Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter Blahs

All right, I admit it. Winter here is barely distinguishable from summer except that it rains some in the winter. Heck, we've had some good tennis days lately, which I know won't be the case in the Midwest until at least April. Now if I could just win a few more...

Japan has it. So do Russia and various countries in Central and South America. But nowhere else seems to set them up as a kind of cultural icon for books and movies. I'm referring, naturally, to organized crime, those tough guys with their own unique style. The FBI swooped in and rounded up over a hundred suspected gangsters last week, so we can look forward to years of ratting, snitching, whacking and guys with nicknames like Greasy Tony or Hammerhead Guido. The screenwriters are standing by waiting for the literary crumbs to start falling their way.

Our Target store isn't the biggest, though it's probably bigger than some. I was walking around it the other day, doing what I frequently do in such places. I went looking for the neckties. No question I have way too many of them already, adding two at Christmas, but I think of them as some sort of cultural canary in the coalmine. It took awhile to find them, and I was shocked to discover that in a store that size, there weren't more than a couple of dozen neckties total. This made me think that they could disappear entirely if just given some kind of unforseen push. I've read, for instance, that t-shirts almost disappeared as underwear when Clak Gable was shown not wearing one in a movie made back in the 1930s.

We have a granddaughter, Claire, whose birthday happens to fall on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20th. She's now five years old. Yay! No inauguration this year, but, for what it's worth, it's been exactly 50 years since Kennedy took office, and 30 years since Reagan took the oath. George W. Bush got the job 10 years ago after getting the final green light from the Supreme Court. I seem to recall that Kennedy's inauguration was on a very cold day, but that JFK declined to wear a top hat, dealing an inadvertent blow to the menswear industry from which it has yet to recover. Well, the guy did have pretty good hair.

The Question of the Week: Why did former dictator Jean Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier return to Haiti last week after 25 years of exile in France? And don't enough Haitians remember him to put the guy under arrest? Seems as though the whole country's a bit - star-struck.

Finally, I think I have a new favorite TV commercial. This one's for G.E., the industrial giant. The spot has scenes of great commercial activity taking place, but the scenes are stolen by a dancing animated baby elephant using all four legs to show his stuff to the big band classic "Swing, Swing, Swing". At least that's what I think it is. For cuteness, the elephant is right up there with those Coke-drinking polar bears that always made me laugh.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Blood for the GOP

I think I got it right last week. I mean, about the post-shooting political shots taken back and forth in the effort to get the American public to see the accused Mr. Loughner in a certain way. At any rate, the Arizona legislature seems to feel that the state's citizens have waited long enough. They're ready to adopt even LESS strict laws for would-be gun owners. I guess they see the state as a giant circle of upstanding citizens, all packing heat, with each gun stuck into the back of the next person in the circle. See? Everybody's safe now.

I see the Reagan half brothers, Michael and Ron, are on opposite sides of a new controversy dating back to the Gipper's days in the White House. Ron thinks he saw hints of dementia when his father was still president. Mike, ever the conservative, replies by calling Ron "an embarrassment" who's trying to boost sales of his new book. All I know is that Reagan wasn't indicted over Iran-Contra partly because the judge saw the president as losing the ability to speak in his own defense.

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, found out what his fellow 'pubs thought of his efforts. Even though the party regained control of the House, Steele, the Party's first black chairman, couldn't get the votes to retain office. Maybe he'll be the next semi-famous FOX News correspondent.
The new blood taking over the job is Reince Priebus of Wisconsin. No, I don't know how the name is pronounced, but they do in the Badger State, where his efforts helped defeat Senator Russ Feingold in last fall's election. The new chairman is only 38 years old and looks young enough to be a contestant on American Idol.
Mr. Priebus may be a terrific guy, for all I know, but he's already done one thing that irritated me a little. Almost immediately after getting the nod from the RNC, he publicly thanked, not his wife, parents, professors or political mentors (of which Steele was one) , but - "Jesus".
Yes, it's a bit like the boxer who thanks the Big Guy after beating his opponent into a bloody pulp. If Jesus is a Republican, then where was He in '06 or '08? And if He was present in this last weekend's party meeting, then WHO was on Steele's side? And if Priebus is the man, why not just make him president, or world emperor and skip all the stops in between so as to put the good guys in charge again right away - permanently!
Sure, it seems like a little thing, but why do only Republicans get to talk as though they're in tight with the Almighty? If anyone ever caught Obama saying (as George W. Bush reportedly did) "God wants me to be president.", he'd be screamed at every day for that ALONE. Best of luck to Mr. P. in his new job, really. But, as I find myself sometimes saying to my fellow tennis players, let's keep Jesus out of it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Behind the Headlines

I have found over the years that when one attempts to interpret the news as it is happening, the chances of being wrong are much greater. Commenting on the shooting of this last Saturday, therefore, is a somewhat risky venture.
I could be wrong, but I know the tug of war between political left and right is interrupted by very few events, and this one, as sad and violent as it was, still carries political implications which people are working to determine as I write, though they work mostly in secret.
Our political left has for some time accused the right of courting violence with the use of certain imagery in campaigns. And they have plenty of examples: Sarah Palin urging followers to not "retreat, but reload". Another candidate (a woman!) speaks of "second amendment remedies". A candidate invites people to bring and fire their guns at rallies. The radio right bases an entire industry on stirring anger from their listeners, while leaving others to have to deal with any violence they may generate.
Here's what's happening today. The left could profit if it were to successfully tie shooter Jared Loughlin to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck. Congresswoman Giffords' last opponent or someone else in the GOP right. So they look for a written message, or a Loughlin statement, or e-mail or website to turn this into a political "smoking gun" as well as a literal one. The right, by contrast, needs a firewall between themselves and Loughlin which depends on Loughlin's insanity, or at least his lack of contact with the mainstream conservatives in order to keep doing what has worked so well for them the past two years.
To me, Loughlin seems to be such an unusual, unstable, repellent person that I doubt that the Democrats can really identify him simply as a follower of the GOP "shoot first and shoot later" strategy. Close, maybe, but no cigar.
But what about the GOP themselves? There certainly should be a voice of moderation somewhere saying "Fellows, we may not be so lucky next time. The next shooter could be someone they can tie directly to us, and we can't have that. We have to dial down the imagery. We're a nation with millions of guns, most just sitting in a closet, ready for someone to decide it's time to load, aim and fire. We can't have the next shooting on our heads."
But for now, that's still a minority voice. What you'll hear instead (maybe this week) will be things like: "Have you heard what the Dems are planning to do in order to get your guns?" "The Democrat Party is desperate, and they'll say anything to win the next election!" "Those people are willing to have the blood of innocent people put on your hands! Will you let that happen?" "Have you all heard that Loughlin's favorite book is 'The Communist Manifesto?'"
Am I over-dramatizing this? I don't know. The trouble is, no one ever organizes parades or marches behind a banner that says "MODERATION IN ALL THINGS", and no one shouts "Compromise Now!" Behind the headlines, people are working to control just what that headline will say.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Under Pressure

When it comes to tennis, the answer to the question "Who's counting?" is "Me". I got in over 250 sets, almost all of them doubles, in 2010. The winning percentage was .52. If I was an NBA team, that kind of record gets you into the playoffs - where you're expected to lose in the first round. Play in 2011 starts today.

Just for fun, I ordered up some old episodes of "The Twilight Zone" from Netflix and watched them last week. TV sure has changed in the almost 50 years since these little gems first hit the screen in the 1960's, and not just because the original "Zones" were done in black and white. I knew people smoked more then, but was still amazed to see one scene that had actors lighting up in a hospital!

Last week had lots of semi-big events: visiting with family members, including a daughter who lives in Ohio, visiting San Francisco and marking our beloved Iowa win vs. the ranked Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl. We also marked 38 years of wedded bliss, though mainly by driving back and forth from the Bay area, five hours plus each way.
But, really, the biggest test of the week came yesterday in church. Everyone who serves there is a volunteer, but inevitably the assignments change, and new folks get the old assignments. Our congregation has had the same organist for many years, a very capable woman. Her new assignment, however, means that we need a new organist.We knew it was a possibility, but the wife finally was asked (on Friday evening!) to fill in at yesterday's (Sunday) meeting.
Being a capable organist is one of many things that are harder than they first appear, and the wife knew this already. She was understandably reluctant to be under pressure, even with a congregation coming up short of a hundred people. You see, she has plenty of piano experience, but almost none on the organ.
With one day to put it together, we went to an empty church on Saturday to practice. She worked on the music, since we finally had the hymn numbers for the next day, while I tried to give advice on things like volume and which of the organ stops to use or avoid.
We even went early on Sunday morning to put in a little more practice. She's calculating the chances of a complete rookie organist meltdown while I'm trying to remember the advice Rocky's trainer Mickey gave him before the fight against Mr. T.
There was the prelude (before the meeting), three hymns in the meeting itself, then a short postlude after the final "amen" before scurrying off to her regular assignment playing the piano for the under-12 set. Over all things went...pretty well. She might have hit a clinker or two along the way, but not enough for anyone to notice. We don't know if they will ask her to take on the job every week, but she was smiling all through the rest of the day, so I did, too.