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Updated: 2015-09-17T00:19:27.629-07:00

 



Burgeriffic

2014-06-17T19:57:18.194-07:00

Inflation has been with us all our lives. It takes different forms. Sometimes you just have to pay more for things, and sometimes you pay the same, but get less. Either way, you have to be either taking in more money or wanting whatever you're buying more than you used to.
Mona and I customarily go out to eat on Fridays. Sometimes we sit down for dinner, but there's also the takeout option, so it's not necessarily classy food. Last Friday we took that option, then drove to a shady spot on the bay and watched things there - birds, seals and other water dwellers. We've done the same thing plenty of times before in our now nine years in the Golden State. My goal on such evenings is avoiding getting mustard or ketchup on whatever I'm wearing. No guarantees there, either.
Our food, such as it was, came from Burger King. I had what they still insist is a "Whopper". It's not so whopping anymore, but what really surprised me was Mona's "Whopper Jr.". This sandwich can now fit in your palm and still leave a little space. It's pathetic. Calling it a "Whopper" of any kind is false advertising. The "Three-biter" or the "micro-burger" would be more accurate, as would the "Baby-burger", a term I recall from long ago burger history. What we got was no more "whopper" than a Shetland pony is a Clydesdale. But, we payed for it, and ate it. After all, it's just inflation, right?   




Can't ...Resist!..... Temptation....Too....Strong!

2014-06-09T16:25:49.075-07:00

My favorite party to poke fun at (the Republican Party) had a big event a couple of weeks ago called the Republican National Leadership Conference. No doubt they had plenty of speakers, but who do you suppose got the most ink for his contribution? The Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner? The GOP Senate leader McConnell? Senator Cruz? One of the Fox News bigshots? His Excellency in Broadcastingness, Mr. Limbaugh? Nope. None of those.
The highlight of the show turned out to be that Duck Dynasty guy, the one with the epic beard. There he was, citing, incorrectly, I might add, biblical references. He had a suit on, but it's the same one he wears on the show, which isn't so much a suit as a costume. And even HE couldn't resist observing that the Republican Party must have been a little desperate to call on him to be the party's face of  "leadership". Ya think?

If you missed that little gaff, certainly you must have caught last week's massive instant flip flop concerning our country's last POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  The guy was a Taliban prisoner for about FIVE years, and a deal was finally worked out for his return. At this moment, he still hasn't arrived. He's being checked out and restored to health at an Army hospital in Germany. He hasn't yet said a word about about his captivity to the US public.
Until recently, the right used this situation as one more griping point against the Obama administration. "Bring Bowe Back" was the cry alongside a hundred or so other nasty and factless accusations dreamed up against the Dems by the party of Lincoln.
When the announcement of the release came, a few of the party faithful forgot for a moment that the REAL enemy isn't in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but living (!) in the White House. Twitters and Tweaks celebrating the good news were quickly erased (yes!) when it was revealed that the release also involved letting free five Taliban goons, surely the five ugliest guys you've ever seen, leave GITMO for semi-freedom. AND there seemed to be some question as to how Bergdahl became a prisoner in the first place. Words like "deserter" and "traitor" were suddenly tossed around like confetti. The party instantly changed its tune from "congratulations" to another verse of "What's he done NOW!!??" "He", of course, refers to the president. The speed of this reversal was like a tsunami. Not everyone's signing on to the hate train, but you'll now have to look pretty hard to find a party member who'd even admit having heard "Bring Bowe Back". Even his home town in Idaho cancelled a "welcome back" parade. Guilty or not, I wouldn't blame Bergdahl for never setting foot in the town  again. The right even attacked the guy's father, who's evidently guilty of growing a beard.
So you see, the force driving me to attack my parent's political party is strong - very strong. In fact, it's too strong to resist.  





When You're Famous...

2014-05-29T17:08:04.194-07:00

During May's trip to Iowa, I went downtown to see the new library. What made the new one necessary was the flood of a few years back. The new one isn't far from where the old one was, but it's pretty impressive. It seems to be enormous, easily accommodating groups of schoolkids taking  tours. It contains a few flood artifacts as well. What it seems a little short of at this point is, ah, books. Perhaps it's the size of the building, but all the volumes in the collection now seem to be paperback, and they fail to fill the shelves. I guess we should give them time and hope for continued high farm prices in order to get all the volumes the community needs. Good luck to them.

Should we feel a little sorry for Caroline Wozniaki? You know - the Danish tennis player. She's been a highly-ranked player for some time, and is also well known for her bright smile and fabulous teeth. But she's had things go south on her just recently.
Here's what happened. She had a romance going with Rory McElroy, the pro golfer from the U.K. They'd been close for two years or so, and planned to marry. The invitations were even sent out, but then McElroy backed out, not blaming Ms. W., but claiming that he just wasn't yet ready for marriage.
It's true that this has happened before to both would be brides and grooms, some famous, most not. But this one couldn't have happened at a worse time, because Wozniaki was scheduled to take the court this week in the French Open in Paris. So the breakup was even more public. Have you ever been surrounded by thousands of people all wanting to get a look inside your head? It couldn't have been easy, and she lost in the first round, though she has received some support from her tennis competitors, many of whom no doubt have lost a guy or two along the way.
I think, just speculating, that it's hard for celebrities to marry successfully. Andre Agassi was once married to Brooke Shields, and was forced to confess that their two schedules alone made it impossible for them to even own a dog together. That marriage didn't last, and neither did Chris Evert's three marriages to, respectively, a tennis player, a skier and a golfer, all of them well known. 
It's not wrong to want to excel, thence becoming both famous and wealthy. But people need to remember - Life is full of tradeoffs, and it has to be a problem when both spouses are accustomed to special treatment.



Presidential Possibilities

2014-05-16T10:04:10.793-07:00

What qualities do we think of when considering who was, or might be, a capable president? The most obvious would be "makes good decisions", but how does one know that ahead of time, especially when we can't know what the issues will be? Even a good or poor past record says little about the future. After all, no president can be an expert on everything, and advisers can be wrong, too.
There's also the matter of how we view a president as a person. Should he be like Reagan, never too far from seeing the office as a role? Or is it just as good to be like Coolidge, who was willing to make decisions, but not to talk about them?
I saw Senator Elizabeth Warren on TV not long ago discussing several things. This is a person who came from humble circumstances in Oklahoma, becoming a Harvard professor. She has now done what many presidential wannabes have done in the past - written a book that emphasizes her own history. In the interviews I saw, she seemed a little like Margaret Thatcher - decisive, with some impressive accomplishments to boot. And by "impressive", I mean "forced the financial overlords to make refunds to people like you and me that totaled in the billions". That's something not many can say, especially since there are plenty working the other side of matters such as this.
Ms. Warren isn't young. She turns 65 next month, and you wouldn't call her "glamorous" even though she gives the impression of being a good listener who has taken care of herself over the years. She says she is not a candidate for president (she's a Democrat) and might not change her mind. But she knows, I think, her way around the political minefield as well as anyone. I liked a little homily I heard her state so much that it's now on our family bulletin board (the frig): "You can't get what you don't fight for." Well said, Madam.



The U.S.S.R.

2014-05-14T15:18:24.496-07:00

It's now been over twenty years since the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved itself. Not many people, to tell the truth, miss it. Of course, one of those who does miss it is Vladimir Putin, strongman of the successor state, the Russian Federation. Putin is even on record saying that the USSR's end was the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century. He's in the minority on that one, too.
Still, with the passage of time, it isn't unreasonable to consider what that country might have done well and whether they deserve any credit. It sure wouldn't be for granting freedom to its citizens or providing modern consumer goods and services. Its schools were outdated, its culture stagnant and even the Soviet "style" seemed to emphasize a kind of one-size-fits-all clunky quality that reached all the way down to ugly, gas-guzzling autos and baggy suits. No one misses all that.
Even so, I don't think it's unfair to give the old USSR credit for two things. The first is their early achievements in space exploration. With a group of second-string German rocket scientists, they were the first to launch a satellite into space, and the first to launch orbiting capsules with human passengers. True, not all of them made it back safely, but at one point they led the whole world in space travel. Not bad for country with a second-rate economy.
But even this pales in importance beside the old Soviet Union's greatest feat. That was turning back a huge German army, forcing them to fight a two-front war long after they thought the USSR would be plowed under. This was, without exception, the largest battle front in history, with millions on both sides. Yes, the Russians had a little help from their western allies, but really had to do most of the dirty work themselves, all the way back to Berlin, where the European phase of the war finally ended, four years after the country was first invaded.
I'd never choose to live in a country like the old USSR, but it isn't wrong to give credit where it's due. Their old veterans are now, like ours, mostly gone. But leaving them off the list of WW II allies would be wrong. Sure, they were led by a ruthless dictator, but they managed to finally win in spite of, rather than because of, Joseph Stalin.  
  



GOWGs Step In It

2014-04-28T15:45:59.483-07:00

Some time ago I tried to add "GOWG" as a new term, like "Millenials". It never caught on, but the GOWGs themselves (Grouchy Old White Guys) are still with us, and still saying some amazing things. Last week was a big one for them as a group.

First, there's Cliven Bundy, who had already attained infamy by recruiting an army of red-neck gun- toters to keep the BLA from confiscating his cattle as partial settlement for a million dollars he owes in unpaid range grazing fees in Nevada.
But then, just as Mr. B. seemed to be generating a little sympathy from strictly neutral sources like Fox News, he started talking about race. At this point it's good to remind ourselves that at this point in our history race hate hasn't disappeared, but its public declaration by guys over eighty years old is doomed to be rejected, sincerely or not, by just about everyone. I, for one, can hardly think of someone with less interface with other races than Mr. Bundy, with the possible exception of contact with Latino cowboys.
As I was opining, Bundy somehow got to talking about race and soon managed to tie himself so firmly in knots that he didn't require any pointed questions to show everyone the opinions we had as a nation about fifty years ago, and that we have moved away from, thank heaven. By the time Bundy's rants were recorded, the order had gone from Sean Hannity's office at Fox to never (!) again take any calls from the old coot. So - anyone got a million they can spare the old guy? He'd be willing to do a press conference on your front lawn - if you like. Maybe his next moneymaking effort will be as a cowboy hat model.

Then there's Donald Sterling, who got a mention here a few weeks ago as owner of the long horrible but now pretty good L.A. Clippers of the NBA. Like Bundy, Sterling is also the other side of eighty years old, with opinions to match. What's odd is that the NBA is the last place you'd expect to find race bigotry given the makeup of players, coaches, refs, etc.
Sterling has much more practice with the press than Bundy, but it was a conversation with his girlfriend that got recorded which has landed him in hot water. The girlfriend, who's luminously attractive, is multiracial and maybe a third Sterling's age, holds up her end of the debate pretty well while the geezer keeps contradicting himself as a way to justify his standards for her behavior. The Clippers players themselves are stuck in the middle, but reversed their warmups last night as a form of silent protest prior to losing their playoff game. They deserve better, and offers to buy the team are starting to surface.
Evidently there is something about getting old that makes you think your opinions are infallible. I suppose that goes for me, too. Just keep in mind that when you start to hear somebody talk in terms of "them" and "they" followed by examples of bad behavior almost always indicting a group the speaker has no firsthand knowledge with, you too could be talking to a full-blown, bigoted GOWG.





Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

2014-04-24T10:13:41.705-07:00

Some people think I'm crazy for still watching TV commercials. For reasons too boring to go into, I disagree. I think they can accidentally reveal plenty about how we see things and ourselves.
 I like, for instance, the BMW commercial featuring one little add-on feature which allows people to send a message from their computer to the auto. A little girl and a dog share the back seat of the car. The girl asks her mom the meaning of the message showing on the car's PC "Mommy, what is 'nu-ter-ing'?" This takes the mom by surprise, and in the brief moment she takes to compose an answer in her head, the dog somehow figures it out that this is not good news for him. He quickly jumps out of the car window and takes off at full speed. Well, you can't blame the car's system. It did what it was supposed to, right? It's funny.

On the other side of the scale, there's the now tiresome series of ads for the Mexican beer Dos Equis featuring the "World's Most Interesting Man". There he is, seated at a restaurant between two lovely women whose combined ages are about half of his. He makes a little crack about Sinco de Mayo that includes the term "dos", which the two women find amusing, then he delivers his sage stock advice, "Stay thirsty, my friends."
This guy needs to go somewhere to shave, then grow up and give us something that's really interesting instead of something that sounds like it came from a college kid. Who can say when he was the "most interesting"? All we can say for sure is that it isn't now. 



"Freedom" In Action

2014-04-18T09:57:17.449-07:00

Just using the word starts the juices flowing - "freedom". It's something WE have and OTHERS wish for. But does my freedom ever get in your way? You be the judge.

You may recall the huge explosion in West, TX a year ago at a fertilizer plant. The plant existed within a quarter mile of an elementary school, which was fortunately empty, but was completely destroyed. A dozen or so people died in the blast.
Texas has close to fifty chemical plants located within a mile of schools. The state's fire marshal has been in contact with these capitalist princes advising them on ways to avoid similar disasters. But, the thing is, the operators of the plants are not required to do anything the state guys say because their role carries no power of enforcement. Nor has the state legislature stirred itself to serve anyone other than their friends paying the campaign bills, the corporate bigshots. "Nothing to see here, folks. Come on, keep moving. Your freedom to be safe? Hey, nothing's totally safe. Just leave it to us. We'll let you know if there's anything to worry about. Just be glad we're keeping those gummint guys from taking your freedom. Nowhutahmean?"

Nevada has a rancher who has used federal grazing land for decades, but has declined to pay the fees, which now top a million dollars. Rather than try to scrape up the cash, he called on all the gun-toting "freedom" guys he could, who showed up to force the government guys who had showed up to confiscate the cattle, to back off. Luckily, no shots were fired. A big victory for freedom, including the guy's right to not be called a moocher or scofflaw. You're also free to see FOX try to hype the whole thing into another excuse to vote straight GOP, if not actually join up with the Neo-rebs.     
   



...Plus Eight

2014-04-07T10:36:27.511-07:00

Last week was quite different from most around here. The weather was fine, and the papers came and the TV worked, but it was a BIG week for guests. Allison came from their home in WA with all three sons, the newest of whom was born just this last December. And Ember came from Orinda, in the Bay area, with all three little ones, the oldest of whom (Jonah) is just turning ten, but is already five feet tall thanks to the genes of his tall maternal grandfather.
We have three bedrooms here, so it's fine for a guest or two, but hosting eight required some adjustments. People got new bunk mates and even spots on the floor with blankets and air mattresses. Mona and I were downstairs, so we no doubt missed plenty of nocturnal hub bub.
It's fun seeing all the kids becoming something different. Baby Freddie appeared to grow overnight, and showed us his good nature with lots of baby smiles and sounds. He seemed pretty easy to please. Ireland, the only girl child of the six, has become a kind of nonstop talker and has all kinds of things to talk about. Tobin, who resembles a kind of child wrestler, always has a tune going in his head, and feels free to pound on the piano. Henry surprised me by spending lots of time with Ireland, while his older brother Abe has learned quite a bit about playing tennis. Jonah is so different that we can't visualize him as anything other than a tall ten year-old. He will no doubt surprise us all some day.
I didn't go on every trip, but they included the zoo, the beach and the mall, where they have one of those bounce-till-you drop places. Lucky for everyone, our street is a dead end and has almost no traffic - just right. The grownups talked until pretty late each night, mostly about people I don't know but at least now know about.
Perhaps due to selective observation, I didn't see anyone pitch a fit or lock themselves screaming in a closet. The two moms (and the two dads, who didn't make the trip) are pretty capable people, and it shows in the kids. The whole thing wasn't life-changing by any stretch, but calling it a five day exercise in "enrichment"seems right.    



Lawyers Needed!

2014-04-04T09:50:48.407-07:00

Here's today's thesis for those who are hyper-busy and can only skim the contents: Hiring an attorney means he works for YOU, and will therefore be willing to say things that might sound silly coming from someone else. Following are three recent examples out of the news:

A county clerk in the Southwest somewhere refused to grant a marriage license to two women, who then brought suit against her. I don't know who paid for him, but a lawyer was soon brought in to defend the clerk, also a woman, against the suit.
The next thing you know, the lawyer was attempting to set the whole world straight on who does (and, more importantly) who doesn't get a marriage license. Ignoring marriages with fertility problems and those with brides and grooms too old to conceive, the brave barrister proceeded  to inform the court that marriages are primarily for reproductive purposes, which excludes one-gender unions. Gee, that was simple.

A player in the NFL was arrested for attacking his wife while they were in the elevator of a large hotel. Security tapes showed the woman in a state near unconsciousness. An attorney brought in to defend the guy assured everyone that the couple is "happy, and are in counseling". Does that phrase seem odd to anyone else?

Finally, New Jersey governor Chris Christie brought in a lawyer to help get him out of the little jam he's in due to the closing of several George Washington Bridge traffic lanes last fall, which turned the city of Fort Lee into a virtual parking lot.
At this level, the work of the mouthpiece gets pretty pricey. Legal fees soon topped $1 million, covered by the taxpayers of New Jersey, who hadn't, I guess, realized that they were on the governor's side.
At any rate, the attorney and a few lackeys produced a report of several hundred pages. all aimed at proving that the guv did no wrong, and didn't know anyone who had, at least until it was already done. The news media do not see this document as completely truthful, as they note that many principals in the whole business were not even consulted in the report.
Outside of gaining justice for his client, the attorney has just one concern - making sure the state's check for his services is good.   



Ack! More Sports!!

2014-03-27T16:17:58.561-07:00

Of all the people who show up to play tennis here, Tony is probably the worst player. He just doesn't get how to play the game. It's not that Tony, a native of China, has no athletic background. He's played quite a bit - of soccer. I asked him once if China had any kind of soccer "major league". They do, he said, and he even played in it. But the league is corrupt. You have to do things like bribe the officials. I don't expect to have much use for this information, but if you find yourself in Shanghai and someone tries to get you to lay down a bet, you might just keep it in mind.

The whole world, it seems, would like the Washington, D.C. franchise in the NFL to change the team's name to something other than the "Redskins". The team's owner says they will NEVER change. But what if you were the owner? What would make a good but unoffensive name for a football team based in the nation's capital? The "Commanders"? The "Tomahawks"? The "Potomacs"? Could we satisfy just one political side and call them the "Gippers" in honor of one of Ronald Reagan's best-known (and football-based) movie roles? I'm open to suggestion. Anybody.....?

I think it was just last year I mentioned in this space the possibility of a woman making the roster of a top level male pro athletic team. It hasn't quite happened yet, and still may not, but we're considerably closer to it happening than we used to be. The goalie from the gold medal-winning Canadian women's team has signed with a minor league men's team in Canada. I'm not sure how she's doing, but there's nothing wrong with wishing her the best. The whole country knows her now anyway, so it will be a loooonnngg time before she's not famous up North.   





Seen and Heard

2014-03-24T10:17:34.857-07:00

We had something last weekend that our area hasn't had in awhile, I think. Our local exhibition hall put on a show of live professional wrestling.
I didn't make the show, but I can't help wondering: Is this a sign of an improving economy because it means people are willing to take financial risk on an unsure venture, OR is it the sign of a bad economy when  healthy male adults are forced to take on the personal risks that accompany wrestling exhibitions? I suppose I'll know in a year or two.

The Flight 370 business has people all over the world scratching their heads in an effort to know what exactly happened. I have no theories of any kind. I have noticed, however, that unlike some disasters, no one has found a way (yet!) to politicize the whole thing. But I wouldn't pretend that someone isn't trying to find a way to do just that.

I promised myself that I would try to watch more British Premier League soccer this year, and I have. Some of the games are great, and the announcers sometimes say some surprising things. Last week, a game between two league leaders became a 6-0 rout. It got my attention when one of the commentators described the losing team as having "been put to the sword". Yikes!

Finally, there's this new commercial from Taco Bell. This guy has a girlfriend. She's pretty appealing, but she has one unuaual characteristic. She's always stuffing herself with his Taco Bell food. Somehow, it's funny.



My New Team

2014-03-20T20:53:46.010-07:00

I woke up this morning thinking I had just experienced a bad dream. Then  I realized that it was reality that was the real disaster.
You see, my Hawkeyes finished their once-glittering season by losing seven of their last eight games, the last a "play-in" game to earn the 11th seed in their NCAA division. The Hawkeye star was held to 3 of 15 shooting, but they kept a small lead until late in the game, when they had to hit a shot to get into overtime. It went in, but then it all went over the cliff in OT, ending the season. The star is finished, and so is one of their top rebounders. Pretty sad for a team that was challenging for the Big Ten title a month ago. Today's big BYU loss didn't help matters either, even though that wasn't part of my dream.
Maybe I need a new team to root for before I become too old to remember which team is which. I spent some time today thinking of the options:
     1. BYU - Well, I went there and met Mona there, too, so I can't say nothing good ever took place in Cougarville. They have good teams sometimes, but the place is just so....paternal. I feel as though they're still giving out orders even though it's been 40 years and 1000 miles.
     2 Cal - It's not terrifically far, but no way we'll ever go there to a game, and we have no other connection to the place. That goes for Stanford, too, unless you remember that Herbert Hoover (a native Iowan) was part of the 1st Stanford graduating class.
     3 Iowa State - There are some plusses there, but it always seems to me to be too much like Nebraska on the cheap. It's hard to like their colors, as well.
     4 Northern Iowa or Drake - What's the biggest thing that ever comes from Cedar Falls or Des Moines? Why, it's the rare victory over Iowa!
     5 Humboldt State. It's the closest school, but the teams are up and down, and not Division I. Right now their best teams are softball and crew racing. They don't even have tennis. I'd walk across the street to watch them, but it would have to be a nice day.
     6 Cornell College - They have some good (Division III) teams, which I used to watch when we lived a few blocks away, but that was over 25 years ago. I do still have one of their T-shirts. It's for the women's tennis team of 2002-3. They had me practice with them a few times.
Wow. The whole list seems like pretty thin gruel. When you get right down to it, I'm either stuck with the Hawkeyes, or limiting myself to one season (summer) watching baseball's semipro Humboldt Crabs. Yup, that's their real name, and they win lots of games. Then again, I could give the Buffalo Wild Wings a shot - if I only knew what league they're in and what they play.

It seems my little mockery of Arizona in this space will have to end. Our oldest son Zach and his family are moving there (Peoria, which I guess is near Scottsdale) in about a week. Sigh. 



Yet Another Milestone

2014-03-10T18:43:07.141-07:00

The good folks at Blogspot have an announcement that they are willing to let me make. This is the 400th blog entry under this title, a once/week habit that now stretches back to July 2006.
This milestone causes me to look things over a bit to discover if there's anything I could do for the  readers, of which there are now, I'm guessing, well under ten - in the world.

Here are the things I promise. Anybody out there? Anybody?
     1. Make the entries a little shorter.
     2. Make entries that have some connection to things or people I might actually know. The babies of the family? Yes. Kim Jong Un? Maybe not so much.
     3. Try to be funny. Not everyone thinks the same things are funny, but I think trying to visualize Pat Robertson's nightly "meeting" with God is funny.
     4. Don't feel bound to a weekly schedule. This isn't the Sunday paper.
     5. Drop the reminder of new blog entries. They probably get greeted with rolled eyes instead of Christmas morning delight anyway. Want to read? You choose whether to do it now or next year. Gosh knows I won't ask, either.

Finally, there's what happened last week - to the Lakers. For decades, the team has been an NBA mainstay, employing a glittering array of roundball talent that even includes the player seen on the league's logo.
But there's no guarantee that it all continues, and this year, for a variety of reasons, the Lakers are more often victim than victor. Everyone hopes that it will turn around, but this season's been both long and sad.
The Lakers share an arena with the L. A. Clippers who for years were seen as an inept team in perpetual rebuilding mode owing to its feckless owner.   
But, as noted above, things can change, and they have for the Clippers, now considered one of the league's hot franchises with a load of talent and the ability to make good use of it.
Last week the two teams met, and with stunning results. The Clippers won by 55 (!) points, handing the Lakers their worst loss EVER. Oy.
These things never end, and there is more than a small chance that the Lakers will bounce back. I mean, if you were a 6'9" basketball pro paid millions every year, would you rather live in Oklahoma City, Charlotte - or Los Angeles? 



Free to....What?

2014-03-03T13:28:58.862-08:00

I have not become a genius in the years this blog has been written. I have discovered, however, that writing commentary on issues that aren't even off the front page of the paper carries a little danger. That's because things can change quickly, and words that are floating around the internet today may seem kind of, ah, stupid in just a few weeks, let alone in future years.
That being the case, I don't think I should try to resolve the Ukraine situation in this space. It's all too new, and I, with zero personal military experience, am more liable to write something stupid than to nail down the truth the first time out. Maybe some other time.

 An observer might think that Arizona not only has a Republican majority in its legislature, but that the state's attitude toward certain controversial measures is meaner, less tolerant and more partisan than other places. I personally can't agree. As it happens, the same things have been proposed in other states, at nearly the same time, often using the same words.
But Arizona has been at the front of the line in passing hard right legislation, including one guaranteeing business owners the right to decline service to people on the grounds of religious conviction.   
On the surface, this seems harmless enough. People who build their own businesses should be able to turn away certain types, shouldn't they? Certainly we don't want the government telling us who we can and can't serve, right? There are plenty of other places those gays, Hindus, stud-faced hippies, tattooed losers and blacks can go, and that's just what we want them to do. Anything else means somebody has decided my freedom isn't worth having. I disagree.
But, like most things, reality isn't that simple. It was that same government we hate so much that built the road to our store, and they've done lots of other things over the years which made it possible for us to open in the first place. And we're not talking about people with no shirts or shoes here, but about people who really have no plan to take away our faith. They're just folks who want what we sell, which is supposed to be good news. Unless you find a way to make your business a private club of some kind serving members only, presumably white Christians just like us, then you are serving the public, and that means everyone, whether you like their lifestyle or not.
You probably know how it turned out in Arizona. Big business, with the help of the state's two Republican senators, in an effort to save the Superbowl planned for Phoenix, lobbied hard against the measure after it passed both legislative houses. Last week, the governor vetoed the bill. Look for something similar near you soon.    



Little Bitty BIg News

2014-02-24T16:33:13.235-08:00

I suppose if I was keeping some kind of strict standard on the content of this little publication, then things like birth announcements wouldn't be included. People have babies all the time, don't they? No big deal.
Still, there are a couple of things about the birth of Opal Ruth Johannsen that merit special mention. For instance, she (and just for I.D., she's our thirteenth grandchild) wasn't born in a hospital, but in a birthing center. The other noteworthy thing about this eight lb. wonder is that she is named for her maternal great grandfather, whose parents wanted a girl in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  He came out a boy, but that didn't stop his parents from naming him Opal Kneil. His friends took pity on him and called him "Ope". He died of cancer in the sixties, so neither I nor the baby's mother, our youngest, ever met him. But, in this slightly odd way, his name lives on. Baby and mom both doing fine one week into mortality.

I watched a good deal of the Winter Olympic games these past two weeks. It's not as big a show as the Summer Olympics, but there are still plenty of memorable moments, good and sad.
Don't ask me why, but the Winter Games seem to lend themselves to specialization by certain countries in certain events. The Austrians are downhill skiers, the Finns and Norwegians seem to be dominant in cross country skiing and ski jumping and the Russians almost always have top notch figure skating pairs.
This time around, two countries really schooled the rest of the world in things they were already known for. The Canadians are free to pound their chests and declare themselves the ice hockey country. Not only did their men take gold, but their women's team climbed out of what looked like a fatal grave to take out the USA in overtime after trailing by two goals with under four minutes remaining in regulation. If you're on the wrong end of that game, it's a little like a lifetime sentence of "loser". Hard to put behind you? More like impossible - the ugly gorilla following in your footsteps for, oh, three or four decades. But what can you say, other than "Well (gag) done, Canada."
Then there's the Netherlands - a country with flat terrain which lends itself to speed skating by having a large system of irrigation canals that freeze in winter. "Forget that skiing stuff. I'll race you on this canal to that windmill two miles from here." All the Dutch did this time around was to reach in with both hands and take away just about every medal worth having, all while dressed in blinding orange. It isn't a big country by any stretch, but they've got a competitive niche, and they're not giving it up.    



Normal Mitt

2014-02-10T12:57:24.403-08:00

My living has no connection to California's agricultural industry, so I was more that a little surprised to learn that last year's dry weather was, in fact, about the driest ever in the Golden State. Then this year's winter precipitation so far seemed more like a drip.
Someone at Church headquarters observed the trend. Next thing you know, we were asked to fast and pray for wetter weather on Feb. 2nd, a week ago. So, we did, knowing full well that praying for rain comes pretty easily when you've lived in Utah for over 150 years.
We haven't even had to look for rain since, because it's been all over us. It could take quite awhile to get total rainfall up to the average range, but it's nice to think that the good guys' efforts are doing someone some good. 

Our Utah trip was really too short for more than one highlight (the baptism), but we also had the chance to see the documentary which follows both Mitt for President campaigns, 2008 and 2012. In truth, the political side was given pretty light treatment in favor of showing Mitt and family in more informal moments. The resulting mix, simply named Mitt, had scenes as far back as 2006, and as late as post-election 2012.
So, there's Mitt, in all kinds of situations: getting made up, discussing election fine points with his sons and others, romping with grandchildren. Mitt, for the most part, seems quite comfortable in all this, the guy next door who always wears a white shirt and in fact lives in large hotel suites. There are a few odd moments: Mitt making ironing touch-ups on the sleeves of a shirt he's already wearing, Ann insisting nothing worries her while she takes on a little horseplay with one of her horses, and the campaign moments which by now are familiar to anyone in the world with a TV set. But, campaign aside, Mitt seems like a good man, leading family prayers and resisting the nastiest anti-Obama quips that are the bread and butter of more than one Republican family. If such a thing still existed, we'd describe him as a GOP "moderate".
But something else shows up as well. Mitt's heart has, and will always seemingly have, a soft spot for the bosses. It's where he came from, and who he knows. Everyone else? They're not exactly invisible, but they are going to succeed or fail as their bosses do, so we might as well keep the top guys rolling in it in order to have more for everyone, right? He makes a little private comment warning against leaning too hard on those at the top even though much of the evidence suggests that government has been doing the opposite. Foreign policy seems to be about the last thing on his mind. He could always call Netanyahu, right?
It's hard to come away from seeing Mitt without hoping that the family is able to stay happy as well as rich, and that Mitt, in particular, finds causes that are both worthwhile and match his formidable skill set. For the record, I still believe I voted for the best candidate for President.



Children Step Up

2014-02-05T10:43:23.977-08:00

For reasons too dull to repeat, I missed the Super Bowl this year. Everyone knows how it went - badly for the Denver Broncos. The postgame postmortem is liable to go awhile, and everyone from grade school kids on up will have a shot at saying what went wrong, but I hope it doesn't become a permanent cloud over the team, the city or the area. That would be like France, still unable to quite get over their military failure in WW II. In the meantime, congrats to Seattle, who has, if I'm not mistaken, their first major pro sports team champion since the NBA's Supersonics a good number of years ago. 

I know this family from church pretty well, including its lengthy list of children. Spencer is toward the bottom of the birth order, but, if anything, that seems to make it easier for him to talk to older people. He's just turning eleven.
I was at a Boy Scout Court of Honor last week and happened to be seated next to Spencer, who also knows me pretty well. Someone in the meeting mentioned that Boy Scouts can earn something like 160 or so different merit badges. Having earned exactly zero myself, I have long thought that the dearth of scouting experience is one of the greatest gaps in my entire education. Out of curiosity, I turned to Spencer and asked what merit badge he would like to earn.
The answer he gave was more than a little surprising. Without a moment of hesitation, he said "black  smithing." I had no reason to think he wasn't sincere, but it was a little hard to visualize his small body swinging a huge hammer onto a red-hot piece of metal. The idea made me wish that I could  live long enough to see Spencer get that merit badge, and any other he wanted. In fact, I look forward to the time when he's grown and we are friends 

Last Saturday, we found ourselves in Utah. It was pretty cold, and it's always dry, but there was a reason to be there. It was granddaughter Claire's birthday celebration. Even more important was her baptism, which, for Mormon children, first becomes possible at age eight. Claire handled her part of the event flawlessly and was almost overwhelmingly cute.
A baptism almost always includes a short talk or two noting the occasion and its significance. These talks are usually given by adults, but this time one of them was prepared and given by Claire's brother Lance, who isn't quite ten years old.
I have to say, he was impressive. He looked good, spoke without nervousness to the thirty odd people in attendance, used his time well, cited scriptures and generally did the things one might expect of a much older person. His address was neither too short nor too long. He made me feel that I had a small genetic input into a boy who could make a real contribution if given the chance. Well done, Lance. Thanks for being willing and ready to step up. 




More Tiny Stuff

2014-01-26T20:55:09.010-08:00

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.  



Bully Pulpit

2014-01-22T16:32:58.602-08:00

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.          [...]



Freezing and Sweltering

2014-01-15T17:13:37.972-08:00

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.   



We Make the News

2014-01-06T15:57:53.694-08:00

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.   





Year End Take It Or Leave It

2013-12-31T10:43:14.829-08:00

Another year of married bliss passed yesterday. Our celebration was much like last year's - very low key. It's a little mind-blowing to realize all the people we know who hadn't even been born when we got started as a family. We don't necessarily think of them as young, either. What do they think of us? I'm not even asking. I am, however, still playing tennis, and so I have at least one remaining link to youthfulness.

I've seen another TV commercial that makes me chuckle. The scene opens in a forest. NO people at all. The camera slowly pans to a very old car, perhaps from the late 1940's or early 50's. This wreck is clearly going nowhere ever again, at least not on its own. But wait. That's when you notice that music is coming from somewhere, and a shot of the car's interior shows that it's actually the car radio! That's when we get the message, though we never actually see the product being sold. It's a car battery. As an added yuck, even the music coming from the radio is of pre-rock vintage. Yes, I know you can fix the TV to skip the commercials, but what's the hurry?

 Our trip up north earlier in the month featured a few stops in antique stores. We aren't collectors by any stretch, but Mona was patient enough to indulge this little urge I have to look around at such places for - who knows what? One thing I couldn't pass up this time was a book showing pictures of dozens of collector wristwatches.
The written content of this book is light, but the pics of the watches, some valued in the mid- five figures, are pretty interesting. I didn't know, for instance, that military use was a big factor in the increasing popularity of wristwatches, nor that battery-powered watches only came into broad use after the 1960's. Rectangular or square dials were once much more prominent than today. Maybe this isn't earth-changing stuff, but it beats sqatting on the couch watching interminable bowl games.

Allison sent along a picture of our new grandson, little Alfred, Alfie, Alf, Freddie, Fred, Fredo. He's a fine-looking baby, but there was something a little askew in the picture, which Allison herself pointed out. "This blanket makes my baby look like he has jaundice" was the caption, and, sure enough, although the baby's fine, we knew instantly why bright yellow baby blankets will always be way down the list behind white, blue, pink, etc.      





Watch Your Back

2013-12-23T10:41:56.324-08:00

Some years ago, Mona found a bargain on Christmas stockings. I can't recall the mark-down price, but they seemed like a deal. They even had names on them. The only problem was that the names weren't our names. We still have the stockings. This year I'm "Brian" and she's "Rachel". I hope for our sake they were good this year.

Now, imagine that you live in an isolated country, in which the truth is hard to find and sometimes even harder to understand. The ruler of this nation is just in his twenties, latest in a string of family dictators who have governed with an iron fist for over half a century. The young man has been trained outside of the country's educational mainstream, if at all. His whims are commands to those around him, and not only does he have only scant understanding of life for the country's common folks, he doesn't even know, nor will anyone tell him about these deficiencies.
What's more, the country has, by hook and by crook, acquired nuclear weapons. This means that the world's best known nations frequently attempt to hold talks with the young man regarding his foreign policy which, at least on the surface, is based on an outdated notion of world domination, impossible for such a small, backward country. The young man sees these efforts by other nations as his due.
The nation has had some news leak out just lately. An uncle of the young man, once thought by many to have had a role as a valued adviser, was arrested, convicted and executed within a 48 hour period. Citizens who have any comments on these events are only too eager to join the chorus of condemnation in the harshest possible terms. Hanging, we are told in so many words by these hyper-patriots, was too good (!) for the treacherous uncle.
What must it be like to try to live in North Korea? The spooks can't watch everyone every minute, but guessing when they are watching or listening has to make life very complicated. What's more, today's bedrock of truth might become tomorrow's foundation for treason, so there's the possibility of being too loyal. North Korea is now so different from South Korea that anyone who defects (and it isn't an easy trip) to the latter is required to attend classes which teach the new arrivals what it's like to live in a free country.
It's easy to make fun of Dennis Rodman and his unexplainable connection to the Kim family. He can travel back and forth without difficulty since he is both an American and famous. The comedians can sneer and chuckle at North Korea since doing so doesn't require taking any risk. But watching your back every day to avoid arrest or worse seems at best an exhausting way to go through life. I don't see anything funny in it. 





On Christmas

2013-12-20T19:49:21.553-08:00

I have never been a huge "Christmas" guy. Some years we're a little late getting the decorations up. I'm not obsessed with traveling a thousand miles or more to observe Christmas. Most Christmas music gets me scrambling for the "off" switch. Gifts are nice, but life goes on, with or without them.
The exception to my blase' attitude is Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". I don't know how many versions exist on film, but I have a hard time turning off any of them. I've even been choked up by an animated depiction of the story. Dickens could not have known that his lifetime was spent in a time and place in which capitalism was at its very worst, but even then, people found ways to enjoy life, no doubt unaware how future generations would see them.
An important scene in this short volume takes place near the beginning, when Marley's ghost confronts Scrooge, warning him to avoid the fate he himself had met. Scrooge, taken aback, makes a feeble attempt to compliment Marley on his business skills, even though Marley had been dead seven years. But the ghost would have no part of being patronized. "Business!" Marley laments with the perfect hindsight of post-mortality, no doubt speaking for Dickens himself, "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business.The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" Different film adaptations may have these words phrased differently, but they never fail to deliver a punch to my emotions.
Although he is the main character, Scrooge is more a project on which to build a good man than the story's actual hero. There are several admirable characters in the story, but none, I believe, more so than Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's long-suffering clerk. Cratchit is a family man who struggles to stay employed by Scrooge while asking the occasional  favor of the boss, such as taking Christmas as a paid holiday. He is all too aware of Scrooge's shortcomings, but refuses to rail at him, even to his own wife, who has no such compunction. Cratchit is also the father of a little boy, Tiny Tim, whose health threatens to end his his young life. I have great respect for Cratchit, who must deal with life's complications as best he can, under circumstances that would buckle the knees of most.
Of course, there's a happy ending. Scrooge sees, with the aid of supernatural spirits, things both as they are, and as they could be, and his conversion is complete. He even joins the Cratchit family for Christmas dinner, a goose purchased that very morning, and promises on the spot to pay for the best health care available to Tiny Tim.. And who hasn't teared up at the little boy's holiday wish, "God bless us, every one!"? Not me, I can tell you.    
So, is Christmas the "most wonderful time"? I suppose it's like saying that Valentine's Day is the "most loving day" or that Thanksgiving is the day of the"most gratitude". These are attitudes we should aspire to every day. But it's impossible to oppose a day set apart to manifest Christian love. Anyway, I hope I never get in the way of someone being happy.