Monday, June 24, 2013

Back to War

When the San Antonio Spurs took the court for the NBA Finals, it wasn't with just a bunch of locals. They have a guy from Brazil, a guy from Argentina and two guys from France. On top of that, their best known player was born in Jamaica.
The opposing Miami Heat have a guy with an odd mohawk haircut and tattoos up to his neck. They call him "Bird Man". But they also have the league's M.V.P., a native of Akron, and that turned out to be enough for the Heat to repeat in seven games, although it was very close.

I'm not sure how many of Iowa's roughly three million citizens are involved in Medicaid, nor how many pregnancies that group is likely to generate in an average year. But I do know that anyone in this group who wants, for whatever reason, to terminate the pregnancy now has to make one person happy - the governor. Yes, it's the guv who goes thumbs up or down in every Medicaid-funded abortion question. This new policy comes from those advocates of  "small government", the Republican Party.
Yes, the current governor is a Republican and, no, he has no medical training.

Now, to ask the question - "Why are we likely to go to war in Syria?" It's true that helping the rebels there would hurt the Russian influence in the area, but I don't think that's reason enough, nor that it's the whole story.
The Obama administration shut down the Iraq war/occupation, and the few troops that remain are there mainly to guard our huge embassy started under Bush. The Afghan conflict, by any description, is winding down mostly from fatigue brought on from trying to turn the country into something else. Now we find ourselves sitting down to negotiate with those nasty Taliban guys.
Perhaps someone has pointed out that ending two wars makes it possible to become involved in a new one. I'm not saying this is a good reason to intervene, but just that someone might be making the case.
Then there's the "You'll regret not using power." argument, probably made best by Bill Clinton, who feels that the biggest blot on his administration was not intervening in Rwanda, a country as far removed from the US as it's possible to be, when it suffered a mass genocide.
There's the political argument. Americans usually aren't squeamish about sending troops overseas, as long as they are all volunteers. Even so, there is no big public cry for another war. And Obama's no fool. He knows that Republicans will take the opposite side of whatever he decides to do, then pretend they have always felt that way.
There's the "Let's stand for freedom!" argument. Gosh knows this one has been used before, especially in support of oppressed people with lots of oil. Folks from Middle East countries seem to want to rid themselves of dictators, but they don't seem all that crazy about democracy. Can we guarantee that Egypt, for instance, will not return to 'strong man" government in the next twenty years? Ah, no.
It's even worse in Syria, because some of the groups that make up what we call "the rebels" are our outright enemies. Just how fun could it be to have Al Qaeda as an ally, especially after the Assad crowd is evicted? Obama said that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" for US involvement, but the "proof" we are leaning on passed through more than one set of hands before  landing in ours. The whole thing could be as phony as the Gulf of Tonkien.
So where does that leave us? Perhaps we'll be stuck with the vague but sometimes persuasive argument - " History will judge us as unsure and timid if we don't act." I wish we could do better.        

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tales of the Far Right

I saw a photo last week of an older gentleman, long off his diet and sporting a long white beard. He  held a dangerous-looking weapon with an ammo clip several inches long. The photo was meant to accompany a story on the alleged ammo shortage, which is the latest concern of those who go to bed wondering what the President's next plan to enslave them might be. But this particular photo was also subject to satirical treatment, and could have (though it didn't) carried the caption "When Santas Go Bad". Yikes!

The photo wasn't even the only Yuletide-related news of the week. In Texas, the state legislature's been working pretty hard. No, not at creating jobs, jobs, jobs, though they aren't above traveling to other states to try to get companies to move their jobs to Texas. No, this time, there was Governor Rick Parry signing legislation that GUAR-ON-TEES that wishing someone "Merry Christmas" (or, in a nod to  Jewish Texans "Happy Chanukah") will never be illegal. Really. You can't make this stuff up. It must have been a dark day for the members of TACACC - Texas Anti-Christmas and Chanukah Cabal. OK. That part I did make up.
But I'm telling the truth in relating that a day after the big celebration in Austin, Governor P. was part of a Washington Conference that pretends each year to be religious in nature, but, in fact, is just another wing of today's fractured GOP. The Guv probably assumed that no one remembered his less-than-overwhelming performance as a presidential candidate, and he may have been right. But then he must have jogged some memories by confusing Lebanon with Libya during his speech attacking the Obama administration.
I guess I run the risk of sounding like a cranky old liberal, but I continue to be amazed at the short memories of people on the other side. One election cycle after another, the same overpaid, overexposed (mostly) guys throw out predictions as if they're paid by the word, which they probably are. They keep getting it wrong, but then keep reappearing like vampires to say the same things the next time around..
Then there's the other aspect to all the Obama hating out there. Lots of accusations don't really start with one person but come out of an ooze of rumor, gossip and general slander no one wants to claim, but everyone wants to exploit. Anyone remember these?:
     Obama wasn't born in the US.
     Obama is a Muslim.
     Obama is a Christian, but belonged to a church that wants to overthrow the government.
     Michele Obama "hates" America.
     Obama is tied to 1960's left-wing radicals.
     Obama is tied to hiphop/socialist/Marxist/Hollywood/NBA culture which will exclude all others.
     Obama has billionaire support.
     Benghazi was an Obama plot to have Americans killed.
     Obama's healthcare plan will ruin the nation.
     Obama will preside over the death of Wall Street/private enterprise as we now know it.
     Obama funneled stimulus money to friends and family.
     The Obama family spends hundreds of millions on taxpayer-financed vacations.
     Obama is shrinking US defense spending to allow foreign takeover.
     Unlike GWB, Obama tells lies all the time.
     The last election was won by illegals trucked to the polls and allowed to vote.
And on and on and on. The House Speaker claims he backs measures for job creation, but spends the legislators' time voting to undo Obamacare about forty times and trying to ban every abortion, everywhere. I fear the main (perhaps only) job of any importance to them is their own, which they have tried to guarantee by clever redistricting in their home states aimed at making their next campaign easier if not cheaper. As for the truth, it was a casualty of the last campaign. If we tell enough tales, everyone will believe at least ONE of them, right?  


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hanging With Eighth-Graders

When Dane joined our family by marrying our youngest daughter Leah five years ago, he was just twenty-one. He's still a work in progress in some ways, but he can surprise you with his observations regarding , ah... people.
As an example, the two of them decided to not own a car, at least for now. This means Dane sometimes rides the bus to where he needs to go. He has noticed that bus trips have a kind of "opening up" effect on the passengers, and he observes bus riders conversing who might at first appear to have little in common. Having never done much bus riding, I was not aware of this little phenomenon, but I felt better informed by hearing it described. Hooray for him.

A couple of years ago I met a woman who came to one our daily tennis events. She wasn't much of a player, and has since given up the game because of injuries, but she somehow remembered that I am one of the Chamber Readers, something I have described in other entries. She is a teacher of eighth grade English in a semi-rural school near Eureka.
She called in April and, while I tried to remember just who she was, asked if I would come to her class and offer some help to her students. Late every spring, she gives them the assignment of using both the written and spoken word to depict someone from history. She wanted to know if I could offer a little help improving the students' speaking performance. I agreed. It sounded like fun, and maybe they could even pay me something, though she never actually brought the subject up..
I arrived at the school with a big bag of children's books, trying first to get to know the students a little and to see how the time allotted could best be spent. I tried to cover some basics about speaking in public, and how it's different from gabbing with your pals. There are times you can speed up, and other places where you should slow down. The same way with volume: sometimes louder, then softer in other places. We talked a little about trying to sound more like the character, and less like ourselves.
I passed out the children's books and requested that they each stand and read one page, hoping they would feel free to sound a little silly. Naturally, some of them handled this part with ease, while a few struggled.
And I got to hear parts of their presentations, which they called "monologs". No one crossed genders for their characters, but they weren't all famous people. One boy depicted the designer of the original Coca Cola bottle. I can't remember them all, but we had time for the twenty or so of them to all give a sample. I got to make suggestions, and had the advantage of doing something new, giving me the edge over a teacher locked into the same material day after day. The kids seemed to like that part, too.
Well, I never did get paid, but yesterday, almost a month after my visit, I got a big manilla envelope full of "Thank You" notes. You're welcome. You're certainly welcome.      

Monday, June 03, 2013

An Arifact From the Nineties

I could go on and on about Roger Federer, but doing so might get me close to the boredom line with a few readers, so I'll be very quick.
Mr. Federer just won his 900th match as a pro. In more than a few of these wins, to say nothing of the losses, he has used his athleticism to produce some amazing shots. During the 900th win, which took place in Paris at the French Open, he went far to his right to get to a ball hit at a very sharp angle. Completely off the court, Mr. F. gave the ball a little flick which caused it to bend around the net post at a height about a foot under the net, pass to the other side and land safely out of reach of his flabbergasted opponent. This shot inspired Yahoo to search their archives for similar Federer shots. They found enough to run several minutes' worth of "around the post" shots performed from both sides. I, in decades of tennis play, have never hit one of these. Hats off to Roger Federer, the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

I don't know why they decided to interview Bob Dole last week. Perhaps someone realized he wouldn't always be available, since he's now around 90 years old. But there he was, mentally sharp, though confined to a wheelchair.
In his days in Congress, no one could have rightfully called Dole anything but a conservative. But today, his former involvement in things like the Food Stamp Program and the Americans With Disabilities Act point up the differences between what conservatives used to support in contrast to today's take-no-prisoners GOP hard noses.
It seems to boil down to this: conservatives from the mid-to-late 20th century were tough, but they also recognized that their constituents were regular working folks, and that they all were part of a society trying improve things for everyone. Plenty of them helped pass civil rights legislation, measures to help local schools, aid poor countries and a hundred other things.
Now, you could be out of the tiny GOP tent for backing gun sale background checks or opposing a pipeline through the country's middle. Say something nice about the President, and you find yourself in a primary fight with some fire-breathing, right-wing tea bagger. The Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, but instead of searching themselves and their message, they revert to searching for conspiracies and blaming the media, doubling down, it seems, on their anger.
Dole recognizes all this, and admits that the party is now so far right that it would exclude candidates such as Reagan, Nixon and himself because it has no use for anyone "with ideas". When asked what his party should do, Dole quipped that it should lock the doors and hang out a sign saying "Closed for Repairs".
I learned last week that there is a relic out there that proves Dole's assertion. For some reason, you can still access the Dole/Kemp campaign website from 1996 on the internet. There they are, proud of their involvement in at least modest progressive legislation and not referring to the incumbent (Clinton) as anything more diabolical than a "liberal", a term that is now 100% pejorative.
Dole and Kemp lost that election, but came away with some dignity. They didn't have to apologize for lying, misappropriating campaign funds or operating "push" polls that hinted at some dark secrets on the other side. Dole was by then resigned from the Senate, but went back to being on friendly terms with Clinton. Neither Dole nor running mate Jack Kemp ran for office again. Kemp passed away a few years ago, the best-known former Buffalo Bills quarterback ever. Dole tried to help his wife's political career, but she failed to get the Party's nomination for president.