Monday, April 23, 2012

Surprising People in Our Midst

The election that caused the Republican Party, or at least one section of it, to go off the rails into full paranoia, producing the abuses we remember as Watergate, is now forty years behind us. Given the passage of time, it's inevitable that we remember less and less about the whole complicated mess and the people involved. In some countries they never forget things, while Americans can't seem to think of a way to make remembering pay off, other than to make and sell bumper stickers. We don't really bother to remember at all unless the information is going to be on a test.
I mention this because another of Nixon's old crew, Charles Colson, passed away over the weekend at the age of eighty. At one time, Colson was seen as perhaps the most ruthless of the Nixonites, and his role in Watergate got him a modest prison term.. Unlike some of his cronies, however, Colson got the message of imprisonment, and became a clergyman, with a special interest in prison reform and the redeeming of some of our worst citizens one at a time. As to his eternal judgment, I can't say. But I can say "Rest in peace, Mr. Colson. Your battles are over."

I've mentioned my association with Toastmasters before. It continues, though my own role in our club has become more advisory than competitive. Last week's meeting was a reminder that people can spontaneously reveal some pretty surprising stuff if the circumstances are right. Here are some things we learned about each other - in a one hour meeting.
A younger woman gave her first speech as a toastmaster. From somewhere she has been given the gift of being able to say a great deal without using many words. With almost no details, she spoke of being born in a kind of commune in New Mexico, and that this had an effect on even her childhood play. At one point, she simply said, "My mother kidnapped me." This led to years of short stays in places which she nevertheless learned about firsthand. She spoke about learning about the Mississippi River - by crossing it. She broke into tears twice, but then soldiered on, giving a fine introductory speech which lasted just under FOUR minutes. Well done!
One of our older members has all kinds of experiences in life, and he told the story of how a mysterious wedding invitation, which came to him as a teenager, opened the door to a long association with , of all things, Italian royalty. Fascinating.
A diminutive woman in the club who's always smiling told us how deciding to take up hiking with a local group, something she had never done before, led to all kinds of new knowledge and skills, AND was the way she met the man who's now her life partner.
A woman still in her thirties talked about the turn her life took during a previous marriage. When he didn't quickly get his way, her former husband evidently had the habit of  aggressively asking "Do you want to get a divorce?" He must have overplayed this hand, because the last time he threw out the question, his young helpmeet simply reached for a pencil and paper and replied "Shall we just divide up everything NOW?" Yikes.     
We've all been in situations which force us to listen when the real message can be given in one minute or less, but, in fact, IS given in an hour or two. BY contrast, NONE of the last three accounts above lasted more than two minutes. Today's unsought advice? If you've ever bored anyone or find yourself going on and on about less and less, do yourself a favor and find your way into a Toastmasters meeting.
You might be seen someday, if you are not already, as a surprising person.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Still Crazy...

Let's start with the announcement I promised a couple of weeks ago. I'm starting a new blog entitled "People in Scripture". It will be aimed at people who want a better understanding of why the ancient (and even the modern day) prophets, kings and their contemporaries may have thought and acted the way they did. I stress that this is undertaken without the approval, aid or endorsement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I take full responsibility for this blog, and urge anyone with an interest in the Church to make contacts with local members or contact, where inquiries are welcome and treated with respect. I expect the new blog to be available this week, and will announce the event on this space. And, just so you'll know, I plan no changes in this blog, and hope to continue weekly entries.

Now, to more typical matters. I don't know how such things come about, but in the last election, a black Republican, Allan West, was elected to the House of Representatives from Florida. He's either a genius at getting people to know his name, or just a crazy guy destined for little more than his allotted fifteen minutes of fame. Right now the jury's still out.
Mr. West has a reputation of standing politically with the more far-removed from the mainstream of the Republican Party, which, gosh knows, means you have to say some pretty weird things. He was somewhere in the Sunshine State last week attending a town meeting when someone blurted out a question regarding the number of "card-carrying communists" in the US Congress. Some of the audience chuckled or groaned. West should have said that while being a communist is not against any law, and that members of Congress are not required to be members of any party, there are, in fact, NO members of Congress who identify themselves as communists.
But that would have been truthful, but a little boring for West, and so, with a straight face, he said that there are "between 78 and 81" communists in Congress. When asked for a name or two, West said that the Pinkos were easily identified, simply by their membership in the House Progressive Caucus, one of the largest of the subsets of congressional membership. Still dropping not a single name, a West staffer confirmed the statement the following day.
So there we are. No names, but a very specific number, and a ticket to temporary fame, exactly like Joe McCarthy did it back in the 1950's. Did any of this year's remaining GOP presidential candidates say West was over-the-top looney to make such an accusation (How could you run for office without lots of good ole capitalist cash ?)? That would be "NO", since GOP candidates this year are hard-pressed to keep up with the stuff coming soon to a megaphone near you courtesy of a Super-pac with WAY more cash than ethics. Remember, we still have six months plus to go to Election Day.    

And the NRA had their annual convention last week in St. Louis. One of the lobby's bigshots, Wayne LaPierre, who's not exactly French, gripped a huge lectern and took sides. There was never any doubt that the big guy would land on the GOP side of  the election, but the way he dragged out the gloom and doom scare words to describe what a second Obama administration would be like made me wonder if the two of us lived in the same country. All this vitriol aimed at someone who hadn't made a single legislative proposal to limit gun ownership or use. I couldn't see what the audience looked like, but would have guessed that the non-white faces were few, with lots of large weapons casually pointed their way. La Pierre didn't sink to race talk, but if he felt compelled to pump up Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts backed more than one gun control proposal, then you have to wonder just how frightened by our president some folks are.
I don't know why the NRA chose St. Louis as the site of this gathering, but it's a city with a large violence problem, much of it involving guns. I'm guessing that not a single person at the conference addressed the question: Can the price of our "gun freedom" be TOO high? And no, I don't think anyone there thought about it, either.   

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meanness Makes a Comeback

Does anyone know the name Amy Goodman? Ms. G. is just like Rush Limbaugh, except that she's a woman (and that's a HUGE difference to El Rushbo), is frequently heard on NPR affiliates, and so she doesn't have to do commercials, and is (dare I use the word?) a liberal.
So Goodman's content differs from that of the FOX News crowd, and so does her approach to the news. There's none of the hand-waving, desk-pounding, mascara-slathering style that the FOX "news babes" have become so known for. No sneering condescension, no yelling, just facts delivered in a sort of understated way.
Our local paper runs Goodman's column once a week on Sundays, and this last one had me truly amazed. A police dispatch in White Plains, New York went out last November to answer a possible emergency at the home of  Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a 68 year-old Marine veteran with a heart condition. Chamberlain had inadvertently sent a signal on his heart monitor device.
His heart didn't give out on him, but the officers sent to help Chamberlain ended up killing him, using a taser, a beanbag gun and finally, two bullets from a police service revolver. I can't write everything that Goodman included on Sunday, but found the column at the top of the list under Google search "white plains NY man shot in home by police". I must be stupid, but I can't see how these things keep happening. And, yes, Chamberlain was African American.

The last presidential campaign that I recall without much meanness was in 1996, when Bill Clinton found himself challenged by Bob Dole. There's no point in trying to remember the issues that year, which were few. The truth was that Clinton had no real animosity towards Dole, and Dole, in turn, was too old-fashioned to want to play the "Heavy". Sure, a good number of people hate Clinton to this day, but not because of anything from that campaign.
All that's over. The nominating process for this election isn't even over, but the accusations are flying thick and fast, and not just, to be fair, in one direction. The Citizens United decision has opened the gates to campaign spending that King Solomon himself couldn't match. The presidential contest alone will generate spending over $1 billion before it's all over.
But will we be more informed from all this campaigning? I fear we won't be, because much of it will go to the political "dark side" - negative ads long on accusation and short on explanation. The word "failure" gets thrown at the Obama administration as though no other possible word will do - and it's only April! GOP faithful in Congress have only one goal - winning the next election. This means secretly rooting against economic success, hyping any Obama plan that doesn't succeed and making accusations about the future (in which nothing has happened and anything could) that touch on anything from gun control to illegal voting to euthanizing the elderly, shutting down oil wells, letting Iran have their way, and imposing mandatory sharia law on the states. Many of these slurs won't come from the mouth of the candidate himself, but all that money could get some people to say just about anything, including that the upcoming "war on religion" will result in locked churches.
Today's bottom line: if you're tired of the 2012 campaign, get ready to reduce your news media consumption time or you'll be much more tired by the time it's over.        

Sunday, April 01, 2012

No Jokes

So..., where have I been, you may ask? Imagine being in Chicago and being told you would have to go east in order to get to Kansas City. Only with us, it was to Portland, then to Provo, two un-alike places. It all had to do with daughter Anna's Provo wedding, which went fine. Portland involved picking up daughter Leah and husband Dane, then returning them. Anna and new hubby David trekked all the way from Ohio, so I guess I can't complain. Yes, we caught a little snow and were in and out of rain at least a dozen times, but this was one of those things (awfully few, in my case) which absolutely require your presence. We returned on Wednesday in time for even MORE rain.

Three hundred entries on this blog, and I realize that, for the most part, making fun of things and people, especially in the political biz, is like shooting fish in a barrel of hardened Jello. Who could fail to look clever when the subjects include Bush, Palin, Cheney, Mitt, Rush, The Donald  - and those are just the Republicans! It's been all I could do just to keep up with the weekly flubs, only a fraction of which are even mentioned in this space.
But there are no jokes possible when the conversation turns to Trayvon Martin, the unlucky, unarmed teenager shot dead in Florida in late February.
I didn't know the young man, but understand that he, like our former seven teenagers, was not perfect. Still, it's hard to see him being guilty of anything that demanded that he be killed. Yes, it was dark, but when does a bag of Skittles look like a gun? Is Florida so warm that wearing a "hoodie" makes one a criminal suspect? He was on foot, on the sidewalk, not hiding or sneaking around, so what could he have stolen?
Of course, if we're determined enough to find an excuse, there's always something. He "had something in his pocket" or "looked suspicious" or was unknown to the "neighborhood watch" guy who found it necessary to pull the trigger. The hoodie failed to carry the words "Please don't shoot me, sir."
Here's the scorecard today. Trayvon's parents grieve, ask (thus far with little official response) for justice, or at least an arrest of the shooter, and try to retain their dignity. Local police want the whole thing to go away so that people can more quickly forget how the cops quickly concluded that no crime had taken place. Mr. Zimmerman (the shooter) and his family, have now had time to construct a version of what happened which exonerates Mr. Z. as simply defending himself from a violent black teen even though Zimmerman was bigger - by over a hundred pounds. No arrest, absolutely no apology and, need we say, no justice forthcoming. The state legislature is stuck with something called the "Stand Your Ground" law, something that appears dreamed up to put a legal cover on white folks shooting blacks when no other alibi suffices. No apology from them, either. On the upside, none of the (mostly black) protesters demanding Zimmerman's arrest have themselves been shot.
Trayvon is now a month gone, the latest in a long, long line of dead black men and boys that stretches back over a hundred and fifty years of it being illegal. Before that, shooting a black man wasn't, at least in Florida and the slave-holding South, a crime at all.        

P.S. Look in this space for a minor announcement soon regarding a new blog.