Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Not Fair!

Philosophers and heavyweight novelists have told us over the centuries that trying to know why some people seem blessed day by day while other, just as virtuous, folks seem to get the other end of the stick is an exercise in wasted time. I can agree with that, but why, then, do we keep trying to figure it all out?

For instance, there's the matter of MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes who work very hard to compete in a sport that has very few rules, and in which the losers invariably find themselves uglier than before the bell rang. What's more, compared to other pro athletes today, MMA fighters are quite modestly paid. Not Fair!

A dentist in Iowa found it necessary to fire an assistant who had worked for him a full ten years, not because she had broken any office rules or fouled up in her duties, but because the dentist couldn't help being attracted to her, a fact which was made known to his wife. The assistant protested to the courts, but the (all male) Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the Doc. The Court's only discouraging word was to mildly chide him for the cheapskate offer of one month's severance pay to his former helper. Not Fair!

You may have heard that the hapless soon-to-be former leaders of the bankrupt Hostess want to make sure their end gets taken care of by demanding BONUSES before they lock the doors on the way out. Even more amazingly, it turns out that one method used by the feckless bosses to stay afloat was to treat union pension money as working capital. The now unemployed bakers, we are told, have NO recourse to recover the funds. Not Fair! 

A student at Clemson University took on a project to see what might be done to help local turtles in South Carolina cross roads more safely. His research led to a rather dark conclusion - about human beings. The data showed that about one out of fifty motorists would deliberately attempt to drive over the turtle models he used. Since there was no interviews of the motorists, it's hard to know what they were thinking when trying to squash the innocent amphibians. All I know - is that It's Not Fair! 

Finally, there's ah, me. I woke up a week ago to see in the mirror an image which seemed to show my face saying "I've fallen, and I can't get up." I went to get things checked out, and learned that this year, on top of yanked teeth, bruised ribs and drilled fillings, I can ad Bell's Palsy to the list. It isn't fatal, permanent, contagious or even painful. So what is it? Even putting aside that it makes me look like a combination MMA loser and smashed turtle, It's Not Fair!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

(Gun) Freedom's Cost

As I get older, my empathy for other peoples' pain, both physical and psychic, seems to be greater. In that mode, it's awfully sad thinking about those poor little children in Newtown, Connecticut. Their school day was just beginning, and they had no reason to think that last Friday would be different from any normal day: learning, working and fun. They were too little to fight back, and the adults on their side had no reason to think they would be called on to defend lives. At any rate, they were outgunned. For the most part, all the shooter had to do was point from the range of a foot or two - and squeeze the trigger. Help arrived within a few minutes, but it was already too late. It must have been both horrific and terrifying.
I had a look at the names of the victims. It was not untypical for our country. I noticed French, Greek, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish names. There were others I couldn't identify. The funerals have begun, and so have the questions: What could we have done? How can we stop it from happening again? Where did the guns come from, and how were they brought into the school? Could laws have prevented, or at least delayed what happened, or is it like trying to legislate the weather?
We say that such disasters must not recur, but our will is questionable. The country now has something like 300 million weapons now in private hands, with more being made every day. The restrictions on purchase and ownership of guns are shot through with loopholes and really nothing prevents the building of a private arsenal. Since the law is often not broken until the first shot is fired, and sometimes not even then, we should, I think, expect this kind of tragedy to continue, even if other types of crime are (as the F.B.I. tells us) trending downward. The armaments industry is well-represented by lobbyists, and one organization affiliated with guns has firmly attached itself to the Republican Party. They are not above propagandizing the other side to their members as wanting to take away their Constitutional right to own weapons. Today's Supreme Court agrees, ranking the right to own guns equally with the right of free speech.
But there are other ways to reduce the threat. There's the identification of those with mental disorders that make a person prone to violence. We could offer incentives to those who would choose to work in the medical specialties that would help the most. We could re-emphasize rational behavior in schools. We could urge gun owners to secure weapons and ammunition, preferably separately. We could even sponsor ways for people to expend their hostilities under controlled conditions. Many wish to bring back restrictions on certain types of weapons with little or no sporting value.
But all these suggestions are flawed, in that solutions aimed at dealing with one person at a time will always miss someone, while solutions affecting everyone will anger many and cause others to panic in ways no one can predict. Some will honestly (though wrongly) feel that they must forcefully keep government from greater power than it already has by using their own weapons. The excuses for packing guns probably run into the hundreds.
We should remember that laws are not adopted in order to make a crime impossible, but to raise the stakes of violation, thus producing a trend which leaves us better off. Don't fall into the trap of seeing a law violated and concluding that there is no value in having laws. But it looks to me as though people will have to be more patient, more wise and more empathetic to see this type of gutwrenching violence finally go away. I don't think that will be soon.         

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back Above the Plaid Line

Let's start this week with the stories of two men who have recently announced surprising career changes.
The base salary of a US senator is $174,000 per year, not counting various perks that most people never get. I don't personally find this amount to be especially exorbitant. Senators work with huge budget amounts and cast votes on things that sometimes change the world, on top of which they must raise huge amounts in order to run again every six years to keep the job. It's a good living, but it isn't an easy one.
Last week one of the Senate's more controversial members announce he was leaving a full four years before the end of his term. Sen. Jim DeMint is going to take the job of running the Heritage Foundation. This means someone else will have to take up the task of helping Tea Party types get elected while their one-time leader gets to deal in things like tax opposition. DeMint ascended to the Senate without a personal fortune, but his new gig should help reduce that problem since the last Heritage boss made a cool $1.1 million. That's six times the Senate pay, with no more need to give speeches at rallies and barbeques in South Carolina. Now we're talkin'.

Bret Bielema was the coach of the U of Wisconsin football team, which was mentioned here just a week ago. He shocked Cheeseheads everywhere by announcing he was leaving to take the coaching job at The University of Arkansas. No rap on Fayettville, but how much more would they have to pay you to leave the capital of what was once considered a progressive state in order to be top dog of a second-rate team in a third rate state, tosay nothing of the steamy climate? The answer, in Mr. B's case, is a little north of $3 million, probably enough to buy up a county and rename it for himself.
The folks left behind in the Badger State have one consolation. The UW athletic directer is Bielema's predecessor, Barry Alvarez, who took about thirty seconds to say yes, he would be willing to lead the team into the Rose Bowl, after which he would resume his AD duties. I wonder if his contract allows him to pay himself a bonus for winning. If not, he can get it amended, right?

Here's a few things I noticed during last weekend's trip up North to attend grandson Abe's baptism. From here it's about a 9-hour drive.
On the way, we picked up daughter Leah and her husband Dane who live smack in the middle of Portland. It seems like a fun place, but strangely wet. It never exactly rained, but it never dried up, either. The trip home had virtually no sunlight until after we crossed back into California.
Traveling in Portland is a little tricky, too. Narrow streets, tight parking and a handful of troublesome bridge approaches.
We were in one of those grocery boutiques in Portland for a little while, where I noticed a handwritten note on a card written in what was probably unconscious iambic pentameter: "We'd love to help you choose the perfect salt." Wait. The perfect...salt? I thought there were only two kinds of salt - rock and table. How did I get this far in life not knowing the TRUTH about this stuff?
The baptism we attended was fine, but it was held at a church meetinghouse some distance away from where the LeBarons (daughter Allison and husband Scott) live. This made eight year-old Abe a little nervous. He told his dad as much, saying he didn't want to join THAT church. He wanted to join HIS church, where the family attends weekly. They got things straightened out before Abe got any more nervous.
Scott's parents, who we don't know too well, live in Utah. They're fine people, but, not surprisingly, devout Republicans. We were sitting around and I started to brag just a tiny bit how I had noticed that Mitt Romney's tie at the third presidential debate was red and silver striped, precisely the colors of Ohio State University. There's no sin in this. I think it's OK to just assume that everything a presidential candidate wears is on purpose. Nevertheless, while telling the story I noticed that Ma and Pa LeBaron had started frowning. I changed the subject. Gavin, after all, is a pretty big guy.                     

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Sports Stuff You Didn't Ask For

I took my election "victory lap" by wearing a solid blue suit and solid blue tie to church, so it was done kind of in secret. And I symbolically spiked the ball with a post or two to my favorite place to argue things on line. So, really, we can finally leave the election alone for while.

I know not everyone gives a hoot about sports, but the subject will continue to pop up here, though hopefully in an entertaining way. For instance, I'm of the opinion that if a dominant athlete has a dorky name, then it's perfectly OK to think of something cool to call him. The Detroit Lions have a wide receiver who's big, fast, powerful and has great hands, but carries the name Calvin Johnson. Detroiters have improved on that by referring to him as "Megatron". Makes for great T-shirts, too.

The 2011 Wisconsin football team was scary good. This year's team seemed to have most of the makings of another world beater, but they turned out to have a tendency to lose close games. They lost five by a total of 19 points, but because of penalties doled out to Ohio State and Penn State, UW still had a chance to play for the Big Ten slot in the Rose Bowl. All they had to do was beat Nebraska last Saturday, which is normally no small task.
The Badgers finally awoke to their potential by laying waste to the Cornhuskers, scoring 42 points in the first half. They finished with 70, running the ball for an almost unheard of total of 500 yards, with another hundred or so through passing. Now all they have to do is beat Stanford on New Year's Day, another large task.

A friend's tall, smart and attractive daughter has taken her basketball talents to Oregon Tech, where she is getting playing time as a freshman. The team is 8-2, but there's one thing that worries me a little. The Tech teams, for reasons I don't know, are known as the Hustlin' Owls. When the team takes road trips, who's in charge of making sure the locals don't start referring to OT women's teams as "Hoo..," you know - that restaurant with the semi-sleazy reputation? 

And finally, there's the story of Rasheed Wallace. Wallace is an NBA veteran, and if he never played another game, he would have earned plenty of respect for a fine career. There's just one little blot on his, ah, character. He's been married 14 years and has three children. I've never heard of him packing a gun at a strip club or crashing a car when drunk. But he does lead ALL active NBA players in collecting technical fouls, most of them issued for disagreeing with ref decisions. In some ways, he makes you laugh because his jaw seems to be attached to a single hinge at the back of his neck as he works his finely-honed verbal game for the New York Knicks. But the refs don't seem to agree, and are known to put "Sheed on a short leash when his trash talk involves their performance.
Last Sunday, Wallace put the bar up about as high as it can go. He collected two techs within the first 85 seconds of the game, and was ejected. This forced the Knicks to scramble their lineup a bit, but the team is capable of doing just that, and they won even without the seven foot big guy. All that, I guess, goes to back up Wallace's signature phrase, "Ball don't lie!"