Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Tiny Stuff

The Super Bowl is something for which I have limited enthusiasm. The bigger the show put on by the NFL, the less there is for actual football fans to see. We've almost never had a decent reason to support one team over another.
That is, until this year. The trouble is, we have the same tenuous tie to BOTH teams in this year's game. My brother Matt lives not too far from Denver, home of the Broncos. Our daughter Allison lives within a daily commute of Seattle, where the Seahawks do their stuff.
Maybe I should restrict the rooting to the competing commercials, where the REAL financial stakes are. I still like the Volkswagen ad with the little kid in the Darth Vader costume.

If your parents hang you with the name "Carmelo", it goes without saying that there will be times you will have to back it up. Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks did just that this past week, torching the opposition for 61 points. Anthony isn't huge by NBA standards, but since he grew to be 6'8", he has probably made good use of this particular natural advantage all through life.   

The State of the Union address is Tuesday. It happens every year, so it may not be an electrifying event. What's different this time is that the Republican Party plans to make replies in THREE different speeches just to make sure we all have the chance to see what's happened to the GOP.
For those who may not recall, the Party of Lincoln has been rupturing now for several years into the "mainstream" (for lack of a better name) and the "tea party" factions. The third reply speech? That will be given by Rand Paul representing no one but himself. I don't know who will pay for it, but I suppose the bigshots at Fox News will brand it "news", in which case advertisers indirectly pay the freight. I think I'll schedule some church assignments.

Speaking of Republicans, the Arizona GOP did something a little startling this past week. Maybe they had a dinner which contained food that promotes anger. I'm not sure. In any case, they decided it was time to censure someone who has evidently harmed the Party, the nation or both. The AZ Central Committee, made up of wealthy guys reluctant for whatever reason to run for office themselves decided it was time (via voice vote) to bring the hammer down on...John NcCain? Yes, the state's senior senator has, it seems, been fraternizing with the enemy. Hard-core Communists? Unwashed hippies? Man-hating feminists? Al Qaeda operatives?
Nope. McCain's sin is having had dealings over the decades of his congressional service with the real enemy - Democrats. He's spent way too much time with the Harry Reids and Ted Kennedys of the world, talking over things like immigration reform and who knows what else. He's on their list, and not the good one. The Senator himself is still on the Strom Thurmond track until something changes. That's when you're shooting for staying in office until you hit 100 years old. I tend to think he'll be just fine without the Committee's help.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bully Pulpit

You might have noticed, though probably you didn't, that there are quite a few top tennis players these days who started life in Eastern Europe. Out of curiosity I looked up the top fifty men and women players to get a handle on this phenomenon. If anything, it was even bigger than I thought. Out of the one hundred players listed, over a third started life in countries that were once on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. You'd probably need a sociologist to explain it. And Americans? Well, there's the Williams sisters and a handful of others, none of them recognizable on the street. Get used to it. The Cibilkovas, Sharapovas, Dimitrovs and Djokovics are here to stay.  They're as common as lightweight boxers with Spanish names.

Politics, as we know, can be a pretty tough business. Things get hammered out in the marketplace of ideas every day, sometimes in ways that are deliberately covered up. There's this business in New Jersey for example. It may be a long time before we know all the details and all the motives, but when there's someone involved who might become his party's nominee for president, the stakes are higher and so, evidently, are the things each side is willing to do in order to come out ahead.
None of this is new. When Lincoln wanted to amend the Constitution he opened the presidential goodie box to get the votes he needed. Nixon's favored tool was punishing his enemies, an official list of which became known when someone, no doubt performing a counter attack of his own, leaked it to the press. Both approaches were centuries old before our country was started.
It's too early to know just what Governor Christie wanted done, and who the intended victim was. But maybe it isn't too early to fault him on two counts. First, he doesn't seem very truthful. I base this on the fact that evidently his office was full of people who knew just exactly what was planned for the George Washington Bridge. Christie comes across as the only one left out of the scheming loop, a stretch, in my opinion, because Christie was also known for running a tight ship, and no one could reasonably believe that the assistant chief of staff thought it all up on her own. The unlucky mayor of Hoboken appears to be a credible witness in telling how the governor's office put the squeeze on her even as flood waters from Hurricane Sandy put most of the one square mile city under water. The mayer of Fort Lee is still wondering what he did to deserve having his city turned into a parking lot during the partial bridge closure, though he knows it wasn't by accident.
The second thing which makes me wonder if Christie has the stuff of presidents is that he and his people seem more interested in getting leverage against New Jersey Democrats than in actually improving the citizen's lives. This is not an uncommon trait, but it's nonetheless an ugly one. It's the attitude that says "This would be a pretty good job if only we didn't have all these wretched people pestering us all the time." Ambulances held up trying to get across the bridge? Tough luck. Three feet of water in your living room? Hope you've got insurance, pal. Need a job? Why not talk to your Democratic state senator. Maybe he can help you.
I guess very few people are 100% honest about everything, but covering up often leads to bigger, more damaging lies. And not caring? You weren't elected the neighborhood bully, sir, and your pulpit is for moving the state forward, not just making denials.         

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Freezing and Sweltering

If I haven't written on this subject before, I should have. What subject is that? Why, the subject of athletes as people. The truth is that, on the whole, they are not better people than regular folks who are famous for nothing at all. Some, I grant, have shown themselves to be exemplary over a long time. This does not always get much recognition. And why should it? Don't athletes, after all, have at least the same obligation to give back time and energy to the societies in which they prosper so handsomely?
On the other hand, most of us could name athletes who's personal lives leave much to be desired. Lives of excess, overindulgence, narcissism - they can all be found in jockdom, and when they are, the story gets plenty of play to us fly-over people. We, in turn, might gloat a little.
Still, there are things the athletes do that leave us amazed. Just in the past week, we've seen athletes at their best when called on to perform under brutal conditions.
A good part of the country was locked in a cold snap last weekend. We're talking single digit temps with accompanying winds. Oy! Not for nothing did Green Bay Wisconsin get associated with the slightly dramatic term "frozen tundra". But a team from San Francisco had to go there and play, and they won. Foxboro, Mass. is no winter paradise, either, but it's home to the New England Patriots, and Denver is known to be cold, owing to its lofty altitude. The grass on these fields hasn't grown for months. Even the Superbowl is being played in New York, hardly immune from cold and snow. Let's be truthful. The NFL players are well-paid, but what they do isn't easy. If more people could do it, they would, and for less.
On the other side of the world, the situation is completely the reverse. The world's best tennis players, men and women, gather to play the Australian Open in Melbourne, where it's the worst part of summer. Ever tried to play when it's over 100 degrees? As someone who has played under some bad conditions, I can hardly think of anything being worse. The players have to play every point, usually in bright sunlight where they catch waves of heat from both above their heads and under their feet.  These well-trained, fit professionals sometimes have to fight to keep going. A couple have feinted, thrown up, gotten dizzy or just staggered off the court. It's even hard for the ball boys and linesmen, who don't have to move at all, though they are stuck in the sun until its either blocked by a cloud or sinks out of sight. Again, it's a good living, at least when you're still winning, but easy? Ah, no.
I'm prepared to believe that many people are underpaid for doing work that may be mundane, but must nevertheless be done. Let's add one item, however, to our list of things to be thankful for. When we make mistakes, it's not likely to be written about in the papers. And we, unlike those often dislikable athletes, don't have to risk our health just making sure that the crowd is satisfied that we're not just taking up space lounging in McMansions, cashing checks that are WAY too large. Living  lives of anonymity has some advantages.   

Monday, January 06, 2014

We Make the News

It's a big country with a great many people - over three hundred million now and trending higher. Barely on the western edge of the lower 48 states is where Eureka, CA is located. We don't even have 30,000 people, but still manage to be the largest city in Woody Guthrie's "redwood forest".  Our share of national news, it follows, is tiny. Usually big news here is Wal Mart moving into a large empty space in the mall.
But that's not quite accurate. Crime and law enforcement are continuing big stories here, particularly when it involves growing and processing drugs. Drugs, especially marijuana, are the underground economic dog wagging the tail of regular commercial activity.
But even drugs don't apply this time. Last week we experienced an awful crime, the resolution of which will require months or longer. A Catholic priest was found murdered in the rectory adjacent to a large downtown church, St. Bernard's. He was found by one of the members who went looking for him when he was late for a morning mass he was to conduct.
Father Freed was well liked by many. People valued his abilities as a teacher, leader and friend. His career had taken him, among other places, to Japan where he served for twenty years. Mona's boss considered herself one of Father Freed's many friends, and the announcement of his loss has, at the vary least, disrupted her schedule. It couldn't have helped when the police announced that the death was a result of "blunt force trauma".
But there is a suspect in custody, a man in his 40's from one of the little agricultural towns that dot the area. His family turned him in, although they may not have known that the crime was murder. Police say they have good evidence, though no eyewitnesses. They have not speculated publicly about a motive. The details, which are far shiort of the complete picture, may be found at the website of our local paper, the Times Standard. Father Freed's funeral was today.
Our city has some great things to recommend it. We don't look forward to the day when we may need to live somewhere else. But no place is perfect, and events like this one are a sober reminder of that fact. It's hard to say what, if anything, we could do to be safer, since anyone who wants to break into your home, follow your car or who just mistakes you for someone else is near impossible to predict. But I can't pretend that there couldn't be others out there who could harm us if they wanted to badly enough. Maybe this is a little like what it's like to live in Baghdad or Kabul.