Monday, April 29, 2013


I did one tiny thing to improve my life this year. For the past several, I had kept meticulous track of wins and losses on the tennis court. But the thing is, you never know who your partner is going to be, and so either a loss or a win could have less to do with you than the other guy.
I stopped keeping track. Now tennis it more of an "in the moment" kind of thing. Winning is still great, but at my age, how dominant can I be? It was the right decision. And, hey - today we won two of three in a tough wind.

It was a hard year for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers. The new players never quite lived up to expectations and there were too many injuries. Five guys were unable to play in the first round of the playoffs, including team star Kobe Bryant, who had been hurt trying to squeeze too much out of his body just to help the team get into the playoffs vs. the tough San Antonio Spurs.
Things went even worse than expected. As game four dragged into the fourth quarter, it became apparent that this would be the 0-3 Lakers' last game of the season. The crowd started to slink out, the coaches looked as though they were thinking about going fishing and the players had the look of "Sure, we're pros, but this just isn't working".
In the midst of this, Kobe, confined to crutches, refused to stop trying to help the team. He was barking out advice from courtside as if the team's embarrassment was his own. I was impressed, because Kobe doesn't need extra playoff cash. He just can't stop competing, a quality you need if you're going to be a professional athlete. It wasn't enough to bring the Lakers back from the dead, but there's always next year.

Now, regarding regulations. That's one of those words that makes conservatives red in the face and purple in their choice of words. You can depend on any GOP candidate to get cheers for saying something like, "Our government needs to get out of the way so that out employers can operate in the free market without having to deal with costly, restrictive regulations." If that doesn't seem familiar, you just haven't been listening.
But just lately, there have been two events serving to remind us just why there are such things a regulations. Neither event involved terrorists.
In Bangladesh, a factory used for making clothing to be sold in the West collapsed. Over three hundred employees were killed. The country is supposed to have regulations which keep this kind of thing from happening, but the country is so poor that it's easy to throw a few dollars at regulators willing to look the other way, which is probably all of them. You get a pretty good idea of what big name clothing retailers think of human life by their united opposition to anything that would produce new rules. "Oh, no. That means new administrative problems. We can't do that." In case you're wondering, wages in this type of operations can be between $1 and $2 a day, so it's not hard to see how money can be made.
In Texas, fifteen people were killed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant located within easy walking distance of a nursing home, an apartment complex and a public school. Were regulations violated? No one seems to know, in part because it had been so long since an actual inspection took place. One thing we do know is that the plant had a thousand times more of a particular chemical than what is supposed to require disclosure to the DHS, which remembers what the Oklahoma City bomb was made of. Texas is not likely to break their backs looking for risky situations because the state puts plenty of time and effort trying to get compnies to move their operations to Texas, where regulation and inspections are much more casual.       
We, folks, have lost sight of two broad facts. First, the best employers want their workers to be safe, and not just to keep workers compensation costs down. How many qualified, educated people want to move themselves and their families to places where explosions are simply considered one of the costs of doing business? The other fact is that regulations actually help legitimate businesses by keeping cut-rate, unsafe operators out of the marketplace. If you can't afford to obey the rules, you shouldn't be allowed to operate. And the rules themselves wouldn't exist if someone hadn't found a way to circumvent lawful operations sometime in the past. After all, government's job is to first help people, not corporations.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Proper Remembering

I know lots of people do their best to NOT see or listen to commercials. OK. They're entitled. But I can't help thinking a person can learn quite a bit from these broadcast snippets if you watch them carefully enough.
Have you, for instance, seen the commercial for the Buick Encore (another car name, BTW, for some reason tied to music, like the Sonata or the Prelude)? It starts with huge dinosaurs moving about in their clunky fashion on modern streets. The biggest dino has a small car at its feet nimbly avoiding being crushed, with its passengers totally unfazed. That's the Encore. Are the GM folks perhaps taking a chance competing with those loveable hamsters who sell the KIA Soul? Maybe. The real question to me isn't whether any big lizards were harmed in the making of the commercial, but whether we could get used to the weird idea of a small Buick. Anyway, the commercial is fun, so that's a start.

Poor little Martin Richard. He was unknown just a week ago, and now we are remembering him, the youngest fatality of the Boston Marathon bombing. He was just eight years old, cute, and part of a genuine family fully involved in their local community of  Dorchester. His sister Jane, just six, will have to spend the rest of her life explaining how she lost her leg, and their mother will have to recover from head wounds. This bombing may not amount to much in the history of terror attacks when compared with what happens every week somewhere in the world, but it already has its human symbol, little Martin. 
There will, sadly, be other bombings and shootings no matter what police or military forces are deployed for our protection. We don't know the motive, which will no doubt change in coming years as well, but Martin is gone, and we cannot bring him back. He wasn't a hero, or demonstrably smarter or more attractive than other lost children killed just this last week in both natural and man-made violence in Iraq or China or Texas. He didn't really die for a cause or shouting defiance to a cruel world. He was really just - unlucky, at the wrong place and time.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't remember him, because we should. Richmond, VA has a whole avenue of Confederate heroes remembered in huge statues, poised on horseback to defend the Cause, lost almost 150 years ago. That kind of thing wouldn't be appropriate for Martin. Perhaps his classmates could assemble something that could later be redone in permanent materials and displayed at his school. The cost needn't be enormous to help people remember the little guy.
I like the monument in Oklahoma City which remembers the past terror attack there with a simple collection of empty chairs matching the number of federal employees (and some children at a daycare center) lost to a fertilizer bomb. The chairs number around 150. Could Newtown, CT use something like shoes to mark their lost children and teachers? I'd be surprised if something wasn't assembled there. An arrangement of movie theater seats in Aurora, CO or textbooks at Columbine High School?  Would a sculpture of someone in pain just be too hard to live with? I don't know.
But I think it need not be a bad thing to remind people of the idea of human suffering, particularly when it is not a part of most lives, most of the time. Perhaps being reminded can help us better put things in perspective. Shakespeare had Romeo chide his kinsman a little by saying "He jests at scars who never felt a wound". If we can remember and still avoid the spirit of vengeance and retribution only too common in society, then that would be a good thing, wouldn't it?    


Monday, April 15, 2013

Guns For Sale

This nation has plenty of people who speak Spanish,. The further South and West you go, the easier they are to find.  I was reading today about a high school baseball team representing a school district in southern New Mexico with a student body which is 97% Hispanic. That's unusual I guess, but certainly not illegal.
Anyway, this baseball team was in the midst of a game when an umpire noticed that the team was using Spanish to communicate. The ump called time, then ordered the team to stop using Spanish or face the threat of ejection from the game. This, in turn, brought the manager off the bench to defend his players, only to find himself under the same threat no matter what language he used.
It could have gotten ugly, but a second umpire, fortunately bilingual, intervened to inform the first one that there was no rule forbidding espanol in NM high school baseball, and that he would make sure no Spanish cursing or vulgarities were used by either players or coaches. The game resumed, with any cursing done in whispers, I suppose.
The only point is this. For over 200 years, we have not found it necessary to have a national language, even though immigrants who seek citizenship must show they can speak the local lingo in order to qualify. We have had or currently have newspapers, radio and TV in languages other than English in plenty of places. No one was killed as a result, so as long as you understand "safe", "out", "ball" and "strike" in English, you should be allowed to play baseball in any language you wish, including Japanese.

We are, folks, a long way from changing the regulation of gun sales in this country. The public (80% or more) favors a system of background checks for weapons buyers, but the Legislative Branch, especially the GOP led House, refuse so far to sign on.
Last week, a vote was taken in the Senate to allow floor debate on the matter. Certain members, all Republicans, opposed even this, and called for a filibuster. The vote, referred to as a "cloture" measure, passed by a 68-31 margin, and so debate will go forward.
One of those opposed to debate was Utah's 1st term senator Mike Lee, a tea party guy who oddly resembles a baby dressed in a suit. Like a baby, his favorite word seems to be "NO!", especially in response to anything coming from the Obama administration.
When asked about the lost vote, Lee insisted that it wasn't a failure at all. That's OK. I understand the desire to put the best face on things, especially bad news. On the other hand, you have to wonder how Lee would have described it if the vote had gone the other way. My guess: "SUCCESS!"    

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grim Reaper Pulls a Hat Trick

We spent the last weekend in Portland, which is always interesting, but the most attention getting event this time had to do with young grandson Henry. A needle had accidentally worked its way into the little guy's foot. The X-ray made it look more painful than it was, but there was some infection. It took awhile, but the docs finally got the needle removed. Whew!

Sooner or later, we all get face-to-face with Death, some after long periods of suffering, and some in the midst of a Sunday stroll. During this past week or so, we lost three well-known people who all suffered long and semi-public declines in health.

Whether we call it the United Kingdom, England, Great Britain or something else, there's no disputing that they have a political system that, though based on democratic ideals, operates very differently from our own. Still, quite a bit of power is vested in the office of the prime minister, who, until the 1980s, had always been a man.
That ended when Margaret Thatcher took office. As a Tory (Conservative), Ms. Thatcher took office at a time when everything in the U.K. seemed in decline, leaving the nation as an example of failed socialism frequently cited by the American Right. Thatcher took the role of a two fisted champion of private enterprise, deregulating industries that could flourish while refusing to prop up the old economic engines (such as coal mines) which had been in long decline. This strategy alone helps explain the mixed public reaction to her final passing last week at age 87. They (Hollywood, that is) even made a movie about her life and time in office. I liked the movie more than Mrs. Thatcher herself. I did hear her once being interviewed and came away thinking that I had never heard anyone speak so decisively. I would not have wanted her as a debating opponent. Of course, being sure and being correct are not always the same thing.
Roger Ebert died last week at the end of a long fight with cancer. Ebert became one of the best known movie critics, working for one of the Chicago newspapers but also teaming with a rival, Gene Siskel to produce a TV show which reviewed several new features every week. The two frequently disagreed, though not to the point of exchanging blows. Ebert was a prolific writer in his chosen field. I own a book of compiled reviews ending in 1998. This book alone evaluates over 1500 features and is more than 900 pages. I wouldn't agree with all his conclusions, but it's a free country and people who disagree are free to say so. At any rate, I expect Mr. Ebert's influence to last for some time.
In the 1950s, the TV industry began to thrive, creating a whole new field of entertainment competition. An early competitor was moviemaker Walt Disney. He sponsored the Mickey Mouse Club, matching his programming to the huge demographic we now refer to as Baby Boomers. The stars of this program were mostly preteens themselves. The best known came to be Annette Funicello, whose appeal was roughly "the (slightly ethnic) girl next door" who everyone liked.
Annette's association with Disney continued into the days when she blossomed into a beautiful but modestly-dressed young woman. No one cared much about her acting or the plots of the movies she was in, but she seemed, off stage and on, to be a genuinely nice person. Sadly, she suffered from MS during a long period of her life, and passed away, like Ebert, at age 70. Almost all American adults of a certain age, I'm guessing, would remember her as one of the first well-known people who owed their fame to TV.
P.S. The term "Hat Trick" derives from ice hockey and refers to doing three of something during one game or in quick succession.          

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Getting Over It

The college basketball season is about to climax with the NCAA Final Four, which takes place this year in Atlanta. For some reason, I always seem to notice a player or two at this event with an exotic name. This year's star of the Marquette Warriors, for instance, is the almost musically named Vander Blue. I can think of several songs that would accommodate that name without a single change.
And Syracuse has a big man whose name seems to defy all explanation. What could you say about someone named Rakeem Christmas? I don't know too much about, ah, Mr. Christmas, so I guess the safe thing is just to wish him the best this weekend. For the record, both BYU and Iowa are still playing, but it's in the tournament for teams not in the NCAA. It's called the NIT, which has a long history, and is played in New York City. You could do a lot worse.

I was thinking the other day trying to decide which country other than the USA gets the most mention in this blog. It might be Iraq, but it could also be North Korea, a country which seems to define a kind of totalitarian weirdness found almost nowhere else. The country's leaders got pretty cranky last week over some economic sanctions, so the NK bigshots decided to vent their anger in the usual way - fake the resumption of the war halted by truce (though never officially ended) about sixty years ago. To their people they announced the capture of 100,000 snooty Americans, though they had none to actually put in front of the cameras. The US response to the NK chest thumping was to move some aircraft nearer to the North/South border. Yesterday they announced that, fist-shaking notwithstanding, the NK armies had not been mobilized. or moved forward. If anyone was trying to pull an April Fool prank, it wasn't us. We just yawn, make sure the guns have plenty of ammo  and wait for the next verbal assault. Their new leader is still in his twenties, so it probably won't be that long.

I've gone on once or twice in this space about the need for a new holiday on the USA calendar. I like the name "Forgiveness Day", which the Jews already have, though I can't recall the day's official name. Then I read something in today's paper. Did you know that today is Reconciliation Day? I don't know if it was thought up by the floral or the greeting card industry, and it clearly hasn't taken off just yet into full "holidayhood", but it's still a good idea. Reconciling may not go all the way to forgiveness, but it should still allow us to put down the resentment burdens we carry and just get over it. If you want to get the ball rolling with someone regarding a past matter or two, feel free to start by saying, "You know, I read in this favorite blog of mine about a thing called Reconciliation Day. I was thinking we could try to put some things behind us for good. Can we, ah, talk?"