Monday, November 29, 2010

Mysteries of the Unknown

I admit that this week's goofy (If we DO know something, then it can't be a mystery, right?) title comes from some cheesy TV show from long ago. But the things written about are the latest in a long series of things I just don't get.
First, there's the football team. Which team, you ask? Why, the Iowa team - the same one that made Michigan State look like New Mexico State just a few weeks ago. This year's outfit finishes the regular season at 7-5, losing 4th quarter leads in four of the five losses. Total up the margins of ALL the losses, and you get - 18 points. That's it. The saddest part was the regular season final, lost to (gag!) Minnesota, which had already fired their coach and started the game with a desultory 2-9 record. As they say up North about such things, Uff Da! So what caused things to slide downhill so sadly? I dunno. It's a mystery. At least they get one more chance at winning a bowl game - probably the Fish Bowl.

The North Koreans are at it again, wrecking havoc on their southern neighbors without any easy motive or goal. And it wasn't just one or two planes coming in to strafe the locals, either. That means there had to be some kind of reason. To me it's funny that when there's an international incident of some kind, the folks who seem most sure of their own theories are the ones who've not only never been to another country, they haven't had to negotiate anything more serious than a spat on the local playground. Anyway, I read one theory that says the North Koreans are essentially holding their own people hostage, shouting at the world something like "I'm desperate! Give me food now or these people get it between the eyes - from YOU!" If the rest of the world were to reply by saying "Yeah, pal. We've all got problems. Right now, mine is deciding which wide screen TV I need most. Talk to me after Christmas and we'll see." Then what would the Koreans do? Pitch a fit by lobbing shells over to Seoul? It's another mystery, but I have to admit wondering just whose job it is to keep that little peninsula as peaceful as possible. Our turn has now gone on for over 50 years. Any volunteers? Mexico? Nigeria? Singapore?

Finally, there's the Wikileaks thing. This outfit is not American in any way, so our ability to threaten them is pretty limited. They've gone ahead with their plan to release a quarter million or so diplomatic communications sent over the years to and from Washington. Our current government is doing just what the last one would have done, howling that these releases put American lives in danger. The trouble is that we've heard it all before, and are less inclined, whoever sits in the White House, to simply take "This doesn't concern you. Go away" as an adequate answer. The tendency of governments, whatever their political alignment, is to paper over mistakes by keeping them secret for about a thousand years while gleefully leaking successes as quickly as possible. Are people now lining up at the State Department seeking new identities in places like Shreveport, LA because of some sardonic crack about a local strongman in a telegram sent ten years ago? Once again, you heard it here first. I don't know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

According to Sarah...

Nine and a half years ago, a young congressional staffer, Chandra Levy, disappeared. Her murdered body wasn't found until many months after the crime. In the meantime, it was disclosed that she had carried on a romantic relationship with her married boss, Congressman Gary Condit, then a Democratic congressman from Colorado. The FOX News network did all it could to tie Condit to the crime, presumably because he was a (D). I recall attending a large extended family dinner in Utah that Thanksgiving. As sometimes happens at these events, discussion of the affair teetered on the edge of control. I insisted to a sister-in-law that even though I didn't know who had murdered Ms. Levy, I was pretty sure that she ( the sister-in-law) didn't either, even though she had her heart set on slipping Condit the execution injection needle.
I bring this up now because I note that another man was tried for the crime and convicted yesterday. So, I can now declare to the world in self-satisfied glee - I told you so! I'm also confident that she (name starts with D) is not among the six or seven worldwide readers of this blog. So, no harm done, right?

If we hear a young person make a declaration of some kind which includes an error of fact, we might offer a correction in the spirit of helpfulness. When Grandma gets her facts tangled over something, we could try to straighten her out or just let it go in the interest of family harmony.
But what if the erring party is your peer, someone who should know certain facts but muddies the water with errors that might or might not be deliberate? And what if the mis-speaker has lots of devoted followers who don't worry much about facts? What should we do then?
arah Palin is making lots of speeches these days. It seems that she feels that she could be our president, having served as both a small-town mayor and one half term as governor of Alaska. Her speeches get people riled up, but some bad interpretations are now appearing. In her latest book, for instance, she takes John Kennedy to task for declaring in the 1960 campaign that he would not, as president, be taking orders from the Vatican just because of his status as a Roman Catholic. Palin sees this as "running away" from his Catholicism.
Kennedy's actual goal in the speech was to reassure (mostly Southern) voters that their Protestant institutions would have nothing to fear from a Catholic president.
And poor Reagan gets made over all the time by Palin, leaving out the subtleties of his decisions as well as the long transition he took to becoming a Republican, as well as the years (eight) he put in as governor of California before stepping up to the national stage. It wasn't as though he went from B-movie list star to president overnight, One columnist I read contrasted the two this way: Reagan used his fame as a celebrity to succeed in politics while Palin used her political experience in order to become a celebrity.
I can even envision other Sarah-isms about past politicos:
Nixon: I am not a crook
SP: Crooks employ a lot of people, and should be given tax breaks as long as they don't break any legs.
Clinton: I feel your pain
SP: The Bible had lots of people in pain, but Obama wants to take our God-given pain away with government-controlled health care. I say spare the rod and spoil the child!
Eisenhower: I will go to Korea
SP: Vacations are OK, but we should see our own country first. What was Ike thinking?
Carter: Life is unfair
SP: That's right. Rich people pay a bigger share of their income in taxes. They need a break!
GWB: Bring it on!
SP: Thanksgiving is almost here, and then comes Christmas, which is God's gift to all Americans. Thanks, Lord!

Monday, November 15, 2010

All About Me (sort of)

Not long ago I mentioned that I had a physical problem keeping me from playing tennis. I didn't play at all for over a month, then slowly resumed. I'm a ways yet from 100%. My serve, which could once be measured by a stopwatch, is down to egg timer speed. My level of play is OK, as long as you don't check the scoreboard. Oy.

In happier news, my efforts with the readers theater are finally paying off. I don't mean the pay, which is like pay, but smaller. But reading for children is fun, they forgive you when you flub something up, and some even laugh when they're supposed to. It's the best new thing I've started all year.

And I'm still in Toastmasters, though my role there has changed. Most folks join in hopes of getting a career boost from the skills they get at TM, which is fine. But I'm kind of past that stage of life, and so find myself in more of a coaching role. Even so, I get to give a couple of speeches a year, and my turn came around earlier this month.
Thankfulness/Gratitude is not a trendy virtue, nor is its holiday (Thanksgiving) a terribly big event since it's preceded by Halloween and followed by Christmas. Even so, we should look for things to be thankful for all the time. That's how I began, speaking many more words than I'm writing.
Here are some things we should be thankful for. Mother Nature smiles on us as upon few others. We live among the world's greatest trees, and within a few blocks of the world's greatest ocean and within a few minutes we can drive to some decent-sized mountains in search of a better view of the other two, It never gets over 80 degrees, and almost never gets under thirty. We get more than our share of rain, a good thing in the western US, and the earthquakes are generally modest compared to some places.
We should be thankful for the USA. Living here may not give us quite the boost over other people than it once did, but we still have things others don't: The rule of law, diversity and all that provides just to everyday life, living in a competitive society in which you can buy shoes (for example) made in many places, in many styles, and which fit almost any size. We even have competition in the political world, which prevents one side from dominating, as in many countries.
We should be thankful for faith, and the hope it offers of a life beyond this one, which in turn gives meaning to everything we do of a moral nature. It's great knowing from experience that people can change for the better. We are not the captives of our genes or personal chemistry, but have the means to make choices from which all may benefit.
Every day in every way we enjoy the fruits of the labors of others. This enjoyment is not without cost, but just knowing that we can contribute to others' lives should make our own happier. Anyway, that, including a few little jokes, was my speech thesis at Toastmasters. I hope the members liked it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coming and Going

Elena Dementieva retired about a week and a half ago. Don't worry. Her name won't be on the test. Ms. D. was a tennis pro from Russia, a pretty common thing these days, and her hanging up the racquet takes place as she approaches age thirty, also pretty common in this hyper-youth occupation.
Dementieva isn't really a candidate for the Tennis Hall of Fame. She was a tough opponent who did well in lots of tournaments, but never won one of the major ones. In fact, at one point in her career she was best known for having a serve that was awkward looking and offered chances for opponents to pile up easy points.
But some surprising things happened along the way. Dementieva had some things in her favor (speed and good strokes) that made her formidable. She didn't quit or complain, and became popular among the women players, a group not always known for kindness to rivals. And she worked on correcting the serve, though it was never much of a weapon.
She received awards for her sportsmanship, never looked to exploit her looks, which she certainly could have, and when she made her retirement announcement following a loss in a year-ending tournament in a city in the Middle East, players drifted in from the dressing room to offer their best wishes. Naturally, tears were shed. I saw a series of "good bye" messages taped by players, who even had nice things to say about Dementieva's mother, who often accompanied her around the world. Some, naturally, spoke in Russian, which, if the rest of the world doesn't take notice, may some day become the official language of women's tennis. Anyway, you could do a lot worse looking for a role model. Stay focused. Work hard. Treat others with respect and kindness. Keep smiling. Leave things better than when you came. Thanks, Elena.

George W. Bush would also be a candidate for the "going" side of this week's title, except that he's now in a position that many used-to-be-bigshots find themselves in - trying to drum up interest in a book about their experiences at the top. He has a perfect right to set out his version of things, in the same way that his father chose not to rehash his White House years in a book. I read that almost a quarter million copies of the new book went out the door on the first day, but I honestly can't say what that means for truthseekers ten or twenty years from now. I couldn't even guarantee that he didn't have help putting it all together, though he has a perfect right to hire help for that, too.
So Bush has been doing interviews about the book, though I can't imagine he enjoys this much. Every job has its downside, right? But this process is a little like campaigning. The longer things go, the more likely it becomes that something you'd rather not reveal sort of oozes out anyway.
Here's what I mean. What would you guess Bush sees as the worst moment of his two terms in the White House? Getting caught unprepared on 9/11? Getting accusations of abuse of the Constitution? The revelations of prisoner abuse? The non-discovery of WMDs following the invasion of Iraq? Having to pull Harriet Miers as a Supreme Court nominee? The Wilson/Plame/Cheney/Libby debacle? Getting caught using the word "crusade" as a term for the so-called Global War On Terror?
No, no and no. Mr. Bush said last week that the lowest moment of his administration came when rapper Kanye West made some mean spirited accusations against him following the Katrina disaster. Really? A rapper from a minority almost totally associated with Bush's political opponents has the power to hurt him just by making some unprovable allegations? I think there's a term to describe Bush's reaction. That term is - "small". It's a little like moping through your day because someone makes fun of your serviceable but ugly car. It just shouldn't matter, but somehow it does anyway. It says more about you than the other guy. It shows that you're - small.
Someone no doubt well paid to notice such things evidently got the word to the former CIC, who just today said that he and West are back on good terms, so perhaps we've heard the last of this, though just where the truth lies is hard to say. What is no doubt true is that people who like rap music can buy books, too.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Highlights From the World of...

Well, it's Election Day. They say the GOP is in for a big night, though you'd have to know the statistics on hundreds of races to be sure. They also say it has been an especially "mean" year in terms of things said and written about opponents. We got one of those oversize letters today that was so angry at Sen Barbara Boxer that it not only never mentioned her opponent (Carly Fiorina), but demanded voters do something which cannot be done - "vote NO on Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate". It came from "Americans For Limited Government". I guess they want to start limiting government by holding Senate membership to 99.

Oh, it feels so good when my Hawkeyes take on a good opponent and lay waste to them. Unbeaten Michigan State came to Iowa City last Saturday and left on the short end of a 37-6 torching. Heck, it was 30-0 at halftime. This moved our boys up in the polls exactly three spots. I guess the voters are waiting to see what happens vs. Ohio State.

I couldn't tell you whether the World Series, concluded tonight, drew big numbers of viewers, but I had fun watching, and not just the game. Here are some things I noticed: Tim McCarver and Joe Buck do the game for FOX, and they have a tendency to talk too much, sometimes trying to turn some statistical quirk into something of importance. Even so, McCarver, a onetime big league catcher, is pretty good at reading the minds of the pitchers and pointing out the managerial options. Tonight's game was a pitching duel, and I thought he was especially good at making the pitching part of the action. I noticed something odd. One of the dugout coaches was wearing one of those outsize watches that look like they're sold by the pound. Would anyone have less reason to know the time? I can't think of anyone, though I guess it's possible that someone paid him to wear it. And why not? Tennis players do it. The Chevrolet people have a new ad slogan - "Chevy runs deep". I think that's pretty good. It's a bit like saying "Yes, we've had troubles at GM, and you can't get an Oldsmobile or a Pontiac (or a Hummer) anymore, but we at Chevy plan to be around forever." And they have old factory footage and pics of bygone models to back them up. I notice, too, that the earth is about to come under attack again from some nasty-looking alien aircraft in an upcoming movie. Looks as though many of us will not survive. Finally, the wearing of beards has lost any meaning beyond hair. As a young person, I almost never saw a beard, then it was associated with counter-culture liberal types for a long time. But now they pop up just about everywhere on pitchers and hitters, especially the smaller chin-and-lower-jaw models. The Giant "closer" pitcher has a big beard blackened by shoe polish I guess, and the fans sometimes wear ridiculous copies as a kind of humorous tribute. No one asks him about his feelings on the war. Maybe in another 20 or 30 years they'll allow them again at good old BYU. But I won't hold my breath.