Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Contrast

If there is an organization that prospers from fear and suspicion, it's the NRA, those self-appointed guardians of the 2nd Amendment. The NRA has grown to be the model of successful one-issue special interest groups, learning in the process that pounding the drum of dread can never be overdone - not when your business is ADVOCACY! In fact, to the NRA even good news is not to be entirely trusted. This is WAR!
Not satisfied that the US leads the world in private firearms ownership, NRA bigshot Wayne LaPierre recently had an explanation as to why the Obama administration has not so far turned into a vicious gun-confiscating tyranny. Oh, it's still coming, opined Mr. P. It just hasn't STARTED yet. All the more reason to help the NRA in its fight to evict all gun opponents by upping your membership dues, and throwing in a little more if you can.
LaPierre even has a place he feels is under-armed compared to the rest of the country - colleges and universities. A setting which already features not-quite-mature individuals, plenty of drugs, both legal and not, armed security forces and a large potential for real time misunderstandings between parties needs just one thing to achieve full peace - more guns. Maybe I should ask Mitt for the cost of a lifetime NRA membership. Maybe not.

I have no problem, however, bringing up the recent reaching of a milestone by Mariano Rivera. Who's Rivera? According to one statistical criterium, he's the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived. Rivera is a native of Panama, but his baseball home is still the New York Yankees, for whom he has practiced his craft for a full 17 years. He's now 41 years old.
Perhaps a word of explanation is needed here. You may know that relief pitchers are the ones who don't start the game, but may be called upon later to come out of the "bullpen". Relief pitchers can also become specialists. The best-known kind of reliever is the "closer", whose job it is to keep the other team from scoring when your team leads, and finish as the team's final pitcher. The closer then gets credit for a "save". It goes without saying that "closers" are important guys, whether it's the Yankees or anyone else.
Rivera just broke the record for saves in a career, topping 600 times he has ended the game smiling. Remarkably, he relies on just one pitch, a fastball variation that he controls with deadly accuracy. Everyone knows it's coming, but he still leaves opposing batters lunging, baffled and muttering to themselves while making the long walk back to the dugout. It's not true that no one ever hits one of his pitches, but the guy is famous for getting even better in the biggest games, notably the World Series.
Things get over-watched, over-analyzed and over-hyped in New York City, but Rivera's life off the field is wonderfully dull. He's never been in any trouble that I can recall, though the pressure on him to succeed must be enormous.
I'm probably the only one anywhere making this odd comparison between a pressure group and a relief pitcher. One must, owing to umpires and sportswriters, do his job honestly. The other - not so much. The truth of accomplishment is contrasted to the temporary spoils of hype. If Rivera were my neighbor, I'd have a reason to take up Spanish again. If LaPierre moved in, I wouldn't waste a Christmas card on him. What a contrast!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thinking Big Thoughts

No, it's not me doing the big thinking. I would immediately be exposed as a fraud. Watching my old home boys play (they came back to win after looking bad early), and my alma mater stink up the field (0-40 the second half) to the team just up the road 40 miles or so, I would have been confused trying to think anything worth retaining. Let's just say that the ball takes funny bounces, and that having thirty-some bowls means that even the not-so-pretty girls get a chance to show their stuff after it's all played out. Anyway, my real favorite team plays women's tennis, and is a very respectable 6-1 so far.

Now, imagine, as I suppose we've all done in the past, what's going through someone else's mind, specifically Mitt Romney's. The inner dialog may go a bit like this: "Well, this campaign is generating a few ragged moments, but I'm the only one who's been through this before, and, over all, I can start to see things going my way.
"In fact, not to seem vain, but it may be time to think a little bit (just a little, mind you) about a running mate for the stretch run next year. Boy, if I learned anything during the last campaign, it was that this is a decision that can help or hurt your chances for the big prize. Even McCain, who's normally a guy who makes very few bonehead plays, sure put his foot in it when he rescued Sarah Palin from obscurity. It all hit her so fast and hard that she couldn't stop being obscure, undereducated, underprepared - just a bad choice. Poor guy probably lost the election right there, although he no doubt felt he had to hit a home run with her to win the election anyway. But I was just like everyone else. I winced every time her lips moved. Man, I can't make that kind of clunker decision. All this hanging out with either hicks or millionaires has to pay off better than what McCain got, no question.
"But what about the person I choose? He (and I can't forget that it could be a woman - anyway that's what Goldman Sachs tells me) first off has to be honest. No plotting. No screaming just to try to make the other side look bad, no making things up and no personal vendettas out of the VP's office. Whatever I put him in charge of, he'll have to know at least as much about as I do. Heck, nobody knows everything, and so he could be a very valuable person.
"In fact, he should know about some very specific things that an investment banker/New England governor may not have had to deal with before. Things like weapons, agricultural subsidies, immigration, terrorism, and our international standing. Sure, I spent two years meeting folks in France, but that was almost fifty years ago. There sure weren't any black French tennis pros then, I can tell you that.
"But the guy will have to be straight with me. A president has opponents around every corner. Heck, half of Washington thinks they could do the job better than me. So the last thing I need is a guy with his own secret agenda, who's looking out first for himself or his friends. The Constitution gives the VP very little power for a reason - the country has to speak with one voice - MINE. If a former VP writes a book, it had better refer more often to the president than to himself. Otherwise we know it's his own plans that are going to be top of the list.
"The country has to have faith in the VP. He can't be a hack or someone out to make a market killing. When I tell him to go to a state funeral somewhere, that's IT! He's going, even if it's a fourteen-hour plane ride.
"So he's got to be honest, loyal, hardworking, preferably younger than me, though not as good-looking. And he can't be found to be a guy who's been watching porn, either. I won't stand for that. R-rated movies, OK, but only if they get the "R" for violence. Not that other stuff."

Of course, only Mitt himself knows what he's really thinking. But he did have a word or two to say on the VP thing just last week in Arizona. He said he'd pick a VP like....Dick Cheney, whom he described as a person of "wisdom and judgment." Oy. If someone I know was to say that, I'd check out his back to see if the dementia hooks were already dragging him to the last roundup. After all, shouldn't big thoughts lead us away from tiny conclusions?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mass Psychosis

Plenty of things to examine this week. There's the already mixed outlook of several football teams, the incomprehensible reaction by Serena Williams to an umpire's call in a championship match, and Dick Cheney's latest attempt to change money from our accounts to his with a new book designed (surprise!) to show him in the most positive light during his VP years, which I would have thought he would have preferred to forget altogether. Let's consider something else.

I once read that a person's reaction to a new situation might be influenced by the reaction of others in the same situation. You see a person on the street who needs help of some kind, but you also notice that no one seems to be paying much attention. It's unlikely, according to this theory, that you'll do something much different from everyone else.
Perhaps the theory helps us understand the reactions of "blood oath" Republican audiences to certain moments in the still-young campaign debates. First, I don't think I'm the only one to notice that the Republican Party seems less like a political party these days and more like some kind of snooty, overconfident fraternity whose members think of themselves as equal parts Oliver Cromwell, John Wayne, Dirty Harry and Ted Nugent. Their fists (or is it just a digit?) are raised, their attitude defiant, and their negative emotions are much stronger than the positive ones. Obama? Yer kiddin', right? The master of manipulation, Rush Limbaugh, now refers to the president as a "man-child", a term just far enough removed from "boy" to avoid broad censure from the real public.
So the debates, such as they are, are attended by a mean-spirited crowd that doesn't mind showing how it really feels. A question was asked of the candidates if they could accept a tax raise/spending cut combination ratio that ran 1:9 in order to balance the federal budget. The candidates, knowing their audience, ALL showed their hands to declare that, sorry partner, 1:9 just wouldn't cut it. Never mind that someone with real courage would have said those numbers would be great, at least in theory.
And on it goes. Governor Perry got unexpected applause because his questioner mentioned the 200 plus capital punishment recipients during Perry's term, and the audience reacted as if they wished they had been handling the fatal injection personally.
A question relating to health care raised the audience's hackles in this week's Tea party debate. The question was a little involved, but included, for rhetorical purposes, the option of letting someone die from lack of insurance. Taking on the role of the pharisees before Pilate, the crowd shouted their approval of the death of someone not pulling their own wight. "Right on, man!! Why should I have to pay for this bum's taking up space on earth? I got college tuition to pay, AND payments on my Lexus, too!"
Answers to the nation's problems? They just don't care. The only problem they see is getting enough people to think they should unite themselves in voting with the interests of millionaires. It's still almost 14 months till Election Day, but there's no question you're going to find out what the millionaires want you to do when the big day comes. It's just that they are not likely to use the term "mass psychosis".

Monday, September 05, 2011

What Were They Thinking?

Labor Day is one of those holidays which has almost totally lost its original meaning. We mark it now as the end of summer, and with a nod towards "working", usually for someone else. There's nothing wrong with working, of course, but the holiday was originally meant to salute organized labor. You know - unions that protect their members from unfair treatment and go mano a mano with management when the current collective bargaining agreement nears expiration. There's much less of all that now. The Congress, the Department of Labor and the courts have all pretty much sided with management, and so both organizing and striking have dried to a trickle in the last 30 years or so. Celebrating the organized American worker has given way to another holiday tradition - taking the name of the holiday and adding in huge letters the word "SALE!!". The people ringing the cash registers probably aren't even getting extra pay for working a holiday. "Eight bucks an hour? Is there any way to pay 'em less?"

Pima County, Arizona, I read, takes in both urban and rural territory in the nation's great Southwestern desert. Naturally, both major political parties are there, and so they both do things that they hope will bring in cash. The local Republicans have used raffles to swell the coffers, exploiting the little urge to gamble which we all feel from time to time.
Pima County is also near the site in Tuscon at which a man used a hand gun to open fire at a crowd of people gathered at a strip mall to hear Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The speaking stopped when the bullets started flying. Before they could get the shooter under control, six people were dead and another 15 were injured, including Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the head, an injury from which she is still recovering eight months later. Good luck to her and her (now retired) astronaut husband.
What's the connection here? Merely this. The prize for the Pima County GOP fundraiser raffle is not a set of golf clubs, a free trip to Las Vegas, a marriage enrichment weekend or season tickets to the Phoenix Cardinals. No, it's.....a handgun. A Glock 23 to be precise, similar in most ways to the Glock 19 used at the Tucson shooting.
If I were a Republican bigshot, I would try to do things that would not remind the voting public of what happened on that January day. But the bigshots themselves don't seem to be bothered at all with this little coincidence. "We've been doing this for years" they say, "and no one has complained." Well, sure. Lots of things have long histories, but that doesn't make them right, nor does it mean that something couldn't be changed from time to time if circumstances change.
Where are all those smart job creator types when they're needed most? Maybe such affairs are left to junior interns who tend to blame the victims for getting in the line of fire and forgot to pack their own pieces at the Tucson event, though it was run by their Democratic enemies. But they had plenty of time to change the raffle, yet didn't. What, I ask, could they have been thinking?