Monday, August 26, 2013

Just the Short Answer

Today's title comes from a frequent request from our children during the years they were growing up. It refers to the answer they always preferred when they had questions as opposed to the longer one I  wanted to give. I am trying to apply their formula to several current items in the news; political, sports and other. First, the question, followed by the "short " answer.
1. What's your favorite commercial? The answer is subject to change, but right now I like the one which features a chameleon couple picking out colors. The male of the pair is completely surprised by one possibility and blurts out "Yowza!" It maks me laugh every time even though I know it's coming.
2. Who cares about Little League? The folks at ESPN and ABC have been showing LL games for a long time, and that's not by accident. It's a combination of the baseball skills on display and the fact that the players are whiskerless young boys who retain the cuteness of children even though they are growing by the day. BTW, congrats to the Japanese team for taking this year's title.
3. Is Ichiro the greatest ever? Mr. Suzuki just reached a statistical plateau most never even dream of. He just got to 4,000 hits in his major league career, a level reached by only two other players in history. One of those two, however, is the reptilian Pete Rose who remains banned from the Hall of Fame. Rose has plenty to say about Ichiro, but none of it is good. Wouldn't you think that at some point in his life Rose could finally show a little class? Not yet, and probably never. As for Ichiro, let's just say that he's one of the greatest ever.
4. Who's Vin Scully? Mr. Scully is the Dodgers play-by-play guy for radio and TV. He goes back to when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn in the late 1940's! He's in the news because he has announced that he's coming back next year, which will be his 65th on the job. Now that's longevity.
5. Where's the worst place to live? You'd have to be pretty bad to get worse than Syria right now. The country not only has a horrific civil war going on, but the dictator's army is evidently willing to use chemical weapons on its own people. How bad is it? Bad enough that people are leaving the country as refugees and going to....Iraq, which retains some hellish conditions of its own. Both countries now seem worse than Somalia, Haiti, Pakistan or Rwanda. I guess it's all relative.
6. What will the US do about Syria? Sad to say, these matters often carry more political weight than anything else. It isn't a large country, and it has no oil. But Republicans see it as a place much like Libya, where political hay can be made. So here's the short answer. If the US intervenes, the GOP will howl about putting US troops in harm's way, not having an "exit strategy", and using tools that Republican presidents were criticized for.
If there is no American intervention, the Republicans will feign sympathy for the hapless Syrians and accuse President Obama of lacking the "leadership" necessary for the job, sneering that his days as a community organizer failed to prepare him for the world stage. This will all ignore the fact that Obama cannot run for president again. It will, however, get a little use against whoever carries the Democrat's flag in 2016.      
7. Who's going to win the US Open tennis tounamet? It's easy, on this first day of the two-week tournament, to pick the usual favorites. Venus Williams won't win, but you should look for a chance to see the hairdo she's got going this year. It' a huge complex knot that's colored bright fuchsia. The total effect is that of a massive poison atomic mushroom, IMHO.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sometimes I'm Right

I understand that it has been an inferno-like summer for lots of people. The truth is, we here have also broken some heat records. This past week, temps soared into ...the 70's. And yes, some people thought that was bad enough to gripe about. Sure, it rains quite a bit here, but I will NEVER complain about our climate. Heck, I've known steamy days in Iowa when the overnight temp never went under 70.

If you were to set out to construct a top female tennis player, whatever you came up with would NOT, in all probability, resemble Marion Bartoli. She's not tall OR fast OR powerful, nor does she hit blinding serves. To some people she's even a little...chunky.
So what has Bartoli done in her career? She's been a steady performer in the world's top twenty and she won the last Wimbledon tournament not two months ago. All agree that, inch for inch, she has gotten everything possible out of her unimpressive body.
She retired abruptly last week, giving in to a collection of injuries that might bring down a horse. And why not? She's made plenty of money, is well liked by the people who know her and has plenty of years left in which to enjoy life. She's only 28. Her career went 13 years, not including the years it took to prepare to turn pro. One other possibility exists. Sometimes players, especially women, come out of retirement. Regardless, let's hope her future is pain-free and happy.

Two things our area is known for intersected in an odd way this month. I've written before about the local semipro baseball team, the Humboldt Crabs, operating now for almost 70 years. They had another great season this year under manager Matt Nutter. But Nutter himself was arrested last week when police found something like 300 marijuana plants at his home. All I can say is - Say it ain't so, Matt!

Still in the file of icky stuff, we are now among the few families anywhere to have ties to both the nation's top party school, though I can't remember who measures these things or how, and the school best known for a social life that's substance-free. At one end is the University of Iowa, with BYU at the other end. Filling in who fits where should be beyond easy. Hey, where's Chico State, Wisconsin and Penn State when you need them!

Now I know what you're thinking. What does all this have to do with this week's title? I could point out that certain states in which "y'all" is used as a word have dived with glee into the "we'll stop voter fraud even if WE are the only ones left who can vote" group. North Carolina is the latest to set up hurdles to stop would-be voters from ruining their GOP paradise. But that, I have to say, was going to happen as soon as the Supreme Court gave their "Y'all go right ahead" to such plans. Sure, I predicted it, but so did lots of others.

Let's return to tennis. Not long ago, I pointed out in this very space that Maria Sharapova hiring Jimmy Conners as her coach seemed to be a match that carried certain risks. Sure enough, whatever advice Ms. S. got from Jimbo, it didn't help her in her very next match, a loss. The next day, Conners was fired and sent packing. Yikes! I have no predictions who will get the job next, but I advise whoever it is to order a very expensive meal before the first practice begins.            

Monday, August 12, 2013

There's a Scene...

We had planned to have son Jake, his wife Ember and their three kids for a visit, and we did. The length of the visit, however was cut short for reasons they couldn't control, so there were here and gone in under 48 hours. Still, we had some fun: the zoo, two beaches, the park and a huge bluff near the ocean that we walked down (and then up). I even got to play a version of Concentration against Ireland, who's only four. She was tough, but I held on for the win.

I had no reason to be anywhere, even at home one evening last week. I did what lots of old folks do - wandered around the mall. The only distinguishing feature of the place is that it has a small Wal-Mart attached. I didn't go in there. I did notice a little sign just a few steps past the entrance at Sears. I can't recall the wording exactly, but it was something like "We'd sure appreciate it if you didn't walk off with these valuable little packages full a' what we like to call 'jewelry'". Of course, the unstated message required a little more thought "We're too cheap to even have anyone around this stuff to watch it. But we'd still prefer you don't steal it. After all, we did sink some money into this sign." Message received.

In the movie "Citizen Kane", the title guy is instructed in one scene about all the wealth that has fallen his way. The trouble was, he just had no interest in anything he was supposed to be boss of until a down and out New York City newspaper company popped up on the list. At that moment, everything changed for Kane, played by the larger-than-life Orson Wells. He realized at once that he was so rich that even a losing paper couldn't threaten his huge empire, and so churning out the news as HE saw it could be only one thing - FUN!
This scene is being repeated in real life before our eyes. Last week, the Boston Globe was sold to Mr. John Henry, who already owns the Boston Red Sox, while Mr. Jeff Bezos, Amazon's boss, made out a check to buy the Los Angeles Times.
What makes this possible is a decline in the value of the newspapers. The Internet allows technology to march right on past the old news stands that were so common in the cities. You can buy a fair-sized paper today for an amount that the average American billionaire has between the cushions in his couches. The Globe went for $70 million. That may sound like quite a bit, but it's about 6% of what the last owner (the New York Times) paid for it. Even hard core shoppers start to notice when the signs say "94% markdowns!"
The only remaining question is still a pretty big one: Is all this GOOD or BAD for the newsreading public? The readers of the "Wall Street Journal" had the same question when it was sold to Rupert Murdoch, the guy most famous as the king of Fox News. So far, people are reading it carefully, but WSJ seems to be largely unchanged. I saw Dan Rather describe his relationship with the guy who owns the company he works for, Mark Cuban, who seems to be on the news quite a bit, but mainly in connection with his basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks. Rather, perhaps with his fingers crossed behind his back, seemed OK with having a young Robber Baron as boss.
I guess we'll have to wait to see how this trend pays off (or doesn't). For Kane, there were plenty of good times, and he died richer than ever, but he didn't seem very happy. I guess if things in this industry keep going South, the day might come when we all get to own a paper.   

Monday, August 05, 2013

Itty Bitty Stuff

The summer moves on, and the news is sometimes interesting. But I don't want to be strictly thought of  (if I'm thought of at all) as just a political/news interpreter guy. I think, on the other hand, that some tiny things are worth noticing.

Someday there will be a woman who advances into male professional sports. She might be a placekicker, a punter or a general manager somewhere. The Crabs, our local nonprofessional baseball team, found themselves facing a woman pitcher last week. This woman, based on this single performance, won't be the one carrying the feminine flag to the Big Show. The Crabs roughed her up pretty badly during her one inning on the mound.

I can't say I'm a rabid fan of country music, but some of the song lyrics can make you smile. I heard one last week that went:
      I got a friend from New York City.
     He never even heard of Conway Twitty.
The late Mr. Twitty was a famous country performer, but I couldn't guess how well his work is known in the Big Apple.

On local radio: "The area's most important dog walk is coming up soon." Great, but what about the 2nd or 3rd biggest canine event? BTW, the name of this fundraiser/megashow: "Woofstock".

Sometimes I accuse long time members of Congress of being on the "Strom Thurmond Track", the goal of which is reaching age 100 while still holding elected office. Perhaps I should give some credit to Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe since 1980. The man is 89 years old, and he's the country's president! Not only that, but he just won another term! You could have used the same headline for decades:"Mugabe Wins Again in Disputed Election".

At Toastmaster meetings, one person gets the assignment of catching incorrect words that sometimes emerge from the speakers. It's all done in the spirit of helping and fun. We had a big laugh lately over one woman's phrase: "your guys' minds". The trouble is - you find yourself listening to see if you can pick up these little mistakes outside of the club.   
I was in a small meeting yesterday when someone mangled "exemplifies" into "exemplorates". I found my head jerking up as I looked around to see if anyone else had caught this minor gaff. If they did, they covered it up pretty well. Anyway, I'm passing it on.

Finally, there's Mona's uncharacteristic pipe dream yesterday. In fact, it was a literal pipe dream, because it centered on ways to make a gazebo, or something like a gazebo, out of PVC pipe. She discovered that there are literally dozens of ways to do the job, and we discussed how it might be done using that other irreplaceable commodity - duct tape. Hey, she's planning it for the North side, which means almost zero sun, and we're just renters here. Then again, it could turn into our itty bitty place to hang out.