Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I was talking with some guys last week and, perhaps not entirely innocently, asked the question, "What do you pray for if you are already bringing in two million dollars a MONTH?" A reply came pretty quickly - "Two million MORE."  Hmm.

I don't know how many people are reading this blog on a regular basis, but the ones who read and comment on it regularly are, ah, not so many. And from this crowd, I get feedback that seems to prefer entries that are more personal in nature. This week, you have your wish.
We have now lived here now for almost exactly seven years, all at the same address in a beautiful but hard to reach place in far northern California. For some reason I feel inclined to rethink some longstanding associations. Some, after all, may have lived out their usefulness. Here's the list of candidates.
High School - I have enjoyed the past reunions I've attended, but really. These are people I spent some important time with, but this year's event is forty five years and over two thousand miles removed from the here and now. On top of that, while it would be nice to see certain folks out of our class of 300 or so, there's no guarantee that any of them will be there, or that they wish to see me. My regular contacts with them have dwindled to zero, so it's just hard to say. VERDICT: I'll send in the form they sent me, enclose a pic if I can find one and order the updated directory. I hope it doesn't include too many deaths.
Iowa - The news I get from there is pretty second hand these days, and some of it just isn't good. The western part of the state, for instance, keeps electing a Republican maniac to Congress for no reason that I can see other than they don't know any better. True, it's still the home of two daughters and three granddaughters. And my favorite teams are mostly still based in the Hawkeye state. VERDICT: I can't cut the place off altogether, but let's hope the election goes our way in the fall.
Cedar Rapids - The flood from a few years back is still a big deal there. The streets are a mess, and some are even being cut off by new buildings. Lots of important things happen in the City of Five Seasons, but none of those require me to even visit. VERDICT: I can't think of why I would really need to go. Even our old home sits boarded up and unused.
Toastmasters - No reward or designation that TM hands out holds much interest anymore. Still, the meetings are fun, and I enjoy the de facto role of arbiter and self-appointed authority. Attending makes me miss a little tennis, but I can't play every day anyway. VERDICT: Stick around until it becomes clear that the rest of the members are tired of me.
Chamber Readers - That's the name of our little readers theater group that travels around the county doing little gigs at elementary schools. I'm supposed to get paid a humble sum, but haven't received a dime in almost a year. VERDICT: Doing the shows is fun, but nobody likes being exploited, and the trend for our dates is decidedly down. I may not have to make a decision on this one.
Netflix - It seems as though I've seen everything they have that's worth watching. I should start to investigate the alternatives. VERDICT: Stay with it for now.
Chicago Cubs - My default baseball team for decades now, this year's team just finished a twelve game losing streak, so they aren't likely to be playing in October. What's more, the current owner is evidently one of those Republican Sugar Daddies made possible by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. VERDICT: I could take up the Giants without much persuasion.
Tennis - Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to have any pastime that gives me a tie to youthfulness. But I no longer cover the court like a panther. VERDICT: I'd like to keep going as long as there are beatable opponents available. When there are none left, I guess I'll be stuck walking around the mall.
LDS Church - While it's undeniable that they do things that make me scratch my head sometimes, and that their universities sometimes seem more interested in rule enforcement than scholarly achievement, that's not enough to go elsewhere. VERDICT: Nothing changes, except for the faces of our local congregation.
Blogging - Hey, I just started a 2nd one, so there must be something in it, right?          

Monday, May 21, 2012

One of Our Own

I was watching that big European soccer match Saturday when I noticed something, and realized I had seen it before, pretty recently. Athletes who mess up, miss a shot, get caught in the wrong place or lose the big game now can be seen doing something that seems a little...odd. They reach for the top of their jerseys, and stretch them to cover their faces, as if this would make them disappear in front of a huge crowd.
I can sympathize a little, because I now recall doing almost the exact same thing over forty-five years ago. I was a competitor in high school debate tournaments. At one event, we, ah, failed to win any of our contests. I was so embarrassed that I spent the 150 mile drive home with an overcoat over my head. For what it's worth, my partner and I did manage to recover somewhat before the season ended.

When it was revealed that Robert Byrd, as a young man trying to jump start a political career, joined the KKK in his home state of West Virginia, voters didn't hold it against him even though the "hate radio" industry tried to exploit it. Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions got more notice, but not so much as to brand him unfit for the White House. Barack Obama's long association with a pastor who sometimes cut loose with what sounded like anti-white rants didn't keep Obama from being elected in 2008.
In light of all these examples, I don't think that Mitt Romney's youthful conduct as an anti-gay bully in a private school almost 50 years ago will carry much weight in the next election.
Even so, I find myself, as a Romney co-religionist, wondering about some things that wouldn't make any difference to non-Mormons.
The LDS Church is not the only one to urge members who have made mistakes to take advantage of the opportunity to repent, but it's spoken about pretty often. Even little children know that this involves trying to make things right with the offended party, consulting with a local leader, normally the "bishop" of a "ward", a local congregation of usually several hundred members, if the offense is a serious one, and resolving to not repeat the offense.
Members wishing to attend the church's most sacred services, held in temples around the world, must qualify through two interviews regarding personal worthiness. These interviews always include the question of whether there are offenses in the past which have NOT been repented of. Interviews are required every two years, so it's certainly not automatic that a member will always qualify.
Mitt Romney was once a "stake president" in the Boston area - the presiding local church officer for several thousand members. He no doubt gave many such interviews, and would know all about LDS standards of conduct.  Bullying isn't on any list of sins for Mormons, but causing others to suffer pain certainly goes over the line except perhaps in war.
Romney, when asked about the incident, knew that there were already five witnesses who recalled him leading a group against a young man thought to be gay, then, while others held him down, cutting his hair with scissors. He had the chance to talk about a youthful mistake, and what he did in order to repent. He could have, in the process, showed himself to be more compassionate than his image.
But if he had any such inclination, it was overruled by the campaign handlers. There was that nervous laugh we've come to cringe when hearing. No, he didn't remember the incident, but he was sorry if anyone was hurt or offended. Anyway, it was so long ago that no one even knew there was such a thing as a "homo-sexual". Heh heh. Any questions on my record as a "job creator"?
As I say, this long-ago incident would not keep Mitt Romney from being elected president. But am I, wrong to wonder about his words when asked about it today? After all, he's one of our own.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Clutch Time

Another week of "who could have predicted THAT?" political machinations. Obama makes public his change on gay marriage, which may or may not help the campaign, Mitt ends the week speaking to a crowd at Liberty University, a group who normally wouldn't have given him anything more than the backs of their hands and, in the strangest if not most memorable line of the week, Mitt tries to take credit for the GM/Chrysler comeback. I'm taking this last one and putting it next to "I'm not a crook",, "I invented the internet". "I did not have sex with that woman" and "Water boarding is not torture". If these fail to stand the test of time, there's always "I do not recall, your honor."

I hope people are taking time to watch sports drama unfold before their eyes. It's the NBA playoffs, where the best players on earth and some of the best athletes anywhere go mano a mano to see who's got what it takes to advance from the eight remaining teams.
The league of course puts on good shows all through the season, shortened this year because of a "labor dispute", but when it's playoff time, the defense gets tougher, the rebounds more hotly contested, the points decline and the pressure mounts. Last year's champs (the Mavs) are already gone, while in the east, ancient rivals the Celtics and 76ers are paired against each other again. Early favorites the Miami Heat have just lost one of their stars to injury, while the same problem led to an early exit by the Bulls. Meanwhile, lots of players are emerging from vicious scrums checking their faces for blood, with cameras just a few feet away. Everyone in the league makes tons of money, so this isn't about money. It's about being at your best when it counts the most.
But, naturally, not everyone likes the NBA. Some of it I can understand. Not everyone cares about any sports, and are baffled by people who do. Some people prefer college basketball, which is sometimes like the NBA without money, but usually just not as good. Some folks demand violence, and tune in to NASCAR or those ugly mixed martial arts guys.
But then, there are NBA objectors who will say things like "The pros make TOO MUCH money", or "They're too selfish" or " They're showoffs" or some other gripe about the way the game is officiated or coached or dominated by the players instead of management.
You have my word on this. When someone says things like the above, they are hiding their real complaint, perhaps even from themselves. Because what they may not say, but nevertheless believe, is that the NBA is too non-white.
There it is, folks. Ask the same people who their favorite player is, and they will reply "Larry Bird". Older ones may pick Jerry West. And both are excellent picks from among the top players ever to lace up sneakers. But ask them about Jordan, Chamberlain, Magic or any other nonwhite player, and they'll be back talking about some character flaw or other.
Of course, it's just a game, part of the entertainment industry, and there's nothing wrong with rooting for someone who looks or talks more like you. So we're not talking mortal sins here, but there it is. So who do we root for as clutch time is upon us? I just haven't decided.   

Monday, May 07, 2012

Celebrate, Celebrate....

I read something over the weekend that made me shake my head in amazement. The EPA, a creature of the Nixon administration, had been doing some studies in Wyoming. The aim of their research was to see if the practice of chemical "fracking" in the search for natural gas had caused any changes in local water quality. The Agency was set to report their findings last fall, but were persuaded to hold off the announcement because of objections from Wyoming state officials.
Do you catch what's happening here? The state bigshots are so worried that something could threaten the flow of money from the oil and gas industries that they are willing to take sides with the frackers against the health of THEIR OWN CITIZENS. And the citizens themselves, if past results are any indication, are so accustomed to having their state treated like a third world resource that they'll continue to vote Republican. Lots of tough, independent cowboys there - at least, until someone gets sick.

It was a decent week for news, but I'm always looking for things that reveal, often by accident, the newsmakers as they really are. The GOP was fussing about the Democrats, who noted that the successful raid on the bin Laden compound had taken place one year ago. As I recall, the White House was originally pretty low key about it, although they didn't intervene to stop anyone from dancing in the streets. I felt that it was the correct way to handle it.
But it's another year, and an election looms in the fall. The Mittstir decided to weigh in. To no one's surprise, he found this anniversary stuff to be in bad taste, as though it would have slipped Al Qaeda's minds if those darn Democrats could have just kept their mouths shut. Of course Mitt was also on board with the decision to conduct the raid - after the fact. A SLAM DUNK, though not described with that particular phrase.  Anyone would have done it, even, in what sounded like a gratuitous sneer, Jimmy Carter. Finally, there was the comment that such successes just shouldn't be used as fuel for our political campaigns.   
So, there they go again, hoping that we're too dumb to remember certain events from the not-too-distant past. Whose idea was it, for instance, to land the president on an aircraft carrier from which he made the big announcement that we had kicked Iraq's uh, behind? The big banner didn't say "Round One to Us" or "Years of Expensive Occupation Coming" or even "Time to Buy Stock in Military Contractors". It said "Mission Accomplished". During the same time you would never hear a speech from a Republican anywhere that didn't start "9-11, 9-11, 9-11". By the time 2004 rolled around, Dick Cheney had the inside dope claiming that Al Qaeda was all for a John Kerry win, because it would allow another, bigger attack on a US target. Four years later, McCain was saying roughly the same thing about Obama. And Romney? He tossed his jeans into the presidential ring in 2007, but his comments about bin Laden THEN seem much less gung-ho than now - after it's all been done.
The Democrats' hands might not be completely clean in having the president in Kabul exactly a year after taking out bin Laden, but please, PLEASE don't try to make us believe that a foreign policy success can't be a campaign issue. It's only off limits, it seems, when the OTHER guys were the ones who got it done.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Wordsmiths at Work

I really feel for people who started life using another language, who are then required to be up to date on every nuance introduced into their adopted language from dozens of different sources. I almost go woozy myself listening to people describe new phone apps or internet sites.
The political world does more than its share of this kind of linguistic riffing. For instance, there's the comeback of  "etch-a-sketch". It was originally a toy which hit the market sometime in the 60's or 70's that presented the user with the challenge of using two dials in conjunction to create a single line which might become a picture. Making a diagonal line was quite a challenge, and making a circle was nearly impossible, but the device's saving grace was the ease of starting over by simply giving it a shake or two. It was a big seller, though I can't explain just why.
Now, decades later, a Romney staffer uses the term "etch-a-sketch" in a kind of cynical way, suggesting that convictions expressed during the GOP primary season, when the audience skews hard (hard!) right, can be simply dumped in the general election campaign, when a broader range of ideology is needed to get elected.
Is it really that easy, especially when there are cameras and recorders whirring every moment the candidate is on stage making his pitch? Sure, almost all people contradict themselves from time to time, but getting caught in the act isn't a political candidate's favorite moment. Naturally, the quicker the flip happens in real time, the more damning. I've even heard "etch-a-sketch" used this year as a verb, as in "He can etch a sketch his way out of this". I don't suppose you have to pay a royalty to the toymaker when referring to this phenomenon. Still, it makes you wonder if "hula hoop" will ever have a political meaning. "Slip 'n Slide" might have some potential.

The political wordsmiths are always trying to spin a term that gives a little edge. The right (and this is meant as a compliment) seems especially adept at this. Terms like "job creator", "death tax" and "pro-life" are just a few examples. "Obamacare" has become so common that it gets used by both sides.
The most used term, though, seems to be the tried and true - "war". There was the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and new skirmishes, hinted at but not proven, against Religion, Families, Women, and the entire Middle Class. That's a lot of wars, all looking for recruits to "fight" either for or against something. Gosh knows we use the term all the time in church, though the battles and casualties are largely symbolic in nature.
I think it does no harm to point out something that's actually aimed at either defending or changing something. Just looking at some numbers tells us that there is, for instance, far more energy directed at restricting certain medical procedures used exclusively by women than was the case just a few years ago. Could one cite what several states have tried to do in restricting the legal rights of public employee labor unions? I don't think it should be ignored. Still, I can't help thinking that real war is so horrific in nature that using the term in another context is a slap in the face of anyone who has ever faced enemy fire. Call something a "conflict" or a "controversy" or a "clash" or a "debate" if you must, but let's leave "war" as it is, the word that identifies the worst thing one society can visit upon another, before this unmistakable word loses all meaning.