Monday, April 25, 2011

The Donald

Last week they gathered to mark the 105th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake of 1905. Of course there are next to no survivors still, ah, surviving, but I was a little surprised to learn something else. Even then, there was international aid sent to help dig out from various disasters. The largest donor following that major quake? Japan, which sent around $250,000.

I suppose the majority of people, if asked, would guess that Donald Trump is the most wealthy presidential GOP wannabe this time around. I'm not sure about this, but I think Mitt Romney is richer, though not as high profile.
But let's assume that Trunp is a pretty rich guy even though it's clear he spends time every day trying to get even more cash in his well-manicured hands. Why would such a guy want to run, or at least pretend to run for president, given that running requires millions of dollars, is far from a sure bet, and carries a salary less than the Sultan of Brunei would carry in his back pocket if he weren't wearing robes.
So what makes The Donald run, assuming he's not possessed by an uncontrollable urge to selflessly serve the country that made him as well known as Heinz ketchup?
If we took Trump to be the same guy we see on TV, we'd simply attribute it to the man's massive ego. Who hasn't thrilled to his TV signature line "You're fired" and then wondered if running the country isn't really as simple as having a real man in charge, willing to send the corrupt bureaucrats packing to make room for a collection of testosterone-driven super patriots willing to carry out the boss' wishes, no questions asked.
The truth, something compels me to think, is more subtle. The real Trump, I'm thinking, is more nuanced than the TV character. Surely someone he trusts must have told him that the rest of the country is not like New York, and that having dumped two or three wives might dent one's credibility in certain states. In addition, the electorate might not feel comfortable getting behind someone as litigious as Trump, let alone his up-and-down business career. He has to know you can't fire Congress or the Supreme Court just to make sure you get your own way. Would he really like being followed and second-guessed every day over big and small issues by a million bloggers?
But then, just what is the Trump Master Plan that has him continuing to whip a dead horse issue (the birthers) even though the facts show him wrong every day? Maybe it's not so complicated after all. Maybe he needs the money. No, not the money paid to presidents- chump change in the circles Trump and spouse du jour like to be in. It's the TV money that may keep the big guy afloat while other assets are tied up in litigation of various kinds. Maybe more people will watch the Miss Universe Pageant (Trump-owned) or The Apprentice looking for a chance to see Trump declare something that sounds political behind the power of a solid pink tie.
All right. Maybe I don't know so much either, but I somehow think that Trump is clever enough to give himself a chance to come out looking smarter (and, more importantly, richer) than he did going in. After all, he's still holding back on the ultimate question: What about that hair, dude?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Clash of Methods

First this week, two little stories that almost touch on tennis. We have a doubles game started up last Saturday after pushing all the water off the courts we could. On the street just outside the courts comes an older vehicle, from which appears a battery-powered bullhorn. An amplified voice asks if we have seen a dog running loose. We reply that we have not seen the dog, and the car moves on. Being a liberal who's been suspicious of anyone wielding a bullhorn in an official capacity before, I now see it in an entirely new light. In fact, I even have the urge to buy a bullhorn - and I don't even own a dog!

I just can't stop writing about Serena Williams. You might have heard that she's been hurt lately, and hasn't actually played in competition since last summer. There's no date set for her return yet, either, but that didn't stop her from going out last week to hit a few balls for reasons best known to her. I suppose it was to see just what parts of her well-paid body are still hurting.
But with Serena, nothing is done halfway. She stepped onto the court dressed in a single piece body suit made of fabric of a rare color. It would have to be described as neon electric hot pink. I'm guessing she could have been spotted from outer space. Hey, good luck to her. You hate to see the great ones go down, And the rest of the world should see the outfit on her before it gets shipped off to the fashion museum.

Three years ago, the Church (You know. The Mormons.) got involved in trying to stop legal gay marriage in California. For complicated reasons, I admit to having been a poor soldier in the cause.
But now I realize better one of the things that kept me from being more gung ho on Prop 8. The religious model is so different from the political one that you (at least I) have a hard time operating in both spheres at the same time.
Peoples' religious convictions can wander all over the map as time goes on, and so can their political convictions. One difference is that in the political realm, there is always an election being decided, which carries a date (Election Day) requiring your action. And a vote count does not take into account the depth of one's convictions, their veracity or even whether they make sense. In fact, you can climb on a soapbox to declare that voting for candidate XYZ is vital in order for us to avoid alien invasion. No one will take your vote away, and it counts just as much as any Poli Sci professor's vote.
The religious model works very differently, as we make the effort to do the right things for the right reasons, lest we prove ourselves to be vapid fools before (gulp) deity. Will He give us credit for having done the right thing, even when it's for the wrong reason? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. And there's no deadline, as we ponder mightily the truths of eternity, while local party organizations offer to take us to the polls on Election Day, or even to pick up and deliver our absentee ballot in order to make sure it's right (?) No, COUNTED!
Don't get me wrong. The political model works pretty well in this "get it done' kind of world, and some things just have to be decided now, including who's going to represent us or lead us in coming years. As for religious truth, I can mainly hope that I get wiser year by year, and that when that process reverses, that someone tells me in order to allow me to stop pondering altogether.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When in Paris...

Mapleton is a small town in western Iowa which now is known for something - it was almost completely destroyed by an early season tornado last week. Of course, as they say, it could have been worse. You see, Iowans know that tornadoes will threaten from time to time, but the usual area of destruction is small compared to, say, a major flood or earthquake, so the locals simply hope the twisters will spin themselves out harmlessly in the corn and soybean fields which dominate the countryside rather than hit the towns. That strategy usually works.
This time, though, the town itself took the hit. Even so, a statewide system of warning sirens clicked into action at the right moment, and Mapleton was spared any fatalities. Was it a miracle? I don't know, but it gives the lie to those perpetual grouches who keep insisting that government can't do anything right. BTW, this complaint is usually voiced by those who expect (and get) their Social Security checks right on time every month.

Did you notice the law that went into effect in France over the weekend? It's now illegal to wear a veil that covers your face. It doesn't apply to motorcycle helmets or holiday costumes, but it's not restricted to women, either. The target, though the term "Muslim" also does not appear in the legislation, is clearly Middle Eastern immigrants, which France has had many of for decades following its colonial past.
If the US had such a law, no doubt it could only have been passed with the use of scare terms like "terrorist" or "sharia law", but the French evidently don't see it that way. A high government official cited two factors behind the law: the preservation of "secularism" and the "equality of men and women". Having never set foot in Europe, I don't know if these terms are meant to be 'code speak" among the French, but the law seems to have backing by both sides of the French political spectrum. For what it's worth, violators of the new law get hit with a $200 fine.
What should we think of all this. or is it just none of our business? Some folks of our Right will no doubt decide to ignore that we are supposed to (according to their last dictum) hate the French (from their lack of cooperation in our Iraq fiasco) in favor of the even more current doctrine of hating the A-rabs. Forgotten in their black-and-white vision is our own tradition of permitting all sorts of dress, particularly if it's connected to a religious tradition. Even today, picking Hasidic Jews or Amish from the crowd is easy, and no one seems to mind. And isn't the Right's job to keep reminding us that government is "too big" and that opposing it all the time is our only choice if liberty is to be preserved? I guess it's a little like how they see abortion - big government is OK as long as it's leaving ME alone and preventing YOU from doing something I don't like.
Perhaps the best answer to the question in the previous paragraph is "none of our business". With that in mind, I shall remember to leave all veils at home the next time we're headed to Paree.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Geezerpalooza Show

If last night's NCAA basketball championship game had been a person, he would have been known as Quasimodo - ugly. One team barely made 30% of their shots - and they were the winners! The losers shot an anemic 19%, helping generate a combined 100 rebounds. Next thing you know, they'll have to start issuing helmets to protect player brains from all the misses.

I've described before in this space my unlikely connection to the local barbershop music chorus. I spend a day or two per year traipsing around town helping raise scholarship money by joining a quartet singing musical Valentines. Of course, this involves some preparation, because fouling up this music results in sounds no one wants to hear.
But I never have joined the chorus itself. I did go to their big annual show last Saturday (paying for my ticket, mind you), which was held in the city's nice-but-not-big theater. This year, the chorus (The Humboldt Harmonaires) marked 50 years of existence, not only bringing in outside talent, but reuniting quartets who originally showed their stuff during the Eisenhower administration. The audience, as you might have guessed, was mainly made up of some seriously old people.
But I was surprised by the music. I thought I'd be hearing songs that made the hit parade at the turn of the century (the 20th century). There were some of those, but somewhere along the way, barbershop has morphed itself into a kind of latter-day burlesque in which the chord resolutions that the genre was built on seem to take a back seat to getting cheap laughs with some borderline vulgar stuff. Do you remember the barbershop hit "I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore"? No? Me either. I suppose you can only do "Let Me Call you Sweetheart" so many times before things get a little dull. And I personally have no desire to hear barbershop versions of Christmas songs, but I wonder what could be done with Lennon/McCartney or Johnny Cash material. Bob Dylan? That too.
I guess my position in the barbershop scene is about right. Not being a regular, I won't get tired of the stuff, nor am I obliged to officially declare myself "old". I don't have to sell ads for a massive printed program or confuse comedy with embarrassment. And I'm still free to be part of the local white guy Temptations tribute group - if it ever comes into existence.