Friday, December 17, 2010

Every Man in This Village is a Liar

Just finished this interesting book with a perplexing title. It follows a journalist who has been covering war since she found herself outside the U.S. in 9-11 and ended being one of the early ones into Afghanistan.

She may write with a little too much drama but I’ve never been to any of these places – Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Yemen - in or out of war.

Her title sums up the conundrum of geo-politics. If someone says they are telling the truth – they are probably lying. If they are lying, well, then …

A Springsteen line perhaps sums this up best: “Trust none of what you see and less of what you hear.”

I know only enough to be dangerous in a wordy sort of way but near the end of the book she – for me – summarizes a sentiment.

Americans – who live in a country with almost no history (200 years which doesn’t add up to much globally) think we can go in and change places, “… make the old go away. All to create a new Middle East. But the old Middle East is still there and where should it go?”

When every man in the village is a liar, who you gonna call?

Traditions

Today was/is another one of my favorite Christmas season work traditions.

Every year the Central High School Chamber Choir comes to our office to sing carols. This year they sang instead at our Greene County courthouse.

The building has a large three-story rotunda. It must be more than 100 years old. You can imagine the acoustics.

The kids are amazing. They always sing my fave Carol of the Bells and my 2nd fave – something that sounds like Rio Rio Chio – no idea if I am close or not but it is a peppy little song that is great. All this is a capella by the way.

They added two to the repertoire this year – one I can’t name but think it was in German and a Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown song. All that was missing was Linus at his itty-bitty piano. Might be hard to imagine doing justice to it with voices – but this group pulled it off for me.

Every year they come back with new kids and every year they do a great job. Mark your calendar for 2011.

Memories

Wednesday night I was cleaning up some songs on iTunes and whenever I’d run across a title I didn’t recognize, I moved those to my iPod just to see what they were; figured I’d listen before deleting or whatever.

There were a couple of George Strait’s. I’m no big fan, he’s old school country, which is fine at times, but I’m not going to purposely listen to a bunch.
On the way to work Thursday and one of them started.

Songs have a way of taking you back to where you were when you first heard them or at least where you have some strong memories associated.

I never knew I had any memories associated with any George Strait song.

It took a moment or two then my eyes got all watery. The song was something my daughter had picked for her first dance with her new husband at her wedding 2 & ½ years ago. A close family friend sang this song while Sarah and Caleb danced.
I remember standing their watching them sway and shuffle back and forth and it was one more time I realized my baby girl wasn’t mine anymore.

Memories are great and powerful. Music and memories are emotionally powerful.

But it’s what we have to hang on to sometimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homeless people

Somehow on the way to church yesterday the subject turned to homeless people. I have no recall as to how. But oddly enough my 10 year-old daughter was interested. I tried without too much stereotyping to tell her that some homeless people are homeless because things happened they couldn't control. Lost jobs, lost their homes etc. But there are some folks who are homeless because they want to be. They'd rather have a life on the street with whatever that brings than the so-called normal life the rest of us lead.

I explained the hard part is that it is often hard to tell the difference when you see them on the street. We have to pass a popular hangout for (not sure what the politically correct term is these days but here goes ...) panhandlers. They all hold up small signs with the usual - "stranded, out-of-work - need help - God Bless." Touching some times and I'm conflicted but when you see them with the same signs week after week or in a nearby parking lot and one hands the cardboard off to another - it makes it even tougher to know what is the right response.

Just so happens I am reading a 20 page report on homeless in Springfield. I'm only on page 11 but I mentioned it to her. She said she'd like to read it. I told her it was long and complex but she still wants to see it when I'm done.

Check back to see what she says. I'm curious too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GroupOn and other discounters

I don’t know enough about this but read a local article (which is behind a paywall at SBJ.net so I can’t link directly to it) which highlighted this type of service and a business my daughter used to work for.

Found myself asking lots of questions.

Here are some salient facts:

Promoter/Discounter (Groupon or similar) offers half-price deal for local businesses. Retail value $30. Cost to on-line customer $15. Promoter pays business 50% of gross retail ($7.50). Promoter pockets $7.50 for every transaction.

Who wins? Of course the consumer/customer. They get something for ½ price by simply giving up a little bit of personal information. Groupon or whoever promotes it wins – they pocket $7.50.

What about the business? Back to my daughter. In her case the business in question paid used to pay her about a 40% commission on any service she completed. So if the retail was $30, she got $12. So the business had to pay her $12. The same business now only gets $7.50 from the discounter so they immediately lose $4.50. And reading the fine print – the deals don’t happen unless a minimum number of on-line sales are made so the business has to be prepared to handle that many sales (at a possible loss.) In a specific example cited in SBJ, 62 discounts were sold – do the math: the salon started with a net loss of $279 that they had to make up somehow. And remember this is all before overhead and supplies. The deal in question was for a haircut and blow dry so not too much else beyond shampoo but …

I understand marketing and loss leaders. If the business is able to upsell the customer who walks in with a discount voucher, OK. But as my daughter tells me from her years of experience in this type of trade, most customers who use these, don’t come back, they are hard to upsell and they often don’t bring ANY cash to buy anything else or tip.

You’ve heard the phrase “We’ll make it up in volume”? But that implies even a small amount of profit on any transaction. Make enough transactions and you can still generate some decent revenue. But when every most customers who walk in the door actually generate a net loss, not sure how volume is going to help.

So in my ignorance and in the midst of all the hype (think I heard Google was buying up Groupon – well a quick Google indicates the deal is off – SIDEBAR TRIVIA - Google the word Groupon and you don’t get the Groupon URL in the top ten, Hmmm…) this seems like something that doesn’t quite work for everybody.

Curious how this will play out in the long run.

Monday, November 29, 2010

R.I.P. Bob Johnson

Any reader of this blog has seen posts on the Rubaiyat, a small club in Dallas with a long colorful history. I got a note today from someone who sang there letting me know the founder/owner/creator/manager Bob Johnson died November 1 of this year. I know I met him more than once but doubt he would remember me but he did comment on one of my blog posts once and that made me feel good.

Maybe there are hundreds of Rubaiyats out there but for me there will only be one. I can't count the times we (always went with somebody - guys, girls, groups) heard big names, smaller names and no-names but the quality was almost always the same - good music and good company.

That music and place helped form much of the music I remember and still enjoy.

So R.I.P. Bob and I hope you lived a long and fulfilling life!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

recent movies

Not a very good movie reviewer but having watched a few of late, thought I might pass along some short observations (does that make me a critic?)

The Road - waited a long time to see this. I read the novel a couple of years back. Won't try to argue whether the movie stayed true enough or not. A hard movie to watch if anywhere in the recesses of your mind you have an apocalyptic gene. Could be pretty scary. I did NOT have bad dreams after watching it. Maybe because the "love story" overwhelmed any other emotion the movie wrought forth. Should you watch it? Not sure but the relationship between the father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son is lovingly amazing. But warning - some pretty graphic parts and mostly in a sort of black-and-white.

Up in the Air - Clooney's latest. Read so (too) much about it so my expectations were high. But in the end, didn't think much of it. Was it bad? Not exactly - just not good enough.

Toy Story 3 - watched this one with the kids last weekend. Maybe I'm too old and set in my viewing ways but I didn't like it as much as the first one. Again nothing wrong with it - just didn't grab me like I expected it to. Many people wrote about how the storyline of leaving toys behind etc. tugged at your emotions. Maybe I'm just not sentimental enough. I think I was old before I was young.

Babette's Feast - an old movie but a couple of movie reviewers I read have raved about how this 1987 film shot in Denmark is so much better than most of the so-called "Christian films" made today. In this case I must be too shallow and if it doesn't move along with a Bourne series pace, well ... so much for that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

one more crazy thing

I know you can't believe everything on NPR but ...

Heard a story today about well-to-do (bet you haven't heard that phrase in awhile!) women in China who come to America to have their babies. Seems there is a loophole in our immigration policies that allows them to come on tourist or other visas, have babies in American hospitals and go back home. Oh did I mention that these "American born" children can get U.S. Passports and are U.S Citizens? Just like that.

I should point out that this doesn't cost us anything. And likely many of the Chinese-Americans may never come back and take advantage of our educational system or anything else we have to offer. But the mothers want to hedge their bets - since if you follow Chinese history at all - things have, can and might change.

Another important point - seems these U.S. born children do not count against their "one child" in China's one child policy.

I know there is no simple answer and /or right or wrong on immigration reform but this is another of those "just seems crazy policies."

The story following this one was about the lottery where millions of people (8 millions from Bangladesh alone) apply in a lottery for a chance to get the coveted "green card". Don't understand this one either but will save for another post.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is this crazy or what?

Listening once again to NPR on my way home and caught the middle and end of a strange story. So today I had time to read the transcript

Read it or listen to the story but here's a short version.

U.S. taxpayers subsidize a lot of agriculture. We pay farmers to grow some things, help make up their losses on some things and occasionally pay them NOT to grow certain things.

We help cotton growers. Guess the primary reason is so they can compete better in a highly competitive global market. Seems a cotton farmer in Brazil named Pedro didn't like that. Thought it wasn't fair. After some years he becomes (really) Brazil's secretary of trade in the Agriculture Department. So he files a case with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. and wins. Seems the WTO has some rules against certain subsidies. But nothing happens. The U.S. keeps paying our cotton farmers.

So Pedro decides to retaliate by threatening to impose taxes on certain U.S. imports into Brazil. Well that brought a lot of people besides cotton farmers out of the woodwork.

I'll short-cut to the crazy punch-line: The U.S decided to pay Brazilian cotton farmers $147 million (no typo here six zeroes!) per year - again no typo. Not a one-time payment but $147,000,000 every year to even the playing field and avoid any penalties on their/our imported products.

This is likely to continue until at least 2012 when Congress reviews the Farm Bill again. Now I'm not smart enough to understand the complexities of subsidies and that whole market. But for us to pay almost $150 million to another country just so they will leave us alone? I don't know what to call this but it sounds more like something on the Sopranos.

I know at the Federal level $147 million won't go very far (heard somewhere the daily price tag for Obama's current trip runs pretty high) but I've got to believe we can find a better place to spend that money.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Something's Still Wrong

Listening to another NPR story on the way home yesterday about political campaigning (Is there anything else in the news right now?)

Democrats (and I’d assume the GOP is using the same tactic – they just weren’t the subject of the report) are paying for ads – in this story mostly print flyers mailed to homes – flyers that essentially promote 3rd party candidates. The idea behind it is to convince enough voters to not vote Republican but rather another party. Dems realize they aren’t likely to get those voters to come to their side but if they can create dislike, distrust or just plain confusion, they succeed in reducing the vote counts for their opponents.

I guess for those types of things the funder must disclose who paid for the flyer and reading the fine print could uncover that an ad for a 3rd party was really paid for by the Democratic party or a similar group. But most people aren’t going to drill down that deep into a piece of junk mail.

Maybe all is fair in love and war and now politics.

Just more evidence for me that the system that allows money to flow so freely and for anything and everything to be OK under the 1st amendment, just doesn’t seem fair or the best way to operate political fundraising or elections.

For better or worse, if you are selling a product, your claims are supposed to be accurate, if you lie about your competition you can be sued and somewhere along the line the FTC, the FDA or maybe even the local BBB might come along and slap your wrist or worse.

But somehow the political realm is spared any sort of control or regulation that makes it honest, simple and … oh nevermind, politics will never be either of those.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Foreign Oil

OK pop quiz: Where does most of our imported oil come from?
This is not a trick question.

I was in a workshop with an MSU prof last week and he shared some surprising stats (at least for me).

Here’s the ranking which comes from:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html

Crude Oil Imports
(Thousand Barrels per Day)
Country Jul-10
CANADA 2,055
MEXICO 1,174
NIGERIA 1,143
SAUDI ARABIA 1,033
VENEZUELA 1,016
IRAQ 430

Surprised? Me too. Canada #1? And almost double our next nearest supplier Mexico.
But look at the others: Nigeria – I went there in 1976 and it was unstable then – long before so many Christian/Islamic conflicts were even on the radar.

We make such a deal about the Saudis - #4 but in overall % of our imports – about 15% of this top 6.

Hugo Chavez gets in our news because he is so close and Pat Robertson said we should assassinate him but again they are down the list.

And lest anyone think we went to and are still in Iraq because of their oil – check the numbers. If we went to war in Iraq to get their oil, somebody somewhere needs to memorize this chart. Maybe pre-2003 they provided much more than this. I don’t know.
But if your/our political agendas are driven by oil in anyway shape or form, these numbers and countries have to factor in big-time.

I’ve always thought of Canada as a great source for Hockey and a pretty place to go (really love Montreal!) but honestly not much else. Did you know some of their oil comes from the Atlantic Ocean – offshore drilling? But most of it comes from not too far north of our long shared border. I just saw an article today about the pipeline to move Canadian oil to the gulf coast – being delayed. After the BP debacle, seems folks are antsy about having a big pipeline traversing the country. Guess memories of the Valdez spill decades ago are fresh too.

This is not an energy argument. This is not about big oil and how we need to wean ourselves off foreign oil.

But to believe the media, you’d think Saudi Arabia or at least some other Arabian country would be #1 and that’s what drives our foreign policy in the Middle East.
Here’s the next scary thought in all this: the MSU prof told us that Chinese and Korean companies are buying up stakes and shares in Canadian oil companies. So something right on our doorstep might get sucked into the Chinese vortex.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Canada had 178 billion barrels of proven oil reserves as of January 2009, second only to Saudi Arabia. The bulk of these reserves (over 95 percent) are oil sands deposits in Alberta.

My thinking here is that our north and south neighbors are hugely important to our energy future. Canada doesn’t seem like a direct threat in any way but if China is buying their way in to secure their energy future – shouldn’t we?

And Mexico. I heard off-hand and can’t recall the source but a comment about immigration into Italy from Libya. But then Italy stopped it. How did they stop it? They paid the Libyans not to come.

So in thinking about our own immigration policy (or lack of a coherent consistent plan) maybe paying Mexico something in exchange for a share of their oil is a solution to 2 vexing problems.

I have no answers here, just found this a very interesting and perhaps under-reported piece of information.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Something’s wrong.

Listening to a NPR story on the November elections and in particular the race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle in Nevada.

I’m not a fan of Mr. Reid. I really don’t know anything about his opponent and am not trying to wade into their race with my opinion.

But some comments in the story point to a much bigger and pervasive problem than just this one race.

Two reporters were talking about some recent negative ads and the follow-up polling. A comment, and I loosely quote from memory, went something like this: “Negative ads about Angle are moving her negative numbers up to be closer to Mr. Reid’s negative numbers.”

So the goal is not to get people to vote for Mr. Reid but to raise the negative quotient for Ms. Angle. They might get some people to simply not vote for her. Or maybe vote for a 3rd party candidate instead.

I’m no expert on the whole “oppo” part of politics but this seems so twisted.

I understand that you sometimes need to point out the bad things your opponent has done or their bad ideology etc. But from that I would think you would contrast and compare so voters would then logically choose YOUR candidate.

All this money, all this energy and for what?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Credit Default Swaps

No doubt you’ve heard of this arcane Wall St. term in the discussion of all the bailouts and related issues to our ongoing nationwide financial crisis.
I still don’t understand them and probably don’t need to but am reading an article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone about how these figure into the Gulf Oil spill and BP’s financial condition

I’ve never been a gambler beyond a penny-ante poker game here and there with my Texas buds but I do know that in Vegas you can bet on anything. In sports it is common not just to bet on winners but on who will lose and by how much.

As much as my simple brain can figure, a credit default swap (CDS) is a “bet” on whether a company might be able to pay back all their debt. Seems companies have their own CDS scores similar to our personal credit ratings.

The worse a company is doing, the more likely they might NOT be able to pay back their debt so buying a CDS on their debt costs more. Are you with me so far?

Seems as things got worse with BP; the price of their CDS went up dramatically.

Doesn’t this whole thing sound bizarre? People bet huge sums of money on whether a company will fail and not be able to repay their debt? For the life of me this doesn’t make any sense but then I don’t have an MBA nor have I ever worked on Wall St.

Here’s where things get even weirder. We’ve all heard “too big to fail.”

Let’s say BP owed $1 billion (don’t they wish! But for my example let’s use this small round number.) But that liability is not pegged to how much BP actually owes. If their scores are high enough and their failure seemed likely, thousands of “bettors” could wager on their failure. And the amount of those wagers could top that $1 billion many times over. So even though they are betting on BP failing to pay off, the regulators, Govts. – whoever – are worried about not only just BP but all people whose fortunes many now be tied to them through something as simple and complex as a CDS.
Some CPA et al may quibble with my simplified explanation but I think I have the essence.

People are worried about foreclosures, their jobs, how to make ends meet and a bunch of Wall St. quants (this may or not be a pejorative!) are manipulating the system to create all sorts of schemes to make more money with what appears to be very little oversight and regulation.

This is where I have never understood (my fellow) Republicans resistance to do something to reform the entire financial industry. These CDS-things seem like a good place to start. They have rules in gambling to (at least try) to keep the house honest.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nuance

Much has been written and more said about a dust-up in a nearby community over a book.
The book, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, himself a full-time Native American, (I have not read it) but apparently it contains all the bad stuff you don’t want your children to read, see or hear.

I’ve read some Alexie – liked some, didn’t like (and even finish) others – I think he is an acquired taste.

I heard him speak locally at Drury a year or so ago. He’s outspoken, has issues of his own but in general was a witty fellow.

The Stockton school board dealt with the book in two ways: voted 7-0 to ban it from their curriculum and 5-2 to ban the book from their school’s library.

This post will likely offend half of my friends (just not sure which half!) but I will venture on. I will try to make a nuanced argument. Don’t jump to conclusions.

I agree with the school board’s decision to ban the book from curriculum. Not because of the specifics of the book but rather because they are elected officials – chosen by fellow citizens to represent their ideals, values – whatever you wish to call it – for their community. If they wanted to ban the Bible or Mary Poppins; I might think it misguided or shortsighted but I think they have a right to make those choices. I’m talking curriculum here.

The teachers are hired and paid for with local (and state) tax dollars so they serve (to some degree) at the pleasure of the school board. I know there are (and should be) some protections built in place.

But teachers also don’t (or shouldn’t) have the right to make every classroom decision without regard for their community, which includes the board, citizens and most of all, students. I’m not suggesting micro-managing here – I’m happy they get to teach cursive writing and modern math and would not begin to suggest exactly how they do that.

Where I part with the Stockton decision is not allowing the book to go into the library at the school.

Students have very little choice about their classes and teachers and especially what they are taught. Going to class is not voluntary.

In most cases, going to the library is.

I’m not advocating putting anything and everything into the school’s library but I don’t see huge harm is putting this book in. If a student wished to read it, perhaps some age limits could be placed on its availability (I guess some folks DID want it in the library with “restrictions” but that was the 5-2 vote).

If a student wants to find the book, they will. If not at school, then at a public library or on the Internet, from their friends – they’ll find it.

Making it seem perhaps more titillating than it might be, will only serve to make some want to find it one way or another.

We make certain decisions in our house (criticize them all you want) about what our kids may read and what they watch. I’m not stupid enough to think that they might be exposed (or expose themselves) to things I’d rather not have them encounter but I can’t control every waking moment of their lives (and I don’t try.)

I would not want one of their teachers though, forcing them to read or experience something I might find offensive or that went against the primary grain of what I’m trying to do with my children. I should also point out I’m thinking more middle schoolers and below here. I imagine my high-school-aged daughter is exposed to many more worldly issues, images and thoughts than I encountered at her age. I can only hope that I’ve instilled some sense of the values I appreciate and hopefully practice. I can also hope she chooses to follow in the same path; but I can’t force it. The old line is “values are caught, not taught.”

Quick flashback – in my time I guess maybe Catcher in the Rye was the book to be banned. People got in an uproar (although nothing like today for at least two reasons: 1) I don’t think issues were quite as polarized way back then – the 50s and 60s and 2) news travels at web-speed today so anything that happens anywhere can be on your desktop, Facebook page, smart-phone in moments. Regardless I read the book. Honestly I don’t remember much (Holden Caulfield right?) and I don’t think I was corrupted beyond redemption for having read it.

As I’ve mentioned I’m slogging through the Old Testament one book, one chapter, one verse at a time. On one day last week, let’s see: by a conservative count more than a million people were slaughtered in battle and a King died because his bowels came out (NASB words – not mine) – pretty violent and graphic stuff that Old Testament.

I’d like to think that some child might find a copy of the Bible in the school’s library. But I also realize that the Bible is not going to be taught in the classroom. I guess Sherm Alexie deserves the same sort of compromise.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

W.H. Adamson class of 1971


I put this on Facebook but in case others may stumble across this who don't do FB - this picture is of our 1971 graduating class of W.H. Adamson High School in Dallas Texas. I found it in my garage and a co-worker (thanks much to Bruce!) cleaned it up.

Our 40 year class reunion is sometime next spring so this picture is timely.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My ongoing screenplay saga

When last we visited our intrepid writer, he was outlining and trying other tricks to keep moving forward.

My last gimmick is pretty old fashioned but it has helped a lot.

I took all my scenes (as noted previously, I’ve been writing them independently just to get them down) and put them all in the best order (for now) and then printed them out (cost me $4.85).

Then I found an old three ring binder for them.

I’m reading, re-reading, highlighting, writing myself all sorts of notes but I’m finding this old fashioned low-tech way of looking at the story has really helped.

I’ve found lots of gaps, dialogue and scenes that just don’t work and little by little I’m cleaning it up. I’m nowhere near anything readable yet but this latest method has given me another burst of energy and ideas to keep moving forward.

Aside: thinking a screenplay is like a shark – if it isn’t moving forward, it dies.

While my screenplay has some overtones about death, I’m not ready to kill it just yet.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A different summer of freedom

Way too much will be written and said about today's rally in DC. I won't add to that.

I still consider myself a conservative but I don't know where I fit. Glenn Beck doesn't speak for me anymore than Rush L. did (is he still around?)

I like Sarah Palin but not to be an elected official unless she wants to go back to being the Guv of Alaska. I DO think she might be a great chair for the Republican Party.

G.O.P. stands (or at least used to) for the Grand Old Party. I'm not sure what the party stands for or represents today. Mostly it seems to be about bashing the current administration (for which I am no cheerleader either) but I'm not sure where all this Tea Party stuff is going to lead.

OK can't resist one comment about Mr. Beck. First I heard that he had no idea today was the same day MLK gave his famous speech in DC. (Doesn't he have a staff to look things up?) Then I heard him say he was going to "reclaim the Civil Rights movement."

I'm reading a book called "Freedom Summer" about 1964 in Mississippi. Hundreds if not more white young people ventured into a very segregated south to help with voter registration and other issues. Some lost their lives for their troubles. Those "white folks" might have some claim on the Civil Rights movement.

In a final "for what it's worth" remember that Lincoln, on whose memorial much of today's hoopla took place, was the 1st Republican President.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rubaiyat update

someone posted anonymously to a previous post on the Rubaiyat - first, Thanks - always fun to hear stories about the place. 2ndly the poster said they had a "mint" condition copy of Russ Kirkpatrick's album. If you know anywhere one is available - please post again. If not, here's a dumb request - I'd really like to get the words to Timothy Tucker. Used to play it often in the 70s but have forgotten most of the words - can still recall the chords and tune. I don't know if that album had liner notes or not. Also would like to be able to hear 6 O'clock in Aspen or whatever the song is called.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Writing a Screenplay

As my family knows (and a few others) I’ve been working on a screenplay for several years now. It’s coming along and I was trying to explain to my wife how hard it is. Here’s a glimpse at my writing adventure.

I think I have a pretty good story (who doesn’t think that about their own work!)

In the beginning I just tried to write it out, mostly in linear fashion, kind of let it happen in front of me and see where it led. This might work for some novels but not for me.

I started listing scenes I thought I’d need to move my story along. Then I put these scenes on 3X5 cards.

The whole thing was still too overwhelming.

I decided to work on one scene at a time. For the time being stop worrying so much about the scene before or after – just get the one I was working on right. Writing one scene at a time helped me not to get bogged down and move along in the “don’t get it right, get it written” method.

With this I was able to write about 15 scenes – maybe 5 of them are good. Still working on the others.

But in this scene-by-scene construction something else started to pop up: continuity.
If a character says something in a scene then I have to make sure it is supported earlier or later by other statements or actions.

Chronology. My story is linear. I don’t plan on flashbacks or telling things out of sequence. Still I need to make sure things happen in the right order.

I started working on a timeline. I literally began with the year my lead character was born and worked toward today. This helped with lots of things such as how old each character is at certain points in time. And this helped me get the whole Act I, Act II and 3rd Act thing sorted out. It also pointed out a 10 year hole!

My story doesn’t really have a 10 year hole as I mention above. But as I developed a backstory I realize I needed to account for a missing 10 years of my lead character’s life – even though 90% of it will never actually be in the story.

And of course I have to have more than one backstory. When and where and why did certain people cross paths? I need to know all that so when they meet up in my story (if it is not for the first time) it can determine how they act or re-act and what they say.

Here’s a small example of those issues: My lead has an old car. What type of old car? That depends on when he bought it. If he bought in in 1975 or 1985, why? So I need to step back into that time in his life and understand why he owns this car. For the reader/viewer, it may be nothing more than he owns a 1985 whatever. But if I have to go any deeper than that, there has to be a deeper to go to.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe for some writers this is intuitive. They just know everything about every character. But I’m stalled and I needed a way to get unstalled so a timeline and fleshing out a few backstories has helped move me along.

I’ve spent chunks of time over the last four years working on this. I read something this weekend about a screenwriter who worked for eight years before finishing one up. I hope it doesn’t take me another four!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The White Ribbon

I’ve heard about this movie for more than a year. I finally got the DVD from my library and was able to watch it. I was intrigued by what I had heard about this being one of the best films of the year.

It’s in German with subtitles and in black and white.

I guess I’m too old to get art films or whatever this might be called.

I felt the same way about Munyurangabo – the much hyped film from Africa last year. I didn’t think it was all that great either.

I DO like b&w films (nothing better than To Kill A Mockingbird). But this one was soooo dark. Many scenes were so dark I couldn’t tell what was happening. Just movement in the shadows. I read that this was shot in color (they couldn’t find enough b&w film stock) so maybe this leaching out of the color washed out a lot of detail. There are plenty of pretty outdoor scenes of harvest fields etc. but on the whole the movie is dark – in tone and in theme.

The director holds shots for a very long time. I think he went to the M Night Shyamalan school of film directing. I don’t believe you have to see everything – sometimes what you don’t see makes it better. But there was a lot of framing where you couldn’t always see what was happening. Mostly static camera with little movement.

I don’t understand German and was reading the subtitles. A goodly portion of explanation comes from an off screen narrator. Much of the exposition and background were his telling us what had happened and keeping up with a timeline of events.
But in spite of this excess narration. I felt like I missed a lot.

There is obviously a bad person or two wreaking havoc on a German village just prior to WWI. But I was never quite clear exactly who the real bad guys were. Was it the children? Was it the doctor? Was it the pious and rather cold Reverend? Quite possibly all of them (or none of them – the film has no real conclusion) Maybe I missed the obvious clues but this was not tied up for me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Faith

This is about can or will.

I firmly believe that God CAN do anything he wants to. The big theological word for this is omnipotent. He is all powerful.

I’ve been thinking about this as I keep hearing regularly about friends and others dealing with tragedies in their lives, illness etc.

The headlines last week related to the school bus crash might cause one to wonder “Where was God when …”

I don’t know where He was exactly.

I’ve been praying for a lot of things for a very long time. So far, the big things are still on my list.

But I struggle. Every time I pray I wonder. I think of the excerpt from the verse “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

This takes me back to my premise – can or will.

I have no issues with the “can” part. It’s the “will” that troubles me.
Why won’t He? Why doesn’t He?

I throw in this quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner (I think it is attributable to him – he of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”):

“If I had to face the fact that God was either all-powerful but not kind, or thoroughly kind and loving, but not totally powerful, I would rather compromise God's power and affirm his love. The theological conclusion I came to is that God could have been all-powerful at the beginning, but he chose to designate two areas of life off-limits to his power. He would not arbitrarily interfere with laws of nature. And secondly, God would not take away our freedom to choose between good and evil."

I’m not pasting this in to say I agree with him but it is food for thought. I’m sure many folks wondered where was God when Katrina hit the coast several years ago. I’m sure there are parents wondering where was God when the busses and trucks collided last week. I don’t know. Was He watching and crying?

I think my main disagreement with Rabbi Kushner would be this: God is either all powerful (that omnipotent word again) or He isn’t. I don’t think He might be almost all powerful. It reminds me of a statement about being pregnant. You either are or you aren’t; there is no in-between.

There’s a section in the book of Daniel with a scene where the angel Michael arrives in answer to a prayer. He says something to the effect that, “I was sent in answer to your prayer but it was tough getting here so it took some time, but now I’m here.”

So back to the “can” part. Could God have held back the waters in southern Louisiana? Certainly. He did that at least once before (though not in Louisiana). Why didn’t He this time? I don’t know. Were I one of those who lost my home on the Gulf Coast, I might be shaking my fist at God and asking “why?” But maybe that’s why so many chose instead to shake their collective fists at the Govt. and FEMA and George Bush. They might not be able to do much either but they are tangible, real people that can be yelled at. And maybe, just maybe, something might happen to help them.

After Brooks and Dunn had their smash hit “I Believe” they followed up with another “spiritual” song about God being busy. At first hearing I wondered, what did they mean? God was too busy to take care of something? He had other more important things to do?

Then I figured out (think this may be what the songwriter meant) that since God gave us free will (a way more complex discussion than I can handle or explain), we’ve made such a royal mess of things that He is busy cleaning up after us. It might be a stretch but perhaps in letting us do what we want (see Kushner above) we get out of sorts with His plan but He lets us anyway then steps in (sometimes apparently) and sorts it all out. He doesn’t always play mommy and make it all better.

Here’s a verse in case you are unfamiliar with Kix and Ronnie’s song:

“And I know in the big picture
I'm just a speck of sand
and God's got better things to do
than look out for one man.
I know he's heard my prayers
cause he hears everything,
he just ain't answered back
or he'd bring you back to me.
God must be busy.”

I guess I’ll keep struggling with “can” and “will.” If I figure it out I’ll let you know. Please do the same for me.

Concessionaire, extraordinaire!

At the ripe old age of 57 I have finally worked a concession stand at the Fair. So now I’ve been a livestock exhibitor and worked a concession stand. All that’s left now is to be a Carny – uh, no.

My daughter’s senior class did it as a fundraiser (the concession people use free student/parent labor and in turn give 10% of their gross to the group/school etc.)
We made/sold Tornado Taters and Pork Loin Sandwiches.

The “taters” are an entire potato that is sliced and then fried in a sort of string of potato chips. (almost a potato slinky*!) These were by far the most popular item and my main role was to take the hot (extremely hot!) greasy, drippy potato slinkies and place them in a “boat”, a small cardboard tray.

You had to pile them just right and as the lady in charge kept telling me, not to squash them. I guess the taller the pile, the better they look!

A few times I got to actually make them but I kept slicing the potatos too thin which doesn’t make for a good “tornado tater!”

Occasionally I made sandwiches but that was mostly taking this humongous piece of fried pork and putting it on a bun with tomatoes, lettuce and mayo and then slicing it.

Things were pretty slow on the last day of the fair and with temps still in the mid 90s, I guess hot greasy food was not first on everyone’s list.

I played a small role in helping raise funds for our itty-bitty little rural school and at the same time helped raise everyone’s cholesterol a few points.

*By the way, if anybody uses that name I came up with it first!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

For Anne Rice

Much has been said and written already about Ms. Rice’s announcement last week that she is giving up on Christianity and religion. She says she still loves God and is committed to him.

I have to take that at face value.

I think we all get fed up with “organized religion” at one time or another. People switch churches like they change toothpastes – some people are likely more loyal to their toothpaste brand than a church.

I struggle with my own church but not in the same way Ms. Rice apparently is with hers (in her case it sounds like the BIG C Catholic church and not a specific local congregation or location.)

Our church has been through a transition in the last couple of years. Our long-time Senior Pastor retired (and now seems busier than ever. Go figure!) and another man took his place.

Prior to that switch – it seems lots of people left the church. I really don’t know why. I’ve never been particularly plugged in to our church’s grapevine (hmm? Grapevine? Interesting potential analogy for a church don’t you think? Maybe more on this at another time.)

Some associate pastors came and went. Lots of congregants did the same. But there seemed to be an influx of new people so the movement and shifting wasn’t as noticeable.
But of late, there have been others that have also left for different local churches. I have no idea why. I wish I knew. Am I missing something?

I’m not even thinking about switching churches so anybody reading this; don’t worry.
But my kids have been going to an evening VBS at a tiny little Baptist church not far from our house. I have no desire to go there. But one thing I notice every time I am there, a certain comraderie or something. It feels “homey.”

Maybe the fact that we live 30 minutes away from our church, my wife and I both work; so we are not there every time the doors open and for every event. Maybe if we lived closer or were willing to drive more, I might feel the same warm fuzzies.

In the bigger picture of religion and Christianity, I get frustrated too. I hate being lumped in with extremists of any stripe. I consider myself Republican (most of the time but it gets harder and harder …) and I think I’m pretty conservative.

I don’t listen to Rush or Glen Beck or Hannity. I spend more time listening to Imus than any other radio or TV pundit. I don’t watch Christian TV. I don’t march in lock-step with any of the so-called Religious Right. I’m not a member of the Tea Party. (Although since the original version happened on my birthday back in the 17th century I feel some odd connection to it. And I do think we need a 3rd party and another name but that too is for a future post.)

I don’t agree with everything my church believes. I don’t like everybody in my church (and I’m sure not everybody likes me).

But I’ll stick it out – with God and Jesus and my local church.

I thought of a way to explain why.

Some years ago our church began a recovery ministry. People who have some sort of addiction. They have classes 4 or 5 nights a week. They meet for Sunday School. They sit as a group (mostly) front and center during our main worship service.

Here’s what I know: as a group they get into it. Our church might get loud. They get loud. Some in our church raise their hands; they raise their hands. When it comes time to pray; they pray. When we have a Baptismal service – there is always someone from the Recovery group getting baptized.

Some (maybe most) of these folks have been through the addiction ringer. Some have lost families, lost jobs; even been to jail. I don’t know the details and don’t need to. What I do know though is that they keep coming back.

This may be why some folks left the church. There are lots of tattoos. Many smoke. Our church had to start a smoking policy and move the butt-catchers away from the front doors. Not many churches even have butt-catchers (unless you are Episcopalian maybe.)
But they keep coming back.

Right now (I think, hope) I don’t need what they are getting. But I’d like to think if I ever did, it would be there for me too.

That’s my church. A place where broken people can come and get on the road to being mended. I didn’t say fixed. I wouldn’t presume to know where all these folks are in their private lives. But they are on a good road to somewhere.

Maybe my role is to keep coming, keep supporting my church (and through that this ministry) so others can come and be a part of that.

So maybe here’s my point for Anne Rice. She used to write about vampires and the like. Lately she’s been writing about Biblical characters and themes.

Maybe she should visit my church. These folks are not hung up on abortion or gay rights or any of the other things that Ms. Rice feels drove her out of the church. They’ve got much bigger fish to fry right now getting their lives put back together one piece at a time.

Who knows? Maybe they could help her with hers.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An old letter to my daughter and son-in-law

Caleb and Sarah

(I started writing this in the week after you were married but somehow never sent it to you so here goes, two years and some later. I hope some of the thoughts are still valid.)

Wish I had some great words of wisdom for both of you, but I don’t.

I guess I know you both will have some hard times ahead and wish I could spare you from them. All I can do is share my thoughts and hope that you will weather those hard things easily enough so they don’t get in the way of all the good things you have ahead of you.

I really appreciated what Pastor Ken said (at your wedding) about communicating because I think that may be the single most important thing you can do for the rest of your lives.

You’ll have to learn to talk about stuff – the important stuff. Not hold it in. Don’t ever assume the other knows what you are thinking. Don’t ever assume you know what the other is thinking. You have to talk about things – little and big. Especially the little. If you don’t talk about the little things; well, that’s how you practice for the big stuff.

Don’t try to change the other person. You are both going to change anyway. Years from now you’ll look back and realize you are both different people. But the way you get different is of course by growing up even more than you have. Experiencing things together that you never experienced before. The important part of this is that you not force change on the other. Each of you will change for the other person but you won’t resent the change if you do it because you want to change for each other.

Toilet seats and where you squeeze the toothpaste are only important if you let them get that way. If it really bugs you – you need to say so and why. Realize that some things just won’t change- no matter what. Old habits die hard.

Be able to separate things that matter from stuff that doesn’t so you can spend your time on the big stuff that matters most.

At work we often have a problem with spending all our time on the urgent things and the important projects don’t get done. Be able to decide what is important. Fires need to be put out but you have to work on the important things all the time.

You have lots of very big decisions to make in the next few years. Notice I said years. You don’t have to work out everything right now. Get to know each other better. Spend lots of time doing things together. Talking. Even working together is OK.

Then as decisions come up, you’ll already have a better sense of what the other desires, wants, etc. and can focus your decision making around those things.

I just finished (quite some time ago really) a book on Love Languages. I guess it is a good thing that I know what your mom’s is and she knows mine. This is not something we’ve worked on but I hope it means we are paying attention to each other as we go along. That even without taking some sort of test, we know each other pretty well. Don’t expect to know each other very well yet. But be patient with each other while you are getting to know each other. Many young couples have spent months together before they actually have to live together. You don’t have that advantage so you’re going to experience things and quite possibly be surprised at how the other one responds (or doesn’t).

Blessings to and on you both!

Love

dad

(June 2008)

PG-13

This past weekend Sarah Palin uttered an unmentionable word on TV – cojones; in reference to how she felt about our President and the Gov. of AZ.

Some in the media are taking her to task over this apparent linguistic faux pas.

Not too many years ago Bush 43 was ridiculed when he used the word poop or doo-doo or something like that. The media said ‘if that is what he meant, why not say the real s*** word.’

So what do they want? Darned if you do and darned if you don’t.

Looks like the FCC is going to relax standards on what they call unintentional profanity. I guess before too long certain words will enter the mainstream lexicon and we’ll have even more ‘splaining to do to our kids.

But come on – cojones? I knew what they were and what it meant when I was maybe 13 years old.

We already have “frickin’” or “freakin.’ which I won't let my kids use.” Crap has been around since I was barely verbal. What are the origins of darn? I couldn't say that when I was a kid.

I’m not in favor of anything goes. I think we’ll see a pendulum swing and a few celebs and TV-writers are going to try to slip a few more words in.

I’m not sure where to draw the line but maybe a lesson in what profanity really is versus crude language – they are different.

When I was a kid, people who would occasionally utter a word or two and they’d quickly say “pardon my French,” and keep on going. Today all those French words are pretty much part of our everyday language and wouldn’t even cause a PG movie to be rated PG-13.

Wonder what we’ll look back and think in 10 years or so?

Friday, July 23, 2010

My 1963

To many, 1963 was the seminal year starting the decade of the 60s with the assassination of JFK in November.

If you don’t like personal stories or are worried about TMI – stop now. But if you’d be interested into some insight into the person writing this – read on.

My 1963 started earlier and had a profound impact on me then and likely on who I still am today.

For a goodly portion of the last few weeks I was on a great vacation with my family (minus two people) and during that time watched a lot of the great American west pass by my car window. Facing the vastness and beauty of the wide-open spaces, it gave me a great deal of time to think.

In an outdoor café in Cody Wyoming (a bar really, maybe even a biker-bar based on the number of Harleys and Gold Wings that came and went), on our last night, somehow the talk came around to the biological mother of one of our three adopted children.
This got me thinking about my own mother; hence this lengthy and personal blog.

Growing up in the 50s our family was pretty traditional, normal – working father, stay at home mother, PTA, church, card games with neighbor families. But in early 1963 I got a shock.

One morning my dad drove me to school (which right away should have been a clue to something). As we pulled up to school he dropped a bombshell on me. His timing may not have been the best but maybe he knew I’d have to get into school and he to work so the discussion would have to be short. Unlike me he is a man of few words, but like me, he prefers to avoid emotional confrontations and situations.

He told me he’d be moving out and into our little travel trailer. He planned on moving just a couple of miles away to a small trailer park. Not many other details other than he and my mother had some things to work out.

You can imagine my day at school. I don’t recall it. I think I walked home that afternoon in a daze.

When I got home I expected the world to be turned upside down. But it wasn’t. That evening proceeded like so many others had for years. Neither of my parents said a word about the morning’s revelation. Next morning, got up, went to school – nothing happened, nothing changed.

I was 10 years old and pretty naïve about such worldly domestic things but somehow figured things were going to be OK.

And they were for a few months. My dad went to work every morning and came home every night. My mother kept doing what she had always been doing. I should note I never heard them fight or argue. My mother had a quick temper, a real one, but I never saw or heard her unleash it on my father. In my 57 years with my now 88 year old father, I’ve not found his temper yet. OK, I do remember once (directed at a co-worker) but that is a story for another time.

A couple of months later my dad and I took a weekend trip to visit his family in NE Texas and Arkansas. We did this several times a year; usually as a three-some with my mother, but this time she did not go. I recall being told she was doing her own weekend trip somewhere.

We spent a couple of days fishing, visiting etc. and drove back home. When we arrived, my mother was home but my dad told me we needed to take a walk before we even went inside. We started walking behind our house when he dropped bombshell #2 – my mother was inside packing and she was leaving. Again short on details but she was going away.

I’m sure I cried a lot. To this day I honestly don’t remember much else about that evening. I don’t think I saw my mother to say goodbye.

This was a Sunday night. On Monday morning I went back to school.

The next few months are a jumble of sorts. I started getting letters from my mother but they were always forwarded to me through someone else. We spoke on the phone. After awhile she came back to town and we visited, once. Dumbfounded again, my recollections of this meeting are slim.

That first summer was hard and interesting. Spent some time at camps; week-long camp, day-camps – whatever my dad could find as he sorted out how to take care of me when school was out. I spent a few weeks with an aunt in Houston. He tried housekeepers. Nothing worked – probably because I was really confused and likely not a pleasant kid to be around.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I do remember one conversation with my dad. He said I might have to go to court and tell a judge who I wanted to live with. At no time during all this do I ever recall my dad saying a bad word about my mother.

I never got called before a judge. There was some sort of court day but I never got close to it. Life just sort of picked up and moved on. Unless you lived in the 50s and early 60s you have no idea how unusual it was for a couple to get divorced and the father to get sole custody but that’s how it worked out for us; for me.

The next few years were unusual. I didn't see my mother again until I was maybe 12 or 13. Some of that time it was fun; I’d get to fly to California where she lived with her 2nd husband (more on him later) and stay for a week or two or even longer. Those trips involved the beach, Disneyland, Dodger games.

In elementary school we all have best friends. I had one in particular. I’d go to his house often after school and on Saturdays to play. Our families played cards and dominoes together once or twice a month. We did the same with another family not too far away. But after my parents were divorced, this of course stopped. And the distance between me and my friend started to grow. I heard his mother started having problems.

Was I ever surprised to find that my mother’s 2nd husband was my best friend’s father! It still took me another year or two to connect the dots and to what had happened previously.

I was a smart kid but not that smart yet.

The next few years – basically through Junior high and on into college were as normal as they can be without a mother in the home.

I know a lot of who I am and what I am like comes from this absence.

But so much more comes from who my father was and still is. He did everything he could to help a rather difficult only-child. He suffered through the typical teenage years. He helped me get through college. He put up with a lot and I will always appreciate him for that.

I think my strengths come from him – patience that runs very long. A work ethic that says you stick with a job until it is done well and you don’t shirk from hard work to start with. A temper that simmers rather than boils.

There is more I could say about my father, my dad, but this is not about him so I’ll leave that too, for another post or time.

Whatever creativity or artistic tendencies I have (or am trying still to develop) I probably owe to my mother. She was a singer and piano player among other things.
I missed a big chunk of her life between her first leaving and our getting back together years later. I heard stories about her being a dealer in Las Vegas – working the tables in some casino. She always was a pretty good card player. Guess good enough to work for the house.

Our contact was spotty at best – the occasional letter, phone calls and the annual visit most years.

Somewhere in my early 20s we lost touch. I saw her in 1977 along with her father, my grandfather, for a short visit in Dallas. I didn’t hear from her again until an odd phone call from Florida or Jamaica in 1983 or 4. Her voice and accent were different; she had another new last name.

And that was it – some 25+ years ago. We’ve not seen each other or spoken since then.
Somewhere along in the 80s, I had a bout of forgiveness. You know that “If you have ought against your neighbor” pre-communion speech? I thought long and hard about it and figured I needed to forgive her. Not exactly sure for what. Leaving? Being unfaithful? I really don’t know.

Since that sort of cathartic exercise, I still feel my own sense of guilt at times. For not making an effort to find her, to speak with her or even meet up with her somewhere.

I mentioned phone calls earlier. One uncomfortable aspect of those was always this line spoken by her: “I miss you and I love you.” I never could square what she had done with that statement. And I do remember clearly the awkward silence on my end of the phone whenever she would say that. I could not bring myself then (as a teenager and older) to respond and repeat that sentiment.

I don’t know where to go with this. Armchair psychologists can have a field day.
There is no immediate conclusion here, just my desire to sort of purge this in some way, to deal with it (Grief? Loss?) and move on. Most days, heck most months and years I don’t even think about it. But our vacation discussion (and the added element that we were back in the part of the country where we used to take family vacations as a child) brought it all back to me again.

If this bothers anyone, I’m sorry. But this has been my life as I’ve tried to cope with a portion of it. Maybe getting this out will help somebody understand (me?).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Memphis Beat

Found a new show. Memphis Beat on TNT. At first I thought OK, then I was less impressed but with more viewings I’m finding I like it.

Quirky – sort of a cross between Twin Peaks but set in the south (OK not that quirky but …) and a little bit of Life (a short-lived but interesting show once on NBC). The sets and style are a little Hill St. Blues-ish, but at a slower pace to match what the humidity does to you.

It is not flashy but I find myself smiling at certain things so it must be touching something somewhere. I normally don’t react much to TV – just a passive experience.

Even if you don’t get into the show, I’ll bet it has the best soundtrack going on TV (OK my daughter would argue Dr. Who (PLEASE!) but I’m not going there!) Chock full of little bits of blues and Memphis tinged R&B and whatever else fits that Mississippi River/Beale St. vibe.

Here's a playlist just for the pilot:

Green Onions - Booker T & the MG's
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
Walking the Dog - Rufus Thomas
Bootleg - Booker T & the MG's
Son of a preacher man by Dusty Springfield
What It Is - Little Milton
That's Alright Mama - Elvis Presley
Drop Down Mama - Sleepy John Estes
Born Under a Bad Sign - Albert King
Time is Tight - Booker T & the MG's
I See a Darkness - Keb Mo
Change Gonna Come - Otis Redding

So check it out if you get TNT.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Afghan conundrum

I’ve written before about this very complex country and even more complex situation we find ourselves in.

It is bad enough for our young men (have not heard of any U.S. women being killed in Afghanistan) to be killed in this fight for … what?

That’s my problem right now … “So it’s one, two, three. What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a …” (all you hippies from the 60s know the next few lines)

Not sure what the next stop is but it still could have more similarities to Vietnam than we care to admit.

In this case it is General McChrystal to the unemployment line. Regardless of what he thinks, he should have known better. I’ve not been in the military but I’ve heard they have a real respect for chain-of-command. He also works at the pleasure of the President in this case I guess. I’m sure he will take his lumps.

For me though the bigger issue is not what, where or how he said it.

Today Tom Friedman has a good column (I’ve grown tired of reading so many of his climate change rants) on the war. The most interesting things he said (read it for yourself here) is that we are trying to train the Afghans to take over their own army. Many of the soldiers can’t even read. We expect them to step up and make their country safe.

Yet Friedman points out (as the Russians learned all too well) Afghanis know how to fight. Especially the Taliban. Are they recruiting and training soldiers from someplace else? Why are their’s so able to fight us to a stand-off (one can argue we are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs)?

This is my simplistic answer to some of the above. I think the average Afghani would just like their country back - from everybody.

Another viewpoint I heard this week is that we long since stopped being in Afghanistan because of Al Qaeda or Osama. We aren’t there because of the Taliban. We are there because of Pakistan. It was said the U.S. could not afford to let Afghanistan fall because then Pakistan would fall soon after.

Can you spell D-O-M-I-N-O?

The fear is not about Afghanistan. What do they have but a huge pile of rocks, an unforgiving landscape and climate. Pakistan has nukes. They sit on the most contentious border (save perhaps those surrounding Israel) in the world. Google maps may be able to tell you exactly where Pakistan ends and India begins, but I don’t think folks on either side of that border agree. And this fight has been going on since the late 1940s. And some would say were it not for the partition of British India in 1947, who knows if the current state of Israel would have been created one year later. But that is another way more complex story.

So if we let the Taliban win, we lose: face, we lose Afghanistan, we lose a protracted war and hundreds of American lives, we lose one large battle in the war on terror (maybe, I’m not too sure anymore) and in the bigger picture we might lose Pakistan or India – neither of whom is ours to win or lose but … But if we win, what will we win and what will that look like exactly?

So while McChrystal was wrong to voice his ideas and concerns in the Rolling Stone (due out tomorrow), you have to ask, if the top commander has questions about what we are doing (Disclosure – I’ve not read the article yet and we all may be surprised by what is actually published), maybe others should be answering some of the those very serious questions.

POST SCRIPT: This just in (12:30 CDT): “Gen. Stanley McChrystal Is Relieved of Command in Afghanistan, White House Official Says.” So at least one burning question has been answered.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Yea or nay

Passed by a local work truck today and their slogan read: “Under promise – over deliver.”

I get the sentiment but if you take that at face value it is saying don’t promise to do a great job – just enough to get the job and then blow them away with what you end up doing.

But isn’t that misleading? Shouldn’t we tell everybody we are going to do the absolute very best we can? And then if in the process of our doing we end up doing somewhat or even way better – we can toot our horn and the customer ends up with a better deal.

It was either Mr. Miyagi or Yoda who said “there is no try, only do.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

cafezinho and the World Cup

Radio sports news (of which I listen to very little) is dominated right now by the World Cup. I'm no soccer fan (don't get the game) but I have my own little trivial soccer story to tell.

In 1978 I went to Brazil on a business trip with my boss. My two memories of this trip are soccer and cafezinho. (OK a third later)

Cafezinho is a really strong coffee Brazilians use almost as a greeting. Go anywhere for a meeting and every office will have this nice silver pot and a bunch of itty bitty cups. Before you do anything you must drink some cafezinho. I think a phonetic spelling of this is - caf-ay-zeen-yo. I was always amazed at how much sugar will fit into one of those little cups. As I recall the taste is strong and bitter - even with what seems like spoon after spoon of sugar. Another favorite Brazilian drink is Guarana. When I think of how much of both of these caffeine loaded drinks I had during my short stays in the country, it is a wonder I ever slept.

Memory #2 is a World Cup one. That year it was played in Argentina which for you geo buffs, is west of Brazil. Of course both countries were in the World Cup. To say that they were rivals is an understatement. The day Brazil played while we were there - everything came to a standstill. A ghost town on the streets. Argentina went on to win that year and Brazil finished 3rd.

One final memory of this trip - June in South American is more like our December, the beginning of winter - albeit milder. But it is cooler and less sunny. After a few days in Sao Paolo we flew to Rio to catch our plane back to the states. For some reason we had a really long - almost a full day - layover. My boss decided we should rent a car with a driver and go to see Corcovado. This is the mountain with the huge statue of Jesus on top.


If you can tell from this picture, the road to the top in very windy - curvy - nothing to do with wind. It was early evening, starting to get dark by the time we got there. To say the fast drive to the top in the fog was harrowing is putting it mildly. All the way up my boss is saying "faster, faster" and the driver is talking about hoping we might see something but he can't promise anything because of the fog. I don't think you can drive all the way to the top - I'm sure we had to climb some stairs to get the rest of the way. This was more than 30 years ago so my memory is "foggy".

We get to the top and in a miracle-like fashion, the fog cleared and you could see the humongous statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched. I think we just stood there for a few minutes and then headed back down. This time our hurry was to make our flight.

I didn't know at the time that Corcovado is one of the Seven modern Wonders of the World and one of two I have seen in person. The other being the Coliseum in Rome. Maybe I should put the others on my bucket list.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hellhound on his Trail

Just finished this one up as an audiobook about the hunt for Martin Luther King’s killer in 1968. Very interesting book. Only two small quibbles later.

The book takes you back to a very important year in our country’s history.

Johnson decided not to run for re-election. That rarely happens with a sitting President. Of course as the book notes, King was assassinated. Within a few months, so was Bobby Kennedy. George Wallace mounted a credible campaign as a 3rd party candidate for President (and we made fun of Ross Perot?!) – don’t get me wrong, Wallace was an awful segregationist and I’m surprised he did as well as he did. Just a seminal year in our history that he could even run for office and garner as much support as he did.

I was 16 years old in 1968 and should have been paying more attention. This book helped remind me of a lot.

It is fascinating to read that the FBI was able to do so much without our taken-for-granted-CSI-on-TV-type technology. Also amazed overall that James Earl Ray was finally caught (twice!)

Maybe some of this plays into all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Wish someone else had narrated. Normally I like it when authors voice their own works – they know where they intend emphasis etc. and for me add something to the read but in Sides case – whenever he tries to affect a particular accent or other speech pattern – it draws attention to that and takes me away from the content for a moment.

2nd nit-pick. He mentions in 1968 that the FBI went on a plane in Memphis carrying James Earl Ray and used a videocamera to record that. There were certainly videocameras in use by 1968 but mostly inside TV stations and at live sporting events. Most recording (as far as I can tell) was still handled by film cameras. Like I said, a nit-pick.

Worth a read or listen. I think the paperback version is out now.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blake, The Dixie Girls and Dierks

Stumbled across two CDs at the library – both of which I’m glad I didn’t buy.

Blake Shelton’s newest. Maybe one or two decent songs but overall not a memorable recording. Miranda’s music seems to have improved since they got together. While I like Blake’s voice, his music, lately not so much. I did get to meet him once though when he had long hair. My daughters were impressed to find this out.

The Dixie Chicks minus Natalie play as the Court Yard Hounds. I really liked the first song but after that … one song reminded me of Norah Jones but it wasn’t her. Another made me think of Shawn Colvin but it wasn’t her. While I don’t like Ms. Maines personally all that much (but we haven’t met yet), she may be the musical and vocal glue that holds the group together.

Finally Mr. Bentley. Imus was playing cuts off his new project today; Up On the Ridge. Say what you will about his curly locks – this one sounds interesting. Very rootsy and non-pop-country. Lots of great musicians and the style is not main-stream which is good. I’ll listen some more and this might be a purchase.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm Just askin'

In all the hub-bub about the muffed call last night, where's Cleveland Indians’ baserunner Jason Donald? I've read several articles and comments but nothing about him. Why him you ask?

How often do players go absolutely ballistic when they think they've been on the bad end of a bad call? If the play at first wasn't all that close - as some have said, what did Donald think? Surely he had some idea of whether he was safe or out. I realize his statement couldn't change anything but ...

I know this probably goes against everything in baseball tradition (and competition in general) but what if, just what if, Donald had stopped and said "You know, I was out."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lightning and the bugs!

A follow-up on my recent post about the flashing little critters.

Wednesday night was even better. Thousands of fireflies still flitting about. In the eastern sky a huge hammerhead type cloud would occasionally flash with another kind of lightning.

A little further south was a full moon.

I pulled my porch rocking chair out on the driveway for a better view and just sat for about 10 minutes.

If this is summer, bring it on!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fireflies

no way to describe or show this but ...

Last night I was outside saying goodbye to my wife as she headed off to work 3rd shift. Normally I stare at the stars for a moment or two (odd sort of therapy) but instead I looked across our pasture (we live in the country on 40 acres) and I was amazed.

Fireflies, lightning bugs - whatever you like to call them - by the hundreds if not more.

Doing their little blinking thing. I stood and stared for a few minutes.

Up north they get to see the Northern Lights (that Aurora B. thing) - maybe we can call this "southern lights"!

Better than TV!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Daughter, the stripper!

Stopped by Panera Bread today and bumped into some folks who used to go to our church - a senior couple (but neither of whom looks very senior!) We chatted, then the gentleman asked about one of my daughters "You know the one who did stripping?" His wife and I looked at each other and then him, like - 'what did he just say?'

I asked him what he meant and with a little prodding he said, "You know she takes stuff off ..." This was only getting worse.

I realized he didn't know the word "waxing." My daughter is an Aesthetician and he didn't know that word either. I explained and reminded him what she does and he understood. I don't think he realized what he had said before.

We said our goodbyes and I left but as soon as I cleared the door, I laughed out loud.

If Art Linkletter were still around, this would have been a great Adults Say the Darndest Things!

Friday, May 21, 2010

on my nightstand

It's either feast or famine. I read tons. I hear about books, put them on hold at a library right across the street from work (almost every worker at this library knows me by name - Norm and Cheers don't got nothing on me!) and wait for them to arrive. Which they usually do ALL AT ONCE!

Last week I was bemoaning the lack of some good fiction to read. Then Innocent arrives - this is the sequel or follow up to Scott Turow's bestseller 20 years ago Presumed Innocent.

A couple of days later I got Sebastian Junger's War where he is embedded with a group of Soldiers in Afghanistan for most of a year.

So I'm working on both of those. Both are pretty good reads.

An email today told me Son of Hamas is waiting for me and so is Hellhound on his Trail by Hampton Sides (this re: James Earl Ray and MLK's assassination)

What do I do? I already have a stack of slips for several other books I've had to return (the library will only allow you to renew something 3 times for up to 9 weeks unless other patrons are waiting for the book - which usually happens to me - so I write down what page I'm on and wait my turn again.

I'm not really much of a book reviewer but I'll update this with what I think of these and my progress.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

short memories

This morning on Imus a guy from Fox News (his name escapes me) said he thought Blumenthal's (the current AG of Conn. but not former Vietnam vet) campaign for Senate might get derailed for about a week or two due to his failure to accurately state the extent and location of his military experience. This is not a quote but rather my paraphrase of what he might have said yesterday.

Derailed for a week or two?! Oh my! Let's see ... as the AG of a state his job is to enforce/uphold the laws of Conn. Guess there must be nothing in them about telling the truth. And now he hopes to go to the Senate. Guess he'll be in pretty good company there!

I keep getting reminded of these words from the Eagles:

"Well, ain't it a shame
That our short little memories
Never seem to learn
The message of history
We keep makin' the same mistakes
Over and over and over and over again
And then we wonder why
We're in the shape we're in."

"Frail Grasp On The Big Picture" (verse 1)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A house concert

Reading one blogger I follow who mentioned a singer so click, click and find that she is touring England and Scotland and between big shows, plays in homes. She'll play anywhere people will put her up for the night. Risky maybe but different. She posted a picture of one "house concert".

Way back in the early 70s while still an erstwhile college student, a buddy and I often hung out at a local music store - not listening to records but rather 'bending and banging them strings' on guitars we could never afford to buy. Mostly Martins (sigh, someday.)

I looked down the aisle and noticed a fave of ours doing the same. We approached and started up a chat. We'd both been to see him at our favorite Dallas folkie club, the Rubaiyat.

We asked where he was playing and he said his dad's house. Really? He was playing for a few friends at his father's - a Presbyterian minister. He invited us over and gave directions.

I hardly ever do off-the-wall things and even though my friend could not go, I went. I've been to some pretty decent concerts in my day (Chicago in their prime, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, the Who) but this is still one of my best musical memories.

The picker? None other than Robin Williams (before he added Linda) and long before they met up with one Garrison Keillor. We got to meet up again in Norfolk Virginia years later when they played a waterfront concert there and he remembered the gig at his dad's.

Friday, May 14, 2010

From Highland Park to the Hollywood Hills

OK bear with me. I was cleaning up on my computer and found an old article I wrote in 1999 for a magazine but it didn't get published. Through the miracle of free blogs - you still get to enjoy it! I warn you it is about 2000 words long. But if you are interested in film making I think it is a good story. So read on ...

What do Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and The Hi-Line have in common? No, this is not a Sesame St. game of “One of these things is not like the other...” Think more like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon (or Spielberg) and you’ll be on track.

In 1973 or ‘74 in a class at SMU, I watched an interesting little film called Sugarland Express starring the well known but as yet untested film actress, Goldie Hawn; more importantly this feature film was the first directed by Steven Spielberg (having gained a slight amount of notice for a TV Movie called Duel).

“I liked that film.” says Ron Judkins as we sit across from each other at a very small table in the likewise small establishment called Millie’s, located on Sunset Blvd. in the area of LA known as Silver Lake.

Ron just happens to be a two-time Academy Award winner. In the interest of the who, what, etc.; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded an Oscar to Ronald Judkins for Best Sound on Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. He was also nominated for his work on Schindler’s List.

Ron and I went to film school together in the early 70’s at SMU. Even though our Film 101 prof. was the location manager for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, our school was not exactly a hot-bed for film. The sci-fi flick Logan’s Run was lensed in the Dallas area as were some other notables like Benji. Now with everything from dogs to dinosaurs to Chuck Norris, the north central area of Texas became quite a busy little area for films.

In another class, an assignment was to list five-year-goals. Naively I listed something like ‘to direct a feature film’ and other similarly bold statements coming from a twenty-one year old college senior. Ron tells me he can’t remember what he put down. I’m sure it was close to: 1) record sound 2) win an Oscar 3) direct feature film 4) win another Oscar 5) retire to Montana sheep ranch.

OK, so maybe it’s not that easy or simple.

Ron started his career in Dallas shortly after graduation; spending some months recording sound for filmed documentaries for KERA, the Dallas PBS affiliate. Some folks in New Orleans contacted him about editing their coming film. Not wanting to leave a secure position with KERA and unsure about their financial status, he asked for six weeks pay up front. Figuring he’d never hear from them again, he was quite surprised to receive a check in the mail. A man of his word, he quit KERA and went to work for them. They ran out of money anyway and Ron was soon out of work.

In 1979, he decided his career could benefit from a move to LA. Like every other struggling artist he made cold calls; about twenty a day. “I hated every one of them.” But after six or eight months they began to pay off and provide sufficient work to make a living. Ron says he had resigned himself to working on what he calls “the fringe of legitimate movie making,” when he got a call from a friend asking if he’d come to the Philippines to work on a movie called Purple Hearts.

This was not his first feature but Ron is sure I’ve never heard of the others. I understand. In 1975 Ron and I worked together on a very low budget independent film in Dallas. So far I’ve not run across it in Blockbuster.

Somewhere in this time frame our waitress spilled coffee in the middle of our table where I kept my small micro-recorder. Fortunately it survived and I was able to transcribe my notes - although I did learn that placing your recorder in the middle of a table, in the middle of a noisy cafe is not going to provide the best results. You’d think with a sound recording professional sitting right across from me, he’d have pointed this out. Must have something to do with trade secrets.

Through a DP he met on Purple Hearts, Ron was contacted about handling sound on Dad featuring Ted Danson and Jack Lemmon. With a little apprehension, “I was scared to death”, Ron said yes. Later he found himself on a soundstage working on Hook. He found the job hard and spent a great deal of time keeping track of all the communication equipment being used on three soundstages simultaneously. This was Ron’s first large budget motion picture and his first work for Steven Spielberg.

And the rest they say is... well not quite.

He subsequently worked on Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List and a few others (Congo, Lost World, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and the Psycho remake).

I’d like to tell you this is about how to take your education and parley that into a successful Hollywood career but Ron said, “Nobody ever asked me where I went to college.” This is more about paying your dues, paying attention and probably a small amount of luck and the old; ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ axiom (even though Ron claims he didn’t know anyone!)

What exactly does Ron do on a movie set? “I record all the dialogue the actors say and a few ambient sounds and effects.” I expected Ron to be involved in the final sound track of a film but “at the end of the day when I turn my tapes in, I never see or hear them until I see the finished movie.” Sound design, the adding of music, effects, replacing actors dialogue and in general building the final soundtrack for the movie, is the work of a completely different crew and department. Ron may advise them of particular problems with a recording environment but his involvement is limited. Ron’s Academy Award winning work on Jurassic Park was to somehow; in the midst of screeching mechanical dinosaurs, velociraptors and the like, manage to record intelligible dialogue from Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and the other human on-set actors. I tried to imagine doing the same during some of the more harrowing scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Whatever he does and however he does it; it must be working!

Ron uses only digital equipment with such names as Stelladat and Sonosax and a small crew. His work usually involves a lot of travel, putting him in climates ranging from the jungles of Costa Rica for Congo to the shivering cold of Auschwitz for Schindler’s List. “Travel and getting to see other cultures” is what he enjoys most about his work.

Being an avid student of movies and having just watched the riveting Amistad on video shortly before our interview, I was curious about the effect of the content on the movies he has worked on. “I really am too busy worrying about the job at hand and keeping ahead of Steven. Spielberg works quickly and there is little time to pay much attention to the movie itself.”

During the summer of 1975 we both worked on the aforementioned very low budget film called Pyramid. While we sat round gabbing during a long scene on a very hot Dallas summer day (1975 would go down as one of the hottest summers) I remember asking Ron about what he wanted to do with his life and career. Ron didn’t remember but I recall he wanted to be on the sound crew for motion pictures. Later he admitted he might have said it. After all it makes his story all that more interesting (and amazing) to me. At least one other member of our crew that summer went on to bigger and better things; Tak Fujimoto, DP for awhile and more recently cinematographer on the Oprah Winfrey produced feature film, Beloved. So all you film students; don’t despise small beginnings on unknown films.

I think the die was already cast as far as Ron’s future in the film biz. During our senior year in college, his was one of two scripts picked for production as class film projects.

Ron spent some time hanging out with the sound crew of Pyramid, asking questions, watching them; which he says is how he really learned most of what he knows. “Problem solving is the most creative part of my job. About 50% of what I do is the mechanics of my work, the rest is getting along with people.” He stays pretty quiet on the set. “Some directors”, he says, “don’t ever want to hear from the sound man.” Ron rarely speaks up during a take unless it’s very early in the scene or if something like an airplane flying over might require waiting a few seconds. Once a scene is underway, he’s not going to interrupt the flow of the actors. At the end of a take he may point out a problem to the director. “If I have a mechanical problem or there’s not going to be anything on the tape, obviously I’m going to let the director know.”

At some point Ron’s cell “beeped” at him. Very quickly a waiter approached who pointed at a menu; "NO CELL PHONES!" his finger shouted at us! Ron said Millie’s had a reputation of pretending to treat customers badly but outside of the “no phones” warning, we were allowed to take up our small table for over an hour on a very pleasant southern California September Sunday morning.

At this stage of a career, some would be content to rest on their laurels. Not so for Ron. He’s embarked on a new phase, having written and directed his own independent feature. The Hi-Line is about a young girl in a different kind of coming of age story shot near Ron’s summer home in Montana. He is wrapping up the last music work before firing off a tape to the Sundance Festival. Like many directors, he hopes his film will be selected for a screening. (In late November I received an e-mail from Ron telling me that Sundance had accepted his film!) After that it will be off to other similar events; hoping to catch the eye of a distributor and get his film into wider release. I asked if this might limit his future opportunities to work on films like Saving Private Ryan, he said “yes” but this is the creative itch he hopes to scratch.

Even with his own project (and another in the works) he’s also hoping to go on to Memoirs of a Geisha (another planned Spielberg project) which would allow him to spend some time in Japan and provide a chance to experience another culture (one of the more enjoyable parts of travel and film making). As of this writing, production on Memoirs has been delayed.

What should a person do if they are interested in a career in motion pictures? “There is no specific body of knowledge, no school, no book... a lot of this job is knowing what the important battles are. Talk to people, ask questions, listen. SMU did allow me to be around the process and it helped me get my first job at KERA. Just get a job, any kind, office assistant, PA (production assistant), even volunteer. I’m amazed at the amount of that kind of labor this town can support. When I was in Montana working on my own film I hired some of the locals. Four of them decided to come to LA. They got bit by the bug and I thought, great now I’ve caused them to move down here and I’m sort of responsible; but they all have jobs now. You just need to have the desire. Try.”

“Winning the Academy Award was very gratifying. It was never something I aspired to. All the nominees go to a luncheon and it was at one of these, surrounded by all the other award-winning professionals where I felt like I had finally joined the Hollywood community. Winning doesn’t make me any more money, but it does give me the opportunity to work on more interesting projects. I could probably stay as busy as I want to.”

Since our breakfast Ron has enjoyed the heady life of the Sundance Film Festival. Ron has reached a level of success and recognition achieved by only a few. Now he’s moving into a second phase of his career as a director. We’ll have to wait to see if someday Ron may get to accept another Oscar for his talents in this area.

When the last microphone has been packed away and the last credit has
rolled, Ron hopes the final phase of his life will find him on his Montana ranch raising a few sheep.

Vincent Crunk
December, 1999

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

High School thoughts

random thoughts on the drive home today about high school. I sooo wanted to fit in and be popular. I tried out for everything - made very little except the tennis team (on which I was very good my last two years - we won two City championships in a row - I think - although my memory is fuzzy here)

I was listening to some Michael Buble and for some reason was reminded of my own short-lived singing career. Bet you didn't even know I had one! Me neither.

In both my junior and senior years we had tryouts for our school musical which I can assure you were nothing like the ones on Disney now. One year we did a sort of Broadway retrospective thing and I remember really wanting to sing Luck Be A Lady. It was going to be a kind of West Side story dance and sing number with guys playing poker and all. I got beat out and ended up in the chorus.

Next year we did a sort of Romeo and Juliet in the country kind of thing and I wanted the lead so badly. Guess what? I got beat out by the same guy! I ended up getting one solo as a Preacher (must have been typecasting!)

But you know what? I recently saw a picture of the guy who beat me and he's much bigger than I am and his hair is way too long for an almost 60 year old man. My waist size is only 2 inches bigger than it was my senior year in high school so there! Nyah nyah!

I feel so much better now.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm not aware of too many things, I know what I know ...

Scary thing is I do know when that song first came out - a long long time ago. Now she's married to an old man. I digress.

What I don't know is why the Republicans (of whom I usually count myself) waited all this time before finally agreeing to talk about financial reform on Wall St. Folks let the pendulum of regulation swing too far and this is what we get. It may have to swing back hard to the left before we get something that makes some sense. But what happened and was allowed to happen, doesn't.

I really don't know what to think about Jennifer Knapp. I missed the Larry King interview but here's a good one My daughters (I think both of my oldest) and I went to see her a few years back before she went underground for awhile. #2 daughter and I used to try and play/sing one of her songs. Others may not think so but she seems to have a decent handle on things and how to express it. Time will tell.
All of us may be really surprised someday.

That's all that I don't know right now but I'm sure there will be more soon!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

OK, which is it?

I've always been puzzled and intrigued by what we really are and by that I mean a representative democracy. I think I have the term correct. We get to vote for our elected representatives and they in turn represent us and our views in City Hall, State Capitols and Washington DC.

Now that gets tricky because everybody I vote for doesn't always win. I guess that's the democracy part. We don't always win and get our collective way.

But as I listened to an NPR story on the last big (gasp) push for the Health Care bill I was confused by one thing (well a lot of things but I guess Dennis Kucinich isn't confused anymore since he's changed his mind, but I digress...): The Democrats are not giving up. Even though some polls show that not even a majority of their party favor this massive health care reform bill, they are going to push it through anyway.

So who do those arm-twisting Dems represent? I don't expect Nancy Pelosi (or her Missouri equivalent if we had one) to care about my thoughts. I'm not one of her voters. But if less than half of her voters still think the bill is a bad idea, why is she pushing and who is she pushing for?

I was disappointed to hear Cleveland Dennis changed his mind. I heard he got a limo ride with the Pres. earlier this week. Oh well. I would have told him not to get into the car. I've seen the Godfather movies and you definitely don't want to sit in the front seat when asked to take a ride.

But back to the bigger picture of what we expect from our elected Pols. Obviously we are not always going to agree 100% on everything with anybody on hundreds of issues.

So my philosophical question is: when we vote for someone, are we voting because we think/believe/hope they already agree with us on lots of big (and small) issues and so are likely to vote along our lines when those things come up OR

do we vote for smart, thoughtful people, who when confronted with big choices, will take all the facts into consideration, collect numerous ideas and opinions from experts and those they represent and they make an informed decision based on all this best judgment?

I think there is a clear distinction between my two ideas above. Maybe not.

I think maybe you can have a good mix of both but what the Democrats seem to be doing doesn't fit either one of my profiles.