turning up on school lunch boxes for all I know - but what got my attention was an ad for a Revlon product. I didn't catch what it is actually supposed to do, but it's called "Little Bites". I guess I should slather on lots of sun block every day now just to stay trendy.

Finally, the US military policy of "don't ask, don't tell" with regard to sexual preference of new volunteers is in the news again. You would think that the Republican Party, recognizing that, like it or not, we're still in at least one war, with plenty of uncertainties before us, would want to encourage all the qualified help for the military we can get, right? Not quite. Playing to their "not so big tent" base again, the GOP decided to oppose change to the current policy, which maintains the fantasy that OUR boys/girls are all heterosexual, even though there are no doubt people who AREN"T in probably every army, navy and air force in the world. The Senate vote to simply let every qualified person who wants to join up do so went down today. Maybe they can now pass a resolution of some kind that declares that there simply ARE no gays - anywhere.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Under Our Noses

I've written before in defense of the regular old daily newspaper, but I never said it was the only place you could find out new things. Just poking around Yahoo the other day, I happened on an item regarding Lady Gaga and her former boyfriend. This in itself was surprising because I had never thought of Lady Gaga as actually having a real life. What I know of her, which is none too much, had me putting her in the same class as Mr. T or Alice Cooper - characters, really, more than real people. This got me wondering if Ms. G. had a real name, and so I looked some more. Does she ever! She was once Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, which explains a little about her showbiz persona. I couldn't find out whether her former boyfriend called her "Stef". Maybe that's what caused the breakup.

Looking further on line, I made an ugly discovery. My recent inability to play tennis is evidently due to a pinched nerve. So, for awhile it looks like I'll be off the courts and on the local streets, walking for exercise. Oy.

David Pouffle had an important role in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, but he didn't go on to serve in the White House, mostly for personal reasons. He wrote a book about the campaign, The Audacity to Win, which I just finished reading.
The book's story begins at the end of 2006, with Democrats regaining control of Congress for the final two years of the Bush 43 presidency. This is traditionally the time, almost two full years before the presidential election, when possible candidates take a hard look at their plans in order to decide whether or not to become announced candidates.
At the time, the Obama campaign really didn't exist at all in two uber-important ways - organization and money. Some campaigns don't succeed even with both these basics in place, and, win or lose, running is a grueling test of mind and body, and of the candidate's family. Whatever one may hear about how easy life as a politician is, all that is out the window when it comes to running for the most influential position on the planet, president of the U.S.A.
Those gathered to counsel Obama thought there might be one chance to take his campaign out of the ranks of "short and forgotten". He would have to do very well in the January 2008 Iowa Party caucuses in order to have any hope of surviving into spring.
Well, you know some of the rest of what happened during the next 20 months, but the book was quite revealing on the subject of how to run such an undertaking. The know-nothings who still like to sneer at Obama as a "community organizer" just don't get it. One of the greatest campaigns in American presidential history took place right under our noses as the little-known senator with the funny name from Illinois wrestled the nomination from perhaps the best known woman in the nation, a former First Lady, a current U.S. senator and wife of one of our best political operators (meant in the positive sense) ever. Yes, the Obama campaign made mistakes along the way, but also prevailed over John McCain, nominee of the Republican Party, a senator known for decades all over the country. The Party's image had suffered under Bush/Cheney, but not so much that the campaign could not have reversed with just an error or two by the Democrats.
Maybe no one reads books anymore. I see a current trend of shorter articles even in magazines. And gosh knows a hefty slice of any group of Americans will take on an air of superiority just at the mention of the word "politics". Personally, I continue to think the American electorate made the right decision in 2008, and that one day we'll know it. This book did nothing to make me think otherwise.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The 1st Amendment - Still In Force

All tennis players make mistakes, which we call "errors". Naturally some errors are more egregious and harder to make excuses for than others. I decided today that I would start referring to my worst errors with an acronym - UBB, standing for "ugly beyond belief". How should I pronounce it - "uhb"?

Have you heard about the upcoming doin's in Gainesville, FL? For once it isn't a football game or some other U of F-related event, but a bonfire. A local pastor together with a very outspoken flock of fifty or so believers are planning to burn all the copies of the Koran they can get their hands on to show Jesus just what they think of it. Warnings from Pentagon brass and the DOD itself are so far being ignored as plans go forward for Saturday's (9/11) burn fest. No word yet on Divine approval, so that part is, I guess, assumed. It seems like a classic example of something that everyone agrees is legal, which doesn't make it appropriate, except as a means to make the pastor, whose name I think I will skip, famous.

Which brings us to a little weightier subject - the Islamic Cultural Center/Mosque to be erected on privately-owned land in Manhattan, about 1000 feet from what we've come to call Ground Zero. The neighborhood, I read, could use a little religion given its concentration of tattoo parlors and adult-related businesses. In fact, the right-leaning pundits seemed to have no objection to the center until the final legal hurdle had been cleared to revamp the former Burlington Coat Factory into a multipurpose center which would include a room for Islamic religious observance.
At that point, as you may know, all hell broke loose in opposition of what's now called by some the "victory mosque". You don't even have to ask victory by who over whom. As if offering help, the punditocracy suggested, as if they knew, that it was "too far" from where local Muslims lived, and that it could serve as a "recruitment center" for future terrorists, or that, at the very least it was "insensitive" to the locals and should therefore be elsewhere. No one seems to make a specific suggestion or seems to care what happens to money already invested in the project. But all this time, the pundits insist that it "isn't a matter of religion". My Republican fellow believers instinctively take the line of least resistance, which is to oh-so-politely infer that "those" folks just aren't like "us", whatever that means in New York, and that therefore the Center should be erected atop a flaming oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Evidently they want to conceal the fact that thorny building permit fights are everyday events in Manhattan, and that this one is already over. In addition, if I were recruiting future bomb throwers, wouldn't I do it in a place that's a little more low profile than a $100 million facility that's liable to draw G-men watching who goes in every day?
Insensitive? Maybe, although the Pentagon itself has a room set aside for Muslims. But what really matters is whether we are willing to throw out our own founding law regarding the right to worship. That right, I submit, trumps all the clatter about what's appropriate, or sufficiently "sensitive" to 9/11 victim families. They bought the site, they got the permits, they followed the law and they (which is to say "all of us", because we are talking about Americans here) should go right ahead improving the neighborhood and helping young people stay out of trouble. When the Center is built and functioning, we'll forget there ever was a problem, the same way most have forgotten the trouble with those odd "Mormons" a hundred years or so ago.