Monday, July 23, 2012

More Incomprehensible Stuff

I found myself at a garage sale last Saturday. I don't seek these things out from habit, but sometimes it just seems you have to stop and see what's up for sale. Truth is, you just never know when you'll see something that's irresistible.
There was a baseball cap for sale. I use hats almost every day when playing tennis. This one was in good shape, navy blue with a golden "M" on the front. It was mine for...a quarter! "Mark" starts with "M", after all. It should be the perfect hat...just as soon as I can find a way to get "Michigan" off the back.

I have written before that there are things I just don't "get". This past weekend had a number of things that I can't begin to comprehend, at least not without knowing much more. The Colorado shooter is the first one. A shooting at a political event has at least some kind of plausible motive, but shooting movie goers? Randomly? After weeks of planning and arming himself? It doesn't compute. Of course, we're early in the whole mess, so there's a chance we'll come to understand more, but we may never know completely. And by the way, why does it seem that all these flipped-out shooters are younger white guys? I don't get that, either.

The Penn State debacle is a bit easier to understand. College football at a place like State College, PA is beyond huge. No one would choose to put the brakes on that gravy train even if you didn't care much about football, because it's the gridiron guys who make it possible to field the women's swim team, the softball team and the wrestling team. even if each of those are very good. Add to that the coach (Paterno), who had run the outfit for longer than anyone under a hundred years old could ever remember. Put it all together and you get "group think" - the kind of attitude which says "let's keep this within our family. We should be the ones to deal with it." You think that way for more than two seconds and you are on the slippery slope to coverup, which is what they did, as long and as completely as possible. Yes, all the PSU athletes, all of them innocent, will pay a huge penalty, but it was necessary, nonetheless. But I would have thought that a group of leaders would have done better, and don't understand why they didn't.

Finally, there's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What?? Remember an entry here a year ago which honored the Mormon pioneers? Pioneer Day comes around every year, and the Choir broadcasts a program to local meetinghouses to mark the event. The thing is, in the last two years, the pioneers have gotten short shrift at the expense of completely different themes. This year's was, I think, just "Music". It went almost 90 minutes, but the pioneers were remembered in just one song. The rest of it seemed a little like Lawrence Welk, or some kind of variety show, but without the variety. They had a guest from the UK, a striking blonde singer/dancer, plus the Choir, the organ and the orchestra that both accompanies and does their own stuff. There was no rap or punk, but, with those exceptions, the show could not have had less to do with the pioneers. I, once more, don't get it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Back in Mitt's Mind

Of all the countries on earth, the trickiest one in which to practice the art of public relations must be North Korea. Here's Kim Jung-un, third in the Kim line of beloved dictators, whose name and face now seem to pop up everywhere. But what we, and the feckless Koreans, don't know about him is pretty surprising. How old is he? What's his education? Is he married? And just who is that young woman who keeps turning up at his side in these public appearances? His sister? His date? Could we know her name, please? So far, all we do know is that one of the old military bigshots has been relieved of his duties over the weekend because of "health problems". Will he be coming back when he feels better? Ah, who wants to know?

Back in February, we explored all the things that Mitt Romney night have been thinking as he received the presidential endorsement of Donald Trump. By means that cannot be fully explained, we have access again to Mitt's mind. This time, he's standing before the annual convention of the NAACP, being booed. His lips do not move from the frozen smile we've come to appreciate, but his mind is moving a mile a minute:

"Yes! Oh, I'm loving this. I'm way up the learning curve from these folks, and most of them will NEVER realize it. And the ones who do? There are too few to make any difference. I'm a winner today, baby.
Here's why. Just showing up at this event shows that I have some guts, because everyone knows the whole organization is in the bag for Obama. He got 95% of their vote last time around, and nothing I can say is gonna change that. Heck, Kerry got 90%, and he's less black than I am. So they can boo their heads off at me and it won't make any difference.
But here's what I know that they don't. I know who the real audience is. It's sure not the three or so people I have a chance to win over here. But think about some of the places we lost four years ago. Some of them are bumper to bumper with pickup-drivin', gun-packin', beard-growin', Bocephus-listenin' (What, you didn't know I knew who that is?), tobacco-chewin', Obama-hatin' rednecks that our party has come to depend on. Being who I am and where I come from, I can't even pretend to be much like those fine folks, and don't think they don't know it. But if you can't be equal pals with someone, then having the same enemy as they do is almost as good. Anyway, there are thousands of them for every potential black vote that might fall my way by accident, and so I have to herd all our yokels into the "GOP is OK" Corral before they start thinking about stampeding off to Ron Paul or some other far right yahoo who's more likely to get elected president of Fox News than the USA.
To tell the truth, I only wish they would let me have it a little louder. I made it a point to use terms they would hate, like "Obamacare" and "Kitchen Cabinet". I just wish I could remember the name of the black gardener we had back in Boston who I told the boys they could talk to as long as he kept workin'. Well, maybe that's overdoing it just a little, but hey, you homies, just keep howlin'. I'll make sure the cameras keep rolling.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Different World

The big sports summer continues. Last week Serena Williams not only won both the Wimbledon singles (for the 5th time) and doubles, but was, I believe, the first to get the titles as a brunette, a blonde and (her current choice) a redhead.  Meanwhile, Roger Federer's cute twin daughters are now old enough to watch him win, which he did, for the seventh time. Congrats to both.

I have not used this space very much for book reviews, but one I received for Fathers Day turned out to be a winner, and so I'm sending the word on. The name of the book is "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" by Barbara Demick.
 Ms. Demick was a reporter in South Korea for many years, but she found it hard to report accurately about the North, not only because very few journalists are allowed to visit the secretive country, but the ones who do get permission to visit are constantly supervised in order to only receive the "news" its government wants to share.
She changed her approach to improve the accuracy by interviewing defectors from a particular area of North Korea and concentrating on their individual stories. The time period covered in the book was mainly during the last few years of the life of the North's original dictator, Kim il-sung, who ran the country from the late 1940's to the mid-1990's.
Even in its better days, North Korea was a dangerous place for any type of free expression, even more so than the old Soviet Union or East Germany. News of the outside world was either completely censored, or twisted to put the best possible face on Kim and his regime. People labored in factories for little or no money, paid instead with government-provided food and housing.
A major part of the book is taken up with people's individual reaction to the economic collapse following the end of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline of North Korean international credit, the diversion of resources to the country's huge standing army.
Smoke stacks stopped emitting, the power grid would function for an uncertain two or three hours per day, and many buildings lost heat altogether. When government-provided food ended, each family had to reassess its situation. What could be sold? What talents could be offered to others? How could family members get to where food might be found unguarded? The government was helpful only in deciding to turn a blind eye to previously prohibited private economic activity such as markets set up in old factory sites. The propaganda signs on walls began to carry new slogans, such as "Let's eat two meals a day." This last practice proved especially harmful to elderly citizens and little children, particularly when things such as grass were added to soups.
Under these circumstances, a spike in plans to defect was inevitable. Doing so directly to South Korea was too dangerous, and so crossing into China, then making plans to go south became the route of choice. One particular story illustrated the nature of totalitarian life. A couple in their twenties, whose romance covered several years, both planned to defect, but did not tell each other of their separate plans for fear of having the plans made known. Both escaped, but under much different circumstances than they could have foreseen.
To the amazement of almost everyone, North Korea continues today, now under the third generation of the Kim family. Defections continue at a rate which keeps a South Korean facility dedicated to the education of refugee Northerners humming. Sixty plus years of separation has resulted in a common people so different in their backgrounds that bringing the newcomers up to date after so much disinformation pumped into their minds for so long is needed to reunite the new citizens to their new surroundings.     

Monday, July 02, 2012

Summer, Summer, Summer

The rest of the country is trapped in either sweltering heat or the dry, oven-like fumes of desert infernos. Here, it's breezy and cool, unless you want to travel a little ways to remind you of what you're missing. I'm staying, at least until the end of the month.

Most people will, at some point in their lives, experience other people whose use of "the truth" is, ah, flexible. It occurred to me last week that current events give us a way to discern such folks. If you hear someone say "Well, I'm not surprised at all" over the Supreme Court's decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), or that they (these local experts) knew all along that Justice Roberts was some kind of closet liberal, then I can guarantee that this person is no stranger to lying. I had no idea of either the court's voting breakdown or that Roberts would be the one to break ranks with the Court's hard right justices. For those of you scoring at home, this means that all three branches of our constitutional system have given some kind of approval to ACA. Be prepared, too, for GOP whining at a new volume level as the election approaches.

There was a memorial service last week for the late Rodney King. Sure, it was easier for King to be a forgiving person when he got a large settlement from the LAPD, officers of which almost separated King from his own brain tissue following a traffic stop twenty years ago. Still, he didn't seem to be an aggressive or vengeful person. But he was no angel, either, and was acquainted with substance abuse. He was probably on his way to a sad and ignominious end, except for the fact that his beating was taped by a resident of the neighborhood. The Senior President Bush described the beating as "disgusting", but the offending officers were acquitted of criminal charges. This gave rise to rioting in Los Angeles, and a good deal of damage. King himself seemed baffled by it all, but managed to utter a few words which somehow became memorable - "Can't we all get along?" It's a reasonable question which still deserves an answer.    

I've never before had access to the BYU channel, but a change in our local lineup has brought it into our homes as of last week. I'm not yet prepared to render judgement on all the programming, but I did discover a show which seems to be pretty original. The host, a burly, long-haired, bearded guy on a huge Harley, leads the viewers around the country to important sites in American history, explaining in civil but unornamented language just what happened, with a word or two on why it was important. There are no professors, no authors, and little illustration from the time being discussed. Last Saturday, the slippery slope that led eventually to our nation's Civil War was discussed. There were the acts of Congress which seemed to allow slavery while restricting its geopraphic area, the Dred Scott decision, the publishing of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and John Brown's failure to inspire a slave revolt - all in half an hour. I think I see what they're trying to do - find a new audience for the heretofore unpopular study of history. And I hope they do.