Monday, May 30, 2011

The Land O' Plenty

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was doing what Republicans seem to enjoy, which is scolding everyone else for their lack of knowledge, skipping over the fact that a good part of his knowledge came from the pizza industry. Anyway, he was urging the public to read the Constitution. Well, no argument there - we should know all about the country's main governing document, right? The problem was, Mr. Cain went on to reveal his own lack of expertise by citing statements from the Declaration of Independence. Yes, they're both from the eighteenth century, and contain some of the same ideals, but mistaking one for the other isn't something that inspires faith in a candidate, is it?

This takes place before my own life got underway, but I've seen plenty of pics depicting the western plains of the Dust Bowl Days during the Great Depression. The movie that told the story best was "The Grapes of Wrath", which included a certain image we associate with the time - a Model A or Model T auto jammed with family belongings and the family itself as they head west to California to start over. As often as not, the house is simply left unlocked, empty, open to the elements.
Consider the subsequent life of the baby of such a family. He's a toddler by the time the family catches a break - World War II begins, and there is finally demand for workers again. They still don't have much, and may lose an older brother in the war itself, but things seem to be getting better as the 1950's begin. The baby, now a teenager, enters high school. The family discovers, to their surprise, that he has an aptitude for certain kinds of work which will be in high demand in coming decades.
Before anyone is familiar with the name "Vietnam", his career has begun, and there is plenty of work. His own family comes along, and there are problems with his children, but this is pretty common among his coworkers, and things overall are pretty good as times marches through the 70's, 80's and 90's.
Time passes into the new century, and he and his wife no longer have children at home. After long deliberation, they decide it's time to move closer to the grandkids, though they can't be close to all the kids because they live in different states, all of them well-paid for work they trained for in college.
So now it's time to move again. The family shows up in big numbers to get the job done, which they all know won't be easy. Sure, there are friends to leave behind, but the hard part is simply getting everything into a huge truck trailer. This, mind you, is after an effort to get some things to the new home and three yard sales designed to lighten the load. It takes more than 20 people most of a day just to load it all, and even then some things have to be taken in other vehicles. There must be over 100 taped up cardboard boxes which will never need to be reopened. Some of this great bounty, which includes nuts, bolts, screws, pieces of wood, hardware devices, kitchen gadgets, books, fruit preserves, toys, clothing of every size short of "giant", about 15 chairs, a monstrous TV and the ubiquitous Mormon food storage, about half a ton or so, will find its way to the new growth industry - storing the things you own, but don't have room for. ALL this - for two people.
This was my experience last Saturday, as one of the movers. I don't want to sound as though the folks involved were odd or compulsive hoarders. They just happened to live in a time and place that provided unbelievable bounty under certain conditions. Hooray for these good folks, and may their remaining years bring them nothing but happiness.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On Your Marks, Get Set,.......

Can you stand one more crazy roller derby name? I was told about a woman who wanted to honor her Jewish heritage, choosing the name "Mazel Tov Cocktail" for RD competition. BTW, is everyone out there aware that there's a major league ballplayer named Coco Crisp? No, really. And for good measure, there's a woman tennis pro named CoCo Vandeweghe, whose father is former NBA player KiKi Vandeweghe. Maybe having a president named Barack Obama isn't so odd after all.

Of course, it's still too early to tell, but we could have four more years to adapt to Mr. Obama if the early race for his Republican replacement is any indication. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and family took a long look at the prospects and decided to pass on running for president. To no one's surprise, Tim ("No, I'm not Scandinavian") Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, decided his time to run is NOW, as did former pizza king Herman Cain. No declaration either way yet from the Twisted Sisters, Palin and Bachman. Count Mitt Romney as all but declared, with Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and former New Mexico governor Johnson all declared.
My perspective is this: many or all these folks have some ability, even if it's just to raise funds or generate headlines. And I'm sure more than a couple actually have the capacity to operate a coherent government if they had the right supporting players in place.
What drags down the chances of this pack is that the party demands that they say stupid- sounding things in order to be nominated, by which time it's too late to reverse field and say what they're really thinking.
Take health care as an example. The nation as a whole has moved to change the system, though the changes won't come quickly or all at once. Republicans, however, are stuck with about five lines - all that the opponents of change can comprehend. Anything more sounds too much like change itself, and since changing almost anything has to be seen as a disaster in the making, they're stuck with cliches that don't inform anyone or even allow the candidates to make distinctions between each other. The party has effectively put a cloture rule on itself.
Here's another. The Bush efforts to wiggle out of the charge of "torture" were so weak that they were largely ignored. Now the GOP is trying to re-brand themselves as having been pro-torture in order to try to get some credit for the recent whacking of OBL. It ends up sounding like "No, we don't torture, but whatever we did do sure made 'em squeal." Pathetic. Even McCain is back to his natural anti-torture stance.
Even the tea party guys, who were supposed to be such pro-little guy flamethrowers, have been bought pretty cheaply by big money interests, and can no longer be distinguished from the GOP regulars hanging out with lobbyists and rich donors. They were corrupted in about 10 minutes. Look for them, following whoever is the candidate, to be sounding like the old broken record: "Lower taxes, no estate tax, less regulation whatever becomes of the air and water, and more restrictions on tax users - like public school teachers."
I don't think Reagan himself could run successfully after being painted into such small corners. Just remember - They've done it to themselves, and deserve the results they will get.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Business of America is...

I have mentioned our local roller derby before. I can't fully explains what makes it a hit, no pun intended, around here, but they always draw full crowds. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, while they take the sport seriously, they are a bit less serious about themselves. The most evident sign of this little quirk is that the women don't use their real names in competing, but make up new ones, which are often quite clever. Last weekend's action, for example, featured roller babes Ms. B. Haven, Avi N. Flew and Russ T. Machete. Mess with them and you'll soon be in Sir E. S. Payne.

No one should kid themselves that running a campaign for president is not a long, difficult, brutal, complicated and mostly unfun undertaking. I don't blame anyone for considering the effort, then backing off. That's a growing list, by the way, and it now includes Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump (which I predicted, though not exclusively) and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. I sometimes think that if you run a campaign all the way through to the party convention you should get a special designation to add to your name, something like O.P.C. for Onetime Presidential Contender. The first caucus is in eight months.

Another thing you can't blame candidates for is putting their strengths out front. It's someone else's job to scout out your weaknesses, which is fair, though people don't want to be seen peeking into corners looking for another candidate's dirty laundry. The Republican Party these days has some candidates whose main prior experience is in business. This isn't anything new, but you can expect to hear again how candidate X excels at "creating jobs, building wealth, provided opportunity and has balanced the books of a large business" and therefore "brings real world experience" to the White House." Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should.
And perhaps we'll have a moment in which the perfect holder of the office of President is a former business tycoon of some sort. We have had a number of wealthy presidents, but you could not seriously say that FDR or Kennedy or either Bush was someone who woke every day thinking of how to make an extra buck. The point is, the businessmen-presidents we have had don't seem to have great records as presidents.
And there really aren't that many of them. Truman once ran a little store (unsuccessfully), but you have to go back to Hoover to find someone who came from nowhere to somewhere as a business guy. He turned his degree in mining engineering (awarded by Stanford U's first graduating class) to a series of lucrative jobs all over the world. He had great foresight as Secretary of Commerce, too. But he also had the misfortune of being flattened by the Great Depression, an event so huge that no president could have done much better.
In fact, I could be wrong, but the closest to businessmen as we know the term today would boil down to Polk, Jefferson and Washington, all gentlemen farmers, and all of them slave owners. I will admit to being a bit hazy on the professions of some of the bearded presidents of the 19th century. More than a couple, I'm thinking, were Civil War veterans who were GOP party hacks from Ohio. Harding was the last Ohioan.
That's a bit surprising, isn't it? We trust businesses at some level every day to do or supply what they promise, and, mostly, they do. So the appeal is a natural one, but somehow when it gets down to voting, we're more likely to trust the governor or former general than the butcher, baker or chain store operator. Republicans could take either Mitt Romney, a practitioner of slash-and-burn capitalism and a huge success, or Mr. Cain, he of the million plus pizzas made by Godfather's. Either one, if nominated, will be looking uphill, however, at the former community organizer from Chicago, Mr. Obama. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Proper Decorum

There were two blog entries last week, but neither touched on the big issue of the day - the death by unnatural causes of Osama bin Laden. As the week progressed, some raised the question as to how we, as a nation, should take this news. I think that's a worthy question, because the option to literally dance in the streets over something in the news doesn't come along too often, even including the years when your favorite team conquers the entire world.
I even think it's worth considering whether believers, who often try to set the behavior bar a bit higher, should react differently from those who attend funerals to hear bawdy stories about the deceased and ignore the minister.
As for the end of OBL, it's pretty hard to imagine that there wouldn't be dancing, singing, drinking, congratulating and overblown claims of "justice", as if some are so evil that our only defense is to lock and load. Yes, the president himself referred to "justice", but tried to straddle the line a bit by avoiding the celebrations except to meet with and thank the military for their role. He knows we're stuck with some kind of terror threat for the forseeable future and doesn't want to give the next generation of scary guys the visual of something like the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Even the disposal of bin Laden's remains at sea was meant to provoke as little anger as possible while also denying radicals the chance to mourn together. It was done, I read, with the intent of showing the world's billion plus Muslims that, NO, the U.S. is not at war with Islam. It certainly won't work with everyone, but it shows forethought, and was done with little extra expense.
But I digress. Does scripture offer to believers any model regarding the death of a perceived villain? David's reaction to the death of his old persecutor Saul was genuine sadness, but most recorded deaths in scripture have little detail of the reaction. Moses slays the Egyptian, Samuel the prophet dismembers a king taken prisoner in battle, the entire tribe of Benjamin is almost annihilated by the other eleven tribes, Joshua is commanded to clear the land of Canaan of all non-Israelites by any means necessary and even Peter in the New Testament pulls the plug on a couple who had withheld assets from the church, then lied about it. A man is zapped instantly for attempting to steady the Ark of the Covenant without the proper authority. David is celebrated to this day as a military leader. The dead in all these cases get little or no remembrance.
Of course, planning and carrying out the 9/11 attacks was horrific, and there's no sign of OBL ever having regrets. Still, the man had a (pretty big) family. In some ways he came across as a modern day John Brown, our native terrorist. I guess I have no real reason to expect the future to be less violent than the recent past, but finally let me say that I have some sympathy for the family he left, and wish for some happiness for the innocent.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Bonus! Bonus!

I got to thinking a little about the blog already published this week, and felt I could add to it without rotten veggies being thrown my way. I'm happy to say that it in no way connects to people who were alive last week, and now aren't. Just think of it as a tiny Mothers Day present, though there's no connection with that, either. Finally, you should read last Sunday's blog before this one. It'll make more sense that way.

Picture a couple of guys drying off following their weekly tennis match at the club. The conversation takes place in the locker room.
"Man, you were tough today, Burt."
"Thanks, Ernie. You know how some days things just seem to work better."
"Right. But, your serve. It was moving around today in ways I just don't remember! C'mon, man. You're getting some help, right?"
"Well, yes. I've been in on a few lessons."
"Really? From who?"
"Gosh, do I have to tell you? After all, we're competitors, right?"
"Right. But we're also teammates when we take on your in-laws in doubles. Really, I won't tell."
"Well, here's a clue. Who's the most unlikely guy you'd think could help my game out?"
"You don't mean-"
"Do I have to spell it out? I've had some lessons with the Insane Pro."
"Wow. I've heard about that guy. But isn't he kind of, ah,...crazy?"
"Well, aren't we all, Big Guy? I admit he was a little tough to get used to at first. There was the screaming at his imaginary opponent, and there was the time he slammed a ball at a noisy baby. But the ball missed. Hey, you can get used to almost anything if you want to, man."
"Yeah, I hear you. I used to feel bad at the brokerage office when people came in crying over their losses. Who knew things were going to crater, right? I don't even notice them anymore."
"That's exactly how it is with Insane Pro. In fact, we just call him 'I.P'"
"Is he trying to get you to change any other parts of your game?"
"We had one workout when he wanted me to hit forehands with my back to the net between the legs."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No. Actually, I hit some pretty good shots, but viewing the court from upside down means you have to make some adjustments with your footwork."
"Hmm. Yeah. I could see how that might be tough."
"Given what the guy charges, I'm already way ahead. So, over all I'm pretty happy with the decision to work with him."
"Well, if you don't mind one more nosy question, just how much does he charge?"
"If you must know, it's...two dollars a lesson."
"TWO DOLLARS!? But that's--"
"I know. It's insane (chuckle)."

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Names of the Week

I get a magazine which is all about tennis, including showing you the advertisers' latest racquets, shoes, bags, etc. Is there a conflict of interest here? Sure, but you're supposed to know that when the magazine arrives, and, hey, the new gear might actually be better than the old stuff you've been using.
Anyway, the Head Co., a major supplier in this sport, now has a shoe model with an odd name. I can't decide if it's very cool or a bit scary. Could you see putting on a pair of "Insane Pro" models before your next match? They don't have any wild graphics or unnatural colors - just a name that might make you want to steer clear. I think I would have to try them on before buying.

There's been a long string of athletes with snappy first names to go along with "Jones", though none stranger than actress January Jones, the actress from TV's "Madmen". There's football's Ed ("Too Tall") Jones, Lo Lo Jones, the woman hurdler, and "Pacman" Jones, a football player who always seems to be around whenever there's trouble at the striptease club. The latest Jones the rest of the NFL might have to keep up with is Taiwan Jones, a running back from Eastern Washington who will get a chance to win a roster spot with the Oakland Raiders. To the best of my knowledge, he has no Chinese relatives.

Are you familiar with one of those tricky maneuvers that pro sports teams make to increase their bottom line? I'm speaking of the stadium name change gambit, in which you ask new companies to outbid the old company for "naming rights", a euphemism for splashing your corporate name and logo all over the place to remind the suckers who to call when they need some kind of goods or services. Trying to take over the Oakland Coliseum right now is just such a company -
This presents, as I see it, two new problems. The first is that Overstock gets more sales of its products to women that men. Just how can you promote bedsheets and patio furniture at a football game? Maybe one end zone could be full of linens and table lamps while the other one is reserved for guys in ugly pirate gear, the normal Raider fan ensemble. It's just hard to see these two names (Overstock, Raiders) together in a way that makes any sense.
Which brings us to the second problem, which is that Overstock itself wants to be known simply as "O". I don't think that has happened yet, but I'm afraid the other 25 letters might bring a class action suit against their oval outlaw fellow letter. If that weren't enough, from April to September the stadium is the home of the Oakland "A"s. A Battle of the vowels could be E-P-I-C. I guess this is why you pay big bucks every year to a hive of man-eating lawyers who, as long as they're well-paid, concentrate on devouring the other guy instead of you.

On a lighter, though completely true, note, I pass along something that just happened in a Sunday School class I attended. The teacher, attempting to show some humility, referred to himself as a "schmuck". From the back of the room came a female voice, that of the teacher's wife, asking "Could I have that in writing?"