Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Celebrating Secession

The Chrysler Corporation still makes cars, but it's no longer American-owned. This last little fact doesn't get in the way of one of their latest TV commercials. A group of formidable-looking British redcoats are lined up waiting to open fire on a group of American rebels. Their plans are forgotten, however, when the Yanks hit the battlefield behind some brand-new Dodge Challengers, one of them driven by George Washington himself. The Brits are quickly routed, then a voice breaks in, declaring "Some things America got right. Cars - and freedom." It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but I wonder what our first president would think of this use of his persona. Maybe he'd think it was funny.

Charleston, S.C. is one of those places that is so historic than when the phrase "after the war" is used, it's assumed that the war referred to is the Civil War. You could say the same of a few other places: Richmond, Gettysburg, Vicksburg. I've never been to Charleston, but I understand it's quite a beautiful city, war and hurricanes notwithstanding. No doubt it has plenty of friendly people anxious to point out the city's chief attractions.
These days Charleston is hopping with events marking 150 years since the conflict started, beginning with South Carolina's secession from the Union and the siege of Fort Sumpter, just off the S.C. coast. But what's the proper way to observe such an event - one that lead directly to our country's worst prolonged disaster? Do you gather to hear a speech? Play Mozart's Requiem? Hold a shooting contest using vintage rifles?
A group of Charlestonians, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, decided to mark the anniversary with - a ball, complete with vintage costumes. Charleston mayor Joe Riley described the event as "the opposite of unifying."
I think it's right to remember your ancestors, and I think Confederate soldiers, though on the losing side of the war, could be admired for those soldierly virtues we honor three or four times a year now. But holding a ball? That pushes me towards the mayor's side of this controversy. I can't help wondering: Who served the appetizers? Who played the music? Who got the tips at the hat check window? Did they dance the Virginia Reel? My head spins trying to think of all the ways this gathering of slavery opposers (which is supposed to be all of us since the war ended) could have gone very wrong.
The NAACP led a protest against the ball, but they didn't come out looking so great. The partiers simply ignored the protest, then self-righteously claimed that they hadn't bothered anyone and expected, in turn, to be left alone to party, thus neatly managing to equalize their status with the protesters. Too bad no one at the NAACP office had the idea to buy up all the tickets and hire local rappers to tell the Rebel wannabes where they could go. Now that, as they say, would have been epic.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I Love It....

As promised, two things here that are unprecedented (almost) - a bonus blog in the form of a poem! The poem has no connection to Christmas, but, hey, you can't have everything. It may find some use in our readers theater bunch, but that remains to be seen. You, today represent the very first audience for this outside our home. So there.

I Love It When It's Dirty
by Mark Bailey

I love it when it's dirty, 'cause
It's then I get to see
How grime and grit builds up around
My tummy, ears and knees.

I try to be real careful as
I look and make a check
To see if there is mud around
My tummy, ears or neck.

And when I reach up carefully to
Neatly comb my hair,
I'm later real surprised to find
What filth there is up there!

My mom gets hold of me sometimes
When playing time is through.
She looks me over, sniffs, then makes
A face and says "pee-yew!"

I know I'm dirty, sure, but why
Won't people cut me slack?
I get the dirt from earth, but then
I wash and send it back.

If dirt was good I'd be (I think)
The bestest kid in town.
But 'till it is, I'll have to scrub
Before the sun goes down.

There it is. Thank you very much for taking the time, and I hope to hear from you soon with regard to your opening in the tongue-in-cheek poetry division of Agglomorated Consolidated Industrial Applicational Analyticals, Inc.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Even Buildings Come and Go

Once a year or so, someone comments that I should include more things of a personal nature on this blog. Here goes. We somehow collected a surplus of Christmas trees over the years, and this year the wife gave away the biggest one, leaving us with (and none of these are real) one that's between three and four feet, a pair with lights only, both about three feet tall and kept outside, and a kind of bush that's also in the four foot range, but thin enough to get your hands around top to bottom. Just for fun we departed from the usual decoration scheme for the tree mentioned first and decorated it with little plastic animals, which could also be used when little kids come. So the tree has fish, chickens, dogs, penguins, panthers, dinosaurs, elephants and even a whale, all in natural colors. So there's the personal item. I never said it was interesting.

About ninety years ago, the Eureka Inn was built and went into business as the largest hotel facility (100 rooms on four floors) between San Francisco and Portland. The Inn was known for its unique design and striking appearance and served as the center of downtown for a long time, hosting many famous people while serving as a dining/entertainment/meeting center. I'm not sure it ever reached the stage of dilapidation, but for reasons pertaining to both profitability and the cost of upkeep, it was closed six years ago.
But the story doesn't end there. New ownership was found (a couple from China), work was performed on the most important facilities, and the inn was reopened earlier this year. The wife and I went last week to hear both a local choir and a well-known brass jazz ensemble. It was fun, though I wish they had deployed more chairs. We could also see why the place had such renown through much of the 20th century.

That's the happy side of this entry. The sad side begins with the construction in the early 1880's of the Provo Tabernacle, Provo, UT. Most people, when hearing the word "tabernacle" think of the structure in Salt Lake City which holds 6,000 people or so and serves as the official home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But other such buildings, all smaller than Salt Lake City's, exist in other Mormon-built cities in the West, and carry that same name. They were built, and are still owned by, the LDS ("Mormon") Church. They are larger than regular buildings used for meetings, and are often used for meetings of a larger administrative unit ("stakes"). Over the years, local tabernacles, which, unlike LDS temples, require no special certification to enter, have been used for concerts and even political events when large indoor crowds are anticipated. They are what we'd now call multiple-use buildings, although they wouldn't be used for trade shows or sports events.
This last week, the Provo Tabernacle, a building I have been inside a dozen times or more, suffered a major fire, cause so far unknown, which left the outside walls standing, but not much else. It's a big loss, especially to local Mormons, but also to the greater community.
Either replacing or rebuilding the Tabernacle will cost millions and take a long time to accomplish. I don't know which alternative church leaders will take, although I believe they have the resources to do either without having to borrow.
So, there we are. Merry Christmas to all, and let's hope the loud repetition of seasonal
music doesn't cause anyone to go nuts.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fire in the Hole!

Before continuing on to the title item of this week's entry, we pause to mark an anniversary. Ten years ago this past weekend, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Bush v. Gore, the final decisive moment of the post-election struggle in Florida, 2000.
I guess there's no keeping this event from becoming just another understudied moment in U.S. history. Current and future students will get the short version of how Mr. Bush took office under the slimmest of all possible electoral margins. Future teachers may even neglect to mention that the actual popular vote went to Gore, though that is not, as we should know, the deciding factor in presidential elections.
But getting the full story in this case requires a whole book or two. Like the maze of public and private actions we now just call "Watergate", there was a cast of dozens of people with a role in the outcome in 2000. Some of these remain prominent while others have returned to relative obscurity. I once used almost a half hour of Toastmaster club meeting time to give my version of the whole post-election story. The club members hated it.
So I can't do that again. Let's just conclude that the legal basis for Bush v. Gore was so convoluted that the Supreme Court itself (!) pointedly stated that the decision was not to be cited in future cases. I think that was the best part of the decision. As for the whole event (which started in Florida even before the election took place), I suggest doing something old fashioned - going to a library and getting a book.

Now, in California, one thing we seem to have plenty of is suburbs with Spanish names. I might not be able to find Escondido even with one of those talking car place finder thingies. It's somewhere WAY South of here.
The folks in the city noticed something unusual last week. Right in the middle of suburbia there was a house loaded with explosives. The fellow who lived there I presume had a reason for this unusual behavior, but we don't know that yet. The man, for what it's worth, is a native of Serbia in his 50's.
Back to the house itself. How do you deal with such a danger, one rarely encountered anywhere before, and certainly never in Escondido? The city officials gathered and consulted, knowing that a solution had to be found quickly. Simply unloading the house, it was felt, would be too dangerous, so the best option would be burning it down, making sure that neighbors were evacuated and that any explosive forces would be directed up, away from other homes and a nearby freeway, which I guess every Southern California suburb has.
Without (as far as I know) leaning on state or federal authorities for any real help, the city put its fairly comprehensive plan into action. People took up watching points from their own roofs, binoculars and telescopes in hand, since no one was allowed within 400 yards or so from the home. At the moment when winds were thought to be least dangerous, the house was ignited by remote control.
The results? Better than anyone had a right to expect. Some explosions inside the home, and a long, nasty-looking cloud curling up from the cite were about all that could be observed. No injuries, damage to neighbors' homes or flying hunks of cement, just - a sigh of relief.
I don't know if Escondido was lucky enough to have specially trained firefighters or haz-mat folks on the payroll, but they deserve local thanks and our recognition that government entities can do things well even in unfamiliar circumstances. Given the scary randomness of this kind of danger in recent years, that's a good thing to know. Let's put up one little "w" for California.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pick Your Bowl

Just a few days ago, the matches for all 35 college football bowls were announced. You didn't know there were 35 of them? Chances are you live within 2-300 miles of one of the schools with a team involved. My alma mater's in a bowl, though just barely at 6-6, paired against another team with the same record, and so is the team I lend my psychic energy to every week, though the energy only helped produce a 7-5 record.
A reasonable person might ask how we came to have 35 bowls, when no one not paid to do it could keep track of such an array of athleticism. I think the answer to that question is a common one in our society. Someone felt that there was money to be made by putting on a show, in this case a football game.
Here's an illustration. Iowa plays the team from a neighboring state, Missouri. The game, however, doesn't take place in Keokuk, Council Bluffs or somewhere in the greater Kansas City area, but in Tempe, AZ, easily a thousand miles from either school. This might not be great news for those wanting to see the game live (though any excuse to get out of late December cold in Iowa is a good one), but it's great news if you run an airline, or rent cars or provide limos, hotel rooms, booze, meals or any number of other services. The chief sponsor, Insight, a website of some kind that I have no knowledge of whatsoever, puts up big money to put the game on in exchange for plastering its name all over Tempe and friendly TV outlets in Tempe, Iowa and Missouri.
And that, folks, isn't even the whole story. You have to get two major college bands to the game in order to perform a halftime show which will probably be ignored by most of the crown. Then there's a boatload of "journalists" paid to opine on things like the various defensive schemes and the chances of so-and-so entering the NFL draft a year early. Both schools will bring a boatload of administrators, athletic and otherwise, to see the school's big moment in the sun since the work of medical labs and computer applications is not really meant for crowds.
Amidst all this economic stimulation, does anyone risk coming out a loser? Ah, sure. There's the odd player who might suffer a career-ending injury, but that's a risk that's taken on every play all season, even in practice. And someone else will get an opportunity to show his stuff when anyone goes down. Then there's the chance of a student (or an alum, for that matter) losing his or her self-respect over some alcohol-fueled indiscretion, but of course there are plenty of chances for that in life - even at home.
Will they all be great games? Not a chance. There may be a few games so bad that they should let you in for free, then charge you when you want to leave. Sometimes a matchup of middling teams on a neutral field just produces more mediocrity. I observed a prediction of all 35 bowls within 24 hours of their having been announced. Some, according to this sagely written piece, will have the halftime show as a highlight. Skip those no matter how many channels you get.