Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Back

The football gods can give it to you one week, then take it away the next. Last weekend was especially painful because my two favorite teams, Iowa and BYU both managed to lose by one point. The Hawkeyes had taken control, but then an onside kick bounced the wrong way leading to the opposing Central Michigan Chippewas connecting on a 48 yard field goal, while the Cougars had finally put together a successful scoring drive against Boise State, but then failed on an attempted 2-point conversion, and had no remaining timeouts. What can you say? Aaacckk!!

Just a few weeks ago I had some words opposing Tim Pawlenty's snarky remark about the President being like the tattoo you later regret getting. Last week the ex guv stole headlines for a few minutes, announcing that he was leaving the Romney campaign in order to join the nation's largest banking industry lobby. The next time we'll hear from him? Probably never.

Regular readers of this space will recall that last week I had decided to send e-mails to a few of my old high school class members. I did send out a half dozen or so messages, with just one delivery failure. And I got some replies, too:
     Our class valedictorian and a fellow member of the debate club has now been a judge in Tampa, FL for over 20 years. He had a role in the Terry Schiavo case, which you may recall was one of the signs during the last decade that the Republican Party had gone bat crazy. Chris has gone through almost his whole life with one eye having lost one as a very young child. The class could have done a lot worse than having him as our scholarly leader.
     Gerry (for some reason not named "Gary") was also a debater who I seem to recall for his dour outlook on life. He's retired now and living in Baltimore, where they finally have a baseball team that can get the job done. Gerry and his wife are considering living out their days in Europe. Neither Chris or Gerry attended the reunion.
     I don't know how many people go through the 9th grade involved in a romantic relationship, but I did - with Carol, one of a local doctor's daughters. I e-mailed her mainly to apologize for any past offenses still bugging her from the early 60's. Luckily, she holds no grudges, finding happiness living in rural Illinois.

Election Day is fast approaching, and I suppose I'll have more on the subject in coming weeks. But one thing that never fails to amaze me is what odd conclusions my in-laws reach concerning these things. They're all fine people (who never read this blog), but - what they say! One has concluded that all "moral" people should be unitedly for Mitt. Another forwards a plea for a day of fasting and prayers, also for Mitt. Honestly, I just never know what they are thinking in their never ending quest to show great piety by letting it cross into the secular. Sometimes I think they feel that the most bizarre opinions prove that they possess unassailable divine devotion.      


Monday, September 17, 2012

Back in Time

Summer's technically almost over, so that means it's OK to talk about...basketball? Anyway, I noticed a couple of things with hoops connections that I thought were worth mentioning.

Do you know who Derrick Rose is? He's the successor to Michael Jordan as the star of the Chicago Bulls. Last season he suffered an injury that requires a long rehab, which he's doomed to work at for several months even if things go as planned. I'm sure it's hard, painful work, with no crowd to cheer on his little successes.
Even so, he had a public moment last week intended to put him out front at the introduction of a new sneaker carrying his name. The event showed footage of Rose's injury and some of the work he's already put in to get off the disabled list. Apparently Rose had not seen these things before, but when he did, it all became too much. He began to cry. He's a Chicago native, and some things outside his own life have seemingly been bothering him as well, including a violent local summer and the Chicago teachers strike.
Watching Rose break down was not something we're used to. People can often hide their feelings, even in public. But it's hard to think of a professional athlete crying on purpose for any reason. Let this serve as a gentle reminder that we cannot know precisely what's on the minds of others. I wish for him a full, timely recovery, and a happy, satisfying life.

Then there's the story of President Obama's part-time life as a hoopster. He did quit smoking, but the President's schedule keeps him from many of the pickup games held around the White House. He's now just past 50 years old. What's more, the group that gets together for these games isn't just a collection of flabby Cabinet officials. They ALL played in college and are now in their thirties and forties. Some of them even played for PAY, though none made it as far as the NBA. It's a formidable group.     
Here's how the president sees himself in this setting. His job is to help his team prevail by doing small things - assists, rebounds, anticipation - that help a team get a tiny edge. Two things, I read, will get your name removed from the list of potential White House players: taking bad shots and giving him (the president) special treatment. Does this say anything about the President's capacities as a world leader? Not really, but there it is.

Rather than take a 4,500 mile round trip last month, I passed on the Muscatine High School Class of 1967 45th class reunion. I did, however, order the directory of classmates' addresses, phone numbers and E-mail addresses which they published along with a few details of the lives of those who filled out a form. It came in the mail last week.   
What is it about the passage of time that makes mundane things seem profound? Perhaps it's the unspoken question hanging in the air above it all: "So, what have you done with your life?" Perhaps it's the vague terror that whatever we have going for us will all end some day. In fact, it has already ended for over 40 out of our class of around 300 first wave Baby Boomers. Perhaps it's just the realization that everything changes with time.
Wherever my old high school year books can be found defines pretty accurately where the "musty" area of  the house is. Still, I couldn't help digging out the last one to look over old names and photos of a group I now have ZERO contact with outside of the reunions I no longer attend.
There we are. The book is entirely black and white. There are smart students, attractive ones, those doomed to die in war, those with happy family lives and those consigned to loneliness. Today's directory confirms that our school helped produce a judge, a few lawyers, a medical professional or two, and one or two tycoons. They live in all corners of the US, with a few spilled over into Canada.
But there are also a good number whose lives are unrecorded for the directory. A star athlete who now lives in an apartment not far from downtown. We had one classmate who sought to become a physician, like his father, but was turned out of medical school with a mental condition that plagues him to this day. Lots of stories, none of them finished, but all begun when the yearbook was new. Some high school sweethearts are still together, but not all. A pom pom girl who's now an author. Another who's still working as a "sandwich artist" at Subway.
Finally, almost a third of the class are now beyond any reach. These are they for whom there is no current record or reply: a pole vaulting son of a doctor, a student who grew up as a Jew, then took his Gentile bride to live in Chicago, a guy who tried running a "head shop", a girl with striking looks whom no one seemed to really know at all, a Jewish girl, once Miss Muscatine and a fine singer, who had adopted a Texas accent.
I've resolved to send off a few E-mails to some of the people I was once close to. I'll put in capital letters at the top something like "NO REPLY REQUIRED", and assure them that I haven't stepped out of the past to raise funds, promote a candidate or recruit salespeople. I may not get a single reply, but I'll feel better for having done it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sneering Back

We just passed another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Like certain other milestones in history, we may never know the full story. But we can't help but wonder how historians fifty or more years from now will see the events of that day. Will they see it as more or less tragic than the wars which followed? One war finally petered out to an end almost ten years after we started it. The other one will soon hit the eleven-year mark. Neither Iraq or Afghanistan is likely to become a tranquil Islamic Sweden in the forseeable future.

I'm not ashamed to say that I watched a good deal of tennis during the recently concluded US Open. Winners come and go, though I suppose Andy Murray deserves a star for being the first of his countrymen (he's Scottish, but we lump him in with other Brits) to win a tennis major in over seventy-five years. Future statues and paintings of Mr. Murray will no doubt be an improvement over his somewhat homely appearance. For what it's worth, I liked some of the commercials that went with the broadcast, especially the Mercedes ad featuring several overly cute children asking the same question: "Are we there yet?" 

At last week's Toastmaster meeting, I found myself asked to speak extemporaneously in reply to a remark given at the Republican Convention. It was the kind of thing one might say when one is sure no one will disagree, and is given as a play for laughs. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty likened President Obama to the youthful indiscretion of getting a tattoo, then regretting the act and wishing the inky body decoration gone. This, mind you, comes from one of the so-called "moderates" of the Republican Party who has now twice been passed over as a VP candidate because of, I suppose, his perceived dullness.
My actual words at the meeting were forgettable, but, by the miracle of being able to blog the perfect comeback, here is what I should have said:
     "Let's first, before examining Mr. Pawlenty's remark, consider the source. You may remember that the  former governor of Minnesota was once a candidate for president himself. In fact, it wasn't that long ago, not much more than a year. Do you recall what caused him to take his hat back out of the presidential ring? It wasn't a primary or a caucus, not even a nasty rumor. It was....the results of a straw poll held at the Iowa State Fair. Pawlenty, in fact, may be the only candidate for president to ever be knocked out by Michelle Bachmann, who won the poll. The good news turned out to be that Pawlenty didn't have to try to elbow his way in front of the camera at too many of those interminable primary debates.
     So, as tattoos go, Mr. Pawlenty himself comes well short of the Mona Lisa. Here are few items which we might associate with the Obama administration, but not, alas, the non-existent Pawlenty administration: The preserving of General Motors as a major American manufacturer and employer, the end of the war in Iraq, the reform of the US healthcare distribution system, the removal of many top leaders of terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden (who the Bush administration had completely lost track of), the turnaround of the nation's most severe recession since the Great Depression, the end of torture as a policy for gaining military intelligence, the end of presidential "signing statements" by which the president chooses to ignore some congressional directives and enforce others, the reduction of US killed and wounded in battlefront actions by the use of unmanned drones, and the guarantee of woman employers to not suffer pay discrimination based on sex.
     The record is imperfect, thwarted by filibusters and opposition who enjoy almost unlimited access to corporate lobbying funds. Every president makes mistakes, including Mr. Obama. But his opponent has yet to show just what path (other than the decades old favorite of tax cuts) will be used to return prosperity and peace to all. Until he does, Obama, whether a tattoo, a portrait or a sculpted bust, looks pretty good."          

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

What I Didn't See

I had one of those "only in America" moments last week. A few weeks ago I noticed a middle-aged woman trying to play tennis with an old wood racquet that was probably fished from some box in the garage. I pulled out one of my extras and offered to let her borrow it. She seemed to like it, but I had to leave shortly after, and so we traded numbers to arrange for the racquet's return. Just for the record, the woman is of Asian descent, with an accent to match. I noted that her first name is French and her last name is Irish.
I'm really not under any pressure to get the racquet back soon, but called last week just to see what was happening. She answered, but, the next thing I knew, she was talking about dancing at the Moose Lodge and asking if I enjoyed doing the Polka, or any of those country line dances. I still don't have the racquet back, but at least now I know a person who could be a one-woman UN.

Here's another entry in the "Great Sports Names" category. It's "Jack Sock", who is actually an upcoming American tennis player. I don't know if he has won any tournaments yet, but could you imagine the possibilities if he should ever tie the knot with actress Elizabeth Shue, or tennis player Cara Black, or ...oh, never mind. At least it's easy to remember. 

Now to explain this week's title subject. You would think, wouldn't you, that someone who writes a weekly blog in which political trends get heavy play, that I would have a great deal to say about last week's Republican convention in the hurricane threatened city of Tampa, FL. There are a few things to mention, but I just couldn't get any TV in the house to stay tuned to it. It must have been that sinister force which sometimes turns the TV set ON when there's a big game being played on Sunday. It's just one of those things that Science can't explain!
Or perhaps it's just one more thumping realization that campaigning for office and holding elected office are very very different things. The skills it takes to run for office just don't get it done when there are terrorists to pursue, or House members to get in line, or allies to hammer out differences with or or disaster victims to aid or young geniuses now in school that need help to stay there.
I've watched many a convention speech over the years, but just what am I going to learn from the GOP's "Elect-A-Rama" that's  new? I know most of them hate Obama, though the reasons vary, or else they wouldn't cheer Mitt Romney, a guy who's not the guy most people would care to swap stories with. I know most of the speakers had nothing at all to say about their own nominee, and that his running mate is busy highlighting certain areas of his past while burying others. I know Condi Rice will not honestly discuss publicly how it is that we came to be in a ridiculous war in Iraq. I even know that the party's nominee feels free to disagree with his own party platform regarding reproductive health care for women. And I know Mr. Romney is not going to give the public a quick summary of Mormon beliefs, of which I am all too aware.  He won't give us the true story on his taxes, either.
And I know some other things, too. I know the party's real audience isn't the general  public, but Big Business, on whose behalf we hear screams of "Drill, Baby, Drill!"or "Stop Voter Fraud!" or just "USA, USA" as though shouting means that you're more patriotic than the quiet person in the next seat. I know that if one person's correct understanding of facts represents one little candle in the darkness, then the paid-for "speech" of someone like Goldman Sachs can speak with the light of a thousand white-hot suns.
I know, in fact, that the next two months will be an unceasing calumny of extremism disguised as wisdom and greed masquerading as patriotism. Finally, I also know that the Democrats, in an attempt to keep the electoral votes of North Carolina, will be just marginally more honest about it all than the party of Lincoln. But through it all, I must keep telling myself that underneath all the glitter, there actually are some serious governing skills put to work each day, though not by the people who say that their TOP priority is making Mr. Obama a one-term president.