Monday, September 23, 2013


There are plenty of things that could be discussed this week. You've got terrorists in Nairobi, three weeks of the NFL and everything that goes with that, the Republican effort to commit murder/suicide on the federal government rather than allow a system that's already the law to actually go into effect, and the season start of the British Premier League, one of soccer's main global draws.

With all that in mind, let's turn inward - all the way inward  - to tick off the family milestones that I notice have been piling up. Warning: this may read like a Christmas Family Letter, and if it does, we'll just have to try something else next week. Anyway, it could be worse - if we were strapped into a chair in front of a TV loudly playing Fox News all the time.

Our oldest child, Zak, turns forty today. He's the patriarch of a family with a son and two daughters, all of whom are now finally in school. He has become one of the world's highest-rated mechanics for Ferrari and Maserati autos, working at a dealership in Salt Lake City. The dealer has recently changed owners, so let's hope the new bosses actually like having an expert on hand. You never know. Zak gets to ride the train to work every day.

A change in her custody arrangement has allowed our oldest daughter, Laura, to move about forty minutes closer to her dental office in Marion,. Iowa. Of course this not only means a new home, but a new school for her three daughters, the oldest two of whom have hit the adolescence wall. Surprisingly, I find them wonderful to be with.

Anna was married to David a year and a half ago, and they have taken on some big tasks in Columbus, OH, where they are the only folks who don't root for Ohio State. David teaches physics in high school and does a boatload of other things, including Scoutmaster. Yikes! Anna proved that someone with a Humanities degree (Spanish) can find employment, and works from home doing HR.

Jake is the family member who travels the most. It's for his job in internet marketing. I'm not sure how big a deal it is, but he's now a vice president though he's only thirty four. He dumped other sports for the triathlon, and he is also the dad of three, all of whom have different school schedules. The family lives on the side of a small mountain near Berkley, CA.  

Allison, our third daughter, is the mom of two sons near Seattle. She's also a distance runner, and is certified to teach in elementary schools. Her youngest (Henry) is six, so it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that she and husband Scott are again on the premortal assembly line. Boy or girl, expected arrival is mid December. No running until after the big day.

Marla is now an R.N., and lives in Cedar Rapids, IA, the family's old home. She's marrying Nic next month, and they'll be living in a home they just bought not far from the hospital she works at. Nic's working, too. Marla lost the equivalent of a cheerleader or two and now looks a little like my mother.

Leah, our baby, got married when she was just nineteen to Dane, who has had several mentions in this space. Now, at almost twenty five, Leah is also expecting. The two of them lost the equivalent of a guy cheerleader. Like her sisters, Leah can sing (soprano), and she's more active in it than her siblings. They live in Portland, which seems like a fun place whenever we visit.

I can't say that any of these things can't be found in other families. I'm sure they are, and tracing their good fortune to us would be more than vain. They deserve the credit for good decisions and hard work. Hooray for them!  


Monday, September 16, 2013

Is It Fall Yet?

I've noticed some odd things lately. For instance, I have a younger friend who serves in the Coast Guard. They have a local base, which makes sense since our city is on the ocean. But what puzzles me is why he needs to go to New Mexico for updated training. Does someone just spray paint a line in the sand to make a pretend coast, or does the Pentagon pay Halliburton a billion dollars to ship a million gallons of water to the desert in order to make the "beach " seem more real?

The Air Force Academy football team has a quarterback who must be a very tough guy. Not only will he graduate as a professional warrior, but no doubt he has already absorbed a lifetime of pain just from his last name - Awini. Can't you just hear it" "Awini! What a weenie!" Mercy.

Son-in-law Dane has picked up another skill that may come in handy sooner than we think. Somehow, he got the inside dope on "urban foraging," and he promptly found his way to fifteen pounds of plums and grapes without paying a nickel. Maybe I should learn something new. Leading a kazoo ensemble? Coaching deaf athletes? Garage sale pricing strategies? Or how about coffin carpentry? That last one is sure to come in handy some day.

I'm beginning to think that Pope Francis is either a genuinely humble person, or that he has the best PR guy in Italy on the payroll working furiously from a tiny hidden office in the Vatican. Did you catch what he did last week? His Holiness accepted a donated car that's something like 29 years old with 180,000 or so miles. He can drive, so there's no one to hire. No plexiglass or bulletproof siding, either. The plan is to just use it around the grounds at Vatican City. It all sounds great, although I hope someone has checked Francis' eyesight within the last twenty years or so.

Sometimes I'm right. President Obama spent most of his speech time last week talking about the need to discipline Syria militarily, but then the door was opened to no attack if the Syrians give up their stocks of poison gas. Russia is now helping that to happen, and so everyone gets something. The U.S. doesn't have to act as world heavy again for awhile: Syria gets to continue making was on its own people, although without chemical weapons, and Russia looks like a winner for having put the other two parties together. Who's not happy? That would be the American Right, the smartest of whom realize that Obama's still a couple of steps ahead of them. So what's left? A chorus of whining about how Putin comes out a winner and Assad gets to keep attacking his countrymen. One dope tried calling out the President for "chickening out".  Another solemnly reminded us that the nation had endured "humiliation" before. They're just trying to avoid having to wear the "I'm a Moron" sign around their necks.
And OK, sometimes I'm a little wrong. True, I wrote against attacking Syria, but that, of course, was when I didn't know about this other business, which was already getting serious discussion. I had plenty of company. At least I'm not comparing diplomacy to elementary school playground strategies.    

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Suppose they Gave a War.....

If someone wanted proof that American culture sits atop the world with no real challenge, there was a moment at the recently concluded U.S.Open Tennis Tournament that was pretty revealing. The broadcast team put in place by ESPN were talking casually with Victoria Azarenka, the top Russian player, about her life. She surprised me by gushing about her latest American discovery - vintage Motown soul music. Marvin Gay, Stevie Wonder and  Smoky Robinson were mentioned along with some others. The entire conversation was in English. Could we ever conceive that the Williams Sisters could travel to Moscow and rave about the music of Russian composers - in Russian? I'd say that's impossible.

I was an Iowan for a long time - more than half my life, and still have great respect for the folks of the Hawkeye State. But that doesn't mean they can't do something crazy along the way.
No, it seems the Iowa Legislature, in an effort during the Culver (Democratic) administration, made an effort to make guns easier to obtain legally. This was also, by no surprise, the wish of the NRA, who don't like to see citizens anywhere be gun-deprived. The legislature was so anxious to spread the wealth of firepower around the state that they even removed the ability to see as a requirement to buy or own a gun! I guess it goes without saying that being a deep thinker is also not a  requirement.

Last week, I gave my opinion against attacking Syria. As things stand this moment, there may not be an attack after all, though it's not clear to me who all should get credit for what has happened, evidently in just the past few days.
Secretary of State John Kerry, answering a question from the press (Is there anything that could cause us to change our plans regarding the attack on Syria?) replied that Syria could avoid this little dose of Shock and Awe by collecting all their chemical weapons and turning them over to an international organization. Kerry was quick to add that he didn't expect this to happen.
I don't know if Kerry expected it, but the Russians, long close to Syria, raised their diplomatic hand and said they could (and would) jump in and make the US wish come true. Syria, for their part, raised no real objection other than to lamely claim that they have no such weapons.
The President is giving a speech tonight on the entire matter, and will no doubt keep a firm line on attacking, but might give an inch or two in return for Russian/Syrian cooperation in taking the poisons off the battlefield.
This isn't a perfect solution. The war continues, and Syria may retain the ability to make (or buy) new stuff to replace whatever they might give up. Still, taken altogether this looks like a winner if it works. No more gas on the field killing civilians. No US attack, which both sides would prefer, thus no need to defy Congress by running over their collective "no" vote against attacking. And, from a political standpoint, all the Right can do is give unneeded advice about "carefully watching" the guy they were praising just last week in an attempt to show they would never say anything nice about Obama. That would be everyone's favorite stone killer, Mr. Putin.   


Monday, September 02, 2013

Lock and Load - Again

Richard Nixon was a very private man. His suspicious nature seemed to almost ooze from him, and his staff went to great lengths to hide it.
This tendency carried over to his post-White House days, but there was one occasion when he gave us a tiny glimpse of his mind, commenting on the Watergate debacle with an answer to a question  that included the phrase "I gave them a knife...".  
I bring this up because the man who arranged these interviews was not a TV network executive or newsman, but a British TV scandal hunter named David Frost. Nixon agreed to go on because it meant a big payday. A pretty good movie ("Frost/Nixon) was made about the whole business a few years ago. Frost died over the weekend at age 74. His Nixon deal, which he never surpassed in terms of public interest, took place in the early 1970's, so he was a young man at the time.

Frequent readers may have concluded that I find much about Barack Obama to admire. He may be remembered by historians  as someone who took an almost horrific situation which had resulted from the George W. Bush "reign of error" and helped reverse things despite a difficult Congress and a sometimes suspicious public. Gosh knows, I'm not one of those awful Obama haters.
Having given this premature assessment, I now tiptoe into the near future to comment on the evident punishment about to be meted out to Syria. I, like the rest of everyone without top security clearance, can only guess at the real plan. It's not supposed to involve infantry, but will, we are told, reduce Syria's ability to repeat the sickening attack on their own people using chemical weapons, killing about 1,400 men women and children.
But unspeakable as this attack was, the question we now face is: What is the role the US can play to minimize the chances of it happening again?
At this moment, this is how I see the situation:
     Yes, we could bomb a factory or two, but even then, chemical weapons are not expensive to make, and could be bought from plenty of other countries at the right price.
     Yes, we could get lucky if the Assad regime somehow falls, but the array of possible successors is long, and contains a good number of folks who we normally consider enemies, even including Al Qaeda. Democracy for Syria is not even on the horizon, and today's ally in this volatile situation, could be tomorrow's WMD target.
     Yes, Obama is on record saying that chemical weapons use would be a "red line" to the US. On the other hand, our allies, with the exception of France, are not exactly begging to be included on the list of attackers. Must we attack just because something was said?
     Yes, Syria is on record as foreswearing chemical weapons, but shouldn't we need some kind of international endorsement to keep us from looking like the aggressor?
     Yes, we have the power to do great damage to Syria, but even a few US casualties might lead haters to insist that military action should be doubled and tripled in order that the honored dead "will not have died in vain".     
     Things we have learned to expect: Loud domestic objections to the lack of an "exit strategy", worldwide publicizing of "collateral damage" (dead civilians), loud objections from Russia, China, and others and threats against Israel, just because they all know we want them to be left alone.
I'm not sure what could be done to Syria that would make the country's power elite second guess their past decisions. I wish I could bring back those poor victims, but am left with the only sensible option - looking at the future. So far, I'm having a hard time going with President Obama.