Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Afghanistan

I know only enough to be dangerous and possibly look stupid but here goes:

I know we are in for another "surge" as Obama/McChrystal plan to add many more soldiers to the mix and they are already planning their withdrawal. Here's my overall take.

I'm reading a book right now by former NRP reporter Sarah Chayes called the Punishment of Virtue. I'm about 1/3 thru but it at least confirms what I've felt for some time: we can not win in Afghanistan. Distant and more current history there should confirm this.

I have no idea how a rag-tag bunch of mujahadeens could somehow survive and eventually force the Russians to give up but they did. How we think we can possibly do better? The first way (Bush 43) was mostly to bomb the daylights out of them. And for what?

The Obama way seems to be the "Hearts-and-minds" strategy. I've heard plenty of comparisons to Vietnam and this one seems to ring true. Maybe we can just win them over to our way of thinking.

News flash - these people will never think like we do. They have centuries of culture that just don't mesh with ours. Much like the factions in Iraq that made/make it so difficult, the tribal culture in Afghanistan is nothing like ours, it is not and has never been a democracy.

I heard another report this morning about our military training their police force. One thing they were working on was teaching the future Afghan soldiers to read so they could ID the #s on their rifle butts.

If much of the young populace can't read (we already know perhaps most women can't since the Taliban didn't allow women to go to school), how can we expect them to understand our way of government? This is a multi-year process of just getting people up to speed on so many things, then we teach them how to govern, keep the peace, etc.

And I'll make a risky statement, democracy doesn't always work like we want it to and doesn't always work everywhere.

We are spending billions every year in Afghanistan to do what? We have to drive out the Taliban. Al Qaeda. Replace the commerce around Opium. Take care of two major borders (Iran on the west - Pakistan on the east) that allow for the flow of said opium, terrorists, you name it. Pakistan doesn't seem to be able (or want) to fix that the problem - some of what I've read show they benefited from the way things were.

I don't think we can just pull out, but I'm not sure what we can accomplish by staying. Eventually Great Britain became not quite so great. Pax Britannica or whatever it was called proved to be too great a burden and the world changed around their empire.

The United States can't fix the problems in every country around the world. We can't keep our heads in the sand either.

But in a similar vein I heard someone describe how Obama's approval rating was the lowest of any President at this time in his first term ever and one major reason was he hadn't done anything to fix things here at home. More than 10% are still out of work but the focus seems to be on the climate or Health care. Neither one of these is minor but neither one will put people back to work and food on the table.

I don't have a good answer for Afghanistan but what we are doing there doesn't seem to be working. Most of us (self included) likely don't recall we started things up there in 2001. More than 8 years ago. From my limited vantage point it doesn't seem like things are much better 8 years and billions of $ later and how ever many American lives (not to mention civilians) lost.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Primal: A review

I’m not a professional book reviewer or critic and I don’t play one on TV. But I follow a blog by a pastor in DC, Mark Batterson. He’s written three books now (I’ve read two of them). He mentioned that his publisher was looking for bloggers to review his latest. All we had to do was send an email and a URL. They’d let us know if our blog was selected.

Shortly thereafter I got an email telling me I had been picked and my review copy was on its way. How cool is that?

But with the copy came responsibility; I need to write a cogent review, publish it on my blog, mention the book on Facebook and in general spread the word.

Readers may not be able to tell but I’ve selected American Typewriter as my font. I thought it smacked of publishing. I don’t like Courier (too spread out for me) and I’m tired of the usual Palatino et al. It (AT) also looks sufficiently old-fashioned. Getting back to the roots or writing on an old Olivetti. Almost primitive if you think about it.

Primitive. Webster’s defines this as ”pertaining to the beginning …” also “imitative of the earliest times; crude, simple, rough.” These all describe where things are about to go.

Batterson’s 3rd book, Primal, is subtitled “A quest for the lost soul of Christianity.”

He begins his written quest in Rome venturing down into some of the catacombs. I’ve been there too. Maybe not to the exact places he and his wife visited but I’ve been underground and seen the places where early Christians hid. Many were buried there.

If this book had just been titled Primal, it might have attracted some of the John Eldredge crowd or even the guy who took other guys into the woods to beat drums. But the subtitle does at least two things: it dramatically narrows down the potential audience and begs the question (or perhaps requires the assumption) that you think Christianity has lost its soul. Or maybe as eventually became my case as I read and liberally marked up this free review copy (hope they don’t ask for it back!), you begin to wonder about the soul of your own faith.

The book is a relatively short 171 pages. But it made me stop and think so much that I took more than a week to read it.

Batterson echoes some of my thoughts early on when he exhorts the reader to go back “to the primal faith you once had. Or more accurately, the primal faith that once had you.”

Mark 12:30 is the main thesis of the book; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Batterson takes each one of these four parts of our being and digs into what they represent; or perhaps should represent in the life of every Christian.

Batterson pastors an Assembly of God church but from what I read about his church, five churches actually, (to get some details about his congregations around the Capitol area of DC, you need to check out evotional.com – his blog, which will give you all sorts of insight into his role as a pastor and his ministry), his church is atypical for the Assemblies of God and this is most certainly not an AG book or even Pentecostal in that sense of the word. He points out early that Christians “will disagree about a variety of doctrinal issues until Jesus returns.” And rather than expand or add to the many discussions about this or that little jot or tittle of Christianity we could all most likely disagree about, Batterson takes us back to the roots of our faith. Those core things that the early Christians staked their lives upon.

I started reading with a pen and highlighter in hand. I think I used up one highlighter and ended up underlining most of the things that jumped out at me on first read.

But let’s at least outline a few things. He calls Mark 12:30 the “Great Commandment.” As noted, he spends much of the book fleshing out those four things: heart, soul, mind and strength.

I think most of us would agree that the public (and even private) face of Christianity is not always pretty. Batterson notes, you can change that face or get a “face-lift” but what we really need is a “change of heart.”

Our faith tells us that Jesus comes into our heart when we ask Him and begins to change us from the inside out. Some more than others and some more successfully than others! Batterson has a somewhat different interpretation (disclaimer #2 here: I am most certainly NOT a theologian). Instead of the more traditional Jesus-lives-in-my-heart belief, how about thinking and living as if we had a transplant? We actually have the heart of Jesus inside us in a spiritual sense. Batterson calls this being part of the Tribe of the Transplanted.

Delving into the soul Batterson describes the wonder of looking at a work of art. He recounts the wonder felt by God Himself as He observed His creation and saw that it was, indeed, good. We should, according to Batterson, have the same, well actually much much more of a, sense of wonder about the things of God.

Good storytellers know how to get our attention; how to draw us into their stories. Batterson has a way of doing this with personal examples. He gets us interested in something we can all relate to, then deftly moves to a deeper insight.

He shares how his son had an incidence of sleepwalking. From there he describes an empty soul. How can we love God with all our soul, if we are half-asleep and unaware of what He is doing all around us? And just like the sleepwalker eventually becomes conscious, so must we to God.

Ultimately though the way to love God with all our souls is to be obedient. The best way we can find out how to be obedient is to read what God has to say.

Christians and curiousity? Sound like the beginning of an oxymoron? Batterson thinks we should to be the most curious people. Using an archaic definition of that word, many in the world might think we Christians are a curious lot! Being curious means asking questions.

In an age where one stereotype of Christians is having our collective heads in the sand, Batterson admonishes us to be curious. Explore science, for instance, rather than being afraid of it.

What is one goal of all this curiousness and creativity? “If we are going to have an eternal impact on our culture,” Batterson writes, “We’ve got to create it.” He notes that churches may be suspicious of creativity because it can breed change. And Lord knows we don’t like change! If you don’t believe this, just try using a different version of an old hymn sometime in your worship service!

As someone who would like to be more creative, Chapter 7, One God Idea, spoke to me more than probably any other. There is hardly an unmarked-up page. No way for me to do it justice. One reason right here to find the book (waterbrookmultnomah.com).

Finally we get to strength. What does it mean to love God with all our strength? For Batterson this one is simple: do something. He uses the phrase “sweat equity,” or to risk mis-interpreting his intent, in the same way we add value to a fixer-upper by doing the work ourselves, we need to be doing something for God. This is not a “works-over-faith” book. Just an exhortation to do something. He sums it up best here: “Some people spend their entire lives getting ready for what God wants them to do.” And then they die. Please note this last line is outside the quotes. I added that one.

So, back to the beginning. Batterson says the “… quest for the lost soul of Christianity is about rediscovering the primal energy that sustained the first-century church during persecution.”

And finally since we live in a world of conflict over ideas and ideals which most certainly include religious ones, Batterson has a reminder: “… we are called to reflect God – His compassion, His wonder, His creativity, and His energy.”

Batterson brings it home like this: “We have to be great at what matters most. And what matters most is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If this is where you want to be, grab a copy of Primal.

Vince Crunk
crunksblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I need some oil perhaps?

Today I was walking into the building where I work from the parking lot. As I approached the door another younger guy was there and opened the door for me. As he turned around to face me he said “You were squeeking while you walked.”

Somehow, today being my Heinz (57th) birthday, that expression rings true. While I think he was talking about something in my briefcase or my shoes, I often feel like my knees and ankles need some lubrication before I get out of bed in the morning.

So to all us older people who need some oil in our joints … cheers!

Friday, December 11, 2009

What me? Pro Union?

My dad worked for a small place all his life and did "fine, thank you" without the benefit of any sort of union so I guess by that osmosis and observation, I’ve never been too much of a union fan.

I’m sure they have done great things over the decades and serve(d) their purpose.

But even in my short time of living in a union strong-hold in Ohio, I saw the perennial two steps forward – strike – two steps back – new contract – two steps …

But today I heard that unions in general (not sure who was actually talking) came out against one big part of health care reform – placing a tax on so-called Cadillac plans.

On some level it is hard for me to understand a health plan whose premiums runs into the tens of thousands of dollars and maybe any excise tax would only be levied on those extreme examples but …

I’ve seen it locally with our own issues and heard a spokesperson today say how the unions had given up wage increases in exchange for better health care coverage.
There are those who will say those increased health care benefits drive up costs for everybody. Don’t know, can’t say for sure.

But if an employee bargains with his employer – in this case through a union, and both sides eventually agree – how can the government step in and say “nope, we disagree and we are going to tax you for that.”?

I’m sure my health plan comes no where near the level the feds plan to tax but what is to stop them from lowering the threshold of what constitutes a ‘Cadillac plan’?

Interesting that in the days of Lexus and many other expensive cars that Cadillac has remained in the lexicon and everybody gets the meaning.

I read an article about Cleveland Clinic (in either WIRED or Fast Company – can’t find it on-line or I’d link) and while I am sure they are far from perfect, this ought to be required reading for every Congressperson before they vote on any health care plan.
Cleve Clinic puts their docs on salary – a handsome salary but one that none-the-less focuses more on results and successes rather than the volume of expensive tests and the like. It also notes a ratio of some 1,400 clerks for their 2,000 docs. Mostly to handle insurance. So where are the costs being driven up?

But back to my premise. Maybe it will take the union voices to get congress to take another harder deeper look at what their ideas for health care reform are doing to Americans. Look to places like the Cleveland Clinic who provide successful and often expensive health care BUT are trying to do it in new ways that measure results and not padding the bill.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Palin and history

I was in the 6th grade in the fall of 1964, the year incumbent (but unelected) Pres. Lyndon Johnson was running against Republican challenger Barry Goldwater. Our class had a debate and as in many debates, you don’t know which side you’ll end up on until it starts. So you have to know something about both sides. I got picked to take Goldwater. I have no recollection of what I said or how my team did.

I didn’t have much of a clue about either one at the time but probably felt more comfortable with Goldwater since he was a Repub. and my extended family had some issues with Kennedy and Dems. – Maybe it was the Catholic thing. I don’t know but where I grew up I didn’t even meet a Catholic until I was in High school.

Digression – I did know something about Johnson. He was from Texas after all. My earliest memory of him was a rumor that some of the people who had voted for him in earlier state elections were dead. Not having died but dead when they voted. Something to do with compiling voter registration rolls while strolling through a cemetary. This practice came along before the ‘vote early, vote often’ mantra.

But this is not about Johnson or Goldwater but rather Sarah Palin.

I said it last summer and I’ll say it again. McCain’s choice of her as his running mate was inspired – he wasn’t going to win anyway and this was one more desperate effort to tip the scales. It didn’t work. That may or may not have been her fault. One other thing I said then was that her handlers weren’t handling her properly. They should have let her be herself – warts and all rather than coaching her to be something she isn’t/wasn’t. Based on what I hear about her book and her interview on Oprah (I watched) this seems to be partly true.

So where does that put us and by us I mean your average middle-America-Republicans? To hear the MSM talk, there are none of us. All of us are far right extremists who are willing to support a so-called populist like Palin.

I don’t know how people like me can get recognized by the media – that Rush, Palin, Beck et al do not speak for me all the time. Are they right some of the time – I should have said correct some of the time? Of course. But even Obama and his people are correct some of the time.

Before we draw too many comparisons, the race between Johnson and Goldwater wasn’t even a race. The Arizona man carried only 6 states and a whopping 52 electoral votes, making it one of the most lopsided races of all time. Johnson will not go down as one of our better or favorite Presidents and it needs to be noted that in less than 4 years, he was so out of favor that he decided not to run again, even though he could have. His decision no doubt brought us to Richard Nixon and we all know what that brought. I digress again.

Where am I going with this 45-year-old piece of trivia? If the GOP ends up nominating Palin in 2012, we’ll see another landslide like the one in 1964. On a personal level I like her but I don’t think she is Presidential. I didn’t know if she was Vice-idential last summer but it was worth the shot. But for deeper and fuller disclosure of where my head and heart were (and possibly still are), I wasn’t crazy about McCain. It reminded me of Clinton v. Dole a few years back. No excitement at the top. You can parse Obama a million ways but one thing he had going for him was excitement.

If the GOP intends to somehow anoint Palin for 2012 then we need to start planning for who will run against Hillary in 2016. My guess by then maybe the GOP will have been smart enough (I can hope!) to recruit some bright young Hispanics for House seats and one of them will have risen enough in experience and stature to be suitable for a run.

The days of old white southern men as President are over.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health Care

I guess the Senate is going to fast track their version of a Health Care bill and the race is on.

I have many questions but one big one stands out: how exactly does the Government expect to pay for the almost one billion (or more) that the new plan will cost?

Quickly here’s how, they say:

a surtax or excise tax on really good health care plans. In essence if you are fortunate to have really good insurance through your employer, they (or you) might have to pay a tax for that privilege. Did anybody figure out how many of these so-called Cadillac plans might go away if their costs rose by the 40% excise tax the Senate proposes? This seems like counting on revenue from a source that isn’t guaranteed and the (dis)incentive is for people to reduce their coverage (and attached costs.)

The Senate lists annual fees on insurance companies, equipment makers and drug companies. Now maybe all of them are really bad greedy people but is this going to work? If I make MRI machines and now the government is going to tax or penalize me because they cost too much I can do at least one of three things: pay the tax, start making something different that is not taxed as much or just get out of the business altogether. The last two take away some of the projected revenue.

The NY Times says another revenue source is to “squeeze” (their word) some of the Medicare growth. With our elder population growing faster and needing more health care than any other segment; how’s that going to work without reducing the overall amount of care people expect?

A 5% tax on elective cosmetic procedures, the so-called “Bo-Tax”. I have no problem here but once again if the costs go up too much, people will just stop having face-lifts and tummy-tucks.

Bottom-line if anything like this passes, and then the expected revenue doesn’t materialize, the only other options are to raise more taxes or reduce services provided to people.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gran Torino

Risky business but I’d recommend you rent (or check out from the library like I did) Gran Torino.

Be forwarned. The favorite word in this R-rated movie begins with “F.” I almost quit watching because of the bombardment of this plus for the first 10-15 minutes or so, it seemed like Clint Eastwood was just going to be a grumpy old man. The only other thing to do was figure out how many different names he could use to show his dislike of Asians.

I stuck it out and am glad I did. I won’t give anything away but I thought it was a pretty good movie. Eastwood directed, produced and stars but he didn’t write it.

But when it’s over it’s not the language that will stick with you.

Blunt, Cap-n-Trade & a good spot

First up this is not pro or not-pro about Mr. Blunt. He has plenty of baggage but that’s up to him and his to defend or promote.

I saw an ad this weekend while catching a few minutes of the Cowboys’ sorry perf in Green Bay. The ad was well done with a clever gimmick. It was an oppo-ad against Blunt – by some group Id-d as a conservation group (who knows who they really are). Like I said well-done and good technique. Reminded me of a Frank Perretti novel I read years ago where some people had this stinking ooze coming out of them.

My one sticking point with the spot is the support (or rather the hitting up Blunt for his lack of support) for Cap and Trade legislation.

I’m not sure why this is important enough to run a spot now unless the group behind it is perhaps supporting Robin Carnahan in her run for Kit Bond’s MO Senate seat that Blunt is also running for.

Reasonable people can disagree but I hope folks in favor of this bill or anything similar realize that at least one major part of their monthly cash out-go is going to rise dramatically: the cost to heat and cool their homes. Almost all Missouri electricity is based on burning coal (again you may think this is good or bad – not the point – Missouri consumers don’t have a choice in who they buy their electricity from – in fact nobody anywhere unless you are off the grid and generating your own power) and the price of coal is going to go up under this legislation.

Somewhere (if not multiple places) between your house and where the coal comes from, taxes and/or penalties are going to be added. Those extra costs are going to show up in the electric bill. Utility companies will simply pass them through – not as rate increases which might require some local and state approvals – but simply an increase in their cost of doing business or cost of raw materials; whatever. But you and I will pay more – make no mistake about that.

Before anyone falls in love with earth-friendly legislation, count the costs. If you are willing to pay 10-15% more for your electricity to help reduce carbon, you can do that now by buying so-called green energy from your utility company. Most of them have alternate sources that cost more and they will gladly charge you more to appease your carbon-burning conscience.

Remember though, the power grid is agnostic; it can’t tell where the electricity being used in your home actually comes from. Green power gets mixed in with dirty power and who knows which kilowatts actually heat up your morning coffee.

My quibble is not with criticizing Blunt. The spot tried to do too much. I guess they thought if they threw enough oil at Blunt, some of it would stick. For me, the C&T accusation does not.

I have no idea who I might support in the MO Senate race. I hope that C&T dies a quick death before we get that far.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The soldier stumbled.

My kids’ school had a small ceremony for Veteran’s Day and they invited any local Vets to come and be recognized and honored.

I was able to go this year since I didn’t have to work that day so got to see my kids do a song (Good job girls!) and what the other classes did for the ceremony.

I’m surprised by the number of vets in our dinky little town of only 334. There were maybe a dozen or so present along with a few spouses.

A four-man color guard handled the flag duties.

As they wrapped up their presentation of colors, the youngest in the bunch barked the about face order and they tried to do what can best be described as a Michael-Jackson-move where they cross their feet and twist their legs, and in a flash like an Auntie Anne’s pretzel maker, they are facing the other way. (I’d have been mustered out of the Army quickly because I could never do that!)

Except for one little old man. I didn’t notice his footwork but when he started to walk the other direction he began to stumble. He lurched to his right and kept moving that way as he got his legs underneath him. It was one of those slow-motion things where you want to help but in my case I was way up in the bleachers on the back row and way too much distance between him and me.

The whole thing took maybe 5 seconds and a half-dozen steps and somehow he kept his balance and re-joined the other three.

I’ve been looking for some wise interpretation of this but so far have come up empty.

In a strange way it was sweet. Watching him fall would most assuredly not have been sweet. But since he kept his balance, it was a touching moment; at least for me.

Maybe because my own father and WWII vet is 87 years old and has his own issues with walking. Maybe with an Honor Flight leaving Springfield next Tuesday with 75 local WWII vets aboard for their once-in-a-lifetime trip to see their memorial in Wash. DC – Don’t know. Guess I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and somehow his stumble fit right in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A copper bracelet and a thank you.

Most readers will be way too young to remember the PIO/MIA bracelets we wore in the early 70s to remember those missing or captured in Vietnam. But for our time these were the "LiveStrong"-things we wore on our wrists.

I still remember the last name on the one I wore: Etheridge. At the time he was in the missing/POW category. Don't know why I never checked the wall, you can look up anybody with almost any tiny piece of information.

I found him on Panel 40E - Line 73 and it shows he was killed in 1968. One of the more than 58,000 known dead or missing American soldiers killed during the long ranging conflict in southeast Asia.

While sitting here I found out through the wall again that he either has a son or father still living and his email was on the wall's website so I just sent off a quick short thank you to him. We honor our Veterans and rightly so and we also honor our dead Veterans on another day but I thought I should say thanks to one of those left behind.

So to Ralph Etheridge and the millions more he represents, thank you for giving up a family member so we can enjoy our freedoms - still - every day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The List

My wife bought this for me as an anniversary gift. Roseanne Cash's latest project. I like the album but wish she/her label/her producer had done just one more thing: I'm sure the project will sell well but I'd liked to have seen a double CD that included the original versions of the same songs.

These songs that Johnny Cash felt were classics in some form or another were first done by people like Jimmie Rodgers,Blind Willie Johnson, Don Gibson, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Guy Mitchell, Ray Price, Kingston Trio, for the Long Black Veil alone the list of people who've done this song is endless, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard,and of course the Carter family - in other words a list that spans several decades and styles and even perhaps genres.

A double CD with the chance to hear some of the old stuff would have made this so much better and possibly rekindled interest in the old time country stuff.

I grew up listening to some of this so I have an unnatural soft spot.

But in case my wife reads this I still like the CD just fine. Thanks!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but she’s warming up!

I’ve been watching some – not a lot – of the World Series. I just can’t get excited about the Phillies and not since Mantle played back in the 60s have I been a pinstripe fan. Wait, they don’t wear those anymore.

Remind me to make a wardrobe comment later.

I watched some of last night’s win by the Yankees and I’ll probably show some of my current baseball ignorance with the following but here goes.

When the commentators started talking about Lidge and how his regular season wasn’t so great and then Johnny Damon came to the plate, I said “this will be trouble.” Good rallies start with singles and what does he do? Through some sloppy coverage and heads-up base running on his part, he’s on third.

Of course he doesn’t hit the go ahead RBI or anything big but I think he should be getting front page credit for the win last night. You can’t ask for much more than a 2-out-single and stealing two bases. But who gets the headlines? A-Rod. Oh well. (UPDATE: NY TIMES did do a late afternoon article on Damon and gave him credit.)

Back to wardrobe. What is it with the Yankees uniforms? Every pitcher’s pants look like PJs. Sabathia may have a million-dollar arm, but he needs some fashion help.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saving the World, one cow at a time.

Saturday morning I looked out our upstairs window into the pasture of our neighbor (he's really not - he lives in Kansas but keeps cows down here) and noticed a big lump that wasn't moving with the other cows. A few minutes later I went outside to feed our dogs and decided to go check it out.

I stared for awhile trying to decide if I saw movement or not. I finally thought I saw a chest rise and fall so I hopped the fence (getting over barbed wire at my advanced age is no small feat!) and wandered a hundred feet or so where I could definitely tell she was breathing. I moved around to see where she might be hurt and she pawed at the ground with her front legs and tried to lift her head but couldn't. I tried to lift her head but ... do you have any idea how heavy a cow's head is? I tried to move her by grabbing her legs but she was just too heavy - maybe 750 pounds or more (just guessing). I thought if I flipped her over she might get in a different position and be able to get up. No luck.

Another neighbor behind us lives on the property and sort of (used to) keep an eye on things so I tried to call him. Busy, busy signal. I kept trying and after I finished up my morning chores, I decided to drive over. Seems my neighbor is no more and the lady living there now had no idea who owned the property but sent me to the next house down the road.

I went there to find two guys fixing a roof. They did know the owner's brother and one said he would call and promptly went back to roofing.

I drove to another neighbor thinking maybe if we got enough people together we could move the cow somehow. For those farmers reading - they know that sometimes cows lay down with their heads pointed downhill and for some reason can't get back up. They also do something called 'bloat'. I don't know what she had but she was down and couldn't get up.

My neighbor took up the mantle and started making calls - she knew more locals than me and grew concerned about the poor cow.

Bottom line - a few hours later someone came and moved the cow. I wasn't there so did not see if she lived or was already dead. I hope she lived.

I realize there is nothing funny about this story and it is open ended since I don't know what finally happened. But I probably spent a couple of hours driving and or on the phone trying to help this poor girl so I have some small investment in her well-being. I really wanted to be hands-on in getting her back on her feet, er hooves and see her waddle away. She had a small milk bag with teats so she may have been close to calving also and that may have been part of her problem. Don't know too much about cows. But I'm still learning.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must See TV!

The back page of the Oct. 26 edition of Newsweek has a chart showing when various TV programs will reach various distant locations in outer space.

This is odd and potentially scary on a couple of levels.

Odd? When we first moved into our current home in rural-land, we could barely get some channels. Combinations of rabbit ears and tin-foil strategically positioned were required to get at least one channel. OK I exaggerate but you get the picture. Aliens in outer space must get better TV reception than I do.

I wonder if they saw all the FCC mandated PSAs about the switch to digital last summer in time to get their converter box coupons?

On a more serious note – if there really are aliens out there anywhere besides Roswell New Mexico, it is scary to think what they must think of us if TV is their source.

According to the chart, Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, is just now getting episodes of Lost and the Apprentice. Wonder what they think of the Donald’s hair?

A few more light years away, alien viewers are enjoying Sponge Bob and the Sopranos.

Way way out Howdy Doody is part of the daily fare.

Imagine if they used TV as a sort of scouting report and planned their trips to earth accordingly? Imagine their surprise when they get here and find other confused aliens looking for the Lone Ranger and Tonto or the Dukes of Hazzard? And what do they find instead? Balloon Boy and his family. But then they might feel right at home!

"Klaatu barada nikto"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The (digital) indignity of it all.

If you are squeamish about medical stuff, you may not want to continue reading. If you are female, this is going to have some male stuff in it so … and if you are male then it’s going to have some … I guess nobody should read it but I’ll write anyway.

Today was my annual physical, which for the most part is pretty routine. Weight 173. Height 6’-1/2”. OK on both counts. Blood pressure OK. Blood work underway so we’ll know soon about those pesky things called lipids and LDL etc.

Lots of questions with mostly negative answers, which is good.

Why write about it?

My father has had one bout of prostate cancer which he survived but the treatment wasn’t much fun and may have caused some additional problems. His PSA count is up again but they are watching it. By the way he is 87.

Needless to say with my fathers history and an uncle who also had prostate cancer, this is something I take seriously. And for those men in the audience you know what that means. The euphemism is a digital exam and has nothing to do with computers or any electronic device.

My guess is, this part of the prostate screening is at least akin (I’m not saying equal to) the mammogram and Pap smear our wives have to endure once a year or so.
What makes mine slightly awkward yet in a strange way not, my physician is a woman. Several years ago I felt like my primary care doctor wasn’t doing much and my wife suggested I try hers, which in this case was a woman. Initially I felt strange – still do sitting there in the little bitty gown thing they give you that ties in the back … you know what I mean?

But now after a few years I’m pretty used to it. And I guess my wife – along with most other women have been having to … well you know … do their thing with male doctors … so in some small way, it’s the least I can do.

My doctor is thorough; I think she really cares about my health and that of all her patients. She doesn’t rush; she is on time etc. so I gained by switching doctors. As I age and am likely to have more concerns, she will have some history with me, which might make things easier in the long run.

The point of this is – if you are a guy, bend over and get it over with.

An added comment: Normal PSA levels are 4 but my doctor said she watches for increases in PSA even if the numbers stay below normal. Last week she examined a guy and his PSA was 1.8 which is well below normal (good) but he had a small nodule on his prostate and it was cancerous. So the numbers don’t lie, they just don’t always tell the whole story. It also points up the importance of the old fashioned but slightly uncomfortable way of having this checked.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OK I tried.

I mentioned a few days ago about my (failed) attempts to read some older (classic and maybe not-so-classic) books. I keep hearing and reading how Flannery O'Connor was what most of today's Christian writers should aspire to be. What a master of her craft she was etc.

I got Wise Blood from the library and tried - twice. I just couldn't plod through it. I'm sure it is me and not her writing but I still can't get through it.

Anybody know an easier Flannery O'Connor book to try?

Monday, October 12, 2009

gas again?

Running an errand today and noticed somebody changing prices on a gas station sign – never a good sign. I turned my head every which way as I passed and could never get a clean shot of the price in my mirror. Later I passed another station and whoa! It had jumped from the almost manageable $2.16 early this morning up to $2.27! What’s up with that? Either OPEC is not as happy as the rest of the giddy world that Obama got the prize for peace or the Hunt Family (see Hunt Petroleum in Texas) who own the KC Chiefs are mad about losing to Dallas on Sunday.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Don't ask me what that means. It's the title of a book I just finished by Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) It's a sort of rambling book but there are plenty of nuggets in it to make it a worthwhile read. I think some people dismiss him because he might smack of something akin to the Emerging or Emergent sort of theology but I found it interesting on a couple of fronts.

Since I am in the midst of writing umpteen stories in some stage of incompletion or another along with my long-suffering screenplay idea (up to 30-40 pages, a bunch of scenes but nowhere near solid yet) he offers suggestions on stories, what makes them work etc., helpful for me as a writer.

I really enjoyed chapter 29 and wanted to just scan and include the chapter here but could not easily get permission from the publisher so you are just going to have to do what I did and find it at the library - or Amazon (only $12)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Either I'm dreaming or this is the Onion.

Driving to work very early this morning in the rain and with only one cup of coffee down, I heard the news, ‘Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize.’ And thought surely this is a joke or the Onion on the radio or something but sure enough he got it.

I’ve been reading comments and quotes from around the world and find, yes, a few supporters but by and large most agree it was premature at best. At worst it reflects on the Nobel folks’ credibility and a host of other things.

I don’t have much to add to the discourse except I was reviewing a list of former winners and noted a few things: about half of the names listed I have no idea what they did, who they are etc. But some I do recognize.

• 2002 - Jimmy Carter – like him or not he does have a record of achievement.

• 1999 - Médecins Sans Frontières – seems like a worthy group to me.

• 1997 - International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Jody Williams – another worthy recipient

• 1994 - Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin – hello? What kind of Kool-Aid were they drinking in Norway that year? Arafat?

• 1993 - Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk - can’t argue much about name #1

• 1988 - United Nations Peacekeeping Forces – this one must have been a joke too!

• 1986 - Elie Wiesel – probably long overdue.

• 1983 - Lech Walesa - heard him quoted today as wondering why Obama got it so early?

• 1979 - Mother Teresa – no argument here.

• 1964 - Martin Luther King Jr. – I’ll bet this one upset a few people back then.

• 1906 - Theodore Roosevelt – here are some of his words when he accepted the prize:

“The gold medal which formed part of the prize I shall always keep, and I shall hand it on to my children as a precious heirloom. The sum of money provided as part of the prize by the wise generosity of the illustrious founder of this world-famous prize system, I did not, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, feel at liberty to keep. I think it eminently just and proper that in most cases the recipient of the prize should keep for his own use the prize in its entirety. But in this case, while I did not act officially as President of the United States, it was nevertheless only because I was President that I was enabled to act at all; and I felt that the money must be considered as having been given me in trust for the United States.”

Bottom line I don’t see how Obama’s name belongs on this list. If years from now we look back and find that during his administration Iraq has emerged successfully from this disastrous episode. Afghanistan is restored and maybe (although highly unlikely) there is some sort of peace in the Middle East, then his name might rightfully come up for nomination.

A couple of tidbits. I read that the deadline for noms was back in Feb. What in the world had he even done by Feb.?

A baseball analogy: To get into Cooperstown – the Hall of Fame – players have to be out of the game for awhile (several years I think) and maybe part of this is to make sure their record was not some sort of fluke – no asterisks by their achievements etc. and then they can come up for a vote. Sometimes they don’t make it in on the first ballot.

Obama hasn’t been playing in the big leagues or on a world stage for even a year yet. It was silly but understandable when people idolized him during the campaign. No one really knew him but he gave some people hope. But as of now, the jury is still way out on how people will look back on his Presidency in a few years. He might not even get re-elected in 2012.

Honestly I was never a fan of Bill Clinton but at face value alone he deserves it more than Obama. He must really have some major heartburn; first his Veep Gore gets it and now this.

But also a perhaps a bigger issue here is somehow this prize, I thought, was about the world at large and efforts – while not always successful, to bring about World Peace. But when you look at the names, often the peace was much more confined and often never even achieved. Many of the former recipients lived and worked on a very small stage and what they did might have impacted only a country – not the entire world. But I get the symbolism that what they did could serve as a model to the world.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Impenetrable Prose

We all get lists, read lists, make lists. Sometimes I look at them and think I should do something with the information; in this case one with a bunch of books and authors we should read – probably should have already read them but …

Every so often I look them up at the library and figure I’ll try to add a little culture and class to my otherwise drab and dreary reading list. Of late I’ve reads tons of non-fiction; just can’t seem to find much fiction that holds or compels me to go on.

My rule of thumb is usually 100 pages. If I’ve invested that much reading time, I should stick it out. Often I find myself giving up after just a few for a variety of reasons. With some of the new stuff that is understandable. Years from now people will just consider much of it drivel anyway.

But what about people like Flannery O’Connor? William Faulkner?

I’ve tried, really tried to get into their books but I just can’t. I know Faulkner is considered THE greatest southern writer. But I’ll swear when he learned to write, they didn’t teach him what a period was. Some of his sentences run on and on and … I need some time for my eyes to breathe. Then my brain can catch up with what is being said.

I read a lot and I’m not a lazy reader but much of what folks consider great fiction of the 20th century (remember we are now in the 21st), I just can’t penetrate.

But I will continue to give it a shot.

Right now I have another O’Connor book, “Wise Blood” which showed up on someone’s ‘best-of’ list so I got it from the library.

I’ll report back in a few days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goldman Sacks Us

You can’t believe everything you read but I think this article (the Great American Bubble Machine) should be required reading for everybody who owns a home, buys gas for their car, has heard of the bailout and might have concerns about global warming. Does that leave anybody out?

Rolling Stone
issue 1082/1083 (July 9-23, 2009) has this article by Matt Taibbi. I first heard of Taibbi on Imus. Now why Rolling Stone is investing in dense articles on financial hijinx alongside reviews of Lady Gaga I’ll never know but I’m glad somebody is doing it.

So far you can’t read Rolling Stone on-line unless you are a paper subscriber so you’ll need a friend who does or perhaps visit your library. OK I've included a link to the actual story above but who knows how long it will be active. Took some doing to find it)

Read it and find out that going back to the early 90s we’ve been getting screwed. Some of us may feel like it started before then but …

Read about tech stocks and their overvaluing and at least one culprit in this run-up to the bursting of the bubble of Internet stocks, IPOs and all that. Notice the involvement of Goldman Sachs – prominent Wall St. bank with friends in high places.

We’ve heard about the housing market, sub-prime mortgages, Countrywide – and all the loan defaults of the last few years. A major player in all this? Goldman Sachs.

How about 2008’s $4/gallon gas? Everyone I knew blamed it on the problems in the Middle East or the old “supply-and-demand” situation. According to the article, demand was at slightly lower levels and supply was slightly up. What gives? Seems Goldman Sachs was at least part of a massive and profitable (for them anyway) commodities speculation market, which was driving the price up. Bottom line? Our price at the pump goes up. Goldman Sachs makes a tidy profit.

One scary part about it is that politicians have to be involved at some levels and knowledge of what is going on. Rules were changed or exemptions were granted.

Read on about the coming “cap and trade” legislation moving through the Senate now. Supposedly this is to reduce global warming by taxing producers of carbon (utility power plants will likely be hit harder that anybody and who will pay for that? Not the utility directly but folks like you and me who use electricity made by burning coal) but this article lays out how this boondoggle of a program could become just another commodities market where people can buy, trade and sell the right to produce more or less carbon. Goldman apparently is in the catbird seat to take advantage of this new regulation whenever it comes into play.

I’ll back up to mention one more thing if you’ve read this far and can’t or won’t read the article. How come Bear Stearns (big Wall St. firm) is rescued last year and Lehman Bros. (former big Wall St. firm) is not? Lehman happened to be a competitor of Goldman. You do the math.

The Feds give umpteen billion to bailout AIG who in turn pays back Goldman $13 billion it owes them. Goldman re-does their books and promptly declares a profit early in 2009.

Without the money from AIG, which was taxpayer money from the bailout, they’d not have had any profit whatsoever. Did I mention that Goldman paid out $4.7 billion in bonuses and compensation in the first quarter of 2009?

Sad to say there isn’t anything we can do about this and it’s not a Democrat v. Republican or liberal v. conservative issue. There seems to be plenty of finger pointing to go all around. But it does seem odd that so many people in the govt. now under Obama have ties to Goldman in their very recent former lives.

Again if you can – go read the Great American Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. Somewhere at your public library today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Payback



The picture is from the NY Times – their composite.

I did not watch the Obama-thon on yesterday’s Sunday news gabfests – honestly forgot all about it and Sunday morns are busy enough – no time for TV.

My only comment is I think it is odd that he omitted – rather snubbed Fox. I know it was payback for their snub of his recent speech. But he seems the be the Olive-branch sort of Pres.

And given the feedback all summer long, if he thinks Fox viewers are more conservative and since it seems like some (or a lot!) of those folks have concerns about his health care proposals, that he’d figure he needed to preach to somebody else besides his choir.

Why not go on Fox and reach all those people who maybe aren’t inclined to agree with him but then he could face-to-face put to rest so very many rumors and (so-called) misconceptions about his proposals.

It just seems like he missed a good opportunity.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plug free til now.

This blog has always been ad free and plug free until now.

I just have to give a shout-out to some people who work in one of the least appreciated jobs on the planet – convenience stores.

Probably once a week I go to AutoTronics, a combo gas station/c-store/kettle corn/car-repair place about two blocks from where I work.

Everyone who works there that I have met is so friendly. They always greet me, ask questions, are polite etc. Many C-store workers act like you are IN-conveniencing them when you need or want something.

I imagine these folks aren’t paid much more than minimum wage so that’s even more impressive. I usually see the same faces and I’ve been going there for years so the lack of turnover says something too.

So a hat-tip to the folks at the Springfield AutoTronics on north Benton Ave.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

musings on Obama

I’ve taken a little heat from a few friends over my position on Obama’s speech to schoolchildren this week. I hope we can move along and get along.

To use a cliché, conservatives need to learn better how to pick their battles. I don’t think one speech to some school-kids is going to make or break a Presidency.

Who knows what Obama might have said had this event not been picked up on somebody’s radar. I’m told things were changed. Teleprompter copy was re-written. Curriculum was modified.

Don’t know. I read the proposed curriculum last week when I first heard about it. I didn’t find anything offensive or problematic to me.

But one good thing may have come from all this attention; I imagine many parents are clueless about what their kids are taught or do all day in school. If this got them to start paying attention and wanting to know more, then good.

I heard someone say that students were asked to pledge their lives to Obama. That’s stupid. Obama didn’t say that. The Dept. of Education didn’t say that. Maybe a teacher somewhere did something like that and if so, they should be fired or disciplined. What I’ve been able to find is an account of a teacher putting up Obama’s picture while students say the pledge to the flag. I guess there was also some sort of Hollywood thing with actors etc. pledging support or whatever for Obama.

But today’s entry is about moving on and how to move on.

Another blogger I follow (Brett McCracken - stillsearching.wordpress.com) had this:
“If he (Obama) could give a speech tomorrow night (the one last night on health care) in the tone of his speech today to the students, this country would be much better off … It’s a good speech, I recommend it to everybody if you have any doubts.”

From none other than Newt Gingrich on the Today show.

I already had in mind to look back to 1992 and 1994 when things started brewing again on the conservative front. Clinton was young, new and liberal. He had plenty of ideas that were quite the policy shifts from the Reagan era and Bush 41.

I can’t speak for the tone of talk radio back then. The Internet was just getting going so the amount of commentary was reduced and available mostly on radio or mainstream media. There was no Fox on cable yet (not until 1996). CNN had been the new news force for only a few years.

But in the midst of all this a congressman from Georgia stepped up and organized a campaign to start from the bottom-up toward winning back the White House. It began with the Contract with America. The early results were that in 1995 the GOP regained a majority of seats in Congress while a Democrat was still in the early years of his Presidency.

Why all this arcane history? I don’t really care for Newt Gingrich but he has a sharp political mind and he probably more than anyone brought back the conservative movement. There was hope.

History will tell whether this was a success or not and I’m not here to debate that.
My point – which I am taking a long way around the barn to get to – the GOP has no strategy or leader right now who can bring about this type of change again. If there is a strategy it seems to be shrill and critical and not constructive. (I started this before Obama’s speech on Health Care – Rep. Joe Wilson only serves to prove some of my point.)

I wouldn’t call the Contract with America exactly starting at the bottom or grassroots but it was a beginning.

What do we have with the GOP right now? Who speaks for the conservatives? I can’t think of a single voice right now that I think speaks for me and my values and concerns.

I saw Rick Santorum on the news and was reminded of this once bright star in the political spectrum but then he got beat in his home state and I don’t think I’ve heard much about him since. John Boehner? Who the heck is he? I guess he is the GOP leader of the House but I only saw his name for the first time today. Ms. Palin somehow keeps herself in the news but like so many moths and so many flames …

The GOP, conservative and like-minded folks need to start working from the bottom-up, not top-down. You don’t have to like Obama or any of his policies, ideas or politics to still grant him the respect due the office.

I never really cared for Clinton. Look at his baggage – purported affairs, Travel-gate, Vince Foster, Monica – OK enough of that. But he still was our President (for a time) and who knows how history will treat him. And you know what else? We survived for 8 years.

So far Obama may have made mistakes – possibly plenty re: the stimulus, health care proposals, et al but he isn’t stupid.

Much was made over Rush L’s wish that Obama would fail. I really, really hope Obama succeeds. We owe him that much. Like it or not he creamed our guy. (OK he wasn’t really my guy and much like 1996 with Dole – I really thought and hoped we could do better than that. Guess not.) We are going to live in the country he creates for the next four or eight years so we better hope (and pray) he does it right.

So I guess a point finally would be this: The GOP needs to come up with a plan. Find some great or even good people. Start getting them elected to local offices from where they can climb (if they so aspire) to higher offices. Do this in not only in the red states, cities and towns but in the blue ones as well. Especially in the blue ones. Right now more voting people are blue than red and unless some of them come over …

Campaign Finance Reform

This all by itself is not much of a current topic but is connected in many ways to the larger debate over health care reform. Locally one of our Congressmen has been criticized for taking in more than $500K from the insurance industry.

This is not about him or health care.

Journalists are purported to be objective but this thin veneer wears … well, thin after awhile. We all bring our collective biases to the table for every discussion, every thing we write, conversations at the watercooler – whatever. We are hard pressed to be objective.

Why should politicians be any different?

I heard on Imus (rerun of an interview with Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone mag) that during his campaign (now) Pres. Obama received something just shy of $1 million from Goldman Sachs – a large Wall St. firm. Today on his staff are two people who used to work for Goldman Sachs. Hmmm.

I digress.

I propose a radical and likely impossible idea to reform the mechanisms of campaign finance: anonymous contributions.

Citizens should support candidates because they like what they stand for and in general they believe the candidate will do things they support, once elected and in office. I know, I know, naïveté reigns supreme in the minds and hearts of voters everywhere!

I am reminded of a scene from an old movie, Power with Richard Gere where he played a political consultant helping candidates get elected. He suggested a candidate say something the candidate didn’t believe in. Of course the future pol balked but Gere’s character said something to the effect of ‘say it now and when you are elected, do whatever you want to do.’

If Goldman Sachs or the Health care insurers think that Obama and Blunt respectively are going to do things that will benefit their particular industries, then give away. But Obama and Blunt should never know. They should simply see a deposit made to their campaign accounts.

It would take a 3rd party (not political) apparatus to manage all this. I write a check (or go on-line since people don’t write checks anymore) to Obama or Blunt but I send it to some newly created organization – a not-for-profit answerable to a board made up of a balance between representatives of all registered political parties and perhaps even able to handle people with no party affiliation.

This not-for-profit takes a small, very small, % for administration and then deposits the funds into the candidates account. All the candidate knows is that on a certain date, so much money went into their account.

This not-for-profit could be audited after every election cycle to ensure things were being handled properly.

If candidates’ contributions dropped, then maybe they aren’t really as popular as they appeared. Maybe the level of contributions had/has more to do with how easily the special interest groups think they can get their way.

One thing this could do is eliminate contribution limits. What difference does it make if I give $1 below an arbitrary limit? (The limits currently imposed say to me that someone somewhere thinks that there can be influence where amounts ABOVE a certain threshold are involved)

Those special interests would still hope their candidate would be supportive of the things (or lack of things) that will benefit their industry or cause. But no candidate could be beholden to them if he/she didn’t know where the money came from. Assumptions could be made of course but there’d still be that protective layer of anonymity.

I know this is nowhere near as simple as I am making it out to be but for any of us to believe that “money doesn’t talk …” as the old saying could go, is naïve.

Don Henley and Glen Frey have a line in the song Frail Grasp of the Big Picture that goes: “And the right will prevail, all our troubles will be resolved. We have faith in the Lord, unless there’s money or sex involved.”

I doubt we can ever take sex out of the picture but we can work on the money.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pres. Obama's speech to kids next week

I weighed in on a friend's FB page but decided to go longer since FB doesn't give you many characters so ...

Much brou-ha-ha over the planned speech to kids next week (Tuesday) that will be streamed over the internet and part of the day's curriculum for kids across the country.

I'll be quick to say I'm not happy about many policies, actions, etc. that the President is enacting or trying to get in place but ...

I don't understand the gnashing of teeth by conservatives over this.

First this: "The first President George Bush, a Republican, made a similar nationally broadcast speech from a Washington high school in 1991, urging students to study hard, avoid drugs and to ignore peers “who think it’s not cool to be smart.” Democrats in Congress accused him of using taxpayer money — $27,000 to produce the broadcast — for “paid political advertising.”" NY TIMES Sept. 3, 2009

Second: I went to the website where all the stuff is posted re the speech. Granted we can't know every word to be spoken yet but this seems like pretty tame stuff.

Third: Even if some of the fears are well-founded, I can't imagine Pres. Obama would be foolish enough to use the classroom bully-pulpit inappropriately when everyone in the country is on tenterhooks waiting for him to say the "S" word (and it doesn't have four letters!) or something equally bad.

Finally: just as I went to the website to read what my kids (I"ll have three who can watch) will be exposed to, I also plan to watch the speech. That way I won't be dependent on anyone else to tell me the horrible/wonderful things he said. If he steps over some imaginary line, I'll be able to talk with my kids about it and set them straight by golly! And if he plays nice, then I can still talk to them and see what it made them think.

I'd encourage others to do the same.

Campaign Finance Reform

This all by itself is not much of a current topic but is connected in many ways to the larger debate over health care reform. Locally one of our Congressmen has been criticized for taking in more than $500K from the insurance industry.

This is not about him or health care.

Journalists are purported to be objective but this thin veneer wears … well, thin after awhile. We all bring our collective biases to the table for every discussion, every thing we write, conversations at the watercooler – whatever. We are hard pressed to be objective.

Why should politicians be any different?

I just heard this morning on Imus (rerun of an interview with Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone mag) that during his campaign (now) Pres. Obama received something just shy of $1 million from Goldman Sachs – a large Wall St. firm. Today on his staff are two people who used to work for Goldman Sachs. Hmmm.

I digress.

I propose a radical and likely impossible idea to reform the mechanisms of campaign finance: anonymous contributions.

Citizens should support candidates because they like what they stand for and in general they believe the candidate will do things they support, once elected and in office. I know, I know, naïveté reigns supreme in the minds and hearts of voters everywhere!

I am always reminded of a scene from an old movie, Power with Richard Gere where he played a political consultant helping candidates get elected. He suggested a candidate say something the candidate didn’t believe in. Of course the future pol balked but Gere’s character said something to the effect of ‘say it now and when you are elected, do whatever you want to do.’

If Goldman Sachs or the Health care insurers think that Obama and Blunt respectively are going to do things that will benefit their particular industries, then give away. But Obama and Blunt should never know. They should simply see a deposit made to their campaign accounts.

It would take a 3rd party (not political) apparatus to manage all this. I write a check (or go on-line since people don’t write checks anymore) to Obama or Blunt but I send it to some newly created organization – a not-for-profit answerable to a board made up of a balance between representatives of all registered political parties and perhaps even able to handle people with no party affiliation.

This not-for-profit takes a small, very small, % for administration and then deposits the funds into the candidates account. All the candidate knows is that on a certain date, so much money went into their account.

This not-for-profit could be audited after every election cycle to ensure things were being handled properly.

If candidates’ contributions dropped, then maybe they aren’t really as popular as they appeared. Maybe the level of contributions had/has more to do with how easily the special interest groups think they can get their way.

One thing this could do is eliminate contribution limits. What difference does it make if I give $1 below an arbitrary limit? (The limits currently imposed say to me that someone somewhere thinks that there can be influence where amounts ABOVE a certain threshold are involved)

Those special interests would still hope their candidate would be supportive of the things (or lack of things) that will benefit their industry or cause. But no candidate could be beholden to them if he/she didn’t know where the money came from. Assumptions could be made of course but there’d still be that protective layer of anonymity.

I know this is nowhere near as simple as I am making it out to be but for any of us to believe that “money doesn’t talk …” as the old saying goes, is naïve.

Don Henley and Glen Frey have a line in the song Frail Grasp of the Big Picture that goes: “And the right will prevail, all our troubles will be resolved. We have faith in the Lord, unless there’s money or sex involved.”

I doubt we can ever take sex out of the picture but we can work on the money.

Friday, August 28, 2009

the Last Waltz

In my efforts to catch up culturally, I got a copy of Scorcese's doc on the Band - the Last Waltz this week and started watching it.

Mixed reviews so far. As a documentary it doesn't stand out for me (yet) but maybe for 1976 when it was done it had something special about it. I also was never a huge Band fan. I like their music OK.

Enjoyed Neil Young and Helpless. My daughter #2 and I have tried that song together and completely butchered it more than once. Neil and the Band did a better job.

What's up with Joni Mitchell singing in the shadows?

The performances are pretty good. Last night I watched Dr. John. Again I am not a big fan but can he play the piano!? Like him or not he is/was (is he still alive?) some kind of pianist.

I also didn't realize some of the Band had died. My daughter came in while I was watching and asked about the movie. I told her it was old and probably half of them were dead. I didn't know that when I told her than I remembered Rick Danko passed away sometime back and one other Band member died.

I should finish up this weekend. Will write more after I've seen it all.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Paying it forward or getting blessed back.

A few weeks ago, I got some free tickets to the Ozark Empire Fair. My daughter and some friends used some of them but we still had some leftovers. On the last day of the fair, a Sunday, I still had several. I tried to give them away at church but everyone already had plans, had been to the fair or wasn’t interested.

I didn’t want them to go to waste and on our way home (our church is pretty close to the fair) I decided to just drive by. We got to an intersection near the main entrance where lots of people cross. I had my daughter jump out while we were waiting for a light and told her to go give them to somebody.

She approached a couple and I saw her explain and point back to me etc. She ran back to the car and as we drove past the people waved etc. at us. I felt good knowing we had been part of a small surprise blessing to somebody.

This past Friday I got 4 free tickets to a Springfield Cardinals game. Great seats right behind home plate. Lots of foul balls and pop-ups but we didn’t get a ball. But it was a great day at the ballpark, Cardinals won the game, the kids had fun.

So in a weird sort of way things got paid forward. I had no idea what would come when I gave the fair tickets away. But we were equally blessed back with a chance to see a ballgame.

You just never know about these things.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No accounting for taste.

As my profile notes; we have too many dogs; 4 at last count. I buy pretty decent dog food to the tune of $20/bag.

We have three horses. They get to eat a lot of grass and therefore one can find or step in numerous piles of horse ... well you know.

I walk two of our border collies as often as I can - for their sake and mine. Good exercise for all three of us and it is my quiet time to pray and think.

Both of these dogs will bury their noses in massive piles of the horsestuff like they haven't eaten in weeks. Then of course it's time for them to come and share their bounty with me through a loving lick wherever they can plant their tongues.

Life in the country.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Odd observation #2

Walking by Drury University – the venerable Springfield institution of higher est. 1873 – when the chimes or bells went off in the clock tower of Stone Chapel.

The bell or chime or whatever it is, rang more with a thud or clunk – like the thing was padded or something. I don’t know, maybe some sort of noise abatement.

I was late for a 1 p.m. event so I also instinctively looked up to check the time (duh, it only thudded once!) and noticed the time on the old clock face was a few minutes until 3. Don’t know if that was a.m. or p.m. but I am pretty sure the clock and it’s companion ringer-thingy are somehow out of sync.

On the Waterfront

With the death a couple of weeks ago of Budd Schulberg, screenwriter for On the Waterfront and other well-known classic movies, I decided I needed to watch it. Like many I've probably seen the famous "I coulda been a contenda!" taxi scene with Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando many times. But I could not recall ever having watched the entire movie. So I checked out my local library's DVD.

It took me two nights to watch but I finished up last night. I think it still holds up although film-making and acting have changed a lot in 50+ years. The story became more interesting when I learned that Mr. Schulberg was one of those who "named names" back in the post WWII days when Congress and others were looking for anyone with Communist sympathies or leanings. Perhaps this was Schulberg's way of saying "Sometimes it's OK to name names. If the greater good is served, even if someone gets hurt."

One odd observation - Leonard Bernstein (of future fame for West Side story among other things) was the composer of the film score. As talented as he was, it seemed like someone just told him, we need some music, make it almost wall-to-wall and occasionally punch it up to stir the emotions. I could get past the editing, a few quirky things, stiffer acting etc. but never could quite get past the soundtrack. It seemed intrusive to me.

but now I can scratch this one off my list. It doesn't displace any of my favorite old movies.

Don Hewitt, Creator of ‘60 Minutes,’ Dies at 86

This just in.

Some years back while a grad student at Drury and working on a paper about euthanasia I planned to include some comments and references to a 60 Minutes story. This was before email was ubiquitous so I resorted to faxing CBS and the show with my questions figuring at best I'd get a form letter thanking me for watching and that they didn't have time to answer individual requests.

Perhaps a few weeks passed and my office phone rings, the woman on the other end said, "Hold for Mr. Hewitt please." Quickly THE Mr. Hewitt picked up and started in on my list. We were probably on the phone for about 5 minutes but he answered my questions, offered advice and suggestions.

A few months later I wrote him with an idea for a program but he never wrote back or called on that one.

He was a pioneer. With Walter's death recently and even Mr. Novak's passing, like him or not, the industry has lost some lions in the trade.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Don't Fence Me In.

If you follow my wife on Facebook, you may have read an entry or two about chasing a big-butt cow. Some wondered if that was me (Wasn't!)

We vicariously became cattle-ranchers last weekend when we decided in the absence of sheep, to rent out our pasture to the local AG teacher who needed more acreage and grass for some of his cows. Last Sunday he brought over 14 of his Beefmasters and turned them out.

I did a fair amount of fencing when we moved in in 2006 but then ran out of time and money so we still have two sides of pretty old fencing that held up OK for sheep.

But seems big cows have a different effect on fences. Once their head is through, the rest is sure to follow or if the fence starts to lean with any weight, they will simply just walk it down and walk over. (that "grass is always greener" thing)

One side of our property has some pretty old fencing and this is likely where the cows got through. Yesterday was the first chance I've had to check it out and fix what could be fixed. Usually I'd much rather put up my own new fencing than try to fix an old one. But for the sake of time and money my option was to repair.

I raided my stash of t-posts (for the uninitiated - a 6 foot piece of steel with a spade-like thing near one end), got my trusty fencing tool kit and took off.

Surprisingly, the repairs went quickly and well. I was able to drive about 20 t-posts in between some older rotting wooden posts, clip the existing barb wire to the post and move on.

Thanks to Sam Osborn and the t-post driver he made for me almost 20 years ago, a handy-dandy little tool that helps with twisting the clips and a pair of channel locks (my favorite fencing tool) I had about a 200-foot-section of fence reasonably cow-proof in a couple of sweaty hours. The best part was being able to look back at the work and see something actually done - with my own hands.

I grew up in the city (Big D) and my exposure to ranch life was mostly old westerns in the 50s. No one ever showed me how to put up or fix a barb wire fence. I taught myself and even if I do say so myself, I think I do a pretty good job of fencing for a former city-slicker. I really enjoy good hard outdoor work and fencing fits the bill.

Maybe, just maybe, if I'd been born in another century, I could have been a real honest-to-goodness rancher. I interviewed a guy Friday for an Ozarks Farm & Neighbor story who started as a dairy farmer at the ripe old age of 53. Keep hope alive!

ranch rodeos

For the second time in my life I went to a small local ranch rodeo last night - took two of my daughters with me but the teen was off most of the time with, well, teens and the 9 yr. old was with a group of kids of all ages so I was pretty much left to myself to enjoy the fun.

What is a ranch rodeo? Instead of bucking bulls et al, this features teams of four who compete in several real-ranch events like: trailering, cutting/sorting, steer-mugging and a couple of roping events.

The main idea is - while having fun - to do the things that some ranchers still do when they work cattle.

Nothing slick but a lot of fun to watch because they are having fun too. In some cases I was impressed with the roping skills - several of the cowboys and one cowgirl in particular were pretty good at getting a rope around the head or horns of a fast moving steer. For those who follow roping (I don't) the other part is called "heeling" where you have to get a rope around one or both of the rear legs.

Watching them work (and play) I occasionally convince myself I could do some of this but then I get my old frame out of my chair and head stiffly toward the concession stand. I imagine if I tried any of their events, you'd have to visit my in the ER today.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Scary stuff

In a short video clip from Fox News, Congresswoman Maxine Waters made what appeared to be a slip that she almost caught in her questioning of an oil company executive. She twice calls herself a liberal - give her credit for being honest about that. But then she remarks " ... guess what? This liberal will be all about socializing ..." then she pauses twice to find the right word then continues "basically about taking over and the government running all of your companies." Somewhere on Fox News within the last month a segment labelled "Oil Executives grilled during House hearing."

Not defending big oil. Reasonably happy right now with $2.39 per gallon gas though.

As DC pols continue their discussion of health care reform, things like this should be remembered.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Show us the work.

Another historic week with the Senate voting to confirm Ms. Sotomayor as an Associate Justice.

In one feld swoop – and maybe you can say you heard it here first – Obama has possibly locked up a key demographic as he begins his campaign for re-election.

I’ve said many times that the GOP needed to reach out and court Hispanics, Latinos – you pick the most politically correct way to refer to this fast-growing diverse group of citizens – and Obama has yanked this rug right out from under them.

Regardless of her political and judicial ideology Sotomayor ensures that Obama and those who follow his coattails in the next election will be better thought of by Hispanics - a demographic that initially, Hillary had better numbers with than he.

Only time will tell how Sotomayor will turn out as a judge.

One other issue that I guess now is no longer an issue – her ‘wise Latina’ comment.
She was of course raked over the conservative coals for that one. I guess it was about all anyone could really find in her track record and she didn’t offer up much grist during her confirmation hearings. But I suppose she offered up enough to get 9 Republican Senators to vote Yea for her.

Here’s my take on that: everyone one of us comes at any decision with a bias; a political, religious, world view that has been shaped and formed by many influences: our up-bringing; the place and culture under which we grew up, our education (or lack there-of) and in general all of our life experiences have gone into shaping the kind of person we are, how we think and how we act. To ask anyone to somehow dismiss all that and approach every issue or decision with a so-called “tabula rasa” (I still remember my college philosophy courses) is impossible.

A side-road using math. I used to be pretty good at it until I began to reach the higher levels like trig, calculus etc. I might somehow make my way to the right answer but professors and teachers wanted to see how I got there. “Show me your work” was a common refrain. If I couldn’t show that I took the right route or at least that there was more than one way to get to the right answer, my score got knocked down – sometimes 50% even though 2+2 really does equal 4, I just wasn’t able to show how I figured that out. Sometimes I even got partial credit for a wrong answer if I at least went about getting it in the right way and could show how I derived it.

In much the same way perhaps we just need to show how we come to our decisions and be honest about it.

Math is much easier. 2+2 still equals 4. But life isn’t nearly so linear or easy. You and I can have very differing opinions on issues and the good (and vexing) thing is that we can both be right and/or we can both be wrong. It is rarely as clear-cut as a math problem.

But if we know and understand how we arrived at those decisions we may not be able to change the other persons mind, but at the very least should have earned respect for arriving at our position with some knowledge and not simply blind prejudice.

This is not easy and could become a slippery slope but I’ve been thinking about this idea lately and how it applies to politics and maybe even religious issues.

It is OK to stake out your position and hold firm even in the face of criticism, ridicule etc. But know how you got there or at a minimum, be honest and say it’s because you heard so-and-so voice that view.

How does all this tie back to the Supreme Court? I’m OK with Sotomayor bringing all her “Latina wisdom” to the table and to the cases she now gets to read and vote on; some of which may affect our country and us individually for years to come. I’d like her to be honest about her decision making process. Let’s see her work.

Imus v. Rush

Having a conversation with a friend last week and somehow he asked me the question “Who would I rather listen to, Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh?”

Before I answer and before you jump to any conclusions first know that we are both pretty conservative in our political and religious views.

My answer was of course Don Imus.

Some explanation is in order.

Like most radio shows, Imus works off a wheel – you do certain things at certain points in the hour all (ok most of) the time. It happens that on most days, Imus is interviewing a well-known author, historian, politician etc. between 7:35 and 7:50 a.m. That coincides with my drive time.

If he has someone interesting I’ll stick with him. What I usually get is at least 1 & ½ perspectives on an issue. Even if Imus likes or agrees with the person he is talking to, he’ll poke and prod enough to get them to talk and explain themselves. Even with a liberal weenie like Frank Rich, he’ll give him a hard time and make him explain or answer questions that aren’t big softballs waiting to be hit out of the park.

On the other side (disclosure – I haven’t listened to Rush in several years but I did try for a period of time) it seems like Rush (and I guess most of talk-radio) are just going to tell their audiences what they already know and want to hear. Rush telling me Obama’s health policies are going to hurt our country etc. doesn’t tell me anything new. It might make me mad but so what?

I’d much rather hear some dissent or discussion. I guess that is what is missing from most of talk radio for me – discussion. It is usually just one side repeating its case in a louder voice and more often.

Reminds me of a situation at church recently. One of the staff was taking some folks from Ecuador around on a tour. They spoke no English – the guide spoke no Spanish. A couple of us joked that the staffer would simply say things louder in the attempt to make them understand. Mostly it was a lot of pointing and limited communication.

I cannot imagine how Rush et al are going to win anyone over to their particular opinions. They are already “preaching to their choir.” Saying things louder isn’t going to make much difference if the same people hear the same thing all the time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Texas Music

My daughter gave me a 2008 issue of Texas Monthly magazine (alas no on-line or back-issues of this one available) featuring Lyle Lovett on the cover and several articles on various well-known (and some not-so) musicians in or from Texas.

Enjoyed reading it but I guess you can't please all the people ... (partial quote courtesy of Abe Lincoln) One of my favorite music haunts was the Rubaiyat, a little dive of a place that was around for years and years in a couple of Dallas locations.

In the Texas Monthly article it of course mentions Austin numerous times what with Willie hanging his hat there and all. But no where does it mention this local icon called the Rubaiyat.

Several of the performers in the mag graced its stage. And others mentioned as influences also played the Rubaiyat.

In recognition of this glaring omission of important Texas musical lore, I'm linking to an old post (on a former blog) about said establishment to see if it will bring any more folks out of the woodwork who can share some memories and correct some of my own.

Miracle Whip

I don't recall where this came from - likely some lunchtime internet browsing but ...

Miracle Whip was created in 1933 during the Depression and one of its main positive qualities was that it was cheap (as a replacement for Mayo).

Got me to thinking since it is called a "Salad Dressing." Does anybody really put that on their salad? I might use it as a sandwich spread on bread but never on a salad. It is way too thick.

random observation

Noticed on the front page of NY Times on-line the big headline is “Clinton leaves N. Korea …” but just below that another head goes: “Secretary of State begins Africa tour.”

Interesting even after all these years that former Pres. Clinton becomes or still is "THE" Clinton while his wife, er, Sec'y of State is recognized by title only.

Health care "Reform"

I had a long random-like post which included some thoughts on Health care reform legislation but then I read this - Robert Samuelson's recent column in Newsweek and it pretty much sums up anything I was trying to say but more better!

I don't know if Mr. Samuelson is liberal or conservative - he is an economist. I think they work with numbers and last time I checked 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of your political persuasion.

So rather than me say something - just read this.

Friday, July 17, 2009

POWs and family

I just began reading "Tears in the Darkness" which recounts again the Bataan death march in the Philippines in 1942 early in WWII.

Several years ago I read "Ghost Soldiers", Hampton Sides' retelling of an end of war story about some of these men in a POW camp.

One of my many uncles, Bill; no longer living, was a POW for the duration of the war. He suffered his entire life from many of the injuries and illnesses he sustained at the hands of his Japanese captors. He always walked slightly bent and had hearing loss as long as I can remember. But as child the thing I remember most was that he never talked about it. And it was one of those things that children were not allowed to ask about.

He was one of my favorite uncles and we visited frequently until I got older. Sad to say he was killed in a freak accident at a landfill some years ago.

When I read Ghost Soldiers I imagined he could have been one of them. When I started with "Tears" I wondered the same.

In a weird sort of way I was disappointed to find out that he was just a plain old POW. He was captured on Corregidor, a Philippine Island that saw tremendous battles during the war. From there he was shipped (literally) to Japan where it seems he spent the war working in a labor camp. I don't know much more than that.

I had hoped maybe he could be "posthumously" a celebrity of sorts.

He still is a hero to all of us in a different way. He fought briefly for our country but he served. He worked most of his life at the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, Texas where they made ammunition and such.

So even though it's not Memorial or Veteran's Day, here's to you Uncle Bill!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Here comes the Judge

I'm not about to weigh in on whether Sotomayor will or should be confirmed or not. I have no doubt she will be the next Supreme Court Justice.

Here are my 2 cents:

1st penny - why don't we just all save ourselves a ton of time and accept that when a Democrat is in the White House, they will pick someone who shares their views. The same goes for a Republican. This dance to see how close we can get to saying-without-really-saying-but-we-all-know-what-it-means-anyway is just that; a dance. Conservatives can kick and scream but in the end will lose. Let's just move on and save the posturing for another time and another battle where it might make a difference.

Here's my 2nd penny: AL FRANKEN ON THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE!?!?!? I had no dog in the Minnesota Senate hunt and if he is who they elected - then so be it. But for him to step right in with a seat on this committee? Obama won fair and square so he gets to pick his nominee. Franken won so he gets to go to the Senate. But I don't get or understand in anyway shape or form, how he is qualified or ready or should be on this committee.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

change is good

A couple of years ago in another or former life, I started a blog under the name Red Bridge Rancher which paralled our farm website - redbridgeranch.com

Two problems - after months of trial and error I realized I was not a website designer and more importantly last summer we sold all our sheep. So right now we aren't much in the way of ranchers or farmers. Still have dogs, three horses, a cat and two steers but that hardly qualifies us for much.

The old blog name didn't mean much without the ranch part so ... I found a new name for my blog, which I will continue with the usual fits and starts and I got the name crunksblog.blogspot.com which comes a lot closer to being what it should be. I never intended to be anonymous but the old name probably didn't click with most people right away.

So in a sense I'm moving and I really have no idea what that means in terms of google's blogspot but if you go to redbridgerancher.blogspot.com hopefully it can re-direct you to crunksblog.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Not quite ready for Prime Time

I admit it was a mistake (his and mine) for McCain to pick Palin and mine to like it but you have to admit it was a gutsy and inspired choice.

She just wasn’t ready (think Quayle.)

As much as a liked her (c’mon everybody thought she was pretty) she didn’t have the gravitas or the mettle to make it on a national scale as a Veep. The hockey mom/pit bull thing could only carry her so far. I also realize no one gave her a fair shake but then her handlers did her no favors either by putting her out in situations where she wasn’t ready.

I have no idea what she is trying to do now but even with a lot of cramming, super fund-raising and plenty of exposure in the lower 48, she will never be able to overcome the image most people have of her. If she honestly thinks she has a shot in 2012, she is wasting her time.

I haven’t done a politically oriented entry in awhile (too much going on that I don’t understand) but this one caught my eye and ear.

I’ll say again what I said in 2004 and 2008 – if the GOP wants a chance at anything (just adjust the years forward by 4) they must find, recruit, train and prep a minority.

Don’t count Colin Powell out just yet – no matter what he has previously said.