Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Up the "Crazy" Spiral

You get more chances to watch tennis this week and next than any other time of the year, during the US Open. The chance of seeing some less prominent players are also much higher. Tennis Channel commentator Mary Carillo described one of the women players, at just five feet tall and barely a hundred lb., as a "hood ornament of a player". She lost in the first round, so we just had one chance to see her.

Our readers theater group was planning to perform this week at the birthday party of one of the group's founders, an older lady. The plan, however, was canceled - by the Grim Reaper himself. I'm told we might still fill a slot at the memorial service. And why not, since we always wear black?

It was just about exactly three years ago that we (us non-Alaskans) were first introduced to Sarah Palin. Some liked her, some didn't, and that continues to be the case. What we could not have known at the time was that she would become something of a role model for 21st century Republican candidates for high office.
The "babble first, explain later with more babble" school of electioneering was an immediate hit with the Tea Party crowd. Their candidates didn't all win, but all of a sudden the blurters seemed to outnumber the thoughtful responders, and by a large margin.
Take a look at the GOP candidates for president. Ron Paul almost seems quaint by leaping on FEMA, a federal agency which has not only been needed this year, but has done pretty well according to those at disaster sites. What would replace it, and how? Paul is a libertarian, so we assume the answer is "the market". Well, it's easy to see why certain businesses would love to sell water at $10/gallon or housing at a nightly fee in the mid- three figures. You don't like it? Walk to a new home.
And it gets worse. Newcomer and alleged current "leader" Rick Perry published a book which advocated the removal of the 16th amendment (income tax), and wants US senators to once again be elected by state legislatures. Calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" in the book, he says he's not backing off. His PR guy says differently, but so what? It was only a couple of years ago Perry was cozying up to a group backing Texas' secession from the union!
But Perry's not the only loose cannon in the field. Michele Bachmann emits something goofy almost every day. She says she'd "consider" proposals to drill for oil in the Florida Everglades (perhaps for a minute or two), and in Iowa last week she jumped right into the slippery slope of speaking for God when she claimed He was behind the latest eastern earthquake and Hurricane Irene. Just a joke, she later said. In case you've wondered, Bachmann's very first political campaign was only eleven years ago.
I don't know where the crazy spiral ends. Herman Cain demands a loyalty oath from any possible government employee who happens to also be a Muslim. Has anyone brought up the possibility that any real terrorist would be happy to take, then ignore, any oath anyone could come up with? And he's unwilling to talk about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith - unless someone asks.
Could it be that Mitt invented this whole Tea Party thing in order to seem more moderate, instead of just the quasi-official candidate of Wall Street? Maybe not. The Party has already completely demonized the word "moderate".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New News Source

We had eight house guests over the weekend, all of them family, five of them under the age of eight. A couple of things were broken, but not enough to stimulate the economy all by ourselves. And we come away with a built-in excuse (those dang kids!) for anything that's missing or not working correctly. How lucky for us!

I was a little surprised when I found out in June that one of my Fathers Day gifts was...a subscription to the New Yorker. Excluding Hawaii, we are almost as far as you can get from New York. Still, the magazine doesn't confine its coverage to the five boroughs, and I have to say that each issue seems to include something pretty interesting, either current or past.
For instance, there was a review of a book about the relationship between the European powers, particularly the British, and both sides during our own Civil War. Before that conflict, Europe simply didn't concern itself much with the new nation in America, having seen little from it other than its great natural resources.
But the war changed all that. When they were able to read about the level of violence taking place, with the new ways being used to destroy the enemy, Europeans took notice. Any society capable of producing such mayhem was clearly a serious nation, and deserved to be treated seriously. There was some tendency to sympathize with the Confederacy, but the existence of slavery, which Europe had already resolved, prevented more help or recognition to the South.
I also enjoyed the article fleshing out the intellectual background of Michele Bachmann. Her personal involvement in politics goes back just over a decade, but her connection to the 'culture wars" goes back much further. Today, she presents herself with little or no mention of early influences on her thinking, which I would describe as "scary Christian Right." Even so, the article wasn't a complete hack job of Bachmann and husband. It refers to some good things they did in their frequent role as foster parents for a number of teenage girls. Her role as a part of the IRS? Way overplayed in the campaign, as is her record in founding a charter school in Minnesota that now operates under much different conditions than when she pushed its whole orientation hard to the Christian Right in violation of its own charter.
Just lately the magazine included a long article on the background of, and then the hour-by-hour experience of the Seal team sent to Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. Nothing that big, of course, happens without the President's involvement, and that part was also described, along with the relationship between the CIA and regular armed forces. An interesting sidelight was the forced destruction of a helicopter crippled by a crash landing within the bin Laden compound. To some it was an acceptable tradeoff made worthwhile by the fact that such evidence would give the lie to any bogus versions of who had been there. There is only one force capable of landing, and then destroying a US helicopter, and leaving it as evidence. Though OBL's remains were disposed of at sea to deny any kind of rallying point for the next generation of terrorists, there was still evidence that we are not at war with all of Islam - wives and underage children were spared, left to the care of the huge (and rich) bin Laden family.
It's true I'm not much good at small talk anymore. Where to get groceries or what sites to use for low prices, quick delivery, whatever. I'm no longer much of a consumer, but I do enjoy knowing important stuff as a result of having read something. So thanks, Dane.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Collaborating With Elvis

I watched the Republicans go at it in their pre-straw poll debate last Thursday. The poll, which means nothing in terms of votes or delegates, is mainly the Iowa Republican method of shaking down the candidates by charging $30 a head while suggesting strongly that all the candidates show up. There will be plenty of other debates, but none will include Tim Pawlenty, gone from the campaign already. That's almost not long enough to be considered a "journalist" by FOX News.
I could go on about the debate, but let's just leave it at this: a moderate has about as much chance of being the next Republican nominee as a vegetarian campaigning to be elected King of the Vampires.

A combination of work obligations and vacations resulted in my being in an unaccustomed spot last week - the local congregation's "go to" guy. It meant I was first in a very short line to run the funeral of a ninety-one year old woman who I didn't know, dealing with her family, none of whom I had met and preparing for an event the size of which I had no clue.
So I tried to make sure that my little sermon was ready, and not too long. I went to the funeral home an hour before things were scheduled to start, hoping for no surprises. The family began to dribble in - no one over seventy, but with children and grandchildren of their own. I met with a daughter (the family's "go to" gal), and began to be surprised. No one had thought of a eulogy, nor was anyone willing to try it on the fly. OK. Well, let's collect some facts in order to put this life into some kind of context. Putting on one more hat could be managed. The dedication of the grave (an LDS ordinance)? That would also be - me.
The time came, and I observed a total of 40-50 people. They seemed nice enough, but when did people stop dressing up for funerals? Were they all afraid that they'd have to speak if they had a tie on? Mine was the only one except for the funeral director's, and he was as calm as a banker doing a foreclosure. Everyday meat and potatoes.
The sister I had planned to call on to give the invocation hadn't yet arrived, but I stood up and began. Why was the pulpit too little? Where could I put my scriptures without fearing they'd fall?
I called on another sister, our bishop's wife toting a two week-old baby, the latest of nine, to give the prayer, and she did. The one I had asked came in about three minutes too late. I pieced together the eulogy, realizing only afterward that either my facts were off or the deceased woman had married at age 11. No one complained.
I opened the floor to anyone who wished to make an expression or relate a memory. Precious few did, and we pressed forward. Only others could judge the quality of my sermon, though it seemed less impressive to me than it did when I practiced it.
We had a closing prayer less than half an hour after beginning, after which the director dismissed the group starting from the back rows to give them an up close look at his profession's handiwork. I kept a respectful distance.
The formal events of the day ended when we went to the other side of town to dedicate the grave. The printed program referred to me as an "officiate". Does that sound like a guy in a striped shirt with a whistle? I hope not.
But what about Elvis? Well, he did his bit by providing all the pre- and post-ceremony music, backed up by the Jordanaires and an ensemble of white Gospel players. I can't say he stole the show, but I have no problem saying it's great working with the King. Thankyeew.

Monday, August 08, 2011

People Are Strange

We didn't crowd in to see the latest "Planet of the Apes" movie that debuted this past weekend, but if the trailers on TV are any indication, I think the viewer will get more than his share of two things - bad science and tough (really tough) monkeys.

I knew getting cable would change things here, but I didn't know if it would be for the better or not. There's lots of tennis, sports highlights on the hour and movies around the clock, many of them shown (and I admit I don't know how they do this) commercial-free. I saw more gangsters traveling in more huge cars and carrying out more "whacks" last week than you could see on the average month of Sicilian TV news. One channel one day showed nothing but movies featuring the late John Garfield (whose original name was Garfinkel), all in glorious black and white.
The political guys go at it pretty hard and heavy, of course. They kind of show the news, but then quickly get down to business - making you hate the other side, even though you probably hate them already.
There are stations that feature Christianity, shopping for bargains, fighting crime, remodeling, business, the business of Congress, and a dozen or so other specialties, and that doesn't include the fifty or so music-only stations, the HD channels or the PPV outfits with two big draws - sex and violence.
So far, it seems to me the weirdest stuff involves people in strange occupations or with sad disabilities of one kind or another. There's the guys who go after antiques in old garages around the country looking for things to resell and turn a buck, the crab fishermen up in the Arctic Ocean, ice road truckers, wild boar hunters, snake chasers, and even a guy who travels the world throwing hooks out for very dangerous fish. There are the crazy moms trying to fulfill their own dreams by turning their little girls (babies, even!) into beauty queens. The girls struggle to keep up, not realizing that not everyone has to go through this before they turn six. Why do they all seem to live in Texas?
If I had to pick one show that seems the creepiest, it might be Hoarders, in which we meet people whose homes and lives have collapsed around them simply because they can't get themselves to throw anything away. It's pretty bizarre. All the accumulated stuff, which usually has no value of its own, chokes the life out of families and leaves people in grief when they realize that it's just a matter of chance that made their own lives so hellish. Cleaning things up, hard as it is, isn't even the whole solution, because the hoarders may just return to their old ways without some serious counseling, and so that's part of the show, too. No, the counseling isn't done in a nice, clean office, but in odd moments when the "customers" are surrounded by heaps of repellent garbage. You're going to turn around habits that have been there for decades, which the hoarders are usually perfectly comfortable with? Best of luck, because, as the song says, "people are strange".

Monday, August 01, 2011

Face to Face With Mother Nature

The early evaluations of the debt/spending bill negotiations which took place over the weekend have arrived. Everyone, to no one's surprise, hates it. I guess that's inevitable when you have two sides forced to hammer something out or face even more universal scorn.

A granddaughter had a little accident last week. It wasn't anything too awful, but I sent along the following poem, which explains what transpired:
Poor Claire
(July, 2011)

I hope I can live
With this giant disgrace.
I fell, and then landed
On rocks - with my face!

At church they might laugh
And the neighbors might gawk
To see how I landed
On rocks - in the park.

It wasn't too pretty
But nothing was broken.
The rest of me's fine
And my brain's not cracked open.

Just be sure to hold on
When you climb up a tree.
'Cause you don't want to suffer
And bleed like poor me!

I understand Claire, a kindergartner to be, is healing on schedule. Yay.

For the six years we've been living in California, I've tried to figure out how we could see - a whale. As great a place as Iowa is, there's nothing that answers to that description. Large carp and catfish are about as big as they come. Then we heard an odd thing, a mother whale and calf had somehow traveled up the Klamath River to a spot directly under the Highway 101 bridge. You can find it on a map, WAY north of the Bay Area. The calf turned back toward the ocean, but the mother remains, slowly going back and forth on both sides of the bridge.
As you might imagine, this has become a big draw in the area, about an hour north of where we live. We decided it was worth trying to get a look, figuring that watching a live whale beats seeing a dead one, and that the smell would be better, too.
On Friday, we headed North arriving with the sun still up. The whale, while just of middling size for this species (a 45-foot California Grey whale, we're told), is certainly the biggest thing in the river. It didn't do anything dramatic, but blew out the blow hole, as whales do, and gave us a good look from the bridge, maybe 60 feet above the river. Success!
But wait, as they say on TV, there's more! Upon leaving, we looked down and saw some otters playing in the river, then on the return trip saw several of a well-known local herd of Roosevelt elk. They are sort of red in color, and look like regular elk on steroids. The road took us within a few feet of them, so we were careful. To me they looked big enough to have our puny local deer for lunch - if they were meat eaters. Luckily, they didn't seem to mind us passing by. They, of course, go anywhere they want.
No one knows just what brought the whales this way. I wondered if they hadn't been hired by the nearby tribal-run casino to increase traffic to the area. If so, it's working. But, city dwellers that we are, it's great to get up close with Nature once in awhile, face to face.